The Writers’ Hall

I have long viewed the 207 players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for their play in the major leagues as comprised of two entirely separate categories.  There are  the 112 players (36 who were primarily pitchers and 76 who were primarily position players) in the “Writers’ Hall”, consisting of players elected to the Hall by members of the the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.  95 other players (26 who were primarily pitchers and 69 primarily position players) have been inducted through the separate mechanism of the  the various veterans committees.

The average career WAR (baseball-reference version) for the 76 position players in the “Writers’ Hall” is 76.9 WAR — or 77.1 if you include Babe Ruth’s pitching WAR into his total.   The median career WAR for those 76 players is 67.7.

The average career pitching WAR for the 36 pitchers in the “Writers’ Hall” is 69.0 WAR.   The median career pitching WAR for those pitchers is 67.7.

With the BBWAA picking most (though not all) of the very best players of all-time, the most obvious choices for a Hall of Fame, before the various veterans committees have had a chance at them, the average WAR numbers for the veterans committees’ selections will of course be lower.   The average career WAR for the 69 position players selected by the veterans committees is 48.5 WAR (the median is 46.5), while the average career WAR for veterans-committee-selected pitchers is 58.7 (the median is 57.5).

The lowest career WARs for position players elected by the BBWAA are Rabbit Maranville’s 39.4, Pie Traynor’s 33.8 and Roy Campanella’s 31.6.   In contrast, there are 15 different position players who have made it into the Hall (based on their major league play) via a veterans committee with career WAR totals lower than Maranville’s.

If I had a vote in the annual BBWAA Hall of Fame balloting, my test of whether a particular player belongs would be whether his accomplishments fit well within scope of the Writers’ Hall — I would not use the looser standard implied by the 207-player number that combines the Writers’ Hall and veterans committee selections.   I have long thought that the size (though certainly not all the individual selections) of the “Writers’ Hall” is close to ideal for a Hall of Fame honoring the greatest major league players.  In part that’s because I find it elegant and appropriate that the number of players in the “Writers’ Hall” (112) lines up rather neatly with the number of years that have passed from the early seasons of the earliest-era players that the writers have elected (Cy Young and Willie Keeler) through the last year a player currently in the Hall could have been active (2006).  That is, broadly speaking, the writers have elected on average about one player for each season that has been played, starting with the era of the earliest players the writers have inducted.   That one-player-per-season result strikes a certain resonant chord with me — it seems a fair, intuitive goal for establishing a truly elite level of the greatest players.   In my next post, I’ll suggest a potential format for High Heat Stats readers to participate in a fresh type of discussion and voting process towards an improved selection of the best players ever, while working within the framework of averaging one player inducted per major league season.

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36 Comments on "The Writers’ Hall"

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John Autin
Editor

Very interesting take, birtelcom.

I’ll quibble with the “one-per-year” ratio, though, on the grounds of expansion. There are almost twice as many teams now as there were for the first 60 years of the modern era. Keeping to your elegant goal would set the bar much higher for recent players.

no statistician but
Guest
birtelcom: Your approach of dividing the current Hall player population between BBWAA selections and others made me curious to know exactly who the others were, and so I strained my ancient eyes to scan down the list to find out who was on it elected by the generally maligned Veterans Committee and, I suppose, the Old Timers committee (or what ever it was called) that preceded it. Barring players who were 1)mainly or solely 19th Century stars; 2) Negro League selections; 3) chosen by the Old Timers in 1939 or earlier, I came up with 21 choices that I thought… Read more »
no statistician but
Guest

Given that your ideas and mine are only hypothetical anyhow, that is.

Hartvig
Guest
While there’s little doubt that the writers have done a better job overall than the Veteran’s Committee there’s also little doubt that the BBWAA still screws up (Jim Rice in and Kevin Brown 1 & done only 2 years apart) and the Veteran’s Committee still serves to correct gross injustices (Ron Santo) so I don’t see the system changing anytime soon. The BBWAA does particularly poorly when there’s either an abundance of qualified candidates or a dearth of same. While Bonds, Clemens, etc. coming on line next year will probably (I think) save us from from Jack Morris it will… Read more »
Bill Johnson
Guest

At the risk of being “shouted down” for the umpteenth time (here or on the old baseball reference board), I thought I would point out to people that Tom Verducci made an eloquent (IMO) argument in support of Jack Morris’ candidacy a few days ago on SI.com. He explained better than I ever have the concept of Jack as an ace- and why that was so valuable.

Bill

Doug
Guest

Bill, can you post the link?

Ed
Guest

Doug: This is the Verducci article. His argument seems to be “Morris was a workhorse and he accepted being a workhorse”. Not buying it myself.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/writers/tom_verducci/11/30/hall-of-fame-jack-morris-craig-biggio-curt-schilling/index.html

Bryan O'Connor
Editor
Compelling piece from Verducci. Thanks for sharing, Ed and Bill. I think this argument hinges on the belief that if two pitchers throw six innings and give up two runs, but one comes out after six and the other throws two more and gives up another run, the latter is more valuable because he didn’t leave the game in the hands of lesser pitchers (relievers). ERA, of course, disagrees, as does a run-based WAR, so we may be selling Morris short by overlooking the value of those extra innings in sparing the bullpen. On the other hand, if two fresh… Read more »
Bill Johnson
Guest

I thought that another point he made was that those highest on Jack were the players who played with and against him as well as the managers that managed him or against him.

The going deep into games trait should be considered not just in the impact of his own games i.e. comparing the potential 7th and 8th inning relievers to what he did, but also in their increased availability/rest/strength for the games pitched by the other starters.

Ed
Guest
Bill – You’re right that Verducci makes that point re: players or managers valuing Morris However, I’ll offer two counterpoints: 1) How do we know what Verducci says is accurate? He’s offering his recollection of events that happened 20-30 years ago and we all know how faulty memory is. Even if his recall is accurate, it’s doubtful the information he gathered is in any way scientifically valid. 2) Managers and players value lots of different players for lots of different reasons. That doesn’t mean they’re hall of famers. What I find compelling is this….when Morris first because eligible for the… Read more »
Doug
Editor
To your point Bryan about whether it’s better to have Morris go eight, or go six and be relieved. #Matching W L W-L% ERA GS CG SHO WHIP 248 150 74 .670 2.38 248 175 28 1.03 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool UsedGenerated 12/3/2012. In his few ND games when going 8+ innings, his teams were only 12-11. A subset of the games above are those when Morriss allowed 4 or fewer runs when going 8+ innings. Rk #Matching W L W-L% ERA GS CG SHO WHIP 1 215 Ind. Games 139 57 .709 1.95 215 159 28… Read more »
MikeD
Guest
I’m with you. I don’t believe Morris is a HOFer, but this is one of the more sane counter-arguments I’ve read in support of Morris in tryint to articulate his value to a team. I’ve always believed that Morris (and Catfish Hunter) delivered more value than was captured in stats like OPS+, yet they still fall short for me. Expanding on one of your points. I don’t think it’s just that he didn’t leave the game in hands of “lesser pitchers,” but instead relates to the cascading impact a workhorse can have on saving a bullpen so that those two… Read more »
Ed
Guest
Here’s what I see as the flaw in Verducci’s analysis. Sure Morris is 1st among AL pitchers in games of 8+ innings since 1973. But guess what? He’s also 8th in starts of less than 5 innings (72 total). Morris got shelled a lot! So yeah, he saved the bullpen sometimes by pitching deep into the game but he also hurt the bullpen a lot as well. Looking at the list of “most shelled AL pitchers since 1973”, there’s not a single Hall of Famer (current or future) until we get to #30 on the list (Blyleven with only 52).… Read more »
Mike L
Guest

I’d vote no on Morris as well. It’s not that he wasn’t a good and durable pitcher, but I think Ed’s post @27 is telling. Morris was beat up far more than I would expect from a first rank star. Andy Pettitte is better, and I’m not sure he was a Hall of Famer either. Morris I see as a B+ pitcher, Pettitte a B+/A-. That being said, Morris is probably going to get in.

Hartvig
Guest
While I haven’t done (nor do I know how to do except to go season by season) a breakdown of when Morris pitched less than 5 innings but I suspect that they’re primarily concentrated into 6 seasons and 4 in particular: 89 & 90 and 93 & 94. I suspect that like Steve Carlton, Morris was given a lot more chances to fail than other pitchers may have. I’m a big fan of Jack Morris and Verducci has done an outstanding job of articulating what I’ve tried to say for years. But that said, if I was a Hall of… Read more »
Richard Chester
Guest

Hartvig: Here’s the year-by-year breakdown of the number of Morris’ starts which lasted less than 5 innings.

1977….1
1978….5
1979….2
1980….8
1981….2
1982….8
1983….2
1984….6
1985….3
1986….3
1987….1
1988….5
1989….4
1990….4
1991….4
1992….2
1993….8
1994….4

Ed
Guest
One interesting thing about Morris being the ace of those Tiger’s teams is that he really shouldn’t have been. We all know about Fidrych of course. But what about Dave Rozema? Rozema, like Morris, was a rookie pitcher for the Tigers in 1977. But Rozema was actually two years younger than Morris and as a 20 year old rookie, pitched over 200 innings, accumulated 5.4 WAR and finished 8th in the Cy Young balloting. The following season Rozema again threw 200+ innings and accumulated 3.7 WAR. But it appears that Rozema got hurt the following year and while he remained… Read more »
Hartvig
Guest
One thing that strikes me in looking at Morris’s record is his inconsistency – which is kind of the polar opposite of his reputation and something I hadn’t realized before. Compare him to Warren Spahn- another pitcher known more for his consistency than for necessarily being the best pitcher in the league in any one particular season. In Spahn’s first 18 full seasons (he didn’t start until he was 25 years old because of WW2) he had 2 seasons with an ERA+ above 130 (170 & 188 leading the league both times) and 2 seasons below 115 (106 & 98).… Read more »
bstar
Guest
Just piling on here, because it’s so much easier to make a case against Morris than it is make a half-baked case for him. Jack Morris has one 5+ WAR season. Kevin Brown had 5 straight 5+ WAR seasons and he’s off the ballot. Huh? I think the best comp to Morris, without looking at similarity scores or anything, is Catfish Hunter. They both won a lot of games pitching for really good teams, didn’t have enough wins overall to be an automatic selection, have excellent postseason records, but overall in the regular season are barely above average pitchers. Morris… Read more »
Hartvig
Guest
Posted before I was finished. So regarding comparing Morris & Spahn. I’m certainly NOT saying that Morris needs to be as good as Spahn to get into the HOF. But the knock on Spahn when people argue about who was the greatest pitcher ever is that he was a very, very good pitcher who was very consistent but not a great pitcher except for maybe a couple of years. Morris meets the very, very good criteria for about half of his career but without ever rising to what you could call great even for a single season. And for the… Read more »
Mike L
Guest
This site gives me more new ideas for my political blog than almost every other thing I read, mostly because of just how smart the posters and the people who comment are. The whole Morris debate sits at the center of a fault line between two types of “anchoring bias”; which is a tendency to have an initial impression, or value, bias future decisions. For Morris, we have the “contemporary” evaluation of a workhorse who came up big in big games, winner of the most games in the 1980’s, etc. etc. He is very likely going to get elected by… Read more »
Bryan O'Connor
Editor
Birtelcom, I like the idea of dividing the Hall by method of induction, but I can’t see the Hall ever making that distinction, which is why I take issue with the standards you would apply as a voter. If the plaques on the right were for players inducted by the writers and they were a little bigger or a little better illuminated than the VC plaques on the left, it would make perfect sense for the writers to elect only players of that caliber. As it is, I think the VC was established not to add a second tier of… Read more »
Baltimorechop
Guest

Slightly off top since it’s the Vet’s Committee, but:

Deacon White got in the hall of fame! Unfortunately, Bill Dahlen did not. Ruppert & O’Day also got in (only interested in players, personally).

Even more off topic: I have an account at baseball-fever, but no one ever actually activated my ability to post there (I assume a moderator needs to OK it), and it’s been months. Any chance anyone can help me out there? (user ID baltimorechop).

MikeD
Guest

How long ago did you register? You might want to drop a note to webmaster@baseball-almanac.com, an address I found on their site. Good luck!

Baltimorechop
Guest

I think I registered the name six or o months ago. I tried he email address, thanks.

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