By Father Gabe Casta
Professor John T. Saccoman is the Chairman of the Mathematics and Computer Science Department at Seton Hall University. An accomplished mathematician, he is also an author, lecturer and well known sabermetrician. He is our guest blogger for this episode of By The Numbers. Enjoy the following essay!
John T. Saccoman: Let’s play a game. Does a player with these credentials belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame?
• Retired as the leading right handed home run (HR) hitter in his league’s history (when the league was 90+years old);
• Won the first three Gold Gloves at his position, including two years when only one was awarded for each position in the major leagues;
• Drove in 100 runs in the seven consecutive seasons, during which his team never finished lower than second place;
• Made eight All-Star teams;
• For a decade, he was second among all players in HR and runs batted in (RBI), third in total bases (TB) and eighth in Runs Scored (R), ranking him fourth in the National League;
• In each of his 15 years on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot, there were between four and ten players who finished that year with fewer votes than he but who were ultimately elected to the Hall;
• He was prayed for, not booed, while mired in a colossal slump during the 1952 Brooklyn Dodger-New York Yankee World Series;
• And, for good measure, he managed the unlikeliest of World Series Champions, the 1969 New York Mets.
By now you probably figured out the player: Gil Hodges.
I have been considering the question of Hodges’ Hall-worthiness for the better part of two decades. This April, as part of Mathematics Awareness Month (theme: The Mathematics of Sport), I gave a short talk expounding on Mr. Hodges’ qualifications.
One statistic I mentioned is Bill James’ Runs Average (RA). It is a simple formula:
RA=(R + RBI)/AB,
where AB stands for at bats. In a typical year, a league’s RA will be close to batting average (BA). In 2009, for example, the American League had RA = (10938 +10437)/77965 = 0.274, while its BA = .267
A first ballot Hall of Famer like Frank Robinson had a lifetime RA =(R + RBI)/AB =
(1829+1812)/ 10006 = 0.364.
Gil Hodges’ career RA sits right in the middle among all post-19th century Hall of Fame first basemen:
The second statistic I used is Allen Barra’s SLOB (SLugging times On Base). While most people prefer OPS (On base Plus Slugging), my mathematical aesthetic prefers not to add two fractions with different denominators. Thus, we multiply them.
To get a feel for this statistic, consider the NL in 2009, which had SLOB= OB X SLG=0.331 X 0.409 = 0.135. For individuals, Albert Pujols in 2009 had SLOB = 0.291. Once again, Hodges’ Career SLOB ranks him higher than some first basemen already enshrined in the Hall:
For my third statistic, I chose Bill James’ Secondary Average (SA). As James has said, batting average only tells half of the story; SA tells the other half: SA = (TB -H+BB+SB-CS)/AB. Note that Bases on Balls (BB), Stolen Bases (SB) and Caught Stealing (CS) are components of SA. This metric measures the ability to produce extra bases beyond batting average. It is another statistic that tends toward batting average-type magnitudes; the DH-less NL in 2009 had SA = 0.261, while the AL had SA = 0.273.
In his career, Gil Hodges produced a SA that placed him in the top half of post-19th century first basemen:
We need not mention his service as a Marine Sergeant and Bronze Star recipient in the Pacific Theater of World War II. As his late teammate and Hall of Famer Roy Campanella said, “Gil Hodges is a Hall of Fame man.”
Next Blog: Modified Slugging Percentage