I love the Hall of Fame. But the Hall of Fame sucks.
Every year a player (or several) like Bert Blyleven, Tim Raines, or Edgar Martinez hits the ballot. An alarming number of baseball writers and fans will argue that these players don’t deserve induction. When they think of the Hall of Fame, they always remember Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Walter Johnson. They often forget—or perhaps don’t even know—that the Hall of Fame already features players like Rube Marquard, Chick Hafey, or Tommy Freakin’ McCarthy. Inducting a Bert Blyleven or an Edgar Martinez would never, ever hurt the “purity” of the Hall of Fame. That was soiled long ago.
This made me question what actually makes a player Hall of Fame-worthy. Let’s take Will Clark, for example. He’s certainly no Lou Gehrig or Jimmie Foxx. But he’s a hell of a lot better than High Pockets Kelly or Jim Bottomley (both first basemen were inducted to the Hall of Fame). To determine whether or not Clark should be a Hall of Famer, I now have to do this balancing act between how much worse he is than the elite players at his position and how much better he is than some guys already inducted.
It’s an absolute mess. The only way to fix it is to kick everyone out of the Hall of Fame and start from scratch. So that’s what I did.
“Why even bother voting for the Hall of Fame?” they ask us stat geeks. “Why don’t you just pick a WAR cutoff and everyone above the line is a Hall of Famer?”
That’s not a bad idea. I love WAR (Wins Above Replacement). If you aren’t familiar with WAR, I wrote about it in detail. To me, it is the best way to use a single number to gauge a player’s overall career value. However, I don’t want to re-populate the Hall of Fame using “plain old” WAR. We all know there’s more to a Hall of Fame case than simply providing value (and one of the knocks on WAR is that it rewards “compilers”). Peak performance and postseason heroics can also enhance to a player’s case. Those happen to be two of the adjustments that go into my weighted version of WAR. I call it wWAR.
Time to geek out. Here’s the formula:
What do all those acronyms mean?
In 1879, Deacon White posted 3.8 WAR. In 2011, David Ortiz also posted 3.8 WAR. But which is more impressive? Ortiz produced his 3.8 wins in a 162 game schedule. White did the same in a 84-game schedule. WAR/162 projects White’s WAR to a 162-game schedule, making him worth 7.3 WAR/162.
There’s a limit to how much credit a player will receive, though. In 1872, Ross Barnes posted 5.2 WAR in a 48-game schedule. WAR/162 projects BarnesÕ WAR to a 162-game schedule, making him worth 17.6 WAR/162. That simply pads a player’s wWAR too much, giving them value for what didn’t actually happen. For that reason, I limit WAR/162 to doubling the player’s WAR.
When calculating WAR/162, I typically just used the league schedule length for all seasons. In more volatile leagues (like the National Association, Union Association, etc.), I was more specific and used the number of games the player’s team played (since there were several cases of teams folding mid-season). From 1871 to 1892, I didn’t project the pitching WAR over 162 games. This is because of the huge differences in pitcher usage and scheduling during that time. I still project the pitchers’ hitting stats from those years, though.
Wins Above Excellence, originally devised by Sean Smith (the father of Baseball-Reference’s WAR), is the total of all single season WAR above 3.0. WAE aims to measure only seasons where a certain level of excellence was achieved (while its cousin Wins Above MVP aims to capture dominant MVP-worthy performances).
There are some exceptions to the 3.0 baseline:
It is important to note that Wins Above Excellence (and Wins Above MVP) baselines are applied to the player’s WAR, not his WAR/162. I think it is fair to give a player credit for value he lost because of schedule length, but I don't want to double count it by adding more WAE/WAM as well. WAE and WAM also disregard negative position player WAR or pitcher WAR that drags a player’s total WAR down. For example, if a pitcher posts 4.0 pitching WAR and -0.3 WAR as a hitter, his WAE will be 1.0. He is not docked for the negative WAR at the plate because he is already docked for it in his overall WAR.
Wins Above MVP is the total of all single season WAR above 6.0. After Sean Smith came up with WAE, I whipped up WAM as a way to measure only seasons where a player was a legitimate MVP candidate.
There are some exceptions to the 6.0 baseline:
Postseason statistics break the “small sample size” rule, but postseason heroics absolutely add to a player’s Hall of Fame case (while being a postseason goat hurts some). Since there is no postseason WAR, how can we capture postseason value? We can use Win Probability Added (WPA), which measures a player’s contribution to his team’s victory. Add up his WPA and you have an estimate of the number of wins he was directly responsible for.
I recently introduced a modification of postseason WPA called (of course) wWPA (Weighted postseason Win Probability Added). The theory behind wWPA is that not all postseason series are created equal. I count the LDS once. I double count the LCS. And the World Series? It counts three times.
In order to avoid double-counting negative values, I calculate it like: wWPA = Total Postseason WPA + LCSWPA + (2*WSWPA) (where I only add the extra LCSWPA and WSWPA values if they are greater than zero).