Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Hall Call

Does it come today for Bert Blyleven? Probably not, and you could make an argument that it shouldn't come for anyone. Despite having the same cast of voters (for the most part) as last year, the Baseball Writers Association of America will almost certainly elect someone to the Hall this year that didn't make the cut a year ago. Or the year before that. Or the year before that. You get it.

Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage were close, but not close enough last year.

Blyleven is amazingly far away from induction.

Andre Dawson and Jim Rice got support, but it didn't get them anywhere near the required 75 percent of the vote.

At least one of the players listed above will go in this year.

The catch: None of them has played in a game since last year. So what makes them Hall-worthy now? Are the writers dead-set on putting at least one player in every year? Can they not see that their voting process is completely illogical?

I talked this morning on the radio about how at least one well-known BBWAA voter, ESPN.com's Jayson Stark, has changed his mind and voted for Blyleven this year. Stark opined here about Blyleven, and he made an interesting point about the voting.

Because we don't get overwhelmed by new candidates in years like this, we have a chance to reconsider old ones. And in the case of this particular voter, that wound up leading me to cast a vote for a player I've resisted for eight agonizing years -- Blyleven.
I don't think that makes me a flip-flopper, or a guy just looking for someone to shove up onto the podium next July. It simply reinforced my conviction that my favorite part of being a Hall of Fame voter is that it teaches me so much about players I didn't cover or players I saw just a little in their primes.

Stark makes a point I hadn't thought of. While it doesn't explain to me how it's even possible that a guy like Blyleven could now be getting serious consideration after almost a decade of not getting any love, it does explain why an individual voter might alter his thinking from year to year.

I just hope that all voters think and deliberate as seriously about their ballots as Stark apparently does. Unfortunately, that is probably not the case.
Stark makes another great point about Blyleven's candidacy, a candidacy that I personally did not support until Rob Neyer finally clubbed me over the head enough times.

I admit I was swayed by a fabulous piece by Bill James in the new, indispensable "Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006."
James couldn't figure out why a guy with Blyleven's stats won "only" 287 games, or ended up "only" 37 games over .500. So he walked through Blyleven's career, start by start, and then compared it to the careers of the best Hall of Fame candidates of that era.He found Blyleven had the worst run support of any pitcher in the group except Don Sutton and accumulated the most "tough losses," a stat James invented personally to measure losses in which pitchers deserved better. There is zero doubt Blyleven already would be a Hall of Famer if he'd won 300 games. And that research helped explain the mystery of why he didn't.

I'm not as much of a "stat geek" as others in my generation of baseball fans, but I do look at the numbers. When you watch a player, your eyes don't always tell you the whole story. You get caught up in things like hustle that don't mean as much as Harold Reynolds wants you think.

When you dive into the stats, you find out that Blyleven, according to Lee Sinins' new Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia CD-ROM thing that I have to go buy, allowed 344 runs fewer than the average pitcher of his day.

Sadly, most of the BBWAA have trouble checking their e-mail every day. Making them use tools like a encyclopedic CD would probably cause heads to explode.

If you care, this is how I would vote. I began supporting Blyleven two years ago, thanks to the aforementioned Neyer, and I continue to support Blyleven's struggling candidacy. We'll include only the ten or so candidates that may get enough votes to be worthy of discussion.

Albert Belle--> OUT. No way he gets in, especially given all the steroid flap this past year. But Belle should get enough support to stay on the ballot for a second year.

Bert Blyleven--> IN. He "only" won 287 games, but in an era where fans are beginning to better understand the overrated nature of the "win" statistic, it would be nice to see a guy like Blyleven recognized despite the fact that he fell short of the magical 300 wins.

Andre Dawson--> OUT. His knees sucked. But that's not a reason to vote for someone. That's a baseball injury. Baseball injuries happen. Dawson did a great job battling through them, but as long as Dale Murphy is on the outside looking in, then so is Dawson.

Rich "Goose" Gossage--> IN. The original great closer. Like Bruce Sutter, Gossage has taken forever, for some strange reason, to garner serious Hall support.

Jack Morris--> OUT. I've had trouble with this one, supporting Morris for a time. I know he threw a gem in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. One of the truly legendary pitching performances of all time. But he had a 3.90 career ERA, and he got great run support on his way to a great won-loss record. The Morris debate is great, because there are legitimate arguments on both sides, but I think the naysayers have the advantage here.

Dale Murphy--> IN. Until Murphy, who was a better player than Dawson, gets in, I can't support the real Hawk. Murphy had it all, including incredible character that would make the BBWAA proud to elect him. But they're not. In fact, Murphy's support has inexplicably dwindled over the years, to just 54 votes a year ago.

Jim Rice--> OUT. Borderline candidate who was clearly hurt by his reputation with the media. But he doesn't get in if he's likeable. The numbers just don't support it.

Bruce Sutter--> IN. Pioneer, though not inventor, of the split-fingered fastball. Pioneer of the relief pitcher role. 300 saves. He was the short reliever and the closer put together, much like Gossage was. And he was unhittable.

Alan Trammell--> IN. Not much of a manager, but that's not what we're talking about. Very good hitter and great defensive shortstop. Defensive abilities lost in the fact that he played at teh same time as Ozzie Smith, but there was no question who the better hitter was. I guess Trammell just didn't do enough cartwheels and/or backflips.

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