The Keltner List and Sammy Sosa

I was reading the most recent article on Nate Silver's Five Thirty Eight and he brought up the Keltner List. I had meant to do this for Sammy Sosa a few years, but completely forgot. So I'll do it now. Bill James came up with that back in 1985 and I'll let Wikipedia explain it:

The Keltner list is a systematic but non-numerical method for determining whether a baseball player is deserving of election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. It makes use of an inventory of questions (mostly yes-or-no format) regarding the merit of players relative to their peers. Enshrinement in the Hall of Fame is one of the highest honors in sports, with only 234 players having been inducted as of 2011. Election to the Hall is also permanent. However, selection for the Hall is by election; no "cut-offs" or objective criteria exist (other than rules about how players become eligible for election). It can therefore be difficult for voters and fans alike to determine which former players are deserving of the honor.

The Keltner list comprises 15 questions designed to aid in the thought process. Each question is designed to be relatively easy to answer.

Before we move on to The Keltner list, Tangotiger has found that 55 WAR is basically the 50/50 line for reaching the Hall of Fame. Sammy Sosa has 59.7 career rWAR. If the BBWAA didn't care so much about steroids, Sosa would have a better chance than not of entering the Hall of Fame. He's by no means a slam dunk though. Onto the list.

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?

    Yes. It may or may not have been correct, but between 1998 and 2001 it wasn't uncommon to hear Sosa referred to as the best player in the game. I wouldn't say it was particularly common, but that's not what the question is asking.

    2. Was he the best player on his team?

      Yes. Not only was he the best player on the Cubs, from 1995 to 2004 he had the 6th highest fWAR among all position players. RBI are relatively useless, but in 2001 Sosa had 160 RBI. The next best on the team was Ricky Gutierrez. He had 66. Matt Stairs was the only other player on that team to be within 100 RBI of Sosa. Stairs had 61 RBI.

      3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

        Yes. Barry Bonds was tops from 1995-2004 and Jim Edmonds was .1 fWAR ahead of Sosa, but no other RF was on the list. Larry Walker had 7 fewer fWAR than Sosa did.

        4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

          Pennant races when James defined this was probably reaching the NLCS. These days we consider reaching the postseason with the expanded playoffs. Sosa had an impact on 2 pennant races. In 2003 they nearly went to the World Series.

          5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?

            No. And yes. He was certainly good enough in his prime that he could have played past his prime, but when he reached that prime he fell off the cliff. This is a No.

            6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

              No. He's not even the best player in Cubs history who is not in the Hall of Fame.

              7. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?

                Yes. Below are the most similar batters to Sosa according to B-Ref:

                1. Jim Thome (865)
                2. Mike Schmidt (858) *
                3. Reggie Jackson (841) *
                4. Ken Griffey (830)
                5. Harmon Killebrew (822) *
                6. Eddie Mathews (822) *
                7. Mickey Mantle (821) *
                8. Willie Stargell (820) *
                9. Gary Sheffield (814)
                10. Willie McCovey (807) *

                * – Signifies Hall of Famer

                Jim Thome and Ken Griffey, Jr. will be in the Hall of Fame as soon as they are eligible. Sheffield has 63.3 career rWAR, but probably won't get in due to steroid suspicion. 9 out 10. Yes, most similar players are in the Hall of Fame.

                8. Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

                  Yes. He has over 600 home runs. He hit more than 60 home runs in 3 different seasons. For a more detailed look, see after question 15.

                  9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

                    He more than likely took steroids and some believe that makes a player significantly better. He was also hit in the head by 95 mph fastball that cracked his helmet leading to him falling off the cliff we talked about earlier. There MAY be evidence to suggest he was worse than his statistics.

                    10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?

                      No. Larry Walker has just over 67 rWAR and Dwight Evans had a couple more than Sosa.

                      11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

                        7 times he finished in the top 10 in MVP voting. He won it in 1998 and finished 2nd in 2001.

                        12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go to the Hall of Fame?

                          He made the All-Star team 7 times and he had 8 All-Star type seasons. Thome, his best comparable, made the AS team 5 times. Schmidt, 2nd on the list of comparables, made it 12 times. Jackson and Jr. made it 14 and 13 times respectively. Killebrew made it 11 times. So Sosa played in fewer than most of his comparable players. I'm just not sure if those who reached the all-star team 8 times have gone onto the Hall of Fame. I'm guessing it's borderline at best.

                          13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

                            Obviously not, though that's not fault of his own. However, the HoF cares about postseason appearances. That simple.

                            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?

                              I'm not so sure that Sosa and Mark McGuire "saved" baseball as has often been said, but many people believe it. He, along with other sluggers did help to change it. He also had a huge impact among young Dominicans. By and large, though, Sosa's impact on history was minimal at best.

                              15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

                                No. I don't think we need to go over this again.

                                All the questions are subjective, the first 10 call for numerical comparisons. The 7th and 8th question often use Bill James similarity scores (I used Baseball Reference's) and his Hall of Fame Standards Test. Let's do that for question 8. Here's the test:

                                • One point for each 150 hits above 1500, limit 10.
                                • One point for each .005 of batting average above .275, limit 9
                                • One point for batting over .300
                                • One point for each 100 runs over 900, limit 8.
                                • One point for scoring more than .500 runs per game.
                                • One point for scoring more than .644 runs per game.
                                • One point for each 100 rbi's over 800, limit 8.
                                • One point for driving in more than .500 runs per game.
                                • One point for driving in more than .600 runs per game.
                                • One point for each .025 of slugging percentage above .300, limit 10
                                • One point for each .010 of on-base percentage above .300, limit 10
                                • One point for each 200 home runs.
                                • One point if home runs are more than 10% of hits.
                                • One point if home runs are more than 20% of hits.
                                • One point for each 200 extra base hits over 300, limit 5.
                                • One point for each 200 walks over 300, limit 5.
                                • One point for each 100 stolen bases, limit 5.
                                • James's version: Defensive value: 20 points for catcher, 16 – shortstop, 14 – second base, 13 – third base, 12 – center fielder, 6 – right fielder, 3 – left fielder, 1 – first baseman, 0 – designated hitter

                                He gets 6 points for having 908 hits more than 1500.
                                He gets 0 points for a career batting average of .273.
                                0 points for batting average over .300.
                                6 points (I'm rounding) for 575 runs more than 900.
                                1 point for scoring more than .5 runs per game
                                0 points for scoring more than .644 runs per game
                                8 points for 867 RBI more than 800
                                1 point for driving in more than .5 runs per game
                                1 points for driving in more than .6 runs per game
                                9 points for slugging .534
                                4 points for .344 OBP
                                3 points for 609 home runs
                                1 point for home runs being more than 10% of his hits
                                1 point for home runs being more than 20% of his hits
                                3 ponits for his extra base hits
                                3 points for walks over 300
                                2 points for stolen bases
                                6 points for playing right field

                                Total: 55 points

                                The aveage Hall of Famer has 50 points in this test so getting back to the answer to question 8, yes, his stats meet the standards.

                                Conclusion: Sosa has nearly 60 rWAR and nearly 65 fWAR. Based on that alone he's a solid candidate, but The Keltner List is more subjective. He passes the Hall of Fame Standards Test and makes other convincing argument for being in the HoF. 500 home runs used to be a guarantee, but with the steroid era, that's not so true anymore. Even if the BBWAA ignored steroids, hitting 500 home runs has become less impressive. 500 is probably more like 550 today and Sosa passes that. He's not had tremendous impact on the game and he did uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the HoF instructs its voters to consider. Like the WAR figures, The Keltner Test reveals that he's a solid candidate, but not a lock. He's far from a lock actually. Some players who would have similar results on this test would be in and others would not be in. Some players with the WAR figure that Sosa has are in and others aren't.