Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Hall of Fame Ballot

2007 Hall of Fame Ballot:
Harold Baines
Albert Belle
Dante Bichette
Bert Blyleven
Bobby Bonilla
Scott Brosius
Jay Buhner
Ken Caminiti
Jose Canseco
Dave Concepcion
Eric Davis
Andre Dawson
Tony Fernandez
Steve Garvey
Goose Gossage
Tony Gwynn
Orel Hershiser
Tommy John
Wally Joyner
Don Mattingly
Mark McGwire
Jack Morris
Dale Murphy
Paul O'Neill
Dave Parker
Jim Rice
Cal Ripken, Jr.
Bret Saberhagen
Lee Smith
Alan Trammell
Devon White
Bobby Witt

This is the ballot that BBWAA members get to vote on for the upcoming Hall elections. Since I took the opportunity to criticize some of the members voting, I thought at least I'd go ahead and indicate who I would vote for if given the opportunity.

My Hall of Fame vote for 2007:
Bert Blyleven, Goose Gossage, Tony Gwynn, Mark McGwire, Cal Ripken, Jr., Alan Trammell

Bert Blyleven
Bert Blyleven isn't in the Hall of Fame because his career Won-Loss record is 287-250. 287 wins is an awful lot (26th all-time, 13th among post-war players) but 250 losses is also an awful lot (10th all-time, 5th among post-war players). I think wins and losses are, by and large, irrelevant, so I'm not going to list that as any evidence for or against Bert.
Bert was rarely the best pitcher in the league; in fact, the only year I think he deserved the Cy Young Award was 1973 with Minnesota, when he won 20 games with a 2.52 ERA and struck out 258 batters in a career-high 325 IP. His ERA+ in 1973 was the best in the league, and he finished 2nd in strikeouts and 4th in innings pitched. But his W-L record was 20-17, whereas Jim Palmer's was 22-9 on a division-winning team. So Palmer won the Cy Young.
What Bert had was amazing durability. And despite the fact that he was only the league's best pitcher once, he was always near the top. He was, in my opinion, the second-best pitcher in the league on three different occasions (1974, 1985, 1989), the third-best pitcher twice more (1978, 1984), and was among the top 5 no less than ten times in his career. Blyleven was an amazingly effective pitcher who just happened to be flying under the radar, missing recognition due to the fact that he never (after '73) had a real breakthrough year.
So we've established that Blyleven reached a level of excellence only attained by very few pitchers. I've charted pitcher performances through the year 1928. The only pitchers I've come across that were among the top 5 in their league at least 10 times are the following: Roger Clemens, Lefty Grove, and Warren Spahn. That's an amazing, amazing record. Blyleven was, of course, not as excellent as the likes of Clemens and Grove. But comparing him to Spahn is actually pretty apt. Spahn was, at his peak, better and pitcher longer. But consider these numbers:
Bert Blyleven: 287-250, 4970 IP, 3.31 ERA, 1322 BB, 3701 K, 118 ERA+
Warren Spahn: 363-245, 5243.2 IP, 3.09 ERA, 1434 BB, 2583 K, 118 ERA+
Even I wouldn't have guessed that Blyleven and Spahn had the exact same career ERA, adjusted for era and ballparks. Spahn was more valuable, I'm not letting go of that, but to say that Blyleven is as close as this is amazing.
Once we establish that Blyleven was almost as effective as Warren Spahn, that makes our argument much easier. Combine that effectiveness with 4970 career innings (13th all-time, 7th post-war) and 3701 strikeouts (5th all-time) and it's hard to argue for this man as a true Hall-of-Famer.
But how does Blyleven stack up against other pitchers, especially those that aren't in Cooperstown? Let's take a look:
Career Win Shares:
1. Cy Young (635)
2. Walter Johnson (564)
10. Tony Mullane* (401)
20. Old Hoss Radbourne (346)
21t Bert Blyleven* (339)
21t Robin Roberts (339)
23. Bob Caruthers* (338)
The only non-Hall of Famer with more career Win Shares than Blyleven is Tony Mullane, who pitched from 1881-1894 in what was a much different era. In fact, almost all of the non-Hall of Famers surrounding Blyleven are 19th-century pitchers such as Mullane and Caruthers. Let's look at Career Win Shares post-19th century (pitchers with careers in both eras will be included)
1. Cy Young (635)
2. Walter Johnson (564)
3. Kid Nichols (479)
4. Pete Alexander (477)
5. Roger Clemens* (435)
6. Christy Mathewson (426)
7. Warren Spahn (411)
8t Lefty Grove (391)
8t Tom Seaver (391)
10. Greg Maddux* (380)
11. Phil Niekro (375)
12t Steve Carlton (367)
12t Gaylord Perry (367)
14. Eddie Plank (360)
15t Bert Blyleven* (339)
15t Robin Roberts (339)
17. Nolan Ryan (334)
18. Ferguson Jenkins (323)
* -- not in Hall of Fame
So Bert Blyleven has more Win Shares than any other modern pitcher not in the Hall of Fame, excluding active pitchers like Clemens and Maddux. You have to go all the way down to Tommy John (289 WS) to find the next eligible pitcher not inducted into the Hall.
Let's illustrate this in short-hand, comparing Blyleven to other Hall hopefuls using traditional and non-traditional stats:
Career WS: Blyleven (339), Tommy John (289), Jim Kaat (268), Luis Tiant (256), Billy Pierce (248)
Blyleven has more career WS than Nolan Ryan, Ferguson Jenkins, Red Ruffing, Bob Gibson, Don Sutton, Jim Palmer, Randy Johnson, Early Wynn, Carl Hubbell, Tom Glavine, Dennis Eckersley, Mordecai Brown, Bob Feller, Burleigh Grimes, and many others
Jack Morris, everyone's "favorite" to enter the Hall, has 225 career Win Shares, putting him behind Frank Tanana, Jerry Koosman, Charlie Hough, Dennis Martinez, Kevin Brown, and Eddie Cicotte. He's tied with Urban Shocker, Tommy Bridges, and Larry Jackson, good pitchers all, but none of them Hall material.
(I don't consider career ERA, because the top 100 is almost entirely 19th-century pitchers).
Career ERA+: Bret Saberhagen (126), Jimmy Key (122), Dave Stieb (122), Bert Blyleven (118), Luis Tiant (114), Tommy John (111), Jim Kaat (107), Jack Morris (105)
The career ERA+ leaderboard is mostly full of relief pitchers and guys with short, productive careers.
Career IP: Bert Blyleven (4970), Tommy John (4710.1), Jim Kaat (4530.1), Frank Tanana (4188.1), Dennis Martinez (3999.2), Jerry Koosman (3839.3), Jack Morris (3824)
Would you believe that Frank Tanana, with his reputation for injuries and brittleness, threw more career innings than Jack Morris? Or that our friend Mr. Blyleven has him beat by over 1000 IP?!
Career K: Bert Blyleven (3701), Mickey Lolich (2832), Frank Tanana (2773), David Cone (2668), Chuck Finley (2610), Jerry Koosman (2556), Jack Morris (2478), Mark Langston (2464), Jim Kaat (2461)
Yet another category where Blyleven laps the field and has Morris licked by over 1,000.
Career WARP3: Bert Blyleven (142), Frank Tanana (111.3), Tommy John (108.7), Luis Tiant (98.7), Jim Kaat (96.3), Jack Morris (89.8), Dave Stieb (89)
Again, Blyleven is head and shoulders above the other candidates. He's closer to Warren Spahn (155.9) than he is to any of the other Hall candidates.
In summary, the only reason to keep Bert Blyleven out of the Hall of Fame is a prejudice against a pitcher with 250 losses. And considering these voters, that will be enough. I just hope that Blyleven gets the honor he deserves in his lifetime.
Goose Gossage
To avoid going on too long about all of these candidates, I'll refer you back to my entry on Bruce Sutter (scroll down to 2nd entry), which also contains my argument for the Goose's inclusion.
Tony Gwynn
This is an easy one. Gwynn ranks as one of the best right fielders of all time by any measure. He doesn't rank among the elite right fielders (Ruth, Aaron, Ott, Frank Robinson), but falls right in line with the second-tier, sure-thing HOFers like Sam Crawford, Al Kaline, and Paul Waner. Gwynn is 12th all-time among RFers with 398 career Win Shares and ranks 10th in WARP3. He'll be elected easily, and rightfully so.
Mark McGwire
Well, I've already argued that McGwire's numbers merit inclusion into the Hall of Fame. So it leaves me to explain why I would induct him despite the preponderance of evidence that suggests he used steroids.
I've spoken about this in many entries already, so I won't go into a long-winded repeat of why I refuse to pass moral judgment on players who did what any of the rest of us would have done. Steroids seem so much dirtier than any of the cheating ballplayers used to do, but I'd suggest that that's mainly an issue of perception rather than anything. Gaylord Perry's spitball was considered cute and charming, even though it was quite obviously cheating and also explicity against the rules (unlike steroid use). There's also a great deal more evidence about the benefits of foreign subtances on the ball than there is about steroid use. For all of the voters (and they will be in the majority) who vote against Mark McGwire, I DEFY you to justify Perry's easy induction into the Hall.
This doesn't even mention the many other forms of cheating utilized by ballplayers in the past. Amphetamines weren't against the rules in the 60's and 70's, but then neither were steroids in 1988. And there's much direct evidence of the beneficial effects of amphetamines on baseball performance rather than steroids. Many baseball players have admitted to cheating, either through corked bats, spitballs, shine balls, or scuff balls, and it hasn't had any effect on their Hall of Fame candidacy. It recently came out that the New York Giants utilized an illegal form of sign-stealing during the 1951 baseball season, but no one is rushing to put an asterisk next to their NL pennant.
What it comes down to is the fact that steroids seem much "dirtier" and immoral than other forms of cheating. And yet there is no practical basis for this impression. Steroids have potent side effects, but so do amphetamines. It's very hard to catch steroid users, but then who knows if your bat is corked until it breaks open? For years, Don Sutton was suspected of doctoring the ball but was never caught in the act of doing it, and thus escaped punishment.
The extreme hatred and distrust of steroid users simply doesn't stand up to any logical test. Steroid use should be taken into account as much as any other form of cheating that enhances a ballplayer's performance. But there's no evidence that it deserves its own hall of shame.
In fact, there's very little evidence as to exactly how much steroids do help ballplayers. This is the crucial question when it comes to Hall of Fame voting: How much?
How much did steroids help Mark McGwire? If we can get past the bizarre, priggish temptation to ban him altogether, we simply have to question how much steroids enhanced McGwire's performance. How much power and productivity did steroids give Mark McGwire?
I don't have any damn clue and neither does anyone else.
This is the big problem. There is no -- repeat, NO way to tell how much McGwire benefited from steroid use. We don't know when he started using, what he was using, how much he was using, or even for sure if he was using at all. And so it's impossible to take his numbers and take into account his steroid use. How many home runs would McGwire have hit without steroids? 500? 450? 400? Or maybe he would have hit 550 or 560 instead of 583? Nobody knows. Everyone says that McGwire wouldn't have hit 583 home runs without steroids, but they have absolutely no evidence to back such a claim.
Everyone has this idea that steroids add home runs by the bunches. It's possible, and even probable that this is true. But the nature of steroids or, more broadly, performance enchancing drugs (PEDs) is such that they defy any precise attribution of success. The only thing we know for sure is that steroids can help add muscle mass and reduce muscle fatigue, enabling the user to exercise more often with less resting. But this does not in itself equal better production on a baseball field. An increase in muscle mass can be beneficial but does not automatically add home runs. If that were true, then baseball lineups would be full of bodybuilders socking 80 home runs per year. Muscle mass is an element of baseball production, nothing more.
But even then, we're stymied unless we know when someone started using and what they were using. If McGwire started using hard steroids (anabolics) in the minor leagues, then we could certainly knock some home runs off of his record. But it's entirely possible that he didn't start using until the end of his career, when he was losing production. It's also possible that he was using supplements which were legal (at the time), such as HGH or andro. It's a very fine line between a legal nutritional supplement and an illegal PED.
The amazing thing about McGwire and steroids is how much we don't know. But trust a sportswriter to refuse to admit that he doesn't know everything. Everyone's already made up their minds about McGwire, and he's not going to get in for several years, if at all.
Me? I think that McGwire was very obviously a Hall of Fame-caliber hitter, and I don't think there's enough evidence about the effects of steroids themselves nor about his own usage to keep him out of the Hall. I wouldn't blame a voter for waiting on McGwire for a few years to see if we can find out more. That's what the 5-year waiting period was designed for. Unfortunately, I don't think we're going to get any more details about users from that era. In that case, I would cast my vote for McGwire. I'm disappointed that he would look for that extra edge, but he wouldn't be the first cheater in the Hall, nor will he be the last. Until I see evidence that his "cheating" was enough to outweigh his excellent on-field performance, I will cast my vote for his induction.
Cal Ripken, Jr.
Very little to say here. Ripken's either the second- or third-best shortstop of all time, depending upon who you ask (Honus Wagner is the best, hands-down). The difference between the two is academic; he deserves to get swept into the Hall by a landslide vote, and he will.
Alan Trammell
I discussed Trammell about a year ago when I listed the top ten players I would put in the Hall. The short version of my argument is this:
Alan Trammell is a borderline Hall-of-Famer, but I think that he deserves his spot nonetheless. Trammell ranks 15th all-time among shortstops in career Win Shares, which is right on the Cooperstown cusp. He's right behind Ernie Banks and Ozzie Smith, but right ahead of Pee Wee Reese and Rabbit Maranville. He ranks 8th all-time in WARP3, which makes a better allowance for Trammell's offensive production at a key defensive position.
And that's really the key. Trammell wasn't a great hitter (career 285/352/415), but he was well above-average. He was especially valuable at his position, shortstop. During his career (1977-1996), the average shortstop hit 256/311/354. Trammell was miles ahead of that, and he added on fine defense, earning (and deserving) 4 Gold Gloves.
The problem is that Trammell doesn't have any one number that sticks out at you. HOF voters are notoriously short-sighted, in that they won't vote in any player who doesn't have a flashy number of hits, home runs, or RBI. The only exceptions they make are for defensive gems (Ozzie Smith, Bill Mazeroski), or guys who have an inflated reputation due to things like being "clutch" (Phil Rizzuto). Trammell had a broad number of talents, and the sum of those talents was enough to get him into Cooperstown. Unfortunately, HOF voters only vote for one number; they don't have time to consider the whole player. If they did, then guys like Ron Santo, Ted Simmons, Bobby Grich, and Trammell's double-play partner Lou Whitaker would get their due.
Near Misses:
Tony Fernandez, Dave Parker
Tony Fernandez
Fernandez was sort of a poor man's Alan Trammell. He, too, had a broad base of skills and was a good hitter for his position (career 288/347/399), though not nearly as good as Trammell. Fernandez was also very solid defensively, with a versatile glove that was very much underrated.
Fernandez never got his due, mainly because his defense was so underrated, and his offense wasn't recognized for being so good for a shortstop. He made up for this by playing for a long time (19 seasons) and racking up 2,276 career hits. He was also hurt by his nomadic lifestyle; he changed teams 9 times during his career, including three tours of duty with the Blue Jays.
Fernandez was a good, underrateed player who had a long and productive career. But he just wasn't quite good enough.
Dave Parker
A lot of people think that Jim Rice should be in the Hall of Fame. Let's see . . .
Dave Parker: 19 seasons, career 290/339/471 hitter, 2,712 hits, 339 HR, .285 career EQA, 327 career WS
Jim Rice: 16 seasons, career 298/352/502 hitter, 2,452 hits, 382 HR, .287 career EQA, 282 career WS
The reason that Parker and Rice are so close in EQA is that Rice's numbers were heavily inflated by Fenway Park, whereas Parker played most of his games in neutral Three Rivers Stadium. Parker also played longer and was more valuable defensively, playing right field, whereas Rice had the easiest on-field job in baseball in terms of range, playing under the Green Monster. Parker also played much longer and did better in the postseason.
I guess you could make the argument that Rice was better, but the truth of it is that neither man is really good enough for Cooperstown. Rice was underrated during his career, and a grass-roots movement has grown so strong behind him that he is now thoroughly overrated. He may get elected to Cooperstown based simply on the fact that the voters don't understand Fenway Park, even though most of them love the Red Sox.
Parker is tied for 20th all-time among right fielders in Win Shares. That's no so bad, but there's really no other argument to push him ahead of Rice's teammates Reggie Smith and Dwight Evans, both of whom were probably better. Rice is ranked all the way at 31st place among left fielders in Win Shares, behind Sherry Magee, Jose Cruz, Jimmy Sheckard, Luis Gonzalez, Brian Downing, Frank Howard, Joe Jackson, George J. Burns, Bob Johnson, Elmer Smith, and Minnie Minoso. It's a very, VERY tough argument to get Rice past all of these men, most of whom played in much less offense-friendly environments and were significantly more productive on a per-game basis. Rice's 21.86 WS/162 games ranks him 42nd among all 64 right fielders with at least 200 career Win Shares. His lack of overall productivity is not compensated by any per-season greatness. I only have Rice among the top 10 players in the AL 4 times in his career. Only once, in his fine 1978 season, was he in the top 4.
Short takes on the rest of the field:
Harold Baines:
Had an obscenely long career despite the fact that he was never really that good. A career 289/356/465 hitter with no defensive value. Not bad for an All-Star team, but no HOFer.
Albert Belle:
If Albert's career hadn't ended at age 34, I think he would probably have earned his way into Cooperstown. But Albert's attitude and poor relations with his team made him an unlikely pick before the injury. As it is, there's no way he gets in, nor does he really deserve to.
Dante Bichette:
Dante Bichette's career at home: 328/365/573, 177 HR. His career on the road: 269/306/424, 97 HR. Bichette is a couple miles away from Cooperstown, and the fact that he even made the ballot shows how short-sighted the voters are when it comes to taking Coors Field into account. If Bichette hadn't spent the bulk of his career in Colorado, he'd be no more likely to get into Cooperstown than Hal Morris.
Bobby Bonilla:
The perception is that Bonilla was an amazing player in Pittsburgh whose career died after he left. I disagree:
Through his age 28 season (his last with the Pirates), Bonilla was a career 283/357/472 hitter. After that, he hit 275/358/471. That's actually amazingly consistent. Bonilla did suffer a big slump in his first year as a big free agent in New York, and people took that one year to represent his entire career, which in unfair. Granted, his career splits mask the fact that offense in baseball skyrocketed after he left Pittsburgh, so his decline was genuine indeed. It's just been vastly overstated. Bonilla was never as good nor as bad as people thought he was.
Scott Brosius:
A good-fielding third baseman who played eleven seasons and hit 257/323/422. I know that people are biased towards the Yankees, but this is ridiculous. Anyone who ranks Scott Brosius' career as evenly remotely in the same league as Matt Williams or Robin Ventura deserves a vicious, painful wedgie.
Jay Buhner:
A guy who hit really well for several years but not enough to really qualify for Cooperstown. He was a good defensive right fielder, but there's just not enough extenuating circumstances to explain away his 1200 career hits or his 174 career Win Shares (roughly equal to Magglio Ordonez, who's still active). The kind of guy who gets listed on the ballot once as a courtesy and then disappears.
Ken Caminiti:
Well, the steroids would certainly help explain what turned Caminiti from a solid, everyday third baseman into an MVP candidate. Had about 7 good years, but so did about 50 or 60 other third baseman.
Jose Canseco:
Yeah, right. Truthfully, though, Canseco's career hit the skids when he went to Texas. He revived his fortunes with some good years as a DH in the late 90's, but then he was pumped on steroids by his own admission. Didn't deserve a plaque even before the book.
Dave Concepcion:
Dave Concepcion was a truly excellent defensive shortstop. That alone makes people want to put him in Cooperstown. But I'm of the opinion that we should elect the "total player," not just a part of him. So I'm left to point out Concepcion's career 267/322/357 batting line, safely below average. Ozzie Smith, who was a contemporary of Concepcion's, hit 262/337/328 in his career. But he also lasted longer and was more valuable defensively. Ozzie is Dave's best chance of getting into Cooperstown, but I'm not too crazy about Ozzie myself. Dave deserves more credit than he's gotten, but I don't think he deserves to get in ahead of Alan Trammell, or certainly not Barry Larkin, his successor.
Eric Davis:
Davis is a sad story, another one of the guys who would have sailed into Cooperst0wn if he had stayed healthy. He had some amazing seasons in Cincinnati (his best was probably a 293/399/593 performance in 1987 with great defense and 50/56 in steals). But after helping the Reds to the championship in 1990, Davis' career fell of the map. He was able to revive it shortly from 1996-1998, but it's just not enough to get him into Cooperstown. Davis is just the modern Cesar Cedeno, without the violence.
Andre Dawson:
I've been over this before, but in short: no way. Dawson was a good defender, but he was also a right fielder, where good defense isn't quite so important. He's a career 279/323/482 hitter, which doesn't sound much like a Hall-of-Famer. At his peak, Dawson was very good but not great (his 1987 MVP is a joke), and his later years were mostly spent padding out his counting stats at the cost of killing his averages. If people didn't like him and remember him fondly, he'd be on the same bubble as Dave Parker. As it is, he could very well get inducted. But it's hard to compensate for a career .323 OBP, 8 points below the league average for his time.
Steve Garvey:
A guy who got far too famous for his good looks more than his baseball skills and ended up on the fast-track to the Hall. Unfortunately, a paternity suit can be a big setback on the road to immortality. I wouldn't wish it upon anyone, but at least it's given people second thoughts about Garvey's desirability as an inductee.
Garvey illustrates the folly of basing your entire opinion of someone on their batting average. The idea back then (which persists today) is that a high batting average is a divine skill, which makes any other shortcomings unimportant.
But that's silly. Garvey was a career 294/329/446 hitter. Yes, he was playing in Dodger Stadium, but that's still quite dismal for a first baseman. Garvey did have some power, hitting 272 career home runs, but that doesn't disguise his .329 career OBP. Garvey was also a good case study on someone whose high batting average masked an inability to take a walk, resulting in a low OBP. If your batting line looks like Garvey's, you'd better be a Gold Glove shortstop if you want to make it to Cooperstown. Garvey was neither.
As it is, Garvey ranks 31st in career Win Shares. He's actually much worse than that when you consider that he played more games than most people surrounding him. His 19.38 WS/162 games ranks 59th out of the 72 first basemen with at least 200 career Win Shares.
Garvey needs to get in line behind Dick Allen, Will Clark, Fred McGriff, Norm Cash, Keith Hernandez, Mickey Vernon, Dave Foutz, Ed Konetchy, Boog Powell, and perhaps 8 or 10 others.
Orel Hershiser
Hershiser was a Hall-of-Fame pitcher from 1984-1989 and was, in my opinion, the NL's best pitcher in 1987, 1988, and 1989. But 5 years does not a career make, or else Mort Cooper, Sam McDowell, Herb Score, and Fernando Valenzuela would be in the Hall. Hershiser did manage to come back and pitch a couple good years with Cleveland in '95 and '96, but that's hardly enough to make his Hall case.
Hershiser was every bit as good as people remember him to be. Unfortunately, it takes a career to get into Cooperstown, not a year.
Tommy John
John doesn't really get a lot of respect. He was considered to be a low-end pitcher who just happened to hang around for a long time. But if you survive 26 seasons and 4710.1 innings, you're probably not a low-end pitcher. John was, indeed, above-average, as measured by ERA+ and RSAA. But I don't think he was above-average enough to get into Cooperstown. Being a good pitcher for a long time is quite an achievement, but you also have to have a really excellent near now and again.
Wally Joyner
Like many people on this list, Joyner got off to a hot start, cooled off, and then experienced a mild career resurgence at the end of his career. But Joyner was never anything like an MVP, and his career was so short and relatively unproductive that he doesn't really merit more than a passing glance.
Don Mattingly
I hate to break it to Yankee fans, but Mattingly just wasn't quite as good as people think. He was good, certainly; I have him as one of the 10 best players in the AL on 4 different occasions. But he was never really the best (his MVP notwithstanding). Mattingly was actually quite similar to his contemporary Keith Hernandez. Both men were reliable hitters who could provide a high average and great defense. But neither man had a well-rounded offensive game; Mattingly rarely took a walk (career .358 OBP) and Hernandez didn't have much power (career .436 slugger, 162 HR). If they had stuck around long enough to compile 3,000 hits and prove their great durability, then they likely would have earned a place in Cooperstown. But both men suffered a sudden end to their careers that doomed them to being just below the Cooperstown cut. (Mattingly at age 34, after 14 seasons; Hernandez at age 36, after 17 seasons).
Jack Morris
See the above entry on Bert Blyleven, where I put Morris well behind him and probably behind other hopefuls such as Tommy John, Jim Kaat, Frank Tanana, Dave Stieb, Luis Tiant and Jerry Koosman. Morris got a lot of wins and a reputation for being a "gamer." Unfortunately, he wasn't able to translate that into really good pitching and has been consistently overrated.
Dale Murphy
Murphy was well on his way to the Hall of Fame as a slugging center fielder with a well-rounded offensive game before he suddenly and inexplicably became ineffective. At age 31, Murphy was coming off a 1987 that saw him tear through the National League, hitting 295/417/580. Granted, he was hitting in a hitter's park in the Year of the Hitter, but it was still a fine performance. After '87, Murphy had a career 279/362/500 batting line and, as an athletic center fielder with good defense, looked like he was going to remain productive for years to come.
And if he had, he would have slid right into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.
Except he didn't. In 1988, Murphy hit 226/313/421 with the Braves for no apparent reason. His career deteriorated from there, and he retired in 1993 after a poor half-season with the Rockies. From his 1988 season on, Murphy hit a wretched 234/307/396.
There's very little precedent for an athletic, well-rounded athlete to experience a sudden, dramatic decline in performance at age 31. A player like Murphy should have aged gracefully, continuing his slugging ways into his late 30's, moving to first base as he chased 500 home runs.
But it was not to be. Unfortunately, the career that Murphy did finish up with falls just short of the standards of the Hall.
Paul O'Neill
O'Neill had a good, long, productive career. He finished it by being a team leader on a Yankee dynasty, which is the easiest way in the world to get on the express train to Cooperstown. The problem is that O'Neill was just never really that good, and I doubt he'll get inducted, even with his Yankee credentials.
O'Neill was a career 288/363/470 hitter, which is certainly good, but is by no means excellent for a right fielder in the 1990s. From 1993-2001, O'Neill hit 303/377/492 with the Yankees. Manny Ramirez, however, hit 312/406/594 with Cleveland and Boston. Hell, Rusty Greer of the Rangers hit 305/388/484 over the same period.
So while we might be tempted to look fondly on O'Neill's numbers, there's just nothing significant to set him apart from 20 other right fielders waiting for induction.
Bret Saberhagen
Bret Saberhagen spent parts of 16 seasons in the major leagues and finished his career with a 3.34 ERA and a .588 career winning percentage. Sounds like a Hall-of-Famer, right?
Wrong. Saberhagen has, according to one source, spent more days on the DL than any other player in baseball history. This means that while those 17 years sound like a long time, it was actually a very spotty record. Sabes topped 200 IP in four of his first six major league seasons, and he certainly looked like a future HOFer at the time. But due (most likely) to this heavy workload, he never threw 200 innings again. In fact, for the next ten seasons, he only qualified for the ERA title (min. 162 IP) three times.
Per appearance, Saberhagen was almost effective enough to get into the Hall of Fame. But that's very hard to do with 2,562.2 IP. (Compare that to Dave Stieb's 2895.1, David Cone's 2898.2, or Orel Hershiser's 3.130.1)
Lee Smith
This is a toughie. Lee Smith isn't really as marginal a pitcher as his reputation has become. He was an above-average hurler over the course of his career, and his 3.03 career ERA is above-average. But his career ERA is worse than that of John Franco, Dan Quisenberry, Goose Gossage, Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, Sparky Lyle, Kent Tekulve, and most every other relief ace of his time. This is partially due to the fact that Smith's career was long enough to stretch into the hitting renaissance of the 90's. But it's mainly just an indication that Smith wasn't significantly more effective than these guys. He actually threw fewer career innings than Tekulve and Franco, and more than 500 innings less than Fingers and Gossage.
So there's little evidence that Smith was significantly better than his contemporaries or that he was significantly more durable. It's possible that he provided a good combination of the two, but I just haven't seen any good evidence to put him in the Hall ahead of Gossage or Quisenberry.
Devon White
Uhh . . . okay. White was an excellent defensive center fielder, yes, but he also hit 263/319/419 in his career, despite spending the bulk of it in the hitting-happy 90's. He ranks 67th among all center fielders in career Win Shares, with 207. He's not significantly better than Willie McGee, and neither man should really get serious consideration for the Hall.
Bobby Witt
Witt's career W-L record is 142-157. His career ERA of 4.83 is about half a run below the league average for his time. He did compile nearly 2,000 strikeouts but also racked up 1,375 walks.
There are literally 75-100 pitchers who deserve to be on this ballot ahead of Bobby Witt. And the crazy thing is that I can't find any number or piece of evidence that suggests why the writers would take leave of their senses and put him there in the first place.
Veteran's Committee
The Veteran's Committee will also be voting on possible candidates for induction. Their ballot is gigantic; they've narrowed it down to 200 players and 60 umpires, executives, etc. to vote on. Can you really call that narrowing anything down? The most likely result will be that no one gets inducted, which isn't surprising at all given the panoply of candidates to choose from. The ineffectiveness of the Veteran's Committee is legendary, but let's at least see what they've got to work with.
In the interests of space, I won't list all 260 candidates, but I'll go through and pick out the highlights:
Most Reasonable Candidates (Players): Dick Allen, Sal Bando, Bobby Bonds, Ken Boyer, Ben Chapman, Bill Dahlen, Willie Davis, Wes Ferrell, Curt Flood, Bill Freehan, Jim Fregosi, Junior Gilliam, Joe Gordon, Stan Hack, Gil Hodges, Frank Howard, Jim Kaat, Jerry Koosman, Mickey Lolich, Sherry Magee, Firpo Marberry, Marty Marion, Sam McDowell, Minnie Minoso, Bobby Murcer, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce, Vada Pinson, Jack Quinn, Ron Santo, Ken Singleton, Reggie Smith, Vern Stephens, Joe Torre, Virgil Trucks, Lon Warneke, Joe Wood, Jimmy Wynn
Notice I say that these are the most reasonable, not that I would vote for all of them. If I did have a vote, I'd probably vote for Dick Allen, Bill Dahlen, Wes Ferrell, Bill Freehan, Stan Hack, Minnie Minoso, Ron Santo, and Joe Torre. Maybe more or less, I'd have to review my "records."
Most Reasonable Candidates (Umpires/Executives/Etc.): Buzzie Bavasi, Harry Dalton, Charles O. Finley, Whitey Herzog, John Heydler, Billy Martin, Marvin Miller, Walter O'Malley, Alfred Reach, Paul Richards, Jacob Ruppert
I'm not as familiar with the names on this list, and certainly don't feel qualified enough to judge the merits of umpires like Steve Palermo and John McSherry.
If I had a vote, I'd be tempted to vote for Marvin Miller and no one else, since I feel that he is most deserving of induction by far. I'd also probably vote for Al Reach. Reach was very similar to A.G. Spalding; he started out as a baseball player (helping the Philadelphia Athletics to the first organized baseball pennant in the 1871 National Association) and later became famous for starting his own business of sporting goods. He's also famous for the Reach Guide, a baseball annual that was one of the first of its kind and is now an invaluable source of firsthand information about early baseball. Reach was also an executive, co-founding the Philadelphia Phillies franchise that still exists today.
It's tough, when dealing with front office executives, to balance the success they had in running their team with their effects on the "outside" aspects of the game. Perhaps I'm prejudiced, but after reading the details of "Gussie" Busch's behavior during the early labor disputes, I wouldn't vote for him for anything (he is on the ballot). There's a similar distaste for Paul Richards; Richards was a talented front-office mind who helped build the Baltimore Orioles out of the remains of the St. Louis Browns. He was also one of the most fiercely anti-union forces in the front offices.
Perhaps the one who causes me the most pause is Walter O'Malley. You could argue that no one, outside of possible Babe Ruth, had as much effect on the game of baseball during their lifetime as O'Malley. I don't think he'll ever get inducted, because the Veteran's Committee is composed of old-timers who probably still carry a big grudge for his moving the Dodgers to Los Angeles. As powerful as O'Malley was and as instrumental a force he was in the modernization of the game (much of it for the better), he was also a significant backroom power in the negative sense, as well. So even there, I've got conflicting emotions.
But nowhere is there more conflict than with Billy Martin. Can I, in good conscience, put someone as odious and personally detestable as Martin into the Hall of Fame? Someone who represents all the ugly, macho violence of baseball? But he was also one of the best managers of all time by any standard. Still, it's hard for me to get past the nature of Billy Martin as a whole. And you could certainly argue that while Martin brought about amazing short-term improvements, he was rarely part of a team's long-term success.
If I had a vote, I'd vote for Miller twice (if I could), and I'd also vote for Bavasi, Herzog, O'Malley, Reach and Ruppert. However, I'd have to do a lot more research before casting any real-life vote. Because many of the men listed on the ballot I know only the bare minimum about.
Also on the Veterans' Committee ballot:
George W. Bush
No, I'm not kidding. This reminds me of a story I read about in Lords of the Realm. A reporter asked a Rangers official, "George really think he runs this team, doesn't he?" The Rangers man answered, "Yes, but don't you dare tell him otherwise."
Calvin Griffith
It's hard for me to see the appeal of Griffith. For years, Griffith complained about the growing salaries of players while he virtually ran the Minnesota Twins into the ground. He got a lot of good press for being the last of the "gentlemen owners" in an era where ballclubs were being co-opted by business executives. But what is it about the way Griffith ran the Twins that you could call a positive? Griffith was a cheapskate, and his team suffered for it. (The joke was that swimming was invented the first time Cal Griffith came upon a toll bridge).
And it may be vaguely irrelevant, but I will never forget the story of when Griffith got drunk at a Minnesota party and remarked that the reason he moved the team from Washington to Minneapolis was because there were so few black people in Minnesota. Except he didn't say "black people." I know that if he kick the racists out of the Hall, it will get mighty empty, but I'll always associate that story with Calvin Griffith.
Bowie Kuhn
It was pretty traditional for a former commissioner to be elected to Cooperstown upon retirement. Judge Landis was. Happy Chandler was. And Ford Frick was. But then Gen. Spike Eckert (the "unknown soldier") came along and shot that theory to hell. His successor, Bowie Kuhn, lasted a lot longer, but really wasn't able to get much backing from the players (naturally), or even the owners. Kuhn was a compromise choice for the position and constantly seemed to be seated in his ivory tower ready to pass judgment on the moral state of baseball while the game's business was in crisis and the very nature of the player-owner relationship was turning explosive. Kuhn's actions were largely ineffective and patronizing, meaning that he got nowhere with either Marvin Miller, who knew that Kuhn had no real power, and the owners themselves, who weren't willing to give Kuhn that power.
Kuhn thought he was Judge Landis and was completely unable to see that the role of the commissioner was changing. This would be a constant disease among commissioners, who (with the exception of the ruthlessly practical Peter Ueberroth) thought of themselves as divine guardians of the only real sport in America (Bart Giamatti, the Ivy League president, was especially poetic about the game). Not until Bud Selig did someone finally realize to cut through the bullshit and just act as the owners' agent in their dealings with the players, as the "CEO of Baseball" so to speak. It's for this reason (among others), that I don't see Kuhn or any modern commissioner getting inducted.
Birdie Tebbetts
Tebbetts was a star catcher who later went on to a long, long career in organized baseball as a coach/scout/manager/whatever. Tebbetts is one person who would benefit from a Buck O'Neil Award to recognize someone's lifelong contributions to the game. I don't know a lot about Birdie's career outside the game, but it certainly deserves a closer look.
Don Zimmer
Well, everybody likes him. Except for Fergie Jenkins and Bill Lee.
That's enough for one day. Tomorrow, we move on to the AL Central and look ahead to the White Sox.

Looking Ahead: Toronto Blue Jays

Nothing major to report on the free agent front. The Red Sox are reportedly shopping Manny Ramirez "aggressively," and some think a deal could be done by this weekend. The GM Winter Meetings begin in Orlando next week, so we'll probably see some trades develop there.
The Red Sox have also extended their first offer to Daisuke Matsuzaka. Both sides swore that they would carry out the negotiations privately, without any public "reports" or acrimony. That lasted about as long as you'd expect. The Sox have been accused of trying to negotiate a lower bid than the $51.1 million they submitted, presumably in response to the large salary they're planning to offer Matsuzaka. Several MLB officials spoke out, saying that the bid is final and no "side deals" will be permitted. Red Sox President Larry Lucchino was in Japan talking with Matsuzaka's club, the Seibu Lions. The report I saw says that Lucchino was trying to establish a "working relationship" with Seibu. Yeah, surrrre. Besides, it's not practical to have a special relationship with any Japanese club; any Japanese player has to come through the bidding process and be available to all teams. Maybe they just want to share their recipes for chile con carne.

Lucchino also spoke out about the Red Sox' offer to Matsuzaka, effectively torpedoing the policy of media silence (as he is wont to do), saying that he felt that the offer sent to Matsuzaka was fair. This could, unfortunately, turn the negotiations public, as both sides now have to publicly argue over which numbers are really fair. Thanks, Larry.
  • The Phillies signed a 3-year, $24 million deal with free agent Adam Eaton. Eaton is a reliably below-average starting pitcher who doesn't even have the merits of durability or good health (he only threw 65 innings last year). Pat Gillick is once again heading in the wrong direction to solve his pitching problem. The Phillies need reliable pitchers, but apparently Gillick doesn't want to pay reliable prices. Either that, or he just doesn't realize that you're risking getting a big goose egg from the likes of Eaton and Jamie Moyer despite their salaries (and multi-year commitments). This is an oddly prevalent idea: I can't afford to spend $50 million on a good pitcher, so I'll spend $25 million on a bad one. GMs polarize the issue so that they must solve their problems by signing a free agent right now. This forces them into decisions like signing Eaton. You don't have to spend money blindly just to stay competitive; it's much more effective to spend it wisely. Sometimes that means shelling out big bucks, and sometimes it doesn't. But if you think that signing two or three low-end free agents will provide anything but a small blip on your team's radar, then you're probably next in line for the job of Pirates GM.
  • The Dodgers, on the other hand, exercised surprising restraint in signing Randy Wolf to a 1-year, $8 million deal. Wolf's deal, like that given to Moises Alou, is so good for the team as to be surprising. Wolf isn't nearly as productive as Alou; he's suffered through injury problems for what seems like forever and hasn't actually had a productive season since 2003. But the good thing is that, unlike the Phillies, the Dodgers have limited their liability. Even the worst-case scenario (a Wolf injury that gives them little or no production), and the Dodgers are out only $8 million and can start anew next year. If Eaton bottoms out, then the Phillies will be haunted by the same problem for two years now. That's why it's better to spend the money on a short-term contract (especially to those on the wrong side of 30) than to sacrifice that one extra year. Every year you see a team regretting that they signed that mega-star to one (or sometimes several) year too many. By contrast, you almost never see a team wishing that they had extended that mega-contract for one more year. Think -- when was the last time a big-money contract expired, and the team was actually disappointed? That should tell you something about the business sense being employed here. (Jim Hendry, I'm talking to you and your 8-year Alfonso Soriano abomination).
  • Along similar lines, the Cardinals signed Adam Kennedy to a 3-year, $10 million deal. The Cardinals did have a hole at second base, I admit. But does Kennedy -- a 31-year-old with a career 280/332/398 batting line -- really improve anything? The Cardinals were playing Aaron Miles, who at least had the virtue of being a year younger and is a career 280/322/360 hitter. Yes, Kennedy is an improvement over Aaron Miles -- but he's not a $10 million improvement. But again, the money doesn't bother me so much as the length -- what does a bad-hitting 31-year-old second baseman look like at age 33? Not Joe Morgan! It's another case of a team that can't afford a real improvement, so they spend a little money thinking that that in itself means an improvement. The Cards did the same thing last year with the likes of Juan Encarnacion and Miles himself, and it would have cost them the pennant if they hadn't had Pujols, Rolen, and Carpenter dragging their sorry asses to the Series.
  • The "other" Japanese pitcher posted this off-season is 27-year-old Kei Igawa. The bidding process is over, and the Yankees have won the rights to negotiate with Igawa for $26 million. Igawa's a good pitcher, but he doesn't look as good as Matsuzaka. But still, there's a part of me somewhere that wonders if Matsuzaka is twice as good as Igawa (his bid was $51.1 mil.)? And that's even before we see what salaries the two hurlers will be raking in! I'm no expert at translating performance from the Japanese leagues, but Igawa is a young strikeout pitcher and looks like a good investment. With Matsuzaka breaking the bank along with old-timers Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt, Igawa -- who has flown completely under the radar following the Matsuzaka feeding frenzy -- could end up the biggest bargain of the offseason, even if he doesn't actually pitch as well as Matsuzaka. Give credit where credit is due -- Brian Cashman and the Yankee front office found a relatively low-cost free agent pitcher with much better upside than Miguel Batista.
  • And now, the Blue Jays.

2006 W-L Record: 87-75
2006 pW-pL Record: 86-76
Runs Scored: 809 (7th in AL)
Runs Allowed: 754 (5th in AL)
Free Agents: Frank Catalanotto, Ted Lilly
Pending Options: Bengie Molina

2007 Projected Lineup:
1B -- Lyle Overbay
2B -- Aaron Hill
SS -- Russ Adams
3B -- Troy Glaus
LF -- Adam Lind/Reed Johnson
CF -- Vernon Wells
RF -- Alexis Rios
C -- Bengie Molina*/Gregg Zaun
DH -- Frank Thomas

2007 Proj. Rotation:
Roy Halladay
A.J. Burnett
Gustavo Chacin
Pick 2 of:
Josh Banks, Francisco Rosario, Casey Janssen, Shaun Marcum

2007 Proj. Closer: B.J. Ryan

This is the area that really needs an improvement, as the Jays' average ranking in 2006 would indicate. The trouble is that, aside from Adam Lind, the Jays don't really have any quality hitters coming through the system. This makes them go out into the free agent and trade market and clog up the wrong end of the defensive spectrum with guys like Lyle Overbay, Troy Glaus, and Frank Thomas.
Lind should start 2007 in the majors. He's a left-handed hitter, but I don't have any information on minor league splits, so I don't know if he's especially weak against lefties. If he is, he can platoon with lefty-killer Reed Johnson. If not, Johnson can be a potent bat on the bench.
Lind is the one hitter in the Toronto organization that has people really excited. He's defensively limited to 1B-LF-DH (another one of those), but he's been mashing the ball in the minors, so he's earned a spot on the big club. In 2006 he hit his way up the ladder: from Double-A (310/357/543 in 91 games) to Triple-A (394/496/596 in 34 games) to the majors (367/415/600 in 18 games). Lind is especially good news, because he's a left-handed hitter on a team that leans very heavy to the starboard side.
While I may deride the Jays' free agent decisions and trade acquisitions, it's not as though they've gotten bad players. Their keystone combination of Lyle Overbay (312/372/508 in '06) and Troy Glaus (252/355/513) is very strong, if expensive. And both men will turn 30 next year which isn't terrible news, but is likely a sign that we've already seen their best.
One of the good things GM J.P. Ricciardi did in 2006 was to clear out the redundancy in the 1B/DH department, trading away Eric Hinske and Shea Hillenbrand. This did leave an empty spot at DH, which seemed like a great opportunity to punch up a dismal lineup. So Ricciardi signed Frank Thomas to a 2-year, $18 million deal.
I've really gone back and forth on my opinion of the deal. I'm ill-inclined to pay someone with Thomas' injury history as he enters his age 39 season. On the other hand, it's not a lot of money in this market, and it is just for two years. I guess the contract isn't such a big problem, except that it exacerbates some of the team's bigger problems: more money committed to risky free agents, more money spent on old players, more money spent on defensively useless players, and more money spent on right-handed hitting. Ask me again tomorrow and I might not be so negative. But I think Keith Law said it best when he said that the problem with the Blue Jays is that they're not signing guys like Frank Thomas before they hit the jackpot. The deals for guys like Thomas, Burnett, Glaus, and Overbay weren't so awful, but for once it would be nice for the Jays to get someone who's more productive than his salary. Of course, the best way to do that is to bring up rookies to work for peanuts.
The problems on offense and defense converge up the middle, where the Jays are plagued with low production. They've gotten good production from center fielder Vernon Wells, yes. But Wells will be a free agent after 2007 and is on the verge of a giant payday (which I don't think he really deserves). There's been talk that the Jays would trade Wells now to get some value in exchange for him before he walks away, but that would seriously hurt their chances of contending in 2007. If they do trade Wells (or lose him as a free agent), they could move Alexis Rios over to center. Rios is currently slotted to play right field, but should be able to handle center defensively. Rios is a guy who's always gotten people excited, but has almost never lived up to the hype. Then he got off to a terrific start in 2007. However, his numbers deteriorated, and he finished the year at 302/349/516. That's not bad if it's for real. The deterioration was due in part to a staph infection, but also indicated (I think) a regression of sorts. Rios' power is probably for real (all 17 home runs of it), but I seriously doubt he's going to stay above a .300 batting average. If his offense does drop, moving him to center would make him less of a liability. And it's not like the Jays are lacking for corner-outfielder types.
The middle infield is where the problems really lie. GM J.P. Ricciardi reportedly has a liking for versatile second baseman Aaron Hill. So if I'm Aaron Hill, I'm going to milk that cow for all it's worth (291/349/386 in '06). Hill is a valuable guy who can play across the infield at shorstop and third, but he doesn't hit enough to be anything but decent. He's a great guy to have when he's cheap, but you don't want to be the one stuck paying him free agent money (Adam Kennedy, anyone?).
Shortstop is such a hole that the Jays will likely try to fill it via free agency or a trade. They're said to be pursuing a middle infielder of any sort, with Aaron Hill filling whatever position is left open. The Jays were getting terrible production from Russ Adams (219/282/319) and need to learn that they don't have any more lineup spots to waste.
The catching duties are still somewhat up in the air. I cannot for the life of me pin down Bengie Molina's status, so as far as I know, there still hasn't been a decision made on his contract option for 2007. I doubt the Jays will pick it up, since they just gave Gregg Zaun a 2-year contract, and the option is too expensive at $7.5 million. If ever there were a player stamped "Don't Open After Age 30," it's Bengie, who hit 281/319/467 in 2006. But the Jays might as well pick it up since they aren't getting any bargains anywhere else. And why think about the future when you can just tolerate Bengie Molina for another year?
As my tone implies, I'm very skeptical of the Blue Jays' plan, but that doesn't mean I think it will be a total disaster. I don't think it's a good program for long-term success, and they will be left with more than one overpaid, aging star in the years to come. But for now it's pushed them into contention, and there's no reason to believe they w0n't return there in 2007. There may be a lot of "ifs" surrounding it, but I think we can safely predict that the Toronto lineup will be a step better than it was in 2006.

Here's where the Blue Jays' salvation lies. Lack of pitching and injuries really held the Jays back in 2007 -- and yet they still managed to finish 5th in the league in runs allowed. Part of that is thanks to the defense of guys like Wells, Rios, and Hill, but it also indicates the presence of some awesome potential. If that potential becomes reality, then the Blue Jays are in the Wild Card hunt, if not the AL East race itself.
Roy Halladay is perhaps the most frustrating example of a truly excellent pitcher being plagued with a series of pesky injuries. They're not all coincidental -- some were due to the huge workload he sustained in his younger years -- but when a guy suffers a leg fracture off of a line drive just when he looks like he's recovering from arm trouble, you can't help but feel for him.
And make no mistake -- Halladay is an excellent pitcher. There are many pitchers whose Win-Loss records and reputation make them seem like true superstars -- Andy Pettite comes to mind -- but Roy Halladay is the best pitcher in the American League after Johan Santana. Halladay finally managed his first healthy season since his Cy Young Award-winning effort in 2003, going 220 innings with a 3.19 ERA. He didn't rack up many strikeouts -- just 132, which is low even by his standards -- but he succeeds by allowing very few walks (just 34) and home runs (19). Halladay isn't as truly dominant as Santana, and his health history and strikeout numbers make it tough to predict another Cy Young Award in his future. But we really need to start realizing what an excellent pitcher Halladay has been, even through the injuries. In a 9-year career the 29-year-old has posted a 3.62 career ERA, a fantastic number given the era he's thrived in and the injuries he's suffered.
Behind Halladay is A.J. Burnett. I hate to come off as smug, but could Ricciardi really have been shocked when Burnett -- the celebrity spokesman for Ace Bandages -- threw only 135.2 innings? The salary explosion of the current offseason would make Burnett's $12 million annual salary almost reasonable if it didn't run for three more seasons after 2007 as well. Burnett pitched fairly well when healthy -- 3.98 ERA and 118 K in 135.2 IP -- but that's not really my point. They're going to have to get at least three healthy seasons out of the next four for this contract to make any fiscal sense. And what do you think the odds of that are, considering that Burnett has thrown at least 136 innings only 3 times in his 8-year career?
I listed Gustavo Chacin, because he's the only other "established" starter in the Toronto rotation. But Chacin's lack of strikeouts came home to roost. I was very wary of Chacin's future after he struck out only 121 batters in 203 innings in 2005, along with 70 walks. I worried that his 3.72 ERA wasn't as solid as it looked. It certainly looked pretty damn shaky last season. Chacin threw just 87.1 innings and posted a 38:47 BB:K ratio to go with a 5.05 ERA. That's not to say that Chacin can't bounce back and provide some league-average innings work. But let's not get ahead of ourselves again this year.
After those three starters, the last two rotation spots are open to any of several promising young hurlers coming up through the system. The most promising -- and most likely to win a spot -- is Josh Banks. The Jays have been much better at producing young pitchers than they have with young hitters, and this guy is the cream of the crop.
Banks had scouts and stat-heads alike salivating at his Double-A performance at New Hampshire in 2005. His BB:K ratio -- 11:145 -- is the sort of thing that looks like a misprint. He showed slight home run tendencies, but kept his ERA down to 3.83.
However, the shift from Double-A to Triple-A is a difficult one, especially in Toronto. New Hampshire is a very friendly pitcher's park, but Triple-A Syracuse is a hitter's paradise. This would explain why Banks' ERA ballooned to 5.17 while his BB:K ratio remained splendid -- 28:126 in 170.2 IP. I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing that the Syracuse ballpark is very cozy, because Banks' home runs allowed nearly doubled, from an acceptable 18 in 162.1 Double-A innings to 35 in 170.2 Triple-A innings. This is a problem, because while SkyDome isn't as cozy as Syracuse, it's one of the better hitter's parks in the league.
But while Banks does rate watching (a BB:K ratio is little consolation when you're providing more than one gopher ball per start), he also has enough raw talent to merit the enthusiasm that's surrounded him. Whether he starts the season in the majors or back in Triple-A, Banks has a spot in the Toronto rotation with his name on it. And the only people who can crowd him out of it are his fellow Toronto farmhands.
Francisco Rosario had no such trouble in Triple-A; in fact, Syracuse didn't seem to bother him much at all. In 2005, he spent a full season there and managed a 3.95 ERA, although his peripherals were weaker. He returned in 2006 and posted the strong peripheral stats he'd compiled in the low minors while lowering his ERA to 2.79. With a 13:50 BB:K ratio in 42 innings and just 2 home runs allowed, Rosario got the call to the majors. His 23-inning baptism was quite rough (6.65 ERA), but there's every indication that he's ready for the majors.
The only question is what he'll be doing once he gets there. Rosario was a starting pitcher in the low minors, but has been increasingly used in relief. In fact, a lot of his 2005-6 recovery at Syracuse may be due to his dual use as a starter and reliever. With B.J. Ryan entrenched as closer for the near future, Rosario will most likely be used as a setup man, especially given his fastball and strikeouts. However, the Jays may have a more pressing need for him in the rotation, if either Halladay or Burnett succumbs to injuries or Chacin falls apart once again. It seems that they've already committed to him as a reliever, but I wouldn't close the door to a return to starting if that's where they need him most.
If Rosario is in the 'pen (as seems likely), the #5 spot will go to either Casey Janssen or Shaun Marcum. Both are quality minor-league hurlers who suffered through rough trials in the Toronto rotation last year. Neither man projects as well as Banks, but they should be fully capable of filling out a big-league rotation. And having an extra man out there is an asset, especially on this team.
This is a very volatile pitching staff, with youth and bad health representing a great distance between the best-case and worst-case scenarios. Best-case, this group could come together and push their decent lineup into the playoffs. Worst-case is that the injuries hit and the kids aren't ready. A more likely result would be just one of the two happening. Either way, it's hard to write this team down for 90 wins, although the possibility is definitely there.

Offseason Game Plan:
In securing Thomas, Ricciardi seems to have filled his most pressing need, that of an impact bat. Now the only real item on his shopping list seems to be a middle infielder. Unfortunately, he's likely to overpay there, too, since the pickens are slim. The only high-quality middle infielder left on the market is Julio Lugo, and the bidding on him should ensure that he doesn't come cheaply. The Jays could go with a short-term solution and sign Ray Durham or Mark Loretta to play second, but they too will likely be overpaid, and neither man is a solid bet for the future. Durham's more reliable offensively, but also more of a defensive liability. Loretta, on the other hand, is defensively sound but is leaking offense like the Exxon Valdez. My advice? Save some money and find yourself a good bargain (cough, cough, Craig Counsell).
I would explore options for Vernon Wells, but I wouldn't get too eager to make the deal. This team has a short shelf life, and it could be all for naught if you slice off 6 or 7 wins in exchange for prospects. Sadly, it may be a little too late to turn your focus to the future.
Hopefully, Ricciardi won't feel the need to drop any big money on a pitcher. The Jays' bullpen has issues, but not big enough to merit saddling yourself with a Mike Stanton-esque contract. The starting pitching needs depth, but while you could improve it on the free agent market, it wouldn't be worth near the expense required.
Stay cool, J.P.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Hall of Fame arguments

I came across these quotes today and couldn't resist gagging:

"The McGwire vote is easy. The man had 1,600-odd hits. The only category in which he excelled was home runs.
Vince Coleman had only one standout category (steals) and he isn't in. Mark Belanger had one standout category (defense) and he isn't in. McGwire's uneven career, to me, takes steroids out of the equation. That's not to say he shouldn't make the Hall of Fame eventually. Just not on the first ballot."
--Mark Whicker, Orange County Register reporter.

"McGwire ... 1,626 hits in 16 seasons. That total is not enough for me to vote for McGwire--clean or dirty, which to my mind have not been proven--when ballots come out in a few months."
Bob Elliott, Toronto Sun reporter.

I spend a lot of time reassuring myself that baseball writers can't actually be as clueless as I think they are. But then you find statements like this that leave no doubt. It's amazing in this day and age to find such an oasis of ignorance among people who actually follow baseball professionally. It would be like waking up and discovering that MIT had been taken over by neanderthals.

Where to start with this discussion? Luckily, both writers made an issue out of McGwire's numbers -- not his steroids. As I've said before, the only real question about McGwire's induction into the Hall is steroids -- with his numbers, he's as good as gold.

But these writers decided to focus on McGwire's 1,626 career hits, ignoring everything else. They're saying that no one with 1,626 hits should make it into the Hall of Fame. That's too bad, because it means that Buck Ewing, Roger Bresnahan, Ray Schalk, Roy Campanella, Hughie Jennings, Frank Chance, Jackie Robinson, Phil Rizzuto, Tommy McCarthy, Chick Hafey, Ross Youngs, Monte Irvin, Ralph Kiner, Hack Wilson, and Larry Doby are all going to be kicked out. And I didn't even mention Mickey Cochrane's 1,652 hits or Hank Greenberg's 1,628 hits.
So we've basically decided that you're a complete dunderhead if you base your Hall of Fame vote on one number, because one number never tells you the whole story. Mark Whicker and Bob Elliott, you are officially complete dunderheads, and will never renounce that title until you swear never to participate in Hall of Fame voting again.

But let's deal with Whicker's more substantive claim -- that McGwire was "all home runs." His remarks about Vince Coleman and Mark Belanger are true enough. But the comparison isn't valid -- someone who's all home runs is much more valuable than someone who's all defense or all baserunning. Think about it -- you never hear someone say that a pitcher is "all strikeouts" or "all wins." It's a silly argument.
In fact, in an attempt to prove this wrong, I looked at McGwire's stats, and I discovered that he was very comparable to another player. Let's play a quick game:

Player A career stats: 1874 games, 1626 hits, 252 doubles, 583 home runs, 1317 walks, 1596 strikeouts, .263 career batting average, .394 career OBP, .588 career slugging percentage, .335 career EQA, -26 FRAA, 109.5 career WARP3

Player B career stats: 2435 games, 2086 hits, 290 doubles, 573 home runs, 1559 walks, 1699 strikeouts, .256 career batting average, .376 career OBP, .509 career slugging percentage, .308 career EQA, -125 FRAA, 100.8 WARP3

The two players are strikingly similar. They were both driven almost exclusively by home runs and walks. I'll say that both players' batting averages were almost exactly average, and both players were defensive liabilities. But the EQA shows that Player A was a far better hitter; although his career wasn't nearly as long (which is important), he still reached the same milestones as Player B, and the EQA shows that it's not entirely due to environment. WARP3 is an all-inclusive statistic that judges a player's total wins added over a career, timeline-adjusted. It shows Player A with a slight lead despite the much shorter career.

You may have already guessed, but here they are:

Player A: Mark McGwire
Player B: Harmon Killebrew

Killebrew wasn't quite as good as McGwire; most of his value was due to his long career, whereas McGwire was better on a yearly basis. Killebrew looks like a much worse defender, but that's probably an illusion; he played his career before the DH and spent several seasons floundering at third base and in the outfield before settling at first. McGwire, on the other hand, was never stretched beyond first base. They were probably equally useless on the field.
So without taking steroids into account, Mark McGwire was just as good -- and perhaps slightly better than -- Harmon Killebrew. Killebrew entered the HOF ballot in 1981 and just barely missed induction three times before getting the nod in 1984. It may sound like Killebrew wasn't considered very strongly by the voters, but the era was much different. The BBWAA in the early 80's wasn't electing ANYBODY, and unless you were Willie Mays, you had to wait a little while to get in. In 1983, Killebrew's last year of non-induction, the voters finally got around to inducting Juan Marichal, who had to wait three years. The following year, 1985, the voters finally elected Hoyt Wilhelm, who had been waiting since 1978. It took them until 1987 to admit that Billy Williams was a Hall-of-Famer, making this no-doubter wait 5 years for induction.
Nowadays, serious Hall-of-Famers rarely have to wait to get in. Every once in a while, the voters will make a mistake on Ryne Sandberg and let them sit around for a while, but usually they'll let you in on the first ballot if they're going to let you in at all. The rare exceptions are borderline guys like Bruce Sutter -- or still-pending names such as Jim Rice, Andre Dawson, and Don Mattingly.
Ask any past or present voters, and they'll all swear on a stack that Killebrew was ten times better than McGwire. They'll probably even say that without considering steroids as an issue. They're all as tremendously short-sighted as their MVP votes illustrate. These sharp-tongued saps can't see as far as the end of their faces, regularly praising their own short-sightedness as a virtue. Only in politics or religion could someone publicly state something so hilariously and demonstrably wrong without getting a sharp rebuke from his colleagues. In baseball, however, stupid Hall of Fame voters are the rule, not the exception.

Looking Ahead: Tampa Bay Devil Rays

2006 W-L Record: 61-101
2006 pW-pL Record: 65-97
Runs Scored: 689 (14th of 14 -- dead last)
Runs Allowed: 856 (12th of 14)
Free Agents: Travis Lee

2007 Projected Lineup:
1B -- Ty Wigginton?
2B -- Jorge Cantu
SS -- Ben Zobrist?
3B -- B.J. Upton
LF -- Carl Crawford
CF -- Rocco Baldelli
RF -- Delmon Young/Elijah Dukes
C -- Dioner Navarro
DH -- Jonny Gomes

2007 Proj. Rotation:
Scott Kazmir
Jamie Shields
Tim Corcoran
Jae Seo
Jason Hammel/Casey Fossum

2007 Proj. Closer: Juan Salas?

There is some reason for optimism in Tampa Bay and most of it centers around the offense. The Rays are getting a pretty good bunch of players arriving from the minors in the next couple years. The trouble will be finding someplace for them all to play.
Let's start with the mainstays: Carl Crawford, left fielder. Crawford isn't your average left fielder; his skill set reads more like that of a center fielder -- stolen bases, triples, speed -- but he still makes it work. His high batting average and skill set often cause him to get overrated, but you could do a lot worse than have Crawford out there. He's a career 292/326/434 hitter, and while that's not exactly inspiring, he is still just 25 years old and appears to be developing more power (his HR have increased every year of his career).

Rocco Baldelli mans center field. Baldelli came up in center field and made a splash with a colorful name and good defense, despite hitting 289/329/451 -- not exactly the numbers of your ideal Sports Illustrated cover model. But Baldelli was playing for a bad team, so he got the glory. He only did moderately better in 2005, and his glory was mostly dissipated by an injury that took away his 2005 season and limited his 2006 work. Still, the Rays signed him up to a 3-year, $9 million contract extension, starting with the 2006 season. It's probably a bargain, but it comes with bizarre club options for 2009-2011 totalling $27 million. The Rays are basically gambling an entire 3-year contract on Baldelli's performance in 2007-8. What's more likely is that they made the years optional so that Baldelli could be traded more easily in the future. And from the rumblings I'm hearing, that just might happen.
Either way, the Rays are set with Crawford and Baldelli for 2007, unless either man gets traded. That leaves a couple dozen players to fight over the right field spot.
Jonny Gomes will probably return to playing DH, which is for the best. Gomes had a splashy debut in 2005, hitting 282/372/534. Then he took an odd step back in 2006, hitting 216/325/431. The odd part is the amazing 66-point drop in his batting average. He was able to slightly compensateby doubling his walk rate (from 39 to 61 in comparable plate appearances), but his OBP was still below-average. The Rays would certainly like to see the reliable power source that Gomes was in 2005, but if they don't, at least they've got several guys who could replace him.
Let's start with Delmon Young. Young ravaged the minor leagues, reaching the majors this past season at age 20 and essentially staking out right field for himself. Young has a lot of tools and he makes them work, hitting 328/349/492 in 29 big-league games. Considering this performance, it's tough to see the Rays moving Young out of right field, unless it's to DH. The only real significant obstacle standing between Delmon and superstardom is his temper; he threw a bat an umpire in Triple-A (which was caught on camera) and missed 50 games.

On most teams, Young would be a sure thing for the right fielder's job, but the Rays have several young outfielders pushing toward the majors. The biggest threat is Elijah Dukes. Dukes will be 23 next year and has already murdered Triple-A Durham (293/401/488 last year). Dukes has a great deal of talent and will soon force his way into the lineup somewhere. Unfortunately, he shares Delmon Young's problem of anger management. Unlike Young, whose outburst was a relatively isolated incident, Dukes is already halfway towards attaining full Albert Belle status, with even a domestic violence arrest in his past. The Rays may not want to deal with a younger version of Milton Bradley, but if he keeps hitting like this, they will have no choice.
That should give the D-Rays more than enough outfielders (at least until they trade someone), but then there's the troubling situation of B.J. Upton. Upton proved he was ready to hit in the majors a couple years ago, but hadn't gotten there to stay because of defensive issues. The Rays finally gave in and promoted Upton to the big club to play as a third baseman (he had been embarassing himself in the minors as a shortstop). Upton was still a butcher at third, but that's less harmful than a butcher at shortstop. The much more troubling issue is the regression in his offense. Upton started the year in Triple-A and posted the disappointing line of 269/374/394. That's a step down from his previous performance (303/392/490 in '05), especially in the power department, as his homers and doubles dropped precipitously. This could be written off as the effects of spending three years stagnated in Triple-A, but Upton hit even worse in the majors (240/297/287) with not a hint of power.
There's really no positive way to spin this. It could be just a bad year, but there aren't any obvious indicators of that. The D-Rays will stick with Upton and likely start the year with him on the squad. But after they figure out where to pay him (shortstop? third? second? outfield?), they also need to deal with whatever was plaguing him last year.
If Upton does end up in the infield, that creates a crowded situation there, as well. The competition isn't as stiff as it is in the outfield, but there are still some important decisions to be made, with several young prospects naturally waiting in the wings.
If Upton does play third, that likely means that Ty Wigginton will play first. With the departure of Travis Lee to free agency (thank God), the D-Rays would be well-advised to replace him with someone who's actually, you know, better. Wigginton lucked into a fine 2006 (275/330/498), but that just doesn't square with his career line of 265/325/446. He's not going to kill you, but he'd be better served as a temporary solution. The only other clear option is Wes Bankston, who split 2006 between Double-A and Triple-A with mediocre offense.

But the Rays have a trump card in Japanese third baseman Akinori Iwamura. Apparently, they weren't impressed with the prospect of playing Wigginton everyday and would like to shift Upton. He would need to move if they actually sign Iwamura, since the Japanese player has a solid defensive reputation. The Rays won the bidding process and now just need to sign him.
I'm very skeptical that the Rays would make such a financial commitment to a player who's not filling a vital hole -- especially since that money could be better spent elsewhere, and without further crowding the lineup. It will be an especially big mess if Iwamura doesn't work out. But I'll at least wait to see the final contract figures (if they do sign him) before passing a sweeping judgment.

The middle infield picture is muddy, especially if Upton is in the mix somewhere. The only definite is Jorge Cantu. Cantu is a reliable power source, and an equally reliable source of strikeouts and dismal defense. If he can simply hold his own defensively and keep swatting home runs, he could have some value as a poor man's Jose Valentin.
The favorite for the shortstop job is Ben Zobrist. The Rays wisely nabbed Zobrist from the Houston Astros, where he had been getting on base like a madman all through their minor league system. Zobrist has no power, but very well be an asset as a leadoff man if he can keep hitting .300 and drawing lots of walks. He hasn't yet succeeded in the majors, so I may be a bit premature here, but he's a pretty good option for a low-budget team.
Behind Zobrist, the Rays have Reid Brignac. Brignac has only played 28 games above Class A but has hit quite well for his position. He's still a year or two away from the majors and may not end up as a shortstop, but he's some insurance. If the Rays do go with Zobrist, they don't have to commit to anything long-term.

Behind the plate, the Rays have still more decisions to make. Former Dodger Dioner Navarro, nabbed in a steal of a trade this past summer, should start off the season as the Rays' regular. Navarro has a solid prospect pedigree and has shown off well with the Dodgers, although his Tampa Bay debut was dismal (244/316/342). Still, he's young, cheap, and major-league ready, and the Rays have learned not to take that for granted.
Even though Navarro should have the starting catcher's job sealed up, look for some pressure from Shawn Riggans. Young Riggans showed off great hitting in the minors, but health problems had prevented him from capitalizing on his success. Riggans finally broke through in 2006, hitting a fine 293/341/444 in Durham before breaking through to the big club. He's no sure thing, especially considering he's already 26, but he's a nice emergency starter in case Navarro doesn't work out.

We really can't be too optimistic -- this is a team that finished last in the AL in offense by a long shot last year, so there's a long way to go before they're even average. But there is more reason for hope now than ever; the D-Rays have never really had this much homegrown talent.
But as you can see, the problem with the Devil Ray offense isn't that they lack good players -- it's that they just can't fit them all in a 9-man lineup. That's mainly because the previous administration was able to hoard top-level draft picks without making serious long-term plans for them. Hopefully, this will be changing -- as evidenced by the new regime's willingness to trade popular players Baldelli and Crawford. It's nice to have this much talent, but the only point in developing excess players is to use them as either emergency backups or trade bait. Considering the quality of the players in question, a backup role isn't really applicable. So if used right, some of these guys can be traded to bring back some well-needed pitching.

This is the ugly part, and the part that isn't likely to get much better in 2007. The team is finally getting some good pitching prospects into the upper minors -- which is cause for celebration in this organization -- but we should reserve our praise for when they actually reach the majors. There's reason to think that they will start to arrive in 2007 -- and some already have -- but there's little reason to expect the Tampa Bay pitching staff to approach the average this year or next.

Scott Kazmir has already established himself as a top-notch young pitcher and will be the Rays' ace for the near future. It won't take him long to break all the records for a Tampa Bay starting pitcher (if he already hasn't), and the only real concern the D-Rays have is keeping him healthy.
Behind Kazmir is a steep drop-off to the incoming prospects and outgoing placeholders. The Rays' rotation has exemplified the replacement level for years now, with borderline pitchers like Rob Bell and Doug Waechter carrying the banner proudly. Luckily, both Bell and Waechter are gone, and the Rays have replaced them with people who are better, some of whom actually with the chance to improve!
The Rays' #2 will likely be Jamie Shields. Shields has had mixed success in the minors, but the 25-year-old's strikeout rates have always been above-average. He posted a 4.84 ERA in 21 big-league starts last year. And yes, that does make him the second-best starter on the team.

Behind him is Jae Seo, a 5th starter stretched into #3 duty. There's also Tim Corcoran, whom they haven't yet realized is just the latest Bell/Waechter/Mark Hendrickson incarnation. They have, however, figured out all those things about Casey Fossum, who will be lucky to make the rotation at all.
Jason Hammel promises to be a bright spot. This 24-year-old has made some good showings in the minors and made it to the big club last year. He's not a star nor is he a sure thing, but he's an improvement over Fossum and Seth McClung.
There are some other pitchers in the system that bear watching (such as Andy Sonnanstine), but they won't likely make an impact on the rotation next year.

The Tampa Bay bullpen is the term for all of the pitchers not in the starting rotation. In the past, the Rays have actually managed to put together some decent bullpens, although I'm not optimistic about their future in that regard.
I note Juan Salas as the team's closer for the simple reason that they don't have anyone else and haven't publicly stated yet who will fill the role next season. Salas seems -- at least to me -- like a good choice. Salas has pitched quite well with killer strikeout rates as a reliever in the minors and has experience closing. He's also been stingy with the walk and the home run and, at age 25, the Rays might just have a sure-fire homegrown closer on their hands. Let's hope they don't repeat last year's mistake and start out the season with Dan Miceli in the role.

Beyond Salas, there aren't a lot of rookies ready to make it to the big-league bullpen, which is sad, considering that the bar has been set so low. The Rays tried to slog through 2006 with 30-year-old replacement players filling out the 'pen (Brian Meadows, Tyler Walker), and it worked about as well as you'd guess. They did get a good season from 26-year-old Ruddy Lugo (3.81 ERA), but his BB:K ratio isn't exactly promising (37:48 in 85 innings). If the Tampa Bay bullpen is anything but one of the worst in baseball next year it will either be through the ascension of young players like Salas or divine intervention.

Offseason Game Plan:
There's not a lot the Rays can -- or should -- do this off-season. As I've said, their problem isn't so much a lack of personnel rather than a glut, especially in the outfield. The only free agents the Devil Rays can afford are so bad as to be nothing but a waste of space blocking a better, younger player.

What the Rays should look into is trading either Crawford or Baldelli. My first impression is that they should trade whomever will return good pitching talent (that the Rays will control for some years). Crawford is the better of the two, but he's also amazingly overrated, and so might bring back much more than he actually merits. He's also, as a left fielder, easily replaced from within. Baldelli is the worse player, but he does play a more valuable defensive position (and well), and isn't getting paid as much as Crawford. I don't know -- I think the Rays should just shop both men and take the best deal they can get.
There isn't a lot the Rays can do with their pitching staff but pray. They weren't the worst-pitching team in baseball last year, so they've at least got something to build on. If they do look to the free agent market, target low-risk guys like Bruce Chen who could come in and eat innings and, if you're lucky, be about average. But limit your liability -- and don't jeopardize the future. That above all should be your mantra.