Test Questions – the explanation

The rules for the Test:

Rule one: It’s your Test, your rules.

Rule two: There is no second rule.

You can use whatever criteria you like to state your opinion – all the Test does is give you a framework you can use to present it. As a guideline – not a rule, just a word of advice – if you want to convince anyone else your opinion is the right one, you need to make sure you have one foot within shouting distance of the prevailing opinion – or a powerful argument to back you up.

But still – it’s your Test, your rules.

The Test’s 10 questions, taken together, generate a grade point average that defines each player’s position in the Hall of Fame pecking order. The top 30 GPAs fill the Pantheon, then the next 60 the VIP club, and so on. To explain how the Test questions work, I will run six players through the Test. In the process I’ll demonstrate my thought process Keep in mind that my grades are opinions. If you don’t agree with them, you don’t have to. The Test generates organized opinions, but it can’t generate facts.

THE QUESTIONS

  1. Baseball Card – Where do his career totals put him?
  2. In the Top 30
    b. In the top 90
    c. In the top 180
    d. In the top 400
    e. In the top 1,000
    f. In the Navy

Question looks at cumulative numbers. Fangraphs, Baseball Reference and a number of other websites have elaborate statistical databases you can use, or you can use an Encyclopedia. Any reputable source works, including the back of a baseball card.

I like to look at everything and grade the players on a balance of statistical evidence. If he ranks in the top 180 in most categories he’s a C, in the top 90 a B, and so on. A few players will make your job easy by ranking about the same in everything, but for most players you have to strike a balance. It’s up to you how you balance things; your Test, your rules.

  1. Baseball Reference – According to the metrics, where is he?
  2. In the Top 30
    b. In the top 90
    c. In the top 180
    d. In the top 400
    e. In the top 1,000
    f. Standing next to Waldo
  3. Peak – At his best, he was
  4. The best of the best
    b. The best, other than that one guy who ruined the curve for everybody
    c. One of the best for a while
    d. One of the best for a moment
    e. One of the best of the rest
    f. One of the rest

I made question three vague on purpose. Peak value is a slippery concept that can provoke good, lively discussions. Why ruin it by defining it? Established peak, or whatever you call “at his best,” is whatever you can prove it is. Your Test, your rules.

  1. Prime – Pick one:
  2. He should have won the MVP award in every good year
    b. He could have won the MVP award in every good year
    c. He should have been an all-star in every good year
    d. He could have been an all-star in every good year
    e. He could have been an all-star in a career year
    f. He could have saved a ton of money on his car insurance

A select few players over the years, have gotten screwed repeatedly in the MVP voting because the voters hated to vote for the same player every year. Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Henry Aaron, Mike Schmidt, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriquez, Barry Bonds and Mike Trout have all been the subject of countless articles, written about how the MVP should go to the best player but it rarely does. The rest of the top 25 should probably be the players who actually won several MVP awards, like Barry Bonds (7) and the players not listed above who won 3 awards.

The B grade belongs to the players who should have won at least a couple and could have won a few if everything broke right. Frank Robinson (if he’s not an A) fits this bill, as do Joe Morgan, Hank Greenberg, George Brett, Nap Lajoie and Ken Griffey, Jr. The C grade belongs to players who weren’t necessarily MVP contenders every year, but they were always on the all-star team and received a lot of down-ballot votes.

  1. Rate – Ignoring volume, he is
  2. In the Top 30
    b. In the top 90
    c. In the top 180
    d. In the top 400
    e. In the top 1,000
    f. Alarmingly concave

Question 5 is the counterpoint to question one, which rewards volume. By rate I mean the slash statistics: batting average, onbase percentage and slugging. Babe Ruth “slashed” .342-.474-.690 over his 22-year career. He ranks, respectively, tenth, second and first on the career lists. For contrast, Ray Oyler slashed .175-.258-.251 in his 6-year career. He ranks lower than Babe Ruth on the career lists. He doesn’t rank all that much higher than Doctor Ruth (Westheimer) on the career lists.

If you prefer you can use a version of adjusted onbase percentage+slugging percentage (ops) compared to league averages (usually listed as ops+). I’ll use all four categories when I run my guinea pigs through the Test.

  1. Position – He was in (or on) his position’s
  2. Throne
    b. Mt. Rushmore
    c. Sweet 16
    d. American Top 40
    e. Hot 100
    f. Do not resuscitate list

There are a number of ways to sort the candidates for this category. You can use one of the various forms of WAR, the career methods from question one, or you can invent your own. You can lean on Pete Palmer’s linear weights formulas, or you can lean on the positional top-100 rankings published in The New Bill James Historical Abstract in 2001. You can rank them by shoe size, or you can rank them by salary adjusted to the stock market index.

As always it’s your Test, your rules. Be prepared for the inevitable blowback, though. Some outlets don’t consider shoe size an official statistic.

  1. Precedent – How did the Hall of Fame voters treat him?
  2. They voted him in right away, and somebody complained because he wasn’t unanimous
    b. They elected him within 2-3 years
    c. The BBWAA elected him
    d. An old-timers committee elected him
    e. He got at least one vote from the BBWAA or an old-timers committee
    f. Like a fool, mean and cruel

If you are grading an old timer you can simply use his own Hall of Fame voting history. It would be strange to claim a player like Johnny Mize deserves a B grade when it took the writers 25 years to get around to electing him to the Hall of Fame. Some players like him, and honestly no better than him, have been elected fairly quickly, though. If you want to argue that Mize was shafted in the voting and that he deserves a higher grade, you can certainly do that. I might make that argument myself.

If a player hasn’t been on the ballot yet, or has only been on it a short time, you need to find comparable players (comps) to argue his case. Some sites lists statistical comps, but if you want to use those comps be prepared for some resistance. Statistical comps on most of the big database websites are not adjusted for the myriad ways the game has changed over the years, and they often don’t adjust for position played.

For example, Baseball Reference lists Sammy Sosa as Mike Schmidt’s second closest comp. By the basic numbers they might be similar, but in real life they weren’t similar at all. Sosa was a right fielder. Schmidt was a third baseman. Sosa never won a gold glove award. Schmidt won 10. Sosa hit at least 60 homers 3 times without leading the league, while Schmidt led the league in homeruns 6 times with totals under 40. Schmidt led the major leagues in homeruns 8 times, Sosa twice.

It’s your Test, your rules – so make any argument you think you can win – but a losing argument is a pointless argument. To find the best comps, I recommend you compare league-adjusted statistics like ops+ and things that are naturally regulated, like the results of awards voting. Bill James has said on a number of occasions that one of the best indicators of greatness is uniqueness. The better the player is, the harder it is going to be to find a perfect comp.

  1. Prominence – What would this player have to do to make the news?
  2. Throw out his garbage
    b. Throw out a runner
    c. Throw out his wife
    d. Throw out his back
    e. Throw out his probation officer
    f. Throw out a Kardashian

Don’t overthink it; remember ESPN camping on Bret Favre’s lawn, reporting several times a day about whether or not he looked like he was coming back, for the baseline on how famous a sports figure can get. The most famous players have regular beat writers following them around, shooting pictures of their cars as they drive away, and – in extreme cases – sorting through their trash cans.

The B players don’t get as much attention, but they are usually the first locker the writers stop by after the day’s game. The C and D players will get their share of postgame attention from the beat writers, but the C players will get the occasional magazine spread and a bigger sendoff when they retire.

  1. Impact – What would it take to explain him in a history book?
  2. A chapter
    b. A chapter section
    c. A page
    d. A paragraph
    e. A sentence
    f. A bribe

Bill James calls them footprints (cite – I think it’s in the 1990 baseball book). Most players leave some sort of mark on the game; for most it’s a small mark – maybe a key hit in a pennant race or a running catch to cost another player a batting title – but a Hall of Fame contender will have left deep, permanent footprints on the game.

Take stock of a player’s regular season achievements – all-star games, gold gloves, larger awards, lead leading totals in high profile categories, etc. – and postseason achievements. A single homerun at just the right moment can be more important than several hundred that have been largely forgotten. Was the player responsible for rules changes, or equipment changes? Did he change how the game was played, or epitomize his era in some lasting way? Was he part of the game’s stories told, the lore of the game? Question 8 asks if a player was famous; question 9 asks if the player is (or should be) remembered.

  1. Relevance – If he isn’t in the Hall of Fame, the Hall of Fame is:

A- Pointless
B- Deluded
C- Exclusive
D- Behind
E- Discerning
F- Closed

Again, don’t overthink it. If the Hall of Fame literally could not exist without him, he is probably an A. If the Hall of Fame couldn’t sleep for all the whining they heard from the media before he was elected, he smells like a B. If your neighborhood small-Hall advocates are the only people that hate him, he’s a C. If your neighborhood big-Hall advocates are the only ones that love him, he’s a D.

Add them together and divide by 10 to get his grade point average. A player’s GPA defines his level on the Hall of Fame scale – which bears a striking resemblance to the grading scale for the questions:

4.0 – A player

3.0 – B player

2.0 – C player

1.0 – D player

0.0 – thanks for coming

The decimal points allow for an extra layer of give and take. If a player grades out at 1.8 you can argue that he is better than another player who grades out at 1.9, or even 2.0 or 2.1. It might be a stretch to argue that your 1.8 graded player is better than another’s 2.8, but it’s your Test, your rules. All is fair in love and the Test.