Thursday, October 27, 2005

Latino Legends

Whenever does something nice, there's often a reason for it. A very non-philanthropic, self-interested reason for it. If a millionaire gives $10,000 to charity, people will say how nice he is. They don't realize that he might have done it just so people will say how nice he is. There's such a thing as "Corporate Image." What you or I would call "giving to charity," an executive would call "investing in the Corporate Image." Ronald McDonald House is an investment in the Corporate Image. The question is, are these charitable acts done mainly out of a feeling of charity, or as a shrewd attempt to improve the corporate image? While I can't deny that charity plays a part, I feel that most of these charitable acts are done, first and foremost, for the sake of Corporate Image. Because what's $10,000 to a man who owns 5 cars?
This was my reaction when I heard that Major League Baseball was sponsoring a "Latino Legends" team. Fans would vote, as in the All-Star Game, for their favorite Latin players in baseball history. This entire exercise is a heartless and insincere ploy for MLB to create good publicity around its racial image, which has taken quite a hit recently. I do not have any evidence for my claims, except for an astute if admittedly cynical view of the "business world." And if you think that Major League Baseball formed the Latino Legends team first and foremost because they sincerely wanted to honor these players, then I have some oceanfront property in Arizona I'd like to sell you.
Let me say, right off, that the idea of the team in and of itself seems like a fine idea. I don't think that Latin players have gotten enough recognition for their huge role in shaping the modern game, nor do I think we as fans realize (or even care to consider) the singular difficulties Latin players face in the game today. If the approach were undertaken with good motives, I think it would be a good start toward embracing MLB's growing Latin flavor.
But a good thing isn't so sweet if done for selfish reasons. Baseball has dealt with several racial crises in the past 20 years, and the treatment and attitudes toward Latinos has been one of the more recent issues. The most famous incident would be the comments of a San Francisco radio host about the "braindead" Latin hitters on the Giants. In a move straight out of a sterile conference room, MLB literally cobbled together the idea of a Latino Legends team and announced it, with voting to take place before the World Series. This was a move not borne of a sincere appreciation for thousands of baseball players, but an artifical creation borne out of someone's PowerPoint presentation amongst very rich people looking to cover their own asses.
It's not actually referred to as the Latino Legends team. It's officially the "Chevrolet Presents the Major League Baseball Latino Legends Team." I actually tried to vote for the team earlier, but declined when they asked for my mobile phone number. Having voted for the All-Star team, I know that MLB is not above sending you a mass of official MLB e-mails informing you that the new Raul Ibanez Elbow Warmers are now on sale for $29.95. How sincere was the sentiment. It further offended me that MLB decided to sell off rights to the team. How insincere and brutally profit-seeking is that? At the risk of becoming hopelessly political, our world has become far too interested in making money and completely uninterested in doing what is right. This is nothing new for baseball. Whereas in the past it was 16 fierce, corner-cutting bigots fighting for a bigger slice of the pie, it is now 30 corner-cutting closet bigots under the umbrella of one multi-million dollar company run by Bud Selig, a man who looks like the failed attempt to clone Bill Gates.
The greatest honor we can give the great Latino players in history is to remember them, not exploit them for good publicity. Roberto Clemente died on a relief mission to his native country. Perhaps the best way to remember him is not to sell reproduction jerseys to the upper-middle class for $400, but to consider the example he set as a human being.

88 years

Congratulations to the White Sox, who swept the Astros in what was still a close, entertaining series. In fact, as the ever-astute Rob Neyer points out, this series is one of the closest sweeps in World Series history. In the 4 games, the White Sox outscored the Astros by 6 runs, which isn't very much at all. It suggests that the Series was much closer than the 4-game sweep would indicate, and I think that's true. It ties with the 1950 Series (Yankees/Phillies) for closest sweep in World Series history.
The Series is being slammed for being low-rated, but I don't think that's exactly fair. Ratings are VERY down from last year, but that's an unfair comparison, since last year's Series was a mainstream media field day with the Red Sox chasing history. reports that Series ratings are just 2% lower than the 2002 Series, which saw lesser-known teams Anaheim .vs. San Francisco. This was the lowest-rated Series ever, although 2005 might take that title.
What does this indicate? It indicates that baseball no longer occupies the dominant role in American sports. Baseball has let itself get passed up by the NBA and NFL and is trying haltingly to catch up. The emphasis on getting large-market teams in the postseason is an ugly example; very few people watch the baseball playoffs unless their team is playing. But everyone watches the Super Bowl, regardless of who's playing. It used to be like that in the Series, but not anymore. Getting large-market teams to spike ratings is a short-term fix for a larger problem, the fact that baseball is no longer America's pastime.
As far as the Series goes, what was the main reason the White Sox won? Everyone will say pitching and defense, and that is indeed somewhat true. But did you know that the White Sox scored 5 runs per game, much better than their regular season mark? All of their hitting stats were excellent; the Sox just hit well, despite the fact that they're not a good-hitting team. Their defense was great, and their pitching was good, although it wasn't so much the starters as the bullpen. Freddy Garcia was the only Sox pitcher to make a really good start, but the bullpen picked up the slack, and the team sported a great 2.63 ERA for the Series.
How much of this was great Sox pitching, and how much of it was bad Astro hitting? It's hard to see where the one ends and the other begins. But while I can't take anything away from the White Sox' great pitching, I must point out that the Astros were just awful at the plate. The only two Astro hitters who had anything like a good Series were Willy Taveras and Lance Berkman. And the Series exposed a problem that the Astros suffered from all season but really got stung with in the postseason: a lack of depth in the lineup. The Astros had a decent 1-5 in the lineup; Biggio, Taveras, Berkman, Ensberg, Lane. Granted, only Taveras and Berkman actually produced in the Series, but it's a not-too-awful top of the order. But below that, the Astros had nothing. They actually used Mike Lamb in some games, because he's a left-handed hitter. It's nice to have a left-handed hitter in the lineup, but it's much better to have a good hitter in the lineup. Garner actually pinch-hit for Lamb tonight, and I was struck by how unlikely that was. Has any manager in World Series history ever pinch-hit for his #5 hitter? Below him, they had Ausmus, Everett, and Chris Burke. That's just a step above having 4 pitchers in your lineup. Ausmus barely hit .200 for the Series, whereas Burke went hitless. Everett only got 1 hit in all 4 games. And this is about what you would expect from their regular season performance.
Everyone will look at this Series and say, "This proves that pitching and defense win championships." And I admit that the White Sox were a pitching and defense team, and they did win the championship. But if a smallball team did win the Series this year, a smallball team lost the Series as well. At least the White Sox have a good offense beyond smallball, but no one talks about that, because it ruins the image. The Astros had nothing. Even Morgan Ensberg was a dud. The Sox kept walking Berkman to get to Ensberg, and Ensberg kept doing nothing. And with their pitching not quite as good as advertised, the Astros just couldn't pick up the slack at the plate.

On a completely unrelated subject, I recently started reading Mind Game, an account of the Boston front office's revolutionary approach to baseball and how it won them the World Series. It's written by the Baseball Prospectus staff, which is the premiere baseball "think tank." It's a good book so far, but it's also interesting in light of recent events.
The Yankees signed Brian Cashman to a 3-year deal to return as their GM today. It pays $5 million a year. That's a lot of money, but I have a lot of respect for Cashman, and God bless him for taking such a difficult job. It;s not out of line for the top executive in a multi-million dollar enterprise to be paid as such. Then I read today that Theo Epstein turned down the Red Sox' latest contract offer to extend him. The Red Sox were offering $1.5 million a year.
I have all the respect in the world for Cashman, as I said. But the last time I checked, he hadn't ended any 86-year World Series droughts and dispatched the most popular curse/myth in sports history. Theo Epstein did that. The 2004 season aside, there is ample evidence to believe that Epstein is one of the best general managers in baseball. Did he do a perfect job this year? No, he didn't. He made his share of mistakes, and I'll be the first to point them out. But the fact that the Red Sox would actually insult Epstein by low-balling him so obviously is an insult to him, to all Red Sox fans, and any self-respecting baseball fan. I know the Red Sox aren't as rich as the Yankees; so I would expect a reasonable offer to be in the $4-million-per-year range. But if $1.5 million is as far as they got after all these negotiations, I don't even want to think about where the Red Sox started out.
This just makes me think that team president Larry Lucchino is slime. Both he and owner John Henry have been around the baseball block before, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if this is part 0f some power play to get rid of Epstein. Not only that, but Epstein's right-hand man Josh Byrnes is one of the top candidates for the vacant position of Arizona GM. So the Red Sox may have their upper management gutted. And if Red Sox fans are intelligent at all, they will cry out against a power play that could send the franchise spiralling back to the Dan Duquette years of incompetence and utter futility. The Red Sox were just another franchise for nearly 100 years. Theo Epstein was the main force behind changing that. And now Larry Lucchino wants to undo all of that and sink the team because of his ego. Have you no shame, sir?
The Red Sox are starting something wonderful, and there have been speedbumps on the way, but Epstein has his World Championship and deserves some respect for being efficient, bold, and thoroughly intelligent. He, and the Red Sox Nation, deserve better than this.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

5 hours, 41 minutes ...

Due to work issues tonight was the only World Series game I knew I would see in its entirety. So I decided to go ahead with something I'd been kicking around in the back of my mind for a while. I decided to grab a tape recorder and announce the game. I'd always been annoyed by most announcers (especially FOX announcers) and just wanted to see what it was like. 14 innings, 5 hours and 41 minutes later, the game was over, and I felt like I'd just fought World War II.
It was the longest World Series game in history. Game 3 of the 2005 World Series was one for the ages, and I have myself on tape (3 full tapes, to be exact) calling the whole thing. I did the whole routine, reading up on the press info (handily available online) and keeping it all handy for quick reference. I had some interesting things to say and some clever commentary. But the most important thing I learned was that it's a whole lot harder than it looks. I fancy myself a good talker, and I sounded like a complete nincompoop on more than one occasion. That anyone could talk for 3 hours (let alone 5) without saying at least 15 completely stupid things is amazing. Think baseball is a slow game? Try announcing it, and it's never felt so fast in your life. Particularly in the late innings, with all the switches, double-switches and new pitchers.
My scorecard looks like Pencil's Last Stand. I somehow made it all 14 innings (due to some imaginative adaptations to the card itself) without giving up. But I'm a Whitehead, and a Whitehead doesn't admit defeat. I always enjoyed keeping score, because of the organizational satisfaction one gets from it. Well, this card isn't quite as organized as I had hoped, as I had to write players into margins, and my list of pitchers ran down into the rosters listed at the bottom of the page. But I made it.
Here's a tally of the game, most of which I'm sure are World Series records: 17 pitchers used (9 for Chicago, 8 for Houston), 43 players used overall, 100 ABs (which is a month for 1 player), 21 walks (12 for Chicago, 9 for Houston) and 24 K. The first pitch was at 8:39 PM Eastern time, and the last out was recorded at 2:20 AM Eastern. In between, I was running the recorder, keeping score, and swimming amongst the paperwork, while constantly checking the webcast on my laptop to make sure I didn't miss anything.
So what were my observations of the game?
1. Houston fans are committed. Some of them probably had to be at work 5 or 6 hours after the game, but there was still a huge crowd there.
2. Roy Oswalt finally short-circuited. During my time "on air," I noticed that this was Oswalt's worst start since the All-Star break. I have no earthly idea (and said so) why Phil Garner left Oswalt in so long. I guess it was because Oswalt is a "hoss" who "goes the distance." Which is fine, but silly me, I thought winning ballgames was more important. Oswalt was shaky from the start, but was obviously done in the 5th inning. By the time I was talking about taking Oswalt out, Garner didn't even have anyone warming up in the bullpen. Oswalt faced 11 batters in the 5th and threw 46 pitches, and he shouldn't have listed past the 7th or 8th. Then, to compound absolute stupidity, Garner left Oswalt in the game after the 5th inning of doom. He did well in the 6th, but Garner sent him out for the 7th inning, after 107 pitches where he displayed that he wasn't good enough to beat Chicago. Garner finally took him out after he walked Paul Konerko to lead off the inning. Garner has an excellent bullpen; what was he smoking? Luckily, Russ Springer came in and set down the White Sox. But damn!
3. The Astros have a really, really good bullpen. Before Ezequiel Astacio came in (I'll get to him later), the Houston bullpen threw 7 innings, allowing just 2 hits and 0 runs, striking out 7 and walking 2. It was a dominant performance that kept the Astros in the game much longer than they deserved. If the Astros had won, I would have called Chad Qualls the player of the game. He pitched 3 scoreless innings, allowing the Sox only 1 hit.
4. The Astros had every opportunity in the world to score the winning run (both Houston and Chicago stranded 15 baserunners in Game 3). They had the winning run in scoring position in 5 of the 7 innings after the game was tied. But it never scored. Ozzie Guillen brought in Orlando Hernandez in the 9th (and everyone, including Ozzie, has a far-too-generous opinion of Orlando's abilities), and Hernandez walked 3 batters. But he was able to strike out Taveras with 2 on, and after walking Berkman, was able to strike out Morgan Ensberg with the winning run at third. El Duque walked the first batter in the 10th, but Luis Vizcaino came in and retired the next 2 batters. But after walking Adam Everett (?), Chris Burke grounded out with the winning run at second. In the 11th, Bobby Jenks hit a batter and gave up a walk with 1 out. But Ensberg popped out and Palmeiro grounded out. Then, in the 14th, Houston had runners at the corners with 2 out. But Everett grounded out, and the White Sox won.
5. Why in the world so many hitters were walked, I don't know. But it's bad enough that so many hitters were walked (and so many bad hitters who would have made outs anyway), but no one was able to take advantage of them. Of the 21 hitters walked in this game, only one came around to score. Some people would call this clutch hitting. I'd say that the Astros don't have enough power in their lineup. And when forced to string 3 or 4 hits together to score a run, the Astros always seemed one hit short. And by the time they got runners in position, they were down to the Death Valley known as the bottom of the order. But even Morgan Ensberg, who has to hit homers, because only he and Berkman can, was a dud in this game. The White Sox just didn't really do anything well, the 5th inning notwithstanding. Yes, Geoff Blum homered, but something was bound to happen eventually; you can't keep 2 teams scoreless forever, no matter how disappointing their offense.
6. Ezequiel Astacio? This guy isn't even a good pitcher (5.61 regular season), what's he doing in there with the game on the line? It was time to get desperate and use a starter. Garner sent Backe out to the bullpen when the Astros were trying to rally in the 14th, but that was oh, say, A WEE BIT LATE? How about Clemens? Yeah, he's supposed to start Game 5, but I got news for ya -- IT DOESN'T LOOK LIKE THERE'S GOING TO BE A GAME 5! The White Sox got it right by sending in Buehrle. Yeah, he's supposed to start Game 6, but is there really going to be a Game 6? You have to worry about Game 3 long before you start worrying about Games 5 and 6. Garner was just outmanaged tonight. He was cursing and throwing things, but had no one but himself (and his offense) to blame.
7. Will the White Sox sweep? I don't see how they won't. It's Freddy Garcia .vs. Brandon Backe tomor-- er, tonight. And if that ain't a mismatch, what is? Garcia is one of the 10 or 15 best starters in the AL, whereas Backe doesn't make the top 30 in the NL. Both bullpens are savaged, but then the White Sox bullpen was at least well-rested. The Astros are doomed. And if it doesn't happen in Game 4, it will probably happen in Game 5, with an old and injured Roger Clemens against Jose Contreras. And if by some miracle the Astros can force the Series back to Chicago, Buehrle will put out their lights in Game 6.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Current players (final)

Roger Clemens
There is an argument to be made that Roger Clemens is the best pitcher in baseball history. His raw numbers don't compare with the likes of Cy Young and Walter Johnson, but it's my belief (along with many others) that this reflects a change in the circumstances of pitching rather than the quality of pitching. Looking at the raw numbers, one would assume that all the best pitchers played in the 1870s and 1880s. If you look at the top 100 pitchers in career ERA, you will find exactly one pitcher who is active in the majors (Pedro Martinez). Do you really believe that modern pitchers are just awful, and that all old-timers were better? Was Pedro Martinez really no better than Ned Garvin?
Of course not. The circumstances of pitching have changed. Strikeouts and walks are at historically high levels in modern baseball. What does this mean? It means that modern pitchers throw more pitchers per inning than at any other time. So we can't exactly blame pitchers for not throwing 300 innings a year anymore.
In the 1885 NL, the Giants pitching staff led the league with 519 K. They also allowed a league-high 266 walks. In the 2005 NL, the Cubs led the league with 1256 K. And Pittsburgh allowed a league-high 612 walks. So that's a 142% increase in strikeouts and a 130% increase in walks. Pitching is astronomically different than it used to be. We cannot let the raw numbers become more important than the context that created them.
Cy Young won 511 games. He was an excellent pitcher. Let's use his 1901 season as an example. Young started 41 games and completed 38 of them. In the 1901 AL, pitchers completed 85% of their starts. In the 2004 AL, that number dropped to 3%. Is this because pitchers nowadays are lily-livered weaklings who aren't man enough to finish what they start? Well, I suppose that's possible, and it's the explanation you hear from every old-timer. But my explanation is that the game changed, and the pitchers (and managers) adapted to the change. The pitchers didn't change the game; the game changed the pitchers. While there's no evidence to disprove the fact that personal weakness is why complete games are down, I think it's simply due to the changing game. You can't blame pitchers nowadays for not winning 300 games. How many games nowadays are decided by the bullpen, compared to just 20 years ago? What percentage of overall wins and losses go to starting pitchers now, compared to the era of Bob Gibson? The growing reliance on relief pitchers is a change in the way the game has played; it has come as much from managers as from pitchers. To sum up, we just can't compare a pitcher to another pitcher from a different era based on raw stats. We have to look at what the pitcher accomplished compared to his peers.
So what did Roger Clemens do, compared to his peers? Roger won 7 Cy Young Awards, although I think he was the best pitcher in his league 9 times, counting this year. Clemens has won more games, by far, than any of his contemporaries. He is second only to Warren Spahn as the winningest pitcher since World War II, an amazing stat when you consider all that has changed, even since Spahn retired in 1965. His .665 winning percentage is tied for 18th all time, with Pedro Martinez the only active pitcher above him (among those with a significant career). He is 2nd all-time in strikeouts with 4,502 (although Randy Johns0n may pass him before all is said and done), and sports a 3.12 career ERA. Even more important, his Adjusted ERA is 143, which ties him with Jim Devlin (?) for 8th all-time. Other than Pedro Martinez, the only pitchers since World War II with a better career Adjusted ERA are Hoyt Wilhelm and Dan Quisenberry, both relief pitchers who threw significantly fewer innings. And Pedro has yet to enter the decline phase of his career, which will lower his ERA perhaps even past Roger. And Roger has a huge edge in career innings pitched (2,513 for Pedro, 4,704.1 for Roger). So Roger is definitely the best pitcher of his time. And, as I demonstrated earlier, we could argue that he is the best pitcher of all time.
Greg Maddux
Maddux has not quite been Roger's equal, all told. Don't get me wrong, Maddux is definitely one of the 15 best pitchers ever, and probably in the top 10. He just hasn't had Roger's ungodly staying power. Maddux has been a great pitcher, but has started to look mortal at age 39. Which is what happens to pitchers not named Clemens.
But I could argue that Maddux's 2 best years were better than anything a pitcher has done since 1972. Here's what Maddux did in 1994 and 1995:
1994: 16-6, 1.56 ERA, 273 ERA+, 202 IP, 31:156 BB:K ratio, 4 HR allowed
1995: 19-2, 1.63 ERA, 259 ERA+, 209.2 IP, 23:181 BB:K ratio, 8 HR allowed
These are both historically good seasons. Let's compare them to Clemens' two best seasons, which oddly enough came in his two seasons in Toronto:
1997: 21-7, 2.05 ERA, 226 ERA+, 264 IP, 68:292 BB:K ratio, 9 HR allowed
1998: 20-6, 2.65 ERA, 176 ERA+, 234.2 IP, 88:271 BB:K ratio, 11 HR allowed
All four seasons naturally earned Cy Young Awards for both men. They're 4 of the best seasons by any pitcher in the past 30 years. Maddux has a pretty big edge in adjusted ERA, but Clemens' edge in Innings Pitched and strikeouts would seem to negate that. But is Clemens' edge in Innings Pitched really what it seems? Does anybody remember anything about 1994 and 1995? Perhaps you'll recall that a baseball strike shortened both seasons. So Maddux accomplished all that he did while making 25 and 28 starts, respectively, in 1994 and 1995. He averaged about 35 starts in the surrounding seasons, so what would Maddux's work look like adjusted for 35 starts? It draws him pretty even with Clemens. Maddux's Win Shares in the two seasons were 26 in '94 and 30 in '95, both historic numbers for a pitcher. Clemens got 32 in '97 and 25 in '98. It makes them look pretty even, but when you adjust for the strike, Maddux gets the clear edge. Assuming 35 starts for Maddux in both years, he would have earned 36 WS in '94 and 38 in '95. Those 38 Win Shares would be the best single-season for any pitcher since 1972.
So can we give Maddux extra credit for the bad luck of pitching his two greatest seasons in years shortened by a strike? Yes, but not much. It doesn't change my opinion that Clemens was the better pitcher, but it gives us insight into just how good Maddux was at his peak. And, in my opinion, Greg Maddux was, at his peak, an even better pitcher than Clemens was at his peak. Where Clemens has Maddux beat is in overall quality. Maddux was one of the 10 best pitchers in the NL each season from 1988-2002. That's a record of consistency that no one in modern history can match. While Clemens doesn't have that, Clemens did have more periods of dominance than Maddux did. It gives Clemens the edge, but not by a whole lot. So if Clemens is the best pitcher of his time (and he is), Maddux is a close second.
Pedro Martinez
I've already spoken about a pitcher's best two seasons. Is it possible that Pedro can match Clemens and Maddux? Yes, and it's possible that he has them both beaten. Here's an excerpt from the analysis of Pedro's career I put together recently:
In 1999, Pedro posted a historically good season. I can only list the stats to do it justice: He posted a miniscule 2.07 ERA (the league ERA in 1999 was 4.86). His adjusted ERA was 245, the 9th-best all-time. He notched 313 strikeouts against an amazing 37 BB and 9 HR allowed. He pitched 213.1 innings. Pedro’s 13.21 K/9 IP was the best ever until it was broken by Randy Johnson in 2001. It was now time to start speaking of Pedro as not just a great pitcher, but a historically great pitcher. Pedro became only the 15th unanimous winner of the Cy Young Award, and even finished a very close 2nd in the MVP race to Ivan Rodriguez.
Pedro’s 1999 performance looked like some pitcher’s ultimate career year. So Pedro went out and had an even better year in 2000. An ERA of 1.74 (the league ERA was 4.91; the 3.17 gap between them is the best ever by a starting pitcher). His adjusted ERA of 285 ranks as the best ever by a pitcher since 1900. Only Tim Keefe’s 294 in 1880 was better. Pedro struck out “only” 284 against 32 BB and 17 HR in 217 IP. He threw 7 complete games and 4 shutouts. He was, once again, the unanimous Cy Young, and this time finished 5th in the MVP voting.
Among active pitchers, Pedro ranks 9th with 197 career wins (despite being much younger than anyone above or close behind him), 1st in career winning percentage (.701), 1st in hits allowed/game (6.82), 4th in strikeouts (2861), 3rd in strikeouts/9 IP, 1st in ERA (2.72, with Greg Maddux’s 3.01 being the next-closest), 1st in Adjusted career ERA (166), and 6th in career Win Shares (243).
But hey, forget active pitchers. Where does Pedro rank all-time? He is third all-time in winning percentage (.701, although this should decrease as he gets older), 14th all-time in strikeouts (2861), 3rd all-time in K/9 IP, tied for 78th all-time in ERA (he’s the only active player in the top 100), and to top it all of, Pedro Martinez ranks 1st all-time in career Adjusted ERA at 166. Lefty Grove is second at 148, and Walter Johnson is third at 146. Now granted, adjusted ERA doesn’t account for the fact that Grove and Johnson pitched a whole lot more innings than Pedro, nor does it account for the fact that Pedro’s number will fall as he declines with age. Still, it’s an amazing achievement. The next-highest pitcher on the career ERA+ list is 8th-place Roger Clemens at 143.
Pedro Martinez is one of the greatest pitchers ever. He, along with Maddux, Clemens, and Johnson, deserve to enter not just into the Hall of Fame, but into the realm of the all-time great baseball players.

Randy Johnson
These guys are the Big 4 among active pitchers in baseball. If Carlton and Seaver were the dynamic duo of the 70's and 80's, then these 4 are the dominant quartet of their time; 4 pitchers who aren't just Hall-of-Famers, but among the top 20 pitchers ever.
Johnson got off to a relatively late start compared to the other three. He was, as a Seattle Mariner, a sharp young pitcher with a great fastball and slider. But he was amazingly wild, and his strikeouts were matched by a huge number of walks (90+ for 5 straights seasons). It was in 1993 (at the relatively advanced age of 30) that Johnson started to look like more than just another good, wild pitcher. His ERA dropped to a career-best 3.24, and he joined the short list of pitchers with a 300-K season, notching 308 in 255.1 IP. After a good '94, Johnson won the 1995 Cy Young with a 2.48 ERA and 294 K in just 214.1 IP.
But it wasn't until he came to the National League that Johnson became a historically good pitcher. It's not very common for a pitcher to reach this level at the age of 34 (Johnson's age when he came to the NL in 1998), but Johnson accomplished it. After an amazing half-season in Houston (10-1, 1.28 ERA, 116 K in 84.1 IP), Johnson signed a contract with Arizona and became the best pitcher in baseball. He spent 6 seasons in Arizona and won 4 Cy Young Awards (and deserved another one in 2004).
From 1999-2004, Johnson went 103-49, posted a 2.65 ERA, and struck out an ungodly 1,832 batters in 1389.2 IP against just 359 BB. It was a record for the ages that entered Johnson into the realm of the immortals and punched his ticket to Cooperstown.
Curt Schilling
It was a surprise for me to see Schilling rank higher on my list than guys like Tom Glavine and Kevin Brown. But while Schilling didn't get famous until he went to Arizona, he had a fine early career in Philadelphia. He didn't post amazing ERAs, but he had 2 300+ K seasons in Philadelphia, in 1997 and 1998. He did emerge to a new level when he joined Arizona in mid-2000, although he didn't reach the heights that Randy Johnson did. Schilling is, without a doubt in my mind, the best active pitcher never to win the Cy Young. While he probably needs another good season to really get noticed by Hall voters, I think he's already earned his spot. If the Phillies had been worth a damn in the early 90's (1993 notwithstanding), Schilling would have a better rep.
Tom Glavine
Glavine is a tough case, because he has really benefited from playing for the best team of the 90's. But he's been one heck of a pitcher for quite a long time, and his 275 wins are golden nowadays. He's already made it in the minds of the voters, and I would have to agree.
John Smoltz
I wasn't really sure about Smoltz until he reemerged with a fine 2005. Smoltz may have been better than Glavine at his peak, but he didn't have Tom's uncanny consistency and good health. Smoltz is often compared to Eckersley, although the comparison is a bit backward. Eckersley was a much better closer, and Smoltz was a much better starter. I think Smoltz will get into the Hall with Eckersley setting the precedent, and I think he's contributed enough both as a starter and as a reliever to deserve it.
Kevin Brown
Brown has had a fine career as a major league starter, but there's just nothing to really convince me that he's a Hall-of-Famer. Brown had two very good seasons in 1996 and 1998 (with Florida and San Diego, respectively), and has had some other good seasons, but he hasn't had that quality with a good degree of consistency. He's also bounced around to a lot of teams and suffered many injuries, both of which will hurt his standing with the voters. He spent 8 years with Texas, 1 with Baltimore, 2 with Florida, 1 with San Diego, 5 with L.A. and 2 now with the Yankees. He'll be 41 years old next year, and he's coming off lots of injury trouble. He's basically finished.
Mike Mussina
I'd argue that "Moose" is one of the more underrated pitchers of his era. He never really got the credit he deserved in Baltimore and always seemed to be in someone else's shadow in New York. He's had one heck of a career, better than some Hall-of-Famers, but I just don't think he belongs. He'll be 37 next season and is also troubled with injuries. He doesn't have a whole lot left.
Mariano Rivera
It's difficult to measure relievers against starting pitchers, and even against relievers of other eras. The "save" stat is pretty useless when compared to other eras. Our data for save opportunities goes back less than 10 years, so we have no clue how many chances for saves Goose Gossage had, let alone someone like Hoyt Wilhelm. And we can't give Trevor Hoffman a ton of credit for getting 400 saves if he had 100 more save chances than Gossage, which is more than likely. Managers nowadays tend to use their closers more and more exclusively in save opportunities, often to the detriment of the team. It's an odd case of a statistic changing the game. Managers see "save opportunities" as the most important time of the game, so they'll use their closer in a save opportunity whenever they can. But this can be counter-productive. There's no need to waste your best relief pitcher to protect a 3-run lead with 1 inning to play. A closer would be more effective pitching in a tied game, or a even game where his team is behind. The dominance of the save has grown far out of proportion. It also means that relievers like Gossage, who did come in to pitch in more tied-game or losing contests (and also pitched more than an inning much more often) actually lose out, because they don't have more saves (which you can't get without save opportunities). It's a classic case of people taking a statistic directly to heart without taking into account what it's really measuring.
That may not have much to do withy Mariano Rivera, but I thought it was important. Rivera is an interesting case, because he didn't reach the majors until he was 25, and didn't become a closer until age 27. But Rivera has been baseball's premiere closer (more or less) since 1997. I don't think his postseason work alone should get him into Cooperstown, but it's certainly quite the icing on the cake. I would vote for Rivera, but reserve it for closers like Trevor Hoffman.
Other active (or ineligible) pitchers with significant careers are: David Cone, Chuck Finley, David Wells, Orel Hershiser, Kenny Rogers and Al Leiter. None of them are Hall-of-Famers, although Cone probably comes the closest.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Current players Pt. 4

Gary Sheffield
Sheffield's personality is such to keep people from admitting he's a Hall-of-Famer. He's also played several different positions with several different teams, so it's hard to get a clear picture of him. But he's one of the 10 best hitters of the 90's and probably ranks even higher than that.
Tony Gwynn
Retired 2001 Eligible for Hall: December 2006
Gwynn shouldn't have any trouble getting into Cooperstown. Nor should he.
Manny Ramirez
Manny's a Hall-of-Famer. I know I called Edgar Martinez the best right-handed hitter of the 90's, but Manny just might have something to say about that. Manny's not just a good hitter; he's an excellent hitter, and has been for quite some time. For some reason, his attitude hasn't kept people from still liking him, at least generally. I'd be interested to find out why.
Sammy Sosa
Well, Sosa certainly isn't a sure thing anymore. His career may come to a crashing halt sooner than we anticipated. Sammy turns 37 in November, and his last two seasons have been injury-plagued. And this season is the worst season by far that he's had since he left the White Sox. Do I think he belongs in the Hall? That's a tough question. Sosa is not the all-around ballplayer most people think he is. I think his numbers should get him in, but barely. And that's if he can contribute some more before he retires. Then there's the thorny question of steroids and his ugly departure from Chicago. If Sammy doesn't have another good season, I honestly don't think he'll get inducted.
Larry Walker
You can't really examine Walker's career without knowing pretty accurately how much Coors Field helped him. During his time in Colorad0 (1995-2004), Walker hit 425/618/334. Anybody who hits that well over a 10-year period probably belongs in Cooperstown . . . unless they played at Coors Field.
Everyone knows that Coors Field helped Walker. But how much? That is the question. Everyone will quote Walker's career stats when he comes up for induction, but very few people will make any attempt to unmuddy the waters so polluted by Coors. What will likely happen is that people will just make a blanket statement that he's a Hall-of-Famer anyway, or that he can't be one because of Coors. But that's the stupid way out. We have to know how good Larry Walker was, not how good Coors made him look.
There are several metrics to adjust for ballparks. Win Shares is one. They give Walker credit for 187 Win Shares during his years in Colorado. That's very good -- but it's not Hall-of-Fame material. 300 Win Shares is a rough baseline for Hall-of-Fame induction. Some people with less than 300 are in, but very few. Walker has compiled 311 during his whole career. His best season was a 32-Win Share campaign in 1997. 32 Win Shares is quite good, but it's not good on any sort of historic level. And that was the only time Walker topped 30 Win Shares during a single season.
But Walker did spend a great deal of time injured. If he hadn't been so injury-prone, would he be a Hall-of-Famer. Probably. But we can't make that argument to get someone into the Hall. We can't induct players based on what they would have done if they hadn't gotten injured. Or else Orel Hershiser, Fernando Valenzuela, Dwight Gooden, and Cesar Cedeno would all be in.
The basic gist of my argument is that Coors Field made Larry Walker look like a Hall-of-Famer. But to the best of my knowledge, he was actually not that good. Coors Field makes good players look great and great players look historic. It's been around for over 10 years now, and you'd think people would have learned. But they haven't. And when Walker gets strong consideration for the Hall (and possibly gets in), it will just prove that people still have no damn idea what they're doing.
Bobby Abreu
Abreu is underrated on a historical level. He has been an excellent, top-10 player since 1998, when he joined the Phillies. Abreu, at the age of 31, has 230 career Win Shares, well on the way to a Cooperstown-caliber career. If he can just keep his career on track, I think he'll deserve a plaque in the Hall. He's a career 411/512/303 hitter, which is just plain amazing. He's a rine right fielder, and he has 241 career stolen bases (with a 76% success rate). And yet no one really noticed him until he won the Home Run Derby this year. What is wrong with people?
Vladimir Guerrero
Is Bobby Abreu really a better player than Vlad? Yeah, I think so, but it's very close. Abreu has the advantage of being 2 years older than Vlad, so he's had more time to accomplish things. But would you believe that Abreu is a better right fielder? Yes, Vlad has an amazing arm. But, uh, it takes more than arm to play defense. People have created this image of Vlad as a great defender just because of his arm. He's actually a bit clumsy, otherwise. But, in what seems to be a recurring theme, people make decisions based on what they want to see, not based on the underlying reality.
But I think Vlad will earn a spot in Cooperstown, especially now that he's moved to a contending team, won an MVP, and gotten noticed.
Harold Baines
Retired 2001 Eligible for Hall: December 2006
People think that Harold belongs in the Hall because he has a lot of big career numbers. But if you'd hung around for 22 seasons, well after you were valuable at all, you'd have big numbers, too. Harold was a good player for a long time. But he really wasn't that good. In fact, he was just barely above average as a hitter, and contributed nothing to the defense. He had some strong seasons, back in his early years in Chicago, but Harold's last really effective year came in 1991, but he played 10 more seasons regardless.
This is where people sometimes get caught up in the stats. It's not just a matter of who has the biggest numbers over a career; it was who was the best player. We award pretty good players who play for a long time and shortchange excellent players with unimpressive career numbers. The importance is to find a balance; there has to be some good combination of quality and quantity. And the simple fact is that being a great player is far more valuable than being a good player for a long time. Even though Harold was pretty good for 22 years, he's a much less valuable player, overall, than someone like Albert Belle, who had a short, productive burst of a career. But, with the exception of Sandy Koufax, people with short careers tend to get shortchanged in Cooperstown. This is because of the insane fixation on high career numbers (3,000 hits, 500 HR, 300 wins), without anyone recognizing the fact that, all told, quality is much more important than quantity.
Jose Canseco
Retired 2001 Eligible for Hall: December 2006
Yeah, this one's pretty funny now. But even before he wrote his tell-all book and appeared on a VH1 reality show, Canseco wasn't a Hall-of-Famer. He was a very good player, but his peak was quite short. Although he had a bit of a renaissance toward the end of his career, Canseco's Cooperstown chances went down the tubes when he was traded to Texas, at the young age of 28.
Paul O'Neill
Retired 2001 Eligible for Hall: December 2006
Paul was a beloved member of the Yankees who had a fine career, but he doesn't belong in Cooperstown.
Other active players with significant careers are: Juan Gonzalez, Tim Salmon, Shawn Green, and Ichiro Suzuki. None of them are really qualified, although Ichiro has had a good, short career. I just don't think he'll get credit for his time in Japan, leaving him short.
Mike Piazza
Yes, Piazza is a great-hitting catcher. He was probably even better at his peak than Berra or Bench. But he is not the best-hitting catcher in baseball history. That honor goes to Mr. Josh Gibson, and no, it is not a trivial point.
Piazza's in given what he's already accomplished. He could certainly use a few more productive years as, say, a DH. But he was such a good hitter at his peak that it doesn't really matter, and he's one of the best players never to win an MVP.
Ivan Rodriguez
Pudge's career is slowing down, which isn't unusual for a soon-to-be 34-year-old catcher, although it took the Tigers by surprise. Of course, a sunrise probably takes the Tigers by surprise.
Signing old catchers to long-term contracts is like peeing on a pit bull; only dumb people think it's a good idea. Pudge was good last year, but took a big step down this season. He has already played well enough to make the Hall, but it would certainly help his chances if he could produce a couple more impact seasons.
The only other active catchers with significant careers are Javier Lopez, Jorge Posada, and Jason Kendall. None of them are Hall-of-Famers, although Posada is much, much better than anyone realizes. Jason Varitek has had some good seasons recently, but he's frickin' 33, and that doesn't bode well for his future.

The last chapter, the pitchers, will be posted soon.

Momentum is bunk

I intended to write an article debunking the popular theory that "momentum" is an important factor in the postseason. Of all the evidence we have of momentum meaning bupkus, people still yell about it. It's a classic example of people not letting their beliefs be affected by reality. Everyone said that the Astros were "finishing" heading into Game 6 of the NLCS, because the Cardinals had the momentum on their side. Then the Astros won, and everyone was proven wrong. I'm still waiting for all the "Hey, I was wrong" articles. I'll be waiting for a while.
I was going to write this article, but then Brian Gunn over at The Hardball Times beat me to it. So, Mr. Gunn's fine article notwithstanding, I'll do the best I can to dispel the myth of "momentum." I'll look at the most recent examples, since they're the ones you all remember.
2004 ALCS: Red Sox .vs. Yankees
Remember this one? The Yankees won the first three games of the ALCS. Not only that, but their Game 3 victory was an absolute skunking, 19-8, at Fenway Park. If ever a team had momentum in a series, the Yankees had it last year. And that momentum got them diddly-squat, as the Red Sox won anyway.
2003 NLCS: Cubs .vs. Marlins
If you'll recall, the Cubs took a 3-games-to-1 lead in this Series. If they had won, everyone would have said that the Cubs were "destined" to win, and that the Marlins couldn't overcome their momentum. But, of course, that's not what happened. Steve Bartman caught the ball, and the Cubs lost. No one points out that someone (not Steve Bartman) stood on the pitcher's mound and allowed those 8 runs, and someone was doing a good job of hitting to score them. But Bartman gets the blame, because it makes for a good story. Thus is the negative influence of journalism on baseball.
2001 World Series: Diamondbacks .vs. Yankees
The Yankees, down 2 games to 1 in New York, were losing Game 4 when Tino Martinez hit a game-tying homer and Derek Jeter hit a walk-off shot in the 10th. The next day the Yankees were losing Game 5 when Scott Brosius tied the game with a homer, and the Yankees won in the 12th. The Yankees, just 6 weeks after September 11, were destined to win a victory. Not just a victory for New York . . . but a victory for America.
Luckily, good pitching trumps jingoism. The D-Backs said "F*** momentum" by winning Game 6 in a lopsided victory, then came back to Win Game 7. The Yankees had the momentum, but it didn't get them anywhere. And every reporter was writing about how the Diamondbacks were finished after Game 5. And none of them were brave enough to write a column after the Series and say, "Everything I said about momentum was a big ol' crock of poop. I'm incredibly stupid."

Think these are the only examples? Read the Gunn article to find out about similar stories in the 1999 NLCS, the 1975 World Series (Fisk hit the homer, but the Red Sox still lost), the 1972 ALCS, the 1947 World Series, and the 1911 World Series.

Momentum is bunk.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Who's eligible

I meant to add this to the last post but forgot. It's a list of who will be eligible for induction in the upcoming Hall of Fame elections. The list of all eligible candidates is usually narrowed down to whomever has an outside shot at the Hall; this is what gets voted on. Here, then, is a list of all remotely reasonable candidates for Hall induction, by year of eligibility:

Rick Aguilera
Albert Belle
Will Clark
Gary Gaetti
Dwight Gooden
Ozzie Guillen
Orel Hershiser
Gregg Jefferies
Lance Johnson

This coming election is interesting, because I don't think any of these candidates will be inducted. The only one I'd vote for is Will Clark, but he'll never make it. I guess Gooden and Hershiser will get the biggest nibble from the voters, but nothing like 50%. Because of this, I think 2005 will be the year some candidates from the past get in. Judging from recent voting, Ron Santo, Gil Hodges, Jim Rice, Bruce Sutter, and Andre Dawson would be the most likely candidates. They'll elect somebody, because the city of Cooperstown would be very mad if they didn't.

Harold Baines
Bobby Bonilla
Jay Buhner
Jose Canseco
Eric Davis
Tony Fernandez
Tony Gwynn
Mark McGwire
Paul O'Neill
Cal Ripken, Jr.
Bret Saberhagen

Ripken will get a monstrous percentage of the vote, and Gwynn won't be far behind him. We'll just have to see about McGwire; I don't think he'll make the first ballot the way people feel about him now, although the good news is that Palmeiro has replaced him as whipping boy of the media. Baines and O'Neill will get a good nibble, but they won't be inducted. Canseco? HA! My vote would go to Gwynn, Ripken, and McGwire, and I'd take a close look at Tony Fernandez.

Chuck Finley
Travis Fryman
David Justice
Chuck Knoblauch
Tim Raines

Good news for Tim Raines after all! There's no one here who'll get any sort of support, leaving Raines as the best candidate in the field! And unless the voters just decide to elect some old faces like Rice or Dawson, Raines stands a fair chance of getting inducted!

Jay Bell
David Cone
Ron Gant
Mark Grace
Rickey Henderson
Jesse Orosco
Mo Vaughn
Matt Williams

I think Rickey will get in here, unless he succeeds in making a comeback to baseball. Grace has an outside shot, but I don't agree with that. Orosco's the only one who stands a chance, and that's highly unlikely.

2009 (tentative): Edgar Martinez, Barry Larkin
2010 (tentative): Larry Walker?

Current players Pt. 3

Barry Bonds
Yes, Bonds was a Hall-of-Famer before his career mysteriously revitalized in 2001. In fact, I could argue that the best player of the 1990s was not Ken Griffey, Jr.; it was Barry Bonds. This was true and readily apparent even before their careers went zooming off in opposite directions in 2001. This is fodder for another article, but suffice to say that Bonds' career was Cooperstown-worthy before he hit 73 HR and became one of the most dominant players in sports history.
We can't question Bonds' quality; if he's not a Hall-of-Famer, no one is. It's a matter of steroids. Bonds' temperament and demeanor really kept people from recognizing his long-term value, as they just didn't accept that such a difficult person was better than good ol' Junior. But it's true.
So steroids it is. In short, Bonds was such an enormously amazing player, we have to have more evidence to keep him out of the Hall. Yeah, I know, no one really doubts that he did steroids. His is the only case where the statistical evidence itself is proof enough of steroid use (no one has ever brought their career to a whole different plane at age 35).
But even with all of this, can we really keep Barry out of the Hall? I'm not going to throw out the sensational garbage about Barry being an "insult to the game." It's not as simple as that. Much as I might dislike him and all that he stands for, I just can't make a good enough case to keep him out of Cooperstown. He was just that damn good.
Rickey Henderson
Retired 2003 Eligible for Hall December 2008
Why is everyone suddenly not sure if Rickey Henderson is a Hall-of-Famer? Hall voters typically overestimate the importance of stolen bases and "small-ball." Why in the world isn't Rickey Henderson getting his due as one of the 15 or 20 best players ever? He was the best leadoff hitter of all time, with a .401 career OBP (against a league average of .334), stole an all-time record 1406 bases (with an 81% success rate) and even had pretty good power, hitting 297 career HR and sporting an above-average .419 career slugging percentage. He's the all-time leader in runs scored, has 3,055 career hits, and his second all-time with 2,190 walks.
What's the problem?
Tim Raines
Retired 2002 Eligible for Hall December 2007
Somebody asked me once who the best player not in the Hall of Fame was. I said something like Bert Blyleven or Dick Allen at the time. But in 2007, the answer will be Tim Raines. And it won't even be close.
Raines wasn't just a great player, he was an excellent player. The problem was that his skills were nearly identical to Rickey Henderson's; stolen bases, walks, and a great leadoff hitter. This wouldn't be such a problem, except that their careers coincided almost perfectly. Henderson played from 1979-2003. Raines played from 1979-2002. It's some bizarre coincidence that two amazing players with almost the exact same skills would be in the major leagues at exactly the same time.
But it's bad news for Raines. Bad news because Raines wasn't as good as Rickey. I'd rate Rickey the 4th-best LF of all time (behind Ted Williams, Bonds, and Stan Musial), and Raines would probably be 6th (behind Carl Yastrzemski and ahead of Willie Stargell). Raines just wasn't quite as good as Rickey, and that's how people think of him: not good enough. Raines never won an MVP (although he deserved to woin at least one, maybe two), whereas Rickey was the AL MVP in 1990 (and he deserved probably two more). And if the voters aren't sure about letting Rickey in, Raines doesn't stand a chance. And that's an absolute tragedy, but Tim Raines is a Hall-of-Famer just as much as anybody.
Luis Gonzalez
No, Luis doesn't belong in the Hall, but he's had a fine career. Even before he had a breakout year with Arizona in 2001, Luis was a quality hitter for quite a while. He's at the top of the list of "Guys who Aren't Hall-of-Famers, But We Like Them a Lot Anyhow."
Albert Belle
Retired 2000 Eligible for Hall: December 2005
No, I don't think Albert belongs in the Hall of Fame. But if he'd played a full career, he probably would have earned a spot. As it is, he retired at age 34 with some good seasons still left in him. As it is, he hit at a career 369/564/295 clip. People let Albert's attitude get in the way of their opinion of him. And while it's true that Albert had one heck of an attitude problem early in his career, I don't remember hearing anything really negative about him after he left Cleveland and went to the White Sox. And as I mentioned earlier, a player's personality doesn't have as much effect on wins and losses as we think.
I mentioned race in passing as an issue in the Dick Allen comment. I think it applies to Albert as well. No, I don't think everyone hated Albert just because he was black. But I think that a lot of people (whether they admit it or not) see black people as violent and scary. When we see someone or meet them, we project onto them all of our opinions about their race, sex, ethnicity, etc. When we see a black man, our thinking about all black men will color our perceptions of the individual. This is an unfortunate psychological fact, which is further compounded by everyone's refusal to admit it, especially about themselves.
When Albert Belle comes along and has an attitude, we look down upon him and see him as a menace. This is not just because of Albert, but because of our subconscious beliefs about all black people. If Albert were Norwegian, we would be much less likely to draw conclusions about his attitude, because we don't have a preconceived notion of Norwegians. It is not race exclusively; no one (well, almost no one) looks at Albert and says, "I hate him because he's black." But we let the fact that he is black color our opinions and the conclusions we draw about him.
We're much more likely to see a black man as a threat and an attitude problem; police are more likely to shoot a fleeing suspect who is black. Albert's actions and attitude would be, in my opinion, much less of a problem if he were white. Albert would not have gotten nearly as much negative publicity if he were white. We tend to excuse, and sometimes admire, white people who are fierce or show a bit of an attitude. Quick, think of a white person in sports accused of being an "attitude problem." Can't think of one? How many blacks can you think of? Allen Iverson, Dick Allen, Albert, Milton Bradley, Bonds, etc. This is because a double standard exists for blacks and whites. Get an image in your head: a player who constantly fights, sometimes even physically, with teammates, someone whose tirades on the baseball field are violent spectacles, someone who is considered to be quick to anger and even physically threatening. Now, am I describing Milton Bradley . . . or Billy Martin? One is a disgraced player seen as a big problem who will likely be traded. The other is a hero, whose antics are tolerated and even celebrated (imagine Bradley getting a job as a manager). Of course, these are just two examples. They don't prove anything. But imagine one thing for me -- imagine if Billy Martin were black. Would he be seen as a gutsy fighter? Or as a menace to the game and a felon to be prosecuted?
These thoughts do not make us sleep sound in our beds. They make us question ourselves to see if, perhaps, we ourselves are part of the problem. Few people are brave enough to do so, as evidenced by the millions of white people who refuse to admit that they harbor even a tinge of racism, and even scoff at those who look to point it out. I don't know how many times I've heard someone say, "I'm not racist, but..." and then reel off a racist remark.
Baseball is not in the business of solving problems. It is in the interest of covering them up so it can make money. Baseball will never admit to a race problem, and if it does pop up (Al Campanis), it is said to be just one person's view. This may not have much to do with Albert Belle, but it's something that needs to be said. I wish someone had said it before now.
Other active left fielders with notable careers are Moises Alou and Brian Giles. Giles, despite being one of the most underrated players in history, does not look like he'll earn a Cooperstown spot. Alou's had a good career, but ain't even close.
Bernie Williams & Ken Griffey, Jr.
What if I were to tell you that Bernie Williams belongs in the Hall of Fame? Would you believe me? I don't think I can convince you otherwise if you don't agree. But look at what Bernie done in his career. Compare his career to Ken Griffey, Jr.'s. They are so close as to be disturbing. Williams' career hitting line (thru 2004) is 388/488/301. Griffey's is 377/560/292. Griffey has a big edge in slugging, but Bernie has a better OBP and average (which is more important). Griffey has played in much friendlier hitting parks than Bernie, who doesn't get a lot of help from Yankee Stadium, despite being a switch-hitter. Griffey has a small edge and baserunning and a big edge in defense. But Griffey's defense has been horribly overrated by people who decided he was the next Willie Mays when he came up as a rookie and haven't let his actual play in the field change their minds. Griffey is a perfect example of marketing out of control; I'm sure he sells a lot of tennis shoes, but people actually started believing he was the best baseball player in years. But I'll say this: It doesn't matter how many things you do well; it matters how well you do them. Griffey was a 5-tool player, but NOT ALL TOOLS ARE CREATED EQUAL. Hitting is the most important thing BY FAR that anyone can do, and if Griffey was a better hitter, it wasn't by much. But Williams was actually more consistent; while Griffey has had a lot of trouble with injuries (even before Cincinnati), Bernie has been (before this year), a consistently great player. He hasn't had any one season better than Griffey's best, but the whole might be better than the sum of the parts.
So I'll agree that Griffey was the better player. And I think he belongs in the Hall of Fame. But so does Bernie Williams.
Rant Detour
Now I'll tackle the subject I mentioned earlier: the myth that Griffey was the best player of the 90's. Forget about what's happened since 1999; forget that Barry Bonds became the best player since Ruth and that Griffey became a colossal disappointment in Cincinnati. Considering what we knew after the 1999 season: who had the better career, Griffey or Bonds?
Barry Bonds, and it's not even close. And wouldn't you know it, the MVP voters agree with me? I count 1 for Griffey and 3 for Bonds, a pretty commanding lead. And yet the same people who voted on these awards were calling Griffey the Player of the 90's in unison. Why?
Well, if you mean the best player of the 90's, it's Bonds, as I said. But I think they really mean the player they liked the most. And these two are often confused. Even sportswriters are confused into thinking that exciting players are good players. You'd think, from listening to commentators, that two of the most high-impact players in the game are Dave Roberts and Scott Podsednik. Because they both lay down bunts, steal bases, and do "all of the little things." This may be true, but there's a reason they call them the "little" things. The reason that Podsednik and Roberts do these things is that they can't do the most important thing: THEY CAN'T HIT! Roberts has never been an above-average player, let alone an excellent one. And Podsednik gets caught stealing too often for even his stolen bases to mean a whole lot. So give me big ol' boring Adam Dunn any day.
So let's agree that we mean the best player, not the player who is really nice and much more likely to lead an ad campaign and answers my questions in the locker room. Here is my proof that Bonds was the player of the 1990s.
Hitting-wise it's not even close. Bonds did everything well. He was a great slugger, he hit for a high average, he drew lots of walks, and he didn't strike out often. His hitting stats are similar to Ted Williams'; everything looks good. He was also a good base stealer; he stole 460 bases with a 78% success rate. He had 8 Gold Gloves, although this is an egregious case of a player winning a Gold Glove with his bat. Bonds was above-average in left field, but it's a fantasy to suggest that he deserved 8 Gold Gloves.
So this is our picture of a pre-2000 Bonds. He was an all-around amazing hitter with very good base-stealing and above-average defense. Through the 1999 season, Bonds had a career 409/559/288 hitting line (league average 334/407/266). He had 445 career HR, 460 SB, 2,010 hits and 1,430 BB against 1,112 K. He had won 3 MVPs and 8 Gold Gloves.
Ken Griffey, Jr. was a good hitter. He was an excellent slugger, but he was not an all-around threat. He hit for a high average, but not that high. He drew walks, but not that many. And he struck out much more often than Bonds. Griffey stole some bases, but not that many (Griffey's speed was the most-exaggerated part of his game). He was a fine center fielder, but he was not that great. The metric of Fielding Runs gives Griffey a total of 27 through the year 1999. Bonds has 51, nearly twice as many. Griffey won 10 Gold Gloves, although he and Bonds both benefited from their hitting prowess in this department.
So here is our picture of a pre-2000 Ken Griffey, Jr. He was a true slugger who otherwise hit pretty well with decent stealing abilities and solid defense. He had a career 380/569/299 hitting line (league average 338/415/268). He had 398 career HR, 167 SB (for a 74% success rate), 1,742 hits and 747 BB against 984 K.
Are there any other factors to take into account? The most important is that Bonds was hitting in the National League, Griffey in the American. So we must adjust Griffey's hitting stats downward to get an accurate picture. Another important point is that Bonds is 5 years older than Griffey; he got to the majors in 1986, Griffey in 1989. So we would expect Bonds' raw numbers (HR, SB, etc.) to be a little higher for this reason. But we would expect Griffey's percentages (OBP, SLG, AVG) to be higher, since he was younger by the time the decade ended. Griffey had not spent many years declining, whereas Bonds was 35 years old, and his declining years had brought down his OBP/SLG/AVG from where they were in his prime.
Given all of this information, what is our decision?
BONDS: 409/559/288, 445 HR, 460 SB (78%), 51 Fielding Runs, 1430 BB:1112 K, 3 MVP, 8 GG.
GRIFFEY: 380/569/299, 398 HR, 167 SB (74%), 27 Fielding Runs, 747 BB:984 K, 1 MVP, 10 GG.
It's a landslide folks. Griffey doesn't even have a clear advantage in defense, the one aspect even I anticipated he would get the edge. Even if you think the defensive stats are wrong and Griffey really was great (remote but possible considering the accuracy of defensive stats), Bonds has a strong edge in baserunning, with a huge advantage in stolen bases and even an advantage in success rate. But the hitting is ludicrous; Bonds wins easily. The advantage of 29 points in OBP are almost enough, but when you consider that Griffey hadn't entered his decline phase yet and had the advantages of the AL, even his slim lead in SLG and AVG are rendered insignificant. There is simply no other reasonable conclusion to the question of who the greatest player of the 90's was.
The conventional wisdom is that Griffey was the greatest player of his era and then struggled in Cincinnati, whereas Bonds was just plain good before his breakout 2001. This is hogwash. Bonds was the best player of the 90's far and away, and Griffey's reputation is based on the bizarre fixation for well-rounded players. People decided Griffey was the best player in baseball when he arrived in Seattle in 1989. And he played well enough to keep that lie alive, in spite of what Barry Bonds was doing. I'm in the business of destroying misconceptions, and I hope this one dies someday. If I've played any part in bringing that about, then this blog has not been for nothing.

OK, so I went on a bit there. To sum up the center fielders:
Jim Edmonds
I think he belongs in the Hall so long as he keeps up what he's doing now for a few more years. He was one of the 10 best players in baseball even back in Anaheim, combining great defense with superb hitting (just check out his hitting stats). The one thing he didn't have was a big, MVP-caliber year, which he furnished in 2004. Too bad two other guys did it on the same team.
Other active center fielders with significant careers are Steve Finley and Andruw Jones. Finley is good, but no Cooperstown. Andruw will probably get there, because he stands a good chance at 500 homers. But his defense is starting to seep away, and we'll soon be left with a one-dimensional slugger who hits .260 and strikes out a lot. And unless Andruw can hold onto his defense, he'll just be another, less valuable, Sammy Sosa. And was Andruw as good defensively as they say he was? It's just possible that he was better.

Back tomorrow with RF and C. Who knew I could fit 2 rants in one entry?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

White Sox .vs. Astros

More talk about pitching, pitching, pitching. The Houston Astros posted a 2.72 ERA for the entire NLCS, striking out 42 in 53 IP and allowing just 3 HR. More importantly, the Astros allowed 0 unearned runs (compared to 5 allowed by the Cardinals) and the Astros were able to hold the Cardinal offense to 16 runs in 5 games -- just barely more than 3 runs/game. During the regular season, the Cardinals scored nearly 5 runs/game. So the credit goes to the excellent Astros pitching staff and defense. The Cardinals hit 276/289/209 for the entire NLCS. That's a truly amazing accomplishment for the Astros. The Astros didn't hit that well themselves (329/409/278), but they didn't have to. The Cardinals pitched well, but not well enough. Kudos to the Astros for playing very well, and congratulations on winning the first pennant in franchise history. The only franchise older than the Astros never to get to the World Series is the Senators/Rangers, who've been around since 1961 and never won a pennant. Now that the Astros have won their first, the next oldest franchise without a pennant is the Washington Nationals, since 1969. The World Series will be good for one franchise either way; the White Sox haven't won a World Series since 1917, and the Astros have never won one since they started play in 1962.
It will be very interesting to see how the World Series plays out. I'm inclined to favor the White Sox, because of their fearsome starters. But if the NLCS taught us anything, it's that momentum means absolutely nothing.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Current players Pt. 2

Cal Ripken, Jr.
Retired 2001 Eligible for Hall: December 2006
Ripken is, in my opinion, the third-best shortstop ever. He's a Hall-of-Famer, not that anyone really disagrees. Ripken's reputation is mighty, and his numbers back it up absolutely. He should sail into the Hall, and rightfully so.
Alex Rodriguez
It will be interesting to see what happens to A-Rod if he finishes his career as a third baseman. There's not going to be anything keeping him from Cooperstown, but it will be more difficult to define his career in the historical sense if he splits his career evenly between short and third. As a shortstop, he's really second only to Honus Wagner. As a third baseman, he's right up there with Schmidt and Brett. If his career keeps going as planned (and this year is a very good sign), A-Rod will be among the elite in the Hall of Fame.
Barry Larkin
Retired 2004 Eligible for Hall: December 2009
Larkin really doesn't get enough credit for what he did. He's been underrated for two main reasons. One, he was multi-talented, but there was no one thing he was truly great at. Was he a good shortstop? Yes, he was a very good shortstop, if not an amazing one. Was he a good basestealer? Absolutely. Yes, only stole 377 career bases, but he did it with an impressive 83% success rate. Did he hit for a high average? Yes, a career .295 hitter, with 5 full seasons above .300. Was he a disciplined hitter? Yes, he had a career .371 OBP, with 939 career walks against just 817 career strikeouts. Was he a slugger? For a shortstop, absolutely. He slugged a career .444, whereas the league average for shortstops during that period was .361.
There is no one number that makes Barry look like a Hall-of-Famer. But when you put together all the things he did so well, there's no doubt in my mind that he deserves a plaque in Cooperstown.
The other, perhaps more significant reason, that Barry is underrated, is that he was always overshadowed by someone else. He began his career in the shadow of Ozzie Smith and Cal Ripken, Jr. He wasn't as good a hitter as Ripken, and he wasn't as good at defense as Ozzie was. Then, when Ripken and Ozzie started to fade and Barry entered his prime, three guys named Jeter, A-Rod, and Nomar showed up and redefined how we saw the shortstop position. So there was never any significant amount of time where Barry was regarded as the best shortstop in baseball. But this is just an accident of history. When you compare Barry's career with other shortstops, he rates very well. He's not at the level of A-Rod, Robin Yount, or Luke Appling, but he's a notch above guys like George Davis, Ozzie Smith, and Joe Cronin. He is indeed a deserving Hall-of-Famer. I don't think there's any way he'll get in on the first ballot, but hopefully the voters will give him his due in time, as they did with Sandberg.
Tony Fernandez
Retired 2001 Eligible for Hall: December 2006
Tony's no Hall-of-Famer, but he was a darn good shortstop for a long, long time. He was even among the 10 best players in the league for a couple of years. He doesn't get his credit, I think, because he bounced around to so many teams. But he was a very good shortstop and a fine hitter. His career hitting line is 347/399/288, compared to a league average of 332/407/264. The average for a shortstop over the same period was 321/370/260, so Tony was a valuable commodity: a good defensive shortstop who hit quite well for the position.
But after playing 8 seasons with the Blue Jays, Tony played two with the Padres, half a season with the Mets (he was traded back to Toronto in mid-season), one season with the Reds, one with the Yankees, one with the Indians, two more with the Blue Jays, and half a season with Milwaukee before being traded back to Toronto to finish his career. In this sense, he was similar to Bobby Bonds; someone whose true value was obscured by the raw number of teams he played for.
Julio Franco
There's been a good deal of attention focused on Julio since his renaissance in Atlanta. While I can't deny that Julio is the best old non-pitcher ever, it doesn't make him a Hall-of-Famer. Julio does have a lot of hits (2521), but that's really his only true talent. He emerged as more of a slugger as his career went on, but the truth is that Julio spent most of his career as a below-average shortstop/second baseman. He's a fine hitter, and might be one of the 30 or 40 best shortstops ever, but he doesn't belong in Cooperstown.
Derek Jeter
Jeter isn't a Hall-of-Famer yet, but if he keeps his career going at a strong pace, he'll make it with ease. The sportswriters might just waive the 5-year waiting period to vote in their favorite son. Jeter was actually named baseball's poster child by Tim Kurkjian earlier this year. While I can't deny that Jeter calls his manager "Mr. Torre" and passes the butter without being asked, his qualities as a player have been overrated. Jeter has the reputation of being a great shortstop, but the truth is that his early career saw him as being below-average at his position. This goes against what most people think; they see Jeter make flashy plays and call him the second coming of Christ. But good fielding isn't about being flashy. You can't just trust your eyes, nor can you trust your biases. Jeter gets extra credit for being a Yankee. He gets extra credit for being "clutch," despite the fact that he plays on a team that gives its players more chances to play in clutch situations (like the World Series) than any other. Maybe the most clutch World Series performer in baseball is Frank Thomas, but we don't know it, because his team has never gotten there. There isn't equality of opportunity in "clutch." And of course, we all notice when Jeter makes great plays in "clutch" situations. But if he strikes out in the same situtation, our mind blocks it out because it doesn't fit with our pre-determined ideas. We should stop talking about Jeter being "clutch" and start talking about how good a hitter he is for a shortstop (386/461/314 career).
Jay Bell
Retired 2003 Eligible for Hall: December 2008
No, he's not Cooperstown-worthy, but Jay Bell was one of the most underrated players of the past 20 years.
Omar Vizquel
I could tell you that Omar Vizquel is not a good defensive shortstop, but you simply wouldn't believe me. Everyone believes that he is, and nothing I say will change the fact. But the ugly truth is that Omar is not nearly as strong defensively as people think. Steve Phillips advanced the argument that Omar is a Hall-of-Famer because his lifetime fielding percentage is higher than Ozzie Smith's. But that's the most bone-headed thing Steve Phillips has ever said. Lefty O'Doul's lifetime batting average is higher than Hank Aaron's; does that make him a Hall-of-Famer? Dave Kingman has more career home runs than Carlton Fisk. Does that make him a Hall-of-Famer? You can't apply this standard to any reasonable Hall-of-Fame argument. Ozzie Smith was more than just a fielding percentage, as is Omar. And when you consider the fact that Omar was not a great shortstop, and that he was a below-average hitter, we have to conclude that he's not a Hall-of-Famer.
(It was an odd week on when Steve Phillips composed his list of most underrated players, and Rob Neyer composed his list of the most overrated. Vizquel made both of them).
Nomar Garciaparra & Miguel Tejada
If Tejada can put together some more MVP-caliber campaigns and keep his career on the right path, he stands a good chance to make Cooperstown. Nomar was off to a Hall-of-Fame start, but will have to get his career going again if he wants to make it. And considering the nosedive his reputation has taken in the past 2 years, he might not make it even then.
The only other active shortstops with notable careers are Edgar Renteria and Jose Valentin. If they want to get in the Hall of Fame, they'll have to buy a ticket like everyone else.
Chipper Jones
Chipper's not much in the defense department (and that's an understatement), but he's been an excellent hitter for quite a long time now, and I think he's worked his way into the top 10 third basemen of all time. He would be better served now as a left fielder; I don't really know why the Braves insist on playing him at third.
Edgar Martinez
Retired 2004 Eligible for Hall: December 2009
I don't really have a category for DHs, so I'll put Edgar here. The argument against Edgar is that as a DH, he can't really make the Hall since he didn't play every day. Well, it's patently silly to automatically exclude the DH from the Hall. It's a question of how much you help your team, and a DH just has to hit that much better to make up for the fact that they aren't playing the field.
Did Edgar hit that much better? You're damn right he did. Edgar was the best right-handed hitter of the 1990s. He compiled a 418/516/312 hitting line over 18 seasons, which is about as automatic an induction into Cooperstown as you can get. We still have to make up for the fact that Edgar contributed 0 to his team's defense. But here's a question for you: how much did Frank Thomas contribute to his team's defense? Or Harmon Killebrew? The answer, I think, is 0. My argument is that Edgar was more valuable to his team as a DH than he would have been in the field. Edgar was a much better asset to the Mariners contributing 0 to his team's defense than someone like Thomas or Killebrew, who actually had a negative effect on the team with their defense. If Edgar had played the field, he would have been less valuable, because his defensive negatives would have counteracted his offensive positives. To say that someone has to play the field to make the Hall is silly; we must look at the overall effect they had on team wins. These people think that Edgar would be a Hall-of-Famer if he had played the field, but the truth is that Edgar's absence from the field was not a detriment to his club, but an asset. While most teams are forced to deal with a hitter's negatives in the field to get his positives at the plate, the Mariners got all the positive and none of the negatives. So while some hitters might merit say, 300 points at the plate and take away 50 points in the field, Edgar was 300 at the plate and a 0 in the field. Any way you slice it, Edgar's hitting is enough in and of itself to get him into Cooperstown. But, sadly, he will never make it because the voters still hold a childish, petulant grudge against the DH rule.
Scott Rolen
Rolen is not, I repeat, not the second coming of Mike Schmidt, as some people think. Rolen is indeed an excellent third baseman, although he has (with the exception of his 2004 season) never been a really excellent hitter. The good news is that if he keeps fielding like this, he doesn't have to be excellent; just very good hitting will be enough to get him a plaque in Cooperstown. And he has enough credibility with the voters to get in easily.
Robin Ventura
Ventura is one of those guys that you just hate admit isn't a Hall-of-Famer. He had some truly excellent seasons in Chicago, and then with the Mets, but it's just not enough. He deserves to be remembered more than he is, because he was baseball's greatest third baseman between Wade Boggs and Chipper Jones. But he's not a Hall-of-Famer.
Other third basemen with notable careers include: Bobby Bonilla, Gary Gaetti, and active players such as Eric Chavez and Edgardo Alfonzo

Back tomorrow with the outfield ...

Current players

As promised, a look at active players (and players not yet eligible) and their chances to make Cooperstown.
Jeff Bagwell
Bagwell is, in my opinion, easily one of the 10 best first basemen ever, and he's approaching the top 5. Gehrig, Foxx, McCovey, and Murray are ahead of him. But who else? It's pretty hard to argue Killebrew or Palmeiro or someone like Roger Connor or Dan Brouthers ahead of him. Bagwell's overall numbers were severely deflated due to the fact that he played his best years in the AstroDome, a significant pitcher's park. Of course, he has been lucky enough to move to a hitter's park in his declining years. But Bagwell's been awesome. He is the best first baseman of his time. He wasn't quite as good as Frank Thomas at his peak, but then Bagwell's been much more durable and consistent than the Big Hurt.
Bagwell won the MVP in 1994 and possibly deserved it in 1996 and 1999. In '96, Bagwell hit 461/750/368 in the AstroDome to put together one of the best non-Bonds seasons of the past 20 years. But Ken Caminiti was "clutch" for the Padres and won the MVP (steroids and all).
Bagwell hasn't always been perceived as a Hall-of-Famer, but I would argue that this is the fault of the people doing the perceiving. I once heard a baseball announcer say that if you have to think about a candidate, they're not really a Hall-of-Famer. Well, isn't that sound advice! Go with your first impression, no matter how stupid, uninformed, biased or misguided it may be. Hopefully, the voters will see Bagwell as the offensive juggernaut he was and put him in on the first ballot.
Frank Thomas
Thomas is a tough case. He's actually similar to Ken Griffey, Jr.; a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer until the injuries came. But I'd say that Thomas was a better player than Griffey at his peak, even considering defense. He's one of the ten-best first basemen of all time, and his run from 1991-2000 was as good a 10-year stretch as any AL player has had in years. The injuries have cut his career short, limiting his playing time in recent years. But I would argue that when you look at Frank's career as a whole, he is still a Hall-of-Famer.
Rafael Palmeiro
Well, isn't this a hairy question? Mark McGwire now looks positively dignified when compared to Raffy. At least McGwire didn't perjure himself and try to blame a teammate. It's very unclear as to what extent steroids played in Palmeiro's development. We really have no idea when he started using them and for how long.
After Palmeiro got his 3,000th hit, I argued that he was a Hall-of-Famer. And based on the numbers, I still think he is. Skip Bayless wrote an article for advancing the preposterous argument that because Palmeiro didn't inspire fear and awe, he shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame. I'd say that Mr. Bayless has no idea who is actually in the Hall of Fame. Because when you look at the actual inhabitants, you realize that Rafael Palmeiro is no insult to the institution that inducted Freddie Lindstrom, Chick Hafey, Tommy McCarthy, and Candy Cummings. The idea that players like Willie Mays are the standard has never been the case. Players like Mays and Ruth are the elite. The average Hall-of-Famer is someone like ... I don't know, Harmon Killebrew or Hal Newhouser. And Palmeiro compares very favorably to them. Palmeiro is sort of like the hitting version of Don Sutton; he was never amazingly good, but he was really good for so long that he earned a spot in the Cooperstown. Based solely on his numbers, Palmeiro is a Hall-of-Famer, with no doubt in my mind.
Then came the stanozolol. How do we factor this into the discussion? I refuse to dismiss Palmeiro out of hand. It's the self-righteous thing to do, and it's done by people who don't want to spend time thinking when they could be out judging people. The only thing we know for sure is that Palmeiro tested positive this year. It's possible (though admittedly not likely), that Palmeiro didn't start using steroids until recently. It wouldn't be out of the question at all to assume that Palmeiro used steroids to bolster his declining career in order to get 3,000 hits and reach Cooperstown. We don't know for sure what he tested positive for (the stanozolol report has never been confirmed), and we can't say for sure that the steroids actually made him a better player (everyone assumes this to be true. While steroids do enhance certain physical aspects such as recovery time, that doesn't automatically make someone hit for a higher average). And we must also face the fact that steroids weren't even outlawed in baseball until recently. So the issue becomes much more difficult the more we think about it (which is why the talking heads on TV don't like to think).
My personal opinion is that our limited knowledge of Palmeiro's steroid use is enough to disqualify him from the Hall. I say this with grave misgivings, especially since we cannot be sure that anyone we enshrine in the next 20 years is steroid-free. We cannot focus all of our vitriol upon Raffy just because he got caught while unconsciously giving others a free ride to do the same thing.
But Palmeiro is, I believe, a fairly borderline case for the Hall of Fame. So much so that this little steroid issue is enough to raise a reasonable doubt towards my inducting him into the Hall. The good thing is that we don't have to decide now; we have five years to learn more about Raffy and his peers and make a more reasoned decision. But given what I know now, I just don't think we can let Raffy in.
Mark McGwire
Retired 2001; Eligible for Hall December 2006
I think Mark McGwire is a Hall-of-Famer. Now I'll try to defend myself from the charge that I'm a flip-flopper with a double standard.
First of all, McGwire never got caught using steroids. There has never been any conclusive proof that he used them. Yes, we all drew the same conclusions from his Capital Hill testimony, but the simple fact is that if we know the bare minimum about Palmeiro, we know absolutely nothing about McGwire. We don't know how often he used, or when he used it, or even what he used. He may have been a grievous offender, or he may just been a small-time dabbler. We will never know. The most important issue to my mind is that McGwire's alleged steroid use occured before baseball outlawed it. The oft-repeated saying about Pete Rose is that Rose wasn't banned because he gambled; he was banned because he broke the rule against gambling. But, unlike Palmeiro, Mark McGwire never broke any MLB rule against steroids, because no such rule existed. So McGwire may be guilty of chicanery or a minor federal drug law, but seeing as he retired in 2001, he could not have broken baseball's drug policy.
Am I splitting hairs? Perhaps I am. But I refuse to automatically hate, disdain, and turn my nose up at every steroid user. Those who think that steroids are bad, and therefore everyone who uses them is just plain bad, lives in a fantasy world of Care Bears and Dick and Jane. The real world is much more complicated, and people are much more complicated. We can say with some certainty that both McGwire and Palmeiro are steroid users. But, as far as we know, that's where the similarity ends. Palmeiro violated MLB's substance abuse policy and then perjured himself; McGwire did neither. Palmeiro blamed a teammate; McGwire didn't. Palmeiro is a marginal Hall-of-Famer; McGwire is not (in my opinion). Palmeiro used (if the source can be believed) stanozolol, a powerful anabolic steroid; we don't have a clue what McGwire used, except for andro, the supplement that was perfectly legal at the time. Every aspect of the question favors McGwire rather than Palmeiro. And that more than anything is why I think that Mark McGwire is still a Hall-of-Famer.
Will Clark
Retired 2000; Eligible for Hall December 2005
Nobody has any love for Will. Which is too bad, considering that he spent his prime years in a pitcher's park and hit like few people ever have. Clark's 1989 season, where he hit 412/546/333 in a very unfriendly park, is one of the best seasons of the past 20 years. But the ignorance of the voters was exposed when they gave the MVP to teammate Kevin Mitchell.
Clark's talents were never fully appreciated. He had several truly great years in San Francisco, and then had good years for the rest of his career. He finished with a 384/497/303 career hitting line, compared to the 335/410/266 league average. He was also an above-average first baseman. It's a tough call, I msut admit, but I think Will belongs in the Hall. Just because no one thinks of him that way doesn't alter the essential truth.
Jason Giambi
Well, back to the steroids. There's no chance that Giambi will make Cooperstown, and I don't think he'll probably earn it either. The steroids are a hairy question here, too, since we can't give much credit for Giambi's hitting to them. It's entirely possibly that they didn't help him a bit (Giambi didn't think so). But, steroids or not, it doesn't look like he'll ever regain the form in Oakland that made him, for a short while, the best baseball player in the world not named Barry.
Jim Thome
Thome is a different question. While Thome doesn't have seasons quite as big as Giambi's, he does have a very impressive career and no steroids casting a shadow over it. Thome was one of the 10 best hitters in the league pretty much all the way from 1995 to 2004. His 2002 season was likely his best, but he was the second-best player in the league behind Giambi. Thome will have to regain his good hitting form again to fight his way into Cooperstown, but I think it's entirely possible that he'll earn his way there. But I don't see him actually getting elected; baseball men don't like 1-dimensional players (even though Thome isn't 1-dimensional, but that's a whole other rant...).
Carlos Delgado
Look at what Delgado's done over his career, and it will surprise you. The knock against him is that he's been in a hitter's park in the AL for his whole career, and he's worthless on defense. But I think he's one of the 5 best hitters of the 1990s, and if he finishes out his career well, he might just be worth a plaque. But he won't get one, for the same reason Thome won't. People have already made up their minds, and they have far too much pride and bluster to admit when they're wrong.
John Olerud
People probably don't realize what a fine career John Olerud has had. He's had two near-MVP seasons, in 1993 and 1999. He was the best player in the AL in 1993, but Frank Thomas won the MVP. Olerud has been a darn good player for one heck of a long time. He wasn't as popular as someone like Mark Grace, but he actually was a better overall player. He's no Hall-of-Famer, but he's better than people give him credit for.
Mark Grace
Retired 2003; Eligible for Hall December 2008
Grace was a good player for quite a while. But he was never great, and it wasn't quite as long as people think. He did have more hits than anyone else in the 1990s, but that's an accident of history and no argument for induction. Just because somebody else got all their hits between 1985-1995, Grace gets more credit for putting it together in an even decade?

Future Prospects: Todd Helton, Albert Pujols
Craig Biggio
Biggio is, after Barry Bonds and perhaps Roger Clemens, the best baseball player still active. He has been an excellent hitter, a solid defender, and a master of the "little things," such as SBs and HBPs. The AstroDome hurt him as it did Bagwell. But Biggio stands a chance of making it to 3,000 hits, whereupon he should get in on the first ballot. He deserves it, because only 5 second basemen in baseball history were better.
Roberto Alomar
Retired 2004; Eligible for Hall December 2009
It's too bad that Alomar's career crashed to a halt when he went to the Mets. But I feel that, even before his career died, he put together enough of a fabulous run to make the Hall of Fame. He's one of the best-hitting second basemen ever, and he had the great defense to back it up. As it is, he's just behind Biggio all-time.
Jeff Kent
Kent is an odd case; he didn't have a really good season until he was 29 and didn't break out with a great year until age 32, when he won the 2000 MVP Award. Do I think he belongs in the Hall? It's a tough choice, but I think so. Kent has put together a good combination of really strong offense and good defense. He's managed to keep performing well at an advanced age (his 2005 season was one of his best), and he is the all-time HR leader among 2B. If he has another couple good years, I think he'll get in eventually.
Chuck Knoblauch
Retired 2002; Eligible for Hall December 2007
Remember him? Knoblauch was a Hall-of-Famer, without a doubt, from 1991-1999. After the 1999 season, Knoblauch was just 31 years old, had won 4 World Series rings, and had never had a bad season in his career. It looked like nothing could stop him from getting to Cooperstown.
But Knoblauch's career died a sudden, tragic death. Everyone remembers Knoblauch's trouble throwing to first; few remember that he stopped hitting, too. But Knoblauch soon became a bad-hitting left fielder, and he retired after a year in Kansas City at the age of 34. Sure-fire Hall-of-Famers don't just stop hitting and fielding at the age of 31; it just doesn't happen. Except that it did happen to Knoblauch. He wasn't able to complete his Hall-of-Famer career, and I still have no idea what caused it.
The only other active second basemen with careers of any note are Bret Boone, Ray Durham, and Mark Loretta, and they're a few light years away from Cooperstown.

Seeing as this is taking longer than I imagined, I'll split it up into parts. I'll be back with the shortstops and third basemen tomorrow ...