The Houston Astros Hall of Stats

By Adam Darowski

This article was published in the 2014 The National Pastime.

The purpose of a Hall of Fame is to celebrate the greats and preserve history. But only 1.3 percent of major league players make it to Cooperstown1—and that percentage is considerably lower for recent generations. About half of Major League Baseball's clubs maintain team Halls of Fame, honoring players who may have fallen short of Cooperstown, but still made a lasting impact worthy of commemoration.2 The Houston Astros, however, don’t. The franchise is comparatively young, but half a century is certainly long enough to warrant a Hall of Fame. The Astros lag behind even newer teams like the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners in this regard.

If the Astros were to establish their own Hall of Fame, what would it look like? 809 players have appeared in at least one game for Houston through 2013, ranging from Chris Tremie (who caught a single inning but never batted) to Craig Biggio (who batted 12,504 times as an Astro). Of course, an Astros Hall of Fame would start with greats like Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, and Nolan Ryan. But where would it go from there? There are many different reasons a player could be considered a Hall of Famer, but I’m going to focus on one: value.

I run a website called the Hall of Stats. The Hall of Stats is an alternate Hall of Fame populated by a mathematical formula. I created the site as a reaction to the recent voting issues with the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown—not just the effect of performance enhancing drugs, but also the BBWAA’s inflated Hall of Fame standards and misconceptions of player value. My assessment of player value is not perfect, but when a pitcher with 254 wins, 186 losses, 1.78 strikeouts per walk, and a 105 ERA+ receives three times as many votes as a pitcher with 270 wins, 153 losses, 3.58 strikeouts per walk, and a 123 ERA+, there is clearly a disconnect between “value” and “fame.”3

HALL RATING

I define “value” with Hall Rating, a metric that combines the value of a player’s peak and his longevity. The National Baseball Hall of Fame includes 211 members who were elected for their major league player careers.4 These inductees range from the best player of all time by Hall Rating (Babe Ruth) all the way down to the 1,729th-best player (Tommy McCarthy). The Hall of Stats populates itself with the top 211 eligible players by Hall Rating. The result is about a third of Cooperstown's inductees are removed and replaced with 69 new players.5, 6 This technique establishes what a Hall of Fame might look like if the road to induction was based solely on statistical merit rather than intangibles and narratives.

Here is the formula for Hall Rating7:

Hall Rating = adjWAR + (1.79*adjWAA)

adjWAR, or adjusted wins above replacement, is used to measure the value of a player’s longevity. It begins with the Baseball-Reference version of wins above replacement (WAR) and makes the following adjustments:

Schedule length: Nineteenth century schedules were shorter than today’s. Fewer games means fewer opportunities to accumulate WAR. adjWAR prorates the WAR total a player could have earned in a 162-game schedule and then splits the difference. For example, if a player earned 2.0 WAR while his team played an 81-game schedule (regardless of how many games the player actually appeared in), adjWAR gives him credit for 3.0 WAR rather than 4.0 WAR.

Catchers: While WAR awards catchers some extra credit through the positional adjustment, that only accounts for the games they actually play. Due to the rigors of the position, catchers play fewer games and therefore have a harder time accumulating WAR totals on par with other positions. If Hall Rating didn’t make an additional catcher adjustment, the Hall of Stats would only include a handful of catchers. adjWAR gives a 20 percent bonus to catchers—but that bonus is given out based on how often a player caught. If a player caught all of his games, he would receive the full 20 percent bonus. If a player caught in half his games, he would receive a 10 percent bonus. Thurman Munson (who caught 90 percent of his games) takes advantage of this adjustment more than a player like Joe Torre, who appeared as a catcher more than any other position, but still only caught in 41 percent of his games.

Relief pitchers: Relief pitchers also have relatively low WAR totals, so adjWAR gives them the same adjustment as catchers (and applies it based on percentage of games in relief). Even with this adjustment, only two relief pitchers rank as Hall-worthy—Mariano Rivera and Hoyt Wilhelm. (Hall Rating considers Dennis Eckersley a starting pitcher since that’s where he provided considerably more WAR.) This means either relief pitchers are very rarely Hall-worthy or the formula doesn’t make enough of an adjustment.

Nineteenth century pitchers: Pitchers don’t receive the schedule length adjustment above (except during strike years). In fact, pre-1893 pitchers are “given” an additional adjustment to suppress their WAR totals, as they threw such high percentages of their team’s innings. Otherwise, we’d have an overwhelming number of nineteenth century pitchers in the Hall of Stats. (Some might argue that Hall Rating still doesn’t suppress these scores enough).

adjWAA, or adjusted wins above average, is used to measure the value of a player’s peak. It begins with the Baseball-Reference version of wins above average (WAA) and makes the following adjustments:

Negative seasons are ignored: Since adjWAA is a measure of peak, it ignores any seasons where the player performed below average. This has a big effect on a player like Pete Rose, who hung around for several years trying to break Ty Cobb’s hit record. He was performing below average level, which cut into his WAA total. adjWAA doesn’t penalize him for that.

Where average is replacement: In a couple situations (such as the Union Association in 1884 and hitting stats for pitchers), replacement level and league average are basically equal.8 In those situations, no WAA is counted.

Catchers, relief pitchers, and nineteenth century pitchers: Same as above.

The 1.79 in the formula gives extra weight to adjWAA. Hall Rating values longevity (adjWAR) and peak (adjWAA) equally. But since adjWAA contains no replacement level runs, the totals are lower. The 1.79 simply boosts the adjWAA numbers so they are equally weighted.

The formula then sets the Hall of Stats borderline to a Hall Rating of 100. The 211th best eligible player by Hall Rating (the one who sits precisely on the Hall of Stats borderline) is given a Hall Rating of 100 and everyone else is adjusted accordingly. The 211th player is currently Billy Pierce. Babe Ruth has the highest Hall Rating of all time at 395, while Bill Bergen’s is the lowest: –15. Tommy McCarthy’s 28 is the lowest among Hall of Famers. The highest for an eligible player outside the Hall of Fame is Barry Bonds with 359. Among eligible former players not currently on the Hall of Fame ballot, Pete Rose leads the way with 148. The top eligible player outside the Hall who is not currently on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot is Bill Dahlen with 143. (Dahlen did appear on the most recent pre-integration committee ballot.)

It’s worth noting that the Hall Rating formula doesn’t account for Negro League stats, military service, or postseason performance.

Since Hall Rating gives us a simple but systematic way to rank all players in history, we can also rank all Astros in history. To create a Houston Astros Hall of Stats, all we need to do is decide on a cutoff.

THE CUTOFF

To determine an approximate size of the Astros Hall of Stats, I’ll turn to the Red Sox and Reds for guidance, as they have two of the more established and inclusive team Halls of Fame. The Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame covers an incredible 145 years, even including Harry Wright for his role with the famous 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. The Reds Hall of Fame has inducted a total of 74 members primarily as players.9 That gives them 0.51 Hall of Famers per year.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox have been in existence for 113 years and have enshrined 63 men primarily for their playing careers.10 That is a ratio of 0.56 Hall of Famers per year. If we keep a similar ratio of Hall of Famers for the Astros, in their 52 years of history they should honor somewhere between 27 and 29 players. There are 27 Astros players with Hall Rating of 30 or more, so we’ll make that our cutoff.11

THE INDUCTEES

Following are the 27 members of the Astros Hall of Stats (Hall Rating with the Astros in parentheses).

Jeff Bagwell, 1B (162): Hall Rating ranks Bagwell as the best player in Astros history as well as one of the best eli-gible players not yet in Cooperstown. Bagwell may not have collected 3,000 hits like Craig Biggio and may trail Lance Berkman in OPS by a few points, but once all of his contributions are considered and context-adjusted, he towers over both.

The 1994 National League MVP, four-time All Star, and two-time 30/30 man ranks second among all Astros in hits, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS, but ranks first in home runs, runs batted in, batting average, and walks. He also ranks first in the context-adjusted OPS+ because early in his career he played in the Astrodome, a notorious pitcher’s park that suppressed his offensive numbers.12 Bagwell’s 591 WAR batting runs are the most in franchise history by over 200 runs.

What really makes Bagwell stand out is his all-around game. He won a Gold Glove and WAR’s fielding runs suggest he could have won more. His 54 fielding runs above average rank fifth all-time among Astros (across all positions, but not factoring in the positional adjustment). He also stole the sixth-most bases in franchise history at a high success rate, placing his 31 WAR base-running runs third in club history. Add it all up and Bagwell was a unique and well-rounded player—and the best first baseman between Jimmie Foxx and Albert Pujols.13

Craig Biggio, 2B (125): Biggio, a seven-time All Star and Astros lifer, leads the club in plate appearances and hits while ranking second in runs batted in and stolen bases and third in home runs. Among WAR components, Biggio ranks second in baserunning and third in hitting.

What separates Biggio from Bagwell is fielding. While WAR gives Biggio plenty of credit for playing high-value positions (catcher, second base, and center field), the numbers suggest he didn’t play them particularly well. Despite four Gold Glove awards (all at second base), Biggio clocks in at 100 runs below average. Biggio was an astounding 79 runs below average from age 35 on during his (successful) quest for 3,000 hits. He was also worth –20 runs defensively in his four years as a catcher. Subtract those years and he was essentially an average defensive second baseman in his prime, which seems much more reasonable.

All that said, Biggio still deserves his reputation as one of Houston’s Killer B’s as well as a place in Cooperstown.

César Cedeño, CF (96): When the Astros traded Cedeño to the Cincinnati Reds after the 1981 season, he already had five Gold Gloves, four All Star selections, and a 96 Hall Rating. He would only reach 100 by the end of his career. Cedeño was on a Hall of Fame track, but with his prime too far removed from memory, voters ignored him. Still, he was an incredible mix of speed, fielding, and offense and was perhaps the greatest outfielder in Astros history. Cedeño ranks first among Astros in both stolen bases and WAR base-running runs. He also finished fifth in batting runs and fourth in hits during his dozen seasons in the Astrodome.

Roy Oswalt, P (94): Oswalt spent 10 seasons with Houston, was named an All Star three times, and ranks second in club history in victories and strikeouts. He ranks sixth in ERA (1,000+ innings), but adjusting for context (he pitched in a hitter’s park during the steroid era) places him first in ERA+. Recent research by Bill James suggests that Oswalt may also be the best “Big Game” pitcher of all time.14 That and a 104 Hall Rating should make him a viable Hall of Fame candidate.

José Cruz, LF (93): Cruz was a well-rounded and underrated star for Houston across 13 seasons. By WAR components, he was sixth in batting and second in fielding. He also ranked third in stolen bases (as well as third in hits and fourth in RBIs).

Lance Berkman, LF (91): Berkman retired after the 2013 season with a 98 Hall Rating and almost all of it came as an Astro. He ranks behind only Bagwell offensively, placing second in WAR batting runs, home runs, and OPS+. He is first in on-base percentage, slugging, and OPS while finishing third in RBIs and fifth in hits. In his 12 seasons in Houston, he was an All Star five times.

Jim Wynn, CF (80): Wynn, according to WAR, is the best position player to never receive a single Hall of Fame vote. (Among pitchers, it is Frank Tanana.)15 Not only did he play extensively in the Astrodome, he also played in the similarly pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium.16 He did this while peaking in the offense-depressed late 1960s. He may have hit only .250 with a .436 slugging percentage for his career, but his tremendous plate discipline and context adjustments bring his Hall Rating all the way up to 109 (80 of that coming in his 11 seasons in Houston). Wynn ranks fourth in team history in WAR batting runs and home runs (and even tied for fifth in base-running) while placing third behind only Bagwell and Berkman in OPS+ (3,000+ plate appearances).

Larry Dierker, P (57): Dierker pitched 13 seasons for Houston and that is the only part of his career reflected in his Hall Rating. But he was also Houston’s color commentator before and after a very successful five-year run as the club’s manager. The Astros finished in first four times and Dierker was voted Manager of the Year in 1998.

As a pitcher, Dierker made his major league debut with the Colts on his 18th birthday in 1964. Since then, no player has debuted at a younger age.17 Dierker’s ERA+ of 104 is near the league average and only tenth in club history, but he threw more innings than any other Houston hurler. He is also third in wins and fourth in strikeouts. The two-time All Star was the first 20-game winner in Astros history and was worth over eight WAR in 1969.

Joe Morgan, 2B (55): Morgan is probably the best position player the Astros ever had. They just didn’t have him long (or during his prime). Morgan is one of only 30 players with a 200 Hall Rating, but only 55 of it came before he was traded to the Reds following his age-27 season. Still, during his time as a Colt and Astro, Morgan was fifth (tied) in base-running runs (fourth in steals) and eighth in batting runs.

Bill Doran, 2B (52): Between Biggio, Morgan, and Doran, the Astros have some serious depth at second base on their All-Time Team. Doran rates as average defensively by WAR, but his plate discipline made him a slightly above-average hitter. He was also above-average on the bases, ranking seventh in club history in base-running runs. That combination is very valuable for a second baseman.

Don Wilson, P (50): Wilson was an erratic but electric pitcher who accumulated two no-hitters and a Hall Rating of 50 in his twenties. Tragically, he would never reach his 30th birthday, as he (and his five-year-old son) died of carbon monoxide asphyxiation. (See Clifford, this volume.) On the mound, Wilson was third in club history in ERA and fourth in ERA+.

Terry Puhl, RF (48): Puhl, a member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, spent 14 seasons with Houston and is the top right fielder in club history (by Hall Rating).18 He was the type of player who didn’t excel in any one area, but he was solidly above average in each WAR component: 78 runs batting, 17 runs between base-running and avoiding double plays, and 36 runs defensively. His 217 stolen bases rank fifth in club history.

Mike Scott, P (46): Scott’s career highlights center around an absolutely brilliant 1986 season. Scott pitched a no-hitter that clinched the division for the Astros and led the league in ERA and strikeouts.19 He was the National League’s Cy Young Award winner and also captured the NLCS MVP Award, the first time the award went to a member of the losing club.20 The three-time All Star led the NL in wins in 1989, but dropped off soon afterward. He is sixth in club history in ERA+, fourth in wins, and fifth in strikeouts.

Nolan Ryan, P (40): Ryan recorded 106 of his 324 wins, 1,866 of his 5,714 strikeouts, two of his eight All-Star appearances, and one of his seven no-hitters during his nine (of 27) seasons in Houston, the most seasons he spent with one club. Ryan leads all franchise pitchers in strikeouts and ERA (twice leading the National League in each), while ranking third in ERA+. (His tenure came during the relatively offense-depressed 1980s.) This past February, Ryan rejoined the Astros as an executive advisor.21

Bob Watson, 1B (39): Watson spent 45 years in the game, serving as a coach, general manager, and Major League Baseball’s Vice President of discipline and Vice President of rules and on-field operations. Before that, he started an excellent playing career with 14 seasons as an Astro. He ranks among the club’s best hitters, placing second in batting average (just behind Bagwell), fourth in OPS+, and seventh in WAR batting runs. He also ranks fifth in runs batted in.

J.R. Richard, P (39): Richard is one of three players (with Bagwell and Biggio) to spend his entire career (10+ seasons) with the Astros. Richard suffered a stroke during the 1980 season, tragically ending his career and threatening his life.22 At the time, he had a 10–4 record with a 1.90 ERA. In the four preceding seasons, he won 20 games once, 18 three times, fanned 300 twice, and won an ERA title. Among Astros, he ranks behind only Ryan in ERA while placing fifth in ERA+, third in strikeouts, and fifth in wins.

Billy Wagner, P (37): When Wagner, a natural-born right-hander who pitched left-handed, struck out 14.4 batters per nine innings in 1997 (his first full season as a relief pitcher), it was the highest single-season strikeout rate of any pitcher in history (minimum eight innings). He proceeded to break the record in each of the next two seasons.23, 24 He would go on to save more games than any other Astro, securing 225 of his 422 saves in Houston. Wagner ranks 16th among Astros pitchers in strikeouts despite ranking 39th in innings. A three-time All-Star in Houston (seven times overall), Wagner’s career Hall Rating is 65. While that isn’t near the 100 Hall of Stats borderline, it is one of the better scores for a relief pitcher. Among pitchers with fewer than 150 starts, Wagner trails only Mariano Rivera, Hoyt Wilhelm, Rich Gossage, and John Hiller.

Roger Clemens, P (37): Clemens is the best pitcher the Astros ever had, but they only had him for three years. Unlike Joe Morgan, who spent his time in Houston at the beginning of his career, Clemens was with the team from age 41 to 43. Despite his advanced age, he led the league in winning percentage in his first year and in ERA (1.87) and ERA+ (226) his second year. He won the last of his seven Cy Young Awards and added a third place finish. His ERA and ERA+ are the best of any Astros pitcher with at least 150 innings pitched. (Clemens had 539.)

Joe Niekro, P (36): Despite ranking ninth among Houston pitchers by Hall Rating, Niekro was the winningest pitcher in Astros history (with one more victory than Oswalt). While the Astrodome suppressed his teammates’ offensive numbers, it helped Niekro’s. He was fifth among Astros in ERA, but ninth by ERA+. During his first two of 11 seasons in Houston he perfected his knuckleball.25

Shane Reynolds, P (34): Reynolds spent 11 of his 13 seasons in Houston. Like Niekro, he had some excellent seasons but overall was basically slightly better than league average. Despite an ERA of 3.95 with Houston (compared to 3.22 for Niekro), Reynolds ranks ahead of Niekro in ERA+ (placing eighth) because he pitched in the Steroid Era.

Ken Forsch, P (33): Forsch is another long-time Astro (11 seasons) who was a little better than league average. He spent quite a few seasons in relief, starting only 153 of his 421 Houston appearances. He was an All-Star as a reliever and later threw a no-hitter as a starter. Forsch ranks fourth among Astros in ERA and sixth in ERA+.

Richard Hidalgo, RF (32): Hidalgo was a cannon-armed outfielder who also had two excellent offensive seasons for the Astros. In 2000, he hit .314 and slugged .636 (with 44 home runs and 122 runs batted in), good for 38 WAR batting runs. In the outfield, he was also worth 13 fielding runs. In 2003, he recovered from a gunshot wound from an offseason carjacking in Venezuela to earn 30 batting runs (.309, 28 home runs, 88 RBIs) and 19 fielding runs.26 He is fourth in fielding runs among Astros despite a short career.

Dickie Thon, SS (31): Thon, the Astros’ top shortstop, is Houston’s 23rd ranked player by Hall Rating. He was destined for stardom after posting 13.5 WAR at age 24 and 25, combining above average offense (27 batting runs) with dazzling fielding (32 fielding runs). He started hot in 1984 before taking a pitch in the eye, ending his season and threatening his career. Amazingly, Thon overcame depth-perception problems to eventually contribute a .271 average with 15 home runs for the Phillies in 1989. His talent before the incident, determination to work his way back, and later success lead some to speculate he was on a Hall of Fame track at the time of the injury.27

Glenn Davis, 1B (31): Davis was one of the most consistent power-hitting run producers of the late 1980s, totaling 166 home runs and 518 RBIs in 830 games as an Astro. He hit 20 or more home runs in six straight seasons and ranks fifth in club history in round-trippers. He is also fifth in OPS+ and ninth in WAR batting runs.

Steve Finley, CF (30): Finley—by far the least famous of the five players with 2,500 hits, 300 home runs, and 300 stolen bases—spent four seasons in Houston leading up to the 1994 strike. He was a much different player in Houston than he was later in San Diego or Arizona, relying mostly on speed (ninth among Astros in base-running runs) and fielding (seventh in fielding runs). While he didn’t win a Gold Glove in Houston, he did start building the reputation that would win him five.

Turk Farrell, P (30): Farrell is the only player on this list who was selected by the Astros in the 1961 expansion draft.28 He was the ace of the lowly 1962 club, making 43 appearances (29 starts) and throwing 241 innings with a 3.02 ERA (124 ERA+). The traditional metrics gave him 20 losses for his effort but WAR acknowledges his excellent pitching for a very weak defense and gives him a 7 WAR season. Farrell was an All Star that year and in two of the next three seasons. In all, he went 53–64 as an Astro with a league average 100 ERA+.

Ken Caminiti, 3B (30): If Finley changed when he went elsewhere, than Caminiti (who departed Houston in the same trade as Finley) takes that to a new level. In his 10 seasons with Houston (where he ranks first among Astros third basemen by Hall Rating), he was worth –6 WAR batting runs, 31 fielding runs, and a 30 Hall Rating. He also spent four seasons in San Diego where we was worth 134 batting runs, –31 fielding runs, and a 34 Hall Rating, winning the MVP award in 1996. Caminiti himself attributed the boost in offensive production to steroid use.29 Caminiti’s battle with drug addiction ended his life in 2004 at age 41.

WHO'S MISSING?

The Astros Hall of Stats features 27 players—12 pitchers (including one full-time reliever and one who filled multiple roles), three first basemen, three second basemen, one third baseman, one shortstop, and seven outfielders.

No catchers made the list. In fact, the best catcher in team history (by Hall Rating) is Biggio, simply based on his three-plus seasons behind the plate. After Biggio, there is Alan Ashby (11 seasons with Houston), Joe Ferguson (a mere 183 games with Houston with a 124 OPS+), Jason Castro (only 26 years old and with a chance to become the top Astros catcher sometime in 2014), and Brad Ausmus (45 fielding runs in Houston, but –177 batting runs over 10 seasons).

The left side of the infield is also light. Morgan Ensberg narrowly missed the cut, finishing a point behind Caminiti at 29. Doug Rader, Art Howe, and Denny Walling (13 years in Houston) aren’t far behind. At shortstop, Thon is followed by Adam Everett (Astros leader in fielding runs) and Craig Reynolds (11 seasons as an Astro).

Among outfielders, Kevin Bass (10 years in Houston), Luis Gonzalez (third among Astros in fielding runs, long before his offensive outburst in Arizona), and Moises Alou (tenth in batting runs despite only three seasons in Houston) are next among retired players. The still-active Hunter Pence and Michael Bourne (fourth in base-running and eighth in fielding) even came close.

The top two pitchers to miss the cut were Mike Hampton (second among Astros in ERA+) and Wade Miller. They are followed by reliever Dave Smith, who spent 11 years in Houston and is second to Wagner in saves. While Bob Knepper ranks sixth in innings and ninth in wins, he didn’t come particularly close in Hall Rating.

The Astros have retired nine numbers (not including Jackie Robinson’s 42).30 Pitcher Jim Umbricht is the only one of the nine not to be included in the Astros Hall of Stats. Umbricht’s number 32 was the first number retired by the club in 1965. Umbricht was an excellent relief pitcher during the Colt .45s first two seasons before he died of melanoma six months after he pitched his final game.31

JUST A GUIDELINE

Should the Astros Hall of Fame perfectly mirror the Astros Hall of Stats? Of course not. But the Astros Hall of Stats does capture the contributions its inductees made to the franchise, and isn’t that what a Hall of Fame (or Stats) should celebrate? I’m not advocating that the National Baseball Hall of Fame be replaced with the Hall of Stats, either. The Hall of Stats serves as an objective starting point and shows what a “default Hall” would look like if it were populated simply by context-adjusted run values. From there, adjustments can be made based on intangibles, narratives, and other subjective considerations.

ADAM DAROWSKI is a front-end designer living in New England with his wife and three young children. He is the creator of the Hall of Stats: an alternate Hall of Fame populated by a mathematical formula. He serves as the chair of SABR’s Overlooked Nineteenth Century Overlooked Base Ball Legends committee.