As some of you know, The Hall of Fame Index was published back in 2011. The idea at the time was to use a complex statistical system to see if there were patterns in the way Hall of Famers were selected by the Baseball Beat Writers Association of America and the Veterans Committee and then use that to compare it to modern players and players that had been overlooked. Through the process, we discovered that there was no rhyme or reason to how the Veterans Committee selected players. Some players fit and some players didn’t.
Whenever, someone publishes a book, there is always that moment when you wish you could have it back to make quick corrections. The Hall of Fame Index was several years in the making because I had those moments before publishing. Then, I’d have to start over. With this blog I can correct and update as I go. Suddenly, a static thing like the index can move constantly with the changing of the times.
The most significant change is that we will ignore the Veterans Committee selections and stick to the BBWAA. The idea here is that we want to determine a baseline for enshrinement that makes sense so that we can look at the players outside the Hall of Fame and determine which ones should get in. Doing this in blog form allows me to look at individual players and ask more focused questions that might be more interesting to those reading. Of course, the best part of the blog is that it is free to produce and free to read.
How does the Index Work?
As you’ve already heard, we are taking WAR data and Win Shares data and combining it into one number. The index has two equal aspects. The first is what I like to call “career value.” Simply put, I add the WAR together from the two sources and Win Shares (WS) divided by five into one number. Bill James calculated win shares to be three shares per win. However, he had a different calculation point than the makers of WAR, so his scores skew higher. We are dividing the total by five to make sure that it does not inadvertently account for more of the formula than the other two sources. All three take players from the replacement level and go from there. It helps us avoid what I like to call the Harold Baines problem.
See, the problem with Baines is that he was never really great. Greatness has always captivated the BBWAA. After all, it is called the Hall of Fame and not the Hall of Stats. So, I’ve added an element I call “peak value.” The trouble with peak value is that it has a number of different definitions across the board. For some it is five seasons. Others go seven season. Some count years consecutively while others do not. I have chosen ten consecutive seasons because that is the minimum needed to get into the Hall of Fame. Career value and peak value are added together to come up with a player’s Hall of Fame index.
How is the Index Used?
This part is unchanged from the book. My opinion on statistics has not changed remarkably since then. Comparing a catcher with a first baseman or center fielder makes very little sense. It also makes very little sense to pick out an arbitrary number and make that the dividing line for Hall of Fame fitness. The numbers will tell you where that line should be. There almost always is a gap between the bottom of the list and those that have been on the ballot and not gotten in. Naturally, there are exceptions to that rule and we will evaluate them one by one as we go on.
So, determining fitness is actually pretty simple. For instance, there are ten catchers that were elected by the BBWAA. Roy Campanella doesn’t really fit the mold for historical reasons we will address in a later article. So, you can reasonably compare any current catcher against the other nine to see if they belong. As we will see, a couple of catchers that have been retired for a few decades also belong in that group.
The purpose of the index is really two-fold. First, it aims to make sense of the selections that have already been made. The BBWAA usually has done a good job of selecting worthy candidates over the years, but they have made the occasional mistake either way. Secondly, it refines the debate. That is an important distinction. I’m not one of those that aims to replace the BBWAA or turn the Hall of Fame selection process into a simple statistical formality. Debate is good for the sport and one of the more fun activities in November and December when hardcore fans are waiting for Spring Training. So, by all means, join in the fun.