From the Bleachers: Walk-Off Thoughts

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It’s never a dull week in Major League Baseball and last week was ready to bring the excitement. With that said, lets start with an exciting finish for the Rockies on Sunday…

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The Walk-Off Cycle

There is nothing quite as exciting in baseball like a walk-off home run, but a walk-off to complete hitting for the cycle does take it up a notch. That is exactly what Nolan Arenado of Colorado did on Sunday, the first Rockie to do that since his teammate Carlos Gonzalez in 2010.

It was a great moment for a Rockies team that currently sits in first place in the National League West and has been one of the bigger surprises so far this year. Even better was how it showcased one of the best players in the game in Arenado. Arenado is having another stellar season, near the top of the league in RBI’s, Slugging Percentage, Win Probability Added and fWAR. Arenado is still only 26 years old and while continuing to get more attention year by year, is still flying under the radar a bit while playing in Colorado. Hopefully this shines a bit of a brighter light on one of the best players in the game. Speaking of flying under the radar…

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Good as Goldy

There might not be a more underrated player in baseball than Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt continues to go out, put up MVP type numbers while not getting the media attention that a Rizzo or Harper normally gets. So far in 2017, Goldy is in the top ten of the NL in RBI’s, Walk rate, Slugging Percentage, wOBA, wRC+ while leading the league in On-Base Percentage and fWAR. Oh, and he sits in 11th place in home runs. Goldschmidt is not only a great hitter, but is above-average defensively and holds his own on the base paths as well. In many ways, he reminds me of former Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell, and we all know how his career turned out. Playing in Arizona seems to keep him out of the limelight but I also feel like his personality does as well. He appears to be very low-key with a workman’s attitude when it comes to taking care of business and doing what needs to get done on the field. The glitz and glamour aren’t there for Paul, but mark my words, barring an injury, he will continue to be in the MVP discussion when September rolls around later this year.

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Elite Company

While I have long been in the camp of #TeamTrout when it comes to the Harper/Trout discussion, it’s hard not to notice what Bryce is doing this year that feels very similar to 2015. In fact, at this pace Harper could be joining some elite company:

Back at the end of 2015, I really broke down how big of a season that Harper had just compiled. Here is an excerpt from my year-end awards column:

The one stat that blows my mind more than any is his OPS+, a staggering 195(remember, 100 is average). His season is the 71st best in baseball history, which seems great but not out of this world stupendous. If you take out all the players in the ‘Dead-Ball Era’, Harper’s season is the 50th best of all-time. I decided to go a step further, going off of seasons since 1950. Taking that into effect, Harper had the 24th best season by a batter in the last 65 years!

The interesting part is that Harper currently doesn’t lead in any of the major offensive categories and teammate Ryan Zimmerman is in the lead when it comes to slugging, wOBA and wRC+ in the NL. There is no doubt that Harper is a legitimate star and a key part of Washington’s team…when he is healthy. There was quite a bit of scuttlebutt that he spent most of last year hurt and if that was the case, it is easy to see why his numbers took such a dive in 2016. I’m interested to see where his numbers are in a couple of months, as the season wears on and the Nationals make a run at another playoff appearance.

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The Weight of it All

I am always on the lookout for a new stat to dive into and figure out how it breaks down a players value. To me, there is never enough learning I can do. Recently, I’ve been enamored with wOBA, or Weighted On-Base Average. Here is a bit lengthy description of its definition:

wOBA is based on a simple concept: Not all hits are created equal. Batting average assumes that they are. On-base percentage does too, but does one better by including other ways of reaching base such as walking or being hit by a pitch. Slugging percentage weights hits, but not accurately (Is a double worth twice as much as a single? In short, no) and again ignores other ways of reaching base. On-base plus slugging (OPS) does attempt to combine the different aspects of hitting into one metric, but it assumes that one percentage point of SLG is the same as that of OBP. In reality, a handy estimate is that OBP is around twice as valuable than SLG (the exact ratio is x1.8). In short, OPS is asking the right question, but we can arrive at a more accurate number quite easily.

Weighted On-Base Average combines all the different aspects of hitting into one metric, weighting each of them in proportion to their actual run value. While batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage fall short in accuracy and scope, wOBA measures and captures offensive value more accurately and comprehensively.

Now, for some that is going to feel a bit heavy. But here is the cliff notes version: wOBA entails a hitters entire offensive value. The one thing it does not do is take into the park effects, so a hitter that plays his home games in a hitter friendly park would probably see his wOBA a bit more inflated. Keeping that in mind, here are the top five hitters in baseball according to wOBA:

  1. Aaron Judge-.468
  2. Ryan Zimmerman-.433
  3. Paul Goldschmidt-.430
  4. Bryce Harper-.422
  5. Joey Votto-.420

There is no shock here, as a power hitter like Judge will get a higher number due to the amount of extra base hits he accumulates, plus he hits in a hitters park, Yankee Stadium. I do find it interesting that four of the top five hitters in on-base percentage this year are on this list, with Buster Posey the lone player left off, coming in at number seven. It shows getting on base in general is a plus, no matter which way it happens (hit, walk, hit by pitch, etc.). It does value extra base hits more, which makes sense to me. The more extra base hits, the more runs scored and more to the point, the more opportunities to score runs. A single wouldn’t hold the same weight as a home run, as we as fans don’t even view them the same way. It would only make sense to make a home run worth more than every other hit, with a triple and double following a bit behind. If a team is looking for someone who creates runs, a stat like wOBA is a good place to start. It obviously leans more toward the power hitters, but the overall context of getting on base helps just as much in the long run. I will probably still tend to lean more toward a stat like wRC+ for overall value, but wOBA can be a nice side item. So use it, get acquainted with it and hope your team has a number of guys near the top of the leaderboard. Unfortunately, my Royals don’t have anyone until the 51st spot, as Eric Hosmer has a .357 wOBA. Alas, hitting in Kauffman Stadium will do that to a hitter.

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Putting the Fun Back in the Game

Finally, I was elated with the news last week that Major League Baseball is allowing the players to have a ‘Player’s Weekend’ on August 25-27. What will this entail?

 This season from August 25 to August 27, the MLB will allow players to wear nicknames on the back of their jerseys for the one-of-a-kind Players’ Weekend.

Players will be limited to one nickname on their jerseys, and the names cannot be inappropriate or offensive. The personalized patches — which will feature names of inspirations — are to be used as a tribute to an individual or organization instrumental in each player’s development.

To say I like this idea is an understatement. In truth, I LOVE the idea. One of the big issues I have had with the hierarchy of baseball has been the lack of flavor allowed to be shown on the field. To me, this stifles the individuality of the players and has made the game appear not as fun to fans who are just casual bystanders of the game we love. Allowing guys to not only put a nickname on the back of their jerseys but also personalized patches really will let them have a bit more fun and allow the fans to appreciate these players even more. I have long felt like MLB does NOT market their players well and wish they would allow a bit more flair into the game. You see a lot of it during the World Baseball Classic, but there is more ground that can be covered. How about make this every weekend instead of just one weekend out of the year? Maybe let the players celebrate after doing something exciting, rather than expecting retaliation if another guy feels like they are being ‘showed up’? The sooner the game embraces the fun aspects of the sport, the sooner fewer people say this game is ‘boring’. Now, if we can just get rid of those damn unwritten rules…

 

Is It Time For a Beltran-Royals Reunion?

MLB - Oakland Athletics vs Kansas City Royals
May 30, 2003.

With the trade deadline looming about six weeks away, it is the time of the year where speculation runs rampant. In fact, be prepared for so many rumors during this time period that you can probably discard about 3/4 of them from your brain. One rumor that I can guarantee you will hear a bunch moving forward is whether or not the Kansas City Royals will visit a reunion between themselves and current New York Yankee Carlos Beltran. For the uninformed, Beltran actually began his big league career in Kansas City, playing there from 1998 through the middle of the 2004 season, when he was dealt to Houston. The Royals even attempted to sign him before the 2014 season; but despite a spirited try, Beltran decided to head back to the bright lights of New York City. So should the Royals bring Beltran back to the midwest? Let’s take a look.

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When this subject was initially broached to me back in May, I scoffed. I just didn’t believe that Beltran, at 39 years old, was a good fit for the Royals. He is a below average defender now, which probably leaves him in the position to DH more than anything else and the Royals have Kendrys Morales, who is also without a defensive position in the field. Add in his age and how batters are normally in full-blown regression at this stage of the game, adding Beltran didn’t seem like a step forward for Kansas City. But as we sit here in June, Morales is still struggling and Beltran has done something I wasn’t expecting: his numbers have gone skyward during this last month. With that said, let’s break those numbers down a bit farther to see if he would be a good fit in Kansas City.

USP MLB: AL WILD CARD GAME-HOUSTON ASTROS AT NEW Y S BBA USA NY
(Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY)

Let’s start with the basics. Beltran’s line so far this year sits at .282/.316/.573 with 16 home runs and 43 RBI’s. To really grasp this, for the entire 2015 campaign, Beltran hit 19 homers and knocked in 67 runs while hitting .276/.337/.471. I like to dig deeper though, to fully weigh just how everything breaks down. Beltran’s OPS+ currently sits 135 compared to 120 last year and unless something drastically goes awful, has the same bWAR(1.0) as he did in 2015. His walk rate is down by quite a bit from 2015, as his strike out rate has gone up, but I tend to think you can link those together a bit with the increase in power. In fact, Beltran’s ISO this year has rocketed up almost one hundred points from last year, .291 from .195.

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees
(Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY

Now to the real meat and potatoes that I feel will give us a good grasp of Beltran’s performance; how hard is Beltran hitting the ball and how often? In an interesting swerve, Beltran’s line drive rate is down(18.3%), his ground ball rate is up(39.6%), while his fly ball rate is the same from 2015. But his Home Run to Fly Ball ratio has doubled(22.5% from 11.1%) while his hard hit rate has gone up(36.7%) and his soft hit rate is down(11.2%, the lowest it has been since 2006). This goes in line with his exit velocity this year, which has been above the league average for all but two weeks this year:

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As you can tell, Beltran’s exit velocity has been above 92.5 MPH for a large chunk of the 2016 season, an increase from 2015. In fact last year barely saw him get in the 95 MPH range:

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So what does all this tell us? It tells me that Beltran seems to be not only seeing the ball very well this year but is also hitting the ball with some authority. This is a good sign for Beltran, as he is not getting beat by the fastball, a common occurrence for player’s his age. In fact Beltran has been within 5% of his hits coming on fastballs for the last six seasons. It’s a bit odd to see a hitter staying close to his same numbers near the tail end of his career, so the fact that Beltran’s hit selection hasn’t seen a drastic change is a good sign if Kansas City wanted to go after him.

MLB - Oakland Athletics vs Kansas City Royals
June 1, 2003.

One more positive from Beltran’s numbers is that there isn’t a drastic difference between when he hits from the right or the left hand side of the plate. Against right-handed pitching he is hitting .289/.318/.563 while against left-handed pitching he is hitting .280/.321/.587. I’m actually a bit surprised by this, since Beltran plays his home games at Yankee Stadium, which has that short right field porch. All you have to do to hit it out of Yankee Stadium is to hit the ball 314 feet to right field and you have yourself a home run. This would seem to benefit Beltran when he bats left handed, which he does the majority of the time(142 at bats hitting left handed, 75 right handed). But just peeking at the stats show that there isn’t a giant split in those numbers, which tells me he is just flat-out raking, not just taking advantage of his home surroundings. I’m sure Beltran’s numbers are a tad skewed because of his stadium(11 of his 16 home runs are in New York) but if you are looking at the entire offensive package, Beltran is putting up solid numbers almost everywhere, including his four games in Oakland. If there were concerns about Beltran coming to play in Kansas City and hitting in a pitcher’s park like Kauffman Stadium, I would tend to lean toward that not being a big issue moving forward.

MLB - Oakland Athletics vs Kansas City Royals
May 31, 2003. 

So after looking at all of Beltran’s numbers, the question will be asked again: should the Royals look into bringing him back? I can’t believe I am going to say this but yes, I think they should. With Morales continuing to struggle and the combo of Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando starting to come down to earth, it might be a good time to take a flyer on Beltran. The Royals shouldn’t give up a major prospect(or a needed piece of the current roster) for Beltran, but I tend to think New York won’t ask for something like that. Beltran’s contract only runs through the rest of this season and there have been whispers that he might decide to retire once the season is up. It’s conceivable to think the Royals could take on his contract for the last few months of the season and see if he can help them offensively. It would be assumed that Beltran could see some time in right field(especially if Morales starts to hit) but it makes sense for him to mostly be a DH if he came to Kansas City. The Royals have had some offensive struggles as of late and adding a solid bat for the stretch run might be just what this team needs. While the Royals haven’t looked like a contender during this most recent road trip, as I type this they are only four games out of first place in the American League Central, or within striking distance. Reuniting Beltran with the Royals(plus Alex Gordon returning from the disabled list) might be just what the Kansas City offense needs. Since we all love feel good stories, can you think of a better one than the future Hall of Famer Carlos Beltran, returning to the team that he began his career with, and helping them reach the playoffs for the third consecutive season? Sounds like the storybook ending that Beltran’s career deserves.

 

 

 

 

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.

New York State of Mind: Royals Swept by Yankees

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My, how a week will change things. About ten days ago the Royals took a series from the New York Yankees in Kansas City, a series where the Royals looked to be playing at a different level than the ‘Bronx Bombers’. Jump forward to this week and there was very little in this series that the Royals did good. The defense was there. The bullpen was pretty solid. The offense…well, it was pretty much M.I.A. The starting pitching? Eek. So with that said, lets take a look at a series that will hopefully be forgotten by the end of the weekend.

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Series MVP: Mike Moustakas

Honestly, a part of me just wanted to leave this spot blank. No one really stood out in this series as the offense basically took a powder in this series. Alcides Escobar and Kendrys Morales both got 4 hits in this series but didn’t provide much in the form of runs. Moustakas went 3 for 11, including his 5th home run of the year on Wednesday afternoon:

Moustakas has been one of the ‘feel good’ stories of the year so far and nothing says ‘improvement’ like a spray chart:

It almost feels like every week Moose will fly by some other accomplishment that surpasses his dreadful 2014 season:

Look, we all scoffed when manager Ned Yost said he was going to bat Moustakas second in the order to start the year. What started out as Yost trolling us(hey, it felt that way) turned into motivation for Mike and it has paid off in spades. Unfortunately, this series saw very little offense from the Royals despite the efforts of Moustakas, Escobar and Morales.

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(Worst) Pitching Performance of the Series: Jeremy Guthrie

Look, I’m not happy about picking on Guthrie here, but Monday’s start was so bad for Jeremy that it felt like it should get it’s own section. Since no one else really went out there and stood out(besides one reliever who I will discuss in just a bit) I figured we would point out how monumentally bad Guthrie performed. The numbers in just a moment; first, take a look at the destruction:

Alright, that was just as painful as the first time. It was obvious early on that Guthrie was going to be left out there to take the beating, although apparently 11 runs was all the bleeding Yost could muster watching(I was done after the first 8 runs). 1+ inning, 9 hits and 11 runs while walking 3, hitting a batter and striking out 1. Oh, and 4 home runs given up. Hey, at the least there were some eye popping stats that came out of his outing:

Just an ugly performance all the way around. Guthrie has long been an anomaly; a pitcher who allows a lot of baserunners yet allows very few to score. That has not been the case this year and honestly he hasn’t put up numbers this bad since his short stay in Colorado. Before this start it had seemed like maybe he had gotten behind some of his struggles but Monday it appeared as if he was leaving the ball out over the middle of the plate and the Yankees made him pay for it. The numbers right now are staggering: An FIP of 6.01, ERA+ of 61(lowest total since 2006 for Cleveland, where he appeared in 9 games), he is allowing 11.9 hits per 9 innings, and 3 walks per 9. Most of the numbers so far are very comparable to his stay with the Rockies, where he was rescued by Kansas City for infamous space-waster Jonathan Sanchez. I still feel like Jeremy has value and still feel like he can bounce back from this. But the longer it goes on, the more you ask two questions: ‘how long can the Royals continue to throw him out there?’ and ‘when is Kris Medlen expected back?’. Hopefully Guthrie chooses to rise like the Phoenix.

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All-Star Dominance

There was some good news that came out this week in the form of the the All-Star balloting being announced and it looks like the Royals have something else they are leading in; votes! There are 5 Royals leading their respective positions and so far Salvador Perez is the overall vote-getter. I’m sure there will be some talk about Royals fans stuffing the online ballots, but like many others, I could care less:

If anything else, this is happening for one reason; the Royals are winning. Winning does this, especially for a fanbase that has been dormant for a number of years:

Look, I would be happy with one Royal starting in the All-Star game. Five Royals? That would just be awesome. I have reasons to cheer for each of the five guys who are leading but a start for Alex Gordon would mean a lot, especially considering how his tenure as a Royal has been over the years. Escobar also seems to be cherishing the idea of being in his first ‘Midsummer Classic’:

So Royals fans, if you have not yet voted, what are you waiting for? Go vote here and let your voice heard. I also have yet to vote; just wait until I get my 35 votes in for all 8 of my e-mail accounts! I can’t wait to vote for Gordon 280 times!

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Now onto the news and notes section of this series:

  • I mentioned earlier how there was one stellar pitching performance in this series and that was the outing Brandon Finnegan had on Monday following Guthrie’s awful tribute to Memorial Day. Finnegan came into the game in the 2nd inning and threw 3 shutout innings, allowing zero hits, 1 walk and 1 strikeouts. It was exactly what the Royals needed and lowered Finnegan’s ERA below 2.00 on the year. For a guy who has been bounced around this year, between the rotation and the pen, between the minors and the majors, he has managed to excel in the situations the Royals put him in. Now if the team could decide on a role for him and stick with it…
  • Finnegan had been recalled earlier in the day as Danny Duffy headed to the disabled list. I had actually mentioned this after the last series against the Cardinals and how it wasn’t a bad thing for this to happen:

There are a lot of theories out there about what is wrong with Duffy and it could be the shoulder stiffness that landed him on the DL, or it could be overthrowing or it could be him overthinking. Actually, I tend to lean toward all 3 to be honest with you. I’ve heard he could get up to 5 starts down in Omaha before coming back, so I wouldn’t expect to see him anytime soon, unless he is needed before then.

  • Finnegan was sent back down to the minors after Monday’s game to make room for Jason Vargas’ return from the disabled list. Vargas was on a strict 75 pitch limit(which was apparently not relayed to Steve Physioc in the Royals radio booth) and struggled out of the gate in his return. Vargas threw 4 innings, giving up 4 hits and 2 runs while walking 1 and striking out 6:

Vargas had a rough 1st inning but settled down and it would have been interesting to see how he did if he hadn’t reached the pitch limit imposed on him. The Royals need Vargas to pitch closer to his performance in 2014 than what we have seen so far this year and hopefully this was the first step toward that.

  • I mentioned a moment ago about Physioc not knowing about Vargas’ pitch limit on Tuesday night and it was just one of many miscues he made on air that night. Maybe it was because I was following the broadcast closer than normal, but Physioc was atrocious that night and he seemed to not do any homework at all. I’ve never been a fan of his work, but this series really highlighted how bad Physioc is as a broadcaster. I’m sure he is a nice guy, but nice guys don’t always make good on air talent.
  • Speaking of the broadcasters, if I had to hear them say ‘well that wouldn’t have been a home run at Kauffman Stadium’ one more time in this series I was ready to pull my hair out. Yes, Yankee Stadium has smaller dimensions than ‘The K’; but these games weren’t played in Kansas City so it didn’t matter. The Royals had the same advantage the Yankees had in this series, so comparing the two stadiums is ignoring the fact that the Yankees took more of an advantage of the shorter porch in right field. It came across as sour grapes.
  • Paulo Orlando hit his first career major league home run on Tuesday. Orlando has seen a lot of playing time this year thanks to Alex Rios’ injury, and while his average has slipped the last few weeks, he is still one of the best feel good stories of the year. Even if he never hits another one over the fence, he will always have his one at Yankee Stadium.

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Tweets of Royalty

 

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As far as I am concerned the best thing to do about this series is forget about it and move on. The Royals will venture to Chicago this weekend for 3 games at Wrigley Field against the Cubs. I am pretty excited for this series, since I grew up watching tons of Cubs games on WGN(as did a lot of people my age) and have a deep fondness for Wrigley and the ballclub. I am also looking forward to seeing some of Chicago’s young talent, guys like Jorge Soler, Addison Russel and Kris Bryant; I’m looking forward to seeing them, even if I don’t want them to do very good in this series. The Royals will be throwing Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez and Jeremy Guthrie in this set and hopefully the pitching and offense can put forth some solid effort. It is only May folks, so I am not worried at all. We knew a slump would happen; the question is just how long it will last, especially with Minnesota playing so good. It’s going to be a fun 3 games and my plan is to just enjoy the Royals being at Wrigley, since this only happens about once every six years. I can’t imagine this series will be worse than what we just saw…

 

My 2015 Hall of Fame Ballot

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On January 6th, the National Baseball Hall of Fame will announce their 2015 inductees, with expectations being that multiple players will be enshrined into the Hall this summer in Cooperstown, New York. There has been a plethora of debate concerning the voting process done by the BBWAA the last few years and how to handle possible PED users. This has cause a number of worthy players to be passed over, even without any evidence proving their taking of said substances. It has become harder and harder for voters to turn in their ballots, as the Hall allows up to 10 votes and many members of the BBWAA feeling as if more than that amount are worthy of the Hall’s honor. Last year I wrote up what my ten votes would have been if I could vote. This year I officially did get to vote, as a member of the IBWAA, and there were some notable differences between the BBWAA voting procedure and the IBWAA’s voting. For one, you can vote up to 15 candidates for the IBWAA, while the BBWAA has held fast to 10. Also, the IBWAA has already voted in Mike Piazza and Craig Biggio, while Barry Larkin(who is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame) has not. I ended up voting for 12 players and to save a bit of time I will be posting a link to my picks last year for some of the same candidates. Also, to get a better idea of just how difficult the voting process has become, read Jay Jaffe’s article on voting. So without further ado, here is my IBWAA ballot for 2015(in alphabetical order).

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1)Jeff Bagwell

Jeff Bagwell was on my list last year and I am still amazed he hasn’t gotten voted in. Many voters are suspicious of PED use, despite not evidence to any besides his body getting bigger between his time in the minor leagues and his ascension to the majors. Bagwell was not only one of the best hitters of his era, but also stellar defensively and on the basepaths. To me Bagwell is a slam dunk candidate and a major disservice has been done by excluding him from the Hall.

 

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2) Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds was also on my list in 2014 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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3) Roger Clemens

Roger Clemens is another 2014 vote for me and like Bonds, has the PED albatross around his neck. Clemens is the greatest 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 Committe 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.

 

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4) Randy Johnson

Randy Johnson is on the ballot for the first time this year and is a guaranteed lock to be voted in this year. It’s pretty easy to see why; 5 time Cy Young winner(placing 2nd 3 times), 2nd career in strikeouts(4875), 1st all-time in K’s per 9 inn(10.61), 23rd all-time in ERA+(135), over 300 wins and a 104.3 career WAR. Need More?

All this from a guy who when he started his career in 1988 it wasn’t guaranteed that he would be a top shelf starter. Sure, he had the stuff(an electric fastball that reached triple digits and a hard, biting slider), but Johnson was also known for having control issues. Even as late as 1992 Johnson still had a BB/9 of 6.2, but after that year he never got above 3.8 walks per 9 the rest of his career. Johnson threw 2 no-hitters in his career, the 2nd was the 17th perfect game in major league history. Randy would also dominant on the big stage of the playoffs, especially in 2001. During the playoffs that year for Arizona, Johnson would beat Atlanta twice in the NLCS and then pick up 3 wins against the Yankees in the World Series, the final victory coming in relief in Game 7, after he had pitched 7 innings the night before in Game 6. Johnson was as dominant in an era known for lack of dominance by pitching, and held that standard for a number of years. When you think of the greatest left handed starters in major league history names like Koufax, Spahn and Carlton instantly spring to mind. Randy Johnson is easily in that group and should easily slide into the Hall of Fame this year.

 

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5) Barry Larkin

As mentioned earlier, Larkin has already been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but not yet in the IBWAA’s version. It’s a shame really, because Larkin was the next evolution of offensive shortstop, following in the footsteps of Cal Ripken, Jr. in the 80’s. Larkin pretty much did everything(a 5 tool player), which was a big part of why he was one of my favorites of all-time. Larkin was a 12 time All-Star, 1995 NL MVP, 3 time Gold Glove winner, 9 time Silver Slugger winner, 5 times was in the top 10 of WAR in the NL(7 times for just position players), the first shortstop to have a 30 HR/30 SB season and is 22nd all-time in SB% (83.11). Larkin wasn’t flashy but he was consistent and was the blueprint for future shortstops like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra, combining offensive punch with defensive prowess. Larkin is what most shortstops of that era shrived to be, a Hall of Famer.

 

Mariners v Cardinals

6) Edgar Martinez

Edgar Martinez has been looked over for years but he was an easy pick for me last year. Edgar is the greatest Designated 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. Still don’t believe Edgar belongs?

The stats easily tell a story, that of a Hall of Fame player .

 

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7) Pedro Martinez

Pedro Martinez is much like Randy Johnson, a man who dominated in an era(the Steroid Era) where offense was king and pitching was hard to come by. Pedro was elite in this era, posting numbers who by themselves are jaw dropping, let alone when stacked next to his cohorts.

Pedro’s list of accomplishments during his 7 year peak almost look like ridiculous video game numbers: 5 times lead league in ERA(twice under 2!), 3 times lead AL in strikeouts,  and 5 times lead AL in ERA+, FIP, and WHIP. Martinez was unhittable in a period where everyone and everything was hittable. Martinez was a 3 time Cy Young award winner(2nd two other times), an 8 time All-Star, 2nd in the MVP voting in 1999, twice lead the AL in WAR(3 times for pitchers), is 6th all-time in career winning percentage(.687), 5th all-time in WHIP(1.054), 3rd all-time in K/9 (10.04), 13th all-time in career strikeouts (3154) and 2nd all-time in ERA+(154). All this from a guy who most believed would throw his arm out due to his small stature. In a time where muscle bound behemoths ruled the game, a small 5’11” 170 lbs pitcher made them all look like fools. That greatness will propel him into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown this summer.

 

Mike Mussina

8)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. Last year 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 this year. He was one I had to leave off last year but with the extra votes this year it was easy to add him to the mix. 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.

 

Montreal Expos

9) Tim Raines

Tim Raines might be one of the most undervalued players on this list but he shouldn’t be. It took me awhile, but within the last few years I have come around on my thinking when it comes to Raines and where his true place in the game should be. The good thing is that I am not alone, as his numbers have steadily increased until this past year, when he dropped from a high of 52.2% to 46.1%, probably mostly due to the gluttony of players on the list and not enough spots for all the deserving players. There are so many reasons to vote for Raines(and I state my case in the link earlier) but to NOT vote for him because he wasn’t Rickey Henderson(who just happened to play at the same time as ‘Rock’) is the equivalent of not voting for a hitter because “he wasn’t Ted Williams” I mean, being the 2nd best leadoff hitter EVER should count for something:

Luckily it appears a bump could be in order for Raines and with the possibility of 5 players getting in this year it could free up votes for future years. It might take a few more years, but hopefully the #RainesForHOF is not in vain.

 

 

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10) 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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11) John Smoltz

In the 1990’s there was no better rotation than the Atlanta Braves three-headed attack of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Smoltz is eligible for the first time this year and he looks to be joining his former teammates in Cooperstown. Very few pitchers have done what Smoltz did in his career, be both a top notch starter and closer. In fact the only other pitcher I can think of that was able to do what Smoltz did was Dennis Eckersley and we know how he turned out. But there appears to be some writers and journalists who don’t believe Smoltz should get into the Hall on the first ballot. Ben Lindbergh wrote a great piece for Grantland on just this subject, and delves into not only Smoltz’s candidacy but also those of Mussina and Schilling. But near the end of the article Lindbergh points out something that should really be heavily taken into consideration when it comes to whether someone should vote for him:

While Schilling, Mussina, and Smoltz were all great starters, though, Smoltz’s story has a hook: As many voters mentioned, he did something unprecedented, becoming the first pitcher to win 200 games and save 150 more. And while he didn’t come close to the magic milestone of 300 wins, 200 plus 150 equals 350, which is greater than 300. That’s the kind of math that even the most WAR-averse voters don’t mind.

Smoltz accumulated 213 wins and 154 saves, which is quite the accomplishment for any pitcher. Add in a 2.67 ERA, .789 winning %  in the postseason, 1996 Cy Young award winner(2 other top 5 finishes), 8 time All-Star, 1992 NLCS MVP, 66.5 career WAR(39th career for pitchers, 44th all-time in career K/9(7.992), and 16th all-time in career strikeouts(3084) and you have a nice resume when looking for induction. It’s easy to sit here and say that Smoltz wasn’t as good as former teammates Maddux and Glavine, but who was? It certainly doesn’t take away from a career that is certainly ‘Hall Worthy’.

 

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12) 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 14th year on the ballot, which means he gets only one more shot after this year and then 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…

 

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So there you go, my 2015 IBWAA Hall of Fame ballot. I had also given a decent amount of consideration to Jeff Kent, Gary Sheffield and Mark McGwire but alas I wasn’t quite on board yet for either of those three. What I can say is that it is never too late to judge each case and compare and contrast with other cases in the past. Sometimes our memory fails us and doesn’t paint the entire picture we need to fairly assess the situation. I can only hope the logjam that has accumulated the last few years eventually gets weeded out and some deserving candidates get the call they deserve. I can honestly say I feel as if I put together a list of players worthy of the greatest of all honors, a plaque at Cooperstown. It’s not a church folks; it’s a museum that tells us the history of the game we love. These 12 players help tell that story, blemishes and all.

World Series, Here They Come!

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As a longtime Kansas City Royals fan, there has always been a small part of me that worried I would never see my team in the World Series ever again. Sure, I got to see them in 1985, but I was 8 at the time and there are only so many memories of that time that lingers. This latest Royals playoff run has been exciting beyond belief but there was always that question; “Could they really make it back to the World Series?” We no longer have to ask that anymore, as the Royals finished off the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Championship Series, sweeping them in 4 games. The Royals are now headed to the World Series for the 3rd time in franchise history. I’ve been fairly quiet in this space during the last few weeks, not for lack of attention but more that I have been “enjoying the ride”. I don’t know for sure how objective I can be at this point, but I here are a few thoughts as we all get ready to cheer our Royals in the World Series next week.

Pitching and Defense Wins Championships 

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There is a reason you hear this adage over and over every October; because it is the truth. Very few teams slug their way to a championship. If you want to go deep into the playoffs, build your team around pitching and defense. You can probably add timely hitting and a deep bullpen/bench to this, as there is always a good chance you will be playing in close games in the most important month of the year. I mentioned recently how this is a team tailored for the playoffs and within 8 games this month(yes, I’m counting the Wild Card game that was held on September 30th) they seem to be proving that theory correct. They haven’t been winning with their bats(although those timely hits have been big so far this postseason) as much as with their defense and pitching. Just off the top of your head, how many key defensive grabs can you name within the last few weeks? Just thinking about it and I get up to 15 before even having to pause and think. Insane. Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar are just a few guys who have multiple plays that come to mind and I’m sure I am forgetting even more. Combine this with solid starting pitching and the best trio of relievers in the game(Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland) and you have a team that has to be frustrating for opponents in these tight situations. We all saw glimpses of the team’s strengths during the season, but it really feels like the Royals embraced these strengths late in the year and that has propelled the recent spat of postseason wins. As much as some of us(myself included) disagreed with how this team was built, it has gotten them to the World Series. Obviously, Dayton Moore understood the basis of what makes a championship team; we just should have believed more in the 1980’s style of baseball he was preaching.

Are Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas Fixed?

Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas

If you listen to the ‘talking heads’ this postseason you would think that Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have elevated their game and are starting to (finally)live up to their potential when they were drafted years ago. I will say this: both have looked way more focused in October. Moose has been driving the ball with a bit more authority(and not just on soft stuff) and Hosmer’s swing has looked the closest to his rookie year swing than at any time during the last 3 years. In fact, the national media has heavily focused themselves on Hosmer and that pesky word “potential” . If you didn’t know any better, you would think Hosmer was the straw that stirs the Royals drink, not the true leader, Alex Gordon. But are they fixed? That might be going a bit far. I have had exasperated this issue in the past and a small sample size hasn’t really changed my mind on this yet. For the Royals sake you hope they have turned the corner and they will start to shine like we have all wanted them to do since 2011. If they can transfer over their success into 2015 then we could be talking about them being cornerstones for the franchise. This will be a subject to revisit again come May of next year.

Danny Duffy: M.I.A.

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One of the more peculiar topics of discussion this month has been the status of pitcher Danny Duffy. Late in the regular season Duffy had a one pitch outing at Yankee Stadium(due to shoulder concerns) and an outing in Chicago where his mechanics were a mess. So is Duffy hurt? Why has he only being pitching from the stretch? For a guy who was probably the most consistent starter for the Royals this year, a year where he showed just how effective(and efficient) he could really be, it seemed odd to see Duffy basically on the outside looking in. You have to feel for a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve and is possibly the most fan-friendly Royal in recent memory. All this success and he is a last resort out of the pen? Luckily the Royals haven’t really needed Duffy during the playoffs, but you wonder how far their concerns go. Obviously he doesn’t feel comfortable pitching from the windup, which will have to be addressed in the spring. But with a World Series in the Royals near future you hope Danny Duffy is allowed to contribute on the field and put an exclamation point on what has been a breakthrough season for the young lefty.

Neddy and Dayton Prove Numbers Wrong

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News Bulletin: I am not a fan of Royals GM Dayton Moore and manager Ned Yost. I have railed and have even asked for their dismissals, numerous times. I even said that Yost would never “take the Royals to the promised land”. Obviously, I was wrong about that. Go ahead and give Ned a point there. But the question has been posed to me as of late: has my mind changed about these two since the Royals are headed to the World Series? When it comes to Ned, the answer is no. I still believe he is a poor tactical manager, which makes him the same as about half the managers in the big leagues right now. I also believe his mood affects this team and how they play. When he is loose, they play loose. When he stressed and tight, they play that way. More than anything, I believe the Royals could do better when it comes to the manager position. That being said, he has had an almost flawless postseason so far. Outside of the 6th inning in the Wild Card game(and possibly him not pulling his starters fast enough in Game 1 & 2 of the ALCS), Ned has pushed the right buttons and every decision has come up gold. Honestly, if the man isn’t trying to play the lotto right now then I don’t know when he should. I probably won’t ever be a fan of Yost’s style(the bunting alone drives me mad), but I can give him credit when he has earned it.

Dayton will get a bit more credit from me. I was one of the many who questioned the James Shields trade, as I felt the Royals gave up too much and essentially hated giving up 6 years of Wil Myers for 2 of Shields. But late in August, I started really re-thinking this. Wade Davis was the best reliever in baseball this season and Shields intangibles helped more than I could have ever imagined. Do Duffy and Yordano Ventura grow as much as they did this year if not for Shields guidance? Does the mentality in the clubhouse change without Big Game James leading the way? There is no way to measure his influence on this team but it is obvious that trading for him wasn’t the mistake some of us thought it was. Dayton was the one who focused on defense and pitching, realizing he needed speed for the outfield with the amount of ground they have to cover. He put together a monster of a bullpen and stuck with struggling youngsters that most teams would have jettisoned by now. More than anything else, Dayton put together the team that broke the 29 year drought   and got the Royals back to the playoffs. It took him 8 years(and most front offices wouldn’t have lasted that long) but he did it. Kudos to GMDM. It’s not the team most of us would have assembled, but it is the team that is getting ready for the World Series.

MLB: ALDS-Los Angeles Angels at Kansas City Royals

This is just a few of the thoughts rolling through my head. I haven’t been able to make much sense of the wild playoff run Kansas City is having, but I can tell you how happy it has made me. A team that most of us wrote off in May has risen like a Phoenix in October and is only 4 wins away from a World Series title. It seems almost appropriate that the Royals have yet to lose this postseason; we die hard Royals fans have seen enough losing to last us a lifetime. The best thing is that when damning the logic, you realize just how fun it has been. This ride has one more stop and hopefully when it is all said and done a second World Series title will make its way to Kauffman Stadium. Dreams can come true, and we are just few more ‘W’s’ away from that parade I’ve been planning for months to become a reality. Only this time I’m 100% serious.

The Beauty of a Ballpark

 

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

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This past week Boston’s Fenway Park celebrated it’s 100th anniversary, a feat that seems inconceivable for the batch of today’s baseball stadiums. With the influx of new stadiums over the past few years, teams have figured out that a good way to get more fans out to the old ballpark is to build a new stadium. Nothing makes the turnstiles move more than a new place to watch their favorite team play. Other than maybe Wrigley Field, it will be awhile before we see a park reach the triple digit mark.

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With Marlins Park opening this year in Miami, the number of stadiums that have opened in the past twenty years almost averages out to one a year: twenty one new ballparks have graced Major League Baseball in that span.

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With all that said, it is amazing that almost forty years later Kauffman Stadium is one of the most beautiful ballparks in baseball. A couple years ago renovations were made to the stadium and it went from being a good looking park to one of the best in the game to witness baseball. Sure, all these new parks have those extra special touches that make them unique and keep fans coming back for more.

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Whether it’s Boog Powell’s barbeque at Camden Yards in Baltimore or the monuments at the new Yankee Stadium, these ballparks give fans an extra incentive to make a trip to a ball game. Some are flashy, while some are more subtle and Kauffman could be classified as subtle.

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The fountains are still in the outfield and you can now walk out there before the game and feel the water on your skin, which is nice on a warm summer day.

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If you go out to left field, there is the Royals Hall of Fame, which takes a look at the history of not only the Royals but also baseball in Kansas City. Just make sure you get there early, as a long line forms pretty quickly out there.  There is also the Little K back behind the outfield, a place for the kids to play at and includes a small baseball field and putt putt course just name a few.

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Out in right field is the Pepsi Party Porch for the adults, a place to relax and enjoy the game out by the fountains. On top of that, the seating in the renovated “K” makes you see the game from a more level playing field. This all from a stadium that is close to 40 years old. Sure, the Royals are off to a rough start to this new season but the losses are softened if you get the chance to be at the game. It’s hard to imagine that Kauffman Stadium could reach 100 in another sixty years, but if the stadium is kept up it could be one of the ballparks to stand the test of time.

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