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Happy New Year! Obligatory Post on the 2021 Hall of Fame class

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This could be Schilling’s year. Photo via mlb.com

I write a baseball blog. Therefore, I am obligated to put in my 2 cents on Hall of Fame voting. And the new year is also the deadline for BBWAA voters to send in their real ballots for the Hall of Fame, so you see a glut of sportswriters publishing their ballots. Here’s more of the same from me.

How many years have I been doing this post?  Basically as long as we’ve had the blog.  Here’s (by class) 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011

I know lots of people have lost faith in the Hall of Fame, are tired of reading analysis like this, etc etc.  Fair enough; feel free to move on.

Here’s two key links for you, if you’re still reading.

So, the 2021 class is … well its weak. With all due respect to the newly eligible candidates on the 2021 ballot, there’s not a single one hall-worthy. Several “hall of very good” players, but none transcendent. There was just one “major award” won between any of the newly eligible players, that being Barry Zito’s Cy Young award in 2002.

Nonetheless, here’s some quick thoughts on those that are on this ballot, in rough order of descending career bWAR/likelihood of getting 5% votes to stick around on the ballot.

New to the 2021 Ballot Candidates:

  • Tim Hudson; highest JAWS of any of the 2021 new candidates, nearly the highest total career WAR. He certainly had enough time in the sun, playing for multiple playoff teams in his career (7 seasons pitching in the playoffs). Was frequently in Cy Young talks, but never really came close to winning one. Probably the best of this year’s class.
  • Mark Buehrle: the Andy Pettitte of the 00s. Their career stats are eerily similar; if you support Pettitte, you support Buehrle. I think both guys were career #3 starters with occasionally amazing stuff.
  • Torii Hunter had a surprisingly solid, quiet career. Great defender, great teammate. Not enough to make the hall.
  • Dan Haren: hey, he pitched for the Nats! And he threw 88mph (his twitter account is https://twitter.com/ithrow88).
  • Barry Zito: great early part of his career, forming the trio of amazing starters that Michael Lewis never once mentioned in Moneyball. Then became one of the worst-ever free agent contracts signed. 7 years, $126M. For that $126M he contributed a COMBINED 3.0 bWAR. Over 7 years. That’s $42M per WAR. Not the best legacy. Did win a Cy Young though.
  • Aramis Ramirez: a long-time middle of the order dangerous bat for Chicago. Multiple 30hr/100 rbi seasons. Surprised he never got more press.
  • Shane Victorino; we saw a lot of Victorino during the Philly golden years of the late 2000s. Solid player, that’s about it.
  • A.J. Burnett: pitched for years, .500 career record, just kind of always there as a #2 or #3 starter. He made one All Star team in his entire career and it was his farewell season.
  • Nick Swisher; the golden-child of the book Moneyball. Nice career.
  • LaTroy Hawkins: no disrespect, but I don’t want to ever hear about another reliever until Billy Wagner is inducted.
  • Michael Cuddyer; From Virginia! Part of a great history of players coming out of Great Bridge HS in Chesapeake over the past 20 years (also including Justin Upton, John Curtice and Connor Jones).

Returning Ballot Candidates
Here’s how I’d vote my imaginary ballot. Amazingly, i find myself struggling to get to 10 players.

  • Yes on Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez
  • more tepid Yes on Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones
  • Maybe it’s time to vote for Gary Sheffield, Billy Wagner, and Todd Helton
  • Pass for now on Jeff Kent, Sammy Sosa, Andy Pettitte,
  • No on Omar Vizquel, Bobby Abreu

Quick reasoning in order of the above:

  • Clemens and Bonds are two of the best players ever to play, regardless of later-in-their-career PED transgressions (alleged or otherwise). You can cut both their careers off at the point where they both allegedly used and they’re still HoFamers. Vote them in and be done with it.
  • Schilling may be abhorrent on social media, but he deserves the Hall based on his playing career. It does not go without saying though that it is completely reasonable for journalists to pass as a statement of protest at this point. If you want a full accounting of all the reprehensible stuff he’s spewed on social media lately, see Jay Jaffe‘s HoF post for a partial list. Its ridiculous. And frankly it makes me pause even putting his name here. Maybe its “putting your head in the sand” to support someone posting the vile crap he does … especially since he’s completely aware of what he posts and seemingly now does it for attention.
  • Ramirez was perhaps the most feared RH hitter for a decade in this league and has career numbers that put him in the top 25 hitters ever to play. Again, less interested in PED transgressions at the end of his career than I am with the bulk of his accomplishments.
  • Rolen is an interesting player whose value was much more about his defense than his offense. Interestingly the Hall has no problem electing top-end defensive short stops who couldn’t hit (see Ozzie Smith or Luis Aparicio) but seem to struggle when presented with an equally dominant defensive 3B who actually could hit. That’s Rolen to a t.
  • Jones was, for the first 10 years of his career, discussed as perhaps being the second coming of Willie Mays before getting hurt and getting run out of the game by the time he was 35. Despite playing just 11 full seasons he had 434 career homers and 10 straight gold gloves in Center. I think voters have just forgotten how good he was. Keith Law had a great post at the Athletic this week about just why Jones is hall-worthy, an interesting analysis that was worth reading.
  • Sheffield is a borderline candidate but was nearly as feared as Ramirez was at the plate. Has stronger PED usage allegations than others. He was, unfortunately, a “difficult” player to deal with both for club and media, which has probably led to his tepid support.
  • Billy Wagner: has better numbers than nearly any other inducted reliever. If you have any relievers in the hall, you’d need to consider Wagner (and as long as we’re having that conversation, say hello to Tom Henke).
  • Todd Helton was better than you remember. He had a season once where he hit .357 AND hit 42 homers. Just look past the fact that he was once arrested for DUI while buying lottery tickets. Lottery tickets! For a player who made $156M in his career.

Passing on and reasoning:

  • Bobby Abreu: good but not transcendent. Frankly i;m amazed at the support he’s getting so far on the bbhof tracker.
  • Jeff Kent is a polarizing figure, both while he played and on the ballot. He’s a borderline guy and his voting totals have indicated that.
  • Sosa: too hard to make a case that he reinvented himself as a home run hitter completely thanks to artificial mechanisms. He was a 36–40 homer guy then he suddenly rips off seasons of 66, 63, 50 and 64. I will say though, i do “buy” his corked bat explanation once I read that the league confiscated all his other bats and found no other cork.
  • Pettitte lead the league in wins in the 90s (much like Morris did in the 80s) but is recognized similarly to Mark Buehrle; a lefty 3rd or 4th starter for most of his career who stayed healthy and accumulated wins and strikeouts, but was rarely even the best hurler on his own team.
  • Vizquel was a mediocre hitter who played forever and nearly got to 3,000 hits. He was a solid defender yes, but I’m kind of at a loss as to why voters are giving him so much credence while Rolon struggles.

Closer post-mortem 2014

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Francisco Rodriguez screwed my fantasy team this year.  Photo via cbssports.com

Francisco Rodriguez screwed my fantasy team this year. Photo via cbssports.com

This post is somewhat driven by fantasy baseball, where one of the typical pitching categories is “Saves,” and the constant churn of closers has become a huge detriment to most fantasy baseball players.  I’m no exception; this year I drafted who I presumed was going to be the closer for Milwaukee (Jim Henderson), only to watch him be replaced the day before the season started, inexplicably and without warning, by Francisco Rodriguez, who subsequently earned 40+ saves for the guy in my league who vulture waiver-wire picked him up.  (We eventually found out why; Henderson gave up 10 runs in 11 innings before going under the knife for “Labrum & Rotator Cuff Debridement.”  Ugh).

My research shows that just 13 of the 30 teams in the MLB this year started and ended the season with the same closer.  That’s a pretty amazing churn of players.  So I put together a tracking XLS.

Team Switch during 2014 season? 2014 Closer, start of season 1/2 point Closer End of Year Closer Most Saves 2014 full season # Saves for Team Leader in 2014
Ari Addison Reed Addison Reed Addison Reed Addison Reed 32
Atl Craig Kimbrel Craig Kimbrel Craig Kimbrel Craig Kimbrel 47
Bal Yes Tommy Hunter Zach Britton Zach Britton Zach Britton 37
Bos Yes Koji Uehara Koji Uehara Edward Mujica Koji Uehara 26
Chc Yes Jose Veras Hector Rondon Hector Rondon Hector Rondon 29
Cin Yes J.J. Hoover Aroldis Chapman Aroldis Chapman Aroldis Chapman 36
Cle Yes John Axford Cody Allen Cody Allen Cody Allen 24
Col LaTroy Hawkins LaTroy Hawkins LaTroy Hawkins LaTroy Hawkins 23
Cws Yes Nate Jones Ronald Belisario? Jake Petricka Jake Petricka 14
Det Joe Nathan Joe Nathan Joe Nathan Joe Nathan 35
Hou Comm. Chad Qualls Chad Qualls Chad Qualls Chad Qualls 19
KC Greg Holland Greg Holland Greg Holland Greg Holland 46
LAA Yes Ernesto Frieri Joe Smith Huston Street Huston Street 17
LAD Kenley Jansen Kenley Jansen Kenley Jansen Kenley Jansen 44
Mia Steve Cishek Steve Cishek Steve Cishek Steve Cishek 39
Mil Yes Jim Henderson Francisco Rodriguez Francisco Rodriguez Francisco Rodriguez 44
Min Glen Perkins Glen Perkins Glen Perkins Glen Perkins 34
NYM Yes Bobby Parnell Jennry Mejia Jennry Mejia Jennry Mejia 28
Nyy David Robertson David Robertson David Robertson David Robertson 39
Oak Yes Jim Johnson Sean Doolittle Sean Doolittle Sean Doolittle 22
Phi Jonathan Papelbon Jonathan Papelbon Jonathan Papelbon Jonathan Papelbon 39
Pit Yes Jason Grilli Mark Melancon Mark Melancon Mark Melancon 33
Sdp Yes Huston Street Joaquin Benoit Joaquin Benoit Joaquin Benoit 11
Sea Fernando Rodney Fernando Rodney Fernando Rodney Fernando Rodney 48
Sfg Yes Sergio Romo Santiago Castilla Santiago Castilla Sergio Romo 23
Stl Trevor Rosenthal Trevor Rosenthal Trevor Rosenthal Trevor Rosenthal 45
TBR Yes Grant Balfour Jake McGee Jake McGee Jake McGee 19
Tex Yes Neftali Feliz Joaquim Soria Neftali Feliz Neftali Feliz 13
Tor Casey Janssen Casey Janssen Casey Janssen Casey Janssen 25
Was Yes Rafael Soriano Rafael Soriano Drew Storen Rafael Soriano 32

Now, technically the Reds never “switched” their closer; they just knew that Aroldis Chapman was coming back after a brief stint on the D/L.  And the Astros show Chad Qualls in all the positions, but they clearly were going with a committee for most of the season.  So you could argue against those two teams, but that still leaves half the league switching their closer mid-season.  Other teams stuck with the same guy all year (Detroit with Joe Nathan) despite awful numbers (4.81 ERA on the season for Nathan), so you could argue that they *should* have switched.

The Nats were no exception; they started the year with Rafael Soriano, who was one of the league’s best for half the season.  By September, the Nats had dumped Soriano for their *previous* closer in Drew Storen, who then dumped the bed in his only two post-season appearances (blowing the save in Jordan Zimmermann‘s epic 8 2/3 shutout innings, and then allowing two hits and a run in a non-save situation the next night).

What does this mean?  For “real” baseball, not much that we didn’t already know.  Closers are judged mostly on high-leverage short-sample sizes, where one blow-out inning destroys ERA and WHIP numbers for a month.  Its a ridiculous statistic that has far too much credence in the modern game.  And its even more ridiculous that a mediocre “closer” with a ton of saves earns more than a middle-to-late innings reliever with a ton of “holds” and great numbers.  But this is our system.

For “fantasy” baseball, the take away again is kind of known: closers are a crapshoot.  Try to get a couple of “known” closers in the 5th-8th rounds, grab a couple of fliers on people later on, but be sure to be incredibly proactive on the waiver wires in the last week of spring training/first week of the season.  A lot of these personnel changes happened in early April and then stuck the rest of the way through (quick examples being Milwaukee as described above and the New York Mets, who saw presumed closer Bobby Parnell blow out his elbow on practically the first day of the season and have Tommy John surgery on 4/8/14).