Nationals Arm Race

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2014 Hall of Fame Ballot Obligatory Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Man, tough ballot this year.

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

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

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

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

Ask Boswell 5/13/13 edition

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Zimmerman keeps making news for the wrong reasons. Photo AP via tbd.com

I was out all last week, hence the radio silence here.  I couldn’t help posting yesterday though about the Nats blowing another excellent start.  So lets get back into the swing of things with another episode of Tom Boswell‘s weekly chats, this one for 5/13/13.  As always I write my response here before reading his, and sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: With the technology we have today, do we really need umpires anymore?

A: You know, the answer is probably “Yes, we could replace Umps with robots” and have a better product on the field … but the implementation details seem so difficult that I doubt it ever really fully happens.  You have to have real people on the field to deal with all the randomness that occurs in baseball games.  I think the best eventual solution will be to have challenge systems put in place like we have with Football, only hopefully done much much faster.  Sort of like the NHL’s New York-office based replay officials.  The strike zone issues we’re seeing lately though are troubling; can you automate a strike zone call with players who move and bend over in mid-swing?  How do you establish a strike zone for these guys?  Inside and outside are no problem, but up/down is tough.  Boswell supports robot strike zones.

Q: If Harper had been just a normal everyday player, coming up through the system, would that swing of his — namely the left foot coming up and the seemingly wild attack at the ball — have been beaten out of him by now by the coaches?

A: Not necessarily.  But if Bryce Harper had been a “normal” prospect instead of an uber-prospect then I think he would have had adjustments pushed onto him.  There have been successful players with that trailing foot off the ground; Frank Thomas and Roberto Clemente come to mind.  I always have a pet peeve personally when I see a  hitter who lifts his back leg; I have the same issue in my own swing and was told by a high school coach that it was a flaw.  Well, I don’t think guys like Clemente and Thomas were flawed hitters.  I think it is what it is; if you feel comfortable hitting off your front foot and are successful, then so be it.  Boswell notes Clemente and a few others who have this trait, and agrees with me that it’s an overstated issue.

Q: Is this the breakout season for Jordan Zimmermann? Is it the changeup? I’ve never seen him look so in control out there.

A: Can it be as simple as Jordan Zimmermann has finally fully recovered from Tommy John surgery?  Fangraphs shows pretty consistent frequencies and speeds of his pitches from last year to this year.   One thing that jumps out for me right now is his very low BABIP (.209 so far this year).  That smells like some regression.  So while he can’t sustain his ridiculous numbers (1.59 ERA through 7 starts), he does seem to be on track for a very good season.  Cy Young capable?  With his current W/L streak and peripherals, he may pitch his way into the conversation.  Boswell notes that Zimmermann would have been in top 10 of league ERA last year with a few more IP, and that poor run support has cost him wins for years … so this all likely is Zimmermann finally getting the full package.

Q: How concerned are the Nats about Zimmerman’s shoulder?

A: Can’t speak for the team, but is anyone happy with Ryan Zimmerman‘s throwing issues right now?  Nothing has changed from what I wrote in Mid-April about the situation.  And I don’t know what the team is going to do with him.  Jon Heyman quoted an anonymous competing Front Office executive after Zimmerman signed his big deal that the Nationals “now have two $100M contracts but no $100M players.”  It pissed me off at the time … but is really hard to argue against now.  Will these contracts hamper this team’s development and/or ability to sign all its players in a few years time?  We’ll see.   Boswell mirrors what i’ve written before; the team has no place to put Zimmerman and they have to just ride it out.

Q: Drew Storen looks like a different pitcher this year. ERA is up to 4.73, and for the first year since his debut I’m nervous when he takes the mound. What gives?

A: A great question.  Others here have predicted that Drew Storen may be demoted this season due to performance.  His blowing of the Gonzalez gem was just one more nail in his coffin.  But a look at the stats shows that he’s basically been unlucky so far this year.  Most of his peripherals are improved in 2013 over last year; his K/9 is up, BB/9 is down.  His BABIP is incredibly high right now (.370).  Despite an ugly ERA his fip/xfip numbers are normal and low.   His velocity is a tick lower this year but not appreciably so.  I think he’s just been unlucky and will improve with more innings as he regresses downwards to the expected mean.  The one thing stats can’t measure though is his mentality; is he “depressed” because he’s not the closer?  Any way you spin it, the acquisition of Rafael Soriano represented a “demotion” for Storen, and it comes on the back of a pretty demoralizing NLCS game 5 meltdown last year where Storen single handedly lost the series for a team that most thought was the best in the game.  Boswell says his stuff is still “plenty good” but that he’s screwing around with too many pitches in his outings, relying on his sinker too much.  He needs to just go after hitters.  I agree; young guys have a tendency to nibble and work backwards if they’re too clever (see Bauer, Trevor) and need to listen to their pitching coaches.

Q: When errors occur or a bad call is made, Strasburg appears to have a difficult time making the necessary pitches to get out of an inning. Is this just an example of him being 24 and still learning or is there a bigger long term issue?

A: Great question again (lots of good ones here).  We’ve all played behind pitchers who lost their composure when a simple error occurs behind them (in adult leagues, this pretty much happens on every other ground ball, so you have to learn to go with it).  Stephen Strasburg‘s mental breakdown after Zimmerman’s latest throwing error, leading to 4 unearned runs and a loss in a game where I thought perhaps he had no-hitter stuff, was really disappointing.  Is it him being young and immature?  Could be, though I have never gotten the impression that Strasburg ran on the immature side.  How can you, when you have so much career hype?  But the evidence speaks for itself; when your manager and your catcher call you out in the press for losing your composure, you have some work to do.  Boswell posted a fantastic stat; 15% of Strasburg’s career runs allowed were unearned, twice what Justin Verlander has allowed in his career.  That’s incredibly telling.  Strasburg needs to work on his mental approach after bad things happen behind him.

Q: So Bryce has cooled off some, but what concerns me more is that even when he was scalding hot, he was hitting LHP. Should we be concerned? His OPS against LHP is .502.

A: I’m not concerned about Harper’s Lefty split, since nearly every left-handed batter in the game has a bad lefty split.  He looked downright awful against lefties in 2012 (highlighted by his 5-K game against Andy Pettitte and the Yankees), but has made adjustments.  Now it seems that the league has re-adjusted, so Harper needs to re-adjust.  So far in his young career, Harper has shown how well he adjusts (he’s years above his age in this regard), so I have confidence he’ll be ok.  Boswell prints some great numbers so far for Harper and says he’ll be ok.

Q: I recently read two articles that said that sabermetics considers a strikout to be no better or worse than any other out. This fact does not seem to make sense because missing the ball completely with two strikes eliminates any chance for productive outs, for foul balls leading to another chance, or reaching base due to normal batting average on balls in play. Also, psychologically, a strikeout has to be more deflating to the individual and team than another out.  Thoughts?

A: There’s a weird dichotomy in sabremetrics in this regard: batter K’s are “not that bad” but Pitcher K’s are what everyone strives for.  Doesn’t this seem at odds with itself?  The only reason I can think that a K is “ok” if you’re going to make an out is if it somehow prevents a double play.  But this is a research-worthy topic.  I also heard a great stat on a podcast; 3 players struck out 40 or more times in April of this year (if memory serves it was Jay Bruce, Chris Carter, and Mike Napoli).  Joe DiMaggio didn’t strike out 40 times in a season his whole career.  The league is just different now.  Boswell doesn’t really say much on the question other than the DP angle.

Q: Yesterday’s game was as strong an argument as I could make for the National League to use the Designated Hitter. Gio should have been allowed to finish the game with his low pitch count and excellent throwing, but he was pulled for a batter (who did nothing). Forget tradition! If we had the DH, we could have kept Michael Morse! And we probably would have won yesterday.

A: A good ancillary point to my rant on Gio Gonzalez‘ replacement the other night.  I support a DH across both leagues and posted many good reasons in this space in March 2013.  No reason to repeat them here, but this question goes to points #2 and #4 in my March post (fan experience and NL pitcher’s getting limited).  Boswell talks about the Gio decision and not really about the DH.

Q: Is Zim still among to the top 5 or top 10 3rd baseman in the majors in your opinion?

A: Interesting question.  A quick glance at the Third Basemen on depth charts around the league leads to this list of players who I would take right now over Zimmerman: Miguel Cabrera, Evan Longoria, Adrian Beltre, David Wright, and maybe even Chase Headley or David Frese. Now counting contract status/potential at this point given Zimmerman’s money owed and his declining performance on both sides of the ball, I’d think hard about Manny Machado, Bret Lawrie, Todd Frazier, Nolan Arenado, Pedro Alvarez and Pablo Sandoval.   Of course, potential is potential and Zimmerman already has a long list of accomplishments in this game, so on the whole of his career i’d put him just behind Wright in the above list.  So yeah I think its safe to say he’s a top 5 third baseman right now.  Ironically in my Yahoo Fantasy list, he’s also #5 and listed exactly behind the four guys in that upper grouping, in that exact order.  Boswell says no, not defensively.  But i’m not sure that’s entirely how you judge players these days.  Cabrera isn’t exactly a gold glover at third but would anyone say he’s not the “Best Third Baseman” in the game?

Q: No doubt that Jayson Werth is a phenomenal locker room presence and his home run in the playoffs last year was one of the highlights of the year, but he missed half the season last year and is on the DL now. He turns 34 next Monday and the Nats have him on contract for 4 more years. What do you think they can legitimately expect from him?

A: I think you expect Jayson Werth to contribute in the same ways he did in 2012; around a 125 OPS+ with some power and a lot of OBP.  Eventually he moves to left field, where he should be a excellent defender in the latter years of his contract.  It is what it is: the Nats paid him for his four years of unbelievable offense in Philadelphia, and he’ll be lucky to get back to that level in his mid 30s.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Is Denard Span the best centerfielder we’ve had since Clyde Milan? I don’t recall seeing a smoother Washington centerfielder.

A: Easily the best “all around” player to play center since the team moved here.  I’d probably argue that Rick Ankiel was better defensively and clearly had a better arm, but Denard Span‘s consistency at the plate gives him the easy nod overall.  Can’t speak to years prior to 2005.  Boswell agrees and signs off.

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.