BBWAA Watchdog is dedicated to exploring the voting records of the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Their general secrecy about their members, their refusal to open their ranks to journalists outside of the print media, and, primarily, their awful voting history for baseball's highest awards, demand that their collective words and deeds be documented and critically examined.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Rock Over Brock - Elect Tim Raines to the Hall of Fame

I am happy today. I'm happy because it's a beautiful day, my wife and kids are healthy, we live very comfortable, active, interesting lives, and have loving friends and family. There are a lot of other reasons, but those are the big ones.

Those, plus Jeff Pearlman's article on ESPN.com. That gorgeous thing (the article, not Jeff Pearlman) moved my happy meter more than anything I've read in a long, long time.

The thrust of Pearlman's article is that Tim Raines, while more than qualified for the Hall of Fame when he comes up for election for the first time next year, is likely to be passed over due to the arbitrary nature of the BBWAA's voting process. Sound familiar? With the exception of his kind comments about Lou Brock, I don't think there's a word of Pearlman's article that I disagree with, so I'd like to take this opportunity to welcome him into the clan of believers in the BBWAA's incompetence.

I won't elaborate much further on the article here, because Pearlman did such a good job that I'd rather you read it yourself, but I will add a few points about Raines that need to be stressed. I will begrudgingly use the Lou Brock comparison Pearlman makes, mostly because it paints the BBWAA into a corner since they elected Brock on his first appearance on the ballot. In truth, Brock was vastly overrated, and I'd much rather show that Raines compares well to some of the more elite left fielders in the Hall. But Pearlman has already laid the foundation, and since the voters will almost certainly slot Raines in with Brock for comparison anyway, it makes sense to walk in their shoes in this case.

Looking at these guys side-by-side, as Pearlman does, sure makes Raines look like a viable candidate. Looking at them a bit more closely, we find that Raines was actually significantly better than Brock. For example, with both men being leadoff hitters, their primary job was to reach base. Do you know how many times each did, by hit or walk?

Brock - 3784
Raines - 3935

Despite totaling about 400 fewer hits, Raines more than makes up for it by walking nearly twice as often as Brock, allowing him to hold a substantial lead in times reaching base. We knew this from the variance in their on-base percentages, .385 for Raines .343 for Brock.

In reality, the gap between them is even larger. When their career stats are neutralized, it allows us to account not just for ballparks and run-scoring environments, but also for Raines' lost time from the strike-shortened seasons. Extrapolating out the 1981, 1994 and 1995 seasons allows us to see that the two careers project to essentially the same number of games - 2607 for Raines, 2621 for Brock. And once that is done, it reveals that Raines was even better than his unadjusted stats indicate. Here's their adjusted totals for times on base:

Brock - 3841
Raines - 4186

Suddenly the gap between them, which already favored Raines, grows from 4% to 9%. Here's what happens to their on-base percentages:

Brock - .354
Raines - .406

A 12% margin in favor of Raines is now 15%. The same goes for slugging percentage, which was a 4% margin in favor of Raines:

Brock - .455
Raines - .484

Now it's a 6% gap. And remember, these are neutralized numbers. These gaps have nothing to do with Brock playing in the famously run-depressed 1960s and therefore having a disadvantage. In truth, that wouldn't matter much anyway because while Brock's leagues generally scored about 4% fewer funs than Raines' in their respective primes, Raines played in ballparks that produced about 3% less scoring than Brock's, making it a near wash.

No, Raines was just a better hitter, and as Pearlman correctly pointed out, he was a better base stealer too, with only a reduced number of attempts caused by the changing nature of the game keeping him from passing Brock's career total. At the success rate he established for his career, had Raines attempted as many steals as Brock he would have totaled 1065 steals, roughly 14% more than the record-setting number Brock amassed.

On top of that, Raines played vastly better defense. While Brock played one of the worst defensive left fields in memory (96 Rate, -72 FRAA), Raines was an above average defender (102 Rate, 39 FRAA), who had a string of years in the 1980s where it would have been fair to consider him for a left field Gold Glove (if such a thing existed beyond Carl Yastrzemski and Barry Bonds).

All of this adds up to a massive difference between the respective WARP3 scores of the two men:

Brock - 87.4
Raines - 132.3

It would be fair, given the rules for voting, to downgrade Raines for his cocaine history, particularly the lurid tale of him carrying his crack vile in his pocket during games. But if the BBWAA collectively feels that Lou Brock was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, then they should ultimately elect Raines as well, because his long-resolved personal problems can't erase the enormous difference between his production and that of a man already considered an immortal.

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