Trevor Hoffman enters his third year on the Hall of Fame Ballot, a process which Padres’ fans had been assured during his career would be nearly automatic on the first attempt. Three years into the process everyone is familiar with the arguments for and against.
The difference this time is that he should make it after missing out last year by five votes.
“I think he’s in good shape because he’s above the line in the public voting for the first time,” Nathaniel Rakich said, who runs a quasi-companion site to the infamous Ryan Thibodaux’s BBHOF Tracker which monitors and posts the all the public Hall of Fame voters’ ballots. Rakich uses past voting performance as an indicator of what should happen in the elections.
Hoffman’s induction, as Sports Illustrated’s Jay Jaffe noted a few years ago, will largely rise and fall on how much voters value 601 his career saves, second only to Yankee great Mariano Rivera.
However, one stat that hasn’t gotten quite as much attention is the save percentage that goes along with the gaudy numbers. How long a reliever remains a closer primarily, and many would argue solely, relies on their ability to convert save opportunities into saves.
In Hoffman’s 18-year career he converted 88.78% of his save opportunities, second only to Mariano Rivera with 89% among closers with over 400 saves. In fact, among Hall of Fame relievers, it’s better than Dennis Eckersley (84.6), Rollie Fingers (75.4), Bruce Sutter (74.8) and Goose Gossage (73.4) with only John Smoltz, who was primarily a starter in his 21-year career at (91.12) and 154 saves.
But as always some very prominent baseball writers – Keith Law, Joe Sheehan and Joe Posnanski to name a few – don’t believe Hoffman, or really any reliever apart from Rivera should be inducted. But two factors should be taken into consideration before we watch Padres’ twitter troll those “who hate San Diego.”
First, the Hall of Fame is intended to enshrine the greatest players of the game, which is a subjective concept because there really isn’t any cut and dried definition of “great”.
Next, The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) is not the best voting body to determine who is and who isn’t in the Hall of Fame. Think about it, voting in the Hall is about the inclusion of a group of modern players and how they do and do not compare to some of the best in history.
In short, a voter should be able to argue the attributes of why Johnny Mize is included in the Hall and Stuffy McInnis is not – or for a modern spin why Keith Hernandez is not in, but Tony Perez is for first base. This is not the typical thing a beat writer is concerned about when reporting whether the Mets beat the Phillies.
“My understanding has always been that they needed to lend legitimacy to the process and the BWAA had been around for a while [the organization was founded in 1908], so that is why they were selected,” said Rob Neyer, a former writer for ESPN and FoxSports who has also written several books on baseball history on why the BBWAA was selected to be one of the bodies that choose who is in the Hall of Fame in 1936.
“Also it was a way to get some attention for the process by including all the newspaper writers.”
“That being said, voting on the Baseball Hall of Fame is an analytical process and the BBWAA is comprised by and large of beat writers; which is different skill set.”
Up until the mid-1930s, all the coverage of baseball games was the exclusive purview of newspaper writers, whose travel was frequently paid by the teams they covered. The post-war era has opened baseball to television and the internet era has provided fans with even more resources.
But until about five years ago, the only people that were voting were writers, or former writers, no broadcasters, and especially no one who wrote on websites.
“A large group like the BWAA is going to be behind the times a bit, particularly when you have to wait at least ten years to vote,” said Neyer. “They have done a tremendous job in the past five years of not only expanding membership but taking the ballot from people who no longer cover the game on a regular basis.”
“Would I like to see some other changes like maybe reducing the periods at the beginning and end to five years? Sure. I would also like to see a greater variety of people that are the modern-day baseball media included in the vote because I think it would improve the process.
“Then again, with a few exceptions like the election of Jim Rice and Bruce Sutter, I don’t think the results will be that much different because most of the really egregious mistakes on inclusion were made in the early 1970s with some of the veteran committees.”
Writers like Law, Sheehan, and Posnanski largely make numerical arguments, but in the end, the election by the writers is much more on the story of the player than on sabermetrics.
“I wouldn’t expect an analytically heavy argument to carry the day because you can get into the Hall of Fame two ways; by piling up huge numbers or you have a hook,” said Neyer on Hoffman’s chances.
“He piled up the saves, played in San Diego for all but a few years, he had that changeup and Hells Bells working for him. That should do it.”