JAWS and the 2014 Hall of Fame ballot Part I: Introduction

Tuesday November 26th, 2013

Tom Glavine, Braves Tom Glavine won 305 games and two Cy Young awards in his 22-year career. (John Bazemore/AP)

The Baseball Writers' Association of America's 2014 Hall of Fame ballot was unveiled on Monday, adding 19 newcomers to a list of 17 holdover candidates, creating a slate that is even deeper and more controversial than last year's. Headlining the first-timers are a pair of 300-win former teammates, longtime Braves Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, as well as 500-homer slugger Frank Thomas; under normal circumstances, all three might expect to gain first-ballot entry. Also reaching the ballot for the first time, and meriting a close look, are a pair of former five-time All-Stars, Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent.

Instead of being the focus of this year's election, that quintet will have to vie for attention with last year's even more decorated set of newcomers, including all-time home run leader Barry Bonds, seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens, 3,000 hit club member Craig Biggio and 12-time All-Star Mike Piazza, to say nothing of some outstanding holdovers. That's because despite a wealth of qualified candidates, the voters — some of whom wished to protest the increasing number of candidates linked to performance-enhancing drugs —  pitched a shutout and didn't elect a single player for the first time since 1996.

This problem isn't going away. Since space on each voter's ballot is still limited to a maximum of 10 players, it will be even more difficult for the electorate of 500-plus to reach the necessary 75 percent consensus on any candidate. Some voters may resort to a game-theory approach, knowing that  Maddux doesn't need their vote as badly as does Jack Morris, who is less qualified but in his final year of eligibility.

The deadline for ballots to be submitted is Dec. 31 and the results will be announced on Jan. 8, 2014. Inductions for anyone elected either via the BBWAA or the Expansion Era committee will take place on July 27, 2014; unlike last year, hopefully somebody still living will be in Cooperstown to accept the honor.

In any event, it's time to kick off my 11th annual JAWS-based ballot breakdown. For the uninitiated, JAWS is short for Jaffe Wins Above Replacement Score, a system I developed at Baseball Prospectus in time for the 2004 ballot, though the catchy self-referential acronym didn't come until a year later. 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 sabermetrics to estimate a player's total hitting, pitching and defensive value to account for the wide variations in scoring levels that have occurred throughout the game's history and from ballpark to ballpark.

The system's stated goal is to improve the institution's standards, or at least to maintain them by admitting players at least as good as the average Hall of Famer at the position. 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, cited by actual Hall of Fame voters and included within the coverage at MLB Network's Clubhouse Confidential show.

A player's JAWS is his career Wins Above Replacement total (Baseball-Reference.com version) averaged with his 7-year peak WAR. WAR measures each player’s hitting, pitching and fielding contributions relative to those of a freely available reserve or minor league call-up, with built-in adjustments for park and league scoring levels so that we can more fairly compare players across eras. The current Hall of Famers are then grouped by position and a positional average JAWS is computed.

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 overall value — as they age. A small handful of enshrined players, including pioneers and Negro Leaguers with less than 10 years of major league service, are excluded from the calculations; Hall of Famers Satchel Paige and Monte Irvin, for example, didn't have long enough major league careers to provide yardsticks for non-Negro League players.

For all that is included, JAWS can't incorporate everything that goes into a player’s Hall of Fame case. It makes no attempt to account for postseason play, awards won, leading the league in important categories, career milestones and historical importance, most of which is better handled via the Bill James Hall of Fame Standards and Hall of Fame Monitor metrics. All of that information is germane to a player's Cooperstown case, and can shade an argument for or against a player whose credentials are otherwise borderline.

My system owes a great deal of inspiration to James' 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 a team's results both in the standings and on the bottom line.

When I began this series, I used BP's version of Wins Above Replacement Player. Last year, I switched to Baseball-Reference.com's version of WAR, and site owner Sean Forman aided the process by creating several handy tools, including JAWS data on each player page and sortable positional leaderboards. B-R also has other great tools that are useful in any Hall of Fame discussion, including past voting results and projected future ballots.

Here are the current positional standards:

Position Number Career Peak JAWS
SP 57 72.6 50.2 61.4
RP 5 40.6 28.2 34.4
C 13 52.4 33.8 43.1
1B 18 65.7 42.3 54.0
2B 19 69.5 44.5 57.0
3B 13 67.4 42.7 55.0
SS 21 66.7 42.8 54.7
LF 19 65.0 41.5 53.2
CF 18 70.4 44.0 57.2
RF 24 73.3 42.9 58.1
CI (1B + 3B) 31 65.7 42.3 54.0
MI (2B + SS) 40 68.1 43.8 55.9
OF (LF,CF,RF) 61 69.9 42.8 56.3
CO (1B,3B,LF,RF) 74 67.8 42.2 55.0
Md (C,2B,SS,CF) 71 65.7 42.0 53.9
All Hitters 145 66.8 42.1 54.5

As with last year, I will devote individual Strike Zone entries to the top candidates, updating my previous work to ensure that it reflects any changes to WAR — which included a slight lowering of the replacement level to align it with FanGraphs WAR — and the positional standards. I'll also devote shorter writeups to lesser candidates who have no shot at election, and batch several of those together. While it's true that I could just as easily skip the likes of Julio Franco and Sandy Alomar, I've always felt that a player's appearance on the ballot itself is worth at least a brief valedictory, and I'm loathe to break my Cal Ripken-like streak of covering every candidate.

ad nauseam
SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.