Bob’s Keltner List for Graders

We spend a lot of time on this site discussing the merits of a player’s HOF worthiness. We often have a disconnect because we value different things differently. With that in mind, I have come up with a list of ten questions grading not players but us. That way when discussing specific players, we might have a better understanding of where we’re disagreeing.

I’m going to give the ten questions and then spend time explaining what I mean for each. This will likely take more than one post to accomplish, altho most are pretty self-evident. In no order of importance:
Q1 – Who is the HOF for?
Q2 – Should the HOF be inclusive or exclusive?
Q3 – How important is fame?
Q4 – How important is fielding?
Q5 – How important are championships and/or post-season accomplishments?
Q6 – How important are milestone numbers?
Q7 – Peak versus Career?
Q8 – Raw versus Analytical stats?
Q9 – Should each era have a similar number of honorees?
Q10 – Should each position have a similar number of honorees?

Let me preface this with a few points. First, there is no “right” answer to any question; many have multiple answers that are legitimate. Second, these questions aren’t necessarily binary for the grader; they aren’t “yes/no” questions per se. I can think that both Sandy Koufax and Don Sutton are worthy, which can be at odds with the peak versus career question. Third, these questions aren’t really geared towards the uber-greats; it’s to help clarify the discussion for the 300 or so players who we debate.

I’ll start with the first two questions in this post, mainly because they aren’t as much about who should go in.

Q1 – Who is the HOF for?

How one answers this question can have large impact on who we think should go in. Is the Hall for the “best” players and contributors? Is it for the fans? Even this “fan” thing can be broken down into the fans who actually go to Cooperstown and the fans who debate the issue without ever going to the museum? Is it primarily for the living HOFers? I don’t know how many times I’ve heard “what’s the point of enshrining dead people? They are not alive to enjoy it”. Is it for the “history” of the game? Terry would want me to mention that ultimately the HOF is for the owners of the museum and the citizens of Cooperstown.

For me, it’s all of the above, of course, but it’s mostly two-fold. As one might guess, I tend to think “historical”, but I also think about the future. A question I always ask myself is when thinking about who should go in is to ask “To a fan in 2100, is this a player they need to know about?” It’s why I say “yes” for Ross Barnes but “no” to, oh I don’t know, let’s say Kirk Gibson.

Q2 – Should the Hall be inclusive or exclusive?

Quite obviously, most of us tend to think that 300 or so is around the right answer. We can agree or disagree as to whether the Hall currently has the “right” 300. I think most of us would agree on 200 or so. The problem of course is our debate. There are any number of players who are going to go into the Hall whether one is exclusive. There really isn’t much doubt that, as we’ve been discussing, Mussina, Schilling and Smoltz are all going to eventually be in the Hall. The debate by an exclusivist is not Will (or Would) but Should. The inclusivist may tell us that Gil McDougald is a good candidate, but we all pretty much know that he ain’t never going in. While this question doesn’t come up that often in our discussions, it does come up occasionally.

The older I get, the more exclusive I’m becoming. It follows from my trying to look to 2100. If we add another 300 by 2100 (we’ve elected 300 in 75 years), the Gallery is going to be awfully crowded with plaques to read. When I took my dad to Cooperstown back in 2011, he spent hours reading every single plaque. I wonder if that would even be possible in 2100, to view every single one if there are 600 to read. If I had my druthers, I would set up a VetCom to pick the 10-12 19th century stars that have been left out and set up another VetCom to pick the 5-10 1900 to 1972 stars that need to be inducted, and then (for the most part) shut them off. I’d still have a VetCom meet every ten years to see if someone new, from research, emerges. The VetCom that meets to pick thru the 1972-1992 era still needs to do some work, but eventually that era too should be closed. There really aren’t a whole lot of players from 1890 to 1970 that have been grossly ignored if one is exclusive.

Before I continue on, let me re-phrase a few things.

First, when I say “players”, I’m also referring to managers and owners and umpires and Negro Leaguers and general mangers and other variations of “contributors”.

Second, I’m not debating specific players. The first two questions I was able to avoid using specific people as examples. I’m not sure in explaining the next 8 questions that I’ll be able to avoid using individual players to get my points across.

Third, the whole HOF concept is complex. Discussing the HOF worthiness of active players is vastly different from discussing recently active players, which is different from discussing players on the BBWAA ballot, which is different from discussing players who are now under VetCom jurisdiction. Discussing Mike Trout is different than discussing Albert Pujols, which is different than discussing Chipper Jones, which is different from Alan Trammell, which is different than Dave Parker.

Fourth, I think we all have HOF tiers. But the Hall is not about ranking. It’s a binary discussion: should “Player Under Discussion” be in the Hall? It’s either a yes or no answer. These Keltner List For Graders questions are meant to help us understand why someone thinks yes or no. They aren’t necessarily meant to help one decide whether Joe Blow is worthy or not (altho they might help us in some small way).

Fifth, the first paragraph under each question is my attempt to define the question. The second paragraph is nominally how I answer it.

Q3 – How important is fame?

This question is probably one of the trickier aspects of HOF worthiness. There are so many ways to define fame. There’s time-and-place fame. This is where the “fame is fleeting” quote comes from. I have little doubt that Bobby Wallace was famous in his own time, but he is probably one of the most obscure HOFer today. There is fame for “accomplishments”, which is different from fame for (let’s call it) “lore”, altho they can often overlap. Some of the more questionable HOF choices are in because of fame. Tommy McCarthy, Rabbit Maranville, Tinkers-Evers-Chance are “lore” enshrinees; Jack Chesbro and Hack Wilson are “accomplishment” enshrinees. And of course, there is infamy too. Joe Jackson, Pete Rose, Dick Allen, and steroid users aren’t in for this reason.

Personally, I don’t think I put much weight to fame. Only in comparison to a lot of the posters here do I value fame. I kind of think of it this way. I rate a player’s HOF worthiness much like the HOF Monitor. He gets to 100 points, and I’ll endorse him. Fame is probably on a scale of 10 to -100. Most players get zero points; very few even get 1 point. Joe Jackson and his ilk are at -100. There are very few players that get over my fictitious 100 points because of fame. Jim Hunter is one that comes most readily to mind. If I think about it for a minute or two, I’m sure I’d come up with a handful more (Pre-posting edit: Gil Hodges is the only other player that I would give Fame Points to that would crack the 100 Point threshold because of Fame Points.) There are two player that I give more than 10 Fame points to that put them over 100 points: Jackie Robinson and Roger Maris. Robinson is probably not over 100 on his raw stats alone. Just looking at his bbr comp list, he doesn’t scream HOFer. Of course, doing any simplistic analysis of his numbers, and he’d be pretty darn close to 100 points (and probably over). What makes him a shoo-in HOFer is his transcendent fame. Same for Maris, as far as I’m concerned. His raw numbers don’t make him worthy. It’s his fame that does.

Q4 – How important is fielding?

This is another tough one, basically because fielding prowess is so difficult to quantify. Fame importance is hard to define; fielding importance is next to impossible. We’re all over the place when it comes to fielding. Some look at Gold Gloves; some poo-poo them. Lord knows there are a boatload of advanced metrics out there. Some like one over another; some more or less dismiss them all. Of all ways of measuring worthiness, fielding is more “feel” than just about anything else. I’ll let someone else attempt tackling how to define this question. It’s an important one, but I’m not sure I can do the explanation justice.

Honestly, I don’t have any clear methodology for a player’s fielding. I tend to look at a bunch of metrics to form a consensus. If still confused, I tend to lean on Bill’s fielding letter grades that he has in his Win Shares book. And I don’t think that a great fielding first baseman is anywhere near on par with a great fielding shortstop, second baseman or centerfielder. That Keith Hernandez is the greatest fielding first baseman is nice to know, but I put it on the same level as Jeff Kent (or whoever it is) having the most homers of second basemen or that Jack Morris had more wins than anybody else in the ’80s. That, for me, doesn’t make them HOFers. And I have NO IDEA how to adequately quantify catchers’ defense. Ultimately, I punt; I rely heavily on a player’s reputation.

Q5 – How important are championships and/or post-season accomplishments?

This is the easiest of the questions to understand what is meant. I can think of only one marginal HOFer whose post-season play likely put him over the top, and that would be Lefty Gomez. If/when Jack Morris get in, his Game 7 in ’91 might be a deciding factor. But generally speaking, I don’t think post-season play makes or breaks a candidacy. As far as championships go, I don’t think that there is much of a halo effect. It hasn’t helped (so far) Concepcion, Campaneris or Wills. Well, let me change that: I don’t think there is much of a halo effect for position players; pitchers, whose worthiness is often based on their win/loss record, get “credit” for playing on very good teams. Well, let me change that again: in recentyears, championships aren’t a defining characteristic of who gets into the Hall. Players who played prior to WWII were often elected by the halo effect, Earle Combs, most of the Frischian selections, 1890s Orioles, and, again, pitchers. Post-WWII, the only position player who seems “enhanced” by championships is Rizzuto. Correct me if I’m wrong. The thing is, of course, great players do tend to play for championship-caliber teams. There are exceptions, like Banks and Kiner. Generally speaking, championships and post-season accomplishments have very little impact on HOF worthiness. Obviously, the question is should they? The purpose of this Keltner List is to understand if someone does put emphasis on it.

Personally, I can’t think of any serious HOF candidate that gets pushed over my line because of championships and/or post-season accomplishments. Lefty Gomez is probably close to my yes/no line. If he’s at 99, his post-season record might push him to 100; but his peak is good enough, along with his fame, that he’s probably already over 100 in my book. There is one multiple championships team with no HOFers, the late 1880s St. Louis Browns; technically, Tommy McCarthy was a Brown for a few years, but his HOF cred isn’t from those years; and Charlie Comiskey was elected as an owner, tho he might have been elected eventually as a manager if he had never bought the White Sox. Bob Caruthers is a popular HOF candidate among 19th century aficionados, but he’s not particularly one of mine. I don’t see enough difference between Caruthers, Silver King and Dave Foutz to put my weight behind him. Plus, I’m not that convinced that the American Association warrants many HOFers, and I have a few I rate ahead of Caruthers.

Q6 – How important are milestone numbers?

3000 hits, 500 non-steroid enhanced home runs, 300 wins. Another easy question to understand what I’m talking about. Not sure how much explaining I need to do. Some people think they are significantly important; some think they are just numbers.

Me, I think they are significant. I can’t think of a single player who has reached these numbers that I wouldn’t vote for. That’s not to say that I can’t envision someone reaching them that I wouldn’t vote for. A pitcher who went 300-300, maybe I wouldn’t vote for, but then again anybody who lasts long enough to get 600 decisions almost had to have a number of really good years. If Dave Kingman had or Adam Dunn reachs 500, I wouldn’t vote for them. A player with 3000 hits and no other redeeming qualifications I could probably pass on, but then again, I think it would be awfully hard for someone with no extra value playing long enough to get 3000 hits.

*****

These two questions are the easiest to understand and explain. The next four are much, much tougher.

*****

The next two questions are the “meat” of our discussions. These are where we tend to have the biggest disconnects.

Q7 – Peak versus Career?

This is pretty straight forward to explain. How much weight do we give to each? Career is pretty self-explanatory. Peak is where we struggle, because there is no consensus on what peak means. While I don’t think very many think one year is enough to debate as peak (otherwise, Norm Cash would be in the Hall), we often see peak defined as 3-, 5- and 7-years. Sometimes it’s consecutive; sometimes it’s not. What often happens is we use whatever looks best to bolster our points. We don’t use 7 years for Koufax. for example, if we’re advocating for him; we don’t use consecutive seasons if we’re advocating for Fisk. Frankly, I don’t see anything special about 3 or 5 or 7 seasons; why not 4, 6 or 8? And sometimes we see weighted peak, where someone will multiple the best season by a higher factor than the second best season, which has a higher factor than the third best, and so on. I’m not sure that there is a good, universal way to assess peak value, which is why we often struggle with our HOF debates. I’ve seen multiple attempts at combining career and peak. JAWS7 is a good example of the attempt. Personally, I pretty much ignore JAWS7, other than to give me a rough idea of who is and who isn’t a great player. My buddy Charles Faber has his methodology of only counting a player’s 10 best seasons. Like JAWS7, it’s an okay measurement for a general understanding of where players rank, but it leaves out a lot of good, HOF caliber seasons. He has Ralph Kiner a little ahead of Lou Brock because he ignores whatever contributions Brock made in his 11th thru 19th best seasons; he has Billy Terry a little ahead of Fred McGriff because he doesn’t count the 5 additional seasons that McGriff had that add to his HOF-worthiness. I think we all value peak and career; we just weigh them somewhat differently. Only if we know how another grader weighs them, only then can we further the discussion intelligently.

For me, I generally give more weight to career over peak, but I’m extremely inconsistent in its application. It’s probably likely that the application seems totally illogical and haphazard to others. I tend to prefer volume over rate stats; I prefer a great player who plays for 20 years over an uber-great who plays for 15. But I don’t doubt that I could find examples that negate what I just said, especially among pitchers. Sandy Koufax I rate a lot higher than his career stats warrant; I’d rank him higher than dozens of pitchers who have more WAR or Win Shares or better raw stats. Just remember when we’re discussing a specific player and you start talking about his peak, we may have a disconnect because I have no idea what peak really means.

Q8 – Raw versus Analytical stats?

(I’ll get back to this one either tonight or tomorrow. Life is intruding.)

*****

It’s taken me a while to get back to this topic, mainly because I knew that this one is a tough one….

Q8 – Raw versus Analytical Stats?

This is THE question I think we most get hung up on in our discussions. Not the raw stats so much, but how to interpret the analytical ones. For guys on this site, raw stats aren’t really the issue; we already know how to adjust what they mean. A lot of BBWAA writers still are fixated on the raw stats, but that too is changing albeit slowly. No, the discussion here bogs down on what the analytical stats mean.

Analysis of baseball stats has, in many ways, made it more difficult to “know” who is HOF worthy or not. It’s complicated and messy. And the Great Stats have added to the confusion. Do we prefer WAR (and which version) or Win Shares or Linear Weights or, in a few cases, our own analysis? Shins likes Humphrey’s fielding stats; I think Humphrey’s are garbage. The problem is of course that all Great Metrics have flaws. Or perceived flaws. It’s according to our own individual beliefs about what constitutes value. I prefer stats that measure what actually happen; WAR, for example, is more theoretical, in that it means what should have happened. My biggest gripe about Win Shares (other than a lack of Loss Shares) is that I think Bill vastly undervalues fielding. And there are dozens of little intricacies that any and all Great Stats have that aren’t based on my definition of value. I value walks slightly less than the Great Stats; I prefer Run Average Plus over ERA+; I have a different definition of Replacement Level, that will lead me to an alternate conclusion of worthiness. We all have them, dozens (maybe hundreds) of slightly different interpretations of value magnitudes. Shins and I are in basic agreement about the value of Rick Reuschel, but our slightly different value systems make us have totally different final yes/no conclusions about his HOF worthiness.

I think the two biggest disconnects I have with analytical stat analysis are
1. we think we found the definitive answer. Great Stats are not that accurate. Bill warns us that Win Shares is an approximation. I’m paraphrasing him (I couldn’t find the exact quote), but a player with 30 Win Shares is close to being the right answer, but it could be 29 or 31, maybe once in a while it could be 28 or 32, and even on rare occasions it could be 27 or 33. He acknowledges that Darrell Evans 364 Win Shares is not an exact figure, but that it’s probably in the 340-385 range. Same thing with WAR; having a decimal point makes it seem definitive. It’s not. It too has a range, but I’ve never seen it explained that way.
2. their use as lampposts. If they are used as illumination, go ahead and cite them. If they are used as support for your advocacy…..I’d rather you didn’t.

And finally, another disconnect I have with interpreting analytical stats is thinking “equivalent” is the same thing as “is”. One can make adjustments willy-nilly and figure out that Early Wynn’s stats say he should have gone 274-239, that his stats really are “equivalent” to that win/loss record. I know I do stuff like this all the time. Still, I know that it’s not THAT accurate. It’s more along the lines of COULD have gone than WOULD have gone. “All things being equal” is impossible to measure, basically because not all things are equal. We can postulate that Rick Reuschel could have been 240-160 under a different set of circumstances; I don’t deny that. But there are too many what-ifs to think he would have been 240-160. If he’d’ve been a Cincinnati Red, he’d be long forgotten, because Sparky Anderson would in all probability have blown out his arm; no one, at least I’ve never seen it, is speculating on what Don Gullett’s career might have looked like if he hadn’t been a Red, mainly because too much information is lacking. If he’d’ve been a Baltimore Oriole, he might never of cracked that rotation. We have ample data to make a pretty good guess on what Reuschel might have done in a purely perfect and average opportunity, because he lasted so long in the environment he was actually in. Still, WOULD have and even COULD have is not exactly the same thing as ACTUALLY DID. While I don’t think raw stats are an end point, I don’t ignore them entirely either. What a player did (with IMO reasonable adjustments) is more important than what he might have accomplished.

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Let me finish this up. I’m going to reverse the order, because I don’t have much to say about Q10, but quite a bit about Q9.

Q10 – Should each position have a similar number of honorees?

In a perfect world, they should. It’s not a perfect world. I doubt that very many people would argue that they should, but on occasion there will be a reference that third and catcher have fewer than the other positions. It’s not a major issue in the debate, but we see it sometimes.

Personally, I don’t factor it in much. Once in a while it sneaks in. If I could vote for only one between Graig Nettles and Dwight Evans, I might. Or Stan Hack and Bob Johnson/Wes Ferrell. Or Wally Schang and Sherry Magee. Or Charlie Bennett and Bob Caruthers. But generally, no, I don’t feel a need to even the count.

Q9 – Should each era have a similar number of enshrinees?

I don’t think I need to explain what this question means (it’s pretty self-evident), so I’ll skip directly to how I see it.

This is the question that I probably have the largest disconnect with others on this site. In many ways it is an accumulation of the other questions and how I see them. Because I study 19th century ball so much, I have a vastly different interpretation of HOF worthiness than others, and it has “warped” my opinions. I likely answer Q1 (Who is the Hall for?) from a totally odd perspective, in that I try to envision the Hall in 2100, and ask “Who should they know about?”, which leads me to contrary honorees than many others here advocate.

Generally speaking, I believe that each generation of players is equally valued. The stars of each generation should go in. I don’t have a fixed definition of “generation”, so let’s not get too precise about what it means; we all know that Jack Glasscock is not the same generation as Honus Wagner, who is not the same generation as Arky Vaughn, who is not the same generation as Ernie Banks, who is not the same generation as Ozzie Smith, who is not the same generation as Derek Jeter.

If I had my way, the HOF would elect around 20 players per decade (and just to be clear, I don’t mean specifically the 20 best players of the 1980s). There are eras when it would be slightly less, some slightly more, but somewhere in the 15-25 range. This thinking of mine often leads to disconnects with others. Without looking up specifics, it’s why I advocate for Gil Hodges, who was probably in the Top 20 of his generation, and why I don’t advocate for Will Clark, who I likely don’t have cracking his generation’s Top 25.

I could say a lot more about this question, but it’s turning more into a “it’s-all-about-me” explanation. So I’ll stop here.

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