Ohtani Headed to Disneyland, Stanton to the Bronx

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Credit: The Japan Times

The ‘Hot Stove’ season has felt lukewarm at best since the World Series wrapped up, with a number of reasons at the forefront. Two very big reasons for the lack of action was a number of teams focusing their attention on Japanese star Shohei Ohtani and Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton. With the Winter Meetings looming on the horizon, both players have punched a ticket to their 2018 destination and it appears on the surface that the rich just got richer.

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

Ohtani announced his intentions on Friday to sign with the Los Angeles Angels and while I’m sure a few teams felt slighted (I’m looking at you, Mariners and Cubs), the more I’ve thought about it the more it makes sense for him to play with the Angels. For one, Ohtani instantly moves to the front of the Los Angeles’ rotation, as Garrett Richards is probably better suited to be in the 2nd or 3rd slot of a major league rotation. Second, with the Angels loaded in the outfield (Mike Trout, Justin Upton, Kole Calhoun) it means Ohtani will almost exclusively be used at DH whenever he is in the lineup. The less time he spends out on defense the better, since that opens up more opportunities to get hurt and the Angels need him pitching more than anything.

Third, being teammates with Trout is a plus. With Ohtani playing beside the best player in baseball, it means Shohei won’t always be the focal point of attention and it means occasionally he can fade into the background. It won’t be the majority of the time, but it will allow him some room just to play baseball. Fourth, the Angels aren’t too far off from being a playoff team. The team stayed in the pennant race until the last week of the season this year and adding Upton for a full year, a healthy Trout and now Ohtani, it should improve the team’s chance of seeing October baseball. Baseball is better when their best players are showcased in October and Trout is the best while Ohtani could end being in that category.

With all that being said, it will be interesting to track his adjustment to American baseball. While we have seen guys like Ichiro Suzuki and Hideo Nomo have instant success once coming to America, they also both were in the back half of their 20’s when they made it to the big leagues. Ohtani will be just 23 years of age when he plays on opening day and he would appear to have more eyes on him than Ichiro and Nomo had combined. Also, I still contend that by the end of his contract he won’t still be a two-way player. I totally get the want and need to see if he can do both on a regular basis, but at the end of the day his true value for the Angels is on the mound, not the 3-5 at bats he racks up in a game. I know there is a ton of interest to see if he can be the “Next Babe Ruth”, but I feel there is a greater chance he becomes the “First Shohei Ohtani”…and there is nothing wrong with that.

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Credit: New York Post

The other big news of the weekend was the acquisition by the New York Yankees of Miami slugger Giancarlo Stanton. For weeks there were discussions of Stanton moving on to the Cardinals, or the Giants, or possibly even the Dodgers. But at the end of the day, the Yankees swooped in and took ownership of the massive slugger and his massive contract. Now I know there are a variety of talking points that have already been hit on with this trade, but I wanted to cover a few just for me personally:

  1. While I am no fan of the Yankees, the one thing this organization does most of the time is put their team in a position to reach the playoffs. We can boo-hoo all day about how much money the Yankees can eat, but remember that big contracts do not always equal on-field success. Remember the Padres spending all that money in 2015? What about the Red Sox of 2016? Or even go back to the early 2000’s and the Yankees additions of guys like Kevin Brown and Randy Johnson? While the Yankees have once again gone and done what the Yankees do, they still have to go out there and perform on the field and rack up W’s. Plus, be honest: would you really want your team to take on Stanton’s ridiculous contract?
  2. Also remember that Stanton isn’t the definition of health. Over the last six seasons, Stanton has played 130 games or more just twice. That is not to say he will go and get injured next year, but do remember that he has had a proclivity of  ending up on the disabled list throughout his eight-year career.
  3. I have always been told that baseball is better when the Yankees are good because so many of us despise the ‘Bronx Bombers’. While there is some definite truth to this (I will almost always root against them, with very few deviations), I can also tell you that if they had advanced to the World Series this year my interest in the series would have gone down tremendously. There is a difference between ‘rooting against’ and ‘not giving a damn’ and the line is very thin between those two things.
  4. While I agree with most that the new ownership group in Miami is off to a horrible start (especially in the public relations department), I don’t fault them for trading Stanton. That contract was awful from day one and none of us really believed he would stay in Miami for the duration of the deal. The Marlins did what any other ownership group would do, which is look into ridding themselves of that bloated contract. That being said, they did fumble everything else when it comes to dealing him, as evidenced by the fact he ended up in New York. If he wasn’t going to accept a deal to St. Louis or San Francisco, why waste all that time working out a deal? Maybe they should have talked to Giancarlo, figured out who he was willing to accept a trade to and then talk to those teams? The Marlins look like bumbling idiots for spending weeks on end trying to work something out and at the end of the day they had to work out a deal with the team in the largest market in baseball. It has not been a good start for the Derek Jeter-led group as they begin their tenure in Miami.
  5. Finally, I am already dreading listening to baseball outlets discuss the Stanton-Judge tandem in the Bronx. Look, we get it. The Yankees have two big sluggers in this itty-bitty ballpark. It doesn’t mean we need to hear about it ad nauseam for the next four months. It will be a shock to a number of major media outlets, but most of us couldn’t care less about what the Yankees are up to. The less we hear about them, the better.
Shohei Ohtani
Credit: Associated Press

So now that Ohtani and Stanton are off the table, it might finally be time for baseball’s ‘Hot Stove’ to heat up. With the Winter Meetings taking place this week, it’s as good a time as any to see teams start wheeling and dealing. It will be interesting to see how the team that had interest in these two players move forward and how they react to not acquiring their top choice. In one fell swoop, two major pieces came off the board and the real game this offseason kicks into full swing. Los Angeles and New York made their moves; now it’s time for the 28 other teams in baseball to make theirs.

 

 

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The Battle For the AL MVP & How Mike Trout is Trying to Crash the Party

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

When baseball reached the All-Star break, the American League MVP race felt like a two-man battle. Jose Altuve of Houston was once again a top contender while the Yankees Aaron Judge was making baseball writers and analysts go ga-ga as he invoked memories of Ruth and Mantle. The normal leader in MVP conversations, Mike Trout, was sitting on the sideline, finishing up a rehab assignment and hoping to get back on the field after missing close to 40 games. While Trout was the front-runner before his injury, there appeared to be no way he could catch Altuve and Judge in any of the statistics that mattered. But then Trout came back, picking up where he left off, and something happened…Trout slowly climbed up the fWAR leaderboard. Day by day, game by game, Mike Trout was catching up to the two leaders. Just like last year, what appeared to be a two-man race turned into a three-man battle to the end. While it would appear Trout missing those 40 games would deter his case, it’s actually enhancing the argument that he is the 2017 American League MVP.

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Let’s start with the WAR argument, which I referenced above. As of this writing, Altuve sits atop the American League leaderboard, with 6.5 fWAR. Trout follows with 6.2 and Judge sits in third place with 5.7. Just as an aside, this is just speaking for the hitters in the league; Chris Sale leads everyone with 7.5 WAR and Corey Kluber is at 6.0. Both Sale and Kluber can be calculated into your MVP discussion (and trust me, Sale is in that convo), but at least for me, I don’t value pitchers in MVP talk UNLESS they have been so dominant and crucial to their team’s success (and since I know it will be asked, the next closest Red Sox to Sale’s WAR number is Mookie Betts at 3.8). So Altuve and Trout are 1-2 in hitter’s WAR, but that gap was much larger at the All-Star break. At the break, Aaron Judge led the AL with 5.4 fWAR, followed by Altuve at 4.1 and Trout was down in 6th place with 3.4 fWAR. So in this second half of the season, Altuve has accumulated 2.4 WAR, Judge 0.3 and Trout 2.8. Now, the gap between Altuve and Trout wasn’t that big at the break, but Judge’s lead above both was quite a bit more. So while Trout’s push in this second half has been impressive, Altuve’s has been equally impressive in that short amount of time. What has been the most important aspect of this gain is not just how Trout has shortened the gap between the two candidates; the most impressive part of this whole debate is that WAR is a stat that accumulates over time, so the more you play the higher your number should go. Obviously not every player sees that (Alcides Escobar has played every game this year for Kansas City and his fWAR sits at a sickly -0.3 right now) but if you are an elite player, your Wins Above Replacement will rise the more you play. The fact that Trout has almost reached Altuve in over 150 less plate appearances, says a lot about how good Trout’s season has been.

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Credit: The Sporting News

So how is Trout doing with some of the other statistics? Obviously Trout can’t win it on WAR alone, and luckily the numbers prove he won’t. Trout leads the league in weighted Runs Created Plus, weighted On Base Average, On Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, walk percentage, Win Probability Added, Walk to Strikeout ratio, On-Base Plus Slugging, 2nd in Isolated Power, and 10th in stolen bases. The most impressive out of all these numbers to me is Trout’s Win Probability Added number. Trout is at 5.74; the next closest batter is Nelson Cruz at 3.67. I mentioned earlier how WAR is a stat that accumulates and so does WPA. For Trout to have an over two point lead in a stat that adds up over time is amazing. No other player in the American League has had a larger effect on his teams outcome than Trout AND IT ISN’T EVEN CLOSE! When I think of the term ‘Most Valuable Player’, I think of someone who is so valuable that you can’t even imagine what that team would look like without that player on the field. Trout missed 40 games (40 games!!) and has had a larger effect on his team than any other player in all of baseball. If that doesn’t speak of value, I can’t imagine what else does.

Brett George 2400.81 NBL

Now, there is one slight issue, which is that Trout is not quite a qualified batter, as he is sitting at 325 at bats for the season and 412 plate appearances. Trout would need to reach 502 plate appearances to be a qualified batter and with 24 games left Trout would have to average 3.75 plate appearances per game, which is doable. So while Trout has a good chance of reaching the bar he needs to get to, there would still be a few writers who might not vote for him because of time missed. Luckily, there are a few precedents that show it can and has been done before. First, go back to 1962 when Mickey Mantle missed 25 games in May and June of that year. Mantle would justbarely squeak in enough plate appearances (502) to qualify for the batting title and win MVP. Mantle also lead in many of the same categories that Trout leads in right now and would garnish a Gold Glove award. George Brett in 1980 missed 25 games with an ankle injury and racked up 515 plate appearances. George flirted with .400 for most of the year and would also lead the league in most of the same categories as Trout. Finally, Barry Bonds missed 32 games in 2003, racked up 550 plate appearances, 10.2 WAR and would win his 6th MVP award. In all three of these cases, a player missed a significant amount of time to injury yet had such potent offensive seasons that the voters could not dismiss their contributions to their team. To me, that reads just like Trout this year and shows that if the numbers are there, it should be an easy vote come the end of the season.

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

So while Mike Trout hasn’t passed Jose Altuve just yet, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where it doesn’t happen before the end of the season. You almost feel sorry for guys like Altuve, Judge, Manny Machado and others; they are playing at the same time as one of the greatest players of not only this time period, but easily one of the best of the last 30-40 years. Mike Trout appears to be on a completely different level and this year the numbers say he is doing it in a slightly shorter amount of time. While a vote for Altuve wouldn’t be a bad vote, it would be ignoring not only what Trout is achieving but also what he is doing to help lead an Angels team to contention. It might feel redundant to say Trout should be MVP each year, but it would also be foolish to vote against him just for the sake of change. Last year in August, I said Trout should be in the conversation for MVP and I was scoffed at. I was told Altuve had it in the bag. Trout ended up winning the award. This year I make a different proclamation: Mike Trout should be MVP again. This time, it might be wise to just admit the arguments against him aren’t as strong as the arguments for. All hail Mike Trout.

Hype, Man

Aaron Judge
Credit: Sports Illustrated

As a “seamhead”, it is in our disposition to love everything that is great about this game we adore, baseball. Whether it be the history of the game, the classic stadiums, the evolution of strategy or the uprising of analytics, I love it all. But with that said, I have a confession to make. This won’t go over well and for some it will be heresy. I would apologize beforehand, but I feel justified in what I am about to confess. It isn’t the popular opinion but here we go: I am not enamored with Aaron Judge. Yeah, I know, he hits the ball high and far and is a statue of a man. I am aware that his numbers say he is a force to be reckoned with and he deserves the praise. The problem is the praise is just too much. Waaaaaay too much. The media are obsessed with a guy who has put up half a season of All-Star numbers and they are ready to anoint him the second coming of every great power hitter. But it is too much, too soon and the baseball analysts and talking heads need to stop.

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Look, the numbers ARE impressive. It’s hard to see a wRC+ of 184 and not be overwhelmed, since it is a stat that is league and park adjusted. That number gives him more validity than any home run number or slugging stat out there. Playing in Yankee Stadium makes those numbers a bit skewed, as it is a park that leans more toward the hitter. Some of the numbers make me think he is going to come down to earth soon; a high BABIP normally means you are getting a bit lucky on balls put in play, so that .398 will probably slope down a bit soon. But it is obvious the power is real and he has become a better hitter, as shown by the 16.6% walk rate or the 24.9% O-Swing percentage, which is pitches he has swung at outside the zone. The improvement shows in his numbers and he should be a player that is talked about. But there is talk, and then there is focusing on one player like they are head and shoulders above every other player. The latter has been going on quite regularly lately, especially on ESPN.

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Last week I tuned into Baseball Tonight the afternoon before the All-Star Game, hoping to get some analysis on the game and a few interviews with players. I knew Judge would be talked about, as he should since he had won the Home Run Derby the night before. Over the next 45 minutes, I witnessed ESPN talk about nothing but Judge…seriously. They had an interview with him. Showed highlights of the derby. Talked to other players about Judge. After 45 minutes, I stopped my recording and deleted it. I couldn’t even make it through the entire hour. There was no talk about the pitching matchup that night, no discussion about the lineups, no conversation about Zack Cozart’s donkey. It was all Judge and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. As much as Baseball Tonight has been my go to since the 1990’s, it has deteriorated over the years and after the bloodshed in Bristol earlier this summer, I should have seen this coming. There is a reason I hardly ever watch ESPN anymore and my default channel on my TV is MLB Network. At least the network tries to cover a wide spectrum of topics around the sport and only slightly hints at their “East Coast Bias”; ESPN has completely embraced their bias.

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

If there was ever a major reason for the over exuberant coverage of Judge, the answer is right there-he plays for the Yankees. New York has long wanted a young slugger to be placed on the pedestal, to follow in the footsteps of Ruth and Mantle. Even more, New York has wanted that one player they can zoom in on ever since Derek Jeter retired. If you remember, the coverage of Jeter that final season was nauseating and I didn’t even hate the guy. But by the end of that season, I didn’t want to hear Jeter’s name for a very, very long time. While New York is the biggest market in the sport, there are 28 other teams with players just as worthy of your attention as the one’s in the ‘Big Apple’. I could list a whole slew of young players to discuss; everyone from Machado to Correa, Bellinger to Betts, Arenado to Goldschmidt. I even heard analysts saying Judge should be the face of the game, which just seems preposterous when Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw are still playing (never mind the fact that you shouldn’t have just “one” face of the game). He is a great young player and worthy of headlines; just not all the headlines.

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One comparison that has not been mentioned for Judge that actually is very comparable is Mark McGwire, or more specifically, their rookie seasons. Let’s size up Judge and McGwire’s rookie campaigns:

Judge- .311/.432/.649, 184 wRC+, 5.2 fWAR

McGwire- .289/.370/.618, 157 wRC+, 5.1 fWAR

So I didn’t go the HR/RBI route since Judge is has only 391 plate appearances with two plus months left of action and McGwire ended up with 641 when it was all said and done. Factoring that extra 250+ PA, average and slugging feel like they are fairly close, while Judge already has McGwire beat with WAR; Judge is a better defender in RF than McGwire was at first base. While the numbers skew toward Judge right now, one has to wonder if the extra couple months will bring Judge back down closer to where McGwire ended up. In all honesty, Judge to me feels like this generation’s McGwire if he can stay healthy. He will hit a bunch of home runs, he’ll get his walks (especially if pitchers start pitching around him) and he’ll produce runs. It’s not a bad thing and McGwire was one of the elite sluggers in the game for a lengthy period of time. It goes to show you that as much as many protest and say they love a well-rounded player, many still dig the long ball.

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At the end of the day, it would be wise for the baseball media on the east coast to remember there are fans all over the country that would prefer a well-rounded analysis of the game, not just what is happening in ‘The Bronx’. Judge is a good player who has the potential to be a mainstay in the spotlight for years to come and making comparisons to baseball legends will only put undue pressure on the kid. Take it down a notch, New York, and let him just go out and play. Even Jesus Christ doesn’t get as much press as a star Yankee gets. The home runs are great, but let’s wait to see how the league adjusts to him and how he handles that. That is the true telltale sign of how good a baseball player really is. Besides, Mike Trout is back from the disabled list; maybe you should remember how consistently great he is before trying to dethrone him with Judge.

My 2017 Hall of Fame Ballot

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There is no greater honor in any sport than getting a plaque in the baseball Hall of Fame. I’m sure someone who believes the NFL or NBA is a greater honor will debate me on this, but there is never the sort of debate toward their hall’s as there is in baseball. That debate has grown into a fervor amongst baseball fans, writers and even players, as every one seems to have an opinion on this topic. What has made it even more intense is what we should do with players who were “suspected” of enhancement thanks to steroids and other performance enhancement drugs, and whether or not they deserve a spot in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown or left on the outside looking in. In some ways, the people who vote on this honor are the judge, jury and executioner, as testing was not done during this period so for many of the players of that era there is no definite of what they did or did not do. As a member of the IBWAA, this will be my third year of voting for ‘the Hall’ and as I have said in years past, I have no issue voting for anyone suspected for PED use, since I feel those players played within the parameters of the rules allowed at that time. I’ve long considered the Hall of Fame a museum of the game, not a church, and because of this I vote based on performance alone. Now, there are a few differences between us in the IBWAA & our brethren in the BBWAA, one of which is the players we have already inducted. Last year we inducted Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez, and in years past we had already voted in Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines, so none of those players showed up on our ballots this year. Also, we are allowed to vote for up to 15 players, where as the BBWAA can only vote for 10. Before we get to my actual votes, you can read my previous votes: Here is 20142015, and 2016. Also, follow Ryan Thibodaux on Twitter. That way you can follow how the voting is going before the big announcement on January 18th. Without further ado, here are my votes for the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot.

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Barry Bonds

I have voted for Bonds every year and will continue to until he is finally elected. In my eyes, this is a no-brainer, as Bonds is one of the greatest baseball players ever, not just of his era. I could rattle off all the numbers that show how great he was, but I think the best way to explain it is this way: before there was any whispers about suspected steroid use, Bonds was a 5 tool player who could literally do anything on the baseball field…and then he became an offensive juggernaut that could not be contained. The all-time home run king took that whole era to another level and it wasn’t even close. You might not like him or what he had to do to elevate his game, but I am not concerned about any of that when it comes to voting. To me, Bonds is a slam dunk pick and should already be in the Hall of Fame.

 

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Roger Clemens

Like Bonds, Clemens is an easy pick, the greatest pitcher of his era and one of the greatest pitchers of all-time. Clemens won the Cy Young Award 7 times throughout his career, and is on top of a plethora of statistics that garner him near the top of almost all pitching leaderboards. Both Bonds and Clemens seem to be garnering more support, as the election of former Commissioner Bud Selig to the Hall seems to have allowed some voters to start putting an ‘x’ in the box next to their names. At one time it appeared both men would have to wait until they showed up on the Veteran’s Committee ballot before they would get elected; now we could see that wall busted through in the next couple of years.

 

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Vladimir Guerrero

Guerrero is the first debut on my ballot this year and appears on the surface to be a borderline pick for the Hall, but digging deeper shows you a guy who should be more of an easy pick for voters. Most will remember Guerrero as a hitter who never saw a pitch he didn’t like (as he was a notorious bad-ball hitter), but he was also a very good hitter, which those two things normally clash if put together. Instead, Guerrero posted a career .318/.379/.553 line with 449 home runs and 2,590 hits during his 16 year career, with a career contact rate of 79.9%. The accolades are there with this guy: 2004 AL MVP, 9 time All-Star, 8 time Silver Slugger award winner and 2010 Edgar Martinez award winner. All that should entice a voter’s view of Vlad, but what really takes the cake is his place in history when it comes to his offensive stats. Guerrero’s all-time rank is staggering: 56th all-time in batting average, 24th in slugging percentage, 34th in OPS, 49th in total bases, 85th in doubles, 38th in home runs, 57th in RBI’s, 79th in OPS+, 64th in runs created, 56th in adjusted batting runs, 61st in adjusted batting wins, 45th in extra base hits, 5th all time in intentional bases on balls, 45th in power-speed #, 59th in RE24, and 50th in Win Probability Added. Most people could tell you that he was a really good player, but it isn’t until the numbers slap you in the face that you see just how great he was, not just really good. The cherry on top of his offensive numbers is this fun little fact that Graham Womack found: Guerrero’s career batting average, home runs and hits are only topped in baseball history by five players. Those five? Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Stan Musial and Lou Gehrig. Yes, all five are Hall of Famers and yes, Vladimir Guerrero should be as well. If not this year, hopefully Vlad will get in the Hall in the very near future.

 

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Trevor Hoffman

For the second consecutive season, I voted for Trevor Hoffman. There has been plenty of debate on whether or not closers should be judged on a different criteria than most other positions and to a small degree I get some of the trepidation. Closers today don’t always face the strongest part of the lineup and it seems odd to have your best bullpen arm only throw an inning or less an outing. The thing to remember though is that “the closer” is still a position and if you excel at it for 16 seasons, you should be rewarded justly. In some ways, the Hoffman argument is very similar to Tim Raines; Raines was the second best leadoff hitter of his time, behind another Hall of Famer in Rickey Henderson. Hoffman was the second best closer of his, behind future Hall honoree Mariano Rivera. Hoffman not only shouldn’t be punished for not being Rivera, but was about as consistent as one can be. During his career, Hoffman posted 15 consecutive seasons of 20+ saves (and I hate the save stat, but this is still very impressive) and had an 88.8% save conversion rate, which within itself is almost insane when you consider the amount of save opportunities he received in his career.Throw in his lethal change-up that was almost as deadly as Rivera’s cutter, and you have a one of the best relievers of all-time. He might be no Mariano Rivera, but then again who is? What Hoffman is though is a Hall of Fame closer.

 

Mike Mussina

Mike Mussina

When thinking about Mike Mussina, what is the first thing that springs to mind? Is it his start in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS? Or maybe his use of the knuckle-curve, which was his out pitch? Or does nothing specific pop into your mind when hearing Mussina’s name? I sometimes wonder if those of us on the Mussina bandwagon would have to praise his career if he had been even just a tad bit flashier.What I end up realizing is that part of what made him so great was that he wasn’t flashy and just went out for 18 seasons and performed as a top of the rotation starter in that span. There are no Cy Young awards on his mantle, but there are numbers that back up his greatness. Mussina has the 24th best bWAR for pitchers, 19th in strikeouts, 22nd best strikeout to walk ratio, 17th best adjusted pitching runs, 21st best adjusted pitching wins, 9th best RE24, and 10th best Win Probability Added. Mussina was that guy who you could count on for a big win or just to go out and save the bullpen from being overused. Mussina jumped up to 43% of the ballots in 2016 and one can only hope he inches closer to the 75% he needs to reach the Hall. One of the pitchers that Mussina’s stats are comparable to is another former Oriole, Jim Palmer. While Palmer might have the accolades that Mussina does not have, the one thing in common is that both pitchers deserve to be in the baseball Hall of Fame.

 

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Manny Ramirez

Manny makes his debut on the Hall of Fame ballot and with that comes a bee-hive of debate. Many voters have said the difference to them between Bonds or a Clemens and Palmeiro or Ramirez is that the latter tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and was justly suspended. In fact, when I started filling out my ballot, I paused on Ramirez and had to really stop and think of which direction I wanted to go. Like I have said, my voting is performance based but an actual suspension (and for Manny it was multiple suspensions) muddies the water a bit. After much contemplation, I went ahead and voted for Manny since he had put up Hall of Fame numbers before the suspensions. While Ramirez wasn’t a stellar defender (and that is evidenced by his career bWAR of 69.2), offensively he was a juggernaut. Manny posted a career line of .312/.411/.585 with 555 career home runs, and an OPS+ of 154. I firmly believe he could hit blindfolded and still produce league average numbers, as he was that good of a hitter. Manny also contributed during the playoffs, where he hit .285/.394/.544 with 29 home runs and 78 RBI’s over 111 postseason games, all fairly on pace to his regular season averages. The awards are all there for him as he was a 12 time All-Star, 2 time Hank Aaron award winner, 2002 AL batting title, 2004 World Series MVP, and 9 time Silver Slugger award winner. If that isn’t impressive enough, the numbers are quite gaudy: 32nd all-time in oWAR, 32nd in On-Base Percentage, 8th in Slugging Percentage, 8th in OPS, 29th in total bases, 31st in doubles, 15th in home runs, 18th in RBI’s, 28th in OPS+, 21st in runs created, 17th in Adjusted Batting Runs, 20th in Adjusted Batting Wins, 16th in extra base hits, 11th in RE24,  and 23rd in Win Probability Added. Those are Hall of Fame numbers and most of that accumulated before he tested positive for anything. Would I hold it against anyone for not voting for him because of the suspensions? Nope. I get it.But for me, Ramirez has long been a Hall of Famer; the only thing those suspensions did was tarnish the perception of him, which is unfortunate. Instead of people remembering Manny for his child-like antics or immense hitting, he will be branded a cheater. He has no one else to blame for that, but I still felt like he had earned my vote, scarlet letter and all.

 

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Ivan Rodriguez

This will be “Pudge’s” first time on the ballot and for most accounts should be an easy, first ballot inductee. The problem is that like many of that era, he has been rumored to have used PED’s, as former teammate Jose Canseco (a bastion of trust) said he shot Rodriguez up during their time together on the Rangers. Since it just speculation at this point, he got my vote, as he is easily one of the best catchers in baseball history. Over a 21 year career, Pudge would hit .296/.334/.464 with 311 career home runs, 1,332 RBI’s, an OPS+ of 106 and a bWAR of 68.4. Rodriguez was the 1999 AL MVP, 2003 NL NLCS MVP, 13 time Gold Glove winner, 7 time Silver Slugger award winner,  and 14 time All-Star, including this little honor he gets all to himself:

His numbers are somewhat mind-boggling for a catcher, a position that has been very hard for most to excel on both offense and defense. Rodriguez is 9th all-time in career defensive WAR, 48th in hits, 54th in total bases, 26th in doubles, 97th in RBI’s, 58th in extra base hits, 13th in Total Zone Runs, 1st in defensive games as a catcher, 1st in career putouts as a catcher, 23rd in assists at catcher, 5th in double plays turned at catcher, 78th in caught stealing percentage, and 1st in Total Zone Runs as a catcher. In some ways, Rodriguez re-invented the catcher position, as he was a hybrid of speed, guile, power, and  nimble defense with a cannon of an arm. According to JAWS (which is a ranking system created by Jay Jaffe that is of great use to help determine Hall of Fame worthiness),  is the third best catcher of all-time, just behind Johnny Bench and Gary Carter. When you factor in his comparable players (Carlton Fisk, Ted Simmons, Carter and Yogi Berra) it is easy to see why Rodriguez should be a first ballot HOFer. So far, he is polling at 79.9% of the ballots, which is probably a good sign that he will either get in this year or come up just short, which would be a good sign for 2018. In my eyes, there is no debate here: Pudge is one the greats of the game.

 

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Curt Schilling

There might not be a bigger lightning rod on the Hall of Fame ballot than Schilling, who has caught quite a bit of scorn for his behavior on social media within the last year. While I might not agree with his politics, I do realize it has nothing to do with his candidacy in the Hall and justly had no qualms in voting for him yet again this year. Schilling’s numbers speak of a top notch starter: 26th all-time in pitchers bWAR, 15th in strikeouts, 3rd best strikeout to walk ratio, 18th best Win Probability Added and 46th best ERA+. Those are just his regular season numbers; toss in the postseason and you have a surefire Hall of Famer. Schilling has rubbed many a writer the wrong way (and by no means do I feel sorry for Curt; he would probably be better off learning when to keep quiet) and because of that his vote totals have gone down this year, but so far he is polling exactly where he finished last year, at 52%. I might not like Schilling the person, but the baseball player was one hell of a pitcher out on the diamond. For that, he has my vote.

 

Hall of Fame Baseball

Billy Wagner

This year is the first that I voted for Wagner, although I came very (very) close to voting for him in 2016. Since I was so close last year to marking an ‘X’ next to his name, I decided to dig deeper into his numbers and compare them to some of his peers. Wagner was a 7 time All-Star, twice was in the top ten of the NL Cy Young award and took home the 1999 NL Rolaids Relief Award. While he sits in 6th place all-time in saves, that doesn’t mean as much to me as his 86% conversion rate, which is close to Trevor Hoffman’s 88.8%. What does interest me is some of the deeper numbers when compared to fellow relievers. Wagner is 5th all-time for relievers in ERA+, 14th for relievers in bWAR (in fact, just under Hoffman), 4th in strikeouts for a reliever, 86th in Adjusted Pitching Runs, 93rd in Adjusted Pitching Wins, 55th in RE24, and 36th in Win Probability Added. All this was done in less than 1,000 innings, which for some is a hindrance rather than a positive. I get that relievers today aren’t used in the same scenarios as their forefathers, and because of that their innings totals will seem meek in comparison. But that is also what the role calls for nowadays and there is something to be said for compiling numbers like this in a much shorter amount of time. For Wagner, it was more about the efficiency than the longevity; Wagner came in, shut down the opposing team and was done. In some ways, Wagner and Hoffman are linked in that they both pitched about the same amount of time, in the same period and were very equally efficient. Both were top of the food chain for their position and in my eyes, both should be in Cooperstown.

 

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Larry Walker

Much like Wagner, this was the first year I voted for Walker and my take on him seemed to be a bit different than a lot of folks. For many, the fact that Walker played a large chunk of his home games in Coors Field (Walker was a Rockie from 1995 to 2004) seemed to deter voters from placing a vote for him; I had no issue with that, since I knew he hit on the road almost as well as he did  at home. No, my issue with him was injuries, as he had 7 seasons of less than 130 games, 12 of less than 140. Walker’s issue wasn’t the ‘Rocky Mountain High’s’ as much as the ability to stay on the field and play. The numbers speak volumes: .313/.400/.565 career slash line, 141 career OPS+, 5 time All-Star, 1997 NL MVP, 3 batting titles, and 7 time Gold Glove winner. So what changed for me when it comes to Walker? His place in history. According to JAWS, Walker is the 10th best right fielder of all-time. All-Time! Just seeing who he is better than sounds like a who’s-who of right fielders: Shoeless Joe Jackson, Tony Gwynn, Ichiro Suzuki, Dwight Evans, Dave Winfield, Vladimir Guerrero, Willie Keeler, Paul Waner and Enos Slaughter, just to name a few. Walker is 86th all-time in bWAR, 56th in bWAR for position players, 55th in on base percentage, 12th in slugging percentage, 14th in OPS, 31st in power-speed #, 38th in RE24, and 36th in Win Probability Added. Those numbers are just a sliver of what he could do; there are 7 other categories where Walker is in the Top 100 of all-time. What makes me curious is the voting for Walker during the first six years on the ballot; He peaked in 2012 at 22% and last year bumped up a bit to 15%. One has to wonder if the voters viewpoint of him would change if he hadn’t played so many games in Colorado. It took me awhile to recognize it, but Walker deserves to be with the other elite right fielders in Cooperstown.

 

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So those were my picks for this year’s class of the Hall of Fame. There are always those players we struggle with, the ones that we hem and haw about before deciding yay or nay. Here are a few of those and why I didn’t vote them:

Jeff Kent-While being one of the best offensive second baseman of all-time, his defense hurts him a ton. 19th all-time in bWAR for second sackers, 27th in WAR (which factors in a players best 7 seasons). Even just factoring in hitting, he is 18th amongst his position in OPS+. Close, but not quite.

Fred McGriff-Also close, but just misses the cut for me. Number-wise he is in the “very good but not quite great” category.

Gary Sheffield-I go back and forth on him every year, mainly because I love his offensive numbers and where they stand in baseball history. But his defense…he has a career bWAR of 60.3; just imagine if he was even just an average defender? Sheff is a close call for me and could very well win me over next year.

Lee Smith-Longevity seems to be his main catch but nothing much really stands out for me. Nice strikeout ratio and ERA+, but outside of that he would seem to fit in the “good not great” category.

Sammy Sosa-Sosa always felt like a one-dimensional player: home runs and not much more. In fact, when you consider he hit over 600 home runs, you would think his bWAR would be higher than just 58.4.Below average defender, struck out a lot, and only cracks the Top 100 of all-time in six offensive categories. Not a Hall of Famer in my eyes.

I always love writing these Hall of Fame articles, as there is a ton of research to gloss over. Every year I feel like I receive a greater perception of the bigger picture and every year I feel like I left someone off that maybe deserved a deeper look into their case. Some of these you will agree with, some you won’t, as each person’s definition of a Hall of Famer seems to be different. What I can say that in my eyes these are the best of the best and earned the honor.

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.

kc2Barry Bonds

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.

MLB is to Blame, Not Barry

MLB: San Diego Padres at San Francisco Giants

(Editors Note: I originally wrote this piece back in 2006 for PWInsiderXTRA.com as they were looking for sports articles to post on their site. I happened to stumble onto this while cleaning out my old drafts and thought I would toss it on my blog. Enjoy and just know my thoughts on this really haven’t changed much in 9 years.)

The Major League Baseball home run record is quite possibly the most well known record in all sports. It’s a record that for years was held by an athlete who defined the sport, Babe Ruth. When it was passed some 30 years ago by Henry Aaron, many people were not happy with the record falling, with Aaron receiving many a racist letter and even death threats. The next closest person to Ruth’s 714 has been Willie Mays for many a year, and Mays sits at 660. Many felt no one would ever get close to Ruth’s old record, let alone Aaron’s 755. Then Barry Bonds came along. Bonds has always been a great athlete, but in the last 7 years he has obliterated the record books, and is sitting on the doorsteps of Ruth’s hallowed 714. He probably won’t reach Aaron’s 755, but Ruth’s is so close he can taste it…and Major League Baseball doesn’t like it.
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In 1998, baseball was still recovering from the strike of 1994 that ended the season in August, with no World Series being played that year. Fans revolted, some even saying they would never watch baseball again. But in 1998, many a fan was brought back to the great american pastime, as two athletes chased the single season home run record held by Roger Maris. Mark McGwire was Paul Bunyan with a bat, a prolific slugger who many felt was the closest to Ruth of this generation. Sammy Sosa was well known among die hard baseball fans, and the lovable Chicago fans, but outside that he was just another player. That changed in this year, as these two players chased Maris’ record, bringing baseball back into the forefront. Many feel that was the year baseball was saved. It was also the year many started hearing grumblings about steroids.
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Barry Bonds was quite possibly the best player in the game, a five tool player who could hit, hit for power, hit for average, field, and run, with a weak left arm being his only downfall. Bonds was a good power hitter, known to reach around 30 homers a year, but not a whole lot more. Bonds was more the complete player; he still stands as the only member of the 500 homerun/500 steals club. But when Barry showed up to spring training in 1999, there was a noticeable difference. He was big; very big. Bigger muscles, bigger chest, bigger head. Big all the way around. It didn’t go unnoticed; the rumblings in baseball about steroids had started years before, but it seemed no one cared. Baseball was in an upswing. No steroid policy was in the baseball collective bargaining agreement, so no testing was being done. Baseball seemed more enamored with their new-found popularity than seeing a growing problem underneath their nose. But this problem wouldn’t just go away.
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Season after season, Bonds continued to hit home runs. He even eclipsed McGwire’s single season record of 70 by slugging 73. Bonds passed many a Hall of Famer on his climb to his own Cooperstown induction that seemed to be a simple formality. He even passed his godfather, the great Willie Mays, putting Bonds in 3rd place in all time home runs. But as records began to fall, more talk of steroid use and abuse was becoming prevalent. Congress was even beginning their own investigation into baseball’s dirty little secret.
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Baseball finally implemented their own steroid policy in 2005, as Congress looked on, almost making them do something that should have been in their agreement anyway. MLB looked the fool; nothing like the government to tell you you’re not patrolling your organization like you should. Baseball now had egg on their face, and decided after putting harsher penalties under the drug policy(with more pushing from Congress) that they would induct their own investigation into players past steroid use. But at what price?
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Barry Bonds is one home run away from tying and two away from being the second most prolific home run hitter of all time. He is also the main target of MLB’s investigation. Why Barry? Could be his surly attitude, which has angered more than just a few of journalists, writers, announcers, fans and yes, baseball commissioners over the years. Could be that he is walking on hallowed ground, that of Ruth who some consider almost Godlike in baseball circles. Or it could be that with all the heavy scrutiny already surrounding him, MLB does not want to be associated with him. Commissioner Bud Selig has already said there will be no celebration if/when Barry breaks Ruth’s mark. Selig has used the phrase “we don’t celebrate getting second place.” That’s fine, and maybe even a little valid, but would they celebrate if this was Cal Ripken, Jr. breaking this number? Would someone of Ripken’s stature be made public enemy number one for this investigation and a possible fall guy? The answer is no.
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So why wouldn’t he be? The answer is baseball has looked like the fool. They allowed steroids to run rampant in their sport with no penalties, all for the mighty dollar. Now that they have been called to the floor, they don’t want to take the fall. So let’s blame Barry Bonds. Better to blame a man that is already hated by many a fan then have to admit their own mistake. The mistake of letting a substance control a game. Nothing can be gained by going back and finding out who used and who didn’t. All it will do is paint a black eye on a sport that has been forced to take the right path and should be growing off of that. Instead they want to point a finger instead of pointing it at themselves. I’m not saying Bonds is not guilty and I’m definitely not saying he’s an angel. What i’m saying is MLB allowed this; there was no policy on record when all this happened. They made their own bed; too bad they probably won’t have to lie in it.

Rickey Said He Was the Greatest…And He Isn’t Too Far Off

Oakland Athletics

                 “My impact on the game was going out there and making things happen”
Rickey Henderson is a lot of things. Rickey is entertaining. Rickey is a Hall of Famer. Rickey is baseball’s all-time stolen base leader. But is Rickey the greatest of all time? After breaking Lou Brock’s career stolen base record, he declared just that:
Sure, in May of 1991, this seemed like a ludicrous statement. We all knew Rickey was a great base stealer and a future Hall of Famer, but declaring yourself the greatest back then just seemed cocky(which it was). Normally when you think of the greatest in baseball history, names like Ruth, Aaron, Williams, Mays and Mantle all come to mind, but the more you think about, putting Henderson in that list isn’t as far fetched as it seemed back in 1991. When it comes to a complete player, Rickey is on that short list of players who can make that argument.
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To really dive into this, we need to define our parameters. This isn’t the player who meant the most to the game or dominated his era; that would go to Babe Ruth, who while being one of the greatest ever, was not a five tool player. It isn’t who was the best fielder or best hitter either; those are singular sections of the game that don’t encompass a complete player. A complete player is one who does a bit of everything and does them really well. Running speed, arm strength, hitting for average, hitting for power, and fielding are the five tools and very few players are able to show greatness at all of them. Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Mickey Mantle and Ken Griffey, Jr. would join Henderson on this short list of players who were able to be a complete package. Obviously most on this list might have one tool they were maybe average at, but greatness at the other four made it easier to look past it. So let’s break down these players numbers…
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Let’s start with the obvious, which is running speed. If we just went by stolen bases Rickey would run away(deliberate and expected pun) with the category. I decided to dig a bit deeper into this category though, so lets look at ‘Runs from Baserunning'(Rbaser). Comparing the six players mentioned above,Henderson is the easy winner with 144 over his career. In fact this race isn’t even close, as the next closest in this category is Willie Mays at 77. The surprising player in this department is Ken Griffey Jr. who only compiled a 16 over his 22 year career. In fact Griffey had numerous seasons in the negative, mostly later in his career once his injuries started piling up. We could check a few more numbers relating to base running, but I’m pretty sure we end up at the same spot, with Rickey at the top of the mountain. No big surprise there.
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Arm strength wasn’t one of Rickey’s strong points, as he probably had an average throwing arm at best. Maybe the best way to decipher this is to look at assists in a season. Hank Aaron sits atop this leader board with 201 assists over his career while Rickey is next to last on this list. Mantle sits lower than Henderson, but Mickey also played 8 less years then Henderson which plays into his 117 assists compared to Rickey’s 131. Since we are already on fielding, lets compare these players using dWAR first. Henderson has a -3.4 career dWAR, but he is not alone on the negative side of the board. Both Aaron and Mantle also reside there, -4.8 and -10.1 respectively. Willie May’s blows away the competition here, as he has a career dWAR of 18.1! Bonds is next at 6.7 and Griffey at 1.3. I should also mention here that how you feel about this is probably predetermined on how you feel about defensive metrics. In my mind defensive metrics help show a player’s value, but I also think they are a work in progress. We can all probably agree that Mays was probably the defensive superior out of this bunch; that’s probably not even really up for argument. But do you feel as if Griffey was just a barely better than average defender? Or that Mantle was a horrendous defender? Probably not, although both players were slowed down by injuries late in their career. I decided to go a bit deeper defensively so I decided to check each player’s UZR rating(Ultimate Zone Rating, putting a run value to defense, attempting to quantify how many runs a player saved or gave up through their fielding prowess, or lack thereof). Using UZR(TZ before 2002) showed us basically the same thing that dWAR showed us; Mays and Bonds are the superior defenders, while Mantle and Griffey were the bottom of this list. Both Bonds and Mays were in the 180’s with their UZR while Griffey and Mantle were in the negatives. Henderson floated in between, sitting at 63.4, lower than Aaron but better than Griffey. What I take from all of this is that Henderson was probably an average defender, maybe even slightly above average who was aided by his speed early in his career, especially when it came to range. I think this also points out that our perspective on Ken Griffey Jr. was from early in his career when he was a defensive daredevil. His later years(mainly once he was traded to the Reds) showed a defender who was a shadow of his former self. Injuries can do that to even the greatest of players.
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Now lets look at hitting for average.The easiest way to do this is by batting average, with most of this group hitting between .298 and .305. The only two with career batting averages below that is Griffey at .284 and Henderson at .279. You have to think that Rickey hanging on and playing those last 4 years didn’t help him, as he posted his lowest hitting averages those years. But I don’t think average really covers this whole section, so lets dig deeper. A big part of a consistently quality hitter is someone who can get on base, so I figured I would check these players career On-Base Percentage(OBP). No surprise that Barry Bonds would lead here with a .444 career OBP, with Mantle second at .421 and Rickey coming in third at .401. Henderson did lead the league 4 times in walks and 7 times had seasons where he accumulated over 100 walks. Obviously Rickey knew how to get on base and was a master at it.
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Time to move on to hitting with power, and I don’t think I am going on a ledge by saying that Rickey probably won’t match up as well with the other players in this category. Considering the other 5 players in this comparison all have at least 500 home runs and 4 of those have over 600, it’s safe to say Rickey will lack a bit here, since his career total is at 297 career home runs. Now Rickey does hold the career record for home runs leading off a game with 81, which is a nice consolation prize. But I think we can go a step further since power alone isn’t defined by home runs. Lets check these players career slugging percentage and see where Henderson stands. Not a shock here but Henderson lags far behind, as his percentage sits at .419 while the next closest is Ken Griffey Jr. at .538. Barry Bonds career slugging percentage is sick, an insane .607! One last test; since OPS is widely used anymore(on-base percentage + slugging percentage) I figured we could check these players’ career OPS+, which will factor in the league averages during these players era’s while also factoring in the ballparks. With 100 equaling average, every player is above that with Henderson the lowest at 127. But he isn’t too far off from Griffey at 136, Aaron at 155 and Mays at 156. So what these numbers tell us is that Henderson, who had good power for a leadoff hitter, was not at the elite level power-wise as most of the greats of the game. This isn’t much of a surprise but shows that Henderson obviously affected the game from a different perspective than the bigger hitters in baseball history.
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So it comes down to this, one last comparison, one that will digest every part of a players contribution to his team(s), WAR. Lets preface this by saying that the WAR stat is not perfect and not the end all be all of statistics. But it is a stat that can quantify just how much of a complete player he is, and until another statistic pops up that breaks it down even more, it is the best assessment of what we are looking for here.  What WAR tells us is that Barry Bonds and Willie Mays are in a league of their own, with 162.4 and 156.2 respectively, followed by Hank Aaron at 142.6, then Henderson at 110.8, Mantle at 109.7 and Griffey down at 83.6. Rickey isn’t the elite here, but he is right in the middle of the pack and holds his own with the greats of the game.
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So what did we learn from this little exercise? For one, Barry Bonds and Willie Mays are quite possible the two most complete players in baseball history, as they did everything above average when they played. Maybe the most surprising item from this is that Ken Griffey Jr., soon to be a member of the Hall of Fame in 2016, was really hurt late in his career by all the injuries. And Rickey Henderson? He is the greatest basestealer of all-time, taking what Lou Brock did to another level. He is the greatest leadoff hitter in baseball history, a man who redefined what that even means. While he might not be the greatest player we have ever seen, he holds his own with the other 5 tool players I compared him to. Rickey isn’t the greatest like he said he was, but he was pretty damn close and that means almost as much. At some point a player will break his stolen base record or a leadoff hitter will hit more home runs to lead off a game; records are made to be broken. But there will only ever be one Rickey Henderson, just the way Rickey likes it.

Book Review: The Fight of Their Lives

Juan Marichal Hitting Catcher John Roseboro

I became infatuated early on in life with baseball.  By the age of ten it was what my world revolved around(that and Star Wars) and I began finding out everything I could about the game, including it’s history. Many images blazed a trail in my mind early on, like the video clips of Babe Ruth running fast around the bases or Pete Rose’s headfirst slide. But when I read about Giants pitcher Juan Marichal hitting Dodgers catcher John Roseboro with a baseball bat, I couldn’t get the image out of my head. Things got so bad that the batter hit the catcher with a bat? Whoa! This just never happened in baseball, yet at one point things got heated enough that a man hit another man in the head with a baseball bat. I knew the Dodgers and Giants rivalry was heated, but this was another level. I never learned much of why this happened but I’ve always been curious. Thanks to John Rosengren we now know.

John Roseboro and Willie Mays - Aftermath of Marichal Incident

Rosengren spends a lot of the early portion of the book discussing both Marichal and Roseboro and the early portions of their life, both before baseball and early in their careers. The picture that is drawn is one of two different people; one grew up in the Dominican Republic, the other in Ohio. But as much as those locations couldn’t be farther apart, they both knew what it felt like to be treated differently because of the color of their skin. You learn that Marichal is a warm, gentle man who felt he was misunderstood a lot once he got to the United States. Roseboro’s family was one of only a few of color in Ashland, Ohio, but John didn’t deal with a lot of the racial prejudice that many faced around the country at that time. John excelled in sports in school but was also a quiet man who didn’t socialize a lot. As much as you want to learn about the fight and how and why it happened, learning about the two players involved helps give you a better feel about the incident and how this was just an isolated incident, not a pattern of anger or violence.

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Maybe the most interesting part of the book is Marichal discussing some of the prejudice he encountered against Latinos in the game. Most of us are aware of the issues that African Americans encountered in baseball for the longest time, even after the racial barrier was crossed. The picture painted of was one of Latinos being taken advantage of by managers, owners and even Major League Baseball in general. A pitcher like Marichal, who at the time was very close to being the equal of the Dodgers Sandy Koufax, could never make close to the money Koufax was making. The language barrier was a big issue for many Latinos and in a lot of cases where Marichal was hurt or sick, the club just thought he was being lazy and didn’t want to “fight through it”. It is a real eye opener to realize that as much as we realize the biggest black eye on baseball throughout its history has been racial prejudice against African Americans, there was just as much prejudice going around for Latinos. The fact that both Marichal and Roseboro dealt with these issues while playing in the big leagues showed that these two men were more alike than either would have realized.

© Copyright 2013 CorbisCorporation

Now onto the fight. What you really get is that this was a perfect storm. Obviously the Giants and Dodgers playing each other means emotions are already heightened. Two teams, jockeying for position in a playoff push while already having quite a bit of dislike for each other is a recipe for disaster. I won’t give away what leads to the fight, but what I will say is that Marichal did not strike Roseboro out of anger. This fight might be the ugliest on a major league ball field in history and most of us can agree that something like this should never happen ever again. It’s interesting to hear how both sides felt after the incident and how the public and baseball felt. As much as the media wasn’t even close to invasive as it is now, there was still a very one-sided view of what happened, which still happens the majority of time today. The counter-effects of the fight were numerous and felt by both parties, which the author does a great job of relaying both and not taking a side either way.

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Over the years neither player was able to leave the incident behind them, as whenever either player was brought up, so was the fight. Time painted Marichal as the bad guy and Roseboro as just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Over time Marichal would reach out to Roseboro, and the two men would even be able to bury the hatchet. For a number of years Marichal, despite having the numbers, wouldn’t be voted into the Hall of Fame, many citing the fight. This whole section of the book is a great view into the two former players relationship, as Roseboro feels the need to set the record straight and vouch for his friend, Marichal. Two men who at once were enemies on the field would grow a friendship that many former players never achieve, yet along two that were once at odds.

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To read about not only how close Marichal and Roseboro became but also how close both families would become really pointed out how we all make mistakes and holding onto anger doesn’t hurt anyone but yourself. John Rosengren did a great job of focusing more on the human aspect of these two men than just what they were as ballplayers. By the end of the book you really feel like you know the two of them and that they were not only good players, but good human beings. If you are a baseball fan you will love all the baseball talk that is in the book. But this is not just a baseball book; this is a book about two people, from two different worlds. One incident connects these two players for life but do not let it define them. Juan Marichal spoke at John Roseboro’s funeral and probably sums up everything the best someone could:

“Johnny’s forgiving me was one of the best things that happened in my life,” he said. “I wish I could have had John Roseboro as my catcher.”

I highly recommend following John Rosengren on twitter and also going and purchasing the book here. This is a great read that I will be picking up again at some point.

 

Celebrating Jackie Robinson Day

(Writer’s Note: I originally wrote this a couple of years ago for a weekly feature I do during the baseball season for 14 KVOE Emporia.  I stumbled across it today and wanted to share it with everyone)

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Yesterday was Jackie Robinson Day around the Major Leagues and it’s great all these years later that Robinson is honored for his grace and courage in handling a situation that could be both difficult and even dangerous at times. Robinson’s number “42” has been retired by all Major League teams in honor of not only his legacy that he has left with the game, but also for what he stood for. Sixty Five years ago, Robinson appeared in his first game, the first man of African American descent to suit up for a Major League team. Integration was not popular back in 1947, and he was treated accordingly. But for all that Robinson did(and he truly was the right man at the right time), there are other men that roamed the fields in the Negro Leagues for years that deserve praise too, even if they might have never played for a Major League team.

LARRY DOBY

Larry Doby is the first to come to mind, the first African American to play in the American League. Doby debuted for the Cleveland Indians just eleven weeks after Robinson, but is largely forgotten. Doby incurred the same indignities that Robinson did, with nowhere near the media attention and implicit support.

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Another man was Satchel Paige, a man who played twenty one seasons in the Negro Leagues and is considered by some to be the greatest pitcher in Negro Leagues history. Paige would make the big leagues in 1948 and played six seasons in the Majors.

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Who can forget Josh Gibson, maybe the greatest power hitter ever, if only the Negro Leagues had kept statistics all those years ago. Gibson never made it to the big leagues, but nonetheless is still a member of the baseball Hall of Fame.

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Hank Aaron is one of the greatest of all time, but Aaron had to deal with insurmountable pressure back in the 1970’s as he approached Babe Ruth’s all time home run record. Aaron even received death threats but pushed on to break the Babe’s record, only to eventually be toppled by Barry Bonds back in 2007.

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The list could go on and on. Oscar Charleston, Cool Papa Bell, and Smokey Joe Williams are all players that never received their just do. Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier was for those players. Robinson not only broke a color line that needed to be broke, he also excelled and turned it into a Hall of Fame career.

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One last person should be mentioned if we are giving credit. Branch Rickey, then the General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, was the man who not only signed Robinson but also believed that Jackie was the right man for the job. Rickey once told Robinson, “I know you’re a good ball player. What I don’t know is whether you have the guts.” Robinson then asked Rickey, “Mr. Rickey, are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?” Rickey shot back, “I’m looking for a ball player with guts enough not to fight back.”

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Jackie Robinson Day has been celebrated for years in the Majors and for good reason. It is not only celebrating a special part of baseball history. It is celebrating a man who did something no normal man would have been able to do. For that, we thank you, Jackie.

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