Tuesday, January 24, 2023


Years (and years!) ago, we suggested that the great outsider horde of "statheads" who took after baseball's establishment media would find that when their infiltrations succeeded, they would look up one day and discover that they'd become just what they professed to hate.

Take that ball and shove it, Michael!
We wrote those words in 1999, and the metamorphosis of baseball discourse has proceeded apace in the intervening years, leading to several key flashpoints in the "agency" of who controls the vertical/horizontal when it comes to making judgments of value. The neo-sabes received a boost in the first decade of the new millennium thanks to Michael Lewis, who helped to accelerate a mainstream platform for a variant of sabermetric analysis that purported to encompass a "total systems" quantification of player value (while also starting a "bum's rush" of "analytic talent" into the pre-frontal lobes of baseball front offices).

That "system"--Wins Above Replacement (WAR)--emerged victorious in a protracted battle against the trailing edge of the elder media, but the radicalization that occurred in the process has left an infection that continues to fester. We flash back to a dozen years ago, when the population shift within baseball's media world was just beginning: as they watched the transformation of their turf, the elder media decided to stick it to the upstart generation by voting in a player that they knew would create howls of derision from the "new breed." It would be their parting shot, a form of revenge for the scorn they'd endured for the better part of two decades.

Who was that player? It was Jack Morris, a 250-game winner to whom they'd been reasonably indifferent toward as a Hall of Fame candidate for the first nine years of his eligibility (back then, players were allowed 15 years to "mature" into viable "enter through the front door" candidates). A whispering campaign began for Morris in his tenth year; it proceeded in two steps until, in 2012, he suddenly leaped up to a 67% vote share (within shouting distance of the 75% induction threshold).

Morris' "Marlboro Man" image was not enough to get him across the finish line: he peaked in year fourteen with 68%. But he was quickly elected by a "vets committee" (read: a carefully selected group of "bagmen") based on the time-old conventions used in Hall of Fame voting which state that the side door is open to those who came close to the front door...if we say so. 

And this is a lesson that's not lost on the up-and-coming "advanced metrics" generation of media hounds. 

Cue up, then, Andruw Jones. The love affair with the young Andruw amongst what quickly morphed into the "neo" set was beyond ardent. The embers of that flame are impossible to hide even today, as the current "media generation" looks to pull off what their curmudgeonly forebears could not--to conduct a successful propaganda campaign to put an undeserving candidate into the Hall of Fame through the front door.

The task at hand is more arduous and fraught, however, because the length of time to operate such a campaign has been cut down by a third--thus poor Andruw is a victim of the Hall of Fame's more urgent need to prevent the election of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, which could realistically be achieved only by cutting the ballot eligibility length from fifteen years down to ten.

We are not here to rehash in detail the arguments for or against Jones. We've exposed the "pro" side via its most senior exponent, Jay Jaffe, who has bigger issues to deal with regarding Fangraphs' dwindling fan base than his klunky management of the "Andruw Jones fanboy network." Knowing that many vested interests are in lockstep with such an effort, Jaffe attempts to soft-pedal his sales pitch, but he's simply not any good at doing so despite his best efforts. He does what he can to deflect dissenting research, but it's mostly based on arguments about defense that amount to little more than special pleading. 

(We confess that we are in some ways more interested in the apparent quicksand around Fangraphs' efforts to use social media as a battering ram for Jones's candidacy--we first reported on that here, even before things got out of control. In his most recent Crowdsource post-mortem, Jaffe is forced to admit that voter participation in his propaganda efforts has dropped by nearly 50% from 2022 to 2023. Most fortunately for Andruw Jones, more of "the faithful" stuck around rather than disappearing down a rabbit hole, so that despite receiving less votes overall in 2023 than in 2022, his percentage of the "remaining voters" shot up tantalizingly close to the magic BBWAA admission threshold of 75%. How convenient for those influenced by simplistic numerical psycho-flummery! But it appears that Jaffe's "army" is thinning out behind him.)

Jones's candidacy rests upon a value method that remains seriously flawed. WAR has a series of distortions that just can't be reconciled so long as its treatment of "defensive replacement" via values assigned to its "defensive spectrum" are improperly constructed. It is a flawed "rate stat" that is turned via various forms of pettifoggery into a "counting stat," thus creating strange and borderline comical results, even on the offensive side. For example: Andruw Jones has 39 OWAR and a 110 OPS+; Dick Allen has 70 OWAR and a 156 OPS+. Let's leave aside the defensive analytical disasters that push Allen below Jones via the system's perilous adjustments, and focus on the offense. Is Allen--a truly great power hitter who played in a time of historically low run scoring--really twice as good a hitter as Jones--a middling hitter with very good power who played in one of baseball's most copious run scoring eras? No: that's an exaggeration based on cumulative flaws in WAR. OPS+ gives us a much better sense of the two players' league-relative value.

Jones' case rests on a flimsy combination of "peak" value and an overall value method that has distorted his defensive achievements. Two analysts named Chris--Bodig and Dial--have exposed various aspects of these distortions. You can read Bodig's take on this issue here, which references the work of our long-ago colleague Dial--whose defensive research Jaffe attempted to bury, but whose arguments were convincing for the influential scribe Jayson Stark (who continues to hold the line against voting for Jones with his most recent ballot).

Others not on the Andruw bandwagon include Bill James, whose Win Shares system also gives Jones excessive props for defense but doesn't create a "negative distortion" in its defensive spectrum gradations, permitting a more reasonable spread of offense-defense across all defensive positions, and whose results for Jones strongly suggest that despite his spectacular defensive peak, he falls short of enshrinement. And, somewhat surprisingly, Christina Kahrl, our old sneering bete noire, who has broken ranks and omitted Jones from her ballot.

Also not convinced, apparently, are the "silent voters" in the BBWAA who still comprise about half the voting bloc despite ongoing purges in the past half-decade. Andruw's support amongst those voters appears to remain shaky: according to the famous Hall of Fame Tracker, he loses more ground than any of the candidates amongst these voters. Just how much of that remains in place in the 2023 vote may prove fateful for those who are in it for the "ten-year plan." 

Our earlier modeling of the 2023 HOF vote, updated to represent the Tracker's latest totals, is pretty consistent with that of Twitter HOF maven Jason Sardell, with the exception of the predictions for Andruw. Exactly where in the 50s that he lands can potentially make a very big difference in how things play out over the last four years of his ballot eligibility. (Our calculation shorthand is in the table, by the way: the "Drift" column expresses historical calculations of "voter inertia" as it applies to players based on where they are in their time on the ballot: that's why Jeff Kent, Gary Sheffield and Billy Wagner have values over 1, since they are late in the process. That offsets the partial "delta" data that we have for votes captured by the Tracker; we average the two, then apply that value to the 2022 percentages to estimate the 2023 percentage.

Of course, we must conclude with a cynical observation. Andruw Jones will go into the Hall of Fame someday, because the current crop of media folk will get his percentage close enough to the BBWAA threshold in order to make the same argument to a "vets committee" that was made for Jack Morris. But they do need to keep the momentum going: 59% would be a helluva lot better than 50% psychologically. Because these folks hold a grudge--rightly or wrongly--against their predecessors, and they've put Andruw Jones in their basket in looking for their strange form of retribution. 

How will it turn out? We'll know later today...and as the foundations of "western society" twist and groan in the wind, Dick Allen's ghost adds a gust of laughter breaking free from our earthly din.

[UPDATE: A pleasant surprise for the Hall of Fame and for Scott Rolen, who made it over the line and was inducted in the 2023 balloting with 76% of the vote. Jason Sardell's model was a bit closer than ours on a majority of the other voting results: Helton 72% (looking good for 2024), Wagner 68% (also with a good chance next time), Sheffield 55%, Beltran 47% (we were a bit closer on this than Sardell...), Kent 47% (a shame), A-Rod 36% (a joke), Ramirez 33% (a travesty), Vizquel 20%, Pettitte 17%, Abreu 15%, Rollins 13%, Buehrle 11%, Frankie Rodriguez 11%, Torii Hunter 7%.

And...Andruw at...58%. That will keep the pressure on for the frontal assault, which has four more chances to succeed. Jones is in a better position than Morris, who had 52% of the vote with four more ballots remaining. The siege of dWAR will continue until morale improves...]