Guest post: 2014 Hall of Fame forecast post-mortem

When I was in high school, there were a couple of local amateur meteorologists who claimed to have developed a system of predicting major snowstorms weeks in advance.  They supposedly got seven correct in a row in virtual anonymity.  So they landed a front-page newspaper article in the Poughkeepsie Journal, touting their success record, and predicting the next big blizzard: January 26, 1975.  People circled their calendars and buzzed about it for weeks.

Then January 26 came, and it was 52° and rainy.  As far as I know, that was the last anyone heard of the two meteorologists.

I thought of this many times as my Hall of Fame forecast reached print here last month, and went more-or-less viral.  I’d been doing the forecasts for over 30 years – often in national publications like Baseball Digest, Sports Collectors Digest, and Sporting News – but usually just among a cult following of colleagues.  I had a terrific track record, but I’d never gotten anything close to this much attention.  Now here I was, being quoted by notable journalists around the country, and doing radio and TV interviews.  I worried that this would be the year my forecast tanked.

And, unfortunately, I was right (about being wrong).  My 2014 Hall of Fame election forecast was my worst ever.

As you know, I predicted that only Greg Maddux would make it to Cooperstown this year, while everyone else was saying there would be three to five inductees.  Everyone else was right and I was wrong.  Maddux of course made it, but so did Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas, and Craig Biggio just missed.  There have been years I guessed wrong on one inductee, but never two, and never by as much as I missed on Glavine: I predicted 66%, he got 92%.  That’s plain ugly.

So, what went wrong?  And should I just go the way of the two weathermen?

First of all, other than Glavine, Thomas (predicted 63%, actual 83%), Biggio (61-75), and Mike Mussina (7-20), my forecast was quite accurate.  But that’s kinda like saying, except for the four games they lost, the Cardinals did well in the 2013 World Series.

Part of it was timing.  I write my forecasts in October, three months before the announcement.  When Bobby Cox was elected by the Veterans’ Committee in December, that no doubt gave Glavine a boost.  Writers liked the idea of inducting three long-time Braves – Cox, Maddux, and Glavine – together.  Then, my article was published in mid-December, about half-way through the balloting process.  It’s possible it influenced some voters to use more of their voting slots.

Whatever the reason, the writers used an average of 8.39 votes per ballot this year.  That’s after not going above 6.87 since 1986, even in years there was a big crop of worthy candidates.  In 1999, for example, newcomers Nolan Ryan, George Brett, Robin Yount, and Carlton Fisk joined holdovers Tony Perez, Gary Carter, Jim Rice, Bruce Sutter, and Bert Blyleven, among others, on the slate – yet writers used an average of just 6.74 votes per ballot.

So I didn’t foresee this year’s 8.39, and I don’t see how anyone else could, either (though apparently everyone else did).  I projected 7.5, which I thought was going out on a limb.  If I knew it was going to reach 8.39, I probably would have predicted both Glavine and Thomas to make it, though not with the lofty percentages they actually received.

The bottom line is, I struck out this year.  But that won’t stop me from getting back in the batters’ box this fall, hopefully having learned from my mistakes.  I can only hope you’ll still be interested in reading it.

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Editor’s note: I was elated to have Bill’s predictions exclusive to this website for a second straight year and I expected they would get some attention. I never expected this much. Per Google Analytics, more than 13,000 people visited Bill’s post, spending an average of four minutes, 55 seconds on it; and those are just the people who clicked through from the myriad of prominent websites Bill was mentioned on. Rather than list all of these websites here, one after the other, check out these search results. It was unreal.

I will say two things. First, based on the amount of traffic and the wealth of respected sites that took interest, as well as the timing of Bill’s post two weeks before Hall of Fame voting closed, I imagine it skewed results. Polemical as I can sometimes be, I’m not wild about this. I know from talking to Bill that it wasn’t his intent. That said, it was my decision to publish Bill’s post when I did, and I take full responsibility for any effect on voting it may have had.

Bill has a place at this website as long as he wants. He’s a good writer and has a research background that’s perfectly in-line for what we try to do here. Should Bill choose to return next year, we’ll publish his predictions after voting closes, which is generally about a week before results come out. I believe Bill’s 30-year track record of generally being spot-on in his predictions speaks for itself and that his methodology for making picks is solid. I consider this year aberrational and believe that next year, Bill’s predictions will be back on course.

0 thoughts on “Guest post: 2014 Hall of Fame forecast post-mortem”

  1. Hey Bill,
    Don’t feel bad or get down on yourself. None of us knows or can begin to know the future. All we do is take our best educated guess and go from there. You still hit .333, which is still a great batting average, and given the reasoning behind some of the voters for how they voted it didn’t seem there was much reasoned thought behind it anyway. What the writers haven’t come to realize is they aren’t as smart as they think they are either.
    Besides that, baseball and sports in general is suppose to be fun, except for those who bet, and full of arguments that can never be settled either way. Subjective evaluations are just that; beauty in the eye of the beholder.
    As Bobby Bragan use to say, “You can’t hit the ball with the bat on your shoulder.” So, I look forward again next year to your predictions and will make a friendly bet that there will be at least three new members. Your job is to select which three.
    Go get em.

  2. Seconded. You gave it your best shot, and it definitely made for interesting reading and probably gave some voters a much-needed wakeup call. Even now, hindsight isn’t necessarily 20/20; Biggio was a genuine coin flip and no one knew for sure how he’d fare. Looking forward to your predictions in 2015.

  3. I agree with the above two posts: I never knew you and your site existed until this year, but in baseball, .333 is not just a good average in these days, it’s a great one! One example would be trying to predict how many HR’s Home Run Baker would have hit in this lively ball era, or how many IP would Mathewson, Johnson, and other pitchers of that era pitch in the past 25 years. How many saves would ANY pitcher have had 50-80 years ago? All of those are harder to predict than the weather.

    But they’re ALL a lot moe fun, too. Keep on truckin’, Bill.

    1. Hi Joe,

      Thanks for your comment. I’ve written a column in the past that you might like entitled “Any player/Any era.” As the title suggests, it takes a player and projects how he’d do in an era besides the one he played in. I’ve written them for Home Run Baker, Christy Mathewson and a number of other players. A list can be found at the bottom of the most recent column, which I did on Mickey Mantle.

      Hope you enjoy the column. By the way, I’ll try to remember to include you in the voting for my project next year. The more the merrier.

      Best wishes and talk to you later.

      Graham

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