Last August, I wrote an article entitled "Remember This Name," whereby I opened with the following paragraph:
Let me introduce you to the No. 1 pick in the 2011 amateur draft . . . Bryce Harper. I know, that particular draft won't take place for three more years. As such, how in the world could I make this type of a prediction now? Well, if you watched the 15-year-old, lefthanded-hitting catcher take batting practice, infield, and two plate appearances on Tuesday at the Area Code Games, as I did, then I have no doubt that you would be as enthusiastic about this phenom as I am.
Harper made some more noise earlier this month at the third annual International Power Showcase High School Home Run Derby at St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field. Although Harper didn't win the contest, according to Baseball America's Nathan Rode, the tenth grader "played the part of Josh Hamilton" while Christian Walker, a third baseman from Kennedy-Kenrick Catholic High in Norristown, Pennsylvania "served the role of Justin Morneau."
Over the next 60 seconds, Harper unleashed an awe-inspiring series of hits to areas of Tropicana Field few major leaguers have reached:
• 460 feet to the top edge of the Jumbotron in right field; 119 mph off the bat
• 484 feet to the back wall of the stadium, 15 feet above the Jumbotron; 122 mph
• 485 feet to the back wall, just below the orange Bright House “target” sign; 123 mph
• 405 feet on a blistering line drive around the RF pole; 118 mph
• 502 feet to the back wall, in the vicinity of the first “A” in the Tropicana Field sign, 20 feet above the top of the Jumbotron; 124.5 mph
• 477 feet to right-center field, halfway up and a few feet to the left of the Jumbotron; 119 mph.
Harper cranked six home runs with a metal bat, averaging 469 feet with an exit velocity of 121 mph. Photographer Jeff Horton captured Harper's longest homer below (with Rybarcyzk providing location and distance for each of his dozen home runs).
Notice the white ball toward the top, left-center of the photo. It traveled 502 feet, the longest of the event and on record at Tropicana. According to Rybarczyk, the ball would have exited Yankee Stadium. Greg told Baseball America's Rode, "It was hit at precisely the right direction to get just to the left of the upper deck in Yankee Stadium, but to the right of the bleachers and back bleacher wall. It would have cleared the back wall of Yankee Stadium with probably about 15 to 20 feet to spare."
Rode added, "Another one of his shots traveled 484 feet and at its angle would have landed in the right field Upper Deck of Fenway Park, which has never been done."
Harper hit 12 home runs overall — enough to make the top five — but slugged only one in the final round. Rybarczyk said the 16-year-old high school sophomore "looked worn out, understandably so since he had the misfortune to have hit 67th out of 69 batters, and had only a few minutes to recover before the finals."
Walker won the title by going yard nine times in the final round. Ryan Gunhouse (Clear Creek HS, League City, Texas), Randal Grichuk (Lamar Consolidated HS, Rosenburg, Texas), and Dante Bichette (Orangewood Christian, Maitland, Florida) joined Harper (Las Vegas HS, Las Vegas, Nevada) in the finals. Bichette, the son of the former Colorado Rockies slugger, is a sophomore as well.
The following video of Harper is worth watching if you want to see him in action at the International Power Showcase.
You can learn more about Harper at his player profile on the Power Showcase site. If nothing else, remember this name.
"I'd like to think I did well. I'd like to think that, if I had a must-win game, the guys I played with would want me to have the ball. But no, I don't think I deserve to be in the Hall of Fame." – Curt Schilling, January 29 on WEEI AM 850's "The Big Show"
Last week, the always present and oft self-promoting Curt Schilling showed some rare humility over the Boston radio waves and downplayed his chances at one day ending up in baseball's Hall of Fame. Now some will believe that Schilling only understated his case in order for talking heads (and typing hands) to do what I'm doing right now: make a pitch on Schilling's behalf. Even so, because of his polarizing personality among teammates, fans and the baseball writers, Schilling — unfairly or not — may need all the help he can get.
The easiest place to start is to look at Schilling's career performance compared to his peers:
The names listed above are arguably the top ten pitchers during Schilling's career, spanning from 1988 to 2007. There's no question the top five pitchers are no-brainer Hall of Famers (say what you will about the ongoing Roger Clemens saga, but The Rocket is as much an "inner-circle" Hall of Famer as he is a jerk.) After the first five Schilling contemporaries, the numbers start getting blurred but one thing that is clear is that Schilling was one of the best among the next group anyway you slice it. However, before we are so quick to label him "sixth or seventh or eighth best" during his career, let's look a little closer at Schilling's numbers versus the top tier.
Schilling became a full-time starter in 1992 after arriving in Philadelphia – how'd Jason Grimsley work out for ya, Houston? – and was a mainstay in the big league rotations until injuries hit in 2005, forcing him to make 20 appearances out of Boston's bullpen. Even so, he still started 66 games his last three seasons (2005-2007). If we take the top-tier hurlers from the chart above and look strictly at their numbers from 1992 to 2007, Schilling's case for the Hall becomes that much stronger:
During that stretch, Schilling was second in complete games, first in K:BB and third in K/9. Schilling betters the group's average in complete games, strikeouts, walks allowed, K:BB, K/9 and WHIP. By the way, if you didn't know, Schilling's K:BB ratio (4.38) ranks first all-time since 1900. Sure, it's just one stat off the back of a baseball card, but c'mon people…Schilling was a great pitcher, one of the very best in all of baseball for sixteen years — a period which includes at least five Hall of Famers.
The lack of shiny hardware will be an easy thing for many to knock Schilling on, but he did have three second-place finishes in Cy Young Award voting — 2001 and 2002 in the NL and 2004 in the AL. Below are Schilling's three runner-up seasons…seasons good enough to win almost any other year:
I mean, really, is it fair to hold it against Schilling that Randy Johnson (2002) and Johan Santana (2004) were unanimous winners those years? And if awards are your bag, then don't overlook his NLCS MVP from 1993, his World Series co-MVP from 2001 and his back-to-back Pitcher of the Year awards by The Sporting News in 2001 and 2002. If feel-good stories are also your kind of thing, throw in his 1995 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award (best exemplifies character and integrity both on and off the field), his 2001 Roberto Clemente Award (selected for character and charitable contributions to his community) and his 2001 Hutch Award (best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire to win.) Fluff? Yes, but all part of the package, baby.
Hmm…let's review. Lots of strikeouts to go along with very solid numbers across the board, unfairly not enough All-Star appearances or Cy Young Awards to please the over-the-hill (or is it under-the-bridge?) Baseball Writers Association of America, an outstanding postseason record, possibly abrasive personality…Geez, does that at all sound familiar? (Oh, give me a break…I'm a Lederer for cryin' out loud!)
The case is pretty clear and the statistics don't lie. So Curt, the next time you want to go on record about your unworthy-for-the-Hall career, put a sock in it, bloody or otherwise.
Joe Lederer is the Assistant General Manager of Riverwalk Golf Club in San Diego. Besides working on his PGA Class A membership, Joe spends way too much time cooking and reading Nietzsche and not enough time working on his short game. Joe gets his baseball writing chops from his mother.
In his new, cutting edge and hip forum, the 3 Dot Blog, Bruce Jenkins takes up the Hall of Fame case for Jeff Kent, just as a number of other writers have since Kent announced his retirement last week. It's a casual piece and I suspect if Jenkins put more than fifteen minutes into it, he may have been able to come up with something better. Nonetheless, he makes three points that I simply can't let pass. There will come a day when professional sports writers and editors will take enough pride in their work that outright falsehoods will not make it to the pages of respected publications. Until then, those of us that like to hold the mainstream baseball media accountable from time to time in our piddly writings will never starve for material.
Let's set aside the flimsy standard of being "the greatest" at something means you deserve Hall of Fame enshrinement and address the contention that Kent is - "without question" mind you - the greatest power hitter to play second base. Let's keep things in the Bay Area and make an analogy. This would be like saying that Steve Young was without question the finest quarterback ever to play for the 49ers. I suppose you could make the argument if you wanted; Young is one of the best quarterbacks of all time. But he was probably not better than Joe Montana.
By the same token, Kent was indeed one of the best power hitting second basemen of all time. But to claim he is the best is to overlook so egregiously the accomplishments of Rogers Hornsby that it's hard to imagine Jenkins even took a look at their respective numbers. Here are the career slugging leaders among second basemen since 1901 with at least 6,000 career plate appearances.
R. Hornsby .577
J. Kent .500
C. Gehringer .480
T. Lazzeri .467
J. Gordon .466
B. Doerr .461
R. Sandberg .452
In his best power hitting season, Kent managed 33 home runs and a .596 slugging average. Hornsby eclipsed the .600 slugging average mark seven times and in three seasons bested Kent's career high of 33 home runs. Sure, a lot of Hornsby's slug was tied up in his unbelievable batting average (he hit .358 for his career). Still, his .219 ISO beats Kent's .210 career mark. The real differential between their respective career ISO numbers is even more drastic, as the league ISO was much higher during Kent's career than Hornsby's. To sum, there is simply no case whatsoever that Kent was a better power hitter than Rogers Hornsby. He hit more home runs, but so what?
Here is the next Jenkins remark that caught my eye.
...and if Ryne Sandberg makes the Hall (dubious choice in my mind), then Kent certainly qualifies.
Let me just state that I think Jeff Kent is probably a Hall of Famer. I have no problem with the contention that Kent deserves baseball immortality. What I object to is the iffy logic Jenkins employs here. So let's look at Sandberg on his own to see if he was in fact a "dubious choice" and then compare him to Kent to see if any Hall that includes Sandberg would simply have to open its doors to Kent as well.
PA AVG OBP SLG OPS+ WARP3
Sandberg 9,282 .285 .344 .452 114 108.7
Kent 9,537 .290 .356 .500 123 110.2
They're awfully close, with Sandberg's glove narrowing Kent's advantage with the bat. So I don't know which one I would have rather had on my team but to imply that Kent must go in if Sandberg is in seems to overrate Kent's career compared to Ryno's.
Finally, in sort of a throwaway line, Jenkins says the following:
The fact that he had more career RBIs than Mickey Mantle (there's something very wrong about that, but for the record: 1518 to Mantle's 1509).
Jenkins gets so close here. Yes, Bruce, there is something wrong about that. It's almost as if RBI are a completely useless measure when it comes to comparing two players!
This doesn't have much to do with the broader case for Kent that Jenkins sought to make but I thought it was pretty funny. Yes, Kent has more RBI than Mantle for his career. Just like Ruben Sierra had more RBI than Andres Galarraga in 1993.
For a great look at the merits of Jeff Kent's Hall of Fame candidacy, I would direct you to Jay Jaffe's piece at Baseball Prospectus. It explores all of the interesting aspects of Kent's career; his late start, the brutal hitter's ballpark he had most of his great years in, his defense...Jaffe concludes:
Kent was a very good player for a long time, and an often misunderstood one. His lack of charisma and his businesslike approach made him an easy target, though his humorlessness should never have been confused with a lack of passion for the game. From this vantage point, he looks to be a borderline Hall of Famer at best. Even with no particular love lost for him as a fan—one who spent years rooting against him as a Giant before settling down and appreciating his uneven virtues with the Dodgers—I'll admit that this still contradicts my gut instinct, but then that's one of the reasons for the five-year waiting period before a player reaches the ballot. Nonetheless, I strongly suspect he'll find his way into Cooperstown in due time, and if that's the case, it will hardly be the crime of the century.
Compare that writing and measured tone with Jenkins' absolutes ("without question" the best power hitter, etc).
The Hardball Times has been at the forefront of publishing batted ball information on its website and in its Baseball Annuals for the past five years. Led by Dave Studeman, THT has written several articles on this subject, including two recent studies on BABIP by co-authors Chris Dutton and Peter Bendix and Derek Carty.
BABIP, of course, stands for Batting Average on Balls in Play. Some analysts prefer BA/BIP, others BABiP. No matter how the acronym is presented, Batting Average on Balls in Play measures exactly what it says: the batting average on all batted balls other than home runs. The formula is calculated as (H-HR)/(AB-K-HR) or (H-HR)/(AB-K-HR)+SF.
Batting Average on Balls in Play is basically the opposite of Defensive Efficiency Ratio (DER) or, perhaps more precisely, 1-DER. BABIP is used for batters whereas DER is used for team defense. Depending on one's perspective, either BABIP or DER can be employed when it comes to pitchers.
In a study on Defense Independent Pitching Stats (DIPS) eight years ago (has it really been that long?), Voros McCracken determined that Batting Average on Balls in Play was primarily a function of a pitcher's defense, ballpark and luck, rather than an actual skill. Here is McCracken's original conclusion in his own words: "There is little if any difference among major-league pitchers in their ability to prevent hits on balls hit in the field of play."
Over the ensuing years, several researchers and analysts have modified and improved the thinking behind DIPS as more information — particularly batted ball data — has become available. But the basic fact remains: Pitchers have less control over BABIP than hitters.
According to Carty, "Most pitchers regress toward the league average BABIP of around .300 or .305. Very few pitchers can repeatedly do better or worse than this, so we say that pitchers have very little control over BABIP. Hitters, on the other hand, can have a substantial amount of control over BABIP. Ichiro Suzuki, for example, has a .356 career BABIP. Hitters do not regress toward league average, rather, they each regress toward their own, unique number."
Carty then asks, "What is that number?" He proceeds to evaluate a number of BABIP estimators to find out which ones do the best "job of predicting the following year's BABIP." You can read about his process and results here.
I'm a pattern-recognition type and noticed a few common threads when thumbing through the batted ball stats in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual during the offseason. While some of my observations are included in one way or another in THT studies, I believe we can achieve even more accuracy with a few more tweaks here and there.
OK, for some background information . . .
According to THT, the MLB average groundball out rate was 74 percent in 2007 and 2008. By comparison, the MLB average flyball out rate was 83 percent in 2007 and 84 percent in 2008. Another way of looking at those percentages is to say that batters hit about .260 on groundballs and .160-.170 on outfield flyballs (excluding home runs).
The line drive out rate was 29 percent in 2008, meaning batters hit roughly .710 on these batted balls. The hit rate on infield flies is nearly non-existent as pop-ups are converted into outs 99 percent of the time.
When it comes to batting average, line drives are king, followed by groundballs, outfield flyballs, and infield flies. Put it all together and National and American League teams hit .298 and .302, respectively, on balls in play in 2008. NL and AL clubs had BABIP of .301 and .305 in 2007.
However, when it comes to production, flyballs are more valuable than groundballs. To wit, including home runs, line drives produced .40 runs in 2007 and .39 in 2008, while the average outfield flyball yielded .18 runs in 2007 and 2008. Meanwhile, the average groundball generated .05 runs per event in 2007 and .04 in 2008.
From the perspective of pitchers, all else being equal, groundball types tend to give up more hits but fewer runs than flyball types. Groundball pitchers generally allow more unearned runs, as I observed in February 2006, due to the greater frequency of errors on balls hit on the ground than in the air.
Nonetheless, I wanted to focus on the average groundball out rate as a variable impacting BABIP. I compiled a list of outliers (high and low) for the 2007 and 2008 seasons. The minimum number of plate appearances required for inclusion was 300. THT listed players by team and did not provide combined results for players who performed for two clubs. For this exercise, I simply took a weighted-average of the groundball out rate based on plate appearances as opposed to actual batted balls. The differences between the two should be minor.
2007 Highest Groundball Out Rates
Jack Cust 86
Adam Lind 85
Bobby Crosby 84
Jason Giambi 84
Paul Lo Duca 84
Dave Ross 84
Kevin Millar 83
Brian Schneider 83
Rich Aurilia 82
Adam Dunn 82
Prince Fielder 82
Josh Fields 82
Kenjii Johjima 82
Dioner Navarro 82
Gregg Zaun 82
Jermaine Dye 81
Ryan Howard 81
Tadahito Iguchi 81
Luke Scott 81
Richie Sexson 81
Marcus Giles 80
Alex Gonzalez 80
Khalil Greene 80
Geoff Jenkins 80
Paul Konerko 80
Yorvit Torrealba 80
Most of these hitters are bigger, slower with older skill types. Not a speedster on the list. Ten of the 26 players hit lefthanded and one (Dioner Navarro) bats both. More than 25 percent are catchers. Only five play middle infield or center field.
Marcus Giles only hit .275 on balls in play in 2007 after producing BABIP of .337-.365 from 2003-2005. Was his high out/low success rate on groundballs in 2007 the reason he hit so poorly on balls in play or was the reason he hit so poorly on balls due to not hitting the ball as hard as once before? Note that Giles didn't play in the majors in 2008.
2008 Highest Groundball Out Rates
Jim Edmonds 85 (84 CHC/89 SD)
Corey Patterson 85
Jim Thome 85
Brandon Boggs 83
Jose Castillo 83
Carlos Delgado 83
Jack Hannahan 83
Eric Hinske 83
Craig Counsell 82
Todd Helton 82
Ryan Howard 82
Brian Schneider 82
Nick Swisher 82
Lyle Overbay 81
Alfonso Soriano 81
Omar Vizquel 81
Adrian Beltre 80
Ken Griffey Jr. 80 (81 CWS/80 CIN)
Mike Jacobs 80
Kenjii Johjima 80
Carlos Ruiz 80
Jose Vidro 80
Once again, there are a number of bigger, slower, and/or older types. The list is comprised almost exclusively with catchers and corner position players. Thirteen of the 22 hitters bat lefthanded and four are switch-hitters. Ryan Howard, Kenjii Johjima, Brian Schneider showed up on both lists of high groundball out rates.
Alfonso Soriano and Corey Patterson are the only two players with plus speed. Given the fact that he bats righthanded and runs well, Soriano was the biggest surprise to me.
Interestingly, Travis Hafner made an out on 87 percent of his groundballs in 2008 but only had 234 plate appearances.
2007 Lowest Groundball Out Rates
Matt Kemp 53
Ryan Ludwick 62
Corey Hart 63
Matt Diaz 63
Ichiro Suzuki 63
B.J. Upton 63
Ryan Braun 64
Eric Byrnes 65
Akinori Iwamura 65
Mike Lamb 65
Moises Alou 66
Chris Burke 66
Jose Guillen 66
Mike Lowell 66
Hunter Pence 66
Jason Werth 66
Orlando Cabrera 67
Cliff Floyd 67
Matt Holliday 67
Raul Ibanez 67
Derek Jeter 67
Nook Logan 67
Placido Polanco 67
Jorge Posada 67
Hanley Ramirez 67
Mark Reynolds 67
Rickie Weeks 67
Of the 27 qualifiers, 20 are RHB, only six are LHB, and one is a switch-hitter. There are also more middle infielders and center fielders on the list of low versus high groundball out rates.
Matt Kemp's extraordinarily low rate was based on 311 plate appearances. In this case, you can't chalk it up to small sample size because he repeated this feat the following year — albeit at a much higher rate than the previous season but still low enough to tie for third among all qualifiers.
2008 Lowest Groundball Out Rates
Rickie Weeks 61
Dan Uggla 64
Jason Bay 65 (63 BOS/66 PIT)
Milton Bradley 65
Gabe Gross 65
Matt Holliday 65
Matt Kemp 65
Mike Aviles 66
Scott Hairston 66
Adam Jones 66
Manny Ramirez 66 (59 LAD/69 BOS)
Justin Upton 66
Shane Victorino 66
Jason Bartlett 67
Ryan Braun 67
Ben Francisco 67
Carlos Gomez 67
Franklin Gutierrez 67
Cristian Guzman 67
Akinori Iwamura 67
Reed Johnson 67
Evan Longoria 67
Jose Lopez 67
Hunter Pence 67
Brian Roberts 67
Nineteen of the 25 players hit righthanded, while just two bat from the left side and four are switch-hitters. Once again, there are more middle INF and CF on this list than on the opposite.
In addition to Kemp, Ryan Braun, Matt Holliday, Akinori Iwamura, Hunter Pence, and Rickie Weeks had extraordinarily low groundball out rates in 2007 and 2008.
What variables account for these outliers? Speed is obviously a major factor, not only because fast runners beat out more infield singles but these burners also force more fielding and throwing errors as infielders are forced to act more quickly. Whether a hitter bats left or right appears to have a large influence as well, although the actual results are somewhat counter intuitive as one might think that LHB would have a higher success rate than RHB.
Lefthanded batters who pull the ball to first and second basemen (and even to the left of shortstops) are hurt by the shorter (or lack of) throws in completing the out. Some of these hitters are more likely to be victimized by defensive shifts than righthanded pull hitters. Of note, LHB who slap the ball to the left side of the infield — such as Ichiro and Iwamura — appear to have higher success/lower out rates than pull hitters. An examination (and perhaps incorporation) of spray charts would be helpful here.
In addition to speed, I believe hustle or effort may play a minor role. While difficult to measure, all else being equal, I suspect players who bust their tails down the line will convert grounders into hits or errors at a higher rate than those who rarely turn it up when running to first.
Two more factors for consideration are the velocity and trajectory of groundballs. Harder hit balls are more likely to get through the infield and become hits while high hoppers have a better chance of succeeding than routine, two or three bounce hits, especially among those players who run well.
The presence and speed of baserunners, as well as the number of outs and the score, can have an effect on groundball out rates. The most likely impact is when there is a runner being held on first base, opening up the right side of the infield. Additional contextual items to consider, among others, include double play situations where middle infielders pinch toward second base and the positioning of infielders in late and close games.
There is a lot of food for thought here, all designed to improve the retrospective and predictive powers of the BABIP models.
* * *
Courtesy of The Hardball Times, here is some additional information as it relates to batted ball data.
% of Plate Appearances
K% 18 17
BB% 10 9
% of Batted Balls
GB% 44 43
LD% 20 19
FB% 36 38
Many thanks to Dave Studeman and The Hardball Times for the stats in this article.
All of us like pitchers who can rack up strikeouts. There is no argument between statheads and the scouting community over the value of missing bats. In a nutshell, Ks are the out of choice. The more, the merrier.
We also know that pitch counts are important. The fewer, the better. As such, it seems logical that combining high strikeout and low pitch totals is a recipe for success . . . The best way to measure such effectiveness is via K/100 pitches. The formula is (strikeouts divided by total pitches) x 100.
Interestingly, the average starter's workload has been roughly 100 pitches per start for the past several years. As such, K/100P gives us additional insight as to the approximate number of strikeouts per start.
The argument against K/100P is that it has vestiges of BB and BABIP mixed into the formula and, therefore, is not a pure stat. If that is the case, then the same holds true for K/BF, as compared to K/IP or K/9. The latter is nothing more than strikeouts per out. A pitcher who gives up a lot of walks and hits is going to face more batters and increase the likelihood of striking out more hitters per inning pitched. Therefore, strikeouts per batter faced tells us more than strikeouts per inning.
Similarly, a pitcher who throws a lot of pitches is going to increase his chances of striking out more hitters per batter faced. Accordingly, strikeouts per pitch improves upon strikeouts per batter faced.
Not surprisingly, K/P has the highest correlation to ERA and RA. K/BF has the second-highest correlation and K/IP has the lowest correlation. In any other words, K/P > K/BF > K/IP.
Last season, there were 142 pitchers who threw 100 or more innings. The correlation between K/100P and ERA among these pitchers was meaningful at -.576.
The distribution of K/100P was as follows:
Top 10% 5.80
Top Quartile 5.24
Bottom Quartile 3.58
Bottom 10% 3.13
Rich Harden was No. 1 with 7.37 strikeouts per 100 pitches. Livan Hernandez ranked dead last at 2.39 K/100P.
Let's take a look at the top and bottom 30 pitchers in terms of K/100P:
Rich Harden 7.37
Tim Lincecum 7.20
Joba Chamberlain 6.90
CC Sabathia 6.58
Josh Beckett 6.40
A.J. Burnett 6.33
Ervin Santana 6.24
Dan Haren 6.17
Edinson Volquez 6.08
Chad Billingsley 6.05
Scott Kazmir 6.04
Randy Johnson 5.97
Javier Vazquez 5.92
Jake Peavy 5.80
Roy Halladay 5.79
Wandy Rodriguez 5.76
Ricky Nolasco 5.74
Johan Santana 5.73
Cole Hamels 5.72
Ted Lilly 5.68
Jorge de la Rosa 5.67
Zack Greinke 5.67
Ryan Dempster 5.60
Jonathan Sanchez 5.55
Felix Hernandez 5.47
Brandon Webb 5.45
Brett Myers 5.40
Clayton Kershaw 5.38
John Lackey 5.36
Oliver Perez 5.35
When healthy, Harden ranks among the best pitchers in the game. The 27-year-old righthander dominated American League hitters when he pitched for Oakland and National League batters after he was traded to the Chicago Cubs in early July. On a combined basis, Harden was 10-2 with a 2.07 ERA. He struck out more than 30 percent of all hitters and 11 per nine innings. The good news for Cubs fans is that Harden has decided not to pitch in the World Baseball Classic.
Tim Lincecum led the majors in K/9 (10.51) among those with 162 or more innings and strikeouts (265). The National League Cy Young Award winner fanned 28.6 percent of the batters faced en route to an 18-5 record and a 2.62 ERA.
Joba Chamberlain only started 12 games while making 30 appearances out of the bullpen. He threw a total of 100.1 innings, striking out 118 (10.58 K/9). The hard-throwing righthander whiffed 27.0 percent of batters as a starter and 30.8 percent as a reliever. He began and ended the season in the latter role and is expected to serve as a set-up man starter for the Yankees in 2009.
Edinson Volquez is a good example of K/100P as a metric of effectiveness. He ranked second in the majors in K/9 (9.46) but only seventh among qualifiers in K/100P. The other side of the Josh Hamilton trade struck out 206 batters in 196 innings but walked 93. He placed eighth in most pitches per plate appearance (4.04) in the majors, which negatively affected his K/100P ranking.
Kevin Correia 3.49
Luke Hochevar 3.47
Miguel Batista 3.46
Joe Saunders 3.43
Jason Marquis 3.42
Darrell Rasner 3.42
Joe Blanton 3.42
Braden Looper 3.34
Nick Blackburn 3.33
Mike Pelfrey 3.31
Jarrod Washburn 3.30
Paul Byrd 3.24
Jeff Suppan 3.18
Adam Eaton 3.16
Jeremy Sowers 3.16
Daniel Cabrera 3.15
Glen Perkins 3.13
Aaron Cook 3.13
Zach Miner 3.06
R.A. Dickey 3.03
Scott Feldman 2.98
Zach Duke 2.97
Brian Burres 2.90
Kenny Rogers 2.88
Fausto Carmona 2.86
Jon Garland 2.82
Carlos Silva 2.81
Sidney Ponson 2.68
Kyle Kendrick 2.60
Livan Hernandez 2.39
Joe Saunders was the most successful of those pitchers listed in the bottom 30. The Angels lefthander ranked sixth in wins (17) and W-L % (.708) and seventh in ERA (3.41) and ERA+ (130) in the AL. Rather than being named to the All-Star team for a second consecutive season in 2009, look for Saunders to regress based on his low K/100P rate and BABIP (.269). I would agree with the projection systems that call for him to win 11-13 games with an ERA of 3.90-4.25.
Fausto Carmona, on the other hand, was the most disappointing pitcher last season. In 2007, the Indians righthander was second in wins (19), ERA (3.06), and ERA+ (151) in the AL while finishing fourth in the Cy Young Award voting. However, he ranked below the average and median in K/100P (4.37) that season, perhaps portending a difficult repeat performance in 2008 when he went 8-7 with a 5.44 ERA.
Although Luke Hochevar is only 25, it doesn't appear as if he is going to make good on being the No. 1 selection in the 2006 draft. Kudos to the Dodgers in holding the line on his bonus demands when taken with the 40th pick in the 2005 draft.
Pay attention to K/100P. This metric will add more value than K/BF and K/9.
It's been well documented that Jon Heyman has a prejudice against, in his words, "younger people on the Internet who never saw [Bert Blyleven] play." This bigotry in and of itself is sad, but it also is a prime example of one of the most effective logical fallacies: the Ad Hominem. Essentially, as a rebuttal to an argument, one attempts to discredit the person or group of people who present the argument, without discrediting the argument.
The power of this faulty reasoning lies in its ability to change the course of the discussion. Politicians love this fallacy because it allows them to place people who disagree with their policies into negative categories. For example, one might state that proponents of gun control are elitist or out-of-touch. "It's easy," one might argue, "to be for gun control when you live in an exclusive, gated-community and can afford a fancy alarm system." "But wait," the proponent of gun control responds, "I grew up on a farm and live in a ground level apartment in a rough area of town." At this point, they have lost the argument because the debate has changed from the possible benefits or consequences of gun control, to defending one's own character.
We have seen this happen in many of the responses to Heyman's comments: "I'm 70, I saw Blyleven and yes, I use the Internet" or "those stories [Heyman] broke are really not very interesting…" These types of responses which either defend one's own character or attack Heyman's only indulge a discussion that is completely irrelevant to the merits of Blyleven's Hall of Fame candidacy. Sadly, this fallacy is often quite successful to that end.
The Ad Hominem rears its ugly head in many forms. The Circumstantial Ad Hominem is when one argues that a person only supports something because it is in their best interest to do so. One might argue that Pitcher A thinks Blyleven belongs in the Hall only because they have similar stats to Blyleven, and thus it will help their own candidacy. Again, this does not address the underlying arguments that Pitcher A may be making. One's own personal interest is irrelevant (or circumstantial) to those arguments.
The Ad Hominem Tu Quoque discredits an argument by pointing out a person's hypocrisy. For example: "Your statement that Blyleven doesn't belong because of his winning percentage is not valid because you voted for Nolan Ryan who had a lower winning percentage." The fact that someone is a hypocrite does not make their argument invalid. In this case, attention is directed away from why winning percentage is a lousy litmus test for the Hall of Fame.
Another similar fallacy is False Dilemma, which is a distortion of the logical truth P or ~P: either P is true or it is false. With False Dilemma someone will argue P or Q, as if there is some causal link between the two. An example of this fallacy is subtly used by Heyman: people either do not think Blyleven is Hall worthy (P) or they never saw him pitch (Q). The purpose of this fallacious argument is really to stop the opposing voices: either you agree with statement A or you are [fill in any insulting, degrading characterization – in Heyman's case he uses ignorance]. Now the stage has been set so that before anyone disagreeing with Statement A speaks up, they are perceived in a negative way or thought of as sympathizers to a negative group. Often, the discussion will skip right to the insulting characterization as in the following exchange: "I disagree with gun control." "Oh, so you're a hick." Notice that the following fallacious statement is implied here, but never actually stated: either you support gun control or you are a hick. Now the argument can move to a discussion of a person's character without ever having to address the reasons why the person disagrees with gun control.
Another common fallacy used in Hall of Fame discussions is the Relativist Fallacy: stating that something is true in certain situations but not others. With Blyleven, we often hear that he isn't Hall worthy because of his low career winning percentage. When it is pointed out that he has a higher winning percentage than Nolan Ryan, the Relativist Fallacy follows: that doesn't apply to Ryan because Ryan got to 300 wins.
My point with all of this is not to further the Blyleven arguments, Rich and Sully have already done a tremendous job of that. My purpose is to point out that it is extremely difficult to engage in ANY Hall of Fame discussion without running headfirst into a logical fallacy. Take the common argument against Blyleven or for Rice: "he just didn’t feel like a Hall of Famer," or "he was one of the most feared hitters of his time." Both of these arguments are the logical fallacy Appeal to Emotion, whereby emotion is used as evidence of fact. Perhaps it really felt that way to some people at the time but feelings are not facts and often run counter to reality (as statistical analysis has shown with Jim Rice).
Consider the argument that, if Jim Rice goes into the Hall of Fame, then dozens of other similar players also have to be considered and presumably, these dozens of other players are not Hall worthy. This fallacy is known as Appeal to Consequences of a Belief. The consequences of Jim Rice going into the Hall of Fame are not evidence that he does not belong. Furthermore, let's assume that BBWAA got it wrong with Rice and he does not belong. That does not mean that the BBWAA now has to get it wrong with the dozens of similar players that do not belong.
I wondered at the fact that Appeal to Emotion, Appeal to Consequences and Relativist Fallacy are so often considered good evidence of Hall of Fame candidacy. I then went to the Hall of Fame website and looked up the BBWAA rules for election. Any player who played for at least 10 years is eligible to be voted on. However, this is the only guidance given with regards to voting: "voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played." It also goes on to state there are no automatic elections for outstanding achievements.
Essentially, there are no base standards for Hall of Fame induction. The election system itself is based on the logical fallacy Appeal to Belief: if a certain percentage of a group believe something to be true, then it must be true. Therefore, if 75% of the BBWAA believe someone is a Hall of Famer, they are a Hall of Famer. It is amazing to me that the previous sentence is both a fact and a logical fallacy.
In some ways, it's disheartening to look at the Hall of Fame in this light. It seems that, when talking about the Hall of Fame, all logical arguments reach a dead end. Lacking any concrete standards, all Hall of Fame discussions are eventually reduced to irrational arguments. Furthermore, because there is no logical basis for Hall of Fame entry, examining those who are already in the Hall offers no help. In fact, relying on the current members would also be a logical fallacy: Biased Sample, whereby conclusions are drawn from a sample that is unreliable.
So how can we change the course of the dialogue surrounding the Hall of Fame? I believe that first and foremost we need a logical basis from which to begin. It's time that we reevaluate what it actually means to be a Hall of Famer. A set of minimum, objective standards would help to mute much of the illogical cacophony out there today. While I would leave the actual standards up to someone more qualified than I; it should probably start somewhere with ERA+, OPS+ and win shares: stats that can be used across the many different eras of baseball. Certainly, the standards will be hard to agree upon in the first place and will probably be heavily criticized and even outright rejected by the BBWAA (if not completely ignored). However, without a logical foundation to the Hall, all emotional and irrational arguments will continue to be relied upon and Jon Heyman's gut feeling will have more influence than statistical analysis.
Heyman is not alone in his hostility toward a growing demand for more concrete and quantifiable measures of greatness. But his comments underscore that there has been a real shift in the way baseball is being viewed. No longer are fantastical, unquantifiable and largely indefensible beliefs (such as Derek Jeter being a Gold-Glove caliber shortstop) acceptable to a growing number of baseball fans. Whether or not this change originated with "younger people on the Internet" is irrelevant. The fact is that the current method of evaluation is based upon flawed logic and is being met with discontent. Any attempt to marginalize that discontent should consistently be met with the very thing it cannot handle: more sound, logical thinking.
Conor Gallagher is a paralegal in Chicago, IL. He is also an aspiring winemaker with dreams of moving to California this summer. His passion for baseball and baseball statistics in particular began at the age of eight or so when his father taught him how to keep box scores and they would play APBA together.
You can be sure that as Opening Day draws closer, Baseball Analysts will be covering each division soup to nuts. But as I write this we stand 75 days from the first pitch of the 2009 season, an occasion I notice that Buster Olney took to point out that the Cleveland Indians are poised for a bounce back (ok he wrote it 76 days ahead of Opening Day but I caught it on the 20th).
And this winter, they seemingly have spent well, targeting their needs, making a couple of trades that have been deemed by rivals as nice deals. "As much as I don't believe in feeling good about winter accomplishments," said Indians general manager Mark Shapiro, "I do feel good about it."
Hey, Shapiro probably should feel good about it. He has an 85-win Pythag team coming back, and he has replaced Andy Marte with Mark DeRosa and added Kerry Wood. Those two moves should help. But also factoring into that 85-win calculus were quality contributions from partial seasons by C.C. Sabathia, Paul Byrd and Casey Blake. You can erase those from the 2009 edition of the Tribe.
Moreover, Cliff Lee will in all likelihood fall well short of his Cy Young campaign of 2008. Given the additions and subtractions that are able to reasonably be foreseen, Cleveland's season comes down to two injured players in 2008 returning to form. Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez have both enjoyed superstar seasons during their careers. Unfortunately, they are both on the wrong side of 30 and counting on these two amounts to a wild card, not any sort of output that can be counted upon. And even if you think Martinez will return to form, the guy he would replace at catcher from the 2008 club, Kelly Shoppach, was excellent last season. Sure, you can move Martinez to first to spell Ryan Garko sometimes when you want to give Shoppach innings, but suddenly Martinez's superstar output becomes ordinary. A lot of first basemen can hit.
All of this makes me wonder if the Minnesota Twins aren't the clear AL Central favorites heading into 2009. The Twins fell short of the White Sox last season but they won 88 games and the Pale Hose (sorry Mr. President) seem to have taken drastic steps backwards. There will be almost no turnover on the Minnesota roster. In fact, the most notable year-over-year change is one that took place in the middle of last season. The Twins will not have to suffer through 23 starts from Livan Hernandez (5.48 ERA) in 2009.
We all know that Minnesota features three superstar level players. Joe Mauer is the best catcher in baseball, and probably one of the five best players in the game. Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan are among the best at their respective positions as well. The next tier of Twins contributor features a group of players with a number of things in common. They have Big League experience, they're young and they're talented. Here are the pitchers, with their 2008 ERA+ figures listed.
S. Baker 27 118
N. Blackburn 27 100
F. Liriano 25 104
K. Slowey 25 102
G. Perkins 26 92
B. Bonser 28 68
And the position players...
D. Span 25 125
C. Gomez 23 79
D. Young 23 102
A. Casilla 24 94
J. Kubel 27 118
In fairness to Olney, he does not mention the Twins in his piece. For all we know, he too thinks the Twins are the team to beat. But from the tone of his article, it seems as though he believes this is a division there for the taking for Cleveland. I see it differently.
Cleveland's bull case amounts to "Hafner and Martinez are coming back" once you net out the additions and subtractions to their Big League roster. Meanwhile, Minnesota's young depth allows for more fluctuation, more margin of error, from the individual components. Minnesota is young and looking to protect a four-game Pythag record advantage from 2008 to 2009. Their core figures to improve on a net basis, a claim I am not so sure the Indians can make.
The Twins will be tough to beat in the AL Central in 2009.
The multi-year deals always intrigue me the most as the single-season contracts are usually just compromises between what figures the team and agent submit to the commissioner's office. The latter signings don't really reflect anything more than how much. The multi-year agreements, on the other hand, are all about buying out arbitration years and, in some cases, free-agent years as well. Clubs lock up players at a discount to what they might get in the free market while players potentially forfeit money for the sake of security. More often than not, these deals are "win, win" for both sides.
Hamels, Madson, Markakis, and Youkilis all signed longer-term contracts with the position players giving up at least a couple of years of free agency as an offset to the length and certainty of their deals. I read an article or two on each of these signings and stumbled across the following on ESPN in "Sources: O's, Markakis reach deal."
His best season was in 2007, when he batted .300 with 23 homers and 112 RBIs in 161 games.
Say what? Markakis had higher batting, on-base, and slugging averages in 2008 than in 2007. In fact, the former first-round draft pick set career highs in all three rate stats (.306/.406/.491), OPS (.897), and OPS+ (134). Not surprisingly, he also posted career highs in GPA (.302) and wOBA (.389).
A quick view of the basic rate stats is pretty revealing. Markakis has been getting better every year. But, just for good measure, Markakis scored more runs (106), hit more doubles (48), and drew more walks (99) in 2008 than in 2007 or 2006. He also posted career bests in Runs Created Above Average (41), Win Shares (25), and WARP (8.1). If the foregoing weren't enough, he led all outfielders with 17 assists. The bottom line is that Markakis had, by far, the most productive season of his three-year career in 2008.
So who was responsible for such a gross misstatement? I'm not sure because there is no byline attached to the story. I hope it wasn't Buster Olney, whose name was listed at the bottom of the article. In Olney's (possible) defense, "Information from The Associated Press was used in this report."
On this day of hope, let's give the benefit of the doubt to Olney and assume it was a junior reporter who came up with the conclusion that Markakis had his "best season in 2007" due to the fact that he had more home runs and RBI that year than in any other campaign. One would hope that we could look beyond those "Triple Crown" stats as a primary measure of production in this day and age when there are so many other, more meaningful metrics that are readily available and sortable.
Until the time comes when the vast majority of those responsible for reporting the news; broadcasting games; adding color commentary; voting for All-Star games; naming MVP, Cy Young, and Gold Glove award winners; and bestowing baseball's ultimate honor of the Hall of Fame are writing and talking about and analyzing the right set of numbers, we will need to discount heavily any and all conclusions made by the uninformed.
Today's Boston Globe features a notes column by Nick Cafardo in which he wonders why postseason performance is not taken into more consideration when GM's assemble their Big League rosters. Here's Nick kicking off the piece:
For many teams, it's about getting deep into the postseason, winning it all. Yet how much thought goes into rosters to make sure teams have the players that will perform once they get there?
He notes that the Angels have not experienced much postseason success since 2002 and even points out that Mark Teixeira's output (keep in mind he had a .550 on-base against the Red Sox in the LDS) was inadequate in the 2008 playoffs.
Since 2002, the Angels have been a consistent division winner, but they never seem to get very far. Why is that? Do they have players that just can't come up big in the biggest moments? The Angels added Mark Teixeira in late July and he provided some much-needed thump to their lineup. While Teixeira did more than his teammates in the playoffs (seven singles and one RBI in 15 at-bats), it wasn't enough.
He then goes on to ask Mark Shapiro and Theo Epstein how they think about postseason performance when they go about player acquisition. To their credit, both are kind enough not to say, "Dude, are you kidding me? I have thousands and thousands of plate appearances and innings pitched worth of evidence and I am supposed to rely on some tiny subset to drive my decision making? Are you serious?"
But you get the sense they're both thinking it.
"In this market and in my opinion, [seeking good postseason players] is one small attribute that could be an added bonus but not a real driver in a decision. Postseason experience and, really, pennant race experience is meaningful in the ups and downs of a pennant race but difficult to quantify, and the bottom line is performance."
"[Identifying good postseason players] is certainly not a primary consideration - more of a secondary factor at best," said Sox GM Theo Epstein. "Ted Williams didn't perform in the postseason . . . I would take him!"
Anyway, I thought I would assemble a roster Cafardo can go to battle with. Some postseason standouts who, once in the playoffs, would certainly shine and carry his team to a title. Because, you know, if they have done it over the course of two starts or 50 plate appearances, you can trust they will do it again. It's just how they're constituted. It's how they roll.
C Y. Molina .809
1B C. Chambliss .726 (um, 1976 people. it's about impact)
2B J. Offerman 1.024
3B S. Brosius .696 (8 home runs. guy's clutch. count the rings.)
SS D. Eckstein N/A
LF B. Agbayani .853
CF D. White .815
RF P. O'Neill see Brosius
So I think this is just brilliant. Geoff Young, who writes the Padres blog Ducksnorts, has compiled a list of 21 outfielders that all put up careers within a relatively narrow band of performance output.
Two of the 21 players made the Hall of Fame but, as you will see if you just head on over there, there is little rhyme or reason when it comes to HOF enshrinement. The logic gymnastics performed by the electorate are always something to behold.
The Unjust, Long-Lasting Effects of Awards Voting on Hall of Fame Enshrinement
By Patrick Sullivan
A number of years ago, Saturday Night Live ran a spoof of the ESPY Awards. It mocked the ESPY's because athletic contests, by definition, are competitions in themselves. Movies, television, theater and music are not, so it makes some sense to set up an awards ceremony to recognize the standouts. Major professional sports leagues do give out awards to individuals but even in this case, it is usually pretty easy - or rather - there exist objective measures to identify who the most deserving award recipients are. For instance, in baseball, the WPA, WARP, or Win Shares leader in any given season would be a perfectly suitable way to determine your MVP, Rookie of the Year or Cy Young pick.
But for better or worse, that is not how individual baseball honors have been awarded over the years. Instead, individuals within the electorate come up with all sorts of different definitions. "Best player on a contender." "The player with the most home runs on a playoff team." "The pitcher with the lowest ERA on a division winner." "Most RBI's." "Most wins." "Best player on a post-season qualifying team over the last two months of the season."
You get the point. Awards have prestige because they are MLB-sanctioned and have become a major aspect of baseball history but in and of themselves they are pretty meaningless. They tell you who a group of writers, some who pay close attention some who don't, some with an eye for the game some without, some knowledgeable on accurate performance metrics and some not, thinks deserves a given award as they, individually, have defined it. The awards mean nothing more, nothing less.
It should be different for the Hall of Fame. If you watched the Twins down the stretch in 2006, it would have been easy to become enamored with Justin Morneau. "All those RBI's!" "He carried them as they came back and won the AL Central!" Home Runs and RBI and extra base hits are more exciting than, say, walks or steady defense from the catcher position. But in time and upon reflection, one cannot possibly continue to hold that Morneau was better than his teammate Joe Mauer in 2006. Mauer's OBP-heavy 144 OPS+ bested Morneau's 140 number and Mauer is a FREAKING REALLY GOOD DEFENSIVE CATCHER while Morneau is a first baseman. So, in twenty years or so when it comes time to weigh Mauer's candidacy, don't tell me he only finished in the top-five in MVP voting "x" amount of times. Because he finished 6th in 2006 when he was easily the American League's best player (and on a division winner, no less).
Year after year when it comes time to vote for the Hall of Fame, the electorate - or at least the ones that come public with their ballots - cite awards results as though they have any meaning whatsoever in determining an individual's Hall worthiness.
For a guy who pitched 22 seasons, he received Cy Young votes in four years. Put another way, only once every five years, Blyleven was considered one of his league's 10 best pitchers. Sorry, but that doesn't exactly scream "all-time great" to me.
Or put another way, McAdam has no idea how Cy Young voting actually works. Each voter fills in his or her top three, which means that, for all McAdam knows, Blyleven was considered no worse than the fourth best pitcher in his league every single year of his career by the Cy Young voters. Anyway, you get the idea here. The electorate weighs awards voting heavily when considering who belongs in the Hall. It has to stop.
Combined, Blyleven, Raines and Alan Trammell have won ZERO Cy Young awards or MVP's. You would be hard pressed to find a Hall case against any one of the three that failed to mention that they underwhelmed their contemporary awards voters. Well let's look at some specific examples of awards voting during their playing days for an indication of how meaningful awards voting really ought to be. We will start with an award that had nothing to do with any of the players mentioned, the 1984 National League Cy Young voting.
IP SO BB K/9 K/BB WHIP ERA+
Sut 150 155 39 9.3 4.0 1.08 144
Doc 218 276 73 11.4 3.8 1.07 137
Here are Rick Sutcliffe and Dwight Gooden's numbers in the National League in 1984. Cleveland dealt Sutcliffe to the Cubs mid-season and the right-hander subsequently went on to go 16-1, pitching the Cubs into their first post-season appearance in 39 years. It was a big deal. But still, look at the numbers above. I don't know; if I was a voter I would have a hard time telling who the better pitcher was. Well the electorate did not have such a difficult time. Sutcliffe won unanimously, despite strikeout numbers that paled in comparison to Doc's and only pitching part of the season in the National League. Unanimously! Were Doc Gooden a HOF candidate, and Lord knows he could have been (that's another story), that he did not win the 1984 Cy Young award would work against him according to today's prevailing wisdom amongst the electorate.
POS AVG OBP SLG OPS+
Trammell SS .343 .402 .551 155
Bell LF .308 .352 .605 146
This one is great; these are the 1987 numbers for both George Bell and Trammell, who toiled for the two best teams in the AL East but Trammell's Tigers were the division winners. Both hit very well, although clearly Trammell was the better performer. Again, like the 2006 voting, in some small way it's excusable. A .600 slugging number is big, and we all take to home runs and RBI's and when your ballot is due before the playoffs start and all those long fly balls are fresh in your memory, hey, let's just say I get it. Or at least I can excuse it. It's cool. But seriously, upon reflection and knowing what we know now, can't we all agree that the solid fielding shortstop with the .402 on-base and 155 OPS+ was better than the poor fielding left fielder with the .352 on-base and a 146 OPS+? And if we can agree on that, can we not also agree then that the fact that Trammell never won an MVP should not be held against him in any way?
So this is more like the first example, the 1984 NL Cy Young voting. These numbers are from 1985. I look at these two players, squint for a while and then still can't really tell who was better. Raines was the superior offensive performer but then, he was also a left fielder. He should be the better offensive producer. The two were neck-and-neck for best player in the National League in '85. Of course Willie McGee's Cardinals won 101 games and were one of the better teams of the decade while the Expos were an 84-win 3rd place team in 1985, an entirely forgettable club. So ok, McGee got the nod for MVP, probably helped in part by his team's performance. Well where did Raines finish? Twelfth! He finished twelfth in the NL MVP voting that season. Oh and for good measure, first baseman Keith Hernandez, at .309/.384/.430 (3 SB, 3 CS), finished eighth that season.
We will end here in response to those who cite Morris's strong showings in CYA voting, something Blyleven was not able to do consistently. So let's just objectively compare the two pitchers. And you know what? Let's go all rate stats and post-season stats. There are some out there that want to cast aside Blyleven's career totals because they do not value longevity. "Hang around long enough and you are bound to compile some numbers." Okay, that's fine. We will ignore the 1,100 career innings pitched advantage, the 1,300 strikeouts and the 33 wins. Now look at those numbers above, rate numbers all, and tell me that Morris was superior to Blyleven. It's as preposterous a contention as I could imagine. There is no intellectually honest way to support that Morris was a better pitcher or had the better career than Blyleven. And yet Knowitalls across the country maintain that Morris was better. So when it comes time to cast HOF votes, for some like Mike Nadel and Jon Heyman and Bruce Jenkins, you know, it's not that the numbers discredit the Cy Young voting, it's the Cy Young voting that discredit the numbers and, by extension, the Hall of Fame case.
I am going to end this piece with a comment from Rich's Jon Heyman beatdown piece from Tuesday. It neatly sums up the fallacy of using awards voting for evidence of one's Hall worthiness. The remark was made by a reader named Jason, and I believe it was the 72nd comment if you want to check it out for yourself.
As for Blyleven, I saw him pitch on TV a few times as a kid (I'm within a bloop single of 40 yrs old) and never appreciated how good he was over his career until the "stat-heads" enlightened me. My perception was colored by the writers' lack of respect for BB in Cy Young voting. But there is no reason to compound ignorance with stupidity.
I can't say it any better. Indeed, "there is no reason to compound ignorance with stupidity."
"I never thought [Bert Blyleven] was a Hall of Famer when he was playing, and I saw him play his entire career."
"[His popularity] is based on a lot of younger people on the Internet who never saw him play."
"It's not about stats...it's about impact."
- Jon Heyman on MLB Network, 1/12/09
In case you weren't aware, Jon Heyman is a knowitall. (Bill James combined those three words into one when describing someone else in an email exchange with me a couple of years ago. It hit home with me at the time, but I haven't used the term until today because it just never quite felt as appropriate as it does now.)
Heyman is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated and a baseball insider at MLB Network. He is also a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. According to his biography, Heyman "developed a reputation for breaking major baseball stories while at Newsday, broke the story of Barry Bonds going to the Giants in 1992 (with Tom Verducci, who's been at SI since '93), Alex Rodriguez going to the Yankees in 2004, A-Rod opting out of his $252-million contract in 2007 and Manny Ramirez going to the Dodgers in 2008, among numerous other stories." Note that there is no mention of the countless stories he broke that never materialized.
Let's discuss each of Heyman's comments listed above individually.
"I never thought [Bert Blyleven] was a Hall of Famer when he was playing."
Wow, that says it all. I guess there is no need to discuss further. I bet the first time you saw Don Sutton pitch, you said, "Now THAT is a Hall of Famer." Without looking at any stats, you just knew. Maybe it was the way that Sutton walked to the mound. Or the way he wound up and delivered his fastball and curveball. Or maybe it was how he scuffed the ball. If you never thought Blyleven was a Hall of Famer, I'm willing to wager that you never thought of Sutton as a Hall of Famer either. Or at least not until he won his 300th game. But, hey, "it's not about stats...it's about impact."
Conversely, I bet you never considered Steve Garvey to be a Hall of Famer during his playing days. Or Vida Blue, Fred Lynn, George Foster, Dave Parker, Dale Murphy, Keith Hernandez, Ron Guidry, Fernando Valenzuela, Bret Saberhagen, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Don Mattingly, or Jose Canseco. One look at these guys and you just said, "Nope." You knew all along – from the moment they broke into the big leagues through the end of their careers – that the above players weren't Hall of Famers. It's that uncanny eye you have for talent that distinguishes you from the rest of us.
"I saw him play his entire career."
Congratulations, Jon. If you "saw him play his entire career," then so did I. But the truth of the matter is that neither one of us saw him play his entire career. In fact, nobody has seen Blyleven play his entire career. Not his parents. Not his wife. Not his kids. Not any one teammate. Not any announcer, writer, or team executive.
Like me, you may have been alive back then. Like me, you may have even seen him pitch many times. Like me, you may have watched him perform on TV. Like me, you may have even read about him in the newspapers or magazines when he was playing.
Unlike me, you covered Blyleven when he pitched for the Angels toward the end of his career. Unlike you, I umpired a game behind the plate that he pitched. In other words, I saw Bert's curveball, the one that Bill James and Rob Neyer ranked as the THIRD-BEST EVER in The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers, up close and personal.
But, when it comes to judging Blyleven's career, none of these facts really matter all that much. You see, I never once saw Babe Ruth play. Or Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, or Walter Johnson. Or Tris Speaker, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Gehrig, or Joe DiMaggio. But I can still say with 100 percent certainty that all of these players are Hall of Famers. By the same token, I didn't need to see thousands of other players in action to know they weren't Hall of Famers. Being there is great. It's fun. It's memorable. But it doesn't mean you know who is and who isn't a Hall of Famer.
"[His popularity] is based on a lot of younger people on the Internet who never saw him play."
Hmm... I don't know if you were referring to me or not, but it doesn't really matter. Blyleven's Hall of Fame candidacy is not about me (or others like me, irrespective of their ages). But neither is it about you, Jon. Instead, it's about Blyleven himself. You know, the pitcher who ranks in the top ten in strikeouts and shutouts all time and in the top 20 in wins and run prevention since 1900. The pitcher whose career record is indistinguishable from a composite of his eight most similar Hall of Fame peers (comprised of Steve Carlton, Fergie Jenkins, Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Robin Roberts, Tom Seaver, Don Sutton, and Early Wynn).
Whether Blyleven's most ardent supporters come from the "Internet" or from a bunch of newspaper writers is neither here nor there, other than the fact that you guys have been given the right – and responsibility, dare I add – of voting and those of us on the outside have no direct say in the matter.
"It's not about stats...it's about impact."
You gotta love this one. Shame on me. I have always been led to believe that stats lead to impact. I guess not. Rather than spending so much time on making the case for Blyleven via the numbers, maybe I should have emphasized the fact that Blyleven pitched for TWO World Championship teams. I won't mention that he was 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA in five postseason series, including 2-1 with a 2.35 ERA in those two World Series because "it's not about stats." According to you, "it's about impact." And, thanks to you, I have now come to realize that Blyleven had little or no impact on the Pirates winning the World Series in 1979 or the Twins winning it all in 1987.
After giving this matter considerable thought over the past 24 hours, I have decided that we should just let Jon Heyman decide who should – and who shouldn't – get elected to the Hall of Fame. Because this knowitall knows it all.
Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice have been elected to the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Henderson, Rice, and Joe Gordon, who was voted in by one of the two Veterans Committees last month, will be inducted into Cooperstown on July 26.
Henderson was listed on 511 of the 539 ballots (including two that were blank) cast by members of the BBWAA with 10 or more consecutive years of service. He received 94.8 percent of the vote, the 13th-highest ever. What the other five percent were thinking is beyond me. Rickey is the 44th player to be elected by the BBWAA in his first year of eligibility.
Rice cleared the required 75 percent by a narrow margin. He received 412 votes, just seven more than the 405 minimum needed for election. Rice becomes the third player (following Red Ruffing in 1967 and Ralph Kiner in 1975) elected by the BBWAA in his final year of eligibility.
Andre Dawson and Bert Blyleven were the only other players listed on more than half of the ballots. Henderson was the only newcomer to receive at least five percent. The other nine will no longer be considered by the BBWAA.
Player Votes Pct
Henderson 511 94.8%
Rice 412 76.4%
Dawson 361 67.0%
Blyleven 338 62.7%
Smith 240 44.5%
Morris 237 44.0%
John 171 31.7%
Raines 122 22.6%
McGwire 118 21.9%
Trammell 94 17.4%
Parker 81 15.0%
Mattingly 64 11.9%
Murphy 62 11.5%
Baines 32 5.9%
Grace 22 4.1%
Cone 21 3.9%
Williams 7 1.3%
M. Vaughn 6 1.1%
Bell 2 0.4%
Orosco 1 0.2%
Gant 0 0.0%
Plesac 0 0.0%
G. Vaughn 0 0.0%
Although Blyleven picked up two more votes this year than last, his lack of progress is both stunning and disappointing to me (and many others). Assuming that the number of voters remains the same, Blyleven would need to be named on 67 more ballots in order to gain election. I was hopeful that he would get two-thirds of the vote this year, in anticipation of gaining the three-fourths needed for induction either in 2010 or 2011.
Today is all about Michael Young and those of us who are restless waiting for the Hall of Fame results to be announced at 2 PM ET.
Young has requested a trade after being asked to move to third base to accommodate Elvis Andrus, a 20-year-old shortstop who could arrive in Texas as early as this spring. Andrus is a highly regarded prospect who hit .295/.350/.367 for the Frisco Roughriders in the Texas League (AA) last year. The Rangers acquired him from the Atlanta Braves as part of the Mark Teixeira deadline deal in July 2007.
As for the announcement from the Hall of Fame, there is no doubt that Rickey Henderson will be elected in his first attempt and little question that Jim Rice will make it in his 15th and final effort. What remains unanswered for now is whether Rickey can steal the record for the highest percentage of the vote total, if Bert Blyleven can leapfrog Andre Dawson and become the leading vote getter among holdovers going into next year, and will any other first-time candidates earn the required 5 percent minimum to stay on the ballot?
According to Rice, he will literally be watching "The Young and the Restless" on TV. "I'll be watching 'The Young and the Restless,' Rice told the Boston Herald. "It's over at 1:30, so that will give me a half hour. But I never miss 'The Young and the Restless' and I’m not going to start now."
Maybe today's show will be about Michael and the restless situation in Texas. A few months after managers and coaches awarded him with his first Gold Glove, he may find himself manning the hot corner for the Rangers or returning to shortstop for another employer.
For the record, Young is not a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop. The Rangers know that. Although the American League didn't have an obvious choice last year, giving the award to Young must have been based more on name recognition and playing time than actual defensive excellence. The advanced fielding metrics, such as Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Plus/Minus, suggest that he is a below-average shortstop. Young has a -12 UZR/150 games for his career and a -32 Plus/Minus rating over the past three years.
Moving Young to third base will be a lot easier than moving him to another team unless the Rangers are willing to eat a good chunk of his contract before it goes into existence. You see, Young is entering the first season of a five-year, $80 million contract extension signed during spring training in 2007. Although a no-trade clause was included in the deal, Young has apparently agreed to waive it.
Young isn't worth anywhere close to $16 million per year as a shortstop. As someone who hit .284/.339/.402 in 2008, he would be worth about a third of that average annual salary as a third baseman. Moreover, Young turned 32 in October. He will be 37 right after his current contract expires.
While Michael Young may be the face of the franchise, did it really make sense to give the 30-year-old shortstop an extension for his age 32-36 seasons at a cost of $16M per? Young wasn't eligible to test the free agent waters until after the 2008 campaign. Make no mistake about it, Young is a productive player but the majority of his value rests in his batting average and defensive position. Young will earn his new contract if he continues to hit .310-.330 while playing a decent shortstop, but how valuable will he be if his average slips to .275-.295 as his power declines, especially if he winds up at a less desirable position on the Defensive Spectrum?
Well, Young's batting average "slipped" to .284 last year, right smack in the middle of that range I was concerned about. Moreover, he is now being asked to move to a "less desirable position on the Defensive Spectrum." That combo is flat out deadly.
Can somebody please explain to me the purpose of that extension? Did the timing help the Rangers win more games in 2007 and 2008? Did it convince Teixeira to stay in Texas? And don't give me "they had to make this deal in order to show blah, blah, blah." There is never a time or a reason to enter into a bad deal. Seriously, this contract is an unmitigated disaster, and it is rearing its ugly head right now. Whoever was responsible for it should be taken to task. A team like the Rangers simply cannot afford to make these types of poorly thought-out decisions, especially on the heels of eating a large part of Alex Rodriguez's contract. Ironically, Young moved from second base to shortstop after the Rangers unloaded A-Rod's record contract on the Yankees nearly five years ago.
While those of us who pay close attention to the HoF voting may be restless today, we're not nearly as restless as Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks, president Nolan Ryan, general manager Jon Daniels, and manager Ron Washington.
SG at the Replacement Level Yankee Weblog has posted the first of many 2009 season projections that we will be seeing. It's preliminary, of course, as there are a lot more moves to be made before the first pitch of the season is thrown. Moreover, SG admits that he has not factored in bench players as much as he will with his final projections.
Nonetheless, it's an interesting look. The AL East is loaded, the NL West is up in the air and the Angels run of excellence may be coming to an end. Head on over there. The comments are interesting, too.
Smoltz is coming off major surgery on his right shoulder and won't be fully recovered until June. When healthy, he will join an already potent starting rotation featuring Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and Brad Penny, not to mention Clay Buchholz, who threw a no-hitter in his second major league start just 16 months ago and was considered one of the brightest prospects in the game.
Think of Smoltz as the new Curt Schilling. A veteran with one of the best postseason records in baseball who can throw strikes and still miss bats. The short-term commitments to Smoltzie and Penny will cost the Red Sox just over $10 million and any additional outlays will be gladly paid if one or both can meet their performance bonuses.
Baldelli will earn a base salary of $500,000 with incentives that could double his compensation if he were to reach 350 plate appearances. Should Boston get that much playing time out of Rocco for just a million dollars, this contract will be the steal of the offseason. Sure, the "hometown" boy has had some health issues of late, but he is only 27, can play all three outfield positions, runs well, and can hit for both average and power.
The Red Sox, taking another low-risk, high-reward gamble, have signed free-agent reliever Takashi Saito to a one-year contract with a club option for 2010, according to major-league sources.
The deal was completed after Saito passed his physical on Friday. It includes a guarantee between $1.5 million and $2.5 million, the sources said, and Saito will have the chance to earn more than $7 million if he reaches all of his incentives.
The club's overall pitching depth may allow it to swing a deal with Texas for Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Taylor Teagarden. Both are young catchers. Salty, 23, was a first-round draft pick in 2003 and was one of the keys to the Mark Teixeira deal with Atlanta in 2007. Teagarden, 25, has hit .267/.390/.509 in his minor league career and slugged six home runs in 53 plate appearances in his major league debut for the Rangers last season.
The Rangers were a 76-win pythag team in 2008 and featured one of the worst pitching staffs in recent memory. It is also a staff that is not in any way shaping up to compete in 2009, either. Still, you might expect some improvement if for no other reason other than that they have nowhere to go but up. This would be fine and maybe they would have a shot in a weak AL West but their offense that was so good a year ago has taken a major hit. Here is how good Bradley was in 2008 (h/t B-Ref):
Here is Sean Forman of Baseball Reference on what the latter three categories are:
Adjusted Batting Runs - This is the linear weights method pioneered by Pete Palmer. It is a bit more accurate than Runs Created and also handles differing offensive environments more easily. It is adjusted to the park and league the player played in. It is also relative to league average, so negative values mean they were below average for the league. In my calculations, I consider league average without pitchers included. See the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia for a full description.
Batting Wins - Another Pete Palmer tool, this measures the number of wins a player added relative to the league average hitter. See the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia for a full description.
Offensive Winning Percentage - This is an estimate of the winning percentage an average defense with nine of this player batting would have. As was pointed out to me, the standard formula using the league's runs scored doesn't work well for 19th century players because so many of their runs were unearned and they took lots of extra bases and the like. I'm of two minds on how to handle this. One approach is to tweak the runs created formula. Another would be to use the league runs created rather than league runs. I have done the latter, so now we use the sum of the league's runs created to calculate offensive winning percentage.
You get the point. Bradley was absolutely terrific last season and will not be a part of the 2008 squad. The news is not all bad for the Rangers offense, however. Taylor Teagarden, Nelson Cruz and Chris Davis are all set for their first full seasons of Big League ball. Here is how the trio fared for Texas in 2008, with their Minor League numbers included.
2008 PA MLB MiLB
Teagarden 53 .319/.396/.809 .267/.390/.509
Cruz 133 .330/.421/.609 .298/.367/.539
Davis 317 .285/.331/.549 .302/.357/.595
The rest of the Rangers position players look strong at the plate, too.
Pos. 2008 OPS+
Kinsler 2B 134
Blalock 3B 121
Young SS 96
Murphy LF 106
Hamilton CF 136
With Frank Catalanotto or Jarrod Saltalamacchia ready to fill the position that Bradley vacates, designated hitter, the Rangers should have some concerns there. Recentrumblings indicate that Texas might make a play for Bobby Abreu or even Manny Ramirez, which would improve this offense but probably not get it all that close to where it was in 2008. The Rangers MLB-leading .329 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) portends regression whether they can somehow replicate Bradley's productivity or not.
But the offense wasn't the problem. The starters ERA in 2008 was 5.51, the relievers 5.15 and the team road ERA (lest you think that Arlington was the problem) was 5.26. Meanwhile, Daniels has done very little to address his team's pitching woes. This gets me back to the beginning of the article. Fairly or not, Daniels has to be on a short leash. Nolan Ryan, who I am going to assume is both something of a purist and deferential to a roster that does not feature the very worst pitching staff in baseball, is Daniels' boss.
So what can Daniels do? He needs to make the case that the Rangers are well-positioned for the future, make a good trade (probably with the Red Sox) for Saltalamacchia or Teagarden and hope that his youngsters at the Major League level affirm the notion that the Rangers future is bright. Because at the Minor League level, there can be no disputing this. In Neftali Feliz, Justin Smoak and Elvis Andrus, Texas boasts three of baseball's best prospects. And the Rangers system is not top-heavy by any means. Here is John Sickels:
The Rangers have three of the best prospects in baseball, several others who project as major league regulars, and a whole bevy of Grade C+ type guys, some of them breakout candidates for higher grades next year. I love the way they have run this farm system in recent years: they have mixed raw and polished talent in the draft, and have made a big push in Latin America. The Rangers are looking at every source of talent: college, high school, other countries, guys with tools, guys with skills. The result is a system with both depth and breadth, and the future of this organization is quite bright.
And that's the thing I (intentionally) omitted in the first paragraph. For all of Daniels failure in wheeling and dealing at the Major League level, he has managed to draft very well, bolster his organization's presence in Latin America and stockpile young talent when dealing established Major Leaguers. He netted Andrus, Engel Beltre, Saltalamacchia, Cruz and other promising assets in deadline deals.
With an unexpectedly large bounce in their pitching performance in 2009, the Rangers may have an outside shot at competing in a weak division this season. But in all likelihood this will be a lost season. If Nolan Ryan can hang in there with Daniels, see how his youngsters perform in 2009, monitor his trade decisions and trust he has learned from past mistakes, it may turn out that he would be best served standing up to external pressures to let Daniels go.
When you rank fifth in career strikeouts, ninth in shutouts, and 27th in wins (and 19th since 1900), you take it on faith that you will be elected to the Hall of Fame, just like virtually all of the pitchers immediately ahead of and behind you in these three categories. After being snubbed 11 consecutive times (and with only three more chances after this year), you take it to the heart when you're Only the Lonely and don't get the necessary 75 percent of the vote.
I don't think it is petty to suggest that the Baseball Writers Association of America, as a whole, has gotten this one wrong for a long time. Too long. Blyleven should have been inducted in his first year. Yes, he is that deserving. But if you want to reserve that honor for the Cobbs, Ruths, Wagners, Mathewsons, Johnsons, Gehrigs, Williamses, Musials, Mantles, Mayses, Aarons, etc., that's fine. I mean, it even took Joe DiMaggio a few attempts before he was elected. (The truth of the matter is that the Yankee Clipper didn't even have to wait what has since become a minimum requirement of five years once a player retires.)
The good news is that Blyleven is polling in the right direction.
Thanks to Repoz at the Baseball Think Factory, we can actually see how well Blyleven is doing among the approximately 14 percent of the precincts that have been reported at this point.
% on 74 Full Ballots
98.6 - Rickey Henderson
82.4 - Jim Rice
78.4 - Bert Blyleven
67.6 - Andre Dawson
48.6 - Jack Morris
33.8 - Lee Smith
27.0 - Tim Raines
25.8 - Alan Trammell
25.8 - Tommy John
21.6 - Mark McGwire
While Blyleven sits above the magic threshold now, the results of these published full ballots may overstate how he is faring among the larger electorate. As Repoz told me in an email, "the jobless/blogless/retired old codger vote that is still waiting for Harry Breechen's name to come up on the ballot" may not be as likely to vote for the likes of Blyleven. But we'll take it nonetheless.
Blyleven was named on 82 of the 126 full/partial ballots (65 percent) publicly announced last year compared to 62 percent of the 543 total ballots cast. According to Repoz, Bert has picked up eight new voters and lost two this year. The eight newbies are: Mark Gonzales, Dan McGrath, Phil Pepe, Bob Verdi, and first-time voters Tim Cowlishaw, Carter Gaddis, Jeff Jacobs, and Sean McClelland. Bill Kennedy and Mike Nadel are the two voters who apparently thought Blyleven wasn't as deserving this year as last. Blyleven may get a bump from the ESPN/USA/MLB.com blocks that should be released no later than Friday.
A large number of this year's partials are from the pro-Rickey Henderson/pro-Jim Rice articles where the voters make little or no mention of the rest of their ballot. Henderson, in his first appearance on the ballot, and Rice, in his final year of eligibility, are garnering the most attention. Amazingly, one writer, Dorky Corky Simpson, didn't see fit to include Rickey on his ballot. There's always someone, right? But, all is not lost as Simpson voted for Blyleven and another personal favorite of mine, Tim Raines. Heck, he even placed an "x" next to Matt Williams' name. That's right, Matt Williams but not Rickey Henderson. I kid you not.
In the case of Henderson, it's not whether he will get elected, it's whether he will break the record for the highest percentage of the vote total ever (currently held by Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver with 98.8 percent). Like it or not, Rice looks as if he will receive the required 75 percent as well. Blyleven and Andre Dawson appear to be the only other candidates with any realistic shot this year with the former perhaps leapfrogging the latter for the first time.
The numbers game is working against Blyleven this year. According to Chris Jaffe of The Hardball Times, "In the last half-century, the BBWAA elected three players in only four elections. None of those votes (1972, 1984, 1991, and 1999) are good comps for 2009. On top of that, it's very difficult for two backloggers to win a plaque in the same year, so [Blyleven and Dawson] are unlikely to join Rice. In the last 30 years, there have been only four times more than one backlogger made it in."
If not in 2009, then one of the next two years is shaping up as a good opportunity for Blyleven to finally earn his due. While I would be in favor of Roberto Alomar and Barry Larkin in 2010 and Jeff Bagwell in 2011, I'm not at all convinced that any of these three players will make it in their first attempts. As such, Blyleven could be the odds-on favorite to have his day in Cooperstown in one of the following two summers, especially if he beats out Dawson this year.
Memo to BBWAA: Don't let this go too far. Memo to Bert: Don't let it get to you. While the waiting is the hardest part, it's going to feel like something from a dream very soon.