Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why Didn't The Writers Vote Johnny Mize Into The Hall Of Fame?

He got in, via the Veterans Committee, in 1981. So it might seem a little late and silly to complain about it.

But he never he even got 50% of the vote from the writers (he topped out at 43.6% of the vote in 1971 and he got 41.3% in 1973, his last year of eligibility). If we went strictly by WAR, it seems like he should definitely be in. Even now, about 50 years from when he first became eligible, he is 55th in career WAR among position players with 70.2. He had 8 top 5 finishes and one first place. He was in the top 5 each year from 1937-40.

So he had very high career value and peak value. In Win Shares, he also had 8 top 5 finishes among position players, including 3 first places finishes. He was 104th through 2001 in career Win Shares (338) including pitchers. He also missed 3 seasons due to WW II. Bill James ranked him as the 6th best 1B man in the 2nd Historical Abstract.

We certainly cannot fault the writers in the 1960s and 1970s for not being up on sabermetrics. He did seem to have very good conventional stats, though. He hit 359 HRs and easily would have made 400 if not for the war (he was 10th in career HRs through 1960, his first year of eligibility). He had a .312 career average. He lead the NL in HRs 4 times, RBIs 3 times and AVG once. He was selected to 10 all-star teams. The writers seemed to like him when he played. He had 4 top 5 finishes in the MVP voting and even now he is 57th in MVP shares with 2.46 (of course, there was not much MVP voting before 1931, but that is still a pretty good rank). If a guy was the 57th best player since 1931, that would be a good case for being in.

So why didn't the writers vote him in, never reaching 50% of the vote? His bio at SABR by Jerry Grillo has one interesting quote: "Broeg and others have indicated that Mize’s defensive liabilities probably cost him..." Yet his career defensive WAR is a positive 2.6. He also finished in the top 3 in fielding Win Shares 7 times among NL 1B men (and 1st in 1948). Bill James gave him a B as a fielder. The SABR bio mentions that he got his nickname "The Big Cat" due to his fielding, scooping out bad throws.

The Baseball Reference Bullpen article on Mize says this:
"For a player with such notable sabermetric statistics, he was also quite late in being inducted into the Hall of Fame, finally being chosen by the Veteran's Committee 28 years after his retirement, in 1981. There are at least two possible explanations for this. One, during his playing years, he apparently did not enjoy particularly good relations with the baseball sportswriters, from whose ranks are chosen those members who vote on candidates for the Hall of Fame. Two, his power, his fine batting average, and his extremely good On-Base Percentage were not as evident to his contemporaries, who were more impressed by Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and Stan Musial, as they are today in the light of sabermetric analysis.

Another couple reasons are quite powerful, too. First, his lifetime stats are not very impressive compared to most Hall of Famers - he barely had 2,000 hits, he had 359 home runs (currently # 65 on the all-time list as of 2006, one below Gary Gaetti), and he had 1,337 RBI (currently # 76 on the all-time list as of 2006, four below Gary Gaetti). Second, he played in his early years in a ballpark that favored hitters. So he was a top-notch player, but one that didn't put up numbers as large as most Hall of Famers. Since he missed three years to World War II, the Hall of Fame rightfully adjusted for the numbers."

I don't know anything about his relationship with the writers. But as I mentioned earlier, he did well in the MVP voting (a point Bill James has made about Ted Williams).

On the park effects, those are taken into account in WAR and Win Shares. Now it is possible that park effects are not always fair to individual hitters. It was only 250 feet down the line in the Polo Grounds. Yet the park factors for the Giants in the years Mize was on them are pretty neutral. Click here to see them at Baseball Reference. So maybe his hitting stats don't get adjusted downwards as much as they should.

Here are his AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS both home and road:

Home: .320/.406/.598/1.004
Road: .305/.389/.527/.916

So a big split, but not that bad. His road stats are very good. Again, the writers might not have had access to this, but it seems like there should have been a general sense that he hit well everywhere, given that these guys watched him play all the time.

In fact, if we only used his road OPS, it would be the 37th highest of all-time through 2009 (relative to the league average) of players with 5000+ PAs (using the Lee Sinins Complete Baseball Encyclopedia). His road OPS was about 25% higher than the league average. He is 9th among 1B men (guys who played at least 50% of their games there). One of the guys ahead of him is Todd Helton, who benefited even more from his home park.

In his first year of eligibility, 1960, he got only 16.7% of the vote. Click here to see the voting that year at Baseball Reference. Twelve guys got more votes than he did that year and he had more WAR than all of them. He beat 8 of them buy 20 or more WAR. Edd Roush, Sam Rice and Eppa Rixy all got over 50% of the vote that year, a level Mize never achieved. None of them had even 52 WAR (Mize had 70.2). All but one of the 12 got in before Mize (except Lazzeri). Most were by the Veterans Committee. So they too, did not give Mize the credit he deserved.

I think the writers, and to a lesser extent the Veterans Committee, did a poor job in evaluating Mize. I hope the writers have been, and are getting, better. But when I see the voting for guys like Raines and Bagwell, not to mention Lou Whitaker being gone after just one year on the ballot, I am not sure.

More discussion at Baseball Think Factory


Dale Sams said...

Historicaly, have players received credit for war years missed?

The career OPS really stands out for me.

Cyril Morong said...

Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I don't really have a good answer to your question. The BR article I quote suggests that the VC did try to take his missing years into account, but I am not aware of any official recognition of missing time due to a WAR.

Yes, Mize's career OPS is very good