2014 Season Preview

There are very few signs of spring in the air here in Maine, but my Twitter feed tells me baseball season is on its way back.  Much like I did last year, I’m going to eschew the full projected standings in favor of a ranking of all 30 MLB teams by the likelihood, in my estimation, of their winning the 2014 World Series.

In case you didn’t click the link above, I was not altogether successful in this endeavor in 2013, picking the eventual champion Red Sox 13th and the NL-pennant-winning Cardinals 11th.  I did a little better with LCS contenders Detroit (1st) and the Dodgers (7th).  My 2nd and 4th picks, Washington and Texas, missed the playoffs, while my 22nd and 23rd picks, Pittsburgh and Cleveland, made them.  I suspect most of those misses were not minority opinions.  On to this year’s list:

30. Minnesota Twins. Yeah, the Astros are probably worse, but this feels like a nod to the strides Houston has made while Minnesota seems to have gotten willfully worse.  Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes probably improve their rotation, but that’s only because they had nothing resembling a league-average starter in the fold before their acquisitions, and these guys don’t make the Twins any younger.  Joe Mauer should hit and should stay on the field more as a full-time first baseman, but he’s a little less valuable there than he was behind the plate, and ZIPS doesn’t project any other position player on the team to be worth half of Mauer’s 3.2 wins above replacement.

29. Houston Astros.  Not being 30th on this list may represent a quantum leap for the Astros, but they’re still bad.  New “ace” Scott Feldman is probably more reliable than Nolasco, but his upside is embarrassingly low for any staff’s number one starter.  Some progression from Jarred Cosart and Brett Oberholtzer would be a step toward future contention, as would big-league seasons from Jason Castro and rookie George Springer.  If Houston can feast on the Rangers’ depleted pitching and the non-Felix Mariners starters, 70 wins aren’t out of the question.

28. Chicago White Sox.  Chris Sale could be the best pitcher in the AL this year.  Even if he is, he might go 8-10.  Unless Cuban import Jose Abreu pays immediate dividends, this team won’t hit at all.

27. Florida Marlins.  It’s probably a compliment to the Marlins to call them the 27th-best team in baseball, but this “optimism” is based largely on their awful division.  Sure, they’re not going to play with the Nationals and Braves, but the Mets and Phillies should provide some easy wins on days when Jose Fernandez is dealing and Giancarlo Stanton is raking.

26. New York Mets.  There should have been one reason to watch the Mets this year, as Matt Harvey had a season for the ages before going down with an elbow injury.  Without Harvey, Mets fans will spend the season hoping Zack Wheeler develops into another top-of-the-rotation starter and David Wright sticks around long enough for this team to contend with him.

25. Philadelphia Phillies.  On paper, this team may be bad-but-not-awful, with Cliff Lee likely to pitch well and Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz candidates for at least one more productive season.  In the front office, this team is such a mess that it’s hard to imagine them pulling the right strings if, by some fluke, they’re in contention midseason.  Roy Halladay is gone, Cole Hamels is hurt, and Ryan Howard is a $25 million replacement player.  It’s going to be another long summer in Philly.

24. Chicago Cubs.  Like the Astros, the Cubs get bonus points for counting on development from young players, rather than signing mid-level free agents, to move toward respectability.  Unlike the Astros, the Cubs have some real major league experience from some of those developing players.  Darwin Barney is a wiz with the glove, Anthony Rizzo might hit 30 bombs this year, and Starlin Castro, despite a few down years, is a (barely) 24-year-old shortstop with 692 career hits.  The Cubs still look like the worst team in the NL Central, but with a couple of breaks, who says they couldn’t finish third?

23. Seattle Mariners. If the Marlins, with one of the best pitchers and one of the best hitters in the NL, but not much else, rank 27th, why should we expect much more of the Mariners, who will depend similarly on Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano? Kyle Seager can play, and Hisashi Iwakuma won’t have to repeat last year’s magic to be a quality starter once he returns from injury, but there’s not much depth anywhere on this roster.

22. Milwaukee Brewers.  ZIPS actually has the Brewers finishing above .500, but I think some of their individual projections are a little optimistic.  Carlos Gomez may be the game’s best defensive outfielder, but will he really save another 11.5 runs this year, as ZIPS projects?  Ryan Braun is likely still a great player after a year off, but we have no idea how he’ll handle the distractions of a post-suspension national tour.  There’s not much to love on the mound, with Yovani Gallardo and Matt Garza headlining the staff.  I suppose if Jean Segura and Khris Davis continue to develop while Braun has an MVP-type comeback, this team could contend, but they need a lot to fall their way.

21. San Diego Padres.  I think we’ve flipped a switch from “not in your dreams” to “hey, you never know”.  The Padres don’t have much pitching, with Andrew Cashner and a few possible starts from the fragile Josh Johnson the only bright spots.  They do, however, have Yonder Alonso’s bat, Everth Cabrera’s wheels, Chris Denorfia’s glove, and Chase Headley’s all-around excellence.  The difference between last place and second in the NL West is a few bounces in the right direction, and the Padres could get those bounces.

20. Colorado Rockies.  For a few years, this team has been Tulowitzki, Gonzalez, and pray for a wild pitcher.  After impressive seasons from Nolan Arenado at third and Wilin Rosario behind the plate, they look a little more rounded in the field, and the pitching is not as bad as you might think.  Jorge de la Rosa and Juan Nicasio project for better-than-average seasons.  If Brett Anderson can stay healthy and Jhoulys Chacin can get healthy, this rotation may have the depth to contend.

19. Arizona Diamondbacks. It’s the Dodgers and the clones in the NL West.  Arizona has one great hitter- MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt, one great fielder- Gerardo Parra, and a solid catcher in Miguel Montero.  They’ve had a breakout pitcher each of the past four seasons, with Daniel Hudson, Ian Kennedy, Wade Miley, and Patrick Corbin successively outperforming expectations.  With Corbin undergoing Tommy John surgery, Miley is the only one of those four in the rotation this year, but Randall Delgado and Archie Bradley are candidates to be this year’s surprice ace.

18. San Francisco Giants.  You probably think the Giants are better than this, and they may be, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to list the four NL West also-rans in order.  Buster Posey’s in the conversation for best player in the National League.  Pablo Sandoval looked good this spring, and Brandon Belt and Hunter Pence should hit too.  On the other hand, I don’t believe in the pitching.  Madison Bumgarner projects for 3.5 WAR, and I suppose Matt Cain could bounce back, but in 2013, he was the pitcher his peripherals tell us he’s always been.  Tim Lincecum seems like a prime candidate to decompose early, and who knows what to expect of Tim Hudson at age 38?  The Giants might prove me wrong, as they have twice in the past four years, but I see a team that’s not much different from the dregs of its division.

17. Cleveland Indians.  Last year’s playoff appearance for Cleveland was a little bit fluke and a little bit taking advantage of the new playoff system, which awards the two non-division-winners in each league with the best records, despite the unbalanced schedule.  It would be hard to make a case that Cleveland was one of the five best teams in the AL in 2013, and they’re not much different in ’14.  That’s not all bad, though, as Justin Masterson, Danny Salazar, and Corey Kluber constitute a strong core of young starters, the bullpen is good, and there’s at least a league-average player at just about every position around the field.  If the Carlos-Santana-to-third-base experiment works out and Asdrubal Cabrera bounces back from a bad year, this team could find itself right where it was last fall.

16. New York Yankees.  So much talent, so much age.  This is not a last-place prediction for the Yankees, but an assertion that all the other teams in the AL East have more upside.  If newcomers Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann play 300 games between them, they’ll score some runs and save some runs.  On the other hand, the geriatric infield of Teixeira, Roberts, Jeter, and Johnson is likely to demand plenty of time off this summer, and unless Dean Anna and Scott Sizemore are the answer in reserve, it’s hard to see this team being consistently good.  On the pitching side, Masahiro Tanaka’s signing transformed the rotation from potentially embarrassing to intriguing, but the odds of CC Sabathia returning to form and Hiroki Kuroda continuing to defy his age and Tanaka immediately succeeding in the states are low.

15. Toronto Blue Jays.  It’s hard to know what to make of the Blue Jays, who seemed to make all the right moves before the 2013 season, but none of them really paid off.  The offense, highlighted by Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, is solid, and Brett Lawrie and Jose Reyes are the best left side of any AL infield if they’re healthy.  The pitching, though, doesn’t look as strong as it did last March, with Josh Johnson gone and RA Dickey unlikely to pull off another 2012 at age 39.  If Brandon Morrow strikes everybody out, Mark Buehrle doesn’t walk anybody, and the offensive stars stay healthy, this could be a great team, but as we saw last year, high-risk, high-reward doesn’t always pay off when your portfolio is capped at 25 roster spots.

14. Texas Rangers.  A few weeks ago, I would have ranked the Rangers in the top five, as favorites to run away with the AL West.  That was when guys I’d heard of were lined up to pitch for them.  Now Derek Holland is likely out for the season.  Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish will start the season in the trainer’s room.  Tanner Scheppers, who has never started a major league game, will start on opening day.  The Rangers will lean on Joe Saunders and Robbie Ross pitching at the Ballpark at Arlington.  Even if Adrian Beltre continues his late-career Hall of Fame push and Prince Fielder finds a fountain of youth, this team might not even be the second-best in its division.

13. Kansas City Royals. The Royals are not better than the Yankees or the Rangers. They do, however, play in a weaker division and boast young talent with a broad range of skills. Salvador Perez, Alcides Escobar, and Alex Gordon may each be the best defensive player at his position in the American League. Eric Hosmer’s and Billy Butler’s bats should take advantage of Lorenzo Cain’s and Jarrod Dyson’s speed to score some runs. The bullpen, headed by Greg Holland, is one of the game’s best. The biggest roadblock for the Royals is the rotation behind James Shields, as Bruce Chen is unlikely to repeat last year’s 3.27 ERA and newcomer Jason Vargas is likely not the answer. This team could regress to 70 wins, but it’s also possible that they take a leap similar to what Pittsburgh did in ’13 and finally break their playoff drought.

12. Baltimore Orioles. I still can’t tell if the Orioles are good. They had a flukishly great 2012, made no changes, and won 85 games in 2013. Then they sat idle for four months this offseason while other teams filled holes with players who might have helped them, only to jump in at the last minute and nab Nelson Cruz, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Johan Santana. Manny Machado is a defensive beast whose offense is bound to improve. Matt Wieters and JJ Hardy are well-rounded stars, and Adam Jones has some power and some speed. If Chris Davis has half the season he has last year (which is no guarantee), this team will score some runs. No one in the rotation is guaranteed to succeed, but Ubaldo Jimenez had a bit of a bounce-back year for Cleveland in 2013, while Chris Tillman was breaking out in Baltimore (albeit relying heavily on a low BABiP). Dylan Bundy and Johan Santana could offer a lot or nothing this year, while Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez look like steady, back-of-the-rotation contributors. The bullpen could be as bad as 2012′s was good, and the corner outfield spots look atrocious, but Buck Showalter has a lot of talent with which to work.

11. Los Angeles Angels. How bad can a team with Mike Trout be? Pretty bad, if Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton continue their declines, but history tells us most declines are more bumpy than linear, which means there’s a decent chance one of them bounces back significantly this year. I’ve got my money on Pujols. Kole Calhoun could break out in right field, and the Conger/Iannetta catcher platoon is better than average. Aside from Pujols and Hamilton, another key for the Angels will be success of the starting pitching. If Hector Santiago emerges as a threat behind Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson, this might be the year the shakier AL West gives Trout a chance to play in the playoffs.

10. Pittsburgh Pirates. Caution: teams buoyed by a great bullpen often regress the following year, when relievers show very different small sample size results (see Baltimore, 2012-’13). But the 2013 Pirates were legitimately good, and they bring back most of that roster, which is now more than just Andrew McCutchen. Starling Marte has arrived, and Russell Martin is still one of the better catchers in the NL on both sides of the ball. The drop from AJ Burnett to Edinson Volquez could be a severe one, but steps forward for Gerrit Cole and rookie Jameson Taillon (if he’s healthy and ready) could keep Volquez off the mound. They’re not the Cardinals, but the Pirates are serious Wild Card contenders, now and for the foreseeable future.

9. Cincinnati Reds. ZIPS is unimpressed with the Reds, pegging them for a 77-win team in 2014.  I don’t see what makes them all that different from the Wild Card team they were last year.  Shin-soo Choo is gone, and Mat Latos will start the season hurt, but Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto are back to anchor the rotation with a lot of promise in Tony Cingrani.  With due respect to Giancarlo Stanton, Joey Votto is still the best hitter in the NL and Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier can hit a little too.  If Billy Hamilton can get on base enough to wreak havoc on the basepaths, this team should score runs, and there’s no reason to believe they won’t prevent them.

8. Oakland A’s. In any other sport, it’s hard to imagine a team like the 2010s A’s having as much success as they’ve had. Sure, Josh Donaldson was great in 2013, and Josh Reddick was very good in 2012. But neither of them projects to play at that level in 2014, and there’s no real star power in the lineup or in the rotation. Teams without stars don’t win football or basketball games. But what the A’s bring once again is depth, with 12 players ZIPS projects for at least 315 plate appearances and .8 WAR. Their outfield of Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, and Craig Gentry might be the best in the AL. And while Jarrod Parker missing the whole season will hurt the pitching, Sonny Gray is ready to take the reigns, and Tommy Milone and Dan Straily could take steps forward as well. This could be the year that the A’s regress to 75 wins, but with the Rangers’ rotation in tatters, I’m picking Oakland to win its third straight division title.

7. Tampa Bay Rays. After Longoria and Zobrist, there are no guarantees in Tampa’s lineup, but Wil Myers has a ton of potential, James Loney hit well last year, and Desmond Jennings can run all day. Perhaps more importantly, 2012 Cy Young winner David Price is back and Matt Moore went 17-4 last year, but I see Alex Cobb being perhaps the best pitcher on the staff in 2014. The Red Sox probably have more talent, but Joe Maddon and the Rays win 90 games every year and there’s no reason to think this will be the year they won’t.

6. Atlanta Braves. Ok, the Upton brother experiment didn’t work well for the Braves in 2013, but just about everything else did. Jason Heyward is due for an MVP-type season. Andrelton Simmons might be the next Ozzie Smith. Freddie Freeman has developed into a beast with the bat. If the rotation looked as strong coming into this year as it did coming into 2013, I’d predict another division title for the Braves. Tim Hudson is gone, though, Kris Medlen is out for the year, and Mike Minor will start the year on the DL. The opening day start will likely go to Julio Teheran or Ervin Santana, and at this point, it’s hard to foresee a five-man rotation that doesn’t involve Aaron Harang. If only Craig Kimbrel could throw 250 innings…

5. Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox were no fluke in 2013, and youth and depth were two of their strengths, so there’s no reason to believe they’ll be bad in 2014. That said, they did lose Jacoby Ellsbury and Stephen Drew this offseason and will lean heavily on rookies Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Xander Bogaerts in key, up-the-middle roles. The pitching was Jeckyll in 2013 and Hyde in 2014, but if John Lackey’s resurgence is real and Jon Lester is the ace he looked like last October, Boston might be the best team in baseball again this year.

4. Washington Nationals. Clearly the team that most underachieved its true talent in 2013, the Nationals return stacked in 2014. Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, and Gio Gonzalez headline what may be the best rotation in the National League. Seven starting position players, including rookie Anthony Rendon, project to be well above average, led by MVP candidate Bryce Harper. The bullpen is probably this team’s only weakness, but if the starters pitch deep into games, it may not matter.

3. Detroit Tigers. The Tigers may be the best team in baseball, as I believe they were in 2013. I think the Tigers “won” the Fielder-Kinsler trade, and filled a great hole in doing so. The Doug Fister trade was another matter, but Verlander-Scherzer-Sanchez-Porcello-Smyly will do just fine. If Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter can fend off father time for another year and Miguel Cabrera knocks the cover off the ball as he always does, this team should cruise to another division title. Unless the Yankees make the playoffs, they’ll face younger teams in the playoffs this year, and that was their undoing in 2013. Still, the playoffs are a crapshoot once you’re there, and the Tigers have the best chance to get there of any AL team.

2. St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals are always good, and it seems they’re always young. Oscar Taveras should fill Carlos Beltran’s shoes this year. Kolten Wong and Jhonny Peralta will be upgrades over David Freese and Pete Kozma in the infield, and center field is in better hands with Peter Bourjos than it was with Jon Jay. Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha slot in behind Adam Wainwright to form an intimidating rotation, and we know the bullpen has a ton of talent. There’s nothing not to like on this roster.

1. Los Angeles. I don’t know whether the Red Sox, Nationals, Tigers, Cardinals, or Dodgers are the best team in baseball, but I know the Dodgers have the clearest path to the postseason. Clayton Kershaw will pass Sandy Koufax as the best lefty in Dodgers history very soon. Zack Greinke is about as good a number two starter as one can imagine. The bullpen is loaded. If healthy, Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp, and Adrian Gonzalez could all be among the best players in the NL. Most importantly, the Dodgers, more than any other contender, can afford to have a few things go wrong this year. They’ve already seen some injury concerns in the rotation, but they’ll hit enough to win some high scoring games with their lesser starters on the mound, and they’ll play almost 80 games against a relatively weak division. Getting to the playoffs is more than half the battle, and having Kershaw and Greinke once you get there is icing on the cake.

As a bonus, here are the most likely players to win the postseason awards:
NL Cy Young:
5. Zack Greinke
4. Cliff Lee
3. Stephen Strasburg
2. Clayton Kershaw (who would have been first had he not just hit the DL)
1. Jose Fernandez

AL Cy Young:
5. Yu Darvish
4. Max Scherzer
3. Chris Sale (who might be most likely to deserve it)
2. Justin Verlander
1. Felix Hernandez

NL MVP:
10. Yadier Molina
9. Jason Heyward
8. Freddie Freeman
7. Giancarlo Stanton
6. Buster Posey
5. Paul Goldschmidt
4. Troy Tulowitzki
3. Andrew McCutchen
2. Bryce Harper
1. Joey Votto

AL MVP:
10. Eric Hosmer
9. Josh Donaldson
8. Yoenis Cespedes
7. Manny Machado
6. Miguel Cabrera
5. Robinson Cano
4. Dustin Pedroia
3. Adrian Beltre
2. Evan Longoria
1. Mike Trout (who will regress to under 8 WAR, but won’t have to fight a Miguel Cabrera narrative)

Posted in Cardinals, Dodgers, Nationals, Postseason Awards, Predictions, Red Sox, Tigers | Leave a comment

A New Frontier in Park Effects

It may seem lame to end a silence of several weeks with a link to someone else’s work, but I’ve had a lot going on lately and I’ve got a few season previews up in the air.

I’ll whet your appetites with a piece from Tony Blengino, who’s apparently been with Fangraphs since December, but his work had eluded me until today, when I came across this fascinating piece on the 2014 Red Sox.  Less fascinating is the recap of the trade that reversed Boston’s fortunes late in the 2012 season. 

More fascinating is the section about “Building to the Ballpark”, in which Blengino breaks down park factors by field and by batted ball type.  Anyone who’s watched more than a handful of games at Fenway Park knows that it’s harder to make anything happen in the spacious right field than it is in the not-so-monstrous left, and common sense would dictate that a flyball hit to left field in Fenway has a better chance of turning into a hit than the same fly hit in, say Safeco Field.  Until today, I had never seen such things quantified, as the author does thusly:

“Let’s also look at this another way, and break down Fenway’s fly ball park factor by outfield sector:

LF = 205.4     LCF = 179.1     CF = 200.2     RCF = 89.5     RF = 81.7     OVERALL = 151.1″

Zoinks.  A fly ball to left field does two and a half times more damage at Fenway than a fly ball to right.

Blengino references work he did in the front office of a big-league team, and a Google search reveals that he was hired by the Mariners as the statistical yin to Jack Zduriencik’s scouting yang and let go amid the messy controversy in 2013.  It looks like the Mariners’ loss is the stat community’s gain.

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The ’26 Standard

How many active MLB players are future Hall of Famers? A portion of the BBWAA might answer “none”. History might tell us there are 30, 40, even 50. In fact, a certain interpretation of history might suggest that there are about 200.

How might one arrive at something like 200? Let’s take a look at 1926. There were 52 players active in the major leagues in ’26 who are now in the Hall of Fame. That’s not a record. In fact, two years later, there were 53 future Hall of Famers in MLB uniforms. But let’s not forget that not every future Hall of Famer in 1926 was playing in the white major leagues. Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, Pop Lloyd, and their ilk were plying their trade in the Negro Leagues. 21 players active in the Negro Leagues in ’26 are now in the Hall. That means 73 men who played professional baseball at the highest level they were allowed to achieve are now immortalized in bronze in Cooperstown.

Should 73 active players from today’s integrated game make the Hall? Probably not, but even if they did, that wouldn’t even approach the lax standard the Hall established in evaluating the candidacies of players active in 1926. The population of the United States in 1926 was about 117.4 million. In 2013, it was 316.16 million, or 2.69 times the 1926 count. So if we aim to represent a consistent percentage of the population in the Hall of Fame today, we’d need to elect 197 players. That ignores the globalization of the game that has brought future Hall of Famers like Ichiro Suzuki and Albert Pujols to these shores. While one might make the case that the pool of potential MLB players is now in the billions, or more than ten times what it was 87 years ago, let’s ignore the Cambodians and Senegalese and assume that most potential big leaguers are American.

You may argue that there are a lot more athletic opportunities for Americans today, who can make millions playing football or basketball and even collect endorsements as runners or swimmers. Let’s instead focus on those who choose to play baseball. In 1926, there were 16 Major League Baseball teams. Today, there are 30. It’s hard to account for all the Negro League teams, since various leagues popped up and dissolved, and players often played in multiple leagues and for multiple teams in the same year. If we apply the ratio of white Hall of Famers to black Hall of Famers active in ’26, we can estimate that there were something like 22.2 teams’ worth of players active then. Compare that to today’s 30 teams and there are enough players who played big league baseball in 2013 to justify 99 Hall of Famers based on the standard established in elections of players active in ’26.

So who are those 99 players? Let’s break them down into groups. Numbers next to each player represent career WAR (per baseball-reference, rounded to the nearest whole number) as of the end of the 2013 season, and age as of today.

The Sure Things
1. Alex Rodriguez, 116, 37
2. Albert Pujols, 93, 33
3. Derek Jeter, 72, 39
4. Mariano Rivera, 57, 43
5. Ichiro Suzuki, 59, 39
6. Roy Halladay, 65, 36

The first name above warrants a multi-thousand word post on the state of the BBWAA in itself. I won’t write that post, but I will note that Hall voters didn’t care what players put in their bodies in 1926, so to apply the same standard is to evaluate modern players based exclusively on their on-field results, and ARod is one of the ten-to-twenty greatest players ever to don a uniform, so he’s on this list, even if he may never be bronzed in Cooperstown.

There’s also a chance that Halladay’s case will encounter some resistance someday, but he surpassed the standards set by just about any generation. He’s a Hall of Famer, and not a borderline one.

On Pace
7. Adrian Beltre, 71, 34
8. Carlos Beltran, 68, 36
9. Chase Utley, 58, 34
10. Miguel Cabrera, 55, 30
11. C.C. Sabathia, 55, 32
12. David Wright, 47, 30
13. Robinson Cano, 45, 30
14. Joe Mauer, 44, 30
15. Justin Verlander, 40, 30
16. Matt Holliday, 40, 33
17. Felix Hernandez, 39, 27
18. Dustin Pedroia, 38, 29
19. Zack Greinke, 37, 29
20. Evan Longoria, 36, 27
21. Ryan Braun, 35, 29
22. Cole Hamels, 35, 29
23. Joey Votto, 34, 29
24. Troy Tulowitzki, 32, 28

It’s depressing to think that, less than a quarter of the way through this list, we’re already looking at several players who could get snubbed, or at least stuck in ballot purgatory for years. Beltre’s case is so heavy on defense and so weighed down by his Safeco-deflated offensive numbers, that he might be a tough sell even with more WAR by age 34 than Frankie Frisch accumulated in his whole career. Utley looks like Lou Whitaker version 2.0. Holliday may not be on the average voter’s radar, and Greinke may win too few games to get any consideration. Braun’s case is probably doomed by PEDs, and I’m not complaining about that, but these are the best players of their generation and they might be denied by an institution that honored Jesse Haines and Chick Hafey.

Not Far Off the Pace
25. Todd Helton, 61, 39
26. Andy Pettitte, 61, 41
27. Tim Hudson, 57, 37
28. Mark Buehrle, 54, 34
29. Lance Berkman, 52, 37
30. Johan Santana, 51, 34
31. Jason Giambi, 51, 42
32. Roy Oswalt, 50, 35
33. Mark Teixeira, 48, 33
34. David Ortiz, 44, 37
35. Cliff Lee, 43, 34
36. Ian Kinsler, 35, 31
37. Adrian Gonzalez, 34, 31
38. Matt Cain, 33, 28
39. Hanley Ramirez, 33, 29
40. Jose Reyes, 33, 30
41. Ben Zobrist, 32, 32
42. Adam Wainwright, 29, 31
43. Jon Lester, 28, 29
44. Yadier Molina, 27, 30
45. Joe Nathan, 27, 38
46. Prince Fielder, 24, 29
47. Tim Lincecum, 23, 29

This group consists of players you probably don’t consider future Hall of Famers, but who wouldn’t materially weaken the established standards. By the ’26 standard, they’d actually strengthen the Hall of Fame (at least, in the case of the younger players, if they keep accumulating value at their current pace). There are exceptions- Ortiz is probably in already based on his postseason performances, and Lincecum may be done as a productive pitcher, which will keep him from accumulating further WAR, but with the rest of these guys, you can see them getting some support on the BBWAA ballot, but likely not enough for induction if the electorate doesn’t change much in the next decade or two.

Mike Trout
48. Mike Trout, 21, 22

There’s no historic precedent for Mike Trout. There was one guy playing in ’26 who dominated the game even more than Trout has these last two years, and he was equally great at 21, but he didn’t do anything like Trout did at age 20 as a pitcher for the 1915 Red Sox. I think this is a good segue to:

Promising Young Players
49. Clayton Kershaw, 33, 25
50. Andrew McCutchen, 27, 26
51. Jason Heyward, 18, 24
52. Buster Posey, 18, 26
53. Elvis Andrus, 17, 25
54. Chris Sale, 16, 24
55. Giancarlo Stanton, 15, 24
56. Madison Bumgarner, 11, 24
57. Andrelton Simmons, 10, 24
58. Craig Kimbrel, 10, 25
59. Bryce Harper, 9, 21
60. Freddie Freeman, 9, 24
61. Manny Machado, 8, 21
62. Stephen Strasburg, 8, 25
63. Matt Harvey, 7, 24
64. Jose Fernandez, 6, 21
65. Aroldis Chapman, 6, 24
66. Yasiel Puig, 5, 23
67. Anthony Rizzo, 5, 24
68. Shelby Miller, 4, 23
69. Michael Wacha, 2, 22
70. Sonny Gray, 1, 24
71. Xander Bogaerts, 0, 21
72. Jurickson Profar, 0, 19

Consider this more of a representative sample of the 26-and-under set than a prediction. Somebody in this group- probably a pitcher- will break down entirely and offer no more value to his team. Some of these players will continue to dominate the game, while others will settle in as somewhat valuable role players. For this exercise, I suppose the difference between the ’26 standard and today’s standard is that a player like Wacha or Gray wouldn’t have to be better than Kevin Brown to surpass the ’26 standard. Herb Pennock’s career would suffice.

Only in ’26
73. Torii Hunter, 50, 37
74. Miguel Tejada, 47, 39
75. Jimmy Rollins, 42, 34
76. Paul Konerko, 39, 37
77. Carl Crawford, 38, 31
78. Jake Peavy, 37, 32
79. Curtis Granderson, 35, 32
80. Ryan Zimmerman, 34, 28
81. Jered Weaver, 34, 30
82. Dan Haren, 33, 32
83. Aramis Ramirez, 31, 35
84. Shane Victorino, 30, 32
85. Victor Martinez, 29, 34
86. Alfonso Soriano, 29, 37
87. Shin-soo Choo, 26, 30
88. Josh Hamilton, 26, 32
89. Brian McCann, 24, 29
90. Josh Johnson, 24, 29
91. James Shields, 24, 31
92. Michael Young, 24, 36
93. Alex Gordon, 23, 29
94. Jose Bautista, 22, 33
95. Anibal Sanchez, 21, 29
96. Jacoby Ellsbury, 21, 30
97. Ryan Howard, 19, 34
98. Max Sherzer, 18, 29
99. Chase Headley, 18, 29

There they are. 99 guys who would probably make the Hall of Fame if today’s voters stuck to the standards applied to players active in 1926. Soriano, Howard, and Young stand out for being less valuable than other players on this list, but I think they’re exactly the types who would have appealed to the BBWAA or a Veterans Committee decades ago. Soriano was a classic power-speed guy. Howard hit 40 homers four times and won an MVP. Young played shortstop and batted .300 seven times.

This list includes nine players- Rodriguez, Jeter, Rivera, Ichiro, Sabathia, Cano, Pettitte, Granderson, and Soriano- from the 2013 Yankees. Five of them are gone in 2014, but they’ve been replaced by three more players- Beltran, McCann, and Ellsbury- who appear to meet the ’26 standard. The 2013 Phillies had seven players on this list- Halladay, Utley, Hamels, Lee, Rollins, Young, and Howard- and lost 89 games. This may seem to run contrary to the elite status of the Hall of Fame, but the 1926 New York Giants employed seven future Hall of Fame players- High Pockets Kelly, Frankie Frisch, Travis Jackson, Freddie Lindstrom, Ross Youngs, Bill Terry, and Mel Ott- as well as outfielder Billy Southworth, who was inducted as a manager. The Yankees and Dodgers had six future Hall of Famers each in ’26, while the Cardinals had five and the A’s, Senators, White Sox, Tigers, and Pirates each had four.

Some of the names in the last group above- Weaver, Choo, and Scherzer come to mind- could grow to become legitimate Hall of Famers. Others would embarrass the Hall in an era in which Jeff Bagwell and Mike Mussina can’t even get elected. Barring such late career surges, I wouldn’t support the candidacies of anyone in the last group. And let’s not forget that this is the conservative standard. If we use US population as a basis for establishing comparable Hall size, we’ve got to add another 98 players active in 2013. Russell Martin’s off to a better start than Hall of Famer Ray Schalk. Nick Swisher looks a little like Ross Youngs. Jonathan Lucroy won’t take long to blow by Rick Ferrell. Yet we can’t decide whether Curt Schilling is worthy.

Baseball may have changed less than any other game over the past 87 years, but today’s players are not on the same playing field when it comes to the Hall of Fame. If they were, Carlos Zambrano might be there someday. And he’d bring 200 of his friends.

Posted in Hall of Fame | 5 Comments

Which Hall is Actually the Hall of Stats?

I had an epiphany today (appropriate, I guess) about the Hall of Fame. Many of you, particularly those who have been interested in the Hall of Fame since before the SABR era, have probably looked at the Hall this way before. I hadn’t. Here goes:

The Hall of Stats is an improvement on the Hall of Fame because the Hall of Fame is too focused on stats.

If you’re not familiar with Adam Darowski’s Hall of Stats, get familiar. Lose a day or two there. You’ll thank me. Anyway, the premise of the Hall of Stats is that certain subjective biases have kept the Hall of Fame from representing, thoroughly and exclusively, the best players in baseball history. In response to this, the Hall of Stats starts with baseball-reference’s Wins Above Replacement and Wins Above Average, makes a few important adjustments, ranks every player who’s ever played Major League Baseball, and pegs the rankings to include exactly as many players as the Hall of Fame does. Adam is clear that the Hall of Stats’ formula is not a perfect way to build an actual Hall of Fame. It’s obvious that, even though Adam makes all the right adjustments to the raw data, certain players are more worthy of enshrinement than their Hall Ratings, while Hall Rating is a little too kind to others. Of course, one need not be a sabermetrician to recognize that the Hall of Stats better represents the game’s best players than the Hall of Fame.

Is this because stats are better than voters at identifying greatness? No. It’s because voters have always used stats to evaluate players’ Hall cases, only they’re using the wrong stats and ignoring context.

None of this is new to you, is it? So what made this such an epiphany to me?

The BBWAA, it seems, is about to elect four players- Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, and Craig Biggio- to the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Stats ranks those players 3rd, 11th, 7th, and 14th, respectively. Those players are all worthy and I’m glad someone will get elected this year and the ballot backlog problem will at least not be further exaggerated next year. But doesn’t it seem ridiculous that the players who will get in, according to objective analysis, are far inferior to the players who won’t get in? Jeff Bagwell is the fourth- or fifth-best first baseman ever, a more rounded and more valuable player than Thomas. Mike Piazza is the best-hitting catcher ever. Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina were both better at run prevention and fielding-independent pitching than Glavine. Thirteen players on the ballot brought more value to their teams than Biggio. If the backlog has been created by voters’ differing opinions on steroid use, why are superior “clean” players failing to gain support, while inferior players get voted in?

Stats.

Every eligible player with 3,000 hits, 500 home runs, or 300 wins is either in the Hall of Fame or currently on the ballot. Here are the players on this year’s ballot who reached one of those milestones:

Craig Biggio- 3,060 hits
Rafael Palmeiro- 3,020 hits, 569 home runs***
Barry Bonds- 762 HR***
Sammy Sosa- 609 HR***
Mark McGwire- 583 HR***
Frank Thomas- 521 HR
Greg Maddux- 355 wins
Roger Clemens- 354 wins***
Tom Glavine- 305 wins

I think you know what the asterisks mean. Take them away and we’ve got four players- Maddux, Glavine, Thomas, and Biggio.

In 2014, Hall of Fame voters are electing guys because of shiny, round numbers. If Bagwell trades 200 stolen bases and his excellent first-base defense to Frank Thomas for 51 home runs, Bagwell’s a Hall of Famer and the now superior Thomas isn’t. If Mike Mussina gets enough run support to win 30 more games- even if he strikes out 200 fewer batters and walks 700 more, as Glavine did, he’s a Hall of Famer. Instead, he’ll get something like a quarter of the vote.

Inconsistent treatment of steroid users is a problem with Hall of Fame voting. The 10-name ballot cap is a problem with Hall of Fame voting. Inability to understand park factors is a problem with Hall of Fame voting. Lack of perspective regarding the relative percentages of ancient and recent players in the Hall is a problem with Hall of Fame voting.

But the biggest problem with Hall of Fame voting might be that voters care too much about stats- three big, fancy, round numbers that meant something in 1955.

The Hall of Stats is a brilliant exercise in objective analysis. Adam and his team have considered everything relevant to the issue and come to very strong conclusions. But couldn’t we have come to similar conclusions by focusing less on stats? Bagwell could hit for power, take a walk, steal a base, and play great defense. He’s a Hall of Famer. Lee Smith didn’t pitch a lot of innings, and was above average at run prevention, but several of his peers were just as good. He’s not a Hall of Famer. Sure, we need stats to understand the attributes I’m assigning to these guys, particularly for players who played before our lifetimes, but those arguments are more about all-around greatness than they are about focusing on a single stat and rewarding a player who reaches it, but not one who misses it by a small margin.

I’m not asking the BBWAA to stop looking at stats, just imploring for the use of context. Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling may not deserve it, but Mike Mussina does.

Posted in Hall of Fame | Leave a comment

Hot Stove Parenting

When I started this blog, one objective was to write as a fan of baseball, not as a fan of a baseball team. Aside from the more provincial work I’ve done for the Forecaster and copied here, I’d like to think I’ve succeeded at that. In the wake of yesterday’s hyperactive day at the winter meetings, I’d like to write briefly as a parent of a Red Sox fan- a two-year-old Red Sox fan.

My son turned two in January. In late April, my wife and I took him and his sister to their first game at Fenway Park. We’d watched the Portland SeaDogs at Hadlock field several times, but baseball had barely penetrated his consciousness at this point. Fenway changed all that. The oversized images of batters and pitchers on the scoreboard; the way the crowd roared throughout, but reached another level when Big Papi came up to the plate; the pandemonium when Mike Napoli launched a grand slam over the Green Monster- a Red Sox fan was born.

If a day has gone by since April 22 without my son playing baseball, it’s only because he couldn’t find anyone to play with him, despite some begging. On summer weekends, we find Little League fields or make fields with the bases and pitcher’s mound perpetually in the car. On summer weeknights, he’s setting up the field in the front yard when I get home from work and handing me a cap and ball by the time I’m out of the car. On winter days, he sets up the bases in the living room, lobbies to play with a real baseball, and settles for a softer one to spare the furniture. He bats, he pitches to me, and sometimes he turns his batting helmet backwards, puts his glove on, squats behind the plate, and “catches”, even if nobody’s pitching.

We have several baseball caps, so he assumes various identities- Big Papi, of course, but also Andrew McCutchen, Coco Crisp, Ted Williams, even Hack Wilson. But his favorite persona is Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

It’s probably my fault that he latched on to Salty. His older sister always had great verbal skills. She first said “Saltalamacchia” around 15 months old, not long after “bottle” and “baby”. It became a bit of a parlor trick. “She talks well.” “Who’s the catcher for the Red Sox?” “Saltalamacchia.” Her little brother picks up cues from her, and was saying Saltalamacchia even younger. Ok, he may have started with something like Salty-amacchia, but he’s come a long way. It was just a word- a way to let his parents show off a little. But when he first saw Salty behind the plate at Fenway, my son became a catcher. “Is this how Salty sits, Daddy?” He became a switch hitter too. If Salty can bat from both sides of the plate, why couldn’t he? I’ll stop short of claiming Saltalamacchia’s curls influenced my son’s, but the two look an awful lot alike.

Yesterday, Saltalamacchia was signed by the Marlins. This has little to do with greed or baseball economics spiraling out of control. It’s as simple as a younger catcher wanting multiple years and the Red Sox preferring a guy seeking a one-year deal to give some catching prospects a path to the big leagues. A.J. Pierzynski’s production probably won’t be far short of his Boston predecessor’s. The Red Sox will be fine.

But as a parent, I hate this deal. I haven’t broken the news to my son that his hero won’t be on the Red Sox in 2014. At first, I was afraid he’d be crushed. No more cheering for Salty’s home runs. No more Google image searches for pictures of Salty that look just like my little guy in his Red Sox cap.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize I’m afraid that he won’t be crushed. He’s kind of moved on to David Ortiz as a hero since October. We got cable for one month and never watched anything but baseball. Papi seemed to crack a homer a night. It was Papi whose uniform my son wore on Halloween, and Papi whose beard I drew on his face.

He probably talks more about Andrew McCutchen than Saltalamacchia these days. He’s seen McCutchen play once, for a few innings of an NLDS game. Cutch didn’t really register until he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, which we peruse regularly. He’s got cool hair and a Pirates hat like the one I wear when I play softball. We have a Marlins hat too, and now a reason to wear it and bat from both sides of the plate in the same at-bat.

This won’t crush the two-year-old. But it crushes his dad. My more recent parlor trick has been asking my son to tell me who plays every position for the Red Sox. “Who plays right field?” “Shane Victrino (somehow condensed to two syllables)”. “Who plays center field?” “Jacos-by Ellsbury”. We had the trick down by September. Later last night, after Pierzynski signed with Boston and Saltalamacchia signed with Florida, Ellsbury signed with the Yankees.

I still don’t want to talk about greed or baseball economics spiraling out of control. As a fan, I’d rather talk about liking Ellsbury and hoping that he proves doubters wrong by staying healthy and playing at an elite level for several more years. And I would root for him to do just that for any other team. As a dad, I’d rather latch onto that moment when my son first told me without a hint that Jacos-by Ellsbury was the Red Sox centerfielder and never let it go. I’d rather have him bat lefty when he leads off an inning because that’s how Jacos-by bats. I guess he has a favorite Yankee now. Great.

Tonight, I’ll tell my son that Salty plays for the Marlins now and Ellsbury plays for the Yankees. To him, those will be facts, not statements about the futility of baseball fandom or the incredible income disparity in this and most countries. He’s a voracious learner- new facts are good. We’ll eventually get used to rooting for Jackie Bradley and A.J. Pierzynski (a fine role model, by all accounts), and he’ll have an answer when I ask who his favorite Marlin is just like when I ask who is favorite Pirate is. He won’t be sad. He probably won’t even be confused. He knows that Babe Ruth played for the Red Sox and the Yankees and the Braves and that Coco Crisp played for the Indians and the Red Sox and the A’s. Nothing is permanent.

And that’s why I’ll be sad. The conversation won’t be about greed or baseball economics spiraling out of control. It won’t be about loyalty or camaraderie. It will be about the inevitability of change. The 2013 Red Sox season was a magical ride. I can’t imagine a better way to introduce my son to baseball than with this group of guys, their flare for the dramatic, and their brilliant postseason run. I love my son at two in a way I never would have expected when he was one.

But it’s over. The 2013 Red Sox will never play another game together. The next time they take the field, my son will be three. He’ll probably still love baseball, but he’ll love other things too. He’ll probably pronounce Jacoby without the s. In 2015, Ortiz may be gone and my son might want to play soccer when spring comes (or bolleyball- he talks a lot about bolleyball). In 2016, when he names every player on the Red Sox by position, it will be a little less cute and a little less impressive. Other five-year-olds can do that.

Change is good. I look forward to every year to come with my kids. I look forward to watching and playing baseball- or whatever other interests they develop- with them for a long time. But 2013 will never happen again. And that’s hard to accept.

Posted in Marlins, Red Sox, Yankees | 12 Comments

My Hall of Fame Ballot, or How I Learned to Stop Complaining and Love the Process

I’ve written enough about the ridiculously overcrowded Hall of Fame ballot and the problems that led us here. This year, I’ll try to keep to a minimum the complaints about the absurdity of the 10-man cap and the Hall of Fame’s failure to establish criteria by which the writers should cast their votes in these times of polarizing heroes and villains. Instead, I’ll just play along, raking through the 36 candidates on the writers’ ballot and determining which ten I’d vote for if I had the crisitunity***.

***did you know the Japanese have the same word for crisis and opportunity?

I’ll list these players in ascending order according to Adam Darowski’s Hall Rating. Hall Rating uses baseball-reference’s Wins Above Replacement and Wins Above Average to determine how valuable a player was throughout his career and at his peak. No stat is perfect, and Hall Rating is no exception, placing Fred Clarke ahead of Jackie Robinson and Chuck Finley ahead of Sandy Koufax, so rather than choosing the top ten by Hall Rating, I’ll try to evaluate what attributes make each player worthy or unworthy of baseball’s greatest honor that are not encapsulated in his rating.

J.T. Snow
Hall Rating: 17 (174th among first basemen)
Other Considerations: This is a great time to remember Snow’s 1500+ hits, his reputation as a great defensive first baseman (which is not borne out in advanced stats), and the heads-up play he made to save Darren Baker from a home-plate trampling in the 2002 World Series.
Hall of Famer: No
On My 10-Man Ballot: No

Jacque Jones
Hall Rating: 17 (196th among pitchers)
Other Considerations: In this case, “100 is a Hall of Famer, 17 is Jacque Jones” says everything I need to say.
Hall of Famer: No
On My 10-Man Ballot: No

Todd Jones
Hall Rating: 24
Other Considerations: My dad met Todd Jones in the late ’90s, probably at least 100 saves into his career. I’d never heard of him at that point. He’d go on to bigger things with the Tigers, leading the AL in saves in 2000, but he was never a great pitcher.
Hall of Famer: No
On My 10-Man Ballot: No

Sean Casey
Hall Rating: 26 (132nd among first basemen)
Other Considerations: The “Mayor” sobriquet that followed Casey from team to team would be worth something in Hall of Fame voting if he were a better player. Maybe a Veterans Committee full of former teammates and competitors would sneak him in with eight or nine votes if he were a Dale Murphy or Fred McGriff type. But a first baseman with 130 career homers doesn’t get close even with those bonus points.
Hall of Famer: No
On My 10-Man Ballot: No

Eric Gagne
Hall Rating: 27
Other Considerations: I don’t think we’ve established what a “Hall of Fame peak” is for a closer, but Gagne’s 2002 through 2004 seasons would be a good place to start. 247 innings pitched (exactly 82 1/3 each year), 365 K, 58 walks, 54 runs allowed, 152 saves in 158 chances. Closers don’t get much better. Then again, releivers don’t get much worse than the Gagne who pitched for the 2007 Red Sox, giving up 26 hits and nine walks in 18 2/3 innings. He was never a good pitcher after 2005.
Hall of Famer: No
On My 10-Man Ballot: No

Richie Sexson
Hall Rating: 28 (127th among first basemen)
Other Considerations: Big Sexy hit 30 homers in seven different seasons, peaking at 45 in 2001 and 2003. He hit more career homers than Rogers Hornsby or Roger Maris. He also retired with 1,286 hits and no defensive value.
Hall of Famer: No
On My 10-Man Ballot: No

Paul lo Duca
Hall Rating: 37 (89th among catchers)
Other Considerations: Lo Duca was named in the Mitchell report as an HGH user. I bring this up less as a slight to lo Duca, a good-but-not-great player who wouldn’t have made the Hall of Fame with Barry Bonds’s pharmacist on the payroll, but to show that PEDs were a part of baseball’s culture in the late ’90s and early ’00s, used by minor league lifers, major league journeymen, borderline stars like lo Duca, and superstars like Bonds. I’m sure they made players better, but they didn’t make average lo Ducas look like Piazzas (even if they wore the same uniform). A Hall of Famer is a Hall of Famer, wheteher or not he ever met Kirk Radomski or Brian McNamee.
Hall of Famer: No
On My 10-Man Ballot: No

Armando Benitez
Hall Rating: 41 (462nd among pitchers)
Other Considerations: 289 saves, 26th of all time. Say what you will about managers’ and reward voters’ over-reliance on saves, but at least no one is arguing that a guy who retired in the top 25 in a major statistic is a Hall of Famer.
Hall of Famer: No
On My 10-Man Ballot: No

Hideo Nomo
Hall Rating: 41 (458th among pitchers)
Other Considerations: Nomo was a good pitcher in Japan before his “early retirement” forced him to the US in 1995. In that rookie season with the Dodgers, Nomo was brilliant, hurling three shutouts, striking out 234 in 191 1/3 innings, and finishing with a 2.54 ERA. He threw his first of two no-hitters in 1996, and probably looked like a future Hall of Famer at that point. After muddling through what should have been his prime, he pitched well again in his early thirties, throwing his second no-no with Boston in 2001 and winning 16 games each in ’02 and ’03 with the Dodgers. That’s the sum of his accomplishments, though, as he won just 123 games with a 97 ERA+ in the majors.
Hall of Famer: No
On My 10-Man Ballot: No

Mike Timlin
Hall Rating: 42 (439th among pitchers)
Other Considerations: Timlin is eighth all time with 1,058 games pitched. Two of the seven men ahead of him (Eckersley and Wilhelm) are Hall of Famers. A third (Rivera) will be someday. Timlin, despite pitching for two of my favorite championship teams (’93 Blue Jays, ’04 Red Sox) is not.
Hall of Famer: No
On My 10-Man Ballot: No

Ray Durham
Hall Rating: 53 (56th among second basemen)
Other Considerations: 2,054 hits, 192 home runs, and 173 stolen bases, all while playing a key defensive position. Durham probably wouldn’t be the worst player in the Hall of Fame.
Hall of Famer: No
On My 10-Man Ballot: No

Lee Smith
Hall Rating: 63 (224th among pitchers)
Other Considerations: Retired as the career leader in saves with 478, leading the league in four different seasons. It seems at though there’s some justification for bronzing the guy who was the best ever at something, but when that something is as esoteric as pitching the last inning of a game with a lead of one-to-three runs without relinquishing the lead, and nobody really tried to do that thing consistently before Smith’s career started, such praise seems misdirected. Smith making the Hall wouldn’t be a travesty, but it’s time for his name to leave the ballot in deference to the 20+ better players.
Hall of Famer: No
On My 10-Man Ballot: No

Moises Alou
Hall Rating: 71 (47th among left fielders)
Other Considerations: A very good hitter for a long time, and the best player in one of baseball’s great families, but again, I think his 71 Hall Rating captures his greatness well. Not embarrassingly short of the Hall of Fame, but with all the huge numbers hitters put up during his tenure, he’s not worthy of a bronze bust.
Hall of Famer: No
On My 10-Man Ballot: No

Jack Morris
Hall Rating: 76 (158th among pitchers)
Other Considerations: As his advocates will tell you, Morris’s seven postseason wins, including two big ones in the ’84 World Series and a legendary turn in ’91, matter for something. He probably has a better Hall case than anyone with a Hall Rating between 76 and 85, aside from Roy Campanella and maybe Hack Wilson. He also has a career regular season ERA five percent better than league average. He compares favorably with Catfish Hunter and Rollie Fingers, who also rode postseason success to Cooperstown. He’ll probably make the Hall someday, and it won’t be the voters’ biggest mistake, but it’s a shame he’ll steal any votes from the better players struggling to earn the writers’ attention on this ballot.
Hall of Famer: No
On My 10-Man Ballot: No

Don Mattingly
Hall Rating: 78 (36th among first basemen)
Other Considerations: Like Morris, Mattingly was considerably more famous than his Hall Rating. He was among the game’s best players in the mid-1980s, and under the bright lights of New York, probably had more fans than any other player in that stretch. But back injuries ended his career early, and he accomplished less than just about any Hall of Fame first baseman. If a Veterans Committee elects him someday, no harm will be done, but on this ballot, Donnie Baseball is not really a viable option.
Hall of Famer: No
On My 10-Man Ballot: No

Luis Gonzalez
Hall Rating: 90 (30th among left fielders)
Other Considerations: The Diamondbacks’ career leader in basically every offensive category. In 2001, he hit 57 homers and the bloop single that ended one of the most sinister dynasties in sports history. If there’s room in the Hall for Gonzalez, it’s not the same Hall that’s kept Jeff Bagwell and Edgar Martinez out the last few years.
Hall of Famer: No
On My 10-Man Ballot: No

Fred McGriff
Hall Rating: 95 (27th among first basemen)
Other Considerations: The narrative surrounding McGriff’s Hall case is that he’s the player most hurt by others’ steroid use. His 208 homers from ’88 to ’93 won him two league homer titles. His 191 from ’94 to ’01, when everyone was raking, made him an average first baseman. Like Mattingly and Gonzalez, he wouldn’t make the Hall appreciably worse, but as long as Frank Thomas and Mark McGwire are on the ballot, there’s no sense debating his case.
Hall of Famer: No
On My 10-Man Ballot: No

Kenny Rogers
Hall Rating: 96 (96th among pitchers)
Other Considerations: Last year, Kenny Lofton was the biggest casualty of the overstuffed ballot. This year, another Kenny whose value was similar to that of Hall of Famers like Burleigh Grimes and Waite Hoyt won’t get more than a handful of votes. We won’t cry for “Ball Four”, who never really felt like a Hall of Famer, but we won’t give his case the consideration it probably deserves either, since voters can’t make up their minds about Curt Schilling and Roger Clemens.
Hall of Famer: No
On My 10-Man Ballot: No

Jeff Kent
Hall Rating: 103 (16th among second basemen)
Other Considerations: 295 career batting runs, substantially all as a second baseman. Among second baseman, only Hornsby, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Joe Morgan, and Charlie Gehringer have more (Rod Carew played more games at first than second). Personality aside, Kent is a Hall of Fame-caliber player. He might get the Kenny Lofton treatment this year, leaving him in purgatory with other great second basemen like Lou Whitaker and Bobby Grich.
Hall of Famer: Yes
On My 10-Man Ballot: No

Sammy Sosa
Hall Rating: 116 (16th among right fielders)
Other Considerations: Three seasons with 60 or more home runs, a legendary smile, and some of the same historical significance for which I give McGwire bonus points below. He should get in. It might take decades.
Hall of Famer: Yes
On My 10-Man Ballot: No

Mark McGwire
Hall Rating: 124 (14th among first basemen)
Other Considerations: The 16th-best player on this ballot, per Hall Rating, and some will argue that his legacy is further diminished by steroid use. To me, there’s no more important player in the Selig era. McGwire’s quest to break Roger Maris’s single-season home run record four years after the strike damaged baseball was as important a factor as anything else in bringing me and so many other fans back to the game. I fear McGwire may drop off the ballot this year, as voters will have a hard time finding room for him with both cleaner and more qualified players on the ballot. 583 homers, 1,317 walks, 62 WAR. He’s not just a borderline guy.
Hall of Famer: Yes
On My 10-Man Ballot: Yes

Rafael Palmeiro
Hall Rating: 125 (13th among first basemen)
Other Considerations: 3,000 hits, 500 home runs, and an infamous finger wag before Congress. I choose to evaluate players’ Hall cases on merit, rather than speculating as to who used what, but I have a hard time believing Palmeiro might have been one of the ten most valuable players on this ballot without the steroids he was caught taking.
Hall of Famer: Yes
On My 10-Man Ballot: No

Craig Biggio
Hall Rating: 126 (10th among second basemen)
Other Considerations: Biggio made his case with the SABR crowd in the ’90s by taking lots of walks, getting hit by pitches, avoiding the double play, and stealing bases at a high success rate. He hung on well into the ’00s to reach 3,000 hits, endearing himself to the more traditional voter. Still, he shows up 14th from the bottom of this list. The only value he brought that WAR doesn’t pick up was probably positional flexibility, and he wasn’t a particularly great defensive catcher, second baseman, or outfielder, so it’s hard to say Hall Rating sells him short.

Here’s where the 10-man cap starts to rear its ugly head. A voter who cares only about value will vote for Bonds, Clemens, Maddux, Schilling, Bagwell, Mussina, Walker, Glavine, Piazza, and Trammell, leaving off Thomas, Martinez, Raines, Biggio, and everyone above.

A voter who won’t touch confirmed steroid users will vote for Maddux, Schilling, Bagwell, Mussina, Walker, Glavine, Piazza, Trammell, Thomas, and Martinez, leaving off Raines, Biggio, Kent, McGriff, and others.

A voter who won’t touch suspected steroid users might vote for Maddux, Mussina, Walker, Glavine, Trammell, Thomas, Martinez, Raines, Biggio, and McGriff, still filling up a ballot without any ridiculous choices.

A voter who cares more about fame than value might vote Bonds, Clemens, Maddux, Schilling, Glavine, Piazza, Thomas, McGwire, Mattingly, and Morris, not finding room for Bagwell, Mussina, Walker, Trammell, Martinez, Raines, Biggio, or Sosa.

The “fame voter” who won’t touch steroid users might vote Maddux, Schilling, Glavine, Piazza, Thomas, McGwire, Mattingly, Morris, Bagwell, and Raines.

The traditional 300/500/3000 voter would only vote for Bonds, Clemens, Maddux, Glavine, Thomas, Biggio, Sosa, Palmeiro, and McGwire. That’s not all ten spots, but it’s still rare than nine names on a single ballot reached either 300 wins, 500 homers, or 3,000 hits.

The ultimate curmudgeon- one who hates steroids, cocaine, pine tar, Coors Field, and the designated hitter- still has every reason to vote for Maddux, Schilling, Bagwell, Mussina, Glavine, Piazza, Trammell, Biggio, Kent, and McGriff.

Ok, the real ultimate curmudgeon, Murray Chass, will probably only vote for Jack Morris.

Let’s say the eight votes above represent eight different voters, and they are a representative sample of the entire voter population. It would take six of eight votes to get a player elected. Six of those eight players agreed that there were at least ten players worthy of enshrinement, with a seventh voting for nine guys, but they elected just two- Maddux and Glavine. I’m only voting for one of those guys.

While the Murray Chass example may seem extreme, it’s clear from recent elections that many, if not most, voters will not use all ten spaces they’re allotted. Schilling shows up more above than he will in real life, and Mussina is not likely to get any more support than Schilling’s been getting. I don’t see how Biggio could possibly get in this year.
Hall of Famer: Yes
On My 10-Man Ballot: No

Tim Raines
Hall Rating: 128 (12th among left fielders)
Other Considerations: Raines has certain narratives working for and against him. I’m not a fan of the “second best leadoff man ever” narrative, as Kenny Lofton has a case and players like Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, and Barry Bonds would have made fine leadoff men had their managers chosen to employ them in that capacity. Conversely, I’m not keen on punishing Raines for recreational drug use that had little, if any, impact on his playing career. As his Hall Rating shows, Raines was a great player- about as valuable as the median Hall of Famer, in fact. He was also an average fielder at an unimportant position who missed a lot of time due to injury. So…
Hall of Famer: Yes
On My 10-Man Ballot: No

Edgar Martinez
Hall Rating: 135 (3rd among designated hitters)
Other Considerations: WAR appropriately deducts for the value a player doesn’t provide when he doesn’t play the field. Edgar probably never deserved an MVP Award, despite being the best hitter in the league several times, most obviously in 1995.

In Hall of Fame discussions, defensive value and defensive acumen are both important, but I prefer the latter to the former in terms of defining greatness. Could Edgar have stood near first or third base without making a fool of himself for the last ten years of his career? Based on his middling defensive results early in his career, I think he could have.

Let’s look at Edgar’s 1995 vs. Miguel Cabrera’s 2013. Edgar hit .356/.479/.628, good for 68 batting runs. Miggy hit .348/.442/.636, good for 65 batting runs in a lower-scoring environment. Pretty similar so far. Both were bad baserunners, costing their teams 18 and 14 runs, respectively. Edgar only played seven games in the field, but picked up a negative 13 run adjustment for designated hitting so often. Cabrera was a butcher at third base, costing his team 18 runs, but getting two back for the positional adjustment. Cabrera was worth 7.2 WAR and won the MVP over a far-more-valuable Mike Trout. Martinez was worth 7.0 WAR and finished third in MVP voting, behind Mo Vaughn and Albert Belle- two sluggers with little-to-no defensive value, each of whom provided less value than Edgar with the bat, but got extra points for standing in the field for a thousand innings or so.

I bring this up not to bash MVP voters, but but to examine the way designated hitters are viewed in Hall of Fame discussions. Had Edgar Martinez played first or third base throughout his thirties, even if he played them poorly and cost his team runs, I have little doubt he’d be bronzed in Cooperstown right now. As a DH, he provided similar value, but falls victim to the “part-time player” narrative. Martinez’s 529 career batting runs dwarf those of bat-first Hall of Famers Willie McCovey (484), Reggie Jackson (477), Eddie Murray (389), and Paul Molitor (349; Hall of Stats actually ranks Molitor as the top designated hitter ever, but his defensive value is included in that calculation, which kind of misses the point). Was Edgar really a lesser player because his manager didn’t want him on the field?
Hall of Famer: Yes
On My 10-Man Ballot: Yes

Frank Thomas
Hall Rating: 140 (2nd among designated hitters)
I’ve tried to construct a cogent argument for including Martinez on my ballot and excluding Thomas, but I can’t do so with statistics. Thomas had a better OPS+ (156 to 147), more hits (2,468 to 2,247) and homers (521 to 309), and earned more WAR (73.6 to 68.3). Martinez played in tougher parks for hitters, which helps close the WAR gap despite more playing time for Thomas, but he wasn’t quite the hitter Thomas was.

Instead, I’ll chalk up my exclusion of Thomas to the somewhat pathetic excuse that my ballot is already full before we get to these new guys. If we consider Thomas a first baseman (he played 971 games there, vs. 1,351 as a DH), Martinez is the best designated hitter ever. Let’s get the best DH ever in before we start looking at the rest of the field. Granted, if we consider Thomas a DH, he’s the best ever, but I’m not ready to stop voting for Edgar because voters were foolish enough to leave him out until a slightly better DH came along.
Hall of Famer: Yes
On My 10-Man Ballot:

Alan Trammell
Hall Rating: 143 (12th among shortstops)
Other Considerations: It hurts to leave Trammell off here. If I really had a vote, I might leave off someone whose fate is sealed (Maddux, who will get in, or Clemens, who won’t) to make room for Trammell in his 13th year on the ballot. But I’m more interested in the ten most qualified players here (with a few minor exceptions), and astonishingly, Trammell may not be one of those.
Hall of Famer: Yes
On My 10-Man Ballot:

Mike Piazza
Hall Rating: 147 (5th among catchers)
Other Considerations: After players who missed significant time due to war or segregation, catchers need the biggest adjustments from WAR. Hall Rating does make adjustments for catchers due to reduced playing time, but Piazza surely deserves bonus points for being by far the best hitting catcher in baseball history. Of course, with a 147 Hall Rating, he doesn’t need many bonus points.
Hall of Famer: Yes
On My 10-Man Ballot: Yes

Tom Glavine
Hall Rating: 149 (23rd among pitchers)
Other Considerations: Glavine is eighth on the ballot in Hall Rating. He’s probably higher than that in greatness in the mind of the average fan, since he won 305 regular season games and 14 more in the playoffs. With extracurricular considerations weighing so prominently, he’ll probably finish second in the voting.

I’m not convinced he was one of the ten greatest players on this ballot. Glavine certainly deserves credit for those postseason wins, including a legendary one-hit turn in the clinching game in the 1996 World Series. But he also lost 16 playoff games. This isn’t as much a strike against him as an acknowledgement of the fact that much of Glavine’s success was about opportunity. He won 20 games five times both because he was a great pitcher and because he pitched for ridiculously good Braves teams for the majority of his career.

Tom Glavine is a Hall of Famer. He’s not a borderline Hall of Famer or even an average Hall of Famer. But he’s also the fifth best pitcher on this ballot, and he’s not particularly close to the number four guy (more on that later). I’d rather see McGwire and Edgar get in this year.
Hall of Famer: Yes
On My 10-Man Ballot: No

Larry Walker
Hall Rating: 151 (7th among right fielders)
Other Considerations: None. I hear a lot about Walker’s numbers being inflated by Coors Field, and it’s certainly true that his raw numbers were. But everything that goes into Hall Rating is adjusted for park and era effects. If you don’t believe, me, give this a read. Walker was a great hitter for three different teams, played a great defensive right field, and ran the bases well.
Hall of Famer: Yes
On My 10-Man Ballot: Yes

Mike Mussina
Hall Rating: 163 (20th among pitchers)
Other Considerations: It seems certain that Glavine will enter the Hall before Mussina. If we put aside Glavine’s 35 extra wins and his postseason record, two context-dependent advantages, I don’t understand a vote for Glavine over Mussina.

Glavine pitched 850 more innings. This is important. He was in the league a year younger and held on three years longer. In those four seasons Glavine pitched but Mussina didn’t, Glavine had a 4.45 ERA and 4.5 WAR. Let’s take those innings away and compare the two in their extended primes (22-39).

Glavine- 3,901 IP, 1,630 R, 1,481 ER, 2,330 K, 1,304 BB, 3.76 RA9, 3.42 ERA, 121 ERA+, 69.5 WAR
Mussina- 3,563 IP, 1,559 R, 1,458 ER, 2,813 K, 785 BB, 3.94 RA9, 3.68 ERA, 123 ERA+, 82.7 WAR

Pitching in the more offense-oriented league, always in the tough AL East, Mussina’s ERA was close enough to Glavine’s that park and league adjustments give Mussina the better ERA+. Mussina also gave up 48 fewer unearned runs, bringing the gap between their RA9s closer than the gap between their ERAs. Mussina struck out an extra 1.7 batters per nine while walking about 1.1 fewer batters. Fangraphs WAR, which focuses on outcomes within a pitcher’s control, shows Mussina with an even greater edge, 82.5 to 61.3, with Glavine picking up 3 more WAR in his 40s.

I think we can all agree that Glavine is a Hall of Famer. Mussina was a better pitcher.
Hall of Famer: Yes
On My 10-Man Ballot: Yes

Jeff Bagwell
Hall Rating: 164 (seventh among first basemen)
Other Considerations: 449 home runs, 202 stolen bases, 17,545 putouts. 587 batting runs, 31 baserunning runs, 54 fielding runs. It’s all in the Hall Rating, which trails only Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx among 20th-century first basemen.
Hall of Famer: Yes
On My 10-Man Ballot: Yes

Curt Schilling
Hall Rating: 172 (16th among pitchers)
Other Considerations: How is it possible that a pitcher who earned more regular season value than all but 15 pitchers in the game’s history, and owns perhaps the best postseason resume on record can’t get 50% of Hall of Fame voters to like him? His personality certainly doesn’t help, but there are worse people in the Hall than Schilling.

My theory is this: through age 33, Schilling had 110 career wins, never more than 17 in a season, and had pitched only two full seasons with an ERA better than 3.19. He was certainly a star, having been an All-Star three times and led his league twice each in strikeouts and complete games, but he wasn’t Randy Johnson or Pedro Martinez. At this point, people might have made up their minds that Schilling, while a great pitcher, was not a Hall of Famer.

From age 34 on, Schilling won 22, 23, and 21 games in three of the next four seasons, twice with ERAs under 3 in baseball’s most extreme offensive era. He struck out 1,377 batters and walked just 213 in 1,359 innings, finishing his career with the best strikeout/walk ratio since the turn of the previous century. He was central to three World Series championships, including two of the most legendary champs ever- the ’01 Diamondbacks and ’04 Red Sox. He was a World Series co-MVP and pitched two famous bloody sock games. Still, Johnson and Martinez, whose late ’90s and early ’00s were two of the most dominant stretches for any pitcher in history, were Schilling’s teammates at the time, and may have overshadowed him, if it’s possible for a spolight to elude Schilling .

Had he played his career backwards, Schilling would be in the Hall. Perhaps if he were a better person, Schilling would be in the Hall. Someday, Schilling will be in the Hall. For now, he’s scraping and clawing for every vote he can steal from a less-qualified player.
Hall of Famer: Yes
On My 10-Man Ballot: Yes

Greg Maddux
Hall Rating: 220 (8th among pitchers)
Other Considerations: 11 postseason wins, four consecutive Cy Young Awards, led the NL in basically everything throughout the ’90s.
Hall of Famer: Of Course
On My 10-Man Ballot: Yes

Roger Clemens
Hall Rating: 293 (3rd among pitchers)
Other Considerations: Was nothing special in the playoffs, though he did win 12 games there. Possibly the greatest pitcher ever, if we focus on longevity over peak value and adjust for quality of competition.
Hall of Famer: Of Course
On My 10-Man Ballot: Yes

Barry Bonds
Hall Rating: 363 (1st among left fielders)
Other Considerations: Yup. 363. He was Don Mattingly four times. He was Richie Sexson 13 times. I don’t care if he played with two bionic arms or roofied opposing pitchers prior to games. There’s no point of a baseball Hall of Fame without Barry Bonds.
Hall of Famer: Of Course
On My 10-Man Ballot: Yes

___________________________________________________________________

So, there it is. Bonds, Clemens, Maddux, Schilling, Bagwell, Mussina, Walker, Piazza, Martinez, and McGwire. That leaves certain Hall-of-Famers Glavine, Thomas, Trammell, Raines, and Biggio off, along with reasonable candidates Palmeiro, Sosa, Kent, McGriff, Mattingly, Morris, and Smith.

Did I name the ten best players? Probably not. With injuries plaguing his would-be prime, McGwire didn’t accumulate as much value as Thomas or Trammell. Martinez wasn’t as good as Thomas or as versatile as Trammell. Glavine may have a better case than McGwire, and perhaps even Walker. But there were nine candidates I would have voted for last year that I just couldn’t bear to leave off this year, even if it meant leaving Thomas and Glavine on the shelf.

The real voters will be faced with similar dilemmas, forced to skip qualified candidates to make room for other qualified candidates. Maddux will survive. Glavine may as well, and Thomas has a shot. The rest of these guys will have to stew on the ballot for another year while scores of less-accomplished players are commemorated in bronze in a decreasingly relevant building in upstate New York.

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Playoff Preview, Week 4

When the Red Sox and Cardinals met in the World Series in 2004, neither had advanced that far in the postseason since the 1980s. They’d met twice in two distant-memory World Series, St. Louis winning both in seven game classics, and each had established a rich tradition, but the recent past hadn’t been kind to either.

Nine years later, when they face off for the fourth time in October, they’re battling for the title of the Team of the 2000s. Each has won two championships in the last decade, and at least one of them has made the League Championship Series every year in that span save for 2009, when each was swept in its Division Series, and 2010, when neither made the playoffs for the only time since 1997.

Each team won a league-high 97 games in the regular season, marking the first time since 1999 that each league’s best regular-season team won its pennant. 97 wins, of course, are more of an accomplishment in the American League, particularly in the East, where Boston played 76 games against the Rays, Orioles, Yankees, and Blue Jays. Then again, the NL Central was no walk in the park this year, with Houston shipped off to the AL West and Pittsburgh and Cincinnati putting quality products on the field.

One may argue that the Cardinals are better than their 97 wins suggest, with Michael Wacha emerging as an ace late in the season and dominating in two playoff wins. Boston could make a similar claim, with Xander Bogaerts breaking out in the ALCS and the team’s bullpen depth less exposed in the postseason.

Why Boston could win
The Red Sox have faced teams of St. Louis’s quality all season- strong pitching staffs like Tampa’s and Detroit’s and deep lineups like… well, Tampa’s and Detroit’s (they finished 5th and 2nd, respectively, in team offensive WAR). Fangraphs tells us that the top six offenses in baseball were all in the AL, and the Cardinals faced those teams a total of six times, going 2-4 on a road trip to Oakland and Anaheim in late June/early July.

Boston hits for power- their .446 slugging percentage topped the majors. Boston gets on base- so did their .349 on-base percentage. Boston steals bases efficiently- their 123 stolen bases were fourth in baseball, while their 19 caught stealings were the fewest in the league. Boston pitches well- their 108 team ERA+ was seventh in baseball- and the relievers they’ll use in this series combined for an even 2.00 ERA.

Bullpen depth- the primary weakness that plagued the Red Sox throughout the season- should be buried in the World Series. As long as the starters- Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, and Jake Peavy- can pitch six innings a game, John Farrell will be happy to turn the ball over to Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow, and the inimitable Koji Uehara. Should one of those starters lay an egg, Brandon Workman and Ryan Dempster are capable of pitching several innings- if only moderately effective ones- in relief.

Why the Cardinals could win
Like Boston, St. Louis is a very complete team. Fangraphs ranks their offense seventh overall, far ahead of any other NL team, and they rarely got to use Allen Craig and Matt Adams in the same lineup, as they will at Fenway Park in this series. Their 107 ERA+ was only a tick behind the Red Sox, and that included less than 65 innings from Michael Wacha, the rookie who carried them through the first two rounds of playoffs.

The Cardinals probably have the advantage in both the rotation and the bullpen in this series. Adam Wainwright throws strikes all day (1.3 BB/9) and keeps the ball in the park (.56 HR/9). I’ve heard the term “ace” thrown at Jon Lester a lot lately, but he’s no Wainwright. Wacha has given up eight hits in 21 innings in three playoff starts, which makes John Lackey’s impressive October look like John Lackey circa 2011. Clay Buchholz vs. Joe Kelly seems like an obvious advantage for the Red Sox, but after missing half the season, Buchholz doesn’t seem to have built up the strength to pitch deep into games. St. Louis also has the advantage of bullpen depth, with six relievers Mike Matheny won’t be bashful about employing in high-leverage situations.

As much better as the Red Sox were offensively all year, they’ll be weakened by leaving David Ortiz or Mike Napoli on the bench in St. Louis, while the Cards will get better with Craig and Adams in the middle of the lineup.

Finally, this is baseball, where the better team wins, what, 55 percent of the time? Each of the last three World Series has featured an AL team that appeared stronger than its NL counterpart, but the NL has won all three and five of the last seven fall classics.

Expect another classic this year.

Red Sox in 6

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