It’s hard to figure, but what exactly do we do when the BBWAA makes a mistake? It doesn’t happen very often. After all, sometimes a player might be a borderline player as we saw with first basemen like Tony Perez and George Sisler. However, they could hardly be called mistakes when there are as many people that would support their candidacies as people that opposed their candidacies. In the case of third basemen we have one member of the BBWAA group that clearly doesn’t belong.
Obviously, he can’t be removed, so focusing on him is not really about him as much as it is about finding out why the mistake was made in the first place. The Veterans Committee regularly made decisions that were idiosyncratic in nature. Those decisions bordered on scandalous in some cases because some of the players selected were woefully unqualified. Yet, when it happened to the BBWAA it wasn’t nefarious in nature. It was simply built on faulty assumptions that we can hopefully learn from. The problem can be seen immediately when we look at the index.
The index has always worked more like an SAT question than a hard and fast breakdown. We ask ourselves which of these does not belong. So, it isn’t so much that Pie Traynor scored under 200, 175, or even 150. It is the fact that he is so far removed from Paul Molitor that there really is no defense for putting him in the Hall of Fame. The index can tell you why he doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame, but it can’t tell why they BBWAA chose to vote for him in the first place. For that, we will need to look at the offensive and defensive numbers individually.
However, before we get there we should take a look at the peak value numbers. Who knows, maybe Traynor had a great ten-year peak and was horrible during the rest of the time. Perhaps the others were not nearly as good in their ten-year peak as they were throughout their entire careers. Yet, It is much more likely that we will see more of the same.
Half of the supposition was right. Traynor had almost the same peak value as career value. So, when we see the total index his score won’t come out looking that bad. His win shares were considerably higher than the WAR scores from both sources. We will get to that soon enough, but before we do we should take a look at the total index scores for all of these guys before moving on to the offensive and defensive numbers.
Hall of Fame Index
When these scores are revealed it is always important to remind everyone that the index was never designed to rank the players in order. That being said, it seems rather obvious that Mike Schmidt was head and shoulders over everyone else on this list. Eddie Mathews is clearly in the second position based on the numbers. From there, you have three players that are pretty darn close. That will be four when Adrian Beltre retires. Robinson and Molitor are a shade behind, but over the usual mark for Hall of Famers.
Traynor just doesn’t fit and he is nowhere near the borderline zone either. In fact, if one considers only the two WAR scores then he comes out looking even worse. Still, 300 win shares is the normal mark for Hall of Famers and he falls well below that mark. So, how did this happen and how can we prevent it from happening in the future?
At first glance, it would appear that Traynor is not as bad as his index score would make him out to be, but that also ignores why he was voted into the Hall of Fame in the first place. He had a career .320 batting average. Back in those days, there was a certain folk lore behind batting average. So, his election was a proverbial double whammy. On the one hand, you had a group of people that paid way too much attention to batting average. He was an excellent contact hitter, but he didn’t draw a ton of walks. So, his career OBP was a solid .362, but that isn’t a tremendous OBP in any era for a Hall of Fame hitter.
The second problem is the issue of time. We established very early on in this series, that time is one of the great biases of analysis. Traynor never led the league in batting average. So, even if we were going to go strictly by batting average then we would still conclude that he was not as dominant as the raw numbers would indicate. It is important to introduce another number. Secondary average calculates everything a hitter does beyond batting average. If we combine those two numbers we can get a different look at these eight players.
In many ways, this is saying the same thing as those other numbers. However, secondary average makes it easy to see hidden value or someone that is overrated because secondary average can be interpreted the same way as batting average. Again, Brooks Robinson comes out looking weaker offensively, but we haven’t seen the fielding numbers yet. As we know, Robinson has the most Gold Gloves of any position player outside the mound. So, let’s see how Traynor fared in comparison.
As we can see, the various sources were divided on Traynor as a defender. Win shares seems to love him giving him more Gold Gloves than all but Robinson and Schmidt and giving him more career win shares than all but the same. Granted, some of those guys played multiple positions, but we tried to mitigate that as much as possible. However, even if we accept win shares by itself, Robinson is in a whole different league than any of these guys.
So, we can excuse his pedestrian offensive numbers in that light. When we add in baseball reference and fangraphs numbers it is just simply unfathomable as to how we he could get into the Hall of Fame. He was not a special hitter or a special fielder. He did not enjoy a particularly long career. It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.