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Like School on Saturday, Part V
2004-01-07 13:01
by Mike Carminati

So, now that we have established 300 Win Shares as out litmus test for Hall-worthiness, let's take a look at how players meeting this criterion have done historically in the Hall of fame voting. The following is a table of Hall elections as of a set of years from 1936 to today (actually yesterday when the 2004 results were released). While before I looked at the number of players from a certain era have gotten into the Hall, now I will look at the results as a snapshot in time as of the given year:

As ofInductedEligible%Change
193655010.00%
1940145425.93%15.93%
1950267037.14%11.22%
1960417356.16%19.02%
1970568070.00%13.84%
1980729377.42%7.42%
19908911676.72%-0.70%
200010814475.00%-1.72%
200411415374.51%-0.49%

What I'm looking for is a saturation point. Did the voters reach a point at which the criteria for Hall-worthiness were understood and the number of new inductees kept pace with newly eligible players? At first, the Hall was playing catch-up given that major-league baseball had been around since 1871 and yet the Hall was not created until 1936. In the first election only 10% of the eligible 300-Win Share players were inducted. As the Hall continued to induct players, new and old, the percentage rose about 10-20% per decade until 70% of eligible players with 300 Win Shares had been inducted. I think that the Hall reached the saturation point around 1980. The growth slowed until the inducted percent was just over three-quarters.

After reaching this saturation point, an odd thing happened to the Hall voting. The new inductees were losing pace to the new eligibles. It wasn't as if the small percentages of the early decades of the Hall were due for a return, but one or two percentage points per decade were lost. The influx of players from the expansion era caused some of this, but I think that the voters, both the writers and the veterans, started to get a bit pickier. Let's test that by looking at the results from each group individually:

As ofBBWAAVetsEligibleBBWAA %ChangeVets %Change
1936505010.00%0.00%
19401135420.37%10.37%5.56%5.56%
195016107022.86%2.49%14.29%8.73%
196027147336.99%14.13%19.18%4.89%
197032248040.00%3.01%30.00%10.82%
198042299345.16%5.16%31.18%1.18%
1990553311647.41%2.25%28.45%-2.73%
2000693914447.92%0.50%27.08%-1.36%
2004753915349.02%1.10%25.49%-1.59%

You'll notice that the growth for both the vets and the writers slowed after 1980. However, while the writers continued to grow the inductee percentage slightly (1-2% per decade), the vets percentage started to shrink.

I submit that around 1980 the Veterans' Committee had served its purpose and could have been retired given that the saturation point had been reached. At the same time, the writers reached some sort of stasis as to what they felt was a Hall-worthy player and have voted accordingly since. The only problem is that the standard that the writers came to was not actually reflective of the Hall membership at the time. So that's why the writers are not terribly impressed with Bert Blyleven and Andre Dawson, even though one could make a very strong argument for their embodying the average Hall of Famer (Dawson, 340 WS, and Blyleven, 339, rank 100th and 101st all-time and their numbers in Bill James' Hall of Fame tests are about average for a HoFer). Gary Carter (337 WS) had to languish for years before being allowed into the hallowed Hall. Ryne Sandberg (346 WS) still awaits induction. There have been a spate of players since the Eighties who have been over 300 Win Shares and yet not gotten much support (e.g., Lou Whitaker, Bobby Grich, Darrell and Dwight Evans, and Dave Parker).

So what we have are two sets of "standards", the writers and the veterans, and the writers don't seem willing to acknowledge the vets'. Given that the players involved (i.e., from the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties) have lost a bit of luster in the last decade following the offensive glut since 1993, worthy players are getting overlooked. Whereas in the past the veterans would clean up after writers (while inducting a flotilla of their old buddies), the vets have failed to pick up the slack. This wouldn't be a problem had the writers adopted a broader view of what a Hall of Famer is based more on the membership of the Hall rather than their own opinions, but they didn't.

This schism can be seen by looking a the Win Shares of the players inducted by each body over time. First the writers:

Inducted#Avg WSGrand #Avg WSChange
19365623.805623.80
19373586.678609.88-13.93
19381476.009595.00-14.88
19393399.6712546.17-48.83
19421502.0013542.77-3.40
19474334.2517493.71-49.06
19482257.0019468.79-24.92
19491383.0020464.50-4.29
19512481.5022466.051.55
19522389.5024459.67-6.38
19532278.0026445.69-13.97
19543298.0029430.41-15.28
19554316.2533416.58-13.84
19562300.0035409.91-6.66
19622274.5037402.59-7.32
19641378.0038401.95-0.65
19661555.0039405.873.92
19671322.0040403.78-2.10
19681312.0041401.54-2.24
19692405.5043401.720.18
19701277.0044398.89-2.83
19723292.6747392.11-6.78
19731412.0048392.520.41
19742413.0050393.340.82
19751242.0051390.37-2.97
19762285.5053386.42-3.96
19771332.0054385.41-1.01
19781450.0055386.581.17
19791642.0056391.144.56
19802397.5058391.360.22
19811317.0059390.10-1.26
19822581.0061396.366.26
19832309.5063393.60-2.76
19843308.3366389.73-3.88
19852302.0068387.15-2.58
19861408.0069387.450.30
19872290.0071384.70-2.75
19881370.0072384.50-0.20
19892422.0074385.511.01
19902412.0076386.210.70
19913358.6779385.16-1.05
19922288.0081382.77-2.40
19931444.0082383.510.75
19941366.0083383.30-0.21
19951467.0084384.301.00
19971374.0085384.18-0.12
19981319.0086383.42-0.76
19993396.3389383.850.44
20002358.5091383.30-0.56
20012348.0093382.54-0.76
20021325.0094381.93-0.61
20032387.0096382.030.11
20042357.5098381.53-0.50

Now the vets:

Inducted#Avg WSGrand #Avg WSChange
19394375.504375.50
19459300.7813323.77-51.73
194610266.6023298.91-24.86
19492387.0025305.967.05
19532288.0027304.63-1.33
19552246.0029300.59-4.04
19571446.0030305.434.85
19591380.0031307.842.41
19612344.0033310.032.19
19621314.0034310.150.12
19634332.2538312.472.33
19645337.0043315.332.85
19651403.0044317.321.99
19671245.0045315.71-1.61
19682323.5047316.040.33
19692253.5049313.49-2.55
19702217.0051309.71-3.78
19716267.8357305.30-4.41
19722195.5059301.58-3.72
19733308.0062301.890.31
19742247.0064300.17-1.72
19752289.0066299.83-0.34
19762278.0068299.19-0.64
19772285.0070298.79-0.41
19781191.0071297.27-1.52
19791224.0072296.25-1.02
19801238.0073295.45-0.80
19811338.0074296.030.57
19821211.0075294.89-1.13
19831229.0076294.03-0.87
19842260.0078293.15-0.87
19852339.5080294.311.16
19862249.5082293.22-1.09
19891262.0083292.84-0.38
19911252.0084292.36-0.49
19921264.0085292.02-0.33
19941231.0086291.31-0.71
19952311.0088291.760.45
19961257.0089291.37-0.39
19971304.0090291.510.14
19982333.0092292.410.90
19991310.0093292.600.19
20001305.0094292.730.13
20011219.0095291.96-0.78

So, the writers settled on a standard that is best represented by players who have slightly under 400 Win Shares. In this range are Tom Seaver, Joe DiMaggio, Rod Carew, Charlie Gehringer, and Cap Anson. This is the level of player that the writers seem to have no problem inducting usually on the first ballot, nowadays at least.

The veterans on the other hand settled in at around 300 Win Shares as an average within three veteran classes. Players in this range are Dale Murphy, Nellie Fox, Carl Hubbell, Amos Rusie, Vic Willis, Buddy Bell, and Dennis Eckersley.

What we end up with are two voting bodies with extremely disparate ideas of what a Hall of Famer is. There are about 100 Win Shares separating the two "standards". While, of course, the voters didn't use the Bill James tool to develop their standards, I think Win Shares embodies their concepts as to the average Hall-worthy player's value. Using the writers' concept (382 WS as an average or rather median player), the Hall would consist of 116 players. Whereas the veterans' concept (292 WS) would create a 382-player Hall. To give you an idea of what the difference between the two concepts is, Richie Ashburn and Bobby Grich are tied at #115 (at 329 WS) and the likes of Del Ennis, Dutch Leonard, Jesse Tannehill, Dennis Martinez, Ben Chapman, Wes Ferrell, Willie Horton, and Charlie Hough establish the lower boundary for the vets (233 WS). That's quite a difference in value

To be continuedů


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