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Why don’t people think the hot corner is that hot?   Leave a comment

In my last baseball post, the spotlight was on Alan Trammell, the only shortstop currently on the BBWAA ballot.  He’s been stuck in Hall of Fame voting limbo for years now, never garnering more than about one-third of the total votes cast.  Unfortunately – and perhaps mercifully – Trammell is going to fall off the ballot soon.

In this baseball post, I’m going to write some words about Edgar Martinez.  Like Trammell, he is capturing about a third of the vote, far short of the necessary 75%.  However, he is relatively new to the BBWAA ballot, as this is just his fifth year on the list of eligible candidates.  He is also the only third baseman on this year’s ballot, though many would argue that he should not be considered as such:  Martinez played in 2,055 MLB games, but only 560 games as an infielder.  The rest of his action was spent at the designated hitter position, a term I didn’t feel the need to use quotation marks for.  The DH has been a part of professional baseball since 1973, when the American League instituted the rule.  Given the choice, a manager will always use a position player at this spot rather than his starting pitcher.  Pitchers pitch, hitters hit… unless they play in the National League.

And boy, did Martinez hit.  Even in an era where high batting averages, gaudy home run figures, and football-like scores were prevalent, Martinez’s numbers stand out.  A lifetime .312/.418/.515 hitter, with an OPS+ (adjusted on-base/slugging percentage) of 147, he hit 309 home runs, drove in 1,261 runs, and walked more times than he struck out.  He played for the Seattle Mariners for his entire career, making seven All-Star teams.  He also earned 66.4 offensive WAR (as per baseball-reference), ranking him 67th all-time (tied with Ron Santo, and ahead of other Hall of Fame mashers such as Johnny Bench, Willie Stargell, and Eddie Murray).

They even named the annual award that goes to the best designated hitter the Edgar Martinez Award upon his retirement.

I wrote about Martinez’s Cooperstown case here, three years ago.  I hope that you take a look at it.  For those of you who don’t read it, I’ll sum it up here:  Edgar Martinez is getting overlooked because voters have refused to vote for what they consider to be a strictly one-dimensional player who didn’t put up overwhelming career numbers.  If he just played third base, or if he just hit another 200 or so home runs, his vote totals would undoubtedly be higher.  However, the two factors conspire against him.

Bill James ranked him as the 31st best third baseman of all-time in 2001, and Martinez played four more years after that period.  Based on his bat alone, I daresay James would cut that rank in half, and put him in the mid-teens; in fact, using the WAR / WAR7 / JAWS rankings at baseball-reference, Martinez is as close to an “average” Hall of Fame third baseman as there is, falling considerably short of a Mike Schmidt or Eddie Mathews, but well ahead of Jimmy Collins and George Kell.  Martinez is also in a group of his peers shown in the chart below, still active or recently retired, and that will be taken into consideration as well.

Third basemen have had the toughest time getting into Cooperstown (there are only 13 of them), and I don’t understand why.  Maybe it’s due to the fact that only a select few players accumulate the innings there; they either move to first base later in their careers (hi, Miguel Cabrera!), or move from another position (hello, Cal Ripken!) there.  Perhaps the skills necessary to play the hot corner – quick feet, strong arm, fast reflexes – are underappreciated, because voters think a third baseman needs to do all of those things and also hit like a prototypical first baseman.  I’m not sure.  I do know this – putting Martinez into the Hall wouldn’t diminish the standards of the institution.  However, this year, and in later years, he will have a difficult journey up an increasingly loaded ballot.

First Last Position Top 100 WAR, Total % WAR,
  Season Season Rank Rank 2001-now WAR post-Abstract
Edgar Martinez 1987 2004 31 n/a 10.4 68.3 15.23%
Chipper Jones 1993 2012 28 n/a 52.7 85.1 61.93%
Adrian Beltre 1998 current n/a n/a 63.1 70.5 89.50%
Scott Rolen 1996 2012 n/a n/a 50 70 71.43%
Miguel Cabrera 2003 current n/a n/a 54.6 54.6 100.00%
David Wright 2004 current n/a n/a 46.6 46.6 100.00%
Troy Glaus 1998 2010 n/a n/a 27.7 38 72.89%
Evan Longoria 2008 current n/a n/a 36.3 36.3 100.00%
Average WAR, 3B = 67.4

Recent retiree Chipper Jones will have a far easier time earning votes into Cooperstown.  In 2001, James ranked Jones just ahead of Martinez, at 28.  However, the longtime Brave played far longer after the book’s publication date, and all of those seasons occurred in the field as well.  Thus, Jones’ statistical totals, both traditional and advanced, exceed Martinez’s quite handily – and indeed, just about every other third baseman who ever played the game, too.  Jones is, by all measures, amongst the ten best, and he will probably be inducted the first year he is eligible.

Scott Rolen is going to be an interesting case.  He and Jones both retired in 2012.  Jones was the superior hitter, but Rolen was the far superior fielder, earning eight Gold Gloves.  Rolen’s hitting credentials are nothing to sneeze at, either:  he was a lifetime .281 hitter, with 316 home runs, 1,287 runs batted in, over 500 doubles, and he reached base over 3,000 times.  He was a seven-time All-Star, but never did well in individual awards voting;  a fourth-place MVP finish in 2004 was his best performance in that vote.  (By comparison, Jones won an NL MVP award, and had five other top-ten finishes.)  Rolen’s strong blend of power and defense put him in elite company, as per the triple-slash third base WAR / WAR7 / JAWS totals; tenth, 14th, and tenth, respectively, in those categories land him amongst peers such as Martinez, Ron Santo, and Paul Molitor.

Adrian Beltre is a guy that, up until recently, I never even considered as a Cooperstown candidate.  However, his baseball-reference scores are higher than Martinez, higher than Rolen… he is easily a top-ten all-time third baseman right now.  He will turn 35 early in 2014, and probably has another two or three very good years left in him.  If he plays at a similar level as, say, his last five years would suggest, he might even catch Jones in terms of career value (a nebulous term, but let’s use it) when he finally hangs up the cleats.  Beltre is building his case late, and the fact that his resume doesn’t include very many individual honors will probably lessen his case in the eyes of some voters.  Despite his excellent fielding – both actual and in reputation – he has only won four Gold Gloves in his 16-year career.  His only three All-Star game appearances have come in the last three years.  He has led the league in home runs once, and in hits once; he has four top-ten MVP finishes, but never won; he doesn’t have a World Series ring.  I think he has a very strong case already, but as with Rolen, I don’t know if the BBWAA voters will agree.

Miguel Cabrera will not go into the Hall of Fame as a third baseman, but make no mistake, he will have a plaque there.  I only included him in this section because he has played more games at third base than anywhere else.  I am also assuming that he has at least five great seasons left; he turns 31 in April.  Therefore, I don’t think it’s necessary to expound on the resume of a Triple Crown-winning, two-time MVP (with six other top-5 finishes!) who most closely resembles (as per the Bill James similarity scores, by age) Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Frank Robinson.

The last three men on the list – David Wright, Troy Glaus, and Evan Longoria – did not make James’ top 100.  It’s a given that they would be in his book today, scattered in the top 40 (Wright highest, Glaus lowest).  Of the three, the 31-year-old Wright has the best shot of being inducted into Cooperstown.  He has only played for one team in his career so far (and voters like that), totalling 222 home runs, 876 RBI, and 183 stolen bases; per 162 games, he averages 26 bombs and 103 runs driven in, with a slash line of .301./.382/.506.  He has also played in seven All-Star games, won a pair of Gold Gloves, and has four NL MVP top-ten finishes, reaching as high as fourth in 2007.  Wright needs continued good health to make the Hall – and a few more individual accolades would not hurt, either.

Longoria just turned 28, and has six MLB seasons under his belt.  A three-time All-Star, with three 30-homer seasons to his credit, Longoria has also won a pair of Gold Gloves, and is generally acknowledged as one of the best third basemen in the game today.  He is still building his resume – let’s get back to him in about a decade.  If he keeps it up, he should be a shoo-in… but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Glaus had an outstanding career.  It was a short one as well.  Glaus retired in 2010, at the age of 34, with 320 career home runs and 950 runs batted in.  A true slugger, he hit 29 or more home runs six different times.  He also made four All-Star teams and won a World Series ring with the Angels in 2002 (and he deserved it, hitting three home runs and driving in eight in the seven-game series).  Glaus will probably make it onto the ballot in a couple of years, but I don’t think he’ll get that far in the voting process.

Not as far as Martinez, at least.  A guy who, for about ten years, was as feared at the plate as they come.  A Hall of Famer?  I think so.

martinez

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Posted December 28, 2013 by JasonMacAskill in Uncategorized

Boxing Day = Stage West Calgary is open for business!   Leave a comment

SW logo play with your din animated
Starting December 26, 2013
The remainder of our 2013/2014 season 
will be available for reservations

 
Contact our Box Office for details 
403-243-6642 
Hours Dec 26, 2013: 10am – 7pm

 

Stage West Tribute Series 2014
Tickets available now!

SW logo play with your din animated
 

Posted December 26, 2013 by JasonMacAskill in Uncategorized

It was Friday, Friday   Leave a comment

It was a busy day at the mall on Friday.  The Twitter transcript below, made up primarily of my tweets and a couple of related retweets, should give you some idea of what was going through my mind that day.

CBC Top Stories@CBCNews 20 Dec
Canada’s 13 provinces & territories in #Lego. Nova Scotia is having a kitchen party: http://cbc.sh/q5MG8TK  pic.twitter.com/biRg2xntpW

Not only are there mall-walkers out today, but there is a mall SPEED-walker in full gear, and she’s freaking me out. #Whoosh

The last #Friday before #Christmas. Finished shopping yet? (Of course not.) Come down to @southcentremall, get some @StageWestCgy GiftCerts.

@StageWestCgy: Boxing Day – Power of 4 Special conta.cc/1gJxEUR fb.me/2UmSz2hul“. #BoxingDay

Almost done my latest #HOF blog. Talkin’ shortstops.

I’m thinking that working at “Flip Flop Shops” in December, during a Calgary winter, might not be as exciting as advertised.

Best Western Camrose@CamroseCasino 20 Dec
Tonight and Saturday on our Joker’s Den Pub stage – the Oddibles! pic.twitter.com/XbGg9CQTR3

15 minutes left in the school year before the Christmas break, and the boy chips one of his teeth. #TisTheSeasonForDentalBills

Did I mention it’s the same tooth he chipped last year… during the Christmas break… and our dentist is flying out of town today?

I am so thirsty right now… and I don’t mean for water. #ILikeScotch #ScotchyScotchScotch

All due respect to the reality-TV “Little Couple”, but I really think Nelson Mandela deserved the cover (not just the corner) @peoplemag .

Follow @Lee_Siegel – he’s a great guy with an amazing voice- why, I’ll bet that his debut CD would be an excellent stocking stuffer! #Xmas

That wasn’t the best lunch I’ve ever had, but it probably was the fastest.

Attention, female teenagers – those tank-tops you’re wearing with the huge arm holes don’t make you look sexy. You look ridiculous.

Also ridiculous – that grown man that just walked by my booth wearing leather pants tucked into his leather boots.

Homer J. Simpson@HomerJSimpson 20 Dec
Hey, @FoxNews lady: in my household, Santa is yellow!

Christina Aguilera is playing over the mall’s speakers and I can’t tell whether the CD is skipping or not.

It’s the homestretch of my day at @southcentremall . 1.5 hours left at my kiosk, then approximately 3 hours to get out of the parking lot.

If I get a bazillion retweets, I will buy and wear a onesie from one of the clothing stores upstairs. You heard me.

If all of you could stop shopping for #LottoMax tickets now, before I get mine, I would appreciate it. #Christmas isn’t paying for itself.

Holy crap, that guy is tall. “Swim alongside the Orca with Hooper asking Brody to stand on the bow for scale” tall. #BadJawsReference

And it’s time to take a Twitter break. Adios.

Posted December 22, 2013 by JasonMacAskill in Uncategorized

The shortstop getting the shortest end of the stick   Leave a comment

There is only one shortstop on this year’s BBWAA ballot, and unfortunately for Alan Trammell, it is a spot he is all has too accustomed to.  This year marks the longtime Tiger’s 13th time on the form, and he has only been able to garner a mere third of the votes cast for Cooperstown induction twice.  (Remember, a player needs 75% of the vote; 33% isn’t even close.)

In the table below, you will find Trammell’s name, as well as other players listed in the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, and also a couple of other players whose careers started or flourished after that book was published in 2001.  I want to tackle the other names first this time, leaving Trammell for the conclusion.  Spoiler alert – Alan Trammell was a damn good ballplayer.

First Last Position Top 100 WAR, Total % WAR,
  Season Season Rank Rank 2001-now WAR post-Abstract
Alan Trammell 1977 1996 9 n/a 0 70.3 0.00%
Alex Rodriguez 1994 current 17 n/a 77.9 115.7 67.33%
Derek Jeter 1995 current 17 n/a 43.6 71.6 60.89%
Miguel Tejada 1997 current n/a n/a 39.4 46.8 84.19%
Omar Vizquel 1989 2012 61 n/a 13.8 45.4 30.40%
Nomar Garciaparra 1996 2009 17 n/a 16.4 44.2 37.10%
Jimmy Rollins 2000 current n/a n/a 42.1 42 100.24%
Jose Reyes 2003 current n/a n/a 33.2 33.2 100.00%
Hanley Ramirez 2005 current n/a n/a 32.8 32.8 100.00%
Troy Tulowitzki 2006 current n/a n/a 32.3 32.3 100.00%
Elvis Andrus 2009 current n/a n/a 17.1 17.1 100.00%
Average WAR, SS = 66.7

Jeter – a no-brainer Hall of Famer, regardless of when he retires.  A top-10ish shortstop, now, in the all-time scheme of things.  Yes, he has all of the statistical and post-season credentials the voters look for, and he probably has a season or two left in the tank, but his and Trammell’s career values are incredibly similar: 71.6 to 70.3 in WAR, 42.3 to 44.6 in WAR7 (a score that adds each of their seven best WAR seasons), and 56.9 to 57.5 in JAWS (defined in my last blog).

Rodriguez – so, how do you feel about PEDs?

Tejada – if James re-wrote his book today using the same criteria, Tejada would probably move up into his top 40.  He had a very good bat for a decade, but a lot of other players did during that span as well.  I don’t envision him getting a lot of Hall of Fame support.

Vizquel – is a player I could probably write another full-length post on, due to the attention he’ll get as “the best fielding American League shortstop ever”.  He had a very long career, and he probably deserves to be credited in the top 50 players to ever field the position.  However, I just don’t see a Hall of Famer when I look at Vizquel/  I’m quite curious to see if voters retroactively see one in a few years, given that the only MVP vote he ever earned was a 16th-place one in 1999, and that he only went to three All-Star games over a 24-year career.

Garciaparra – the third of the shortstop trinity, but unlike Arod and the Captain, he couldn’t stay healthy.  Which is a shame, because during his young peak, he was a terror at the plate: from 1997 to 2003, he averaged .325/.372/.557, with 24 home runs and 93 runs batted in a season.  Even more impressively?  He was injured for most of the 2001 season, only playing 21 games that year – thus, those home run and RBI averages should be greater.  A top 50-to-60 shortstop, but not a Hall of Famer.

Rollins – would probably rank a little bit higher than Nomar, but having just turned 35, I doubt he’d get too much higher.  A very durable player, with a National League MVP award, four Gold Gloves, and three All-Star appearances to his credit.  However, unless he finds the Fountain of Youth and plays at his peak for about five more years, I doubt he makes the Hall.

Reyes / Ramirez / Tulowitzki – are separated by just 0.9 WAR, but it should be noted that Reyes debuted first in 2003, followed by Ramirez in 2005, and Tulo arrived the year after.  All three have undeniable skills, but also have, to varying degrees, less than perfect medical charts.  They would all easily make a “new” James list, possibly in the 70-to-80 range, but it’s difficult to forecast where they would land at the end of their respective careers.  I would wager, however, that of the three, Hanley Ramirez has the best chance for delivering a speech in Cooperstown, but that’s just a guess.  I think he has a better chance of staying healthy than the arguably equally talented Tulowitzki, and I also think that Reyes doesn’t have as many high-impact seasons left in him as the aforementioned duo.  If any of them accumulate another 30 WAR, they will be worthy candidates… but as Garciaparra has proven, it’s no sure thing.

Andrus – is the youngest man on the list, and in theory, should have the most sand left in his hourglass.  In his five full MLB seasons, he has shown a good glove, great speed (averaging 33 stolen bases a year, in 43 averaged attempts), very little power (surprisingly little, as he stands six feet tall and weighs about 200 pounds), and decent patience at the dish.  Since his debut, Andrus really hasn’t taken the next statistical step, in that his year-to-year numbers are quite consistent.  And while that in itself has some value, he needs to do more at the plate over the next decade to garner numbers that stand out in a crowd.

Speaking of trying to stand out in a crowd…

…Let’s talk about Alan Trammell again.

Trammell played his entire 20-year career with the Detroit Tigers, a team that gets very little love when it comes to the Hall of Fame.  I made up a spreadsheet a couple of years ago to compare Cooperstown representation by team, sorting the players voted in by the BBWAA only.  For example, Cal Ripken earned the Orioles 21 “Hall of Fame” years.  Wade Boggs gathered 11 years for the Red Sox, five for the Yankees, and two for the Rays.  I didn’t differentiate between their good years and their bad ones – the only rule was that you, at some point in your career, played for a particular team.

The Detroit Tigers finished sixth amongst the clubs, a very respectable finish, and one you could probably predict, given their tenure in the American League.  Ty Cobb, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg… these three legends alone were responsible for a lot of those years.  Would you like to know the last Detroit Tiger that was elected into the Hall by the BBWAA?  Why, that was Al Kaline, who received a healthy 88.3% of the vote in his first year of eligibility, way back in 1980.  That was also the year that John Lennon was assassinated,  “The Empire Strikes Back” hit the big screen, and Jessica Simpson was born.

I’m not saying that Kaline was the last man to wear a Tigers cap on his Cooperstown plaque.  I’m saying that each and every player inducted into the Hall of Fame since Kaline never played a single game in their career as a Detroit Tiger – not a season, not even a day.  Think of all of the players that played for Detroit over the last 33 years – you have to figure over a thousand men came and left the major league roster.  Brought up through the system, acquired in trade, signed as a free agent… for good teams, for playoff teams, for lousy teams… yet none of them have gone to Cooperstown.

Alan Trammell will not end that streak, either.  Bill James thought he was the ninth best shortstop to ever play the game a decade ago, and since then, I think that the only three players that might have leapfrogged him on that list would be Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Barry Larkin.  Using baseball-reference’s leader boards, Rodriguez is second only to Honus Wagner in WAR, WAR7, and JAWS,  so I’ll give him the nod.  However, he put up a lot of those big numbers as a third baseman.

That leaves Jeter (a no-doubter) and Larkin (elected in his third year of eligibility).  Here are the career rankings in WAR, WAR7, and JAWS, for shortstops:

WAR:   Jeter (10th, 71.6), Trammell (11th, 70.3), Larkin (12th, 70.2)
WAR7:   Trammell (8th, 44.6), Larkin (12th, 43.1), Jeter (16th, 42.3)
JAWS:   Trammell (11th, 57.5), Jeter (12th, 56.9), Larkin (13th, 56.6)

Don’t the three of them seem, you know, the same?  If so, why was Larkin able to sail in after just three tries, while Trammell languishes on the fringe of eligibility?  And if you don’t think he’s on the fringe right now, wait until the vote total comes in next month; with the added competition provided by Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, et al, I’ll bet you a dollar that he doesn’t capture the 33.6% of the total vote that he did last year.  He, and other “lesser” candidates like Fred McGriff and Larry Walker, are going to get squeezed – and possibly squeezed right off the ballot if they don’t keep five per cent of the vote.

At a time when shortstops were more noted for their defense, Trammell was also a valuable contributor with the bat; when he retired in 1996, with 198 career bombs, there were only a handful of shortstops that had more home runs than he did.  He hit over .300 seven times, had a career .352 on-base percentage, and stole 236 bases.  He was a six-time All-Star, won four Gold Gloves, and finished second to George Bell for the 1987 AL MVP (despite being an 8.2 WAR player that season; Bell, with 5.0 WAR, was only the tenth-most valuable player if WAR was the sole indicator).  Ripken had The Streak; Robin Yount got to 3,000 hits; Ozzie Smith was the “Wizard of Oz”; Trammell never stood out amongst his peers.  However, make no mistake – Alan Trammell was their peer, and thus, deserves to stand with them in the Hall of Fame.

tram

Posted December 20, 2013 by JasonMacAskill in Uncategorized

Rounding second, on the way to Cooperstown   Leave a comment

There are two second basemen worthy of Cooperstown consideration on the BBWAA ballot this year.  One of them is a seven-time All-Star who racked up over 3,000 hits, over 400 steals, close to 300 home runs, won four Gold Gloves, and ranks fifth all-time in doubles with 668.  The other second baseman is a five-time All-Star who put up a lifetime slash line of .290/.356/.500, drove in over 1,500 runs, had 12 seasons of 20 or more home runs, and won a National League MVP award.  The first man played his entire career with one MLB team; the second man played for six different teams.  Interestingly, the second man replaced the first man at second base when he arrived in Houston in 2003.

Of course, you know I’m writing about Craig Biggio and Jeff Kent.  Biggio is on the ballot for the second time, earning “only” 68.2% of the vote the year earlier.  I assumed that he would have made it last year, based on his longevity and, if nothing else, his career hit total.  Voters tend to like certain statistical milestones, like 3,000 hits, 300 wins, and so forth.  And really, Biggio’s body of work should speak for itself.  I don’t think I need to belabor the point that, given his career accomplishments and compared to his positional peers, he has a very strong case that will likely see him get in very soon.  I don’t agree with Bill James’ assertion back in 2001 that he was the 35th greatest player of all-time (nor that he’s fifth as a second baseman; I’d rank him at about ten), but he is certainly a Hall of Famer.

Jeff Kent is on the ballot for his first time, on an already stacked ballot that got even stacked-er (not a word, yes, I know) with “rookies” Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas, amongst others, all being eligible for the Hall this year.  Kent was durable, playing just over 2,000 games at second base in his career.  His gaudy home run and RBI totals are also worth mentioning, as is the fact that he did this in a high-scoring era and context.   Additionally, if you look at his career WAR (the baseball-reference version), he ranks 18th all-time amongst second basemen, ahead of Hall of Famers such as Bobby Doerr and Nellie Fox.

However, Kent is also below the average WAR (69.5) amassed by the 19 Hall of Fame second basemen by a fair margin.  There are a handful of players that played the keystone that are not and never will be voted into the Hall by the BBWAA, men like Lou Whitaker (74.8) and Bobby Grich (71) who were demonstrably better than Kent.  Furthermore, his case won’t be helped by the fact that he played for several teams, never staying with one for longer than six years.  Voters like stability, both on the field and in a city; it seems as if they collectively cannot wrap their heads around a guy that moves often.  In my opinion, Kent is worthy of consideration, but on such a loaded ballot, he isn’t one of the 10 most Hall-worthy candidates.  If it’s any consolation, I’d move him up about 20 spots from James’ previous ranking at second base, though.

First Last Position Top 100 WAR, Total % WAR,
  Season Season Rank Rank 2001-now WAR post-Abstract
Craig Biggio 1988 2007 5 35 7.7 64.9 11.86%
Jeff Kent 1992 2008 48 n/a 25.7 55.2 46.56%
Chase Utley 2003 current n/a n/a 58.2 58.2 100.00%
Robinson Cano 2005 current n/a n/a 45.2 45.2 100.00%
Dustin Pedroia 2006 current n/a n/a 38.1 38.1 100.00%
Ian Kinsler 2006 current n/a n/a 34.7 34.7 100.00%
Brandon Phillips 2002 current n/a n/a 24.2 24.2 100.00%
Average WAR, 2B = 69.5

And now, as I did with the catchers and first basemen, a brief look at some active second basemen that I think are, at least, worth some degree of Cooperstown thought.

Utley – already has more career WAR than Kent (58.2 vs. 55.2); has only played 150+ games in a season three of his 11 years in the big leagues; led the National League in runs in 2006, but has never been a “league-leader” in any other significant category; over 200 home runs; boasts an astounding stolen base percentage of 88.4% (129 steals in 146 attempts); one World Series ring, and no top-five MVP finishes.  He’s arguably a better player than Kent, but he needs to stay healthy and do some more accumulating to guarantee himself some HoF attention.

Cano – just became very rich; a five-time All-Star, with four consecutive top-six MVP finishes; a career .309/.355/.504 slugger with five consecutive years of 25+ home runs and a .300+ batting average; two Gold Gloves; one World Series ring to date, albeit with a far weaker batting line over 217 post-season plate appearances (.222/.267/.419).  If he performs for the next five years like he has the last five years, I have to think he’s a cinch for Cooperstown.   However, leaving the Yankees for the Mariners probably will not help him improve his post-season credentials, and to a (admittedly, it’s not as important in this century) lesser degree, his visibility.

Pedroia – two World Series rings, a Rookie of the Year, and an AL MVP award all belong to him; a lifetime .302/.370/.454 hitter with three Gold Gloves… might as well stop here.  When it comes to American League All-Star games, Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers, etc., it’s usually a two-man contest between Pedroia and Cano.  The Red Sox second baseman just turned 30, and like Cano, another five to seven great years (five-WAR seasons) will augur well for his Hall of Fame resume.

Kinsler – in the same age range as Cano and Pedroia, he possesses power (156 career home runs) and speed (172 stolen bases), and has gone 30/30 twice; not the sturdiest guy on the field, playing more than 145 games in a season just twice; three-time All-Star, no top-ten MVP finishes.  The lack of individual honors, as well as playing under less media scrutiny than Cano and Pedroia, will probably hurt him when he’s eligible, barring a “Joe Morgan with the Big Red Machine”-esque run… which I suspect is not in his future.

Phillips – a consistent source of mid-range power, hitting 18 to 21 home runs every season for the last six in a row; four Gold Gloves.  I put him on the “worth looking at” list more on reputation than anything, I suppose.  Looking at his career, he got started too late, and isn’t the elite hitter than Utley, Cano, or Pedroia are.  His career WAR ranks 80th amongst all second sackers, behind many players that were not or will never be considered for the Hall, including Orlando Hudson, Mark Ellis, and Chuck Knoblauch.

biggio

PS – OK, I can’t help myself.  Lou Whitaker was ripped off by BBWAA voters in 2001, garnering a mere 2.9% of the vote (15 of 515 ballots).  The 1984 Detroit Tigers were the first team that captured my attention when I was a kid, and later on, I just assumed that Whitaker and Alan Trammell would retire simultaneously and enter the Hall together.  Well, that didn’t quite work out…

Bobby Grich was a little before my time, but as I’ve discovered, he was a damn good ball player, too.  Like Whitaker, he didn’t get nearly enough support on the BBWAA ballot in his first year of eligibility, grabbing 11 of 430 votes, or 2.6% of the total back in 1992.

Here’s a quick look at each of those ballots.  Whitaker “earned” 15 votes, 20th of all the players who were on the ballot.  Dave Winfield and Kirby Puckett were both voted in that year, in their first years of eligibility, both scoring over 80% of the votes.  Yet if you rank all of the candidates that year by their WAR, Winfield was fifth, and Puckett was eighth.  Topping the list: Bert Blyleven, by a wide margin, at 95.4.  Coming in second?  Lou Whitaker, at 74.8… ahead of eventual Hall of Famers (in descending WAR order) Gary Carter, Winfield, Puckett, Jim Rice, Goose Gossage, and Bruce Sutter.  If you use the JAWS system (developed by Jay Jaffe, factoring in both career and seven-year peak WAR, defined here) – and I surely will in future blogs – Whitaker ranked third, behind only Blyleven and Carter.

Grich’s case is distressingly similar.  He finished 24th amongst the vote-getters in 1992, the year Tom Seaver captured the highest percentage ever, 98.8%.  Rollie Fingers was also voted in with 81.2% of the vote.  However, Grich ranked third in career WAR, trailing only Seaver and the ineligible Pete Rose, and ahead of Ron Santo, Joe Torre (both of whom were eventually elected by the Veteran’s Committees of their time), Tony Perez, Orlando Cepeda, Bill Mazeroski (he and Cepeda were also Vet’s picks), and Fingers.  The JAWS system ranked him fourth on the ballot, after Seaver, Santo, and Rose.

Posted December 17, 2013 by JasonMacAskill in Uncategorized

Getting to first base…   Leave a comment

We move from catcher (see my previous blog) to first base.  This is a power position, and the lists of single-season and career statistical leaders are densely filled with first basemen, especially the power categories.  It should also be mentioned that over the last 25 years, the various sluggers manning this post put up some pinball numbers.  However, those numbers should be viewed in that amped-up context, and not simply held up as a basis of comparison to other allegedly “weaker” first basemen.  Furthermore, when it came time to deciding which contemporary players warranted consideration for the Hall of Fame, it meant not including several players that were indeed very good, but simply did not put up a Cooperstown type of career, and certainly not ahead of the players listed below in my table.  Sorry, Carlos Delgado… and that goes for Paul Konerko, Mark Teixeira, Adrian Gonzalez, and others, too.

First Last Position Top 100 WAR, Total % WAR,
Season Season Rank Rank 2001-now WAR post-Abstract
Mark McGwire 1986 2001 3 31 0.3 62 0.48%
Jeff Bagwell 1991 2005 4 45 17.5 79.5 22.01%
Frank Thomas 1990 2008 10 75 14.9 73.6 20.24%
Don Mattingly 1982 1995 12 n/a 0 42.2 0.00%
Rafael Palmeiro 1986 2005 19 n/a 13.8 71.8 19.22%
Fred McGriff 1986 2004 21 n/a 5.5 52.6 10.46%
Albert Pujols 2001 current n/a n/a 93 93 100.00%
Jim Thome 1991 2012 n/a n/a 38.4 72.8 52.75%
Todd Helton 1997 2013 n/a n/a 46.6 61.3 76.02%
Mark Grace 1988 2003 32 n/a 2.1 46.1 4.56%
David Ortiz 1997 current n/a n/a 43.2 44.2 97.74%
Joey Votto 2007 current n/a n/a 33.9 33.9 100.00%
Andres Galarraga 1985 2004 42 n/a 0.4 31.4 1.27%
Prince Fielder 2005 current n/a n/a 23.5 23.5 100.00%
Average WAR, 1B = 65.7

I didn’t include Miguel Cabrera at this position, as he has played more MLB games at third base thus far.  However, that will soon change, and I suspect that when his career is in the history books, he will be known as a first baseman.  (If Brad Ausmus moves him back to shortstop, that would be the coolest thing ever.)

There are six first basemen on this year’s BBWAA ballot.  All six were ranked amongst the top 100 first basemen ever in Bill James’ historical abstract; in fact, the “lowest” in the table, Fred McGriff, ranked 21st, ahead of fellows like George Sisler, Bill Terry, and Gil Hodges.  In addition, I put Mark Grace and Andres Galarraga into the table as comparables – though they both fell off the ballot in their first year of eligibility, they also made James’ list, which is my first benchmark.  Finally, I added six other players that James didn’t consider a dozen years ago, but certainly deserve our notice now.

James ranked McGwire third all-time, and his resume is certainly impressive.  For starters, he is the all-time leader in at-bats per home run at 10.6.  He also has 583 home runs (good for tenth on the career chart), 1,414 runs batted in, and 12 All-Star appearances.  Sadly for him, he admitted to willingly using PEDs – which actually makes him a rare case, in that many others implicated during his era have not admitted anything.  Thus, he’s still on the outside of the Hall looking in for the eighth time.

I would also say that, based on what Bagwell, Thomas, and Pujols did since 2000, McGwire doesn’t deserve that third-overall spot.  I’d slot him further down, with Hall of Famers like Hank Greenberg and Willie McCovey, mainly because of WAR.  There is a site called fangraphs.com that enables you to enter a number of players into their system, and they will be “graphed” three ways:  by their best WAR seasons, by WAR-cumulative age, and by age, year by year.  I entered the four first basemen into the WAR Graphs machine, and put the cumulative chart below.

wargraph 1b

I should note that Fangraphs calculates WAR a little bit differently than baseball-reference.  Nonetheless, as a comparative tool, I trust both versions for the purpose of seeing how McGwire and his peers look together, and will for future player comparisons.  As per Fangraphs, then:  Pujols has 87.4 WAR (and counting), Bagwell 80.3, Thomas 72.4, and McGwire 66.3.

(Let’s just get Rafael Palmeiro out of the way right now, too.  One of four players in the history of the game to accumulate over 3,000 hits and 500 home runs – you might have heard of Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and/or Eddie Murray – he also has 71.8 WAR at b-r, and 70 WAR at Fangraphs, putting him above the “average” Hall of Fame first baseman.  Alas, his PED indignation will keep him out, too.)

Bagwell is on the BBWAA ballot for a fourth year – about three too many, by my estimation.  A lifetime .297/.408/.540 masher with 449 home runs to his credit, he was as close to a five-tool first baseman as you’re going to get.  He also stole 202 bases, scored 1,517 runs, and even won a Gold Glove (yes, I know – but he still won one).  Stop me if you’ve read this before, but the only reason Bagwell isn’t in the Hall already is because a lot of voters have tied his name to the PED tree, even though there hasn’t been any concrete reason to do so.  His name hasn’t surfaced in any report, nor has anyone come forward with damning evidence.  He might just be the best first baseman that played between the time Jimmie Foxx retired and Pujols settled at first, and in my mind, possibly one of the five best who ever played the bag.

This is Frank Thomas’s first year on the ballot.  His batting record speaks for itself: 521 home runs, 1,028 extra-base hits, a .301/.419/.555 slash line, an OPS+ of 156, back-to-back MVP awards, and six top-five MVP finishes.  He was a hitting machine.  If the voters simply looked at those numbers, he would be a lock… but only under two assumptions.  The 6’5″ behemoth known as the “Big Hurt”might be penalized for his size and his era, but I hope he is not.  I might even give the voters the benefit of the doubt on this one, as Thomas was one of the first active players pushing for stricter testing and penalties; hopefully, the BBWAA heard and remember him.

However, I will not assume that Thomas sails into Cooperstown so smoothly.  If the case of Edgar Martinez is any indication, Thomas is going to get dinged because he was primarily a DH throughout his career, logging less than 1,000 games (971 of 2,322) in the field.  The designated hitter has been around for 40 years now, but some BBWAA voters will seemingly never accept it.  They penalize (I’m sure using that word a lot) a player who didn’t choose to not play defense; it was and is management’s decision how best to utilize him and the rest of a 25-man roster.  I will probably rail on this more when I get to Martinez, in part because I do believe Thomas’s time at first base (over six full seasons) will be remembered.  But if he doesn’t make it to Cooperstown on the magical first ballot, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least – and that’s a shame.

Next on Bill James’ list – and the ballot – comes Donnie Baseball, holding down the 12th spot.  Mattingly is on the ballot for the 14th time, a number that matches the number of years his MLB career lasted.  He got 28.2% of the vote in his first year of eligibility, and it has steadily dropped since that.  Simply put, his career was too short.  He only played 1,785 games due to his ailing back, and retired just before the late-90s Yankee dynasty began.  His lifetime totals – especially at a “power” position – of 222 home runs and 1,099 RBI look rather weak.  A shame, really, because at his peak, Mattingly was unarguably the best at his position.  From 1984 to 1989, he boasted a slash line of .327/.372/.530, averaging 203 hits, 27 home runs, and 114 runs batted in.  He earned All-Star nods each and every year during this span, five Gold Gloves, an MVP award, and two other top-five MVP finishes.  Great peak, short career, and someone who should rank in the 17-20 range on a new James list.

Fred McGriff is the sixth and final first baseman on both the BBWAA ballot and Bill James’ positional list.  This is his fifth year on the ballot, and he seems stuck in the 20% range that might even decrease as more dynamic players join him on an already crowded card.  McGriff’s calling card was consistency.  That, combined with power; the “Crime Dog” hit 493 home runs (just seven shy of the once-magical 500 mark), hitting 30 or more ten times but never reaching 40.  Damn good numbers, but they look simply ordinary when the McGwires and the Bondses and his ilk are mashing 50+ with ease.  Furthermore, McGriff played for six different teams; voters seem to discount the accomplishments of players who bounce from club to club.  As with Mattingly, I don’t think he’s Hall-worthy either, but his steady excellence should be appreciated.

I won’t spend that much time on the two other first basemen Bill James considered amongst the 100 best in the game, Mark Grace and Andres Galarraga.  They both had distinguished careers, but neither had a slam-dunk Hall of Fame case, and they fell off the ballot after just one year.  I’d move them both down a few pegs on the abstract list, though they still deserve to be considered top-50ish guys.

Nor will I spend that much time on Albert Pujols  You saw the WAR Graph earlier on.  If an injury ended his career tomorrow, he would have an excellent shot at being enshrined in Cooperstown in about six years, and I’d feel fairly confident in declaring him as the third greatest third baseman of all-time right now.  His career is starting to level off, so he might have five not-quite-Pujolsian years left in him.  In terms of WAR, he probably won’t reach Gehrig, but he might catch Jimmie Foxx.  So, yeah… that’s a pretty good player.

Fun with WAR graphs, part two.  Let’s look at five more first basemen that did not make James’ list back in 2001, and spend just a few more moments inspecting each man’s ledger.

thome et al

Career WARs, sorted by year of debut (in hypotheses):  Thome 67.8 (1991), Helton 55.7, Ortiz 40.9 (both 1997), Fielder 27.7 (2005), and Votto 33.0 (2007).  I wanted to highlight the age-29 seasons of each to show how similar Thome, Helton, and Votto were/are at that stage of their careers.  Let’s briefly look at every man’s HoF case, as well as where I’d put them in an updated version of the historical abstract.

Thome – 612 home runs ranking seventh all-time; also seventh all-time in walks, and second in strikeouts; reached base over 4,100 times; four top-seven MVP finishes, no top-threes; no World Series rings; no PED allegations and considered by many to have great character.  My verdict – a Hall of Famer, and in the McCovey/Thomas/Greenberg pantheon of first basemen.

Helton – a lifetime .316/.414/.539 hitter with 369 home runs; however, lost his power early, failing to hit more than 20 home runs in any season after his age-30 season; five consecutive All-Star appearances during his peak; an excellent fielder, boasting a career .996 fielding percentage; no MVP awards or World Series rings.  My verdict – he’ll be on the BBWAA ballot for a while, and it could go either way.  Great numbers boosted by the Coors Field effect don’t really help his case.  Probably slots into “my” James list at about 20.

Ortiz – almost exclusively a DH, and that will not help his case; as of this writing, has 431 home runs, 1,429 RBI, and an OPS+ of 139; five consecutive top-five MVP finishes from 2003 to 2007, but never won; helped the Red Sox win three World Series titles with a staggering .455/.576/.795 slash line (59 plate appearances); reportedly failed a drug test in 2003.  My verdict – his case for the Hall is basically established, given his age.  I’m not convinced he belongs in Cooperstown, due to a relatively low WAR, but he’ll have plenty of support.  Belongs in the top 40 first sackers, if you want to call him that.

Fielder – has hit 30 or more home runs in six of his eight full seasons; five All-Star appearances and three top-five MVP finishes thus far; extremely durable, missing just a single game over the last five seasons; a poor post-season hitter, logging a .194/.287/.333 line in 164 plate appearances; limited range in the field.  My verdict – not close to the Hall yet, but he has the ability to put up big numbers to help his cause if and when he plays everyday.  In the Andres Galarraga tier.

Votto – take a look at the WAR graph above again; four consecutive All-Star appearances to date, as well as four consecutive “OBP titles”; one MVP award on the mantle; by WAR, only halfway to the “average” Hall of Fame first baseman (33.9, compared to 65.7); less than 900 MLB games under his belt.  My verdict – ahead of Fielder in WAR despite a two-year lag, he will have to stay healthy and put up some more prototypical first base power numbers over the next ten years.  Would probably make the top 100 even now.

Posted December 15, 2013 by JasonMacAskill in Uncategorized

The coolest, craziest Hall of Fame graph ever   Leave a comment

I interrupt my series of Cooperstown blogs to present the most ambitious voting graph I have ever seen.

Obviously, I didn’t come up with it.

I first learned about it on the Deadspin website (here), and after being redirected from their site to the actual host site of the Hall of Fame voting trajectory graph (now, click here), I sat transfixed.  It’s amazing.  Especially for a baseball nerd like myself.

Image

 

For example, this graph represents the eight catchers voted into the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA, and how they got there.  You can click on it to make it bigger; you actually have to go to the website to see who they are.  The above is just a screenshot, lacking the interactivity that makes it the graphing so much fun.

Go.  Now.  Try it for yourself.

Posted December 11, 2013 by JasonMacAskill in Uncategorized

Considering the catchers – Piazza, the past, and the present   Leave a comment

Mike Piazza is the best catcher on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot, and with the resume he boasts, he should be considered as one of the best dozen or so men to ever play the position.  However, it should also be noted that this is his second year on the ballot, having only earned 57.8% of the vote in 2013.  In fact, no one tallied the 75% required to be enshrined in Cooperstown.  Author’s note: ridiculous.

I’m going to start putting some data together – please check out my last blog, as it explains some of the terminology.  I’ve used Win Shares to do some general sorting and evaluating, WAR to do some more sorting, and then made some tables, as broken down by position.  The first table, as seen below, contains the names of six catchers, all of whom – in my opinion – have recently built or are in the process of building their case for Cooperstown.  With all due respect to some damn good players (A.J. Pierzynski, Jason Varitek, Jason Kendall, and others), I felt that they either lacked the career WAR, milestone statistics, or individual accolades that voters generally consider.

Here are the definition of the title columns.

  • First Season / Last Season:  fairly self-explanatory.
  • Position Rank:  out of 100, all-time, in the Bill James abstract, published in 2001
  • Top 100 Rank: out of the top 100 players of all-time, per the Abstract
  • WAR, 2001-now:  Wins Above Replacement accumulated from the year the Abstract was published
  • Total WAR:  WAR accumulated during the player’s entire career
  • % WAR, post-Abstract:  percentage of WAR calculated by taking the total from 2001 through 2013, divided by total WAR

Piazza, and subsequent players that are on the BBWAA ballot, will be shown in red.  Players listed underneath the lined statistics did not make James’ top-100 position rankings after the 2000 season.  Finally, players underneath that list will be sorted by their career WAR.

Here we go:

  First Last Position Top 100 WAR, Total % WAR,
  Season Season Rank Rank 2001-now WAR post-Abstract
Mike Piazza 1992 2007 5 79 7.6 59.2 12.84%
Ivan Rodriguez 1991 2011 13 n/a 26.1 68.3 38.21%
Joe Mauer 2004 current n/a n/a 44.3 44.3 100.00%
Yadier Molina 2004 current n/a n/a 26.8 26.8 100.00%
Brian McCann 2005 current n/a n/a 23.5 23.5 100.00%
Buster Posey 2009 current n/a n/a 17.5 17.5 100.00%
Average WAR, C = 52.4

To briefly summarize Piazza’s career: in 2001, Bill James thought that he was the fifth-best catcher ever, trailing only Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench, Roy Campanella, and Mickey Cochrane.  He also thought, at that point in time, that Piazza was the 79th best player of all-time, regardless of position.  For the balance of his career, Piazza racked up 7.6 more WAR, a not insignificant figure, but not enough, in my opinion, to bump him above Berra or Bench on James’ list; I have no problem keeping him in that fifth slot.  For his career, he put up 59.2 WAR, in huge part due to his batting; according to baseball-reference.com, the average Hall of Fame catcher was good for 52.4 WAR.

Ladies and gentlemen, doesn’t Mike Piazza seem like a Hall of Famer yet?  Even in the shoot-’em-up era of offense that Piazza worked in, his numbers – especially for a catcher – are excellent.  Barring any concrete PED allegations, his time should come sooner than later.  In all honesty, that time was last year.

If Piazza is a Hall of Famer, then Ivan Rodriguez should get a fancy plaque in Cooperstown, too, right?  After all, he has a higher WAR than Piazza, and even 12 years ago, Bill James thought enough about the then-still-in-his-prime Pudge to rank him as the 13th best catcher in baseball history.  Rodriguez put up 26.1 WAR after the Abstract came out, just over a third of his career WAR of 68.3, so I could see the case that warrants moving him up into the top ten as well, ahead of men like Gabby Hartnett, Ted Simmons, Joe Torre, and Bill Freehan.

Of course, there are those PED rumors about Pudge, too.

The other four catchers are, in my opinion, the only four with at least five years under their respective belts worth looking at under the Cooperstown microscope.  Joe Mauer is about ten WAR away from the average Hall of Fame catcher, and he has a lot of the things voters look for: the MVP award, the All-Star appearances  (six and counting), three batting titles and a career batting average of .323… it looks good for Mauer.  The only complication might be that he is moving to first base next year, so he might be judged 15 years from now as a first baseman, or some sort of hybrid player that voters don’t like (Exhibits A and B: Darrell Evans and Joe Torre).

Yadier Molina doesn’t have the stick Mauer has, but he’s a lot better than he was, batting over. 300 the last three years in a row.  He also has six Gold Gloves, five All-Star appearances, two top-four MVP finishes, and two World Series rings.  If he plays at a high level for about five more years, he’ll get a good look at the Hall.  Grit, game-calling, the arm… stuff like that help, too.

I’m guessing Brian McCann will get consideration as well, and a lot of that has to do with his signing with the Yankees last week.  He moves to a high-profile team that is in perpetual win-now mode, the ballpark will play to his left-handed power, and he can keep his bat in the lineup as the designated hitter, building those counting stats.  McCann is a seven-time All-Star, and won the Silver Slugger award five times, but he’s never won any awards.  He’ll turn 30 next year, so he should have ample time to bolster his resume.  In all honesty, he has the weakest case of the four active prospects.

Buster Posey is young.  He also has two World Series rings, an MVP award, a Rookie of the Year award, and a lifetime .308 batting average.  I included him simply because he’s a very, very good player with a very bright future ahead of him.  However, like Mauer, I think there’s a similarly very, very good chance he moves to first base in a few years.

Getting back to Piazza.  My rule of thumb for evaluating a Hall of Fame candidate is two-fold: was he the best player at his position when he played, and/or is he fairly representative of the players at his position already in the Hall of Fame?  Using the James abstract, and comparing him to the men that came before him, his peers, and the catchers that are playing today, I would conclude fairly simply that he was.

piazza

Posted December 10, 2013 by JasonMacAskill in Uncategorized

Using Win Shares and the Historical Baseball Abstract, Cooperstown-style – the introduction   Leave a comment

My favorite baseball book – and I have a few – is The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract.  The “new” version was published in 2001, and the hardcover version weighed in at 998 pages of overwhelming baseball goodness.  James sought to do a number of things in his book:  describe the way the game was played on a decade-by-decade basis, discuss the Negro League players in a historical context, and (these last two are intertwined) rank the top 100 players of all-time, and top 100 at each position, primarily by his newly created “Win Share” method.

Ranking anything can cause a great debate.  I bought the book for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was to somehow affirm my own opinions on the players I grew up with.  Bill James put a lot of thought and work into creating the methodology of Win Shares, but it never really and permanently caught on, as opposed to a similarly “new stat” like WAR (Wins Above Replacement).  I can understand why.  For all of its complexity, it is, after all, based on just one person’s work.  The weights assigned to certain values are merely chosen for effect and to ultimately reach a final figure.  Fielding is a part of it as well, and while the accuracy of those statistics is ever-improving, they are still – in my mind, at least – impossible to perfectly quantify.  Finally, the formula involved is extremely complicated, and I can easily understand why it has not or did not catch on with a jaded, old-school fanbase.

Nonetheless, I’m perfectly willing to use James’ book as a resource to rank MLB players, past and present.  His rating system is based on six factors:

  • The player’s career Win Share total
  • His best three Win Share seasons
  • His five best consecutive Win Share seasons
  • Career Win Shares per season
  • A time line adjustment (the argument that the quality of play has gotten better over time)
  • A subjective element (based on defense, clutch play, leadership, etc)

So for all the work, all the research, and the pedigree that a Bill James has, I definitely believe in Win Shares (WS) as a good method of sorting players and ranking seasons – just like I do with WAR.  It’s certainly a better way than ranking players based on the numbers of games they played, their batting average, or the number of Gold Gloves on their mantle.  For the purposes of this essay, I will be primarily using WS and WAR, along with everything else under the sun to try to determine if the players on this year’s BBWAA ballot deserve enshrinement in Cooperstown.

There are 22 players on the ballot who, in my opinion, warrant attention for the honor.  (Sorry, Kenny Rogers.)  I will be grouping them together based on the position they played the most, just as James ranked the players in his Abstract.  For the outfielders, and other guys that split time at different spots, I’m using baseball-reference.com’s defensive games played.

One more thing.  Since the Abstract came out in 2001, a lot of players have debuted, or performed at a high level for many years.  Though these players didn’t make James’ various lists at the time, they should be remembered now.  I’m not going to try to argue that, for example, Luis Castillo would be the 86th best second baseman of all time now; I would suggest that he belongs in a certain range, though.  However, I’m only going to concentrate on players that have (again, in my mind) legitimate Hall of Fame credentials.  In some cases, I’m going to do a bit of projecting, but the player must have five full or partial MLB seasons under his belt already.  Buster Posey makes that cut; Giancarlo Stanton does not.  At this point in time, early on in my thought process, I don’t think that there will even be that many young players to consider.  Most of the HoF candidates, the recently-retired, and the still-active superstars are more worthy of the attention and the analysis.

I will start with the catchers.  With any luck, tomorrow.

billjames

Posted December 8, 2013 by JasonMacAskill in Uncategorized

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, http://www.baseball-reference.com.

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.

madduxglavine

Posted December 7, 2013 by JasonMacAskill in Uncategorized