Monday, December 14, 2015

The inconsistency of the Hall of Fame

The Baseball Hall of Fame has no minimum standard for performance, other than the length of a career, and even that can be suspended in unusual cases. (Addie Joss springs to mind.)

As a result, this leaves a player's induction or exclusion in the subjective hands of human voters who may favor players from one era, or one team, or one position.

To illustrate the inconsistency that may result, I'm going to play a game of "Who am I" with you.

I am a first baseman who stood a bit over six feet tall, batted right-handed and threw with my right hand. I played on truly great teams that won many pennants. My clubs were so great, in fact, that I was usually our fourth-best man on the field.

Although my career batting average is only in the .270s, I brought immense power to the line-up, and I specialized in RBIs. I finished with a homer total in the 370s, and had seven separate seasons when I knocked in 100 runs or more. For the entire duration of my career, I averaged 56 extra base hits and about 220 times on base per 162 games ...

Curiously enough, this question has two possible answers. There are two players who fit this description precisely, yet one of them is in the Hall of Fame while the other is not.

The table below shows their career stats per 162 games:

Player A Player B
Hits 159 150
Walks 54 74
Strikeouts 109 89
2B 29 23
3B 5 4
HR 22 29
RBI 96 100
AVG .279 .270
OBP .341 .359
SLG .463 .487
OPS .804 .846
OPS+ 122 120
Gold Gloves 0 3
Top 25 MVP 7 8
All Star 7 8
World Series Played 5 times 7 times
World Series HR/OPS 3/.686 5/.761
Gray Ink 129 128
HOF Monitor 81 83

It would not be a simple matter to find two players more similar.

To make my position perfectly clear, I am not arguing that the one who is excluded should be admitted, because I don't subscribe to the "lowest common denominator" theory which posits that anybody who is as good or better than somebody already in the Hall should be admitted. That would make plaque-makers richer than oil sheiks, because just about everyone you can name who was any good at all is a better player than Freddie Lindstrom (lifetime WAR 28), Lloyd Waner (WAR 24), Tommy McCarthy (16 WAR) or High Pockets Kelly (25 WAR). Waner's lifetime OPS+ is 99, which means he was actually a below-average hitter in his era. Among the players with higher lifetime WARs than these guys are Coco Crisp and Shane Victorino. While I have nothing against Crisp and Victorino, I think we all realize that they are not Hall of Famers.

Nor am I arguing that the one who is in should be tossed out on his ass. I don't believe that ever will or ever should happen to anyone, not even to Freddie Lindstrom. That guy has suffered enough.

The fact of the matter is that both of these players are below average Hall of Fame candidates. The HOF monitor score for a likely Hall of Famer is 100. The average Hall of Famer has a gray ink score of 144. Players A and B are rated between 80% and 90% of the norm in both cases. More ominous is the fact that the average HOFer has a black ink score of 27 for leading their leagues in various categories during a season, while Player A never led the league in anything in a 23-year career, and the only league bests in Player B's 18 years in the show were in games played.

So I'm not advocating anything. They could both be in or both out and neither case could be established beyond a reasonable doubt, because they are both marginal candidates who could go either way. I'm simply pointing out that the two players above were basically the same guy, yet one is in, the other out. You might even conclude fairly, although not necessarily, that the one excluded from the Hall is the better of the two.

You are curious, I suppose, about their identities. For the sake of this argument, it doesn't really matter who they are. In fact, it's better if you don't know. I kept them anonymous so you could focus on the facts without falling back on any preconceived notions you may have about one or both. If you want to know, you can find out now by using your cursor to highlight the next sentence, which consists of black type on a black background. Player A is Tony Perez (in); Player B is Gil Hodges (out).

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