Friday, January 11, 2013

A Hall of Fame Proposal

I would like to offer my very reasonable and very likely to be adopted quickly proposal for how to fix the Hall of Fame voting process. And I promise, this will be the last time I write about the Hall of Fame until next voting season. Or maybe next week. We'll see.

My very simple proposal is to add a rule that any one who exceeds 80 fWAR is automatically admitted to the Hall of Fame. That's it. You could use 75 bWAR, or provide automatic entrance if you exceed either value. Its pretty much the same group, anyway.  If you want to make them wait five years, or just put them in the very next class the year after retirement, both would be fine. But they are in, no questions asked.

I honestly don't see the downside to this. There are 43 position players who meet the criteria (40 on Baseball Reference) and 26 pitchers (using either method). And they are all unquestionably elite. Every single hitter and pitcher who meets this criteria and is eligible for the Hall of Fame is already in the Hall of Fame, except for four.  Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling and .... Jeff Bagwell (83.9 fWAR, 76.7 bWAR). Okay, so there's my motivation. I still think it's a good idea.

If the objective numbers say that a player is elite, why do we let the baseball writers disagree? Why do we let a group of 570 writers, with varying degrees of knowledge and interest in the game, override what the objective facts actually tell us. A certain writer in New York who never watched an Astros game and hates the Red Sox might not believe that Bagwell or Curt Schilling was among the game's greats, but an objective, unbiased measure of value does. Why does the writer's opinion carry the day, over objective demonstrable fact?

I know there are objections to WAR. WAR is imperfect. The Hall of Fame is not just about numbers. The voters are instructed to consider integrity, sportsmanship and character. And I agree with some of that. I am not proposing a rule that states "Over 60, in, Under 60, out." My proposal would still maintain the vote for all players under the automatic threshold. Let the writers decide who else gets in. If they want to use integrity and character and whatever other criteria they devise to either promote a marginal candidate or knock down a strong candidate, let them. But those arguments should exist in the margins. They should not be used to devalue the career of someone who was objectively one of the best of the best. WAR is imperfect, but a look at the list of players with over 80 WAR shows that it gets it right a whole lot more than it gets it wrong.

And yes, this rule would include all players eligible for the Hall of Fame, even those implicated in steroids. If the writers want to keep McGwire and Sosa and Palmeiro out, fine. But to keep out the guys who sit number two on both the pitcher and batters WAR list seems a bit much. And this way, you won't have to read any more articles on how hard it is to decide whether to vote for these two. The writers simply will not have the choice.

So what would be the result, if this was implemented now.  Bagwell, Schilling, Bonds and Clemens are automatically in. Solves the lack of inductees this summer for Cooperstown. Maddux and Mussina are automatically in next year, (Glavine too by bWAR) and would not appear on the ballot. Solves the crowded ballot problem too. The writers would still be able to elect Biggio, Thomas, Morris, Piazza, or anyone else they want to. The year after, Randy Johnson and Pedro are automatics, and then Griffey in 2016. You might notice that most of these players would likely go first ballot anyway. That's kind of the point. Most of the time, the writers get it right, and elect these elite players the first time. This would just take away their ability to screw up, like they did with Schilling this year, Bagwell the last several years and poor Bert Blyleven (110!) for 15 years.

Who could possibly have a problem with this? No one, that's who. I predict it will happen within two weeks of me hitting publish.