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FAME, the Mariners, and the Fame of Various Mariners

How unheralded are those forgotten baseball heroes of the Pacific Northwest? How likely is Omar Vizquel to make the Hall of Fame? We unleash a new statistic that equivocates on those questions and more.

the past was so shiny
the past was so shiny
Otto Greule Jr

One of the rites of passage to be a successful or quixotic baseball writer is to invent a new statistic. Last fall, I joined this exclusive and imagined inner circle by crafting, in tandem with my colleague Joel (twitter: @CajoleJuiceEsq), a statistic called FAME. It's inspired by Bill James's Blank Ink, a neat little stat that collates the number of times a player has led the league in various categories, and thus how dominant a player was in his era. Black Ink is often one of the tools used to gauge a player's Hall of Fame candidacy.

If Black Ink is a descriptive statistic, FAME (or: Fanfare and Acclaim Measurement Extraordinaire) is predictive: it counts the number of accolades awarded to the player by the media, and thus how strong his Hall of Fame case will appear to be. Essentially, it measures how much a player was talked about during his career, and how important he seemed. Points are awarded to players as follows:

Award or Milestone Points
Most Valuable Player 12
MVP (Top 5) 4
MVP (Top 10) 2
Rookie of the Year 4
All-Star Game appearance 3
Gold Glove Award 2
Silver Slugger 1
World Series victory 2
World Series appearance 1
Memorable, good nickname 1
3,000 hit milestone 2
400/500/600/700 HR milestone 1 each

FAME scores are intended to compare with WAR, although some modifications need to be made now that Cameron and Forman have aligned their statistics. Still, I think it's a useful tool. My highlight as a statistician came with the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot, where I predicted that Sandy Alomar, Jr. would receive a surprising level of support. Despite a career WAR of 13.8, hardly more than Kenji Johjima, Alomar received 16 votes, two less than Kenny Lofton.

Meanwhile, in Seattle, the city has always felt its place on the periphery of both baseball history and geography. What does FAME have to say about the Mariners greats of today and yesterday?

Alex Rodriguez 107 111.1 0.96
Ken Griffey Jr. 93 78.5 1.18
Ichiro Suzuki 73 53.5 1.36
Omar Vizquel 34 42.7 0.80
Edgar Martinez 30 66.6 0.45
Adrian Beltre 26 59.9 0.43
Bret Boone 21 23.1 0.91
John Olerud 18 57.6 0.31
Tino Martinez 18 29.7 0.61
Mike Cameron 9 49.7 0.18
Alvin Davis 8 20.8 0.38
Jay Buhner 7 23.4 0.30

(A full breakdown of the results can be seen here.)

By these standards, the famous Mariners are surprisingly famous. Griffey and Ichiro are both first-ballot Hall of Famers, with the latter showing one of the highest FAME-to-WAR ratios in baseball history. (Note that this number will go down, however, as he plays out his twilight years, and also fails to reflect his younger years in Japan.) Alex Rodriguez's score is uncannily accurate, though he too has his autumn season before him.

20120924_kkt_ab9_966The news is less cheery for other M's hopefuls. Edgar Martinez is unsurprisingly underrated, and will continue to be throughout his fifteen long, sad years on the ballot. He's actually eclipsed in FAME by Omar Vizquel, who should see a sturdy and likely futile support from a cadre of voters.

Adrian Beltre's candidacy will be an interesting one. He has the unfortunate quality of being a stellar defensive player without retaining any of the useless, memorably physical qualities of a stellar defensive player. He is not small or lithe, and he also plays third base, which means he already faces a sizable disadvantage. Still, amazingly, he's only 33 years old, and if he can even hold out for another three or four years, he'll be within reach of both 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. That low FAME score is worrisome, but he's got a pretty good shot at the Hall if it isn't broken by the time he gets there.

Finally, we conclude with two sadly neglected characters in John Olerud and Mike Cameron. Olerud may have hurt his cause with an early .400 chase, which laid expectations on his stardom that he was never able to fulfill. Cameron, meanwhile, played for several dozen teams and excelled most at the aspect of the game we understand least. In both cases, we're looking at players for whom those silly awards we pretend not to care about actually do matter; they build the narratives that decide who were stars and who were the glue guys. John Olerud is the kind of guy who gives the Hall of Fame meaning by not being in it. So does Jim Rice, of course, but nobody's perfect.

There's more work to be done with FAME, most of it by hand. I'll have to readjust the numbers to match the new WAR, and the next step will be to look at how FAME and FAME ratios relate specifically to how players perform on the ballot.

If you're interested in looking at the numbers, I've shared a breakdown of a large number of stars past and present, including every member of the Hall of Fame, here. Enjoy, if that's the sort of thing you enjoy.