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The debate about baseball's Hall of Fame is starting to become a lot more about the voters than the players, so we decided to change the conversation, and get away from character clauses, who might have taken PEDs and what impact those PEDs might have had.
Simply put, we asked our panel of experts to rank the top 100 players in history based entirely on performance on the field.
Unlike the Hall of Fame debates, which tend to focus on steroids or players on the fringe, we decided to create a body where the discussion would have nothing to do with drugs and be more about debating Mantle vs. Mays as opposed to Rice vs. Dawson.
Ranking the top 100 players in baseball history is no easy feat, and including active players -- which we did -- adds another layer of complication. In order to figure out which active players to include, we decided to build our ballot based on statistics, and asked voters to go from there.
• Any player who is in the Hall of Fame, on the ballot or is among the top 150 hitters or pitchers in greatness above replacement (GAR) -- a combination of career and peak wins above replacement -- was on the ballot. While the metric is not perfect, a ballot based on Baseball Reference's WAR leaders with more than 300 names that includes every Hall of Famer is not going to leave off anyone in the discussion of the top 100 players of all time. (GAR is a metric developed by Dan Szymborski, and you can read more about it if you scroll to the bottom.)
• We asked our panel of 30-plus experts -- which included Jayson Stark, Buster Olney, Keith Law, Doug Glanville, Tim Kurkjian and Jerry Crasnick, among others -- to give each player a score of 0-100, in increments of 5. We also asked them to give only one player a score of 100, whomever they think is the greatest player ever.
0-20: A fine player, but he should not be in the discussion of the top 100 of all time
25-40: Great, but not great enough
45-60: I can live with him being in the top 100, but I don't agree
65-80: Definitely a case for the 100
85-100: This person is definitely in the top 100
• When grading active players, we asked them to grade based on how you would if their career ended today. (We plan to revisit this in years to come, yet will keep the body limited to 100. So if someone moves in, everyone gets bumped down and possibly out.)
• We asked them to judge these players based purely on their on-field performance, and only consider their performance in MLB. And because we based our ballot purely on stats in the American or National League, we did not consider players who only played abroad or in the Negro League.
• Reminder: There is no character clause. We do not care if they might have gambled on the game or taken PEDs. Nor do we care if they devoted time and money to charity. Again, this is only about performance on the field.
• Once we had everyone's scores, we tallied them up and ranked players based on their average score.
Wins above replacement (WAR) is a valuable tool when making an argument, but when arguing which players are the greatest of all time, it only measures career value. Peak value, as coined by Bill James, is a little different, measuring the height of a player's greatness rather than his breadth. Take for example, the case of Sandy Koufax, who ranks 74th in career pitching WAR at FanGraphs. Even the most hard-core stathead alive won't try to claim that Koufax wasn't greater than Frank Tanana, Chuck Finley or Jerry Koosman, all of whom have a higher career WAR.
That's where GAR comes in. What GAR does is put career WAR in a historical context that takes into consideration both a player's career value and peak value. It starts with career WAR and adds a player's five-year peak WAR, multiplied by 1.6 to put peak and career on an equal scale. For a baseline, replacement level doesn't make sense -- typical replacement level is talent that's freely available, which just won't do when trying to separate the great from the greatest. Instead, we've chosen as the baseline the average of the 20th through 30th best at each position, that sweet spot at which you've stopped talking about inner circle Hall of Famers and started talking about the fictional Hall of Very Good.
GAR is a blunt instrument, and not intended to end arguments, but simply to add an additional statistical tool to look at when we argue about whether X was a greater ballplayer than Y, which we do endlessly this time of year. -- Dan Szymborski