How Not to Boost Your Guy for the Hall of Fame

by Jason Epstein

Here’s Pat Caputo of the Morning Sun of Central Michigan saying he knows why Hall of Fame candidate Jack Morris, a longtime Tiger (1977-90), is being short-changed by some voters:

His ERA [3.90] was higher because much of his career took place during the height of the so-called steroids era. Offensive numbers were inflated across the board.

Morris also pitched in the American League his entire career, and before the advent of interleague play, and after the mound was lowered to 10 inches from 15. He always faced a lineup with a designated hitter.

It’s ridculous [sic.], too, that Morris’ feats in the postseason aren’t more acknowledged. Nor his durability. The postseason isn’t the only measure which should be used, nor playing on contending teams consistently, but it shouldn’t be dismissed, either.

Sabermetrics have greatly benefitted the game. The advanced math should count in matters of evaluation, whether it be an organization accessing talent, or media and fans ranking player performance.

But Sabermetrics has its flaws. One of them, for evaluation purposes regarding the Hall, is not accounting enough for statistics era to era. A 3.00 ERA in 1968 didn’t mean nearly as much as a 3.00 ERA in 1995, for example.

Joe Posnanski of NBC Sports’ Hardball Talk responds via his blog:

OK, there are a half a million problems with all this. Morris did not pitch in 1995. In fact, he really didn’t pitch almost at all in the steroid era — he made only 50 starts in 1993 and 1994, which might count as a early steroid era.* He certainly didn’t get anywhere close to the “height” of the era. He actually pitched in a very LOW scoring era historically. His neutralized ERA (neutralized to an average run-scoring season) is actually 4.28, which you will note is HIGHER than his actual ERA. …

But my point is not Morris — Pat makes some fair points about Morris’ durability and postseason success. My point is: Of course sabermetrics has its flaws, but accounting for statistics from era to era is ABSOLUTELY not one of them. This, in many ways, is at the very heart of what sabermetrics try to do. This is at the very heart of Bill James’ philosophy about baseball. For countless years, most people judged baseball players in a vacuum. A .300 batting average at Fenway Park was viewed exactly the same way as a .300 batting average at old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore.. A 2.30 ERA at Dodger Stadium was viewed as being better than a 2.60 ERA at Wrigley Field. Chuck Klein’s .368 batting average at the absurd Baker Bowl in 1933 was obviously better than Yaz’s .301 batting average in 1968.

How do we put all this in context? Right: Sabermetrics. This is why we have such things as OPS+ and ERA+ and a hundred other context-driven baseball statistics. They try to remove layers of nonsense and get closer to the heart of things. Every viable advanced baseball statistic adjusts for era and ballpark and the value of a run and what it takes to win games in that time.

Chuck Dobson had a 3.00 ERA in 1968. That was a 93 ERA+ — well below average.

Greg Maddux had a 3.00 ERA in 2000. That was a 153 ERA+ — way, way above average.

There. Accounted for. …

There is nothing like a good baseball argument. But to have a good baseball argument, you need both sides to bring with them at least a beginner’s idea of what the argument is about.

Caputo also bemoans the lack of sabermetric interest in Alan Trammell and past candidate Lou Whitaker:

Maybe it’s a Detroit whine, but there does seem to be a slanted view with voters, which doesn’t give Morris and Alan Trammell, his shortstop with the Tigers, their due. It’s absurd Lou Whitaker didn’t stay on the ballot past his first season of eligibility. I don’t hear the battle cry from the Sabermetrics crowd for Trammell, who has not come close to election, even though he had a better career WAR than Barry Larkin, and isn’t much behind Derek Jeter and Ozzie Smith. Whitaker had a far better WAR than Craig Biggio, who will probably get in this year, and so did Trammell. In fact, Whitaker had the same career WAR, essentially, as Reggie Jackson, and much higher than Roberto Alomar.

Well, if Morris has had his star drop because of Sabermetrics, why hasn’t Trammell’s risen? As for Whitaker, he was jobbed – period.

Rob Neyer of Baseball Nation rises to this challenge:

Are you kidding me with this? Dear Mr. Caputo if you haven’t heard a battle cry from the sabermetics [sic.] crowd for both Trammell and Whitaker, it’s because you haven’t been paying any attention at all. The sabermetrics crowd were the only people outside of Detroit who said anything about Whitaker falling off the ballot. The sabermetrics crowd has been trumpeting Trammell’s virtues forever. We’ve got a 25-year history with Trammell, going all the way back to 1987, when the Baseball Writers Association of America jobbed Trammell out of the Most Valuable Player Award he deserved and Bill James excoriated them for it.

The Baseball Writers Association of America 2014 Hall of Fame voting results will be revealed on January 8.

Here’s hoping (against hope?) that votes like Caputo’s are few and far between.

Right Field

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