By In Baseball, Hall of Fame

The New Hall

Dave Cameron over at Fangraphs wrote a terrific piece a couple of weeks ago where he tries to determine what exactly is the Hall of Fame’s historical standard. Where is that line drawn? He finds that the traditional standard is somewhere between 1% and 2% of all players.

It varies by era, of course. More than 2% of the players born before 1910 are in the Hall of Fame — and I suspect most people would say that there are a few too many of those players in the Hall. There are numerous reasons for this which we can go into another time — one being that these players have been considered several different times in several different ways, so they have had many chances to be chosen — but I think most people agree that the Hall could probably take out a Lloyd Waner, a Ray Schalk, a High Pockets Kelly, a Rube Marquard and so on and have a more consistent Hall of Fame.

I’m going to recap Dave’s work for a couple of minutes here and then get to the point. Between 1910 and 1960, there were 8,900 men born who played in the Major Leagues. Of these, 112 were elected to the Hall of Fame. That’s 1.26%. Now, it’s true that a few of those 112 are considered marginal Hall of Famers if not outright mistakes. But I suspect that at least as many — Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Tim Raines, Dwight Evans, Graig Nettles, Ken Boyer, Dick Allen, Luis Tiant, Tommy John, Jim Kaat, not to mention Pete Rose — are viable Hall candidates who have not yet been elected.

So, let’s say that the best 1.25% should be elected into the Hall of Fame. Of course, you could be a small Hall person and decide that less than 1% deserve election or you could be a big Hall person and say 2%. But for now, let’s stick with 1.25%.

Dave says that from 1961 to 1970, 2,656 Major League players were born. That’s a lot more than any previous decade because of expansion. If you take the top 1.25% of those players, that would make 33 players who deserve to be in the Hall of Famer. That doesn’t sound unreasonable. But, when you dig a little deeper into it, you find: That’s WAY more than the current momentum.

Here, as Dave says, are the players born in the decade who are in the Hall of Fame.

1. Barry Larkin
2. Roberto Alomar

OK, a couple of excellent middle infielders. OK. Now, here are the players who will unquestionably get elected … on the first ballot, I would think:

3. Greg Maddux
4. Tom Glavine
5. Frank Thomas
6. Randy Johnson
7. Ken Griffey
8. John Smoltz
9. Mariano Rivera

And here are players I think will get elected:
10. Craig Biggio (maybe even this year)
11. Jeff Bagwell
12. Mike Piazza
13. Jim Thome
14. Trevor Hoffman

Um, We are still not even halfway to the 33 players who, by the Hall’s historical standard, should be Hall of Famers. So, let’s list some players who could get elected, you know, with some momentum:
15. Curt Schilling
16. Mike Mussina
17. Omar Vizquel. It’s possible that Omar will have an easier time of it than this, I’m just projecting.

Wow, barely halfway. How about some players who will need some help, but have some strong supporters:
18. Edgar Martinez
19. Larry Walker
20. Fred McGriff

Whew, were still not even close to 33. Well, of course, you notice we haven’t yet included the players connected with PEDs. We won’t rehash the arguments here, but will just list them off — all six, I think, had Hall of Fame careers:
22. Barry Bonds
22. Roger Clemens
23. Mark McGwire
24. Gary Sheffield
25. Sammy Sosa
26. Rafael Palmeiro

And you know what? We’re STILL not especially close to the 1.25% that is the traditional standard for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Who else could we add here?

27. Jeff Kent

There are much bigger Kent fans than me out there, so I probably should have listed him earlier. He did hit 377 home runs, which is by far the most ever for a second baseman. And he won an MVP award. He also had eight seasons with 100-plus RBIs, which is another record for second basemen. On second thought, he’ll probably have a growing cadre of supporters — he might belong with the McGriff group.

28. Kevin Brown

Nobody particularly seemed to like Kevin Brown, so there wasn’t much fuss when he disappeared from the ballot. But he pitched more than 3,200 innings with a 127 ERA+. There were 20 players born before 1960 who threw at least 2,000 innings with an ERA+ of 125 or better. All but one — Tommy Bridges, who threw fewer innings than Brown and was not as effective — are in the Hall of Fame.

Um, OK, five more to go. Now what?

29. Kenny Lofton

He fell off the ballot after his first year, but Lofton was a Gold Glove centerfielder who just about hit .300, stole more than 600 bases and scored more than 1,500 runs. The only players born before 1960 to score 1,500 runs and not make the Hall of Fame are Pete Rose and Tim Raines. And Raines is pushing his way up the charts.

30. Jim Edmonds

His career was short, so he didn’t get 2,000 hits or 400 home runs, but he was an extraordinary center fielder who got on base, hit with power, Duke Snider is one of his Baseball Reference comps. I think he was one of the top 1.25% players of his time.

We’re STILL not there. Who else?

31. David Cone

What you find here, on the bottom end, are great players who had serious flaws. Cone’s flaw was the shortness of his career. His failure to win 200 games cut him off as a BBWAA Hall candidate, but he was a great pitcher. He he won a Cy Young Award and was a viable candidate three or four other times. He pitched in four World Series. His 121 ERA+ is certainly in Hall of Fame territory.

32. Don Mattingly

He still has many fans despite a very short career. There was a three or four year span when many people thought Mattingly was the best player in baseball. He probably was not — he never even finished Top 5 in WAR — but he was a high-average, Gold Glove first baseman who cranked doubles and homers and almost never struck out. He was a bleepin’ ballplayer.

Still one more spot? Well, you might consider John Olerud, Will Clark, Robin Ventura, Bernie Williams, Bret Saberhagen, You say: Oh come on, those guys weren’t Hall of Famers. But this is the point: Historically, they were — or they were right on the brink. If you go back to those players before 1910 — when more than 2% of the players were elected — you would still have to find TWENTY more players for the Hall. You would start talking about Kevin Appier and Chuck Finley, Matt Williams and Darryl Strawberry, Steve Finley and Jamie Moyer, Mark Langston, Jimmy Key and David Justice.

See, the arguments we’re having — about whether a guy like Curt Schilling or Edgar Martinez is a Hall of Famer — having nothing at all to do with the Hall of Fame as it stands. They are not on the line. They are way, way above it. This has something to do with a new, tougher standard that we are instituting on the fly. Maybe the new tougher standard is the right one for a variety of reasons. But make no mistake: It is newer, and it is tougher. I hear from people all the time who want to throw players out of the Hall of Fame. They’ll never be able to do that, of course. This, I guess, is the next best thing.

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108 Responses to The New Hall

  1. big hall guy says:

    Your premise is that because we have expansion and more players, then more players are hall worthy. Maybe the new standard is the old one, but now more people are left out.

    • John says:

      What will happen (I think) is that we’ll have some veteran’s committee go through and scoop in all the Kevin Browns and Edgar Martinezs. They won’t get elected to the Hall of Fame, but they’ll get in. Which is, I think, fair.

      It’ll take 30 years and there will be a lot of Ron Santos, whose candidacy outlives them. And that’ll be a shame.

      • NevadaMark says:

        You are absolutely correct. When the writers keep putting in one guy every two years, you can bet your house that special committees will spring up like mushrooms and get those guys in. I just hope they are still alive and able to enjoy it when it happens.

      • Tom Wright says:

        I suspect that this will be exactly the fate of the PED players.

  2. DYT says:

    The implied premise of your article is that expansion means more Hall of Famers. If more teams (and therefore more major league players) automatically means more Hall of Famers, then you are right. But if you stick to the notion that any decade probably only produces 15 or so Hall of Famers, regardless of how many teams there are, then nothing much has necessarily changed. I think you are correct that the HOF, or at least the BBWA right now, is not adopting the expasnion-means-more-HOFers view. Whether it should or not is a different quesiton.

    Personally, I’d take most (but not all) of your first 20 and all six of the PED guys, so I guess I’m somewhere in the middle.

    • rucksack says:

      Some comments after the Cameron article raised the point that the expansion era has an expanded base of people who fit the demographic of potential baseball players (due to increased US population and the influx of international talent) such that there are many more potential MLB’ers per roster spot than in any previous era – the opposite of the dilution of talent we typically associate with expansion. It is a simplification of the current reality, but it suggests that, regardless of how many teams are currently in the league, the number of HOF’ers relative to previous eras should be increasing.

      Had the talent pool remained static, capping the expected number of HOF’ers at 15 (or any number) would make sense. With an expanding talent pool and an expanding number of teams, an expanding of HOF classes also makes sense.

      • Stark banners says:

        I’m not so sure. The stats we care about are generally relative to the era people played in. A larger pool also reduces low end of baseball talent, probably resulting in borderline HOF players of earlier eras not putting up the necessary numbers.

        Expansion also makes it harder and harder for everyone to constantly see borderline players to give them that necessary boost beyond their stats.

      • Scott Lucas says:

        What the proponents of the “expanded pool” argument tend to ignore is that until maybe WWII, baseball was really the only game in town. Football and basketball were college sports, and most Americans didn’t dream of attending. There were not millions of kids playing soccer or hockey. Baseball was played in every podunk town, innumerable employers had teams, and kids with no money had opportunities. This argument would posit that boxers today are superior to boxers of the early 20th century since the population is greater, but I doubt anyone believes this.

        • Jason Roth says:

          This, a thousand times this. This also applies to arguments to the effect that Ruth (and his peers, of course) faced watered down competition due to segregation*. There’s no doubt that there were elite players excluded from MLB in his time, but it’s absurd to claim that Barry Bonds faced the cream of the athletic crop during his career, either. To take one incredibly salient example, baseball was no better than Jackie Robinson’s 3rd best sport; there is literally no chance that today’s Robinson – or any Robinson born since, say, 1960 – chooses baseball over football and basketball.

          *Just to be super-clear: Ruth wasn’t facing the best possible competition, that’s obviously true. But it’s just as obviously true that, except perhaps from 1965 through 1975, nobody else ever has, either. Before 1965, Latinos were given limited opportunities relative to talent/population; after 1975, the NFL and NBA were just as attractive to elite talents as MLB

          • ingres77 says:

            Your point is actually false. I mean, it’s untenable.

            Not only can you not prove that the best athletes in other sports would excel in baseball (Deion Sanders and Michael Jordan all disprove this idea), but you’re overlooking that many player DO choose baseball over other sports.

            Tony Gwynn preferred basketball, and grew up playing it more than baseball, and was actually recruited to play basketball in college (again, not baseball). Dave Winfield was famously excellent in basketball, and was actually drafted by two different basketball teams (NBA and ABA) along with being drafted to play in the NFL.

            The expansion of the talent pool is a very real thing. What people with your view seem to think is that this only means that there was a minor uptick in the competition in MLB, and that talent was siphoned away from baseball towards the other sports. There’s no reason to think this is so.

            Kids today have a wide range of sports that they can play. This doesn’t mean all the good players are choosing other sports, it means that players can find their niche. 80 years ago, to one degree or another, if you wanted to excel as an athlete, your best shot was baseball. Today, you can find the sport that best harnesses your aptitude.

            Maybe it’s baseball, maybe it’s something else. There’s no guarantee that Jim Brown would’ve been a great baseball player. Or Peyton Manning. Or Lebron James. It’s entirely possible that they would’ve done something else altogether with their lives.

            Today, it’s not “baseball or nothing”. It’s, “play everything until you find your niche. Then develop those skills to levels no one was able to 80 years ago.”

            The level of competition is simply better now than it’s ever been.

  3. 18thstreet says:

    I don’t want to throw many players out, but I do want to throw Tom Yawkey out.

  4. Jan says:

    Joe, great article as always.

    As I read the list, I was thinking that this was only for guys who were on the HOF ballot currently. However, I see Omar Vizquel’s name. If we are considering Don Mattingly as a HOF candidate, how do you omit guys like Vladimir Guerrero and Carlos Delgado from the list?

  5. Brian says:

    Joe’s only talking people born in the 60’s.

  6. Richie says:

    every decade more plyers make it to mlb then in previous decades, theres a ton more players now, not only b/c of expansion of more teams….but also b/c of roster manipulation and team roster sizes…. rosters used to be 22players, 23,and 24 depending on the years. and w/ bigger n longer contracts, there alot more players goin on the DL for precaution reasons = more players get called up… no to mention all the scrubby bullpen guys taxing back and forth from mlb to the minors.
    so while agree w/ the above post more players could/should get in….u cant just say 1.25 of all mlb should get in b/c alot of the player pool are roster fills, who wold have never made it decades ago

  7. Steve says:

    There’s a flaw in this argument. Let’s use round numbers and percentages to make the math simple.

    If there were 1000 players born in the decade of the 1920s there were thousands of other players who weren’t good enough to get into the Major Leagues because there weren’t enough teams. They were playing at or below the replacement level of the time.

    Because of expansion there were 2500 players born in the decade of the 1960s BUT the additional 1500 players aren’t distributed from the full spectrum of the talent pyramid. Absent a very rare “diamond in the rough” we’re talking about players who used to be at or below replacement level but who are now in the majors. Going back to the pyramid analogy, you’re adding more and more rows to the bottom of the pyramid but that shouldn’t change the line you’re drawn at the very top. The result is as more bricks are laid at the bottom of the pyramid the percentage of bricks at the top of the pyramid (above the HoF line) gets smaller.

    If you try and say 2% is still the standard in spite of the larger population you’re actually lowering the Hall of Fame standard.

    • jposnanski says:

      This is a fair point … but I think you are missing a major issue. Baseball expansion, while it has grown quickly, has not grown NEARLY as fast as the available talent pool. The population of the United States in the 1920s was about 110 million — about one third of what it is now. African Americans were barred from the game, which lowers the pool even more. There was no influx of players from Latin America, South America, Japan, Korea, etc.

      Baseball expansion has roughly doubled the teams since those players born in the 1920s, but the available pool of talent is three or four or more times that. There is no doubt in my mind that the top 2% of players born in the 1960s is better, not worse, than the Top 2% of players born in the 1920s, much less the 1890s.

      Anyway, when you match them up, you see it’s true. There are many players in the Hall of Fame who were not as good as, say, Will Clark.

      • Steve says:

        Agreed that my analogy is flawed when using players born and playing pre-integration for the reasons you cite. Had a quick thought and wrote it down before thinking it all the way through.

        I’d be interested, however, in how the percentage looks by decade rather than using the range of 1910-1960 which bridges the gap of population increase and integration/internationalization. How is it affected by the expanding pool of players post-integration and then again by the increasing number of teams?

        As for your final assertion, I also have no doubt that the top 2% of players today are better than the top 2% in 1920 for a whole host of reasons but that brings a question. Should we be judging players “electability” based on how good they are as compared to a player of the 1920’s or how good they are as compared to their peers?

      • ingres77 says:

        You type faster than I.

    • Poseur says:

      I see where you’re coming from, but the pool of potential players is much larger. Using your math, if there were 1000 players born in the 1920s who made the Majors, baseball was only drawing from a pool of white Americans (and a much lower population). Now, baseball finds 2500 players, but it is taking the best 2500 players from around the globe without regard to race, color, or creed.

      There’s no way the 1000 best players born in the 1920s actually included the 1000 best “natural” baseball talents. Forget even the non-white Americans prevented from playing Major League Baseball, there were hundreds of Latin Americans who just never made it to the USA. We simply didn’t know about them. Also, the population of the world, and the US, is much, much larger now than it was in the 1920s.

    • RPMcSweeney says:

      That math might be *too* simple. It sounds like what you’re saying is that as the talent pool increases, the average talent level decreases. Joe & Cameron assume it remains stable relative to the population, which seems reasonable. Arguably, the talent level has increased, such that the talent required to rank in, say, the 50th percentile is higher today than ever before. That’s generally true in every other athletic endeavor. If it holds true in baseball, then your view doubly disadvantages modern players—it’s harder to reach the 98th percentile than ever before, and reaching that level is no longer sufficient to merit HOF induction.

    • Evan says:

      Good point, Steve. Although the signing of international players has opened up the talent pool quite a bit, Joe’s article is good evidence that expansion has, on the whole, diluted the level of talent in professional baseball. I’d also argue that the rise in popularity of other sports (football, basketball, etc.) has further siphoned off some of the talent. 1.25% is probably too high a standard because replacement level is lower than it used to be.

      • Evan says:

        Just read Joe’s comment. The more I think about it, the more I think this a very tricky thing to calculate. On the one hand, you do have tripling of the US population and opening up to foreign talent pools. On the other, you have other sports attracting top athletes and an expanded league. Unless someone really crunches the numbers here and systematically goes through the pluses and minuses, I think any estimation of replacement level over time is going to be just guess work.

    • ingres77 says:

      Your analogy doesn’t work for the simple fact that you aren’t accounting for the population explosion in the 1950s, which has continued to increase.

      At the close of the 1920s, there were barely 120 million people in the United States. That’s counting all women, children, elderly, and minorities. By 1970, the US population had doubled. Twice as many people to draw from, but the leagues also opened up to black players in 1947. Major League teams started to draw from Latin America, as well.

      You can’t simply say that more teams doesn’t equal more Hall of Famers, because as the leagues expanded, so too did the pool from which players were drawn. But the pool increased at a faster rate than the league, implying that the talent pool was better.

      There were 16 teams in 1960, and that increased to 24 in 1970. Just to keep pace with population growth, the leagues would’ve had to expand by 60% to 26 teams. Once you start adding in foreign born players, you’d have to add even more teams to keep the pace. Between 1970 and 2000, incidentally, only 6 teams were added, but the US population increased by more than 50% (and teams are drawing from foreign markets at unprecedented rates). MLB has done a poor job of keeping pace with population growth.

      Though, this is somewhat offset by the growth in popularity of other sports. But the population from which all talent pools are drawn is so much larger than it was 100 years ago (300% larger in the US alone), that the point still stands.

      So, essentially, it’s not unfair to expect the percentage of HoF-quality players to be generally the same over time. It’s not unreasonable to expect the 1.25% that Joe is talking about here.

    • doncoffin64 says:

      Let’s see. The population of the US was a little over 100 million. In 1960, a little over 180 million. In 1920, African-American males were not even considered as potential MLB players. Nor, for that matter, were Latin American players to any noticeable extent. So the number of potential MLB players in 1960 was easily twice, maybe three times, as large is in 1920. Unless the absolute level of athletic talent in the population declined, then the absolute quality of play probably increased, don’t you think? We did not add players only at the “bottom of the pyramid;” we expanded the size (height) of the pyramid. An argument that the number of players with the ability to perform at a HoF level seems to me to miss all of that.

  8. Jay says:

    I vote for David Justice on the sole fact he was married to Halle Berry

  9. MtheL says:

    Here’s a question that is not addressed by the Fangraphs article that could really throw the numbers off: How are Negro Leagues players counted? For example, is Josh Gibson (born 1911) counted as a ’10-’19 HOFer? He obviously didn’t play in the official major leagues. Thus, you get (I didn’t do the research) say a few dozen extra HOFers, without counting all of the Negro Leagues players towards the total pool of players. Thus, the percentage of HOFers would appear much higher than it really is for quite a few decades. Maybe the Negro League HOFers are excluded from the totals, which would make the percentages relatively right, but if not, the numbers are all wrong for a number of decades.

  10. Ian R. says:

    To those saying that expansion dilutes the talent pool, you also have to account for the larger pool of potential players. Even in the United States alone, there were many more people born in the ’60s than, say, the ’20s. Baseball is also more international now than ever before, and Hall of Fame talents from Latin America and elsewhere are now being noticed. Look at how many of the players on Joe’s list (Rivera, Sosa, Martinez, Vizquel) came from overseas. It makes sense that a larger pool would produce more Hall of Famers.

    Anyway, the historic standard doesn’t seem horribly applied in this instance. It’s possible that ’60s births were an especially weak decade in terms of Hall of Fame talents, and I’d still take everyone in the top 30 – drawing the line between Edmonds and Cone. I’m not a huge fan of Sosa or Palmeiro for the Hall of Fame, but they certainly wouldn’t be embarassng choices.

  11. Patrick Bohn says:

    I recall reading something about older players and WAR that roughly translated to “It was easier to dominate back in the days because the competition was weaker”. This would be why, for example, 90% of the 12+ WAR seasons in MLB history occurred prior to 1970.

    Since dominance relative to one’s peers is a rough approximation of what some people may use to vote in players, is it possible this declining number is based in the fact that it’s harder now for the elite players to stand out?

    • Andrew says:

      Good point

    • Ian R. says:

      You don’t even need WAR to see that. Look at the extremely high-end seasons in many traditional stats. Look at the all-time highest batting averages – you have to go down to #37 to find a season from the last 20 years, and that was a first-ballot Hall of Famer (Tony Gwynn) in a strike-shortened season (1994).

      Look at Bill James’ Black Ink test, which awards points for leading the league in important categories. The only recent position players in the top 20 are Bonds and A-Rod. (Admittedly, recent pitchers are much better represented – Maddux, Johnson, Clemens and Pedro are all in the top 20).

      WAR works too, of course. I think I even read somewhere (it may have been here) that the old-time players are measured against a higher replacement level than modern players, and even WITH that they still dominate the all-time rankings. It’s harder to stand out now than ever before.

      • Brian says:

        Stephen J Gould wrote about this for Batting Average. The standard deviation for batting average has shrunk over MLB’s history.

    • David Runyon says:

      I am fairly sure that the reason 90% of the 12+ WAR season occurred prior to 1970 is because pitchers threw 650 innings back then. Forget 1970; almost all the top WAR seasons were by pitchers prior to 1900. As WAR is a counting stat, you have more chances to rack up WAR whe you’re pitching 650 innings than when you throw 200.

      If the 2013 season had been extended to 600 games, I bet Clayton Kershaw could have racked up 17+ WAR, too.

  12. Richie says:

    I hate when I read people saying the population was a lot smaller back in the day or blacks werent in mlb so the talent wasnt as good as today.. what people 4get is back then kids mostly only played baseball and they played it allday every day…. until the 50’s football basketball and hockey combined werent 1/2 as popular as baseball. back then it was baseball boxing and horses as the popularsports…. now u have allthe team sports, video games, x games athletes, and who knows how many other activities occupying kids time… so yeah the population tripled and black, latino, and asiain expanded the mlb pool but so many other factors shrunk it….
    u can make an argument that players from back then were even better then todays players b/c they had terrible equipment, and didnt have team dr.s, trainers, hot tubs,weight rooms.. had 2 ride crappy buses, trains, and fleabag hotels instead of limo’s
    , private jets and 5star hotels
    they had to play w/ the stress of paying bills, feeding their family stress that every working stiff had too do rather having all the cash players have now to buy the piece of mind.
    bottom line it all evens out

    • ingres77 says:

      Your hatred, while perfectly legitimate, does not actually disqualify the expression.

      The fact is, the US population HAS tripled since the 1920s. Black players WEREN’T allowed to play prior to 1947. Latin and Asian players DIDN’T make the majors until the last couple decades. These are irrefutable facts of history.

      Now, does every young boy play baseball like they did in the 1950s? No. But, you have to weigh this diminished popularity to the exponential increase in population. You also have to consider that it doesn’t matter what little Jimmy plays so much as it matters what the athletically gifted play.

      A larger population and the integration of the major leagues bring with them a number of factors that influence the level of competition. With a higher population, you’re going to have more schools. With more schools, you are going to have more youth baseball leagues. With more youth leagues, you are going to have a higher priority put on skilled players, and the development of same.

      Pair that with the fact that it’s not at all uncommon for youth athletes to play multiple sports. Dave Winfield was a multi-sport athlete. Tony Gwynn was a multi-sport athlete – and he actually preferred basketball to baseball, as Joe so succintly pointed out in his piece.

      A higher priority is put on athletes today than 100 years ago, and the training they receive from an early age far outstrips that of previous generations.

      Are more athletically gifted youths drifting to other sports? Of course. But the skills required for baseball excellence don’t, by necessity, translate to other sports. Deion Sanders was an exceptional football player, but he wasn’t even an average baseball player. Herb Washington was a gifted sprinter, but he didn’t at all have the aptitude to play baseball (even in his limited role as pinch runner).

      I’ve always felt that this idea that the other sports have siphoned the gifted athletes from baseball to be a bit histrionic. There’s no guarantee that the ascension of Jim Brown deprived baseball of the another Willie Mays, or that Michael Jordan could’ve been the next Rickey Henderson (he clearly was not).

      • Brian says:

        “The fact is, the US population HAS tripled since the 1920s. Black players WEREN’T allowed to play prior to 1947. Latin and Asian players DIDN’T make the majors until the last couple decades. These are irrefutable facts of history.”

        There were Cuban players in MLB as early as WWI.

      • Ian R. says:

        Re: Jordan – obviously there are no guarantees, but Jordan did manage to hold his own in the high minors as a 30-year-old who hadn’t played baseball since high school. If he’d pursued baseball full-time from the beginning, it’s very likely he would’ve been an All-Star, if not a Hall of Famer.

        I agree with your larger point, though. There are probably some stars in other sports who could’ve been just as great in baseball, but not enough to outweigh the impact of the vastly larger talent pool.

        • ingres77 says:

          How is a .202/.289/.266 slash with 18 caught stealing (almost 40%) qualify as him “holding his own”? The only reason he was given nearly 500 plate appearances was because he was Michael Jordan.

          A potential All Star or Hall of Famer? That’s completely untenable.

          • Jason Roth says:

            Right. Because baseball is objectively the hardest sport, world class athletes in other sports would obviously be utterly incapable of playing it if they started before age 10 and focused all their efforts on it. It’s so obvious you don’t even need to make any arguments for why it would be true.

          • ingres77 says:

            @Jason Roth

            I can only assume this post was made in response to someone else. Because it has no relevance to anything I said.

          • Jason Roth says:


            Well, you’re taking it as obvious that one of the 5 most talented athletes born anywhere on earth between 1960 and 1965 would almost certainly have failed to be a successful baseball player even if he’d spent his whole life trying. So the only conclusion I can draw is that you think baseball is so much harder than other sports that there are two categories of athlete: baseball players, and lesser talents.

            If you seriously believe that MLB is getting the same percentage of elite American-born athletes as it did between, say, 1950 and 1975, then you’re not paying attention.

          • ingres77 says:

            I’m saying no such thing, Jason. In fact, you completely misread my entire point.

            I never once claimed that Michael Jordan, a naturally gifted athlete, could not have ever learned to be a gifted baseball player. I did say that he failed completely at playing baseball, and that his exception gifts and skills didn’t at all translate from one sport to another.

            Which is true. There is no guarantee – not even with Michael Jordan – that a great athlete translates into a great baseball player. Is it likely? Well, they certainly have a better chance at it than I do.

            But the skills required to excel in basketball, for instance, aren’t necessarily the same skills that would allow someone to excel in baseball. Did Michael Jordan have the necessary skills? I don’t know. Neither do you. We do know, however, that the skills he DID have and train didn’t help him.

            I never discussed what could have happened in some fictional universe. I only discussed what actually happened, and what that tells us about the diffusion of athletic ability across multiple sports over time.

            Nor did I ever say (or even intimate) that baseball was somehow superior to other sports. I did quite specifically claim that baseball is DIFFERENT. Just as the study particle physics is different from computer programming. One can be smart, but be far more aptitude for one of those disciplines than the other. That doesn’t mean it’s “better”, or “harder”.

            You made a lot of inferences that had nothing to do with what was written. That is on you, not me.

          • invitro says:

            ” I did say that he failed completely at playing baseball, and that his exception gifts and skills didn’t at all translate from one sport to another.”

            So what percentile of the US population do you think the baseball-playing failure Michael Jordan was at? Surely at least 30% of the population was better at baseball than he was, if he was a complete failure.

            And Neon Deion… well, he made the majors, so he was probably a little less of an abject baseball-playing disaster. Maybe only 10% of the population was better than he was, wouldn’t you agree?

          • ingres77 says:

            I don’t understand the relevance of your question, invitro.

            Why would I compare Jordan’s, or Deion’s, performances to the general public?

            When people talk about how good or bad someone is at a professional sport, it’s generally accepted that they are being compared to their peers.

            Just as I don’t measure your ability to form a coherent sentence with that of a chimpanzee, I don’t measure Jordan’s ability to hit a baseball with that of an average person. I compare like with like.

            If you can provide another professional player who offered so little to his organization as Michael Jordan did (in terms of performance), but was given a full season’s worth of plate appearances, I’ll consider you a marvel.

      • Evan says:

        Your points are well taken, ingres, but I think the argument is more complex than you’re giving it credit. The population didn’t increase exponentially — it more or less doubled if your reference birth year is around 1990 (~250 million). Also, the most recent statistics I could find suggest that 28% of major leaguers are foreign born and 8% are black (it has been higher at other points). Thus, the influx of talented players does not even account for the 50% increase that occurred during league expansion. While Michael Jordan may not have necessarily been a great baseball player (his minor league career certainly suggests otherwise), it’s completely illogical to argue that rising popularity (and pay) in other sports hasn’t lured great athletes away from baseball. Now, I can think of many counterarguments to what I just wrote. For instance, it is possible that the average foreign-born player, or Japanese player, or Venezuelan player, is above league average. I don’t know. So it’s difficult to calculate the exact effect of all these factors on the available talent pool. All I know is I’d be very hesitant to make definitive claims at this point.

        • Evan says:

          *I selected the population in 1990 because no players born in, say, 2013, are playing baseball today. But I think the choice could look a bit like cherry-picking.

        • Evan says:

          *Also, I was sloppy with my percentages. Expansion has accounted for closer to 100% increase in league size. And obviously the 36% percentage of current black/foreign born players represents a fraction of current players, not an increase. Nevertheless, I think my point stands.

        • ingres77 says:

          You are, of course, correct that the population did not increase “exponentially.”

          Let’s assume that 36% of players since 1947 would’ve been denied roster spots prior to integration. Maybe, in the real world, it was higher than that. Maybe it was lower. Let’s just go with the rate you gave for modern black and foreign born players.

          That’s 36% for teams TODAY. There are almost twice as many teams, today, as there were in 1946. And the size of today’s rosters is larger as well.

          So “36%” may not sound like a lot……but when you have twice as many players in a given season than there were 70 years ago, it IS a lot.

          My point wasn’t that great athletes haven’t been pulled away from baseball, my point was that what qualifies someone as a “great athlete” in one sport doesn’t necessarily make them a great baseball player (or even a good one, as in the case of Jordan). We can’t simply assume that Peyton Manning would be a great baseball player because he’s excelled in the NFL, is my point.

          And all of this is to say nothing about the level of training and coaching players receive today compared to even 30 years ago. Players can spend the entire offseason in the gym, working with personal trainers and doctors to hone their bodies into the best shape possible. They can watch video after games, and spend all their free time dissecting every facet of the game. This simply didn’t happen before the modern era.

          There’s little reason to think MLB isn’t at the it’s pinnacle in terms of level of competition. Or, at least, I’ve yet to encounter a convincing opinion.

          • Evan says:

            Sure, 36% of players is a lot. It’s huge. Nonetheless, as you yourself implied, not all of these players would have made it if they were eligible to play pre-expansion. Now I could be wrong here (math isn’t my strong suit) but taken in isolation, that 36% does not carry as much weight as watering down the talent level by 50%. Also, I don’t see the purpose of including training in the conversation, seeing as it affects all players equally (white, black and foreign) and impacts performance rather than talent. A rising tide raises all ships, so to speak.

            All in all, I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m just not convinced you’re right.

          • ingres77 says:

            The reason I brought up training is that it’s another significant difference between players today and players of yesteryear. Players are simply better today. They’re better trained, and more athletic.

            What are you talking about, “watering down the talent pool 50%”? I’ve seen no indication that this even happened. Every indication, in fact, points to the talent pool being far superior to what it once was.

            Take something as simple as bats, for instance. Babe Ruth’s bat was approximately twice as heavy as your average bat used today. What does that say about the pitches being thrown at him? How many 95 mph (or even 90) pitches do you think he saw swinging a three pound bat? Maybe he was superhuman. Maybe he was stronger than the 6’5″, 230+ lbs Mark McGwire, who used a 35 oz bat.

            Or maybe it was an indication of the level of competition. Maybe the pitches weren’t as fast as those thrown today.

            There are a lot of reasons to believe players today are quite a bit more advanced than they were in the past, is my point.

            I don’t need you to accept my thesis: that the level of competition is superior today to any other point in baseball’s history. If you disagree, that’s fine. But argue your case. If the talent pool was “watered down” 50%, how? And why?

          • Evan says:

            By “watering down 50%” I was simply referring to league expansion. Roughly doubling league size means 50% of players couldn’t previously make the cut. Obviously, this ignores all the other factors we mentioned, which is why I said “taken in isolation”. I’m simply comparing the relative impacts of expansion vs. influx of black and foreign players.

            Your argument about modern training still strikes me as irrelevant. I mean, just look at it in reverse. I’ll ignore McGuire because I don’t want to get into the weeds on steroids, so let’s take Frank Thomas. What if he only had access to the types of fitness and training that were available 70 years ago? What would swinging a 3 pound bat do to his bat speed? If players aren’t consistently throwing 90, how would he get that extra power? When comparing players across eras, you have to assume in a hypothetical matchup that they would have access to the same tools and training (or at least I do). Babe Ruth would have been healthier and stronger if he played today. So what?

            At any rate, I don’t need you to accept my thesis any more than I do yours. To be honest, I don’t have one. I don’t know if competition is higher or lower than it was 50 or 60 years ago. I just think the discussion is more complicated on both sides than you made it seem.

          • ingres77 says:

            It’s not true that roughly doubling league size means “50% couldn’t previously have made the cut.”

            This “doubling” happened over the course of decades – while not only the US population increased (it nearly tripled, actually) but the game opened up to include foreign born players at an unprecedented rate.

            The league expanded for many reasons, but one of them was in response to the huge influx of talent.

            I read a study by Bill James on the effects of expansion, and his thesis was that there is an offensive spike around the league as new teams are added, but that this is offset by increase in talent, with the spike eventually being corrected.

            If, in 1947, MLB suddenly doubled the number of teams, your argument might have merit. But what actually happened is that the leagues expanded to accommodate the growing talent pool (and it hasn’t really been able to keep up).

            As to whether or not training is “irrelevant”…..that’s some pretty laudable mental gymnastics on your part. It doesn’t matter that modern players are so much better off today in terms of health, nutrition, knowledge and training because if older players were alive today they’d have the same benefits?

            Think about that for a second.

            At no point have I ever argued that there has been a fundamental biological increase in what humans are capable of. My entire argument is that the level of competition is far superior now to what it was decades ago. Part of this is because of integration, part is because of the expansion into foreign markets, and part of it is because of more fundamental developments in training and health. Overall, there are more highly skilled, highly trained, finely honed athletes in the game today – which is why the level of competition is so much better.

            In light of this, why in the world would you artificially grant some of these same benefits to players who never had them to prove the point that the game today isn’t better? OF COURSE Babe Ruth would be a better athlete today if he had the same benefits. That in no way proves that the game in 1920 wasn’t inferior. In actuality, it kind of backs up my point.

            We are comparing players across eras, yes. The problem with your analogy is that we aren’t doing it to find out whether Frank Thomas was a better hitter than Babe Ruth (in which case, we’d need to level the playing field as much as possible). We’re doing it to find out how different the eras are from one another, which means the current advantages in baseball are entirely relevant.

            You haven’t shown that I’ve simplified anything. I’m well aware of the complexities involved here. And, I think, I’ve accounted for them. If you disagree with that, you’re more than welcome to show me what I’ve missed. But you haven’t actually done that, so I’m inclined to think you might’ve misunderstood me.

          • Evan says:

            I’ve got to sign off here, so this is going to be a short post — hopefully to be continued later.

            Here is the logical error: if we were simply interested in describing how “different eras are from each other”, you’d certainly have a point. But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about how hard it is to excel and become a hall of fame player then vs. now. It’s fair if you want to cite factors that would make it more difficult to perform highly in the game today compared to previous eras. Integration is a good example — more skilled players displacing inferior players. A great hitter would not perform as well facing this influx of talent. On the other hand, physical training works both ways. True, a player from the past would be facing superior athletes, but he would also be a superior athlete. We are talking about a fundamentally different alteration to the game, kind of like if everyone started playing games in Coors Field. Again, I’m not interested in comparing Babe Ruth with Frank Thomas — only in how players stacked up against the competition yesterday and today.

            This is the best I can explain it for now. Hopefully we understand each other.

          • ingres77 says:

            You can be forgiven your error because (presumably) you came into this conversation after having read Joe’s post. What you fail to understand, evidently, is that the conversation being had here doesn’t entirely conform to the ideas Joe was exploring.

            The conversation you jumped into (not to imply that you’re unwelcome) was of one person (Richie) bemoaning the idea that there is a fundamental difference in the level of competition between pre-integration and modern players. Specifically, he claimed that “it all washes out” once you take everything into account.

            My point was that no, in fact, it doesn’t all wash out. The preponderance of information lies squarely in the camp that modern players have to deal with a far more difficult level of competition than players of 70 years ago. From the explosion in population to the opening of the game to international players to diet, exercise, training, and information technology advancements, there are a lot of reasons why the leagues are better today than they used to be.

            Fact is, that’s what this discussion is about. Maybe you skipped Richie’s post. Maybe you skimmed my early posts.

            So, no. This discussion isn’t simply a matter of whether or not it’s harder to become a Hall of Famer in the modern era. That is an aspect of what’s being discussed, but it’s not the meat.

          • Evan says:

            Ingres, forgive me if I’m reading too much into this, but I get the sense here and in some of your posts responding to other people on this board of mild condescension. I entered this discussion because I found it stimulating. Some of your points are well taken, but I tire of having to defend my comprehension. Let’s just stick to the exchange of ideas.

            The fact is, I did read Richie’s post, which I never said I agreed with. (The fact that he specifically mentions the lack of training in prior eras as an OBSTACLE suggests that you may have misinterpreted his original argument.) I also just re-read your response to him and find no reference to your assertion that you are primarily interested in comparing the differences between eras. If this was your intent, it was implied rather than stated.

            Regardless, it makes no sense for us to argue if we are trying to prove different arguments. But I do wish to point out (perhaps beating a dead horse) that integration and improvements to physical fitness are transformations of a different stripe, and acknowledging this does not require dishonesty or mental gymnastics.

            Here’s a thought experiment: let’s say you could freeze Babe Ruth at the age of 28. He doesn’t ever age or wear down. Each year he plays, you would expect different results depending on external factors affecting the level of competition. His numbers might drop a bit after integration. They might go up as teams are added and rosters expanded. There would of course be a tremendous give and take. But I don’t believe improvements in training and fitness would affect his slash line all that much for the simple reason that he would be benefitting equally from these improvements. Now, maybe you feel this is irrelevant to your own point. Fine. But it’s a distinction worth acknowledging, and I don’t think I led us off on a complete tangent from Richie’s original post. For what it’s worth, I’ve found this discussion stimulating.

          • ingres77 says:

            Condescension? No. At least, that’s not my intent. This isn’t my first rodeo though. I’ve had enough internet discussions to realize that what they often boil down to is two people arguing perspectives that may not completely line up. I have an idea of what I’m talking about, and I have ideas I want to convey. So do you. While our responses are largely dictated by what we’ve read, there’s no guarantee that what we’ve read adequately reflects the thoughts of the other person. Miscommunication is often the biggest hindrance to debate. And I’ve encountered a number of posts that clearly aren’t reflective of things I’ve said, or ideas that I’ve held. My dismissiveness may be what you’re sensing.

            And of course integration and improvements to physical fitness are “different” transformations. That doesn’t mean either one is irrelevant to the point I’m discussing – which was your initial assertion, I believe. It just means they are different facets of the discussion.

            As for your thought experiment…..if I read you correctly, you’re trying to say that if Babe Ruth was magically transplanted to modern times, of all the things that would affect his performance, modern training techniques wouldn’t play a significant role, because he would benefit from them along with his opponents. Am I right? And that this is why you think it’s an “irrelevant” point?

            Sure. But that’s not what my point is about physical training advancements. My point is about the overall level of play across the league – not about how it impacts individual player performance.

            For what it’s worth, there’s no guarantee Ruth would take advantage of modern training techniques. It was certainly known at the time that staying out all night, eating obscene amounts of food, and drinking large amounts of illegal alcohol wasn’t going to help him play better – yet none of that prevented him from doing what he wanted. His natural gifts (and the inferior level of play of the era) was enough to overcome whatever negative effects his behaviour had. Who’s to say how much he would train, or how much video he would watch, or how in shape he’d be? We can’t automatically assume he’d spend the entire offseason in the gym. It’s certainly not in line with what we know about his character.

            If you want to talk about how it individually impacts players, Babe Ruth probably isn’t the best example to go with. Ted Williams, on the other hand….

            But, again, I’m not talking about individual players. I’m saying that modern knowledge, medicine, and training has helped to create a league that has a far superior level of play. Take my words at face value, because I’m saying it as clearly as I can. My point should be taken only as far as I’ve taken them.

            Or, from my first post in this discussion:

            “A higher priority is put on athletes today than 100 years ago, and the training they receive from an early age far outstrips that of previous generations.”

            Or, if you prefer, here’s a quote from my first post to you (I believe it is, at least):

            “There’s little reason to think MLB isn’t at the it’s pinnacle in terms of level of competition. Or, at least, I’ve yet to encounter a convincing opinion.”

          • Evan says:

            I hear ya. And it doesn’t matter to me if you agree with some or any of my points. I’m more interested in understanding each other so we can refine our ideas or at least test them. I have some thoughts on what you just wrote, but they’ll have to wait. For now, happy New Year.

  13. cohnjusack says:

    My Favorite Jim Edmonds fact:

    Top WAR from 1995-2005.
    1. Barry Bonds
    2. Alex Rodriguez
    3. Jim Edmonds

    From 2000-2004, Edmonds put up an OPS+ of 157. By comparison, MVP center fielder put up an OPS+ of 158 in his MVP winning 2013

    Comparing Edmonds to Duke Snider

    Snider: 2143 Games, 8237 PA, 358 2B, 407 HR, 1333 RBI, .295/.380/.540, 140 OPS+, 66 WAR
    Jimmy: 2011 games, 7980 PA, 437 2B, 393 HR, 1199 RBI, .284/.376/.527, 132 OPS+ 60 WAR

    • Andrew says:

      I love Jim Edmonds, and he was indeed awesome from 1995-2005. The problem is those 11 years represent almost the entirety of his career. He has a total WAR of just 4.2 outside of those years. I’m necessarily saying he’s not saying he’s not a HOFer, but he would be borderline. What hurts him more than anything is probably not becoming a full time player until his age 25 season.

      • ingres77 says:

        He’s “borderline” if peak doesn’t matter as much as total career value.

        We fans (and sportswriters, more to the point) place greater emphasis on total career value when it comes to offensive players. But don’t hold pitchers to this same standard.

        If we did, Willie Randolph would be a more highly rated player, and Sandy Koufax would be diminished.

        I’m not saying Jim Edmonds ISN’T a borderline guy, but I think it has less to do with the limited value outside of his peak years than it does the plethora of excellent outfielders already in the Hall.

        • Andrew says:

          Agreed. I’d probably be more inclined to dismiss his low value outside his peak if his peak were other-wordly. He was a consistently great player for 11 years, usually putting up around 5 WAR per year. But only one season with a WAR higher than 7. Again, I’m not saying that he’s not a HOFer, and if I had a vote would strongly consider him.

          I’d agree we tend to overrate Koufax, and his career has very little value outside of his peak (and going just by bWAR, which isn’t the end-all-be-all, Edmonds was more valuable over his career with a longer peak). What makes Koufax so intriguing is that he walked away from his career at age 30, as his peak was ongoing. It makes his potential greatness, at least in the imagination, almost unlimited, because he never went through a decline phase.

          • NevadaMark says:

            Edmonds candidacy is a tough, tough question. He was so consistently good for 11 years but never really great. Excellent seasons, but not great ones. Never lead the league in any categories. No World Series heroics. But Lord, what a good player…I mean a high peak for so long.

            I’d be thrilled if he was elected. But if I had a vote, would I vote for him? I’m not sure. Does that make any sense?

  14. Colin says:

    Am I reading this right, only one catcher?

    • Ian R. says:

      Catchers historically have little representation in the Hall of Fame, and aside from Piazza, the 1961-1970 generation happens to have little in the way of talent. Ivan Rodriguez just missed the cut – he was born in 1971.

  15. Damon Rutherford says:

    To perhaps account for many of the above arguments, points, etc., this “decade” approach should be investigated not by D.O.B., but in terms of percentage of plate appearances (for hitters) and batters faced (for pitchers, BFP)?

    So I will presume (likely incorrectly, but cannot decide which argument is favorable) the issues of yesteryear (no African Americans, smaller U.S. population) are roughly equivalent to the issues of today (baseball not as popular, with athletes playing football, basketball, soccer, extreme sports, video games, etc.). Or, let’s maintain that I’m ignoring these issues for now.

    But I am keeping the issue of # of teams (16 vs. ~30).

    Of all the PA in the, say, 1920’s, how many of those PA were accounted to Hall of Famers? And now how about the 1980’s, 90’s, 00’s? Ditto for BFP.

    I recall someone looked at that in the recent past; will try to find it.

    I would prefer that percentage of PA_HOF/PA_ALL be approximately the same from decade to decade (or year to year, or X years to X years, whatever).

  16. invitro says:

    I sure wish there was a graph of hours spent playing baseball per person by year and demographic. I have no idea if today’s MLB players played more baseball as a kid than the players of the 1930s.

    I think the number of HoFers per year should maybe be proportional to the total hours spent playing baseball by all people in that year.

    Today’s players are faster, stronger, etc., than ever, modulo PEDs. Were the players (or athletes) of the 1930s objectively superior at any athletic activity than those of today?

    I hope Joe makes a poll asking us to predict the Jan 8 results. It would look like this:

    Who will be elected to the HoF?
    – Maddux
    – Maddux & Glavine
    – Maddux & Glavine & Thomas
    – Maddux & Morris & maybe more
    – Nobody
    – other (what are other reasonable choices?)

    • Which hunt? says:

      My prediction? Maddux and Glavine. Thomas sits in the high 60s. Everyone from last year loses a little ground and Morris falls off the ballot.

  17. Which hunt? says:

    Dave Steib? Orel Hershiser?

  18. Anon says:

    I just don’t see Kevin Brown getting into the HOF. I get that he stacked up a good WAR total and he was probably better than people realized but 211 wins ,no CY, not well-liked. I’m just not seeing it

  19. Herb Smith says:

    1. Can we agree on one obvious point? The competition, and the level of play, is much higher today than it was 100 years ago, or in Ruth’s time, or even in the Mantle-Mays 1950’s. Ruth never had to deal with a Latino fireballer like Pedro whipping heat past him, or a black SS like Ozzie Smith robing him of sure hits, or a Japanese guy like Ichiro leaping over the wall to steal homers away…none of those guys were even ALLOWED to play.

    2. The health factor of the timeline should be addressed more. Did you know that when the U.S. Army started training draftees for WWII, then were surprised to see that full ONE-THIRD of all American men met the standards for being malnourished!

    It seems obvious to me that the talent pool was a mighty small one; even the white guys from the East coast who made up the VAST majority of MLB players were underfed and not physically capable of playing athletics at an elite level.

    • Jason Roth says:

      And yet, for all that, raw stat lines since the end of Deadball haven’t varied that much. I mean, there are eras with more and less offense, and there’ve been minor tweaks to the rules (DH, mound height) and bigger tweaks to pitcher usage, but it’s not as if they’ve had to move the mound or lengthen the baselines in order to keep today’s well-fed, professionally-trained, year-round, international baseball players from hitting 100 HRs, batting .500, or striking out 400.

      • ingres77 says:

        No, they haven’t had to extend the baselines.

        But there’s ample evidence that they’ve played with the balls (heh) – such juicing them, or making them “dead”.

        The pitchers today don’t throw 300, 400, 500 innings any more – because they can’t. They’re throwing a lot harder. The wear on their joints is a lot more serious.

        No one hits .400 any more. Hell, consistently hitting .330 is rare compared to how it used to be.

        The increased level of competition doesn’t mean the ceiling has been raised, it means the FLOOR has been raised.

        Maybe Babe Ruth, and Cy Young, and Ty Cobb, et al, ad infinitum were able to put up so many absurd numbers was because the floor was so low that they were able to beat up on the inferior players. That Babe Ruth could swing a three pound bat is maybe an indication that the pitchers simply weren’t that good.

        If the worst player in 2013 is better than the worst players in 1921, then maybe the best players won’t look as great because the same physiological ceilings exist. Regardless of era, we’re all still human. There are physical limits to what can be accomplished.

        Maybe .400 really is inhuman, and that number could be reached in the past because those players who achieved it were so much better than their competition. As opposed to, you know, actually being inhuman.

        As the competition level increases, the extremes in play are minimized. Everyone is brought closer to the center.

  20. jdennis says:

    Long post coming.

    I’ve done some pretty rigorous statistical analysis on historical league-wide stats and here is what I’ve found:

    The last event that significantly raised the overall level of play in baseball was integration. Since then, the talent level has very slowly risen over time, with the anomaly of the steroid era.

    In general, baseball players are 4% better than they were at integration. So any career rating you get that is a scalar times a rate stat or stats centered around the league average rather than replacement level, a modern player should get a 4% boost for that stat, and the 1947 player left untouched. The skill level of players was remarkably consistent from integration until about 1990, changing by less than 1%, and I assume the development since then has to do with information technology more than anything, although PEDs definitely influenced things (I would argue they did so due to information technology educating the players how to most efficiently use them – steroids were common by the early eighties, I have no doubt).

    The development curve was steeper before integration. However, today’s players are still only 15% better than a player from 1900, and it is still under 25% in 1890. Honus Wagner and Nap Lajoie did not suck. They would still be awesome now. Before 1890, however, things really fall off. At the beginning of the NA in 1871, players were only 45% as good as they were at integration. Thus a player from that time should be penalized by 55% in a rating compared to the integration-era player.

    Believe it or not, I still think there are possible HOF omissions from that epoch (Hines, Gore, etc.). I thought myself a “small hall” guy, but I have found that every position but pitcher (5 to 8 over) is underrepresented in the HOF, and for time periods, the 19th century is at capacity basically, but the 1920-47 period is the only oversaturated epoch. It can be easily justified that there should be 150 more players currently in the HOF, and all of them non-pitchers.

    As for expansion, each time it decreased the overall level of play slightly, but the dip was nothing really, and it was much worse when teams contracted – part of this is due to all of those times being early, but it does show socioeconomic factors probably mean more than the sheer number of available players.

    I used league-wide fielding percentages, earned runs over runs ratios, standard deviations of rate stats, and similar numbers in the study. I did a lot of back-checking in R and found that my model was not overly precise, but basically correct. In other words, the error was not large enough to justify changes.

    Basically, the overall development of the game is a valid concern in rating players before 1947 but the game’s progression reached an asymptotic level with integration, and players of today are only marginally better than those in 1947, and I think the reason is information technology and the huge amounts of money involved.

    As for current HOF standards being too high for players born after 1960, I feel the argument is bunk because the earlier epochs of baseball history have had much longer to induct candidates, so the comparison is invalid. Not enough time has passed to properly evaluate the trend. A more valid comparison would be one that compared equal numbers of years of eligibility.

    Also, the ballots are starting to come in on BBTF and it appears Maddux, Glavine, Thomas, and Biggio will be elected, and Piazza will fall just short. Glavine, Thomas, and Biggio all seem to be much higher than people predicted. With over 10% of the ballots in, voters are submitting 9.2 names per ballot, which is a huge jump. It won’t stay that high, but 4 electees is a real possibility. It appears Biggio was given a first-year penalty and I predicted his jump, but I thought Glavine and especially Thomas would be in danger of not making it. Guess I was wrong.

    • ingres77 says:


      There is absolutely no way you can get the precision you are claiming on the differences in eras due to the sheer number of variables that can’t be accounted for.

      You’re pretty vague on your methodology, but fielding percentage? Really? What did you use that for? As an indication of change in defensive ability? Because it’s not a good measure of that skill. Frankly, the rate which a player successfully makes a play doesn’t matter nearly as much as the amount of plays he’s able to make. This is why modern metrics are based on a player’s range.

      And “earned runs” is highly problematic, because it’s a somewhat subjective measure of scoring instances due to the vagaries of error declaration.

      While I agree with your basic premise, I don’t at all buy your precision.

      Moreover, I think you’re missing a pretty big part of this discussion. While it’s true that the early 1900s have had a lot more time to induct more marginal players (thus accounting for the higher percentage of players), the issue here is that those era’s still have too many players. If the standard is 1.25% of all players, then that means Robin Ventura will one day make the cut. Or Brett Saberhagen. Or Ryan Howard.

      The comparison made here is valid because the high percentage of players from early ears has set the bar so low as to demand greater induction of modern era players (either now or in the future, it’s irrelevant). How you feel about this is largely determined by whether or not you think Will Clark is a Hall of Famer – because he’s certainly as good (or better) than some of those already inducted.

      The way players have been inducted is flawed, is the point.

      • invitro says:

        “whether or not you think Will Clark is a Hall of Famer – because he’s certainly as good (or better) than some of those already inducted.”

        Aren’t there a thousand players who are as good (or better) than some of those already inducted?

        • ingres77 says:

          A thousand? No. Not likely.

          The lowest rWAR for any Hall of Famer is Tommy McCarthy, with 16.2. There are more than 1,000 players with at least 19 rWAR, so yes. Strictly speaking, there are “a thousand players better than some of those already inducted.”

          But McCarthy, while easily the worst inductee, I think, is a bit of an aberration. He was a 19th century player (which already kind of puts him in a special category because of how different the game was) inducted largely, I think, because of the influence he had on the game. He was integral, I think, in the creation of various strategies used in the game – such as the hit and run.

          But that’s not really the point. There are general Hall standards set by the players. McCarthy is an outlier, and not really representative.

    • invitro says:

      If this is published, I’d like a link to read it.

    • Spencer says:

      Great stuff jdennis!

  21. nobody78 says:

    The expansion of the talent pool doesn’t really crate Hall of Famers, though, at least not directly. Put it this way: If all MLBers suddenly and uniformly became 50% worse, you’d STILL expect the same number of people in the Hall. To some extent, it’s a zero sum game. Just think of the standard you used for Mattingly — “probably never the best player in the game.” You don’t get more than one “best player” because of expansion.

    Other things being equal, I’d expect expansion to lead to a rise in the total number of HoFers, but a modest drop in the rate.

    • ingres77 says:

      The reason the expansion of the talent pool leads to a rise in talent (and thus, presumably, an increase in Hall of Famers) is a pretty simple concept, I think.

      Imagine you’re going to build two teams, and the two teams are peopled from two different populations:

      Team A can draw from the talent pool of a single county in a single state, while Team 2 can draw from the talent pool of the entire world

      These are extremes, obviously, but I think they’re illustrative. If you are able to draw from, say, 20,000 people, your options are going to be limited (literally). There are only going to be so many athletically gifted people in that population – but you still have a set roster to fill out.

      If you’re drawing from 7 billion people, you will obviously be able to weed out a lot of people who could make the first team.

      Team 2 will be the better team, because it can draw from a larger pool of talent.

      On a much smaller scale, the same thing happened with integration and the opening of the leagues to international talent. A marginal player in 1946 simply wouldn’t have had as good a chance to make a roster 10 years later, because teams were able to sign talent previously denied them.

      • nobody78 says:

        Yes, but being an HoFer doesn’t depend on talent as an independent quantity. It depends more on talent relative to the other players in the league.

        • ingres77 says:

          And if the other players in the league are demonstrably inferior, is that an indication of superhuman skill, or an inferior league?

          That’s what we’re discussing.

          If you are 120% better than an average player in your league, and another recognizably great player is 80% better than an average player in his league, does that automatically mean you are 40% better than he is?

          No. Of course not.

          Is your excellence automatically more impressive than his?

          No. Of course not.

          Especially if we don’t know how those two “average” players correlate to one another.

          If we don’t know where the floor is, than we can’t possibly estimate where the ceiling is.

  22. Triston says:

    “The only players born before 1960 to score 1,500 runs and not make the Hall of Fame are Pete Rose and Tim Raines.”
    You forgot a quartet of turn-of-the-century players with over 1500 runs scored not in the HOF:

    Jimmy Ryan (b.1863)- 1643 Runs. Outfielder for Chicago 1885-1900, plus two seasons with the Senators 1902-1903. 100 runs in a season eight times, led the league in home runs, hits and doubles in 188.

    George Van Haltren (b. 1866)- 1642 Runs. Outfielder 1887-1903, including ten seasons with the Giants. 100 runs in a season 11 times, including 10 consecutive seasons [which may be a record of some kind, maybe]. The two are somewhat similar in overall stats; Jimmy Ryan’s No. 1 comp is Van Haltren. Ryan has one more run scored, both have a little more than 2500 hits, more than 1000 but fewer than 1100 RBI, both stole a lot of bases [VH has 583], they’re contemporary outfielders…

    Tom Brown (b. 1860)- 1521 Runs. Outfielder 1882-1898, stole over 650 bases, led the league with 106 stolen bases and 177 runs in 1891.

    Bill Dahlen (b. 1870)- 1590 Runs. Shortstop 1891-1911, mostly for Cubs and Dodgers. Last of the four to play and really the only one I’ve heard much HOF buzz over.

    Dahlen and Van Haltren both received two write-in votes in the 1936 “19th-century” election [voters were given a list of 30 suggested candidates, but could vote for any 19th-century candidate]; Dahlen also received a vote in the 1938 BBWAA ballot and was on the last Pre-Integration ballot.

  23. Richie says:

    how about doing the study this way
    take all the players from each decade who had careers of 10+ years of either qualifying for the batting title or the era title and then see what percentage of those guys made the hall.
    that’ll eliminate the extra roster spots given to bench, platoon guys, and relievers, 5th/sot starters making up a lot bigger percentage todays players.
    1265 players got at least 1 at bat in 2013, only 140 qualified for the batting title.
    only 81 pitchers out of 679 pitchers qualified for the era title. and the pct of those position players to qualify for at least 10 years is even smaller.
    obviously alot of those batters to get 1ab were pitchers but the point remains the same. while there miht be alot more players today then each decade before. but each decade the pct of players qualifying goes dow.
    so u cant say 1.2-2pct made the hall then so it should be the same now.

  24. Ross Holden says:

    Part of the question goes back to Joe’s point the other day about how the HOF is largely for the fans, and less about honoring great players. If it’s about the fans, and if a large part of it is having people say ” I saw Mattingly play”, then he should be in since he’s a player many fans would say that for. Same with Schilling, and probably others like McGriff and Larry Walker. But not so much Olerud and Will Clark.

    • ingres77 says:

      Why not Olerud and Clark?

      If it’s “for the fans”, can you demonstrate that Larry Walker had more fans than Will Clark? And can we then remove players no one today has even heard of?

      I think it’s safe to say Don Mattingly has more fans than Jim Bottomley.

      • Ross Holden says:

        Fair point. My biases were showing. I was merely trying to show that fame and fandom does not always equal more objective values like career WAR or something. For me, Clark and Olerud were good but not great and pretty vanilla players, while Walker was the top dog on those fun-to-watch Rockies teams in the mid to late 90s’. I should have stuck to players like Mattingly, who I do think most would say his fame exeeded his career 43 WAR.

  25. richiew13 says:

    Hi Joe,

    A few months back you wrote a column about “the two halls of fame” and pointed out that most of the problems with baseline talent are due to the veterans committee.

    If I recall, if you just look at the players that the various voters have inducted, the HOF is a much more logical collection. Adding in the vet committee players skews things. So what if you count up the percentage of voted in players from 1910-1960.

  26. wjones58 says:

    I haven’t seen this mentioned, but another factor that has increased the modern talent pool is how much easier it is to make the choice of being a pro athlete. Many years ago, a college grad would go into medicine or law, because the money was much greater. As the years went by, the money became closer, and now it’s a no-brainer, if one is athletically gifted, to become a pro athlete because the money is SO much greater. In baseball the MINIMUM wage is now $500,000 per year, and there aren’t many professions that pay that, let alone as an entry level pay.

  27. James says:

    We know the total population has grown, but how much of that is because people are living longer? In baseball potential terms, how much has the population of 20-35 year old males grown? Those are the people who can play ball.

  28. TWolf says:

    I disagree with Joe on who will be hall of fame “locks” in the present and upcoming years. He underestimates the structural problems in the voting process. Regardless of the PED issues, there are just too many great players whose careers are to be voted on. There is also the 75% requirement, the restriction to 10 nominees on a ballot, and the fact that some voters will never vote for a player on his first year on the ballot.

    Of those he mentions, I believe that only Greg Maddox, Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., and
    Mariano Rivera will be first ballot hall of famers. I hope I am wrong.

    I think that Glavine has a 50/50 chance to make it this year. It would be great for the Braves and the city of Atlanta if Bobby Cox, Maddox, and Glavine do. However, not all 300 game winners are elected in their first year of eligibility. Phil Niekro, Don Sutton, Gaylord Perry, and Early Wynn (let alone Lefty Grove) were not. Unlike Maddox and Johnson, Glavine is not on anyone’s short list of greatest pitchers of all time. I think he is a little like Whitey Ford. Although never winning close to 300 games, Whitey was undoubtedly the best pitcher in most years with the dynastic New York Yankees. However, he was not elected in his first year of eligibility.

    I think that Frank Thomas will get in after about a three year wait. For the first half of his career he was one of the greatest hitters of all time. He combined the batting skills of Ted Williams, hitting for average and power, along with plate discipline. However, he was regarded as a sub-par first baseman and thus spent about half of his career as a designated hitter. His batting performance for the last half of his career was inconsistent, and he became a clubhouse cancer with the White Sox. I believe that these latter factors have hurt his reputation a bit.

    Smoltz should get in within the first 5 to 10 years of eligibility. He will get the halo effect of being the third member of the Braves’ great staff, along with being an excellent closer for three years.
    Thus, he will be perceived like Dennis Eckersley (with a better career as a starter but a shorter one as a reliever). He also pitched great in the post season. However, I believe that his election may be slowed because he only won 213 games and his 1996 24 win (and Cy Young) season was his only truly great year as a starter.

  29. Pete R says:

    I’m not normally one for typos, but Bonds and Clemens are both listed at 22, which messes up the counting.

    It’s not just expansion that has increased the number of players: it’s things like relief pitcher usage. A hundred years ago, a team would use about 30 players in a season, but now over 40 is the norm.

    People have given reasons why there should be more Hall of Famers from the 60s than from, say, the 1920s. These reasons, while valid, have nothing to do with expansion, LOOGYs, or anything else to do with the number of major leaguers. So the whole percentage idea seems a bit flawed.

    Better to say “from 1910 to 1960, an average of 22.4 per decade. Therefore, I suggest X for the 1960s”. You might set X as 22, or 33…or 100, because there are hundreds of players from the 1960s who are bigger and stronger than Cobb or Wagner.

    Personally, I would keep the number roughly constant, at a number where I think that we have a reasonable chance of remembering everyone. 20-25 per decade looks about right.

  30. brad says:

    “Before 1965, Latinos were given limited opportunities relative to talent/population; after 1975, the NFL and NBA were just as attractive to elite talents as MLB” …. who were born in the US.
    Further, you’re ignoring the overall population growth over that same time. Baseball is taking a smaller slice of american born elite athletes, but there’s a much larger total population of them to start.
    Not to mention that in many cases genetics determine which sport an athlete will follow. Michael Jordan’s strike zone was the size of Rickey Henderson’s entire body. Imagine Shaq trying to field. Or a lineman.
    When you factor in Central and South American and Asian talent, there’s simply no way to argue that the talent pool hasn’t kept pace, at a minimum, with expansion.

  31. brad says:

    Argh, FYWP. My comment above was meant as a response to Jason Roth’s comment of December 31, 2013 at 4:44 pm.

  32. Chip S. says:

    Cameron’s argument is based entirely on the unexamined premise that percentages are the correct units of analysis for this question. Are they?

    If we just look at the raw numbers of players inducted by decade of birth, omitting the pre-1900 group because it’s not decade-based, we find an average of 23.5 inductees per decade, with a standard deviation of 6.2, yielding a signal-to-noise ratio of 3.78. By comparison, if we perform the same calculations on the percentage figures we get a signal-to-noise ratio of only 2.54.

    So it’s not obvious at all that the best way to summarize Hall voting is in terms of the average percent of players born in each decade. It would be more accurate to say that the Hall inducts the top 23 or 24 players born in each decade.

  33. Peter says:

    One possible solution for the HOF is to simply have automatic induction for all retired players whose WAR (career, peak or both) exceeds the median (or mean) of current inductees at their position. That would clear the ballot and give the job of assessing borderline cases -those for whom activities outside the lines may contribute or hurt their cases- to the BBWA, who presumably have the knowledge (if not the inclination) to pass judgement. Automatic induction would also eliminate current era differences, and would slow, but not eliminate, an increasing standard over time (assuming BBWA inductees lags behind automatic inductees). An increasing standard may or may not be a bad thing.

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