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Should postseason matter in HOF voting?

10/21/2013

As Carlos Beltran delivers more big postseason hits this October for the St. Louis Cardinals, talk about him as a potential Hall of Famer has increased, carrying over from discussions that began in the regular season. ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick wrote about Beltran's Hall of Fame case back in August, while Dave Cameron of FanGraphs wrote about Beltran and David Ortiz the other day.

Basically, Beltran's case goes something like this: He kind of snuck up on everyone as a Hall of Fame candidate, he fares very well in advanced metrics, such as WAR, but not quite as well in more conventional measurements, such as counting stats and MVP voting results. Certainly, two more strong seasons will help his case.

Comparisons have been made to Andre Dawson, another guy who did a little of everything. In terms of career WAR, they're similar: Beltran 67.5, Dawson 64.4. One major difference: There was a time when Dawson was considered maybe the best player in the game, something that has never been said of Beltran. Dawson also won an MVP Award (though ridiculously undeserved), and that undoubtedly helped get him elected to Cooperstown.

It all means Beltran is a borderline candidate. Which gets us to this: How much should his great postseason numbers (.337 BA, 16 HR, 37 RBIs, 1.173 OPS) factor in?

Case study: Jim Rice versus Bernie Williams

Rice: 382 HR, 1451 RBIs, .298/.352/.502, 47.2 WAR

Williams: 287 HR, 1257 RBIs, .297/.381/.477, 49.5 WAR

After a long and heated debate, Rice finally made it on his 15th and final year on the ballot. Despite similar career value, Williams fell off the ballot after one year. Williams was a key performer on four World Series champions, hitting .275/.371/.480 in his postseason career, with 22 home runs and 80 RBIs in 122 games (he's the all-time postseason leader in RBIs). To be fair, neither are strong Hall of Fame candidates, but in Williams' case his postseason numbers clearly had no effect on the voters.

Verdict: Postseason doesn't help.

Case study: Curt Schilling versus Kevin Brown

Schilling: 216-146, 3.46 ERA, 127 ERA+, 80.7 WAR

Brown: 211-144, 3.28 ERA, 127 ERA+, 68.5 WAR

In their raw stats, these two are nearly identical, right down to innings pitched (Schilling had five more in his career). Neither won a Cy Young Award, although Brown should have won in 1996 when he had a 1.89 ERA for the Marlins and arguably for the Padres in 1998, when he led the National League in WAR. Schilling finished second in the voting three times, twice to teammate Randy Johnson, once to Johan Santana. They're not exactly the same: Schilling does have the edge in career WAR (he spent more time in good hitter's park) and strikeouts.

The difference, of course, is Schilling was one of the great postseason pitchers ever, going 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 career starts, winning three rings. Brown went 5-5 with a 4.19 ERA in 13 starts and one ring. Brown fell off the ballot after one; Schilling received 39 percent of the vote last year on his first year on the ballot, actually a pretty good starting point to eventual election.

Verdict: Postseason helps.

Case study: Jack Morris versus Dennis Martinez

Morris: 254-186, 3.90 ERA, 105 ERA+, 43.8 WAR

Martinez: 245-193, 3.70 ERA, 106 ERA+, 49.5 WAR

Pretty similar numbers. Morris' win-loss record is slightly better, but he also generally pitched on much better teams. Martinez's best years came in relative obscurity with the Expos, with whom he went 100-72 with a 3.06 ERA in eight seasons. This is more like the Rice-Williams case, in that neither really has a strong Hall of Fame case.

Except that Morris has those World Series rings. Martinez pitched in two World Series, but his teams lost both times. Morris' career in the playoffs: 7-4, 3.80 ERA (13 starts). Martinez: 2-2, 3.32 ERA (seven starts). Martinez received 16 votes and was knocked off the ballot. Morris received 68 percent last year and has one year left on the ballot with a good chance of getting the final-year push like Rice did.

It should pointed out that Morris' overall postseason record isn't that special. He did win two games in the 1984 World Series, but other pitchers have had spectacular World Series and didn't get in to the Hall of Fame (Lew Burdette, Mickey Lolich). For Morris, his candidacy really comes down to voters putting a huge value on his Game 7 performance in 1991.

Verdict: Postseason helps.

Case study: Kirby Puckett versus Larry Walker

Puckett: 207 HR, 1085 RBIs, .318/.360/.477, 50.8 WAR

Walker: 383 HR, 1311 RBIs, .313/.400/.565, 72.6 WAR

This one is a little more complicated. Puckett's career was ended early by the eye injury, although an injury is an injury, no matter how freakish (voters seemed to give him a pass on his shortened career, however). Walker's numbers were inflated some by Coors Field. Still, Puckett was a Gold Glove center fielder; Walker was a Gold Glove right fielder. Puckett had some power and rarely walked; Walker had power and walked much more often. Walker won an MVP Award, Puckett didn't. Career WAR? Not close.

Puckett sailed in on the first ballot. Walker has been right around 22 percent his three years on the ballot. Puckett played in two World Series and won both; he hit .309/.361/.536 in 24 career playoff games, and had that memorable walk-off home run in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. Walker played in one World Series and lost. Puckett was lovable, Walker injury-prone. That certainly influenced voters, but Puckett's postseason heroics must have helped get him elected.

Verdict: Postseason helps.

Case study: Tony Perez versus Keith Hernandez

Perez: 379 HR, 1652 RBIs, .279/.341/.463, 53.9 WAR

Hernandez: 162 HR, 1071 RBIs, .296/.384/.436, 60.1 WAR

Another interesting one in that they were completely different types of players. Perez was a power-hitting first baseman who drove in a ton of runs (it helped having Pete Rose and Joe Morgan hitting in front of him). Hernandez didn't have the same power but hit for a higher average, got on base more and is regarded as maybe the best fielding first baseman of all time.

Perez had the reputation of being a clutch hitter, and the Reds won two World Series titles with him. But Hernandez also won two titles, with the Cardinals and Mets. Here's the kicker, though: Perez was a terrible postseason player, hitting .238/.291/.378 with six home runs and 25 RBIs in 47 games. Hernandez hit .265/.370/.359 but with 21 RBIs in 30 games and was also terrific in two Game 7s (2-for-3, two walks, two RBIs in 1982; three RBIs in 1986).

Of course, in this case, voters probably didn't get past the career RBI totals.

Verdict Postseason doesn't help, unless you're part of a famous team (unless you're Bernie Williams).

OK, one more. These are kind of fun.

Catfish Hunter versus Orel Hershiser

Hunter: 224-166, 3.26 ERA, 104 ERA+, 36.6 WAR

Hershiser: 204-150, 3.48 ERA, 112 ERA+, 51.7 WAR

Hunter basically got in because he was a famous anchor of Oakland's three straight World Series champions (and a lesser part of two Yankees World Series winners). Hunter went 9-6, 3.26 in his postseason career. His regular-season numbers aren't all that impressive, especially when looking at the advanced metrics such as ERA+ and WAR. Hershiser went 8-3, 2.59 ERA in his postseason career, carried the Dodgers almost single-handedly to the 1988 World Series title (unlike Morris, his team won in five instead of seven). Hershiser fell off the ballot after two years. If only one of his Indians teams had won a championship.

Verdict: Postseason helps only if the voters want it to.

In the end, you've seen what I've done: compared some of the more marginal Hall of Famers or Hall of Fame candidates to similar players. There is certainly inconsistency from the voters, except perhaps in one main narrative: fame. Rice was famous as an active player, while Williams was always overshadowed by other teammates. Schilling's fame rose with the bloody-sock game and titles in Boston. Morris was certainly more famous than Martinez, Puckett more so than Walker, Hunter probably more than Hershiser, Perez maybe more than Hernandez (although that one is more debatable).

As for Beltran, that's what will probably ultimately make his Hall of Fame case an uphill climb: He comes up a little short on the "fame" side of things (unlike, say, David Ortiz). Plus: He's about to just play in his first World Series.