The brilliance of Bill James
To the average baseball fan, the name Bill James doesn’t mean much. But to those who are avid fans, who love statistics and Hall of Fame elections and the history of the greatest game on earth, Bill James is an icon. He is to baseball what Steve Sansweet is to Star Wars.
James has come up with some very interesting statistical analyses for baseballers, including the Hall of Fame monitor and similarity scores (click on each for an explanation from baseball-reference.com). The HOF monitor is designed to show how likely a player is to make it to Cooperstown based on statistics, while similarity scores show how a player compares to other major leaguers. I’m having some trouble wrapping my noggin around some of these, for example…
Barry Larkin, one of the best in the Reds’ franchise over the past 30 years, has a Hall of Fame monitor of 118.5 (a likely HOFer has a score of greater than 100). Looking at his similarity scores, he is most similar to Alan Trammell, another phenomenal shortstop in the pre-power era for the position whose HOF monitor is also 118.5. Number two on the list is Ryne Sandberg (157.5 HOFm), who was elected to the Hall last year. Then you have Derek Jeter (221.5 HOFm), one of the most exciting players in the game today. Drop down just a little bit to the seventh most similar player, and you have B.J. Surhoff (28.5 HOFm). This is where I have trouble understanding. If Surhoff is so similar, why isn’t his HOFm higher?
Maybe someone with a more mathematical mind can explain it to me. Looking at Surhoff’s stats, he was decent. Ten fewer home runs than Larkin, nearly 200 more RBIs. Batting average wasn’t bad at .282, compared to Larkin’s .295. Yet no one ever mentions the HOF when discussing Surhoff. Who am I kidding, no one even discusses Surhoff. But Larkin is thought to be a second- or third-ballot inductee. Is it all geography? Do I hear more about Larkin because I’m in the Cincinnati area? Do Brewer and Oriole fans discuss Surhoff’s HOF prospects?