An easy trap to fall into (I would know) is to lean too heavily on modern advanced metrics when evaluating a player’s worthiness to enter the Hall of Fame. Using various forms of WAR, OPS and wRC+ are all valuable ways to judge a player’s value, but they aren’t really the answer to whether or not a player should or should not be in the Hall. After all, “fame” in sports isn’t based solely on performance. Flashy players, eccentric players, likable players and players on successful teams always overshadow their peers, even if some of those peers are almost as good as they are (or better).
Of course, popularity or “fame” is extremely subjective. How popular was Barry Bonds in his prime? The answer would be very different if you were to ask a Giants fan versus asking a Dodgers fan. Likewise, generational popularity is extremely difficult to gauge. How popular was Willie Randolph in his prime? Well, beats me. I was a toddler when that happened. But I know exactly how popular David Ortiz is, seeing as how I witnessed his prime years and I live near Boston. We might call this subjective view of popularity as the “perspective deficit”. No two cities or generations are going to agree on all players.
However, if we use a slightly less subjective formula, we might find a way to measure fame. Right up front, we should establish that everything we talk about next is still subjective. We’re talking about fame, not statistics, so while we don’t want to be too widely subjective (i.e. every fan’s individual perspective), we do want to balance out the extremely objective (i.e. stats) in order to better gauge who might belong in the HOF. With that in mind, we will take a look at the various awards players might get during their careers. Every single award below is a subjective consensus by one group of voters or another. All Star Games are probably the most subjective, as they include fan voting, so players from big cities often get the edge. Popular players from previous years often get re-elected to the ASG even if they are having a bad first half. On the flip side, a player with a great first half might make the team, but then have a terrible second half. It really is all about popularity in that moment. You will see below that because of this relatively high level of subjectivity, ASG are given the least value of the awards.
Below is the formula (though it isn’t really as fancy as it sounds). I am experimenting in order to build an overall “Hall of Fame Value”. In addition to the Awards Points, Total WAR (totWAR) will be the other aspect.
All-Star Games, LCS MVP, WS MVP x 0.5
Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers, Rookie of the Year, World Series Rings x 1
MVP Award x 3
After you add up the above, you add it to (totWAR/3). The sum = HFV (Hall of Fame Value).
This is certainly not a perfect way to judge – I expect that there isn’t a perfect way – but I think it might be a better way than simply picking one of the versions of WAR and comparing based on that alone. Let’s take a quick look at some second basemen to see if this formula makes any sense.
Below you will see a comparison of three HOFers, three excellent players not in the HOF, and one player currently on the ballot. The left side orders them according to one version of WAR (fWAR) and the other by HFV. Which one jibes most with your concept of which second basemen were the best?
|1||Bobby Grich||69.2||Roberto Alomar||85.9|
|2||Lou Whitaker||68.1||Ryne Sandberg||79.5|
|3||Craig Biggio||65.8||Lou Whitaker||77.9|
|4||Roberto Alomar||63.6||Craig Biggio||76.2|
|5||Willie Randolph||62||Bobby Grich||73.6|
|6||Ryne Sandberg||60.9||Jeff Kent||66.5|
|7||Jeff Kent||56.1||Willie Randolph||64.8|
Here it is again, using outfielders; three Hall of Famers and three HOF hopefuls:
|1||Frank Robinson||104||Frank Robinson||126.2|
|2||Larry Walker||68.7||Dave Winfield||85|
|3||Tim Raines||66.4||Larry Walker||84.6|
|4||Dave Winfield||59.9||Andre Dawson||80.3|
|5||Andre Dawson||59.5||Vladimir Guerrero||74.6|
|6||Vladimir Guerrero||54.3||Tim Raines||74.1|
As one would expect, Frank Robinson is light years ahead of the rest of this particular crew, no matter how you cut it. But Tim Raines loses his sizable fWAR lead over Vlad Guerrero, perhaps explaining why so many voters seem to believe that Vlad will make it into the Hall, but Tim Raines has been on the ballot for years and years. It also draws into question my inclusion of him on my own “ballot”, while deciding that Vlad Guerrero does not belong. And as much as I would love for this formula to be as simple as possible, a problem has already popped up: Robinson, Winfield and Dawson all played many or all of their prime years before the Silver Slugger Award was initiated. So while Larry Walker is a notch above Dawson and just barely behind Winfield, it’s not a stretch to think that if there had been a SS award in the 70’s, the numbers might look different.
- Maybe Vlad Guerrero belongs in the Hall… or maybe Tim Raines doesn’t.
- Maybe Jeff Kent does not belong.
- Maybe Larry Walker does belong.
And that’s the point. Including a hefty portion of both objective and subjective achievements might help us look at the process of Hall of Fame voting just a little differently, perhaps changing our minds on borderline players. I’m not sure it would ever justify Jim Rice, but it might.