Wednesday, January 22, 2020


What is war (or WAR) good for? Two of the all-time greats are remain stuck in the 60s (along with America, where proxy wars remain good for business and polarization is a cottage industry), while the BBWAA and the post-neo contingent remain at odds in ways that threaten to leave more potential Hall of Fame-caliber players on the outside looking in.

Walker: in a mountain time zone of his own...
The most pleasant surprise: the BBWAA, which likes to take its sweet time when HOF candidates have anything resembling a chink in their armor, pulled itself together and summoned enough votes from its membership to elect Larry Walker, whose churning, burning 11-year peak finally cut through the residue of doubt cast by his long-time residence in Coors Field. (Of course, Walker's WAR total as interpreted by Forman et fils is yet another example of the overweening strangeness of that measure: the "combined" total, which rarely if ever matches its component numbers, works oddly in his favor and was, fortunately for him, trumpeted far and wide.)

Of course, that was all to the good as far as we're concerned, since the Large Hall is the only rational approach to an "institution" that has been compromised by the serial abuse of a series of Veterans Committees. Walker is worthy, and kudos to the BBWAA for allowing him to avoid the limbo that still befalls so many players who deserve a plaque in Cooperstown.

Jeter: dressed for the Fifth Dimension?
In the "no surprise" category there is Derek Jeter, who wound up one vote shy of unanimity ("one less egg to fry," perhaps??) as he keeps settling into a uniquely mediocre moguldom. Jeter's WAR totals are on the opposite side of weirdness from Walker's, as they seem designed to strip him of as much of his value as possible.

The thousand or so voters influenced by the glibmeister version of post-neo wonkiness known as Fangraphs, given the spiffy, media-savvy monicker of Crowdsource™, published the results of their poll complete with the shaggy dog stylistics of Jay Jaffe, giving us a revealing measure of how a (thankfully) mutable mobocracy alters reality. Their results--pulling Jeter down from 99+% to below 90%, and pushing Walker up from 77% to just under 90%--precisely mirrored their wacky WAR numbers.

The Crowdsource™ results are as flawed in their own way as the BBWAA results, with three mitigating exceptions: robust, above-the-threshold vote totals for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, and higher players-per-ballot averages. But the Crowdsource flaws provide us with a means of digging further into the bizarre polarization of HOF thinking, even as Jaffe fails spectacularly as a data analyst. (It is doubtful that he will bother to go back and evaluate the final results, as the Crowdsource™ exercise is primarily a social media parlor trick designed primarily to create a more cohesive consumer base for Fangraphs.)

So, in the midst of such a likely vacuum, it's up to us to step in with some semi-serious data manipulation in hopes of getting into the "middle way" between these eternally opposed camps. Our table (at right, below) takes the two voting results (Crowdsource™ and BBWAA) and subjects it to a series of averagings and manipulations (smoothing out the differences between the two results so as to compensate for some of the more regrettable neo-sabe-induced voting mishaps in the Crowdsource™ data).

In recognition of the catastrophically widespread use of the JAWS "method" (and it's no surprise that Jaffe, in the self-promotional continuum of neo-sabermetrics that has brought forth a deadly careerist cadre spread like kudzu across Internet media sources, named his creation after himself), we are calling our method "CHAWS"--whose visual reference is hard to miss--a big mass of stuff in one's mouth that really should be spit out...but the actual substance of which is open to interpretation (bubblegum? chewing tobacco? good ol' down home All-American phlegm?).

Basic "CHAWS" simply averages the results of the two voter blocs. CHAWS/2 smooths out the rate of increased Crowdsource™voting that is unevenly spread amongst the 2020 HOF candidates and applies it indiscriminately (in the manner of its namesake) to the Crowdsource™ figures, which dials back some of that group's more egregious prejudices (their darling Andruw Jones, and their bete noire Omar Vizquel). Since we apply that to even those players with less support in Crowdsource™, this intermediate calculation produces a few notable anomalies, such as Jeter getting more than 100% of the vote, Curt Schilling getting enough votes to be inducted, and the aforementioned Vizquel trampled by the grapes of wrath.

Hence: CHAWS/3, which takes just one more averaging (CHAWS with CHAWS/2) to get to a "middle way" that might make some sense in how we view the ongoing areas of disagreement between post-neos and the slightly curdled, slightly infiltrated establishment. (And, yes, what a quaint term that truly is...) The CHAWS/3 values, with a few exceptions, might work as a preview of the 2021 ballot results, reflecting the underlying strength of support across each of our polarized camps.

Looking at it in this way, we can see the following: 1) Schilling is highly likely to be inducted, but there is a chance that he'll stall just short of the goal one more time; 2) Bonds and Clemens will go up next year due to a much weaker ballot...but will it be by this much? If it is this much, then they would likely make it in 2022 as a "we staved off reality as long as we could" gesture (analogies to the Senate Republicans in lockdown this morning are too hard to resist...); 3) Scott Rolen will get a bump and be in position for  2024 induction; 4) the rest of the pack (Manny Ramirez, Todd Helton, Gary Sheffield, Billy Wagner) will move up incrementally at levels that will be roughly equivalent; 5) Jeff Kent and Omar Vizquel, due to the roiling inconsistencies that ensue in the evaluation of middle infielders, will either stall or move up sharply, depending on the behavior of BBWAA members with a predilection to vote for seven or more players (in other words, the "Big Hall" voters who've had to leave people off due to the recent glut of worthy candidates).

Kent: he who makes mood rings explode...
The clear odd man out in all of this, of course, is Kent, a man whose temperament has done him no favors with the BBWAA and whose combination of achievements clearly befuddles the neo-sabe world, who prefer to use defensive WAR as a way to circle their wagons around Jones. Perhaps it's just that there are so many other second basemen left out of the Hall that creates such massive indifference vis-a-vis Kent, who is actually a superior candidate to any of those admittedly aggrieved parties. But to let the errors of the past dictate a similar error in the present proves only that neo-sabes are just as credulous, confused, and semi-contaminated as those they've worked so assiduously to neutralize and replace as arbiters of this bizarre, overwrought trophy known as the Hall of Fame.

We (perversely, as always) root for a version of the Marlon Brando Oscar™ scenario: Kent gets elected to the Hall of Fame...but, in keeping with the hyper-curmudgeonly side of his nature, he dispatches a stripper to accept the award on his behalf and give what, for once, will be a truly "revealing" speech.