Nationals Arm Race

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

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One Team Hall of Famers: a dying breed? (2014 Jeter retirement update)

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Jeter waves to the fans in his last home game.  AP photo via abcnews.com

Jeter waves to the fans in his last home game. AP photo via abcnews.com

In June of 2013, in the midst of the Mariano Rivera retirement tour, I posted about one-team Hall of Famers and whether they were a dying breed in modern baseball.  I figured that they were, that free agency had ruined the iconic “one team” home-town legend that we grew up knowing (especially in DC, with Cal Ripken Jr. just up the road).

Now that Derek Jeter has wound down own his 2014 retirement tour, and the fact that we’ve seen some recent player movement that has eliminated some HoF candidates from being one-teamers, I thought this was a good topic to pick back up.

Here’s a quick glance at the landscape of one-team Hall of Fame candidates in the game today.

  • Recently Retired One-team Hall of Fame locks: Chipper Jones, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter

You have to think each of these three guys is a first ballot Hall of Famer, and each was a one-team guy.

  • Recently retired one-team Hall of Fame candidates: Todd Helton

I’m not sure Helton will make the Hall; if Larry Walker can’t get in because people think his numbers were inflated by Colorado’s home park, then Helton will be in the same boat.  His embarrassing, ridiculous DUI arrest in mid 2013 while driving to get lottery tickets (despite the fact that he has more than $160M in career earnings just in salary alone) certainly won’t help his case.

  • Active HoF one-team promising candidates: Joe Mauer, Justin Verlander, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Dustin Pedroia, Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey, Mike Trout

If Verlander finished out his contract just being a 14-11 guy each year, he’d probably end up with 250 wins to go with his Cy Youngs, MVP, and Rookie awards.  People will remember how good a hitter Mauer is when the time comes.  Yes, I think Utley is on track to be a hall of famer; he’s been hurt for so long that people have forgotten how good he is.  No I don’t think Rollins is a HoFamer right now, but he deserves to be in this category not the “borderline” category.  Now, not all of these guys are guarantees to stick with their current teams (especially McCutchen, who eventually cashes in on a big contract that Pittsburgh cannot afford), but for now this is the list.  Almost all of these guys managed to be excellent players for huge-payroll teams, meaning that they can easily finish their careers without having to move on.

Yeah I put Mike Trout on this list.  Did you know that Trout already has as much career bWAR (28.3) by age 22 that Paul Konerko has for his entire 18-year career??  If Trout flamed out before the age of 30 he’d have the same case for inclusion that Sandy Koufax had, and he’d be in.

I cannot see the likes of Rollins, Utley or Pedroia moving teams at this point; do you view Pedroia as a HoFame candidate?  He’s got more than 40 bWAR by the age of 30, an MVP vote, two rings and a bunch of All-Star and Golden Gloves.

  • Active Borderline HoF one-team guys who need to step it up: David Wright, Evan Longoria, Troy Tulowitzki, Joey Votto, Cole Hamels, Adam Wainwright, Jordan Zimmermann

These are all perennial all-stars, kings of the game, but none of them really screams out “Hall of Famer” right now.  I may be slightly down on these guys (especially Hamels, who might be more than borderline right now).  I’ve thrown Zimmermann in there thanks to his second stellar season in a row and his no-hitter; he’s likely to have another top 5 Cy Young finish in 2014 and with a few more such seasons he may put himself into the conversation.  Of course, the odds are that he departs the Nats after 2015, so he may be off the list anyway.

  • Active One-team players who have taken themselves out of HoF candidacy lately: Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Jered Weaver, Ryan Howard

I used to think Zimmerman was on track, especially after his monster 2009 season.  Now I think he’s destined to be just a middle of the order solid hitter on teams with better hitters surrounding him.  Think Scott Rolen.  Braun may be one of the best players in the NL, but getting caught with PEDs not once but twice will prevent him from ever being enshrined no matter what kind of career he puts together.  The fall-off of the San Francisco duo of pitchers speaks for itself; what the heck happened to Lincecum?  Similarly, Weaver now looks like a guy who peaked during his expected peak years and now is settling into being a slightly better-than-average pitcher.  Fair?  Maybe not, but his ERA+ for 2014 is 104; not exactly Kershaw-territory.

  • Recently traded/free agent one-team HoF promising candidates: Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki, Robinson Cano,  Justin Morneau, David Price, Jon Lester, Prince Fielder

I’m not saying all these guys are HoF locks right now, just that they’re top players who have made big moves recently to break up a string of years with one team.

Conclusion?   I think there’s plenty of one-team candidates out there.  So no, one-team hall-of-famers aren’t going to be a dying breed.  Teams are locking up their marquee players to long-term contracts earlier and earlier, meaning the likelihood of having big-name one-team players present their cases to the voters is that much higher in the modern baseball climate.

Did I miss anyone worth talking about?

 

My 2012 End-of-Season award Predictions

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Mike Trout is a shoe-in for Rookie of the Year. Will he add AL MVP as well? Photo Gary Vasquez/US Presswire via espn.com

I’ve had a good string of predicting MLB’s major Post season awards in this space.  In 2010 I went 8 for 8.  In 2011 I again went 8-8 in predicting MLB’s awards, though I missed on predicting the unofficial Sporting News Executive and Comeback Player of the year.   I don’t have much confidence in going 8-for-8 this year though; the AL MVP seems way too close to predict, and I have no idea how the Cy Young awards will go.

[Editor Note: I write this in phases over the course of the season, and finalized it in early October.  After I wrote this piece some of the awards have already been announced; Sporting News announced Comeback Players of the Year last week.  I’ll put up another post talking about my guesses and which awards I got right and wrong in another article once all awards are announced in November.]

Here’s a sampling of major baseball writers’ and their predictions that I could find ahead of my publishing this article: Tom Verducci, Ken Rosenthal, Bob Nightengale, Jonah Keri, and Jayson Stark.  Here’s the Fangraphs.com staff picks, heavily statistically weighted as you’d expect.  As you will see, even the national writers are all over the road with their predictions.  Here’s HardballTalk’s Matthew Pouliot‘s theoreticall ballot, with some contrarian picks.  Seamheads’ Andrew Martin has the typical sabre-slanted ballot.

Before reading on to my predictions on 2012′s winners, a statement to prevent arguments in the comments section.  These are my guesses as to who will WIN the awards, not necessarily who DESERVES them.  Invariably there’s a player who plays on a non-playoff or losing team but puts up fantastic numbers (Matt Kemp for the 2011 Dodgers, perhaps Mike Trout this year) who a number of loud pundits say “should” win the MVP.  Well, the fact of the matter is that the current voter base absolutely takes into account the circumstances behind a player’s production, and places more value on batters who are in a pennant race.  As do I.  The MVP isn’t the “Best Overall Batter Award,” which would end a lot of these arguments (since, the Cy Young essentially is exactly the “Best Overall Pitcher Award” and thus is easier to predict); its the “Most Valuable Player” award, and I agree with many who believe that a guy hitting .370 for a last place team isn’t nearly as “valuable” as the guy who hits .320 and leads a team deep into a playoff race.  It is what it is; if we want to change it perhaps the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA, whose awards these are) needs to add a category or clarify their requirements.

Secondly, when considering the Cy Young, invariably there’s one pitcher who puts up comparable numbers to another, but one plays in a weaker division so the same Sabr-focused pundits make their holier-than-thou proclamations about how the voter base failed in their picks.  And their points are valid.  But this is a prediction piece, not an opinion piece, and the fact of the matter is that current voters are still mostly old-school and put value on things like “Wins” and “ERA,” stats that most Sabr-nerds think are useless in evaluating a pitcher.

So keeping those two points in mind, Here’s my predictions for 2012:

  • AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera.  Despite the massive amount of internet baseball material devoted to talking about how great a season Mike Trout has had (mostly looking at his WAR values historically), I still see the voter base placing emphasis on three major points:
    • Cabrera plays for a playoff team, Trout does not.   The fact that the Angels will finish with a better record than the Tigers, or that the Angels clearly played in a harder division?  Immaterial to the old-school voter base.
    • Cabrara won the Triple Crown.  And most Triple Crown winners throughout history also won the MVP.  The fact that the triple crown is based on 3 relatively flawed statistics?  Irrelevant to the narrative of the achievement itself.  It remains an incredibly difficult achievement to accomplish in modern baseball’s era of specialized hitters (Ichiro for batting, Adam Dunn for homers) to hit for both average and power in the way that Cabrera consistently does.  (Rob Neyer posted thoughts about this topic, quoting random people on the internet with various takes).
    • Cabrera had a monster finish, Trout did not.  Cabrera’s OPS in the run-in months was over 1.000 each of July, August and September.  Trout peaked in July but was merely above average in the closing months.   Your finish matters (as we’ll see in the NL Rookie of the Year race discussed later on).

    Opinions like USA Today’s Bob Nightengale‘s exemplify the bulk of the voter base right now.  A few years ago the writers were smart enough to award Felix Hernandez a Cy Young with nearly a .500 record by recognizing more of the advanced metrics in play, but the Cy Young’s definition is a lot more specific than that of the MVP.

    This is nothing against Trout; the Angels were 6-14 when he got called up and finished 89-73.  That’s an 83-59 record with him, a .584 winning percentage that equates to 95 wins, which would have won the AL West.  Trout was the undeniable MVP for me nearly all season.  You hate to say it, but when the Angels faltered so did Trout’s MVP candidacy.

    The rest of the ballot?  Adrian Beltre and Robinson Cano get some typical “best player on best teams” votes.  I’d give Josh Reddick some top-5 votes too.

  • AL Cy Young: David Price, by virtue of his 20 wins and league leading ERA, will squeak out the win over last year’s winner Justin Verlander. The statistical crowd will point out that Verlander was just as dominant in 2012 as he was in 2011 (when he unanimously won), and that his significantly higher innings total and lead in Pitcher WAR should get him the award.   However, as with the AL MVP you have to take into account the voter base.   Price won 20 games, that he pitches in a tougher division, that he beat out Verlander for the ERA title.  Plus, and I hate to say it, but Price is the “sexy pick,” the guy who hasn’t won before.  Verlander is the known guy and sometimes you see voters being excited to vote for the new guy.  Its kind of like the Oscars; sometimes an actor wins for a performance that wasn’t the best as a way to “give it to the new guy.”  Certainly this contributed to Clayton Kershaw‘s victory in 2011 and we may see similar behaviors again.  There might even be an east coast voter bias in play.  Jered Weaver, Chris Sale, Jake Peavy, and Felix Hernandez all get some top-5 votes, possibly finishing in that order behind Price and Verlander.
  • AL Rookie of the Year: Mike Trout, in what should be an unanimous vote. He could (if the MVP vote goes the way many thinks it should) become only the 3rd player ever to win both the MVP and the RoY in the same year (Fred Lynn and Ichiro Suzuki being the others).  In the conversation: Yu Darvish (who certainly did not have a BAD year, but drifted mid-season), Yoenis Cespedes (who would win it in most years), Matt Moore (my preseason guess; I’m still shocked he displayed virtually none of the dominance of the 2011 post-season during his 2012 season), Will Middlebrooks (who made Kevin Youklis expendible within just a couple of months of arrival), and amazingly Tommy Milone (who was nearly unhittable in his home stadium and continued his performance from the Nats in the end of 2011).  A couple other names in the conversation: Scott Diamond and Jarrod Parker.
  • AL Mgr: Buck Showalter should get this this award for taking a team that should be a .500 ballclub based on pythagorean record and put them in the playoffs for the first time in a decade.  I also think he wins because of east coast bias, since certainly what Bob Melvin and the Oakland A’s pulled off is nothing short of fantastic.  Robin Ventura may have gotten some votes had the White Sox held on, but may be the 3rd place finisher.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL GM: I almost hate to say it, but Billy Beane. The A’s were supposed to be awful this year, having traded away most of their starting rotation (as explained further in this Aug 2012 post here) and let most of their hitters walk.  Instead they acquire a couple of good pieces from Washington, sign the exciting Cespedes to go with a few bottom-barrel FAs, and overcame a 13-game deficit to win the powerhouse AL West.  A great story.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL Comeback Player of the Year: It has to be Adam Dunn, right?  How do you go from the lowest qualifying average in history to career highs in homers and not get votes.  Jake Peavy may get some votes after two injury plagued seasons, but he was pretty decent last year and isn’t exactly coming out of nowhere like Ryan Vogelsong did last year.

Now for the National League:

  • NL MVP: Buster Posey‘s strong finish, combined with his team’s playoff run and his playing catcher gives him the nod over his competition here.  For much of the season I thought this award was Andrew McCutchen‘s to lose, but his fade and Pittsburg’s relative collapse from their division-leading mid-season costs him the MVP.  The rest of the ballot? Ryan Braun may be putting up MVP-esque numbers but the fall out from his off-season testing snafu will cost him votes (both in this race and for the rest of his career unfortunately). Johnny Molina getting some press too, for many of the same reasons as Posey.  Joey Votto probably lost too much time to be really considered, but remains arguably the best hitter in the league.
  • NL Cy Young:  R.A. Dickey was the mid-season choice, was challenged late but his 20th win combined with his fantastic ERA for a knuckleballer makes him the winner.  Amazingly, Dickey has pitched most of the season with a torn abdominal muscle, making his season accomplishments even more impressive.   Johnny Cueto makes a great case, leading the playoff-contending Reds, but he slightly sputtered down the stretch.  Clayton Kershaw quietly had a fantastic year, leading the league in ERA, but as we saw with David Price above, I think the voters like to vote for the new guy.  Kershaw got his Cy Young last year; this year is Dickey’s time.  Other names in the top-5 mix: Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Gio Gonzalez and perhaps even Jordan Zimmermann (who got some mid-season attention by virtue of his excellent July).  I have a hard time giving the award to a reliever, but the numbers Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel are putting in as the closers of Cincinnati and Atlanta respectively may be enough to at least appear in the top-5.  Lastly, the odd case of Kris Medlen; his WAR puts him in the top 10 despite only having 12 starts.  Is this enough to give him some votes?  Maybe some 5th place votes here and there.  But look out in 2013.
  • NL Rookie of the Year: Bryce Harper, who won his 2nd rookie of the month in September, finished incredibly strong and took advantage of late-season fades from his two biggest competitors to win this award.  The National media buzz on Harper/Trout was never greater than during the season’s last month, and while games in April count the same as in September, the lasting impression is made by he who finishes strongest.   Wade Miley has a great case but I think falls short.  Cincinnati’s Todd Frazier has had a great season and was beating Harper’s numbers across the board, but he sat once Scott Rolen came back and faded down the stretch.   Milwaukee’s Norichika Aoki has had a nice season at age 30, coming over from Japan.  I don’t think guys like this (or Darvish, or Ichiro Suzuki for that matter) should qualify as “rookies” but rules are rules.  Anthony Rizzo, Wilin Rosario, Matt Carpenter, and Mike Fiers also put up good rookie numbers and may get some 5th place votes.
  • NL Mgr: Davey Johnson.  Nobody had the Nats winning nearly 100 games.  Had the Pirates not collapsed perhaps we’d be talking about Clint Hurdle. Don Mattingly had somewhat of a transitionary team playing great early, but the mid-season influx of high-priced talent, and their subsequent collapse costs him any support.
  • (unofficial award) NL GM: Mike Rizzo, pulling off the Gio Gonzalez trade, signing Jackson in a deal immediately lauded as a great move and quickly putting together a team that looks to be 15-20 games improved over 2011.  We thought they’d be in the mid-80s in wins; who thought they could be pressing for 100??
  • (Unofficial “award”): NL Comeback Player of the Year: Buster Posey.  He went from a season-ending injury to an MVP season.  In other years Adam LaRoche may get some looks here, but not in the face of what Posey has been doing for San Francisco.  Lastly I had Johan Santana on a short list for this award until he was lost for the season in the aftermath of his 134 pitch no-hitter on June 1st.  At at point he was 3-2 but with a 2.38 ERA.  He finished the season 6-9 with a 4.85 ERA and was shut down on August 17th.  Are we sure that no-hitter was worth it?

Questionable defense bailed out in the 10th

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Opening day is always so much fun.  Except when you are running late, try driving to the stadium, and literally drive around for an hour trying to find a place to park.  I’ve never seen the areas around the stadium THAT jammed, with no parking available in any lot for any price.  We ended up illegally parked off of Delaware ave and somehow didn’t get a parking ticket.  My guess is that the meter maids got carpel tunnel syndrome from writing so many tickets for out of towners that they had to go home before reaching the neighborhood where my car was parked.  We saw the jets from 395, we heard the fireworks while driving past the McDonalds on South Capitol, and arrived in time to see the Nats bat in the bottom of the 2nd.  Lesson learned; never never try to drive to opening day again.

Anyway.

Gio Gonzalez looked fabulous; 7ip, 2 hits, 7 punchouts and zero walks.  He works fast, his four seamer hopped and his curve (at least from the side) looks amazing.  He made Joey Votto, Cincinnati’s best hitter, look just foolish, punching him out twice.  Gonzalez continues a trend of Washington’s 3 best starters pitching 7 complete with room to spare (Gonzalez sat at 97 pitches through 7 complete but had 7-8-9 coming up, meaning that Clippard had a relatively easy hold, but more importantly meaning that, were it later in the season, Gonzalez easily could have extended himself to get through the 8th).

Too bad Gonzalez’s Win was spoiled by the 2nd and 3rd defensive gaffes from Ryan Zimmerman on the afternoon.  He had a fielding error earlier in the game (compounded by throwing the ball away) that didn’t end up factoring into the game, but his defense in the 9th was very questionable.

Baseball 101: if you’re nursing a close lead in the 9th inning, what do you tell your fielders?  NO DOUBLES.  That means your 1st and 3rd basemen guard the line and your outfielders play deep.  You can absorb a single but you don’t allow someone into scoring position.  So what happens in the top of the 9th?  Scott Rolen doubles down the line past Zimmerman to get into scoring position.  Zimmerman was so far off the line he didn’t even dive after the ball.   What he heck was he doing?

Then, after a walk to load the bases Zimmerman plays Ryan Ludwick at least even with the bag, perhaps even further in, apparently guarding against the bunt.  Ok: I guess I can understand that play to a certain extent … except that Ludwick is a power hitter and the Reds were 2 runs down at that point.  Dusty Baker isn’t playing for a suicide squeeze, he’s playing for a gapper to score two runs.  To make matters worse, Ludwick gets down 1-2, and Zimmerman STILL doesn’t return to double play depth.  Ludwick, who was a far shot to bunt in the first place, certainly isn’t bunting with 2 strikes down 2 runs in the 9th!  So what happens?  Ludwick hits a routine grounder to Zimmerman, who gets eaten up because he’s playing right on the grass and the ball takes a weird hop.  If Zimmerman plays at normal depth, that’s a game ending double play ball at best, a force out at 3rd for the 2nd out at worst.

Do you blame his positioning on Zimmerman or the dugout?  Probably the latter, but Zimmerman has been playing long enough and is a good enough fielder that he should have known what to do.  I hope he buys Gonzalez dinner for costing him a Win (not to mention Lidge for the blown-save).  In the end the Nats get the W … but as I was driving away from the stadium it wouldn’t have surprised me in the least to see the team demoralizingly drop that game after controlling it the entire day.

Written by Todd Boss

April 13th, 2012 at 9:54 am