January 09, 2014

Sabermetric geniuses aren't always such on the Hall of Fame

Welcome, Baseball Think Factory readers, even those who think I'm an idiot. I've updated things a little bit; see italics. Also, see this new blog post, where I double down on the heart of this issue with Jay Jaffe.

It's fun to talk about who should be in the Hall of Fame, and also, who shouldn't, whether those currently lurking outside, or those already in, either due to voters before the day of advanced baseball analysis, or hacks on previous incarnations of the Veterans Committee. It's especially fun when we can set aside questions about the world of roiding.

But, sabermetric pioneers and geniuses aren't always that. Especially when they ignore what their own analysis says.

And, annual Baseball Hall of Fame discussion proves that.

As Exhibit A, I present Jay Jaffe, creator of the JAWS metric. In this piece for SI, he seems to think, beyond both sabermetric and counting evidence, that Gil Hodges is a Hall of Famer.

Really? Less than 45 WAR, less than 15 WAA and fewer than 2,000 hits.

And, back to Jaffe. His own metric has Hodges 15 points below the average HOFer at 1B.

I mean, the man's in the same territory as Carlos Delgado and Mark Grace! And Mark Teixeira!

All are likely fine human beings, but there's not a HOFer in the bunch.

BBTF note: I indicated this was my interpretation of Jaffe. It may be wrong. But, at a minimum, he wrote in a way to leave himself open for interpretation that way.

Indeed, Commenter No. 2, JDennis partially agrees with that interpretation:
Yeah, I remember the Jaffe article, he was definitely not campaigning for Hodges. He was basically saying, if we lower the threshold to 50, what guys get in that I don't want? Gil Hodges and Jack Morris. Okay, I'll take two guys I don't want over the course of 50 years if it fixes all these things. It's a slight apples to oranges comparison because his argument is only valid if the VC is gone.
However, he gets it half wrong. Nowhere in there does Jaffe explicitly say Hodges is "a guy he doesn't want. And, given that he was talking about reducing the logjam, while not campaigning for Hodges, it seemed to me that, therefore and contra JDennis, a Gil Hodges in the Hall was, at minimum, a price he was willing to pay to reduce that logjam.

Indeed, in this piece looking ahead to future Hall classes, Jaffe explicitly favors lowering the threshold.
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.
Given that he doesn't otherwise *oppose* Hodges, I stand by what I wrote. So, BBTF readers who challenge my reading comprehension? Suck it.

By the way, Commenter No. 1, CardsFanBoy, I'm a newspaper editor. I know exactly what I'm reading, how I'm interpreting it and why.

And, the big update ....

BBTF note: Jaffe has responded himself:
The author of this post has indeed misinterpreted what I wrote. My point was about the history of the voting, not about Hodges, whom I don't believe any iteration of JAWS has found to be Hallworthy. My point in bringing him up over and over again is that once the simple majority of BBWAA voters has spoken, history shows that everything after that is basically bureaucracy for bureaucracy's sake, because those players are going in eventually. Why prolong the wait at the risk of one of them dying?
True, but ...

Per the link to your new SI piece, you clearly, if not touting Hodges, or the modern equivalents to him, have no real problem if they get in the hall. If you don't favor lowering the percent threshold to 50 percent, or near that, AND you don't object to the modern equivalent of Hodges getting in if they hit 50 percent, then you need to edit your new SI piece.

Because I can go through old elections, and I bet find several people who broke 50 but never broke 75, and we can discuss their HOF merits.

And, if I find such players, I've got another post to write.

And Bill James, the granddaddy of sabermetrics, also has his misses, a few of them whoppers.

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.

BBTF note: I was a bit uncharitable on James on Garvey. James was just talking about his points system, not touting Garvey. That said, he later spoke against Garvey as an actual candidate; however, he didn't do so at the start, from what I can tell.

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.

BBTF note: My note above may also apply to James on Parker and Murphy, or it may not. Stand by for me doing more Googling.

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.

BBTF note: Sorry, but I've got the goods on James, on Black Jack Morris. He blew it.

James is wronger yet on Jack Morris, of course, despite his claims here and elsewhere. I mean, that's definitely a case of either manipulating or being willfully blind to your own work.

BBTF note: Sorry, but I've got the goods on James, on Bill Mazerowski. He just blew this one, and again pretty badly.

He's wrong on Bill Mazerowski, too, if James really claimed he was the greatest defensive player of all time. Ozzie Smith and Brooks Robinson come to mind well before Maz, just among infielders.

BBTF note: Per commenter 8, District Attorney, I missed some low-hanging fruit elsewhere on James headscratchers:
The funny part is that James does actually support Don Mattingly, which is not quite as bad as Garvey, but Mattingly ain't a deserving Hall of Famer, either.

It'd be interesting to see a recap of unusual "pet candidates" whom, you know, actually have the support of the writer in question. James has also said John Olerud should be a no-brainer. 

There's lies, damned lies, and sabermetricians who will try to manipulate their own findings. Or set them aside. Or do special pleading for "just this player," then repeat that four or five times.

Yes, eyeball tests, etc., can complement sabermetrics in making Hall judgments. But, even if you're a James or a Jaffe, if you think a favorite childhood player should get in the Hall "just because," at least be honest about it.

BBTF note: I was using "favorite childhood player" rhetorically, as a synecdoche of sorts, for general romanticizing of favorite players. As for Jaffe, if Hodges were a favorite (I'm not saying he was), it could have been from his Mets' managerial days. Even throwing that aside, given that Jaffe is clearly a "big Hall" guy, he probably has misty romanticizing of somebody else who doesn't deserve in.

So, as we already start talk about the 2015 ballot, take even the sabermetric gurus with a grain of salt at times.

BBTF note: Cardsfanboy doubles down on his own soapbox by calling broadcasters (re the idea of making them BBWAA writers) "the ultimate homers."  And Bernie Miklasz paying cover-up for McGwire wasn't?

Trust me, if you want to trash me, I'll fire back.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Bill James never said Garvey was Hall of Fame worthy, just as Jaffe never said Hodges was HOF worthy. You are confusing a metric for an opinion, and Jaffes contention that lowering the voting requirements to 50% would address a lot of ills with his concession it would also have allowed Hodges in.