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Decking the Hall, Sabermetrically

- December 23, 2007

If, when I was a twelve-year-old growing up in a small midwestern town, you’d have told me that eventually I’d live within a few miles of two major league baseball teams, I would have been unimaginably happy. If you’d also told me that I would take no interest in these teams or, for that matter, in baseball itself, I wouldn’t have believed you. Baseball was that important to me. Now it’s not. Last season I watched, in person on on TV, a grand total of zero games, and this season I probably will do the same.

My current lack of interest in matters pertaining to the National Pastime explains why until yesterday I knew nothing about Bill James’s “Hall of Fame Monitor.” Bill James, for those who don’t already know, invented and is the foremost practicioner of sabermetrics, the statistical analysis of baseball records. It turns out, according to a Wall Street Journal article by Allen St. John, that James has been ranking today’s major leaguers in terms of their prospects for being granted entry to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, where the sport’s greatest players are enshrined. I don’t know exactly how he does this, but in principle it sounds pretty straightforward. One could, for example, fit a logistic regression model for past players, using their single-season and/or lifetime records to predict whether they were subsequently granted admittance to the Hall; then one could substitute into the model the records of current players to determine the probability that they, too, would get in. Of course, in such an exercise certain assumptions come into play — perhaps most crucially, the assumptions that pertinent factors haven’t been left out of the model and that future selections will be based on the same considerations that have prevailed in the past. Those assumptions may prove to be inaccurate. For example, highest-ranked among today’s players is the embattled Barry Bonds, who would be a shoo-in based on his stats but could get blackballed based on his steroid-related misdeeds and, for that matter, his dour demeanor.

A player who scores at least 100 points on James’s scale has a 50-50 chance of making it into the Hall; those who score 130 or above are considered very serious contenders.

Here’s the list of leaders among position players:

bq. Barry Bonds (352)
Alex Rodriguez (316)
Ken Griffey, Jr. (225)
Derek Jeter (221)
Ivan Rodriguez (217)
Mike Piazza (205)
Sammy Sosa (201)
Frank Thomas (194)
Manny Ramirez (187)
Vladimir Guerrero (174)
Ichiro Suzuki (170)
Albert Pujols (166)
Todd Helton (162)
Gary Sheffield (146)
Chipper Jones (141)

On the bubble are:

bq. Jeff Kent (121)
Andruw Jones (101)
David Ortiz (86)

My comments:

bq. The demographic composition/national origin of the game’s leading players certainly has changed over the years, hasn’t it?

bq. Such is my estrangement from baseball that I don’t even know who Todd Helton is.

bq. I’d vote for Frank Thomas based purely on his nickname (“The Big Hurt”), which entitles him to a place in the Hall of Fame.

bq. I’d vote against Chipper Jones on the same basis. Rules of thumb: No crying in baseball, and no one named Chipper in the Hall of Fame.