The analytics divide. 18 comments

Interesting discussion yesterday on the Chris Mad Dog Russo show. Russo had Tony LaRussa on a guest to talk about Sunday’s surprise announcement that Harold Baines, along with Lee Smith, were voted into the Hall of Fame.

Russo thought it was a travesty and had been blowing a gasket about it since the announcement was made.

After all, during the time Baines was on the traditional writers ballot, the highest percentage of votes he ever got was six percent. And when his support fell below five percent, he was taken off the ballot, as is the rule.

It looked like his Hall of Fame chances were finished.

But a few years ago, the Hall of Fame created the Veterans Committee to offer a counterbalance to the writers, and give another perspective, and another chance, for players to get voted in.

Players like former White Sox DH Harold Baines.

Now renamed the Today’s Game Committee, the panel consists of sixteen baseball legends. Among those on the committee are Tony LaRussa, a former White Sox manager; White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf; former White Sox GM Pat Gillick; former teammate of Baines’s Roberto Alomar.

And that was Russo’s bone of contention. That Baines only got in because he had inside connections voting for him. (He had to get twelve of sixteen votes. He got twelve.) Russo had the gumption to call out LaRussa for favoritism to his face. LaRussa was not happy about it, nearly yanking off headphones and aborting the interview a number of time.

LaRussa was incensed that Russo, or any of the other voice, and there have been many, would question his integrity, or the integrity of the other voters.

Then he said something that made a lot of sense. “I have been inside baseball as a player, a manager, and an executive for fifty years. Who would you trust to evaluate a player’s talent more, someone like me or a baseball writer?’

He was not disparaging the writers, but saying that they often get it wrong. That’s why the committee was established in the first place. To offer a counterbalance.

The point I really found interesting was this: Too many of the writers have fallen head over heals into the metrics pool. Yes, he acknowledged, metrics are important, but too many writers and young baseball executives are ignoring traditional stats that have fueled the game and how players are evaluated for over one hundred years. And the voters on this new committee are here to remind everyone that those things still matter, even if this arrogant, misguided new breed doesn’t think so.

As much as I don’t feel Baines is a Hall of Famer, I had to agree with LaRussa’s thinking. This ignoring baseball tradition in order to worship at the altar of sabermetrics is wrong.

I don’t think Baines was a Hall of Famer. But LaRussa, and his fellow voters, argued that to maintain his high level of production over a twenty-two year span was remarkable.

So, what do I know?