Last Year’s Hall of Fame Ballot and Voting, Compared with Wins Above Replacement (WAR)

Now that Baseball Projection has released their Historical WAR stats, I feel like I need to play with it as much as I can. Since I’m pretty obsessed with all things Hall of Fame, I figured I’d take a look at the hitters on last year’s Hall of Fame ballot and compare their WAR (wins above replacement) to their voting percentage.

Here are the hitters on the ballot, ranked by WAR, along with their voting percentages and OPS+:

Batter Pos PA WAR OPS+ Pct
Rickey Henderson LF 13249 114.7 127 94.8
Tim Raines LF 10244 69.5 123 22.6
Alan Trammell SS 9175 66.8 110 17.4
Mark McGwire 1B 7579 63.7 162 21.9
Andre Dawson CF 10627 55.1 119 67.0
Mark Grace 1B 9174 49.0 119 4.1
Dale Murphy CF 8974 43.9 121 11.5
Jim Rice LF 8959 42.9 128 76.4
Matt Williams 3B 7524 42.8 112 1.3
Don Mattingly 1B 7612 42.4 127 11.9
Dave Parker RF 10097 40.6 121 15.0
Harold Baines DH 10984 39.6 120 5.9
Jay Bell SS 8308 35.5 101 0.4
Ron Gant LF 7251 31.6 112 0.0
Greg Vaughn LF 7005 30.1 112 0.0
Mo Vaughn 1B 6365 28.7 132 1.1

Some shocking stuff there. Let’s look at this visually. Here is a chart for all of the players above 40 WAR:

Hall of Fame Voting Percentage vs. WAR

Basically, after Henderson, WAR gradually decreases. But, the voting percentages are all over the place. Gosh, where do I start?

First of all, Rickey Henderson is a god. In my first post about the 2009 Hall ballot, I wrote:

The debate with Rickey is not whether or not he is a Hall of Famer, but where he ranks on the short list of the greatest players in the history of the game.

Turns out, in terms of WAR, Rickey ranks fourth since 1955. Only Barry Bonds, WIllie Mays, and Hank Aaron have higher WAR than Rickey. So, the fact that he got in with 95% of the vote is right on the money, if not a little low.

That’s where the list gets a little weird.

Jim Rice was also inducted. Sabermetricians hate the guy. I’m certainly not a fan of his, but I did throw my support behind him for the Hall (though not emphatically). Now that we have the ability to assign metrics to all aspects of the game, Rice doesn’t look so hot.

Rice was worth 279 batting runs in his career—a nice total. His baserunning even came out to two runs. Not bad. He even came out positive defensively, finishing +13 runs for his arm and +9 for his zone defense. I’ll admit, those surprised me a bit.

One of the knocks against Rice was how often he grounded into double plays. Even if you take that total into consideration, you’re still looking at it side by side with his other offensive numbers. WAR actually subtracts from the overall value, so you can actually see the dent all those double plays puts into production. Turns out, Rice lost a staggering 46 runs (basically a sixth of his overall offensive production) via the double play. Ouch. Once the runs are converted to wins, he finished with 42.9 wins above replacement. That puts him immediately behind Lenny Dykstra and Tony Fernandez.

Yet Rice was inducted with 76.4% of the vote. Compare that to Dale Murphy, Matt Williams, and Don Mattingly. Each of those players finished between 42.4 and 43.9 wins above replacement. Yet their voting percentages vary incredibly. Rice leads the pack at 76.4. Then it’s Mattingly, way down at 11.9. Murphy follows him at 11.5. Then there’s Matt Williams. His WAR is just 0.1 behind Rice. Yet he finished with 1.3% of the vote. Sure, Rice was worth 0.1 more win, but it took him 1435 plate appearances to do it.

Before the graph above even spikes at Rice though, it spikes at Andre Dawson. Personally, I don’t think that’s because Dawson’s percentage is off (though it may be a bit high). I think the more likely scenario is that the three players in between Henderson and Dawson should have seen Dawson-like results.

60 wins above replacement in a career is relatively special. Only 63 players (since 1955) have done it, with the bottom two on the list being Hall of Famers Dave Winfield and Ryne Sandberg. In addition to Henderson, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, and Mark McGwire each finished above the 60 WAR mark. Not every player on the 60+ list is a Hall of Famer, though. Those eligible and not in:

That list features quite a few fantastic defensive players who are a bit underrated because their offensive numbers don’t quite match up to Hall hitters. That’s the beauty of WAR.

While 60+ usually means Hall of Fame, there are a few Hall of Famers who are even below 50. For example:

I know Lou Whitaker is underrated. But ranking #1 among eligible non-Hall of Famers is serious. But look who’s right after him. Raines. Raines should so clearly be a Hall of Famer I don’t even know where to start. The fact that his percentage went down this year scares the crap out of me. McGwire, obviously, had a Hall of Fame career. The only reason he’s not in already is the steroid controversy.

That brings us to Trammell. Wow, did he score well. I’m starting to think there’s something in the formula that boosts the scores of 1980s Tigers middle infielders! I wrote in the past that I was on the borderline with Trammell. Both Whitaker and Trammell had good offensive numbers. But they are also both the type of player that had great scores in every aspect of WAR—baserunning, avoding the double play, turning the double play, covering a lot of ground, playing a tough position, and—of course—hitting.

So, rounding back to Dawson (who had 55.1 WAR), the problem isn’t really Dawson’s percentage—it is the percentage of the three players in between Henderson and Dawson. McGwire sealed his own fate, but it is obvious with WAR that Tim Raines and Alan Trammell are tremendously underrated. I’d put Raines in and also now Trammell, thanks to the complete value in Trammell I now see from WAR. In the past, I’ve called Dawson a Hall of Famer, but by no means a slam dunk.

After Dawson, there is a stretch between 55.1 WAR and 43.9 WAR that only contains one player. To me, this stretch really starts to represent the borderline. The one player contained in that stretch is Mark Grace. Grace, at 49.0 WAR, received just 4.1 percent of the vote. That’s a higher WAR than Rice, who gained election. I’m not naive. I know this is the Hall of Fame and not the Hall of Stats. Rice had an MVP Award and played in a huge market. He was clearly more famous. I’m also not saying the Mark Grace should be in the Hall. I am saying, however, that it appears Rice’s overall game is vastly overrated while Grace’s is underrated.

Where does this leave Dale Murphy? In pretty much the same amountM of plate appearances, he picked up one more win than Rice. Murphy also had two MVP Awards and five Gold Gloves. So, that begs the question… If Rice, why not Murphy?

Well, I don’t think I can answer that. Which leads me to my final question…

Does this change my stance on Rice?

Here’s my previously published stance on Rice:

I’m not a homer on Rice. I have no attachment to him whatsoever. He just happens to have Hall of Fame numbers. He’s similar to Murphy in that he dominated early on and then dropped off early. In Rice’s case, he slipped after 1986 (age 33). But Murphy’s dropoff was more severe, longer, and started earlier. Rice saw he was through and hung them up. As a result, his rate numbers (.298/.352/.502/128 OPS+) are still very impressive. He has the MVP and 8 All Star selections, too. He’s not the obvious choice some Red Sox fans make him out to be, but he should be in Cooperstown.

Jim Rice was a very good offensive player. But how good? In his career, he collected 279 batting runs (his best attribute in his WAR). Comparatively speaking, Edgar Martinez totaled 559. In fact, statistically speaking, I’m struggling to find anything that makes Rice a Hall of Famer. I’m definitely softening my stance on him—not that it matters… he’s in. Do I now believe he should have been in? He’s certainly not the worst Hall of Famer in Cooperstown, but if I did it all over again I would not have given him an endorsement.

A peek at next year:

Just to show what types of players we have coming up on the ballot next year, here are the big four:

All of them clear Rice by a longshot. In fact, three of them I put in slam-dunk-HoFer territory—Larkin, Martinez, and Alomar. McGriff isn’t far off, either.

But, of course, that’s a blog post for another day.