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.