The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the category “Baseball Commentary”

National League Picks: 2014

Following up on yesterday’s post featuring my A.L. picks, here are my soon-to-be-proven absolutely foolish N.L. picks.  Go easy on me, lads.  Playoff teams are in bold.

National League

National League (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

N.L. East:

1)  Washington

2)  Atlanta

3)  New York

4)  Florida

5)  Philadelphia

N.L. Central:

1)  St. Louis

2)  Pittsburgh

3)  Cincinnati

4)  Milwaukee

5)  Chicago

N.L. West:

1)  Los Angeles

2)  San Francisco

3)  Colorado

4)  Arizona

5)  San Diego

St. Louis Cardinals go to the World Series and take on the Detroit Tigers.  The Cardinals win in a classic seven-game match.

 

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American League Picks: 2014

I know I’m bound to get many, perhaps most of these wrong, but making predictions is part of the pre-season ritual around here.  We’ll check back after the World Series to see how well my predictions turned out.  This post is for the American League only.  Tomorrow, I’ll check in with a brief post on the National League.  My playoff team picks are in bold print.

The logo for the American League.

The logo for the American League. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A.L. East:

1)  Tampa Bay

2)  Baltimore

3)  Boston

4)  New York

5)  Toronto

A.L. Central:

1)  Detroit

2)  Kansas City

3)  Cleveland

4)  Chicago

5)  Minnesota

A.L. West:  

1)  Anaheim

2)  Oakland

3)  Texas

4)  Seattle

5)  Houston

The Detroit Tigers make it all the way to the World Series vs. the St. Louis Cardinals.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you which team I pick to win the World Series.

 

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Is the Wrong Red Sox Player in the Hall of Fame?

Here’s a comparison of a pair of Red Sox players, one who is in the Hall of Fame, another who never came close to induction.  The better player in each category is highlighted in bold print:

Player A:  On Base Percentage – .360

Player B:  On Base Percentage –  .352

Player A:  Slugging Percentage – .484

Player B:  Slugging Percentage – .502

Player A:  OPS+ 129

Player B:   OPS+ 128

Player A:  Doubles – 388

Player B:  Doubles – 373

Player A:  Home Runs – 306

Player B:  Home Runs – 382

Player A:  20+ Home Run Seasons – 10

Player B:  20+ Home Run Seasons – 11

Player A:  Total Bases – 3,352

Player B:  Total Bases – 4,129

Player A:  Grounded Into Double Plays – 149

Player B:  Grounded Into Double Plays – 315

Player A:  Walks – 857

Player B:  Walks – 670

Player A:  Times Struck Out – 1,116

Player B:  Times Struck Out – 1,423

Player A:  WAR – 49.9

Player B:  WAR – 47.2

Player A:  Gold Gloves – 4

Player B:  Gold Gloves – 0

Player A:  All Star Games – 9

Player B:  All Star Games – 8

Player A:  MVP Awards – 1

Player B:  MVP Awards – 1

Admittedly, any statistics one chooses to use will be at least somewhat arbitrary.  Still, I believe I have included a broad selection of useful statistics (as well as awards and honors), to make a legitimate comparison between these two former teammates possible.

Player A trumps Player B in the following nine categories:  On Base Percentage, OPS+, Doubles, GIDP, Walks, Times Struck Out, WAR, Gold Gloves and All Star Games.

Player B trumps Player A in the following four categories:  Slugging Percentage, Home Runs, 20+ Home Run Seasons (again close), and Total Bases.

Player B, Jim Rice, played his entire career in a Boston Red Sox uniform, benefiting from the friendly hitting environment of Fenway Park for 16 seasons.

Player A, Fred Lynn, played his first half-dozen seasons in a Red Sox uniform, then went west to play for the Angels (in a less hitter-friendly environment), and spent time in Baltimore and Detroit before finishing up in his final season in San Diego.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that if their career histories were reversed, and Lynn got to stay in Boston for the entirety of his career, while Rice was sent packing at age 28 to less hitter-friendly locales, Lynn might be in the Hall of Fame today, while Jim Rice almost certainly would not.

I am not arguing that either Lynn or Rice should be in the HOF.  In fact, I wouldn’t select either as a member.  But, clearly, the difference between their respective careers is not nearly so great as one might imagine.  Basically, one choice would be about as good as the other, though I might give a slight edge to Freddy Lynn.

Finally, it should also be noted that yet another Red Sox outfielder who played alongside Lynn and Rice — Dwight Evans — probably has a better HOF case than either of his outfield mates.  Evans hit more home runs, drew more walks, had a higher on-base percentage, scored more runs, and had a higher career WAR than either Lynn or Rice.

Perhaps some future Veteran’s Committee will reexamine the careers of both Lynn and Evans, and present each with a HOF plaque of their own.

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Baseball Predictions for 2014

Watching the first spring training games on the MLB Network always lifts my spirits.  Some people believe that the new year begins on January 1st.  The rest of us know that it begins on Major League Baseball’s Opening Day.

Although each spring makes fans of all 30 teams optimistic for the new season, there are some things that can be safely predicted in advance.  I’ve jotted down a few of them here for your approval.

1)  Somewhere in New England, a Red Sox fan will complain that the Yankees have an unfair financial advantage, though the Red Sox payroll in 2014 is estimated at 148 million dollars, about 42 million more than the average franchise.

2)  Somewhere in the Tri-State area, a Yankees fan will complain about the new austerity that the current regime has imposed on this storied franchise.  Yet, like a drunk for whom every drink is going to be his last, the Yankees payroll in 2014 will be around 194 million dollars, about 45% more than the average MLB payroll.

3)  Somewhere on the North American continent, a player will consider the odds of getting caught using steroids, will rationally think through the consequences of getting caught, and will still decide that it is in his best financial interests to supplement his natural body chemistry to enable him to perform at a higher level of play.

4)  Somewhere on that same continent, a late middle-aged man will consider the odds of enjoying a successful sexual encounter with his wife or girlfriend, will realize that his chances are remote without a supplement such as Cialis, and will, therefore, ingest this drug to supplement his natural body chemistry to enable him to perform at all.  Odds are, this man will rip the baseball “cheaters” who he believes to be steroid users, the very next day.

5)  The Mets will, once again, win between 70 and 80 games.  Manager Terry Collins will do his best to make you believe no finer 74-win team has ever existed on the face of the Earth, and millionaire team owner Jeff Wilpon will somehow continue to enjoy the support of some Mets fans who, for some strange reason, see it as their duty to try to find ways to help him save money.

6)  Perhaps even as I type this, a highly touted pitching prospect will go down needing Tommy John surgery.  No one will be surprised.  Yet somehow, someone will blame the “unusually high pitch count” that the pitcher endured during a spring training game.

7)  A-Rod, noticing he has been off the front pages for a while, will make a statement that is at once offensive, guileless, self-serving and naive.  Baseball’s  Twitterati  will explode in predictably humorless, self-righteous, and self-serving indignation (you know who you are.)

8)  Just for fun, Miguel Cabrera will pull down another Triple-Crown, simply because he can.

9)  The Braves will finally come to their senses and realize that second baseman Dan Uggla is no longer an actual baseball player, nor even a reasonable facsimile of one.

10)  Brewers center-fielder extraordinaire Carlos Gomez will rob no fewer than ten hitters of home runs this year, and will save every Brewers’ pitcher an average of 0.45 on their ERA.  Yankees G.M. Brian Cashman is already plotting several moves ahead, figuring out the circumstances under which he might bring Gomez to the Big Apple.  Meanwhile, Mets G.M. Sandy Alderson is having toast and tea, with his favorite strawberry preserves, watching reruns of the old Bob Newhart Show.

11)  At some point, apropos to nothing, a rabid Pete Rose fan will remind us all, once again, why PETE ROSE BELONGS IN THE HALL OF FAME!!!  (They always type all in caps.)

12)  At the All Star break, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper will have hit 30 homers, with 85 RBI and a .309 batting average.  But due to a second-half injury, he will finish the season with 37 homers, 102 RBI and a .289 batting average, and will finish third in voting for the N.L. MVP award.

13)  Commissioner Bud Selig, in his final season at the helm of MLB, will dream of a deep, profound speech he will give at a black-tie dinner in his honor.  But when he wakes up, he will fart loudly, scratch his ass, and realize the only part of the speech he remembers from his dream is, “You’re all probably wondering why I came here to speak to you tonight.”

14)  In a factory in Turrealba, Costa Rica, a women, not yet old, but getting old before her time, will dream of a better life someday for her family as she sits stitching baseball’s together for the Rawlings Corporation for $1.60 per hour, ten hours a day.  If she can stitch above her weekly quota, she will earn an extra 56 cents per baseball she produces.  Meanwhile, each baseball retails for $14.99 in the U.S.A.  Rawlings annual revenue is around $213 million dollars per year.

15)  The noise level at ballparks will finally reach the decibel level first achieved by The Who back in 1978.  No one will have any idea of what’s going on down on the field, but there will be plenty of giveaways, the youngsters will be able to run around on the grass in the picnic area, and the twenty-somethings will occupy themselves taking selfies with their I-Phones and posting Facebook status updates throughout the entire game.  Clearly, this isn’t your great-grandfather’s baseball experience.  But then again, baseball will continue to evolve and survive, just as it has always done.

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Best Pitchers of the 21st-Century: Part 1

Who are the best pitchers of the 21st-century?

This is the first installment of a three-part series that will examine the top pitchers the 21st-century has had to offer.

Let me be clear, I am not attempting to discuss which of the current young arms of this generation will ultimately prevail as the greatest pitcher of (at least the first quarter) of this century.  Therefore, you won’t find David Price, Steven Strasburg, or Matt Harvey on this list.  To make this list, a pitcher has to A) Have accumulated at least 30.0 career WAR, B) Not have accumulated the vast majority of his career WAR value in the 20th-century, C) Cannot have a career ERA over 4.00 and D) Cannot have been primarily a relief pitcher.

These criteria mean that, for example, Roger Clemens, who won two of his seven Cy Young awards in this century, and even though he accumulated 30.5 WAR since 2001, will not be on this list because the overwhelming majority of his career value (78%) occurred in the 20th-century.  Also, if you throw a broken bat at Mike Piazza, I’m just not very inclined to add you to my list in the first place.  Have a nice retirement, sport.

I narrowed my list down to 25 pitchers because, quite frankly, no one cares who the 26th, 27th, and 28th best pitchers of this century have been.

Although I used WAR as my starting point, this is not simply a list of the top 25 accumulated WAR’s since 2001.  I have also taken into account peak value, hardware won (Cy Young awards / MVP’s), and few others stats, both old and new(ish):  wins, complete games, earned run average, ERA+, and WHIP.

The pitchers who are most likely to rank high on this list are those that have A)  Been real, real good  B) Had the good fortune to begin their careers just as this century got started, and C)  Have enjoyed a  continuous run of success (as opposed to being really good every three years or so.)

Some of the pitchers who are on this list are still quite young (Felix Hernandez, for example), and will undoubtedly rank higher on a list like this in 5-10 years.  But this list reflects where a pitcher has been to this point, not where he may ultimately end up.  Other pitchers (Johan Santana, for example), are more likely to have dropped a bit in 5-10 years, simply because some of these young pitchers may overtake them.

Some of the win totals or strikeout totals I mention for a particular pitcher might not reflect that pitcher’s career totals, because we are only taking into account what a pitcher produced in this century, not what he has accomplished during his entire career.  Some pitchers on this list began their careers in the late-20th century, but I am not counting their 20th-century stats.

Finally, when I say that a particular pitcher was the best pitcher of this century, obviously I mean to this point, but it would be boring to continue to add, “to this point” to each declarative sentence, so I won’t do that.

No, seriously, who are the best pitchers of the 21st-century?

All right, here’s the list, with a bit of explanation of how they got here:

Roy Halladay

Roy Halladay (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1)  Roy Halladay –  Halladay was the best pitcher of the 21st-century, and it’s not particularly close.  His career WAR of 65.4 is the highest on this list.  His 190 wins in this century ranks second only to C.C. Sabathia’s 205.

His 2.93 ERA also ranks second.  His 65 complete games are by far the most of anyone on this list.  No other pitcher reached even 40 complete games.

He won two Cy Young awards, finished second in the voting twice, third once, and fifth twice.  For seven consecutive seasons, he increased his strikeout totals each year, topping out at 220 in 2011.

During his final six seasons, he never walked as many as 40 batters in a year.  In 38 post-season innings, Halladay allowed just 28 base-runners, and posted an ERA of 2.37.

Halladay was probably one of the top 30-40 pitchers of all time, and should someday be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

2)  Johan Santana – It’s possible that Santana may become one of the great, nearly forgotten pitchers of this century.  His career as an everyday starting pitcher was brief, and during some of that he toiled out of the media spotlight in Minnesota.

Yet, a case can be made that Santana should one day be enshrined in Cooperstown.  Like Halladay, Santana won two Cy Young awards.  He also finished third in the voting two other seasons, and he finished fifth in the voting one other time.

He led the A.L. in WHIP for four consecutive seasons, posting a WHIP below 1.00 in three of those years.  He also led the league in strikeouts three times, while striking out over 200 batters for five straight seasons. He won three ERA crowns, and led his league in WAR for pitchers three times, finishing second another time.  He has also thrown the only no-hitter in Mets history.

His 50.6 WAR ranks fourth-best this century, and is higher than several pitchers already in the Hall of Fame.  He has been the best left-handed pitcher in the 21st-century.

3)  C.C. Sabathia – It would have been easy to have ranked Sabathia ahead of Santana.  He has been one of this century’s workhorse pitchers since he debuted in 2001.

English: CC Sabathia

English: CC Sabathia (Photo credit: Wikipediabathia has been one of the ultimate workhorse pitchers since his rookie year of 2001.

Sabathia’s ERA of 3.60 ranks just 19th-best on this list, but let’s remember that he’s pitched in the tough A.L. East for the past five seasons.  Sabathia has a Cy Young award to his credit, and has also finished in the top five in voting for that award in four other seasons.

A durable pitcher, Sabathia has notched over 190 innings pitched eleven times over the past twelve seasons, and has never pitched fewer than 180 innings in any season during his entire career.

He is just one of three players to have made over 400 starts in this century.  His 205 wins are also the most in the 21st-century.  His 54.4 career WAR is second only to Halladay’s, and he is also the only pitcher over the past 13 years to accumulate over 2,000 strikeouts.

Entering his age 33 season in 2014, it’ll be interesting to see how much gas he has left in the tank.  He’s probably not in Hall of Fame range yet, but with another couple of useful seasons, he’ll certainly be in the conversation once he retires.

4)  Roy Oswalt – Oswalt enjoyed a seven-year run of excellence at the beginning of this century that was rivaled by only a handful of other pitchers.  From his rookie year in 2001, and through the next six years, Oswalt posted the following ERA+’s:  170, 144, 148, 124, 144, 150, 140.  After a couple of mediocre seasons, he posted an ERA+ of 145 in 2010 at age 32.  Seven seasons of at least a 140 ERA+ in ten years is a remarkable accomplishment.  Almost as remarkable is that few people seemed to notice it.

While Oswalt never won a Cy Young award, he did finish in the top five in voting in five seasons.  His career ERA of 3.36 is among the top ten since 2001, and if you remove his final, ill-advised 90 innings when he attempted to make a comeback pitching for Texas and Colorado (of all places), his career WAR would be over 50, about the same as Johan Santana.  Oswalt’s closest career comps are probably Bret Saberhagen, David Cone and Ron Guidry.  Nice company, don’t you think?

5)  Tim Hudson –  Hudson has toiled away exceedingly well without much fanfare for a decade and a half.  Eight times in this century, Hudson has reached an ERA+ of at least 120.  His 174 wins since 2001 (he has 205 wins dating back to 1999), are the fourth-highest total among the pitchers on this list.  His 2,475 innings pitched are among the top five.

His 47.4 WAR since 2001 is ranks sixth on my list.  If you remove his injury-shortened seasons, Hudson has averaged right around 15 wins per year  since the beginning of his career.  While seldom one of the very best pitchers in the league, Hudson has often been the most reliable starter on his team, and has finished among the top ten pitchers in WAR in six seasons.

Similar to pitchers like Jimmy Key, Bob Welch or Orel Hershiser, Hudson may not be in line for Cooperstown immortality, but he has produced a yeoman’s career of solidly above-average work that should not be easily dismissed.

Justin Verlander

Justin Verlander (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6)  Justin Verlander – With eight full seasons under his belt, Verlander has certainly demonstrated that he has been one of the finest pitchers of this century.

Though his 40.7 WAR ranks just tenth overall, that’s primarily because some of those who rank higher have pitched in several more seasons than has Verlander.

I have little doubt that in a couple of years, he should probably rank among the top five in WAR in the 21st-century.

Over the past five seasons, Verlander has been about as dominant as they come, winning the Cy Young / MVP award in 2011, finishing second in Cy Young voting in 2012, as well as three other top ten finishes in the voting since 2006 (the season in which he was also voted A.L. Rookie of the Year.)

Verlander has topped 200 strikeouts in each of the past five seasons, pacing the league in that category three times.  He has also averaged 225 innings pitched over the past seven years, leading the league three times in that statistic.

Verlander’s career ERA+ of 127 is the same as Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, and Curt Schilling.  Entering his age 31 season in 2014, it will be interesting to see if Verlander can continue this run of dominance he has established over the past several years.  If so, he may be regarded 80 years from now as one of the very best pitchers of the 21st-century.

Cliff Lee

Cliff Lee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

7)  Cliff Lee –  Cliff Lee doesn’t walk batters.  Other pitchers in baseball history, such as Greg Maddux and Bret Saberhagen, were fantastic control pitchers, but Cliff Lee may have them all beat.

Over his last 121 starts, Lee has walked a total of just 120 batters, averaging slightly less than one walk per start.  He has not walked as many as 45 batters in a year in any of his past seven seasons.

In 2010, he walked just 18 batters in 212 innings pitched, also leading the league with seven complete games.

Not merely a control pitcher, Lee has struck out over 200 batters in each of the past three seasons, averaging right around a strikeout per inning.

Cliff Lee has had a bit of an odd career in that he showed promise early on, posting an 18-5 record in 2005, but then he crashed and burned, pitching poorly in ’06 and even worse in ’07.  At that point in his career, at age 28, Lee’s career hung in the balance.

Then Lee posted a fantastic comeback in ’08, with a record of 22-3 for Cleveland, leading the league in wins, ERA, ERA+, and winning the Cy Young award.  Since that season, Lee has continued to refine his craft, posting the second highest WAR of his career just last season (7.3.)

Lee’s overall WAR in this century, 42.4, has been topped by only about a half-dozen other pitchers on this list.  In addition to his Cy Young award, he has four other top ten finishes in the voting for that award.  The question is, can Lee continue this run of excellence in the coming years?  He will be entering his age 35 season in 2014, so it remains to be seen.

8)  Felix Hernandez – I was tempted to rank King Felix ahead of Cliff Lee, but here’s why I didn’t.  While Lee and Hernandez each have 86 career losses, Lee has 139 wins to Hernandez’s 110.  Now, I’m well aware of all the arguments regarding the value of wins as a statistic, and I’m also aware that Hernandez has made 42 fewer starts in his career than Lee has, but Lee’s .618 win-lost percentage is vastly superior to Hernandez’s .561 mark.

I don’t think a difference that large can simply be attributed to run support, or lack thereof, or a dramatic difference in each team’s respective bullpen.  I think Cliff Lee has simply been a slightly better pitcher than Felix Hernandez as been.

Lee also has a slight lead on Hernandez with a WAR of 42.4 to King Felix’s 38.7.  Lee’s WHIP, 1.19, has also been slightly better than Hernandez’s 1.20, and we have to keep in mind that Hernandez has had the advantage of pitching in the vastness of Safeco Field over the past nine seasons.

This is not to cast aspersions on Felix Hernandez.  He has a Cy Young award to his credit, along with a second, a fourth, and an 8th-place finish.  And, entering his age 28 season in a couple of months, he could now just be hitting his stride toward what could easily be a Hall of Fame-worthy career.

If he merely pitches as effectively over the next half-dozen seasons as he has up to this point, he will have earned a trip to Cooperstown.  It wouldn’t hurt his chances, however, to move on out of Seattle to a market where he might receive more attention, not to mention more run support.

Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw (Photo credit: SD Dirk)

9)  Clayton Kershaw – There may be some readers who object to Kershaw being on this list at all, as he’s only been in the Majors for six seasons.  There will be others who wonder why I didn’t rank him higher.

Kershaw has quite possibly produced the finest six-year stretch of any pitcher in baseball in this century.  Over the past five years, he has posted ERA’s, in order, of 2.79, 2.91, 2.28, 2.53, and last season, 1.83.  Not too shabby.

Although he won’t turn 26-years old until next month, he already has 1,206 career strikeouts, and has led the league in K’s in two of the past four seasons.  He has led his league in WHIP for three years running, and has accumulated as much WAR in six years (32.2) as Matt Cain (a fine pitcher in his own right) has accumulated in nine seasons.

Over the past three seasons, Kershaw has won two Cy Young awards, while finishing runner-up in the middle year.  Kershaw has averaged over a strikeout per inning in his career, and has also averaged about three strikeouts for every base on balls.  Clearly, all that stands between Kershaw and a prominent place in baseball immortality is continued good health.

10)  Brandon Webb – Brandon Webb is one of those pitchers who was well-respected at the time, but who will probably never quite get the recognition he deserves for his career accomplishments.  To begin with, let’s consider the fact that Webb toiled in the desert air out in Arizona, where balls carry nearly as well as they do in the high altitude of Colorado.  In other words, Webb pitched his home games in a hitter’s park in a hitter’s era.  Yet, he accomplished some remarkable things.

Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon Webb

Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon Webb (Photo credit: Al_HikesAZ)

Webb pitched just six seasons, but somehow, he accumulated a higher WAR (33.3) and more wins (87) than Kershaw.  Also, while Kershaw’s ERA+ is a lofty 146, Webb’s was a very similar 142, and Webb pitched 139 more innings in his career than Kershaw has done to this point.

Webb won the 2006 N.L. Cy Young award, and then finished runner-up in the voting in each of the next two seasons.  His ERA+’s in his six full seasons were:  165, 128, 125, 152, 158, and 140.  Over a five-year period, from 2004-08, inclusive, Webb averaged nearly 230 innings pitched per season, which obviously took a toll on his right arm.

After 198 career starts, over which he posted an ERA of 3.27, Webb was unable to come back from a shoulder injury, and he retired from baseball at age 30.

That’s a look at the first ten pitchers on my list of the best pitchers of the 21st-century.  In the second installment of this series, we’ll take a look at pitchers #11-#20.

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Pitchers Who Lost the Most Games in the 1980’s

As you know if you’ve been following the Hall of Fame discussions recently, a certain starting pitcher has been touted as a deserving Hall of Fame player because he won more games in “his decade” than any other pitcher in the Major Leagues. Setting aside the obvious arbitrariness of how one decides the parameters of a particular decade (isn’t 1978-87, inclusive, also a decade?), how seriously should we take this argument?

Suppose, for example, that this allegedly Hall of Fame-worthy candidate also led his decade in a much less impressive statistic?  Would that take some of the sheen off the glow of a vaguely flickering candidacy?

First, let’s define the decade of the 1980’s, which, of course, is the decade that fans of Jack Morris claim he dominated because he won the most games.  It’s common to find that people will define the decade as 1980-1989 because, well, each of those numbers have an 8 in them.  It just sounds correct.  Except that it isn’t.

A true decade (if we must refer to decades at all) begins with a 1 and ends with a number divisible by ten.  Thus, my oldest son turned ten last July, meaning he completed his tenth year of life on his tenth birthday.  You don’t end a decade with a 9 (as in 1989), you end it with a ten (as in 1990.)  Therefore, the decade of the 1980’s mathematically occurred from 1981 to 1990.  These are the years which we will analyze in this post.

Specifically, which I’m sure you’ve gathered from the title of this post,  we will be taking a look at which pitchers lost the most games during the 1980’s (as I’ve defined that decade.)

Question:  If you are the “best” pitcher if you win the most games (Morris won 161 games from 1981-90) in an arbitrary ten-year time-frame, can you simultaneously be the worst pitcher if you have also accumulated the most losses over that same period of time?

Most Losses in Major League Baseball, 1981-1990:  (Minimum – 90 Losses)

Kevin Gross – 90

Tommy John – 90

Bob Welch – 90

Dennis Martinez – 91

Neal Heaton – 92

Bruce Hurst – 93

Mark Langston – 93

Shane Rawley – 93

Mike Boddicker – 94

Dennis Martinez – 94

Bill Gullickson – 95

Rick Rhoden – 95

Floyd Bannister – 96

Jose Deleon – 96

Bert Blyleven – 97

Dave Stieb – 100

Walt Terrell – 100

Richard Dotson – 103

Nolan Ryan – 103

Mike Scott – 104

Bob Knepper – 105

Frank Viola – 110

Mike Witt – 113

Fernando Valenzuela – 116

Jim Clancy – 118

Frank Tanana – 118

Charlie Hough – 121

Mike Moore -122

Jack Morris – 122

It should be pointed out that Mike Moore generally pitched for teams far inferior to the teams for which Jack Morris toiled.

So, if being the leading winner of the decade is one of the primary arguments for Jack Morris’s Hall of Fame candidacy, then shouldn’t his decade-leading loss total perhaps negate some (if not all) of that line of reasoning?

I’ll leave it to you, oh gentle reader, to decide for yourself.

Who Is the Average Hall of Fame Player?

Virtually every conversation about the Baseball Hall of Fame includes some version of the following argument:

“We shouldn’t water down the Hall of Fame.  It should only be reserved for the best of the best.”

The implication being, of course, that every pitcher on the ballot needs to compare favorably to Tom Seaver, Walter Johnson, and Sandy Koufax.  The same, of course, is true of every position player on the ballot.  Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams are the immortals that some fans believe our most recent ballot hopefuls need to measure up to in order to merit serious consideration for being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

But how realistic and accurate is that assessment?  What is a “real” Hall of Fame-caliber player?  When we’re discussing the careers of Biggio, Bagwell, Thomas, Piazza, Walker, etc., (among the position players on the ballot), what is a fair and honest standard to hold them to in order to reward them with a plaque in Cooperstown?

Fortunately, Baseball-Reference has a page that actually sheds some light on these questions.  Here are the statistics for a typical, average position player already in the Hall of Fame:

Games:  2,134, Plate Appearances:  8,996, At Bats:  7,917, Hits:  2,397, Doubles:  409, Triples:  110

Home Runs:  209, Runs Scored:  1,321, RBI:  1,212, Stolen Bases:  228, Walks:  889, Strikeouts:  728

Triple Slash Line:  .303 / .376 / .462,  OPS:  .837  WAR:  69

I did a little research to see if I could find one player in baseball history who came closest to approximating those stats over the course of his career.  While there was no one player that matched perfectly, of course, there were a few who came relatively close.  For example, here’s Player A:

Games:  2,076, Plate Appearances:  9,053, At Bats:  7,869, Hits:  2,336, Doubles:  449, Triples:  55

Home Runs:  287, Runs Scored:  1,366, RBI:  1,257, Stolen Bases:  147, Walks:  1,069, Strikeouts:  1,212

Triple Slash Line:  .297 / .381 / .477,   OPS:  .858  WAR:  49.5 (But Offensive WAR:  62.7).

As you can see, Player A had a little more power, and a little less speed than your “average” HOF player.  But overall, this player is a pretty good comp.  Let’s try another.  Here’s Player B:

Games:  1,976, Plate Appearances:  8,283, At Bats:  7,173, Hits:  2,176, Doubles:  440, Triples:  47

Home Runs:  284, Runs Scored:  1,186, RBI:  1,205, Stolen Bases:  67, Walks:  937, Strikeouts:  1,190

Triple Slash Line:  .303 / .384 / .497,  OPS:  .880  WAR:  56.2

Player B’s batting average is right on the money, and his on-base percentage is close.  Again, a little more power and less speed than the average HOF’er.   One last comp:  Player C 

Games:  2,380, Plate Appearances:  9,086, At Bats:  7,946, Hits:  2,383, Doubles:  413, Triples:  148

Home Runs:  169, Runs Scored:  1,247, RBI:  1,304, Stolen Bases:  71, Walks:  1,018, Strikeouts:  538

Triple Slash Line:  .300 / .382 / .453,  OPS:  .834  WAR:  55.1

Player C’s Triple Slash Line is very close to the average HOF’er, as are his hits, doubles and triples.  The WAR is a little low, but the rest of the profile matches up pretty well with our hypothetically average Hall of Famer.

Which of the three do you like best?

O.K., I wasn’t being completely fair.  Of the three players I analyzed, only Player C is actually in the Hall of Fame. Player C is Enos Slaughter, inducted into The Hall in 1985.

Working backward, Player B is Will Clark, and Player A is Bernie Williams.  In other words, a typical Hall of Fame-caliber player isn’t necessarily even in the Hall of Fame.

As you can see, then, although many baseball fans feel protective of the Hall of Fame, and don’t want it to be “watered down” by inducting “unworthy” players, the truth is, the Hall of Fame doesn’t require protection from any of us.

There is little danger that any of the players on the current ballot who might conceivably be inducted would, in any objective way, lower the standards of the Hall of Fame as it actually exists.  If anything, the majority of the players on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot are, by historical standards, overqualified.*

Simply put, this is not just Hank Aaron’s Hall of Fame.  It is Enos Slaughter’s Hall of Fame as well.**

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

*You will find that this is true, even if you decide to break the list down position by position.

**It may also some day be Carlos Beltran’s Hall of Fame.  Though his stats are also pretty close to the historical averages, I didn’t include him because he is still currently active.

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A Dozen Things to Know About Curtis Granderson

Here are twelve things you may not know about the Mets latest addition, outfielder Curtis Granderson:

1)  He was born and raised in the greater Chicago area, and attended the University of Illinois-Chicago, earning a double major in Business Administration and Business Marketing.  Both of his parents were teachers.

2)  He was the Tigers 3rd-round pick of the 2002 amateur draft.

3)  Granderson shares a birthday (March 16) with baseball Hall of Famer Lloyd Waner.

4)  Born in 1981, Granderson was five-years old when the Mets last won a World’s Championship.

5)  He began swinging a bat from the left-hand side at the age of two-years old.

6)  His favorite player as a kid growing up was Ken Griffey, Jr.

7)  Granderson has made a total of just 18 errors in his entire career as an outfielder.  His .994 career fielding percentage is 8th best all-time among center-fielders.

8)  Playing for the Tigers in 2007, he became the 4th player in MLB history to enjoy a 20-20-20-20 season, finishing the year with 38 doubles, 23 triples (which led the league), 23 homers and 26 stolen bases (in 27 attempts.)

9)  In 2008, in a career high 710 plate appearances, he hit into just one double-play all season.

10) In 2011, Granderson became the fifth Yankee to lead the A.L. in both Runs Scored and RBI in the same year.

11) Pretty durable until last year’s freak injuries, he’d averaged 153 games played per year over the previous seven seasons.

12)  In honor of the old Negro Leagues, Granderson is one of the few players who wear his socks high.

Sandy Alderson the Opaque

Following every utterance that emerges from the mind of Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson is somewhat like waking up disoriented after a night of drinking heavily at a party in a stranger’s house.  Whose cat is that sitting on my chest?  If this is the living room couch, then why is there a toilet in here?  Are those my feet, or someone else’s?  And on and on until you locate your pants and jacket, finally find the exit (I’m on the third floor?) and make my way back downstairs.  My car nowhere in sight, I simply start walking in the general direction where I believe I left home several hours (days?) earlier.

“This is something that happens once every 30 years, … It’s an unusual situation. Would it be better if we were one of the other four teams in the division at the end of the year? I don’t think so. I’d rather be a footnote to history than not in history at all.”

The context really doesn’t matter.  Alderson-speak is sort of like that word-game you may have tried back when you were in the 4th grade where you scatter a bunch of words on the floor, then try to rearrange them into a coherent sentence.  “The angry dog sharpened the sponge.”  Or “The boy flew the hot soap home.”

A couple of days ago, the Mets were supposedly very interested in pitcher Bronson Arroyo.  I, for one, think it would be a decent move for the Mets to make.  They could use a durable veteran arm and an unflappable personality like Arroyo on their team.  Then we learned that the Mets “May or may not meet the pitcher.”  Well, that about covers all the possibilities, doesn’t it?  Granted, it was a Mets “high-ranking official” who made that opaque proclamation, but Alderson-speak is ubiquitous in Mets-Land these days.

“What I mean by that is setting up a situation where we could be aggressive every year.  We want to be in the market every year.  Will we be in the market aggressively this year?  Unlikely.”

I was a hall monitor for one awful semester at a high school in a small town in rural Maine.  One morning, a teenage girl came waltzing down the hall without a pass.  I asked her where she was supposed to be.  She responded, “My jacket is all wet.”  To which I, in turn, responded, “But where are you supposed to be right now?”  She looked at me for a second or two, clearly perturbed that I was deigning to question her right to wander the halls at will (I hated doing this job, mind you.)  She blurted out, “God, why do adults have to be so annoying?”  A rhetorical question, to be sure, but one that ended up earning her an after-school detention.

“If the world ended when it was supposed to on Saturday, we wouldn’t have to worry about all these issues.”

When I was a young boy, my dad would take me for walks in Mountain Grove Cemetery, where P.T. Barnum is buried.  There were two ponds in the cemetery.  I liked walking all the way to the back where the second pond was because it always had large frogs in it sitting on lily pads.  As we walked by the head stones over the graves, and past the musty mausoleums which contained the remains of Bridgeport’s once more prominent citizens, my dad would say to me, “Billy, this is where it all ends.  Life is cheap.  Man is just another species of insect.”

“It may not yet be manifest to the average fan, the average person, but I think we are more active than we were last year.”

I’ve lost 20 pounds since last year.  Or, I’ve been working on doing so.  You may not have noticed how much I’ve been working out, especially during those times when we’ve been together.  You can’t always tell just by looking, but it’s been a lot of work, the effort of trying.

“I do think there will be a combination of more proactivity internally as well as a willingness in some instances to wait and see not whether the market changes, but what’s available to us later.”

  • Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. – Donald Rumsfeld, 12 February 2002

“Beyond alarming.  We have a crisis.”

Sandy, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

My Hall of Fame Ballot, and a Cautionary Tale

Are you familiar with the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, located on the campus of Bronx Community College in New York City?  Not many people are.  It was formally dedicated in May, 1901, as place to honor prominent Americans who had a significant impact on U.S. history and culture.  Modeled on the Pantheon in Rome, its 630 foot open-air colonnade was conceived as a place where marble busts of America’s most significant writers, presidents, inventors, and the like would be commemorated for all time.  A very serious blue ribbon panel of 100 men was cobbled together to make initial nominations, and for several decades, the landmark was taken quite seriously.

As you have probably guessed by now, the existence of this Hall of Fame put the seed of an idea into the head of Ford Frick, who passed this idea along to Stephen Clark (of the Cooperstown Clarks), whose very wealthy local family connections paved the way for this unlikely caper to come to fruition.  Stephen saw this as an idea to bring business to Cooperstown, suffering from the ravages of the Great Depression, and nearly overnight, this quaint little village was  dedicated as hallowed ground where the Abner Doubleday legend also conveniently took root.  That there was no easy way to transport people to Cooperstown to visit the proposed new shrine doesn’t seem to have fazed Clark.

Meanwhile, while the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown was just getting off the ground, the more established, high-brow Hall down in the Bronx (on what was then the campus of New York University) was in its heyday.  The New York Bar Association went so far as advocating for certain of its members, and newspapers breathlessly covered the annual inductions.

In a fantastic little article I recently discovered, Baltimore Sun columnist Joe Mathews (August 1, 1997), wrote, in a sentence that could serve as a cautionary tale for the institution up in Cooperstown, “The 97-year old monument is a shrine not only to [them], but to an ideal of fame that, like the hall itself, is dusty and decaying.”

Apropos to nothing, my favorite sentence in the article is, “The first hall of fame was the brainchild of a Presbyterian minister who was influenced by his concern for prostitution, democracy, and the Roman Empire.”  (emphasis added.) Mets brass, take note.  Want to put asses in the seats at Citi Field next season?  Why not go with  “Prostitution, Democracy and the Roman Empire” as next season’s slogan?  It’s certainly much more compelling than “Show up at Shea” (1998), or “Experience It” (2003).

Now, back to our story.

Hardly anyone ever visits The Hall of Fame for Great Americans these days anymore, even though it sits on an easily accessible college campus.  Its committee of electors made its final official inductions in 1976.  Among the four final inductees were a horticulturist and a judge.  None of the final four have yet had a bronze bust built in their honor.  Its Board of Trustees formally dissolved in 1979.  Since then, the colonnade has been far more popular with pigeons than with people.  You may still visit the 98 bronze busts in existence.  Self-guided tours are available daily from 10:00-5:00, with a suggested donation of $2.00 per person.

Attendance to the Baseball Hall of Fame has steadily declined over the past twenty years, from a high of over 400,000 in the early 1990’s to around 260,000 last year.  Although the Hall of Fame is a non-profit institution, and is, in effect, a ward of the State of New York, it appears that its operating budget was over two million dollars in the red in its last fiscal year.  Over the past decade, the HOF has more often than not lost money.

Outwardly, the Baseball Hall of Fame appears to be a healthy, thriving entity.  It has a modern website, a Board of Directors featuring such luminaries as Tom Seaver and Joe Morgan, and disproportionate influence on how the game itself is remembered from one generation to the next.  Its solid brick exterior and its pastoral location connote classical American values such as fortitude, temperance and diligence.  And it contains part of the original facade of Ebbet’s Field.  What can go wrong?

By all means, consider the official Hall of Fame ballot a sacred totem of a mystical shrine, if you will, but consider this:  Will our choices result in a stronger institution, more relevant to modern American sensibilities of entertainment and utility, or will they further contribute to the atrophy that apparently is slowly setting in?

Having said that, and while chafing at the ten-player limit arbitrarily imposed on actual BBWAA voters, here are my choices, in no particular order,  for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame:

1)  Greg Maddux

2)  Mike Piazza

3)  Craig Biggio

4)  Jeff Bagwell

5)  Tim Raines

6)  Tom Glavine

7)  Mike Mussina

8)  Alan Trammell

9)  Frank Thomas

10)  Don Mattingly

I’m sure the most controversial pick on this list will be Don Mattingly.  Fine.  Up until I set about typing this post, I would not have included him among this group, either.  But in light of all the previous paragraphs I’ve written about The Hall in this article, the relevant question is, would the enshrinement of Donnie Baseball be a good thing for the future viability of The Hall, or would it somehow be a “bad” thing.

Three questions:

1)  Was Don Mattingly ever the best player in the game during his career?

2)  Did Don Mattingly represent the game, his team, and himself with nothing but respect both on the field and off?

3)  Did he meet the 10-year minimum length career criteria for Hall eligibility?

The answer to each of these questions is yes.  From 1984-87, there was no better player in the American League than Don Mattingly.  He was always nothing but professional.  He played for 14 seasons.  At various times in his career, he led his league in hits, doubles, RBI, batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, and total bases.  From 1984-89, he averaged 330 total bases per season.  Perhaps most impressively, however, he never struck out more than 43 times in any single full season in his career.

In his only playoff appearance, in 1995, vs. Seattle, he batted .417 in 25 plate appearances.  He was a six time All Star, won three Silver Sluggers, nine Gold Gloves, and his .996 Fielding Percentage is among the ten best all-time at his position.  He won an MVP award, and finished runner-up once as well.  If he picked up a bat today, at age 52, he would probably still outhit Ike Davis.

Perhaps more to the point, Mattingly has legions of loyal fans who might just possibly trek all the way up to Cooperstown to see their hero enshrined, and to listen to his acceptance speech.  Years from now, dads might still be taking their kids to see Mattingly’s plaque at The Hall.  How many parents do you think bring their kids all the way up to Cooperstown each year to stand in awe of the plaques of HOF “immortals” such as Herb Pennock, Rick Ferrell, Lloyd Waner, or Dave Bancroft?

Explain to me, then, how inducting Don Mattingly into the Baseball Hall of Fame would be bad for baseball, or for The Hall itself?

In the final analysis, the Hall of Fame is an idea as much as it is a place.  All baseball fans, in their heart of hearts, have their own idea as to what constitutes fame in this context.  When the chasm between what fans believe in their hearts is legitimate fame relative to the actual composition of the institution itself  grows too wide, then the fans, faced with an untenable choice, will always follow one and ignore the other.   Should that happen, The Baseball Hall of Fame may one day bear an uncanny resemblance to that other unfortunately failed Hall of Fame further downstate on a bluff overlooking the indifferent Harlem River.

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