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Archive for the tag “Roberto Alomar”

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

Jeff Bagwell

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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%

Underrated / Overrated: Baseball, and Other Stuff – Part VI

Frankie Frisch's fiery personality won him a l...

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

Welcome to Episode Six of Underrated / Overrated.  On tap today,we have HOF hopeful Jack Morris, The Who, Robbie Alomar, The Alamo, Saturday Night Live, and Sam Adams beer.  Enjoy!

Overrated:  Jack Morris – More than a few people believe that Jack Morris belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Dave Stieb pitching in Toronto, Canada in 1985...

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They point to his outstanding ten-inning marathon performance in the 1991 World Series Game 7 vs. the Braves as Exhibit A for evidence of HOF worthiness.  His supporters also point out that Morris was the winningest pitcher of the ‘80’s.

Taking the last point first.  Decades, as such, are purely artificial constructs.  Why not, for example, choose the “decade” 1975-85, or 1985-95.  Or, for that matter, 1978-88?  You would almost certainly come up with a different“winningest” pitcher whose career would also significantly overlap with Morris’ career.

Also, wins, as a measure of pitching greatness, are no longer front-and-center these days.  And Morris has precious little else to offer in terms of statistical analysis that points to unappreciated excellence.  His career ERA+ is 105, meaning that he was actually just 5% better, overall, than a typical replacement level pitcher, taking his career as a whole.

Morris’ performance in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series is the stuff of legend.  But there is little in baseball history that suggests a fleeting moment of greatness on the Big Stage necessarily translates into a VIP Pass into Cooperstown.  Joe Carter, who had a very nice career, hit a walk-off home run to defeat the Phillies in the 1993 World Series.  Carter was unceremoniously dropped off the HOF ballot after just one year (2004), when he received just 3.8 percent of the vote.

Morris will, and should, do better than that.

But Jack Morris is no Hall of Famer.

Career WAR: 39.3

Underrated:  Dave Stieb –   Victimized by lack of run support his entire career, and often pitching for some very bad teams, Stieb still managed 176 wins in his career, as well as a .562 win-loss percentage.  Morris’s career win-loss percentage was .577, just slightly better than Stieb’s despite mostly pitching for better teams than Stieb ever enjoyed.

Stieb led the A.L. in ERA once, and in ERA+ twice.  Jack Morris never led the league in either category.

Moreover, Stieb’s career ERA was a respectable 3.44, and he kept his ERA at or below 3.25 in seven full seasons.  Only once in 18-years did Morris ever post an ERA below 3.25.  Morris’ career ERA was 3.90.

Stieb’s career ERA+ was 123, considerably better than Morris’, and the same as Hall of Famer Juan Marichal.

I’m not arguing that Dave Stieb should be in the Hall of Fame. But, compared to Jack Morris, he was a very underrated pitcher.

Career WAR:  53.0

Overrated:  The Who – “Tommy” – A “Rock Opera” album that definitely doesn’t “Rock,” and, like the worst of opera, has an incoherent storyline obfuscated by lots of unnecessary drama, cluttered spectacle, and bombastic music.  By 1969, a sizable cohort of that generation’s rock fans (who hoped they’d die before they got old), apparently decided that rock n’ roll wasn’t just for Saturday night keg parties anymore.  It needed to express meaning and gravitas equal to the ambitions of millions of middle class white kids who were out to change the world, one college credit at a time.  Precious little of what eventually evolved into what was called “Art Rock” left any significant legacy on rock n’ roll, let alone on society itself.

Underrated:  The Who – “Quadrophenia” – A true masterpiece by a great band at the top of their game.  Keith Moon’s drums never sounded better, and Roger Daltrey, liberated from the nonsensical off-Broadway melodies he was forced to endure on Tommy, actually sings like the street-tough that he was born to portray.  Quadrophenia actually started out as a “concept” album, God help us, and was eventually turned into a pretty decent feature film.  But it largely avoided unnecessarily pretentious operatic stylization, and most of the songs just plain rock.  Go back and listen to songs like “The Punk Meets the Godfather,” and “5:15” if you haven’t done so for a while, or especially if you never have.

Overrated:  Roberto Alomar’s Defense – I know, look, when I first heard that some baseball analysts were trying to make the case that Alomar’s defensive reputation was largely overblown, I would have none of that either. After all, I saw Alomar make enough (apparently) spectacular plays over the years that I dismissed that sort of criticism out of hand.

But once I settled down enough to take a closer, objective look at the numbers, I noticed a perplexing and disturbing trend.

Robby Alomar’s defense really was overrated.

Let’s begin with, for example, times leading his league in assists as a second baseman.

He led the league twice in this statistic.  Not great, but not bad, either.

How about times leading the league in putouts?  He led his league in this stat just once in seventeen seasons.  Hmmm.

Well, for cryin’ out loud.  How about that old standard, Fielding Percentage.  Robbie sure seemed sure-handed enough, right?  Turns out his career Fielding Percentage was .984, good for 42nd all-time, just a hair behind Jeff Frye.  Again, not bad, but nothing to write home about, either.

But his range seemed extraordinary; I saw him get to balls that no one else would ever have reached.  Yet Alomar NEVER led his league in Range Factor / 9 Innings.  In fact his career mark in that category (4.95) ranks just 91st in MLB history!  He falls between Mark Loretta and Wally Backman in that stat.

Roberto Alomar’s career Defensive WAR is a shockingly low -3.4. (Yes, that’s a negative sign before the 3.)

By way of comparison, consider the career Defensive WAR for the following players:  (all are positive numbers)

Orlando Hudson: 2.3

Ryne Sandberg: 5.3

Bobby Grich: 8.5

Bill Mazeroski: 11.9

Frankie Frisch: 13.7! (underrated)

All of which leads us to the sadly unyielding conclusion that, although Robbie Alomar certainly belongs in the Hall of Fame, it should not be for his defense.

Underrated:  Roberto Alomar – Base Stealer – Alomar stole 474 bases in his career against just 114 times caught stealing.  His 80% career success rate is about the same as Rickey Henderson’s, and is considerably better than Lou Brock’s 75%.  It is also just four percentage points behind Tim Raines all-time career best (minimum 300 steals) 84% success rate.

Alomar topped 50 steals twice, and reached at least 30 steals in five other seasons. Over a six-year period, from 1999 through 2003, he stole 134 bases in 156 attempts, an outstanding 86% success rate.

Overrated:  The Alamo –  1836 – Approximately 180-250 “Texans,” virtually none of whom were originally from Texas, were massacred by Mexican General Santa Anna’s superior numbers.  The Texans’ goal was to create a slave republic in territory annexed from Mexico, without Mexico’s permission.  Originally, the Texans had come as settlers, but soon made it clear that they had no intention of living under Mexican law and custom.  Thus, in effect, the “Texans” were breaking the law. Mexico responded with an ultimatum:  pack up and leave, or die.  So the Texans died, later to be avenged at the final battle at San Jacinto, where Santa Anna was captured, and the new Republic of Texas, a new slave territory, was born.

Underrated:  Battle of Verdun, First World War – Perhaps the biggest, bloodiest battle in human history.  Lasted from February-December 1916.  Perhaps as many as a million casualties in all, of whom about 550,000 were French. The Germans literally tried to bleed France to death, but France never capitulated.  For France, this was Marathon, Gettysburg and (yet-to-be-fought) Stalingrad combined.  Essentially ended as a stalemate, but can be viewed as a moral victory for France.

Overrated:  Sacrifice Bunts – Giving up one-third of all of your outs per half-inning to move a runner up one-base, instead of allowing your offense to try to do the same thing without intentionally surrendering an out, statistically just doesn’t make sense.  As a manager, I would happily allow the opposing team’s offense to move a runner up to second base if they were going to give up a free out.  So, when managing my offense, why would I reciprocate the favor?

Underrated: Getting Hit By a Pitch – Craig Biggio reached base due to getting hit by a pitch 285 times during his 20-year career (just two fewer than the all-time leader, Hughie Jennings.)  Biggio led the N.L. in getting hit by a pitch five times.  Imagine getting 285 extra hits in a career.  All those extra times on base certainly lead to a lot of run scoring opportunities.  In Biggio’s remarkable 1997 season, Biggio was hit by pitches 34 times, he didn’t waste a sacrifice hit one single time, and he did not hit into a single double-play all year.  He stole 47 bases, scored a league-leading 146 runs, drew 84 walks, and played in every single game.  His OPS+ was 143.  That, my friends, is pretty nearly a perfect season.

Overrated:  Saturday Night Live! – I recently watched the S.N.L. Christmas Special.  I think I laughed maybe three or four times.  Other than Tina Fey lampooning Sarah Palin, this show hasn’t been funny since around the late ‘80’s, and it hasn’t been REALLY funny since the ‘70’s.  This show is testament to the power of ego, in this case, the ego of producer Lorne Michaels, who just won’t let this Frankenstein’s monster die.

Underrated:  Fawlty Towers – (1975-79) This British comedy, starring former Monty Python alumnus John Cleese as hen-pecked innkeeper Basil Fawlty, features some of the funniest acting and writing in T.V. history.  Connie Booth, who eventually married, and later divorced Cleese, was his co-writer.  She played Polly, the maid.  The show actually lasted just two seasons, 1975 and 1979, with a three-year hiatus in between.  There were only twelve Fawlty Towers episodes ever made.

Overrated:  Scrappy, Hard-Nosed Players – David Eckstein is the poster-boy of these dirty-uniformed fan favorites who run out every grounder, dive after every ball, and generally make themselves annoying in countless ways.  They also often share another common trait:  Low career OPS+.  Eckstein’s for example, is 87, meaning that he has been just 87% as good as a typical replacement level ballplayer.

Underrated: “Lazy” Players Who Make it Look Too Easy –  Andruw Jones / Manny Ramirez, etc.  Personally, ladies and gentlemen, I’ll take Andruw Jones (in his prime) and his ten Gold Gloves, his 23.7 Defensive WAR (second only to Brooks Robinson all-time) and his 407 home runs.  And Manny Ramirez, with or without steroids, had one of the prettiest, most lethal swings of any right-handed hitter in history.

Overrated:  Sam Adams Brewery – This Boston-based brew company is extremely good at self-promotion.  If you live in the greater Boston area, it is expected that you have only nice things to say about the various Sam Adams brews.  As for me, I don’t like a beer that tries too hard to get my attention while I’m actually drinking it.  And, as a side note, Sam Adams was overrated as a patriotic “founding father” as well.

Underrated:  Warsteiner Brewery – DAS GUT BIER!!  A fine German brew.

Until next time, folks.  Stay tuned for an upcoming blog-post on this week’s BBWA Hall of Fame voting results.   Should be interesting.

Baseball Bloggers Alliance Hall of Fame Vote

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

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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.

Best Forgotten Seasons: Part 24 – The Toronto Blue Jays

"Laverne & Shirley Sing"-1976 LP cover

Image via Wikipedia

The Toronto Blue Jays, a franchise that played its inaugural season back in 1977, were born in the era of disco, Jimmy Carter, and Laverne and Shirley, not exactly the high water mark of Western Civilization.

Tweeners like myself (neither a true Baby-Boomer nor a Gen-X‘er), remember this period as our awkward transition through puberty and on into high school.

Blue Jays fans remember the late ’70’s as the Doug Ault / Jesse Jefferson era.  Back then, Toronto was to baseball what the Donner Party was to holiday travel.

After six miserable seasons, however, the Blue Jays became a respectable ball-club —  and stayed that way —  for the next eleven consecutive seasons.  They reached the pinnacle of success by winning back-to-back World Championships over first the Braves, then the Phillies, in 1992-93.

Alas, Joe Carter‘s walk-off home run off of Mitch Williams in ’93 would be, up to this point, the last great moment in Jays history.  Not that they’ve been a bad team, mind you.  They finished in third place in their division eight times in ten years from 1998-2007, with a second place finish thrown in as well.

But the glory days, when they regularly drew over 4 million fans per year to the Skydome, have passed them by.  The Blue Jays drew just 1.49 million fans this past season, their lowest attendance total since 1982.

Nevertheless, in good times and bad, the Blue Jays have produced their fair share of talented baseball players.  Not a single Blue Jay has yet made it into the Hall of Fame, however, although HOF’ers Rickey Henderson, Phil Niekro, Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor have worn the Blue Jay uniform.

One other player who wore a Blue Jay uniform and who has a solid case in his favor regarding Hall of Fame worthiness is retired first baseman Fred McGriff.

Fred (Crime Dog) McGriff, who made his major league  debut with the Blue Jays in 1986 at the age of 22, was one of the first excellent players the Jays produced.  By age 24, McGriff was already one of the most lethal players in his league, smashing 34 homers, scoring 100 runs, and producing an OPS of .928.

But Fred McGriff’s Best Forgotten Season with the Blue Jays was 1989.

In 1989, McGriff smashed an A.L. leading 36 home runs.  He also led the league in OPS (.924) and OPS+ (166).  He scored 98 runs, drove in 92, collected 289 total bases, and drew a career high 119 walks (second most in the league.)  His .524 slugging percentage was also second-best in the league.

McGriff won a Silver Slugger award ’89, and he finished sixth in the MVP voting in only his third big league season.

In December, 1990, McGriff, along with teammate Tony Fernandez, was traded to San Diego for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter.  As great a player as McGriff was, this was a trade the Blue Jays certainly cannot regret having made.

McGriff went on to enjoy an excellent career until his retirement at the age of 40 in 2004, having helped lead the Atlanta Braves to a World Championship in 1995.

His final career numbers include 493 homers (tied with Lou Gehrig for 26th all-time), 1,550 RBI’s, 1,349 runs scored, 2,490 hits, 441 doubles, and 4,458 total bases (top 50 all-time.)

Only eight first basemen in history have ever out-homered McGriff (only six if you subtract steroids-tainted Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmiero.)

McGriff’s career OPS+ (134) is better than approximately 85 current Hall of Famers.

Now, if you’re still with me,  let’s take a look at five other first basemen currently in the Hall of Fame:  Eddie Murray, Tony Perez, Orlando Cepeda, George Sisler and Bill Terry, and compare them with Fred McGriff.  We’ll begin with OPS (on-base + slugging percentage.)  Here’s how they stack up:

1)  Bill Terry – .899

2)  Fred McGriff – .886

3)  Orlando Cepeda –  .849

4)  George Sisler – .847

5)  Eddie Murray – .836

6)  Tony Perez – .804

Now how about OPS+ (which takes into consideration the era and the home ballpark of the particular player):

1)  Bill Terry – 134

2) Fred McGriff – 134

3) Orlando Cepeda – 133

4) Eddie Murray – 129

5) George Sisler – 124

6) Tony Perez – 122

Want still more?  How about career WAR? (a cumulative stat):

1)  Eddie Murray – 60.2

2)  Fred McGriff – 53.2

3)  George Sisler – 50.4

4)  Tony Perez – 49.6

5)  Bill Terry – 48.1

6) Orlando Cepeda – 46.8

Just for the hell of it, how about runs created (the hitter’s basic purpose):

1)  Eddie Murray – 1,942

2)  Fred McGriff – 1,704

3)  Tony Perez – 1,524

4)  George Sisler – 1,468

5)  Orlando Cepeda – 1,337

6)  Bill Terry – 1,280

Notice a trend?  When compared to five other HOF first basemen, Fred McGriff comes in second place on each list.

There are those of you who hate these kinds of arguments (A is as good as B, and B is as good as C, so A is as good as C.)  You might argue that perhaps none of these players (with the exception of Eddie Murray) belongs in The Hall.  Perhaps, you might reason, The Hall should be reserved for only the VERY BEST of the VERY BEST.  Guys like Gehrig, Ruth, Williams, DiMaggio, etc.

Well, my friends, we crossed that Rubicon a long, lonely time ago.

Democracy has its merits, but perhaps its one great flaw is the idea that there really isn’t that much difference between the truly great and the merely very good.  We live in a democracy, and lots of very good people (and some true mediocrities) have assumed positions of great power,wealth and prestige.

Why should we expect Baseball’s Hall of Fame to be any different?

This is no slight against the career of Fred McGriff, nor against any of the other players on the above lists, for that matter.

Just don’t tell me you know a HOF’er when you see one.  Or that a true HOF’er is always obvious.

Numbers are the mother’s milk of this pastime, and the numbers indicate that it is virtually impossible to make an objective, reasonable argument as to why Fred McGriff does not belong in the Hall of Fame.

Now, anyone for a Nick at Night Mork and Mindy Marathon?

My Hall of Fame Ballot

Well, the Hall of Fame ballots have been tabulated, and the winners are…Andre Dawson?

So, of the 26 retired players who were on the ballot this time ’round, only Andre Dawson is a Hall of Famer.  Hmmm.  Interesting.

Most reasonable people were shocked to find out that Roberto Alomar fell just eight votes short of Hall induction.  He was perhaps the most obvious HOF- worthy candidate on the ballot.

Dawson, on the other hand, could have ended up as a perennially oh-so-close candidate, a career to be retrieved, dusted off, and sneezed upon by the strange little people who live in the dark bowels of the HOF, and who call themselves, The Veterans Committee.

These Terry Gilliamesque creatures are never allowed to see daylight, are forced to read ancient copies of Baseball Digest by candlelight, and are startled by the strange, mechanical noises of modern technologies such as electric pencil sharpeners.

It appears that the Veterans Committee will have plenty of work to do for years to come, considering the results of Wednesday’s HOF balloting.

If I had a HOF ballot, here’s how I would have voted, and why.

1)  Roberto Alomar –  What does a ballplayer have to do to gain admittance into the HOF?  Alomar was a complete ballplayer.  He was a career .300 hitter who could hit with reasonable power (210 career homers.)  He was a run producer, scoring just over 1,500 runs, and driving in over 1,100.

Baserunning?  Check.  He stole 474 bases with a career success rate of 80%.  He also legged out 504 doubles and 80 triples.

Fielding?  Check.  He was one of the most graceful, acrobatic fielders of his time at any position, and he has ten gold gloves to prove it.

Intangibles?  Check.  He played on two World Champion Blue Jays teams, batting .313 in post-season play.  He also finished in the top ten in MVP voting five times, and he made 12 All-Star teams.  Add 2,724 hits and four Silver Slugger awards, and you have an obvious HOF career.

So why wasn’t he enshrined this time around?  Well, it can only be due to the “spitting incident,” when he once spat on an umpire who called him out on a third strike pitch.  It was a stupid, disgusting this to do.  MLB handed him a suspension, he apologized, the umpire apologized, and that was the end of that.

Or apparently not.  It seems obvious that at least a few baseball writers refused to vote for him based on this one isolated incident.  Some have tried to connect this incident with the immoral behavior of those who have been accused of steroid use.

Here’s a reality check.  Babe Ruth once punched out an umpire.  Juan Marichal once tried to bash in the skull of Johnny Roseboro with a baseball bat.  Tris Speaker was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.  Ty Cobb was, well, Ty Cobb.  All of these men are enshrined in the HOF as Baseball Immortals.  It is the height of hypocrisy to hold Alomar to a higher standard.

Roberto Alomar would have received my vote for the HOF.

2)  Barry Larkin – Name a better overall N.L. shortstop who has played the position since 1970.  You can’t because there hasn’t been one.

Larkin was the first shortstop of all time to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases in the same season.  He hit over .300 in nine seasons.  He stole 379 bases with a success rate of 83%.  He was awarded nine Silver Slugger awards.

Larkin won three gold gloves while playing in the same era and in the same league as Ozzie Smith.  Larkin was N.L. MVP in 1995.  His career OPS (On Base + Slugging Percentage) was .815, nearly identical to both Robbie Alomar and Joe Morgan. He played in twelve All-Star games.

Most importantly, Larkin broke the mold of what a shortstop could be.  Like Alomar, he was a complete player.  He was not the proto-typically good field, light-hitting shortstop with some speed that was the norm around baseball for at least a generation.

Ozzie Smith was a great fielder who made himself into a respectable hitter that could steal a base, but he did not wield a game-changing bat like Larkin.  Ernie Banks was a slugger, but not a great fielder or a great base runner.

Larkin comprised a skill-set unlike most shortstops of his time, but one that soon became more common later on in the ’90’s with the arrival of A-Rod and Nomar Garciappara.  Even Cal Ripkin, although a fine fielder, a team leader and a slugger, did not combine a skill-set as complete as Larkin’s.

It may take Larkin several years to make it into the HOF, but he would certainly receive my vote.

3) Bert Blyleven- If Bert Blyleven eventually makes it into the HOF, it will not be a travesty of justice.  He won 287 games playing on lots of mediocre or poor teams.  He struck out an impressive 3,701 hitters, 5th all-time.  He tossed 60 shutouts.  All excellent statistics.

But, he never won a Cy Young award in 22 seasons.  He appeared in only two All-Star games.  He is one of only ten pitchers in history to lose 250 games.  And in 22 seasons, he won 17 or fewer games 20 times.  He had one 20 win season, one 19 win season, and no 18 win seasons.

Guys that win about 16 games a season nearly every season, no matter how many years they pitch, are hard to describe as dominant.

Nor is his career ERA of3.31, mediocre in the era in which he pitched, an argument for enshrinement into the HOF.  Even his huge career strikeout total looks somewhat less impressive when you see that he averaged only 6.7 K’s per nine innings, good for 115th all-time.

Most of all, when I was a kid growing up in the ’70’s, none of the kids I knew ever considered Blyleven a great pitcher.  He was more of an oddity.  Seaver, Carlton, Palmer, Nolan Ryan, Catfish Hunter, and a couple of others were the pitchers whose baseball cards we collected, and who we tried to emulate while playing in the streets and parking lots of Bridgeport, CT.

Bert Blyleven would not get my vote for the HOF.

4)  Andre Dawson – I will simply say that I will not rain on his parade by judging his career now that he is in The Hall, although  I believe a legitimate argument could be made one way or the other about his candidacy.  The voters have spoken.  Congratulations, Mr. Dawson.

5)  Edgar Martinez – I love Edgar.  Mariners fans love Edgar.  They believe he is a HOF’er.  I don’t.

I know about his career OPS.  It is outstanding.  But although OPS is a valuable statistic that helps us understand a player’s real value to a team, it is not a statistic that makes all other stats obsolete.

Runs scored, RBI’s, Home Runs, Batting Average, all have their inherent flaws.  But each of these stats also provides us with a set of data we can use to make a relevant historical comparison to other players.

If we overrate the value of OPS, then we can make the case that, for example, Tim Salmon and David Justice were better players than Honus Wagner because each of them had a higher career OPS than he did.

Edgar was a hell of a hitter who never won an MVP award, never played on a championship baseball team, drove in fewer runs than Ruben Sierra or Paul O’Neill, scored fewer runs than Willie Randolph or Julio Franco, and hit fewer homers than Jeromy Burnitz or Ron Cey.

He also didn’t provide much in the way of base running skills as his 49 career steals in 79 attempts shows, and obviously, he never won a Gold Glove.

He did play in seven All-Star games, and he did win five Silver Slugger awards.  As I said, he was a hell of a hitter.

But not Ted Williams great.  Or Stan Musial great.  Or Rogers Hornsby great.  Or even Frank Thomas great.

And if a player brings nothing else to the table except his prowess as a hitter, he better be one dominant hitter as judged by both the sabermetric as well as the traditional counting statistics.

Edgar Martinez just doesn’t have enough on his resume to justify his induction into the HOF.

Finally,

6)  Jack Morris – Supporters use the argument that Morris won more games than any other pitcher in the ’80’s.  That’s a little like saying that the Bee-Gees were the best Disco Band of the ’70’s.  Disco sucked.  So, apparently, did ’80’s pitchers.

Morris won 254 games in his career, good for 42nd all-time.  He won fewer games than Tommy John, Jim Kaat, and Jamie Moyer.  His career .577 win-loss percentage is not very impressive, either.  He never won a Cy Young award, although he finished in the top ten 7 times, which is impressive.

Arguably, Jack Morris’ career ERA of 3.90 would have been even higher if he had pitched during the past fifteen years.

Finally, many of his supporters have stated that Jack Morris pitched the greatest game in World Series history, shutting out the Braves in a ten inning marathon in Game 7 in 1991.

Certainly, it was one of the greatest post-season performances we have ever seen, although lets not forget that Don Larsen once threw a perfect game against the Dodgers in the 1956 World Series.

But one fantastic post-season performance is not generally considered a convincing argument to elect someone to the HOF.  Just ask Joe Carter how his HOF chances are looking lately.

At this point, there are no other players on the ballot that I think have a realistic chance to make it into the HOF, and, with the exception of Tim Raines, there are no others I would consider voting for at this point.

I am sure Roberto Alomar will one day make it into the HOF.  I am less sure Barry Larkin will.

But the BBWA has spoken, and, for another year, they can ponder the wisdom of their choices.

Meanwhile, the little people of the Veteran’s Committee remain busy scurrying around, abacus and fountain pens in hand, weighing the relative merits of 19th century umpires and managers whose bones have long since turned to dust.

And Little Leaguers dream of being the next Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols or Roy Halladay.  On such dreams are future Hall of Fame careers launched, yesterday, today, and on into the future.

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