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It's a shame about Ray

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You know, there are some really great writers located under the "Sports Blogs Family" banner. I mean, who are we kidding? OMG, it's John Sickels! And not just Sickels, but a lot of other stupendous bloggers, too.

One of those excellent blogs is Beyond the Box Score. Marc and the gang have an excellent thing going, and I can attest that I scoot by there for a spell almost every day. Today, Marc inducted a new class into the Ray Lankford Wing of the Hall of Fame, which has a noble purpose:

With the Hall of Fame's voting occuring yesterday, and some players dropped from the ballot, dashing their hopes of reaching the Hall of Fame unless the Veterans Committee saves them in the future, I have decided that now is as good a time as any to officially induct players who fit the above description into the Ray Lankford Wing of the Hall of Fame. I say officially, because both of these players are already included in its somewhat-hallowed virtual halls. They deserve a mention via article though, since the entire point of the RLWHF is to honor those who have not made the Hall of Fame but still deserve to be remembered. Of course, certain players (cough Will Clark cough) actually deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, but are not and may not ever get there.

It looks like Clark and Gary Gaetti are now basking in the RLWHF glow. Tomorrow: the pitchers.

So check Marc's stuff out. It's got lots of numbers, but they're fun numbers!

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Speaking of the Hall of Fame, there's much consternation from stathead nation over the inclusion of Bruce Sutter and the dis of Goose Gossage (and Bert Blyleven, but I'm going to talk about the relievers now). Gossage is, almost without doubt, the better candidate---or was, since Sutter is technically no longer a candidate. But if one was going to get in, it was Sutter; to tell the truth, I'm a bit baffled why otherwise brilliant people don't understand this.

For instance, here's Jay Jaffe, from his Tuesday chat at the Baseball Prospectus website:

Am I surprised? No. The closest I came to a guess was Sutter and Gossage in the high 60s and Blyleven crossing 50 percent. But it seemed as though Sutter was getting a fair amount of love from the mainstream media, leading me to believe a few voters came out of the woodwork.

Just one look at the historical voting demonstrates why it would be foolish to expect "Sutter and Gossage in the high 60s." Simply stated, since at least 2003, Sutter has held a significant percentage-of-the-vote advantage---that's when he started getting a "fair amount of love," in other words. I haven't the slightest idea why one would expect that gap to close this year in particular.

A brief history of time:

Sutter debuted on the ballot in 1994, attracting about 24% of the vote. His support edged higher in fits and starts, to 29%, again to 29%, climbing as high as 31% in 1998, then falling back to 24% in '99. By the time Gossage entered the ballot in 2000, Sutter had in essence barely gained any ground toward the Magic Seventy-Five.

Starting in 2000, the two were on the ballot together, seven times in all:

2000: Sutter 38.5%, Gossage 33.3%.
2001: Sutter 47.6%, Gossage 44.3%.
2002: Sutter 50.4%, Gossage 43.0%.
2003: Sutter 53.6%, Gossage 42.1%.
2004: Sutter 59.5%, Gossage 40.8%.
2005: Sutter 66.7%, Gossage 55.2%.
2006: Sutter 76.9%, Gossage 64.6%.

Considering Sutter's established momentum and the ground Gossage had to make up, there was little chance their vote totals would be particularly close. (If they both got in, it was going to be a "Sutter 80%, Gossage in by a hair" kind of thing.) Expecting them both to be in the high-sixties was unrealistic. I don't want to castigate Jaffe for what might have been an extemporaneous comment, but the time to deplore that Sutter had more support than Gossage quite clearly was 2003, not yesterday.

Of course, in a sense, the two guys received the same boost this season---in that sense, I suppose they got the same amount of "added" support. And that's precisely what got Sutter elected; that's the benefit of starting out with an 11% advantage.

Still, there are a few things to note:

  1. It looks like Sutter immediately benefitted from Gossage's presence on the ballot.
  2. When another prominent reliever (or, really, reliever-plus), Dennis Eckersley, appeared for one season on the ballot, Sutter gained support while Gossage lost support for a third straight season.
  3. Nonetheless, a case can be made that Eckersley will prove to be Gossage's friggin' white knight. Once Eckersley cleared himself off the list, Gossage soared nearly 15% in one year, from three consecutive years of decline to his best showing, by far.
  4. Gossage will almost certainly be voted into the Hall of Fame by the writers.
This last point will hopefully assuage the Goosestepers (so to speak) out there: now that Gossage has cleared 60%, his odds are excellent that he'll make it before his BBWAA ballot eligibility runs out in 2014. I've gone back to 1970 (before I started getting bored), and there are only three guys who cleared 60% of the writers' vote yet didn't subsequently rejoice in the bliss of writer election:
  • Jim Bunning (later a Veterans Committee pick)
  • Nellie Fox (same)
  • Gil Hodges (still not in)
Of course, Hodges is long (and of course lamentably) dead, which reminds me of Bill James' evaluation of the "Honor the Living" argument from The Politics of Glory.

Anyway, here's the bottom line as I see it:

  • if you like Goose, you'll probably be in luck down the road (maybe '08?);
  • if you don't like Sutter (as a HoFer), you're out of luck forever; and,
  • if you were counting on both Sutter and Gossage to be admitted to the Hall on the same ballot, that was perhaps a bit foolish (hey, I predicted it!), especially if you were predicting Sutter to remain at least five percent short of induction.
One more thing: Harper has a nice retrospective on Sutter, Gossage, and Rollie Fingers. He then calls upon the Wisdom of the (Old Fart) Crowds.