Friday, January 26, 2007
There has been a gigantic outcry against this move. It would seriously limit the availability of league-wide games to those who are unable to switch to DirecTV or simply unwilling to pay for it. Due to MLB's draconian system of blackouts, many people will be forced to choose between watching their local games (some only available on cable) or watching all the rest (only available on DirecTV). Few people can afford to buy both. MLB.com is an option, but it's not as satisfying; nobody has that much confidence in their internet connection, nor do they want to watch a super-grainy video on their tiny computer screen.
There's really no other reason for this deal other than money. The MLB will be getting a tidy sum from DirecTV, but at the cost of seriously pissing off their fanbase. And the MLB, unlike the NFL, isn't really in any position to place limits on the availability of its product. And, of course, it's never a good idea to piss off your strongest fanbase for a chunk of change.
The links above do a more eloquent job of expressing the anger and discontent surrounding this decision. One can only hope that the backlash will get so severe that the MLB will pull out of the deal. But that's wishful thinking; no one really expects the MLB to turn down a check.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
With all my work on the Hall of Fame reports, I've neglected the past couple weeks' worth of transactions. And so:
- The biggest news (money-wise) is that the Phillies signed second baseman Chase Utley to a giant contract extension: 7 years/$85 million. That works out to about $12 million AAV (average annual value). Is Chase Utley worth $12 million/year right now? Absolutely. Any second baseman who can hit like Utley (career 290/362/509) is worth that much. Okay. But what about seven years?
I have pretty serious misgivings about giving Utley a seven-year deal. Utley is 29 years old, meaning that the deal will run through his age 35 season. 35 isn't too bad, but it's a lot for someone with Utley's special talents.
Utley is a fine hitter, but I would question whether he can remain a second baseman through age 35. Utley isn't much afield, and while he's not bad, he very well could be in five or six years. This is especially problematic since the contract is heavily backloaded. Utley gets $15 million each of the last 4 years of the deal. Will Utley be worth $15 million three years from now? Five years? I think a lot of it hinges on him staying at second base. If he stays at second base and hits like that, then it's easier to swallow. But if he ends up shifting to the outfield or first base, the value of his offense plummets well below the $15 million threshhold.
I am admittedly a skeptic about any long-term contract, but I think that baseball history encourages such skepticism. Utley does play a key defensive position, making him a better choice for such a contract, but as I said, he's not that great and may move before the contract is up.
Utley's contract will undoubtedly be a bargain in the next three years, when he makes less than he would probably get in arbitration. The contract also solidifies the position for the future and has the ancillary effect of giving the Philly fans something to get excited about. But will the bargain of having Utley in the next three years weigh out against the extremely high risk of paying a player $15 million for four straight years (after they've turned 30)? I don't think so.
I love Chase Utley and think he's a fine player. I think he's got a hell of a career ahead of him, and I think that signing him to a long-term deal was a good move by the Phillies. But I'm not a big fan of the terms at all. If the Phillies hadn't made the deal, they still would have kept Utley for a couple more years and let him go make money with another team after he turns 30. Tough though that would be, it may be preferable to rolling the dice on 2010-2013 with such high figures.
- The Randy Johnson deal has been finalized, with the Yankees getting reliever Luis Vizcaino and three low-level prospects while saving a good chunk of money on Johnson's contract. Granted, they may turn around and throw that money at Roger Clemens (and early indications are that they will make a run at him), but for now at least, they're showing a surprising amount of thrift. The chief complaint about this trade is that the Yankees sent an A-list pitcher to a team with one of the best farm systems in baseball, and didn't even get one notable prospect in return. I personally would rather pick up more money on Johnson's deal and get a Dustin Nippert or such. But we'll see what the Yanks' next move is.
- The Braves traded first baseman Adam LaRoche and a prospect to the Pirates for reliever Mike Gonzalez and shortstop prospect Brent Lillibridge.
At first glance, this isn't a very good trade for the Braves. The Braves already have Bob Wickman and Rafael Soriano, and I really don't think that the 7th inning is worth giving up a decent, cheap major league first baseman. LaRoche was about to become more expensive, so I can understand the deal, but it doesn't make the 2007 team any better, especially since there's no one else to play first. The Braves did sign Craig Wilson to a free-agent deal, and he's a good hitter, but not as good as LaRoche. Moving Chipper Jones to first would be a grand idea . . . but then you've got a hole at third base, and you're no better off than you were.
The saving grace of this deal -- the part that may make it a win in the long-term -- is Lillibridge. He's considered to be a strong prospect at short and could do the Braves a lot of good as Edgar Renteria's eventual replacement.
- David Wells is coming back to the Padres. The Pads signed Wells to a one-year deal worth $3 mil., with another $4 million possible in performance bonuses. That's not much money, and it shouldn't hurt the team much unless Wells comes down with another case of gout.
- The Giants signed Russ Ortiz, who first reached stardom with the team in the early 90's. The problem isn't Ortiz's contract, which is for a mere $380,000, but the fact that the Giants are wasting a roster spot on such a hopeless pitcher. But then it is the Giants.
- The Reds traded for Oakland reliever Kirk Saarloss today, in exchange for minor leaguer David Shafer. Both teams will also receive a PTBNL. I know the Reds are desperate for starters and innings, but Saarloos has one of the worst K ratios in all of baseball and is not exactly the missing piece to a great team.
The Reds also signed Mark Bellhorn to a minor league deal, with a invitation to Spring Training. I don't know that Bellhorn will make the team, seeing as there's nowhere for him to play.
- The Blue Jays signed first baseman Lyle Overbay to a 4-year, $24 million contract extension. I'm not a big fan of this deal, even though it is a reasonable price for an above-average hitter. My problem is that Overbay is a first baseman/DH, and the Blue Jays are already flush with that type. As he gets older, he's going to deteriorate and become more limited, taking up roster space with his contract that could be better filled by others.
I guess my problem is that you don't want to give 4 years to someone who's about to become easily replaceable (Overbay turns 30 in January). If you're going to tie someone down and clog up your roster, you'd rather have a good hitter at a key defensive position (Vernon Wells), or at least someone who's a better hitter than Overbay (Troy Glaus). In fact, it wouldn't have been a bad idea to phase out Overbay and eventually give the first base job to Glaus, who's no wizard at third base anyway.
The Blue Jays are tying their hands by committing so much money to so many players and if (when) their plan doesn't work, they're going to be very limited in their options. The Vernon Wells deal is different; I disagree with it, but I understand it in the context of their plan. The Overbay deal I don't get at all. He's a good hitter, but he's not so irreplaceable that you want to give him a 4-year deal, not with Troy Glaus and Adam Lind possibly relocating to first in the future.
Thank God the Jays have the DH.
- The Mariners signed closer J.J. Putz to a 3-year contract extension worth $13.1 million, with a club option for a fourth year at $8.6 million. This really isn't a bad deal at all for a legitimate fireballer coming off a dominant year as closer. Putz's contract is back-loaded, with his salary maxing out at $5 mil. in its third year. That's reasonable for an average major league closer, and Putz has all of the ability to remain dominant. Plus, the relatively short nature of the deal is good; Putz seems young, but will actually be turning 30 in February.
- The Indians signed former Red Sox Trot Nixon to a one-year, $3 million deal. Nixon, a lefty, could form an effective platoon with Casey Blake in right field, unless Blake ends up at first base. If he does, Nixon will likely inherit the full-time right field position. This is a good deal for Cleveland; Nixon may be brittle, but he's still a good hitter, and they may have to replace quality with quantity in the corner outfield spots. Also, if everything goes well and everyone plays well, one of the five outfielders will get traded (most likely Blake).
- The Cardinals re-signed Mark Mulder to a 2-year deal worth $13 million. The deal includes escalators based on games started, as well as an $11 million club option for 2009.
This isn't a bad deal, and the Cardinals are certainly one of the few teams desperate enough to take a flier on such an unpredictable free agent. It should also be said that the Cards have, in Dave Duncan, someone who has a good track record with veteran reclamation projects.
But I don't think Mark Mulder has much left. His deterioration is more than just a one-year blip, it's a steady fall that began nearly three years ago. The Cards aren't on the hook for a lot of money here, and I know they didn't have many other options, but I honestly think Jeff Weaver would have been a better investment.
- The Blue Jays signed a one-year deal with Tomo Ohka, giving them a pretty reliable LAIM to help solidify the back of their rotation. It's a good move for the Jays, who've had a rocky off-season.
- I consider Omar Minaya to be one of the sharper GMs out there. I don't always agree with his moves, but he seems to know what he's doing, and he rarely makes a big mistake. That's why I'm so thoroughly mystified as to why the Mets would sign uninspiring relief pitcher Scott Schoeneweis to a 3-year deal for $10.8 million.
Was there some secret bidding war over Schoeneweis that I missed? Because I can't understand why Omar wants him for three years. He's 33 years old and is coming off a 2006 where he threw 51.2 combined innings between Toronto and Cincinnati with a 24:29 BB:K ratio and a 4.88 ERA. That's the line of a fringe relief pitcher if I ever saw one. Schoeneweis did have a good year with Toronto in 2005, posting a 3.32 ERA in 57 innings, but that's just one of two seasons in his career where his ERA has been above-average (2003 was the other).
Schoeneweis used to be a starter, so that could partly explain this deal. But since 2002, he's been used mostly as a LOOGY. He's been among the league leaders in appearances these past couple years despite pitching a combined 108.2 IP from 2005-6.
Scott Schoeneweis isn't a bad pitcher to have on your team. But he's an awful choice to sign to a 3-year deal at the age of 33.
- The Colorado Rockies ponied up to the Baltimore Orioles and traded for Rodrigo Lopez. They didn't give up much -- two b-level prospects -- and in exchange got somebody who is at least durable. Lopez is a guy who makes his starts and isn't a bad choice as a 5th starter on a team with several young arms. The only trouble may be Lopez's groundball rate (less than 50% most years, not ideal for Coors).
- In a low-level move, the Nationals signed Jerome Williams to a 1-year deal and Brandon Claussen to a minor league contract. The Nationals' pitching staff may suck next year, but at least it will do so cheaply and efficiently (as compared to the Royals, certainly). There's no point in spending a lot of money on free agents when you're not contenders in any sort of reality. I have to admit that I mostly like what Jim Bowden has done this off-season.
- In an odd move, relief pitcher Jeff Nelson signed a minor league contract with the Yankees with an invitation to Spring Training -- and immediately retired. Apparently, Jeff was really keen to end his career as a Yankee. The front office must really like him to indulge him this much.
- Former Reds coach Vern Ruhle passed away after battling cancer for most of 2006. The former big league pitcher was the pitching coach in Cincinnati before being diagnosed and forced to step down. He was 55.
All the pieces are starting to fall into place, as pitchers and catchers are due to report in just a matter of weeks. Hopefully the weather's much nicer in Arizona and Florida than it is along the Ohio River.
RIP Bam Bam
Saturday, January 20, 2007
Also, I wanted to make a note about the players I'll be discussing here. The Class of 2010 retired after the 2005 season, and the Class of 2011 consists of the few players I'm pretty sure are retired now that 2006 is over. But with many of these players, there's still the possibility of a comeback. So any years or deadlines must be considered with that in mind.
Class of 2010:
Career 266/325/442; 252 HR; 3-Time All-Star; 4 Gold Gloves
208 Career Win Shares (T-42nd all-time among 2B w/ Lonny Frey)
18.93 WS/162 G (4th-worst among 2B w/200 WS)
While Bret Boone did have a significant career and certainly ranks at least among the top 60 or 70 second baseman of all time, there's not a shred of a Hall-of-Fame case here.
Boone wouldn't even rate mentioning if it weren't for an unlikely late-career renaissance in Seattle. From 1992-2001, Boone was a good-fielding second baseman with an inconsistent bat; he had some power, but his batting average ranged from awful to acceptable depending on the year. He wasn't a bad guy, but he was only slightly more valuable than Quilvio Veras.
Then, in 2001, Boone exploded and put up MVP-caliber numbers. Previously, Boone's best season was in 1994 with the Reds, when he hit 320/368/491. He zoomed past that in Seattle, hitting 331/372/578, despite the spacious confines of Safeco Field. Combine that with good defense, and Boone finished third in the MVP voting. 2002 was a step back (278/339/462), but he returned in 2003 to post All-Star numbers (294/366/535), finishing 10th in the MVP voting.
Then, Boone fell apart. Every part of his offensive game fell off significantly in 2004, as he finished at 251/317/423. In 2005, he split time between the Mariners and Twins, hitting a wretched 221/290/350. Boone went to Spring Training with the Mets in 2006, but didn't make the team and retired.
As I said, if it weren't for Boone's transformation into an MVP in 2001 and 2003, he wouldn't even merit a mention on the ballot. And though I hate to spread unconfirmed rumors, there were a lot of whispers of steroid use surrounding Boone. Boone was about my size (5'10", 180 lbs.) and yet he was one of the league's best sluggers for a couple years. It came quickly and departed just as quickly -- around the same time baseball starting cracking down on the use of PEDs. Jose Canseco claims to have had a conversation with Boone that suggests he used steroids, but that's not any sort of reliable evidence.
In all fairness, I must point out that a) we have no proof, and b) Boone did show better-than-average power even before he came to Seattle. He wasn't hitting 35+ homers, but in four of his first six seasons, Boone hit at least 12 HR, which isn't bad for a middle infielder still trying to catch on. In the three years leading up to his breakout year in Seattle, Boone hit 24, 20, and 19 HR. So this is not Rafael Belliard we're talking about.
There is certainly cause for suspicion surrounding Boone, but there's nothing remotely conclusive about the evidence against him. But then Boone isn't a Hall-of-Famer even with the big Seattle years, so the point is pretty much moot.
241 Career Win Shares (T-79th all-time among P w/Dolf Luque, Frank Tanana, & Dazzy Vance)
1069 PRAR (37th all-time)
3.25 eqERA (39th all-time)
There's no doubt in my mind that if Kevin Brown had stayed healthy, he'd be a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer. But there's a good possibility that he's still a Hall-of-Famer, even though he wasn't always healthy.
The PRAA and eqERA both rate Brown well within the ranks of HOFers. His career ERA is more than 25% better than league average, he threw more than 3,000 innings with more than 2,000 strikeouts and managed 200 wins (if red is the new black, then 200 wins is the new 300 wins).
Even Win Shares rates him pretty well. 79th place doesn't sound good, but a lot of the players above Brown are 19th-century guys with padded numbers. Among 20th-century players, he's tied for 59th-place, which is a lot closer to Hall status. And he's listed among some impressive names; he's tied with Hall-of-Famer Vance, and both Luque and Tanana are borderline Hall members. He rates just behind HOFer Stan Coveleski, Eddie Cicotte, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant, Carl Mays, and HOFers Jim Bunning and Hoyt Wilhelm. He's just ahead of HOFers Rube Waddell and Herb Pennock, as well as near-misses Rick Reuschel and Jerry Koosman.
In short, Kevin Brown is right in the grey area that separates HOFers from non-HOFers. That makes our job a bit tougher. Does Brown have any qualifications that might push him into Cooperstown?
The biggest, I think, is that Brown was -- at his best -- an elite pitcher. Brown never won a Cy Young, but I think he deserved the 1996 NL award. Brown as only 17-11 with Florida, but he posted a 4:1 BB:k ratio in 233 IP and led the league in ERA by nearly a full run (his was 1.89; Greg Maddux was second at 2.72). Brown's ERA+ was an amazing 214, meaning he was more than twice as good as the league average (Maddux was again second at 162). But Brown finished second in the voting for two stupid reasons: John Smoltz went 24-8, and the Braves won the pennant.
That wasn't the only great season for Brown (although it was his greatest). I have him as the 2nd-best NL pitcher in 1998 (behind Maddux), the 3rd-best NL pitcher in 2000 (behind Randy Johnson and Maddux), and the 4th-best NL pitcher on three occasions (1997, 1999 and 2003).
Everything I've just mentioned -- a high peak, lots of career games and innings -- sounds like a Hall-of-Famer. What are the reasons not to induct Brown?
There are two, really. There's no doubt that from abotu 1995-2003, Kevin Brown was a Hall-of-Fame pitcher. No doubt at all. It's what happened before and after that that taints his candidacy.
Brown made a couple cameo appearances with the Rangers in 1986 and 1988 before catching on for good in 1989. From 1989-1994 with Texas, Brown was a capable workhorse who was solidly above-average. He was never excellent, but he was good, reliable, and durable. At this point, though, he didn't look like an "elite" anything, so the Rangers let him go to Baltimore on a 1-year free agent deal. (It's not surprising that the best pitcher the Rangers ever developed -- 1st round pick , 1986 -- would blossom after he left the team).
But even the Orioles must have been shocked at how well Brown pitched. He was 31 in 1995, but managed his best season yet by far: 3.60 ERA (136 ERA+), 26 starts, 48:117 BB:K ratio.
The Florida Marlins were impressed enough to offer Brown a 3-year contract worth about $13 million. It was one of the masterstrokes that brought them the 1997 World Championship, as Brown was one of the best pitchers in the world from 1996-1998. He even made it back to the World Series in 1998 after being traded to the Padres, although he lost.
After that came The Big Contract and the great unraveling of Brown's Cooperstown case. Long story short, Brown was very good with the Dodgers when healthy, but that was rare, and he was getting money (and perks) far beyond what he was producing on the field. This was one of the first big object lessons in what not to do in contract negotiations: offer 7 years to a 34-year-old.
Luckily for the Dodgers, Brown put together an excellent (and healthy) season in 2003 (posting a 2.39 ERA (169 ERA+) with 185 K in 211 IP. They foisted the last two years of his contract (about $31.5 million) onto the Yankees for Jeff Weaver.
Brown struggled in New York, and this also hurt his Cooperstown chances. He was good in 2004 (4.09 ERA, 110 ERA+), but injuries limited him to 22 starts and 132 IP. Even worse (for the fans, at least), Brown was savaged in the ALCS by Boston, posting a 21.60 ERA that included a dreadful start in Game 7.
Brown came back for 13 starts in 2005 (6.50 ERA), and then called it a career.Is this enough to keep Kevin out of the Hall of Fame? Does his lack of excellence in Texas, his L.A. injuries, and his late-career struggles with the Yankees overshadow his elite performance?That's a very difficult and complex question, and one that I don't think I can reach any consensus on in my own mind. Brown's Hall-of-Fame case looks better to me every time I look at it, but at the same time, I try to approach my Hall "vote" rather conservatively. If I'm really doubtful about someone, I won't endorse them. The great thing about the Hall vote is that you can always change your mind; I have every right to change my mind and endorse Brown next year. But I fear that it won't make a difference either way; Brown probably won't get inducted by the BBWAA.
Career 162-132; 3.80 ERA (112 ERA+); 2,391 IP; 1,974 K; 2-Time All-Star
153 Career Win Shares
Leiter lasted a long time, pitched a lot of games, and was generally good. Unfortunately, he was never great or anything like it. Leiter only had two really good seasons, seasons where he was clearly an All-Star caliber pitcher:
2000 w/NYM: 16-8, 3.20 ERA (136 ERA+), 208 IP, 76:200 BB:K; All-Star
Leiter's low career totals (162 wins, 153 WS) would look better if he'd gotten established earlier in his career. Leiter bounced around with the Yankees and Blue Jays for quite a while before ever pitching a significant number of innings. Leiter's first season as a semi-regular starting pitcher was in 1993 with Toronto, when he was already 27. His first good season was also his last in Toronto: 1995, at age 29.
If Leiter had gotten started earlier, he might have had a more impressive Jamie Moyer-ish career of 200 wins and pitching til' you're 40 (and beyond, for Moyer). Or it's possible that pitching so sparingly in those years saved his arm and enabled him to stay in the majors through his 39th birthday. It's a moot point though; Leiter's not a Hall-of-Famer, he's just a guy who was reliable and gave some good years to his teams.
271/344/471; 339 HR; 2-Time All-Star
216 Career Win Shares (T-62nd all-time among 1B w/George Scott)
17.30 WS/162 G
Tino's adjusted numbers make him look like the strongly above-average hitter that he was. His fielding numbers are good, but I always thought he was better than good. He never won a Gold Glove, which was a shame considering who was bringing them home in the '90's. Tino was a good all-around player.
Unfortunately, there's very little great about him. None of Tino's numbers were outstanding, especially when adjusting for the era in offense-heavy era in which he played.
Tino has become more revered in recent years, as his years with the Yankees have slowly become a sort of "Golden Age," especially when compared to the recent Yankees. A lot of this is poor hindsight and sour grapes. Tino's Yankees were good, and they did win in October. But the current Yankees are good, too -- perhaps even better. But since they aren't winning in October, their current players (such as A-Rod) are demonized, while the old heroes are lionized (Tino, Paul O'Neill, Brosius).
This reimagining of history centers around the theory that the old Yankees won because they had good clubhouse chemistry, and the modern Yankees lose because they don't. Not only is clubhouse chemistry about the 86th most important thing for a baseball team, but that's an oversimplification of two very complex eras. Tino was a good guy in the clubhouse, but we shouldn't start raising statues to him simply out of spite for the current Yankees.
I know it sounds silly, but Hall votes have been cast for dumber reasons.
Career 295/398/465; 2,239 Hits; 255 HR; 2-Time All-Star; 3 Gold Gloves
301 Career Win Shares; (23rd all-time among 1B)
21.83 WS/162 G
.309 EQA (T-16th among 1B w/Roger Connor)
154 FRAA (2nd among 1B)
.303 eqAVG (T-10th among 1B w/5 others)
.408 eqOBP (8th among 1B)
This guy was one hell of a ballplayer. At the plate, he was a poor man's Frank Thomas (the two were almost exact contemporaries), with one hell of a glove at first. He was around for quite a while and had some dynamite seasons in the process.
Olerud's another one of the tough decisions I had to make. I decided not to give him my Hall "vote," and I'll tell you why. John had a couple great seasons; MVP-esque. But for the rest of his career he was good but not great. If he'd had a couple more seasons in between, where he was more than just an All-Star, then I'd support him. But as it is, he's a first baseman whose offense just isn't quite up to par. As you can see above, he ranks very favorably when compared to other first baseman. But I don't think he quite measures up.
John Olerud is better than a lot of guys in the Hall of Fame. But if we want to keep the Hall standards high, we have to be stricter than our forebears. Maybe circumstances will change or I'll just take a different view of the evidence; that's possible. But right now, Olerud's a near-miss.
His greatest hits:
1998 w/NYM: 354/447/551; 22 HR, 96 BB
As for '98, Olerud was great, but he wasn't to deprive McGwire/Sosa of their collective glory. He finished 13th in the MVP voting, which isn't exactly fair, but there you go.
Career 288/371/515; 3,020 Hits; 569 HR; 4-Time All-Star; 3 Gold Gloves
396 Career Win Shares (5th all-time among 1B)
22.66 WS/162 G
.307 EQA (T-21st among 1B w/Fred McGriff)
.550 egSLG (T-17th among 1B w/Roger Connor)
Point 1: Rafael Palmeiro isn't quite as good as his numbers look. He spent most of his career in hitter's parks in a hitter's era, and therefore we have to take his raw numbers (especially the homers and slugging) with a grain of salt.
Point 2: Palmeiro was so consistent, and around for so long, that the problems suggested in Point 1 are basically irrelevant. Palmeiro was always in the lineup, playing at least 110 games every season from 1988 through 2005. He spent parts of 20 seasons in the majors and compiled at least 550 ABs in 15 of them. Palmeiro may never have been great (he was never the best player in the league, and putting him in the top 5 is debatable), but he was always just behind, and he was around for so damn long that he became one of the most valuable first baseman in history.
His career bears a slight resemblance to that of Eddie Murray. The two are, along with Hank Aaron, the only members of the 3,000 hit/500 HR club. Also, Murray was -- like Palmeiro -- rarely excellent, but so good for so long that he became one of the best first basemen of all time. The big thing that makes the two different is their eras; Murray's numbers are far more impressive than Palmeiro's when you consider the offensive environment in which he played. And Murray was indeed the best player in the league on at least one occasion.Based on these two points, I'm very much inclined to believe that Rafael Palmeiro is a Hall-of-Famer.
Even more embarassing for Palmeiro was his appearance on Capitol Hill where he swore -- under oath -- that he had never used steroids. He even pointed a stern finger at the Congressmen. Of course, that picture of him pointing a stern finger accompanied every story of his positive test, making him look like a hypocrite and most likely a perjurer.
It's interesting that Mark McGwire, who implied his own steroid use by refusing to perjure himself, has been treated far worse than Palmeiro, who almost certainly did perjure himself (Palmeiro's positive test came after the testimony, but I highly doubt that it was his first time using). McGwire has been continually roasted around the country since his testimony, whereas Palmeiro retired and was mostly forgotten.
We know most of the important circumstances surrounding Barry Bonds' alleged steroid use because of the tireless investigations into his activities. This all despite the fact that there's no smoking gun -- a positive test -- for Barry.
With Raffy on the other hand, all we have is that positive test. The only other information we have is Jose Canseco's claim that Palmeiro was using while they were teammates in Texas. It's a lot harder to dismiss Canseco's allegations these days -- they have a knack for coming true -- but we still have to take them for what they are.
We have no clue what Palmeiro was using or when he started. It was rumored (but never confirmed) that Palmeiro tested positive for stanozolol, a pretty powerful anabolic steroid. This isn't your "designer" drug, it's an old favorite. If Palmeiro's been using that for years, then we could assume a pretty significant boost to his health regimen (thus his great durability).
Of course, it's just as likely that Palmeiro started using late in his career. In fact, it's not unlikely that he started using in his last season or two. After his 2002 in Texas (273/391/571), Palmeiro's quality took a dip down to merely good. This is perfectly normal for a 38-year-old. But look at it from Palmeiro's standpoint; he's nearing 500 homers and 3,000 hits, milestones that would almost ensure his induction into Cooperstown. Everyone in the media is talking about what a borderline Hall candidate he is. And just then, he starts to steadily decline. It sounds like a pretty compelling reason for a player to start using.All this is guesswork, of course. We really don't know enough about Palmeiro's steroid use to make a conclusive judgment in regards to his career. The trouble is that we may never know. Either way, I'm going to go ahead and decline on Palmeiro and take full advantage of the 5-year waiting period after a player's retirement before they are Hall-eligible. It's possible (and even likely) that we won't know any more about Palmeiro then, but I just don't feel comfortable making the decision now. Palmeiro's the toughest case there is: a solid Hall-of-Famer, but not s0 solid that consistent steroid use couldn't make it crumble.
It may not be a wise career move for an analyst to say so, but in regards to Rafael Palmeiro's Cooperstown case:
Career 274/345/537; 588 HR; 2,194 K; 7-time All-Star; 1998 NL MVP
312 Career Win Shares (T-26th all-time among RF w/Larry Walker)
22.56 WS/162 G
.552 eqSLG (19th among RF)
Of course, as I speak Sosa is negotiating a minor league contract with the Rangers in an attempt to return to the Majors. Considering that Sosa is 38, has had a year off, and wasn't particularly good in his last couple seasons, I'm not optimistic about his return. And even if he does return, it's doubtful he'll do anything to improve his career numbers.
I made my case against Sosa's induction in this article written when he went into semi-retirement last Spring. In short, Sosa was only excellent for a couple seasons (1998 and 2001) and wasn't much more than a slugger for the rest of his career. He wasn't around for a very long time, and so his lack of excellence leaves him with not much of a Cooperstown case. Sosa doesn't compare fav0rable to other right fielders in measures of quality and quantity. Realistically, he's a near-miss Hall-of-Famer, along with right fielders such as Dwight Evans, Dave Parker, Reggie Smith, Jack Clark, and Bobby Bonds. There's nothing to indicate that Sosa was a better player than these guys, and that's without considering steroids.
313/400/565; 2,160 H; 383 HR; 5-Time All-Star; 7 Gold Gloves, 1997 NL MVP
312 Career Win Shares (T-26th all-time among RF w/Sammy Sosa)
25.42 WS/162 G
.307 EQA (T-14th among RF w/Tony Gwynn & Babe Herman)
98 FRAA (3rd among RF)
.381 eqOBP (21st among RF)
Walker was a hell of a hitter and also an excellent right fielder. Walker's raw numbers indicate someone who's a Hall-of-Famer; his rate stats are excellent, and while his career didn't last that long, his numbers would indicate a Hall-of-Famer.
The problem, of course, is that Walker played at Coors Field from 1995-2004, the bulk of his career. Coors Field obviously juiced his numbers by a significant degree. The question is: how much? Can we adjust for the effects of Coors Field and then take stock of his numbers? Yes, we can.
But first, I'd like to dismiss a couple fallacious arguments. One, that Walker's time at Coors Field disqualifies him from the Hall. I doubt anyone will say it quite like that, but when Walker's name shows up on the ballot, you know that a lot of people are going to pass on him just because of Coors. I've written about this before, but I'll say again that we can't just dismiss someone based on their circumstances. We adjust for the circumstances and go from there.
The other argument is that Walker "could hit anywhere," and so we shouldn't "punish" him for hitting in Coors Field. Well, it's true that Walker could hit anywhere. When the Expos made their postseason run in 1994, Walker was hitting 322/394/587 when the strike hit. He'd produced excellent offense the two previous years as well.
The problem is that we have to take into account that Coors Field took this 322/394/587 hitter and in a couple years changed him into a 366/452/720 hitter ('97, his MVP year). Did Walker coincidentally become a truly amazing hitter the same day he arrived at Coors?
Let's look at his road stats. In 1994, Walker's last season with Montreal, he hit 331/401/604 at home and 314/388/575 on the road. That's pretty normal; most people hit slightly better at home, and Olympic Stadium played as a slight hitter's park that year.
In 1995, Walker went to Colorado. He hit 343/401/730 at home. That's a 126-point increase in slugging, which is pretty telling. On the road, Walker hit a strong but more pedestrian 268/361/484. This suggests that Walker, who could hit for average and draw his walks anywhere, wasn't quite the slugger that Coors Field make him look like.
For his career, Walker hit 348/431/637 at home and 278/370/495 on the road. That's a very significant difference. Walker was a very good hitter on the road, but nothing like an MVP, especially considering that this was the 90's. If we take Walker's road numbers and extrapolate them into an entire career, his (normalized) career would look roughly like this.Larry Walker (neutral): 278/370/495, 1,934 H, 336 HR, 406 doublesSo, using this (admittedly rough) measure, we can say that Coors Field gave Walker about 35 points of batting average, 30 points of OBP, 70 points of slugging, 226 hits, 47 HR, and 65 doubles. These numbers come with two big caveats: we're taking his entire career, which includes his early years in Montreal and his final years in St. Louis. It's also true that, even in a neutral environment, players tend to perform better at home than on the road. So Walker's home/road splits aren't quite as significant as they would seem.
WARP3, Baseball Prospectus' all-inclusive measure of a player's value, gives Walker a WARP3 of 106.8. That's quite impressive. Unfortunately, it still doesn't separate him from the pack. He ranks 17th all-time, behind Sam Crawford and Andre Dawson, and just ahead of marginal players Sammy Sosa, Rusty Staub, and Enos Slaughter (who missed time to WW2).
* -- tentative, based on who may or may not retire
Career 297/408/540; 2,314 H, 449 HR, 202 SB; 4-Time All-Star; 1 Gold Glove; 1991 NL Rookie of the Year; 1994 NL MVP
388 Career Win Shares (6th all-time among 1B)
29.24 WS/162 G (12th among 1B)
.323 EQA (12th among 1B)
124 FRAA (4th among 1B)
.301 eqAVG (T-17th among 1B w/Steve Garvey & Mike Hargrove)
.413 eqOBP (T-18th all-time w/ Bobby Abreu & Mike Hargrove); (T-5th among 1B w/Mike Hargrove)
.568 eqSLG (14th among 1B)
There's really nothing to say here. This guy belongs in the Hall of Fame without a second thought. He's one of the 6 or 8 greatest first baseman of all time, if not better than that. His career numbers are impeccable, especially considering that he spent his prime years in the AstroDome. At his peak, he was easily one of the best players in baseball. Not only did he win the 1994 NL MVP, but he probably deserved one or two others (his 1996 season was brilliant and would have won, had not Ken Caminiti proved he was a "gamer" by playing a game while down with food poisoning).
The only thing that will keep Bagwell from getting swept into the Hall with 85-90% of the votes is suspicion of steroid use. But with Bagwell, there is absolutely nothing to suggest that he used other than the fact that he was a big guy with a lot of power. There is no circumstantial or even anecdotal evidence of his use, and the only reason to suspect him is because we're all paranoid now. This isn't to say that Bagwell didn't use; he may have. But we're going to need a lot more than that to keep this all-time great out of Cooperstown.
Career 348 Wins (8th all-time)
.662 Winning Percentage (348-178) 20th all-time
144 ERA+ (T-8th all-time w/Johan Santana)
4,817.2 IP (15th all-time)
4,604 K (2nd all-time)
690 Games Started (T-7th all-time w/Gaylord Perry)
7-time Cy Young Award-Winner (most ever)
1986 AL MVP
435 Career Win Shares (5th all-time among pitchers)
1947 PRAR (1st all-time)
2.58 eqERA (2nd all-time)
OK, I know that Clemens probably isn't retiring and will most likely be coming back again this season. But I couldn't resist listing his accomplishments. That, friends is the resume of the greatest pitcher who ever lived.
Career 282/385/498; 299 HR; 1993 AL Rookie of the Year
233 Career Win Shares (T-56th all-time among RF w/David Justice)
22.58 WS/162 G
.305 EQA (T-19th among RF w/ Gavvy Cravath, Ken Singleton & Paul Waner)
.391 eqOBP (T-10th among RF w/Vladimir Guerrero)
Judging broadly by their careers, Salmon isn't too different from David Justice. Both were clearly above-average hitters and decent all-around players. Both were consistently good, although Salmon was more reliable than Justice. And both men experienced premature declines to their careers that cost them a chance at the Hall. (I also have to note the coincidence that Salmon's adjusted OBP is tied with his successor as Angels right fiedler, Vladimir Guerrero).
Salmon was one of the more underrated players on the 1990's for the classic reason that there was no one thing or one number that really stood out, but he was an all-around gem. He's the kind of guy you'd consider to be a perennial All-Star candidate, although oddly enough, Salmon never made an All-Star team. The sponsor of Salmon's page at baseball-reference.com says that Salmon is the best player never to make the All-Star team. I wouldn't know offhand without checking, but he's got to be pretty damn close.
The sponsor also says that Salmon is the best hitter ever produced by the Angels, and that one's a lot harder to argue with. Even long-time stars like Jim Fregosi (Red Sox; expansion draft) and Brian Downing (White Sox, trade) came from outside the system.
That's probably the best way to remember Tim Salmon. He wasn't quite good enough or durable enough to get a plaque in Cooperstown, but Angel fans can always consider him a symbol of the franchise's salad days. He was a classy guy and an all-around gem who earned the nickname "Mr. Angel."
This entry took a lot longer than I anticipated, but that's mainly because it was a lot tougher than I expected, with a lot more thinking involved. But more thinking is usually a good thing, and I feel like I came to a better understanding of these guys through the process. Hopefully you have, too.
There's been some baseball news in recent days that I need to catch up on, and I'll be back soon with my take on that. Until then, happy Saturday.
Friday, January 12, 2007
If a player is ranked "among LF" or "among 1B," etc., the sample I'm using is all players with more than 200 career Win Shares. This covers most really significant players, but not all. It also enables me to keep the same sample for every ranking.
Keep in mind that some positions are stronger than others, historically. The more defense-oriented positions don't tend to produce as many great players as positions like 1B, LF, and RF. So being the 10th-best right fielder is a lot more impressive than it sounds, when you consider the context.
The prefix "eq" means that the statistic has been translated by Clay Davenport at Baseball Prospectus. The parameters of his translations can be seen here for batting stats and here for pitching.
The numbers for Equivalent Average and Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) have been adjusted for all time, meaning they take into account not just the ballpark but league difficulty and the era. Better details can be found here.
Also, a note on some of the stats I use for pitchers. eqERA is translated in a similar manner as that for batting average, OBP, and SLG listed above. PRAR refers to Pitching Runs Above Replacement. This stat is similar to Win Shares in that it tries to measure a pitcher's total pitching contribution with one number. The difference is that, while pitchers start out with zero WS and work up, a pitcher only earns PRAR for pitching better than replacement level. The big difference this makes is usually with 19th-century pitchers, who earn a lot of Win Shares for pitching 400+ innings, as was the custom of the day. PRAR, on the other hand, only gives you credit for pitching better than pitchers of your era, so a lot of 19th-century pitchers look far more ordinary. It gives us a good insight; Tony Mullane has 401 Win Shares (10th all-time) but only 461 PRAR (which ranks him 90-something or lower). Big difference, and one that's quite important.
Another thing to point out is that most of the pitching stats I quote don't do a good job of accounting for relief pitchers. In fact, I don't know of any all-inclusive stat that does a good job of comparing relief pitchers to starters, or position players for that matter. So I'll have to discuss relief pitchers using a bit more subjective evidence.
Class of 2007:
Career 294/385/425; 2,605 hits; 808 SB; 7 All-Star Games
390 Career Win Shares (7th all-time among LF)
25.25 WS/162 G (27th among LF)
.308 career EQA (T-12th among LF w/ Frank Howard)
37 career FRAA
.310 eqAVG (T-5th among LF)
.403 eqOBP (6th among LF)
I'm pretty convinced, not just from this evidence but from the opnion I had of him coming in, that Tim Raines is a Hall-of-Famer. Raines' raw numbers can be deceiving due to the era he played in (his career tailed off just as the mid-90's came along). He also suffered from being in the shadow of Rickey Henderson, as well as from the general ignorance of players who are good at getting on base.
But Raines was one of the best-ever leadoff men. Think of the great left fielders in history and then consider that Raines was the 6th-best ever at reaching base, when you account for his era. Raines' .403 eqOBP is better than HOFers Carl Yastrzemski, Willie Stargell, Billy Williams, Zack Wheat, Al Simmons, Ed Delahanty, Goose Goslin, Joe Medwick, Lou Brock, and others. In fact, Raines is the player that everyone thinks Lou Brock was. Raines didn't steal quite as many bases as Brock, but he has a better adjusted batting average (.310-.301), and a far better adjusted OBP (.403-.354). Raines was also a much better fielder than Brock (37 FRAA to -63 for Brock).
Raines wasn't an excellent slugger, but he was far from a punchless leadoff man. His poor career slugging percentage (.425) is partly due to the fact that he missed the big-hitting 90's and spent most of his career legging out triples in Montreal. His adjusted SLG (.481) shows that the .425 number doesn't do him justice. Raines hit 170 career homers, 113 career triples, and 430 career doubles.
How good was Raines at his best? His top seasons were in the mid-80's. Here's what Raines did from 1985-1987, when he should have won a couple MVPs:
1985: 320/405/475, 70/79 in steals
1986: 334/413/476, 70/79 in steals
1987: 330/429/526, 50/55 in steals
There's really no good reason to keep Raines out of the Hall. He compares favorably with those already in; Raines isn't an elite left fielder on the level of Bonds, Musial, Yaz, Rickey Henderson, or Ted Williams; but he's right there on the second level of legitimate HOFers such as Billy Williams, Willie Stargell, Zack Wheat, and Al Simmons. He's certainly a better player than current HOF left fielders Lou Brock, Goose Goslin, Joe Medwick, Jim O'Rourke, Joe Kelley, Heinie Manush, Chick Hafey and probably even Ralph Kiner.
Is there a better left fielder than Raines not in the Hall? That's very doubtful. Other than players who aren't eligible yet (Bonds, Henderson) or are permanently ineligible (Joe Jackson), the best left fielders not in Cooperstown are probably Sherry Magee, Minnie Minoso, Jose Cruz, and Frank Howard. All four of those guys have a fair case for Cooperstown, and I wouldn't mind seeing Minoso get in, or maybe Magee. But they'd be entering at the bottom level of accepted Cooperstown performance; none of them have achieved as much as Tim Raines has, nor have they maintained it over a long career.
Is there anything subjective that should keep Raines out of the Hall? I don't think so. I don't put much stock in postseason performance, although I have to say that Raines didn't do too well in October (career 270/340/349). But that's deceptive; most of Raines' October at-bats came as a role-player with the Yankees in the late 90's when he was past his prime. In fact, Raines was brilliant with the White Sox in their 1993 ALCS loss to Toronto (444/483/556).
Off the field, there's nothing really nasty to say about Raines, except for his battles with cocaine. But I don't really see how that affects much of anything. Cocaine isn't really performance-enhancing; in fact, it's more destructive than constructive for a baseball player. It's a small black mark against him, but I don't think it's significant enough to keep him out of Cooperstown.
Unfortunately, it's very unlikely that Raines will get into Cooperstown, simply because no one really sees him as a viable candidate. And that's very, very unfortunate. His only real hope is that there are no other serious candidates entering the ballot this year.
Career 200-173, 3.85 ERA (115 ERA+), 3,197.1 IP, 2,610 K, 5 All-Star Games
Career 213 Win Shares (T-110th all-time, w/Frank Dwyer)
1031 PRAA (40th all-time)
3.39 eqERA (49th all-time)
Win Shares isn't very friendly to Finley at all; he gets passed up by a lot of the 19th-century pitchers. Clay Davenport's translations rank him around the 50th-best starting pitcher of all time. Personally, I think that's a bit too friendly, but I can still ask what it is about Finley that the DTs (Davenport Translations) like so much. Part of it could be his strikeouts; Finley was a good strikeout pitcher, which is a point in his favor. It could also be a measure of the tough level of competition that Finley faced in the 1990's, where it was a very difficult task to be a winning pitcher in the AL.
Finley deserves a lot more credit than he gets, and a lot of the work I've done over the past few years has given me a new appreciation for him. But I don't think he's a Hall-of-Famer. He may be elevated to the ranks of the almosts (Tommy John, Dave Stieb, etc.), but I don't see him earning an induction.
One problem is that Finley was never really excellent or dominant. I myself don't have Finley ranked any higher than the 5th-best pitcher in the league in any season. Here's a short list of Finley's best seasons:
1990: 18-9, 2.40 ERA (160 ERA+), 236 IP, 17 HR, 81:177 BB:K
1993: 16-14, 3.15 ERA (144 ERA+), 251.1 IP, 22 HR, 82:187 BB:K
1998: 11-9, 3.39 ERA (139 ERA+), 223.1 IP, 20 HR, 109:212 BB:K
Finley's 1990 season might have won the Cy Young in another year, but he picked the wrong season; Roger Clemens was demonstrably better in '90, and it was also the year of amazing relief seasons from Dennis Eckersley and Bobby Thigpen. Finley was probably better than Cy Young-winner Jack McDowell in '93, but not as good as Kevin Appier, who was excellent, or Randy Johnson, I don't think. '98 was a good season, but that's a lot of walks. Roger Clemens was busy being historically good, Pedro Martinez wasn't far behind, and Finley wasn't really any better than Kenny Rogers, David Wells, or Mike Mussina, either.
Finley's undoing is, I think, that he was just never excellent. If he had been able to break through with one or two really dynamite seasons, I would give him serious Hall consideration. But he never did. What he did do was be remarkably consistent; even now, looking at his performance, it's striking. Finley's first full season was in 1988 with the Angels. He threw 194.1 IP. From 1988-2000, Finley threw at least 164 innings every year. He had 12 seasons of more than 190 IP in his career, and 9 seasons of more than 200. He was a consistent strikeout pitcher (though never excellent), but along with that came consistent walks. Per 162 games, Finley struck out 179 batters (good) and walked 91 (bad). He only struck out more than 200 batters twice in his career, despite his durability.
Is there anything subjective to change my mind about Finley? Not at all, really. In fact, my opinion of Chuck Finley is much higher than many people's, it seems. I'd be highly surprise if Finley stays on the HOF ballot for more than a year or two. He wasn't considered a star during his career; he made 5 All-Star teams, but only once did he finish in the top 10 for Cy Young voting (7th in 1990).
Finley didn't pitch particularly well in October. He actually got into the 1986 ALCS as a rookie with the Angels, throwing 2 scoreless innings. He didn't make the postseason again until 2001 with Cleveland, where he got bombed in 2 starts (7.27 ERA). He threw his last big-league pitches with the Cardinals in 2002. In the NLDS against Arizona, he made one start and threw 6.1 scoreless innings. But in the NLCS, the Giants bombed him in his only start, scoring 4 ER in 5 IP.
Other than that, there's nothing particularly notable about Finley off the field, other than the bizarre incident where he alleged that his wife was abusing him. It would be sad if that hiccup is what Finley is ultimately remembered for, because he was quite a pitcher. In fact, he probably could have come back and pitched in 2003, at age 40. He pitched well enough in 2002 with Cleveland and St. Louis, and I remember hearing that some teams were interested in him. But for whatever reason, Finley retired.
Being durably good is a very valuable quality, and I guess the numbers I mentioned value it even more than I do. But I'm just not convinced that Finley was good enough to get in the Hall.
Career 276/336/443; 223 career HR, 5 All-Star Games, 1 Gold Glove
199* career WS (50th all-time among 3B)
18.99 WS/162 G
.276 career EQA
24 career FRAA
* -- Even if Fryman had compiled 200 WS, he doesn't rank highly in any category among all-time 3B)
Nobody ever gave Travis Fryman any credit. But he was a very good third baseman and had some fine seasons. He's not even a marginal Hall-of-Famer, but it's still nice to have a place in your heart for the Travis Frymans of the world.
Fryman had some good seasons, stuck around for a while, and while he was never excellent, he was pretty good at a lot of things. Only once do I think Fryman was one of the 10 best players in his league, and that was 1993; he hit 300/379/486 with capable defense at third, no small feat. But that '93 season was an outlier; Fryman was typically not nearly so good at the plate. One big exception would be his unlikely career year in 2000 with Cleveland: 321/392/516, though he was losing ground defensively at this point.
While Fryman could have built up a long career as a capable, above-average guy, that didn't happen. His production fell off sharply after 2000, and he was out of the majors after his age 33 season in 2002.
There's nothing wrong with just being above-average. But when you're only above-average for a little while, you're not going to get more than a sniff from Hall voters.
Career 279/378/500; 305 HR; 3-time All-Star; 1990 NL Rookie of the Year
233 career Win Shares (t-56th all-time among LF w/Tim Salmon)
23.44 WS/162 G
.301 career EQA (T-28th among RF w/ Dave Winfield)
27 career FRAA
.381 eqOBP (21st among RF)
Justice is somewhat similar to Chuck Finley, career-wise: he was good but rarely great and didn't last all that long. If you stretched David Justice's quality out over a couple hundred more games, he might make the grade based on durability. The problem is that David Justice just never really played that much.
Justice rarely missed a lot of time; his only incomplete seasons were his first season, 1989, and an injury-plagued 1996, where he only played 40 games. But Justice wasn't an everyday player, either; he only topped 146 games once in his whole career. He only topped 130 games 6 times during his career. So while the sum total of his career isn't so bad, there are a lot of seasons where Justice just didn't produce a whole lot on a day-to-day basis.
There's also the fact that Justice retired fairly early. Yes, he was 36 years old, but he was coming off an impressive season as a semi-regular with Oakland where he hit 266/376/410 . At the time, it looked like he had a couple more seasons as a part-timer left if he wanted them. But as it turns out, he didn't.
If your resume is as short as Justice's, you've got to have some truly excellent seasons on your resume. And while Justice was a very good hitter for quite a while, he was never MVP material. A lot of his numbers were fuelled by the mid-90's, and he also wasn't adding anything significant defensively, at least not in his later years.
Justice only had three seasons where I would rank him among the league's 10 best:
1993: 270/357/515, 40 HR, career-high 157 G
1997: 329/418/596, 33 HR, 139 G
In '93, Justice wasn't in the same ballpark as Barry Bonds (336/458/677) or Mike Piazza (318/370/561 at catcher), or Lenny Dykstra (305/420/482) and Darren Daulton (257/392/482) of the pennant-winning Phillies. He may not even have been the best player on his own team. That may have been Jeff Blauser (305/401/436).
His '94 was a big step up, but then all of baseball took a step up offensively in '94. Justice was no match for MVP Jeff Bagwell (368/451/750), ace pitcher Greg Maddux (16-6, 1.56 ERA), Barry Bonds (312/426/647), Craig Biggio (318/411/483), and maybe even Moises Alou, Larry Walker, and Piazza again. And, like '93, Justice wasn't even the best player on the Braves. Besides Maddux, Fred McGriff (318/389/623) had a fine year).
Justice played for Cleveland in '97, and was no match for MVP Ken Griffey, Jr. (304/382/646). I think the best player that year was Frank Thomas (347/456/611), who was also clearly superior to Justice. You've also got Roger Clemens in the midst of a historically great year, and professional hitters like Edgar Martinez, Jim Thome, and Mo Vaughn.
All this is meant to show that while Justice was good, he was never really great. A lot of his great numbers are a product of the mid-90's offensive explosion. They make Justice look great, when in fact, he was just very good. Combine that with a relatively truncated career, and it's very hard to see a Hall-of-Fame case here.
Career 289/378/406; 407 SB; 1991 AL Rookie of the Year; 4-Time All-Star; 1 Gold Glove
231 career Win Shares (32nd all-time among 2B)
22.93 WS/162 G
.275 career EQA
-25 career FRAA
.296 eqAVG (8th among 2B)
.386 eqOBP (T-8th among 2B w/ Bobby Grich)
Through the 1999 season, Chuck Knoblauch was a Hall-of-Famer. After slumping in his first season with the Yankees, Knoblauch rebounded in '99 to hit 292/393/454 and get a World Series ring. He had just turned 31 that July and had a lot of great years ahead of him.
Through 1999, Chuck Knoblauch hit 289/378/406. That doesn't look amazing, but it's pretty darn good for a second baseman. His fielding was decent (-19 career FRAA at the time), although he was coming off an awful season (-20 FRAA) where he'd been afflicted with Steve Sax disease (trouble throwing to first). Still, this was a 31-year-old second baseman who hit quite well. If he wasn't Rod Carew, he was close enough to make it into Cooperstown.
In 2000, Knoblauch hit 282/366/385. It was a pretty significant drop, especially considering that he was now a defensive liability. He tried playing the outfield, but you just can't hold down an outfield job with those stats, especially on the Yankees. Knoblauch split a full season between LF and DH in 2001 and was dreadful (250/339/351). Luckily for the Yanks, his contract was up, and he left as a free agent. He signed with the Royals in 2002, but wasn't any better (210/284/300) and retired).
We can all look back and speculate about what Knoblauch could have been. It's really mystifying to wonder why he suffered a steep drop in batting average and power to go along with the ongoing catastrophe that was his defense. Yeah, he could have been a Hall-of-Famer, but so could a lot of people. If you look at his numbers, he actually didn't do too bad for himself anyways.
I'll finish by "replaying" the best of Chuck Knoblauch: 1995-1996:
1995: 333/424/487, 46/64 in steals, 107 R, 2 FRAA
1996: 341/448/517, 45/59 in steals, 140 R, 13 FRAA
(In my opinion, Knoblauch was the 2nd-best AL player in 1996; only A-Rod was better).
Class of 2008:
Career 271/401/419; 10-time All-Star; 1 Gold Glove; 1990 AL MVP
2,295 Runs (1st all-time)
3,055 Hits (20th all-time)
2,190 Walks (2nd all-time)
1,406 SBs (1st all-time)
535 Career Win Shares (15th all-time, 4th among LF)
28.13 WS/162 G (11th among LF)
.315 career EQA (9th among LF)
24 career FRAA
.298 eqAVG (T-14th among LF)
.421 eqOBP (13th all-time, 3rd among LF)
Okay, so I've put all of my arguments in the introduction. The point I'm trying to make is that Rickey Henderson is an absolute sure-fire Hall-of-Famer. He's one of the 15 or 20 greatest players ever and is either the 4th- or 5th-best left fielder of all time, depending upon how you feel about Carl Yastrzemski.
265/343/416; 195 HR; 2-Time All-Star; 1 Gold Glove
245 career Win Shares (34th all-time among SS)
19.24 WS/162 G
.269 career EQA
50 career FRAA
Bell never really got any respect while he was still active. He was a good hitter for a shortstop, but not a great one. He had a few really strong seasons, but nothing that ever got noticed. He was quite good with the glove, but not as good as Rey Ordonez or any of his more famous contemporaries. There's not much to say about Bell except that he was quite a good player who never really got noticed as such.
Bell's greatest season:
1993 w/PIT: 310/392/437; 102 R; Gold Glove
Career 194-126; 3.46 ERA (120 ERA+), 2,898.2 IP, 2,668 K, 5-Time All-Star; 1994 AL Cy Young
205 Career Win Shares (T-124th all-time w/Hippo Vaughn & Tom Zachary)
967 PRAR (50th all-time)
3.22 eqERA (T-35th all-time w/Carl Hubbell & Warren Spahn)
Of all the decisions I had to make for this article, Cone was one of the toughest. At his peak, he was Hall-of-Fame material. Cone won (and deserved) the 1994 AL Cy Young Award, and he finished 3rd in the voting for the 1988 NL Award (although he probably should have been second).
Here are the two marquee seasons:
1988 w/NYM: 20-3, 2.22 ERA (145 ERA+), 10 HR, 80:213 BB:K (posted 4.50 ERA in NLCS)
1994 w/KC: 16-5, 2.94 ERA (170 ERA+), 15 HR. 54:132 BB:K
One problem is that Cone didn't have any other seasons like this. The best of all his other seasons was probably 1997 with the Yankees (158 ERA+ in just 195 IP).
Still, it's plausible to say that Cone was -- at the age of 36 -- a Hall-of-Famer. He was a durable strikeout pitcher with a good ERA, and if he could just finish out his career gracefully (and pad his numbers) he might get in the Hall with a John Smoltz-ish type of career (minus the relief pitching).
But Cone struggled mightily to finish his career. Pitchers as reliable as Cone usually age fairly gracefully, but he certainly didn't. After back-to-back strong seasons in 1998 and 1999 with the Yankees (including a mid-summer perfect game), Cone had a dreadful 2000. There didn't seem to by anything physically wrong with him, so the Yankees let him keep pitching. But it was like someone had taken a Quantum Leap into his body and didn't know how to work it. Cone finished with a ghastly 6.91 ERA despite making 29 starts and pitching 155 innings.
With Boston the following year, Cone rebounded somewhat, posting an ERA slightly better than the league average (4.31; 105 ERA+). But despite making 25 starts, Cone wasn't able to go deep into ballgames and threw only 135.2 innings. He retired after the season. An attempted comeback with the Mets in 2003 was ultimately fruitless (6.50 ERA in 5 games).
I think that if Cone had finished his career more gracefully he would certainly have a shot at the Hall. He wouldn't be any kind of shoo-in, but he'd be right there with guys like Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown, directly on the bubble. As it is, though, Cone's career crashed and now it's hard to piece together a Cooperstown case out of the wreckage. We can't forget what a fine pitcher he was, but unfortunately, it didn't last long enough.
Career 256/336/468; 321 HR; 2-time All-Star
206 Career Win Shares (61st all-time among LF)
18.22 WS/162 G
.255 eqAVG (worst among all LF with 200 WS)
.336 eqOBP (4th-worst among all LF with 200 WS)
As the numbers suggest, Gant was a slugger-for-hire and little else. He was considered something of a flameout after he left the Braves, and while that's partly true, he never really was great in Atlanta, and he had some good seasons afterwards.
Gant's fielding numbers would look better if the team hadn't made the disastrous attempt to put him in the infield. As it is, his bat was all he had. He stole a few bases early in his career, but his career high was 34 and he wasn't much of a percentage stealer until he matured a bit.
Offensively, Gant's best season may have been 1990 with Atlanta. It was a year before the Braves made it big, but Gant showed a sign of things to come by hitting 303/357/539 with 32 HR. Power was most of Gant's game, which is one of the reasons he won't be getting a Cooperstown plaque. He did draw his walks, but he hit for a pretty low batting average (as noted above), so his OBPs were never great.
Gant hit the skids in 1992 with Atlanta (259/321/415). Although he did come back with an improved 1993, he ended up missing all of '94 before returning with the Reds in '95. It may have been his best season (276/386/554), as the Reds won the NL Central (but got swept by the Braves in the NLCS). Gant shifted to the Cardinals in 1996 and won the NL Central again, hitting 246/359/504, but they too fell to the Braves in the NLCS.
Gant's game started to trail off after that, and while he was able to put up some more decent seasons (1999 with the Phillies), he was never good and healthy in the same season again. He knocked around as a part-timer for a while, playing with 5 different teams in his last 6 years before retiring after 2003.
There are always the memories though. My personal favorite is the 9th inning of Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS. Sure, all he did was hit a sac fly, but it was a part of the big comeback, culminating in Sid Bream's one-legged race.
Career 303/383/442; 2,445 hits; 511 doubles; 3-time All-Star; 4 Gold Gloves
294 Career Win Shares (25th all-time among 1B)
21.22 WS/162 G
133 FRAA (3rd among 1B)
.302 eqAVG (16th among 1B)
.385 eqOBP (20th among 1B)
Grace was a poor man's Keith Hernandez; he wasn't Mex's equal with the glove, but he was a reliable high-average singles hitter who was pretty darn popular in his day. Grace also wasn't as good a hitter as Hernandez; although their numbers bear a good similarity, Grace benefited from playing in hitter's parks during a hitter's era. Hernandez didn't spend any significant time in a hitter's park, and his peak was in the late 70's/early 80's. It may seem like a simple argument, but if Keith Hernandez isn't in the Hall of Fame (and I don't think he should be), then neither should Grace.
Another point is that Hernandez was, at his peak, among the best in baseball, all around (his 1979 c0-MVP was earned). But never was Grace among even the ten best players in the league, and his best seasons don't rank as MVP-caliber at all. Barring some obscene amount of durability, guys like Grace just aren't Hall-of-Famers, fun though they may be to watch.
Career 87-80; 3.16 ERA (125 ERA+); 1,295 IP; 1,179 K; 2-Time All-Star
140 Career Win Shares
Orosco became famous when he set the record for most appearances ever by a pitcher (1,252). Unfortunately, there has to be some quality to go along with that quantity. At first glance, that doesn't sound so hard. Orosco's ERA was well above-average for his career, and he did get his strikeouts. Isn't he then a Hall-of-Famer?
I don't think so. The problem has more to do with the nature of relief pitchers than Orosco himself. The fact that he set the record for appearances isn't just a credit to his durability (although it is partially that), it's a function of modern bullpens. Most modern bullpens have a limited-use left-hander (LOOGY), and Orosco served that role for the last half of his career. In each season from 1991 through his final season in 2003, Orosco had more appearances than innings pitched. This means that he was, generally, not pitching a full inning when he came into a game.
You could argue that Orosco (and by extension, most LOOGYS) have the easiest job in baseball. They throw relatively few innings (1990 was the last time Orosco threw more than 57 innings), only come in when the matchup favors them, and rarely stay in to face tough right-handed pitchers. If you made an adjustment for the easy life of a LOOGY compared to relievers of the past, Orosco (and other LOOGYs) would suffer mightily from the adjustment. After 1990, Orosco was an above-average pitcher who stuck around until age 46 thanks equally to his good durability and the idiosyncatic nature of the modern bullpen.
What about the years 1979-1990? Is it possible that Orosco made his Hall of Fame career then and spent his declining years just padding his numbers? That's a very questionable proposition. A good relief pitcher is, generally speaking, never as valuable as a good starting pitcher. And so if the standard for starters in Cooperstown is stringent, the standard for relievers must be even stronger, since relief pitching is by its nature less strenous and generally less valuable.
Was Jesse Orosco so brilliant from 1979 through 1990 that he punched his Hall ticket? I don't think so. During that period, Orosco threw 791.1 innings, compiled a 2.76 ERA, and notched 683 strikeouts. He was not in the LOOGY role, but in the tougher role of closer or full-time reliever. He did have one really excellent season -- 1983 with the Mets -- but while his performance was better than average, it wasn't brilliant.
Since Orosco's Cooperstown case really hinges on these years, let's compare him to his contemporaries over that same stretch:
Orosco: 2.76 ERA, 121 SV, 791.1 IP, 683 K
Dave Smith: 2.53 ERA, 199 SV, 762 IP, 529 K
Dan Quisenberry: 2.76 ERA, 244 SV, 1043.1 IP, 379 K
Bruce Sutter: 2.83 ERA, 300 SV, 1042.1 IP, 861 K
Goose Gossage: 2.64 ERA, 224 SV, 784 IP, 687 K
There's nothing here at all to separate Orosco from the pack. He wasn't nearly as prolific as Quisenberry and Sutter, and his (unadjusted) ERA was only better than Sutter, whose numbers include his decline phase. His save numbers aren't as high as the others, and that's no coincidence. Orosco was only a closer for four or five years; that means that he wasn't pitching in high-leverage situations nearly as often as the other guys.
The other thing that is his undoing is Orosco's lack of big seasons. In terms of big years, Orosco wasn't nearly as good as Goose Gossage, Quisenberry, Sutter, or even John Franco. So why should he get into Cooperstown ahead of them?
It's a tough case to analyze a relief pitcher conclusively. However, from what I've seen, Orosco was not an elite relief pitcher and is probably 3rd in line to get inducted among relievers of his era. His record for games pitched was impressive, and so was Orosco's ability to pitch at age 46. But that says as much about his era as it does about him, and I haven't seen anything yet to make me think otherwise.
Career 293/383/523; 328 HR; 3-Time All-Star; 1995 AL MVP
200 Career Win Shares (Tied 71st all-time among 1B w/George Burns)
21.43 WS/162 G
.308 EQA (T-18th among 1B w/Harmon Killebrew)
.384 eqOBP (21st among 1B)
.548 eqSLG (T-19th among 1B w/Dolph Camilli)
Mo Vaughn's the sort of player that drives traditional "baseball men" crazy. Managers and commentators since A.G. Spalding have downplayed the skill it takes for a "big idiot" to hit home runs, as opposed to doing the more intellectually challenging work on the ball field. That ideology fell out of practice around 1920, when Babe Ruth showed that hitting homers not only helps you win, it helps you sell tickets. But vestiges still remain; modern reporters and analysts are ten times more likely to praise a "true hitter" like Pete Rose or Ichiro Suzuki while virtually ignoring guys like Mo.
That's unfortunate, because not only was Mo very good, he was not one-dimensional. Mo hit a lifetime 293/383/523, which indicates a broad base of offensive skills: power, contact hitting, and patience. His translated stats show that while he may have benefited from the mid-90's, he also gets credited for playing and succeeding in the modern American League.
Vaughn didn't play enough to merit induction into Cooperstown, as the Win Shares suggest. He was only around for 12 seasons and played just 1,512 games. But, since we've determined that, I'd like to pose a hypothetical: would Mo Vaughn have made it into the Hall if he'd stayed healthy?
Through the 1998 season, Vaughn was hitting a career 304/394/542. Even considering that he was in Fenway Park in the mid-90's that's an impressive achievement. Vaughn was one of the best hitters in baseball, but then he had to be, because he wasn't one of the best players in baseball. Not only was Vaughn just a first baseman, he was a very bad first baseman, and he also ran with all the raw foot speed of a wooly mammoth. So if Vaughn was going to make it into Cooperstown, he was going to have to keep hitting like an elite player.
We know what happened next: Vaughn signed a big free-agent deal with the Angels, and his offense went down the tubes. Even adjusting for the change in parks, Vaughn's first two seasons in Anaheim were a step down. Viz:
1998 w/BOS: 337/402/591; .333 EQA
1999 w/ANA: 281/358/508; .290 EQA
2000 w/ANA: 272/365/498; .290 EQA
Vaughn had gone from an elite hitter to just a very good one in the blink of an eye (or, if you will, after the age of 30). But it all got worse when injuries forced Vaughn to miss the entire 2001 season. The Angels had had enough and traded Mo to the Mets straight-up for Kevin Appier (in a swap of onerous contracts). In 2002, Vaughn was his Anaheim self; good, but no longer excellent. In 2003, he suffered a debilitating knee injury, and his career was over.
Yes, I know that baseball history is littered with tales of Hall-of-Famers whose careers went awry due to injury. But Vaughn's tale is only somewhat about injuries. His steep drop-off in quality with the Angels can't be explained by injuries. And to top it off, many of Vaughn's injuries could have been avoided. He wasn't just the victim of "freak" injuries -- he was a 300-pound man putting his knees through hell.
Unfortunately for the story books, Vaughn's injuries weren't "star-crossed" injuries of chance that cruelly denied him his true destiny. I think Mo was a Hall-of-Famer before he turned 30. But what happened to him after that wasn't just bad luck; it was a predictable circumstance.
Career 268/317/489; 378 HR; 5-Time All-Star; 4 Gold Gloves
Career 241 Win Shares (T-35th all-time among 3B w/Scott Rolen)
20.92 WS/162 G
126 FRAA (12th among 3B)
.320 eqOBP (5th-worst among 3B with 200 WS)
.522 eqSLG (7th among 3B)
Power and defense: not a bad combination. It nearly made Williams an MVP and brought him one (labor) strike away from a chance at breaking Roger Maris' record.
But what holds back Williams from Cooperstown is the same thing that holds back Andre Dawson, Joe Carter, and several others: that pesky OBP. Namely, that Williams made a whole lot of outs in the course of getting those home runs.
If Williams had kept up that production over a much longer period, then maybe we could say that he made up for a lack of quality with quantity. But he didn't. Williams played 17 seasons, which sounds like a lot, but isn't. He debuted in 1987, but didn't catch on as a full-time player until 1990. And the last four years of his career, he was only a semi-regular, playing in 96, 106, 60, and 44 games respectively in those seasons. There was also 1995 and 1996, where injuries limited Williams to only 2/3 of his team's games.
What you're left with is 1,866 games and about 7,400 plate appearances. That's not a whole lot. Brooks Robinson, another power/defense guy (but with much less power and much more defense) played 2,896 games and notched over 11,000 PAs. Robin Ventura, Williams' more well-rounded contemporary, played 2,079 games and managed about 8,100 plate appearances. So while Williams wasn't exactly a short-timer, his low number of games played makes it hard to form a Cooperstown case.
But is it possible that Williams was good enough to make the Hall in such a short time? I really don't think so. Williams' power was pretty well dampened by all those outs. This shows in his .278 EQA, a woeful number. A .270 EQA represents average, and Williams' .278 mark indicates a level of offensive production that's a couple furlongs away from being called "elite." Third baseman with better EQAs who aren't in Cooperstown include Stan Hack, Bob Elliott, Bobby Bonilla, Ron Santo, Bill Madlock, Ron Cey, Darrell Evans, Sal Bando, Toby Harrah, and 6 or 8 others.
Unfortunately, Williams fails to merit Cooperstown induction through quality and quantity. This isn't to say that he wasn't a valuable player of course -- you have to be just to show up on this list -- but he was simply not an elite player or a Hall-of-Famer.
Class of 2009:
Career 300/371/443; 2,724 hits; 210 HR; 12-time All-Star; 10 Gold Gloves
Career 376 Win Shares (8th all-time among 2B)
25.60 WS/162 G (13th among 2B)
.295 career EQA (8th among 2B)
.309 eqAVG (6th among 2B)
.382 eqOBP (11th among 2B)
.474 eqSLG (16th among 2B)
I think that Roberto is an easy Hall-of-Famer. He ranks very favorably in most every important career measure among his peers, as illustrated above. He may not have deserved 10 Gold Gloves, but it seems to me that he was better than just 10 FRAA over his career. If you've got a second baseman who hits among the best ever for his position and is also a good fielder (and perhaps better than that), that's a Hall of Famer. Roberto was around for 17 seasons and was a very durable player. So there's no reason that a player this good who was around this long should be denied a spot in Cooperstown. Roberto may not have been quite as good as Craig Biggio, his contemporary. But he was the AL's best second baseman since Rod Carew, at least.
I think that Roberto will be inducted into the Hall, but I don't think it will happen easily. The thing that will hold him back is that his career took a completely inexplicable nosedive at the age of 34. I don't have a clue what it was that turned Roberto from an MVP candidate into a merely decent player, but it happened very suddenly and seriously hampered his reputation in the eyes of the voters.
In 2001 with Cleveland, Alomar hit 336/415/541 and went 30/36 in steals. He was easily one of the best players in all of baseball that year.
That offseason, the Indians traded Alomar to the Mets for some prospects in what was a salary dump. For some reason, Alomar's offense disappeared; he hit a woeful 266/331/376. 2003 was no different. He was traded to Chicago in mid-season, but was still just marginal, hitting 258/333/349 overall. He split 2004 between the Diamondbacks and White Sox as a part-time player and was even worse. He retired during Spring Training 2005.
This badly damaged his reputation and turned him from a sure-fire first-ballot HOFer into a guy on the bubble. I personally think that he punched his ticket to Cooperstown before 2002, and his sudden fall simply kept him from moving from the Top 10 second baseman into the Top 5. But several polls taken since then have been lukewarm towards Alomar.
However, I don't think this will last. Alomar's failure was a big deal at the time, but it wasn't the sort of catastrophe that sticks in people's heads. Five years is a long time, and I think that when the Hall voters look over his case, they'll see that he's a very deserving candidate. It may not happen on the first ballot, but I think it will happen eventually. And that's only fair.
Career 295/371/444; 2,340 Hits; 12-time All-Star; 3 Gold Gloves; 1995 NL MVP
347 Career Win Shares (9th all-time among SS)
25.79 WS/162 G (11th among SS)
.291 EQA (T-6th among SS w/Lou Boudreau)
.295 eqAVG (12th among SS)
.373 eqOBP (8th among SS)
.465 eqSLG (14th among SS)
I think that Barry Larkin is a Hall-of-Famer, no doubt about it. I also think that he will probably get in, but it could be a hard trip for him.
Barry was a victim of circumstance in many ways. He started his career as the successor to Dave Concepcion, a defensive whiz and a beloved member of the Big Red Machine. Not only that, he was under the shadow of Ozzie Smith and Cal Ripken, Jr. Ozzie was a better fielder, and Ripken was a better hitter. It's not a fair comparison, of course; Barry was good enough at both things combined that he was the best all-around NL shortstop since Ernie Banks. But while he was appreciated (as the twelve All-Star games and MVP would attest), he wasn't considered a superstar.
Barry did outlast both Ozzie and Cal in that he was still in his prime when their careers started to fade in the mid-90's. Unfortunately for Barry, that was exactly the same time that a new breed of shortstops emerged over in the AL (Jeter, Nomar, A-Rod) and made people forget every other star shortstop in recent memory (Larkin, Trammell, Concepcion). So there was never any one moment when people considered Barry to be the best shortstop in baseball.
That, I think, is what will delay -- perhaps even stop -- his induction into Cooperstown. Hopefully, though people will look past that and see Barry's brilliance.
Bill James once said that one of the easiest ways a player can be underrated is if he does a lot of things well, rather than any one thing. Barry fits that profile perfectly. He was a very good hitter for his position, but he never posted any gaudy hitting stats like Nomar or A-Rod. He was quite good defensively, but he wasn't as good as Ozzie (not that that's a fair standard). He stole some bases (379) at a good rate (83%), but he never led the league. All three main aspects of his offensive game -- power, patience, and contact hitting -- were far above-average, but no one of them was enough to make him famous.
There's no one number that makes Barry Larkin a Hall-of-Famer. But when you put together all the things he did, it's very hard to argue against his candidacy. Not only was he a great player, he was also a team leader who hit 338/397/465 in four postseason series. This man deserves a Hall-of-Fame plaque, and he shouldn't have to wait for it.
Career 312/418/515; 2,247 Hits; 309 HR; 7-Time All-Star
305 Career Win Shares (12th all-time among 3B*)
24.04 WS/162 G (14th among 3B)
.327 EQA (T-15th all-time; 1st among 3B)
.320 eqAVG (T-15th all-time; 2nd among 3B)
.429 eqOBP (6th all-time; 2nd among 3B)
.555 eqSLG (3rd among 3B)
* -- I list Edgar as a third baseman, just because it's easier than creating a separate "DH" category
This may have been the hardest decision I had to make. I'll take you through the same thought process I went through.
I think we can all pretty much agree that Edgar Martinez was a Hall-of-Fame hitter. After Frank Thomas, he was probably the best right-handed hitter of the 90's, with all due respect to Manny Ramirez and Gary Sheffield.
One problem with Edgar's career is that while we can't argue with the quality, we can quibble with the quantity. Edgar worked like clockwork once he became established, but he didn't become an everyday player until 1990, when he was 27.
I may be setting a dangerous precedent here, but I think we can cut Edgar some slack in this regard. Edgar was good enough to start for the Mariners as early as 1987 or 1988, especially when you consider we're talking about the 1980's Mariners here. But the club couldn't put Edgar at third base, because they already had Jim Presley (which doesn't sound as impressive now as it did then). After that, they couldn't keep Edgar at third because his defense was awful. They had Alvin Davis and Ken Phelps at first base and DH, respectively, so they couldn't really move him. In my opinion, though, the Mariners were silly to stick with Jim Presley (a horrifically overrated player), when they had the far superior Edgar, even taking defense into account. I'm not saying we should ignore Edgar's late start; many potential HOFers have been the victim of circumstances in their careers, too. But I think we can cut him a little slack in recognizing that his late start was entirely due to his team, rather than his talent.
But that's a relatively minor matter. Even with the late start, I think Edgar was a good enough hitter to make the Hall, and I don't think many analysts would disagree. No, the elephant in the room in regards to Edgar's Hall-of-Fame case is the fact that he was primarily a DH. The only Hall-of-Famer who spent more games at DH than any other position is Paul Molitor. But Molitor's a poor comparison; he played 1,174 games at DH in a career of 2,683. So he spent more time at other positions, which he often played quite well. It's just that he played at so many different spots that he never accumulated as many games as he did later in his career as a DH.
So Molitor wasn't a "career DH," meaning that there isn't one in the Hall, which is bad news for Edgar's chances. Because Edgar was a career DH; Edgar played 1,412 games at DH, and just 563 at 3B and 28 at 1B. If he gets into the Hall, he'll be the first one in Cooperstown who spent the majority of their career at DH.
And so, we reach the burning question: can a career DH make the Hall of Fame? If so, was Edgar's hitting good enough to get him in despite his zero contribution on defense?
As to the first question, I say yes, absolutely, but many writers would disagree. It's amazing to me that so many people still bear a sharp grudge against the DH rule and are willing to let it affect their voting on MVP and Hall of Fame matters. But I think the simple fact that Edgar was a DH will get him a sharp dismissal from many writers, who will simply say, "A DH shouldn't be in Cooperstown!" and then go on their merry, ignorant way.
I couldn't disagree more. A DH should absolutely be considered for Cooperstown. We should elect a player based on his total value. You add up their offensive, defensive, and baserunning values and judge them by their sum total. The question is whether Edgar contributed enough on offense to compensate for a zero on defense.
I think I can say yes, but let me change the subject for a moment to explain myself. The central concept of baseball value is (in my mind) the concept of the replacement level. A player is only valuable in as much as he contributes above what can be gotten from a replacement-level player. So let's consider Edgar's lack of defense in this light: he contributed nothing above replacement level in those games in which he was a DH. But, neither did he hurt the team by contributing defense that was worse than replacement level. You'd rather have Edgar, who's a zero on defense, than someone who's actually worse than a replacement-level player.
So instead of considering Edgar's Fielding Runs Above Average, let's look at his Fielding Runs Above Replacement. For his career, he contributed 44 FRAR. That's mainly due to his work at third base; he was bad, yes, but he was still better than a replacement-level defensive third baseman. Even so, if you're only 44 runs better than replacement-level over your entire career, then you haven't done much for yourself.
But (he said earnestly), consider this:
Edgar Martinez: 44 career FRAR
Frank Thomas: -13 career FRAR
Mo Vaughn: -17 career FRAR
Willie McCovey: 28 career FRAR
Chipper Jones: 74 career FRAR
If Edgar Martinez had stayed a third baseman, he probably wouldn't have been a whole lot worse than Chipper Jones, whose defense has never really hurt his reputation as a future HOFer.
And is Edgar, a full-time DH, really more valuable defensively than Frank Thomas? Yes. Thomas was so bad that the club would have been better off if he'd stayed off the field entirely.
What this comes down to is that many people see a DH as a defensive zero. And anyone else -- even someone as bad as Thomas -- is worth more than zero. I disagree with this concept. As I said before, the idea of replacement level means that it's possible to be worse than a DH -- who is a zero. And Thomas certainly was.
For Edgar Martinez, this makes the DH issue much easier to overcome. While his defensive nonexistence does weigh against his offense, it doesn't weigh as badly as a truly terrible player at another position.
With this in mind, was Edgar's offense good enough to offset his defense? I think so, absolutely. Not only does Edgar rank favorably among third basemen (which isn't fair, since he really wasn't one), he ranks favorably all-time among everybody. Edgar's EQA is tied for 15th all-time, meaning that, adjusted for era, he was one of the best hitters ever. Here are the players he's tied with: Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Johnny Mize, and Jim Thome. I don't know if I'd list Edgar's offense quite that highly, but it is a striking thought that he ranks among these giants.
The two main concerns surrounding Edgar -- defense and longevity -- are significant concerns. But I don't think they're insurmountable. As I've illustrated above, they're actually not as much of an issue as they are perceived to be. Whether the BBWAA voters agree with me is very doubtful. But here's what I think: if Frank Thomas is a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer, then Edgar Martinez can't be too far behind.
Career 288/347/499; 2,333 Hits; 399 HR; 5-Time All-Star; 2 Gold Gloves
251 Career Win Shares (42nd all-time among 1B)
18.07 WS/162 G
If it weren't for Coors Field, we wouldn't even be having this discussion. I love Andres as much as anyone, but there's nothing here that represents a Hall of Fame case. The only really strong argument is his slugging. But, unfortunately, that's also the argument most influenced by Coors Field. In Andres' peak seasons at Coors, the ballpark inflated offense by 20-30%. That's historically high, and it bumps down Andres' slugging percentages and raw numbers to the point that his Hall case is just not there.
It's not that Andres was a bad hitter; in 1998 he came to the Braves and really did hit like an MVP (305/397/595). But there weren't enough of those seasons, and the ones he did have were juiced by his ballpark. I'll always remember Andres' comeback from cancer in 2000 fondly, but he just doesn't meet the standard for Cooperstown.
Career 284/377/509; 2,490 Hits; 493 HR; 5-Time All-Star
341 Career Win Shares (15th all-time among 1B)
22.46 WS/162 G
.307 EQA (T-20th among 1B w/ Rafael Palmeiro)
Well, here's another really tough case. McGriff ranks pretty well on career Win Shares, and he was indeed a productive player for quite some time. His .307 EQA is surprisingly high to me, as I never really considered McGriff to be that good. The problem is that while he was sometimes an MVP candidate, he was never really the best player in the league, and was rarely even in the top 10.
McGriff finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting 6 times during his career. But two of those were 10th-place finishes, and only once did he finish in the top 5 (his amazing 1993). That's pretty much consistent with my own MVP rankings. I personally rank McGriff among the top 10 in his league four times in his career, with his best a 5th-place finish in 1990, when he hit 300/400/530 for Toronto.
So here's the problem I have with McGriff: quality-wise, I think he falls just short of Cooperstown standards, but it's possible that he made up for it with good quantity, consistency, and durability. Let's also take into account that McGriff played in ten postseason series and hit 303/382/532 overall. His best performance may have been in the 1993 NLCS, when the Braves lost to the Phillies through no fault of his own; the Crime Dog hit 435/519/696.
The general consensus about McGriff seems to be that he was a really good player for a long time, but he just wasn't great enough to merit induction into Cooperstown. And, although I have some misgivings, I think I would have to agree. Fred had a good, long career, but I just don't think he ever reached a peak that ranks him above the rest. Ask me again in a few years and I might change my mind, but right now, I wouldn't vote for Fred McGriff for the Hall of Fame.
Career 267/362/444; 294 HR; 2-Time All-Star; 6 Gold Gloves
272 Career Win Shares (23rd all-time among 3B)
21.19 WS/162 G
157 FRAA (5th among 3B)
.373 eqOBP (13th among 3B)
For a while in the early 90's, I considered myself a White Sox fan. Maybe it's because they were on cable TV, maybe it's because they had cool new uniforms, and maybe it's because I had a bizarre fascination with Steve Sax's career (don't ask). Either way, I came to be a big fan of Frank Thomas and Robin Ventura, the cornerstones of those teams, along with guys like Tim Raines, "Black" Jack McDowell, and Roberto Hernandez.
So I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Robin Ventura and never felt like he really got the credit he deserved. But while the 10-year-old in me would love to put Robin the Hall, the 25-year-old in me realizes he just doesn't belong.
Robin was a good hitter for the position and a fine fielder, as the Gold Gloves suggest. He was rarely a great hitter, but he was consistenly of All-Star caliber. From 1991-1995, Ventura was amazingly consistent:
1991: 284/367/442, Gold Glove
1992: 282/375/431, Gold Glove
1993: 262/379/433, Gold Glove
Admittedly, this consistency is partly an illusion. Ventura was better in 1991-1993, because the entire league experienced an upward shift in offense starting in '93, meaning that Ventura's performance in the strike years wasn't quite as valuable.
Ventura returned with similar consistency in '96, but broke his leg in Spring Training 1997. Possibly still suffering the effects, he had an off year in 1998 (263/349/436) which was, unfortunately for him, his walk year. He signed as a free agent with the Mets and got a new lease on life.
Ventura's 1999 with the Mets was one of the best seasons by a third baseman since the heyday of Schmidt-Brett-Boggs. He hit 301/379/529 despite moving to a pitcher's park in the National League. The leg didn't seem to be bothering him. Ventura struggled in the postseason, although he'll be forever remembered by Met fans for his "walkoff grand-slam single" that won Game 5 of the NLCS in the 15th inning.
Ventura spent two more decent seasons with the Mets and then went to the Yankees, where he was equally capable, although he would never again be the star he once was. He ended his career with one-and-a-half seasons with the Dodgers and retired after hitting 243/337/362 as a part-timer in 2004.
Ventura was good, but rarely great. He was consistently good, but not for a very long time. He was a fine, well-rounded ballplayer, no question about it. But he's just not a Hall-of-Famer. The 10-year-old Aaron is disappointed, but at least he'll feel better when the Big Hurt gets inducted.
Since this discussion has gone on longer than I expected, I'll go ahead and wait on the rest of the entry, making this a two-part installment. You can expect a report on the HOF Class of 2010 and the tentative Class of 2011 within a couple of days.