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.

Some equal time for the Rays defenders

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Yesterday I came out pretty sharply against the Rays recent moves. I stand by all of those comments, but I think it’s worth giving equal time to dissenting views.

Each of those posts contain analytically-based looks at each move and, for the most part, defends them on their baseball merits. I’ll let them stand on their own on their specific merits and not go in with point-by-point rebuttals (a) because that’s tedious; and (b) because I’m not the best-suited person to rebut analytical points.

There’s a (c) here, though, which is more important in my mind: no matter how many good points those articles make — and they do make many — it’s sort of beside the point. Because it seems to me that those of us slamming the Rays and those of us defending the Rays are talking past one another.

Sullivan, Drays Bay and others are arguing that the Rays front office was able to make some good moves. And they make those arguments pretty well in a vacuum. What they don’t address — and what I’m mostly concerned with — is the assumption that they HAD to make those moves. From where I’m sitting — and the credulousness some have for front office spin notwithstanding — Rays transactions in recent years, and certainly lately, seem to be pretty clearly mandated by ownership in order to either cut payroll or to keep it from growing and to shed arbitration-eligible dudes. That the GM and his team have made decent lemonade out of those lemons does not vindicate ownership’s mandate to cut payroll and shed arbitration-eligible dudes.

What’s more, such arguments — “hey, here’s the x, y, z of why trading away the face of the franchise is good!” — do not address the largest issue facing Tampa Bay Rays baseball, now and for the club’s entire history: fan apathy. Yes, they do relatively well in the TV ratings and their stadium and its location are a big hurdle to overcome, but the fact of the matter is that the Rays, as an organization, have rarely if ever done things which can be best explained in terms of giving the fans an entertaining product on the field. They have had some excellent teams, but they have, more than most clubs, let their baseball decision making be determined by the bottom line rather than making baseball decisions aimed at creating a consistently-winning and entertaining product.

A much simpler way to look at this is from the perspective of casual fans, families and the sorts of people who are not hardcore statistically-inclined diehards. What have the Rays done to attract these people? How does a 12-year-old kid get excited about the fact that they traded away Evan Longoria for payroll purposes and cut Corey Dickerson, an All-Star last year, because his 115 wRC+ far outpaced his projected 103 wRC+? That’s a consideration that a diehard fan who has, through big-time immersion, come to appreciate as a second-level thing, but it’s not how anywhere close to a majority of fans enjoy and experience the game. They like stars and familiar names and they want to believe that, if they go to a game, the team has a good chance to win it and that it’s fun in the process.

I’m not seeing any appreciation from the Rays’ defenders for that dynamic. I’m not seeing any acknowledgement that the Rays moves are making the team less familiar and less enjoyable for a casual fan and how that, when you take away some of your team’s better players and replace them with guys who might be better at some point down the road, there’s a good chance that the team will take a step back in the short term and how that that may turn off a lot of fans.

There’s an argument in the DRays Bay piece that those of us criticizing the Rays are doing so from some sort of pre-Moneyball, luddite perspective. This is ridiculous. Most of the folks who are leveling this criticism — and Drays Bay links our articles on this in their piece if you want to read them — are well-versed in team building theory. Many of us were deeply immersed in sabermetric reading and writing before the Rays even existed as a franchise. We’re well-aware of what motivations and incentives exist for general managers and the manner in which one builds a team for sustained competitiveness.

The point is that most people do not root for general managers. They do not care about long-term, sabermetrically-sound theories of team building. They want an entertaining team in which they can, over time, invest some loyalty and forge an emotional connection. If a club cannot serve those fans — which are, again, most fans — while also building their team for sustained competition, they need to explain why they can’t, given how many teams are able to do this. They are not entitled to the deference they and their defenders expect as a matter of course.