The Hall of Fame Index: Who is the least qualified second basemen in the Hall of Fame?
We have already done two of these and hopefully you have read the other two first. So, instead of repeating some of the same old caveats and explanations I thought I would take a step back and talk about value. The results of this edition of the least qualified player in the Hall of Fame is bound to touch a nerve for some folks. We are talking about people after all. You can never purely boil down everything to a number or series of numbers. Players come with personalities, memories, and moments. In many cases, those things are bigger than any set of numbers.
What the Hall of Fame Index Part IIaims to do is try to balance all of that to demonstrate which players are fit and which players are not. At the center of that is a notion of value. All events have value. Some have more than others. This can be difficult to understand, and this is particularly true on a fantasy site where all events are equal. In fact, there are instances where some events might have more relative value because of their rarity (stolen bases). However, those same events in real baseball contribute little to scoring or preventing runs. Therefore, they have little value.
This is where things get hard. Sometimes a player might be legitimately called the best or greatest at a particular skill. Those descriptions may or may not be true based on the numbers, but even then, we have to ask ourselves how valuable that is. This will become clear when we look at the list of Veterans Committee selections at second base.
Obviously, Mazeroski jumps out immediately. Isn’t he the greatest defensive second baseman in history? Well, that’s when we get into an immediate quagmire. We often intersperse the terms “great” and “most valuable”. How does one measure greatness when comparing Mazeroski with someone like McPhee or Evers who played in a different era? Most of these guys were better than average defensively and some were legitimately very good.
We have two different problems going on at the same time. First, we don’t know if the reputation meets the facts. We will find out about that soon enough. The second problem is that we have to ask ourselves what that is really worth. Statistics like WAR and win shares combine offense, fieldling, and base running into one number that encompasses the value a player brings to the table. We will break those elements down individually afterwards.
The gap is actually bigger than it seems. Schoendienst served as the Cardinals manager throughout most of the 1960s including two pennant and one World Series title. He likely would not have made it as a manager alone, but when you combine his managerial record with his playing record you could make a compelling case as a combined contributor. So, if you remove him from the list you see a huge gap between Mazeroski and the rest.
The top of the list is pretty secure when you consider that some of those players lost seasons to war service. This brings us to the middle of the list and guys like Fox, Lazzeri, and Evers. They are not outrageously unqualified, but they aren’t particularly qualified either. The governing question of the book is not whether any particular player is a Hall of Famer but whether they are the most fit for the Hall of Fame. In all three cases, there are players on the outside that are more fit.
Of course, all three had reputations that got them in. Fox and Evers were noted defenders that were part of some really good teams. In Fox’s case, he also put up some good offensive counting numbers by virtue of his durability and longevity. Lazzeri of course was a contributing member of the Murderer’s Row Yankees. The question for those guys is always whether those teams were great because of those players or if those players were great because of the team they were on.
In his landmark book “Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame,” Bill James asked a number of questions to help people determine whether someone is really a Hall of Famer. For instance, we could ask if any of these guys was the best at their position or the best in the league. Another version of that could be viewed through offensive winning percentage. Could a team with that player as their best player possibly win a pennant?
To put this another way, can a player who is average offensively (Fox or Schoendienst) really be a Hall of Famer? This is where we get into how much hitting is worth in comparison with fielding. Mazeroski is decidedly below average offensively. It’s a really hard sell at this point unless he was outrageously good defensively.
In mathematical terms, value can be defined as the distance between a player and a particular frame of reference. So, we compare fielders with the average fielder (Rfield and total zone) and we compare them with the replacement level defender (DWAR and DWS/5). The top five guys are a pretty tight group. They are all amongst the best six or seven defenders in baseball history at second base. Certainly, these aren’t the only fielding statistics we could look at. There are other ubermetrics that grade defense as well.
We can look at all of these to determine a consensus on the most valuable defender, but to what end? Is it going to magically turn Mazeroski into a Hall of Famer? Baseball Prospectus’ fielding runs above average have him rated higher defensively (159.6), but he still rates at 35.6 wins above replacement player (WARP) which is their version of WAR. Of course, another way or looking at this is to ask the question of whether these players were ever one of the top players in their league. So, we will take a look at the BWAR MVP Points.
BWAR MVP Points
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The MVP test is a really good concluding test. All of the other numbers are aggregate numbers. Yet, it is called the Hall of Fame and not the Hall of Stats or the Hall of Aggregate Performance. Sometimes players can muster only a few seasons of absolute brilliance, but if they are brilliant enough they leave a lasting impression. Most of these guys are fairly compact in their performance here which matches what we have seen in the other tests. This happens more often than not.
We didn’t see it here, but we will see that at other positions. Sometimes, this test can help explain why someone that otherwise looks shaky was given an extra boost by the Veterans Committee. At the end of the day, it’s hard to defend Mazeroski’s admission. With some of these players you could make the excuse that they were admitted before the informational revolution that is sabermetrics. Mazeroski was elected in 2001. No such excuse will suffice. He won eight Gold Gloves and hit the home run that won the 1960 World Series. These are nice and well deserved honors, but again this is about value. He just didn’t have it.