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    Thursday, July 26, 2018

    If Old-Age Success Is Key for Hall of Fame Induction, Which Current Starters Best Fit That Model? Part 2

    In my last go-around, I looked at Hall of Fame pitchers and demonstrated just how important it is for a starter to be good in their mid-to-late-30s when it comes to the Hall of Fame. My entry point into the discussion, though, was looking at Cole Hamels and the possibility of him one day making it to Cooperstown. Now that we have the former framework in place, why not take a look at the latter question, and expand it to other players with Hall potential?

    A quick refresher, for those have forgotten, the general factors we will be looking for are:

    -A starter with more than about 56 Wins Above Replacement (Baseball-Reference’s version) before their age-33 season is basically in no matter what. Starters with more than 56 WAR in their total careers don’t always make it in, but guys who manage that mark this early in their career basically always do.

    -Everyone else should probably be in the range of 30 to 56 Wins by then, at which point they will need a solid end to solidify their pitch to voters.

    -For that group, 20+ WAR from age 33 on is pretty safe, 12+ WAR isn’t bad (especially depending on their pre-33 total), and other factors after that point (like Cy Young-type seasons or memorable postseason performances) don’t hurt.

    -Starting pitchers with under 30 WAR before turning 33 aren’t totally without representation in the Hall, but you need to be one of the all-time great old-man pitchers (see Phil Niekro, or Randy Johnson for examples). As such, it’s worth keeping in mind, but probably not worth highlighting specific players unless they give us a reason to think they might be that type of guy (by, say, having a Cy Young-caliber year or two in their 30s already).

    So, given those conditions, who’s in the conversation, and what would they need to do the rest of the way to punch their ticket? If I were drawing up a list, separated into different tiers based approximately on career, it would look roughly as follows (WAR totals accurate as of this week):

    Tuesday, July 24, 2018

    Old-Age Success Is Crucial for Starting Pitchers' Hall of Fame Candidacies: A Brief Study (Part 1)

    Writing about one thing frequently leads me down a random path that can inspire my subsequent articles. For instance, in writing about Chase Utley, I began looking at other players on the 2008 Phillies. It’s rare for championship-winning teams to end up with no Hall of Famers, but that might be the case with them. Utley has the clearest case, but as I mentioned last time, is severely underrated by the body that is in charge of voting. Jimmy Rollins fizzled out shy of 3000 hits, his likeliest ticket to Cooperstown, while Ryan Howard’s body gave out before he could rack up an impressive-enough home run total to overcome the numerous weak points in his game.

    But then I realized that there is one other possibility that I forgot. Cole Hamels has reliably shown up in my yearly Future Hall of Fame series, although I imagine that most people don’t think of him that way. It looks like he could possibly continue to beat the Hall median for pitchers too. That got me thinking about the difference between Hall of Fame starters and position players; if there’s one thing years of doing this has shown me, it’s that Hall of Fame pitchers aren’t clear anywhere as early as Hall of Fame hitters.

    There’s an interesting reason for this; I think it was Joe Posnanski (although I can’t find the original article now) who once observed that Hall starters are made in their 30s. Essentially, there are too many false starts and career-wrecking injuries to trust early returns, like you can with hitters, but the best of the best starters, the ones who generally make it to Cooperstown, generally keep up with their stellar performance into their later years.

    For a numerical example, there have been 40 liveball-era pitchers (post-1920) inducted into the Hall, 34 or 35 of which were starters, depending on how you want to count Dennis Eckersley. Of those 40, 23 of them were worth 12 or more WAR from their age 33 season on. That doesn’t seem like a high bar to clear, but only 96 Hall-eligible liveball pitchers have done that at all.

    Think about that: knowing literally nothing else about their career, just knowing that a player managed 12 WAR from their age 33 season on, a total that’s maybe a fifth of what they’d need overall to even begin meriting Hall discussion, gives them about a 25% chance of being a Hall of Famer.* And of course, it’s ignoring that a lot of the Hall of Famers who didn’t make it to 12 WAR still had some interesting later seasons that contributed a lot to their induction case.**

    Thursday, July 19, 2018

    With Chase Utley's Retirement Announcement, an Early Look at His Cooperstown Case

    Chase Utley announced on Friday that 2018 would be his last season, bringing his fantastic sixteen-year career to a close. Naturally, because I’m me, I decided to write about his Hall of Fame chances (and besides, the induction ceremony is coming up soon anyway, so it’s doubly-relevant!). Writing too-early Hall of Fame campaign pieces is kind of my thing.

    I think it’s going to be pretty obvious where I fall on this issue, seeing as Utley makes regular appearances in my Future Hall of Fame pieces. But those are wide focuses that don’t allow me much time with each individual player, so let’s take a minute for me to break down why I think Chase Utley is a Hall of Famer in platonic sense, even if I think its likely voters will fail to make him one in the literal sense.

    It’s pretty easy to see why the BBWAA would miss on him: he just doesn’t have the counting numbers, and for as much as the Hall claims to consider peak performance in addition to career totals, all evidence on the matter shows they have a harder time weighing good peaks equally to sustained success. The early-2000s Phillies were overly-cautious with their prospects, so Utley didn’t see a full season in the bigs until 2005 when he was already 26. There’s some pretty compelling arguments they waited a little too long there (Utley posted a 132 OPS+ and 2.3 WAR in 2004 in just 94 games, then had an MVP-type year the next season), but what’s done is done.

    As a result of that decision, Utley’s career totals look nice but not overwhelming, with (to date) 259 homers, 153 stolen bases, 1025 RBI, and 1880 hits. That last number is probably the most damning to his cause; no position player to debut since the 1950s has made it to Cooperstown with less than 2000 hits. Utley would need to reach the 150 hit mark this year to make it to 2000, and he’s done that just once since 2009.

    Of course, by WAR and other value-based stats, he looks like a no-brainer. Fangraphs has him at 63.2 WAR, twelfth all-time among second basemen. Baseball-Reference’s version is pretty similar, putting Utley at 65.6 and fourteenth overall. Something like JAWS, which takes peak into account, also comes out favorably for Chase; his 57.4 mark is just above the Hall average for the position, 57.0. And what’s more, he stacks up pretty well to the most recent Hall inductees in value (2006 inductee Frank Grant excluded due to incomplete Negro League stats):