While overall the BBWAA has done a good job of evaluating the game's greatest players, there are, of course, biases and inconsistencies that have plagued the Hall of Fame voting process for years. Many of these biases are so ingrained that it takes a conscious effort to move past them and evaluate candidates' true contributions fairly. These are five biases that Hall voters have exhibited and how modern players can take advantage of them. Want to make the Hall of Fame? Just follow these easy steps.
Earlier this decade, the baseball establishment woke up and decided to start valuing players who take a base on balls. The rest of the world has begun to take notice of statistics such as on-base-percentage and OPS, previously relegated to nerds only. While not as dramatic as hitting a home run or even a base hit up the middle, taking a walk and avoiding outs is an essential part of the game. Today's patient players are no longer underrated, and some are even deified (see
Even statistically minded folks like myself have trouble putting mind over matter.
So why is it that one's heart leads to Dawson and Rice, while one's head points to Raines and Martinez? Walks. The base on balls was a huge part of Raines' game, and Martinez
Disdain for walks is the reason why
Hall voters have long struggled with the question of how to evaluate the short reliever. Lately voters seem to be erring on the side of inclusion. Four modern relief pitchers have made the Hall:
Simply put, relievers can't be of great value to their teams when they pitch so few innings. Granted, the innings that relievers throw are up to 70% more important to their teams, but even accounting for this fact, it's hard for a closer to have the same impact as a starting pitcher.
Plus there is the added fact that, in general, it's easier to perform well out of the bullpen than as a starter. A reliever can leave it all out on the field for one inning, while a starter has to worry about pacing himself for multiple times through the order. That's why bullpen ERAs are lower than starting ERAs, despite the fact that most relievers could never crack a major league rotation. History is filled with pitchers who successfully converted from starter to dominant closer. Meanwhile, very few, if any, have gone from failed reliever to ace starting pitcher.
Given these realities, for a closer to be as valuable as a starting pitcher or a position player, he has to be very good for a very long time, like
Additionally, a couple of pitchers have solidified their Hall candidacies by becoming closers late in their careers. Eckersley converted when he was nowhere near a Hall candidate, but after just five truly dominant seasons he became a Hall of Fame lock.
Having a long, consistent, yet unspectacular career won't win you many fans or accolades, particularly if you're a pitcher.
In another battle of mind vs. gut, the latter three just
Third basemen have always had a tough time getting elected to the Hall. Part of the problem stems from the fact that the hot corner has a reputation of being a power-hitting position. While third base does allow for a bigger, stronger, slower player than, say, the middle infield, it's a mistake to assume that third basemen should have the same hitting prowess as first basemen or outfielders. Having a good fielder at third is enormously important, and as a result good-hitting third baseman aren't easy to come by. Fielders who can't hack it usually end up moving to first base. Guys who can hit and are good enough with the glove to play third are a rare and valuable breed.
Still, the categorization of third base as a primarily offensive position makes third basemen underrated by the BBWAA voters. That's why just six primary third basemen have been elected to the Hall by the writers. Even those who have made it have had to wait their turn, with
While it's hard to think of many other definite should-be Hall of Fame third basemen, players such as
In baseball, unlike basketball or other sports, one player cannot single-handedly account for the success or failure of a franchise. It's a team game, and all 25 guys have to contribute. Unfortunately for players stuck on bad teams, Hall voters have difficulty separating a player's performance from his team's.
This particularly applies to pitchers; despite advancements in statistics, voters still tend to focus on wins and losses. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the case of Blyleven, whose ERA, strikeouts, and career longevity should make him a no-brainer selection (his Wins Above Replacement indicate that he was the sixth most valuable candidate of the past 25 years). On Wednesday he was denied entry to the Hall for the 13th time. Despite all of his accomplishments, Blyleven played on bad teams with little run support, and Hall of Fame voters have punished him for it.
Elsewhere on the ballot,
For hitters, the equivalent statistic to a pitcher's wins is RBIs. Yes, good players rack up a lot of them, but it's also dependent on the context of the team. Players such as Tony Perez, who get a chance to be a big cog on a great offensive club, will find their paths to the Hall easier, while a better player like