Monday, November 26, 2007

SOLID AS A ROCK, BUT IT'S COMPLEX

Montréal Expos legend Tim Raines is on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for the first time... from a Jan. 26, 2007 post touting his credentials for enshrinement in Cooperstown:

What's frustrating to a sports nerd is it feels like you're just beating your head against the wall if you try to take the conversation up a notch.

Now, why is there a picture of former Montreal Expos leadoff man Tim Raines with this post (which was ostensibly about Tom Brady and Peyton Manning)?

Well, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. were easily elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame two weeks ago. It was open and shut for both.

But here's the thing: If people only use a couple of arbitary metrics -- 3,000 hits, 500 homers, MVP awards, etc. -- to decide whether or not to vote for a guy for Cooperstown, then how do you make the case for a ballplayer who was just as great, but doesn't have something like spending 20 years with one team or making it to 3,000 hits to burnish his image? This is important since Raines is appearing on the ballot for the first time next year.

It's hard to know, 11 months before the vote, whether Raines will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. However, while I was mulling this over, Hardball Times' Dave Studeman wrote a series this week ranking baseball's 80 greatest everyday players (i.e., non-pitchers), using a fun little stat called Win Shares Above Bench.

Raines, who didn't hit .300 for his career or total 3,000 hits (largely due to injuries), is ranked 44th all-time and is a "no-brainer Hall of Famer," according to Studeman. Only one non-Hall of Famer ranked higher than Raines. Hardball Times, using a system that tries to takes the full measure of a ballplayer instead of cherry-picking one or two attributes to confirm one's own prejudices, says the Expos star was better than several of his 1980s-vintage infielders and outfielders who are in Cooperstown: Eddie Murray, Wade Boggs, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield, Ryne Sandberg and dunh dunh dunh dun dah, Cal Ripken.

However, if people want is the image and a few easily communicated stats, how do you convince any non-believer Raines should be in there? If you try to explain secondary bases, or secondary average (extra bases on hits, walks and steals divided by at-bats), or stolen base percentage, you end up looking like the A-hole who gets off on talking over people's heads.
Gwynn outhit Raines .338-.294, but by know most people know batting average is a bunko stat. Every base earned counts, and Raines has a far bigger .372-.240 edge in secondary average. Raines also stole about 500 more bases, and in what I call "century seasons" -- totallying 100 runs scored or 100 RBI, he's got Gwynn there too, 6-3. (Roberto Alomar, whom I'll get to in a moment, had eight such seasons.)

However, if people aren't interested in having a sophisticated argument about sports, how do you even talk to them? So these days, when I should be thinking about, oh, a million other things, I wonder if our continuing struggle to understand almost anything complex, to reject anything nuanced, is going to cause the baseball writers to have a total brain fart with Raines in 2008 and former Blue Jays star Alomar when he goes on the ballot in 2010.

OK, this sounds crazy, but back in '03, when Gary Carter entered the Hall, the fine Globe and Mail baseball writer Jeff Blair wrote the "chances are overwhelming" that no one would else would be inducted as a Montreal Expo. Blair, who's an astute baseball writer, deserved the benefit of the doubt then and still does today.

(Fast-forward to today: Blair, who has acknowledged he had a riff with Raines when he covered the Expos, says he will votefor him. Good on you, Jeff Blair.)

Similarly, Hardball Times ranks Alomar as baseball's 64th-best everyday player -- ahead of fellow 1992 Jay Winfield (a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2001), and 15 spots ahead of Sandberg, the most recent second baseman to go into Cooperstown. Still, there are arguments -- not necessary good arguments, but ones you can expect to hear -- against him. Namely, Alomar changed teams several times and did not make it to 3,000 hits.

Maybe Alomar will be a shoo-in three years from now, but we don't know that, and hopefully you can understand why there's serious doubt. Just ask yourself: What's more likely to get mentioned when the 2010 Cooperstown debate heats up in November of '09: Alomar's five seasons with a .400 on-base percentage, his Gold Gloves, or that he spit on an umpire?

Please don't take this as me lashing out. It's just vexing that I can't get it across to people that ... Tim Raines is a drop-dead first-ballot Hall of Famer. I don't understand the human condition well enough to get that across.

Related:
Roberto Alomar career stats (Baseball-Reference.com)
Tim Raines career stats (Baseball-Reference.com)
Out of Left Field: July 28, 2003

4 comments:

Pete Toms said...

N, Blair stated on his G&M blog today that he is definitely voting for Raines.

sager said...

Thanks Pete... this is a reprise from a post written 10 months ago.... Blair's thinking has evolved quite a bit since 2003.

Pete Toms said...

Rob Neyer - he doesn't have a vote - thinks Raines should be in the HOF.

"Raines was a great player. He's not going to be elected, mostly because he was overshadowed by Rickey Henderson and because one of his two key skills -- getting on base and scoring runs -- is undervalued by Hall of Fame voters."

He also states that the voters who didn't hold drug use against Molitor shouldn't hold it against Raines.

sager said...

Someone really needs to raise hell over the fact that Neyer, Bill James, et al., who think baseball 24/7/365, don't have a HOF vote. Telling Bill James he can't vote for the hall would be like telling a top-selling author he couldn't teach English because he didn't have a degree.

They have covered baseball for 10 years, they should be eligible. Nothing against any individual voter, but their opinions are just as valid as that of a general sports columnist at a big daily, who might only write a handful of baseball pieces per year.

Neyer wrote in his Baseball Dynasties book that any baseball writer who doesn't think Raines is a HOFer should have his laptop taken away.

Verducci was on The FAN yesterday and he said Raines will get in, but not on the first ballot. That sounds reasonable.

You have a link to the Neyer piece, Pete, or is it firewalled?