As I sit here writing, 113 ballots have been tabulated on Baseball Think Factory’s “2015 HOF Ballot Collecting Gizmo.” That’s 19.8 percent of last year’s total number of ballots cast, a pretty good sample. I would say 20 percent, but you can’t round up that last 0.2 percent when it comes to the Hall of Fame voting.
Yeah, I went there.
Anyway, as of right now, Craig Biggio is polling at 84.1 percent of the vote. He’ll need 75 percent (not 74.8!) of the final vote to gain induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame. I was cautiously optimistic last year, but Biggio fell just short. With Jack Morris off the ballot — and a whole lot of old-school voters casting a wasted vote on Morris instead of Biggio in 2014 — I think we’re safe to assume Houston will finally have its own Hall of Famer.
After 1 p.m. on Jan. 6, I’m guessing that scrappy second baseman will forever be introduced as “Hall of Famer, Craig Biggio.” Expect Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz to be on the podium with Biggio.
Right now Jeff Bagwell is polling at 70.0 percent. Here’s hoping Bags finishes somewhere in the 60s. That will make him look better to voters, more like an eventual Hall of Famer, and I’d expect to see his total jump in 2016 and 2017 (probably enough for election to the Hall).
But I’m not here to try to convince you of Biggio or Bagwell’s candidacy. Either you think they are Hall of Famers, or you’re an idiot.
I don’t often say things like that, but unless you have a bunch of photos of the two injecting steroids in each others’ bodies, any argument that they don’t belong is just dumb. You’re entitled to your opinion, but don’t bother trying to convince me that the Earth is flat.
WAR, What Is It Good For?
So, I’ve been spending a little time at BBTF watching the vote totals change as more and more ballots have been published by the BBWAA voters. And the 800-plus comments — most of which breaks down in to categories like anger over The Big Unit not getting 100 percent, marveling at Pedro’s career, discussion of how Smoltz compares to other starters who spent time as a closer, and a whole lot of talk about steroids — are a rambling mess that have one stat that seems to run through them all like a thread: WAR.
Wins Above Replacement, whether you like the Baseball Reference version or the Fangraphs incarnation, it’s a stat that basically compares players’ over time, whether it’s a short WAR period like a single season or a long one, like a player’s peak.
If you read BR’s explanation of WAR, you’d need either a degree in advanced math or some good 80’s style hallucinogens. But basically, WAR for position players is calculated through six categories: Batting Runs, Baserunning Runs, Runs added or lost due to Grounding into Double Plays in DP situations, Fielding Runs, Positional Adjustment Runs, and Replacement level Runs (based on playing time). You can read the equation at Wikipedia, but I only had two years of college calculus, so I don’t know if I can explain it further.
That said, WAR is the go-to stat for the conversation on the Hall. After all, different players at different positions will have different expectations of home runs, batting average, etc., but WAR is WAR. And there’s some pretty basic levels that scream Hall of Fame.
For example, Bagwell has a 79.6 career WAR on BR. That ranks 63rd overall and ahead of players such as Pete Rose, Joe DiMaggio, Reggie Jackson and Frank Thomas (cough, cough). The only players with higher career WARs than Bags that are NOT in the Hall of Fame are people not yet on the ballot or ‘Roid suspects such as Bonds and Clemens.
Biggio, as a catcher and second baseman, is not expected to have quite as high a WAR because of the positions he played, but his 65.1 WAR is right there with Ryne Sandberg (67.5) and Roberto Alomar (66.8). And Biggio ranks higher than Hall of Famers such as Yogi Berra (59.3) and Harmon Killebrew (60.3).
Which Got Me Thinking …
Which all got me to wondering, if Biggio and Bagwell looked like Hall of Famers from the get-go. After all, to amass the WAR needed to get in the Hall discussion, you need to start earning WAR right away.
Well, Bagwell was earning WAR right off the bat (ha!). By the end of his third full season in the majors, Bagwell had earned 15.1 WAR total. All that by the end of his Age 25 season. Biggio had amassed 10.2 WAR by the end of his third full season, also his Age 25 year.
So, do the Astros have any future Hall of Famers on the roster right now? Well, at the end of his third full season (like Biggio, he had a partial season at the start of his career) Jose Altuve has amassed 9.4 WAR. Of course, he’s only finished his Age 24 season at this point. If he can repeat his WAR from 2014 in the upcoming season, Altuve would pass Bagwell in total WAR by the end of his Age 25 season.
Passing Biggio seems like a foregone conclusion. He needs a 0.9 WAR, which would be Altuve’s worst full season. If he can average — just average — a 4.5 WAR over the next 10 years, that’d put him right at about 55 WAR at the end of his Age 34 season. That’s probably not Hall of Fame worthy. After Age 34, Bagwell only earned another 8.1 WAR. Of course, he went nine years — 1993 through 2001 — where he only dipped below a 5.0 WAR once. Biggio earned 8.7 WAR after Age 34. That includes the -2.1 WAR his final season.
But if Altuve can throw in a few 5.5 or 8.0 WAR seasons like Biggio and Bagwell did, then he’s pushing 60 WAR by Age 34.
Other things that help in the HOF talk are things like All-Star appearances, Gold Gloves, and being considered the best at something. Altuve has a batting title. That’s huge. He’s widely considered a great contact hitter. I’ve watched a few games from last season during this long winter, and announcers for other teams can’t stop singing Altuve’s praises.
To really be considered a Hall of Fame candidate, he’d probably need to add just a touch more power — reach that 10 HR plateau a time or two — and learn to walk, which helps his WAR score. Though 225 hits a season will do wonders for your WAR. Also, it’d help if he was in the MVP talk from time to time.
Tuesday … And Beyond
So, here’s a couple of HOF questions
- Does Biggio finally make it this time?
- Right now, the three pitchers, Biggio and Mike Piazza are all polling over the magic 75 percent mark right now. I don’t feel like looking it up, but I know it’s been decades since the writers elected five people. Would you like to see a big Hall class of 2015?
- For 2016, the ballot will include Ken Griffey Jr., Trevor Hoffman‘s 601 career saves and a whole lot of guys who won’t poll that high. Is 2016 Bagwell’s year?
- Meanwhile, 2017 will bring a bunch of good candidates again. Jorge Posada will get all that Yankee (spit!) love. Vladimir Guerrero seems like a shoe-in, as does Manny Ramirez. And Ivan Rodriguez seems like a Hall of Famer. That’s a crowded ballot for Bags.
- Altuve put together a very special season and ONLY got a 6.0 WAR share. Unfortunately, his defensive WAR seems to drag him down. What kind of WAR average will Altuve need over the next 10 years to get in the Hall talk? Is that level of performance realistic?
- Will you be watching at 1 p.m. on Tuesday?