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    Saturday, November 11, 2017

    Breaking Down the 2018 Veterans Committee Hall of Fame Ballot

    Monday marked the beginning of Baseball’s annual Hall of Fame season. You may have missed it, but the current iteration of the Hall’s Veterans Committee announced its ten-player ballot for the 2018 Induction, focusing on players from 1970 to 1987.

    It’s actually one of the deeper ballots that I can remember, at least as far as players go. Usually, there are a lot of managers and executives, which can clog things up given the low vote ceiling on individual ballots (voters can choose up to 4 of the 10 names). When you have all-time greats on that side of the game going up against guys overlooked by the BBWAA ballot, the players are usually the ones who come up short.

    This year, though, with nine of ten slots going to players, we have a good chance to see a player inducted for just the third time since the VC switched to this format back in 2011 (and given that one of the two previous players was Deacon White, who last played in 1890, the process has felt even more helpless lately). Obviously, I think the process still needs overhauled significantly, but this year at least has me feeling optimistic for the time being.

    Moving on to the ten players they submitted…I have to say, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. As someone who writes frequently on deserving Hall of Fame snubs, I know just how many there are to pick from. And yet, I would still probably advocate for election less than half of the players on the ballot. The full list:

    Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Marvin Miller, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, Luis Tiant, Alan Trammell

    That said, I wouldn’t necessarily mind if anyone from this said gets in; I can at least see a case for each of them, and it’s been such a dry spell that I’d be happy just to see someone inducted. But at the same time, missing highly qualified guys like Lou Whitaker, Bobby Grich, Graig Nettles, Keith Hernandez, Dwight Evans, etc. so that we can debate Steve Garvey for the nineteenth time (as best as I can tell) does feel like a little bit of a let-down.

    In fact, most of these guys got fifteen turns on the ballot; all except the one-and-done Ted Simmons aged off rather than dropping below the 5% threshold that keeps you around for another year. That hardly feels as overlooked as some of those guys I named who fell off the ballot early, and since the Veterans Committee exists specifically to help players overlooked on the Baseball Writers’ ballot, it feels like a bit of a failure. But the, you also have extremely deserving people in that group like Alan Trammell, so maybe it’s not all bad. Maybe it’s just the 10-name ballot squeeze that needs to be re-examined going forward, to get a wider variety of names reconsidered.

    With all of that out of the way, let’s go name by name down the list to see each one’s case for induction:

    Steve Garvey: Garvey is probably the weakest candidate on the ballot this year. I’m not really sure there are that many arguments you could make against this point that don’t rely heavily on things like intangibles or popularity. His 37.7 Wins Above Replacement (Baseball-Reference) is the lowest of these nine players, right in between Paul Blair and Frank Howard. Both of those are good players, but no one will be putting them in the Hall of Fame any time soon. If you go by counting stats, his 2599 hits look impressive at first, but the longer you look at the rest of his numbers, the more you realize that’s more or less his entire case. His .294/.329/.446 is rather mediocre for a first baseman, translating to a 117 OPS+ to go with just 272 home runs. He led the league in a category eleven times, but six of those were Games Played, two more were grounded into double plays, and one other was sac flies (the final two were in hits).

    As alluded to, the advanced stats case isn’t strong either. Among just first basemen and designated hitters not in the Hall of Fame, Garvey’s WAR ranks 29th. Among stats designed for Hall of Fame arguments, like JAWS or Hall Rating, he doesn’t fare much better; JAWS has him 21.5 below the Hall median for his position (54.6 to 33.1) and 53rd overall, while Hall Rating has him 59th for his position at 61*.


    *For future reference, the triple slash in JAWS is WAR (with hitting WAR excluded for pitchers)/Combined WAR of Best 7 Seasons/Average of the two, the last of which is what’s usually referred to as JAWS. And Hall Rating is a combination of career and peak value normalized across positions, then set to a scale like OPS+, with 100 being the 220nd best player in history (equal to the number of players in the Hall), and each point away is 1% better or worse than that Hall “minimum”. JAWS comes from Jay Jaffe’s work and can be found on Baseball-Reference, while Hall Rating is designed by Adam Darowski for his Hall of Stats project.

    Tommy John: After years of reflecting on Tommy John and his candidacy, I think my verdict has solidified as “a decent borderline Hall case with pretty gigantic tiebreaker in his favor”. Also, one thing about his career that I always forget until I look it up is that the dude threw a ton. When he missed the entire 1972 for that one surgery (I’m blanking on the name), John was a 32-year-old 12-year veteran; he would throw 14 more seasons after that point. Since the end of the deadball era in 1920, only 15 pitchers have more than 4500 innings; John sits eleventh with 4710.1, and is one of three not in the Hall (along with Jim Kaat and Roger Clemens). His 111 ERA+ in that group is twelfth, but it still beats two Hall of Famers in Don Sutton and Early Wynn. You can call him a compiler if you want, but I’d still say that’s one hell of a compilation.

    Ultimately, though, he didn’t have much of a peak. He was a four-time All-Star, which coincidentally matches the number of times he was worth more than 5 WAR in a season, and he was overall worth 62.3 WAR. This lack of a peak hurts him in JAWS (62.0/34.7/48.4 versus 73.9/50.3/62.1, 83rd) and Hall Rating (106, 75th overall). Like I said, it all appears to add up to a borderline case. Of course, even this isn’t straightforward; Fangraphs’ version of WAR has him 22nd all-time with 79.6. I haven’t looked at why too deeply, but the difference stems from a difference in evaluating the worth of innings pitched and home runs allowed (John was actually pretty decent at that aspect of things). Even if I wasn’t inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt for the famed surgery that bears his name and his status as a pioneer for going through with it, that seems like good reasonable doubt in a positive direction.

    VERDICT: Yes

    Don Mattingly: As a preface, I don’t know that I’m opposed to any of these players getting in. Maybe Garvey, since he’s easily the weakest name here, but for the most part, these are all fine players, and I don’t know that any of them would be the worst names in the Hall, by far. But since they’re competing directly for votes with others on this ballot and indirectly with dozens of stars who didn’t even make the ballot, it’s pretty natural to compare them all, and Mattingly (and the other nos) just do not stack up well in this scenario.

    Mattingly had a good peak, racking up six All-Star appearances in six years from 1984 to 1989, to go with 32.8 WAR, a .327/.372/.530 line (147 OPS+), 1219 hits, and 160 homers in that time. The problem is that there wasn’t much else to his career; overall, he finished with a 2153 hits, 222 homers, a 127 OPS+ from a .307/.358/.471 line, and 42.2 WAR (along with no more All-Star selections). Among just first basemen not in the Hall of Fame, Mattingly’s OPS+ is 23rd (minimum 5000 plate appearances, with Mattingly lagging behind in PA from many ahead of him). In WAR, there are twenty from his position ahead of him not in the Hall. Hall-specific stats are even worse, with JAWS (42.2/35.6/38.9 vs. 66.4/42.7/54.6 positional average) and Hall Rating (78) both putting him 38th at a position where only 20 have been inducted.


    Marvin Miller: Marvin’s impact on the game was huge, given that his push led to free agent and established the MLB Players Union as the strongest in sports. Given that former commissioner Bowie Kuhn is in the Hall and his most notable achievement is more or less getting dunked on by Miller repeatedly, it seems hard to justify keeping him out of Cooperstown. It does seem weird to be putting him on this ballot, though. I’ve noted in the past how strange it is having managers and executives (and owners and umpires, but they’ve been a little less common as of the last few years) directly competing with players for induction, given that the criteria for each is so radically different, as is the set of people eligible for each. I’ve argued in the past for the return for the “Pioneer” tag that was used in the past for people like Alexander Cartwright, Al Spalding, Candy Cummings, and so on. There are plenty of modern icons who don’t fit in anywhere else who could use it, like Miller, surgeon/inventor of Tommy John surgery Frank Jobe, writer/statistician Bill James, and so on. I have no idea how likely that is to happen, though.

    VERDICT: Yes

    Jack Morris:
    The internet arguments about Jack Morris’s Hall of Fame case, first in comparison to Bert Blyleven’s, then on it’s own merits, were a yearly ritual for basically all of my formative years in following the Hall of Fame. It feels almost tiresome going over this all again. Morris’s 3.90 ERA would be the highest of any Hall starter. Even accounting for the time when he pitched, his 105 ERA+ would be the third-lowest (behind just Rube Marquard at 103 and Catfish Hunter at 104). He wasn’t especially great at limiting baserunners (1.296 WHIP) or striking batters out (2478 in 3824.0 IP, 5.8 K/9). He threw a decent amount of innings (50th all-time), but just compare him to someone like Tommy John up there: nearly 1000 fewer innings and a worse ERA+ to show for it. All of this comes out to 44.1 WAR, good but generally not Hall level. Sure, there a handful of guys at that level or worse inducted, but there are over 80 pitchers with more WAR who aren’t inducted yet, including guys like Hippo Vaughn, Brad Radke, and Milt Pappas. It’s no surprise he doesn’t stack up well in Hall Rating (76, 165th) or JAWS (44.1/32.8/38.4 against a 73.9/50.3/62.1 average, 164th).

    But I also think Morris is also the most likely player to get inducted this year, and I think I’ve gotten myself to a place of acceptance. No player has ever come closer to induction than Morris has (67.7% in 2013) and not been inducted eventually, and performance on the BBWAA ballot seems to be a pretty good indicator for how the VC will vote. And seeing as I’ve argued in the past that the Hall should probably induct a few more below-median Hall starting pitchers, I don’t feel like I can complain too much if he does get in this year. I just hope that the rest of the votes aren’t split too badly and at least one other player makes it (maybe his much more deserving ex-teammate Trammell?), because coming away from a ballot like this with just Jack Morris would be pretty disappointing.

    VERDICT: No, but it’s going to happen anyway

    Dale Murphy: Again, we have a case of “really good at their best, but not at their best for long enough”. Murphy played in parts of 18 seasons; from 1980-88, he hit .278/.367/.506 (a 137 OPS+) with 288 homers and 1422 hits. That’s amazing for a center fielder, and it’s why he was worth 45.3 WAR in that time, or over 5 WAR per year on average. The other half of his career did nothing for his candidacy, contributing 0.9 WAR total* and dragging his overall line down to .268/.351/.478 (a 121 OPS+). He added to his counting stats in that time, but he was so mediocre that he didn’t quite get them to where they needed to be to impress voters, with 2111 hits and 398 homers. And on top of that, he played mostly positions other than center field in that time due to declining defensive skills, which also drove his value down, which is another big problem. There are some center fielders who hit worse than Murphy who are in or deserve to be in the Hall, but most played longer than he did, were better fielders, spent more time actually in center field, or some combination of those three.

    Murphy is maybe right at the borderline where I’d be okay with him getting inducted, but I wouldn’t advocate for his induction. I took a similar extent in the first Hall election I covered here, where I voted for him because I had space but noted he’d be the first one to cut once the ballot got crowded. I think the JAWS leaderboard for center field also does a good job of summarizing my thoughts. At 46.2/41.0/43.6, Murphy comes in at 25th overall, and well below the average of 71.2/44.6/57.9. But then you remember that center field is maybe skewed upwards due to being top-heavy (having Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, and Tris Speaker will do that), so maybe he’s maybe not actually that far off, and also there are 19 elected center fielders, and also some of the guys above him aren’t even eligible yet, and also some Hall of Famers have to be below-average by definition so why not him, and also and also and also… But then you look and notice that there are eight eligible guys above him haven’t been inducted, and another four that will face a very mixed set of chances (I think Andruw Jones will struggle when he joins the ballot next year, and Johnny Damon has little to no chance, although I’ve started to believe Carlos Beltran might get his due as of late), and you start to realize that it’s much more of a long shot than you first thought. Murphy would hardly be the worst choice for the Hall, but there are so many better names not in as is that I can’t say that his omission is at all glaring.


    *On this note: Murphy in the ‘80s was worth 46.8 WAR. Murphy’s 8 seasons not in the ‘80s were worth -0.6 WAR.

    Dave Parker: Like Murphy and Mattingly, Parker is in the “He wouldn’t be the worst selection, and I wouldn’t mind if he’s in, but he’s also pretty clearly worse than quite a few guys not in the Hall” zone (The zone’s naming is clunky and being workshopped, so we’ll just stick with the overly-long but descriptive name for now). Like Murphy, he was a Hall of Fame talent at his best; from 1975 to 1979, Parker hit .321/.377/.532 with a 147 OPS+, and average over 20 homers and just under 200 hits a season while playing strong defense, and his 1985 comeback at 34 showed that he could still hit at leas, with a 149 OPS+. Those six seasons were worth 35.7 WAR combined. Those other thirteen seasons, though… Parker finished overall with a .290/.339/.471 line, a 121 OPS+, and just 39.9 WAR total.

    Overall, Parker has a Hall Rating of 78 (39th for right fielders) and a JAWS line of 39.9/37.2/38.6 (37th, against a position average of 73.2/43.0/.58.1). Again, you can sort of see the case for him if you squint; sure he’s 37th by JAWS, but there are 24 Hall of Famers, and we can discount Ichiro Suzuki (will be a first ballot for sure), Vladimir Guerrero (last year shows he’ll almost certainly get elected in 2018), and Shoeless Joe Jackson (ineligible). And we already have Sam Thompson and King Kelly and Kiki Cuyler and so on, so why not Dave? But that cuts both ways; why not also Rusty Staub or Rocky Colavito or J.D. Drew or Tony Oliva or Bobby Bonds or Brian Giles or Bobby Abreu (to say nothing of the players with much more persuasive cases ahead of him, like Larry Walker or Dwight Evans or Sammy Sosa…).


    Ted Simmons: I’ve said it time and again, but I have no idea why Ted Simmons isn’t in the Hall of Fame already. From just about any angle that you could look at it, he’s deserving. Like traditional counting stats? Well, he retired the all-time leader in hits for a catcher (2472), and he was fifth in home runs for the position (248) behind Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Carlton Fisk, and Gary Carter. Even now, after the offensive explosion of the past three decades, he still stands second (behind just Ivan Rodriguez) and eleventh in those categories. Do you prefer more advanced rate stats? Simmons posted a .285/.348/.437 line that translates to a 118 OPS+. Among catchers with 5000 plate appearances, that’s thirteenth all-time, which becomes more impressive when you realize that Simmons kept that up for longer than just about anyone; only two catchers have logged more than his 9685 PA. What about for those who favor even more advanced value stats? WAR puts him eleventh all-time with 50.1, behind nine Hall of Famers and Joe Mauer. His JAWS rating, 50.1/34.6/42.4, puts him right in line with the Hall line for catchers (53.4/34.4/.43.9), and behind just eight Hall of Famers and Joe Mauer, while his Hall Rating of 112 puts him again eleventh at his position.

    It seems pretty safe to argue that Simmons is right at the borderline of being top ten all-time at his position, and considering how three of the names usually above him (Rodriguez, Mauer, and Mike Piazza) started after he retired, it seems difficult he wasn’t a top ten catcher when he first appeared on the ballot in 1994. And yet, he got just 3.7% and fell off the ballot. He’s easily the most overlooked name on this year’s ballot. The biggest knock on him seems to be his defense, but his value on offense should more than offset that, given how strong that was. He’d need to be absolutely atrocious to justify not electing him, and from what we know, that seems like a stretch. He caught baserunners right in line with the league rate, and his Total Zone has him as costing his team 8 runs behind the plate… over his 20 seasons, or less than half a run per year (it’s 34 runs when counting his time across the rest of the field, which still isn’t too horrifying, given those happened out of position and as he aged). If that’s the best we have for inducting him, I’d say it’s high time he makes it this year.

    VERDICT: Yes

    Luis Tiant: Tiant is probably the best pitcher on the ballot this year. For a while, he was even probably the best starter eligible for the Hall but not in it yet, for the period between Bert Blyleven’s induction and the wave of ‘90s pitchers that started hitting the ballot at the least. Most of the Hall-geared stats agree with this, generally speaking; both JAWS (66.7/44.6/55.7, 51st among starters, versus 73.9/50.3/62.1 position average) and Hall Rating (130, 34th) have him right behind Rick Reuschel and Kevin Brown as the best starter (post-1900) not in the Hall or still on the ballot. Most of the pitchers around him are in the Hall as well. Even if you were skeptical of him deserving induction via the writers’ ballot, he seems more than qualified for a Veterans Committee selection at least.

    The more basic numbers are there as well. He’s got a 229-171 record, a 3.30 ERA in 3486.1 innings, a 114 ERA+, and 2416 strikeouts, and a 1.199 WHIP, none of which would look too out of place among the starters already in the Hall. Tiant fell victim to bad timing, appearing on the ballot right as a wave of 300-game winners appeared and made him look (superficially, at least) lesser, but looking back now with the benefit of hindsight, it looks fair to say he was a Hall-worthy pitcher, just maybe a second-tier one that got caught up in a wave of generational talents.

    VERDICT: Yes

    Alan Trammell: Trammell just aged off the BBWAA’s ballot just a year ago, meaning that I basically got to argue for him every single year that I’ve been writing about the Hall of Fame. I don’t know what else I can add at this point. I said every time that he was worthy, and voted for him every time I had the ballot space to do so (because, again, ballot limits in these cases are always pretty dumb). Seeing as Trammell hasn’t seen any change to his stats in the last year, my case for him still stands.

    VERDICT: Yes

    So there you have it; overall, I’d vote for about half of this ballot. Since the actual ballot restricts voters to only four choices, my tiebreaker (were I an actual Veterans Committee member) would be to see which way the winds were blowing and vote for the four candidates who seemed most likely to stand a chance at induction this year. Since it’s a smaller committee that relies more heavily on discussion and politicking, you could actually probably do that in this case, rather than need to look at cumulative breakdowns of ballots and guessing what the remaining ballots will look like, as is the case in the BBWAA’s ballot. Hopefully, this year we’ll see some positive results finally.


    1. Great analysis!! I hope that common sense rules this vote but it will most likely continue with politics instead. I still do NOT understand how Al Oliver is not considered for this list. He was a better player than both Dale Murphy and Dave Parker INMO! I grew up watching him so I may be slighted by my memory but he was in teh same outfield as Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell so he was definitely overlooked. Upon looking at his stats though it does feel as though he is overlooked. He finished with 2743 hits, a .303 BA, had two season with over 200 hits, and in my mind's eye was a very good defensive player with decent speed. I would like to see where he fits on that list of players in line for the HOF

    2. There should definitely be multiple players inducted by the VC this year. A case can be made for all of them! I think Steve Garvey deserves induction but you state he's the weakest candidate on the ballot. He was basically the NL version of Cal Ripken Jr (NL record for consecutive games played) and Wade Boggs (Garvey nearly had 7 straight 200+ hit seasons. Throw in the 1974 NL MVP and multiple AS & LCS MVP's, put Garvey in!

      1. I believe he was also the first 1b in history to not make an error in a season with over 1200 chances. A strong run producer, tons of hits, some solid power and strong defense. Plus, still the NL iron man. He should be in.

    3. Again the greatest defensive 1st baseman of all time,Keith Hernandez,gets no love.This is such a no brainer,it's a no brainer.he wasn't a shabby hitter either.He gets locked at badly in the power numbers vs other HOF 1st baseman because it was always considered a position for power hitters,not great fielders.The top coaches and managers always figured if you could just catch the ball consistantly,you didn't have to be a great fielder.there are at least 6 1st basemen in HOF who were atrocious fielders.That said,Hernandez or a
      Reinvented the position.He perfected the "wheel play" on a sac bunt situation,so very few of them ever advanced the runner while he was on the field.I watched him throw out a runner at third base,on a sac bunt attempt,(Gary Carter was at 3rd base in this game)while he was crossing the third base line.go watch it.never seen any other 1st basemen that close th the batter.Hernandez was a prototype.Every left-hand 1st basemen coming up was modeled after him.Clark,Grace,Olerud,Snow,Joyner,even Mattingly,and many seems to me,when you are considered, the best defensive guy or one of the best,at your position(120 zone runs,1st all time)i.e.Ozzie Smith,you belong in the hall.#2 in put outs all time,# 4 in assists all time.I literally cannot remember him NOT scooping a ball thrown to him ,out of the dirt.and let's remember the stellar arms he had throwing to him in N.Y. Rafael,(got u by a step) Santana,Sally Backman,Kevin Elster,(forgive me) Howard Johnson,and the guy who nobody ever knew where the ball was going,Gregg Jefferies.Im tired of the writers giving this guy no respect for how he changed the position.put him in the hall,along with Pete Rose,and a few others that deserve,Tommy John,ect.In th NL, between the years 1978- 1988 ,Hernandez was as feared a
      Hitter as anyone.Late in a game,(attested to by his league leading GWRBIs during this period)the last guy,along with Dave Parker,and Dale Murphy,you wanted to see come to the plate late in a game with with winning runs on base, was Keith Hernandez.So don't tell me his bat wasn't up to task.add in an MVP( SHOULD HAVE WON MVP IN 1984 AS WELL) ,and 2 WS.titles,6All Star apperances,and say it,11 consecutive Gold gloves,should of had 2 more,is 3 more than Mattingly and 5 more than every one else,there is no reason other than spite and prejudice against him,cause he used drugs for a couple years,to keep him out.what else can I say.i can't have any real love and respect for HOF until they right some of the wrongs done exclusively by some baseball writers.- put Keith in the Hall,period.

      1. Fixed it for you: Again, the 2nd greatest defensive 1st baseman of all time¹ (after Wes Parker), Keith Hernandez, gets no love.


    4. I'd vote against all of because they all fit the description 'not the very good, only the very best' - except 2 of them. I think you can say that Dale Murphy and Dave Parker were for a while considered the very best players in the game. The other guys were all also rans - plus you don't have Tony Oliva on the list. I realize you're focusing on the Veterans committee but no one deserves induction until Curt Schilling is inducted - no justice no peace.