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Nats post-2016 “GM for a Day” Off-Season Priorities for filling Roster Holes

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Ramos may be the toughest off-season decision the team makes. Photo via wp.com

Ramos may be the toughest off-season decision the team makes. Photo via wp.com

Another year, another playoff failure.  Beat it to death already.  Time to move on.

Lets talk about the post-season “To Do” list is for the Nats.  We’ll have eventual posts to talk about other stuff, like Tender decisions, 40-man decisions ahead of the Rule5 draft, etc.

In this post, we’ll squint at the overall roster, look at blatant holes that will need filling, and discuss how they might get filled.  Call it the cliche’s “General Manager for a day” post for the Nats this coming off-season.


Pending Free Agents we are waving good-bye to and the holes they thus leave (as per the invaluable Cots site at BaseballProspectus):

  • Mark Melancon: though i’d love to re-sign him … see later in the post.
  • Wilson Ramos: his injury is a shame for both player and team; he likely lost $50M in guaranteed FA money and the team lost a clear QO-compensation pick.  He may not even be able to catch again, which dumps him to the AL, where his market is significantly cut thanks to the lessening of demand for bat-only DH types.  Ramos is in serious career jeopardy right now; would he decamp back to the Nats on some sort of minimally guaranteed deal with performance incentives?
  • Stephen Drew: also one I hope re-signs; see later in the post.
  • Chris Heisey: one who I think is replaceable; look for another cattle call for RH bat options this coming spring training.
  • Matt Belisle: despite not making the NLDS roster, he was great for Washington this year and is worth another contract.
  • Mark Rzepczynski: He’s been very effective for us, and overall had a good 2016.  His 2015 was awful, but he was good before that.  Such is the life of specialist relievers.
  • Sean Burnett and Mat Latos: both given Sept 2016 tryouts; neither seem likely to be retained.
  • Jonathan Papelbon: worth mentioning if only for the payroll flexibility.

Total payroll “savings” from these FAs: roughly $22M.  Papelbon’s $11M, Ramos’ $5.3M and the rest total about $6M.

Guys who I think are clear Non-Tenders (probably a topic worth its own post).

  • Yusmeiro Petit: $3M option with $500k buyout for 2017; pitched poorly in 2016, didn’t make the post-season roster and should be replaceable on the roster by any number of our AAA starters.
  • Ben Revere: $6.25M salary this year, due an arbitration raise for 2017; struggled badly in 2016, lost his job to a guy who had about 2 week of CF experience and didn’t make the post-season roster.
  • Aaron Barrett: as heartless as it would be; he’s arb-eligible, still hurt, not likely to be ready by opening day and is completely replaceable as a RH middle reliever).

Total savings from these non-tenders: roughly $10M

Guys who I think its Time to Trade and the holes they thus leave.  This also may be worthy of its own whole post.

  • Gio Gonzalez: I think the Nats can take advantage of a historically weak FA market for starters and Gio’s very friendly contract (two $12M options for 2017 and 2018) and move him.  Yes he struggled this year, but if you look at what middle rotation innings eaters like him are getting these days, $12M is a bargain and he should fetch something we value.  Moving him lets some of the guys who are clearly biting on the heels of a deserved rotation spot earn it for 2017 and thus the Nats “save” $11.5M in salary for the 2017 roster.
  • Danny Espinosa: As much as I have argued against this, his 2017 playoff performance has solidified in my mind the need to move him.  He has his pros (a plus defender range wise, perhaps the best SS arm in the game, and serious power for a SS) and his cons (he hit just .209 this year, he strikes out at about a 30% clip, and his switch hitting capabilities are really in question).  Nonetheless, there has to be some demand for a 25-home run capable plus defender SS in a lineup that can afford one crummy batting average at the bottom of the order.  Perhaps an AL team that doesn’t have to also bat a sub .200 BA pitcher.

Total savings from these guys getting moved (not counting payroll received in return of course): $15-$16M.

So, adding up all three lines, assuming a steady payroll ceiling similar to this year’s and not counting arbitration raises (or Strasburg‘s new contract), you’d have roughly $47M with which to work.  Not bad.  Strasburg’s new contract will take $5M away from that flexibility (he made $10M last year, will make $15M next) and arbitration raises for Harper, Rendon and Roark will cost some cash, but that’s a post for another day.  Lets call it $30M in available FA dollars when all is said and done.


So, assuming you’re even reading this far and havn’t already started commenting and arguing about that list of players, here’s the presumed holes that losing these 10 players leaves (in order of mention above):

  • Closer
  • Starting Catcher
  • Backup Utility Infielder
  • Backup RH bench bat/corner outfielder
  • 6th/7th inning RH reliever
  • Loogy
  • Long Man/Spot starter/7th guy out of the pen
  • Backup Outfielder (CF capable)
  • Another 6th/7th inning RH reliever
  • #5 Starter
  • Starting Shortstop
  • (and not really counting the “loss” of Burnett and Latos for this discussion)

If we just filled these holes internally, what would it look like?

  • Closer: Make Shawn Kelley the closer and move up Treinen and Glover to be 8th inning guys.  This leaves a hole later on in the pen for the middle RH relievers (see below)
  • Starting Catcher: promote Lobaton to starter and install Severino as the backup.  Or switch them; honestly I like Severino’s at-bats; he looks confident.  I don’t think Kieboom is ready for the show, so it makes sense to tender Lobaton for one more year.
  • Backup Utility InfielderDifo becomes the first go-to guy to backup Turner/Murphy, but we’ll still need another utility guy.
  • Backup RH bench bat/corner outfielder: not much internally to go to; both the 2016 AAA and AA rosters are basically bereft of decent hitting prospects who might be candidates.  We’ll be trolling the FA market here for sure.  See the next section.
  • Two 6th/7th inning RH relievers: We have Gott and Martin on the 40-man; they could step up to replace these two guys like for like.  Right now we have five RH relievers under contract for 2017 (Kelley, Treinen, Glover, Gott and Martin) to go along with two lefties (Solis and Perez); that’s not too bad of a bullpen to start out with, but could be improved.  And this lineup doesn’t “really” have a long man, so you’d have to think one of Gott or Martin is in AAA to make room for a long-man (likely Martin at this point).
  • Loogy: its arguable whether we need another lefty with both Solis and Perez under contract, but they went most of the year this year with three.  Matt Grace is still on the 40-man and would be an internal option.
  • Long Man/Spot starter/7th guy out of the pen: loser of #5 starter competition (see below)
  • Backup Outfielder (CF capable)Michael Taylor, in what likely is his ceiling from here forward.
  • #5 Starter: have Sprint Training 2017 tryouts for the #5 starter between Lopez, Giolito, Cole and even Voth (who I’m assuming by that time will be on the 40-man, protected ahead of this coming off-season’s Rule-5 draft).  The winner is #5 starter, and one of the losers could be the long-man (well, if the loser is someone like Cole or Voth, who aren’t nearly as “big” of a prospect as Giolito).  There’s also the distinct possibility that Lopez’s arm is turned into a closer at some point if he can’t turn over lineups.  Check out Lopez’s 2016 splits, specifically SP versus RP and specifically the “Times Facing an Opponent” during the game; as a starter he struggles with the first time through the order, but not as a reliever.
  • Starting Shortstop: move Trea Turner to his natural position, leaving a hole in Center.

So, with my “all internal” fill-ins, your 25 man roster for 2017 looks something like this:

  • Starters: Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, Ross, Lopez
  • Relievers: Kelley, Treinen, Glover, Gott, Solis*, Perez*, Cole
  • Catchers: Lobaton, Severino
  • INF Starters: Rendon, Turner, Murphy, Zimmerman
  • INF backups: Difo, Robinson
  • OF Starters: Werth, Harper
  • OF Backups: Taylor, Goodwin

And we’re missing one-two spots that don’t really have natural in-house replacements: another backup infielder and a starting Center fielder.

So, looking at that 25-man roster, where do we see areas of need?  This feeds directly into the Off-season Priorities in the next section.


Quick diversion: Notice I didn’t say what position Bryce Harper is playing.  Honestly, if Turner is vacating CF and we’re waving good-bye to Espinosa, then I think you have to put Harper in center.  Here’s my main arguments for putting him in center (most of which are “anti-arguments” for those who for some reason think he cannot play center):

  1. He’s young.   He just turned 24 for crying out loud; there’s no reason he doesn’t have the youth or athleticism to handle center.  Mantle did it while hitting for power.  So did Mays.  So did Griffey Jr and Aaron for the early part of his career.  Trout plays center.
  2. He’s got the arm (he has the 2nd best statistically rated arm in the majors in 2016), he’s got the speed (21 Stolen bases this year).  And now he has years of OF experience on which to depend.
  3. He’s played there before and played well.  Here’s his career fielding stats from fangraphs.com: He had more than 700 innings in CF in 2012 and played it to a fantastic UZR/150 figure of 19.1 and 13 DRS.  He was also great there in more limited sample sizes in 2013 and 2015.  I leave out 2014 since that was his injury season and its clearly skewed as compared to his other seasons.
  4. By putting Harper in Center, you vastly open open up the roster possibilities on the FA market.  Look at the pending FA last at mlbtraderumors.com and compare/contrast the available options at CF versus LF/RF.

Top FA/Trade Priorities in 2016-2017 Off-season

Fantasy: I view these as not really possible but are listed as “fantasy” wish lists.  Both fixate on moving unmovable contracts, so they’ll probably remain fantasies.

  • Upgrade 1B: dump Zimmerman and upgrade offensively at that position.
  • Upgrade LF: dump Werth and the last year of his deal and find a LF-capable bopper.
  • Acquire a leading CF: back up the farm system and dump it out for a leading center fielder.  Charlie Blackmon or Andrew McCutchen are names often mentioned thanks to the precarious position their teams face.  Mike Trout is the funny name you also hear since he’s so good he’s virtually untrade-able.  Unlike Tom Boswell, and as discussed in comments here before, re-signing Ian Desmond to man CF poorly would not be my first choice either.  I’d rather go with my “Bryce to Center” plan as laid out above.

Reality

  • Corner Outfielder.   See above Harper->CF logic.  If you want to splurge (and hurt your #1 divisional rival) sign Yoenis Cespedes.   Or you could make a big splash and sign Jose Bautista to a 3-yr deal that ends the same time Harper hits FA.  Werth remains serviceable in left, where he is mitigated defensively while Bautista still has value in RF.  This is where I could see a big chunk of the $30M of FA dollars going.  Lord knows we could use another clutch hitter in the middle of the order.
  • Closer: Above I said i’d love to re-sign Melancon, but more and more it seems like he’s going to be the 4th prize in a 4-closer musical chairs race.  And he’s gonna get paid.  And I’m not sure that the Nats are going to pay him.  Per the same previously mentioned FA list there’s 5 “active” closers hitting FA: Melancon, Wade Davis, Aroldis Chapman,  Kenley Jansen and Sergio Romo There’s a whole slew of guys who are FA who are former closers though, names like Andrew BaileyJoaquin Benoit, Santiago Casilla, Neftali Feliz, Jason Grilli, Greg Holland, J.J. Hoover, Jonathan Papelbon (haha, just making sure you’re still reading), Joe Smith, Fernando Salas, and Brad Ziegler.  There’s probably even more frankly; these were just the ones who stood out as I read the list.  Now, i’m not saying most of these guys are legitimate options, but some of these guys were perfectly good as closers and got “layered” by better closers.  Take Ziegler for example: he was just fine for Arizona for a while, then got moved to Boston where he got demoted to 8th inning duties.   I’d take him as a late-innings bullpen option.  
  • Bullpen arm: middle reliever: Now, all that being said about Closers, I think maybe what the team does is install one of their existing options as “the closer” and then maybe  hire one of these former closers to be an 8th inning/emergency closer kind of guy.  That’s essentially what they got last year with Shawn Kelley and that’s worked out ok.  I’d go after some of the ex-closer guys listed above, try to get them on an affordable deal (like halfway to closer money maybe) and that’d help off-set the losses of Melancon and Belisle.
  • Veteran utility infielder: as noted above, there’s not much in the farm system here.  If you keep Espinosa and put him in this role, then this is moot .. but we’ve read over and again about his disposition when he’s not playing.  This is kind of why I think we need to move him.  He’s more valuable in trade than he is in this bench role.  I hope the team re-ups with Stephen Drew honestly; he was solid, can cover all infield positions as needed, and can probably be had for a similar deal as last year.  I’d be happy with Difo and Drew and wouldn’t be opposed to perhaps another veteran utility guy to pair with Drew and compete with Difo if we don’t think Difo is up to the task.

Less Likely:

  • Backup LF/IB bench bats: While I like Robinson and I think Heisey did a good job this year, one struggled and the other is a FA with no guarantee of returning.  I absolutely expect to see another spring training cattle call of veteran bats of the LF/1B type to compete for roster spots.  I’m appreciative of Goodwin‘s completely unexpected line at the plate upon his call up; do we think he’s a better lefty bat option off the bench than Robinson?  I’m not sure.  I also sense (based on anecdotal evidence read over the years) that Robinson is a clubhouse and teammate favorite, which might make it tougher to cut him when the time comes.  Especially with a player’s manager type like Dusty Baker.  I know this is where MartyC will cry about Matt Skole (likely to depart in MLFA this coming off-season) and I understand; its all about potential versus production and Skole never produced enough during these annual spring training “tryouts” to win his spot.
  • Catcher: Here’s where the most arguing may occur.  I’m of the belief, after watching Severino down the stretch, that he could slide right into the starting spot right now.  I thought he looked good at the plate, took confident at-bats, never looked over matched, and (here’s the kicker) *puts the ball in play!*   This lineup has too many strikeouts; Severino struck out just 3 times in his 34 PAs down the stretch.   That correlates to about 50 punch-outs over a 600-plate appearance season; that’s awesome.  He was known for years for his defense, not his bat, so if he can provide even competent ABs he could be a starter.  So i’m up for saving money on the FA market (where the catcher ranks are thin and the prices will get bid up badly as a result).  Now, I could absolutely see us re-signing Wilson Ramos to an incentive-laden deal to keep him in house and hopefully get a good second half out of  him.  Why not?  If he signs for $5-6M (basically his salary this year) and then has games played incentives that could take him up to $7 or $8M why wouldn’t he do that here instead of elsewhere?   We go into the season with Severino and Lobaton with Kieboom in AAA and when Ramos shows up we (finally?) cut bait on Lobaton and have the two remaining guys platoon.  I’d be onboard with that plan.
  • Loogy: Why spend money here?  Solis and Perez ably fill the need.  Do we need a third lefty in the pen at the expense of one of the aforementioned righties?  I liked Rzepczynski this year; would he re-sign for reasonable dollars?  Would you want him back?  There’s several interesting names on the FA list; maybe one of them can be had for cheap.

 

What can we get in Trade versus buying on the FA market?   Payroll implications?

  • I suspect that Gonzalez can fetch some seriously valuable resources.  He’s an innings eating 4th starter who probably thrives in a pitcher’s park and is significantly less expensive at $12M/year than what something comparable costs on the FA market this year.  So can he fetch maybe one MLB-ready player that fits a need above plus maybe one decent prospect?  Is that too much?
  • Espinosa probably fetches less, unless you can get a GM to fall in love with his power/defense combo and somehow miss his BA and his K rate.  By way of comparison, Yunel Escobar (a lesser defender with less power but more contact) fetched us two upper-level pitching prospects in Trevor Gott and Michael Brady (by upper-level I mean AA/AAA level, not top 100 prospects).  I’d guess that Espinosa could fetch a bit more since he plays a premium position.  So that could end up being more of the needs above plus maybe an additional prospect.

But who knows what we can and cannot get.  In Mike Rizzo we trust when it comes to trades; no matter how much we bitch about prospects heading out the door, you’re really hard pressed to find a trade where Rizzo got the short end of the bargain or “lost” the deal.  So lets see what he can do.

Payroll implications.  I think we could get a $20M/yr corner OF slugger, a former closer at like $6M/year, resign Ramos at $5M, find a utility infielder in the Drew $3M/year range, and then sign a couple of guys to $1.25M conditional deals like what Belisle and Heisey got and fit right into the $145M payroll budget, even after arbitration raises.

 


Well; that’s a lot to argue about.  Maybe I should have split this up.  But let the discussions begin!

(did I forget anyone?)

Ladson’s inbox 1/15/14

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Lots of speculation on Zimmerman's near future position. Photo AP via tbd.com

Lots of speculation on Zimmerman’s near future position. Photo AP via tbd.com

Rapid fire!  Nats mlb.com beat reporter Bill Ladson didn’t even wait seven days to release his latest inbox, this one dated 1/15/14.   We just got done arguing about the last one!  He must have a huge backlog of questions from baseball-starved fans who can’t wait for pitchers and catchers to report (we’re less than a month away now; Nats report date is 2/13/14).

Btw; I heard it from a friend of a friend that the Nats may have given extension offers to both Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann this week; havn’t seen that news pop up on any beat reporter RSS feeds or elsewhere yet.  But if true, its good to see the dialog opening up now as opposed to deep into spring training.  Stay tuned and lets see if these rumors turn out to be true!

As always, we write our responses here before reading his and edit questions as needed:

Q: What was the reason behind signing Jamey Carroll and Mike Fontenot to Minor League deals?

A: Because Syracuse loves having old, over the hill veteran guys playing middle infield for them.  No seriously, both Jamey Carroll and Mike Fontenot profile as your typical aging veteran trying to hold on for one last shot, accepting a minor league/non guaranteed contract with an invite to major league spring training so that they can compete for bench spots.  And this team absolutely has a need for middle infield depth after trading away Steve Lombardozzi and given the question marks that come with other middle infield options on our roster Danny Espinosa (has he remembered how to hit again?), Zach Walters (can he actually play shortstop without booting every other ball hit to him?), and Jeff Kobernus (is he even a middle infielder any more after focusing on the OF for so long)?  At this point, I think at least one of them will make the roster unless we make another trade.  Ladson says Mike Rizzo loves depth and the team is looking for a backup to Espinosa.  

Q: At which Minor League level will Lucas Giolito start this coming season after tearing it up with the Gulf Coast Nationals and Class A Auburn?

A: In my big system-wide prediction piece in December 2013, I predicted Lucas Giolito will start in Low-A/Hagerstown.  There’s no reason not to get him going in full-season ball, and low-A makes the most sense given his age.  In a perfect world he’d dominate low-A in the first half and get promoted to high-A/Potomac for the 2nd half.  Ladson also says Hagerstown.

Q: Am I the only one concerned about Bryce Harper‘s weight gain?

A: Bryce Harper is in his low-20s; he was always destined to “fill out” and gain more muscle mass.  It will only mean more ferocious power and hopefully more strength to help him slog through the 162 game schedule.  On the downside, it means less speed on the bases and probably less range in the outfield, neither of which is really too much of a concern for a premium power hitter.   If it means that my dream of Harper playing center field and taking over the reigns from the likes of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays as premium power-hitting CFers, so be it.  Ladson says there’s no worry.

Q: If the Nationals give Espinosa or Jeff Kobernus a spot on the Opening Day roster, who would be the first player sent to Syracuse?

A: I’d have to think Kobernus would be first expendible player; the team already has too many outfielders (3 starters in Harper, Denard Span and Jayson Werth, a backup in Scott Hairston and a presumed 2nd backup in Tyler Moore).  There’ s just no room for a third extra outfielder on modern teams; you need that 2nd bench spot for a guy who can cover the middle infield.  Ladson didn’t really answer the question, just saying that Espinosa would be “given every chance” to make the team.

Q: Do you think the Nationals would move Ryan Zimmerman to first base and trade Adam LaRoche for a good starter or bullpen pitcher? They could move Anthony Rendon to third base.

A: I do not think the team would move Adam LaRoche at this point.  You’d get almost no value back and would be creating a hole in your lineup that the team can’t easily fix.  If you think a team is going to give up a “good starter” or even a “bullpen pitcher” for a mid-30s guy who underperformed last year, then you’re fooling yourself.  Bill Ladson: stop taking dumb trade questions!

Back to the question though; the team seems convinced that Ryan Zimmerman‘s throwing issues are behind him, since he’s had more than enough time by now to recover from his Oct 2012 shoulder surgery.  Btw, take a look at his baseballprospectus link and look at his unbelievable injury history; I can’t think of another player with such a long list of maladies.  Now, once LaRoche is gone and the team is looking at a hole at first, a premium 3rd base defender wasting his talents at 2nd, and a litany of free agent options to provide cover at 2nd and/or 3rd… yes we may see Zimmerman come back across the diamond.  Lets see what happens in 2014; if Zimmerman returns to gold glove form, we may be having a different conversation next off-season (as in, who are we getting to play 1B).  Ladson talks up LaRoche, calling him one of the best defensive firstbasemen in club history.  If LaRoche is so good, we must have really had a bad run of first basement.  LaRoche posted a -2.0 UZR/150 last year, good for 17th of 19 qualified first basemen in the league … sorry, hard to talk about how great defensively you are one of the WORST first basemen statistically in the league.

Obligatory Class of 2013 Hall of Fame opinion piece

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Roger Clemens; is he a Hall of Famer or an opportunity for writers to make a PED statement? Photo unknown.

Obligatory Class of 2013 Hall of Fame opinion piece.

The 2013 Hall of Fame class ballot was released in Late November, on BBWAA’s site.   Here’s the 2013 class on Baseball-Reference.com, along with relevant career stats and past voting results.

As we’re about to read, over and over again from every writer in the Baseball world, this is the Steroid-era ballot.  Several of the biggest names of the era are on the ballot.  Just in case you were wondering who has or hasn’t been officially linked to PEDs, here’s a handy guide for your ethical dilemma.

My Previous posts on the same topic:

I typed up such exhaustive opinions on a number of candidates from the two previous versions of these posts, that I won’t repeat them here.  Instead i’ll just state below, of the returning candidates this year here’s who I’d vote for and who I wouldn’t in list form.

Returning Candidates I’d vote for:

  • Jeff Bagwell
  • Jack Morris
  • Tim Raines
  • Mark McGwire
  • Edgar Martinez

Returning Candidates that I would NOT vote for (my reasons mostly are stated in the 2012 class post referenced above):

  • Bernie Williams
  • Alan Trammell
  • Lee Smith
  • Larry Walker
  • Rafael Palmeiro
  • Don Mattingly
  • Fred McGriff
  • Dale Murphy

New Candidates in 2012 that I’d vote for, with some  discussion; Unlike a lot of opinions I state, my thoughts on the Hall of Fame have always been more driven by how a player “seems” to be in the pantheon of baseball history.  I don’t like to get into the same stats-driven discussions that other writers do.  So and so had a career WAR of X, or a career ERA+ of Y, which makes him better than this other guy.

  • Barry Bonds: A transcendent player before any use of “the cream” or “the clear,” this 7-time MVP is clearly in the pantheon of the greatest players of all-time.  The best 5-tool player since Willie Mays, the only thing that should have been standing in the way of unanimous voting is Bonds’ surly nature towards sports writers (several of whom would have “penalized” him by omitting him from first ballot status).
  • Roger Clemens: replace “7-time MVP” with “7-time Cy Young winner” and the Bonds argument essentially repeats itself with Clemens.  Normally we’d be talking about his place as one of the greatest right handed pitchers to ever play the game.  Instead we’re talking about how much of his later career was enhanced by virtue of foreign substances.
  • Mike Piazza: One of the best 3 hitting catchers of all time (Johnny Bench being the best, with Yogi Berra in the discussion), his purported “back acne” proof of steroid use likely costs him votes.  Which is just ridiculous, but that’s the nature of this ballot and the next 15 year’s worth of ballots unfortunately.
  • Curt Schilling: his career accomplishments don’t include a Cy Young award, but that wasn’t for lack of trying; he just happened to pitch in the same ERA as Randy Johnson and Johan Santana in his prime power.  But Schilling was a game-changing starter, an Ace who could get you the win.  He was one of the biggest “big game” pitchers out there.  And, his legendary playoff performances push him over the top for me.  Some will argue against him b/c he “only” had 216 wins or he “only” had a career 3.46 ERA.  He passes the eye test for me.
  • Craig Biggio: he wasn’t the flashiest player, but then again you can’t judge middle infielders the same way as you judge power hitters.  Biggio hit the 3,000 hit plateau, was a good combination of power (291 career homers) and speed (414 career SBs), and showed good defense (several Gold Gloves).  For one of the last career one-team guys, he makes the cut for me.

New Candidates that I would NOT vote for:

  • Sammy Sosa: 600+ career homers, and I can’t help but think that a good number of those were either PED or corked-bat assisted.  That’s probably completely unfair, but you can make a good argument that more than 150 of his career homers were likely “surplus” to his legitimate career capabilities.  He averaged 37 homers/season as he approached his prime, then suddenly averaged 60/season for four seasons.  Clearly Bonds’ 73-homer season is attributable to a single-season PED spike, but Sosa made a career of it.  There’s just no way for me to distinguish who the real Sosa was (he had a 99 OPS+ the year before his power spike) versus the PED enhanced version.
  • Kenny Lofton: I know lots of people view Lofton in the same breath as Rickey Henderson in terms of quality lead-off hitters, but to me he was just a vagabond who kept looking for work year after year.  He played for 12 teams by the time he hung them up.  Perhaps I’m not really “remembering” his time in Cleveland, where he stole a ton of bases and set the table for that powerful lineup.   He had a handful of gold gloves, a handful of all-star appearances.  I may be under-appreciating him a bit, but when I hear his name I don’t knee-jerk Hall of Famer.
  • Everyone else first time eligible, the best player of which is probably David Wells.  Wells basically had two good seasons (the only two times he received any Cy Young consideration) and otherwise was a rubber-armed hurler who prided himself on making 35 starts despite being in god-awful shape (as noted extensively in Joe Torre‘s book The Yankee Years).

I’d be shocked if anyone else on the first time eligible list got enough votes to even stay eligible for 2014’s ballot.

Critics may state that my fake ballot has some inconsistencies; how can I support a vote for Biggio but not for Trammell?   How can you vote for McGwire but not Sosa?  How can you vote for Edgar Martinez but not Larry Walker?  How can you vote for *any* PED guys but shun Sosa and Palmeiro?  How can you support Morris but not support Wells?   All these are good points; good arguable points.  Maybe if I had an official ballot I’d have a more serious discussion with myself about these points.  All the above thumbs-up/thumbs-down opinions are mostly knee jerk, did the guy “feel” like a hall of famer as opposed to a full statistical analysis.   As I covered in my Jack Morris piece, I think its ok to have slightly lesser players who contributed more to the baseball pantheon than slightly better players statistically who had no real lasting impact on the game.

And for now, that’s good enough for me and my fake Hall of Fame ballot.

Ask Boswell 12/12/11 edition

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If you squint, this almost looks like an Angels uniform already. Photo: unknown via fantasyknuckleheads.com

Here’s Tom Boswell‘ weekly Monday chat on 12/12/11.  Despite being in the baseball off-season, the chat had a TON of baseball questions.  Of the baseball questions he took, here’s how I’d have answered them.

As always, questions are edited for clarity and I write my own answer prior to reading his.

Q: Is Albert Pujols a cautionary tale for the Nats signing Ryan Zimmerman to a long term contract?

A: Its not *quite* the same; Pujols is better but older, and if you believe the scuttlebutt/internet rumors may be even older still.  Zimmerman will hit his walk year at age 28 with a good 3-4 years of “peak” in him (assuming that your “peak” is somewhere around age 31).  So the Angels just bought 10 years of almost-certain decline for Pujols while the next deal that Zimmerman signs will still include his most productive years.  The Cardinals were nearly $40M off in the end, AND didn’t offer up something like the personal services contract that guarantees the retired Pujols income into his 50s.  So there’s more at work here, honestly.  In the respect that the Cardinals “played chicken” to a certain extent with Pujols, then yes there is a cautionary tale for how the Nats treat Zimmerman.

But there are some issues with extending Zimmerman.  He’s injury-prone.  He’s missed nearly 150 games in 5 seasons, had two surgeries and a third major injury (his labrum) that could have been surgical.  Is his 2009 season (33 homers, 106 rbi and a 133 ops+) the best possible case or is that his sustainable production?  The team wants to extend him (if you believe the beat reporters) but the team has also rebuffed Zimmerman’s agents’ attempts to negotiate this off-season (if you believe ex-Nats gm hack Jim Bowden).  Me?  I’d see what happens in 2012 and make a decision next off-season.   Boswell assumes the Nats will offer Zimmerman a Troy Tulowitzki type deal, and so do I frankly.

Q: What are your opinions on the seemingly arbitrary Hall of Fame voting process?

A: My issues with HoF voting include the following:

  • Voters who are voting on morals/ethics stances and not productivity on the field (say, Roberto Alomar).
  • Voters who are swayed by revisionist-historian sabremetrics nerds who canonize players 25 years after they played but forget that those same players were essentially mediocre during their day (i’m looking at you Bert Blyleven).
  • Voters who use the HoF vote to penalize players that stiffed them or were mean to them during their career (how else can you explain some of the voting results for players that should be sure-fire near 100% electees?  Willie Mays only got 94% of the vote, Mickey Mantle an even more ridiculous 88%.
  • Voters who fail to vote for players who have never had any sniff of PED controversy but who played in the era (Jeff Bagwell).
  • Voters who have now elected nearly 13% of active players from the 30s and 40s but who can’t find a place for the best players from the 80s (Raines, Larkin, Morris and the like).

As for the election of Ron Santo, he is another case of a guy who slipped through the cracks and who should have been elected by the veterans committee long before he passed.  What sense does it make to canonize a guy right after he dies?  So that his wife can be happy?  I don’t get it.  Santo was the same guy, with the same stats, ever since the day he retired.

Boswell says he agrees with the “first ballot hall of fame” distinction and supports NOT voting for guys who aren’t the uber-elite on the first ballot.  He also mentions that Blyleven’s candidacy was clearly helped by outside lobbying.

Q: Where — if at all — does Yu Darvish fit within your “pay up for quality” theory in last weekend’s post-Pujols signing column? Also, How likely are the Nats to make a serious bid for Darvish?

A: Boswell’s theory in baseball free agency is simple: you pay up for quality because the rest is junk.  A good working theory in some respects; he figures that “going for it” and failing is better than just dipping your toes into the FA water.

I think the Nats will put in a legitimate offer, but that it won’t be close to the $51M that it took to sign Dice-K.

My personal concern with Darvish is the fact that many have come before him from Japan and very few have succeeded.  There’s yet to really be one impact pitcher that has come from the Japanese leagues.  And even those that do come over with great pedigrees (Dice-K as the most recent high profile example) tend to burn out quickly.  It isn’t a race thing; its more of a level of competition and a different pitching routine in the Japanese leagues (starters go on 5 days rest, not our traditional 4).  For me, the risk is not worth it.  I know these teams have scouted the hell out of Darvish and believe what they believe, but the fact is that the NPB is a AAA-quality league and the minors are FILLED with guys who dominated AAA but who couldn’t get guys out in the majors.  If it was just a FA signing (4yrs $50M) that’s one level of risk, but throwing in nearly that amount just in posting fees and suddenly you’re compensating a guy at the level of an elite Ace in this league without any proof that the guy will actually live up to that level.   Boswell uses the same comparisons as I do, and predicts that the Nats will be over-bid by the major market teams that are looking for starters.

Q: How much should St. Louis fans be remonstrating about Pujols leaving?

A: Not much.  For all those that say that athletes should take less money to be “the man” for their first team, I say, “put yourself in his shoes.”  He was offered more money in Los Angeles.  Plain and simple.  If it was a few million dollars over 10 years that’s one thing; $30M over 10 years plus the personal services contract?  That’s a lot more.  Everyone who thinks that Pujols “owed” something to St. Louis, or that he should have wanted to stay there his whole career like Stan Musial needs to remind themselves of one thing; If Musial played in the Free Agency era instead of the reserve clause era, would he have stayed in St. Louis his whole career?  In my opinion if St. Louis couldn’t come up with the per-year payroll, they should have gotten creative with perhaps points in the team or something along those lines.  If St. Louis really wanted Pujols to be the face of the Cardinals for the next 50 years, they could have made it happen. Boswell agrees with me, for the most part.

Q: Do you agree with the Washington Post preventing its writers from voting for Baseball Awards?  (post-season and hall of fame, the typical BBWAA awards)?

A: I think its ridiculous that the Post, and the Post alone apparently, takes this stance.  The whole point of using baseball writers to vote on these awards is because baseball writers are the BEST people to use; they cover teams, go to the games, and see the stars in action to a greater extent than anyone else besides the team officials and players themselves.  Boswell points out the obvious conflicts of interest, but those same conflicts exist for every writer in every market.  Honestly I think the way the NFL does things (with a nominating board of senior national writers) is a far better way to determine who gets in to the Hall of Fame.

Q: Is is just me, or did it seem obvious the Cards didn’t really want to sign Pujols?

A: No, to me the Cardinals set their price and when the price went above it, they waved good bye.  Now, you can argue that the price they set was far too low (If Pujols was looking to beat AAV of Alex Rodriguez‘s contract just on principle, then he’s a fool and was never going to beat that), but in the end the Angels just offered more money than made sense to St. Louis from a long term financial viability perspective.  Fair enough.  There’s lots of articles out there saying how much St. Louis privately breathed a sign of relief that they’re not going to have to go through the “oh my gosh how overpaid is Pujols” phase 8-10 years from now… Boswell thinks St. Louis was banking on a home-town discount.

Q: Should the Nats be looking to sign guys like Clippard and Storen long term (as they should be doing with Strasburg)?

A: No.  Not that I don’t like these two players, but relievers (outside of the uber-elite, guys like Mariano Rivera) are mostly replaceable.  I’ve posted time and again about how overvalued relievers and (especially) closers are.  You just should not over-spend for these guys; you can always find more of them in your farm system.  Boswell says you can’t sign them all.

Q: Do you see Ross Detwiler making the 2012 rotation?

A: No, not at this point.  The team is clearly trying to find another FA starter, which puts Detwiler‘s spot directly in their cross hairs.  Look for Detwiler to be traded as soon as a new pitcher is signed, now that they’ve locked up Gorzelanny as the lefty long-man/spot starter already; I can’t see both Detwiler and Gorzelanny in the bullpen.  Detwiler is out of options and can’t be stashed in AAA.  Of course, he could come down with a mystery soft-tissue injury that delays the inevitable.   Boswell says the same thing, but doesn’t talk about Detwiler’s lack of options.

Q: Did the Nats lack of winter meeting activity indicate that the Lerners are cheap and that the team is going nowhere?

A: Wow, fail to sign a $200M player and you’re a failure.  Lets have some patience here; the team may have really been on Buehrle but wasn’t on anybody else that has already signed frankly.  Oswalt is still out there, as is Darvish.  As is Fielder, who could be the massive run-creating machine that this lineup needs.  Boswell says the need to sign Oswalt is bigger now, and I’d tend to agree since he was the guy I wanted in the first place.

Q: Any idea whether the Nats ever made Buerhle an offer or whether there really was any interest in Reyes? Do you think the Nats will make a move on Darvish or the Cuban CF Cespesdes?

A: Nats definitely made Buehrle an offer; it just wasn’t very close.  I don’t think there was interest in Reyes; they really like Desmond at 1/20th of the cost right now.  I think the team will definitely post a reasonable bid (perhaps $25-$30M for Darvish) but probably gets out-bid.  And yes I think the team will be in the Cespedes bonanza, but may be out-bid by another team as well that has a longer-term view on the guy.  Boswell mirrors what I’ve said here and also says they’re “serious” about Oswalt now.  But are they serious enough?

Q: Do you expect the Nats to try and bid on Zack Greinke next year?

A: Yes absolutely.  If Greinke hits the open market, this team will be all over him.  If they sign Oswalt this year and Greinke next, you could be looking at a 2013 rotation that goes Strasburg, Zimmermann, Oswalt, Greinke and a death-match struggle between our best 5-6 starter prospects for the #5 spot.  That’s scary good.  Boswell says he hopes the team doesn’t pass on the rest of this off-season just to wait for the next one.

Q: Did the Marlin’s offer too much or did the Nationals not offer enough for Buehrle?

A: A little of both probably; Buehrle reportedly liked DC and liked the money,  but a 4th year and nearly $19M more was too much to match.  3yrs/$39M has an AAV of $13M, which was actually LESS than he earned on his last contract.  So that doesn’t sound right; would we have offered him a pay cut?  Boswell says the Marlins went too high, which was my initial reaction until seeing the AVV.

Q: Braun’s steroid test showed twice the level of any other sample. Ever. That has to be a false positive… or some other such type of error. What does that mean medically? Did they take the blood sample from the same cheek and 5 minutes after Braun shot up?

A: Fair point.  That’s kind of what i’m thinking frankly.  The test doesn’t seem to make sense.  I will say that its awfully irritating to read all these posts already assuming he’s guilty.  Boswell didn’t have much of an opinion yet.

Q: So, is Fielder completely off the table for the Nats? Seems weird that we were one of the teams linked to him all season, and now, nada. Boras power play at work here?

A: Boras clearly uses us to play for his clients.  But I also don’t think the team is completely out of it for Fielder.  The team needs offense, can stay with Morse in left for a bit and just can eat it on LaRoche.  Maybe.  Boswell doesn’t know what to think.

Q: Have you heard of any more interest in Edwin Jackson from the Nats?

A: Interestingly no.  I would have thought the Nats would be full bore over the guy, based on past interest.  But nobody’s printed a single word of Jackson rumors this offseason.  Perhaps his representation is just waiting out the big names before shopping their guy.  He did seem to come up rather ineffective in the post-season, dampering his value, so perhaps the team has soured on him.  Boswell says Oswalt is better option.



Boswell Chat 10/24/11: My answers to his Baseball questions

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Hall of Famer? Yes. Best hitter ever? Almost. Photo: unknown via fantasyknuckleheads.com

Tom Boswell did his monday morning chat on 10/24 after a week off; in-between taking questions about the death of the Redskins, he managed to fit in some baseball and Nats questions.  Here’s how i’d have answered them…

Questions are edited for clarity and space, and I write my answer before reading Boswell’s.  We’ll only address baseball-related questions.

Q: Is there any question at this point that Pujols has joined Ted Williams and Babe as the three best hitters ever?

A: (side note; this is just AFTER Pujols‘ 3-homer performance in game 3 of the World Series, just the third time that’s ever been done).  If Pujols retired tomorrow here’s what his career lines would look like: 455 homers, .328 career hitter, 170 career OPS+, 3 MVPs and another six times in the top 5 candidates (four times coming in 2nd place).  That by itself is Hall of Fame worthy, no doubt.

By the time he retires?  I think clearly he’ll be mentioned as either the best or 2nd best right-handed hitter of all time (Willie Mays) and in a small grouping with Mays, Ruth and Williams as the best all-around hitters to ever play the game.  Absolutely.  I don’t think Pujols needed a 3-homer World Series game to cement that status either.    Boswell agrees, saying that Pujols joins the list just behind Ruth.

Q: Thanks for pointing out he did all his damage after the Cards were ahead in Game 3. We’re so quick to pronounce “best ever…” these days that it was good to get some context.

A:Very fair comment.  Pujols may have a 3-homer game, but it doesn’t nearly have the significance of Reggie Jackson‘s 3-homer game.  Also fair about pronouncing current stars “the best ever” without much context to those that came before.  Ruth’s domination of baseball and the country at large is so difficult to understate that we’ll never really be able to draw a modern comparison.  Boswell agrees, at least with the first part.

Q: Game 5 prediction (on the night of this chat)?

A: I’d pick Carpenter and the Cardinals.  I don’t trust CJ Wilson and don’t think he’s nearly the pitcher that Carpenter is.  I stick with my St Louis in 6 predictionBoswell goes against logic and says that Wilson will outpitch Carpenter.

Q: Do Lefties with high-heat give a significant advantage over right-handers with comparable velocities?

A: Absolutely.  Lefties are already rare enough and effective enough that any left hander with velocity in the upper 80s can usually find work in this league.  There’s a reason for that.  Add a few more mph and the cache of left-handers who can reach the mid 90s in this league can be counted on one hand.  They are special, and they are valuable.  Boswell doesn’t have a good explanation.

Q: With all the issues in Boston, should the Nats be calling the Red Sox to see who they might get in trade?

A: Sure.  But the Red Sox are prospect hounds and will want our farm system depth in return.  The guys they’re probably willing to trade are probably not going to be the guys we want anyway.  Boswell didn’t really answer the question but mentioned that Ellsbury will be a FA after 2013 … gee, only 3 years too late for the leadoff/CF that we need!

Q: Boswell had previously described baseball Managers as one of four types: Little Napoleon, the Peerless Leader, the Tall Tactician, and the Uncle Robbie.  Who are the best four examples of each type now in the modern game?

A: Interesting question.  Here’s a list of 2011’s baseball managers to choose from.  I’ll guess that Ozzie Guillen is the Napoleon manager, Tony LaRussa is the peerless leader, Ron Roenicke is the Tall Tactician, and Joe Madden is little Robbie.  Boswell’s answers werent’ close to mine; perhaps because its his manager classifications to begin with.

Q: Was the strike zone in game 4 inconsistent?

A: I thought it was; in the bottom of the first a strike 3 was called on Elvus Andrus that had been a ball earlier in the count.  And that wide zone continued throughout.  Its no wonder Holland looked so unhittable.  Boswell blames the TV strike tracker as being misleading.

Q: Could Albert Pujols go to the Rangers?

A: I guess he could … but that doesn’t seem to be the way he’s going.  He seems set to stay in the NL and stay in the mid-west.  I think he’s either staying in St Louis or going to save the Cubs.  Texas might as well light Michael Young on fire if they got Pujols and, for the 3rd or 4th season in a row, asked their franchise leader to move positions for incoming talent.  Boswell predicts Pujols stays in StLouis.

Q: Should Texas have pulled Holland after the 7th to retain him for the 7th game?

A: Nope.  Texas’ bullpen was shredded and its much more important to have a fresh Feliz than a starter on 2 days rest.  Of course, Washington USED Felix in a non-save situation to finish off the game.  Waste.  At least the rest of the bullpen got a night off.  Boswell disagrees with me, saying the team should have pulled him in the 7th to have him in game 7.

Q: What are the odds of the following players returning next season: Livan Hernandez, Ivan Rodriguez, Chien-Ming Wang, Jonny Gomes, Laynce Nix and Rick Ankiel?

A: Livan: 10%.  Ivan 1%.  Wang 80%.  Gomes: 25%.  Nix: 40%.  Ankiel 40%.  Boswell didn’t offer percentages, just saying that he thinks Wang will be back and that Johnson loves guys like Gomes and Nix on the bench.

Q: How long does it take Theo Epstein to turn around the Cubs?

A: I’ll say most of the 5 years he’s signed up for right now.  His starting pitching is a MESS, he’s got an aging, expensive team with big contracts and little wiggle room, and he’s got very little in terms of young players.  He needs all his bad contracts to age off, he needs to scout and draft better, and he needs time.  Boswell punted.

Manny Ramirez and his Legacy

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A sad end to a great hitter's career. Photo: pul.se website, unknown origin

It really is a shame to see Manny Ramirez go out in the fashion that he has, scurrying away into retirement instead of facing a second PED suspension.  Actually, it was more of a shame to see his first suspension last year, which immediately cast him into a shameful collection of baseball players (McGwire, Bonds, Clemens, Giambi, Sosa, and Palmeiro) who represented the best the game had to offer from the mid 90s to the mid 2000s, but who also defined an era of steroids, PEDs and rampant drug use throughout baseball and probably will never gain entry to the sports Hall of Fame (at least not while they’re alive in all likelihood).

What is amazing about both drug tests is the basic idiocy displayed in actually getting caught.  The baseball drug testing policy is already considered to be among the easiest and most basic to skirt, continually being criticized by the WADA for its lack of transparency and lack of accountability.  The CBA lays out exactly what drugs are being tested for, and the players pretty much know when and where they’re going to be tested.  The policy isn’t nearly as draconian as what (say) professional cyclists go through, yet players continue to use and get caught.  The fact that Ramirez got caught twice is really amazing.

Manny Ramirez retires with these amazing statistics:

  • A career slash line of .312/.411/.585
  • A career OPS of nearly 1.000 (final figure: .996 for his career)
  • A career OPS+ of 154, roughly meaning he batted 50% better than the average major leaguer for his career.
  • 555 career homers, averaging a homer every 14.8 plate appearances.
  • 12 All star appearances, 9 silver sluggers and 11 seasons receiving MVP votes (most being consecutively from the years 1998-2006, not coincidentally the height of the steroid era).

Leaving steroid and PED use out of the equation, one can easily say Ramirez is one of the 4-5 best right handed hitters of the last half century.  He can be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, Hank Aaron, and Frank Robinson in terms of being a complete hitter.

Yet, in the end his 2nd drug suspension will define his legacy.  He’ll never be in the Hall of Fame, not while we have a voter base that refused to elect Jeff Bagwell in his first year of eligibility, seemingly on the question of whether or not he “could have been using” despite not one shred of proof otherwise.

I’m of two conflicting thoughts on the eligibility considerations for players who used PEDs.  On the one hand, the most hallowed records in the game (single season home run and career home run records) were shattered by hitters who artificially enabled themselves to surpass the previous records and forever change the game.  Many of the hall voter base are long time baseball writers who grew up idolizing those players whose records were “stolen” by these modern day cheaters, and they will forever penalize the likes of McGwire, Sosa and Bonds for destroying the memory of Ruth, Aaron or Maris.  The 2013 hall of fame ballot especially highlights this issue and may be our best test case for how these players are treated.

On the other hand, the culture of the game at the time encouraged and fostered drug use during the mid 90s, and various opinions from players at the time put the overall usage across the entire league in the 75% range.  We didn’t discount the pitching performances of players in the dead ball era, nor do we ignore the performance of pitchers in the late 60s who dominated their counterparts during a small era of dominance.   We used to have dozens of batters hitting .400 prior to the turn of the century, yet now the best hitters in the league hit in the mid .300s at best.  Players in the early parts of the century played in a non-integrated sport, and players in the 60’s and 70’s notoriously used stimulants on a regular basis to make it through the grind of the season.  At some point voters need to realize that omitting an entire generation of players based on innuendo or suspicion is doing the game a huge injustice and destroying an entire generation of legacy that merits inclusion in the hall of fame.

There is no good solution.  At some point though we need to at least acknowledge this generation’s greatest players.  Unfortunately, it probably will take a veteran’s committee 30 years from now to do it.

Si’s Tom Verducci wrote a great piece echoing much of what I’ve said above; it is worth a read.

Edmonds or Sheffield for the Hall?

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Will Jim Edmonds' defensive capabilities lift him to HoF status? Photo: www.vivaelbirdos.com

I know it is cliche, and that every baseball writer pens the same article whenever a big name retires.  But these opinion pieces are still fun to write and argue about.  So argue away.

Within the past week, two notable hitters hung up their spikes.  Gary Sheffield was forced to admit (much like Barry Bonds, Jermaine Dye and other aging DH-only players quickly being obsoleted in the fast, new, young MLB) that no team would hire him after sitting out all of 2010 and officially filed the paperwork with the league.  Meanwhile, Jim Edmonds retired from a lingering achilles heel injury that prevented him from suiting up in 2011.

For the sake of this article, we will exclude consideration of the fact that Sheffield has admitted to PED/Steroids use and thus probably faces little chance of making the hall.  Lets talk about their performances on the field.

Case 1: Gary Sheffield

Sheffield hails from the famous Hillsborough High School in Tampa, which also produced the likes of Dwight Gooden, Carl Everett and (infamously) Elijah Dukes.  Sheffield’s career numbers are strong.  He retires with a CAREER OPS+ of 140.  That’s essentially an entire career of production at the average level of what Ryan Zimmerman gave the Nats last season.  He hit more than 500 homers while also having more than 250 stolen bases.  He has a career slash line of .292/.393/.514, which is also great.  His hall of fame monitor and standard scores (Bill James’ creations that try to measure whether a player is HoF worth) both easily put him in. His closest comparison on baseball-reference is Mel Ott.  That’s heady company.

Awards: 9 times an all star, 7 times getting MVP votes (a 2nd, two 3rd and a 6th place finish).  5 silver sluggers.  Played 3B early, RF middle and LF/DH late in his career.  His best season was in 1997, finishing with a ridiculous 189 OPS+ for the Marlins but only finishing 6th in the MVP voting.

Beyond the Boxscore printed out an interesting Visual Hall of Fame graphic that essentially shows that Sheffield’s best seasons of his 22-yr career were in the latter part of his career, consistent with a steroids user who was able to beat back the hands of time and not diminish as he aged.  In the same way that Bonds did not tail off as he entered his late 30s.

Regardless of the steroids, I think he’s a hall of fame player.  He was a feared, ferocious hitter who clearly had 5-tools (though not quite at the 5-tool level of someone like Willie Mays or Ken Griffey).  He was a game changer who bounced around the league but produced wherever he was.  Unfortunately because of a prickly relationship with sports writers and implications in the BALCO scandal, his only chance of entrance will be 30 years from now by a veteran’s committee.  He’ll be on a very busy 2014 hall of fame ballot (other first timers on that ballot include near locks Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, and Tom Glavine, along with borderline cases Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina).

Case 2: Jim Edmonds

Edmond’s case is less about pure offensive merit but weighing the benefits of a player who can produce at a high offensive level AND provide fantastic defense.  Edmond’s career offensive numbers are good but not amazing; in 17 major league seasons he hit 393 homers, had a respectable career slash line of .284/.376/ .527, and a career OPS of 132.

Those numbers compare pretty favorably to Sheffield’s career lines when you consider that Edmonds was considered among the best 2-3 outfielders in the game for the middle 10 years of his career.  He earned 8 gold gloves for his work in centerfield and has a litany of high-light reel catches to his credit. He was excellent defensively but this did not correlate to raw speed on the base-paths; he retired with only 67 stolen bases for his career, averaging just four a year.   His diving catches helped contribute to his demise; he was frequently injured, missed the entirety of 2009 and hung it up because he was not going to be medically cleared to play this year.

Career Achievements: 8th in his Rookie voting, 4 time all star, 6 times receiving MVP votes (a 4th and a 5th place vote his best achievements).

Bill James’ Hall of Fame metrics are not quite as kind to Edmonds; he falls short in both the Monitor and the Standard.  His most similar player comparison is to one Ellis Burks, not really a flattering comparison.

Is he a hall of famer?  I say “probably.”  When grading the defensively minded players (shortstops, catchers and athletic center fielders) you have to balance offensive and defensive.  With Edmonds, he’s nearly the hitter of Sheffield with fantastic defense. I’m concerned by the lack of MVP consideration, and lack of all-star selections.  If a player isn’t routinely considered among the best players in the game, how can he be a hall of famer?

He’ll be on the 2015 ballot along with first timers (and locks) Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz.  So he may have to wait to get in but he should merit it.

The best “5-tool” player of all time? (updated)

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http://www.baseballamerica.com/online/majors/news/2011/2612208.html

http://www.baseballamerica.com/online/majors/best-tools/2011/2612185.html

The 400 homer/10 gold glove club question (see post on August 10th 2010 here) spurred a different question into my mind.  Who is baseball’s greatest 5-tool player?  For those of you who don’t know what the 5 tools are:

  • Speed; indicated by stolen bases statistically.
  • Fielding/Defense: indicated by gold gloves somewhat, even though the Gold Glove voting process is known to be bad.
  • Arm: no real statistical measure, just rumors and observations.
  • Hitting for average: career batting average
  • Hitting for power: career homers

My dad and I were talking about this same question and he says the answer is Willie Mays.  And I have a hard time disagreeing with him.   He was fast (338 career SBs), he was a fantastic center fielder (12 straight gold gloves), he was known to have a cannon for an arm, he hit a career .302 with 3283 hits and belted 660 homers.

Who else might be in the conversation?  Lets take a look at some of the candidates:

  • Barry Bonds: Career batting .298, 762 homers, 2935 hits and 514 steals.  8 gold gloves, ending a streak suddenly in 1999.  Which is also probably when he started juicing (his homers per season jumped from 34 to 49 to 73 in 1999-2001).   The only thing Mays had on Bonds was his arm.  Bonds always played left field, where you can “hide” poorer outfielders who don’t necessarily need the range of a center fielder or the cannon arm of a right fielder (to prevent first to third base runners).  But Bonds had significantly more steals and homers (whether or not you discount them).
  • Ken Griffey Jr.: Definitely up there in the argument.  Clearly he was fantastic defensively (10 straight gold gloves) and had a great arm.  Great power (630 career homers).  Only 184 career steals and a lifetime .284 BA with 2781 hits dings him in comparison to Mays.

Here’s some names that have multiple of the tools, but are missing one or two key ones:

  • Babe Ruth: Great power and average combo, he obviously had a good arm starting as a pitcher, but he had zero speed and ate himself so large that he could barely play the outfield.
  • Ted Williams is always an interesting test case for the “What could have been?” question.  He hit .344 with 521 homers and a really good argument that had he not lost 3 full seasons in his absolute prime to WWII (plus most of two others to Korea in his mid 30s) that he’d be closer to 700 homers for his career.  But he was known to be a defensive liability and had only 24 sbs for his career.
  • Mickey Mantle: famously said that “if 40/40 was so impressive, I’d have done it every year.”  And its hard not to doubt him.  Playing in a time when there wasn’t much of a need for him to steal bases, he still ended up with 153 on the career and routinely had 15-20 each season.  He retired with 500+ homers, a career ba of .298, a legendary reputation for roaming centerfield in Yankee stadium and an even more legendary reputation for drinking himself out of baseball prematurely at the age of 36.
  • Joe DiMaggio: one of the best pure hitters of the 20th century.  Career .325 BA, 361 homers.  Lost 3 years in his absolute prime to the WWII and retired incredibly early at 36.  Played a great center-field (his time predates gold gloves).  but very very few stolen bases.
  • Stan Musial: one of the “lost players” of the 20th century, in that it is easy to forget his name when talking of the all time greats.  3600 career hits, 475 homers, career .331 BA.  Great hitter.  Played center field for 20-some years for St. Louis.  But as with DiMaggio, very few SBs.
  • Bobby Bonds: nearly a 40/40 man one year but strikeout rate is so excessive.

How about some more modern players?

  • Paul Molitor another guy to think about.  504 career SBs, .306 BA, only 234 homers but not much on the defensive side, having been mostly a DH for the last half of his career.
  • Alfonso Soriano: his 40/40 season was legendary (there was preliminary talk of him doing a 50/50 season, which hasn’t even been approached), and he’s currently got 309 career homers and 271 career SBs.  A scatter brained hitter though,  defense so bad that he’s barely holding on in left field, and zero arm.
  • Jose Canseco: another 40/40 guy.  462 career homers and 200 career Sbs.  .266  hitter though.  Good arm in right but never a good fielder (remember the infamous ball bouncing off his head over the fence for a homer?).
  • Vladimir Guerrero: another near 40/40 guy.
  • Carlos Beltran: injuries have just killed him; a former speed/power hitter and one of the first mega contract guys.
  • Brady Anderson: most people regard his 50 homer season either a fluke or (more likely) the result of early PEDs.  But the fact remains that only he and Barry Bonds have ever put up seasons which had both 50 homers and 50 sbs.
  • Craig Biggio: 414 sbs, 291 homers, .281 career BA, 4 gold gloves at 2nd base.   2nd baseman though, presumably b/c he never had the arm for Short.
  • Rickey Henderson: obviously fast as the career leader in SBs.  .279 career BA.  He twice hit 28 homers while leading the league in SBs.  One gold glove and two silver sluggers, and a liability as a left fielder.  Maybe not.

here’s a couple “what if” guys, as in what if they hadn’t been injured or otherwise sullied their careers:

  • Bo Jackson: A hip injury picked up while playing his hobby football ended his career basically at the age of 28.  But he was electric.  Who can forget his legendary all star homer, a bomb to dead center that went 448 feet.  Bo never won a gold glove but he played a premium defensive position in Center and certainly had the arm to play right.  He just missed a series of 30/30 seasons, maxing out with 32 homers and 27 steals).  He did not hit for average though, not at all.  Best full season BA was a paltry .272.
  • Josh Hamilton: After well documented troubles with drugs and the law, this former 1-1 draft pick currently is leading the Majors in batting average (.356), has 26 homers, and plays a very very good center field.  He could hit 96 on the gun in high school.  His failing is SBs; only a handful on the year.  But in a league that so often chews up and spits out flash in the pan players, it is refreshing to see Hamilton succeed.  Visual Baseball though discounts both his speed and his range.
  • Daryl Strawberry: had a 39 homer, 36 sb year.
  • Eric Davis: career year in 1987, hitting 37 homers and stealing 50 sbs.  His first 2 full seasons produced a .286/.389/.560 with 64 HR and 130 SB in 147 attempts.  Decent average, great power, great speed, with some clear capabilities in the outfield.

In January 2010, Visual Baseball introduced some really neat visualizations that graphically show each player’s strengths and weaknesses.  I’d love to see a tool that allows people to plug in individual players, but in their analysis two 2010 players popped up as being very close to the perfect 5-tool player:

  • Ben Zobrist: based on his 2009 stats he hit for average (.297) and power (27 homers).  He had 17 steals.  He showed pretty amazing flexibility by playing every outfield position besides pitcher and catcher at some point.  Unfortunately, he’s take a pretty significant step backwards in 2010, sligging nearly 200 points less.  Odd.
  • Carl Crawford: He’s already lead the league 4 times in SBs and has been hitting an average of 13-15 homers a season.  Not nearly Mays-esque stancards but very solid.  .305 Batting average with healthy slugging percentages.  Left fielder though, but his Visual Baseball graph shows significant range and arm.

And finally, something to think about:

  • Alex Rodriguez: 600 career homers, .303 career BA.  300 career steals, a couple of Gold Gloves, and a pretty good arm while playing short.  Posted probably the best ever 40/40 season in 1998 (42 homers, 46 sbs).  Too bad he had to go and juice it up so that his career is forever sullied.

In the end, I’d have to still put Mays, with a shameful shrug of the shoulders when considering both Bonds and Alex Rodriguez.

My dad and I were talking about this same question and he says the answer is Willie Mays.  And I have a hard time

Obligatory Clemens post, post-indictment

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Every other blogger and pundit on the net seems to have pipped up about Roger Clemens recent federal indictment on charge of perjury for lying to congress.  So here’s my take:

What a mess.  Others have stated it the same way that I would.  The hubris of an athlete assuming that he is above even congress is really amazing.  In some ways I hope Bonds and Clemens go to jail to pay for their crimes.

In other ways, I wish that the syndrome of “middle aged white sportswriters eviscorating baseball players for destroying the records of their boyhood heros” would just pass.  Yes, every home run record from the mid 90s to the early 2000s is a joke.  Yes, the career record now held by Bonds is tainted.  McGwire is getting tepid HoF support despite being a significant hitter *before* the advent of Steroids.   Sammy Sosa‘s records now look just shameful (especially when combining steroid usage with his corked bat suspension).  And you know what?  There’s nothing we can do about it.

Alex Rodriguez probably will go down as the greatest hitter to ever play the game.  And a serious candidate to overtake Willie Mays as the greatest 5-tool player of all time.  Yet his admission of steroids use will taint his legacy just like every other player who comes up for Hall of Fame voting over the next 5 years.

I tried to think of a comparison.  Swimming records that fell with regularity with the use of (now banned) body suits.  Perhaps track and field records which still stand from systematic drug usage in the 80s by eastern bloc athletes?  How about Baseball pitching records before/after the deadball era.  Or how about pitching records from 1968, the year before the mound was lowered and Bob Gibson posted a 1.12 era (and somehow had NINE losses??).  Aren’t these records still in play, with the discussion topic that immediately follows?  How about the infamous “astericks” homer record by Roger Maris, put in place to protect the legacy of Babe Ruth by somehow discounting the amazing accomplishments of Maris.  Nobody talks about that now.

But it will never go away.  We are baseball fans, and iconic “numbers” now are ruined.  755.  61.  Nobody knows what the most touchdown passes thrown in a season is and nobody remembers that “number” like you know 61 homers or 755.  And we’ll continue to talk about it for the rest of our lives.

Written by Todd Boss

August 20th, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Interesting Hall of Fame candidates…

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Droopy passed along a great trivia question; what four players have hit 400+ homers and have 10 gold gloves.  (the question was spurred on by one of the four answers, one Andruw Jones, having just hit his 400th homer this season and joining this exclusive club).  (The other three answers are at the bottom of the post).

But, it got me to thinking.  Andruw Jones is only 33, has 400 homers, 10 gold gloves and should be towards the end of his prime as a ballplayer.  Instead he seems to have basically forgotten  how to hit at age 30 and is bouncing from team to team to try to regain his swing.  Certainly Andruw is not a HoFamer at this point in his career, but if he was able to turn it around and become relevant again, even for a couple of seasons, and achieve some milestone numbers he very well may be.   I think the epitaph of Jones’ career will read something like, incredibly accomplished early in his career but inexplicably washed up by age 30.  Steroids?  Falsified age? Anything is possible.

Here’s a couple other test cases for HoF worthiness:
1. Johnny Damon.  Currently sits at 2527 career hits at age 36 and still hits well enough that you’d have to think he has an ouside shot at 3000.  Is he a hall of famer

if he gets to 3000?  The only guys who have 3000 that are NOT in the hall are:

  • Rose (ineligible)
  • Biggio (will be soon)
  • Palmeiro (Roids).

Bonds retired with2935 (roids).  Jeter will get 3000 but i think he’s HoF material no doubt.  Harold Baines another test case; 2866 hits but isn’t getting close to induction on the votes.

My vote: nope.  Not an impact player, also an accumulator of stats over a long career.  He’s actually a worse fielder and hitter than Baines.

2. Jim Thome.  Currently sitting at 578 homers career and almost a lock to get 600 at age 39 and producing pretty well this year.  A number of years getting

MVP consideration but never finishing top 3.  5-time all star.  Some fo the hall of fame standards stat measurements have him just over the cusp.  My “standard” is always the stardom or fear factor test.  When Thome comes up, are you scared?  Are you on the edge of your seat?  Would you (as a visiting fan) see his team coming to town and think about buying tickets so you could see him (like Pujols with St. Louis for example).

My vote: borderline yes.

3. Adam Dunn.  (for the sake of argument you have to project his career to what it probably ends up at).  I’ll project him, sitting at 346 now but on pace to end
this year at 360 , to end up with right around 600 homers for his career. Analysis: give him 40-40-38-35-30-30 for the next six seasons, taking him to age 36 and sitting at around 575 homers.  Even if you trend those numbers down a bit, he’s still sitting in the mid 500s at age 36, and Thome has hit hearly 100 homers after that age.  Hell, if Dunn stays healthy and doesn’t precipitously decline in power (like Ortiz), he has an outside shot at 700 homers.  Unbelievable.

But you look at his career “accomplishments” and there’s NOTHING there.  To date he has made ONE all star team, finished 4th in ROY voting and in only two seasons
has even had an MVP vote, let alone come close to winning.  If Dunn reaches 600 homers is he a hall of famer?

My vote: nope.

There’s other great test cases out there (David Ortiz, Carlos Delgado, Jim Edmonds or Paul Konerko) with it comes to looking at “home run accumulations” for a career.  Perhaps another time.

ps: Trivia Answer: Andruw Jones, Ken Griffey Jr, Willie Mays and Mike SchmidtAl Kaline had 10 gold gloves but exactly 399 career homers.  Barry Bonds only managed 8 gold gloves before turning into a hulking left fielder on or about the same time he found steroids in 1999.