Nationals Arm Race

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

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National High School Baseball Powers

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(Useless blog information: this is my 700th post!)

USA Today just came out with their pre-season 2014 top -25 High School Baseball rankings (to go along with Baseball America’s pre-season top 50 and Maxpreps.com’s top 100 pre-season rankings), and a number of familiar national High Schools are on the various lists.  I thought it was a good time to publish the review of Local and National high school baseball powers that I’ve had in draft status for a while.

I touched on the topic of High Schools who consistently generate talent briefly in January 2013, when I penned a post delving into the best players the State of Virginia has produced.  II you’re interested in the best producing Virginia High Schools there’s a section in that January 2013 post on the topic.  Despite having some significant talent come out of the state recently, there is no high school in our area that comes close to producing what some of these schools in Florida, California and Texas do.  At the bottom here I’ll talk briefly about significant local schools.

Lets take a look at some of these baseball factories and look at some of the big-time talent they’ve produced lately.  I’ll freely admit that this is mostly analysis of teams that have been good lately … but i’ve tried not to fall into the habit of picking a team that just happens to be good now by looking at the performances of these teams over the past 4-5 years.  Suffice it to say; one class of great players can make a team very highly ranked for a year or two, but you need to consistently develop players to constantly be considered among the best programs in the country.

Here we go.  In each case if they’re pre-season ranked I’ll use a quick short-hand so as not to repeat typing the same things over and over.  (X,Y,Z) after each high school mean’s the team is pre-season ranked by in order by USA Today, Baseball America and Max Preps.

  • Archbishop McCarthy HS, Southwest Ranches, Fla (#1,7,1); They have won four consecutive Florida 6a titles and are the 2014 preseason#1 ranked team by USA-Today   They’ve had no less than eight draftees in the last four drafts, including two first rounders (presumptive 3B starter in Detroit Nick Castellanos and Nick Travieso in 2012).  This is a seriously good baseball program.
  • Harvard-Westlake HS in Studio City, California (Los Angeles) (7,8,7).  Alma Mater of our own Lucas Giolito, but was also home to another 2012 first round pick Max Fried.  Can you imagine a high school team with two first round pitching prospects?  Also the alma mater of current MLBers Josh Satin and Brennan Boesch, both of whom were drafted out of Cal-Berkeley, and 2013 2nd round pick Austin Wilson out of Stanford.  A good pedigree of recent high-end talent.
  • The Woodlands HS in The Woodlands, Texas (#29,NR,NR). Alma Mater to 2011 #2 overall pick Jamison Taillon and 2011 3rd round pitcher Bryan Brickhouse.  More recently, home to 2013 3rd rounder Carter Hope.   All three of these guys were big-time right-handed pitching prospects.  Also home to two current MLBers: Kyle Drabek (a 2006 1st round pick) and Paul Goldschmidt (an 8th round pick after going to college).   They’re a bit down this year, but have been highly ranked for years.  Defending Texas 5-A champs, no small feat.
  • American Heritage HS, Plantation, Fla. (#3,24,14).  Began gaining notice after producing both #3 overall 2008 pick Eric Hosmer and (former) Nats prospect Adrian Nieto in 2008; since has produced another 6-8 draft prospects.  Enters 2014 with a preseason #3 ranking from Usa-Today and should match up well with Archbishop McCarthy (if they are scheduled to play).
  • Owasso (Okla.) HS. (#4,4,2) 2014 Preseason USA-today #4 team who went 36-0 last season and returns seven starters.   Recent alumni include two first round draftees in St. Louis’ Pete Kozma and the likely more impactful Dylan Bundy, Baltimore’s #1 prospect, who reached the majors by age 20 and is currently rehabbing a Tommy John injury.
  • Barbe HS, Lake Charles, LA (#8,6,6).  Getting some pre-season 2014 credit thanks to a slew of Division 1-signed talent; had three players drafted from its 2010 team.  Of local interest to yours truly because Lake Charles is where my wife hails from and where we go married.
  • Bishop Gorman HS, Las Vegas: (#12,13,9) his sports powerhouse is also routinely nationally ranked in Football and Basketball, and has matriculated a handful of local players lately (including supplemental 1st rounder Joey Gallo in 2012).   They were the defending Nevada state champions seven times before losing in the final last year.  This is not however the alma-mater of our own Bryce Harper: he went to Las Vegas HS, which doesn’t have nearly the alumni pedigree as Gorman.
  • Archbishop Moeller HS, Cincinnati (#17,30,10).  Moeller has a very rich history; its alums include Buddy Bell and his sons, Ken Griffey Jr and Barry Larkin.  They’ve had at least 11 alumni play pro-ball.  And they’re back in the national scene, ranked #17 pre-season by USA-Today for 2014.
  • Rancho Bernardo, San Diego: (NR, #3, #24): this school’s nickname is “the Factory,” so I had to put it in here.  Home to 3 current major leaguers (including Cole Hamels) and a whole slew of recent draftees.
  • Venice (Fla.) HS (#15,1,4).  A johnny come-lately to the party: they’re also a defending Florida state champ (in a different class than Archbishop McCarthy) and are the #1 ranked pre-season team by Baseball America.  Not a ton of alumni history here, but they are #1 in one of the three main publications i’m using as reference here.
  • Broken Arrow (Okla.) HS (NR,#15,NR): Broken Arrow had three members of its 2011 team picked, including upper 1st round talent Archie Bradley.  They’ve had a few MLB alumni and are routinely in the latter stages of the Oklahoma state tournament.
  • St. Francis HS Mountain View, CA (#27,2,12): some interesting spread between the three rankings for St. Francis, based in Mountain View, CA.  They have a slew of alumni currently playing college or pro ball and are #2 in Baseball America’s pre-season rankings for 2014.
  • Seton Hall Prep, West Orange NJ: (NR on any 2014 list) the rare cold-weather school with significant pro matriculation.  Detroit’s Rick Porcello hails from Seton Hall Prep, though the most famous New Jersey native in the majors (Mike Trout) attended a different HS (Milleville HS) and is the first player from his HS to make the majors since the 1940s.

Some of the all-time great producing High Schools not already mentioned:

  • Hillsborough HS in Tampa (NR on any 2014 list) boasts 41 pro alumni and 10 with MLB experience, including Gary SheffieldDwight GoodenCarl Everett and former Nat Elijah Dukes.
  • Jesuit HS, Tampa: (#26,NR,NR).  Another high school in Tampa that has a huge alumni base in pro ball; 10 major leaguers and 74 players in pro-ball (per baseball cube).
  • Lakewood HS in Orange County (NR on any 2014 list) has 57 pro alumni and 12 MLB experienced players, though not nearly of the name quality of Hillsborough’s graduates.
  • Sarasota HS in Florida (#37,NR,NR) also boasts 57 pro player alumni, 14 MLB pros including our own Ian Desmond.
  • There’s a HS in Oakland called McClymonds that has two Hall of Fame alumni (Frank Robinson and Ernie Lombardi), a host of other famous names from 60s and 70s but which hasn’t generated a pro player since the mid 1970s.  Per its wikipedia page it only has about 250 students now; I wonder if they even still field a baseball team.
  • Polytechnic HS in Long Beach (NR on any 2014 list) has 47 pro alumni but an astonishing 18 guys with MLB experience, headlined by Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn and possibly future hall of famer Chase Utley.
  • Mater Dei HS, Santa Ana, Calif. (NR on any 2014 list): 9 major leaguers among at least 40 pro alumni, including Washington’s Danny Espinosa.
  • Special Mention: the Puerto Rican Baseball Academy is technically a high school and easily has the highest number of drafted players (111 in baseball Cube’s records).  Most recently, 1-1 pick Carlos Correa is an alumni, though he’s one of just two 1st rounders out of this school that I can see.

 

DC Area Local

Its hard to say if there’s a local “baseball factory” school; certainly one does not exist like the Florida and California schools mentioned here.  But there are a couple of programs in the DC area who play significant schedules and who recruit heavily in the baseball circles:

  • Riverdale Baptist HS, Upper Marlboro MD.  They have quite a few players in the NCAA ranks but few who have lasted long in the pros.
  • St. John’s HS (Washington, DC); they’ve had some recent draft success and have sent players to good schools.

Past these two schools, it does seem like certain local public programs are always doing well.  Dematha is getting some national ranking mentions pre-season but doesn’t have the baseball pedigree that they have in Football and Basketball.  Vienna programs Oakton and Madison HS are constantly in the mix locally and state-wide, a product of a fabulous youth program that feeds into both those schools.  Finally, the two largest schools in the area (Lake Braddock and Robinson) routinely advance far in the regional tournaments, thanks in part to an enrollment that rivals some colleges.  But they’re hardly “factories” like the above school, nor do they put out the kind of upper-end players that Florida and California schools can.

 


For some historical perspective, here’s a slew of links to pre- and post-season rankings that i’ve collected for the past few years, with #1 national team and any local schools noted.

Other useful links for High School baseball analysis;

Did I miss any?  Please discuss.

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 good is an “All Virginia” team?

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Is Virginia Native Justin Verlander the best ever player from the State? Photo unknown via rumorsandrants.com

Recently, I read a pundit who talked about how a huge percentage of baseball prospects come from relatively few states; California (mostly Southern California at that), Texas, Florida and Georgia.  The Baseball America guys once talked about an “All North Carolina” team and how good it would be (BA is based in Durham, NC).  It got me thinking: how good of a team could you put together of prospects with ties to Virginia?   Having grown up in Virginia and having had the opportunity to play with and against a number of guys with pro ties over the years, I thought it’d be interesting to put together the “All Virginia Team.”

Using mostly the handy Baseball-reference pages, I looked up players who were either born in Virginia, went to a Virginia-based high school, or played baseball at one of Virginia’s universities.  There’s also the fantastic Baseball Cube website (www.thebaseballcube.com) that has very in-depth player databases searchable by high schools that shows every player on a professional or NCAA team by school, which sometimes has better records than B-R.com.  The players here had to be active in the Majors in 2012, though as it turned out there’s enough guys with Virginia ties to make a full starting team.  Feedback is welcome.

Here’s a roster:

Backups: Brandon Guyer OF (HS in Herndon, college at UVA), Rich Thompson OF (college at JMU), Jeff Baker Util (HS at Garfield in Woodbridge), Brandon Snyder IB/OF (HS at Westfields in Chantilly).  Erik Kratz C (college at Eastern Mennonite)

Ok, so we’re a little weak up the middle.  Zimmerman played SS in college but I can’t find a legitimate shortstop out there.  Rhymes was just signed by the Nats to a minor league deal and isn’t likely to make the opening day 25-man roster save for injury.  Inge hasn’t caught regularly in a few years.  But how about the hitting prowness of this lineup?   BJ Upton-Cuddyer-Zimmerman-Wright-Justin Upton-Reynolds is a pretty powerful group.  Coincidentally, I put in Kratz because I find it amazing that someone who played baseball at Eastern Mennonite is actually in the big leagues.  By B-R’s records, he’s the SOLE alumni of that university to have ever even played professional baseball.

Starting Pitchers:

  • Justin Verlander (born outside of Richmond, HS in Goochland, college at ODU)
  • Mat Latos (born in Alexandria)
  • Daniel Hudson (born in Lynchburg, HS in Virginia Beach, college at ODU)
  • Joe Saunders (born in Falls Church, HS at West Springfield, college at Va Tech)
  • Tim Stauffer (college at University of Richmond)

Backup starters: Danny Hultzen (born and raised in Bethesda, college at UVA); an exception to my “active in 2012″ rule but clearly the most high-profile tied-to-Virginia prospect in the game right now.  John Maine (born in Fredericksburg, HS in Stafford) had a decent stint starting for the Mets, but he’s yet to get back to the majors after a shoulder surgery in 2010).

A pretty good 1-2 punch, including arguably the best pitcher in the game.  Hudson has some potential.  Saunders is more of an innings eater lefty, but he’s made a pretty good career for himself already.  Stauffer had elbow surgery in August 2012 and probably isn’t ready for opening day, but he’s the best I could find.

Relievers:

Backup Relievers: BJ Rosenberg (born in Newport News), Jeremy Jeffress (born and HS in South Boston), Clay Rapada (born in Portsmouth, HS in Chesapeake, college at Virginia State).

Not bad depth here; I suppose Marshall could close, Bray be the loogy, Camp be an 8th inning guy, Eppley a 7th inning type and the rest be middle men.  I like how Sean Camp was born, raised, went to high school and played baseball in college without ever leaving Fairfax.


Other random Virginia School trivia:

What’s the best producing college in Virginia?   Pretty easily its UVA, with 117 pro players in B-R’s database and 30 guys reaching the majors.  Virginia Tech, ODU, Richmond and VCU are all grouped a bit behind UVA in terms of pro player development.  Amazingly little Liberty University has matriculated 59 players to the pro ranks.

At current, UVA has 6 active alumni in the majors.  William & Mary, ODU and Richmond have 2 each, and a slew of lesser baseball-playing universities have one each (all of which are mentioned above).

What’s the best producing High School in Virginia?  Pretty clearly the high schools in the Virginia Beach/Chesapeake area have been producing some serious baseball talent lately, but even the Upton brothers ended up going to different high schools.  Both Virginia HS in Bristol and First Colonial HS in Virginia Beach list 8 pro player alumni with 2 pros each.

Closer to home in Northern Virginia: Garfield has 7 total players with Pro experience in the database, 3  of which have MLB experience.  Robinson HS in Fairfax has 6 pros/3 MLB experince.  Fairfax HS also has the same; 6 pros, 3 with MLB experience.

Of course, these numbers pale in comparison to some of the baseball factories in the major baseball-producing states Florida and California.   Hillsborough HS in Tampa boasts 41 pro alumni and 10 with MLB experience, including Gary Sheffield, Dwight Gooden, Carl Everett and our own Elijah Dukes.  Lakewood HS in Orange county has 57 pro alumni and 12 MLB experienced players, though not nearly of the name quality of Hillsborough’s graduates.    Sarasota HS in Florida also boasts 57 pro player alumni, 14 MLB pros including our own Ian Desmond.  There’s a HS in Oakland called McClymonds that has two Hall of Fame alumni (Frank Robinson and Ernie Lombardi), a host of other famous names from 60s and 70s but which hasn’t generated a pro player since the mid 1970s.  Lastly Polytechnic HS in Long Beach has 47 pro alumni but an astonishing 18 guys with MLB experience, headlined by Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn and possibly future hall of famer Chase Utley.


Who is the Greatest player to have Virginia Roots?   You could make arguments for Verlander, Wright, Zimmerman or the Upton brothers (probably in that order), but how about one Lou Whitaker, born in Brooklyn but somehow ended up matriculating from HS in Martinsville, Virginia, where he was drafted in the 5th round by Detroit.  Billy Wagner (born in Tannersville, HS in Tazewell and college at Ferrum) is another guy from Virginia with a long, successful career.  Long-time Oriole Al Bumbry was born in Fredericksburg, went to HS in King George and attended Virginia State.

However, there’s only one Hall of Famer with Virginia Roots that I can find: Eppa Rixley, born in Culpepper, HS in Charlottesville and he pitched for UVA before being signed as a free agent by Philadelphia.  He ended up pitching 21 years in the majors and was selected to the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s committee in 1963 shortly after he died.


(Editor’s Note: you may feel free to stop reading now; Below here is all pretty obscure stuff and only probably interesting to myself and my dad, or people who happen to grow up in the area and are familiar with Vienna baseball.  In fact, I kind of got into a rat-hole of reminiscing for this section, thinking back to the good old days.  I won’t be offended :-) .

My Personal experiences growing up and playing in Northern Virginia: I played Vienna youth leagues from 1977 til 1989, played in Vienna Babe Ruth and graduated from James Madison HS in Vienna in 1989 for reference.

The best player from Northern Virginia in my youth experiences was one Pete Schourek, who was two years older than me and graduated from Marshall HS in 1987.  An enduring memory from my youth was watching Schourek blast a home-run to the townhouses beyond the RF fence at Marshall against Mike Nielsen (the ace of my own high school) in 1987.   Schourek turned down a scholarship offer to Auburn and took 2nd round bonus money from the Mets.   Schourek’s career lasted 10 years in the majors and his best season was an 18-7 year that resulted in a 2nd place Cy Young finish.  The word at the time was that the Dodgers wanted to draft him as a hitter; his power from the left-hand side was quite superior.  I often wonder if his would have made it as a hitting prospect; he had such natural lefty power in high school.

Other notable pro players from the 3-4 year period right around my draft year who I played against at various points:

  • A.J. Hernandez, who was the star of the local Herndon/Reston/McLean Babe Ruth all-star teams that had Vienna’s number year after year in the late 80s.   He played one year of low-A ball.
  • David Carroll, a tall, rangy left-hander who dominated Chantilly baseball for years.  He was a 6th round pick in 1991 and made it to AAA before washing out.  We played against Carroll’s teams in the Credit Union in the early 90s.
  • Lonnie Goldberg, who was on the same HS team as Schourek at one point; played at George Mason, drafted in the later rounds and played 5 seasons of minor league ball.
  • Bill Pulsipher, who was a dominant player in the area and was drafted in the 2nd Round by the Mets in 1991 out of Fairfax HS.  He made the Mets rotation by age 21 and looked decent before getting injured and spending the rest of his MLB career struggling in the bullpen.  His b-r.com page shows his drive; he was still playing professaional Indy ball as late as 2011.  His 1991 Fairfax HS team also had one Brian Buchanan, who was a 1st round draft pick after attending UVA and played 5 years in the majors.  Imagine; one high school team with a 1st and a 2nd round draft pick in this area.  Amazingly Fairfax HS didn’t win anything more than its District during this time.
  • Robin Jennings: a 1990 graduate of Annandale who did a year of community college and the got drafted under the old Draft-and-Follow rules by the Cubs.   He played in parts of four major league seasons spread across 12 minor league seasons, including his last minor league season with the Washington organization in 2007 at the age of 35, fully 4 years after last appearing in a uniform.

Goldberg and Schourek, along with Marshall’s #2 pitcher Steve Makranczy led Marshall to back-to-back state championship games in the late 80s.  Steve played on a number of fall teams with me and still plays in the local DCMSBL league.  Schourek still suits up for teams in the Industrial League, and according to a couple of random friends, plays in an ultra-competitive basketball league along side other former Division 1 players in the area.

Speaking of my own HS of the time; I was always amazed we didn’t fare better.  Thinking back to 1988, my HS started an entire team of guys who either went pro or played division 1 somewhere.  The 3 leading pitchers played at Radford, BYU and GMU respectively, our starting catcher went to BYU.  Our 1B played at William & Mary.  Our middle infield combo both played at UVA.  Our 3rd baseman was a full ride player at NC State.  In the OF, one guy played at GMU and went pro, another guy played at Montomery College.  That’s a LOT of talent on one HS team for this area, and they never advanced in the Regional tournament.

The best local player of my draft year (1989) was a fellow by the name of Doug Newstrom, born in Quantico and who went to HS at W.T. Woodson in Fairfax.  He went to Arizona State and was a 7th round pick after his Junior year but never made the big leagues.  Newstrom was the cornerstone of a Woodson team that went undefeated in 1989 and won the state championship (they also won in 1990). My personal experience playing against Newstrom; the fall-league baseball teams of that time period were essentially city-specific all-star teams of the guys who didn’t play football, and the competition was great.  The Woodson varsity team to-be in the spring of 1989 got all their guys together to get a “test run” of their team and they romped to the fall league 16-18yr old championship game.  Our Vienna-based team was a rag-tag collection of guys who attended Madison, Marshall, Oakton, Paul VI and O’Connell but who had Vienna zip codes, but we were good and we also reached the championship game.  It was on a cold November day at Falls Church High School.   We faced off against Woodson’s ace (Mark Bauch, the same guy who would go 13-0 the following spring en route to the Virginia State championship) and promptly knocked him out in the first inning without retiring a batter, racing to a 6-0 lead.  Our pitcher (Jeff Ford, who attended Oakton and played college ball at a small school somewhere) tried to keep the Woodson team at bay throughout the 7 inning game, but they fought back.  In the bottom of the 7th trailing 6-5 and with two outs, the Woodson team put a couple guys on and Newstrom came to bat.  Newstrom connected on a towering drive to right field; I thought he had just hit a walk-off homer.  Our right fielder (Steve Paasch, another Oakton graduate) reached over the RF fence, jumped and caught the ball for the 3rd out and the championship.  It was one of the two or three best games I was ever a part of.

Editor Update: my memory apparently failed me: turns out Newstrom was actually a year behind me (he was born just a few months after me but was a school year behind).  He led Woodson to a 2nd consecutive VA state title in 1990 before committing to ASU.  I got a nice shout-out from one Rob Paine months after this post with a link to this great feature of Newstrom, with a great photo.

Best player from my high school Alma Mater (James Madison HS in Vienna): probably one Mike Wallace, who was picked straight out of high school, was in the majors by 22, and out of the majors by 26.  Wallace seems like he should have played longer; he was a lefty with decent numbers both in the majors and in his final seasons in the minors.  But he was retired at 28.  He signed on with MASN as a baseball pundit in 2011.  However it is worth mentioning one Jay Franklin, who graduated from Madison HS in 1971 and was the 2nd overall pick in that year’s baseball draft.  He tore up the Northwoods league and earned a call-up to the majors as an 18 year old.  I’m guessing he got hurt though, because he missed the entire 1972 season.  He appeared in four more minor league years before retiring at age 24, having just reached AAA.  Another guy who seems like he should have played longer.

Baseball-reference.com’s records are somewhat spotty on my high school; they list only 7 pro players and 2 major leaguers from my HS, but we know there are several more with pro experience, just counting guys I’ve directly played with (among others; Chris Burr and Billy Emerson).  BaseballCube lists 28 guys in their database, though not all played pro.   David Driver with The Vienna Patch did an article on Wallace in October 2012 and discussed several other Madison grads who have made the majors, some of whom are not correctly attributed in B-R.com either.   One such player is Jim McNamara, who I’m familiar with because he used to substitute teach while I was attending the high school and he was famous for being manipulated into wasting an entire period talking about his baseball playing days instead of teaching any material.

Best player ever from my college Alma Mater (James Madison University): probably one Billy Sample, born and raised in Roanoke and who played at JMU from 1974-1976.  He was drafted in the 10th round, played for a decade or so and hung ‘em up in 1986.  Mike Venafro was born in Takoma Park, went to Paul VI in Fairfax and then JMU before putting together a 7-year career in the majors, retiring back in 2006.  JMU is actually a pretty decent baseball school; we’ve made the NCAA tournament 11 times and several times recently, and made the College World Series in 1983 (getting blasted by eventual champion Texas and Stanford for a 2-and-out appearance; the wikipedia page is funny, JMU has no “notable players” listed.  Coincidentally; look at some of the talent playing in that tournament: Bonds, Schiraldi, Clemens, Larkin, Sabo, McDowell, Incavilia.  Three future Hall of Famers).   However I can only find one JMU alumni who appeared in the majors in 2012; the aforementioned Rich Thomas, who appears to be a 4th/5th outfielder.

Best player I played with or against post youth/High School: After high school we played in a local amateur league for a year, then put together an entry into the Credit Union, which was a powerful amateur league in the area (which is now part of the Industrial League).  After a brief baseball hiatus spent mostly playing softball (there was no 19+ league in DCMSBL at the time; you had to be at least 30 to play in the league for many years), I’ve been playing consistently in the DCMSBL since 1998.

In the early 90s, we had a local guy named Kevin Gallaher pitch for us periodically.   He had Vienna roots, went to O’Connell and then played at St. Bonaventure (none of which btw is on his baseball-reference page but is on his baseball Cube page).   I got to catch Gallaher here and there and he had pretty good stuff.  Apparently his stuff got better his senior year at college and he was a non-drafted FA signee.  Gallaher made it to AAA before calling it quits at age 29.   His next move: to appear on the reality TV show “Married by America” (it didn’t work out: his bride-to-be left him at the alter).

In the Credit Union, we played against some serious talent, but I was too young to remember most of them.  A couple notable names that I do remember were Steve Norwood, brother of the infamous Buffalo Bills kicker Jeff Norwood, who played alongside his father Del Norwood on the Apple team.  Norwood was a local legend, a longtime coach at W&L in Arlington (he won 10 straight district titles in the 60s and 14 overall at the school; the field is named after him) and had to be in his 70s at the time but could still throw a knuckle-ball by the semi-pro calibre players of the Credit Union.   Local legend amateur player Pete Groves pitched against us in the league; he now leads the Fedlock teams that have won many national MSBL titles (he supposedly reached AAA but I can’t find any records of him playing pro).  We picked up a random guy off a wait list named John Bonfield who had pitched at Yale; he was one of the better pitchers i’ve ever played along side.  He could throw 8 different pitches but had a failing for “enforcing the unwritten rules of the game” at the most unideal time.  He once purposely hit a guy who he thought was stealing signs with the bases loaded in a close game.

In MSBL, the best players I played against didn’t necessarily have direct professional ties.  The Gouveia siblings (brothers of former Redskin Kurt Gouveia were feared sluggers in the league).  Garland Cooper was competitive against players half his age; he played in the Valley league but never pro.  Ira Holland (who played college at  Howard and was drafted before returning to school) was probably the most feared hitter in the league in the early 2000s; guys from that era still ask us about him.  The ace pitcher of my current team Jason Martino signed out of HS but only played one year of rookie ball before getting set aside by his drafting team.

Anyway; if you’ve read this far, I hope you enjoyed my own little personal history of playing ball in this area.

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.

Edmonds or Sheffield for the Hall?

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Will Jim Edmonds' defensive capabilities lift him to HoF status? Photo: www.vivaelbirdos.com

I know it is cliche, and that every baseball writer pens the same article whenever a big name retires.  But these opinion pieces are still fun to write and argue about.  So argue away.

Within the past week, two notable hitters hung up their spikes.  Gary Sheffield was forced to admit (much like Barry Bonds, Jermaine Dye and other aging DH-only players quickly being obsoleted in the fast, new, young MLB) that no team would hire him after sitting out all of 2010 and officially filed the paperwork with the league.  Meanwhile, Jim Edmonds retired from a lingering achilles heel injury that prevented him from suiting up in 2011.

For the sake of this article, we will exclude consideration of the fact that Sheffield has admitted to PED/Steroids use and thus probably faces little chance of making the hall.  Lets talk about their performances on the field.

Case 1: Gary Sheffield

Sheffield hails from the famous Hillsborough High School in Tampa, which also produced the likes of Dwight Gooden, Carl Everett and (infamously) Elijah Dukes.  Sheffield’s career numbers are strong.  He retires with a CAREER OPS+ of 140.  That’s essentially an entire career of production at the average level of what Ryan Zimmerman gave the Nats last season.  He hit more than 500 homers while also having more than 250 stolen bases.  He has a career slash line of .292/.393/.514, which is also great.  His hall of fame monitor and standard scores (Bill James’ creations that try to measure whether a player is HoF worth) both easily put him in. His closest comparison on baseball-reference is Mel Ott.  That’s heady company.

Awards: 9 times an all star, 7 times getting MVP votes (a 2nd, two 3rd and a 6th place finish).  5 silver sluggers.  Played 3B early, RF middle and LF/DH late in his career.  His best season was in 1997, finishing with a ridiculous 189 OPS+ for the Marlins but only finishing 6th in the MVP voting.

Beyond the Boxscore printed out an interesting Visual Hall of Fame graphic that essentially shows that Sheffield’s best seasons of his 22-yr career were in the latter part of his career, consistent with a steroids user who was able to beat back the hands of time and not diminish as he aged.  In the same way that Bonds did not tail off as he entered his late 30s.

Regardless of the steroids, I think he’s a hall of fame player.  He was a feared, ferocious hitter who clearly had 5-tools (though not quite at the 5-tool level of someone like Willie Mays or Ken Griffey).  He was a game changer who bounced around the league but produced wherever he was.  Unfortunately because of a prickly relationship with sports writers and implications in the BALCO scandal, his only chance of entrance will be 30 years from now by a veteran’s committee.  He’ll be on a very busy 2014 hall of fame ballot (other first timers on that ballot include near locks Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, and Tom Glavine, along with borderline cases Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina).

Case 2: Jim Edmonds

Edmond’s case is less about pure offensive merit but weighing the benefits of a player who can produce at a high offensive level AND provide fantastic defense.  Edmond’s career offensive numbers are good but not amazing; in 17 major league seasons he hit 393 homers, had a respectable career slash line of .284/.376/ .527, and a career OPS of 132.

Those numbers compare pretty favorably to Sheffield’s career lines when you consider that Edmonds was considered among the best 2-3 outfielders in the game for the middle 10 years of his career.  He earned 8 gold gloves for his work in centerfield and has a litany of high-light reel catches to his credit. He was excellent defensively but this did not correlate to raw speed on the base-paths; he retired with only 67 stolen bases for his career, averaging just four a year.   His diving catches helped contribute to his demise; he was frequently injured, missed the entirety of 2009 and hung it up because he was not going to be medically cleared to play this year.

Career Achievements: 8th in his Rookie voting, 4 time all star, 6 times receiving MVP votes (a 4th and a 5th place vote his best achievements).

Bill James’ Hall of Fame metrics are not quite as kind to Edmonds; he falls short in both the Monitor and the Standard.  His most similar player comparison is to one Ellis Burks, not really a flattering comparison.

Is he a hall of famer?  I say “probably.”  When grading the defensively minded players (shortstops, catchers and athletic center fielders) you have to balance offensive and defensive.  With Edmonds, he’s nearly the hitter of Sheffield with fantastic defense. I’m concerned by the lack of MVP consideration, and lack of all-star selections.  If a player isn’t routinely considered among the best players in the game, how can he be a hall of famer?

He’ll be on the 2015 ballot along with first timers (and locks) Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz.  So he may have to wait to get in but he should merit it.