Let's Get Smart About the Hall of Fame Voting Process
"Missed it by THAT much" was made famous by Don Adams in his role as the clueless secret agent Maxwell Smart in the 1960s comedy series "Get Smart." Smart, also known as Agent 86, would utter his catch phrase while holding up his thumb and forefinger to demonstrate how close he was to pulling off a heroic super spy move.
Well, there have been numerous baseball players whose careers "missed it by that much" when it came time to vote for their worthiness as Hall of Famers. Gil Hodges, the only player to earn 50% or more of the vote and never get elected, is the poster boy for this dubious distinction.
I've always found it interesting how some candidates for the Hall of Fame get dismissed summarily while others get a second look (or more). Will Clark, Darrell Evans, Bobby Grich, Ted Simmons, Lou Whitaker, Dan Quisenberry, Bret Saberhagen, and Dave Stieb were all "one and done" guys. All eight of these players were as good or better than one or more Hall of Famers at their positions, yet not a single one received as much as 5% of the vote in their lone shot at baseball immortality. Smart would have simply said, "Sorry about that."
Granted, the Hall of Fame vote is a binary choice: it's either a "yes" or a "no." There's no place on the ballot for "maybe" or "gosh, he was awfully good...shouldn't we honor him in some other way?"
That said, in practice, many writers will not vote for a player in his first year of eligibility because they do not believe he is worthy of being a "first-ballot Hall of Famer." It's not only a silly distinction – either you're good enough in year one or you're not – but this type of thinking runs the risk that a fully qualified candidate could get booted if enough voters acted in this manner. It's unlikely, but it's certainly possible.
"Now Listen Carefully"
One way around this dilemma would be to add a category, as has been proposed by Tom Tango, that would enable writers to check the following box: "I need more time to think about this candidate." To be honest, I've never been too fond of this idea because a voter shouldn't need more than five years to think about a player's Hall of Fame worthiness. However, the time may have come to adopt something like this, especially in view of the fact that many star players from the so-called "steroid era" have now retired or will be calling it quits in the not too distant future.
Now, one can argue "for" or "against" players from this era all you want. But the whole issue might be a bit more complicated than just saying so and so cheated or that it doesn't matter. As for me, I would hope writers would either vote "yes" or "no" based on the player's merits or admit they need more time to sort this matter out.
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The Hall of the Very Good has made its way into the baseball lexicon in recent years. I think most of us would agree that players like Norm Cash, Orel Hershiser, Fred Lynn, Rick Reuschel, Reggie Smith, and Jimmy Wynn all came up a little short in meeting the standards for the Hall of Fame. (Notice that I didn't mention Ron Santo as I'm still holding out hope for him.)
With respect to the Hall of the Very Good, I would like to submit a first-year eligible pitcher from this year's ballot for inclusion. He won't come close to sniffing the required 5% in order to keep his name on next year's ballot. His name? Chuck Finley.
Let me be perfectly clear here. I do not believe Chuck Finley is a Hall of Famer. However, I believe he was a better pitcher than generally recognized.
There are dozens of players who are deserving of the mythical HOTVG, yet are rarely even thought of in those terms. I would submit that Finley is one of those players. How many baseball fans realize that the tall lefthander from Monroe, Louisiana won 200 games during his career? Or that he had seven seasons in which he won 15 or more contests? Or that Chuck ranks 22nd in career strikeouts among all pitchers since 1900? Or that he had back-to-back years with ERAs under 2.60?
How many sabermetricians realize that Finley is tied for 62nd in Runs Saved Against Average in the modern era? Or that his ERA+ is 115? He's eighth in ERA+ among pitchers eligible for the HOF with 3,000 or more innings.
The bottom line is that Finley pitched at a high level for a long time. In fact, higher and longer than most fans realize.
Hold on, while I answer my shoe phone . . . I think it's Billy Pierce on the other end.
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Jerry Crasnick of ESPN wrote an article a few days ago on (Chuck) Tanner backing Gossage, Blyleven. Crasnick, whose "License To Deal" is one of the best books on the world of agents, called me last Wednesday and we spoke for about 20 minutes.
But Blyleven's supporters swear by his Hall-worthiness. Rich Lederer, a baseball analyst and historian, studied Blyleven's career and estimates that if he had received even league-average run support, his record would be closer to 313-224 than his 287-250.
"I don't think people have taken the time to look at the statistics closely enough to appreciate how dominant he was," Lederer said. "If he had won 13 more games, I don't think we'd even be having this discussion right now."
I should point out that the win-loss records with "league-average run support" are courtesy of Lee Sinins and his Complete Baseball Encyclopedia.
The Hall of Fame ballots must be postmarked no later than today. The results of the voting will be announced on Tuesday, January 8.
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Update (01/01/08): According to Keith Law, Blyleven has been named on 68% (58 of 85) of the ballots he has seen. Polling at 89%, Gossage appears to be a lock this year. If Blyleven can finish with the most votes among those who do not get elected, he will be like the Goose this year and become the favorite to get the additional support next time around.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at the Baseball Think Factory/Baseball Primer Newsblog with a focus on the merits of ERA+.]
Miscellaneous BBWAA Hall of Fame Ballots in Quotes
While there has been much discussion on these here intertubes about the BBWAA and who should and should not be admitted, the Hall of Fame is in no way affiliated with the organization other than, well, they always have been. The institution seems satisfied with its electorate, however. A smattering of direct quotes from a number of its voters who have publicly displayed their ballots follows.
I visualized aging Dodger Tommy John and his surgically repaired left elbow - the tendon graft now bears his name and is as common as a tonsillectomy - totally dominating the Phillies in Game 4 of the 1977 LCS. That was a night when Steve Carlton slipped, slid and failed on a rain-swept mound that John handled as if he were in Dodger Stadium on a hot Sunday afternoon. Suddenly, Tommy John and his 288 wins during a long, injury-interrupted career looked Cooperstownish. He won't get in; this is his 14th year on the ballot, but he has both my vote and appreciation for what he meant to a dying era of pitching and pitcher.
- Bill Conlin, The Philadelphia Daily News, depending on his personal recollection of Tommy John's footing one evening on a Veterans Stadium mound in throwing his support behind the southpaw.
Jim Rice, the most feared hitter of his time in the American League...
- Bill Kennedy, The Times of Trenton, evidencing the most tired of claims. Rice was so feared, that Managers intentionally walked him less than 48 other players between 1974 and 1989, the span of Rice's career.
The best new names on this year's ballot are Tim Raines and David Justice. Rice beats both.
- Dan Shaughnessy, The Boston Globe, commenting on Rice "beating" Tim Raines. Raines's career WARP3 number, an imperfect figure that does a quick and dirty job of measuring output adjusted for playing environment, bests Rice's by over 40 wins.
Managers thought about intentionally walking him when he came to the plate with the bases loaded.
- Shaughnessy on Rice in the same article, making the baseless claim while going a step further and even apparently ignoring Rice's career .782 OPS with the bases full.
Going primarily on what I saw, rather than mere numbers, I cast my annual votes for the best reliever of the era, Goose Gossage; the best starting pitcher, Jack Morris; and the best outfielder, Andre Dawson.
- Jim Alexander, The Press Enterprise. Of relievers who appeared in at least 400 games during Gossage's career span, Goose ranks 20th in ERA+. Of starters who started 400 games or more from 1977 to 1994, Morris ranks 8th in ERA+ out of 20 qualifiers. Of outfielders who had 7,000 plate appearances or more between 1976 and 1996, Dawson ranks 15th in OPS+ out of 21 qualifiers.
Enshrinement in Cooperstown shouldn't be about numbers. If anyone thinks so, let's trash tradition and have a computer select the honorees.
The Hall of Fame should be about who starred and who dominated. And about who made an impact.
- Jon Heyman, Sports Illustrated, before proceeding to cite number after number in evidencing his choices for the Hall.
The ace of three World Series teams, it's an abomination he may never get in.
- Heyman (from the same piece) emphatically supporting Jack Morris, while choosing to pass over Blyleven. In case you missed it, Morris has already been devastatingly discredited vis-a-vis Blyleven by our very own Rich Lederer.
The reason I am in that 10 percent is that I think he was perhaps the best all-around shortstop of his generation and an underrated piece of the Big Red Machine.
- Heyman, who is not voting for Alan Trammell, on Dave Concepcion. There are no words.
He was an MVP, an All-Star Game MVP, a two-time batting champion, a seven-time All-Star and a three-time Gold Glove winner.
- Heyman, who is not voting for Tim Raines, on Dave Parker. Again, speechless.
Sorry, Yankees fans, but when you break it down, there were four brilliant years (1984-87), two very good ones (1988-89) and two decent ones (1992-93), and not much else. No.
- Ken Davidoff of Newsday commenting without any sense for irony on Don Mattingly while touting Rice's candidacy in the same piece.
Rich ''Goose'' Gossage: The very definition of ''lights out'' closer, this intimidator is the equal of already enshrined firemen Bruce Sutter and Rollie Fingers.
- Don Bostom of The Morning Call on the candidacy rationale for Goose Gossage, who ranks 39th all time among relievers who have appeared in at least 400 games with a 126 ERA+. Amongst the same group, the "very definition of 'lights out' ranks 74th with a 7.47 K/9.
The biggest debates for me were Tim Raines, who obviously was overshadowed by Rickey Henderson, but also if you take Vince Coleman's five top years, I would say he outperformed Raines, too, and I don't see Coleman as a Hall of Famer.
- Tracy Ringolsby, The Rocky Mountain News
For those interested, I would vote for Gossage (his sustained excellence warrants it despite my comments above), Raines, Blyleven and Trammell. I make the points above to highlight that more is needed than throwaway lines, conjecture and memory to credit/discredit any one player's candidacy.
- Patrick Sullivan, 12/29/2007, 12:05 EST
With a hat tip to Baseball Think Factory for directing me there, the peerless Joe Posnanski chimes in with this stream of consciousness Blyleven-Morris comparison.
Hmm, so you’re telling me that Blyleven has 33 more wins, 32 more shutouts, 1,223 more strikeouts, 68 fewer walks, an ERA that more than a half run better, an ERA+ that’s 13 points better, a better overall postseason record and five or six individual seasons that were better than Jack Morris’ best season … wow, can I have a few more minutes to think about this? Wait, Blyleven had a lot more losses too, so that, oh, he played for worse teams, yeah, that might have had something do with that, um, hold on, I need to sharpen my No. 2 pencil and think about this …
He goes on to explain his main problem with certain individuals in the Morris camp.
No, I hate the campaign for the same reason that comedian Gary Gulman hates Pepperidge Farm cookies. “They’re a good cookie, but they’re so full of themselves with their names, they’re so bombastic, they’re like, ‘Oh, this is the Milano, and this is the Bordeaux, and the Geneva, and the Brussels cookie, and I’m like, ‘Wow, what a world traveler, where did I run into you again? Oh, that’s right. Target.’”
That’s how I feel about a few (not all) of the Morris Hall of Fame people. Just be humble. Don’t get in my face with your, “Jack Morris was the greatest pitcher of his era,” garbage. Hey, if you want to say, “Look, here’s a guy who had some longevity, he threw a lot of innings every year, he pitched one fabulous postseason game, and, hey, he did win 254 games in his career,” I could see the argument. I probably wouldn’t vote for him, no but I could see the argument.
Wrong, Joe. Morris's exclusion would be an abomination. Jon Heyman told me so.
- Patrick Sullivan, 12/29/2007, 11:41 AM EST
We have another Hall of Fame ballot posted publicly, this one from Gerry Fraley of The Sporting News. There were a few problematic items on his ballot but as these things go, his rationale was somewhat sound.
Except for this. What follows is Fraley's reasoning for leaving Tim Raines off of his ballot.
Raines' case was hurt by his reluctance to run in all situations, as Rickey Henderson did. Raines seemed at times too concerned about preserving his stolen-base percentage.
- Patrick Sullivan, 12/29/2007, 12:09 PM EST
James on Raines
As a follow-up to 30 Rock, I thought it would be interesting to read what Bill James had to say about Tim Raines in the 1982-1988 Baseball Abstracts. The Abstracts hit the bookstores in the spring and were based on the previous season (e.g., the 1982 Baseball Abstract covered the 1981 campaign). As such, a look back at the Ballantine-published Baseball Abstracts gives us a glimpse of what James thought about Raines in real time during Tim's first seven seasons in the bigs.
I believe you will find the following commentary of interest with respect to both James and Raines.
James ranked Raines third in his list of left fielders in the 1982 Baseball Abstract, behind Rickey Henderson and George Foster. In the "Introduction of the Player Ratings and Comments," James wrote: "This year's player evaluations, unlike the ratings I have presented in the past, are based solely on the player's performance during the 1981 season."
According to James, a player's offensive won-lost percentage is:
(Runs Created/Game)² + (League Runs/Game)²
The offensive won-lost method is adjusted for what James termed "park illusions." "If a player plays in a park which increases offensive production by 10%, his runs created are divided by 1.05 before his OWL percentage is figured." In the team section, James concluded that "Olympic Stadium reduces offensive production by approximately 4%."
If one wanted to convert the W-L % into a W-L record, you would divide the player's outs by 25 (which is the approximate number of outs per game rounded down) to get an equivalent number of games. The number of games multiplied by the player's W-L % equals the number of offensive wins. Games minus wins results in the number of losses.
With respect to defensive won-lost percentage, James opted to use two decimals. "To use three decimals here would imply a degree of accuracy which is entirely non-existent." You gotta love his candor.
3. Tim RAINES, Montreal (.691)
Playing Time: 90%
Home-road breakdowns (.347 and .265) shouldn't be taken too seriously on 150 at bats each place. Raines has already established 21% chance of breaking Brock's career stolen base record. I'm anxious to get the season started and see how many he can steal. His offensive won-lost percentage is the best in baseball for a left fielder, but his defensive stats were so-so; I suppose you know he never played the outfield in the minors.
Switching to a rating system based on the previous two years, James ranked Raines fourth among all left fielders in the 1983 Baseball Abstract.
4. Tim RAINES, Montreal (21-12)
By the lead-off formula given in the Henderson comment, Raines ranks as by far the best lead-off man in the National League. But the formula says he should have scored 111 runs, and he wasn't anywhere near that (he had 90; the -21 is easily the largest discrepancy of the season). This suggests two things: 1) that the Expos lacked a decent #2 hitter, which it is pretty obvious they did, and 2) that all of the Montreal fans who wrote to me that Dawson wasn't hitting anything in the clutch probably weren't imagining it.
TRIVIA TIME – He came to the majors as an infielder, he was shifted to left field as a rookie, he had an outstanding rookie year in which he led the National League in stolen bases, he was then shifted back to second base, and he had a long and outstanding career in the major leagues as a second baseman. Who is he?
I'm not going to give you the answer, by the way. But I'll give you a hint: he is still active and at the major-league level in some phase of the game. (19-10; 3-2)
The latter two figures are offensive and defensive won-lost records.
In "How The Ratings Are Derived" in the 1984 Baseball Abstract, James stated that "the parenthetical expression at the beginning of the player comment gives the combined number of wins and losses that the player has produced for his team over the last two years."
1. Tim RAINES, Montreal (28-15)
Missed becoming the first man to score 20% of his team's runs by only three runs scored. The record for scoring the largest share of your team's runs is held by Kindly Old Burt Shotton of the 1913 St. Louis Browns (I don't think he was "Kindly Old" at the time) who has to be one of the few St. Louis Browns to hold a single season mark of any kind. George Sisler's hit record of 1920 is the only other one to come to mind.
Raines did establish a new NL record, breaking the old one set by Mays in 1964 by a good margin.
Raines and Henderson are two of the few leadoff men on this list; Shotton was another. Mostly, they're sluggers.
An interesting thing is that most of the players come from relatively good teams; there don't seem to be too many cases of exploitation of a team's low production. Shotton is the only member of a last-place team on the list, although Chapman's, Davis' and Billy Williams' teams were under .500. – Jim Baker
In the Henderson comments, James wrote, "The ratings are mixed up here; Rickey should be #1, Raines #2 and Rice #3. This happens because of a small flaw in the rating system, having to do with rounding the won/lost records into integers. Henderson is listed at 26 wins, 14 losses, but his two-year winning percentage is actually .659, not .650. I'll try to get that problem straightened out by next year."
In the 1985 Baseball Abstract, James broke down the rankings by league. Raines was listed as a center fielder.
2. Tim RAINES, Montreal
Strengths: Hitting for average, speed, range, line-drive power, strike zone judgment.
Weaknesses: See below.
The 1984 Montreal Expos, not meaning to slight Charlie Lee (sic) or anything, had essentially two strengths. In Gary Carter, they had one of the greatest catchers in the history of baseball. In Tim Raines, they had the outstanding lead-off man in the history of the National League. Raines hit .309, got on base almost 40% of the time, reached scoring position under his own power 130 times (with the help of 75 stolen bases and 38 doubles) and, playing center field, was second among National League outfielders in putouts. Raines scored 106 runs with a terrible offense coming up behind him, led the league in stolen bases and is now five years ahead of Lou Brock's pace as a base stealer. He doesn't throw real great, but if you've got to have a weakness that's a good one to choose, because it really doesn't cost the team a half-dozen runs a year. He is a great ballplayer, one of the ten best in baseball.
So what do they do? Of course: They trade off the catcher and worry about the center fielder's throwing arm. It's crazy, but if you're losing and you're frustrated, it seems logical. Losing ball teams focus their frustration on their best players in exactly the same way that a man who gets fired from his job and loses his house to the bank will then divorce his wife, who is the only thing in his life that's worth hanging onto. You know how the story goes from there. If Andre Dawson doesn't come back and play the way he did before his knees went, the Expos will lose ninety games this year.
James continued to rate players within their league in the 1986 Baseball Abstract. However, the players were rated by "a poll of the scorers who participated in Project Scoresheet." James claimed there were two reasons for allowing these scorers to vote. "One was to reward, and thus encourage, participation in the project. The other is that I sincerely believe that it's the best way that I can devise to rate the players."
The parenthetical numbers next to the names represent the number of precincts in which the player finished first in the voting. The voters from Project Scoresheet ranked Raines second among left fielders.
2. Tim RAINES, Montreal (1)
Now clearly the greatest lead-off man in National League history. He hit .326 on artificial turf, the highest turf average of any player who played on turf in his home park. His .788 offensive winning percentage was third in the league, behind Guerrero and Strawberry. As mentioned in the San Diego comment, Montreal lead-off men – Raines, for the most part – scored 128 runs, by far the largest percentage of team runs scored by any batting position in the league. A great, great player.
The players were once again rated in the 1987 Baseball Abstract by a poll of approximately 140 scorers participating in Project Scoresheet. The voters were divided into 26 precincts, one representing each major-league team. "The voters were asked to rank the players on the basis of present, clearly established ability."
Raines was ranked number one among all NL left fielders and given 1 1/2 pages of space. It may be a bit long, but it is well worth your time and, in my opinion, should be required reading for all HOF voters. Give yourself three units of credit in Sabermetrics 101 for tackling the following:
1. Tim Raines, Montreal (11)
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.
If you compare them offensively, Schmidt and Raines are oddly similar in dissimilar ways. They went to the plate almost the same number of times, 664 for Raines and 657 for Schmidt. Offense in baseball consists of two things: getting runners on base, and advancing runners. Raines won the batting title, and with seventy walks also led the National League in on-base percentage, at .413. Schmidt hit .290 himself and drew 89 walks besides, so that he was on base a lot, too. With adjustments for getting caught stealing and grounding into double plays (we penalize the hitter for taking other runners off base), Raines is credited by the runs created formula with being on base 259 times to Schmidt's 246. Close, but the edge to Raines.
As to advancing runners, Schmidt because of his power, had 302 total bases, which is the largest factor in the advancement of runners. However, Raines had 54 extra base hits himself (35-10-9), and being the batting champion, he too had 276 total bases. In addition, Raines stole 70 bases, 69 more than Schmidt. Although the runs created method considers the value of this to be equivalent to only 36 batting bases, with an adjustment for stolen bases and miscellaneous stuff, Schmidt is credited with 326 "advancement bases" by the runs created method, while Raines is credited with 333. Again, it's very close, but again Raines has the edge. Raines did slightly more to advance himself or other baserunners than did Schmidt.
Putting the elements together, you get:
On Base 246 259
Advancement Bases 326 333
Plate appearances 657 664
Runs Created 122 130
They're very similar, oddly similar in the proportions, but Raines probably created about eight more runs for his team than did Schmidt.
Then you have to put that into a context of outs. Schmidt made 392 batting outs (552 minus 160) and 19 miscellaneous outs (9 sacrifices, 2 caught stealing, and 8 double plays). Raines made 386 batting outs (580 minus 194) and also made 19 miscellaneous outs (4 sacrifices, 9 caught stealing, and 6 double plays). The totals are 411 outs for Schmidt, 405 for Raines.
Putting the runs in a 27-out context, you have 8.01 runs created per 27 outs for Schmidt, and 8.66 for Raines. They are one-two in the league, but Raines's small advantages add up to a significant edge, making him pretty clearly the best offensive player in the league.
Except, of course, that Schmidt drove in and scored more runs than did Raines. I'll finish the MVP argument for Raines, and then I'll get back to that.
1) Raines created more runs than Schmidt despite playing in a much tougher hitter's park. Raines's batting and slugging percentages were 16 and 50 points higher on the road than they were in Montreal. Schmidt's batting and slugging averages were 16 and 94 points higher in Philadelphia than on the road. With adjustments for the statistical distortions of the parks, Raines was really a much better hitter. Further, the average Phillies game had 9.0 runs, whereas the average Expos game had only 8.2 runs, so the runs that Raines created were more valuable – had more of a win impact – than the runs that Schmidt created in his inflated environment.
2) Schmidt at 36 started the season at first base, and spent most of the season at third base, where he was an ordinary defensive player at a somewhat key defensive position. 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. We can call their defense a wash.
3) Neither player's team was ultimately successful, but Raines's early season streak of reaching base in 42 straight games helped greatly to keep the Expos in the pennant race. It wasn't ultimately meaningful, but it was very meaningful at the time. Schmidt piled up 67 RBI over the last three months of the season, when the Phillies were already dead and buried as a team. Not wanting to seem too eager to claim advantages for Raines, we'll call that a wash, too.
4) Schmidt has been a great player, but he has won the award twice before. Raines has been a great player for six years now, and he's never won it. In the interests of fairness, 1986 would have been an opportunity to balance the scales.
OK, then we go back to the issue of actual run and RBI counts. I would say this: that if Schmidt's advantage in runs scored and RBI resulted from his superior performance in run-production situations, then it is reasonable to consider this an advantage for Schmidt. If, on the other hand, the advantage resulted from offensive context (that is, having better hitters surrounding him), then it is unfair to penalize Raines because his teammates were not as good as Schmidt's.
Quite clearly, those differences resulted primarily from offensive context, and not from inidividual differences. Consider:
1) Schmidt drove in 25% of the runners that he inherited in scoring position. Raines drove in 26%. The big difference in RBI was that Schmidt came to the plate with 253 runners in scoring position, and Raines came up with only 173 ducks on the pond.
2) Schmidt drove in 49% of his runners on third base with less than two out, 20 of 41. Raines drove in 58% of his, 18 of 31.
3) Another situation in which at bats have a disproportionate impact on runs resulting is the first at bat in the inning, the leadoff spot. Raines had 190 such at bats, and Schmidt 142. In that game situation, power increases for most hitters but on-base percentage decreases, as pitchers concentrate on not allowing walks.
Schmidt's slugging percentage increased only nine points in that situation, from .547 to .556, while his on base percentage plummeted (all of this data is in the Great American Baseball Stat Book) from .390 to .340, 50 points. Adding the two together, he lost 41 points (+9, -50). Raines, on the other hand, increased his slugging percentage as a leadoff hitter by 35 points, to .511, while his on-base percentage dropped only to .404, 9 points, so he showed net gain of +26 (+35, -9). A big edge to Raines.
In the late innings of close games, pitchers strive to avoid the game-breaking homer, so exactly the opposite happens: Slugging percentages go down, while on-base percentages go up. Both players hit almost their averages in the late innings of close games – Schmidt .290 (+ or - zero) and Raines .339 (up 6 points). But again, Schmidt's slugging percentage went down 31 points while his on-base percentage went up only 21, a net loss of 10 points. Raines's slugging went down 24, but his on-base percentage went up 28, a net gain of four points. So again, Raines exploited the positives of a critical game situation more effectively than did Schmidt.
So it seems obvious that Schmidt's higher run counts resulted not from his own ability, but from the fact that he was hitting in the middle of Gary Redus, Von Hayes, and Juan Samuel, while Raines did not have comparable support. The Phillies scored 739 runs as a team, second in the league. The Expos scored 637, tenth in the league. This shouldn't be the criteria for who gets the MVP award.
I'm not criticizing anybody for his vote. I too thought, just looking at the statistics, that Schmidt had had the best year. Raines's remarkable base stealing (70/79) is easy to overlook, particularly when the run count doesn't reflect the advantage. 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.
Whew! If you're still with me, give yourself an extra unit of credit. But be prepared for a pop quiz down the road.
In the "Introduction to Player Ratings" in the final Baseball Abstract in 1988, James wrote, "The players . . . will be rated by subjective judgment. Mine. For the past couple of years I've rated players by a poll of the members of Project Scoresheet, but this year I just decided to do it myself."
James changed the format, separating the rankings and comments for the first time. He also combined the two leagues and had one ranking for each position. Raines was rated as the #1 left fielder. The player comments were provided in alphabetical order and letter grades were given as follows:
Hitting for Average: A
Hitting for Power: B
Plate Discipline: B+
OVERALL OFFENSE: A
Defensive Range: A
OVERALL DEFENSE: B+
OVERALL VALUE: A-
In a Word: Brilliant
James printed a letter that he solicited from Neil Munro, comparing Raines to Wade Boggs. Munro provided a detailed explanation and chose Raines. "As a consequence, if you rate them pretty much even as hitters (with park adjustments) and fielders, you must give the nod to Raines for his baserunning ability."
Earlier in the book, under "Rain Delay," James penned one of his best essays, holding a conversation with himself in the search of the best baseball player in the game. It's a six pager with insightful comments on about 20 players. His conclusion? James ranked Boggs as the best player in baseball, followed by Raines, Ozzie Smith, Don Mattingly, Tony Gwynn, Darryl Strawberry, Dale Murphy, Roger Clemens, Rickey Henderson, and Kirby Puckett.
Although Raines' career lasted until 2002, the Baseball Abstracts were, unfortunately, retired in 1988. However, the Ballantine era books coincided with Raines' first seven seasons (which most would also view as the best seven-year stretch of his career).
Raines. James. Baseball Abstracts. Three of the very best of the 1980s.
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Feel free to give James' trivia question from the 1983 comments a shot.
Four years ago yesterday, I wrote my first article on Bert Blyleven. It was designed to raise the awareness of Blyleven's qualifications for the Hall of Fame. I have added about 20 pieces since then, including more statistical evidence, interviews with Blyleven and voters, and responses to naysayers. Blyleven's vote total jumped from 145 (or 29.2% of the total) in 2003 to 277 (53.3%) in 2006, before retreating to 260 (47.7%) in 2007.
Although Blyleven's support has increased substantially over the past few years, the man who ranks 5th in career strikeouts, 8th in shutouts, and 17th in wins since 1900 is still on the outside looking in. Bert has a long ways to go to make it to the necessary 75% – especially in view of the fact that he will have just four more years left of eligibility after this year. As everyone knows, I strongly endorse Blyleven and will continue to do my part in the hope that the voters will one day see fit to give him his day in Cooperstown.
In the meantime, there is a new player on this year's ballot who deserves to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, yet my sense is that his accomplishments may also be overlooked by the majority of voters. His name? Tim Raines. He wore number 30 on the back of his jersey and went by the nickname Rock. Ergo, 30 Rock, just like the TV series. Unlike the show, this is not meant to be a comedy. The case for Raines is serious and worthy of every voter's time and attention.
A superficial voter may dismiss Raines altogether. "Let's see here . . . 500 HR? Nope. 3,000 hits? Nope. .300 career batting average? Nope. Any MVPs? Nope. Next."
To all that, I say "hold on here." First of all, using Triple Crown stats to gauge the merits of a lead-off hitter like Raines is flat out wrong. He's simply not going to put up magical numbers in HR and RBI. If Raines did, it's unlikely that he would have batted first in 63% of the games he started over the course of his career. Instead, he should be compared to other lead-off hitters.
Isn't it the job of a lead-off batter to get on base and score runs? Well, Raines did both well. Very well. He ranks 40th all-time in getting on base (hits + walks + hit by pitch). Every player who is above him in times on base (TOB) is in the Hall of Fame with the exception of Rusty Staub. Moreover, three of the next four and 23 of the next 27 players on the list behind Raines are also in the HOF. Think about that for a second. Fifty-five of the top 60 players in TOB who are eligible for the Hall have been inducted into Cooperstown. Does Raines, who is virtually right in the middle of this group, deserve to be included among the 92% who are in or the 8% who are out?
Raines also ranks 46th in runs scored. Every player who is above him in R is also in the HOF with the exceptions of Jimmy Ryan, George Van Haltren, and Bill Dahlen – all of whom played a large part of their career in the 19th century. Not one player exclusively from the 20th century ranks higher than Raines in runs and is not in the Hall. Furthermore, the next six and 12 of the next 13 eligible players are also in the HOF. Put it all together and 47 of the top 51 players in R who are eligible for the Hall have already been enshrined. Again, does Raines belong in the 92% who are in or the 8% who are out?
The Rock's rankings in TOB and R alone should basically qualify him for the Hall of Fame with little or no argument. Unfortunately, the voter who pays attention to these two important stats is in the distinct minority. Voters look at hits but how many of them take the time to look at walks? Do walks not count? When it comes to the Hall of Fame, a player would be better served to go to the plate hacking away in hopes of getting a hit because little or no attention is placed on walks.
Had Raines gotten 3,000 hits and walked 935 times rather than accumulating 2605 hits and 1,330 walks, do you think there would be any question as to whether he was worthy of the HOF? I recognize that hits are generally more valuable than walks but the difference is less meaningful for a batter leading off the inning or with nobody on base (unless, of course, the hit goes for extra bases).
Rather than fixating on hits, I suggest we should all pay more attention to times on base and outs. Here is a simplistic way of appreciating Raines' ability to get on base for those folks who don't want to take the time to compare rate stats vs. the league average. Tim's TOB ranking is higher than his PA ranking, while his Outs ranking is lower than his PA ranking. In other words, he got on base more often and made fewer outs than expected given the number of times he went to the plate
PA 10,359 52nd
TOB 3,977 40th
OUTS 6,670 67th
* * * * *
But if one truly wants to compare apples to apples, then it would be best to pit Raines versus other Hall of Fame-caliber lead-off hitters. The good news is that Tom M. Tango has already taken the time to perform this exercise. Tango's conclusion? Raines performed above the level of all Hall of Famers when such players batted in the lead-off spot and at a similar level to Hall-worthy players during the Retrosheet years (1957-2006).
Take a big part of Rickey Henderson and Pete Rose, add a good size part of Lou Brock, Paul Molitor, and Craig Biggio, and stir in some Ichiro Suzuki, Wade Boggs, Joe Morgan, Derek Jeter, and Barry Bonds, and you get a composite that is a shade inferior to Tim Raines.
If you have a group of players worthy of the Hall, and an individual player compares very favorably to that group, you have a Hall-worthy player by definition. That is what Tim Raines is: the definition of a Hall of Famer.
Still not convinced? Let's take a look at the three main rate stats (AVG, OBP, and SLG), plus OPS (which is none other than OBP + SLG), and OPS+ (which compares a player's OPS to the league average while adjusting for ballpark effects) for four players. Which player is not like the others?
AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+
Player A .271 .392 .427 .819 132
Player B .279 .401 .419 .820 127
Player C .294 .385 .425 .810 123
Player D .293 .343 .410 .753 109
Did you say "Player D?" I thought so. That would be none other than Lou Brock, who was voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. The other three players are Joe Morgan (Player A), Rickey Henderson (Player B), and Tim Raines (Player C).
While Raines does not quite match up to Morgan and Henderson, he was closer in value to them than Brock.
All four players rank among the top 11 in career stolen bases. Raines is number one in stolen base percentage among players with 300 or more attempts.
SB CS SB%
1 Henderson 1406 335 80.8
2 Brock 938 307 75.3
5 Raines 808 146 84.7
11 Morgan 689 162 81.0
While on the subject of stolen bases, Raines became the first player in baseball history to steal at least 70 bases in four consecutive years when he swiped 71, 78, 90, and 75 bags in his first four seasons. He extended his streak to six campaigns after stealing 70 bases in 1985 and once again in 1986. Who knows how many bases Raines would have stolen in his rookie year in 1981 had the season not been shortened due to the strike? He stole 71 as is – in just 88 games played (out of a team total of 107).
A cynical voter may also pass on Raines due to the fact that he admitted to using cocaine early in his career. It would be a fallacy given the fact that another cocaine user of the same era was inducted in his first year of eligibility.
AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+
Raines .294 .385 .425 .810 123
Molitor .306 .369 .448 .817 122
How can one in good conscience include Molitor and exclude Raines? Sure, Molitor's counting stats are slightly better than Raines', primarily owing to the fact that he had 1,801 additional plate appearances. Molitor had 714 more hits but 236 fewer walks while producing 1,370 more outs. To their credit, Raines and Molitor cleaned up their acts and became role models in the later years of their careers. They are both worthy of induction for what they accomplished on the field.
* * * * *
Like Blyleven, Raines played in the majors as both a teenager and into his 40s. At 19, he was the youngest player in the National League when he made his debut in 1979. Twenty-three years later, he was the third-oldest player in the NL during his final season in 2002. Like Blyleven, Raines was also a terrific player from the get go. If not for Fernando Valenzuela, Raines would have been the Rookie of the Year in 1981 when he led the league in SB and placed in the top five in several sabermetric categories, including Runs Created Above Average (RCAA), Runs Created per Game (RC/G), Bases per Plate Appearance (BPA), Offensive Winning Percentage (OWP), and Total Average (TA).
In 1982, Raines led the league in SB and finished in the top five in TOB and triples. In 1983, he led the NL in TOB, R, and SB, while placing in the top five in H, BB, OBP, RC, RC/G, RCAA, BPA, OWP, and TA. In 1984, Raines led the league in TOB, 2B, SB, RC/G, RCAA, and TA, while ranking in the top five in R, H, BB, OBP, RC, and BPA. In 1985, he placed second in TOB, R, 3B, SB, RC, RC/G, RCAA, BPA, OWP, and TA; and third in AVG and OBP.
In 1986, in what turned out to be the best season of his career, Raines led the NL in AVG, OBP, TOB, RC, RC/G, RCAA, BPA, OWP, and TA. He should have been named Most Valuable Player that year but lost out to Mike Schmidt (more on this tomorrow). Tim also ranked 2nd in OPS and third in H, 3B, and SB. It was a remarkable season that was lost on voters perhaps due to the fact that the Expos went 78-83 and finished in fourth place in the NL East, 29 1/2 games behind the New York Mets.
In 1987, Raines led the league in runs scored with 123 even though he missed all of April due to collusion on the part of owners. He returned to Montreal on May 1 after not receiving a single offer from any team at the age of 27 and coming off an MVP-type season. Tim went on to rank in the top five in AVG, OBP, TOB, BB, SB, RC, RC/G, RCAA, BPA, OWP, and TA.
For those first seven seasons, Raines and Schmidt were clearly the two best players in the NL. Raines was every bit as good as Henderson was in those years. He led the league in Win Shares in 1984, 1985, and 1986. Just think what his résumé would look like had he won three consecutive MVP awards!
All in all, Raines had 390 Win Shares, good for 59th all time. (Three WS equals one win. Therefore, Raines was worth about 130 wins during his career.) Using Win Shares Above Bench, Dave Studeman ranked Raines 44th among all position players, post-1900.
Like Win Shares, Wins Above Replacement Value (or WARP3) takes into account defensive value. Raines' 124 career WARP3 ranks 62nd among position players and 83rd among all players (including pitchers).
When you look at all the evidence (including articles by others), Raines is one of the top 50 or 60 position players of all time and perhaps the best lead-off hitter in the history of the National League.
If 30 Rock can win the Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series in its first year, there's no reason why Tim Raines can't be voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at the Baseball Think Factory/Baseball Primer Newsblog.]
Q&A: Tracy Ringolsby on the BBWAA
Tracy Ringolsby has been a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America since 1976. He has covered the Colorado Rockies for the Rocky Mountain News for more than 15 years. Ringolsby had previously worked for the Long Beach Independent, Press-Telegram (California Angels, March 1977-July 1980), the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Seattle Mariners, July 1980-July 1983), the Kansas City Star-Times (Kansas City Royals, August 1983-February 1986), and the Dallas Morning News (Texas Rangers, March 1986-1989, and the national baseball writer, 1990-1991).
Born in Cheyenne, Wyoming and a graduate of Cheyenne East High School, Ringolsby and his wife Jane live on 80 acres northwest of Cheyenne with their four horses. Tracy has attended the University of Wyoming in pursuit of the degree he promised his father when he quit school to begin a career in journalism. And what a career it has been. Ringolsby, 56, served as President of the BBWAA in 1986 and was selected by his peers as the recipient of the 2005 J.G. Taylor Spink Award. A co-founder of Baseball America, Tracy has been a member of the Society for American Baseball Research for 28 years.
Ringolsby, who currently sits on the Board of the BBWAA, agreed to conduct a hard-hitting Q&A with me to discuss the organization's policies and procedures in the aftermath of the brouhaha created by the decision to expand membership to baseball writers whose primary forum is the internet. As was the case three years ago when I first interviewed him about his Hall of Fame ballot, Tracy answered every question thrown his way.
Rich: The Baseball Writers Association of America recently voted to open up its membership for the first time to web-based baseball writers. How long has this been in the works and why did the organization decide to allow such writers at this time?
Tracy: It is an issue that has been discussed for close to nine years. As the internet presence grew, and it became as much about reporting news as merely an outlet for opinions and research, the need to address internet writers grew.
Rich: Correct me if I'm wrong here. The admission of internet writers has not only been discussed for a number of years but it was voted down as recently as a year ago. Is the BBWAA guilty of flip flopping or just being slow to accept change?
Tracy: Not at all. The vote a year ago would have included mlb.com on the grounds that the writers are representing the official websites of the teams. When that failed, a revised proposal was adopted that excluded mlb.com, and it passed easily.
Rich: Did the BBWAA establish any guidelines for the admission of internet writers?
Tracy: The same basic guidelines as for newspaper writers.
Rich: Can you share those basic guidelines with us?
Tracy: Off the top of my head, they require a member to work for a newspaper that regularly covers a major league baseball team. Membership is open to full-time employees who are beat writers, feature writers who are primarily involved in baseball coverage, columnists, a cartoonist and an editor from each publication.
Rich: That seems like a strange mix for the Baseball Writers Association of America. "Baseball" and "Writers" should be the operative words here. What's the rationale for allowing columnists, cartoonists, and editors?
Tracy: It probably goes back to the days of formation, but I wasn't alive when the bylaws were written and can only assume the intent. Baseball was by far the premiere sport at that time, and columnists and cartoonists focused on the sport, as did an editor. Ironically, in today's media, most sports sections have assistant sports editors who deal directly with individual sports so I would assume that feeds into the setup. Have some of those areas outlived their purpose? I'm sure they have, but when you set precedents you live with them. It is one reason why whenever I have been involved with a chapter I have been very much in support of a one-year waiting period before applications can be made.
Rich: The BBWAA approved 16 "new" members (out of a total of 18 nominees). However, 14 of these 16 had previously been members, adding to the cynicism of many outsiders who feel as if this was just a token attempt to show progress by a staid organization and that the BBWAA is just another good ol' boys club.
Tracy: Cynicism I think is the correct word. What you have seen is that internet companies have moved to bring in people from the print business to be their reporters and to handle the day-to-day information that they are supplying. As a result, the bulk of those who would have an interest in joining the BBWAA, by their nature, would be former members. I think what the cynics overlook is that if it was merely taking care of the good ol' boys, why was there ever a question about the membership? Many longtime BBWAA members left the organization nearly a decade ago to pursue their current jobs, such as Peter Gammons and Tom Verducci, and, in fact, they have spoken in the past on keeping the membership from expanding because they did not want the organization to lose the focus of its true purpose.
Rich: According to the bylaws, the purpose of the BBWAA is to: (1) insure proper facilities for reporting baseball games, (2) assist in clarifying baseball scoring rules, (3) sustain cooperation and fellowship with the baseball writers of the minor leagues, and (4) foster the most credible qualities of baseball writing and reporting. Have these bylaws changed over the years?
Tracy: Not that I am aware of.
Rich: Bob Dutton, President of the BBWAA, in an interview with fellow Kansas City Star writer and BBWAA member Joe Posnanski, said, "I think it’s easy to see the association exists, primarily, to assist the coverage of baseball print reporters at big-league parks." I have a problem with that statement. I don't see the word "print" in the subsections of those bylaws and only one of the four purposes has anything to do with covering games at big-league parks. It seems to me that the bylaws are actually more accommodating to internet writers than perhaps the Board of Directors and the general membership would care to believe.
Tracy: That is called selective reading, Rich. The organization specifies membership is from newspapers which cover major league baseball on a regular basis, and those bylaws that you are referring to are a follow up on the purposes for the newspapers covering baseball. The membership felt in the changing times it was important to include internet writers in the mix.
Rich: As far as I can tell, Amy Nelson of ESPN and Dan Wetzel of Yahoo were the only newly approved writers who had never been part of the association. First of all, is that true? Secondly, doesn't that seem a bit odd to you?
Tracy: That is true, as far as I know, and no, it is not odd. Amy is not only considered a baseball writer by ESPN but is listed in the Commissioner's media guide as one of the ESPN baseball writers, which would give more credence to what her role at ESPN is. Wetzel is a columnist for Yahoo, and the BBWAA guidelines provide for admission of columnists.
Rich: As has been widely reported and discussed, Keith Law and Rob Neyer were the only two candidates who were denied admission. Can you explain why Keith and Rob were not approved?
Tracy: There were questions about their roles at ESPN, the actual coverage they provided and if BBWAA membership was necessary for them to do their jobs. While I felt both should have been admitted, I do think it is interesting that in submitting the names of writers to be included in the Major League Baseball media guide, ESPN had five different areas in which it was listed and ESPN did not submit the names of Neyer nor Law. The other thing, the BBWAA was not created as a social club. It was designed to work on coverage issues that writers faced. Over the years there have been added items that BBWAA members are involved with but those are added items, not the intent of the creation of the organization.
Rich: Were there questions about the other 16 candidates or were there questions about Keith and Rob only?
Tracy: Actually the questions were not directly about Keith or Rob. The questions were about their coverage aspects. I guess you could get in a debate over what is the difference between covering baseball and writing about baseball. There also was a feeling of trying to avoid setting precedents. I would have to say, however, that to say anything was about any individuals in particular would be unfair. There were concepts discussed, not people. I'd be willing to bet if we discussed the membership on the basis of who was liked or disliked we would have had some serious debates over every candidate (I'm just sort of kidding). Personalities, however, cannot be considered in this type of decision because we are setting precedents for the long-term in terms of membership requirements and there is a need to be careful on matters like that.
Rich: Right. However, Law and Neyer are similar to Wetzel in that all three are baseball columnists. Dan was granted membership but Keith and Rob were not. Does that really make sense?
Tracy: They are not similar from what was said by their employers. As pointed out earlier, ESPN has five different vehicles listed in the Major League Baseball Media Information Directory and neither Law nor Neyer are listed as a baseball writer by ESPN in any of those categories.
Rich: Out of curiosity, what are ESPN's five different vehicles?
Tracy: According to the MLB Media Guide, ESPN is listed under news organizations, publications for both ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia and ESPN the Magazine, television networks, and radio networks.
Rich: With respect to attending games, there is no specific number in the BBWAA's constitution. As such, why did Mr. Dutton and others draw a line in the sand with an arbitrary minimum number of games as a reason for inclusion or exclusion?
Tracy: I think it was a means for trying to provide a guideline. When I first joined the BBWAA, a writer – if he was not a columnist, cartoonist nor editor – had to cover 100 games a year to be eligible. Some chapters have sterner enforcement than others. In Detroit and Colorado, for instance, a writer from a newspaper has to cover baseball for a full year before his membership is considered. That is designed to avoid giving membership to someone who is just passing in the night and doesn't truly cover baseball. Other chapters are more lenient.
Rich: What is the current guideline in terms of number of games?
Tracy: In Colorado, writers have to cover the team on a regular basis.
Rich: You mentioned that Gammons and Verducci were welcomed back to the BBWAA. They are recognized among the best and most popular baseball writers in the business. They performed their jobs as capably as ever the past ten years or so when they weren't part of the BBWAA. Why do they now need to be members "to do their jobs?"
Tracy: This isn't a question of Gammons and Verducci, but rather what they do for their employer. The jobs they do involve being at ballparks and covering the events on a regular basis. And let's face it, there was a segment of the BBWAA that did not feel that any internet writers needed to be members.
Rich: My understanding is that the general membership was presented with a binary choice to either accept the 16 new members or not accept any of them. Is that true?
Tracy: That is not true. The general membership was told it could vote on the applicants individually or as a group, in accordance with the recommendation of the Board of Directors. The membership voted to have the group vote. None of the votes on any of the matters were unanimous.
Rich: Let me ask the question differently. Sixteen of the 18 nominations were recommended for approval by the Board, correct? And the general membership voted to approve all 16 as a group, right?
Rich: OK. If I'm not mistaken, that means the seven-person Board – which consists of you as well as Bob Dutton (President), David O'Brien (Vice President), Jack O'Connell (Secretary), Bob Elliott, Paul Hoynes, and Phil Rogers – made a recommendation not to approve Keith and Rob. Is that right?
Rich: As with the "yay" vote on the 16 candidates who were approved, the general membership followed the Board's advice and voted "nay" on Law and Neyer. Correct?
Tracy: To split hairs, the membership voted yes on the recommendations of the board.
Rich: Understood. How did you vote?
Tracy: I voted against the Board's recommendation. It was my feeling that all of them should have been admitted. Had we held separate votes on each I would have voted for each. When it was decided to have a mass vote, I voted against it because I did not agree with the proposal. Trust me, this isn't the first time I have voted in the minority.
Rich: Did the membership know that the Board was split?
Tracy: I would assume they did. If there were questions we allow them and none were asked. In the board meeting there were several discussions on matters, including questions about full-time employees and contract employees. Then there was a discussion on the actual coverage requirements. An area that wasn't discussed and may need to be addressed is a difference between covering baseball and writing about baseball. I'm not sure what direction that discussion would take and I do not know if it really matters, but it is an avenue that probably needs to be addressed as the media world changes.
Rich: Absolutely. Thanks to Bob Dutton releasing the badge list earlier this month, we now know that there were approximately 780 active members of the BBWAA as of May 2007. At least 16 more were added at the Winter Meetings. That works out to about 32 per chapter and 27 per team. Maybe the BBWAA has been *too* inclusive over the years, at least with respect to the print media.
Tracy: It isn't about how large the organization is, but rather that the members are involved in regular coverage of major league baseball. I'm not one who feels there is an urgency for size if applicants are not full-time employees involved in regular coverage of baseball.
Rich: Whether these so-called active members are truly active and covering major league baseball on a regular basis is certainly an issue that could – and should – be debated.
Tracy: I don't think you ever stop needing to re-evaluate members to make sure they remain eligible for membership.
Rich: Once a writer is granted membership, does one remain a member as long as he or she continues to pay dues?
Tracy: It is not supposed to work that way. The writer should still have to meet the requirements mentioned above. If they don't, the membership should be dropped. I know several instances of writers who covered baseball for several years, left to cover something else, and when they returned to cover baseball they had to reapply for the BBWAA and they started back at year one in terms of seniority. The Hall of Fame vote and gold card eligiblity, for example, require membership for 10 consecutive seasons.
Rich: Of course, the actives don't even account for all of the members. How many inactive or "lifetime" members are there above and beyond the roughly 800 who are considered active?
Tracy: I couldn't tell you that, but I would say that number is limited. To receive a lifetime membership a person had to be an active member for 10 consecutive seasons, and then needs to apply for that type of membership. It does not provide full membership rights, and in fact there is a specific stipulation that those members, if working on a story, have to contact the local team PR people to make arrangements for access. The lifetime or gold card membership is not active membership.
Rich: Well, by definition, there must be at least 200 retired members. There were 545 Hall of Fame ballots turned in last year and only 300-and-some active members with 10 or more years of experience who were eligible to vote. I know some employers don't allow their employees to cast ballots. Therefore, the number of lifetime members has to be a couple hundred at a minimum. Other than voting for the HOF (which the association itself admits is incidental to being a member), what is the purpose of maintaining this category of membership?
Tracy: To me, it is a manner of respect for long-time members. It allows them to remain a part of the BBWAA, although they are not active and do not vote in matters other than the Hall of Fame, which in reality is an area in which they should be well versed because they have a past history with the game.
Rich: I don't have a problem with that per se, although I'm still confused about the merits of columnists, cartoonists, and editors whose main job was/is not writing about baseball. There seems to be an inconsistency here. On one hand, we're told that membership is only for those who attend games on a regular basis because they need credentials to get into the press box and the clubhouse. On the other hand, we've learned that there are numerous members who never really covered baseball at all. Am I missing something here?
Tracy: I must be missing something. Can you tell me the numerous members who never really covered baseball at all, other than columnists, cartoonists or editors, who have membership under their own job description? I'm not aware of those folks.
Rich: We must not be on the same page. I'm not referring to the beat writers. Instead, I'm actually talking about columnists, cartoonists, and editors. For example, John Feinstein is a top-notch sportswriter, but he's not really a baseball writer.
Tracy: Rich, I do believe he actually covered baseball briefly at the Washington Post and then became a columnist at the Post. I cannot swear as to what his exact position was. It does, however, seem that when Tom Boswell moved into a columnist role, Feinstein was involved in the coverage of the Orioles for the Washington Post. That aside, as I said there are provisions for columnists, cartoonists and an editor. I'd have to know the ones you are referring to in regards to the "numerous'' members who never really covered baseball. In reality, many of the columnists did at one point cover baseball as a beat. Have there been oversights in some instances or guys who might have slipped by for some reason that I do not know or can't explain? I would imagine so. Does that make it right? No. Does that mean there should be oversights in the future? No.
Rich: Unfortunately, this isn't the forum to go over the qualifications of each and every member. That said, I appreciate your time and willingness to discuss the purposes of the BBWAA and the guidelines for membership. I think we have covered a lot of ground in our Q&A. You've been a member for over 30 years – and a highly distinguished one at that – and, believe me, I applaud your efforts to open up the membership to baseball writers whose medium is the internet. I think more reforms are needed, but this is a good first step.
Tracy: There are always things that need to be fined tuned and addressed. This year's decision on internet membership was a step in that direction. Do things need to be adjusted? Certainly. The sad part was the decisions this year were turned into a personal issue by some and I can honestly say personalities weren't involved in the decision-making process. It was more a concern of trying to avoid setting precedents and wanting to obtain further information in some cases.
Rich: I hope that the BBWAA continues to revisit rules that appear to be somewhat antiquated in the spirit of advancing the profession while doing what's best for the game, including making its awards and Hall of Fame balloting as relevant as possible.
Tracy: I think any profession has to constantly look to move forward. I would say the intent is to make sure that the BBWAA awards and Hall of Fame balloting remain as relevant as they are. I don't see where they can not be considered as relevant as possible. If they were irrelevant there would not be as much attention focused on them. I do think, however, that any selection process will have its flaws because it is rarely, if ever, unanimous and those with dissenting opinions usually make the most noise. What I am proudest about with the Hall of Fame voting – and it was being done long before I cast my first vote – is that the discussions center on who should be in unlike Hall of Fames in other sports where there is a lot of time spent trying to justify who was selected.
Rich: Speaking of which, who are you voting for this year?
Tracy: Alphabetically, Bert Blyleven, Dave Concepcion, Rich Gossage, Jack Morris, Lee Smith and Alan Trammell. The biggest debates for me were Tim Raines, who obviously was overshadowed by Rickey Henderson, but also if you take Vince Coleman's five top years, I would say he outperformed Raines, too, and I don't see Coleman as a Hall of Famer.
The three I wrestle with are Andre Dawson, Dale Murphy and Jim Rice, in that order. I just see them overall as very similar players, and I have a very difficult time putting a marginal defensive player (Rice) in the Hall of Fame. I know there are a couple who are in, but I didn't vote for them and rather than considering them precedents I would rather consider them isolated incidents. The same with Don Mattingly. As much as I admired him as a player, I just don't see his numbers for a corner bat opening the door to Cooperstown. I'm also one of those who doesn't project what could have been. If a career is cut short, I consider that the career because we don't know what would have happened had the player remained healthy. Murphy is probably the best example of that. Had his career been cut short by four years I think he would have had strong support because people would have made their statistical projections and his career numbers would have been better than they actually turned out to be.
Rich: You sent me an email last year, saying that you had come around on Blyleven. I commend you for being open minded on the subject and changing your vote. My next project is to have you see the light on Raines. I would be remiss if I let the comparison to Coleman go by without comment. Yes, they both played left field, led off, and stole a lot of bases. But, other than that, the difference between Raines and Coleman is like night and day. Raines hit .294/.385/.425; Coleman, .264/.324/.345. That's 141 points of OPS. Over the course of their careers, Raines got on base twice as often and had twice as many total bases as Coleman.
I know you referenced their top five years, but the truth is that Raines (.334/.413/.476 with an OPS+ of 151) was a much better player than Coleman (.292/.340/.400 with an OPS+ of 104) at their respective peaks, too. I don't think the five-year numbers are much different. We agree on Coleman. He's not a Hall of Famer. But we disagree on Raines. I believe he is very worthy. I hope you keep an open mind on Raines and give him a closer look next year.
Tracy: That's probably not the only one we disagree on. Raines will have to get in line for me, behind Dawson and Murphy and Rice, while I still try and sort those three out. I know there is support for each of them, but I guess what I have the hardest time dealing with is why Rice's support seems stronger when I would put him third out of the three, and I'm not convinced yet on any of the three. Now that's where a vote gets difficult because I have so much respect for the people that Dawson and Murphy are that it is hard not to put them on my ballot.
Rich: Thank you for taking the time to go over these issues, Tracy. I appreciate your candidness in explaining the BBWAA's policies and procedures and for sharing your personal views on these subjects.
Tracy: Hopefully, it will provide some insight. I don't think anyone felt that the decisions this year were the end alls in dealing with the internet, but rather a first step.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at the Baseball Think Factory/Baseball Primer Newsblog.]
John Walsh wrote a fantastic piece on Thursday about the differences between fastballs, sliders, changeups and curveballs, and what happens when those pitches are put in play. I've done some research into this area myself and wanted to graphically present some of my findings.
One point that John made was fastballs, especially non-sinking fastballs, are hit on the ground the least often of any pitch. You can take this a step further, and look at the impact the location of a pitch has on how it is hit. The graph below looks at the percentage of each pitch type that are hit on the ground at different heights.
The most obvious thing is the huge advantage a sinker has in generating grounders compared to any other pitch. (I found sinkers the same way John did, by using all pitches with a pfx_z value of less than 6 inches). This isn't surprising, but what was a little surprising to me is how the groundball percentage of every pitch decreases at almost the same rate with increasing height. I would have thought that certain pitch types, especially curveballs, would have been much better, relative to other pitch types, when they were thrown low in the zone vs. high in the zone. I thought a curve would have a higher ratio of gb% on low pitches to gb% on high pitches than other pitch types did. This wasn't the case, so maybe the idea of a high curveball being a terrible pitch isn't totally accurate.
To get a better idea of what happens to high curveballs (and all pitch types), I looked at the slugging percentage for balls in play (including homers) based on which region of the strike-zone the pitch was thrown to. The table below shows those slugging percentages for the three vertical sections of the strike-zone. (The averages at the bottom are only for the pitches in the strike-zone and are higher than the averages in Walsh's article.)
FB SL CH CB Sinker | Avg.
Top 0.564 0.565 0.692 0.579 0.580 | 0.596
Middle 0.622 0.590 0.612 0.559 0.558 | 0.588
Bottom 0.554 0.496 0.498 0.458 0.481 | 0.497
Avg. 0.580 0.550 0.601 0.532 0.540 | 0.561
For pitches low in the strike-zone, batters have the lowest SLGBIP against curveballs, but if a curve is thrown at the top of the strike-zone, batters greatly increase their SLGBIP. Curveballs are hard pitches to hit, but the difference in SLGBIP between a low curve and a high curve is second only to the difference between a low changeup and a high changeup. Everything else being equal (speed, spin, movement, expectations of the batter, if the batter swings, etc.) a pitcher is increasing the batter's SLGBIP by roughly .100 points if he throws a curveball that isn't at the bottom of the strike-zone.
A changeup is potentially a great pitch, but changeups that aren't at the bottom of the strike-zone are hit much better than average. Low changeups are hit about as well as low sliders, but as the two pitches are elevated, the changeup gets hit much harder than the slider. A changeup above the knees is essentially a meat-ball and by throwing a changeup that isn't down in the strike-zone, the pitcher is increasing the batter's SLGBIP by at least .115 points.
Why Spend Big Bucks for Mediocrity?
Looking ahead to 2008, the top American League teams - the Red Sox, Tigers, Angels, Indians and Yankees - are also the five best squads in the majors. If all goes as is widely expected, one of these teams won't qualify for the postseason despite their elite status.
With the possible exception of the Mariners sneaking into the playoffs if the Angels have an unexpected collapse, it seems that the playoff prospects for the other eight AL teams are somewhere between slim and none - and slim just left town. What's a general manager of a mediocre-to-poor team supposed to do when confronted with this harsh reality?
Barring a baseball miracle such as the A's or Twins pulling off more of their low-budget magic, there are two clear paths that a small-market or losing AL team can take in '08. The best long-term option may seem like waving the white flag, but it makes sense from an economic and future-oriented perspective.
Should a less competitive team go for broke (literally) and spend $90 to $110 million on payroll in a desperate attempt to reach the .500 level? I'd hate to have to build a marketing campaign on "81 wins in 2008 is great!" How many more tickets will the Blue Jays, Orioles, Rays or Rangers sell if they win 78 games instead of 73?
GMs and front offices throughout the league should have made this decision by now. Without a firm and solid plan, just about every team in baseball except for the miserly Marlins has a knack for doing the drunken sailor routine when the mid-level player of the day hits the free agent market.
The Royals are this year's most obvious example of desperation winning out over logic and common sense. A $36 million commitment (three years at $12 million/season) to Jose Guillen is a prime example of what not to do when trying to improve a losing franchise.
While Guillen has some pop in his bat and a strong arm in rightfield, his reputation for being a perpetual pain in the rear is just what a team doesn't want for the long term. It also remains to be seen how Guillen will do without the "performance-enhancing substances" (English translation: steroids) that may cost him a 15-game suspension.
Guillen might be just the right five or six-hole hitter to help a contender in a supporting role. For the losing, cash-strapped Royals, he's a financial vampire draining the team's meager payroll. No one in Kansas City lined up for season tickets or playoff seats when Guillen's signing was announced.
Numerous examples of such short-sighted thinking (remember Franklin Stubbs, Pat Meares, Derek Bell and Adam Eaton, to name just four?) can be found in the free agency era. Earl Weaver and the late 1970s Orioles had perhaps the most intelligent approach to playing the free agent game.
To paraphrase Weaver, "Unless a guy has a strong chance of going into the Hall of Fame, don't get in a bidding war for him." During that time, the Orioles picked up role players and second-tier pitchers at modest prices. Free agency wasn't an expensive roll of the dice, but a way to fill some holes and find a bargain or two.
So how much revenue does a team forfeit by going from mediocre to worse? If attendance drops 100,000 when a team falls from the previous example of 78 to 73 wins, it could mean a decline in gross revenue of $3 million to $3.5 million.
But what if that same team could shave $20 million from the payroll for a slightly worse record? Why pay a journeyman $4 million to $6 million for a 70-RBI season when a cheap $1.5 million platoon might produce 63 RBI? That extra bit of production can be mighty expensive. Seven extra RBI could mean the playoffs for a contender, but that doesn't apply in the nether regions of the standings.
Losers also get higher draft picks and possibly more revenue sharing, so not going all out for a possible shot at .500 has some logic from a financial perspective. This is not to suggest that any team throw games, but a look at the realities of modern baseball economics.
This hypothetical scenario doesn't work if team owners pocket the extra $16.5 million or more that could be gained from taking the frugal road. It makes sense only if the savings are heavily invested in player development and scouting with a goal of future success.
If a franchise chooses this route for a year or two, they also need to take good care of the fans. Offer tons of otherwise unwanted tickets at big discounts - say $5 each - when the Rays and Pirates come to town. It's good PR and customer relations, not to mention a way to get kids and folks with modest incomes into the park.
Think like master promoter Bill Veeck and give away a few free cars or vacations. Have an unannounced gift like a free soda to everyone who comes to a game on a blazing hot day. Pepsi and ice are cheap, and the gesture will be remembered.
Three of the four teams in the 2007 League Championship Series - the Indians, Rockies and Diamondbacks - had some of the lowest payrolls in the majors. They have surged from sub-.500 seasons through developing their own talent at the minor league level.
Ideally, low-budget teams should do everything they can to develop pitchers both for the major league roster and as a valuable trading commodity to fill weak spots. Electric arms will always be in short supply, but any GM with a suplus of young middle relievers (now fetching $4 million to $5 million/year as free agents) and 3, 4 and 5 starters is going to be extremely popular at the winter meetings.
Getting back to the much-maligned Marlins, how many team owners would trade their undistinguished records of the past 15 years for Florida's two world championships since entering the majors in 1993? A pair of great seasons and a bunch of lousy ones may have more appeal than occasional blips above the .500 level and a string of false hopes.
Putting together a team that can take the World Series or compete for a few years is one thing. Keeping that roster together in the long run, paying ever-escalating salaries for essentially the same production and bidding for free agents isn't an option for small-market franchises. In those instances, it could make sense to exchange one step back in 2008 for three steps forward later.
Around and Around We Go
Dan Lewis from ArmchairGM recently invited me to participate in The 2008 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot -- A Roundtable Discussion.
David Pinto of Baseball Musings, Dayn Perry of FOXSports, Dan McLaughlin of Baseball Crank, and Matt Sussman of Deadspin were the other guests. The five of us were asked "to pick one guy to enshrine and one guy to leave out, and write an essay for each." I chose Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris (I'll let you guess which one I elected to support). Sussman took the opposing viewpoints.
Here is what I had to say about Blyleven:
The Hall of Fame case for Bert Blyleven is not complicated at all. In fact, it is simple and straightforward. Since 1900, Bert Blyleven ranks 5th in career strikeouts (3701), 8th in shutouts (60), and 17th in wins (287).
Blyleven's qualifications are obvious and compelling. One would have to ignore the facts to come up with reasons not to vote for him. To be honest, there really isn't much to debate here unless someone wants to point to all the nonsense I have refuted time and again in the past.
Blyleven has been scrutinized more closely than perhaps any other candidate in the history of the HOF voting. In fact, I would argue that he has been held to a different set of standards than most of the rest.
If Blyleven won a baker's dozen more games, he would have been a no brainer. Yes, 13 more wins and even those who now don't support Bert would have voted him in a long, long time ago. The funny thing is, there is no shame in having won 287 games, which ranks 17th among all pitchers over the past 100-plus years. I mean, there have been 60 pitchers from the ranks of MLB who have been enshrined in Cooperstown. SIXTY! Yet there is no place in upstate New York for a guy who ranks in the top ten in strikeouts and shutouts and in the top 25 in wins (including pre-1900).
After comparing Blyleven to eight of his ten most comparable pitchers according to Bill James' Similarity Scores (hint: his stats are basically indistinguishable and, if anything, slightly better) and refuting the naysayers who point to his poor showing in Cy Young balloting, I closed with the following paragraph:
Strikeouts, shutouts, wins . . . unlike Cy Young rankings, they are not subject to opinions. The facts speak for themselves. His poor showing in Cy Young votings says more about the voters than Blyleven. And, for the most part, the writers who voted for these awards are now the ones who are once again slighting Blyleven in the voting for the Hall of Fame. It's nonsensical. There was a disconnect between Bert's achievements and the recognition he received. It's time to correct that.
There is no doubt about it. That is a Hall of Fame resume. He isn't just a Hall of Famer. As HOF voter Joe Posnanski told me, "He's an absolute, slam-dunk, first-ballot guy. It's absurd." Anyone who still needs more convincing should go see a shrink.
As for Morris, I argued that he was a "good pitcher but is not a Hall of Famer" while comparing his regular and postseason record to Blyleven's.
The fact that Jack Morris pitched for three different World Series championship teams is a big plus for him in the minds of many voters. He was instrumental in Detroit and Minnesota when these teams won it all in 1984 and 1991, respectively, but Toronto won in spite of him in 1992 when he went 0-2 with an 8.44 ERA.
Add it all up and Morris was 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA in seven postseason series, 4-2 with a 2.96 ERA in three World Series. By comparison, Blyleven pitched on two World Series Championship teams, compiling a 5-1 record and a 2.47 ERA in five postseason series and was 2-1 with a 2.35 ERA in two World Series. And yet Morris is the one people remember as the big game pitcher? I don't want to demean his Game 7 complete game shutout over the Atlanta Braves to capture the 1991 World Series. That was huge. But he comes up well short of Blyleven by almost any rational measure.
Take neutral wins. If Morris and Blyleven both had league average run support, Jack would have won 22 fewer games and Bert would have won 26 more games. Yes, Morris' overall record would have been 232-208 (.527) while Blyleven would have been 313-224 (.583).
Morris had an ERA of 3.90. If elected, his ERA would rank dead last. I might be able to overcome that if his ballpark-adjusted ERA (or ERA+) painted a different picture. But it doesn't. Morris' ERA+ was 105. That means he was 5% better than league average. Blyleven's ERA+ was 118 or 18% above league average. Morris never had a single season higher than 133. Blyleven had six seasons in which his ERA+ was better than 133.
There really is no comparison. Blyleven had a (much) better ERA and ERA+ than Morris. Blyleven had (a lot) more strikeouts, shutouts, and wins than Morris. Blyleven is a clear-cut Hall of Famer. Morris was a good pitcher but is not a Hall of Famer. If Morris is, he'll have to wait in line behind Blyleven.
For more on Blyleven, please check out the links in the sidebar on the left under Best of Baseball Beat.
The Same Things
Every pitch has a unique fingerprint that differentiates it from other all pitches. There are many factors that give every pitch a different identity, such as speed, how much movement it has, the handedness of the batter and pitcher, the location of the pitch, as well as the sequence of pitches that led to the pitcher throwing it. This week I want to look at how similar different pitches are. Do Brad Lidge and Joe Nathan throw a similar slider? (They don't). If so, how similar is it? (Not very, Lidge's is similar to Jonathan Broxton's, Nathan's is more like Bobby Jenks'). If not, what parts are different? (Nathan's is faster, and has a bigger pfx_z value, but a smaller pfx_x value)
Using the pitch classifications from wmy database, I found the average speed and pfx values for every pitch I had data for. For example, Josh Beckett's fastball has an average speed of 95 MPH, pfx_x value of -7.4" and a pfx_z value of 8.7". (Pfx_x/z values are how the pitch actually moved relative to a spin-less version of it. They measure in inches how much spin the pitcher put on the ball). Once I had the average values for all the pitches, I found the z-score for each value, relative to all other pitches. I then subtracted the z-scores of the pitch I was comparing from the z-score of the Beckett's fastball and squared the result. This gives the distance between each pitch and Beckett's fastball for each category, and summing those differences gives the total difference between Beckett's fastball and the other pitches.
Derek Lowe relies heavily on his sinker to produce a ton of ground ball outs. Lowe is reputed to have one of the best sinkers in baseball, which I won't argue, but what's the difference between Lowe's sinker and Brandon Webb's? How similar are the two pitches to each other and what other pitches are they similar to? If my similarity scores are measuring what I think they are, Lowe and Webb's sinkers will be most similar to other sinking fastballs, and hopefully will be similar to each other. The table below shows the pitches most similar to each sinker along with the similarity score for each pitch.
Name Pitch Throws MPH pfx_x pfx_z Score
Brandon Webb FB R 88.8 -10.13" 1.94" 100
Franquelis Osoria FB R 90.8 -9.45" 2.15" 96
Kameron Loe FB R 88.6 -8.73" 3.79" 96
Derek Lowe FB R 90.3 -10.28" 3.87" 96
Shawn Hill FB R 89.6 -8.33" 3.80" 95
Jeremy Accardo CH R 86.0 -8.46" 1.97" 95
Name Pitch Throws MPH pfx_x pfx_z Score
Derek Lowe FB R 90.2 -10.28" 3.87" 100
Yorman Bazardo FB R 89.9 -9.38" 4.89" 97
Jake Westbrook FB R 91.1 -8.99" 3.71" 97
Luis Ayala FB R 89.6 -8.53" 4.57" 97
Shawn Hill FB R 89.6 -8.33" 3.80" 96
Kameron Loe FB R 88.6 -8.73" 3.79" 96
Webb's sinker is slightly more unique than Lowe's, primarily due to the spin he imparts on the ball (he has the smallest pfz_z number for a fastball and combines it with an large absolute value pfx_x value). One cool thing to notice is that the fifth most similar pitch to Webb's sinker is Accardo's changeup. Changeups typically have a smaller pfx_z value than fastballs, sinking more than a fastball thrown by the same pitcher, and Accardo's mirrors Webb's sinker. Overall though, I would classify the similar pitches in both cases (as well as other similar pitches that fell outside the top-5) as sinkers, giving some confidence that the system is actually finding similar pitches.
I wanted to look at breaking balls too. Just from observing the two, Barry Zito and Rich Hill appear to have very similar curveballs. Let's see what the list says.
Name Pitch Throws MPH pfx_x pfx_z Score
Barry Zito CB L 70.2 -0.69" -11.48" 100
Ted Lilly CB L 71.0 -4.34" -8.95" 92
Sean Marshall CB L 73.2 -4.26" -9.91" 92
Rick VandenHurk CB R 71.0 4.47" -9.79" 90
Jo-Jo Reyes CB L 73.3 -2.95" -7.33" 90
Doug Davis CB L 68.4 -5.39" -8.48" 90
The first thing to realize is that Zito's curve is much more unique than either of the two sinkers. The reason for this is the lack of horizontal spin. Zito throws almost a true 12-to-6 curveball, and as a result of that, a right-handed pitcher's pitch shows up on his list of most similar pitches. I'm not saying that Vanden-Hurk's curve is going to look like Zito's to a batter, but Zito's curve is so unique that there aren't many similar pitches to it, thrown by either LHP or RHP. Hill's curve doesn't show up at the top of Zito's list because Hill's is thrown faster, has a smaller pfx_z value, and has a larger pfx_x value. Zito's curveball is really a unique pitch.
Speaking of unique pitches, lets talk about Mariano Rivera's cutter. I've been somewhat fascinated with Rivera's cutter since I started working with the pitch f/x data. For those who might be unaware, despite being a right-handed pitcher, Rivera is hit harder by right-handed batters than left-handed batters. This is due to the cutter which moves in on left handed batters and causes lots of weak contact and broken bats. The list of similar pitches to Rivera's cutter has a pretty wide selection of pitches.
Name Pitch Throws MPH pfx_x pfx_z Score
Mariano Rivera FB R 93.4 2.72" 7.72 100*
Jared Burton FB R 93.4 1.57" 7.58 98*
Brandon Medders SL R 91.2 2.27" 9.40 95
Juan Salas FB R 90.9 1.02" 8.05 95*
Jon Lester FB L 92.1 4.50" 9.56 95
Jason Isringhausen CT R 90.3 1.69" 7.92 95
Randy Flores FB L 90.0 1.79" 7.41 95
Jonathan Broxton CT R 96.3 1.03" 8.40 94
Brian Wolfe CT R 92.6 -0.39" 6.97 94
Kevin Cameron FB R 91.9 -0.11" 6.64 94
Again, these aren't necessarily pitches that will look like Rivera's cutter to hitters, but pitches that move like it. The release point a pitcher throws with plays a huge role in what a pitch looks like, but for right now, don't worry about that. Jared Burton's fastball actually looks like a close match to the cutter, but the horizontal movement for Rivera's cutter is the most unique aspect of the pitch, and Burton's pitch doesn't come close to matching it. Brandon Medder's slider looks close too, but drops less and is a little slower. The pitches that have similar horizontal movement to the cutter are all primarily thrown by left-handed pitchers, with very few pitches thrown by right-handed pitchers having that much movement in to left-handed hitters. The right-handed pitchers with a * next to their score in the list above have reverse splits (right-handed batters hit them better than left-handed ones), but only Burton and Rivera show a reverse split on the pitch in the list. I'm probably reading too much into a sketchy list (that also has sample size problems) but I'm going to keep an eye on Burton.
I think this is a cool way to look at pitches and see similarities that might have otherwise gone unseen. Right now, the similarity scores I'm using are based more on how the pitch moves, independent of how the batter perceives it, which isn't the ideal solution. In addition to just the movement and speed, the sequencing and location of pitches has a large impact on how they are viewed by the batter. For Jamie Moyer's fastball, the two most similar pitches are Cole Hamels' changeup and Johan Santana's changeup. The similarity speaks highly to the movement on Moyer's fastball, but without looking, I would guess that Moyer throws his fastball mostly in situations where Santana and Hamels throw their fastballs, not their changeups. If I can get the similarity scores to reflect how batters view the pitches, the scores will become much more useful.
Here's what I've got with Burton...
The pitch I called his fastball could be 2 different pitches, one of which behaves like a regular 4-seamer and one of which behaves almost exactly like Rivera's cutter. The red cluster in the chart below is what I initially called Burton's fastball and if you look at the far left of the cluster, you can see a somewhat separate cluster that could be a regular 4-seam fastball, with the cutter occurring more on the right. Without having first-hand information about the types of pitches a pitcher throws I wouldn't be comfortable making a distinction between 2 such similar groupings, but it looks like this might be something.
I have Burton throwing the cutter around 50% of the time, the 4-seamer 25%, and the slider and changeup being the other 25%...Justin, do you know if Burton throws his cutter that often?
If you're curious, here are the values of the 2 cutters...pretty much a dead on match, with Burton's actually having a higher (more "movement") pfx_x value. I would kill for data on Rivera's cutter when he was at his absolute peak though and I wonder maybe if he's lost an inch or two off his cutter since then.
Name MPH, pfx_x, pfx_z
A Tale of Two New York Giants
The New York (baseball) Giants often lagged behind the Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers in attendance when the Big Apple was home to three major league baseball teams. Authors who write about the franchise's history tend to focus on a few areas.
Christy Mathewson and John McGraw have been the subjects of numerous articles and books. Moving to the 1930s, Mel Ott and Bill Terry have gotten a fair amount of attention from baseball historians. The 1951 "Miracle at Coogan's Bluff" home run by Bobby Thompson that put the Giants in the World Series is a perpetual topic for New Yorkers and others. Add in the non-stop coverage of Willie Mays, the books on Leo Durocher plus accounts of journeyman Dusty Rhodes' heroics in the 1954 World Series, and that pretty well sums up what's available on the east coast version of the Giants.
Since 2007 is the 50th anniversary of the team's last game in the Polo Grounds, it's an appropriate time to look at two lesser-known Giants. They were managed by Durocher, and both men were teammates during the Mays era. While these players were starters on the same roster, their approaches to the game couldn't be more different.
Catcher Wes Westrum and outfielder Don Mueller spent much of the 1950s in the shadow of Mays. As everyday players on a team that appeared in two World Series (1951 and 1954), Westrum and Mueller played vital supporting roles in the franchise's last seasons at the Polo Grounds.
As a grade schooler obsessed with all things baseball, I knew Westrum had replaced Casey Stengel when the Old Professor retired from managing the Mets after suffering a broken hip during the 1965 season. Applying the normal standards of the day, I had a typical late 1960s reaction when reviewing Westrum's career numbers.
"What were the Giants thinking? How could they keep such a terrible hitter for so long?", I asked after being exposed to the Minnesota native's .217 lifetime average from 1947 to 1957, all with the New York Giants. How wrong I was.
While Westrum was subpar in one category, he made up for it elsewhere. He finished fourth in the National League with 92 walks in 1950. Combine that with a .236 average to arrive at a .371 OBP plus a career-best 23 home runs and 71 RBI.
Add in durability (140 games as a catcher) and Westrum's pitch calling and defensive skills - just one error for a .999 fielding percentage - and it quickly becomes obvious just how valuable he could be.
Although his average fell to .219 in 1951, Westrum was still an asset to the pennant-winning Giants. A career-high 104 walks (third in the NL) in 361 ABs led to a .400 OBP, which would had been good enough for sixth in the league if Westrum had a few more at-bats to qualify. His 20 HR and 70 RBI were far above normal from a bottom of the order hitter.
To call Westrum's season productive is an understatement, as he had nearly an RBI for each of his 79 hits. His walk total exceeded the hit count by 25, so opposing pitchers had to work hard to put Westrum away. He occasionally batted higher in the lineup. Westrum was in the cleanup slot behind Mays on May 28, 1951. That was the day when the Say Hey Kid smacked the first of his 660 career home runs against Warren Spahn.
The average stayed nearly the same at .220 (71 for 322) in 1952. Westrum's walks (76) exceeded his hits (71) for the second consecutive year, and a .374 OBP would have been eighth in the NL with enough plate appearances.
Westrum's playing time decreased for the next five years - possibly because of the era's focus on batting average. He made numerous appearances as a late-inning defensive replacement during the final three years of his career. In that time (1955-57), the right-handed hitter appeared in exactly 200 box scores, with just 360 ABs.
With nearly as many career walks (489) as hits (503), Westrum's OBP of .356 is above the NL average of .343 during his career. Even with a combined .228 average in 1950 and 1951, Westrum was clearly a solid offensive catcher during those years. He was named to the National League All-Star team in 1952 and 1953.
Unlike Westrum, Mueller was a high-average type. His ability to make contact and slap singles earned the left-handed hitter the nickname "Mandrake the Magician" after the popular comic strip character.
The St. Louis native provided an accurate preview of his career in 1948. In 36 games and 81 rookie ABs, Mueller hit .358 with just three strikeouts and no walks. 1950 was Mueller's first full season with the Giants. He hit .291 (153 for 525) with 7 HR and a career-best 84 RBI. Twenty-six strikeouts combined with 10 walks says it all about Mueller's approach to hitting.
Mueller cut the Ks in half to 13 in 1951, when he went 130 for 469 for a .277 average with 16 HRs (a career high) and 69 RBI. Although he nearly doubled his walk total to 19, Mueller's .307 OBP was 36 points below the NL average of .343.
The Giants rightfielder experienced what had to be one of the most heartbreaking moments in baseball history. Mueller broke his ankle when sliding into third base during the ninth inning of the famed "shot heard round the world" pennant clincher of October 3, 1951. If the injury hadn't occured, Mueller would have had his usual starting role in that year's World Series against the Yankees.
By his impatient standards, Mueller was operating at a Rickey Henderson-like level of taking pitches in 1952. A career-best 34 walks with 24 Ks in 456 ABs (128 hits, .281) led to a 26-point jump in OBP to .333.
Mueller showed why he was tagged with the Mandrake moniker in 1953. He hit .333 (160 for 480), and just 20 of those knocks (12 2B, 2 3B, 6 HR) went for extra bases, which meant Mueller earned a Ph.D in punching singles. The BA was good for fifth in the NL, and the 13 Ks and 19 walks were a rerun of 1951. Even though he often hit third, Muller led the NL in singles in 1954 (165) and 1955 (152) along with a third place finish (140) in 1953.
It was onward and upward in 1954. Mueller came through with career bests in hits (212), batting average (.342), doubles (35) and OBP (.363). Only teammate Mays (.345) surpassed Mueller, who hit an RBI double in his first All-Star appearance.
The year was rounded out with seven singles in 18 World Series ABs (.389) as the underdog Giants swept the Indians in the Fall Classic. With just 17 Ks and 22 walks, opposing fielders had to be alert when Mueller was at the plate. 1954 was the second of four consecutive seasons where Mueller reigned as the league's toughest strikeout.
A .306 (185 for 605) campaign in 1955 was good enough to earn Mueller a second All-Star nomination. Although his doubles plunged from 35 to 21, the RBI count rose from 71 to 83. As always, Mueller was the supreme master of putting the ball in play, with 12 Ks (less than one every 50 ABs) and 19 walks.
Mandrake ran out of tricks in 1956, as his ability to hit for average vanished. After a trio of .300 plus performances, Mueller fell to .269 and .258 in the Giants' final two seasons in upper Manhattan. With his free-swinging approach, that meant OBPs of .290 and .280.
Mueller was still all but impossible to strike out, as he had just seven Ks in 453 ABs in 1956. The contact master closed out his career as a part-timer with the White Sox in 1958 and 1959. Mueller's .296 lifetime average (1292 for 4364) is just 26 lower than his .322 OBP, which is 18 points under the NL average of .340. Many 21st century players have more Ks in one season than Mueller's career total of 146, but his 164 walks would scare off modern numbers crunchers.
Two teammates with radically different hitting styles. How could Westrum and Mueller have anything in common with a bat in their hands? In one respect, these Gotham Giants are two peas in a pod.
Both patient, powerful Westrum and slap at anything Mueller were allergic to doubles. Westrum's best season of 13 came in 1950 when he had a career high 437 at-bats. It was all downhill from there. Westrum smacked a dozen two-baggers in 1951, 11 in 1952 and five in 290 ABs in 1954.
While hitting .187 in 1955, Westrum had just three doubles in 246 ABs. Eight homers and 45 walks meant he wasn't a total offensive zero, but even a gun to his head wouldn't have gotten doubles out of Westrum in 1955 and 1957. In those years, Westrum had a lone double per season in 132 and 91 ABs.
Just 59 doubles in 2322 career ABs is a lowly number, but Westrum's final five campaigns are almost freakish. From 1953 to 1957, the catcher had a mere 15 doubles in 896 ABs. There may be a contributing factor, which will be explored later.
Toss out 1954 when he was eighth in the NL in doubles, and Mueller had just 104 two-base hits in his other 3745 ABs. He had just 10 doubles along with seven triples in 469 ABs in 1951. That total crept up to 14 in 456 ABs the following year. Never known as a consistent longball threat, Mueller actally had more homers (28) than doubles (24) in those two seasons.
A dozen doubles in 453 ABs in 1956 doesn't look good, but it sure beats the seven two-baggers in 450 ABs that Mueller produced in 1957. Add in a triple and six HRs, and it means 102 of that season's 116 hits were singles.
Could there another reason why Westrum and Mueller are deficient in doubles? The odd, bathtub shape of the Polo Grounds meant deep alleys but a narrow outfield. Anything clubbed over an outfielder's head had a chance to go for a triple or even an inside-the-park home run, but there was relatively little space to cover in the gaps.
In the Polo Grounds, line drives and gappers could be cut off easier by outfielders with average to poor speed. That would be especially true if outfielders played deeper than normal. Without having the time to make an exhaustive study, a look at National League doubles leaders provides some insights.
Giants second baseman Larry Doyle (no relation) led the NL with 40 doubles in 1915, a season when he also led the league with a .320 BA. The next Giant to lead the NL in doubles was Alvin Dark (41) in 1951. No other New York or San Francisco Giant has topped National League in doubles since. That's not a great surprise, as the team spent 40 years in wind-whipped, blustery Candlestick Park after leaving New York.
With just one league leader in 88 seasons of the live ball era, it's not a stretch to say the Polo Grounds could have cut into the doubles totals of Giants hitters. If that's not the case, then why would extreme opposites such as Westrum and Mueller have such similar results in that department?
Heading into last season, many suspected the Washington Nationals would be amongst the worst teams in baseball history. With no pitching and a flimsy lineup whose most promising players were injury prone (Nick Johnson, Austin Kearns, etc), forecasters spoke of impending, potentially historic disaster.
The Nats were not a good team in 2007 but they also were not even close to playing poorly enough to be considered among the worst teams of all time. They weren't even the worst team in their division, and in 2007 eight other MLB teams finished the year with fewer wins than Washington. While a 73-win season is hardly cause for celebration, Washington exceeded expectations and move into a new stadium for 2008. Given this, General Manager Jim Bowden believes the time is now and through a series of bold moves, has made marked improvements for his club on the offensive side.
Last year's Nationals won despite some truly atrocious performances from players who will not factor into the 2008 version of the club.
PA AVG OBP SLG
B. Schneider 477 .235 .326 .336
N. Logan 350 .265 .304 .345
R. Fick 221 .234 .309 .305
R. Langerhans 187 .198 .296 .370
That's 1,235 plate appearances of straight awfulness right there. Moreover, Felipe Lopez had an exceptionally down season; a 75 OPS+ campaign for a guy who, coming into the season, was considered a solid offensive middle infielder. In Lopez, Cristian Guzman and Ronnie Belliard, the Nats figure to assemble at least an average hitting middle infield.
In the outfield, the loss of Ryan Church hurts but the Nats should suffer no downgrade at all thanks to the addition of Lastings Milledge. Between Kearns, Milledge, Wily Mo Pena (124 OPS+ with Washington last year) and troubled newcomer Elijah Dukes, Washington figures to comfortably outproduce last year's outfield combo.
Corner infielders Dmitri Young and Ryan Zimmerman were the two best hitters on last year's club. Although Young is a clear regression candidate, that could easily be alleviated by contributions from the oft-injured Nick Johnson and/or continued improvement from the youngster Zimmerman. All in all, I see similar production in the aggregate coming from Washington's corner infielders in 2008.
At catcher, Brian Schneider was just awful but Paul Lo Duca is nothing spectacular either. Coming off of his worst season as a pro in 2007, it is hard to figure the 36 year-old will be all that great. Still, 2007 was such an outlier down season for him that one has to figure Lo Duca bounces back a little bit. Say, up to an 85 or 90 OPS+ type of campaign. This would represent considerable improvement over Schneider's output in 2007.
Where Bowden still has his work to do is on the pitching side. The bullpen boasted a 3.81 ERA in 2007 but the starting pitching once again figures to be atrocious. A serviceable innings eater or two would do wonders for this club. Whether Bowden can pull this off will go a long way in determining whether the Nats make any noise or not in the competitive National League East next season.
There is no denying that Bowden has taken the initial steps, however. This figures to be a lineup without any glaring holes featuring a candidate or two capable of posting a superstar campaign sprinkled in (Zimmerman, Pena, Milledge, Kearns, Young). That's all it takes to have a top-of-the-league type of offense. We will see what Bowden does from here.
Tear Down This Wall
A little over twenty years ago, President Ronald Reagan, while standing in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, challenged Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall." It was a speech that changed the world. Less than 2 1/2 years later, East Germany opened the Wall and the Soviet Union collapsed soon afterward, marking the end of the Cold War.
Depending on which side of the wall one stands, change can be difficult. With this in mind, the Baseball Writers Association of America opened up its membership to web-based writers for the first time in its history when it admitted 16 new members last week. The news was met with reactions ranging from praise to disdain to questions over who is — and should be — included in this soon-to-be 100-year-old organization.
Rather than waiting for me to break the news, the BBWAA would have been well served to put out a press release — after all, it is a news organization, right? — to announce who, what, when, and why the change was taking place. Instead, the BBWAA and its officers chose to remain secretive (perhaps because it didn't deem the change in policy to be newsworthy), failing to come forward until after I went public with it last Thursday night. The Baseball Think Factory linked to my story and the news spread faster than one could ask, "Why was Rob Neyer excluded?"
Keith Law, who along with Neyer was denied admission to the BBWAA, tried to set the record straight on his blog and a second thread was created at the BTF over the weekend. Neyer, Law, Tracy Ringolsby, and others took turns at pointing fingers, asking questions, and providing answers while trying to get to the bottom of the real story.
The real story took a turn for the better when the President of the Baseball Writers Association of America, Bob Dutton, agreed to be interviewed by fellow Kansas City Star writer and member of the BBWAA Joe Posnanski (Talking with the Prez), as well as Maury Brown of The Biz of Baseball (Bob Dutton Addresses the BBWAA Inclusion Process).
To Dutton's credit, he has knocked a few bricks off the wall. Like the Berlin Wall, it may take a few years for it to be knocked down completely. But it will come down. There's just no denying that fact. You see, the democratization of information is a wonderful thing. Speaking of which, Dutton agreed to provide Maury with a list of all badge members as of May 2007. As they say, a little sunshine is always the best disinfectant.
We learn in the Posnanski interview the four reasons for the existence of the BBWAA:
Subsection A: To insure proper facilities for reporting baseball games and to provide competent regulation of press boxes of the American League of Professional Baseball Clubs and National League of Professional Baseball Clubs, hereinafter designated as the Major Leagues;
Subsection B: To assist in clarifying baseball scoring rules, thereby promoting uniformity in official scoring;
Subsection C: To sustain cooperation and fellowship with the baseball writers of the minor leagues;
Subsection D: To foster the most credible qualities of baseball writing and reporting.
Dutton then explains, "I think it’s easy to see the association exists, primarily, to assist the coverage of baseball print [my emphasis] reporters at big-league parks." I didn't see that word in those subsections myself. The newspaper industry may have been the only form of media that existed when the BBWAA was founded in 1908, but it no longer has such a monopoly today. Nonetheless, Dutton is not a stick in the mud by any means.
We realize the business is changing. We began discussing the possibility of admitting online reporters back in 1999. My personal view is we moved too slow on this. But we finally passed an amendment earlier this year that creates a portal for internet reporters to gain membership.
Dutton details how memberships are determined:
Each year at our World Series meeting, our annual meeting, the association formally considers a list of online sites. . .As a starting point, and only as a starting point, the list of sites to receive consideration are those credentialed by MLB for the World Series. Approved sites are then asked to submit qualified candidates by Dec. 1 for consideration. This year, the membership approved MLB’s World Series credential list which included: CBSSportsline.com, ESPN.com, FoxSports.com, SI.com and Yahoo.com.
Qualified candidates are specifically defined as those who are full-time employees whose primary job is to write about baseball. I think it’s important to point out that we follow a similar procedure in admitting newspaper reporters. The sports editor of any qualified newspaper is asked to submit candidates for membership. Qualified newspapers are defined, basically, as those that cover at least 75 percent of a team’s games (home and away) with a staff reporter or a special correspondent. There are some exceptions, but that’s the general requirement.
Posnanski asks Dutton why Neyer and Law weren't approved and the conclusion was, "The board determined, with the best information available, that neither Rob nor Keith needed a credential." Poz then points out that "the BBWAA has finally become more inclusive, which is great, a nice first step. And that step is generally overlooked because Rob and Keith did not get in. What do you think?" And Dutton replies as follows:
Are we generally moving in the right direction? Yes. Are we moving fast enough? Not for me personally, but we have other members who believe we’re moving plenty fast. I’m encouraged by a compromise that I believe moves us in right direction.
Speaking as the BBWAA president, I’ll say that we need to constantly reconsider all aspects of our association. Also, the amendment, as written, is sufficiently broad to cover any group with the specific exception of MLB.com.
Speaking for myself, and only for myself, my general view is anyone whose full-time job is to write about baseball should be eligible for membership. I say that knowing it currently places me in a distinct minority among our members. That’s fine. Just a few years ago, the membership’s overwhelming view was in opposition to admitting any internet sites. So I choose to remain optimistic.
Again, I say kudos to Dutton. Be sure to read the full interview here as well as the one conducted by Brown here. If you have the time and interest, you might also skim through the BTF thread to the latter.
Who knows, before you finish reading both interviews, a few more bricks may have been loosened, if not knocked, from the wall.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at the Baseball Think Factory/Baseball Primer Newsblog.]
Dirty Jobs: part 2
Last week I looked at how pitchers approached each count, based on the amount of fastballs thrown and where they were thrown. Today I'm going to wrap up the topic, looking at what generally happens after the pitcher releases the ball and the hitter has to make a decision.
The most basic decision a hitter has to make at the plate (after determining what pitch is coming) is whether to swing or not so the next facet of each count I looked at was how often hitters took a pitch in each count. To remain consistent with the other results I've found, I only looked at fastballs and the table below shows how often fastballs were taken in each count, along with how often the pitch was either a ball or a strike. The most obvious thing is how often 3&0 fastballs are taken, especially for strikes. I realize there are a lot of good explanations/reasons for this behavior, but it seems that hitters are sacrificing a huge opportunity by taking so many pitches in these situations. A 3&1 count is still a hitter's count, so the actual loss of the strike doesn't hurt the batter too much, but they are ceding one their most potentially productive counts by showing pitchers they rarely swing in in it. A generic 3&0 pitch is a strike only 60% of the time, compared with the average across all counts of 63%, but that's not nearly enough of a difference to justify taking 93% of pitches.
Count Take% Called Strike% Ball% Called Strike/Ball Ratio
3&0 93% 59% 33% 1.77
0&0 71% 32% 40% .81
2&0 59% 28% 31% .90
1&0 57% 24% 33% .71
0&1 54% 12% 42% .28
0&2 53% 5% 48% .09
1&1 47% 12% 35% .33
3&1 45% 17% 28% .60
1&2 43% 5% 38% .14
2&1 40% 11% 30% .36
2&2 35% 5% 30% .18
3&2 25% 4% 21% .20
If the batter is able recognize a 3&0 pitch as a fastball out of the pitcher's hand he's at even more of an advantage. 3&0 fastballs are strikes 67% of the time, which is higher than the average for fastballs among all counts (64%) and when batters do swing at 3&0 fastballs, they are very successful, posting the highest Slugging Percentage by swings (TB/Total Swings) for any count. I would think that success would encourage more swinging on 3&0, but it apparently doesn't. I know that I'm making this sound overly simplistic, and there are certainly valid reasons why different hitters might not swing at a 3&0 fastball, (among others, they could be looking for a specific pitch or a specific location), but I think there's an element of risk-aversion on the part of the batter to avoid "wasting" a 3&0 count and making a visible out right then.
I'm not sure how much more I'm advocating swinging at 3&0 fastballs, but if the whole point of a hitter's count is to force the pitcher into throwing more fastballs, then taking almost all of those fastballs can't be a good decision, especially when the pitch is nearly twice as likely to be a strike than a ball. Taking the pitch might not be as big of a problem as I'm making it out to be because even though a 3&1 count is a (slightly) worse hitter's count than 3&0, in terms of seeing fastballs, the two counts are very similar. This leads to the question, in which count is it worst to take a strike in? The table below has the FB% for each count, along with the FB% for the count that results from taking an additional strike and the difference between the two. Obviously it's suicide to take a called third strike, so those bottom four counts aren't very interesting, What is interesting is the top of the chart. Taking a 3&0 strike leaves the batter in roughly the same position he started in, at least in terms of possibly seeing a fastball. The lack of a "penalty" for taking a strike combined with the potential of getting a walk might contribute to the higher than normal take-rates in 3&0. The similarity in terms of seeing fastballs between 0&1 and 0&2 further emphasizes how important first pitch strikes are for a pitcher. 0&2 is obviously a better pitcher's count because the batter has a smaller margin for error, but in terms of fastball selection, once that first strike happens, the batter has a huge hole to dig out of.
Count FB% FB%-Called Diff.
0&1 48% 47% 0.00
3&0 78% 76% -0.02
1&1 49% 44% -0.05
1&0 59% 49% -0.10
2&0 70% 59% -0.10
0&0 59% 48% -0.11
2&1 59% 47% -0.13
3&1 76% 61% -0.14
1&2 44% 0% -0.44
2&2 47% 0% -0.47
0&2 47% 0% -0.47
3&2 61% 0% -0.61
Going back to the first table for a second, another interesting element is how the frequencies of taking a fastball for a called strike organize the counts based on the number of strikes a hitter has. When hitters have two strikes, regardless of the number of balls he has, there is only about a 5% chance of him looking at strike three. When he has one strike, there is about a 12% chance of taking strike two and with zero strikes and zero, one or two balls, a there is about a 28% chance of the batter taking strike one, but in a 3&0 count, that percent nearly doubles to 59%.
I mentioned that batters had the best results in 3&0 counts, and I based that on the slugging percentage per swing in each count. This is very similar to slugging percentage for balls in play, except swinging strikes and foul balls are added to the denominator. This is a more granular metric than anything else I've seen and measures the value of a swing. To give a feel for the size of these values, the league average (for all types of pitches) is .273, Alex Rodriguez led the league at .324 and among non pitchers, Jason LaRue was last, posting a .114. .270 and above is a pretty good performance, while below .180 is poor. (These are different than the values I posted on Saturday which were slightly off). This isn't a measure of the absolute value a player, but measures the value of one swing of his bat, something like his skill for recognizing which pitches to swing at and then hitting those pitches hard. The table below shows the SLGSWING in each count (for fastballs), and the rankings of the counts is very similar to how they've been ranked with other metrics.
The original question that prompted this article asked about classifying 2&2 and 0&1 counts and the way hitters and pitchers approached each count. I would call both counts pitcher's counts but in an 0&1 count, the fewer strikes gives hitters a much bigger margin for error and allows them to be relatively selective about which pitch they swing at. However, an 0&1 count also allows pitchers to be less concerned with forcing a strike than they are in a 2&2 count. 0&1 has some advantages for both batters and pitchers, although the pitcher's advantage is dominant. In a 2&2 count, the batter and pitcher are under different pressures. A batter can't afford to be very selective because he only has one strike left, but a pitcher doesn't want to throw a ball and go to 3&2. The batter is again in a worse spot, making it a pitcher's count, but if 0&1 is a count where both the batter and pitcher are under pressure to maximize their advantage, in a 2&2 count it seems like both players are under pressure not to screw up.
Center of Attention in So. Cal
One year after committing big money to centerfield, both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels have committed big money to, uh, centerfield.
On its own, I am not against this. If a team determines a given player to be an improvement and it makes sense financially to acquire the player regardless of positional incumbents, more power to them. Frankly, in the Dodgers case, ignoring the disaster that is Juan Pierre would be crazy. Unfortunately, I fear they may do something crazier; move Pierre to left.
But let's look with some historical perspective to try and deduce the likelihood that the Torii Hunter and Andruw Jones transactions work out.
Hunter has a career OPS+ of 104 and a figure of 112 since the 2004 campaign. He will be 33 years-old for the 2008 season. He was signed to a five year contract, so let's have a look at how some other center fielders have fared in their 33-37 campaigns.
Centerfielders with an OPS+ above 104 in their 33-37 Seasons
W. Mays '64-'68 158
J. Edmonds '03-'07 137
B. Butler '90-'94 120
B. Williams '02-'06 110
R. Yount '89-'93 110
B. Anderson '97-'01 109
S. Finley '98-'02 106
**Minimum of 600 games played
As you can see, since 1957 only three centerfielders in their 33-37 seasons have matched or bettered Hunter's 112 OPS+ that he put up from 2004 to 2007. Just seven have even managed to reach his 104 career mark during these years.
Jones will be 31 for the 2008 season and he is coming off a year in which he posted an 88 OPS+. He signed a two-year deal with the Dodgers. Since 1957, nineteen centerfielders who have managed to play at least 225 games in their 31 and 32 campaigns have equaled or bettered Andruw's 116 OPS+ that he notched from 2004 to 2007. Just three managed the feat coming off of a sub-100 OPS+ year in their 30 year-old season while just one had an OPS+ below 90 as Jones did.
B. Anderson 1994 96
D. Henderson 1989 98
W. McGee 1989 76
There are those out there crediting the Dodgers because they did not make a long-term commitment to Jones. I am not sure I agree with this, however. $18 million is a lot of money tied up in one player for a given season, and there is no guarantee that Jones bounces back to his old form. If history is any guide whatsoever (hint; it tends to be) Jones will have a tough time becoming the player he was before 2007.
Finally, and this applies to both players, it should go without saying that their respective defensive value figures to plummet as they get on in years. Jones may retain a good chunk of his skill but as Hunter approaches his mid-30's it's hard not to imagine a very painful decline phase that the Angels will have to endure.
I think both signings were a mistake.
- Patrick Sullivan, 12/8/2007, 5:22 PM EST
For my upcoming article on Monday, I used a metric (SLGSWING) that measures the value of a swing based on total bases per swing. While I don't really go in depth with the metric in the article, I think it's pretty neat, so here are the top and bottom 10 for the stat, which is just total bases/total swings taken. The top of the list is mostly populated by the usual good hitting suspects, especially guys who don't swing and miss too much, while the bottom is also pretty typical.
Name SLGSWING Swings
Moises Alou 0.252 559
Alex Rodriguez 0.251 1188
Albert Pujols 0.245 1032
Chipper Jones 0.244 972
Barry Bonds 0.243 630
Jeff Keppinger 0.241 390
Hanley Ramirez 0.239 1154
James Loney 0.239 624
Jorge Posada 0.238 902
Scott Hatteberg 0.236 568
Chris Woodward 0.118 272
Ryan Langerhans 0.117 426
Joe Borchard 0.117 392
Carlos Quentin 0.116 508
Paul Bako 0.115 305
Jerry Hairston 0.114 325
Jason Phillips 0.111 297
Andy Gonzalez 0.109 359
Adam Melhuse 0.107 206
Jason LaRue 0.082 404
A hitter has three major jobs when he is at-bat. He has to recognize if the pitch is a ball or strike, make contact with the strikes he swings at, and drive the pitches he makes contact with. I think that this stat gives a more granular picture of both bat control and strike zone judgment than other metrics because it's based on the individual swings rather than at-bats. Players scoring well with this measurement are getting the most out of each individual swing they take. I think somehow incorporating called strikes and balls into the value would give a better indicator of batting eye.
There's one odd name at the top, and I might be late to the party on this one, but I've never heard of Jeff Keppinger. Maybe he's near the top of this list because MLB pitchers haven't figured out how to pitch to him yet, but for a utility infielder with his minor league track record, it seems like he would warrent a consistent spot on an MLB roster somewhere.
- Joe Sheehan, 12/8/2007, 6:30 PM EST
BBWAA Opens Up Its Membership to Web-Based Writers
"The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step."-- Chinese Philosopher
The Baseball Writers Association of America voted yesterday to open up its membership for the first time to web-based baseball writers. Qualified candidates were required to be "full-time baseball writers who work for websites that are credentialed by MLB for post-season coverage."
Sixteen of the 18 nominations were recommended for approval: Scott Miller from CBS Sportsline; Jim Caple, Jerry Crasnick, Peter Gammons, Tim Kurkjian, Amy Nelson, Buster Olney, and Jayson Stark from ESPN; Ken Rosenthal from FoxSports; John Donovan, Jon Heyman, and Tom Verducci from SI; and Tim Brown, Steve Henson, Jeff Passan, and Dan Wetzel from Yahoo.
After combing through the list, my first reaction was "what about Rob Neyer?" Well, as it turns out, Rob's nomination was one of two that were turned down. How can that be? Isn't Rob full time? Is he not a baseball writer? Is ESPN not "credentialed" for the post-season? I don't get it.
While I'm happy for the 16 web-based writers who were approved (many of whom had previously been members for years, if not decades), it doesn't make sense to exclude one of the most thoughtful, knowledgeable, and level-headed writers in the business. Rob gets it. Unfortunately, the BBWAA didn't get it quite right this time.
I commend the BBWAA for opening up its membership beyond the newspaper industry and am hopeful that the organization will see fit to approve Rob and many others inside and outside of ESPN, CBS, FoxSports, SI, and Yahoo in the future.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at the Baseball Think Factory/Baseball Primer Newsblog.]
Winter Meetings Roundup
Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius. - Pietro Aretino
Although the Winter Meetings didn't produce as much action as anticipated, there were a few notable trades and signings. Rather than sharing all the rumors and whisper stories the past few days, we decided to sit this one out until there was news to report.
News: The Detroit Tigers and Florida Marlins agreed to a blockbuster trade involving Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis, Andrew Miller, Cameron Maybin, a backup catcher, and three minor league pitchers.
Comments: This is one of those deals that could work out well for both clubs. The Tigers acquired one of the best hitters in the game and a starting pitcher to round out its rotation, while the Marlins gained two of the most coveted prospects (both of whom were top 10 selections in the amateur draft), a relief pitcher (Eulogio De La Cruz) who has touched 100-mph, and a groundball specialist (Dallas Trahern) who could figure into its rotation in the second half of 2008 and beyond. As the saying goes, you gotta be willing to give up something to get something.
The Tigers will obviously be the biggest beneficiaries of this deal in the short run. Motown will now produce mo runs than ever. Check out the following lineup:
Add a LF to that lineup (which should be pretty easy to do via trade or free agency) and we're looking at the best lineup in baseball. If Cabrera doesn't work out at third base, manager Jim Leyland could slide him across the diamond and put Carlos Guillen at the hot corner. Either way, that is a potent offense. Placido Polanco (.341) and Edgar Renteria (.332) are unlikely to match last year's batting averages, but there is no reason why this keystone combo can't hit .300/.350/.425 next season. Gary Sheffield's health and Magglio Ordonez holding up his end of the bargain will be the determining factors as to just how scary Detroit's offense will be in 2008.
What a turnaround for the Tigers in just a few years, huh? Under the ownership of Mike Ilitch and President/CEO/GM Dave Dombrowski, they've gone from the basement in 2003 when they lost 119 games (one fewer than the all-time record) to the penthouse in 2006 when they won the American League pennant. Detroit is clearly one of the best five teams in the AL (along with the Indians, Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels) – and, for that matter, in the major leagues – and just may be the favorite to win it all in 2008.
Of the five powerhouses, the Angels have the easiest path to the postseason. As outstanding as the other four clubs are, at least one of them will be on the outside looking in when October rolls around. It's too early to pick which one that might be, but the ante has just been raised once again.
In the meantime, Florida may have only one player on its roster next year (catcher Miguel Olivo) with a salary in excess of a million dollars. As things stand now, the entire payroll could be under $10 million. The Marlins may not win a lot of games, but they sure will be profitable (even if fans stay home).
- Rich Lederer
* * * * * * * * * *
News: Outfielder Jose Guillen and the Kansas City Royals reached an agreement on a three-year, $36 million deal.
Comments: Let's see if I've got this one straight. The Seattle Mariners declined a $9M option on Guillen for 2008 and the Royals stepped up and gave him $3M more per annum for each of the next three years?
Either Bill Bavasi misjudged the interest in Guillen or Dayton Moore overpaid for him. I mean, even if the Mariners had no use for Jose, they could have exercised their option and traded him to a team like the Royals. One way or the other, Seattle left talent and/or money on the table.
Kansas City, on the other hand, is now on the hook for $12M in 2008, 2009, and 2010 for an enigmatic outfielder who will turn 32 in May and has already played for eight teams in his first 11 seasons in the majors. Guillen was suspended by the Angels near the end of the 2004 campaign and recently questioned by the commissioner's office regarding the purchase of HGH and steroids from May 2002-June 2005. He may serve a 10-15 day suspension next season.
In the department of risk and reward, maybe Guillen (who has put up an OPS+ of 116 or better in four of the last five seasons, including a 142 in his career year in 2003) fits the bill as a potentially high reward for a club that has been unable – or unwilling – to attract tier-one talent in the free agent market. Maybe. But there's no getting around the fact that he is a high risk.
Rob Neyer and Joe Posnanski, two of my favorite baseball writers, seem to agree with me on this one – and both are longtime followers of the Royals.
- Rich Lederer
* * * * * * * * * *
News: The Los Angeles Dodgers reached an agreement late Wednesday night with free-agent center fielder Andruw Jones on a two-year, $36 million contract. Jones will receive a $12 million signing bonus and earn $9 million in 2008 and $15 million in 2009.
Comments: This is a typical move on the part of Ned Colletti, who has signed a number of free agents to shorter-term contracts in his two years as general manager. Too bad one of them wasn't Juan Pierre, who Colletti inked to a FIVE-year deal last winter.
To make room for Jones in center, Pierre will now switch to left field. At best, he can become Lou Brock light. The operative words here are: "at best" and "light." In other words, Pierre will not duplicate what Brock did for the Cardinals during the 1960s and 1970s. Instead, he can only hope to hit for a similar average and steal a like number of bases. Brock had an OPS+ of 107-126 every year from 1964-1976. Pierre's single-season best OPS+ is 107 with a career mark of 84. No matter how you slice this one, the Dodgers will have a gaping hole offensively in left field next year – and perhaps through 2011 unless management swallows its pride and owns up to the mistake of signing Pierre to that ridiculous contract a year ago.
By the way, are the Dodgers and Angels collecting center fielders or what? The Jones signing marks the fourth (yes, FOURTH!) free-agent CF in the past year that will call the greater Los Angeles area his home.
Jon Weisman hopes the Dodgers will see fit to trade (or sit) Pierre rather than Andre Ethier or Matt Kemp and longs for an outfield consisting of Ethier-Jones-Kemp rather than Pierre-Jones-Ethier.
- Rich Lederer
* * * * * * * * * *
Presented without commentary (There are no words.):
Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus at 2:45 on 12/4: "The blockbuster that might have been between the Tigers and Marlins ... won't be."
Carroll at 5:15 on 12/4: "Johan Santana to the Red Sox is all but done. Jon Lester, a center fielder, Justin Masterson and Ryan Kalish are the package. More details now."
Carroll on Bill James during his chat yesterday: "The guy bores me, frankly."
- Patrick Sullivan
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There is something cruel about reading this excerpt from an ESPN story posted last night about the Mets being in play for the services of Johan Santana. On the Mets ability to get a deal done...
"We have some pretty good prospects," general manager Omar Minaya said. "We have the players."
No, you don't, Omar. And the saddest part of it all is that if you did, it would have had to have included Lastings Milledge, whom you traded to the Washington Nationals for a 29 year-old outfielder who has appeared in all of 347 games and a 31 year-old catcher who has hit .246/.323/.333 over the last two seasons.
If David Wright and Jose Reyes are, in fact, untouchable as has been reported, there is no combination that the Mets could put together that would best even the least inspiring combo that has been put out there by the Yanks or Red Sox.
- Patrick Sullivan
* * * * * * * * * *
I usually don't get too worked up over the Veterans Committee's Hall of Fame selections (or lack thereof), but I was left scratching my head when I read that former commissioner Bowie Kuhn was elected and Marvin Miller wasn't in the balloting for managers, umpires, executives and pioneers.
Kuhn was joined by managers Billy Southworth and Dick Williams plus executives Barney Dreyfuss and Walter O'Malley. Other than William Eckert, I realize that all of the commissioners before Kuhn have been enshrined in Cooperstown. But being commissioner in and of itself should not be a reason for induction. If anything, we have had our fill of commissioners over the years. What's ironic to me is that Kuhn's tenure was parallel with Miller's, and it's the latter who schooled the former in the area of labor relations.
Miller is one of the most influential figures in the history of baseball. He belongs in the Hall of Fame. It's a real disservice that he has been overlooked this long. I hope voters will see fit to honor him before he passes away. Miller turns 91 next April and the committee will not vote again for two years.
I'm happy for the Kuhn family but feel sad for the Millers. Mr. Miller deserves (much) better.
- Rich Lederer
Here's a comprehensive recap of today's Rule 5 Draft.
Former Indians outfielder Brian Barton, whom Marc Hulet mentioned in his excellent preview on Monday, was selected 10th by the Cardinals.
- Patrick Sullivan
Fun and Unusual Stats from the National League
The National League had its share of offbeat stats in 2007. Here are some of the more interesting ones.
He can pitch a little, too: The Diamondbacks should find a way to get Micah Owings some more time at the plate. A .333 average with 4 HR and 15 RBI in 60 at-bats (20 hits) is a huge eye opener.
Add in seven doubles and a triple, and it means Owings had an impressive .683 slugging percentage - or 65 points above NL leader Prince Fielder (.618). Sixty percent of Owings' hits went for extra bases. On the mound, the rookie righthander was 8-8 with a 4.30 ERA in 152.2 IP.
Slow-footed teams: David Eckstein led the Cardinals with 10 stolen bases, while So Taguchi and Brendan Ryan tied for second with seven swipes. The Astros were topped by 11 SB from Hunter Pence and burly Carlos Lee was the runner-up with 10.
Juanderful: While Dodgers outfielder Juan Pierre isn't a favorite of those who value on-base and slugging percentage, he is among the league leaders in several categories every year.
Pierre has been the toughest strikeout in the league for six of the past seven seasons. He has also led the NL twice and finished second five times in stolen bases over that time. He hasn't missed a game in the past five seasons, and Pierre has finished first or second in singles every year since 2001. As a durable leadoff man, Pierre is always high in plate appearances and outs. He has been in the top three in hits five times, and Pierre has four 200-hit seasons to his credit.
Run production desperately needed: Even with Barry Bonds, the Giants were 15th in the NL and next-to-last in the majors in runs scored (683). It could be a very bleak 2008 in San Francisco.
A very quiet .332: Reds infielder Jeff Keppinger went 80 for 241 with just 12 strikeouts. Displaying gap power, Keppinger smacked 16 doubles, a pair of triples, 5 HR and 32 RBI. Being on a losing, small-market team meant a potential breakout season got little attention.
The trade makes sense: Why did the Braves acquire Mark Teixiera? Scott Thorman finished the season hitting .216 (62 for 287) with 70 strikeouts and just 14 walks for a .258 OBP.
The ultimate in mediocrity: Only two teams - the Diamondbacks and Rockies - reached 90 wins in 2007, and Colorado needed an extra game to do so.
A .556 winning percentage gives the D-Backs (90-72) the dubious honor of having the lowest such statistic for a league leader in victories. The "dominant" team in the NL was also outscored 712-732. Anyone who says the American League isn't stronger than the National is delusional.
Pirates speedsters: Outfielder Nate McLouth went 22 for 23 (.957) in steals in 2007. He is 34 for 36 (.944) on the bases in three seasons in Pittsburgh. Fellow Pirates OF Chris Duffy can also get around the bases, as he is 41 for 48 (.854) lifetime.
Southpaws beware: Rookie of the Year Ryan Braun hit .450 (50 for 111) against left-handed pitchers. Exactly half (25) of those hits went for extra bases (eight doubles, two triples, 15 homers), and Braun had 35 RBI in those at-bats along with an otherworldly .964 slugging percentage.
Hitting .324 with 34 HR and 97 RBI in just 113 games means Braun had one of the best offensive debuts in history, but leather proved to be his kryptonite. The Brewers third baseman made 26 errors and had a below average range factor to go with his dreadful .895 fielding percentage. A move to left field is being considered by Milwaukee.
A lost season: Ryan Langerhans bounced from the Braves to the A's to the Nationals in 2007. He finished with a .170 (35 for 206) average, 6 HR, 23 RBI and 81 strikeouts.
Busting loose: Marlins outfielder Cody Ross came into the year with a .220 (69 for 313) lifetime average. Ross proceeded to hit .335 (58 for 173) with a dozen HRs and 39 RBI. Add in 19 doubles, and it means that more than half of Ross's hits went for extra bases.
That once-anemic career average has soared 41 points to .261. Ross is one of the small number of players in history to bat right-handed and throw from the left side.
The MVP is no slacker: Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins played in all 162 games plus the National League Division Series. He had 716 at-bats (778 plate appearances), 212 hits, 38 doubles, 20 triples, 30 HRs and 94 RBI. Rollins didn't take it easy on the bases, going 41 for 47 in stolen base attempts. If anyone deserves some time off, it's Rollins.
Mr. Consistency: Utilityman Geoff Blum hit .254 in 2006 and .252 with the Padres in 2007, which is right in line with his .251 lifetime mark. Blum recently signed a one-year deal with the Astros.
Consistent no more: After a .257 rookie campaign in 1995, Ray Durham hit between .271 and .299 with double-digit home run and stolen base totals over 11 seasons (1996-2006). That run of predictability ended in 2007, when Durham hit a career-low .218 for the Giants. His 71 RBI in 464 ABs wasn't bad.
Bench stars: Daryle Ward hit .327 (36 for 110) with 13 doubles, 3 HR and 19 RBI for the Cubs. Add in Ward's 22 walks for a stunning .436 OBP.
At age 32, Joe Dillon's major league career consisted of 36 ABs with the Marlins. The Brewers got more than anyone expected out of a AAA lifer, as midseason call-up DIllon hit .342 (26 for 76) with eight doubles and two triples while playing several different positions.
One more season: If Julio Franco can catch on with a team and stay on the roster until at least August 23, that would make him a 50-year old major leaguer. Don't bet against this middle-aged physical marvel.
Odd and Interesting American League Stats of 2007
Never mind the league leaders. For me, the unusual and sometimes freakish statistics are the most interesting part of baseball's numbers game.
Every year has a new crop of goofy and fun stats. Here are some of the best from the 2007 American League season.
Lots of Ks in Tampa Bay: Seven Devil Rays position players finished the season with more than 100 strikeouts, while shortstop Brendan Harris just missed the century mark with 96 whiffs.
B.J. Upton leads the not so magnificent seven with 154 Ks in just 474 at-bats. That pace was exceeded by Jonny Gomes' 126 strikeouts in 348 ABs. We'll gladly take Carlos Pena's 142 Ks in exchange for his team record 46 home runs ,121 RBI, 103 walks and .411 OBP.
Rookie Delmon Young's 127 Ks and 26 walks shows he has some big holes in his game, which he will get to work out in the Metrodome after last week's six-player deal with the Twins. Japanese third baseman Akinori Iwamura had 114 whiffs in his major league debut, while talented Carl Crawford went to strike three 112 times.
Ty Wigginton rounds out the list. He had 73 Ks with the Rays before a traded to the Astros. The infielder's 40 strikeouts in Houston gives him 113 for the season. With 1324 Ks as a team, the Rays led the major by nearly 100 whiffs over the second-place Padres (1229).
.188 sure looks great: Journeyman infielder and AAA veteran Jorge Velandia entered the season with a .151 lifetime average in 150 career games, which gave him the (ahem) honor of having the lowest career mark of anyone who appeared in at least 150 games.
A September call-up with the Rays, Velandia took advantage of his first major league opportunity since 2003. An 8 for 13 start propelled Velandia to a .320 performance (16 for 50) and a 37-point jump in his lifetime average. Newfound power and run production led to Velandia's first two big league homers and 11 RBI. Now that he has blown by Bill Bergen (.170 career) and Ray Oyler (.175), it's .200 or bust for Velandia.
No power? No problem!: With just 123 homers as a team, the Angels were 12th in the league and 28th in the majors. Vladimir Guerrero was the only player to exceed the 20 mark with his 27 bombs. The power shortage didn't prevent the Angels from going 94-68, which ties L.A. with the Yankees for the thrid bestrecord in the majors in 2007.
Still aiming for double digits: Howie Kendrick's nine walks in 267 ABs in 2006 might have been attributed to rookie inexperience, but the Angels second baseman was even less selective in 2007. The highly touted Kendrick's .322 average was no surprise, but just nine more free passes in 338 ABs lowered his OBP to .347.
Teammate Guerrero is often singled out for his lack of patience, but Vlad's 71 walks was the second best season of his career. He had 84 BBs with the Expos in 2002.
Midwestern power outage: Only four Twins players had more than seven home runs in 2007. Justin Morneau led Minnesota with 31 bombs, and Torii Hunter's 28 HRs will be sorely missed. Michael Cuddyer (16) and Jason Kubel (13) also reached double digits, but the rest of the roster combined for just 30 four-baggers.
One Twin exceeded preseason power expectations. Outfielder Jason Tyner has two homers in 3059 minor league at-bats and none in his first 1220 big league ABs, but he connected against Indians pitcher Jake Westbrook on July 28.
Making his hits count: Twins DH/LF Rondell White went just 19 for 109 (.174) with 4 HR and 20 RBI.
Dreadful: Nick Punto put up one of the worst offensive seasons ever by a third baseman. His .210 (99 for 472) average, 1 HR and 25 RBI looks like a 1960s stat line for light-hitting shortstops such as Dal Maxvill or Bobby Wine, but runs were much scarcer then. Punto's .271 slugging percentage and .291 OBP was an obstacle the Twins couldn't overcome.
The ultimate Moneyball/Billy Beane player: Even though he wasn't called up until May 4, A's DH/OF Jack Cust still led the American League in strikeouts (164) and came in second in walks (105). He also came through with 26 HR and 82 RBI in 395 ABs. Add a .256 average to the walks, and Cust ended 2007 with a .408 OBP.
Spreading the power around: A team leader with 25 home runs is below average in this swing for the fences era. Victor Martinez topped the Indians with that modest number in 2007, but the team has sufficient slugging thanks to Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore (24 each) along with 21 homers apiece from Jhonny Peralta and Ryan Garko.
Based on Hafner's past performance, it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect 35 bombs from Pronk in 2008, so Cleveland should be in good shape offensively.
Where's the run production?: Emil Brown led the Royals with just 62 RBI. Brown needed 366 at-bats to pace Kansas City. Alex Gordon and Mark Teahen tied for second with 60 RBI in 543 and 544 ABs respectively. Those kind of numbers might have sufficed in the slap-hitting war years (1942-45), but definitely not in 2007.
Mr. Consistency (unfortunately): Former Red Sox catcher Kevin Cash has spent parts of five seasons in the majors. His batting averages of .143, .142 (15 for 106), .193, .161 and .111 give Cash a .167 lifetime mark (60 for 359). Add in 111 strikeouts and 20 walks for a .223 OBP.
A big improvement: Corey Patterson has cut his strikeouts from 118 in 451 at-bats in 2005 to 65 in 461 ABs. The speedy Orioles outfielder still chases too many bad pitches, as evidenced by his 21 walks in 2007. On the bright side, Patterson was 37 for 46 (.804) in stolen bases.
See you on the DL: Only one Rangers player - shortstop Michael Young - appeared in more than 130 games in 2007.
How the mighty have fallen: The White Sox have gone from world champions to losers in just two years. While the team's bullpen (except for reliable Bobby Jenks) played a major role in the collapse of 2007, a weak offense also hampered the south siders.
Five players with 20 to 35 homers - way too many of them solo shots - didn't make up for a .246 team average and .318 OBP. Jim Thome led the Sox with his .275 average. The team's 693 runs scored was last in the AL despite 180 bombs, which was good for second place in the league.
He should know better: After 17 seasons in the majors, Ivan Rodriguez should have figured out when to take a pitch or two by now. Instead, the Tigers catcher had just nine walks and a career-high 96 strikeouts in 502 at-bats. Pudge's .281 batting average was just 13 points lower than his .294 OBP.
Not a typical first baseman: Despite his size, Sean Casey's numbers often look more like a middle infielder than a slugger. He hit just 4 HR in 453 ABs with the Tigers in 2007, and Casey's 54 RBI is meager for a slugger's position.
Casey hit .312 but had just 9 HR and 58 RBI in 529 ABs with the Reds in 2005. He split 2006 between the Pirates and Tigers and hit .272 with 8 HR and 59 RBI.
Hacking away: The Mariners walked just 389 times in 2007. The main culprits were shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt (15 BB in 536 AB, .289 BA, .308 OBP) and catcher Kenji Johjima (15 BB in 485 ABs, .287 BA, .322 OBP). Jose Vidro's 63 walks led the team and made him (relatively speaking) Seattle's version of Eddie "The Walking Man" Yost.
Mining for Rule 5 Talent
The Major League Baseball Rule 5 draft will soon be upon us and it continues to be one of the more popular Internet features of the off-season. Even so, the draft rarely has a profound effect on the majors, save for the occasional Dan Uggla, Josh Hamilton and Johan Santana picks.
Major League Baseball has neutered the draft to a degree, with the new rules that came into effect before the 2006 Rule 5 draft, which allowed teams an extra year to develop their minor league players before having to make the decision to add them to the protected 40-man roster or risk losing them for a $50,000 fee (assuming the team ‘stealing’ the player keeps them in the major leagues for the entire season). Players chosen, though, can be stashed on the disabled list for a portion of the season or be sent on minor league rehab, as long as they are on the 25-man roster for a minimum of 90 days.
If a team chooses not to retain the draft pick for the entire season, the club must pass that player through waivers and, if another club does not claim that player, he is then offered back to his original club for $25,000.
The new regulations state that a player who was signed at the age of 19 or older must be added to the 40-man roster after four minor league seasons (formerly three) or they are subject to the draft. Those players who were signed while younger than 19 (mostly high school draft picks and Latin signees) must be added after five minor league seasons.
In truth, most impact high school draft picks and Latin players are in the majors within four or five years of development so they are already on the 40-man roster, and the same can be said for college draft picks after four years. Regardless, there are still a few players who have fallen through the cracks and last year’s draft saw a whopping 19 players selected. There are also Triple-A and Double-A minor league versions of the Rule 5 draft but those are usually used to fill out holes in the minor league rosters, although Toronto lost a couple prospects in recent years who have some potential: pitcher Dewon Day who is now with the White Sox and second baseman Eugenio Velez who is now with the Giants. Velez is interesting in part because he was formerly known as Eugenio Vancamper but was found to be using a fake name and age during the crackdown on visas a few years go.
Now, on to some interesting names available in the upcoming Rule 5 draft on Dec. 6:
Justin Hedrick RHP
San Francisco Giants
Pro experience: 4 years
2007 stats: 2.14 ERA | 71.1 IP | 55 Hits | 9.08 K/9 | 4.67 BB/9 (AA)
Right-hander Justin Hedrick was a sixth round selection out of Northeastern University in 2004 by the Giants. He first made noise in the 2003 Cape Cod League and led the league with 68 strikeouts in 60 innings, while going 3-2, 1.96. Moved to the bullpen in pro ball, Hedrick has posted solid numbers along the way with an 88-92 mph fastball and a good slider that has two-plane depth.
Stuart Pomeranz RHP
St. Louis Cardinals
Pro experience: 5 years
2007 stats: 6.52 ERA | 9.2 IP | 12 Hits | 4.66 K/9 | 1.86 BB/9 (A )
The Cardinals have taken a risk by leaving former second round draft pick Stuart Pomeranz unprotected. The former prep star missed a good portion of the 2007 season after surgery on his labrum, but he had a solid, albeit unspectacular, Arizona Fall League. In 14 innings, he walked five and struck out only three, showing his stuff is probably not all the way back. But, you have to be impressed, if that is the case, that he was able to post a 0.64 ERA and allow only nine hits. At 6-foot-7, Pomeranz has a great pitcher’s body and he can be safely stashed on the disabled list for the first part of the year, as long as he is active for the final 90 days.
Dusty Hughes LHP
Kansas City Royals
Pro experience: 5
2007 stats: 3.08 ERA | 108.0 IP | 98 Hits | 6.42 K/9 | 3.75 BB/9 (AA)
Left-handers are always a popular commodity in the Rule 5 draft so expect Kansas City’s Dusty Hughes to get some consideration. On the negative side, the former Delta State University hurler is short at only 5-foot-9 and battled injuries the last two seasons. But he survived pitching in tough parks in his pro career and did very well in the lower minors. He has a 3.26 career minor league ERA and has allowed fewer hits than innings pitched despite spending time in Wichita and High Desert. After the regular season, Hughes started six games in the Arizona Fall League and allowed only 16 hits in 22 innings with a 2.47 ERA. For a team desperate for pitching, it wasn’t smart of Kansas City to risk losing Hughes. Oh, did I mention he took home the award as the top pitcher in the Arizona Fall League?
Shane Lindsay RHP
Pro experience: 4 years
2007 stats: Injured
Shane Lindsay, a former top pitching prospect of the Rockies before getting hurt, missed all of the regular season recovering from shoulder surgery. However, he pitched 18 innings in the Hawaiian baseball league and allowed only 11 hits and struck out 19. Unfortunately, he also had a 5.50 ERA, 16 walks allowed and his groundout-to-flyout ratio was 0.32. However, this may be the only opportunity teams will have to get their hands on Lindsay so they may take a flyer on him and see how he looks in spring training. In his career, Lindsay has struck out 13.72 batters per nine innings.
Tug Hulett 2B/3B/SS
Pro experience: 4 years
2007 stats: .275 AVG/.355 OBP/.406 SLG | 11.0 BB% | 22.1 K% (AAA)
Former Auburn University player Tug Hulett is the son of former big leaguer Tim Hulett Sr., who spent most of his time with the White Sox and Orioles. A good bet as a utility player, Hulett has average speed and is an average athlete. However, he is an on-base machine who has always produced a solid average and could be attractive to a team like Toronto, Oakland or even St. Louis. He topped 90 walks in a minor league season in both 2005 and 2006 and spent all of 2007 playing respectable ball in Triple-A.
James D’Antona 3B/1B/C
Pro experience: 5 years
2007 stats: .308 AVG/.361 OBP/.499 SLG 7.6 | BB% 11.8 | K% (AAA)
James D’Antona is a former second round pick of Arizona out of Wake Forest University. He had an OK year in Triple-A in 2007 and has always had intriguing power. D’Antona hit only 13 homers this season but added 43 doubles. He lacks a true position but he can play third base, first base and catcher. He has the potential to be a potent bench player. D’Antona doesn’t strike out as much as most power hitters and will also take a walk.
The Blue Jays are taking a bit of a risk leaving two potential fourth outfielders available in the draft with Aaron Mathews and David Smith.
Aaron Mathews OF
Toronto Blue Jays
Pro experience: 4 years
2007 stats: .293 AVG/.331 OBP/.433 SLG | 5.4 BB% | 16.8 K% (AA)
Mathews was drafted out of Oregon State and fell to the Jays in the 19th round in 2004 draft because of his size (5-9) and the fact many scouts saw him as a ‘tweener’ (not enough range to play centerfield regularly and not enough power for a regular corner spot). But Mathews, who is a high-energy player in the Aaron Rowand mold, showed this season that he can hit and batted more than .300 for much of the season before tiring late in the year and falling to .293.
David Smith OF
Toronto Blue Jays
Pro experience: 6 years
2007 stats: .276 AVG/.351 OBP/.512 SLG | 10.3 BB% | 22.7 K% (AA)
Smith can also handle all three outfield spots on a regular basis although he has much more power than Mathews. Smith, who has hit 43 homers the past two seasons, made some adjustments to his approach this season at the behest of Toronto coaches and his game improved significantly, although caution must be taken as it was his second go-around in Double-A at the age of 26. His power potential just might be worth the $50,000 gamble, though.
Chris Lubanski OF
Kansas City Royals
Pro experience: 5 years
2007 stats: .295 AVG/.368 OBP/.490 SLG | 10.4 BB% | 17.8 K% (AA)
Chris Lubanski was one of Kansas City’s top prospects just two years ago but has fallen out of favor and the club is gambling that he is too far away from being major league ready to stick on a MLB roster all year. The former fifth overall pick out high school hit only .208 in 168 Triple-A at-bats and it is hard to get a true read on his success at High A-Ball and Double-A because both those clubs play in extreme hitter’s parks. His tools might entice a club like Washington.
Brian Barton OF
Pro experience: 3 years
2007 stats: .314 AVG/.416 OBP/.440 SLG | 9.5 BB% | 25.5 K% (AA)
Brian Barton was signed as a non-drafted free agent out of college by Cleveland and has done nothing but hit as a pro, with a career line of .316/.416/.473. That said, he could develop into a ‘tweener,’ like Mathews but he could also serve as a very cheap and productive fourth outfield option for someone in 2008. Although he did not play for the Cleveland organization in 2004, he did sign his first pro contract then, which makes him eligible for the draft.
Chances are that some players will be taken on Thursday that no one saw coming, as teams employ a bevy of scouts for just this type of occasion. One of the most interesting things about the Rule 5 draft is that it is so unpredictable and you never know when your club might find (or lose) the next Johan Santana.