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Halladay and Santana

Let’s start with something almost everybody agrees with: One fantastic season is not enough to make a player a Baseball Hall of Famer. Al Rosen had a great 1953 season — he finished one point behind Mickey Vernon in batting average or he would have won the Triple Crown — and he’s not in the Hall of Fame and I don’t hear many people who think he should be.

Norm Cash was great in 1961, George Foster was great in 1977, Cesar Cedeno was great in 1972, Dwight Gooden was all but incomparable in 1985. This list goes on and on — Mark Fidrych, Vida Blue, John Hiller, Wes Ferrell, Willie Wilson, Chuck Knoblauch, Willie Davis, on and on. None of them are in the Hall of Fame. And while there is a good argument for some of them the argument is not “He had one fantastic season.” One is not enough. I think we all agree with that.

How about two great seasons? Fred Lynn had two Hall of Fame seasons in 1975 and 1979. Dick Allen had two. Bret Saberhagen won two Cy Young Awards, Dale Murphy won two MVP awards, Ken Boyer had two great seasons, Sam McDowell and Wilbur Wood and John Olerud and Dave Parker and Darrell Evans and others not in the Hall of Fame had two great seasons. Again, if you asked people, “Are two great seasons enough to make a Hall of Famer?” … most would certainly say no.

How about three then? Four? Five? Eight? At some point, we will cross a line, right? At some point a player has enough great seasons that, no matter what the rest of the career looks like, he’s a Hall of Famer, right?

OK, let’s look at the other side. In 1997, Jay Bell hit .291/.368/.461 with 21 homers and 89 runs scored. It was a good season (and an odd one for various reasons) but let’s focus on the numbers. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that Jay Bell had that exact season for 18 consecutive years. Understand, I’m not saying he would AVERAGE those numbers for 18 years. I’m saying he has those exact numbers 18 years in a row.

That would be an extraordinary achievement of consistency, wouldn’t it? But here’s the point: At the end of his career, his numbers would look like so:

Jay Bell: .291/.368/.461 with 3,006 hits, 504 doubles, 54 triples, 378 homers, 1,602 runs and 1,656 RBIs.

Those would be slam dunk Hall of Fame numbers wouldn’t they? He would have 3,000 hits, more doubles than Kaline, more homers than DiMaggio, more runs scored than George Brett and more RBIs than Ernie Banks. You could not possibly leave him out of the Hall of Fame the way we look at the Hall.

But, this is the question: Do we look at the Hall of Fame the right way? Would you vote Unfluctuating Jay Bell into the Hall of Fame? Was UJB ever a GREAT player? He would never have scored 90 runs in a season, never driven in 100, never hit 25 homers, never had 170 hits … but the numbers add up into an almost indisputable Hall of Fame case.

Tom Tango has been beating this drum for a long time and I have to say, yet again, I agree with him. His point is this: Only in baseball do we worry so much about LONGEVITY rather than GREATNESS. Only in baseball do we concern ourselves with big, career numbers that end with zeroes. Well, that’s not true. Every now and again, for some odd reason, the Pro Football Hall of Fame voters get mesmerized by career numbers. This almost always leads to questionable choices, lCharlie Joiner. Oh, Joiner was an excellent player, but do you know how many times he was All-Pro? Once. Did anyone view him as one of the two or three best receivers in the league when he played? Probably not. He just happened to briefly be the all-time leader in receptions (two years) and close to the top in receiving yards. This was a great achievement, but Hall of Fame? Now, he’s 35th in receptions, 18th in receiving yards, and he looks wildly out of place because his only real case were those career numbers.

The Baseball Hall of Fame voters tend to love the career numbers. Every eligible player with 3,000 hits is in the Hall of Fame except Rafael Palmeiro, who is being kept out because of his positive steroid test, and Craig Biggio, who should get voted in any year now. Every eligible 500-home-run hitter is in the Hall of Fame except admitted or suspected PED users. Every eligible 300-game winner is in the Hall of Fame except Roger Clemens.

Should it be this way? You could argue that it would be awfully hard to get 3,000 hits, 500 homers or 300 wins without being a truly great player. Sure, on one level that’s absolutely true. But, put another way, Don Sutton never had a 7.0 WAR season, Bret Saberhagen had three of them. Paul Molitor’s peak WAR was 6.2. Nomar Garciaparra had five seasons with a higher WAR than Molitor’s best. I would argue that, beyond WAR, Saberhagen at his best was a better pitcher than Sutton and Garciaparra at his best was a better player than Paul Molitor. They just didn’t last.

So where is the balance?

All this comes up today because Roy Halladay just announced his retirement. Halladay had only 203 wins in his career. He did not pitch 3,000 innings. The question is being asked: Is Roy Halladay a Hall of Famer?

My answer is: OF COURSE he’s a Hall of Famer.

But why do I feel so strongly about it? Because I think Roy Halladay was a truly great pitcher for a long enough period of time. The last two pitchers voted in first ballot are Dennis Eckersley and Nolan Ryan. I think Halladay, at his best, was better than either of them. He certainly doesn’t have the gaudy wins and saves of Eck, or the amazing strikeout and no-hitter numbers of Ryan. But I think his three best seasons are better than either one of those guys.

Shouldn’t that make him a Hall of Famer? I think so. But it takes us back to the original question: How many great seasons should make someone a Hall of Famer?

I think the answer probably involves Sandy Koufax. Just about everyone agrees Sandy Koufax should be in the Hall of Fame. I certainly believe that. But his whole case is a short stretch of time when he dominated, nothing at all to do with career numbers. Koufax retired at 30. Mark Langston, Javier Vazquez and Sam McDowell all won more games than Koufax AND struck out more batters, and nobody really thinks of them as Hall of Fame pitchers. Koufax’s arguments is all peak performance.

How many GREAT seasons did Koufax have? It depends on where you mark the line of GREAT but I would argue he had four GREAT seasons. I think he was GREAT every year from 1963 to 1966. In one of those years — 1965– he was more than GREAT. I would call that a SUPERIOR season. And in 1963 and 1966, he was even a level above that. I would call those seasons LEGENDARY.

So, let’s look at Koufax’s career this way:

LEGENDARY seasons 2
SUPERIOR seasons: 1
GREAT seasons: 1
VERY GOOD seasons: 2

OK, let’s try a Bill James kind of game. Let me assign a point value to each kind of season. I’m going to make LEGENDARY seasons worth 300 points, SUPERIOR seasons 200 points, GREAT seasons worth 100 and VERY GOOD seasons worth 25. Everything below VERY GOOD doesn’t count at all.*

*You may ask: How did you come up with those stupid numbers? Answer: I don’t know.

OK, so how do you determine LEGENDARY, SUPERIOR, GREAT and VERY GOOD seasons? I used WAR, which I realize is kind of ridiculous between this way I’m calling a 8.0 WAR season 200 points and a 7.9 WAR season GREAT. But I’m in too deep here so we’ll keep plowing forward.

LEGENDARY season: 10.0 WAR or higher.
SUPERIOR season: 8.0 to 9.9 WAR.
GREAT season: 6.0 to 7.9 WAR.
VERY GOOD season: 4.0 to 5.9 WAR.

Let’s just finish it up already.

By this KOUFAX system, Walter Johnson has the highest peak in baseball history. That’s obvious, I guess. His point total of 2,850 (seven LEGENDARY seasons, two SUPERIOR seasons, two GREAT seasons and 6 VERY GOOD seasons) is miles ahead of everyone else and exactly triple the Hall of Fame peak line set by Koufax.

The second highest peak? Yeah, Roger Clemens. He had two LEGENDARY, four SUPERIOR, five GREAT and five VERY GOOD. Here’s the Top 20:

1. Walter Johnson, 2,850
2. Roger Clemens, 2,025
3. Lefty Grove, 1,950
(tie) Pete Alexander, 1,900
5. Randy Johnson, 1,775

6. Christy Mathewson, 1,650
7. Tom Seaver, 1,475
8. Cy Young (since 1900), 1,350
9. Ed Walsh, 1,325
10. Pedro Martinez, 1,300

11. Bob Gibson, 1,275
12. Greg Maddux, 1,150
(tie) Phil Niekro, 1,150
14. Robin Roberts, 1,050
15. Bert Blyleven, 1,050

16. Stan Coveleski, 1,025
17. Gaylord Perry, 975
18. Sandy Koufax, 950
19. (tie) Roy Halladay, 950
20. (tie) Curt Schilling, 950

This turned out to be a pretty fun list, even if irredeemably flawed. Hal Newhouser, another pitcher whose Hall of Fame case was all peak performance, scored 875, just below the Koufax line. So did Bob Feller, who missed so many prime years because of World War II. Robin Roberts — my last Top 100 entry — actually tops Koufax’s peak.

Obviously there are a million problems with all this. My weighted numbers are ridiculous. And there are issues with WAR — I think I would have been better off using Wins Above Average, but Baseball Reference doesn’t yet allow you to sort by WAA. I also don’t like the skew toward older players. don’t think Ed Walsh had a higher peak than Pedro Martinez,, but when you average close to 400 innings a year in your peak, yeah, you’re going to put up some serious wins above replacement.

Anyway, like Letterman’s Stupid Pet Tricks, this is just for fun (please, no wagering). It’s just a rough sketch of an idea … and this system has Roy Halladay above the Hall of Fame peak line. I think that part is right.

So … what about Johan Santana? He is a tougher one. This little game only has Santana with 575 points, well below the KOUFAX line. This is because he only had one season with better than 8.0 WAR (while Halladay had three). Santana had three seasons with between 7 and 8 WAR, though, so if I had calculated this thing just a little bit different he would be right up there.

Comparing Santana and Halladay is pretty obvious because they were contemporaries who dominated. On the one hand, Santana and Halladay were probably the two best pitchers in the American League from 2003 to 2007, and Santana was better four of those five years. On the other hand, Halladay maintained his greatness longer than Santana. He had his two best seasons in Philadelphia after he left the American League, and he had one sensational year before Santana even came up.

So, tough call. Halladay won two Cy Young Awards and had a strong argument for two more, maybe even three. Santana won two Cy Young Awards and had a strong argument for at least one more, maybe two. I think Santana’s case is very borderline. But it’s roughly the same case as Dizzy Dean, who did get elected, We have time to argue about that one later. Today’s Halladay’s day as he announces his retirement. I think he is a clear Hall of Famer.

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68 Responses to Halladay and Santana

  1. Bill Caffrey says:

    Note: Dwight Gooden’s incomparable year (24-4, 1.53 ERA, 268 Ks) was 1985, not 1986.

  2. cohnjusack says:

    A fun comparison is to look at the career numbers of Tim Hudson and Roy Halladay…seasons, games, IP, hits, HR, ERA, Wins, losses….they’re almost identical. They just came about those numbers differently. Halladay had higher highs…but also lower lows. Hudson was consistently good, but never really came close to winning a Cy Young. Halladay was significantly better at his peak, but had some number dragged down by a few absolute turds of seasons.

    If you’re only looking at their final lines, they appear to be about the same….and you’re missing a lot.

    • Hudson had a second, two fourths and a sixth place in CY voting. Not sure how that’s “not close” to winning a CY.

      • cohnjusack says:

        He never received a first-place CY Young vote, which was my criteria for “not close”. Relative to Roy Halladay, this is a pretty fair statement. Relative to the rest of the league, obviously not.

        …good thing I was comparing him and Roy Halladay.

      • Ian R. says:

        Husdson’s second place finish was in 2000, when Pedro Martinez completely ran away with the thing. That’s definitely a case where he was the first loser, not the first runner-up.

        The only year he had an especially strong case for the Cy Young was 2003, and Halladay’s greater number of innings pitched and superior win total made Doc pretty much a shoo-in.

  3. Using your ratings, Dick Allen had two superior, two great seasons, and two very good seasons….. and not just the “two great seasons” you applied to him. Using just offensive WAR, because let’s be honest, Allen was a horrible fielder and his true value, the reason he was watchable was his offense, especially his power. Then you end up with three superior seasons, three great seasons and three very good seasons.

    You made it sound like he had a couple of excellent seasons and that was it. If you develop a rating system for a blog, wouldn’t it make sense to use it when applying your own logic to the level of greatness a player achieved?

    • Ian R. says:

      Why wouldn’t you count Allen’s defense against him when determining whether he had a truly great season? His play in the field cost his team runs, offsetting the runs he produced with his bat.

      Anyway, it’s pretty clear that Joe created this system to judge pitchers. There’s no particular reason you couldn’t use it to judge position players – heck, it might even make MORE sense for position players – but that wasn’t the intent.

  4. This will sound like trolling, but this seems like the inverse of the Morris vs. Blyleven debate.

    Let’s face it, almost nobody considered Bert Blyleven one of the best pitchers in baseball while he was active. It was only after the fact, when looking at his numbers, that we determined he was a Hall of Famer.

    Morris, when active, was always considered one of the best pitchers in baseball. But, in hindsight, his numbers don’t look all that impressive.

    I’m a Phillies fan, and loved rooting for Roy Halladay, but I’m not so sure he gets in on a Sandy Koufax exemption. Pedro, yes. He was transcendent and all his starts were and event for several years. Halladay was just solidly professional and excellent. He was better than Morris by objective standards, and maybe he didn’t get the buzz pitching his prime years in Toronto.

    My second team is the Cardinals, and I’ve loved what Chris Carpenter has done for them, with more postseason heroics. But I can’t see my way to putting him in, either.

    • First, a lot of people thought Blyleven was a tp 3-5 pitcher during his career. His teams sucked and you could count on winning a series, but Blylevens turn was never easy. His numbers bear that out, but old schoolers didn’t like his near .500 record. That was the main sticking point. He wasn’t embraced by the national media because, well, the national media didn’t really exist then. And since his teams were bad, they didn’t get on the Saturday game of the week often. So the only people who got to see him were those of us that actually went to games. It was more a lack of familiarity with him than anything.

      As for Halladay, name another pitcher with two CYs and 7 top 5s that isn’t in the HOF. He’ll be in, and it won’t take too many years on the ballot.

      • Rick R says:

        Blyleven pitched for good teams and bad teams during his career, so the teams he pitched on rounded out to about a .500 winning percentage, while his winning percentage was 534. Walter Johnson or Tom Seaver he was not. He only made 2 All-Star teams, so it wasn’t like he was viewed as a superstar by his contemporaries (and if his teams really were that bad, he should have made more All Star teams by default). He’s in because he pitched 22 years and compiled big totals in wins, strikeouts and shutouts.

        Roy Halladay also gets big bonus points for being one of only two players to throw a no-hitter in the post-season, as well as a perfect game.

      • Ian R. says:

        There’s the arbitrary circle again. Sure, Halladay is an exclusive group with 2 Cy Youngs and 7 top-5 finishes, but he had easily the weakest career of anyone in that group. Moreover, if you expand the criteria even a little – say, look at all pitchers with two or more Cy Youngs – you add Denny McLain, Bret Saberhagen and, of course, Johan Santana. There’s also Tim Lincecum, who isn’t looking like a future Hall of Famer these days.

        I do think Halladay should go to the Hall, but using those criteria to make him look better than he is isn’t an especially good way to make his case.

  5. Triston says:

    I think Roy Halladay having reached the 200-win milestone really increases his likelihood of getting inducted. Just like no hitter who’s debuted since Integration has been elected with fewer than 2000 hits, but many have cleared 2000 hits and not been elected; replace “hitter” with “starting pitcher” and “2000 hits” with “200 wins,” and add “except Sandy Koufax.”
    David Cone and Dwight Gooden didn’t reach 200 wins, and neither reached 5% their first ballot; Ron Guidry didn’t reach 200, never cleared 10% and fell under 5% his 9th ballot.
    Orel Hershisher, Vida Blue and Mickey Lolich “did,” and each at least made it past the first ballot.

    But then, Dave Stewart had fewer than 200 wins and made it past the first ballot; he actually fell off with Guidry, receiving the same number of votes…

    Still, I think 200 wins is a big deal for voters, as a minimum to reach.

  6. a says:

    why no mention of Maris as 2/3 great years?

  7. Weebey says:

    In terms of how many years do you need: if Mike Trout puts up another year like his last two and then retires, I would probably vote for him. Two more and he would be a no-brainer.

  8. Jake Bucsko says:

    In a ten year stretch from 02-11, Roy Halladay made 8 All Star teams and finished top 5 in Cy Young voting 7x, including two 1sts and 2 2nds. His ERA+ was around 150. That’s more than enough for me. Easy Hall of Famer.

    I saw someone up there comparing the career numbers of Tim Hudson and Halladay, which are apparently similar. I saw someone else compare the Doc’s numbers to Kevin Brown’s, which are also very close. Again, though, for a solid decade, Roy Halladay was one of the best pitchers in baseball while pitching in the same division as the Red Sox and Yankees, during the steroid era.

    In the weird “first ballot” designation where voters will refuse to vote in a Hall-worthy player because he doesn’t fit whatever standard they’ve assigned to the “first ballot”, he’s not quite there. No one will think of Halladay as an all time great like Maddux or Clemens. But he belongs.

    • cohnjusack says:

      Kevin Brown was also one of the best pitchers in baseball for a period of time.

      In Brown’s 6 best seasons, he posted ERA+ of 215, 169, 167, 164, 150 and 143.
      In Roy’s six best seasons, his posted ERA+ of 167, 163, 159, 157, 152 and 145.

      • Which hunt? says:

        I wonder why Brown didn’t get more support. It can’t just be the jerk factor can it? He was nails.

        • KHAZAD says:

          I think it was partially a somewhat stacked ballot (that has gotten even more stacked with the anti steroid crowd voting for fewer players and people’s vote being spread out enough that nobody dominates) and the whole “not a first ballot guy” thing. I read several articles from guys who had a vote dismayed that Kevin Brown fell off the ballot even though they did not vote for him.

    • KHAZAD says:

      For the decade you speak of, you could not have a conversation about who the best pitcher in baseball without Halladay coming up. For the latter half, he would probably lead off the conversation.

      You could put up his average year in the decade, (Remembering that these are his averages despite missing a year with injury in 04-05) 30 starts, 219 IP, 207 hits, 37 BB, 170 Ks, (over 4.5-1 K/BB) 17 wins, 7.5 losses, 2.97 ERA, 1.111 Whip, 6 complete games, 2 shutouts, and a 148 ERA+, and his average year over a 10 year period would deserve Cy Young consideration.

      There really aren’t very many pitchers (or hitters) that you can say that about over an entire decade.

  9. PhilM says:

    Here’s what I love about Santana: he was just as phenomenal in his time as Koufax, as indicated by sort of “sabermetric black ink test.” Wins, winning percentage, unadjusted ERA etc. have been shown wanting, so what about these leadership categories: ERA+, SO, WHIP, and pitcher WAR? Koufax has 2+4+4+2 of these; Santana has 3+3+4+3 of them. Anybody who compares to the ultimate “short career” guy is a Hall of Famer in my book.

    Oh, and Halladay’s 2006-2010 is a good enough peak to get him enshrined as well: he led the major in wins with 9 (that magic criterion) with an ERA+ of 147. Book him.

    • PhilM says:

      Er, 90 wins, but the total doesn’t really matter — only the five-year win title, which all BBWAA electees (except Drysdale and Blyleven) with <300 wins have in common.

      • Ian R. says:

        You’ve said many times before that all BBWAA electees have either 300 wins or that five-year win title (except Drysdale and Blyleven), but I’m wondering if it cuts the other way. Other than Jack Morris, are there guys with the 5-year win title who aren’t in the Hall of Fame?

        • PhilM says:

          There are, and some are no-doubt non-HOFers, but the criterion is pretty solid, especially as it encompasses such a broad range as Dazzy Vance, Red Ruffing, Ted Lyons, and Dizzy Dean. Only sixty-one pitchers since 1876 have led the majors in wins over at least one five-year stretch. Thirty-five of them are already in the Hall – twenty-four elected by the BBWAA and eleven by the various Veterans Committees – while thirteen pitchers are too recent or on the current ballot: Morris, Clemens, Maddux, Glavine, Martinez, Johnson, Santana, Sabathia, Verlander, Halladay, Bartolo Colon, Mark Mulder, and Roy Oswalt. I think we would all agree that all starters we consider “future Hall of Famers” are on that list. That leaves only a handful in history who have a five-year title and no election; mostly short-career guys who were too briefly bright or benefited from being on good teams: Tommy Bond, Larry Corcoran, Bill Hutchison, Wilbur Cooper, Urban Shocker, Eddie Rommel, George Uhle, Bucky Walters, Mort Cooper, Denny McLain, Mike Cuellar, Frank Viola, and Dave Stewart. A case could be made for Cooper or Shocker, I suppose — but all were certainly thought of as prime pitchers in their days.

          • Ian R. says:

            Santana, Colon, Mulder and Oswalt will likely join that list of non-Hall of Famers, and I suspect Morris will as well (at least for a while – he has a shot through the VC). The other 8 current/recently retired ones will probably get in, though it might be a little early to call Sabathia and Verlander locks.

    • Halladay pitched 16 years and is retiring at age 36. That’s not a “short career”.

  10. Karl Cicitto says:

    Halladay led the league in a significant pitching category 19 times over 10 consecutive years. That’s a Ton of black ink. Gotta discount Win totals in this era. Roy is a great HOF candidate.

    • Patrick Bohn says:

      Yeah, but here’s the problem with black/grey ink tests for pitchers:

      In 2002, 34 pitchers, including Halladay, finished in the Top 10 in the American League in shutouts. That is not a typo. Thirty four guys finished in the Top 10. One was Halladay. Another one was named Andy Van Hekken. His *entire career* lasted five games.

      Even with black ink, you can have these things happen. Eight pitchers led the AL in shutouts in 2008. They all had two.

      When you don’t have enough data points to separate players, you get logjams like this that allow everyone in. I’m not saying this is true for everything Halladay did, but there’s a little more than meets the eye to some of these things.

  11. pseudokiwi says:

    I always toyed with the idea that the minimum requirements for HOF eligibility was 10 years as an active player. So, I thought it would be interesting to see if a players best 10 years were “great” enough to be a hall of famer. This, for me, takes care of the “compilers” issue (of whom I actually don’t have a huge problem).

    One of the problems for me was the other end of the spectrum, the Kofax conundrum, if you will. Your post kind of gets at that for me. If a Superior Season counts as 2 Great Seasons, and a Legendary Season counts as 3 Great Seasons, Kofax has 9 Great Seasons… maybe 2 Very Good Seasons count as a Great Season?

    I think this would be a way to let some compilers back in the fold, 20 Very Good Seasons probably makes you a Hall of Famer 🙂

    Barry Bonds (Per Baseball Reference):
    Legendary Seasons: 3
    Superior Seasons: 8!!!
    Great Seasons:5
    Very Good Seasons: 2
    Total: 31 GSE (Great Season Equivalent?)
    Some people say he would be a hall of famer if you stopped his career when he allegedly started taking steroids. If you use pre 2000(?), he has a 17.5 GSE.

    A quick sample of the rest of the ballot:

    Tim Raines: 5 GSE.

    Maddux: 13 GSE

    Biggio: 7 GSE

    Mussina: 9 GSE

    Frank Thomas: 6.5 GSE

    I guess this metric makes me a small hall kind of guy….

    And because I couldn’t resist
    Morris: 3 GSE
    Blylevin: 11 GSE

    • pseudokiwi says:

      Rickey Henderson is my favorite player of all time. He would have a 14 GSE. I think it was Bill James who said if you split him in half, you’d have two Hall of Famers. I guess my cut off should be 7 GSE? 🙂

    • Ian R. says:

      Raines should probably get a special dispensation because two of his best seasons were ruined by labor issues. He may well have reached Superior territory in 1987 if he weren’t locked out by collusion, and he almost certainly would have at least hit the Very Good threshold, if not the Great threshold, in a non-strike-shortened 1981.

      • Ian R. says:

        I should add that Frank Thomas would benefit from such an adjustment as well – his best year on a rate basis was the strike-shortened 1994 season.That should count as “superior” rather than merely “great.”

  12. BobDD says:

    So Joe said these are cherry-picked numbers but that after he got where he did, he thought they were interesting enough to report. Yes I agree that for cherry-picked numbers, these are an interesting novelty. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

    Someone implied that while active, Morris was considered better than Blyleven: I sure do not remember that at all. They were both considered ‘all-star’ level most of the time though probably not quite HoF material, though Blyleven was celebrated for his strikeouts and curveball; Morris for being a big-game pitcher and looking intimidating. I think reaching 3000 strikeouts was Bert’s most celebrated event while active (still 5th all-time); Jack’s was absolutely his magnificent 10 inning WS win. As good as they both were, I never thought while watching them that I was looking at a Hall-of-Famer.

    Blyleven only got me based on his career stats making me look more closely at his whole career. I was surprised to find someone so good; it felt like making this unexpected discovery amongst my trash bin.

    It was the reverse for me about Nolan Ryan and Jim Rice. During their careers I thought they were putting up huge numbers, but looking back through the numbers I see that Ryan is deserving because of the novelty of what he could do that other MLB players could not, rather than straight exemplary rates of out-making. Rice isn’t even deserving as the numbers show he took entirely too many outs to do the amount of things he did, but the voters seemed intent on giving the Sabermetrics community a big ol’ FU – nothing else can quite explain to me Rice and Dawson, at least when superior players like Allen and Evans are still available. It certainly has lessened my personal interest in the Hall – plus they put in an entire squad of NL’ers while pointedly leaving Buck O’Neil out who was as good a baseball ambassador as ever was. I’m just not feeling much in charity with the HoF nowadays.

  13. cathead says:

    I, for one, am glad that the real “debate” over Halladay has to wait 5 years. It needs perspective that only time can bring.

  14. jaredhollick says:

    You asked the question ‘how many peak years does a player need?’ If we ask the question how many players had one peak season? The answer is a whole bunch, which is why we don’t put them in the Hall. If we ask the question, how many players had 4 peak seasons, the number becomes much smaller.

    It would be interesting to see the breakdown of how many players had a certain number of peak seasons and where that landed them in terms of the HOF.

    On a seperate note, I think we value the longevity of players so much, because as you’ve aptly pointed out in the past, Joe, baseball is a game where we care how good a team is over 162 games and not 16. So it just makes sense that we care how good a player was over a 15-20 seasons verses just a few.

  15. daley says:

    Closest thing I could find to Unfluctuating Jay Bell:

    19 years: .312/.381/.446 with 3,306 hits, 525 doubles, 65 triples, 256 home runs, 1,876 runs and 1,261 RBIs. Drove in 100 once, led the league in runs once, hits twice, never won an MVP, batting title or led the league in OBP.

    Did play shortstop for five World Series champs, which I suppose counts for something.

    • I see what you did there. Well played.

    • Grover Jones says:

      actually 3316 hits.

    • Grover Jones says:

      That 2006 MVP ballot is nuts. Go back and see how many players had more WAR than Morneau (before adjusting for the “catcher bonus”).

      • Grover Jones says:

        Oh wait, he played first base. Duh. Even more so, then.

        • David Runyon says:

          Man, that 2006 MVP is so embarrassing. We know the voters love RBIs, fine… but then how did those people justify voting for Morneau over David Ortiz or Jermaine Dye? And then those people voted for Frank Thomas, who played 137 games, but most voters refused to vote for Travis Hafner, who played 129 games (but missed most of September). I mean, the past two AL MVPs went to Miguel Cabrera because he’s “the best hitter”, but there’s no way you can look at those numbers and justify voting for Morneau as “the best hitter”.

          The voters just get swept up by the narrative, same as they did with Cabrera.

    • Ian R. says:

      The player in question, by Joe’s standards, had only one “superior” year (and that just barely qualifies at exactly 8.0 WAR), two “great” years and five “very good” years.

      His defense also was quite a bit worse than our hypothetical Unfluctuating Jay Bell.

  16. Phil says:

    UJB had a 5.4 WAR in 1997, which works out to 97.2 for an 18-year career. UJB quasi-twin has a career WAR of 71.6 for 19 seasons. I don’t know, maybe he has some problems in the field.

    • Ian R. says:

      To be fair to our quasi-twin, he also played much of his career in a higher run-scoring environment than UJB in 1997. Higher replacement level, lower WAR.

      I think your second comment is still spot-on, though.

  17. Marco says:

    There’s a lot written about peak vs. longevity, and I’ve never understood why people set them up in opposition. Why can’t it be peak or longevity – two legitimate and acceptable paths to enshrinement?

    • buddaley says:

      I am glad I read all the comments before posting. I agree. Playing 20 years or so, especially but not necessarily, at a key position, and doing well enough to put up above average numbers so often is remarkable and worthy of enshrinement. I see no reason to demean compilers. It takes a kind of greatness (or uniqueness) to manage to be so consistently good that you get close enough to those “magic” numbers to keep going and achieve them. And it is very valuable to teams to know that they have a player they can count on to be effective every year.

      If someone wants a really small hall, s/he has to eliminate compilers like Sutton, but then has also to eliminate Koufax. Only the true greats such as Walter Johnson, Seaver, Clemens et al would belong as they were both great pitchers and valuable for a long time, not simply meteors who burned out quickly.

  18. Daniel says:

    One of the great things about Joe, among many other things, is that with him, baseball has a year long season. These baseball articles in the winter really help tide me over until the real baseball season begins.

  19. cbthepoet says:

    Based on this logic Albert Belle would be a clear Hall of Famer, would he not?

    • No. He Belle never had an 8 WAR season, had only two above 7 and two more above 5. A very short peak and a short overall career.

      • Ian R. says:

        In fairness to Belle, two of his best seasons came in strike years. He likely would’ve had three 7+ WAR seasons if it weren’t for the strike, and he may have cleared 8 in 1994.

        Still, you’re right, his career wasn’t long enough.

  20. Joe, I liked your mention of Willie Davis. I mostly remember him being the “star” of the post Koufax Dodgers, when the team fell on to some hard times. However, he was there for the early 60s Dodger teams that won a lot too and put up some great numbers. Although he’s not at all the same player as Mike Trout, he did put up a lifetime 60 WAR (including one amazing 8+ WAR season), despite not overly impressive offensive statistics…. and piling up very few walks. A lot of that WAR had to come from his defense, which seems underrated based on the few GG he picked up, and from his baserunning…. he stole bases and was a real blazer on the basepaths. Nobody was ever faster going first to third or turning a double into a triple. He would often say outlandish things too… I remember one spring he was asked whether he was going to hit with more power this year…. he answered that he felt good, and that he was going to hit 50 HRs this year. The paper wrote it up like he was serious, so as an eight year old, I was really excited. Looking back, I’m sure Willie’s tongue was in cheek when he made the statement, but it was still fun to listen to. So, I enjoyed the mention. The 3-Dog was a childhood favorite!

  21. Mike Altieri says:

    Great discussion. Made my 12th trek to HOF this year. Reading the plaques always reminds me that most inductees were truly amazing players. Then again, there are some that defy logic. I am a “small” HOF guy, but Halladay should get in after 3-4 ballots.

  22. cbthepoet says:

    With a young, healthy Grady Sizemore doing his best Mike Trout impression. Second in WAR, (first among position players) didn’t even finish in the top 10 in voting.

    • David Runyon says:

      I’m guessing a lot of his WAR must have come on defense that year… Jeter’s numbers are superior by traditional measures (and he was still thought to be a great defender at that time) so I’m not surprised that the voters went in Jeter’s direction instead of Sizemore’s.

  23. cbthepoet says:

    In response to the 2006 MVP vote

  24. KTM says:

    Interesting commentaries as always. Halladay reminds me of 3 other pitchers … Schilling, Saberhagen, and Billy Pierce. Of course, Saberhagen had a shorter career due to arm ailments, however, he did win 2 Cy Young awards. And i think, by innings, the 4 of them are fairly close to each other.
    I’ve no objection if he makes the Hall. I wonder, though, because he’s in an era where there are so many very good pitchers trying to get in, if he can make it.
    Similiar to an earlier comment of Pedro vs. Roy… i’d take Pedro first.

  25. largebill says:


    I may be in the minority, but I think the Hall of Fame can and should honor both the peak player and the compiler. Both provide value and should be recognized. It is easier to grasp the greatness of a Trout or Miguel Cabrera than it is to notice an Adrian Beltre. However, Beltre is putting together one heck of a career and there is a lot of value in his performance even if he doesn’t have MVP level seasons in his career. If the case for someone is primarily based on peak then the peak has to be phenomenal. Likewise, if a player doesn’t have much of a peak and is being considered based on his counting stats then he needs to clear at least one of the traditional hurdles (3,000, 500, etc). A Harold Baines would fall short of the career numbers for a guy with little peak. Palmiero has more than enough career totals to off set the lack of an eye popping peak. A Mike Trout (as of now) would fall short of a pure peak argument. Albert Pujols has a great peak of enough length that he is a sure thing Hall of Famer even if he doesn’t play another game. Koufax obviously was a peak argument without the career length.

    • Ian R. says:

      Uh, Beltre had a 9.6 WAR season in 2004, and he’s had two other 7 WAR seasons. He’s more of a career case than a peak case, sure, but Beltre at his best was a legit MVP-level player – he only missed out in ’04 because of Bonds.

  26. Karl Cicitto says:

    Good point, Patrick. But….I put far less stock in grey ink than black ink. Also, I think any logjams (as you mentioned) are likely to not exist when you are looking at Black Ink over a number of years, not just 1 year, but 10 years. A lot feels right about the validity of long term black ink. For one, it makes Carl Yastrzemski look like a tip top HOF claimant, and he’s a special player to me. Being dominant in one’s era might be a very good prerequisite for HOF’ers and that is what Black Ink measures. On the flip side HOF’ers with little or no Black Ink, like Rizzutto, Doerr, Joe Gordon, have black ink that makes ’em look like they belong in the Hall of Very Good.

  27. wordyduke says:

    Thanks for the post and, in particular, the nod to Al Rosen, whose 1953 season is, by win shares, the greatest ever for a third baseman.

    Of course he can’t be a Hall of Famer. But it’s worth noting the reasons his peak and his career were so short. He spent 1943-45, when he was 19-21, in the Navy. Then he put in three years in the high minors, clearly ready to hit ML pitching (if given enough ati-bats), but held back by the presence of Ken Keltner at 3rd base for the Indians. In 1954, he was hitting .364 with 49 rbi on May 31 when he broke a finger which did not heal properly. At age 30, his peak — a 191-game stretch unmatched by any 3rd baseman — was over. More injuries followed, and two years later, he got into a protracted contract dispute with Indians GM Hank Greenberg. Believing he could make more money as a stock broker, Rosen retired. His career as an executive with the Yankees (Steinbrenner loved the Indians of his youth), Astros, and Giants brought him back to baseball.

  28. Jim P says:

    You can evaluate UJB’s Hall of Fame case by using a different baseline instead of Replacement. Either Average or All Star would work out. I am going to take partial credit for inventing this, as I sent an email to Dave Studeman at THT in January of 2007 when he was evaluating all-time players and suggested he use 20 WS per year as his baseline. The next week, “All Star Win Shares” appeared in one of his articles. In 2012, Peter Keating at ESPN “invented” WAAS, Wins Above All Star, and used 2.5 WAR as the baseline. He wrote, “players would enter the discussion around 20 WAAS and deserve enshrinement above 25 WAAS”. UJB would be at 2.9 * 18 = 52.2 WAAS.

  29. Halladay should get in easily for all the reasons enumerated above. As to the question of Santana’s “greater seasons,” that’s really only true if you look at raw stats. The biggest problem with a direct comparison of Halladay and Santana’s numbers is the large disparity in competition faced. Baseball Prospectus has a stat called Opp OPS which measures the quality of opposing batters faced based on their average OPS. Here are the numbers from 2003 to 2009:

    quality of opposition faced, opponent OPS:

    2003: Halladay – .766, Santana – .744 (league avg .761)
    2004: Halladay – .756, Santana – .752 (league avg .771)
    2005: Halladay – .771, Santana – .740 (league avg .755)
    2006: Halladay – .762, Santana – .774 (league avg .776)
    2007: Halladay – .775, Santana – .759 (league avg .761)
    2008: Halladay – .766, Santana – .737 (league avg .756)
    2009: Halladay – .770, Santana – .743 (league avg .764)

    So Halladay had the higher Opp OPS six out seven seasons and in four of those seasons the differential was 22 points or more. Halladay was above the league average five times out of seven whereas Santana was never above league average. Keep this in mind when trying to contextualize who is “better” in these debates or when looking at FIP/ERA and any metrics based on them. WAR totals, both fangraphs and bref are also instructive.

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