Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

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Whats eating Stephen Strasburg?

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What's eating Gilbert Grape? Photo: howtowatchsports.com

Our Ace, and “Best in the League” by many pundits pitcher Stephen Strasburg is now 1-4 on the season with relatively pedestrian (for him) numbers so far (3.16 ERA, 3.32 FIP, 3.65 xFIP).

So what’s the problem?  Or, more importantly, what is NOT the problem?

First off; I think its safe to say we can ignore his inflated FIP and xFIP numbers for now.  As I pointed out in this April 4th post about my issues with fWAR, FIP focuses entirely on the “Three true outcomes” that a pitcher entirely controls and really does a poor job of measuring pitchers who induce a whole slew of weak ground balls (like Strasburg does).   This is easily seen by looking at the two example cases in the 4/4/13 post to see how FIP measures a guy who strikes out 9 but gives up 5 earned runs higher than a guy who strikes out just a few but gives up zero runs in an outing.

I also do not buy the opinions I’ve heard in various forums and podcasts that hitters are “squaring him up” a lot this year.  You heard this a lot after his 4/19/13 loss to the Mets, when he gave up back-to-back homers to Ike Davis and Lucas Duda in the 6th (two of the three homer’s he’s given up this year, the third being an out-of-this-world chest-high fastball just clubbed out by Evan Gattis).    I don’t buy this because observation has shown that he gives up a TON of bloops, dinks, infield nubbers, etc.  He also has a very low Line-Drive percentage right now; just 14.9% of the balls hit off of him so far this year have been classified as “line drives,” or hard-struck balls.

Dave Cameron of Fangraphs had a piece on ESPN talking about Strasburg and the Nats “pitch to contact” strategy that shows essentially that pitch-to-contact guys don’t really throw that fewer a number of pitches than guys who just try to strike you out.   Is Strasburg’s change in style leading to issues for him?  So far it doesn’t seem so: he’s averaging about 6 1/3 innings per start and has been right around 110 pitches each of his last four despite still going deeper into the game.  But his K/9 is absolutely down (from 11.1 last year to 8.0 this year).

No, I think Strasburg’s issues are these three items.

1. Bad first innings.  Tom Boswell had a great piece on this earlier this week, talking about how a lack of a first pitch strike has really cost Strasburg this year.  And he’s right; pretty much the absolute worst thing you can do as a pitcher is to show a hitter your fastball for a ball at 0-0.   Not only does the hitter get the timing down pretty well on your fastball, but he also gets ahead in the count.  Boswell is probably right in saying that hitters are now trying to jump on the first fastball they get, knowing that getting behind in the count against him is near-certain demise; but Strasburg has to make that adjustment too.  He can’t nibble on first pitch fastballs; he has to be smarter than that.

Strasburg has given up 15 total runs in 5 games this year; fully EIGHT of them have come in the first inning.  That just cannot continue.

2. Bad luck; we’ve watched his games, and he’s not exactly getting pounded when he gives up most of these runs.   Check out the game-logs for his losses:

  • April 7th; 6 runs given up to Cincinnati: in the first he gave up his runs after two infield singles and a walk turned into a 2-rbi double, the only well-hit ball of the inning.  He gave up 3 more in the 6th on some better hit balls and had one runner score after he departed.
  • April 13th: 6 innings pitched, zero earned runs and a loss; Ryan Zimmerman threw away a routine 3rd out and the next guy up clubbed a homer.  Yes, he gave up a homer (it wasn’t as if he made a bad pitch there; Gattis just crushed it) but he never should have been in the position in the first place.
  • April 19th: Two more unearned runs in the first when Desmond booted the first ball of the day; a weak dribbler up the middle.  He gave up two more hits in the 1st but only Buck‘s was really a line-drive.   By the 6th inning he gave up two bombed homers; no bad luck there.
  • April 24th: the lead-off double was earned, but the rest of the hits in the first were opposite field shorter line drives, with the required Nationals infield error thrown in to ensure unearned runs contributing to his day.

Only four of his 15 runs allowed were deemed to be unearned, but we’ve watched the games.  Zimmerman’s error against the Braves decided that game.  Desmond’s error against the Mets set the tone.  The team went down 3-0 in the first against both Cincy and St. Louis at a time when the offense was struggling.  Just can’t do that.  Speaking of the offense…

3. Lack of Run Support.  In his five starts, Strasburg’s offense has scored this many runs for him: 2,3,1,1, and 2.  That’s 1.8 runs per game!  Maybe Bob Gibson in 1968 could have gotten wins with that little run support, but certainly not Strasburg.  The Nats YESTERDAY gave Gio Gonzalez nearly the same total run support that Strasburg has gotten all year.

Written by Todd Boss

April 26th, 2013 at 11:12 am

2013 Rotation Rankings; Ranked 1-30

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Greinke bolstered the Dodger’s already strong rotation. How much? Photo Jeff Golden/Getty Images

(Editor Note: I’ve had the bulk of this post written for weeks and have been waiting for the last couple of impact FA starters to sign.  I’m tired of waiting.  If/when guys like Kyle Lohse, Shawn Marcum or Joe Saunders signs, or if there’s another big trade that happens, perhaps I’ll re-post this).

On December 5th, awash in the after-glow of the Dan Haren acquisition, I postulated that the Washington Nationals’ 2013 rotation was the Best in the Majors.

That was before the next shoe dropped in the Los Angeles Dodger’s unbelievable spending spree in 2012: signing Zack Greinke to a 6yr/$147M contract.  This is the 2nd largest starting pitcher contract ever signed (just behind CC Sabathia‘s 7yr/$161M deal that he opted out of to sign a slightly larger deal in terms of AAV after the 2012 season).  These rankings also are updated for the highly-criticized James Shields (and parts) for Wil Myers (and parts) deal, the Ryan Dempster signing.

The larger story behind the Greinke signing remains the unbelievable payroll Los Angeles will be sporting in 2013; they’ll spend roughly $225M in 2013, breaking the  Yankees record by a 10% margin, and all boldly in the face of a dollar-for-dollar luxury tax.  And they’re likely not done yet on the FA market.  But the focus of this article is a revisiting of baseball’s best rotations, now that Greinke is in the Dodger’s fold.

Instead of trying to figure out which handful of teams are the best, why not rank all 30 rotations?  With the help of some Depth Chart websites (ESPN, rotoworld, mlbdepthcharts, and some good old-fashioned baseball-reference.com), here’s my rankings of the 30 rotations as they stand for 2013, right now.   For the sake of this ranking, I am trying to take a reasonable expectations case for each of the pitchers on each team, as opposed to a “best case” for each team (this is most important when considering San Francisco’s rotation).  I’m also not considering “depth,” just the Ace through 5th starter (this is important when judging Washington especially).

Note: a couple of other National writers have done similar analysis, with David Schoenfield‘s NL-only rankings on his Sweetspot blog back in November and Buster Olney‘s top-10 in the MLB rankings here.  By and large the rankings match up, with a couple of different .

Discussion on each rotation is below the rankings.

  1. Washington: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Haren, Detwiler
  2. Detroit: Verlander, Fister, Sanchez, Scherzer, Porcello (with rookies Smyly, Crosby, Wilk awaiting)
  3. Los Angeles DodgersKershaw, GreinkeBeckett, Harang, Capuano (with Ryu, Lilly, Billingsley in the wings)
  4. Toronto: DickeyMorrow, Johnson, Buehrle, Romero with Happ/Laffey/Drabeck/Huchinson in the wings.
  5. San Francisco: Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Vogelsong, Zito.
  6. Tampa Bay: Price, Hellickson, Moore, Niemann and one from Cobb/Archer.  Possibly Odorizzi and Montgomery now in the mix too.
  7. PhiladelphiaHalladay, Hamels, Lee, Kendrick, Lannan (with Cloyd/Pettibone/Hyatt as backups)
  8. St. Louis: Carpenter, Wainwright, Westbrook, and probably Lynn and Garcia (Kelly/Miller if Garcia is not ready)
  9. CincinnatiCueto, Latos, Bailey, Arroyo, Leake (possibly Chapman?)
  10. Arizona: Kennedy, McCarthy, Cahill, Miley, and one from Skaggs/Collmenter
  11. Atlanta: Medlen, Hudson, Minor, Maholm, and one from Beachy/Delgado/Tehran
  12. Texas: Darvish, Harrison, Holland, Ogando and likely a FA pick up. (Perez for now)
  13. Los Angeles Angels: Weaver, Wilson, Vargas, Hanson, Blanton (wth Richards/Cassevah for depth).
  14. Oakland: Anderson, Griffen, Parker, Colon, Milone, with Straily/Blackley/Ross/Godfrey in the wings.
  15. Chicago White Sox: Sale, Peavy, Danks, Floyd, Quintana
  16. New York Yankees: Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Nova, Hughes/Phelps.  What about Pineda?
  17. Boston: Lester, Buchholz, Dempster, Lackey, and 1 from Doubront/Morales/ De La Rosa.
  18. Baltimore: Hammel, Chen, Tillman, Gonzalez, Britton (perhaps Bundy)
  19. Chicago Cubs: Garza, Samardzija, Jackson, Wood, and one from Baker/Feldman/Villanueva (likely two if Garza is still injured or is traded).  They also just signed Dontrelle Willis to a minor league deal.
  20. Kansas CityShields, Guthrie, Santana, Davis, Chen (Hochevar, Moscoso?)
  21. Seattle: Hernandez, Iwakuma, Ramirez, Beavan (Hultzen?).  Bonderman on a reclamation project.
  22. Pittsburgh: Burnett, Liriano, Rodriguez, McDonald, Locke, McPherson
  23. Milwaukee: Gallardo, Estrada, Fiers, Narveson, Rogers (with the likes of Peralta and Thornberg waiting if Narveson cannot go).
  24. Minnesota: Diamond, Worley, Correia, Pelfrey (if he’s healthy), Hendricks, Duensing, De Vries (maybe Gibson or May? ).  Harden on a reclamation project.
  25. New York Mets: Santana, Niese, Gee, Harvey, and who knows.
  26. Cleveland: Jimenez, Masterson, McAllister, Kluber, Carrasco, Bauer (Kazmir and Myers on reclamation projects)
  27. Colorado: De La Rosa, Chacin, Pomeranz, Nicaso, Francis (and newly acquired Rosenbaum perhaps?)
  28. San Diego: Volquez, Richard, Marquis, Stults, Ross
  29. Miami: Nolasco, Alvarez, LeBlanc, Eovaldi, Turner, Maine?
  30. Houston: Norris, Humber, Ely, White, Harrell, Lyles (who, who and who?)

Free Agents as of 1/2/13 that could impact the above list: Lohse, Marcum, Saunders, Lowe.  Also guys like Webb, Vazquez and Pavano could be coming out of retirement but likely won’t make much of an impact.

Rumored trades as of 12/31/12 that could impact this list:  Harang, Capuano, Masterson, Smyly/Porcello.

Hmm.  I seem to favor NL teams.  The majority of my top Ten rotations are in the NL.  Is this bias?  Discussion, 1-30

  1. Washington: If Dan Haren returns to 2011 form, which I’m assuming he will, this is the best rotation in the majors.  Not the deepest though; if we lose someone to injury we could struggle to repeat 2012′s win total.  But this is an exercise to determine the best 1 through 5, not to determine depth (where teams like the Dodgers and Tampa clearly have more depth).  I will say, this is a close race at the top; I can see arguments for any of the top 4-5 to be the best rotation.  I don’t want to be accused of homerism by ranking the Nats #1, but can make a man-for-man argument that shows we should be #1 above the next several competitors.
  2. Detroit’s rotation in the post season was fantastic against New York, then god-awful against San Francisco.  Why?  What can they change in 2013?  They better figure it out, because upon re-signing Anibel Sanchez they’re rolling the dice on the same big 4 in 2013.  Fister and Scherzer are slightly underrated but showed how dominant they can be in the playoffs.  The #5 starter is likely where Detroit falls to Washington; Detwiler’s 12th ranked ERA+ in 2012 will trump nearly every other #5 starter in the league.
  3. The Los Angeles Dodgers has an Ace in Clayton Kershaw, a near-Ace (in my opinion) in Zack Greinke, a potential near-ace career reclamation project in Josh Beckett, and then a bunch of question marks.  Two rotation stalwarts Ted Lilly and Chad Billingsley remain injury question marks for 2013, and the rest of their rotation right now are league average hurlers.   I believe their pitchers get a bump in adjusted ERA by virtue of their home park, thus I don’t believe their current #4/#5s match up as well with Washington’s or Detroit’s, putting them in 3rd place.  Plus Beckett is a question mark; is he throwing like he did at the end of 2012, or is he the Fried-Chicken eating malcontent he has been in Boston the last couple of years?
  4. Toronto: Its not every day you can trade for 4 starting players, including two rotation members.  But thanks to Miami’s salary dump, Toronto finds itself with a significantly improved rotation.  If Josh Johnson returns to Ace form, coupled with Brandon Morrow’s fantastic 2012 performance and Mark Buehrle’s solid #3 stuff, they have something to build on.   The subsequent acqusition of 2012 Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey changes things though, valulting Toronto into the discussion for best AL rotation.
  5. San Francisco has won two World Series’ in three years with the same core of hurlers, and there’s no reason to think they won’t continue to be amongst the elite in the league.  The question remains though; what are they getting from Tim Lincecum in 2013?  Is the other shoe going to drop on Ryan Vogelsong‘s fairy tale career resurgence?  And, can Barry Zito continue his career rebound?   If the best-case falls for Lincecum and Zito (Lincecum returns to Cy Young form and Zito pitches even marginally ok) then I think they’re the best rotation in the game.  As it stands though, i’m assuming that both guys fall somewhere short of the best case, meaning that they’re “only” the 5th best rotation in the game.
  6. Tampa Bay has well-known pitching depth, and even with the move/heist of the James Shields trade they have a ton of guys who other teams would love to have.  Expect a bounce-back sophomore campaign from Matt Moore and more excellent innings from rising hurlers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer.  They may not be the best rotation in the game, but they’re certainly the most value for the dollar.
  7. Philadelphia’s big 3 are all fantastic, but are showing signs of age.  Roy Halladay only had an 89 ERA+ last year; has age caught up to him?  The drop-off after the big 3 is significant too.  But the potential of the big 3 keeps this rotation among the league’s elite.  The acquisition of John Lannan didn’t affect their ranking much; he merely replaces the Phillies heading into 2013 with a rookie in the #5 spot.  I had Philadelphia lower in the earlier drafts of these rankings, and have them this high on the assumption that their big three are all entering 2013 healthy.
  8. St Louis’s 2012 rotation was rich enough this year to drop 18-game winner Lance Lynn to the bullpen.   With Chris Carpenter healthy in 2013, with Adam Wainwright recovered from Tommy John, and with the likes of hard-throwing Joe Kelly or Shelby Miller as your #5 starter, this could be a scary rotation.  And that’s if Jaime Garcia isn’t ready for the start of the season after injuring his shoulder in the playoffs.  Kelly/Rosenthal are serious arms though and give far more depth than what a team like Washington has.  Some pundits are not as high on the ability of Carpenter to return to his career form, pushing this ranking slightly lower than I initially had them.   It all comes down to the health of their 1-2 punch; if Carpenter and Wainwright pitch like Cy Young candidates, this rotation gets pushed up much higher.
  9. Cincinnati’s 5 starters took every 2012 start except ONE (the back half of an August double header).  In today’s baseball landscape, that’s nothing short of amazing.  Mike Leake may not be the strongest #5, but Cincy’s 1-2-3 put up great numbers pitching in a bandbox in Cincinnati.  I’m not the biggest Mat Latos fan, but his 2012 performance spoke for itself.   Lastly, there’s rumors that Aroldis Chapman may be moving to the rotation, pushing Leake presumably to a swing-man role.  If Chapman can repeat his K/9 performance in a starter role, this rotation is even more formidable.  Should it be higher?  Perhaps; in previous drafts I had them in the top 5, but I just can’t seem to give their top guys the same “Ace” billing as other leading arms above them on this list.
  10. Arizona‘s acquisition of Brandon McCarthy is a great one for me; if the Nats hadn’t bought Haren, I thought this guy would fit in perfectly.  Arizona has a solid 1-4 and (like Atlanta) has a slew of options for #5.  And, they have help in the immediate future, with Daniel Hudson coming back from July 2012 TJ surgery and a top prospect in AA.  I see them as a solid rotation 1 through 5 but without the blow-away ace that other top rotations have.
  11. Atlanta’s found gold in Kris Medlen gives Atlanta enough depth to trade away starters (the Tommy Hanson for Jordan Walden deal).  They have 4 good starters and then can pick from 3 top-end prospects for the 5th starter until Brandon Beachy is back from surgery.  What pushes this rotation down in the rankings is the unknown; is Tim Hudson getting too old?  And what kind of performance can we expect from Medlen realistically?  Can he really continue to pitch like Bob Gibson in 1968?  Their 3/4/5 guys don’t scare me right now, but the potential of 1 and 2 keep them ranked decently high.
  12. Texas bought an ace last off-season in Yu Darvish, has a couple of good arms developed in house in Holland and Harrison, but has been depending on one-off FAs to fill the void.   They need a full healthy year out of their two upper-end arms Alexi Ogando and/or Neftali Feliz to make the leap.  Felix is out for most of 2013 though after getting Tommy John surgery in August.  Colby Lewis is in the fold but seems like he’s out most of 2013 after elbow surgery late last season.  If they buy another decent FA this off-season (Lohse?), this rotation works its way further up.  I have a hard time seeing them at #12, but who above them on this list right now do you push them ahead of?
  13. The Los Angeles Angels have a great 1-2 punch in Weaver and Wilson, but they’ve spent the off-season watching their former envious rotation erode.  Hanson is an arm injury waiting to happen, Blanton has been pitching below replacement level for 3 years, and they don’t have an established #5 right now.  Perhaps this rotation should be lower.  The shrewd trade for Jason Vargas helps keep them in the upper-half of the league, based on who their planned #4/#5 guys are.
  14. Oakland’s slew of young, cost contained and quality starters is the envy of the league.  The only thing that keeps this list from greater acclaim is Oakland’s relative lack of recent success (2012 not withstanding).  Throw in a couple more playoff appearances and Billy Beane can get a sequel to Moneyball published.  Like the LA and SF rotation, they benefit from their home park, but that doesn’t take away the fact that they won the division last year.  The off-season isn’t over either; I can still see Beane flipping one or more of his rotation for more depth/more hitting and turning to his stable of youngsters again.  I’m not necessarily happy with this ranking spot and feel like it should be higher, but their collection of unknowns doesn’t inspire the confidence of the known Aces above them on this list.
  15. The Chicago White Sox have a big up and coming potenial Ace in the making in Chris Sale and the engimatic Jake Peavy.  After that are some league average options.  Jose Quintana had a great 2012; can he repeat his success?  I feel like the 3/4/5 guys in this rotation are all quality, innings eater types, but nothing that really knocks your socks off.  Middle of the pack feels right.
  16. The New York Yankees continue to get 95+ win teams with a smoke-and-mirror job in the rotation.  Now they set to go into 2013 with one possibly injured Ace and two guys nearly 40 as their 1-2-3.  Is 2013 the year the wheels come off the bus for New York?  A healthy Michael Pineda contributing as the #2 starter he can be would vastly improve the outlook here.
  17. Boston‘s ranking may be changing significantly, depending on which arms they buy up off the FA market.  I think a new manager helps Lester and Buchholz regain their near-Ace form of yesteryear, and Dempster should give them competent innings in the middle of the rotation.  But I can’t assume anything when it comes to their 1/2; they’ve both been so good and so bad in the recent past.
  18. Baltimore amazingly comes in ranked this low despite making the playoffs last year with this collection of no-name starters.  Maybe i’m underselling their 1-2-3 capabilities.  Maybe i’m just treating them like a team that had a pythagorean record of 82-80.
  19. The Chicago Cubs still seem set to be in “sell mode,” so listing Garza as their Ace seems fleeting.  Behind Garza though are a collection of hard throwing, promising guys.  I like Samardzija, the Edwin Jackson acquisition gives them a solid #4.  Perhaps this rotation should be slightly higher on potential.
  20. Kansas City made their big trade to acquire an “Ace” … and only got James Shields.  I mean, Shields is good .. but not that good.  He’s only got a career 107 ERA+, but he is a healthy workhorse.  Behind Sheilds is a collection of guys who mostly are #4 and #5 starters elsewhere, which means this rotation is … below average.
  21. Seattle should have been higher than the teams directly ahead of them on this list just by virtue of the quality of Felix Hernandez … but then they went and traded away Vargas, and seem to have no good ideas on the back end of their rotation right now.  This team could be in trouble.
  22. Pittsburgh is getting by on veteran starters who have the ability to look good, and may not deserve this high of a ranking.  AJ Burnett had a great first half but settled back down to average in 2012.  Here’s a great stat: Burnett is getting paid $16.5M a year … and has *never* made an all star team in his career.
  23. Milwaukee seems like they should be higher with a guy like Gallardo leading the ranks.  But their #2 is Marco Estrada, a guy who couldn’t make Washington’s rotation in the years when we didn’t HAVE a rotation.   I know Fiers is good; perhaps this rotation should be higher.
  24. Minnesota‘s rotation looks pretty poor right now; their ace is a guy whose a #3 on most teams (Scott Diamond) and they’re hoping for one of their injury reclamation projects to pan out.  It could be a long season in Minneapolis.
  25. The New York Mets rotation could be better than 25th, if Santana isn’t allowed to throw 150 pitches pursuing a no-hitter and if Niese pitches up to his capability.  However, Santana hasn’t had an injury-free season since 2008, and I’m not betting on it in 2013.  They are planning on giving both the 4/5 slots to rookies, meaning there could be some long series for this team in 2013.  Their fate was sealed when they traded away their Cy Young winning Ace, and the statement was made about the direction of the franchise.

From 26-30, I honestly don’t see much of a difference between these rotations.   Really the only argument was to figure out which rotation of no-names between Miami and Houston was dead-last.  I selected Houston for the time being; if/when Miami trades Ricky Nolasco for 40 cents on the dollar, we’ll feel free to rank them 30th.


At the end of this massive posting, I can honestly say that the difference between the 5th ranked rotation and the 6th is often near nothing. Looking back, I can see anyone from the 5-8 range being listed in any order and I’d agree with it. I ranked and re-ranked these rotations over and over again from the time I started writing this post in early December to the time i’ve posted it. Perhaps it would have been easier to just have groupings of rotations instead of a pure ranking 1-30. But, that would have been a copout.

I look forward to your opinions and arguments for some rotations to be higher/lower than others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Obligatory Clemens post, post-indictment

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Every other blogger and pundit on the net seems to have pipped up about Roger Clemens recent federal indictment on charge of perjury for lying to congress.  So here’s my take:

What a mess.  Others have stated it the same way that I would.  The hubris of an athlete assuming that he is above even congress is really amazing.  In some ways I hope Bonds and Clemens go to jail to pay for their crimes.

In other ways, I wish that the syndrome of “middle aged white sportswriters eviscorating baseball players for destroying the records of their boyhood heros” would just pass.  Yes, every home run record from the mid 90s to the early 2000s is a joke.  Yes, the career record now held by Bonds is tainted.  McGwire is getting tepid HoF support despite being a significant hitter *before* the advent of Steroids.   Sammy Sosa‘s records now look just shameful (especially when combining steroid usage with his corked bat suspension).  And you know what?  There’s nothing we can do about it.

Alex Rodriguez probably will go down as the greatest hitter to ever play the game.  And a serious candidate to overtake Willie Mays as the greatest 5-tool player of all time.  Yet his admission of steroids use will taint his legacy just like every other player who comes up for Hall of Fame voting over the next 5 years.

I tried to think of a comparison.  Swimming records that fell with regularity with the use of (now banned) body suits.  Perhaps track and field records which still stand from systematic drug usage in the 80s by eastern bloc athletes?  How about Baseball pitching records before/after the deadball era.  Or how about pitching records from 1968, the year before the mound was lowered and Bob Gibson posted a 1.12 era (and somehow had NINE losses??).  Aren’t these records still in play, with the discussion topic that immediately follows?  How about the infamous “astericks” homer record by Roger Maris, put in place to protect the legacy of Babe Ruth by somehow discounting the amazing accomplishments of Maris.  Nobody talks about that now.

But it will never go away.  We are baseball fans, and iconic “numbers” now are ruined.  755.  61.  Nobody knows what the most touchdown passes thrown in a season is and nobody remembers that “number” like you know 61 homers or 755.  And we’ll continue to talk about it for the rest of our lives.

Written by Todd Boss

August 20th, 2010 at 12:58 pm