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Another way to evaluate Hall of Fame candidates

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What the Hall of Fame discussion would look like if the JAWS system used both the Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs versions of WAR.

2016 Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Hall of Fame discussion and debate is one of the highlights of baseball’s offseason. With the announcement of the 2017 class coming up next week, that discussion is well underway.

Everyone has their own favorite method for evaluating Hall of Fame candidates. You can find a few of them here, here, and here. My personal favorite is JAWS. Invented by Jay Jaffe, this system averages a player’s career WAR with the combined WAR of his seven best seasons—not necessarily in a row. That average, known as the player’s JAWS, is then compared to those of every other player at his position.

By illustrating where the average Hall of Famer’s JAWS exists at each position, the system allows readers to easily see what players are, according to JAWS, better or worse than the average Hall of Famer at their respective positions. The players who fall below the JAWS line at their positions aren’t necessarily undeserving of Hall of Fame induction. Perhaps playoff success or the winning of major awards puts those candidates over the line in the minds of some voters. Moreover, players who fall just below the JAWS line can still, if inducted, fit comfortably in the heart of the Hall of Fame’s “middle class” at their positions.

What’s clear is that, if you agree with the methodology of JAWS—which I do—any player above that JAWS line should be in the Hall of Fame. This, of course, is barring any discussion of alleged PED use or gambling, etc. Some voters take those factors into account; others don’t.

JAWS’s greatest strength is that it neatly balances a player’s career output with that of his peak and then compares that player with others at his position. To me, that’s the perfect way to evaluate a Hall of Fame candidate. Its weakness, however, is that the only publicly accessible version of it relies exclusively on Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR in making its calculations.

There are, however, two other sites—FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus—that feature their own version of WAR. You can find a detailed explanation of the differences between those three WAR metrics here. In short, each site uses slightly, not radically, different baselines for offense and baserunning. Their baselines for defense are more different, and their baselines for pitching are the most different. Baseball-Reference, for example, puts greater weight on run prevention, whereas FanGraphs emphasizes fielding-independent pitching. As a result, when calculating JAWS, each site’s unique version of WAR will yield different results, and therefore different conclusions as to which players are deserving of Hall of Fame induction.

While each site’s version of WAR has its merits, I prefer the FanGraphs version. Unfortunately, the Baseball Prospectus version only goes as far back as 1950, severely limiting its use in the Hall of Fame discussion. Therefore, to get a more complete look at JAWS and where players rank among their historical peers, I recreated the JAWS system using FanGraphs’s variation of WAR.

For each player, I also found the average of his Baseball-Reference JAWS (which I call bJAWS) and his FanGraphs JAWS (fJAWS), to arrive at a metric that I’m calling vJAWS. The average of bJAWS and fJAWS is particularly useful because it accounts for the benefits that each version of WAR offers. For example, a pitcher who consistently benefits from a strong defense behind him will be unfairly rewarded by the run-prevention-based bWAR; on the other hand, a pitcher who consistently finds a way to get batters out and prevent runs from scoring by generating contact will be unfairly penalized by the FIP-based fWAR. Using an average of the two metrics irons out these flaws and gives a more reliable basis for evaluation than would either of the two metrics on their own.

At the links below, you can find players’ bJAWS, fJAWS, and vJAWS totals, broken down by position. The bJAWS stats were taken directly from Baseball-Reference’s JAWS page, while the fJAWS stats are derived from the data on FanGraphs’s Leaders page. Also included are the components of each player’s JAWS—namely, their career and seven-year peak WAR totals using each version of WAR—along with each player’s career stats, as they appear on Baseball-Reference’s JAWS page. Every column is sortable, allowing you to see which players are above the Hall of Fame line in each of the three systems.

The most interesting players are those who are above the Hall of Fame line but who are not in the Hall of Fame. Twenty-five players fall into that category in the vJAWS system. Ten of those players—Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Jim Thome, Adrian Beltre, Chipper Jones, Scott Rolen, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Pete Rose, and Mariano Rivera—are not yet and have never been eligible for induction, so let’s put them to the side for now. Six players—Ivan Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, Roger Clemens, and Kevin Brown—are or were eligible for induction and could be deserving of induction by performance alone, but their Hall of Fame cases are marred by suspected PED use.

That brings us to the nine remaining players: those whose are not suspected PED users, who were better (by JAWS) than the average Hall of Famer at their respective positions, who are or were eligible for induction, but who are not in the Hall of Fame. In short, these are the Hall of Fame snubs. Let’s take a minute to discuss each of them.

Ted Simmons

Simmons was a criminally underrated player who had a long and outstanding career. The switch-hitting catcher finished his career with 248 home runs, 1,389 RBIs, 2,472 hits, eight All-Star Team selections, eight full seasons with a wRC+ better than 120, and seven seasons with more than 4.0 fWAR. This level of production is exceptionally rare for a catcher. vJAWS ranks Simmons as the eighth-best backstop of all time, right between Hall of Famers Bill Dickey and Mickey Cochrane. Amazingly, Simmons was knocked off the Hall of Fame ballot after his first year of eligibility, when he received the support of just 3.7% of the voters.

Jeff Bagwell

Although Bagwell’s election to the Hall has likely been delayed by suspicions of PED use, he stands out from the likes of Bonds and Clemens in that there is virtually zero evidence actually tying Bagwell to PEDs. Bagwell’s election appears imminent, and deservingly so. The first baseman ranks sixth all time at his position by vJAWS, and his 449 career home runs, 1,529 RBIs, 2,314 hits, 149 wRC+, and 80.2 fWAR should make him a no-doubt Hall of Famer.

Bobby Grich

Like Simmons, Grich appears to be a deserving Hall of Famer who was knocked off the ballot after just one year of eligibility. Grich had 10 seasons with more than 4.0 fWAR, 11 full seasons with a wRC+ better than 120, and finished his career with a 129 wRC+. That’s absolutely outstanding offensive production, particularly for a second baseman. Grich’s combination of strong plate discipline (.371 career OBP), power (224 home runs, .424 SLG), and defensive play (71 TZ at second base) made him a complete player who ranks higher than Hall of Famers like Ryne Sandberg, Craig Biggio, and Roberto Alomar in vJAWS.

Edgar Martinez

Designated hitters are severely penalized by WAR—and, by extension, JAWS—for not playing the field. This is why, for example, David Ortiz falls well short of the JAWS Hall of Fame line when compared to other first basemen. Edgar Martinez was such a productive hitter that, even when considered as a third baseman (his primary defensive position when he played the field), he clears the Hall of Fame bar, according to vJAWS. Martinez finished his career with a tremendous 147 wRC+, a wRC+ better than 130 in 11 separate complete seasons, and compiled more than 4.0 fWAR 10 times. His career .312/.418/.515 slash line and 65.5 fWAR make him arguably the best designated hitter of all time. With only three years remaining on the ballot, Martinez will need to make significant improvements from the 43.4% support he received from the writers last year to earn the Cooperstown-style recognition he deserves.

Bill Dahlen

Despite being the least recognizable name on this list, Dahlen is one of the most deserving of Hall of Fame induction. Dahlen played shortstop in the late-1800s and early-1900s for a handful of teams that no longer exist. During that time, Dahlen was extremely productive, finishing his career with 2,457 hits, 120 TZ at short, and 77.5 fWAR. The shortstop’s above-average offense (108 wRC+) and excellent defense metrics make him the seventh-best shortstop of all time by vJAWS, ahead of Hall of Famers like Robin Yount, Ernie Banks, Ozzie Smith, and Barry Larkin. Given how many different Veterans Committees have considered players of his era, it’s pretty remarkable that Dahlen still hasn’t been inducted.

Alan Trammell

Trammell is an infamous Hall of Fame snub whose support peaked at just 40.9% last year, his 15th and final on the ballot. The shortstop was an excellent all-around player whose career numbers speak for themselves: His .285/.352/.415 slash line, 111 wRC+, 2,365 hits, and 80 TZ at short yielded 63.7 fWAR. Moreover, Trammell produced a higher-than-120 wRC+ and 4.0 or more fWAR seven times apiece. The shortstop’s vJAWS is nearly identical to that of Larkin, and more than those of Hall of Famers like Pee Wee Reese and Luis Aparicio.

Tim Raines

Like Trammell, Raines made it to his final year on the ballot, which is the one currently under consideration by the writers. Hopefully Raines’s outcome will be different. Given that his support climbed to 69.8% last year (with 75% needed for induction), it appears likely that that will be the case. vJAWS ranks Raines as the eighth-best left fielder in history, above such Hall of Famers as Billy Williams, Willie Stargell, Ralph Kiner, and Jim Rice. Raines’s combination of speed and on-base skills resulted in a career .294/.385/.425 slash line, a 125 wRC+, 2,605 hits, and 808 stolen bases, as well as nine full seasons of a 120 wRC+ or better and six seasons of 5.5 or more fWAR. Raines deserves a plaque in Cooperstown, and all signs point to him getting one in 2017.

Curt Schilling

Schilling’s Hall of Fame case should appeal to old-school and sabermetrically inclined fans alike. The righty is one of 16 pitchers in baseball history with 3,000 strikeouts and, other than Roger Clemens, the only one not in the Hall of Fame. He anchored championship rotations with two different organizations and is one of the greatest postseason pitchers of all time. Moreover, Schilling is a FIP superstar whose 4.38 K/BB ratio is the best in the modern era among pitchers with at least 2,000 innings pitched. As a result, while bJAWS puts Schilling just above the Hall of Fame line, fJAWS puts him way over the line as the 18th-best pitcher of all time. vJAWS, the average of the two systems, puts Schilling comfortably over the line at number 23, ahead of Hall of Famers like Don Sutton, Tom Glavine, Bob Feller, and Juan Marichal. Schilling’s outstanding career included 216 wins, a 3.46 ERA (80 ERA-), a 3.23 FIP (76 FIP-), nine full seasons of an ERA at least 20% better than league average, eight seasons of that caliber FIP, and 11 seasons of more than 4.0 fWAR. Schilling has made his share of stupid comments off the field, and some writers acknowledged their refusal to vote for him for that reason. Unlike PEDs and gambling, however, idiotic comments made off the field have no impact on the competitive integrity of the game itself. The fact that Schilling has barely scratched 50% support in four years on the ballot is simply mind-boggling.

Mike Mussina

Mussina had a remarkably similar career to that of Schilling, posting nearly-as-good numbers in 300 more innings of work. Mussina’s 3.58 K/BB ratio is ninth best in the modern era among pitchers with at least 2,000 innings of work. Those outstanding peripheral numbers complement an impressive 270 wins, 2,813 strikeouts, a 3.68 ERA (82 ERA-), and a 3.57 FIP (79 FIP-). The righty posted 11 seasons of an ERA- and 10 seasons of a FIP- of 80 or better, and 12 seasons of more than 4.0 fWAR. The only knock against Mussina is that he never put up the kind of gaudy strikeout or win totals that most Hall of Fame pitchers did and was never really considered the best pitcher in the game. That, however, should not obscure the fact that his overall production and consistency made him a top-25 starting pitcher of all time, by vJAWS. The fact that Mussina’s support jumped nearly 20 points in his third year on the ballot is encouraging.