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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.

Useless Facts: Team Payroll versus World Series success

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The powers that be in baseball have long rung the bell of anti-competitiveness w/r/t payroll and success.  In fact, its the salient driving early topic of Michael Lewis‘s seminal book Moneyball ….

Tangent.  Moneyball has its faults, don’t get me wrong.  I may have gone on this rant before, but having recently re-read the book, I was reminded of these issues:

  • A huge part of the Oakland A’s success in the 2002 103 win season was due to their two best hitters (Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez) being home grown talents that pre-dated Billy Beane‘s tenure as GM.  Tejada was an IFA signed in 1993, Chavez drafted out of HS as the 10th overall pick in 1996.  Beane did not ascend to the job til 1997.
  • An even huger part of the A’s success was due to their rotation; three Ace-level arms under the age of 26 that season in Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder, none of which was paid more than $875k that year as pre-arb guys … and in fact Zito wasn’t even to arbitration yet.  Combined bWAR for these three: 15.8.
  • The much-ballyhood 2002 draft, which is the subject of most of the book and is the center of the movie’s conflict?  The one where the A’s had 7 first round or supp-1st round picks?  It was an abject failure.  Of the 7 guys they drafted in the 2002 1st round, 3 never made the majors and a 4th (the much-argued-about Alabama C Jeremy Brown) had a MLB career that consisted of 5 games.  A 5th player (Mark Teahen) had a combined career MLB bWAR of 2.6.  The remaining two players (Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton) had long careers of course … but Blanton had just 11.8 career bWAR across 262 games in 13 years, finishing his career with none other than the Washington Nationals and never once making an all-start team or gaining a single Cy Young vote: career ERA+?  95.  I’m sorry, but good drafting teams hit on their first rounders more often than not and the “bar” is MLB regular.  They got perhaps 1 and a half out of 7 picks right in this year, for all of the
  • That whole guitar-playing daughter movie BS?  Non-existent in the book.  Hey I get it; you gotta make Brad Pitt look likeable.  By all accounts in the book, Beane is … not likeable.  There were stories of him screaming in meetings, throwing furniture in the draft room, being incapable of watching the games with others because he got so worked up … to say nothing of his exploits as a professional hitter self-destructing in rage.  Pretty sure these behaviors wouldn’t fly in today’s climate.

I digress.

As pointed in Moneyball … during MLB’s investigation a pesky economist kept asking questions like, “If there’s a direct correlation between payroll and success, then  how does Oakland keep winning with these low payrolls?”  And nobody had a good answer. It got me thinking, in the wake of Washington’s well-funded World Series victory in 2019, what exactly was the history of payrolls to WS wins.  Well, here it is in tabular format.

Yearteampayrollhighlowmedianpayroll ranknotes
2019Washington197236601264
2018Boston23323365134133m more than #2
2017Houston124m2416313917Result of bottoming out strategy in 2013
2016Chicago Cubs171m250631316
2015Kansas City112m2826911817LA = 282; just crazy
2014San Francisco149m236451077
2013Boston150m22926934Houston = 26m
2012San Francisco131m21351946
2011St. Louis109m207399210
2010San Francisco97m212378411
2009New York Yankees203m2033781150M more than #2
2008Philadelphia96m213257813Miami = 25
2007Boston147m19525872
2006St. Louis89m201168311Miami = 16
2005Chicago White Sox75m209306713
2004Boston128m18527632
2003Florida47m153196925TB = 19
2002Anaheim61m126346115
2001Arizona85m11123648
2000New York Yankees92m92165815m more than #2
1999New York Yankees91m111m more than #2
1998New York Yankees73m2
1997Florida52m5
1996New York Yankees61m16m more than #2
1995Atlanta47m4

Some thoughts looking at 2019 and going backwards:

  • 17 of the 25 WS winners since divisional play started had payrolls in the top 10 of the league
  • 14 of these 25 winners were top 5.
  • The Los Angeles Dodgers have spent an amazing amount of money to win nothing over the past 5-6 years.   They’re the “high” payroll for most of this decade, peaking at $282M in 2015.
  • The Nats just won the WS with the 4th largest payroll in the game, basically at the top of the luxury tax line.
  • Boston won it last year with easily the highest payroll in the game, fully $33M more than the 2nd highest payroll. Now that’s buying a title!
  • Houston’s 2017 title comes on the back of them absolutely bottoming out in 2013 and having successive 110+ loss seasons, so its status as an outlier doesn’t exactly hold water.
  • You have to go back to Kansas City’s 2015 run to see our first outlier … and it should be noted that Kansas City completely bottomed out their farm system to achieve those two years of success, immediately dropped to a .500 win team the year after and now have two straight 100+ loss seasons AND have by some accounts one of the worst farms in the game.
  • Before that you’re in the 2010-11 time-frame, where a 90-win St.Louis team with the 11th highest payroll went on a magical run to take out a bunch of teams with better records.
  • The 2008 Phillies were only the 13th ranked payroll; they were driven by career years of home-grown stars still confined by arbitration; within a couple of years Philly would be at the top of the league payroll list too.
  • Clearly 2003 Florida is the huge outlier; the only team with a payroll not at least in the top half of the game to take a series.  And I think we all know about that year…. i’m sure Dusty Baker and Steve Bartman remember it well.

So, does this data tell us anything?   Is it correlation or causation?  Or coincidence?

Movie Review: Moneyball

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Brad Pitt playing the part of Billy Beane. Photo movie still via splatf.com

Yes I know, I’m probably one of the last people out there who take the time to write a baseball-themed blog to actually see the movie Moneyball, the film adaptation of Michael Lewis‘ seminal baseball book by the same name.  We took some time last weekend during a period of relaxation to order it on PPV from DirecTV and watch it.  Here’s some thoughts;

First, I’ll freely admit that I struggled to appreciate the movie for two primary reasons:

  1. I read the book, several times over, digesting the analysis that Lewis offered for the success of the Athletics in the early 2000s, following the narrative of Billy Beane‘s rise from backup outfielder to advance scout and eventually the front office at such a young age and reading along for the primary story line revolving around the strategy employed during the infamous 2002 draft.
  2. I could not get over the distraction of so many parts of the story being purposely changed (changing Paul DePodesta‘s character to be the fictitiously named Peter Brand) or outright fabricated (the entire storyline involving Beane’s daughter).

I’ll leave aside my primary criticism of the book in general; as I’ve stated in this space and in other forums, Lewis really did not discuss the fact that the 2002 Athletics were blessed with a quartet of starters that has only been matched a few times in the last 40 years or so, and they were a huge part of the team’s success.  For me, yes the construction of the hitters on that team was unique and interesting, but that team doesn’t win 103 games without three starters who each posted a 125 ERA+ or (in some cases significantly) better.

From a movie critique stand point, I thought Brad Pitt did a pretty good job of portraying the engimatic Billy Beane, if anything toning down the violent temper as it was portrayed in the book.  Jonah Hill‘s portrayal of the DePodesto character was, to me, bland and lacking depth.  I was really surprised to see him get an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor frankly.

The entire storyline in the movie about Beane getting into the fight with the head scout was completely manipulated from how it really happened; in the movie they were talking about free agents but in the book they were talking about amateur players during the 2002 draft.  I suppose from a storyline perspective the conflict needed to occur when it did; a movie that was supposed to tell the tale of how Beane selected all these undervalued players in order to make the 2002 on-field team win wouldn’t really work if the primary conflict was about a bunch of 21yr old draftees that wouldn’t even feature in the majors (if at all) for 3-4 years onward.  But as someone who knows the actual details, it made understanding the storyline that the movie was telling that much more difficult.

In the end, my wife thought it was a “good movie” so its subsequent accolades seem in order.  Hollywood can’t really make a movie that appeals to the fraction of 1% of baseball fans who read that book and understood its statistical analysis.  You have to appeal to the masses for commercial success.

But I found myself struggling to decide whether I thought the movie was “good” or not.  It was entertaining.  The actors were ok, I guess.  I know many have criticized the Art Howe portrayal in the movie … but then again many criticized the portrayal of Howe in the book as well.  Lewis seemed to belittle many people in the book as a way of playing up his primary character.  But nothing about the movie really convinced me it was a seminal movie, that it was some great masterpiece of filmmaking that was worthy of an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.

What did you guys think?

Written by Todd Boss

March 9th, 2012 at 3:28 pm