A none-too-pretty look inside the Veteran’s Committee voting process

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Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle was one of the 16 members of the Veteran’s Committee this year, and he voted on the Hall of Fame earlier this week. Today he has a column about that process and it’s pretty eye-opening.

The first part: how sworn to silence the committee members are. Jenkins talks of how unwilling the ex-players, executives and historians would be to participate in the process if their votes or thoughts behind them were made public. Which may be true, but it also speaks of everything wrong with the process. There is no accountability at all. The Hall of Fame is about history and merit, not about whether people might be offended at how you voted. That difference can, if perpetuated over time, be the difference between legitimate institution and a glorified fraternal society.

But the secrecy was not the biggest problem. It was what were clearly hidebound thinkers on the committee. Jenkins speaks of the deliberations:

At one point, someone asked if it was necessary to bring WAR, a trendy new stat, into any discussion. There was a bit of mumbling, mostly silence, and it never came up again . . . Whatever. I certainly didn’t feel dated or out of touch hashing out a man’s Hall of Fame credentials with Robinson, Fisk, Herzog or anyone else involved. I’m sure the brilliant Hirdt could have backed his opinions with WAR, WHIP or any other statistical measure known to man, but he spoke of traditional numbers and criteria of considerable weight: character, temperament, clutch performance and other intangibles, such as how it felt to witness the greats, and how they were viewed by other icons of the game.

I don’t think that mindset made a difference in this year’s election. None of the players on the ballot, I feel anyway, were close enough that a minor disagreement on how they were valued statistically would have made much a of a difference.

But again, it speaks to the makeup of the committee. How much do you want to bet that the mumbling when WAR was brought up was because the members simply didn’t understand those metrics as opposed to those who totally understand them but have decided that they aren’t important? I’m guessing that was the real issue. Just ignorance or discomfort with that stuff so there was a desire to move into what they know.

Which I think matters. It’s totally legitimate to decide, with all of the information at your disposal, that what is truly important are RBIs or character or intangibles or whatever and vote on that basis. But if your committee simply doesn’t understand the state of the art — and not just some nerdy bleeding edge stuff, but the stuff that mainstream analysts and front offices use to evaluate players — they’re pretty unqualified to offer what will be the final assessment on any given player’s merits as a Hall of Famer.

Probably doesn’t matter for the current crop of Veteran’s Committee candidates. But because the BBWAA refuses to vote in so many qualified or borderline guys, they’ll be in front of the Veteran’s Committee one day too. And unless the system becomes transparent and the voters become people who are actually willing and capable to engage in anything beyond the most superficial baseball analysis, they won’t get a fair shake.

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉