JAWS and the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot: Every candidate's case

Friday December 9th, 2016

The 2017 Hall of Fame ballot is out, and as 34 former players vie for the honor to be inducted into baseball's most exclusive club, the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America must weigh their choices to pick the men they believe deserve a bronze plaque in Cooperstown. But which players should make the cut, and who comes up short?

All month ahead of the Dec. 31 deadline to submit a ballot, SI.com baseball writer and Hall of Fame expert Jay Jaffe will be breaking down the individual cases for each player on the ballot, from the top candidates to the likely one-and-done players. Using the statistic that he developed to measure a player's Hall of Fame contributions—JAWS—Jay will look back at the careers of everyone on the 2017 ballot and provide a stat-based valuation of their numbers, as well as examine recent and historical Hall voting trends to see what the future may hold for each man's Cooperstown hopes.

Below, you can find all of Jay's published JAWS profiles, which are are listed below in order of publication, with the most recent on top; you'll also find a quick introduction to JAWS. And don't forget to pre-order Jay's upcoming book on the Hall of Fame, "The Cooperstown Casebook," out June 2017.

Dec. 30: My virtual Hall of Fame ballot

From 34 down to 10: Which players make the cut for Cooperstown? I assemble my virtual ballot, breaking down who I would put up for a bronze plaque and who comes up short, and why. Read more.

Dec. 29: One-and-done candidates, Part 3

Fifteen of this year's first-time Hall of Fame candidates are far below Cooperstown's standards and unlikely to receive the 5% of the vote needed to stay on the ballot. But that doesn't mean they're not worth remembering. In Part 1, Jay looks back at the careers of Pat Burrell, Mike Cameron, J.D. Drew, Magglio Ordoñez and Matt Stairs. Read more.

Dec. 28: One-and-done candidates, Part 2

Fifteen of this year's first-time Hall of Fame candidates are far below Cooperstown's standards and unlikely to receive the 5% of the vote needed to stay on the ballot. But that doesn't mean they're not worth remembering. In Part 2, Jay looks back at the careers of Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, Carlos Guillen, Melvin Mora and Casey Blake. Read more.

Dec. 27: One-and-done candidates, Part 1

Fifteen of this year's first-time Hall of Fame candidates are far below Cooperstown's standards and unlikely to receive the 5% of the vote needed to stay on the ballot. But that doesn't mean they're not worth remembering. In Part 1, Jay looks back at the careers of Tim Wakefield, Arthur Rhodes, Jason Varitek, Derrek Lee and Freddy Sanchez. Read more.

Dec. 26: Sammy Sosa

Burdened by steroid accusations, Sammy Sosa is a longshot for Cooperstown and has seen little support from the voters despite his 609 career home runs. But it's not just the taint of PEDs that makes Sosa's Hall of Fame case one that hasn't received any backing. Read more.

Dec. 23: Fred McGriff

Despite hitting as many career home runs as Lou Gehrig, Fred McGriff has never found wide support on the Hall of Fame ballot, with his chances at enshrinement in Cooperstown remaining low thanks to his itinerant career and poor advanced numbers. Read more.

Dec. 22: Manny Ramirez

Boasting offensive numbers most players can only dream of, Manny Ramirez's Hall of Fame hopes nonetheless rest on voters forgiving him for his pair of performance-enhancing drug suspensions—bans that will likely keep him out of Cooperstown for the foreseeable future. Read more.

Dec. 21: Gary Sheffield

Thanks to his subpar defense and surly attitude, Gary Sheffield has had a hard time building support on the Hall of Fame ballot despite his otherworldly offense, though his Cooperstown candidacy deserves a closer and longer look than most voters are giving it. Read more.

Dec. 20: Ivan Rodriguez

His sterling defense made him one of the best catchers of all time, but will performance-enhancing drug allegations rob Ivan Rodriguez of a first-ballot entry to Cooperstown on the Hall of Fame vote? Read more.

Dec. 19: Billy Wagner

A hard-throwing reliever with gaudy strikeout rates, Billy Wagner's low counting stats and weak advanced numbers would seem to leave him on the outside looking in for Cooperstown. But is there more to his Hall of Fame case than meets the eye? Read more.

Dec. 16: Jorge Posada

A key part of the core of the Yankees' dynasty teams of the late 1990s, Posada was integral to four World Series winners and New York's extended run of dominance. Is that enough to get him into the Hall of Fame? His low counting stats and weak defense make his Cooperstown case a tough one. Read more.

Dec. 15: Larry Walker

Despite some terrific advanced statistics and his all-around excellent value at the plate, in the field and on the bases, Larry Walker's voter support has been slow to materialize on the Hall of Fame ballot, and with only a few years left of eligibility, his Cooperstown hopes may be running out. Read more.

Dec. 14: Jeff Kent

Despite his terrific traditional offensive stats at second base, Jeff Kent's Hall of Fame case is undone by advanced numbers and his poor defense at the keystone, making him a borderline candidate at best for a plaque in Cooperstown. Read more.

Dec. 13: Vladimir Guerrero

Will Vladimir Guerrero waltz into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility? He has the traditional stats to earn a plaque, but a crowded ballot and some less-than-stellar advanced numbers may delay his deserving trip to Cooperstown. Read more.

Dec. 12: Lee Smith

Now in his 15th and final year on the ballot, Lee Smith is unlikely to find the support he needs thanks to his underwhelming statistics. But the former saves king's Hall of Fame chances aren't totally done even if he falls short in his last turn. Read more.

Dec. 9: Mike Mussina

The numbers are on Mike Mussina's side for a bronze plaque in Cooperstown, but his Hall of Fame candidacy has been slow to garner support in his first three years on the ballot. Can he take a big step forward on the ballot in 2017 and set himself up for a late run at the Hall? Read more.

Dec. 8: Barry Bonds

The all-time home run king and arguably the greatest hitter who has ever lived, Barry Bonds is the very definition of a Hall of Famer. But with steroid allegations clouding his candidacy, Bonds has seen his support hurt by the debate over the PED era. Will that change in time to get him the Cooperstown plaque he deserves? Read more.

Dec. 7: Roger Clemens

It's hard to separate Roger Clemens from the taint of steroids that has followed him from the last years of his career through retirement. But in the wake of softening attitudes on PEDs and former commissioner Bud Selig's election to the Hall, it's time to stop holding Clemens's past against him and his otherwise no-brainer Cooperstown case. Read more.

Dec. 6: Edgar Martinez

There are no two ways about it: Edgar Martinez could flat-out hit. But while the Mariners' longtime star redefined the designated hitter position as the best ever to play it, his support on the Hall of Fame ballot has been slow to develop. With his time on the ballot growing short, will the voters ever come around on his Cooperstown worthiness? Read more.

Dec. 5: Curt Schilling

By the numbers, Curt Schilling is a Hall of Famer. But amid a post-retirement career spent alienating and offending both fans and voters with his incendiary political and personal commentary, has he submarined his chances at getting into Cooperstown? Read more.

Dec. 2: Trevor Hoffman

Trevor Hoffman was one of the most dominant closers of the 1990s, becoming the first man in major league history to reach 600 career saves. But due to his highly specialized role in an era of increasingly shortened relief pitching, does he have the stats to join the Hall of Fame's exclusive club of relievers? Read more.

Dec. 1: Tim Raines

Criminally overlooked for the entirety of his stay on the Hall of Fame ballot, Tim Raines is down to his last year of BBWAA eligibility. Will one of the best outfielders of his time finally get the Cooperstown honor he deserves, or has he run out of time? Read more.

Nov. 30: Jeff Bagwell

One of the best first basemen of the post-World War II era, Jeff Bagwell should have been a shoe-in for Hall of Fame honors from his first year on the ballot. But thanks to baseless allegations and rumors of performance-enhancing drug use, the longtime Astros star has found himself on the outside looking in for six years. Thankfully, though, 2017 looks to be the end of his wait. Read more.

JAWS and the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot: An introduction to JAWS

Monday November 28th, 2016

It’s time to tackle the Baseball Writers' Association of America's 2017 Hall of Fame ballot, which was released last Monday, with 19 newcomers—headed by Ivan Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero—joining 15 holdover candidates. For the 14th year in a row, I’ll be evaluating each candidate’s career in light of both the popular perception of his candidacy and a sabermetric reckoning via my JAWS system. But rather than crowding each evaluation with a description of my system, I’ll lay out the nuts and bolts in this space so that readers can refer back to it as needed.

For the uninitiated, JAWS is short for Jaffe Wins Above Replacement Score. Like the famous cinematic shark, the catchy, self-referential acronym (introduced a year after the system’s debut) generally elicits screams at the first hint of its approach, as not everybody can withstand this deep dive into the debate over who is worthy of Cooperstown. But if you’re somebody who does like to partake in the discussion and chew on the candidacies, JAWS is for you.

JAWS is a tool for measuring a candidate’s Hall of Fame worthiness by comparing him to the players at his position who are already enshrined. It uses the baseball-reference.com version of Wins Above Replacement to estimate a player's total hitting, pitching and defensive value while accounting for the wide variations in scoring levels that have occurred throughout the game's history and from ballpark to ballpark. A player's JAWS is the average of his career WAR total and that of his peak, which I define as his best seven years. All three are useful for comparative purposes, as Hall of Famers come in different shapes and sizes. Some—such as Hank Greenberg, Ralph Kiner, Sandy Koufax and Jackie Robinson—dominated over periods of time cut short by injuries, military service or the color line. Others—such as Eddie Murray, Don Sutton and Dave Winfield—showed remarkable staying power en route to major milestones. It’s a misconception that every Hall of Famer must do both to be worthy of a bronze plaque in Cooperstown. If you’re using Babe Ruth, Ted Williams or Willie Mays as your yardstick, the institution will become a tomb, sealed off because nobody measures up in their wake.

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For the purposes of comparison, players are classified at the position where they accrued the most value, which may be different from where they played the most games, particularly as players tend to shift to positions of less defensive responsibility—and thus less overall value—as they age. As an example, think Ernie Banks at shortstop (54.8 WAR in 1,125 games there from 1953 to '61) as opposed to first base (12.8 WAR in 1,259 games there from '62 to '71). A small handful of enshrined players with fewer than 10 years of major league service, including pioneers and Negro Leaguers, are excluded from the calculations; Satchel Paige and Monte Irvin, for example, had major league careers too short to use as yardsticks for non-Negro League players.

The stated goal of the JAWS system is to improve the institution's standards, or at least to maintain them by identifying and (hopefully) admitting players at least as good as the average Hall of Famer at the position. Setting a lower bar than that would not only dilute the honor but also further strain a system that already has a significant bottleneck, in that the past few years have seen far more players who measure up than can fit on each voter’s 10-slot ballot. More than anything, the idea is to bring a measure of intellectual consistency to an often disorganized debate. Because of that, JAWS has gained a nice bit of exposure in recent years: It's been cited by actual Hall of Fame voters, included within MLB Network's television coverage, and will grace the pages of a forthcoming book by yours truly.

When I began this series, I used Baseball Prospectus' version of Wins Above Replacement Player, but the 2017 ballot marks my fifth year using Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR. Site owner Sean Forman aided the process by creating several handy tools, including JAWS data on each player page and sortable positional leaderboards. B-Ref also has other great tools useful to any Hall of Fame discussion, including past voting results and projected future ballots.

For all that it includes, JAWS doesn’t incorporate everything that goes into a player’s Hall of Fame case. The system makes no attempt to account for postseason play, awards and other honors, league leads in important categories, career milestones and historical importance; much of that is better handled via the Bill James Hall of Fame Standards and Hall of Fame Monitor metrics. That information is all germane to the Hall of Fame discussion and can shade an argument for or against a player whose credentials are otherwise borderline, so I’ll incorporate it into my full evaluations.

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My system owes a great deal of inspiration to James's Historical Abstracts, both the 1985 original—which planted the career/peak distinction in my mind—and the 2001 version, which weighted a player's best seasons (using Win Shares) to produce a somewhat more transparent means of combining career and peak into a single ranking. In JAWS, a player's best seasons are effectively double-counted—an appropriate strategy given research into pennants added and the premium value of star talent, in that individual greatness can have a non-linear effect on team results, both in the standings and on the bottom line.

Here are the current positional standards, which are virtually the same as last year’s except at catcher and centerfielder following the 2016 elections of Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr., though other positions may have moved a decimal point or two.

position

number

career war

peak war

jaws

SP

62

73.9

50.3

62.1

RP

5

40.6

28.2

34.4

C

14

52.7

34.2

43.4

1B

19

65.9

42.4

54.2

2B

20

69.3

44.5

56.9

3B

13

67.5

42.7

55.1

SS

21

66.7

42.8

54.8

LF

19

65.1

41.5

53.3

CF

19

71.1

44.5

57.8

RF

24

73.2

43.0

58.1

CI (1B/3B)

32

66.0

42.4

54.2

MI (2B/SS)

41

68.0

43.7

55.9

OF

62

70.1

43.0

56.5

CO (1B/3B/LF/RF)

75

67.9

42.2

55.1

MID (C/2B/SS/CF)

74

65.9

42.2

54.0

All Hitters

149

67.1

42.2

54.6

As with the past four election cycles I’ve covered for SI.com, I will devote individual articles to the top new and returning candidates, updating my previous work to ensure that it reflects their most recent ballot results as well as any changes to WAR and JAWS. I'll also devote shorter writeups to lesser newcomers with no shot at election and batch several of those together. While it's true that I could easily skip the likes of Melvin Mora and Tim Wakefield, I'm among those who feel that a player's appearance on the ballot itself is worth at least a brief valedictory, and I'm not about to break my Cal Ripken-like streak of covering every candidate.

In my next post, I’ll begin rolling out the top returning candidates. We’ll be onto the new ones soon as well.

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