The Hall of Fame Index: Who is the least fit first baseman in the Hall of Fame?
As some of you know, I recently released a new book called “The Hall of Fame Index Part II.” The second edition has a slightly new formula from the first one, but one of the major differences is that I did not include Veterans Committee selections. So, while we wait patiently for baseball to return, this seems like a perfect time to expand my analysis and whet people’s appetites for the book at the same time.
Essentially, the index is most similar to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS. Since the first version of the index was released over ten years ago and had been in development for years before that, this is one of those happy coincidences where two people simultaneously develop similar systems independent of each other. However, the index has a few significant differences. First, it includes three different sources as opposed to JAWS use of baseball-reference’s WAR (bWAR). We include bWAR, but we also include Fangraph’s WAR (fWAR) and Bill James’ Win Shares which we divide by five to create a similar mathematical model as bWAR and fWAR.
The second major difference are the differences in peak value and how they are included. Jaffe uses the players best seven seasons where I use the players’ best ten seasons. He averages career and peak value. I add them together. I would never seriously argue that my system is better. They are different. The math in the case of the index is designed to create gaps. It is not designed to rank order players.
I’ll go into this in more detail in the book itself, but we tend to see that most Hall of Famers end up with an index score of at least 300. However, that changes slightly depending on the position. What we are doing here is determining which player elected by the Veteran’s Committee is the least qualified for the Hall of Fame. We do this by looking at the index, but we also look at offensive numbers, fielding numbers, and bWAR MVP points. The combination hopefully will give us a clear picture.
It should be noted that every position includes 19thcentury performers and first base has a heavier representation than other positions. We almost have to consider them differently because while they were selected by what we generally call the Veterans Committee, the exact history indicates those committees were called different names and had different mandates. You will definitely see a significant difference between them and the 20thcentury first sackers. Let’s get started.
Why don’t we just stop here? Well, any system that doesn’t include a peak value element is committing malpractice. You will see that very clearly when we break these numbers down. Four of the top five guys are 19thcentury guys. So, when you remove Johnny Mize you can see the very real difference between the 19thcentury guys and the 20thcentury guys.
The second question is why we include offense, fielding, and BWAR MVP points. Most of the time they simply echo the index results. They add context. Why are the 19thcentury guys so far ahead? However, they also serve to test various reputations. For instance, Chance is largely in the Hall of Fame because of the reputation of being a brilliant defender along with Johnny Evers and Joe Tinker. Was that reputation deserved? We shall see. Similarly, we see three guys from the Babe Ruth Era. Were their reputations as hitters warranted?
The biggest number that jumps off the page is Jake Beckley’s low peak value. Even without looking at the conventional numbers, these two numbers together paint a very definite picture. He played a long time, but was not particularly good in any part of it. A three or four win player is nothing to sneeze at, but you aren’t really captivated by that performance. The combination of the career and peak value creates a significant gap between the top four guys and everyone else.
This isn’t to demean any of these other guys. This is why we analyze the other data. Sometimes we discover something that makes the index scores obsolete. The index was never designed to offer firm yes and no scores. 300 is a benchmark but it isn’t a hard yes or no. We want to see if there is anything in their resumes that pushes them one way or another.
Some may be familiar with these numbers and some may not. Essentially, most of them compare players with the average. This is where we begin to understand why guys like Kelly and Bottomley were overrated. They hit around .300 with some pop. Sure, that makes them great players. Unfortunately, in the era where they played that wasn’t particularly special.
On the flip side, Chance ends up looking a lot better than what we thought he would. This is because he played during the Dead Ball Era. So, while he didn’t meet the 300 plateau, we know that he also managed and he has that stellar defensive reputation. If you add in the fact that he was a better hitter than what we thought, then we might have a better reason to justify his place in Cooperstown.
Kelly ironically comes out looking better despite his low index score. He can at least claim to be above average both offensively and defensively. Bottomley is solid offensively (not great), but it looks like he was a butcher defensively. The problem for most of the poor defenders is not the errors. Most of the problem is the lack of range. That is not something that voters from the past were necessarily conscious of.
As for Chance, it may look like he wasn’t that great, but most of that comes from a lack of longevity. Both defensive WAR (dWAR) and defensive win shares (DWS) measure against the replacement level player. dWAR goes with the replacement level player regardless of position, so first basemen also get measured against catchers and middle infielders. That would explain the negative scores. Win shares only measure against first basemen.
BWAR MVP Points
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The point system is simple. Top ten finishes get three points a piece. Top five finishes get five points a piece. MVPs get ten points a piece. This is one of those tests that help distill the difference between longevity and greatness. Chance does well comparatively because when he was good he was really good. That’s as compared to a guy like Beckley that played longer, but was not particularly dominant (as you can see with limited top five finishes).
Overall, it would appear that the competition for least qualified Hall of Famer goes between the bottom three guys on the list. Kelly has the lowest index score, so the vote would seem to go with him. He also performed the worst offensively and in the MVP points tests. It’s just hard to feel good about a guy that was never amongst the top five players in the league.