Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The 2019 Veteran's Committee nominations

The "Modern Baseball" division of the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee has just issued its ballot for 2020, composed in theory at least of players "whose primary contributions to baseball came between 1970-87."  On the ballot are Dwight Evans, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Marvin Miller, Thurman Munson, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons and Lou Whitaker.  Do any of them belong in the Hall?  I will try to answer this question.

If you are reading this post you may well be familiar with the methodology of my book,  Baseball Greatness.  It identified a superstar season as a season of at least 4 Wins Above Average (WAA--not Wins Above Replacement, or WAR.)  That figure defines the minimum performance by the MVP on a pennant winning team.  Only a very small minority of teams have reached the world series without at least one player that good, and even now, it's quite difficult to reach post season play without one.

What I found was that with respect to position players at least, Hall of Fame voters had a subjective understanding of this concept already which was reflected in the choices that they have made.  The vast majority of players with at least 5 seasons of 4 WAA or more are in fact in the Hall of Fame.  That includes 19 out of 29 with 5 such seasons, including 5 who are not yet eligible or only recently became eligible.  On the other hand, out of 51 players with 4 seasons of 5 WAA, only 18 of them are in the Hall, and 7 of them (Eddie Plank Robin Roberts, Juan Marichal, Rube Waddell, Carl Hubbell, Sandy Koufax, and Jim Bunning) are pitchers.  Of 54 players with 3 such seasons,  25 are in the Hall, and only five  of them are pitchers.  Hall of Famers with just 3 superstar seasons include Home Run Baker, Brooks Robinson, Lou Brock, Dave Winfield, Don Drysdale, Ron Santo,  Orlando Cepeda, Tony Perez, Johnny Bench (the greatest catcher, by this measure, in baseball history), Andre Dawson, Alan Trammell, and Cal Ripken.  Among the non-pitchers on that list, six of them are third basemen or shortstops--for whom overall standards have always been lower--while Brock and Winfield piled up some impressive lifetime totals without very many truly outstanding seasons.

The figures for this year's candidates are as follows: Dave Parker and Don Mattingy had 4 superstar seasons, Dwight Evans had 3,  Dale Murphy had 2,  Thurman Munson 1, and Steve Garvey, Tommy John,Ted Simmons and Lou Whitaker had none.  To me, this means, first, that none of these men is an overwhelming candidate, and only two or three of them are reasonable candidates whose qualifications match those of many members.

Parker and Mattingly are the strongest candidates, but I doubt that I would vote for either one of them.  Parker is a Boomer (b. 1951) and Mattingly is on the leading edge of Gen X (b. 1961.)  Other Boomers with 4 seasons of 4 WAA or more who hare not in the Hall include infielders Buddy Bell and Bobby Grich--both outstanding fielders--and outfielders Jose Cruz, Willie Wilson, and Jesse Barfield.  It's appalling that Grich is not on this year's ballot, and I don't think anyone should vote for Parker who wouldn't give a look to Cruz and Barfield, anyway, as well.  (Fielding was also largely responsible for Wilson's superstar seasons.)  The only Boomer outfielder in the Hall with 4 superstar seasons is Tony Gwynn, whose career was clearly superior to Parker's or Mattingly's.  Dwight Evans and Dale Murphy rank behind Parker and I think are dubious candidates.  (Incidentally, although Parker's teammate Jim Rice trails Evans in lifetime WAR--now a popular stat--Rice had 5 superstar seasons and was thus well qualified for Cooperstown.)  Two of this year's candidates are catchers, who have one of the lowest effective standards for the Hall, but their records would also make them dubious choices.  Thurman Munson did have one superstar season and four other star seasons of 2-3.9 WAA, but that ranks him below most of the catchers in the Hall. (His early death probably didn't affect his chances; when he died at 32, he was in the middle of his second average season.)  Ted Simmons, meanwhile, had six star seasons for the Cardinals, putting him in about the same category. 
Lou Whitaker was often linked to his teammate Alan Trammell during his career, but he had no superstar seasons to Trammell's three. That, however, is not the whole story  Any statistical guidelines will penalize one or two players who fall barely short of them. Whitaker is such a man.  While he never topped 4 WAA, he topped 3 WAA 6 different times over a 15-year period, and he topped 2 WAA on 5 other occasions.  He wasn't as good as Joe Morgan or Rod Carew, the greatest second basemen of his Boom generation,  and I don't think he was as good as Bobby Grich, but he was much, much better than a number of other second basemen in the Hall of Fame, and I wouldn't be upset to see him get in.

In his extraordinary 25-year career, Tommy John had 6 seasons over 2 WAA, two of which (in 1968-9, pitching for dreadful White Sox teams) topped 3 WAA.  That's a significantly better record than Jack Morris's and quite comparable to Don Sutton, and Morris and Sutton have already been elected, but it's way below the real greats of John's Boom generation such as Jim Palmer, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Bert Blyleven, and Nolan Ryan.  It's also way below poor Dave Stieb, who had six superstar seasons--second to Blyleven in their generation--but who will never get any Hall of Fame consideration because he never won 20 games in a season.  John owes his 288 wins (and 231 losses) to longevity.  I would not vote for him but I wouldn't have voted for Morris either.

Of the men on the ballot, Marvin Miller, who had more (and on the whole, better) impact on the game than any other executive except perhaps Judge Landis, is to me the obvious choice for inclusion.  Most astonishing is the failure to put Keith Hernandez on this ballot.   Although injuries cut his career short (his last full season was when he was only 33), he is by my measure one of the best players not in the Hall of Fame with 7 superstar seasons, thanks in part to his terrific fielding at first base.  That figure ties him with Eddie Murray and Wade Boggs.  He played for two pennant winners and he was the most valuable player on the 1986 Mets.  He was a much better player than anyone on this ballot, and I wish some one could tell me why he has been ignored by both the BWAA and the Veterans Committee.  He and Grich deserve election to the Hall more than any of the players on this ballot. Among them, I would be happiest were Mattingly to be selected.  He was as valuable as Parker, but he took care of himself and avoided serious off-field problems, and thus had a longer career.