The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Bert Blyleven”

Player Narratives, and the Hall of Fame

Do me a favor.  Take a look at these final career numbers, and tell me if you think the player who compiled these numbers is probably in the Hall of Fame or not.  Do not try to guess who the player is, because we’ll come back to that later.  Please allow the numbers to speak for themselves:

2,460 Games

2,490 Hits

441 Doubles

493 Home Runs  (27th)

1,550 RBI  (42nd)

1,349 Runs

1,305 Walks

4,458 Total Bases (50th)

1,704 Runs Created (49th)

Triple Slash Line:  .284 / .377 / .509

OPS+    134

1,447 Assists (10th at his position)

1,775 Double Plays Turned (5th at his position)

I’m choosing not to include this player’s WAR because it has become too easy to simply go directly to that one statistic and form one’s judgment based on that stat alone.  I will tell you that it is better than some HOF’ers, and not as good as some others.

At this point, you are probably withholding your final judgment based on who the player is.  I would probably do the same.  But why do we do that?  Why does the player’s identity matter so much in our final evaluation as to whether or not he belongs in The Hall?  Shouldn’t the numbers speak for themselves?

The truth is, we tend to place a great deal of weight on the player’s particular narrative.  Did he play for one team his entire career?  Was he beloved by millions, or was he a surly jackass who alienated press and public alike.

Certainly, we want to know, too, in which era the player performed.  Were his numbers special for their time, or were they more representative of a good but not necessarily a great player?

What about intangibles such as playoff performance, overcoming significant personal or professional handicaps, being a suspected cheater, or suffering a tragic, career-ending injury at a relatively young age?

What position did he play?  Historically, more offense has always been expected from outfielders and first basemen than from middle infielders or catchers.

If I told you the numbers listed above belonged to Duke Snider, (they do not, but they plausibly could have), you, too, would probably choose to enshrine the well-respected slugger from the legendary Boys of Summer.  The Brooklyn narrative and the lure of baseball’s so-called Golden Era would be too strong to resist.  Mickey, Willie and The Duke, and all that.

Similarly, if I told you those are Willie Stargell’s numbers, (again, they are not), once again, you would allow that those statistics are sufficient to make the case that “Pop” Stargell, the lifelong Pirate and spiritual leader of the 1979 We Are Family championship ball-club, belongs in the Hall of Fame.

On the other hand, if I told you that these numbers belonged to Dick Allen, Jose Canseco, Carlos Delgado, or Joe Carter, for various reasons, you might very well come to an opposite conclusion regarding their HOF-worthiness.

The truth is, when it comes to whom we deem to be HOF-worthy, we love our narratives.  We tend to work backwards, I think, and use statistics to rationalize our preconceived prejudices regarding who does or does not belong in The Hall.

Certainly, there are a handful of players who obviously belong in The Hall, are there not?  Lou Gehrig comes to mind.  Gehrig slugged 493 home runs, (as many as the player whose stats are listed above.)  He died young and tragically, and was a fabled member of the ’27 Yankees.

Mike Schmidt also comes to mind.  A dominant player in his era, Schmidt compiled 54 fewer total bases than did the mystery player joining us today.

No one I’ve ever heard of has ever argued that Willie “Stretch” McCovey doesn’t belong in The Hall.  A tremendous run producer, McCovey drove in just five more runs in his career than did our soon-to-be revealed player.  McCovey topped 30 homers seven times.  Our Mystery Player accomplished that feat ten times in his career.

Here’s another example.  When I was a kid growing up in the 1970’s, it was clear and obvious to all of the neighborhood boys that Catfish Hunter was a Hall of Famer long before he became eligible, while Bert Blyleven was merely a fine pitcher, but not a particularly interesting one.

For those of us now in our early 50’s, that narrative remains powerful to this day.  While more recent stats point to Blyleven being far more valuable than Hunter, all I remember about Blyleven is that he pitched in Minnesota for lots of bad Twins ball clubs.  It wasn’t until later that I became aware of his reputation as a great prankster, though I doubt even that information would have been enough to sway my opinion of his worthiness for the Hall of Fame.

I now see that as far as his numbers are concerned, Bert Blyleven does belong in the Hall of Fame.  Yet, although I recognize that Hunter’s numbers may ultimately appear to be lacking, his narrative remains superior.  He was the mustachioed ace of first the great A’s clubs of the early ’70’s, then the ace of the fine Yankees teams of the later ’70’s.  He had a great nickname, was always good for a quote, won at least 20 games five consecutive seasons, and died relatively young at age 53.

Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that there’s room for both pitchers in the Hall of Fame.  Sometimes, if we remain open-minded enough, life can be a win-win.

O.K., enough of that.  Who is our Mystery Player?

He is none other than Fred “Crime Dog” McGriff.

Fred McGriff was well-respected, and generally well-liked, and his numbers appear to be worthy of HOF induction, but there are a few problems with his narrative.

For one thing, unlike Schmidt, McCovey, Gehrig, Gwynn, Ripkin, Kaline, Clemente and so many other Hall of Famers, it is difficult to associate McGriff with any one team.  He started out as an extremely productive Toronto Blue Jay, became a highly productive Padre, then moved on to become a reliably productive Brave.  Once he left Atlanta, he moved on to Tampa Bay, where, now in his mid-30’s, he provided solid punch in their batting order.

At age 38, clearly his best years behind him, all he did was slam 30 homers, drive in 103 runs and slug .505 with the Cubs.  He hit his 490th home run as a Dodger, then retired as a Devil Ray at age 40 in 2004.

McGriff also had the misfortune to have his best seasons in the first half of his career (pre-1994), when hitting 35 homers per season still meant something.  By the time he got the opportunity to play before a national audience on TBS with the Braves, every third player seemed to be enjoying 30 homer seasons.  His production began to be viewed by that point as ordinary, the norm of what a first baseman should be producing.

That McGriff finished in the top ten in MVP voting six times, that he reached an OPS+ of at least 140 in ten seasons, and that the first time he went on the Disabled List was in his 18th season at age 39 (talk about an Iron Man) is apparently no match for the overall lack of gripping drama, personal tragedy, or single-uniform predictability that sports fans love.

Fred McGriff has now been on the HOF ballot five years.  Last year, he was named on just 11.7% of all votes cast.  At this point, it seems unlikely that McGriff will be voted into the HOF anytime soon.  You, too, may believe that McGriff just doesn’t quite belong in the Hall of Fame.

But if that’s the way you feel, ask yourself this.  Is it the numbers or is it the narrative that prevents you from considering him to be a worthy Hall of Famer?

Tampa Bay Devil Rays first base coach Fred McG...

Tampa Bay Devil Rays first base coach Fred McGriff during a Devil Rays/New York Mets spring training game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

Baseball Trivia Contest: Hall of Fame Names

Now that we find ourselves here in the dog days of August, let’s have some fun.

On the left-hand column below, I created a list of Hall of Fame baseball players by their surnames only.  On the right-hand side, you will notice a list of the real first names of each of these HOF players.   Your challenge is to match the first name on the right with the HOF player it belongs to on the left.  Each first name will be used just once.

See how many you can match up before you check the answer key at the bottom of the page,  then let me know how you did.  It might help to print out this page so you can do it by hand.

1)  Seaver                                                     A)  Rik

2)  Dean                                                       B)  Adrian

3)  Bender                                                   C)  Leon

4)  Ford                                                        D)  Gordon

5)  Grove                                                     E)  William

6)  Anson                                                     F)  George

7)  Berra                                                       G)  John

8)  Koufax                                                     H)  Edward

9)  Traynor                                                   I)  Jay

10)  Wilson (Hack)                                       J)  Charles

11)  Ewing                                                     K)  Lawrence

12)  Goslin                                                     L)  Robert

13)  Paige (Satchel)                                      M)  Lewis

14)  Fox (Nellie)                                             N)  Jacob

15)  Kelly (King)                                              O)  Harold

16)  Blyleven                                                   P)  Vernon

17) Brouthers (Dan)                                       Q)  Leroy

18)  Gomez (Lefty)                                          R)  Sanford

19)  Cochrane                                                  S)  Michael

20)  Chesbro                                                     T)  Dennis

Answer Key:

1)  F

2)  I

3)  J

4)  H

5)  L

6)  B

7)  K

8)  R

9)  O

10) M

11) E

12) C

13) Q

14) N

15) S

16) A

17) T

18) P

19) D

20) G

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Pedro Martinez

This is Part 7 of the series, “Baseball’s Surprising Stats.”  If you’ve missed any or all of the first six,  you’ll find them under “Recent Posts” over to the right.

Recently, I read that Pedro Martinez lost only 100 games in his entire career in over 400 starts.

English: Pedro Martínez

English: Pedro Martínez (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Losing just 100 games out of 409 career starts (against 219 wins) is a pretty remarkable statistic.

It led me to ask the following question:  What was the greatest number of games Pedro lost in any one season?

Indirectly, this also led me to wonder, if wins are an overrated statistic that don’t often reveal the true value of a pitcher, then how about losses?

In other words, are the number of losses a pitcher suffers in a particular season fairly representative of his overall performance?

Lists are often my favorite visual aid, so of course you know what’s coming.  Here’s a list of 26 pitchers, (do we always have to work with multiples of five?) and the highest number of losses they suffered in a season, from fewest to most.

Every pitcher on this list made at least 300 career starts, the vast majority making over 400. The number in parentheses indicates the number of seasons the pitcher lost that many games.  A number in bold print indicates they led the league in losses that season.

1)  Pedro Martinez – 10  (2)

2)   Ron Guidry – 12 (and it wasn’t until he turned 35 that he lost that many.)

3)  Lefty Grove – 13  (2)

4)  Sandy Koufax – 13  (2)

5)  John Smoltz – 13

6)  Roger Clemens – 14

7)  David Cone – 14  (2)

8)  Randy Johnson – 14  (2)

9)  Curt Schilling – 14

10) Tom Seaver – 14  (2)

11) Bob Feller – 15  (2)

12) Dwight Gooden – 15

13) Greg Maddux – 15

14) Mike Mussina – 15

15) “Pete” Alexander – 17

16) Bert Blyleven – 17  (4)  (Led league in losses in one of those four 17-loss seasons.)

17) Tom Glavine – 17

18) Catfish Hunter – 17

19) Christy Mathewson – 17

20) Ferguson Jenkins – 18

21) Jack Morris – 18

22) Nolan Ryan – 18

23) Don Sutton – 18

24) Steve Carlton – 20

25) Luis Tiant – 20

26) Walter Johnson – 25

Boy, that Walter Johnson was a lousy pitcher, wasn’t he?

Actually, the year Johnson lost 25 games he was just a 21-year old kid still learning his craft.  Although his ERA that year was a sparkling 2.22, his ERA+ was just a mediocre 111, meaning that lots of pitchers had very low ERA’s that year.  Easy to see why this was the Dead Ball era, right?

So, do the number of losses a pitcher suffers in their “worst” season tell us much in the way of useful information?  Is it possible for a pitcher to have an excellent year (as measured by other reliable stats) yet come away with a relatively high number of losses?

Well, we just saw that Walter Johnson was not yet a great pitcher when he lost those 25 games.  Similarly, Tom Glavine was just a 22-year old with an ERA+ of just 80 when he lost his career high 17 games.  In other words, it would not be inaccurate to say that he truly did “earn” those losses.

Although Nolan Ryan was already 29-years old when he lost 18 games in 1976, his ERA+ that year was only 99, and he was still walking far too many batters.  In other words, those 18 losses can’t simply be written off as a lack of run support, or an unlucky “good” pitcher on a bad team.  Ryan pretty much deserved to lose 18 of his 39 starts that year.

Don Sutton, like Bert Blyleven, is in the Hall of Fame due to a long career of notable, yet unspectacular, consistency.  They are baseball’s equivalent of the 35-year career insurance salesmen who never miss a day of work, but of whom the best that can be said is that they never knowingly, intentionally, sold a questionable policy.  They each stuck around long enough to earn their gold watch, enjoy their retirement party, and retire to Miami Beach to play golf, bare white legs set against the over-manicured greens draining into dying swampland.

So what of their 17 and 18 loss seasons?  In 23 seasons, Don Sutton never led his league in ERA+, and in ERA just once.  In 1969, his fourth season in the Majors, he posted an ERA+ of 96 in 296 innings.  Durable?  Sure.  But it is clear that those 18 losses were generally representative of his pitching performance that particular year.

Bert Blyleven’s four 17-loss seasons, three of which occurred consecutively from 1972-74, were more of a mixed bag.  In two of those seasons, (1973-74) Blyleven posted ERA+’s of 156 (which led the league) and 142, respectively.  In 1972, his ERA+ was a decent 119, and in his final 17-loss campaign, 1988, his 17 losses led the league in a year in which his ERA+ was only 75.

When Luis Tiant and Steve Carlton each led their respective leagues with 20 losses (Tiant in ’69; Carlton in ’73), neither pitcher was better than league-average that year.  Tiant’s ERA+ was just 101, and Carlton’s was only 97.

Long-time Boston Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martíne...

Long-time Boston Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martínez returns to Fenway Park in 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Generally speaking then, what is clear from this admittedly abbreviated list of pitchers is that great pitchers don’t tend to lose very many games, unless they are having an off-year, or unless they are still refining their craft.

Now, that may sound like the least surprising bit of information you’ve ever received.  But what it means is that, although a pitcher can have a great year and not win very many games (see the list of recent Cy Young winners), it is not at all common for a pitcher to have a great year and still end up with a lot of losses.  

Notice that only four of the 26 pitchers on this list ever led their league in losses, despite the large number of combined seasons represented here.

Therefore, although it is true that you should generally ignore a pitcher’s win totals when evaluating his actual value in any one season, the converse is not so true.

A pitcher’s loss totals are generally representative of what you would expect, given other statistical measures of performance.

By that measure, then, one can argue that Pedro Martinez was one of the top ten, if not among the top five, starting pitchers of all-time.

Baseball’s Statistical Oddities

Every once in a while, as I’m doing some research for this blog, I’ll come across a baseball statistic that catches me off guard.

I’m not suggesting that no one else has ever noticed any of these odd items before, but if they are new to me, they might just be new to you, too.

To begin with, which particular pitchers in baseball history do you think were the toughest to hit against (Hits / 9 Innings)?

Did you say Walter Johnson?  Well, O.K., he is 33rd on the all-time list having given up 7.47 hits per nine innings in his career.  Randy Johnson?  You’re getting warmer.  He is 22nd on the list.

Remember, we are not talking about WHIP here.  Just hits per nine.

Yes, of course, it was Nolan Ryan.  He was the Number #1 toughest pitcher to hit, having given up just 6.55 hits per nine.  Not a surprise.  But keep reading.

Sandy Koufax comes in at Number #2, posting a 6.79 hits per nine ratio.  Again, no surprise there.

Number #3 Toughest Pitcher to Hit, Ever?  Well, here’s the surprise:

Sid Fernandez.  Yes, that Sid Fernandez.  El Sid.  The Mets’ secret weapon in the bullpen against the Red Sox in the ’86 World Series.

Sid Fernandez posted an incredible 6.85 hits per nine innings in his career in 1866 innings.  He pitched in parts of 15 different seasons and made exactly 300 starts in his career.

So how many wins did El Sid record out of those 300 starts?  Just 114 wins, against 96 losses.  In other words, Fernandez ended up with a no-decision in 30% of his career starts, a rather high percentage.

So why didn’t he win more games?  Apparently, El Sid just couldn’t get much past the sixth inning.  In fact, he completed only 25 games in his entire career!  Thus, his bullpen mates ended up swooping down for the win, or they blew the game and took the loss.

Sid Fernandez’s idea of a workout routine was a 6,000 calorie breakfast, followed by long periods of rest and idleness.

Fernandez only reached double-figures in wins in five seasons; his best win totals were 16 (in 1986), 14 (twice) and 12 (twice).  That’s it.

Sid Fernandez was, then, one the greatest six- inning pitchers ever.  But even though one-inning specialists now routinely make it into Cooperstown, (they’re called “Closers”), El Sid will never get in without first paying for a ticket.

Now that’s a strange career.

Almost as strange was the career of a former teammate of Sid Fernandez:

David Cone.

At first glance you might not expect David Cone to have had a weird career, but let me throw some numbers at you.  I’ll do it in the form of a Table so you can more clearly see what I noticed.

The first number represents a season with exactly that number of wins; the second number directly to the right of it represents how many seasons Cone reached that number of wins.  So let’s take a look:

20  –  2  (Cone had 2 twenty win seasons)

19  –  0

18  –  0

17  –  0

16  –  1

15  –  0

14  –  3

13  –  1

12  –  2

11  –  1

10  –  0

Cone finished with nearly 200 wins in his career in over 400 starts.  His career win-lost percentage was a very nice .606.

But where did all those 194 career wins come from?  How does a pitcher have two 20 win seasons, but NO 15, 17, 18, or 19 win seasons, and still have an excellent career?

Cone is the antithesis of Bert Blyleven.  Blyleven won nearly 300 games (287) in his career, but his entire career was made up of exactly the kinds of seasons Cone NEVER even had once in his entire career (except for the one lonely 16 win season.)  For example, Blyleven produced five 17-win seasons.

There are two types of Hall-of-Famers, and two kinds of HOF voters.  One group prefers the bright shining stars that flame out fast, (but oh, what beauty when they shined.)

The other group prefers slow-and-steady-wins-the race.  Cone is not in The Hall; Blyleven is.  But they are on polar opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to the kinds of careers a pitcher who could be considered for The Hall might have.

Now, how about a hitter.

The worst thing a hitter can do is make lots and lots of outs, meaning a low on-base percentage, right?

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Exhibit A, former infielder Alfredo Griffin.  Griffin played his first full season in the Majors in 1979, winning the A.L. Rookie of the Year award playing for the Blue Jays.  He retired in 1993.

Alfredo Griffin was, without doubt, one of the worst hitters in the history of baseball.

Now, I know, there have been lots of really bad offensive players throughout baseball history.  But this, as they say, you have to see.

Griffin’s highest single-season on-base percentage in his career was .333 in his rookie campaign of 1979 when he drew a career high 40 walks in 689 plate appearances.  He never walked as many as forty times in a season again.

But the season that truly boggles my mind was 1984 when in 441 plate appearances, Griffin drew exactly FOUR walks all year.

How is that even possible?

His batting average that season was .241; his on-base percentage was .248.  For his entire career, Griffin posted an OBP of .285 in over 7,000 plate appearances.

Folks, we are talking about a guy that played all 162 games in four different seasons, not some part-time late-inning defensive replacement.

He wasn’t even all that good defensively, although he managed to win a Gold Glove award.  But even fifteen Gold Gloves couldn’t justify those awful non-hitting skills of his.

You want to hear the best part?  In 1984, the year he drew just four walks, the year he posted an OBP south of .300, that was the only year he made an All-Star team in his career.

To at least partially make up for his terrible on-base skills, did he hit lots of homers?  No, just 24 in his entire career.

Did he score lots of runs?  Nope, he reached 80 runs scored only once, his rookie season.

Did he steal lots of bases?  Well, here’s the thing.  He did steal 192 bases in his career, but he was also caught stealing 134 times, a poor “success” rate of .588.  In fact, in a two year period, 1980-81, he successfully stole a paltry 26 bases in 61 attempts!

In November of 1988, the Dodgers, enamored by Griffin’s .199 batting average and .965 fielding percentage from the ’88 season, signed Griffin as a free-agent for one million dollars.

Am I missing something here?  Griffin retired after the ’93 season with a career WAR of -2.4.

The weirdest thing about Alfredo Griffin isn’t the numbers themselves, it’s that he was able to find steady work in the Majors for 18 seasons.

O.K.  Let’s follow Griffin up with a player who actually could hit.

Fisk in batting cage
Image via Wikipedia

Carlton Fisk was one of the best overall catchers in baseball history.  Although he suffered numerous injuries early in his career, he nevertheless ended up playing in 2,499 games, amassing 9,853 plate appearances.

Most of his career numbers are pretty standard (meaning very good) for a player of his caliber, especially for a catcher.

But one odd season late in his career when he played for the White Sox stands out.

In 1984, when Fisk was already 36 years old, he slugged a reasonable 21 home runs.  Now, normally when a player hits over 20 homers and plays more or less every day, their RBI total lands somewhere in the 65-85 range, give or take a few.

Yet somehow, despite hitting 21 homers, Fisk managed to drive in only 43 runs in nearly 400 plate appearances.  That means the vast majority of his RBI that year came directly as a result of those 21 homers.

I’m guessing that his RBI total that year has to be one of the lowest ever recorded, perhaps the lowest, for a player who hit at least 20 homers in one season.

I am not casting any aspersions on Fisk’s talent or on his career, but that is one fluky statistic.

Finally, there is the strange case of Storm Davis.

Davis was an extremely young man of 20 when he threw his first pitch for the Orioles in 1982.  By the age of 22, Davis had already pitched 525 innings in the Majors; there were no Joba Rules in those days.

By 1989, Davis was a member of a formidable Oakland A’s rotation.  In that year, his age-27 season, Davis enjoyed his career-year.  Despite tossing just 169 innings, Davis posted a record of 19-7.

It was the worst 19 win season in major league history.

Here are the ugly peripheral numbers behind that inflated win total:

ERA:  4.36, WHIP:  1.506,  Strike-Outs:  91,  Walks:  68,  K’s / 9 innings:  4.8,  Hits / 9 innings:  10.

In short, if Davis had pitched that year for virtually any other baseball team, he would have ended up with a sub-.500 win-lost record.

Of course, the Kansas City Royals, unable to see past Davis’ gaudy win total, signed Davis in the off-season to be the ace of their staff for over a million dollars (still big money in those days.)

The Royals were rewarded with a 7-10 season in 1990.

Davis’ career was strange because he was actually a pretty good pitcher who pitched terribly one season, still won 19 games, and was rewarded with a large contract as a free agent as a result.

Talk about pure, dumb luck.

There are, of course, many other players who experienced odd seasons, unaccountable success, or statistical anomalies in their careers.  Feel free to share others you can think of with me.

2011 Hall of Fame Vote: The Good, the Bad, and the Utterly Perplexing

Jeff Bagwell

Image via Wikipedia

The results are in, and there weren’t any major surprises.  Bert (we suddenly loved you all along) Blyleven (79.7%), and Robbie (sorry we messed up last year) Alomar (90%), were the only two players on this year’s ballot elected into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.

Looking over the percentage of votes each player received from the BBWAA revealed interesting results, some unexpected, some utterly perplexing.

THE GOOD:

1)  Roberto Alomar will now be enshrined in The Hall.  Alomar was a stunning offensive player, and although his defense was a bit overrated (see my last bl0g-post), he certainly belongs in The Hall.  Some bloggers / writers have Alomar rated as among the top three 2nd basemen of all-time.  I think that overstates his legacy a bit much.  I am comfortable rating Alomar in the top 5-10 second basemen ever.

2)  Bert Blyleven, the Bearded Dutchman, joins Alomar.   Personally, I don’t think I would have voted for Blyleven.  I know that some people will think it’s outrageous to hold this opinion, but if he was such an obvious HOF candidate, then why has he been passed over 13 previous times?  Some people point to his 3,701 career strikeouts (5th all-time) as one bit of evidence that he should be enshrined.  But he averaged 6.7 K’s / 9 innings in his career, good, but not great.

Voting for Blyleven isn’t voting for greatness; it voting for remarkable durability (he averaged 245 innings pitched per season in his career.)

So why file his election under THE GOOD?

First, because I have nothing against Blyleven personally, and there’s no reason to rain on his parade.  Obviously, this vote means a lot to Blyleven and his supporters.

Second, because now that his enshrinement is a done deal, we can start to focus a little more seriously on some of the other players who also deserve enshrinement.  Which brings us to…

3)  Barry Larkin: Larkin received a promising 62% of votes cast, an improvement over the 51% he received last year, his first on the ballot.  Larkin is one of the ten best shortstops of all-time, and the best N.L. shortstop of his era.  It will be interesting to see if his relatively strong showing this year represents his high-water mark, or if it is a stepping-stone to future Hall induction.

Next year’s relatively weak class of first-time HOF candidates, however, could work in his favor.  Let’s hope it does.

THE BAD:

1)  Jeff Bagwell, an obvious Hall of Famer if there ever was one (unless you really weren’t paying attention), received a lower percentage of votes (41.7%)  than I thought he would, and I had low expectations for him going into this election.  His (hopefully temporary) rejection does not, however, come as a surprise because, and there is no way to sugarcoat this, many of the BBWAA voters are cowards.

What are they afraid of?  They are afraid to induct a player that they know, statistically speaking, should be a first-ballot HOF’er because they believe he just MIGHT have used steroids.

Even though Bagwell’s name has never appeared on any list of users, and even though no former teammates of his have ever accused him of being a user,  somehow an internet driven whiff of scandal has created a false cloud of controversy over his name and reputation.

And the voters are deathly, and unreasonably, afraid that if they were to induct Bagwell into The Hall, and then it was later revealed that he was, after all, a steroid user, then they would look foolish.

But they are wrong.  If (as unlikely as it is) that Bagwell was elected and then, at some later date, it turns out he was a user, then the shame of his tainted induction would be on him, not on the voters.

In other words, placing the onus of responsibility on a particular player to prove that he didn’t use steroids is unreasonable and unjust.  Guilty until proven innocent is the fallback position favored by cowards in an irrationally fearful society, and history is seldom kind to those who accuse others of some perceived crime, who then later turn out to have been innocent.

Prediction:  Bagwell is eventually elected into The Hall, but it could take a while.

2)  Larry Walker: Much of what I have just written about Bagwell can be applied to the case of Larry Walker as well.  And, as an added obstacle to The Hall, Walker is penalized for having played in the best hitter’s park ever constructed in one of the better era for hitter’s in modern history.

Only one in five voters (20%) believe Walker had a HOF career.

Setting aside the steroid issue, on which you have probably already formed an opinion, yes, Walker benefited from playing at Coor’s Field.  But I can’t think of any other player in baseball history who was penalized for having similar good fortune.  For example, if you had put Jim Rice in the Astrodome for his entire career, he certainly would not have ended up in The Hall.  Conversely, if you had put Jimmy Wynn in Fenway Park for his career, he would have put up HOF numbers.

As another example, Mel Ott hit 323 (63%) of his 511 career home runs at the Polo Grounds, the highest total any player ever hit in their home ballpark.

Walker was already an outstanding player before he signed with the Rockies.  He was a great defensive player, an excellent base-runner, and could hit for power and average.

Yet his relatively poor showing in this year’s Hall of Fame vote does not portend, I fear, an eventual Hall induction.  More likely, he will continue to languish in the Dale Murphy/ Ted Simmons limbo, never taken quite seriously enough by the BBWAA that the full weight of his career will ever receive anything other than token appreciation.

3) Tim Raines: Raines was named on 37% of the ballots cast.  It is clear that Raine’s cocaine use, as well as the Conventional Wisdom that other lead-off hitters such as Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock outshone him, will probably keep Raines out of the Hall.  I can’t think of any other reason why someone would not vote for him.  The Conventional Wisdom in this case is, as it often proves to be,  just plain wrong.

The Utterly Perplexing:

1)  Edgar Martinez: (33% support) – What to do with Edgar Martinez, one of the greatest pure hitters in baseball history?  The crux of the issue is, there is no consensus on what constitutes a legitimate baseball player.  And don’t wait for the Baseball Hall of Fame to clarify the issue of what to do with the virtual life-time DH anymore than they will the issue of players linked to steroids.

The Hall of Fame, an institution that should be jealously guarding its reputation, has been cryptically, irresponsibly silent on the salient issues of the day regarding baseball, and the players it accepts for enshrinement.

2)  Lee Smith: Smith, 3rd on the all-time Saves list, was snubbed, appearing on 45% of the  ballots  cast.  What is a closer to do?  Either Saves, as a statistic, impress you, or they do not.

Smith emerged from the single-inning “clean” Save era, where 9th inning specialists usually entered the game with no one on base, and three outs to work with.  Sounds simple enough, and Smith did his job well.  But is this task, however well-performed, impressive enough to merit HOF recognition?

I believe, despite the large number of closers who compiled over 300 saves, that the voters will ultimately reward only a small handful of these specialists.  Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman come to mind as probable future inductees.  But I don’t believe that the BBWAA membership is all that impressed by raw Save totals.  Nor do I believe that they should be.

3)  Fred McGriff: (18% support) – Why the lack of love for the Crime Dog?  If I told you that a player who hit just under 500 home runs, registered eight 100+ RBI seasons, who had the same OPS+ as Al Kaline, and who has never been linked to steroids, appeared to be on the road to nowhere regarding Hall of Fame enshrinement, what would you think?  Frankly, I don’t know what to think, either.

4)  Marquis Grissom received four votes.  Tino Martinez received six votes.  B.J. Surhoff nailed down two, and Brett Boone and Charles Johnson received HOF support from one voter each.  How is it that each of these decent but unspectacular players received votes for The Hall, yet so many writers do not see Bagwell, Raines, Larkin or Walker as Hall material?  It’s a mystery worthy of Agatha Christie, without the inevitable “now it all makes sense” ending.

So what are your thoughts on today’s BBWAA Hall of Fame voting results?  I’d like to know.

The complete results from the BBWAA:

Name Votes Pct.
Roberto Alomar 523 90.0%
Bert Blyleven 463 79.7%
Barry Larkin 361 62.1%
Jack Morris 311 53.5%
Lee Smith 263 45.3%
Jeff Bagwell 242 41.7%
Tim Raines 218 37.5%
Edgar Martinez 191 32.9%
Alan Trammell 141 24.3%
Larry Walker 118 20.3%
Mark McGwire 115 19.8%
Fred McGriff 104 17.9%
Dave Parker 89 15.3%
Don Mattingly 79 13.6%
Dale Murphy 73 12.6%
Rafael Palmeiro 64 11.0%
Juan Gonzalez 30 5.2%
Harold Baines 28 4.8%
John Franco 27 4.6%
Kevin Brown 12 2.1%
Tino Martinez 6 1.0%
Marquis Grissom 4 0.7%
Al Leiter 4 0.7%
John Olerud 4 0.7%
B.J. Surhoff 2 0.3%
Bret Boone 1 0.2%
Benito Santiago 1 0.2%
Carlos Baerga 0 0.0%
Lenny Harris 0 0.0%
Bobby Higginson 0 0.0%
Charles Johnson 0 0.0%
Raul Mondesi 0 0.0%
Kirk Rueter 0 0.0%

Baseball Bloggers Alliance Hall of Fame Vote

Barry Larkin, Cincinnati Reds, 2004, by Rick D...

Image via Wikipedia

Here are the official results of the BBA membership Hall of Fame vote.  Curious to see what you all think.  Personally, I voted for Alomar, Larkin, Bagwell, Raines, and Larry Walker.  I did not vote for Bert Blyleven.

BBA RECOMMENDS ALOMAR, BLYLEVEN FOR HALL OF FAME
Second baseman Roberto Alomar and starting pitcher Bert Blyleven were named today as the recommended 2011 Hall of Fame class by the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.
Alomar, who is on the ballot for his second year, and Blyleven, looking at his fourteenth time, both finished just shy of the BBA’s recommendation in 2010 at just a fraction under the 75% threshold.  As was the case last year, both Alomar and Blyleven received the same amount of votes from the BBA membership in 2010, but this time it was enough to push them into the recommended status.
Both players received 117 votes out of the 154 ballots cast, resulting in a 75.97% approval rate.  Again echoing the vote taken at the end of 2009, shortstop Barry Larkin was the third man in the balloting, missing selection by being named on just 70.78% of the ballots.
The Baseball Bloggers Alliance’s vote has no impact on the official vote taken by the Baseball Writers of America and the members of the Hall of Fame.  However, the BBA has been often a predictor of awards granted by the writers, matching their selection in fourteen of the sixteen major awards in the last two postseasons combined.
The final voting results are as follows:
Roberto Alomar, 75.97%
Bert Blyleven, 75.97%
Barry Larkin, 70.78%
Jeff Bagwell, 62.34%
Edgar Martinez, 59.09%
Tim Raines, 54.55%
Mark McGwire, 44.16%
Lee Smith, 38.96%
Alan Trammell, 35.71%
Don Mattingly, 33.12%
Larry Walker, 31.17%
Fred McGriff, 27.27%
Jack Morris, 25.97%
Rafael Palmerio, 20.78%
Dale Murphy, 16.23%
Dave Parker, 12.34%
Harold Baines, 10.39%
Kevin Brown, 9.09%
John Franco, 7.14%
John Olerud, 5.19%
Al Leiter, 4.55%
Bret Boone, 3.90%
Juan Gonzalez, 3.90%
Marquis Grissom, 2.60%
Benito Santiago, 1.30%
Bobby Higginson, 0.65%
Charles Johnson, 0.65%
Kirk Rueter, 0.65%
Carlos Baerga, 0.00%
Raul Mondesi, 0.00%
BJ Surhoff, 0.00%
The Baseball Bloggers Alliance was established in the fall of 2009 for the purpose of fostering collaboration and communication among bloggers from across baseball.  The BBA has quickly grown to its current membership of 256 blogs, including some of the most prominent blogs on the internet, spanning all major league teams and various other general aspects of the game.
More information about the BBA can be found at their website, www.baseballbloggersalliance.com, or by contacting the founder and administrator of the organization, Daniel Shoptaw, at founder@baseballbloggersalliance.com.

Why Larry Walker Deserves to be in the Hall of Fame

Larry Walker

‘Tis the Season.

This is the time of year when the Baseball Writers of America (BBWA) submit their final ballots for the players they think are deserving of induction into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Among the eligible inductees this year are Bert (haven’t I been here before?) Blyleven, holdovers from last year Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin and Edgar Martinez (shame on you, BBWA,) and first-time eligibles Jeff Bagwell, Rafael Palmiero, Mark McGwire, Kevin Brown, Juan Gonzalez, John Olerud, Bobby Higginson, and Larry Walker.

If baseball Hall of Fame history provides any lessons, then Blyleven, Alomar and Bagwell are the most likely candidates for Hall enshrinement in 2011.

But an equally deserving candidate for HOF enshrinement is Larry Walker.

Walker was overshadowed in his day (1989-05) by players like Ken Griffey, Jr., Barry Bonds, Frank Thomas, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa.  But, with the tainted exception of Barry Bonds, Walker was arguably a more complete player than any of the others.

In fact, only Barry Bonds and Jeff Bagwell were truly comparable to Walker as  complete Major League players.

One way to go about evaluating a potential Hall of Famer is to start with his weaknesses (or at least his perceived shortcomings.)

Thus, one can argue that Edgar Martinez, for example, was “only” a DH, and therefore, because he seldom played in the field, his Hall credentials are penalized.

As for Sammy Sosa, (aside from the steroid issue,)  he was neither a great base-runner, nor was he a legendary defensive outfielder.  And in many seasons, his batting average wasn’t all that fantastic, either.

Barry Bonds, even before he ever (allegedly) used steroids, was nearly a complete player, but his throwing arm was just average.  If he could really throw, he would have played right field.

Jeff Bagwell was as close to being as complete a player as you could find during this era, but first basemen have to be exceptionally superior around the bag to win a reputation for defensive excellence.  Bagwell won just a single Gold Glove, and his throwing arm was considered average.

Ken Griffey was a sleek, graceful defensive outfielder and an excellent power hitter who won 10 Gold Gloves, had an average arm, and who never led his league in OBP, OPS, OPS+, hits, doubles, or walks.  His base-running skills were considered solid, but not fantastic.

Frank Thomas was a devastating hitter for both power and average, walked a lot, but was a poor defensive player and a below average base-runner.

I’m not arguing that the aforementioned players have questionable Hall of Fame credentials.  If any of them don’t make it into The Hall, it will be due to the taint of steroids.

But suppose you can find a truly flawless player?  Doesn’t it stand to reason that this player, given enough time on the baseball diamond to prove himself, would be a Hall of Fame quality player?

Enter Larry Walker.

Every player has at least one minor shortcoming, right?  I’ve listed the relative shortcomings of several Hall of Famers already.

But as I searched for Larry Walker’s hidden weakness, I kept coming up empty.

Let’s start with a couple of traditional stats: batting average, and its sexy younger sister, on-base percentage.

Batting average is overrated, I know.  But a player with a career .313 batting average who happened to win three batting titles (as many as George Brett,) has certainly demonstrated at least one strength.   And for those of you who snicker at the very mention of batting average, Walker posted an On-Base Percentage in his entire career of exactly .400.

By way of comparison, Derek Jeter, whose specialty is getting on base, has posted an OBP of .400 or better in just four of 16 seasons.  Brett reached that magic number in just three of 21 seasons.  Walker topped .400 in eight consecutive seasons.

Fine.  He got on base a lot.  But what about hitting for power?  Let’s look at homers and RBI’s.  Acknowledging (again with a nod to the sabermetric crowd) that RBI’s are overrated, Walker drove in 1,311 runs, topping 100 RBI five times.  He drove in over 90 runs for the first time, while playing with the Montreal Expos, at the age of 25.  He drove in over 90 runs (104, actually) for the last time, playing for the Rockies, at age 35.  Thus, for a solid decade, he was a serious middle of the order masher.

As for home runs, he hit 383 in his career, topping 30 homers four times.  He topped the N.L. in homers with 49 in 1997, and he averaged 31 per 162 games in his career.  Albert Pujols, who, if he quit playing tomorrow, would be a definite inductee into The Hall, also reached 49 homers just once.

In addition to Walker’s 383 homers, he also produced 471 doubles and 62 triples.  His 916 extra base hits are 56th all-time, more than Hall of Famers Paul Waner, Joe DiMaggio, Harmon Killebrew and Duke Snider, and just four fewer than Willie McCovey.

Impressively, Walker’s career slugging percentage is a remarkable .565, good for 14th best all-time.  Virtually every single player ahead of him on this list is either in the Hall of Fame already, or will be elected eventually (Pujols) unless their alleged use of steroids keeps them out (A-Rod, Bonds, Manny Ramirez.)

Likewise, Walker’s OPS (on-base + slugging) of .965 ranks 16th best all-time, just below Stan Musial, and just ahead of Johnny Mize.  He posted an OPS north of 1.000 six times in his career.  By contrast, Hank Aaron reached that level five times in his career.

Enough already, you say.  So he was basically just a big, slow-footed Canadian who could slug the ball.  There have been lots of sluggers.  What else does he bring to the table?

How about seven Gold Gloves?  And how about 150 outfield assists?  Walker led the N.L. in assists three times, and his career total of 150 assists ranks seventh best, just four behind Jesse Barfield, and only five behind the legendary Dwight Evans.

Clearly, Walker was an excellent defensive right fielder with a gun for an arm.

Base-running skills?  Check.  In poll after poll of managers and of his peers, Walker was consistently on the short-list of best base-runners in his league.  Only Jeff Bagwell and a couple of other players were considered comparable to Walker during the entire decade of the ’90’s.

Not only was Walker extremely adept at turning singles into doubles, and reading the ball off the bat so that he knew when to score from second base, but he was an underrated base-stealer, too.

Larry Walker stole a surprising 230 bases in his career, and was caught 76 times.  His career stolen base percentage of 75% was about the same as Lou Brock’s and better than Maury Wills’.  Walker set a career high with 33 stolen bases in 1997, and topped 20 steals in two other seasons.

In his base-running prime, over a seven-year period (1993-99), Walker’s stolen base percentage, in 153 attempts, was an even more impressive 81%.

So Larry Walker could hit for average and for power, he could field his position with the best of them, and he was an excellent base-runner.

Oh, and due to his great base-running and his excellent power, he scored 1,355 runs in his career, topping 100 runs scored four times, and 90+ runs scored in two other seasons.

But I’ll bet he hit into a ton of double-plays, right?  Sluggers like him, even if they are smart on the base-paths, are susceptible to the old 4-6-3 double-play. And hitting into double-plays is an underrated killer of a player’s total value.

Even here, however, Walker’s career numbers are fantastic.  He hit into just 153 double-plays in his career.  Cal Ripkin is the all-time leader, having hit into 350 double-plays.  Jim Rice and Eddie Murray each hit into 315.  Frank Robinson checks in at 270.  Willie Mays hit into 251.  Charlie Hustle himself grounded into 247 twin-killings.  Derek Jeter clocks in at 235.

Walker was about as difficult to double-up as Craig Biggio (150), and Biggio once went an entire season (1997) without grounding into a double-play.

Larry Walker was a five time All-Star.  He won the N.L. MVP award in 1997.  He won three Silver Slugger awards.  He had a 200 hit season.  He won three batting titles, a home run title, and he led his league in OPS twice.

Now this is where you pull out your trump card.  Walker played his home games for nine+ seasons in the most favorable hitters park ever constructed, Coors Field in Denver, Colorado.

There is no doubt  his overall career numbers were given a boost by this ballpark.  But in the last of his five seasons with his first team, the Montreal Expos, (1994) Walker posted an OPS+ of 151, a number he surpassed just four times in nine full seasons in Colorado.

Walker’s career OPS+, which takes into account a players’ home ballpark as well as the era in which he played, sits at 140, the same as Hall of Famer Duke Snider.

Moreover, while in Montreal, he had already established himself as a fine defensive outfielder by winning two Gold Gloves.  He had also already demonstrated fine base-running skills by swiping 29 bases in 36 attempts in 1993, and he led the N.L. in doubles with 44 in ’94.

As for his home-road splits, consider the following.  In Walker’s finest season, 1997, he slugged .709 at home, and .733 on the road.  He belted 20 homers at home, and 29 on the road.  He drove in 68 runs at home; he drove in 62 runs on the road.  His home on-base percentage was .460; his road OBP was .443.  So his numbers, in some cases, were actually better on the road, and even the stats that were better at home were not vastly superior.

Other Hall of Fame ball players certainly benefited tremendously from their home ballparks.  Mel Ott, for example,  hit 323 of his 511 career homers (63%) at the Polo Grounds.  If Jim Rice had played his entire career in Houston, there would have been little difference between him and Jimmy Wynn.

Finally, a few of you may even pull out the “whiff of steroids” excuse to besmirch his reputation.  But no credible evidence exists to suggest that Walker ever used steroids.  Frankly, as intelligent adults, we need to move beyond the perversely gratifying,  sensationalist rumor-mongering on this issue.

Not everyone who hit 25 or more home runs in a season in the ’90’s and early 2000’s used PED’s.  Unless credible evidence has come to light regarding a particular player, we have no choice but to extend to them the benefit of the doubt on this issue.

According to baseball-reference.com, of the ten players whose careers were most similar to Walkers, four of them, (DiMaggio, Snider, Chuck Klein and Johnny Mize) are already in the Hall of Fame.  Another close comp., Vlad Guerrerro, will be once he becomes eligible.

Taken as a whole, then, Larry Walker clearly produced Hall of Fame numbers.  Whether or not the BBWA sees it this way, and I suspect many of them won’t agree with me, Walker deserves enshrinement in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.

Yesterday, December 1st, was Larry Walker’s 44th birthday.  Consider this blog-post a birthday present, Larry.  You deserve it.

Strange Baseball Seasons and Careers

Every once in a while, as I’m doing some research for this blog, I’ll come across a baseball statistic that stuns me.  What is most surprising, however, is that even after all these years of studying baseball and looking at stats, there are still surprises lurking in the shadows of the ancient statistical tomes.

I’m not suggesting that no one else has ever noticed any of these odd items before, either, but if they are new to me, they might just be new to you, too.

Further, as the title of this blog-post states, statistical oddities may not reveal themselves until a player’s career has long since ended.  Conversely, though, some unlikely stats will pop up and demand your attention like an inebriated, embarrassing  guest at a dinner party.

This blog-post claims no pretensions that its writer has any real idea of just what a dinner-party actually looks like, so in the name of Frozen Dinners and improvisation, lets eschew any formal organizational structure in this blog-post from here on out, and just indulge our (my) fascination with statistical oddities, free-style, as it were.

To begin with, who do you think were the toughest pitchers to hit (using Hits Given Up per Nine Innings) of all- time?

Did you say Walter Johnson?  Well, O.K., he is 33rd on the all-time list having given up 7.47 hits per nine innings in his career.  Randy Johnson?  You’re getting warmer.  He is 22nd on the list.

Remember, we are not talking about WHIP here.  Just hits per nine.  Yes, of course, you remembered Nolan Ryan.  He was the Number #1 toughest pitcher to hit, having given up just 6.55 hits per nine.

Sandy Koufax comes in at Number #2, posting a 6.79 hits per nine ratio.  Again, no surprise there.

Number #3 Toughest Pitcher to Hit, Ever?  Well, let me save you some time:

Sid Fernandez.  Yes, that Sid Fernandez.  El Sid.  The Mets’ secret weapon in the bullpen against the Red Sox in the ’86 World Series.

Sid Fernandez posted an incredible 6.85 hits per nine innings in his career in 1866 innings.  He pitched in parts of 15 different seasons and made exactly 300 starts in his career.

So how many wins did El Sid record out of those 300 starts?  Just 114 wins, against 96 losses.  In other words, Fernandez ended up with a no-decision in 30% of his career starts, a rather high percentage.

So why didn’t he win more games?  Apparently, El Sid just couldn’t get much past the sixth inning.  In fact, he completed only 25 games in his entire career!  Thus, his bullpen mates ended up swooping down for the win, or they blew the game and took the loss.

Sid Fernandez’s idea of a workout routine was a 6,000 calorie breakfast, followed by long periods of rest and idleness.

Fernandez only reached double-figures in wins in five seasons; his best win totals were 16 (in 1986), 14 (twice) and 12 (twice).  That’s it.

Sid Fernandez was, then, one the greatest six- inning pitchers ever.  But even though one inning specialists now routinely make it into Cooperstown, (they’re called “Closers”), El Sid will never get in without first paying for a ticket.

Now that’s a strange career.

Almost as strange was the career of a former teammate of Sid Fernandez:   David Cone.

At first glance you might not expect Cone to have had a weird career, but let me throw some numbers at you.  I’ll do it in the form of a Table so you can more clearly see what I noticed.

The first number represents a season with exactly that number of wins; the second number directly to the right of it represents how many seasons Cone reached that number of wins.  So let’s take a look:

20  –  2  (Cone had 2 twenty win seasons)

19  –  0

18  –  0

17  –  0

16  –  1

15  –  0

14  –  3

13  –  1

12  –  2

11  –  1

10  –  0

Cone finished with nearly 200 wins in his career in over 400 starts.  His career win-lost percentage was a very nice .606.

But where did all those 194 career wins come from?  How does a pitcher have two 20 win seasons, but NO 15, 17, 18, or 19 win seasons, and still have an excellent career?

Cone is the antithesis of Bert Blyleven.  Blyleven won nearly 300 games (287) in his career, but his entire career was made up of exactly the kinds of seasons Cone NEVER even had once in his entire career (except for the one lonely 16 win season.)  For example, Blyleven produced five 17-win seasons.

There are two types of Hall-of-Famers, and two kinds of HOF voters.  One group prefers the bright shining stars that flame out fast, but oh, what beauty when they shined.  The other group prefers slow-and-steady-wins-the race.  Cone is not in The Hall, nor is Blyleven.  But they are on polar opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to the kinds of careers a pitcher who could be considered for The Hall might have.

Now, how about a hitter.

Hitters, of course, are mainly supposed to hit.  But it’s O.K., even lauded in some circles, if a particular hitter draws an occasional Base-on-Balls, too.

One particular hitter that, occasionally, did draw a walk was former infielder Alfredo Griffin.  Griffin played his first full season in the Majors in 1979, winning the A.L. Rookie of the Year award playing for the Blue Jays.  He retired in 1993.

Alfredo Griffin just might have been the worst regular, everyday offensive player in the history of baseball.

Now, I know, there have been lots of really bad offensive players throughout baseball history.  But this, as they say, you have to see.

Griffin’s highest single-season on-base percentage in his career was .333 in his rookie campaign of 1979 when he drew a career high 40 walks in 689 plate appearances.  He never walked as many as forty times in a season again.

But the season that truly boggles my mind was 1984 when in 441 plate appearances, Griffin drew exactly FOUR walks all year.

How is that even possible?

His batting average that season was .241; his on-base percentage was .248.  For his entire career, Griffin posted an OBP of .285 in over 7,000 plate appearances.

Folks, we are talking about a guy that played all 162 games in four different seasons, not some part-time late-inning defensive replacement.

Defensively, by the way, he was pretty good, although he managed to win just one Gold Glove award in his entire career.  But even fifteen Gold Gloves couldn’t justify those awful non-hitting skills of his.

You want to hear the best part?  1984, the year he drew just four walks, the year he posted an OBP south of .300, was the Only year he made an All-Star team.

Well, did he hit lots of homers?  Nope, just 24 in his entire career.

Did he score lots of runs.  Nope, he reached 80 runs scored only once, his rookie season.

Did he steal lots of bases?  Well, here’s the thing.  He did steal 192 bases in his career, but he was also caught stealing 134 times, a poor “success” rate of .588.  In fact, in a two year period, 1980-81, he successfully stole a paltry 26 bases in 61 attempts!  He did improve later on in his career, but was never truly an asset on the base-paths.

In 1980, he led the A.L. in triples with 15, and in outs made with 532.

In November of 1988, the Dodgers, enamored by Griffin’s .199 batting average and .965 fielding percentage from the ’88 season, signed Griffin as a free-agent for one million dollars.

Ladies and gentleman, am I missing something here?

To sum up, the weirdest thing about Alfredo Griffin isn’t his career numbers, it’s that he ever had a career at all, and a long career at that.

O.K.  Let’s follow Griffin up with a player who actually could hit.

Carlton Fisk was one of the best overall catchers in baseball history.  Suffering from numerous injuries early in his career, he nevertheless ended up playing in 2,499 games, amassing 9,853 plate appearances.

Most of his career numbers are pretty standard (meaning very good) for a player of his caliber, especially for a catcher.

But one season late in his career when he played for the White Sox stands out.  In 1984, when Fisk was already 36 years old, he slugged a reasonable 21 home runs.  Now, normally when a player hits over 20 homers and plays more or less every day, their RBI total lands somewhere in the 75-90 range, give or take a few.

Somehow, despite hitting 21 homers, Fisk managed to drive in only 43 runs in just under 400 plate appearances.  I am guessing that his RBI total that year has to be one of the lowest ever recorded, perhaps the lowest, for a player who hit at least 20 homers in one season.

I am not casting any aspersions on Fisk’s talent or on his career, but that is one fluky statistic.

Finally, there is the strange case of Storm Davis.

Davis was an extremely young man of 20 when he threw his first pitch for the Orioles in 1982.  By the age of 22, Davis had already pitched 525 innings in the Majors; there were no Joba Rules in those days.

By 1989, Davis was a member of a formidable Oakland A’s rotation.  In that year, his age-27 season, Davis enjoyed his career-year.  Despite tossing just 169 innings, Davis posted a record of 19-7.

It was the worst 19 win season in major league history.

Here are the ugly peripheral numbers behind that inflated win total:

ERA:  4.36, WHIP:  1.506,  Strike-Outs:  91,  Walks:  68,  K’s / 9 innings:  4.8,  Hits / 9 innings:  10.

In short, if Davis had pitched that year for virtually any other baseball team, he would have ended up with a sub-.500 win-lost record.

Of course, the Kansas City Royals, unable to see past Davis’ gaudy win total, signed Davis in the off-season to be the ace of their staff for over a million dollars (still big money in those days.)

The Royals were rewarded with a 7-10 season in 1990.

This is one reason why some small-market teams continue to be unsuccessful.  When they do splurge on a free-agent, it’s usually the wrong guy.

Davis’ career was strange because he was actually a pretty good pitcher who pitched terribly one season, still won 19 games, and was rewarded with a large contract as a free agent.

I’m absolutely positive there are many other players who have had strange, unlikely individual seasons and /or careers.  If you can think of others and would like to share them, by all means please do.  I’m not necessarily talking about One-Year Wonders; I already did a prior blog-post on that topic.

Now, let’s see what kind of strange, unlikely seasons we are in store for in 2010.  We know they’ll happen.  We just don’t know yet who they’ll happen to.

And once again, thank you for taking the time to read my blog.  I appreciate it.

Bill

Creating a Hall of Fame Mythology

On Wednesday of this week, the results of this year’s Hall of Fame balloting by the Baseball Writers of America (BBWA) will be announced.  No matter what the results turn out to be, lots of people will complain loudly about who did or did not make it into baseball’s Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2010.

And they will all be right.

The problem, of course, is that there are no objective standards by which any player can be evaluated as to whether or not they are a true HOF’er.  The bigger problem, though, is that there can NEVER BE any objective standards to determine baseball’s most fundamental question.

Here’s why.

You want to argue that a player should have 3,000 hits to be a HOF’er?  Fine, then we need to remove Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx from The Hall.

How about 500 home runs?  Obviously, you can eliminate the majority of hitters in The Hall, especially all those pesky middle infielders.  How about 400 homers? Well, now you have added Dave Kingman to the Hall of Fame, but you have eliminated Rickey Henderson, Yogi Berra, George Brett and Charlie Gehringer.

How about a .3oo career batting average?  Oooh, don’t go there.  Not only will you eliminate many fan favorites (Cal Ripkin, Ernie Banks, Willie McCovey), but don’t you know that batting average is no longer a cool stat?  These days, it’s all about On-Base Percentage.  Batting average is so 1977.

Well, how about the currently most-cool stat, OPS (On-Base plus Slugging Percentage)?  Let’s set the base-line at, say, .875.  Now you’ve eliminated Wade Boggs, Roy Campanella and, uhm, Honus Wagner.  But, hey, you’ve added Tim Salmon, David Justice and Kevin Mitchell.

O.K., let’s forget about hitters for a second and focus on pitchers.  Can’t we agree that 300 wins is the magic number?  Well, yes, if you combine Sandy Koufax with Addie Joss, you get 320 wins.

Uhm, how about 3,000 strike-outs? But if strike-outs are an extremely important counting stat, then Nolan Ryan was twice as good as Christy Mathewson, right? (2,502  K’s to 5, 715  K’s).  Except that, of course, he wasn’t.  Actually, you would have to eliminate all but nine pitchers from The Hall, including Cy Young.

Then, dammit, let’s use a cold, hard stat like Batting Average Against, because if a guy was extremely hard to hit, then he was probably a HOF’er.

Except that now you have just inducted former Mets pitcher Sid Fernandez into The Hall, since El Sid had the 3rd best BA Against in MLB history, behind only Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax.

Sure, if you try hard enough, you might be able to come up with some kind of Gordian Knot of a statistical system, perhaps even a matrix of purely objective data, tabulated by a computer hidden deep in a bunker under Cooperstown, that could identify HOF’ers in under a minute.

The problem is, however, that identifying who is or is not a HOF’er is, at its root, an emotional question that revolves around the subjective memories of people who grew up cheering for, even worshiping, their hometown hero.

And there is nothing wrong with that.

Anyone who has spent time arguing with a Mariners fan about whether or not Edgar Martinez is truly worthy of induction into the HOF will come to understand that these arguments are not primarily based on objective data analysis, although that will appear to be the primary mode of argument.

As I stated in my first blog post, baseball is all about memory.  And baseball’s two essential questions are: 1) Who deserves to be remembered and 2) How do they deserve to be remembered.

The magic of baseball is that this is where history and mythology intertwine, creating memories cherished from one generation to another.

And the Hall of Fame is the one place in baseball where everyone comes together to pay their dutiful respect to America’s greatest game.

The induction of Alan Trammel will not undermine the integrity of this institution.  Nor will The Hall be tarnished if Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Edgar Martinez or Bert Blyleven are called up to the podium to make the speech of a lifetime.

The Hall of Fame has long since evolved into an institution somewhat like the Union Army during the Civil War;  designate enough men to be generals, and some of them are bound to work out.

The Hall of Fame voting process is, then, a kind of archaic caucus system, an irrationally democratic institution uniquely American in its vulgar imperfections, even as it strives to create an air of nobility.

Thus the Hall of Fame itself, and the electoral process currently in use to designate future HOF’ers, is a satisfactory representation of America at this time and place in our history.

So, once the final ballots are announced for the Class of 2010 this Wednesday, let the arguments begin.  Because through baseball, we are adding to the rich tradition of creating our own unique American mythology.

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