While I have been graphing pitchers for a number of years, I only started doing the same for hitters twelve months ago. It was a simple exercise of measuring productivity by plotting on-base percentages on the x-axis and slugging averages on the y-axis for every qualified batter in 2009.
With the foregoing in mind, I decided to create a graph using the data for 2010. As I noted a year ago, "there is nothing groundbreaking" here. Instead, my goal is just to present the information in a format that is not only visual but easier to absorb more quickly than via a spreadsheet. It is designed to be simple and straightforward. Two axis, four quadrants, and player names identifying outliers.
The quadrants were determined by the intersection of the MLB averages for OBP (.325) and SLG (.403). [The averages last year were .333 and .418. Call 2010 the Year of the Pitcher if you want to put a positive spin on it or the Year of the Worsening Hitter if you prefer to be a cynic.] The northeast quadrant is the home of hitters with above-average OBP and SLG. The southwest quadrant is made up of "hitters" with below-average OBP and SLG. The northwest and southeast quadrants identify hitters who were above average in one and below average in the other.
Note: You can download a spreadsheet containing the OBP, SLG, and OPS of the 151 qualified hitters here. This information can also be used to locate the 125 players not labeled in the graph below.
Starting with the best quadrant, the four hitters who stand out — Josh Hamilton, Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, and Albert Pujols — all ranked first or second in his respective league's Most Valuable Player voting. Hamilton (1.044) and Votto (1.024) led the American League and National League, respectively, in OPS and were named the MVP winners.
The only other player besides these four to receive a first-place vote for MVP was Jose Bautista, who seemingly came out of nowhere to put up a .378 OBP and .617 SLG. He ranked fifth in the majors in OPS (.995). Bautista slugged 54 HR (12 more than any other hitter) and drew 100 BB. He led MLB in HR plus TB (tied for first with 351) and XBH (92). The Toronto Blue Jay right fielder/third baseman produced an OPS+ of 166, the first time he had ever reached the MLB average of 100. Bautista was in the 90s in his prior four seasons.
In addition to the five aforementioned players, there were three others who exceeded an OBP of .375 and a SLG of .550. Paul Konerko (.977), Carlos Gonzalez (.974), and Troy Tulowitzki (.949) ranked sixth, seventh, and eighth in the majors in OPS. Konerko (3 years/$37.5M), Gonzalez (7/$80M), and Tulowitzki (10/$157.75M) were rewarded with big contracts during the off-season.
CarGo and Tulo benefited greatly by playing their home games at Coors Field, which had a park factor of 118 in 2010. Gonzalez hit .380/.425/.737 at home and .289/.322/.453 on the road. Tulowitzki hit .339/.403/.631 in Colorado and .291/.358/.504 in away games. Nevertheless, their OPS+ of 143 and 138, respectively, ranked sixth and eighth in the NL last season. Konerko generated a career-high OPS+ of 158 at the age of 34. He finished in the top eight in the AL in AVG (.312), OBP (.393), SLG (.584), OPS (.977), OPS+, HR (39), XBH (70), TB (320), and RBI (111).
Two other outliers in the northeast quadrant include Matt Holliday (.390/.532) and Jayson Werth (.388/.532), whose diamond in the above graph touches Holliday's. Interestingly, Holliday signed a 7/$120M contract (or $17M per year with a $1M buyout) with the St. Louis Cardinals in January 2010 and Werth inked a 7/$126M deal (an average of $18M annually including a $4M signing bonus) with the Washington Nationals in December 2010. The latter's salary escalates from $10M in 2011 to $21M in 2015-17. Holliday was 30 and Werth 31 at the time of their signings.
We should also give a shout out to Yo Adrian as Beltre (.365/.553) and Gonzalez (.393/.511) had terrific seasons, placing 11th and 13th in the majors in OPS. Who finished 12th? Robinson Cano (.381/.534), whose diamond sits directly below Tulowitzki's.
By the way, is it just me or does Shin-Soo Choo remind anyone else of Bobby Abreu? Both play right field, hit lefthanded, and put up .300/.400/.500 type rate stats. Through their age 27 seasons, Choo had a 138 OPS+ and Abreu had a 137. Abreu (.308/.413/.521, 151 OPS+) had his best offensive season at age 28. Just sayin'.
My best bet for a comeback candidate is Aaron Hill, who had a batting average on balls in play of ONE-NINETY-SIX (.196)! His BABIP is not only remarkable in an absolute sense but also relative to his previous five campaigns when he averaged .307 on balls in play with a range of .288 to .324. The source of the problem can be found in Hill's batted ball stats. According to Fangraphs, 54% were fly balls (vs. 41% career mark and a MLB average of 38%), 35% were ground balls (vs. 40% career and MLB of 44%), and 11% were line drives (vs. 19% career and MLB of 18%). Per The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2011, 83% of fly balls turned into outs whereas only 74% of ground balls and 27% of line drives were converted into outs last year. Given the increase in FB and the decrease in GB and LD, one would expect Hill's batting average to decline but not necessarily from a previous career mark of .285 to .205. If the second baseman can keep his strikeout rate below 15% (which he has accomplished in five of his six seasons to date), I would expect his AVG/OBP/SLG to improve materially this year.
There's not a heck of a lot going on in baseball these days outside of a Wandy Rodriguez extension here or a manufactured Yankees controversy there. So today I will share some links.
On some of the perceived tension between Yankee ownership and Brian Cashman, Ben Kabak offers a sober take over at River Ave Blues. Yanks ownership controls the purse strings, and with money to burn they overpaid for Rafael Soriano. Cashman hasn't exactly tried to hide the fact that he disagreed with the move, either. The intuitive reaction is to assume that dissension between general management and ownership can only mean bad things, but Cashman and Kabak do a nice job explaining why that doesn't necessarily have to be.
Cashman's word is critical when he negotiates with agents and other players. It sounds like he may have told other relievers early on in the offseason that the Yanks had a compensation threshold for setup guys that they would not exceed. Except that, as the Hot Stove season wound down and the Yanks still had money and Soriano was still out there, ownership decided they would do whatever they had to in order to secure his services. That's ok, I suppose. It's ownership's call. But you can empathize with Cashman as he sets out to distance himself from the decision.
The baseball blogosphere's favorite Badger prodigy, Jack Moore, has a thorough take on the Wandy extension. "Meh," is how Larry David might react. It's hard to argue that it's an overpay since Wandy is in fact a very good pitcher. It's just that with Houston's farm system looking pretty bare and considering what pitchers like Matt Garza and Zack Greinke have been able to fetch, and further considering that Houston isn't good, it seems that Ed Wade could have gotten more value for Wandy on the trade market than in a 'Stros uniform. I think it's especially true when you think about the teams that could be in the mix for a starter (ahem, Yankees and Red Sox, ahem) over the next six months or so.
I didn't intend to write about Bert Blyleven for my Monday entry until I received the following email from a Minnesota Twins Baseball Fantasy Camp player yesterday evening.
Rich - it was great to meet you at the camp and love the story.
I have uploaded the video of Bert meeting you -
I am so happy they let you play and pitch in a game - it is a great time at the
camp. Lee Stange is a great guy to have as your manager (he was my manager last
year - 2010) as well.
Take care - hope to see you in Cooperstown in July.
The email from Paul Bennett made my Sunday. It was a pleasant surprise, to say the least, as I had not seen a video from the night I met Bert. I had no idea that I would be asked to speak that evening so my comments were unrehearsed. I just went with the flow. My wife, who wasn't able to join me for the trip, enjoyed watching the video as well. It made her feel as if she was back there with me.
Blyleven opens by talking about fellow Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew and Willie Stargell. Stan Dickman, the Executive Director of the Minnesota Twins Baseball Fantasy Camp, then asks Bert about the Internet just beyond the two-minute mark on the video. Check out the following YouTube to see how it all unfolded from there.
By the way, Paul had a great week, too. He received the under-the-age-of-50 Gold Glove Award and was the starting pitcher in the championship game that his team won, 4-3.
Thank you, Paul. I will see you in Cooperstown six months from today.
On a related note, Stan added a news story to his website yesterday. Here is an excerpt from 2011 Camp — In the Books and One for the Ages!
But perhaps the highlight of the night came when Bert was surprised with a visit by Rich Lederer, the Southern California Blogger that had taken up the cause for Bert's inclusion into the Hall of Fame eight years prior. In his press conference on the day of the vote announcement and again at the Tuesday night banquet, Bert had singled Rich out for his tireless efforts on the internet in making the case for Bert's body of work being Hall of Fame worthy. The look on Bert's face when Rich was introduced was priceless and will long stand as one of the most exciting moments in our camp's history.
Wait, What? A Look Back at the Cardinals' Offseason
By Patrick Sullivan
Aside from a role player here or a bullpen part there, the St. Louis Cardinals' roster is set for 2011. They bring back a big part of the nucleus of a team that won 86 games and finished five games short of qualifying for postseason play in 2010. St. Louis has not won a playoff game since they clinched a title in Game 5 of the 2006 World Series, and they have averaged just shy of 85 wins over the last five seasons. No shame there, but with Albert Pujols in the middle of the lineup and a rich tradition of success, it's not a stretch to say that it's been a frustrating run since October of 2006. GM John Mozeliak and Manager Tony La Russa have to be feeling hungry to get back to the early-to-mid aughts glory days of 100-win seasons and perennial contention.
That desire for a return to greatness in St. Louis makes this past offseason puzzling, to say the least. Before delving into the individual moves, it's important to acknowledge the constraints St. Louis faces. They're paying Matt Holliday and Chris Carpenter top dollar, Kyle Lohse is making an eight-figure salary as well. They'll pay Pujols $16 million this year, and the team payroll right now is coming in at just north of $100 million, an honest commitment to winning from a club situated in a modest Midwestern city. Throwing the biggest wrench in their plans, however, is the looming Pujols extension (or departure). Without knowing what it will take to sign one of the true all-time greats, it's difficult for Mozeliak to bring on other parts.
That's fine. I understand. But this is a roster that's a lot of the way there, building off of an 86-win season with cause for year-over-year improvement scattered throughout. Even though he was excellent, 2010 was one of Pujols's worst seasons of his career. Colby Rasmus, who has all the makings of a future star, clashed with La Russa in 2010. With that situation seemingly smoothed over, he figures to see another 100 plate appearances or so in 2011. Jake Westbrook is in the fold for the whole season, taking innings from Jeff Suppan and others who aren't as good as him. Brendan Ryan, for all of his defensive wizardry, managed just a 57 OPS+ in 2010. He's now playing for the Mariners (more on that move in a moment).
This is a club screaming for a couple of savvy tweaks on the margins to thrust them right back into contention with the upstart Cincinnati Reds. Instead, they made a big splash when they decided to add Lance Berkman to the fold. Berkman may well be a future Hall of Famer, but he has had knee troubles and is coming off his worst year. It's likely that he can still swing the bat, but he's a first baseman or designated hitter at this point in his career, and look at what the Twins just paid Jim Thome coming off a .283/.412/.627 campaign. The Cardinals saw fit to hand Berkman $8 million with no DH rule that I am aware of in the NL and maybe the best first baseman ever on their roster. He hasn't played the outfield since Curt Schilling, Mike Lowell and Manny Ramirez were leading the Red Sox to another title, and over the past six seasons has played just 124 games at a position other than first or DH. With two right-handed bats in Pujols and Holliday in the middle of the lineup you can understand prioritizing a lefty, but not to this extent. An option like Magglio Ordonez or Matt Diaz or heck, waiting around for Johnny Damon, would seem to have made more sense.
The other big move was for the Cardinals to throw in the towel on Ryan, their shortstop in 2009 and 2010, in favor of Ryan Theriot. There's no excusing how Ryan hit last season, but consider that he was still a 1.0 fWAR player as a 28-year old. That's how good his glove was. What's more, it was clearly an outlier season for Ryan at the plate. He's a better hitter than he showed in 2010. When you watch this video of Mozeliak addressing the Berkman signing, there are any number of alarms that should sound for Cards fans, but the biggest red flag for me is how he says he wants to address the offense, and that the middle infield seemed like a good place to do it. My guess is that thinking led to Ryan's departure and Theriot's arrival.
Theriot has been a full-time player for four seasons now and has hit at an 87 wRC+ clip over that time. Ryan has played two full seasons in the Bigs and posted an 81 wRC+. If Theriot is a better hitter, he's only marginally so. Ryan did hit .292/.340/.400 in 2009. Since 2007, Theriot ranks 6th in plate appearances among all shortstops and 5th in games played. He's 19th in fWAR over that time. Ryan, in half the plate appearances, has posted a fWAR of 5.0 to Theriot's 6.8. Theriot will make $3.3 million in 2011, Ryan $1 million. Did I mention Ryan's two years younger? I should note, too, that I spared Cards fans the B-Ref WAR comparison. It's even kinder to Ryan. It's great that Mozeliak thought he'd try and upgrade his offense at shortstop, but even if you grant that he did so with the addition of Theriot, what good does it do when you give those runs right back in the field?
To their credit, the Cards also re-upped Westbrook at a reasonable cost, but that's really it for this offseason. For a team on the cusp, they went out and acquired what might turn out to be a big bat to play a position he can no longer play at best, and one that might force him to the DL at worst. They also swapped out a better shortstop for an older one. The Pujols situation looming might account for budget constraints - nobody is blaming them for failing to land Carl Crawford. It doesn't account for the mismanagement, though.
Make no mistake about it, I've had a fun-tastic two weeks. It all started with the phone call from Bert Blyleven on Wednesday, January 5 when he informed me 30 minutes prior to the actual announcement that he had been elected to the Hall of Fame. After 14 long years, the wait was finally over. Bert Blyleven, Hall of Famer.
I congratulated him and then he congratulated me. I told him, "Thank you." He said, "No, thank you." Bert could not have been more appreciative or gracious in sharing baseball's ultimate honor with me. I'm not naive though. He did all the work on the field. Fifth in career strikeouts, ninth in shutouts, and top 20 in wins since 1900. Two World Series Championships with a 5-1 postseason record and a 2.47 ERA. And much, much more. My only contribution was making voters aware of his qualifications. It all seemed so obvious to me when I wrote my first article about Only the Lonely: The Hall of Fame Trials and Tribulations of Bert Blyleven in December 2003. Everybody around him in the major statistical categories was in the HOF except Blyleven. How could that be? Well, seven years and more than 30 articles later, we no longer have to answer the naysayers.
In that same phone conversation, I told Bert that I was going to be in Cooperstown on July 24 when he is officially inducted into the Hall of Fame. He responded in typical Blyleven fashion, "You can stand next to me if you'd like." Bert and his wife Gayle have since invited me to sit with the family on that momentous day this summer.
But, as it turned out, I won't have to wait six months to meet Bert for the first time in person. While I umpired one of his scout's league games 37 years ago, I never got closer than about 60 feet, 6 inches to him. You see, on the afternoon of Blyleven's election, I was invited to surprise Bert at a tribute dinner for him at the Minnesota Twins Baseball Fantasy Camp in Ft. Myers, Florida the following Tuesday. I didn't have to think too long or too hard on the offer proposed by Jay Harris, one of of the organizers of this event.
I made plans the next day to fly out of Los Angeles to Ft. Myers (via Miami) a week ago Tuesday and fly back to L.A. last Thursday. Suffice it to say, that trip was one of the most fun-filled of my life. Nearly one week after returning and I still haven't quite come all the way down from cloud nine.
Tuesday, January 11
In anticipation of playing catch with Bert, I packed my baseball glove firmly inside my carry-on bag. My son Joe took me to LAX bright and early that morning. I caught a 7:10 a.m. PT flight and landed in MIA as scheduled at 2:55 p.m. ET. My connecting flight to Ft. Myers (RSW) was at 3:35. I called Jay, who had offered to pick me up at the airport, to let him know that I would be there on time. Unfortunately, I spoke too soon. Less than five minutes later, a voice was heard over the public address system telling us that there was a change in the aircraft and that the flight was now scheduled to leave at 4:30. Well, 4:30 soon became almost 5:00 as the passengers literally stood on a bus on the tarmac waiting to be called onto the American Eagle puddle jumper. I called Jay to let him know that I wouldn't arrive until at least 5:30. He told me not to worry about it even though the dinner festivities were expected to begin at 6:00 at the Holiday Inn Ft. Myers Airport-Town Center.
We actually arrived at the hotel in the nick of time. The program began minutes later with the honorable Bert Blyleven decked out in a white wig and green robe presiding over Kangaroo Court. He fined campers and former teammates-turned instructors a total of $1,600 with all the proceeds going to Lee County Children’s Hospital. Bert had no idea I was there as I sat in the back corner of the room at a table with Jay and a half dozen campers.
Dinner was served, a FOXSports North video of Blyleven was shown on a big screen, Bert was asked to address the audience, a toast was conducted, and songwriter/storyteller Warren Nelson sang a couple of original songs about Bert and the Twins while playing his guitar. Stan Dickman, the evening's host who is also the Executive Director of Ultimate Sports Adventures (which is the licensed provider of the Twins Fantasy Baseball Camp), called Bert back up to the stage. He asked him if there was anybody not in the room that he wanted to thank. Blyleven proceeded to talk about former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, who was unable to attend after learning that he had esophageal cancer.
Stan then asked Blyleven about the Internet and Bert onceagainmentioned my name and talked about my efforts on his behalf. Stan asked Bert if he had ever met me. The latest Hall of Famer said no but indicated that he was hopeful of doing so in Cooperstown in July. Stan responded, "Would you like to meet him tonight?" After Bert panned the room, I stood up and walked to the stage amid a warm reception by the audience. Bert and I shook hands, smiled, and gave each other a big hug. The look in his eyes was a combination of surprise and gratitude.
I also met Gayle for the first time in person. She presented me with a big basket of decorative cookies wrapped in cellophane as a thank you. The sugar cookies were customized with the Twins logo and Bert Blyleven HOF 2011. It was a thoughtful gesture on her part. I suggested that we take the basket to the locker room the next morning and let the campers enjoy them.
John Gordon, the radio play-by-play announcer, stopped by to introduce himself and say hello. Two days later, I was able to hook up with a fully uniformed Dick Bremer, who is Bert's partner on the telecasts, at one of the camp games. Outstanding broadcasters and men both.
Wednesday, January 12
I arrived at the Lee County Sports Complex – Spring Training Headquarters of the Twins – at about 8:00 a.m. I was given a locker and a uniform. After I got dressed, David Dorsey of the Ft. Myers News-Press interviewed me for an article that appeared on the front page of the sports section the next day. Jay then showed me around the clubhouse and took me to the cafeteria where we served ourselves breakfast. Bert sat down directly across from me. We talked about baseball and golf before meeting up on the field and having a catch.
Bert went out of his way to accommodate me as he had hip replacement surgery in October. Believe me, he can still zing it. Not shy, I told Bert that I wanted to compare curveballs. I threw him a spinner and he mocked me. "That's your curveball?" Hey, it was the first one I had thrown in years and only then at a family picnic. He raised his arm and hand to a 12 o'clock position and said, "You've got to get it up here." As someone who had a good curve through high school, I knew I was supposed to throw the ball over the barrel and shake hands with the center fielder (a visual that worked wonders for me). Nevertheless, at age 55, my shoulder wasn't as cooperative as it once was. Bert, who is four years older than me, broke off a couple of tight ones. Impressive indeed.
My manager, Lee Stange, asked me what position I played. I told him pitcher but said I could also play first base. He kidded, "Everyone out here is a first baseman/DH." Lee sent me to the bullpen to warm up. He liked what he saw enough to give me the start. The first two batters hit line-drive singles. Standing just outside our dugout on the third base side, Blyleven shouted, "Hey Rich! Try to get an out, why don't you!" I smiled at him, took a deep breath, and got back to the task at hand. The next batter hit a slow roller to my right. I was thinking two but, then again, I thought I was 30-something rather than 50-something. My brain made the play with no problem, but my body failed me. The ball passed me and the shortstop had no play. A couple of runs later and Bert was now needling me again. "You've got an 18.00 ERA!" It was actually higher at that moment in time because I had not yet completed the inning. Thankfully, I did with no further damage.
Down 2-0 after the first inning, the Stingers (see lineup card signed by Stange and our coach Rick Aguilera) battled back and scored four runs in the top of the second. I got a chance to hit and landed on second base after the infielder overthrew first. It was the last thing I wanted to happen. Not only did I run hard (not fast, mind you) to first, now I had to hustle to second to beat the throw from the right fielder who did a great job in backing up the play. Believe me, sprinting from home to second was the furthest thought on my mind when I walked to the plate. But, hey, I did it for the team and eventually scored a run. Man, was I winded when I high fived Bert on my way back to the dugout.
Teammate Bob Garvin threw several innings, limiting the New Years team managed by Phil Roof and Juan Berenguer to a run or two as we went on to a 14-4 victory. The official scorekeeper credited me with the win in a judgment call that was highly favorable to me. Stange was as generous when he told me that I earned the "W" and went 1-for-1 in my debut. I'll take 'em both, as well as the congratulations from Bert after the game.
Steve Dickman, who is Stan's older brother, took me back to the hotel to change into my golf attire and then to Bert's country club where he hosted a round of golf that afternoon for ten foursomes, generally made up of one former player and three campers. I not only played in Bert's group but rode in the same cart in an 18-hole scramble format that called for playing the best ball after each shot.
Our group also played well. We tied for first place with a 65. Bert, who plays to a five index, hit a lot of long drives. I was pleasantly surprised how well I hit the golf ball after not playing since July 4th. We didn't hit any balls on the range so my first swing in six months was on the first hole. Although I once played to a five myself, I was a little bit nervous when I stepped to the No. 1 tee. I hit a good drive (which we didn't use), then stuck a nine-iron about four feet from the hole, which led to our first birdie of the day. I contributed a few drives, several approach shots on the greens, and one birdie putt from the No. 3 position in the group. Dick Washburn, who was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the fifth round in 1966 and was the camp's over-the-age of 50 Cy Young Award winner, and Joe Repya, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel and combat veteran of three wars, also helped our cause.
During our round of golf, I presented Bert with a couple of personalized, tour-quality golf towels that my son Joe, who is a Regional Sales Manager for Club Glove, had designed for me. The Twins logo, Bert's name, and 2011 Hall of Fame were all embroidered onto the towels. These gifts meant a lot to him.
We finished the day's activities with drinks and hors d' oeuvres in the clubhouse. Ron Gardenhire, Kent Hrbek, Tom Brunansky, Tim Laudner, and Bill Campbell (standing next to me in this photo) were some of the players who joined us for golf and refreshments. Campbell, who won the first two Rolaids Relief Man Awards in 1976-77, shared a bunch of great stories with me in the locker room and on the golf course. He was an old-school reliever, combining to pitch 307.2 innings (an average of more than two per outing) in those two seasons. He went 30-14 while leading the league in games finished both years and saves in 1977. Soup, as he was and is still known, placed in the top ten in the CYA and MVP voting in '76 for the Twins and '77 for the Red Sox.
I returned to the hotel that evening not knowing it was possible to be as sore as I was and still have so much fun. Due to the fact that I had no intention of playing the next day, you might say that I retired early for the night and late for my "career." One and done although, as a starting pitcher, I had a built-in excuse for not pitching for another five days. Bert Blyleven or Bill Campbell, I am not.
Thursday, January 13
I woke up at 6:45 in anticipation of packing for my return flight that afternoon and a half day of camp. I met Jay in the lobby of the hotel at 7:50 and we arrived at the spring training complex at around 8:00. I wore black jeans and my Twins undershirt, jersey, and cap but no baseball pants, belt, or tube socks for me on this day.
My teammate Bob Zuckerman, as nice a guy as you could meet, took the photo of Bert and me at the top of this page on Wednesday morning. He went to Target that evening and ordered an 8x10 that he placed in my locker prior to my arrival on Thursday. I asked Bert to sign that photo and a Rawlings Major League Baseball. He personalized both, thanking me again in writing and signing "Your friend, Bert Blyleven."
We looked at the article that appeared in the Ft. Myers News-Press that morning. The photo of me pitching above was on page three. Bert ribbed me. "We need to work on your leg kick." I said, "Are you kidding me? That's major league quality right there." When I returned home, I looked for photos to check his leg kick from his playing days. Oh well, my leg kick certainly wasn't as big as Blyleven's. But it got me thinking, "Maybe the photographer snapped the photo of me pitching with a runner on base?" OK, runners on base. Either way, it may have been too short for a windup and too long for a slide step. That's why I haven't quit my day job.
I hung out with Bert and Frank Viola in the locker room. The three of us swapped baseball stories, reminiscing more about the past than the present. Bert and Frank, of course, were the go-to guys for the 1987 Minnesota Twins World Series championship team. Viola won the AL Cy Young Award the following year when he led the league with 24 wins and a .774 W-L percentage while ranking third in ERA (2.64) and ERA+ (154). As I learned from his son, Frank Viola III, the man known as Sweet Music and possessor of the best changeup in the game never missed a start from 1983-1992. He started a remarkable 354 games and completed 2,451 innings during that ten-year stretch.
Viola's son, a minor-league pitcher, worked out with Blyleven that day. After undergoing Tommy John surgery a couple of years ago, he now throws harder than ever, touching 90 with a live fastball. He also throws a nice changeup. However, he doesn't have much of a breaking ball. In steps Bert to teach him the grip and the arm action of a cutter. I witnessed much of his bullpen session, and it was a pretty good one. At 26, he just might get one last chance.
The clock struck noon and it was time for me to say my final goodbyes to Bert. We shook hands and chatted for a few moments. It ended like it started with that phone call just over a week ago with both of us congratulating and thanking one another. As a friend told me in an email, "It's nice to know that the guy you helped so much is personally worthy of your efforts." Well, let me tell you, Bert is as great a man as he was a pitcher.
My return flight was at 1:35 p.m. Jay, who couldn't have treated me any better, drove me to the Ft. Myers Airport. He dropped me off by 12:30 and handed me a sandwich that camp chef George Serra made for me and a Killebrew Root Beer in a handsome bottle. I sat on a bench outside the terminal and ate my lunch. With my boarding pass already printed, I walked directly to the gate. Unlike Tuesday, my two flights departed and arrived on time. Joe picked me up at LAX shortly after 6 p.m. PT and took me to the Claim Jumper in Long Beach where I met my wife Barbara, daughter Macy, and son-in-law Joel for dinner. Macy is expecting in March, and Barbara and I will become grandparents for the first time.
Life is more than good.
Friday, January 14
Upon my return home, I was greeted with a wonderful article by Dave Studeman at The Hardball Times.
Bert meets Rich
There's a wonderful article today in the Florida News-Press. It describes the first meeting between two men so deeply aligned in my mind's eye: one a great major league pitcher, the other his most ardent advocate. I didn't realize that the two hadn't met before; it's about time.
The story of Rich and Bert is perhaps the greatest story of Sabermetrics on the Internet. There are other great stories, such as the formation of Baseball Prospectus and the growth of Tango's sabermetric blog and theories, but none have had the impact of Rich's early and impassioned advocacy of Bert Blyleven for the Hall of Fame.
Blyleven was an under-the-radar kind of guy when he pitched, and I don't know exactly why. Perhaps it was the small markets he pitched in, or the fact he never won a Cy Young. It was easy to overlook him when you talked about the all-time greats.
But Rich changed that. When Rich laid out Bert's career stats, you took notice. Your eyes opened, and you realized that you had been missing something for a long time. It truly was like waking up.
Thanks to Sabermetrics (and one of Rich's idols, Bill James), you just couldn't deny the power of the evidence. And thanks to the Internet, the word spread quickly. Many eyes opened and minds changed. Others joined the chorus, but Rich started the chant. And eventually the BBWAA heard, too.
This is a great story within a story, and it gives many of us hope. Hope that compelling stats really can mean something; hope that some more rationality can be brought to bear to the Great Baseball Arguments. Hope that the fundamental nature of the game can be fully incorporated with its emotional impact. Hope that minds and hearts can co-exist.
This from the article...
“Would Bert had gotten in without Lederer? That’s hard to say,” said LaVelle Neal, a sportswriter for the Star-Tribune of Minneapolis. “I will say that Lederer and the stats revolution came when Bert really needed a boost.”
...gets it wrong. There is no way the BBWAA would have inducted Bert Blyleven into the Hall of Fame without Rich Lederer. Let's give credit where it's due.
Congratulations, Bert; and congratulations, Rich. You both belong in the Sabermetric Hall of Fame.
In his Friday Filberts, Rob Neyer linked to the Ft. Myers News-Press article and added, "My favorite story of the week? Rich Lederer and Bert Blyleven having a catch."
I was also interviewed that morning by Bob Sansevere, a columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He is a member of the BBWAA and is a Hall of Fame voter. To Bob's credit, he has voted for Blyleven since the get go. The Q&A appeared online that evening and in the newspaper the following day.
Buster Olney linked to the interview on his blog last Saturday (subscription required). "Rich Lederer had a lot to do with Bert Blyleven's induction into the Hall of Fame, Bob Sansevere writes."
Stan Dickman, the owner of the baseball camp, made my day on Sunday with the following note within his email. "The highlight of the week was your surprise appearance at our Tuesday evening banquet."
The pleasure was mine. Thanks to Bert and everyone involved for making the past two weeks so memorable.
Photo credits (in order): Bob Zuckerman (standing with Blyleven), Brian Hirten/Ft. Myers News-Press (pitching), and Al Schuth, Twins Camp photographer (action sequence above).
News Item #1 – AL East team with strong sabermetric leanings signs free-agent reliever. His peripherals are better than his ERA, and he’s considered to have some personality baggage. Reliever gets $12 million over two years – reaction is mostly positive.
News Item #2 – AL East team with strong sabermetric leanings signs free-agent reliever. His peripherals are better than his ERA, and he’s considered to have some pesonality baggage. Reliever gets $3.5 million for one year – reaction is abject mocking.
As you may have figured out by now, News Item #1 refers to the Boston Red Sox’ signing of Bobby Jenks, which took place a month ago, while News Item #2 refers to the Tampa Bay Rays’ signing of Kyle Farnsworth, which broke today. I find the differences in response to these deals somewhat amusing.
Here are the numbers for Farnsworth and Jenks over the last two seasons.
Go read the rest of it. He touches on changes in Farnsworth's delivery, and it's a nicely written and evidenced post about how there may not be much difference at all between Jenks and Farnsworth. Here is how he concludes it, however.
Once you factor in the size and length of their respective contracts, it seems pretty clear to me that the Rays got a better deal with Farnsworth than the Red Sox did with Jenks.
I find this conclusion problematic for a few different reasons. The first has to do with the innings Jenks and Farnsworth have been pitching. Let's first look at Leverage numbers, a metric tracked at Baseball Prospectus. 1.00 is the Leverage situation at the start of the game when the first pitch is thrown, and then from there it's driven by Win Expectancy. We will limit our look to Dave's comparison of 2009 and 2010 for obvious reasons. Going back further overwhelmingly favors Jenks, and it does seem that Farnsworth may have turned a corner with regard to mechanics. So 2009 and 2010 only it is.
1.20 (KC), 0.94 (ATL)
As you can see, Jenks has been pitching very important innings over the last few years. Farnsworth, not so much outside of a handful of key appearances for the Royals in 2010. It's important to remember, too, that Jenks has been closing games for a perennial contender while Farnsworth has pitched for the Royals. His ~20 innings with Atlanta in a pennant race were often low to medium leverage situations. If there were a playoff expectancy or championship expectancy figure, the gulf would be even wider.
Farnsworth's high leverage innings have come amid a push for 70 wins, while Jenks's have come in a pennant race. But let's set that aside for the moment and just look at how they have performed in their respective high leverage situations. Here it is, presented as OPS against.
Let's remember that Dave's conclusion on its face makes the narrow point that $3.5 million guaranteed for one season to Farnsworth is better than $12 million guaranteed to Jenks over two seasons. It's not terribly provocative in the context of how he presents it. They have similar peripherals, and there's reason to believe Farnsworth's improvement in 2009 and 2010 is real. Over and above the leverage point I have made above - both the innings pitched in those situations and how they have performed once there - there are additional considerations.
A $3.5 million investment for the Rays accounts for a greater percentage of their payroll than a $6 million annual investment does for the Red Sox. It's great that Tampa Bay has carved out a niche developing talent and finding undervalued assets but, just like the Boston Red Sox, the Rays are in the winning business. I understand they do not have the luxury of ponying up $12 million for someone like Jenks. In that context, given their similar output in 2009 and 2010, Farnsworth makes for a nice proxy. But let's not jump to the conclusion that the market is out of whack, or that Boston missed on Farnsworth by paying up for Jenks. Jenks comes at a premium for a number of reasons, and it's not just because professional evaluators only remember Farnsworth's failures as a Yankee.
Jenks is 30, Farnsworth 35. Jenks has five career postseason Saves, including two in the 2005 World Series as a rookie. Jenks has a quality track record extending back to 2005, while Farnsworth optimism hinges on 102 largely meaningless innings in 2009 and 2010. I don't like to overemphasize "clutch" statistics but when it comes to evaluating relief pitching I think all the information we can get is relevant. It's particularly so in the ultra-competitive American League East. In this light, when you consider age, leverage and career quality, even if the Rays have unearthed another gem in Farnsworth, the respective contracts look about right to me.
Recently Dave Cameron took to ESPN Insider to pen a column about Andruw Jones, how he stacks up against Derek Jeter, and what his Hall of Fame prospects might look like. Dave's a great writer, as you know, and he's at his best when handling provocative topics. It's a compelling read since, according to WAR, Jones stacks up nicely next to the Yankee legend.
I really only have one issue with it. At the end, he starts to back off. I can respect that on the one hand, because there is so much we don't know about defense and how it might impact Wins Above Replacement totals. On the other, he leaves no room for the possibility that Jones's defense could make him even better than WAR shows him to be.
While no one can deny the number of base hits that Jeter has accumulated, the idea of Andruw Jones being in the defensive company of Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson and Ozzie Smith could certainly be a contentious claim. Data should be used to inform our discussions, but we should not be slaves to the numbers, and there is a reasonable discussion that can be had about the scale of credit that should be given to players for their defensive abilities.
Certainly, Jones should get a significant boost for his defensive chops as he was widely seen as the game's best center fielder during his prime. He won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves, after all, so it is not only the numbers that see him as a historically elite defender. However, there are enough legitimate questions about defensive metrics, especially those from before this century, that we should be careful with equating defensive specialists with those whose value was created in more traditional ways.
I like that we're all going to stop short of assigning too much value to WAR. One number should not tell us everything. But with regard to defense, I don't like that our default assumption is that WAR overrates players who derive relatively more value from their defense. If we're throwing our hands up and saying "I don't know" then let's not then turn around and say "but I know if anything his defense is overvalued." Maybe when it's all said and done, when we really have a great sense for how to evaluate and then contextualize defense, players like Jones and Mike Cameron and Smith will have been sold short by WAR.
Reviewing the Bill James Handbook has become an annual tradition for me since late 2003 when I spotlighted the 2004 edition. The Handbook, which was in its second year of publication back then, has now been around for nine years. Produced by Baseball Info Solutions and published by ACTA Sports, The Bill James Handbook 2010 offers readers more than 500 pages of stats, projections, and leader boards, as well as nine short essays by Bill James and The Fielding Bible Awards by John Dewan.
This year's Handbook features National League Most Valuable Player Joey Votto on the cover. He follows Barry Zito in 2003, Albert Pujols in 2004, Jorge Posada in 2005, Miguel Cabrera in 2006, Ryan Howard in 2007, Grady Sizemore in 2008, Brandon Webb in 2009, and Evan Longoria in 2010. The cover boys have alternated from AL to NL every year with the exception of 2006 and 2007 when Cabrera (then of the Florida Marlins) and Howard appeared in back-to-back years. Four of the nine players call first base home. No middle infielders or corner outfielders yet.
Upon opening the book, one notices the Table of Contents, which lists 26 sections, beginning with the Introduction and ending with Acknowledgements. The heart of the book includes up-to-date statistics on every major league player and manager plus team statistics and efficiency summary, baserunning, bullpens, pinch hitting, manufactured runs, park indices, lefty/righty stats, leader boards, Win Shares, hitter and pitcher projections, and career targets. The Hall of Fame Monitor and plus/minus and runs saved fielding data for every player are new additions to the Handbook this year.
I rarely miss anything with a Bill James byline. James authors 40 pages, although many are explanations, definitions, or accompanied by lists or tables. As a result, I'm left wanting more of James. Nonetheless, he provides some compelling facts and commentary in a few sections.
In 2010 Team Efficiency Summary, James writes:
As long as we have been measuring efficiency, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California, Disneyland and Mike Scioscia have been the most efficient team in the American League, if not all of baseball. They still were, in 2010; they weren't good, but they were still efficient. In previous years their efficiency helped them to win. In 2010 it helped to disguise how bad they really were.
The Angels in 2010 (and most other years) scored more runs than we would expect them to score, thus they were efficient in that way. They allowed fewer runs than we would expect them to allow, so they were efficient in that way. Even given the runs that they actually did score and the runs they actually did allow, they won more games (one more game) than we would expect them to win, so they were efficient in that way. They were, as they always are, highly efficient.
Mike Scioscia was out-sciosciaed, in 2010, by first-year manager Brad Mills of Houston. When Millsie took the job, I think I speak for most of us when I confess that we were whispering behind his back that, given the team he had to work with, he'd be lucky to get out of Houston with ten fingers and ten toes. Instead, he took a 65-win team and won 76 games—a nice start to his managerial career.
On the other hand of that was the Rockies, who took a 93-win team and scratched and clawed their way to 83 wins. Which, I should add quickly, is not necessarily the manager's fault. If a team doesn't hit in the clutch, this will be measured as inefficiency, but there's really not much the manager can do about it.
His second piece of writing in this book may be the juiciest in terms of information. The title of the section is "38 Facts about Major League Baserunning in 2010." If you're into baserunning as much as I am, then you need to buy the book for these facts and the six-plus pages of tables. While you can find much of this information on the individual player pages of Baseball-Reference.com, it's not available in a alpha sort like it is in the Bill James Handbook.
I will tease you with fact 38 below:
The three best baserunners in the major leagues—Juan Pierre, Carl Crawford, and Brett Gardner—were all left fielders. Historically, left field is interesting because that is where the greatest baserunners have played (Brock, Henderson, Raines, Coleman), but there have also been many left fielders who were absolutely terrible baserunners.
In The Bullpens of 2010, James informs us that "Fourteen major league pitchers had (Leverage) Indexes over 2.00—all of them closers except Jim Johnson of Baltimore, who was over 2.00 as a setup man." Bill shows his humor when he says David Riske ranked last because "his managers thought that to use him in critical situations was Too Riske."
I don't know Jaffe from a hole in the wall; he's not like a friend of mine or something, and also, I have to warn you that he is not a compelling writer. He does really good research. He develops a wide range of metrics by which to compare managers, like "Ballpark Adjusted Bullpen ERA" and "Leverage Points Average" and "Average Opponent Winning Percentage" (for pitchers), and I learned a great deal from reading his book. I hope you learn something from this data.
In The Hall of Fame Monitor, James tweaks the 32 rules from the old system (which was first published almost 30 years ago) and adds a new system based on Win Shares "with a caveat for relievers and one for catchers."
For a season of 30 or more Win Shares, the formula is Win Shares, divided by 30, times 10, converted to the nearest integer. For a season of 10 to 29 Win Shares, the formula is Win Shares, divided by 30, SQUARED, times 10, converted into the nearest integer. For a season of less than 10 Win Shares, no points.
That's basically all. That's the whole system; add them up and if the total is 100 or more, Hall of Famer. ... Essentially, the new system says that if you have 10 seasons as an MVP candidate of some sort, you're a Hall of Famer. 30 Win Shares is an MVP candidate; 30 Win Shares is 10 points. Ten seasons of that, you're a Hall of Famer. The two problems with that system are relievers and catchers. The Win Shares system hates relievers. Let's not get into that so, to avoid infecting this system with the problems of the other one, we count each Save as one-fourth of a Win Share before doing the calculations above. Also, since catchers' careers are generally too short for them to meet Hall of Fame standards, even if they are great players, we divide their totals by .75.
We add the points awarded under the two systems together, divide by two, and round down. Those are the points accounted for in the Hall of Fame monitor. The idea is that by looking at the question in two entirely different ways, we can avoid the weaknesses of either approach. One system probably underrates relievers; the other one probably overrates them, but when you put them together, you're OK. One system ignores park effects and changes in league standards; the other system meticulously adjusts for them. Hall of Fame voters partially adjust for them, so having a system part of which adjusts for them and part of which doesn't, that works. The system mirrors the process.
Here is a table of active players with 100 or more points:
James, in The Player Projections Section, opens with the following. "As Fantasy Baseball is now America's fourth-largest business, this section of the book could be considered business consulting. Got a hot tip for you, boss: This Albert Pujols, he's pretty good. Albert's gold brick is easy to project, because he does the same thing every year."
The ten best predictions are ranked in order (from first to tenth): Raj Davis, Matt Holliday, Stephen Drew, Russell Branyan, Torii Hunter, Alexei Ramirez, David Eckstein, Jason Kendall, Emilio Bonifacio, and David Ortiz.
To his credit, he also points out his biggest mistakes, which generally fell into three categories: "(a) we projected that a player would play, and he didn't, (b) we didn't project that a player would play much, but he did, and (c) we just missed on the numbers. Re the latter, James admits "the champion of those in 2010, of course, was Jose Bautista. I don't know how that happened; everybody else knew he would hit 54 homers. Why didn't we?"
Bill's wit shines through when he boasts about how close he was on Todd Coffey and Phil Coke. "We regret that there were no pitchers named Milk or Juice." He follows that line with "There was a Sipp" and shows his actual and projected stats.
In Pitchers on Course For 300 Wins, which is the final section aside from the Glossary, James writes:
The two pitchers in baseball today who have the best chance to win 300 games are Roy Halladay and the artist formerly known as Carsten Charles Sabathia. This statement was true a year ago; however, the situation is very different now than it was a year ago. A year ago, the no-hit pitcher and the Big Lefty were first and second on a list of contenders. Now they have separated themselves from the field.
It is likely that one or two pitchers now active will win 300 games, and two is more likely than one.
I'm into online stats and recognize that a lot of the information in The Bill James Handbook can be found at Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs, but there is still something magical about this book. I believe it will broaden your baseball knowledge and help bridge the gap between now and the beginning of spring training next month or your upcoming fantasy baseball draft.
Congratulations to Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar for being voted into the Hall of Fame. A great honor for two deserving players. Of course I also want to send my best to Rich, who I am sure is also enjoying Wednesday's news. If you haven't already please read Sully's post from yesterday.
Last year's I ran a piece looking at BBWAA vote histories for players with similar first-year vote totals to first-year players on last year's ballot, and I will do that again here. This is not meant to be a sophisticated projection of the future. Folks like Chris Jaffe of the Hardball Times have a good handle on the dynamics of HoF voting and the future ballot composition to make better prediction. This is more of a rough look at historical precedent.
First off we have Jeff Bagwell who was on 41.7% of the ballots. Here are the BBWAA votes histories for other players who received between 46.7% and 36.7% of the votes their first year.
There are a total of seven players, four of whom were elected to the HoF by the BBWAA sometime between the fifth and ninth ballot. Lee Smith is still on the ballot, but it is doesn't look too good for him. Jim Bunning came very close on his 12th year, but then lost support and was inducted by the Veterans Committee. Steve Garvey never made it. Jaffe thinks this is a good start and notes that Garvey is the only player not currently on the ballot to have received over 31% on his first ballot and not be elected. Craig Calcaterra is not as sanguine. He thinks the PED moralists will keep his total down; Mark McGwire has not seen any movement in his total — though McGwire has much more of a PED connection than Bagwell. In addition, as Rob Neyer notes, there is just an insane amount of talent coming on the ballot in 2013-2015. Writers usually do not like to vote for too many guys at once, the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective notes that even though talent fluctuates between ballots the average number of players on per ballot is roughly constant. Unless Bagwell makes a huge jump next year — in a weak 2012 ballot — it gets rough starting in 2013.
Larry Walker got 20.3%, here are the players who received between 22.8% and 17.8% on their first ballot.
One guy in this group made it through the BBWAA vote; Roger Bresnahan made it through the Old Timers Committee; Red Schoendienst through the Veterans Committee; three guys are still on the ballot; and then three others never really broke 40%. Given the talent that is coming on the ballot it is hard to see Walker having a Don Drysdale-like rise to induction.
After that you have Rafael Palmeiro at 11%, Juan Gonzalez at 5.2% and a host of guys below the 5% cutoff. There is not much interesting to see with their comps. Instead I will turn my attention to a couple of guys who have been on the ballot for a couple of years and look at comparable players based on multi-year data.
First off is Barry Larkin. Here are the three players who were within 5% of both his first year (51.6% last year) and second year totals (62.1% this year).
Things look good for Larkin. Ryne Sandberg and Fergie Jenkins made it on the next ballot while Robin Roberts on the one after that. It really seems like 2012 is Larkin's year, given his strong vote totals in the past two years and the weaker group of first-timers on the 2012 ballot (Bernie Williams is probably the best guy on the ballot).
Next up is Edgar Martinez, also a second-year guy. He saw a drop from 36.2% to 32.9%. Here are the players within a 7.5% of both of those totals (I had to make a bigger envelope to get a good number of players).
Three guys made it through the BBWAA votes; Pee Wee Reese got in on the Veterans Committee; Lee Smith is still on; and two guys didn't make it. Given the guys coming, Martinez's role as a DH, and his drop in vote share it does not look good for Martinez. I think this comparison group probably overstates his chances.
Here is Mark McGwire. His numbers have held fairly constant over the first five years on the ballot. I had to widen range to those within 10% of the five ballots to match up a big enough pool to McGwire.
Things don't look too good. Bresnahan and Jimmy Collins had big jumps in their BBWAA numbers and were inducted by the Old Timers Committee; Jack Morris and Dale Murphy are still the on the ballot; and then you have six guys who never got past 40%. Unless there is a sea change in how the voters view the PED issue I think these six guys are a pretty good guide for what McGwire's time on the ballot will look like.
Finally I will look at Tim Raines' numbers. The comps here didn't work out as well. I had to extend the window to 12.5% and even there I don't think it is a great group.
The group matches Raines over the first three years, but in year four they are all below Raines (through all years they are still within the 12.5%). This shows the limitation to this comparison method. Raines has had a good couple of years, from a low point in 2009 of 22.6%, to 30.4% last year, and then 37.5% this year. So he is moving in the right direction.
If there is anyone else you would like to see? Or do you have any suggestions for the graphs? If so mention them in the comments.
Before I jump into this thing I would like for readers to understand that, while this is Rich Lederer’s joint, he allows his fellow writers full editorial latitude. He’s never asked to see anything I’ve written before it went up on Baseball Analysts, for better or worse. Rich is on the west coast, I am on the east coast, and that means that this thing will appear atop the site before Rich rises Thursday morning. If he’s uncomfortable when he wakes up and sees it, oh well. He deserves his day in the sun and damned if I’m not going to do my part to make sure he gets it here.
There have been really nice tributes written around the web already. Criag Calcaterra said he probably wouldn’t have his gig at NBC’s Hardball Talk if not for Lederer. Alex Belth wrote a really nice blog post at Bronx Banter about how Rich was one of the original baseball bloggers, “a hobbyist”, and it’s a distinction I want to touch on further. More on that in a bit. Matt Welch of the Libertarian publication, Reason, chimed in too. And, of course, there was Jon Paul Morosi taking to his big media sports page to make sure the masses understood how Bert Blyleven went from 26.3% of the Hall of Fame vote the year before Rich wrote his first Blyleven article, to the cusp of immortality.
Rich asked if I would join him at Baseball Analysts late in the year back in 2005. We had forged an internet friendship through blogging over the previous couple of years and he said he liked my writing. I was floored, and it just so happened that my professional life was ramping in a way where I would have to scale back daily writing. Baseball Analysts allowed me a chance to write less frequently for a much, much larger audience.
Our connection runs deeper, though. My wife is a Long Beach native, where her parents still reside. As regular readers may know from the Jered Weaver posts or Area Code Games updates, Rich also lives in Long Beach. We took in this Angels-Red Sox game together in Anaheim and Rich stopped by our engagement party four months later in December of 2005. We’ve played golf with my father in law at Recreation Park Municipal Course, Rich’s Country Club and Trump National LA. We’ve taken in a Rays-Sox game at Fenway Park and dined together in Boston’s North End with Rich’s son Joe and my wife Johanna. We’ve had countless spirited baseball and political debates over too many Happy Hours on Second Street in Long Beach. Rich and his wife Barb were there at my wedding in Palos Verdes.
Rich, 25 years my senior and 3,000 miles away, is now one of my dearest friends, and it’s all because of the internet. That’s a timely idea today, too, because Bert Blyleven is a Hall of Famer because of the internet. It took a long time and assists go out to guys like Calcaterra and Joe Posnanski and others, but when Rich published Only the Lonely the day after Christmas in 2003, it was pretty much checkmate.
Every pitcher with 3,000 or more strikeouts who is eligible is in the Hall of Fame except for one pitcher. His name? Well, for those of you who may be color blind, the lone exception is none other than Rik Aalbert Blyleven. As shown, the Holland-born righthander ranks fifth all time in strikeouts. Other than Mr. Blyleven, there are only two pitchers--Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson--on the above list who are not in the Hall, and both will surely be inducted on the first ballot. Bert Blyleven, Only The Lonely.
Go back and have a look at the post yourself. It’s masterful in how plainly Rich is able to make the case. Blyleven was being held to an unfair standard.
Along the same lines of the flattening effect of the internet, I want to get back to that point Alex Belth made about Rich being "a hobbyist." It’s what I am too (it’s late here in NYC, I'm exhausted, and I have two more days at this conference), and I think that "hobbyist" status should equate to, if anything, more credibility and not less. Rich has no commercial aspirations at all, no agenda, no ax to grind. It’s not why he writes. And yet, as Hall voter after Hall voter started to admit that Rich’s persuasiveness was selling them on voting for Blyleven, others cringed.
Jon Heyman was the most famous of these writers, recently labeling Lederer an “internet zealot” while he spent 2,000 words writing an internet article on a player for whom he WAS NOT going to vote. Rich has had a series of mocking back-and-forths with Heyman over the years, although Jon was never man enough to identify Rich by name publicly. I love a good FJM’ing of mainstream nonsense, don’t get me wrong. But I always thought those Heyman episodes were a little unfortunate since, in (appropriately) taking the fight right back to Heyman, a professional with a much broader platform, Rich came off at times in a way that sells short just how sweet of a man he is.
Rich is sweet, you bet he is, but he also will never back down from his principles. He knew he was right. The mainstream quote that has stuck with me all year long was this one from the blogger Murray Chass.
Am I right? Yes. Why? Because my opinion counts and his doesn’t. My ballot was one of the 539 counted in the election. He did not have a vote. Therefore, his opinion is worthless as far as the election is concerned.
There it is, as plain as day. A non-voter’s HOF opinion is "worthless as far as the election is concerned." Boy oh boy, would that be news to Bert Blyleven. There’s just no way at all he would have been elected to the Hall if not for Rich Lederer, a non-voter of course.
It's too great of a day, however, to focus on the Blyleven holdouts. To bring it back, what Blyleven finally getting into Cooperstown means to me is a triumph of purity. Purity of truth in that Rich, time and again, employed logic and rational argument to make his point. Purity of spirit in that Rich’s motives have never been commercial. He thought Bert Blyleven deserved to be in Cooperstown, so he sat down to make his case. And finally, purity of unadulterated love of baseball. It’s the foundation of my friendship with Rich, it’s the foundation of why he started this site, it forms the foundation of many of his very warmest memories of his late father, George Lederer.
And I guess that’s why I find myself becoming a bit emotional as I write this. It's strange but somehow this whole thing has a lot of meaning, even over and above the road map to Cooperstown it offers Tim Raines and Jeff Bagwell. It’s perhaps the greatest and most tangible triumph of Sabermetric writing outside of actual front office influence, and if George Lederer were alive to see it all, holy hell would he be proud. His son, already having built a successful investment management career that has afforded his family opportunity and comfort, decided he’d write about baseball because, well, he wanted to. Rich Lederer, “the hobbyist” as Alex Belth calls him, toppled entrenched flat-eartherism to ensure that a man’s life’s work would be recognized appropriately. And now, Bert Blyleven, an all-timer in every regard as meaningful pitching metrics go, will get his due.
J.P. Morosi, FOXSports: Aficionado Heavily Invested in Blyleven
By Rich Lederer
Jon Paul Morosi featured me in an article currently teased on the front page of FOXSports.com. The URL reads "bert-blyleven-hall-of-fame-bid-rides-on-sabermetrics-loving-blogger."
If you hurry on over to that link as fast as members of my family did, the following screenshot can be viewed live by waiting for or clicking on the number 5 on the right-hand side of the window. Or you can go to the MLB page and wait for it to scroll to the number 1, which corresponds to the title "No. 1 Fan: Investing guru turned blogger is out to save Blyleven from HOF snub."
Morosi, who is a national MLB writer for FOXSports.com, interviewed me on Monday. He sent an email Sunday evening asking if he could arrange a date and time to talk about Bert Blyleven with the Baseball Hall of Fame announcement forthcoming on Wednesday. We hit it off and talked for nearly two hours.
The headline that is attached to the article is "Aficionado heavily invested in Blyleven," a play on words owing to my profession as an investment manager. I'll take aficionado over internet zealot any day.
Rich Lederer is an investment manager. Stock and bond portfolios are his thing. He is the president and chief investment officer of Lederer & Associates Investment Counsel in Long Beach, Calif.
But Lederer loved batting averages long before calculating his first P/E ratio. He is a baseball guy. His father, the late George Lederer, covered the Los Angeles Dodgers for the Long Beach Independent-Press-Telegram through their first 11 seasons on the West Coast.
Lederer has since taken up the family business — as a hobby. In 2003, he founded a baseball blog, now called BaseballAnalysts.com. He writes at night, after his real job is done. The website hasn’t made him rich or famous. Yet, his words may soon resonate through the game’s most hallowed corridors.
If Bert Blyleven is elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday, he will have Rich Lederer to thank.
Morosi then highlights Blyleven's achievements, discusses Bert's voting trends, the "grassroots campaign," how he is polling this year, my father (including a photo of him showing off the first foul ball that he caught in the press box at Dodger Stadium in 1962), and concludes with the following:
“The Internet flattens the world a little and allows someone like me to have a say, an audience, and indirectly participate in the discussion,” Rich Lederer said. “I enjoy that. If not for the Internet, it would be next to impossible for me to have an impact on those types of things. It’s been a great vehicle. People say there have been more words written about Bert’s candidacy than anyone else in the history of the Hall of Fame.”
If the wait ends on Wednesday, happy blog postings will spring up around the web, from mainstream and sabermetric writers alike.
Then they will face the question: Which cause comes next?
I have someone in mind, but it will remain a secret until Blyleven earns his just reward.
In August, Richard Lederer of the Baseball Analyst's Web site stacked the career numbers for Bagwell and Chipper Jones side-by-side and said the two players should be "slam-dunk, first-ballot Hall of Famers." Bagwell ranks 37th all-time among position players with a WAR (wins above replacement) rating of 80. He's ahead of Pete Rose, Paul Molitor, Reggie Jackson and several other baseball greats in WAR, which combines offense, defense, baserunning and a player's position to determine how many added wins he gives a team when compared to a baseline "replacement level" substitute.
Factoring in all the numbers, Lederer wrote that Bagwell is arguably the fourth-best first baseman ever behind Gehrig, Foxx and Albert Pujols.
Thanks to Jon, Craig, Anthony, Joe, Glenn, and Jerry, as well as all the tweeters out there.
Here are the 14 that voted for Blyleven: Howard Bryant, Jim Caple, Jerry Crasnick, Gordon Edes, Pedro Gomez, Tony Jackson, Tim Kurkjian, Ian O'Connor, Peter Pascarelli, Brendan Roberts, Adam Rubin, Mark Saxon, Claire Smith, and Jayson Stark.
Barry Stanton, news editor for ESPN, did *not* vote for Blyleven (or Roberto Alomar, Jeff Bagwell, Barry Larkin, or Tim Raines), yet he voted for B.J. Surhoff plus Tino Martinez, Don Mattingly, Jack Morris, and Edgar Martinez. It looks like if your last name started with "M" you had a better shot at getting Stanton's vote than if you were fifth all-time in strikeouts, ninth all-time in shutouts, and in the top 20 all-time in wins since 1900. Why someone like Stanton has a vote is beyond me.
In any event, Blyleven has now received 82 of the 105 full ballots (78.1%) that Darren Viola (aka Repoz), the editor-in-chief of the Baseball Think Factory, has gathered from voters who have either posted their selections publicly or confessed to him privately. If this sample size is indicative of the overall total, then Blyleven should narrowly gain admission to the Baseball Hall of Fame when the results are released tomorrow.
In the meantime, here's hoping that Bert Be Home Blyleven (as in 2011). Those of us who have supported him can help the cause by keeping our fingers crossed for the next 24 hours.