The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.
Over the course of delivering a novel’s worth of words, sentences, and paragraphs about this year’s Hall of Fame ballot, including revisions to 15 candidate profiles previously published at SI.com, inevitably, I’ve let various tidbits — some more pertinent to their cases than others — slip through the cracks. Sometimes, I learned new information about the player in question after those profiles’ publication, remembered something that slipped my mind, or decided that a tangent would lengthen an already-long piece. Other times, a reader or fellow writer called my attention to a detail that I’d missed.
In the interest of Getting It Right, I’ve been keeping notes on those things, and figured I’d share them in one catch-all post, which will serve the additional purpose of prompting me to include some of these items in the candidates’ respective profiles next time around.
As anyone who follows Hall of Fame voting knows, ever since Bonds and Roger Clemens became eligible in 2013, both players have received far less support than their accomplishments would otherwise merit due to allegations connecting them to performance-enhancing drugs. While voters have treated the pair similarly, Clemens has received more votes than Bonds on every ballot thus far, by a margin ranging from one vote (2017) to eight (2013); last year, it was four. I’ve read and heard myriad explanations for that gap, ranging from race to longstanding sportswriter grudges to the perception that the drugs had a greater effect on the slugger’s career (insofar as they aided him in breaking the single-season and all-time home run records) to Bonds’ roundabout admission under oath that he used the drugs, pitted against Clemens’ vehement denials.
A recent Twitter conversation between colleague Dan Szymborski and ESPN’s T.J. Quinn offered an additional explanation that touches upon an issue I had failed to include in my writeup. In 2007, Quinn (then at the New York Daily News) broke the story that Bonds had failed an MLB-administered test for amphetamines during the 2006 season; Bonds initially blamed it on a substance taken from the locker of teammate Mark Sweeney. While amphetamines and other banned stimulants such as Adderall are considered PEDs under MLB’s drug policy — some of them are allowed for legitimate medical reasons, so long as a player gets a therapeutic use exemption (a possibility Bonds later explored) — a player is not publicly identified and suspended for stimulant use until a second offense (à la Miguel Tejada). A player testing positive for the first time is instead referred for treatment and counseling, and is subject to additional testing. Quinn reported that Bonds subsequently passed six tests in six months.
Thus, if Quinn’s reporting is correct — and there’s no reason to believe it is not, given his stellar track record — Bonds did actually fail an MLB-administered test, where Clemens (so far as we know) did not. For voters interested in splitting hairs, well, there’s one to split.
At the recent Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, two writers who covered Helton during his career with the Rockies, MLB.com’s Thomas Harding and the Denver Post‘s Patrick Saunders, offered a couple of notes regarding my profile, one concerning Helton’s brief college football career at the University of Tennessee — and specifically my assertion that he had won the starting job as a junior — and the other noting a potential trade later in his career that I had long forgotten about.
Entering the 1994 season, Helton’s junior year, Jerry Colquitt was Tennessee’s starting quarterback, succeeding the NFL-bound Heath Shuler. On the seventh play of the season-opening game at UCLA, Colquitt tore his left ACL. Helton, freshmen Peyton Manning, and Branndon Stewart all played QB during that game, as coach Phillip Fulmer tried to “get a competition started.” Helton rallied the Volunteers for 23 fourth-quarter points, but Tennessee lost, 25-23. He started Tennessee’s next three games (a win over Georgia, and losses to Florida and Mississippi State) but injured a knee in the last of those games and yielded to Manning, who took over the job and went on to fame and fortune. Helton likely would have stopped playing football after the season anyway to focus on baseball; he was chosen with the eighth overall pick by the Rockies the following spring.
As for that potential trade, in January 2007, the Rockies talked to the Red Sox about a possible deal that would have sent Helton — who had waived his no-trade clause and still had $90.1 million remaining on his $141.5 million contract — to Boston, with third baseman Mike Lowell, pitcher Julian Tavarez, and prospects heading to Colorado. The Red Sox did not want to include the two relief prospects the Rockies wanted in the deal, namely Craig Hansen and Manny Delcarmen, while Colorado didn’t want to include more than $36.1 million of Helton’s remaining salary. The talks broke down. Later that year, of course, the two teams met in the World Series.
It’s no secret that the foundation of Jones’ candidacy rests upon his defense. He won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves (1998-2007) and based on the combination of Total Zone and Defensive Runs Saved used at Baseball-Reference, his 235 fielding runs ranks first among all center fielders. Thanks to that glovework, he’s 11th in JAWS at the position.
Of course, there’s room to quibble when it comes to defensive metrics, particularly at the extremes. On the one hand, it’s worth noting that UZR values Jones’ defense more highly than DRS does; for the years 2003-2012, for which we have both metrics, his 111 UZR is well beyond his 66 DRS. One system, however, takes a very different view: RED (Runs Effectively Defended), a forerunner to other batted ball data-based metrics such as DRS and UZR that was created by Chris Dial. RED is not currently published anywhere (hopefully, that will change), but it is included among the alphabet soup of metrics in the SABR Defensive Index, which has accounted for 25% of the Gold Gloves voting since 2013.
“By every metric available in the late 1990s – Baseball Reference Total Zone, Michael Humphries’ DRA, and RED, which is based on STATS Zone Rating batted ball data — Andruw’s defense was outstanding,” wrote Dial in a data-heavy email to me (which he gave permission to share). In Dial’s assertion, Jones came back to the pack in the early 2000s, and fell below average defensively from 2003 onward, more or less. Here’s his table comparing the various metrics:
Andruw Jones’ Defensive Metrics, 1997-2008
SOURCE: Chris Dial
SDI = SABR Defensive Index (weighted average of the included metrics: RED & DRS 25%, UZR 20%, TZ & DRA 15%). Speed = Bill James Speed Score; see https://library.fangraphs.com/offense/spd/
Weights via Topps baseball cards, “which are likely conservative,” according to Dial. “Their 2009 card lists him at 240 pounds, which is closer.”
Where the weighted SDI supports’ Jones’ claim on 10 Gold Gloves, Dial’s RED-driven view suggests he should have won only three (1997-1999). According to Dial, the other metrics, both before the arrival of batted ball data and after, aren’t sensitive to the way Jones’ fielding numbers are propped up by discretionary plays, routine ones where more than one player could have caught the ball. “Jones just took all the discretionary plays from the left fielder and continued to do so after he had lost his range. That’s not talent, it’s Kelly Leak,” referring to the ball-hogging star of the Bad News Bears. UZR and DRS “weight plays made by percentage for a position – when Andruw takes a discretionary play, he gets too much extra credit in those systems. Everything else tells us Andruw lost a step or three. His zone ratings (percentage of balls caught), his extra weight, his speed scores, his range factors. How the other metrics miss this, I cannot say.” Dial wrote. Another table:
Average fielding chances for Braves Outfielders
||Prime Jones (1997-2003)
||Old Jones (2004-2007)
SOURCE: Chris Dial
Dial has excluded the shortened 1994 and ’95 seasons as well as Jones’ cup-of-coffee 1996 season from the table. Note the big dip in left field chances for 1997-2003, which rebounds to a number on par with the right fielders’ total because, according to Dial, the older Jones could no longer get to as many balls, and also because the team upgraded from less capable left fielders such as Ryan Klesko (alongside Jones in 1997 and ’98) and Chipper Jones (2002 and ’03).
I’m not sure I buy that last part; if the discretionary plays disappeared, why are his 2004-2007 metrics via other systems still so strong? Nonetheless, Dial has provided a compelling alternative view that at the very least is in line with the voters’ general consensus regarding Jones, who has received just 8.0% from among the 162 ballots published thus far after getting 7.3% last year.
Between Craig Biggio (74.8% in 2014), Jeff Bagwell (71.6% in 2016), Vladimir Guerrero (71.7% in 2017), Trevor Hoffman (74.0% in 2017) and Martinez (70.4% in 2018), we’ve had an unusually large number of near-misses in recent elections — players getting between 70 and 74.9% — and that’s not even counting Mike Piazza (69.9% in 2015) or Tim Raines (69.8% in 2016). Thus, I’ve often hauled out a bit of research that, as updated for Martinez’s 2019 profile, read like this: “Since 1966, 19 out of 20 candidates who received at least 70% of the vote and had eligibility remaining were elected the following year, with Jim Bunning the lone exception; he received 70.0% in 1987 (his 11th year), then 74.2% in 1988 before slipping to 63.3% in 1989. Ultimately, he was elected by the Veterans Committee…”
Left unexplained is exactly how Bunning missed out, and what caused him to fall further. To the first point, as it turns out, in 1988, nine voters — including Bill Madden and Phil Pepe of the New York Daily News, Moss Klein of the Newark Star-Ledger, and at least four other New York-area voters submitted blank ballots as a general protest against what they believed to be the erosion of Hall of Fame standards. “Maybe my standards are higher than most people,” Pepe said. “But I think the Hall of Fame is too crowded … I think to go in alongside Ruth, DiMaggio, Williams, Aaron, Cy Young, you have to be the cream of the cream.”
Had the blank ballots — which are counted in the total, and therefore each require three “yes” votes to offset for a candidate to maintain a 75% share — not come in, Bunning would have received 317 votes out of 418 (75.8%) instead of 317 out of 427 (74.2%). As for Bunning’s support plummeting the next year, to the point that he missed election by 53 votes, it probably owed something to the flood of strong first-time candidates. Both Johnny Bench (who received 96.4% of the vote) and Carl Yastrzemski (94.6%) were slam-dunk first-ballot guys, and some voters may have simply kept their ballots short, leaving off even 314-game winner Gaylord Perry, who had the next-highest share of the vote (68.0%). In head-to-head comparisons, Perry’s win and strikeout numbers dwarf Bunning’s, as do those of Ferguson Jenkins (52.3%); by the next year, the latter overtook Bunning in the voting as well.
Alas, I uncovered one tantalizing Bunning-related lead that turned out to be a dead end. In a 2011 Baseball Prospectus interview with current FanGraphs contributor David Laurila, BBWAA secretary-treasurer Jack O’Connell suggested that the Bunning-bumping blanks were in protest of the Veterans Committee election of catcher Rick Ferrell (the lowest-ranked Hall of Famer at the position according to JAWS). But since Ferrell’s oft-mocked election was in 1984, that theory appears farfetched.
Maybe it was because I’d already included a GIF from Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) showing Mussina’s knuckle curve in action that I chose to leave this one out, but more likely, I just plumb forgot.
Gotta love Joe Torre’s reaction. Given the score bug atop the GIF, a bit of Play Index sleuthing reveals that this encounter was from the ninth inning of Mussina’s May 31, 2006 start against the Tigers. Up 6-0, he allowed a two-out RBI single to Magglio Ordonez, who brought home Placido Polanco, who had reached on an Alex Rodriguez throwing error. Mussina finished the job by striking out Carlos Guillen, capping the last of his 57 career complete games.