Hall of Fame Index: Starters on the outside looking in

Dividing up the next groups of pitchers is a challenge. None of them are in the Hall of Fame, but some still have a realistic shot of getting there. Once you drop off the Hall of Fame ballot for the BBWAA you have to rely on the Veterans Committee. As we have seen, their selections sometimes make a lot of sense (Alan Trammel) and sometimes don’t make any sense whatsoever (Harold Baines). So, predicting the outcome based on those findings is a lot like throwing darts blindfolded.

I thought of numerous ways to divide 15 pitchers into two groups. I thought about going with who is eligible and who isn’t. I thought about going with some level of perception based on wins or similar metric. In this case though, we will be using the index to create our groups. As will become readily apparent when both articles are taken in concert, we will have seven pitchers in our first group and eight pitchers in the second group. Just for fun, in the column next to the career index tab we will include the highest percentage they received from the BBWAA. Asterisks will indicate the player is still eligible for enshrinement. I “NE” will indicate that the player is not yet eligible.

Career Value

Curt Schilling79.579.850.4209.760.9*
Kevin Brown67.876.548.4192.72.1
Andy Pettitte60.268.044.8173.09.9*
David Cone62.356.041.0159.33.9
Chuck Finley57.956.942.6157.40.2
Mark Buehrle59.252.544.0155.7NE
Tim Hudson58.148.743.8150.6NE

If you have some time to kill, go in to baseball-reference’s awards voting page and check out the Hall of Fame ballots at any point in time. The names you see on the bottom will startle you. Some of them are guys like the one’s above where you wonder how they didn’t get more support. Others are players no one in their right mind would consider for the Hall of Fame. How in the hell did they get on the ballot in the first place?

Of course, that is a rhetorical question. There is a committee that chooses who gets to be on the ballot. The question comes down to the fact that you have a limit of ten players to vote for. Seeing a ballot of 30 or 40 guys is daunting. I mean no disrespect to the Aaron Sele’s of the world, but let’s be realistic.

We show these percentages to show the huge discrepancy between performance and perceived performance. Is Schilling that much better than Brown? I suppose we will find out, but odds are really good Schilling will get in. The odds on Brown or Pettitte are not that good. As was said with the curious case of Lance Berkman, it isn’t so much that I would argue that either of those guys are Hall of Famers necessarily. The point is in figuring out why there is such a huge gap in the voting.

Peak Value

Curt Schilling60.560.536.2157.2366.9
Kevin Brown54.058.635.6148.2340.9
David Cone50.744.732.0127.4286.4
Chuck Finley46.740.531.2118.4275.8
Mark Buehrle43.639.331.4114.3270.0
Tim Hudson43.338.731.6113.6264.2
Andy Pettitte39.544.628.0112.1285.1

Peak value was its own category for a very important reason. Often when we think of guys long after they are retired, we think of them when they were at their best. Sometimes there’s a singular moment that comes to mind, but often it is just a signature season or a group of seasons. Pettitte has moments, but he doesn’t have that cache of putting up monster seasons at any point in his career.

As we will see, all of these pitchers have points in their favor and points that detract from their particular cases. This is the main reason why I don’t set any firm cutoff points for someone to get the nod. The gaps we see between Schilling, Brown, and the rest probably do that for us. Yet, if someone wants to order a beer at the bar and argue the case for Pettitte, Cone, or anyone else is free to do so.

When we look at conventional numbers, we have to take each one with a grain of salt. They can help explain the index numbers, but they can also subtract from their overall point. ERA+ is a particularly good statistic, but the rest serve as background evidence or an explanation for what we see in the index and not anything that provides further evidence on its own.

Pitching Statistics

Curt Schilling216.5971278.62.01.0
Kevin Brown211.5941276.62.50.6
David Cone194.6061218.33.50.8
Andy Pettitte256.6261176.62.80.8
Chuck Finley200.5361157.33.70.9
Mark Buehrle214.5721175.12.01.0
Tim Hudson222.6251206.02.60.7

It’s readily apparent that the BBWAA loves round numbers. In the case of pitchers it is wins. If you get to 300 you are automatically in. If you get to 250 you are most likely in. If you can’t find your way to 200 then you might as well stay home. Is David Cone a demonstrably worse pitcher than Chuck Finley? Most people would say he was better. Yet, that didn’t make a lick of difference at the ballot box.

Is Schilling that much superior to Brown? They have a similar number of victories, a similar winning percentage, and the exact same ERA+. I don’t need the index to tell me they were similar pitchers. Their values at least are similar. With the exception of victories, Pettitte is similar to the rest of the pitchers on the list. He had the fortune of pitching for the Yankees and Astros when they were good. Of course, that feeds into our next test.

Playoff Performance

Andy Pettitte19-112763.816.02.51.0
Curt Schilling11-21332.
David Cone8-31113.807.64.71.0
Kevin Brown5-5814.
Tim Hudson1-4753.696.32.60.7
Mark Buehrle2-1304.
Chuck Finley1-2224.507.84.51.6

Police experts often talk about how unreliable eyewitness testimony. Our minds often play tricks on us. Kevin Brown was the guy that dominated in the 1997 and 1998 playoff runs for the Marlins and Padres. It got him his 100 million dollar contract with the Dodgers. Overall, he wasn’t a brilliant playoff performer. Go figure. Then, you get the difference between won-loss records and other performance. Pettitte is the all-time leader in the playoff victories. That likely is the main reason why he is still on the ballot. However, the other numbers seem to indicate that he wasn’t that special.

On the other hand, Schilling was special. We all remember the bloody sock in Boston, but he was money when the Diamondbacks won their World Series title as well. How much credit you get for playoff performance is up for grabs. You can see the difference between Schilling and Brown’s numbers. Is that enough to explain why Schilling will likely get in and Brown was one and done? Did one bad game affect Brown’s numbers? He was a disaster in the 2004 NLCS and also struggled in the World Series in 1997. That’s four games.

Surprisingly, Cone did not get more support on the ballot after his playoff performance. He played key roles on those late 1990s Yankees teams that dominated in the playoffs. This is the problem when one fails to get to 200 victories. Suffice it to say, no one really tanked in the playoffs. That won’t always be the case.

Cy Young Points

 Top 10Top 5CYPoints
David Cone13128
Andy Pettitte14023
Curt Schilling04020
Kevin Brown32019
Tim Hudson13018
Mark Buehrle0105
Chuck Finley1003

BWAR Cy Young Points

 Top 10Top 5CYPoints
Curt Schilling38049
Kevin Brown13238
David Cone15138
Tim Hudson52025
Mark Buehrle42022
Chuck Finley23021
Andy Pettitte12013

The Cy Young tests and the MVP tests are dreadfully important because it demonstrates what the BBWAA thought of the player while he was playing. With the exception of Pettitte, all six players were undervalued during their career. As we move further back in time, we notice that the BBWAA zeroes in on wins with more regularity. The guy that wins the most games is not always the best pitcher. It means he probably pitched on the best team.

The tests also serve as a quick comparison tool to pair with the index. The top three are separated in the index and BWAR points. The lone hold-out is Pettitte. This combination of playoff performance and Cy Young performance make his case fascinating. Which do you pay more attention to? Is his lack of single season dominance more of a detractor than his 19 playoff victories?

At any rate, we can see when comparing these pitchers to the list before that Curt Schilling and Kevin Brown are clear fits for the Hall of Fame. Brown is already off the list and Schilling looks to clear the threshold within the next two seasons. As mentioned before, the tiers test makes Brown a clear candidate for the Veterans Committee vote.

Hall of Fame Index: Recently Retired Hall of Fame Pitchers

Statistics are great, but all good statisticians know that no statistic is worth anything without a frame of reference. They do it with our health numbers. We see charts that tell us if we are a certain height we should weigh within a certain range. I’m now monitoring my blood sugars and the same kind of deal applies. When dealing with the Hall of Fame we should start with guys that are in the Hall of Fame and that no one disputes their place there.

We are looking at the recently retired (since 2000) who have already been admitted into the Hall of Fame. There is one notable exception, but his case is unique. Suffice it to say, these guys have the numbers and cache to be in. The question comes down to which numbers are most important when comparing those that are in with those that want to be in. As per usual, we begin with the index and step out from there.

Career Value

Roger Clemens139.2133.787.4360.3
Greg Maddux106.6116.779.6302.9
Randy Johnson101.1110.465.2276.7
Pedro Martinez83.984.451.2219.5
Mike Mussina82.881.254.0218.0
Tom Glavine80.766.762.8210.2
John Smoltz69.079.557.8206.3
Roy Halladay64.365.444.4174.1

It’s certainly ironic that the most qualified pitcher since World War II is not in the Hall of Fame. Is he the best pitcher since World War II? That’s a much more difficult question to answer and the fact that he sits on top amongst his contemporaries shouldn’t be construed as an endorsement of that opinion. As we will see, Maddux and Johnson were actually superior peak performers. So, are you looking for longevity or are you looking for concentrated greatness?

The index measures fitness pure and simple. Without the benefit of peak value numbers we see how similar these guys are. The only one that sticks out is Halladay, but we will see what happens when we look at the peak value numbers. The Clemens question is one of the two major questions affecting the Hall of Fame. In terms of pure numbers he has to be in. In terms of evaluating his performance prior to the suspicion of doing drugs he has to be in. Where it gets murky is when we start factoring in the moral/ethical element. He never admitted to using, never tested positive, but was mentioned in the Mitchell Report and other circles. Sure, his resurgence in 1997 is rather fishy when looking back, but stranger things have happened.

Suffice it to say, when we look at some of the conventional numbers, we will see why certain players rank where they do. Old-timers focus so much on wins and winning percentage that they often ignore the factors that play into that. We have four 300+ game winners in this group. Conventional wisdom says they ought to rank near the top. As we will see, there are other more important numbers in play here.

Peak Value

Greg Maddux71.372.548.6192.4495.3
Randy Johnson70.975.443.6189.9466.8
Pedro Martinez71.671.641.0184.2403.7
Roger Clemens70.069.541.8181.3541.6
Roy Halladay61.460.139.0160.4334.5
Mike Mussina52.554.434.6141.5359.5
Tom Glavine55.443.838.9138.1348.3
John Smoltz44.349.141.2134.6342.9

At some point we must acknowledge our limitations. We had to make hard decisions with the index as it pertained to peak value. How many seasons should we use? Should we use consecutive seasons or simply the top seasons regardless of where they came in the career. At different times the answers to those questions were different. So, if you took the best ten seasons regardless of where they fell, Clemens would likely take the top spot in peak value. We could get into the reasons why we did what we did, but if we reversed it different questions would emerge.

I say all this to demonstrate the point that the numbers above shouldn’t be taken as gospel. We are not rank ordering players here and we really don’t need to. These players are setting the standard for what others need to do to get into the Hall of Fame. Whether someone winds up with 334 wins or 348 wins is immaterial. We are searching for significant gaps in data because significant gaps cannot be explained merely through questions about methodology. Significant gaps occur when something is lacking in the second group.

You certainly can and should carry on a debate on your own time about which of these pitchers you would prefer. These debates are always fun as you inevitably get the unique questions. Who would you want for a single game? Who would you want for a single season? Who would you want over the course of a decade? I love those questions, but those questions don’t serve us here. We’ve seen the index, so now the next step is to look at the more conventional numbers to see if it stacks up.

Pitching Numbers

Roger Clemens354.6581438.62.90.7
Greg Maddux355.6101326.11.80.6
Randy Johnson303.64613510.63.30.9
Pedro Martinez219.68715410.02.40.8
Mike Mussina270.6381237.12.00.9
Tom Glavine305.6001185.33.10.7
John Smoltz213.5791258.02.60.7
Roy Halladay203.6591316.91.90.8

You could certainly argue that Glavine doesn’t belong with this group. His strikeout rate is far lower than any other pitcher on this list and is the only one we have seen so far with a strikeout rate worse than the league average. His walk rate wasn’t the highest, but it was a little further north than what you would expect out of a control pitcher. The secret begins to reveal itself with the lower home run rate, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.

Most of the story comes in his ability to induce weak contact. We don’t see those numbers here and the numbers of the past don’t include as much as the modern ones do. Suffice it to say, he is more than you see here, but how much more? On the other end of the spectrum we have Pedro Martinez. His career did not last as long, but he did everything better than everyone else during the time he had. He is the only one to manage to break the four to one strikeout to walk ratio barrier. For all of our pitching to contact lovers, these numbers are a sobering reminder that missing bats is still the best way to guarantee success.

The difference between Martinez and the pitchers above him is the reason why we don’t simply look at even enlightened numbers like ERA+ on their own. There is no context or frame of reference. Was that done over the course of 12 seasons? 16? 20? The index still gives us a more complete picture because the element of time is involved. While playoff performance often amounts to a season’s worth of data or less, those numbers can serve to define a pitcher’s reputation as a clutch performer or a choke artist.

Playoff Performance

Tom Glavine14-162183.305.93.60.9
John Smoltz15-42092.678.62.90.7
Roger Clemens12-81993.757.83.20.8
Greg Maddux11-141983.
Mike Mussina7-81393.429.32.11.2
Randy Johnson7-91213.509.82.41.1
Pedro Martinez6-4963.469.02.80.9
Roy Halladay3-2382.378.31.20.7

Pitching and hitting are mirror images of each other. People often forget that when they make generalized platitudes about how pitching wins championships. They both do. The conventional wisdom is that hitters will be reduced to rubble in the playoffs because they don’t face that level of competition during the regular season. That sounds nice and there is a kernel of truth to that, but wouldn’t the reverse also be true? Pitchers don’t face lineups as good as the ones they will face in the playoffs. So, it really isn’t about whether pitching or hitting wins championships. They both do. It really is about asking ourselves which players elevated their games when it mattered most.

Clearly, John Smoltz and Roy Halladay did. That has to be included in the context of how both got into the Hall of Fame despite borderline resumes on paper. The beat writers aren’t busting the servers on this site to see what the index says. At least not yet. They are looking at conventional numbers and they are considering playoff performance. They are also considering how each fared in the Cy Young Award voting.

Cy Young Points

 Top 10Top 5CYPoints
Roger Clemens23791
Randy Johnson14573
Greg Maddux05465
Pedro Martinez04350
Roy Halladay05245
Tom Glavine04240
Mike Mussina26036
John Smoltz22126

BWAR Cy Young Points

 Top 10Top 5CYPoints
Roger Clemens267106
Randy Johnson14683
Greg Maddux18373
Roy Halladay04460
Pedro Martinez15358
Mike Mussina46152
Tom Glavine14133
John Smoltz53030

So imagine this: according to baseball-reference WAR, Clemens was one of the top ten pitchers in the league 15 times. Most pitchers would kill to just last 15 years in the big leagues much less be one of the best pitchers in the league. With all of them we see slight differences with Halladay probably having the most dramatic increase. If he had won four Cy Young Awards instead of the two I’m sure his reputation would be slightly different.

On the other end of the spectrum, Smoltz comes out a little underwhelming. We do have to remember that he spent several seasons as the Braves’ closer. He was arguably the best closer in the National League during those seasons, but closers rarely get Cy Young awards votes. Give him even two additional top ten finishes and he leapfrogs Glavine and Mussina respectively in those two tables.

However, this grouping serves as a baseline for future groupings from this same era. We will look at two groups. The first group are guys that many believe should be in the Hall of Fame. They will be right in some instances and not in others. The second group will be guys that likely will come up short. Maybe the pundits will be wrong. You never know.

Hall of Fame Index: Active Starting Pitchers

If it seems like I’ve been avoiding pitchers it’s because I have been. We have fairly uniform ways of evaluating position players. The three platforms we use in the index don’t always agree, but we see fewer wild variations in the numbers. With pitchers they definitely don’t agree. The source of the disagreement comes down to how much a pitcher can control. Close to 20 years ago, Voros McCracken developed his Defense Independent Pitching Statistics (DIPS) theory which showed that by and large pitchers could not control what happened to balls in play.

While there have been chinks in that armor, the theory generally holds. The batting average on balls in play (BABIP) fluctuated wildly for most pitchers without a reasonably explanation at the time. So, we focused on strikeout rates, walk rates, and home run rates. Those were the things a pitcher could control. Win shares is still largely based on those theories. WAR considers more. It isn’t so much that McCracken was mistaken. His theory is still largely correct, but we know more about the nature of contact than we knew then. Some pitchers are able to consistently induce groundballs and others weak contact. That has a way of either limiting BABIP or the amount of damage a pitcher surrenders.

Usually, we start with the index, but this time we will start with the numbers most people consider when they consider pitchers. There are some good ones in here (the DIPS numbers and ERA+) and there are some misleading ones (wins, winning percentage). Sometimes these numbers are part of an explanation of how good the pitcher was. Sometimes they get in the way.

Traditional Pitching Statistics

Clayton Kershaw154.6911609.82.30.6
Max Scherzer160.65313010.42.51.0
Justin Verlander208.6271278.92.60.9
David Price144.6521248.72.30.9
Cole Hamels159.5821248.52.51.0
Jon Lester178.6431238.32.90.9
Zack Greinke191.6161238.22.10.9
Felix Hernandez169.5651208.32.60.8
CC Sabathia247.6181177.72.70.9

When you listen to games and commentary on the networks, you often hear of the pundits talking about pitching to contact. The idea is that going for the strikeouts is wasteful and wears a pitcher down. There is certainly some truth to that as every vantage point has kernels of truth. However, when you look at the above numbers you see two commonalities. All of these pitchers were 17 percent better than the league or more according to ERA+. Secondly, all of them struck out more hitters per nine innings than the league average.

That can’t be a coincidence. So, McCracken was more or less right when he first introduced the DIPS theory. Pitchers can control how many bats they miss, how many walks they surrender, and how many balls they keep in the yard. It’s no wonder Kershaw is better than the rest. He is clearly better at limiting home runs and has a better strikeout to walk ratio than the guys on the list. Sure, he is also better at inducing weak contact.

Like with the position players, we are going through multiple tests to determine whether our currently active starters are a good fit for the Hall of Fame. We will start with the index and then move on to playoff pitching and then Cy Young points. Hopefully the combination gives us a clear picture of these pitchers.

Career Value

CC Sabathia63.166.448.0177.5
Justin Verlander64.866.543.8175.1
Zack Greinke66.555.541.4163.4
Clayton Kershaw62.662.137.6162.3
Felix Hernandez51.254.937.8143.9
Cole Hamels57.549.736.4143.6
Max Scherzer55.253.234.0142.4
Jon Lester44.843.533.8122.1
David Price38.740.128.0106.8

Since we haven’t done this in a while, I should remind people of two key points as it pertains to the index. First, it is not meant to rank order players. We are not saying that Sabathia is better than the other pitchers. That is impossible to determine even when we are dealing with inactive players. He is in his last season so he is obviously closer to the end than the others. Even with allowing for that, we have so many moving parts that it’s foolish to take these numbers beyond their intended purpose. That is, we want to measure Hall of Fame fitness.

That brings us to the second point. There is no specific number that determines fitness. We are looking for gaps in data. It is easy to say Jon Lester and David Price have not done what they need to do to be fit yet, but we need to look at the entire pitching landscape before we determine what that threshold actually is. We could guess based on other positions and where they ended up, but pitchers are definitely different based on theories of how much of the action they can control.

Peak Value

Clayton Kershaw60.460.336.2156.9319.2
Justin Verlander53.355.935.0144.2319.3
Zack Greinke59.646.333.2139.1302.5
Max Scherzer53.250.633.0136.8279.2
CC Sabathia47.449.833.8131.0308.5
Felix Hernandez47.050.433.4130.8274.7
Cole Hamels46.542.530.0119.0262.6
Jon Lester38.040.128.8106.9229.0
David Price37.439.127.4103.9210.7

Keep in mind that we are looking for gaps in data. We can see the obvious divide between Sabathia, Greinke, Verlander, and Kershaw and the rest. We can see a second divide between the rest and Jon Lester and David Price. Time will tell where the dividing line will end up being and having these pitchers still active adds a degree of difficulty. Of course, there is more to life than just the index. We need to consider what kind of pitchers they were in the biggest moments (playoffs).

Playoff performance is beyond the scope of the index, so it does matter. Obviously, a pitcher is limited by the opportunities he has, but if he makes the most of those opportunities, he can turn a borderline Hall of Fame grade over the threshold. Naturally, the reverse is also true. Occasionally, someone doesn’t get opportunities. That’s a neutral call because no single player can be blamed for not getting the opportunity to play in a big game.

Playoff Performance

Jon Lester9-71542.517.82.30.9
Justin Verlander13-71523.
Clayton Kershaw9-101524.329.82.61.3
CC Sabathia10-71294.318.44.41.0
Cole Hamels7-61003.418.32.41.1
David Price5-9994.628.22.51.4
Max Scherzer4-5823.7311.03.40.9
Zack Greinke3-4674.
Felix Hernandez

You’ll notice that many of these guys have elevated numbers. It’s instructive to look at the DIPS to figure out why they are elevated. For most of these guys they saw their home run rates elevate over their career averages. Better lineups have more power hitters and are generally more successful. We also see elevated strikeout numbers from some of the pitchers. These factors work to balance each other out.

Obviously, Lester is the only one significantly better than his career averages. He helped both Chicago and Boston win World Series titles. It won’t be enough to bump him up that much, but if he can get into the borderline category it could throw him over the top. Verlander stands in the top five in all-time in playoff victories and with the Astros likely going back he could add one or two this season as well. If he gets two he will tie John Smoltz for second all-time. Hamels and Scherzer are fairly close to their career norms, but their won-loss records aren’t there.

The rest are significantly worse than their regular season numbers would suggest. This isn’t a disqualifying factor just like the positive isn’t qualifying for Lester. It is one facet of a Hall of Fame resume. What’s more, they still have a chance to change some of their resume. Often, one run through the playoffs can change everything.

Cy Young Points

 Top 10Top 5CYPoints
Clayton Kershaw04350
Max Scherzer03345
Justin Verlander16143
Felix Hernandez23131
CC Sabathia04130
Zack Greinke22126
David Price12123
Jon Lester13018
Cole Hamels31014

BWAR Cy Young Points

 Top 10Top 5CYPoints
Clayton Kershaw14353
Justin Verlander13348
Max Scherzer14243
Zack Greinke41237
Felix Hernandez23131
Jon Lester24026
Cole Hamels52025
CC Sabathia33024
David Price32019

When we did the MVP points, we noticed a ton of variation between the two lists. We won’t see that much here for a couple of reasons. First, both the voting and the BWAR counts only include top ten finishes, so there is more uniformity there. Secondly, when looking at modern pitchers we have seen the BBWAA is more sophisticated in how it doles out the awards than it used to be. They aren’t honed in on wins as much, so the awards have been much more accurate than in years past.

We do see some jumps in rank though. Verlander goes from one award to three and Greinke also sees a significant jump in rank. On the negative end, Price tumbles down to the bottom. Just like with the MVP points, these rankings alone prove nothing. They have to be taken in concert with the other statistical profiles. However, when you see the index, playoff performance, conventional numbers, and the Cy Young test in concert you get a pretty good idea of who should be in and who should be out.

The whole key is add a layer of sophistication to the proceedings. Sabathia just notched his 3000thstrikeout. That in concert with 250+ wins (if he remains healthy) would be enough for the less sophisticated voter. Those are all fine and dandy, but we want to consider the whole picture. Naturally, starting out with the current pitchers puts us at a bit of disadvantage because we have nothing to compare them to. We will be splitting pitchers in post-World War II and pre-World War II to make things easier on ourselves. We have had 74 seasons since the end of World War II and 74 through 1945 if you count the beginning as 1871. We will have tiers done when we get through profiling individual eras. We have four pitchers with an index score north of 300 at the moment and that feels like the dividing line so far.

Hall of Fame Index: Right Field Tiers

We finally come to the end of the position player list. Just like all of the other positions, we can split right fielders into tiers. The initial thrust behind going through tiers was to solve what I lovingly call the “Harold Baines problem.” He did not make it into the top 50 players, but wasn’t that far off the list. So, we could call him a tier five guy.

The idea is that debating whether Baines (or anyone else) is a Hall of Famer is foolish on its face. One could list the number of hits, RBI, or runs scored and compare that with other players. Simply put, the question shouldn’t be about whether someone should or should not be in the Hall of Fame. It should be about how is the most qualified. Baines is nowhere near the best player that wasn’t in the Hall of Fame.

Tier One

Babe Ruth (B)502.1297.7799.8
Hank Aaron (B)407.9225.9633.8
Mel Ott (B)323.9218.1542.0
Frank Robinson (B)315.1187.8502.9
Al Kaline (B)270.3163.7438.0
Roberto Clemente (B)250.5181.7432.2
Reggie Jackson (B)235.5170.9406.4
Paul Waner (B)231.5170.9402.4
Sam Crawford (V)235.6157.6393.2
Harry Heilmann (B)212.4170.2382.6
Gary Sheffield208.6149.9358.5
Tony Gwynn (B)213.8142.1355.9

This works out well. Sheffield is the only tier one player not in the Hall of Fame and the writers have the ability to rectify that. Of course, nothing is ever that easy. Sheffield has been implicated in the steroids scandal and he has what many would call a prickly personality. Those two factors have torpedoed his efforts to get elected to this point. He might end up being one of those guys that has to wait for the Veteran’s Committee.

Ruth has the highest index score in history. Technically speaking, this means he is more fit for the Hall of Fame than any other player. It should not be interpreted to mean that he is the greatest player of all-time. Naturally, many will interpret it that way and it would be a fairly popular opinion.

With eight players above 400, you could claim that right field is the best position on the diamond in terms of depth. The 350 cutoff on tier one is the highest of all the positions, so that claim has validity. As we know, tier two guys can still claim to be qualified Hall of Famers, but it is more difficult to make that argument for those on the outside looking in.

Tier Two

Larry Walker203.0141.2344.2
Bobby Abreu190.8153.4344.2
Ichiro Suzuki181.7160.0341.7
Sammy Sosa182.9156.6339.5
Reggie Smith194.2144.9339.1
Dave Winfield (B)207.1129.5336.6
Vladimir Guerrero (B)178.5155.1333.6
Elmer Flick (V)167.4163.7331.1
Dwight Evans201.6129.2330.8
Bobby Bonds175.5153.4328.9
Willie Keeler (V)176.5141.2317.7
Brian Giles163.4144.7308.1
Enos Slaughter (V)171.3128.9300.2

There are a number of modern right fielders here and some of them will eventually get in the Hall of Fame. The question is whether they are the most qualified players outside of the Hall of Fame. Walker and Abreu have very strong cases and Suzuki is all but a lock to get in as soon as he is eligible for enshrinement. From there, the situation gets a little dicey. Evans certainly has a compelling case when you compare him with his teammate Jim Rice.

Those in the Hall of Fame have some mitigating circumstances that make their tier two status unique. Keeler played in the 19thcentury when there were fewer games per season. Slaughter lost a few seasons serving his country in World War II. As we know, Winfield played forever and eclipsed 3000 hits.

Guerrero and Flick are interesting choices. They aren’t bad choices but they are interesting ones. Abreu is a contemporary of Guerrero and arguably more valuable. He may fall off the ballot the first season. It’s always interesting to see who they end supporting and who they overlook.

Tier Three

Rusty Staub165.3121.9287.2
Kiki Cuyler (V)158.0128.0286.0
Harry Hooper (V)170.0114.0284.0
Rocky Colavito148.6135.3283.9
Sam Rice (V)168.4114.9283.3
Jack Clark166.9114.4281.3
Ken Singleton146.6130.5277.1
Chuck Klein (V)134.0128.6262.6
Tony Oliva132.8128.4261.2
King Kelly (V)146.7114.3261.0
Mike Tiernan135.5123.8259.3
Dixie Walker139.9117.0256.9
Dave Parker146.6109.8256.4
Sam Thompson (V)135.7120.4256.1

The four tier system doesn’t always work out cleanly. There are really five tiers in this group as Klein is separated considerably from Singleton. That being said, about half of these guys were Veterans Committee selections and some were more controversial than others. Klein and Cuyler are perfect examples of guys that were a product of their time. They hit and hit and hit, but so did a lot of the league at that time.

Meanwhile, guys like Staub, Oliva, and Parker are knocking on the door. There are a number of people that would swear by those guys and with the election of Baines you could foresee an “if…then” kind of situation. Staub in particular is almost in tier two. Heck, give him another all-star level season somewhere and he would have been. This is the nature of tier three guys. If you close one eye you can possibly justify putting one or more of these guys in. Undoubtedly, they are more qualified that some of the guys that are in. So, the big question is whether they are the most qualified guys on the outside looking in.

Tier Four

Herman, Babe129.4121.5250.9
Chapman, Ben129.7118.5248.2
Drew, J.D.132.2114.8247.0
Canseco, Jose138.9106.8245.7
Nicholson, Bill127.0118.2245.2
Alou, Felipe128.5110.4238.9
Callison, Johnny121.3117.0238.3
Justice, David127.6110.1237.7
Salmon, Tim122.4112.5234.9
Ordonez, Magglio124.5109.6234.1
O’Neill, Paul131.6100.3231.9

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen zero Hall of Famers in tier four. At first glance it would appear to be encouraging. This isn’t to demean any of these guys. There have been hundreds of right fielders in the game’s history, so being in the top 50 is quite an honor. However, we say this in the backdrop of knowing there are guys outside of the top 50 that somehow made it into the Hall of Fame.

In addition to Baines, Ross Youngs also got elected by the Veteran’s Committee without the benefit of being a top 50 guy. Baines officially is the least qualified right fielder if you eliminate players who also managed. What made his selection so disappointing is the fact that these statistics are readily available for everyone now. If he had been elected in 1960 or 1970 we could forgive the focus on hits and RBI.

Some of these tier four guys were beloved because they put up some outrageously good numbers for a short time (Herman) or were a part of a great dynasty (O’Neill). The rest were some combination of the above. Depending on the era when you grew up, you probably have a soft spot for one or more of these guys. This is why we try to take passion out of it with these tiers.

Hall of Fame Index: Center Field Tiers

Center field is one of the more interesting positions on the diamond. It is clearly one of the two marquee spots among all the position players and the names on top of the list are some of the titans of the game. However, the depth of the position on top might not be what some of the other spots are. Still, there are plenty of names in tier one that should get the nod within the next few seasons.

As we continue through the tiers, we notice that every position has a mind of its own. This is why tiers are not necessarily evenly distributed but are dependent on the breakdown of the numbers. Simply put, we are looking for gaps. So, the end result is that we are trying to categorize players with other players of similar value. The idea is not to rank order players, but to frame the conversation.

Tier One

Willie Mays (B)443.8265.5709.3
Ty Cobb (B)444.8257.3702.1
Tris Speaker (B)390.7226.7617.4
Mickey Mantle (B)335.6243.5579.4
Joe DiMaggio (B)238.6199.5438.1
Ken Griffey Jr. (B)239.9187.2427.1
Billy Hamilton (V)201.0170.3371.3
Duke Snider (B)200.2170.7370.9
Carlos Beltran211.6146.8358.4
Andruw Jones 184.9162.5347.4
Richie Ashburn (V)187.1152.6339.7
Jim Edmonds185.1151.2336.3

Unlike many positions, the three players outside are either on the ballot or will be within a few seasons, so the Veterans Committee doesn’t need to make any corrections for past injustices. At least, that is if we want to stick with tier one applicants. However, we might suspect that Jones will be passed over because of perceptions about his career. Like many guys at other spots, more was expected. In fact, you could say that about a few guys on this list.

The problem with a large contingent of the BBWAA is that they still hold to old, arcane conceptions of value. In other words, they go with the “I know a Hall of Famer when I see one” approach. That will likely impact Edmonds as well. This is the two-fold problem with conventional numbers. The crowd that says they know Hall of Famers use conventional numbers to prove their preconceived notions. Both players brought considerable defensive value to the table.

That leaves us with Beltran. His own agent made dossiers that compared him favorably to Willie Mays. Those dossiers were patently ridiculous and much of his later career was marred with injuries. Still, the overall value was there and perhaps winning a World Series in his final season was the icing on the cake.

Tier Two

Andre Dawson (B)192.3137.2329.5
Kenny Lofton189.1139.2328.3
Max Carey (V)184.3131.8316.1
Jimmy Wynn169.7145.7315.4
Larry Doby (V)154.3151.8306.1
Vada Pinson165.3138.4303.7
Willie Davis178.8123.5302.3
Earl Averill (V)151.9149.5301.4
Cesar Cedeno161.8138.5300.3
Bernie Williams155.9142.0297.9
Chet Lemon160.6131.8292.4
Dale Murphy149.6139.7289.3
Andrew McCutchen144.4144.4288.8
Kirby Puckett (B)152.2133.3285.5
Hugh Duffy (V)150.4131.7282.1

There are any number of philosophies as it pertains to the Hall of Fame. Some people want the most exclusive club while others want to be more inclusive. It depends on whether you want to think of it as a museum or an exclusive club that only so many players can get in. Personally, I try to split the difference, but this point becomes dreadfully important when we get to tier two at any position.

I’m hard pressed to call any of these selections mistakes. They are only mistakes if you view the Hall of Fame as an exclusive club. The problem is when you get to the top of the list with guys like Kenny Lofton. I hate to sound like a broken record, but the question of whether Kenny Lofton or a Bernie Williams is a Hall of Famer is complicated one. The question of whether they are the most qualified player outside the Hall of Fame is a relatively easy one. A vote for either in the BBWAA process is not a bad vote, but when we are limited to ten selections, it may not be the most effective use of the slot.

It becomes more problematic with guys like Cesar Cedeno or Jimmy Wynn (local heroes). The Veterans Committee could certainly justify a selection of either, but who would be bypassing with such a selection? It’s one of the many reasons why it is important to have some kind of a system to sort through it all. After all, one man’s Wynn is another man’s Pinson. The tiered system simply indicates they have similar value. I have no problem with anyone arguing for one or the other, but they should go into with eyes wide open.

Tier Three

Fred Lynn155.4124.5279.9
Edd Roush (V)157.7121.5279.2
Johnny Damon162.0116.7278.7
Brett Butler150.9126.7277.6
Roy Thomas136.4133.7270.1
George Van Haltren154.9113.1268.0
Fielder Jones146.3120.6266.9
Amos Otis140.2125.6265.8
Curtis Granderson144.6121.0265.6
Wally Berger133.0132.4265.4
Mike Cameron145.9117.0262.9

I know that many of you are wondering about the name missing. There is a reason why we wait ten years before we start profiling current players. Exhibit A might be Wally Berger. He had more than 30 wins through his age 30 season and had put up some gaudy numbers in the process. He would accumulate only six wins following that season. There is just no telling how the aging process will impact any player, so while Mike Trout might end up being a tier one center fielder, we will wait for him to get to the ten year mark.

Overall, we break guys into tiers because we suddenly see things more clearly. All of these players have positive qualities and some might be enticing as candidates. Damon and Granderson are more current and certainly look like Hall of Famers when we look at the conventional numbers. However, value is determined by what you contribute offensively and defensively.

Again, it would be easy to bag on the selection of Edd Roush, but we have other Hall of Famers that aren’t even on the list. The most prominent of those would be Lloyd Waner. Waner will not appear anywhere on this list. However, those from the past did not have access to the data we have now. That is why selections from today in the borderline category are that much more infuriating.

Tier Four

Al Oliver149.1109.7258.8
Torii Hunter148.2106.3254.5
Earle Combs (V)129.2124.9254.1
Jimmy Ryan152.4100.3252.7
Andy Van Slyke129.3122.9252.2
Mike Griffin135.1116.2251.3
Hack Wilson (V)125.8123.1248.9
Pete Browning130.9117.0247.9
Steve Finley144.1101.0245.1
Paul Hines138.9104.3243.2
Clyde Milan131.0110.2241.2
Willie Wilson131.3108.0239.3

One of the more fascinating phenomenon in Hall of Fame circles is how many people trumpet the candidacies of good players on great teams. There is the Gil Hodges with the Boys of Summer and Dave Concepcion on the Big Red Machine. Usually, the argument goes that those teams would have been who they were without those players. In the literal sense that is true, but the question comes whether they were who they were because of the team they played on.

This brings us to Earle Combs. He was on the Murderer’s Row Yankees and perhaps had his best season in 1927 when the Yankees were perhaps the best team ever assembled. Sure, without him they likely wouldn’t have been that good, but they still would have been a great team. Players on great teams have built in advantages in the numbers and that is particularly true with win shares. So, giving them extra credit for their geography is like giving them an extra leg up.

Hack Wilson is an easier situation to read. He had 191 RBI in 1930 to set the modern record. It’s hard to imagine that record being broken. Opening the door for him is like giving Roger Maris the honor as well. Great seasons do not a career make. Still, it is understandable even if it is indefensible. 

Hall of Fame Index: Left Field Tiers

One of the important features of the Hall of Fame index is the notion of treating each position on its own. A win total like 330 might get you into tier one at most spots, but the outfield tends to be more bunched than the other positions. Every position has unique data points that make comparing players across positions next to impossible. Left field definitely has a number of interesting situations to dive into.

With two players, we have to go through the sordid nature of being on baseball’s banned list. That officially makes them ineligible for the Hall of Fame, but in both cases, they have their defenders. In other cases, we have multiple position players that somehow landed in left field. At any rate, let’s dive into the data.

Tier One

Barry Bonds468.0256.8724.8
Ted Williams (B)366.9266.2633.1
Stan Musial (B)375.8231.4607.2
Rickey Henderson (B)323.5201.0524.5
Carl Yastezemski (B)288.8187.9476.7
Pete Rose269.2176.7445.9
Ed Delahanty (V)214.4187.8402.2
Al Simmons (B)213.1176.1389.2
Tim Raines (B)212.8162.2375.0
Manny Ramirez217.9154.6372.5
Joe Jackson181.5180.7362.2
Billy Williams (B)198.9160.0358.9
Jesse Burkett (V)204.0152.8356.8
Goose Goslin (V)201.1155.5356.6
Fred Clarke (V)220.7134.8355.5

You don’t get any more controversial than any of the four guys on the outside looking in. Rose and Jackson are on the banned list and cannot be elected under the current rules. Bonds and Ramirez have either tested positive for PEDs or been convicted in a court of law related to the use. So, where do we start with those four?

Generally speaking, I have always been a big believer in separating the game from the Hall of Fame. I don’t know if any of those four really deserve to be in. Personally, I would be inclined to put them all in and report the facts as we understand them. It is a museum and getting the best players in that museum seems like the way to go. That’s one person’s opinion. It is equally defensible to say none should be in. Either way, I would love for all four to get on a ballot and allow the writers to choose for themselves.

What we don’t know is how PEDs impact performance. We know Bonds was on a Hall of Fame track before he started using. His case in terms of pure performance is the easiest to decide. Ramirez is tough because we don’t know how long he used, and we don’t know the impact. The other two are a huge issue that we don’t have time to give justice to.

Tier Two

Sherry Magee193.5149.5343.0
Willie Stargell (B)194.4143.4337.8
Zack Wheat (V)199.3130.1329.4
Lance Berkman168.6147.0315.6
Joe Medwick (V)172.6140.6313.2
Minnie Minoso157.8152.9310.6
Joe Kelley (V)166.5140.9307.4
Bob Johnson171.7133.6305.3
Jose Cruz167.8135.0302.8

Tier two is always brutally hard to handicap one way or another. It’s beyond difficult to say that Stargell and Wheat shouldn’t be Hall of Famers. If you take them in isolation they are more than qualified to be in. Medwick and Kelley are a little harder to call, but even then we could really go either way. This doesn’t even bring up the guys that are still on the outside looking in.

Magee is the best guy on the board that hasn’t been implicated in gambling or drugs. He is definitely worthy of being in the Hall of Fame, but is he the most qualified player that isn’t in the Hall of Fame? I could make arguments for the other four players and pretty passionate ones at that, but the same question comes into play. I love Berkman and Cruz as Astros fans and Minoso could make a lot of sense as a pioneer. Bob Johnson is one of the more underrated players in the history of the game. Tier two is always tough and it is no different this time around.

Tier Three

Jimmy Sheckard174.0121.2295.2
Luis Gonzalez 170.6121.2291.8
Jim Rice (B)154.9132.4287.3
Harry Stovey153.1133.2286.3
Ralph Kiner (B)141.4141.4282.8
Matt Holliday147.6135.1282.7
Lou Brock (B)158.1119.5277.6
Roy White140.4136.8277.2
Bobby Veach143.5132.8276.3
George Foster145.1127.8272.9
Ryan Braun139.3130.2269.5
Heinie Manush (V)145.9123.1269.0
Charlie Keller132.7129.3262.0
Darryl Strawberry134.1125.5259.6
Jim O’Rourke165.394.2259.5
Frank Howard135.7123.3259.0
Albert Belle129.7128.7258.4
Brian Downing159.597.0257.5

Time heals all wounds. Time also has a way of mellowing us. I used to rail against the selections of Rice and Brock and I still think they were mistakes, but I can see the justification for both of those guys. Kiner certainly threw up enough black ink to overcome a lower score, but Manush’s selection seems somewhat random. It’s not the worst selection out there. Heck, Chick Hafey won’t even make our top 50, but it is still peculiar when you look at the players immediately surrounding him in the rankings.

As for the guys on the outside, I really can’t muster up much of an argument for any of them to get in. Luis Gonzalez certainly had some big moments and Strawberry was arguably the best player on one of the best teams in the 1980s. Belle looked like he was on his way to getting into the Hall of Fame when the injury bug destroyed his career. It’s the classic difference between having Hall of Fame moments and a Hall of Fame career.

Tier Four

Ken Williams123.4120.4243.8
Moises Alou143.099.8242.8
George Burns125.2111.9237.1
Pedro Guerrero120.3115.6235.9
Augie Galan137.193.0230.1
Carl Crawford121.5106.3227.8
Sid Gordon114.2110.5224.7
Jeff Heath119.7103.4223.1

It is interesting to note that we have no Hall of Famers in this group and yet there are two Hall of Famers (if you include Monte Irvin) did even qualify for the fourth tier. These players are what you would expect them to be. All had big moments and looked like Hall of Famers for stretches at a time. None of them sustained it long enough to get any serious consideration for the Hall of Fame.

One of the things we can pull from this series is how idiosyncratic the Veterans Committee has been in its selections. Why Chick Hafey? How was he any more qualified than say Ken Williams or even Jeff Heath. Should we start dusting off the mantle for guys like Joe Carter (not in the top 50)? Again, the question is easy to ask. Who is the most fit for the Hall of Fame? 

Hall of Fame Index: Shortstop Tiers

We took a little unplanned break between articles there. Life often has ways of derailing our plans, but we continue with the study of the top 50 players at each position and their split into tiers. The Hall of Fame Index itself has been literally decades in the making with numerous iterations along the way. However, the guarding principles behind have been the same at every step. We want to refine debate. There should be no end to the debate because no system can account for every variation or argument along the way.

When we get to tier three and four, we see numerous players that fans and historians alike have argued passionately for. Wisdom often comes the hard way and I have learned the hard way not to piss on the notions of men and women who feel that way about a player. I think the analytical crowd has done itself a disservice when it pokes fun at people that don’t see the game through the same prism. As someone that has traveled through both worlds I can see the merits of both.

Keep in mind when we look at tier one that we are looking at mostly Hall of Famers. We should stand up and take notice at those that aren’t in because it means they are either no longer eligible or they should be in. When the new Veterans Committee considers its candidates it should look at tier one players first and foremost.

Tier One

Honus Wagner (B)399.9259.0658.9
Alex Rodriguez328.9224.1553.0
Cal Ripken (B)273.8188.5462.3
Arky Vaughan (V)216.7186.7403.4
George Davis (V)248.5146.7395.2
Robin Yount (B)228.4159.9388.3
Bill Dahlen231.7151.1382.8
Derek Jeter228.1153.5381.6
Luke Appling (B)222.8145.9368.7
Barry Larkin (B)206.8151.2358.0
Lou Boudreau (B)182.9172.1355.0
Ozzie Smith (B)209.5144.1353.6
Ernie Banks (B)196.2157.1353.3
Alan Trammel (V)198.0150.8348.8
Joe Cronin (B)199.6148.5348.1
Pee Wee Reese (V)190.4155.1345.5

For our purposes we should probably focus on the guys not in. Both ARod and Jeter will be on the ballot soon and at least one is an automatic. In fact, Jeter might become the second unanimous selection from that same Yankee team. As we all know, Arod’s story is not nearly as simple. Since he admitted to using steroids and was suspended for that “crime” he likely will not be admitted in his first try. Fair? Fair is a four-letter word in these parts. It seems rather obvious that he would have been Hall of Fame caliber with or without PEDs, but that puts him in the same boat at Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. That is, we have to consider the moral and realistic implications.

I generally hate the “if…then” argument when it comes to the Hall of Fame, but it is pretty apt in Bill Dahlen’s case. If George Davis is a Hall of Famer then Dahlen should be as well. Both played in the same era and put up similar value and real numbers. Davis’ cause was championed by Bill James in his book, “Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame.” Maybe he got his momentum from there. Suffice it to say, this blog won’t have the same juice, but a man can dream can’t he?

Tier Two

Jack Glasscock173.9139.4313.4
Bert Campaneris154.0135.0289.0
Joe Tinker (V)160.2127.3287.5
Joe Sewell (V)157.2130.2287.4
Vern Stephens147.1134.1281.2
Jim Fregosi145.1133.9279.0
Dave Bancroft (V)151.5122.2273.7
Miguel Tejada144.6128.6273.2
Jimmy Rollins156.2116.5271.7
Art Fletcher135.8133.3269.1
Luis Aparicio (B)163.5104.5268.0

Data rarely ever comes out neatly, so when we split guys into tiers here, we are doing it crudely. In point of fact, Glasscock belongs in a tier by himself. This presents a bit of a dilemma as it pertains to whether he deserves support for the Hall of Fame. Keep in mind, we are asking whether someone is the most qualified candidate at his position and not whether they are simply Hall of Famers. Dahlen is more qualified, but arguments could be made for both players. The question comes down to how many shortstops do you want from the 19thcentury in the Hall of Fame.

From there, the list is pretty short and pretty predictable as it pertains to the kind of names you would expect. All of the players out of the Hall of Fame in tier two have definite points in their favor. Depending on the team you follow, you may be partial to one or another. Rollins and Tejada even have MVP awards in their favor. You will notice that the distance between tier two and tier three is not significant. That tends to work against some of these guys as there is just not enough distance to say this guy should be in and this guy should be out.

This brings us to the guys in on the list. You’ll notice that three of the four are Veterans Committee selections. Again, I reiterate the previous point. Are they Hall of Famers? That’s a loaded question. Tinker has an MVP award and Sewell may be the greatest contact hitter ever. They have points in their favor. Were they the most qualified players not in the Hall of Fame? Clearly not. Aparicio represents one of the rare BBWAA outliers. Again, was he a mistake? That’s a matter of opinion, but he clearly doesn’t fit the profile of a typical writers’ selection.

Tier Three

Tony Fernandez144.8112.5257.3
Nomar Garciaparra129.5127.5257.0
Hughie Jennings (V)130.0123.6253.6
Phil Rizzuto (V)128.3124.0252.3
Rabbit Maranville (B)145.7103.8249.5
Dave Concepcion133.6114.4248.0
Travis Jackson (V)132.2114.0246.2
Hanley Ramirez128.0117.6245.6
Jose Reyes131.2112.0243.2
Roger Peckinpaugh134.2108.5242.7

The index has its limitations and one of those limitations is dealing with situations where there are natural exceptions. Rizzuto lost three seasons serving his country in World War II. In his case, those happened to be prime seasons. Let’s be conservative and say he would have been a four-win player during those three seasons. Since we have three sources in the platform, that would be the equivalent 36 wins on the career value side. That makes him a solid tier two shortstop even if we don’t add to his peak value. Unfortunately, we cannot add to what isn’t there, so we just accept the fact that exceptions should be made.

The other three represent what we normally see from tier three Hall of Famers. They are a mixture of flawed players that got support because they either put up huge seasons (Jennings) or were part of a dynasty where they got support beyond what was warranted (Jackson). That leaves another curious writers’ selection in Maranville. We can only assume it is due to his stellar reputation as a fielder. That of course will be a precursor to another debate we will reference soon.

Perhaps, the Hall of Famers in the group become easier to categorize when we look at those not in the Hall of Fame. Ramirez and Reyes are known to everyone. Ramirez is still active and Reyes would like to be, but couldn’t find a home this season. They were great players for stretches and good players for longer stretches, but both have significant flaws. Ramirez couldn’t field his position and Reyes’ peak was just too short. The same kinds of things could be said of our Hall of Famers, but the Veterans Committee chose to overlook those flaws. Occasionally, people ask about guys like Concepcion because they played on great teams. We reiterate the point until it becomes engrained. Whether or not he is a Hall of Famer is not the question we should be asking. Is he the most qualified shortstop out of the Hall of Fame? I think we know the answer to that question.

Tier Four

Jay Bell124.1115.3239.4
Troy Tulowitzli119.9119.4239.3
Rico Petrocelli119.6118.9238.5
Maury Wills126.0112.3238.3
Herman Long131.2107.0238.2
Omar Vizquel144.590.5235.0
Donie Bush122.3110.8233.1
Alvin Dark123.9108.5232.4
Dick Bartell131.599.7231.2
Ed McKean121.2106.6227.8
Dick Groat116.2106.6222.8
Rafael Furcal117.396.0213.3
Mark Belanger108.2104.2212.4

Ironically, the careers of Rabbit Maranville and Omar Vizquel are eerily similar. They both enjoyed long careers where they had stellar defensive reputations and both were occasionally solid with the bat. Bill James developed similarity scores as a way of doing what we are doing here with the tiers. No one in their right mind would claim definitively that Vizquel wasn’t as good as Wills, Petrocelli, or Bell. At least you can’t defend that argument 100 percent just like you can’t defend the reverse. They are similar players in terms of value. 

Again, I’ve learned the hard way that attempting to piss on the opinions of others is not a good way to go about your business. Saying Omar Vizquel is a Hall of Famer is not patently absurd. After all, the writers put in both Rabbit Maranville and Luis Aparicio. If one subscribes to the “if…then” logical argument then he belongs in on those grounds. The problem comes when we ask whether those two should have been put in.

At the end of the day, his candidacy is just about as justified as Maury Wills. Wills was a great base stealer and could lay claim as one of the top two or three shortstops in the game at one time. If one chooses to overlook the obvious shortcomings in longevity and overall offensive production then one could lay out an argument for him. Similar words could be said of Mark Belanger. He was a Hall of Fame quality defensive shortstop. All 50 players here had Hall of Fame qualities. The question is whether they had enough of them to be fit. For the players in tier one the answer is yes. For the rest it becomes more and more questionable as we move down the list.

The Hall of Fame Index: Third Base Tiers

As we move to third basemen we notice that the methodology in play for both the BBWAA and the Veterans Committee is coming into play. Essentially, we are looking for tier one players that aren’t in the Hall of Fame. Finding only ten players to vote for can be a challenge, but if we estimate about one tier one player per position and you are practically there. Of course, for the Veterans Committee it becomes a little easier as they only have to choose two from a selection of maybe ten players.

The alternative is to sort through a series of tier two, three, and four players and select ones we consider fan favorites. I don’t care who you are. Everyone has a fan favorite that they allow slip past the protective barrier of snark and cold, hard analysis. The index was never designed to be a definitive voice on any player, but it does help protect ourselves from ourselves.

Tier One

Third base is an unusual position for a number of reasons. First, it may be the most underrated position in the Hall of Fame. The reasons for this are numerous. For one, we didn’t really see the kind of consistent power that we know today until after World War II. That coupled with the fact that most writers compare them offensively to first basemen leaves a standard impossible for the typical third baseman to live up to.

We won’t this kind of collection of worthy candidates at any other position. Beltre will be elected at his earliest convenience due largely to his 3000 hits, but also a career of terrific defense. Rolen still has the opportunity to be voted in by the writers, but he hasn’t built up following yet. We could chalk that up to the whole first base phenomenon but it also comes from the era he played in. There was always more than was expected and those lofty expectations often serve to obscure what really was.

Meanwhile, the last four guys could all be voted in by the Veterans Committee and be terrific selections. Out of the group, my vote would go to Nettles, but that is primarily because he comes on top in the index. With the exception of Bell, they all come with playoff resumes in addition to their career numbers.

Tier Two

The other major peculiarity about third basemen is the lack of traditional tiers that we have seen and will see again. It made picking only four tiers difficult. I’ve never had a problem with tier two Hall of Famers. Often there are reasons why they never made it into tier one and many times those reasons are legitimate. Bill James once said that numbers take on the properties of language. In this case, they tell a story in every case. A high career value and low peak value indicates a long career where a player was never really quite great. The flip side occurs when we have a low career value and similar peak value score.

Mike Schmidt (B)303.0220.4523.7
Eddie Mathews (B)282.7209.1491.8
Wade Boggs (B)258.5198.7457.2
George Brett (B)259.7176.6436.3
Chipper Jones (B)252.9162.9415.8
Adrian Beltre254.6146.5401.1
Brooks Robinson (B)229.8157.7387.5
Paul Molitor (B)226.1137.9364.0
Scott Rolen200.8154.6355.4
Graig Nettles197.9152.1350.0
Edgar Martinez (B)194.9146.1341.0
Sal Bando174.3157.2331.5
Ken Boyer173.4153.0326.4
Buddy Bell188.2137.4325.6

It is always fascinating seeing players from different eras. Some of these guys are guys we grew up watching or watched as adults. Seeing their scores next to players from bygone eras helps us visualize the older players. Sure, their styles and strengths may be different, but value wise they are extremely similar.

Longoria is the only truly active player in the group and seeing him along with David Wright serves as a casual reminder about the dangers of canonizing young players. Wright was on his way to tier one when the injury bug bit. Longoria has been relatively healthy but he went from an all-star to an also ran overnight. He may be average enough to build enough to value to get over the hump, but it will be more difficult than previously imagined.

Tier Three

John McGraw (V)136.0132.1268.1
Larry Gardner145.1116.7261.8
Matt Williams139.6121.1260.7
Pie Traynor (B)128.8113.5242.3
Lave Cross148.190.6238.7
Harlond Clift121.3115.7237.0
Tim Wallach125.7109.0234.7
Doug Decinces123.2110.8234.0
Eddie Yost124.5104.4228.9
Art Devlin114.2114.2228.4
Aramis Ramirez125.4101.9227.3
Ken Caminiti117.9108.8226.7
Bill Bradley111.6113.9225.5
Bill Madlock121.6103.8225.4

Sabermetrics certainly isn’t new. You could argue that McGraw was practicing it back in the 19thcentury. All he did was get on base. The funny thing is that 100 years ago or today it is all the same. The ability to get on first base is the single most valuable skill an offensive player can have. I remember when Terry Collins (then manager of the Astros) said of outfielder John Congelosi, “all he does is get on base.” He meant it as an insult.

I say all this because it becomes important in understanding why guys are where they are historically. Madlock won four batting titles in his career. Hundreds of fans decry the new numbers while others love them. Often, the old-fashioned will say, “I know a great player when I see one.” Sure. Suddenly, when asked to defend such a statement they will fall back on batting average or other similar established numbers. Maybe the irony isn’t lost on some of them. A fan is falling back on numbers to prove that we don’t need numbers to rank players in our own mind.

Numbers describe a player. They don’t define him as no single thing can define anyone. Someone could very well defend wanting a Madlock over a Ramirez historically. Ramirez struck out a lot and was not the best defender in the world. On a team of sluggers a Madlock might come in handy. On a team of junk and judy hitters a Ramirez might be preferred. The index considers the whole player and attempts to categorize him in these tiers. After that we can consider other numbers to further describe a player we may prefer over another.

Tier Four

Heinie Zimmerman (V)112.6110.7223.3
George Kell (V)121.4100.6222.0
Troy Glaus111.1110.1221.2
Danny Murphy111.1110.1221.2
Ryan Zimmerman116.9103.6220.5
Carney Lansford123.196.5219.6
Gary Gaetti130.988.7219.6
Ken Keltner 109.9106.4216.3
Eric Chavez110.9104.0214.9
Ned Williamson108.1106.6214.7
Travis Fryman104.699.9204.5
Darrell Evans192.5121.9314.4
Ron Cey165.4140.3305.7
Stan Hack171.6132.7304.3
Jimmy Collins (V)160.6142.7303.3
David Wright155.8145.9301.7
Robin Ventura167.6133.4301.0
Bob Elliott158.3131.1289.4
Heinie Groh153.0133.6286.6
Evan Longoria144.7140.7285.4
Tommy Leach164.7118.2282.9
Toby Harrah154.5126.6281.1

It doesn’t matter what position you are talking about, there are always a couple of tier four (or lower) guys that will slip into the Hall of Fame. If we are having a sober moment, we would readily admit that none of these guys really belong in the Hall of Fame. Yet, you get a smoke filled room where the cigars are smoked and the whiskey flows and suddenly George Kell becomes a Hall of Famer.

Of course, this isn’t to demean Kell or his memory. He was a good enough player when he was at his best. You could say the same for guys like Chavez, Gaetti, and Lansford from our lifetimes. Most fans would love to have a young Fryman on their team. In situations like these, there is something between high praise and snark that is warranted. Being one of the 50 best players at any position is something to be proud of, but if we are electing someone that has 40 or more guys more qualified than what are we doing?

Hall of Fame: Second Base Tiers

As we continue to move through the diamond, we continue to refine our approach. At least we refine how we explain our approach. When we start criticizing selections, we are criticizing some people’s favorite player. So, I try not to say someone definitively should not have been selected even if I believe that wholeheartedly. We talk about players either being fit or not fit for the Hall of Fame. The selection of Hall of Famers is a deeply personal process with both objective and subjective criteria.

Second base will be the first position where we see multiple players in tier one that are currently outside the Hall of Fame. The aim of doing this was to identify the player that is most fit for the Hall of Fame that is outside the Hall of Fame. How do we do that when we have multiple players that are fit. These are incredibly hard decisions. 

On the other end, we have another position with a Hall of Famer outside of the top 50. This one will get deeply personal as this player is beloved for multiple reasons. We will address his case at the end, but I’m sure his name will be a glaring omission for some. Rest assured, I ran him through the same test that I ran the others through.

Tier One

Rogers Hornsby (B)357.7265.8623.5
Eddie Collins (B)359.3224.0583.3
Nap Lajoie (B)308.8211.2520.0
Joe Morgan (B)301.8198.2500.0
Charlie Gehringer (B)235.9178.6414.5
Rod Carew (B)230.4160.4390.8
Frankie Frisch (B)220.4165.5385.9
Craig Biggio (B)216.9161.9378.8
Bobby Grich206.0155.5361.5
Ryne Sandberg (B)198.1162.7360.8
Roberto Alomar (B)206.1149.9356.0
Chase Utley187.5167.0354.5
Robinson Cano193.4160.1353.5
Lou Whitaker213.4138.6352.0

Keep a couple things in mind. First, this is not meant to be a ranking of players. I can comfortably say I would put Rogers Hornsby on top, but some others may prefer Collins and that’s fine. This becomes particularly important the further we get down the list. The difference between Chase Utley (who just retired) and Lou Whitaker is negligible. We are measuring fitness and that is measured when we get to the gaps between the tiers. However, we should note that the gap between tier one and tier two will always be greater than the gaps between tiers two, three, and four.

I can’t get overly technical because the mathematicians in the audience will start to wince. Suffice it to say, as we approach the mean we notice that the data gets tighter. I think this is what mathematicians call regression to the mean, but maybe someone will be nice and offer some enlightenment on the issue. We do have two players in tier one that are eligible for the Hall of Fame, but both have fallen off the BBWAA ballot. That makes them eligible for the new Veterans Committee.

This is where the term “fitness” comes back into focus. Grich is more fit than Whitaker according to this model, but that doesn’t mean he was necessarily a better player. That’s a subjective question and while I might have my opinions, those opinions are exactly that and are worth no more or less than anyone else’s.

Tier Two

Jackie Robinson (B)170.0170.0340.0
Joe Gordon (V)166.2159.8326.0
Willie Randolph190.4124.7315.1
Jeff Kent179.2135.1314.3
Billy Herman (V)169.4135.2304.6
Bobby Doerr (V)160.7139.2299.9
Bid McPhee (V)176.2120.3296.5
Ian Kinsler154.8136.8291.6
Nellie Fox (V)150.0134.8284.8
Tony Lazzeri (V)152.5129.5282.0
Dustin Pedroia142.4137.6280.0
Larry Doyle152.5123.6276.1

I’d like to welcome those of you joining us for the first time. If you are joining us then I invite you to buy my book and read my past articles. If you don’t want to go back that far you should keep one thing in mind. The index is a tool and only a tool. Only an idiot would claim that Jackie Robinson doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame. Yes, he falls into tier two as an accounting measure, but a wise baseball fan considers a number of factors before making their final call on a player.

A number of Hall of Famers in this grouping served their country in World War II or played in an era where there were fewer opportunities to accrue value. One needs to separate them from others like Fox and Lazzeri who simply were borderline guys at best. This doesn’t even bring up the current crop of guys just on the ballot or on the ballot someday.

The role of the BBWAA voter is different (or should be) than the Veterans Committee voter. The BBWAA should be focused on selecting the ten most fit players for the Hall of Fame. In that universe Jeff Kent might be a Hall of Famer. Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler might be as well someday even if they don’t make it into tier one.

Tier Three

Johnny Evers (V)150.3120.2270.5
Cupid Childs137.5129.8267.3
Ben Zobrist133.9132.4266.3
Tony Phillips151.1109.4260.5
Chuck Knoblauch130.8128.0258.8
Buddy Myer142.4108.9251.3
Del Pratt134.9116.2251.1
Julio Franco141.5105.2246.7
Hardy Richardson130.6113.7244.3
Red Schoendienst (V)132.1108.0240.1
Gil McDougal119.2119.2238.4

Tier three is what the index is really all about. When we get into tier three and four, we are getting into players that really aren’t fit for the Hall of Fame on the merits of their play alone. Red Schoendienst and Miller Huggins are there on the basis of their playing career AND their managerial career. Evers is there because of a poem. As crazy as that may sound, all of us have deeply personal reasons for liking a player that might seem silly to others.

I’ve never tried to hide the fact that I like the cut of Ben Zobrist’s jib. He is extremely versatile, gets on base, and just flies under the radar. I have a similar feeling about a tier four guy. If I allowed those feelings to influence my vote, I would be no better than the Veterans Committee guys that put in so many questionable Hall of Famers.

I won’t hide the fact that I’m rooting for Zobrist to get into tier two, but the methodology won’t change to accommodate him. He will have to earn that spot on his own and with another couple of seasons he might get there. There are always historical reasons for the numbers we see and sometimes those warrant an exception, but we have to work very hard to keep sentimentality out of the process.

Tier Four

Davey Lopes132.2102.1234.3
Placido Polanco123.2108.8232.0
Lonny Frey119.9110.6230.5
Eddie Stanky115.2114.5229.7
Dick McAuliffe121.0107.2228.2
Jim Gilliam122.899.0221.8
Miller Huggins (V)119.0101.3220.3
Danny Murphy113.3106.4219.7
Fred Dunlap109.5109.5219.0
Max Bishop111.7106.4218.1
Don Buford108.8108.8217.6
Claude Ritchie107.8103.8211.6
Jimmy Williams105.1105.6210.7

When I was in high school, there was a computer game called “Old Time Baseball.” They don’t make them like they used to. This game had every team and every player between 1871 and 1981. You could play games between specific teams (say the 1927 Yankees and 1975 Reds) or you could draft players for a super team. Fred Dunlap was a favorite pick for those drafts. One year, he put it all together and hit over .420. In reality, that wasn’t the case. They counted walks as hits that season, so it made everything look like it was magical on that level.

For a seam-head there was no better player from this list than Max Bishop. He was a stalwart on the great Philadelphia A’s teams from the late 1920s and early 1930s. He managed to have a career .423 OBP. Even in the Live Ball Era that was something. As you can see from the basic numbers above, his career was not long enough to get out of tier four. However, when you are really good at the same time as others that are really good you can create something magical. It then becomes easy to get attached to a player like that.

When you look up his numbers you notice that he played six seasons for the American Association’s Baltimore Orioles. Those Orioles may have been able to finish in the middle of the pack in the American or National League. They dominated the American Association to the point where they were better than modern AAA teams. They were also independent and would not surrender their top players for less than top dollar.

The A’s got a number of players from there including Hall of Famer Lefty Grove. In his fourth season (at age 22) with the Orioles, Bishop hit .331. In the modern game he likely would have gotten called up to the big club following that season. Certainly, four seasons of minor league baseball is a suitable apprenticeship today. So, let’s add two seasons on the front end of his career. Is it possible that he could be worth four wins in each of those seasons? Eight wins is equal to 24 index wins. That moves him to 135.7 and also might elevate his peak value a little as well. It still would make him a tier three guy and there are a number of players from that era with the same story.

The Elephant in the Room

Many of you are wondering about Bill Mazeroski. I don’t blame you. I was surprised he didn’t make the top 50. However, I knew he would be in tier three or four. Many trumpet him as the greatest defensive second baseman in the history of the game. The trouble in terms of value is that he was also a below average offensive player. The combination made him roughly average over the course of more than a decade. So, he drops off the list.

This is where my verbiage has to be precise. I am saying he was not fit to be elected to the Hall of Fame. Are there are other reasons? Well, some might say if you are the best at anything then a museum to the game’s history begs for your inclusion. I suppose there is an argument there, but there is also a logical stopping point as well. Do we want to elect the best drag bunter? Pinch runner? Lefty specialist? Certainly, fielding any position is more important than those, but should the best fielder at every position be in even if they weren’t a good hitter?

Mazeroski also hit one of the most famous home runs in baseball history in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series. He stands with Joe Carter as one of the two players in history to do that. Ironically, Carter is another borderline candidate that could get some benefit from history. Maybe when you include all of these facts into a goodie bag you get a Hall of Famer. I don’t find the case that compelling, but the floor is certainly open to all opinions.

Hall of Fame Index: First Base Tiers

As we continue through our journey of looking at the top 50 players at each position we discover the importance of looking at tiers instead of looking at simple rankings of players. Of course, we also might find your favorite first baseman in here as well. However, the most important reason to go through this exercise is to definitively determine the tier one players not yet in the Hall of Fame.

Players in the Hall of Fame will be bolded with a “B” and “V to show how they made it into the Hall of Fame. As we saw last time, the tier one players were almost universally Hall of Famers. Tier two guys were mixed with those in the Hall of Fame often having compelling cases based on external factors that limited their ability to enter tier one. Some will make arguments for other tier two guys and they aren’t without merit, but it also serves to water down the Hall of Fame.

Tiers three and four have some Hall of Famers in them, but none are qualified for the Hall of Fame. They are in because the Veterans Committee devolved into cronyism rather than electing players on merit. Some of our favorite players are here and they are still good players, but have flaws that limit their fitness.

Tier One

Lou Gehrig (B)326.5259.6586.1
Albert Pujols 283.4228.1507.5
Jimmie Foxx (B)285.8221.2507.0
Roger Conner (V)293.1182.2425.3
Jeff Bagwell (B)237.5186.1423.6
Cap Anson (V)261.5147.2408.7
Frank Thomas (B)227.0174.8401.8
Dan Brouthers (V)224.2169.6393.8
Miguel Cabrera 219.3173.3392.6
Johnny Mize (V)207.1184.7391.8
Eddie Murray (B)228.1153.4381.5
Jim Thome (B)218.6154.9373.5
Rafael Palmeiro220.7149.4370.1
Willie McCovey (B)213.5150.9364.4
Harmon Killebrew (B)202.7154.3357.0
Dick Allen 188.4168.4356.8

So, four players on the above list are not in the Hall of Fame and two of them are currently active. That leaves Palmeiro and Allen. As we know, Palmeiro has extenuating circumstances that are keeping him from the Hall of Fame. Interestingly enough, he has been playing in the Atlantic League for the past couple of years and even posted a 900+ OPS last year. There has been talk of him getting back into organized baseball. Maybe that will start the clock over with the BBWAA.

Either way, that leaves Allen as the only viable candidate left. There is some question of where he should be categorized. He played more games at first base than third base, but arguably had his best seasons as a third baseman. All that being said, he should be in the Hall of Fame and should be one of the players that gets the attention of the new Veterans Committee.

Tier Two

Keith Hernandez182.0160.0342.0
Mark McGwire196.9141.4338.3
Joey Votto173.8162.6336.4
Todd Helton179.6155.7333.3
Hank Greenberg (B)172.1154.5326.6
Tony Perez (B)182.7141.9324.6
Bill Terry (V)166.8152.7319.5
John Olerud175.9139.5315.4
George Sisler (B)166.6147.6314.2
Jason Giambi165.3143.1308.4
Will Clark 174.7133.3308.0
Fred McGriff177.9127.8305.7
Norm Cash169.6133.7303.3

I should say a word or two about Keith Hernandez. Brian Kenney from the MLB Network is just one of the significant baseball journalists that champion his cause. Yes, he is usually regarded as the best fielding first baseman ever and he got on base with great proficiency. He is close to being a tier one guy, but just isn’t quite there. This isn’t to say that he shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame, but he shouldn’t be the priority.

Officially, Votto is the only active player, but there are some that have not been exposed to the BBWAA ballot yet. Jason Giambi and Todd Helton are not on the ballot yet, so we don’t know how the BBWAA will respond to their candidacies, but since Helton played in Colorado and Giambi was implicated in the steroids scandal, neither figures to get a ton of support when they do get on the ballot.

In terms of the Hall of Famers here, we know Greenberg’s story (missed seasons due to World War II) but the other three are all questionable Hall of Famers. I hashed the cases of Perez and Sisler in an earlier article. Terry was the last National League player to hit over .400. Is that fact alone enough to throw a borderline career over the top? That’s hard to say, but there is a case to be made I guess.

Tier Three

Jake Beckley (V)186.1104.0290.1
David Ortiz169.5115.0284.5
Orlando Cepeda (V)162.5122.1284.6
Mark Teixeira149.8130.4280.2
Carlos Delgado149.1130.7279.8
Gil Hodges139.5137.0276.5
Ed Konetchy153.2123.3276.5
Frank Chance (V)141.2128.3269.5
Adrian Gonzalez135.7132.0267.7
Mark Grace150.7116.1266.8
Dave Foutz133.0132.0265.0

There are stronger feelings around tier three then there are around tier two. Ortiz and Hodges have fierce defenders, but when you see them surrounded by the guys they are surrounded with you get a tequila shot of where they actually stand in the history of the game. However, to illustrate the case for Ortiz we compare him to his three contemporaries here, but we will do it with the A,B,C, and D test.

Player A138-25.678135.391
Player B129-34.620127.359
Player C141-39.688140.392
Player D126-8.639127.371

Which one is Ortiz? If you guessed Player C you would be right and Player C is the best hitter on the board. However, he is the best hitter on the board. He spent nearly all of his time as a designated hitter, so while Adrian Gonzalez (B) and Mark Teixeira (D) may not have been brilliant first basemen, they were decent enough to play their full-time. Delgado (A) also spent time at designated hitter, but spent enough time at first to mitigate the difference on the offensive end.

The point being that when we get attached to a player good or bad we sometimes lost objectivity. Ortiz has a stellar postseason reputation that is likely well-deserved. How much should that count towards his Hall of Fame case? Well, that is debatable, but for me it is hard to take a guy from tier three and bypass a guy that is in tier one.

Tier Four

Don Mattingly135.7125.1260.8
Dolph Camilli131.6128.6260.2
Boog Powell139.5113.0252.5
Fred Tenney139.2105.5244.7
Joe Judge146.597.4243.9
Steve Garvey131.7108.4240.1
Harry Davis125.8112.7238.5
Jim Bottomley (V)124.5110.6235.2
Jake Daubert135.0100.0235.0
Kent Hrbek122.2108.3230.5

Tier four is a treasure chest full of interesting characters. Mattingly was the best player in baseball for five or six seasons before back injuries wrecked his career. With all of the excitement over guys like Mookie Betts and Mike Trout, he is a great reminder of why we wait ten seasons before we profile any player. Meanwhile, Powell and Garvey were on some great teams and were prominent players on those teams.

Bottomley is not the worst Hall of Famer at first base. George Kelly didn’t even crack the top 50 and played in the same era as Bottomley. Both were dubious selections by the Veterans Committee at a time with numerous dubious selections. Simply put, the numbers he put up might look special to some but came at a time when everyone was putting up numbers. This is why we utilize something like the index to distill out the effects of time and place.

Like with the catchers, you see some prominent players on prominent teams here. Number 50 on the list played a key role in two World Series championships in Minnesota. It might be overstating it, but those two titles might be the reason why there is still baseball in Minnesota. Powell and Garvey had their moments as well. There just weren’t enough of them to push them into the higher three tiers.