Gimme five! The Cooperstown blogging begins   Leave a comment

When I set my mind on doing my Cooperstown pieces, I usually pick individual players to write about.  Does he deserve to go in, what are his chances, why has he not gotten enough votes yet… topics like that.  It’s easy to form an opinion, less so to write about it accurately, passionately, and in a well-researched fashion.  I’m quite proud of most of my old blogs on the subject.  There are a couple that I wish I had a mulligan on, but what’s done is done.

To kick off the series (and I hope it’s a series; with the names on this year’s BBWAA ballot, there is plenty of fodder for it), I decided that I would create some lists.  I didn’t want to start by concentrating on a single player.  Instead, I would group five players together and try to judge a particular player’s merit (that is, a potential Hall of Famer) by the company he keeps.  Every list will be made of a quintet of players that rank consecutively in a specific way.  Some of the statistics I use will be as straightforward and easy to understand as possible.  Others will lean into sabermetric territory, and if you know what “sabermetric” means – great.  Or to put it another way, they are real stats that you can find, but not on the back of a 1984 O-Pee-Chee Tim Wallach baseball card.  Everything I find will be taken from a great site,

In some of those lists, the player who I want you to consider might be at the top of the list.  He might be at the bottom, too, or somewhere in the middle.  I readily admit that I’m just pickin’ and choosin’ for my own nefarious purposes.  For example:

Hank Aaron
Babe Ruth
Cap Anson
Barry Bonds
Lou Gehrig

Bonds is the guy on the ballot for the second time; the other four men are genuine, no-doubter HoFers.  His career and single-season statistics are not the reason why he wasn’t elected into the Hall last year.  I only put together this list as an example, because the only reason you would have for voting for him/not voting for him is PED-related.  For that same reason, don’t expect a Roger Clemens list.

Incidentally, that list is made up of the top five career runs batted in leaders, led by the Hammer at 2,297.

The concept’s easy enough, right?  OK, let’s take a look at this one, and see if our prospective Hall of Famer belongs, or sticks out like a sore thumb.

Craig Biggio
Frank Robinson
Eddie Collins
Carl Yastrzemski
Ted Williams

I was sure that Biggio would be elected last year, his first year on the ballot.  He was not, garnering a solid 68.2% of the vote, but I suspect he makes it this year, or next at the latest.  His case is pretty solid:  over 3,000 hits (in itself a historical guarantee for entry), almost 300 home runs, over 400 stolen bases, an up-the-middle defender, and a player that stayed with one team – the Houston Astros – his entire career.  This list ranks the top career run-scorers in order; Biggio scored 1,844 runs, 15th on the list.

Fergie Jenkins
Pedro Martinez
Bob Gibson
Curt Schilling
John Smoltz

That’s some good company for Curt Schilling to be in.  Given both the longevity and the hard-throwingness (that’s a word) of his peers, you might guess that this is strikeout-related.  You’d be correct.  Schilling ranks 15th all-time in career strikeouts, just one behind Gibson.  Granted, he did this during an era where batters struck out (and still do) at a slightly-higher rate, but he also did this in a high-scoring era as well.  He “only” won 216 games, a low total even by today’s five-man rotation standard.  However, his post-season record is exemplary – truly one of the best ever – and his career strikeout-to-walk ratio ranks second all-time amongst qualified pitchers.

Willie Mays
Frank Thomas
Hank Aaron
Joe DiMaggio
Mel Ott

This is the Big Hurt’s first year on the ballot, and he should get consideration merely for his nickname, a dying tradition in baseball.  Thomas crushed 521 home runs, and has a lifetime “slash line” (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) of .301/.419/.555.  Gaudy numbers to say the least, but accomplished at a time when a lot of guys were mashing the ball.  Adjusted OPS+ helps compensate for that by normalizing statistics to both league and park standards.  The list above, comprised of career OPS+ leaders, puts Thomas (ranked 20th all-time) smack-dab in a group of legends.

Cy Young
Nolan Ryan
Don Sutton
Greg Maddux
Phil Niekro

I think that most people would agree that Greg Maddux deserves enshrinement this year.  355 wins, four Cy Young awards (and hey, look who tops his list), 3,371 strikeouts, four ERA titles… the man was a pitching machine.  He even won 18 Gold Gloves.  I would go so far to say that he will accrue one of the highest percentages of votes ever next month.  His list is made up of the five pitchers who started the most games ever.  For as excellent as Maddux was, I don’t think I realized just how durable he was, either.  Maddux started 740 games, fourth all-time, a mark no one is going to top anytime soon.

Mike Piazza
Johnny Bench
Carlton Fisk
Yogi Berra
Gary Carter/Lance Parrish

A bit of a cheat, but Carter and Parrish tied for fifth for the most home runs ever hit by a player whose primary position was catcher.  A tough and demanding spot to play, most catchers start to wear down when they turn 30 – foul balls, collisions, the squatting and standing for three hours at a time, and even the mental fatigue of handling a pitching staff all break the sturdiest athlete down.  Piazza was maligned for his defense, but recent studies show he wasn’t that bad; it was only his throwing arm that rated as sub-par.  But when he took his turn in the batter’s box, he was a monster.  He hit 427 career home runs (38 more than Bench) with a lifetime average of .308, making him arguably the greatest hitting catcher in MLB history.

Frank Thomas
Edgar Martinez
Stan Musial
Cupid Childs
Wade Boggs

I know what you’re thinking.  Who’s Cupid Childs?

He played for 13 years, from 1888 to 1901.  He only hit 20 home runs in that span, but he certainly could reach base, evidenced by his lifetime .416 on-base percentage.  That puts him 23rd all-time…. meaning that Edgar Martinez ranks 21st, ahead of Stan “the Man” Musial and five-time batting champ Wade Boggs.  A lifetime .312/.418/.515 hitter, with 309 home runs on his resume, his voting downfall thus far has been the fact that he served primarily as the Mariners’ designated hitter throughout his career.  Voters don’t seem inclined to put “just” a hitter into Cooperstown just yet – even with Martinez’s pedigree – and I have a hard time believing that defense was considered just as much fifty years ago.

Jeff Kent
Carlos Delgado
Mickey Mantle
Albert Pujols
Vladimir Guerrero

Generally, when one tops Mickey Mantle in any career stat, it’s worth taking a look at.  Though it’s very likely that Pujols will eventually jump over Jeff Kent in career RBIs, the 1,518 runs batted in currently put the first-time balloter 49th on the lifetime list.  An eye-popping number to be sure, moreso when you consider that Kent didn’t play a typical power position – he was a second baseman.  He won an MVP award in 2000, and went to five All-Star games, but I suspect his march up to the required 75% vote total will be a long one, as this and future ballots are loaded with worthy candidates.

[P.S. – Kent’s career WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is 55.2.  Former Tiger second baseman Lou Whitaker’s is 74.8, ranking 77th overall, and higher than many current Hall of Famers.  It’s a travesty that Whitaker fell off the ballot after just one year.]

Warren Spahn
Steve Carlton
Eddie Plank
Tom Glavine
Randy Johnson

I’m hoping that the Maddux/Glavine duo get better treatment on the BBWAA ballot than the Tiger tandem of Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell.  Glavine’s resume isn’t as good as Maddux’s, but on the other hand, the Hall of Fame standard isn’t Maddux/Babe Ruth/Willie Mays/Walter Johnson, either.  Only three other left-handers won more major league games than Tom Glavine (305) in the history of the sport, and that in itself should put him in Cooperstown very soon.

Rusty Staub
Rogers Hornsby
Manny Ramirez
Tim Raines
Tony Gwynn

Just as Maddux shouldn’t be the Glavine standard, nor should Rickey Henderson be for Tim Raines.  I admit to having a soft spot for the Rock, who is on the ballot for his seventh go, but I would vote for him even if I tore this sentimental Expos heart out of my chest.  When Raines played, his job was to get on base, get around the bases, and score runs.  He did all of those things, and did them all very, very well.  A lifetime .294 hitter with pop (170 home runs), he scored 1,571 runs, and stole 808 bases, ranking him fifth in that career category.  The list above is “career times reached base” – exactly what you want your lead-off hitter to do.  Raines reached base 3,977 times – 22 times more than another one of his peers, eight-time batting champ and first-ballot Hall of Fame slam-dunk, Tony Gwynn.  The lesson?  Voters like hits a lot more than they do walks.

Ozzie Smith
Arky Vaughn
Derek Jeter
Alan Trammell
Barry Larkin

Cutting straight to the chase, Alan Trammell ranks ninth all-time in WAR for shortstops, and you could argue that he ranks even higher.  Alex Rodriguez (second) has almost split his career in half between short and third base, and Robin Yount (fourth) had a similar career path, moving from the infield to the outfield.  (Cal Ripken ranks third, and though he played four full seasons at third base, I’ll concede his claim to the position, given his 2,302 games at shortstop.)

Trammell was a very good player for a very long time, both defensively and offensively; his stickwork stands out even more compared to nearly every shortstop that came before him.  Unfortunately, he played at almost the exact same time as Ripken and Yount, and his stats suffered compared to those two icons.  Compounding the issue, offense exploded league-wide at the tail end of his career, and a group of young whippersnappers like Jeter, A-Rod, Larkin, Nomar Garciaparra, and Miguel Tejada came up and made his excellent offensive numbers look merely above-average.

I can’t calculate WAR in my head, nor would I rely on it as the one and only statistic used to make or break a man’s career, but I do rely upon and agree with it as a comparative tool.  And as such, Trammell compares extremely favorably with Hall of Famers Smith, Vaughn, and Larkin; certain HoFer Derek Jeter; and he has a better WAR than other middle infielders like Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, Joe Cronin, and Ryne Sandberg, Hall of Famers all.

(I didn’t expect to write so much about Trammell, but there you go.)

Eddie Murray
Todd Helton
Jeff Bagwell
Keith Hernandez
Mark Grace

Hmmm… mostly contemporaneous players… not a shabby hitter amongst the bunch… what can this list be about?  How about, most assists recorded by a first baseman?

Jeff Bagwell’s batting accomplishments should speak for themselves, but presumably because of PED speculation, he is still on the BBWAA ballot after three unsuccessful turns.  A true slugger, he hit .297/.408/.540, mashing 449 home runs and driving in 1,529 runners.  However, he was not merely a one-dimensional player.  He was a very good runner, too, scoring over 1,500 times in his career.  He also stole 202 bases, and twice went 30/30 (home runs and stolen bases) in a season, the only true first baseman to do it.  Finally, as alluded to above, the 1994 National League MVP was a very good fielder – and it should be noted that Helton, Hernandez, and Grace all had the advantage of being left-handed, making throws from first to second that much easier.

Luis Gonzalez
Mark McGwire
Tony Perez
Tim Raines
Mike Piazza

Speaking of first base sluggers, Mark McGwire could have been a Hall of Famer a while ago if not for those pesky PEDs that a lot of BBWAA writers now frown upon.  This is Big Mac’s eighth year on the ballot, and typically, 12-time All-Stars with 583 career home runs don’t wait that long.  He is surrounded by Hall of Famers in that category, guys who, like McGwire, weren’t the best fielders of their days, nor high-average hitters.  His case is an easy one, just like Bonds, just like Clemens – after all, McGwire admitted using them.  Incidentally, he ranks tied for 46th all-time in career intentional walks, with 150.  That intimidating slugger Tim Raines had 148.

Bob Caruthers                                                   Robin Roberts
Jack Morris                                                    Fergie Jenkins
Murry Dickson                                                 Mike Mussina
Bob Welch                                                          Bob Gibson
Javier Vazquez                                                  Curt Schilling

Jack Morris’s career wrapped up a little bit before Mike Mussina’s began.  Both right-handers pitched exclusively in the American League; both were 3,500+ inning workhorses who each won more than 250 games.  Morris has been on the BBWAA ballot for 14 years, while Mussina is on there for the first time – and I guarantee Morris gets a lot more votes than Mussina in this, his final year.  However, I can easily argue than Cooperstown should let the Moose in first.

Look at their peer groups as calculated by WAR.  Despite earning 254 MLB wins (and I’m not discounting that at all), his lifetime WAR of 43.8, ranking 133rd overall, puts him in a relatively non-descript rotation that includes Bob Caruthers and the recently-retired Javier Vazquez.  Mussina won a few more games (270), and did so in a higher-scoring era, in the toughest division in baseball, and with much better statistics.  He ranks 24th all-time in pitching WAR, nearly doubling Morris’s at 82.7, and in doing so resides in a group of Cooperstown alumni, plus legitimate candidate Curt Schilling.

For all of the noise accompanying Morris’s case – “best pitcher of the 80s” and “ace of three different World Series winners”, and so forth – I’d still take Mussina before him.  There are enough anti-Morris guys out there, so I needn’t elaborate much more here, but Mussina was the better pitcher.  He had a superior winning percentage (.638 to .577), a superior ERA+ (a normalizing figure, like OPS+:, Mussina’s was 123 versus Morris’s 105; this means that Jack’s ERA was just five per cent better than the league average when he played), and I daresay he was even considered a better pitcher by the BBWAA while he played.  Mussina cracked the top five in Cy Young award balloting six times, and had three other sixth-place finishes.  Morris landed in the top five five times, and earned a seventh- and ninth-place finish in other years.

If you read all that, and have an opinion on any of these guys, I’d love to hear from you.


Posted December 7, 2013 by JasonMacAskill in Uncategorized

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