Bernie Williams' Stats - Baseball-Reference and the HOF

I was just browsing, as I do on occasion when I’m bored, and I found myself on Bernie’s page. In the Hall of Fame statistics section, he scores a 134 on the Hall of Fame Monitor. According to the notes, this is Jamesian stat measuring likelihood of induction (not worthiness) and 130+ is a sure thing. Obviously, that doesn’t mean Bernie should start writing a new guitar piece to play at his Cooperstown enshrinement, but I’m kind of curious as to what it does mean. His Black and Grey Ink measurements are far short of the HOF line. The Hall of
Fame Standards score is close, but not there. His similar player list has not a single HOFer on it. So, why does James think it so likely he’ll make it?

He was on six world series teams at center field. That’s 30 points right there.

He played his whole career in pinstripes. For some people, that’s almost enough by itself.

As you can see, James’ HOF predictions are not always very…um…good.

Bernie is borderline at best, certainly not a sure HOFer (as has been realized by the voting). I thin James ignored the “big, importatant round number stats” such as 500 HRs and 3000 hits, none of which Bernie reached.


James’ scoring criteria. You get 40 points for 3000 hits (Bernie got 4 points for hitting 2000), 20 points for 500 HRs (Bernie missed getting 3 points for 300 by just 13 HRs).

Williams is a weird candidate. He was an excellent player on many championship teams, but he never had one huge MVP type season. He played a long time, but not long enough to get to 3000 hits. He was pretty good at everything but not super good at one thing. Kind of an in-between sorta guy.

All the sabermetric measures rate Williams as an indescribably terrible defensive outfielder, which I admit I think misses something, somehow. It’s hard for me to believe a perennial champion had THAT many terrible fielders on it, and Williams always looked very competent to me. Fangraphs in 2005 rates Williams as costing his team 29 runs with his defense, which to be honest seems kind of impossible. You’d have to miss like one hundred hits to cost your team 29 runs. They also claim Williams was as bad an outfielder as Manny Ramirez, which is flat-out insane.

If you think Williams was really a butcher out there then he’s not quite HOF caliber. But if like me you think he wasn’t that bad, he’s not a bad candidate.

As bad as Manny Ramirez, or as bad as Manny compared to their position? I could see an end-of-career Bernie being by far the worst defensive center fielder in baseball.

Yeah… I mean, look how easily New York stars like Gil Hodges and Roger Maris coasted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

The Hall of Fame is CRAWLING with undeserving New York players like Elston Howard, Thurman Munson, Ron Guidry, Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi, Eddie Lopat, Don Mattingly, Keith Hernandez, Sparky Lyle, Darryl Strawbery, Dwight Gooden, Charlie Keller…

Oh wait, NONE of those guys ever came close to getting into the Hall of Fame! And Bernie Williams (whom I loved) is HIGHLY unlikely to make it, either.

Playing in New York has SOME advantages, to be sure. But New York players do NOT win a disproportionate number of awards, nor are there too many New York players in the Hall of Fame. If anything, New York players get FEWER awards than they deserve.

And there are FAR more undeserving St. Louis Cardinals in the Hall of Fame than there are undeserving Yankees.

My comment was tongue-in-cheek, and i was talking more about the general public than about the actual voters.

As far as Williams’ fielding goes, that was one thing that stood out to me in his WAR stats. His defense was, as RickJay notes, allegedly very poor. I don’t remember Williams being especially terrible in the field, although one thing that was always obvious was that he had a very weak throwing arm.

John Walsh at Hardball Times has done some writing on throwing ability as a measure of outfielder defensive contribution, and he had Williams among the worst centerfielders in terms of saving runs with his arm.

Walsh looked at five particular situations where throws from the outfield were important to the game, and based on this he calculated Runs Saved per 200 opportunities. Included in his calculations were not just what the fielders actually did, in terms of throwing guys out, but reputational factors like Hold Rate. Basically, Hold Rate looked at how likely baserunners were to test the fielder’s arm by trying for an extra base. Walsh found that some guys, like Aaron Rowand, had a high Hold Rate despite showing little evidence of actually having a strong, accurate arm.

Anyway, at the top of the overall list were guys like Andruw Jones and Milton Bradley, who were saving 8 runs or more per 200 opportunities. Williams was 4th from the bottom, with a rate of -4 runs.

It’s not clear to me how reliable this sort of calculation is, but it seemed interesting enough to mention.

First of all, by either definition it is simply inconceivable that Williams was in Ramirez’s zip code as a defensive player. I’m sorry, but the system is broken somehow. Ramirez was, at his absolute peak as a defensive player, very bad. The last five or six years of his career he was comically bad. He was far and away the worst defensive outfielder I have ever seen in my entire life who was permitted to keep playing the outfield for an extended period of time in the major leagues. (I am led to believe Greg Luzinski was even worse, but that was before my time.) There are three or four guys in my 35+ softball league who are better outfielders than Manny Ramirez was, and yes, I am totally serious. I actually can believe he cost his team 30 runs a season out there. Williams was never that bad; he wasn’t Devon White by any means, but he wasn’t Manny Ramirez bad, and for awhile he was pretty decent.

Secondly, a system that compares players to their own position but doesn’t account for the value of that position is a bit goofy. An average center fielder is not the same thing as an average left fielder.

I really believe there’s some work yet to be done on defensive stats; I’ve said it before and will again, but there’s something about fielding WAR that often breaks down at a team level. According to WAR and Fielding Runs the Yankees were a AAA team with the gloves, at best, almost the entire time they were winning 90-114 games a year. That’s… unusual. Indeed, as I glance over team Fielding Runs for that period, there seems to be very little correlation between a team’s fielding and how many runs the team gave up, which is possible, but seems really, really unlikely.

There’s also the fact that the entire league’s numbers don’t add up. According to Baseball Reference, in 2004, the American League colelctively had -175 fielding runs. The National League had 201 fielding runs. So, the NL was not only dramatically, fantastically better at fielding than the AL, but did so in a way that apparently never showed in up interleague play, where the AL dominated. And somehow the average NL fielder was slightly better than average. Of course I’m not sure how Baseball Reference figures anything, since they subtract WAR for poor defensive play to DH’s.

I haven’t done a detailed study of it, but the broad numbers just don’t make any sense to me; they don’t add up to .500, and they don’t jibe with common sense. And if that’s true then what are the individual errors?

Williams was not an awful fielder. He definitely had a bad arm. He frequently got a late jump on the ball; and misjudged a lot of balls, but his speed often made up for those deficiencies. I’m not saying he was a good fielder either, but he wasn’t awful, as far as my non-expert eyes can say. He seemed to rise to the occasion in the post-season, which enhances his reputation. That being said, I don’t see him as a HOFer, just a very good player on some great teams.

As a Yankees fan… I pretty much agree with you.

If I had a vote, I would NOT vote for Bernie Williams as a Hall of Famer, and I don’t think he’ll be elected. I think Derek Jeter is the ONLY starter from the Yankees’ most recent dynasty who WILL be elected. Bernie is the embodiment of the cliche “It’s the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Very Good.”

On the other hand, if Bernie DID get elected, well, there are numerous worse players already in the Hall of Fame, and it won’t upset my sense of justice.