Well, I probably shouldn’t post this, but why not? If things get out of hand I can just start talking about abortion and crime to settle everybody down. Baseball fans love to talk about who ought to be in the Hall of Fame. And now that the ballot is out and baseball diamond is empty, this is a good time to discuss who belongs and who doesn’t. It’s kind of a silly club, but the exclusiveness of it’s membership gives it some real integrity, which keeps our attention. Very few unworthy baseball figures have a plaque at Cooperstown.
Last week, over at The Baseball Analysts, long-time Bert Blyleven advocate Rich Lederer took his case to the people with a slew of celebrity guests columnists. Bill James also made a strong case in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006. I’m convinced, Mr. Blyleven should be in, let’s just hope that 75% of the BBWAA agrees this year. Now, I have to admit, I feel ashamed. Ashamed that I haven’t taken the time to put up a similar case for my own personal baseball hero.
To put my baseball life in context, I’m 32 years old. I grew up in Charlotte, NC, and both of my parents’ families are from the Atlanta area. When I discovered baseball after throwing out first pitch at a AA Charlotte O’s game, I needed a major league team to follow. One Thanksgiving, I asked my uncle who his favorite team was, and he said “the Braves.” So, from that point forward, I was a Braves fan. And it just so happens that the Braves were starting to have some success. As I approached my 9th birthday the 1982 Braves had me believing that being a Braves fan was fun. Unfortunately, the following seasons were not so fun years to be a Braves fan. But there was always one thing right with the Braves: Dale Murphy. The first thing I used to look at in the paper every morning was Murphy’s standing in the NL home run race. Why even bother to look at the box score or standings? Dale Murphy was the Braves in my mind.
So, of course, I want Dale Murphy in the Hall of Fame for all the wrong reasons. But, that isn’t going to deter me from making a semi-objective inquiry as to Murphy’s HOF credentials. I want to look at all the players who are in the HOF, by any means, and see how Murphy stands up to the credentials of this club’s members. It just so happens, that my method doesn’t isolate one players but looked at all eligible players to see if Murphy clears a benchmark that has been arbitrarily set my the HOF. I approached this project as James did in Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? (a.k.a. The Politics of Glory) on a much smaller scale. I wanted to use the data available to any jerk capable of downloading the Lahman Database—I don’t have anything against nice people, but what nice person takes joy in tooling around with the Lahman Database?—to evaluate the worthiness of baseball hitters for the Hall of Fame. I didn’t look at pitchers, because Murphy never pitched, (glances at B-R page) not even once. Let’s look at all the eligible players who played their last game prior to 1995, and try to predict the likelihood of a player being in the HOF in based on several characteristics. The HOF file in the Lahman makes this a very doable task.
Now, my method for predicting who is in and who is out requires me to pick characteristics of players that likely influence HOF voters. This is where things get tricky. I’m sure there is no model I could pick that would be perfect. But, I think few will argue that the criteria I selected are unreasonable. And if you do, the Lahman is at your disposal, so get to work.
My criteria are as follows:
Career linear weights: Hey, it’s the best measure of run production.
Run environment: I include variables in the regression estimate for the average runs per game scored in the league and the average ball park factor during each player’s career.
Position: I classified players by the defensive position at which they played a plurality of games. All outfielders were treated the same.
Gold Gloves: The number of gold gloves won by a player. For players who played prior to the award, I include a variable in the regression to control for this lack of opportunity. I didn’t include defensive stats, because I HATE all publicly available defensive stats. They are stupid and tell us very little. If a guy is going to get into the HOF for his defense, he’s going to win gold gloves and/or play shortstop or catcher.
Awards: In addition to gold gloves, I include the number of MVP awards won.
Longevity: I include the number of seasons played in the league.
Using all of these factors, I employ a probit regression model to estimate the probability that a player is in the Hall of Fame. I include only those players who stopped playing prior to 1995 (arbitrary 10-year cutoff) to ensure players several opportunities to be elected. I then generated predicted probabilities of players being in the Hall of Fame.
Here is the list of players who are not in the HOF, who’s predicted probability of being in the HOF, based on the characteristics listed above, is greater than 50%.
Player First Last P(in HOF) Bill Dahlen 1891 1911 80.18% Pete Rose 1963 1986 78.39% George Van Haltren 1887 1903 72.86% Keith Hernandez 1974 1990 70.99% Dwight Evans 1972 1991 68.46% Dale Murphy 1976 1993 68.43% Jimmy Ryan 1885 1903 66.83% Bob Elliott 1939 1953 58.84% Phil Cavarretta 1934 1955 57.99% Bob O'Farrell 1915 1935 55.68% Vern Stephens 1941 1955 52.99% Bob Johnson 1933 1945 52.79% Dolph Camilli 1933 1945 52.59% Cupid Childs 1888 1901 51.64% Larry Doyle 1907 1920 50.56% Deacon McGuire 1884 1912 50.09%
I’m happy to report that Dale Murphy makes the cut! There are a lot of older players in here, but there are a few more recent names that are quite interesting. Keith Hernandez and Dwight Evans both make the list. Both of these guys James singles out in WHTTHOF? as being worthy, but not in. As for Rose, I don’t support his reinstatement or inclusion in the HOF. He knew what he was doing, and I don’t feel sorry for him.
So, if you have a ballot and you read this post, please take the time to consider Mr. Murphy, as well as the other players on this list. I know he didn’t play for many winners, but he couldn’t really help that. At least he never threw a tempter tantrum to complain about it. You’re not going to damage the high standards of the Hall of Fame that have kept it interesting by electing Murphy. Most of all, I believe Murphy deserves this honor, and I think it’s time he gets the plaque he’s earned.