January 14, 2010
The world of advanced baseball statistics can be an intimidating place for those of us who slept our way through advanced algebra or haven't been a follower of the Bill James revolution from the beginning.
Still, that doesn't mean that we should feel left out when it comes to another way of understanding and appreciating the game we all love. With that in mind, BLS stat doctor Alex Remington will explore a new advanced statistic each week during the offseason, providing a simple primer for the uninitiated.
Today's statistic: Black Ink, Gray Ink, Hall of Fame Standards, and Hall of Fame Monitor — Bill James' Hall of Fame predictors
What, no acronym?: Not as far as I know. But maybe I'll give it a try, since famous people read this blog — hi Rob Neyer, Tom Tango, and Dave Studeman! — and maybe it'll catch on. So let's go with the James Hall of Fame Future Augur, or J-HOFFA. (That won't offend anyone, will it?)
How to calculate J-HOFFA: There are four separate stats we're looking at, Black Ink, Gray Ink, Hall of Fame Standards, and Hall of Fame Monitor. Like James' Game Score, they're basically rate stats — a point value that simply adds up things like home runs, RBIs, wins, batting average, ERA, and other things that Hall of Fame voters tend to find important.
Unlike most modern sabermetric stats (like the ones we've covered on this blog in the last few weeks (FIP, wOBA, WAR, and UZR) J-HOFFA doesn't measure how well a player should have done or his true talent level or attempt in any way to separate his own performance out from his team.
Instead, it's a simple addition of the simplest stats, the back-of-the-baseball-card stuff. In brief, Black Ink is a measure of all the times the player led the league in various stats and Gray Ink measures how many times he was in the top 10. Standards is a measure of career counting stats — total number of hits, RBI, wins, innings, and so forth.
Home runs, RBI, batting average, wins, ERA and K get the most points because they're the "sexier" stats. Meanwhile, runs, hits, slugging, innings pitched, win/loss percentage and saves are worth slightly less, then doubles, walks, stolen bases, and complete games slightly less, and so forth.
All of the magic numbers we've heard about for years — 3,000 hits, 300 wins, 500 homers, and so forth — are the kind of numbers that the Standards test measures. The Ink scores and Standards tests are meant to measure how well a player did by the general standards established by other players already in the Hall.
By contrast, the Hall of Fame Monitor attempts to measure the likelihood of his getting elected — based objectively on the stats that Hall of Fame voters tend to value most. More than the others, it tends to measure of the number of "Hall of Fame" seasons he had. Some points are allocated for his lifetime stats, but most of the points are allocated on the basis of good seasons — Gold Gloves and MVPs won, seasons with 40 homers or 100 RBI, being a starting player on a playoff team, and so forth.
The exact calculations of the point values can be easily plugged into a spreadsheet, but it can be tedious because there are so many of them — especially the Standards and Monitor tests. They're all explained on this page. It's far easier just to look at them on Baseball Reference than to calculate them yourself, of course.
The important things to remember are the average values for current Hall of Famers. The Monitor and Standards tests are normalized. 100 is the average Monitor score and 50 is the average Standards score. The average ink scores vary for pitchers and hitters. For hitters, the average Black Ink score is 27 and average Gray Ink score is 144. For pitchers, the average Black Ink score is 40 and average Gray Ink score is 185.
What J-HOFFA is good for: Hall of Fame debates! To illustrate further, let's examine the three biggest names in this year's election. Our newest Hall of Famer, Andre Dawson, as well as the two who just missed, Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven.
Dawson's Black Ink was 11, meaning he didn't lead the league much. But he had a 164 in Gray Ink, which means he was around the league leaders for a long time. His HOF Standards was just 44, slightly below the Hall of Fame Average, but his Monitor score (118) predicted he'd make it. He was basically right above or right below the average on all of these measures, so it makes sense that he had to wait a number of years to get in.
Alomar is a slightly weirder case. He didn't have a particularly long offensive peak and a lot of his value was tied to his sparkling defense and position as a key player on a lot of playoff teams. His Black Ink was only 3 and Gray Ink just 95. But his Standards was 57, above average, and his Monitor score was a whopping 194 — so he'll be in for sure, almost certainly in 2011.
Blyleven's increased vote totals the last few years have mirrored the increasing authority of the Internet stat community, which has championed him for the past several years behind the tireless work of Rich Lederer. Like Alomar and Dawson, he wasn't a perennial league leader, with just 16 points of Black Ink, but his Gray Ink was a whopping 240. While his Monitor predicts he'll make it in, with a score of 120, his Standards was exactly 50.
Like Dawson, it's not as surprise that he's had to wait a few years, but as he needs just five additional votes to secure his immortality, it's almost certain that 2011 will finally be his year.
When J-HOFFA doesn't work: It's little more than a fun toy. It isn't a good way of evaluating how good a player actually was — for that, stats like WAR or Win Shares do a much better job of leveling the playing field, neutralizing for park, era, league, and everything else. Also, because it's expressed in terms of what James believed to be the actual standards of the Hall of Fame itself, it doesn't say anything useful about, normatively, who should be in an intelligently chosen Hall of Fame with clear-cut standards, like Baseball Think Factory's Hall of Merit, which Joe Posnanski recently blogged about.
Why we care about J-HOFFA: All these stats are good for, really, are the discussions that we have every winter about the actual BBWAA vote, as hopelessly flawed as we all know it is. Every year, we complain about who made it and who didn't, a result of a situation where no one seems to agree on what constitutes a Hall of Famer — and considering that we all know it's messed up, these stats do a pretty good job of starting conversations, predicting the voters' behavior, and easily lend themselves to "Well, if he's in, then you have to elect him..." arguments.
They also allow us to compare the Hall of Fame cases of players on the margins to the total body of Hall of Famers themselves. This is an important distinction: You can use them to evaluate cases, but you shouldn't use them to evaluate careers. To evaluate a player's place in baseball history — not just his place in a building in Cooperstown — you need to dig a lot deeper than J-HOFFA.
Next week's lesson: Win Shares (and Loss Shares)