photo: Chris Carpenter, Scott Rolen, Jason Isringhausen, Larry Walker (Getty Images)
By Bill Gilbert
One of the first items of business in baseball each year is the announcement of players elected to the Hall of Fame. This leads to lots of speculation and a little analysis prior to the announcement which is scheduled for January 24, 2018.
Many systems exist for evaluating player performance. One such system, the Win Shares method, developed by Bill James in 2002, is a complex method for evaluating players which includes all aspects of performance – offense, defense and pitching. James has stated that, “Historically, 400 Win Shares means absolute enshrinement in the Hall of Fame and 300 Win Shares makes a player more likely than not to be a Hall of Famer. However, future standards may be different. Players with 300-350 Win Shares in the past have generally gone into the Hall of Fame. In the future, they more often will not”.
The 2018 class of Hall of Fame candidates consists of 14 holdovers and 19 players eligible for the first time. Ten holdovers have over 300 Win Shares, Barry Bonds with 661, Gary Sheffield 430, Roger Clemens 421, Manny Ramirez 408, Jeff Kent 338, Fred McGriff 326, Vladimir Guerrero 324, Sammy Sosa 311, Larry Walker 307 and Edgar Martinez 305. Among the newcomers, there are four candidates with 300 Win Shares, Chipper Jones 416, Jim Thome 383, Johnny Damon 307 and Scott Rolen 304.
In 2017, three players received the necessary 75% of the vote for election by the Baseball Writers of America (BBWAA). The 2017 ballot included 19 newcomers and 15 returning candidates. One newcomer, Ivan Rodriguez, (76.0%) was elected on the first ballot. Only two others, Guerrero (71.7%) and Ramirez (23.8%) easily exceeded the necessary 5% of the votes required to remain on the ballot.
Only Jeff Bagwell (86.2%) and Tim Raines (86.0%) among the holdovers were elected. The only other holdovers with over 50% of the vote in 2017 were Hoffman (74.0%), Martinez (58.8%), Clemens (54.1%), Bonds (53.8%) and Mike Mussina (51.8%).
Several players on the ballot, notably Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, have the numbers to be elected but remain tainted with the steroid cloud. Many voters have been inclined to wait until more is known about the extent of steroid usage before giving them a pass. Both are in their 6th year on the ballot. Support for both is may increase this year but not enough for election. The reluctance to vote for players like Bonds and Clemens is likely to continue to diminish with time but it may not be soon enough for election by the writers. The ballot remains quite crowded. Some writers have advocated the removal of the restriction of 10 votes per ballot. A total of 442 ballots were cast in 2017 essentially the same as the 440 in the previous year. Last year, voters used an average of 8.1of their 10 votes
Following is a list of Win Shares for the 33 players on the ballot. Players on the ballot for the first time are shown in bold. Voting results for 2016 and 2017 are shown for the holdovers.
The 34 players elected by the Baseball Writers since 2000 have averaged 352 Win Shares, a figure exceeded by six players on this year’s ballot.
|Ken Griffey, Jr.||2016||403|
Win Shares are fundamentally a quantitative measure of a player’s accomplishments. A measure of the quality of a player’s offensive performance is OPS+ which compares his OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging average) adjusted for park effects and era with the league average during his career. An OPS+ of 120 suggests that his performance is 20% better than that of a league average player. A similar approach (ERA+) can be used to compare a pitcher’s ERA against the league average during his career.
Following is a rank order of OPS+ and ERA+ for the 33 candidates on the 2018 ballot:
|Barry Bonds||182||Roger Clemens||143|
|Manny Ramirez||154||Johan Santana||136|
|Jim Thome||147||Curt Schilling||127|
|Edgar Martinez||147||Mike Mussina||123|
|Larry Walker||141||Carlos Zambrano||120|
|Chipper Jones||141||Kerry Wood||117|
|Gary Sheffield||140||Chris Carpenter||116|
|Vladimir Guerrero||140||Kevin Millwood||106|
|Fred McGriff||134||Jamie Moyer||103|
|Sammy Sosa||128||Livan Hernandez||95|
|Aubrey Huff||114||Relief Pitchers||ERA+|
|Carlos Lee||113||Billy Wagner||187|
|Andruw Jones||111||Trevor Hoffman||141|
|Johnny Damon||104||Brad Lidge||122|
|Orlando Hudson||97||Jason Isringhausen||115|
The Win Shares system favors players with long productive careers like Sheffield and Kent, although it appears to under-rate pitchers, while OPS+ rewards strong offensive players who had shorter, more dominant careers like Edgar Martinez. ERA+ favors relief pitchers since their ERAs are generally lower because they are not charged with runs scored by inherited runners.
- Four players will be elected in 2018, Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman.
- Bonds and Clemens will make slight gains but will remain well short of election.
- Ramirez and Sheffield have numbers worthy of election but will gain only limited support because of past the steroid cloud.
- Martinez and Mussina will gain votes and be in a position for possible election next year. It will be the final year on the ballot for Martinez.
- There will not be a groundswell of support for Hudson, Huff, Damon, Matsui, Millwood, Moyer, Hernandez, Isringhausen and Lidge among others.
- Rolen and Andruw Jones and possibly Johan Santana will receive enough votes to remain on the ballot next year.
- If I had a ballot, I would cast votes for Thome, Chipper Jones, Schilling, McGriff, Kent, Guerrero, Walker, Martinez, Mussina and Wagner.
Editor’s note: I asked Bill, an admitted Houston Astros fan, his impression of Scott Rolen’s candidacy. Here is his reply.
“Rolen has 304 win shares which puts him at the borderline for the HOF. I place him just below but I may be biased because of the big hit he had in the 2004 NLCS against the Astros. He didn’t have a high enough peak or a long enough career to accumulate HOF numbers.”
Bill Gilbert is a baseball analyst and writer and member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).
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