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Sabermetrics and the Hall of Fame: How Choosing the Elite has Evolved

Bill James: The Father of Sabermetrics photo found on Google Images

The standards by which the elite are chosen for election into Cooperstown are evolving. This transition can mostly be attributed to the growing popularity and acceptance of Sabermetrics. The decision to vote Ron Santo into the sacred Hall is a prime example of the shift from traditional thinking.

 

While greatness on the diamond has its conventional and established characteristics, future Hall of Famers may be relying more on Sabermetric measurements to punch their tickets. For position players, the Hall of Fame has been reserved for the great power hitters, those with batting averages over .300, and a high number of career RBI. For pitchers it’s all about the career strikeouts, ERA, as well as wins and losses.

 

Ron Santo unfortunately passed away in 2010 without ever hearing his name called by the HOF. The Baseball Writers Association of America decision to induct Santo in 2012 isn’t just posthumously honoring a Chicago icon, but is truly a testament to the level of acceptance Sabermetrics has achieved. Santo had a career .277 batting average. He hit only 342 home runs, and drove in a very respectable 1,331 base runners. Santo definitely compiled above average career statistics, but not “elite” numbers to the naked eye. This is where Sabermetrics influenced his worthiness to the voting writers.

 

Cubs retired flag for Ron Santo

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For five seasons, 1963-1967, Santo had an OPS of .905 which would classify him in “Category A” according to Bill James’ “The 96 Families of Hitters.” Category A is reserved for batters with an OPS greater than .900, which is elite and, by all measures, great. He finished first in walks in the National League four times in his 15 year career. He led the NL in OBP three times. Santo was an even better fielder. A five time Gold Glove recipient, he finished in the top five in fielding percentage for third basemen eight times. Santo is currently ranked 105th all-time in Wins Above Replacement, which is nothing to scoff at.

 

Ron Santo most likely wouldn’t have reached the Hall of Fame without the help of Sabermetrics. HOF voters are taking into consideration the statistics that are often undervalued and contribute to team wins. Ron Santo helped the Chicago Cubs win and by Sabermetric standards is an elite player deserving of Hall of Fame status.

 

Sabermetrics will continue to influence Hall of Fame voting. Particularly after an era of steroids and inflated power statistics, Sabermetrics provides a fresh perspective on players who may be on the “bubble” regarding their chance at being inducted. Position players and pitchers who come to mind include Tim Raines, Lee Smith, Jeff Bagwell, Edgar Martinez, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettite, Trevor Hoffman, and Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez to name a few. Many of those may be considered shoe-ins for the Hall, but these players are nothing short of Sabermetric superstars and shouldn’t (and probably won’t) be overlooked by voters in the coming years.

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