Given that it’s Hall of Fame season we are hearing a lot of chatter about the Hall. Some of the phrases I keep hearing over and over again are “he falls below standards” or “he shouldn’t be in the Hall anyway”. Who are the mistakes? Or to be less harsh, who are the players who are the least deserving? Let’s call it the bottom level of the Hall of Fame. Below is my list.
For starters this list is for the 208 members (including Deacon White) inducted as players only for their MLB playing careers. I’m not looking at pioneers, executives, managers, umpires, or Negro League stars. That’s another conversation and another list entirely.
46 position players fall short, and in most cases significantly short of Hall of Fame standards. In fairness to the BBWAA (whose voting methods I’ve been somewhat critical of in the past), the vast majority of the mistakes including the most egregious ones were made by various Veterans Committees.
Not only were most of these players admitted via various Veterans Committees, only six of them (Puckett, Rice, Perez, Cepeda, Mazeroski, Fox) started their career after MLB integrated in 1947. Only three more started after 1940, Rizzuto, Kell, and Schoendienst. Most of the mistakes are players who played in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
I understand that Baseball-Reference (or the internet) didn’t exist when the Veterans and Old Timer Committees were putting these guys in. Heck, the first real baseball encyclopedia wasn’t published until 1969, pretty much everything they were doing was on memory and hearsay. Those two things can get distorted over time, they are not as nearly as reliable as the abundance of data and statistical information that are readily available today.
The sniff test didn’t work in the 40’s, and it doesn’t work now.
Tommy McCarthy has the lowest WAR (14.1) of any member in the Hall of Fame. The average WAR (Baseball-Reference) of the 146 position players enshrined in the Hall is 63.1. That includes McCarthy and the other 45 players listed above. I’ll take a look at how removing them would change the averages in a bit. If you have ever wondered who the “worst” player in the Hall of Fame is, start with McCarthy.
WAA (not in the charts above) gives you a better look at a player’s value at his best. WAA measures how much better than league average a player is, WAR measures how much better than a replacement level player a player is. Lloyd Waner’s WAA is -2.1. If McCarthy isn’t the “worst” player in the Hall, Waner certainly is.
Joe Tinker is the only player I labeled a mistake who has a career WAA over thirty (30.5). Tinker was a better player than most of the guys on this list, however too much of his value comes from defense (34.2) dWAR. Defensive metrics are criticized at times for their accuracy reflecting current players, how we are applying defensive numbers to players like Tinker who played from 1902-1916 I’m not sure. Some of it seems like a lot of guess work, educated guesses, but still.
Jake Beckley has the highest WAR (57.1) of anyone on this list. He is perhaps more borderline that anyone else listed in the mistake group, however he was realistically the 4th best first basemen of his era behind Anson, Connor and Brouthers. Beckley falls short using modern metrics like WAR, JAWS, OPS+, wRC+, and wOBA.
It’s worth noting that from a statistical standpoint both Lou Brock and Pie Traynor fall well short of Hall of Fame standards. I’m giving the writers and most historians the benefit of the doubt here; there is an overwhelming amount of positive narrative in favor of both of those guys to perhaps justify their inclusions in the Hall.
If you just look at the numbers without context Roy Campanella falls short. However Campanella was playing pro ball for nearly a decade before he was allowed to play in the majors. Campanella didn’t make his major league debut until he was twenty six, had he been allowed to play earlier all of his numbers both traditional and advanced would be better. He was essentially screwed out of at least half of his peak. I don’t think he is anything close to a mistake.
Monte Ward is another guy who is tough to categorize as he is the only player in the Hall enshrined for both his pitching and batting. Wards falls below standards at shortstop (34.8-WAR) and below standards as a pitcher (26.0-WAR), but add them together and you get a player worth nearly sixty one wins (60.8). That’s really good. To be honest, I’m not sure what to do with him, that’s why he isn’t included on the list above either. Baseball-Reference and Jay Jaffe don’t include Ward with JAWS, I’m not the only one confused on how to categorize him.
I “removed” three catchers, six first basemen, six second basemen, three third basemen, seven shortstops, and twenty one outfielders.
Without the players on the above list the Hall of Fame would have 100 position players (including Ward, Brock and Traynor). A nice round number, let’s pretend I did that on purpose.
As for the pitchers who could be classified as mistakes, here is that list.
Not nearly as many pitchers can be classified as true mistakes. I’ve identified 16. 14 starters and 2 relievers.
Rollie Fingers has the lowest WAR (23.3) for any pitcher enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Even great relievers don’t generate as much value as average starters, but his 23.3 WAR is also the lowest among the five relievers enshrined in the Hall, just a tick below Sutter’s 23.6. Evaluating relievers for Hall of Fame analysis is a fairly new thing, however even with the newness and uncertainty of how to handle the position both fall short.
Rube Marquad has the lowest WAR (31.5) of any starter in the Hall. If you have ever wondered who is the “worst” pitcher in the Hall of Fame, start with Marquad and Catfish Hunter. Hunter hast the 2nd lowest WAR (32.1) for starters, and the lowest WAA (5.8) of any pitcher in the Hall, including all the relievers.
Some will argue that Red Ruffing would have met standards had he not served in World War Two, which is not something I penalize or “remove” players for. I just don’t buy into that argument. Ruffing missed his age 38 & 39 seasons, and part of his age 40 season. His career was already on a steady decline. Ruffing posted a WAR of 0.5 and 1.1 his two seasons prior to his military service.
Yes, I’m aware that Early Wynn is one of just 24 pitchers to finish his career with 300 wins or more, but he hung around well past his prime just to reach that milestone. Wynn falls short of Hall of Standards in WAR (46.5), WAA (16.9), and ERA+ (107). Don’t get fooled by his win total, he was mostly a compiler, a good player that stayed healthy who was never truly great.
Dizzy Dean also falls short of Hall of Fame standards, however like Brock and Traynor there is enough positive narrative surrounding his career to perhaps justify his inclusion in the Hall.
Removing all the pitchers on the above list would leave the Hall with 46 pitchers enshrined. 43 starters, and 3 relievers. That would give the Hall 146 total players.
So what if we actually removed all of the players on my mistake lists, what would that do the standards?
The 100 position players left (with Ward’s batting WAR) would have an average WAR of 73.5. That would raise the overall HOF average by ten wins, which is substantial. It would also raise the overall OPS+ average to 134, it currently is 126. So clearly cutting those 46 players would raise the overall standards of the Hall. Here is a positional breakdown.
The standards for relievers shouldn’t actually be that high. Dennis Eckersley skews the averages up because so much of his career value came from his time as a starter.
Even with eliminating the 62 players that I’ve classified as mistakes, one could easily make the case there are at least a dozen more. I’m looking at you Willie Keeler. If you’re using any of the players on these mistake lists to justify someone else getting in because he is comparable you’re doing this wrong (for many reasons). Example, so-and-so was Better than Tommy McCarthy or Jake Beckley, so he should be in. That’s flawed logic. Don’t let one mistake, or in this case sixty two mistakes, lead to sixty two more.
Since what this post needed was another chart, here is what the Hall of Fame would look like minus the mistakes.
And the pitchers:
Even when you eliminate most of the “mistakes” someone is always going to fall below standards. Look at the “new” center field standard. An average career WAR of 89.6? That’s ridiculous! Joe DiMaggio and Ken Griffey Jr. can’t match that. Yes the Hall of Fame is overcrowded, but there are still dozens of deserving players who haven’t been enshrined. Someone is always going to be the “worst” player in the Hall no matter how small your hall is. I don’t believe the the Hall of Fame should actually remove anyone, because I don’t believe doing so would accomplish anything. Someone like Jack Morris would still get the same amount of support even all of those guys were cut. Mistakes have been a part of the Hall of Fame almost as long as there has been a Hall of Fame. This will undoubtedly continue until the end of time. Instead of removing enshrined players I’d rather see the Hall change and update the voting systems that allowed so many mistakes to happen in the first place. Even with a drastic overhaul, mistakes will still be made.
One other note, because the numbers used to the compile the Hall of Fame averages are MLB stats only, it makes it impossible for me to include players who played exclusively in the Negro Leagues. Nothing has diluted stats and the integrity of the game like the exclusion of black players for over fifty years. While I can’t include them with these averages, I encourage you to visit the websites for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and the National Baseball Hall of Fame to find out more about the many great players who were shamefully excluded from the game because of the color of their skin.
Many thanks to the incredibly smart people who work at Baseball-Reference, and FanGraphs, without their tireless efforts to improve and maintain their sites and information none of this research would be possible. It’s also worth noting that sometimes FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference have slightly different numbers for the same player. For example, FanGraphs has Willie Mays with 12,493 plate appearances, Baseball-Reference has him at 12,496. These slight differences are common with historical players, the differences aren’t enough to skew the averages but it’s worth mentioning that the statistics represented in the charts above were compiled using data mostly from Baseball-Reference.
That’s my list. What’s yours? Who did I keep in that you would definitely classify as a mistake? Who did I “cut” that you think should be in?
Find me on twitter @Rosscarey
Originally posted 1/7/13