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The Complete Handbook of the Hall of Fame: The Jay Jaffe Mega Q&A

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The Complete Handbook of the Hall of Fame: The Jay Jaffe Mega Q&A


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The Complete Handbook of the Hall of Fame: The Jay Jaffe Mega Q&A

So traveling on the New York State Thruway, there are two roads that will lead you toward the village of Cooperstown: Route 20 and Interstate 88.The highway, which extends from the banks of Binghamton through the foothills of Oneonta and onto Schenectady, is a straight shot of 80 MPH driving. Route 20 is this homey, backroad-like thoroughfare which allows you to access the gray-ink spots of small-town, USA - Sonneberg Gardens; The Original American Kazoo Company; the Glimmerglass Opera House, and of course, The Finger Lakes. According to Newyorkupstate.com, “It is America’s longest federal highway and stretches from the New York-Massachusetts border to Ripley, on the Western fringes of the state near Pennsylvania.“ To be sure, Route 20 is the compiler of interesting exits.


Much like baseball, collecting mile-markers and straight high-performance on these paths will bring you close to Cooperstown, New York, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The funny thing is they won’t quite get you there - you'll still need some help from Routes 28 and 80.The arteries to baseball glory are decorated by many great ballplayers whose numbers were unable to carry their legacy to the footsteps of the hallowed museum’s entrance. Thanks to the annual BBWAA vote, we have some understanding, but spiritually speaking, the worthiness of those enshrined is a near-constant debate. Thankfully, we now possess the most comprehensive Hall Of Fame roadmap ever written: Sports Illustrated columnist Jay Jaffe’s “The Cooperstown Casebook.”


This is a fantastic reference tome, and yet for guys like me who were more Zander Hollander than Bill James growing up, you’ll find the individual career recaps reminiscent of The Complete Handbook of Baseball, if not the late 90’s-early aughts STATS Inc Scouting Handbook annuals. What sets the 400-plus page book apart from those that preceded it is Jaffe’s sensitivity to historical context, in addition to his passion at seeking as impartial a determination of greatness as possible. It’s also a classy touch that he uses the introduction to applaud every single ballplayer who ever stepped over the white lines in an official Major League game. Jaffe’s presentation betrays a nuance, a deft touch, whether it’s praising the achievements of a disgraced player or a social media pariah. A baseball writer and sabrmetrican, highly-respected by the younger statisticians in the sport, Jaffe displays a humanity for the achievements of these great men without losing objectivity, and in some cases, a biting sense of humor.


Chapter Two serves as something of a statistical primer. While anyone reading The Cooperstown Casebook needs no intro explanation of home runs, batting average and strikeouts, Jaffe walks us through some less-examined statistics such as Batting Runs (rBat), Baserunning Runs (rBase) and Fielding Runs (rField), as well as the murky defensive adjustment baked into a given player’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR) score. One of these stats helped illustrate for me the election of a candidate who is thought to be among the least worthy. When you learn the rarely-discussed numbers behind his achievements, you may question what is the most exciting play in all of baseball.


Jaffe doesn’t shy away from any Cooperstown-related debate. They are all covered here, but not harped upon. Yes, he discusses Pete Rose, weighs the evidence, then moves on. But you know, from my view, Pete gets spiritually inducted every year. After all this time, fans still line up out the door of the Safe At Home memorabilia store during Induction Weekend for Rose's autograph and 90 seconds of face time. He takes a break, walks a few doors down Main Street with his wife, holds court at a restaurant with some select former player and is still highly approachable to his many fans. If you want to say Pete’s only getting a “seven” Cooperstown experience while Bench, Morgan, Perez and the like enjoy a 10, you can make that argument, but Rose receives more than a generous taste of the acclaim while still living the life of Charley Hustle out in Vegas. Pete’s doing just fine, and Jaffe doesn’t dwell.




Where I found great pleasure in reading The Casebook was while sitting in front of a baseball-reference.com window on my laptop. One article after another will drop you right through the B-Ref looking glass. Jaffe opens his Second Basemen section - there’s a chapter dedicated to each position - with an examination of Bobby Grich’s case, which led me to consider the Baltimore Orioles’ great infield of the late ‘60s to mid 70s, of Boog Powell, Dave Johnson (then Grich), shortstop Mark Belanger and of course, Hall of Fame third basemen Brooks Robinson. This had me sifting through the stats of their famed starting pitching staff, and glancing at FIP numbers for the entire rotation. The Casebook will have you pondering the level that defense can impact a pitcher’s stats, whereby a legendary infield can turn a fine pitcher (Dave McNally) into a very good one; a very good southpaw (Mike Cuellar) into a great starter, and a great pitcher (Jim Palmer) into a Hall of Fame hurler. From here, I drew up a tale-of-the-tape comparison between Palmer and Mike Mussina, another player chronicled at length in the Casebook.


Do I have any quibbles? There’s a couple. I’m not so sure I would say Rusty Staub is a “definite” non Hall of Famer. That’s a little harsh. 2715 hits and a 124 OPS+ is not a definite non-Hall of Famer. Brock Pemberton is a definite non-Hall of Famer. Mickey Scott, definite non-Hall of Famer. I also question his belief that Alex Rodriguez will probably never be inducted into the Hall (Jaffe elaborates his thoughts on this below.) Again, these are mere nit-picks in a book full of educational, thought-provoking statements and arguments. Simply speaking, it is the definitive bookshelf analysis for the Hall of Fame selection process. Jaffe delivers the most objective, sober look at Baseball’s loudest conversation.


Here’s a few more nuggets you’ll discover when reading the Casebook:


* Can you imagine Dick Allen joining the team that asked for his services. (p.219)


* Another great stat Jaffe name-checks is AIR (p.154) in reference to Todd Helton’s case.


* A nice explanation of the Veterans Committee and its shortcomings (Chapter 5.)


* 3000 hits doesn’t appear to be the only metric certain voters expect post-1960 candidates to reach (p.279.)


* Who was the first #1 overall pick elected to the Hall of Fame (p.285.)


* What statistic do Rabbit Maranville, Vizquel & Aparicio have in common (p.204-11)


I had a chance to chat with Jay and ask some questions left over after reading The Cooperstown Casebook, as well as explore the personal journey that led him back to the game he loved from childhood:


INSTREAM: Ok, let’s start here. It’s 1992, you’re interning for a Boston-based music magazine. Was there any baseball on your radar at the time? What was the scene like?


JAFFE: I was living in Providence and commuting up to Boston two or three times a week to see my girlfriend and intern at Boston Rock, a monthly music tabloid distributed at record stores and clubs. I was immersed in indie rock. Helium, the Dambuilders, the Swirlies, Green Magnet School. I was actually more focused on a larger pipeline of indie bands that could play New York, Providence and Boston bang-bang-bang without having to mount a full tour, and if they were a band I wanted to see badly enough I could catch them twice. In Boston I saw a lot of shows at The Middle East and the Paradise, and interviewed some local and national bands for various publications. I wasn’t around anybody who was a baseball fan, so until the playoffs rolled around, baseball was the furthest thing from my mind, though I watched some of the NLCS and the World Series.


INSTREAM: Few years later, you’re in graphic design in New York City, what was your relationship to baseball at this point?


JAFFE: When I moved to NYC in 1995, I had much more access to baseball. The Mets and Yankees battled for tabloid space but I really had no affinity for either. I was trying to live on two-day-old scores from the West Coast, because I was a Dodgers fan. But I had friends into baseball and with them — and my brother, who moved to the city a year after I did — I checked out Yankee Stadium once in 1995 and again in ’96. Though I’d grown up disliking the Yankees and rooting against them in the 1995 Division Series against the Mariners, I actually found myself rooting for them down the stretch in ’96 and then into the World Series against the Braves. By 1997 I was going to a handful of Yankees games, and a few Mets games as well. At the design place where I worked, the lead project manager was a Mets fan, and once she discovered there was another baseball fan in the studio I started getting put on her projects and treated to the occasional game. For 1998 my friends and I bought a partial season ticket package to the Yankees, and of course that was a great year; I went to my first World Series game that year, as well as the clincher against the Braves in 1999. Our ticket group survives and has had the same four people in it since 2000.


INSTREAM: Futility Infielder was your first taste of blogging. Was there an initial theme to the site and at what point were you thinking that the Hall of Fame selection process deserved greater scrutiny?


JAFFE: Initially I was an omnivore, focusing on the Yankees and Dodgers but writing about whatever caught my eye. I had an affinity for really lousy middle infielders, and the Yankees, in particular, were waist deep in them once Chuck Knoblauch’s throwing problem developed. Luis Sojo, Rey Sanchez, Jose Vizcaino, Wilson Delgado. And all the ones I remembered from youth, terrible hitters like Doug Flynn, Pepe Frias, Darrell Chaney. That’s where the site name came from.


I had been into Bill James as a kid thanks to Dan Okrent’s 1981 article in Sports Illustrated, after which I bought the Baseball Abstracts on an annual basis. I rediscovered him through the writing of Rob Neyer at ESPN and the guys at Baseball Prospectus, and caught up via his books on managers and the Hall of Fame — "The Politics of Glory," which I bought in paperback as "Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame." When The New Bill James Historical Abstract came out in the fall of 2001, I devoured it. I was interested in the way he ranked players using his stat that incorporated offense and defense, Win Shares. That winter I wrote my own take on the 2002 Hall of Fame ballot, the first on which Alan Trammell and Andre Dawson appeared, and at a point when the candidacies of Bert Blyleven, Jack Morris, Tommy John and Jim Kaat were going nowhere despite their high career wins totals. I wanted to know why the people I thought would be Hall of Famers were not I guess, and James had created a whole bunch of tools towards that end that I sampled here and there. The piece was linked on Baseball Primer and got a ton of hits and generated a lot of positive feedback. I did it again the next year, and the year after that, in December 2003, Baseball Prospectus invited me to do a Hall of Fame piece for them, which is where I introduced the system that would become JAWS.


INSTREAM: There’s a ton of fans (like myself) that every so often have uttered the phrase “It’s called the Hall of Fame.” You offer a very practical explanation as to why this is NOT a valid reason to vote for/against a candidate, but starting with your initial deep-dive into the selection process, what was the first thing that made you realize, “Wow, I never looked at it that way?”


JAFFE: The first thing? By the 2002 ballot I had long been aware of how the Veterans Committee had screwed so much up, particularly due to the high-scoring 1920s and ‘30s, but it was probably the differences between those four pitchers I just mentioned that really captivated me. I was especially surprised at how strong a candidate Blyleven was despite a high number of losses — so many strikeouts — and how mediocre Morris was due to his low ERA+.


INSTREAM: So what are we gonna do about Garvey? Numerous NLCS heroics, the All-Star game highlights, the middle school named after him for a time, the NL consecutive games played record, can you say he's basically Cecil Cooper (ex post season numbers) with a fancier address and game show appearances?



JAFFE: I guess that’s about right. Garvey did the things that got a player noticed. He hit .300 and collected 200 hits six times in a seven-year span, and the seventh was .297 with 192 hits. He drove in 100 runs in five of those years, won Gold Gloves in four of them, helped the Dodgers to the World Series in three of those, and four overall. He was an All-Star every year from 1974-81 and 10 times overall. He showed up for work every day, set an NL record for consecutive games, and he had perfect hair while playing in the country’s second-largest media market.


The thing is, even after adjusting for the fact that he played in a pitcher’s park in an era when offense was lower than it is now, Garvey didn’t walk much, had good-not-great power, scores exactly average on defense, didn’t add anything extra in baserunning and finished in the NL top 10 in WAR just twice, with 37.7 career WAR. He ranks just 51st in JAWS among first basemen. Very similar to Cooper, who’s 53rd. If you look at the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor, which boils down all of those traditional accomplishments in a manner that correlates well with election, he scores 130, which is a player who’s a virtual cinch for the Hall. Cooper, a comparatively valuable player, has a 96 Monitor score; he didn’t do as many eye-catching things as Garvey. In the end, Cooper didn’t get a single vote from the writers, where Garvey received 41.6% in his debut, a solid showing that can lead to eventual election, but couldn’t add more than a point to that over the next 14 years. Given that his divorce and his paternity suits and other legal problems were old news by the time he hit the ballot, I don’t think we can blame that on derailing his Hall bid. Because he’s so low in the rankings, Garvey’s not in the book. I’d have loved to fit him in to discuss stuff like this, but instead he and other players who wound up on the cutting room floor will eventually be on my companion web site.. Players in the book will be there too, with material that was cut from the book (I can’t reproduce what’s in there) and links to stuff I’ve written elsewhere.


INSTREAM: In all your research, what generally accounts for year-over-year percentage jumps in candidate vote totals?


JAFFE: Unfortunately, as with elsewhere in popular culture, death is a good career move when it comes to Hall voting. Roger Bresnahan, Harry Heilmann, Rabbit Maranville, Jimmy Collins, Herb Pennock, Ron Santo — all were among the players elected shortly after dying. I’ve got a key chapter on Santo in the book that provides a window into this. It helps to explain why Collins, who died in 1943 and was elected in 1945, beat out the still-living Home Run Baker as the Hall’s first third baseman.


As for other reasons for a jump, they can range from having a record broken, getting a big push from a recently elected Hall of Famer or a longstanding great such as Ty Cobb, who was particularly magnanimous in calling the Veterans Committee’s attention to those he felt were worthy, or perhaps, improved visibility by coming back to the game as a manager or broadcaster.


INSTREAM, OK, so let's consider the cases for Phil Rizzuto, Ralph Kiner and to some degree, Ron Santo. How much impact do you believe the game-after-game exposure a player-turned-broadcaster enjoys can bolster a candidate's chances for selection? Is it possible that someone like say, Ralph Kiner, doesn’t get elected or at the very least, gets pushed to the Veterans Committee, without his broadcasting career? Kiner's percentage jumped from 40.3 to 55.7 after the Mets won the Series in ’69.


JAFFE: I definitely think that being in the public eye benefits a candidate, perhaps too much in some cases. Pie Traynor, whom WAR suggests was rather overrated, was the first third baseman elected by the BBWAA in 1948, a couple years after he started working as a sportscaster in Pittsburgh. I didn’t look at Kiner in that context for the book, but you may be onto something, in that his candidacy had stagnated around 40% for three straight years. Then again, even that was after an 18-point jump from 1966 to ’67, even bigger than the ’69-70 one, and Kiner had been broadcasting Mets games since 1962.


INSTREAM: Reading selected Cooperstown-related articles on the web, I found that many writers take for granted the older members of the Hall of Fame without any consideration of their journey to induction. How does it take 14 trips and then the Veterans’ Committee process for Johnny Mize to be selected? That’s a story I’d like to know.



JAFFE: I honestly don’t know how anyone can look at Mize’s numbers and NOT conclude that he’s a Hall of Famer, at least if you understand that he lost three years of his prime to World War II; he led his league in homers twice on either side of that gap. As I understand it, beyond the fact that his late-career stint as a part-timer with the Yankees when they were perennial champions may have overshadowed his great years, he was viewed as being rather one-dimensional, not a good fielder. The stats suggest he was more than adequate — and in fact one of the three most valuable players in the league according to WAR a total of eight times. Whatever took Mize so long wound up being less dramatic than some of his former teammates, such as Joe Medwick, who really didn’t like the writers and vice versa, or Enos Slaughter, whose spiking of Jackie Robinson continues to be debated as far as whether or not there was intent 70 years later. I touch on stuff like that where I can in the book, but there’s really not enough room to do a whole lot of that for many players, and most of it winds up being rather inscrutable, at least from this vantage.



INSTREAM: What’s to account for the jump in Luis Aparicio’s vote totals? Looking at what made the former shortstop special, do you think baserunning runs is a terribly overlooked statistic?


JAFFE: Aparicio has the largest gain in modern voting history (from 1966 onward, when the BBWAA returned to voting annually), jumping 25.5% from 1982 (41.9% to 67.4% in ’83). The leap has been ascribed to the BBWAA’s inclusion of capsule summaries of players’ credentials in the voting packets, and the fact that he led the AL in stolen bases in each of his first nine years must have jumped off the page. He gained another 17.2% the following year and was elected, which if I remember correctly made his the largest back-to-back gains since ’66. I think baserunning is both overlooked and misunderstood, because you can’t estimate the true impact of a player’s stolen base total without knowing how many times he got caught stealing as well. The one really cool thing about WAR is the baserunning component, which accounts for stolen base success rate and includes a player’s advancements on hits and outs as well, at least for the period for which we have play-by-play data (which now goes back to around 1947). Aparicio added 92 runs that way, which ranks fourth all-time, behind Rickey Henderson, Willie Wilson and Tim Raines with 116, though there are a lot of guys for whom we don’t have the data to get a true read, like Ty Cobb.



INSTREAM: The book shines a bright light on two stats – fielding runs & baserunning runs. Walk us through their relevance.


JAFFE: Once upon a time, all we had for position players were basic batting stats, plus lip service paid to defense and baserunning. Sure, this guy might be a .230 hitter who drives in 40 runs a year, but he can steal a base when you need him to, and how many dozens of runs does he save with his glove? We now have the tools to grapple with that, ways to estimate the value of each component, with estimates that improve as the available data expands. We not only have stolen base totals, we have play-by-by-play that tells us which batters went first-to-third or second-to-home on singles more often, who moved over on infield grounders, who tagged up and advanced not only on sacrifice flies but on other fly balls — and who got thrown out at which bases. We can estimate the value of those things in runs, and when we do, we find that there are many guys who added an extra 30 or 50 runs or even 100 runs over the courses of their careers. Real value. Tim Raines ranks third with 116 baserunning runs, which is one reason why it took an emphasis on advanced statistics to convince enough voters that he belongs in the Hall of Fame (he was elected this past January in his 10th and final year on the BBWAA ballot).



As for defense, even with the most rudimentary team-level data going back to the bareknuckle 1870s, we can calculate how often each team converted a ball in play into an out (its defensive efficiency), which is the starting point for any defensive valuation metric. With that same data, we can also calculate the average number of plays made at each position in a given league. By adding some data about opposition hitting, and pitcher and batter handedness, we have the basis for rough estimates of each player’s defensive value — his range, his arm (particularly for outfielders and catchers), his ability on the double play (for infielders) — dating back to the nineteenth century via the Total Zone system invented by Sean Smith and used in Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR. By 1950 we have play-by-play data that improves those estimateS, and by 2003, we have Defensive Runs Saved, an observational system that accounts for the types of batted balls and their location.


There are several different ways of estimating defensive value, and they don’t always agree. What’s more, the estimates aren’t all that reliable in small samples, which is why when comparing single-season WAR, you can’t get too hung up on them being the definitive answer. But over time, the cream tends to rise to the top. Andruw Jones and Willie Mays rate as the top two defensive centerfielders in terms of runs saved. Brooks Robinson and Adrian Beltre are the top two at third base. Mark Belanger and Ozzie Smith at shortstop, Roberto Clemente in rightfeld, Ivan Rodriguez at catcher — there are a lot of places where the rankings underscore what we think we know already based on reputations, Gold Gloves and so on. And then sometimes, the results surprise you, for better or worse. Joe Gordon, a power hitting second baseman from 1938-1950 who missed time during World War II and was elected by the Veterans Committee in 2009, ranks second at the position, which certainly bolsters his case. On the other hand, Pie Traynor, the first third baseman elected by the BBWAA, was very highly regarded for his defense but these estimates suggest that he was below average over the course of his career. What do you do with that, when you’ve got a system that puts other guys with great reputations such as Brooks, Beltre, Scott Rolen, Buddy Bell, Graig Nettles, Mike Schmidt and Jimmy Collins (the first third baseman elected, famous for his play around the turn of the 20th century) in the top 10? You can throw up your hands and say “we don’t know anything,” you can acknowledge that maybe the system misses on some guys (Win Shares, IIRC, likes Traynor’s defense well enough) and dial down the level of faith you have in it, and you can try to dig a little deeper to understand why this system doesn’t think much of the guy. I chose options 2 and 3 there, and there are other places in the book where I try to do that as well.


Once you have those estimates for baserunning and defense — and it should always be stressed that they’re estimates — you can replace that lip service with information that can help you not only from a contemporary standpoint but historically. You can get a better understanding of why in his time, Player A was the more highly regarded because all we had were basic hitting stats, but it’s really Player B who we understand was more valuable.


INSTREAM: So as we accept and appreciate defensive statistics more, will there be a time where we look at “Defensive” Black Ink?”


JAFFE: I doubt any seasonal total of Defensive Runs Saved will be eyed on the level of a league-leading home run total, or even RBIs, and I’m not sure it should. If you’ve got Manny Machado at +16 runs and Adrian Beltre and Kyle Seager at +15 (as was the case via DRS in the 2016 American League), the take-home shouldn’t be that all the credit goes to Manny for having the higher rating, the so-called black ink. It’s that these three guys are the class of the league, and our best estimates have them very, very close in value.


INSTREAM: Here's a personal curiousity I have. Before I picked up the Casebook, I was thinking soon we're probably going to hear voices speak up on behalf of Bobby Abreu (OPS+ 128), "He has a higher OBP and SLG than Tim Raines, more walks and total bases in less plate appearances, played a slightly tougher position, etc." Talk to me about Abreu's chances for election down the road.


JAFFE: Abreu’s 20th among rightfielders in JAWS, below the career/peak/JAWS standards for the position but not by much. But he has no chance in hell of getting in, even with that. He was an All-Star just twice, never made a dent in the MVP voting. Larry Walker, who’s 10th in JAWS with an MVP award and three batting titles — a better hitter than Abreu even after adjusting for park, and a much, much better defender — can’t even get 25% of the vote. So I’m not holding my breath for Bobby.


INSTREAM: Man, so many right fielders with an OPS+ of over 120 or even above 130 that are not in the Hall of Fame. Reggie Smith, Jack Clark, two examples. Some fans will look at a great player like Dave Parker (OPS+121) and wonder why he’s not in. I guess the question is really should candidates be examined on a relative basis or absolute?



JAFFE: At every position, there’s more to the Hall than just hitting. Defense counts, too, and so does baserunning. Clark was a mediocre rightfielder, a worse first baseman, and later a DH. The last two things don’t add much value. And rightfield in particular has the highest bar in terms of my JAWS system, because the average you’re comparing against — and yes, this is a comparative system, so I am talking about examining on a relative basis — includes Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Mel Ott, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente and Al Kaline, all of whom had 90+ career WAR, the most at any position. Those guys are averaged out with the clinkers like Tommy McCarthy, who has the lowest WAR of any HOF position player, and Ross Youngs, who barely had 10 seasons before dying of a kidney disease, and had a good-not-great career. Clark and Smith disappeared from the majors at 36, 37, which is a surefire way to torpedo your Hall chances, and Parker was a replacement-level DH from 35-40. That’s not going to get you in. I have Smith 16th in rightfield, better than 12 of the 24 Hall righfielders but well below the career and peak WAR averages. He wouldn’t have been a dreadful choice, but I don’t think he belongs in there. Clark is 28th, Parker 37th, both with even less of a case from the advanced stat standpoint. They all had good seasons — four in the top 10 in the league in WAR for both Smith and Parker, but just once for Clark — just not enough of them.


INSTREAM: Let's switch gears for a second. What are your thoughts on the increasing (and now complete) transparency of voters’ selections?


JAFFE: I’m all for it. Having made their annual awards voting transparent a few years ago, I think the BBWAA made the right call in moving to do the same with the Hall of Fame ballots. In the 16 years that I’ve been analyzing candidates, we’ve seen an increased move towards transparency with more voters than ever explaining their choices. In part that’s because they have the space to on web sites and via social media, but they’re now also more accountable to the public for their choices. The readers can tell their local scribe what they think of his ballot, and so long as it’s not done in an abusive way, I think that’s OK.


The Hall has decided that they like this because it brings a greater level of attention to the proceedings. The vote tracking efforts, mainly those by Darren Viola at Baseball Think Factory and Ryan Thibodaux at the Ballot Tracker, have shined some light on the process, and it appears to have informed the Hall’s decision to sunset voters who have been inactive for more than 10 years. That kind of transparency has been a bonanza for me and my work, because we can track, say, how often two candidates are coupled together on the same ballot, or where a candidate’s surge in support (or loss of it) came from.


INSTREAM: How much have Darren and Ryan's Hall of Fame vote-tracking monitors added to the "horse race" element of election buildup?


JAFFE: A lot, I think. Election season has become a spectator sport unto itself, a companion to the usual Hot Stove fodder. And as I said with regards to the transparency, it’s yielded some interesting data that we can analyze —particularly given the level of detail that Ryan has brought to it, recording on which ballots a player gained or lost a vote relative to last year, or who the new voters are voting for, and so on.


INSTREAM: But there's a social stigma element attached to this now, no? Who wants to be the “rube” who gets called out by everyone on Twitter for giving a Jack Morris or even someone like Melvin Mora his or her vote? Won’t this lead to less “sympathy” votes or even worse, a sort of "socialproofing" of the process? Is that a good thing?


JAFFE: The disappearance of the sympathy vote has as much or more to do with the overcrowded ballots — the backlog created by the electorate’s split as to how to handle the PED-linked guys — as it does the increased transparency. It’s tougher to justify using a slot for Melvin Mora when Edgar Martinez and Larry Walker, guys with legitimate cases for election, are being crowded out because Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are still on the ballot.



INSTREAM: OK, so with all this transparency, there's an expectation of open-mindedness. Will something ever be done in the minds of the voters about the spiritual “2000 hit baseline?” There are more than a few players that have put up outstanding numbers, both counting and rate stats, but simply couldn’t get there, like Tony Oliva, Frank Howard, Albert Belle, Brian Giles, etc.



JAFFE: The “Rule of 2,000 Hits”, which I talk about often in the book, is based on the fact that no player whose career took place entirely in the post-1960 expansion era has been elected with fewer than 2,000 hits. Oliva and Dick Allen both fell one vote short on the 2015 Golden Era Committee ballot, and while the deck will be stacked against them the next time around because of the limited ballot space, they’re probably the most likely candidates to topple it. Or maybe my book will cause a groundswell of support for Bobby Grich, or the writers will get the memo about Chase Utley, or the Today’s Game Era Committee will show mercy on McGwire. One way or another, that sucker is coming down sooner or later.


INSTREAM: Just like there’s two physical roads that lead to Cooperstown, I believe there’s two equally legitimate paths to Hall of Fame glory; exceptional accomplishments and reaching “finish lines,” the “compilers.” What are your thoughts on automatic finish lines? 3000 hits? 300 wins? 700 HRs? I say this because in today’s league, there’s really no hanging on unless you provide legitimate value to a ballclub, the 43-year-old fan attraction Ichiro notwithstanding. You can’t reach these numbers today without the front office wanting you in the lineup – and beyond that, the travel, the August afternoons, to stay on the field, isn’t that something to be celebrated if you can hit certain benchmarks?


JAFFE: I think there’s a danger of attaching too much significance to those round numbers, and I think WAR and JAWS help to illustrate that. Craig Biggio was 2.1 wins below replacement level in his final season, when he reached 3,000 hits; by then he was doing far more harm to his team than good. I should think it’s better to celebrate Biggio for being a Hall-caliber player than for hanging on too long in the service of a number, but it’s not as though I don’t understand the impulse. And someday we’ll see somebody get to 3,000 hits without being a Hall-worthy player by any stretch. Johnny Damon came close.


Thanks to the so-called “Steroid Era” we’ve seen the devaluing of the 500 home run club; that’s a milestone that no longer guarantees entry because many of the players connected to it — Rafael Palmeiro, Gary Sheffield, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez — have been linked to PEDs. Of that group, I believe Bonds is the only one who’s going to get in for a good long time. Sosa’s not in with more than 600, and A-Rod’s case doesn’t change by him finishing at 696 instead of 700-


INSTREAM: OK, so wait, jumping into the Steroid Era for a quick moment, it seems to me that if any of the PED-related players have shown comeuppance and rep-rehab, it’s Alex Rodriguez. With Bonds & Clemens’ rising vote total, A-Rod’s work on FOX and the impact of broadcasting as a historical bump, do you see an eventual induction?



JAFFE: I don’t think it’s out of the question. Even during the 10 years he’s going to get on the ballot, the electorate will be evolving to include younger writers who may view the Steroid Era differently than those who covered it firsthand, and he’ll have his adherents and his sympathizers. I’m generally of the mind that you have to treat the PED-related allegations that came before the testing-and-suspension era, which began in 2004, differently from what came afterwards. Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Sosa, those guys were doing what they did against the backdrop of a complete institutional failure that centered around the owners’ continued Wile E. Coyote-like attempts to break the union, but also implicated the union as well. There was no mechanism to hold those guys back; it’s like a stretch of open highway without any cops, and therefore, effetively no speed limit. A-Rod got caught during the testing era, but the way he got caught wasn’t failing a league-administered test, it was this heavy-handed investigation. MLB went deep into some dirty business to catch him, paying for evidence and attempting to deny him due process.


My inclination right now is that I wouldn’t vote for him (hopefully, I will have a ballot in 2021), but I can get up a good steam thinking about the way his case was handled... I might just wind up voting for the guy at some point. I don’t have to decide today.


INSTREAM: No doubt, you certainly have some time on that one.


JAFFE: I know, now as for 300 wins, we’re not going to see many of those guys in the next decades, but that’s just as well because we shouldn’t be attaching so much importance to them.


INSTREAM: So let's talk about some great pitchers who missed that yardstick. Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling remain on the ballot and then you have Roy Halladay coming up next year. Do you think Doc's appearance cannibalizes the vote a bit for the other two?


JAFFE: I’m skeptical it will work that neatly. Halladay was a two-time Cy Young winner, which is two more than either of those guys had, but he lacked Mussina’s win total and longevity, and despite having the Division Series no-hitter had fewer big postseason moments than Schilling. Hell, Halladay didn’t even reach 3,000 innings, and his last good season was at age 34. I’m not opposed to the idea that he’s worthy — mainly because when you look at who’s coming up after him, there’s nobody close in terms of the value he delivered — but with 203 wins and 14 or 15 spots in the JAWS rankings below Schilling and Mussina, I don’t think he’s anything close to an automatic. Plus those guys have both passed the magic 50% point that strongly indicates future election, even if Schilling’s big mouth has caused him to backslide since doing that. If they wind up losing support on the 2019 ballot, I don’t think it’s because of Halladay.


INSTREAM: One of my favorite stats from the old Gary Gillette-Pete Palmer encyclopedia is “Pitcher Support,” or “SUP.” You cite this in the book when referencing a candidate. How much can SUP tell you about a pitcher’s performance, or at least, the context of the hurler’s season or career?


JAFFE: What I used — which I called SUP+, to keep it in line with ERA+ and OPS+ where it’s an index stat with 100 as the center — is slightly different than Palmer’s. It’s repurposed from work I did with Colin Wyers for the Baseball Prospectus 2012 book "Extra Innings," so the park factors are probably a little different, but the end result numbers are very similar.


Basically, SUP+ is the antidote to paying attention to pitcher win-loss records. It helps to understand how a pitcher was perceived. You tell me that Bob Lemon had seven 20-win seasons and a career 207-128 record for a .618 winning percentage, numbers that went a long way towards getting him elected. I’ll tell you that had almost as much to do with his offensive support (114 SUP+, sixth among Hall of Famers) as his run prevention ability (119 ERA+). On the other hand, Bert Blyleven (287-250, .534) had a hard time getting elected, but he had a 97 SUP+ and a 118 ERA+; his record would have been even better with normal support-



INSTREAM: -And my Gillette-Palmer book has Blyleven scoring a 96 SUP, so there is the slightest of variations. The one number that always stuck out at me was Mark Fidrych's 85 SUP score during his magical 1976 rookie season-


JAFFE: Of course it’s worth remembering that unearned runs are only going into one of those figures, and the way we were doing it, since we don’t have individual game logs for 19th century pitchers, is basically about runs scored by the pitcher’s team on that day not matter how long he pitched. It’s an imperfect stat that’s best used sparingly. That’s one reason why I nixed the idea of including it for every pitcher in the book. I’d also prefer a B-Ref calculated version of it using the same park factors as the rest of their index stats (Sean Forman, are you listening?)


INSTREAM: I know, right? I'd love to see that stat on B-REF. Here's something you mentioned that isn't often discussed when we compare pre-modern era pitchers with the later generations. What was the "distance change" regarding the mound that talk about when discussing pre-1900 hurlers, the Tommy Bonds and Tony Mullane's of the world?


JAFFE: Well, the short version is that when the National Association began play in 1871, the distance from the pitchers’ box (not a mound) to home plate was 45 feet. It moved to 50 feet in 1881, and to 60 feet 6 inches in 1893, with the pitching rubber replacing the box. The reason for the change was that pitches were getting faster, and in particular, there was concern about the danger that Amos Rusie, the Nolan Ryan-esque hardest thrower of his day, posed to hitters. This was a pretty drastic change, in that most of the pitchers who excelled at the earlier distance, some of whom threw 400, 500 or even 600 innings in a season, quickly faded away and a new set of pitchers came up. There were a couple hundred words I wrote for the John Clarkson capsule that ended up on the cutting room floor, what I call “The Nineteenth Century Pitchers Digression.” It’s up at my site under the Clarkson entry, but the relevant point to illustrate is this: Of the 45 pitchers who accumulated at least 20 WAR prior to 1893, only 18 even pitched after the distance change; five of them were gone by the start of the 1895 season, 12 by the start of 1898. Only three of the 18 tallied more than 20 WAR after the change, namely Cy Young (147.2), Kid Nichols (84.6) and Rusie (44.8).


INSTREAM: Much of the chatter around the league this season has been about record-setting home run rates. In the context of determining relative greatness, how do you adjust for the high-offense era when comparing players to the dead ball years?


JAFFE: Each player, whether in the dead ball era or the 2000s, is measured relative to replacement level, but the offense that goes into that replacement level, which is the equivalent of a .294 winning percentage, changes according to the scoring environment. I think it’s defined as being 20 runs below average per 600 plate appearances — a league average player with 600 PA is therefore 20 runs above replacement level; it may be a couple more or less than that depending on the strength of the league as a whole (19th century leagues were weaker). The replacement level is set at .294 so that a given 30-team, 162-game season produces 1,000 WAR.


INSTREAM: One of the hypotheticals I love running through my brain is what if Tom Seaver was drafted by the Dodgers instead of the Braves and what would his career have looked like had he pitched half his games at Chavez Ravine? How much do you weigh ballpark effects and how much should this be a consideration?


JAFFE: Park and league scoring levels are built into WAR, and I think they’re very important — they’re why I’ve chosen to rely upon advanced stats instead of simply comparing raw ones. Particularly at the extremes, like the dead-ball era parks or Dodger Stadium in the 1960s, it’s important to recognize that pitchers had considerable advantages and a 2.00 ERA or whatever thus had less value than it did in a higher-scoring era like the 1920s and ‘30s or 2000s. Pedro Martinez’s 1.74 ERA in 2000 had a much higher degree of difficulty than Sandy Koufax’s 1.73 in 1966, to the point that even the latter throwing 106 more innings doesn’t make his season more valuable (11.7 WAR for Pedro, 10.1 for Sandy). Frank Robinson’s 586 homers and all that came with them were more valuable than Mark McGwire’s 583 homers and assorted trimmings.


INSTREAM: After finishing the book, I realized the one stat you repeatedly mention is TOB - Times On Base. Again and again, we hear about Tim Raines making less career outs than Tony Gwynn as part of establishing his Hall of Fame election case. Why doesn't the sabermetric community make more of a push to promote TOB as a primary statistic?


JJ: That’s a good question to which I don’t have a good answer. We’re basically talking about the numerator in on-base percentage. Instead of celebrating guys who have 200 hits, maybe we should be focusing on guys who get on base 250 times or something. It’s worth a closer look to see where the benchmark should be and who the leaders are. Just doing a first-cut look at players with seasons of at least 250 TOB, Pete Rose had 14, Barry Bonds, Stan Musial and Lou Gehrig 13 apiece, Derek Jeter and Eddie Collins 12, and then 11 guys with 11 including Ty Cobb, Jeff Bagwell, Miguel Cabrera and your boy, Bobby Abreu.


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The SI columnist discusses The Cooperstown Casebook and the paths to Baseball immortality.

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