Trading walks for singles, Cooperstown-style

I'm not sure how much it costs to access Bill James' website, but I'm pretty sure his recent four-part series on the 2011 Hall of Fame ballot is alone worth whatever they get.

Taking Bill's work and running with it -- Joe Posnanski's quite the runner, as you've no doubt noticed -- Joe looks at a number of Hall of Fame candidates and asks a simple question about each player: If he could trade 500 walks for 325 singles, would he do it? Purely in terms of his Hall of Fame candidacy?

The short answer is that yes, nearly all of them probably would.

The long answer, which I've been giving for something like 15 years and seems to have sunk in hardly at all, is that their batting averages would go way up, their on-base averages would go down a bit, and that would help their Hall of Fame chances because voters pay too much attention to batting averages and not enough attention to on-base averages. Joe finishes up with Tim Raines and gets at this in his nice Joe way:

    Raines, as I and many of his other fans have written and said many times, reached base more times than Tony Gwynn in a career of almost exactly the same length. To me, that’s all that really needs to be said. They are both corner outfielders and they are contemporaries. Tony Gwynn is in the Hall of Fame largely because he hit singles. Only five players since 1900 hit more singles than Gwynn. He also hit a lot of doubles (25th on the all-time list). Well, Raines mixed singles and walks and reached base even more than Gwynn … and of course, he stole 500 more bases than Gwynn while only getting caught 21 more times. It’s hard for me to see how you could think of Tony Gwynn as a Hall of Famer but not Tim Raines. And since almost EVERYBODY sees Tony Gwynn as a Hall of Famer ... well, yes, it is frustrating that it is taking people so long to appreciate just how good Tim Raines was as a player.

    Maybe if he cashed in a few of his walks, he could get people to see it. Would Raines be a more viable Hall of Fame candidate with a .319 batting average, even if it meant giving up some on-base percentage points? I think for many people, yes, he would be more viable. Raines, in fact, might have more to gain with the trade than anyone else on the ballot. I wish we could make this trade for him, just so people could see him a bit more clearly.

We shouldn't have to make that trade for Raines, or the same trade for Lou Whitaker or Fred McGriff or Barry Larkin or anybody else. The relative value of walks and singles was declassified something like three decades ago. On-base percentage hasn't been Top Secret since the 1980s. At this point there is simply no excuse for any voter to miss a player's true value as a hitter because he walked too often. Absolutely none.

Things are, of course, changing. But slowly. Very slowly. Max Planck was right.