January 10, 2014

Doubling down on Jay Jaffe: HOFers who hit 50 percent but weren't elected

In what appears to be developing into a simmering debate or dispute between little old me, on the one hand, and SI writer and sabermetrician Jay Jaffe on the other hand, I'm doubling down.

What started this? My interpreting comments by him when, in talking about the most recent HOF election, in a preview to that election, he discussed its backlog and mentioned Gil Hodges as an illustration on Hall of Fame voting, appearing to support his and then had a follow-up SI piece by him on lowering Hall election requirements. The fire heated up with visitors to Baseball Think Factory commenting when it picked up that original post, including, eventually, Jaffe himself.

If Jaffe wants to claim that once a player hits 50 percent voting support, from there on up is just a fight against "endless bureaucracy," fine. If he wants to pretend his comment about Hodges was just a "for example," well, we're going to fire at that with both barrels.

First, and let him accuse me of misinterpretation again, between the two pieces, Jaffe seems to be very much a "big Hall" person. I've noted already, in comments at Fangraphs pieces, that if one isn't a "big Hall" person then, contra Jaffe's first piece, one isn't so worried about a backlog.

Second, in his second piece, he clearly favors reducing the hurdle to get elected. And, since he explicitly mentions 50 percent, and also did so in the first piece when referencing Hodges, I'm going to say that's his standard. 
Even moreso after undertaking this exercise, I strongly believe the voting process needs to be fixed, most likely via an expansion from the 10-slot rule though perhaps more justifiably in lowering the 75 percent threshold; once players reach 50 percent, eventual election is a near-certainty, but only after what amounts to endless bureaucracy.
Jay, if that's not your standard, don't blame me for this reasonable interpretation. Instead, drop a comment here, and update your piece.

Meanwhile, reasonably assuming is, if we get back to his first piece, and his mention of Hodges:
Instead, I think it’s worth considering lowering the voting threshold, which has also remained unchanged since 1936. As I’ve noted several times in the 11 years that I’ve been doing my annual JAWS-based ballot reviews, only one candidate, Gil Hodges, has passed the 50 percent threshold and then failed to gain election eventually either via the BBWAA or the Veterans Committee.
There you go. My emphasis added at the end, and I'll explain why.

And, that's also, indirectly, another reason I charge him with being a big Hall guy, as well as supporting Hodges getting in the Hall. And, per the underlined part, undercutting his own stance as a sabermetrician.

The BBWAA has elected 112 candidates. (Here's full membership details).
The Hall of Fame is comprised of 303 elected members. Included are 208 former major league players, 28 executives, 35 Negro leaguers, 22 managers and 10 umpires. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America has elected 112 candidates to the Hall while the Committees on managers, umpires, executives and long-retired players (in all of its forms) has chosen 165 deserving candidates (96 major leaguers, 28 executives, 22 managers, nine Negro Leaguers and 10 umpires). The defunct “Committee on Negro Baseball Leagues” selected nine men between 1971-77 and the Special Committee on Negro Leagues in 2006, elected 17 Negro Leaguers. There are currently 65 living members. By position, there are: 72 pitchers, 17 catchers, 21 first basemen, 20 second basemen, 15 third basemen, 24 shortstops, 21 left fielders, 23 center fielders, 24 right fielders, 23 managers, 10 umpires and 33 executives.
Now that we've set that as a parameter ...

How close to a near certainty is it if you hit 50 percent?

Per Baseball-Reference's HOF ballot history, we can see who all cleared 50 percent but was not elected by the BBWAA. (Later enshrinements by various forms of the Veterans Committee don't count, of course. Not here. Maybe in JaffeWorld, but here, he can't have his cake and eat it too.)

Besides the obvious one of Jack Morris, and Hodges who started this all off, generally going from older to younger, we have Frank Chance, Edd Roush, Max Carey, Enos Slaughter, Eppa Rixey, Nellie Fox (who, in his best year, was 1/10 of a percent short of where Craig Biggio was this year) an. Jim Bunning,

So, that's nine players. Not just one or two. Eight percent. Of those nine, none would be in my Hall of Fame. Nellie Fox is the only one who'd be real close to consideration, in fact.

It's also 10 percent of the 96 players voted in by various veterans and old-timers committees, and these nine were, by BBWAA voting standards, the cream of the crop.

But, Jaffe is Mr. JAWS!

So, and since his two pieces were part of an annual bit of JAWS and the Hall, let us just see how each of these players rates.

Hodges? 33rd in JAWS among first basemen. Six non-HOF first basemen past BBWAA ballot lifespan rank higher.

Morris?  159th among starting pitchers. I'm not even going to count the non-HOFers ahead of him who have already had their BBWAA shot.

Chance? 32rd in JAWS among first basemen. Six non-HOF first basemen past BBWAA ballot lifespan rank higher.

Roush? 35th among center fielders. A whopping 14 post-BBWAA vote CFs rank higher. 

Roush? 26th among center fielders. A total of 7 post-vote CFs are higher.

Slaughter? 26th among right fielders. Three post-vote non-HOFers are higher.

Rixey? 105th among starters. Hey, Morris fans, see just how low he is? Thirty-two starters, just of those who pitched the majority of their careers after 1900, rank higher. Now, Morris fans, you see just how bad he really was, comparatively?

Fox? 21st among second basemen. Three 2B who had a shot at the BBWAA and fell short rank higher.

Bunning? 57th among starters. Four post-1900 starters non-elected starters rank higher.

Anyway, the basic point is that, if Jaffe supports lowering entry to 50 percent support, he supports Gil Hodges being in the Hall of Fame, even if he doesn't tout him by name. And, if he's going to justify his "bureaucracy" claim by counting Veterans Committee votes, he's definitely lost credibility with me. 

If we follow him to his logical conclusion, he supports nine players being in the Hall who have no business being there right now, some of whom are discussed in more detail in my blog posts about pitchers and position players I'd vote back OUT of the Hall.

So, no, don't lower the threshold to 50 percent. And, if you're going to expand the voting line to 12 players, then do what I advocated in those two posts: give voters one slot for voting a player OUT.

And, given the expansion of number of teams and players, I'd venture that percentage rate will go up, not down, in the future. (This isn't an argument for lowering it.)

Beyond that, if I'm a big Hall guy, I can pluck some percentage out of the air, say "most" players who crossed it eventually got elected (especially if I include Veterans Committee elections), say that those who didn't faced "endless bureaucracy," and call for lowering voting standards to that level.

To sum up?

Jay Jaffe has devised a very good sabermetric tool. Too bad he doesn't actually apply it to his various big Hall, drop-the-barriers ideas of who should get in.

To sum up, another way?

Jay Jaffe, at least indirectly, would seem to support the HOF induction not only of Gil Hodges (and Jack Morris), but seven other candidates like him. And perhaps more like him in the future. 

Because, as Swedish Chef puts it on that BBTF thread:
If the threshold is lowered to 50%, everybody over 40% will get in eventually...  
Bingo.

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