Separate Eras: How does the Hall of Fame Class of 2013 compare to those of years past?

the-sandlot-logo

This contribution was provided by Dylan Blanke-White. Follow him on Twitter @DylanWhiteLR.

Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas have emerged from the settled dust as the inductees of 2013 Hall of Fame Class. The contenders for this year’s Hall of Fame class hail from an era of uncertainty, resulting in debate and controversy. The ballot was riddled with confusion as voters decided who to excuse from the steroid era and who to debase. Ironically, the stars of the era and contenders who thrived while existing and allegedly participated in the extracurriculars that defined the era, find themselves without recognition. Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and Roger Clemens, just to name a few, struggled to receive votes due to their activity in the steroid era. Voters swayed on whether to accept this period as just another bump in the road or completely ignore anyone who played during it. Some feel the Hall of Fame should serve as a museum, telling the story of baseball and some feel it should be a privilege to gain entry. ESPN voter Buster Olney was one of the less than 5% of voters who included Palmeiro on their ballot, citing the fact that Palmeiro is one of four players in history with over 3000 career hits and 500 career home runs. Statistics like this have been adjusted for inflation and otherwise guaranteed Hall of Famers are being second guessed. Olney elected to ignore Palmeiro’s participation in the steroid era. One writer who chose the opposite viewpoint is MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick whose ballot included one player: Jack Morris. Even Greg Maddux, who had received votes from every voter prior, was left off of his ballot. Gurnick would become one of 16 voters to not include Maddux. The Dodgers beat reporter chose to take a stand against the era of PED usage and chose not to vote for anyone who played during that time. This viewpoint makes Gurnick’s selection of Morris peculiar as Morris played alongside PED all-star Jose Canseco. Morris won 18 games in 1991 as Canseco blasted 44 homers. This rather unlikely comparison of Morris and Canseco will allow us to segue into more as we glance at a few similar stats of this year’s hall of fame class and some of baseball’s greats.

Comparing Greg Maddux with Whitey Ford (Class of 1974) and Tom Seaver (Class of 1992)

What stands out the most when comparing Ford with Maddux is their equal FIP (Fielding Impendent Pitching).  This statistic is one of advanced metrics and offers a substitute to ERA, attempting to predict what a pitcher’s ERA should have looked like if all things were equal. FIP discounts the influence of fielders and ballpark and focuses only on what pitchers can control: strikeouts, walks, hit by pitches, and homeruns. Maddux and Ford share a career 3.26 FIP. The table below displays a few other, more common stats.

Maddux chart
Fangraphs.com

While Maddux struck out a few more batters (over 3,000 in his career), and worked with more efficiency, Ford had significantly more success limiting runs scored and the batting average of his opponents.

What the Seaver-Maddux comparison lacks in statistical similarity it makes up for in voter indecisiveness. It seems that whenever a player is so good that his induction to the hall could possibly be unanimous, it becomes less about honoring the player and more about who believes he is unworthy. 5 voters chose not to honor Seaver. Three were protesting the omission of hit leader Pete Rose from eligibility and submitted empty ballots. One, while recovering from open-heart surgery, simply missed Seaver’s name on the ballot. The other was abiding by his own rule of thumb that no player in his first year of eligibility deserves entry into the hall. Maddux received plenty of votes and entered the hall decisively with over 95% of the vote. However, like Seaver, entry via unanimous vote was a possibility. 16 writers excluded him from their ballots.

 

Comparing Frank Thomas with Mickey Mantle (Class of 1974)  

What stands out most when comparing these two sluggers is their slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG).

thomas chart
Fangraphs.com

The slash lines of the two sluggers are almost identical. What’s more? Look at the games played.

Mantle played just about a half season more than Thomas.

How about the Home Run totals? Mantle who is discussed as one of the greatest home run hitters of all time had only 15 more than Thomas and played a half season more.

Thomas averaged roughly 0.22 home runs a game. If Thomas made up the difference in games played between the two he would have roughly 17 more home runs and would have passed Mantle.

The two also come close in some more advanced stats. In Isolated Power, which attempts to measure a hitter’s raw power and ability to hit for extra bases, the two are only .5 apart. Mantle – .259, Thomas .254.

Comparing Tom Glavine with Bert Blyleven (Class of 2011)

Tom Glavine’s induction, while warranted, probably came so decisively due to his passing of the 300-win plateau. Many of Glavine’s voters are old school and indulge in the archaic adoration of round numbers. Despite a higher career ERA (Glavine – 3.54, Curt Schilling – 3.46) than Curt Schilling and higher career WHIP than Mike Mussina (Glavine – 1.31, Mussina – 1.19), Glavine still saw his vote totals surpass those of Mussina and Schilling. His induction over perhaps more deserving candidates may also be linked to his longevity. Glavine ranks 12 in Games Started with 682, right behind Blyleven who started 685 games. As it turns out, the two starters are very similar but took very different paths to the Hall of Fame. Glavine entered the Hall in his first year, a first ballot hall of famer. It took Blyleven fourteen years to accomplish the same feat. In Blyleven’s first year, he earned 17.55% of the vote, the next year, 14.1%. No man had ever received a total so low and went on to earn the necessary 75%. Blyleven earned 79.7% of the vote in 2011, coming within one year of disqualification. Blyelven’s swing in vote totals came right in the heart of the advanced metrics revolution, which leads some to believe the two may be connected. The chart below displays a comparison of the two starter’s career statistics.

glavine chart
Fangraphs.com

Blyleven is superior in every statistic except one. The difference? The win total. Glavine – 305, Blylevin – 287. Is it too much to say that 13 wins would have saved Blyleven 13 years of waiting?

The zeitgeist in which most baseball writers base their thoughts is in a transitional phase. The era of uncertainty into which the three man Hall class has been enshrined doesn’t just concern the steroid users but the workhorse pitchers, clutch performers, and big game studs as well. However, these terms don’t carry as much weight as they used to as new technology as well as those who analyze it force their way into the baseball community.

 

About the Sandlot
The Sandlot is a collection of works from some of baseball’s most talented aspiring analysts. If you have a baseball blog, experience in baseball analytics, love creating baseball infograhics or simply love to write about baseball we would like to invite you to submit your work to the Sandlot. We will review all submissions and publish the best work on Gammons Daily.

Submit your work to the Sandlot here.

  • daveminnj

    win total means something, but I think winning percentage means more. perhaps it would be fairer to cite a pitcher’s winning percentage differential
    to his teams winning percentage when he was not pitching (for instance, tom seaver was 20-10 (.667) in 1971, the mets were 63-69 otherwise (.477) so the differential is .190 (.667-.477).
    but my point is still that pitchers Nolan Ryan, Don Sutton, Bert Blyleven had pedestrian w/l percentages and not that much better, over the course of their careers than the teams they played for. I’d vote for Glavine first. Actually, I’d vote for Mussina first.

  • Dylan Blanke-White

    That stat certainly seems valuable but would the differential in sample size (30 decisions for Seaver vs. 132 for Mets team) disrupt any possible conclusion?) Also, I can imagine that some of the less open-minded voters would weigh the 300-win milestone for more than it’s worth, thus influencing their vote.

  • daveminnj

    you could be right about the sample size, but I cited that one season because I remembered the numbers offhand-if you take the same statistic across a pitcher’s entire career I think the correlation becomes stronger. or let’s take it halfway- say the prime of a pitchers career:
    if tom seaver’s differential during his mets years is @.150 and Nolan Ryan’s differential during his angels years is less than .040 that tells me a lot more than strikeouts or no-hitters or total wins.

  • Dylan Blanke-White

    Definitely more valuable than total wins but then again…what isn’t?