My 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot

Credit: BaseballHall.org

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 among 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 fifth 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 Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Trevor Hoffman and Barry Bonds, and in years past we had already voted in Edgar Martinez, so he will not show up on our ballot this year. Also, we are allowed to vote for up to 15 players, where the BBWAA can only vote for 10. 

Before we get to my actual votes, you can read my previous votes: Here is 2014201520162017  and 2018. Also, follow Ryan Thibodaux on Twitter. That way you can follow how the voting is going before the big announcement on January 22nd. Without further ado, here are my votes for the 2018 Hall of Fame ballot.

Roy Halladay

Halladay might very well be the last of his kind, a pitcher who finishes what he started. Halladay came along during a period where the big shift into using relievers more often hadn’t quite hit yet, but was getting closer and closer every day. Halladay was that guy who you handed the ball to and that day the bullpen was probably getting a bit of a reprieve.

But it wasn’t just his stamina that made him great, in fact that is just a small portion of the picture. “Doc” was an ace in every sense of the world, as he threw his fastball with a bit of sink to it, sprinkled in with one of the hardest cutters in the game and topped off with a curveball and the occasional changeup that was closer to a split-finger fastball. Halladay’s game was all about location and movement.

What the numbers tell us about Halladay is that he is right up there with the greats of the game. He is 42nd all-time in WAR for pitchers, 71st in strike outs, 25th in strike out to walk ratio, 40th in ERA+, 28th in pitching runs, 20th in RE24, and 15th in WPA. He posted eight years with 5 WAR or better and four of those years were above 7 bWAR. While his early years saw a lot of ups and downs, the later one showed a pitcher who developed himself into one of the best of his era.

This also showed in the awards and “black ink” he compiled throughout his career. Halladay won a Cy Young Award in both leagues, was selected to 8 All-Star teams, threw a perfect game back in 2010 against the Marlins and later that year threw the first postseason no-hitter since Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Roy led his league in wins twice, complete games seven times, innings pitched four times, and ERA+, FIP and WHIP all one time apiece.

While Halladay has the numbers, the achievements and the iconic moments, the real story of his greatness is that of a baseball player who was an even better human being. After his death from a plane crash in late 2017, former teammate Cole Hamels spoke fondly of him at a life celebration in Florida:

Roy showed everyone what to do. He was not boastful. He was the most humble human being I’ve ever met. The type of talent and integrity he had in the game of baseball.
“And on the outside? He was a loving father, a loving husband. And that right there really exemplifies more than the game of baseball. 

So while some believed it might take awhile for Halladay to get voted in to Cooperstown, he now looks like a lock for induction this upcoming summer. With close to half of the ballots known, “Doc” is sitting at well above 90% of the votes and will take his rightful place in the baseball Hall of Fame this summer.

While it will be a special moment for his family, it has to be a somewhat bittersweet that he won’t be there himself to accept the plaque. Halladay overcame his early career struggles and turned himself into one of the best pitchers of all-time. His is a story that should be told till the end of time, and hopefully this honor will cement that legacy that earned him a spot in the conversation in the first place.

Credit: Lisa Blumenfeld

Todd Helton

There is going to be a big debate of whether or not former Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton deserves enshrinement into the Hall of Fame and while some will question his numbers due to Coors Field, I do not. In my eyes, Helton was a well above-average hitter for a very long time, a plus defender and worthy of being a Hall of Famer.

But lets start with those numbers to really get a feel for what he accomplished over his 17 year career. Helton had a lifetime .316/.414/.539 line with 369 home runs, 1406 RBI’s and 61.2 bWAR. He ranks 67th all-time in batting average, 27th in on-base percentage, 36th in slugging percentage, 19th in OPS, 96th in runs scored, 97 in career hits, 62nd in total bases, 19th in doubles, 80th in home runs, 77th in RBI’s, 32nd in runs created, 40th in extra base hits and 34th in career WPA. I’ve always been a firm believer that if you are a great player you have to achieve numbers that litter the Top 100 of all-time and Helton does that.

But the elephant in the room that hurts Helton is the “Coors Field Effect”. Unfortunately, the splits tell us that Helton did benefit from playing at one of the better offensive ballparks in baseball, as he hit .345/.411/.607 at home and .287/.386/.469 on the road. There is a big enough disparity there that will cause some to shy away from voting for Helton, essentially saying he wouldn’t have his numbers if it weren’t for playing at Coors.

While he did perform better at home, the only real drastic difference in his home/road splits is home runs: he hit 227 at home and 142 on the road. Most of his other numbers are at least moderately comparable on the road, or at least enough that we shouldn’t discredit him for the work he did in his home ballpark.

The number that really should sway you to Helton’s side is his career OPS+, which is adjusted to a league average. Essentially, that number normalizes itself to factor in elements like ballparks and trends in different leagues. So even with that factored in, Helton has a career OPS+ of 133, which is 33% better than the league average. So when you take out the “Coors Field Effect”, Helton is still performing well above the normal hitter in baseball.

The numbers continue to speak of an elite hitter. Helton is ranked 18th all-time at first base at the Hall of Stats and his hitting stats are comparable to some all-time greats. His offensive similarity scores are right up there with Jeff Bagwell (HOFer), Miguel Cabrera (future HOFer), and Edgar Martinez (soon to be HOFer). Add in his elite defense and you have a guy who should be getting a plaque in Cooperstown at some point.

Helton can also add in some black ink (his 2000 season was an absolutely monster season), 5 straight All-Star nods, 3 Gold Glove awards and 4 Silver Sluggers at a very touted position. This all spells ‘Hall of Famer’ to me.

The good news is that while he won’t get the support I would like this year, he is polling at around 20% right now which should help him stay on the ballot for future years. Add in a number of players getting voted in this year and a few falling off, and you have a recipe for some to give him a deeper look in future years. Hopefully by the time it is all said and done, Todd Helton will receive the honor he deserves in the very near future.

Credit: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Andruw Jones

If there is a name on this ballot that made me go back and forth on, it was Jones. 2018 was the first year he appeared on the ballot and while I took a long, hard look at his candidacy, in the end I passed. This year, I decided to take a deeper look and see if I should reconsider and on further review, Jones appears to be a prime candidate for election.

The strongest part of Jones’ game was his defense. He posted ten straight years of winning the Gold Glove Award and racked up 24.5 defensive WAR throughout his 17-year career. Elite defenders within the game should always get a second look, no matter how much we fawn over their offensive.

So while Andruw’s defense is without a doubt ‘Hall-worthy’, his work with the bat wasn’t that bad either. Career-wise, Jones hit .254/.337/.486 with 434 home runs, 1289 RBI’s and 62.8 bWAR. While these are very, very solid numbers, you can see where someone would be skeptical. But if you are like me, you appreciate a player’s 7-year peak.

Jones put up over six years of an OPS+ higher than 120 and ten years where he hit 20 home runs or more. 2005 was a stellar season for him, as he hit 51 homers, knocked in 128 runs and put up an OPS+ of 136. While that was the top of the mountain for Jones, in his prime he consistently produced well above-average offensively and was a force in the middle of the Atlanta offense.

When you add in his defense is where the numbers start really popping. Jones had six seasons where he had 5 win seasons (5 WAR or more) and eight 4 win seasons. When it comes to peaks, Jones was one of the elite players in the game and in fact he is 105th all-time in WAR for position players and 21st in defensive WAR.

Jones also has an impressive number of career totals that help his cause. He is 47th all-time in home runs, 88th in extra base hits and 66th in AB per HR. I normally prefer a Hall of Famer to have more numbers in the Top 100, but Jones’ superior defense brings his case right to the borderline.

So it comes down to how you feel about a player’s peak. If you are like me, you feel the peak is one of the biggest factors in a player’s candidacy and even if you fall off the board hard late in your career(like Jones did), the peak makes up for the regression.

If not, someone like Jones falls just short of the parameters for Cooperstown. This is why the case for him is a difficult one, since you are looking at a player who was a great, great player for a good chunk of his career. But once he started the fall, he fell hard and fast.

So while I wavered on Jones last year, this year it felt like the peak was so good and the defense was so elite that he was worthy of my vote. I can understand anyone who feels otherwise, as it really comes down to what you value on a player’s contributions to the game. To me, the fact Jones was the best defender at his position for close to ten years and a great run producer for around seven years for enough for me. For others, Jones’ case will fall just a bit short.

Roy Oswalt

Just like Andruw Jones, Roy Oswalt is the case for inducting him based off of his peak years. During his prime, Oswalt was one of the best pitchers of his era. Unfortunately, his is a career that hit a wall due to injuries.

Let’s start with the basics: Oswalt threw 2245.1 innings in his big league career, striking out 1852 batters and a career ERA of 3.36. On the surface, those are good numbers, but maybe not instant ‘Hall-worthy’ stats. Not even the 50 bWAR, 127 career ERA+ and 20 career complete games push him in the definite category of Hall of Famer.

But the peak is definitely a great one. During his first seven years in the league, Oswalt threw 1413 innings, posting a 3.07 ERA and striking out 1170 batters. Throw in an ERA+ of 143 and a FIP of 3.23 and you start making the argument for Oswalt being an elite pitcher.

Oswalt can even toss in some black ink for his case. He led the league in wins back in 2004, WHIP in 2010 and strike out to walk ratio in 2006. He also posted five 4 win seasons (and almost a sixth in 2004 when he had 3.4 bWAR), which helps his case as one of the best pitchers of his era.

But the overall numbers aren’t too bad when you really start to digest them. Oswalt is 105th in WAR for pitchers, 99th in strike outs per 9, 105th in strike outs, 26th in strike out to walk ratio, 50th in ERA+, 43rd in RE24 and 59th in WPA. It’s very obviously Oswalt wasn’t a compiler and it really makes you wonder what would have happened if he had been able to stay healthy more often late in his career.

In fact, Oswalt might be the ultimate borderline pitcher. His similarity score is on par with other pitchers right on the line: Bret Saberhagen, Jered Weaver and Cliff Lee. The Hall of Stats has him ranked 79th all-time among pitchers and that feels pretty accurate to me.

So if you feel Roy Oswalt is just short of being a Hall of Famer, I can see that. He is right on that line where you have to decide what a player’s true value is. To me, Oswalt is just over that line but I don’t know if he will see a second ballot to continue the discussion. Oswalt is currently polling at 1.1% on the BBWAA ballot with 45% made public at the moment. It’s too bad, because at the very least he deserves to stick around so there can be more discussions about his candidacy.

Manny Ramirez

Many voters have said the difference to them between Bonds or Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro or Ramirez is that the latter tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and was justly suspended. In fact, last year 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.

Credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Mariano Rivera

If there was a no-doubt, absolute lock on this ballot, it’s Mariano Rivera. There is no discussion, no trepidation or even a second thought: Rivera is the greatest closer in baseball history. The only reason to not vote for him would be if you are trying to save other players from falling off the ballot. That is how definite Rivera is.

Literally everything about his career backs this up. Thirteen All-Star nods, a World Series MVP, an ALCS MVP, and an astounding 0.70 postseason ERA just tell part of the story. He is 77th all-time in bWAR for pitchers, 3rd in WHIP, 8th in hits per 9, first in saves, 10th in strike out to walk ratio, first in ERA+, 18th in RE24, 5th in WPA and 4th in games played.

Rivera compiled 56.2 bWAR over his career, including 10 seasons of 3 WAR or more. The average Hall of Fame reliever has 38.1 bWAR over his career, a number that Rivera absolutely blows away. He simply was the best at what he did.

For him, it’s the numbers but also the moments. The playoff appearances, the World Series moments and the high-leverage situations that went along with it. Rivera was the guy you wanted on the mound if you need to protect a lead in a big game.

Rivera is currently polling at 100% on the known BBWAA ballots and is a lock to be in Cooperstown this upcoming summer. There has been a number of debates on whether or not he should or will get all of the votes, but to me that doesn’t matter. Whether he gets 99 or 100%, either way there is no doubt of his final destination. Mariano Rivera is a Hall of Famer and that is the end of the discussion.

Credit: Associated Press

Scott Rolen

If there is a player I voted for that I feel others will look past on first glance when they absolutely shouldn’t, it’s Scott Rolen. I mentioned last year how under-represented the position of third base is and voting for Rolen would go a long way toward making up some much-needed ground.

While the defensive metrics still feel a bit like a work in progress, there is no denying that he was an elite defender. Rolen sits 6th all-time in total zone runs as a third baseman, 32nd for range factor/9 innings for a third baseman and is second in defensive runs saved as a third sacker since 2002. Rolen was 48th all-time in defensive WAR, an eight-time Gold Glove winner and outside of maybe Adrian Beltre, was considered the elite defender at the position during his day.

Now, defense alone doesn’t get you in the hall, otherwise someone like Mark Belanger would have a nice little plaque. Luckily for Rolen, his offense was stellar as well. The stats don’t speak as a world beater as much as a consistent performer throughout his 17 year career; 99th all-time in WAR (67th for position players), 51st in career doubles, 74th in extra base hits and 104th in Win Probability Added. Like I said, not breaking any records but I doubt many would expect these kind of footprints stepping into the statistical records of baseball history.

But to truly honor Rolen’s greatness, all you have to do is view his place in third basemen all-time. Rolen sits 10th for third basemen all-time in WAR, 14th in WAR7, and 10th in JAWS. If you believe in those numbers as much as I do, you consider Rolen one of the greatest third baseman in history…but there is more. When considering the other players at his position, he is 6th in doubles, 15th in home runs, 14th in RBI’s, 14th in slugging percentage, and 11th in OPS.

To top it all off, the Hall of Stats has him listed as a 142 Hall Rating, 85th all-time overall and 8th among third baseman. In other words, he was great and totally deserves this honor. I really wish Rolen was getting more support this year, since I really feel like he is the third base equivalent of Alan Trammell. Great numbers, especially the more you dive into them but overshadowed by his peers who played at the same time. At some point he will get his acknowledgement, it’s just a matter of how long that takes to happen.

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 couple of years. 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 not been where they should be these last few years. 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.

Credit: Ron Antonelli via Getty Images

Gary Sheffield

Over the last few years I have gone back and forth on Gary Sheffield and his candidacy for the Hall of Fame. Maybe it was because he bounced around from team to team, or the fact that he bounced between the infield and the outfield throughout his career. Either way, it was easy to leave Sheff out of the conversation and feel like he was on the cusp of greatness.

But when I finally broke down the numbers, it really felt like his case has been one of the most overlooked when it comes to the hall. Sheffield played right field more than any other position, so I first stacked his numbers against the others at that position. Sheffield is 19th in WAR for right fielders, just below Shoeless Joe Jackson and Dave Winfield. He ranks a bit lower on his peak, as he sits 24th in WAR7, above Hall of Famers Winfield, Chuck Klein, Willie Keeler, and Enos Slaughter. He is also at 24th in JAWS while 7th in home runs, 8th in RBI’s, 12th in OPS and 15th in OPS+.

Now, right fielders are well represented in the hall (24 to be exact) so Sheffield holds his own in the position, even if he is slightly below the elite level. But as I mentioned earlier, I’m a big proponent of where players stack up all-time and that is where Sheffield shines. He is 35th in offensive WAR (obviously his defense dragged him down a bit in the WAR category), 88th in on-base percentage, 76th in slugging percentage, 58th in OPS, 69th in hits, 34th in total bases, 26th in home runs, 28th in RBI’s, 21st in walks, 78th in OPS+, 26th in runs created, 39th in extra base hits, 25th in RE24, and 16th in Win Probability Added. I’m sure the fact he played 22 seasons helped him compile a decent amount of those numbers, but he also was able to stay healthy and be a consistent run producer for almost the entirety of his career.

Sheffield had six seasons with an OPS+ of 150 or more and was above league average for all but two years of his career (one was his rookie year and the other was his age 39 season). So what has hurt Sheffield’s case? I’m sure a few people would mention that his name was in the Mitchell Report and had been linked to PED’s in the past. Like I mentioned, that doesn’t affect my voting. But the other concern was his defense. It didn’t really matter whether he was at shortstop, third base or the outfield, he just wasn’t a great fielder.

In the past I’ve not voted for Jeff Kent because of his defense and I didn’t vote for Omar Vizquel this year because of his lack of offense. So what was the difference with Sheff? His offense was so good that it crossed out any issues I had with his defense. I’m also a “Big Hall” guy and feel like Sheffield was one of the great hitters of his era. I can understand if someone leaves him off (he is a fringe guy in this regard), but for me he was far enough above the line to be considered one of the greats.

Billy Wagner

Wagner was a seven 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 equally efficient. Both were top of the food chain for their position and in my eyes, both should be in Cooperstown.

Credit: MLB.com

Larry Walker

This was the third year I voted for Walker and my take on him seemed to be a bit different from 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 seven years on the ballot; He peaked in 2012 at 22% and last year bumped up a bit to 34.1% and so far is polling at 67% this year. 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.

So there you go, my 11 picks to be inducted into the IBWAA Hall of Fame. It feels more and more like the ballots are starting to weed themselves out and there is more room for voters to work with. As of this writing, four players are above the 75% required for the BBWAA’s election and when you add Harold Baines and Lee Smith’s election from the Today’s Game Committee, it should make for a busy summer in Cooperstown. But don’t worry; while the voting will commence on Tuesday, the debate will rage on.

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From the Bleachers: A Further Step into the Season

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Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Now that we are in the middle of May, there is a definite feeling of where many teams lie or at least where they will be as the season progresses. Since I haven’t been able to truly dive in with my thoughts (outside of anything Kansas City Royals related), I thought this would be a good time to take a look at some of the big stories of the last few weeks. Let’s start with the mess that is the American League Central…

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Grab it like You Want It

So with about six weeks into the season it has become very apparent that the American League Central isn’t the best division in baseball. Or the league. Or much of anywhere. In fact if it wasn’t for the Indians facing my hapless Royals this weekend I wonder if they would be posting a winning record right now:

AL Central
Credit: MLB.com

That’s right, the Indians are the only team in the division with at least a .500 record. Actually, on Friday night the entire division was under .500. The Royals had beaten Cleveland that night, leaving them at 18-19 at the top of what has become a poor, beaten-down, pathetic division.

More than likely the Indians and probably even the Twins will finish with a winning record when it is all said and done, but right now this is an ugly picture. When the Royals have played very uninspired baseball to this point and they are only sitting 7.5 games out of the lead, that is not a good sign.

But let’s be honest here for a bit; at some point we are going to get a division winner with a losing record. In fact if it wasn’t for the strike back in 1994 we might have gotten it then:

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Credit: baseball-reference.com

That season ended with the Rangers leading while being ten games below .500. Then the strike happened and baseball didn’t come back until the next season. But it does make you wonder about when it will happen and how soon the pundits will flip out. I can already picture the “talking heads” discussing how such a weak team will grace postseason play and “tarnish” the good name of baseball.

The truth probably lies somewhere in-between, where it’s more of a sign of the dangers of allowing more and more teams into the playoffs. It probably won’t happen this year or even the next few years, but at some point a team with a losing record will be playing in the games that matter the most in October…and just imagine if they get hot and punch their ticket to the World Series. Oh my…

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Credit: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

The Dark Knight is His Own Worst Enemy

Earlier this week Matt Harvey was dealt to the Cincinnati Reds for catcher Devin Mesoraco, ending his time in New York. While many will question his arm and whether he will even return to his former self, to me the bigger question is whether or not his ego and pride will allow him to be successful again.

Don’t get me wrong, he pitched very well on Friday: 4 innings, 1 hit, 0 runs, 0 walks and 2 strike outs against the Dodgers, all of which spells a great debut in Cincy. But at the end of the day his performance wasn’t the lone issue clouding him. No, his issues are paramount and solving these problems need to be his choice, not forced onto him.

In my opinion, the Mets had the right idea; send him down to the minors and break his entire game down to rebuild it. But Harvey’s pride and stubbornness got in the way. Maybe getting out of ‘The Big Apple’ will help, but I tend to think we will see him struggle again, soon.

Matt Harvey loves being ‘Matt Harvey, the dominant stud pitcher’ or ‘Matt Harvey, busy man on the town’ more than he loves being just a guy who gets to play baseball for a living. Until he recognizes himself as the biggest problem, there just won’t be a happy ending for the man formerly known as ‘The Dark Knight’.

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Nick Markakis…Hall of Famer?

About a week ago MLB.com scribe and (in my opinion) one of the best baseball writers of this era Joe Posnanski posed an interesting question about Nick Markakis: can he realistically reach 3,000 hits? Before you start laughing and thinking that is impossible you might want to go look at his career numbers…now pick up your jaw. Markakis currently sits at 2,105 hits here in his age 34 season. In other words, he only needs 895 hits to reach one of the biggest milestones for a hitter in baseball lore.

Outside of players not yet eligible for induction into the baseball Hall of Fame, only two players who have reached 3,000 hits haven’t been inducted into the hallowed halls: Pete Rose and Rafael Palmeiro. Rose is not in because of his lifetime ban and Palmeiro is not because of a positive steroid test. That number–3,000–has always meant an automatic place in Cooperstown and speaks of a player’s longevity and consistency. Markakis checks off both of those marks.

But I’m pretty sure you don’t view him as being an all-time great or even a perennial All-Star. On of his list of achievements is a two-time Gold Glover winner and…leading the American League in WAR in 2008. That is it.

But what has helped Markakis get to this point is a lack of injuries and a regular spot in the lineup. Markakis has only had one season under 145 games played in a season (2012) and his lowest hit total in a season (outside of 2012) is 143 in his rookie year. If things keep moving at his current pace, he could hold on for another six seasons or so and reach 3,000 around his age 40 season.

If that happens, do we then consider him a Hall of Famer? I tend to believe we have to, even if he was never talked about as being one of the top ten players in the game. More than anything, I want this to happen just to hear the discussions about his candidacy. There will be those that will look at 3,000 hits as proof he belongs. Others will argue he was never a “Great” player. Either way, I hope he gets close and I am now rooting for Markakis to reach this milestone.

GTY 957493782 S BBN USA PA

Welcome Back, Cutch

Earlier this week Andrew McCutchen returned to Pittsburgh for the first time since his trade to San Francisco and it was as great as you probably pictured it being in your head:

Look, I absolutely loved this for about a million reasons. One, it is always great to see a player return to his former stomping ground and be appreciated for all he did. Two, he was a vital part of that franchise’s return to prominence and was the biggest piece of the puzzle when it came to how that team was built.

But it was also great because I have been a fan of Cutch for years. Go ahead and search his name on this blog; you are bound to find me speak nothing but glowing praise his way. McCutchen, much like Bonds before him, was an all-around player who helped push the Pirates farther because of his greatness. He’s not quite the player he used to be at this point of his career, but at one time he was easily one of the top five players in the game.

I’ve also kind of felt like the Pirates are the National League’s version of the Royals. Both teams were once a regular participant in the playoffs, only to fall on hard times for a couple of decades and then return to glory. I obviously loved the Royals climb back to the postseason and appreciated Pittsburgh’s return as well. So I am glad Cutch got the standing ovation and I’m glad to see him still loved. He is truly a great player and a great human who deserves all the cheers he gets and more.

Finally, for my fellow Royals fans, here is what Eric Hosmer was up to this weekend:

While I wasn’t nor ever will be a big Hosmer fan, I’m glad to see him contributing in San Diego. Plays like this are why the Padres acquired him and hopefully that doesn’t go unnoticed.

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That is just a snippet of what is going on around baseball. I didn’t even get to Shohei Ohtani, Bartolo Colon, Mike Trout or even Mookie Betts. No talk of the increase in home runs and strike outs, foul weather or big-market collapses. I’m sure the next couple of weeks will give me more than enough material to discuss and hopefully I will be able to pass along my thoughts. Until then…

 

 

 

BBWAA Elects 4 to Hall of Fame; IBWAA Elects 6

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On Wednesday, the National Baseball Hall of Fame got a little bit bigger as the BBWAA (Baseball Writers’ Association of America) voted in four new inductees: Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, Jim Thome and Vladimir Guerrero. Add in Alan Trammell and Jack Morris and you have six induction speeches on a sunny July afternoon in Cooperstown. Meanwhile, my brethren in the IBWAA did some house cleaning as well, as we inducted six players (Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Trevor Hoffman) into our digital Hall of Fame. In my eyes, all the players mentioned above were worthy of this honor. It is also showing a shift in the thinking of baseball writer’s across the baseball landscape.

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First, let’s discuss the BBWAA voting, which almost led to a five man class in 2018:

First, it was very obvious going into Wednesday that Chipper, Vlad and Thome were locks. All three were over 90% for the polling (which was sitting at around 55% of the  ballots made public) that morning. Hoffman was a bit dicier, as he was sitting around 78.2% of public ballots. It appeared on the surface that he would get in, since he fell just five votes short in 2017.

Meanwhile, Edgar Martinez came up just a bit short, despite the fact he had been polling in the 80% range for the last couple weeks. The good news is that Edgar jumped up to 70.4%, less than 5% to the promised land as he enters his final year on the ballot in 2019.

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Credit: Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Sports

Also making ground this year on the ballot was Mike Mussina and Larry Walker. Mussina bumped up to 63.5% and Walker 34.1%. Mussina feels like a lock for induction sometime in the next couple of years, while Walker has only two more years of eligibility left. Clemens, Bonds and Curt Schilling all appeared to stay put around where they have been, so next year could be a big one for all three of them.

I was glad to see Scott Rolen and Andruw Jones get enough support to stay on the ballot, and their climb could get a bit easier over the next couple of years, since there are less Hall-worthy candidates on the horizon. The one disappointment was Johan Santana, who is a borderline candidate for the hall. If you are like me and believe strongly in WAR7 (which is the seven-year peak or that players best seven years) and notice the similarities with Sandy Koufax, then you are probably leaning toward him being in. If you believe in a long career and lots of innings for a pitcher, then you are probably against him. The one thing that most of us can agree on is he probably deserved to at least stay on the ballot and let his case be judged for a few more years. Unfortunately, he is now bumped off and like Lou Whitaker, Jim Edmonds and Kenny Lofton before him, he won’t get a fair shake of letting his case be heard.

Overall I felt like the BBWAA did an admirable job and it does appear as if the ballot logjam is starting to sort itself out. That should be a good thing for fringe candidates and those players like Mussina and Martinez who need a little extra nudge to get them over the finish line.

Now onto an organization I am part of, the IBWAA. If you want to talk about making room on the ballot for the future, I believe we took care of that this year:

Six players are entering our “Digital Hall of Fame” and I’ll be the first to admit I was a bit shocked that we elected Clemens and Bonds, just because they have been floating around on our ballot as well. This is just me throwing out a theory, but our members tend to skew a bit younger and it has felt over the last couple of years like the younger writers have less of an issue with the “Steroid Era” than the older ones. I’m sure there are different reasons for that, whether it is the lack of testing during that period making it harder to really know who did what, or feeling like the rest of baseball was able to get off scot-free while inducting then-Commissioner Bud Selig just last year. Whatever the case may be, Bonds and Clemens were joined by Chipper, Thome, Mussina and Hoffman as part of the IBWAA Class of 2018.

With six players off the ballot, that should make it easier for us to focus on some other deserving candidates next year. Schilling and Walker both took big jumps and Scott Rolen posted a nice 44.7% of the vote in his first year on the ballot. Even Santana stuck around for round two, as he got 36 votes and sits at 21.1% in his first year. With next year’s class of Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay and Todd Helton being the main first year candidates, it should be easy for us to keep honoring players who deserve this highest honor. We also get 15 votes instead of the BBWAA’s 10, which also helps us keep players on the ballot longer. All in all, I feel like we as a group did a great job this year and I look forward to the results in 2019.

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Credit: MLB Photos

In 2013, the BBWAA voted no player over the 75% threshold, which meant a very quiet summer in Cooperstown. Luckily, the last few years have made up for that error, as the writers have voted in 16 players over the last five years. Whether you prefer a bigger Hall of Fame or a smaller one, the truth is that we have seen a lot of worthy entries over these last few years. For every Tim Raines or Edgar Martinez that have to struggle and have people preaching their cause, there are the Chipper Jones’ and Jim Thome’s that have the numbers and look the part. Baseball is better when a light can be shone on the players of year’s past that helped make this the great game that it is. For all its flaws, baseball at its pinnacle is the grandest game of them all. To get to honor those that encompass that greatness…well, that just makes this process a whole lot sweeter.

 

 

My 2018 Hall of Fame Ballot

MLB: Baseball Hall of Fame-Induction Ceremony
Credit: USA Today

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. Even Hall of Famer Joe Morgan has spoken out on the topic recently, which stirred the pot even more. As a member of the IBWAA, this will be my fourth 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 Vladimir Guerrero and Ivan Rodriguez, and in years past we had already voted in Edgar Martinez, so he will not show up on our ballot this year. Also, we are allowed to vote for up to 15 players, where the BBWAA can only vote for 10. Before we get to my actual votes, you can read my previous votes: Here is 201420152016, and 2017. Also, follow Ryan Thibodaux on Twitter. That way you can follow how the voting is going before the big announcement on January 24th. Without further ado, here are my votes for the 2018 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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Credit: DOUG BENC/GETTY IMAGES

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 seven times throughout his career, and is on a list of statistics that garner him near the top of almost all pitching leader boards. 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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Credit: Getty Images

Billy Wagner

Wagner was a seven 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 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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Credit: MLB.com

Chipper Jones

If there is a position that is under-represented in Cooperstown, it is third base. Only 16 third baseman are enshrined into the “Hallowed Halls” (which is the lowest of any single position) but it looks as if number 17 will be inducted this summer, as Chipper Jones feels like a slam-dunk to get voted in. When it comes to just third baseman, Chipper is ranked high among the elite at his position: 6th in WAR, 8th in WAR7 (which are a combination of his seven best seasons), 8th in JAWS (which is a combination of the previous two WAR stats), 6th in hits, 3rd in home runs, 2nd in RBI’s, 7th in on-base percentage, 4th in slugging and 9th in OPS+. In the Hall of Stats, Chipper is ranked 6th all-time at the position and considering the other numbers that feels like a fair spot for him. While it is obvious he ranks among the best at his position, that did make me curious to see where his place was in the all-time rankings of baseball history.  The numbers actually tell the story of a great baseball player: 51st in career WAR (32nd for position players), 25th in offensive WAR, 54th in on-base percentage, 51st in slugging percentage, 37th in OPS, 60th in career hits, 32nd in total bases, 33rd in home runs, 34th in RBI’s, 16th in career walks (this actually surprised me a bit), 72nd in OPS+, 25th in runs created, 28th in extra base hits, and 15th in career Win Probability Added. It is easy to tell that Jones was a Hall of Famer but there is more to it than just his place in history. Jones was drafted as a shortstop by the Braves, but ended up only playing 49 games at the position in the big leagues. While Chipper is known as a third baseman (and that is where he played the most games), Jones did spend the 2002-2003 seasons out in left field, as the Braves had Vinny Castilla playing at third base. To me, this felt a bit like Kris Bryant, who has floated around for the Cubs the last few years at third base and the outfield. Jones was also a switch hitter and easily one of the best of his kind in baseball lore. In fact, Fangraphs ranked the greatest switch hitters  in MLB history a few years back and Jones came in at number two, just behind Mickey Mantle and ahead of Hall of Famers Eddie Murray, Tim Raines and Roberto Alomar. But what statistic stood out to me the most in Chipper’s career? From 1996 to the end of his career in 2012, Jones never posted an OPS+ below 116. In other words, for the duration of his career, Chipper never produced an offensive season below league average (his lowest was a 108 that he posted in his rookie year of 1995). To play 19 seasons in the big leagues and never get below the league average is the definition of consistency and is just one of many numbers that prove that Chipper Jones deserves induction to the baseball Hall of Fame.

 

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Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Jim Thome

Some hitters are adored for their ability to get on base, some are praised for their mastery of putting the ball ‘where it ain’t’…and then some are hailed for power and consistency; that would be the category that Jim Thome would fall into. Thome was one of the greatest home run hitters of his era and was that middle of the lineup force that few teams wanted to mess with. While the accolades are there (five time All-Star, a Silver Slugger award, 2002 Roberto Clemente award, 2004 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award and 2006 AL Comeback Player of the Year), the numbers are the meat and potatoes of Thome’s candidacy. Thome’s rank as a first baseman is a nod to just how great he was, considering how loaded that position is throughout the course of baseball history. Thome ranks 9th in WAR for first baseman, 19th in WAR7, 10th in JAWS, 2nd in home runs, 9th in RBI’s, 8th in slugging percentage, 8th in OPS and 13th in OPS+. This really amazes me, considering Thome is dealing with such classic first baseman as Gehrig, Foxx, Mize, Thomas and Pujols, just to name a few. Thome ranks 10th all-time for the position in the Hall of Stats, 96th all-time. Much like Chipper, his model of consistency was amazing. Outside of the 2005 season (where he appeared in only 59 games due to injury), he never posted an OPS+ below league average, and the lowest he posted in a season where he played at least 120 games was 117. In fact, he posted 10 seasons (10!) where he had an OPS+ of 150 or more. I’m a big proponent of where player’s rank all-time when it comes to their Hall candidacy, and Thome crosses those off with flying colors. He ranks 84 in career WAR (54th for position players), 44th in offensive WAR, 51st in on-base percentage, 23rd in slugging percentage, 18th in OPS, 41st in total bases, 8th in career home runs, 26th in RBI’s, 7th in walks, 47th in OPS+, 24th in runs created, 23rd in extra base hits, 5th all-time in at bats per home run, 21st in RE24, and 38th in Win Probability Added. While Thome wasn’t a great defensive player, teams weren’t employing him for his glove; it was all about his bat. But there is always one more thing that compels us to cheer for Jim Thome on his journey to Cooperstown: Thome might be one of the nicest guys that has ever played professional baseball. Don’t just take my word, take the word of Cleveland Indians President Chris Antonetti:

“The thing that stands out to me about Jim is just who he is — day-in, day-out,” Indians general manager Chris Antonetti told Rumblings. “It’s the way he treats the ushers and the parking-lot attendants, not just how great a guy he is in the clubhouse. He treats every person he meets with respect and dignity. And I’m not sure I can give anybody a better compliment.”

For those of you that wouldn’t vote for a Bonds or a Schilling for how they have acted in the past, Thome would be your measuring stick for the other side of the pendulum. A vote for Thome is not only for the great numbers that rank among the best in history. No, a vote for Thome is one for a guy who was a Hall of Fame player AND person. I’m pretty sure Thome is another lock to be giving a speech in upstate New York this upcoming summer.

 

Detroit Tigers' Sheffield laughs with Washington Nationals catcher Nieves during spring training baseball game in Lakeland, Florida

Gary Sheffield

Over the last few years I have gone back and forth on Gary Sheffield and his candidacy for the Hall of Fame. Maybe it was because he bounced around from team to team, or the fact that he bounced between the infield and the outfield throughout his career. Either way, it was easy to leave Sheff out of the conversation and feel like he was on the cusp of greatness. But when I finally broke down the numbers, it really felt like his case has been one of the most overlooked when it comes to the hall. Sheffield played right field more than any other position, so I first stacked his numbers against the others at that position. Sheffield is 19th in WAR for right fielders, just below Shoeless Joe Jackson and Dave Winfield. He ranks a bit lower on his peak, as he sits 24th in WAR7, above Hall of Famers Winfield, Chuck Klein, Willie Keeler, and Enos Slaughter. He is also at 24th in JAWS while 7th in home runs, 8th in RBI’s, 12th in OPS and 15th in OPS+. Now, right fielders are well represented in the hall (24 to be exact) so Sheffield holds his own in the position, even if he is slightly below the elite level. But as I mentioned earlier, I’m a big proponent of where players stack up all-time and that is where Sheffield shines. He is 35th in offensive WAR (obviously his defense dragged him down a bit in the WAR category), 88th in on-base percentage, 76th in slugging percentage, 58th in OPS, 69th in hits, 34th in total bases, 26th in home runs, 28th in RBI’s, 21st in walks, 78th in OPS+, 26th in runs created, 39th in extra base hits, 25th in RE24, and 16th in Win Probability Added. I’m sure the fact he played 22 seasons helped him compile a decent amount of those numbers, but he also was able to stay healthy and be a consistent run producer for almost the entirety of his career. Sheffield had six seasons with an OPS+ of 150 or more and was above league average for all but two years of his career (one was his rookie year and the other was his age 39 season). So what has hurt Sheffield’s case? I’m sure a few people would mention that his name was in the Mitchell Report and had been linked to PED’s in the past. Like I mentioned, that doesn’t affect my voting. But the other concern was his defense. It didn’t really matter whether he was at shortstop, third base or the outfield, he just wasn’t a great fielder. In the past I’ve not voted for Jeff Kent because of his defense and I didn’t vote for Omar Vizquel this year because of his lack of offense. So what was the difference with Sheff? His offense was so good that it crossed out any issues I had with his defense. I’m also a “Big Hall” guy and feel like Sheffield was one of the great hitters of his era. I can understand if someone leaves him off (he is a fringe guy in this regard), but for me he was far enough above the line to be considered one of the greats.

 

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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 51.8% of the ballots in 2017 and it appears he is inching 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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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 couple of years. 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 went down last year, down 7.3 %, finishing at 45%. 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.

 

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Trevor Hoffman

For the third 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.

 

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Manny Ramirez

Many voters have said the difference to them between Bonds or Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro or Ramirez is that the latter tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and was justly suspended. In fact, last year 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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Scott Rolen

If there is a player I voted for that I feel others will look past on first glance when they absolutely shouldn’t, it’s Scott Rolen. I mentioned earlier how under-represented the position of third base is and voting for both Chipper and Rolen would go a long way toward making up some much-needed ground. While Chipper’s case mostly lies on his offense, Rolen’s leans a bit more toward his defense. While the defensive metrics still feel a bit like a work in progress, there is no denying that he was an elite defender. Rolen sits 6th all-time in total zone runs as a third baseman, 32nd for range factor/9 innings for a third baseman and is second in defensive runs saved as a third sacker since 2002. Rolen was 48th all-time in defensive WAR, an eight-time Gold Glove winner and outside of maybe Adrian Beltre, was considered the elite defender at the position during his day. Now, defense alone doesn’t get you in the hall, otherwise someone like Mark Belanger would have a nice little plaque. Luckily for Rolen, his offense was stellar as well. The stats don’t speak as a world beater as much as a consistent performer throughout his 17 year career; 99th all-time in WAR (67th for position players), 51st in career doubles, 74th in extra base hits and 104th in Win Probability Added. Like I said, not breaking any records but I doubt many would expect these kind of footprints stepping into the statistical records of baseball history. But to truly honor Rolen’s greatness, all you have to do is view his place in third basemen all-time. Rolen sits 10th for third basemen all-time in WAR, 14th in WAR7, and 10th in JAWS. If you believe in those numbers as much as I do, you consider Rolen one of the greatest third baseman in history…but there is more. When considering the other players at his position, he is 6th in doubles, 15th in home runs, 14th in RBI’s, 14th in slugging percentage, and 11th in OPS. To top it all off, the Hall of Stats has him listed as a 142 Hall Rating, 85th all-time overall and 8th among third baseman. In other words, he was great and totally deserves this honor. I really wish Rolen was getting more support this year, since I really feel like he is the third base equivalent of Alan Trammell. Great numbers, especially the more you dive into them but overshadowed by his peers who played at the same time. It would be great to see Rolen and Trammell get inducted together; unfortunately, it appears Rolen will have to wait for his honor. At some point he will get his acknowledgement, it’s just a matter of how long that takes to happen.

 

MLB: New York Mets at Washington Nationals
Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Johan Santana

There are so many factors when considering players for the Hall of Fame, and everyone’s criteria is different, especially since every player is a different case. Some of my main factors are placement on the all-time leaderboard, consistency, and being elite at your position. But what about longevity, you might be asking? While it can be a factor, I’ve always leaned more toward being great for a longer period, not just length of ones career. In other words, I strongly lean toward the seven-year peak, or WAR7, which defines a player’s best seven WAR years of his career. With that in mind, it was hard to say no to Johan Santana, a player who I’m sure some will say didn’t do enough in his career. I get that and even at first I wasn’t sold that he had performed good enough to deserve the honor. But breaking down the numbers showed while shorter than most, he packed a lot of great into his 12 year career. Let’s start with his ranking among starting pitchers, since that is really where the conversation begins. Santana ranks 100th in WAR, 63rd in WAR7 and 86th in JAWS. It’s interesting to mention JAWS in these conversations, as the man who created it, Jay Jaffe, actually has debated himself just where Santana stands in the pantheon of history:

From an advanced metrics standpoint, Santana is obviously short of the WAR-based career, peak and JAWS standards, but he outdoes many big-name Hall of Famers. His 51.4 career WAR (including offense) is tied for 102nd all time but beats that of 11 enshrined pitchers, including Sandy Koufax (49.0), Dean (44.9), and Catfish Hunter (41.4), not to mention Morris (44.1). His 44.8 peak score, which is tied with Dave Stieb for 61st, is higher than 25 of the 62 (or 26 of 63 if you include Morris), and his 48.1 JAWS, which ranks 85th, tops 15 enshrinees (plus Morris), including Koufax (47.5), Whitey Ford (46.0), Dean and Bob Lemon (both 43.9), and Hunter (38.3).

So despite his short career, Santana has managed to wedge himself into interesting company when it comes to some of the advanced metrics. I was interested to see where he placed when it comes to ERA+, and he did not disappoint, sitting in 16th place all-time at 136. But where I really wanted to check Santana was a comparison to Koufax, since both were great for a number of years and both retired at a younger age due to injuries. So here are some comparisons between the two:

  • When it comes to WAR, Santana trumps Koufax, 51.4 to 49.0.
  • For their seven-year peak, Koufax beats Santana, 46.1 to 44.8.
  • Now for JAWS, Santana slides by Koufax, 48.1 to 47.5.
  • Since both pitchers had 12 year careers, I thought I would look at some of the other stats and see where they stand. Koufax easily beats Santana in ERA, WHIP, Hits per 9, Strikeouts per 9, and Strikeouts, while Santana beats him in Strikeout to Walk Ratio.

Granted they played in different times, when starting pitchers were used differently, but there really doesn’t appear to be a huge gap between the two players overall. So then I ask the question: if you feel Koufax is a surefire Hall of Famer (which I’m pretty sure no one is arguing), then why isn’t Santana? To me he is, which is why I voted for him. The voting has not been going well for him so far (he is polling at 1.3% so far with 46.9% of the ballots known) and it appears he will fall off the ballot for next year. It’s unfortunate, because he really feels like a guy who should be getting a longer look. Instead, you have to hope the Modern Baseball Era committee will give him a longer look when that times comes. To quote Neil Young, “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away”.

 

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Credit: DAVID ZALUBOWSKI / Associated Press

Larry Walker

This was the second year I voted for Walker and my take on him seemed to be a bit different from 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 21.9%. 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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Credit: Getty Images

So there you go, my 13 picks to be inducted into the IBWAA Hall of Fame. One player that could get my vote next year is Andruw Jones. I reluctantly left him off this year, as I’m not 100% sold on him being one of the elite, but he is one that I did heavily consider during this process. One other player that fell quite a bit short was Omar Vizquel. There are those that believe his defense is enough to get him in. Unfortunately, his offense was more than lacking: a career OPS+ of 82 and only 45.3 WAR in his career shows that his defense was not enough to get my vote. 2019 should be interesting, as a number of big names will pop up on the ballot: Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Todd Helton, Andy Pettitte, Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt will all be on the list. It’s probably a good thing that it looks like as many as five players could be inducted this year, as a number of worthy candidates will be added next year. Don’t worry; while the voting will commence on Wednesday, the debate will rage on.

 

 

Hall of Shame

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I received my IBWAA Hall of Fame ballot in my inbox yesterday. I look forward to it every year, as it is an honor to be able to vote for players I feel are worthy of baseball’s highest honor. It also gives me the opportunity to really dive into the numbers, or as my wife calls it “fall down the statistic rabbit hole”. You will see that article in about a months time, where I breakdown my votes and why I voted the way I did. Since I occasionally get asked this, in the IBWAA we do things a bit differently than the boys and girls over at the BBWAA. We have a number of guys who have been voted in (Vlad Guerrero, Edgar Martinez) that the BBWAA still has on their ballot. We are also able to vote for 15 players instead of the 10 the BBWAA are left with. Finally, we don’t have a former player like Joe Morgan send us a letter, trying to sway our vote with arrogant confidence and ignorant hubris…and for that I am grateful.

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Credit: Kansas City Star

If you aren’t aware(or maybe in a cave), Joe Morgan sent out a letter a few weeks back, hoping to veer the writers of the BBWAA away from voting for players linked to steroid use. If you want to read the entire letter, here it is:

Now, I’m not going to get into a huge debate over the Hall of Fame or steroid use in baseball; I have done that so much over the years that I’m just bored with it and it just seems to agitate me. I will tell you that if you want my opinion on the Hall, read this; I wrote this a few years back and it pretty much encompasses my feelings on “cheaters” in the Hall. So I’m not going to get into a big debate about steroid use and Cooperstown. But…I do have a few comments about what Joe said and just who Joe is speaking for.

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Credit: MLB.com

First, let’s start with Joe’s comment about those linked to steroid use:

We hope the day never comes when known steroid users are voted into the Hall of Fame. They
cheated. Steroid users don’t belong here.

I hate to tell Joe, but I’m pretty positive there is someone (or likely more than one) in the Hall who used steroids. Oh yeah…Mickey Mantle took steroids. So right there, you have a player in those “hallowed halls” that falls below Morgan’s standard for Cooperstown. Pretty sure you won’t catch ol’ Joe looking to pull “The Mick” and his plaque.

Players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League
Baseball’s investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report, should not get in. Those
are the three criteria that many of the players and I think are right.

Look, there is a some validity to the Mitchell Report but lets not act like it is a 100% guilty verdict. That is just someone wanting to believe guilt without the proof.

Now, I recognize there are players identified as users on the Mitchell Report who deny they were
users. That’s why this is a tricky issue. Not everything is black and white – there are shades of gray
here. It’s why your job as a voter is and has always been a difficult and important job. I have faith in
your judgment and know that ultimately, this is your call.

Wait, so Joe knows the Mitchell Report is probably not 100% accurate, yet earlier wants voters to use that report as a template? Come on Joe…

But it still occurs to me that anyone who took body-altering chemicals in a deliberate effort to cheat
the game we love, not to mention they cheated current and former players, and fans too, doesn’t
belong in the Hall of Fame. By cheating, they put up huge numbers, and they made great players
who didn’t cheat look smaller by comparison, taking away from their achievements and consideration for the Hall of Fame. That’s not right.

Body-altering chemicals? You mean like performance enhancers? So players who used amphetamines, right? Because, if we are being honest, amphetamines are enhancing a players performance…and Greenies were used in baseball up until they started testing for amphetamines back in 2006. Greenies were prevalent in the game for years and were widely used during Morgan’s playing days. In fact, players like Hank Aaron & Willie Mays have both been linked to amphetamines over the years…and no one is asking those two to leave Cooperstown (nor should they).

It’s gotten to the point where Hall of Famers are saying that if steroid users get in, they’ll no longer
come to Cooperstown for Induction Ceremonies or other events. Some feel they can’t share a stage
with players who did steroids. The cheating that tainted an era now risks tainting the Hall of Fame
too. The Hall of Fame means too much to us to ever see that happen. If steroid users get in, it will
divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn’t bear.

Does this include Gaylord Perry? Is he appalled by the cheating?

I care about how good a player was or what kind of numbers he put up; but if a player did steroids,
his integrity is suspect; he lacks sportsmanship; his character is flawed; and, whatever contribution
he made to his team is now dwarfed by his selfishness.

So when do we point out the selfishness of baseball for allowing steroids to be used all those years? The owners? The GM’s? Bud Selig? I’m sure their selfishness won’t allow them to return all the money they received from fans flooding the ballparks during this period. You can put some of the blame on the players, Joe, but there is enough blame to go all the way around.

Steroid users knew they were taking a drug that physically improved how they played. Taking
steroids is a decision. It’s the deliberate act of using chemistry to change how hard you hit and throw by changing what your body is made of.

See “Greenies” from earlier.

I and other Hall of Famers played hard all our lives to achieve what we did. I love this game and am
proud of it. I hope the Hall of Fame’s standards won’t be lowered with the passage of time.
For over eighty years, the Hall of Fame has been a place to look up to, where the hallowed halls
honor those who played the game hard and right. I hope it will always remain that way.

Honestly, baseball has never been a pure game and never will. If I’m being completely honest, when I first read this letter, it felt sanctimonious and hypocritical. Reading it again doesn’t make me change my mind. In fact, it just further cements my initial thoughts of the ignorance in Joe’s words…and how Joe is being used as a puppet.

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

Don’t get me wrong; I totally think Joe Morgan believes the words he wrote in this letter. But I also believe that what he wrote was allowed to be sent because the people on the board for the Hall of Fame and those involved agree with this sentiment. I also feel this is a direct reaction to seeing Barry Bonds’ and Roger Clemens’ vote total moving upward these last couple years. The honest truth is that testing for performance enhancing drugs was not being done when these players were putting up those “tainted numbers” that Joe mentioned. Maybe it’s just me, but since baseball wasn’t testing and those involved seemed okay with it continuing (that was until congress stepped in to put a halt to it), it feels self-righteous to then turn around and punish the players and no one else (including the true villain in this, Bud Selig). Luckily, the letter appears to have angered many a writer in the BBWAA and it makes one wonder if Bonds’ and Clemens’ total will continue to rise. As a member of the IBWAA, we don’t have to worry about any of this mess. I don’t expect a letter from Howard Cole telling us about “hallowed grounds” and “flawed character”. I thank Howard for that, as he appears to “get it”. I’m still going to enjoy the Cooperstown inductions next summer, as I love watching some of the best players in the history of the game get to celebrate their career in the best way possible. The real taint on the Hall of Fame is those involved who try to move the chess pieces to their liking by ignoring a section of history. History is exactly what it is, a part of the past. If you don’t ignore it, you aren’t likely to repeat it again. Now, it appears it’s time for me to go turn in my IBWAA ballot…

 

 

 

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.

Getting His Due

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This weekend, baseball honors the greats of the game in Cooperstown, New York, as the induction ceremonies will be held on Sunday afternoon. The players voted in this year are more than worthy but one player in particular will finally take his deserved place in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. That man is Tim Raines and over the last few years I have been one of the many beating the drum for his inclusion into the greats of the game. If anything, Raines has become a poster child for advanced metrics and increased value in stats revolving around on-base percentage, defense and base running. It took way too long, but are finally to a point where logic has taken over.

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Now, if you are expecting this to be an article slathered with statistics, you are wrong. I wrote in-depth about Raines back in 2013, so if you are wanting to read the argument for his induction click the link. What I will say is that Rock’s argument is pretty simple: he is one of the most proficient base stealers in the history of the game, his on-base percentage is comparable to the great Tony Gwynn, and there for a few years in the 1980’s he was in the argument of being the best player in the game. But Raines ended up falling under the radar, whether it be from being hidden in Montreal all those years or not being as good as Rickey Henderson (which is just as laughable writing it as saying it out loud). Raines numbers are on par with some of the greats of the game…and even I was late to the party.

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

Call it ignorance or just being out of the loop, I wasn’t even aware of advanced metrics until about 5-6 years ago. Once I was aware, I did research into them and realized it broadened my view of the game and made me pay more attention to the areas of the game that I already valued. I was already a big proponent of walks, realizing they were just as important as singles. To this day I still value great defensive players over guys who contribute very little with the leather. I love watching the players who are five tool guys, which is why I used to love watching Barry Bonds play, but found him boring once he became ‘just a masher’. To this end, statistics like OPS and WAR speak to me more than the numbers we are used to seeing on the back of our old baseball cards. Once I looked into Raines’ case, it became very obvious very early that he was being overlooked and was worthy of a plaque in the Hall of Fame.

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Credit: USA Today

Once I realized the mistake that was occurring,  I made sure when Hall of Fame discussions came up to mention Raines as much as possible. My voice didn’t reach as far as a Jonah Keri, but even if it changed one person’s mind it was worth it. Raines and Edgar Martinez became the two players I rallied for the most. Advanced statistics had opened up my worldview and my appreciation for Tim Raines had grown immensely. Most of my viewing of Raines was late in his career, the period where he wasn’t the dominating force he was in Montreal. Now I look at his stolen base percentage, or the amount of walks he tallied throughout his 23 year career and I just shake my head. Raines was under all of our noses and a large amount of baseball fans had no clue just how great he was.

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

While I loved what the advanced metrics taught me about Raines, the best part of this revelation was being part of a united community. Since I was a kid I’ve long considered myself a “stathead” and pushing the cause for Raines made me aware of how many baseball fan’s had the same sentiment. Knowing that because of extensive research and lots of number crunching led to opening the eyes of voters made it more than worthwhile. I’m sure no actual voter for the Hall of Fame read any of my articles or tweets about Raines, but many saw the effort and time put in by Jonah Keri and were open-minded enough to listen and change their mind on Tim. Brian Kenny was another strong proponent of Raines and made sure to argue his case whenever he could on MLB Network. The fact that so many writers and analysts pushed this agenda for a number of years and had a big enough spotlight to change people’s minds is  more than impressive. To know that this community of like-minded individuals were able to make such a dent in the minds of what is normally a very ‘stuck in their ways’ audience is double as impressive. This movement made a difference and helped to get a deserving player the recognition he rightly earned.

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Credit: Baseball Hall of Fame

So to say this Sunday will be rewarding is an understatement. Myself, I am super happy that Raines will get to take his rightful place in Cooperstown this weekend and he will get to share that with his family and peers. Over the years, guys like Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Dwight Evans and Bobby Grich have been passed over for election to ‘the Hall’ and one has to wonder if they had the same push and media attention drawn to them they could have garnered the same result as Raines. It will be a joyous occasion at the induction ceremony this weekend, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina and Billy Wagner are just a few names that deserve to be in the Hall of Fame and the push for the next election should begin now.  While all the hard work for Tim Raines paid off, it’s time to push the next cause. There is always a deserving player who just isn’t getting their just due. Remember, the numbers never lie.

 

Authors note: I have been reading Tim Raines’ new book, “Rock Solid: Life in Baseball’s Fast Lane” and highly recommend it. If you interested here is the link on Amazon. Hopefully when I get it done I will be able to post a book review as well. So far, I am really enjoying it.

Celebrating Jose Fernandez

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The entire baseball community has been mourning the sudden death of Miami Marlins All-Star pitcher Jose Fernandez since the news of his passing on Sunday morning. I, like many others, was in a bit of a haze on Sunday, as it was hard to grasp that such a talent with his whole life in front of him was now gone. I’ve tossed around writing about Fernandez the last couple days, but in some ways felt I wouldn’t be able to do him justice nor say anything that hasn’t already been said by many others. Instead, I finally decided on doing something else to honor him; show you his greatness rather than talk about it. Actions speak louder than words, and with that in mind, here are some favorite Jose Fernandez moments to remember him by.

First, there is his first major league home run. Yes, it’s weird I started off with a batting highlight for a great pitcher,  but the joy he showed in this personified him to a ‘T’. Also, baseball’s unwritten rules are still stupid. There was zero reason for anyone to get mad at him for watching his first ever home run.

Speaking of firsts, here is Fernandez’s major league debut. At the beginning, glance at his minor league numbers. Twenty Seven total minor league games?? Crazy. It was known very early on that this kid was going to be special and he was.

Instincts. This is Fernandez at 21. I’m not so sure many veteran pitchers would have that kind of “game awareness”. A great play on defense.

Seriously, this speaks for itself. Folks, baseball is a kid’s game and no one understood that more than Jose Fernandez.

For the unaware, Fernandez was a very good pitcher. This highlight from back in July was not only a career-high in strikeouts, but also his 500th career strike out. When healthy, Fernandez was easily one of the best pitchers in the game and a treat to watch.

Cuba vs. Cuba. Fernandez vs. Puig. That smile. Fernandez just loved playing baseball and you could tell.

I feel like I am underselling it when I say he was a great pitcher. He was a great athlete. This, also from July, was Fernandez pinch-hitting in extra innings with a big pinch hit double. In some ways it made perfect sense that Fernandez was playing in the National League, where he could pitch and hit.

Seriously, Fernandez made Barry Bonds smile. That within itself should show how special Jose was. For me, a longtime Bonds fan, this is great to see. Barry and Jose, enjoying the game and having fun.

That reaction. I almost wish I was a Marlins fan. I celebrated after the Royals won the World Series last year…but not like that. Just fantastic.

This was Fernandez’s final start, a week ago against the Nationals. Fernandez threw 8 scoreless innings, striking out 12. In other words, he was making a push to be named the National League Cy Young award winner.

Vin Scully has a way with words. It only made sense to have him talk about Fernandez and relay a great story in the process.

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There is a big hole that is now missing in Major League Baseball. Fernandez was not just a once in a lifetime player that the game could use as a spokesman for as to why baseball is so great; Jose was a once in a lifetime person. Fernandez joins a list of players taken too soon from us, guys like Roberto Clemente, Thurman Munson and Darryl Kile. The only difference is that those players were all veterans who had made their footprint in baseball for years; Fernandez was just getting started. As much as Jose will be missed, there will come a time that a new player will come along with great talent and unbelievable joy. There will be a player who just oozes happiness to be part of this grand game. When that happens, I hope it makes us all think about Fernandez. We will all miss watching him perform on the diamond, but I think I will miss that contagious smile more. Rest in Power, Jose.

One Thing Does Not Lead To Another

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(Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

The big story around baseball on Friday was that Miami Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon had been suspended for 80 games because he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Gordon had tested positive during Spring Training and had been appealing the suspension until he decided to drop the appeal on Thursday. There are a number of items of note to take from this suspension, whether it be the fact that Gordon doesn’t fit the stereotype of a PED user(although if you have been paying attention, when a pitcher like Jason Grimsley is in the Mitchell Report you know that stereotype isn’t always true), the question of why someone who just signed a new guaranteed deal would do anything to endanger that, to why some people are questioning the validity of the testing done by MLB when it obviously seems to be working. All those topics are interesting(as are the five Jayson Stark threw out there today) and well worth a discussion, but it’s not the direction I am going today. Instead, I want to focus on the narrative some so-called “journalists” are tossing out there. I was at work this morning and while listening to the radio, caught the NBC Sports Update, a small two minute look at sports news. They mentioned the Gordon suspension and then at the end of it said “…by the way, Gordon’s hitting coach is Barry Bonds.” Obviously, this rubbed me the wrong way, as it had absolutely nothing to do with Gordon’s situation other than to imply something about Bonds. What is even worse is that I have seen three different articles throwing the same insinuation out there. What has happened to journalism?

MLB: MAY 26 Marlins at Pirates
May 26 2015: PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

By no means am I sticking up for Barry Bonds here; I think most of us agree Barry probably did something he shouldn’t have, even if part of the problem was that baseball wasn’t testing anyone during that period. No, the whole issue is that this has nothing to do with Bonds, AT ALL. The implications by these “news outlets” is that Barry Bonds, a former suspected PED user, helped point Dee Gordon in the direction to use PED’s. That is just ludicrous and shoddy journalism at best. What has been taught over the years to journalists is to get your facts straight and lay out all the information that you have. That doesn’t mean point to a narrative that will give you more link clicks or put up misleading headlines to grab people’s attention and then have nothing of any actual substance. The fact that Bonds is Gordon’s hitting coach this year is merely a coincidence and means absolutely nothing to whether or not Gordon took something he shouldn’t. So the narrative pushed is that Barry told him “Hey man, you should take PED’s; they will make you a bigger star and pile up your numbers!”, which just seems crazy if you think about it. Even crazier is the fact these news outlets are throwing that narrative out there, completely killing any credibility they once had.

USP MLB: WASHINGTON NATIONALS AT MIAMI MARLINS S BBN USA FL
(Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY)

Even if you read the ESPN article I linked above, they mention Bonds. No facts to back up the possibility of Bonds getting in Gordon’s ear, not other Marlin’s getting suspended, nothing. This is where journalism is in 2016. So if any San Diego Padres player gets caught using PED’s, does that fall at bench coach Mark McGwire’s feet? If any New York Yankee tests positive, should we all point the finger at Alex Rodriguez? Just writing that made me shake my head because it is beyond ignorant to assume such a thing. This is what happens when writers are lazy and don’t have any actual facts but want to drive up the hits on their story. Just because one (suspected) PED user was in the same vicinity as someone who tested positive for these performance-enhancing substances doesn’t mean there is a direct correlation; it means that even with modern day testing and harsher penalties, these players still want to get an edge any way possible, legally or illegally.

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The most ironic part of this poor excuse for journalism is that this is a big story even if Bonds’ name is never mentioned. Mentioning that last year’s batting title winner and National League All-Star tested positive for PED’s and would be suspended for half the season is a big story without dusting off the cobwebs and taking shots at Barry. This story is about Gordon and how even in the modern era of baseball, players still feel the need to endanger their spot in the game for the possibility of “getting one up” on the competition. The story can even be how MLB’s drug testing is working, catching up to seven players already this season. Instead, many writers take the easy way out and decide to use “shock journalism” to create their own narrative. The funny thing is, I wonder what Bonds would say if a player asked him today if it was worth it for him to take an illegal substance to gain an advantage? He very well might say it wasn’t worth it since he has been shunned by the baseball Hall of Fame and in a lot of circles he isn’t viewed as the true “Home Run King” of baseball. Right there is why you don’t mention Bonds name in any Gordon story about his suspension. If you don’t know how Bonds feels about the subject at this point in time, there is no way to assume he has discussed anything other than hitting with Dee Gordon. That is what a real journalist would call a fact; maybe outlets like NBC and ESPN should look into that more often.

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