I’ve written at length before about how the “Hall of Fame standard” has never really been as high as people give it credit for. For that reason, there’s an enormous backlog of players who qualify for this standard but are not in.
Just a reminder—I’m not saying that every player better than the worst Hall of Famer deserves enshrinement. With the Hall of Stats, I’ve defined the Hall of Fame borderline a bit differently than most have. I note how many players are in the Hall of Fame for their Major League playing careers (that’s 220), kick them all out, and then populate the Hall of Stats with the top 220 by Hall Rating. So, that creates a new borderline right at player #220.
By doing this, a staggering 68 players are added to the Hall of Stats (and along with that 68 Hall of Famers are removed). While I believe a player such as Billy Pierce exceeds the borderline of what the current Hall of Fame standard is, does that mean he should be enshrined? The Hall of Stats says “well, yes!” but I understand that’s not really realistic. There are dozens of players not in the Hall of Fame who rank ahead of Pierce. Players like Pierce (or others with similar Hall Ratings such as Darrell Evans, John Olerud, and Will Clark) simply aren’t a priority when there are others outside of the Hall with much better statistical cases.
Any reader of this site is certainly familiar with Jay Jaffe’s JAWS work. It often looks like I have a much lower standard for induction than Jay, but that’s because we’re actually working with very different baselines.
The stated goal [of JAWS] is to improve the Hall of Fame’s standards, or at least to maintain them rather than erode them, by admitting players who are at least as good as the average Hall of Famer at the position, using a means via which longevity isn’t the sole determinant of worthiness.
To summarize, Jay and I go about this a bit differently. In JAWS’ case, he doesn’t have the benefit of removing the dozens of players who are weighing down the Hall’s standards. So, to improve the standard Jay recommends only inducting players above the Hall’s median.
NOTE: Jay pointed out to me on Twitter that JAWS uses the mean, which brings the baseline even higher. Go to the end of the article for an amendment.
When using Hall Rating like Jay uses JAWS, we have a new standard. The median Hall of Famer has a Hall Rating of 123. For that reason, the players above 123 become the priority. They become easier to prioritize too, because rather than 68 of them there are 24 (28 if you include four new players hitting the BBWAA ballot right now). Here are those 28, sorted into groups.
The PED Group
For this group, there’s not much of a reason to go too deeply into their cases because if not for connections to PEDs they’d already be in the Hall of Fame.
- Barry Bonds (363): Has a case for the best player of all time.
- Roger Clemens (294): Has a case for the best pitcher of all time.
- Manny Ramirez (130): A liability in the field, but such a generational talent at the plate that he would have coasted into the Hall of Fame without a pair of failed tests at the end of his career.
- Rafael Palmeiro (125): There are some people out there who will call Palmeiro a compiler and say that he didn’t deserve Hall induction regardless of his failed test. But those people have have a standard for a Hall that simply doesn’t exist.
- Mark McGwire (124): Some will call McGwire one dimensional and perhaps they have a point. But on a rate basis (home runs per plate appearance), he was simply the greatest ever at that dimension. Then there’s also the fact that his OBP was higher than Tony Gwynn’s.
Currently on the BBWAA Ballot
First, the new candidates:
- Chipper Jones (170): One of the half dozen or so best third basemen in the game’s history. Chipper may not have reached 3,000 hits or 500 homers but he was a star third baseman who was a very valuable player right through age 40.
- Scott Rolen (142): Tough luck debuting on the ballot the same year as Chipper. Certainly one of the ten best third basemen of all time according to the numbers, but I have no faith in the voters agreeing. 122 OPS+, 2,000+ hits, 300+ HR, and eight Gold Gloves (backed up by incredible advanced numbers).
- Jim Thome (137): A more traditional candidate, he absolutely carried a big stick. One of the few steroid era sluggers who managed to maintain a squeaky clean image. Over 600 homers, .402 OBP, and .554 SLG. Provided very little defensively, but didn’t need to.
- Andruw Jones (127): Kind of the Scott Rolen of outfielders, was a generational talent when he was younger. What will hurt his case is that he dropped off early. But nobody had the type of defensive numbers he did in the outfield through age 30. He also managed to hit 434 homers. He fell shy of 2,000 hits though—and nobody gets in without 2,000 hits anymore.
Besides the three already listed among the PED group (Bonds, Clemens, and Ramirez), we have four more returning candidates:
- Curt Schilling (172): As a pitcher, he was everything that Jack Morris has a reputation for being.
- Mike Mussina (164): There is no flaw in his case. Sabermetrically, he’s a slam dunk. His standard numbers shine as well—270–153 (.638), 2,800+ Ks, and a 3.68 ERA (in the AL East in the steroid era).
- Larry Walker (151): I’ve made my case for Walker. Very few players have matched his offensive prowess, defensive dominance, and production on the base paths. It’s unfortunate most don’t see through the fact that he played 597 of of his games in Coors Field.
- Edgar Martinez (136): Like Chipper, a rare .300/.400/.500 player. His 147 OPS+ is other-worldly. Yes, he was a DH. But his offensive dominance far outweighed his lack of defensive contribution.
Not on the BBWAA Ballot
The rest of the players have already been passed over by the BBWAA and are now relying on the Hall of Fame’s Eras Committees.
Modern Baseball Era Candidates
This is the ballot that is up for consideration right now. There are still ten players from this era who exceed the Hall of Fame median. Unfortunately, only two actually made the ballot:
- Alan Trammell (143): Alan Trammell was a star, but by the time he hit the Hall of Fame ballot his numbers were already dwarfed by steroid era sluggers. For some reason, similar middle infielders like Ryne Sandberg and Barry Larkin seemed to get in much easier. Maybe it’s because of that MVP award that George Bell stole from Trammell…
- Luis Tiant (130): As a New Englander, I love Luis Tiant. But I’ll admit I’m still warming up to his incredibly high Hall Rating. His career had a bit of a bumpy road. He started off decently well, but then had an amazing 20-win, 1.60 ERA season in 1968. For an encore, he lost 20 games. In the two years following that, he totaled only 165 innings with a below average ERA+. But then he led the league in ERA again with a 1.91 mark and won 20 games three more times after that. It took me a while to warm up to Rick Reuschel, too. I’ll get there.
These eight players exceed the standard but couldn’t even make the ballot:
- Lou Whitaker (145): Not a whole lot separates him and Trammell. His omission from the ballot was absolutely uncalled for.
- Bobby Grich (140): His absence is a bit more understandable (his case involves a lot more sabermetric know-how and reliance on excellent fielding metrics), but not excusable. He had a 125 OPS+ as a middle infielder and four Gold Gloves with excellent metrics to back them up. Players like that simply get into Cooperstown.
- Rick Reuschel (136): It took some digging for me to come around on Big Daddy, but I have. In retrospect, he’s very similar to Tiant in value, but his career arc is a bit more traditional (strong at the beginning with a sharp drop-off that included some temporary returns to form).
- Graig Nettles (126): How can a Hall of Famer have a .248 batting average? When he has enough power to bring his OPS+ up to 110 and was Brooks Robinson Lite in the field, he has a good case.
- Reggie Smith (126): Maybe the best Hall of Fame Snub that nobody seems to care about. He’s one of twelve players (including Walker) with a 135 OPS+ and 75 or more Rfield. He received three votes. Three.
- Buddy Bell (124): Very similar to Graig Nettles, except that he provided his offensive value a bit more with batting average (.279, but that’s 31 points higher than Nettles) than power. An elite fielder who managed to win six Gold Gloves when his career overlapped with Robinson and Nettles.
- Dwight Evans (124): The BBWAA accidentally inducted Jim Rice and not Evans—the better all around player. Rice and Evans’ OPS+ marks are basically even (128 for Rice and 127 for Evans), but Evans had better longevity (more than 500 extra games) and won eight Gold Gloves. Only 18 players have more Rbat and Rfield than Evans. 14 are in the Hall of Fame. Two are not eligible yet (Albert Pujols and Todd Helton). One is Barry Bonds and the other is Larry Walker.
- Willie Randolph (124): Randolph is another that I’ve been slow to come around on because his OPS+ hovers closer to league average (104). Therefore, more of his WAR value lies in defense and he doesn’t have the obvious justification (Gold Gloves) to back it up. Randolph’s OPS+ is a bit deflated because OPS+ doesn’t handle high OBP, low SLG players all that well. By Rbat, he was worth 120 runs above average. His WAR components (120 Rbat, 41 Rbaser, and 114 Rfield) have only been accomplished by three others (Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, and Chase Utley). If you trust WAR’s components and adjustments, Willie Randolph is a Hall of Famer to you.
Future Today’s Game Era Candidates
These players have not yet reached a Today’s Game Era ballot, but will be eligible in the upcoming years.
- David Cone (129): Eligible in 2019. Coney didn’t win 200 games, but the rest of his Hall of Fame case is pretty impeccable. His 3.46 ERA translates to a 121 ERA+. His low win total is accompanied by a low loss total (for a .606 winning percentage). He struck out 200 batters seven times. Then there’s the postseason—he won five rings while going 8–3 in the postseason with a 3.80 ERA.
- Kevin Brown (138): Eligible in 2022. Similar to Cone in that he had a low win total (211), a high winning percentage (.594), an excellent context-adjusted ERA (127 ERA+), and quite a few strikeouts (200+ four times). He’s helped by a bit better longevity (but has a weaker postseason resume).
- Kenny Lofton (132): Eligible in 2024. As tragic as Hall of Fame snubs can be, this one is very tragic. Lofton was a complete player, collecting 2,400+ hits and more than his share of walks. He even added some pop with 130 homers and 116 triples. It all added up to a 107 OPS+ in 17 seasons. But that was the weakest part of his game. On the bases, he swiped 622 bags (leading the league five years in a row) with at tremendous success rate. His incredible defense is backed up by advanced metrics (108 Rfield) and contemporary honors (four Gold Gloves).
Golden Days Era Candidates
Early Baseball Era Candidates
Also meeting ahead of the 2021 induction, the Early Baseball Era Committee should certainly induct pioneer Doc Adams. Among players, this remaining pair towers above the rest statistically:
- Bill Dahlen (145): This turn-of-the-20th century version of Trammell combined solidly above-average offense, spectacular defense, durability, and longevity at an extremely valuable position (shortstop). It doesn’t make for a sexy Hall of Fame case, but it makes him among the most valuable players outside of Cooperstown.
- Jack Glasscock (131): A precursor to Dahlen, Glasscock was the 19th Century’s greatest shortstop. He may have hit a bit better and fielded a bit better than Dahlen when compared with his peers but didn’t quite have the longevity (though some of that can be explained by the shorter schedules of the era suppressing his career totals). I’ve outlined his case in detail many times.
Still Too Many
Even if we use this new baseline of the Hall of Fame median, there are still too many great candidates to fit on a ballot. The current BBWAA ballot has eleven players that qualify but only ten votes are allowed. The Modern Baseball Era features ten candidates while only four votes are allowed. Luckily for voters on the Committee only two made the final ballot.
While Hall of Fame voting has seemed to get a bit more progressive in the past couple years, I’m sensing a bit of a regression this year. With this many players of such high quality outside of Cooperstown, business will be booming at the Hall of Stats for a very long time.
Update from Jay
As noted above, Jay pointed out on Twitter that JAWS uses the Hall of Fame mean, not median. That brings the baseline to 135. Only 15 players exceed that standard by Hall Rating: