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Thursday, January 4, 2018

BTRTN's Annual Major League Baseball Hall of Fame Predictions

At BTRTN, we predict things.  Most of the time, we are predicting the outcome of political elections, but occasionally we take a break from politics and turn our attention to the real national pastime:  baseball.  Each year, we take on the Ruthian task of predicting who will be elected to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.  The results of the voting will be announced on January 24, and we will see how we did then.

NOTE:  We realize that votes for the MLB Hall of Fame are being slowly and publicly tabulated, and that articles have already appeared on the early trends.  In preparing these predictions, we have avoided all of these tabulations and articles, so these are “pure” predictions guided only by our own statistical methods and judgment.

Each year we analyze the baseball Hall of Fame ballot to answer two questions:  1) who amongst the nominees deserves to be in the Hall of Fame? and 2) which of them will actually be elected in this year’s voting, receiving at least 75% of the vote of the Baseball Writers Association of America (we also predict what percentage each nominee will receive). The two lists are never identical.  To answer the first question, we have developed a methodology to compare nominees to their predecessors to determine their HOF-worthiness.  For the second question, we use various statistical models to come up with an initial estimate of the percentage of the vote they will receive, and we use judgment to massage and finalize that estimate.

Last year we had a so-so year.  We were pretty much dead-on in predicting Jeff Bagwell (projected 87% of the vote, actual 86%) and Tim Raines (85/86) would join the Hall, as they did.  But we just missed on Trevor Hoffman…we thought he would also get into the HOF with 82%, but he just missed at 74%.  Where we really missed was Pudge Rodriguez; in his first year, we thought Pudge would be tainted by the same kind of steroid-usage rumors that kept the also-deserving Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell out of the HOF until their 4th and 7th ballot, respectively; we had Pudge at 40% for his Year 1, but he made it to the HOF by a nose with 76%.

It’s always difficult to predict first-timers, and while we were off with Pudge, we were correct that Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez and Jorge Posada – the other first-time candidates who had realistic shots -- would not make the HOF.  But we were wildly off with Vladdy on the percentage vote – we thought he would be overlooked and underappreciated, as he had been his whole career, and would get only 12% of the vote.  But he had much greater support than that, and came very close to the HOF with 72%. 

We did better on Manny, a clear steroid abuser who we had at 15% (our regression model has PED usage as a variable, and it works!) and he received 24% -- not bad.  We thought Jorge would make it to a second year with 11%, but he fell short at 4%.  Too bad, as he is one of the great offensive catchers of all time, but like Ted Simmons, he did worse than he deserved (we think both of them should be in the HOF).

We were quite close on most of the others on the ballot.

On to this year!  Let’s get to the answers to our two questions first, and then work through the various analyses that got us there.

BTRTN predicts that the MLB Hall of Fame will soon vote in FOUR new members:  Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman and Jim Thome.

BTRTN agrees that each of those four should be in the HOF, but that the ballot also includes eight players that also should be in the HOF, but will fall short in the balloting:  Jeff Kent, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mike Mussina, Scott Rolen, Curt Schilling, Billy Wagner and Larry Walker.

Bottom line:  we believe there are 12 qualified players on the ballot, but the voters will only do right by four of them this year.

Here is the summary chart:

2018
BALLOT YEAR
WAR
SHOULD BE IN HOF?
PROJECTED %(75% NEEDED)
Chipper Jones
1
85
YES
93
Vladimir Guerrero
2
59
YES
82
Trevor Hoffman
3
28
YES
80
Jim Thome
1
73
YES
76
9
68
YES
63
6
140
NO (PED)
56
5
83
YES
56
6
162
NO (PED)
54
6
80
YES
48
Scott Rolen
1
70
YES
40
Manny Ramirez
2
69
NO (PED)
27
Fred McGriff
9
52
YES
26
Larry Walker
8
73
YES
23
5
55
YES
17
Andruw Jones
1
63
NO
15
Gary Sheffield
4
60
NO (PED)
11
Billy Wagner
3
28
YES
10
Jamie Moyer
1
50
NO
7
Omar Vizquel
1
45
NO
7
Sammy Sosa
6
58
NO (PED)
6
Johan Santana
1
51
NO
4
Johnny Damon
1
56
NO
4
Hideki Matsui
1
21
NO
4
Carlos Zambrano
1
45
NO
1
Chris Carpenter
1
35
NO
1
Jason Isringhausen
1
13
NO
1
Livan Hernandez
1
31
NO
0
Orlando Hudson
1
31
NO
0
Kevin Millwood
1
29
NO
0
Kerry Wood
1
28
NO
0
Carlos Lee
1
28
NO
0
Aubrey Huff
1
20
NO
0
Brad Lidge
1
8
NO
0

Note that the steroids-tainted players are slowly working their way through the ballot.  Clemens, Bonds and Sosa are in their 6th year, more than halfway through their ballot  life (which was shortened last year for all nominees from 15 years to 10); Gary Sheffield is in his fourth year and Manny his second.  Last year the first four all made a bit of a jump, perhaps related to changes in the composition of the voters, as a number of older (and presumably more “traditional”) writers retired, and were replaced by younger voters.  We don’t foresee a similar jump occurring again this year; we predict we will (merely) see the “typical” year-to-year uplift we often see among those who are on the ballot for two or more years.  We will stipulate that the steroid-fivesome’s stats are HOF-worthy, and also that we believe their actions are disqualifying, and we will not mention them again in our analysis. 

We will also ignore that those on the ballot who have no business being there, by and large those with WAR’s under 40; what follows are assessments of the nominees we deem worthy to be “in the conversation,” by position.

We compare each player to Hall of Famers at his position across a number of key statistics, both traditional (hits, homers, RBI’s and batting average) and non-traditional (OPS+ and WAR).  We show the average statistics for all the Hall of Famers at his position, and then divide the Hall of Famers into halves, separately (using WAR) the top half of the HOF from the bottom half.  And we also include these stats for the “next ten,” the ten players at the position who have the highest WARs but are not in the HOF.  These latter two groups define the so-called “borderline.”

Our general feeling is that a candidate, to be worthy of the HOF, must be at least as good as the “average” HOF’er at his position across these stats.  Borderline won’t do.  As you will note, the “lower half” HOF’ers are really indistinguishable from the ones who just missed, the “next 10.”  To make the HOF, in our view, you have separate yourself from the “lower halfers” and the “not-quites.”

First Base

Jim Thome is a clear Hall of Famer, and we project he will get in on the first ballot.  Thome has 612 homers: greater than 500 is a credential on its own (27 players have hit 500 homers, and all of them who are eligible are in the HOF except the known steroid abusers).  On top of that, Thome’s RBI total surpasses even the top half HOF’ers and his OPS+ and WAR are above the average group.  He’s a must, in our view; whether he makes it in on the first ballot is the only question.  He was never an MVP (though he was Top 10 four times) and he batted only .211 in 71 postseason games (albeit with 17 homers), and those factors might hurt him.

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 make a strong case – the homers are way above the greats of the position, and his RBI total right with them.  On the minus side, his WAR and OPS+ are right with the bottom half folks and the next 10.  But on balance, he is better than those groups and deserves to be in the HOF.

FIRST BASE
Avg.
Hits
HR
RBI
OPS+
WAR
Top Half
0.315
2587
340
1578
153
84
Avg HOF
0.308
2398
303
1439
143
67
Bottom Half
0.301
2210
265
1300
133
50
Next 10 non-HOF
0.290
2162
261
1172
130
52
Jim Thome
0.276
2328
612
1699
147
73
Fred McGriff
0.284
2490
493
1550
134
52

Second Base

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 also won an MVP once, was a Top 10 in the MVP balloting three other times, and he hit three homers and had seven RBI’s in his only World Series.  He was simply one of the greatest power-hitting second basemen ever and the greatest of modern times.  His WAR may be a bit low, but there is no question he deserves to be in the HOF.  He ticked off a few sportswriters in his time, and we hope that is not being held against him; this is his fifth time on the ballot. 

SECOND BASE
Avg.
Hits
HR
RBI
OPS+
WAR
Top Half
0.314
2780
181
1259
132
90
Avg HOF
0.298
2442
160
1089
120
69
Bottom Half
0.283
2103
139
920
107
48
Next 10 non-HOF
0.285
2051
133
889
116
52
Jeff Kent
0.29
2461
377
1518
123
55

Shortstop

Omar Vizquel is on the ballot for the first time, and while he deserves to be in consideration, we don’t think he will be elected, nor do we think he should.  With an OPS of only 82 – that means 18% worse than the league average over his career – he is well below both the bottom half and the Next 10.  He is almost the definition of a borderline candidate.   The main thing going for him is his 2,877 hits, a testament to his longevity – he did play 24 years.  We do think Omar will exceed the 5% standard and get to a second year, but that might be it for him.

SHORTSTOP
Avg.
Hits
HR
RBI
OPS+
WAR
Top Half
0.290
2597
173
1241
116
76
Avg HOF
0.286
2336
120
1053
109
63
Bottom Half
0.282
1997
51
809
100
46
Next 10
0.276
1995
92
903
105
49
Omar Vizquel
0.272
2877
80
951
82
45

Third Base

Chipper Jones is certain first-ballot HOF’er, one of the greats at his position of all time.  All of his stats except WAR exceed the average of the top half of HOF third basemen.  After Mike Schmitt, you could argue that he is the second best third basemen of all time, and have a nice bar room debate about it with fans of Eddie Matthews and George Brett.  He’s certainly ahead of everyone else.  Chipper is in this year, for sure.

Scott Rolen should have avoided retiring the same year as Chipper Jones.  In fact, he should have avoided overlapping his entire career in the same league as Chipper.  And, maybe he should have avoided playing third base, a position the HOF is not kind to (!).   Rolen was a terrific, if underrated player.  Chipper may dominate Rolen in every category, but Rolen in turn is solidly above the average third base HOF’er in all the power categories, and he was a great fielder, too.  We believe Rolen should be in the HOF, but he might not get in for quite a few years, if at all.  (Voters might say, he’s not much better than Graig Nettles, who never made the HOF, which is true – except Nettles should be in the HOF as well.)

THIRD BASE
Avg.
Hits
HR
RBI
OPS+
WAR
Top Half
0.288
2712
353
1403
132
90
Avg HOF
0.296
2352
228
1203
124
67
Bottom Half
0.303
2052
124
1037
117
47
Next 10 non-HOF
0.270
2086
256
1103
117
56
Chipper Jones
0.303
2726
468
1623
141
85
Scott Rolen
0.281
2077
316
1287
122
70

Outfield/DH

We put the DHs in with the outfielders because there are not enough retired mostly-DH’s to evaluate separately. 

Larry Walker’s candidacy suffers from “Coors Field Syndrome,” s critics devalue his otherworldly home OPS of 1.068 and focus instead on his very-good-but-not-HOF-worthy .865 on the road.  In Walker’s defense, players generally do better at home than on the road (even if not quite to Walker’s extent).  And 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.

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.

Andruw Jones is an interesting case, with those 434 homers and a 63 WAR that also reflects his outstanding defensive skills (the defense part of that WAR is 24).  We don’t those positives will be enough to offset his tepid (and below the bottom half and next 10) OPS+ of 111.  We have him getting 15% of the vote, but he could surprise on the upside.  Nevertheless, we do not think he is HOF-worthy.

Vladimir Guerrero brings his monster stats to the ballot for the second time and he is very deserving.  He will almost certainly be elected this year, given his 72% support last year, his first time on the ballot.  Clearly traditional stats still reign, as his WAR is on the low side.  But those homers and RBI stats are top half, and he will deserve his election.

Johnny Damon, like all speedsters, gets undervalued by traditional and less traditional stats.  But there is no escaping that shockingly low 104 OPS+.  Apart from that, he is not too dissimilar from Tim Raines, who finally made the HOF last year.  But Raines stole twice as many bases (808 versus 408) and a higher WAR (65 versus 56).  Damon was also a dismal defender (a defense WAR of -3).  We don’t think Johnny deserve to be in the HOF, and we think he will fall short of the 5% standard as well. 

Hideki Matsui is another interesting case.  He came to MLB at age 29, with a full 10-year career in Japan behind him, where he became “Godzilla” on the strength of a .995 OPS.  Voters would have to consider that phase of his career to put him in consideration for the HOF (unlike Ichiro, who can stand for the HOF on just his MLB credentials).  We’ve put Matsui’s total (US and Japan) stats on a separate line to get a sense of what he accomplished in his entire career.  But we think Matsui will not get any credit for Japan, and will not get to 5%, though he will get a few votes (some will remember his World Series MVP performance in 2009, “The Return of Godzilla,” when Matsui went 8-13 with three homers and eight RBIs.)

OUTFIELD/DH
Avg.
Hits
HR
RBI
OPS+
WAR
Top Half
0.317
2922
310
1496
145
92
Avg HOF
0.313
2567
239
1283
136
70
Bottom Half
0.309
2175
161
1047
127
46
Next 10 non-HOF
0.282
2096
241
1052
126
59
Larry Walker
0.313
2160
383
1311
141
73
Edgar Martinez
0.312
2247
309
126`1
147
68
Andruw Jones
0.254
1933
434
1289
111
63
Vladimir Guerrero
0.318
2590
449
1496
140
59
Johnny Damon
0.284
2769
235
1139
104
56
Hideki Matsui
0.282
1253
175
760
118
21
Hideki Matsui
0.293
2655
508
1654
n/a
n/a

Starting Pitchers

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 deserves to be in the HOF.

Curt Schilling’s ERA+ is a sterling 127 and his WAR is a hefty 81, both up there with the top halfers.  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 Schilling would be on our Hall of Fame ballot.

Jamie Moyer is the ultimate “longevity” candidate, a “stat compiler” by virtue of the sheer volume of pitching for 25 seasons.  The big clue here is his “ERA+” of only 103 – meaning his career ERA was only 3% better than the average for the league over his time.  You can see the average starting pitcher in the HOF had an ERA+ of 122.  Having said that, his 269 wins (one short of Mussina) will also likely never be matched again, and that will drive some support, enough, in our projection, to get him over the 5% mark.

STARTING PITCHERS
W
W-L PCT.
ERA
ERA+
WAR
IP
Top Half
314
0.592
2.96
124
89
4735
Avg HOF
267
0.598
2.97
123
70
3998
Bottom Half
221
0.605
2.97
122
50
3260
Next 10 non-HOF
237
0.568
3.07
116
64
3758
270
0.638
3.68
123
83
3562
216
0.597
3.46
127
80
3261
269
0.563
4.25
103
50
4074

We did not given Johan Santana, Chris Carpenter or Carlos Zambrano any consideration.  Each was a fine pitcher, but the Hall of Fame has never inducted a starting pitcher with less than 150 wins, and we doubt they would start with any of these three.

Relief Pitchers

There is not an extensive history of relief pitchers, so we have changed the comparison categories accordingly.  Here we compare the four “pure” relievers in the HOF (Gossage, Fingers, Sutter and Wilhelm – that is, we’re excluding Dennis Eckersley) 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).  

What is interesting is that the top group averaged fewer saves than the non-HOF group and both had near identical ERA+.  Three things distinguish the HOF quartet:  their lower WHIP (1.16 versus 1.27), higher WARs (35 versus 18) and, perhaps most revealing, their higher innings pitcher per game (1.8 versus 1.2).  The HOF relievers were NOT “one inning wonders”; they averaged nearly two innings per outing. 

RELIEF PITCHERS
Saves
IP
ERA+
WHIP
WAR
IP/G
Avg. HOF (ex-Eck)*
295
1702
131
1.16
35
1.8
Non-HOF 300+ Saves
341
1021
130
1.27
18
1.2
Trevor Hoffman
601
1089
141
1.06
28
1.1
Billy Wagner
422
903
187
1.00
28
1.1
300
1008
115
1.33
12
1.4
* Gossage, Fingers, Sutter, Wilhelm

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.  In other words, you’ve got to be really dominant one-inning reliever to make it – like Mariano Rivera (who will be eligible for the HOF next year and will be voted in on that first ballot – you heard it here first!). 

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

Trevor Hoffman.  So you want more saves?  How about over 600?  Lower WHIP?  How is 1.06?  Hoffman received 74% of the vote last year, his second, so his accomplishments were noted.  He will make the HOF this year, and he deserves to.

Billy Wagner may be a headscratcher to some, but his statistics are incredible, and some keen voters – too few -- have noticed this because he has made it to a third year on the ballot.  He has well over 400 saves and a 1.00 WHIP that is equal to that of the hallowed Mariano Rivera (and better than Hoffman’s 1.06).  His WAR is the same as Hoffman’s.  He’s on our ballot, too, though we don’t see him getting much more support than in the past (10%).

Jason Isringhausen recorded 300 saves, so he is in the conversation.  He was a starter early in his career, and that accounts for his higher (1.4) innings per outing.  As a reliever his WHIP was 1.24, and his reliever stat line is basically right in line with the non-HOF 300+ save group.  He will not be elected, nor should he.


That’s it!  Come back on January 24th and see how we did!

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