As seen in The Boston Globe

His Boston Globe colleague may not be a fan of my work (nuf ned), but Peter Abraham — who’s been following me since his days as a beat reporter at the Journal News (LoHud.com), and vice versa had some kind words to say about The Cooperstown Casebook in his August 18 column:

Voting for the Hall of Fame is a lot of fun and Jay Jaffe has helped solve some tough decisions with his research and interpretation of statistics.

His new book “The Cooperstown Casebook” is a great read if you’re willing to have an open mind about who should be in the Hall.

No writer has studied the Hall more closely than Jaffe in recent years the book reflects both his passion and hard work. Imagine caring about something so much that you came up with a unique way to appreciate it. That’s what Jay did.

Very cool.

The Athletic Toronto Q&A

The Athletic Front Page.pngLike most of the content from the various regional Athletic sites, this one is behind a paywall — just as much of my JAWS-related stuff was back in the Baseball Prospectus days — but I was happy to take some time to answer a set of thoughtful questions from Stacey May Fowles, who called the book “a buzz-worthy, incredibly in-depth dive into the Hall’s storied history.” Here’s a sample:

SMF: Can you leave us with some of your personal Hall of Fame inductee predictions for the next few years? Current players that you believe are Hall of Fame bound?

JJ: After every election I do a five-year outlook, which I have to crumple up and do over the next year because, thankfully, some of these guys are going in faster than I expected. In 2018 I think we could see a four-man class, with newcomers Chipper Jones and Jim Thome joined by holdovers Trevor Hoffman and Vlad Guerrero, both of whom had at least 71% this past year. At worst, one of those guys slips to 2019, when Mariano Rivera will be elected, and, I hope, Edgar Martinez, who after the 2017 cycle is slightly ahead of where Raines was two years ago.

In 2020, it’s Derek Jeter hitting the ballot, and I think by then Mussina will go in. In 2021, I think that’s the year Bonds, Clemens and Schilling all get in. David Ortiz becomes eligible in 2022; I doubt he’s a first-ballot guy but I strongly suspect he gets in eventually even with the handicaps of being nearly a full-time DH and having the leaked survey test results out there.

After that, looking at active guys, Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki and now Adrian Beltre, who just go this 3,000th hit, are locks. Miguel Cabrera is on the verge of cracking the top 10 at first base and I’d say he’ll be a lock when it’s all said and done, and Joey Votto too. Robinson Cano, who’s eighth at second base. I’m hopeful Carlos Beltran (eighth in JAWS among centerfielders) and Joe Mauer (seventh among catchers) get in, optmistic about Dustin Pedroia (15th among second basemen), but less so regarding Chase Utley, who’s 11th at second. Utley’s probably going to fall short of 2,000 hits, and the voters haven’t elected anybody from the post-1960 expansion era who’s failed to clear that bar.

Among the younger guys, Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout — the latter’s seven-year peak (WAR7) is already sixth among centerfielders, and he’s played just five full seasons and two partial ones! That’s insane. Buster Posey is already tenth in peak among catchers, so I’d say he’s on his way. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are doing the things at a young age that Hall of Famers do, but they have to keep doing them for a long while.

The -30- Q&A

The Wall Street Journal‘s Jared Diamond and freelance sportswriter Mike Vorkunov run a mailing list and a site devoted to conversations with other writers about their work, their interests and their various processes. This week, they invited me to participate. We discussed the process of writing The Cooperstown Casebook, Hall of Fame voting and the biggest Cooperstown snubs. Here’s one of the 10 questions I answered at length, a question I’m asked with some regularity:

6. Why do people get so darn worked up over the Hall of Fame vote? Seriously, every year it’s total chaos on the internet for a month, and some of the rhetoric from fans is ridiculously intense. What is it about this topic that gets to people? And what sort of feedback do you get, especially when JAWS doesn’t bode well for a particular candidate?

Because baseball has such a connection to the icons of its storied past, such as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays and Sandy Koufax, the Hall is a place that transcends the limitations of its geographic isolation. Practically every fan has some strong reaction to the Hall, whether it’s, “I don’t care,” or, “I don’t think [this guy] should be in,” or, “I can’t believe [this guy] isn’t in!” Fans can conjure up those plaques in their mind’s eye every time they take stock of greatness, and they want their experiences validated. They want to say, “I saw [this Hall of Famer] play when he was in his prime,” or something along those lines.

Because of that, and because of the increasing transparency of the voting — with more and more voters revealing their ballots either before or after the results are announced — the annual election season has become a spectator sport unto itself, a companion to the Hot Stove transaction chatter. As I discovered in my first winter of blogging (2001-2002), and particularly when I wrote about that winter’s ballot (pre-JAWS), fans love to read about baseball during the harsh winter months, even if they don’t necessarily agree with you. They want to be reminded that spring, and baseball season, is coming!

With the rise of social media, the process has certainly become more unruly than it was in the past, because readers have access to the voters and not only can tell them that their ballots stink but offer lengthy rebuttals to a given voter’s position. They want to hold voters accountable. To some extent, the expectation isn’t of a democracy but of a republic, with the voters representing the will of the people.

Certainly, not everybody — fan or voter — buys into JAWS. Some who disagree believe that the metric’s position on a given candidate debunks the validity of the entire advanced statistical movement and its adherents; we saw that with the Blyleven/Morris debate just as surely as we did in the Cabrera/Trout 2012 AL MVP race. In both of those, a lot of the rancor and petty, childish name-calling was from those in positions of authority, the voters, even some of the big names. Spink Award winners going on about “sun-starved stat geeks” and the “vigilante sabermetric brigade” and nerds living in mom’s basement. That just poured gasoline on the fire and produced a spectacle that now draws even more people to it.

In case you were wondering…

sunstarved

Numbers Schmunmbers?!

You can’t please all of the people all of the time, especially those who can’t be bothered to do even a teensy bit of research into what they’re buying…

 

Shoutouts in Seattle

My longstanding support of the Hall of Fame candidacy of Edgar Martinez hasn’t escaped notice in the Pacific Northwest, but it was nonetheless very cool to get a shoutout from the Mariners’ booth during Wednesday’s M’s-A’s game. In the context of discussing the team’s upcoming Martinez jersey retirement celebration, they plugged The Cooperstown Casebook and cited my work and my discussion with Joe Posnasnski on the 8/3/17 PosCast.

What’s more, the Seattle Times‘ Larry Stone, who noted last December that I was winning over some BBWAA voters, interviewed me for his latest feature setting up Edgar’s big weekend and gave me the last word:

After crunching the numbers, Jaffe concluded that even with the built-in penalty assessed to a designated hitter in statistics such as Wins Above Replacement, Martinez still attained value commensurate with a Hall of Fame player.

“We’re talking about a guy who transcends the limitations of the DH role,” Jaffe said.

Transcending limits has pretty much been the Edgar Martinez life story.

Graham Womack Reviews the Casebook

Near the beginning of my recent appearance on Joe Posnanski’s PosCast, Joe suggested that the two of us were “the two biggest Hall of Fame nerds in America.” Agreeing, I noted that the only other writer “who makes the platform” is Graham Womack, who covers the Hall beat for The Sporting News — where he’s interviewed some of the players I’ve covered such as Bobby Grich and Lou Whitakerand the National Pastime Museum.

Womack, an eagle-eyed researcher who tipped me off to a couple finds in the Casebook, gave the book a very positive review calling it “a must-read” and adding:

Among contemporary baseball writers, Jaffe’s been in a class by himself for Hall of Fame statistical analysis for years. This is on display throughout his book, whether Jaffe’s showing how Tim Raines was a comparable Hall of Fame candidate to Tony Gwynn or how Scott Rolen “may well become the position’s Bobby Grich” among third basemen or how relievers might be best-differentiated by WPA…

Overall, Jaffe has produced a superb, fun Hall of Fame book, worth the wait for the past few years since Jaffe announced his book deal on Twitter. This is the book Hall of Fame enthusiasts might have had in their heads for years. “The Politics of Glory” has long needed an update. Jaffe’s done it.

Womack did also note a few misspelled names within the book, which I’m working to correct for the next printing.

The Rushmore of Analytics Geeks? Nuf Ced

In Chapter 6 of The Cooperstown Casebook, “Blyleven, Morris and the War on WAR,” I wrote about the industry’s resistance to admitting advanced statistics into debates over the annual BBWAA awards and Hall of Fame voting. Within there, I noted that it brought out the worst behavior in some of the most decorated writers.

To [Spink Award winner Murray Chass], the critics of Morris’s candidacy were “stat zealots [who] don’t have a formula for intestinal fortitude or determination,” while the election of Blyleven was the result of using “new-age statistics to persuade ignorant voters to vote for a candidate.” Alas, nobody ever calculated how many hundreds of converts to Blyleven’s candidacy took umbrage at that statement.

Chass was hardly the only high-profile writer reduced to name-calling over the voting. For Bill Madden, critics of Morris’s candidacy were “the vigilante sabermetric brigade”; for Dan Shaughnessy, they were “sun-starved stat geeks.” Even from award-winning writers, such responses—accompanied by no shortage of anti-sabermetric swipes in other contexts—evinced insecurity and fear of irrelevance in front of a younger generation of baseball fans.

I honestly don’t know whether Shaughnessy got far enough in The Casebook to be reminded of that slight, because he lobbed a verbal grenade at me based on something he could have found at Baseball-Reference.com, namely Sandy Koufax’s low ranking in my system (which I tease in the book’s intro, noting “I love Sandy Koufax, but JAWS does not…”). Anyway, it was Shanksgiving in his August 7 column in the Boston Globe:

Make room for Jay Jaffe in the Bill James/Keith Law/Rob Neyer Mount Rushmore of “We Know More Than You” analytics geeks intent on sucking all the joy out of baseball. Jaffe’s intriguing new book is “The Cooperstown Casebook: Who’s in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Who Should Be In, and Who Should Pack Their Plaques.’’ According to Jaffe’s skull-imploding rating system, Sandy Koufax is the 87th-best starting pitcher of all time. Nuf Ced.

Mount Rushmore? In that company? I’ll take it. Obviously, Shaughnessy hasn’t taken the time to understand why Koufax would rank only 87th in JAWS. Neither his career nor his peak were very long; as somebody pointed out, he’s 206th in pitcher wins (with 165) and 300th in innings (2,324.1), so he’s already punching above his weight with that ranking. What’s more, he put up his eye-opening numbers while pitching in a low-scoring run environment, so what he did had less impact than, say, Pedro Martinez putting up similar numbers when scoring was much higher.

Anyway, Shaughnessy has made a career out of taking shots like that (elsewhere in the same column, he credits former Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez’s absence from the Dodgers lineup with keying their current hot streak), and he knows as well as anyone that a writer can define his persona as much by what s/he opposes (and what opposes him/her).

So I’ll thank him sincerely. By staying true to form, Shaughnessy helped to illustrate exactly what it is we’re fighting about in the first place — the chance to expand our understanding of baseball using concepts that have made their way into the industry over the past 30 years versus the alternative of shouting “NERDS!” in the schoolyard and hoping you’re mistaken for a bully, or at the very least, the alpha male.

Hey, it helps me sell books.

Rounded Up Radio and Podcasts II

IMG_5359
The great Joe Posnanski dropped by my table on Cooperstown’s Main St. to invite me onto the Poscast

Bergino Clubhouse, New York, July 26. Here’s *most* of the interview I did with Bergino proprietor Jay Goldberg during my Launch Week appearance there. Alas, for some reason the recording stopped at some point during the Q&A.

WRAL SportsFan, Durham, July 28. Discussing the book, the system and this year’s Hall of Fame Class with Adam Gold and Joe Ovies.

Ed Randall, New York, July 30. A good Induction Day chat about the book and the advances of sabermetrics within baseball on WFAN.

This Week in Baseball History, August 2. For the 38th anniversary of the tragic death of Yankees catcher Thurman Munson, I spoke to longtime SABR pals Mike Bates and Bill Parker about his Hall of Fame case and my memories of his career for their weekly podcast.

The Poscast, August 3. There aren’t many writers who geek out on the Hall of Fame more than I do, but the great Joe Posnanski may be one of them. Here we discuss the book, the origin of JAWS and the upcoming 2018 Hall of Fame ballot and its controversies.

Richard Neer, New York, August 5. Chatting with another WFAN host, this time connecting current catcher pitch-framing metrics to a discussion of the book and the Hall.