Brian Kenny’s hypothetical Hall of Fame ballot is… interesting

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Brian Kenny is not an official Baseball Hall of Fame voter. If he did have a vote, however, it’d go a little something like this:

In the interest of full disclosure: I do not give a hoot about the Hall of Fame. I lost interest in the whole thing years ago when baseball opinionmakers bestowed upon themselves the job of being the moral vanguards of the game. But as Kenny is a self-described fan of analytics, bringing logic and reason to the mainstream where it has long been absent, I was shocked by some of his inclusions and omissions and felt they were worth discussing. I’ll be making Sabermetric-heavy arguments since that’s the language he speaks.

Firstly: Fred McGriff? And no Jeff Bagwell?

PA ISO wOBA fWAR
Bagwell 9431 .244 .405 80.3
McGriff 10174 .225 .383 57.2

Even if you use Baseball Reference’s version of WAR rather than FanGraphs’, McGriff still loses 52.6 to 79.5. Aside from being a much better hitter, Bagwell was capable of swiping bags as he had ten double-digit stolen base seasons in his 15-year career and stole a total of 202 bags in 280 chances (72 percent) over his career. McGriff stole 72 in 110 chances (65 percent) over 19 years. Bagwell, for the most part, was an above-average defender for most of his career while McGriff was a below-average defender.

McGriff didn’t have much of a peak, so the peak-vs.-longevity argument doesn’t mean anything in this debate. McGriff posted his highest fWAR, 6.6, in 1988, his first full season in the big leagues. In the six seasons that followed, he typically hovered between 3.6 and 6.4. Bagwell peaked at 7.8 twice, in 1994 and in 1999.

Furthermore, if one was to rank Hall of Fame first basemen by rWAR, McGriff would rank 10th out of 16, behind Tony Perez at 54.1. Five of the seven behind him played in the Dead Ball Era. Bagwell, meanwhile, would rank third behind only Lou Gehrig and Johnny Mize.

Secondly: Where is Mike Piazza? Piazza is the greatest-hitting catcher to ever play the game. His 427 career home runs exceed the 389 of Johnny Bench for the all-time record among catchers. Piazza retired with a .390 wOBA (Bench? .362). His 59.2 career rWAR would rank fifth among 14 Hall of Fame catchers, just narrowly behind Yogi Berra at 59.3 and still trailing Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter, and Bench.

Thirdly: Where are Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens? Kenny explains he won’t vote for players suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs. But for someone who fancies himself a proponent of evidence-based analysis, one would think he would apply that here, too. There are plenty of rumors with Bonds, but he only ever failed a drug test for amphetamines. You know who else used amphetamines? Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Mike Schmidt among others. Clemens never failed a drug test.

That being said, there are a couple inclusions that I did like. Kenny made sure to make room for Mike Mussina, who will likely be the most underrated pitcher to appear on any ballot during his 15-year period of eligibility. Kenny also cast a ballot for Alan Trammell, whose support had wavered between 13 and 24 percent before jumping to 37 and 34 percent over the last two years. Trammell’s 70.3 career rWAR would rank seventh among 20 Hall of Fame shortstops, tied with the recently-inducted Barry Larkin.

It’s a tough ballot and no one’s going to nominate ten players that won’t aggravate some large swath of baseball fans for inclusions and omissions. But it was just interesting to see Kenny break from the general consensus of the camp to which he himself subscribes. Interesting discussion for sure.

Major League Baseball considering expansion, radical realignment

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Tracy Ringolsby of Baseball America wrote yesterday about a “growing consensus” within baseball that expansion and realignment are inevitable. The likely expansion cities: Portland and Montreal. The 32-team league would then undergo a radical realignment that would also involve reducing the season from 162 to 156 games while expanding the playoffs to 12 teams.

To be clear, Ringolsby’s actual reporting here is limited to that “growing consensus” about expansion, and the most likely cities involved, not regarding the specific realignment or game reduction plan. That I take to be speculative — he refers to it as “one proposal” — though it seems like reasonable and informed speculation. The general idea is that, if you expand, you have to realign, and if you realign you have to change the playoff structure lest too many teams in any one division become also-rans. That, combined with the near impossibility of changing the early-April-to-late-October footprint of the season and the desire of players to have less arduous travel schedules and some extra time off, leads to the shorter season.

The details of the plan:

  • The American and National Leagues would be disposed of, with MLB putting all 32 teams into four, eight-team, regionally-based divisions: East, North, Midwest, West. This is designed to (a) maintain regional and traditional rivalries while (b) cutting way back on cross-time zone travel. Both New York teams and Boston are in the “North,” both Chicago teams and St. Louis are in the “Midwest,” etc. Texas and Houston are in the “Midwest” too, but we’ll let the Texans get mad about that later.
  • The playoffs would feature a LOT of play-in games. Specifically, Ringolsby would have the four division winners go to the Division Series, where they would play the winner of four different Wild Card games, the participants in which would come from the eight non-division winners with the best records, regardless of which division they came from.
  • The schedule would go back to 156 games, giving every team an off-day every week. Between that and the more compact, almost all single-time-zone divisions, the travel schedules would be far less taxing, with shorter flights and more flights which could leave the day after a night game as opposed to directly after a night game, causing teams to arrive in the next city in the wee hours of the morning.

Thoughts:

  • Obviously this would piss off the purists.  The elimination of the traditional leagues, the shorter season, a (slightly) altered standard for records and milestones, and a doubling of one-and-done playoff series would make a lot of fans dizzy. On the one hand, I could argue that baseball has NEVER been as pure and unchanging as people like to pretend it is so maybe people shouldn’t get too bent out of shape over this, but it’s simply unavoidable that this would rattle a lot of baseball fans, and not just the ones hopelessly stuck in the past. Baseball should not be slavishly devoted to its history, but it needs to recognize that its history is a selling point and an important touchstone for many, many fans.
  • Ringolsby’s specific realignment idea is kind of fun, but will inevitably lead to some winners and losers. For example, many traditional rivalries or regional rivalries would be maintained — Chicago and St. Louis and Boston and New York would remain division rivals — but other, less-sexy but very real rivalries would be disposed of. The Mets, for example, would have no old NL rivals in their division. There will also be some teams which get screwed logistically. Here, all of Minnesota’s division rivals would be Eastern Time Zone teams, so all of its road games would be played in a different time zone. You could fix that somehow, but someone else would likely be inconvenienced. There isn’t a perfect way to do it. As such, implementation could be pretty messy, with some owners opposing it, possibly vehemently.
  • The playoff idea would make for a lot of drama with four play-in games, but I don’t think it’s a sustainable model. Yes, division winners would all be guaranteed a five-game playoff series, but having two-thirds of all of the playoff teams subjected to a random one-and-done game as opposed to the current four of ten would inevitably lead to calls for longer Wild Card series. And it would likely, over time, diminish the cachet of the Wild Card itself. Now most people think of Wild Card teams as having made the playoffs, With this plan, I suspect fewer people will think of it that way as opposed to some sort of weird, non-quite-the-playoffs limbo, thus hurting late season interest among fans of non-division winners.
  • A 156-game season wouldn’t be the end of the world. We had a 154-game season for a little over half a century total and a 162 game season for 56 seasons so far. Changing it might cause people to get grumpy about records and milestones, but other changes in the game, be it pitcher usage patterns or juiced baseballs or integration or night games or any number of other things have already changed the context in such a way that such standards were never as set-in-stone as people tend to believe. At the same time, extra off days might very well improve the caliber of play as players are more rested and therefore sharper.

In the end, it’s important to recognize that Ringolsby’s article is, in all likelihood, a trial balloon leaked by Major League Baseball, so don’t take any one aspect of it too seriously, even if we should all take the idea of some radical shift involving expansion and realignment in the not-too-distant future seriously.

Why? Money mostly. There are huge financial incentives for baseball to do this. Part of this involves the cost-savings which would result from better scheduling and less travel that Ringolsby mentions. A much greater incentive would come from the franchise fees the owners of the two new teams would pay the 30 current owners in order to be allowed into the MLB fraternity.  In the last round of expansion, the Diamondbacks and Devil Rays owners paid $150 million each for their teams. Given that franchises have gone up in value by a factor of ten twenty, it’s not inconceivable that new owners in Montreal and Portland would have to fork over well north of a billion dollars each to enter the league. That’s a check for $66 million written to each owner in exchange for simply voting “yes” at some meeting in Scottsdale on some fine December afternoon.

So, while there may be no uncertainly on the “how” of it all, the very fact of expansion and subsequent realignment seems inevitable. Now is a good time for us to start thinking about how the details of it all would work.