SocraticGadfly: ESPN Bill James BOTH wrong on Steve Garvey

December 18, 2012

ESPN Bill James BOTH wrong on Steve Garvey

I don't care if Steve Wulf of ESPN says that Bill James says that Steve Garvey should have been in the MLB Hall of Fame 15 years ago, because they're both wrong.

Yes, the 70s and 80s were low-offense eras, and he played in Dodger Stadium. Still, a 1B with less than 300 HRs and barely 1,300 RBIs? Plus, he didn't deserve a single one of his Gold Gloves. I guess Mr. Sabermetric Guru Bill James missed that he had a negative dWAR every one of his Gold Glove seasons.

He was NOT "an excellent fielder."

Here's the reality. A career Wins Above Average of 7.0. Zero WAR years above 5. That's not even close to a HOFer. I mean, while Keith Hernandez also isn't a HOFer, he's a hell of a lot closer than Garvey.

Hernandez would at least, realistically, make my Hall of the Very Good. Garvey? He wouldn't even get to breathe that room's air.

I grew up in the 70s. In New Mexico. Got KTLA on our cable. Saw Steve Garvey (while hearing Vin Scully). Saw minor leaguers move up from AAA Albuquerque.

And. I. Never. Never thought Garvey was a HOFer. Never.

Anyway, here's the crux of Wulf's stupidity:
But he's also one of the great players from that period who have been hurt by the inflation of statistics fueled by the increasing use of PEDs, which happened to coincide with the HOF eligibility for the earlier era.
Well, maybe that's true for writers who aren't sabermetric-friendly.

But Wulf, and James, both know that WAR and WAA are measured only against a player's peers on the field from year to year. So, to the sabermetrically minded who are also sabermetrically honest, we know that Garvey isn't deserving.

And, per the comments thread, I think James was touting as well as predicting. And, he's been wrong on other touts.

Stuff like this is also why I turn to Yahoo Sports for real sports news and to ESPN, with exceptions here and there, for laughs.

ESPN is better on golf still, I'd say. But, on the major sports? Not even close.

Oh, and despite his guru-like status, this is far from the first "howler" out of Bill James' mouth, too. Indeed, in the same article, Wulf quotes him as touting Dave Parker and Dale Murphy. Both are better candidates than Garvey, but no better than Hernandez, if that.

As for Parker, I think that reflects my stance that James was touting, not predicting. Anybody who looks at Parker vs. Dale Murphy and was a fan back then knows that Parker carries more "personal baggage" than Tim Raines or Jim Rice, as I blogged about.

And, with Murphy, it's clearly an emotional choice.

Anyway, can't some people simply accept the contributions Bill James has made while at the same time not putting him on such a pedestal?

(Beyond this ESPN piece, Dick Allen is another player that James gets TOTALLY wrong on touting — yes, touting, not predicting — him as a HOFer.)

And, click the  "MLB Hall of Fame" tag for more on other candidates on this year's ballot and my thoughts. 

Also, per the commenter below, Bill James gets Jack Morris very wrong. And Bill Mazerowski, too, if James really claimed he was the greatest defensive player of all time.


Anonymous said...

In his book on the Hall of Fame, James predicted that Garvey would have been elected in 1997. However, this prediction was not based on James personal evaluation of Garvey as a player, but rather on a mix of previous voting trends and James own Hall of Fame "standards" system. A system that rewards accomplishment regardless of context. For example, a player would get points in their favor for every Gold Glove they won, or every 200 hit season. Mind you, this system is far more reflective of the viewpoint of Hall voters than it is of Bill James. In any event, Garvey stacked up well in this system, and based on previous elections, James clearly felt that Garvey was a cinch for the Hall. And at the time the book was written in the early 90's, Garvey was a mortal lock. However, as James noted in his 2000 update of his Baseball Abstract, Garvey's personal scandals took their toll. I honestly don't how James personally feels about whether Garvey is deserving, but he does believe that Garvey was exactly the type who does get elected. In any case, to say that James is some type of rabid "Garvey for the Hall" proponent is more than a bit of a stretch.

Gadfly said...

Unfortunately, Dale Murphy promoters are acting on the same train of thought.

That said, I'm not sure if the scandals were the only reason. I think some people, like me, just didn't have the intuitional "yeah, he's one" sense about Garvey. (And, such a sense can have a sabermetric background with Peak WAR, or now, Peak WAA, or the JAWS system that B-R now posts, too.)

Maybe, just maybe, as part of this, James let his own emotions get the better of him? He's done it with other players.

Gadfly said...

Would you be talking about THESE standards, per Baseball-Reference's Garvey page, where James himself says Garvey is not a HOFer?

Hall of Fame Standards Batting - 32 (281), Average HOFer ≈ 50


Anonymous said...

That was indeed Garvey's score on the "Hall of Fame Standards" scale. However, on James' "Hall of Fame Monitor" scale, where 100 means a "likely" Hall of Famer, Garvey scored 130. So I must have mixed them up. Feel free to sue me for expenses and emotional damage. In any case, Garvey scored below average on one, above average on the other. So James must have felt it evened out in the end, thus making Garvey a likely candidate for induction. Considering that Garvey received 41.6% of the vote for the 1993 ballot, which predated the publication of the book, I don't see where James was going out on a limb by predicting Garvey's eventual induction. In any case, both scales are merely measures of basic statistical accomplishment and honors bestowed, not a subjective or comprehensive analysis of a players career by any means. Maybe James is a disciple of the "Garvey for the Hall" cult, maybe not. As far as I can tell, outside of his prediction in his Hall of Fame book, again based on scales that have little context to them, James hasn't really flown the Garvey for the Hall flag.

Gadfly said...

Well, my "hah" was probably too much.

That said, both the Monitor and Standards, for all players, in part depend on things like Gold Gloves which have shown themselves to not be sabermetrically valid.

Beyond that, and related, Steve Wulf is wrong, too. As more writers DO look at sabermetrics (that's how Blyleven got in, right?) they perhaps see that, among other things, Garvey didn't deserve his Gold Gloves. I mean, he had a negative dWAR every GG year.

Read this shite from Wulf: "Garvey was a clutch hitter ... an excellent fielder."

An excellent fielder? My left butt cheek is a better fielder at first base.

And, let's say that James was making a prediction, more than a tout. I think he should have second-guessed himself that, if somebody as clean-cut and Southern Cal as Garvey didn't get in right away, he'd likely draw scrutiny of some sort.

Anyway, this is why I much prefer Yahoo Sports to ESPN on baseball. Most the baseball writers there are half-cocked, or half-crocked or both.

Gadfly said...

Also contra Wulf, if anybody carried the 1984 Padres to the WS, it was Tony Gwinn. Kevin McReynolds and Graig Nettles also did more than Garvey.

Really, where does ESPN get some of its writers? They suck.