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Bleeding Royal Blue

Inside the mind of a Kansas City Royals fan

Month

January 2016

Leaving San Diego: Royals Ink Kennedy to 5 Year Deal

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Sometimes things are so inevitable that they will happen no matter the circumstances. For the last week plus we have heard about the Kansas City Royals interest in free agent righty Ian Kennedy and on Saturday morning they pulled the trigger on a 5 year, $70 million dollar deal.

The deal does have an opt out after year two(appears to be a player option) which would be after the 2017 season, where the Royals would already have Wade Davis, Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar possibly eligible for free agency. This obviously means the Royals are taking advantage of the two year window in front of them and adding another arm to the rotation was at the top of the list for General Manager Dayton Moore. There are a number of immediate questions about Kennedy(as well as some positives), but first let’s give you an idea of just who Ian Kennedy really is.

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Ian Kennedy is going into his 31 year old season as a former big time prospect in the New York Yankees organization who has toiled in the majors since 2007. His best season to date is the 2011 campaign, where he went 21-4 for the Diamondbacks, striking out 8.03 batters per 9, a 2.88 ERA, an ERA+ of 137 and 4.8 WAR. Unfortunately, that 2011 season seems to be the outlier of Kennedy’s career, as he has been a fairly mediocre starter throughout his time in the big leagues, including three straight seasons of being a below average pitcher from 2013-2015. That being said, there are plusses and minuses to the signing.

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Let’s start with the giant pink elephant in the room: home runs. Last year, Kennedy gave up 31 home runs, 19 in his home field of Petco Park. Yes, the Petco park that is considered a major pitchers park. For whatever reason, balls flew out of that place at a higher rate last year, and Kennedy and former Padres teammate James Shields paid the price for the increase. In fact, Kennedy allowed home runs on 17% of his fly balls in 2015, only toppled by Shields and Kyle Kendrick, with a difference of only less than half of one percentage point. Yes, it appeared that balls flew out of Petco last year, but giving up that many home runs is still a blemish on the stat board and has to be taken into consideration. It appears that the Royals scouts and front office believe that playing in Kauffman Stadium, which has a low home run rate, plus adding in the Royals stellar defense in the outfield will help Kennedy with some of those fly balls. It’s possible…but as this chart shows, maybe not as much as we would hope:

What the graph shows is that if you took those 31 home runs and moved them to Kauffman, 3/4 of them would still leave the park. Add in that Kennedy won’t be starting all of his games in Kansas City, and…well, you can see why there is some worry.

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Now, I feel like I can’t paint the ‘Ian Kennedy picture’ without mentioning some of the positives. For one, his K/9 rate the last has been above 8 for three straight seasons and has been sitting at a steady 9.3 for the last two. The guy has noticed an uptick in his velocity and it has shown in his strikeout numbers. But the increase in velocity has also accounted for a high hard-hit rate, which normally means a low soft-hit rate. In fact, Kennedy has not a hard-hit % below 30% since…you guessed it, that great 2011 season. In other words, when batters do make contact off of Kennedy, they are getting good wood on the ball. That makes it harder to keep the scoring down and also hurts the chances of a pitcher pitching deeper into the game. Last year, Kennedy averaged 5.6 innings per start, but over his career he has been a workhouse. Since 2010, the lowest amount of innings Kennedy has accumulated is 168 in 2015, while in that span he has had three seasons over 200 innings(and one at 194). So Kennedy will give you innings, which has long been a goal of Moore when he acquires starting pitchers.

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Also, his walk rate went down this past year, down to 2.78 after hovering in the 3’s for the previous two years. So you have a guy who has increased his strikeout rate while lowering his walk rate, which is a plus for any starter in the majors. Kennedy also seemed to improve his statistics in June of last year, possibly due to a shift on the pitching rubber:

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The picture on the left is from his last start, the one on the right is from his first start in June. As you can tell, he went from throwing on the 3rd base side of the rubber to the 1st base side. There was a noticeable improvement, as his home runs dipped down and his OPS allowed improved by almost 200 points. I’m sure all of this will be digested by Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland, who within himself is a big part of this puzzle. You see, Kennedy is not a stranger to Eiland:

Eiland was the pitching coach for the Yankees when Kennedy made it to the big leagues so Eiland is familiar with him not only from then but back when he had success during his days as a prospect in the New York system. One has to think a big part of Kansas City feeling so confident in giving him this big contract was having Eiland in their back pocket to guide him back to success. Eiland has shown over the years to have a knack of turning questionable pitchers into solid starters by just tweaking the most subtle of things. All you have to look at is Jeremy Guthrie time in Kansas City(before 2015) and most recently Edinson Volquez. If anyone can turn Kennedy around, it would be Eiland.

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There is one more positive to the this signing, and that would be durability. Kennedy has been lucky so far in his career and hasn’t had a major arm injury. In fact, Kennedy spent a little bit of time on the disable list last year, but it was for a hamstring strain. Kennedy has been healthy enough to make at least 30 starts in all 6 of his seasons as a regular. Add in the innings totals and at the very least you have a starter that you can count on to take the mound once every five games. Anymore, that is a major victory within itself in this game.

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So where do I stand? This is an odd signing in that I am not totally for sure how I feel. I like that the Royals seem to have signed a durable starter who can log some innings for the team before turning it over to the pen. There were times this past season where the starters went four or five innings and were done for the day. I’m not a big fan of a five year deal, but there is the opt out clause after year two, so hopefully Kennedy takes that and the Royals don’t get stuck with the last three years of the contract. For me it’s not even about Kennedy as much as I don’t like giving any pitcher a long-term deal, not with how easy it is to get arm injuries in this day and age. Over his career Kennedy has been about a league average pitcher and I have a feeling that is what Kansas City will get from him this year. I think there will be times he looks really good on the hill, and I think there will be times those hard hit fly balls will leave the playing field. Steamer projections are predicting Kennedy to make 31 starts, logging 182 innings with an ERA of 3.90, an FIP of 4.02 and 2.2 WAR. Honestly, I would take that and would even applaud that kind of season. The best part of the signing is that the Royals showed a willingness to spend money and give them as good a chance as any to keep a contending baseball team on the field. The last few years, Dayton Moore has shown an ability to make questionable acquisitions and have them turn to gold(paging Morales, Kendrys). At this point, if Dayton likes this move than I am on board. I just hope the ride isn’t too bumpy.

The Prodigal Son Has Returned

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There really has been only one topic on the minds of anyone who follows the Kansas City Royals: will Alex Gordon re-sign with Kansas City and continue to be the pillar of this championship Royals team? After months of speculation(and worry that he would leave) we found out on Wednesday that Gordon was staying with the only major league team he has ever known, signing a 4 year, $72 million dollar contract with an option for a 5th year. So how does that deal break down?

It’s interesting to see that Gordon will actually be making less this upcoming season than he made in 2015, but it is not surprising to see the contract back-loaded with a mutual option(seriously, Dayton loves those mutual options) in year five. So what does this mean for the Royals moving forward?

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Financially, Gordon’s contract gives the team flexibility not only for this year(after expected arbitration raises and probably the signing of another starting pitcher, the team’s payroll will probably be above $120 million, which really isn’t a giant increase from 2015), but also 2017. Why those two years? The main core of this Kansas City team will be intact for at least the next two years, so the Royals chances of continuing to reach the postseason is greater now for those two years. A smaller deal for Gordon helps out the rest of that payroll and could very well impact the team if they try to make another big deal in July if so be it. Now his contract goes up in years 3 and 4 of the deal, but I would say there is a good chance that by then this contract won’t look as imposing when you look at the influx of money within the game of baseball right now. Add in that the Royals should be able to restructure their TV deal around 2018 and the Royals could be playing with even more money than they have right now. Obviously the big part of this deal is that it gives GM Dayton Moore more wiggle room to help get the pieces needed to keep this team a contender through 2017, which will then see Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Wade Davis and Alcides Escobar become free agents.

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The signing also means the chances of Kansas City taking advantage of their window have improved with the return of Gordon. Realistically, the Royals have the next two seasons to take advantage of their current core players and have a better chance of reaching the playoffs again with Gordon in tow. I am of the belief that without Gordon’s return, the chances of Kansas City returning to October baseball would have been much harder to accomplish, where as now they return the “backbone” of the team. About a month ago I went into deep detail on why the Royals should bring back Alex and it seems obvious when I say this team is better with Alex roaming left field for the next four years. To me, I wouldn’t even worry too much about 2018 and instead focus on the here and now. If the Royals reach the postseason the next two years(or even one of the two), that means more people coming to the ballpark, meaning more money coming into the team. To me, that extra money could be used on whatever the game plan is for after the 2017 season, which could be to re-sign a Cain or a Hosmer(I know, he is a Boras client so the likelihood is not very high) or go out and revamp the team. Either way, giving the Royals the best chance possible to win now helps the organization in the future as well. Keeping Gordon in the fold helps in that regard.

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Speaking of the core Royals group, I also felt like Gordon was the best choice for a long-term deal out of that group mentioned earlier. Hosmer and Moustakas are almost completely off the table since they are Scott Boras clients and he will always tell his clients to take the deal that will make them the most money. I love Wade Davis but he is a reliever and you should never give a reliever a long-term deal(unless his last name is Rivera). That leaves Cain and Escobar, who will both be in their low 30’s at this point. I love both guys but Cain has a long injury history and a big part of Escobar’s game(speed) will have started to regress at this point which makes a long-term deal seem iffy. To me, Gordon will regress the best out of this bunch and will probably come close to his expected production over the next couple years that will make his deal worth the money that was spent. In fact Craig Brown of Royals Authority took a look at just that the other day, taking a look at his Steamer & ZiPS projections over the course of the deal and putting that up against his earnings during those years. I feel you can also throw in what he means to that clubhouse, as many a teammate has referred to Gordon as the “backbone” of the team. He isn’t the rah-rah team leader, but that is why they have Salvador Perez. Gordon is the quiet one who leads by example and it is normally a “balls to the wall” type example that he plays by for them to follow.

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Concerns? There are always concerns when signing a player to a deal of this size, and most of them are health related. Gordon missed some time this year due to a couple injuries, a wrist injury that limited him when the season began and a groin injury that left him out of action for August and a good chunk of July. But since Gordon made the move to left field full-time in 2011, he had played at least 150 games in all of those years before this past year. I tend to feel like the injury is an outlier for Alex, but it’s easy to see how an injury could happen to him with his “reckless abandon” style of play out on the field. We all saw what happened to Mike Sweeney late in his career, but knowing how Gordon is a health nut and his insane work-out routine, I think there is a better chance of Alex staying healthy than spending the majority of his time on the disabled list. Will he regress? Of course he will. ‘Father Time’ always wins that battle. But once again, Gordon takes good care of his body, so the belief is that his regression won’t be as steep as it normally is for others.

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To me it always made the most sense to bring back Gordon to the only major league team he has ever known. Gordon is beloved in Kansas City and it was the team he grew up rooting for. It only made sense for the present and the future to make sure Alex remained in Royal blue. As a fan, I was very biased on this all along. As a kid my favorite player was George Brett and would stop whatever I was doing once Brett came up to the plate. I loved the way Brett played and it became a model for me to judge other players by. As an adult, Alex Gordon is in that same pantheon for me. He is my favorite player on this Royals team and the thought of him wearing another team’s jersey was tough to stomach. Knowing now that he is locked up makes me feel better about the future of the Royals as he is the constant everyone can rely on. Alex now has four years to further cement his legacy and a deeper place into the history of the Kansas City Royals. It seems like a lock now that Gordon will one day get a statue near the fountains at Kauffman Stadium. Honestly, I can’t think of a current player more deserving than ‘#4’.

My 2016 Hall of Fame Ballot

Newly-inducted National Baseball Hall of Famers from left to right, Craig Biggio, John Smoltz, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez hold their plaques after an induction ceremony at the Clark Sports Center on Sunday, July 26, 2015, in Cooperstown, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
(AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Nothing is debated more intensely each year than who should and shouldn’t be elected to the baseball Hall of Fame. The last few years have been filled with a moral dilemma for some, as they struggle with voting in players whose numbers are ‘Hall Caliber’, but the scarlet ‘S’ (for steroids) looms around their neck. This has led to a backloaded ballot for BBWAA members as they struggle with the decision of voting in a player who they feel would tarnish the game. Some of us(myself included) am not bothered by this, since the Hall is all about the history of the game, good or bad, and it is hard for me to sit here and tell you these players shouldn’t be voted in when there are no positive tests, because baseball was not testing at the time. So right there, you see the dilemma. As a member of the IBWAA, we have our own Hall of Fame and do our own voting each year. Our voting has not been completely parallel to the BBWAA’s, as last year Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines all reached the 75% of the votes needed for election. In years past, Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza have been elected by us in the IBWAA, so they are no longer on the ballot either. As a group, we also decided that we can vote for up to 15 players on the ballot, which opens it up even more and has allowed the ballot not to get so clogged up. Before we get started with my votes, you can go back and read my last two years of voting: Here is 2014 and 2015.  Also, to keep up to date with all of the BBWAA votes that have been revealed, follow Ryan Thibs on Twitter. That way you can follow how the voting is going before Wednesday’s big announcement. Without further ado, here are my votes for the 2016 Hall of Fame ballot.

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Barry Bonds was also on my list the last two years and is easily one of the greatest baseball players ever, the all-time home run king and that is all tainted by supposed steroid use. To me Bonds was a Hall of Famer before his supposed use and was a 5 tool player early in his career. We can debate all day about whether or not PED users should be allowed in the Hall(and I am someone who believes the Hall of Fame is NOT sacred ground) but what is easy to decipher is that Bonds is one of the greats of the game. ‘Nuff said.

 

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Roger Clemens

Roger Clemens is another duel year vote for me and like Bonds, has the PED albatross around his neck. Clemens is thegreatest pitcher of his era, a 7 time Cy Young award winner and should have been a first ballot Hall of Famer. Instead we are stuck continuing an argument that might never finish and also like Bonds, might have to wait for the Veteran’s Committee to get voted into Cooperstown. Clemens deserves to have a plaque next to the Johnson’s, Koufax’s, and Gibson’s of the world. When(or if) that happens is another issue.

 

Seattle Mariners
(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Ken Griffey Jr.

Some votes are so easy you don’t even have to think about them before marking the box. So is the case with Ken Griffey, Jr., an easy first ballot Hall of Famer and one of the greatest players of his generation. Griffey came into the league as a wide eyed youngster, bringing his enthusiasm and childlike glee to stadiums everywhere. It would been awhile since the baseball world had seen a five tool player(outside of Bonds, of course) perform so easily and graceful on the field the way Griffey did. Griffey was a 13 time All-Star(10 as a Mariner, 3 as a Red), AL MVP in 1997, 10 time Gold Glove Winner and 7 time Silver Slugger award winner. At one point or another he lead the league in runs, home runs, RBI’s, slugging percentage, total bases and intentional walks. Griffey would finish 1st in the league in WAR once(1996, while finishing 1st three times for position players), while finishing 2nd three times(pulling a career bWAR of 83.6, 57th all time. The numbers just continue to stack up- 55th all time in OPS, 35th in slugging percentage, 33rd in runs scored, 50th in hits, 13th in total bases, 6th on the all time home run list and 15th career in RBI’s. There are some interesting stats that won’t pop out but are interesting nonetheless-22nd all time runs created, 7th all time extra base hits, and 6th all time intentional walks. The numbers show someone who is an easy vote for the Hall, but one has to wonder just how much higher Griffey would rank on all-time lists if not for injuries that curtailed him late in his career. It’s easy to point at his trade to Cincinnati before the 2000 season as the beginning of his decline, but that 2000 season was actually a solid one for Griffey. After that though, the injuries piled up and he went from being a player who could challenge Hank Aaron’s(at the time) all-time home run record to a ghost of his former self. In fact if you take out that 2000 season, Griffey only averaged 100 games a season during the rest of his time in Cincy, with an average of 22 home runs and 62 RBI’s per season. Even with these numbers you have a player who should be mentioned in the same breath as Mays, Ruth and yes, even Bonds, as one of the most prolific home run hitters(and all around best players) in baseball history. The question this year will be: will Griffey be the first player to be an unanimous selection to the Hall?

 

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Trevor Hoffman

I’m sure my pick here will cause some debate, since there are those that believe you have to be Mariano Rivera to be a Hall of Fame closer, but much like the Tim Raines debate(which I am a strong supporter of), you can’t fault Hoffman for not being the best closer in baseball history. Yes, the closer in modern day baseball is a defined role that is the guy who closes out the game for his team, not always the guy who faces the toughest part of the lineup. Yes, the save is probably the worst stat in baseball, based just off of its parameters on how you can get one. But when you are the second best player at your position for 16 seasons, you deserve to get more recognition than to be just tossed aside and scoffed at. Here is why I voted for Hoffman and why I feel he is a Hall of Famer. First, he was as consistent as they come. Outside of 2003 when he was injured, Hoffman posted 15 consecutive years of 20 or more saves and is second all-time(ALL-TIME!) behind Rivera. I know some use the argument “well, he was no Gossage or Fingers or even Sutter”, and to be honest, no, he wasn’t. But that is the whole point behind this; no one compares to those guys anymore, because closers aren’t used the same way they were in the 70’s and early 80’s. Why compare a pitcher to guys who faced completely different game situations 30-40 years earlier? It’s not a fair assessment and people sure as hell don’t use that same comparison when talking about Rivera and his place in the game. Second, besides the consistency he was also fairly dominant, which sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. Hoffman is a 7 time All-Star, placed 2nd in the National League Cy Young award voting twice(!), has the 8th best K per 9 percentage, 8th best WHIP, 14th best ERA+ and the 18th best WPA(Win Probability Added) ever. That’s not even mentioning he also blew just 76 career saves, which gives him a 88.8% save conversion rate. What about his out-pitch? Hoffman had a lethal change-up that was one of the hardest pitches to handle during this period. Sure, it wasn’t Mariano’s cutter, but it got the job done and normally threw batters off of their game. No matter which way you cut it, Hoffman is one of the great closers in baseball history, even if you took away the save stat. Very few pitchers have been able to do what he has done and do it for as long as he did. Bottom line is that ‘closer’ is a position filled by each team in the big leagues and Hoffman was elite at that position for a very long time. That is why he gets my vote for the Hall of Fame.

 

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(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Edgar Martinez

Edgar Martinez has been looked over for years but he was an easy pick for me the last two years. Edgar is the greatestDesignated Hitter of all-time, and one of the greatest hitters in baseball history. Apparently Martinez not playing much in the field hurts his case, but that honestly should be superseded by the fact that he was so good at one thing(hitting) that he is 76th in career WAR. Just like when discussing closers, Designated Hitters are a part of the game just as much as their late inning friends. Soon David Ortiz will be eligible for the Hall of Fame and you don’t hear anyone question whether or not he belongs. If he belongs, why doesn’t the guy who they named the DH Award after? Edgar is the GOAT and should be honored justly.

 

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Mike Mussina

Mike Mussina probably never dazzled anyone over his 18 year big league career. He wasn’t the most dominant, didn’t really blow gas past batters or have that one pitch that no one could hit(although his knuckle curve was a nice little out pitch when he needed it). But more than anything Mussina was consistent and stayed that way for the entire span of his career. In fact if you didn’t know better you would think Mussina was a ninja with the way his numbers jump up on you. So here are just a few of the numbers Mussina compiled during his (what should be) Hall of Fame career: 5 time All-Star, 6 Top 5 finishes in American League Cy Young voting, 7 time Gold Glove winner, 57th all-time in career WAR(24th all-time for pitchers), 19th all-time career strikeouts(2813), 89th all-time career ERA+(123), and 270 career wins. Mussina also pitched a large chunk of his career during the ‘Steroid Era’ and the two ballparks he called home during his career(Camden Yards and Yankee Stadium) were both hitters parks. I’ve always considered ‘Moose’ the right-handed equivalent of Tom Glavine, a guy who wouldn’t blow you away but put up solid numbers year after year. 2014 was Mussina’s first year on the BBWAA ballot and he compiled 20.3% of the vote, which I have to believe will go up again this year. If you want flashy, Mussina isn’t your guy. But if you want a top of the rotation starter who you can rely on year after year for quality starts and quality innings, Mussina was a lock. Eighteen years of that quality should also mean he is a lock–for the Hall of Fame.

 

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Curt Schilling

Just how much difference does a player’s postseason success factor into a Hall of Fame vote? In the case of Curt Schilling it matters a lot. In fact I would say without his playoff numbers Schilling probably wouldn’t get into the Hall. But when you add that to the mix, his true greatness shines through. A 2.23 ERA, .846 winning %, and a WHIP of .968(plus one bloody sock), all over 133 innings pitched in October shows just what kind of mettle Schilling really had. In fact, just go look at his postseason stats for 2001; ridiculous! When you then add in the regular season numbers it becomes much more obvious. Schilling was a 6 time All-Star, 1993 NLCS MVP, 2001 World Series MVP, 4 times was in the Top 5 of the Cy Young award voting, 62nd all-time in career WAR(26th for pitchers), 15th all-time in career strikeouts(3116), and 47th all-time in career ERA+(127). All this from a guy who floundered in the majors until he was 25 in 1992 with the Phillies. Schilling the person might not be a guy who we would agree with on a regular basis(and definitely don’t argue evolution with him) but none of that matters when it comes to Hall of Fame voting. Schilling was a front line starter in the big leagues for 15 years and has the numbers to prove it. That is ‘Hall Worthy’ if I have ever seen it.

 

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Alan Trammell

It took me a long time(almost too long) but after really studying his case, I believe Alan Trammell is a Hall of Famer. Trammell case has probably been hurt for a number of reasons. Trammell’s offensive numbers don’t pop out at you and he never reached any of the big milestones that voters look for when it comes time to fill out a ballot. The argument for Trammell though outweighs a lot of the negatives; Trammell has a career WAR of 70.4, which makes him 94th all-time and 63rd amongst position players. To go a step further, Trammell has a career dWAR of 22.0, which places him 34th all-time. Trammell was solid with the bat, winning three Silver Slugger awards and in 1987 probably should have won the American League MVP(which went to George Bell of Toronto). Trammell was a 6 time All-Star, the 1984 World Series MVP, a 4 time Gold Glove winner during a period where he competed with Cal Ripken Jr. for the award, and walked more than he struck out in 7 different seasons(and had the same amount of both in 2 other seasons). Trammell is the batter equivalent of Mike Mussina; he never blew you away with anything but he was so consistent for a long period of time that what he put together was a Hall of Fame career. Still aren’t convinced? Joe Posnanski has made the argument that if you are of the belief that Derek Jeter is a Hall of Famer, then you should compare his numbers with Trammell’s. Joe points out just how close Jeter and Trammell were as players, with Jeter holding a slight edge over Alan offensively, while Trammell was easily a better defender. If Ozzie Smith can get into the Hall on his defense, and Jeter will get in on his offense(and leadership; you know that will be brought up) then Trammell deserves to be in for being the better all-around player. The sad part is that this will be Trammell’s last year on the ballot, which means after this year his case will be handed over to the Veteran’s Committee. I wish I had really studied his case sooner, not that my lone vote would mean much. If anything I wouldn’t have underrated Trammell as much as I did, not realizing he was way better than the memory remembers. Now about his double play partner, Lou Whitaker…

 

2004 National Baseball Hall of Fame Weekend - Induction Ceremonies - July 25, 2004
(Photo by A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

So eight votes from me this year, which was less than last year. I did consider a number of other players for this honor, players who I feel are just on the cusp but not quite there. On that list that I heavily considered was Larry Walker, Billy Wagner, Jeff Kent and Jim Edmonds. All were great players but I felt for now they fall just short for me. Does that mean I could change my mind? I could, honestly. I did when it comes to Trammell and Raines and I could with any of these guys in the future. Sometimes it just takes a longer look to really grasp how important a certain player was to his era. This is a special honor not given to just any player, but only to the greats of the game. The eight I voted for this year I consider great; next year Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Vladimir Guerrero will show up on the ballot for the first time. Oh, and Russ Springer. That means we have a year to determine who of that group should be inducted; yes, even Russ Springer. All these players add a certain element to the baseball Hall of Fame, good and bad. It is all part of the story that is this great game we call baseball.

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