1/7/10

Thoughts on the Hall of Fame

So, as you probably know, the BaseBall Writers Association of America (looks funny when you do it that way, eh, BBWAA?) today saw their votes for the Hall of Fame bear their respective fruit. And, after all is said and done, we end up with the induction of...Andre Dawson!

Now, first of all, it's important to extend all due congratulations to The Hawk. He was a great player, and while we wouldn't have voted for him, I wouldn't argue too fiercely against anyone who did. Unless I was feeling particularly punchy. But that aside, Dawson was a prodigious combination of power and speed, and by all accounts could play the field as well as anyone in those days. He's one of three players ever (Barry Bonds, Willie Mays) to hit 400 bleacher treats and steal 300 bases, he had the respect of his peers (8 Gold Gloves, 4 Silver Sluggers), and won an MVP award. Plus, he was a Cubbie favorite, which means we grew up in a house that adored him.

So why, then would we have refrained from voting him in? Well, it comes down to one simple number: .323. That's The Hawk's career OBP. Let us put that in context for you: Kelly Johnson, a second baseman whom the Braves recently saw fit to non-tender, has a career .346 OBP. That's right - a gentleman whose OBP is 23 points higher than a current HOFer was apparently undeserving of a job with a team that could certainly use his services. It rather goes without saying that Dawson's .323 mark is the lowest OBP of any outfielder in the Hall - and, in fact, is 20 points lower than Lou Brock (who made the Hall for his base-stealing ability).

Now, again, the point of this post is not to deride the BBWAA for putting Dawson in. He had his moments, and they've certainly made worse decisions. No, the point of this post is to deride them for those worse decisions.

Let us first ask: how do you not vote Roberto Alomar in? A .300/.371/.443 line and a 119 OPS+ is great for anyone, but for a slick-fielding second baseman, it's incredible. A second baseman who, if you prefer counting stats, had over 2,700 hits, 210 homers, and nearly 500 stolen bases is a shoo-in. And yet, Alomar fell short. Why? It's almost certainly because writers are still clinging to this - and we cannot emphasize this enough - moronic idea that a player who isn't on Lou Gehrig's level isn't a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Oh...we're sorry...Lou Gehrig wasn't even a first ballot guy. Honestly, times like these make us wonder why we even bother caring about who makes the Hall, since the process is so clearly flawed.


And then we stop to consider the case of Bert Blyleven and...well, we get even more incensed. Here you have a guy who struck out 3,701 batters. He threw more shutouts than Pedro Martinez, Roy Halladay, Chris Carpenter, and CC Sabathia...combined. And the 8 players who rank ahead of him on the shutouts list are all in the Hall, as are the 13 pitchers behind him. He threw more innings than all but 13 pitchers in history, and you don't get to log that many innings without being outstanding. He boasts a stellar 2.8 career K:BB ratio, and placed in the top 10 in WHIP 11 times. But we'd like to go back to the stat with which we led off this paragraph - HE STRUCK OUT 3,701 BATTERS. 3,000 strikeouts, like 300 wins or 500 homers is one of those stats that's thrown around as an 'automatic entry' number. So why in the hell do writers think that the argument for Blyleven is merely that of SABRheads who don't care for old-fashioned stats? Why are they disregarding his enormous strikeout total and 287 wins? The word that's often thrown around is "compiler," and to steal from Buzz Bissinger (sorry, Buzz...we really like your work!), that just pisses the shit out of us.

Look, if a guy is going to "compile" stats, that means that he has to hang around long enough to do so. You want an example of a compiler? Look at Hank Aaron, who "compiled" 755 home runs? Did Nolan Ryan "compile" 5,714 strikeouts? Did Cy Young "compile" 511 wins? You're goddamn right they did. And so did everyone else who ever played the game of baseball and had their numbers recorded.  That's the very definition of "compile." Now, we understand that baseball writers mean "compiler" in the sense that the players weren't great, but were merely hanging around as average-to-below-average contributors in order to add meaningless numbers to their counting stats. But even if that is the case, HoF-caliber players who are doing the hanging around act (cough...McGriff...cough) are doing so to try to meet the BBWAA's arbitrary definition of what makes a Hall of Famer.

Truth be told, it's nigh-impossible to understand exactly what thought process makes these writers vote the way they do. They eschew the sensibility that modern statistics provide us in order to stand by some misguided "gut judgment" of who is and who isn't a Hall of Famer...and if we're being honest, that's a simple abuse of their privileges. They aren't relying on the best possible information, but rather their own flawed, subjective ideas about who is the best and who isn't. Unless it's for reasons of pure hubris, we cannot fathom any reason why they would ignore statistical evidence in favor of their opinions. Why would you want to put yourself out there as an ignorant dullard who can bestow Baseball's highest honor upon undeserving players yet chooses to forgo understanding modern player evaluation?

Consider that food for thought, if not a call for a revolution in the voting system. The writers simply are not doing their job properly. They aren't treating their privileges with the respect they deserve; instead, they are content to get into pissing contests with dissenters and rely on their position as "Baseball Writer" to quell the arguments. It is, frankly, irresponsible and irrational - and that's without even getting us started on Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez, and Alan Trammell. All we want is for the BBWAA to wise up and embrace the way things are in today's world. Embrace the fact that we have better ways of evaluating players than thinking back on that one time we saw that one guy play and he hit a double and ran really hard. Embrace the fact that players' careers are a matter of public record, and that the people at large will know when you make indefensible choices. And embrace the fact that, if you choose to get into the aforementioned pissing contests, that your dissenters are better-informed (better-endowed, to continue the metaphor) than you. In short, wise up and appreciate these players as is your duty.

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