Hall of Fame Index: First Base Update

With the induction ceremonies coming soon, we are updating the active players at each position to look at how they are strengthening (or not strengthening) their Hall of Fame case. We have four first baseman that qualify based on playing at least ten years and having a significant career. We do have several players in their ninth season as well, but we will ignore them for the time being.

Miguel Cabrera–Detroit Tigers

Slash: .283/.346/.373

BWAR: -0.1

FWAR: -0.3

WS/5: 1.4

Father Time is undefeated. The good news is that Cabrera has been healthy this season. He will add over 100 hits and 50 RBI to his resume. He will clearly 2800 hits some time next season if he doesn’t get there this season and will clear 1700 RBI for his career. He is in the Hall of Fame, but the value numbers above reflect that he is merely accumulating numbers at this point.

Of course, the problem for the Tigers is that they have signed him through 2023 with options for 2024 and 2025. If you are Cabrera do you continue to play and collect a paycheck or do you hang it up because you clearly aren’t the same guy? Could he end up with a contender and rejuvinate himself?

Edwin Encarnacion– New York Yankees

Slash: .223/.332/.515

BWAR: 2.0

FWAR: 1.7

WS/5: 2.6

In 2012, Encarnacion became Encarnacion. He hit 42 home runs and drove in 110 runs. Between 2012 and 2018 he averaged over 100 RBI a season. He averaged about 35 home runs a season. His OPS was somewhere around .900 over that time as well. 2012 was the only season with five or more wins in BWAR. 2019 is more of the same. No, he likely won’t have a .900 OPS, but he will get to 30 home runs and 100 RBI if he is healthy. That will be eight seasons of heavy production.

As of this writing, he sits at 34.2 BWAR. He likely will be at 35 wins after the season. So, when he finally retires, he will likely be over 2000 hits, 1200 runs, 1400 RBI, and 450 home runs. Yet, he won’t get to 300 in the index. You have to have some fielding value to get into the Hall of Fame. He just doesn’t have it.

Albert Pujols–Los Angeles Angels

Slash: .247/.311/.445

BWAR: 0.4

FWAR: 0.2

WS/5: 1.2

Pujols has had a bit of a resurgence this season in that he is actually adding some value. He also surpassed 2000 RBI for his career. He stands fifth all-time in RBI. When you see that he is 19th in runs scored that is a perfect microcosm of where he has been over the past several seasons. It’s why you have to be careful about paying attention to individual numbers. He drives in runs. He doesn’t do much else these days.

With the positive output so far, he is back over 100 wins for his career. That firmly puts him second all-time amongst first baseman to the great Lou Gehrig. He isn’t catching Gehrig. So, he really can’t add to the legacy in any real way beyond creeping up the all-time lists in home runs, hits, runs, and RBI.

Joey Votto–Cincinnati Reds

Slash: .256/.346/.393

BWAR: 0.5

FWAR: 0.2

WS/5: 1.2

This is yet another example of what happens when Father Time catches up with you. It’s hard to believe that Votto is 35 and what has happened to him is predictable. He still gets on base at a healthy clip. When this season is over it wouldn’t be a huge shock to see him hitting back around .280 and getting on base at a .370 clip. That’s impressive at any age. A sluggling percentage barely over .400 is not impressive at any age.

The question is whether he will add enough value over the next couple of years to get into the Hall of Fame. He will likely get to 2000 hits, 1000 runs, and 1000 RBI, but not much beyond that. He might get to 300 home runs, but he won’t get to 400. It will take imagination to vote for him. He will be a different kind of candidate and it remains to be seen whether the BBWAAA will have the imagination to put him in.

HOF Index Update: Catchers

We normally update these numbers when the season is over, but that doesn’t leave a lot for us to do during the season. So, we will take a look at the current catchers and see if they are adding to their Hall of Fame resumes this season. We have already profiled Russell Martin, Brian McCann, and Yadier Molina. We will be adding Buster Posey to the conversation.

Russell Martin– Los Angeles Dodgers

Slash: .225/.358/.295

BWAR: 0.4

FWAR: 0.6

WS/5: 0.8

The Dodgers brough Martin back to be a backup catcher, so it is not a huge surprise that he is not producing a ton of value. You can’t produce a ton of value in 159 plate appearances after all. He has been near the end for a few years now. He gets on base at a very healthy clip, but an isolated power north of .200 since 2015. This season may end up being his last one. He’s had a nice career, but when you look at the counting numbers you don’t see any of the normal markers that the BBWAA are looking for.

Brian McCann– Atlanta Braves

Slash: .268/.335/.447

BWAR: 0.6

FWAR: 0.8

WS/5: 1.4

McCann has had the best season of all of the catchers on this list. If he continues on his current pace he will hit about 12 home runs and drive in 50 runs. This all the while platooning with Tyler Flowers. He also surpassed 1000 RBIs this year. That may not be enough to get him in, but it is enough to get him into a conversation. This may be his last rodeo and if it is it has been a good final season.

Yadier Molina– St. Louis Cardinals

Slash: .261/.286/.368

BWAR: 0.1

FWAR: -0.2

WS/5: 1.8

It’s always interesting to see how different platforms treat different guys. The WAR categories seem to think he is replacement level where win shares thinks fairly high of him. It almost certainly has something to do with fielding. Pitch framing data is fairly new and it doesn’t like Molina. Win shares doesn’t necessarily use that. Molina is what we would call an accumulator. He has more than 2000 hits. If he continues playing he could reach 1000 RBI and 800 runs scored if he continues to play through 2020.

Buster Posey– San Francisco Giants

Slash: .259/.320/.395

BWAR: 0.3

FWAR: 1.4

WS/5: 1.6

Posey has just started to heat up, so this may look considerably different when the season ends. However, the decline is noticeable. He hit five home runs last season and has only five this season. This is after eight consecutive seasons that saw him produce 12 or more when healthy. He is still producing defensively and that is why he is strong in both win shares and FWAR.

Why do we wait ten years?

I had one of those interesting debates that always seems to happen on Twitter. Someone asked a question about who was the greatest hitter of our generation and the answers tended towards the usual suspects. The name left out was the one the shocked me the most. No one mentioned the name Albert Pujols. It seemed shocking considering he just surpassed 2000 RBI this season and has over 600 home runs.

If we adjust that for our purposes, we know that he is currently the second most valuable first baseman in history according to the Hall of Fame Index. Normally, we would say he has time to get to the top spot, but the last several seasons have shown that he is spinning his wheels in terms of value.

This brings us to the topic of the conversation. Why do we wait ten seasons to include players in the index? The player most mentioned in that poll was Mike Trout of the Angels. Yes, he is currently the best player in the game. At least he is when we consider multiple seasons. I didn’t mention him because he just hasn’t been doing it long enough. I remember watching him come up in 2011.

Is he a Hall of Famer? I would say the Vegas odds are pretty good at this point considering his index score would already put him there. However, making such a prognostication ignores all of the possibilities that could occur from this point forward. Let’s compare Trout through season eight to other prominent players in history through season eight and tell me what you notice. I’ll ignore the index and simply go with OPS+.

Player A: 171

Player B: 175

Player C: 164

Who are these three? Well, we know Pujols and Trout (A and B), but what about Dick Allen? Allen wasn’t quite as good as those two, but he was pretty darn close through year nine of his career. Add in another season and he was pretty darn good through year ten. What happened to him after that? Well, it was a variety of things. We could blame it on injuries, but there was also a portion that could be attributed to the fact that teams got tired of dealing with him.

Every position has guys like Allen. I could make a veritable all-star team of players that could be Hall of Famers that fell off the table for one reason or another. We can start from one of the players currently active. Has anyone been tracking what has happened to Buster Posey lately? Two years ago he looked like one of the greatest catchers in the history of the game. It’s been a disaster since then. So, let’s take a look at the greats through their first eight full seasons and what happened to them after that. We will look merely at bWAR just for fun.

Catcher: Buster Posey (38.3 vs 3.1)

First Base: Don Mattingly (34.4 vs 8.0)

Second Base: Carlos Baerga (20.6 vs -1.0)

Third Base: David Wright (39.1 vs. 11.3)

Shortstop: Nomar Garciaparra (42.3 vs 1.9)

Left Field: Albert Belle (36.2 vs. 3.9)

Center Field: Cesar Cedeno (39.8 vs. 13.0)

Right Field: Tony Oliva (42.2 vs. 0.9)

What does all of this have to do with Trout? Well, these were all players that most of us would have sworn would be Hall of Famers after their first eight full seasons. Well, Baerga may be an exception there, but you get the idea. Anything can happen at any time. Trout may turn into one of these guys. He could turn into another Pujols and that wouldn’t be all that bad either.

A large part of the calculus of determining who is the best at anything depends greatly on how that player ages. We don’t know that in Trout’s case. He is at the heighth of his powers and that is a horrible time to judge anything. We can apply complex mathematical models to guess how he might age, but there is really no telling what might happen. He might age like Willie Mays or Ted Williams and he might age like one of the guys above. The truth is probably somewhere in between, but that guesswork short changes not only everyone else, but Trout himself.

He deserves the opportunity to continue his career. When he gets to the ten year mark we will start profiling him in earnest, but even then he deserves the benefit of enjoying a full career arc before we make any lasting declarations. That’s all part of the process and all eight guys above serve as cautionary tales.





Hall of Fame Index: Pre World War II Pitcher Tiers

t’s been a long process, but we have finally come to the end of our look at starting pitchers. As we saw with the post-World War II pitchers, we needed space for more than 50 names on the list. Technically, we did the same 75 as last time, but that was a little harder and we lost some fidelity at the end of the list. We will address that later. The overall idea is the same as all of the other positions.

We will break these pitchers into five tiers to give us an idea of which pitchers are really pressing concerns in terms of being out of the Hall of Fame. It also highlights some of the mistakes that the BBWAA and Veterans Committee have made over the years. As I have said many times, the key question is not whether any particular pitcher belongs in the Hall of Fame, but whether any particular pitcher is the most qualified pitcher not currently in the Hall of Fame.

We are looking for gaps in data. Those gaps tell us where the tiers are. Most people would simply go 15 pitchers per tier and that is the general idea, but we let the data determine where the tiers should be. The implication is that index does not rank order players absolutely, but it can split up groups of players into groups of similar value.

Tier One

Walter Johnson (B)402.9274.5677.4
Cy Young (B)422.7245.1667.8
Kid Nichols (V)290.1243.0533.1
Pete Alexander (B)312.1215.2527.3
Christy Mathewson (B)285.6227.4513.0
Lefty Grove (B)274.0195.0469.0
John Clarkson (V)229.7224.0453.7
Tim Keefe (V)240.0210.3450.3
Pud Galvin (V)216.9190.0406.9
Charles Radbourn (V)204.7200.9405.6
Eddie Plank (B)234.7159.6394.3
Tony Mullane200.0182.3382.3

We split the Hall of Famers into (B) and (V) to differentiate between those selected by the beat writers and those selected by the Veterans Committee. In point of fact, the 19thcentury pitchers were actually selected by something called the Old Timers Committee. The Hall of Fame had a problem when it started in the mid 1930s. None of the current beat writers had covered the game in the 19thcentury, so none of the initial class had played during the game’s early period.

As we noted in those articles, this presented a problem because historians had to go back and look at the numbers without having a living context for how those numbers were achieved. So, pitchers with 300 or more victories were admitted into the Hall of Fame and pitchers that came up short like Mullane were left out. Modern pitchers have the benefit of having the sports writers actually watch the games. They know that someone that doesn’t win 300 games may have a good excuse for that.

As for the rankings itself, I want to reiterate again that the index was not meant to rank order players at any position. The game was so different between the time that Grove pitched and even a Mathewson that comparing the two directly is next to impossible. This is particularly true when looking at Kid Nichols and any of the 20thcentury pitchers. We will say they are similar in terms of value and leave it at that.

Tier Two

Bob Caruthers177.2177.2354.4
Mickey Welch (V)177.2167.6344.8
Rube Waddell (V)174.2165.0339.2
Carl Hubbell (V)185.8153.0338.8
Jim Whitney166.6166.6333.2
Ed Walsh (V)168.0160.3328.3
Dazzy Vance (V)169.8157.4327.2
Charlie Buffinton162.1162.6324.7
Red Ruffing (B)189.4127.4316.8
Vic Willis (V)171.5142.4313.9
Clark Griffith (V)165.6147.6313.2
Wes Ferrell158.1150.9309.0
Mordecai Brown (V)165.9141.8307.7
Joe McGinnity (V)152.1152.1304.2
Eppa Rixey (V)184.7119.2303.9
Ted Lyons (V)187.7115.0302.7

You will notice that most pitchers elected from the pre-World War II era were selected by the Veterans Committee. This makes perfect sense because most of these selections didn’t occur until the 1940s and 1950s. That would be as much as 20 or 30 years after they were done pitching. The general idea here is the same as with Bill James’ similarity scores. If you are similar to Hall of Famers then your case for enshrinement is much better.

However, the fact that so many are Veterans Committee selections is alarming historically. The Veterans Committee has gotten a bad rap for selecting players that don’t meet the profile of a typical Hall of Famer. This is the reason for the tiered system. Most of these guys are 19thcentury guys, but Ferrell sticks out as someone that deserves another look.

What we saw with the post-WW2 selections is that both tier one and tier two were full of legitimate Hall of Famers. This is what happens when you go from the top 50 to top 75 players. So, you could comfortably put all of these players in the Hall of Fame and justify it historically. Obviously, you can’t do that in one broad brush, so you will have to take what is there and justify it historically in addition to the index.

Tier Three

Jack Stivetts147.5148.0295.5
Silver King146.8146.9293.7
Red Faber (V)177.0115.5292.5
Eddie Cicotte156.4135.8292.2
Wilbur Cooper151.3137.2288.5
Burleigh Grimes (V)162.2124.4286.6
Jack Quinn177.1106.6283.7
Urban Shocker143.7135.5279.2
Jack Powell161.2116.2277.4
George Uhle147.2129.1276.3
Al Orth145.9123.8269.7
George Mullin139.7127.5267.2
Jesse Tannehill134.2131.2265.4

Tier three is when we start to leave obvious Hall of Famers and we only see occasional blips on the radar. I hesitate to call anyone a mistake outright. This is particularly true in tier three. We can make credible arguments for just about any of these guys and that is also true for Faber and Grimes. Grimes has some cache as the last legal spit-baller, but otherwise you can throw these guys into a box.

Of course, that is the way that tiers are supposed to work. When you aren’t familiar with a pitcher you can learn more about them by comparing them with names you are familiar with. I tend to hate the “if…then” argument, but it works when you start comparing them with larger groups.

Again, I can’t take credit for the concept of tiers. James’ started this with similarity scores. The idea of comparing a player with ten to fifteen other guys makes perfect sense. Most of these guys are not Hall of Famers, so Grimes and Faber are officially outliers. We could justify their place with other tests, but the index doesn’t make them look that good.

Tier Four

Tommy Bridges 142.2118.5260.7
Herb Pennock (V)141.4117.6259.0
Mel Harder138.7120.3259.0
Babe Adams151.0105.2256.2
Waite Hoyt (V)153.9101.8255.7
Chief Bender (V)140.9114.1255.0
Carl Mays138.8115.1253.9
Jack Chesbro (V)124.7126.7251.4
Dolf Luque135.0115.3250.3
Hippo Vaughn129.3118.4247.7
Dizzy Dean (B)122.9122.2245.1
Lon Warnake126.7117.3244.0
Ted Breitenstein121.3122.6243.9
Doc White127.7114.8242.5
Larry French132.5107.5240.0
Frank Dwyer120.8118.6239.4

These things always happen. For whatever reason, we see more tier four Hall of Famers than tier three Hall of Famers. I’m not really sure why that happens, but we can identify commonalities between these players. They all pitched for historically great teams. Pitchers and position players are really no different in this regard. Their numbers tend to look better when they play for a great team. I’m really not breaking any new ground here.

However, the question with the pitchers is the same as it was with the position players. Were those teams great because they were there or were their numbers good because their teams were great? Often times, the answer is some of both. Great teams need good players to be great, but those good players will often look better than what they are.

Of course, this is not completely cut and dried. When you pitch for great teams you also pitch in big moments. Those big moments can define your career and if you perform well in those big moments it could help throw you over the top. The problem is that things like playoff performance and big moments were meant to be tiebreakers. None of these pitchers is particularly close.

Tier Five

Bobby Mathews135.698.1233.7
Pink Hawley116.4116.4232.8
Bob Shawkey125.3105.5230.8
Nap Rucker114.7114.7229.4
Sam Leever116.6108.2224.8
Kid Gleason133.090.8223.8
Eddie Rommel118.2105.5223.7
Lefty Gomez (V)110.0109.9219.9
Red Lucas113.8102.4216.2
Rube Marquard (V)119.795.0214.7
Bill Dinneen109.1104.2213.3
Sad Sam Jones131.679.3210.9
Smoky Joe Wood112.497.9210.3
Howard Ehmke104.097.2201.2
Bullet Joe Bush106.494.7201.1
Curt Davis105.392.2197.5
Jeff Pfeffer99.597.6197.1
Jesse Haines (V)106.572.4178.9

Haines is really not the 75thmost valuable pitcher from the era. He was profiled because he was elected to the Hall of Fame. He likely would finish between 80 and 85 if we went back and added some more pitchers to the profile. So, he is the least qualified member of the Hall of Fame from the period, but Lefty Gomez and Rube Marquard aren’t that far behind.

Again, I hesitate to absolutely declare anyone a mistake, but those three stick out like sore thumbs. Marquard and Gomez have things in their favor that make sense, but Haines is just not qualified. I’m not really sure what the Veterans Committee was thinking, but they weren’t looking out for the best interest of the Hall of Fame.

Hall of Fame Index: 19th Century Pitchers OLI

At some point we have to admit this is all an academic exercise. Some people have a tremendous amount of influence. Millions read “Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame” by Bill James and that book may have influenced some in the Veterans Committee to finally admit George Davis into the Hall of Fame. Millions of people are not reading this blog. We can safely those numbers aren’t even in the thousands.

Even if an influential person read it, it is highly unlikely that anyone that played in the 19thcentury would be added. Some of these names might be familiar to you because others have championed them before. The problem is a marketing one. They are all dead. Their children are likely dead. Their grandchildren may still be with us, but no one knows who they are. Who is going to travel across the country to watch Tony Mullane’s grandson or great grandson make a speech?

That sounds disrespectful and it is, but it is also the truth. The most respectful thing we can do is look at their careers in the same prism we looked at the Hall of Famers from the period. Maybe they are where they should be, but it is just as likely they were wrongfully overlooked. We can’t do much about that either way, but let’s take a fresh look.

Career Value

Tony Mullane66.553.779.8200.0
Bob Caruthers59.650.267.4177.2
Jim Whitney56.155.555.0166.6
Charlie Buffinton60.744.856.6162.1
Jack Stivetts48.542.057.0147.5
Silver King50.443.852.6146.8

In a perfect world, everyone that clears a certain threshold would get into the Hall of Fame. We don’t live in a perfect world. There are all kinds of considerations in play. How many 19thcentury pitchers have we already put in? How many really deserve the honor? Usually, these things work themselves out, but the 19thcentury wasn’t a normal time for baseball. If a player goes out and throws 500 innings in a season, he is going to be valuable in the way we define it. He will have had an impact on his team’s wins. He also would have had an impact on their losses. An average pitcher will look good in that kind of environment.

So, while we love the index here, we might have to look at the conventional numbers a little harder before deciding. Certainly, Mullane and Caruthers look strong going in. What we know is that many of these pitchers only lasted about a decade because of the heavy workloads. It might be a rare instance where the index doesn’t really tell us what we need to know.

This is where we lean on the index as a comparative tool and not an absolute. Most of these guys will wind up with more than 300 index wins. Normally, that would be enough, but we need to compare them with the rest of the pitchers from the 19thcentury. Maybe the 300 win plateau is not the line of demarcation. Of the seven pitchers we profiled last time, five had index scores north of 400 wins. Mickey Welch came in just shy of 350 and Clark Griffith can be seen as a pioneer, so we could ignore his score. So, maybe 350 is the new benchmark.

Peak Value

Tony Mullane62.846.772.8182.3382.3
Bob Caruthers59.650.267.4177.2354.4
Jim Whitney56.155.555.0166.6333.2
Charlie Buffinton61.644.856.2162.6324.7
Jack Stivetts49.242.056.8148.0295.5
Silver King50.543.852.6146.9293.7

When we think of the index in terms of looking for gaps we are always going to be better off. If Welch is the minimum standard then we are looking at two additional Hall of Famers and not four. That is certainly more palatable and makes the cases for Mullane and Caruthers that much stronger. Of course, it wasn’t meant to say that Caruthers is definitely in or that Whitney is definitely out.

The index sets the stage for debate. It can provide a basis for the debate, but it was never designed to end it. For instance, it will not be the final word on any of these players, but it does tell us that Stivetts and King have a huge uphill climb. Whitney and Buffinton have better cases, but they still have something to prove. On the flip side, Mullane is pretty much in unless something really drastic happens to change our minds.

This is where the traditional numbers come in. They help explain why a player was overlooked, but they also provide additional evidence one way or another on a pitcher’s candidacy. None of these pitchers won 300 games. That’s a tremendous amount of evidence by itself. Modern sports writers know that there is much more to pitching than won-loss records. Unfortunately, they didn’t get the benefit of modern sports writers.

Pitching Statistics

Tony Mullane284.5631173.62.80.2
Bob Caruthers218.6881222.91.90.2
Jim Whitney191.4841054.01.10.2
Charlie Buffinton233.6051154.52.30.2
Jack Stivetts203.6061203.83.60.4
Silver King203.5721213.52.70.2

Two things immediately stick out here. First, Caruthers pitching numbers are absolutely brilliant. If we counted him with the 20thand 21stcenturies we would see that he stands second to Whitey Ford in career winning percentage. He also had the best ERA+ of the bunch. So, we can safely say his case just got a whole lot stronger. Whitney would appear to be the opposite at first blush, but this is where the defensive independent pitching statistics (DIPS) come in. He had the lowest walk rate and tied for the lowest home run rate. So, why was his ERA+ so much worse?

Well, his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) came in nearly a quarter of a run lower (2.75) than his actual ERA (2.97). He led the league in FIP on two occasions, but never led the league in ERA. In many of his big loss seasons, the distance between the two was even greater. This is where the quality of team comes into play. Yes, we know pitchers can control the type of contact a hitter makes to a certain extent, but they can’t control whether the fielders behind him are butchers or not.

Caruthers career ERA was considerably lower (2.83 vs. 3.27) than his FIP. So, we can ask questions based on this fact. Was that because he was adept at getting hitters to hit to the strong part of the defense? Maybe. Was it more of a factor of luck that he played on better teams? Maybe. As is usually the case, it is probably a combination of these. Still, having a pitcher with a strikeout to walk ratio better than three to one when his contemporaries couldn’t muster a two to one ratio is eye-catching and worth exploring.

Playoff Pitching

Bob Caruthers7-8147.02.513.21.70.6
Silver King2-666.
Jack Stivetts2-029.00.935.32.20.3
Tony Mullane
Jim Whitney
Charlie Buffinton

These numbers are rarely ever cut and dried. This is the main reason why we look at multiple numbers. On the one hand, Caruthers did pitch better in playoff conditions than in the regular season. His walk rate dropped slightly, and his strikeout rate increased slightly. Those are all good things. However, his won-loss record looks rather pedestrian. The same is true for Silver King despite some good pitching numbers.

How does this happen and why does it matter? Well, on the first count it happens because the competitive balance in the game at the time was out of whack. So, Caruthers and King likely beat up on weak competition during the season, but could not do that during the playoffs. It doesn’t matter in any real sense because of the sample sizes involved, but it does serve to illustrate the problems with looking at won-loss records in general. There is so much that is out of the pitcher’s control.

The three pitchers that didn’t pitch in the postseason illustrate the point in a different way. Their teams were not good enough to get there. Yet, two of them were good enough to win a majority of their games anyway. As we know, Whitney was not, but that probably had more to do with his team than him.

BWAR Cy Young Points

 Top 10Top 5CYPoints
Tony Mullane44032
Charlie Buffinton23131
Jim Whitney15028
Silver King11228
Bob Caruthers14023
Jack Stivetts12013

Keep in mind that leagues vacillated between eight and twelve teams during those days. Most teams had one or maybe two primary pitchers. So, finishing in the top ten was not as impressive as it would be today. So, we could look at top five finishes and Cy Youngs and come out more impressed with King than we were before. Just eyeballing the numbers above, the results would be slightly different, but still pretty close.

It seems pretty clear that Mullane belongs in the Hall of Fame. I’m not sure that will ever be rectified, but we can at least give him his due. Caruthers is an interesting case. He doesn’t fare quite as well here which indicates his won-loss record was greatly inflated. That’s always true. Ford was not the best pitcher in the game at the time in spite of his awesome won-loss record. He was one of the best though and the same is true of Caruthers. That should have been enough to get him in as well.

Hall of Fame Index: 19th Century Hall of Fame Pitchers

Judging 19thcentury players has always been its own separate sport. It quite literally is a separate sport. The rules changed so often and so drastically in the early going that you really couldn’t compare players from that era even with the Dead Ball Era. In the beginning, hitters could call for their pitch. Then, they played around with the number of pitches required for a walk and strikeout. It really isn’t until we get into the 1890s before the rules of the game are those that we would recognize today.

In 1901, the American League joined the National League as one of the two major leagues. With the exception of the Federal League in 1914 and 1915, this has been the structure since that time. In the 1800s we had the American Association for a time. We had the Player’s League for a time. We had the National Association at the beginning. All of these leagues competed with the National League.

That creates all kinds of issues for us as we move through the index. How do we take index scores from a period where the level of play may not have been uniform? How do we evaluate postseason records for players when there was no established World Series? How do we compare players from the 1870s with players from the 1890s when the rules were not the same? All we can really say is that someone dominated the era in which they were in. We cannot really compare players from the 19thcentury with the 20thor 21stcentury.

Career Value

Kid Nichols116.178.495.6290.1
Tim Keefe86.970.582.6229.7
John Clarkson83.267.379.2229.7
Pud Galvin73.562.880.6216.9
Old Hoss Radbourn75.451.178.2204.7
Mickey Welch62.344.170.8177.2
Clark Griffith62.548.554.6165.6

Griffith is a testament to how much the game has changed in the 150 or so years it has officially been played. Griffith is largely in the Hall of Fame as a pioneer. He ended up founding the Washington franchise in the American League. So, he would be similar to Charlie Comiskey and other former players that became owners. So, we will continue to include him here, but he is in the Hall of Fame for different reasons.

Beyond that, the way these guys were used was completely different. Most of these pitchers barely made it ten seasons. That’s because the teams in those days didn’t even employ four-man rotations. Radbourn is the most stark example of that. In 1884, he went 60-12 with a 1.38 ERA and 678 innings. He started 73 games that season and appeared in 75 of the team’s games. The Providence Grays played in only 112 games that season. So, according to the math, he started all but 39 of the team’s games that season.

Looking at some of the individual seasons is fascinating. The Grays went 84-28 that season. That would be close to 120 wins in a season today. That’s one of the downsides to evaluating players from the period. When the competitive balance of the league is that drastically disperse, it is impossible to know whether players were really as good as they were because of their own talent or because every other team sucked.

Peak Value

Kid Nichols96.568.578.0243.0533.1
John Clarkson82.265.476.4224.0453.7
Tim Keefe75.861.772.8210.3450.3
Old Hoss Radbourn74.649.976.4200.9405.6
Pud Galvin66.952.970.2190.0406.9
Mickey Welch59.741.566.4167.6344.8
Clark Griffith58.242.447.0147.6313.2

Let’s consider Kid Nichols. Nichols’ peak occurred between 1890 and 1899. He spent all of the time in the National League and the rules of the game were virtually the same as they are now. The Player’s League played in only 1890. The American Association played through 1891. So, the 1890s were a fairly stable period in the game’s history, The 1870s and 1880s not only saw the American Association, but also the National Association and the Union Association.

They also saw all kinds of changes in rules and teams were not as uniform as they are now. The most famous of these examples was the 1899 Cleveland Spiders. They won only 20 games that season and finished a remarkable 34 games behind the next worst team. That is because they allowed people to own multiple teams. Could you imagine the Streinbrenner’s also owning the Marlins? Suddenly, anyone that showed any promise in Miami would be shipped to New York in exchange for a half-eaten box of vegetable fried rice.

So, the rules weren’t uniform. The leagues weren’t uniform. Competitive balance was virtually non-existent. In this environment it is impossible to compare players to players from even the beginning of the 20thcentury much less after World War II. Heck, it’s difficult to compare a Nichols with a Radbourn. We can only compare them with their absolute contemporaries and that is one of the things the index makes possible.

Pitching Statistics

Kid Nichols362.6351403.32.30.3
John Clarkson328.6481333.92.40.3
Tim Keefe342.6031264.62.20.1
Old Hoss Radbourn310.6151193.61.70.2
Pud Galvin365.5411072.71.10.2
Mickey Welch307.5941133.52.40.2
Clark Griffith237.6191212.52.10.2

Modern pitchers don’t need people like me to stick up for them, but I do it anyway. Old-timers love to talk about how today’s pitchers just can’t hold a candle to the pitchers of the past. In addition to the whole pitch count problem, you have the innings themselves. The aforementioned Radbourn managed to pitch more than 4500 innings. That’s an awesome sum, but not unprecedented.

He did It over the course of ten seasons. That’s remarkable, but a pitcher could average 250 innings a season for 15 years and come relatively close to the same output. Modern pitchers could throw 180 to 200 innings for nearly 20 years and get there. It’s all about how you would like to parcel out your innings. The truth of the matter is that the early game saw very disparate ability levels. The pay was also inconsistent at best. If I pay someone season to season then I could throw his arm out without any real financial consequence.

Compare that with today and you can see the relative difference between a first and fourth starter is considerably less. Considering the financial ramifications of arbitration and free agency, one could certainly defend going back to four-man rotations and just burning out arms after five or six seasons. However, that has to be balanced with the fact that relievers have become much more effective then we could surmise that the ship has sailed on that whole idea.

The difference between the Hall of Famers and non-Hall of Famers is largely the presence of 300 or more victories. We will see that when we look at those on the outside looking in. Considering all of the problems with competitive balance, it would appear that basing anything on wins and losses would be problematic. We haven’t even discussed postseason performance.

Playoff Performance

John Clarkson2-564.02.677.32.50.1
Tim Keefe4-361.02.666.12.10.3
Mickey Welch1-
Old Hoss Radbourn3-
Kid Nichols2-
Pud Galvin
Clark Griffith

How much stock do we put into these numbers? The National League was certainly a major league as it has always been. All of the other ones mentioned were sometimes strong and sometimes not. When it was only the National League there wasn’t any kind of World Series of sort. Nichols and Radbourn are clearly the class of the bunch in this table, but it’s hard to really criticize anyone outside of Welch. Keep in mind we would be criticizing Welch on the balance of 22 innings. Still, his strikeout to walk numbers indicate why he struggled.

More importantly, how does one grade out someone that didn’t ever get an opportunity to perform in the postseason? In most times, one pitcher or one position player couldn’t possibly overcome a bad roster of players. However, when you are starting either a third or half of your team’s games you should have more of a say in how good your team is. Griffith is obviously in as a pioneer, but he sported a winning percentage better than 60 percent.

BWAR Cy Young Points

 Top 10Top 5CyPoints
Kid Nichols45477
Tim Keefe65153
John Clarkson23351
Mickey Welch46042
Pud Galvin53140
Old Hoss Radbourn24136
Clark Griffith43027

Keep in mind that most of these guys pitched for about ten seasons. Nichols pitched for about fifteen seasons, so he came out ahead. When you pitch in a third of your team’s games then it is pretty easy to finish in the top ten in the league in value. So, top five finishes and Cy Young Awards are more telling here. So, Clarkson and Nichols come out ahead in that outlook as well.

If there is any surprise it is that Radbourn won only one award according to bWAR. He had two outrageously good seasons in a row, but someone won only one award. Still, having 19.1 bWAR in one season is just stupid. He had 47.1 bWAR over a four-year period. That’s just the way these guys were used in those days.

At any rate, all of these guys deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, but there might be some additional guys that deserve the honor as well. Especially when looking at the 19thcentury arms, you have to look beyond the won-loss records to determine whether someone deserves the honor.

Hall of Fame Index: Dead Ball Pitchers OLI

The Dead Ball Era was the era of the pitcher. Offense was never as depressed as it was back then. It’s kind of funny to think about the different proposals that people make to increase offense now. There is talk of moving the mound back and outlawing extreme shifting. What these folks ignore is history. The history of the game is chalk full of periods of great offense and great pitching. Just six years before the Dead Ball Era began, the sport had its greatest offensive season ever (1894).

There are really two points here. First, the game changes on its own and really doesn’t need our help. Scouts naturally scout players to address the current trends. If extreme shifts are the thing now then scouts will scout players that can hit to all fields. That’s the way these things work. Secondly, evaluating pitchers in that environment is tricky business. When all numbers look good it is more difficult to stand out.

Some of the names on the outside looking in will not be familiar to the casual fan. It’s funny how these things work out. Time and place have a great impact on the level of fame these pitchers had. Put them on a different team or in a slightly different time and something else may happen. This is where we get in the “if…then” argument.

Career Value

Jack Powell56.647.257.4161.2
Eddie Cicotte58.448.649.4156.4
Al Orth51.845.548.6145.9
George Mullin47.541.251.0139.7
Hippo Vaughn46.541.841.0129.3
Doc White46.734.047.0127.7

There is one name here that everyone has heard of. Cicotte was one of the eight men banned from the game after they threw the 1919 World Series. If you’ve only seen the movie there are a couple of salient facts you may not know. For one, they didn’t get banned until after 1920 and that season may have been one of the reasons why. The White Sox mysteriously faded down the stretch and lost the pennant by two games. 

At 36 years old, Cicotte went 21-10 with a 3.26 ERA. It was the first year of the Live Ball Era and that season earned him a 115 ERA+. It is highly likely that he would have at least thrown two or three more decent seasons before retiring. If you toggle those results in WAR terms down then you could conservatively estimate that he would have gotten at least seven to ten WAR in those additional two to three years. That would be between 20 to 30 wins in index terms.

Obviously, there is way more going on here than simple index wins, but we can start there. Give him those wins and he finishes well above the 300 threshold. So, Cicotte was a Hall of Fame level pitcher whose career was derailed due to scandal. We can (and will) get into that scandal some, but it should be pointed out that Cicotte would have likely been well above the threshold had he been allowed to finish his career naturally.

Peak Value

Eddie Cicotte51.143.341.4135.8292.2
George Mullin46.137.643.8127.5267.2
Al Orth44.839.439.6123.4269.3
Hippo Vaughn43.038.037.4118.4247.7
Jack Powell39.533.942.8116.2277.4
Doc White43.629.641.6114.8242.5

Cicotte is one of the few players in history to finish his career during his ten-year peak. This means that he could have conceivably lifted his peak value as well. He was similar to knuckleball pitchers in this generation. He threw what was called a “shine ball”. He was a legal spitball pitcher like Burleigh Grimes. Like the modern knuckleball pitcher, he got better with age. When velocity is not the issue, experience usually wins out.

When you look at all of the index scores you’ll notice that these guys are more qualified than pitchers like Jack Chesbro, Chief Bender, and Rube Marquard. The difference are the teams that these guys pitched for worse teams. That’s not their fault. In the days before the Reserve Clause was outlawed they had absolutely zero control of who they pitched for.

Keep in mind that the index is just one part of the conversation. We want to look at the pitching numbers, playoff performance, and Cy Young points to see if we have missed anything about these guys. We definitely won’t abandon the Cicotte discussion quite yet, but the relevance will come up shortly.

Pitching Statistics

Eddie Cicotte209.5851233.82.30.1
Jack Powell245.4901063.32.10.2
Al Orth204.5191002.51.80.2
George Mullin228.5381013.63.00.1
Hippo Vaughn178.5651194.72.70.1
Doc White189.5481134.12.00.1

It was more difficult for pitchers in the Dead Ball Era to dominate because they didn’t give up home runs as a group. When looking at the DIP statistics we see that home runs surrendered is one of the major categories. Remove that effectively and you make it more difficult to distinguish yourself. Still, Cicotte distinguishes himself in this group. Unfortunately, we can’t go very far beyond the DIPS from this period, but we can guess that he was better at inducing weak contact. We can also guess that he probably had better fielding support behind him and that could be backed up with the FIP data.

Eddie Cicotte2.382.54+0.16
Jack Powell2.973.01+0.04
Al Orth3.373.11-0.26
George Mullin2.822.91+0.09
Hippo Vaughn2.492.62+0.16
Doc White2.392.51+0.12

If you go according to FIP then most of these pitchers would see their ERA+ go down. That includes Cicotte. Maybe we should look at Orth in a different lense. His FIP+ would be 108 and that obviously makes him look different. Still, we are looking at an above average pitcher and above average pitchers don’t get into the Hall of Fame. With the exception of Cicotte, all of them were above average.

Fielding was a lot more important back then. Teams were committing more than an error per game back in those days, so the difference between good teams and bad teams was even more than it is now. In that environment, who you pitched for was more important than it ever was. You can add that to the pile of factors that affect pitchers’ won-loss records.

Playoff Pitching

George Mullin3-358.01.865.62.50.2
Eddie Cicotte2-344.
Hippo Vaughn1-
Doc White1-115.01.802.44.20.0
Jack Powell
Al Orth

I hate to focus completely on Cicotte, but he is the point of interest. The facts clearly indicate that he took money to throw games. That was all part of the public record in the grand jury and he admitted to it. What isn’t clear is what he did to actually throw the series. Yes, he lost during the series, but he also won. His overall performance was not that much worse than his regular season performance.

I guess the point is that in a sport where you are combatting someone else one on one it is difficult to imagine someone being good enough to shave a little off of their performance and lose. Anyone can tank and lose big, but it takes real skill to lose and look good doing it. I’m not sure anyone is truly capable of doing that. So, I question whether any of those guys really did throw it in the end. The Reds won more games in the regular season that year, so is it so outrageous that they should win the World Series that year?

Of course, he and the others took the money. There is no getting around that and we cannot have anyone in the game that does that. I suppose the concept of forgiveness is a difficult one. In the religious realm it is absolute, but in the sports world it’s often conditional. He is no position to show contrition. He’s been dead for more than 50 years. It’s also a little much to think that any new evidence will come to light. Did he throw any games the next season to help his team come up short? Would things have changed if they had won the pennant a second time and then won the World Series? These are impossible questions to answer, but they should be asked.

BWAR Cy Young Points

 Top 10Top 5CyPoints
Hippo Vaughn14133
Eddie Cicotte32128
Al Orth11118
Jack Powell41017
Doc White22016
George Mullin40012

One of the signs of maturity is admitting our own limitations. The index can do a number of things, but it can’t completely capture and define greatness. Sure, breaking things down to peak value helps and certainly a score can describe greatness, but it can never define it. We are mesmerized by greatness. Consistent goodness is admirable and probably more admirable than occasional brilliance, but the brilliance captures our attention.

We remember Denny McLain’s 30-win season. We remember Bob Gibson’s 1.12 ERA that same season. We remember Roger Maris hitting 61 home runs in 1961 and we remember Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. We don’t remember the good performances. We don’t remember sustained good performance. It’s just not the way we were built. Cy Young points (and MVP points) allow for this fact. Most of the time they reveal the same thing as the index, but occasionally they don’t.

Cicotte had six seasons in the top ten in bWAR. Those included four seasons in a row to finish his career. That more than anything probably spells the difference between greatness and being largely forgotten. Maybe he falls off a cliff in 1921, but most of us tend to doubt it. It is more likely that he produces another top ten season or two. At least he will always have 1917.