Thursday, October 25, 2012

What can Biggio expect from the BBWAA?

This winter will provide the best chance Astros fans have been waiting for since Nolan Ryan decided to wear a Rangers cap for all eternity - an Astros cap on a plaque at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Craig Biggio's journey to baseball immortality will be tested for the first time this winter when the voting members of the Base Ball Writers Association of America get to stand on their soapboxes and vote on the eligible candidates, of which there are many.

The sanctimonious group will be judged fully in this space throughout December and early January when we're sure to get pissed off at somebody, but we can at least make some educated guesses as to what Biggio can expect from the BBWAA. Well, as close to an educated guess as you can get when trying to predict what a wholly unpredictable, asinine, holier-than-thou group of petty, vindictive voters will do.

Since 2000, there have been 184 players eligible in their first year of election. Only 24 received the 5% of the votes needed to remain on the ballot for a second year, but were not elected in their first year. Those players:

Roberto Alomar (2010), Jeff Bagwell (2011), Harold Baines (2007), Albert Belle (2006), Andre Dawson (2002), Juan Gonzalez (2011), Goose Gossage (2000), Orel Hershiser (2006), Barry Larkin (2010), Edgar Martinez (2010), Don Mattingly (2001), Willie McGee (2005), Fred McGriff (2010), Mark McGwire (2007), Jack Morris (2000), Rafael Palmeiro (2011), Tim Raines (2008), Ryne Sandberg (2003), Lee Smith (2003), Dave Stewart (2001), Alan Trammell (2002), Fernando Valenzuela (2003), Larry Walker (2011), and Bernie Williams (2012).

Now here's the thing about that list...

*Seven of the 24 received less than 10% of the vote (McGee, Gonzalez, Baines, Valenzuela, Stewart, Belle, and Williams).
*Nine more received between 10-30% of the vote (Palmeiro, Hershiser, Trammell, Walker, McGriff, Morris, McGwire, Raines, and Mattingly).
*So 16 players received less than 30% of the BBWAA's votes, and none of those 16 have been elected (yet, anyway).
*Of the eight players who got more than 30% of the vote in their first year of eligibility, five of them have since been elected to the HOF (Gossage, Dawson, Sandberg, Larkin, and Alomar), and the other three are Edgar Martinez, Jeff Bagwell, and Lee Smith.

We know what Craig Biggio has done. There's no doubt in Astros fans' eyes that Craig Biggio is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Twenty-eight players have racked up 3,000+ hits, and 24 of them are in the Hall of Fame. Who are the other four? Pete Rose (because he's a jackass), Derek Jeter (because he's still playing), Biggio, and Rafael Palmeiro (because he made a syringe-plugged ass of himself by wagging his finger at Congress before getting popped for PEDs - he got 12.6% of the vote in the 2012 election.). Furthermore, every eligible player with more than 2,900 hits is in the Hall of Fame.

We can look at Biggio's Similarity Scores and see that he is most similar to Hall of Famer Robin Yount, then - in order - future Room-of-Famer Derek Jeter (because a Hall isn't big enough to hold Derek Jeter's plaque), then Hall of Famers Joe Morgan, Paul Molitor, Roberto Alomar, and Cal Ripken.Well hey, this is interesting, because...

*Ten players since 2000 have been elected in their first year of eligibility: Wade Boggs (2005), Dennis Eckersley (2004), Rickey Henderson (2010), Tony Gwynn (2007), Paul Molitor (2004), Eddie Murray (2003), Kirby Puckett (2001), Cal Ripken (2007), Ozzie Smith (2002), and Dave Winfield (2001).

Molitor and Ripken - 4th- and 6th-most similar to Biggio were elected on their first ballot in 2004 and 2007, respectively, with 85.2% and 98.5%, also respectively. Robin Yount - the player assigned a value most similar to Biggio's career - was elected on his first ballot with 77.5% of the vote in 1999.

These are all facts. But the BBWAA isn't big on facts, and we can't count on them to agree on an AL MVP. I would like to think that we can count on the BBWAA to agree that Biggio belongs in the same company as Paul Molitor, Roberto Alomar, Robin Yount, and Ozzie Smith. But that may be as silly as hoping that everyone on Twitter agrees with your personal political views. (Timely simile!)

There is also a significant chance that many voters are going to write this election off, as it includes Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, and Mike Piazza. Ask a lazy sportswriter to pass immortal judgment on this list and they'll happily write a column about the Sanctity of the Hall of Fame and the Purity of The Game. And then they won't vote for anybody, because they JUST DON'T KNOW EVERYTHING. Or, more accurately, they knew enough to not say anything, and now they can play the Saint card in the easiest December column for a Base Ball writer.

Or, there could be the counterpoint, where the BBWAA looks at the ballot, gets disgusted by the Usual Suspects and sees Biggio for what he is: A great player who has not been linked to PEDs. Tricky. If you asked me to put a range on where I would expect Biggio to land in his first election, I would give you two numbers:

Best-case scenario: A Yount-ian 75-80%.
Worst-case scenario: A Sandberg-ian 45-55%.