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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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
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.
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:
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)
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)
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)
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
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)
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)
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:
TIM RAINESHitting for Average: A Hitting for Power: B Plate Discipline: B+ Baserunning: A OVERALL OFFENSE: A Defensive Range: A Reliability: B+ Arm: C+ OVERALL DEFENSE: B+ Consistency: A Durability: A 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.
* * * * *
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
TOTAL RANK 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.
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?
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.
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.
[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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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;
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.
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.
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.
Count SLGSWING 3&0 0.381 3&1 0.333 2&0 0.298 2&1 0.267 3&2 0.256 1&0 0.247 0&0 0.233 2&2 0.205 1&1 0.202 0&1 0.192 1&2 0.190 0&2 0.163
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
Years OPS+ 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.
Season OPS+ 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
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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.
- Rich Lederer
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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
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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
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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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Aaron Mathews OF
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
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
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
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.