Thursday, July 27, 2017

About time Raines’ Hall of Fame wait ends

It’s no secret that the baseball hall of fame is the hardest hall of fame in sports to earn induction into. However, that’s not an excuse to leave certain players out whose resumes are just as good if not better than those who already have plaques in Cooperstown. For years, the name at the forefront of the notable exclusions discussion was Tim Raines. Now, in his final year of eligibility with the Baseball Writers Association of America, Raines is set to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this weekend after his name appeared on 86 percent of ballots back in January when the election was held.

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In his prime with the Montreal Expos, Raines was hailed as the Rickey Henderson of the National League.  This label may have hurt him when it came to Hall of Fame voting and contributed to his wait. After all, nobody else can be Rickey Henderson. But, there is a statistical argument for Raines beyond the stats that are normally associated with leadoff hitters like on-base percentage, stolen bases and runs scored. Raines was the poster child for the sabermetrics and advanced statistics crowd. Baseball statistician Ryan Spaeder pointed out last year during Hall of Fame weekend that Henderson would have to return to baseball and steal 448 consecutive bases to have a better stolen base success rate than Raines. The total steals are a whopping 1,406-808 for Henderson but there’s something to be said for a base stealer having the right feel for the game and picking his spots wisely.

Lou Brock is a distant second to Henderson on the all-time stolen bases list with 938. Brock was a first-ballot selection in 1985. On election day this year, Spaeder compared career statistics of Raines, who was nicknamed “Rock”, and Brock using a combination of common baseball statistics and some of the advanced statistics. Here is what Spaeder came up with:

Regardless of how much weight voters placed in the advanced statistics, Raines had an advantage over Brock using several of the sport’s everyday statistics. Brock’s name appeared on 79.7 percent of ballots in 1985 to safely clear the required 75 percent threshold.  Raines’ first year of eligibility came in 2008 and he only received 24.3 percent of the vote. So, what caused Raines to sweat it out until his final year on the ballot?

Seven-year peak is another statistic that is often factored into a player’s hall of fame case. Raines had a stretch of seven straight all-star appearances from 1981-87, which was still prior to the steroid era. Some players, namely Fred McGriff, can claim their careers were overshadowed by the steroid era, but it’s difficult to make that argument for Raines. Playing in the same era as Rickey Henderson though, surely hurt Raines. Henderson is the gold standard of leadoff hitters and therefore any other player with the same profile was going to be hurt by playing at the same time. Conversely, Brock’s career ending just as Raines and Henderson were getting started certainly had to work in Brock’s favor.

It’s hard not to think there was some location bias that worked against Raines too. The Expos have been defunct since 2004 and it’s not exactly going out on a limb to say Montreal isn’t a baseball market. Hall of Famer Andre Dawson, a longtime teammate of Raines in Montreal, had to wait until his penultimate year of eligibility with the BBWAA before being inducted in 2010.  Location is likely another variable Brock had in his favor playing the bulk of his career with the Cardinals in St. Louis, arguably the biggest baseball market in the United States.

The growth of analytics likely got Raines over the top. As sabermetrics became more popular in front offices and in the media, it had to be easier for voters to give Raines the nod. Nevertheless, it’s preposterous to think about just how low Raines’ voting percentage was in 2008. It’s a yes or no question for each player every year and for Tim Raines, the answer was always yes.

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