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Why Bernie Williams Does Not Belong in the Hall of Fame

Bernie Williams at the plate, His Birthday, Se...

Image via Wikipedia

I really hate to do this to Bernie Williams. Although I’m not a Yankee fan, I did happen to like and respect Williams during his tenure with the Yanks.  He always seemed to me to be a man of dignity and  self-respect.  There really wasn’t any reason not to like Bernie Williams.

As a player, along with Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada, Williams was an important part of the Yankee Championship teams during his era.  A five-time All Star, Williams was a player that any manager would love to have on his team.

Having said all that, Bernie Williams does not belong in the Hall of Fame.

Recently, I read an essay by Jim Caple of ESPN arguing that Williams should be elected into The Hall.  I further indulged myself by skimming through the reader responses to Caple’s analysis.  The majority of readers responded in the negative as far as Williams’ Hall worthiness was concerned, but there were several responses  to the effect that Williams is an obvious, slam-dunk Hall of Famer.

I decided to analyze their primary arguments as to why they believe Williams should be elected into the Hall of Fame.  It appears to me that Bernie’s advocates supply three major reasons why they think Williams belongs in The Hall.  Let’s take each reason, one at a time, and examine them more closely.

1)  Bernie Williams compiled excellent career play-off numbers: 

It is certainly true that Williams is among the all-time play-off leaders in games played, plate appearances, at bats, hits, runs scored, doubles, walks, home runs, and RBI.  But the primary reason why Williams is generally in the top three in each of these categories is because he played on a lot of excellent Yankee teams, and because there are simply more playoff series now than there were in prior generations.

Bernie Williams was fortunate to play on teams that allowed him to receive 545 plate appearances in playoff games.  That is essentially one regular season’s worth of plate appearances.  Williams triple slash line during the regular season in his career was ..297 / .381 / .477.  His playoff game triple slash line was .275 / .371 / .480.  Overall, not a lot of difference, other than a drop in batting average.

These numbers are about what one would expect considering a generally higher level of competition in playoff games.  Still, is there anything outstanding about that playoff triple slash line?  Williams was the 1996 A.L. ALCS MVP.  Per at bat, Williams numbers are good, but they are not outstanding.

2)  Bernie Williams was a great defensive center fielder:

Bernie Williams won four Gold Gloves, from 1997-2000, during which he accumulated a WAR of -4.1.  Yes folks, that’s a negative sign in front of the 4.  Very early on his Williams career as a full-time center fielder, beginning in 1993, Williams was a half-way decent outfielder.  He was young and quick, and he even accumulated a couple of seasons of positive WAR.

But the fact remains that Williams, who finished his career with a defensive WAR of -12.0, was, by any objective standard of measurement, a below average center fielder who happened to somehow impress Gold Glove voters into making them believe that he was, in fact, a very good outfielder.

It happens.  There are some Gold Glove winners (Keith Hernandez, Brooks Robinson, Ozzie Smith) who really do deserve the award virtually every season they earn it.  There are others, like Andruw Jones, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Rafael Palmiero, who earn them despite the fact that their skills eroded more quickly than people noticed.

My theory about this is that fans, managers, baseball announcers, and other  judge a player’s defense by entirely subjective criteria, like how graceful a player looks while playing his position.  Or how dirty his shirt is at the end of a game.  Yet, looks can be deceiving.  Sometimes a player has a dirty shirt because he is slow-footed and often out of position.  Or perhaps he looks as graceful as Nureyev  running across the wide expanse of the outfield, yet a disproportionate number of balls land just out of reach for inning-extending base hits.

Regardless of how well Williams appeared to play the outfield, the fact of the matter is, relatively speaking, he just wasn’t very good at it.

3)  Bernie Williams was an excellent switch-hitter who won a batting title and accumulated impressive career numbers.

Williams did win the A.L. batting title by hitting .339 in 1998.  Perhaps as a result, he also led the A.L. in intentional walks received in 1999, with 17.

Other than that, in Williams entire 16-year career, he never led the A.L. in any other category even once.  Not in at bats, hits, runs scored, doubles, home runs, RBI, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, or WAR.

Williams finished his career with 2,336 hits, 1,366 runs scored (95th all-time), 449 doubles (96th all-time), 287 home runs, 1,257 RBI, 147 stolen bases, just over 1,000 walks, and the aforementioned triple slash line of .297 / .381 / .477.  His OPS was .858, and his OPS+ was 125.  His career WAR was 47.3.

There is nothing wrong with any of those numbers.  They are very solid, respectable numbers.  But here’s the problem with these numbers.  If you induct Williams into The Hall with those numbers, then you better be ready to punch the ticket for Reggie Smith, Dwight Evans, Will Clark, Ted Simmons, Bobby Grich, Keith Hernandez, Dave Parker, and a cast of dozens of other players whose career numbers are right there with Williams.

Finally, it is also reasonable to expect that a Hall of Fame caliber player should have dominated the game to the extent that his dominance was rewarded with an MVP award or a Cy Young award or, at the very least, multiple finishes in the top five or top ten in voting for those awards.

Williams best finish in MVP voting was just 7th place in 1998.  He also finished in 10th place in 2002.

Bernie Williams was an excellent baseball player and a class Yankee who deserves to be recognized for his accomplishments in Monument Park in Yankee Stadium.

But Bernie Williams does not deserve to be elected into the baseball Hall of Fame.

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Baseball’s Doppelgangers

Ralph Kiner

Image via Wikipedia

One of my favorite features of Baseball-Reference.com can be found near the bottom of every player’s  profile.  It appears in a red box and is called “Similarity Scores.”  Directly below that heading, you will find the sub-heading, “Similar Batters” or “Similar Pitchers,” depending on the given player’s specific occupation.  Also listed are the players who are most similar by age to the player you are researching.

It is a fantastic tool, and often provides an excellent perspective to a particular player’s career.

How great, for example, was Kenny Lofton?  According to his Similarity Scores, three of the ten players he was most similar to are in the Hall of Fame:  Harry Hooper, Max Carey, and Fred Clarke.  A fourth player on this list, Tim Raines, should also probably be in The Hall.

Without this useful context, it is a bit more difficult to begin to construct the foundation of an argument that Kenny Lofton just possibly deserves to be in The Hall.

Just for fun, I constructed a list of dozens of currently active Major League ball players, and I researched each of their respective baseball doppelgangers, the players most similar to each of them.  I found the results to be interesting and useful, and I decided to share some of them with you.

I decided not, however, to research players who have been active fewer than five years in the Major Leagues because their career profiles are likely to change significantly as they accumulate more playing time.

In each pair of ball players listed below, the first player is still currently active, and the second name in the pair is his retired doppelganger.

A)  Paul Konerko:

365 HR, 1156 RBI, .280 BA, .854 OPS, 119 OPS+, 22.1 WAR

B)  Joe Adcock:

336 HR, 1122 RBI, .277 BA, .822 OPS, 123 OPS+, 34.2 WAR

A)  Adam Dunn:

354 HR, 880 RBI, .250 BA, .902 OPS, 133 OPS+. 27.1 WAR

B)  Ralph Kiner:

369 HR, 1015 RBI, .279 BA, .946 OPS, 149 OPS+, 45.9 WAR

Kiner is in the Hall of Fame.  He played ten seasons.  He hit 40+ homers in five consecutive seasons, followed by a 37 home run season.  He retired at age 32.

Dunn has played ten seasons.  He hit 40+ home runs in five consecutive seasons, followed by two 38 home run seasons.  He is 31 years old.

A)  Magglio Ordonez:

289 HR, 1204 RBI, .312 BA, .883 OPS, 128 OPS+, 36.9 WAR

B)  Chuck Klein:

300 HR, 1201 RBI, .320 BA, .922 OPS, 137 OPS+, 39.2 WAR

Hall of Famer Klein played 17 years and retired at age 39.  If Ordonez plays three more seasons, he will have played 17 years and will have retired at age 39.  They each won a batting title.  They each topped 20 stolen bases one time.  And they each hit at least 25 home runs in a season six times.

A)  Tim Hudson:

165 wins – 87 losses, 3.42 ERA, 1541 S.O., 1.247 WHIP, 128 ERA+, 46.3 WAR

B)  Jimmy Key:

186 wins – 117 losses, .3.51 ERA, 1538 S.O., 1.229 WHIP, 122 ERA+, 45.7 WAR

A)  Jorge Posada:

261 HR, 1021 RBI, .275 BA, .856 OPS, 123 OPS+, 46 WAR

B)  Gabby Hartnett:

236 HR, 1179 RBI, .297 BA, .858 OPS, 126 OPS+, 50.3 WAR

Hartnett retired at age 40.  Posada, nearing the end of the line, is 39 years old.  Hartnett played in six All-Star Games; Posada has played in five.  It required several years on the ballot before Hartnett was eventually elected to the Hall of Fame.  One can foresee a similar fate awaiting Posada.

A)  Mark Teixeira:

275 HR, 906 RBI, .286 BA, .913 OPS, 134 OPS+, 36.7 WAR

b)  Hal Trosky:

228 HR, 1012 RBI, .302 BA, .892 OPS, 130 OPS+, 26.2 WAR

Migraine headaches forced Trosky into retirement at age 28.  Twice he came out of retirement, but he was just a shadow of the player he had been over the first several years of his career.

A)  Roy Oswalt:

150 wins – 83 losses, 3.18 ERA, 1666 S.O., 1.184 WHIP, 135 ERA+, 44.6 WAR

b)  Dizzy Dean:

150 wins – 83 losses, 3.02 ERA, 1163 S.O., 1.206 WHIP, 131 ERA+, 39.6 WAR

At first, when I noticed that their career win-loss records were identical, I thought I must have made a mistake.  But those are the correct numbers, folks.  Now that’s what I call a baseball doppelganger.

Dean’s career lasted about a decade.  Oswalt has ten complete seasons under his belt.  Dean is in the Hall of Fame.  Can you tell me why Oswalt, then, shouldn’t be once he retires?

There are many more pairs I found interesting:  Mark Buehrle / Johnny Podres, Carlos Lee / Del Ennis, and Matt Holliday / Chick Hafey are but a few examples of these doppelganger pairs.

In general, it was more difficult to find reasonably similar pitchers across time than it was to find pairs of hitters who matched up well with one another.

Take from this research what you will.  As for me, I have come to recognize that there are several more players than I realized who have built strong Hall of Fame cases for themselves over the past decade.  Once they retire, these kinds of comparisons will go a long way to buttressing arguments regarding their respective Hall of Fame worthiness.

Friendly Reminder: I invite you to check back in to this blog on Friday of this week for the third of twelve planned installments of the series, “Baseball’s Best of the Worst,” that Graham Womack of Baseball Past and Present and I are collaborating on.

Baseball Predictions, 2010: A Look Back

Joey Votto, spring training 2008.

Image via Wikipedia

Having been foolish enough to have committed my player and team predictions for the recently departed (regular) baseball season to a couple of blog-posts several months ago, I find I have little choice but to go back and analyze my, uhm, analysis.

Let’s start with my team predictions.

As a Mets fan, I was not optimistic going into this season.  I wrote an entire blog-post about why I thought Jason Bay was a bad signing.  Turns out I was wrong about Bay.  He wasn’t just bad.  He was horrible.

Meanwhile, I predicted the Mets would win somewhere between 78-84 games, probably coming in right around .500.  Allowing Oliver Perez to pitch the Mets to disaster on the last day of the Mets season, the Mets lost to Washington 2-1, thereby securing a 79-win campaign.

Oddly, I had predicted the Mets to finish in a third-place tie with the Marlins.  The Marlins actually won just one more game than the Mets, so I feel vindicated.

Staying in the N.L. East, I picked the Phils to win and the Braves to earn the Wild Card.  Good for me!  The Nats, of course, were predicted to come in last.

In the N.L. Central, like virtually everyone else, I thought the Cardinals would win without a serious fight.  I stated that, “The Reds are an enigma.”  I still think they are an enigma.  But here’s what I had to say about Joey Votto:

Joey Votto Don’t bother reminding me about his anxiety problems.  This year, the only people who will experience anxiety problems will be the pitchers who have to face him.  26-year old pure hitter in a nice hitter’s park.

For some reason, I picked the Brewers to finish in second place.  They actually finished third.  But that’s not saying much in this sorry division.

I had the Cubs, Houston and the Pirates finishing in 4th, 5th and 6th.  The Astros actually finished just a game ahead of the Cubs, so…not bad.

In the N.L. West, my picks were terrible.  I predicted the Padres would finish in last place, the Giants in fourth place, and Arizona in third place.  And I thought the Dodgers would finish second to the Rockies. 

Here’s what I said about the Rockies:

I really like the Rockies.  Their pitching staff might be the most underrated in baseball, and in Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, they have two of the most exciting young players in the league.  Plus their terrific second-half last year should carry over into this season.

Well, I stand by my characterization of Tulo and Gonzalez being two of the most exciting players in the league.  If Tulowitzki didn’t miss a significant part of the season due to injury, I still think this was the team to beat. 

But I have no excuse for the rest of my picks in that strange division.

Over in the American League, my player evaluations were better than my team evaluations (with a couple of notable exceptions.)

Let’s take the players first.

From the A.L. East (which I predicted Boston to win), I said this about second baseman Dustin PedroiaThis 26-year old has already won an MVP award, and offers a nice power / speed combination.  Scores bushels of runs, and plays in a great hitter’s park.  What’s not to like?  There is no downside here.

I also predicted that Boston’s first baseman Kevin Youkilis and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury would have nice seasons, and that Mike Cameron would prove to be a valuable pickup.

Those four key players combined to miss an astounding total of 405 games.  Yes, the Yankees had their share of injuries.  But no team in baseball saw so much potential run production vanish so quickly and for so long.

Considering that the Red Sox still managed to win 89 games and finish just six games behind the second place Yankees, I still think the Bo-Sox could have, at the very least, won the Wild Card if their injury caseload had been more manageable.

I picked the Yanks to finish in second place, and I declared them to be a rapidly aging team.  I may have been a year premature.  But age has certainly taken its toll on both Jeter and Posada.  Jeter had one of his worst seasons ever, and 38-year old Posada managed just 383 at bats.  Here’s what I predicted for Jeter:

First ballot Hall of Famer will see at least a 20% decline in his overall offensive output from last season, but still has enough to offer at age 35.  Will be drafted too early in most leagues due to rep and weak position.

As for Tampa Bay, I thought they would finish a strong third place.  I generally liked Carl Crawford, but I really didn’t like first baseman Carlos Pena.  Here’s what I said about Pena:

[He is] The 31-year old Latin Dave Kingman.  Steer clear.

Pena’s final line:  28-84-.196  Very Kingmanesque.

Pointlessly, I picked Baltimore to finish ahead of Toronto.  Baltimore ended up being even worse than I imagined.  I thought losing Roy Halladay would signal the death-knell to this Toronto team, but they overcame his loss pretty well, finishing with an impressive record of 85-77.

In the Central Division, I didn’t think the Twins could win with just two excellent players: Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.  Here’s what I said about the Twins back in March:

I keep reading about the Twins killer offense, but Cuddyer and Kubel should, in fact, be a platoon tandem, since one primarily kills lefties and the other can’t hit them at all.  Morneau either gets injured, or slumps badly in the second half.  It becomes the Joe Mauer show, but one man can’t do it all.  And Joe Nathan being done for the year won’t help.

Nowhere did I see DH Jim Thome rescuing the team about mid-season, when, as I predicted, Justin Morneau got injured.  And the acquisition of Matt Capps to close games was also an unforseeable stroke of genius.

I predicted the White Sox would win this division.  They fell short by six wins.  The Tigers, a team that I considered a dark-horse, were one of only two teams in the Majors to finish with a perfect .500 record, 81-81 (the other was Oakland.)

Picking the Royals and Indians to finish at the bottom was, of course, a no-brainer.

Over in the A.L. West, I bought into the hype that is (or was) the Seattle media machine.  In retrospect, although I predicted the Angels were ready for a fall, and that the A’s would be an also-ran, I definitely underestimated the Rangers.  Thus, I predicted a team that would finish with one of the worst records in baseball (Seattle:  61-101) would have a nice season due to the off-season acquisitions of Cliff Lee and Chone Figgins (remember Chone Figgins?)

My preseason thoughts on the A.L. West:

Many people still pick Angels to win West.  This is a lazy pick.  These are not the Angels of the past few seasons.  Ervin Santana is your ace?  He may win a dozen games.  Too many defections to recover from.  Texas’ pitching will also regress some from last year, and they’ll have their usual assortment of injuries.  Heck, Ian Kinsler is already hurt again.

It was Texas’ pitching that I was most wrong about, although interestingly, their “ace” of 2009, Scott Feldman, did have a poor season in ’10.  He finished with a record of 7-11 with a 5.48 ERA a year after winning 17 games and posting an ERA south of 4.00.

In my Pre-Season Pitching Preview, here’s what I said about Scott Feldman:

Although he is only 27-years old, he has already had his career season.  His 17 wins last year, despite just 113 K’s in 190 innings, were a fluke.  Yes, he did have a nice WHIP, but look for that .250 batting average against to go up around 20-30 percentage points this year.  And, as we all know, wins are primarily a reflection of the quality of the team for whom you pitch.

But I did not foresee C.J. Wilson, Tommy Hunter and Colby Lewis finishing with a combined record of 40-25, and all three with ERA’s below 4.00.

As for other players that I liked going into 2010, I was optimistic about Twins starter Francisco Liriano, Padres starter Matt Latos, Brave second baseman Martin Prado, and outfielders Andrew McCutchen (Pirates) and outfielder Justin Upton (Arizona.)  Four of the five had very nice seasons.  Upton was disappointing, but still managed 17 homers and 18 steals in his age-23 season.

Here was my take on Liriano:

Last years numbers, 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA and a WHIP of 1.55 will scare away most fantasy managers.  But there are four reasons for optimism going into this season: 1. He is still just 26-years old, and will be another year removed from his elbow operation.  2. His strikeout rate last year remained pretty high despite his problems 3. The new ballpark in Minnesota should play to his strengths 4. He dominated in the Winter League.  Could pay big dividends this season.

In fact, Liriano improved to a solid 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA in 192 innings, striking out 201 batters.

Latos also finished with a 14-10 record for the punchless Padres with an excellent ERA of 2.92 in 185 innings, striking out 189 batters.

And on an awful Pirates team (57-105), McCutchen scored 94 runs, stole 33 bases, hit .284, slugged 16 home runs and 35 doubles, and drew 70 walks.

Finally, here is what I said about Tiger’s first baseman and potential A.L. MVP Miguel Cabrera:

According to Baseball-Reference.com, the two players whose career profiles Cabrera’s is most similar to are Ken Griffey, Jr. and Hank Aaron.  Has a .925 career OPS in six full seasons.  Turns 27 in April.  The A.L. player most likely to win a Triple Crown.

Cabrera had a fantastic season:  38 homers, 128 RBI, 111 runs scored, a 1.042 OPS, and a .328 batting average.  As for the Triple Crown categories, he led the A.L. in RBI, finished second in batting average, and Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista’s It-Came-Out-Of-The-Sky home run total of 54 pushed Cabrera’s home run total down to third place, just one behind runner-up Paul Konerko.

In other words, if you remove Bautista’s outlier season from the mix, Cabrera comes damn close to winning the A.L. Triple Crown.

Finally, here were my picks for the major awards:

A.L. Cy Young:  Felix Hernandez

N.L. Cy Young: Roy Halladay

N.L. MVP: Troy Tulowitzki

A.L. MVP: Joe Mauer

N.L. Rookie of the Year:  Jason Heyward

A.L. Rookie of the Year:  Brian Matusz

I think I got the pitching right.

Tulo got hurt, but had a huge September, at one point hitting 14 home runs in 15 games.  Mauer’s power disappeared, but he still hit .327 on a first-place Twins team.  Heyward might win the ROY award, though personally I’d give it to Buster Posey of the Giants.  Matusz was simply a case of expecting too much too soon from a pitcher who still displayed promise on a very bad Orioles team. 

BTW, I predicted that the Phillies would lose to Boston in the World Series.  I still think the Phils will go to the W.S., but now I think they will beat whomever they face.  Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt is just too deep a rotation to have to face.

So there, I’ve done it again.  Now I have yet another inadvisable prediction to explain away in about a month.  So be it. 

Later this week, I will resume my series, “Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons” with a look at the Chicago White Sox.

On a final note, an essay of mine, “Opening Day 1977: A Swan Song for the Mets,” has just been published in a collection of stories called “Tales From Opening Day,” published online at Baseballisms.com.  Check it out.  It’s free!

Damn, that was a long post.  Until next time,

Bill







Baseball 2010: An Old-Timer’s Game

It has often been said that baseball is a young man’s game.

And truth be told, major league baseball is in a transition period now, with many of the game’s stars of the ’90’s and the early part of this century giving way to a whole new crop of young and talented players.

Over the past couple of years or so, we have witnessed the retirements (or the virtual retirements) of Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Randy Johnson, NOMAR!, Jeff Kent, Gary Sheffield, and Pedro Martinez, to name a few.

Meanwhile, other former stars, such as Ken Griffey, Jr., David Ortiz, and Manny Ramirez are clearly close to the end of the line.

In their place we have seen an enormous influx of exciting new players who are still just 27-years old or younger.  This group represents the vanguard of a new, (hopefully) post-steroids generation.  This list includes several young players who will some day end up in the Hall of Fame.

Most of these names are already very familiar to you:  Joe Mauer, Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Braun, Justin Verlander, Tim Lincecum, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, Zach Greinke, Prince Fielder, Dustin Pedroia, Evan Longoria, Felix Hernandez, Ryan Zimmerman, and David Wright.

Even younger players such as Stephen Strasburg, Jason Heyward, Brian Matusz, Matt Wieters, and Ike Davis are also on the way, or have arrived within the past year.

Yet there is a group of graying players for whom Father Time seems to have given a free pass, at least as of this writing.  These players, all at least 36-years old  (which is like 65, in baseball years), show no signs of slowing down.

Actually, in some cases, they did show signs of slowing down, but appear to have caught a second wind.  Several of them are either obvious future Hall of Famers, or should, at the very least, merit some consideration regarding their Hall worthiness.

So here they are:

1)  Jorge Posada: Through tonight’s game against Baltimore, Jorge has produced some impressive numbers.  He is hitting .316 with five homers and 12 RBI, while slugging over .600.  At age 38, he keeps himself in excellent shape, and the Yankees are committed to giving him extra rest throughout the season.  For these reasons, I believe Posada will continue to produce at a high level throughout this season.

Posada has played in parts of 15 seasons, and, aside from a few World Series rings, he has put up some nice numbers in his career.  He has hit 248 career homers, driven in 976 runs, hit 346 doubles, has a career batting average of just under .280, with a .380 on base average.

He is 7th all-time on the Yankees career doubles list, ahead of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey.  He is also 8th on the Yankees career home run list, just three behind Graig Nettles for 7th place.

Posada also has five Silver Sluggers to his credit, has played in five All-Star games (with a sixth all but assured this year), and he has finished in the top ten in MVP voting twice.

A serious argument could be made that Posada just might belong in the Hall of Fame.

For now, he will have to remain content hitting the stitching off of baseballs.

2)  Mariano Rivera: “Mo” has not allowed an earned run so far this season.  He is a perfect 6 for 6 in save opportunities.  His WHIP is 0.57.  He is now 40 years old, pitching just like he did back when he was 30.  An obvious Hall-of-Famer, there really isn’t any reason to spend time rehashing his career numbers.  The only question is, will his greatness ever end?

3)  Andy Pettitte: (No, I didn’t intend this to be Yankee night, but here we are.)

Believe it or not, he is off to the best start of his 16-year career.  Through his first four starts, he is 3-0, with 22 strikeouts in 28 innings.  His ERA is 1.29, and his WHIP is 1.07.  Clearly, the soon-to-be 38 year old Pettitte isn’t just hanging around waiting for the playoffs to begin.

That’s when he really excels.

Pettitte now has a career record of 232-135, a .632 win-loss percentage.  He has finished in the top 10 in Cy Young award voting five times.  And he has 18 career post-season victories.  At this point, his resume probably isn’t quite that of a Hall-of-Famer.  But if he continues to pitch this well for another 2-3 years, we’ll have to take another look.

4)  Jim Edmonds: Now playing for the Brewers, Edmonds was actually out of major league baseball last season.  But he earned his way onto the team this spring, and I’m sure the Brewers are happy he did.

So far this season, Edmonds (now approaching 40 years old), has hit better than .300, including a .340 batting average against right-handed pitching.  He has slugged almost .500, and he has scored 10 runs.  As part of a platoon, he gets most of the playing time, and he has made the most of it.

Edmonds would get my vote for the Hall of Fame as well.  His defense in center field alone would merit some consideration (eight Gold Gloves and several circus catches.)  But he also has 383 career home runs, 421 doubles, over 1200 runs scored, and nearly 1200 RBI’s.  Only a few center-fielders in history have combined his defensive prowess with his offensive statistics.

5)  Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez: Although recently side-lined with a back problem, when Pudge has played this season, he has been excellent.  In 56 at bats for the Washington Nationals, he is hitting a mere .410 with 23 hits, including 7 doubles and 10 runs scored.

Not bad for a 38-year old catcher who happens to be a life-time .300 hitter with over 300 home runs, 13 Gold Gloves, and 14 All-Star game appearances.  A first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, to be sure.

6)  Jamie Moyer: Pitching for the Phillies, the 47-year old (!) Moyer is off to a 2-1 start, with a respectable 1.278 WHIP.  He has fanned 11 in 18 innings.

Although Moyer now has 260 career wins, he is in the Tommy John-Jim Kaat class of pitchers.  That is to say, he has put together a fine career, but falls just short of belonging in The Hall.

7)  Ichiro Suzuki: Perhaps because of his physique and his unique style of play, it’s easy to forget that Ichiro, now at age 36, is not that young anymore.  But he is off to his usual start this season, hitting around .310 with six stolen bases and 13 runs scored.  Ichiro is in such great physical condition that, although he is slowing down a bit, he should remain a productive, above-average player for another couple of years.

Although I listed Ichiro as an overrated player in a prior blog-post, I still believe he will, and should be, elected to the Hall of Fame someday.

Each of these seven players not only continues to be highly productive, but they provide an invaluable link between the younger players, and all those who came before.  It’s how baseball’s greatness is continually perpetuated from one generation to the next.

If there are other worthy performers who you believe should be included on my list, please let me know.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

Fantasy Baseball Part II: Strategies and Tips

So let’s get right to the point.  There are a number of ways to win a fantasy baseball championship. But there are infinitely more ways to lose.  In fantasy baseball, as in war, the side that makes the fewest mistakes usually wins.

Thus, putting together a successful fantasy baseball season is less about who makes the most creative, clever decisions.  It is primarily about minimizing risks, and seizing obvious opportunities when they present themselves.

As I stated in my last post, I’ve been involved in a fantasy baseball league since the early ’90’s.  No, this doesn’t make me an expert, and I certainly don’t pretend to have a monopoly on fantasy baseball wisdom.  I can only share my own experiences that have allowed me to enjoy my fair share of success, but also, an impressive record of futility.

The strategies and tactics I’m going to share with you occur to me from time-to-time, but I don’t follow each and every one of them religiously.  There have been, however,  some self-imposed rules that I once considered inviolable that I have since discarded.

For example, for many years, Rule #1 was Never Draft Rockies Pitchers.  The thin mountain air of Coors Field meant high ERA’s and generally low strikeout totals for pitchers unlucky enough to call Coors home.

This season, for the first time, there are at least two or three pitchers on the Rockies that I would be happy to own.  Perhaps at the end of this season, if none of those pitchers live up to expectations, I’ll reinstate my old rule number #1.

So here, without further preamble, are some of my guidelines for the 2010 fantasy baseball season:

1)  Never draft a pitcher in the first round. This doesn’t mean that I don’t think any starting pitchers are worth drafting with your #1 pick.  In fact, if I have the 9th overall pick in our ten team league, and Tim Lincecum is still on the board, he would be very difficult to pass up.  But the reality is, pitchers are seldom as reliable and predictable as hitters, and you cannot afford to make a mistake with your first choice.

2)  Beware of career years outside the norm. Do you really believe Marco Scutaro will score 100 runs again?  Do you really believe Raul Ibanez will set yet another career high in slugging percentage at age 37?  How much are you willing to bet that Mike Cuddyer will match the 32 homers and 94 RBI’s he tallied last year?  All of these players are past 30 years old.  Buyer, beware.

3)  Ignore win totals. There is no strategy that will get you into more trouble than looking at a pitcher’s win total from one season and using this total to project the following season’s numbers.  For example, in 1976, Jerry Koosman finished the season with a record of 21-10, and he was runner-up to Randy Jones for the N.L. Cy Young award.

Now, if anyone other than Bill James had been playing fantasy baseball in the Spring of ’77, they would have drafted Koosman, largely based on his win-loss record, in perhaps the second round.  So what happened in 1977?  Did Koosman pitch poorly and finish with a losing record?

Well, no, and yes.  He actually pitched quite well, leading the league with 7.6 K’s per nine innings.  But the Mets as a team were terrible in ’77, offering Koosman no support at all, and he finished with a remarkably terrible record of 8-20.

That’s right, he lost 20 games the year after he won 20 games while pitching only slightly less effectively himself.  Pitchers are simply never a sure thing (see Rule #1.)

So how does one go about choosing pitchers to draft?  It’s not that hard, actually, and I have found year after year that I can begin the season with a mediocre looking staff only to have other owners in my league jealously eye-balling my rotation by the All-Star break. This brings us to item #4.

4)  Draft pitchers with high strike-out rates and low WHIPs. Dominance in the form of high K rates eventually reveals itself on the ball-field in the form of wins.  This does not contradict what I stated about how win totals aren’t important.  But if you start with wins as your base-line to project success, as opposed to high K rates and low WHIPs, you are far more likely to end up disappointed with the end results.

Let me illustrate this strategy using two examples of starting pitchers who will be drafted this spring:  Matt Garza and Scott Feldman.  Feldman, a 27 year old pitcher for the Rangers, finished last season with a promising record of 17-8 with a reasonably good WHIP of 1.28.

Garza, on the other hand, a 26 year old hurler with the Twins, finished the season with an 8-12 record despite an even slightly better WHIP of 1.26.  Who would you rather have, the 17 game winner, or the 8 game winner?

If you chose Feldman, the bigger winner, good luck to you.

Here’s why.  Feldman managed to strike out only 113 batters in just under 190 innings last season.  Garza K’d 189 in 203 innings.  That’s 76 more K’s for Garza in only about 13 more innings.  Fewer K’s mean more balls in play.  More balls in play lead eventually to many more hits, opportunities for errors by the defense, and bigger innings by the opposing offense.

Strikeout pitchers with reasonably low walk totals get themselves out of many more jams, with less damage done, than contact pitchers.  There are just far more opportunities for dominance by a strikeout pitcher than for a contact pitcher, and far more opportunities to fail for a contact pitcher, who, in Feldman’s case, also happens to pitch in one of the best hitter’s parks in baseball.  Which leads me directly to item #5

5)  Draft the Ball-Park: Look, obviously, when you are talking about great players such as Albert Pujols or a pitcher like Roy Halladay, ball-park factors are largely incidental.  Put them on any of the planets in our Solar System, and they’ll find ways to succeed.  But for many of the mere mortals out there, the ballpark they call home for 81 games during the season can make a big difference in the level of success they achieve.

In general, I like to find talented young hitters who have shown ability but still haven’t had the right opportunity, put them in a hitter’s park like Philadelphia or Texas, and you have a recipe for success.  Two players who, going into last season, fit that description exactly were Nelson Cruz of Texas and the Phillies Jayson Werth.

Neither player had previously enjoyed a full-time job with their clubs, but both men had shown solid slugging abilities in part-time or platoon stints.  Each of them blossomed into extremely valuable commodities last season as they took advantage of playing regularly in hitter-friendly parks to amass impressive numbers.  (You can look up their numbers on your own; no need to reprint them here.)

For pitchers, this strategy works just as well, but in reverse, of course.  Find young arms that have shown some talent, check to see if they pitch in pitcher-friendly ball-parks, and you will probably find a diamond in the rough (the still very young Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers comes to mind.)

TIP Alert! About a half dozen of the best pitcher’s parks in the country are in both league’s Western Divisions.

6)  Beware of catchers: Look, there’s a reason why Bill James in his book, “The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract” ranks Darrell Porter as the 18th best catcher of all time.  There just haven’t been all that many great catchers, folks.  Currently, Mike Napoli (yes, Mike Napoli) of the Angels is a top five A.L. catcher.  And Chris Iannetta of Colorado, along with his .228 batting average (in Colorado, or God’s sake?) is top ten in the N.L.

This past season, one participant in our league decided to try to corner the market on catchers, thus garnering for himself a clear competitive edge at one position.  He drafted Jorge Posada, Russell Martin, and Geovani Soto.  Soto had been named N.L. Rookie of the Year the season before with the Cubs, and Martin (Dodgers), seemed to be among the leaders of a class of solid young N.L. catchers

For those of you who followed baseball at all last season, you know Soto was a disaster, and Martin appears to be following along the career track of Jason Kendall, and empty singles hitter with a little speed.

So, needless to say, that strategy backfired.  And why shouldn’t it?  Again,  there have been fewer than fifteen great catchers in the entire history of major league baseball.

Therefore, if you don’t end up with a once-in-a-lifetime talent like Joe Mauer (a sure first-rounder) don’t panic.  There are worse fates in fantasy baseball than to end up with Yadier Molina as your starting catcher.

7)  Avoid aging players in their decline: This is especially true at deep positions like first base.  Someone will certainly draft either Lance Berkman, age 34, or Derrek Lee, age 35, over Joey Votto, age 26 due to reputation and resume.  But neither of the two veterans offer anything like the potential upside offered by Votto.

At best, Berkman and Lee will accomplish something close to what they usually offer in their average seasons.  Votto hasn’t had anything like his best season yet.

It is not a foolish gamble to bet on a player like Votto whose OPS is already extremely impressive, who plays in a good hitters park and who can only get better.

TIP AlertAvoid with extreme prejudice!

Other players / positions who fit the aging, yet still productive bill are:  Miguel Tejada at shortstop, Chipper Jones and Michael Young at third base, Benjie Molina (catcher), Raul Ibanez, Carlos Lee, Vernon Wells and Vlad Guerrerro (OF) and the following pitchers:  Carlos Zambrano, Roy Oswalt, Joe Blanton, Andy Pettitte, Mark Buehrle and closers, Francisco Cordero, Bobby Jenks, and Fernando Rodney.

8)  Beware of Over-Hyped Rookies: (Especially Pitchers) Anyone out there remember all the hype surrounding young PHEENOM David Price last season?  The next Dwight Gooden, and all that?  To be fair, most people probably drafted Price rather conservatively last season, but even those people were almost certainly extremely disappointed with his final season totals:  10-7, 4.42 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, only 128 innings pitched.

Generally speaking, it takes most young talents a couple of years or so before they really begin demonstrating their can’t-miss talent on a regular basis.  King Felix Hernandez had been hyped to the extreme for about three years before it all came together for him last season.

Sure, there are some rookies who jump right into the Big Leagues hitting line drives all over the place (Ryan Braun), or fanning ten batters in a game (Tim Lincecum)  and never look back.  But they are few and far between, and if you build a fantasy strategy based in part on acquiring as much rookie talent as you can, you are taking an unnecessary gamble.

TIP Alert! Neither Stephen Strasburg nor Madison Bumgarner will win the Cy Young Award this season.

And finally,

Strategy #9) Draft Power at the corners: Whenever I’ve had a successful fantasy baseball season, it’s often been in part because I’ve had legitimate sluggers at first and third base.  It’s not difficult at all to draft power at first base, and if you don’t, you’re sunk.  Third base can be a little more tricky sometimes because this position isn’t always as deep as it appears to be this season.

There are lots of good hitters at third base, but not necessarily a lot of big sluggers at this position.  One player I know everyone will be watching closely is the Mets star David Wright.  Last season he hit an unbelievably low ten home runs.  That’s Mark Teahen terrritory, folks.

Everyone expects Wright to rebound in 2010, perhaps doubling his homer total to twenty, or even twenty-five.  And, if he does hit 20-25 homers, lots of people will think they’ve landed a bargain if they draft Wright in the fourth or fifth round.

But think of it this way.  Evan Longoria, A-Rod, and Mark Reynolds are almost certain to hit about twice as many homers as Wright, even if Wright doubles last season’s total.  Are you willing to concede that much run production at such an important offensive position if you don’t have to?

Moreover, several other third basemen will hit about the same amount of homers as Wright, but will be drafted much lower.  Sure, Wright also brings stolen bases to the table, but I’ve never found in my league that stolen bases win championships.  Power does.  A three-run homer trumps a double-steal any day.

Now What?

Once Draft Day finally arrives, I’m quite sure that I will do what everyone else does, adjust to the circumstances of the draft.  And every draft is different.  Like a general on a battlefield, once the shooting starts, you might as well roll the battle-plans around a half dozen cigars and drop them on the battlefield, for all the good they’ll do you.

Still, a general without a plan is more likely to freeze up in a key moment, a potentially decisive situation, precisely because he wasn’t as prepared as he should have been beforehand.  I hope the tips and strategies I’ve shared with you will offer you some tactical advantage over your adversaries in your 2010 fantasy baseball season.

If you have questions or comments about the strategies and tips I’ve shared, or would like to share some of your own, by all means, please let me know.

Next blog post:  A.L. / N.L. Fantasy Baseball Player Rating Guide


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