Nationals Arm Race

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2014 Hall of Fame Ballot Obligatory Post

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Its Morris' 15th year; its now or never.  Photo John Iacono via si.com

Its Morris’ 15th year; its now or never. Photo John Iacono via si.com

Before starting, if you hadn’t heard Deadspin has bought a Hall of Fame vote this year and is going to submit it as populated by crowd sourcing.  Click on this link to go to Deadspin.com’s page to vote.  Voting at deadspin ends on 12/28/13 and all hall of fame ballots are due to be mailed back to the BBWAA by 12/31/13.  The class of 2014 will be announced later in January.

Everyone else has a post about how they’d vote if they had a BBWAA ballot.  Here’s mine.  Only its slightly different from how i’ve done these in the past.

Joe Posnanski has put out a survey in October 2013 that anyone can take that simply asks you to rank the 2014 candidates 1-10.  It is an interesting exercise because it very quickly highlights the depth of the ballot, since as everyone knows, there are many very deserving candidates who are outside the top 10 and who may very well fall off the ballot this year because of the glut of candidates.  It also makes you think; if you rank your candidates 1 to 10 … how many names would you be leaving off your ballot that you’d want to vote for?

So, instead of doing a “who’s on/who’s off” post like i’ve done in years past (and like everyone else does) here’s a different take driven by Posnanski’s ranking question.

My first 8 “Yes Votes” were relatively easy: Maddux, Bonds, Clemens, Thomas, McGwire, Bagwell, Glavine, Piazza.  I don’t think there’s one of those 8 candidates who shouldn’t be a slam dunk hall-of-famer based on baseball accomplishments.   (That most all of them likely do not get in because of PED suspicions is another story).  The only one of my top 8 that doesn’t match with Posnanski’s survey results is McGwire (replace him with Raines, everyone’s favorite Bert Blyleven-style charity case for getting more support).

Then I got stuck.  Who were the last 2 I’d put on the ballot?  Lets look at the rest of the 2014 ballot:

  • Voting No altogether: Walker, McGriff, Palmeiro, Smith, Sosa and anyone else new to the ballot this year not otherwise mentioned.  Why are these No votes?  See 2012 and 2013’s links for my reasoning on the 5 names here, all of whom are repeats.
  • Remaining Pitchers in order that I’d likely vote them in: Schilling, Morris, Mussina
  • Remaining Hitters in the order that I’d likely vote them in: Raines, Martinez, Kent, Biggio, Trammell

So I guess my last two would likely be Schilling and Raines, or perhaps Raines and Martinez.

Man, tough ballot this year.

If there wasn’t a 10-person limit, then I’d go crazy and probably vote for 16 candidates, basically the first 8 plus all the other “remaining” players above.   I’m by no means a “small hall” person, and I’m also not obsessed with the stat-driven arguments against Morris.  I think all these guys merit a plaque in Cooperstown.

Coincidentally, to all those people who write 1,000 words on all the things the BBWAA should do to fix the congestion issue (expand beyond 10 names, remove the 5% threshold), just stop wasting your time.  Year after year the BBWAA stays in the news for weeks at a time exactly because they refuse to change the standards.  Why would they relent now?

If you want to read how I’ve weighed in on the Hall votes in year’s past, here’s some links:

And lastly, I have a huge draft post dated from Dec 2011 with pictures from my actual visit to the Hall of Fame that I started but never finished (mostly because adding pictures to WordPress is a huge pain in the *ss).  Maybe I’ll get bored, finish it up and post that in conjunction with the 2014 class announcement.

Are players from the 1980s under-represented in the Hall of Fame?

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Can Jack Morris eventually be the first "1980s Starter" to make the Hall? Photo John Iacono via si.com

First off: I’m not a “small hall” guy.  (How can you, when looking at the litany of obscure players the Veteran’s Committee has already enshrined while the current ballot has literally a dozen names that you can make an argument for?)  So naturally I want to see enshrinement for a larger number of the “marquee” names in baseball’s history.  I view the Hall of Fame as a museum dedicated to the game, and recognizing all the eras of the game for better or for worse.  I’m for expanding the current ballot and If I had a vote i’d be maxing out the 10 names with a desire to put a couple more guys on.

I’m also distinctly of the opinion that maybe the era of baseball just prior to today’s is underrepresented in Cooperstown.  Specifically, my theory is that the massive boom in offense that the game has seen in the last 20 years coupled with a distinct shift in the way pitching staffs are managed has led to voters and fans to discount and dismiss the accomplishments of players specifically from the 1980s.

MLB.com has a show called “Prime 9,” where they list the best 9 players/teams related to certain topics.  Recently they showed the “Best 9 players of the 1980s” by position, and it led me to use that list as a starting point for a discussion of marquee players from the 1980s and to decide whether or not the decade is under represented in Cooperstown.

Here’s Prime 9’s top player by position and their Hall of Fame status.  Throughout this entire article, Blue == Hall of Fame players while Red == non-Hall of Fame Players.

  • RF: Dwight Evans: fell off HoF ballot on his 3rd attempt in 1999.  Max votes: 10.4% in 1998.
  • CF: Dale Murphy: fell of HoF ballot on his 15th attempt this year in 2013.  Max votes: 23.2% in 2000.
  • LF: Rickey Henderson: 1st ballot HoFamer in 2009 with 94.8% of the vote.
  • SS: Cal Ripken Jr: 1st ballot HoFamer in 2007 with 98.5% of the vote.
  • 3B: Mike Schmidt: 1st ballot HoFamer in 1995 with 96.5% of the vote.
  • 2B: Ryne Sandberg: 3rd ballot HoFamer in 2005 with 76.2% of the vote.
  • 1B: Don Mattingly: on current ballot, his 13th attempt.  Max votes: 28.2% in 2001, his first year on the ballot.
  • C: Gary Carter: 6th ballot HoFamer in 2003 with 78% of the vote.
  • SP: Jack Morris: on current ballot, his 14th attempt.  Max votes: 67.7% this year.

Four of the Nine players listed as “Best of the Decade” are not in the Hall of Fame.   I think there’s something wrong here.  I know Morris is incredibly polarizing and probably never gets in, while the other three guys (Evans, Murphy, Mattingly) each had knocks against them related to durability and peak that prevented them from being enshrined.  Perhaps these are future Veteran’s committee picks.

I know the above list is arguable; perhaps those players aren’t necessarily the “best” at their positions for the decade.  So lets talk about the leading candidates per position who didn’t make the Prime-9’s list, and their own HoF status.  The MLB show didn’t distinguish between SP and RPs so I’ve separated them out below, nor did they distinguish between the OF positions like they did for the team selected above.

I’ve included the guys in the above “Prime 9″ list in the lists below for ease of analysis by position.

(Coincidentally; as you read the vote percentage totals, keep in mind that a voting percentage of less than 1% means that the player got only a handful of votes from the 500+ votes tallied each year, a woefully small number).

Outfielders:

  • Dwight Evans: fell off HoF ballot on his 3rd attempt in 1999.  Max votes: 10.4% in 1998.
  • Dale Murphy: fell of HoF ballot on his 15th attempt this year in 2013.  Max votes: 23.2% in 2000.
  • Rickey Henderson: 1st ballot HoFamer in 2009 with 94.8% of the vote.
  • Andre Dawson: 9th ballot HoFamer in 2010 with 77.9% of the vote.
  • Tim Raines: on current ballot, his 6th attempt.  Max votes: 52.2% this year.
  • Dave Parker: fell of HoF ballot on his 15th attempt this year in 2011.  Max votes: 24.5% in 1998.
  • Fred Lynn: fell off HoF ballot on his 2nd attempt in 1997.  Max votes: 5.5% in 1996.
  • Kirk Gibson: fell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 2001 with only 2.5% of the voting.
  • Dave Winfield: 1st ballot HoFamer in 2001 with 84.5% of the vote.
  • Kirby Puckett: 1st ballot HoFamer in 2001 with 82.1% of the vote.
  • Tony Gwynn: 1st ballot HoFamer in 2007 with 97.6% of the vote.
  • Pedro Guerrero: fell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 1998 with only 1.3% of the voting.
  • Jim Rice: 15th ballot HoFamer in 2009 with 76.4% of the vote.
  • Daryl Strawberryfell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 2005 with only 1.2% of the voting.
  • Jack Clarkfell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 1998 with only 1.5% of the voting.
  • Andy Van Slyke: fell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 2001 without receiving a single vote.

This makes for 16 total outfielders on the “Best of the decade” list.  Of those 16 outfielders, 10 are not in the Hall of Fame.  Would you say that the position is under-represented in the Hall if only 6 outfielders from an entire decade of the sport are enshrined?   Maybe, maybe not.   To say nothing of the fact that 2 of these 6 HoFame 80s outfielders (Rice and Dawson) were heavily criticized upon enshrinement for being voted in based on remnants of “old man” statistics.

Jack Clark you say?  50 Career WAR.  That’s nothing to shake a stick at.  Higher than a number of Hall of Fame hitters.  I remember him being more of a power hitter than he turned out to be.  He just couldn’t stay healthy; only 5 seasons where he played close to a “full season” in 18 years in the league.   I remember him fondly from my childhood; my family is from San Francisco and I always rooted for the Giants as a kid.

Middle Infielders:

  • Cal Ripken Jr: 1st ballot HoFamer in 2007 with 98.5% of the vote.
  • Ryne Sandberg: 3rd ballot HoFamer in 2005 with 76.2% of the vote.
  • Garry Templetonfell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 1998 with only 0.4% of the voting.
  • Ozzie Smith1st ballot HoFamer in 2002 with 91.7% of the vote.
  • Alan Trammellon current ballot, his 12th attempt.  Max votes: 36.8% last year.
  • Robin Yount1st ballot HoFamer in 1999 with 77.5% of the vote.
  • Lou Whitaker: fell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 2001 with only 2.9% of the voting.
  • Dave Conceptionfell of HoF ballot on his 15th attempt this year in 2008.  Max votes: 16.9% in 1998.

Lots of baseball pundits have lamented Whitaker’s fate, while plenty others vociferiously argue for Trammell, who had the misfortune of being both the 2nd best offensive SS (to Ripken) and the 2nd best defensive SS (to Smith) of his era simultaneously, thus being overshadowed by both.   Conception was about an equal at the plate to Ozzie Smith but only about half the Gold Gloves, but still seems like he deserved a bit more credit than he got in the voting.

Third Basemen

  • Mike Schmidt: 1st ballot HoFamer in 1995 with 96.5% of the vote.
  • Wade Boggs: 1st ballot HoFamer in 2005 with 91.9% of the vote.
  • George Brett: 1st ballot HoFamer in 1999 with 98.2% of the vote.
  • Paul Molitor: 1st ballot HoFamer in 2004 with 85.2% of the vote.
  • Terry Pendleton: fell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 2004 with only 0.2% of the voting.
  • Tim Wallachfell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 2002 with only 0.2% of the voting.
  • Buddy Bellfell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 1995 with only 1.7% of the voting.

Four first ballot hall of fame 3rd Basemen played in the era (even if most consider Molitor primarly a DH later in his career) which is saying something considering there are only 12 full time 3rd baseman in the Hall from all of history.  The all-star game starters for the entire decade were almost entirely Schmidt, Boggs and Brett.  The others I fully acknowledge are “stretches” but did each have several all-star appearances during the decade.

First Basemen

  • Don Mattingly: on current ballot, his 13th attempt.  Max votes: 28.2% in 2001, his first year on the ballot.
  • Steve Garvey: fell of HoF ballot on his 15th attempt this year in 2007.  Max votes: 42.6% in 1995.
  • Eddie Murray: 1st ballot HoFamer in 2003 with 85.3% of the vote.
  • Keith Hernandez: fell off HoF ballot on his 9th attempt in 2004.  Max votes: 10.8% in 1998.
  • Mark McGwireon current ballot, his 7th attempt.  Max votes: 23.7% in 2010.

Not much to say here: There seemed to be a definite lack of quality first basemen for the decade; only one is enshrined in the Hall.  Many of the all-star 1B appearances early in the decade went to aging stars Rod Carew and Pete Rose, who by that point in their long careers had been moved to first base for defensive purposes. McGwire’s issues are obvious (and he’s clearly more well known for his exploits in the 1990s, so its arguable if he even belongs in this 1980’s centric discussion).

Catchers

  • Gary Carter: 6th ballot HoFamer in 2003 with 78% of the vote.
  • Carlton Fisk2nd ballot HoFamer in 2000 with 79.6% of the vote.
  • Lance Parrishfell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 2001 with 1.7% of the voting.
  • Benito Santiagofell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 2011 with 0.2% of the voting.
  • Darrell Porterfell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 1993 with zero (0) votes.
  • Tony Penafell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 2003 with0.4% of the voting.
  • Bob Boonefell off HoF ballot on his 5th attempt in 2000. Max votes: 7.7% in 1996.
  • Terry Kennedyfell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 1997 with exactly one (1) vote.

Yes, I’m really stretching for 1980s catchers.  Basically Carter made the all-star team every year for the NL while Fisk made half the All Star Starts for the AL during the same time.  The backups were generally catchers having a decent first half, many of whom never made an other all-star team.  Boone was better than you remember, hence his hanging around the bottom of the ballot for a few years.

Closers/Relievers

  • Lee Smith: on current ballot, his 11th attempt.  Max votes: 50.6% in 2012.
  • Bruce Sutter: 13th ballot HoFamer in 2006 with 876.9% of the vote.
  • Dennis Eckersley:  1st ballot HoFamer in 2004 with 83.2% of the vote.
  • Rich Gossage: 9th ballot HoFamer in 2008 with 85.8% of the vote.
  • Jeff Reardonfell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 2000 with 4.8% of the voting.
  • Tom Henkefell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 2004 with 0.6% of the voting.
  • Dan Quisenberryfell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 1996 with 3.8% of the voting.
  • Kent Tekulvefell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 1995 with 1.3% of the voting.
  • Willie Hernandezfell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 1995 with 0.4% of the voting.

I’m not going to vociferously argue for Relievers/Closers to be inducted, since I think they’re mostly overrated in terms of their contributions to wins.  But I will say that a couple of these guys were far better than you remember.  Take Tom Henke: career 157 ERA+, which was better than either Sutter or Gossage PLUS he had more career saves (311 for Henke compared to 310 for Gossage and 300 for Sutter).   How exactly are two of these three guys Hall of Famers while Henke got exactly 6 votes out of 515 his first time on the ballot?   These voting patterns just seem drastically inconsistent.


All the above though pales in comparison to what we’re about to see.

Starters

  • Jack Morris: on current ballot, his 14th attempt.  Max votes: 67.7% this year.
  • Steve Carlton: 1st ballot HoFamer in 1994 with 95.6% of the vote.
  • Dave Stewart: fell off HoF ballot on his 2nd attempt in 2002.  Max votes: 7.4% in 2001.
  • Frank Violafell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 2002 with 0.4% of the voting.
  • Rick Sutcliffefell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 2000 with 1.8% of the voting.
  • Dave Steibfell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 2004 with 1.4% of the voting.
  • Bob Welchfell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 2000 with 0.2% of the voting.
  • Brett Saberhagen: fell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 2007 with 1.3% of the voting.
  • Orel Hershiser: fell off HoF ballot on his 2nd attempt in 2007.  Max votes: 11.2% in 2006.
  • Dwight Goodenfell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 2006 with 3.3% of the voting.
  • Mike Scott:  fell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 1997 with 0.4% of the voting.
  • Rick Reuschelfell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 1997 with 0.4% of the voting.
  • Fernando Valenzuelafell off HoF ballot on his 2nd attempt in 2004.  Max votes: 6.2% in 2003.
  • Nolan Ryan: 1st ballot HoFamer in 1999 with 98.8% of the vote.
  • Denny Martinez: fell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 2004 with 3.2% of the voting.
  • Bert Blyleven14th ballot HoFamer in 2011 with 79.7% of the vote.
  • Jimmy Keyfell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 2004 with 0.6% of the voting.
  • Ron Guidryfell off HoF ballot on his 9th attempt in 2002.  Max votes: 8.8% in 2000.
  • John Tudor: fell off HoF ballot on his 1st attempt in 1996 with 0.4% of the voting.
  • Roger Clemenson current ballot, his 1st attempt.  Max votes: 37.6% in 2013.

Here is where I think I really have a problem with the Hall of Fame treatment players in the 1980s; I think the entire generation of Starting Pitchers has been generally underrated and overlooked.  Look at this list of pitchers and look at the number of guys who failed to even stay on the ballot for more than one season.  Meanwhile, you can argue that the three guys who ARE on this list who are in the Hall of Fame (Carlton, Ryan and Blyleven) all actually “belong” to the 1970s; they just happened to have longer careers that bled into the 1980s.  Clemens appears here because his late 80s debut was so strong but clearly he’s a player of the 90s, and his reasons for non-inclusion thus far are obvious.

Do you mean to tell me that NONE of these other 1980’s starters merits inclusion to the Hall of Fame?  That an entire decade of starting pitchers doesn’t historically merit inclusion?  I’m not going to argue that all (or most) of these players belong, but it is kind of shocking that so many of the leading pitchers of that era were given so little consideration.

My biggest beef may be with Saberhagen.  Here’s the side-by-side stats of Saberhagen and a Mystery pitcher we’ll identify in a moment:

Wins Losses IP K’s ERA ERA+ bWAR
Saberhagen 167 117 2562 2/3 1715 3.34 126 56
Mystery Player 165 87 2324 1/3 2396 2.76 131 50.3

Pretty close, no?  Saberhagen contributed more WAR and was nearly this player’s equal in ERA+, which adjusts to the eras.  Mystery player’s W/L record is better … but then again, havn’t we learned that wins and losses are meaningless stats now?   A couple more facts here: Saberhagen won two Cy Young awards while the Mystery player won Three.  Saberhagen led the league in ERA just once while Mystery player did it 5 years in a row.

The Mystery player here (if you havn’t already guessed) is none other than Sandy Koufax.  Now, I’m certainly not saying that Saberhagen is the equal of Koufax, certainly not when you look at Koufax’s last 5 seasons or his 4 no-hitters.  My point is this: Koufax was a first ballot hall of famer … and Saberhagen got 7 votes out of 545 ballots.   Saberhagen may not be a Hall of Famer but he deserved to be in the discussion longer than he was.

Others have mentioned the lack of support for Dave Steib, who had a relatively similar statistical case to Saberhagen.  Similar career bWAR (53.5), similar ERA+ (122), and similar injury issues that curtailed his career.  Steib’s award resume isn’t as impressive (zero Cy Youngs but 7 All-Star appearances in his first 11 seasons), and he was basically done as an effective player by the time he was 33.

There are some other surprises on this list too.  Jimmy Key you say?  Go look at his career stats and you’ll be surprised just how good he was.  186-117, a 3.51 ERA (which sounds mediocre) but a career 122 ERA+.  A couple of stellar seasons (two 2nd place Cy Young votes).   I’m not saying he’s a hall of famer, but I am saying that he was better than you remember.  There’s absolutely pitchers in the Hall with worse ERA+ than Key’s.


Coincidentally, you can make the argument that many of these players really “belonged” to a different decade, if you wanted to really just focus this discussion on the 1980 decade.

  • Fisk, Boone, Conception, Parker, Lynn, Rice, Garvey, Carlton, Ryan, Reuschel and to a certain extent Winfield were really players who mostly “belong” in the 1970s.
  • Blyleven and Brett’s careers equally spanned both the 70s and 80s.
  • Gooden, Van Slyke, Puckett, McGwire, Clemens and Pendleton had careers that started the late 80s but who flourished mostly in the 1990s.

But, I think the point is made, especially when it comes to pitchers.  So I left all these players in.


Here’s a couple other ways to look at the best players of the 1980s.  Here’s a list of the top 20 positional players by “Win Shares” for the decade (data cut and pasted from an online forum).  As with above, blue=hall of famer while red indicates not.

1. Rickey Henderson 289
2. Robin Yount 274
3. Mike Schmidt 265
4. Eddie Murray 250
5. Tim Raines 246
6. Dale Murphy 244
7. Wade Boggs 237
8. Dwight Evans 230
9. George Brett 229
10. Keith Hernandez 221
11. Pedro Guerrero 221
12. Cal Ripken 219
13. Alan Trammell 219
14. Gary Carter 215
15. Jack Clark 213
16. Lou Whitaker 205
17. Andre Dawson 204
18. Ozzie Smith 204
19. Paul Molitor 198
20. Dave Winfield 193

Most HoFame pundits lament the lack of support for Raines specifically, but it is interesting to see how high up both Murphy and Evans fall on this list.

Now, here’s Pitcher WAR accumulated in the 1980s.  I took this data from a posting on BeyondtheBoxScore blog back in 2010, who was arguing (of course) why Jack Morris didn’t deserve to be in the hall of fame.  However, the table here also illustrates nicely who were really the best pitchers of the decade, and most of these guys are in the list above.

Rank Name bWAR From To Age Wins Losses
1 Dave Stieb 45.2 1980 1989 22-31 140 109
2 Bob Welch 35.1 1980 1989 23-32 137 93
3 Fernando Valenzuela 34.8 1980 1989 19-28 128 103
4 Bert Blyleven 34 1980 1989 29-38 123 103
5 Orel Hershiser 32.8 1983 1989 24-30 98 64
6 Roger Clemens 32.3 1984 1989 21-26 95 45
7 Nolan Ryan 30.8 1980 1989 33-42 122 104
8 Dwight Gooden 30.2 1984 1989 19-24 100 39
9 John Tudor 29.7 1980 1989 26-35 104 66
10 Bret Saberhagen 29 1984 1989 20-25 92 61
11 Charlie Hough 28.7 1980 1989 32-41 128 114
12 Jack Morris 27.9 1980 1989 25-34 162 119
13 Mario Soto 27.3 1980 1988 23-31 94 84
14 Teddy Higuera 27.3 1985 1989 26-30 78 44
15 Rick Sutcliffe 26.7 1980 1989 24-33 116 93
16 Rick Reuschel 25.7 1980 1989 31-40 97 82
17 Steve Carlton 25.6 1980 1988 35-43 104 84
18 Ron Guidry 25.5 1980 1988 29-37 111 72
19 Frank Viola 25.1 1982 1989 22-29 117 98
20 Dan Quisenberry 24.6 1980 1989 27-36 53 43
21 Mark Gubicza 24.6 1984 1989 21-26 84 67

I’m not sure why he ran this list to 21 players; perhaps he really likes Mark Gubicza.

Notice the same 3 names appear here as appeared above for Hall of Fame starters.  Also notice the surprisingly high appearances of players like Soto and Higuera; I didn’t even include them in the above analysis, perhaps providing my own bias because certainly I wouldn’t have included these two in any conversation about the best pitchers of the 80s.  But the point is now made statistically; of the 20 best pitchers by WAR for the entire decade, only 3 are enshrined in the Hall.

I havn’t done this analysis for other decades but I’d be surprised if other decades were so underrepresented.  Think about how many obvious hall of famers pitched in the 1990s;  Just off the top of my head: Clemens, Mussina, Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Johnson, Pedro, Schilling and perhaps eventually Hoffman and Rivera.   Maybe guys like Cone and Pettitte deserve more thought.  Lee Smith is still on the ballot.  That’s a lot of names for one decade as compared to what’s happened to the 1980s guys.


So, after all this, do we think the 1980s players are underrepresented in the Hall?  I count 17 positional players, 3 relievers and 3 starters from the era.  Perhaps the answer is, “there’s plenty of positional representation but the Starters are not fairly represented.”

Why are there so few starters from this era enshrined?  Did we just see a relatively mediocre time period in baseball with respect to starting pitchers?  Did we just get unlucky with the longevity and injury issues related to the best pitchers of the era (Hershiser, Saberhagen, Steib)?  Did changes in bullpen management that came about in the 90s (lefty-lefty matchups and more specialized relievers) combined with increasing awareness/sensitivety to pitch counts (100 pitches and you’re out) contribute to this fact?   If you’re a starter and the assumption is that you’re pitching 9 innings no matter what your pitch count is, you’re going to approach the game differently and pitch with a different level of effort than if you knew you were getting the hook after 100 pitches and/or in roughly the 6th or 7th inning.  Did this contribute to more mediocre-appearing ERAs for starters of this era?  Is that a good argument to use, as compared to 90s’ and modern pitchers who go all-out for 7 innings and then sit (versus starters of the 90s, who would often face the 3-4-5 of the opposing team a FOURTH time in the late innings while sitting on 140 pitches)?

What do you guys think?

How does the Nats WAR add up for 2013?

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How much WAR is Haren bringing to the 2013 Nats? Photo unknown via wikipedia

Mark Zuckerman posted a nice little Wins Above Replacement (WAR) analysis article in the wake of the Gio Gonzalez signing back in December 2011, showing that without any further moves and with the expected projections of WAR improvement the 2012 Nats should improve by nearly 12 wins if our injured stars return to the norm and produce as expected.  As it turned out, he was right … and wasn’t “right” enough.  He actually under-valued the WAR contributions of a newly healthy Adam LaRoche and of what Gonzalez would give the team (and of course nobody could have predicted what Ian Desmond would do nor how big an impact Bryce Harper would have) and the Nats ended up improving 17 games instead of a predicted 12 from 2011’s 81-81 team.

Here’s a similar analysis for your 2013 Nats, with some thoughts on players who may improve or regress from their 2012 WAR totals, and then using that analysis to predict how the team may fare in 2013.  I have uploaded my working 2013 fWAR spreadsheet to docs.google.com (also a link on the right-hand side of the page), which is the basis of the cut-n-paste tables below.  For the purpose of this article, we’re assuming that LaRoche is leaving and Michael Morse is playing 1B full-time, that Bill Bray is making the bullpen, and that Christian Garcia is starting in AAA.

A quick note before starting: the two leading baseball stats sites both have their own versions of the Wins Above Replacement stat.  Baseball-Reference’s WAR (usually abbreviated bWAR or rWAR) was developed by Sean Smith at BaseballProjection.com.  Meanwhile, fangraphs.com has developed their own version of WAR (usually abbreviated fWAR to distinguish from the Baseball-Reference version).  A good analysis of the differences between the two WARs is here: the main differences relate to the use of FIP versus ERA and TotalZone versus UZR for defensive additions.  In this article i’m using solely fWAR.  I think fWAR is slightly better and uses better component parts, though honestly the difference between the two is often negligible.

How many wins would an entire team of replacement level players win?  In other words, where do you start adding WAR figures to, in order to estimate how many wins you should expect out of your team?  Jim Breem of the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel did just this study in Jan 2011 and discovered that the average of replacement level wins across MLB in 2010 was 45.5 wins.  In other words, you could expect a team of nothing but AAA-level veterans or 0.0 WAR players to win about 45-46 games in a season.  This is about on par with the figure’s I’ve heard in various chats, and is somewhat supported by last year’s awful Houston Astros (who finished 55-107 and had just a handful of players posting a 1.0 WAR or greater).   The 2012 Nats fWAR totaled exactly 50.0, the team finished 98-64 and they had a Pythagorean record of 96-66,  implying that a team of replacement Nats players would win between 46 and 48 games, right in line with Breem’s studies.  For the purposes of predicting the # of 2013 Nats wins we’ll use 46 as a floor.

How did our returning players fare in 2012, and what might they contribute in 2013?  Here’s my estimates for all returning players.  This table is sorted by 2012 fWAR from highest to lowest.  (b) after a pitcher’s name indicates the fWAR contributions (or lack thereof) of that pitcher at the plate.

2012 fWAR 2013 fWAR Est Trend from 2012
Ian Desmond 5.4 5 Down
Gio Gonzalez 5.4 4.8 Down
Bryce Harper 4.9 6 Up
Ryan Zimmerman 4.5 5 Up
Stephen Strasburg 4.3 5 Up
Danny Espinosa 3.8 3.8 Even
Jordan Zimmermann 3.5 4 Up
Roger Bernadina 1.9 2 Even
Ross Detwiler 1.8 2 Even
Jayson Werth 1 1.5 Up
Tyler Clippard 1 1 Even
Steve Lombardozzi 0.8 0.8 Even
Craig Stammen 0.8 0.8 Even
Stephen Strasburg (b) 0.7 0.8 Even
Drew Storen 0.7 1 Up
Tyler Moore 0.6 0.6 Even
Wilson Ramos 0.6 0.2 Down
Kurt Suzuki 0.6 1.5 Up
Chad Tracy 0.5 0.5 Even
Jhonatan Solano 0.4 0 Down
Jordan Zimmermann (b) 0.4 0.4 Even
Michael Morse 0.3 3 Up
Zach Duke 0.2 0.8 up
Corey Brown 0.1 0 Even
Eury Perez 0.1 0 Even
Christian Garcia 0.1 0 Even
Sandy Leon 0 0 Even
Ryan Mattheus (b) 0 0 Even
Zach Duke (b) 0 0 Even
Craig Stammen (b) -0.1 0 Even
Carlos Maldonado -0.1 0 Even
Ryan Perry -0.2 0 Even
Ryan Mattheus -0.2 -0.2 Even
Gio Gonzalez (b) -0.3 -0.3 Even
Henry Rodriguez -0.4 -0.4 Even
Ross Detwiler (b) -0.5 -0.6 Even

Here’s some discussion on my estimates:

Players who I’m trending Up: Harper, Zimmerman, Strasburg, Werth, Suzuki, Storen, Zimmermann, Morse and Duke.  I have Harper going from a 4.9->6.0 fWAR player, which frankly may be selling the kid short.  Lots of pundits think he’s going to explode in 2013 for a Mike Trout-like season.  I think both Zimmerman and Strasburg can achieve 5.0 fWAR seasons.  I think Werth can go from a 1.0->1.5 with a full healthy season, especially if he continues to hit as he did upon returning last year (we’ll ignore for a moment that he’s not “earning” his salary with fWAR seasons in the 5.0 fWAR range like he’s being paid to do).  Suzuki has a couple of 3.4 fWAR seasons under his belt; estimating him at 1.5 may be selling him short.  Storen returns to the closer role healthy, though an improvement to just 1.0 fWAR would be a career best for him.  I’m predicting an improved season out of Zimmermann, who seemed to tire at the end of last season in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery.  Morse has a huge increase predicted (from 0.3->3.0) but he posted a higher fWAR than that in his breakout 2011 season; if he’s here and playing full time, there’s no reason to not expect another season like 2011’s.  Lastly Duke’s 0.8 fWAR estimate may be exceedingly high, but he managed to add 0.2 fWAR in just a few weeks of work in September.

Players who I’m Trending Down: Desmond, Gonzalez, Ramos and Solano: I think Ramos and Solano’s contributions are now limited and/or blocked by Suzuki, so their fWAR contributions drop accordingly.  I’m building in some regression for both Desmond and Gio from last year’s fantastic performances.  Most every player with an estimate of 0.0 for 2013 is assumed to be spending the majority of the season in the minors (notably Ryan Perry and Garcia, but also the likes of Corey Brown,  Eury Perez and all the backup catchers we had to use last year).

Notable Players who I’m trending about Even: Espinosa, Bernadina, Detwiler, Clippard, Stammen, Henry Rodriguez: Even, meaning they’ll contribute about the same in 2013 that they did in 2012.  Is Clippard going to contribute 1.0 fWAR in 2013?  Maybe not.  Can Stammen repeat his stellar performance?  Will Rodriguez continue to drag down the bullpen with a -0.4 fWAR?  If anything, Espinosa should improve on his 3.8 fWAR; he’s trending up year over year.  I’ve listed almost all our backups (Bernadina, Lombardozzi, Moore, Tracy, etc) as being even year over year; there’s no reason right now not to expect the same performance we got out of them in the coming season.  For the moment I’m leaving Garcia in AAA, and have his fWAR at zero; if he were to join the bullpen on a full time basis he could contribute half a WAR or more.

Here’s a quick look at our new players acquired this off-season:

New Players for 2013 2012 fWAR 2013 fWAR Est Trend from 2012
Dan Haren 1.8 4.5 Up
Dan Haren (b) -0.1 -0.3 Down
Denard Span 3.9 3.9 Even
Bill Bray -0.6 0.3 Up
Bill Bray (b) 0 0 Even

Perhaps the most controversial estimate in this article is Haren‘s 2013 fWAR number.  I’m estimating that he’s going to return to his previous form and at least post a 4.5 fWAR.  If you look at his history before 2012, you’ll see he’s easily capable of posting a 6.0 fWAR or higher.   I think the team gave him the contract they did because they’re assuming he’s healthy and assuming he can return at least to his 2011 form.  A 4.5 estimate may end up being low.  Meanwhile, I’m assuming Span is going to just repeat his 2012 performance, and I’m assuming that Bray improves upon his own poor 2012 and returns to something closer to his 2011 form (where he posted a 0.7 fWAR).

Given the above breakdown, here’s how the summaries look:

2012 fWAR 2013 fWAR Est
sum of 2012 fWAR of returning players –> 42.6 49 <– Sum 2013 fWAR estimates existing players
sum of 2012 fWAR for departed players –> 7.4
8.4 <– Sum 2013 fWAR estimates new Additions
sum of 2012 fWAR –> 50.0 57.4 <– Sum 2013 Nats fWAR Estimates

Ok, what does the above table mean?

  • Sum of WAR Returning of 42.6: this is the sum of the fWARs of all pitchers and batters in 2012 who are returning to the team in 2013 (as broken down in the upper table).
  • Sum of WAR Gone of 7.4: this is the sum of the fWARs of all pitchers and batters in 2012 who are no longer with the team.  Adam LaRoche leads this list with a 3.8 fWAR in 2012, though also included in this list are a number of negative fWAR players who drug the team down last year (DeRosa, Wang and Nady especially).
  • Sum of 2012 Nats fWAR of 50.0: This is the sum of returning and departing 2012 players, and is the same number referenced above.
  • Sum fWAR estimates of existing players: 49: This is the sum of the fWAR for all our returning players for 2013; notice this is higher; I’m predicting that through attrition of poor players and some improvement over 2012, we can expect our team to be nearly 7 wins improved.
  • Sum fWAR new additions: 8.4: Span, Haren and Bray should add 8.4 fWAR (as shown in the second table).
  • Sum 2013 Nats fWAR estimates: 57.6

That’s right; I believe the team has an fWAR capability of 57.6, or 7.6 wins more than last year.  Adding that to the previously discussed fWAR floor of 46 games and you have a 103-104 win team.

What happens if LaRoche comes back?  If anything the team could be improved even more.  LaRoche posted a 3.8 fWAR in 2012, while Morse’s BEST fWAR season was his 2011 breakout of 3.3.  If we assume LaRoche can repeat his 2012 performance at least for one year into a 2-3 year contract, then the team’s fWAR estimates rise again.

Does this mean I’m predicting that the 2013 Nationals are going to win 104 games?  Well, no.  Every single one of these estimates implies a 100% best case scenario; no injuries and for the most part all our players playing at their capability levels of 2012.  In reality, we’re going to see some time lost due to injury from key players, and we’re going to see some regression from some players.  The hope is that those regression periods are matched by improvements from other players, or from breakout performances from players who were in the 1.0 fWAR range in the past (think Desmond in 2012).

One last note on WAR (which I’d love to see others’ opinions about): I admittedly have an uneasy and not always consistent opinion on the statistic.  On the one hand, I absolutely believe that career WAR values reward accumulator type players and skew career WAR figures (my favorite example to use is Bert Blyleven, who currently sits with the 39th largest career bWAR in the history of the game.  But no one in their right mind would claim that Blyleven was the 39th best player to ever play the game… so there’s a disconnect that I have a difficult time dealing with).  But, on the other hand, WAR usually does a nice job of quantifying individual seasons, and lending itself to the kind of analysis I’ve just done here.  Do I need to overcome my reservations of using the statistic?  How can I reconcile my concerns with the overall prevalence of the stat?

Obligatory Class of 2013 Hall of Fame opinion piece

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Roger Clemens; is he a Hall of Famer or an opportunity for writers to make a PED statement? Photo unknown.

Obligatory Class of 2013 Hall of Fame opinion piece.

The 2013 Hall of Fame class ballot was released in Late November, on BBWAA’s site.   Here’s the 2013 class on Baseball-Reference.com, along with relevant career stats and past voting results.

As we’re about to read, over and over again from every writer in the Baseball world, this is the Steroid-era ballot.  Several of the biggest names of the era are on the ballot.  Just in case you were wondering who has or hasn’t been officially linked to PEDs, here’s a handy guide for your ethical dilemma.

My Previous posts on the same topic:

I typed up such exhaustive opinions on a number of candidates from the two previous versions of these posts, that I won’t repeat them here.  Instead i’ll just state below, of the returning candidates this year here’s who I’d vote for and who I wouldn’t in list form.

Returning Candidates I’d vote for:

  • Jeff Bagwell
  • Jack Morris
  • Tim Raines
  • Mark McGwire
  • Edgar Martinez

Returning Candidates that I would NOT vote for (my reasons mostly are stated in the 2012 class post referenced above):

  • Bernie Williams
  • Alan Trammell
  • Lee Smith
  • Larry Walker
  • Rafael Palmeiro
  • Don Mattingly
  • Fred McGriff
  • Dale Murphy

New Candidates in 2012 that I’d vote for, with some  discussion; Unlike a lot of opinions I state, my thoughts on the Hall of Fame have always been more driven by how a player “seems” to be in the pantheon of baseball history.  I don’t like to get into the same stats-driven discussions that other writers do.  So and so had a career WAR of X, or a career ERA+ of Y, which makes him better than this other guy.

  • Barry Bonds: A transcendent player before any use of “the cream” or “the clear,” this 7-time MVP is clearly in the pantheon of the greatest players of all-time.  The best 5-tool player since Willie Mays, the only thing that should have been standing in the way of unanimous voting is Bonds’ surly nature towards sports writers (several of whom would have “penalized” him by omitting him from first ballot status).
  • Roger Clemens: replace “7-time MVP” with “7-time Cy Young winner” and the Bonds argument essentially repeats itself with Clemens.  Normally we’d be talking about his place as one of the greatest right handed pitchers to ever play the game.  Instead we’re talking about how much of his later career was enhanced by virtue of foreign substances.
  • Mike Piazza: One of the best 3 hitting catchers of all time (Johnny Bench being the best, with Yogi Berra in the discussion), his purported “back acne” proof of steroid use likely costs him votes.  Which is just ridiculous, but that’s the nature of this ballot and the next 15 year’s worth of ballots unfortunately.
  • Curt Schilling: his career accomplishments don’t include a Cy Young award, but that wasn’t for lack of trying; he just happened to pitch in the same ERA as Randy Johnson and Johan Santana in his prime power.  But Schilling was a game-changing starter, an Ace who could get you the win.  He was one of the biggest “big game” pitchers out there.  And, his legendary playoff performances push him over the top for me.  Some will argue against him b/c he “only” had 216 wins or he “only” had a career 3.46 ERA.  He passes the eye test for me.
  • Craig Biggio: he wasn’t the flashiest player, but then again you can’t judge middle infielders the same way as you judge power hitters.  Biggio hit the 3,000 hit plateau, was a good combination of power (291 career homers) and speed (414 career SBs), and showed good defense (several Gold Gloves).  For one of the last career one-team guys, he makes the cut for me.

New Candidates that I would NOT vote for:

  • Sammy Sosa: 600+ career homers, and I can’t help but think that a good number of those were either PED or corked-bat assisted.  That’s probably completely unfair, but you can make a good argument that more than 150 of his career homers were likely “surplus” to his legitimate career capabilities.  He averaged 37 homers/season as he approached his prime, then suddenly averaged 60/season for four seasons.  Clearly Bonds’ 73-homer season is attributable to a single-season PED spike, but Sosa made a career of it.  There’s just no way for me to distinguish who the real Sosa was (he had a 99 OPS+ the year before his power spike) versus the PED enhanced version.
  • Kenny Lofton: I know lots of people view Lofton in the same breath as Rickey Henderson in terms of quality lead-off hitters, but to me he was just a vagabond who kept looking for work year after year.  He played for 12 teams by the time he hung them up.  Perhaps I’m not really “remembering” his time in Cleveland, where he stole a ton of bases and set the table for that powerful lineup.   He had a handful of gold gloves, a handful of all-star appearances.  I may be under-appreciating him a bit, but when I hear his name I don’t knee-jerk Hall of Famer.
  • Everyone else first time eligible, the best player of which is probably David Wells.  Wells basically had two good seasons (the only two times he received any Cy Young consideration) and otherwise was a rubber-armed hurler who prided himself on making 35 starts despite being in god-awful shape (as noted extensively in Joe Torre‘s book The Yankee Years).

I’d be shocked if anyone else on the first time eligible list got enough votes to even stay eligible for 2014’s ballot.

Critics may state that my fake ballot has some inconsistencies; how can I support a vote for Biggio but not for Trammell?   How can you vote for McGwire but not Sosa?  How can you vote for Edgar Martinez but not Larry Walker?  How can you vote for *any* PED guys but shun Sosa and Palmeiro?  How can you support Morris but not support Wells?   All these are good points; good arguable points.  Maybe if I had an official ballot I’d have a more serious discussion with myself about these points.  All the above thumbs-up/thumbs-down opinions are mostly knee jerk, did the guy “feel” like a hall of famer as opposed to a full statistical analysis.   As I covered in my Jack Morris piece, I think its ok to have slightly lesser players who contributed more to the baseball pantheon than slightly better players statistically who had no real lasting impact on the game.

And for now, that’s good enough for me and my fake Hall of Fame ballot.

Jack Morris, Statistics and the meaning of the Hall of Fame

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Its Hall of Fame ballot time. Let the Jack Morris arguments start-up again. Photo John Iacono via si.com

(coincidentally, this is the exact same picture and exact same caption as I used last year.  Nothing w/r/t Morris has changed).

Every year about this time comes the inevitable Jack Morris battles when it comes to deciding whether or not he’s a Hall-of-Famer.  Those who argue against him (and argue they do, rather loudly, as exemplified by writers such as David Schoenfield, Rob Neyer, and Joe Posnanski and easily found at nearly any baseball blog, almost all of which are extremely anti-Morris) typically point at Morris’ career ERA, his ERA+, his career WAR and then argue that he was actually a mediocre pitcher.  They have all sorts of arguments against “pitching to score” and even make arguments that middling starters from the 90s are actually “better” than Morris.

My one overriding opinion on the whole “Hall of Fame” worthiness argument is that the stat-inclined seem to be missing the whole point of the “Hall of Fame.”  It isn’t defined as the “Hall of the Best  Statistically Significant players above some arbitrary benchmark.”  If it were, then arguments comparing Morris to Rick Reushel or Brad Radke (both of whom have higher career WARs than Morris) would be important.  (side note: Ironically, this is the same distinction that these people generally also miss when talking about the “Most Valuable Player” award; it isn’t the “Best Player” its the “Most Valuable,” and therefore you can’t just give me a gazillion stats that tell me why Mike Trout had a better season than Miguel Cabrera and call me an idiot for saying that Cabrera was the MVP this year.  How can you be the MVP of a 3rd place team that would have still been a 3rd place team with or without you?  How can you be the “most valuable” player in the league but have zero impact on your team’s standings or the playoffs?  But I digress).

No; its the Hall of FAME (emphasis mine).  It should be the Hall of the most FAMOUS people in the game’s history.  And inarguably Jack Morris is more famous than either Reushel or Radke (since these two pitchers are often used in comparison).  And since its baseball writers themselves that a) remember Morris as being better and more famous than he was according to specific career-measuring stats like WAR, and b) do the voting themselves, its likely that Morris may very well get into Cooperstown despite other people feeling that he’s a lesser pitcher.  Its why a pitcher like Catfish Hunter has been elected already, despite his having even worse career numbers (in the sabre-slanted statistical categories that the new-wave know-it-all bloggers constantly refer to) than Morris.  I can’t recall ever reading one single article talking about how bad it is that Hunter is in the hall of fame, but it seems that EVERY single baseball blogger and columnist out there under the age of 30 has written multiple times about how its the death of the legitimacy of the Hall of Fame if Morris makes it in.  I just don’t get it.

A lot of these arguments seem to be driven by one stat: Career WAR.  People look at that one overriding stat and make their arguments.  My biggest problem with career WAR is its “accumulator nature.”  It rewards a healthy, mediocre pitcher who makes a ton of starts and accumulates a ton of strikeouts and wins and innings pitched. Meanwhile a better pitcher with a higher peak who ends his career earlier won’t “score” as high in career WAR.

The two pitchers in particular i’m looking at in the above paragraph are Bert Blyleven (career bWAR of 89.3) and Pedro Martinez (career bWAR of 80.5).  There is not one person in their right mind that would say with a straight face that Blyleven was a “better” pitcher than Martinez.  But, if you look at the WAR without context you’d argue that was the case.

Blyleven during his career, for those of us actually old enough to have seen him play, was a mediocre pitcher.  Plain and simple.  In 22 seasons he made 3 All Star teams and received Cy Young votes only 4 times, never coming close to sniffing the award.  Morris on the other hand, received Cy Young votes in 7 of his 18 seasons and started the All Star game 3 times.  Morris STARTED more all-star games than Blyleven ever made.  Blyleven was traded for relative nobodies a number of times in his career, and the prevailing press of the day referred to him as a middling pitcher.  Only after he’s retired, when we “discovered” statistics like ERA+ and FIP and realized he was better than his numbers at the time indicated did we make the push for him into the HoF.

Why do I point out All Star appearances and Cy Young voting?  Because in the context of the Hall of Fame discussion, they’re important.  You can quibble about the meaning of all star appearances (certainly they’ve been diluted in the last 20 years) and cy young votes all you want, but the fact is this: if you REALLY want to know who the writers felt were the best players of their day, then all star appearances and Cy Young/MVP voting is vitally important.

But here’s my main point: why can’t the Hall recognize BOTH the likes of Blyleven (better than people realized at the time) AND also recognize Morris (overrated statistically but still historically significant and thus “famous” enough for enshrinement)?  Why do people devote so much time towards disparaging the case for Morris?  Yes, Morris gets undue credit for his fantastic 1991 World Series Start, for leading the 1984 Tigers, for leading the 1980s in Wins.   If you ask any player or manager in the game at the time, they’d likely tell you Morris was one of the best.   But these are all the same aspects that make him “Famous” and thus a likely candidate for the Hall of FAME.  These are the same reasons why a fine pitcher like Curt Schilling, who also was part of some iconic moments in the game’s history, also should be in Cooperstown (in my opinion).

I just feel like the nature of sports writing has come to the point where people use statistical measures as the be-all, end-all proof of everything in baseball.  And then they forget that the game is played by humans, that there are ALWAYS some things that cannot be measured, and just because some statistic has been cheapened in today’s game (I’m thinking of the pitcher Win) does not mean it was always cheapened.  I know there’s people out there who wrote doctoral thesises about how Morris never “pitched to score.”  But how do you measure a pitcher who knows he’s gotta go 9 innings, who knows he’s not getting pulled in the 6th inning for a lefty-on-lefty matchup, who knows he’s more likely to throw 160 pitches than 95?  I absolutely think there’s something in the “pitching to score” arguments, if only because I have played with pitchers who absolutely would coast through games when they got a lead, or who would “take innings off” against in order to preserve their arm to go 9 full innings.  Unless you had a biometric measure on every single pitch Jack Morris ever threw, correlated to the weather, the score, his team’s bullpen status and his manager’s whims, you can NOT tell me that Morris did or did not pitch to score, let up with a big lead, or cruise through innings knowing he may have to go 9 on a 100 degree day.  Just because you can’t prove something mathematically doesn’t mean it still doesn’t exist.  Tom Verducci did an excellent piece recently on Morris and his innings pitched and complete games in context, somewhat related to this topic.

Morris comes from a transitionary time in baseball, before specialized relief pitchers, before the power of the 90s and before PEDs.  He comes from a time severely under-represented in the Hall (think of players like Dale Murphy, Alan Trammell, Denny MartinezOrel Hershiser and Bret Saberhagen: these were the stars of the 80s and some of them barely got 2% of the HoF vote), a side-effect of the ridiculously talented players we saw in the 90s and thus victims of the inevitable comparisons, falling wanting.  He holds an important place in the history of the game, in the narrative of the 1980s, and of the fantastic 1991 World Series.  Cooperstown is a museum, not a spreadsheet.

Call me ignorant, call me old school.  Whatever.  Maybe I’m just tired of the negative rhetoric.  I say “Elect Jack Morris.”

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 2/11/12 edition

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Mr. Jackson Comes to Washington. Photo unknown via sportsbank.com

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.  I try to publish this about weekly or if it gets up to about 1500 words, so that it’s not to voluminous.

Apologies for the delay on this; life sometimes intervenes into blogging :-).  Most of this news is at least a week old.

Nationals In General

  • John Lannan presses his luck, goes to arbitration with the team and “loses,” meaning he’ll only get $5M in 2012 instead of the $5.7M he was seeking.   I thought $5M was rich frankly; using my 40/60/80% theory on arbitration salaries (as in, your first year arbitration salary is roughly 40% of your open market free agent value, 2nd year 60% and so on…) I thought Lannan’s salary would be roughly $4.8M (equating to an $8M salary on the open market).  Still, he nearly doubles his 2011 salary of $2.75M despite having a sub .500 record (yes I know that’s relatively meaning less but still).
  • In the out of nowhere department, Edwin Jackson signs with the Nats.  1yr, $11M (with $2M deferred to 2013).  Scott Boras finds employment for another client in Washington DC.  Mike Rizzo immediately had to comment on the future of John Lannan, who clearly seems like the odd-man out despite being guaranteed a $5M salary in 2012.  I should do a more in-depth post on this situation … Rizzo mentioned at the press conference a “flaw” in Jackson’s delivery that they’ve identified; its not often you invest $11M into a guy just to say he’s flawed.  But the splits are pretty obvious: As noted by Joe Lemire with no-one on base the league had an astounding .868 OPS (slash line: .339/.390/.478) against Jackson but with runners on that figure dropped to .665 (slash line: .239/.292/.373).  However most every other pitcher in the league experiences the reverse of this situation, faring better out of the wind-up than from the stretch.  Maybe Jackson needs to pitch from the stretch all the time…. For context, a Batting Average Against (BAA) of .239 for an entire season would have ranked Jackson around 30th for all qualified Starters in the league, better than supposed Aces Matt Garza and Zack Greinke.  Maybe we didn’t get a 4th starter; maybe we got something close to a #2 starter in disguise.
  • Very good Nats starting pitching option analysis post Jackson acquisition from David Shoenfield, who does some trade analysis for Lannan and comes up with some good options.  And Joe Lemire does a 5-point analysis of the Nats and concludes
  • Si.com‘s very detailed article on Venezuelan baseball, safety concerns and details on the Wilson Ramos kidnapping case.
  • A link to try out for the Racing Presidents.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • Reports from both Craig Calcaterra and Jon Heyman that JD Drew may retire based on the lack of interest this off-season.  See, I have a big problem with this.  Drew’s career numbers are very under-rated; he’s got a career .873 OPS and a career 125 OPS+.  Yes he tailed off badly in 2011, and has struggled with injuries the past several seasons; but look at his OBP  figures; he could be the solution to the Nats outfield problem!  I think I need to write a post on this.

Hall of Fame leftovers

  • More interesting Jack Morris articles; this one talking about the fact that he was the “winningest pitcher” of the 80s.  Which he was, by a fairly large margin (20 wins if memory serves).  Here’s the pertinent fact: EVERY single pitcher who has led a “decade” in wins is in the Hall of Fame, prior to Morris and the 80s.  The leader for the 90s was Greg Maddox, who may become the first unanimous first ballot hall of famer (unless of course someone makes a “statement” vote by mailing in a blank ballot or something stupid).  The leader for the 2000 decade?  Andy Pettitte, who I think will struggle to make the Hall just as Morris has.  Now, does this mean that Morris and Pettitte are automatically hall of famers by virtue of leading their decades?  No, probably not, but just because a pitcher is a “borderline” candidate doesn’t mean they don’t deserve consideration.  I’ll bet we’ll be arguing about Pettitte the same way we’re arguing about Morris in about 10 year’s time.  The other interesting takeaway from this article was this google doc spreadsheet, where someone went through and calculated the leader of every 10-year period to see how the “leader of the decade” worked on rolling 10 year scales.  You’re hard pressed to find a non-hall of fame pitcher on this rolling scale no matter what the 10 year period.
  • An interesting article that says that certain legendary hitters are “overrated” when looking at career WAR.  This is something I’ve been saying for years, especially with those that think Bert Blyleven is one of the best pitchers ever to play the game.  WAR is an accumulator stat, overrating mediocre-but-extremely-healthy players who rack up a ton of stats over time.  My simple case in point: Blyleven’s career WAR of 87.6 ranks him 44th of all time, while Pedro Martinez‘s career WAR is 73.5.  Anyone who looks at me with a straight face and says that Blyleven therefore is a better pitcher than Martinez needs to consider both this article and my statement.  Stats are what they are; they are tools that help people analyze and consider behaviors.  They’re not be-all, end-all statements.
  • The above article led me to create this interesting trivia question; what baseball player has the highest career WAR but who is not enshrined in the Hall of Fame (counting these caveats; the player can’t be currently active, pre-Hall of Fame eligible or currently ON the hall of fame ballot)?  The answer is Bill Dahlen, with a career WAR of 75.9 and who played from 1891 to 1911.  He played mostly short stop, which explains why his WAR is so high considering his career OPS+ of 109.  Pete Rose, coincidentally, is just behind him on the career WAR leaderboard and would probably be most people’s guess.

General Baseball News

  • Adam Dunn talks about his “one stupid year” in 2011 to the Chicago Sun-Times (h/t to Craig Calcaterra).  I do feel sorry for Dunn, who seems to have caught a perfect storm of adjustments (switching leagues, switching teams, switching positions, moving cities and going to a unique on-field manager just to name a few) just at the wrong time, leading to his historically bad season.  I hope he figures out what he needs to do to return to his prior form.
  • Interesting NYTimes article by Tyler Kepner (h/t to Calcaterra again) on the Identity Fraud problem for baseball players in the DR.  This of course is a follow up to the latest scandal, this time involving all-star Cleveland pitcher Fausto Carmona, or as we now know his real name to be Roberto Hernandez Heredia.  He paid off someone 3 years younger to assume his identity, and was outed when he stopped paying the bribe.  (side note: if you pay someone to help you do something illegal … chances are you’ll probably be outed on your illegal behavior 100% of the time if you remove the sole incentive for keeping that person quiet.  Duh).   Anyway; the interesting takeaway here was the anonymous quote that more than “a dozen such cases” could soon get exposed.  I hate anonymous quotes like this, but on this topic it isn’t surprising.  Age disputes have dogged Albert Pujols for years (though I doubt them personally; if he really is 2-3 years older than he says, then he would have been a MUCH bigger prospect out of high school).
  • An article at Cleveland.com (but which is of severe interest to Washington fans as we re-negotiate our MASN deal) talking about Regional Sports Network TV money highlights an interesting point that nearly every team in a major market soon will have tens of millions more dollars in their pocket, thanks to renegotiated TV deals.  We squawk about how the big market teams over spend now?  How about when suddenly teams that are “mid-market” but spending $100M on payroll get an extra $30-$40M to play with?  I wonder if the solution for the betterment of the sport (considering that a team in a small market like Milwaukee only gets about $12M total in TV money) is going to be to go to a NFL-style TV revenue model where all 30 teams share the same pool equally.  That last sentence of course will never happen; the Steinbrenner family isn’t about to give up HUNDREDS of millions of dollars of their own money to help tight-fisted owners in other cities pad their bottom line.
  • I hate seeing this story blown so far out of proportion: Josh Hamilton had “a few drinks” at a bar and now there’s headlines talking about a “relapse” and holier than thou stories about how this is going to cost him tens of millions of dollars.  This post on sbnation.com asks the right question; “Is this any of our business?”  I had 3-4 drinks one night at dinner last week; am I I a relapsed alcoholic?  Of course not.  I guess this is the price of fame.

General News; other

  • Months ago, when Tyler Hamilton had his gripping appearance disclosing all sorts of supposedly incriminating facts about Lance Armstrong on 60-minutes I had a rather heated discussion over email with some fellow sports-fanatic fans talking about whether that interview was really “proof” of Armstrong’s having cheated his way to 7 tour de France wins.  I guess not: Federal prosecutors closed the inquiry into Armstrong after a 2-year witch hunt.  I was much more vehement on this topic before but my general stance is this; Armstrong took hundreds of drug tests in his life and never ONCE tested positive.  There’s allegations of cheating by former teammates who themselves lied about cheating (and were eventually caught), and there’s allegations of covered-up tests (which can’t be corroborated), and there’s rumors and innuendo.  But nowhere, ever, has anyone actually found anything close to concrete “proof” that Armstrong cheated.  So to anyone who still thinks he’s a cheater, I’ll say this: “Innocent until proven guilty.”  And nobody will ever find any proof, because (as is noted in this column) if Jeff Novitzky couldn’t find the proof, nobody will.
http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/7533216/edwin-jackson-agrees-washington-nationals

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 1/14/12 edition

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I’m looking for a contract “This Big!” Photo unknown via iusport.com

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.

Nationals In General

  • Talk about rumors that just won’t go away: Nationals apparently remain the favorites for Prince FielderKen Rosenthal says the sameBuster Olney has a nice overview with pros/cons laid out.  For me (as discussed in the comments of the previous posts), I think he’d be a mistake for 8-10 years, but an absolute steal for 3.  Here’s some thoughts from Tom Verducci, who thinks the Nats are his destination.  And here’s a post that says one of the 3 candidates for Fielder I identified in this space a few days ago (Toronto), is out of the running.
  • Imagine a lineup that goes like this: Espinosa-Werth-Zimmerman-Fielder-Morse-Ramos-Desmond-Cameron to open the season, and then potentially inject Bryce Harper hitting behind Morse and replacing Cameron in the outfield.  That’d be 5 straight home-run hitting threats in the middle of your order, with good L-R balance.  I know he’d be expensive, but that’s a 95 win offense.  It’d be even better if we got a one-year stop gap hitter to open the year playing RF and who we could flip in trade if Harper comes up sooner than later.
  • From Jdland.com: the concrete factory across the street from Nats park is finally coming down!
  • Whoops: Zech Zinicola hit with a 50-game suspension for non-PED drug abuse.  Sounds like Marijuana to me.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Nats release him after this, his 2nd transgression.
  • John Sickels‘ new rankings of the Oakland A’s top 20 prospects, post trades this off-season.   6 of the 10 top were acquired in the Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez trades, while three more represent Oakland’s #1 draft picks in 2011 (Sonny Gray) and 2010 (Michael Choice) and 2009 (Grant Green).  Say what you will about Billy Beane, but he’s clearly building a big-time farm system for the future right now.
  • A nice review of the Nationals 2012 outlook from seamheads.com.
  • We lost Doug Slaten.  Now he can go be horrible for Pittsburgh.
  • Good news on both Sammy Solis and Bobby Hanson from Byron Kerr.
  • Adam Kilgore says the team is still talking to Rick Ankiel about coming back as a 4th OF… I wouldn’t be totally opposed to that; he’s essentially the same player we got in Mike Cameron, right?  Only difference seems to be lefty versus righty.
  • Fun little position-by-position exercise: ranking the NL east teams position by position from David Shoenfield.  I must admit though I think he was a bit generous with his Nats rankings in some cases.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • MLBTraderumors is great; they’ve created arbitration tracking pages that will “keep score” of all the cases coming up in Jan-Feb.
  • If you believe Jim Bowden, the Rangers are playing hardball in their Yu Darvish negotiations.  If this falls through … look for pandemonium both on the Prince Fielder front and with Darvish next year when he’s an unrestricted FA and could attract interest from pretty much every team in the league.
  • Makes sense: Marlins plan to aggressively pursue Yoenis Cespedes.  Getting the latest big name Cuban defector can only be a good thing for the franchise as they try to re-build a fan base in a heavily latino/cuban community.
  • Well, the  Yankees shored up their rotation in one 3 hour period on Friday night; trading for Michael Pineda and then signing Hiroki Kuroda.   They went from having three question marks in their rotation to now wondering if AJ Burnett can hold onto the 5th rotation spot.  Wow.  Here’s Keith Law‘s analysis, predictably giving the “edge” to the Mariners in the deal despite the obvious fact that Pineda is MLB proven while the other three guys in the deal, aren’t.

Hall of Fame items

  • Mike Silva becomes one of the very few BBWAA writers with a HoFame vote to publish support for Jack Morris.  I’m sure I’ll be seeing the inevitable Craig Calcarerra blog posting questioning Silva’s IQ for doing so.
  • David Shoenfield has a little missive on the HoFame, voting procedures and comments on how few players are getting elected these days.
  • Chris Jaffe does an excellent job predicting HoFame votes every year; here’s his guess on 2012’s election.  Bad news for Bagwell and Morris, good news for Larkin though.
  • Other interesting HoFame notes: one site in particular collects ballots; here’s a summary of the 80-some ballots she has right now.  Very good support for Larkin.
  • No Bagwell votes here; prepare for the ridiculing.  Danny Knobler and Scott Miller.
  • I think i’m just about fed up with bloggers who see everything in modern baseball through little spreadsheets of data and who never even saw Jack Morris and Bert Blyleven tell me I’m an idiot because i think the former is a better pitcher than the latter.  At some point statistics are just that; numbers that prove or disprove whatever your theories are.  You can’t just ignore 20 years of performance and context of playing in the league by boiling down thousands of innings pitched into one number, whether it is ERA+ or WAR or whatever.   For me, when you talk about whether a player is a Hall of Famer, you look at individual season accomplishments.  Morris basically had 15 seasons of full time pitching.  In 5 of those seasons he was a top-5 vote getter in the Cy Young; that means in 5 seasons those people who covered baseball that season considered him among the best 5 pitchers in his league.   In another two seasons he didn’t finish top 5 but still received votes.  He was god-awful his last two seasons, lowering his career totals.  And there’s dozens of examples of him completing games despite having given up 3-4 runs and sitting on 140 pitches.  Maybe Morris just needed to pitch in the current era, where he would be taken out in the 7th on a pitch count and then replaced by specialized relievers.  Meanwhile Blyleven, in 21 full seasons of starting made exactly TWO all-star games and received comparable Cy Young support 3 times.  I’ll ask again; how can you be considered one of the best of all time if nobody who covered you day in and day out during your career thought you were even among the best of your day??
  • Jorge Posada announces his retirement; the inevitable “Is he a Hall of Famer” articles start.  Immediate gut reaction from me: yes he’s a HoFamer.  Unlike some of his Yankees dynasty team members (Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte) Posada seems a bit more transcendent in terms of talent and legacy.  A quick glance though at his career stats show some of the problems with his eventual candidacy.  He’s a late bloomer; not playing a full-time season til he’s 25.  However for the 10 seasons he had from 25 to 35 he was fantastic; 5 all-stars, 5 Silver Sluggers and two top-6 MVP votes.  After he turned 35 though he struggled with health and had a relatively poor final season at the plate.  He has no gold gloves and had a reputation for having a very weak throwing arm but had a 121 OPS+ for his career (a great offensive player for a catcher).  His compareables in b-r are heady company (including Carlton Fisk and Gabby Hartnett).  I guess we’ll see in 5 years’ time.
  • Jan 9th 2012: the wait is over.  Only Larkin elected, Morris and Bagwell vote totals rise but still not close.
  • Spreadsheet of all published/known hall of fame votes, with links to explanations.  Interesting to say the least; several blank ballots and several very odd ballots to say the least.

General Baseball News

  • Buster Olney continues his rankings of the top 10s of baseball; this time with lineups.  Predictably its very AL East heavy. Previously he had done rotations, bullpens, infields and outfields.  Links to other lists available from this article (ESPN insider only; consider spending $2/month for it; its worth it).
  • Buster, after finishing the above rankings, publishes his preliminary 2012 top 10 Power Rankings.  Rays #1, Nationals essentially #11/”Best of the Rest.”  Boy this team’s reputation has come a long ways in just a few short years.
  • Jeff Passan‘s A-to-Z discussion on Baseball this off season and in 2012.  I link it since I like most everything Passan writes.
  • Joe Torre joins an ownership group chasing the LA Dodgers … but not the one that Stan Kasten is heading.  Bad move; I think Kasten’s a shoe-in to be Selig‘s pick.
  • This could have a bigger effect than the loss of Albert Pujols: St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan is taking a leave of absence from the team to care for his ailing wife.  Duncan has been such a miracle worker for reclamation project starters over the past few years that its hard to imagine the Cardinals pitching staff not to take a dent.
  • The Chicago Cubs franchise potentially takes another hit: Starlin Castro reportedly accused of sexual assault.  Castro returned home for the off-season and isn’t in the country; could this incident prevent him from getting a work visa in 2012?
  • Jonah Keri takes on one of my favorite topics; calling out Billy Beane and showing how he’s closer to being an incompetent GM than he is to his vaunted reputation as the game’s best GM.
  • Great article on Baseball Prospectus about SLAP tears in baseball players (normally pitchers).  The article is very heavy on medical jargon but talks about the different types of tears and surgical remedies.  This is the injury that Chris Carpenter had and recovered from (though I’m pretty sure he ALSO had Tommy John surgery too).
  • Nice book review for “A Unique Look at Big League Baseball.”

Collegiate/Prospect News

  • 2012 AL rookie of the year favorite Matt Moore, profiled at seedlingstostars.com.  This is part of a series of prospect reviews, counting down to #1 and Moore is ranked #4 … but the author immediately caveats it by saying that any of the top 4 could be #1.  I talked about Moore after his playoff start on this site, coming away with a Wow factor that I havn’t had since Strasburg.
  • Scout.com’s top 100 Prospect list for 2012Bryce Harper #3 behind Moore and Mike Trout.  Can’t argue there.  Other Nats on the list include Anthony Rendon (#56).  AJ Cole (#76) and Brad Peacock (#85) would have made us a bit more respectable pre-Gonzalez trade.  Here’s hoping that the Nats “other” big prospects (Meyer and Purke in particular) turn in stellar 2012’s and beef up our presence on the national prospect scene again.

General News; other

  • Article on 10 “trendy sports medicine” fixes.  Including some exotic baseball remedies we’ve heard about recently.
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/writers/tom_verducci/01/13/ryan.madson.prince.fielder/index.html

Ask Boswell 1/9/12 edition

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Tired of Prince Fielder rumors yet? Photo: AP/Morry Gash

Here’s Tom Boswell‘s weekly Monday chat on 11/28/11.  Of the baseball questions he took, here’s how I’d have answered them.  With the Wizard’s 0-8 start there’s a lot of kvetching about NBA.

As always, questions are edited for clarity and I write my own answer prior to reading his.

Q: What is your “take” on Ross Detwiler and could he become a better pitcher than Gio Gonzalez?

A: My “take” on Ross Detwiler is that he’s too frail to stay healthy long enough to be counted on for heavy-duty innings, and that he throws too much across his body to get his breaking stuff to work properly.  Now, throwing across your body isn’t a bad thing (see Johnson, Randy) but Detwiler’s never been consistent long enough to be anything more than an emergency/late season starter for this team.  Can he be better than Gio Gonzalez?  Not really; Gonzalez is only a year older but has 60 more MLB starts, an all-star appearance and the talent to win 20 games in the AL.  If Detwiler was really that promising … we wouldn’t have acquired Gonzalez in the first place.  Boswell says the team likes Detwiler, but Johnson likes a lefty heavy rotation in this division.  But the team already has 5 starters signed to major league contracts, so I can’t see how Detwiler wins anything more than a bullpen spot.

Q: Is Prince Fielder really coming here?  Why is there so little market for him?

A: I’ll answer the 2nd part first; there’s so little market for Prince Fielder for several reasons.

  1. If you look at the top payroll clubs, basically every team either has a long-term 1B commitment (names like Mark Teixeira, Ryan Howard, Adrian Gonzalez, Albert Pujols, Paul Konerko, Justin Morneau, and Miguel Cabrera) or is dealing with topped-out payroll or financial issues (Mets, Giants, Dodgers) that are preventing them from purchasing a big-money star.  So lots of your usual suspects are out.  He’s left trying to convince mostly 2nd-tier payroll clubs to spend like first tier clubs.
  2. His agent Scott Boras is generally the “lets wait and try to build a crescendo of rumors” type of agent.  It has clearly worked in the past … but it doesn’t seem to be working now.  I think Boras’ strategy has run its course to a certain extent and teams are wary of the “mystery team” in on these major players.
  3. Fielder isn’t exactly an adonis of a physical specimen.  He’s got a bad body, hasn’t really shown that he can control his weight, and has a pretty good barometer of his future physical condition in the form of his MLB playing father Cecil Fielder.  Prince may be young and may clearly be a top5 hitter in the league, but teams are not going to want to put up 8  year commitments for a player who may be washed up by the time he’s 34.  To make matters worse, Prince is a below-average first baseman AND only a handful of teams have available money and available DH spots.

Frankly, I think Prince needs to sign a shorter term deal with high AAV, get a team like the Nats to commit and then re-hit the FA market at age 30-31 when he’ll still have value.

Now, is he coming to the Nats?  If I was Mike Rizzo i’d sign him in a heartbeat for 3yrs/$75M.  I’d balk at an 8-year deal.  But, the rumors persist and have been swirling for more than 2 weeks.  So where there’s heat, there’s likely fire.  Boswell says that the key date is Jan 18th, the day that the Rangers either sign or cut bait on Yu Darvish.  If the Rangers suddenly have $120M that they didn’t think they’d have yesterday, they will sign Fielder.

Q: Baseball is set to announce their HOf inductees for 2012 today. Anyone you feel strongly about that should get in? What are your thoughts on Dale Murphy and Don Mattingly?

A: (note that I’m writing this BEFORE the 3pm announcement, so by the time you read this we’ll know who got in and who didn’t)

Who I believe WILL get elected: Barry Larkin

Who I believe SHOULD be in the Hall: Jeff Bagwell, Jack Morris, Barry Larkin, Tim Raines, Mark McGwire, Edgar Martinez.

What do I think about Murphy and Mattingly?  Both suffer from more or less the same issue: they were both great players for very short amounts of time.  Murphy was a better player all in all than we remembered and for four seasons (82-86) was probably THE best player in the game.  Mattingly retired at 33 and was solid but had the same 4-year excellence followed by less flashy seasons.  They’re good players who weren’t transcendent enough to get their own plaques in Cooperstown.  Boswell mostly agrees with the above.

Q: What do you think of this scenario: Fielder signs elsewhere, LaRoche starts out hot, we flip him to Tampa for Upton as Harper takes over in RF and Morse moves to 1B.

A: Sounds great.  Except that this scenario really only serves the perfect world desires of the Nationals.  In reality LaRoche is a slow starter and we may really hear the boo-birds early.  Morse was great in 2011 but most predict a sliding back.  Harper probably needs some MLB adjustment time.  We’ll see what happens.  Boswell likes this scenario. Sure, who wouldn’t?  But it does sound a bit too convenient.

Q: Is there ANY chance Boras goes for something like 3yrs/$75mil for Prince?

A: Yeah, I think there is a chance, as described above.  He’ll push for longer though until the last possible minute, so this won’t play out for a while and we’ll continue to hear rumors for weeks.  Boswell says it’ll “never happen.”  And lays out a doomsday payroll scenario for the team.  Which I don’t entirely buy; we’ve been at $60-65M in payroll for 6 years … despite being in a very wealthy market.  At some point, this team will be good, will draw fans to the park and will increase revenues.  And the payroll should rise to reflect that.

Q: Where are the Nats finding the (approximately) 60 runs they’ll need to add (assuming pitching stays constant) in order to go from 80 to 90 wins?

A: A good question.  Some from Zimmerman, some from LaRoche, some from natural improvements from Desmond, Espinosa, and Ramos, and some from a rebound year from Werth.  That’s a LOT of assumpions.  Fielder would *really* help in the run creation department (he created 35 more runs than Morse last year … that’d be 5-6 wins all by himself).  Boswell echos much of the above.

Q: Where do you (as an assumed HoFame voter) draw the line between admitted and suspected when it comes to steroids and the HOF?

A: If it were me, I’d go based on existing evidence.  That’s all you can do.  And the Mitchell Report is not really “evidence,” but more heresay and he said-she said.  So Palmeiro and McGwire have some warts.  Bagwell does not and it is generally unfair to lump him into the steroid-poster boy club.  Boswell agrees with the above … too bad he doesn’t have a vote to defend year after year.

Q: Given what we  now know about the Steroid era, is there any reason to suspect Cal Ripken of using?

A: (The allegation also being that Ripken was friends with Brady Anderson, whose 50 homer season seems awfully suspicious in hind-sight).  Nobody’s ever said a word about Ripken and PEDs.  You have to think he was well aware of his legacy the closer he got to 2130 games.  I’d be shocked if he was shown to be a user.  Him and Derek Jeter would be probably the two most shocking PED revelations in the history of the game, if they turned out to be true.  Boswell doesn’t think Ripken profiled to a typical user.

Q: Why isn’t there more narrative about how the Werth contract is really killing this team, when considering the future payroll implications of having Werth, Zimmerman and Fielder potentially signed to long term, $20M+ AAV contracts?

A: I’m sure it is internally.  It certainly is everywhere else in the blogosphere.  The Werth contract is pretty indefensible, certainly was at the time it was signed and is even more so now.  I just hope the guy has a bounce back season and really contributes.

Q: How does the TV money rise so much in the MASN deal?  Aren’t viewer numbers abhorrent?

A: Good question.  I don’t know.  Boswell has the answer; the contract is tied not to revenues or ad money, but to comparable RSN sizes in other markets.  And right now Houston and Dallas (our two closest sized cities) get 2-3 TIMES the money out of their RSNs.  I cackle at watching Angelos have to write checks to the Nats, but really wish they’d cancel the contract altogether.  I hate the fact that we’re enriching Angelos day after day.

Q: Why do the HoFame voters suddenly agree to induct a player?  If he’s good enough on the first ballot, he should be good enough on any ballot.

A: Because there’s a cache to being a “First Ballot Hall of Famer” and LOTS of voters exclude guys on the first vote as a result.  There’s never been a unanimous selection, and there never will be.  But there’s plenty of guys who were very good players who got in on #2 or #3 ballot.  Guys like Blyleven and Rice who languish for a decade on the ballot are rare.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Is Toronto a more likely landing spot for Fielder, since they were all-in for Darvish and lost out?

A: Makes sense frankly.  They could be sensing weakness in the Boston and Yankees lack of activity this off-season … Boswell says it makes sense but makes a good point; does Fielder want to commit to Toronto, knowing they’ll get outspent year after year by Boston and New York?  Does he commit to a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since the divisions split?  Would you?

Q: How similar is Harper’s call-up situation to Mickey Mantle’s situation?

A: Not very.  Completely different baseball climates.  Harper has his millions already, and there’s very specific service time implications.  Mantle played under the reserve clause, there was no service time issues, no arbitration, no free agency.  So the Yankees could do whatever they wanted with him year after year.  Boswell doesn’t really comment.

Q: Does Fielder make sense if the Nats are planning on building a cost-controlled dynasty?  The 1998 yankees didn’t have any 30-homer players, let alone a big bopper at $25M/year.

A: Fair.  Lots of Nats bloggers keep coming back to the payroll implications of Werth, extending Zimmerman and buying Fielder.  And they’re fair.  That doesn’t even talk about what to do with other big-time stars we have to deal with potentially.  But i’ll respond by saying this; we don’t KNOW what the owner’s payroll limits are.  All we have to go by is the past payroll figures.  What if this team is just biding its time before blowing out payroll to $120M?  Boswell says this is well put and signs off.




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.

Ask Boswell 12/12/11 edition

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If you squint, this almost looks like an Angels uniform already. Photo: unknown via fantasyknuckleheads.com

Here’s Tom Boswell‘ weekly Monday chat on 12/12/11.  Despite being in the baseball off-season, the chat had a TON of baseball questions.  Of the baseball questions he took, here’s how I’d have answered them.

As always, questions are edited for clarity and I write my own answer prior to reading his.

Q: Is Albert Pujols a cautionary tale for the Nats signing Ryan Zimmerman to a long term contract?

A: Its not *quite* the same; Pujols is better but older, and if you believe the scuttlebutt/internet rumors may be even older still.  Zimmerman will hit his walk year at age 28 with a good 3-4 years of “peak” in him (assuming that your “peak” is somewhere around age 31).  So the Angels just bought 10 years of almost-certain decline for Pujols while the next deal that Zimmerman signs will still include his most productive years.  The Cardinals were nearly $40M off in the end, AND didn’t offer up something like the personal services contract that guarantees the retired Pujols income into his 50s.  So there’s more at work here, honestly.  In the respect that the Cardinals “played chicken” to a certain extent with Pujols, then yes there is a cautionary tale for how the Nats treat Zimmerman.

But there are some issues with extending Zimmerman.  He’s injury-prone.  He’s missed nearly 150 games in 5 seasons, had two surgeries and a third major injury (his labrum) that could have been surgical.  Is his 2009 season (33 homers, 106 rbi and a 133 ops+) the best possible case or is that his sustainable production?  The team wants to extend him (if you believe the beat reporters) but the team has also rebuffed Zimmerman’s agents’ attempts to negotiate this off-season (if you believe ex-Nats gm hack Jim Bowden).  Me?  I’d see what happens in 2012 and make a decision next off-season.   Boswell assumes the Nats will offer Zimmerman a Troy Tulowitzki type deal, and so do I frankly.

Q: What are your opinions on the seemingly arbitrary Hall of Fame voting process?

A: My issues with HoF voting include the following:

  • Voters who are voting on morals/ethics stances and not productivity on the field (say, Roberto Alomar).
  • Voters who are swayed by revisionist-historian sabremetrics nerds who canonize players 25 years after they played but forget that those same players were essentially mediocre during their day (i’m looking at you Bert Blyleven).
  • Voters who use the HoF vote to penalize players that stiffed them or were mean to them during their career (how else can you explain some of the voting results for players that should be sure-fire near 100% electees?  Willie Mays only got 94% of the vote, Mickey Mantle an even more ridiculous 88%.
  • Voters who fail to vote for players who have never had any sniff of PED controversy but who played in the era (Jeff Bagwell).
  • Voters who have now elected nearly 13% of active players from the 30s and 40s but who can’t find a place for the best players from the 80s (Raines, Larkin, Morris and the like).

As for the election of Ron Santo, he is another case of a guy who slipped through the cracks and who should have been elected by the veterans committee long before he passed.  What sense does it make to canonize a guy right after he dies?  So that his wife can be happy?  I don’t get it.  Santo was the same guy, with the same stats, ever since the day he retired.

Boswell says he agrees with the “first ballot hall of fame” distinction and supports NOT voting for guys who aren’t the uber-elite on the first ballot.  He also mentions that Blyleven’s candidacy was clearly helped by outside lobbying.

Q: Where — if at all — does Yu Darvish fit within your “pay up for quality” theory in last weekend’s post-Pujols signing column? Also, How likely are the Nats to make a serious bid for Darvish?

A: Boswell’s theory in baseball free agency is simple: you pay up for quality because the rest is junk.  A good working theory in some respects; he figures that “going for it” and failing is better than just dipping your toes into the FA water.

I think the Nats will put in a legitimate offer, but that it won’t be close to the $51M that it took to sign Dice-K.

My personal concern with Darvish is the fact that many have come before him from Japan and very few have succeeded.  There’s yet to really be one impact pitcher that has come from the Japanese leagues.  And even those that do come over with great pedigrees (Dice-K as the most recent high profile example) tend to burn out quickly.  It isn’t a race thing; its more of a level of competition and a different pitching routine in the Japanese leagues (starters go on 5 days rest, not our traditional 4).  For me, the risk is not worth it.  I know these teams have scouted the hell out of Darvish and believe what they believe, but the fact is that the NPB is a AAA-quality league and the minors are FILLED with guys who dominated AAA but who couldn’t get guys out in the majors.  If it was just a FA signing (4yrs $50M) that’s one level of risk, but throwing in nearly that amount just in posting fees and suddenly you’re compensating a guy at the level of an elite Ace in this league without any proof that the guy will actually live up to that level.   Boswell uses the same comparisons as I do, and predicts that the Nats will be over-bid by the major market teams that are looking for starters.

Q: How much should St. Louis fans be remonstrating about Pujols leaving?

A: Not much.  For all those that say that athletes should take less money to be “the man” for their first team, I say, “put yourself in his shoes.”  He was offered more money in Los Angeles.  Plain and simple.  If it was a few million dollars over 10 years that’s one thing; $30M over 10 years plus the personal services contract?  That’s a lot more.  Everyone who thinks that Pujols “owed” something to St. Louis, or that he should have wanted to stay there his whole career like Stan Musial needs to remind themselves of one thing; If Musial played in the Free Agency era instead of the reserve clause era, would he have stayed in St. Louis his whole career?  In my opinion if St. Louis couldn’t come up with the per-year payroll, they should have gotten creative with perhaps points in the team or something along those lines.  If St. Louis really wanted Pujols to be the face of the Cardinals for the next 50 years, they could have made it happen. Boswell agrees with me, for the most part.

Q: Do you agree with the Washington Post preventing its writers from voting for Baseball Awards?  (post-season and hall of fame, the typical BBWAA awards)?

A: I think its ridiculous that the Post, and the Post alone apparently, takes this stance.  The whole point of using baseball writers to vote on these awards is because baseball writers are the BEST people to use; they cover teams, go to the games, and see the stars in action to a greater extent than anyone else besides the team officials and players themselves.  Boswell points out the obvious conflicts of interest, but those same conflicts exist for every writer in every market.  Honestly I think the way the NFL does things (with a nominating board of senior national writers) is a far better way to determine who gets in to the Hall of Fame.

Q: Is is just me, or did it seem obvious the Cards didn’t really want to sign Pujols?

A: No, to me the Cardinals set their price and when the price went above it, they waved good bye.  Now, you can argue that the price they set was far too low (If Pujols was looking to beat AAV of Alex Rodriguez‘s contract just on principle, then he’s a fool and was never going to beat that), but in the end the Angels just offered more money than made sense to St. Louis from a long term financial viability perspective.  Fair enough.  There’s lots of articles out there saying how much St. Louis privately breathed a sign of relief that they’re not going to have to go through the “oh my gosh how overpaid is Pujols” phase 8-10 years from now… Boswell thinks St. Louis was banking on a home-town discount.

Q: Should the Nats be looking to sign guys like Clippard and Storen long term (as they should be doing with Strasburg)?

A: No.  Not that I don’t like these two players, but relievers (outside of the uber-elite, guys like Mariano Rivera) are mostly replaceable.  I’ve posted time and again about how overvalued relievers and (especially) closers are.  You just should not over-spend for these guys; you can always find more of them in your farm system.  Boswell says you can’t sign them all.

Q: Do you see Ross Detwiler making the 2012 rotation?

A: No, not at this point.  The team is clearly trying to find another FA starter, which puts Detwiler‘s spot directly in their cross hairs.  Look for Detwiler to be traded as soon as a new pitcher is signed, now that they’ve locked up Gorzelanny as the lefty long-man/spot starter already; I can’t see both Detwiler and Gorzelanny in the bullpen.  Detwiler is out of options and can’t be stashed in AAA.  Of course, he could come down with a mystery soft-tissue injury that delays the inevitable.   Boswell says the same thing, but doesn’t talk about Detwiler’s lack of options.

Q: Did the Nats lack of winter meeting activity indicate that the Lerners are cheap and that the team is going nowhere?

A: Wow, fail to sign a $200M player and you’re a failure.  Lets have some patience here; the team may have really been on Buehrle but wasn’t on anybody else that has already signed frankly.  Oswalt is still out there, as is Darvish.  As is Fielder, who could be the massive run-creating machine that this lineup needs.  Boswell says the need to sign Oswalt is bigger now, and I’d tend to agree since he was the guy I wanted in the first place.

Q: Any idea whether the Nats ever made Buerhle an offer or whether there really was any interest in Reyes? Do you think the Nats will make a move on Darvish or the Cuban CF Cespesdes?

A: Nats definitely made Buehrle an offer; it just wasn’t very close.  I don’t think there was interest in Reyes; they really like Desmond at 1/20th of the cost right now.  I think the team will definitely post a reasonable bid (perhaps $25-$30M for Darvish) but probably gets out-bid.  And yes I think the team will be in the Cespedes bonanza, but may be out-bid by another team as well that has a longer-term view on the guy.  Boswell mirrors what I’ve said here and also says they’re “serious” about Oswalt now.  But are they serious enough?

Q: Do you expect the Nats to try and bid on Zack Greinke next year?

A: Yes absolutely.  If Greinke hits the open market, this team will be all over him.  If they sign Oswalt this year and Greinke next, you could be looking at a 2013 rotation that goes Strasburg, Zimmermann, Oswalt, Greinke and a death-match struggle between our best 5-6 starter prospects for the #5 spot.  That’s scary good.  Boswell says he hopes the team doesn’t pass on the rest of this off-season just to wait for the next one.

Q: Did the Marlin’s offer too much or did the Nationals not offer enough for Buehrle?

A: A little of both probably; Buehrle reportedly liked DC and liked the money,  but a 4th year and nearly $19M more was too much to match.  3yrs/$39M has an AAV of $13M, which was actually LESS than he earned on his last contract.  So that doesn’t sound right; would we have offered him a pay cut?  Boswell says the Marlins went too high, which was my initial reaction until seeing the AVV.

Q: Braun’s steroid test showed twice the level of any other sample. Ever. That has to be a false positive… or some other such type of error. What does that mean medically? Did they take the blood sample from the same cheek and 5 minutes after Braun shot up?

A: Fair point.  That’s kind of what i’m thinking frankly.  The test doesn’t seem to make sense.  I will say that its awfully irritating to read all these posts already assuming he’s guilty.  Boswell didn’t have much of an opinion yet.

Q: So, is Fielder completely off the table for the Nats? Seems weird that we were one of the teams linked to him all season, and now, nada. Boras power play at work here?

A: Boras clearly uses us to play for his clients.  But I also don’t think the team is completely out of it for Fielder.  The team needs offense, can stay with Morse in left for a bit and just can eat it on LaRoche.  Maybe.  Boswell doesn’t know what to think.

Q: Have you heard of any more interest in Edwin Jackson from the Nats?

A: Interestingly no.  I would have thought the Nats would be full bore over the guy, based on past interest.  But nobody’s printed a single word of Jackson rumors this offseason.  Perhaps his representation is just waiting out the big names before shopping their guy.  He did seem to come up rather ineffective in the post-season, dampering his value, so perhaps the team has soured on him.  Boswell says Oswalt is better option.