How good do you have to be to make the baseball Hall of Fame? The reality is that so many variables play into what makes one "worthy" of the Hall that there's no clean metric. Longevity matters. Leadership matters. Defense matters. Championships matter. But at the end of the day, what should matter most is whether you really were one of the best players of all time.
No stat measures overall aggregate performance - at the plate, at least - better than on-base percentage plus slugging percentage. Not only is it a broad stat that encompasses all facets of hitting, but it's been demonstrated to correlate more strongly with contributing to team wins and team losses than any other statistic created to date.
Baseball Reference's OPS+ tool evaluates the quality of a player in OPS against the relative peer group against which he played. An OPS+ of 100 is an average season, while an OPS+ of 130 would be 30 percent better than the average player. Measured across a career, it starts to give a pretty good snapshot of how good a player was against the field of his competition and is probably the best baseline from which to evaluate worthiness for the Hall. All time, the statistic is paced by Babe Ruth's career 206, placing him a full 106% better than the average player of his day. Wowza.
Over time, Hall worthiness correlates generally, though not exclusively, with OPS+. This is about what one would expect. Consider the career OPS+ figures relative to the number of Hall of Famers:
OPS+ greater than 160: 9 Hall of Famers
OPS+ between 150 and 160: 15 Hall of Famers
OPS+ between 140 and 150: 28 Hall of Famers
OPS+ between 130 and 140: 44 Hall of Famers
OPS+ between 120 and 130: 54 Hall of Famers
OPS+ between 110 and 120: 60 Hall of Famers
OPS+ below 115: 36 Hall of Famers
Granted, only 15 players have ever had OPS+ lifetime figures over 160, and several have been irrationally, inexplicably, and unfairly blackballed by self-congratulatory sportswriters arrogantly playing morality police. Another, Mike Trout, falls within this range but is still playing.
Overall, here is your percentage likelihood of getting an invitation to the Hall based on your career OPS+:
OPS+ greater than 160: 64%
OPS+ between 150 and 160: 65%
OPS+ between 140 and 150: 50%
OPS+ between 130 and 140: 35%
OPS+ between 120 and 130: 18%
OPS+ between 110 and 120: 11%
OPS+ below 110: Less than 1%
What struck me the most about these numbers is the fact that at no level does the probability exceed 65%. While some of this is due to the fact that some of the players at those levels are not yet eligible for the Hall, even if you are it's still no gimme based on the stats alone. The Hall of Fame really is a popularity contest determined by self-indulgent sportswriters' personal preferences, hence why so many terrible decisions get made about Hall of Fame admission.
So what does this mean for the most-discussed potential Hall of Famers?
Barry Bonds carried a lifetime OPS+ of 182, better than 99% of Hall of Famers. Theoretically he's as close to a slam dunk for Hall of Fame admission as can exist, but he's part of the 36% who, despite being legendary players and memorable figures, will be denied entry by a shortsighted army of self-absorbed sportswriters.
Harold Baines carried a lifetime OPS+ of 121, better than around 35% of Hall of Famers. While this is low, it's not as low as some made it out to be. Still, this was an odd selection, as there's not a lot else about Baines that suggests he should be part of the 10 to 20 percent of players at his skill level that will get admission to the Hall.
Justin Verlander carried a lifetime ERA+ of 129 (similar to OPS+ using ERA).
While this makes him better than around half of Hall of Famers, only around 20 to 30 percent of players at his skill level will gain entry. Presumably his no-hitters are enough to put him over the top, but this to me seems like a vote-happy pick.
Max Scherzer carried a lifetime ERA+ of 132. His World Series performance will likely put him over the top. Still, like Verlander, he's in the range where only around 30 percent of players at that skill level get in. Max probably will.
Pete Rose carried a lifetime OPS+ of 118. While his intangibles are gargantuan - tried hard, was the heart and soul of the Big Red Machine, had astounding longevity, etc. - they are yet still intangibles. Pete's off-the-field transgressions aside, his actual play merits Hall admission only around 11 to 12 percent of the time. Maybe he's more deserving than every 8 other guys with his same stats based on his longevity, but it seems odd that a guy with so many off-the-field failings would be granted admission over others with similar stats. With the tide turning, it's inevitable that Pete will get in posthumously
Derek Jeter carried a lifetime OPS+ of 115. While he won several World Series' with the Yankees, he was also a notoriously bad fielder. At his level of production, his probability for admission should be only around 10%. Of all the players on this list, however, he's the most surefire entry, the most central example that personality is the biggest qualifier for Hall of Fame admission. Perhaps he will apologize in his acceptance speech for all of the players more qualified who won't get an invite! Despite his inevitable invitation, and the inexplicably foregone conclusion that he's a Hall-worth player, Derek Jeter was borderline at best.