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.

SS
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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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.

MLB is to Blame, Not Barry

MLB: San Diego Padres at San Francisco Giants

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

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

I See Your Ballot, and I Raise You My Votes

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The announcement for just who(or won’t) be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame won’t be announced for close to two weeks, but the debate will only intensify during that time. I’ve written more than my share about not only the Hall of Fame but also my thought on cheaters in the game. Joe Posnanski even goes a step further, saying the Hall needs to take the lead. To be honest, in a lot of ways I’ve grown tired of the subject and the hypocrisy of the whole situation. So instead of discussing the whole reason the Hall is missing star players from the “Steroid Era”, I thought today I would go through the Hall of Fame ballot, and like the BBWAA has to, pick my ten votes for the Hall. It’s not as easy as you think, as a few deserving candidates have to left off due to the backlog of talent being left behind. So here are my ten votes, not in any particular order:

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1)Craig Biggio

Craig Biggio  didn’t get in last year on his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot, despite the fact that his numbers are those of a HOFer, & he is someone who was never thought of as possibly taken steroids. I mean, seriously–look at him! With that said, I understand why some voters are leery on Biggio. For one, he played for 20 years, with a lot of those years near the end nowhere near Hall of Fame caliber. The prevalent thought was that if Biggio hadn’t held on, he wouldn’t have reached 3000 hits, which normally grants you an easy slide into the Hall. Biggio also wasn’t a big power hitter, or just a pure great hitter like a Tony Gwynn or a Wade Boggs. No, what Biggio was was a consistent performer that went out there every day and gave his all. Sure, that alone won’t get you into the Hall. But when you add in him being a 7-time All Star, a 4-time Gold Glove winner, and was 3 times in the top ten of the MVP voting, you have a Hall of Fame candidate. But all this isn’t the most impressive of his feats. No, Biggio’s biggest feat was that he did all this while changing positions multiple times. Biggio went wherever the Astros asked him to go, whether it was catcher, second base, left field or center field. He was an All Star at both catcher and second base, which within itself is a huge accomplishment. Most players who get moved around that much don’t keep up their All Star numbers, let alone put together a Hall of Fame career. But Biggio did.

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2) Jeff Bagwell

If there is one player on my ballot that I feel has been robbed, it’s Jeff Bagwell. There has never been a sign that Bags used any illegal substance. No proof that used the same substances that so many of his peers did during that era. Yet…he is lumped in with them because “he looked the part”. Ridiculous. I’m not saying he didn’t; there is no way for me to know that. What I am saying is assuming because he had muscles that he used is putting the cart before the horse. Judgment like this is why I hate what the voting process has become for the Hall of Fame. Anyway, I obviously feel Bagwell is a HOFer, and looking at the numbers it’s not hard to see why. Rookie of the Year in 1991, 4-time All Star, won the NL MVP in 1994 and was in the top ten of the MVP voting another five times. Bagwell also won the Silver Slugger Award 3 times and won a Gold Glove in 1994. If that isn’t enough, his 12 years of being one of the top players in the NL and a career WAR of 79.5 ranks him at 63rd OF ALL TIME. Jeff Bagwell hit, hit for power, stoles bases and was an above average defensive first baseman. Bagwell should have been a no-brainer, and it does seem as if support for his HOF case is growing. In Bagwell’s first year on the ballot, 2011, he received 41.7 % of the vote. Last year it had grown from 56% to 59.6%. It has grown enough that it is realistic to think Bagwell will(eventually) get elected to the Hall and rightfully so.

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3)Mike Piazza

Mike Piazza , like Jeff Bagwell, was lumped in as a player suspected of steroid use more by looking the part than actually having proof. That can be the only reason, as the argument can be made that Piazza is the greatest hitting catcher of all time. Piazza wasn’t the greatest defensive catcher you have ever seen, but he worked hard to get better and was heralded more than once for being a good game caller behind the dish. Obviously the biggest argument for Piazza to be inducted is his bat. Sure, he never won a MVP award, but the list of accomplishments he racked up are a nice consolation. 12-time All Star(including 1996 All Star game MVP), 1993 Rookie of the Year, 10-time Silver Slugger award winner, and was in the top 5 of the MVP voting four times. You could read the numbers all day but few, if any, catchers can match up with Piazza. He should have been a first ballot HOFer, and eventually he will get in. The question is just when.

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4) Tim Raines

I’ll be honest–I showed up late to the “Tim Raines   should be in the Hall of Fame” party. Most of my viewing of Raines was late in his career, where he was a solid outfielder who wasn’t an All Star but was still a great addition to your roster. After really viewing the stats, Raines compares very closely to Rickey Henderson, who was a no-brainer HOFer. Raines led the NL in stolen bases  four times, was a 7-time All Star, won both a batting title and a Silver Slugger Award in 1986 and was Rookie of the Year in 1981. The reasoning behind my vote for Raines is easy; he did a little bit of everything, did it above average, and did it for a long period of time. You really didn’t see Raines have a drop off in production until 1994, which was 14 years into his career. “Rock” got on base, stole bases, hit for average, hit for extra bases, drove in a decent amount of runs for a guy who batted lead-off, and was solid on defense. If not for Henderson, Raines would have been the measuring stick for lead-off hitters of his era. Rickey unfortunately overshadowed Raines, which would be a big reason why he hasn’t gotten the vote support he probably should have. In Raines first year on the ballot(2008), he got 24.3% of the votes. Since then he has bumped all the way up  to 52.2% this past year, a lot of it thanks to a number of voters championing his cause. He only has a bit over 20% of the vote left to get, and it’s conceivable to see him get that within the next few years. Once you really sit down and look at everything, it  becomes very obvious that Tim Raines should be voted in. In due time, my friends, in due time.

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5) Greg Maddux

I’ll go ahead and say it; next to Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux is the greatest pitcher I have ever seen. This will be the first year Maddux is on the ballot, and it seems pretty apparent that he will get voted in this year. Honestly, anyone who doesn’t  vote for him just doesn’t get it. Sure, the accolades say a lot; 4-time Cy Young award winner, 18-time Gold Glove winner, 8-time All Star, won the NL ERA title four times, twice lead the league in win-loss %, four times lead the league in WHIP, nine times lead the league in walks per 9 innings, and has the 25th best WAR of all time. ALL TIME! Maddux is what every pitcher should strive for, even if they are unable to perform as well as he did. Maddux understood not only the strike zone, but understood how to throw batters off of their game. Maddux changed speeds, changed locations, and batters had no clue what to expect from him. I have never seen a pitcher who located the ball as well as Maddux did. This might have been my easiest pick for a vote. Greg Maddux is an easy pick for the Hall of Fame.

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6) Tom Glavine

When mentioning Maddux, you pretty much have to mention his former teammate, his left handed counterpart Tom Glavine. During the Atlanta Braves heyday in the 90’s, Glavine was just as important to those teams as Maddux was. Glavine is also on the ballot for the first time this year, and although not quite the no-brainer that Maddux is, Glavine is just as deserving to go into the Hall. Glavine was a 2-time Cy Young award winner, ten time All Star, the 1995 World Series MVP, and even a 4-time Silver Slugger winner. Glavine wasn’t overpowering, but he knew how to pitch. He was also about as consistent as they come. Up until the last five years of his career, Glavine was a consistent 200 innings pitcher who always gave his team a chance to win. He didn’t have a fastball that popped the glove. He didn’t celebrate on the mound or draw attention to himself. Tom Glavine just went out there and won. For that, he should be in the Hall of Fame.

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7) Frank Thomas

Frank Thomas (nicknamed “The Big Hurt”) is the last of the players who are on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time that I would vote in. Thomas was not only a great hitter, but a great hitter with a good eye at the plate. Frank would just as likely take a walk(he led the league in walks four times) as take you deep. Just how good of an eye did he have? He led the league in OBP four times, OPS four times and OPS+ three times. Sure, the last half of his career was spent at DH, but he isn’t going into the Hall of Fame for his defensive prowess.  No, Thomas mashed the ball, and in some ways, took the art of hitting to another level. He was a 2-time MVP winner, but also finished in the top five four other times. It’s actually amazing he only won one batting title(1997), since he was as just a good a hitter as Gwynn, or Boggs, but had a ton of power as well. Late in his career, after it seemed like Thomas was washed up, he bounced back and had a monster season in Oakland in 2006. He parlayed that into another solid season the following year in Toronto, but after that he would last only one more year in the majors. Thomas had a ten year stretch where he was one of the best hitters in baseball. Dominance gives you a plaque in the baseball Hall of Fame.

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8) Edgar Martinez

Edgar Martinez is that interesting case that is very polarizing for the voters for the Hall of Fame. On one hand, Martinez being a full-time Designated Hitter for the majority of his career hurts him in the eyes of some voters. But does that matter when you are the greatest DH of all time? The argument for or against is logical, so it comes down to how you feel about a guy who hardly played in the field. Me? I feel like if a player is so good that he is considered the benchmark for that position(to the point the award for Designated Hitter of the year is now named after him), then it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t play a defensive position. Edgar hit, then hit some more, and just kept hitting. He hit so well that he is 76th in career WAR amongst position players, a stat that combines offensive and defensive stats. His hitting was so good that it didn’t even matter that he didn’t add anything defensively. That is raking. The honest truth is that the Designated Hitter is still a position, whether or not he wears a glove. The position isn’t going away, so the voters should realize they have to acknowledge it exists. Maybe they should look at it from this view: they wouldn’t be voting for a DH. They would be voting for one of the greatest hitters of his era, a player who’s numbers match up with the all time greats. If that doesn’t mean you should get a vote, then I’m not for sure what voters should be looking for.

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9) Roger Clemens 

My last two picks are possibly the two biggest lightning rods of the entire ballot, but I honestly believe they both deserve in. First on the list is Roger Clemens , one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Obviously, the steroid issue looms heavy over his consideration, and maybe even more because he so steadfastly denies everything. Taking the needle(or the lotion) out of the equation, Clemens stands tall as THE pitcher of his era. His 7 Cy Young awards(SEVEN!!!) alone should get him in the hall. In my eyes, Clemens is up there with the Walter Johnson’s and Sandy Koufax’s in baseball lore. I get why some don’t vote for him, and they have every right. Personally, I think it looks bad that after all this time he denies everything so vehemently. Normally where there is smoke there is fire. But maybe the most intriguing part of “The Rocket’s” case is that the argument could be made that he was a Hall of Famer before his supposed steroid use. To me, that makes the case even sadder. No one is arguing that Clemens should be in the Hall. No, the argument is the circumstances, circumstances that I feel baseball allowed to happen. So in my eyes, he should be in.

Barry Bonds Convicted Of One Count Of Obstruction Of Justice

10) Barry Bonds

Speaking of polarizing, there is no player more polarizing than Barry Bonds. Here are the facts: Barry Bonds is one of the greatest baseball players of all time. He is the all time home run king. He has also always been a major league jerk, which never helps his case in these situations. And like Clemens, Bonds was a Hall of Famer before his supposed steroid use. In fact if you have read “Game of Shadows” , you know that a big part of why Barry supposedly  took steroids was because he was jealous of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa getting all the attention when he knew he was the better all around ballplayer. Barry was right; he was. Barry was that one talent who could do everything; hit, hit for power, run, and field. In all honesty, his name should be discussed with Ruth, Williams, Mays and Mantle. Instead, steroids is all that is discussed, and is why he already isn’t in. Like Clemens, he is the best player of his era. Like Clemens, I would still vote for him. Doesn’t mean I like what he did, but he wasn’t the only one, and it was allowed to happen. You can’t just erase a part of history because you don’t like it. You can’t erase what Barry Bonds accomplished.

So there are my ten votes. There were a few other players I would have voted for, like Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and Mike Mussina, but you have to go with the ten best. I also wouldn’t have voted for Jack Morris, who seems to be a hot button topic. I just don’t feel he is a Hall of Famer. It will be interesting to see how the voting goes on January 8th when the ballots are tabulated. I think at least a few of these players will get in this year, but not as many as they should. Hopefully sometime in the near future, the Hall of Fame decides on set rules for the writers to vote on, so we aren’t stuck with the limbo the voting is in now. The “Steroid Era” happened folks…it’s not any worse than the racism that permeated baseball for many, many years. Acknowledge the era and put in the best players of that period. Doing what they are doing now just puts more attention on what is already a subject most of us are tired of. Do what’s right and let’s move on.

 

These are Just Some of My Favorite(Baseball) Things–Of All Time

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The other day I talked about some of my favorite things in baseball that get me excited in the current game. But going through all those exciting players made me think of all my favorites from when I was younger. So it seemed only appropriate to visit the past and go through those players I’ve enjoyed over the years. Much like my friend Chuck Samples took a look earlier this year at his favorite starting nine, I’m about to take a look at what a lot of my baseball youth was surrounded by. So here we go–back to the late 80’s/early 90’s for the best of the best(at least in young Sean’s mind).

Barry Larkin roaming the infield

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I was more than overjoyed when Barry Larkin was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I had always felt he wasn’t as appreciated by some because he wasn’t the biggest, wasn’t the flashiest and wasn’t playing in a big market. What he was? A great, complete hitter, a clubhouse leader and a great defender. In fact, if I had to choose one thing I loved the most about Larkin, it was his defense. He was so smooth with the glove. He did it all, as this video bio shows:

Sure, Cal Ripken, Jr. was The Man at shortstop during this period. But Larkin could do more than Ripken, in all honesty. That was why I loved watching Larkin. He was a five tool infielder who made the Reds better because of it.

Lee Smith closing out a game at Wrigley Field

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Growing up, I watched a lot of Cubs games. I mean A LOT! With WGN showing the Cubs almost every day, and them playing mostly day games, I got to witness Lee Smith in his prime. It wasn’t just the fastball that popped in the catcher’s mitt. It wasn’t just the stoic, cold stare that Smith would give every batter. No, what really made Smith fun to watch was a batter stepping in with Smith on the mound at Wrigley Field–with the shadows around home plate. Like it wasn’t bad enough facing this big guy with the ridiculous fastball. No, let’s make it even harder by trying to see all this through the shadows! To say it was scary would be an understatement. All those things added up to another Cubs win…and a ‘Holy Cow’ from Harry Caray!

Bo Being Bo

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When Bo Jackson debuted back in 1986, we had never seen an athlete quite like him. Since then, we still haven’t seen a player who compares to Bo and we might never see such a player. He was a once in a lifetime athlete that I feel fortunate was on my favorite team. Bo would hit home runs farther than anyone else. Bo would run like an Olympic racer. Bo could throw a runner out at home from the deepest parts of the Kingdome. Bo could do practically anything.

Bo’s ability was unlimited, and one wonders just what he could have accomplished if not for the hip injury. I start dreaming about what the Royals would have been AS he got even better…seriously guys, goosebumps. Bo Jackson was so fun to watch and to this day I get giddy just talking about him. We were lucky to get to see him play, even if it was for such a short time.

‘Young’ Barry Bonds

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Before 1999, Barry Bonds was the best player in the game. Not only the best player in the game, but one who could do everything: hit, hit for power, run, and play great defense. He was as close to a well rounded baseball player as I have ever seen. I loved watching Barry make the game seem simple and doing everything on the field. Hell, he stole bases at a higher rate than his home runs at one point! He was what every player wanted to be on the field.

But we all know how this ends. Bonds, after watching Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa steal the spotlight in 1998, decides he can do what they did and Bonds bulked up. He bulked up to the point that he was hardly recognizable. He bulked up so much his defense suffered, he quit stealing bases, and became a home run hitter. Sure, he became the best home run hitter EVER, but everything I loved about watching Barry Bonds went away and I was bored with him. The younger version of Bonds? Loved. The older one? Dull and predictable. But at one point, he was a blast to watch.

Van Slyke’s Hustle

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Andy Van Slyke was never a big star. Hell, he wasn’t even the best player on his own team(hello, Barry Lamar)! But Van Slyke busted his butt out on the field, and I loved watching him do it. Offensively, you would have thought every at bat was his last. Defensively, you would have thought his hair was on fire. He worked for everything he achieved, trust me.

Van Slyke’s career was over by 1995, and injuries took a toll on his body. But those great Pirates teams of the early 90’s wouldn’t have gotten there without him. He was just as important a cog as Bonilla, Drabek and Bonds. It’s too bad he isn’t remembered as fondly as I remember him.

Sabes Shining

Kansas City Royals v Oakland Athletics

The first time my heart was broken was when the Royals released Bo Jackson. The second was when they traded Bret Saberhagen to the Mets in the winter before the 1992 season. He was the Royals ace, the winner of two Cy Young awards, and a no-hitter against the White Sox back in 1991.

Saberhagen was almost unhittable when he was on–which was normally in odd years. Seriously his stats in odd years were great, while they were ‘eh’ in even years. Don’t believe me? Click here. Most importantly, he was OUR ace. He was the guy on the mound when the Royals won the World Series. He was that generation’s Busby, or Leonard, or Splittorff. To me, Saberhagen was just as important as White, or Wilson, or Quisenberry. To me, he will always be a Royal.

Brett: The Best

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George Brett was and will always be my favorite player. George was everything good about the game. He was a great hitter, become an above average defender, and was as clutch as clutch gets. The 1985 ALCS was proof of that.

Brett WAS the Kansas City Royals. Sure, I loved Bo, I loved Sabes, and loved Frank. But George…George was the heart of this team. It wasn’t until I got a bit older that I realized despite me watching the latter part of his career, I still saw a guy who went out there and killed himself despite his body falling apart. I have so many great memories of Brett, so here are just a few.

and that’s just what I could find! I remember him sliding into the St. Louis dugout trying to make a catch in the 1985 World Series. I remember his 3000th hit, which happened late at night in Anaheim. It was off Tim Fortugno(I still remember this, like it was yesterday), and capped off a 4 for 5 night for Brett. In fact, I can close my eyes and picture the hit. I was staying at my Grandma Thornton’s that night, and remember being so excited that he finally got it. I also remember the batting title he won in 1990(his third career), which most didn’t expect, as he had an awful first half of the season, but bounced back to claim the title in the second half of the season. I remember betting my PE teacher that he would win it, and of course I won. Brett IS Kansas City Royals baseball. Sure, I’ve heard the stories about him being a jerk, and of him getting drunk and being less than friendly to fans. I’ve heard the Vegas story. But…I still loved watching him play. Maybe the best I will ever see, but I am heavily biased. To me, George Brett is simply the best…and he gave us this.

So there you go, a peak into my youth. I would love to wait another 20 years and see what my son’s list would be. I can only hope he has as fond memories as I have of the best game on earth, America’s Pastime.

 

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