Theoretical Restraint – How nobody would have been tempted by steroids except for everyone who was

July 19, 2011

Read this.

At the time it was published, this article was a revelation. Most people didn’t know that Lenny Dykstra was so brazen about making his 1993 season one for the ages, or that there was so much good information about his own timeline doing PEDS. We didn’t have documentation for Reggie’s steroid dealing roommate becoming Canseco and McGwire’s dealer, or the timeline. I had independently come to the conclusion that Barry Bonds started using in 1999 out of some sort of bitterness or competitiveness because players that he deemed inferior had passed him up by using steroids, but this article includes the “testimony” of someone that had come to the exact same conclusion, and had some material evidence to back up his opinions. We didn’t know that Wally Joyner, who would be one of the last people in the world that anyone would expect to be tempted, actually took PEDS for short time before tossing them away.

Do any of us really understand how hard it would be to say no in that climate? Some did, obviously, and from this article I would guess that the number was a lot higher than Canseco claimed. I’ve been on record as guessing that the vast majority of major league players did PEDS. After this, I would lower my guess to somewhere around half. I doubt that it was much less than half, though.

I also came to understand a lot more about baseball’s own problems trying to deal with the sudden scourge. I don’t find them blameless, but I do understand how it all got so out of control, and how it got so far before any steps were taken. We look back and wonder why it wasn’t nipped in the bud. The better question would probably be “what else could they have done, given the management/labor paradigm of the time?” Baseball was at the feet of the union, and since they couldn’t control it none of the individual teams could be reasonably expected to be the only ones that stuck their necks out.

As is the case with most epidemics, it takes time to identify that there is a problem, and then time to figure out what to do, then (in this case) time to prove that there is a problem and time to negotiate how to address the problem. Baseball first really heard of it around 1991, accepted that they need to at least acknowledge it in 1997 (they got distracted by the strike issues for a couple of years, which slowed down the progression), realized that they needed to take proactive steps in 2000, and then it took 3 years to sell it to the union through negotiations and proof that the problem was real. I come away feeling that the Selig-led hierarchy worked through the process in a fairly normal time frame, considering that they weren’t getting any help from the teams and certainly no help from the players or their union.

Who’s to blame? Pete Rose, Reggie Jackson and Miguel Tejada. (I’m just kidding)

Seriously, can’t it just be one of those things? Baseball is a game that produces unimaginable amounts of money, which all of the interested parties get an ample share of. When there is a shift in technology, a shift in equipment, or (in this case) a shift in available ways to beat the other guy, everyone always scrambles to get ahead of everyone else. The guys that stood still and said “this isn’t right” were so drowned out that it took over a decade to get even the smallest toe hold on the problem. It happens and, as I’ve said to the point of hyperventilating for years, it’s happened before. It’s going to happen again, too, sooner or later.

Oh, and just to put a bonnet on it, my three requested “stipulated” facts, with adjustments to reflect the provable portions:

– Reggie Jackson was living with Curtis Wenzlaff in 1987, while still an active player.

– Pete Rose had, as house mates, Tommy Gioiosa and Paul Janszen, both steroid dealers who worked out with Rose at various times from 1985 until the betting scandal erupted in 1989. Janszen was the star witness against Rose, and Gioiosa ran bets for Rose before introducing him to Janszen in late 1986. Janszen didn’t live with Rose while he was an active player, but Gioiosa did. Both lived with him while he was the manager of the Reds.

– Miguel Tejada gave Rafael Palmiero a B-12 shot shortly after Palmiero testified before congress. Palmiero tested positive for a steroid that was popular several years earlier, but was considered obsolete by 2005.

I don’t personally care who did what, other than from curiosity. I have no angst about it, or any anger towards the miscreants. My only interest in taking this much time researching and posting is towards the goal of getting the record straight, or as straight as it can be given the climate of denial around the issue.

Just for the record, I don’t believe that either Reggie Jackson or Pete Rose derived any benefit from taking steroids. I don’t believe that either one of them even took steroids, though I wouldn’t be shocked if it came out that they did. I do believe that Palmiero took steroids, and the only reason that I want the Tejada facts to be stipulated is because I believe that it’s possible that he was set up to take a fall.

I don’t have a clue why anyone felt that it was necessary for Palmiero to take a fall. I don’t know what lurks in the minds of people like that, so how in the hell can I explain their actions? Palmiero was later exposed in places where I feel comfortable in stipulating that he was a steroid user, so why should I care about that last positive test? For Raffy, I don’t care. He did steroids, so that last test doesn’t matter. He was set up in a clumsy, amateurish way. That bothers me. I mean, why? I find it fascinating; wondering why they would set up someone that was already going down?

Nixon fixed an election that he was going to win anyway. Maybe that was the thought process. We all watch so many scripted TV shows and movies that we forget that, in the real world, even supposedly educated and worldly people can act like complete morons once in awhile. In the end it doesn’t matter in the least whether Palmiero was set up, does it? Well, to Palmiero anyway. It might matter to us, though, if we can find out who did it. Maybe these people “raped a hooker”, but that doesn’t mean that a rape wasn’t committed.

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2017 GOR player comments

Garret Anderson (0.1). Anderson is unlikely to make the Hall of Fame, but his counting numbers mean he’ll be jumping out of encyclopedias as long as baseball retains its basic statistical shape. He finished 2nd in range factor at his position six times, and finished 3-2-2 in 1997-1999, respectively, in left field, right field, and center field. Ranks around 100th all time in most of the counting categories, 48th all time in doubles.

Anderson illustrates one of the logical absurdities that pop up – at both ends of the defensive spectrum – because of how WAR counts defense. He was, by all accounts, an above average fielder – one of the best at his position in the league – yet his career defensive WAR (BBR) is negative 4.6 games. Since replacement value is whatever produces a record similar to the expansion Mets, that’s an awfully negative statement.

I understand that the onus on the right end of the spectrum is heavily tilted towards offense, but how much of that is by choice? In other words, is left field unimportant defensively because it doesn’t matter, or because some teams choose not to care?

The other side of this particular coin is second base, where the logical disconnect goes the other direction. A lot of plays happen at second base – hence its perceived value – but the skill set required doesn’t imply a degree of difficulty matched by the higher volume.

Craig Biggio (2.1). Bigs is in the real Hall, having been elected in his third year of eligibility. He was never the clear best player in the league – Bill’s NHBA article notwithstanding – and he had the feel of a second fiddle more than a face of the franchise type, but he won four gold gloves, played in eight consecutive all star games, and lasted long enough to put himself way up most of the counting lists.

Kevin Brown (1.2).
Brown failed to receive 5 percent of the vote in the 2011 Hall election, his first. I think he’s an eventual Hall of Famer, but I would put the odds against him still being around to make the speech. We had a long, spirited discussion about his strikeout rates during last year’s GOR election. Here is a link to last year’s GOR if you want to read up on all that.

Pat Burrell (0.0). Where would he rank all time? I think he’s in the top thousand, maybe even the top 700-800, but I can’t really say for sure. His career WAR doesn’t rank among the top thousand. He finished his career with the 234th best ops ever (.834) and pulled up just short of 300 homers, but his only defensive value was something like the guy who holds the camera during a home orgy. It can be summed up as “he was willing to get out of the way.”

Burrell was the first overall pick in the 1998 amateur draft and made the majors in early 2000, after slashing .333-.438-.631 for AA Reading in 1999. He came up as a first baseman and played 58 games there as a rookie – about half his total games – but the Phillies moved him to left in order to play Travis Lee, then Jim Thome, then Ryan Howard. Burrell never played first again; those 58 games as a rookie were his career total.

He was a pretty bad outfielder – slow, with bad instincts and a weak arm – but he wasn’t Greg Luzinski. In strat terms he would have been a 3(+1) in a few years, a 4(+1) the rest of the time. Luzinski would have needed his own X-chart, like a pitcher hitting card. A Luzinski fielding card. If anyone makes one, I recommend that you use it for Hanley Ramirez, too.

Orlando Cabrera (0.0). He ain’t making the Hall unless they build on and double – maybe triple – the guard, but he made it to 2000 hits so I think he deserves to be on the ballot.

I mostly remember him for two things. First, he had a Denny Doyle-esque, magical season in 2004, when he came in to replace Nomah, hit .294, and helped the Sox win their first World Series since Babe Ruth was a pitcher.

Second, he drove in lots of runs for a guy who profiled as a bottom of the order hitter. He drove in 96 for the 2001 Expos, but the real fun season was 2007, with Anaheim. He hit .301, scored 101 runs, and drove in 86. His adjusted ops+ was 95, which turned out to be the second highest of his career. The year he drove in 96, his adjusted ops+ was 92. There must be a list to generate there .. best players who drove in more runs than their ops+ or something?

Mike Cameron (0.1).
Cam ain’t going to the real Hall, but he was a consistent, winning player for a surprisingly long time, for a surprisingly large number of teams. He played full seasons with at least 100 games in center field for six different teams, and at least 40 games in center field for eight teams.

I watched his four homer game. Two things: first, he missed a fifth by maybe 10-15 feet. He drove a ball to right center field in his final atbat that was caught right at the front of the warning track. Second, all four homers were off of curve balls.

Cameron was amazingly consistent. The M’s dumped him at 30 years old, thinking he was in decline, and at the time it looked like he was, but he was just getting started. He had a remarkable run of seasons in his thirties that look amazingly alike on the back of his baseball card, bouncing around the league but – like late-career Kenny Lofton – landing on a lot of good teams.

Do we think about Willie, Mickey and the Duke first when we think about center field? I know I do, and I think it colors my judgment about what a good center fielder actually looks like. It’s sort of like reading a Victoria’s Secret catalogue right before heading to Match.com.

Guys like Cameron and Lofton, Johnny Damon … they might lose a step or two, but they can still play out there for winning teams well into their thirties. They are the centerfield version of a great second wife. They don’t wear white and nobody throws a big wedding for ‘em, but they can keep you awfully warm out there in center field when you get tired of all the young “prospects” who don’t know what they are doing.

David Cone (1.0).
I actually think Cone will develop some momentum as a Hall candidate once he’s eligible for the old timers committees. His win total (194) won’t be such a detriment once the writers get used to the lower cumulative win totals being put up in recent years, assuming they don’t go back up again.

Cone, like a lot of pitchers, dirtied up his record a bit at the end. He was 180-102 (.638), 3.19 after the 1999 season, an adjusted era+ of 129. He wound up at .606 and 121.

Carlos Delgado (1.0).
Delgado is like Bobby Bonds or Chuck Klein. They are the contrarian candidates. Jack Morris, Rick Reuschel and Don Drysdale are pitcher versions, same idea.

If a contrarian candidate gets elected to the Hall of Fame, the discussion will be almost evenly divided between those who think “it’s about time” and those who think “what a joke.” If they are in, the majority of their ink will be about what crappy Hall of Famers they are. If they are out, the majority of their ink will be about what an injustice it is that they aren’t in.

They can’t win, and they can’t lose. Once in they are only remembered in mocking tones, but even if they never get in they will always jump out of the book. They don’t define the bottom of the Hall – that’s where the Frischian Candidates are (shut up Ludlum) – but the middle. They are the bottom line of the BBWAA Hall, and the line between C and D on the Hall of Fame tier structure.

J.D. Drew (0.0). I think Drew, among all the players whose reputations were stained by the greed of Scott Boras, was the most profoundly stained.

I would occasionally hear nice things about Drew, from people who dealt with him directly – and had no reason to lie – but those voices were always drowned out by the constant, grinding distain and mockery of the Jim Rome world of smack talk radio and the very loud internet voice of Boston homer – and Drew hater – Bill Simmons. Was he a good guy, or a bad guy? I honestly have no idea.

Jim Edmonds (1.1). Edmonds was a hell of a player – very stylish, in my memory – and I always liked him, but I don’t like him as much as some of the other BJOL guys do. Edmonds is a future Hall of Famer, I think, but he’s going to have to wait a while.

Nobody ever turned on a high fastball like Edmonds did, and we have all seen the over the head catches on Sportscenter. As a hitter I liken him to Will Clark, probably because they shared some physical traits and had similar swings. As a fielder he wasn’t fast, but he was fearless and he had tremendous instincts. He’s another one of those great second wife center fielders.

Julio Franco (0.5). I don’t completely discount Franco’s Hall of Fame chances, but he might need a loosening of the belt. It’s been a few years since anyone has called for a less exclusive Hall of Fame.

Tom Glavine (2.3) – I have Glavine as a high C level Hall of Famer, but an argument can be made that I have him too low – that he’s actually a B. He won 300 games and 2 Cy Young awards. He finished in the top 3 of the voting in 6 different Cy Young award elections. He won a World Series-clinching game with a 1-0 shutout, giving the Braves the only championship during their remarkable run, and their only championship in nearly 60 years.

His World Series earned run average, in 58 innings, was 2.16. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first eligible year, despite some stiff competition. Incidentally, he was a pretty good hitter, with a .186 career batting average. He had no power – 1 career homerun – but he drew over a hundred walks and laid down 216 sacrifice bunts. For context, only one 21st century player had more sacrifice bunts. I’ll put his name down at the bottom, so you can guess who it is. The next highest, after Glavine, had 180 and was also a pitcher. I’ll put his name down there, too.

I think Glavine’s best historical comp is probably Whitey Ford. Glavine was a poor man’s Warren Spahn or a rich man’s Eddie Plank, and the four of them were similar enough in style, handedness and success that they might be seen as a knot, if not a family. Are they the Mount Rushmore of the crafty lefty nation? It would seem strange to leave Tommy John off the hill, given his status as the namesake of a certain type of crafty lefty.

Speaking of Eddie Plank, was he the only major league player to die at Gettysburg? Did Eddie Grant die at Harvard, in the Argonne Forest, or on Electric Avenue?

Vladimir Guerrero (2.2)
Here’s a link to his Test. I had forgotten that Vladdie was a big base stealer at one time. He is one of just 6 players to reach 30 homers and 30 stolen bases in back-to-back seasons. I’ll put that list down at the bottom, too. He was one of two players to miss a 40-40 season by a single homerun. I’ll put that down there, though my guess is most of us know who the other guy was off the top of our heads.

Trevor Hoffman (0.6) –
It looks like he’ll sail into the real Hall of Fame … I’m not the one to make his case, though. I don’t think he meets the established standards for a BBWAA-worthy Hall of Famer. He never pitched even 90 innings in a season, and he only had a couple of sub-2 eras. His career era+ was 141 – a good number, certainly – but in San Diego, pitching one inning at a time?

For comparison, Mariano Rivera’s career era+ was 205.

I suppose he’s the first true one-inning closer. That’s something. One thing about him that impressed me was how he survived the loss of his good stuff. At one time he had a big fastball, but by the 1998 World Series I doubt he was hitting even 90 on the gun. He managed to pitch another dozen years after that, accumulating over 400 saves.

Jeff Kent (1.1) – When I do the Test, I don’t make any specific adjustments for PED use, but I take a lot of air out of the statistics for certain factors specific to the period. Three of those factors are direct hits on Jeff Kent.

  • He had an unusually long career for a player of his type and apparent level of ability.
  • He peaked unusually late. He hit 270 of his 377 career homers after he turned 30 – 299 after he joined Barry Bonds in San Francisco at age 29 – and he had a post-30 ops+ of 131 after a pre-30 ops+ of 106. His best five year WAR stretch came at ages 30-34, and over half his career WAR came during his age 32-37 years. His WAR pre-30 was 14.5, post-30 40.7. He drove in 100 or more runs 8 times, the first at age 29.
  • Despite superficially impressive numbers, both single season and career, he never led the league in anything. He had zero points of black ink. He only had 77 points of gray ink.

His 1.1 on the Test indicates a mid-level D candidate, a guy who is a bit more than 50-50 to eventually make the Hall of Fame based on their previous history. That’s probably fair, because by the time he becomes a serious candidate nobody is going to question the fact that his aging pattern was as suspicious as Pamela Anderson’s cup size when she moved to Hollywood.

I personally don’t care – or mind – if Kent makes the Hall of Fame, but Bobby Grich and Lou Whitaker might have a beef if he gets in before they do.

Derrek Lee (0.0) – He put up twin 131 ops+ numbers in 2002-2003, then his ops+ seemed to leap off its moorings. His ops+ movement between 2004 and 2010: -13, +56, -62, +18, -21, +37, -40. His 2005 season jumps off the page like Jim Gentile’s 1961, maybe … but Lee had another year in 2009 that, while it wasn’t as good as 2005, was good enough that it probably eliminates him from all the fluke-season lists.

Derrek’s father Leon and his uncle Leron both played in Japan for many years, and Derrek spent a lot of his childhood over there. Leon hit .308 with 268 homers in 10 seasons in Japan, while Uncle Leron hit .320 with 283 homers in 11 seasons. Derrek was 3 when his father moved to Japan, 12 when he returned, and he spent summers over there through high school. He still travels extensively, teaching baseball skills to children all over the world.

Kenny Lofton (1.3) – If Tim Raines was Rickey Henderson lite as an offensive player, then Kenny Lofton was Tim Raines lite. Lofton’s career pattern – several brilliant years early, then a long career at a lower level of production – matches up with Raines. Both were speedy revelations as rookies, then put up their best five year stretch shortly after (Lofton in years 2-6, Raines in years 3-7).

Lofton’s overall value was similar to Raines, depending on how you factor in his defense. WAR has them essentially even, while Winshares gives a significant advantage to Raines. I think Winshares has it right – that Raines was the more valuable player overall – but that’s mostly because I don’t buy into how WAR figures defense and position adjustments. There seems to be an assumption that, because some teams don’t care about defense in left field, it doesn’t matter. As a result, all left fielders are position-adjustmentally treated much like first basemen/designated hitters, while center fielders are given a far less demanding offensive “book” to cover. I don’t buy the premise.

Anyway …

Lofton may have been the most prolific second-wife center fielder of all time. He was the Liz Taylor of quickie baseball marriages and (mostly) amiable divorces. He switched teams nine times between 2002 and 2007. He was traded in midseason in 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2007. Every team that picked him up made the playoffs, too. He played in the postseason every year from 2001-2007 except 2005, when he hit .335 for the Phillies but, for some reason, they were unwilling or unable to find a suiter for him. He returned to Cleveland as a free agent twice, which I think makes the Indians Richard Burton. The Atlanta Braves, who acquired him in a trade earlier in his career, lost him back to Cleveland the following year. That either makes them Michael Todd, or makes Lofton Eddie Fisher and the Braves Debbie Reynolds.

Willie McGee (0.4) – I might as well reprint what I wrote last year; it’s not like his situation has changed.

He has no chance in hell at the moment, but there were years in the GOR where he would have been a contender. The MVP, three gold gloves, two batting titles, a rookie of the year award, and several postseasons give him considerable stage value, and he finished with well over 2000 hits. It’s not impossible that he will get the call someday.

Melvin Mora (0.0) – At the time he turned 30, he looked like a guy who was probably going to be out of the league by the time he was 32 or 33, having made between one and two million dollars. He wound up playing til he was 39 years old and walking away with over 40 million dollars. Whatever he did or didn’t do, who could possibly blame him? It takes an awfully stiff neck to turn down a thumb-rub like that.

If the pool is limited to full seasons only, Mora’s 2004 might make some fluke-season lists. He was almost as good in 2003, but in a partial season. His ops+ was 155 in 2004, 143 in 2003 – but only 117 in 2005, his second best full season.

Mike Mussina (1.7) – I rank the big four pitchers on the ballot Glavine-Schilling-Smoltz-Mussina in an accomplishment-based discussion, but I would rank them almost the exact opposite way in a value-based discussion. The highest ranked, according to the Test, is Glavine at 2.3 and the lowest is Moose, at 1.7. They are in a knot, wrapped tightly around the C grade.

Moose is more famous for his work with the Yankees, but if you ask me he was a far better pitcher with the O’s. His record with Baltimore was 147-81, 130 era+. With the Yankees he was 123-72, era+ 114.

He had the sickest splitter I have ever seen in the 1997 playoffs, when he outdueled Unit twice. It was almost bugs bunny-ish, the way it stopped and dropped. It was unhittable.

John Olerud (0.8) – A local kid – WSU was his college – Olerud was one of my favorite players. Some statheads like him even more than I do. Like Edmonds and a few other players, he gets overrated some by the decentralization effect of the high-offense era he played in. He had a big year with Toronto in 1993, another big year with the Mets in 1998, and a couple of good years with the M’s in the early 2000s – but that’s it. He was basically a league average hitter for his position the rest of his career, and his career 129 ops+ isn’t impressive for where he landed on the defensive spectrum. He was a good defender, which matters, but he wasn’t Keith Hernandez.

Those four years count, of course, and I think Olerud is a slightly below average D candidate for the Hall of Fame, roughly 40-60 to eventually gain admission according to historically established trends and criteria. I would be thrilled to see him make it. A lot will depend on how the voters see him; was he famous, or wasn’t he? He was on famous teams, but he was always sort of a quiet, unassuming presence, and not really a force.

One thing people might not realize about Olerud was how streaky he was within a season. He was mostly a guy who tried to drive the ball to center-left center, but occasionally he would get into a groove where he could pull just about anything the pitcher tossed up there. He would hit a rash of homers, never seeming to even swing hard … then it would be gone and he would spend the next couple of weeks hitting weak pops and corny cans to left center. Eventually the weak pops would turn back into line drives, then he’d pull one … and the cycle would repeat.

He never looked gassed, or intense, or sweaty. He was as smooth as melted caramel, trickling down a warm spoon. He always reminded me of that cartoon turtle, what was his name? He was always saying, “helooooooo …. Daaaaaay- vee …”

Magglio Ordonez (0.1) – Arod’s huge 2007 season shafted Magglio, who finished second in the American League MVP vote. Looking at the results, I noticed something strange. In the National League, five of the top seven players in the vote were white. In the American League, just one of the top twelve were white. Just two of the top twelve in the American League vote were born in the United States, while the top eight in the National League vote were all born in the U.S.

Ordonez averaged 32 homers and 118 rbi between 1999 and 2003. His only top five finish in either category was in 2002, when he finished 2nd in rbi with 135. He posted four consecutive .300-30-100 seasons, and missed a fifth by a solo homerun (29 hr, 99 rbi). His highest MVP finish during the run was eighth, and in two of the years (1999 and 2001) he failed to receive a single vote.

He has the barest of chances to make the Hall of Fame. It seems strange to say that about a career .309 hitter with well over 2000 hits and nearly 300 homeruns, but what else can I say? Magglio was probably a decent match for Ray Boone or Bob Johnson, somebody like that, once you let the air out of his numbers – and frankly I might be overstating his contribution. There is a lot of air in his numbers.

Rafael Palmeiro (1.3) – Will Clark beats Palmiero, based on my TBA formula, 5.77 to 5.68 runs per game. That’s before any adjustments are made for park context, league context, or pharmaceutical context. What the means is Clark, without any benefit of the doubt about PEDs or giving him any extra credit for doing most of his best hitting before the high-offense 1990s, was still a (slightly) more effective offensive player than Rafael Palmiero.

Tony Phillips (0.3) – If it was possible to put together an all-time great multipositional all star team, who would be on it?

Jorge Posada (0.9) – Posada was one of the most consistent hitters you could ask for, hitting between .268 and .281 eight times in his 12 year prime period, hitting 20 homers and driving in 80 runs in eight different seasons – only Mike Piazza and Yogi Berra did it more often, 10 times apiece (Johnny Bench also did it eight times) – and putting up an offensive WAR between 3.3 and 6.5 every year between 2000 and 2007.

Hip-hip was weirdly consistent getting on base. He put up onbase averages over .400 four times, but the rest of the time he was within a few percentage points of .360, ranging from .350-.374 except for one down year, when his oba was .341. Dave Fleming took some time to explain his take elsewhere on the site.

Manny Ramirez (2.6) –
I gave him an A on the fame question and B’s on the other impact questions and both career statistics questions. He only got C’s on what I might call the “winning” series of questions. He never won an MVP award. He never led the league in WAR or offensive WAR, and he never really came close. His black and gray ink were below the norms for the Hall of Fame.

Part of the problem was the size of the league, of course, but his player-only profile (leave out the personality) is that of a solid, C-level Hall of Fame candidate. I imagine he is perceived as more of a B-level candidate.

Manny being Manny was the 2000s version of a long, proud line of a specific player type: The hitting savant. The players share characteristics beyond their ability to square up the barrel of the bat on a baseball. Their primary shared characteristic is an obsession with hitting, almost to the exclusion of everything else. They tend to be bad fielders. They tend to have flaky personalities. They tend to have reputations as lovable eccentrics from a distance, and rank assholes up close. Their careers often end badly, and their reputations usually circle the drain along with their batting averages. Here are a few examples:

Pete Browning
Heinie Zimmerman
Joe Jackson
Hack Wilson
Jeff Heath
Ted Williams
Gus Zernial
Ferris Fain
Rico Carty
Dave Kingman
Manny

Teddy Ballgame, Heath, Fain, and Kingman were angry rather than buffoonish, so they should probably be considered cousins more than brothers. Wade Boggs, Pete Rose … they can be second cousins; their obsessions weren’t limited to hitting, but they had plenty of obsessiveness to go around.

Manny’s family line would be Browning, Zimmerman, Wilson, Zernial, Carty, and then Manny. I am sure I missed a few, and probably somebody obvious.

Edgar Renteria (0.4)
– I think his long term chances will come down to how his defense is perceived. His offensive career could be best described as “not disqualifying.” He had 2372 career hits and enough other stuff – stolen bases, .330 batting average seasons, 100 run seasons, even a 100 rbi season – to cover the offensive book for a gold glove quality shortstop with some big moments in the postseason.

Was he a good defensive shortstop? Are you asking me? Oh wait, I asked myself. Well, if I ask me, I would say “maybe, but the evidence is sketchy.” He won a pair of gold glove awards, but I doubt he deserved them. His range and error rates were consistently below average, and his double play data was poor. He played for several teams, and his below average numbers followed him around. His range factors in his two gold glove-winning seasons were a good 50 plays below average. Would you give a batting title to a player who had 50 hits below average?

Jose Rijo (0.1) – He had a modest little 4-game winning streak that began on July 25, 1995 and ended on May 3, 2002. He made 23 mound appearances in between, not losing a game for 2,473 days. Making the majors at 18 years old, according to BBR he was the 12,470th oldest player to debut in the major leagues. Belongs with Gary Nolan, Jim Maloney, Mario Soto, Jim O’Toole and Don Gullet on the Red’s all-time “dominant table game pitchers as long as you don’t play innings limits” team.

Rijo was a Reader’s Digest-condensed Hall of Famer. His career World Series era was 0.59, and he won the 1990 World Series MVP. His era+ between 1988 and 1994 was 147, based on an era of 2.63. He was 87-53 during his prime with the Reds, starting 192 games in 7 years. He was among the leaders in k/9 every year, and led the league in strikeouts the one year he pitched a full schedule.

Ivan Rodriguez (3.0) – His overall grade might be a little high. I chose the higher grade on every close call, and there were a lot of close calls. Pudge 2.0 was a B- player, I think – not quite a B, but far too substantial to be stuck in with the C’s. If I did his Test again tomorrow, in a bad mood, he might drop into the low 2’s. If I did decimals, or plus-minus like Bob used to do, he would probably be in the 2.6-2.7 range.

Dan spent a lot of time on him, more time than I will. My take on Pudge is that his defensive accomplishments were plenty to get him in the Hall of Fame but, absent whatever made him huge during the wrap-around years at the turn of the millennium, as a hitter he was like Renteria: just another guy, a compiler but never a force.

He was still a baby when he met Canseco, so we’ll never know how good a hitter he really was. He took a 158 point tumble in his ops (42 in ops+) the year he lost all the weight, and he was below 100 in ops+ the rest of his career. He was into his 30s by then, though, so it’s not fair to assume he would have never been a good hitter. Was he good enough to compare to the other BBWAA Hall of Famers? Honestly …. Probably not.

He was a winner, though, and I really hate putting him in a negative light. I might just put him at the top of my ballot and hope he wins this year, so I can stop worrying about the fact that he lost 40 pounds and 40 ops+ points in less than six months.

Curt Schilling (2.2) – What pitchers would rank ahead of him on a postseason all-impact team? How many of them never played for the Yankees?

Schilling’s closest historical comp is probably John Smoltz; well, Smoltz or Don Drysdale.

Gary Sheffield (1.7)
– The Dick Allen of the PED era, Sheff might be the missing link between the angry cousins and the multi-obsessives in my Manny Ramirez comment. As he matured he seemed to exorcize his demons, but in the end he was still just as sour as he had always been. It was like he went from being a brat to a prick to a curmudgeon. The whole time we kept expecting him to go postal, but he never really did. I’m sure he has a very nice lawn now, which we can all get the *%$# off of.

Lee Smith (0.6) – Like Hoffman he might be a Hall of Famer, but he wouldn’t make the top 500 pitchers in a value ranking. He was probably one of the top 500 based on his established skills, but he wasn’t used often enough to compare to all the guys who threw 200 plus innings a year. Electing one-inning closers is a little like electing kickers to the NFL Hall of Fame. A few should be in, but only a few.

John Smoltz (2.2) – He might be Schilling’s main competition for the pitcher slot on the non-Yankee postseason all-impact team, except he spread his goodness around, rather than stuffing most of it into one bloody sock.

He gets mixed reviews for his broadcasting skills; I personally think he’s terrific. I think he has a shelf life, like all the good color guys. There is only so much any single person has to say.

Sammy Sosa (2.0) – Without the juice, he was Chuck Klein or Jose Canseco. Even with the juice, he didn’t dominate. He didn’t lead the league in homers in any of his 60 homer seasons.

Matt Stairs (0.0) – He came up as a second baseman, then there was talk about him moving to third base. You know how many games he played in the infield (first base doesn’t count) in his 20 year career? One. One inning at second base. When did he play there? In 2001, with the Cubs at the age of 33, in his tenth season. He played one inning. Well, he stood there for one inning – he didn’t have any chances. He might have taken a throw from the outfield or something.

Stairs eventually played for 12 teams, but he never played for either New York or Los Angeles team. He did play a season in Chicago, for the Cubs. He retired in 2011, having played 20 years and made 19 million dollars. He may go down in history as the last player with a long career to not average a million dollars a year.

He was a strange choice to play first base. He was listed as 5-9, but that seems generous. He looked like a Keebler elf who spent too much time in the sample room, or that guy on your softball team who everybody calls “Spanky.”

Put him on the team with Johnny Bench, Phil Roof, and Ed “Carpet” Burns.

Dave Stieb (0.9) – From 1980-1990 Stieb started at least 31 games every year except one (25) and went 158-115 with an era of 3.29 (127 era+).

Stieb, like Rijo, missed several seasons before coming back to pitch. He had a modest little 4-game losing streak that lasted for 1,947 days between 1993 and 1998. He belongs on the Graig Nettles/Rick Reuschel all-star team of players who nobody can remember what order to put the vowels in his name.

Jason Varitek (0.3) – His career WAR is only 24 and his career offensive production, even without taking some air out for Fenway and the high offensive era, is in the mid-700s among the 2600 players who had at least 2000 career plate appearances. He was a terrific player, but it would be a hefty stretch to get him into the top 500 position players, let alone the top 300 or so where he would become a legitimate Hall of Fame contender.

I still think he might wind up being a fringe Hall of Fame candidate, because – well, Rick Ferrell. If Rick Ferrell is a Hall of Famer, Varitek’s name is going to come up in those fringy, “well, if this guy is in … “ sorts of arguments. Varitek did some cool things in the postseason; unlike most players with his metric profile, he does not score at 0.0 on the Test.

Not to beat it to death, but Varitek and Derek Lowe combined for just under 60 career WAR. Heathcliff Slocumb’s WAR in 1997, when the M’s traded for him, was -0.6. This … THIS is why we can’t have nice things.

Billy Wagner (0.4) – Wagner was, like Lee Smith and Trevor Hoffman, a consistent, effective one-inning closer for many years. He saved 422 games, and his career 2.31 era in just over 900 innings is a good bit more impressive than either Smith or Hoffman were able to put up. His career k rate is among the best ever.

A lot of people wonder why Wagner isn’t a stronger Hall of Fame candidate.

Wagner’s career postseason era is 10.03. That’s not a typo, and that’s an accurate reflection of how well Billy Wagner pitched in the postseason. He pitched in 1 division series, giving up 2 runs in 2 games, 1 inning (18.00 era). He pitched in one World Series, giving up 5 runs in 3 games, 2.2 innings (16.88 era). He pitched in six championship series, giving up 6 runs in 9 games, 8 innings (6.75 era).

You just thought, “Well, he wasn’t that bad in the championship series,” didn’t you? I did, while I was writing it. He was so bad in the other ones that a 6.75 era started looking good, didn’t it? Overall, he gave up 21 hits and 3 homeruns in 14 career postseason games, 11 1/3 innings. I’d have to check the box scores to see how many saves he blew, but he was the closer in six different postseasons without a single save. He did save three for the Mets in 2006 while giving up 6 runs in 6 games, 5 2/3 innings.

I’m a sucker for a big fastball, and I always liked Wagner. If he had pitched well in his big-game situations. I think he would be a strong Hall of Fame candidate.

But he didn’t. He melted under pressure like a wax candle in a microwave oven. He was more toothless than a meth-addicted hockey player. He blew up like a bottle rocket stuck in a lump of C4 and shot out of a cannon into a pile of gunpowder. He sucked worse than a redneck virgin with a gay brother.

He might get in anyway, but he’s probably going to have to wait for the old timers. He pulled just over 10 percent in his first time on the BBWAA ballot.

Larry Walker (1.4) – I think Walker is a legitimate Cooperstown candidate, but he’s below the C/D line and he ain’t going to get a reservation from the BBWAA. He’s going to have to wait in the bar. I doubt he’ll mind, though. He always struck me as a patient guy, a guy who wouldn’t mind spending some time wrapped around a drink, telling stories about the good old days when there were only two outs in an inning.

Bernie Williams (1.2) – Bernie would be below the D line had he played for anyone else but the Yankees, but he was a good ballplayer and one hell of a good first-wife centerfielder, a rarity in the modern game.

The Yankees slutted around with one second wife (Lofton in 2004) before stealing the Red Sox’ wife (Damon) to replace him. I have no idea how to metaphorically explain Melky Cabrera, but Damon was moved to make room (trophy wife? Or just a young bride who wouldn’t be so demanding?). Cabrera, after never being very good for the Yankees, moved to Kansas City and got a boob job while the Yankees went and got Detroit’s first wife.

While Bernie played his guitar.

Matt Williams (1.1) – He’s the meat in the middle of the Darrell Evans/Graig Nettles third base Hall of Fame candidate sandwich. If there was only one he would be a fairly obvious choice, but there are three of them. Which one do you pick?

Maybe they need to have one of those Highlander things, run around and chop off everyone’s head until there is only one. Or how about a reality show? The Hot Corner. Bring in all the borderline guys and vote them off the base until there is only one left, then toss that guy a plaque and make him give a speech.

Tim Wakefield (0.1) – This is how weak the incoming class of pitchers is. Wakefield is their best hope. He was tremendous in his 1992 rookie season, going 8-1 with a 2.15 era in 13 starts, 92 innings before completing and winning both his starts in the Pirates’ playoff loss to the Braves.

Wakefield wound up pitching 17 seasons with the Red Sox, mixing good years in with not so good years, ultimately winning 186 games and striking out over 2000 batters for them. He was awful in the playoffs after his initial success, going 3-7 with an era of 8 in 54 innings with the Red Sox.

Joe Niekro is the only knuckleballer on his full-career comps list, and only Charlie Hough landed on his age-44 comps list. I would have expected a few more on the age-44 list, given how few pitchers last to that age.

Javier Vazquez (0.1) – He was the guy with great stuff and better k/bb ratios who never seemed to get as much out of his talent as he should, or get as lucky as he deserved. In this narrow way he was the opposite of Mike Torrez, who always had terrible ratios and always seemed to get more out of his stuff than he really deserved.

Somehow they wound up in the same basic place: Torrez finished at 185-160, 4.07, Vazquez 165-160, 4.22. It was like two rabbits lit out from the briar patch in different directions, tore up completely different gardens, yet they wound up in the same fox’s stomach.

Dontrelle Willis (0.4)
– The .4 is all about the fame, ‘bout the fame, no numbers. Has anyone else noticed that he sits on the Fox Sports set like he used to stand on the mound, with his back to everyone? He never really turns his shoulders, either, to face who he’s talking to. He just turns his head and throws his words out like he’s curving them into his listener’s ears.

Rich Harden (0.0)
– I only listed him because it was a slow year for pitchers, and to mention that his career era+ through the age of 26 was 137. From 2005-2008 he was 25-9 in 348 innings, with 378 strikeouts and a 2.56 era (an era+ of 171). He was the pitcher version of Eric Davis, the “man, if he could only stay healthy for a full season” pitcher of the early 2000s. He never could, and he was done at 29 years old.

*****

From the Tom Glavine comment –

Omar Vizquel was the only 21st century player with more career sacrifice bunts than Tom Glavine’s 216. Greg Maddux was 2nd to Glavine among pitchers, with 180.

From the Vladimir Guerrero comment –

Back-to-back seasons of 30 homeruns and 30 stolen bases: Bobby Bonds*, Alfonso Soriano**, Willie Mays, Barry Bonds***, Vladimir Guerrero and Ryan Braun.

*- missed 40-40 by a single homerun in 1973
**- Went back-to-back twice, in 2001-2002 and 2004-2005
***- Did it three years in a row, 1995-1997 (Bonds had a power/speed number of at least 30 in 9 consecutive seasons, 1990-1998)

Sammy Sosa and the perils of decentralization

The problem with statistical normalization is that it doesn’t catch decentralization, or adjust for an uneven ability to take advantage of decentralization. In my mind, Sosa was a terrific power hitter without the PEDs, but he was approaching 30 and established at a lower level when he exploded in 1998. Like McGwire, to me anyway, the PEDs didn’t just increase his totals. They increased his totals to a level that seems special instead of merely impressive.

To analogize, look at Chuck Klein. Klein, after 1930, was a decent but unremarkable player on the road, but he kept hitting .450 with 20-some homers at home every year, giving his overall stats the illusion of specialness. Bill mentioned him in the first Historical, saying “take 20 hits off every year and … (to paraphrase, the numbers were still impressive).” I did a more detailed study of Klein’s numbers, courtesy of Total Baseball’s home/road statistics, and I determined that the number wasn’t 20. It was 40. Take 40 hits a year off of Klein’s numbers and they don’t look as special.

With Sammy, I think there is something like this sort of effect, but rather than home/road it’s PED/not PED. If, for example, you say “take a few homers off for the PEDs and he’s still special” you would be correct – but it ain’t “a few homers” – it’s something like 20 a year. Before PEDs the league leader rarely even got to 50, and Sosa wasn’t leading the league by a ton every year. In fact, he didn’t lead the league in any of his 60 homer seasons.

Sosa’s totals, normalized in my mind, are more like 46-45-30-44-31, something like that. That’s still good – and he had other good years before that – but he wasn’t a defensive player, a walker, or a speedster. He didn’t hit for average without the PEDs, and his teams didn’t win. He would certainly be a candidate, I think – he would have been over 400 homers, and maybe taken a run at 500 in this scenario – but to me he was more Jose Canseco than Billy Williams.

(added later) I had forgotten that Sosa was a base stealer when he was young. He had a couple of 30-30 seasons.

2016 MIHC Award Winner – Jon Lester

Some analysis for my first annual MIHC (Most improved Hall Candidate) award.

I left Andrew Miller off, but he might be worth at least mentioning. So … “mention.”

Ok, on with it.

Robbie Cano – Dan’s pick. He returned to past levels both offensively and defensively, putting up a 7.3 WAR and finishing 8th in the MVP voting. He put up some Hall- type numbers, hitting a career high 39 homers (up to 278 career) and both scoring and driving in over 100 runs. He’s 33 and already up to 2210 hits, so his counting numbers are starting to count in his favor and he has a lot of milestone type accomplishment upside. His largest ‘blemish’ – if you can call it that – is that he didn’t play in the postseason.

Joey Votto – He looks more like Cotton Weary from the Scream movies every year … he had a relatively late start (he was 24 years old in his first year as a regular) so he’s going to have to last forever to reach the big milestones. 2016 was best for him as a building block. He hit another 29 homers, scored and drove in another roughly 100 runs, and won his fifth onbase percentage title. He is probably toward the bottom of this list, but I think he deserves a mention because he is probably going to be a borderline case. At this point I think he reminds me of Edgar Martinez more than anyone else (as a candidate, not as a player). He’ll be 33 in 2017.

Justin Verlander – It’s hard to complain when you hit the girlfriend lottery, but Verlander might have won the MIHC in a landslide had he won the Cy Young award. He reversed the erosion in his skills, won his fourth strikeout title, and he is now up to 173-106, 3.47 era (123 era+) with 2197 career strikeouts. He’ll be 34 in 2017.

Jose Altuve – He already has over a thousand hits and he won’t turn 27 until May, 2017. Altuve won his second batting title in 2016 and took a big step forward with his power numbers, raising his slugging percentage nearly a hundred points from his already decent (for his overall skill set) established rate. If the power is real, he is on the fast track to the top of the second base historical ranks. Even if it’s exaggerated, Altuve has at least inserted himself into the “watch out for this guy” section of Hall candidates.

Josh Donaldson – I included him, even though he’s nowhere near a serious candidate yet, because the laughter dies down a little more after every big year. He got started very late – 2016 was just his fourth full season as a regular and he’ll be 31 in 2017 – and he’s probably 2-3 years of prime production short of being even a borderline candidate. He needs to keep choogling for a while.

Brian Dozier – He was a pleasant surprise for hitting a robust .268, so he’s not a serious candidate for anything yet, but 42 homers and 18 steals from a second baseman – especially one who scored over 100 runs for the third consecutive year – can’t just be ignored. Who would be a good comp for Dozier at this point? For some reason I think Dick McAuliffe, but the comparison is pretty loose.

Danny Murphy – He increased his number of Hall of Fame type seasons from zero to one in 2016, and he’s going to be 32 years old in 2017. He’s still a massive, massive long shot, but if he puts up a couple more seasons like this you never know.

Dustin Pedroia – I think most people would guess that Pedroia has been in decline for at least a couple of years, but he actually has been remarkably consistent. He missed some time the last couple of years, and he was down some in 2014, but he was pretty much his normal self in 2016. Now 33, he probably has to continue at this level for at least 4-5 more years to become a serious Hall contender. If he retired now he would have almost no chance. In the middle – say, 2-3 more decent years – and he’ll be a popular old-timer’s committee candidate.

Cory Kluber – Like Verlander, his case would be a lot stronger with one more piece of hardware. In Kluber’s case one more win would have gone a long way, assuming he got it on November 2. I almost didn’t include him – he only has 58 career wins and he’s 30 already – but his World Series performance combined with his Cy Young contention gets him on the list.

Freddie Freeman – He hasn’t had what I would call a true Hall type season yet, but he’s only a few months older than Altuve and he will reach a thousand hits – assuming health – well before the All Star break. Sooner or later he’s going to have to put up the big season his skill set predicts, but he’s still young enough to claim some upside. 2016 helped him because he arrested the deterioration from the previous couple of seasons, put up an onbase percentage of .400, and finally got over the 30 homer mark. He isn’t exactly on the Hall of Fame path, but he isn’t lost in the woods, either.

Max Scherzer – He’s a strong contender for the MIHC after winning his second Cy Young award. He won 20 games, led the majors in strikeouts, and tied the major league record with 20 strikeouts in a 9-inning game. He didn’t add any lore in the postseason, but he did add 12 strikeouts to his postseason resume and he wasn’t terrible. He is up to 125-69 career, 3.39 era (123 era+) and 1,881 strikeouts in 1696 innings. He turns 33 next July.

Johnny Cueto – He’s still on the long side of even a longshot candidacy, but he went 18-5 with a 2.79 era (era+ of 147), bringing his career numbers to 114-75, 3.23 (125 era+). He’ll be 31 in 2017.

Not that it matters, but Cueto has an even year/odd year thing going on. Since 2010 he is 69-30 in even years, 24-20 in odd years. He has pitched well most of that time – excepting the second half of 2015 with the Royals – but he got hurt during 2011 and 2013. His era has been under 3.00 in 5 of the past 6 years, all but 2015 – and it was under 3.00 in the National League in 2015, too.

Jon Lester – Another strong candidate, Lester went 19-5 with a 2.44 era for the World Champs and won 3 games in the postseason (3-1, 2.02 era in 35.2 innings). He currently has a career postseason era of 2.63 in 133 innings, including a 1.77 World Series era in 35.2 innings. His 19-5 2016 record brings his career record to 146-84, and his career era+ is right in there with the other pitchers on this list (124). He is signed long term with the most famous – and probably most talented – team going at the moment. Few players have ever done as much to enhance their Hall of Fame chances in a single season without winning any major awards.

Chris Sale – His sixth straight quality season, all top six in the Cy Young award voting. Did anyone notice that Sale threw 6 shutouts? When was the last time an American League pitcher did that? Sale’s career record is now 74-50, 3.00 era (135 era+) with 1,244 strikeouts in 1,110 innings. He turns 28 in March.

Cole Hamels – He doesn’t rank with the best according to the MIHC criteria, but he won 15 games (15-5) for a contender, put up an era+ of 136, and his counting numbers are getting to the point where they will help him. He has 2,122 strikeouts and a 136-96, 3.31 (125 era+) career record. Since moving to the Rangers he has gone 22-6 in 44 starts. He turns 33 at the end of this month.

Yoenis Céspedes – Marisfan’s choice; I’ll leave his argument for Maris to take on. He hit 31 homers and finished eighth in the MVP voting.

To me, the top picks:

1) Jon Lester – a year ago he wasn’t even a candidate. Now he’s the wise guy pick
2) Max Scherzer – lots of chrome and leather, and the counting stats are starting to get within range
3) Justin Verlander – refurbished and reestablished as a prime time player, closing in on 200 wins
4) Robinson Cano – see Verlander – his counting numbers are starting to count in his favor
5) Jose Altuve – established a category B peak value and exploded onto the long view Hall radar

The Hall of Fame – Beautifully Flawed, or Hopelessly Dysfunctional?

Perfection isn’t always perfect. Artistically speaking, perfection is just about the worst thing that can happen. There is no resolution without dissonance, and no warmth without the specter of cold. As all good versus evil arguments go, there can’t be one without the other.

It is my opinion that the lack of perfection – the fact that the system is just a little bit illogical and disorderly – is the reason the Baseball Hall of Fame is as popular as it is. The constant arguments over what favorite got screwed, or which bozo got in that doesn’t deserve a plaque, are the lifeblood of the Hall‘s popularity. It isn’t easy to maintain the public’s interest in a museum, and I would hesitate to change anything under the assumption that perfection is a desirable goal.

Have you ever owned an old car, beat to hell and rusty all over but it just won’t quit? You are a little bit afraid to fix anything, because if you fix one thing than another thing has to be fixed, and eventually you end up with a pile of rust that won’t even run anymore. I have a feeling the Hall of Fame might fall apart if we were to start replacing those old rusty parts.

Trim too much fat and the meat loses its flavor.

Subjectivity is the very lifeblood of the Hall of Fame. Without subjectivity, the arguments end. Without the arguments, the Hall of Fame’s lofty pop culture status goes away. Without that status, the Hall of Fame is just another museum.

Any attempt to sterilize the voting – in an attempt to perfect it – could be disastrous. Baseball’s museum is more popular than the other major sports museums because the baseball public feels involved in the process. Their empowerment, in my opinion, comes from the residue of ambiguity left in the wake of the Hall’s refusal to define itself.

Barstool arguments about baseball are almost always either “if I voted I sure wouldn’t have voted for that bozo” or “I think the Hall of Fame should be …” – and every fan thinks he knows something the Hall is overlooking. If the Hall made logical, clearly defined selections according to specific rules, what would we argue about? The bozos would be qualified and the Hall of Fame’s parameters would be clearly defined.

Barstool pundits could argue that the Supreme Court would work better with seven members – or that they should have to take a shot every time someone mentions Roe v. Wade – but nobody does because the Supreme Court has specific rules (don’t tell Mitch McConnell), and the pundits don’t feel like they are smarter than the Supreme Court.

The Ladies’ Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Hall of Fame eligibility process has a list of 27 criteria that must be met before a player becomes subject to a vote. The standards are so high that few players are ever eligible, so any player who makes a ballot gets voted in immediately.

If baseball’s hall followed the LPGA model, the arguments would end. The angst would end. The personal involvement would end. And the interest would end. Cooperstown would be reduced to nothing more than a dusty, out-of-the-way storage bin for baseball’s history.

Sorting and Collating the Backs of Baseball Cards

Before we try to answer the value question, we have to agree on what the question is. Are we ranking, or honoring? Are we looking for the best player, or the best statue?

You can’t answer the Hall of Fame question based only on statistics. The Hall of Fame isn’t a competition; nobody is choosing sides to play a game. It’s a museum, with exhibits. The Hall wants good exhibits, not good players.

Even with this extra element added – impact plus production, not just production – I think I lean even more towards historical impact than most people will. I am an historian by nature as well as by trade, so I will always lean as far that way as the mathematicians lean towards production. I prefer deep perusal of the actual stats over formulas and other homemade metrics as well, mostly because too many people think every new metric theory is going to be the last one while I know better.

This generally means I tend to be more dismissive of the guys with sexy theoretical evidence but not so sexy empirical evidence, so to speak. Was Rick Reuschel better than Catfish Hunter? I believe Chuck explained it reasonably and convincingly; the argument that Reuschel was better than Catfish in a vacuum can be made. Does this mean Catfish’s plaque should be tossed in a dumpster and Reuschel brought to Cooperstown with deep, heart-felt apologies? To me this is a different question.

Catfish’s accomplishments were real, and the game is played empirically (on the field), not theoretically (in calculators). Saying that Reuschel could have done what Catfish did is not the same thing as saying Reuschel did what Catfish did. The Hall of Fame can’t sell tickets to read plaques that say “he could have been great if he hadn’t been stuck on the Cubs” or “his FIP was fifty-fourth all time, but he got unlucky with his BABIP and his bullpens sucked*.”These things matter a great deal when ranking players, or choosing teams to play actual games, but they really aren’t all that germane to a Hall of Fame discussion, are they?

*I made the FIP ranking up, I have no idea where either pitcher ranks in FIP*

Some examples of my though process, by position (just for the hell of it)

C: Ernie Lombardi over Gene Tenace. Lombardi isn’t a slam dunk Hall of Fame candidate – some types of Halls, especially the exclusive ones, won’t add him – but I’d take him easily over Tenace, who was productive and even somewhat famous, but not really considered an impact player in his time. If I’m choosing sides, I’ll take Tenace and his walks over Lombardi and his gaudy batting averages, but if I’m filling out a plaque the Shnozz is a much better choice.

1B: Steve Garvey and Will Clark over John Olerud. This one is very much about timing. Garvey’s impact was enormous during his peak years, but his particular bugaboos – he couldn’t take a walk, figuratively as well as literally – came at the worst possible time. Bill and the other analysists made not walking akin to not brushing your teeth before kissing your mother, and his off-field issues were magnified by the changing moral climate of the Reagan era. Clark’s timing problem was a little easier to identify, if not easier to discuss: He was a star right before PEDs blew up the statistical records. Olerud’s career was just enough later for his stats to get the benefit of the higher levels, while Clark played through the first half of the PED era with a published body fat of seventeen percent. If you are inclined to dismiss this effect, go back and check out the C and D level Hall of Fame candidates whose career peaks centered in the 1910-1920 period, then look for similar players from five years later.

2B: Bill Mazeroski over Lou Whitaker and Bobby Grich. This one is more problematic, because the production differences were large and both Grich and Whitaker were winning players. My emphasis on historical impact does tip the scale to Maz, though. Ask yourself this question: “which of these players will have a hook next to their name in a hundred years?” Maz has two: the homerun in the 1960 series, and his status as the BDPAHP (pronounced ‘budpop’) – or ‘best defensive player at his position’ – in the game’s history to date. Grich… what’s his hook? He was good, that’s not nothing, but what’s his hook? How does he get remembered? Whitaker is a Hall of Famer, and don’t be surprised if he and Trammell get in together in about a decade. Will he be remembered in a hundred years, other than in a sort of Tinker/Evers/Chance way as Trammell’s partner? I’m not sure.

I could go on, but the points would be roughly the same as these are. As Maris says, there are any number of ways to choose how to fill a museum, or make lists of the best, or whatever sorting and collating process you prefer to use in order to keep these guys organized. It seems to me that the tendency – for all of us – is to favor our own sorting system in the close cases, and that the whole “who is more deserving” usually tells the reader more about the writer than the subject. When I do my own sorting, I sort as an historian.

Hall of Fame – it’s not just “if” but also “when?” – and real versus theoretical

Roy Halladay has two Cy Young awards, a couple of seconds and a third. He got over 200 wins, and he pitched a no-hitter in the post-season. His career winning percentage is among the best ever, and his career era+ is 131. He’s going to get in the Hall of Fame; the real question isn’t “if” but “when”.

Halladay’s career was short, and as Goldleaf maintains here (correctly, if myopically) he wasn’t Koufax. He doesn’t need to be Koufax to get in the Hall of Fame, of course. What his un-Koufax-ness means, if you ask me, is that he won’t get elected quickly. We discuss players for the Hall so often that it feels as if we should establish a few categories for these discussions, such as

– In or Out… this is what we usually do
– How long will it take? … this is what I like to do
– Will he or should he? … this appears, as I see it, as the key question that needs to be asked at the beginning of the discussion

The first two questions work together, I think. The mainstream media seems to completely miss this factor when they discuss Hall of Fame candidates, which creates false interest in two categories of players: the nearly voted in (Morris) and the nearly dead (Santo). These categories dominate the discussion, along with one other, which applies to the third question.

Will he or should he…. if the question is “should” as most of us prefer, then the discussion invariably lands at steroids and Pete Rose – and some well meaning but overly inflated ego will start making rules for induction that have nothing to do with the real Hall of Fame. If the question is “will” as I prefer, then the discussion invariably lands at “how long?” which I think is more fun to discuss. Nobody else needs to care what I think is fun, of course, but this question ‘angle’ is also rooted in reality. I personally would love to see some of our research experts ask the question that way – not “in or out” and “should” – but “how long?” and “will” as in “will he get in, and if so how long is it going to take?”

Just to put a cherry on top, I personally think Halladay needs to book his hotel around 2032 – assuming he doesn’t make a comeback. His chances of making the Hall of Fame are 100% as long as doesn’t get caught with Selig’s wife or girlfriend or say something off-color or bet on baseball or take Flintstone vitamins or a schedule two drug or knock over a liquor store or…

Doing the Math – how many atbats and innings have been played?

Doing some math:

Through the 2016 season, according to Fangraphs, these are baseball’s cumulative totals:

  • Games – 416,061
  • Innings – 3,711,690
  • Plate appearances – 13,021,144
  • Hits – 3,728,918
  • Runs – 1,891,430
  • eErned runs – 1,587,196
  • Walks – 1,310,912
  • Strikeouts – 2,041,383

• One percent of the total plate appearances is roughly 130,000, or 13 times 10,000
• One percent of the innings is roughly 37,000, or 7 times 5,400
• Three percent of the atbats, given 45 players, would be 10,000 per player (40=11.25k, 50=9k)
• Three percent of the innings, given 25 pitchers, would be 4,800 innings per pitcher
• Six percent of the atbats, given 90 players, would be 10,000 per player (100=9k)
• Six percent of the innings, given 55 pitchers, would be just under 4,400 per pitcher (50=4.8k, 60=4k)
• Ten percent of the atbats, given 160 players, would be 9,375 per player (150=10k, 175=8.4k)
• Ten percent of the innings, given 100 pitchers, would be 4,000 per pitcher

If someone has the actual numbers, please post them so I/we can make the adjustments, and thanks in advance.

Using the data above – subject to adjustment – I think the tiers can be sorted in a way that is both logical and allows for expansion going forward. Keep in mind that I wouldn’t expect the actual Hall of Fame to adopt this idea for their museum, since that would create logistical nightmares and absurdities down the road. This particular ‘Hall of Fame’ would only be on paper, like the GOR, or the Hall of Merit, or other shadow Halls. The ratios and the current populations (estimated – everything here is estimated and rounded up and/or down for convenience and to get round-ish numbers):

A – One percenters: currently 7 pitchers and 13 position players for a total of 20
B – Three percenters: currently 20 pitchers and 35 position players for a total of 55 (A+B=75)
C – Six percenters: currently 28 pitchers and 47 position players for a total of 75 (ABC=150)
D – Ten percenters: currently 45 pitchers and 80 position players for a total of 125 (ABCD=275)

The C level is almost perfectly represented in the real Hall of Fame; the BBWAA has elected almost exactly 150 players. The total players elected so far is a little bit of a gray area, but I think the total is in the 225-240 area. Assuming that there are 35-50 retired players who will eventually gain entry is conservative. I would, off the top of my head, put the number closer to 75.

I believe that using percentages of atbats and innings can be a logical way to separate the levels going forward. I used 1-3-6-10 here, but any ratio could be used. My own best guess where I would land would be more like A=1.25, B=3.5, C=7, and D=12. Bob doesn’t like to separate AB, so he could just use 3-5 percent for his top level depending on his whim, and go on from there… and so on, and so forth. Hell, we could all have – and post – our own versions of the Hall of Fame and eventually build a consensus HoF between us. I wonder how close it would come to the GOR?

Futures Test

I’ve been playing around with this – it’s supposed to be a Test for active players, to assess where they are in their travels down the Hall of Fame path.

Give ’em 4 points for an A, 3 for a B, 2 for a C, 1 for a D.

  1. If he retired today, where would his career rate stats rank?\

A) Top 25
B) Top 75
C) Top 150
D) Top 300
E) Top 1000
F) Closer to Uncle Fester than Jon Lester

  1. What would it take to get him in the news?

A) Top 25
B) Top 75
C) Top 150
D) Top 300
E) Top 1000
F) Piedmont League

 

  1. His best single season, according to your favorite metric, compares to the best season of a player in the:

A) Top 25
B) Top 75
C) Top 150
D) Top 300
E) Top 1000
F) Piedmont League

  1. His black and gray ink put him in:

A) The top 25
B) The top 75
C) The top 150
D) The top 300
E) The top 1000
F) Traction

 

  1. His MVP or Cy Young awards shares are in:

A) The top 25
B) The top 75
C) The top 150
D) The top 300
E) The top 1000
F) Conceivable!

 

 

Maybe they should change their nickname to the Generals

Not all losers are lovable. The 2016 World Series featured two teams, both long-time losers, but it was clear from the beginning which team was the good guys, and which team was just in the way. The Cubbies were the lovable losers, with long-suffering fans who deserved to finally, finally get to win. The Cleveland Indians were just in the way, like Stewart Cink in the 2009 British Open (59-year-old Tom Watson was supposed to win) or whoever beat Nancy Kerrigan in the 1992 Olympics.

The Indians, in their minds, were every bit as deserving, their fans every bit as long-suffering, but it didn’t matter. To the world, they might as well have been the Washington Generals, trying to beat the beloved Harlem Globetrotters. They weren’t there to compete with the Cubs. They were there to lose to the Cubs. A win by the Indians would have ruined the narrative.

For most of my lifetime the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs were the most notorious “losers” in baseball, with championship droughts that lasted for several decades. The Red Sox, unlike the Cubs post-WWII, were often close, but they couldn’t win a game seven to save their life. 1946, 1967, 1975, 1986, and 2003 were reenactments of every western movie template, and the Red Sox were always Black Bart’s gang and never the good guys. They would inevitably get shot dead at the end by a sheriff who rode off with the town hooker, who turned out to be a long-lost relative of the Queen of England.

The Cubs, on the other hand, were more like Lupus. They were the fat kid wandering around in deep, deep, DEEP right field, wearing a football helmet and digging up worms, oblivious to the madding race going on around him. Occasionally the rest of the guys would bring him up to the plate to get a hit, but he would strike out or, if by happenstance the ball hit his bat, he would run down the third base line or back into the dugout.

Red Sox fans were the angst-ridden losers of Shakespearean lore. The Cubs were the bad news bears, but in a never-ending loop of the first half-hour of the movie. Matthau died, Wrigley got lights, Tatum O’Neal traded her glove for a crack pipe, and the Cubbies kept digging up worms. Until, finally, they hired a real general manager who washed the kid’s hair, wiped away the boogers, and showed him the way to first base.

The Cleveland Indians, much like their flesh-and-blood models, spent October fighting against seemingly insurmountable opposition, but ultimately got lost in the shuffle of the sexier national story. I root for both entities to triumph in the end. The world worships Shakespearean tragedy, and they root for the retarded kid to get a hit, but nobody roots for the Washington Generals.

In hindsight, though, a win by the Cubbies was the release of over a hundred years of tension. As sweet as that release was, we are going to miss the tension, the angst. Loveable losers no longer, if the Cubbies meet the Indians next year, who will be the Globe Trotters then? Well, still the Cubbies, but the national sportswriters might learn how to spell Kluber’s name right and be able to tell the difference between Chad Allen and Bryan Shaw.