Friday, August 21, 2020

Team Hall of Fame Snubs vs. Team Hall Median, Part 2

A few years ago, I covered an interesting hypothetical question: Which team would be better, a team of median Hall of Famers, or a team of the biggest Hall snubs? I encourage you to go check it out, in part because I feel like the setup was interesting, but also to give a bit of background for what I want to do today.

I sort of randomly stumbled upon that article while looking for a reference for something else, but had fun looking back at it. And I couldn’t help but noticed that a good chunk of Team Snub had actually made it into Cooperstown in the seven-plus years since I wrote it. So I couldn’t help but wonder, if I updated it for 2020, would Team Snub still stack up so well against the Hall of Fame Median?

First, as a brief refresher, here was the 2013 edition of Team Snub:
C-Mike Piazza
1B-Jeff Bagwell
2B-Bobby Grich
3B-Graig Nettles
SS-Alan Trammell
LF-Barry Bonds
CF-Kenny Lofton
RF-Larry Walker
DH-Mark McGwire
Bench-Ted Simmons, Craig Biggio, Ken Boyer, Tim Raines, Shoeless Joe Jackson
Rotation-Roger Clemens
Curt Schilling
Kevin Brown
Rick Reuschel
Luis Tiant
Swing Men-Tommy John, David Cone, Eddie Cicotte
Relievers-Lee Smith, Dan Quisenberry, John Hiller

Since then, Piazza, Bagwell, Trammell, Biggio, Smith, Raines, and most recently, Walker and Simmons, have all found their way into the Hall of Fame, and thus, no longer qualify for the team. So that’s almost a third of the team we’ll need to replace, plus we have seven years’ worth of new candidates to evaluate, so we should be seeing a good amount of turnover.


The easiest one is probably closer; Lee Smith’s spot up for grabs, Billy Wagner is pretty clearly the unquestioned best closer on the ballot. He even made for a pretty good comparison to Smith, so it’s not really a step down either.

Unfortunately, none of the other positions are as easy as that. The first big hole to note is catcher, since we lost not only our starting catcher Mike Piazza, but also our backup in Ted Simmons. Back when I was covering Simmons on the Veterans Committee ballot, I noted how strong fellow VC candidate Thurman Munson was. With two openings, it seems reasonable to assume Munson can hold down one of them; it’s difficult to think of two catchers not in the Hall with stronger resumes.

Really, the last few years have done a number on the catcher backlog in Cooperstown. Piazza and Simmons were huge, plus Joe Torre went in as a manager (although his playing days were strong enough to merit induction), plus Iván Rodríguez managed to skip the backlog by becoming the second ever catcher inducted on his first BBWAA ballot. That kind of leaves me without most of my long-time fallbacks. Meanwhile, we’re still a few years off from Joe Mauer joining the ballot.

So who does that leave? Jorge Posada joined the ballot recently, and he wouldn’t be the worst choice. Going by things like WAR and JAWS, Gene Tenace and Bill Freehan are the two best non-Munson VC options. Honestly, I wouldn’t blame you for going with one of the other two, but I’m going to go with Freehan thanks to the defensive edge (Posada’s defense was always a little rough, and Tenace played about 45% of his games at non-catcher positions). With 11 All-Star selections, ~45 WAR, and the 1968 World Series to his name, I think he’s the second-best eligible catcher not in Cooperstown (and, given all of the numbers the Tigers have retired recently, he’s probably now their best player without a retired number, and wouldn’t look at all out of place in that group).

Going back to Jorge Posada, though, which other players have joined the ballot since 2013 and still aren’t in the Hall of Fame? This is one area where there’s been a ton of movement. The 2013 Election was the Hall’s recent peak in stinginess, as it marked the first Hall of Fame ceremony with no living inductees since 1960 (the 2013 meeting of the Veterans Committee selected Deacon White, Hank O’Day, and Jacob Ruppert, all of whom died prior to the start of World War II). This was in spite of the fact that the ballot that year was incredibly stacked, featuring twenty-one players with a Hall of Fame Monitor score of 90 or above, sixteen players with 50 or more career WAR, eighteen players who received 5% of the vote or more, and at least nine players who have since been elected to Cooperstown.

Of course, since then, the Hall has seen a historic election rate. Between the Baseball Writers’ ballots and the Veterans Committee, the Cooperstown Classes since 2014 have numbered six, four, two, five, six, six, and four people in size, for a total of thirty-three new Hall of Famers over seven years. Our list of options for the snubs just isn’t quite as deep now as it was back then.

There are still some newcomers worth discussing, though. We’ve already covered Wagner and Posada. In my opinion, there are ten new names worth considering, although ultimately, I don’t think all ten will make the cut. Nevertheless, they are: Jeff Kent, Gary Sheffield, Jim Edmonds, Manny Ramirez, Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, Johan Santana, Todd Helton, Andy Pettitte, and Bobby Abreu. I’ve actually written in-depth pieces about several of those players in the years since, so if you want that as additional background, see below.*

*Past coverage of the Hall case for: Kent, Edmonds, Rolen, Jones, Santana, Helton, Pettitte (with some bonus Helton content), and Abreu. I apparently haven’t had full pieces focusing on Sheffield and Ramirez, although they’ve popped up repeatedly in my writing. Maybe I’ll write a full thing on them in the future?


Of this set, I think Rolen is far and away the strongest player, but unfortunately, third base hasn’t seen any openings since 2013. I still think he forces his way onto this roster, though. Compare him to current starting third baseman Graig Nettles. Nettles has Rolen in many (although not all) counting stats, but he also has nearly 700 more games played. On a rate basis, though, Rolen has a good lead, with a 33-point advantage in batting average, a 35-point one in on-base percentage, and a 69-point one in slugging, which comes out to Rolen having a 122 wRC+ to Nettles’s 111. Add in Rolen’s slightly better baserunning and fielding (Rolen was one of the best-fielding third basemen, but Nettles wasn’t too bad himself), and both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference give Rolen the narrow edge in WAR. That’s good enough for me to name him the new starter and demote Nettles to the bench.

Outside of Rolen? Biggio and Bagwell’s inductions have left us with openings at first and second base. But as I’ve said in the past, while I think Helton and Kent are both Hall-worthy, I’m not sure that either is the best player at their position who hasn’t been elected. Santana feels like a marginal case, but there aren’t any more starter openings anyway. Abreu does have openings in the outfield, but there are a lot of outfielders just on this list who are a higher priority.

I could see Edmonds, Jones, Sheffield, and Manny all having a case to be on this team ahead of Abreu, and again, there are several outfield openings. But there are also a lot of outfielders, so we’ll have to see if these four are our top four priorities. Making things even more complicated is the presence of a DH slot; given the awful gloves of Ramirez and Sheffield, we may be best served by moving McGwire to first base and putting one of them at designated hitter.

Fortunately, I’ve done a lot on the topic of Hall of Fame snubs already! For one such reference, let us turn to my most recent version of the 50 Best Players Not in the Hall of Fame, from January 2019. Let’s go position by position:

-For second base, Kent didn’t quite make my list, although I acknowledged he was right on the border. But I did have both Lou Whitaker and Willie Randolph on my list, and honestly, they’re better choices. I’d go with Whitaker.

-You may note that no shortstops came up in my list of new candidates. There also aren’t that many on my last “50 Best” list either. At this point, it seems that the best missing shortstop is either Bill Dahlen or Jack Glasscock, both 1800s stars. Also worth noting, both will be up for induction this winter when the Early Baseball version of the Veterans Committee meets, their first such opportunity for their election since 2015 (when Dahlen received 8 of 16 votes).

Shortstop as a position is pretty well-covered in Cooperstown. When I do this again in five years or however long, I may actually have to pick Jim Fregosi or Bert Campaneris or something. Or maybe the BBWAA will just ignore A-Rod, which would represent a pretty massive improvement for Team Snub. Time will tell.

-For first base, Rafael Palmeiro, Dick Allen, and Keith Hernandez are all in the mix with Todd Helton. This is actually hard. I’m going to pass and come back to it when I do the DH slot after outfielders.

-In the outfield, in addition to Edmonds, Sheffield, Jones, and Ramirez, there’s Reggie Smith, Sammy Sosa, Jim Wynn, Minnie Miñoso, and recent VC-candidate Dwight Evans. All for two openings. Honestly… I’m kind of tempted to just take Andruw Jones and Jim Edmonds. I just love great fielders who can mash, what can I say. They’re all close, though.

-Palmeiro, Allen, Hernandez, Helton… they’re all nice, but I think I would take Manny Ramirez over them. So Manny’s my designated hitter, with McGwire shifting to first base. And leaving off Sheffield is tough, but Manny Ramirez is one of the few hitters where that makes sense, I think.

-One other point I realized while writing this: last time, I partially took Craig Biggio because of his ability to be a super-sub. And Pete Rose was my runner-up, based on that. And I think you could take him over Whitaker for Biggio’s spot here, but writing this also made me realize that part of the joy in doing this is seeing who gets elected down the line, and ineligible players (like Rose, Joe Jackson, and Eddie Cicotte) just don’t offer that. In the end, I couldn’t just choose, so I made two versions of the roster, one with Rose and Jackson, and one without.


So, our final version of Team Snub 2020 is (new names bold):

C-Thurman Munson
1B-Mark McGwire
2B-Bobby Grich
3B-Scott Rolen
SS-Bill Dahlen
LF-Barry Bonds
CF-Kenny Lofton
RF-Andruw Jones
DH-Manny Ramirez

Bench-Bill Freehan, Pete Rose/Graig Nettles, Lou Whitaker, Jim Edmonds, Joe Jackson/Dwight Evans
Rotation-Roger Clemens
Curt Schilling
Kevin Brown
Rick Reuschel
Luis Tiant
Swing Men-Tommy John, David Cone, Eddie Cicotte/Bret Saberhagen
Relievers-Billy Wagner, Dan Quisenberry, John Hiller


Okay, with that out of the way, we can move on to Team Hall Median. This time, I mostly used JAWS rather than straight bWAR, but honestly, it didn’t make that much of a difference.

Catcher: With sixteen inducted catchers, we’re looking for the eighth- and ninth-best at the position for starter and backup. By both JAWS and bWAR, that’s Gabby Hartnett and Ted Simmons (and the latter won’t be the only Team Snub alumnus switching sides).

First Base: There are twenty-one first basemen in the Hall. Eddie Murray is eleventh by JAWS and will be our choice, although I wouldn’t object to Willie McCovey, who’s eleventh by WAR (swaps places with Murray) and closer to the Hall average in both stats.

Second Base: With twenty second basemen, we’re looking for number ten or eleven. Number ten by JAWS is Roberto Alomar, who was Team Hall’s starter last time, so we might as well let him keep the title. Number eleven is Craig Biggio, though, and once again, he makes for a wonderful utility option off the bench. He makes for our second graduation to Team Hall.

Third Base: This is a weird one. JAWS has it listed that there are fifteen Hall of Fame third basemen, so we’re looking for the eighth best, which is… Paul Molitor. In his 2683 career games, Molitor played third base in fewer than 800 of them. The position he played far more than any other was actually DH, so it feels a little weird to be including him here. Right below him is Edgar Martinez, who, again, was a DH, not a third basemen (both are listed here because there aren’t really enough designated hitters in Cooperstown to break it out into a separate JAWS standard yet). Right above them is Brooks Robinson, who would be seventh out of thirteen non-DH Hall of Fame third basemen, so we’ll go with him

Shortstop: Shortstop is a lot more populous than most other positions, with 23 Hall of Famers. The median option right now is Bobby Wallace, who mostly played for the St. Louis Browns (as well as the now-defunct Cleveland Spiders, plus the Cardinals) back from 1894 to 1918. I might hesitate to use someone so obscure as the reference, except his matchup is Bill Dahlen, so it’s less of an issue. If you want a more modern reference, he’s flanked by Derek Jeter and Lou Boudreau in JAWS, while the WAR middle three are Wallace, Pee Wee Reese, and Ernie Banks.

Left Field: We’re back to twenty Hall of Famers, with numbers ten and eleven being Jesse Burkett and Willie Stargell. We’ll go with Burkett for now, since he was the choice last time.

Center Field: Nineteen centerfielders, with number ten being Billy Hamilton.* You could go with ninth-place Andre Dawson here too if you wanted, since he’s separated by a hair, but eleventh-place Earl Averill is down a ways, with six non-Hall of Famers between them (including Team Snub backup Jim Edmonds).

*That’s the 1890s on-base machine for the Braves and Phillies, not the modern slap-hitting speedster Billy Hamilton who recorded his 300th stolen base last week; just 614 to go until he has the most steals by someone named Billy Hamilton!


Right Field: There’s an astounding twenty-seven right fielders, but even with several recent selections, Dave Winfield (the previous Team Median right fielder) is still smack-dab in the middle. Once again, there’s a drought right around him, too; by JAWS, thirteen of the top fourteen right fielders ever are in Cooperstown (all except Joe Jackson), but just two of the next nine are (Winfield and Vladimir Guerrero, although Ichiro Suzuki will likely join them as soon as he’s eligible), with the remaining twelve Hall inductees falling below that benchmark.

Designated Hitter: This is complicated. As mentioned, there aren’t many Hall of Fame DH’s, and there were even fewer last time I did this. What I did then was throw every Hall of Famer at first base, left field, right field, and designated hitter, into one group and pick out the middle. That gives us 74 players to choose from, and the middle two are…Willie McCovey and Dave Winfield. Which is convenient. I’ll take McCovey, then, since we’ve already discussed him. If you kept it to just the four primary-DH’s, you’d be picking between Paul Molitor and Edgar Martinez, which is also a fair choice, since they came up earlier. I’d go with Martinez of those two, since they’re close and Martinez was a longtime snub (although I didn’t have room for him on the 2013 team).

Bench: We already have our backup catcher and utility option, in Simmons and Biggio. Now we need another infielder and some outfielders. Overall, the median for outfielders is pretty close to the median by position, so we might as well go with Dawson and Stargell, since we’ve already mentioned them. The same holds for infielders, so we might as well go with Lou Bourdreau, since we mentioned him as well.

Starting Pitchers: What I did last time was build an eleven-man pitching staff, with eight starters (five in a rotation, and three more as swing men) and three relievers, so we’ll stick to that model this time as well. JAWS accounts for 65 starting pitchers, and our middle bunch includes: Mickey Welch, Jim Palmer, Carl Hubbell, Hal Newhouser, Roy Halladay, Juan Marichal, and Vic Willis. I skipped over Bob Feller, who’s in the middle of that group, but would have ranked much higher without missing three-plus seasons to World War II.

It’s a pretty similar group to last time, and obviously switching from WAR to JAWS makes things a little less clear, but it is slightly better on the whole. Which makes sense; the Hall of Fame since 2013 has added a bunch of above-median pitchers, including Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, and Mike Mussina. The only notably below-median starter added in that time has been Jack Morris, but one lackluster choice doesn’t detract from the median that much.

There is one other weird case I want to discuss, though: John Smoltz. JAWS considers him notably below average, but that’s partly because of his years as a closer following Tommy John surgery, which hurt his peak value. But by WAR, which cares less for peak, he’s a little above-median, actually. So I figured I’d add him as our final hybrid starter-reliever, since it seemed fitting.

Relief Pitchers: This is another weird one. As I’ve discussed recently, Cooperstown has undergone something of an explosion in relief pitching since 2013, between Lee Smith, Trevor Hoffman, Mariano Rivera, and partially the aforementioned Smoltz.

JAWS factors in eight pitchers into its reliever calculation: the non-Smoltz recent inductees, plus Dennis Eckersley, Hoyt Wilhelm, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, and Rollie Fingers. Our first issue is that our Median team would take the fourth-, fifth-, and either third- or sixth-best. Normally, that last spot isn’t such a big deal as the two choices will look relatively similar, but with a position like relief pitcher, it is.

Since the position is relatively new and has gone through some radical changes, the gap between the third- and sixth-best options here is actually fairly massive, with Hoyt Wilhelm sitting at 46.8 WAR and 36.8 JAWS, and Bruce Sutter at 24.0 WAR and 24.2 JAWS.

Of course, there’s another issue from our small sample: Dennis Eckersley, who spent twelve years at both starter and reliever. Honestly, to keep things from getting too complicated, I just decided to solve two issues at once: remove Eckersley from our pool, and our new middle of the seven-person set is Gossage, Smith, and Sutter.


With that, we have our full Team Hall Median and Team Snub rosters. For fun, I’ve also included the rosters from last time around:

2013 team2020 Team SnubPos2020 Team Median2013 Team
Mike PiazzaThurman MunsonCTed SimmonsGabby Hartnett
Jeff BagwellMark McGwire1BEddie MurrayJake Beckley
Bobby GrichBobby Grich2BRoberto AlomarRoberto Alomar
Graig NettlesScott Rolen3BBrooks RobinsonRon Santo
Alan TrammellBill DahlenSSBobby WallaceJoe Cronin
Barry BondsBarry BondsLFJesse BurkettJesse Burkett
Kenny LoftonKenny LoftonCFBilly HamiltonMax Carey
Larry WalkerAndruw JonesRFDave WinfieldDave Winfield
Mark McGwireManny RamirezDHWillie McCovey/Edgar MartinezBilly Williams
Ted SimmonsBill FreehanBenchGabby HartnettMickey Cochrane
Craig BiggioLou WhitakerBenchCraig BiggioJoe Gordon
Ken BoyerPete Rose/Graig NettlesBenchLou BoudreauPee Wee Reese
Tim RainesJim EdmondsBenchWillie StargellBilly Hamilton
Joe JacksonJoe Jackson/Dwight EvansBenchAndre DawsonEnos Slaughter
Roger ClemensRoger ClemensSPMickey WelchCarl Hubbell
Curt SchillingCurt SchillingSPJim PalmerTed Lyons
Kevin BrownKevin BrownSPCarl HubbellVic Willis
Rick ReuschelRick ReuschelSPHal NewhouserStan Coveleski
Luis TiantLuis TiantSPRoy HalladayEd Walsh
Tommy JohnTommy JohnSwingJuan MarichalMickey Welch
David ConeDavid ConeSwingVic WillisJuan Marichal
Eddie CicotteEddie Cicotte/Bret SaberhagenSwingJohn SmoltzDazzy Vance
Lee SmithBilly WagnerRPGoose GossageRollie Fingers
Dan QuisenberryDan QuisenberryRPLee SmithDennis Eckersley
John HillerJohn HillerRPBruce SutterGoose Gossage


So now, we can ask our big question: how do these stack up? Last time, I went for Team Snub easily, but this time, I’m not so sure.

To start with, Team Snub looks, on the whole, weaker than it was seven years ago. There are some neutral changes, but the only area that I’d say is a clear improvement is third base, as I’d take Rolen over Nettles without question (the bench infielder slot is also a little stronger as well, as a result).

Shortstop is a close, as Dahlen and Wallace are very similar on the whole, but Dahlen has a slight edge. And on a related note, as I’ve said before, Billy Wagner and Lee Smith are extremely similar pitchers, and even closer match than Dahlen and Wallace. Pete Rose is a good addition, but he could have been on the 2013 team, so it’s more of an issue with my team construction back then. Meanwhile, the catching situation is overall weaker without question; I think Munson is a Hall of Famer and Freehan might be as well, but Piazza and Simmons were both no-doubt, “why isn’t this guy already in” cases.

I also think Manny Ramirez is a downgrade from Jeff Bagwell, whose spot on the roster he took. But to be fair, we’re getting a version of Manny minus his biggest weakness, since he’ll be DH’ing. So really, the question becomes “What’s better, Jeff Bagwell plus the bat of Mark McGwire, or Mark McGwire plus the bat of Manny Ramirez?” The overall roster might be weaker and less flexible, but the day-to-day on-the-field production might actually be slightly better. Which set is better might ultimately depend which rules we go with (are we dealing with full careers? Best seasons? A short series between these teams? A full season? Should we account for injuries and regular time in the field to the bench? Does that really matter, given the overall depth of these rosters? I never really settled on a full rule set for this exercise last time.)

Moving on from there, I think the outfield situation this time is slightly worse this time; as much as I like Jim Edmonds and Andruw Jones, Larry Walker and Tim Raines are better players. Not substantially better, mind you; I think all four of them should be inducted. They just aren’t quite on that level, even if it took Hall voters way too long to realize just how good Walker and Raines were.

Meanwhile, Team Hall Median hasn’t changed a lot, but I think it is a little stronger on the margins. Is Team Hall’s improvement enough to offset Team Median’s falloff, though? I once again think third base is better in Team Hall (I like Rolen, but Brooks Robinson is too good). I would also unquestionably give Team Hall the advantage in catching now. Outside of that, though… second base and left field are still the same matchups as seven years ago, and I’d still say Team Snub wins.

I think Kenny Lofton still looks like the better center fielder as well, but it’s also a lot closer than the matchup in 2013. Also, Billy Hamilton is from an even more distant matchup than even Max Carey was, which complicates things; how do you even compare players from the 1990s to the 1890s? Like, Hamilton was a better offensive force, but also played while people were still sorting out things like “how many pitches in a walk” or “how far away should the pitchers mound be”.

Meanwhile, Lofton has a narrowly better peak, but also got about 30 extra games per year (and of course, massive changes from recalculating Hamilton’s career value from longer seasons would mean that he’s no longer the median Hall of Fame center fielder). And that’s before taking into account that the speed-and-defense Lofton was getting a lot of his value from a totally different part of the game; even if we went up a slot to Andre Dawson, it would be a difficult comparison. I’m inclined to side with Lofton, but this is really close.

The rotation on Team Median is better than it was last time, but it still runs into the same problem it did back in 2013: the back of Team Snub’s rotation is also made up of guys pretty similar to the Hall Median starter, but the front half is Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling.* That’s just too good of a 1-2 combo to overcome, and honestly, until they’re both off the table, I think it’s going to be difficult for Team Median to take the matchup. Meanwhile, I think Team Hall narrowly takes the Swing Man category, and probably takes the Reliever category as well, although none of those is as overwhelming a win as the starting pitcher one in my mind.

*Edit-I might as well add this here since it’s relevant breaking news: I’ve mentioned in the past that Schilling looked likely to finally pass the necessary 75% of the BBWAA ballot next year, but that might depend on how this story develops. Voters seemed to have started getting over his bad behavior the last few election cycles, but getting tied up in a major fraud investigation would probably remind them of why so many of them cooled on him in the first place.


That starting pitcher commentary gets at one of my three biggest takeaways from this, though. The first two are broader points: the Hall has made good progress at clearing out some of its backlog the past seven years, but even with that, you could field a team of overlooked stars that looks basically the same as a team of average Hall members. A lot of those overlooked players still deserve recognition.

But the big difference maker remains Team Snub having access to a handful of top-tier players like Bonds, Clemens, and Rose (although I’d still take the version of Team Snub that ignores banned players). The rest of the team being able to go head to head with a team of Hall of Famers shouldn’t be discounted, either, but it’s a nice X-factor to have up your sleeve.

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