While working on my Hall of wWAR project, I've focused intensely on identifying players who have been overlooked by the Hall of Fame.
Just to recap, I kicked all 209 elected (MLB) players out of the Hall of Fame, whipped up a weighted version of Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement (wWAR), and re-populated the Hall with the top 209 players in history, by wWAR. The results were fascinating.
In all, 63 players who are not in the Hall of Fame ended up being "inducted" into the Hall of wWAR (while 63 current Hall of Famers were given the heave-ho). Do I think all 63 deserve to be in the Hall of Fame? Probably not. But I certainly believe most of them do.
Let's say I think 50 belong (which, believe it of not, I might). If I start arguing that each and every one of them belongs, I'm going to sound crazy and I'll never get anywhere. So, lately I've been thinking a lot about where to place my focus—especially now that Bert Blyleven and Ron Santo are in.
Which players are the most egregious omissions? Which players do I feel have no flaws in their case that should reasonably keep them out?
Right away, there are some players I can strike from my list of 63. The Hall of wWAR cares not if you've been banned from the game, so three are actually not eligible for Hall of Fame induction. These, of course, are Pete Rose, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and Eddie Cicotte.
Two other players—Albert Goodwill Spalding and John McGraw—are actually in the Hall of Fame, but not as players. Even though they deserve to be recognized first and foremost for their playing careers, I'm not going to exert my energy lobbying to get their designation changed. First, I'm not even sure you can do such a thing.
So that leaves us with 58. And while I advocate for almost all of them in one way or another, I have narrowed the list to a select few I'm willing to fight for.
I've split these players into three groups—19th century players, players currently on the BBWAA ballot, and the players in between (20th century stars who have been overlooked by the BBWAA). Today, I want to start with the 19th century.
I think it is safe to say the only 19th century player inducted into the Hall of Fame primarily for his defensive contributions was Bid McPhee (and he was inducted more than 100 years after his last game). McPhee's modern defensive numbers (+154 runs by Total Zone) nicely jive with his more traditional defensive stats (led 2B in fielding percentage 9 times, putouts 8 times, assists 6 times). He also happens to be the all time leader in putouts by a second baseman, even today.
What about other 19th century players who generate a ton of their WAR value from their defense? The top 19th century position players outside of the Hall of Fame by wWAR are Bill Dahlen (113.2), Jack Glasscock (104.3), Deacon White (92.2), George Gore (82.9), Charlie Bennett (82.5), and Ross Barnes (80.1).
Dahlen, Glasscock, Bennett, and Barnes all rated incredibly well by Total Zone. When choosing players to really fight for, I want to steer clear of putting too much stock in a modern metric rating defensive performance from over 100 years ago. While I may trust Total Zone more than the average fan, it's an easy argument to dismiss.
So, I came up with a compromise. I took a look at each player's wWAR total as if they were league average defenders (basically, wWAR by using Baseball-Reference's oWAR). Their positional value is included, but not their Total Zone. Now, this is an enormous disadvantage for these players, as each comes with very impressive qualitative defensive reputations. I just want to be sure beyond any shadow of a doubt that they belong.
Bill Dahlen, a shortstop who played in 2444 games, was worth 139 runs on defense, but also 188 at the plate and 25 on the bases. That kind of production over a long period of time at a premium position still keeps him Hall-worthy, even if the Total Zone numbers are removed. His wWAR would fall from 113.2 down to 86.8, but that is still well above the induction line.
Jack Glasscock, another shortstop, played in 1737 games. He was worth 149 runs on defense and 116 on offense (8 more on the bases). Because he played considerably less than Dahlen, had less offensive value than Dahlen, and started with a lower wWAR than Dahlen (104.3), his Total Zone-independent wWAR is just 65.4. Does that mean Glasscock shouldn't be a Hall of Famer? No, it doesn't. But it does mean that about 100 or so of those Total Zone runs better be real. And I'd better be damn sure they are if I'm going to fight for him. If Glasscock was the best 19th century shortstop, I might be more inclined to put him on the list. But Dahlen is the priority.
Charlie Bennett, when you consider Total Zone value and length of playing career, was simply the best defensive catcher in history. He was worth 142 runs behind the plate and 69 at the plate. As a result, his wWAR without Total Zone drops from 82.5 to 43.6, way below the induction line. I don't have any reason to doubt Bennett's defensive skill, but he definitely needed it to warrant induction.
Ross Barnes played only nine seasons (mostly at second base), but was the top offensive player in the National Association. A fair amount of that value came from defense (57 runs vs. 252 at the plate). The fact that Barnes is even in the discussion after a nine-season career is incredible. But without the defense he would fall short (from 80.1 wWAR down to 67.2.
After this exercise, I have the first 19th century player that I'm more than comfortable to fight for:
Why he should be in: Depending on how much stock you put in Dahlen's defensive reputation, he could be a top 6 (eligible, all time) shortstop (if you trust Total Zone), top 12 (if you count about half of it), or top 18 (if you disregard it and consider him league average). In any case, I think he should be in.
Honestly, I see Dahlen as very similar to Alan Trammell, who I also happen to support very strongly for the Hall:
Trammell: 2293 games (2139 at SS), 2365 hits, .285/.352/.415, 110 OPS+
Dahlen: 2444 games (2133 at SS), 2461 hits, .272/.358/.382, 109 OPS+
The biggest difference is that Trammell has about half the Total Zone value of Dahlen. Trammell ranks tenth among eligible shortstops by wWAR, so this is why I'm very confident in Dahlen's credentials.
There's another player I mentioned earlier, but didn't follow up on. That's Deacon White. The Deacon's wWAR is a very impressive 92.2. That's Hall-worthy no matter how you look at it. Despite a solid defensive reputation, his Total Zone hovers right around league average. If anything, I would guess it underrates him. As a result, I have no problem trusting his wWAR total and strongly supporting him for the Hall.
Why he should be in: While his 2067 hits don't seem all that impressive, White began his (Major League) career in 1871 and was stuck playing the short schedules of the day. It wasn't until his age 36 season that he played 100 games for the first time. If you prorate his team's schedules to 162 games (something I do via the wWAR component WAR/162), his raw WAR total of 42.6 becomes 74.9. His .312/.346/.393 slash line gave him an OPS+ of 127, a figure that puts him in the ballpark with Hall of Famers Rickey Henderson, Wade Boggs, Carl Yastrzemski, Roberto Clemente, and Eddie Murray. White also primarily played high value positions—first catcher and then third base. Add that his Major League career lasted 20 years (and he even played a few seasons before the advent of the National Association) and you have what I consider an easy choice for the Hall.
I'm going to round out my 19th century list with one more player. He is one the truly unique players in baseball history, accumulating enormous value as a pitcher (52.6 WAR, 218-99 record, 2.83 ERA, 123 ERA+) and a hitter (18.8 WAR, .282/.391/.400 slash line, 133 OPS+). He is, of course, Bob Caruthers.
Why he should be in: Caruthers played only ten seasons, but my what a career he packed into that decade. He was probably the best pitcher in the brief history of the American Association, and a tremendous hitter to boot. Like many others, his offense has been underrated over the years because his game relied heavily on drawing walks.
Caruthers is one of two players (with John Montgomery Ward) to compile 18.8+ WAR as a hitter and as a pitcher (Babe Ruth and Dave Foutz make it a foursome if you lower the bar slightly to 18+). In 1885, he led the American Association with 40 wins (against 13 losses), a .755 winning percentage, a 2.07 ERA, and an ERA+ of 158. He was also second in WHIP and shutouts while finishing sixth in strikeouts. The very next season, as a hitter he led the league with a .448 on-base percentage, .974 OPS, and 200 OPS+. He also happened to finish second in ERA (2.32), 5th in wins (30), and second in WHIP (1.056). His 13.9 Wins Above Replacement (combined) led all of baseball.
The only argument I can find against Caruthers' case is that some claim the American Association was an inferior league. I've read some interesting claims on both sides and can't come to a conclusion. So, I decided to take an approach similar to the one I did above with Total Zone. How weak could the American Association be while still allowing Caruthers to clear the induction threshold?
Caruthers' wWAR total is 120.8. If you slash 20% of his value from the American Association, he still would have 105.9 wWAR. If you slashed 30% (an incredibly aggressive adjustment), he would still sit at 88.7 wWAR. You would have to slash his AA value by 38% to make him a borderline Hall of Famer, by wWAR. I don't think anyone believes the American Association was that weak. In fact, some believe that in some seasons the AA was stronger than the National League. All of this tells me there there is no logical excuse to keep Bob Caruthers out of the Hall of Fame.
I still really like Jack Glasscock and Ross Barnes for the Hall of Fame. To a lesser extent, I like Charlie Bennett and George Gore, too. On the pitching side, I like Tony Mullane, Jim McCormick, Charlie Buffinton, and even a few others. But nobody really stands out above the rest for me yet.
But Dahlen, White, and Caruthers? These three are absolute no-brainers to me. However, Caruthers died 100 years go (in 1911), White died in 1939, and Dahlen died in 1950. These are not the types of inductions that people pay to go to Cooperstown for. But the Hall of Fame is a museum that is meant to commemorate the best players in baseball history. This trio needs to be there.
Next, I'll skip ahead to the players currently on the BBWAA ballot.