July 19, 2005

Rafael Palmeiro and the Keltner Test: What is Rafeal Palmeiro's chances of making the Hall of Fame? Let's use the Keltner Test to find out.

With Rafael Palmeiro's recent historical moment, the question of his Hall of Fame viability has come up. One method of determining a player's HOF potential is to try the "Keltner Test" (invented by Bill James in his 1985 Abstract).

I will now go through each question in the test and try to answer them, giving us an idea of where Palmeiro stands with regard to the Hall of Fame.

  1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?
    • No. From 1991 (his first elite year) to 2005, there has always been at least a few players that would be considered better than him. Whether it was Bonds, Griffey, Thomas, ARod or others, no one has seriously considered him the best player in baseball.
  2. Was he the best player on his team?
    • From 1986-1989, definitely not as he wasn't really all that great then.
    • 1990 Rangers - Yes, but it was a weak hitting team.
    • 1991 Rangers - Yes (only ones close are Ruben Sierra or Juan Gonzalez).
    • 1992 Rangers - 1993 Rangers - No. Juan Gonzalez was much better.
    • 1994 Orioles - Definitely, and by a wide margin.
    • 1995 Orioles - Tough call. He's the best batter, but Mussina might be the better. Win Shares suggests it's Palmeiro by the slimmest margin (1 WS), so we'll say yes.
    • 1996 Orioles - Nope. Brady Anderson's fluke year is too good.
    • 1997 Orioles - 1998 Orioles - Definitely.
    • 1999 Rangers - 2000 Rangers - Definitely (but only in 2000 because Ivan Rodriguez got injured. He was having a MUCH better year than Palmeiro).
    • 2001 Rangers - 2003 Rangers - Nope. Some "overrated" kid joined the team.
    • 2004 Orioles - No. He's joined Miguel Tejada on the Orioles and will probably not be the best player on the team for the rest of his career.
    • In summary: Yes. 8 out of the 19 seasons he played, he was the best player on the team.
  3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?
    • Maybe. Using the American Silver Slugger award list as a guide, and checking some results, I think that Palmeiro might have been considered the best AL 1B during the 1998 season, but I think some guy in St. Louis was having a decent year then. Before that, he would have been overshadowed by Thomas and Fielder, and after that it would be Delgado, Giambi and Teixiera.
  4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
    • Yes. He was the guy that was driving in Brady Anderson in 1996 (142 RBI), and he was the main offensive threat on the 1997 Orioles (an overachieving team). The 1999 Rangers were powered by a three-headed offensive monster (Palmeiro, Gonzalez, Rodriguez), so he was definitely an important member of that team. None of his other teams made the playoffs.
  5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?
    • More data is probably required. Last year (2004) was his first year that would be considered a down year for him. However, he was 39 years old! If we assume his prime was 27-35 (usual assumption among baseball thinkers), then he was definitely able to play past his prime. If we factor in how the players of today are aging much more gracefully, and assume that "prime" extends another couple of years (27-37), then he still meets that requirement. Even during his current year (age 40), he's a good 2nd- or 3rd-best hitter to have on your team. If he wants to keep playing, he'd make an excellent LH half of a DH/1B platoon (he mashes RH pitching). So the answer would be yes.
  6. Is he the very best baseball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
    • Right now, no. There are too many superstars in front of him. Clemens, Bonds, Henderson, McGwire, Thomas, Griffey (off the top of my head) who aren't in the hall yet and might be competing with him for votes when the time comes (assuming they all stop playing within a couple years of each other).
  7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?
    • Let's check his comparables (* indicates member of the Hall of Fame):
      1. Frank Robinson (880) *
      2. Eddie Murray (876) *
      3. Reggie Jackson (842) *
      4. Mel Ott (828) *
      5. Dave Winfield (820) *
      6. Fred McGriff (817)
      7. Al Kaline (805) *
      8. Harold Baines (792)
      9. Willie McCovey (768) *
      10. 10. Billy Williams (756) *
      In summary: 8 out of 10 (and the other two haven't had a chance to be voted on yet) are in the hall of fame, so the answer is yes.
  8. Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
    • Yes. 3000 hits, 500 HR, 20 year career, multiple All-Star appearances, a couple of gold gloves.
  9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
    • This is where it gets interesting. There are rumours about steroid use (his appearance at the government hearing may have been a surprise to most, including myself). He has played in an offensive era that is always referred to by the media (his voters) as "inflated". His career totals are more of a product of consistancy than true stardom. But in the end, getting the 3000/500 combination is such a rare event that it's hard to say that he was significantly "worse" than his numbers indicate. So, there is no real evidence to support that claim.
  10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?
    • No. Mark McGwire will be regarded more highly than him (assuming the steroid scandal doesn't completely ruin him). And if the steroid scandal does take down McGwire, Palmeiro will probably get hit as well (if he actually did it). Again, the timing of his retirement might be the biggest factor on whether he gets into the Hall of Fame (either on the first ballot or later ones). When Jeff Bagwell and Frank Thomas hang up their batting gloves, they will probably leap to the front of the line for 1B (assuming McGwire got in).
  11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
    • Zero MVPs won. He had a couple of very good seasons, but they were overshadowed by even greater seasons. He got MVP votes in 10 different seasons, but never finished higher than 5th (in 1999, when he got 4 1st place votes in a very tight race). His best seasons (using Win Shares as a guide) would be in 1993, 1996 and 1999. However, using the same measurement, he wasn't robbed of any MVP awards as he wasn't the best player during those seasons. However, they were good enough that he could have won an MVP. But it's still not the same as actually winning one.
  12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the players who played in this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame?
    • He played in 4 All-Star games, and probably had about 7 All-Star-worthy seasons. Playing in only 4 All-Star games in a 20 year career does not sound like a true HOF career. This is tempered by the fact that he played in a VERY competitive position (1B) with some true legends of the game (Thomas & McGwire early on, Delgado & Giambi later). Still, if you want to be considered one of the best ever, you have to overcome these things.
  13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
    • Well, we know he was the best player on his team at least 8 times in his career, and none of them won a pennant. However, blaming a team failure on a single player is a bit harsh. He had at least 4 seasons (1991, 1993, 1996, 1998) that would be good enough to be the best player on a pennant winning team (if the supporting cast was of slightly above average quality as well).
  14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?
    • Palmeiro's impact on the game was minor, but for two different reasons:
      • His selection as 1999 Gold Glove for 1B has to be considered one of the silliest awards ever presented. He only played in 28 games at 1B, but was given the award. This led to a wider acceptance that the Gold Glove awards may be the worst in pro sports. Why this didn't lead to a changing of the rules for eligibility is a surprise to most.
      • His willingness to stump for Viagra during his playing career was considered a brave move. The potential for ridicule and jest from fans/players/media was there, but other than a couple of silly cheap shots, it seems he weathered the period well. It now means that almost ANY product is "promotable" by a professional athlete, and more and more are appearing on TV for a wider range of "embarrassing" drugs.
  15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?
    • Again, the big question: was he using steroids during his playing career? His denial in front of the government hearing was not taken well by some in the media (hoping for him to confess), and he's seen by some as a "dodger". Other than these accusations (only made by Jose Canseco in his book and heard nowhere else), he's been the model of sportsmanship for MLB. He had a brief period where he was very angry with the Texas Rangers for the team choosing to sign Will Clark in 1994 instead of him (letting Palmeiro sign with the Orioles instead). There were harsh words in the media for about a month (which made him sound a bit petulant), but they quickly disappeared. He obviously didn't hold a grudge because he returned to Texas 5 years later.

In the end, I think Palmeiro might not have a true passing grade (I'd say 5.5 positive responses out of 15 questions), but he nails the two biggest ones: career statistics (#8) and Hall of Fame comparables (#7). The other 13 questions are there to either support a case that is weak in those quesitons or to knock a player back if they seem artificially inflated (and I don't mean steroids). That doesn't seem to be a problem with Palmeiro, so I think it would be safe to say that he should be in the Hall of Fame. Does he get in on the first ballot? Let's see how this whole steroid thing shakes out...

posted by grum@work to commentary at 09:16 PM - 0 comments

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