OK, so Bill James has a fascinating new study out about the Hall of Fame. You should absolutely read the whole thing — it’s called Vagabonds and Homebodies and it asks a question that has long fascinated me: How much more likely is a player who has played substantially for one team to get into the Hall of Fame than a player who has bounced around? I’m not sure I worded that sentence especially well, so let’s call it the Ortiz vs. Sheffield question.
As I’ve written here, Ortiz and Sheffield have very similar Hall of Fame cases. They were both incredible hitters, subpar fielders, and both have steroid marks on their record. But Ortiz is widely viewed as a much better Hall of Fame candidate. There are numerous things that separate them, as I wrote, but for our purposes here one of those things is that Ortiz is almost entirely associated with the Boston Red Sox, while Sheffield played for eight teams and isn’t strongly linked with any of them.
How much of a difference can that make?
Well, Bill has studied this in classic Bill James fashion, diving deep, creating new methods of study (the essay has SIX appendices) and his conclusion is that one-team affiliation has made a MASSIVE difference in Hall of Fame candidates. Absolutely massive. As he writes, a player who jumps from team to team may be reducing his Hall of Fame chances by FIFTY PERCENT compared to a similar player who is linked to one team.
Now, a couple of things before looking at Bill’s conclusions: One-team affiliation doesn’t necessarily mean the player played for only one team. Ortiz is a perfect example; he played 455 games for the Minnesota Twins. And yet, he’s as Boston as Ted Williams or Carl Yastrzemski. This is because he was only a GREAT player for Boston. He performed all his memorable feats of strength for the Red Sox. By WAR, more than 95% of his value was in Boston. He’s a one-team guy.
Also, none of this is to say that great one-team players ALWAYS get into the Hall of Fame or that great multi-team players ALWAYS don’t. That’s obviously not true at all. Some of the most famous non-Hall of Famers — Lou Whitaker, Dwight Evans, Don Mattingly, Thurman Munson, Dave Concepcion — were one-team players.
And plenty of those who played for numerous teams — Rickey Henderson, Goose Gossage, Robbie Alomar, Jim Thome, Ivan Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, Mike Piazza, Joe Morgan, Bert Blyleven, on and on — are in the Hall of Fame.
But the question here is: Does it help to be largely associated with one team?
And Bill convincingly shows that, yes, it helps a lot. You can look at the study itself for details, but Bill breaks it down by Win Shares and at basically every level the players who are most associated with one team are more likely to be elected to the Hall of Fame than the players who are not.