We have reached that time of year again, where the discussion reverts back to the greats of the game of baseball. It’s the time of year where the “hot” isn’t really for the stove as much as the debates on which former players are most worthy of going into the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Last year, four players from the current ballot (and a couple from the Today’s Game Era committee) received induction into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown, which appears to have cleared up the logjam we had seen on the ballot for years.Add in a sparse incoming class of eligible players and you have a year where there is one certain selection and a number of questions after that.
As a member of the IBWAA, this will be my sixth 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 Mariano Rivera and Roy Halladay. In years past we had elected Roger Clemens, and Barry Bonds, so they did 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 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 ,2018 and 2019. Also, follow Ryan Thibodaux on Twitter. That way you can follow how the voting is going before the big announcement on January 21st.
Without further ado, here are my votes for the 2020 Hall of Fame ballot. I have shaken things up this year, so you won’t get the usual huge article breaking down every vote. Instead, this year I am going to break them down by category and explain a bit why I voted the way I did this year. In fact, this year saw a couple of firsts for me.
The Longtime Holdover
This will be the 10th and final year for Larry Walker to appear on the BBWAA ballot and there is still a lot of uncertainty from some on whether Walker is a legit HOFer. It took me awhile to come around, as I was always concerned about how much time he missed due to injury, but over the last few years Walker has become a regular on my ballot.
The numbers tell a story of a great all-around player: he could hit, field, run, hit for power and had a great arm in right field. There are batting titles, Gold Gloves, Silver Slugger awards and even an MVP award back in 1997. Love the black ink? He’s got a lot of that as well. I’m always big on guys who are statistically in the Top 100 of all-time in a number of strong categories, and Walker checks those off as well.
In fact there isn’t much that Walker doesn’t rack up when it comes to what we look for in a Hall of Fame player. According to the Hall of Stats, Walker is the 7th best right fielder in history and 10th according to JAWS. If you believe in the ‘7 Year Peak’, Walker has six seasons with a bWAR of 5 or more. It’s easy to see some of the concerns that are floated about, but when you look at overall weight, Walker is on par with most of the greats in right field.
So will he get in? That is the big question. As of this writing, he is sitting at 85% of the ballots made public. There is normally always a bit of a drop-off once all the ballots are counted, so it will be interesting to see just how big of a drop he has. In fact, he needs 69% of the rest of the ballots to reach the 75% needed for induction. It’s going to be a close one, so keep your fingers crossed that he reaches the final goal.
The Usual Suspects
There are a number of players who have become “regulars” on my ballot over the years. This year that includes Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, Todd Helton, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, and Billy Wagner. They all have their strong points and reasons for me to check the box for them. If you want a real in-depth look at these candidates, I have covered them in full detail over the years. Here is a quick summation:
Jones and Rolen were defensive excellence and when you add on their offensive production, you have Hall of Fame talent. The big question for both of them is the length of that excellence and how far they dropped from their greatness. Rolen’s claim is a bit longer than Jones’, but both were impressive for a decent amount of time. You can also make the argument that they are both the best defensively at their respective positions, which should bump them up even more in the eyes of the voters. I’m a big proponent of a player’s “peak”, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I have voted for these two.
Ramirez and Sheffield have amazing offensive numbers and have put themselves in the Top 100 of a number of offensive statistics. I know many refuse to vote for Manny based on his testing positive for multiple drug tests and I respect that. I am one who just votes based off of the numbers, so both Manny and Sheff feel like surefire HOFers.
Helton and Wagner were dominant during their prime. While Wagner’s accumulative numbers don’t quite stack up, the average on those numbers are downright jaw-dropping. Relievers already get shortchanged when it comes to voters, but in my eyes if you are as dominant as Wagner was, you deserve a plaque. Helton was someone who’s numbers are impressive but the ballpark he called home makes him lose votes from some writers. When you look at the overall package though, you have a guy who was one of the best players in the game for a good chunk of his prime. I can see the argument for length of peak, but if you are a “Big Hall” kind of person, Helton should feel like a slam-dunk.
Schilling has been a lightning rod for controversy over the years and his comments about journalists has not gone unnoticed by the people filling out those ballots. As much as I don’t agree with a lot (most) of what Schilling says, I’m only concerned about what he did between those white lines on the baseball diamond. Schilling was an elite pitcher throughout his career and has immaculate postseason numbers. This should be why he gets a plaque in Cooperstown, even though it feels like it will take at least another year or two for that to happen.
The one person that we know will have his name announced on Tuesday is Derek Jeter and really the only question about his induction will be whether or not he receives 100% of the vote like his former teammate, Mariano Rivera, did last year. Jeter was an easy vote for me, since he has the numbers, the postseason glory and mystique that most look for in their Hall of Famers.
My only real knock on Jeter is his defensive prowess or lack thereof. I know some will glance at the Gold Glove awards on his resume and assume excellence, but Jeter at best was an average defender and below-average later on in his career. This doesn’t take away from his spot in Cooperstown, but I feel we should point out a part of his lore that has been exaggerated over the years because of plays where he has ran into the stands to catch a foul ball or the play in Oakland where he dished the ball to the catcher. While they are great highlights, they don’t speak of his actual defensive standing.
I will admit to loathing the media coverage of Jeter during his final season and it would be hard to even put him as one of the top ten shortstops of all time (JAWS has him ranked 12th all-time). Part of the “Jeter Love” stems purely from the national media, which if we are being honest is essentially the East Coast media. My fellow friends in the Midwest will agree with me that most of the media coverage about baseball leans very much to the New York’s and Boston’s of the world and while I understand most are based there on the eastern portion of the country, it would be wise for them to realize that the entire baseball community does not revolve around there little portion of the world.
So you will hear a lot of smoke blown up the arse of Jeter over the next few days and even the weekend he is inducted. While he was a great player, he wasn’t the greatest ever and he definitely doesn’t deserve to go into ‘The Hall’ on his own. Just a bit of reality would go a long way for some of us who would like to acknowledge his greatness without feeling like we will be told he is a God.
For the first time this year, I voted for two players that I don’t really know whether or not I believe they are Hall of Famers but I wanted more time to review their cases. In years past, there has been such a backload of worthy candidates that it was hard to justify a players vote purely to keep them on the ballot. Since most of that has been cleared out now, I went ahead and voted for Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi so I can continue to review their careers.
Abreu’s case is interesting, since he was never a true superstar but was that solid middle of the lineup bat that always put up solid numbers. There isn’t much black ink, and outside of a few All-Star nods, a Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove, no major awards were really thrown his way.
But what Abreu did do was get on base and rack together a solid 18-year career. He has a few statistics that are in the Top 100 of all-time (something I always look for) and even some that have filtered into the Top 30. Abreu is that borderline case that can go back and forth and while right now I’m not a ‘yes’, I wanted to continue looking into it which is why he received a vote from me.
Same could be said for Giambi, who does have an MVP award to his credit, with a few All-Star appearances and Silver Sluggers to his resume. Giambi has less of a case than Abreu (in my eyes), but his career power numbers are impressive: 50th all-time OPS, 68th slugging percentage, 43rd home runs, 65th RBIs, 82nd OPS+, 67th runs created, 87th extra base hits, 37th RE24 and 47th WPA.
Giambi also has a lot of black ink in his career, and for awhile was one of the top players in the game. His career started tapering off sooner than most would like, but his numbers are intriguing enough that I wanted to try and keep him on the ballot. I tend to think he will never get a 100% ‘yes’ vote from me, but keeping him around for another year or two to fully judge his career isn’t an awful thing to do for someone with his career.
So there are my picks. Like most, I always look forward to this time of year and see the greats of the game truly get the honor they rightfully deserve. The question this year becomes whether or not Derek Jeter is joined by a Larry Walker or a Curt Schilling and just how close the votes get. The voters have done a pretty good job over the last few years and I hope that continues as the years go by. More inductions are good for the game and help show off the diversity that litters Major League Baseball. This should be a showcase for the game, one that allows us to put baseball up on a pedestal. The more crowded the pedestal, the better, in my opinion.
Last week I looked at the Gold Glove Awards and surmised that while in years past the award wasn’t always about defense, the voting was improving and worthy defenders were being honored for their use of the leather. One of the biggest hurdles for me to jump around was how reputation played a big part in how some of the picks were chosen.
At the time I figured I was done discussing this topic for at least another year, but then mere days after I wrote the piece I stumbled across some numbers to back up my claim:
Over a span of 25 years, the winners of a Gold Glove were handed out to one of the top two defenders of their position only 38% of the time. Since Rawlings began working with SABR and SDI (SABR Defensive Index) was created to help evaluate, that number has jumped all the way to 88%! So over the last six years, voters have done 50% better than they did from 1988-2012. That is a massive improvement that speaks volumes of how far defensive metrics have come in such a short span of time. In fact, looking back at previous winners and losers really paints a better picture.
Before we go any farther, a great job has been done by Chris Dial, who is on the Board of Directors for SABR and his creation of RED (Runs Effectively Defended) helped form SDI. My stumbling across Chris’s twitter account pretty much has led us to this point.
So looking back, there were certain positions that voters actually did a fair job at when it came to picking a correct winner, most specifically catcher and third base. But there were some huge gaps in who won and who should have won at a couple of big positions. First base was a position that really showed a leaning toward reputation:
While guys like Mark Grace, John Olerud and Rafael Palmeiro (yes, Palmeiro had a number of years he was worthy, dismissing 1999) were rewarded for the most part for their defensive excellence, it also shows how the perception of Don Mattingly, J.T. Snow and Eric Hosmer guided them to gold despite not being one of the top two defenders at their position.
Shortstop also honored some greats, like Ozzie Smith and Cal Ripken while Omar Vizquel apparently won a number of Gold Gloves that he probably shouldn’t have.
The two most notable miscues on this list are Derek Jeter and Barry Larkin, a current Hall of Famer matched in with a future one. Most have rallied against Jeter’s victories in the past, as it was very obvious his range (or lack thereof) was not of the top shelf variety. The fact these two won eight Gold Gloves while never finishing in the top two of their position speaks volumes of how the voting used to be handled.
There was one more position that I found to have a large gap between the should’s and should not’s, and that was the outfield:
Just looking at this list about made my jaw drop. While Griffey, Hunter and Walker were always thought of as defensive studs, the fact is they were only in the top two of their positions five times. Even more shocking is that Luis Gonzalez and Sammy Sosa should have won a couple of Gold Gloves rather than the zero they compiled.
This would probably be a good time to point out that none of this is saying that all of these players were bad defensively if they won and didn’t finish in the top two. Mr. Dial actually did a good job of pointing that out:
So you can see where adding something like SDI has drastically changed the defensive landscape and showed who the real elite truly are when it comes to glovework. So with the awards handed out just last week, lets see how the voters did:
In the American League, outside of pitcher (Dallas Keuchel won despite being 8th in SDI among pitchers) and center field (Jackie Bradley, Jr. won and was 3rd in SDI at the position) the voters got it right. Both Royals that won (Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez) were in the top two at their position, with Salvy only behind Mike Zunino and Alex having the highest SDI among left fielders.
Meanwhile in the National League:
Catcher and first base were the two positions voters missed on, as Yadier Molina was 6th in SDI behind the dish and Anthony Rizzo won while finishing 4th. Molina once again points out how reputation wins out over numbers some times and while he is still a good defender at the age of 36, he shouldn’t have even been one of the finalists.
So out of 18 awards, only four of the winners were not in the top two at their respective positions. That means that the voters were 78% correct, which is probably about as good as we should expect when there is a human element involved. It is definitely a big improvement over what we saw for years and Rawlings should be commended for wanting to make this whole process more accurate.
The big thing for me is that the stigma of ‘The winners aren’t being honored for their defense’ is starting to fade away. These awards have been looked at as almost a joke for so long that it’s been hard to do a 180 degree turn and applaud the work done to make the honor mean something.
While defensive metrics are still a work in progress, they are improving every day and painting a different picture than the one we sometimes see with our eyes. So while these awards aren’t quite the Fielding Bible Awards, they are getting a little bit closer every day.
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 2014, 2015, 2016, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
Here at Bleeding Royal Blue, I spend a lot of time discussing my favorite team, the Kansas City Royals. But being a baseball fan in general means from time to time a little discussion around both leagues can do some good. So with that said, let’s kickoff the debut column, From the Bleachers!
A Tight Race
Before the season started, most analysts picked the Cleveland Indians to runaway with the American League Central, with the Tigers, Royals, Twins and White Sox either floundering or fighting for a Wild Card spot. I even figured Kansas City and (maybe) Detroit would give them some competition. Instead, Minnesota still sits atop the Central (yes, I noticed, Pete!) with the White Sox holding up the rear, only six games behind. You read that correctly, only six games separate the top and bottom of the division. Minnesota should get some major props for their performance so far, as they improved their two main weaknesses from last year, the defense and bullpen, while getting All-Star contributions from Ervin Santana and Miguel Sano. The Indians sit 2.5 games back, Detroit 3.5 back and the Royals at 5.5 back. Will Cleveland eventually perform closer to their 2016 model and decide they’ve had enough of these silly games? Will Detroit decide if they are contenders or needing to rebuild? Will the Royals wake from their slumber and make one final run with their core group that led them to a championship? If we are basing this off of what has happened to this point, I don’t know if any of that will happen. If I had to use one word to describe this division to this point, the word ‘mediocre’ would seem fair; ‘eh’ would work as well. Maybe this pattern will continue over the next four months and my friends up in Minnesota will be super happy. No matter the result, it’s hard not to feel underwhelmed by the Central over the last couple of months.
The Machine and 600
This past week, Albert Pujols clubbed his 600th career home run, an achievement only nine players have reached in MLB history. The Pujols we have seen the last five seasons pales in comparison to the one who was probably the best player in baseball in his first decade in the league. Despite that, Pujols is still a productive hitter, one who has averaged an OPS+ of 111 during that span. Injuries have taken its toll on him, and it’s easy to forget just how dominate Pujols was in his prime. According to the website Hall of Stats (which I highly recommend when determining a player’s value, especially when the Hall of Fame voting comes around), Pujols has a Hall rating of 211, which ranks him as the 30th best player (statistically) all-time and the 3rd best first baseman. Yes, we are seeing his regression right now, which should be expected in his late 30’s. But there are still some major goals he could reach before he retires, as he still has four years left on his contract after the current season. Pujols is 122 hits away from 3,000 and 140 RBI’s away from 2,000 for his career. Let’s enjoy the last few years of his career, because we are nearing the end of a Hall of Fame career.
Have a Day, Scooter
On Tuesday, Scooter Gennett of the Cincinnati Reds joined some elite company, hitting four home runs in one game, going 5-5 while driving in 10 runs. This, from a guy who before the season had hit 38 home runs in five big league seasons. Scooter doesn’t fit the profile of a guy who would club four in a game, not like the last guy to do it, Josh Hamilton. In fact, Gennett is only the 17th career player to reach this feat, a list that includes Hall of Famers like Mike Schmidt, Willie Mays and Lou Gehrig. This list also includes the like of Mark Whiten, Bob Horner and the infamous Bobby Lowe, he of 71 career homers. Safe to say Scooter will never have another night like this ever again, so I hope he soaks in all the adulation and enjoys his moment. His name alone will be a fun trivia question to bring up for many years to come.
Scherzer Meets Kershaw
As the season is unfolding, an interesting occurrence has developed that few probably saw coming: Max Scherzer is making a run at being the best pitcher in baseball. Clayton Kershaw has held that title for close to five years now and while Scherzer has compiled two Cy Young Award’s in that time-span, he still has not performed close enough to even have that conversation. But so far in 2017, Kershaw has put up an ERA+ (which is adjusted to the pitcher’s ballpark) of 185, which leads the league. Scherzer is right on his tail at 181 while leading the league in strike outs, WHIP and hits per 9. On Tuesday, Scherzer was dominate, striking out 14, walking 2 and allowing 1 run (unearned) in his 7 innings of work. In fact, Scherzer has three straight starts of 10+ strike outs, 7+ innings and 1 run or less. It’s going to be interesting to see if Scherzer can keep this up (which I believe he is capable of) and if he can continue to go toe to toe with Kershaw. I love watching Kershaw pitch, but I am always up for some healthy competition between two elite pitchers at the top of their game.
McCutchen Has a Pulse
Over the last two seasons, there has been a lot of discussion about the decline of Andrew McCutchen. Hitters normally start seeing a regression when they reach their early 30’s, but McCutchen didn’t turn 30 until last October and while injuries have been popping up for him the last couple seasons, it was hard to fathom that his decline would hit this badly, this early. Myself, like many other analysts, felt that McCutchen would bounce back this year and produce at a pace closer to his best years than his lackluster 2016. Instead, Cutch stumbled out the gate this year and as late as May 23 saw his batting average sitting at .200. But over the last 10 games, he has looked like the Cutch of old:
Andrew McCutchen's last 10 games 14-for-37 (.378 BA) .478 OBP, .676 SLG 3 HR, 9 RBI 7 BB, 9 K Nice to finally write something good about him
If McCutchen has finally found his groove, that is great timing for him and the Pirates. I am a big fan of not only McCutchen the player but also McCutchen the person. Baseball is stronger with him locked in.
The Elbow and the Damage Done
Finally, another alarming Tommy John Surgery stat came out this week worth noting:
Over 87% of MLB games this season have featured at least one pitcher who has had Tommy John surgery. 100% of Cleveland Indians games.
I’ve spoken many times on this blog about the dreaded Tommy John Surgery and it amazes me that there isn’t more pressure to figure out a more worthwhile solution to this problem. While the new surgery that was done on Seth Maness cut his time out of action down considerably (down to 7 1/2 months), I still feel there should be more research done on a solution, not just a quicker remedy. If you are a believer that a pitcher’s arm has only so many bullets in it, it can’t help that many youngsters are throwing more pitches while their arm is still developing than ever before. If you are of the Nolan Ryan school of thought, you believe pitchers need to throw more, not less. An excerpt from a Ryan interview done in 2014:
Ryan said that in September of 1988 with Houston, he began experiencing pain in his elbow and paid a visit to Jobe in Los Angeles, who advised him to shut it down for the last couple of weeks of the season and resume throwing in December.
“There was a partial tear there,” he said. “It still hurt in December, but when I got to spring training, the pain began to dissipate until it was gone. Dr. Jobe said it had scarred over and that helped protect the elbow. I pitched with that tear the rest of my career.”
Ryan had two more 200-inning seasons and led the NL in strikeouts with 301 in ‘89 and 232 in ‘90.
While Tommy John agrees with Ryan, he also feels like I do, that kids today are throwing way too much, especially year round:
“First of all, one of the biggest reasons for all the arm injuries in baseball today is the way young kids are handled by their coaches in grade school and high school, pitching them year-round,” said John by phone from his home in Syracuse. “They’re told if they want to make it, they have to play travel ball — and that results in the over-use of their arms when they’re body is not fully developed. Travel ball has taken over the entire country and parents need to be educated about what this does to these kids’ arms.”
“I absolutely agree with Nolan that more is better,” John said. “Years ago, I’d have gone along with the thinking that there’s only so many bullets in your arm. But we’ve ‘dumbed down’ our thinking today to believing that pitch counts and innings limitations are the way to go to preserve arms. Starting in 1975 with the White Sox, when Johnny Sain was my pitching coach, I would throw six days a week out of seven and it was the best my arm ever felt. For the next 13 years, I never missed a start, except once when I had the flu. Sain believed in throwing between starts and it’s no coincidence that one of his disciples, Leo Mazzone, subscribed to that same philosophy, practicing and throwing every day, as pitching coach for the Braves. The Braves had the best pitching staffs in baseball in the ’90s and all guys like (Greg) Maddux and (Tom) Glavine did was pitch and win and never got hurt.”
So is the answer pitching less in your youth and more once your body has developed? And if that is the answer, how long will it take before travel league or high school coaches actually worry less about winning and more about their kid’s future health? I don’t know if this is completely the solution to the problem, but it doesn’t appear to be a bad place to start.
November is a great month to be a baseball fan; there is the afterglow of the World Series, Hot Stove season gears up and we all get to take a glance back and venture back into just how great this past baseball season has been. This of course means that the award winners are announced by not only the BBWAA, but by a group I am proud to be a member of, the IBWAA. Being a member allows me to vote on the year-end awards and for the third straight year, have done just that. If you want to check out my past ballots, here they are: 2014 and 2015. It is an honor for me to be allowed the opportunity to vote and I take it very seriously. With that said, here are my picks for this past 2016 season.
American League MVP: Mike Trout
For the second consecutive year, my vote was for the best player in the game, Mike Trout. This actually has been a very heated debate over the last few months, as even back in August I was saying Trout should be given heavy consideration for this award. The sentimental pick is Jose Altuve and the ‘my team made the playoffs’ pick is Mookie Betts. I instead went with the ‘his numbers are ultimately better’ pick in Trout. All Trout did this year was lead the league in runs, walks, on-base percentage, OPS+, bWAR, fWAR, oWAR, runs created, adjusted batting runs, win probability added for an offensive player and RE24. Oh, he also got better this year, in case anyone didn’t notice. Trout walked more, struck out less, stole three times more bases this year than last, and hit for a higher average, while his other stats were on par with last year. The argument against Trout was…well, it was that his team sucked. But that is really not his fault and in fact you can say the Angels might have been way worse if it was not for Trout. His WPA sat at 6.5, which factors in how he helped his team change the outcome of the game. The next closest batter in the American League was Josh Donaldson…who was at 4.3 WPA, over 2 wins less than Trout. At some point, baseball should view Trout for what he is: the game’s best player no matter whether or not his team is losing. Considering the MVP award is an individual award, not a team one, I give the nod to the player who had the best season and that would be Trout…and it’s not really even close.
My Top 3: 1-Trout, 2-Mookie Better, 3-Jose Altuve
IBWAA Winner: Mike Trout
BBWAA Winner: Mike Trout
National League MVP: Kris Bryant
In this space just last year, Kris Bryant was the easy choice for NL Rookie of the Year. Just one year later, he is my choice for NL MVP in just his second season in the big leagues. Bryant led the league in bWAR, fWAR, oWAR, and runs scored while finishing second in WPA/LI and third in five other categories. While finishing second in home runs and third in runs created is very nice, there was two very big numbers that swayed me to Bryant. For one, Bryant was third in RE24, which factors in runs added in a resulting play by either a batter or baserunner. Considering he was also fourth in both adjusted batting runs and adjusted batting wins, this would tell me that Bryant contributed greatly from both his bat and his baserunning. The other big factor for me was Bryant’s defense, or more precisely the factor of his value all over the field. While Bryant posted a dWAR this year of 0.8, what makes it even more impressive is just how many positions he would play and not hurt his defensive stats. Kris would start games at 3B, 1B, LF, RF in 2016, and would also make appearances for an inning at both CF and SS for a game. So here is a guy who would play all over the diamond this year, producing MVP offensive numbers and above average defensive numbers. While Daniel Murphy, Freddie Freeman and Corey Seager were all worthy candidates, only one player was an all-around choice for this award, and his name is Kris Bryant.
My Top 3: 1-Bryant, 2-Corey Seager, 3-Freddie Freeman
IBWAA Winner: Kris Bryant
BBWAA Winner: Kris Bryant
American League Cy Young Award: Chris Sale
This was easily the hardest category to make a decision on and I can honestly say I’m still not 100% comfortable with my pick. To me, there were positives and negatives to almost all of the candidates for this award and after digesting the numbers I felt like Chris Sale was the most deserving pitcher for this award. That being said, no one pitcher stood out of the bunch and that is why you are seeing such discourse when it comes to this award. Let’s start with my choice, Sale. He was tied for first in fWAR, first in complete games, 2nd in strike outs, 3rd in FIP, innings pitched, K/BB ratio, and WHIP and fourth in hits per 9 innings and walks per 9, all while facing the second most batters in the league. This is why this was such a hard pick: Corey Kluber and Justin Verlander also led in a number of categories and were on par with Sale’s performance this year. So what about Rick Porcello? He had a good year, but I had a hard time going with a guy who got the best run support in baseball (6.61) and much of his case was dictated on his win total. Zach Britton? I considered him for the award, but I had a few issues with his case (which we will go into later in this article) and even felt that Andrew Miller had a better season than he did. So I went with Sale, although if you told me that Kluber or Verlander were more deserving, I probably wouldn’t put up much of a fight. This was the year where no clear winner was defined.
My Top 3: 1-Sale, 2- Corey Kluber, 3-Justin Verlander
IBWAA Winner: Corey Kluber
BBWAA Winner: Rick Porcello
National League Cy Young Award: Clayton Kershaw
Remember how I wrote above how I had considered Zach Britton for the AL Cy Young? A lot of the Britton argument was based on ignoring his innings pitched and focus on how tremendous his numbers were in 2016. So if we are considering Britton, then shouldn’t we have to look at Clayton Kershaw as a worthy candidate in the National League? I believe so and I will take it a step further by saying that Kershaw’s season was so spectacular that even with only 149 innings tossed, he was my pick for NL Cy Young. Follow me on this one, if you will: despite Kershaw’s low innings total, he was still 2nd in bWAR and first in fWAR, stats that are normally driven up as the season progresses. Read that again; in 33 less innings than Noah Syndergaard of the Mets (the fWAR runner-up), Kershaw accumulated more WAR than any other pitcher in the National League. If he had been qualified, Kershaw would have led the NL in ERA, WHIP, hits per 9, walks per 9, strikeouts to bases on balls ratio, ERA+, and FIP…and if he had stayed on par with what he had done to that point it wouldn’t have even been close! Kershaw did lead the league in shutouts, WPA/LI, REW, and adjusted pitching wins, 3rd in complete games and win probability added and 2nd in adjusted pitching runs and RE24. All in just 149 innings.To put it another way, Kershaw was on course for an absolutely record-breaking season if it were not for being sidelined for a couple of months over the summer. To me, it was worth enough to win him the Cy Young. This wasn’t a knock on Kyle Hendricks, Max Scherzer, Syndergaard or Jon Lester. It was more that Kershaw was absolutely dominating when healthy…and it wasn’t even close. We really saw an absolutely amazing season from a probable future Hall of Famer in Clayton Kershaw.
My Top 3: 1-Kershaw, 2-Noah Syndergaard, 3-Jose Fernandez
IBWAA Winner: Max Scherzer
BBWAA Winner: Max Scherzer
American League Rookie of the Year: Michael Fulmer
There was a small debate late in the season for this award, as Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez made a late push, but in the end this was Michael Fulmer’s prize to win. Fulmer compiled a great rookie season in Detroit, racking up 159 innings over 26 starts, a 135 ERA+, 3.76 FIP, and a WHIP of 1.119. Fulmer also put together a 33.1 inning scoreless streak early in the season, that was put to bed on June 18 in Kansas City. Fulmer was a great addition to the Detroit rotation but late in the year he did receive some competition from Sanchez, who was able to piece together a 3.0 bWAR season in just 53 games. Fulmer was still able to beat him out with 4.9 bWAR and for the honor of being the best rookie in the American League. All this from a pitcher acquired the year before from the Mets for Yoenis Cespedes, a deal that could be paying off in Detroit for a long time.
My Top 3: 1-Fulmer, 2-Gary Sanchez, 3-Tyler Naquin
IBWAA Winner: Michael Fulmer
BBWAA Winner: Michael Fulmer
National League Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager
This was another slam dunk pick and one that many (like myself) predicted before the season began. Seager blew away the rookie competition this year and even forced himself into the NL MVP race this year. Seager led all National League rookies in fWAR, bWAR, RBI’s, runs, and was second in home runs and wRC+. Overall, he was 5th in bWAR and runs scored, 2nd in oWAR, 1oth in slugging percentage and runs created, 4th in total bases, 7th in doubles, and 8th in RE24. The Dodgers struggled quite a bit offensively in 2016, but Seager was solid the entire year, never posting an on-base percentage below .311 in any month. Seager’s rookie season was almost record-breaking as well, as he had the 6th best rookie campaign according to fWAR this year, sitting at 7.5, and has the second best rookie season in the modern era (1988-today). So while Trea Turner, Trevor Story and Jon Gray had good to great first seasons, none were quite as good as the Dodgers starting shortstop.
My Top 3: 1-Seager, 2-Jon Gray, 3-Trea Turner
IBWAA Winner: Corey Seager
BBWAA Winner: Corey Seager
American League Manager of the Year: Jeff Banister
Banister was last year’s pick in both the IBWAA and the BBWAA, and I had him a close second to Minnesota’s Paul Molitor. But this year, my pick went to Banister. The Texas Rangers dealt with a number of issues this past year,most notably when it came to injuries. The team lost portions of their rotation throughout the year, whether it was Yu Darvish, Derek Holland or Colby Lewis. Shin-Soo Choo was in and out of the lineup most of the year and Josh Hamilton never even got going. Throw in the ineffectiveness and injuries for Carlos Gomez and the career-ending neck injury to Prince Fielder and you have a team that could have been a mess. Instead, Banister led his team to the best record in the American League and found a number of working parts to fill any holes he had. While Terry Francona and Buck Showalter were both excellent choices, to me Jeff Banister overcame a ton of obstacles and did the best managing job in the American League this year.
My Top 3: 1-Banister, 2-Terry Francona, 3-Buck Showalter
IBWAA Winner: Terry Francona
BBWAA Winner: Terry Francona
National League Manager of the Year: Dave Roberts
Managing in the big leagues isn’t always an easy job. For a first-time manager, it can be twice as daunting. So while Dave Roberts walked into a solid roster when he inherited the Dodgers as manager, he also had his work cut out for him. Not only was he going to have to juggle a roster that was littered with veterans, but he also fell into a rotation that be dealt a number of injuries and the whole Yasiel Puig situation. There was also an offense that lingered in the middle of the pack in most offensive categories in 2016 but did manage to accumulate the 3rd highest fWAR in the NL. Oh, he also had to deal with losing the best pitcher in baseball, Clayton Kershaw, for about two months of the season. Throw in those struggles of a first year manager that we mentioned earlier and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Los Angeles didn’t even capture a playoff spot. Instead, Roberts steered his team to a division title and took them all the way to Game 6 of the NLCS before being ousted. To me, that wins you NL Manager of the Year.
My Top 3: 1-Roberts, 2-Dusty Baker, 3-Joe Maddon
IBWAA Winner: Joe Maddon
BBWAA Winner: Dave Roberts
American League Reliever of the Year: Andrew Miller
Someone right now just said “He misspelled Zach Britton”. No, I didn’t. I know this will shock some, but despite Britton’s fantastic 2016, I viewed Andrew Miller’s season in a much brighter light. Let’s go ahead and break down some numbers to get a better view of where I am coming from. First, I won’t squabble over innings pitched. Miller only threw 7 more innings than Britton this year, which means very little. Miller led Britton in K/9 (14.89 to 9.94), BB/9 (1.09 to 2.42), LOB% (95.7 to 89.7), HR/FB ratio (20 to 7.1), FIP (1.68 to 1.94), xFIP (1.18 to 2.09) and possibly most importantly, fWAR (2.9 to 2.5). Yes, Britton had a better HR/9 ratio (0.13 to 0.97) and a much lower ERA (0.54 to 1.45) but to me that wasn’t enough to say Britton was better. Yes, despite Britton’s insane WPA (6.14 to Miller’s 4.79), it still felt to me that Miller was the better reliever this year. One final number tipped me to Miller’s side over Britton. In Britton’s 69 appearances, he pitched only 6 games of more than 1 inning and 11 games where he pitched less than 1 inning. In Miller’s 70 games, he threw 11 games of more than 1 inning and 8 games of less than 1 inning. It’s not a giant gap, but it does show Miller was used in longer stretches in the game than Britton, and it might have been even more if he had been pitching in Cleveland all year. For all the talk about Britton this year, there should have been a lot more talk about Andrew Miller’s 2016. For me, the choice is easy. Miller was the best reliever in the American League this past year.
My top 3: 1-Miller, 2-Zach Britton, 3-Dellin Betances
IBWAA Winner: Zach Britton
National League Reliever of the Year: Jeurys Familia
This was another tough battle and while I thought Kenley Jansen had a great year, I felt like Familia’s was just slightly better. Jansen did beat Familia in a number of categories: K/9, BB/9, ERA, FIP, ERA+ and fWAR. All solid categories and I don’t discount any of them. Familia did pitch in about 7 more games, while throwing about 9 more innings. Familia also had a better HR/9 rate and it wasn’t even very close (0.12 to 0.52). Where I liked Familia a bit more was WPA, Win Probability Added. Familia had a WPA of 1.82 to Jansen’s 1.77 while his WPA+ was much higher than Jansen’s, 11.54 to 7.32. These numbers tell me that Familia seemed to pitch in more high leverage situations, which is a bit more valuable. The Clutch stat also leans a bit toward Familia, 0.27 to 0.95. So in the end I voted for Familia, although a vote for Jansen isn’t a bad one either. If I was being 100% honest, looking at everything right now, I might have changed my vote for Jansen if I could do it again. Either way, both had great seasons with Familia getting the very slight edge in this battle.
My Top 3: 1-Jeurys Familia, 2-Kenley Jansen, 3-Tyler Thornburg
IBWAA Winner: Kenley Jansen
So there you go, my votes for this 2016 season. I’m sure some of you will disagree, but that is part of the fun of these picks. It is a great honor that I get to vote every year like this and I can only hope I do a respectable part to show the value of an organization like the IBWAA. This is a game we all love and while we might squabble here and there on numbers, it really comes down to what you value. I can only hope 2017 brings us just as many highly contested winners. Here’s to baseball being back sooner rather than later.
It’s a tough time to be a Minnesota Twins fan. After an unexpected second place finish in the American League Central in 2015(and competing for a playoff spot into the last week of the season), the belief was that the Twins would take another step forward in 2016. Minnesota was expected to grow from last year’s success, especially with the addition of some top-level prospects being around all year(Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton) and the addition of Korean slugger Byung Ho Park, so it appeared that second year manager Paul Molitor had a contender on his hands. I definitely had bought in, as I expected the Twins to garnish a playoff spot this year, with my belief being that they had a great mix of veterans, youngsters and a great leader in Molitor. Instead this year has felt like a horror show, as they are 14.5 games out of first in the Central, 13 games below .500. But this isn’t a brow beating on this year’s Twins team as much as it’s a look back at my fondness for a team that was a big part of my childhood.
Now, I am a devoted Kansas City Royals fan and have been since I was 7 years old; that will never change. But in 1987 I couldn’t help but root for a fun Minnesota Twins team that would go on and win the World Series that year. What really started my ‘Minnesota Love’ was Kirby Puckett. Puckett was everything great about baseball; a cherubic center fielder who could hit, run and play defense and had elevated himself to be one of the great players in the game. I loved watching Puckett run around the outfield, then step to the plate and rack up hit after hit. He fit in perfectly in the 1980’s, an era of contact hitters like Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs and Don Mattingly. Puckett also seemed to have a child-like grin on his face at all times, leaving the impression that he was having as much fun playing the game as we did watching him. Puckett was a perennial All-Star, a guy who averaged 192 hits a season throughout his 12 year career, multiple time Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner and was voted in the top ten of the American League MVP ballots 7 of his 12 major league seasons. I know some have questioned whether or not he should have been a Hall of Famer, but in my eyes there was never a question. Puckett was one of the best throughout his career and one can only imagine what his final numbers would have been had glaucoma not taken his sight. There were some less than flattering moments for Puckett post-career but Puckett the ballplayer was a joy to watch play.
Once you looked at the rest of the roster, there was a nice group of players who were easy to root for. Kent Hrbek was the lovable, goofy first baseman with power. Dan Gladden, current Twins radio broadcaster, played like his hair was on fire and was the spark plug at the top of the lineup. Frank Viola was the left-handed ace who had elevated himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball. Bert Blyleven was nearing the end of his career but still fun to watch. I also can’t forget Juan Berenguer, a guy who did not fit the normal physique of a major league ballplayer but was a pivotal part of the Minnesota bullpen. Even the 1991 World Series team was easy to root for, with Puckett, Hrbek, Gladden and pitchers like Scott Erickson and Kevin Tapani holding down the rotation and Rick Aguilera closing out of the pen. The Twins had players who were fun to watch and it always appeared as if Tom Kelly led teams played more as a team and weren’t as focused on individual numbers. As the Royals have shown these last few years, if you play as a team there is a good chance that winning is part of the formula.
Speaking of Kansas City, there is a deep connection between those late 1980’s/early 1990’s Twins team and the Royals. Many of the Twins who helped Minnesota win those two World Series’ would eventually spend time in Kansas City. Gary Gaetti, the Twins third baseman for both championship teams, would eventually move onto the Royals and would even hit 35 home runs for Kansas City in 1995. Greg Gagne was a pivotal part of those Minnesota teams and he would go on to play three seasons in Kansas City at shortstop; his offense wasn’t anything to write home about, but his defense got him 4.8 dWAR during that period. Chuck Knoblauch would play his last major league season for the Royals, producing a -0.7 bWAR in just 80 games. Chili Davis would end up in Kansas City in 1997, hitting 30 home runs and posting 2.4 bWAR. As if that wasn’t enough, Berenguer pitched for the Royals earlier in his career, while backup catcher Sal Butera’s son, Drew, would later play for the Twins and is the current backup receiver in Kansas City. So in a roundabout way, I got to see a few of the bigger pieces of those championship Twins team’s contribute in a Royals uniform.
But it wasn’t just the players or the style of baseball they played that made me intrigued by the Twins. As a kid, I was enamored with the Metrodome, warts and all. Here was this domed stadium that had character and didn’t have the feel of cookie cutter stadiums like Three Rivers or Veterans Stadium. Minnesota had the “baggie” out in right field(which is now a handbag), and a roof that looked spectacular but was easy for fielders to lose a pop fly in. The crowd always seemed raucous and during the playoffs the fans would wave their “Homer Hanky” to get the team going. There seemed to be a whole atmosphere to that stadium that I wanted to be a part of and that lured me into wanting this team to succeed. Sure, I had heard stories about the stadium being broken down, cold, drab and being nothing but a big slab of concrete, but that didn’t seem to matter to me much. It just seemed like a fun place to watch a baseball game from. I still get goosebumps when I think back to Game 163 of the 2009 season, when the Twins and Tigers battled it out in the dome for the Central Division title. Here was a stadium that being replaced the next season but it was going to get one more thrilling, iconic moment before it was gone. The Metrodome might not have had the beauty of Kauffman Stadium(yes, biased), the legend of a Wrigley Field or the visual classicism of a Camden Yards, but it had its own nuances that would grow on you. I never got to attend a game at the Metrodome, which saddens me, but I was able to be at Target Field a few years back. While I liked Target Field and think it is a solid replacement for the Metrodome, I have a feeling it won’t match up when it comes to the character of that old dome.
You would think that with the Twins being in the same division as my Royals I would loathe them and wish for them to just go away, but I don’t. I have very fond memories of the Twins and most years wish them the best. Well, I always hope they don’t do as good as Kansas City, but otherwise I want them to have success. It blows my mind sometimes when I think back and remember there was a period where baseball considered contracting the Twins. This is an organization with rich history and the idea of a baseball team not being up in Minnesota is unfathomable. When I go back and think about baseball highlights in my life that I will play over and over in my head, there are a number of Twins highlights that will live on forever. Puckett’s catch, Larkin’s single, Morris’s pitching and Casilla’s single; all are memories etched in my head forever. For that, I thank Minnesota. Thank you for making my childhood brighter and my adulthood memorable. I still kinda love ya.
If you follow baseball in any manner, then I am sure you have heard the anger, the scorn, and the horrow spewed out by baseball fans who feel the voting for this years All-Star Game in Cincinnati is “making the game look bad” and “is not fair” to all the players who really deserve to go. You see, at this point there are eight(yep, 8!!) Kansas City Royals that would be starting in this year’s ‘Mid-Summer Classic’ and if you ask most fans they would tell you that is a travesty. That is, except for us Royals fans. We love it. We love that we are eerily close to starting our entire starting nine this year despite the fact that two of those players(Omar Infante and Alex Rios) have no business being in the Great American Ball Park on July 14th unless they have bought a ticket. But once again, we love it. Everyone else seems mad about this but they really shouldn’t be and I’m about to tell you why…
Let’s start with the most obvious reason: this is an exhibition game. Seriously folks, this is a game played in the middle of the season that does not count in the standings and is purely just a chance to watch all the best players in the American League take on all the best players in the National League. Before interleague play it was one of the few chances to see players from your favorite team play against players you never see because they are in the other league. So if you were a Royals fan you never got to see guys like Tony Gwynn, or Dwight Gooden(in his early years) because they were National Leaguers. Nowadays though, it is no big deal to see guys from the other league, as there is a good chance you already played them during the season. Just look at last year’s World Series; the Royals and Giants played each other in August, so it was two teams who had faced off just a few months earlier. This game is purely for fun and players just aren’t going 100% for the most part, as they don’t want to get hurt in a pointless exhibition. But what about home field advantage going to the winner of the game?
Before 2003, home field advantage in the World Series switched off every year. Odd years was the American League, even years were the National League’s. But after the 2002 All-Star Game ended in a tie, Major League Baseball decided to switch things up. You see, before then, the All-Star game really didn’t matter; sure, it was great for your first couple times you appeared in it or if you were playing in your home park. But otherwise, it was a game that was getting in the way of a couple days off and it was played as such. Back then, most managers tried to get as many of the players into the game so they would get an All-Star appearance in. Now, MLB tries to play it as “the game matters”. Problem is, the players still would mostly prefer four days off. Sure, you won’t hear them publicly say they don’t want to play in the “game that matters”. Hell, they’ll even say in public that the game is important and might give their team home field advantage in the World Series. But go look back year by year; players continually sit out the game. Sure, there are starting pitchers that can’t play because they started the weekend before the game. Some have legitimate injuries and need the extra days of rest. But a lot of them just don’t care because they understand it’s an exhibition. Sure, the guys like to be there, cheer on their team or watch the Home Run Derby; it is still an honor and they appreciate it as such. But many players take it for what it is: a game for the fans that doesn’t count in the big picture. Home field advantage is great, but if you get that far into the season, you should be able to win anywhere, road or home.
There is also the argument that you should want the most deserving players to start in this game, the players who have had the best seasons up to this point. I get this argument and for years I fell in line with that. You don’t have to look far to see a perfect example of a player getting voted in that shouldn’t have: Derek Jeter in 2014. I know someone just threw their keyboard across the room right now by me saying that(probably a Yankees fan) but the fact is Derek wasn’t the best shorstop statistically in 2014. In fact, if we are going by just their play on the field, Jeter wouldn’t have even belonged on the All-Star roster. But Jeter was in his final season in the big leagues and it was a way of honoring him. Fine, I get that and even accepted it last year. But don’t fool yourself; this proves once again it is more about the exhibition than the home field advantage. For years, Hall of Fame caliber players have appeared in the All-Star Game for one last hurrah. I am perfectly fine with this, as I understand the game is just for fun. But if you are going to be okay with a player like that being honored and appearing in the mid-summer classic, you have to also acknowledge that whomever starts the game really doesn’t matter either.
The other part of this silliness is the fact that most players who start the All-Star game normally only last the first 3 innings. That’s right, all this uproar about the Royals players starting and most of them will only play the first few innings. Yep, sure worth all that anger that is consuming you, huh? Maybe this would be a bigger problem if the starters played all 9 innings but they very rarely do. So you prefer Jose Altuve to Infante at second base? Well, more than likely Altuve will be in late in the game when it might matter more and it will completely negate the argument of having him start. In games like this it almost matters more on who finishes the game rather than who starts it.
As a Royals fan I think I shoud clarify something here. I agree with most of you in saying Infante doesn’t deserve to start in this game and is purely getting in because of the Royals rabid fanbase. Look at it this way, non-Royals fans. Before 2014, our team really didn’t matter much for close to 20 years. We have seen some absolutely putrid baseball in that span and for quite awhile we were the laughingstock of the sport. But now we matter and it has re-energized the fans. Sure, I wore my Royals appearal all the time in this span; I am a die-hard. I will be here till the end and I have no problems with that. But some fans needed a little poke. That poke was winning. The Royals are a good baseball team now and have given the fans a reason to support them and be proud. The voting has been so skewed toward the Royals because this is a hungry fanbase. We’ve been starving for years for good baseball and now that we are getting it, it is causing everyone to step up and vote. Hey, we are even doing it legitimately ! Trust me, even I thought there was some sneakiness going on, but outside of a few instances of writers getting suspicious e-mails , it appears voting is truly on the up and up. Winning causes fans to be more involved, and Royals fans had 30 years of no playoff baseball; just imagine how most of us feel, like this might not happen again for a very, very long time. So as fans, we are taking advantage of the team’s success.
The one other thing to remember here is that outside of Infante, the other 7 possible starters are legitimate candidates for the All-Star Game this season. Sure, a few of them might not be having the best season at their position, but they are all putting up numbers worthy of an All-Star selection. Look at someone like Mike Moustakas, who has turned his career around this season and is having a career year. Sure, Josh Donaldson is raking this year and is probably having the better year, but Moose is still an All-Star in my mind. Go ahead, go down the list-Cain, Gordon, Escobar, Hosmer, Morales and Perez; all worthy of being at the game in July. This would be a different case if they were having bad seasons, but they aren’t. Starting or not, these guys all should probably be All-Stars-except for Infante. Even we don’t really want him on our team. But we want our guys at the All-Star game and unfortunately, he is a Royal.
So all you non-Royals fans, calm down. This is a one year anomaly that even we acknowledge will probably never happen again. Let us have this moment. I was fortunate to be at the 2012 All-Star Game in Kansas City and as much as I talk about it being an exhibition, it is still a fun exhibition and a game that I am glad I can say I was in attendance. I highly recommend everyone who is not a Royals fan to go online and put your votes in; this is a fun exercise and one in which you can celebrate your team’s best players. How does the old adage go? “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”. So join us and let’s see just how competitive the voting can get. Instead of getting angry about the results it might be better to just join in and try to topple this monster we have created. Trust me, the rules for the balloting is the same for you guys as it is for us; we are just taking advantage of it more. Let this be fun instead of sounding like old men telling kids to get off their lawn. The whole point of this is purely fun. Also, if the voting doesn’t change before it is all said and done, I think we should make Mike Trout an honorary Royal and give him his on Kansas City uniform. Just a thought. I have to go now; I have important things on my schedule:
“My impact on the game was going out there and making things happen”
Rickey Henderson is a lot of things. Rickey is entertaining. Rickey is a Hall of Famer. Rickey is baseball’s all-time stolen base leader. But is Rickey the greatest of all time? After breaking Lou Brock’s career stolen base record, he declared just that:
Sure, in May of 1991, this seemed like a ludicrous statement. We all knew Rickey was a great base stealer and a future Hall of Famer, but declaring yourself the greatest back then just seemed cocky(which it was). Normally when you think of the greatest in baseball history, names like Ruth, Aaron, Williams, Mays and Mantle all come to mind, but the more you think about, putting Henderson in that list isn’t as far fetched as it seemed back in 1991. When it comes to a complete player, Rickey is on that short list of players who can make that argument.
To really dive into this, we need to define our parameters. This isn’t the player who meant the most to the game or dominated his era; that would go to Babe Ruth, who while being one of the greatest ever, was not a five tool player. It isn’t who was the best fielder or best hitter either; those are singular sections of the game that don’t encompass a complete player. A complete player is one who does a bit of everything and does them really well. Running speed, arm strength, hitting for average, hitting for power, and fielding are the five tools and very few players are able to show greatness at all of them. Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Mickey Mantle and Ken Griffey, Jr. would join Henderson on this short list of players who were able to be a complete package. Obviously most on this list might have one tool they were maybe average at, but greatness at the other four made it easier to look past it. So let’s break down these players numbers…
Let’s start with the obvious, which is running speed. If we just went by stolen bases Rickey would run away(deliberate and expected pun) with the category. I decided to dig a bit deeper into this category though, so lets look at ‘Runs from Baserunning'(Rbaser). Comparing the six players mentioned above,Henderson is the easy winner with 144 over his career. In fact this race isn’t even close, as the next closest in this category is Willie Mays at 77. The surprising player in this department is Ken Griffey Jr. who only compiled a 16 over his 22 year career. In fact Griffey had numerous seasons in the negative, mostly later in his career once his injuries started piling up. We could check a few more numbers relating to base running, but I’m pretty sure we end up at the same spot, with Rickey at the top of the mountain. No big surprise there.
Arm strength wasn’t one of Rickey’s strong points, as he probably had an average throwing arm at best. Maybe the best way to decipher this is to look at assists in a season. Hank Aaron sits atop this leader board with 201 assists over his career while Rickey is next to last on this list. Mantle sits lower than Henderson, but Mickey also played 8 less years then Henderson which plays into his 117 assists compared to Rickey’s 131. Since we are already on fielding, lets compare these players using dWAR first. Henderson has a -3.4 career dWAR, but he is not alone on the negative side of the board. Both Aaron and Mantle also reside there, -4.8 and -10.1 respectively. Willie May’s blows away the competition here, as he has a career dWAR of 18.1! Bonds is next at 6.7 and Griffey at 1.3. I should also mention here that how you feel about this is probably predetermined on how you feel about defensive metrics. In my mind defensive metrics help show a player’s value, but I also think they are a work in progress. We can all probably agree that Mays was probably the defensive superior out of this bunch; that’s probably not even really up for argument. But do you feel as if Griffey was just a barely better than average defender? Or that Mantle was a horrendous defender? Probably not, although both players were slowed down by injuries late in their career. I decided to go a bit deeper defensively so I decided to check each player’s UZR rating(Ultimate Zone Rating, putting a run value to defense, attempting to quantify how many runs a player saved or gave up through their fielding prowess, or lack thereof). Using UZR(TZ before 2002) showed us basically the same thing that dWAR showed us; Mays and Bonds are the superior defenders, while Mantle and Griffey were the bottom of this list. Both Bonds and Mays were in the 180’s with their UZR while Griffey and Mantle were in the negatives. Henderson floated in between, sitting at 63.4, lower than Aaron but better than Griffey. What I take from all of this is that Henderson was probably an average defender, maybe even slightly above average who was aided by his speed early in his career, especially when it came to range. I think this also points out that our perspective on Ken Griffey Jr. was from early in his career when he was a defensive daredevil. His later years(mainly once he was traded to the Reds) showed a defender who was a shadow of his former self. Injuries can do that to even the greatest of players.
Now lets look at hitting for average.The easiest way to do this is by batting average, with most of this group hitting between .298 and .305. The only two with career batting averages below that is Griffey at .284 and Henderson at .279. You have to think that Rickey hanging on and playing those last 4 years didn’t help him, as he posted his lowest hitting averages those years. But I don’t think average really covers this whole section, so lets dig deeper. A big part of a consistently quality hitter is someone who can get on base, so I figured I would check these players career On-Base Percentage(OBP). No surprise that Barry Bonds would lead here with a .444 career OBP, with Mantle second at .421 and Rickey coming in third at .401. Henderson did lead the league 4 times in walks and 7 times had seasons where he accumulated over 100 walks. Obviously Rickey knew how to get on base and was a master at it.
Time to move on to hitting with power, and I don’t think I am going on a ledge by saying that Rickey probably won’t match up as well with the other players in this category. Considering the other 5 players in this comparison all have at least 500 home runs and 4 of those have over 600, it’s safe to say Rickey will lack a bit here, since his career total is at 297 career home runs. Now Rickey does hold the career record for home runs leading off a game with 81, which is a nice consolation prize. But I think we can go a step further since power alone isn’t defined by home runs. Lets check these players career slugging percentage and see where Henderson stands. Not a shock here but Henderson lags far behind, as his percentage sits at .419 while the next closest is Ken Griffey Jr. at .538. Barry Bonds career slugging percentage is sick, an insane .607! One last test; since OPS is widely used anymore(on-base percentage + slugging percentage) I figured we could check these players’ career OPS+, which will factor in the league averages during these players era’s while also factoring in the ballparks. With 100 equaling average, every player is above that with Henderson the lowest at 127. But he isn’t too far off from Griffey at 136, Aaron at 155 and Mays at 156. So what these numbers tell us is that Henderson, who had good power for a leadoff hitter, was not at the elite level power-wise as most of the greats of the game. This isn’t much of a surprise but shows that Henderson obviously affected the game from a different perspective than the bigger hitters in baseball history.
So it comes down to this, one last comparison, one that will digest every part of a players contribution to his team(s), WAR. Lets preface this by saying that the WAR stat is not perfect and not the end all be all of statistics. But it is a stat that can quantify just how much of a complete player he is, and until another statistic pops up that breaks it down even more, it is the best assessment of what we are looking for here. What WAR tells us is that Barry Bonds and Willie Mays are in a league of their own, with 162.4 and 156.2 respectively, followed by Hank Aaron at 142.6, then Henderson at 110.8, Mantle at 109.7 and Griffey down at 83.6. Rickey isn’t the elite here, but he is right in the middle of the pack and holds his own with the greats of the game.
So what did we learn from this little exercise? For one, Barry Bonds and Willie Mays are quite possible the two most complete players in baseball history, as they did everything above average when they played. Maybe the most surprising item from this is that Ken Griffey Jr., soon to be a member of the Hall of Fame in 2016, was really hurt late in his career by all the injuries. And Rickey Henderson? He is the greatest basestealer of all-time, taking what Lou Brock did to another level. He is the greatest leadoff hitter in baseball history, a man who redefined what that even means. While he might not be the greatest player we have ever seen, he holds his own with the other 5 tool players I compared him to. Rickey isn’t the greatest like he said he was, but he was pretty damn close and that means almost as much. At some point a player will break his stolen base record or a leadoff hitter will hit more home runs to lead off a game; records are made to be broken. But there will only ever be one Rickey Henderson, just the way Rickey likes it.
Back in 2009, we witnessed one of the best pitching seasons (if not the best) in Royals history. That year, Zack Greinke showed everyone just how talented he really was, winning the American League Cy Young award and posting numbers that are few and far between. Since then, the Royals have done a poor job of producing homegrown starting pitching, with Danny Duffy being the most successful (and he is now in the bullpen). So it should come to no one’s surprise that Royals fans are elated about the prospects of young flamethrower Yordano Ventura.
Ventura combines an electric fastball that reaches triple digits with an improving curve and a change-up. Anyone who has followed baseball for awhile realizes that just because you can throw hard doesn’t guarantee success but if you learn how to pitch (not throw), you have a chance for a long career. Ventura is good enough that there is already talk that when James Shields leaves after the season for free agency that Ventura will slide in and take over the role of ‘Ace’. Yes, it is ironic that he could be slotted in that role when he has already been given the nickname, as an ode to the classic Jim Carrey movie. So how does a 22 year old rookie get anointed savior of the Royals starting rotation with only four major league starts under his belt? It’s not just the blazing fastball or the cool nickname. No, it’s the ability to pitch to his strengths.
In Spring Training, Ventura had outings where his curve was at its knee-buckling best. So he used it more than he normally would. This past week, during his first start of the 2014 campaign, Ventura didn’t have a good feel on his curve. So instead of continuing to try something that wasn’t working, he used his change-up more and made the Rays look completely lost at the plate. Ventura is already picking up the nuances of pitching that many guys don’t learn until their late 20’s. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why so many are predicting such a high ceiling for him. But there are concerns.
Ventura is very small, especially for a guy who throws as hard as he does. In the past, many pitchers who throw that hard with such a small frame end up hurting their arms and shortening their careers. There are exceptions, as future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez easily comes to mind. There is also worry about pushing him too hard, too soon. Last season Ventura pitched the most innings of his career, a combined 150 innings between the minors and majors. The Royals have said they won’t put an innings limit on him, but don’t be surprised if he is sometimes taken out of games in the 6th inning, if anything to save his arm for later in the year. These things are concerns, but not anything that can’t be overcome.
As long as the Royals and Ventura are smart, the team has a chance of producing a pitching talent to rival classic Royals like Greinke, Bret Saberhagen, Kevin Appier and Steve Busby. That is pretty nice company for a 22 year old ‘kid’. At this point, the sky’s the limit for ‘Ace’ Ventura.