Nationals Arm Race

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Nationals Arm Race Best Stories for 2013; Happy New Year!

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On the last day of 2013, I thought I’d take a quick peek back at the posts and discussion that shaped the blog this year.  Here’s a highlight reel by month of the most read and commented-upon posts in this space, as well as recaps of major events and personal favorite entries.

January 2013:

February 2013:

March 2013:

April 2013:

May 2013:

June 2013

July 2013

August 2013

September 2013

October 2013

November 2013

December 2013

Happy New Year!  Its been fun.

 

My 2013 End-of-Season award Predictions

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Clayton Kershaw may be the sole unanimous major award winner in 2013.  Photo via wiki.

Clayton Kershaw may be the sole unanimous major award winner in 2013. Photo via wiki.

This post is months in the making.  In WordPress I looked up the first revision and it was dated May 4th.  Its on at least its 50th revision.  Its crazy.  But its a fun piece to do, to kind of keep track of these awards throughout the season.  But with yesterday’s release of the top-3 candidates for each BBWAA award, I thought it was finally time to publish.  The top-3 announcement didn’t have too many surprises in it, but was eye opening for some of the also-rans in each category.

I like seeing how well I can predict these awards by reading the tea leaves of the various opinions that flow into my RSS feed (here’s 2012′s version of the same post with links to prior years).  The goal is to go 8-for-8 predicting the major awards, with an even loftier goal of going 12-for-12 adding in the unofficial Sporting News awards.  I succeeded in 8-for-8 in 2010 and 2011, but missed out last year by over-thinking the Manager of the Year award in the AL.   This year is going to be tougher; the NL Rookie award and the AL Manager of the Year award are going to be coin-flips.

Here’s links for the MLB Players of the Month, to include Player, Pitcher and Rookies of the month, though frankly these monthly awards don’t amount to much.  But they’re fun to go see who was hot and how they ended up (think Evan Gattis).

Here’s links to some mid-season award prediction columns from Tom Verducci, Matthew Pouliot and Jayson Stark.  Here’s an 8/27/13 post from Keith Law, a 9/5/13 post from Cliff Corcoran, and a 9/25/13 prediction piece from USA Today’s Frank Nightengale that may be very telling about the Cabrera/Trout debate.   Lastly a few end of season pieces from Stark, Passan, Pouliot NL and AL, Gammons, Keri, Olney, Heyman.

Lastly here’s a great Joe Posnanski piece complaining about the faults the typical BBWAA voter has in their methodology.  He touches on some themes I mention below.  Remember this is a prediction piece, not who I necessarily think should actually win.

Without further ado, here’s my predictions and thoughts on the awards (predicted winners in Blue).

  • AL MVP:  Miguel Cabrera (May’s AL player of the month) and was leading the league in nearly every offensive category through a big chunk of the season before injuries cost him a lot of September.  There’s talk of another Cabrera-Mike Trout competition for the MVP in 2013, but I think the same results will hold as in 2012.  It comes down to the simple question; how can you be the “MVP” of a last place team?  That vastly over-simplifies the debate of course, but it is what it is.  I continue to be impatient with holier-than-thou writers who ignore the BBWAA definition of the award and who think this MVP should just be a ranking of the seasonal WAR table.  This award is not (yet) the “Best Player” award, and if it was then Trout would be the easy winner.  Of the also-rans:  Chris Davis tied the AL-record for pre-All Star break homers and finished with 53, but he’s likely #3 in this race.   Rounding out my top 5 would be Josh Donaldson and  Manny Machado.  Names briefly under consideration here earlier in the season (and possible top 10 candidates) include Joe Mauer and Evan Longoria.
  • AL Cy Young: Max Scherzer started the season 13-0 and finished 21-3.  This will propel him to the award despite not being as quite as good overall as his top competition.  Yu Darvish was on pace for nearly 300 strikeouts for a while before finishing with 277 and is likely finishing #2.   Despite a losing record pitching for one of the worst teams in the league, Chris Sale pitched to a 140 ERA+ for the second season in a row and should be rewarded with a top-5 finish.  Hisashi Iwakuma has fantastic numbers in the anonymity and depression of Seattle and will also get top-5 votes.  Rounding out the top 5 could be one of many:  Clay Buchholz was unhittable in April and weathered  accusations of doctoring the baseball from the Toronto broadcast team (Jack Morris and Dirk Hayhurst specifically), but then got hurt and may fall out of the voting.   Felix Hernandez put up his typical good numbers early despite a ton of kvetching about his velocity loss early in the season, but tailed off badly in August to drop him from the race.  Anibal Sanchez‘s 17-strikeout game has him some buzz, and he led the league in both ERA and ERA+.    Matt Moore became the first young lefty to start 8-0 since Babe Ruth and somewhat quietly finished 17-4 for the game-163 winning Rays.  Lots of contenders here.  Predicted finish: Scherzer, Darvish, Iwakuma, Sale, Sanchez.
  • AL Rookie of the Year: Wil Myers may be the winner by default.  Nobody else really stands out, and the biggest off-season narrative involved Myers and the big trade, meaning that nearly every baseball fan and writer knows of Myers’ pre-MLB exploits.  Jose Iglesias put up good numbers in the Boston infield before being flipped to Detroit, and is a great candidate but most of his value resides in his defense, meaning old-school writers won’t vote for him over Myers.   Past that, the candidates are slim.  Justin Grimm‘s fill-in starts for Texas were more than adequate.  Nick Tepesch is also holding his own in Texas’ rotation.  Coner Gillaspie and Yan Gomes are in the mix.  Texas’ Martin Perez put himself in the race with a solid year and got some last-minute exposure pitching in the game-163 tie-breaker.  Leonys Martin is another Texas rookie that has quietly put up good numbers.  Myers’ Tampa Bay teammate Chris Archer could get some votes.  Predicted finish: Myers, Iglesias, Perez, Archer and Martin.
  • AL MgrJohn Ferrell in Boston for going worst to first may be the best managerial job, but Terry Franconia in Cleveland deserves a ton of credit for what he’s done with significantly less resources in Cleveland and should win the award.  Its hard to underestimate what Joe Girardi has done in New York with injuries and the media circus this year, but this award usually goes to a playoff bound team.  I’ll go Franconia, Ferrell, Girardi.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL GM: Initially I was thinking Ben Cherington, Boston.  He traded away all those bad contracts, brought in several guys under the radar, leading to a 30 game swing in its W/L record.  Though, I agree with David Schoenfield; with Oakland’s 2nd straight AL West title it’s hard not to give this to Billy Beane.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL Comeback Player of the Year: Nate McLouth has come back from the absolute dead for Baltimore, though technically he was decent last year too.  Josh Donaldson has come out of nowhere for Oakland, but really had nowhere to come “back” from.  John Lackey and Scott Kazmir both rebounded excellently from injury plagued seasons.  I think the winner has to be Kazmir by virtue of his slightly better record over Lackey.  Editor’s update: this award was already given and I got it wrong: Mariano Rivera won for his great 2013 comeback; I completely forgot about him.  We’ll cover the results versus my predictions in a future post.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL Fireman of the YearGreg Holland, despite some sympathetic desire to give it to Mariano Rivera on his way out.  Joe Nathan is also in the AL discussion.  Jim Johnson is not; despite leading the league in saves for the 2nd year in a row he blew another 9 opportunities.  I hope the voters see past that.

Now for the National League:

  • NL MVP:  Andrew McCutchen is the shoe-in to win, both as a sentimental favorite for the Pirates first winning/playoff season in a generation and as the best player on a playoff team.  Clayton Kershaw‘s unbelievable season won’t net him a double, but I’m guessing he comes in 2nd in the MVP voting.  Paul Goldschmidt has become a legitimate stud this year and likely finishes 3rd behind McCutchen and Kershaw.  Rounding out the top 5 probably are two from Yadier Molina, Freddie Freeman and possibly Joey Votto as leaders from their respective playoff teams.  Also-rans who looked great for short bursts this season include the following:  Jayson Werth (who is having a career-year and making some people re-think his albatros contract),  Carlos Gomez (who leads the NL in bWAR, won the Gold glove and led the NL in DRS for centerfielders but isn’t being mentioned at all for the NL MVP: isn’t that odd considering the overwhelming Mike Trout debate??  I’ve made this case in this space to little fanfare in the past; if you are pro-Trout and are not pro-Gomez, then you’re falling victim to the same “MVP Narrative” that you are already arguing against), and maybe even Matt Carpenter (St. Louis’ real offensive leader these days).
  • NL Cy Young:  Clayton Kershaw put together his typical dominant season and won’t lose out to any of his darling competitors.  He may be the only unanimous vote of the major awards.  Marlins rookie phenom Jose Fernandez probably finishes #2 behind Kershaw before squeaking out the RoY award.   Matt Harvey was the All-Star game starter and looked like he could have unseated Kershaw, but a later season swoon and a torn UCL in late August ended his season and his chances early.  He still likely finishes #3.   Others who will get votes here and there: Jordan Zimmermann (who nearly got to 20 wins),  Adam Wainwright (who is back to Ace-form after his surgery and is put together a great season), St. Louis teammate Shelby Miller,  Patrick Corbin (Pitcher of the Month in May), Cliff Lee (who has been great for the mediocre Phillies), and perhaps even Zack Greinke (who finished 15-4; did you know he was 15-4?).  Predicted finish: Kershaw, Fernandez, Harvey, Wainwright, Corbin.
  • NL Rookie of the Year: Seems like its coming down to one of 5 candidates: Fernandez, Puig, Miller, Ryu and Teheran.  I’d probably vote them in that order.  Shelby Miller has stayed the course filling in St. Louis’ rotation and may also get Cy Young votes and seemed like the leading candidate by mid June.  Evan Gattis, the great feel-good story from the Atlanta Braves, started out white-hot but settled down in to relative mediocracy.  Tony Cingrani continued his amazing K/9 pace from the minors at the MLB level, filling in quite ably for Red’s ace Johnny Cueto but was demoted once Cueto returned and struggled with injuries down the stretch.   Didi Gregorious, more famous for being the “other” guy in the Trevor Bauer trade, has performed well.  Meanwhile don’t forget about Hyun-Jin Ryu, the South Korean sensation that has given Los Angeles a relatively fearsome frontline set of starters.  Yasiel Puig took the league by storm and hit 4 homers his first week on the job.  Jose Fernandez has made the jump from A-Ball to the Marlins rotation and has been excellent.  Julio Teheran has finally figured it out after two call-ups in the last two years and has a full season of excellent work in Atlanta’s rotation.  The question is; will narrative (Puig) win out over real performance (Fernandez)?  Tough call.
  • NL MgrClint Hurdle, Pittsburgh.  No real competition here.  Some may say Don Mattingly for going from near firing in May to a 90 win season … but can you really be manager of the year with a 250M payroll?
  • (Unofficial award) NL GMNeal Huntington, Pittsburgh.  It really has to be Huntington for pulling off the low-profile moves that have paid off with Pittsburgh’s first winning season in 20 years.  Ned Colletti‘s moves may have resulted in the best team in the league, but he has the benefit of a ridiculously large checkbook and I hope he doesn’t win as a result.
  • (Unofficial “award”): NL Comeback Player of the Year: I’d love to give this to Evan Gattis for his back story but that’s not the point of this award.  I’m thinking Carlos Gomez with Milwaukee for his massive out-of-nowhere season.  But honestly the award has to go to Francisco Liriano.  Editor’s update: this award was already given and I got it right: Liriano indeed won.
  • (Unofficial “award”): NL Fireman of the YearCraig Kimbrel, who looks to finish the year with a sub 1.00 ERA for the second year running.   Edward Mujica and Aroldis Chapman in the discussion but not really close.

 

Ryan Zimmerman; Mr. Walkoff

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Zimmerman's 9th career walk-off homer couldn't have come at a better time.  Photo Greg Fiume via amazingavenue

Zimmerman’s 9th career walk-off homer couldn’t have come at a better time. Photo Greg Fiume via amazingavenue

Its been a little while since Ryan Zimmerman hit a walk-off home-run (about two years) but on Friday night 7/26/13 he delivered again, giving the Nats a second walk-off win in two days.

In his Washington career he’s had some memorable walk-off homers:

  • A 2-run walk-off against Chien-Ming Wang on Fathers Day 2006 against the Yankees, a game in which the team set its long-running regular season attendance record (only surpassed on Opening day 2013).
  • A 2-out, 2-strike come-from-behind homer against Florida on the 4th of July that same year.
  • Perhaps his most amazing walk-off homer; the game-winner in the Nats Stadium opener in April 2008, a leading candidate for “Best Nats game of all time.”

Zimmerman had accumulated no less than eight walk-off homers by the end of his 6th professional season in 2011, and he seemed a sure bet to shatter the all time MLB record for such events.  The long-standing record for career walk-offs was shared by this quintet of Hall-of-Famers at 12: Jimmy Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, Stan Musial and Frank Robinson before one Jim Thome hit his 13th in June of 2012 to take over the career lead just before he retired.  Friday’s was Zimmerman’s 9th, and you’d have to think he remains a good bet to possibly take over the career lead before his career (which is seemingly only about half way done) is over.

The current active leader in walk-offs is another noteworthy name; David Ortiz connected for his 11th such walk-off homer on 6/6/13, as detailed by Billy-Ball.com.  Ortiz’ most noteworthy walk-off homers though are the post-season variety, not captured by these regular season records.

Zimmerman has had a 2 year walk-off drought; will we see another moment of magic later this year?

Written by Todd Boss

July 27th, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Academy Awards (plus others) for Baseball Movies

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(Editor’s note: another article that I essentially wrote in Feb of 2011 but never got around to publishing; this has been a good couple of weeks of cleaning out the drafts).

Right around the time of the Academy Awards in 2011, Jim Caple wrote a fun pre-2011 Oscar review of historical baseball movies from an Academy Award perspective (where he picked the 6 major Academy Awards for baseball movies).  Caple’s awards for the “major” Oscar nominations were:

  • Best Picture: “Bull Durham
  • Best Director: Barry Levinson for “The Natural
  • Best Actor: Walter Matthau from “Bad News Bears
  • Best Actress: Susan Sarandon from “Bull Durham
  • Best Supporting Actor: Vic Morrow from “Bad News Bears
  • Best Supporting Actress: Madonna from “A League of their Own

(Other interesting movie links related to baseball I’ve stored over the years: Caple subsequently wrote a Moneyball review in September of 2012, and SBNation posted a list of the Greatest Baseball Movie Lines in history around the same time.  Here’s a recent link 50 Fun facts about sports movies that includes some Baseball trivia, and here’s a list of the Top Grossing Baseball movies of all time; the leader isn’t that surprising).

Being a fan of baseball movies myself, I’d quibble with some of Caple’s winners ( you have to see his list of “nominations” to really argue) but the article is a great read.  And it got me thinking: what other “Award Categories” for Baseball movies make sense to debate?

Here’s my Categories, and here’s a great list of baseball-themed movies to choose from.  Its a bit dated but gets most of the major films you need.   I fully admit that I have not seen every single baseball-related movie in the history of Hollywood, so feel free to debate the nominees that I’ve selected below.


Best Baseball Action Depicted

Nominations: Bull Durham, Major League, The Natural, Eight Men Out, 61*

Discussion: Eight Men Out was a fantastic period piece and did a great job.  Major League was a baseball movie for sure, but wasn’t nearly as good in terms of action as Bull DurhamBilly Crystal‘s pet project 61* did a great job as well.  I loved The Natural, its old-time baseball stadium shots, and the old school uniforms.  This is a tough call, but the winner goes to the one movie among all of these that was actually directed by a former minor league ball player. Winner: Bull Durham.  (Note: I considered and didn’t use Moneyball because of the actual footage intermixed in, and the general lack of baseball action in the movie).


Best Actor as a passable Baseball Player

Nominations: Kevin Costner (any of his several baseball movies), Robert Redford (The Natural), Randy Quaid (The Rookie), Thomas Jane (61*), Charlie Sheen (Major League), Dennis Haysburt (Major League), Jon Cusack (Eight Men Out), Ray Liotta (Field of Dreams).

Discussion: I nominate Liotta only because of the fact that Shoeless Joe Jackson batted lefty and Liotta spent months learning how to hit lefty for the role, only to have the director discard his abilities.   Similarly, Jon Cusack learned how to hit lefty and several of the baseball action scenes depict him swinging and hitting baseballs for long drives.  Quaid did an admirable job as Jim Morris and is quite an athlete, but did a far superior job as a quarterback in “Any Given Sunday.”

Dennis Haysburt deserves special mention by creating his iconic character, Pedro Ceranno.  He looked realistic at the plate and running the bases.  Redford was clearly a player, talking in the past of how he fashioned his game after fellow San Diego native Ted Williams, and his baseball scenes both hitting and pitching in the Natural are fantastic.  He comes in a close third.

The award comes down to Costner and Sheen.  Sheen (per his IMDB page) was a baseball pitcher in high school and could throw mid-80s naturally.  He looks great on the mound.  But for me, the fact that Costner could legitimately switch hit, played a convincing catcher throughout Bull Durham and a pitcher in For the Love of the Game give him the award.  Winner: Kevin Costner.


Worst Actor attempting to pass as a Baseball Player

Nominations: Tommy Lee Jones (Cobb), Tom Berenger (Major League), Tom Selleck (Mr. Baseball), Gary Cooper (Lou Gehrig), Tim Robbins (Bull Durham), John Goodman (The Babe), Brendan Frasor (The Scout).  Wesley Snipes (The Fan or Major League).

Discussion: Apparently actors love to do sports movies, because they all think they can, you know, play sports well.  Every guy who used to play pick up basketball thinks they can do “White Men Can’t Jump” and every guy who played little league thinks they can be in “Bull Durham.” I list a number of guys here, all of whom struggled in some way or another to appear athletic in a baseball movie.  In all fairness, most of these guys did decently well.  Berenger was in a tough spot, appearing as a catcher who threw like a girl.  Robbins did a pretty good job and was athletic enough to pass.  But the winner is most likely Gary Cooper, who apparently was so un-athletic that they gave up having him appear to be lefty, let alone make him look like Lou Gehrig.  This topic recently appeared again in some popular baseball blogs, with the researcher doing some pretty in-depth analysis to determine if this is actually a hollywood myth.  In any case, the Winner is Gary Cooper.


Best Movie Coach/Manager

Nominations: James Gammon (Lou from “Major League“), Tom Hanks (Jimmy Dugan from “A League of their Own“), Trey Wilson (Joe Riggens from “Bull Durham“), Wilford Brimley (Pop Fisher from “The Natural“), Walter Matthau (Bad News Bears), Philip Seymore Hoffman (Art Howe in “Moneyball”).

Discussion: A great set of character actors and performances here.  Lou from Major League has some memorable lines but wasn’t much of an acting job.  From a purely acting/role preparation perspective its hard to argue with Tom Hanks’ portrayal of the legendary Jimmie Foxx.  Pop Fisher was a good ole grandfather but didn’t exactly test the range of Wilford Brimely.  Hoffman is a fantastic actor in his own right, but by all accounts Art Howe isn’t even remotely like the character he played.

Walter Matthau probably put in the best pure acting job.  But the late Trey Wilson’s fantastic portrayal of the manager of the Durham Bulls, including his interaction with Crash Davis, his shower scene speech and his fighting with the umpires were legendary.  Winner: Trey Wilson.


Best Biopic of a player

Nominations: Cobb, Pride of the Yankees, Hustle, The Babe, The Rookie

Discussion: Honestly I didn’t really care for any of these movies that much.  The most recent of them (The Rookie) was interesting but not really that well done frankly.  Dennis Quaid was just a hair too old for the role and isn’t that good of an actor.  The Babe and Cobb were the two best shots, but both were such bad movies that one cannot pick them as the winner.  I think sentimentality dictates the winner here.  Winner: Pride of the Yankees.


Best Representation of Actual Baseball Events

Nominations: Eight Men Out, Soul of the Game, 61*, The Perfect Game

Winner: Eight Men Out. Doesn’t romanticize the events, presents them relatively slant-free.  I liked 61* in this respect, but Billy Crystal didn’t have the budget he really needed to compete with the excellent period piece about the Black Sox scandal.


Best Baseball Movie to trick your Wife into seeing

Nominations: How Do You Know, Fever Pitch, Summer Catch

Winner: Fever Pitch, but do you really want to see any of these movies?


Best Baseball Movie to take your kids to see

Nominations: Rookie of the Year, Angels in the Outfield, Little Big League, Air Bud: 7th Inning Fetch, The Sandlot

Winner: Air Bud 7th Inning Fetch.  Any movie where a dog gets to play baseball is a winner in my book.


Creepiest Baseball Movie to see

Nominations: The Bad News Bears, The Fan

Discussion: I put in the “Bad News Bears” as slightly “creepy” since our ideals of parenting, racial relations and what-not have changed so much since this movie was made.  So there are many parts that will make you cringe.

Winner: The Fan:  Robert DeNiro plays an obsessed fan of SF Giants outfielder Wesley Snipes.  This wins almost by default, since I can think of no other thriller/suspense baseball films.


Worst Baseball Movie

Nominations: Major League III Back to the Minors, Hustle, The Benchwarmers, Hardball

Discussion: There’s some pretty bad movies in here.  But nothing was as insufferable as the third edition of the Major League franchise.  It was bad enough that they made the second edition, with Omar Epps badly attempting to recreate Wesley Snipes‘ character.  But it went downhill in the third; the writing was bad, and all the leading stars from the first two installments declined to participate, leaving Corbin Bernsen and Dennis Haysbert as the last remaining characters from the original.  Winner: Major League III.


Best Drama

Nominations: The Natural, Bang the Drum Slowly, Field of Dreams, Pride of the Yankees, Moneyball

Discussion: Moneyball is the late entry here, garnering several Academy Award nominations and getting major Academy street cred by virtue of being written by Aaron Sorkin. I’m a sucker for old school tear-jerkers like the rest of them, meaning that Bang The Drum Slowly gets a nod.  Field of Dreams doesn’t hold up as much for me (though I fully admit I cannot watch the last scene without crying).  Up until Moneyball’s release, the winner for me was the excellent The Natural, despite its modified ending from the classic novel of the same name.  Winner: Moneyball.


Best Comedy

Nominations: Major League, Bull Durham, A League of their Own, Mr. 3000, The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings

Discussion: There’s three very quality finalists here, if I may immediately cut the Bernie Mac vehecile Mr. 3000 and the obscure Bingo movie.  Lets talk about them one by one.

A League of their Own depended on the slapstick sexual references from Madonna for its comedy most of the time, with thinly-veiled references to her nude portrait book or the fact that “most of america has seen her naked.”  Major League was a great comedy and had a great setup.  But for me nothing matches the subtleties and quality of the writing in Bull Durham.  Winner: Bull Durham


I KNOW this will generate discussion and disagreement.  Feel free to chime in with your thoughts.

The AL MVP and the Triple Crown; do we need a modern version?

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Does the Triple Crown guarantee Cabrera the MVP?

A large part of this year’s AL MVP narrative revolves around Miguel Cabrera‘s “winning” the Triple Crown this year, an incredibly rare feat that hadn’t been done since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 and has only been done 16 times in the history of the game.  Make no mistake; leading the lead in average and home-runs is very difficult, as it has been for most of the game’s long history.  Babe Ruth never won a Triple Crown despite a career .342 batting average; he only led the league in hitting one year.  Most high-average players are power-starved and would never have a shot at winning the home-run title.

However, as any sabermatrician would tell you, the triple crown is a collection of three relatively flawed hitting statistics that basically should have no meaning in the evaluation and analysis of a player.  Home Runs are the “cleanest” of the statistics but aren’t necessarily the best indicator of power in a hitter.  Runs Batted In are greater measures of the efficiency of the batters ahead of the hitter getting on base than of his own hitting prowness, and Batting Average treats a bunt single and a towering home-run as the same “hit” while calculating the statistic.

So, is there a better Triple Crown out there, using modern baseball statistics?  And, if we found three replacements how would Cabrera’s MVP case look?

If you took the three stats in the current Triple Crown and tried to “improve” them, I think you’d end up replacing Batting Average with Weighted On Base Average (wOBA), you’d replace home-runs with either Slugging Percentage or perhaps more directly with the Isolated Power (ISO), and you’d replace RBIs with the Weighted Runs Created (wRC) statistic.  Hitting prowness is replaced with the wOBA statistic, which acknowledges that getting on base via a hit or a walk is more important than just the hitting portion.  Power measurements are more accurately displayed via the ISO than by the simplistic Home Run category (which is heavily dependent on the home-park of the player).  And the “run creation” aspect that RBIs attempts to measure is more accurately displayed by the wRC statistic.

How would the AL’s top 5 in each of these three “Modern Triple Crown” categories look (data pulled from Fangraphs.com leader board splits for advanced hitting stats for 2012):

Rank Name wOBA
1 Miguel Cabrera 0.417
2 Mike Trout 0.409
3 Prince Fielder 0.398
4 Edwin Encarnacion 0.396
5 Robinson Cano 0.394
Rank ISO
1 Josh Hamilton 0.292
2 Miguel Cabrera 0.277
3 Edwin Encarnacion 0.277
4 Josh Willingham 0.264
5 Adam Dunn 0.263
Rank Name wRC
1 Miguel Cabrera 137
2 Prince Fielder 125
3 Robinson Cano 124
4 Mike Trout 121
5 Edwin Encarnacion 115

Interesting.  Cabrera would nearly win the “Sabr-Triple Crown” as well, and if you replaced ISO with Slugging he would have (Cabrera easily led the AL in slugging).   His MVP competitor Mike Trout fares pretty well here: he was 2nd in wOBA,  10th in ISO and 4th in wRC (where his lack of a full season hurts him the most, since wRC is a counting statistic over an entire season).  But make no mistake; Cabrera’s year at the plate still looks incredible.  Keep this in mind when you make “Trout for MVP” arguments; yes Trout’s base-running and fielding prowness gives him a ton of adavantage in the all-encompassing WAR statistics, but voters don’t really care about your fielding when it comes to measuring MVP-calibre seasons at the plate.  And the above stats show that Cabrera’s triple crown is no fluke.  And, as I pointed out in my awards prediction piece on 10/22/12, Cabrera has a few more things going for him that will sway voters (especially the “old school” types who still view the MVP as a “valuable player” and not a “best player” award).

Also of note in these lists: Edwin Encarnacion continues to have monster production years in relative obscurity of the bottom of the AL east.  And notice the #4 and #5 ISO guys in the AL?  Why yes its former Nationals Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham.  People forget just how good the Nats 3-4-5 hitters where when these two guys and a healthy Ryan Zimmerman were in the lineup.  Too bad they never had any pitching to go with them.

Lets pull the same information for 2012 in the National League:

Rank Name wOBA
1 Ryan Braun 0.413
2 Buster Posey 0.406
3 Andrew McCutchen 0.403
4 Aramis Ramirez 0.384
5 Matt Holliday 0.378
Rank Name ISO
1 Ryan Braun 0.276
2 Jay Bruce 0.263
3 Jason Kubel 0.253
4 Garrett Jones 0.242
5 Aramis Ramirez 0.240
Rank Name wRC
1 Ryan Braun 131
2 Andrew McCutchen 124
3 Chase Headley 115
4 Buster Posey 114
5 Matt Holliday 114

Ryan Braun clearly had a monster season at the plate, winning the modern Triple crown (again, had we replaced ISO with slugging Braun wins again, leading the league in slugging by more than 40 points).  In the “normal” Triple Crown Braun finished 3rd in batting, first in homers and 2nd in RBIs, not really even close to Buster Posey‘s league leading BA of .336 to ever have a triple crown in his sights.

But we all know Braun has zero shot at an MVP (now or forever in the future most likely) by virtue of the off-season drug testing snafu.  Which is a shame; not that Posey won’t completely deserve the award, but Braun’s season at the plate should be noted.

What do you think of the “Modern Triple Crown?”  Should I be looking at different stats?

What one game would you travel back in time to see?

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Bill Mazeroski rounding third after hitting his 1960 Walk off Homer. Photo Getty Images

This is a great topic and a great article from ESPN’s Jim Caple yesterday.  What single baseball game would you want to travel back in time to see?

Caple surveyed a variety of people, from movie stars to current players to fellow baseball columnists, and listed their choices.  His article makes for a great read.  Some of the choices were great.  I won’t spoil all of them here; you have to read the article.

For me, the knee jerk answer was immediately one of two games:

  1. Babe Ruth‘s “Called Shot” game from the 1932 World Series (Game 3), or
  2. Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, which may have been the greatest game in the history of Baseball, featuring Bill Mazeroski‘s walk off home run.

The Called shot game is kind of a baseball cliche; it is one of those lasting legends of the game.  But the only reason to go see that game would be to answer this question; the game itself wasn’t that great.  The box-score reveals a game where the Yankees jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead on the called shot, the Cubs fought back but then back-to-back homers from Ruth and Lou Gehrig put the game away and it was never close after that.  I’d want to go back for the first INNING of that game, see the homer, then go to the 1960 game :-) .

As it turns out, I’m not really that interested in finding out whether Ruth really called his shot for this reason: the Boss family happens to have a bit of inside information, believe it or not, on the game itself and whether or not it really occurred.  You see, we’re family friends with none other than the son (and grandson, who is my age and who i’ve known since childhood) of former baseball commissioner Kinesaw Mountain Landis, and he was actually AT THE GAME as a child guest of his father.  And I’m pretty sure he’ll tell you that Ruth did call the shot.

So, for me, I’d want to see the 1960 game.  Check out the box score from Game 7 of the 1960 world series.  Here’s the Recap:

  • Pittsburgh jumps to a 4-0 lead early.
  • Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle help spark a 4-run rally in the 6th to take a 5-4 lead.
  • The  Yankees extend their lead to 7-5 in the top of the 8th.
  • The Pirates rally for FIVE runs in the bottom of the 8th for a 9-7 lead.
  • The Yankees’ two hall of famers Berra and Mantle manage to drive in the tying runs in the top of the 9th to make it 9-9.
  • Mazeroski blasts a walk-off homer on a 1-0 count to lead off the bottom of the 9th and win the world series.

What a game!!  For all of us who thought last year’s Game 6 was amazing, this game looked even more amazing.  Plus you’d get to see two legends in Mantle and Berra.

Read the article and tell me in the comments what game you’d want to travel back for.  Disco Night?  1975 Game 6?  Don Larsen‘s perfect game?  Jackie Robinson‘s debut?  How about Game 7 of the 1924 series, a 12-inning affair featuring a slew of Hall of Famers and was also the last time Washington won a World Series?

2012 Hall of Fame Ballot thoughts

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Can we please elect one of the best hitters of the last 30 years? Photo via bill37mccurdy.wordpress.com

On November 30th, the BBWAA announced the 2012 official Hall of Fame ballot.  Let the cavalcade of Hall of Fame opinion pieces begin! (just a few early examples here, here, and here).

We all knew who was eligible for this ballot, thanks to the excellent work at baseball-reference.com.  All the anticipated ballots are available for perusal along with statistical summaries of each player’s career and a few Bill James-inspired metrics created to give simple statistical measures of Hall-worthiness.

2012′s ballot is the last year before the Steroid accused superstars start becoming eligible (Bonds, Sosa, Piazza, and Clemens are all on the 2013 ballot for the first time, in addition to Schilling and Biggio) and the narrative about Hall of Fame voting turns to morality voting for the next decade or so.  Gee, I can’t wait.  All these players played in an era where there was no testing against PEDs and no MLB-specified rules against PEDs, but voters continue to penalize these players as if testing WERE being done, as if there WERE rules at the time they played.  Meanwhile nobody talks about the PEDs that were prevalent for the last 30 years or so (amphetamines, or “greenies” in baseball parlance), and many players from the latter part of this decade freely talk of playing on speed.  Frankly, it isn’t fair.  We didn’t penalize Bob Gibson and put an asterick next to his accomplishments for pitching in a pro-pitcher, massive ballpark era did we?  No; that was the game at the time.  We don’t talk about how baseball fields used to be caverns with 480 foot distances and 30 foot walls, making triples far more common than homers.  No; that was the game at the time.  And frankly. the steroid era will eventually be remembered for what it was.  Sometimes I think the anti-PED crowd is just a bunch of middle-aged white guys who are really peeved that an arrogant black ballplayer in Barry Bonds broke the cherished home run records of storied players from their youth (Babe Ruth and the far more likeable Henry Aaron).  But I digress.

That being said, I like doing these Hall of Fame blog posts, if only because I usually disagree with the rest of the baseball blog-o-sphere on what really constitutes a Hall of Famer.  I’ve been watching baseball long enough to form my own independent opinions on players and not depend on revisionist historians turning mediocre players into other-worldy hall-of-fame electees (see Blyleven, Bert and my stated opinions on his Hall-worthiness ahead of the 2011 ballot, and especially read the comment section where people refuse to address any aspect of Blyleven’s playing career and only use statistics to canonize him).

Notwithstanding that comment, I believe we’re being too parsimonious with Hall of Fame elections.  Nate Silver from the NY Times wrote on this same topic in January of 2011, pointing out another interesting fact about the Hall of Fame (namely that roughly 13% of active major leaguers at various points in the 1930s and 1940s are now in the Hall).  I’m not advocating that we need to be looking at 10% of current active major leaguers for the hall, but I am advocating that we be less “parsimonious” with the voting.  This may seem contradictory to my opposing the candidacy of Blyleven; not so.  There are a number of very deserving candidates who are not getting the votes they need.  There seems to be several reasons for this:

  • Players whose accomplishments in the pre-Steroid era are being discounted for the lack of “big numbers” (Larkin, Raines, Trammel, McGriff to certain extents).
  • Players who toiled in the Steroid era are either users/suspected users (McGwire, Palmeiro), or are being caught in the steroid web (Bagwell).
  • Players who are suffering from a conflict of opinion in the voter base for various reasons (Smith, Morris, Martinez).

I’m not sure how to resolve any of these situations frankly.  But I’d hate to have these players languish on the ballot and age off of it and have to wait for some nebulous Veterans committee to enshrine them after they’re dead (see Santo, Ron).  Some people advocate modifying the voting methodology, but in reality there’s no easy fix.

Back to the 2012 ballot: the only candidate eligible for the first time this year worth any discussion is Bernie Williams.   For me, Williams was a nice player who retired early instead of facing the inevitable end of his Yankee career.  He was part of a great core group of home-grown Yankees that formed the core of the late 90s dynasty team and will certainly be remembered as a great franchise player.  That’s not enough; he was never the best player on his own team, he never sniffed an MVP vote and he never accumulated enough production to warrant being a focal point in the opposition.  He had a great 5-year run … but if we were electing people on 5-year runs then Juan Gonzalez would already be in.

For the rest of the remaining candidates, I’ll borrow some from last year’s version of this post.  I’m not going to go into major statistical analysis for each candidate (that analysis is freely available on most every major baseball blog site out there), but will state my opinion with a few choice links.  On my hypothetical ballot I’d vote for:

  • Jeff Bagwell: a career 149 OPS+.   That’s a career averaging nearly 50% better hitting than the average MLBer.  That he’s being lumped in with actual PED users without a shred of proof has become the latest hall of fame “cause” on the internet, starting with this excellent article accusing BBWAA writers of “plagiarism” (when I think he really means laziness, frankly).  At least I support this one.  Here’s an excellent case for Bagwell.  You won’t find anyone penning a “case against” him that doesn’t claim that he’s a PED user without the proof.
  • Jack Morris.  The “anti” sabrematrician selection.  Here’s a link to the most canonical case against Morris, as well as Joe Posnanski‘s anti Morris (and anti-other) rant.  And here’s a case for Morris from former Washington Post writer Richard Justice, now with MLB, which goes a lot towards my way of thinking about the guy.  Lots of people seem to be spending as much time arguing AGAINST him as they did arguing FOR Blyleven.  I wonder why that is?  Maybe there really just is a kind of pitcher who you had to see in context versus looking at his stats after the fact.  Nolan Ryan “only” had a 112 ERA+ for his career and was barely a .500 pitcher, yet was a first ballot overwhelming hall-of-famer.  There’s some disconnect here.  For me, the vote for Morris is about the “feeling” of a dominant pitcher, just as Blyleven was about the “feel” of a mediocre pitcher, no matter what his eventual career stats looked like.  For people who say this is fallacy, I say this: judgement of a player can not ONLY be done by looking at his stats.  Morris had a reputation for “pitching to score,” though sabrematricians have attempted to debunk that pitching-to-score exists for some time (see this link on baseball prospectus, then note at the bottom that despite 3500 words he says “none of this proves it doesn’t exist.”) but he also had a reputation for being the “Best pitcher of the decade.”  Bill James published a list of factors to consider, when evaluating a player’s candidacy, and the one takeaway I got from that list was (paraphrased) whether or not a player was the best on his team, the best in his league, a guy that the other team was afraid of.  Morris was that, for a period of more than 10 years.  His last two seasons took him from a 3.70 era to a 3.90 career era, and may have pushed him over the edge to his current stat-nerd polarizing stance.  For me, he was THE pitcher of the 80s, led one of the most dominant teams ever (the 1984 Tigers) and pitched a 10-inning complete game win in one of the best games ever played.  Those things stand for something, and should add up to more than a clinical analysis of his era+.
  • Barry Larkin: lost in the shadow of Ozzie Smith for so long, that people forget that he was an excellent defender AND a great hitter.  Long overdue for enshrinement.  Here’s a pretty stat-heavy analysis FOR him.
  • Tim RainesCase for.  Its hard to find cases against.  Raines, like guys like Trammell and Larkin, played in the shadow of Rickey Henderson for so long and was always judged to be 2nd best.   But his accomplishments, especially during the earlier part of his career, should be enough to get him into the Hall.
  • Mark McGwire: He was a lock before the PED ensnarement.  I say “ensnared” despite him using a completely legitimate supplement at the time.   He didn’t try to hide it either.
  • Edgar Martinez: I recently watched one of the games from the great series “MLB’s greatest games” of the last 50 years, and one of the games was the great game 5 playoff in 1995 between the Mariners and the Yankees.  David Cone in that broadcast said that Martinez was “the best right handed hitter he ever faced.”  And it struck me; Martinez indeed was one of the most feared hitters of his day.  Look at his career: he didn’t play a full season til he was 27 and he played a ton of DH.  He also retired with a career slash line above the mythical .300/.400/.500 targets.  For those that discount his heavy use at DH I ask one simple question: if you think Martinez didn’t contribute that much by just being a DH, then how can you possibly support the inclusion of a one-inning relief pitcher/closer?  Who do you really think contributes more, a DH with his 650 PAs or a relief pitcher with 60-some innings in a season?   In reality, you can’t.  It just takes an uber-DH like Martinez to press the issue.

Specific Names i’d leave off and why:

  • Alan Trammell: I just don’t think he was a dominant enough player to warrant inclusion.  I’d place him well behind his peers at shortstop for the ERA.  There’s plenty of support for him in various forums though, with good arguments for him.
  • Lee Smith: My tried and true argument; closers are incredibly overvalued, and especially closers with lifetime ERAs in the 3.00 range and with a career whip that’s closer to a league average than it is to dominant.  Sorry; Smith isn’t a HoFamer for me.
  • Larry Walker: the whole “he played in Colorado” angle probably isn’t as true as we think, but he still enjoyed a bump in his stats because of it.  Otherwise he’s in the hall of Good, not the Hall of Fame.
  • Rafael Palmeiro: its less about his idiotic stance in front of congress as it is about his method of “accumulating” his way to historic numbers.  Much like the discussion we’ll eventually have about Johnny Damon (who is only a few hundred hits away from 3000 but clearly isn’t a transcending player), Palmeiro was always a good, solid guy but never that much of a game changer.
  • Don Mattingly: I would love to vote for Donny Baseball, but being the Captain of the Yankees just isn’t enough (well, unless you’re a NY writer).  Retired too early, not enough power for a first baseman, peaked at 25 and struggled into his 30s.

Let the comments calling me an idiot for supporting Jack Morris begin.

Boswell Chat 10/24/11: My answers to his Baseball questions

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Hall of Famer? Yes. Best hitter ever? Almost. Photo: unknown via fantasyknuckleheads.com

Tom Boswell did his monday morning chat on 10/24 after a week off; in-between taking questions about the death of the Redskins, he managed to fit in some baseball and Nats questions.  Here’s how i’d have answered them…

Questions are edited for clarity and space, and I write my answer before reading Boswell’s.  We’ll only address baseball-related questions.

Q: Is there any question at this point that Pujols has joined Ted Williams and Babe as the three best hitters ever?

A: (side note; this is just AFTER Pujols‘ 3-homer performance in game 3 of the World Series, just the third time that’s ever been done).  If Pujols retired tomorrow here’s what his career lines would look like: 455 homers, .328 career hitter, 170 career OPS+, 3 MVPs and another six times in the top 5 candidates (four times coming in 2nd place).  That by itself is Hall of Fame worthy, no doubt.

By the time he retires?  I think clearly he’ll be mentioned as either the best or 2nd best right-handed hitter of all time (Willie Mays) and in a small grouping with Mays, Ruth and Williams as the best all-around hitters to ever play the game.  Absolutely.  I don’t think Pujols needed a 3-homer World Series game to cement that status either.    Boswell agrees, saying that Pujols joins the list just behind Ruth.

Q: Thanks for pointing out he did all his damage after the Cards were ahead in Game 3. We’re so quick to pronounce “best ever…” these days that it was good to get some context.

A:Very fair comment.  Pujols may have a 3-homer game, but it doesn’t nearly have the significance of Reggie Jackson‘s 3-homer game.  Also fair about pronouncing current stars “the best ever” without much context to those that came before.  Ruth’s domination of baseball and the country at large is so difficult to understate that we’ll never really be able to draw a modern comparison.  Boswell agrees, at least with the first part.

Q: Game 5 prediction (on the night of this chat)?

A: I’d pick Carpenter and the Cardinals.  I don’t trust CJ Wilson and don’t think he’s nearly the pitcher that Carpenter is.  I stick with my St Louis in 6 predictionBoswell goes against logic and says that Wilson will outpitch Carpenter.

Q: Do Lefties with high-heat give a significant advantage over right-handers with comparable velocities?

A: Absolutely.  Lefties are already rare enough and effective enough that any left hander with velocity in the upper 80s can usually find work in this league.  There’s a reason for that.  Add a few more mph and the cache of left-handers who can reach the mid 90s in this league can be counted on one hand.  They are special, and they are valuable.  Boswell doesn’t have a good explanation.

Q: With all the issues in Boston, should the Nats be calling the Red Sox to see who they might get in trade?

A: Sure.  But the Red Sox are prospect hounds and will want our farm system depth in return.  The guys they’re probably willing to trade are probably not going to be the guys we want anyway.  Boswell didn’t really answer the question but mentioned that Ellsbury will be a FA after 2013 … gee, only 3 years too late for the leadoff/CF that we need!

Q: Boswell had previously described baseball Managers as one of four types: Little Napoleon, the Peerless Leader, the Tall Tactician, and the Uncle Robbie.  Who are the best four examples of each type now in the modern game?

A: Interesting question.  Here’s a list of 2011′s baseball managers to choose from.  I’ll guess that Ozzie Guillen is the Napoleon manager, Tony LaRussa is the peerless leader, Ron Roenicke is the Tall Tactician, and Joe Madden is little Robbie.  Boswell’s answers werent’ close to mine; perhaps because its his manager classifications to begin with.

Q: Was the strike zone in game 4 inconsistent?

A: I thought it was; in the bottom of the first a strike 3 was called on Elvus Andrus that had been a ball earlier in the count.  And that wide zone continued throughout.  Its no wonder Holland looked so unhittable.  Boswell blames the TV strike tracker as being misleading.

Q: Could Albert Pujols go to the Rangers?

A: I guess he could … but that doesn’t seem to be the way he’s going.  He seems set to stay in the NL and stay in the mid-west.  I think he’s either staying in St Louis or going to save the Cubs.  Texas might as well light Michael Young on fire if they got Pujols and, for the 3rd or 4th season in a row, asked their franchise leader to move positions for incoming talent.  Boswell predicts Pujols stays in StLouis.

Q: Should Texas have pulled Holland after the 7th to retain him for the 7th game?

A: Nope.  Texas’ bullpen was shredded and its much more important to have a fresh Feliz than a starter on 2 days rest.  Of course, Washington USED Felix in a non-save situation to finish off the game.  Waste.  At least the rest of the bullpen got a night off.  Boswell disagrees with me, saying the team should have pulled him in the 7th to have him in game 7.

Q: What are the odds of the following players returning next season: Livan Hernandez, Ivan Rodriguez, Chien-Ming Wang, Jonny Gomes, Laynce Nix and Rick Ankiel?

A: Livan: 10%.  Ivan 1%.  Wang 80%.  Gomes: 25%.  Nix: 40%.  Ankiel 40%.  Boswell didn’t offer percentages, just saying that he thinks Wang will be back and that Johnson loves guys like Gomes and Nix on the bench.

Q: How long does it take Theo Epstein to turn around the Cubs?

A: I’ll say most of the 5 years he’s signed up for right now.  His starting pitching is a MESS, he’s got an aging, expensive team with big contracts and little wiggle room, and he’s got very little in terms of young players.  He needs all his bad contracts to age off, he needs to scout and draft better, and he needs time.  Boswell punted.

Manny Ramirez and his Legacy

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A sad end to a great hitter's career. Photo: pul.se website, unknown origin

It really is a shame to see Manny Ramirez go out in the fashion that he has, scurrying away into retirement instead of facing a second PED suspension.  Actually, it was more of a shame to see his first suspension last year, which immediately cast him into a shameful collection of baseball players (McGwire, Bonds, Clemens, Giambi, Sosa, and Palmeiro) who represented the best the game had to offer from the mid 90s to the mid 2000s, but who also defined an era of steroids, PEDs and rampant drug use throughout baseball and probably will never gain entry to the sports Hall of Fame (at least not while they’re alive in all likelihood).

What is amazing about both drug tests is the basic idiocy displayed in actually getting caught.  The baseball drug testing policy is already considered to be among the easiest and most basic to skirt, continually being criticized by the WADA for its lack of transparency and lack of accountability.  The CBA lays out exactly what drugs are being tested for, and the players pretty much know when and where they’re going to be tested.  The policy isn’t nearly as draconian as what (say) professional cyclists go through, yet players continue to use and get caught.  The fact that Ramirez got caught twice is really amazing.

Manny Ramirez retires with these amazing statistics:

  • A career slash line of .312/.411/.585
  • A career OPS of nearly 1.000 (final figure: .996 for his career)
  • A career OPS+ of 154, roughly meaning he batted 50% better than the average major leaguer for his career.
  • 555 career homers, averaging a homer every 14.8 plate appearances.
  • 12 All star appearances, 9 silver sluggers and 11 seasons receiving MVP votes (most being consecutively from the years 1998-2006, not coincidentally the height of the steroid era).

Leaving steroid and PED use out of the equation, one can easily say Ramirez is one of the 4-5 best right handed hitters of the last half century.  He can be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, Hank Aaron, and Frank Robinson in terms of being a complete hitter.

Yet, in the end his 2nd drug suspension will define his legacy.  He’ll never be in the Hall of Fame, not while we have a voter base that refused to elect Jeff Bagwell in his first year of eligibility, seemingly on the question of whether or not he “could have been using” despite not one shred of proof otherwise.

I’m of two conflicting thoughts on the eligibility considerations for players who used PEDs.  On the one hand, the most hallowed records in the game (single season home run and career home run records) were shattered by hitters who artificially enabled themselves to surpass the previous records and forever change the game.  Many of the hall voter base are long time baseball writers who grew up idolizing those players whose records were “stolen” by these modern day cheaters, and they will forever penalize the likes of McGwire, Sosa and Bonds for destroying the memory of Ruth, Aaron or Maris.  The 2013 hall of fame ballot especially highlights this issue and may be our best test case for how these players are treated.

On the other hand, the culture of the game at the time encouraged and fostered drug use during the mid 90s, and various opinions from players at the time put the overall usage across the entire league in the 75% range.  We didn’t discount the pitching performances of players in the dead ball era, nor do we ignore the performance of pitchers in the late 60s who dominated their counterparts during a small era of dominance.   We used to have dozens of batters hitting .400 prior to the turn of the century, yet now the best hitters in the league hit in the mid .300s at best.  Players in the early parts of the century played in a non-integrated sport, and players in the 60′s and 70′s notoriously used stimulants on a regular basis to make it through the grind of the season.  At some point voters need to realize that omitting an entire generation of players based on innuendo or suspicion is doing the game a huge injustice and destroying an entire generation of legacy that merits inclusion in the hall of fame.

There is no good solution.  At some point though we need to at least acknowledge this generation’s greatest players.  Unfortunately, it probably will take a veteran’s committee 30 years from now to do it.

Si’s Tom Verducci wrote a great piece echoing much of what I’ve said above; it is worth a read.

The best “5-tool” player of all time? (updated)

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http://www.baseballamerica.com/online/majors/news/2011/2612208.html

http://www.baseballamerica.com/online/majors/best-tools/2011/2612185.html

The 400 homer/10 gold glove club question (see post on August 10th 2010 here) spurred a different question into my mind.  Who is baseball’s greatest 5-tool player?  For those of you who don’t know what the 5 tools are:

  • Speed; indicated by stolen bases statistically.
  • Fielding/Defense: indicated by gold gloves somewhat, even though the Gold Glove voting process is known to be bad.
  • Arm: no real statistical measure, just rumors and observations.
  • Hitting for average: career batting average
  • Hitting for power: career homers

My dad and I were talking about this same question and he says the answer is Willie Mays.  And I have a hard time disagreeing with him.   He was fast (338 career SBs), he was a fantastic center fielder (12 straight gold gloves), he was known to have a cannon for an arm, he hit a career .302 with 3283 hits and belted 660 homers.

Who else might be in the conversation?  Lets take a look at some of the candidates:

  • Barry Bonds: Career batting .298, 762 homers, 2935 hits and 514 steals.  8 gold gloves, ending a streak suddenly in 1999.  Which is also probably when he started juicing (his homers per season jumped from 34 to 49 to 73 in 1999-2001).   The only thing Mays had on Bonds was his arm.  Bonds always played left field, where you can “hide” poorer outfielders who don’t necessarily need the range of a center fielder or the cannon arm of a right fielder (to prevent first to third base runners).  But Bonds had significantly more steals and homers (whether or not you discount them).
  • Ken Griffey Jr.: Definitely up there in the argument.  Clearly he was fantastic defensively (10 straight gold gloves) and had a great arm.  Great power (630 career homers).  Only 184 career steals and a lifetime .284 BA with 2781 hits dings him in comparison to Mays.

Here’s some names that have multiple of the tools, but are missing one or two key ones:

  • Babe Ruth: Great power and average combo, he obviously had a good arm starting as a pitcher, but he had zero speed and ate himself so large that he could barely play the outfield.
  • Ted Williams is always an interesting test case for the What could have been? question.  He hit .344 with 521 homers and a really good argument that had he not lost 3 full seasons in his absolute prime to WWII (plus most of two others to Korea in his mid 30s) that he’d be closer to 700 homers for his career.  But he was known to be a defensive liability and had only 24 sbs for his career.
  • Mickey Mantle: famously said that “if 40/40 was so impressive, i’d have done it every year.”  And its hard not to doubt him.  Playing in a time when there wasn’t much of a need for him to steal bases, he still ended up with 153 on the career and routinely had 15-20 each season.  He retired with 500+ homers, a career ba of .298, a legendary reputation for roaming centerfield in Yankee stadium and an even more legendary reputation for drinking himself out of baseball prematurely at the age of 36.
  • Joe DiMaggio: one of the best pure hitters of the 20th century.  Career .325 BA, 361 homers.  Lost 3 years in his absolute prime to the WWII and retired incredibly early at 36.  Played a great centerfield (his time predates gold gloves).  but very very few stolen bases.
  • Stan Musial: one of the “lost players” of the 20th century, in that it is easy to forget his name when talking of the all time greats.  3600 career hits, 475 homers, career .331 BA.  Great hitter.  Played center field for 20-some years for St. Louis.  But as with DiMaggio, very few SBs.
  • Bobby Bonds: nearly a 40/40 man one year but strikeout rate is so excessive.

How about some more modern players?

  • Paul Molitor another guy to think about.  504 career SBs, .306 BA, only 234 homers but not much on the defensive side, having been mostly a DH for the last half of his career.
  • Alfonso Soriano: his 40/40 season was legendary (there was preliminary talk of him doing a 50/50 season, which hasn’t even been approached), and he’s currently got 309 career homers and 271 career SBs.  A scatter brained hitter though,  defense so bad that he’s barely holding on in left field, and zero arm.
  • Jose Canseco: another 40/40 guy.  462 career homers and 200 career Sbs.  .266  hitter though.  Good arm in right but never a good fielder (remember the infamous ball bouncing off his head over the fence for a homer?).
  • Vladimir Guerrero: another near 40/40 guy.
  • Carlos Beltran: injuries have just killed him; a former speed/power hitter and one of the first mega contract guys.
  • Brady Anderson: most people regard his 50 homer season either a fluke or (more likely) the result of early PEDs.  But the fact remains that only he and Barry Bonds have ever put up seasons which had both 50 homers and 50 sbs.
  • Craig Biggio: 414 sbs, 291 homers, .281 career BA, 4 gold gloves at 2nd base.   2nd baseman though, presumably b/c he never had the arm for Short.
  • Rickey Henderson: obviously fast as the career leader in SBs.  .279 career BA.  He twice hit 28 homers while leading the league in SBs.  One gold glove and two silver sluggers, and a liability as a left fielder.  Maybe not.

here’s a couple “what if” guys, as in what if they hadn’t been injured or otherwise sullied their careers:

  • Bo Jackson: A hip injury picked up while playing his hobby football ended his career basically at the age of 28.  But he was electric.  Who can forget his legendary all star homer, a bomb to dead center that went 448 feet.  Bo never won a gold glove but he played a premium defensive position in Center and certainly had the arm to play right.  He just missed a series of 30/30 seasons, maxing out with 32 homers and 27 steals).  He did not hit for average though, not at all.  Best full season BA was a paltry .272.
  • Josh Hamilton: After well documented troubles with drugs and the law, this former 1-1 draft pick currently is leading the Majors in batting average (.356), has 26 homers, and plays a very very good center field.  He could hit 96 on the gun in high school.  His failing is SBs; only a handful on the year.  But in a league that so often chews up and spits out flash in the pan players, it is refreshing to see Hamilton succeed.  Visual Baseball though discounts both his speed and his range.
  • Daryl Strawberry: had a 39 homer, 36 sb year.
  • Eric Davis: career year in 1987, hitting 37 homers and stealing 50 sbs.

In January 2010, Visual Baseball introduced some really neat visualizations that graphically show each player’s strengths and weaknesses.  I’d love to see a tool that allows people to plug in individual players, but in their analysis two 2010 players popped up as being very close to the perfect 5-tool player:

  • Ben Zobrist: based on his 2009 stats he hit for average (.297) and power (27 homers).  He had 17 steals.  He showed pretty amazing flexibility by playing every outfield position besides pitcher and catcher at some point.  Unfortunately, he’s take a pretty significant step backwards in 2010, sligging nearly 200 points less.  Odd.
  • Carl Crawford: He’s already lead the league 4 times in SBs and has been hitting an average of 13-15 homers a season.  Not nearly Mays-esque stancards but very solid.  .305 Batting average with healthy slugging percentages.  Left fielder though, but his Visual Baseball graph shows significant range and arm.

And finally, something to think about:

  • Alex Rodriguez: 600 career homers, .303 career BA.  300 career steals, a couple of Gold Gloves, and a pretty good arm while playing short.  Posted probably the best ever 40/40 season in 1998 (42 homers, 46 sbs).  Too bad he had to go and juice it up so that his career is forever sullied.

In the end, I’d have to still put Mays, with a shameful shrug of the shoulders when considering both Bonds and Alex Rodriguez.

My dad and I were talking about this same question and he says the answer is Willie Mays.  And I have a hard time