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.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Will Biggio Make it Next Year?

So yesterdays Hall of Fame news was disappointing, to say the least. Astros fans can't seem to catch a break. But can we at least take solace* in the fact that Biggio will get in next year? Well, maybe. But I don't think its guaranteed.

Biggio fell just 39 votes short. There were at least 39 voters that did not vote for Biggio because they felt he was a Hall of Famer, but not a first ballot Hall of Famer, whatever that means. It stands to reason, then, that he should get in next year. And that's still probably true.

However, this year was an undeniably crowded ballot, particularly for those willing to vote Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, et al. The BBWAA reported that 22% of voters used all 10 spots. The average ballot used 6.6 spots, which includes the blank ballots and those that listed only one or two players. I thinks it fair to say that at least 40% of ballots used 8, 9 or 10 spots. That number might be higher.

And its only going to get worse. Next years class includes Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina, and Jeff Kent. I expect Maddux to be named on over 90% of ballots, Glavine and Thomas on 60-80% and Mussina and Kent over 50%. The big hall group that voted for 8+ this year is very likely to be adding at least three more names. That means someone is going to have be cut.

I think the majority of voters will cut someone else besides Biggio. I expect the majority of the chops will be to those who did not get over 50% of the vote last year. Sadly, I expect Bagwell to lose some votes next year, and Tim Raines as well. But what if 5% of the voters drop Biggio. That's 11 votes. Now he needs to pick up 50 from the group that left him off their ballot the year before. What about 10%. He would then need more than 60 votes. Put another way, would we still expect Biggio to be a slam dunk next year if he was 60 votes short this year? That's less than 65%.

That's what really bugs me about the voters who decided Biggio was not a first ballot Hall of Famer. It was so shortsighted. Two facts were patently obvious before voting began this year. It was going to be very tough for anyone to be elected this year, and if no one was elected, the ballot was about to get really crowded. This should have surprised no one. Yet you had a large contingent of voters who looked at Biggio, acknowledged he was a Hall of Fame caliber player, and still voted no. There is no "first ballot Hall of Famer" distinction. They don't get a separate room. It is not mentioned on the plaque. Why were they so keen on protecting an honor that doesn't actually exist? And the cost was very real. This was Biggio's best chance. The crowded ballot is not going to get any better any time soon.

That being said, it could all work out. There has been a lot of talk on getting rid of the 10 vote limit, which only makes sense. There also might be more of an incentive to keep Biggio on the ballot, considering he is so close. Its still more likely than not that Biggio will go in next year, and if not next year, then the year after that. Only one person (Gaylord Perry) who debuted with greater than 65% of the vote failed to be elected the very next year, and it only took him one more try. I'm confident we will have an Astro in the Hall of Fame soon. Sorry to be such a downer. I guess being a Houston sports fan has bred a little pessimism in me.

*Another point to consider. If he goes in next year, Biggio will likely be inducted with at least one, probably two, Braves, which means someone will do the deplorable Tomahawk Chop, which will severely dampen the joy I will have that day.

A lot can change for Jon Heyman in 21 months

Turns out that I'm still pretty pissed off about what happened to Biggio and Bagwell yesterday. The street-corner preachers in the BBWAA that talk about preserving the integrity of the game, while they made a conscious decision to ignore it while it was happening (revisionist history if I've ever seen it), still raises my blood pressure.

Still, there's no better an example of revisionist history than our old pal Jon Heyman.

Take for example, his piece explaining his ballot from just a few days ago:

The more I thought about it, the more I didn't want to celebrate their careers. Not yet, anyway.
More to the point, I didn't want to reward the cheats...The steroid guys already hit more home runs, recorded more strikeouts, made more money and won more awards thanks to one thing: having less integrity than some or many of their clean competitors. 

Then, in splendid boiler-plate SportsWriter Style Guide, the one-sentence paragraph:
I am not about to add to their already crowded mantles. 


Because less than two years ago (April 2011), a time frame in which Barry Bonds had no plate appearances, Heyman had this to say about the home run leader:

(And this is the lede, just so you get the context in which the piece was written):
Barry Bonds doesn't belong in jail. He belongs in the Hall of Fame...

It's probably easier just to promise not to vote any steroid users into the Hall. But I am not ready to wipe out an entire era. I can't prove that a majority of baseball players used steroids in that era, but the evidence suggests that many of the best players did. Just look at the MVP winners who have been linked to PEDs or have admitted using: Ken Caminiti, Sammy Sosa, Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez.

The Hall already inducted spitball pitcher Gaylord Perry without a stitch of uproar. Perry wrote the book (literally) on how to deface baseballs to get hitters out. A case can be made that Bonds' type of cheating is worse. But unlike Perry, I'd say he did it at a time when many were doing it, and he didn't start doing it until he already had a Hall of Fame career. I don't admire Bonds as anything other than a ballplayer. But that's what he was -- a ballplayer, probably the best I or many of us have ever seen.

I can totally understand the mental process of changing your mind. If the April 2011 article had been written in, say, 1999, I would understand how Heyman (and, presumably, other weak-minded, pandering voters) arrived at the conclusion he did when filling out his 2013 ballot. But Heyman had the same information in April 2011 as he did in December 2012. This is an incredible about-face in an effort to look like a moral compass. 

Heyman, April 2011:
I'm not here to sit in moral judgment of another human being.
Heyman, January 2013, referring to Clemens:

This isn't like his case where the lawyer gets to pick the 12 dummies who might fall for his courtroom BS. And even though Clemens' high-priced talkers somehow got him acquitted of perjury, that hardly erases the mountain of evidence that he's one of the greatest juicers in baseball history. 
Just pick a side, jacknut. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Jon Singleton suspended 50 games

(But hey, at least it's for weed, and not something God-awful like stanozolol, amirite?)

Yep, Astros #1 prospect (#25 overall) Jon Singleton was suspended for the first 50 games of the season after testing positive for a second time under violating the minor-league baseball drug policy.

The statement, from Singleton:

"I was informed today that I have tested positive for marijuana. As a result, I am being suspended for the first 50 games of the 2013 season. I accept the penalty and take full responsibility for my actions. I apologize to my parents, the Houston Astros and Jeff Luhnow.
"The Astros have been nothing but supportive of me and good to me in my short time with the organization. My hope is to use this as a learning experience and spend the rest of my career proving to myself and the baseball community that this was a lapse in judgment, and is not in any way indicative of my character or my dedication to baseball or to my team.''
Assuming that he would have started the 2013 season at Oklahoma City, he would be eligible to play on May 26 at Iowa. 

Notable ballots

It's going to be really hard to do this without swearing, so let's just try to get through it. The BBWAA posted ballots of those writers "who chose to share" them. Unsurprisingly, the one knucklemonkey who voted for Aaron Sele and/or Woody Williams did not choose to share his ballot.

So let's take a look at some things (note the following is not necessarily their complete ballot):

Frank Clines, who is an honorary voting member, voted for Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Palmeiro, Piazza, and Sosa. But not Jeff Bagwell.

Rob Maaddi, who is affiliated with the Associated Press, voted for Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Dale Murphy, Palmeiro, Piazza, Schilling, and Sosa. But not Bagwell or Biggio.

The AP's Steve Wilstein voted for Bonds, Clemens, Piazza, and Sosa. Neither Bagwell or Biggio.

Baseball Prospectus' John Perrotto voted for Alan Trammell and Larry Walker. But not Biggio.'s Ken Gurnick (and jacknut Murray Chass) voted for Jack Morris, and Jack Morris alone.

The Daily Herald's Mike Imrem voted for Kenny Lofton, but not Biggio.'s Michael Knisley voted for Mike Piazza, but not Jeff Bagwell.

Boston Globe's Tony Massarotti voted for Bonds and Clemens, but not Bagwell and Biggio.

Honorary voting member Bill Griffith voted for seven players (including Alan Trammell, Tim Raines, Jack Morris, and Lee Smith), none of whom were Biggio or Bagwell.

CBSSports' Danny Knobler only voted for Jack Morris, Tim Raines, and Alan Trammell.

The San Francisco Chronicle's Ann Killion only voted for Tim Raines and Lee Smith.

You Blew It, BBWAA

You said it yourselves. You had the "toxic ballot." This is the year that the steroids controversy, that most of you dutifully ignored in the 90's, but later determined to be the greatest sin in baseball history, came to roost. You weren't going to allow Clemens and Bonds to take their place among the games greatest, to sully the halls that houses such honorable men as Ty Cobb, Gaylord Perry and Cap Anson. Think of the children, and all that. On this loaded ballot, there are several names you just can't bring yourselves to check off.

But on the same ballot was your salvation. Another first ballot option. No steroid stain on this guy. He played hard too. Jersey always dirty, helmet caked with grime. You could even call him gritty. You guys LOVE gritty. As for qualifications, he met and exceeded what you always looked for. You like numbers? How about 3,000 hits? One of only 28 players in history. 15th all time in runs scored. 5th in doubles. That's right, Tris Speaker, Pete Rose, Stan Musial, Ty Cobb and then this guy. Everyone knows he is going into the Hall of Fame. Question is when.

And he has a teammate on the ballot. Not only a teammate, but a player he played alongside for 15 years. Both began and ended their careers with the same team. Unheard of in these times, when players only care about money. More like in your day, when players played solely for the love of the game. And boy is he qualified. Top 50 all time on base percentage. Top 40 slugging. A first baseman with 449 homeruns and 202 stolen bases? This was not the one dimensional slugger that typified the steroid era. He has been on the ballot for two years, and several of you have said you want to wait...for something. Its never been clear what. But this was your chance.

Instead of an empty podium, you could have had these two greats share the stage again. Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, inducted together.  You could have made this induction ceremony all about the Houston Astros, a great franchise who has never had a player wear its cap in the Hall. Their fans, who definitely need some positives right now, would flock in droves to Cooperstown to celebrate their favorite players being honored.

Instead, you got cute. You decided you would not consider any player "in the steroid era" , at least, not on the first ballot. You looked at Biggio's body of work, and decided doing things only a handful of players have ever done was not dominant enough for you. At least not yet.  About Bagwell, you are still waiting...Still not sure for what. Or you did truly silly things, like send in your ballot blank, in protest of something, or rate perceived character over playing ability. Or look over this truly loaded ballot, and pick only the pitcher with a 3.90 era. In other words, you made this process about you, rather than about the players. Or the fans.

And that's who the Hall of Fame should really be about. The fans. Without the fans coming to Cooperstown, which is not the most convenient locale, the Hall of Fame would not exist. And this year, unless Deacon White has a loyal fan base I am not aware of, they won't come. So congratulations. You have preserved the integrity of the Hall of Fame. I just hope it can survive your protection.  

2013 Hall of Fame Election Results

We'll update this momentarily with the 2013 Hall of Fame election results, ready to spew the outrage I've spent months building...

No new Hall of Famers. Craig Biggio received 68% of the vote, 39 votes shy of election. Jeff Bagwell received 59.6% of the vote. The BBWAA completely screwed up.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Chris Jaffe's HOF prediction piece

The Hardball Times' Chris Jaffe has, for the last few years, posted a HOF ballot prediction piece - which is exactly what it sounds like.

Here's his 2013 piece, and what it means for Biggio/Bagwell.

So let's get down to it. Jaffe predicts:

Biggio - 76%
Bagwell - 52%

This is good news for Biggio who, under the prediction, would be elected by a very narrow margin. Not such good news for Jeff Bagwell, who would fall short for the third straight year.

How accurate might this be? Let Jaffe himself explain:
The track record is pretty good so far. Through five election cycles, I’ve predicted vote totals 77 times and been within five points of the result 64 times (and within one percentage point of the actual results 25 times) with an average margin of error of 3.3 percent.

On Biggio:
My hunch is that Biggio just skates in. Many voters see 3,000 hits and just check his name. For half of the voters denying Clemens and Bonds, Biggio is the easiest pick because he comes with that bright shiny number: 3,000.

As it refers to Bagwell, his prediction of 52% is a four-point retreat from Bagwell's showing in 2012. Jaffe pegged Bagwell at 54% in 2012, two points shy of #5s actual results.

I'll allow the other guys to weigh in on their own, but I still Biggio coming in between 70-74% and Bagwell between 60-65%.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Thoughts on Berkman's signing with Dallas

As you likely know (or maybe you don't, since the news broke around the time the Texans kicked off against the Bengals), Lance Berkman signed a 1-year, $10m deal with the Rangers, with a vesting option for 2014, or a $1m buyout. Some thoughts, if you don't mind...

*It is very hard not to take it personally, isn't it? After asking for a trade in 2010, he signed with the Cardinals, which didn't go over so well in Astros County. Having won a World Series with the Cardinals in 2011, he then signs his next contract with the Dallas Rangers. So in his last two decisions, Berkman has signed contracts with the two teams the majority of Astros fans hate the most. 

*But wait! Berkman has nothing but nice things to say about the Astros:

The way that (the Astros) handled the negotiation and the way they communicated with me was second to none. I understood that they've got a lot of young guys they want to play and they are kind of on a rebuilding project. The fit wasn't exactly what either side needed, I guess you could say. I certainly have tremendous good will toward the Astros organization, and being a Houstonian I look forward to a continued relationship with those guys down the road.

Yeah, that's all well and good. When the Cardinals came to Houston for the first time in April 2011, Berkman didn't want to get booed. If, on March 31, Astros fans want to groan a little when he comes to the plate, that's fine with me. 

*That said, would you really want the Astros to spend $10m on a 36-year old DH with a history of knee injuries who was limited to 97 plate appearances thanks to being placed on the DL four separate times in 2012? Sure, he would have sold some tickets, but Lance does not fit what the organization has been about for the last 13 months. The team is trying to get younger and cheaper, not older and more expensive.

*He has made $114m in his career and won a World Series. If he wants to play, and a team will pay him $10m, good for him. If the Astros made that deal, they'd be crucified in the press (and, likely, here.)

*I still don't like the Dallas Rangers.