Baseball BeatDecember 31, 2004
A Hall of Fame Chat with Tracy Ringolsby
By Rich Lederer

My Dad's and Tracy Ringolsby's careers overlapped in 1977 and 1978. My father was Director of Public Relations/Promotions for the California Angels from 1969-1978, and Tracy covered the Angels for the Long Beach Independent, Press-Telegram from March 1977-July 1980.

Ringolsby subsequently covered the Mariners for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer from July 1980 - July 1983, the Royals for the Kansas City Star-Times from August 1983 - February 1986, and the Rangers for the Dallas Morning News from March 1986 through the 1989 season. He was the national baseball writer for the Dallas Morning News during the 1990-91 seasons and has been covering the Rockies for the Rocky Mountain News since April of 1992. Tracy has also written a syndicated weekly column since March of 1986.

A co-founder of Baseball America, Ringolsby was the President of the Baseball Writers Association of America in 1986. He was the Master of Ceremonies at Cooperstown in 1986 and 1992. Tracy has been a member of the Society of American Baseball Research for 25 years. Ringolsby holds the distinction of being the only sportswriter ever nominated for the Shining Star Award for journalistic excellence by the Colorado Press Association (which he won in 2001).

Ringolsby, 53, lives on 80 acres northwest of Cheyenne, Wyoming with his wife, Jane, two thoroughbreds and a quarter horse. His daughter Laramie also lives in Cheyenne and works for the State Department of Transportation. He is also a member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association, the University of Wyoming Cowboy Joe Club, the National Western Stockshow, the Scout of the Year Foundation, and the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation.

Tracy and I met in person for the first time in over 25 years at the Winter Meetings in Anaheim earlier this month. He agreed to discuss his Hall of Fame ballot with me in a series of emails and instant messages.

RL: I saw your ballot and was curious as to why you voted for Dave Concepcion over Wade Boggs?

TR: I didn't vote Dave Concepcion over Wade Boggs. That's not a fair statement. I had three open spots on my ballot so it wasn't a matter of choosing any individual over the other.

RL: OK. Let me rephrase the question. Why did you vote for Concepcion?

TR: I feel Concepcion was a dominant player at his position in his time, very underrated for intangibles, and things he -- along with Tony Perez -- did to keep the egos on those Reds teams from tearing the team apart. Concepcion and Perez were the settling influences. Concepcion also was a marvelous shortstop and handled the bat extremely well.

RL: I would rank Boggs as the fourth-best third baseman ever and am not convinced that Concepcion is even one of the game's top 15 shortstops.

TR: I am sure there is a statistical comparison that allows you to say you feel Boggs is the fourth-best third baseman ever, and I respect your opinion. I, however, see major fallacies in the comparsion of stats over generations because the emphasis of the game changes dramatically. Guys can benefit statistically or be hurt in terms of stats based off their park. A left-handed hitter at Fenway Park probably has as much a stat edge as any hitter at Coors Field. I don't think of Boggs among the dominant players at his position during his era, much less all time. This comes from personal observations and feelings from having covered the American League during the bulk of Boggs' career. I never felt Boggs was a threat in game situations, much like Rod Carew, and I'm sure this will be another black mark against me, but I didn't vote for Carew either.

RL: At least you're consistent. Boggs and Carew are very comparable offensively. I even pointed this out in an article I wrote earlier this month in support of Boggs. However, I believe Boggs was a superior player overall because he was a better than average third baseman most of his career whereas Carew split time between first and second base and was no better than average defensively.

TR: While Boggs did win two Gold Gloves, I don't know that you'd say he was exceptional as a third baseman. He worked to become a decent third baseman.

RL: Do you look at factors besides statistics and awards?

TR: Despite how easy it is for those who don't know me to pass off everything I write as being anti-stats, I have been a member of SABR for roughly 25 years. Stats are the tool I can use to feel I have a handle on a player. I do not pretend to be able to visually break down a player like a scout.

I see intangibles as counting along with tangibles in determining a player's greatness. I look for players who their teammates felt would make them better in a tough situation. I look for players who played the game to win and didn't care about the personal aspects, realizing that if they succeeded the personal accolades and stats would be there. Boggs was a corner infielder. For him to be dominant, in my opinion -- and it's just my opinion -- he had to be a power guy.

RL: I don't know why you have to be a power guy to be considered a "dominant" third baseman. I love power, but I value players who make a habit of getting approximately 200 hits and 100 walks every year very highly, too.

TR: Well, third basemen, first basemen need to be power guys or else they get a lineup out of whack. You can afford to carry a non-power guy at one of the corners if you have an A-Rod at shortstop or a Carlton Fisk behind the plate or Fred Lynn in center field, but that's a situation where you have to adjust for the lack of what you normally want from a position.

RL: I also noticed that you voted for Jack Morris and not Bert Blyleven.

TR: Jack Morris has always been an easy choice for me. He was the pitcher that you wanted on the mound in a big game throughout his career. He had that extra sense of how to win. He didn't let big games get away from him.

RL: Have you ever voted for Blyleven? If not, why not?

TR: I felt Blyleven was a pretty darn good pitcher but never felt he was dominating or intimidating or the best in the game. He was able to build up quality numbers because he was good for a long period of time -- which is an excellent accomplishment -- but I don't see him as great at his position in his era.

RL: Are you comfortable denying Hall of Fame honors from a pitcher who is 5th on the all-time list in strikeouts, 9th in shutouts, and 24th in wins?

TR: The fact that I don't vote for a Boggs or Blyleven doesn't mean they were bad players. Let's remember, in voting on the Hall of Fame we are talking about the elite of the elite. So I do get a bit uncomfortable in trying to explain why I didn't vote for somebody because then it makes it look like I am belittling the player's accomplishment. I'm much more comfortable explaning why I did vote for a player.

RL: What do you make of the fact that, other than Blyleven, every pitcher who is eligible for the HOF in the top 14 in strikeouts and top 20 in shutouts has already been enshrined?

TR: There are players in the Hall of Fame I didn't vote for or, if I had been voting at the time, wouldn't have voted for -- and I don't feel compelled to use their comparisons in assessing a candidate's worth. Also the fact I don't vote for someone does not mean I didn't respect their accomplishments or credentials.

RL: Some people have accused you of voting for or against players based on your relationships with them.

TR: That's off base. When I covered the Seattle Mariners, Maury Wills was the manager and we rarely spoke -- I think eight times in six months. In his book, there is a debate over whether he hated me or Don Baylor more. Regardless, I voted for Wills every year he was on the ballot because I felt he changed the way the game was played.

RL: Maury was a special player. I had the privilege of watching him play for the Dodgers from 1959-1966. His stolen bases were much more valuable during the lower-scoring 1960s than they would be today.

TR: I don't think the value of stolen bases has really declined. It's a matter of the quality of the stolen base and the disruption it can create. What happened, particularly with Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman, is that stolen bases were overexposed, and their value decreased but Rickey wannabes were not able to have the success ratio to make the stolen bases an effective tool.

RL: Well, we may disagree on Boggs, Blyleven, Concepcion, and Morris (and perhaps the value of stolen bases) but reasonable people can disagree, right?

TR: Exactly. That's why it takes 75 percent (not 100 percent or 50 percent) to get a player elected. What's important in baseball is the arguments are more strongly about people who aren't in than with other sports where you always wonder why certain people are actually in.

RL: Your Hall of Fame selections generated a lot of controversy at Baseball Primer.

TR: As I'm sure you know from having met me many years ago when I played cards with your Dad at your house, I don't really care if people agree with me. But I do care if they question my integrity. My method of making decisions or drawing a conclusion may be different from somebody else, but nobody who has ever known me has ever been able to accuse me of being lazy or not putting effort into trying to determine my decisions.

RL: You have certainly made the rounds over the past three decades.

TR: To have people like Michael Lewis write that I have never talked to Billy Beane -- even though Billy and I actually have a good relationship -- and then to say I'm a writer who sits at home, without going to the ballpark and issues decrees eats at me. If anything, maybe I've gone to too many ballparks. I've covered baseball for 29 years and I am still a beat writer by choice. The day to day presence at the park is what I enjoy. Sadly, I must assume that guys who want to be baseball writers and aren't, for whatever reason, find it easy to cling to misstatements of someone like Michael Lewis and give legs to the lies. Funny thing is, it makes me question the validity of anything those people claim to be true because from my own experience I have seen that they don't put much effort into drawing conclusions -- at least they didn't in regards to me.

RL: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me.

TR: It's been a pleasure. It's always nice to exchange ideas with people who realize you can disagree with dignity and respect.

[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]

Baseball BeatDecember 29, 2004
Bert Blyleven: Up Close and Personal
By Rich Lederer

Born in Zeist, Holland on April 6, 1951, Rik Aalbert Blyleven moved to the United States when his mother Jenny and father Johannes Cornelius Blijleven emigrated from the Netherlands. He was raised in Garden Grove, California along with his four sisters and two brothers.

As a youngster, Bert delivered the Long Beach Press-Telegram -- the newspaper that employed my father for approximately 20 years, including 11 as the beat writer covering the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1958-1968 -- as well as the Herald-Examiner, the Los Angeles Times, and the Orange County Register.

I spoke to Bert a couple of times on the telephone recently and asked him if these paper routes helped develop his throwing arm. "Oh, definitely." Laughing, "I could hook it around anything." Well, there you go, the secret behind Blyleven's famous curveball revealed for the first time.

I actually had the good fortune of being a home plate umpire to witness firsthand Blyleven throwing what he calls an "overhand drop." Bert was pitching in a scout's league game at Lakewood High School in January 1974. Although we are only four years apart in age, I had just graduated from high school the previous June.

Bert, on the other hand, was a four-year veteran of the major leagues and already one of the best pitchers in baseball at the tender age of 22. He was coming off a season in which he made the American League All-Star team and finished seventh in the Cy Young voting.

When my former high school baseball coach asked me to umpire a game that afternoon, I had no idea that Blyleven was going to be the starting pitcher. However, having played in the scout's league during the winters of my sophomore and junior years, I was fully aware that these games brought together major leaguers, minor leaguers, and local college and high school players.

"Every winter, right around January, we started working out in the scout league. There were a lot of well-known players out there. Dan Ford. . .Lyman Bostock. It was like a little reunion during the winter."

Dressed in my umpire's attire (including an old-style balloon chest protector just like the A.L. umps of that day), I watched Blyleven toss his seven or so warm-up pitches before taking my position behind the catcher, gently bending my knees as the lead-off batter stepped into the batter's box. The tall right-hander took his sign, went into his windup, and threw the most hellacious curve I had ever seen. The ball started chin high, and it broke sharply downward, crossing the plate just above the batter's knees.

It was my turn to let out the big "steee-rike" call. Instead, I froze. Even though I had mentally prepared myself for Bert's wicked hook, I had never seen one quite like that up close. I knew it was a strike. Everybody in the ballpark knew it was a strike. However, by the time I had processed the pitch in my mind, it was too late. I hadn't said anything, and I hadn't signaled a strike with my right hand.

A home plate umpire has a split-second to call a pitch a strike or a ball. In the vernacular of baseball, a pitch is a ball unless called a strike. As such, my no call meant the pitch was a ball. I looked out to the mound, and I see Bert standing there with his hands on his hips, wondering if I was ever going to pull the trigger. After a few seconds, his astonishment turned into a head shake and a chuckle.

I can picture Bert having a good time at my expense like it was yesterday. Hey, I deserved it. I flat out missed the call. I simply gave up on Blyleven's monster curve too soon. I guess I could have called it a strike retroactively, but it's just not in the makeup of an umpire -- even an 18-year-old one -- to do such a thing. I took a deep breath, settled in, and ended up calling a good game.

When I shared that story with Blyleven on the telephone recently, he laughed (again). "Jim Evans couldn't call my curveball either. He kept calling it low even though the ball would cross the plate as a strike."

* * * * * * *

Blyleven prepped at Santiago High School in Garden Grove. He was drafted in the third round (55th overall) out of high school by the Minnesota Twins in June 1969. Jeff Burroughs (Wilson HS, Long Beach) was the number one pick in the draft that year. My claim to fame was playing on the Washington Senators scout team with Burroughs and driving to games in his brand new Dodge Charger.

Bert recalls his first season in professional baseball. "I went to someplace in Florida called the Rock. The baseball fields were worse than ours growing up in Southern California."

Blyleven pitched well in 1969 and was invited to spring training with the Twins before his 19th birthday in 1970. Was there a chance that Bert could break camp with the defending A.L. West champions? "Well, I thought so but the Twins already had a set four-man rotation. In addition to Jim Kaat, Dave Boswell had won 20 games in 1969, Jim Perry won the Cy Young in 1970, and they had just acquired Luis Tiant."

After just 21 minor-league starts, Blyleven was called up to the big-league team on June 2, 1970. At 19, he was the youngest player in the major leagues. He started three days later and gave up a home run to the first batter (Lee Maye) he faced.

"Manager Bill Rigney came out to visit me on the mound and I thought to myself, 'Oh great. He's gonna take me out.' On the back of my bubblegum card, I could see 'Bert Blyleven, 0-1 with an ERA of infinity.' As it turns out, we won the game, 2-1, and that was the only run I gave up. I pitched seven innings and allowed only five hits and one walk while striking out seven batters. Ron Perranoski got the save."

Later that season, Blyleven -- coming off a start in which he tied an American League record by striking out the first six batters -- became the 25th teenager to win 10 games in a season when he beat the Chicago White Sox with a three-hit, one-run gem. Bert was named the A.L. Rookie Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News in 1970. He gave up more than three runs only twice in his first 19 starts and the Twins, in a sign of things to come, scored a total of 11 runs in his nine losses.

"When they say, 'You didn't win 300,' the whole idea is to keep your team close. It took me a long time to realize that. As I got older, when we lost a 1-0 game, I knew I did my job. When I was younger, I thought it was my fault."

In 1973, Blyleven became the 13th-youngest 20-game winner of the century, leading the league in shutouts (9) and placing second in ERA (2.52) and strikeouts (258). He started 40 games and pitched 325 innings. Think about that for a second. That's over eight innings per outing. "I took a lot of pride in my complete games that year."

After being traded to the Texas Rangers in June 1976, Blyleven pitched 11 innings in his first start and lost, 3-2. What's more, his first two wins with the Rangers were ten-inning, complete-game 1-0 shutouts (one of which was a one-hitter). Over the course of his career, Bert won 15 games by a 1-0 score -- third on the all-time list behind Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson.

Blyleven threw a no-hitter against the California Angels the following season in his final start after sitting out more than two weeks with a groin injury. "I re-aggravated it in the eighth inning of that game, and I ended up throwing nothing but curveballs the rest of the way." Bert faced only 28 batters, allowing just one walk with two outs in the ninth inning. His chance for a perfect game was lost in the third when Ron Jackson reached base on an error by shortstop Bert Campaneris. Jackson was retired when Blyleven got Andy Etchebarren to hit into a double play.

From 1971-77, Blyleven's ERA was never worse than 3.00. Yet, his win-loss record stood at 122-113. "Back in the 1970s when Nolan Ryan was pitching, you had to beat him, 1-0. The other club always felt the same way about me when I was on the mound."

Blyleven was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates prior to the 1978 season, and he helped lead the Bucs to a World Series victory over the Baltimore Orioles in 1979. Although Bert won two games in the postseason -- including a "do-or-die situation" in Game Five of the World Series -- he became disenchanted with the fact that he was only allowed to complete four games that year (after never having fewer than 11 in any full season) while setting a record with 20 no-decisions.

"Chuck Tanner and I did not see eye-to-eye. My only beef with him ever was 'why do I have to wait five to six days to pitch if I'm only pitching five to six innings?' What you're doing is taking away about 50 extra innings."

Blyleven threatened to retire on April 30, 1980 unless he was traded. After being placed on the disqualified list, Bert agreed to rejoin the Pirates on May 13. Although he allowed more than three runs only twice in his first ten starts, his record stood at 0-4 when he shut out the New York Mets on the last day in May. He failed to win 10 games for the first time in his career and was dealt to the Cleveland Indians in a six-player transaction in December 1980.

"To me, baseball was always supposed to be fun. In 1980 I wasn't having fun. I didn't leave on the best of terms. It was a frustrating experience."

Blyleven missed most of the 1982 season with a severe elbow injury. However, he bounced back in 1984 and enjoyed what Bert believes was the best year of his career. He won 19 games for a sixth-place team despite missing four starts in May and June due to a freak foot injury.

"It was a stupid mistake. Broderick Perkins threw a ball over my head in the outfield before a game and I went to get it like Randy Moss would a football, and I turned my ankle."

The Indians were in no position to sign Blyleven after his free agent year and traded him back to the Twins on August 1, 1985. Bert led the league that season in innings pitched, complete games, shutouts, and strikeouts. He topped the league in innings once again the following year while allowing 50 home runs, a record that still stands today.

When the subject of home runs allowed comes up, Blyleven is quick to point out that five of the six pitchers ahead of him on the all-time list (Robin Roberts, Fergie Jenkins, Phil Niekro, Don Sutton, and Warren Spahn) as well as the next two (Steve Carlton and Gaylord Perry) are all in the Hall of Fame. "Of the 96 homers I gave up in 1986 and 1987, something like 80 were solo shots."

Blyleven's voice perks up when talking about the World Series championship the Twins won in 1987. "Oh, that was exciting. No one expected us to be there." Bert started four games during the postseason and won three times.

After hurting his shoulder in 1988, Blyleven was traded to the Angels. He was named Comeback Player of the Year in 1989, pitching home games in front of his parents and siblings regularly for the first time in his professional career. Bert won 16 more games with the Angels in 1990 and 1992, becoming one of only three pitchers in major league history to win a game before the age of 20 and after 40. As USA Today columnist Jon Saraceno pointed out, "He was that good for that long."

* * * * * * *

Blyleven's father passed away on October 15, 2004 from Parkinson's at the age of 78. It was Bert's dream to share the honor of Cooperstown with him. He wrote a touching tribute ("Today We Lost a Great Man") on The Official Website of Bert Blyleven.

We children will always remember a father that was a very hard worker, dedicated husband and father, and someone that was always looking for a laugh. . .We will remember a caring father, an unselfish father, and a very loving man with a big heart. . .I know without the help of my father's guidance I would not have been a successful baseball player. He taught me determination, dedication, and never giving up. I will miss the time we had together.

Thank you for reading this column and letting me tell you about the greatest man I ever knew, my dad. I will continue to help raise needed funds to hopefully one day find a cure for Parkinson's.

I will always love you dad. Your loving son, Bert

Blyleven and his wife Gayle reside in Ft. Myers, Florida. He has four children and two step-children. Bert just finished his ninth season as the color analyst for the Minnesota Twins. During the off-season, Blyleven enjoys spending time with his family and playing golf "three or four times per week." He shot a 73 on the day I first spoke to him.

Although Blyleven is frustrated that he hasn't received the one telephone call in January that every Hall of Fame candidate yearns for, he is resigned to the fact that there is nothing left for him to do. "It's up to the sportswriters. I have no control over it."

The man, renowned in Minnesota for circling on a Telestrator a fan carrying a sign in the stands at the Metrodome during a lull in a Twins game in early 2002 (thus creating numerous "Circle Me, Bert" signs at subsequent games), should hereby be circled on the Hall of Fame ballot by every voting member of the Baseball Writers Association of America -- if not this year, then certainly next.

[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]

WTNYDecember 27, 2004
The Hotbed Down South
By Bryan Smith

Last week, I spoke about the slew of Billy Beane moves in the past weeks, and
what it has done to shape the future in Bayside California. Today I want to talk
about the Atlanta Braves, looking both at their system and trying to shape what’s on tap for their top prospects.

Overall, this is not an organization that shies away from prospects, with a lot of
their best players containing roots stemming from Atlanta. Braves brass has
been amazing at not just keeping a winner on the Major League level, but also
keeping a host of good minor leaguers below. Say what you will about their
supposed “Scout the South,” high school-first philosophy, but it has worked.

Simply put, no organization can lose the likes of Jose Capellan and Dan Meyer,
and not be hurt from a top prospect, or prospect depth perspective. On the other hand, no GM was more prepared to trade two fantastic prospects for two
important Major League pieces than John Schuerholz. The truck has not been
backed up because of these deals, it just merely has been dented. That’s
because before these deals, Capellan and Meyer fell below two prospects, and immediately in front of a few more. Atlanta’s rotation will end up being a bit older than anticipated, but there are still arms that could be of some help soon.

On the mound, the Braves still have some very good arms. I read that
Scheurholz was refusing to trade Kyle Davies in the past few weeks, which is
high praise considering who actually was dealt. Davies did not dominate in Myrtle Beach like the upmost echelon should, but he appears to have the ceiling of a Kevin Millwood type, considered an ace by some, but best suited in the three spot.

The problem with being so loaded from bottom to top is that it makes for hard
decisions on when to cut bait or trade certain players. Davies was once fourth on the depth chart for the Braves fifth starter spot (Horacio Ramirez, Capellan,
Meyer), but the Braves’ surely calculated risk moved him up to second. He’ll
begin the season in AA, but if Meyer or Capellan are any indication, he could be
next in line for starts should injuries arise.

Farther down the line, but immediately after Davies comes Jake Stevens.
Chosen in the third round of the 2003 draft, Stevens was sensational in his first
full season in low-A. The southpaw had an extremely long scoreless innings
streak that extended from May to July, showing the potential he has to dominate
on the mound. Also dominating was Chuck James, a fellow leftie, though he was
22 in the South Atlantic League last season. His ceiling - mostly due to age - is
not quite as high as that of Stevens, but he does keep defying the odds.

The Braves also have quite a bit of depth at the position, though I’m not sold on
most of them. You’ll hear the knuckleball obsessors talk about Anthony Lerew,
who had a solid season (surely helped by the giant park) at high-A Myrtle Beach. Macay McBride was as highly thought of as anyone entering the season, but had an extremely large slip-up before salvaging his pride in the AFL. Others include Blaine Boyer, Zach Miner, and Matt Wright. I don’t expect any of the latter three (or McBride for that matter) to ever be much of a help in a starting role, but depth is quite useful when on the phone with other GMs.

Offensively, the Braves are not quite as deep, though their top prospects are
sensational. Andy Marte is one of my favorite prospects, a player waiting for
explosion, and should be reaching the Majors soon. Unfortunately, Scheurholz
hinted in a recent article (can’t find the link), that it might be Marte and not
Chipper Jones moving to the outfield when he’s ready. I think this would be a
colossal mistake, as simply following the path of Miguel Cabrera is not the right
attitude to have. My hope is that minds are changed early in the season, and the Braves start 2006 with an outfield of Jones-Jones-Francoeur.

There really isn’t a lot standing in the way of Jeff Francoeur, other than himself.
His final at-bats in AA, and his AFL stint, showed that he still is quite raw
considering the amount of talent he has. The Braves need to preach patience
with Francoeur, who at this pace, could never really eclipse a .350 OBP in the
Majors. He is a fantastic talent, but will not be ready as quick as Marte, another
Scheurholz quoteable. Think mid-2006 right now, though he wouldn’t be the first
Brave prospect to surprise me.

Atlanta’s most confusing position will soon be behind the plate, now that Johnny
Estrada was everything the Braves thought and tons more last season. I do not
believe Estrada can stay at such a level, giving way to the Majors second best
catching prospect, Brian McCann. He’s a player hurt a bit by his park
environment, but someone I truly believe can be a force in the Majors. He’ll join
Francoeur in AA next year, and should force the Braves hand a bit in 2006. And
don’t forget Jarrod Saltalamacchia, a player scouts love, that held his own being
quite young for the Sally League.

Hopefully, this article made you realize that the Braves will move on easily
despite losing Capellan and Meyer, something the Cardinals organization can’t
say after trading Daric Barton. The system should start to provide the Braves
with useful, cheap parts soon, almost surely allowing the re-signing of newfound
hero Tim Hudson. Look for Smoltz and Hudson to lead this rotation in the coming years, but with noteable help from the likes of LaRoche, Francoeur, Marte, McCann and Davies.

Baseball BeatDecember 27, 2004
A Peek Into the Mind of a Hall of Fame Voter
By Rich Lederer

Jeff Peek is a columnist for the Traverse City (Michigan) Record-Eagle. He graduated from Central Michigan University with a journalism degree in 1986 -- "about 10 years after realizing the only way I was going to make the major leagues was as a writer."

Peek is a member of the Detroit chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America. He was bestowed with Hall of Fame voting privileges for the first time last year. Jeff placed Paul Molitor, Dennis Eckersley, Andre Dawson, Alan Trammell, Ryne Sandberg, Jack Morris, and Goose Gossage on his initial ballot. His "near misses" included Bert Blyleven, Jim Rice, Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith and Tommy John.

Bert Blyleven? Near miss? I sent Jeff an email with a link to Only The Lonely: The Hall of Fame Trials and Tribulations of Bert Blyleven in the hope that he would read it and reconsider his stance on the only eligible pitcher in the top 14 in both career strikeouts and shutouts not to have been enshrined in Cooperstown. Peek not only read my article but he was humble enough to send the following email back to me:

Hi, Richard: Thanks for the e-mail. I read your piece on Blyleven with great interest. Your research is outstanding, and your column is must-reading for every voting member of the BBWAA. Let's face it, I blew it on Blyleven. He'll get my vote next year.

Well, a year has passed so I thought it would be worthwhile to check back with Mr. Peek. He recently unveiled his Hall of Fame selections for 2005 in an article entitled "Boggs belongs on first ballot." In addition to Wade Boggs, Jeff once again voted for Dawson, Trammell, Sandberg, Morris, and Gossage. True to his word, he also placed Blyleven's name on his ballot for the first time. An excerpt from his article follows:

I dropped Blyleven from my ballot about 10 minutes before I mailed it last year. Two days later, his Hall of Fame worthiness became clear after a series of e-mails from baseball historian and All-Baseball.com columnist Rich Lederer. So I'm fixing my mistake.

Lederer has been called a "cybergeek" by at least one longtime member of the BBWAA -- and it wasn't meant as a compliment -- but I was fascinated by his numbers crunching. He also convinced me that even conventional stats prove Blyleven belongs in the Hall.

Blyleven, who pitched 22 seasons for five teams, is fifth on the all-time strikeouts list with 3,701 -- behind Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton, and ahead of Tom Seaver, Don Sutton, Gaylord Perry, Walter Johnson, Phil Niekro, Ferguson Jenkins and Bob Gibson. All of the Hall-eligible players on that list are already in, except for Clemens and Johnson -- who will both be elected as soon as they're on the ballot -- and Blyleven.

In addition to his impressive strikeout total, the right-handed Dutchman is ninth on the career shutout list with 60. Every other pitcher with 50 or more is in the Hall.

Blyleven also ranks 17th in Runs Saved Above Average (RSAA) -- which Lederer says represents "the number of runs that a pitcher saved his team versus what an average pitcher would have allowed, adjusted for ballpark effects." Blyleven is the only pitcher in the top 20 who is not a member of the Hall of Fame. It's easy to pooh-pooh stats like RSAA. Actually, my first reaction was, "What?" But to pass it off as nothing more than the work of a "cybergeek" would have been irresponsible. So I looked closer -- and agreed.

Simply put, a guy who finishes fifth in career strikeouts, ninth in shutouts and 24th in wins (287) -- as well as 20th in ERA versus the league average (4,000 or more innings pitched) -- deserves my vote. And Blyleven got it.

Although Peek isn't classified as a beat writer, he admits to "watching, reading, and breathing as much of this game as possible." Jeff believes his four-hour drive between Traverse City and Comerica Park is a longer commute than any other member of the BBWAA. "Baseball is my passion -- always has been, always will be. There is not a day when I step into a major league ballpark that I don't say a prayer of thanks for being fortunate enough to do this job."

Jeff agreed to discuss his Hall of Fame ballot with me in a series of email exchanges over the past ten days. I am confident that you will find his comments thoughtful and refreshing.

RL: I see from reading your article that you are voting for Wade Boggs this year.

JP: I think Boggs is an absolute no brainer. But you can bet the house that he won't get 100 percent of the vote.

RL: I put the over/under at 88% in an article I wrote in support of Boggs but, based on some of the early polls, it doesn't look like he is likely to reach that mark.

JP: I'm getting a little tired of people who refuse to vote for certain players because they don't feel they're worthy of "first ballot Hall of Famer" status. I find it amusing how some Hall voters feel they're the "keepers of the gate" and believe it is their duty to keep out the riff-raff -- or at least not let certain players in until they've waited the "proper" number of years. If Boggs is a Hall of Famer next year, he's certainly a Hall of Famer this year.

RL: Are you voting for any of the relief pitchers?

JP: Yes, Goose Gossage. Bruce Sutter and Lee Smith are popular choices, but what sets Gossage apart from them -- much like Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers -- is the number of innings he pitched. In other words, he saved a heck of a lot more runs than the other relievers.

RL: I agree with you. I would rank Gossage over Sutter and Smith as well.

JP: I haven't voted for Sutter or Smith. In the case of Sutter, I know he revolutionzed the split-fingered fastball -- but his career numbers closely parallel those of the late Dan Quisenberry, who was only dominant for a short time and is already off the ballot for lack of support. That kind of made my decision for me. As to Smith, I haven't voted for him despite the fact that he is the major league leader in career saves.

RL: Is there anyone in particular that you would like to highlight from your ballot?

JP: Trammell's lack of voter support bugs me more than any of the others -- much like Blyleven's lack of support stings you -- because I grew up watching him play.

RL: I'm obviously not as passionate about Trammell as I am Blyleven, but I believe that he is a deserving candidate, too.

JP: I think he compares favorably with Ozzie Smith. Trammell was the better hitter, Smith the better fielder -- but the defensive gap is nowhere near the size of the offensive gap. Trammell has a better career average, more hits, more home runs and more RBIs -- and those are supposedly the glamorous stats when it comes to catching a voter's eye. But Ozzie made the Hall on the first ballot and Trammell didn't even get 14 percent of vote last year. It's sick. Trammell wasn't very flashy, and flashy (obviously) sells.

RL: Speaking of Blyleven, I applaud the fact that you are making the switch this year.

JP: As I said last year, I found your research fascinating and very persuasive. To pass it off as nothing more than the work of a "cybergeek" was not only insulting to you and your fellow researchers but irresponsible, in my opinion.

RL: Well, it seems to me that you are more open-minded on this subject than many of the other voters.

JP: Why not use every tool possible when determining who deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame? The argument that "I know a Hall of Famer when I see one" -- then closing the book forever -- is like a juror voting "guilty" when three witnesses have yet to be heard. Our courts didn't always hold DNA evidence in high regard, but it sure has proven to be invaluable over the years. I think we should keep that in mind when weighing baseball evidence, as well.

RL: You're voting for Blyleven this time around but 65% of the voters didn't cast a ballot on his behalf last year. Do you have any idea why your fellow writers don't support his candidacy?

JP: It's the same old argument. If you vote for Blyleven you might as well vote for Tommy John and Jim Kaat, too. I'm guilty of using that reasoning myself last year when I voted for the first time. I decided before I cast my ballot that I would stick with the guys I voted for, every single season, no matter how many years it took. I was prepared to vote for Blyleven, but in the end I worried (wrongly) that one vote actually equalled three. I wanted to be totally sure that the guys I voted for were not only worthy last year, but this year and every year. I made a mistake in not voting for Blyleven, so I fixed it this year. I'm much more comfortable with my ballot this time around.

RL: It sounds like you now can distinguish Blyleven from John and Kaat.

JP: Close inspection of their numbers allows that. Blyleven is better across the board. John and Kaat were both great pitchers and are oh-so-close to being Hall of Famers. Blyleven deserves to be in.

RL: If Candy Cummings made the Hall of Fame as the "inventor" of the curveball, then Blyleven -- if nothing else -- should make it as the "master" of that pitch.

JP: What I remember most about Blyleven was his curveball. I grew up during Blyleven's prime, and that's all I ever heard: Bert Blyleven has the best curveball in baseball. I had an opportunity to spend an hour chatting with former major league pitcher Gene Garber last summer and he said the same thing. I told him I was a Hall of Fame voter and asked his opinon of a few candidates. Of Blyleven he said: "He's a Hall of Famer -- absolutely. Ask any player from my era who had the best curveball in baseball and they'd all answer the same: 'Blyleven.' I can't believe he isn't in already."

RL: Other than Bert's hook, what is the one image that comes to your mind when you think of him?

JP: I know Blyleven had many great years with the Twins, but whenever I picture him, he's with the Pirates -- scruffy beard and wearing one of those late 1970s caps with the horizontal stripes.

RL: Which Blyleven stat impresses you the most?

JP: The strikeouts. It's the only out that a pitcher is solely responsible for, and Blyleven got a lot of them.

RL: What would your response be to those who say, "Blyleven didn't win a Cy Young Award or finish in the top ten often enough."

JP: Whatever. If you use that reasoning, you can kick some great names out of Cooperstown (Bunning, Marichal, Ryan, Sutton, Niekro). Besides, wins, losses, strikeouts. . .they aren't subject to opinion. Cy Young awards are.

RL: How about to those who say, "Blyleven wasn't a dominant pitcher in his era."

JP: I guess it depends on what your definition of "dominant" is. If it's Cy Young awards, no he wasn't. Twenty win seasons? Nope. But a guy who strikes out 3,701 batters? He'd be the "dominant" pitcher on practically every pitching staff in baseball.

RL: Do you think Blyleven will be elected one day?

JP: I think he will. But -- and I hate to say this -- it will have to be in a "down" year when there are few clear-cut candidates. The reason that bugs me so much is, I believe a Hall of Famer is a Hall of Famer, no matter the year. So I'm going to continue to vote for the same guys every year. If Blyleven makes it in during a "down" year, that means other voters don't follow the same logic. That means they've suddently decided Blyleven is a Hall of Famer only because they have no one better to vote for. That reasoning is flawed.

RL: Which pitcher do you think Blyleven is most comparable to?

JP: I think Perry, minus the petroleum jelly.

RL: Has achieving 300 wins become a de facto Hall of Fame standard for starting pitchers?

JP: It has, but I don't think it should be. Those standards are going to eventually change because there just aren't going to be many 300-game winners anymore. With the big contracts of today, no one is going to stick around long enough to do it.

RL: Why do so many writers seem so averse to looking beyond the basic stats (i.e., batting average, number of hits, home runs, runs batted in for hitters; earned run average, number of wins, and saves for pitchers)?

JP: Beats me. Compare the Hall of Fame voting process to a courtroom trial. Would you ignore important evidence that could help solve a case just because it was new or you didn't totally understand it? I hope not. If DNA testing was tossed aside for that reason, there'd still be a lot of criminals running around -- and a lot of innocent people would be sitting in prison. You use what you have. Take advantage of technology, don't turn your back on it.

RL: Do you think voters will ever recognize any of the newer metrics such as Bill James' Win Shares; or OPS+ and Runs Created Above Average for hitters; or ERA+ and Runs Saved Above Average for pitchers?

JP: I hope so, but it will take open minded voters (which, unfortunately, I believe translates to "younger" voters). Too many current voters are under the false assumption that they know a Hall of Famer when they see one -- and that's that.

RL: It would be one thing if Blyleven didn't have the traditional stats to support the more esoteric metrics us "cybergeeks" like to quote. But he does!

JP: I'd like to close by saying, "You know, Rich, I think you've made a good case for Blyleven -- 5th in career strikeouts, 9th in shutouts, 24th in wins. That's one heckuva record. He's got my vote this year." Just like you wrote it!

RL: I appreciate that, Jeff.

JP: Continued good luck on your campaign to get Blyleven into the Hall of Fame. As you've already found, however, there are a lot of closed minds out there.

RL: I realize that it's an uphill climb. But I know of at least one open mind.

JP: Well, keep swinging.

RL: Thanks for your words of encouragement.

JP: Cheers!

[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]

Baseball BeatDecember 24, 2004
Bert Blyleven For Hall of Fame: Answering the Naysayers
By Rich Lederer

When Bert Blyleven's name comes up for discussion among dissenting Hall of Fame voters, they usually argue -- not very persuasively, I might add -- that he: (1) didn't win a Cy Young Award or finish in the top ten often enough, (2) wasn't a "dominant" pitcher in his era, or (3) is no better than Tommy John or Jim Kaat.

Well, I wanted to address those faulty assertions one by one because Blyleven's case for the HOF is so compelling it is simply unfair to allow such comments to linger without being addressed properly.

1. "Blyleven didn't win a Cy Young Award or finish in the top ten often enough."

With respect to winning the Cy Young Award, when did that become a requirement for membership? If it is, then I guess we'd better let Jim Bunning, Juan Marichal, Phil Niekro, Nolan Ryan, and Don Sutton know about these rules.

As far as not placing in the top ten often enough, Blyleven had two more such rankings than Bunning and Marichal combined. He also had three more than Don Drysdale and the same number as Bob Gibson and Jim Hunter. He had one fewer than Niekro and Sutton.

Now let's take a look to see how many Cy Youngs and top ten finishes Blyleven should have garnered.

AMERICAN LEAGUE, 1971

                                 ERA     IP         SO        W     RSAA    
1    Vida Blue                  1.82    312        301       24       56   
2    Wilbur Wood                1.91    334        210       22       54   
3    Jim Palmer                 2.68    282        184       20       26   
4    Mike Hedlund               2.71    206         76       15       15   
5    Bert Blyleven              2.81    278.1      224       16       26   
6    Mel Stottlemyre            2.87    270        132       16       15   
7    Dave McNally               2.89    224         91       21       16   
8    Pat Dobson                 2.90    282        187       20       19   
9    Sonny Siebert              2.91    235        131       16       20   
10   Mickey Lolich              2.92    376        308       25       16

After being named the American League's Rookie Pitcher of the Year as a 19-year-old in 1970, Blyleven led the league in strikeouts/walks (3.80), ranked third in Runs Saved Above Average (26), fourth in strikeouts (224) and adjusted ERA+ (127), fifth in ERA (2.81) and shutouts (5), eighth in complete games (17), and ninth in innings pitched (278 1/3) in his first full season. (Runs Saved Above Average or RSAA equals the number of runs that a pitcher saved vs. what an average pitcher would have allowed, adjusted for ballpark effects. ERA+ equals a pitcher's ERA, adjusted for ballpark, against the league average. An ERA+ of 100 is average.)

In what was a microcosm of his career, Blyleven didn't receive a single vote for the Cy Young Award. In fact, only six pitchers even received points that year. For those voters who put a lot of credence on Cy Young finishes, it was as if Blyleven didn't even pitch that year even though he was obviously one of the top ten hurlers in the league.

Blyleven didn't receive any support in 1972. He had a good season (3rd in K/BB, 4th in K, 5th in IP, and 8th in RSAA) but perhaps one that wasn't worthy of a top ten Cy Young ranking. I won't make a fuss here as I'd rather save that for later -- as in the very next year.

AMERICAN LEAGUE, 1973

                                 ERA     IP         SO        W     RSAA    
1    Jim Palmer                 2.40    296.1      158       22       54   
2    Bert Blyleven              2.52    325        258       20       53   
3    Bill Lee                   2.75    284.2      120       17       41   
4    Nolan Ryan                 2.87    326        383       21       28   
5    Doc Medich                 2.95    235        145       14       22   
6    Ken Holtzman               2.97    297        157       21        9   
7    Mel Stottlemyre            3.07    273         95       16       22   
8    Jim Colborn                3.18    314        135       20       18   
9    Dave McNally               3.21    266         87       17       24   
10   Bill Singer                3.22    316        241       20       15

The 23-year-old right-hander may have been the best pitcher in the A.L. in 1973, yet he finished seventh in the Cy Young voting. Heck, Bert might have been the best pitcher in all of baseball that year. He led the A.L. in K/BB (3.85), SHO (9), ERA+ (158), and -- for "cybergeeks" like me -- neutral wins* (26); was 2nd in ERA (2.52), K (258), WHIP (1.12), and RSAA (53); 3rd in CG (25); 4th in IP (325); and 7th in W (20).

*a projection of the number of wins the pitcher would have been credited with if he was given average run support.

Blyleven's seventh-place finish was the result of netting -- get this -- one point. Yes, that's right. One voter out of 24 saw fit to pencil Bert's name into the third slot on the ballot. The other 23 writers ignored him completely. Instead, they voted for Jim Palmer #1, Ryan #2, Hunter (and his 3.34 ERA in a pitcher's ballpark) #3, John Hiller #4, Wood #5, and Jim Colborn #6.

This is a good time to stop and reflect for a moment. Just because Blyleven was treated unfairly back then, should the voters continue to overlook him today when it comes to the Hall of Fame? Convicted felons have served less time than The Dutchman.

OK, maybe that was an anomaly, right? Nope, I wish I could say it was but, unfortunately, that's not the case. I'm here to report that Bert didn't receive a single vote for the Cy Young for the next 10 years (1974-1983). Is it possible that he failed to put up numbers worthy of such acclaim? I'll let you be the judge of that.

Let's take a peek at how Blyleven fared the following year. I mean, I don't want to be accused of just cherry picking his best years.

AMERICAN LEAGUE, 1974

                                 ERA     IP         SO        W     RSAA    
1    Catfish Hunter             2.49    318        143       25       38   
2    Gaylord Perry              2.51    322.1      216       21       42   
3    Andy Hassler               2.61    162         76        7       13   
4    Bert Blyleven              2.66    281        249       17       32   
5    Al Fitzmorris              2.79    190         53       13       23   
6    Ferguson Jenkins           2.82    328.1      225       25       23   
7    Nolan Ryan                 2.89    332.2      367       22       16   
8    Luis Tiant                 2.92    311.1      176       22       33   
9    Jim Kaat                   2.92    277.1      142       21       26   
10   Jim Perry                  2.96    252         71       17       20

In 1974, Blyleven was 2nd in K (249), K/BB (3.23), and ERA+ (142); 4th in ERA (2.66), WHIP (1.14), and RSAA (32); and 10th in CG (19). What did all that get him? Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Not one lousy point. So, once again, it was like Blyleven didn't even pitch that year for those writers who don't take the time to look beyond how many top ten Cy Young finishes he earned during his career.

AMERICAN LEAGUE, 1975

                                 ERA     IP         SO        W     RSAA    
1    Jim Palmer                 2.09    323        193       23       45   
2    Catfish Hunter             2.58    328        177       23       40   
3    Dennis Eckersley           2.60    186.2      152       13       24   
4    Frank Tanana               2.62    257.1      269       16       28   
5    Ed Figueroa                2.91    244.2      139       16       19   
6    Bert Blyleven              3.00    275.2      233       15       34   
7    Vida Blue                  3.01    278        189       22       14   
8    Rudy May                   3.06    212        145       14       15   
9    Mike Torrez                3.06    270.2      119       20        8   
10   Steve Busby                3.08    260.1      160       18       22

In 1975, the 25-year-old ended up 2nd in K (233), 3rd in WHIP (1.10) and RSAA (34), 4th in K/BB (2.77), 5th in CG (20) and ERA+ (129), 6th in ERA (3.00), 7th in IP (275 2/3), and 9th in SHO (3). Another outstanding year and another goose egg on the Cy Young scoreboard.

AMERICAN LEAGUE, 1976

                                 ERA     IP         SO        W     RSAA    
1    Mark Fidrych               2.34    250.1       97       19       38   
2    Vida Blue                  2.35    298.1      166       18       37   
3    Frank Tanana               2.43    288.1      261       19       25   
4    Mike Torrez                2.50    266.1      115       16       29   
5    Jim Palmer                 2.51    315        159       22       31   
6    Wayne Garland              2.67    232.1      113       20       19   
7    Paul Hartzell              2.77    166         51        7        8   
8    Bill Travers               2.81    240        120       15       18   
9    Bert Blyleven              2.87    297.2      219       13       23   
10   Gary Ross                  3.00    225        100        8        5

In 1976, Blyleven was traded from the Minnesota Twins to the Texas Rangers. Nonetheless, he still had a typical Blyleven year, placing 2nd in SHO (6), 3rd in K (219), 4th in IP (297 2/3), 5th in K/BB (2.70), 7th in RSAA (23), 8th in ERA+ (125), and 9th in ERA (2.87) and CG (18).

There was one fly in the ointment. Blyleven had a won-loss record of. . .gasp. . .13-16. It was the first time he lost more games than he won. Bert only had five such seasons in his 22-year career despite playing for teams that had a winning record less than half the time.

Don't mind the nearly 300 innings pitched with an ERA of 0.65 below the league average. Focus instead on his losing record. Indicative of Bert's tepid run support that year, his first two wins with the Rangers were ten-inning, complete-game 1-0 shutouts.

AMERICAN LEAGUE, 1977

                                 ERA     IP         SO        W     RSAA    
1    Frank Tanana               2.54    241.1      205       15       35   
2    Bert Blyleven              2.72    234.2      182       14       39   
3    Nolan Ryan                 2.77    299        341       19       35   
4    Ron Guidry                 2.82    210.2      176       16       26   
5    Jim Palmer                 2.91    319        193       20       29   
6    Dennis Leonard             3.04    292.2      244       20       32   
7    Dave Rozema                3.09    218.1       92       15       29   
8    Dave Goltz                 3.36    303        186       20       29   
9    Gaylord Perry              3.37    238        177       15       22   
10   Dennis Eckersley           3.53    247.1      191       14       13

In 1977, Blyleven may have been the best pitcher in the A.L. once again. He led the league in WHIP (1.07) and RSAA (39); was 2nd in ERA (2.72), ERA+ (151), and shutouts (5); 7th in K (182); 8th in K/BB (2.64); and 10th in CG (15). He also threw a no-hitter against the California Angels in his final game that year.

Based on his superb stats and no-hitter, one would think that Blyleven must have garnered some support with the writers. Au contraire. Bert failed to get a single point when it came time to vote for the Cy Young Award. Why? His W-L record was only 14-12 and voters were beginning to become infatuated with relief pitchers, naming Sparky Lyle the first of three closers to win the award over the next eight years.

After the 1977 campaign, Blyleven was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first four-team trade in major-league history. In his initial year with the Pirates, Bert finished in the top ten in K, K/BB, WHIP, ERA+, RSAA, SHO, CG, and IP. It was the eighth and ninth consecutive years that Blyleven placed in the top ten in RSAA and K/BB, respectively.

Bert's numbers fell in 1979-80, yet he was among the top five in strikeouts both seasons and placed in the top ten in IP one year and K/BB the other.

Blyleven was 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA in the 1979 postseason, tossing four scoreless innings in relief to win Game Five of the World Series as the Pirates went on to defeat the Baltimore Orioles in seven.

AMERICAN LEAGUE, 1981

                                 ERA     IP         SO        W     RSAA    
1    Sammy Stewart              2.32    112.1       57        4       16   
2    Steve McCatty              2.33    185.2       91       14       23   
3    Dennis Lamp                2.41    127         71        7       17   
4    Tommy John                 2.63    140.1       50        9       15   
5    Britt Burns                2.64    156.2      108       10       17   
6    Larry Gura                 2.72    172.1       61       11       17   
7    Ron Guidry                 2.76    127        104       11       12   
8    Bert Blyleven              2.88    159.1      107       11        9   
9    Ken Forsch                 2.88    153         55       11       16   
10   Dennis Leonard             2.99    201.2      107       13       14

Blyleven pitched for the Cleveland Indians in the strike-shortened 1981 season. He found the A.L. to his liking, ranking 3rd in K (107) and K/BB (2.67); 8th in WHIP (1.16) and ERA (2.88); 9th in ERA+ (126) and CG (9); and 10th in W (11). It was the 11th consecutive year in which Blyleven finished in the top seven in strikeouts. As far as the Cy voting went, no can do.

A severe elbow injury sidelined Blyleven for most of 1982 and part of 1983.

AMERICAN LEAGUE, 1984

                                 ERA     IP         SO        W     RSAA    
1    Mike Boddicker             2.79    261.1      128       20       27   
2    Dave Stieb                 2.83    267        198       16       35   
3    Bert Blyleven              2.87    245        170       19       40   
4    Phil Niekro                3.09    215.2      136       16       15   
5    Geoff Zahn                 3.12    199.1       61       13       20   
6    Bud Black                  3.12    257        140       17       23   
7    Storm Davis                3.12    225        105       14       15   
8    Doyle Alexander            3.13    261.2      139       17       26   
9    Ray Burris                 3.15    211.2       93       13       13   
10   Frank Viola                3.21    257.2      149       18       29

In 1984, Blyleven rebounded with one of the best seasons of his career. He actually earned some respect from the writers that year -- ranking third in the Cy Young voting -- although he arguably deserved even better. Bert led the league in RSAA (40); placed 2nd in W (19), WHIP (1.13), and ERA+ (142); 3rd in ERA (2.87) and SHO (4); 4th in K (170) and CG (12); and 8th in K/BB (2.30) despite playing for a ballclub with a 75-87 record that ended up sixth in a seven-team division.

A broken bone in Bert's right foot cost him at least four starts, a chance at 20 wins, and possibly the Cy Young Award. He received more first-place votes than any starting pitcher that year but, as luck would have it, two relievers -- Willie Hernandez and Dan Quisenberry -- placed first and second in the tally.

AMERICAN LEAGUE, 1985

                                 ERA     IP         SO        W     RSAA    
1    Dave Stieb                 2.48    265        167       14       47   
2    Charlie Leibrandt          2.69    237.2      108       17       39   
3    Bret Saberhagen            2.87    235.1      158       20       34   
4    Jimmy Key                  3.00    212.2       85       14       26   
5    Bert Blyleven              3.16    293.2      206       17       31   
6    Tom Seaver                 3.17    238.2      134       16       25   
7    Ron Guidry                 3.27    259        143       22       18   
8    Charlie Hough              3.31    250.1      141       14       36   
9    Jack Morris                3.33    257        191       16       31   
10   Dan Petry                  3.36    238.2      109       15       28

Blyleven split the 1985 season between the Indians and the Twins. The workhorse led the A.L. in IP (293 2/3), CG (24), SHO (5), and K (206); ranked 4th in K/BB (2.75); 5th in W (17), ERA (3.16), and RSAA (31); 6th in ERA+ (135); and 7th in WHIP (1.15). He also led the league in neutral wins (21) for the second time in his career. Bert picked up one first-place vote and wound up third in the Cy Young race for the second year in a row.

Since 1985, no pitcher has thrown more innings in a season than Blyleven's total that year. The 35-year-old veteran led the league in IP (271 2/3) the following season, as well as in K/BB (3.71); placed 2nd in CG (16), 4th in K (215) and SHO (3), 6th in W (17), 7th in WHIP (1.18), and 10th in RSAA (19). He also gave up 50 HR in 1986, a record that still stands today. Be that as it may, Blyleven actually gave up fewer homers than the league average during his career.

Blyleven won 15 games in 1987 plus three more in the postseason as he led the Twins to a World Series upset over the St. Louis Cardinals.

After a disappointing season in 1988, Blyleven was traded to the Angels where he earned Comeback Player of the Year honors.

AMERICAN LEAGUE, 1989

                                 ERA     IP         SO        W     RSAA    
1    Bret Saberhagen            2.16    262.1      193       23       44   
2    Chuck Finley               2.57    199.2      156       16       26   
3    Mike Moore                 2.61    241.2      172       19       36   
4    Bert Blyleven              2.73    241        131       17       28   
5    Kirk McCaskill             2.93    212        107       15       19   
6    Chris Bosio                2.95    234.2      173       15       20   
7    Bob Welch                  3.00    209.2      137       17       22   
8    Mark Gubicza               3.04    255        173       15       18   
9    John Cerutti               3.07    205.1       69       11       13   
10   Tom Candiotti              3.10    206        124       13       21

The 38-year-old bearded wonder led the league in SHO (5); ranked 3rd in WHIP (1.12) and RSAA (28); 4th in ERA (2.73), ERA+ (140), and CG (8); 5th in K/BB (2.98); 6th in W (17); and 7th in IP (241). For his efforts, Blyleven finished fourth in the Cy Young balloting that year.

Blyleven pitched two more seasons before retiring in the spring of 1993.

Although Blyleven didn't win a Cy Young Award during his 22-year career, a pretty strong case could be made on his behalf in 1973, 1977, 1984, and 1985. Furthermore, Bert should have placed in the top ten as many as a dozen times. To the extent that he didn't, it should be noted that not only was Blyleven regularly ignored by writers but they were only allowed to vote for first, second, and third in contrast to the Most Valuable Player balloting in which these same voters rank their selections from one to ten.

The bottom line is that Blyleven was one of the top ten pitchers in the league often enough that his record would reflect it had the writers been given the opportunity to vote for ten pitchers rather than three. I think it is safe to say that the season-by-season analysis and commentary debunks the idea that he failed to produce enough "Cy Young type" seasons.

Fool us once (Cy Young voting), shame on you. Fool us twice (Hall of Fame voting) and we're not going to sit back and take it anymore.

2. "Blyleven wasn't a dominant pitcher in his era."

Really? If striking out batters is a pretty good indication of dominance, there is no doubt that Blyleven was one of the most dominant pitchers of his era. To wit, Bert led the league in Ks once and placed among the top five 13 times!

Blyleven, in fact, is fifth in career strikeouts. The players immediately ahead of him and behind him are all in the Hall of Fame other than Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson -- and they will both be inducted five years after they hang 'em up for good.

CAREER STRIKEOUTS

                                 SO     
1    Nolan Ryan                 5714   
2    Roger Clemens              4317   
3    Randy Johnson              4161   
4    Steve Carlton              4136   
5    Bert Blyleven              3701   
6    Tom Seaver                 3640   
7    Don Sutton                 3574   
8    Gaylord Perry              3534   
9    Walter Johnson             3509   
10   Phil Niekro                3342

If the above isn't convincing enough, Blyleven is tied for sixth all-time in the number of 200-strikeout seasons. The 11 pitchers below were about as dominant as they come.

NUMBER OF SEASONS
STRIKEOUTS >= 200

1    Nolan Ryan               15   
T2   Randy Johnson            12   
T2   Roger Clemens            12   
4    Tom Seaver               10   
5    Bob Gibson                9   
T6   Pedro Martinez            8   
T6   Bert Blyleven             8   
T6   Steve Carlton             8   
T6   Gaylord Perry             8   
T10  Mickey Lolich             7   
T10  Walter Johnson            7

I can hear the argument now. Eight seasons of 200 or more whiffs might suggest Blyleven had a very good and long career but he just didn't have the peak that great pitchers are known to have. Well, you can shoot that one down, too, because Bert is tied for fourth all-time in the number of consecutive seasons with 200 or more Ks. The pitchers ranked ahead of Blyleven are three of the best in the history of the game and that Koufax fellow wasn't too bad either.

CONSECUTIVE SEASONS
STRIKEOUTS >= 200

1    Tom Seaver               1968-76    9   
T2   Walter Johnson           1910-16    7   
T2   Roger Clemens            1986-92    7   
T4   Sandy Koufax             1961-66    6   
T4   Sam McDowell             1965-70    6   
T4   Mickey Lolich            1969-74    6   
T4   Bert Blyleven            1971-76    6   
T4   Randy Johnson            1997-02    6   
T9   John Clarkson            1885-89    5   
T9   Bob Gibson               1962-66    5   
T9   Ferguson Jenkins         1967-71    5   
T9   Nolan Ryan               1976-80    5   
T9   Nolan Ryan               1987-91    5   
T9   Randy Johnson            1991-95    5   
T9   Pedro Martinez           1996-00    5

If you don't like strikeouts as a measure of dominance, how 'bout shutouts (as I wring my hands)? Blyleven led the league in shutouts three separate times and ranked among the top five nine times. He is ninth all-time in this category, surrounded by a who's who of the greatest pitchers ever.

CAREER SHUTOUTS

                                 SHO    
1    Walter Johnson              110   
2    Grover C Alexander           90   
3    Christy Mathewson            79   
4    Cy Young                     76   
5    Eddie Plank                  69   
6    Warren Spahn                 63   
T7   Nolan Ryan                   61   
T7   Tom Seaver                   61   
9    Bert Blyleven                60   
10   Don Sutton                   58

If you're not a stats guy, then try this on for size. Ask any ballplayer from the 1970s and 1980s who had the best curveball and, almost to a man, they will tell you "Bert Blyleven." Dave Winfield, for one, called Blyleven's yakker, "a bowel-locking, jelly-leg-inducing curveball." It was Bert's trademark. His name was synonymous with great curveballs.

Strikeouts. Shutouts. Uncle Charlies. Blyleven was dominant and among the very best in all three areas.

3. "Blyleven was no better than Tommy John or Jim Kaat and neither of them are in the Hall of Fame."

According to Baseball-Reference.com, the most similar pitchers to Blyleven are as follows:

Don Sutton (914) *
Gaylord Perry (909) *
Fergie Jenkins (890) *
Tommy John (889)
Robin Roberts (876) *
Tom Seaver (864) *
Jim Kaat (854)
Early Wynn (844) *
Phil Niekro (844) *
Steve Carlton (840) *

*denotes Hall of Famer

Sutton and Gaylord Perry are considered to be "truly similar" as defined by Bill James, the creator of similarity scores. Ferguson Jenkins, John, Robin Roberts, Tom Seaver, and Kaat are deemed to be "essentially similar" and Early Wynn, Niekro, and Steve Carlton are "somewhat similar." As such, Sutton and Perry are Blyleven's closest comparables -- not John and Kaat.

I guess it's not enough that eight of the ten comps are in the Hall of Fame. The naysayers would rather focus on the similarities between Blyleven vs. John and Kaat. OK, I can deal with that.

First of all, these two left-handers were outstanding in their own right and are certainly more worthy candidates for the Hall of Fame than several inductees. Secondly, Blyleven was even better. Although Bert's superiority may not show up immediately upon a cursory glance of the facts, the evidence is overwhelming when you dig below the basic statistics.

                 IP       W-L       PCT       ERA
Blyleven       4970     287-250    .534      3.31
John           4710     288-231    .555      3.34
Kaat           4530     283-237    .544      3.45

There is no doubt about it, it is difficult to distinguish one from another when it comes to the stats above (which, unfortunately, is about as far as some voters get when reviewing the merits of these and other candidates). But let's dig a little deeper.

             ERA+     RSAA     WHIP     SO     K/BB     CG     SHO
Blyleven     118       344     1.20   3701     2.80    242      60
John         111       173     1.28   2245     1.78    162      46
Kaat         107       144     1.26   2461     2.27    180      31

Blyleven beats John and Kaat across the board in ERA+, Runs Saved Above Average, WHIP, Strikeouts, Strikeouts/Walks, Complete Games, and Shutouts. The most telling stat of all is RSAA. Blyleven saved nearly twice as many runs as John and 200 more than Kaat over the course of their careers.

Another stat that distinguishes Blyleven from his peers is neutral wins and losses. Had Blyleven received league average run support, he would have ended up with a 313-224 W-L record, whereas John's (284-235) and Kaat's (282-238) totals would have remained virtually the same.

Why are Blyleven's adjusted numbers so much better than John's and Kaat's? In a nutshell, Blyleven played for weaker teams than John and Kaat, received less run support, and he also pitched in more difficult ballparks.

Lastly, I would like to point out that Blyleven meets or exceeds the average Hall of Famer in three of the four de facto standards developed by James, while John and Kaat meet just one each. Only 21 pitchers in the history of the game have met all four standards, including just nine who began their careers after World War II.

Here is where they stand with their overall rank in parentheses.

Bert Blyleven

Black Ink: Pitching - 16 (128) (Average HOFer ~ 40)
Gray Ink: Pitching - 239 (23) (Average HOFer ~ 185)
HOF Standards: Pitching - 50.0 (36) (Average HOFer ~ 50)
HOF Monitor: Pitching - 120.5 (67) (Likely HOFer > 100)

Tommy John

Black Ink: Pitching - 8 (276) (Average HOFer ~ 40)
Gray Ink: Pitching - 137 (114) (Average HOFer ~ 185)
HOF Standards: Pitching - 44.0 (52) (Average HOFer ~ 50)
HOF Monitor: Pitching - 111.0 (75) (Likely HOFer > 100)

Jim Kaat

Black Ink: Pitching - 19 (98) (Average HOFer ~ 40)
Gray Ink: Pitching - 128 (131) (Average HOFer ~ 185)
HOF Standards: Pitching - 44.0 (52) (Average HOFer ~ 50)
HOF Monitor: Pitching - 130.5 (54) (Likely HOFer > 100)

John and Kaat were very good pitchers, but Blyleven was clearly better than both of them. As shown in the similarity scores above, Blyleven is more like Sutton and Perry than anyone else.

There are only two differences between Sutton/Perry and Blyleven. Sutton and Perry each won 300 games and are in the Hall of Fame. Blyleven fell 13 games short and is not in the Hall of Fame. Had Bert pitched under more favorable conditions, I don't think any rational voter could conclude that he would not have won 300 games.

Besides, if winning 300 games is what it takes, why are such well-known oldtimers as Mordecai Brown (239), Bob Feller (266), Carl Hubbell (253), and Joe McGinnity (246) in the HOF? Or how about greats from the '50s and '60s like Bunning (224), Drysdale (209), Whitey Ford (236), Gibson (251), Sandy Koufax (165), Marichal (243), and Roberts (286)? Or many of Blyleven's contemporaries over the first half of his career like Hunter (224), Jenkins (284), and Palmer (268)?

Bert Blyleven. 5th in Strikeouts. 9th in Shutouts. 24th in Wins. Not to mention 17th in Runs Saved Above Average and 15th in Neutral Wins. There is no doubt about it. That is a Hall of Fame resume. Here's hoping the voters take the time to check it out thoroughly.

[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]

Baseball BeatDecember 23, 2004
Money for Free Agents and Opinions for Free
By Rich Lederer

I'm in dire straits this morning searching for an article so I thought I'd comment on the latest bash of free agent happenings.

Now Look at Them Yo-Yos

News item: Alou near deal with the Giants.

When did the National League adopt the designated hitter rule? Did I miss something? Upon hearing that the San Francisco Giants had reached a preliminary agreement with Moises Alou, I figured that the N.L. must now allow DHs -- otherwise why would they go out and sign another left fielder? I don't get it. MOY-zes ah-LOO? Hell-LOO? Is there anyone home (other than his Daddy)?

I mean, if the guy can't even drive a car, what makes the Giants think he can navigate right field? According to Baseball Prospectus, Alou is 29 runs below average for his career as a left fielder. He has played 100 games in right field only twice in his career (1996 and 2001) and -- other than for five games in 2002 -- has has been used exclusively in left field the past three years.

I don't know but maybe Brian Sabean thinks Alou will be able to get to more balls in San Francisco now that he will be free of Steve Bartman. Alou can still hit but can he still field? Call me skeptical. Just don't call me collect.

I Shoulda Learned to Play. . .Right Field

News item: Dodgers to unveil Drew today.

It's easy to love J.D. Drew, but I wouldn't advise anyone to marry him. He's just not the type of guy you would want to have a long-term relationship with. He's good for dating. Heck, you might even go steady with the guy. Or string him along as your fiancee. But no wedding vows, please.

I could see giving Drew $11 million for 2005. That's more than I would prefer but what the heck, the guy is one of the premier players in the game when healthy. But that's just it -- when healthy. What would happen if he were to "get a blister on (his) little finger or maybe get a blister on (his) thumb"?

Drew has never played in more than 145 games in a season. In fact, he has only played in more than 135 games once and has averaged just 121 games per year (not counting 1998 when he was brought up in September during Mark McGwire's magical run at Roger Maris' then single-season home run record).

What I can't fathom is giving Drew an average of $11 million per season for five years. That just seems downright silly to me. Why should the Dodgers take all the risk? If -- and it's a big IF -- Drew plays at least 140 games per year and puts up 2004 stats for each of the next five years, he will prove to be a bargain. However, if he gets hurt and/or reverts to his 2002 form, then we'll be talking about an even bigger bust than Joe Simpson.

Thats the Way You Do It

News item: Miller signs with Red Sox.

Has there been a better free agent signing this offseason than Wade Miller? Granted, the former Houston Astro starter is coming off a rotator cuff injury that prematurely ended his season last June. But how much risk is there for the Red Sox at a base salary of $1.5 million next year?

Miller's agent Bob Garber expects that his client will be ready to pitch by Opening Day. If that's the case, he will join Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield, and Bronson Arroyo along with fellow free-agent signees David Wells and Matt Clement to form one of the deepest -- if not best -- starting rotations in all of baseball. The Miller and Wells acquisitions speak to the brilliance of Boston's management. Both contracts call for a low guarantee with the ability for each veteran pitcher to more than double his base salary.

Lemme tell ya, them guys aint dumb.

WTNYDecember 23, 2004
Next On Tap
By Bryan Smith

Sorry for the non-posting thus far this week, it's been a combination of writer's block, other WTNY work, other real work, and a busy time of year. Add all that up, and you just might have one week with all of two articles. But, in the spirit of the upcoming new year, and the "futuristic" principle this site was founded on, I want to throw some guesses at how the 2005 season will go for a bunch of my top prospects. This kind of stuff won't be on my top prospect list, which will be much more of a review, so I thought today would be a good day to start it.

No order is really being presented below, more of just whatever jumble of words enter my head:

Jeff Francoeur- Baseball America has started an argument that wasn't really thought of too much before yesterday: Francoeur or Andy Marte. There is no question the former has a bit more star potential, while Marte has a much, MUCH higher chance of reaching whatever ceiling he has. Francoeur's 2005 season, in my mind, will begin to make BA second-guess their choice. In the Southern League, I expect Francoeur to struggle a bit, as he did during his cup of coffee at year's end. Remember, the SL made a lot of real good prospects (Weeks, Loney, Fielder, Barfield) have poor seasons last year, and it is the worst hitter's league in the minors. I expect Francoeur to post a line not far from Fielder's, without the 65 walks. I'll say, .275/.320/.460.

Andy Marte- So then, what will his competitor do? Well, this largely depends on whether or not the Braves decide to send Marte back to AA, or challenge him with an International League promotion. Also, a position change to left field (as hinted to by John Schuerholz), could also prove an impact on his offensive numbers. But I keep feeling like one of these seasons Marte is going to put together all his offensive potential, and simply explode. This probably won't happen, but let's hope the Braves find out in the International League. How about this prediction: Chipper Jones gets injured in June, when the Braves call up Marte who is hitting .280/.360/.480. He finishes the season in the Majors playing third, with Chipper destined to move back to left in 2006.

Felix Hernandez- Talk about on the verge of putting it all together. Hernandez has been said to not even yet release his amazing slider, which will prove yet another piece in the "Next Great Player" puzzle. He just keeps on succeeding, but did not really dominate the Texas League in the second half of the season. Still, it sounds as if the Mariners will send him to the Pacific Coast League, where he won't last too long. Let's say they give him a Greinke-ish call with his PCL ERA somewhere between 2.75 and 3.50. In the Majors, he is jaw-dropping, even challenging Scott Kazmir, Nick Swisher and the Oakland trio of pitchers for the AL Rookie of the Year.

Adam Miller- It shouldn't be shocking that the next person I think of after Felix Hernandez is Adam Miller. After a great playoffs in the Carolina League, if I were the Indians I would challenge Miller with a promotion to the Eastern League. But the organization is quite conservative, and I expect at least a few starts in the Carolina League. It won't take long to reach AA, where his ERA will be in the mid-to-high 3.00s. Look for a real slow start, with a finish that makes some wonder if he'll open 2006 in Jacobs Field.

Greg Miller- From one Miller to another, next season will be the second unveiling of Greg Miller to the minor leagues. With an arm that is apparently healthy, look for the Dodgers to send their prized lefty back to the Southern League. I think he'll finish with a decent ERA, after a start to the season that will make Logan White question his presence in AA. Look for him to come back at the end of the season, and possibly even contribute to either AAA or the big league team.

Chad Billingsley- He'll be Miller's mate in the Southern League rotation, which will also have prospects like Jonathan Broxton and Mike Megrew. Yikes, watch out for this club next year. I expect Billingsley to just absolutely crush this league in April and May, with a promotion to the PCL in June. He'll struggle there, posting numbers a shade better (with a much better K/9) than Joe Blanton's last season. He's much more likely to earn a September start than Miller, but an average Los Angeles team will probably be able to afford allowing both to see time.

Daric Barton- There is now a lot of pressure on Barton, who seems to have been a sticking point in the Mark Mulder trade. Instead of having to go to Palm Beach next year, Barton will end up in Modesto (could be worse!), which is much more of a hitter's haven. His numbers could be anywhere from average to ridiculous, with my guess as somewhere in the middle. His numbers should look pretty similar to Omar Quintanilla's there last year (.314/.370/.480), with an OBP in the low-.400s as my only real significant change.

Delmon Young- The star of the California League will not be Barton, but instead Delmon Young in his return home to Cali. Look for Young to post crazy-good numbers early on in the season, with the Devil Rays pushing him to AA with an OPS somewhere upwards of .900. He'll go back to modesty in Montgomery, with his first real test of professional pitching. My guess is he'll have an OPS of about .800 in the Southern League, leading to an internal debate on where he should begin the 2006 season. No matter what, he'll still be one of the game's top five prospects.

Chuck Tiffany- If you haven't yet heard of Chuck Tiffany, you will in 2005. Pitchers just simply seem to dominate in Vero Beach, and Tiffany will provide no exception to that rule. Expect him to post an ERA in the low-2.00s before being moved up to AA to take Billingsley's spot in the rotation. He'll become known as a better pitching prospect than Greg Miller, though I think time will prove the latter to be a bit stronger. Tiffany will undoubtedly pass the John Danks of the world, that's for sure.

Shin-Soo Choo- While I never thought too much of Choo last year, I'm beginning to like the guy as a prospect. Like, more than I do Jeremy Reed. I think he'll play great in the PCL next year, and should get to debut in Seattle by about July or August. I cannot say whether or not he has centerfield-quality defense, but a midseason Randy Winn trade could open up a spot for Choo in the outfield. By that time, let's say his 2005 PCL line reads about this: .320/.400/.495.

That's all for now, but I'm hardly done with this little project. Debate in the comments the merits of my points, the Francoeur over Marte, Reed over Choo, and Tiffany v. Miller arguments.

Baseball BeatDecember 21, 2004
Abstracts From The Abstracts
By Rich Lederer

Part Eleven: 1987 Baseball Abstract

Ten years after self-publishing the first Baseball Abstract, Bill James was still producing "100% new material" with each and every new version of the baseball annual. In fact, the 1987 Bill James Baseball Abstract, in its Oakland A's green and yellow cover, is one of the best books in the 12-year series. It is replete with more essays than any other Abstract.

Despite the fact that the Baseball Abstract was still in its glory, the first visible sign of James reducing the quantity -- as opposed to the quality -- took place in this year's edition. After increasing the number of pages fivefold from 1977 to 1986, the 1987 Abstract saw a 40-page decline, followed by a 65-page drop in its final year in 1988.

Year       Pages
1977         68
1978        115
1979        120
1980        200
1981        206
1982        213
1983        238
1984        273
1985        308
1986        340
1987        300
1988        235

James told me over breakfast at the Winter Meetings earlier this month that the reason for the reduction in pages was a direct result of the publisher pushing up the deadline to December 15th in order to beat the growing competition to market. As a result, Bill simply didn't have the time to put together as much information as he once had or would have liked. If he had to do it all over again, James told me that he would produce the book on his schedule rather than theirs.

Speaking of publishers, Ballantine Books also published "The Great American Baseball Stat Book" by Bill James, John Dewan, and Project Scoresheet in April 1987. The editors included Gary Gillette, Craig Wright, and Don Zminda.

There is some overlap in the information of the two books, but there are several distinctions. Let me clarify:

1) With the exception of a letter here or a short article there, I write all of this book. I didn't personally write that much of The Great American Baseball Stat Book.

2) The other book contains much, much more raw statistical information than does this one -- and, for that matter, much more than any other baseball statistics book has ever contained.

3) In the book, I use analytical methods to look at the issues of the game. . .Those methods are mine. (I mean, other people are welcome to use them, but they don't often choose to.) They're in this book.

4) We did something in the other book that I felt strongly needed to be done. There are several reference books around that present player records year by year over the player's career. All of these books, in my opinion, have allowed themselves to get dangerously out of date. . .Most of these publications don't even carry strikeouts and walks, for heaven's sake. There is no reason for that, except for the intransigence and laziness of the people who publish those books. So we decided. . .to assemble and provide that information.

5) This book is sometimes challenging, occasionally abstruse or difficult to figure. I don't intend it to be that way: I'm just a confusing writer. The other book probably will have an article or two which might be difficult to understand, but in the main it is closer to the surface.

6) Most of this book discusses issues and is organized by teams. Most of the other book discusses players and is organized by players.

7) A certain amount of this book is personal. . .most of what I write reflects my attitude not only about the subject but about stuff in general. I tell jokes. I swear. I relate the lessons of baseball to the lessons of my own life. . .If you're offended by what I write or the way I write, I'm sorry but I'm not going to change to accommodate you.

The other book, being written and edited by a large number of different people, is not personal. . .The book is more accurate and less argumentative. The book is more interested in being informative, and less in being funny.

The distinction is clear in my mind now: I hope it is in yours. . .I didn't start this publication as a resource book. It wasn't my original intention to gather and make available information about hitting against left-handed and right-handed pitching, batting at home and on the road, that sort of thing. I have always been interested in issues, not in details.

I really don't care whether Rickey Henderson hit .235 or .238 in Yankee Stadium and don't know what difference it makes. . .Had there been an Elias Analyst or any similar book when I began my book, I would have been very happy to let them have that market. But there wasn't any such reference, and I wanted the data, and I wanted to make a living as a writer. To assemble and provide that information was something that I saw I could do to add value to my book. So I started doing it, and the book has been a tremendous success.

Now, while I would have been perfectly happy for somebody else to have published all the data years ago, I am not all that thrilled to have people trying to push me out of the market that I have established. But the Abstract cannot be all things to all people. . .It's time for me to start getting out of the business of rounding up and selling statistics, and I couldn't be happier about that. . .I have made a great deal of information permanently available to the public, and I'm happy about that. It served its purpose in my career, but it's time to move on.

James reproduces a sample page -- Ed Correa, Texas Rangers (written by Craig Wright) -- from The Great American Baseball Stat Book "so people can study what the information would be." The page includes pitcher type ("power, groundball"), home/road, day/night, grass/turf, vs. left/right, bases empty/runners on, monthly totals, etc. for the 1986 season and for the preceding three-year period, as well as a 300-word breakdown by Wright.

* * * * * * *

In Meaningful and Meaningless Statistics -- a wonderful primer, a must-read for any aspiring sabermetrician -- James suggests that there are four basic criteria by which statistics can be judged:

1. Importance (Significance) - "Does it correlate with winning? . . .Winning games in baseball consists of three parts -- scoring runs, preventing runs, and putting the two together in a desirable combination."

2. Reliability (Integrity) - "What outside influences are there on this accomplishment?

3. Ease of comprehension ( Intelligibility) - "Can the average baseball fan make sense of this information?"

4. Construction (Putting the Elements Together) - The "stat value" score of which James calls a starting pitcher's ERA "the best basic stat in baseball" and on-base and slugging percentage the "two statistics that stand above the others" for hitters.

James admits to getting "letters every week telling (him) why won-lost records of pitchers are meaningless, or why saves or game-winning RBI are meaningless." He explains, "The problem with this is that, when you declare one category to be meaningless, you are left to rely that much more heavily on the ones remaining. And they ain't perfect either."

Now, if you say that won-lost records are meaningless because they depend on who the player plays for and how many runs he scores. . .then you're left judging the pitcher essentially by his ERA -- which is, in fact, also subject to outside influences. When people say that one statistic is meaningless, what they are really saying is that they have learned to see the distortions in that statistic -- but haven't yet learned to see the distortions in the alternatives.

In Beyond the Basics, James elaborates on "new" statistics (dividing them into two classes -- ratings and records), including baserunner errors, quality starts ("Vin Scully's favorite baseball statistic"), total average ("the product of the fertile mind of Thomas Boswell, possibly America's finest baseball writer"), runs produced ("invented by Spiro Agnew. . .Spiro was never too complex"), linear weights ("devised by my friend Peter Palmer"), and on base + slugging ("comes from the work of Peter and Dick Cramer").

I'm not big on on base plus slugging. Its accuracy is not quite that of linear weights, but it is high -- higher than total average. . But the sum of the two isn't quite as easy to make sense of as are linear weights. . .And the statistic is put together wrong. . .They shouldn't be added together, the should be multiplied. A team with a .400 on-base percentage and a .400 slugging percentage would score more runs than a team with a .350 and .450 although both would add up to .800.

In My Own Menagerie, James discusses stats that he has developed himself -- runs created ("my way of evaluating a hitter"), offensive winning percentage (an attempt to place runs created "in the context of the number of outs made"), defensive winning percentage, approximate value, power/speed number, secondary average ("the impact of a player's secondary offensive skills. . .not reflected in his batting average"), defensive efficiency record, isolated power ("the difference between batting average and slugging percentage"), established performance levels, The Favorite Toy ("not a statistic but a process. . .to estimate a player's chance of accomplishing some particular, very difficult goal"), and The Brock6 System (an attempt to "project the normal expectation for the rest of a player's career").

* * * * * * *

In chapters one through three, James spends 39 pages on "The Greatest Rookie Crops of All Time," "Outstanding Performances by Rookies as Rookies," and "Evaluating a Rookie," followed by a three-page Appendix with definitions and a list of rookies with comparable records at different ages.

The key points are as follows:

  • For a pitcher, there is virtually no relationship between outstanding performance as a rookie and eventually attaining star status.

  • In trying to figure out how much a player will develop, probably the one most important factor to consider, other than the player's ability, is his age.

  • Most major league players reach the majors at age 22 or later. The great majority of major stars reach the majors at age 22 or earlier.

    Furthermore, as a player ages. . .

  • . . .his skills undergo certain predictable changes. All players lose speed as they age; thus, speed-related skills are young player's skills.

  • . . .power increases as a percentage of value, not in every case but in most. Thus, power is an old player's skill.

  • . . .he will tend in most cases to draw more walks. Thus, drawing walks is an old player's skill.

  • . . .his batting average will almost always decrease. Thus, hitting for average is a young player's skill.

  • . . .he tends to drive in more runs and score fewer. Thus, runs scored are a young player's skill, and RBI are an old player's skill.

    As a result, "the further along in this progression the player is (regardless of age), the closer he is to the end of his career (or, conversely, the earlier he is in this progression, the longer he can be expected to play)."

    Many players, perhaps most players, are driven out of the major leagues indirectly because they lose their speed. If you can create seven runs a game if doesn't matter how fast you are; you can play first base or DH. But as a player loses speed as he ages, he loses the ability to play the positions (center field, shortstop, second base) at which offensive ability is scarce, and thus loses the ability to stay in the majors without creating seven runs a game.

    Of all the various conclusions from James' study, I was surprised to read that K/BB ratio for hitters is "not an indicator of potential growth or development for a rookie."

    James also addresses defense in the section on rookies, proclaiming that "there are four basic kinds of defensive value.

    * The ability to play a key defensive position, like shortstop, second base, center fielder or catcher, at which talent is always in short supply and where consequently the aggregate offensive performance is less.

    * Range, which is the ability to maximize opportunities at the position assigned, and which is measured by range factor.

    * Reliability, which is the ability to make the plays a player at the position is expected to make, and which is measured by fielding percentage or errors.

    * Specialty skills, such as the ability to turn the double play or a strong throwing arm."

    The above words of wisdom obviously apply to all players, rather than just rookies. I, for one, think center fielders unfairly get grouped in with corner outfielders -- especially when voting for All-Stars, MVPs, and Hall of Fame -- and would like to see more of a distinction made among the three OF positions.

    * * * * * * *

    In between each of the team comments, James provides a one- or two-page essay on a random topic. He first tackles runs created in which he identifies six factors "which can cause a discrepancy between expected runs. . .and actual runs scored:

    1) Exceptionally poor or exceptionally good hitting with runners on base and in scoring position.

    2) Baserunning errors or effective baserunning.

    3) Exceptionally poor or exceptionally good lineup design.

    4) An unusual number of opponent's errors.

    5) Doing a particularly good or a particularly poor job of advancing runners with outs.

    6) Luck, which would usually be expressed as unusual performance in one of the previous five areas."

    James expects to better account for the differences in the future owing to Project Scoresheet but points out that "all of these factors, taken together, do not create huge discrepancies from the current estimates. . .and to the extent that teams do exceed (or fall short of) runs created estimates in one year, they tend to relapse (or improve) in the next year."

    On the other hand, James is skeptical of the Cardinals going from 101 wins in 1985 to 79 in 1986 and back to 101 in 1987. (The Redbirds didn't make it all the way back, but they won 95 games, finished in first place in the East, and won the N.L. pennant before losing in the World Series to the Minnesota Twins in seven.) "Maybe, but if a man is thrown from a horse in a half-second, does that mean that he must be able to get back on in another? If you wrap your car around a tree, can you put it back together as quickly? It is a rule of nature that the processes of destruction, such as fire and violence, act more quickly than the processes of growth and development. In the course of a decade there are more teams that improve from season to season than there are that decline, which means that the declines are larger than the improvements."

    In "The Fastest Player in Baseball," James attributes a truism that speed is the only thing you can use both on offense and defense to Whitey Herzog. James hypothesizes that "it is probably the only characteristic of a player that you can evaluate by looking at so many different areas of play."

    In "Rushing 'Em," James concludes from a study -- despite claims to the contrary -- that the average number of minor-league games played by major-league regulars has been "remarkably consistent" since 1940. If anything, James found that there were actually fewer players rising through the minor leagues quickly then there were a generation ago.

    James addresses what is now known as Defense Independent Pitching Stats in "Indicated ERA" [(HRA x TBB x 100)/Innings Pitched²]. The major difference between the two is that James doesn't account for strikeouts in his formula.

    There are two elements of a pitcher's record that are independent of the team. Those are his walks and his home runs allowed. Those are the two elements on which, as the announcer says, the defense can't help you; if you don't throw strikes or the ball leaves the park there is nothing Willie Mays or Ozzie Smith can do about it.

    Using James' version, in 2004 the American League had an Indicated ERA of 4.75 vs. an actual ERA of 4.67 and the National League had a 4.65 vs. 4.31.

    In "Why Cleveland, Texas and San Francisco Shouldn't Be Expected to Contend in '87," James points out teams which improve by 20 or more games from one year to the next "very rarely" win even more games the following season. In fact, his study shows such teams will decline "at least 80% of the time. He contends the plexiglass principle is most compelling for teams that win a pennant or come very close because management "will be less inclined to identify and address its remaining weaknesses." However, "the tendency to relapse is somewhat weaker if the improvement was based on young players."

    Three teams -- Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Cardinals, and San Diego Padres -- improved by 20 or more games in 2004. Based on James' work, the Cardinals are the most likely ballclub to recede in 2005. By the same token, don't expect the Tigers or the Padres to show much, if any, improvement this coming season.

    James writes a pointed short essay about baseball and business, entitled "You Don't Say." His conclusion? "Anybody who tells you that baseball is basically a business is either badly confused or a jackass. And you can tell her I said so." Is "her" the operative word in that statement? If so, it's not all that surprising to me. I mean, whoever said Bill was politically correct?

    The satirist in James spills out in "Score," in which Bill creates an aptitude test for prospective official scorers "in the American League Championship Series or possibly even the World Series." He asks four questions and gives humorous answers, yet requests that completed examinations be returned to "Urbane Pickering's School of Official Scoring, Valentine Design, and Toilet Traning, P.O. Box E-5, Cotton Balls, Iowa."

    In "MVP," James discusses whether a pitcher (Roger Clemens) can be as valuable as an everyday player (Don Mattingly).

    A baseball roster consists of 24 players, usually 9 pitchers and 15 position players. If success in baseball is 37.5% due to pitching, then the average pitcher is exactly as valuable as the average everyday player. For Mattingly to be correct that a pitcher can't be as valuable as an everyday player, one must conclude that baseball is much less than 37.5% pitching. I don't think too many people are going to argue for that.

    Don Mattingly faced a pitcher 742 times last year. Roger Clemens faced a batter 997 times. Couldn't you just as well argue that a hitter, involved in only 742 confrontations with a pitcher, can't possibly be as important as a pitcher who is involved in a thousand confrontations with a batter? Even if the hitter is a more important determinant of the outcome of each at bat than the pitcher, which he probably is, that only balances the scales.

    In order to believe that the pitcher, working one day in five, is more valuable than the hitter working every day, all you have to accept is that the pitcher has five times as much impact on the games in which he appears. That seems, to put it mildly, most reasonable.

    James runs the numbers for the 1986 season and concludes that "Clemens deserved the award." He also takes a second look at the 1978 A.L. MVP race and switches allegiance from Jim Rice (his original choice as detailed in the 1979 Baseball Abstract) to Ron Guidry.

    In "The Ken Phelps All-Star Team," James selects the Ken Phelps All-Stars, "a teamful of guys who are wearing labels, but who nonetheless can play major-league baseball, and will prove it if they ever get the chance."

    Ken Phelpses are just available; if you want one, all you have to do is ask. They are players whose real limitations are exaggerated by baseball insiders, players who get stuck with a label -- the lable of their limits, the label of the things they can't do -- while those that they can do are overlooked.
    * * * * * * *

    The players are once again rated by approximately 140 scorers from Project Scoresheet. "Polling people who know the players is the surest, best way to incorporate a broad base of knowledge about the players in to the rankings, and thus the most accrurate way that I know of to rate players."

    Here is a sampling of James' more biting comments:

  • Bill Buckner: "Does this jerk ever stop complaining? I videotaped the playoffs and World Series and have been watching them over and over. Buckner was mad about everything from beginning to end. . .Then, after the Series he reportedly told the reporters that they were all assholes and didn't know anything about baseball. Bill Buckner, a man who knows his assholes."

  • Cal Ripken: "I can't believe his Dad is going to move him to third base. I wouldn't do that to his boy; why should he?"

  • Brian Downing: "My favorite player. . .can't understand how anybody could watch the playoffs and still think Jim Rice was a better player than Brian Downing."

  • Lonnie Smith: "You've probably heard what a bad outfielder he is, and let me tell you: They ain't lyin'. He really does fall down almost every game. . .He can't throw and has a curious inability to position his glove on a ball hit right at him."

  • John Kruk: "What a wonderful, wonderful player. I love him, like a Teddy Bear. There hasn't been anybody like this around since John Wockenfuss came up. He's got a funny name, a funny batting stance, and he's absolutely hilarious on the bases. He doesn't run real fast but, boy, does he run hard."

  • Dwight Gooden: "There were reports last year that Mel Stottlemyre had persuaded Dwight Gooden to stop trying to strike out every hitter and to try to concentrate on getting more ground ball outs. His thinking was that...in the long run he'd be more durable as a ground ball, control-type pitcher. That's a common belief among baseball men, but it is dead wrong. . .As a pitcher ages, his strikeout totals almost always decline. . .Once a pitcher is below average in strikeouts, he must be outstanding in some other respect in order to keep pitching. . .If you study the issue...you can't possibly miss seeing that the strikeout pitchers last a lot longer than the control-type pitchers. . .If Mel Stottlemyre wants Dwight Gooden to last as long as possible, he'd better stop this crap about throwing ground balls and tell him to concentrate on striking out as many batters as he can."

    I also thought James' comments on Tim Raines were insightful in view of the likelihood that The Rock could be overlooked by Hall of Fame voters when he becomes eligible in 2008. I can see writers pointing to the fact that Raines never won a MVP as a reason not to vote for him. Well, they shouldn't compound one mistake into a second one.

  • Tim Raines: "He would have been a deserving recipient of the National League Most Valuable Player award last year, which is not to say that Schmidt wasn't. . .Raines created more runs than Schmidt despite playing a much tougher hitter's park. . .Raines played left field, where he is an exceptional defensive player at what is not a key defensive position. Raines was third in the league in outfield assists, and twice ended games by throwing out the potential tying run at the plate. . .Raines's remarkable base stealing (70/79) is easy to overlook. . .I'm not criticizing anybody for his vote. I too thought, just looking at the statistics, that Schmidt had had the best year. . .But having looked at the issue more carefully, I now realize that Tim Raines was, in fact, the best and most valuable player in the National League in 1986."

    Next up: 1988 Baseball Abstract (the last in a 12-part series)

    * * * * * * *

    Abstracts From The Abstracts:

    1977 Baseball Abstract
    1978 Baseball Abstract
    1979 Baseball Abstract
    1980 Baseball Abstract
    1981 Baseball Abstract
    1982 Baseball Abstract
    1983 Baseball Abstract
    1984 Baseball Abstract
    1985 Baseball Abstract
    1986 Baseball Abstract

    [Reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]

  • WTNYDecember 20, 2004
    Grade "A" Rebuild
    By Bryan Smith

    Earlier this offseason, it became apparent that the Oakland A's were going to have to break up something that had defined their organization for years: The Big Three. Many credited Hudson, Zito and Mulder when even after the exit of Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada, Oakland continued their winning ways. But money, or more specifically impending free agencies, forced Billy Beane's hand to trade one away. One. Billy traded two.

    Tim Hudson's demands for a contract extension before Spring Training, quite Giambi-esque, fueled speculation that he would be the one leaving the Bay Area. First he was going to the Braves, and then the Cardinals, and at one point, he was a Dodger. But the rumors came full circle when, on December 16, John Scheurholz landed his ace without giving up Marcus Giles. Instead, Beane landed Juan Cruz, solid outfielder Charles Thomas, and solid prospect Dan Meyer. While the acquisition did not quite match the haul that had once been rumored to, three solid pieces of the future had been planted.

    Excuse me, I have gotten ahead of myself. Beane saw the opportunity earlier in the offseason to lose the rights to overrated players Mark Redman and Arthur Rhodes. For this small, and still expensive package, the A's landed 31-year-old catcher (at least come 2005) Jason Kendall. A better hitter than the previous Oakland catcher, Kendall would provide only a slight dropoff from the wonderful defense Damian Miller had offered. For the economic relief that losing Redman, Rhodes and Miller would provide, Beane improved his team behind the plate and added a draft pick to boot.

    And then, on the heels of the Hudson trade, Beane made a minor move that should not go overlooked. With Marcus Giles apparently untouchable, Beane moved at another underrated, sabermetric-friendly second basemen: Keith Ginter. His 2004 slugging percentage of .479 would be a large improvement on the .363 that the likes of Marco Scutaro and Mark McLemore accumulated. The cost? Justin Lehr, a young and possibly budding middle reliever, still far behind the likes of Justin Duchscherer and Kirk Saarlos. And the largest loot was Nelson Cruz, the 24-year-old outfielder that grabbed the ten spot in Baseball America's rankings. A solid power player no doubt, but again, not first in line for any job.

    So, that takes us where we are today. In fact, that gives us one-fifth of a team. Cruz turned the corner under Leo Mazzone's watchful eye (shocking!) last year, and as long as he stays in a big outfield, should continue his powerful relieving. Thomas' 2004 season screams David Newhan flukable, but he very well could provide a solid platoon with Eric Byrnes. Meyer looks to be everything that Mark Redman was and more, offering the best four-pitch combination in the minor leagues. Kendall and Ginter are two solid pieces of Beane's lineup puzzle.

    With Hudson gone, it appeared the rotation would have the rest of the Three, along with Rich Harden, Meyer, and solid prospect Joe Blanton. The former Kentucky ace, Blanton performed brilliantly out of the bullpen during a September call-up. But his future lies not there, but rather in the rotation as an innings horse. His PCL stats are not jaw-dropping, but he finished the year well, and is not said to have lost the stuff that once made him a first-round pick. Chosen in the same round, and also a 2005 Rookie of the Year candidate is Nick Swisher. After posting huge power numbers with a broken hand last year, it's apparent the Buckeye is ready to man Jermaine Dye's old stomping grounds.

    It appeared that Beane was nearly finished, with only a few moves left on his docket. The money from Hudson's departure would certainly allow Erubiel Durazo to stay, who should make a lot of money in arbitration this season. Chad Bradford and Scott Hatteberg appeared two players a bit expensive for what they bring to the table, and I've hypothesized that both should not make the 2005 A's 25. Dan Johnson, the PCL MVP, has proven again and again that he is ready for the job. In the bullpen, both Huston Street and Jairo Garcia look like they could be forces in the back-end. With Dotel and Cruz, it looked to make Bradford quite expendable.

    So, if you're like me, you thought Hudson's trip back home would be one of Beane's last major offseason moves. And, like me, you would have been wrong. The package that had rumored to be St. Louis' offer for Tim Hudson proved to be a bit too intriguing for Beane, who sent southpaw Mark Mulder instead. Acquired in exchange was Dan Haren, the PCL strikeout leader, Kiko Calero and Daric Barton. Haren will take Mulder's spot in the rotation, while Calero will only add to an already solid 'pen. Barton adds yet another top forty prospect to the organization, one that was somewhere on the Internet, named the best prospect in baseball.

    This leaves a lot of interesting options in Beane's future. Peter Gammons, in his most recent column, notes J.D. Drew and Carlos Beltran as now possible acquisitions. I would say the former makes the most sense, creating a nice 25-man roster:

    Catchers (2): Jason Kendall and Adam Melhuse

    Infielders (6): Dan Johnson, Erubiel Durazo, Keith Ginter, Mark Ellis, Bobby Crosby, Eric Chavez

    Outfielders (5): J.D. Drew, Mark Kotsay, Nick Swisher, Charles Thomas

    Starting Pitchers (5): Barry Zito, Rich Harden, Joe Blanton, Dan Meyer, Dan Haren

    Relief Pitchers (7): Octavio Dotel, Juan Cruz, Huston Street, Kiko Calero, Ricardo Rincon, Justin Duchscherer, Kirk Saarlos

    This proposed 25-man offers some unique possibilities, with Hatteberg, Scutaro, Eric Byrnes and Bradford all off the roster. I elected to send Jairo Garcia back to AAA, though it's really Blanton, Meyer, Haren, Street and Garcia fighting for four spots. Saarlos will take the spot of the loser. What Beane elects to do with the foursome I mentioned above, is up to him. I would advise further build toward the system, as a solid 2004 draft (plus Barton and Javi Herrera) speak of an even better future.

    I had hopes that this offseason would allow the Arizona Diamondbacks to completely rebuild, but they got all noble and spent worthless dollars on Troy Glaus and Russ Ortiz. Instead, it has been the Oakland A?s that have begun to rebuild. And in a way in which none of us would have imagined.

    WTNYDecember 16, 2004
    Down South
    By Bryan Smith

    Since there is not a lot going on in the baseball world right now, I think now would be a good time to check out what?s happening in the winter leagues. I?m going to need another day to get a Dominican Winter League report out, but for now, I think the Puerto Rican and Venezuelan Leagues will do:

    - The best stories in the Puerto Rican League are those involving pitchers on the way back. My favorite, and the most publicized, is Rick Ankiel?s Puerto Rican quests. The St. Louis southpaw has a 3.57 ERA in 22.2 innings overseas, including a fantastic twenty-nine strikeouts. While his 30 hits allowed is a bit of a concern, Ankiel has allowed only three walks and one home run. A career in relief might not satisfy the people that once forecasted him into an ace, but with the images of wild pitches still dancing in our heads, any career would be a blessing.

    - Also on the trail back is Jesse Foppert, the old San Francisco Giants? top prospect. After a dynamite debut out of the University of San Francisco, Foppert became one of the game?s best pitching prospects with a fantastic 2002 season. But arm injuries, like they so often do, struck, and Foppert did not get to fulfill his destiny in the 2004 season. On the trail back, Foppert has a 5.12 ERA in the P.R. League in 19.1 innings. But he has struck out 19 batters while only allowing one walk, a positive sign only about 9 months removed from surgery.

    - With Mike Matheny signing his absurd contract in San Francisco, the doors are open for Yadier Molina to get the job behind the plate in St. Louis. As a Cubs fan, I pray this happens. No Walt, don?t go get A.J. Pierzynski. Stick with Yadier. Please. The youngest of the trio is hitting all of .246/.259/.282 in just under 60 at-bats in Puerto Rico. While I know, this is a sample size, it?s still intriguing. If he does this against P.R. pitching, what is he gonna do in the Majors? I couldn?t tell you, but I can?t wait to find out.

    - Another Major Leaguer playing in the winter leagues is Francisco Rodriguez, who was allowed by the Angels to pitch in the Venezuelan League. The goggle-donned right-hander is flexing his muscle, yet to allow an earned run in 12 innings of work. In that time, K-Rod has allowed only three hits, while striking out 28. Yes, you read that right: twenty-eight batters in twelve innings. And it took this long for him to start getting the ninth inning in Anaheim?

    - Probably the top prospect currently pitching in either of these two leagues, since King Felix was prohibited, is Yusmeiro Petit of the Mets. In typical Metropolitan style, the organization made a mistake letting the Venezuelan pitch near his hometown. After a season in which he threw a lot of innings, Petit will cross the 50 inning mark in his next start. But the good thing for Mets fans is that he?s succeeding, with an ERA of just 2.18 so far. His good peripheral numbers speak very highly, and I think Petit could be making September starts next year for sure. That?s if his arm doesn?t fall off.

    - Interesting pair of Twins duking it out down south as well. We last talked about Alex Romero as a possible Rule 5 candidate, and prior as a breakout prospect. His numbers stack up favorably with Jason Kubel?s at the same level, though I?ll be the first to tell you he?s not half the player. Still, Romero could be a playmaker that a lot of teams will regret passing up, and his .325/.427/.487 line proves it. I?m not sure the power will ever truly be an asset, but the contact and discipline will be. And while Terry Tiffee might never gain the Gleeman blessing, he?s making an interesting case for the third base job in Venezuela, hitting .293/.356/.488, though it?s just 41 at-bats. I do agree with Aaron that someone else, albeit Joe Randa or Michael Cuddyer, is better suited for the position.

    - I never mentioned in my Rule 5 review, but one reason that Shane Victorino might have gotten drafted is his current VWL performance. The speedster is hitting .272/.320/.529, showing uncanny power. But like I warned in my article on Felix Pie recently, don?t get caught up too much in the power, it comes a bit masked. He does have seven triples in just short of 200 at-bats, a number almost impossible to sustain at the Major League level.

    That?s all for now guys, be back tomorrow with thoughts on recent transactions and some Dominican Winter League reports.

    Baseball BeatDecember 15, 2004
    Day Tripper
    By Rich Lederer

    At the conclusion of the Winter Meetings (in which I commuted between home and the Marriott Hotel in Anaheim), it didn't take me so long to find out -- and I found out. . .

    . . .talk may not always be cheap but it is indeed plentiful.

    . . .I could get used to having breakfast with Bill James every day.

    . . .Fred Claire is a class act (but I already knew that).

    . . .the Hot Stove League would be more aptly named the Microwave Oven Circuit -- better for thawing out old stories and reheating recently fed rumors than cooking up a real meal.

    . . .my All-Baseball colleagues -- Ken Arneson, Will Carroll, Alex Ciepley, Jon Weisman, and Peter White -- are not only great writers but great guys as well.

    . . .friends of A-B, including Jay Jaffe, Jonah Keri, Rob McMillin, and Joe Sheehan, are fun guys to hang with, too.

    . . .why many of these guys don't have children. They never go to bed!

    . . .Jaret Wright is thankful for second chances (physicals).

    . . .Scott Boras has the goods, knows he has the goods, and will wait patiently until the goods are paid for -- no credit extended, thank you.

    . . .there were more rumors making the rounds than actual news.

    . . ."the likes of" Bill Conlin were nowhere to be seen. Must be home studying the W-L records of retired pitchers.

    . . .Voros McCracken is very young, very smart, and very nice.

    . . .Ken Rosenthal, Alan Schwarz, and Tom Verducci are all a bit different (as one would expect) but approachable nonetheless.

    . . .Ken is a converted Blyleven for HOF voter. He is also voting for Boggs, Sandberg, Trammell, Gossage, Sutter, Smith, and "maybe" Dawson.

    . . Alan is against Fred McGreat. . .err, Fred McGriff. . .for the HOF.

    . . As for Tom, well, he is for Wade Boggs and "probably" Jim Rice.

    . . .Steve Finley is young looking, fit, trim, and a relative bargain at $7 million for each of the next two years.

    . . .among the movers and shakers, there was more shakin' than movin'.

    . . .the Winter Meetings will be held in Dallas next year. See you there, Scott.

    It took me so long to find out, but I did find out. Day Tripper, yeah.

    WTNYDecember 14, 2004
    Rule 5 Review
    By Bryan Smith

    With the Winter Meetings a bit less fruitful than normal, it appeared the Rule 5 draft hype was high on Monday. Of course Baseball America had their preview piece and later their draft blog, and I?d also seen pieces all over the net. Still a very confusing procedure in which we need insiders to get comprehensive eligibility lists, it?s great to see the noble task of unearthing the research has begun.

    But despite the build-up, the Rule 5 draft came and went with all of twelve players being selected in the Major League portion. Twelve. Jim Bowden and Dan O?Dowd, currently set on some kind of a crash courses, were responsible for one-fourth of the selections. And even after reading lists trying to be comprehensive, or others making available the ?top choices? (including mine), I had still never heard of the first and fourth selections, and was not aware of the availability of others.

    Despite not expecting the names that were called, the positions were far from shocking. Five of the twelve players selected were southpaws, with three more being pitchers throwing from the right side. The draft didn?t garner any selections of the Jose Morban, Hector Luna variety, more explainable by lack of availability than anything else. Only one player that could even be thought of as an infielder was selected, with versatility in the outfield being the sexy offensive trait this year.

    Before my breakdown of the players, let me give the customary reminder that few of these players will actually stick in the Majors. Johan Santana has at least given the draft a name, but for him there are about 50 Jason Szuminskis or Matt Whites. But just like prospect hunting, the fun is not in predicting failure, but of finding the needle in the haystack, the gem that will bring with your prediction an ounce of credibility.

    Like always, with my comments will be my acknowledgment of the player?s statistics, with only a brief tangent on their ?stuff?. I like to think you guys come here to avoid regurgitation, and have some view outside of the ?beast?, so that?s what I?ll try and provide. But enough all ready, here are the 12 players selected in the 2004 Rule 5 Major League Draft (statistics from the last 3 seasons provided, for hitters, line is: AVE/OBP/SLG W-BB SB/ATT in AB, for pitchers: ERA H/IP K/BB HR in G):

    1. Angel Garcia- Chosen By Diamondbacks from Twins; Traded to Devil Rays- RHP

    2002 GCL= 3.40 41/53.0 63/31 0 in 13
    2003 APP= 2.89 37/37.1 44/18 5 in 9
    2004 GCL= 0.00 6/8.0 9/3 0 in 6
    2004 MID= 6.30 10/10.0 8/5 2 in 5

    News broke yesterday that the Diamondbacks would not select Andy Sisco, allowing the Kansas City Royals to do so with the second pick in the draft. But the mystery was who the D-Backs would select, especially given their newfound desire to scrap the rebuilding option and go straight to attempting to contend again. So there is little surprise that the cash-starved organization jumped at the opportunity to make even a few bucks choosing for someone else. Tampa, constantly rebuilding, was a solid match.

    I don?t know much about Garcia, other than he has all of then innings of full-season ball under his belt. Despite avoiding giving up the long ball in the Gulf Coast League, his seven home runs in just 47.1 innings above that level are a bit concerning. The huge 6-6 Puerto Rican can apparently throw some gas, and is currently pitching in the Puerto Rican League, which I would guess is where his name comes from. Garcia?s numbers are rather unimpressive in seven games, but I?m sure this is more scouting than number-crunching anyway.

    First overall Rule 5 picks stick most of the time, and on an organization like the Devil Rays, have no real reason not too. But Lou Piniella runs a tight ship, so Garcia is definitely a long way from making the squad. Bartolome Fortunato was probably not a huge fan of this acquisition, but Tampa now has their largest project since Jorge Sosa.

    Chance of sticking: 60%, with Piniella the only thing standing in his way.

    2. Andy Sisco- Chosen by Royals from Cubs- LHP

    2002 NWL= 2.43 51/77.2 101/39 3 in 14
    2003 MID= 3.54 76/94.0 99/31 3 in 19
    2004 FSL= 4.21 118/126 134/65 11 in 26

    Everyone knew this was coming, both from the pre-draft hype and the Sunday reports. This is a nice move by the Royals, who avoided the Rule 5 bullet when Colt Griffin did not hear his name called. I?m tellin? ya Doug Melvin, Mike Maddux could have done some things. But anyway, it will be the Royals trying to put together the pieces with a fallen prospect, as Andy Sisco is hardly the gem he was after either the 2002 or 2003 seasons.

    By the same token, Sisco is what this Rule 5 draft is all about, a project. I have heard from insiders and outsiders alike that Sisco had the combination of added weight and fallen velocity last season, both things that will need improvement for him to succeed with a full season in the Major Leagues. While his H/9 has risen each of the last three seasons, he still was under 9.00, while his K/9 was still above it. Like Wil Ledezma before he was drafted by the Tigers, the issue is getting his control under wraps.

    No one exactly knows how to handle a 6-9 pitcher, but the Royals could have worse things than him mopping up some games for the first two months of the season. Offering something to the Cubs for exclusive rights of Sisco, which would allow Baird to send him to the minors, is really advised here. I am going to avoid criticizing the Cubs here, hoping they really do know something we don?t.

    Chance of sticking: 80%, talents like this don?t usually wind up on doorsteps.

    3. Tyrell Godwin- Chosen by Nationals from Blue Jays- OF

    2002 SAL= .281/.364/.378 20-23 10/12 in 185
    2003 FSL= .273/.348/.332 29-39 20/27 in 322
    2003 EAS= .309/.328/.431 3-27 6/7 in 123
    2003 EAS= .253/.326/.355 52-110 42/54 in 521

    This is where my confusion of the draft begins, as I just don?t understand the logic behind this choice. There was a time, no doubt, when Godwin was a highly thought of player coming out of the University of North Carolina. He has strengths still, with versatility in the outfield, speed and the ability to draw some walks being the notables. But still, explain to me why this was a better choice than Anthony Webster or Alex Romero?

    My guess at Bowden?s thinking is that both Webster and Romero spent the entire 2004 seasons in high-A, as Godwin is about a season and a half removed from that league. But still, I think Webster was the choice here, because he is better at making contact, draws more walks, and offers a similar amount of speed. Time will tell here, but my guess is that Webster will later prove to have been the better choice here.

    After examining the Nationals depth chart, it appears the club will have 12 spots guaranteed. The last one or two spots will be some kind of combination between Godwin, fellow Rule 5 pick Tony Blanco, recent acquisition J.J. Davis, AAA stud Ryan Church or Brandon Watson. Though I do find it a bit redundant to carry both Endy Chavez and Godwin, it appears like he will land one spot, with Blanco, Davis and Church fighting for the last one.

    Chance of sticking: 33%

    4. Marco Carvajal- Chosen by the Brewers from the Dodgers; traded to Rockies- RHP

    2002 GCL= 1.71 30/42.0 35/15 0 in 13
    2003 PIO= 3.08 32/38.0 50/22 1 in 23
    2004 SAL= 1.88 50/72.0 72/35 2 in 36

    This is really someone that should have been investigated, as Carvajal was one of the South Atlantic League?s best relievers last season. Still, Columbus is a long way from Coors, and Carvajal?s chance of Major League success isn?t fantastic. Three home runs in 152 professional innings is intriguing, as are both very solid peripheral numbers. Carvajal joined the Caracas Leones in the Venezuelan League, but has only appeared in one game since reporting.

    The decision to move Shawn Chacon to the bullpen has opened a little room there, so Carvajal will have every chance of making the team. After striking gold for two straight seasons with Javier Lopez and then Luis Gonzalez, it was no surprise to see the Rockies become major players in this draft. Carvajal is another flamethrower, but who knows, in this bullpen he could be closing by August. Normal rules are thrown out the window atop the mountains.

    Chance of sticking: 50%, Ryan Speier?s development could prevent Carvajal?s long-term stay

    5. Matt Merricks- Chosen by the Rockies from the Dodgers- LHP

    2002 SAL= 5.12 82/82.2 60/51 6 in 19
    2003 SAL= 2.82 58/67.0 60/19 1 in 14
    2003 CAR= 3.23 45/47.1 37/23 5 in 11
    2004 CAR= 3.31 61/73.1 67/24 4 in 13
    2004 FSL= 3.12 30/26.0 16/10 2 in 6
    2004 SOU= 4.91 26/22.0 27/11 4 in 6

    Many thought the Braves overpaid a bit for Tom Martin last season went they sent the promising Matt Merricks to Los Angeles. He has a lot of success in the minor leagues, with his 2002 season the only blemish on his statistical resume. We could quibble with too many home runs this year, an argument I think will be made when Clint Hurdle builds a 25-man roster this spring.

    If he pitches well, Matt Merricks has a chance to make this team. I don?t think the thought of him not being a Major League-caliber starter is unfounded, so the move to the bullpen now could be a very good decision. But with all the good things to look at, Merricks inability to sustain solid when moving up levels will be the reason for his demise with the Rockies. Los Angeles should expect him back at the end of Spring Training, when he will probably pitch quite well in his second time around the Southern League.

    Chance of sticking: 10%

    6. Luke Hagerty- Chosen by the Orioles from the Cubs; Traded to Marlins- LHP

    2002 NWL= 1.12 32/48.0 50/15 2 in 10
    2004 AZL= 2.63 13/13.2 7/5 0 in 4
    2004 NWL= 12.00 15/9 5/9 0 in 4

    Cubs fans are also scratching their heads on Luke Hagerty?s absence from the 40-man roster, though I think his exclusion was a bit more calculated than that of Andy Sisco. I did not mistype anything on his rather underwhelming statistical history, it was just arm surgery that limited Hagerty to all of 22.2 innings since his dominating 2002 performance. It looked then as if he could have been the best Ball State player chosen that June, even better than the first overall selection Bryan Bullington.

    Now, if all goes to plan, he will still beat Bullington to the Major Leagues. Like Sisco, Hagerty is a big southpaw, listed at 6-7, 230 pounds. His rehab is going well, though I?m not sure if he?ll be able to regain his mid-90s fastball and devastating slider of old. Many have speculated as to whether Hagerty could be thrown onto the 60-man roster for most of the year, with the occasional rehab stint to the minors. Hagerty is a bit farther along in the rehab process than Derek Thompson or D.J. Mattox (Rule 5 selections to not have to actually play), so I?m not sure whether the validity of Hagerty?s injury would allow a long-term DL stay.

    I do not think, and call me the optimist, that Hagerty will stick on a team that is trying to contend like the Marlins. If so, then Jim Hendry will have a lot of explaining to do.

    Chance of sticking: 20%

    7. Shane Victorino- Chosen by Phillies from Dodgers- OF

    2002 SOU= .258/.328/.318 47-49 45/61 in 481
    2003 SOU= .282/.340/.368 21-41 16/23 in 266
    2004 SOU= .328/.375/.584 20-64 9/16 in 293
    2004 PCL= .235/.278/.335 11-37 7/9 in 200

    This is the second time that Victorino has been chosen, with a bad stint in San Diego left out of his 2003 stats. Again, another slap-hitting outfielder with lots of speed, but I still don?t understand what he brings to the table that Anthony Webster does not. The performance in the Southern League is enticing, but it was his third trial in the league, so it was either then or never. His last 200 at-bats were more indicative of the type of player he is, and if the Phillies can possibly waste a roster spot on him for the whole season, then sabermetrics is not moving fast enough.

    Chance of sticking: 5%

    8. Tyler Johnson- Chosen by A?s from Cardinals- LHP

    2002 MID= 2.00 96/121.1 132/42 7 in 22
    2003 FSL= 3.08 79/79.0 81/38 2 in 22
    2003 SOU= 1.65 16/27.1 39/15 1 in 20
    2004 SOU= 4.79 48/56.1 77/37 4 in 53

    While I normally would shy away from players that regress like Johnson did in 2004, lifetime 10.7 K/9s don?t come around everyday. I don?t find it shocking that one of the players I deemed as the greatest success was chosen by the A?s, who are definitely on top of this sort of a cheap bargain. But they passed last year on Frank Brooks, and it is entirely likely they could do it again. If, as I expect, Chad Bradford is non-tendered in a few days, Johnson has a chance of making this team. That will depend on whether Ken Macha will carry seven pitchers, and choose Johnson over Tim Harikkala and Justin Lehr. It?s possible, though not entirely likely.

    Chance of sticking: 35%

    9. Ryan Rowland-Smith- Chosen by Twins from Mariners- LHP

    2002 NWL= 2.77 58/61.2 58/22 2 in 18
    2002 MID= 6.75 50/41.1 38/19 7 in 12
    2003 MID= 1.11 22/32.1 37/14 0 in 13
    2003 CAL= 3.20 12/19.2 15/8 0 in 15
    2004 CAL= 3.79 107/99.2 119/30 10 in 29

    I cannot say I completely understand this choice, though Rowland-Smith will hold a place in my heart (with Bryn Smith) for having a name vaguely familiar to mine. In seriousness, while there were many LOOGYs available, Rowland-Smith was one of the very few Ron Villone-types that were on the market. The problem here is that Rowland-Smith is not that good, and apparently his Australian ties helped get him chosen. I don?t want to say there is no chance the Twins will carry him, but really only a long-term injury to Grant Balfour would stop them in my opinion.

    Chance of sticking: 7%

    10. D.J. Houlton- Chosen by Dodgers from Astros- RHP

    2002 MID= 3.14 120/140.2 138/30 12 in 35
    2003 TEX= 3.47 93/109.0 101/28 11 in 18
    2003 PCL= 5.40 70/61.2 48/19 12 in 11
    2004 TEX= 2.94 141/159.0 159/47 14 in 28

    It normally seems as if the Rule 5 draft pitcher is either left-handed, or a right-handed pitcher that can light up radar guns. Houlton is neither, the exception to the rule, the DePodesta choice. A bit old, Houlton was tugged a bit too hard in 2003, and came back to his normal self this season. Whether he has the stuff, or is in the right organization, to make is unknown. But I like gambling on him a lot more than giving Brian Falkenborg a bunch of appearances, which is what the Dodgers were left to do last season. I asked Jon Weisman about who might fill the Dodgers bullpen next year?


    Gagne and Brazoban are locks for the bullpen, with Sanchez, a waiver pickup just before Dan Evans was fired, almost as certain after a solid Dodger debut. Carrara, who pitched exceptionally after being picked up on waivers from Seattle, would appear to be a lock - except he was an apparent lock in 2003 but didn't make the team. One slot will probably go to a lefty - Scott Stewart if they can do no better, but it's hard to believe they can't. Another slot would go to a swingman - and who this is depends on how the rotation fills out. In a happy world, the recently signed Elmer Dessens will be a long reliever and not a starter. Wilson Alvarez is also a possibility here. And even Edwin Jackson could get more interning out of the pen, if the Dodgers can fill their rotation without him. So the answer is, at least on December 14, Houlton has a shot at making the team. The pen isn't full yet, and the Dodgers have been willing to take a chance on relievers with unusual pedigrees. But again, it depends on the rotation. They need to plan to have at least 12 pitchers - six starters - because of the uncertainty over Penny's health, at least through the end of March if not into the beginning of the season. We won't need to wait until March to have a better idea of Houlton's chances, but we may need to wait until January.

    Well said. Chance of sticking: 20%

    11. Adam Stern- Chosen by Red Sox from Braves- OF

    2002 CAR= .253/.298/.364 27-89 40/48 in 462
    2003 CAR= .194/.282/.214 13-21 7/10 in 103
    2004 SOU= .322/.378/.480 35-58 27/37 in 394

    This one will not stick, nearly guaranteed. Stern appears to be a solid player, probably the equivalent to Nick Gorneault, and his only hope is the Red Sox don?t bother to find a replacement to Gabe Kapler. This will almost certainly not happen, but at least Theo showed that he can find a solid player that no one else saw. His previous career stats make me think of 2004 as a bit of a fluke though, but again, worth the cost to find out if there?s more than meets the eye.

    Chance of sticking: 5%

    12. Tony Blanco- Chosen by Nationals from Reds- Corner

    2002 FSL= .221/.250/.365 6-70 2/2 in 244
    2003 CAR= .266/.338/.477 26-62 0/0 in 241
    2004 CAR= .306/.403/.588 27-66 2/2 in 216
    2004 SOU= .245/.300/.455 15-53 0/0 in 220

    Jim Bowden actually didn?t do so bad here, and he knows Tony Blanco from their days together in Cincinnati. Basically, Blanco is this season?s Jose Bautista, a real raw player with a few good attributes to offer. I think he?s actually better, though a bit less athletic than Bautsita or Tony Batista, the latter who he compares to offensively. Blanco will be able to play all the corners for Washington, though I think the simultaneous signing of Wil Cordero hurts his chances of making the team. Bring him to camp, let him wow a few spectators with big bombs, offer the Reds some mediocre minor leaguer for him, and send him back to Cincy.

    Chance of sticking: 25%

    In review, the five guys with the best chance to stick, in order: Sisco, Garcia, Carvajal, Johnson and Godwin. Of course, that hardly reflects how good the choices were. We'll have to wait and see on that front. That?s all today guys, drop the Rule 5 questions and comments below, as always.

    Baseball BeatDecember 13, 2004
    Winter Wonderland -- Day Three
    By Rich Lederer

    The famous Christmas song "Winter Wonderland" was first published in 1934. The composer was Felix Bernard (1897-1944) and the lyricist was Richard B. Smith (1901-1935). Seventy years later, the lyricist is another Richard (1955-).

    Winter Wonderland

    Trade rumors ring, are you listening,
    In the lobby, Boras is glistening
    A beautiful sight,
    We're happy tonight.
    Hanging in the winter wonderland.

    Gone away is Jose Guillen,
    Time to put Steve Finley in
    Scioscia sings a love song,
    As the Angels go along,
    Progressing in the winter wonderland.

    In Jeff Kent we can build a third baseman,
    Then pretend that he is Adrian Beltre
    The fans'll say: Are you crazy?
    DePo'll say: No way,
    Because Jeff can do the job
    For a two-year stay.

    Later on, the Yankees'll conspire,
    As Cashman dreams by the fire
    To face unafraid,
    The plans that they've made,
    Talking in the winter wonderland.

    In Seattle Bill can build a first baseman,
    And pretend that he's gonna make the town
    We'll have lots of fun with mister Sexson,
    Until the shoulder injury knocks him down.

    When Omar talks, ain't it thrilling,
    The payroll may go up another million
    New York will frolic and play, the only Mets way
    Walking in a winter wonderland

    Talking in a winter wonderland
    Walking in a winter wonderland.

    WTNYDecember 13, 2004
    Winter Weekend Moves
    By Bryan Smith

    My take on the weekend?s happenings, as I await to write about the Rule 5 draft of today. Check back for tomorrow on that, as for now, let?s review the moves behind the madness:

    In my piece on Friday, I wrote the following about the Atlanta Braves and the rumored Tim Hudson deal:


    I would then let Smoltz move back to the rotation, and have a staff look like this: Hudson, Smoltz, Hampton, Thomson, Ramirez. Then, move Capellan to the bullpen, where he and Juan Cruz can duke it out for the closer spot.

    While the Hudson deal now appears far off, Atlanta brass has taken a bit of my advice. Trading for Dan Kolb will in fact let John Smoltz move to the bullpen, and provide a more ?Proven Closer? than Capellan or Cruz could have provided.

    I?ve spoken on the merits of Jose Capellan?s resume many times before, obviously coming across the question that follows Capellan like a younger brother: can he succeed in the Majors as a starter? Judging by numbers alone, there would be no reason to doubt future success coming from the Dominican right-hander. In a year that ended with his name on Player of the Year ballots, Jose flew through the Carolina, Southern and International Leagues on his way to Atlanta. He only allowed one home run across all three stops, posting a 2.32 ERA and striking out 152 men. September issues in Atlanta are the only gaffe on his stat sheet, a sheet that will make him a top thirty prospect.

    With that being said, Capellan is a fine example of the problems that come with just judging a player by his numbers. While I have only seen Capellan pitch on three occasions (two of which being in the Majors), I feel my hold on his scouting report is dead-on. Jose throws what?s called as a ?heavy? mid-90s fastball, which explains the sensational home run rate. To be able to have reacquired that heat, after arm surgery is quite the feat. So, what?s the problem?

    Scouts and fans alike love that fastball, but no one loves it like Capellan himself. He?s fallen for the pitch, and because of that, throws it way too often. Major League hitters fancy pitchers with this tendency, making the ?guess? of which pitch is next a lot easier. In his first start, Capellan was lit up in the first inning, throwing his fastball about 90% of the time. But after Leo came out for a visit, the right-hander started showing the curve more, and got out of a tough jam. Sometimes the curve can show a real sharp bite, but his tendency to leave it up in the zone will have to fade for his home run rates to stay low. Adding his ?nowhere-to-be-found? change to his normal repertoire would also assist his desire to stay in the rotation.

    Generously ? and I mean generously ? listed at 170 pounds, Capellan?s thick thighs pedal his large fastball. In this way he is quite reminiscent of similar stylists Bartolo Colon and Livan Hernandez, both of whom have been known to be fastball-friendly. Both have seen their HR/9 rates skyrocket since their youth, something I fear for Capellan, if not handled correctly. But that should not be a worry, as his change in organizations take him from the game?s best pitching coach, to the second best, Mike Maddux. While lacking the ?observations? to do this kind of a study, Maddux has had great success with the likes of Ben Sheets, Glendon Rusch, Doug Davis, and Dan Kolb.

    My gut tells me that eventually, it will be Capellan replacing Dan Kolb in the closer spot. Still, some sort of Major League success is almost a guarantee, which mightily helps in Prospectdom. His move takes him from the third prospect position in Atlanta to third in Milwaukee, both times sitting behind two position players.

    Behind Capellan in Atlanta, and possibly soon joining him in Cheeseland could be fellow pitching prospect Dan Meyer. Jim Callis mentioned Meyer as the likely second prospect in this deal, which would take the trade from swallowable to questionable for Atlanta fans. While I hate to question John Scheurholz, and in the wake of Ortiz? signing in Arizona point out that deal went quite well for the Braves even with Merkin Valdez on the Giants, one has to think that type of package could have brought in more than Kolb.

    When I first saw Meyer, I was immediately reminded of Mark Redman, southpaws that throw effortlessly in the high-80s with a lot of ?pitchability.? He has a nice slider and change up, and is much more ready to contribute to a rotation than Capellan. Meyer has spent time and succeeded at each minor league stop, consistently posting ERAs under 3.00. His final stop, twelve appearances in AAA, was his least dominating to date as his BB/9 topped 3.0 for the first time.

    If Maddux can keep Meyer?s control at pre-AAA levels, I think Meyer has the potential to top the careers of Redman or Mike Maroth. The spacious confines of Turner Field or Oakland?s Coliseum would have been nice for the Braves last collegiate first-round pick, but he?ll make do in Milwaukee. If this is true, then big props to Doug Melvin, who is quietly doing some good things up North.

    WTNY

    Meyer?s exit to Milwaukee likely means that the Giles-Meyer for Tim Hudson rumor was just that. While it looked as if Hudson would be a Cardinal a week ago, the likely destination (again, a rumor) now appears to be the Los Angeles Dodgers. From what I?ve heard, the A?s have had talks with five teams about their coveted right-hander: Baltimore, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and the Dodgers. The five ?rumored? trades, from what I?ve read:

    Los Angeles: Edwin Jackson and Antonio Perez

    A solid package, no doubt, but probably not the best on the table. I really like Jackson, as he was my top rated pitcher before last season. After watching him pitch for the Dodgers in September, I recognized that might have been a bit high, but Jackson still has worlds of potential. Jackson effortlessly throws in the mid-90s, with a real good breaking pitch to boot. I can understand of concerns that Billy is building towards 2006 with this move, contradicting his acquisition of Jason Kendall.

    But with this, Billy is on his way to reshaping the Big Three. My guess is that Mulder will get things in gear next year, and become the one (if there is one) to remain an A. With Mulder, Harden and Jackson, the A?s would have a very good threesome for a long time. Joe Blanton isn?t bad either, and I?m sure that Billy will land another stud young pitcher if and when he trades Barry Zito in a year.

    As for Perez, I?m not sold he would be much more valuable than Mark Ellis, but at least he would provide more competition than anyone else by the Bay. I think in the least he will be a fairly valuable bench player, providing pop with the ability to play multiple positions. A younger replacement for Mark McLemore if you will.

    A?s rotation under this scenario: Mulder, Zito, Harden, Jackson, Blanton

    Atlanta: Marcus Giles and Dan Meyer

    By far the best offer, though I?ve heard that this is not what the Braves had in mind. Think of the improvement Giles would have on a team that received a .253/.299/.363 line from their second basemen last season. While Meyer would hardly replace Hudson, I could argue this version of a staff could still replicate the 4.24 ERA of Oakland?s 2003 starters.

    For Atlanta, I?m not sure this deal would be the best for them. They have already lost the negotiating rights to J.D. Drew, no doubt their MVP from last season. Chipper Jones is in the twilight of his career, and should slowly stop performing like everyone once thought. Johnny Estrada will not duplicate his 2004, and Andy Marte is not exactly a sure bet to produce power. Marcus Giles just might be the best bet (and Andruw) that this offense has for 2004.

    My hope is that Billy offered Hudson and Mark Ellis in this deal, though I?m not sure how much that changes the landscape from the Braves perspective.

    A?s rotation under this scenario: Mulder, Zito, Harden, Blanton, Meyer/Saarlos

    St. Louis: Dan Haren, Jason Marquis, Kiko Calero

    This is the trade that was hardly verified as to who was going where, with some mentions of either Jeff Suppan, Rick Ankiel or Daric Barton in the trade as well. But this is, with little variation, what I predominantly heard when Dan Patrick reported it as a done deal.

    Haren is not the player that Edwin Jackson is, but probably offers more upside than Dan Meyer does. He led the PCL in strikeouts last year, using a big slider to rack up a lot of strikeouts. My guess is that him and Joe Blanton would battle it out in Spring Training, with the possibility of Marquis moving to the swingman role. I?m not sure whether I like Haren or Blanton more, with both of them topping out as a third starter in my mind. That, of course, is no low praise.

    Marquis, one of the few non-Mazzone successes, is purely a marginal pitcher that could also be pawned for something when Beane was ready. I like Calero out of the bullpen as a second or third right-hander, which would allow Beane to non-tender Chad Bradford and open up a few more dollars to keep Erubiel Durazo.

    A?s rotation under this scenario: Mulder, Zito, Harden, Marquis, Blanton/Haren

    Baltimore: Erik Bedard, B.J. Ryan, PTBNL

    As I talked about on Friday, there is no way I will believe that the O?s offered Bedard and top prospect Nick Markakis, who is one of Peter Angelos? favorites. This is by far the worst offer that was made to the A?s, which is also why it didn?t hold up very long. Bedard spells marginal, and while I like Ryan, he is only one year away from free agency. Not a lot to talk about here.

    A?s rotation under this scenario: Mulder, Zito, Harden, Bedard, Blanton

    Philadelphia: Ryan Madson and Chase Utley

    This can definitely be viewed as the poor man?s version of the Los Angeles deal, with Madson hardly matching Jackson?s potential, and Utley only a slight improvement on Antonio Perez. The problem here is that Madson?s move back to the rotation would hardly be guaranteed, as his one start trial this year went quite poorly. The A?s are flush in reliever prospects, and Madson would provide little improvement on the Garcia-Street-Dotel trio.

    A?s rotation under this scenario: Mulder, Zito, Harden, Madson, Blanton

    Since it looks like talks with the Braves have broken down, Beane must consider either keeping Huddy or the Los Angeles deal. My vote would be LA, with a return to greatness circled in 2006.

    WTNY

    Toronto made a nice little move getting Chad Gaudin from the Devil Rays, trading Kevin Cash, who hardly appears to be an improvement on Toby Hall. I don?t know what they plan to do behind the plate, but no matter who they choose, the position shouldn?t land much for Tampa. They dealt away Gaudin, described by some as a ?slider pitcher?, describing his extreme preference for his best pitch.

    If you are wondering where you know his name from, Gaudin got a decent amount of press when he threw a perfect game in his first AA start, for the since-gone Orlando Rays. He drew a fair amount of hype because of the game, popping up on a few prospect lists. Overall, Gaudin is a marginal pitcher with a career in the bullpen far more likely than the rotation. Still, with Guillermo Quiroz on the horizon, J.P. made a real nice deal here.

    Baseball BeatDecember 12, 2004
    Winter Wonderland -- Day Two
    By Rich Lederer

    I returned to the Marriott on Saturday only to find that the clothes had changed but not the people. Jack McKeon was still outside puffing on a cigar -- presumably not the same one as last evening -- and the other cast of characters were inside, in some cases talking to the identical folks as the night before.

    In between trips back and forth to the hotel, David Wells had become a Red Sox in a deal that makes a heckuva lot of sense to me for both parties. Boston is protected on the downside and Boomer has the ups that allow him to make as much as $18 million over the next two years.

    Yesterday's All-Baseball.com crew was joined by Jon Weisman of Dodger Thoughts. Jon, Alex Ciepley, Peter White, and Jay Jaffe were talking to Steve Henson, the Los Angeles Times' new beat writer for the Dodgers, when I arrived. Jon, another one of the thirty-something crowd, speaks softly but carries a big stick when it comes to all things Dodgers.

    Speaking of the Dodgers, Fred Claire is standing nearby and Tom Lasorda can be seen across the room. Paul DePodesta, on the other hand, has been conspicuously invisible thus far. He must be spending his time upstairs in the suites, discussing deals with the paying folks. There is a rumor on the floor that he and his pal Billy Beane are working on a trade involving Tim Hudson. Can you say bye-bye to Edwin Jackson, Dodger fans?

    Beane apparently has put Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito out on the table with the idea of trading whichever one of the Big Three that can bring the most in return. Buying low and selling high. That's the Moneyball way.

    It's 1:15 p.m. and stomachs are beginning to growl. The All-Baseball quartet meets up with Will Carroll for a sandwich in the hotel delicatessen. Peter Gammons, clad in slacks and tennis shoes, is ahead of us in line, ordering lunch to go. We set up shop outside at a round table that Jay is destined to knock over with his right foot.

    Speaking of kicks, I can't help but look up to see the expressions on Jon's and Peter's faces when "Scoop" Carroll tells us that Adrian Beltre is all but signed and sealed in Seattle. The Dodgers apparently haven't even made an offer yet but Scott Boras is hopeful of giving DePo one last shot. By my way of thinking, Bill Bavasi has gotta come away from the meetings with either Beltre or Carlos Beltran in tow. Roll the dice, hope whoever you sign comes up big -- all the while knowing that if they don't, you're not gonna be around at the end anyway.

    6-4-2's Rob McMillin joins us back in the lobby after lunch. Rob, Jon, and I are three locals who only have to pony up the $10 parking for the lot catty-corner to the hotel. Courtesy of Jon, we attended a Dodgers-Astros game in July in which I was impressed that Rob's wife kept score the entire game. Like pitchers of today, it seems as if so very few scorekeepers finish what they start.

    Rob and I have different takes on Jered Weaver. He is of the belief that Weaver is essentially an unproven pitcher, someone who has never pitched at the professional level. Whereas Rob doesn't think Weaver should get millions of dollars, I maintain the opinion that he would be a much better value at $9 million for four years than his brother Jeff at $9 million for one year. There is no doubt in my mind that if Jered were allowed to negotiate with all of the teams, he would not only be considered a bargain at those terms but would most likely wind up with a deal similar to what Mark Prior received three years ago.

    I excuse myself and approach Lasorda, introducing myself as George Lederer's son. Tommy puts a smile on my face when he tells me that my Dad was "a great, great man." I give Tommy my All-Baseball.com business card -- smartly designed by Alex Ciepley -- and he studies it for about 15 seconds while allowing me to sneak in what it is we all do.

    McKeon walks by, exchanges pleasantries with the Hall of Fame manager (with a lifetime pitching record of 0-4 and a 6.48 ERA, he wasn't voted in as a player, right?), and proceeds to exit the hotel to light up another one. Given the fact that the Marlins failed to make the postseason this year, I don't think it's one of those Red Auerbach-victory cigars.

    In the meantime, Tony Perez is making the rounds, still thanking the writers for voting him into the HOF five years ago. Matt Williams, looking as dapper in his suit and tie as any bald guy can, is another former player working the room.

    After learning from Will that Jaret Wright had failed his physical, I call Alex Belth on my cell phone and the Bronx resident lets out a whoop so loud it could almost be heard in Anaheim. When I later learn that Wright passed a second physical, I want to reach out to Alex again but it occurs to me that our man Belth is probably toasting the Yankees' tentative deal with Carl Pavano.

    I notice Tom Verducci standing alone for the first time since I've been there, so I walk over and tell him that Alex B. had asked me to say hello. Tom, who has movie-star looks especially when compared to many of us who have faces only suited for radio, recalls meeting Alex at the winter meetings last year in New Orleans.

    Joined by my fellow A-Bers and a certain Futility Infielder, we wind up talking about Tom's Hall of Fame selections -- past, present, and future -- as well as rumored deals for about 15-20 minutes. Much to my chagrin, Bert Blyleven and Ryne Sandberg won't appear on Tom's ballot this year. Wade Boggs will "of course" and Jim Rice is a "probable."

    I thank Tom for his time, speaking of which I realize that I am in need of calling it a day. We're hosting my older brother's 53rd birthday in conjunction with our community's Christmas Boat Parade in about an hour so I better hurry on home before the guests arrive.

    I'm looking forward to my return trip on Sunday which, if all goes as planned, will be an extra special day in the life of Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT. Suffice it to say, there will be no NFL football games on my agenda.

    Baseball BeatDecember 11, 2004
    Winter Wonderland -- Day One
    By Rich Lederer

    I drove to the Anaheim Marriott, the host site of major league baseball's winter meetings, on Friday afternoon. I met All-Baseball.com colleagues Alex Ciepley and Peter White at their hotel down the street, and we walked to the Marriott.

    Ciepley and Jay Jaffe came out on the same flight from Newark to Los Angeles International Airport earlier that day, arriving at LAX about the same time as White (Kentucky), Will Carroll (Indianapolis), and Ken Arneson (Oakland). The fivesome took a bus from the airport to the hotel and had a late lunch prior to my arrival at a one-star Chinese fast food restaurant located in a nearby strip center.

    After getting a bite to eat, Ciepley, White, Jaffe, Carroll, and Arneson checked into their hotel rooms. The latter three then headed over to where the action was while Ciepley and White opted to wait for my arrival before making the five-minute walk to the Marriott.

    Upon arrival, we learn that Will and Jay are attending an Angels press conference announcing the signing of Steve Finley. Two years, $14 million? That sounds like a pretty good deal for the hometown Angels to me. Makes me wonder why the Dodgers didn't try to ink Finley to a similar contract ($6 million in 2005, $7 million in 2006, and a $7 million option for 2007 with a $1 million buyout). At a minimum, I would have expected them to offer arbitration, knowing that he was in demand but looking for more than a one-year deal -- meaning that they would have received a first-round draft pick as compensation.

    Has the price of first-round draftees gone up so much that they are now considered liabilities? I don't know but you might want to check with the Giants front office for an answer to that question. We chat about that very subject with former Dodgers General Manager Fred Claire, who now writes and does radio for MLB.com.

    Finley emerges from the press conference, carrying an Angels hat and looking every bit as good as he did when he signed with the Diamondbacks as a free agent as a 33-year-old in December 1998. Finley, a resident of Del Mar (a San Diego suburb), is excited about staying "close to home" and playing for "a great team...with a chance to win." He expressed disappointment that the Dodgers didn't try to sign him, saying conversations with the team "never materialized."

    In the spirit of Alex Belth's wonderful essay on last year's winter meetings, I look around the lobby and there's Peter Gammons within footsteps chatting with friends; Tom Verducci leaning up against the bar; and Tracy Ringolsby, decked out in his cowboy hat, making the rounds. There's the youngish J.P. Ricciardi and Brian Cashman circling the room. Ahh, I recognize Terry Ryan. . .and Omar Minaya. The fit and trim Terry Collins is standing near the registration. Oh, there goes Lou Piniella and Lee Mazzilli, not together mind you.

    We meet up with Joe Sheehan and Jonah Keri from Baseball Prospectus shortly thereafter. Joe, Jonah, and I attended a Dodgers-Angels game last summer, along with Brian Gunn, the writer extraordinaire who recently retired his highly popular and entertaining Redbird Nation blog. Joe kiddingly asks if I was there to meet Bill Conlin. Jonah mentions the Abstracts From The Abstracts ("What a great idea") and admires my tenacity in taking Bert Blyleven's case for the Hall of Fame to the baseball public.

    Looking at the BP triumvirate of Carroll, Sheehan, and Keri makes me think that these are a bunch of normal guys who, thanks to Jonah, average about five-foot-ten. Like most of the All-Baseball.com writers, they are also thirty-something. Gosh, one more year and I guess I'll be known as a fifty-something. Will, Joe, and Jonah could star in a TV sit-com "Married With No Children."

    More than anything, it is the love for the game of baseball that is the common thread among us. We kibitz about the Yankees signing Jaret Wright and Tony Womack. Jaffe, who Belth described as "Robin Ventura with black-rimmed glasses," is in favor of the Wright acquisition while the rest of us seem a bit more perplexed by it. Nobody, on the other hand, had anything positive to say about the Womack deal.

    Speaking of the Jaffe-Ventura resemblance, Jay makes up for the three or four inches in height in the length of his sideburns. As a result, I gotta call it a wash. Peter, on winter break from seminary school, said Jay looked like Elvis Costello. Whether compared to the baseball star or the rock-n-roller, there is no doubt about one thing: Jaffe is one helluva nice guy, an outstanding analyst/writer, and someone I would like to spend more than just one weekend kicking it around.

    Alex C., who is also affectionately known as Ciepster, went back to the hotel across the street because he was in need of a "30-minute nap" that actually turned into about a one-hour snooze. If there is a more passionate Cubs fan than Alex, I've yet to meet him. Everybody should be so lucky as to have a friend like Alex. He is simply a joy to be around.

    In the meantime, "Scoop" Carroll is working the room. "Something's going down with the A's." Ken, a devoted A's fan, and I speculate whether it involves his favorite player Tim Hudson going to the Braves in the rumored trade for Marcus Giles and Dan Meyer. "I'm not sure. Only Beane knows at this point."

    I look across the lobby and see a crowd gathered. I think to myself, "There must be something going on." Not one to sit back, I walk over and notice Scott Boras in the midst of several reporters -- most of whom had MLB.com press credentials. I sneak in there and ask Boras if the Finley signing now takes the Angels out of the running for Carlos Beltran.

    I don't think the Angels ever had an interest in signing him. They have invested $12 million per year in (Garret) Anderson and another $14 million in (Vladimir) Guerrero. They already have a lot of money tied up in their outfield.

    Boras said that he didn't expect to consummate a deal for Beltran before the holidays. In response to a question from a reporter, the super agent tells us that he and the Red Sox have agreed to the money on the first four years of a five-year deal for Jason Varitek. He indicated that the terms of the fifth year were still being negotiated.

    I asked Boras about the status of Jered Weaver, and he turned to me and said "Is that a question?" I rephrased it, suggesting that it was the Angels and not Weaver who had the leverage at this point. Boy, did I strike a nerve! Boras said it was "disingenuous" of the Angels to draft Weaver and not negotiate with him in good faith. He made it clear that "our demands were fully known before the draft," that "11 teams had passed on him," and the fact that the whole process was "unfair to Jered."

    I told Boras that I was sympathetic to their situation but mentioned that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to make up the lost money should Weaver choose to wait and go back into the draft next June.

    Jered is a special talent, a premier pitcher. He's about as close as you can be from pitching in the major leagues. J.D. Drew decided that he didn't want to play for a team that wasn't going to treat him fairly. We'll see what happens.

    That's about as good as it gets, folks. I joined up with Ken, Jay, and Peter, sharing my Boras experience as we walked back to the hotel to wake up Alex on our way to dinner at an El Torrito restaurant not more than a five-minute drive away. We piled into my car and the conversation turned to where Jay and the two Alexes (Alexii?) live in New York. When we were at a stoplight, Jay said, "There's no place in all of New York that looks like this."

    At dinner, we swapped baseball stories. What else would you expect from a bunch of baseball nerds?

    Afterwards, I drop off Alex, Ken, and Peter at the hotel. Jay and I decide to make the rounds one more time at the Marriott. It's after 10:00 p.m., and I'm skeptical as to whether anyone will still be there. Oops. There's Jack McKeon smoking his cigar out in front of the hotel. There's Stan Williams sitting on a bench, smoking a cigarette. We walk inside and can't help but notice Tommy Lasorda holding court with a few admirers. Felipe Alou, looking taller than I would have expected, and Dusty Baker enter the lobby.

    Man, this is good stuff. But, wait, it's now 11:30 and I gotta get home before I turn into a pumpkin. Besides, I'm going back tomorrow. I wonder if everyone will still be standing in their same places? I don't know, but I can't wait to find out.

    WTNYDecember 10, 2004
    The Minors in the Major Moves
    By Bryan Smith

    I?m a little late to get this up today, but I wanted to give you guys something to read over Winter Meetings weekend. I?ll be back on Monday with a full Rule 5 breakdown, but for now, let?s look at the Major League world, and see how it might be affecting some our favorite young guns.

    - In the last few days, the hot name on the block has been the disgruntled Tim Hudson. I?m not sold on the fact that Beane will trade his star right-hander, but I wouldn?t put it past him either. Beane will only, and I mean only, make a trade that improves Oakland from a baseball perspective. He?s good enough to not let his economic handicap get in the way of winning. And this coming from a guy that doesn?t like him.

    With that being said, do not expect the Baltimore Orioles to be landing Huddy this weekend, or any weekend in the near future. The Baltimore Sun (sorry, no link) was talking about a deal in which two pitchers and one hitter would go the A?s in exchange for Hudson. The rumor I heard was B.J. Ryan, Erik Bedard and Nick Markakis. While Ryan and Bedard make sense, as would Jerry Hairston, to think the O?s are going to be parting with the former Junior College Player of the Year is ludicrous.

    Very few prospects in the minors should be considered as ?untouchable? as Markakis. This isn?t necessarily solely reflective of his talents, but surprisingly also his heritage. Like owner Peter Angelos, Markakis is Greek, and was a part of the Olympic team that Angelos helped fund and put together this year. He is a favorite of the ownership, which like the Mets runs the franchise, and will not soon be dealt.

    The rumor that does make sense for Oakland is the Marcus Giles and Dan Meyer rumor that the Atlanta Journal Constitution speculated to. Even though Mark Ellis is coming back, Giles would put a solid bat in the one spot in the lineup that is really missing a lot of lumber. Meyer would go into the rotation, likely putting up similar (if not better) statistics to Mark Redman, 2004 version. The only scary aspect of this trade for Oakland is that it would make their rotation have two rookies, Meyer and Joe Blanton. With the problems that Oakland pitching had last year, are they really ready to trust Curt Young with two rookies?

    As for Atlanta, I?m not completely sure whether I think this trade makes sense or not. Hudson would immediately be put on top of the rotation, being the best starter in Atlanta since Greg Maddux of old. If JC is right, and Mazzone makes the .55-.85 difference in ERA, the two could put up some sick numbers next season. I would then let Smoltz move back to the rotation, and have a staff look like this: Hudson, Smoltz, Hampton, Thomson, Ramirez. Then, move Capellan to the bullpen, where he and Juan Cruz can duke it out for the closer spot.

    - There is no question that a few of the signings this week will have a major impact on the future of a few minor league stars, at least within their organization. It should come as no shock that one of the teams I am talking about are the Yankees, who don?t exactly look within their own system for help too often anymore. While two million dollars per season isn?t too much, the Yankees sent a resounding message to Robinson Cano (playing quite well in winter ball) that he?s not wanted here. I can guarantee that Cano would put up similar, if not better numbers, than Womack if given the chance. Same can be said for Brad Halsey and Eric Milton, but who listens to me?

    Troy Glaus to Arizona, who had that one guessed right? Last year they expected a little controversy at third base with Chad Tracy and Shea Hillenbrand, but I guess they went with option C here. Glaus is great, but like Luis Gonzalez, might be needing a move over to first base. If they both do that becomes quite the problem, no matter how many outfield prospects they have. I can?t really see the Diamondbacks trading Tracy anywhere, but if you are Arizona, what do you do with him?

    Philadelphia looks to be realizing their chances at winning a pennant, and much less a division, are slowly slipping away, and are currently executing the now or never approach. The offense should slip a bit every season, as their horses (Thome, Lieberthal, Abreu) are on the inevitable downward path of their career, though no one told Bobby yet. Jon Lieber?s signing shows Ed Wade?s now-or-never approach, one that will leave Gavin Floyd in AAA to start the season. If it?s really all or nothing in 2005, why not try and make Randy Johnson work by offering Howard, Byrd, and Floyd/Myers?

    Finally, the jaw-dropping Jermaine Dye to Chicago move actually does have an effect on Brian Anderson, the White Sox best prospect. If the team does not trade Carlos Lee, which is of course a possibility, then Anderson appears to be a bit blocked. I think the hole will open up in 2006, when Anderson will be ready anyway, but this definitely will keep a chain on him this season. Slow and steady wins the race though, so this might be the best thing for Anderson after all.

    I know this week has been a bit cheap on content people, but come back next week, as I?ll be much better about the number and the length of articles. Enjoy the Winter Meeting Madness.

    Baseball BeatDecember 10, 2004
    It's That Time of the Year (Again)
    By Rich Lederer

    After I wrote Only The Lonely: The Hall of Fame Trials and Tribulations of Bert Blyleven last December, I sent emails with the link to my article to two members of the Baseball Writers Association of America with Hall of Fame voting privileges. One of the recipients of my email was a well-known veteran writer and the other a lesser-known member casting his first ballot.

    As it turned out, the rookie sportswriter (Jeff Peek of the Traverse City Record-Eagle) wrote back and told me that he made a mistake not voting for Blyleven.

    Hi, Richard: Thanks for the e-mail. I read your piece on Blyleven with great interest. Your research is outstanding, and your column is must-reading for every voting member of the BBWAA. Let's face it, I blew it on Blyleven. He'll get my vote next year.

    That email made my day. OK, it made my year! I was thrilled that a voting member of the Hall of Fame took the time to read my article, re-evaluate Blyleven's qualifications, and agree to support his candidacy the following year.

    In a follow-up email, Jeff wrote the following:

    I don't have a problem admitting I'm wrong. I'm more interested in getting it right- even if it's the second time around.

    On the other hand, the more experienced writer (Bill Conlin of the Philadelphia Daily News) told me that he didn't vote for Blyleven but left open the possibility that the best pitcher eligible for the Hall of Fame could make it in some day.

    I think (Blyleven) will get in in an off year the way Carter did last year. It's really tough when an Eck and Molitor come along because a lot of us - including me - tend to vote for fewer guys rather than clutter the ballot with names you know have no shot that particular year. That's what happens when guys stay eligible 15 years.

    Well, with that in mind, I figured that Conlin might see fit to vote for Blyleven this time around. The ballot includes just 27 names this year--one of the smallest ever--with only one newly eligible player likely to get 75% of the votes. As a result, I decided to check in with Bill to see if he had changed his mind about Blyleven.

    I don't plan to vote for Blyleven. He was not a dominant pitcher of his era, merely a very good one. Take away the final 7 hanging-around years of Jim Kaat and you have a record very close to Blyleven's and I have never voted for Kaat.

    Upon receipt of his email, I thought to myself, "Hmmm. Not a 'dominant pitcher,' ehh? All right, let me see if this approach will resonate with him."

    Out of curiosity, did you vote for Don Sutton when he was on the ballot? If so, do you believe Sutton was a better pitcher than Blyleven? You had mentioned to me last year that you thought Blyleven might make it in on a down year, which both 2005 and 2006 have the potential of being. Do you still believe that?

    Ten minutes later, I heard the familiar "You've Got Mail."

    No, he hasn't had enough support. . .I voted for Sutton every year he was eligible. He won the same number of games as Ryan in three fewer seasons and had 36 fewer losses. That was the crux of my NOT voting for Ryan his first year of eligibilty. If Sutton didn't even come close his first year with the same number of wins in less time and significantly fewer losses, why should Ryan be rewarded with first ballot election. The answer, of course, was the no-hitters he threw after age 40 that obscured a string of every (sic) ordinary seasons. If he had mastered the art of pitching the way Clemens has, he would have won 400 games.

    Man oh man. There is a lot of stuff wrapped up in that one, short response. I mean, that's a beaut. That damn Ryan. Why couldn't he throw 100-mph with one of the best curve balls in the game and "master the art of pitching" like Clemens? What a waste of talent! 324 wins (13th on the all-time list), 61 shutouts (7th), a record 7 no-hitters, 5714 Ks (including 11 strikeout titles and a single-season high of 383 in 1973), 8 top ten Cy Young Award finishes, 2 ERA titles, and a lifetime ERA of 3.19. That ain't a bad resume in my book.

    I sent Bill an email that I knew wouldn't qualify for the "third time's a charm" award.

    Re Ryan...so, you were the guy, ehh? 98.79% of the voters saw fit to write his name on their ballots and only about five saw fit not to...That puts you in some pretty unique company, I must say.

    Bill shot back:

    7 and that's an old story which I addressed in two widely distributed columns and I'm not going to re-open it with the likes of you. . .

    I don't mean to split hairs here but the actual number is six. Even Bill pointed that out in an article in December 1999, defending his decision not to vote for Ryan. But whether there were five, six, or seven stubborn voters back then isn't really the point here. I was more interested in talking about Blyleven, but I don't think he wants to take up that subject "with the likes of me."

    Last year, our email exchange ended with Bill telling me that he didn't do "cybergeek stuff." This year, it came to a halt because of who I am or who I'm not. However, I'm not deterred in the least and am hopeful that one day it will conclude with, "You know, Rich, I think you've made a good case for Blyleven. 5th in career strikeouts, 9th in shutouts, 24th in wins, and 19th in ERA vs. the league average. That's one heckuva record. He's got my vote this year."

    A man can dream, can't he?

    WTNYDecember 08, 2004
    Flawed
    By Bryan Smith

    Speaking for myself, I all too often fall into the trap of forgetting about players when they spend an entire, or the majority, of the season on the DL. But I?ve kept some notes, and with the help of the guru (Mr. Will Carroll), today will be spent on a few players that you might have lost interest in, and try to put their placement in both rankings and within their organization into perspective.

    The fact that Cole Hamels and Greg Miller were difficult to rank last year only makes it harder to do so now. Miller?s arm was reported hurt during Spring Training last season, long after many prospect reports had come out declaring him a legitimate top ten prospect. This was due to a fantastic 2003 season, where Miller had turned on the gas halfway through the season in the FSL, ending the season spectacularly in with four great starts.

    He had been considered a stretch when Logan White took the hometown southpaw with the 31st overall choice in the 2002 draft, capitalizing that few teams saw the improvements Miller made shortly before being drafted. With size, power, and four pitches, Miller?s domination went from his first days in the Pioneer League up to his injury. While I did have Edwin Jackson a bit higher in my rankings last season, Miller was my second rated pitcher in February.

    Hamels was the more obvious selection in 2002, he had long been heralded pitching in San Diego. Despite not having the power and size of Miller, Hamels had many ways to make up for it on scouting reports. Will has told me how highly he thinks of Hamels pitching mechanics, calling them the best in the minor leagues. His change up was said by Delmon Young to be the nastiest pitch that he had seen, which is extremely high praise.

    No matter how you slice them, Hamels and Miller made up two of the top three left-handed prospects last season (throw Kazmir in the middle). According to Will, Miller?s ?shoulder wasn't bad when they went in, but he's still young and having shoulder problems.? Obviously Miller is going to take a beating in my rankings for losing a season, but he?ll be a 20-year-old in AA with good stuff next year. As for Cole, ?[he] appears to be fragile. He'll need a season plus of healthy pitching in the minors to regain elite status.? So in the end, this tells us that Miller should still be over Cole, but by a narrow margin.

    A pitcher that will end up a little farther down the ranking list, but still a personal favorite of mine is Angel Guzman. What does that tell you? That being a personal favorite in my book takes little else than playing for Iowa, West Tenn, Daytona or?Peoria. I never bought into the Baseball America, ?Guzman could advance like Prior? lingo, but his talents are obvious. While doing rehab work in the FSL this year, Guzman showed he is a great prospect, posting a 40/0 K/BB.

    Will points out to me that Guzman has a ?frayed labrum, not torn.? It may or may not increase the likelihood of later tearing the labrum I?m told, oftentimes depending on the player. Guzman will begin the year in a fairly stacked AAA rotation (an organizational depth chart is on my to-do list), and according to Carroll, ?push [Rusch] by midseason.? But don?t tell Dusty Cubs fans, we do want to keep Guzman rather than trade him to the Braves for say, Andy Pratt.

    There are two offensive players I want to talk about, both currently sporting injuries to their shoulders. Val Majewski became noticed this season when posting good numbers in the Eastern League, later earning a trip up to Baltimore for September. Unfortunately, his visit did no go as planned, as Majewski would tear his labrum. Will told me that this is the same injury that Richie Sexson had last year, but that apparently Val is healthy. Carroll also says that this is what happened to J.J. Hardy, player #2, two years ago, and Hardy did not play baseball this season.

    I?ve often referred to Hardy as being greatly overrated, serving up the Royce Clayton comparison last year. I got knocked for this comp, and while I hate injuries to prove me right, the chance Hardy does not become the All-Star that some predicted has risen greatly in the last year. He was beginning to prove me wrong, showing increased power in Indianapolis, before his shoulder injury reoccurred. The Brewers will send him back to AAA next season, in hopes that he joins Milwaukee some time around the same time as Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder. While I understand the love that Hardy gets, mark my words, he will not be a .275 hitter in the Bigs.

    As for Majewski, his injury has left me quite confused as to where I should slot him. If the truth is that he?s really healthy, and he continues on his previously good-looking path, he?s a legitimate top 50 prospect. If the shoulder further decreases his power, already not that good, he brings nothing to the table that Larry Bigbie does not. And as Will told me, ?he?s an O, so who knows?? Apparently, Baltimore isn?t too direct in disclosing about injuries.

    In the end, Val will have a place on my top 75 prospect list. I have to try and balance the two choices, knowing I could look stupid either way. But his ceiling was always a bit limited, so I?m not too worried. Expect the Orioles to send Majewski to AAA after some good ol? extended spring training, where he proves whether his worth justifies Bigbie?s exit.

    Of the 5, my ranking will be Miller, Hamels, Guzman, Majewski and Hardy. The first two and second two are pretty close together, while Hardy will be left off the top 75 entirely. If you have any questions on these five or any other injured minor leaguer, drop a comment.

    Baseball BeatDecember 08, 2004
    Wade Boggs: A First-Ballot Hall of Famer (Part Two)
    By Rich Lederer

    In Part One, I compared Wade Boggs to the first-ballot Hall of Fame honorees over the past decade to determine whether he was worthy of being selected on his initial attempt. I believe the answer was a resounding yes.

    In Part Two, I am going to wade through Boggs' background; present his accomplishments; review his standing among third basemen, modern-day (1900-present) players, and post-expansion era hitters; and discuss his two most similar comps.

    Boggs was born in 1958 in Omaha, Nebraska. He was an all-state kicker at Tampa's Plant High School and an All-America shortstop at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa.

    Drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the seventh round of the 1976 amateur draft, Boggs toiled in the minors for six years -- including two at "AA" Bristol (Eastern League) and two at "AAA" Pawtuckett (International). After an inauspicious start (.263 with no home runs) at short-season "A" Elmira (New York-Penn League), he hit over .300 in five straight minor league campaigns and won the International League batting title in 1981.

    Stuck behind Carney Lansford (the reigning American League batting champ) at third base, Boggs played more games at first than third his rookie season. He hit .349 (which, at the time, was the highest average for a first-year player appearing in more than 100 games -- since broken by Ichiro Suzuki, .350 in 2001) and finished third in the 1982 A.L. ROY balloting.

    The Red Sox traded Lansford to the Oakland A's for Tony Armas in December 1982, leaving no doubt who the team's starting 3B was going to be in 1983. Boggs rewarded management's faith by leading the league in average (.361), OBP (.444), and times on base (303); placing second in OPS (.931), hits (210), and doubles (44); third in BB (92); and seventh in runs (100). In the 1984 Baseball Abstract, Jim Baker labeled it "one of the best seasons ever without making the All-Star team."

    Boggs' career was off and running. He ended up playing 18 seasons in the big leagues -- 11 with the Red Sox, 5 with the New York Yankees, and 2 with his hometown Tampa Bay Devil Rays -- and, in the process, became one of the best third basemen in the history of the game. From 1982-1999, the sweet-swinging, left-handed hitter achieved the following:

  • One of 25 players with 3,000 hits.
  • Five-time A.L. batting champion (1983, 1985-88). Only eight players -- Ty Cobb (12), Tony Gwynn and Honus Wagner (8 each), Rod Carew, Rogers Hornsby and Stan Musial (7 each) and Ted Williams (6) -- won more titles.
  • Hit over .360 four times and better than .300 15x.
  • Set a modern-day major league record with seven consecutive 200-hit seasons (1983-89).
  • Scored at least 100 runs (1983-89) and had 40 or more doubles seven seasons in a row (1985-91).
  • Led the league in OBP six times, including five straight (1983, 1985-89).
  • Finished in the top three in AVG and OBP every year from 1983-91, except 1990 when he ended up fifth and sixth, respectively.
  • Most remarkable -- and perhaps least known -- accomplishment was leading the league in times on base eight consecutive years (1983-90), an achievement unmatched by any other player in baseball annals.
  • Shares major league single-season record for most games with at least one hit (135).
  • Won two Gold Glove awards (1994 -- when he was the oldest first-time winner -- and 1995).
  • Selected to 12 consecutive All-Star Games (1985-96).
  • Member of 1996 World Series championship team. (Who could ever forget Boggs' victory lap on horseback at Yankee Stadium after winning the World Series in 1996?)

    Last but not least, Boggs holds the record for the most consecutive seasons with 200 hits and 100 walks with four. Lou Gehrig (1930-32, 1936-37) and Babe Ruth (1923-24) are the only other players to have had back-to-back seasons of 200 hits and 100 walks. Anytime you're number one on a list of three players and the other two are Gehrig and Ruth, it might be safe to assume that we're talking about a pretty extraordinary player.

    * * * * * * *

    The red-haired, mustachioed Boggs was as methodical as he was consistent. A perfectionist with superstitious work habits, he awoke at the same time every morning, ate chicken before every game, and took exactly 150 ground balls during infield practice. He stepped into the batting cage at 5:17 and ran wind sprints at 7:17. His daily rituals were such that a scoreboard operator in Toronto tried to hex him one time by flipping the stadium clock directly from 7:16 to 7:18. Boggs was also known for taking the same route to and from his position in the field and for drawing the Hebrew word "Chai" (meaning "life") in the batter's box before each at-bat.

    More fortuitous than superstitious, Boggs banged out hit #3000 one day after Gwynn and on the same weekend in which Mark McGwire slugged his 500th HR. Ironically, the singles- and doubles-hitting Boggs is the only player to connect for a homer on his 3000th hit. He doubled in his first at-bat the next day, leaving to a standing ovation while his sister watched him play in person for the first time.

    The Devil Rays held Wade Boggs Day later that month on former teammate Carl Yastrzemski's 60th birthday. Boggs was honored by family and friends as well as his first minor-league manager and hitting coach, the scout who signed him, and an 80-year-old Williams, who made the trip despite failing health.

    "You don't get 3,000 hits in this game, buddy, without being one hell of a hitter. I am really happy to be here. Boggs earned my applause."

    The groundskeepers dug up and presented the home plate that Boggs knelt down and kissed after circling the bases for his 3000th hit. Boggs played his final game five days later, ending his season (and career) prematurely with an injured knee.

    Boggs retired with the following Hall of Fame qualifications:

    Black Ink: Batting - 37 (39) (Average HOFer ~ 27)
    Gray Ink: Batting - 138 (109) (Average HOFer ~ 144)
    HOF Standards: Batting - 57.5 (33) (Average HOFer ~ 50)
    HOF Monitor: Batting - 267.0 (16) (Likely HOFer > 100)
    Overall Rank in parentheses.

    Boggs exceeds the average HOFer in three of the four categories. He barely misses in Gray Ink but laps the field in HOF Monitor, ranking #16 all time.

    The man who wore uniform numbers 26 and 12 throughout his career also compares favorably in Win Shares with 394 vs. 337 for the average HOFer. He is tied for 50th all time, 38th among non-pitchers, and 4th among third basemen (behind Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, and George Brett). By the way, Boggs was so fond of the latter that he named his son Brett and asked George to be the godfather.

                AVG     OBP     SLG     OPS     OPS+
    Boggs      .328    .415    .443    .858     130     
    Brett      .305    .369    .487    .857     135
    Mathews    .271    .376    .509    .885     143
    Schmidt    .267    .380    .527    .908     147
                TOB         TB
    Boggs      4445       4064            
    Brett      4283       5044
    Mathews    3785       4349
    Schmidt    3820       4404

    No matter whether one prefers basic counting stats, rate stats, more advanced metrics, peak value, or career value, the conclusion is the same: Schmidt is the best third baseman of all time while Brett, Boggs, and Mathews rank second through fourth in whatever order you like. I would argue that Frank "Home Run" Baker is worthy of the number five spot based on his superb peak value and would rate Brooks Robinson and Ron Santo sixth and seventh.

    Since 1900, Boggs ranks 39th in Runs Created Above Average and 26th in Runs Created Above Position. His RCAA puts him ahead ahead of Carew, Roberto Clemente, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Ralph Kiner, Chuck Klein, Paul Molitor, Eddie Murray, Al Simmons, Duke Snider, Willie Stargell, Bill Terry, Billy Williams, Dave Winfield, and Yastrzemski.

    Boggs ranks third all-time as a Red Sox (behind Williams and Yaz) in RCAA, second in RCAP (behind only Williams), and fourth among 3B in RCAA (behind Mathews, Schmidt, and Brett).

    Since 1961, Boggs ranks 18th in RCAA and 6th in RCAP. That's right, only five players in the post-expansion era have created more runs above the average at their position than Boggs. The five? Barry Bonds, Joe Morgan, Rickey Henderson, Frank Thomas, and Schmidt.

    * * * * * * *

    If you look up Wade Boggs in the Thesarus, you might find the following:

    Entry: Boggs.
    Part of Speech: Proper noun.
    Definition: Left-handed, high-average, line-drive hitter with good bat control and eye.
    Synonyms: Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn.

    If you look up Boggs on Baseball-Reference.com, you will find the following:

    Similar Batters

    Rod Carew (881) *
    Tony Gwynn (851)
    Paul Waner (828) *
    Sam Rice (807) *
    Zack Wheat (802) *
    Frankie Frisch (798) *
    Roberto Alomar (778)
    Tim Raines (768)
    Jimmy Ryan (765)
    Charlie Gehringer (757) *

    *denotes Hall of Fame

    Boggs, Carew, and Gwynn are all from the same school of hitting. They each accumulated at least 3000 hits while winning a total of 20 batting titles during their careers.

                AVG     OBP     SLG     OPS     OPS+
    Boggs      .328    .415    .443    .858     130     
    Carew      .328    .393    .429    .822     131
    Gwynn      .338    .388    .459    .847     132
                TOB         TB
    Boggs      4445       4064            
    Carew      4096       3998
    Gwynn      3955       4259

    Three peas in a pod. The bottom line is if you like Carew or Gwynn, you gotta like Boggs (and vice versa).

    Wade Boggs. 3000 hits + five-time batting champ + one of the top four third basemen of all time + one of the top 40 non-pitchers ever = first-ballot Hall of Famer.

  • Baseball BeatDecember 06, 2004
    Wade Boggs: A First-Ballot Hall of Famer (Part One)
    By Rich Lederer

    The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) mailed out the 2005 Hall of Fame ballots to more than 500 voting members during the past week. The list of candidates features 12 players who are eligible for the first time plus 15 holdovers from the 2004 ballot in which Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley gained election. The voting results will be announced on Tuesday, January 4, 2005.

    According to the Rules for Election to the Hall of Fame, "voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."

    There is a newcomer whose record and contributions to his teams rank among the best ever. His career totals speak for themselves.

    Wade Anthony Boggs
    Bats Left, Throws Right
    Height 6' 2", Weight 197 lb.
    Born: 6/15/58, Omaha, NE
    '82-'92 BOS, '93-'97 NYY, '98-'99 TB

    CAREER TOTALS

              G    AB     R     H   2B  3B   HR   RBI    BB   SO  SB
    Boggs  2440  9180  1513  3010  578  61  118  1014  1412  745  24
      AVG     OBP     SLG     OPS     OPS+
     .328    .415    .443    .858     130

    Wade Boggs averaged 200 hits and 94 walks per 162 games for his entire career. Only Lou Gehrig (204, 113) has averaged more hits and walks per 162 games. Richie Ashburn (190, 89), Eddie Collins (190, 86), Charlie Gehringer (198, 83), Stan Musial (194, 86), and Tris Speaker (204, 80) were close but not quite at Boggs' level in terms of hits and walks.

    There have been others, of course, who have exceeded Boggs' averages in one or the other by a wide margin, such as Ty Cobb (224), Rogers Hornsby (210), Joe Jackson (216), Nap Lajoie (212), Al Simmons (214), and George Sisler (222) in hits and Max Bishop (140), Barry Bonds (137), Rickey Henderson (115), Mickey Mantle (117), Mark McGwire (114), Joe Morgan (114), Babe Ruth (133), Frank Thomas (122), Jim Thome (117), Ted Williams (143), and Eddie Yost (124) in walks.

    In short, Boggs was an on-base machine. To wit, Boggs ranks among the top 22 in six different hitting categories (involving getting on base) among all players since the turn of the last century.

    All-Time Career Totals and Rankings

    Hits                3010       20th
    Doubles              578       12th
    Walks               1412       22nd
    Times on Base       4445       17th
    On Base Pct         .415       17th
    Batting Avg         .328       20th

    As you can see, we're not talking just about a Hall of Famer here. We're looking at one of the truly elite players in the history of the game. Boggs ranks among the top four third basemen of all time and the greatest 20 non-pitchers from the post-expansion era (more on both in Part Two, which is scheduled to run tomorrow). He is a legitimate first-ballot HOFer, a player in which there should be ZERO questions about his qualifications.

    During the past 10 years, the following players were elected in their first year of eligibility:

    Year       Player             Pct
    2004       Paul Molitor       85.2
    2003       Eddie Murray       85.3
    2002       Ozzie Smith        91.7
    2001       Dave Winfield      84.4
               Kirby Puckett      82.1
    2000       N/A
    1999       George Brett       98.2
               Robin Yount        77.5
    1998       N/A
    1997       N/A
    1996       N/A
    1995       Mike Schmidt       96.5

    *excludes pitchers

    The eight first-ballot honorees over the past ten years have garnered an average of 87.6% of the vote. Let's take a look to see if Boggs is worthy of a similar percentage of the total vote.

    RATE STATS

                   AVG     OBP     SLG     OPS     OPS+
    Boggs         .328    .415    .443    .858     130       
    Molitor       .306    .369    .448    .817     122
    Murray        .287    .359    .476    .836     129        
    Smith         .262    .337    .328    .666      87
    Winfield      .283    .353    .475    .827     129
    Puckett       .318    .360    .477    .837     124
    Brett         .305    .369    .487    .857     135
    Yount         .285    .342    .430    .772     115
    Schmidt       .267    .380    .527    .908     147
    
    

    Wtd Avg .293 .363 .454 .817 124

    Boggs has the best career batting average and on-base percentage. He is just below the mean for slugging average and is above the norm for OPS and OPS+. Mike Schmidt's greatness stands out as well.

    COUNTING STATS

                   TOB        TB
    Boggs         4445      4064
    Molitor       4460      4854 
    Murray        4606      5397
    Smith         3565      3084
    Winfield      4351      5221
    Puckett       2810      3453
    Brett         4283      5044
    Yount         4156      4730
    Schmidt       3820      4404
    
    

    Average 4055 4472

    Eddie Murray rules here. It didn't hurt that Steady Eddie is the only player in the group to play in 3000 games. Boggs is about 10% above the average in times on base and 9% below the average in total bases in 6% fewer games.

    In addition to the offensive measurements listed above, I thought it would be instructive to analyze these nine players by a more comprehensive system such as Win Shares (which takes into account, among other things, defensive contributions).

    WIN SHARES

                   WS     >30     >20      WS/100
    Boggs         394       5      10        16.2
    Molitor       414       2      10        15.4
    Murray        437       3      15        14.4
    Smith         325       1       8        12.6
    Winfield      415       2      12        14.0
    Puckett       281       2       9        15.8
    Brett         432       4      11        16.0
    Yount         423       4      10        14.8
    Schmidt       467       9      14        19.4
    
    

    Average 399 4 11 15.4

    Boggs is just about in line with the norm in terms of the number of Win Shares and seasons with over 30 and 20 but is nearly one full win share per 100 games above his peers (ranking second behind Schmidt). Michael Jack stands out once again, leading in three of the four ways I chose to use Win Shares.

    I would conclude from this study that Boggs is not only fully qualified but is likely to receive close to 90% of the vote. Only 15 non-pitchers -- Cobb, Ruth, Honus Wagner, Williams, Musial, Willlie Mays, Hank Aaron, Brooks Robinson, Johnny Bench, Carl Yastrzemski, Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson, Schmidt, George Brett, and Ozzie Smith -- have ever received such a high percentage of the total so it would be noteworthy if Boggs could reach that level. Hard to believe that more than 10% of the voters thought Joe DiMaggio (twice), Mantle, Frank Robinson, and Morgan weren't worthy of the HOF.

    Is Boggs as good as DiMaggio, Mantle, (Frank) Robinson, and Morgan? No, he is a cut below those four greats. However, I have no doubt that Boggs was a better player than (Brooks) Robinson -- which is significant given that they played the same position -- Carew, and Smith and is arguably in the same ballpark as Yastrzemski, Jackson, and even Brett.

    It is also important to note that voters have become more liberal over the years with respect to voting for players who are eligible for the first time. In other words, I am quite confident that if DiMaggio, Mantle, Robinson, and Morgan -- as well as Collins, Jimmie Foxx, Hornsby, Mel Ott, and Speaker -- were put up to a vote today that they would indeed get at least a 90% share.

    I think it is safe to say that Boggs will easily exceed the minimum threshold of 75% and could get as much as 90% of the vote. I would put the over/under at 88%.

    Tomorrow: Part Two. A more in depth review of Boggs' accomplishments plus how he ranks among the all-time great third basemen and post-expansion era hitters.

    WTNYDecember 06, 2004
    Overrated, Like USC in the BCS 3
    By Bryan Smith

    As I slowly trot towards producing my top 75 prospects list (yes, I know I keep teasing, my hope has always been mid-January), I have realized that my own views on prospects are sometimes quite off. My instincts, the prospect list I sat down and made myself after the season, has held up fairly strong, but I think two main surprises are worth writing about.

    In September, I wrote an article entitled Los Tres Enemigos, about the threesome of Jeff Francoeur, Jeremy Hermida and Felix Pie. The last paragraph of this article reads as follows:


    Barring injury, I dont question that these three players will all be in the National League by 2007. Each should be great, though Hermida needs more power, Pie more polish and Francoeur more discipline. But age tends to help all three of those attributes, so I expect them all to start sliding towards stardom. And who knows, maybe my grouping will be grouped in the 2010 NL All-Star team together?

    Right now, only three months later, I would like to retract what I said. Sure, both Jeremy Hermida and Jeff Francoeur are real, star-studded prospects, but one is just not like the other. Felix Pie is the sore thumb, the eyesore, the one not destined for a headline-catching career.

    Since the age of 17, Pie has been hyped up by the media and Cubs organization alike. His story, of a very humbling beginning in the sport of baseball, was noteworthy enough to be remembered by lots of people. What we have fallen guilty to though, has been to look at these numbers, and assume that Pie was destined for the superstar fate of many raw Dominican players before him. What I am slowly coming to realize, is that is not true.

    It first started to hit me last year that maybe Pie wasnt quite the next Vladimir Guerrero, but better suited for a leadoff spot. I guess a .388 slugging percentage, even in the Midwest League, will do that to an evaluator. Maybe it was the fact that his home runs doubled in 74 less at-bats, but I continued to think quite highly of Pie. In a state of reflection, I have realized that my thinking of him is far overrated.

    This is mainly because that when his .441 slugging impressed me this year, it was bloated. As was his .569 SLG in the Arizona Summer League, when he was put on the prospect map. And even this, so was his scarily low .388 slugging percentage. These numbers are higher because triples take at least 25% of Pies extra-base hits. In the AZL, they took up an astounding 39.4%.

    The problem with these numbers, is that triples tend to go down when the level goes up. In the FSL, the average team hit 34.42 triples last season, where the average MLB team 29.93 in about 40 more games.

    Pie does have insanely fast raw speed, which also led to his career-high 32 stolen bases last year. I do think that will transfer into a lot of triples, but probably not one every 43.1 at-bats, like he did in the Florida State League. Only two hitters, speedsters Carl Crawford and Chone Figgins, tripled at a higher rate last season. If we assume Pie to be in the next tier, the #3-7 speedsters, hell triple at a 1/50-55AB next year.

    While I agree this wont have a huge impact on his slugging, it will have some. His plate discipline isnt that good, and he strikes out too much. To me, he profiles to be a .280/.340/.400 hitter in the Majors. Not terrible, but definitely lower than what many evaluators are predicting.

    But so Im not going too far on the ledge, let me say that this will not necessarily stay this way. Few players reach AA at the age of 20, so there is no denying Pie is special. The question, is how special.

    To me, that same question currently exists for Carlos Quentin, former first-round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks. While Pie is boasting a slugging highly based on triples, Quentins OBP is jacked on hit-by-pitches. This season, between the hitter-friendly California and Texas Leagues (and even more hitter-friendly Lancaster and El Paso stadiums), Quentin put together a .435 OBP.

    In doing so, Carlos Quentin was hit by 43 pitches. If he did that in the Major Leagues, that would represent the second-highest total since 1900. Had Carlos dropped to normal high-Major numbers, say 15 HBP, his on-base percentage would be .404. Basically .031 points of OBP, at least, are reliant on being hit by pitches.

    Like triples, hit by pitches go down as triples go up. While I did the calculations one day, Ive since lost them, but I can promise that there is a real correlation between level and HBP, going from a lot during A-ball, to very few in the Majors. But at the same time, I dont find it any coincidence that the same players are often at the top of the HBP leaderboards.

    Ron Hunt, Don Baylor, Craig Biggio, Hughie Jennings. Nowadays, we have Jason Kendall and Jason LaRue. The same guysalways. Is this a talent?

    To me, Quentin is most likely to be a .300/.375/.475 hitter in the Bigs. Again, it could be worse, depending on how much of a difference those Arizona minor league parks make.

    OK, neither Pie nor Quentin in my top 40. Crazy?

    WTNYDecember 03, 2004
    Mix And Match
    By Bryan Smith

    For those of you that were sick of hearing Barry Bonds name before this story broke, here is some weekend reading material.

    Though the story was broken first here on A-B over at the Beat, I wanted to touch on the signing of Kendry Morales. In case you havent read Rich or Transaction Guy recently, the Anaheim Angels announced a six-year signing of Morales, a switch-hitting Cuban 21-year-old first baseman, yesterday. The terms call for a $3 million signing bonus, with incentives built in that could make the contract worth ten million dollars.

    Given the lack of success from other Cuban signees, this move is a large risk on the part of the Angels. But according to Scouting Director Eddie Bane, who has apparently had Morales on his radar since the age of 16, it is a very calculated risk. During the conference call announcing this signing, Bane said that Morales has faced Scott Kazmir and a few other players currently in the Major Leagues.

    Everything I have heard about Morales screams talent. He is supposed to have plus-plus power, and his numbers in the cleanup spot with the Cuban National Team are fantastic. He did not participate in the most recent Olympic Games, because he had already left in America.

    My policy when doing my formal prospect rankings is to never include players with no professional experience, eliminating foreign signees and recent draftees alike. Because of this policy, Morales will not be in my top 75 prospects list (I promise, it will come sooner or later). If so, I cant say I know where he would fit in. My guess is somewhere after Kotchman and Fielder, but before James Loney and Jason Stokes.

    Speaking of Kotchman, he has a spot in all of this, because as said by Mr. Lederer, With the addition of Morales, Casey Kotchman becomes more expendable than ever. I have always thought that the Angels could offer Arizona the best package of any Unit-Contender. If I were the Diamondbacks, I would take a Kotchman, Ervin Santana, Juan Rivera package in a second.

    Rivera would provide a replacement, and an improvement, over the departing Danny Bautista. While the Diamondbacks are currently flush in outfield prospects between Josh Kroeger, Conor Jackson, Carlos Quentin and Jon Zeringue, but Rivera is an extremely safe bet. Kotchman would immediately be inserted at first base, providing an improvement on Lyle Overbay, who they unfortunately traded for Richie Sexson a year ago. And Santana, while not currently ready, would become the Diamondbacks best pitching prospect.

    At the same time, Im just not sure I would make this offer if I were Bill Stoneman. More than any other prospect, Casey Kotchman is the surest bet to reach his ceiling, though we wonder if that tops out at Sean Casey, Will Clark, or something greater. Bane could not think of a comparable player for Morales, which scares me a bit. It has been a year out of organized ball for this kid, to expect him to immediately claim a spot on the Major League roster is expecting way too much.

    *********************

    In a story long developed, but under-reported on my fault, Jeff Allison has announced that he will be back in Spring Training next year. Allison spent the 2004 season not playing, because of a substance abuse issue. Apparently over his addiction, the 2003 first-round pick will try to pick up where he left off as the nations best high school pitcher during the spring of 2003.

    Before Allison got over the addiction, it appeared as both Florida teams would have problems with local legends. Tampa Bay had the best prospect in the game before Josh Hamilton stopped playing organized baseball, of which he has still not returned to. Allison, who posted some of the best numbers Ive ever seen as a high school Senior.

    To me, Allison is a similar player to Scott Kazmir, in the fact that both were legitimate top-five talents that fell into the teens due to signability concerns. Both had insane stuff coming out of high school, and both were two of the top players drafted in their year. If Allison can bounce back, he still could turn into quite the prospect.

    But these kind of stories are larger than baseball, and lets just hope that Allison continues his strong quest to overcome an injury that goes much beyond the body.

    *******************

    OK, and yes, I will give you guys the Winter League update that you deserve. I cant explain why Ive been so quiet on the AFL and on other winter leagues, but I try to give yall an update every now and again

    First of all, we begin in the Venezuelan League, where this year, they will play the whole season. In this years season, Yusmeiro Petit and Alex Romero look to be the two aces. Petit broke out this season with the Mets, showing an increased ability to change speeds and strike out batters. He has continued success in his hometown Venezuelan League, though Im not sure playing extra is the best idea for me.

    As for Romero, hes showing similar power that Alexis Rios showed in the Winter Leagues last year. But I believe this means very little, as Rios brought that power to the Majors not at all, showing less power than just about everyone else in the Majors this season. Im not sure whether he is a good Rule 5 pick or not, but I would love to see what he does in the Eastern League if hes not.

    Since I mentioned a good baseball story in Jeff Allison already, I want to mention that WTNY favorite Rick Ankiel is continuing his return success in the Puerto Rican League. He is second in the league in strikeouts, and while his ERA leaves a little to be desired, his progress is fantastic.

    But it has been the Dominican League that has been the largest haven for prospects. Two players featured in my reliever report, Jose Capellan and Denny Bautista, have been disastrous in the DL, making many wonder why their organizations let them continue pitching. Carlos Lugo, over at Baseball Prospectus, made this comment on Capellan (supporting my relief claim in my mind):


    Jose Capellan had a rough outing Monday against the Estrellas in San Pedro de Macoris. Capellan came into the game with just six hits and two walks allowed in 12 innings, and a 0.75 ERA. But that night the prospect's secondary pitches were not effective, his fastball a couple of miles slower and poorly located. The result was seven runs in an inning and a third, with seven hits allowed. An interesting note on Capellan is that he seems much more bigger than last winter, and bigger than the 6'3", 170 lbs. he's listed at the Register. Capellan must weigh around 200 lbs.

    Cubs prospect Felix Pie is struggling, hardly able to muster a .300 OBP. But the same cannot be said for Joel Guzman, who is hitting over .300, showing his dominance over Pie in prospect terms. Frankly Cub fans, I dont see Pie hitting for power as first projected, and we just better hope he continues walking and provides us with a good leadoff hitter for years to come. Or, at least trade bait.

    Ill do a full-length Dominican report another time, but just wanted to give you guys something to chew on for the weekend.

    WTNYDecember 02, 2004
    Reading Into The Rule (5)
    By Bryan Smith

    Nothing is more confusing in Major League Baseball than the Rule 5 draft. Absolutely nothing. I've heard stories of front offices being confused on the rules, and it's seldom that analysts have a real handle before the draft. I have done some work trying to find the best, and most likely, drafted players.

    Let me first say that this has come both through my own digging through 40-man rosters, and through the great assistance of these articles, one from Rotoworld and the other from Batter's Box. Before I start, let me solve a few misconceptions around the Internet:

    - In Cubdom, Chadd Blasko is NOT eligible for the draft, because he signed a 2003 contract, making this only his second draft since signing. On the other hand, Andy Sisco IS eligible. Also, JK Ryu is not eligible either.
    Update: I am told that Ryu is in fact eligible, making him one of the top 15 draft-eligible players available. His playing career began in 2001, making this upcoming draft his fourth. If teams can ignore his head issues, Ryu could be the most talented, yet Major League ready, player available.

    - Manny Parra of the Brewers is NOT eligible...he was a draft-and-follow, signing in the spring rather than the fall.

    That's all for now, if you have any other questions, drop it in the comments box below this article. Now, let's try to make a list that both has players that should be drafted, and players that will be drafted. To me, Rule 5 picks are often LOOGYs, or 5th OF types. There can be raw infielders and right-handers with good stuff as well. I would always be quick to draft a first-rounder if I was in a Major League front office, spending $50,000 to see how a player will respond to being the 25th man is a worthwhile risk for me.

    Below, are the twelve players that I think should - and could - be drafted in Anaheim.

    1. Andy Sisco- LHP- Chicago Cubs

    Of every player on this list, Andy Sisco provides the largest question mark. First and most glaring to me, a Cubs fan, is why the Hell did Hendry/Fleita choose John Koronka over Sisco? Yikes. Other questions associated with Sisco are, can a pitching coach find the stuff that made this kid a second-round pick? Is this guy the next Ty Howington, destined for an arm problem? And lastly, how can you not risk $50,000 on a 6-9 southpaw?

    To me, Sisco should be the top choice in the draft, no question. Arizona has the first overall selection, and I think the staff there knows how to handle tall southpaws. I mean, Sisco would be the second-tallest left-hander ever in the Majors, behind one Randy Johnson. Forget the poor year in high-A, and the rumored loss of stuff, spend 50k trying to turn Sisco into a power reliever and in the right direction.

    2. Colt Griffin- RHP- Kansas City Royals

    I put Colt second, mostly because he is very similar to Sisco. You know Griffin's name because he is a former top-ten overall choice out of a Texas high school, mostly because he once made radar guns extend their normal width. The knock on him in high school was that he had some control issues, possibly because that fastball was just a little too good. At every level he has spent ten or more innings at, Griffin's BB/9 has been under 5.00 all of ONCE.

    But, what should be noticed, was that once was 2004 in the Texas League. Converted to relief by Royals brass, Griffin had a 4.02 ERA in over 31 innings. He allowed only two home runs, and while his K/9 was under 9.00 (and his fastball well under 100), he showed obvious signs of effectiveness. Will Carroll and I were wondering what Nolan Ryan could do spending a winter with him, but that probably isn't going to happen. Texas does not choose into well in the teens, and some have to wonder if going back home could put pressure on a guy that has had a bit too much of that. Milwaukee, with one of the best pitching coaches in the game, should be selecting him fifth.

    3. Tyler Johnson (LHP) and 4. John Nelson (SS)- St. Louis Cardinals

    To start off my description of these two, let me first totally agree with Matthew Pouliot's take on these players entrance on this list, "Hard to figure what the Cards were thinking adding Mike Mahoney and Scott Seabol but leaving Tyler Johnson and Nelson off their roster." This in my mind is as much a gaffe as Sisco, though I'm not sure either of these players had an immediate - or long-term even - future in this organization.

    Johnson was one of my favorite Cardinals prospects a year ago, which wasn't saying much given the state of the system. He has not had a bad season yet, and his career peripherals are solid: K/9 over 10.00 and a 7.43 H/9. What is worrisome that is during 2003, Johnson spent the second half of his season dominating the Southern League, and then proceeded to worsen a bit there this year. Still, his numbers were good, he's a 23-year-old LOOGY, with one problem: 37 walks in 56.1 innings. Johnson is the first of three LOOGYs on this list, and let me tell you right now, he's my favorite.

    Nelson is really someone the Cardinals should have protected, because they need to see what Southern League OPS fits him as a player better: 615 or 920. That is a massive difference, and to undergo that type of a change in one season screams fluke. But Nelson will turn 26 during Spring Training, and one has to wonder if his .301/.396/.524 line up the middle is for real. He played so little that it might be the case of too small a sample size, but I think his old Midwest League OPS of .802 represents his possible peak as a Major Leaguer. Of course, it could be .550 too. Dan O'Dowd is holding the seventh pick in the draft, and if Bill Bavasi doesn't trump him, the Rockies should try taking Nelson. Also fits: Cincinnati, Minnesota.

    5. Jason Cooper- OF- Cleveland Indians

    It's really hard for me not to endorse someone if Dave Cameron does, because I respect him as much as anyone in the prospect-evaluating market. Over at U.S.S. Mariner, this is what Cameron said of Cooper:


    With most of the 40 man rosters being finalized already, it appears to me that this years potential rule 5 steal is Moses Lakes own Jason Cooper. He had a disappointing season for Double-A Akron, but theres still life in his bat. For those who trumpet the cause of Ryan Howard, Id suggest that Cooper is actually a comparable talent. Hes a 1B/LF with some serious power who can be pitched to and will have to make adjustments against good breaking balls. Hes not a star in the making, but could be a nifty bat off the bench.

    Cameron, an avid Carolina League attendee, probably has confidence in Cooper due to seeing him in 2003, where his OPS was .908 in 67 games. This is a guy that strikes out in 20-25% of his at-bats, but also takes a good share of walks. I don't like the ballpark in Akron that Cooper spent his 2004, and think he could make a Major League team quite happy. I think the Mariners and Mets are two examples of teams that could use this.

    6. Blake McGinley- LHP- New York Mets

    The first of two left-handers that the Mets left available, I think McGinley is one of the safest bets on this list. Look at his 2001 NYPL, his 2002 SAL, and his 2003 FSL numbers, all have ERAs under 2.00. And the story with Blake is this is a guy that strikes out more than nine per game, and will only walk two guys during the same contest. His HR/9 problem in AA this year is quite alarming, but McGinley reminds me of the southpaw version of Cardinal reliever Kiko Calero. He is going to be able to be both a LOOGY and a middle reliever, and will make the Toronto Blue Jays quite happy.

    7. Royce Ring- LHP- New York Mets

    If nothing else, Ring will be one of the many things that White Sox fans can hold against Ken Williams, especially if Joe Blanton contends for Rookie of the Year and the Sox still have fifth starter problems. Williams choice of Ring in the Moneyball draft has became as notorious as it was stupid, and looks even worse since Ring isn't even the player we saw as a shutdown reliever in college. He's not fantastic, but he's Major League ready, and comes at little to no cost. Jim Bowden should be considering him in Washington, allowing him to non-tender some of the overrated LOOGYs in the organization.

    8. Dan Denham- RHP- Cleveland Indians

    I like ex-first rounders, and Denham is that. I like pitchers that do not allow a lot of home runs, and before reaching the Eastern League in the second half of this season, Denham provided that. His stuff right now is 'fringy', and he's running very close to simply being labeled a 'bust'. But I would spend $50,000 seeing if Denham's stuff improves in one or two-inning stints, as I think it might. This is a risk that the Pirates, Orioles or Rangers should be taking.

    9. Corey Myers- C/3B- Arizona Diamondbacks

    If you think that it's embarassing for the Kansas City Royals to possibly lose Colt Griffin, think about this, Corey Myers was the FOURTH player selected in the 1999 draft. After struggling his first few seasons, Myers has allowed some nice Arizona minor league ballparks to boost his numbers. But don't let me make him sound too bad, he was one of the AFL's seven best hitters, and he's making a nice transition to the catching position. He'll probably slip until the second-round of the Rule 5 draft, where J.P. should consider taking him. Others are calling for Mike Napoli, who put up some big numbers thanks to the good ol' California League.

    10. Kevin Barry- RHP- Atlanta Braves

    I'm not sold on Barry, and not sure I would take the risk on him. His BB/9 constant fluctuates between the mid-3.00s and the mid-5.00s, and at each, he's a completely different player. He can be valuable, though he's probably not as good of a choice as organization-mate Buddy Hernandez, who has virtually no chance of being drafted...again. Barry has an 11.94 K/9 since entering professional baseball, and that alone should get him drafted by some organization.

    Finally, I really still like two players that have experience in this process, but still are not convincing organizations of their worth:

    11. Colter Bean- RHP- New York Yankees

    Chosen by Theo Epstein a year ago, you have to wonder if that will be a selling point to GMs this time around. But on the other hand, you have to wonder if his selection was purely to piss Brian Cashman, and whoever runs the Columbus Clippers off. Bean did not stick in Boston, and went back to Columbus, where he put up some crazy, crazy numbers. 109 strikeouts in 82.2 innings, against only 61 hits and 23 walks. I've talked to an unimpressed viewer of Bean, but I remain rather confident that he should get another chance with a different organization. Maybe Theo can talk Mark Shapiro into it.

    Update: Sorry everyone, I am reporting incorrectly listing Bean as Rule 5 eligible. I don't want to add any more misconceptions to an already clouded world, so I can promise you won't be hearing Bean change hands anytime soon.

    12. Marshall McDougall- IF- Texas Rangers

    Let's get over selling McDougall because he once hit four home runs in a game when he was a collegiate, and focus that as a super utility man, Marshall actually has some value. While playing a host of different positions, McDougall hit well in the hitter-friendly parks in the Texas and Pacific Coast Leagues. He has Rob Mackowiak potential, though he still strikes out too much, doesn't walk enough, and could become a bit better defensively. Still, this should be the ideal choice for the Nats, who should be filling up bench spots cheaply.

    Finally, in conclusion, let me give you 5 other names you might hear:

    - David Espinosa (Tigers)- Ex-First Rounder has moved to the outfield, and had a good season in AA. I like Espinosa, but if all he is playing is the outfield, I'm not sure he's worth the selection.

    - Drew Meyer (Rangers)- Can I just say ditto?

    - Alex Romero (Twins)- I've talked about Romero on this site before as a potential breakout player for 2005. A switch-hitter, Romero put up solid numbers in the difficult FSL, while still playing a modest centerfield. I think you have to give this guy time to develop, but someone might not be willing to pass.

    - Mike Stodolka (Royals)- Another old first-rounder, with a left arm that's been through surgery. He started the recovery well last year, but it's probably worth waiting it out on him if you are another organization.

    - Javier Guzman (Pirates)- Hector Luna, Jose Morban, Felix Escalona, Luis Ugueto. You know the names, those real raw shortstops that have no real reason sitting on a roster for six months. They always attract someone...always.

    Hope that was helpful, drop any questions or comments below.

    Baseball BeatDecember 01, 2004
    Angels Pass on Weaver for More Rallies?
    By Rich Lederer

    The Angels reached an agreement today with Kendry Morales, a highly touted prospect who defected from Cuba in June. According to ESPN.com and MLB.com, the length of the contract is said to be for six years. No dollar terms were announced.

    The deal is conditional upon Morales, 21, receiving clearance to enter into a contract with the Angels from the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control. Morales, who was originally granted asylum in the United States, gained residency in the Dominican Republic earlier this week. A Cuban player that acquires residency in a third country can avoid the draft and become immediately eligible for free agent status.

    "We hope it's sooner rather than later," Angels general manager Bill Stoneman said Wednesday on a conference call. "I think he got a pretty nice contract. I'm not going to get into (terms). Hopefully he'll play very well for those six years and beyond."

    Morales, a first baseman, third baseman, and corner outfielder, has been described "as the best position player to come out of his country in decades." The 6'1", 225-pound slugger batted cleanup for Cuba in the 2003 World Cup in Havana. His grand slam helped the Cubans beat Taiwan 6-3 in the finals.

    The recipient of a major league contract, Morales is expected to compete for a spot on the big league club in spring training. If the switch-hitting youngster breaks camp with the Angels, look for him to become the primary designated hitter and backup LF/1B.

    With the addition of Morales, Casey Kotchman becomes more expendable than ever. I wouldn't be surprised if the Angels used Kotchman as trade bait to acquire either a center fielder or a starting pitcher, especially if they are unsuccessful at signing free agent Carlos Beltran. A Kotchman-plus package for Randy Johnson would give the Diamondbacks a low-cost replacement for Richie Sexson, who is rumored to be seeking a multi-year contract at $10 million per season. The Angels could also include John Lackey, either Jeff DaVanon or Juan Rivera, Alfredo Amezaga or Maicer Izturis, plus one of their middle relievers (Kevin Gregg?) in as much as a five-for-one deal for the Big Unit.

    The Morales transaction also may have implications for Jered Weaver. As I reported two weeks ago, Weaver could find himself on the outside looking in if the Angels use the money earmarked for their #1 pick to sign the Cuban youngster. Ten million here and ten million there. Pretty soon, it starts adding up to real money.

    Oh, what tangled webs we weaver, when first we practice to deceiver.

    Update (12/2/04): The Los Angeles Times is reporting that the Morales contract, according to two sources familiar with the negotiations, includes a $3-million signing bonus and an overall value of $10 million if "the bulk of the incentives" are attained. Stoneman also said Weaver was "still under consideration."