Hall balloting perfectly imperfect

Hall balloting perfectly imperfect

Posted by Bruce on Tue, 01/13/2009 - 14:04
The Hall of Fame votes are in, and so are Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice. That doesn’t end the debate, however. So much of it goes that if you voted for my guy, you’re smart, and if you didn’t, you’re an idiot. OK, not all of it, but some. The great thing is that people care. And with baseball, they seem to care about the Hall of Fame more than with any other sport. Yesterday, I revealed my ballot: Henderson, Rice, Dawson, Blyleven, John, Morris, Raines and Lee Smith. Since I’ve been voting _ 2002 was my first year _ I can tell you that I’ve received e-mails and letters from every group supporting almost every candidate. They cite stats, the era in which their guy played, the merits of the guy’s character and so on. I attend BBWAA meetings at the winter meetings and whenever else I can, such as at the All-Star Game and World Series. I can tell you the writers take their Hall of Fame (and MVP and Cy Young, etc.) votes very seriously. I’ve concluded over the last couple days that with the Hall of Fame voting, we have a system that’s perfectly imperfect or imperfectly perfect. It’s a unique blend of objectivity and subjectivity. You’re voting largely on stats, but also character, sportsmanship and integrity. As far as stats go, their interpretation has changed dramatically over the years and exponentially over the last 10 years, what with the emergence of sabermetrics. My guys over at northsidebaseball.com are talking about OPS+ the last couple days. What’s that? Well, first of all, OPS is the sum of on-base percentage and slugging percentage. And OPS+ is where a batter stands relative to the league average in OPS. Wow, that’s some heady stuff, and it takes some time to study, digest and accept. But the voting instructions that come with your ballot list only these stats for batting candidates: Years, batting average, at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, RBI, walks, strikeouts, stolen bases, OBP and slugging percentage. OPS is not listed, much less OPS+. And when players such as Ron Santo and Frank Howard (who has been compared with Rice, by way of tearing down Rice) were on the ballot, about the only stats considered were the “baseball card” stats of AVG., HR and RBI. That’s it. Now, there also are those who say it’s not the Hall of Stats. It’s the Hall of Fame, and if it looked to some that Rice passed the “eye test” of being “dominant” or feared over a period of time, why isn’t it OK to vote for him based on that and what his teammates and opponents said about him. The Hall itself sets no minimum statistical standards, other than that a player must have been in the big leagues for 10 years. Who knows? Maybe in a few years, the player capsules that accompany the ballot will include things such as VORP, win shares, WARP, OPS, OPS+, equivalent average and the like. There are other variables here, too. The BBWAA has allowed a couple of writers from Baseball Prospectus, the esteemed stats bible and Web site, into the association. Guys like new member Will Carroll have pushed a lot of us to consider advanced stats more. Other writers, however, want to stick with their old-school stats and the “eye test.” I wish more would come around to sabermetrics, but that will happen over time, too. Or at least I hope so. But even so, there are some writers who are using Andre Dawson's .323 OBP against him. No, the current voting system isn’t perfect, but it’s the only one we’ve got for this batch of Hall of Fame candidates. I heard on the radio today some guy say the players should vote. Based on how the current Hall of Famers vote on the Veterans Committee, the only thing that would accomplish would be to get nobody elected to the Hall of Fame. Just ask Ron Santo.
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