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Bill James Hall of Fame tests

As voters begin to do their research to fill out their Hall of Fame ballots, Bill James gave us two outstanding tools for evaluation.

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Whose plaques will join them in 2015?
Whose plaques will join them in 2015?
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

My last two posts described ways in which to place position players and pitchers in the proper context, both for their own times and on an historic basis. This post explains two extremely useful tools Bill James developed over twenty years ago which do an outstanding job of not just evaluating players, but placing them in the context of their peers, however peer is defined -- when they played, position played and so on.

In his book "Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?" (formerly titled "The Politics of Glory"), James introduced two methods with which to assess player's careers, the Hall of Fame Monitor (Chapter 7) and Standards (Chapter 14); the links go to Baseball-Reference explanation page of the statistics included in each. This table sums up their constituent elements:

Test Players Pitchers Points
Monitor 19 18 100
Standards 17 11 50

The Monitor uses 19 different tests for position players -- how often did they hit over .300 in a season, 100 RBIs, 30 home runs, 20 stolen bases, etc. For pitchers, its measures include how often did they win 15 games in a season, have 200 strikeouts, ERA under 3.00 and so on. The Monitor is a measure of productive seasons, and the more productive seasons a player has, the higher his score. The average HOF member has a Monitor of 100 or higher.

The Standards use 17 tests for position players --did they accumulate 2,500+ hits, have a career batting average of .275 or higher, 200+ home runs, etc. For pitchers, it's things like 100+ wins, 1,000 innings pitched and so on. The Standards are career benchmarks, with the average HOFer having a score of 50 or higher.

Take the time and read what the different measures are that go into these values, and it becomes clear they're comprehensive and cover many aspects in baseball -- hitting, hitting for power, defense, speed and postseason play. They're not perfect since they're not park or era-adjusted in any way, but because there are 36 different measures for hitters and 28 for pitchers, most of these issues will be mitigated. Runs have always been scored, but how they're scored is constantly in a state of flux.

The ideal HOF candidate has a sustained 7-10 year run of peak performance as well as good career numbers. Taking the Monitor and Standards together and graphing them depicts who had both peak performance and a distinguished career.

This Tableau data viz is the pièce de résistance, the tool with which you can reach your own conclusions. Since this is around my sixth attempt to include a data viz in a post, there are no guarantees it will work, but if it does, you should be able to see very easily where players rate historically.

There are three filters on the left side to reduce the number of players viewed: From to reduce the number of years for which data is shown, Position to look at players by position and HOF Monitor to eliminate the chaff at the lower end of the scale. There are approximately 2,000 players represented, generally any position player with around 3,000 career plate appearances or any pitcher with around 100 wins, as well as some relievers. HOF members are represented by red dots, and hovering over individual data points shows more information.

I've set the filters initially to players with at least 50 Monitor points and whose careers began in 1960 or later, my rough approximation of recent players with better careers. The upper right quadrant indicates players who exceeded both the Monitor and Standards thresholds, suggesting a very strong HOF case can be made.

Hover over the individual gray points to see players who aren't in the HOF. Also be sure to look at the data points around every HOF member to see who might benefit from a coattail effect -- or perhaps indicate an inductee who didn't deserve enshrinement. There are more of those the longer ago a player was enshrined, commonly referred to as the "Glory of Their Times" Effect in which several players were enshrined after Lawrence Ritter's outstanding book was published in 1966.

Please note that I'm not advocating some sort of strict adherence to these rules for HOF enshrinement or anything like that. Bill James wrote:

There are some people . . . who would like the Hall of Fame to establish fixed statistical standards, which players either (a) must meet in order to be considered, or (b) can use to earn automatic selection.

It's a terrible idea. (p182)

At some point numbers translate into a narrative to describe a player's career, or else the numbers are useless. Individual statistics give an incomplete profile of a player, but when combined can provide a far more accurate and detailed overview that can help determine a player's HOF worthiness. From the data viz, it appears HOF inductees -- especially more recent ones -- fare very well when combining the HOF Monitor and Standards. The first test of any idea is to see if it accurately portrays what occurred; in this case, it appears to do so quite well.

This is an introductory post as well as a test to make sure the data viz can actually be seen, and I'll introduce some concepts over the next week or so as well as look at the 2015 ballot. In the meantime, play around with it and download it -- it looks even better than the small version embedded in this post.

I don't typically solicit comments, but I'd be very interested to see what readers think about any of this, be it the measures, the data viz, the Hall of Fame or whatever. I don't use data for data's sake but to tell a story, and the combination of the data viz and James' statistical creations produces a very complete measure of a player's career. I am first and foremost a student of history, and there's nothing that brings me greater joy than finding a way in which I can tell an important story better. This is the best way I've stumbled across to combine the power of what Bill James developed with the ability to graphically display it, and I hope the excitement comes across in these words and the ones that will follow.

Data adapted from Baseball-Reference. Data viz from Tableau.

Scott Lindholm lives in Davenport, IA. Follow him on Twitter @ScottLindholm.