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Who Does the Public Want Elected to the Hall of Fame?

November 19, 2019
The 2020 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot came out on Monday, which will inevitably lead to discussion on who deserves to go into the Hall of Fame and who meets the standards of being a Hall of Famer.
But what about the question of whom the public would most like to see go into the Hall of Fame?

Bill James attempted to answer this question in the lead article in the 2020 Bill James Handbook. He made a list of 156 current and retired players whom he felt would receive some suport and had each candidate polled six times over a three-month period this past summer, comparing that player's Hall of Fame support to three other candidates on each poll.

That resulted in 234 polls and nearly 290-thousand votes, which were analyzed by 12 formulas to measure each player's Hall of Fame support.

The result of all of the polling was that each player received a Support Score, indicative of how much public support they received. From that, Bill grouped players into six levels of Hall of Fame support. There were 14 players who received overwhelming support – a Support Score of more than 200 (an average score is 100). Some of them are still active. Some are long retired. One (Lou Whitaker) is on the Modern Era Committee Ballot. Four who are on the 2020 BBWAA ballot are marked in bold.

Highest Hall of Fame Support Score
Name Support Score
Barry Bonds 1,445
Justin Verlander 772
Adrián Beltré 742
Clayton Kershaw 558
Roger Clemens 473
Max Scherzer 439
Pete Rose 414
David Ortiz 343
Joe Jackson 335
Larry Walker 292
Alex Rodriguez 258
Lou Whitaker 247
Manny Ramírez 223
Carlos Beltrán 220


"The most striking thing about the list of players most-favored for Cooperstown selection is the concentration on the list of those who have been kicked out of baseball in gambling scandals (two) or kept out of the Hall of Fame in righteous indignation about PEDs or suspended for some period of time for failing a PED test," Bill wrote, referring to Barry BondsRoger ClemensPete Rose, and Joe Jackson. Further, he pointed out that this isn’t a case of the public being willing to let PED usage slide. The public does care about PED usage, as evidenced by Rafael Palmeiro’s low Support Score (53).


Granted, the polling system was imperfect because it was only polling Twitter users, but Bill noted that any system is going to have sampling issues, and he thinks this survey is "the largest and most extensive study ever of who the public WANTS to get into the Hall of Fame. That’s the goal, anyway."

Clemens, Bonds, and Walker are within sight of the 75% of votes needed to be elected, but still have a ways to go. Clemens received 59.5% on the last ballot, Bonds 59.1%, and Walker 54.6%.

Clemens and Bonds have inched their way up slowly the last two years, making a gain of about 5 percentage points in that time. They have three ballots left to pick up the remaining votes needed. Walker made a jump of 20.5 percentage points from 2018 to 2019. He needs to do that again this year, in his final year on the ballot, to be elected. Ramirez has much more of an uphill climb, having received 23% of the votes in the last BBWAA balloting.

If it were up to the Twitter-voting public, those four players would be on their way to Cooperstown. We’ll see if there’s any change among the writers to reflect that sentiment. In the meantime, buy the Handbook and check out the rest of Bill's article to see how the public feels about the rest of the 156 notable players he included in the study.

For more baseball content, check out the Sports Info Solutions Blog or the SIS Baseball Podcast.

COMMENTS (14 Comments, most recent shown first)

Disappointing you is a badge of honor, steve. And this poll has Joe Jackson, there is no standard of being on any ballot but Bill's.
1:23 PM Nov 24th
Reader Posts result to date: Bonds 22 Rose 2
9:09 AM Nov 24th
I posted a poll in Reader Posts: Barry Bonds vs. Pete Rose. Vote!
8:49 AM Nov 23rd
You disappoint me, Backstop. The selection effects are exactly the same as they were on the candidates poll. The differences you cite are irrelevant--and some of them aren't even differences (some of these candidates, for example, will effectively drop out or be dropped out by the realities of vet committee voting). The only real difference is that this doesn't matter as much.
6:20 AM Nov 23rd
I think it is fine to use twitter for a poll like this. In fact, it is twitter pollings' highest and best use.

You get a huge sample quickly.

Your thesis is merely "the public" so, unlike the candidate poll, there aren't the questions of geography and voting status and citizenship.

The HoF candidates are not going to run out of money and drop out of the race, or make some public gaffe that destroys their numbers. There won't be 20 now and 4 in 8 months.

There is no emphasis on trending or motivation, just straight up support.

It is high unlikely that some organized group of passionate partisanship HoFer will have sufficient passion and heft to ambush a poll, unlike a political situation.

I can't assess the structure of head-to-head statistics, but that is my dipshtt English major speaking. You propeller heads can fight that one out.
10:35 PM Nov 22nd
I can accept the "Big" HOF argument because he was in fact better than many of the HOFers. Personally, I use to watch Willie Randolph all the time and never thought of him as a HOF. While Lou may be a bit better than Willie because of his power, I think Bobby Grich is the most overlooked secondbaseman. I would support him before anyone else.
2:41 PM Nov 21st
I also will add this, because I just thought of it:

I have recently been reading Sports Illustrated archive articles. They are free online, I recommend them.

I noticed that the magazine often had features on Red Schoendienst. He was on the cover several times, and they dispatched a writer to pen something on Schoendienst a lot. He played on a lot of winning teams, in St. Louis and Milwaukee, you guys all know that. But Red Schoendienst was no superstar. You know what he was? He was a great guy. He was a scrappy player, a very good player some seasons, but mostly scrappy. He was a good interview, had a super smile, and that big patch of red hair on his head. He even had freckles. People loved him.

Schoendienst wasn't nearly the ballplayer Whitaker was. Maybe for a year he was as good, but over the course of their best five years, their best seven, their best ten, and certainly for the 19 years (they both) played, Sweet Lou was a far superior player.

So, if Lou Whitaker had red hair, and if he had been a super interview with a bright smile. If he had played years with Stan Musial, and if he had been a manager after his playing career, I guess Whitaker might have been elected to the Hall like Red.

If the Hall has a place for happy, friendly, scrappy guys like Red Schoendienst, they have a place for quiet, moody, talented players like Louuuuuuu.

The End
12:31 PM Nov 21st
Yeah, Whitaker has a very unusual career arc. He produced oodles of good seasons, seasons that were in the top three (let's say) at his position. He did that probably 12-14 times. That's really unusual.

But he only ever had one (or maybe two) really good seasons, and nothing that approaches an MVP season.

THAT, I believe is the trouble with his candidacy. It's pretty unique, there are few (maybe only a half-dozen) players in history who:

1) played 18+ seasons AND
2) were regulars almost every year AND
3) never really had a terrible season AND
4) had a good or All-Star caliber season 75 percent of the time BUT
5) didn't accumulate the counting stats that we associate with a Hall of Famer AND/OR
6) never had a seminal moment or season

That's Whitaker's career. He was just "there" for almost two decades, playing great defense. But...Frank White was really good with the leather too, so Sweet Lou didn't win the Gold Glove every season. And Whitaker was just "there" batting leadoff for one of the better teams of the 1980s, but he didn't have a monster season (1983 was closest) and he never had a signature season like Trammell did in 1987, or Yount in 1982, and so on.

And Whitaker was quiet, he was a Jehovah and didn't go on the field for the anthem, didn't do interviews. He was aloof, he was uninterested in the game when it was out of hand. He probably swung at every first pitch in a game after the 6th inning if his team was ahead by more than a run. He never wanted to learn the signs, never tried to improve one area of his game, he relied on great natural ability. He looked like he wasn't trying.

Whitaker is a tough case for me. I grew up in Michigan. I was nine years old when he and Trammell made their debut at the tail end of the 1977 season. I probably watched 1,200 of the 1,900+ games they played together. I saw them play A LOT. I went to their final game at Tiger Stadium, it was a weekday afternoon game against the Orioles. Mike Mussina grooved fastballs to them in their last at-bats, but neither Lou nor Tram could get a hit.

The advanced metrics says Whitaker was more valuable. I would guess that's because Lou played in a league where the average second baseman was a bit weaker than the average shortstop. I would also suspect Lou's advantage in walk rate and his 70+ advantage in homers makes that so. But Trammell played fewer games, and in 1987 Trammell was as great as just about any shortstop has ever been in a single season. Trammell was a team leader, and he hit two two-run homers in Game Four of the World Series. He worked very hard to overcome a shoulder injury, and he hit .300 several times. He seems like Robin Yount light, whereas the comparisons of Sweet Lou to Joe Morgan just seem forced.

I love Sweet Lou. I want the Tigers to build a statue of the double play twins at Comerica Park. But...I can see why some people oppose Whitaker's HOF candidacy.

I have evolved into a big Hall guy. An "if this guy is in, why not that guy" guy. And if Bill Mazeroski is in, and Nellie Fox, and Luis Aparicio, and frickin Harold Baines, for crissakes, Cooperstown has room for one of the "really good" second basemen who played a very long time at a near-All-Star or All-Star level almost every season.

12:23 PM Nov 21st
Taking a deeper delve into Lou Whitaker by using Baseball Gauge WS and WAR numbers, Bobby Grich is better than LW.

Best Seasons: (WS,WAR)

LOU 28,26,25,23,22,22,21,20,20 Tot-346
BG 32,31,29,29,28,22,21,21,20,20 Tot-328

LOU 6.8, 5.7, 5.4, 5.3, 4.7, 4.5, 4.5, 4.4, 4.3, 4.1 Tot-75.1
BG 8.3, 7.3, 7.3, 6.1, 6.0, 6.0, 5.5, 4.3, 4.2 Tot-71.1

In both cases, Grich has better high end seasons and its not just the top couple.You have to get several seasons in before Whitaker ties Grich.

Anyway, just surprised that Sweet Lou is garnering the support he is.

7:20 AM Nov 21st
I'm really surprised that Lou Whitaker has started to gain so much steam as a candidate. I always thought of him as a good ballplayer and nothing close to a HOFer. He drew next to no support in MVP voting, played in a few ASG, had 2300 hits. But, really his credentials don't scream off the page for me. His momentum has likely been helped by WAR-75.0. For my money he was alot closer to the list of Bobby Grich, Willie Randolph, and Frank White than Joe Morgan and Rod Carew.
7:00 AM Nov 21st
Did you wait until deep in the article to use the word "Twitter" so you wouldn't be dismissed?

I would suggest that you cannot simultaneously have a "scientific" poll that uses statistical "formulas" to analyze your data and also get the data from Twitter.

Ever hear of "garbage in, garbage out?"

There are just so so so many ways this data is unreliable. I suppose this exercise is fun, but given the way many other articles and research on BJO are said to be deep analysis, this thing here, this Twitter experiment, is not that useful.
4:15 PM Nov 20th
I actually think the poll results are quite consistent with the BBWAA votes. Well over half the BBWAA voters support Bonds and Clemens for the Hall and I would expect that those who think they should be in the Hall believe that Bonds and Clemens are overwhelmingly qualified. The writers have never gotten the chance to vote on Rose or Jackson. I think if Bonds got in, the support for Manny Ramirez among the writers would jump. My guess is, however, that over 25% of the writers are passionately opposed to Bonds and Clemens. It might well be true that if Bill asked who should NOT be in the Hall, Bonds would get more votes than someone like Kershaw or Beltre.
9:39 AM Nov 20th
I'll anticipate Old Backstop by pointing out that the participants are not just Twitter users, they are Bill's followers on Twitter, so the selection effect is even greater and the results of the poll accordingly even less informative.

Also, why conclude that Rafael Palmeiro's poor showing indicates a concern with PED usage, when other accused users do not show this effect? An equally (or more) reasonable conclusion is that the voters simply do not think Palmeiro worthy of election to the Hall of Fame, despite his numbers.
4:41 AM Nov 20th
That sheffield isn't on that list just confirms the public is just as stupid as the BBWAA members.

8:01 PM Nov 19th
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