Thursday, December 29, 2016

Our Annual (Analytically-Based) MLB Hall of Fame Predictions: Say Hello to a Deserving Trio

Here are BTRTN’s Annual Baseball Hall of Fame predictions!  The announcement will be made on January 18, a bit later than usual.

And without further ado, we predict that the Hall will welcome a trio of National Leaguers (by and large), Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Trevor Hoffman into the Class of 2017.  Each fell just short of the mark last year, and without a compelling first-ballot candidate in the mix, they should push through this year.  It should be noted that Raines is in his last year of eligibility, the first candidate to face that fate at the 10-year mark rather than the former 15-year cutoff.

Note:  we have made these predictions without peeking at the voting to date that is compiled annually by the Hall of Fame Vote Tracker, so this is a “clean” prediction.

Last year we did not do so well.  While we were perfect in the big picture, nailing Ken Griffey, Jr. and Mike Piazza as the inductees (and correctly calling that Bagwell, Raines and Hoffman would fall short), we generally undercalled the voting percentages for most of the holdovers.  We thought that, after aberrant years in 2014 and 2015 when voting soared to well over 8 votes per voter (and seven players were inducted), votes per voter would fall back to the 6-7 range (from 1990 to 2013, votes per voter ranged from 4.2 to 6.8).  But while that metric did fall a bit in 2016, it dropped only from 8.4 to 7.9.  That meant that collectively the candidates received almost 600 votes more than we expected, or about 1.5 per voter.

We do think votes per voter will fall again this year, with no legitimate first-ballot candidates in the mix to replace Junior Griffey last year.  We project that we will see 7.4 votes per voter.

This year there are 19 newcomers to the HOF ballot who join 15 holdovers for a field of 34.  This analysis will focus on answering three questions:  1) who will be elected to the Hall of Fame this year, 2) how many votes will everyone on the ballot receive, and 3) who should be in the Hall of Fame, regardless of how the voting goes?

To answer the first two questions, we have developed separate models for newcomers, second-year and three-year-plus candidates.  The first-year model basically relies on Wins Above Replacement value as the independent variable, while the holdover models rely primarily on prior voting history tempered by WAR (players with higher WARs tend to do better in Year 2, those with lower WARs tend to do worse).  PED-tainting is also a factor in the models. We are not ruled by the models; they get us within field goal range of our final predictions.  We then do some manual adjustments, in part to reconcile the individual vote projections with the overall vote projection, and also in individual cases to consider other factors such as outstanding postseason performances and nearing the end of the eligibility cutoff.

So, let’s break down all 29 players on the ballot:

·         As stated, there will be three new members of the Hall of Fame, and each has had to overcome some baggage.  Bagwell had a PED shadow, and this is his 7th time on the ballot; Raines’ past included an early bout with cocaine addiction, and this is his last shot; and, in Hoffman’s case, HOF voters are still trying to figure out how to assess relievers, but they surely knew that Hoffman was not on a par with his contemporary, Mariano Rivera, particularly in the postseason, and this kept Hoffman out last year in his first ballot appearance.

·         A total of 15 players will not gain election but will surpass the 5% threshold for inclusion on next year’s ballot.  Curt Schilling will continue his climb, and come in 4th, followed by Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina and the kings of PED, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds.  We have been hearing that the writers might be softening on the PED era a bit, or at least for Clemens and Bonds, who were Hall-worthy before their PED years, so perhaps the notorious duo will make a larger jump.  (Their bump last year was less than the average of the other holdover candidates.)  Martinez and Mussina had the biggest increases last year, along with Fred McGriff.  Among the first-balloters, Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Jorge Posada and Vladimir Guerrero will survive, but only Rodriguez will garner significant support

·         That leaves 16 players who will miss the 5% cutoff, Sammy Sosa and 15 first-timers.  We thought Sosa would miss the cut last year but he squeaked by.  We don’t think he will survive again; he saw none of the “bump” that Clemens and Bonds (and the other holdovers) enjoyed.  The rest of the pack includes some very good players; Magglio Ordonez was an All-Star six times.  But the rest are head scratchers for HOF consideration…why does the Hall insist on loading up the ballot with clearly non-deserving players, including four (Orlando Cabrera, Casey Blake, Pat Burrell and Matt Stairs) who failed to make even one All-Star team?  How can you be considered for the HOF when you have never been selected as one of the top 60+ players in MLB in any year of your career?

So, here are my predictions for the January, 2017 Hall of Fame announcement.  The columns are:  WAR = Wins Above Replacement value, YOB = Years on Ballot, PED = steroid issue, LY% is the percentage a player received in last year’s vote, and then our projection in the last column.  That is, to be absolutely clear, we are predicting that Jeff Bagwell will receive 87% of the vote, Tim Raines 85%, and so on.

2017
WAR
YOB
PED
LY%
Final Proj.
79.6
7

71.6
87
69.1
10

69.8
85
Trevor Hoffman
28.4
2

67.3
82
79.9
5

52.3
63
68.3
8

43.4
53
140.3
5
1
45.2
52
83.0
4

43.0
52
162.4
5
1
44.3
51
29.6
15

34.1
45
Ivan Rodriguez
68.4
1


30
Fred McGriff
52.4
8

20.9
26
55.2
4

16.6
20
Larry Walker
72.6
7

15.5
18
Manny Ramirez
69.2
1
1

15
Vladimir Guerrero
59.3
1


12
Gary Sheffield
60.3
3
1
11.6
11
Billy Wagner
28.1
2

10.5
11
Jorge Posada
42.7
1


11
Sammy Sosa
58.4
5
1
7.0
4
Edgar Renteria
32.1
1


4
Jason Varitek
24.3
1


3
Mike Cameron
46.5
1


2
J.D. Drew
44.9
1


2
Magglio Ordonez
38.5
1


1
Orlando Cabrera
21.4
1


1
Derrek Lee
34.3
1


0
Tim Wakefield
34.6
1


0
Melvin Mora
28.2
1


0
Carlos Guillen
27.7
1


0
Casey Blake
24.9
1


0
Pat Burrell
18.8
1


0
Freddy Sanchez
15.8
1


0
Arthur Rhoades
15.4
1


0
Matt Stairs
14.3
1


0
7.41 per

Regardless of the projections and the voting, who should be in the Hall of Fame?  This analysis compares the current candidates to key statistics of three categories of comparable players:  the “Top Half” of all players at their position in the HOF (ranked by WAR), the “average” Hall of Famer at their position, and the “Bottom Half” of all players at their position in the HOF.  The “Bottom Half” is basically composed of either players who should NOT be in the Hall (the Ross Youngs type) or players who are deserving but tend to have been borderline selections.  In general, our ballot consists of candidates who are markedly better than the “Bottom Half” average.

Our ballot consists of the following 13 players (we don’t confine ourselves to the silly “Max of 10” rule):  the three projected inductees plus Ivan Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Jeff Bagwell, Fred McGriff, Larry Walker, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Lee Smith and Billy Wagner.

Catchers

If you ignore the PED rumors, Ivan Rodriguez is a gimme, a clear HOF’erHe has two things going for him: his longevity and his defense.  He was a good offensive catcher, but hardly a great one, as evidenced by his mere 106 OPS+.  His longevity is signaled by his accumulation of 2844 hits, unheard of for a catcher.  His 68 WAR is, as you can see from the chart below, is in line with the greatest to play the position, and makes him a lock for Halldom.  And much of that WAR is driven by exceptional defense (his dWAR is 29).

Jorge Posada was an extremely difficult call.  Viscerally, he feels like he belongs with the long list of Yankees from the modern era who won championships and earned Hall votes but ultimately fell short of induction -- great players like Bernie Williams, Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles and Ron Guidry – rather than be enshrined alongside (ultimately) Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.  But his stats tell a different story.  Posada is simply one of the top offensive catchers of all time; statistically, he sits (squats?) squarely with the average HOF catcher, well above the bottom half.  He was no defensive whiz, but he did handle a staff that won five World Series.  We think he deserves it, though we don’t think the writers will agree, and certainly not this year.  Jorge is on our ballot.

Catchers
Avg.
Hits
HR
RBI
OPS+
WAR
Top Half
0.287
2052
307
1256
127
62
Average HOF
0.287
1798
214
1036
121
50
Bottom Half
0.287
1544
121
816
115
38
Ivan Rodriguez
0.296
2844
311
1332
106
68
Jorge Posada
0.273
1664
275
1065
121
43

First Basemen

Jeff Bagwell’s stats are extraordinary, basically in line with the stats of the top half of Hall of Fame first baseman, a heady group that includes legends like Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx, Frank Thomas, Eddie Murray, Johnny Mize and Willie McCovey.  There is no question that he is a HOF’er and has been punished for the PED shadow for years. 

Fred McGriff has always been a very tough call for us, but we have convinced ourselves that he belongs in the HOF.  His home run and RBI totals alone make a strong case – right with the giants of the position.  And while his WAR and OPS+ are a little on the tepid side for first basemen, they are still better than those of the bottom half.  Fred makes our 2017 ballot.

First Basemen
Avg.
Hits
HR
RBI
OPS+
WAR
Top Half
0.296
2578
347
1580
152
82
Average HOF
0.291
2402
296
1434
142
66
Bottom Half
0.286
2210
239
1274
131
49
Jeff Bagwell
0.297
2314
449
1529
149
80
Fred McGriff
0.284
2490
493
1550
134
51

Second Basemen

Jeff Kent is the all-time leading home run hitter among second baseman, and is third in RBIs behind Rogers Hornsby and Napoleon Lajoie.  He was simply one of the greatest power-hitting second basemen ever and the greatest of modern times.  There is no question he deserves to be in the HOF, and he is on our ballot.

Second Basemen
Avg.
Hits
HR
RBI
OPS+
WAR
Top Half
0.314
2780
181
1259
132
90
Average HOF
0.298
2442
160
1089
120
69
Bottom Half
0.283
2103
139
920
107
48
Jeff Kent
0.290
2461
377
1518
123
55

Shortstops

Edgar Renteria will be forever known as a World Series Game 7 wunderkind, the author of not one but two game-winning, series-ending, series-winning hits, in 1997 with Florida and in 2014 with the Red Sox, neatly bookending a fine career.  His stats generally hold up with the bottom half of HOF second basemen, but his WAR and OPS+ are below that standard.  We had to think twice about him, but decided he falls a bit short.  It is a tough era to be a borderline case.

Shortstops
Avg.
Hits
HR
RBI
OPS+
WAR
Top Half
0.290
2617
172
1261
117
77
Average HOF
0.286
2320
113
1035
108
62
Bottom Half
0.282
1997
49
789
99
46
Edgar Renteria
0.286
2327
140
923
94
32

Third Basemen

There are no third basemen worth mentioning are on the ballot, unless you think Casey Blake (and his 25 WAR) is worthy of a few sentences.  We don’t.

Outfielders/Designated Hitters

Tim Raines is undervalued as a speedster; his 808 steals, and 85% success rate (highest among those with 300+ attempts) do not get incorporated well into the advanced stats.  The cocaine rap doesn’t help him either.  But Rock has a WAR of 65 and easily deserves to be in the HOF.

Larry Walker suffers from “Coors Field Syndrome,” with an otherworldly home OPS of 1.068 and a merely very good .865 on the road.  It has been noted in Walker’s defense that players generally do better at home than on the road (even if not quite to Walker’s extent.)  But his 73 WAR is already park-adjusted and his overall stats are pretty much on the mark of an average HOF outfielder.  Walker is on our ballot.

Vladimir Guerrero brings his monster stats to the ballot for the first time and if Walker is deserving, so is Guerrero.  Vladdy’s WAR is lower than Walker’s, but he hit many more homers and had nearly 200 more RBIs, and without the Coors effect.  He’s on our ballot, too.

Magglio Ordonez does not make it, though.  While his power stats are in line with the average HOF outfielder, his WAR and OPS+ trail the bottom halfers. 

Edgar Martinez gets dissed because he was mostly a full-time DH (68% of his games), but with an extremely healthy WAR of 68 and OPS+ of 147, he deserves to be in the HOF.  There are not enough DH’s at this point to compare him to, but in comparing him to the outfielders, you can see that his stats dominate those of the bottom half in every respect.  He’s on our ballot.

Outfielders/DHs
Avg.
Hits
HR
RBI
OPS+
WAR
Top Half
0.318
2932
314
1513
145
93
Average HOF
0.314
2566
240
1288
137
70
Bottom Half
0.309
2175
161
1047
127
46
Larry Walker
0.313
2160
383
1311
140
73
Tim Raines
0.294
2605
170
980
123
69
Vladimir Guerrero
0.318
2147
449
1496
140
59
Magglio Ordonez
0.309
2156
294
1236
125
39
Edgar Martinez
0.312
2247
309
1261
147
68

Starting Pitchers

Curt Schilling’s ERA+ is a sterling 127 and his WAR is a hefty 81.  And if you like postseason performances, his stats are phenomenal:  11-2 with a 2.23 ERA.  We’re not fans of his off the field, but he’s on our Hall of Fame ballot.

Mike Mussina, in our view, was a stronger candidate than Tom Glavine when they were both on the ballot together in 2014, each for the first time.  Mussina has a better ERA+, won-loss percentage and WAR than Glavine, but the votes for Glavine demonstrated the mystical power of the 300-win mark.  It was ludicrous that Glavine received 92% of the votes to Mussina’s 20%.  It is entirely possible that no one will ever win more than Moose’s total of 270 again.  Moose is on our ballot.

Starting Pitchers
W
W-L %
ERA+
IP
SO
WAR
Top Half
314
0.592
124
4735
2603
89
Average HOF
267
0.598
123
3998
2210
70
Bottom Half
221
0.605
122
3260
1817
50
Mike Mussina
270
0.638
123
3562
2813
83
Curt Schilling
216
0.597
127
3261
3116
81

Relief Pitchers

I could go on about relief pitchers for a while.  I’ll start with the chart below.  Here I compare the four HOF “pure” relievers(Gossage, Fingers, Sutter and Wilhelm) with the 13 relievers who reached 300 or more saves but were turned aside on the first ballot by HOF voters (none met the 5% threshold). 

Relief Pitchers
Saves
IP
ERA+
WHIP
WAR
Games
IP/G
Yr 1 Vote%
Average HOF (ex-Eck)*
335
1702
131
1.16
35
919
1.9
41%
Non-HOF 300+ Saves
334
1017
130
1.26
18
817
1.2
1%
Trevor Hoffman
601
1089
141
1.06
28
1035
1.1
67%
Billy Wagner
422
903
187
1.00
28
853
1.1
11%
478
1289
132
1.26
30
1022
1.3
42%
* Gossage, Fingers, Sutter, Wilhelm










What is interesting is that both groups averaged around 335 saves and both had identical ERA+.  Three things distinguish the HOF quartet:  their lower WHIP (1.16 versus 1.26), WARs and, perhaps most revealing, their innings pitcher per game.  The HOF relievers were NOT one inning wonders, they averaged nearly two innings per outing.

Hall voters seemed to be saying that the one-inning wonders need to do much more than merely reach 300+ saves to warrant HOF status.  They want more saves (many more) and lower WHIPs than the two-inning legends.

Against that backdrop, let’s evaluate our three candidates.

Trevor Hoffman.  So you want more saves?  How about over 600?  Lower WHIP?  How is 1.06?  Hoffman received 67% of the vote last year, his first, so his accomplishments were noted.  He’s on our ballot.

Lee Smith is a trickier story.  Sure he has plenty of saves, at 478, but his WHIP is back with the ones who have been rejected, at 1.26.  Our view is, those are a ton of saves, his ERA+ is the same as the HOF’ers and his WAR is slightly better than Hoffman’s, so he is on our ballot.

Which brings us to Billy Wagner.  We have to confess that before Wagner was on the ballot last year, we would not have believed he was Hall-worthy.  But his statistics are incredible.  He has well over 400 saves and a WHIP that is equal to that of the hallowed Mariano Rivera, 1.00.  His WAR is the same as Hoffman’s.  The writers were not too impressed last year –he received only 11% of the votes – but we are.  He’s on our ballot, too.

The Others

As for the PED gang…nobody doubts the statistical HOF credentials of Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa and Gary Sheffield.  But the steroids rap voids them all from consideration, in our view.

And for the rest…the others are fairly forgettable by Hall of Fame standards, with WARS between 14 and 47.  We are not going to devote any more time to making the case against them.

So, look for smiles from Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Trevor Hoffman, with many of the rest being content with upticks in their progress.  

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