This is a baseball post, so the rest of you can quit reading now.
I'm going to offer three tidbits I noticed today. All of them demonstrate that despite advances, the "new paradigm" of baseball analysis has a long way to go before we can say the change is definitive. Two of these are about fan perceptions; one is about the perspective of an honored baseball journalist.
To start with the fans ... ESPN is conducting a poll where fans can offer their choices for the Hall of Fame. Two players on the list of nominees stand out in this poll. One is Shawon Dunston. Dunston played for all or part of 18 seasons. In two of those seasons, he was an All-Star ... perhaps it is more useful to note that he was not an All-Star 16 times in 18 years. He never, in 18 years, led the league in any category. He never won a major award ... in fact, he never got any votes for any major awards. He didn't compile particularly noteworthy career totals ... 150 HR, 1597 hits, 212 steals. His career batting average was .269, slugging .416.
His career on-base percentage was .296. This is abysmal. His BEST OBP season was around 250 plate appearances in 1999 ... that OBP was .337, which would be a mediocre career figure, but this was his best. This was mainly because Dunston wouldn't draw a walk ... he played in more than 1800 games, came to the plate more than 600 times, and drew a grand total of 203 walks, of which 44 were intentional.
As of the last time I checked, 7.3% of the fans taking the ESPN poll have listed Shawon Dunston on their ballot as worthy of the Hall of Fame.
Meanwhile, there's Tim Raines. He's kinda like the anti-Dunston, so we'll start by comparing the two. Dunston played for 18 season, Raines for 23. Dunston was a 2-time All-Star ... Raines made the All-Star team 7 times. Dunston never led the league in any categories. Raines led the league once in BA, once in OBP, twice in plate appearances, twice in runs scored, once in doubles, four times in stolen bases, once in Runs Created, three times in Times on Base, and once in Offensive Win Pct. Dunston never won an award ... Raines won a Silver Slugger Award and was an All-Star Game MVP. Dunston never received any votes for any awards ... Raines received votes for league MVP in seven different seasons, finishing as high as fifth. Dunston's career totals weren't overwhelming. Raines? He hit 20 more homers than Dunston and 1008 more hits, stole 594 more bases. His career BA was 25 points higher than Dunston's, his SLG was 9 points higher.
And Dunston's career OBP was .296. Raines's was .385. After two cups of coffee at the beginning of his career, Raines put together 21 consecutive seasons with an OBP of at least .337, that low point coming when he was a 39-year-old part-timer. That was, in fact, the only time in those 21 years that his OBP was below .350. Dunston, you will recall, never got HIGHER than .337.
As of the last time I checked, only 38.4% of the fans taking the ESPN poll have listed Tim Raines on their ballot as worthy of the Hall of Fame.
Ah, but the writers, surely they know better. You don't get more esteemed than Tracy Ringolsby. A look at Wikipedia tells us that Tracy's been writing about baseball for more than 30 years. He has been a president of the Baseball Writers Association of America, the group who casts the "votes that count" for the Hall of Fame. He himself is in the writers' wing of the Hall of Fame.
To his credit, Ringolsby stands up for what he believes, and he doesn't run and hide from controversy. Today, the Baseball Analysts posted an interview their Rich Lederer conducted with Ringolsby, where no topic was off-limits. It's an interesting read, thanks to good questioning from Lederer and clear replies from Ringolsby. Near the end of the discussion, Lederer asked Ringolsby, who of course has a vote, who he included on his Hall of Fame ballot. Tracy listed the names, and then mentioned Tim Raines. Raines was a tough one, Ringolsby said. He mentions something that even Raines' biggest champions (of which I am one) know to be true: Raines may have been the second-best leadoff man in the history of baseball, but since he played at the same time as THE best, Rickey Henderson, Raines' career was always overshadowed. That's hardly a reason to discount Raines' achievements, but Ringolsby wasn't done. It's one thing that Raines isn't quite Rickey, but ... well, I'll let Tracy speak for himself. "[I]f you take Vince Coleman's five top years, I would say he outperformed Raines, too, and I don't see Coleman as a Hall of Famer."
Ringolsby has one thing right: Vince Coleman is not a Hall of Famer. He had, in fact, a worse career than Shawon Dunston. Coleman was a terrific base-stealer, leading the league in that category 6 times. And he got on base more often than Shawon Dunston, although Potsie from Happy Days got to first base more times than Dunston, so that's not saying much. His career OBP was .324, which was below the league average, but not quite Dunstonesque. But Coleman had no power ... his career SLG was an unholy .345 ... so his OPS+ ... well, let's stop a second. OPS+ measures your ability to get on base and hit for power, in the context of your era and ballparks. An average hitter would have an OPS+ of 100 ... a good hitter would have an OPS+ higher than 100 ... a poor hitter would have an OPS+ lower than 100. Tim Raines' career OPS+ was 123. Shawon Dunston's was 89. Vince Coleman? 83.
Vince Coleman played all or part of 13 seasons in the majors, and only twice was his OPS+ over 100 (i.e., better than average). This means that whatever you decide are his five top years, in at least three of them, he was a below-average hitter. (And he didn't win awards for his glove, nor did any of these guys, so that's not the question here.) Meanwhile, from Tim Raines' first full season in 1981 through his last season with 100+ games played in 1998, 18 seasons in all, Tim Raines' OPS+ fell below 100 exactly once, a 98 in 1991.
So you've got Tracy Ringolsby, a veteran baseball journalist with voting rights for the Hall of Fame, telling us that he didn't think Tim Raines was a Hall of Famer because Vince Coleman's top five years were better than Tim Raines. Even though Vince Coleman can barely carry the jock of Shawon Dunston, much less a Hall-worthy legend like Tim Raines.
So I ask you, which is a clearer sign of an unintelligent future for baseball analysis? That 7 fans out of 100 think Shawon Dunston belongs in the Hall of Fame? That more than 6 out of 10 think Tim Raines doesn't belong? Or that an award-winning baseball journalist thinks Vince Coleman's five best seasons "outperformed" Tim Raines?