Been working for a while on a big Baseball Hall of Fame idea — hope to have that out in the next month or so. And while doing some work on it, I ran across a wonderful little prediction section in Bill James’ excellent Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame. Bill was explaining his Hall of Fame Monitor, a method he created to predict a player’s chances of getting elected by the Baseball Writers Association into the Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Fame Monitor awards points for different categories (17 categories for everyday players, 16 for pitchers). You add up them all up, and anyone who gets more than 100 points is “likely to get into the Hall of Fame.” As it turns out, 125 points is a better indicator than 100, but the main thing is that this system works quite well.
Remember: The Monitor works only for predictive purposes. It is not meant to determine who DESERVES to go to the Hall of Fame. It is based on the sorts of accomplishments that seem to impress BBWAA voters. How many times did he hit .300 in a season? How many times did he get 200 hits or 100 RBIs? How many times did he win 20 games or strike out 200 in a season or throw a no-hitter? How many MVPs? How many Cy Youngs? That sort of thing.
One more time just so we all have it: The Hall of Fame Monitor does not calculate who belongs in the Hall. It anticipates who will get voted into the Hall.
Let’s use 125 Monitor points as our standard to show you how it works:
Hitters: There are 109 Hall of Fame eligible hitters with 125 Monitor Points. Ninety-seven are already in the Hall of Fame. That’s 90%.
And the ones not in the Hall of Fame, for the most part, have presumed PED connections. Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and Gary Sheffield are the highest-ranked players not in the Hall of Fame. Then comes Jeff Bagwell, who should get elected next year. Edgar Martinez is on this list too, and he still has a chance.
Pitchers; There are 52 Hall of Fame-eligible pitchers since 1900* with 125 points. Forty-seven are in the Hall of Fame. That’s 90% again
The five not on the list include Roger Clemens (obvious reasons), Curt Schilling (will still get elected, I think), Trevor Hoffman (will get elected as soon as next year), Jim Kaat and Lee Smith (more on them in a bit)
*Nineteenth-century pitchers racked up huge Hall of Fame Monitor points because they threw so many innings.
Fun stuff, right? Well, for his book, Bill used the Monitor to predict who the BBWAA would vote into the Hall of Fame over the next 25 years. The book came out in 1994, so let’s see how he did.
* * *
Bill’s prediction: Mike Schmidt and Jim Rice
Actual: Mike Schmidt
Interesting that Bill thought Jim Rice would sail into the Hall of Fame first ballot. He did not — Rice got less than 30% of the vote that first year, and his Hall of Fame election turned out to be a long and semi-contentious deal. It took Rice the full 15 years to garner the 75% necessary for election.
Here’s what I think happened: In the 1990s and 2000s, baseball writers began to change subtly the way they voted. There’s still a lot of gut feeling when it comes to Hall of Fame voting — I know a Hall of Famer when I see one — but in the 1970s and 1980s, it was ALL gut feeling. Nobody defended why Billy Williams or Lou Brock or Catfish Hunter or Willie McCovey or Willie Stargell got voted in. It was obvious. Those guys felt like Hall of Famers. Meanwhile, Reggie Smith, Bobby Bonds, Jim Bunning, Ken Boyer, Orlando Cepeda, these guys did not quite feel like Hall of Famers (Bunning and Cepeda were elected later by the veteran’s committee).
In the 1990s, I think, more writers began to think of the Hall of Fame less as interpretive art and more as something to research and study. Some resent the change and think the Hall of Fame has become too number-driven and too performance driven. Most seem happy with the change.
So, while Jim Rice FELT like a Hall of Famer — he hit .300 seven times and just about hit .300 for his career, won an MVP award and led the league in homers three times and RBIs twice — people took a closer look and had some questions. He was a power hitter who did not hit 400 career homers. His numbers were bolstered significantly by Fenway Park. His defensive reputation was lacking. He hit into a ton of double plays.
After asking and getting comfortable with all these points, the BBWAA did vote in Rice. But it took some conversation. The Hall of Fame voting was changing in ways that were not easy to predict.
* * *
Bill’s prediction: Don Sutton and Pete Rose
Sutton was elected two years later. Rose, well, that story has been told.
* * *
Bill’s Prediction: Steve Garvey and Phil Niekro
Actual: Phil Niekro
When Bill James wrote the book, Steve Garvey was had gathered about 40% of the vote each of his first two times on the ballot. He seemed destined for the Hall of Fame.
What happened to Garvey’s Hall of Fame case is not entirely clear. The narrative has been that Garvey’s personal problems — his philandering and illegitimate children and so on — cost him the Hall of Fame. Maybe that’s true, but it doesn’t quite add up. Garvey’s mistakes in life were well known by the time he came on the ballot in 1993. Rick Reilly’s devastating story about Garvey had appeared in Sports Illustrated four years earlier. His ex-wife’s book “The Secret Life of Cyndi Garvey” had also come out four years earlier. The jokes about Garvey were rampant long before he went on the ballot. Heck, I remember Pete Rose himself telling me this one in 1994:
Rose: Did you hear about the Breeder’s Cup?
Rose: I bet on it, and Garvey won it.
Garvey still got strong early support for the Hall of Fame. At that point, the smart bet was that as Garvey’s problems receded from memory, his percentages would go up. It might take time but, yes, he would get elected in the late 1990s.
That didn’t happen. In the late 1990s, Garvey’s support deteriorated, and it never reemerged. I think the reason goes hand-in-hand with what I just wrote about Jim Rice. The BBWAA began to scrutinize players rather than just relying on a few token statistics and powerful memories. Garvey’s Hall of Fame Monitor is 130, making him a very likely Hall of Famer. He won an MVP. He got 200 hits just about every year. He won four Gold Gloves. He was essentially a .300 hitter. He was a starter in a bunch of All-Star Games.
But his career on-base percentage was a blah .329. He never slugged .500 even for a single season. He didn’t reach any of the career milestones that would strengthen his case (no 3,000 hits, no 500 homers — or even 300 — no 500 doubles, etc.). He won those Gold Gloves, but his fielding is an open question. In other words, when you broke down Garvey’s career and compared it to Hall of Fame careers, he didn’t fare especially well. Garvey was a towering figure in baseball. That did not prove enough.
It now looks like Garvey will never get elected to the Hall of Fame. He came up in the expansion era ballot three years ago but got little to no support.
* * *
Bill’s prediction: Gary Carter and Al Oliver
Actual: Don Sutton
Catchers almost always do poorly on the first ballot. Johnny Bench is the only catcher ever to be elected first ballot. Yogi Berra did not get elected first ballot if you can believe that.
Some Hall of Fame catchers first ballot percentages:
Yogi Berra: 67.2%
Carlton Fisk: 66.4%
Mike Piazza: 57.8%
Roy Campanella: 57.2%
Gary Carter: 42.3%
Bill Dickey: 32.2%
Ivan Rodriguez has what would have once been considered a slam dunk case. He leads catchers in a bunch of offensive categories — games, hits, doubles, runs and so on — and he won a billion Gold Gloves. But there is some PED smog clouding up his career and, more, catchers just don’t get elected first ballot. It doesn’t bode well for Ivan Rodriguez next year.
Al Oliver was a lifetime .300 hitter with more than 2,700 hits and 500 doubles in his career. His Hall of Fame Monitor registers at 116, which is why Bill must have thought Oliver would get another Hall of Fame look. But the reality is that Oliver had no chance for the Hall. He’d come up on the ballot in 1991, and he garnered only 4.3% of the vote. He has not gotten another glance since then on any of the Veteran’s Committee ballots.
I don’t think Oliver is quite a Hall of Famer, but his career has been dramatically underappreciated. His Hall of Fame case, in my view, is quite a bit better than Garvey’s, just using one example.
* * *
Bill’s prediction: Nolan Ryan and George Brett
Actual: Nolan Ryan, George Brett, and Robin Yount.
* * *
Bill’s prediction: Robin Yount and Carlton Fisk
Actual: Carlton Fisk and Tony Perez
The Monitor did not forecast the election of Tony Perez; he scores only an 81. This is because Perez did not hit .300 much, he did not win an MVP, he lacked some of the career milestone statistics.
But looking at Perez a bit more closely helps explain why the Monitor works so well. The Monitor awards players points for being on great teams.
“If the player was a regular on a championship team,” Bill wrote, “award him:
— 6 points if he was the shortstop or catcher
— 5 points if he was the second baseman or center fielder
— 3 points if he was the third baseman
— 2 points if he played left field or right
— 1 point if he was the first baseman.
Prime position players league championship teams and division winners also earn points.
Well, Perez played on numerous championship teams — two World Series winners, five pennant winners — but he didn’t get many points for that because he played first base. The theory is that writers view shortstops as more integral to championship teams than first basemen, and it’s a sound theory.
But Perez is an exception to that rule. First base or not, the writers saw Perez as a leader on those Big Red Machine teams. And the writers were dead on — Perez was the guy everyone admired. The writers gave Perez all the championship points he would have gotten as a shortstop, and that pushed him over the top.
* * *
Predictions: Andre Dawson and Dave Winfield
Actual: Dave Winfield and Kirby Puckett
Pretty good guesswork on Bill’s part predicting when Winfield would retire. Bill also predicted that Puckett would get elected, but he did not foresee that Kirby’s career would end abruptly when he lost vision in his right eye.
Dawson did not get on the ballot until the next year. He was not a first-ballot inductee as the Monitor suggested. Dawson languished on the ballot for a few years before getting elected in 2010.
* * *
Predictions: Eddie Murray and Ozzie Smith
Actual: Ozzie Smith
Eddie Murray stuck around one year longer than Bill predicted.
* * *
Predictions: Dave Parker and Jim Kaat
Actual: Eddie Murray and Gary Carter
Bill saw a down year in 2003. He thought Murray and Carter would be elected, and that would give the BBWAA a chance to elect more marginal candidates Parker and Kaat. This is something we often miss about the Hall of Fame; when a player gets close but does not get elected, it can have an effect on future players. On the current ballot, for instance, Curt Schilling is stuck waiting for some of the top players — Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, Trevor Hoffman — to clear.
Dave Parker, like Garvey, lost support over time. He was at 25% in his second year but by 2003 he had dropped all the way to 10% and his Hall of Fame quest was over. A narrative built around Parker that he blew his Hall of Fame chances when he got lost in drugs and weight issues. Once a narrative builds about anything, it is very hard to change.
Jim Kaat was a great pitcher with terrible timing. For instance, he never won the Cy Young Award. He would have won it for sure in 1966 — heck, he finished fifth in the American League MVP voting — but that was the LAST YEAR that the AL did not award its own Cy Young.*
*From 1956 to 1966, there was just one overall Cy Young winner. And in 1966, that award was obviously and unanimously going to Sandy Koufax.
Kaat won 283 games, which is a lot. In 1980, he was 11th on the modern baseball wins list and the nine retired players in front of him were all in the Hall of Fame. He then watched as an unprecedented run of 300-game winners — Gaylord Perry, Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, Don Sutton, Phil Niekro — all raced by him
Kaat won 16 Gold Glove Awards at a position where nobody cares about Gold Glove Awards.
And so on. When you take in Kaat’s entire career, yes, he’s a borderline candidate. But with just a little bit of luck, he’d have been elected.
* * *
Predictions: Dennis Eckersley and Ted Simmons
Actual: Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor
Another great prediction by Bill on Dennis Eckersley. Bill was two years early on Molitor, who just kept going and going; Molitor played through age 41.
Simmons has a fascinating Hall of Fame case that, in my mind, was crushed by what you might call the Sham factor. How good a horse was Sham? He ran a record-breaking time in winning the Santa Anita Derby as a three-year-old. He then finished second to Secretariat at the Kentucky Derby even though he cracked his head at the starting gate, losing two teeth. He finished second to Secretariat at the Preakness. He was the horse that tried to stay with Secretariat in the early part of the Belmont only to fade away.
But if there had been no Secretariat, would Sham have won the Triple Crown in 1973? Did you know that Sham — like Secretariat — had a heart roughly twice the size of a normal thoroughbred?
What does this have to do with Ted Simmons? He has the second-most hits for catchers in baseball history, behind only Ivan Rodrigues. He’s also second in doubles. He hit 248 homers in his career. He had the same career on-base percentage as Yogi Berra, and it was better than Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter or Ivan Rodriguez.
So why did he get just 3.7% of the vote before falling off the ballot in 1994? His 124 Hall of Fame Monitor predicts him as a sure Hall of Famer. He seems to hit all the marks. Why has he not come up in any of the expansion era ballots? Why have so few taken up his cause?
The most logical answer is that Simmons’ defense was below average. He had that reputation, but it’s hard to say that it’s a fair one. He did have some high passed ball numbers, especially early in his career. But he was about average throwing out base stealers, he was athletic, and he caught a Cy Young winner (assuming you count Pete Vuckovich).
I think his problem is not defense but Shamness. There were three legendary great catchers during Simmons’ era: Johnny Bench; Carlton Fisk and Gary Carter. All three were better than Simmons. Then again, all three were better than just about every catcher in Major League history.
I suspect people couldn’t get their arms around the idea that there was a FOURTH catcher in the same period with a real Hall of Fame case. But that’s how it sometimes goes: We get clusters. We got four of the ten greatest starting pitchers in baseball history in the 1990s and none in the 1980s. There just happened to be four great catchers at one time. Simmons happened the be the fourth or four and, like Andy Murray, that’s not where you want to be.
* * *
Predictions: Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken
Actual: Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg
Bill was just a little early on Ripken and a little late on Sandberg; he did not see Sandberg going in until 2010.
* * *
Predictions: Rickey Henderson and Paul Molitor
Actual: Bruce Sutter
The Hall of Fame Monitor, like many of us, has no idea why Bruce Sutter was elected to the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame Monitor does Lee Smith as a surefire Hall of Famer (127) because he had so many saves, but it has Bruce Sutter well shy of election (79).
I still find the Bruce Sutter election to be one the most bizarre in recent BBWAA history. Look, Sutter was a fantastic reliever, but his vote is so out of line with the rest of the BBWAA’s voting record. Dan Quisenberry has an almost identical career value, and he got 18 total votes.
* * *
Predictions: Tony Gwynn and Roger Clemens
Actual: Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken
Well, this is pretty telling: Bill predicted Clemens would be eligible for election in 2007. He wasn’t actually eligible until 2013, six years later. Clemens had an unprecedented run at the end of his career for all the reasons that you will have strong feelings about.
Even without that run, though, it was obvious that Clemens was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
* * *
Predictions: Kirby Puckett and Dale Murphy
Actual: Goose Gossage
Bill predicted Gossage would go into the Hall, but not until 2014.
Was Dale Murphy as good a baseball player as Jim Rice? They had almost the same number of plate appearances in the big leagues: 9,041 for Murphy, 9,058 for Rice.
Rice had much better rate statistics, a higher OPS+, more doubles, and triples.
Murphy had a few more home runs, 100 more stolen bases, five Gold Gloves to zero and a higher career win probability added.
Both relied quite a bit on their home park for offensive success.
In their day, I would say that Murphy probably had an edge in reputation. There was a period of three or four years when the consensus considered Murphy the best player in baseball. He probably wasn’t the best, not in a league with Rickey Henderson and Mike Schmidt and so on, but he had the reputation. Rice was feared and admired but you never really heard him called the best player in baseball.
Then, what is reputation worth? By WAR, Murphy’s top eight seasons are each better than Rice’s top eight seasons, though the difference is often minuscule. After season nine, Murphy falls — his career essentially ended after age 32.
I think Murphy’s Hall of Fame case should have been every bit as compelling as Jim Rice’s. But it wasn’t. Maybe people could not forget the image of Murphy’s sad final days (Rice retired fairly young). Maybe Murphy’s lousy teams hurt him. Whatever the reason, Rice kept growing bigger in people’s minds. And Murphy, a great player and person, grew smaller.
* * *
Predictions: Jack Morris and Lee Smith
Actual: Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice
Again, Bill saw a lull coming having predicted that Rice and Henderson would have been elected years earlier. Morris and Smith both got 44% of the vote but neither quite built up to 75%.
* * *
Predictions: Tim Raines and Ryne Sandberg
Actual: Andre Dawson
Here, we often compare Tim Raines and Tony Gwynn because they were outfielders and contemporaries and similar in value, though not in style. But what about comparing Raines and Sandberg?
They were similar talents offensively. Both could run — Raines was faster. Both had some power — Sandberg was stronger. Overall, though, Raines was a substantially better hitter. He had 1,000 more plate appearances and had a 40-point advantage in on-base percentage. Raines created about 300 more runs over their careers.
Sandberg, though, was a second baseman and terrific one, and this made a big perception difference. Sandberg could not match Raines as a hitter, and no one could match Raines as a base runner. But Sandberg played a much more important defensive position and played it beautifully.
The question is: Could Sandberg’s defense make up THREE HUNDRED RUNS? People will agree and disagree on that one. Sandberg cruised into the Hall of Fame three years into his time on the ballot. Raines is coming upon his last chance next year.
* * *
Predictions: Barry Bonds and Joe Carter
Actual: Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven
This is where we get to the fun predictions, the ones Bill was guessing about players very early in their careers. Barry Bonds was just 29 when Bill made this prediction, but this wasn’t hard: Bonds had already won three MVP awards.
Joe Carter, meanwhile, was 34 and coming off his eighth 100 RBI season in nine years. The RBIs told his story. Carter was a .263 hitter at the time with a .309 on-base percentage. He was not a great fielder. But he was good for 30 homers and 100 RBIs just about every year, and he had his time as a stolen base threat, and there was a strong feeling he would just keep compiling those numbers and get himself elected. I can recall hearing the phrase “future Hall of Famer” when referring to Joe Carter.
It didn’t work out that way. His career petered out, and he got just 3.8% of the vote his one year on the ballot.
Bill did predict that Alomar would be elected to the Hall of Fame (a few years later). The one player that Bill missed in this exercise was Bert Blyleven; I’m not sure why. I will have to ask him. The Hall of Fame monitor has Blyleven at 120, which is pretty solid Hall of Fame territory, Blyleven had 3,000 Ks and more than 280 wins. Bill put Kaat on his list but not Blyleven. I think it was probably just an oversight. I’ve spent way more time on this list, I’m sure, than Bill did.
* * *
Predictions: Brett Butler and David Cone
Actual: Barry Larkin
Bill and I are both avowed Brett Butler fans; we just love the way the guy played. I suspect Bill put him on here for fun. Butler was coming off a terrific 1994 season he hit .314/.411/.446 with a league-leading nine triples and 79 runs scored in just 111 games. He was 37 but with 2,089 hits, it did not seem beyond the realm of possibility that he could put together two or three more good seasons and get his hit total past 2,500 and maybe close in on 1,500 runs. As is, Butler finished with a higher career WAR than Jim Rice or Dale Murphy.
Barry Larkin was barely starting when Bill put this book together.
* * *
Predictions: Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker
How much better would it have been if the BBWAA in 2013, instead of electing nobody, had elected Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker?
* * *
Predictions: Goose Gossage and Don Mattingly
Actual: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas
Bill foresaw the election of Greg Maddux and Thomas, even though it was very early in their careers. Gossage was elected earlier than Bill expected.
Mattingly represents the 8,000 plate appearance curse. There have been only six players since World War II elected with fewer than 8,000 plate appearances. Three were Negro Leaguers: Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, and Larry Doby.
The others: Ralph Kiner (who led the league in homer his first seven years); Kirby Puckett (who had his career shortened by an eye injury); Mike Piazza (who was a catcher).
We just saw the 8,000 plate appearance curse hurt Jim Edmonds — he has a viable Hall of Fame argument but he didn’t even get 5% of the vote. Why? He had 7,980 plate appearances. Dick Allen, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Mark McGwire, Curt Flood, Fred Lynn, Nomar Garciaparra and Mattingly all had fewer than 8,000 PAs. They all played at a Hall of Fame level but, the voters say, not for quite long enough.
* * *
Predictions: Jack McDowell and Greg Maddux
Actual: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio
It would have been pretty impressive if Bill had predicted any of those four who were elected. Johnson had turned 31, and he was 81-62 with a 3.70 ERA when the book was written. He had not yet won any of his five Cy Young Awards (though he did lead the league in strikeouts three straight years).
Pedro was 22 and had only made 26 career starts.
Smoltz was a three-time All-Star, but his career won-loss record was just 78-75, and he was coming off his worst season.
Biggio was coming off his first terrific season, where he led the league in doubles and stolen bases and won a Gold Glove. Bill would later become Biggio’s most vocal supporter.
Bill’s pick of Jack McDowell didn’t exactly pan out — he got four votes — but at the time of the book’s publishing, McDowell wasn’t a bad bet. He had won a Cy Young, finished second in another, he was 28 and had 91 victories. As it turned out, he only had one more good season.
* * *
Predictions: Fred McGriff and Dwight Gooden
Actual: Ken Griffey and Mike Piazza
Bill did predict Griffey’s election to the Hall, but not until 2018. He had a shot to pick Piazza, but it would have been an amazing guess. Piazza won rookie of the year in 1993 and hit .319 with 24 homers in 1994.
I’ve written enough about Fred McGriff, I suppose, but Gooden represents an interesting question. In the gigantic Hall of Fame post I have coming up (like this one isn’t big enough), I explore different levels of Hall of Fame stardom. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that Dwight Gooden in 1985 had one of the five greatest seasons in modern baseball history. By WAR, this is true:
1. Walter Johnson, 1913 (16.0 WAR)
Johnson had all-time great seasons in 1912, 1914, 1915, etc.
2. Babe Ruth, 1923 (14.1 WAR)
Ruth had numerous other all-time great seasons, as everyone knows.
3. Dwight Gooden, 1985 (13.2 WAR)
His second-best WAR season, his rookie season, was less than half as good (5.5 WAR). And he never came all that close to having THAT good a season again.
4. Pete Alexander, 1920 (12.8 WAR)
Grover Cleveland Alexander had a movie made about him starring Ronald Reagan, giving him the ultimate trivia question: Name the only pitcher named for a U.S. President who was played by another one in the movies.
5. Cy Young, 1901 (12.6 WAR)
Did you know that Cy Young never won a Cy Young Award?
6. Steve Carlton, 1972 (12.5 WAR)
About as good in 1980, had five other great years. You know you’re good when people call a baseball pitcher “Lefty,” and they mean you.
7. Carl Yastrzemski, 1967 (12.4 WAR)
Had a 10 WAR season the very next year.
8. Roger Clemens, 1997 (12.2 WAR)
Few think that 1997 was even his best season.
9. Ed Walsh, 1912 (12.2 WAR)
Deadball Era pitchers threw a lot of innings. This year, Walsh threw 393 innings. He had two seasons where he threw more than 400.
10. Rogers Hornsby, 1924 (12.1 WAR)
Hit .400 the very next year; Hornsby had six 10 WAR seasons.
The question here is: Should that ONE SEASON be enough to elect Gooden to the Hall of Fame? As you can see, it’s a unique situation. All-time great players had the other all-time great seasons. But Gooden was not an all-time great player. He just was for one year. Is that enough We’ll get into that more in our next installment.
* * *
Bill’s Prediction: Frank Thomas and Ruben Sierra
My prediction: Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, and Trevor Hoffman
Ruben Sierra? Well, he was a bold pick in 1994. Sierra was still 28 years old, and he had more than 1,400 career hits, which is more than Derek Jeter would have at the same age. Sierra also had 200 home runs, which is about as many as Barry Bonds had through age 28.
Unfortunately, Sierra never had even a passable season after age 28. He had negative WAR seasons every year but one.
* * *
Bill’s Prediction: Ken Griffey Jr. and Roberto Alomar
My prediction: Chipper Jones and Curt Schilling
I have to believe this Schilling madness will end sooner rather than later.
* * *
Bill’s prediction: Jeff Bagwell and Juan Gonzalez
My prediction: Mariano Rivera, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Jim Thome, Ivan Rodriguez, Mike Mussina and Edgar Martinez.
Well, a guy can dream, can’t he?