Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Where To Find Me

As I mentioned in my last post, my writing was in the process of being moved, and that process is complete. Going forward, you'll be able to read my stuff at Beyond the Box Score (what I initially wanted to title this blog, btw, but they beat me to it), and my content can be seen here. Of course, these posts will be on baseball only but will range beyond the Cubs and White Sox. I lose about 10 Twitter followers per Bears game, suggesting I have a pretty big baseball following beyond Chicago, so this provides me a vehicle to reach beyond the Chicago area.

Generally speaking, I'll put up pieces at Beyond the Box Score on Monday and Thursday. Some of them might even be interesting. I'll be leaving my content here for those who manage to find it by accident, but as I gradually recycle some of these columns with updated data I'll remove them until at some point there won't be much left here, but that's a long way down the road.

I never miss the opportunity to thank those who read my material and interact with me on Twitter. A wise man once said you can tell you're a leader if you have followers, and paraphrasing that suggests you can tell you're a writer if you have readers. I made these moves to reach a wider audience and also to see just how far a 51-year-old guy can take this. Just in the last 8 months since I seriously decided to undertake this I'm astounded at the size and growth of my audience. It's a speck compared to the Joe Sheehans and Joe Posnanskis and other outstanding writers, but it's a bigger speck than when I started.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart and look forward to your continued interaction and support. I also appreciate the opportunities given by Bryan Grosnick and Neil Weinberg at Beyond the Box Score--it was a random tweet by Neil that alerted me to the possibilities at Beyond the Box Score. I'm very curious to see where all this goes and look forward to taking you kind readers along for the ride.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What's Been Going On

I had a plan for the baseball offseason, even started it with my Hall of Fame posts with the expectation I would continue through every position and then transition into other topics best covered in the offseason.

That plan has changed. I'm in the process of transitioning this blog and will make it public when all the i's are dotted and t's crossed, which should be soon. At this point I don't know if I will retain the blog name (or even if that matters), but I suspect my emphasis will remain the same--primarily baseball, with an emphasis on the Chicago teams since I have a healthy following there.

As I move forward, I'll probably cannibalize some of the work I did earlier in this blog as I update it to reflect new data, and as I do that I'll probably delete older pieces on this site. For example, one of the first posts I ever wrote was on stolen bases, and I'll update that right around the beginning of the 2014 season and then remove it from this site. However, I'll probably leave this site up for folks to poke around in if they wish--it somehow gets 100-200 hits a day even when I haven't written in quite some time.

What will NOT change is my emphasis or my desire, which is to TELL STORIES. A number without context is just another number, and since there's no shortage of people who can tell you what happened in a game and why (and do it FAR better than I can), I won't attempt to add something where I have nothing to contribute. This past year suggests there is an audience who wants a bit more depth in some of the subjects, particularly in baseball. In April 2013 I had around 35 Twitter followers--7 months later I'm at over 1,500, so I must have struck a chord somewhere. I've been the beneficiary of some very helpful boosts, and those people know who they are but still need to be reminded that I will ALWAYS BE GRATEFUL. This means you DB, JG, LK and BK.

As always, your continued support is appreciated and humbling. It's been a very interesting year and promises to become that much more so. I'll let you know where you can find me very soon.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The 2014 Hall of Fame Ballot (3)

My first two Hall of Fame (HOF) posts dealt with the newcomers to the 2014 ballot. This one will deal with the holdovers and cover several other areas as well. This table lists the holdovers on the 2014 HOF ballot, those that have managed to amass at least 5% of the ballots in the previous year:
Batting Stats
Rk YoB % of Ballots HOFm HOFs Yrs WAR WAR7 JAWS Jpos
1 Craig Biggio 2nd 68.2% 169 57 20 64.94 41.61 53.28 57.0
2 Jack Morris 15th 67.7% 122 39 18 44.06 32.75 38.41 61.4
3 Jeff Bagwell 4th 59.6% 150 59 15 79.48 48.17 63.83 55.7
4 Mike Piazza 2nd 57.8% 207 62 16 59.20 43.08 51.14 43.1
5 Tim Raines 7th 52.2% 90 47 23 69.07 42.23 55.65 53.1
6 Lee Smith 12th 47.8% 135 13 18 29.59 21.14 25.36 34.4
7 Curt Schilling 2nd 38.8% 171 46 20 79.92 48.99 64.45 61.4
8 Roger Clemens 2nd 37.6% 332 73 24 140.30 66.31 103.30 61.4
9 Barry Bonds 2nd 36.2% 340 76 22 162.53 72.77 117.65 53.1
10 Edgar Martinez 5th 35.9% 132 50 18 68.28 43.51 55.89 55.0
11 Alan Trammell 13th 33.6% 118 40 20 70.35 44.63 57.49 54.7
12 Larry Walker 4th 21.6% 148 58 17 72.63 44.59 58.61 56.4
13 Fred McGriff 5th 20.7% 100 48 19 52.56 36.04 44.30 55.7
14 Mark McGwire 8th 16.9% 170 42 16 62.05 41.87 51.96 55.7
15 Don Mattingly 14th 13.2% 134 34 14 42.24 35.66 38.95 55.7
16 Sammy Sosa 2nd 12.5% 202 52 18 58.42 43.71 51.07 56.4
17 Rafael Palmeiro 4th 8.8% 178 57 20 71.77 38.77 55.27 55.7
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 11/6/2013.

The column headings are described in my first post. I'll break these players into discrete groups and discuss my thoughts. To see the entire Baseball-Reference (B-R) list with their career totals, you can click this link.

That would be Larry Walker, Fred McGriff, Don Mattingly and probably Alan Trammell. I'll have to get in contact with the Hall of Very Good (@HOVG) to see if he/she has room for them, because I think they all deserve enshrinement there, and in Trammell's case, I'd argue that he belongs in the REAL HOF, but he's never generated enough interest from the voters. I like Walker, McGriff and Mattingly but they all have issues--Walker with inflated numbers at Coors Field, McGriff hitting home runs and not much else and Mattingly just not playing long enough to accumulate counting stats. This table shows just how pronounced the Coors Field effect is:
Rk I Player Split From To G OPS OPStot % PA PAtot AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Bobby Doerr Home 1937 1951 954 .928 .823 112.8 4080 8028 3554 634 1120 246 46 145 742 465 283 .315 .396 .533 .928
2 Cy Williams Home 1916 1930 880 .964 .858 112.4 3485 6811 3009 537 974 182 27 156 527 373 333 .324 .406 .558 .964
3 Dante Bichette Home 1988 2001 848 .938 .835 112.3 3466 6856 3212 574 1053 214 21 177 696 193 482 .328 .365 .573 .938
4 Rico Petrocelli Home 1963 1976 768 .843 .752 112.1 3025 6171 2617 369 713 141 12 134 465 332 444 .272 .354 .489 .843
5 Ian Kinsler Home 2006 2013 538 .898 .804 111.7 2399 4791 2070 434 630 143 15 85 293 260 253 .304 .387 .511 .898
6 Chuck Klein Home 1928 1944 887 1.028 .922 111.5 3635 7170 3289 661 1163 226 36 190 727 310 240 .354 .410 .618 1.028
7 Chico Fernandez Home 1956 1963 438 .693 .622 111.4 1571 3078 1402 163 366 51 14 26 151 124 163 .261 .320 .373 .693
8 Ed Charles Home 1962 1969 502 .807 .727 111.0 1907 3908 1695 246 490 76 20 53 236 166 238 .289 .355 .451 .807
9 Nelson Cruz Home 2005 2013 405 .912 .823 110.8 1592 3182 1435 225 422 88 6 92 278 135 340 .294 .356 .556 .912
10 Bob Horner Home 1978 1988 520 .929 .839 110.7 2145 4213 1901 333 560 90 4 142 415 198 241 .295 .359 .570 .929
11 Larry Walker Home 1989 2005 986 1.068 .965 110.7 3996 8030 3429 789 1193 268 39 215 747 444 546 .348 .431 .637 1.068
12 Juan Uribe Home 2001 2013 776 .795 .719 110.6 2830 5655 2587 348 714 143 27 104 369 166 461 .276 .323 .473 .795
13 Wally Judnich Home 1940 1949 388 .908 .822 110.5 1513 3207 1287 209 388 79 13 54 226 205 134 .301 .399 .509 .908
14 Carson Bigbee Home 1916 1926 559 .787 .713 110.4 2199 4669 1954 331 613 69 52 7 181 177 69 .314 .374 .413 .787
15 Jerry Lumpe Home 1956 1967 700 .751 .681 110.3 2746 5438 2446 334 711 105 32 31 263 241 203 .291 .353 .398 .751
16 Hank Greenberg Home 1930 1947 711 1.121 1.017 110.2 3086 6097 2592 594 876 198 38 205 733 468 402 .338 .440 .681 1.121
17 Todd Helton Home 1997 2013 1141 1.048 .953 110.0 4841 9453 4038 874 1394 321 28 227 859 710 514 .345 .441 .607 1.048
18 Rudy York Home 1934 1948 792 .929 .846 109.8 3302 6723 2897 479 882 152 30 158 656 390 387 .304 .388 .541 .929
19 Heinie Sand Home 1923 1928 422 .755 .688 109.7 1774 3529 1497 262 424 91 11 10 140 215 165 .283 .377 .379 .755
20 Russ Wrightstone Home 1920 1928 468 .854 .779 109.6 1648 3285 1498 250 482 81 11 44 232 116 70 .322 .375 .479 .854
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/31/2013.

This shows players with the greatest difference between home OPS and their career OPS (OPStot), with the key stat being the % column which shows the difference between home vs. overall OPS. When 3 of the top 20 in this category played their home games at Coors Field, it's safe to say the park had an effect. Walker, McGriff, Mattingly and Trammell will probably lurk on the ballot for the entire 15 years, but I don't feel bad leaving them out--they were good, VERY good, but not worthy of HOF enshrinement.

These are Jack Morris, Tim Raines, Lee Smith, Curt Schilling and Edgar Martinez. To see how players who are enshrined after a number of years gradually build momentum click here and look around. Players need to reach a critical mass (usually around 40-50%) at which point enough other writers join the bandwagon and eventually vote the player in around year 8 or 9. All of these players have solid credentials:
Morris--250+ wins, (alleged) good postseason pitching
Raines--solid speed/power guy
Smith--one-time all-time save leader
Schilling--2001 postseason pitching
Martinez--best DH of all time
I've oversimplified, but this is what the arguments boil down to. These are the discussions when Andre Dawson and Jim Rice are enshrined and the bar for induction moves downward. When the Pedro Martinez discussions begin, someone will look at his 210 career wins and say "Schilling had MORE," and totally dismiss the utter dominance that Martinez had in his career.

There is a huge distinction between career milestones and dominance. Curt Schilling DID have more career wins than Pedro Martinez and there were years where he was considered among the best pitchers, but Martinez was DOMINANT. Using just one stat, there have been 35 seasons since 1901 in which pitchers had an ERA+ of 200 or greater (min 20 starts)--Martinez had FIVE of them, Schilling 0. Morris' WAR7 suggests he was a very good pitcher who lasted a long time, but was possibly the Jamie Moyer (better, granted) of his day. Raines very well could be developing the momentum necessary for eventual enshrinement and I wouldn't say one word if he were to be elected--he is the quintessential on-the-fence candidate. I just happen to believe that if I have to think THAT hard about a player, he doesn't belong. I touched on problems that plague Edgar Martinez in the discussion of Frank Thomas in my previous post.

In no way do I want to diminish the careers of any of these men--they WERE among the best in their generation and I never want to blithely dismiss any candidate by stating "Well, he's not HOF worthy"--most players aren't. Over 18,000 players have put on a big league uniform and the HOF currently enshrines less than 2% of them. It's the Hall of FAME, not the Hall of "Hey I Remember That Guy."
PROGNOSIS--Morris YES (even though I wouldn't), everyone else NO (I'm very conflicted on Edgar Martinez). In other words, if I had a ballot, none of these players would get my vote but I would struggle mightily with Edgar Martinez.

I have absolutely no idea how Craig Biggio wasn't elected in 2013, none whatsoever that isn't connected to innuendo or some stupid issue of not electing players on their first ballot appearance (easily the STUPIDEST unwritten HOF voter rule). I'd be shocked if he isn't elected in 2014 but he might be aced out by a strong first-year class and the reticence of voters to enshrine more than 2-3 players a year. Biggio was the example Bill James used in the New Historical Baseball Abstract to completely blow my mind as to how to evaluate players (pp 361-364). He had Biggio rated as the 35th-best player of all-time, and at that time I was barely aware of Baseball-Reference, completely clueless on advanced metrics and had just started listening to 670 The Score out of Chicago. I thought this was IDIOTIC until I read further and followed James' logic. Biggio has the traditional numbers, 12,500 plate appearances, 3,000+ hits and did the most important thing a player (particularly a leadoff hitter) can do--he created runs, and if you check the link, you'll see that he's a relative rarity in that bunch that are typically power hitters. 
PROGNOSIS--YES, 82% of the vote

Which leaves Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Mike Piazza and Sammy Sosa, with more on the way. These players range the spectrum of PED use all the way from suspected (Piazza) to acknowledged (McGwire) with every shade in between. This era will never go away--sometime in 2050 a Veterans' Committee will review any of these who don't get enshrined and examine the whole issue all over again. I suppose I should state where I stand:


I don't, not one lick. I wish definitive evidence of PED use by ANY player, not just these exists and they had been dealt with administratively by MLB at the time, but the Collective Bargaining Agreement at the time did not explicitly ban these drugs. This site has comprehensive lists of those who used PEDS or were suspected--it's a bit out of date but covers the players I'm interested in.

PEDs do two primary things, build muscle mass and reduce inflammation, and I'm unclear as to which is the bigger benefit--I'd argue the reduced inflammation, which allows for quicker rebound from the rigors of baseball. Players were able to extend their careers because they could recover faster, and as a new CBA explicitly banned PEDs and instituted penalties, the older productive player is becoming a rarity again. This chart shows the number of players aged 37 or older with 400+ plate appearances in a year between 1960 and 2013:

It wasn't fair, but neither were amphetamines in the 1970s and 1980s. Besides, if PED use was as rampant as suspected (and I have no reason to believe otherwise), we're still down to around 7-10 players who vaulted themselves to the pinnacle of baseball achievement. I have a hard time believing PEDs made an average (certainly not a below-average) player great as much as taking a great player and extending his career 2-3 years and allowing the accumulation of counting stats. I don't expect everyone to agree with me, and to the extent and manner you wish, I'm more than happy to discuss it.

I also believe this will eventually become the thinking of the HOF voters, but it will have to be declared somehow. The BBWAA won't ever issue a statement like this because they'd never come anywhere close to being able to reach a consensus, but until something is done it's going to be the Wild West in voting as each voter takes his personal biases (which already happens, I know) and lets them run rampant. As much as I'd love to see the recommendations that Bill James puts forth in Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? (Chapter 29) I know I'll never see them, at least not anytime soon. Until then:
Jeff Bagwell          YES
Barry Bonds         YES
Roger Clemens    YES
Mark McGwire     NO
Rafael Palmeiro    NO
Mike Piazza          YES
Sammy Sosa         YES (but I wouldn't vote for him)

Even before the PED scandal became well-known I was already beginning to wonder about the whole notion of the automatic enshrinement of anyone who hit 500+ home runs. The 500+ club numbers 25 and can be broken into these groups:
Lively Ball--Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Mel Ott
No-Name--Ted Williams
Expansion--Eddie Mathews, Mickey Mantle, Ernie Banks, Willie Mays, Harmon Killebrew, Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey, Reggie Jackson, Mike Schmidt
1990s on--Eddie Murray, McGwire, Palmeiro, Sosa, Bonds, Frank Thomas, Gary Sheffield, Ken Griffey Jr., Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Alex Rodriguez
Fully half of these players accomplished this feat in the past 20 years or so, with Albert Pujols banging on the door. As I look at the list of hitters with 400+ home runs (itself only 51) I find myself wavering, but I'll stick with it. The point in baseball is to score runs, not hit home runs--this chart shows the difference between hitting home runs and creating runs:

Players like Bonds hit home runs AND created runs, Stan Musial hit far fewer home runs but is still #3 on the runs created list and Mark McGwire is shown to be the one-dimensional player he was who didn't create runs other than by hitting home runs. The two blacked out boxes (Dave Kingman and Andre Dawson) didn't make the top 200 in runs created. Now I need to re-think this AGAIN since this paints Palmeiro in a far more flattering light. 

The rumors are out regarding Piazza and Bagwell, and until those rumors are substantiated, they're just that--rumors. As such, I'm very comfortable with both these players--Piazza is easily among the best, if not THE best offensive catchers in baseball history and Bagwell was among the best during a time that saw offensive first basemen by the bushel. Both Bonds and Clemens had HOF-worthy careers PRIOR to their alleged PED use. I cannot overstate that this is simply my opinion, which doesn't make me right or infallible. I just don't see withholding HOF enshrinement as a correction for an unfortunate period in  baseball history as a solution.

All this makes for a very confusing ballot. With the 5 players discussed in my previous post plus the 12 I discussed in varying degrees in this one, I would strongly argue that 10, maybe more deserve enshrinement. This false "protection" of the HOF from the taint of PED users has created a backlog of players that should already be in (Bonds and Clemens for sure as well as Piazza, Bagwell and Biggio) that will have implications for future elections. That's why this whole issue needs to be addressed in some manner--there is a very real possibility that it will keep DESERVING (and CLEAN) candidates out, which would be a huge failure. HOF Attendance is already on the decline for any number of reasons (try very hard to read the Wall Street Journal article referenced, but it may be behind a pay wall) and continued weirdness in the voting procedure won't help matters any, nor will Induction Days where all the inductees are dead.