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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?

Can we put the “Bryce Harper will make the team” stories to rest?

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We all know what Harper's potential is; but shouldn't we wait until the ramifications of early promotion have passed? Photo unknown via curlyw.mlbblog.com

Davey Johnson inadvertently has started a storyline that just won’t go to bed; by saying that he wants Bryce Harper to break camp with the 25-man team, national writers and local beat reporters keep reporting about the possibility of Harper playing RF for the team on opening day.

Here’s the facts that that these reporters conveniently forget:

  1. If Harper starts the season with the big league club, then he reaches Free Agency one year earlier.
  2. If Harper joins the big league club after mid April but before mid-to-late June, then the financial penalties to the club are severe.

In case you weren’t aware of these two issues, lets discuss.

1. Reaching Free Agency a year early: See this excellent Service Time Consideration post from Ben Nicholson-Smith at mlbtraderumors.com.  Simply put, if the Nats start Harper with the big league club as of April 1st, then he will be eligible for free agency at the end of the 2017 season.   If we wait a few weeks, then that buys the club an entire extra season of Harper’s time for the 2018 season.  As has been put simply by other writers, a few weeks of Harper’s rookie season at age 19 is absolutely not going to be worth the value he will provide to the team during an entire 2018 season, by which point he looks to have many full seasons of experience and should be nearing his baseball peak at age 25.

2. Super 2 Status implications: As we should all know by now, the financial implications of bringing up super stars too early can be severe.  Dave Sheinen did this analysis best back when we were asking the same question about Stephen Strasburg, looking at the Tim Lincecum case as a lesson learned.  The Giants called up Lincecum about two weeks prior to the Super-2 status deadline and it has roughly cost them $18million in unneeded salary.

Lots has been said about how Davey Johnson broke camp with two young superstars in Dwight Gooden and Daryl Strawberry during his time with the Mets in the mid 1980s, with the narrative being that he’s not afraid to give young players a shot early.  That’s a great story but it omits one key point: the Super-2 status didn’t exist when Johnson made these decisions!   The Super-2 status didn’t exist in the Collective Bargaining Agreement until 1990, when the players negotiated in the status as a way of getting more money earlier to their union members.  A great idea at the time, but it has had the unintended effect of teams now keeping their best prospects in the minors until the mid-June time-frame as a way of gaming the system and keeping their pay low.

Frankly, I’m tired of reading stories about Harper that don’t at least tacitly acknowledge these two important points, and to me any story that talks of Harper making the team blindly without addressing these two modern baseball issues is lazy sports writing.  Johnson may want the guy now, but Mike Rizzo is the guy who has to answer to fans as to why the Nats won’t be able to get a free agent in 3 year’s time because of the payroll implications (upwards of $18M in some cases) of screwing up these decisions.  $18M in payroll generally buys you two starting players on the free agency market, and those two players can make the difference far more than a few weeks of Harper hitting .200 as a 19-yr old.

Honestly, everyone thought that this issue would have been addressed in the latest version of the CBA, negotiated ad-naseum over the past off season.  The clause helps no one; players are kept in the minors longer to game the system, teams have to wait to bring up players that could help them win now, and fans are forced to wait to see the best young stars.  Instead the two sides managed to make the situation WORSE, by increasing the percentage of players that qualify for Super-2 and now forcing teams to keep players in the minors even longer.  It was an inexplicable decision by both sides to further exacerbate the problem.  I realize that no matter what you do, there has to be a cutoff date for service time deadlines to qualify for free agency and/or super-2 status, but why no just make that date early in the season and fix all the problems caused by super-2?

As a fan of the team this season, yeah I’d love to see Harper up and starting in RF.  Who wouldn’t?  But as a long term fan, I want this team to have the best chance of winning for years to come.  And thus I want Harper in the minors until these two issues are non-issues any longer.

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 1/22/12 edition

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Gonzalez signs a long term deal; we're committed now. Photo Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images via nydailynews.com

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.  Apologies for the delay in posting; new rules on laptop usage at work have thwarted my typical read-sports-news-at-lunch habits.  I’ll have to get creative.

Nationals In General

  • Nats extend Gio Gonzalez for 5 years.  Terms: 5yrs, $42M with two more club options.  A little more than $8m AAV, or in other words what we were paying Jason Marquis.  I’m sure its backloaded somewhat, but I like the deal for two main reasons.  First, we buy out all the arbitration years ahead of time and avoid the arbitration process altogether (which does nothing but serve to bruise the fragile egos of professional athletes over a few hundred thousand dollars of salary).  Secondly, it locks up the player for the longer term and gives the team some stability for the next few years.
  • Jim Callis at BaseballAmerica answered a question about what an updated Nats top 10 prospect list would look like post trade: he’d promote up Destin Hood, Chris Marrero, and Michael Taylor.  Considering what Marrero’s prospect status is now, considering how long it has taken Hood to get the hang of playing baseball, and how far away Taylor is from the majors, I think its safe to say our farm system is officially “thin.”
  • Nice little piece on Bryce Harper from Buster Olney, who relays the well known opinion that Davey Johnson really likes young superstars and predicts that Harper may break camp with the team.  Why doesn’t anyone relay all the facts in this case?  Like the fact that there wasn’t a concept of “Super-2″ when Johnson promoted Gooden and Strawberry and there wasn’t a punitive financial issue lurking by doing so.
  • Great news to see so many of our arbitration eligible guys settled well ahead of going in front of the arbitrator.  These cases don’t help anyone in the long run and end up arguing semantics over a few hundred thousand dollars that the team can clearly pay.
  • Though I havn’t seen any confirmation of this elsewhere, Bill Ladson reports that the Nats are engaged in extension talks with Ryan Zimmerman.  If so, this comes at a relatively good time for the team to be doing the negotiating; Zimmerman’s value is as low now as it has been since before his rookie season, on account of multiple injuries and a lack of overall production.   Which is exactly why I don’t think any long term deal is going to be struck this off-season frankly; Zimmerman would expect a Troy Tulowitzki like deal and I don’t think he’s done enough to earn it.


Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • The arbitration case to watch this coming off-season will be Tim Lincecum; he is asking for $21.5M for 2012, with the Giants offering $17M.  Wow.  There’s really no case like his out there to use as a precedent; if you think he should earn roughly 80% of his FA value, then $21.5M equates with an annual salary of $26.875/year AAV.  That’s more than Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia or Johan Santana (the three highest paid pitchers at current).  So I guess you have to ask yourself; is Lincecum the best pitcher in the league?  Because he’s about to be paid in line with that title.


Hall of Fame items

  • Not HoF specific, but inspired by it.  David Shoenfield compiles a list of the best players by running 5-year WAR figures to show some enlightening information.  WAR has some limitations over longer terms but I like what it shows for season-to-season value for players.  His point was that some relatively unsupported hall of fame claims appear on these lists.  For me the last couple periods showing guys like Chase Utley and Matt Holliday were kind of eye opening.


General Baseball News

  • Phillies sign Joel Pineiro to a minor league deal.   I know he struggled in LA last season, but at one point this guy was pretty decent.  If he can regain his health and his St. Louis form, suddenly the Phillies might have themselves a pretty good 5th starter option to take mediocre innings away from Joe Blanton.  I’m surprised they were able to get him on a minor league contract.
  • I’ve read bits and pieces about the fall of Puerto Rican baseball before; but this is the first article i’ve seen that really delves into it deeply.  Rob Neyer lists the cause and effect; baseball subjected Puerto Rican’s to the normal draft and almost immediately killed baseball in the country.  This is the lesson/concern about going to an international draft; individual teams won’t cultivate and build off-site academies if they serve to build players who can be drafted by other teams.  This is what happened in Puerto Rico and its probably what would happen in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and other developing countries.  Its a scary thought.
  • Related to the above Puerto Rican story is this: Cleveland pitcher Fausto Carmona arrested in the Dominican Republic for falsifying his name and age ahead of his big signing.  For all the lamenting of the above Puerto Rican situation … this is yet another example (see Gonzalez, Smiley for Nats fans) of the flip side of the lack of an international draft.  Draft experts and scouting mavens lament the loss of Puerto Rican development and think that the exact same thing would happen in the D.R. if they were included in the draft, and yes its hard to argue differently.  But the down side of having such a “lottery” for 15-16 yr old players in the impoverished D.R. is the continued fraud among players growing up there related to age falsification.
  • Sabre-nerds may decry the lack of statistical science behind it, but Tom Verducci‘s annual “Year After” effect (which has come to be known as the Verducci-effect by others) has had an 84% success factor in predicting either injury or distinct decline in performance for his named pitchers.  The most interesting names on the list are newly traded Michael Pineda, Jeremy Hellickson, and both Texas mid-rotation starters Matt Harrison and Derek Holland.  Holland in particular threw a whopping 77 more innings this year over last.

General News; other

  • Not that any of us needed to read any more about the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State Scandal, but reading Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins‘ front page story with Joe Paterno‘s first interview post-scandal was an interesting read.  Frankly, I don’t buy some of the way the story reads (intimating that Paterno had “little to do” with Sandusky by the time the 2002 allegations came around, for example).  It doesn’t seem like Paterno was really challenged in the interview.  Gene Wojciechowski echos some of these sentiments in this analysis piece here, criticizing Paterno’s convenient stance on the scandal and on the multitude of other stories that have come out about his manipulation of the system and real influence at the university. The real problem is just the nature of dealing with a legend; he worked for Penn State for 61 years and made the university what it is; how do you possibly deal with such a figure, who clearly was larger than the university?  Update: just prior to publishing this, Paterno lost his battle with lung cancer, a quick and unfortunate end to his legendary career.  Its amazing to consider that just 3 months ago, Paterno was still the larger than life legend and nothing bad had ever happened on the campus.
  • I’m sure the real story is somewhere in-between the original story and the “Update” at the end, but there seems to be enough truth in the former to not necessarily believe the latter.  A new Utah high school’s board decided that the student-voted mascot name “Cougars” can’t be used because the name is derogatory towards middle-aged women who hook up with younger men.  Seriously.


Ask Boswell 11/21/11 edition

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If you had to pick one player to start a team with ... you can't do much better than Tulowitzki. Photo unknown via facebook page.

With the Redskins losing games faster than the GOP loses presidential candidates, Tom Boswell did his weekly Monday chat on 11/21/11.  He did take a ton of baseball questions; here’s how I’d have answered them.

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

Q: Boz, If you pick any current baseball player (assuming current ages) to start a team with who would it be?

A: Great question.  I’d probably go with a position player over a pitcher, just for risk’s sake.  Has to be a young, already productive player.  I’d focus on a marquee position that generally is difficult to fill.  I’d probably go with Troy Tulowitzki.  Also in the mix would be Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, Jacoby Ellsbury, Evan Longoria, Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw.  These are all guys who are in their mid-20s and who have already proven they are accomplished, MVP/Cy Young calibre players.  Boswell never answered.

Q: How is MLB going to come up with the 2013 schedule, with 15/15 team-league splits, constant interleague play and balanced opponents?

A: Who possibly knows.  I just did some quick calculations and there’s not really an easy answer coming:  Assuming a (more) balanced schedule:

  • 6 home/6 away against 4 divisional rivals = 48 games.
  • 3 home/3 away against 10 other league rivals = 60 games
  • 3 home/3 away versus your “Natural Rival” = 6 games

That leaves 48 games to play. 48 games is 16 3-game series.  That doesn’t really work out too well for 15-team leagues.  Do you play every AL team once and double up somewhere?  Do you focus on playing a home/away series with each of a 5-team AL division on a rotating basis?  That would take away 10 of the 16 series but you still have 18 games to figure out.  And, what happens when your rotating division ends up being the same as your Natural rival?  Then you either play them as many times as you play your divisional rivals or you double up elsewhere.

Frankly, I think the unbalanced schedule needs to stay, if only to emphasize divisional rivalries.  If you increase divisional games to 9 home/9 away then you have 72 games accounted for intra-division.   Take away 60 regular season games intra-league and your 6-game set versus your “natural opponent” you’re left with exactly 24 games.  That’s 8 three-game series, which still isn’t an even number but could be handled with a team playing an entire AL division (splitting home and away) and parts of another.  I don’t know; there’s no real clean solution that makes itself evident.

Boswell also says he has no idea how the schedule will work.

Q: Better Pitcher for the Nats – Oswalt or Buerhle?

A: I’d rather have Oswalt frankly.  Buehrle may be an innings eater but Oswalt is a better pitcher, an “Ace” without question just within the last couple of seasons.  I don’t want a #3 starter; I want a guy to join my two best arms and give me something approaching a playoff rotation.  Caveat; I have to be sure Oswalt is healthy.  Does he have too many innings on that arm?  Is he recovered from his back injury?  The Nats are clearly favoring Buehrle right now, an indication that either they don’t trust Oswalt’s injury or they perceive that Oswalt wants to return to Texas.  Boswell doesn’t really answer, just noting that Buehrle throws about as hard as Milone.

Q: So who do you think we have in CF starting next year?

A: Someone that we either sign or acquire from outside the organization.  The easy guess would be BJ Upton, but a couple things have to happen before that happens.  There’s a few other interesting options that could serve as another 1 year hold-over til we figure things out.  I don’t see the team depending on Werth in center full time.  Ankiel was excellent defensively but was awful at the plate and the team should go in a different direction.  Boswell goes with Upton, after a non-tender.

Q: Boz – Rizzo makes numerous references to the Nats being open to trades. The team is in the unique position of having a surplus of young talent. Who do you think are the untouchables and who are the prospects that we may never see play in a Nats uniform because they were traded away?

A: Untouchables: Harper, Strasburg, Espinosa, Zimmerman, Rendon, Purke, Cole, Goodwin, Meyer, Norris, Peacock. Potentially in play for trades: Storen, Clippard, Solis, Ray, Desmond, Hood, Marrero, Detwiler, Lannan and pretty much anyone else.  Prospects we may never see in a Nats uniform?  That’s a harder question to guess on.  There’s certainly guys who seem blocked in a certain extent, but I’m guessing we trade MLB talent to unblock them before we trade them as prospects.  The team has come too far with its farm system to just throw away the fruits of it.  Boswell agrees mostly; he’s too busy using these questions as a forum to trash the Redskins.

Q: So do you think there is a chance that they sign Zim to a long term contract now or are we in danger of him going to free agency? I don’t want to see him in a Yankees/Phillies uniform.

A: This is a better question for NEXT off-season.  However if I’m Rizzo, and Zimmerman spends another couple months on the DL this season with some random injury, I’m really, really hesitant to give him a Troy Tulowitzki/Ryan Braun type of extension.  I may just allow him to leave or trade him mid 2013 (assuming the team isn’t in 1st place at the time).  By the way, he’ll never play for the Yankees; they have roughly $170M locked up in Alex Rodriguez‘s aging bat for the next decade.  Phillies?  I don’t think they have much in the way of payroll flexibility in the 2013 timeframe.  A real possibility is Boston; i have a future blog post detailing the scenario they could find themselves in sooner than later.  Boswell says they can, and should do the deal, despite the risks b/c he may be a lot more expensive next off-season.

Q: If you were starting an MLB team today, who would you want as your ace? Clayton Kershaw or Stephen Strasburg? Kershaw already has a Cy Young yet is only four months older than Strasburg.

A: I call this the Jason Amos question, my LA Dodger following friend who posed this same question to us earlier this season.  Right now, if I had to choose between the two I’d have to go KershawStrasburg could be a question mark for years to come.  If Strasburg thorugh finishes a couple of healthy seasons I may change my mind.  Strasburg has such a higher level of dominance capability that you’d have to choose that for the longer term, if you were convinced of his health.

A follow up question though; are either Kershaw or Strasburg the best young pitcher in baseball?  I say maybe not: Felix Hernandez and Clay Buchholz have both put up pretty good seasons in their pre-arbitration years.  Guys like Ian Kennedy, Michael Pineda, David Price also put their names in the mix.

Boswell says Kershaw, saying he’s “done it.”  Fair enough.

Q: After Harper’s Arizona Fall League performance, is there any chance he makes the opening day squad if he is the best candidate coming out of spring training?

A: There is a chance, if only because Davey Johnson has made a habit of selecting precocious and talented players and sticking with them.  Guys like Doc Gooden and Daryl Strawberry.  However, the arithmetic penalty for getting Harper into super-2 status by accident is pretty clear; it could cost the team north of $15M.  So, my gut says Harper will be left in Harrisburg to tear up AA for a few weeks, move up to Syracuse and join the team in mid June.  If he earns it, of course.  Boswell agrees with this assessment, then gives up a nugget; apparently Johnson “called up” most of the 9/1 call ups without really conferring with Rizzo, meaning they had to scramble to do the 40-man moves to make it happen.

Q: I noticed that the Nats added catcher Jhonatan Solano to their 40-man roster. This seems to indicate that they will trade one of their catchers (most likely Derek Norris) in exchange for a centerfielder. My best guess is Norris, LaRoche (assuming the Nats eat most of his contract), and Marrero to the Rays for Upton. What do you think?

A: The Nats added Solano for spare-part cover, nothing more.  It indicates nothing about a potential trade, only that they didn’t have another MLB-ready catcher on the 40-man in case Ramos or Flores gets hurt straight away.  Norris isn’t ready yet, but is a better prospect than Flores (and possibly than Ramos).  I think the trade bait is really Flores.

By the way, that trade offer for Upton is awful.  The Rays are most likely non-tendering the guy; why would we give up such a haul for him?  GMs know the Rays are hamstrung and will wait them out.  Just as the Twins should never have traded Ramos, the Nats will be hard pressed to give up Norris.

Q: Considering the abysmal state of sports in DC (including, right now, the Caps) is it the time for the Nats to take advantage and go big now? Rizzo’s MO is to fly under the radar on free agency and trades so there’s little that’s going to come from the Nats by way of info. Do you think they might be considering going after some of the big names, such as Pujols or Fielder (and trading LaRoche)?

A: Why deviate from the plan now?  This team is getting setup for the very long term, generating a ton of rising talent, cost contained, while augmenting where needed with key free agents.  LaRoche has zero trade value, so unless you want to waste 1/8th of your payroll you have to use him.  I think blowing $200M on either Pujols or Fielder would be shortsighted and would unnecessarily hamstring this franchise going forward.  Boswell thinks its a good idea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How about some more modern players?

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

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

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

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

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

And finally, something to think about:

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

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

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