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Sabermetrics Helped Put Tim Raines In The Hall Of Fame

After a combative voting season, the Baseball Hall of Fame announced the induction of three players Wednesday evening: Ivan Rodriguez, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines. Of the three, two came as no surprise: Rodriguez made it on his first try, and Bagwell came incredibly close in 2016, so this year’s less-crowded ballot helped him get over the top. But the real story is the Hall’s embrace, at long last, of Tim Raines. In his tenth and final year on the ballot, the former Montreal Expos speedster showed that a concerted campaign based on advanced metrics can help elect a player who might previously have been overlooked.

Raines was never a contender for the Hall if you looked solely at his traditional numbers. His 170 home runs spoke more to longevity than prodigious power, and he fell short of such old-school benchmarks as 3,000 hits or 1,500 RBI. Making matters more difficult, Raines was perpetually overshadowed by fellow Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, who played in the same era with a similar set of skills, but racked up much more value. (According to Baseball-Reference.com, Henderson had 110.8 career wins above replacement, compared with 69.1 for Raines). As a result, Raines failed to acquire much “black ink” in his career: He rarely led the league in any particular category; Henderson always seemed just a little bit better.

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But Raines still found ways to excel: He got on base in about 38.5 percent of his plate appearances, and he racked up more than a hundred runs of value above average in his career as a baserunner. Although 69.1 WAR may not be in Henderson’s league, it still made Raines worthy of serious Hall of Fame consideration.

Despite the misfortune of playing alongside Henderson, Raines also developed a passionate fanbase. His underrated statistical merits, combined with his lack of traditional accomplishments, spurred the nascent sabermetrics movement to lobby for him. Noted analytics website Baseball Prospectus consistently advocated for Raines’s election from the moment he retired, with former BP staffer (and, later, FiveThirtyEight contributor) Jonah Keri spearheading the campaign.

Partially because of sabermetrics and a changing electorate, Raines’s vote totals climbed almost every year he was on the ballot. After news broke of Raines’s induction, Keri told me that “a handful” of voters had reached out to him over the years to credit his work with changing their mind on Raines. This year, Raines finished with 86 percent of the vote, a long way from the low of 22.6 percent he received in his second year.

Raines’s election should give hope to all the underappreciated players whose advanced metrics exceeded their traditional accomplishments. As the electorate gets smarter and more informed, even hitters like Raines — without gaudy home run or RBI totals — can hope to make their way to Cooperstown eventually.

Rob Arthur is FiveThirtyEight’s baseball columnist and also writes about crime.

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