Monday, October 4, 2021

The Amazing Annual Postseason Trivia Round-Up, 2021 Edition

Another year, another round of playoff trivia
!
We’re back to normal this year, after last year’s expanded sixteen-team double-Wild Card Round affair, but there’s a ton to cover here, even without any last-minute tiebreakers. So let’s start with our normal first point:



DROUGHTS

If you’re neutral towards all of the teams in the postseason, one way to pick a bandwagon rooting interest can be to support the teams with long title droughts. If that is your usual strategy, though, I’m sorry to report that this year’s remaining teams represent slim pickings.




For our third straight postseason, the average and median drought lengths of the teams playing in October are shorter than those in the previous postseason. In fact, this season represents the second lowest both figures have been since the dawn of the Wild Card era, with only 2009 (9.75 year average drought to 15.6; 8 year median drought to 11) featuring more recent winners.

The Brewers, who haven’t won it all since they were founded in 1969 and are thus facing their 53rd year without a title, are far and away the leaders in this category. Of the twelve teams with three decades or more between their most recent title (or the founding of the franchise), the Brewers are the only ones still in it this year. In fact, our next longest active streaks still playing, the Braves (26 seasons) and Rays (24), represent the exact mid-points of the league, as the fifteenth and sixteenth-longest active winless streaks.

In contrast, half of the teams represented have won it all in the last decade (the Dodgers in 2020, the Red Sox in 2018, the Astros in 2017, the Giants in 2014, and the Cardinals in 2011), with the final two (the Yankees in 2009 and the White Sox in 2005) not far behind



PLAYERS WITHOUT A WORLD SERIES

As per usual, I will be putting out my yearly Sporcle Quiz, on the active players with the most career Wins Above Replacement who haven’t won a title, once the World Series wraps up. Or another way, we're looking at the top 100 active players by WAR who haven't yet won the World Series (I'll shorten this in my writing sometimes, because this is a mouthful to reiterate every time). The Nationals and Dodgers were heavy on top veterans during their championship runs, which helped clear things out a little bit, but some retirements have helped to restock Baseball-Reference’s Active Player leaderboard.

Once again, my rules are that anyone who played a game at the Major League level in 2021 is eligible, so I include a few players who technically retired during the season, as well as players who are active but won’t be on their team’s postseason roster (including players who will be suspended for October). I won’t publish the full list of names just yet to help preserve some surprises for the quiz itself, but if you want to see which specific players are on the playoff teams, I’ll include them in a section below. For now, though, here are the overall counts.

Every team but the Red Sox brings at least one player without a World Series title with them in some form or another, while the Yankees will provide far and away the most rings to titleless players, with half a dozen of them gracing their 2021 roster at some point.

None: Red Sox
One: Dodgers
Two: Astros, Braves, Brewers, Cardinals, Rays, White Sox
Three: Giants
Six: Yankees



EXPANSION TEAMS

The 2021 Playoffs will include a few expansion teams, between the Brewers, Astros, and Rays. Had the Mariners and Blue Jays succeeded in upsetting the Yankees and Red Sox, we’d be seeing even more. However, even in that scenario, due to their uneven distribution between leagues, the chances of our third All-Expansion Team World Series would ride entirely on the success or failure of the Brewers. As is, it’s still unlikely, but by no means impossible.


UNIQUE MATCHUPS

Our playoff set this year is pretty well-decorated; the Yankees, Cardinals, Red Sox, Giants, and Dodgers are five of the six teams with the most World Series wins and appearances (only the A’s are missing). Those five teams together account for 62 championships and 113 pennants (in the World Series era), with the other five bringing our net totals up to 69 wins and 133 appearances.*

*In fact, it’s genuinely difficult to construct a set of ten teams with more titles. If you swap the A’s (nine championships) out for the Astros (one), the Pirates or Reds (five each) out for the Brewers (zero), and the Tigers (four) out for the Rays (zero), you can get us up to 86 wins, the maximum possible in the current playoff format. If you wanted to maximize pennants, you would keep the A’s and Tigers, but swap the Orioles in for the White Sox and the Cubs in for the Pirates or Reds, resulting in 165 total pennants among the ten contenders.

As you might figure with a set like this, unique matchups are a little harder to come by. But they still aren’t impossible! In fact, there are even a few matchups between original, non-expansion teams that could happen for the first time. Specifically, the Braves facing either Sox team or the Cardinals and White Sox meeting up would represent the first of their kind.

Additionally, the Brewers have never won an NL Pennant (their one World Series appearance came as an AL team), so every matchup involving them would be unique. And since the Nationals and Phillies both missed out, any matchup involving the Rays or Astros will be unique should the Dodgers miss out. Also, while not World Series matchups, it’s also worth noting that the ALDS round will include a rematch of the 2005 World Series (the Astros and White Sox are facing off), and should they both make it to the NLCS round, the Cardinals and Brewers could give us yet another rematch of the 1982 World Series.

In stark contrast, the Dodgers have faced every potential AL opponent, and the Brewers are one of three NL teams the Yankees have never faced in the World Series (the other two being the Rockies and Nationals, who each have one pennant to their name). And the Giants have faced all three original teams present, but are missing both expansions.

Also, thanks to the age of so many teams involved, we could be seeing a rematch of a number of classic series. The Yankees and Dodgers have met eleven times, more than any other World Series opponents. But the Yankees and Giants (seven times) and Yankees and Cardinals (five times) are the second- and third-most-common World Series pairings, and Yankees-Braves and Red Sox-Cardinals are two of the four matchups that have happened four different times (only missing here are the A’s-Giants, and Tigers-Cubs).

Unique Matchups
Rays-Braves
Rays-Brewers
Rays-Giants
Rays-Cardinals
White Sox-Braves
White Sox-Brewers
White Sox-Cardinals
Astros-Braves
Astros-Brewers
Astros-Giants
Astros-Cardinals
Yankees-Brewers
Red Sox-Braves
Red Sox-Brewers

One Time
Rays-Dodgers (2020)
Red Sox-Dodgers (2018)
Astros-Dodgers (2017)
White Sox-Dodgers (1959)
White Sox-Giants (1917)
Red Sox-Giants (1912)

Multiple Times
Yankees-Dodgers (1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1963, 1977, 1978, 1981)
Yankees-Giants (1921, 1922, 1923, 1936, 1937, 1951, 1962)
Yankees-Cardinals (1926, 1928, 1942, 1943, 1964)
Yankees-Braves (1957, 1958, 1996, 1999)
Red Sox-Cardinals (1946, 1967, 2004, 2013)

(spoilers for Best Players Without a World Series below)

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The Future of the 3000 Strikeout Club, 2021 Edition

Earlier this year, I published updates to some articles I did a few years ago, detailing the chances of current players reaching the 500 Homer and 3000 Hit milestones. I meant to do one for 3000 Strikeouts as well (since the last time I touched that was way back in 2015), but it slipped my mind. However, this past weekend, Max Scherzer became the nineteenth member of the club, which in turn reminded me that I had never actually gotten around to writing that piece.

So let’s fix that! I’ll be using my method and numbers from last time to keep things simple. If you haven’t read one of these pieces before, the gist isn’t too complicated: first, I looked at how many strikeouts each eventual 3000 Strikeout pitcher had at each age (so, their totals through their age 23 seasons, then through their age 24 seasons, and so on). Next, I sorted them from highest to lowest and broke them into quartiles, and compared those quartiles to the overall number of liveball pitchers who fell in those ranges at that age. So if the range of the second quartile of the 3000 strikeout club at age 25 was 500 to 750 strikeouts, I looked at how many total pitchers also fell in that range, and then found the percent that eventually reached 3000 as a fraction of that total.*

*One note here: instead of just a lowest quartile, I broke out Phil Niekro’s rate as a totally separate outlier, since he was such an anomaly in how late he started and lasted. So that’s the reason each set includes both a “Lowest” and “Second Lowest” threshold.

And to clarify, this piece (like the others that I’ve done) aren’t necessarily guarantees that all of these players will pull it off. Rather, it’s intended to give a different perspective on the future of the milestone than just eyeballing the active leaderboard. Essentially, I’m looking at where past members of the club were at each age, and looking for players that look similar. A key part of reaching any milestone is staying productive into your 30s, which is not something every player can manage. Instead, we’re looking at which players are best positioned to do that in each age bracket, and giving a perspective of how many other players could or couldn’t keep it up from that age on. So with that, let’s get started.
 

Monday, September 13, 2021

Can a Contract Still Be "Bad" if You Win the World Series? Examining Some High-Profile Cases

I saw an interesting discussion the other day that got me thinking about things; in this case, it was people wondering if Patrick Corbin is the worst contract in the Majors at this point.

For those who haven’t followed the Nationals outside of their trade deadline sell-off, Corbin has had an extremely rough 2021, with 14 losses and a league-worst (among qualified pitchers) 5.98 ERA in 155.0 innings. If you go by Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement, Corbin has cost his team 1.5 Wins this season, the fourth-worst mark for a pitcher behind only Jake Arrieta, J.A. Happ, and Matt Shoemaker. Of course, Arrieta, Happ, and Shoemaker are only making a combined $16 million this year; Corbin, meanwhile, is signed through 2024 and will make roughly $108 million from 2021 through then.

Of course, position players Eugenio Suarez (-2.7 WAR) and Hunter Dozier (-2.9) have been even worse, and both are signed to longer term deals, albeit still for less than Corbin (and Cody Bellinger and Jarred Kelenic have also been slightly worse, although neither made it beyond arbitration). And another complicating factor is that it’s debatable if Corbin is even that bad, as Fangraphs’ version of WAR places Corbin at a much better 0.0 WAR, thanks in part to a much better FIP (5.47) and xFIP (4.34) rates. And none of this is getting into whether Corbin can rebound, as it wasn’t that long ago that he was making All-Star Teams and picking up Cy Young votes.

Of course, I think the single biggest argument against Corbin being the worst contract is his key role in winning the 2019 World Series. He finished eleventh in Cy Young voting that year, finishing with 202 innings of 135 ERA+ (or a 77 FIP-*, if you prefer) before becoming a key cog on the eventual champs as they leaned heavily on their rotation to avoid exposing a weakened bullpen. Even if he never returns to that form, Corbin played a key role in bringing home a flag that will fly forever (and for a franchise and a city that were both in long World Series droughts, at that).

*A reminder, since I don’t always use it; FIP- works like ERA+, but inverted; so a 77 mark would mean a FIP 23% better than league average, since 77 is 23 points lower than the 100-average.

I’m not sure if there’s a set quantity of “value” that a World Series championship brings in evaluating how good a contract is, but my gut says that if a player played a crucial role in bringing home a title, at the very least, any “WAR shortfall” over the course of their contract should be forgiven. For a long time, my test case for this idea was Barry Zito and his seven-year, $126 million deal* with the Giants, which ran from 2007 to 2013.

Friday, July 23, 2021

All-Star Game Trivia: Who Were the Best All-Stars, Worst Snubs, Most Extreme Repeats, and so on

I guess publishing an article about All-Star Game trivia during the week of the All-Star Game is usually preferable, but there’s not much you can do when the inspiration comes to you during the All-Star Game itself (“the inspiration” in this case being “my brother started asking me questions I didn’t know the answer to during the game”). I guess I could sit on this idea for a year and run it for the 2022 game, but that seems a bit like overkill, and I’m not sure I trust myself to remember it for that long. So instead, let’s just take a look back at the different extremes when it comes to making the All-Star Game.

The obvious starting point is “who has made the most All-Star Games”, which, for anyone not aware, is Henry Aaron. The late Hammerin’ Hank made 25 different All-Star teams across his 23 years in the Majors, only missing in his first and final seasons. For anyone looking at those numbers for a typo, it’s worth mentioning that there were two Games per year from 1959 to 1962 (this will come up later), during which time Aaron went 8-for-8.

Stan Musial and Willie Mays also made two games all four years, which is a big part of their runner-up totals of 24 All-Star selections. The highest total for a player who couldn’t double up like that is Cal Ripken Jr., who made the Midsummer Classic in nineteen different seasons (which is still two behind Aaron and one behind Mays and Musial). Meanwhile, Mariano Rivera leads all pitchers with thirteen Games, with Tom Seaver right behind him at a dozen. Kind of a big step down there. Anyway, all of that is easy enough to find with a basic search, so let’s move on to the more complicated stuff. I’ll separate it into position players and pitchers.


Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Hot Corner Harbor's 10th Anniversary! A Retired Number Series Retrospective

June 2nd is Hot Corner Harbor’s anniversary, and this year in particular represents ten years since I started it, so I wanted to do something special. Part of the reason I started this site was to host my Retired Numbers Series, which was something I hadn’t seen anywhere else and felt like it needed its own place. I took a month or so to practice before starting it initially, and obviously kept writing here after the main series wrapped up, but it’s still closely tied to the creation of Hot Corner Harbor, so I figured revisiting it in some way would be an apt anniversary celebration.

So join me now, as I reflect on all of my observations and predictions from over the course of the Retired Number Series, and compare them to how the last decade of new retired numbers has shaken out, from 2011 to present. First, let’s look at the teams that have retired a number in that span:


Friday, May 28, 2021

Appreciating Evan Longoria

I have wanted to write something longer about Evan Longoria for a while, but I could never find an excuse enough to make myself do it. Since his trade to the Giants four years ago (jeez, has it really been that long?), he’s been... fine, but really just fine. Not great or anything. And he makes yearly appearances in my “Future Hall of Fame” articles, but those are usually pretty long, and I don’t want to delay those by going super in-depth for every single player mentioned; they’d turn into novels pretty quickly

But Longo is off to a great start in 2021, his best in years, in fact, so I wanted to take advantage of that to finally write about how good his career has been. When I look at his stats every year for the Future Hall pieces, I’m always struck by how good he has been over his career, particularly relative to the accolades that he’s received in that time.

For instance, did you know that he’s only made the All-Star team three times? But in his case, that’s more of a way to illustrate why using them as a career overview can be dumb and misleading. Which makes sense, in a way. After all, we hear hours of griping every year about how the rosters are bad; Longoria has just been on the losing end of that equation a lot. For example, he didn’t make the team in 2011 or 2013, despite finishing in the top ten in MVP voting both seasons. Those are the most obvious whiffs, but you can do that for a number of his other seasons as well if you’re willing to drill down a little more.*

*For instance, take 2016. Evan lost out on a spot via the Final Vote to Michael Saunders, of all people. And there were plenty of other worse players taking up spots, too; sure, Eduardo Nuñez and Eric Hosmer were locked into spots via the one-per-team and fan-vote rules, but there was also Mark Trumbo, Ian Desmond, tons of relievers, etc.

But all of that isn’t going to come across when he retires (and, let’s be real, when he hits the Hall of Fame ballot, where it will especially matter). I’m hoping he can ride this hot start to a spot this year to maybe make up a little bit for those snubs, but it’s still just one season. And on a larger scale, I can already see plenty of other ways that voters are going to unfairly come up short in evaluating his career, for similar, less-than-thought-out reasons, and I would like to go against those narratives now, hopefully before they’re fully settled.*

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The Future of the 3000 Hit Club, 2021 Edition

Last time, I used Miguel Cabrera’s various milestone bids to investigate which younger players might one day be making their own attempts at 500 home runs. While Miggy is much closer to that mark, he’s also within spitting distance of the other big offensive milestone, 3000 hits. So today, let’s apply those methods once again to look at who might one day be approaching that other mark.

As a quick catch-up, we’re essentially looking at how many hits each member of the 3000 Hit Club had at each age, compared to how many non-3000 Hit players matched them at those ages, to determine a current player’s chance of one day joining the former group. If you want a more specific example of this, feel free to refer to the last article. Also, as mentioned last time, Baseball-Reference changed their search feature since the last time I looked at this, so for now, I’m stuck reusing my numbers from a few years ago (although the actual values likely haven’t changed much in the years since, for what it’s worth).

With that out of the way, let’s dive in!



Age 22 Median: 323 Hits, 14.16% of players go on to 3000 hits
Age 22 Third Quartile: 118 Hits, 4.01% of players go on to 3000 hits


It doesn’t necessarily mean a lot at this age, but Juan Soto is already pretty far ahead of the 3000 club median, with 361 hits to his name, and that total will only increase in the coming months. And while it’s not the most meaningful milestone, it’s also true that a 14% chance isn’t anything to sneeze at either, especially for players this young! Elsewhere in the league, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (238) and Fernando Tatis Jr. (202) are also above the third quartile mark already, and while Tatis is a bit of a stretch, Vlad could definitely still pass the median before the season is over. Dylan Carlson (66) also has a decent chance to reach the third quartile milestone this year.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The Future of the 500 Home Run Club, 2021 Edition

We are very close to some upcoming batting milestones, and both of them are from the same person. Miguel Cabrera has had a very slow start in 2021, but with 489 home runs, 2881 hits, and at least two and half years under contract on a Tigers team that doesn’t expect to be competing any time soon, it seems safe to assume he’ll be given every opportunity to become the seventh member of the 3000 hit-500 homer club. He may even reach both of them this year, although it would take a bit of a rebound to pick up 119 more hits this year.

As is the case when big milestones are imminent, I’ve seen people speculating about future members of the club, and a surprising number of them seem pessimistic about the future of both clubs. I could understand that about the 300 win club, but not either of the batting milestones. Sure, there aren’t many players on the immediate horizon, but both clubs have gone through lulls in new members before. You just have to be willing to look into the future a bit.

Which is something I’ve done before! So I figured, it’s been a few years, why not update those numbers a little and look at how active players’ paces match up to the members of the club? For those who aren’t familiar with the last article, I used a process similar to my yearly Future Hall of Famer piece. I start by looking at how many homers each member of the 500 club had at each age, and marking the median totals (as well as a few others, like the first and third quartiles, and the lowest and second-lowest totals). Then, I see how many retired players in those ranges fell short, which allows me to see the percentage of that group that went on to make 500 homers.

(To use made-up numbers for an example, say one quarter of the 500 club, or 7 players, had 100 homers by age 23, and half of the club had 50. If 10 players in history had 100 homers by that age, and 7 went on to 500 home runs overall, our odds for players with 100 homers by age 23 are 7 in 10, or 70%. And if 14 players fell between 50 and 99 homers, and 7 of those are the ones who went on to 500, then the odds for players in that quartile are 7 in 14, or 50%.)

This should be a much better way to visualize which players are actually on-pace than basic active leaderboards (take, for instance, Robinson Cano, who is fourth place among active players with 334 dingers, but is also 38 years old and has roughly zero chance to stick around for another 166). Unfortunately, I couldn’t update my figures from last time due to changes to Baseball-Reference’s search tools, but these numbers are an estimate anyway, so they should be good enough for our purposes.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Early Hall of Fame Hypothetical: Yadier Molina vs. Salvador Perez

I’m always down for Hall of Fame arguments, especially about players who are underrated, or who have non-traditional cases, or who are maybe still active and have a range of possibilities for the rest of their careers. So when I saw Mike Petriello of MLB.com posing an argument for recently-extended Royals catcher Salvador Perez, I decided to follow up on it. Especially since the unusual Hall standards for catchers is an issue that I’ve covered here before.

Petriello’s case is more of a conversation starter than anything, noting the similar OPS+ marks for both catchers through their age 30 seasons; both debuted at the same age (21), and Perez is currently at 101*, while Molina was at 99 at the same age. Yadier was already getting some Hall of Fame buzz by this point (2013 was his age-30 season), but Salvador hasn’t seen a similar outpouring of Hall support that Yadi had at that age. So why is that the case? Petriello mentions a few other similarities between the two as well, including their defense and intangibles.

*I’m going to be using stats only through the 2020 season and ignoring the first few days of 2021, since that’s when Petriello’s original comparison was made.

So let’s just start from the top. Using rate stats made me a little suspicious; that can be a good way to gloss over major playing time disparities, which might explain the difference. In this case… it’s not the full story, but it is part of the issue. Molina through 2013 had over 200 more games played than Perez does at this point, thanks to the shortened 2020 season and Perez missing all of 2019 for Tommy John surgery. And in comparing those lines, I noticed the other major issue with this comparison: Molina’s age-29 and -30 seasons were his two best ones, with the backstop finishing fourth and third in MVP voting those years, respectively. Baseball-Reference puts his combined value from those seasons at 13.4 Wins Above Replacement, while Fangraphs (thanks in part to their inclusion of catcher framing) has him at 15.5. That’s a lot of value that Perez just doesn’t have.

In fairness to Perez, his shortened 2020 was fantastic, and over a full season, it may have looked a little like Molina’s 2013 campaign. His offensive rate stats were better, with a 160 OPS+ to Molina’s 133 mark. But again, a 160 OPS+ over 37 is still no match for a 133 mark over 274 games (especially given that 37 games removes a lot of the wear and tear a catcher might face; there’s no guarantee he’d keep it that high over 240 more games, so we can’t just multiply it by six or something). If there’s a silver lining, it’s that it seems like Perez is still capable of having an MVP-caliber season like Molina’s, but the problem is still that Molina actually has two MVP-caliber seasons rather than just the potential for one.

Of course, there are other issues in this comparison that hurt Perez. For example, let’s look at their status as “catching gods” that Petriello mentions. I’m assuming he’s referring to defense, and that is an area where Perez is usually highlighted; he has five Gold Gloves, after all (Molina was at the same point by this age, and has gone on to win four more since then).

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Houston Astros 2021 Predictions over at The Crawfish Boxes

Happy Opening Day! In honor of that, I contributed my thoughts on the Astros to The Crawfish Boxes' 2021 Team Predictions. I spent a few paragraphs rambling about the things that keep me up at night about the team, especially all of the ways that injuries could smite this team's chances. But ultimately, I agreed with everyone else that the team's outlook was still pretty rosy for the time being. Go check it out for all of the details!

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Can We Find a Milestone for Walks to Match 3000 Hits and 500 Home Runs?

Back in my position player Future Hall of Fame entry for the year, I marveled at Joey Votto’s walk total, noting that his 1217 mark is currently 57th all-time. That led to me also wondering if there was a cutoff for walks that could serve as a common, ubiquitous milestone, in the way that 3000 hits or 500 homers have become. Today, I figured, why not follow through on that question for fun?

As a reminder, there are currently 27 members of the 500 Home Run Club and 32 members of the 3000 Hit Club, so we’re looking for a round number of walks that somewhere around 30 players have reached. Ideally, this cutoff should also provide some sort of connotation of Hall-worthiness, so most or all of the players above this mark should either be already in Cooperstown, currently on the way, or kept out due to steroids or gambling or something.

The big round numbers are probably the best starting place. For those who don’t know offhand, the all-time leader in walks is Barry Bonds at 2558, well ahead of runner-up Rickey Henderson’s total of 2190. A 2000 Walk Club would still be far too exclusive, though, with only Babe Ruth (2062) and Ted Williams (2021) joining Bonds and Henderson.

A 1000 Walk Club won’t do, either; there are currently 120 players who have reached four digits, with Carlos Santana (991) set to join the bunch this season. And right now, the dividing line falls between Boog Powell (1001) and Jim Edmonds (998). It’s a solid group of players, but still way too big, and it doesn’t seem especially useful in regards to Hall voting.

1500 walks might be a good number to use. It’s a little on the small side of what we’re looking for, though, with only 18 members. Given that we’re partly trying to match the size of the other clubs, we might want a little lower bar, but this isn’t a bad choice. And it’s hard to beat a multiple of 500. We’ll come back here in a bit.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Predicting Today's Future Hall of Fame Starting Pitchers, 2020 Edition

Last time, we took our annual look at which position players were on-pace for the Hall of Fame. Naturally, we follow that up by looking at the pitchers.

As I mentioned last time, I decided to just carry on like normal, shortened pandemic and all. Players from other generations have faced shortened seasons for other reasons, so it’s built into the precedent we’re working with, to some degree. But it did make me wonder a little, are pitchers better suited to the missing time? Like, it’s to some degree expected that pitchers will miss a season here or there due to injury, in a way that isn’t common with position players. Right?

But looking a bit deeper, I’m not actually sure. For example, while Tommy John surgery isn’t rare and usually wipes out a whole season, there actually aren’t that many players in the Hall who have had it; to date, it’s just John Smoltz and non-pitcher Paul Molitor (although maybe Billy Wagner or Tommy John will be added in the near future). And sure, there are a few more Hall pitchers with non-UCL injuries that took time, but on the whole, Hall pitchers are probably noticeably healthier than pitchers as a whole. It also doesn't help that the year-ending injuries are a relatively recent phenomenon, seeing an uptick since the 2000s and especially since the 2010s, meaning we are still some time away from seeing how it's handled by Hall voters. So in short, my feeling is that for now, we should assume the missed time will still matter, although we will probably need to wait to get a sense of the exact degree.

Anyway, if you’re looking for an explanation of the general methodology of this series, the process is the same as the one I discussed at the beginning of the position players article, measuring the Wins Above Replacement totals for Hall players across ages, and then seeing how many other position players also reached that mark. The one difference is that, for the pitchers, I narrowed my scope to just starting pitchers from the liveball era on (1919-present), since pitching has varied wildly throughout baseball history and this helps keep it to just a single, more recognizable standard.

I will also note that the standard caveats I mentioned last time hold here as well. This is only descriptive and can miss modern extenuating circumstances, like testing positive for PEDs and how that impacts voting (or, again, the modern spike in injuries). Some starters who will make the Hall, by definition, are below the Hall median, so missing these marks isn’t the end of a player’s chances. Also, my research on Cooperstown failing to fully understand modern pitchers applies here as well, and that may affect future Hall voting.

One other major thing I want to cover before diving in is the difference between what the position player median means versus the pitcher median. This is something that I’ve covered in-depth before, but to summarize: the position player median is much more straightforward. Position players who reach the mark young tend to stay good, one that debut later needs a strong but steady run to catch up, and it’s just generally fairly predictable from early on. Pitchers are not like that; passing the median early doesn’t mean nearly as much, and pitchers with later major successes in their 30s isn’t nearly as rare. The Hall of Fame formula for pitchers, for the ones who aren’t instantly dominant from the start and always stay ahead of the median, is to just be somewhat close to the WAR median until your early thirties or so, and then just having enough strong seasons in your 30s to catch up from there.

With all of that out of the way, let’s finally ask the question: which current starting pitchers are trending towards the Hall of Fame?


Thursday, March 4, 2021

Predicting Today's Future Hall of Fame Hitters, 2021 Edition

I wasn’t sure if I should do an entry in my annual Future Hall of Fame series this year. In the wake of the shortened 2020 season, I just wasn’t sure how meaningful players’ stats (especially their Wins Above Replacement) would be.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that, while the specifics differ, players in history have missed time for various reasons: from the labor stoppages of the ‘80s and ‘90s, to the players serving during wartime, to players who got later starts due to the color line barring non-white players, to the less centralized league structure from the turn of the century. Shoot, in the past versions of this series, I’ve even noted that the latest debut for a Hall of Fame position player was Jackie Robinson, or that Ichiro Suzuki debuted just a year shy of Robinson’s mark; they certainly could have been in the league and racking up counting stats much earlier than they did.

So sure, not every generation has dealt with missed time, but it’s not uncommon. And it’s hard to tell how Hall voters will react to different reasons for missed time, but it’s probably for the best to not try and guess those things just yet, and instead just report the stats as they are.

So with all of that disclaimer out of the way, let’s move on to the article proper. As a reminder, the process for this article is: first, I look at every Hall of Fame position player at a given age, say, where they were at 21, sorting by Baseball-Reference’s version of Wins Above Replacement. The midpoint of that gives me the median WAR; then, I look at how many players in history have had that much WAR through that age. This gives me the percentages. So, to make an example with fake data, if half of the Hall of Famers had 2.0 through age 21, and 50 of 100 players with 2.0 WAR through that age eventually made the Hall of Fame (filtering out non-eligible players and ones still on the ballot), then our percentage is that 50% of position players with 2.0 WAR through age 21 went on to make the Hall of Fame.

This of course comes with a number of caveats. This is entirely descriptive, and won’t be able to predict things like how the voters will react to steroid users or something. This also obviously doesn’t predict whether a player will go on to deserve induction and get snubbed (a number of the false positives are in fact players I would argue should be inducted). And of course, missing these marks isn’t a death sentence for a player’s chance at Cooperstown; by definition, half of the Hall of Famers didn’t reach these totals. This is mostly just to give us an idea of younger players’ chances at reaching the Hall; after all, they don’t just suddenly appear, fully-formed, with a Hall case ready to go. It takes years to build to that, and we can watch in real time as it happens.

Now then, we can move on to the post-2020 results! Players are listed based on their ages from the 2020 season.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The Best Players Getting Snubbed by the Veterans Committee, Part 3

Today, we have the third and final part of my series looking at the thirty best players who have been totally overlooked by the Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee process. It's a direct continuation of the first two parts, which can be found here and here. Also, if you'd like to see my chart summarizing Veterans Committee ballots since 2000, that can be found here, with the annotation notes: non-player candidates are highlighted in red (Joe Torre gets an off-red color, since his first few ballot appearances were as a player), each column is a different year’s VC ballot, and X’s show seasons that they were nominees. Yellow means a candidate was inducted that year (with subsequent years blacked out), green means the player hadn’t been retired long enough for VC consideration, and light blue is years where the candidate wasn’t up for consideration (for example, how they currently consider certain eras at a time).

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Bob Caruthers (SP/OF, 59.6 WAR)

If you’ve read any of my Hall snubs coverage in the past (or similar articles from other writers), you might be familiar with Wes Ferrell, the pitcher from the 1930s who could hit like a position player. Ferrell has had plenty of VC ballots (including 6 since 2000), but the 1880s equivalent Bob Caruthers (who even finished within half a Win of Ferrell’s career total) has not. His career, like many of the other 1800s pitchers I’ve covered, was relatively short, at ten years exactly, and he did pitch in fewer games than most of them. He makes up for some of that by being an actually good hitter, though, with a career 134 OPS+ to go with his 122 ERA+. I don’t know if I’d put him ahead of Ferrell, but that certainly is an interesting narrative hook that puts him ahead of some of the other 1800s pitchers I’ve touched on so far.



Sherry Magee (LF, 59.4 WAR) #

Magee had some bad luck in building a Hall of Fame narrative. He was one of the better offensive players of the deadball era, but retired in 1919, the year before Babe Ruth went to the Yankees, hit 54 home runs, and rewired how everyone thought about offense in baseball. He played for mostly mediocre teams, primarily the 1900s-1910s Phillies, but was dealt away in 1915, at which point the Phillies made a surprise pennant win. He finally won a World Series as a part-time player on the Reds in 1919, but that was probably the only World Series where the losing team is more famous than the winner. Magee had been retired for a bit when the Hall of Fame opened, but wasn’t really old enough to qualify for early attempts at Old Timers Committees. He made a handful of BBWAA ballots in the early years (which featured very different rules), but never got more than 1% of the vote, as he was already something of a relic from a different era. Magee did make the pre-1943 ballot of the 2009 Veterans Committee induction, where he got 3 of the required 12 votes, but did not make the 2013 or 2016 ballots.



Bret Saberhagen (SP, 58.9 WAR)

I feel like I’ve mentioned this here repeatedly, but I think Saberhagen fits neatly within the Hall’s tradition of high-peak stars, and he (along with Cone) should be one of the first names the VC considers in their effort to elect more starting pitchers. Despite his two Cy Young Awards, Saberhagen was a one-and-done candidate on the BBWAA ballot, getting only 1.3% of the votes back in 2007. That was also Orel Hershiser’s second year on the ballot, and he fell below 5% as well, although he’s made the Today’s Game ballot both times he’s been eligible. I’m really not sure what’s the disparity between those two in terms of Hall consideration, let alone the disparities between Cy Young winners like them and MVP winners like, say, Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy, who hung around the ballot for full terms. There’s a lot around the margins of Hall voting that gets confusing when you look at it too closely.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

The Best Players Getting Snubbed by the Veterans Committee, Part 2

Here's the second part of my series looking at the thirty best Veterans Committee-eligible players who have been snubbed in the process. It directly follows the first part, which you can find here if you missed. Also, if you'd like to see my chart summarizing Veterans Committee ballots since 2000, that can be found here, with the annotation notes: non-player candidates are highlighted in red (Joe Torre gets an off-red color, since his first few ballot appearances were as a player), each column is a different year’s VC ballot, and X’s show seasons that they were nominees. Yellow means a candidate was inducted that year (with subsequent years blacked out), green means the player hadn’t been retired long enough for VC consideration, and light blue is years where the candidate wasn’t up for consideration (for example, how they currently consider certain eras at a time).

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Willie Randolph (2B, 65.9 WAR)

Randolph is like what you would get if you crossed Lou Whitaker and Graig Nettles (see part 1). Randolph appeared on the 1998 ballot, hit 1.1% of the vote and vanished. Like Nettles, Randolph was a six-time All-Star and two-time champion on the ‘70s Yankees. I’m kind of wondering if the fame of being a Yankee only extends so far, though (something I alluded to last time); like, those ‘70s Yankees benefitted Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter’s cases (and maybe Ron Guidry, who got a decade on the BBWAA ballot), and that’s as far as it went. Nettles, Randolph, and Thurman Munson were just all out of luck. If that is the case, it’s not surprising that Randolph got the shortest end of the stick. His skillset was extremely un-flashy, with lower power totals (he actually has a higher OBP than slugging percentage) and an only-decent average supplemented with a great eye (he’s 55th all-time in walks!), solid baserunning, and a fantastic up-the-middle glove (but at not-shortstop, so it gets overlooked). For the last part, it probably also doesn’t help that he didn’t win any Gold Gloves (the defense component of Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement has him sixth all-time at the position, but Frank White is third on the same list and was racking them up during Randolph’s peak).



Reggie Smith (CF/RF, 64.6 WAR)

Center field isn’t quite third base, but it’s still overlooked in its own way when it comes to Cooperstown, with fewer members than the corner outfield spots. But it probably also doesn’t help that Smith spent the second half of his career in right field, either, naturally inviting that comparison. Smith had a typical career for an overlooked star (good-but-not-singular average and power with great plate discipline leading for a very good but well-divided total package; above-average defense at a difficult position, but maybe not the best ever). But I’ve also seen some speculation that splitting your career (in a variety of ways) hurts a player’s impression on voters, possibly making it harder for them to consider every facet of a player’s career as a single package. And Smith (8 years in Boston, 9 years in the NL between the Dodgers, Cardinals, and Giants; 800+ games at two positions) certainly fits that profile. He didn’t even reach 1% of the vote in 1988, and has not resurfaced since.

Monday, February 8, 2021

The Best Players Getting Snubbed by the Veterans Committee, Part 1

In my recent article digging into issues with the Veterans Committee, one problem that I noted was that the Veterans Committee tends to repeat the same few candidates over and over, often to the exclusion of other players deserving of consideration. The way I determined this was by going back through every Veterans Committee ballot since the turn of the millennium and listing every player who appeared, then noting subsequent reappearances.

If you’re interested in that mess of a chart, you can see it here. There’s a lot going on there, so as a quick summary: non-player candidates are highlighted in red (Joe Torre gets an off-red color, since his first few ballot appearances were as a player), each column is a different year’s VC ballot, and X’s show seasons that they were nominees. Yellow means a candidate was inducted that year (with subsequent years blacked out), green means the player hadn’t been retired long enough for VC consideration, and light blue is years where the candidate wasn’t up for consideration (for example, how they currently consider certain eras at a time).

Those last two colors may not be perfect, since it was mostly based on my snap judgments for over 100 players, and the Hall’s various rule changes and ambiguities mean those designations aren’t always clear (for example, some players, like Luis Tiant, have actually seen their era designation shift), and I sometimes used gray to convey my uncertainties around the fringes. But it’s mostly accurate, and does its biggest job of showing which names are getting considered the most.

In compiling that info, I couldn’t help but notice how many names that I was expecting to appear just… didn’t. At all. Sure, a lot of big names in the world of Hall of Fame snubs made frequent appearances, like Dick Allen or Minnie Miñoso or Ken Boyer. But with 109 names to get through, there were definitely some absences that surprised me. Granted, some of them (especially older ones) might have appeared on older ballots (although some of those also didn’t publish finalized lists of names they considered, either, so no list will be 100% comprehensive), but still, with two decades to consider, this feels like a pretty long time for these big names to just never show up, or to come up just once.

So, once that was done, I went through Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement career leaderboards, filtered out everyone who was active or not yet eligible for the Veterans Committee, then matched the remaining players to their count from my chart. My main goal is just to highlight the biggest names to be totally ignored by the process, but when appropriate, I’ll also reflect on the little attention they have gotten, speculate on reasons for that cold shoulder, and look at what it might take to break that streak.

With that, here’s the list of the thirty best players eligible for the Veterans Committee that have nonetheless appeared on one or zero ballots since 2000 (players with one appearance marked with a #).

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

2021 Hall of Fame Results are a Shut Out, but the Long-Term Chances for Several Players Look Good

Tuesday afternoon saw the results announcement for 2021 Hall of Fame balloting, and there’s a lot to break down on this year’s ballot. Let’s jump right in.

First off, no one made it in off the BBWAA ballot, the first time this has happened since 2013. That’s not terribly shocking, since no one was trending over the necessary 75% on Ryan Thibodaux’s ballot tracking project. More shocking was that fourteen writers turned in a blank ballot, which is apparently a record. This ballot was less packed than it has been the last few years, but I still think there were a number of deserving candidates on it.

Leading the pack was Curt Schilling, who finished at 71.1%, just 16 votes shy of induction. That is still an improvement on 2020, when he finished at 70%, which is a little surprising when you consider that the pre-vote tracking had him down 3 votes from 2020. In total, that means he went from 278 ballots in ’20 to 285 this year. Another year like this won’t be enough to get him over the line. Maybe he’ll get a bigger boost from it being his tenth and final year, something that does happen regularly with candidates, but refraining from spouting gross bullshit for a year would probably also do enough to win him the votes he needs. Who knows if he’s capable of that, though?

Another major story from the year, as it is every year, was the candidacies of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. 2021 also represented their penultimate chances at election, and has long been the trend, there wasn’t a lot of movement for either. Bonds finished at 61.8%, while Clemens was just below him at 61.6%.

Both marks are within 2% of their 2020 finishes, which means they’ll need a little over 50 voters to flip from no to yes to make the leap. The only way that seems especially likely is if there are a number of voters who deliberately planned on waiting until their last ballot to support them. It’s more plausible that there are voters considering that strategy for them than it is for some candidates, but it still doesn’t strike me as a group with over 50 constituents. As mentioned, 2022 marks their final year on the BBWAA ballot, after which point they will officially become the hottest topic the Veterans Committee has to deal with (of course, the BBWAA won’t be totally relieved of controversial all-time greats at that point either, but more on that later).

But the more interesting story than the top of the ballot this year was actually the middle of the ballot, which saw some substantial gains for a number of players. And not only that, but for a number of them, it was the continuation of a trend from last year.

Leading the pack is Scott Rolen, who followed up last year’s 18-point jump with another 17.5-point leap to 52.9%. That repetition, combined with finally breaking the 50% mark, puts him in a very good spot; he just needs a little over 22% of the vote, and he has six-years to make up that gap, with none of the baggage that the three players above him have (not even mentioning the four extra years he has without them starting in 2023). I think right now, you can put him down for a 2023 ETA, although maybe two straight years of big jumps convinces a few more voters to check the box next year and he goes in a year earlier.

Rolen made the biggest jump, but multiple other players also saw their percentages increase by double digits. Billy Wagner, in attempt number six, jumped from 31.7% to 46.4%, the third biggest leap of the day. That means that, over the last two cycles, he’s improved nearly 30 full points. In other words, in his last four years on the ballot, he just has to match his improvement over the last two years to secure a plaque. It’s not a sure thing, but with Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, and Lee Smith all in Cooperstown, there are no other closers competing with him for limited spots. I think he does it, although I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s a year or two behind Rolen.

You also have to feel pretty good about the chances for Todd Helton. In his third go around, he fell just shy of 45% of the vote, at 44.9%. That places him right between Rolen and Wagner, in terms of improvement, at a 15.7-point jump. Again, that’s a little behind Rolen, but Helton also has an extra year on the ballot. Barring any big changes, he’ll probably be going in sometime around those two.

Gary Sheffield (40.6%) and Andruw Jones (33.9%) also had big leaps, although their cases aren’t quite as rosy as Rolen, Wagner, and Helton. Sheffield, in his seventh attempt, has seen some major improvement over the last two years (from 13.6% in 2019 to 30.5% last year to this year), but given his steroid ties, I don’t know how he gets past the ceiling that Bonds and Clemens seem stuck at. I expect he stops making leaps of this size in the next year or two, but given that I also didn’t expect him to pick up 27% in two years, I don’t know how confident I am in that prediction. Is there a big group of voters who check “No” on Bonds and Clemens but would consider Sheffield? I haven’t heard of one, but there are some pretty idiosyncratic voters, so I guess it’s possible.

Jones’s case, meanwhile, started from a much worse place than most of these other players. In 2018, he debuted at 7.3% of the vote, and only improved to 7.5% the next year. Granted, those were crowded ballots, but that’s still pretty low. Since then, though, he’s improved to 19.4% in 2020, and then that 33.9% mark this year. I’m not ruling his candidacy out at all, but it’s hard to see him making it in in two to three years when compared to the Rolen/Wagner/Helton trio. If Jones gets in, it’ll probably be in the last three years of his eligibility on the BBWAA ballot (or via the Veterans Committee, if that falls through for some reason). Two more years like the last two gets him to over 60%, though, and it’s hard to make that trajectory, with a few more ballots to spare after, look bad.

Omar Vizquel (49.1%) is the one player in this bunch that doesn’t look good, largely due to the fact that he’s the only returning player on the ballot to see his vote total decrease from 2020 to 2021. In slipping from 52.6%, he even fell behind Rolen, who he led last year. Vizquel has always been a marginal candidate, and multiple voters likely balked at voting for him again following The Athletic’s recent reporting on his off-field issues (including allegations of domestic violence against his wife, as well as separate accusations about conduct toward a coworker from his time as manager Birmingham Barons that apparently led to his early termination back in 2019). Breaking 50% is usually seen as a positive indication of future induction (whether by BBWAA vote or Veterans Committee), but Vizquel also wouldn’t be the first borderline Hall case to tank his own candidacy through poor off-the-field behavior (Steve Garvey also leaps to mind).

Moving down the list, Jeff Kent (32.4%, +4.9) improved, but not enough, given that he only has two more go-arounds. I think the VC will give him strong consideration once he ages off the ballot, but I can’t see him picking up the 40% he needs before then. Manny Ramirez (28.2%) didn’t see any change from 2020, so it could have been worse for him, I guess. The still doesn’t mean much. And Sammy Sosa’s chances (17%, +3.1) look pretty dead in the water, with only two years to go.

Five other players crossed the 5% threshold needed to return on the 2022 ballot: Andy Pettitte (13.7%), Mark Buehrle (11.0%), Torii Hunter (9.5%), Bobby Abreu (8.7%), and Tim Hudson (5.2%). I recently wrote about how Pettitte, Buehrle, and Hudson deserve more consideration, and I had similar thoughts last year about Abreu, so that’s good to see, at least, even if their chances of climbing to 75% are low. My thoughts on Hunter are a lot weaker, but it’s not like he was a bad player.

In addition to all of these names, 2022 will serve as the Hall of Fame ballot debut for Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz, for those of you worried that Bonds and Clemens falling off the ballot would mean an end to the performance enhancing drug discussion we get each winter. It’s hard to say how they’ll do until we start seeing some early returns next winter, but my gut says “strong debut at over 50%, but not first ballot”. Meanwhile, Mark Teixeira and Jimmy Rollins will attempt to follow in Hudson, Buehrle, and Hunter’s footsteps and reach 5%.

So overall, the next crop of newcomers isn’t as weak as this year’s, but it’s also not overwhelmingly strong, either. I expect another year of forward movement from this year’s big gainers, which could set the stage for another big leap in 2023, when Bonds, Clemens, Schilling, and Sosa all age off and are replaced by a class led by Carlos Beltran and… John Lackey, I guess? Weak ballots are good for holdovers, so I feel extra confident about Rolen, Wagner, and Helton’s chances in that stretch (as well as Andruw’s odds to set himself up for an election down the line).

Monday, January 18, 2021

The Hall of Fame's Problems Aren't Just Crowded Ballots, Part 2

This is a direct follow-up to last week’s long piece on the Hall of Fame and the Veterans Committee. Check that out if you haven’t already, then come back here.

Let’s revisit one of the pins I laid out last time. From 2002 to 2007, the Veterans Committee made no inductions at all. But starting in 2008, there was a shift, thanks to a new set of rules. That year, they voted to induct five non-players: two managers (Billy Southworth and Dick Williams), two owners (Barney Dreyfuss and Walter O’Malley), and one commissioner (Bowie Kuhn). And that kicked off a notable run; while that 2008 to 2017 period saw the VC induct just three players, at the same time, they inducted fifteen non-players in that decade.

That seems extremely expansive, for a group that was simultaneously hesitant to approve of any players. This isn’t to say that I’m opposed to non-players in the Hall; in fact, I think the Hall could be doing more on that front. I’m also not going to litigate the candidacies of all of those choices, as that’s its own can of worms (although I will note that I don’t really have any problems with those managers or general managers; I do think they’re maybe too aggressive when it comes to owners and commissioners, though).

The bigger issue is, this attitude wouldn’t be a problem if the two groups weren’t currently competing for limited votes (that hasn’t always been the case), but as you probably gleaned from that five-to-one induction ratio, that is exactly what’s going on as of late: players and non-players are appearing on the same ballot. For a particularly ridiculous example, see the 2014 VC election, which was limited to twelve slots on the ballot and a maximum of four votes per ballot, yet simultaneously featured Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox, Joe Torre (all inducted that year), Marvin Miller (inducted long overdue in 2020), Billy Martin, and George Steinbrenner. Yeah, it’s hard for a player to standout in that group when votes are at a premium.

Maybe the answer to this doesn’t require splitting the players and non-players into separate groups (although if you do that, definitely don’t do what the Hall did from 2008 to 2010 and alternate voting on players and non-players each year, because that was really dumb). If you’re going to limit each voter’s votes that harshly, it might. But like with the BBWAA, I think the better solution is to just raise or remove the cap on how many players a voter can select from at a time.

As things stand now, the Veterans Committee has a vote limit that’s even more restrictive than the one on the BBWAA ballot, with four votes to go around the ten pre-screened choices (formerly twelve, in the first half of the last decade) each year. Four out of ten might not seem too out of line with the limit on the BBWAA ballot, but the level of pre-screening the two groups receive makes a big difference: all ten players on the VC ballot are deliberately added there because the Hall thinks their cases are worth re-considering. Even the worst player on their final ten-person ballot of the current system usually wouldn’t make the worst Hall of Famer if they were somehow elected (something we have more or less tested!).

In contrast, a decent number of slots on the BBWAA ballot go to players who only meet the bare minimum criteria for consideration (ten seasons, retired for five years), but who aren’t expected to get substantial vote totals (see, for this year’s examples, guys like Aramis Ramirez, or Dan Haren, or LaTroy Hawkins…). In effect, the Veteran Committee’s votes are much more thinly spread. If a voting limit is impeding the BBWAA’s election process, then it’s kneecapping the VC’s.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Hall of Fame's Problems Aren't Just Crowded Ballots, Part 1

I’ve had a lot of thoughts about the Hall of Fame lately. Not just about it in terms of this year’s ballot, although that is a lot of it, but also in terms of it as an institution and a process for enshrinement. The complete logjam on the main ballot the last few years, plus a Veterans Committee run that included several good selections, managed to send some of these issues to the backburner for a while, but they never fully went away, and this year is starting to highlight some of those issues again.

Really, there have been a lot of thing I’ve written lately that have brushed up against these topics indirectly, and I’ve been putting them off to stop those articles from getting derailed, intending to instead revisit them later. But what finally convinced me to finally pull all of those ideas together was this piece by Brian Cohn over at The Crawfish Boxes.

It’s a good piece, and a response to my last article looking at the Hall of Fame cases for Andy Pettitte, Mark Buehrle, and Tim Hudson. And he’s right; Pettitte, for all the support he’s gotten so far (2021 is his third year on the ballot, and according to early tracking, he’s polling at nearly 15% through 140+ ballots), is not as good as a lot of players who have fallen off the Hall ballot, many who didn’t even get a second time, let alone a third and fourth.

But that’s just one of the many problems with Hall of Fame voting as it’s currently structured. I’ve gone over it more in the past, when things were even more crowded, but like I mentioned last time, this year’s “normal sized” ballot still contains more players that I would vote for than spots to vote for them with. Just because the worst of the ballot crunch is gone doesn’t mean the problem no longer needs to be fixed.

Voters have gotten better at working around this problem, with strategic voting providing increased focus to players in critical thresholds, but this still isn’t an actual solution, just a workaround: get deserving players in quicker so you can shift focus (and their vote) to other players, and keep more fringe players around so they can get the discussion they deserve down the road. Pettitte is picking up more support than other deserving players, but under this theory, he becomes more deserving of more votes because he can actually build toward induction and be taken off the ballot. And I can see why that disconnect might be frustrating; it feels weird to have a vote for the Hall of Fame, but needing to leave the best players off of it so that you can vote for worse players (that you still think are deserving, mind you!) with more popular support.

Another thing that I commented on in Brian’s article is the choice of David Cone (this might feel like a bit of a tangent now, but I promise it all ties together later). I might have to look into this more later, but just looking back at it, I have no idea why Cone fell off the ballot so quickly. A former Cy Young winner with multiple other good seasons, a five-time All-Star, five-time World Series champion, who threw a perfect game. And all of that added up to just 3.9% of the vote, below even fifteenth-place Mark Grace. He wasn’t the best pitcher on the ballot that year, since Bert Blyleven (in his twelfth go-around) was still hanging around, but I would have a difficult time ranking four different pitchers ahead of him.

Was it really just his win total, given that he just fell short of 200 wins? If that is the case, he might have an argument for the player most screwed over by the 1994-5 Strike, given that those were two of his best seasons and he only needed six more wins to reach the milestone. Fred McGriff and his 493 homers are the only other major contender for this title that springs to my mind, but I still think McGriff goes in on his first Veterans Committee vote. I don’t even know if Cone makes it on to the next VC ballot he’s eligible for; by my understanding, he was eligible for the 2019 vote, but didn’t make that one.

Actually, let’s focus on the Veterans Committee a little more closely, since it’s another major point I want to focus on here. The BBWAA ballot has its problems, but so many of their biggest ones could be addressed with expanding or doing away with the cap on votes per ballot. How the BBWAA vote works with the VC, and their intersection, provides a different set of failures that are more unique and interesting.

But first, I want to address something about the two main methods of Hall induction. I often see them separated out, and on the one hand, I get it. On the whole, the BBWAA has inducted better players. But the question is also more complicated than that, which is why I get frustrated when I see people talk about doing away with the Veterans Committee entirely.

The BBWAA gets first pick at all of the most obvious candidates, which I think skews things in their favor. Like, yeah, they induct the Greg Madduxes and the Derek Jeters and whatnot; that many “gimmes” makes them look a lot better at the process than they really are, though. At the same time they’re making the calls that literally everyone else would make, they still regularly make questionable choices of their own, in both directions.

Guys like Catfish Hunter, Jim Rice, and Bruce Sutter look every bit the part of the stereotypical “Veterans Committee playing favorites” pick, but made it in on the BBWAA ballot. Meanwhile, players with overwhelming resumes like Johnny Mize, Ted Simmons, and Arky Vaughan had to wait for the VC to take up their cases. And even on some “obvious” picks that it eventually gets right, the BBWAA still leaves you scratching your head on their process; for example, why weren’t Yogi Berra (two times on the ballot), Phil Niekro (five tries), or Duke Snider (eleven!) first ballot selections? I have no idea! Maybe the first ballot distinction isn’t as meaningful as many people want to claim it is (and it’s probably a good thing the Hall doesn’t usually mention that on the plaques, since it’s so messy).

So on the whole, if we are going to have a Hall of Fame, we need something like the Veterans Committee as part of the process. And in my mind, it’s all the better to tear down the distinction between the two, for those reasons; the important thing is to get deserving players enshrined, and to not treat one method as some less-official “back door”.

In some regards, the Hall actually does a decent job of this! Once again, while it keeps note of how each choice was inducted, the plaques in the hall itself don’t make mention of or differentiate among the different selection methods. That’s good! People still remember the best of the best and the favorites, while the more questionable selections are still largely ignored by most people. No inductee is being “dishonored” by other players getting in, and the only people who could off the top of their head tell you that, say, High Pockets Kelly is in Cooperstown are largely trivia buffs who find it an amusing tidbit of info rather than an outrage to be corrected.

With all of that established, we actually can take a closer look at where the VC has gone wrong in recent history. While the early-‘70s Frankie Frisch era had the problem of letting too many players in, the much more recent problem has been the exact opposite: the VC has gotten too restrictive in who it lets in.

From 2002 to 2008, no players made it past the group (in 2008, they did finally let some non-players in, but put a pin in that for now). In 2009, they finally allowed Joe Gordon (died 1978) through the gates, a deserving player who had missed time while serving in World War II, which Hall voters had never really accounted for. They continued electing non-players, but the next player they let in was Ron Santo in 2012. Santo was a long-overdue pick, one of the ten best players in history at his position, but it took his death two years earlier to inspire the VC to actually act on his case. The next year saw them induct Deacon White, a formerly forgotten star of the 1800s who had died during Gordon’s sophomore season. And then, we saw another four years of solely non-players.

So for that sixteen year stretch, the VC inducted three players, none of whom were alive to enjoy the honor (and one of whom seems to have made it over the line because he had just died). If the point of the VC is to cover for BBWAA misses, that’s a pretty dismal stretch (especially if you think players being alive to see their induction is at all important). And, as you’ll know if you’ve followed my writing on this in the past, it’s not like they were short on potential candidates at that time, either!

The Hall restructured their rules on the Veterans Committee multiple times in the interim to get things going again, and maybe some of that finally stuck (in the last three years, they’ve added five players to the Hall*, and all of them have still been alive, to boot!). It could be like the BBWAA, where the failure to elect anyone in 2013 convinced voters to approach the task differently. But again, that’s people working around the existing system, rather than trying to build a better system without those inherent flaws.

*One sub-point I want to make is about candidate quality: while I think Alan Trammell and Ted Simmons are stellar choices, and Lee Smith makes sense compared to the other closers the Hall has inducted, Harold Baines and Jack Morris, though, are… not quite as good. I’ve already covered how Baines’ election was strange, and that one is all on the VC. I’m hesitant to chalk Morris up to the VC only, though.

If we regard the election of Jack Morris (and, if you’re among the more skeptical when it comes to closers, Lee Smith) as a miss by the VC, it only seems fair to note that they were only allowed to make that miss because of BBWAA incompetence. Both Morris and Smith had passed 50% and seemed well on their way to reaching the 75% needed for induction, but saw the 2013 crush of candidates kill their momentum. On an unlimited ballot, that might not have happened, and thus they might have been inducted like normal by the BBWAA. So for an analogy, if the election of Morris was the VC running into a metaphorical pole, it only happened because the BBWAA walking ahead of them tripped on their own metaphorical shoelaces before reaching it. Shoot, the BBWAA might have specifically cleared the path for the VC, if anything, thanks to years of building momentum through his case via the yearly discussions of the BBWAA ballot.

Still, as long as the induction of candidates doesn’t slow to a trickle again, it seems like they’ve at least found a format that isn’t actively impeding inductions. There are still pressing issues, though. Unfortunately, this piece is getting a little long, so I’ll revisit these issues in a Part 2 next week.