So, I thought I would do a round-up of The BBWAA Project and see what — if anything — we learned. For this, I will not use WAR or any other statistic. I will only use the Baseball Reference EloRater — which involves fans rating the best (and not so good) baseball players in history. The rating is done in a fascinating way: The EloRater shows you two players — I just did it, and it gave me Bill Swift and Javier Vazquez, then Johnny Damon and Javy Lopez — and simply asks you which player was better (I chose Vazquez and Damon).
There’s then a fairly complicated formula to create the player rating. It’s a very cool system. Like everything else, there are biases and contradictions. Also, it’s a moving target — people keep ranking players on EloRater so the rankings keep changing (I started this about a week ago, so I’m actually using several different versions of the EloRater here. Sorry about that). But the point is not that the system is perfect but that it gives us a quick glance at the players and their approximate value.
- Of the EloRater’s 30 best hitters in the Hall of Fame, 29 of them were elected by the BBWAA.
Only Johnny Mize among the Top 30 was a Veteran’s Committee choice. Now, in some ways, this shouldn’t be surprising at all. The BBWAA gets the first shot at every post-1900 player, so they (we) will of course be the ones to elect Babe Ruth and Willie Mays and Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente and so on. Mize was not fully appreciated by the BBWAA, I think, because he missed those three years for World War II. With those three years, he certainly would have reached 400 home runs, and certainly would have been elected.
I think this is interesting for another reason: After the Top 30, there is much more of a mix of BBWAA choices and Veteran’s choices. I’ve long wondered how many “unanimous” Hall of Famers exist. I put “unanimous” in quotations because, of course, no player has ever been elected unanimously. I really mean players who are unanimously considered Hall of Famers by baseball fans. You know the names I’m talking about. Ruth, Gehrig. Mays. Aaron. Mantle. Williams. Cobb. Hornsby. Wagner. Musial. Schmidt. Ripken. Brett. Robinson (Frank and Jackie). And so on. There is no serious debate about these players. THey are clearly Hall of Famers.
But how many “no debate” Hall of Famers are there? At No. 33 on the EloRather (dropped to 44 by this morning) is Arky Vaughan — the BBWAA never even considered electing him to the Hall of Fame. At 48 is Ron Santo (huge fall to No. 69 this morning) — the BBWAA talked about him for 15 years and never voted him in. In the Top 100 hitters, you have Goose Goslin and Richie Ashburn and Jesse Burkett and Pee Wee Reese, none of whom were elected by the BBWAA, and even now you can get pretty strong arguments against them.
But scattered in the group from 50 to 100, you also have Brooks Robinson and Ernie Banks and Yogi Berra and Reggie Jackson and Willie McCovey and others who I think pretty much every single baseball fan would say belongs in the Hall.
It’s an interesting question: If you put it up to a fans vote — a legit fan vote, no snark allowed — how many players would get 90% fan approval? How many would get 95%? How many would get 100%?
I can’t help but wonder if there are really only about 30 “unanimous” Hall of Fame hitters.
- There are 52 hitters in the Hall of Fame who are ranked 150th or lower on the EloRater. Forty-five of them were elected by the Veteran’s Committee.
The BBWAA choices who rank 150th or lower include: Ralph Kiner (156); Luis Aparicio (163); Jim Rice (179); Lou Brock (No. 186); Tony Perez (No. 194); Pie Traynor (No. 222) and Rabbit Maranville (No. 337). But there are 12 Veterans Choices who rank below Maranville — see how many of these you knew were in the Hall of Fame:
No. 343: Travis Jackson
No. 351: Ross Youngs
No. 363: Jim Bottomley
No. 366: Roger Bresnahan
No. 376: Frank Chance
No. 387: George Kell
No. 399: Deacon White
No. 433: Freddie Lindstrom
No. 456: Lloyd Waner
No. 485: Monte Irvin*
No. 487: High Pockets Kelly
No. 514: Chick Hafey
*Irvin’s ranking is, of course, based entirely on his Major League career. He spent half his career in the Negro Leagues where many say he played, more or less, on the level of Willie Mays.
- The best players non-active everyday players not in the Hall of Fame, according to the latest EloRater are:
No. 32: Barry Bonds
No. 34: Ken Griffey
No. 47: Jeff Bagwell
No. 52: Alan Trammell
No. 57 Pete Rose
No. 60: Tim Raines
No. 67: Larry Walker
No. 72: Lou Whitaker
No. 74: Mike Piazza
What I love about this list is that it naturally makes up a complete team
C: Mike Piazza
1B: Jeff Bagwell
2B: Lou Whitaker
3B: Pete Rose
SS: Alan Trammell
LF: Barry Bonds
CF: Ken Griffey
RF: Larry Walker
DH: Tim Raines
How good a team would that be? Pretty spectacular.
- I’m going to go deep into pitchers in the next baseball post, but it’s worth saying here that the split between the BBWAA and the Veterans Committee on pitchers is not nearly as complete or obvious as it is with hitters. With hitters, with a few notable exceptions, the highest ranked players in the Hall of Fame are BBWAA choices and the lower ranked players in the Hall of Fame are Veterans choices.
But with pitchers — it’s not as true. Yes, nine of the Top 10 pitchers on the EloRater are BBWAA Hall of Famers (Kid Nichols, who pitched before 1900, is the 10th) and the next 10 Hall of Famers on the EloRater were also BBWAA choices.
But after that, it’s a complete mishmash of BBWAA and Veterans. The three lowest ranked pitchers in the Hall of Fame — Rollie Fingers (172), Goose Gossage (176) and Bruce Sutter (192) — were all BBWAA choices.
- The best pitchers not in the Hall of Fame, according to the EloRater are Greg Maddux (No. 6), Roger Clemens (No. 7) and Pedro Martinez (No. 9). To give you an idea of the volatility of the EloRater, when I started this post Clemens was ranked No. 18. Randy Johnson is No. 14, which seems low to me. More on that coming up.
Leaving Clemens out of the mix for a moment, the highest ranked eligible pitcher who is not in the Hall of Fame is … take a guess. Wrong!* It’s Orel Hershiser (No. 34). That’s surprising to me — Hershiser must be on a big EloRater winning streak.
*If you said “Orel Hershiser” then change “Wrong!” into “Good job!”
Here’s a question about Hershiser: If he had not been hurt in 1999 and 1991, would he be in the Hall of Fame right now?
I’d say, almost certainly: Yes. Hershiser was coming off three seasons when he led the league in inning pitched, and over those three years he went 54-39 with a 2.55 ERA (141 ERA+). And here’s something that kind of shocked me — Hershiser was actually better ON THE ROAD during those years. I expected that a big part of his success was pitching in Dodger Stadium, but in his amazing 1988 season, he was 11-5 with a 2.31 ERA at home and 12-3 with a 2.21 ERA on the road. The next year, his road ERA was 1.93 (compared to 2.71 at home) and he gave up, get this THREE HOMERS on the road all year. He was a dominant pitcher wherever he went, kind of Greg Maddux before Greg Maddux.
In April 1990, Hershiser blew out his rotator cuff, and he was never a great pitcher again. But he was still a good pitcher, enough to win 204 games and post a 112 career ERA+.
I don’t think Hershiser is the best eligible pitcher not name named Clemens who is absent from the Hall of Fame — I think it could be Kevin Brown or David Cone or Jim Kaat or Tommy John or Wes Ferrell or Billy Pierce or Rick Reuschel or Dave Stieb or, well, it depends on your definition of what makes a great pitcher. But I do think Hershiser was truly excellent — Hall of Fame excellent — until he got hurt.
- It seems to me that the biggest outliers voted in by the BBWAA at each position are:
1B: Tony Perez. Elected for his leadership, his RBI prowess and for being at the center of great teams. Similar players not in the Hall of Fame: Dave Parker, Rusty Staub, Harold Baines.
2B: No outliers. Best second baseman not in the Hall of Fame: Lou Whitaker.
SS: Rabbit Maranville, Elected many years ago when the BBWAA was a different kind of organization. Similar players not in the Hall of Fame: Dave Concepcion, Bert Campenaris and Bill Dahlen.
3B: Pie Traynor. Elected when there really weren’t any great third basemen. Similar player not in the Hall of Fame: Stan Hack. Third basemen who were clearly better who are not in the Hall of Fame: Ken Boyer, Graig Nettles.
LF: Jim Rice. Elected for his fearsome reputation and for being a slugger when the name did not carry the connotations of the 1990s. Similar players not in the Hall of Fame: Dale Murphy, Dwight Evans, George Foster, Albert Belle, Dick Allen.
CF: Kirby Puckett. Elected in an emotional sweep and because he was such a striking player. Similar players not in the Hall of Fame: Kenny Lofton, Don Mattingly, Tony Oliva.
RF: No outliers. Best right fielder not in the Hall of Fame: Dwight Evans.
C: No outliers. Maybe Roy Campanella, but he was obviously a very different case. Best catcher not in the Hall of Fame: Ted Simmons or Joe Torre.