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Hall of Fame candidates with Nationals ties (2019 version)

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Dunn on the 2020 HoF ballot. Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images North America

Dunn on the 2020 HoF ballot. Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images North America

This is a semi-recurring piece that we’re bringing back out because your 2020 Hall of Fame class has not one but two former Nats players of some prominence have made it onto the 2020 ballot.  We have not done this post in a couple years, so I’ll catch up the last two HoF ballots and then do the 2020 ballot Nats players.

See the 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014 versions.

At the end we speculate about who the first Hall of Famer might be wearing the Curly-W.


2020 Ballot players with Nats ties (2020 ballot).  Mark Zuckerman beat me to the punch here, writing an excellent article on both the below players.

  • Adam Dunn; two seasons of three true outcomes, the slugger Dunn was a great presence, took a beer-league softball player approach to hitting, and crushed the ball for this team for two seasons while Mike Rizzo rebuilt the farm system.  In 2010 he somehow avoided the ignominious feat of 200 strikeouts in a season by just one … a figure he subsequently blew through two seasons later as his career collapsed in Chicago.  I doubt he gets any votes and his career implosion upon moving to Chicago remains an oddity; he had 462 career homers but was essentially done as a player at the age of 33.  He should have had 5-6 more seasons of hitting 35 homers, putting himself firmly in the conversation of the best power hitters in the sport’s history.  Sometimes sluggers just … lose it, and fast.
  • Alfonso Soriano played one infamous year in Washington in 2006, was forcibly removed from his preferred position at 2B in spring training, had a 40/40 season, still holds the franchise season record for homers, and used his one season in Washington as a launching pad for a massive contract in a big market going forward.  His departure netted us two comp picks under the old system (he was a “type A” FA), which we used to select Josh Smoker and Jordan Zimmermann, one of which helped setup the franchise for

One other interesting name on this ballot?  Cliff Lee, who was with the franchise just prior to its move to DC, but was part of the ridiculous Bartolo Colon trade made in 2002.


2019 Ballot players with Nat’s ties: (2019 ballot with voting results and stats from baseball-reference.com).

We forgot to do this post last year, but there was one candidate with Nats ties:

  • Rick Ankiel, who spent two full seasons with Washington providing amazing defense in center (to go along with his amazing arm) but paltry hitting at the plate from 2011-2012.   In 2012 he was essentially a backup to newly promoted Bryce Harper for the Nats break-out season, but he did not appear for the team in the 2012 post-season ( he was not on their 2012 post-season roster).  Ankiel’s comeback story is pretty compelling, but it did not earn him  any hall of fame votes and he fell off the ballot after one year.

2018 Ballot players with Nats ties (2018 HoF Ballot):

  • Livan Hernandez: wow, what an important player in our history.  He was the starter in our first ever game in DC, and also started our first home game.  He made the all-star team that year.   He came back to the team in 2010, retired in 2014 and for a time was part of the Nats spring training staff.  He was named on one ballot and has fallen off going forward.
  • Brad Lidge: an infamous member of the Nats-to-Oblivion club, he signed on as a former-closer middle reliever for the 2012 team and got lit up.  Not Trevor Rosenthal lit up, but he was not effective.  He was released in June and hung em up.  He did not receive any votes on the ballot.

Notably, Vladimir Guerrero was elected in this ballot, long time Montreal player.  If only he had made it to Washington.

 


Nats connected names on the 2017 ballot and 2017 eligible:

  • Ivan Rodriguez, aka “Pudge,” who surprisingly signed a 2-year deal with the team after the 2009 season and played his last two years with the rebuilding team, splitting time with the up-and-coming Wilson Ramos and retiring after the 2011 season.  He was part of the rebound years for the franchise but missed out on their breakout 2012 season.  There was some surprise when he got in on the 1st ballot, given his PED rumors, but I take his election as a sign of the changing times with the electorate.  There’s definitely a difference between suspicions and a real failed test, and inarguably Pudge is one of the best catchers of all time so there’s no reason to keep him out.  Here’s a great link of a video of Pudge finding out he was elected.
  • Matt Stairs, whose name I can’t quite say without cursing, who sucked at the teet of the Washington Nationals payroll for half a season in 2011 before being mercifully released on August 1st of that year.  His final slash line in his sole season with the team: .154/.257/.169.  He went 10-65 with just one XBH for the entire season.  Stairs now is now a regular in my semi-annual “Nats to Oblivion” posts, last done in April of 2016.  He received zero votes and falls off the ballot.
  • Alex Cora: like Stairs, he signed on as a veteran FA to be a role player with the 2011 Nats and retired after the 2011 season.  Unlike Stairs, Cora wasn’t judged to even be worthy to make the ballot.
  • (As we all know, Tim Raines, Vladimir Guerrero, Orlando Cabrera and Larry Walker all grew up with the Montreal franchise, but never appeared for the team post-move to Washington, so I havn’t included them here.  Cabrera was the closest to appearing in a Nats uniform, getting traded to Boston mid 2004 season just prior to the move).

Useful Hall of Fame links links:

  • 2017 Ballot on baseball-reference.com, with links to vote counts, stats, etc.
  • Full Voting figures via BBWAA.com

The rest of this post will let you answer the trivia question, “Prior to Ivan Rodrigiez’s enshrinement, what former Nats player has come the closest to Hall of Fame enshrinement?”  (Answer at the bottom).

We’ll work from most recent to oldest.

2016 Ballot:

Not a single Nats-connected was on the official Class of 2016 ballot.  As it turned out, There’s actually quite a few guys who were *candidates* for the 2016 ballot by requirements, but who didn’t make the cut who also had connections to the Nationals.  In fact, there’s quite a few of them.  Here’s a good list, thanks to the excellent research by Bill from platoonadvantage.com.

  • Ronnie Belliard: Played pretty well for the god-awful stretch of Nationals teams from 2007-2009, posting a nifty 123 OPS+ during the middle season before getting traded away at the 2009 trade deadline for two minor leaguers who never went anywhere (Luis Garcia, Victor Garate).  Stuck with Los Angeles one more season before hanging them up at 35.  Played parts of 13 seasons in the majors but didn’t rate a spot on the ballot.
  • Jesus Colome was an important part of the Nats bullpen during the same 2007-2009 span that Belliard was involved with, getting more than 120 appearances his first two seasons before posting an 8 ERA in 2009 and getting DFA’d in July.  He got picked up the next year by Seattle and got a few appearances (hence why he’s not on the “Nats to Oblivion” lists) and, if you can believe it, is still pitching at age 37 in the independent Atlantic league as we speak.  He did manage 10 distinct years w/ MLB appearances though, so he qualified.
  • Jose Guillen came to Washington with the Expos, played one solid year in 2005, had a season-ending elbow injury in 2006, then bounced around the league for a few more years.  He was active for 14 total seasons but never made an all star game.  He hit 24 homers for the surprising 2005 Nats … and led the league in HBPs.
  • Cristian Guzman signed a somewhat controversial 4yr/$16M contract (it cost the team its 2nd round pick) that started when the team moved to Washington, was god-awful his first year, then had to have shoulder surgery to miss the entirety of 2006.  He recovered his stroke in 2007 and actually made the all-star team in 2008 (our only representative during the dark years) … which was enough to convince our idiot GM Jim Bowden to give him a 2yr/$16M extension to an aging shortstop w/ no power on the wrong side of 30.  Not surprisingly, his OPS dropped 100 points in 2009 and the team dumped him on Texas in a trade-deadline deal after he had lost his starting job to Ian Desmond, netting the Nats two RHPs (one of which Tanner Roark makes this one of the better trades ever consummated by the Nats executive staff).  Guzman played in 15 more games for Texas, batted .152 and never played again.

2015 Ballot:

  • Aaron Boonewho signed a 1yr/$1M FA contract to be a backup corner infielder with the abhorrent 2008 Nationals team.  Boone’s crowning baseball achievement was his extra innings walk-off homer that ended one of the best games in MLB history (Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS between Boston and the Yankees, ranked #6 by MLB’s panel a few years back when ranking the best 20 games of the last half century).  Ironically one of his lowest moments was just a couple months later, blowing out his ACL that subsequent winter while playing pickup basketball, costing him the entirety of the 2004 season and the trust of the  Yankees organization.  He missed 2/3rds of the 2007 season after another left knee injury and the Nats were probably his last gasp shot at extending his career at the age of 35.  He got a decent amount of playing time thanks to the fragility of Ryan Zimmerman and Nick Johnson, somehow got another guaranteed MLB deal the following year, went 0-14 for Houston and was released.  He’s now an analyst with ESPN.  Received 2 votes on the 2015 ballot.
  • Ron Villone signed a minor league deal in 2009 and was quickly added to the Nats active roster, where he appeared in 63 games as our primary one-out lefty.   He pitched the entirety of 2010 on another minor league contract with Syracuse, posting a 6.59 ERA as a 40-year old and never earning a call-up.   In 2011 he was invited to spring training again (perhaps with the hope that he’d join the organization as a coach) but he got cut, then pitched a handful of indy league games for his home-town New Jersey indy league team, got hammered, and hung them up.   He retired having played in 15 seasons for no less than 12 different teams.  In 2012 he took a pitching coach job with the Cubs organization (one of the teams he managed NOT to play for during his career) and has been moving up their organization in that capacity since.  Received Zero Hall-of-Fame votes by virtue of not appearing on the BBWAA ballot.
  • Julian Tavarez signed a one-year deal in the beginning of 2009, started out decently but had an awful stretch that resulted in his DFA in mid July 2009.  He never threw another pitch in organized ball, abruptly retiring considering his mid-season release.  He ended a 17-year career spanning 11 different franchises.  Received Zero Hall-of-Fame votes by virtue of not appearing on the BBWAA ballot.  According to his wiki page, he now resides in a suburb of Cleveland (his original professional team) but does not list any post-career activities, baseball-related or otherwise.  Received Zero Hall-of-Fame votes by virtue of not appearing on the BBWAA ballot.

Both Tavarez and Villone belong to the infamous “From Nationals to Oblivion” club, a topic we revisit on an annual basis.

Note: it is not entirely clear to me why Villone and Tavarez were not actually ON the 2015 ballot; both seem to have the qualifications (10 years of experience and 5 years retired) and both were on previous versions of the “anticipated ballot” at baseball-reference.com, but neither showed up on BBWAA’s official ballot for this year.  Pete Kerzel did a post reviewing “Nats connected” 2015 ballot members when the ballot came out in Nov 2014 and only mentioned Boone.  I include them here since it seems to me they *should* be on the ballot and I’m not sure why they were not (unless someone is passing judgement on the “quality” of HoFame ballot members).  Are they pushed to subsequent ballots for some reason?  If anyone has insight i’d love to know.

2014 Ballot:

  • Paul Lo Duca: one of Bowden’s more infamous signings; he went from our opening day catcher in the 2008 season to being released by August 1st.  The highlight of his tenure here was having his name being revealed in the Mitchell Report just a couple days after signing with us.  After his release, he signed on to finish out the season with Florida, took a year off and attempted a come back in 2010 (signing a ML contract with Colorado but never appearing above AAA).   Hard to believe this guy was a 4-time all-star.  Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.

2013 Ballot:

  • Royce Clayton; signed a contract to be the Nats shortstop during the lean Jim Bowden years, and then was included in the Mega swap of players that headed to Cincinnati in the 2006 season.  He hung around for one more season in 2007 as a backup short stop and retired afterwards.  Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.
  • Mike Stanton was picked up in mid 2005 after being released by the Yankees, and he pitched well enough for the Nats that he was able to fetch a couple of low-level prospects in a late September move to Boston (who was looking for some late season bullpen cover).  The team then re-signed Stanton for 2006, and flipped him again mid-season, this time to the Giants for Shairon Martis.  Stanton toiled a one more season before hanging them up after 2007.   Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.

2012 Ballot:

  • Vinny Castilla: signed a two year deal to join the Nats, timed with their inaugural season in Washington, but was traded to Colorado for SP Brian Lawrence when it became apparent that Ryan Zimmerman was set to man the hot corner in DC for the next decade or so.  Played one more season and retired after 2006.  Received Six (6) Hall-of-fame votes.

2011 Ballot:

  • Carlos Baerga: signed a one year deal as a 36-yr old to join the Nats in their inaugural season and serve as a backup infielder.   Hit .253 in part-time duty and hung ’em up after a 14-year career that can be well described as “journey-man.”   He was an integral part of the early 90s Cleveland Indians as their starting 2nd baseman and a 3-time all-star, and ended up playing on 6 major league teams and spent parts one season in Korea.  Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.

So, outside of Pudge’s election, the Nats greatest Hall of Fame achievement is Vinny Castilla receiving 6 sympathy votes.

We still have to wait a while to see another player with a “W” on their hat in Cooperstown.

So, who might that actually be?  In the years since we started this sad post, the team has acquired and played more than a few elite, regular all-star type players who may very well be in Cooperstown at some point.

  • Bryce Harper?  Not likely; if he makes it, he’ll likely wear a Philly cap based on the 13-yr contract he’s signed there.
  • Anthony Rendon?  despite his great 2019 season, he suffers from similar issues as guys like Scott Rolen; top-notch defensive 3B are a tough sell to Cooperstown.   He’s now signed with LAA for the next 8 years or so; if he makes it to Cooperstown, he’ll have earned it likely based on his next few seasons of work moreso than what he’s done with Washington … which means no curly-W for him.
  • Max Scherzer: most likely; he’s basically guaranteed his Cooperstown entry with his 3rd Cy Young award, two of which have come with Washington.  I think that pushes him over the edge to wearing our hat.
  • Stephen Strasburg: right now he seems like he’s in the Kevin Brown category of good but not great pitchers when it comes to Cooperstown consideration; he needs a Cy Young on his resume before someone really considers him.

Obligatory Post on the 2020 Hall of Fame class

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Jeter waves to the fans in his last home game. AP photo via abcnews.com

Jeter waves to the fans in his last home game. AP photo via abcnews.com

Its that time of the year, so that means Hall of Fame Ballot time.  BBWAA Writers should have mailed in their ballots by 12/31/19, and we should start seeing a glut of “this is who I voted for and why” posts come out this week.

How many years have I been doing this post?  Basically as long as we’ve had the blog.  Here’s (by class) 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011.  Dunno what happened for the 2016 preview; must have been busy or something right at the end of the year in 2015.

I know lots of people have lost faith in the Hall of Fame, are tired of reading analysis like this, etc etc.  Fair enough; feel free to move on.

Here’s two key links for you, if you’re still reading.

My consideration of candidates for the Hall, unlike my consideration of a lot of stuff in baseball, does include “feel” in addition to stats.  I know Jay Jaffe  has his great JAWS thing that tries to do both peak and longevity.  I know b-r.com has a bunch of metrics per player.  That’s all great.  But it isn’t the hall of stats, it isn’t the hall of WAR.  Its the Hall of Fame.  Its the hall of marquee players from their day.  I look at the players I’d vote for and … they’re the guys you paid money to see.  They’re the arms that were on the mound and you gave the opposing team little chance.  They’re the sluggers who you wanted up in the 9th inning of a tie game.  That’s what makes the game exciting and that’s the lens I like to use when judging players.  Yeah its subjective and partisan; so is every person voting in the BBWAA.  Even Jaffe admits there’s stats and then there’s consideration in his excellent article linked above.

With my imaginary ballot, here’s how i’d vote.  Since there’s a limit of 10 players per ballot, I’ll list these players in rough order of voting priority to start:

New to the 2020 Ballot Candidates:

  • Absolute Yes on Derek Jeter
    • Jeter may very well join Mariano Rivera as a unanimous electee; I can’t see any logical reason why a sane voter without a grudge would not vote for him.
    • I’ve seen people online actually ask if his tenure as the face of the Miami Marlins ownership group will harm his candidacy.  I sure as hell hope not: he’s clearly enacting the policy of his ownership group, and his playing qualifications have absolutely nothing to do with his management career.  But, since we live in the “Hot Take” universe of twitter-length arguments, I’m sure someone will withold a vote for some personal reason (and then will stay anonymous like the chicken-sh*t voters who continue to do so).
  • Slight pause on Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi
    • Abreu’s accumulation stats really added up, but he was never seriously in consideration for anything close to being the best player in the league at any point in his career.
    • Giambi had a torrid 3-4 year stretch where he was perhaps the most feared hitter in the league.  His slash line in 2001 was a ridiculous .342/.477/.660.  And he didn’t even win the MVP (he lost out to the narrative-driven Ichiro Suzuki despite producing nearly two more wins of value).  But … this was basically it for Giambi; he dominated at the height of the PED era and admitted (in leaked Grand Jury testimony) that throughout his peak he took BALCO products, steroids and HGH.  There’s just no way he’s ever getting in.  But man he was a slugger in his prime.
  • No on everyone else, and i’m not sure there’s anyone really close.
    • there’s one guy on the ballot (Heath Bell) who had less career bWAR than Mike Trout had in 2019.  In case you still held on to some belief that relievers are the game changing players that they’re made out to be by some sportswriters.

Returning Ballot Candidates

I’m not re-litigating these candidates, since i’ve written many times on them in the past.   Plus, most of these guys have been on the ballot so long that, frankly, nobody wants to hear your justification any more.  Its like politics; reading my blog post isn’t going to change your opinion on the Impeachment inquiry.  I’m sure the Cooperstown guys can’t wait for Bonds and Clemens in particular to age off the ballot; this is t heir 8th year of 10.  Almost there.

  • Yes on Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez
  • More Tepid Yes on Fred McGriff, Larry Walker
  • Almost ready to say Yes on Gary Sheffield, Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones
  • Pass for now on Jeff Kent, Sammy Sosa, Todd Helton, Lance BerkmanAndy Pettitte, Roy Oswalt
  • No on Omar VizquelBilly Wagner, Bobby Abreu, Jeremy Giambi,  and the rest of the 2020 class not already discussed

Its Walker’s 10th and last year on the ballot, typically a time when people give him a bump.  He was at 54% last year; can he get to 75%  It’ll be tough.  its a thin ballot, which means lots of guys are going to get votes who may not normally get them.  Will it be enough?

So i’ve got absolute Yes’s on five guys, tepid Yes on another two, then would probably throw the “almost ready” three guys on to fill out the ballot of 10 names.

I vote Yes on (in order): Jeter, Clemens, Bonds, Schilling, Ramirez, McGriff, Walker, Sheffield, Rolen, Jones.

Predictions?  I’ll say Jeter and Walker get in.

(side observation; on the Hall of Fame tracker this year, we’re seeing really odd things in some of the ballots so far.  For the first time in a while, there’s not 10 obvious candidates even for bigger-hall proponents like myself.  And we’re seeing voters actually remove votes from players they voted for last year … but not completely filling out the ballot. (??)  Explain that to me: how do you vote for a guy one year then the next … you don’t, and you’re not taking away that vote for an other players?   We also are seeing some real questionable ballots; one guy voted solely for Jeter this year and removed 7 others he had on his previous ballot.  Why would you do that??)

 

Greinke, Sabathia, Hamels, Fernandez all hit career milestones: lets talk Hall of Fame

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Sabathia hits 250 wins. Hall of Famer? Photo wiki/flickr chris.ptacek

Sabathia hits 250 wins.
Hall of Famer? Photo wiki/flickr chris.ptacek

Earlier this season, when Stephen Strasburg hit 1,500 career strikeouts I posted a thought piece speculating on his Hall of Fame chances.  That conversation kind of got derailed in a projection discussion versus a theoretical discussion on what we could reasonable expect from Strasburg going forward.  Which is fine; its awfully hard to project a guy already on his second UCL for the next decade.

So, lets talk about four guys who have now hit much more impressive career mile-stones and talk about them individually.

Before we do, you may wonder why I care or why I think this is worth discussing.  And here it is: Starting Pitching usage in our sport has drastically changed in the last decade.  The odds of ever seeing a 300-win pitcher again seem remote, given 5-man rotations, openers, and the general downgrading of the “Win” statistic.  Meanwhile, Strikeouts are skyrocketing, as teams no longer care if a guy strikes out 180 times as long as he hits 45 bombs.  As we speak, Seven of the top 10 pitchers in the history of the sport in terms of K/9 are active starters as we speak.

So my overarching question basically is this: do we need to drastically change the way we evaluate the careers of (especially) starting pitchers given where the game has gone as of late?

And pitchers like Strasburg, Hamels, Sabathia, and Greinke are pretty good test cases.  Here’s why.

Historically, 3,000 career strikeouts was nearly a lock to get a guy to Cooperstown.   As we speak, there’d just 17 guys in the history of the sport who have hit that threshold.  Of those 17 starters, 14 are in the hall, 1 is still active (Sabathia), and two are named Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling (who have externalities unrelated to their performance on the field that are holding them out of the hall).  But going forward, it really seems like we’re going to start seeing a glut of guys hit that 3,000 threshold, and I wonder if we’re going to have to re-think what it means to be a Hall of Fame starter.

With respect to Wins … we’re also seeing a drastic change in expectations for career totals.  Sabathia just hit 250 wins, which now seems like the “new 300” given pitcher usage.  Heck, it now seems like even hitting 200 career wins may be a pretty significant accomplishment, which is amazing considering the lofty career totals achieved by Clemens, Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson just a half a generation ago.

We’re kind of already seeing the effects of this change in evaluation; thanks to evolving usage starting in the 1980s and then the PED effects lengthening careers and thus inflating numbers in the 90s, there’s a severe lack of starting pitchers from the 1980s enshrined in the hall, guys with the kind of career numbers that, if they were pitching today, we’d be having a different conversation.  I wrote about this back in 2013 and did a ton of research at the time, and there’s a slew of starters from the 1980s who really deserved a better consideration than they received from the voters at the time.

Are we going to see something similar with pitchers from today?

Anyway, lets talk about these three guys who hit career milestones within the past few weeks:

  1. CC Sabathia: this year has hit both 3,000 career Ks and just got his 250th win.  He has a Cy Young, had a 5-year stretch where he was a top-5 vote-getter, but is slightly below the average HoFamer in terms of JAWS and the Hall metrics available at his baseball-reference.com page.  He’s already announced that he’s retiring after 2019.  Is he a Hall of Famer?
  2. Zack Greinke: just hit 2,500 career Ks, is just 5 wins away from 200 career wins.  He’s signed through 2021, is in his age 35 season and has shown pretty good durability throughout his career (I mention this to try to project how long he can stay effective).  He’s having an excellent 2019 despite pitching in Arizona’s hitter’s park and should be an All Star.  He’s averaged 16 wins a season after his age 30 season, meaning he could possibly be in position to challenge 250 career wins himself.  Just one Cy Young award (in an amazing Kansas City season), and came in 2nd in a year when he had a 1.66 ERA in a full season in 2015.   Statistically, his JAWs looks a lot better than Sabathia’s, and he seems to have several more years to tack on WAR and put himself in the upper echelon of SPs historically.  Is he a Hall of Famer?
  3. Cole Hamels: just hit 2,500 career Ks himself.  But he’s no where near the 200 win totals that Sabathia and Greinke have already hit (he’s 162-116 as of this writing) while also being in his age 35 season.   He’s been almost exactly averaging 9 K/9 for the past few years.  He’s in his contract year this year, and he’s been amazingly durable (missing just a few weeks in 2017 in the last decade).  I think he’s a shoe-in to get a 3 year contract, which should give him a shot at at least 600 more innings and probably 600 more strikeouts on top of what ever he ends up with this year.  He’s never really come close to a Cy Young, and his JAWS/black ink figures are wanting.  Is he a Hall of Famer?
  4. Felix Hernandez also just hit 2,500 career Ks in his last start.  His 5-year peak from 2009-2014 included one Cy Young, two 2nd place finishes and a perfect game in 2012.   Through his age 30 season he sat at 154 wins, 2264 Ks and had people thinking perhaps he had a shot at 300 wins and 4,000 Ks.  But like a light switch, he fell apart upon hitting 31, to the point now at age 33 that the team is considering removing him from the rotation.  Furthermore, he’s falling apart at the end of a long, expensive contract and (as we’ve now seen in the FA market for starters > 30) he may be in trouble of even getting a guaranteed contract for 2020 and beyond.   As of today, he’s got just 15 combined wins in the last three seasons (including this one) and seems influx going forward.    His peak helps him from a JAWs/WAR perspective, but he still sits well behind what a typical Hall of famer sits.  Right now, is he projecting as a Hall of Famer?

There’s other interesting use cases out there in terms of active pitchers.  I don’t think there’s any doubt at this point that the likes of Clayton Kershaw (3 Cy Youngs already), Justin Verlander  (who probably hits 3,000 Ks this season) or Max Scherzer (also 3 career Cy Youngs already) are headed for enshrinement.  But what do you do with someone like Felix Hernandez, who was dominant early and has fallen off a cliff?  What about John Lester?  At age 35 (same as Grienke and Hamels) he’s 4th actively in Wins and led the league in them last year with 18.  What if Lester hits 200 wins and gets close to 3,000 Ks.

So, i’ve thrown these names out there.   If I was a voter, what would I say?

  • Sabathia: yes
  • Greinke: projecting to Yes
  • Hamels; projecting to No, even if he hits 3,000 strikeouts career
  • Hernandez: projecting to No
  • Lester: projecting to No

What do you guys think?  Is it time to re-think career milestones for Starters?

 

Obligatory Post on the 2019 Hall of Fame class

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Rivera's last Yankee Apperance. Photo Jim McIsaac/Long Island Newsday.

Rivera’s last Yankee Apperance. Photo Jim McIsaac/Long Island Newsday.

Its that time of the year, so that means Hall of Fame Ballot time.  BBWAA Writers should have mailed in their ballots by 12/31/18, and we should start seeing a glut of “this is who I voted for and why” posts come out this week.

Nearly 25% of the voters got a jump on things and published early; as of Christmas more than 90 ballots were in Ryan Thibodaux‘s tracker and as of the new year he’s got more than 130 of the total 412 ballots available.

If you’re still “in” on the hall after the inexplicable Harold Baines election, then read on.

Here’s two key links for you, if you’re still reading:

And, here’s a link to one of the best “imaginary hall of fame” ballot stories i’ve ever read, from Jay Jaffe, he of JAWS fame, breaking down the ballot in a great way.

My consideration of candidates for the Hall, unlike my consideration of a lot of stuff in baseball, comes down more to “feel” than it does to stats.  I know Jay Jaffe  has his great JAWS thing that tries to do both peak and longevity.  I know b-r.com has a bunch of metrics per player.  That’s all great.  But it isn’t the hall of stats, it isn’t the hall of WAR.  Its the Hall of Fame.  Its the hall of marquee players from their day.  I look at the players I’d vote for and … they’re the guys you paid money to see.  They’re the arms that were on the mound and you gave the opposing team little chance.  They’re the sluggers who you wanted up in the 9th inning of a tie game.  That’s what makes the game exciting and that’s the lens I like to use when judging players.  Yeah its subjective and partisan; so is every person voting in the BBWAA.  Even Jaffe admits there’s stats and then there’s consideration in his excellent article linked above.

With my imaginary ballot, here’s how i’d vote.  Since there’s a (ridiculous) limit of 10 players per ballot, I’ll list these players in rough order of voting priority to start:

New to the 2019 Ballot Candidates:

  • Absolute Yes on Mariano RiveraRoy Halladay.
    • Rivera may be the closest we ever get to a unanimous player; a dominant closer who impacted the post-season for two decades and was a great guy with no enemies in the press.
    • Halladay was the best or among the best pitchers in baseball for nearly a decade, winning Cy Youngs in both leagues and throwing a post-season no-hitter.  He unfortunately also gets posthumous votes thanks to his ill timed death early in 2018.  Yes, his inclusion technically “lowers” the SP bar .. but I think its just about time people started realizing we have to re-think the way we evaluate SPs in our game.
  • Slight pause to consider Todd Helton, Lance BerkmanAndy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt, but then still vote no.  For each, here’s a couple of thoughts:
    • Helton had a 5 year stretch where he was once of the most feared  hitters in the game, and accumulated a ton of WAR … but was kind of a lack-of-power 1B who got a boost playing in Colorado and probably wasn’t anywhere close to the player that Fred McGriff was, who couldn’t sniff the hall.
    • Berkman was an even better, more dangerous hitter … he retired with a career OPS+ of 144, but aged badly and was done by 37.  His intolerant political views can’t be helping him either (in the same vein they’re affecting Schilling)
    • If you didn’t like Jack Morris, you probably don’t like Pettitte either, as they profile very similarly.  Pettitte has the distinction of having the most Wins in the first decade of the new year … and with Morris’ inclusion every “decade leading” wins getter is in the Hall.  But something tells me that streak ends here.  He also has a bona-fide PED testing result that, for some reason or another, isn’t viewed with nearly the vitriol as other PED-associated players (Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Sosa, etc).  Amazing how the media narrative changes based on the player (Pettitte == “good guy” while Bonds == “bad guy.”)
    • Oswalt burst onto the scene and was one of the best pitchers in the NL for the first half of his career … then disappeared and was done as an effective pitcher by the age of 33.  He’s like the Orel Hershiser of his generation, but only half as accomplished.
  • No on everyone else, and there’s nobody really close.

Returning Ballot Candidates; i’m not re-litigating these candidates, since i’ve written many times on them in the past.   Plus, most of these guys have been on the ballot so long that, frankly, nobody wants to hear your justification any more.  Its like politics; reading my blog post isn’t going to change your opinion on the Border Wall.

  • Absolute Yes on Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina
  • More tepid Yes on Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez, Fred McGriff
  • Almost ready to say Yes on Gary Sheffield, Billy WagnerScott Rolen
  • Pass for now on Jeff Kent, Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa, Omar Vizquel, Andruw Jones.

So i’ve got absolute Yes’s on 6 guys, tepid Yes on another three, then would probably throw on Sheffield as my 10th.

I vote Yes on Mariano, Halladay, Clemens, Bonds, Edgar, Mussina, Schilling, Manny, McGriff and Sheffield.

I get the arguments for Walker, for Wagner, for Sosa, for Jones.  That’s why lots of people say there’s 14 worth candidates on this year’s ballot but only 10 spots.  Maybe next year.

 

So if you didn’t like Jack Morris in the Hall … what are you saying about Baines??

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Baines comes from out of nowhere to get elected to the Hall. Photo via BroBible.

Baines comes from out of nowhere to get elected to the Hall. Photo via BroBible.

Last week, we heard that Lee Smith and Harold Baines were selected by this 16-person “Today’s Game Era Committee” to be in the Hall of Fame.

Honestly, I’m not sure why we pay so much attention to this institution at this point; literally every decision they make seems to be in direct conflict with what the general consensus of the sport’s fandom thinks makes sense.

  • Too many players on the ballot?  By all means, don’t expand the ballot.
  • Too many players on the ballot needing more years to get elected?  Oh, lets shorten the amount of time players can stay on the ballot.  Of course!
  • Tired of seeing illogical votes?  The writers themselves voted to make their votes public … but the Hall of Fame said no.
  • Old-timey players found out to be relatively unworthy due to new knowledge of the game?  Oh, lets ignore years/decades of writer voting and just hand them a spot in the hall.

Lets talk about them one at a time

Smith aged off the ballot after 15 years in 2017, getting 34.2% of the electorate vote his final year, peaking just above 50% in one of his years on the ballot.   He was a journeyman closer (8 teams in 18 years) with a gazillion saves (478) and a 3.00+ ERA with a middling bWAR figure (29.4), 16% of which came in his best season.  We talked about him for years; he was a mediocre to good closer, nothing special, and came into the ballot at a time where there was a huge glut of candidates as well as better/more famous closers in the discussion.   He made 7 all-star teams and had three Cy Young leading seasons back when people thought that saves were actually worthy of voting for (to wit, he finished 2nd in Cy Young voting in 1991 b/c he led the league in saves with 47 saves … and had a 2.3 bWAR season.  Meanwhile, last year Tanner Roark, you know the guy who a lot of Nats fans were convinced we should non-tender due to his crummy performance … he posted a 3.0 bWAR for 2018.  Yeah; even a replacement level starter right now is more valuable than an all-star closer).

That is a hall of famer?

Meanwhile Baines was even more of a journey-man; playing 22 seasons across 5 franchises and hanging around as a lefty DH type with a solid bat but not highlight power.  He accumulated 38.7 bWAR in his long career, his career apex being a 4.3 bWAR season in 1984.  He made 6 all-star teams and never sniffed even a top5 MVP vote.   He hung on the ballot getting just north of the 5% threshold for several years, then was dropped off when the glut of candidates started in 2011.  That’s right; people lost their minds because Jack Morris got in despite his 3.90 ERA and peaking at 61.5% of the HoF vote … yet Baines is now in despite never getting more than 7% (!) in any year and having a career BA of .289.  His best argument for getting into the Hall seems to his high career hit total (2,866), which will now also be the eventual argument for the likes of Omar Vizquel (career hits: 2,877) and Johnny Damon (career hits: 2,769) to also get added by a chummy veterans committee filled with current employees and former managers.

That’s a hall of famer??

.289 will not be the lowest batting average for any Hall of Famer (not like Morris’ 3.90 being the highest ERA).   Not by a long shot; there’s plenty of guys in the .250-.270 range or lower.  But many of those who have these lower averages also have 500 homers, or are 10x gold glove winners.  Or have some other redeeming qualities.  Baines was often not even the best player on his own team, let alone the league.

I mean, good for him.  He gets to make a speech and join a pretty exclusive club.  He’ll also basically serve as a low-end benchmark going forward for comparison purposes.

But most of the rest of the baseball world is pretty troubled by this.  I’ve always thought that a committee would do a better job of electing players to the Hall, in the same vein that the NFL selection committee seems to do a pretty good job.  But clearly not THIS committee, that includes the arrogant and patently-anti-analytical Joe Morgan (whose letter to the electorate literally led some respected writers to quit the process), and the equally arrogant Tony la Russa, who failed so spectacularly in management with Arizona recently and literally used game winning RBI during an on-screen interview to defend the selection of Baines while claiming anyone who argues against Baines are using “weak *ss superficial bullsh*t.”

Wow.

Whatever.  I’m sure we’ll get some good candidates elected and can argue for or against them during the slow period in early January like always.  But the inclusion of Smith and Baines while the likes of Edgar Martinez and Mike Mussina (in particular) is yet another nail in the coffin of believe-ability for the Hall of Fame as an institution.

Written by Todd Boss

December 16th, 2018 at 9:53 am

Obligatory Post on the 2018 Hall of Fame class

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Chipper Jones at his retirement game.  Photo via lostthatsportsblog

Chipper Jones at his retirement game. Photo via lostthatsportsblog

Its January, so that means Hall of Fame Ballot time.  BBWAA Writers who were not completely disgusted by Joe Morgan‘s ridiculous letter to the writers should have mailed in their ballots by 12/31/17.

If you still care about Hall of Fame voting, then this post is for you.  Which I do … because its the only such career-recognizing institution for our sport … even if the people running the museum are tone-deaf morons who want to make it harder to get candidates in rather than easier  despite mounds of evidence that the 80s and 90s are vastly under represented in the Hall.  They continue to enrage rationalists by doing thins like shortening the time players are allowed on the ballot, refusing to expand the ballot to allow more candidates and most recently refusing to make all ballots public so dinosaurs can continue to be unaccountable for their awful voting decisions.

Here’s two key links for you, if you’re still reading:

  • Baseball-Reference.com’s 2018 ballot with stats
  • Ryan Thibodaux‘s online tracker of all HoF votes .  Which is great for those who do talk about their votes … but is tough to use as a predictor because generally the non-public votes are more in the Murray Chass category of voting; too few candidates and no consistency over who he picks.

My consideration of candidates, unlike my consideration of a lot of stuff, comes down more to “feel” than it does to stats.  I know Jay Jaffe  has his great JAWS thing that tries to do both peak and longevity.  I know b-r.com has a bunch of metrics per player.  That’s all great.  But it isn’t the hall of stats, it isn’t the hall of WAR.  Its the hall of Fame.  Its the hall of marquee players from their day.  I cannot remember the pundit (perhaps Bill James or Joe Posnanski), but they said something to the effect of if the player didn’t “scare” you when he came to bat, or if you didn’t get excited when the pitcher took the mound … then odds are they weren’t a hall of famer.

I look at the players I’d vote for and … they’re the guys you paid money to see.  They’re the arms that were on the mound and you gave the opposing team little chance.  They’re the sluggers who you wanted up in the 9th inning of a tie game.  That’s what makes the game exciting and that’s the lens I like to use when judging players.  Yeah its subjective and partisan; so is every person voting in the BBWAA.

With my imaginary ballot, here’s how i’d vote.  Since there’s a (ridiculous) limit of 10 players per ballot, I’ll list these players in rough order of voting priority to start:

New to the 2018 Ballot Candidates:

  • Absolute Yes on Chipper Jones, Jim Thome
  • Less emphatic Yes for Scott Rolen
  • Slight pause to consider Andruw Jones, Omar Vizquel, Johan Santana
  • No on everyone else (though there are still some interesting names on that list)

Returning Ballot Candidates:

  • Absolute Yes on Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds
  • More tepid Yes on Vladimir GuerreroCurt Schilling,  Manny Ramirez, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Fred McGriff, Trevor Hoffman
  • Pass on Jeff Kent, Larry Walker, Gary Sheffield, Billy Wagner, Sammy Sosa

Discussions on my opinions from a hypocritical litmus test stand point:

  • Why support Hoffman but not Wagner?   Probably a fair question and probably not supported by stats when you compare all three guys together.  But that’s why its the “Hall of Fame” and not the “Hall of WAR” or the “Hall of Stats.”  Hoffman was more famous than these other relievers.  I always viewed Smith as a good-but-not-great reliever who compiled stats, and I viewed Wagner as an electric and under-rated closer without near the career accomplishments of Hoffman.
  • Why support McGriff/Guerrero but not Walker?  You can make the argument that Walker’s numbers were a product of Colorado … and you can make the alternative argument too.  I think for me the fact that Walker couldn’t reach even 400 homers while playing in the launching pad in Denver is an indictment of his career.  Walker was a fine hitter … but he never inspired the league wide “fear” that Guerrero and McGriff did.  He’s in the “Hall of Good” but not the “Hall of Fame” for me.  Also it is worth noting that McGriff finished his career with 493 homers, but missed months out of the 1994 season at his peak.  Had he eclipsed 500 homers … i think we’re having a different conversation about him.  These artificial numbers (300, 3000, 500) are pretty important to voters.  Guerrero himself was for a time absolutely “the best player in the game,” a title that I don’t think Walker can come close to claiming.
  • Why support Bonds and Ramirez but not Sosa?   Something about Sosa’s career just screams “artificial.”  He went from being a 35-home run hitter to a 66-home run hitter overnight, he has PED suspisions and a corked bat on his resume, and his skills disappeared as soon as testing became the norm.

So, if you include all firm Yeses and more tepid Yeses … I have 12 candidates.  Probably like everyone else who thinks like I do; too many guys for the ballot.  So who do you cut?  Probably I’d trim the ballot to 10 by cutting McGriff and Hoffman.  I keep Manny Ramirez on despite his positive tests because I don’t think there was a better RH hitter during the 1990s.   I support Clemens/Bonds because I just don’t see how you can have a museum that excludes a 7-time MVP winner or a 7-time Cy Young winner, no matter what you think they took or when.

Nats connected candidates:  excluding the Montreal guys, we have two down-ballot guys who will be lucky to get a single vote: Livan Hernandez and Brad Lidge.  So far, zero votes for either guy, no surprise there.

Quick thoughts on the BBHOF tracker results so far:

  • Bonds/Clemens nearing 70% on public ballots, and keep increasing.  I’m glad to see this.
  • Who the heck voted for Johnny Damon?
  • So far, 3 looking like total locks (Guerrero, Jones, Thome) with the odds of Hoffman also going in strong.
  • It seems like both Schilling and Mussina will drastically increase their vote totals this year, also a good thing.
  • I cannot believe how little support Rolen is getting.
  • Likewise, it looks like Andruw Jones may drop off the ballot!  that’s crazy; i realize he fell off a cliff, but he was among the best in the game for many years.
  • Somewhat surprised with Vizquel’s higher totals (28% as of this writing); no i don’t think he’s a HoFamer … but i do think he deserves some consideration.

Care to argue about the HoF?

 

Jack Morris gets his due

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Morris finally in. Photo John Iacono via si.com

Morris finally in. Photo John Iacono via si.com

I’m about to embark on what may be a touchy subject.  With a significant lack of useful Nationals news (outside of one re-signing and a bunch of non-news coming out of Winterfest), what the heck.

Lets argue some more about the Hall of Fame!

A week ago, in what was of little surprise to those reading the writing on the wall, Jack Morris (and his long-time  and deservingDetroit teammate Alan Trammell )were selected to baseball’s Hall of Fame by the “Modern Era Committee,” which exists to make “amends” basically for voters who have shown themselves as a body to do a pretty crummy  job of evaluating players from the 1980s.

I have written on Morris in the past.  See this 2012 post specifically about him and the meaning of Stats versus Fame, and more generally about how badly the 1980s are under-represented in the Hall in this wide-ranging 2013 piece.

There are many who think Morris’ selection is an abomination.  He now as the highest career ERA of any Hall of Fame pitcher … often noted by the same people who then turn around and tell us that ERA isn’t that great of a measure.  He led the 1980s decade in Wins during perhaps the last ERA where pitchers were really expected to “finish” their games on a regular basis (its notable that Morris has 5 times as many complete games as the 1990s decade Wins leader Andy Pettitte, who himself is as controversial of a Hall candidate as Morris) … but then we also know that “Wins” aren’t that great of a stat either, at least not in the current era when starters rarely get out of the 7th inning.

Morris isn’t the “worst” pitcher in the Hall by bWAR: sort the register by bWAR and you’ll find that Morris is obviously below the Hall average, but well above several pitchers who you should quibble about more than Morris.  He certainly stands ahead of nearly every “closer” currently in the Hall, less of an indictment of Morris and moreso of the game’s obsession with the Save statistic.  Head over to Fangraphs and you’ll see that Morris ranks 63rd all time in fWAR, notably ahead of luminary Hall members Whitey Ford and surprisingly Sandy Koufax and miles ahead of the likes of Catfish Hunter or Bob Lemon or Lefty Gomez or Dizzy Dean or all the rest of the relievers.   So by both primary WAR measurements, Morris isn’t nearly the worst pitcher enshrined.

Yet he was easily the subject of the most vindictive anti-campaign.  Why?  Why was  his candidacy and his career so belittled while a career mediocre stats accumulator like Bert Blyleven so championed?  I don’t know.  Did we hear this much vitriol when we elected Hunter?  Ask yourself: If Koufax had played in the modern era, put up his stats for a few years then retired at 30 … would he be elected to the Hall?

Here’s the real reason i’m posting this: Bill James wrote a fantastic piece explaining everything about Morris that i’ve struggled to articulate over the years.  Its a great read: https://www.billjamesonline.com/jack_be_durable/

In it, he talks about basically peak versus longevity, about Morris versus Johan Santana and the value of durability.   Here’s my takeaway quote from the article:

“It is my opinion that the Hall-of-Fame should reflect the history of game, and not whatever attitudes and opinions happens to rule the present. We might not want Jack Morris as the pitcher who reflects the current era of baseball, but there is no question that Morris was one of the most important pitchers of the eighties and early nineties.”

I couldn’t agree more.  And that, to me, is what the Hall of Fame should be about.  It is entirely possible that the whole of the 1980s was just a “down” era for starters; how else can we explain why the leading pitchers of the era got so little recognition?  I’m talking about Fernando ValenzuelaBret Saberhagen, Dave Steib, Orel Hershiser.  Maybe even Denny Martinez or even Dwight Gooden.  This list includes guys who won more than a quarter of the Cy Young awards from the 1980s, yet none of them even came close to enshrinement … and most of them fell off after one year of eligibility.

The Hall of Fame has gone *out of its way* to enshrine early baseball players, so much so that even a die-hard fan doesn’t recognize many of the names.  This 538 piece shows the statistical analysis: in the 1920s there were just 16 teams … yet there are 28 players from the era in the Hall, or above 12% of the eligible players.   Yet we sit here and make excuses as to why the guy who holds the record for opening day starts and leads the decade in Wins isn’t worthy.

I’m happy Morris is in the hall of fame.  He inarguably was one of the most “famous” pitchers from his era.  And that’s what an establishment with the word “Fame” should be striving for; showcasing those who were known for an era.

 

 

 

Written by Todd Boss

December 19th, 2017 at 10:46 am

Posted in Hall of Fame

RIP Roy Halliday: a posthumous Hall of Famer?

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Halladay was always a tough out for the Nats; RIP. Photo via wcpo.com

Halladay was always a tough out for the Nats; RIP. Photo via wcpo.com

I have the mlb app with notifications turned on, so I got the news as soon as it was confirmed that Roy Halladay was in the plane.  It was shocking indeed.  Hate to see something like this.

My Halladay memories: The best seats I ever had at a Nats game were for a Nats-Philadelphia game in late 2008 with Halladay starting.  I sprung for those diamond seats, 2nd row behind the plate.  It was an awesome experience, and you just don’t really get a sense for how hard these guys throw until you’re *that* close.  I also remember vividly a game that I’m sure some of you also remember: Halladay going for a complete game against us in 2011 but running into trouble in the 9th only to strike out both Matt Stairs and Ivan Rodriguez looking  … and neither guy moved their bat off their shoulder.

I’ve begun thinking about his legacy, as one is apt to do in times like this: Halladay was an incredibly dominant pitcher for a good stretch of his career, but he was essentially washed up at 34 and out of the game at 36, didn’t have the counting numbers some older voters want, and may have some difficulties getting elected.

However, I wonder if his untimely death affects (to the positive) his Hall of Fame candidacy.  It sucks that we’re talking about that as a possible posthumous honor, but he definitely had an interesting case.  From 2003 to 2011 he was basically in the conversation year after year of being the best pitcher in the game (2 Cy Youngs, 5 other times named in top 5, and 8 all-star appearances).  But he only played 15 full seasons, 6 of which were cut short due to injury or youth, and he was done by age 36.  200 wins, but no where near 3000Ks.  One seminal post-season moment (his 2010 NLDS no-hitter), but not a ton of post-season experience other wise (just 5 starts for Philly across 2010-11).
65.6 career bWAR, 65.2 career fWAR, which puts him right in the areas where he should be heavily considered (some hall of fame pitchers right in that same range include Don Drysdale, Don Sutton, Bob Feller, Juan Marichal, Dennis Eckersley, etc).   He’s 38th all-time in fWAR for Pitchers, 41st for bWAR.  And most every pitcher ranked above him on these lists is already in the HoFame (or should be).
The thing is, there’s starters above him on these lists who are struggling to get elected.  Consider these names who are ranked above Halladay but who are not yet elected):
Roger Clemens (for obvious reasons)
Mike Mussina: longer career, more Wins, more Ks
Curt Schilling; whatever you think of his post-career politics, he was a dominant pitcher for a long time who probably could have had 3 Cy Young awards
Kevin Brown: criminally under-appreciated long time dominant starter
Mussina and Schilling are the ones that stick out for me; if those two guys can’t get in, can Halladay?
Most of the old grizzled voters hate having career value conversations couched around WAR (probably because they don’t understand it).  But because we’re likely never seeing 300 wins again i wonder if he might be the kind of candidate where they look past his macro numbers and look at the fact that for nearly a decade he was the #1 or #2 guy in the league.  And get some sentimental votes at the same time.
For me?  I’m a big Hall kind of guy, so I think all these guys above Halladay need to be in the Hall of Fame.  I think Halladay does too; he passes the eye test and the smell test, if not the career stat-gathering test.

Hall of Fame candidates with Nationals ties (2017 version)

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Pudge's last official team photo.

Pudge’s last official team photo.

Congratulations to a deserving 2017 Hall of Fame class; Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez were all elected through the most recent round of balloting.

This is the Class of 2017 Version of this post: first one was done after the 2014 Hall of Fame class was announced and the voting results made public, and then the next was done after the Class of 2015 was announced.  And here’s the  2016 version of this post, from which all the text for prior ballots is cut-n-pasted.  It is here for your reminiscing enjoyment.

Nats connected names on the 2017 ballot and 2017 eligible:

  • Ivan Rodriguez, aka “Pudge,” who surprisingly signed a 2-year deal with the team after the 2009 season and played his last two years with the rebuilding team, splitting time with the up-and-coming Wilson Ramos and retiring after the 2011 season.  He was part of the rebound years for the franchise but missed out on their breakout 2012 season.  There was some surprise when he got in on the 1st ballot, given his PED suspicions, but I take his election as a sign of the changing times with the electorate.  There’s definitely a difference between suspicions and a real failed test, and inarguably Pudge is one of the best catchers of all time so there’s no reason to keep him out.  Here’s a great link of a video of Pudge finding out he was elected.
  • Matt Stairs, whose name I can’t quite say without cursing, who sucked at the teet of the Washington Nationals payroll for half a season in 2011 before being mercifully released on August 1st of that year.  Stairs now is now a regular in my semi-annual “Nats to Oblivion” posts, last done in April of 2016.  He received zero votes and falls off the ballot.
  • Alex Cora: like Stairs, he signed on as a veteran FA to be a role player with the 2011 Nats and retired after the 2011 season.  Unlike Stairs, Cora wasn’t judged to even be worthy to make the ballot.
  • (As we all know, Tim Raines, Vladimir Guerrero, Orlando Cabrera and Larry Walker all grew up with the Montreal franchise, but never appeared for the team post-move to Washington, so I havn’t included them here.  Cabrera was the closest to appearing in a Nats uniform, getting traded to Boston mid 2004 season just prior to the move).

Useful Hall of Fame links links:

  • 2017 Ballot on baseball-reference.com, with links to vote counts, stats, etc.
  • Full Voting figures via BBWAA.com

This post will let you answer the trivia question, “Prior to Ivan Rodrigiez’s enshrinement, what former Nats player has come the closest to Hall of Fame enshrinement?”  (Answer at the bottom).

We’ll work from most recent to oldest.

2016 Ballot:

Not a single Nats-connected was on the official Class of 2016 ballot.  As it turned out, There’s actually quite a few guys who were *candidates* for the 2016 ballot by requirements, but who didn’t make the cut who also had connections to the Nationals.  In fact, there’s quite a few of them.  Here’s a good list, thanks to the excellent research by Bill from platoonadvantage.com.

  • Ronnie Belliard: Played pretty well for the god-awful stretch of Nationals teams from 2007-2009, posting a nifty 123 OPS+ during the middle season before getting traded away at the 2009 trade deadline for two minor leaguers who never went anywhere (Luis Garcia, Victor Garate).  Stuck with Los Angeles one more season before hanging them up at 35.  Played parts of 13 seasons in the majors but didn’t rate a spot on the ballot.
  • Jesus Colome was an important part of the Nats bullpen during the same 2007-2009 span that Belliard was involved with, getting more than 120 appearances his first two seasons before posting an 8 ERA in 2009 and getting DFA’d in July.  He got picked up the next year by Seattle and got a few appearances (hence why he’s not on the “Nats to Oblivion” lists) and, if you can believe it, is still pitching at age 37 in the independent Atlantic league as we speak.  He did manage 10 distinct years w/ MLB appearances though, so he qualified.
  • Jose Guillen came to Washington with the Expos, played one solid year in 2005, had a season-ending elbow injury in 2006, then bounced around the league for a few more years.  He was active for 14 total seasons but never made an all star game.  He hit 24 homers for the surprising 2005 Nats … and led the league in HBPs.
  • Cristian Guzman signed a somewhat controversial 4yr/$16M contract (it cost the team its 2nd round pick) that started when the team moved to Washington, was god-awful his first year, then had to have shoulder surgery to miss the entirety of 2006.  He recovered his stroke in 2007 and actually made the all-star team in 2008 (our only representative during the dark years) … which was enough to convince our idiot GM Jim Bowden to give him a 2yr/$16M extension to an aging shortstop w/ no power on the wrong side of 30.  Not surprisingly, his OPS dropped 100 points in 2009 and the team dumped him on Texas in a trade-deadline deal after he had lost his starting job to Ian Desmond, netting the Nats two RHPs (one of which Tanner Roark makes this one of the better trades ever consummated by the Nats executive staff).  Guzman played in 15 more games for Texas, batted .152 and never played again.

2015 Ballot:

  • Aaron Boone, who signed a 1yr/$1M FA contract to be a backup corner infielder with the abhorrent 2008 Nationals team.  Boone’s crowning baseball achievement was his extra innings walk-off homer that ended one of the best games in MLB history (Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS between Boston and the Yankees, ranked #6 by MLB’s panel a few years back when ranking the best 20 games of the last half century).  Ironically one of his lowest moments was just a couple months later, blowing out his ACL that subsequent winter while playing pickup basketball, costing him the entirety of the 2004 season and the trust of the  Yankees organization.  He missed 2/3rds of the 2007 season after another left knee injury and the Nats were probably his last gasp shot at extending his career at the age of 35.  He got a decent amount of playing time thanks to the fragility of Ryan Zimmerman and Nick Johnson, somehow got another guaranteed MLB deal the following year, went 0-14 for Houston and was released.  He’s now an analyst with ESPN.  Received 2 votes on the 2015 ballot.
  • Ron Villone signed a minor league deal in 2009 and was quickly added to the Nats active roster, where he appeared in 63 games as our primary one-out lefty.   He pitched the entirety of 2010 on another minor league contract with Syracuse, posting a 6.59 ERA as a 40-year old and never earning a call-up.   In 2011 he was invited to spring training again (perhaps with the hope that he’d join the organization as a coach) but he got cut, then pitched a handful of indy league games for his home-town New Jersey indy league team, got hammered, and hung them up.   He retired having played in 15 seasons for no less than 12 different teams.  In 2012 he took a pitching coach job with the Cubs organization (one of the teams he managed NOT to play for during his career) and has been moving up their organization in that capacity since.  Received Zero Hall-of-Fame votes by virtue of not appearing on the BBWAA ballot.
  • Julian Tavarez signed a one-year deal in the beginning of 2009, started out decently but had an awful stretch that resulted in his DFA in mid July 2009.  He never threw another pitch in organized ball, abruptly retiring considering his mid-season release.  He ended a 17-year career spanning 11 different franchises.  Received Zero Hall-of-Fame votes by virtue of not appearing on the BBWAA ballot.  According to his wiki page, he now resides in a suburb of Cleveland (his original professional team) but does not list any post-career activities, baseball-related or otherwise.  Received Zero Hall-of-Fame votes by virtue of not appearing on the BBWAA ballot.

Both Tavarez and Villone belong to the infamous “From Nationals to Oblivion” club, a topic we revisit on an annual basis.

Note: it is not entirely clear to me why Villone and Tavarez were not actually ON the 2015 ballot; both seem to have the qualifications (10 years of experience and 5 years retired) and both were on previous versions of the “anticipated ballot” at baseball-reference.com, but neither showed up on BBWAA’s official ballot for this year.  Pete Kerzel did a post reviewing “Nats connected” 2015 ballot members when the ballot came out in Nov 2014 and only mentioned Boone.  I include them here since it seems to me they *should* be on the ballot and I’m not sure why they were not (unless someone is passing judgement on the “quality” of HoFame ballot members).  Are they pushed to subsequent ballots for some reason?  If anyone has insight i’d love to know.

2014 Ballot:

  • Paul Lo Duca: one of Bowden’s more infamous signings; he went from our opening day catcher in the 2008 season to being released by August 1st.  The highlight of his tenure here was having his name being revealed in the Mitchell Report just a couple days after signing with us.  After his release, he signed on to finish out the season with Florida, took a year off and attempted a come back in 2010 (signing a ML contract with Colorado but never appearing above AAA).   Hard to believe this guy was a 4-time all-star.  Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.

2013 Ballot:

  • Royce Clayton; signed a contract to be the Nats shortstop during the lean Jim Bowden years, and then was included in the Mega swap of players that headed to Cincinnati in the 2006 season.  He hung around for one more season in 2007 as a backup short stop and retired afterwards.  Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.
  • Mike Stanton was picked up in mid 2005 after being released by the Yankees, and he pitched well enough for the Nats that he was able to fetch a couple of low-level prospects in a late September move to Boston (who was looking for some late season bullpen cover).  The team then re-signed Stanton for 2006, and flipped him again mid-season, this time to the Giants for Shairon Martis.  Stanton toiled a one more season before hanging them up after 2007.   Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.

2012 Ballot:

  • Vinny Castilla: signed a two year deal to join the Nats, timed with their inaugural season in Washington, but was traded to Colorado for SP Brian Lawrence when it became apparent that Ryan Zimmerman was set to man the hot corner in DC for the next decade or so.  Played one more season and retired after 2006.  Received Six (6) Hall-of-fame votes.

2011 Ballot:

  • Carlos Baerga: signed a one year deal as a 36-yr old to join the Nats in their inaugural season and serve as a backup infielder.   Hit .253 in part-time duty and hung ’em up after a 14-year career that can be well described as “journey-man.”   He was an integral part of the early 90s Cleveland Indians as their starting 2nd baseman and a 3-time all-star, and ended up playing on 6 major league teams and spent parts one season in Korea.  Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.

So, outside of Pudge’s election, the Nats greatest Hall of Fame achievement is Vinny Castilla receiving 6 sympathy votes.

We still have to wait a while to see another player with a “W” on their hat in Cooperstown.

 

 

Obligatory Post on the 2017 Hall of Fame class

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"Throw another circle change so you can blow out your elbow!" Photo via zimbio

“Throw another circle change so you can blow out your elbow!” Photo via zimbio

The ballot for the 2017 Hall of Fame class came out in early November 2016, and had 34 names on it.  Baseball-reference has a very  nice page summarizing all the candidates and their career stats.  Since Ballots are due by 12/31, and since this is the beginning of the obligatory holier-than-thou arguments about HoFame balloting, I give you my own holier-than-thou take on it.

Important/Vital link for 2017 Hall of Fame vote tracking: Ryan Thibodaux‘s online tracker of all HoF votes, which is showing some very different trends in 2017 for long-time ballot candidates.  You may have already seen some analysis of the early voting, from Bill James to Buster Olney.  The big shock so far is just how much support both of the major PED-tainted candidates (Bonds and Clemens) have gained since last year.  Some (most?) attribute this to the veteran’s electing of Bud Selig, who presided over the Steroid era and did little to stop it.  The thinking probably goes, “well if Selig is in, he’s just as culpable as the players, so i’m now voting for Bonds/Clemens).

With my imaginary ballot, here’s how i’d vote.  Since there’s a (ridiculous) limit of 10 players per ballot, I’ll list these players in rough order of voting priority to start:

New Ballot Candidates:

  • Absolute Yes on Ivan RodriguezManny Ramirez (and with Pudge, the first “Nationals” connected player to make it!)
  • Less emphatic Yes for Vladimir Guerrero
  • Slight pause to consider Jorge Posada
  • No on everyone else.

Returning Ballot Candidates:

  • Absolute Yes on Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds
  • More tepid Yes on Curt Schilling, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Fred McGriff, Trevor Hoffman
  • Pass on Lee Smith, Jeff Kent, Larry Walker, Gary Sheffield, Billy Wagner, Sammy Sosa

Discussions on my opinions from a hypocritical litmus test stand point:

  • Why support Hoffman but not Smith and Wagner?   Probably a fair question and probably not supported by stats when you compare all three guys together.  But that’s why its the “Hall of Fame” and not the “Hall of WAR” or the “Hall of Stats.”  Hoffman was more famous than these other relievers.  I always viewed Smith as a good-but-not-great reliever who compiled stats, and I viewed Wagner as an electric and under-rated closer without near the career accomplishments of Hoffman.
  • Why support McGriff/Guerrero but not Walker?  You can make the argument that Walker’s numbers were a product of Colorado … and you can make the alternative argument too.  I think for me the fact that Walker couldn’t reach even 400 homers while playing in the launching pad in Denver is an indictment of his career.  Walker was a fine hitter … but he never inspired the league wide “fear” that Guerrero and McGriff did.  He’s in the “Hall of Good” but not the “Hall of Fame” for me.  Also it is worth noting that McGriff finished his career with 493 homers, but missed months out of the 1994 season at his peak.  Had he eclipsed 500 homers … i think we’re having a different conversation about him.  These artificial numbers (300, 3000, 500) are pretty important to voters.  Guerrero himself was for a time absolutely “the best player in the game,” a title that I don’t think Walker can come close to claimin.
  • Why support Bonds and Ramirez but not Sosa?   Something about Sosa’s career just screams “artificial.”  He went from being a 35-home run hitter to a 66-home run hitter overnight, he has PED suspisions and a corked bat on his resume, and his skills disappeared as soon as testing became the norm.

So that gives me 6 “Yes” votes and another 6 less emphatic  “yes” votes.  So i’d have to cull two candidates to fit onto a 10-person ballot.  I’d cut Schilling just on principle for the ridiculousness of his statements lately, and Hoffman on general anti-closer principles.  So my hypothetical ballot is:

  • Rodriguez, Ramirez, Guerrero, Bagwell, Raines, Clemens, Bonds, Martinez, Mussina, McGriff

My prediction on who actually gets elected?  Well, of course the PED issue comes into play.  So three or four of my “Yesses” are going to struggle to get votes.  So i’m guessing that the likes of Pudge and Manny don’t get 1st ballot votes, and Clemens/Bonds will continues to struggle.   But based on there being three candidates that got pretty close last year, i’m going to guess that its a 3-man roster for 2017: Raines, Bagwell and Hoffman.  And that’s a fine class.   The tracker is showing Raines, Bagwell and Rodriguez well in the 75% range, with Bonds, Clemens, Hoffman and Guerrero in the 70-75% range.  Which means that they’ll likely fall short in the end, since the non-public ballots are usually more parsimonious and more narrative-driven.  Hoffman has enough of a narrative to perhaps maintain his 75% range though, so i’m putting him in first ballot (whether or not you think he deserves it).

One great change coming to HoFame balloting; no more secret ballots.  Every idiot who has a ballot and turns in something nonsensical will now have to answer for his vote in the court of public opinion.  Which I think is a great thing; no more sanctimonious votes preventing deserving players from getting their due.

So, who you got in the Hall this time?