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Of WAR, Walhalla, and the Right to Think

August 29, 2017
All this because I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of Ian Kinsler as a potential Hall of Famer.  More on that later…..
This article is all about the Hall of Fame, WAR, and the relationship between the two.  I share my observations on how I perceive the use of WAR is trending among voters and analysts to evaluate Hall of Fame candidates.  It also contains some thoughts about what I think makes for a good Hall of Fame candidate. 
This article is not really about anything I can prove.  It’s all about what I think.  
A few basic thoughts to lead off with:
  1. Although my perception is that it is still met with considerable resistance by "old school" voters, I do believe that, with each passing year, more and more voters are placing significant weight on a player’s WAR (and JAWS, the WAR-based "Jaffe WAR score system" developed by the fine baseball writer, Jay Jaffe) in evaluating a Hall of Fame candidate.
  1. I think that it is healthy to consider WAR as part of a player’s overall case for the Hall of Fame.
  1. However……I also think some people are relying on WAR too much in their decision making.  
I think the increasing reliance on WAR is understandable.  WAR is becoming increasing popular in articles, analysis, and awards voting, so it’s only natural that it would be catching on in Hall of Fame voting as well.  In addition, because WAR seeks to account for all player value (representing a player’s base running, hitting, defense, and pitching exploits) and it expresses that value in a single, easy-to-digest and easy-to-compare number, I believe some people think that WAR is all you need to look at, or, at least, that it should be the primary thing that should be looked at. 
I think that WAR should be a reasonable part of the discussion when it comes to Hall of Fame consideration.  I do not believe it should dominate the discussion.
At times during this article, it may seem as though I am anti-WAR, anti-JAWS, or anti-Ian Kinsler.  Nothing could be further from the truth. 
  1. I find WAR a very useful metric for approximating value (I usually use "rWAR", which is’s version).
  1. I have used WAR quite frequently in my research and in prior articles

  2. I think Ian Kinsler is a very good player, and is probably underrated  (I’m not sure if umpire Angel Hernandez has an opinion on the matter)
In addition, I should mention that I have not yet finished reading Jay Jaffe’s new book, "The Cooperstown Casebook" (I purchased it a few days ago and am in the process of reading it, but haven’t gotten very far).  The book features the "JAWS" ranking system that he developed many years ago, a methodology that takes a player’s career rWAR and his best 7 seasons of rWAR and then averages the two into a composite figure that is intended to represent a blend of career and peak values, which is then used to develop positional rankings to help evaluate a candidate’s case for Hall of Fame consideration, and allows you to see how a candidate compares to an "average" Hall of Famer. 
This article was started long before I was even aware he was coming out with a book, and I decided recently to purchase it.   Although I may reference his system and express thoughts about how people are using it, nothing in this article should be interpreted as a commentary on the book itself.  Since I haven’t finished reading it yet, that would certainly be unfair.  However, I am very familiar with his methodology, and I certainly have seen how many others reference his system in writing about their own Hall of Fame decisions, so my commentary will be within that scope.
Please keep all of the above in mind as this article unfolds. 
Valhalla / Walhalla
A quick note on the article title…..
Walhalla is a memorial, built in the mid-1800’s and sitting above the Danube River, that honors notable people in German history, including leaders, scientists, artists, and other significant individuals.  The name derives from Valhalla, which, according to Norse mythology, is a great hall that houses those who died in battle.  It translates literally as "the hall of the slain".  Walhalla is, in short….a Germanic "Hall of Fame". 
As a quick sidebar….Beethoven, Bach, and Brahms are all enshrined in Walhalla.  You could say that, in the field of music, they were the original "Killer B’s", long before Bagwell, Biggio, Bell, and Berry (and later Berkman) of the Houston Astros earned that nickname in baseball, and certainly much earlier than the current "Killer B’s" - Bradley/Betts/Benintendi /Bogaerts of the Boston Red Sox. 
I have it on good authority that, because the 3 musical giants were not voted in unanimously, a small but determined subgroup of the Walhalla curators vowed to never elect anyone unanimously.   Not even Mozart.  Although, it’s possible that the reason Mozart wasn’t elected unanimously was because there was some suspicion that his body of work was enhanced by performance enhancing drugs. 
Of course, this could be nothing more than a vicious rumor and/or wild speculation on my part.  You decide.
Working with Numbers
In my everyday profession, I work quite a bit with data.  I am an analyst for a consumer goods company, and I look at numbers all day long.  I look at Point-of-Sale data.  I look at order information.  I look at inventory levels.  I look at financial data.  I look at numbers until the cows come home, and let me tell, those bovines never seem to quite arrive.
Much in the way that baseball analysts review numbers to evaluate player performance, I analyze numbers to help evaluate how our products are performing.  Here are a few metrics that we look at for each item that we handle:
  • Shipped units (the number of units that we shipped to our customer)
  • Invoice sales dollars (the amount of money that our customers pay us for those shipped units)
  • Retail sales units (the number of units sold by our customers at retail)
  • Retail sales dollars
  • Sell through percentage (defined as the % of units that the retailer has sold vs. the number of units that we shipped to them)
  • Customer gross margin dollars (the profit that our customers make on the product they sell)
  • Customer gross margin percent (the profit as a % of the total sales $)
  • Our own gross margin dollars and gross margin % (as opposed to the customer’s margin)
  • In stock % (the percent of stores that have an "adequate" level of inventory of an item)
  • Out of stock % (the percent of stores that have zero inventory of an item)
  • Inventory units
And that’s just a portion of them. 
The importance of a particular metric often depends on which group or department is doing the analysis.  Salespeople will typically place greater importance on items that generate a lot of invoice dollars, because that’s what they’re interested in and that’s what they’re measured on.  Marketers may have more interest in items that sell a lot of units at retail, because that helps with market penetration and brand recognition.  Our customers may be most interested in what items yield a high gross margin percent for them, because that means the items are profitable to them.  Our own internal financial people may be most concerned with our own gross margin %, to make sure we’re getting a good return on investment.  People in operations may be most concerned about an item’s internal costs and our own inventory levels to make sure we don’t have too much invested in inventory and to make sure we’re not exposing ourselves for too much risk of excess and potential product obsolescence.
The point is, in evaluating items, there typically isn’t a single metric that satisfies all parties.  Sometimes, there are internal attempts to come up with a way to evaluate multiple metrics at the same time in order to find an overall ranking for the items, a kind of "power ranking", if you will.  It’s a tricky proposition to pull off, because the different metrics all have different scales, and you have to determine how much weight to give to each measurement, and your assumptions influence the results. 
When you look at each metric individually, it tells you something specific, because each metric is measuring one particular thing at a time.  When you try to look across all metrics at once and come up with a single, composite ranking…..well, let’s just say it’s tricky.  The results can lead you astray if not designed well.  If you do it right, maybe you’re able to end up with reasonably good item clusters or tiers.
One of the genuine appeals of WAR and similar stats is that they are all-encompassing, and combine multiple aspects of the game into a single metric.  There is certainly appeal in that concept and there are applications for it.  However, on the flip side, by quantifying and combining different aspects of the game like hitting, pitching, defense, and base running along the same scale into a single number, and then using that that single number as the ultimate measure…..well, I think you can also lose something.   There are appropriate ways to use that information, but it has to be used carefully.  I know I’ve used this term before, but I think there is a temptation to use WAR as the "ultimate arbiter" to end all discussions.  I don’t think that’s an appropriate use for it.
Anyway, that’s what I think.  
The Hall of Fame
I probably write too often about the Baseball Hall of Fame.  I’m not sure why.  I don’t think I’m unusually obsessed with the topic, but I do find myself thinking about it a lot.   Who should be in, who should be out, are there ways to improve the process, etc.  I’ve been involved in many Bill James Online member projects that revolve around the Hall of Fame and other similar honors.  It’s certainly a popular topic.  We love to discuss the Hall of Fame.
I often wonder why that is.  Why do we care so much?  It seems particularly prominent in baseball.  I mean, fans in other sports certainly care and argue about their halls of fame to some degree, but it seems to me that it’s much more prevalent in baseball. 
Perhaps it has something to do with the process.  We know what percentage each player receives (at least in the BBWAA vote), and in many cases, we know how different voters have cast their ballots.  Many writers have volunteered to make their votes public (starting in 2018, all votes will be made public).  It stimulates debate.  In the other sports, the votes are by committees who vote in private, and you typically only learn who’s in and who’s out when the results are announced.  There doesn’t seem to be the ongoing discussion and debate, at least not with the same frequency or intensity. 
I also think that our opinions on the Baseball Hall of Fame reveal something about ourselves.  If you think a particular player is deserving of election while another is not, you’re essentially revealing what is important to you.  If you feel that Bobby Grich should be in, that says something about what you value in a player.  If you feel that Barry Bonds should be out, that says something about what you think a Hall of Famer should be (or, perhaps more accurately, what he shouldn’t be).  Each decision – who should be in, who should be out, what information do we consider - says something about ourselves, and what we place importance on.   It says something about what we think a Hall of Fame should be, and who we think is deserving of entry.  It reflects our values.  Perhaps that is why we care so much.
But, at its heart, what is a Hall of Fame?  Not just baseball’s, but, conceptually, any hall of fame?  Walhalla, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (which I visited a couple of years ago), the Aviation Hall of Fame (in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio),  the Hollywood Walk of Fame…..why do they exist?  What is their purpose (other than commercial)?  Who are the right people that should be enshrined?  What makes for a good candidate?
The Baseball Hall of Fame voters are given a pretty broad guideline: "Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."   This certainly leaves open a wide range of interpretation, which I think the Hall of Fame encourages.  They like to leave it up to the individual voter.
Leaving quantitative matters aside, if you had to describe what makes a good Hall of Fame candidate, what word(s) would you choose?  I feel that the best general definition is that a Hall of Fame should honor individuals who are illustrious in the particular field.  That’s the word I would choose.  By definition, that would identify those who are "well known, respected, and admired for past achievements."  Other descriptions come to mind would be:  notable, distinguished, prominent, important, influential, and preeminent. 
I think if a Hall of Fame, any Hall of Fame identifies those types of individuals, it has done its job.  I don’t think it’s just about quantifiable "value".  I think it’s more than that.
Anyway, that’s what I think.
Ian Kinsler
Stepping back a bit…..
The genesis of this article dates back to an article I read before the 2017 baseball season even started, an article on about Team USA and 6 potential Hall of Famers.  In the article, Cliff Corcoran (who I think is a fine writer) identified 6 players on the team that represented the USA in the World Baseball classic that he felt had a shot at eventually being enshrined in Cooperstown.  The 6 he listed were:
  1. Buster Posey
  2. Ian Kinsler
  3. Andrew McCutchen
  4. Nolan Arenado
  5. Giancarlo Stanton
  6. Paul Goldschmidt
Now, to be fair, the author doesn’t predict that any of these 6 will necessarily make the Hall of Fame, and he doesn’t advocate that any of them should….just that they have, in his opinion, "a shot". 
I will say that I agree that Posey has a really good chance.  I think he’s the best catcher of the current generation, although some might opt for Yadier Molina (one of the most decorated defensive catchers ever) or Joe Mauer, although Mauer hasn’t caught a game in 4 years, and will end up his career with fewer than 1,000 games at catcher.  
Posey, on the other hand, is still going strong, and he was the catcher on 3 World Series champions, which should carry a lot of weight on his Hall of Fame resume.  I have to think that someone will end up representing those 3 San Francisco World Series championship teams, and right now the only viable candidates are Posey and Madison Bumgarner (that is, aside from manager Bruce Bochy, who will probably make the Hall based on leading all 3 of those champions).  So, I like Posey’s chances.
Looking at #3 though 6….
McCutchen does have an MVP, and he’s a very good player, plus he’s having a nice bounce-back season this year….but, well, he just doesn’t scream Hall of Fame to me.
Stanton?  I think he has a real good shot.  He’s a star.  As I write this, he has 258 career home runs, and he is currently in his age 27 season.  The top 10 through age 27 prior to this year were:
Alex Rodriguez
Jimmie Foxx
Eddie Mathews
Ken Griffey
Albert Pujols
Mickey Mantle
Mel Ott
Frank Robinson
Juan Gonzalez
Hank Aaron
So, Stanton is already at #9, and should end up as #8 on this list by the time the season ends (I think Ott is probably out of reach, although the way Stanton has been hitting them out lately, I wouldn’t rule it out). 
It’s a really strong list….all Hall of Famers except for A-Rod, Pujols, and Gonzalez, and A-Rod and Pujols aren’t eligible yet.   All exceeded 500 home runs except for Gonzalez, who ended up at 434.  I figure Stanton has at least a 50% chance of reaching 500 HR’s, and that might be conservative.  So, he could follow the career path of those above him on the list…..or, he could end up following the career path of some of the players who are on his "most similar" (using Similarity Scores) through age 26 list.  Those would include the likes of Darryl Strawberry, Jose Canseco, and Adam Dunn, great power hitters, but hitters that all saw significant downturns as they aged.  With his injury history, Stanton is anything but a sure thing.  I do like his chances, though.
Goldschmidt?  An excellent player, but will he end up his career more like Jeff Bagwell, who was just elected to the Hall of Fame, or more like Lance Berkman, who will probably not be elected?  I think he’s probably somewhere in between.
Arenado?  Well, he’s 4-for-4 in Golden Gloves in his first four seasons, and could end up with one of the highest total of Gold Gloves ever.  In addition, he’s an outstanding hitter, although I think the "Coors Field" stigma is a tough one to overcome when it comes to Hall of Fame consideration, as voters are quite aware of the advantage that hitters receive.  Arenado to date has batting average/OBP/slugging percentage of .314/.361/.596 at home and .266/.314/.471 away from Coors.  That could come into play with him the same as it has for Larry Walker, and the way that it figures to come into play with Todd Helton once he becomes eligible.  It’s a tough image to overcome.
Still, with any of those 5 players, (Posey, McCutchen, Stanton, Goldschmidt, and Arenado)….yeah, I do see a path to Cooperstown.
That leaves Ian Kinsler.  Ian Kinsler as a potential Hall of Famer?  Well, that concept didn’t compute in my brain.  It didn’t sound right. 
Now, again, Corcoran doesn’t claim that Kinsler should be a Hall of Famer, and he doesn’t predict he’ll be elected.  He’s just identifying him as someone with a chance, and I suspect he listed him as #2 because he has quite a bit of his career "in the books".
Here….I’ll insert the entire Kinsler excerpt from the article so you can read it in full:
[March 22, 2017]
Kinsler isn't a player who typically comes up in Hall of Fame conversations, but no member of Team USA is closer to the JAWS standard at his position. The standard at second base is 56.9. Kinsler is at 46.7 heading into the season, ahead of Jeff Kent and effectively tied with likely Hall of Famer Dustin Pedroia (who is, admittedly, 14 months younger). Kinsler's surprisingly strong showing there is the result of a late burst of production. His past four seasons all rank among his six best, according to bWAR, and each has been better than the last, with his 6.1 bWAR in 2016 the second-best of his career. Second basemen typically experience steep declines in their mid thirties. Roberto Alomar had his last above-average season at 33. Joe Morgan and Ryne Sandberg had their last great seasons at 32. Lou Whitaker last qualified for a batting title at 35. Bobby Grich had his last impact season at the plate at 35. Kinsler will turn 35 in late June, so it is unlikely that he will continue that upward trend. However, if he can decline gradually, rather than suddenly, he could have a formidable statistical case based on a broad skill set that has included underappreciated fielding, a nearly identical number of home runs and steals to this point in his career, two 30/30 seasons, four All-Star appearances, two pennants with the Rangers, and strong career postseason numbers.
So, he’s not saying he’s in, but just that he has a shot, in large part because, at least heading into this season, he had put together several strong years in a row, and it seemed possible that he could continue to perform well and continue strengthening his case.
Me?   Well….I just don’t see the case for him.  First of all, 4 All-Star appearances by age 35 isn’t exactly a stellar accomplishment.  Regardless of how we may feel about how important All-Star game selections are to someone’s Hall of Fame case, 4 would be a pretty low total for a Hall of Famer.  I mean, it’s certainly 4 more than I have….but it’s not exactly a strong total.  The Hall of Fame 2nd basemen with 4 or fewer All-Star seasons are Hornsby, Collins, Lajoie, Frisch, McPhee, Evers, and Lazzeri…..but that’s simply because they played most (or even all) of their careers before the All Star games began (Lazzeri’s career was about half before, half after).   
There are many non-Hall of Fame 2nd basemen who have anywhere from 4 to 8 All-Star games.  Those include Bobby Richardson (8), Bobby Grich, Willie Randolph, Gil McDougald and Johnny Temple (6 each), Lou Whitaker, Jeff Kent, Pete Runnels, Frank White, Steve Sax, Cookie Rojas (5 each), Chuck Knoblauch, Davey Lopes, Davey Johnson, Glenn Beckert, and Manny Trillo (4 each).  There are some Hall of Fame candidates in there, but mostly they’re just good players.  So, I just don’t see 4 All Star games as a real strong point in Kinsler’s favor.
And the two 30-30 seasons….yes, Kinsler had the good sense and timing to have both of his 30 HR seasons and both of his 30 steal seasons occur in the same 2 seasons.  I suppose that’s notable.
Really, though, I think the consideration and inclusion of Kinsler in that article comes down to WAR and JAWS (which is of course, WAR-based).  As of this writing, Kinsler has a career rWAR of 55.0, which is 19th among 2nd basemen, having already exceeded Hall of Fame 2nd basemen Billy Herman, Bid McPhee, Bobby Doerr, Tony Lazzeri, Nellie Fox, Johnny Evers, Red Schoedienst, and Bill Mazeroski.  He’s not far behind Joe Gordon and Jackie Robinson, although, of course, they both had very short careers.  They were both considerably better than Kinsler.
In terms of the JAWS figure, which blends career rWAR with "peak" (top 7 seasons) rWAR, Kinsler is also 19th among 2nd basemen, ahead of the same group mentioned above, and not far behind Gordon, Craig Biggio, and Roberto Alomar. 
So, in terms of WAR-based assessment….Kinsler looks like a decent candidate, especially, as Corcoran pointed out, since so many of his higher rWAR seasons had come recently, and he’s getting closer to the "standards".  It seemed likely that he could reach 60 career rWAR and beyond, and 60 has kind of become an "unofficial" benchmark to many people of a Hall of Fame level of achievement.  (Trust me, I’ve seen this cited many times over the years.  Somehow, 60 has achieved a bit of a "magical" status to many people)
So, put it all together, and Ian Kinsler seems like a viable Hall of Fame candidate, no?
I’d have to say, no.  No he’s not.  Although it can be dangerous to assess someone’s chances before his career is completely in the books, I’d have to say that Kinsler is much more likely to be a "one and done" candidate (that is, that he fails to garner even 5% of the vote) than he is to be elected.  I don’t see him shaping up as a real strong candidate.
Look at someone like Jim Edmonds in 2016 – 60 rWAR, nearly 400 career HR’s, human-highlight reel in centerfield, 8 Gold Gloves.  He received 2.5% of the vote.  Does Kinsler seem like a better candidate than Edmonds?
Look at Jorge Posada  in 2017 – A key member of all those great Yankee championship teams, probably one of the top 15-20 catchers of all time.  He received 3.8% of the vote.
In 2013, Kenny Lofton – 68.3 rWAR, arguably a top-10 centerfielder, led the league in steals 5 times.  3.2% of the vote.
Kinsler’s never been considered a great player.  He’s rarely mentioned on MVP ballots, and his highest finish was an 11th place in 2011.  Among his second basemen contemporaries, I’d say Kinsler would be ranked no higher than 4th, with Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, and Chase Utley being clearly ahead of him.  Cano is close to a Hall of Fame lock, and I think Pedroia and Utley have decent chances.  A fourth active second basemen that is clearly ahead of him, although he’s really part a younger generation, is Jose Altuve.  Even at 27, Altuve has one foot in Cooperstown.  He is having exactly the kind of career that gets you inducted.
So, Kinlser’s been a very good second baseman, but I think he’s not elite compared to his contemporaries.  I don’t think of him as a great one, and I don’t see much on his resume that would imply that he would get much support when he comes up on the ballot.
A couple of things may work in Kinsler’s favor, but they’re tricky to predict. 
  1. We don’t know who else will be on the ballot when Kinsler comes up for consideration.
  2. We don’t know how much weight WAR will carry with voters in the future vs. what it does now.
#2 is the really tricky one to predict.  I suspect, just in terms of reading the rationale of voters that publicly discuss their votes over the years, that the trend is that WAR (and JAWS) is becoming a more important consideration with each passing year.  I see more and more voters referencing WAR and JAWS in their explanations of how they voted than I used to see, and you certainly see WAR having an impact on annual awards such as MVP and Cy Young, based on the writers’ articles who explain their votes. 
I have no proof to offer you…..only that it seems to be gaining momentum, especially as older, inactive BBWAA writers are weeded out, and are replaced by newer, younger voters.   I can’t quantify the impact for you….but I do believe that that is the way it is trending.
So the question becomes… this a healthy trend?  Are voters putting the appropriate amount of weight on WAR?  Or are they relying too much on it in guiding their decisions?
Using WAR
As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, I frequently reference WAR (typically the version).  I have leveraged WAR in various ways to help research and "score" such topics as trades, farm systems, analyzing how teams assembled their talent, identifying the "best" relief seasons, and many, many others.  I find it to be a very useful and convenient piece of information to capture the "weight" of a player’s season.  The ways I tend to use are roughly similar to how Bill James used to use "Approximate Value" (AV) in his old annual Abstracts, if you remember that.  WAR helps put a number and a weight, to a season, a group of seasons, or a career, that helps me quantify things for research purposes.
But a quick reminder about what it really is.  WAR is a summary statistic.  It doesn’t count a specific thing, like home runs, or RBI, or strikeouts.  You don’t see Mike Trout hit a home run, steal a base, or make an outstanding defensive play and immediately know how much of a "win above replacement" you just witnessed.
WAR attempts to capture and summarize everything that a player does – pitching, defense, hitting, base running – to quantify all of the separate components and events, to make adjustments for things such as position, time, and place, and to come up with a single figure that summarizes it all, and makes it suitable for comparison – player vs. player, year vs. year, across time, across place. 
Have you ever read the primer for rWAR?  I fear that many haven’t, even many of those that swear by it.  If you haven’t, I recommend that you do. 
Here are a few key excerpts taken from that link that I think are particularly interesting:
"WAR is necessarily an approximation and will never be as precise or accurate as one would like."
"We present the WAR values with decimal places because this relates the WAR value back to the runs contributed (as one win is about ten runs), but you should not take any full-season difference between two players of less than one to two wins to be definitive (especially when the defensive metrics are included)."
There are some important nuggets in there.  First, the understanding WAR is an approximation.  We can be certain that when someone’s record says that he hit 40 home runs in a year, that that is exactly how many he hit.  It’s precise. 
Because WAR combines so many different aspects of what a player does from very different parts of the game and expresses it in a single, summary number, it can not be 100% on the nose.  It’s not a precision digital scale that gives you an exact weight….it’s more like one of those wobbly, old-fashioned bathroom scales where you constantly have to adjust the dial to make sure it’s starting at the right number.   That kind of scale gives you an "approximate" weight.  It gets you close….hopefully close enough that it’s of value.  But it’s not a precision instrument.  The decimal place in WAR gives it what I like to call an "illusion of precision"….and it’s necessary to include it for accounting purposes.  But, it should always be treated as an approximation.   I think many realize this…..but I also think many don’t.
"The basic currency of WAR is runs. We start with runs added or lost versus an average player and then compare the average player to a replacement player."
The "currency" of WAR is runs.   I really like that description.  Let’s hold on to that and we’ll circle back to it…..
One of the things I find interesting about WAR is that it stands for "Wins above Replacement", but it really doesn’t have to do directly with "wins".  Not really.  It more directly has to do with "runs", or at least the actions of a player that go into generating (or preventing) runs, but then it translates the final number in terms of "wins", with (roughly) 10 runs equating to 1. 
It doesn’t really reflect "wins", because a player doesn’t directly create wins.  That’s one of the common criticisms of that we’ve seen "pitching wins" come under criticism for, isn’t it?  That is, we know that pitchers’ "wins" can be misleading because a pitcher can pitch poorly and still get credit for a win, or pitch well and be on the hook for a loss.  Teams win and lose games….individual players don’t.  A player can do individual things that create and prevent runs as part of a team, but the team generates wins and losses.  I think it’s a little ironic that pitchers’ wins come under fire (as they should) for being misleading when wins are team-related rather than player-related, but "wins above replacement", at least to my observation, hasn’t come under that same type scrutiny when it comes to the number of "wins" that a player represents.  It seems that it’s more related to "theoretical" wins based on runs generated or runs prevented as opposed to actual "wins".
Circling back to the statement that "the currency of WAR is runs"……I sometimes think it would have been better served if it had simply been called "Runs above replacement", or something like that.  I mean, there is an explanation of why it is converted from runs to wins….but I sometimes think that it would have been better left as a "runs" metric rather than making a conversion to wins.  Maybe it could have been called "Runs Over/Above Replacement", or "ROAR" for short.  They could have had Katy Perry singing about it (side note – my kids delight in cranking up the volume every time that song comes on, because they know how much I despise it).
So, again, don’t interpret this as a criticism of WAR.  I like WAR, and use it often.  I’m merely reviewing this to remind us of what it is.  It’s an approximation, and its currency is based in runs, not really "wins".  In fact, I think it may even be more accurate to say that the currency lies in something even more basic than runs…..I think it’s more accurate to say that the currency resides in bases and outs, which contributes to runs (and runs prevented), and then converted to "wins".
So the question inevitably leads back to……are people using WAR appropriately in evaluating Hall of Fame candidates? 
What Are You Worth?
You know what WAR reminds me of?  It strikes me as similar in many ways to an individual’s financial "net worth".
I’m sure you’re familiar with that concept, but just to level set it, "net worth" is defined as your assets minus your liabilities at a specific moment in time, expressed in dollars (or whatever your currency of preference happens to be, be it yen, pesos, or shekels).  For example, if you have a house worth $250,000 with a $150,000 mortgage, $10,000 cash in the bank, investments of $100,000, and $10,000 in credit card debt, your assets would be the $250,000 home value plus the $10,000 in the bank plus the $100,000 in investments, for total assets of $360,000.  Your liabilities would be the $150,000 mortgage plus the $10,000 in credit card debt, for total liabilities of $160,000.  $360,000 minus $160,000 would give you a net worth of $200,000.
Net worth gives a quick and dirty synopsis of your financial situation, much in the same way that WAR gives a snapshot of the total sum of a player’s contributions.  But, not all net worths are created equal.  Consider the following scenarios:
(A)dam is 30 years old and single.  He lives in an apartment downtown in a major city and doesn’t own a car, relying on public transportation for all his needs.  He has no credit card debt, and doesn’t have any outstanding loans.  He shies from investing, so he owns no stocks, no bonds, doesn’t even have an IRA or a 401K.  He leads a very simple, frugal life.  He has $100,000 in the bank.  His net worth is also the same…..$100,000.
(B)rian is 30 years old, married, with 4 kids.  He and his wife own a house in the suburbs.  At the moment, (B)rian is employed, but his wife stays at home to raise the kids.  He bought a car a couple of years ago which is worth about $15,000 now, and he still owes $10,000 on it.  They just bought a house for $200,000 and they put down 20% ($40,000) as a down payment, so their mortgage for the balance is $160,000.  They have a 401K retirement account worth $75,000.  They have credit card debt of $15,000, and they also have $15,000 left in student loans.  They have $5,000 in the bank.  They have a family art collection that they inherited that’s valued at $5,000.  Their net worth, taking it all into account, adding all the assets and subtracting the liabilities?  Same as (A)dam -  $100,000.
Now, here are 2 households with equal net worths.  Would you conclude that they are equal financial conditions?  Hardly.  And you don’t even have to say which situation you’d rather be in, or which one is "better".   We don’t know their incomes.  We don’t know their standard of livings.  We don’t know their complete family situations.  But we do know that these 2 "net worths" of $100,000 are quite different.  In (B)rian’s case, much of his assets are non-liquid, so if he wanted to say, tap into the $5,000 of the value of his art collection, he’d probably have to sell it, which means giving up a family treasure.  The $5,000 net value on his car asset?  He could sell it….but then he’d be without a car.  And the value of the retirement accounts?  Well, he can tap into those….but he’d be paying taxes on the amount he took out and would (likely) have to pay penalties for early withdrawal.  They also likely have greater expenses than (A)dam because they have 4 people to feed and take care of, education to save up for, etc.  On the other hand, their income situation could improve in the future when the kids get older and his wife goes back to work, giving them 2 sources of income and potentially generating future wealth.  Their house should appreciate in value, and they should build equity as it appreciates and as they pay down the mortgage.
(A)dam, on the other hand, has $100,000 in the bank.  That might imply that he’s not making much money on it, and he’s probably passing on greater returns if he invested it….but it’s all his if he needs it.  It’s liquid.  There are no conditions on it.
The point is, net value has money as its "currency", but just because 2 people have the same net value doesn’t mean they are on equal footing financially.  It’s a simple, summary snapshot. 
And, it surely would be an inadequate way to assess "success".  Who is more successful?  (A)dam?  Or (B)rian?  Depends who you ask.  It depends on things other than simply looking at their net worths in isolation.
Suppose you were tasked with coming up with "Hall of Famers" in your own personal life, and you are trying to determine who where the "most successful".  How would you evaluate that?  Would you primarily look at their net worths?  Or would you consider other criteria to evaluate what "success" meant to you?  Would you consider personal attributes?  Would you consider how they conduct themselves?  Would you consider their accomplishments?  Would you consider honors that had been bestowed on them?  Or would you stick to just what you can measure quantitatively?  I know many people with high net worths that I don’t consider "successful" at life, and others with rather meager ones who I think are very successful.  It depends on what your criteria are.
At least, that’s what I think.
How Much is Enough?
Another train of thought…….
Suppose you were trying to identify and honor the greatest guitar players ever.  Lots of good options – Eddie Van Halen, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Angus Young, Carlos Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan, B.B. King, Keith Richards, Jerry Garcia, Robert Johnson, Duane Allman, Les Paul.   All great, legendary guitar players.  But the #1 guitar player of all-time is Jimi Hendrix.  Not unanimously, of course, but he’s the consensus #1.  If you don’t believe, perform your own search.  Clearly, he’s the man.
Why?  He didn’t have much of a career, at least in terms of length.  His mainstream career was only 4 years long.  He died at 27.  He only released 4 albums when he was alive.  He only had one top 40 hit in the U.S.  – "All Along the Watchtower", which peaked at #20 in 1968.  Hardly a great quantitative list of accomplishments.
Yet, despite this lack of quantitative evidence, Hendrix is consistently ranked #1 among all guitar players, and if we opened up a Guitarists Hall of Fame and could only induct one person in the inaugural class, I think it clearly would be him (note – there apparently is the concept for a Guitar Hall of Fame, but I’m not clear on whether it actually exists yet or not.  The site planned for it?  Cooperstown, New York.  No joke).
Why is Hendrix the greatest?  Because we (the collective "we") say so.  We saw enough of him to rank him above the rest.  He’s the greatest guitar player ever, despite many others having much more statistical evidence on their side in terms of albums, hits, concerts, etc. 
Now, I will admit, a lot of this is perception.  After all, in the words of another legendary guitar player, Neil Young, "it’s better to burn out than to fade away".   Hendrix is forever young, and that has been part of his legacy.  We remember him at his best, we didn’t get to see him grow old and make sad, embarrassing comebacks that would have tarnished his image.  He remains at his peak, forever, in our memories.
So, what is the point of this?  The point is that often, in baseball, we tend to evaluate Hall of Fame candidates by the whole of their careers, and not necessary by how good they were at their best.  I think there is a general tendency to favor players that may have been good for a long time over players that were great for a short time, but lack the career numbers.  WAR plays into that, because WAR is, by and large, a cumulative figure.  That is, even though it is possible to generate negative WAR, it tends to go up over time, as long as you continue to produce at an above-replacement level.  
A player’s career WAR is the sum total of the individual seasons’ WAR figures.   I’ve seen more than one writer comment that Ian Kinsler’s rWAR figure (55.1) is fast approaching Jackie Robinson’s career figure of 61.5, as if that implies in some way that he would comparable to Robinson.  It doesn’t….not by a long shot.  Robinson was a much greater player.  He just had a relatively short career.  Some voters make the necessary adjustments, but too often, they don’t.  They see a total number, and to many people, this player at 70 has to be greater than that player at 60 who is in turn greater than another player at 50.  They just see the number, and they figure the number has to be right.  Not saying everyone looks at it this simply, but you do see it happen.  And even with JAWS, which attempts to at least represent peak performance by making a player’s best 7 seasons half of the equation, can be inadequate to capture greatness.
As a quick sidebar….you know who else Kinsler is coming up fast on in career rWAR?  David Ortiz.  Ortiz had a career rWAR of 55.4.  So, if you look only at rWAR, Kinsler’s career "value" is now on par with Ortiz.  Now, if you believe that WAR is accurate, maybe that’s true.  Maybe a 2nd baseman of Kinsler’s quality is equivalent to a DH of Ortiz’s quality.  Maybe they’re equally valuable, in total.
However…..if could only select one or the other for the Hall of Fame, who are you gonna choose?  Kinsler?  Or Ortiz?  David Ortiz, to me, is a slam dunk Hall of Famer.  He was one of the key players on 3 World Championship teams, the face of the franchise, with so many big-time moments.  I know he was just a DH, and I know there were some steroid rumblings surrounding him, but to paraphrase something Bill James once wrote (I think it was about Ozzie Smith), if Ortiz doesn’t make the Hall of Fame, I’m writing my congressman.
The point is, WAR is not the end-all, be-all stat when it comes to Hall of Fame candidates.  There are other things to consider.  I think the following 2 points, in a nutshell, sums up how I feel about the use of WAR related to Hall of Fame evaluation:
The best thing about WAR is that it takes all of the aspects of the game (hitting, defense, baserunning, and pitching) and combines them all into one, easy-to-digest figure that can be used to compare players and seasons.
The worst thing about WAR is that it takes all of the aspects of the game (hitting, defense, baserunning, and pitching) and combines them all into one, easy-to-digest figure that can be used to compare player and seasons.
Yep, you read that right.  The summarizing of all of those very different aspects of the game into a single figure is, simultaneously, both the strength and the shortcoming of WAR.  Having everything nice and neat in a single number is alluring, it’s useful, it’s convenient….but it can also be dangerous to overly rely on it to guide all decisions.   We all like to simplify our life, and we all look for easy answers.  It’s tempting to rely solely on WAR to make our decisions for us….but I think anyone that exclusively leverages it is just being lazy.  Using it as part of the total equation?  Absolutely.  To make it the overriding factor?  I think that would be the wrong approach.
I think it’s easy to see why having a single number summary is an attractive attribute of WAR.  Taking all of the plusses and minuses and representing them all into a single figure has lots of benefits.  It puts a weight on a player’s total game, crediting all the positive contributions, and debiting all of the negatives.   There’s a lot to be said for that.  However….much like a person’s net worth, it doesn’t always tell the whole story. 
Getting back to career totals……looking just at WAR as a career total tends to favor those who were successful at accumulating a fair amount of "bulk" in their careers.  Now, JAWS attempts to adjust for this by giving equal weight to "peak value", using a player’s 7 best seasons to represent that.  However, I wonder if even that’s good enough to capture a player’s true greatness. 
Let’s look at pro football for a second.  Gale Sayers is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and I’m glad he is.  He’s a legend of the game, one of the most exciting players I’ve ever seen.  He was a marvel.
Do you know how many full years he played?  Four.  He played 3 seasons with 14 games, 1 season with 13, 1 season with 9, and 2 with 2 games.  68 games total.  That’s it. 
Even within the context of pro football, his career was extremely short.  Injuries devastated his career.  But, in my opinion, the voters used very good judgment in electing him.  We didn’t need a lot of bulk numbers to understand his greatness.  He showed how great he was.  He’s an all-time great, a legend.  He deserves to be in the Hall, despite his lack of great career numbers.
Same thing with Terrell Davis, who was elected this year.  Similar to Sayers, he had just 4 full time seasons, and only 78 games total.  A bit of a controversial selection, but in his brief time, he had a big impact on the game while he played.  A Hall of Famer?  Why not?  Why do we need to see a long career in order to honor someone as great?
So, Pro Football has demonstrated that you don’t need a long career to be a Hall of Famer.  You just have to make an impact.  We shouldn’t have to get hung up on "bulk" numbers.
Sandy Koufax is one of the great litmus tests in baseball.  Obviously, his career was cut short, so he doesn’t do well on the career rWAR list.  Among starting pitchers, Koufax’s career rWAR of 49.0 is 118th, just below Dennis Martinez and Mickey Lolich.  OK….no big surprise there.  We know it was an abbreviated career. 
On the peak scale (WAR7, or his 7 best seasons), Koufax has a figure of 46.1, which is nearly equal to his career total.  Where does that rank him?  55th, that’s where.  In fact, that is below average for a Hall of Fame starting pitcher (average WAR7 for a starting pitcher is 50.3).  So, if you take that part of the metric at face value, it implies that Koufax is a below-average Hall of Famer even when it comes to isolating peak value for a starting pitcher.
Now, it’s clear why this is.  Koufax didn’t have 7 good seasons to pick from.  At best, he had maybe 6.  In descending order, his 7 best seasons were (if you use total rWAR, which includes the "negative" values for his rather poor hitting prowess, and not just pitching WAR) 9.9, 9.8, 8.6, 7.1, 5.0, 3.9, and 1.9.   Obviously, he made his name with the seasons on the higher end of the spectrum.   But, he couldn’t muster 7 good seasons, and so he suffers on the WAR7 part of the equation.  He’s seen as a below-average Hall of Famer by the JAWS score, placing 87th among starting pitchers in that ranking when you average his career and his 7-year peak.  He would be seen as dragging the down the quality of Hall of Famers, if you go strictly by this method.
So, the conclusion if you take it at face level is that Koufax wasn’t really all that great in terms of peak performance.   Does that sound right to you?  Clearly, using 7 seasons doesn’t adequately capture Koufax’s greatness.  Koufax, intuitively, should rank much higher, at least on the "peak" scale, shouldn’t he?
What if we used a shorter period?  What about 6 years for a peak?  Or 5?  How long should we use in evaluating "peak" greatness?  I honestly think even 4 or 5 years can be long enough of a period to establish greatness.  4 or 5 years is a significant chunk of time in a baseball career.  In my opinion, if you’re dominant at your position for even 4 or 5 years….well, in my opinion, I think that’s a hell of an accomplishment.
I understand why we don’t want to go too low….we don’t want to get to the point of honoring, let’s say, Herb Score, as a great player.  But I think we often don’t consider strongly enough those that are dominant for a relatively short time.  Football has it right, in my opinion, electing the likes of Sayers and Davis.  I think baseball would do better expanding its mind, and not get so hung up on career length. 
Koufax appears to be an exception, although you do occasionally hear opinions from some that he isn’t a great Hall of Fame selection.  I sometimes wonder how he would do if he came up for election today.  Would we hold his rWAR and his JAWS rankings against him?  In my book, he’s a no-doubt Hall of Famer.  We saw enough from him.   He dominated for a period of time, and left his mark on the game with his awards, his postseason prowess, and his no-hitters.  He’s short on "bulk"….but long on accomplishments and impact.  WAR and JAWS don’t do him justice.  He’s a legend despite the brevity of his career. 
Looking ahead now….you know who I think will not get a fair shot at the Baseball Hall of Fame?  Johan Santana.  Now, it’s very easy to see why he likely won’t be elected.  His career was cut short.  He "only" won 139 games.  Dizzy Dean (150), Addie Joss (160) and Koufax (165) are the only starting pitchers with fewer than 189 wins that are in the Hall.  Well, Candy Cummings, too, with 145, but he’s a really special case.  So, electing someone with 139 is unthinkable, isn’t it?  We can’t go that low, can we?
Well, honestly, from my perspective, I don’t see why not.  Santana had a period of time where he was the best pitcher in the game, or at least one of the top 2.  If you look at his stretch in an 8-year period from 2003-2010, it’s really just between him and Roy Halladay.
I think that should be a strong consideration for Hall of Fame status.   That is, if you demonstrated over a period of years that you were elite at your position, I think that’s a compelling point in your favor. 
Here’s a hypothetical for you.  Clayton Kershaw has now played in 10 Major League seasons, which is the minimum number you need to be eligible for the Hall of Fame.  Let’s suppose that Kershaw has had enough, that he’s tired of all the back issues and other nagging injuries, and decides to hang up his spikes right now.  Is he a Hall of Famer in your book?  In mine, he would be.  He’s done enough. 
Here’s the rub.  At this point, his career record is 141-62.  Would that change your opinion?  Would you say that, no matter what, you can’t support someone with only 141 wins?
In my opinion, that would be a horrible position to take.  Kershaw has been the dominant pitcher in baseball over the last decade.  3 Cy Youngs awards plus one runner-up, a 3rd place, and a 5th place finish.  An MVP award.  4 ERA titles.  3 times led in ERA+.  3 Strikeout crowns.  To me, he’d be a slam dunk Hall of Famer even if he never pitches again.
Now look at Santana.  True, he’s not Kershaw.  He didn’t win 3 Cy Youngs.  He won 2, plus he had 2 third place finishes, plus a 5th place.  That’s not as good as Kershaw….but it’s not that far off.
Santana didn’t win 4 ERA titles.  He "only" won 3.  Like Kershaw, he led the league in K’s 3 times.  Like Kershaw, he led the league in ERA+ 3 times.
Kershaw’s record is 141-62.  Santana’s is 139-78.
Now, do I think Santana is as good as Kershaw?  Nope.  I think Kershaw is clearly better.  Santana’s career ERA+ of 136 is outstanding, but Kershaw’s 162 is otherworldly.  Of course, ERA+ is the kind of metric that tends to decrease as a pitcher goes through the decline phase of his career, which doesn’t apply to Santana or Kershaw (at least not yet for Kershaw).  Incidentally…..Kershaw has the best ERA+ of any starting pitcher in history with at least 1,000 IP.  If you raise it to 2,000 IP (which would just barely eliminate Kershaw), it’s Pedro Martinez leading with 154, and Santana would rank 10th (of course, to be fair, Santana would just barely qualify for that IP cutoff).
Here’s an extended comparison between the two, and as luck would have it, they’re pretty even in innings pitched to date:
So, again, Kershaw is clearly better.  The advantages are all in his favor.  ERA is a big advantage for Kershaw, nearly a run lower, but some of that is due to league context and home field.  Santana had a home ERA of 3.04 and a road ERA of 3.39.  Kershaw’s splits are 2.02 and 2.72, so going by the road ERA’s the difference isn’t quite as large.  In addition, Santana mostly pitched in games with DH’s and in a league with a higher run context, which cuts the gap maybe a little more.  So, Kershaw was undoubtedly better…..but if you can stand next to Kershaw and not look completely outclassed, doesn’t that count for something?   If you feel that Kershaw is a no-brainer "as is", is the idea of Santana as a Hall of Famer that far-fetched?
Now, I feel Santana isn’t going to get elected.  He may not even get 5% of the vote.  Kershaw will go in with banners flying, as well he should.  But, isn’t there something to be said for a player that accomplished what Santana did? 
Here’s another hypothetical…..what if Santana had stayed healthy enough to put up some mediocre "bulk" numbers.  What if he lasted long enough to post, say, another 100 wins and 100 losses?  He would then be 239-178, and he would probably conservatively gain another, what, 10-15 additional wins above replacement?  Let’s assume so, which would mean he would end up with an rWAR of around 65.  Would adding a bunch of mediocre seasons have made him a better candidate?  
The irony is, it probably would have in the minds of many voters, because that would give him a more robust record with career totals that seem superficially more impressive and perhaps more in line with Hall of Fame standards, as he would have gotten over some thresholds.   And "bulk" in baseball seems to be easier for our minds to absorb than short-term achievement.  But he wouldn’t have been any better of a pitcher than he already was….he would just have attained some higher numbers.  I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t make much sense to me.
I feel sometimes we overlook the greats who are great for a relatively brief time, but who lack the bulk numbers that impress the voters.  I think greater consideration should be given to those stars who were the best at their positions and who shone brightly but all too briefly.  The Hall of Fame should be for those who exhibit greatness.
That’s what I think.
An All Around Game
I think that WAR, as well as sabermetrics in general, has given a spotlight to players that have been underrated when they were playing because they lacked obvious strengths and instead contributed good, all-around efforts, or perhaps they had statistics that didn’t tell the whole story, or perhaps some combination of both. 
What do the following players have in common? 
Bobby Grich.  Lou Whitaker.  Dwight Evans.  Reggie Smith.  Alan Trammell.  Rick Reuschel.  Kevin Brown.  Kenny Lofton.  Graig Nettles.  Luis Tiant.  Buddy Bell.  Willie Randolph.  David Cone.  Sal Bando.  Willie Davis.  Keith Hernandez.  Bill Dahlen.  Jim McCormick.  Tony Mullane.  Ken Boyer.  Charlie Buffington.  Tommy John.  Wes Ferrell.  Jack Glasscock.  Tommy Bond.  Bob Caruthers.
Answer:  They are all players who:
a)      have career rWARs in excess of 60
b)      are not in the Hall of Fame
c)       are no longer on a BBWAA ballot
d)      are generally not connected to steroid allegations or suspicions
Now, all of the players have their supporters.  They all deserve to have their cases looked at by the various Veterans’ committees.  But I don’t think, despite having reached a "magical" level of 60, that they’re all necessarily players that deserve to be enshrined. 
I do think one thing WAR does is to help promote the concept that there are different ways to contribute.  You may have observed that a lot of the position players listed above were outstanding defensive players, and that certainly buttresses their cases.  Several of these players had less than stellar batting averages, but did a relatively good job of getting on base due to high walk rates.  Or, perhaps they played in run-suppressed eras or environments.  WAR helps capture and quantify their total contributions.   But, does reaching this level really mean that they were all great players?  Are they players worthy of enshrinement?  On that, I’m skeptical.
Again, let’s compare to another industry.  Let’s say you have an entertainer who is pretty good in several aspects of the entertainment field.  Let’s call this guy "Hugh Jackman".  Now, Hugh Jackman has a lot going for him.  He can sing.  He can dance.  He can act.  He can produce.  He’s a good looking guy.  He can fill the roles of Wolverine, Jean Valjean, and the Easter Bunny ("Rise of the Guardians") adequately.  He has hosted both the Oscars and the Tonys.   He seems at home in a variety of genres.
Now, does Hugh Jackman strike you as a "Hall of Fame"-type entertainer?  I’d have to be honest… he really doesn’t strike me that way.  He’s a good, all-around performer.  That can be very valuable.  But, to me, he’s not an all-time great.
That’s the way I feel about many of these players that rate well by various WAR metrics.  They’re good players.  They’re valuable players.  But that doesn’t necessarily make them all Hall of Famers. 
A couple of months ago, a reader asked in "Hey Bill" if Bobby Grich was "an egregious Hall of Fame snub".  I thought Bill gave a perfectly lucid answer, when he replied:
"There is no such thing as a Hall of Fame snub.   No one is entitled to an honor.   Beyond that, Grich had relatively few great seasons.   He had 1,833 hits and a .266 career average.   While Grich was a great player, a player with his credentials is not normally a serious Hall of Fame candidate. "
I completely agree with that reply, especially the observation on whether or not something is a "snub".   You know, "snub" has become of those words whose meaning has been altered over time.  Every year, you see articles written about which players were "snubbed" for an All Star team or which players were "snubbed" for an award.  I think the modern interpretation is that a "snub" applies to anyone that didn’t get selected for something for which they had a decent argument.  You know, things like "Travis Shaw was snubbed for the 2017 All Star game" or "Johnny Cueto was snubbed in the 2016 NL Cy Young award voting".  These are not "snubs".  They just didn’t win, or they just didn’t get selected.  Someone wins, someone gets selected, and somebody has to get left out.  The word "snub" used to imply a more heinous or deliberate rejection.  Just because someone with a decent case didn’t get selected for an honor or an award, well, that’s not a snub in my book.  And I wish writers would find another way to describe those situations.
Anyway, while Grich has a bit of a cause célèbre in the sabermetric community as someone who deserves Hall of Fame status because he did a lot of things well and because his stats often disguised how good he was, that doesn’t necessarily entitle him to Hall of Fame status.  He was a valuable player.  He was one of my favorite players, and I rooted hard for the Angels after he signed with them.   But, he didn’t do those things that normally get you elected to the Hall of Fame.   Would I like to see him inducted?  I suppose.  But I’m not losing any sleep over the fact that he’s not.  And Ian Kinsler, to me, is the latest example of such a player.  He’s actually kind of a poor man’s Bobby Grich.  All of which, I believe, leaves him shy of the Hall of Fame.
In any case, I do think that some of the players that are able to accumulate a lot of bulk value when looking at the total picture of their full game are worthy, but I also think a lot of them aren’t.  When you look at the list of players at the beginning of this section, ask yourself what was special about them?  What was notable?  What distinguishes them?  Or, are we just enamored with the fact that they were able to achieve an overall threshold of "value"?  I think some of them have good Hall of Fame cases, but I think most of them don’t rise to that level.
Are You "Plaque-Worthy?"
One of the more notorious "Seinfeld" episodes is called "The Sponge".  Elaine realizes that the manufacturer of her favorite birth control device has gone out of business and the product is in limited supply.  She then goes about trying secure all of the sponges she can, after which she rigorously interviews all potential romantic suitors to make sure they are "sponge-worthy" before she wastes one on them.
As a rather awkward segue…. I think that we should ask ourselves whether candidates are "plaque-worthy".  After all, these are being hung in a hall for eternity.  We should think about how it sounds when you try to summarize someone’s career.  What are the bullet points?  What are the highlights?  What makes that player special or memorable?  Or, is the only thing a player has going for him is a number that approximates how many runs above a replacement player he’s worth?
For Ian Kinsler, what would you put on there?  "Hustling second baseman who exhibited a variety of skills.  Had two seasons where he combined 30 home runs with 30 steals.   Started for 2 World Series runners-up.  Led league in at-bats in 2014.  Gold Glove winner in 2016.  Was ranked 18th on the JAWS second basemen listing".  Hardly the stuff of legends, is it?
Now, I’m going to tread carefully here, because someone might think I’m endorsing him for the Hall of Fame and I don’t want to get kicked out of the sabermetric community entirely, but do you know who makes for a good plaque?  Steve Garvey.  Now, Garvey isn’t in the Hall of Fame, and I doubt he’s going in anytime soon, although I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that he makes it in someday.  His career rWAR is 37.7, which would be a relatively low figure for a Hall of Famer and well below the "standard".  He’s only 51st in the JAWS first basemen ranking.  His career OBP is only .329.  Not very impressive supporting evidence on that front.
However, the concept of someone like Garvey in the Hall of Fame certainly wasn’t a crazy idea when he was active, nor was it outlandish even after he retired.  There was a 1986 Sporting News poll of managers that asked "Which players in your league– if they retired tomorrow– have already done enough to merit selection to the Hall of Fame?".  20 players were named.  16 are in the Hall (Reggie Jackson, Phil Niekro, Tom Seaver, George Brett, Don Sutton, Eddie Murray, Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk, Robin Yount, Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt, Nolan Ryan, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, Gary Carter, Tony Perez).  The other 4 named were Pete Rose, Ron Guidry, Dale Murphy, and Steve Garvey.  Murphy was still at his peak then, but the other 3 were near the end of their careers.  I was a big fan through the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, and Garvey was always one of those players that I believe was generally assumed to be a Hall of Famer.  George Brett was once quoted as saying, ""I don't think I was imagining it.  I know I read a lot of stories about 'future Hall of Famer' Steve Garvey."
What would a Hall of Fame plaque look like for Garvey?  How "plaque-worthy" is he?  A few years ago, writer Steve Wulf took a stab at it, and I think he did a pretty good job, so I’ll just repeat it verbatim rather than attempting my own.  Here’s what he put together as a theoretical plaque:
Now, that’s a perfectly fine Hall of Fame plaque.  Awards, honors, records, streaks, accomplishments, team success, postseason heroics.  That’s a damn fine plaque.
Garvey’s Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor score is an impressive 130, which means he’s in the range where you would have historically seen someone elected.  Now, admittedly, the monitor score (which I understand that Bill is working on adjusting to reflect updated voting trends) is intended to predict who would normally be elected based on previous elections, not who should be elected, but Garvey did do those things that would normally have added up to being elected.  In James’ Hall of Fame book "Politics of Glory", he predicted that Garvey would be elected by the writers.  He wasn’t alone, I’m sure.   Personally, while he was active, I always assumed he would be elected.
In addition, when Garvey first appeared on the ballot, he received nearly 42% of the vote.  That’s a long way from the 75% you need, but it’s very solid debut.  A lot of Hall of Famers have debuted with a whole lot less than that and eventually been elected.  In just the past couple of decades, Tim Raines debuted with 24%, Jim Rice debuted with 30%,  Bert Blyleven debuted with 17.5%,  Rich Gossage debuted with 33%,  Bruce Sutter debuted with 24%.  Gary Carter debuted at the same level as Garvey, with 42%, and then dropped to 34% in his second year on the ballot before rebounding.  Orlando Cepeda debuted at 12.5% and got all the way up to 73.5% on his final ballot, and was finally enshrined by the Veterans’ Committee.
The point is that, when you start with a reasonably strong base of support like Garvey did, what you would typically see is that a player would build on that base as his case gets reviewed each year, and the ones who originally voted for him would tend to stick with him, and you would start to see those on the other side starting to convert (in fact, I think the only player to debut with that high a percentage of the votes and not eventually get elected is Lee Smith, who just completed his 15th and final ballot this past year.   Please comment if you are aware of any others).
Garvey, however, went the other way, never getting higher than 42.6%.  There are many possible reasons for this – I suspect that as newer, more advanced ways of evaluating players emerged, Garvey’s numbers looked less impressive.  Some of it probably had to do with his tarnished image.  But, regardless, he saw his support disintegrate over time.
Again, I’m not endorsing Garvey for the Hall of Fame.  He may get elected at some point….it seems like every few years he re-emerges on a Veteran’s Committee candidate list.  He certainly doesn’t score any points with anyone that likes to consider WAR or more modern analytic measures.  But he does fit a certain Hall of Fame type, long on achievements, awards, honors, and success.   He was a great postseason performer.  His teams consistently were successful, and he was typically a key part of the success of those teams.  He had big moments, and was twice named NLCS MVP.  He had a good MVP track record.  He had 10 All Star game appearances, one of the higher totals for a non-Hall of Famer.  You may not think he’s a great player, and you may be of the opinion that he was severely overrated and didn’t really deserve the recognition he received….but he was certainly notable and accomplished.  Some would argue that he was over-honored as a player, and we shouldn’t perpetuate that by putting him in the Hall.  Perhaps.  But, while he was active, he was certainly well regarded by fans, players, and writers alike. 
OK…maybe Garvey’s not your cup of tea.  Let’s look at another example.  Let’s look at a pairing I remember discussing once in Reader Posts: "the 2 Lou’s".  Lou Brock and Lou Whitaker.  Now, they’re not a natural comparison because they played different positions, but they do represent 2 different schools of thought on what makes for a quality Hall of Famer.
Consider Lou Brock.  Career rWAR of 45.2, which is 33rd among players classified as left fielders.   His WAR7 (7 best seasons) is 32.0, which is 39th among left fielders.  His composite JAWS score, which averages the two, is 38.6 is only good for 36th among left fielders, smack dab in between Matt Holliday and Harry Stovey.  If you put a lot of weight on the advanced metrics, he comes off as a poor Hall of Fame selection.  And, he did have a lot of deficiencies as a player.  He wasn’t much defensively.  He didn’t have much power, especially once he got older.  Despite a solid batting average, he didn’t get on base much due to his inability to draw many walks.  Even his stolen base success rate of 75.3% wasn’t much to write home about.
However….he’s a member of the 3,000 hit club.  He led the league in steals 8 times.  He led the league in runs twice, and averaged 100 runs scored per 162 games played, and he mostly did it in an era where there weren’t a whole lot of runs being scored.  He was a key member of a team that went to the World Series 3 times in a 5-year span, winning the Series 2 of those times, and he played well all 3 times, especially in ’67 and ’68 when he hit over .400 both times and went 14-for-16 in stolen base attempts over those 2 series, scoring 14 runs in 14 games.  In 21 career World Series games, he scored 16 runs and batted .391.  He even hit 4 home runs.  Now, I don’t believe that hitting in the postseason is a "skill" per se.  As people always point out, it’s a small sample size.   True….but he did do it.  In the biggest games of his career, he came through big time.  In my book, that doesn’t make him a greater player than he was….but it does count, and I think it counts for a lot.   Postseason heroics may typically come wrapped in a small sample size, but they have a disproportionate impact on the game’s history.  They mark the seasons.  They determine championships.  They matter, even if they don’t rise to the level of being "predictive".  Not everything has to boil down to whether or not it’s predictive or indicative of a skill.  Sometimes, we can just appreciate what a player actually did, and the circumstances in which he did it.
On the other hand, consider Lou Whitaker.  This Lou was a very good player.  He had a long career.  He has a career rWAR of 74.9, which is 66% higher than Brock’s total.  His career rWAR is 7th highest among all second basemen – higher than Frankie Frisch, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and Craig Biggio.  His JAWS figure is 56.4, the 13th highest at second base, and is right around the average figure for a Hall of Fame second baseman.  Whitaker has gained some notoriety in that he was a "one-and-done" Hall of Fame candidate, garnering only 2.9% of the vote on his one and only appearance on the BBWAA ballot in 2001 (note-three of the key members of that great 1984 Detroit Tigers team debuted on that ballot, and all 3 received virtually no support – Whitaker (2.9%), Kirk Gibson (2.5%), and Lance Parrish (1.7%)).  Whitaker has become a player that gets a lot of support these days as someone who was severely overlooked, a player who many think should be in the Hall of Fame (the same sentiment gets applied to his long-time double-play partner, Alan Trammell, who did much better than Whitaker in the balloting, but still ended up far short of election).
Among analysts who favor rWAR, JAWS, and more modern approaches, Lou Whitaker is often seen as deserving, and Lou Brock is often viewed as not being deserving.  But, I have to tell you, that if I could only pick one of them to be in the Hall of Fame, I would opt for Brock.  Now, if the question were who would I rather have on my team, who would I choose in a baseball simulation league, I’d probably say Whitaker, unless I was looking for a role player to add some speed.  I think a second baseman who can hit, run, and field like Whitaker is more valuable than a left fielder who can play like Brock. 
But, I think that’s the wrong way to look at it when considering the Hall of Fame.  When it comes to the Hall of Fame, my feeling is we’re not just simply looking for the best players.  Quantitative evaluation of the quality of play is certainly one factor.   But, I feel the Hall of Fame is designed to recognize players who accomplish things, who contribute to championships, who set records, who receive honors.  Whitaker had a lot of good years – 13 of his seasons yielded rWARs between 3 and 6.  He exceeded 6 twice.  He was very consistent, in a very long career.  However, his lone appearance among the MVP votes was in 1983 when he finished 8th.  Are there any seasons of his career that particularly stand out to you?  One Lou Whitaker season was pretty much like the next.  He was rarely bad.  He was typically good.  I don’t think he was great.
I wouldn’t resent Whitaker being elected.  I understand the support.  Lou Whitaker was probably a better player than Lou Brock.  I think Whitaker was more valuable, and he accumulated a high rWAR total.  Despite that, I think the Hall of Fame has the right Lou in it.  Brock is more notable, more accomplished……more illustrious. 
So, the question is….do you elect someone that metrics tell you has provided more value?  Or do you put more weight on accomplishments, honors, achievements, and success?  What is a Hall of Famer to you?  There’s no right or wrong answer.  It’s what you feel a Hall of Fame should represent. 
I happen to feel that, if you struggle with what you would put on a player’s plaque that would summarize what you think is special about that player, I think you have to ask why it’s so important that he be immortalized.
That’s what I think.
Inherit the Wind
As luck would have it, in recent weeks Turner Classic Movies has been running one of my favorite films, "Inherit the Wind".  As you may know, it’s based on the famous 1920’s "Scopes Monkey Trial" in which a teacher violated the law about teaching evolution in a state-funded school.  It was a fictionalized account of that trial, to be sure, as the writers took several liberties with the facts in order to tell a better story (hey, it’s Hollywood, after all !), but it was, in my view, a terrific movie.
One thing before diving into the theme of the move……on the "guilty pleasure" front, I love the fact that the movie (which came out in 1960) has so many actors who eventually became recognizable faces to anyone who was a fan of ‘60’s and ‘70’s TV.  It features:
Dick York as the John Scopes character (named Bert Cates in the film).  York would later be known as the first "Darrin" on "Bewitched". 
Harry Morgan played the judge in the film – he was later known as Officer Bill Gannon on "Dragnet" and Colonel Potter on M*A*S*H. 
Claude Akins played a reverend in the film – he later played the role of Sherriff Lobo in "B.J. and the Bear". 
Normal Fell had a bit part in the film – he was later better known as Mr. Roper on "Three’s Company". 
And three actors who had bit parts as well – Paul Hartman, Hope Summers, and Will Wright, later become recognizable to anyone familiar with "The Andy Griffith Show".  You are probably more familiar with them, respectively, as handyman Emmitt Clark, Aunt Bea’s best friend Clara Edwards, and the grumpy old department store owner, Ben Weaver.
A big reason why I love the film so much is that it starred Spencer Tracy, my favorite actor.  He was getting up in years, and you could just see the weariness of the life he had lived on display in every wrinkle in his face, but he gives a great performance.  They used to say about Don Baylor, who passed away recently, that "he just looked like an RBI standing up there".  Well, Tracy just looked like the personification of virtue and integrity standing up there.
As you may know, the real-life trial was significant in part because of the famous lawyers involved – William Jennings Bryan, a renowned orator who ran three times for president, argued for the prosecution, and Clarence Darrow argued for the defense.  In the film, Tracy played attorney Henry Drummond, who was based on Darrow.  Hollywood legend Frederic March played Matthew Harrison Brady, who was based on Bryan.  A large part of the movie revolves around their confrontations in the trial, which culminates with Drummond, in a turn of events after being denied the opportunity to call his scientific experts to testify for the defense, calling Brady to the stand to question him as an authority on the Bible.
One of my favorite things about movies is thinking what they’re really about.  A few months ago, I wrote on article on "Field of Dreams", and I expressed the thought that it’s often misclassified as a "baseball" movie.  Yes, it uses baseball as a device, but it’s not really about baseball.  What it’s really about is second chances, about redeeming yourself for a prior mistake.  That’s the true theme of it.
By the same token, a lot of people get the wrong notion about "Inherit the Wind".  They think it’s simply a movie about evolution vs. creationism, or about the dangers of religious zealotry, or even simply telling the story about the "monkey trial" itself.  But, no, it’s not really about any of that.  What the movie is really about, what the theme is, is the right to think.  That’s the overriding message.  The setting and story of the trial is just used as a parable to convey that concept.  And if you really watch it and pay attention to it, it’s clear that that is the theme of the movie. 
As the movie concludes, there’s a rather poignant moment when Tracy’s character Drummond, after the trial is over and he’s gathering his belongings, picks up the 2 key books that were at the center of the trial – Darwin’s "On the Origin of Species" in one hand, and the bible in the other.  He holds one in each hand and balances them as if his arms were a scale, as if he’s contemplating their merits.  He then smiles, claps them together, tucks them both under his arm, and exits the courtroom.  In essence, he’s conveying that there isn’t a right or a wrong, but rather alternative ways to look at things, and that there’s room for both points of view to be heard, and then individuals can decide what they think.  He may have argued for the defense, but he doesn’t really favor one side over the other.  His whole perspective, his whole fight, was for the right for individuals to think for themselves.  The right to think, and, by extension, the right to be wrong.  It’s my favorite moment of the film.
It reminds me a little bit of the battle that exists in baseball, between those who favor traditional thinking vs. those who prefer a more modern analytical approach.   To draw a parallel, I’d say baseball traditionalists are somewhat similar to the religious folks in the film who supported the concept of creationism and fought against any alternate points of view being taught, while the more modern analytic types are somewhat similar to those who were more in the favor of the science folks who supported the theory of evolution.  Many old school traditionalists don’t care for WAR, and tend to oppose it and ridicule it.  Similarly, those who are more inclined to put all their faith in WAR and have little use for more traditional evaluations, and tend to consider that point of view as primitive and outdated thinking. 
As much as I feel it’s wrong to close yourself off to new methods of analyzing performance, I also think it’s misguided for anyone to think that metrics like WAR provide absolute answers.  In effect, WAR feels to me like it’s becoming the new gospel, the new bible.  You no longer have to think….you just look up the number, sort the spreadsheet, and you have your answer.  Just because WAR factors in all aspects of the game doesn’t mean that it’s the only thing we should look at, or even that it’s the primary thing we should look at. 
There’s a moment in the film where the Drummond character has Brady up on the stand, and as their discussing a point on the bible, Drummond proclaims that "the bible is a book.  It’s a good book.  But it’s not the only book".  By the same token, WAR is a piece of information, and it’s a good piece of information…..but it’s not the only piece of information.  I think it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of treating it as such.
I like to think there’s room for everyone, for all schools of thought, for all points of view.  I like WAR and what it provides, and I use it quite frequently.  I think it’s a good approximation of a player’s total contribution.  I do think it’s an important piece of information to look at and consider when evaluating Hall of Fame candidates.  However, I don’t put all my eggs in the WAR basket.  I think there are many other legitimate considerations when evaluating a candidate for the Hall of Fame besides just a quantifiable approximation of value.  
Selection to the Hall of Fame should be rooted in fair and objective evidence, to be sure.  But I also think the best Hall of Fame selections carry some degree of subjectivity as well, and should consider other aspects of the overall baseball experience: contribution to successful teams, awards, honors, recognitions, records, and other accomplishments. 
The Hall of Fame should be about selecting the best candidates that enhance the Hall of Fame, not just the players who have supposedly made the greatest quantitative contributions.  I don’t think it should a goal to make the process 100% scientific or data-driven.  I think it’s healthy to listen to our guts as well as our minds.  We shouldn’t be totally left-brained or totally right brained in this endeavor.   I think there should be a balance.  A Hall of Fame should satisfy our hearts as well as our minds as we seek to recognize those who deserve to be honored.
Anyway, that’s what I think.
As always, thanks for reading.


COMMENTS (37 Comments, most recent shown first)

Shin-Soo Choo has 35.7 career wins above replacement. This makes him the winner of the Korean WAR.
9:27 AM Sep 3rd
Brock Hanke
Oh. The disconnect is not exactly where I thought it was. You think that HoF voters will actually do comprehensive examinations if you give them just career WAR. I don't. I've been listening to HoF conversations on the TV and radio, and reading newspapers, for years now, and I have yet to hear anyone talk about anything other than career WAR and their individual pet peeves about things that are easy to quantify, hard to estimate by just peeving about it. I want to give them a better number than just career WAR because I do NOT think that they will adequately think things through. They show no signs of doing that in the media that I can find. However, the number of times that career WAR gets mentioned is rising now and has been for at least a decade. They are going to use whatever number they are given, and they are going to think that this number is all the number there is. That's what they do, other than arguing about pet peeves. What I WANT sabermetrics to do is, basically, an advanced form of what Lee Allen did in the 1960s - real workups, with the most complete numbers we can find. Career WAR, with or without JAWS, is not the most complete number that we can come up with. The Hall deserves better out of us. They deserve all we are capable of giving. We care enough about the Hall for that. Or, at least, I think we do.
1:45 AM Sep 3rd
....I want to add, though....In fairness, I don't think Dan necessarily meant my whole post was spot on. :-)
The thing I said about "unsophisticated" -- that's probably an outlying view among people here. Many would say that the kind of thing Brock is suggesting is in fact the highest level of sabermetrics.
5:31 PM Sep 2nd

Thanks for replying and clarifying. I get where you're coming from.

I also think that MarisFan's and Steve's replies are spot on, and I don't think there's anything else I can add to them.

9:42 AM Sep 2nd
Brock, I agree with you on the components of what Dan would call the left-brain part of the analysis. But, as Maris says, the weight of each of these components varies (or should vary) when considering individual players: Ozzie Smith's glove matters more than his bat; Nolan Ryan's strikeouts matter more than his wins. A Hall voter who simply looks at the resultant number, including the one in the Historical Abstract, is letting the guy who assigned the weights and designed the number make up his mind for him.

Is it too much to ask of a Hall voter that he take the extra time to look at a career in detail? To really put his left brain into gear and look past WAR or JAWS or Win Shares and analyze the breadth and depth of a player's accomplishments?

Somewhere along the way the voter will also engage his right brain. I doubt that he has to be specifically encouraged to do so. Bill recognized this when he incorporated a subjective side into his analysis in the Historical Abstract.
5:34 AM Sep 2nd
I'd say that's extremely unsophisticated sabermetrics. It assumes that there can be some standard, uniform formula for how those things should be combined.

That's not reality.

Sure, all the things you mention are important. But all of them aren't important for every player, and when they're important, they can be important in very different proportions for different players. Plus, there can be other kinds of aspects that are important for given players -- including even statistical aspects, but different ones than what we might think of putting into a standard formula.

The reason the article doesn't have anything like that is that it isn't about anything like that. It looks at things in a different way, I'd say a broader way. Your kind of idea is interesting and valid, and in fact there have been lots and lots of things like it which have been offered; to that extent I'm not sure how you think your approach is new or unique. In any event the absence of such a thing in the article isn't an omission; it would simply be off the subject. I think that's pretty clear from what he says near the end: "I don’t think it should [be] a goal to make the process 100% scientific or data-driven. I think it’s healthy to listen to our guts as well as our minds. We shouldn’t be totally left-brained or totally right brained in this endeavor."
4:35 AM Sep 2nd
Brock Hanke
Dan and Maris - I THINK I know where the disconnect is. Although the article TALKS about peaks and primes and rates and extra credentials (postseason, etc), it doesn't even mention trying to CALCULATE any of these things and add those calculations into the formulas. You can talk about peak and prime and rate and postseason all you want, but if they are not there in the Career WAR or JAWS NUMBERS, then they are not there. That's what I mean. In terms of the Hall of Fame, sabermetrics' best use is to try to calculate, as best possible, the entire contribution of the player. What we give the HoF voters now is Career WAR and JAWS. It's not enough. The Historical system gives enough information, because it contains numerical components for all those things. Career WAR / JAWS does not. Does this make sense to you - that not including Peak, Prime and Rate NUMBERS in your calculations of value means that HoF voters who use your ranking system are getting less information that you could give, and are getting information that heavily skews towards accumulator players? That's what I'm talking about. If I were a HoF voter, I'd look at what I see in Career WAR and JAWS, and then I'd think about rate and peak and prime, but I'd have no way to balance those with the numbers that I get from WAR and JAWS. What I want is a NUMBER that INCLUDES all that stuff, not just the ability to recognize that they have value. Otherwise, the HoF can blame us with complete accuracy when they get off the trail because someone has a fine Career WAR, but no peak or prime or rate. That's my complaint about every system I've seen except for the New Historical's. They may talk about the concepts, but they don't include any measurement of the concepts in the NUMBERS. That is, my problem is not with WAR, but with the inadequacy of the numerical ranking systems that surround it. I don't need a better WAR; I need a better USE of WAR. And I think I've repeated myself about three times, and should shut up now.​
3:37 AM Sep 2nd
Thanks for all the positive comments, guys. Appreciate it.


Thanks for the post. I'm with Maris re: his most recent comment, though.....I'm not clear either on what you're calling out that might have been missed in the article. I certainly don't see anything in your comment that I would really disagree with either.

6:38 PM Sep 1st
Brock: Although you say the article is missing a thing, it doesn't really seem you're saying something different than what's in the article or what it implies. But no matter -- I think most of us agree with both you and him.
1:15 PM Sep 1st
That hits it on the nail. WAR stops, intentionally or not, the thinking process. Its called Anchor Factor. Once that number is out there, no matter how wrong could it be (see defensive metrics), it will be used as a anchor for the rest of the discussion.
1:08 PM Sep 1st
Meant to post this earlier, and then got sidetracked: it's rare to read a lengthy article about the HOF where I agree with just about everything in it, but I agree with all of this. Great stuff, Dan. ​
8:39 AM Sep 1st
Brock Hanke
Dan - This is a good article, but it misses one point that I think is very relevant to the HoF and its voters' relationship to WAR. As of now, the only rankings you can easily find using WAR as a base are career accumulated WAR and JAWS. Neither is adequate. Career WAR is like rating everyone by their accumulated career Win Shares. It's not enough, because it ignores peak, prime, rate per game, and other odd things like postseason performance. JAWS, at seven years, is really too long for a prime, much less a peak, so it's not much help. I still use the Historical Abstract system to rank players, simply because it actually does everything I would want. Career, Peak, Prime, Rate. The timeline and subjective elements are more debatable, but I do think that the first four there are necessary in a HoF consideration. Like, to take one of your examples, Lou Brock. Brock has a very good peak, with three seasons of 30 Win Shares. He has a better-than-expected prime. He also has tremendous postseason numbers. If you just take his accumulated WAR (or Win Shares), you will miss all that, as do the people who want to argue against his place in the Hall. But those are, I think, real considerations. And they are what would place him higher than Lou Whitaker, although I think Lou W. has a good Hall case. Rabbit Maranville is another such case. He played forever, but his accumulated anything isn't really that impressive. But early in his career, before the Ruth Explosion, he was a truly great player, a frequent MVP candidate (although I don't think he actually deserved to win any). What messed his career up, aside from alcohol, was the need, after 1920, to have some power. Rabbit, tiny, had none and could not adapt, so his career offense really isn't that good. He was living by his glove. But his peak and prime are actually pretty good there, even by Hall standards.

The bigger problem, IMO, is that Hall of Fame voters have fallen into the habit of using career WAR because it's easy to find. There are 17 years of Win Shares missing now, since the book hasn't been updated since 2000. So people go to career WAR. But career WAR is wildly inadequate, because all it does is count accumulation. The HoF voter mindset is, IMO, being corrupted by having career WAR as pretty much all you have. What I don't understand is why someone who does a version of WAR doesn't just make up his own system like the Historical Abstract's. How hard can that be? 3-year peak WAR. 5-year prime WAR. WAR per season. Career WAR with a harmonic mean taken to get its numbers in the same range as the others. The hard part would be deciding exactly what number to use for the harmonic mean. You could have a "subjective" component for things like postseason performance or careers as a manager after playing. This would be MUCH better than career WAR, but it's not out there. And that means that the new crop of HoF voters are in the habit of using career WAR, which is wildly wrong. We owe the BBWAA something better.
6:45 AM Sep 1st
11:12 PM Aug 31st
Dan, I have no idea what you're talking about. I'm certainly not an expert on Rabbit but I am an expert on myself and while I appreciate your effort to provide deep analysis into why I might conflate two "great fielding shortstops who didn't contribute much with the bat" I can assure you that you have no idea what you are talking about.

I apologize for posting on your article, I will not make that mistake again.
10:54 PM Aug 31st
Thanks, Dan.

That kind of mistaken likening seems to happen especially about great defensive players. We don't much see people basing arguments on something like "Jimmie Foxx was just about like Babe Ruth," or, for that matter, "If Albert Einstein, why not Niels Bohr."

Arguments like that feel to me like the thing in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, where they're playing cards and their only available currency is cigarettes, which they call "dimes." At one point a guy is running short on his currency, so he breaks a cigarette in half and says he bets a nickel. R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) turns to him and says, "When you break a dime in half you don't get a nickel, you get shit."

I guess Belanger was more than half of Maranville, but he wasn't Maranville, and if we're talking about getting three-fourths of a dime, well, that's not a dime. Maranville was considered, it seems, the best fielding shortstop in history to that point, maybe the best fielder at any position ever. We probably still have to consider him one of the very greatest fielding SS's in history, even after all these years. As Dan said (and as Bill has also, in greater detail), Maranville did very well in MVP voting even when his offensive stats were nothing, including (as Bill noted) late in his career when he wasn't even playing shortstop any more. Also he meets the "fame" criterion as well as almost anyone -- as Bill wrote, "There are as many Maranville stories as there are Babe Ruth stories. I imagine that many people don't count that, but many others do. And oh -- please y'all pardon me for mentioning actual stats :-) .....but, it also happens that Maranville's OPS+ was 82 and Belanger's was 68. Maranville was so highly regarded as an overall player that he played 2670 games, which is fully a third more than Belanger.

I don't mean to slam on Belanger -- I like that kind of player -- or the guy who likened him to Maranville. I'm just taking it as an opportunity to bitch about all the times that we see stuff like this, which is quite a bit. Sometimes when you break a dime into three-fourths, you get zilch.
10:53 PM Aug 31st

I have to side with MarisFan. Belanger's not a good comp for Maranville as a Hall of Fame candidate. I'm sure you see them as similar because they're both great fielding shortstops who didn't contribute much with the bat, and, since you do seem particularly enamored with the JAWS "system" (there's that word again), the fact that Maranville is 37th and Belanger is 39th no doubt means a lot to you.

If you want to focus on that particular similarity, you're perfectly free to. But, as Hall of Fame candidates, they're not comparable at all.

You're focusing too much on the quantitative approximation of their values. But, the Hall of Fame is about more than that. Maranville, even after all these years, still has more career putouts than any other SS and he's 5th in career assists. He's still top 10 in simple, basic indicators like games played at SS. Belanger's a lot further down those lists. Being able to stay in the lineup for a long time at SS speaks volumes about one's ability to play the position well. In his time, Maranville was a much more significant figure than Belanger was in his.

And, most importantly, he had the respect of his peers and of the writers, certainly a lot more than Belanger did. Even though there weren't consistent annual awards like there are now, and the MVP awards didn't become permanent until Maranville was near the end of his career, when they did have awards such as the Chalmers in the early teens and the "League Awards" in the twenties, Maranville did very well for himself, despite the fact that he didn't contribute much with the bat. That has to be respected.

You're basically putting too much emphasis on WAR. You can have a mediocre WAR and still be a perfectly fine Hall of Fame selection. Maranville is such an example.

9:40 PM Aug 31st
I think this is a great article. It says a lot of things that I at least half agree with if not more so. WAR allows you to get lazy and just eyeball the rankings without more effort if you let it. Life is more complex than that and so are players.

Few things here to add-I was one of the luddites who rejected WAR for years because of the things cited in the article above, but have come around on it. It's a useful tool, same as Win Shares or whatever. All that's well and good as far's I'm concerned.

Pretty sure I'm not making any friends with this but whatever it doesn't matter.

The group think stuff that comes with accepting an Uberstat I'm NOT so well and good with though.

It's always the same guys who there's room at the table for-the Evans-Dewey and Derral, Nettles, Gene Freakin' Tenace, Jimmy Wynn, Bobby Grich, Burt Blyleven, Reggie Smith, Trammell and Whitaker, the list goes on and on. You see in depth articles extolling their virtues, going into the unfair park F/X of the Astrodome or Dodger Stadium or whatever accompanied by glowing reviews of their relative Hall of Fame cases.

Most of these guys, save for Gene Freakin Tenace, I am FOR getting into Cooperstown. Well okay Jimmy Wynn is Roger Maris or Brunansky or Ron Gant in the counting stats, yes I know he's better-he's not getting in, but the others-esp. our friends from Detroit-I think will. Eventually.

But, what's with always having negative things to say about, Steve Garvey or Dave Parker or Larry Parrish or Jim Rice or Al Oliver or Jack Morris or Vada Pinson or now, I guess, Omar Vizquel? The mind boggles. All of these guys were better than, Gene Freakin Tenace. They All were effected by where they played-but Garvey, you NEVER hear it said how the pitching friendly confines of Chavez Ravine affected him. Willie Davis, Jimmy Wynn, yeah! but nope. Not the guy with the .329 lifetime OBP. He doesn't fit the narrative. That's silly. Dodger Stadium cut into Garvey's hitting too, like it or not.

I loathe the forced false equivalencies--Blyleven vs. Jack Morris. Really? Kaat vs. Tommy John makes sense. Baines vs. Tony Perez makes sense. But that? It's like Dennis Martinez vs. Fergie Jenkins or Dennis Leonard. Give it a rest. They're not on your team. They played for themselves. The same goes for the odd Tony Gwynn-Tim Raines fetish you see. Just stop it. Raines was a tremendous leadoff man who belonged period. Compare him to Rickey. Or Lou Brock. Or Lofton. But Tony Gwynn? The Rod Carew type dude but in the OF? That's strange. Be like swapping Ichiro instead of Tony. We get it. They didn't walk much. Be quiet. Both are great players and easy HoF's. There's more to it than just that.

Jaffe's book is guilty of some of this, but he does a decent job overall. His take on Pie Traynor is way off and I donno how you do a Hornsby writeup and say Nada about his glove, or have a top 40 or whatever list of catchers and never mention Lance Parrish or Bob Boone. There's room for that guy on the Reggie-Catfish A's though....

Lastly, Morris vs. Blyleven is like Motley Crue vs. Soundgarten. Okay if that trips your triggers, go for it, but remember, you look kinda silly putting one down for wearing plaid while the other's in spandex. Or vice versa. Arena Rock is Arena Rock. More or less.

4:59 PM Aug 31st
No, Maranville doesn't have an issue of "why not Belanger." But I don't blame you for saying it; it just means you don't really have a feel for the other view, and that's fine.

Just realize that your view is just one kind of view and that it's not more valid than another.
2:49 PM Aug 31st
If you think a reason for Rabbit Maranville being in the Hall of Fame can't easily be stated, you have extreme tunnel vision on the subject.
11:05 AM Aug 31st

Thanks for all the comments on the article. Glad that the consensus seems to favorable.


Yes, I had a feeling you'd love it. :) I'm sure you picked up on nuggets here and there in the text that are a by-product of having discussed this and similar topics in Reader Posts over the years. I think it's fair to say that a lot of my perspective on this topic has been influenced and shaped by you and other members. Glad you enjoyed the article.


As our resident Germany expert, I was glad to see you weigh in on the Walhalla reference :)


Not sure why you stated that JAWS isn't a system. Maybe it's just semantics, but, who has worked with Jaffe to make JAWS readily available, refers to it as the "Jaffe WAR Score system". That works for me. Besides, one of the definitions of a system is "an organized scheme or method." Certainly that applies to JAWS, doesn't it? It's certainly a methodology or an approach, isn't it?

Also, I think I'd have to take some issue when you characterize Rabbit Maranville as being "on the short list of pretty much any list of worst HOF selections by the BBWAA". It only looks poor if you think the criteria for Hall of Fame selection is strictly by the quantitative perspective, because obviously Maranville wasn't much of a hitter.

However, he makes for a reasonable Hall of Fame candidate if you go by other criteria. His plaque gives some clues: He had the NL record for most career games at SS for many years, and only Wagner had more NL at bats. He had the NL record for most total seasons for many years (I believe broken by Rose).

And, by reputation, he was probably the best defensive shortstop in history at the point in time that he was elected in '54, and if he wasn't the absolute best, he was on the short list (I think it would probably be among Wagner, Maranville, and Tinker). These things matter to many people.

I'll agree he got a boost from the voters when he passed away shortly before being elected, but he had been gaining support even prior to that, having over 62% of the vote in the prior year and finishing 5th. He was popular and well respected in the game.

So, if you go by quantitative approaches, yes, he doesn't look great. But the whole point of my article was that there's more than one set of criteria for determining a quality Hall of Famer.


10:34 PM Aug 30th
geez, how did I miss my mispelling of century?

1:36 PM Aug 30th
Re: Composers by last name initials: Can we add some 20th centuray popular composurers to those lists?

The music of Berlin, Bernstein, and Bacharach are worth adding to the Bs. David Bowie's real last name is Jones, so not him. Perhaps, Lindsay Buckingham and David Byrne, though.

The Ms get boosted by McCartney, Mancini, Joni Mitchell, Bob Marley, May & Mercury of Queen, Gordon Sumner (aka Sting), Robert Smith, (The Cure), Seal (whose real last name is Samuel), and in this century: Chris Martin and, perhaps, this Marcus Mumford (& Sons).

The S's get to add Billy Strayhorn, Simon (Paul and Carly), Cat Stevens, Stephen Stills, Chris Squire (Yes), Springsteen, perhaps, Sade, and another 21st century gem: Regina Spektor (trust me, she's a great songwriter).​
1:35 PM Aug 30th
Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler, and another seond-baseman with three 5+ WAR (Baseball Reference) seasons Aaron Hill were all born in 1982. Dustin Pedroia was born in 1983 and another great second-baseman Ben Zobrist was born in 1981. Chase Utley is 2 1/2 years older than Zobrist. Additinally Brandon Phillips and to a lesser degree Howie Kendrick have had very respectable careers in this age group.

This is an unprecedented cluster of outsanding second-basemen, although, there was another group that comes somewhat close - not all that long ago: Roberto Alomar, Jeff Kent, and Chuck Knoblauch were all born in 1968. Bret Boone was born in 1969 only 14 months after the oldest of those three. Ray Durham is another year and a half younger than Boone. Chris Biggio is just over two years older than Alomar.

Worth mentioning for the top end talent, but at a wider window and shallower cluster: Rod Carew is 25 months younger than Joe Morgan. Davey Lopes falls in their window, although his first year as a regular was Carew’s last as a second-baseman. Davey Johnson is another 8 months older than Morgan. Bobby Grich, who deserves Hall of Fame recognition, is 3 1/2 years younger than Carew. But then, we could see how Jason Kipnis's career pans out, who is 3 1/2 years younger than Pedroia.

Of course, with fewer teams you would expect it more difficult to have a deep cluster of talent at one position all born within a short time frame. So, let me point out the 1930s bunch headed by Charlie Gehringer and Tony Lazzeri both born in 1903. Another outstanding second-baseman you might not know because he played mostly for the Washington Senators is Buddy Myer born in March of 1904. Myer accumulated almost as much brWAR as Lazzeri. The three of them were born within a 10 month window. Expanding that window by 3 1/2 years includes Max Bishop at the earlier end, while 5 1/2 years in needed to include Billy Herman at the later end. Frankie Frisch is another two years older than Max Bishop.

12:45 PM Aug 30th
Not to mention all of J S Bach's sons.
12:40 PM Aug 30th
P.S. The "B" bench also includes Bizet.
8:27 PM Aug 29th
Digression, off the subject -- nobody pay any attention to this post. :-)
It's about classical music.

Dan, thanks for mentioning that "Walhalla" thing, never heard of it, nor knew that Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms were in any such thing, even though I was born in Germany and even though I'm big into classical music.

Just thought I'd mention, "B" laps the field in great composers.
The only letters that even begin to give any competition are M and S.

M: Mozart, Mahler, Mendelssohn, and a bench of Mussorgsky, Messiaen, Massenet.

S: Deeper than M but maybe not greater:
Schubert, Schumann, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Strauss (pick either one), Scriabin, Sibelius, Saint-Saens, Schoenberg, Smetana, Scarlatti (keyboard players would think I mean Domenico, which I do; opera people might think I mean his father Alessandro)

Besides the big three of Bach-Beethoven-Brahms, the B's have a great and deep bench:
Bartok, Berlioz, Bruckner, Borodin, Bellini, Barber.
Also, if you want to really impress people, Buxtehude :-)
8:21 PM Aug 29th
I also look at WAR a lot, mostly for convenience and a quick, if superficial,take on player's accomplishments. I also like to look at a lot of other things, whenthinking about something like HoF selections. So here's Kinsler:
"Black ink" (league-leading total in a restricted range of measures: 1 (At-bats). Average HoF: 27.
"Grey ink" (top-10 finishes in...): 55. Average HoF: 144.
HoF Monitor (points for various milestones): 84. Averahe HoF: 100
HoF "Standards" (points for exceeding career numbers): 32. Average HoF: 50

"Similarty scores': Only 1 of his top 10 --Joe Gordon--is in the HoF.

But a lot of it is sort of "feel", or, as you did, what would we put on his plaque...
6:01 PM Aug 29th
Excellent piece. I enjoyed the way you kept starting over fresh, with a different analogy, and following it along until it wound up at the same basic point. I especially liked the comparison to Bill James' old concept of Approximate Value, and the analogy with net worth. To give it the highest praise I can: This was as good as one of Bill's articles.

12:49 PM Aug 29th
Thanks for the long, thoughtful article on a topic that deserved to be addressed. This WAR enthusiast very much enjoyed it.

A couple comments:
- Obviously WAR is intended to measure career-long value or performance, not illustriousness. Some of us might give WAR a more prominent role in Hall of Fame debates because we start the conversation on a somewhat different trajectory.
- A big advantage to WAR, some of us feel, is because it captures most ways to post value during regular seasons. A player who does everything well instead of excels mostly in one area (say Alan Trammell versus Ozzie Smith) can have all of his achievements tallied if one uses WAR (or WARP or Win Shares).
12:27 PM Aug 29th
Jwilt: I agree with your basic take on Kinsler, but, about the comparison of him to those other players in that last part of your post, (which I realize isn't important for the basic point):
It's not so easy to say that Kinsler is better than all or even any of them.

Admittedly I have an agenda on this. :-)
Two of them:
It's questionable to make clear objective judgments on comparisons of players at a position like 2B (also SS and catcher), except when there's quite a distance between them.
And, it's especially hard when it involves players from the distant past, whose fielding is especially hard to judge.

Everyone would agree that 2B is at least very much a defensive position, if not mainly a defensive position. So, any comparison of second basemen involves heavily a comparison of their fielding. To say that Kinsler is better than those players, we'd be saying either that we think he was at least as good a defensive player, or that his offense was so much better that it doesn't matter.

As far as I can tell, Kinsler has been a good defensive second baseman but not great, certainly not a transcendent one. He's a lesser offensive player than Lazzeri, Gordon, and Doerr; I'm not sure what's the basis for saying he was about as good as them, unless we're confident that his fielding is way better, which probably is true on Lazzeri, but I say we don't really know. I don't think Kinsler has been any better of an offensive player than Billy Herman or Evers, nor even necessarily of Fox or Schoendienst which I'm sure will confirm for many that I'm nuts, but -- it depends on how we see baseball offense. As for Mazeroski, his fielding was such that it's no simple matter to compare Kinsler to him but anyway Mazeroski is what we might call a special case; he isn't in because of any perception of his overall goodness or value, but because he was such an extremely outstanding defensive player, maybe even mainly (as I've suggested) because of the narrow thing that he was seen as the best-ever at turning the double play.
12:01 PM Aug 29th
1) I don't think WAR or JAWS makes a particularly good case that Kinsler is a Hall of Famer. He's below the JAWS average 2B marks, and is 35 so he probably won't be adding much to his totals. And the JAWS averages include guys like Red Schoendienst and Nellie Fox, who wouldn't be elected today.

2) The Hall of Fame is (not) dealing with the expansion timebomb by raising the de facto standards. They're not inducting players like Jim Edmonds and Ian Kinsler who are around JAWS averages. They're keeping those guys and Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell out. Kinsler, at or below average HOF levels on WAR and by subjective measures and traditional measures, will not go in any time soon. The JAWS average is now a floor, unless you have really good stories or some other extra credit like postseason glory.

3) Kinsler is clearly as good or better than a lot of HOF 2B. By whatever measure you want. He is as good as Fox or Billy Herman or Red Schoendienst or Bill Mazeroski or Johnny Evers. He's about as good as Tony Lazzeri, Joe Gordon, and Bobby Doerr. But those kind of players probably don't go into the Hall any more.
10:30 AM Aug 29th
Dan: Love it!!
(You knew I would.) :-)

Just a couple of stray things:

I feel no doubt that Koufax nowadays would have sailed in just as easily as he did then. Kershaw is a pretty good current example to "show" it -- "show" in quote because it's only hypothetical, but I think we're able to have a good feel for how he'd do as of right now, and I think you express it well -- and Koufax was even more of a standout than Kershaw has been.

Another approximate example might be Verlander, who you don't mention. He's not real high on JAWS, or on total wins, but I'd say that even if he does nothing more, which it seems he might well not, IMO, current thinking about him as a pitcher and about "Hall of Fame-ness" is such that he'll get very strong support and has an excellent chance to get in.


You made a mistake on the killer B's thing. As all Yankee fans and a few Sox fans know, the correct list is Babe, Bucky, and Boone. :-)
10:25 AM Aug 29th
Daniel it took courage to write this article and I enjoyed it very much. I especially enjoyed the specific references and analogies used throughout. As someone who often reads this site and doesn't post much, I have never myself been able to articulate the points you make in regard to WAR and the HOF. One thing I will add is that this is the old Black and Gray thinkers question. Some really need and like order, definitive, objective, the decisive. That in a nutshell is cumulative WAR. Others deal in more gray terms and view these questions from multiple lenses. Chaos doesn't bother them, they take longer to make decisions and sometimes can get off track. Neither of these is right or wrong. Your definition of what can be written on the plaque as far as accomplishments is a pretty interesting way of accomplishing what a HOFer is. Hell I wouldn't be opposed to some day seeing.... He led the NL in Pitching WAR 5 times, Led in Defensive Runs Saved 10 consecutive times etc.! I will conclude by saying, I don't like it when I see people comparing Jim Rice to Gene Tenace and coming off as if it is a HOF argument that their career WAR is 47.4 and 46.8 and their peak7 years were 36.2 and 34.9. And, Tenace had an OPS+ higher than Rice and was a Catcher on 3 WS winners. Therefore, they are in the same ballpark HOF-wise. Not a chance in hell. Try and write the plaques is all I can say.
9:26 AM Aug 29th
Excellent piece, Dan. Regarding the three points you made at the very beginning of the article, particularly the first: I heard a similar remark during a recent telecast--not sure if it was Joe Davis during a Dodger game or Dan Shulman this past Sunday--to the effect that WAR is having a greater influence on MVP voting than in the past. I share your uneasy feeling that some voters will use it as a substitute for thought.

I have similar feelings about the SABR Defensive Index being used as a component of Gold Glove awards, especially since it is derived by combining metrics that are sometimes incompatible or contradictory, like UZR and DRS.

And just in passing: I know nothing about Old Norse, so Wikipedia may well be right, but in 19th Century German 'Walhalla' is closer in meaning to 'Hall of the Elect'.
9:10 AM Aug 29th
Great, great article! Thanks!
8:31 AM Aug 29th

I bought it as an e-book, and it seems pretty easy to read. It's not inundated with tables of Data.

7:01 AM Aug 29th
How much of Jaffe's book is tables of data? It's on my to read list, and I'm wondering whether to buy it for my Kindle or on paper.
6:47 AM Aug 29th
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