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Hall of Fame candidates with Nationals ties (2019 version)

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Dunn on the 2020 HoF ballot. Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images North America

Dunn on the 2020 HoF ballot. Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images North America

This is a semi-recurring piece that we’re bringing back out because your 2020 Hall of Fame class has not one but two former Nats players of some prominence have made it onto the 2020 ballot.  We have not done this post in a couple years, so I’ll catch up the last two HoF ballots and then do the 2020 ballot Nats players.

See the 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014 versions.

At the end we speculate about who the first Hall of Famer might be wearing the Curly-W.


2020 Ballot players with Nats ties (2020 ballot).  Mark Zuckerman beat me to the punch here, writing an excellent article on both the below players.

  • Adam Dunn; two seasons of three true outcomes, the slugger Dunn was a great presence, took a beer-league softball player approach to hitting, and crushed the ball for this team for two seasons while Mike Rizzo rebuilt the farm system.  In 2010 he somehow avoided the ignominious feat of 200 strikeouts in a season by just one … a figure he subsequently blew through two seasons later as his career collapsed in Chicago.  I doubt he gets any votes and his career implosion upon moving to Chicago remains an oddity; he had 462 career homers but was essentially done as a player at the age of 33.  He should have had 5-6 more seasons of hitting 35 homers, putting himself firmly in the conversation of the best power hitters in the sport’s history.  Sometimes sluggers just … lose it, and fast.
  • Alfonso Soriano played one infamous year in Washington in 2006, was forcibly removed from his preferred position at 2B in spring training, had a 40/40 season, still holds the franchise season record for homers, and used his one season in Washington as a launching pad for a massive contract in a big market going forward.  His departure netted us two comp picks under the old system (he was a “type A” FA), which we used to select Josh Smoker and Jordan Zimmermann, one of which helped setup the franchise for

One other interesting name on this ballot?  Cliff Lee, who was with the franchise just prior to its move to DC, but was part of the ridiculous Bartolo Colon trade made in 2002.


2019 Ballot players with Nat’s ties: (2019 ballot with voting results and stats from baseball-reference.com).

We forgot to do this post last year, but there was one candidate with Nats ties:

  • Rick Ankiel, who spent two full seasons with Washington providing amazing defense in center (to go along with his amazing arm) but paltry hitting at the plate from 2011-2012.   In 2012 he was essentially a backup to newly promoted Bryce Harper for the Nats break-out season, but he did not appear for the team in the 2012 post-season ( he was not on their 2012 post-season roster).  Ankiel’s comeback story is pretty compelling, but it did not earn him  any hall of fame votes and he fell off the ballot after one year.

2018 Ballot players with Nats ties (2018 HoF Ballot):

  • Livan Hernandez: wow, what an important player in our history.  He was the starter in our first ever game in DC, and also started our first home game.  He made the all-star team that year.   He came back to the team in 2010, retired in 2014 and for a time was part of the Nats spring training staff.  He was named on one ballot and has fallen off going forward.
  • Brad Lidge: an infamous member of the Nats-to-Oblivion club, he signed on as a former-closer middle reliever for the 2012 team and got lit up.  Not Trevor Rosenthal lit up, but he was not effective.  He was released in June and hung em up.  He did not receive any votes on the ballot.

Notably, Vladimir Guerrero was elected in this ballot, long time Montreal player.  If only he had made it to Washington.

 


Nats connected names on the 2017 ballot and 2017 eligible:

  • Ivan Rodriguez, aka “Pudge,” who surprisingly signed a 2-year deal with the team after the 2009 season and played his last two years with the rebuilding team, splitting time with the up-and-coming Wilson Ramos and retiring after the 2011 season.  He was part of the rebound years for the franchise but missed out on their breakout 2012 season.  There was some surprise when he got in on the 1st ballot, given his PED rumors, but I take his election as a sign of the changing times with the electorate.  There’s definitely a difference between suspicions and a real failed test, and inarguably Pudge is one of the best catchers of all time so there’s no reason to keep him out.  Here’s a great link of a video of Pudge finding out he was elected.
  • Matt Stairs, whose name I can’t quite say without cursing, who sucked at the teet of the Washington Nationals payroll for half a season in 2011 before being mercifully released on August 1st of that year.  His final slash line in his sole season with the team: .154/.257/.169.  He went 10-65 with just one XBH for the entire season.  Stairs now is now a regular in my semi-annual “Nats to Oblivion” posts, last done in April of 2016.  He received zero votes and falls off the ballot.
  • Alex Cora: like Stairs, he signed on as a veteran FA to be a role player with the 2011 Nats and retired after the 2011 season.  Unlike Stairs, Cora wasn’t judged to even be worthy to make the ballot.
  • (As we all know, Tim Raines, Vladimir Guerrero, Orlando Cabrera and Larry Walker all grew up with the Montreal franchise, but never appeared for the team post-move to Washington, so I havn’t included them here.  Cabrera was the closest to appearing in a Nats uniform, getting traded to Boston mid 2004 season just prior to the move).

Useful Hall of Fame links links:

  • 2017 Ballot on baseball-reference.com, with links to vote counts, stats, etc.
  • Full Voting figures via BBWAA.com

The rest of this post will let you answer the trivia question, “Prior to Ivan Rodrigiez’s enshrinement, what former Nats player has come the closest to Hall of Fame enshrinement?”  (Answer at the bottom).

We’ll work from most recent to oldest.

2016 Ballot:

Not a single Nats-connected was on the official Class of 2016 ballot.  As it turned out, There’s actually quite a few guys who were *candidates* for the 2016 ballot by requirements, but who didn’t make the cut who also had connections to the Nationals.  In fact, there’s quite a few of them.  Here’s a good list, thanks to the excellent research by Bill from platoonadvantage.com.

  • Ronnie Belliard: Played pretty well for the god-awful stretch of Nationals teams from 2007-2009, posting a nifty 123 OPS+ during the middle season before getting traded away at the 2009 trade deadline for two minor leaguers who never went anywhere (Luis Garcia, Victor Garate).  Stuck with Los Angeles one more season before hanging them up at 35.  Played parts of 13 seasons in the majors but didn’t rate a spot on the ballot.
  • Jesus Colome was an important part of the Nats bullpen during the same 2007-2009 span that Belliard was involved with, getting more than 120 appearances his first two seasons before posting an 8 ERA in 2009 and getting DFA’d in July.  He got picked up the next year by Seattle and got a few appearances (hence why he’s not on the “Nats to Oblivion” lists) and, if you can believe it, is still pitching at age 37 in the independent Atlantic league as we speak.  He did manage 10 distinct years w/ MLB appearances though, so he qualified.
  • Jose Guillen came to Washington with the Expos, played one solid year in 2005, had a season-ending elbow injury in 2006, then bounced around the league for a few more years.  He was active for 14 total seasons but never made an all star game.  He hit 24 homers for the surprising 2005 Nats … and led the league in HBPs.
  • Cristian Guzman signed a somewhat controversial 4yr/$16M contract (it cost the team its 2nd round pick) that started when the team moved to Washington, was god-awful his first year, then had to have shoulder surgery to miss the entirety of 2006.  He recovered his stroke in 2007 and actually made the all-star team in 2008 (our only representative during the dark years) … which was enough to convince our idiot GM Jim Bowden to give him a 2yr/$16M extension to an aging shortstop w/ no power on the wrong side of 30.  Not surprisingly, his OPS dropped 100 points in 2009 and the team dumped him on Texas in a trade-deadline deal after he had lost his starting job to Ian Desmond, netting the Nats two RHPs (one of which Tanner Roark makes this one of the better trades ever consummated by the Nats executive staff).  Guzman played in 15 more games for Texas, batted .152 and never played again.

2015 Ballot:

  • Aaron Boonewho signed a 1yr/$1M FA contract to be a backup corner infielder with the abhorrent 2008 Nationals team.  Boone’s crowning baseball achievement was his extra innings walk-off homer that ended one of the best games in MLB history (Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS between Boston and the Yankees, ranked #6 by MLB’s panel a few years back when ranking the best 20 games of the last half century).  Ironically one of his lowest moments was just a couple months later, blowing out his ACL that subsequent winter while playing pickup basketball, costing him the entirety of the 2004 season and the trust of the  Yankees organization.  He missed 2/3rds of the 2007 season after another left knee injury and the Nats were probably his last gasp shot at extending his career at the age of 35.  He got a decent amount of playing time thanks to the fragility of Ryan Zimmerman and Nick Johnson, somehow got another guaranteed MLB deal the following year, went 0-14 for Houston and was released.  He’s now an analyst with ESPN.  Received 2 votes on the 2015 ballot.
  • Ron Villone signed a minor league deal in 2009 and was quickly added to the Nats active roster, where he appeared in 63 games as our primary one-out lefty.   He pitched the entirety of 2010 on another minor league contract with Syracuse, posting a 6.59 ERA as a 40-year old and never earning a call-up.   In 2011 he was invited to spring training again (perhaps with the hope that he’d join the organization as a coach) but he got cut, then pitched a handful of indy league games for his home-town New Jersey indy league team, got hammered, and hung them up.   He retired having played in 15 seasons for no less than 12 different teams.  In 2012 he took a pitching coach job with the Cubs organization (one of the teams he managed NOT to play for during his career) and has been moving up their organization in that capacity since.  Received Zero Hall-of-Fame votes by virtue of not appearing on the BBWAA ballot.
  • Julian Tavarez signed a one-year deal in the beginning of 2009, started out decently but had an awful stretch that resulted in his DFA in mid July 2009.  He never threw another pitch in organized ball, abruptly retiring considering his mid-season release.  He ended a 17-year career spanning 11 different franchises.  Received Zero Hall-of-Fame votes by virtue of not appearing on the BBWAA ballot.  According to his wiki page, he now resides in a suburb of Cleveland (his original professional team) but does not list any post-career activities, baseball-related or otherwise.  Received Zero Hall-of-Fame votes by virtue of not appearing on the BBWAA ballot.

Both Tavarez and Villone belong to the infamous “From Nationals to Oblivion” club, a topic we revisit on an annual basis.

Note: it is not entirely clear to me why Villone and Tavarez were not actually ON the 2015 ballot; both seem to have the qualifications (10 years of experience and 5 years retired) and both were on previous versions of the “anticipated ballot” at baseball-reference.com, but neither showed up on BBWAA’s official ballot for this year.  Pete Kerzel did a post reviewing “Nats connected” 2015 ballot members when the ballot came out in Nov 2014 and only mentioned Boone.  I include them here since it seems to me they *should* be on the ballot and I’m not sure why they were not (unless someone is passing judgement on the “quality” of HoFame ballot members).  Are they pushed to subsequent ballots for some reason?  If anyone has insight i’d love to know.

2014 Ballot:

  • Paul Lo Duca: one of Bowden’s more infamous signings; he went from our opening day catcher in the 2008 season to being released by August 1st.  The highlight of his tenure here was having his name being revealed in the Mitchell Report just a couple days after signing with us.  After his release, he signed on to finish out the season with Florida, took a year off and attempted a come back in 2010 (signing a ML contract with Colorado but never appearing above AAA).   Hard to believe this guy was a 4-time all-star.  Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.

2013 Ballot:

  • Royce Clayton; signed a contract to be the Nats shortstop during the lean Jim Bowden years, and then was included in the Mega swap of players that headed to Cincinnati in the 2006 season.  He hung around for one more season in 2007 as a backup short stop and retired afterwards.  Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.
  • Mike Stanton was picked up in mid 2005 after being released by the Yankees, and he pitched well enough for the Nats that he was able to fetch a couple of low-level prospects in a late September move to Boston (who was looking for some late season bullpen cover).  The team then re-signed Stanton for 2006, and flipped him again mid-season, this time to the Giants for Shairon Martis.  Stanton toiled a one more season before hanging them up after 2007.   Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.

2012 Ballot:

  • Vinny Castilla: signed a two year deal to join the Nats, timed with their inaugural season in Washington, but was traded to Colorado for SP Brian Lawrence when it became apparent that Ryan Zimmerman was set to man the hot corner in DC for the next decade or so.  Played one more season and retired after 2006.  Received Six (6) Hall-of-fame votes.

2011 Ballot:

  • Carlos Baerga: signed a one year deal as a 36-yr old to join the Nats in their inaugural season and serve as a backup infielder.   Hit .253 in part-time duty and hung ’em up after a 14-year career that can be well described as “journey-man.”   He was an integral part of the early 90s Cleveland Indians as their starting 2nd baseman and a 3-time all-star, and ended up playing on 6 major league teams and spent parts one season in Korea.  Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.

So, outside of Pudge’s election, the Nats greatest Hall of Fame achievement is Vinny Castilla receiving 6 sympathy votes.

We still have to wait a while to see another player with a “W” on their hat in Cooperstown.

So, who might that actually be?  In the years since we started this sad post, the team has acquired and played more than a few elite, regular all-star type players who may very well be in Cooperstown at some point.

  • Bryce Harper?  Not likely; if he makes it, he’ll likely wear a Philly cap based on the 13-yr contract he’s signed there.
  • Anthony Rendon?  despite his great 2019 season, he suffers from similar issues as guys like Scott Rolen; top-notch defensive 3B are a tough sell to Cooperstown.   He’s now signed with LAA for the next 8 years or so; if he makes it to Cooperstown, he’ll have earned it likely based on his next few seasons of work moreso than what he’s done with Washington … which means no curly-W for him.
  • Max Scherzer: most likely; he’s basically guaranteed his Cooperstown entry with his 3rd Cy Young award, two of which have come with Washington.  I think that pushes him over the edge to wearing our hat.
  • Stephen Strasburg: right now he seems like he’s in the Kevin Brown category of good but not great pitchers when it comes to Cooperstown consideration; he needs a Cy Young on his resume before someone really considers him.

Stephen Strasburg now halfway to 3K strikeouts … is he a hall of famer?

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 Photo via allansgraphics.com via free-extras.com

Photo via allansgraphics.com via free-extras.com

Earlier this month, some breathless headlines pointed out that Stephen Strasburg reached a surprising career milestone; he’s now eclipsed 1,500 career strikeouts.  Strasburg is the fastest to 1,500 career strike-outs by IPs than anyone in the history of the game.

He’s likely to add at least 100 more punch-outs this season (his average is about 150 Ks/season and is in his 10th pro season), but may add even more since we’re only about 1/6th of the way through the season.  So lets say he finishes the season with 1,650 strike outs.

So it occurred to me … is Strasburg really halfway to becoming a hall of fame pitcher?

We’ve generally in the history of the sport basically annointed anyone who hits that threshold a Hall of Famer.   Of the 17 pitchers who have hit 3,000 career punchouts, 14 are in the Hall of Fame, one is Roger Clemens, one is Curt Schilling and one is newly minted 3,000 club member CC Sabathia (another interesting test case for Cooperstown coming up in the next 5-6 years presumably … we’ll come back to him in a moment).

But nothing about Strasburg’s career so far screams “Cooperstown.”  He’s made a couple of all star games, finished 3rd in Cy Young voting in his best season, and for most of his career has not been the best pitcher on his own staff.   He’s been a very good pitcher, but injury prone with just one season out of his career 10 that didn’t feature at least a few weeks of D/L time.  He has one stellar season: 2017’s 6.4 bWAR season (also his peak Cy Young voting) but otherwise has a handful of 3-war seasons throughout his career.  He’s nowhere close to Hall standards by JAWS or any of the baseball-reference.com metrics.

Lets say for the sake of argument that Strasburg pitches another 9 seasons after this one, averages 150 K/s a year and is sitting basically where Sabathia is this season: upper 30s, in his 19th pro season and right on the cusp of 3,000 strikeouts.  Does that sound like a hall of fame resume to you?

(yes i know this is a huge leap of faith; you can’t project pitchers, he may blow his arm out again, yadda, yadda.  For sake of argument, assume Strasburg goes 10 more  years, averages 14-11 with 150 Ks/season).

Coming back to Sabathia: he won a Cy Young, finished in the top 5 four years out of five (missing one  year b/c he got traded between leagues) and was absolutely one of the top pitchers in baseball during his peak JAWs period.  He also will eclipse 250 wins (perhaps the new 300 wins of our era of the sport) and has had a nice late 30s rebound.  Is Sabathia a Hall of Famer?   Strasburg doesn’t even have 100 wins yet at age 30 (but will pass it by the all star break this year), and seems unlikely to even get to 200 wins based on his average/season.

I wonder if Strasburg is really this generation’s version of Kevin Brown, who was more remembered for his contract (he was baseball’s first 9-figure $100M deal) than his production.  Brown was a very good pitcher, but never won a Cy Young, never got to marquee career thresholds (300 wins, 3,000 strikeouts), but interestingly had a significant 5-year stretch in his late 20s/early 30s that has him ranked 49th by JAWS, ahead of 16 other Hall of Fame pitchers and perhaps leaving him as one of the most under-rated Cooperstown snubs of all time.  Strasburg isn’t even this right now: he’s a good #2 starter who can’t stay healthy for more than a few months at a time.  And I say this as a Strasburg defender.

What do you think?  Is the sport about to really start re-evaluating its pitcher career landmarks as the K rates skyrocket and the starter disappears.   And a guy like Strasburg has a chance to really demonstrate the issue if he can achieve some important career thresholds over the next 10 years.

 

 

Written by Todd Boss

May 6th, 2019 at 3:25 pm

RIP Roy Halliday: a posthumous Hall of Famer?

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Halladay was always a tough out for the Nats; RIP. Photo via wcpo.com

Halladay was always a tough out for the Nats; RIP. Photo via wcpo.com

I have the mlb app with notifications turned on, so I got the news as soon as it was confirmed that Roy Halladay was in the plane.  It was shocking indeed.  Hate to see something like this.

My Halladay memories: The best seats I ever had at a Nats game were for a Nats-Philadelphia game in late 2008 with Halladay starting.  I sprung for those diamond seats, 2nd row behind the plate.  It was an awesome experience, and you just don’t really get a sense for how hard these guys throw until you’re *that* close.  I also remember vividly a game that I’m sure some of you also remember: Halladay going for a complete game against us in 2011 but running into trouble in the 9th only to strike out both Matt Stairs and Ivan Rodriguez looking  … and neither guy moved their bat off their shoulder.

I’ve begun thinking about his legacy, as one is apt to do in times like this: Halladay was an incredibly dominant pitcher for a good stretch of his career, but he was essentially washed up at 34 and out of the game at 36, didn’t have the counting numbers some older voters want, and may have some difficulties getting elected.

However, I wonder if his untimely death affects (to the positive) his Hall of Fame candidacy.  It sucks that we’re talking about that as a possible posthumous honor, but he definitely had an interesting case.  From 2003 to 2011 he was basically in the conversation year after year of being the best pitcher in the game (2 Cy Youngs, 5 other times named in top 5, and 8 all-star appearances).  But he only played 15 full seasons, 6 of which were cut short due to injury or youth, and he was done by age 36.  200 wins, but no where near 3000Ks.  One seminal post-season moment (his 2010 NLDS no-hitter), but not a ton of post-season experience other wise (just 5 starts for Philly across 2010-11).
65.6 career bWAR, 65.2 career fWAR, which puts him right in the areas where he should be heavily considered (some hall of fame pitchers right in that same range include Don Drysdale, Don Sutton, Bob Feller, Juan Marichal, Dennis Eckersley, etc).   He’s 38th all-time in fWAR for Pitchers, 41st for bWAR.  And most every pitcher ranked above him on these lists is already in the HoFame (or should be).
The thing is, there’s starters above him on these lists who are struggling to get elected.  Consider these names who are ranked above Halladay but who are not yet elected):
Roger Clemens (for obvious reasons)
Mike Mussina: longer career, more Wins, more Ks
Curt Schilling; whatever you think of his post-career politics, he was a dominant pitcher for a long time who probably could have had 3 Cy Young awards
Kevin Brown: criminally under-appreciated long time dominant starter
Mussina and Schilling are the ones that stick out for me; if those two guys can’t get in, can Halladay?
Most of the old grizzled voters hate having career value conversations couched around WAR (probably because they don’t understand it).  But because we’re likely never seeing 300 wins again i wonder if he might be the kind of candidate where they look past his macro numbers and look at the fact that for nearly a decade he was the #1 or #2 guy in the league.  And get some sentimental votes at the same time.
For me?  I’m a big Hall kind of guy, so I think all these guys above Halladay need to be in the Hall of Fame.  I think Halladay does too; he passes the eye test and the smell test, if not the career stat-gathering test.

Johan Santana to miss 2013; a cautionary tale

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Santana to miss 2013 and end his Mets career on a sour note. Photo via wikipedia/flickr user slgckgc

Earlier this month I published an updated version of the “Starter Dollar per Win” analysis that I maintain and update on an annual basis.  In that post, I listed some of the worst free agent starter contracts ever signed (among them Kei Igawa, Jason Schmidt, Oliver Perez, Darren Dreifort).  However I did not mention Johan Santana among these awful deals because it looked like he could at least finish out the last year of his deal and increase his per-win values.

Last week we learned that Santana has a torn shoulder capsule and is likely to miss the entire 2013 season.  This is the last guaranteed year of the 6 yr/$137.5M contract that he signed with the Mets after his fantastic early-career stint with Minnesota and it seems almost certain that he’ll be looking for work elsewhere in 2014, if he continues to play at all (this being a re-tear of the same Anterior Capsule that sidelined him for all of 2011 and his third arm/shoulder surgery overall).

In his 6 years in New York, he had one great season (the first), two entirely missed due to injury, two with good results but still injury curtailed, and one (2012) that was entirely mediocre and injury curtailed after he (foolishly?) threw 130+ innings to chase a no-hitter.  That’s not entirely a great return on $137.5M.

Looking at my “Dollar per Win” analysis spreadsheet, and assuming that the Mets are going to pay him a $5.5M instead of his $25M option for 2014 (the $137.5M number only includes guaranteed money and thus already includes this $5.5M buyout), here’s how he ended up performing on a per-dollar basis for the life of this contract:

  • 109 starts over 6 years: $1,261,468 per start.
  • 72 Quality Starts: $1,909,722 per QS
  • 46 Wins: $2,989,130 per Win.

This contract is now officially “Worse” than the infamous Denny Neagle deal (19 wins for a 5yr/$55M deal) and significantly worse than the even more infamous Mike Hampton deal (56 wins for an 8yr/$121M deal) on a dollar per win basis.

The cautionary tale is a familiar one: we all know that pitchers are health wildcards to begin with.  But guaranteeing many years and tens of millions of dollars to these injury wildcards is lunacy.  (Ken Rosenthal wrote a similar story on 3/29/13 on this same topic).   I now count Thirteen 9-figure contracts that have been given out to starting pitchers in the history of the game, and of the contracts that are closer to the end or finished its hard to find any of them that the signing team would do over again.

  • Santana, Barry Zito, Hampton, Kevin Brown and Daisuke Matsuzaka were all 9-figure deals that did not live up to the money (Matsuzaka’s 9-figure haul includes the posting fee).
  • Matt Cain, CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Yu Darvish (again, including his posting fee) are all 1-2 years into longer term 9-figure deals with (admittedly) satisfying levels of performance thus far.
  • Felix Hernandez, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels and now Justin Verlander as of 3/29/13 are all starting 9-figure deals in 2013 or later.  Adam Wainwright just missed the cutoff; his new deal totaled $97.5M.

How does this affect the Nationals?  Well, in 2017 Stephen Strasburg is likely to become a free agent (lets be honest with ourselves; his agent is Scott Boras, his agent is aggressive to the max, wants to explore every possible free agency aspect, and rarely if ever allows his clients to agree to contract extensions, team friendly or otherwise; Strasburg is going to hit the FA market).  Based on the list of arms above, and assuming Strasburg doesn’t get re-injured in the next few years you have to think he’s going to be in line for a 9-figure deal of his own.  What do you do if you’re the Nats?  Do you pay the man, knowing that the likelihood of a 9-figure deal being a good deal for the team is very slim, or do you let him walk and let some other team pay him that money and assume the franchise crippling risk?

At least it isn’t a problem we have to deal with for a few years :-)

Incentives, Salary and Steroid use in Baseball

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Hit home runs, make lots of money. Repeat. Photo unknown via deadspin.com

A viewing of the HBO special “Freakonomics,” which turns chapters of the popular book into little mini vignettes, along with a conversation with my father prompted me to investigate the aspects of human behavior with regard to incentives when considering the rise of Steroid use by major league baseball players in the late 1990s.  One of the overriding themes in Freakonomics is that any aspect of human behavior can be predicted by analyzing the incentives facing those persons when making a choice.

So the question here is, were the growing incentives to players in terms of rising baseball salaries directly tied to the growing use of Steroids in the mid 1990s?

Steroids had been around for many years prior to appearing en-masse in Baseball.  The most infamous use came from the East German Olympic teams during the late 70s and early 80s, who systematically doped their own athletes (mostly without the athlete’s knowledge) from 1971 until 1990.  But seemingly only after the 1988 Seoul Olympics saw sprinter Ben Johnson test positive for one steroid and admitted the use of a host of other Steroids, Testosterone and HGH substances did the “Steroid Era” in baseball start.  In fact, 1988 is also acknowledged as the beginning of the era in the Mitchell Report (per Section D of the Summary, pg SR-14).  However, I’d argue that the mainstream usage of Steroids didn’t occur for a few years after (see the rise of 45+ homer seasons below).

Here’s a chart of Mean and Median US household income from 1974-2010, with the Minimum and Maximum MLB salaries, the Average MLB salary, that MLB salary listed as a multiple of the US mean income, and the number of 45+ home run seasons seen per year:

Year Median Income: Current Dollars Mean Income: current dollars Minimum MLB Salary Maximum MLB Salary Average MLB Salary Avg MLB salary as multiple of Mean US income # of 45+ Homer Seasons
2012 $480,000 $32,000,000
2011 $414,000 $32,000,000 $3,305,393 0
2010 $49,445 $67,530 $400,000 $33,000,000 $3,297,828 49 1
2009 $49,777 $67,976 $400,000 $33,000,000 $3,240,206 48 3
2008 $50,303 $68,424 $390,000 $28,000,000 $3,154,845 46 1
2007 $50,233 $67,609 $380,000 $23,428,571 $2,944,556 44 4
2006 $48,201 $66,570 $327,000 $21,680,727 $2,866,000 43 5
2005 $46,326 $63,344 $316,000 $26,000,000 $2,632,655 42 5
2004 $44,334 $60,466 $300,000 $22,500,000 $2,486,000 41 4
2003 $43,318 $59,067 $300,000 $22,000,000 $2,555,000 43 4
2002 $42,409 $57,852 $300,000 $22,000,000 $2,383,000 41 4
2001 $42,228 $58,208 $300,000 $22,000,000 $2,264,000 39 9
2000 $41,990 $57,135 $200,000 $15,714,286 $1,987,000 35 4
1999 $40,696 $54,737 $200,000 $11,494,794 $1,726,000 32 6
1998 $38,885 $51,855 $200,000 $14,936,667 $1,378,000 27 9
1997 $37,005 $49,692 $200,000 $10,000,000 $1,314,000 26 3
1996 $35,492 $47,123 $200,000 $9,237,500 $1,101,000 23 6
1995 $34,076 $44,938 $109,000 $9,237,500 $1,094,000 24 1
1994 $32,264 $43,133 $100,000 $6,300,000 $1,154,000 27 0
1993 $31,241 $41,428 $100,000 $6,200,000 $1,062,000 26 3
1992 $30,636 $38,840 $100,000 $6,100,000 $1,012,000 26 0
1991 $30,126 $37,922 $100,000 $3,800,000 $845,383 22 0
1990 $29,943 $37,403 $100,000 $3,200,000 $589,483 16 1
1989 $28,906 $36,520 $60,000 $2,766,667 $489,539 13 1
1988 $27,225 $34,017 $60,000 $2,340,000 $430,688 13 0
1987 $26,061 $32,410 $60,000 $2,127,333 $402,579 12 3
1986 $24,897 $30,759 $60,000 $2,800,000 $410,517 13 0
1985 $23,618 $29,066 $60,000 $2,130,300 $368,998 13 0
1984 $22,415 $27,464 $30,000 $2,500,000 $325,900 12 0
1983 $20,885 $25,401 $30,000 $2,500,000 $289,000 11 0
1982 $20,171 $24,309 $30,000 $2,500,000 $245,000 10 0
1981 $19,074 $22,787 $30,000 $2,500,000 $195,500 9 0
1980 $17,710 $21,063 $30,000 $2,500,000 $146,500 7 1
1979 $16,461 $19,554 $16,000 $1,170,000 $121,900 6 3
1978 $15,064 $17,730 $16,000 $700,000 $97,800 6 1
1977 $13,572 $16,100 $16,000 $700,000 $74,000 5 1
1976 $12,686 $14,922 $16,000 $700,000 $52,300 4 0
1975 $11,800 $13,779 $16,000 $670,000 $44,676 3 0
1974 $250,000 $40,839 0

There’s several landmark seasons of note in terms of escalating Salaries through this list.  By year:

  • 1975 saw Catfish Hunter become the first “true” Free Agent subject to bidding wars among teams, and signed a 5yr/$3.35M deal with the Yankees that resulted in his league-leading salary to nearly triple the league leading salary from 1974.
  • 1979 saw Nolan Ryan become the first $1million/year player.
  • In 1982 George Foster became the first $2M/year player.
  • By 1989, Kirby Puckett became baseball’s first $3M/year player.
  • In 1992, Barry Bonds hit free agency on the heels of MVP seasons in Pittsburgh and more than doubled the previous high annual salary.
  • By 1996, salaries were rising quickly; Albert Belle signs a $10M/year contract.
  • 2001 saw Alex Rodriguez‘s infamous Texas contract kick in, paying him $22M/year, nearly $7M more per year than the next closest player (Kevin Brown, who signed baseball’s first 9-figure contract).
  • Rodriguez opted out of that same contract and re-negotiated the terms even higher with the Yankees, eclipsing the $30M/year mark by 2009.

Meanwhile, take note of the red-colored years of 1996 to 2001, the core of the Steroid Era.  1996 saw no less than Six players eclipse the 45 home run barrier, including Brady Anderson in a complete aberration year for the lead-off hitter (he hit 50 homers in 1996 but averaged just 19 per 162 game segment and never hit more than 24).  Suddenly in 1998 no less than Nine players eclipsed the mark, lead by the Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa home-run hitting competition that transfixed the nation and “saved” baseball.  Too bad we now know what America didn’t know then; that both players were using Performance Enhancing drugs to beef up, help power out baseballs and take advantage of a slew of new ballparks that opened in the era that featured cozier dimensions and more offense.

By 2002, enough pressure from the front office towards the player’s union had taken place to start testing, leading to the infamous “anonymous survey” done of players in 2003 that resulted in “between 5-7%” of players testing positive, leading to mandatory testing in 2004.  By 2008 we were back down to homer levels not seen since the early 1990s, and baseball didn’t see a single player hit the 45 homer barrier in 2011.  But historically the damage has been done; the home run leader boards from the time period in question lists like a Who’s Who of steroid accusations, and a generation of middle-aged baseball writers who grew up idolizing the home run leaders of yesteryear now seems set to penalize these players for their drug usage (proven or otherwise, as with the Jeff Bagwell Hall of Fame case).

But, everything I just wrote is known narrative.  Lets talk about the explosion of baseball salaries as compared to the common man.  In 1975 the average MLB salary of $44k was a little more than 3-times the mean US household income, having risen only gradually over the years thanks to the Reserve clause and a non-existent players union.  It was a boon for owners, who kept salaries down and profits high.  But the low salaries also meant that most baseball players were considered “within reach” of the every-man in America.  Players weren’t paid such ridiculously high salaries that they essentially live in a different world from the fans (as is the case today with most professional athletes in this country): these players were considered “just like us” to a certain extent, and frequently had off-season jobs, working along side the same people who paid a few bucks for a bleacher seat to cheer them on.  “America’s Pastime” largely earned that title from being the only sport in town for most of the century, but was also helped along by the “within reach” argument.

By 1980, with the country in a severe recession and gas lines around the block, Joe Public slightly increased his average pay.  However, Baseball players, thanks to the breaking of the reserve clause and the rise of Free agency were seeing a boom in salary hikes.  By 1980, the average MLB wage was 9 times the median income in the country and a few ballplayers were making $1M/year.   This ratio of US income to MLB income grew slightly over the next decade; ten years on in 1990 the average MLB wage was just 16x the US income.  But changes were about to come.  In 1996 the MLB salary multiple was 23-times the US mean, but by 2001 it was nearly 40-times the US mean salary.  The average MLB salary more than doubled inside of these 5 years.  This change coincided exactly with the beginnings of the Steroid era and also mirror the 6 year stretch where the game saw its historical rise in home runs.

So the question is: is this coincidence?  Was the rise in steroid use driven by player’s desires to maximize their earning potential or was it vice-versa (i.e., players discovered steroids could escalate performance, started using and producing and that lead to the quick rise in payroll?)  Or was this all more attributable to weaker pitching driven by expansion and  smaller ball-parks?

I think you can make the case that home run hitters were highly compensated and were commercially the “heros” of the game (remember the “Chicks Dig the Long Ball” commercials?), and other players figured out that Steroids helped pack on muscle mass and enabled themselves to hit the ball further and faster (to say nothing of the fact that steroids enabled players to come back from injury faster and to stay stronger through the season by virtue of added muscle mass), and rode the trend.  Hit 40-45 home runs one year, sign a contract extension the next.  Suddenly the game found itself full of juiced up, highly compensated sluggers with a massive ethical problem.

What do you think?

Sources used:

Year Median Income: Current Dollars Mean Income: current dollars Minimum MLB Salary Maximum MLB Salary Average MLB Salary Avg MLB salary as multiple of Mean US income # of 45+ Homer Seasons
2012 $480,000 $32,000,000
2011 $414,000 $32,000,000 $3,305,393 0
2010 $49,445 $67,530 $400,000 $33,000,000 $3,297,828 49 1
2009 $49,777 $67,976 $400,000 $33,000,000 $3,240,206 48 3
2008 $50,303 $68,424 $390,000 $28,000,000 $3,154,845 46 1
2007 $50,233 $67,609 $380,000 $23,428,571 $2,944,556 44 4
2006 $48,201 $66,570 $327,000 $21,680,727 $2,866,000 43 5
2005 $46,326 $63,344 $316,000 $2,600,000 $2,632,655 42 5
2004 $44,334 $60,466 $300,000 $22,500,000 $2,486,000 41 4
2003 $43,318 $59,067 $300,000 $22,000,000 $2,555,000 43 4
2002 $42,409 $57,852 $300,000 $22,000,000 $2,383,000 41 4
2001 $42,228 $58,208 $300,000 $22,000,000 $2,264,000 39 9
2000 $41,990 $57,135 $200,000 $15,714,286 $1,987,000 35 4
1999 $40,696 $54,737 $200,000 $11,494,794 $1,726,000 32 6
1998 $38,885 $51,855 $200,000 $14,936,667 $1,378,000 27 9
1997 $37,005 $49,692 $200,000 $10,000,000 $1,314,000 26 3
1996 $35,492 $47,123 $200,000 $9,237,500 $1,101,000 23 6
1995 $34,076 $44,938 $109,000 $9,237,500 $1,094,000 24 1
1994 $32,264 $43,133 $100,000 $6,300,000 $1,154,000 27 0
1993 $31,241 $41,428 $100,000 $6,200,000 $1,062,000 26 3
1992 $30,636 $38,840 $100,000 $6,100,000 $1,012,000 26 0
1991 $30,126 $37,922 $100,000 $3,800,000 $845,383 22 0
1990 $29,943 $37,403 $100,000 $3,200,000 $589,483 16 1
1989 $28,906 $36,520 $60,000 $2,766,667 $489,539 13 1
1988 $27,225 $34,017 $60,000 $2,340,000 $430,688 13 0
1987 $26,061 $32,410 $60,000 $2,127,333 $402,579 12 3
1986 $24,897 $30,759 $60,000 $2,800,000 $410,517 13 0
1985 $23,618 $29,066 $60,000 $2,130,300 $368,998 13 0
1984 $22,415 $27,464 $30,000 $2,500,000 $325,900 12 0
1983 $20,885 $25,401 $30,000 $2,500,000 $289,000 11 0
1982 $20,171 $24,309 $30,000 $2,500,000 $245,000 10 0
1981 $19,074 $22,787 $30,000 $2,500,000 $195,500 9 0
1980 $17,710 $21,063 $30,000 $2,500,000 $146,500 7 1
1979 $16,461 $19,554 $16,000 $1,170,000 $121,900 6 3
1978 $15,064 $17,730 $16,000 $700,000 $97,800 6 1
1977 $13,572 $16,100 $16,000 $700,000 $74,000 5 1
1976 $12,686 $14,922 $16,000 $700,000 $52,300 4 0
1975 $11,800 $13,779 $16,000 $670,000 $44,676 3 0
1974 $250,000 $40,839 0

Pettitte was a very good pitcher… but no Hall of Famer

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Pettitte stares down another hitter. Photo noahhunt.org

Andy Pettitte‘s retirement (see my previous post for thoughts on its effect on the Yankees season) has lead to a series of inevitable posts about his Hall of Fame worthiness.  Si.com’s Joe Sheehan wrote this opinion piece after Pettitte’s retirement, saying that “Modern era of baseball demands Cooperstown find place for Pettitte.”  I won’t really go into his arguments except to say that he believed that Bert Blyleven was “wildly overqualified” for the hall, a position that I “wildly” disagree with and posted as much here about a month ago.  So its doubtful that I’d agree with his sentiments.

(Note; for the purposes of this article we will ignore the fact that Pettitte’s chances of getting voted into the hall in light of his PED usage admissions are somewhere between zero and nil anyway, and just think of his career in its merits).

So far, from what I’ve seen from the baseball columnists who have opined on the subject, there seems to be about a 50-50 split pro and con for the Hall.  Joe Lemire seems to agree with Pettitte’s own assertion that he is not Hall-worthy, Buster Olney thinks he’s a borderline candidate but th inks that he may be a Veteran’s committee inductee some day, and Jayson Stark thinks he’s not quite Hall worthy.

For me, Pettitte is NOT a Hall of Famer.  His career numbers show him to be a consistent hurler who was essentially a very good #3 pitcher on a number of very good Yankees teams.  He finishes his career with a 240-138 record, a career 3.88 era, 1.357 career whip and a 117 career ERA+.  His season-ending accomplishments include:

  • 3rd place in his Rookie of the Year voting (losing out to Marty Cordova and Garrett Anderson)
  • 5 years (out of 16) receiving Cy Young votes, though only one of those 5 years was actually meaningful in terms of the voting.  He finished 2nd to Pat Hentgen in the 1996 voting.
  • 3 all star appearances.

His enduring legacy is his post season career, where he has more appearances and more wins than any other pitcher.  He pitched in the post season in 13 of his 16 professional seasons, had 42 starts altogether, and compiled a 19-10 record with a 3.83 era and 1.304 whip.  These numbers are more or less in line with his career numbers, indicating that he was a good pitcher but not great.

I would be a stingy hall voter.  For me the qualifications of a Hall of Fame pitcher include all the analysis of career achievements, but also some semantical arguments:

  • Was the pitcher ever the best player on his team for a consistent period of time?  (no)
  • Was the pitcher a guaranteed shut-down hurler who was worth the price of admission? (no)
  • Was the pitcher regularly an all star and frequently STARTED the all star game? (no)
  • Were you, as a fan of the opposing team, ever “scared” to hear that Pettitte was going against your team? (not really).

At the bottom of Pettitte’s B-R page, his Hall of Fame Monitor score puts him at 42 .. which is better than Jack Morris but below the 50 range that generally qualifies a player as a HoFamer (this is Bill James‘ concoction and the one overall HoF score that I agree with).  But also more telling is the list of pitchers that Pettitte is most like.  Top two: David Wells, Kevin Brown. .  Ironic that these guys were also middle-of-the-rotation Yankees hurlers who gained many wins by virtue of being along for the ride on one of the best teams ever constructed (the late 1990s Yankees teams).

Bottom line; Pettitte was a good teammate and by all accounts a nice guy who made an awful lot of money in his career and goes down as one of the most decorated Yankees ever.  But he’s not one of the BEST ever.

The Rest of the 2011 HoF Ballot

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Will Bagwell be a first ballot Hall of Famer? Photo bill37mccurdy.wordpress.com/

As noted in my previous Bert Blyleven rant post, from the looks of the baseball blogosphere lately, it is part of my duty as a baseball blog writer to put in my 2 cents on the 2011 Hall of Fame ballot.

On Jan 5, 2011, Hall of Fame BBWAA voting will be announced and we’ll have an entire week of blog postings doing post-vote analysis.  Its a great little way to fill the time in-between insignificant FA signings but before pitchers and catchers report.

I posted previously just about Blyleven, one of the most talked about candidates in some time.  I don’t think he’s a Hall of Famer but I think he’ll get voted in.  Here’s a quick rundown of the rest of the ballot.

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First, the returning candidates from previous years

Roberto Alomar: Received 73.7% of the vote in his first year in 2010.  Probably penalized for being a complete jerk to sports writers for most of his career, and for the infamy that has followed him since he retired (HIV infection lawsuits and restraining orders).  Unfair that he wasn’t a first ballot hall of famer.  10 gold gloves puts him in pretty restrictive company.  12 straight all star games, numerous MVP vote gathering seasons.  Retired rather early for a middle infielder at 36.

Verdict: Should be a lock for HoF.

Other’s on returning ballots:
Jack Morris: i’d vote for him before Blyleven.
Barry Larkin: unfair comparisons to current power-hitting short stops are leaving Larking behind.
Lee Smith: Saves are overrated to begin with, and Smith never seemed like he was as dominant as his contemporaries.
Edgar Martinez: great guy, great hitter, one dimensional.
Tim Raines: Why he has lost candidacy points i’ll never know.  Probably due to his later Yankee years souring the east coast sportswriter crew on his career in general.

Trammell, Mattingly, McGriff, Parker, Murphy: all these guys are probably destined to be eventually included by some veterans committee 30 years from now, when we have recovered from the steroids era and we realize that a guy like Murphy and his 398 career homers isn’t that bad.

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Requisite Steroid-Accused HoF Candiates.

Mark McGwire: Yeah he used.  But he was also quite a hitter prior to his using.  5 years run of 52-58-58-70-65 home run seasons.  A shame.  He’ll never get in.

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First time on 2011 Ballot.

Rafael Palmeiro: probably the dumbest steroids user on the accused list.  He’s the punchline of the era and I’ll be surprised if he garners 10% of the vote.

Jeff Bagwell: He should be a HoF lock, the first we’ve had in a while.  But i’m hearing rumbling that not a ton of guys are supporting him.  It may just be a matter of time before he gets in but he’s deserving.

Larry Walker: excellent career OPS+ numbers clearly inflated by playing in Colorado.  He really could hit though, leading the league in batting average 3 times and homers once.

Juan Gonzalez: one or two great seasons and then a mess of a career.  Hey at least he made a ton of money.

Kevin Brown: amazing to think he’s been retired for 5 years.  His career will be defined by his ridiculous 9-figure contract.
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No one else on the 2011 ballot in my opinion will be close.

In summary, If I had a vote here’s my ballot: Alomar, Bagwell, Morris, Larkin, Raines, McGwire, Trammell.