The BBWAA’s Hall of Fame, Graphically Speaking

The idea for the graphs in this article started with a post I read at Tom Tango’s website, which linked to this article. That article gave further credit to Sky Kalkman. Jeff Zimmerman also had a post in 2009 with this graphical representation, so be aware that I’m building off of the work of others, with some changes.

The methodology:

  • I used only BBWAA-elected Hall of Fame players. Since I’m looking at players currently up for election by the BBWAA, I thought it would be best to look at players previously voted in by the BBWAA. The BBWAA has a higher standard for entry than the various Veterans Committees. Many of the Hall of Fame players with the lowest WAR totals were put in by Veterans or Old Timers Committees.
  • I separated catchers from the rest of the hitters. I also created two graphs for relief pitchers. One compares relievers to all pitchers. The other compares relievers to just BBWAA-elected relievers.
  • I used FanGraphs WAR. The articles I linked to above used Sean Smith’s WAR database, which uses Baseball-Reference WAR.
  • BBWAA-elected Hall of Fame players are ranked by their highest WAR season to lowest WAR season.
  • All of the highest season values for the Hall of Famers were grouped together, then the second highest seasons, then the third highest seasons, etc.
  • When the WAR values went negative, they were zeroed out from that point forward.
  • I found the 75th, 50th, and 25th percentile for each season. This band is shaded in gray, with the black line representing the 50th

The “No-Doubters” Tier

Barry Bonds (164.4 WAR, seasons above the median: all)—Setting aside the PED issue and focusing on just what he did on the field, Barry Bonds could be in a two-man Hall of Fame with Babe Ruth (168.4 hitting WAR). They are both nearly 15 WAR ahead of the next player, Willie Mays (149.9 WAR). Then again, if you add in the 12.4 WAR Babe Ruth earned for his pitching, the gap between Ruth and Bonds is greater than the gap between Bonds and Mays. Babe Ruth could be in his own personal Hall of Fame, where the hot dogs are always cooked to perfection and the beer flows freely.

Pre-1999 Barry Bonds (99.2 WAR)—The purple line on the graph represents the best 13 years of Barry Bonds career before the 1999 season, which is when it is commonly thought Bonds started using PEDs. Even if Bonds had retired before his incredible stretch of seasons from 2001 to 2004, he looks like an easy Hall of Famer.

Jeff Bagwell (80.2 WAR, seasons above the median: 13)—Bagwell compares favorably to Ken Griffey, Jr. His best three years are surpassed by Griffey’s best three years, but Bagwell had a longer stretch of seasons well above the Hall of Fame median. On the MLB Network recently, I heard Ken Rosenthal discussing Bagwell and Piazza’s Hall of Fame case with regard to the voters. Rosenthal suggested that some voters have hesitated to vote for Bagwell and Piazza because of the possibility they used PEDs and the fear that if they are elected and we find out down the road that they used PEDs, this would have implications for Bonds and Clemens. Essentially, if they find out there is a player in the Hall of Fame who has used PEDs, then how do they then justify not voting for Bonds or Clemens? To be clear, Rosenthal doesn’t feel this way himself; he was just explaining how other voters may feel.

Ken Griffey, Jr. (77.7 WAR, seasons above the median: 10)—He’ll go in easily. Like Frank Thomas before him, the writers feel Griffey was clean. Whether that’s true or not, we don’t really know. His best 10 seasons were at or above the median Hall of Fame level and he has five other seasons in the gray zone.

The “In the Conversation” Tier

Larry Walker (68.7 WAR, seasons above the median: 6)—Remember, these are BBWAA-elected Hall of Fame players and the gray zone represents the 25th to 75th percentile seasons for those players. Larry Walker has an interesting line. His two best seasons were at or above the two best seasons of the Hall of Fame median but his third through sixth best seasons drop below that level. His remaining seasons in descending order are generally close to the median. Other factors that likely hurt him with the BBWAA voters are his games played in Coors Field and that he always seemed to miss 20 or more games each year. In his 17-year career, Walker only played 150 or more games one time.

Mark McGwire (66.3 WAR, seasons above the median: 5)—McGwire’s line is similar to Walker’s, but with fewer seasons below the 25th percentile level early in his career. McGwire’s sixth-best through tenth-best seasons are above the median, but he drops off quickly after his best 11 seasons.

Alan Trammell (63.7 WAR, seasons above the median: 1)—Trammell is consistently in the range between the 25th and 50th percentiles, but it isn’t until his 14th best season where he is above the median for the Hall of Fame groups’ 14th best season. More than half of the shortstops in the Hall of Fame were non-BBWAA selections. Trammell has more career WAR than many of those players, but beats out only one BBWAA-elected shortstop, Luis Aparicio. Trammell has been on the ballot for 14 years. His high total in voting was 36.8% in 2012, but he dropped to 25.1% last year. This is his final chance with the BBWAA.

Edgar Martinez (65.5 WAR, seasons above the median: 5)—Edgar has some things going against him. First off, playing primarily as a DH hurts him in the eyes of many voters. Second, based on the chart above, Edgar didn’t have the peak that many BBWAA-elected Hall of Famers had, as his five best seasons are in the gray zone between the 25th and 50th percentile. His sixth through tenth best seasons are above the zone and he does have 10 seasons with 4.7 or more WAR. That hasn’t been enough for the voters so far. His vote totals have dropped in each of the last three years.

The “Another Tier, Much Like the Previous Tier” Tier

Tim Raines (66.4 WAR, seasons above the median: 3)—Raines is a favorite candidate of many who is thought to be underrated and under-appreciated by Hall of Fame voters. He has gained support over the years, though, moving from 24.3% in his first year on the ballot to a peak of 55.0% last year. His place on the chart above shows that he’s similar to Alan Trammell. They both had long careers consistently in the gray zone below the median. Compared to the other BBWAA-elected hitters, Raines is a borderline candidate. He wouldn’t raise the level of BBWAA-elected hitters, but he’s better than some recent inductees. That being said, I added Tony Gwynn to this graph and it’s easy to see how similar Gwynn and Raines were in WAR. Gwynn made the Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot. The key difference for voters may have been their distribution of hits and walks. Gwynn had 3,141 hits and 790 walks, for a total of hits plus walks of 3,931. Raines had 2,605 hits and 1,330 walks, for a total of hits plus walks of 3,935. Those 3,000 hits go a long way. Despite that, there isn’t enough of a separation between them that one should sail right in on his first ballot (97.6%) and the other gets 24.3% on his first ballot.

Jim Edmonds (64.5 WAR, seasons above the median: 5)—Half of Edmonds’ ten best 10 seasons were above the median Hall of Fame level and the other five were in the gray zone. His 11th best and beyond seasons fall short.

Gary Sheffield (62.1 WAR, seasons above the median: 2)—Despite being such different players, Sheffield’s line is very similar to Tony Gwynn’s line, with a similar pattern of highs and lows. It’s uncanny.

The “It’s Not the Hall of Good” Tier

Fred McGriff (56.9 WAR), Jeff Kent (56.1 WAR)—Jeff Kent and The Crime Dog were good players with long careers, but they don’t compare favorably with other BBWAA-elected Hall of Fame hitters.

Nomar Garciaparra (41.4 WAR)—Six of Nomar’s first seven seasons were worth 4.8 WAR or more, but it was a steep drop-off from there. He played 14 seasons and those six seasons accounted for 92% of his career WAR.

The “New Guys Who Don’t Have a Chance” Tier

The eight players on the above two charts are unlikely to get the 5% needed to stay on the ballot, but they may get some scattered votes here and there. In case you were wondering, that 8-win season for Troy Glaus came in 2000 when he hit .284/.404/.604, with 120 runs, 47 home runs, 102 RBI, and 14 steals. He was fourth in the AL in WAR but didn’t receive a single MVP vote. The winner that year was Jason Giambi (with 7.7 WAR).

The Catchers

Mike Piazza (62.5 WAR, seasons above the median: 10)—Piazza is on the cusp of entry into the Hall of Fame. His voting totals have gone from 57.8% to 62.2% to 69.9%. Based on his numbers, he should have been voted in three years ago. Hopefully, he’ll get the 75% needed for induction this time around.

Jason Kendall (39.8 WAR)—Kendall has more career WAR than a couple of Veterans Committee inductees (Rick Ferrell and Ray Schalk) and more WAR than Roy Campanella, who had his career start late and end early. Kendall had six seasons with 3.9 WAR or more, which is impressive, but he doesn’t compare to the BBWAA-elected Hall of Fame catchers.

Brad Ausmus (17.2 WAR)—Ausmus hit .251/.325/.344 in one of the best eras for hitting in the history of the game. Imagine how poorly he would have hit had he played in the 1960s.

Starting Pitchers

Roger Clemens (133.7 WAR, season above the median: all)—Roger Clemens is the Barry Bonds of pitchers. They were both well above the median of BBWAA-elected Hall of Fame players and they are trapped in Hall of Fame voter purgatory for the time being, both with roughly 37% of the vote on last year’s ballot. They have seven more years on the ballot.

Mike Mussina (82.2 WAR, season above the median: 12)—Mussina and Schilling are an interesting comparison. Schilling’s six best seasons are better than Mussina’s six best seasons. From their sixth-best seasons and beyond, Mussina was better. Mussina has been on the ballot two years and saw his vote total go from 20.3% to 24.6%. Compared to other BBWAA-elected Hall of Fame starting pitchers, both seem worthy of induction.

Curt Schilling (79.7 WAR, season above the median: 12)—Schilling and Mussina both had 12 seasons above the median and similar WAR totals, but Schilling has the edge in voting so far. Schilling has been on the ballot three years, going from 38.8% to 29.2% to 39.2% in the voting.

Mike Hampton (28.0 WAR, season above the median: 0)—He doesn’t compare to the other pitchers on this ballot, but Hampton did hit .315/.329/.552 in 152 plate appearances with the Rockies in 2001-2002, which is pretty cool.

Relief Pitchers

Lee Smith (26.6 WAR, season above the median: 12)—The top graph shows how these three relievers compare to all pitchers elected by the BBWAA. In short, they don’t compare favorably. The difference in innings pitched is just so great between starters and relievers that it’s hard for a reliever to be as valuable. The bottom graph includes just relief pitchers elected by the BBWAA, but without John Smoltz or Dennis Eckersley, who each had more than 350 starts and around 200 wins. The four “true” relievers are Hoyt Wilhelm, Goose Gossage, Rollie Fingers, and Bruce Sutter. Lee Smith didn’t reach the heights of those four, but did have 12 seasons above the median, starting with his third-best season. He’s been on the ballot for 13 years and peaked with 50.6% of the vote in 2012. Last year, he was down to 30.2%.

Trevor Hoffman (26.1, season above the median: 9)—For what it’s worth, Harold Reynolds thinks Trevor Hoffman is a “slam-dunk” Hall of Famer. Of course, that’s worth exactly nothing because it’s coming from Harold Reynolds and he doesn’t have a vote. Hoffman does have those 601 saves, but he doesn’t stand out here as being much better than Smith or Wagner.

Billy Wagner (24.2 WAR, season above the median: 6)—It wouldn’t surprise me to see Hoffman get considerable support and Wagner be a “one and done” candidate, despite how comparable they actually were.

If I Had a Ballot:

 

Barry Bonds

Roger Clemens

Mike Piazza

 

Jeff Bagwell

Ken Griffey, Jr.

Mike Mussina

Curt Schilling

 

Edgar Martinez

Larry Walker

Alan Trammell

 



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Bobby Mueller has been a Pittsburgh Pirates fan as far back as the 1979 World Series Championship team ("We R Fam-A-Lee!"). He suffered through the 1980s, then got a reprieve in the early 1990s, only to be crushed by Francisco Cabrera in 1992. After a 20-year stretch of losing seasons, things are looking up for Bobby’s Pirates. His blog can be found at www.baseballonthebrain.com and he tweets at www.twitter.com/bballonthebrain.

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Joe
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Joe

why didnt you split clemens like you did bonds?

Nate
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Nate

Why don’t the two Barry Bonds lines overlap until the first one ends? In his first season, Bonds either achieved ~10.5 WAR or ~12.6 WAR, but he didn’t achieve BOTH. Can you explain this more clearly?

WARrior
Member
Member

Very interesting graphs, thanks.

A couple of comments:

1) Ausmus obviously is nowhere close to HOF as a hitter. But he was a very good defensive catcher, and that recent pitch-framing study suggests that, taking into account that skill, he has a case as possibly the greatest defensive player of all time.

2) the best catchers are well known to have lower WAR than the best players at other positions, hence your separate graphs. I looked into this a few months ago, and concluded that the main factors are a) less playing time, as catching of course is a harder, more wearing position over time; 2) catchers generally play some time at another position, particularly as they get older, and usually that position is 1B. This lowers their overall positional adjustment, with the result that even with the positional adjustment, they don’t get the defensive benefit one would expect with catchers.

These are the main factors, and each contributes very roughly to about half the difference is WAR between catchers and the next lowest position players (comparing the top 10 by WAR at each position). In addition, the best catchers generally are below average or at least not the best defensively, because even for that position, more WAR is generally provided for offense than defense, and so the best catchers are the better offensive players.

http://www.baseball-fever.com/showthread.php?125146-WAR-by-position-Why-do-catchers-lag

Andy
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Andy

It’s a small sample size, but there appears to be very little correlation between traditional catcher defense (I used FG Fielding Runs, which don’t include the positional adjustment) and pitch framing. Javy Lopez and Jason Varitek were 9th and 10th, resp., in pitch-framing, but both had negative FR for their career. Conversely, Rodriguez leads all catchers in Fielding Runs, but did not make the list of the 21 best in pitch framing. Besides Ausmus, Yadier Molina is high in both.