This Hall of Fame ballot went to WAR

Game 2, 1995 World Series: Fred McGriff tags out Manny Ramirez. (David Tulis/AJC)

Game 2, 1995 World Series: Fred McGriff tags out Manny Ramirez. (David Tulis/AJC)

My Hall of Fame ballot: Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Alan Trammell and Larry Walker. (Only Griffey and Piazza were elected.) Feel free to disagree, but know this: There was a method to this process that wasn’t always present in years past, and this was my 22nd year of voting.

True confession: I’d never really had a method. I mostly hunted and pecked, picked and chose. Oh, I compared the basic numbers — isn’t the Baseball Hall of Fame just a repository of numbers? — and I used them (or didn’t) as justification. But I was never satisfied with that. I knew I wasn’t being clinical enough.

Take the issue of familiarity, or the lack of same. I never saw Trammell play in person. I saw Fred McGriff quite a lot. That’s the nature of this particular job. I’ve seen LeBron James lots more than I have Kobe Bryant. I work in Atlanta.

I also had a bit of a positional bias: I liked closers. But the more I’ve dipped my toes into the sabermetric pond — and I stipulate that I still don’t consider myself a sabermetrician — the more I’ve been swayed by the argument that most closers are overrated. (Mariano Rivera being the exception that proves the rule.) You’ve got three outs to get and your team is already ahead and, in most instances, there’s nobody on base. That’s not an easy job, but sometimes it’s not all that hard.

Know how many 20-game winners there were in the majors last season? (Yes, yes. Sabermetricians hate the concept of “wins,” too. I use this advisedly.) Two, and both won Cy Young awards. Know how many 30-save men there were? Twenty-one. Two of every three teams had a guy who saved 30 games. So how hard is it? Brad Boxberger of Tampa Bay had 43 saves with a WHIP of 1.37 and an ERA of 3.71. He also blew six saves; no reliever blew more than seven. Was Boxberger a great closer?

This year I voted for no closers, not even Trevor Hoffman, who finished with 601 saves. (Only Rivera has more.) I didn’t vote for Lee Smith, who has 478, or Billy Wagner, who has 422. If we go by Baseball Reference’s WAR values, those three relievers were 21st (Smith), 24th (Hoffmann) and 25th (Wagner) among eligible players this year, and you’re allowed to vote for only 10.

This, see, was the year I stopped trying to decide if McGriff’s .284 batting average with 493 homers and 1,550 RBIs over 8,757 at-bats trumped Walker’s .313 with 383 and 1,311 over 6,907. For argument’s sake, let’s give McGriff the nod there. But then we note Walker’s superiority in on-base percentage (.400 to .377) and OPS (.965 to .886), and we note also that he won a MVP award and six Gold Gloves as a right fielder while the Crime Dog won no MVPs (finished in the top 10 six times, though) and no Gold Gloves at first base. And then we get into the Mile High thing — Walker played 10 of his 17 seasons in Colorado — and ask: How much does altitude figure into his numbers?

But wait! There’s a number for that, too! According to OPS+, which factors in the player’s ballpark, Walker still wins. His career OPS+ per 162 games was 141; McGriff’s was 134. And that’s just two guys. We could do similar exercises with every name on the ballot in the effort to choose between players of the same era who manned different positions, or …

We could use WAR.

Some people hate the concept of wins above replacement. Not many understand it. But WAR is mighty useful when it comes to comparing and contrasting, and here it wasn’t close. Walker beat McGriff 72.6 to 52.4. Of eligible players, Walker’s WAR value ranked seventh; McGriff’s was 17th.

If you click on the Baseball Reference link highlighted above and then on the “WAR” column, you’ll find that I voted for the top nine. I didn’t vote for No. 10 — Edgar Martinez — because I opted instead for No. 14 Piazza, the greatest hitter among catchers. (I’m not constitutionally opposed to the concept of DH’ing, but Martinez did play the field in only 592 of his 2,055 games.)

So: I didn’t go straight WAR, but I came close. I’m not entirely satisfied with that, either, seeing as how WAR always lowballs closers. (Even Rivera, whose career WAR value is 56.6; Jim Edmonds’ is 60.3.) But I’ll cross that bridge when Mo becomes eligible, and I won’t have to sweat Chipper Jones two winters hence. His WAR is 85.0, which would have been third to Bonds and Clemens on this year’s ballot. He’s a Year 1 lock.

As for Bonds and Clemens (and perhaps Bagwell and Piazza): I had no hesitation in voting for them — I’ve done so before and will again — and if Mark McGwire’s WAR score had been a hair higher, I’d have voted for him, too. So long as MLB allows the records of the Steroids Era to stand, I will vote on those records. You tell me: How many more homers did Bonds hit because of PEDs? Fifty? A hundred? Three hundred? How many more strikeouts did Clemens record? I don’t know, and you don’t, either.

(Just for fun, I checked to see if Bonds ever hit a PED-on-PED home run off Clemens. He didn’t, but he did hit eight apiece off Greg Maddux and John Smoltz, first-ballot Hall of Famers. Just FYI.)

Maybe you think I removed the human element from Hall of Fame voting by relying on WAR. Sure, I could have picked McGriff or Gary Sheffield because I covered them as Braves, or I could have bumped up McGwire, who was nice to me in St. Louis during the Great Home Run Chase of 1998, or I could have opted for Hoffmann, whose entrance to “Hell’s Bells” in San Diego in Game 3 of the 1998 NLCS was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. But that’s way too much Human Element for my liking.

I thought about this at length, and I concluded that WAR and suchlike numbers exist for a reason. They measure that which cannot be measured by the naked eye. With the exception of Larry Walker himself, no living person saw every Larry Walker at-bat, but such is the nature of baseball that almost everything can be counted and collated. How many four-seam fastballs did Julio Teheran throw last season? Why, 1,382 — or 106 more than in 2014. Brooks Baseball tells us so.

Maybe next year I’ll go with something different. (BABIP, perhaps?) This time around, though, WAR was the answer.

Reader Comments 0

24 comments
MisterNeutron
MisterNeutron

"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."


The ballot gives you six criteria, and you ignored half of them.

patriotdog
patriotdog

I sure wish Atlanta would get a Major League Baseball team...or an NFL team.

klsfriend
klsfriend

Really quite simple. If you voted for Bonds and Clemens then nothing you say has any merit.

tmndc
tmndc

Mark, 

Big fan for three-plus decades and someone who appreciates the value of statistics and metrics in baseball, sports and other interests and callings. 


However, blind adherence to a single number--any number, WAR for baseball or other numbers in other contexts--is ridiculous. WAR is a perfectly fine statistic and all voters should take it into account, along with other qualitative and quantitative metrics (aka, Dale Murphy metrics). 


Basing your vote solely on a single isolated statistic is an unfortunate and difficult to excuse abdication by a distinguished journalist. Just give your vote to Nate Silver or some twelve year old kid who can run a spreadsheet next year. 


Just because subjective or moral / ethical judgments are hard doesn't mean they shouldn't be made. 


You can and should do better than this. 

E983
E983

Those stats you refer to are skewed by the use of PEDs. One writer based his votes for Bonds and Clemens on their stats before they started the PEDs. MLB and the players union are just as responsible for there rampant use by ignoring the problem. But it seems in another 6 years it won't matter. They just won't be on the ballot.

Jeff Randall
Jeff Randall

@Edgar So how do you know for certain when Bonds and Clemens began using PEDs? Did they use them constantly after that, or sporadically? How do you know if Griffey did them or not?

Unless there is a failed test, the PED allegations are just too difficult to parse IMO...

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

The HOF committee needs to exercise far more care in selecting voters. That said, with 10 votes you managed to hit on a few players who deserve election.

Bhorsoft
Bhorsoft

Sorry, I couldn't vote for alleged PED users for the HOF.  You are right in that we can't tell specifically how PEDs affected their performance, but just the idea that a player chooses to try to chemically enhance their performance disqualifies them for me.  Much the same way that Pete Rose's gambling has kept him banned.  None of us can be sure if his gambling affected games he played in.  However, I do know that Rose's HOF eligible stats weren't affected by his gambling or by PEDs.  Until Rose is allowed on HOF ballots, I would not be able in good conscience to  vote for a PED user. 

Lakehartwell
Lakehartwell

Voting for Bonds and Clemens is disgusting.!

salsaman
salsaman

You are as big an idiot picking H of F members as you are picking the dogs to win every year.

You pick drug users because their stats are still being used.

Really. Ever heard about independent thinking?

salsaman
salsaman

You are as big an idiot voting here as you are picking the dogs to win every year

0.673803130547
0.673803130547

Really enjoy your progressive view on the issues and how it's developed over the years. Schultzie is stuck in the stone age. Hot Take central over there. 


Good job, Mark. You an Michael Cunningham are the best things going at AJC sports. 

MaybeMaybeNot
MaybeMaybeNot

Unbelievable that WAR trumps playing the game with integrity.


As long as a record is not thrown out, then it is legit to get in the Hall?  Really?  Of course those records aren't getting thrown out.  Bud Selig was part of the one of the biggest cover ups in all of sports.......along with HOF managers Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre.


You were just a "hair" away from voting for McGwire?  The same guy who hugged the Maris family the day he hit #70 all the while knowing Maris did it the old fashioned way while he had Canseco give him shots in his big behind......and then lies and lies and lies some more?    

MaybeMaybeNot
MaybeMaybeNot

"I am not here to talk about the past".  Good gawd.  


Years later Big Mac would not even give a straight answer that he got his home runs from manufactured chemicals.  But go ahead, put him in the HOF.  The same HOF that houses Aaron, Mays, Babe, Griffey, Maddux.......

19palmer49
19palmer49

Bonds and Clemens are a disgrace to the game.And you are worse than a disgrace to your profession. Please fire him - meaning you.

ChessMaster
ChessMaster

I believe WAR is useful for players if the same position but I don't think it is a good comparison between say, an outfielder and a catcher. I enjoyed reading this column and I respect that the challenge of selecting HOF'ers is hard. Because of my understanding of WAR, I also appreciate that you used your own judgement to include Piazza who played the hardest position on the field.

Buckhead Vol
Buckhead Vol

Also, Mark, 3 questions:

1. I thought the AJC "barred" writers from voting?

2. Do you have to list 10 on the ballot?  What if you think only 6 are deserving?

3. Do you get a free pass (or good seat) at Cooperstown?  

MarkBradley
MarkBradley moderator

@Buckhead Vol 1. I'm allowed to vote on this and nothing else.


2. No. You don't.


3. Don't know. Never been.

salsaman
salsaman

@MarkBradley @Buckhead Vol Then this should be taken away from you too. Saying Bonds and Aaron are the same is disgraceful.

You have a "judgment" problem.

Buckhead Vol
Buckhead Vol

Interesting and insightful.  I've been a baseball fan for over 50 years (Granddad played for Yanks and A's) and always wanted a HOF vote....but dissecting the thought process as Mark did makes it even more fun.  I was never a Piazza fan and not sure he deserves it, but always thought Griffey and Crime Dog were locks.  


Go Braves!