Data is the engine that powers professional sports, particularly baseball. All trades, draft picks, roster moves, lineups, and in-game decisions are to some degree a product of running the numbers first.
Voting for the Hall of Fame has followed that same path. Writers who have gained a vote over the last five years are comfortable with using WAR to evaluate players or diving even deeper into the metrics to inform their decisions because that was how they came to better understand baseball.
Most older writers have caught on, too. The alternative is to become obsolete as the industry moves forward.
But the election of David Ortiz marked a rare victory for the eye test.
Because he was a designated hitter, Ortiz finished his career with a modest 55.3 WAR as calculated by Baseball-Reference.com. Fifteen candidates on the ballot had more.
To believe Ortiz was a Hall of Famer, a voter had to see the value in how he performed in the clutch and provided leadership. Those skills can’t be easily quantified but there’s not much denying they were part of Ortiz’s tool kit.
Voters also had to look past Ortiz having played only 278 regular-season games in the field during his 20-year career. Edgar Martinez, who had 71.7 percent of his career plate appearances as a designated hitter, needed 10 years to make the Hall.
Ortiz had 87.9 percent of his appearances as a DH. But he wasn’t just a specialist — he was one of the best hitters of his era.
Three World Series championships and all those intangibles outweighed the numbers. Ultimately, Ortiz’s fame as a player and his importance to the narrative of baseball in this century mattered more than modern metrics.
His was a unique case and just under 78 percent of the voters understood why.
Some other thoughts on the Hall of Fame:
▪ Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens ran out of chances this year. But their fate was sealed in 2014 when the Hall of Fame’s board of directors decided players would remain on the BBWAA ballot for 10 years instead of 15.
Both gained ground over the last five years and likely would have gotten over the top with five more chances. The data shows that 86 percent of first-time voters supported Bonds and Clemens.
As time went on and the demographics of the electorate further shifted, Bonds and Clemens would have benefited and been voted in.
When the rules were changed in 2014, Bonds and Clemens were two years into the process.
By the way, the last two players elected by the BBWAA after their 10th year of eligibility were Bert Blyleven in 2011 and Jim Rice in 2009. It took Blyleven 14 years and Rice 15.
▪ Ortiz was asked about Bonds falling short.
“This is a guy who took the game to a whole, totally different level — same as Roger, the Rocket,” he said. “When I see these guys, to be honest with you, I don’t even compare myself to them because I saw so many times those guys performing, and it was very special. Not having them join me, at this time, it’s hard for me to believe, to be honest with you, because those guys, they did it all.”
▪ Scott Rolen is going to be a Hall of Famer. It’s just a matter of whether it’s next year or the year after that. The do-it-all third baseman has climbed from 10.2 percent to 63.2 in a span of four years.
History shows that once a player hits 60 percent by his fifth year, he eventually is elected.
Todd Helton (52 percent) and Billy Wagner (51 percent) also are moving in that direction, although Wagner has only three more years. He debuted at 10.5 percent in 2016 and dropped to 10.2 percent a year later.
▪ At 46, Ortiz is now the youngest living Hall of Famer. Willie Mays, at 90, is the oldest.
This is also the first time since 2012 that the BBWAA elected only one candidate. That was Barry Larkin, who coincidentally has been a longtime participant in Ortiz’s celebrity golf tournament.
▪ Ortiz’s election is potentially very good news for the greater Cooperstown economy.
The Hall did not hold an induction ceremony in 2020 because of the pandemic. In 2021, the ceremony was delayed until Sept. 8 and a crowd estimated at 20,000 turned out on a Wednesday to honor Derek Jeter, Marvin Miller, Ted Simmons, and Larry Walker.
The induction is scheduled for July 24 this year, a Sunday.
The ceremony drew an estimated 55,000 in 2019. The record of 80,000 came in 2007 for Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr.
With Cooperstown a four-hour drive from Boston, Red Sox fans could pack the grounds of the Clark Sports Center.
Ortiz and former Twins Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva are the only living members of the seven-man Class of ′22, although a good number of New Yorkers could make the trip to pay tribute to the memory of Gil Hodges.
▪ Ortiz was the fifth player to go in on the first ballot with less than 80 percent of the votes. Jackie Robinson (77.5 percent in 1962), Lou Brock (79.7 percent in 1985), Robin Yount (77.5 percent in 1999), and Pudge Rodríguez (76 percent in 2017) are the others.
Yes, Jackie Robinson. And you think the BBWAA has issues now.
▪ After all the drama with Bonds, Clemens, and Curt Schilling, next year’s ballot will open the can on a new controversy as Carlos Beltrán makes his debut. Beltrán has strong statistical credentials but was one of the leading figures in the 2017 Astros cheating scandal.
Beltrán avoided suspension, but he was the only Astros player mentioned in MLB’s report and was summarily fired as manager of the Mets. He has been out of baseball since.
The other notable first-timers are John Lackey and Jayson Werth.
▪ Only seven starting pitchers have been elected over the last nine years by the BBWAA and there’s not a strong candidate coming on the ballot until CC Sabathia in 2025.
Andy Pettitte will be back on the ballot next year, but he dropped to 10.7 percent after reaching 13.7 percent last year.
Mark Buehrle got 5.8 percent and stayed on the ballot. Tim Hudson fell off after two years when he got only 3.0 percent. Tim Lincecum and Jake Peavy were new to the ballot this year and received little support. Lincecum got nine votes and Peavy none.
As starters drop off, Wagner is climbing steadily.
The lefthander had 27.8 WAR over 903 career innings as a dominant relief pitcher. He was excellent at his role.
But Buehrle, Hudson, and Pettitte were all clearly more valuable. Pettitte had 60.7 WAR over 3,316 innings and threw another 276⅔ innings in the postseason.
Relievers are part of the game and deserve a spot in Cooperstown. But deciding who rises to that level is difficult.
▪ The toughest call on my ballot was whether to include Jimmy Rollins. I ultimately did not. He was the MVP in 2007 but only had three career All-Star selections and a .743 OPS.
In Philadelphia, he’s revered as the heart of the Phillies’ 2008 championship team. Rollins also averaged 155 games a year from 2001-09 as a shortstop.
How much a player meant to a particular city and team should be part of the equation. But how much should that offset other factors? That’s worth having some conversations about.
Post-lockout period will be a frenzy
Chaim Bloom and other executives have gone into a forced media seclusion since the lockdown. It has been two months since the last transaction involving a major league player.
The Red Sox, in theory, don’t have a lot to do beyond adding to their bullpen depth and picking up a righthanded hitter.
If the season started tomorrow, they would have Nate Eovaldi, Chris Sale, Nick Pivetta, Rich Hill, Michael Wacha, Tanner Houck, and Garrett Whitlock competing for rotation spots, with Connor Seabold, Kutter Crawford, Josh Winckowski, and Chris Murphy as depth options in the minors.
The lineup would be much the same as the group that finished fourth in the American League in runs scored.
The Sox could sit tight, make a few tweaks, and be fairly confident about contending for a playoff spot. Or, as one executive suggested, they could go the other way and make an industry-shaking move.
The Sox have only $67 million committed to the 2023 payroll. That drops to $40 million if Xander Bogaerts opts out of his contract after the coming season.
While nobody can say what the next collective bargaining agreement will look like, the Sox will have a lot of financial flexibility however it plays out.
To be sure, the payroll will increase once the Sox retain Pivetta, Rafael Devers, Alex Verdugo, etc. But for the moment Bogaerts is the only player under contract beyond 2024.
Does signing Carlos Correa or Trevor Story make sense? Maybe not at first glance, but Story could be amenable to playing second base. Or the Sox could add more depth to their rotation or make a significant trade.
As Bloom and his staff wait for the lockout to lift, they’re surely discussing creative ideas about what comes next.
Speed will be of the essence. Once the lockout is lifted — assuming that does happen — teams may have only a brief time to pull their rosters together before the start of spring training.
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
▪ Triston Casas is a tall lefthanded hitter who doesn’t lack for confidence and hopes to make an impact on the Red Sox this season. If the alumni players are allowed back at spring training this season, tutoring Casas is a way David Ortiz could make a real impact.
Casas and Ortiz met once, on St. Patrick’s Day 2019 when Casas was called up to the major league roster for a game and Ortiz was in the dugout. They haven’t spoken since.
“I know how much he means to the city of Boston,” Casas said. “I know how much winning he’s done for the Red Sox. I can only hope to emulate a little bit of that. Even if I come close to half of it, it would be an accomplishment because he’s just done so much for the game.
“Hopefully I get to talk to him a little bit as the years go on and get to pick his brain about how to be such a clutch player.”
▪ Casas was one of 28 minor leaguers who were at Fenway South last week for a minicamp. Because of the dreaded lockout, prospects on the 40-man roster couldn’t attend.
Brayan Bello, Crawford, Jeter Downs, and Jarren Duran could well be getting in quality work this winter. But they haven’t had access to the team’s coaches, strength coaches, and athletic trainers.
For Duran in particular, it’s a lost opportunity. He forced his way to the majors last July then hit .215 with a .578 OPS and stole only two bases. He needs coaching and isn’t getting it.
▪ In case you missed it, Carl Crawford was on the Hall of Fame ballot and didn’t get any votes. His bank account benefited, but his career sure fell apart when he came to Boston.
▪ Derek Lowe won the celebrity division of the LPGA’s Tournament of Champions in Orlando last Sunday, draining a 25-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole to defeat Annika Sörenstam on her home course and earn $100,000.
In the scoring system used for the tournament, Lowe and Sorenstam finished 9 points better than former big-league lefty Mark Mulder. There were 17 former major leaguers in the field.
It was a Red Sox reunion as Lowe, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, Roger Clemens, Kevin Millar, A.J. Pierzynski, John Smoltz, and Tim Wakefield all played.
Fenway a Hall of Fame haven
Baseball historian and author Bill Nowlin undertook an interesting project. He combed through old records and determined that 209 of the 340 members of the Hall of Fame played, managed, or umpired at least one game at Fenway Park.
The first five Hall of Famers — Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth, and Honus Wagner — all played at Fenway.
Negro League greats Cool Papa Bell, Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, and Buck Leonard were at Fenway for exhibition games.
Nowlin did not count executives, so the count would go even higher as many of them attended games at Fenway.
Notable absences include Carl Hubbell, Willie McCovey, Mike Schmidt, Ozzie Smith, and Duke Snider.
Seiya Suzuki has yet to meet in person with any major league teams. But the star Japanese outfielder is planning to be in the United States soon so he can select a team once the lockout ends. Koji Uehara, now a television commentator in Japan, has advocated for the Red Sox. But within the industry the Giants and Mariners are seen as the leading contenders … The Orioles named Felipe Alou Jr. as manager of Low A Delmarva. Alou, 43, has been with Baltimore for 15 years and this will be his first managerial assignment. His father managed 14 years in the majors, winning 1,033 games for the Expos and Giants … Ran into an interesting article in an old volume of The National Pastime by Bob Timmerman. Future Hall of Famers Eddie Murray, Ozzie Smith, and Robin Yount all played in the quarterfinals of the Los Angeles City Section high school tournament May 29, 1973. The games were played simultaneously at the Sepulveda Sports Center in Encino. Yount played for Taft High while Murray and Smith were teammates at Locke High. Both Taft and Locke went down to defeat. A Smith error led to the winning run. Sylmar High, which didn’t feature any future big leaguers, went on to win the city championship. Murray and Smith are the only high school teammates in Cooperstown … Ron Wotus is putting off retirement from the Giants and will stay with the organization as a special assistant in baseball operations. The Connecticut native was on the major league staff from 1998-2021 and has been with the Giants for 35 years overall … Happy birthday to Jeremy Hermida, who is 38. The Sox acquired Hermida from the Marlins before the 2010 season and felt the former first-round pick was a good gamble. “A chance to get a guy with unfulfilled potential at a reasonable cost,” Theo Epstein said. “He is somebody who had, and we feel may still have, considerable promise.” Alas, Hermida hit .203 with a .605 OPS in 52 games and was released in August. La Schelle Tarver is 63. His big league experience consisted of 13 games for the Sox in 1986.