A Golden Evaluation

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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.

Credit: MLB.com

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:

1B
Credit: SABR.org

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.

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Credit: SABR.org

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.

Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images

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:

OF
Credit: SABR.org

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:

AL leaders
Credit: SABR.org

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:

NL Leaders
Credit: SABR.org

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.

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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

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A few weeks back, the Modern Baseball Era Committee announced their results for the 2018 Hall of Fame election, where Jack Morris and Alan Trammell will be joining whomever will be voted in by the BBWAA later on next month. While the result wasn’t surprising, I am struck with a tinge of excitement and frustration when it comes these election results, both by who got in and who didn’t.

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Credit: Duane Burleson, Associated Press

First, I was elated that Alan Trammell will be in the Hall. I came around a bit late to just how great Trammell was but felt really strongly that he deserved to be in the Hall a few years back. Here is a snippet of my argument for him back in 2015:

The argument for Trammell though outweighs a lot of the negatives; Trammell has a career WAR of 70.4, which makes him 94th all-time and 63rd amongst position players. To go a step further, Trammell has a career dWAR of 22.0, which places him 34th all-time.

Trammell is listed as the 12th best shortstop according to the Hall of Stats (hallofstats.com) and has a Hall Rating of 143 (100 is deemed Hall worthy). Trammell played in an era of Cal Ripken, Jr. and Ozzie Smith and while he wasn’t quite at their level, he was close and even beat Cal out for the Gold Glove four times. What is even more interesting is going back and comparing his numbers to Derek Jeter as Joe Posnanski did a few years ago:

Joe Posnanski has made the argument that if you are of the belief that Derek Jeter is a Hall of Famer, then you should compare his numbers with Trammell’s. Joe points out just how close Jeter and Trammell were as players, with Jeter holding a slight edge over Alan offensively, while Trammell was easily a better defender.

Trammell really felt like a player who could have gained momentum if more voters had digested his numbers. Instead, the highest he reached on the ballot was 40.9% (back in 2016) and one does have to wonder if the constant logjam of only being able to vote for ten players really hurt him in the long run. The good news is that his peers corrected this injustice and he will be claiming his rightful place in Cooperstown this summer.

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Credit: Baseball Hall of Fame

Then there is Jack Morris. There is really no easy way to put this than to just say I don’t feel he is a Hall of Famer. Did he have moments of greatness? Obviously. He is viewed by many as the greatest pitcher of the 1980’s, which is easy to see when looking at stats like strike outs and wins. But when digging deeper he is 65th in ERA+ (league and ballpark adjusted) in the decade and 12th in bWAR for pitchers. It gets even dicier when you start digging through the all-time rankings. According to the Hall of Stats, Morris is 165th among pitchers all-time and has a Hall Ranking of 77, well below the necessary 100 to be “Hall Worthy”. In fact, over an 18 year career, Morris has only 44.2 WAR, which roughly averages out to 2.45 Wins Above Replacement a year. The truth is that much like Bill Mazeroski, Morris’ greatness is defined by one classic moment: Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, where he pitched 10 innings of shutout baseball and led the Twins to a World Championship over the Braves. It’s an iconic moment, but unfortunately for Morris it is not a complete representation of his career. The issue with putting him into the Hall is simple; the numbers don’t back up what the memory recalls. It might just be better to let Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated explain:

While Morris won 254 games for the Tigers, Twins, Blue Jays and Indians in his 18-year career—the 43rd highest total in history and seventh among those outside the Hall—his win total is a reflection of the great work of his teammates. He got excellent support from his defense, which included Trammell and his longtime double play partner Lou Whitaker, in the form of a .272 batting average on balls in play, 14 points better than league average. Relative to his leagues, the offensive support he received was six percent better than average (better than 41 of the 62 other Hall starters), while his rate of run prevention was just five percent better than league average. Among Hall of Famers, his 105 ERA+ tops only those of Catfish Hunter (104) and Rube Marquard (103). By comparison, Red Ruffing, whose 3.80 ERA was previously the highest among Hall of Fame starters, had a 109 ERA+, as he pitched during a higher-scoring era (1924-47).

In other words, Morris being in the Hall of Fame redefines greatness:

Still, his election lowers the bar for Hall of Fame pitchers and serves as a slight to numerous contemporaries such as Bret Saberhagen, Dave Stieb, Dwight Gooden, Orel Hershiser and David Cone. Win totals aside, all have far fuller résumés than Morris from a Hall standpoint, better run prevention combined with Cy Young awards and their own shares of records and postseason heroics. They now deserve an equally thorough airing in this context, particularly in light of the scarcity of viable starting pitcher candidates in the coming years.

This is not to say I wish ill on Morris; personally I like the guy and believe he has handled all the arguments about his Hall of Fame case like a champ. I just don’t personally feel he should be sitting among the greats of the game. The one silver lining to this is we can now be done with the Morris argument; it no longer matters since the Modern Baseball Era Committee made sure he is getting a plaque.

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Credit: Associated Press

While Trammell felt like a step forward and Morris felt like a slight step back, the fact Marvin Miller was not elected just felt like a slap in the face. Miller is the former executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association and was the driving force behind free agency in baseball. Without Miller, the players would probably never make the kind of money and have the freedom they have today. Once again, Jaffe said it best:

Miller, who oversaw the game’s biggest change since integration by dismantling the reserve clause and therefore shifting the century-old balance of power from the owners to the players, is the candidate with the strongest case of any individual outside Cooperstown, and perhaps the strongest case of any non-player in the game’s history.

It really surprises me that a committee of what was mostly former players didn’t vote in the guy who has had possibly one of the biggest effects on their career when it comes to the ability to make market value money. Hopefully this mistake will be rectified in the very near future.

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Credit: Baseball Hall of Fame

The one thing this recent vote proves is that it just isn’t a perfect process. Whether it is the new committee or the BBWAA, this is a system where most of the voters are doing their due diligence to get it right.  For every slam dunk like Ken Griffey Jr., there is an Alan Trammell who falls through the cracks. While I might not feel Morris is deserving, I was happy to see Ted Simmons (who I feel is deserving) fall just one vote shy of being added to this group. As long as the games continue to be played, the Hall of Fame debates will continue to be discussed. The fact that baseball is constantly trying to get this right should tell you that everything is moving in a forward direction, just possibly not at the speed everyone would hope for.

My 2017 Hall of Fame Ballot

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

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Barry Bonds

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

 

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Roger Clemens

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

 

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Vladimir Guerrero

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

 

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Trevor Hoffman

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

 

Mike Mussina

Mike Mussina

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

 

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Manny Ramirez

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

 

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Ivan Rodriguez

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

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

 

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Curt Schilling

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

 

Hall of Fame Baseball

Billy Wagner

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

 

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Larry Walker

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Line in the Sand

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Most of us know that baseball is a kid’s game, played by adults who get paid millions of dollars. Despite all the money made professionally by Major League Baseball, at it’s core it is a game beloved and cherished by kids. No matter the popularity, I doubt this ever changes. Baseball has long had a tradition of it’s players having their kids tag along with the team in the clubhouse, as guys like Prince Fielder, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Brian McRae are just a few player’s sons who frequented many a trip to the ballpark and would end up playing the game at its highest level. Adam LaRoche was another of those sons(his dad was former pitcher Dave LaRoche) who would end up playing in the big leagues and over the last couple seasons has had his now 14 year old son, Drake, tag along for a large chunk of the season. Problem is, earlier this week LaRoche stepped away from the game after Chicago White Sox Executive Vice President Kenny Williams told him to limit the amount of time Drake was in the White Sox clubhouse this year. Many have taken shots at LaRoche for this action, but this development is all about priorities.

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There is a number of issues to bring up with this situation, so let’s start first with Williams comments on the situation and what he talked to LaRoche about:

“It is true I asked Adam to dial it back,” Williams confirmed that point in a phone conversation with MLB.com on Wednesday. “I felt 100 percent was a bit much. So I asked that he dial it back. I said I think even 50 percent is a bit much.

“We are focused on trying to get everybody on the same page on some things with regards to preparing for this season. And I don’t want that to be misconstrued as Drake was a distraction. I’m not saying that.

“You’ve been around this kid. He’s a great kid. And everyone loves him,” Williams said. “I just thought at this point in time, where we are right now, that 100 percent was a little much. So I asked him to dial it back.”

Alright, let’s start here. I think we can all understand part of this, as we all work jobs and aren’t allowed to take our kids to work with us every day. Some jobs allow you to occasionally bring your kid with you, but not most. So that part you can kind of understand, although the argument can be made that baseball is not a normal job. In fact, to varying degree’s this has been a part of the game for decades now. But at the least, we can understand not wanting a kid around the workplace 100% of the time. I will say that the oddest part of this is the timing of Williams request, as he decided to do this halfway through Spring Training. This seems like the sort of edict that should have been brought down either at the end of last season or before LaRoche was headed to Arizona. Deciding a few weeks in seems odd and weirdly timed.

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The other part that struck me was that in my mind this felt like a decision the players should be making, not someone from the front office. Apparently I wasn’t alone:

The fellow players are the ones who would have to be around Drake the most and if they had an issue I’m sure LaRoche could understand that and even acquiesce to it. It is the players clubhouse and what is allowed there is normally dictated to a large degree on what the players feel is appropriate. That being said, it has become obvious the players were not only okay with the young LaRoche being around, they stood up to Williams about it. This paragraph alone tells you quite a bit about how the majority of the White Sox players felt:

Ace pitcher Chris Sale reportedly tore into Williams during a tense clubhouse meeting after the decision was announced, with Sale telling Williams he isn’t in the clubhouse enough to know the deal. Sale wasn’t alone; players evenconsidered boycotting a game. From all reports, LaRoche had the OK of general manager Rick Hahn and manager Robin Ventura to bring Drake around as much as he wanted. The reversal from on high apparently bothered teammates as much as anything.

A few other players spoke out in support of having Drake around, including Adam Eaton. It does appear that even if a few players complained about the situation(and there’s a good chance they did) they would have been the minority and definitely didn’t seem to be speaking for the leaders of this team.

Adam LaRoche, Drake LaRoche
(AP Photo/John Locher)

The other part I find interesting is how highly the team speaks of this young man. Drake is not ony there spending time with his dad(which I will get to in a moment), but he is also helping out. Many spoke of how he would clean cleats and fetch balls while he was there, so he was helping out the team in a small capacity. I know there are some that believe a young man his age shouldn’t be around a big league clubhouse, but I actually think this is great for him to learn some old school life lessons. I’m not saying the kid shouldn’t be in school like a normal kid, but he also has a chance to encounter something very few people do in life and will be able to come away from the experience with a different view of life than most would. There are lessons here of responsibility, character building exercises and simple occurrences that he will end up running up against in life. For instance,most of the players have to be at the fields by a certain time and be ready to work out before the game. Don’t most of us have to be at work on time, ready to go when we are expected to be there? Doing chores like the ones mentioned above build character and show he has to earn his keep while he is there rather than just hang around and play ball. Most importantly, he is learning the responsibility a parent has to his child and how vital it is to his development.

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To me, that is what this is really about. LaRoche is at a point in his career where spending time with his son is possibly the most important it has ever been. A ballplayer spends 7+ months on the road, zig-zagging across the country and a lot of that time is spent away from the family. What good parent would not want to spend more time with his kids, as long as he gets permission, which is what LaRoche did? I can not begin to express how much respect I have for Adam, as he has shown how high a priority his family is. As much as many people enjoy their jobs, family should always be the highest of priorities for a ballplayer with one. What LaRoche has done is tell the White Sox “my family comes first and if you can’t understand that, I will leave.” While he can rescind his retirement papers within a few days, the fact that LaRoche is willing to walk away from a job that pays him $13 million a season in the name of family speaks volumes. Many athletes miss valuable time with their children because of their job; LaRoche has been interweaving the two for years now and up until this point teams have been willing to work with him. I respect the hell out of him for that and wish more people did this in general, not just athletes.

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The other part of this is just how badly Williams misread his locker room. For a guy who not only is a VP but also a former player, to come down on this and not realize what it would do to the morale of this team is mind boggling. In just a few short days, he has lost one of the most respected players in the game and alienated his locker room. For a team that is hoping to contend, this is a giant fumble and one that could cost this White Sox team for quite awhile. There also seems to be a loss in trust with the front office, which doesn’t bode well for not only this 2016 team but also players who would consider coming to Chicago in the future. This misstep could affect the team now, the rest of the season and well into the future.

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I’ve heard people say LaRoche is in the wrong here, that he owes his teammates and that a kid shouldn’t be in a major league clubhouse. Honestly, this issue is more about character, family and one’s personal belief system than anything else. We all have a line that we aren’t willing to cross when it comes to juggling our jobs and our family. Some people’s line is farther away than others, but there is a line. LaRoche has decided where his line is and is standing firmly in front of it. We might all choose a different path for our lives and that is fine, but no one can tell Adam LaRoche what is best for him and his family. There is always a deal-breaker, and the White Sox found his. Your child should always be your top priority and parents that go the extra mile to spend as much time with their kids should be praised, not condemned for it. I commend LaRoche for his choice and agree 100% with his decision. As much as we all love baseball, it is just a game. Thank you, Adam, for that reminder.

My 2016 Hall of Fame Ballot

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

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

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

 

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Roger Clemens

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

 

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

Ken Griffey Jr.

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

 

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Trevor Hoffman

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

 

AP EDGAR MARTINEZ S BBA USA WA
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Edgar Martinez

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

 

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Mike Mussina

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

 

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Curt Schilling

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

 

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Alan Trammell

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

 

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

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

More Than Just Thankful For Baseball

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It’s that time of year where most of us look back fondly on what is good in our life and how lucky we really are. The more and more I threw this idea around in my head today, I kept coming back to all the joy baseball gives me. With that in mind, here is what I am thankful for this holiday season, at least where baseball is concerned.

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  • I am thankful that ‘The best Farm System in Baseball’ eventually did pan out for Kansas City, as players like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez all turned out to be All-Stars and quality big leaguers.
  • I am thankful that Lorenzo Cain stepped up his game in 2015, proving there is more to him than just one of the best gloves in baseball.
  • I am thankful that when Mike Trout is inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, I can say I remember when he was a rookie and we had no idea that what we were seeing was greatness.
  • I am thankful that the extra round of playoffs in baseball has worked and has made it even more exciting than it was before.
  • I am thankful that Matt Harvey realized an innings limit didn’t matter in the playoffs…and that he was stubborn enough to convince his manager to keep him in for the 9th inning in Game 5 of the World Series.
  • Speaking of the Mets, I am thankful that my favorite team only has to face the Mets young arms in one series next year. They are the real deal.
  • I am thankful that baseball has a crop of young superstars(Trout, McCutchen, Stanton, etc.) that they can be proud of and should be promoting as to why they are great for the game.
  • By the way, I am thankful that a baseball town like Pittsburgh can tout a talent like McCutchen and add him to a legacy of true stars that deserve to be looked at like stars, much like Roberto Clemente before him.
  • I am thankful that we get to see a historic season like Bryce Harper this year…then remember he is only 23!

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  • I am thankful for a baseball world where Bartolo Colon is still a thing…and gives everyone great material on a monthly basis.
  • I am thankful for a sport where you can argue for years about possible Hall of Fame players and still change someone’s mind after a ‘deeper look at the numbers’.
  • I am thankful my son loves the Hot Stove League as much as I do.
  • I am thankful that baseball has gone from a game where ‘experience is king’ to a game where now ‘youth is king’.

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  • I am thankful for Rusty Kuntz’s flowing mane…damn!
  • I am thankful that we now live in a world where phrases like ‘exit velocity’ and ‘efficient route’ are part of the lexicon.
  • I am thankful for bat flips.
  • I am thankful predictions mean nothing in baseball; it’s why you play the games.

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  • I am thankful that certain ballplayers can make my hair look suave…thanks, John Jaso!
  • I am thankful that I can watch a different baseball game everyday and learn something new, even 30+ years after I first started watching the game.
  • I am thankful that the history of the game is still woven into the fabric of today’s game.
  • I am thankful that my son thinks I would be a better analyst than Harold Reynolds.
  • I am thankful for the Royals defense.
  • I am thankful that I got to watch Brett, Saberhagen, Jackson, Wilson, McRae and White in my youth. Those players made me fall head over heels for baseball.
  • I am thankful that I am not the only person who believes Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.
  • I also am thankful for the push the last couple years for Tim Raines and Edgar Martinez for their deserved spot in Cooperstown.
  • I am thankful I still remember Oddible McDowell,  Razor Shines and Danny Darwin.

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  • I am thankful that Ken Griffey, Jr. still smiles.
  • I am thankful to have witnessed the transformation of Wade Davis from human to cyborg.
  • I am thankful that I have been given the chance over the last 4 years to do things around this sport that I never imagined possible.
  • I am thankful that I waited out all the bad years of Kansas City baseball. It has made these last two years even more joyful than I can ever put in words.
  • I am thankful that I was wrong about Dayton Moore and Ned Yost.
  • I am thankful for all the late comebacks by the Kansas City Royals.
  • I am thankful for Lorenzo Cain’s running.
  • I am thankful for Alex Gordon’s clutch slugging.
  • I am thankful for Eric Hosmer’s daring baserunning skills.
  • I am thankful for a lockdown Kansas City bullpen.
  • I am thankful to call ‘my Royals’ the World Champs. I honesty wondered if I would ever see that again in my lifetime.
  • and I am thankful that the people in my life who I care most about not only support my love of baseball, but they share in the love. They make all of this even better than if I was just enjoying it on my own.
  • Oh…almost forgot. I am thankful for Jonny Gomes mic skills. His speech will never get old.

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Honestly, I could go on and on. I love this game and there are so many little bits of information or plays that remind of the nuances of this game that spark my love. Let’s all be thankful that baseball is still flourishing and despite some of the things we would fix with the game, for the most part it is as good as it was when we first got hooked. Thank you, baseball. Thank you for being you.

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

Oakland Athletics

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

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