The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Thursday, January 31, 2002


Hope Springs Eternal

Here in New York, it isn't much of a stretch to envision the local nine embarking upon a playoff-caliber season. Seven straight postseason appearances have raised the bar far beyond that measure; a playoff run isn't just hoped for, it's expected by Boss Steinbrenner. The Yankees hunt bigger game(s), and the braintrusts's every major decision is seen through the same filter: "Is this team good enough to win a World Championship?"

Even across town, where they haven't won a World Series since 1986, the bud of optimism (not to be confused with the sport's czar, the Bud of Pessimism) when it comes to the postseason isn't too farfetched. If Mo Vaughn can still hit, if Edgardo Alfonzo regains his form, if Robbie Alomar stays young, and if the rotation holds up... stretches, some of those are, yet at least the players in the mix, and the team itself, have a track record of some success in the not-too-distant past.

But in Kansas City, on the other hand, gloom reigns. For starters, there's the matter of seven straight losing seasons and a last-place finish in the AL Central. And then there's the dismantling of the Royals' nucleus of the few decent hitters they've produced in recent times. In the past two years, the franchise has traded two of its biggest stars--Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye--as they approached free agency and has gotten crapola in return--a bloated has-been of a closer and a glove man with Coors-inflated hitting stats that weren't very good to begin with. Their marquee free-agent signings this winter are Chuck Knoblauch and Michael Tucker. Manager Tony "Sarge" Muser and GM Allard Baird have witlessly conspired to sabotage the careers of promising players like Mark Quinn, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Febles, Dee Brown... and on and on. Owner David Glass seems poised to keep K.C.'s payroll near the bottom of the league. Pundits like Rob Neyer have stopped pulling their hair out over the Royals' bafflingly stupid ways and gone straight to surrender. It ain't pretty.

But here K.C. Star columnist Joe Posnanski, taking a rose-tinted view of the local K.C. nine, says that the Royals can take the AL Central. A laughable proposition in some quarters, but that's not quite the point. For starters, Posnanski invokes the annual tradition of a predecessor at the Star, a writer named Bill Vaughan, who would write similarly optimistic tomes--back when the team in question was the Athleticsm in the days when their best pitcher was a polio survivor. "...[L]ooking back, I'm not sure he was only joking. He had hope," writes Posnanski. "January does that to crazy baseball fans. It turns us into 10-year-old kids."

Fair enough. I'm sure all of us who came to the game at a similarly young age can remember our vain predictions and predilections. Maybe that schlub of a scrub who signed an autograph when he passed through Triple-A for us would lead the big club to glory. Maybe the young fireballer with lousy control would find the strikezone. Maybe that fan would give Reggie's home run ball back and the Sox could beat the Yanks (as my pal Martin memorably suggested in the Bucky Dent game). Childhood is full of such delusions.

Posnanski points out the weakness of the division (the mighty Indians are no more, as their offseason actions in the wake of John Hart's departure clearly indicate), and then runs down the roster, pointing out the plethora of young K.C. arms poised on the brink of Figuring It All Out. And he does have a point, because in these days of large market vs. small, the development of solid starting pitching is the quickest way toward respectability. Take the A's and the Twins, for example.

Posanski's piece is a breezy read, and it's harmless enough in January. But where he falls short in his optimism is failing to include some kind of coup in the organization's so-called braintrust as a necessary first condition to all of this. Tony Muser is a Terrible Manager, a red-ass who believes that machismo at the plate can repeal a fundamental rule of the game--you have to get on base to score runs. In four and a half years at the Royals' helm, he's managed a .426 winning percentage, with a high of 77 wins. Allard Baird, if it's possible, is an even worse GM, having come up virtually empty in trading two stars (one can only shudder to think of the bounty of broken doorknobs and spoiled fish that awaits them when they trade Mike Sweeney to a contender). Baird's idea of improving the club is trading for Donnie Sadler. Enough said.

Smarter men than myself who are more devoted to the Royals (okay, maybe that cancels out the "smarter" part), such as Rany Jazayerli, have pointed out in painstaking detail some of the Royals' more foolish assumptions. In his most recent column over at Baseball Prospectus, Jazayerli (Rob Neyer's former partner in Royal-watching) weighs K.C.'s claims that they couldn't afford Dye or Damon against the motley (and I don't mean Darryl) assortment of players the Royals "can" afford. He also points out that given the current management's ineptitude, their Triple-A rotation stands a good chance of outpitching their major league one:

"There's definitely something wrong when the best thing that can happen to your pitching staff is for one of your projected starters to go down with an injury so that a better pitcher can take his place. That's what the Royals have brought on themselves. Faced with a choice between gambling on one of their many unproven but highly-touted young pitchers, and a proven veteran--proven only in the sense that he's provably mediocre--the Royals have again taken the safe route. Risk aversion dominates the Royals' philosophy at every turn."

Anyway... ya gotta have hope, I guess. I wholeheartedly support the kind of foolish optimism of late winter which Posnanski invokes, and I don't pretend (or care) to know much about the nuances of the Royals' system. But I do think that if you want to restore some hope to what was once a great baseball town, the first order of business is to hand Muser and Baird a blindfold and a cigarette apiece, and usher in the next phase of K.C. baseball with a bang or two. And if you happen to be a columnist covering the home nine, you're certainly better off leading the coup than sitting on your hands and waiting for it to happen.

Wednesday, January 30, 2002


Snuffing the Arsonist

Seattle lefty reliever Norm Charlton was recently diagnosed with not just a torn rotator cuff but a torn labrum as well. The former Nasty Boy obviously won't pitch during the 2002 season, and at 39, might finally be done.

This item caught my attention because Charlton put up a strong season with the 2001 Mariners (4-2, 3.02 ERA, .212 Opp. Batting Average) after several years of wandering in the wilderness. From 1997 to 2000, Charlton posted a 6.26 ERA as he bounced from Seattle to Baltimore to Atlanta to Tampa Bay to Cincinnati, setting fire to almost everything he touched. Early in this miserable stretch, I christened him the Arsonist, and the name stuck among my friends. In his previous tour of duty with Seattle, which ended in 1997, Charlton had crashed and burned as a closer (3-8, 14 Saves, 11 Blown Saves, 7.27 ERA). Much to our amusement, it took several Seattle relievers to pick up the slack the following year (Bobby Ayala 1-10, 7.29 ERA), Paul Spoljaric (4-6, 6.48 ERA), Bob Wells (2-2, 6.10 ERA), Heathcliff Slocumb (2-5, 5.32 ERA), and Tony Fossas (0-3, 8.74 ERA). By this time, Charlton was in Baltimore, causing conflagrations so intense Boog Powell might have shut his Barbecue Pit at Camden Yards (2-1, 6.94 ERA).

Shortly after the trading deadline in '98, an item appeared in the New York Times about the Yankees possibly being interested in Charlton. Seizing my muse at this odd bit of news, I composed a lunchtime email rant which I sent to a few friends. I still think is worth a chuckle now that I'm sharing my thoughts about baseball on a much wider plane, so I thought it was topical enough to pass along.

Date: 8/3/98 1:18 PM

According to today's Times, commenting on the depleted relief corps:

[Yankee GM Brian] Cashman intends to ask other club officials if there is reason to be interested in the free agent reliever NORM CHARLTON, recently released by the Baltimore Orioles.

The following conversation is a dramatic re-enactment of a telephone call that took place at 11:30 AM EST:

"Hello, Brian?"


"This is Jay Jaffe, a fair-weather Yankee fan and partial season ticket holder."

"Hi, Jay. Nice to meet you. What can I do for you?

"Well, Brian, I must say you guys are really tearing it up this year and I think you've done a great job on the hot seat as GM. Pricing the Big Unit out of the league was a stroke of genius."

"Thanks, that means a lot to me coming from a fan like you."

"Uh huh. Listen, Brian. I'll be straight with you. I know you guys are a little thin in the bullpen, what with Nelson and Holmes on the DL now, but I've just gotta say, you're really tempting fate if you sign Norm Charlton. Are you familiar with the term 'arson'?"

"Arson, yeah, like a guy who sets fires?"

"Exactly. Norm Charlton, he's so awful, my friends and I call him 'the Arsonist.'"

"Wow. That's not exactly a compliment, is it?"

"No Brian, it is not. Are you aware that over the last year and a half, Norm's ERA is 7.17? Brian, my rule of thumb is that if you could mistake a guy's ERA for a Boeing jet, you're better off passing on him. And..."

"Jeez. Is he really that bad?"

"...this year opposing hitters are hitting .305 and slugging .470 against him. His ERA on grass is 8.46..."

"I didn't realize he had a drug problem. That explains..."

"No, no, no. I mean as opposed to Astroturf."

"Oh. Kinda like that story about Tug McGraw where he was asked which he preferred to play on..."

"Yeah, yeah. 'I dunno, I never smoked Astroturf!' Cracks us up all the time."

"Well, look, Jay. I need bullpen help. Not a lot, but just some insurance. And if Norm's not worth it, who else is there? The trading deadline is past."

"Well, Brian, that's the second reason I called. Did you see Jim Bouton pitch at Old-Timer's Day?"

"No, I missed it. The damn sausage line was taking forever. George has got to do something about the vendors in the stadium. You know, I think that may be the key issue which seals this new stadium deal."

"You may be right. Anyway, back to the matter at hand. Bouton got his man out. He's 59, but he's got lots of big game experience. Two World Series for your franchise, a successful comeback at age 39. And he's a knuckleballer. Those guys last friggin' forever. I mean, that's only a couple years older than Phil Niekro was when he was with you guys."

"Hmmm. An unconventional thought, but it's crazy enough that it just might work. Tell you what. Let me bounce it off George and some of the folks here in the front office. I might even call Bob Watson in on this one."

"Good idea, Brian. Bob and Jim go waaay back. Did you know that when Watson was a rookie catcher with the 1969 Astros, he broke his thumb trying to catch Bouton's knuckler?"

"You don't say. Do you think it's a good idea to bring that up?"

"It'll jog Bob's memory, and it's probably healed by now. Water under the bridge, you know. Besides, Bob's probably got more pressing health concerns. That *is* why you're the man in the big chair now, Brian."

"Right. Well, thanks for the advice, Jay. Is it all right if I have Joe Torre or the Zim call you back with regards to this matter?"

"Sure, Brian, no problem. But those guys are smart baseball men. They know about the Arsonist and what he'd mean to the franchise: instant disaster. You'd be the latest trophy on George's wall, and I don't mean as in 'World Series'. Right up there next to Billy and Yogi and Gene Michael and poor Dick Howser and Buck Showalter and... you get the idea. Oh and one more thing: word on poor Norm last year was that he was tipping his pitches. Batters knew what was coming."

"Holy shit! You don't say...."


Yes, well... Anyway, for all the derision I heaped upon the Arsonist when he was going bad, he showed a considerable amount of resolve by working his way back to being a serviceable pitcher. I salute him for that, and wish him the best if he and when he tries to make it back.

But just the same, I'm checking the fire extinguishers.

Monday, January 28, 2002


Insert Home Run Trot Here

Sports Central SotW Winner

I seem to have won an award given out by a website called Sports Central. While it's not quite the same as Ed McMahon coming to my door with an oversized check, I am honored to be ANYBODY's site of the week (and now, the Unemployed Yankee Fans of Greater New York present their award for Most Trenchant Criticism of the Yankees' Glut of Futility Infielders...). Sports Central seems to be a pretty interesting opinion and discussion forum site dealing with all sports, not just baseball. The baseball stuff is pretty good, what I've read of it. This week's column deals with the Gary Sheffield trade and what it says about the power relationship between petulant star players and their teams. Worth a read.

Hot on the heels of my two-part feature about ballplayers named Jay comes my induction of Jay Buhner into my Wall of Fame. Buhner was a classy ballplayer who I'll miss every bit as much as the Yankees who recently departed. Readers of the series will quickly recognize that I've shamelessly repurposed much of the information for Buhner's page, but I've provided a bonus of sorts by examining the man at the other end of the Yankees' infamous trade of Buhner, Ken Phelps.

Friday, January 25, 2002


The Jay Ballers of the World, Part II

The second part of my research piece on ballplayers named Jay, which covers the hitters, is now up.

Here I present to you the All-Jays:

SS Jay Bell
1B Jay Kirke
CF Jay Johnstone (with Jay Payton as defensive replacement)
RF Jay Buhner
LF Jay Gibbons
DH Jay Gainer
C Jay Kleven
2B Jay Canizaro
3B Jay Ward

PR Jay Loviglio

SP Jay Hughes
SP Jay Hook (big drop-off after the ace)
SP Jay Tibbs
SP Jay Pettibon
RP Jay Baller
RP Jay Witasick
RP Jay Tessmer
SU Jay Powell
CL Jay Howell (can I get Orel Hershiser in case of a suspension?)

MGR Jay Ward (I've got enough problems without handing this team over to Jay Faatz and his 9-24 record)

Thanks to Pete Sommers at Baseball News Blog for calling attention to Part I and for getting into the spirit of things with his All-Pete team (which would probably hand the All-Jays their asses). No dice on the Pedros, Sommers, though I'll give you Guerrero because fans actually called him "Pete" for a while. The only condition is that you have to play him at third base.

Then I think the Jays would have a shot...

Sunday, January 20, 2002


The Futility Infielder Sweepstakes

Right now, the most amazing thing about the Yankees' offseason activity isn't the big-name free agents they've signed, the money they've spent, or the way they've retooled their offense. It's their bizarre attempt to corner the market in futility infielders (and if I know a trend when I see it, it's this one). It's as if Brian Cashman, having bought a Ferrari, a Lexus, and a Jetta to go along with his BMWs and Porches, decided his parking lot wouldn't be complete without a used Mustang that leaks oil and a couple of rusted-out Buicks he can prop up on concrete blocks.

This isn't exactly a new tendency. Think back to the Yanks' postseason roster, which included Luis Sojo, Enrique Wilson and Clay Bellinger, plus Randy Velarde (as a hitter, a significant cut above all three). Having all of those glove men at the expense of a bat like Nick Johnson may have cost them their only shot at a rally in Game 2 of the World Series. Pinch-hitter Sojo, overmatched against Randy Johnson, grounded into an inning-ending double-play in the eighth.

Sojo had plans to retire after the World Series to return to Venezuela. With his World Series-winning hit in 2000, and two game-winning hits last season (including one against the Red Sox on June 4 which may have been the turning point of the season--Pedro Martinez didn't win a game after that and the Red Sox were doomed), he's among the unlikely heroes of this Yankee run (move over, Jim Leyritz, and tell Graeme Lloyd the news). If Looie's not quite qualified for a plaque in Monument Park, he's at least earned a Bobble-Head Doll day in his honor. But hold the festivities--the 36-year old infielder trapped in a third-base coach's body recently reconsidered. Or maybe he was just misunderstood when he said he was retiring to the couch in his Venezuela home. Either way, he's bound for spring training. One can only hope he 's kept in "shape" during "retirement."

Just before Christmas, the Yanks signed 34-year old F. P. Santangelo to a minor-league deal. Once a versatile everyday utilityman, Futility Player Santangelo's hitting has declined considerably over the past two seasons: .197 AVG/.321 OBP/.249 SLG. But he is good at drawing the occasional walk (a career .364 OBP despite a .245 AVG), and he can play the outfield. If he shows he can still hit to any extent, he may find a spot with the Yanks.

Wilson, a soft-handed 26-year old, re-signed the other day, to the tune of a one-year, $720,000 contract. God forbid they should let such a hot commodity escape. Once a highly-regarded prospect, he looks like he's trying to beat Sojo in the bad-body sweepstakes, and he's nearing his prime years still somewhat mystified by big league pitching.

On the day they signed Wilson, the Yanks released Bellinger, a favorite of mine. After ten years of bouncing around the minors, Bellinger made the club in 1999, and he's stuck around because he's been a model scrub. Playing seven different positions, pinch-running, hustling out of the dugout to warm up the pitcher after Jorge Posada made the last out, and riding the Columbus Shuttle whenever a roster move necessitated it, he's been the organization's human cannonball, and he's earned his three trips to the World Series. When Scott Brosius went down in August with a broken hand, Bellinger stepped in ably, hitting four homer in ten games while playing some sparkling defense. But he's 33, and still can't hit big-league breaking balls. Still, here's to hoping that he catches on someplace.

Just before they signed Wilson and released Bellinger, the Yanks also signed Manny Alexander to a minor-league contract. Alexander is best known for replacing Cal Ripken Jr. as the Orioles shortstop and for being connected to a load of anabolic steriods and syringes found in his car by Boston police in the summer of 2000. The police were unable to connect Alexander to the drugs (the car had been loaned out and he was on the road with the Sox), and the charges were dropped. Alexander spent last year playing AAA ball in the Mariners' chain. He's 30 years old, and has a chance to turn 31 before the season opens.

Concerned that they hadn't yet found the right replacement-level ballplayer, the Yanks then invited Kevin Polcovich and a retired Kevin Elster to camp as non-roster players. Polcovich spent two years with the Pirates in 1997 and 1998. He didn't charm them enough for a third shot. He spent last year in Memphis, with the Cardinals AAA team. Elster, the regular shortstop for the 1988 Mets (he even saw action in the 1986 World Series as a reserve), is coming out of his THIRD retirement. After laying off for all of 1993, he appeared with the Yanks in parts of two season, going 0-for 20 (!) in 1993 and 2-for-17 in 1994 (he did rebound from all of this to hit 24 homers as Texas's regular shortstop in 1996). His comeback with the Dodgers in 2000 was much more successful; he showed surprising power, hitting three homers in the first game played at Pac Bell Park and finishing the year with a .455 slugging percentage and 14 homers. Still, his best days are behind him, and they ain't all that great to begin with.

Taken together, it's an uninspriring collection of players, though Santangelo sticks out in the chart below because of his high On Base Percentage:
             AGE   G   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS

Alexander 31 541 .234 .285 .328 613
Bellinger 33 181 .194 .258 .365 623
Elster 37 940 .228 .300 .377 677
Polcovich 32 165 .234 .307 .326 633
Santangelo 34 665 .245 .364 .351 715
Sojo 36 845 .261 .298 .353 651
Wilson 26 324 .264 .305 .364 669
The kicker is that by signing all of these guys, the Yanks may hinder the development of one of their own prospects. Erick Almonte (no relation to Danny), the Yanks AAA shortstop, had a fine season in Columbus (.287 AVG/.369 OBP/.464 SLG), and even got a taste of the Show in September. The 24-year old has more promise than any of the futilitymen above, and he could stick if there's an injury. But he may be groomed for the D'Angelo Jiminez trade-fodder sweepstakes if the Yanks need help in July.

No doubt about it. March in Tampa is gearing up to be the site for the Futility Infielder sweepstakes. Stiff competition, or competition of stiffs? Don't think I won't keep you posted.

A few other notes:

• During the Hall of Fame ballot build-up, I discussed the merits of Jack Morris in this space, but ultimately I left him off my ballot. Over at Baseball Prospectus, Michael Wolverton does a good job of summarizing the case against Morris. Using a stat called Wins Above Replacement, which is based on the runs a pitcher allows relative to a park-adjusted league context, Wolverton places Morris well behind solid but unremarkable inning-eaters such as Rick Reuschel, Frank Tanana and Dennis Martinez, as well as more effective but shorter-lived pitchers like Dave Stieb and Jimmy Key. Wolverton also points out Morris's high level of run support, but he doesn't provide too much in the way of hard numbers on that topic.

• Jim Caple has a nice piece on one of the game's lifers. Wayne Terwilliger, the 76-year-old first-base coach for the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League, is under consideration for the managing job in St. Paul. Twig's spent 53 years in the game; he was in the Dodger dugout when Bobby Thomson hit his famous home run, and coaching first base for the Twins when Gene Larkin drove in the winning run in Game 7 of the '91 World Series (winning pitcher: Jack Morris). Twig's gotten himself a little publicity along the way--he's the first player profiled in the classic Great American Baseball Card, Flipping, Trading, and Bubble Gum Book, and a key figure in Neal Karlen's excellent book on the Saints, Slouching Towards Fargo. The St. Paul managerial job is contingent on a couple of leading candidates finding work elsewhere, so it may not come to pass. But it's a pretty good bet he'll still be hitting fungoes to St. Paul outfielders next summer nonetheless.

• A reader sent me an email last week, asking if I knew whether Rickey Henderson had retired or was still looking for work. I told him Rickey was still hitting the phones trying to drum up some interest (trust me, when Rickey retires, Rickey will tell you all about it), and suggested that a fifth and final go-round with the Oakland A's might be in order. Apparently I'm not the only one who feels this way. Marcos Bréton, a writer for the Sacramento Bee, wrote a column calling for the A's to sign Henderson, pointing out that they have a need for a true leadoff hitter and could use a connection to their glory days as well. Food for thought, given that Henderson's .366 OBP at age 43 with the Padres was 31 points better than projected leadoff Terrence Long. Henderson could probably steal some at-bats from Long, DH David Justice and a recovering Jermaine Dye. The A's are going to need all the help they can get this year in filling the void left by Jason Giambi's departure. God knows they could do much worse than having the Best Leadoff Hitter Ever on hand.

Thursday, January 17, 2002


The Jay Ballers of the World, Part I

Off and on over the past six months, I've been working on a piece about all of the ballplayers named Jay who have appeared in the major leagues. Thanks to the wonders of Baseball-Reference, Retrosheet, the Baseball Library and other sites around the web, I've compiled capsule histories of each of the 38 ballplayers who share my first name (even if it was actually their nickname). Part I covers the pitchers. Part II, which should be up in the next week, will cover the hitters. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 15, 2002


A Banner Day

A set of banners which I designed for the website are now in place: the main banner, the banner from the player search results, and a link banner over at Baseball Primer. These are something I offered to do for Sean Forman's fine site back during the summer, but the process became long and drawn out because both of us were so busy elsewhere within our own sites. One of my New Year's resolutions was to finish them off. In fact, I think that was the only solid resolution I made. Maybe I should set the bar higher... nah.

It's nice to see the banners finally in place; I hope those of you who use that site enjoy them--though I'm sure the few Red Sox fans among you are probably gritting your teeth at my choice of photos. That's Babe Ruth, along with his stats from 1919 (his last year in Boston, when he hit a then-unthinkable 29 HRs) to 1927 (when he swatted 60 for the Yankees). At the time I did them, Sean and I discussed doing a series with other famous players as well, but the issue there is finding a photo we don't have to pay for, not to mention one so instantly recognizable at such a small size. Not to say it won't happen, but you Sox fans are going to have to grin and bear it for awhile, heh-heh.

It's not something I'm planning on doing to pay my bills, but any of you out there who are interested in my services as a graphic designer, particularly for a baseball-related project, feel free to email me because I might be willing or interested. I get a kick out of having designed a piece of something I use almost every day--there's, my own website, and, from the world of my paid job, the World Almanac 2002, for which I did the cover and photo inserts. Believe me, it beats some of the other stuff I have to design to pay the bills.

Wednesday, January 09, 2002


Clearing the Bases

Finally a chance to catch up on a few things without worrying about what's going to be in Part III of the next continuing series:

• Ozzie Smith was the only player who garnered enough support to gain election to the Hall of Fame. While I had the Wizard on my ballot, the announcement that he was the only one to do so felt anticlimactic after all of the spirited debate I've partaken in online over the past few weeks. I have no beef with Oz making it--he was on my ballot. And I was marginally heartened by the support some of "my players" got. But I was disappointed others didn't fare so well. Here's a breakdown of the voting, sorted into three groups--the ones I voted for, the ones I considered but ultimately didn't vote for, and the ones I didn't even mention, all of whom except one fall off the ballot due to the 5% rule.

VOTED FOR: Ozzie Smith (91.7%), Gary Carter (72.7%), Andre Dawson (45.3%), Goose Gossage (43.0%), Tommy John (26.9%), Bert Blyleven (26.3%), Jim Kaat (23.1%), Alan Trammell (15.7%).

DIDN'T VOTE FOR: Jim Rice (55.1%), Bruce Sutter (50.4%), Steve Garvey (28.4%), Jack Morris (20.6%), Don Mattingly (20.3%), Luis Tiant (18.0%, falls off of the ballot after 15 years), Dale Murphy (14.8%), Dave Parker (14%), Keith Hernandez (6.1%), Ron Guidry (4.9%, falls off).

DIDN'T MENTION: Dave Concepcion (11.9%), Dave Stewart (4.9%), Mike Greenwell (0.4%), Frank Viola (0.4%), Lenny Dykstra (0.2%), Tim Wallach (0.2%), Mike Henneman, Jeff Russell, Scott Sanderson, Robby Thompson 0

I'm disappointed that Gary Carter didn't get in; he missed by only eleven votes. Apparently his wife had planned a surprise party for him on the likelihood that he would get The Call; when it didn't it really wrecked their day. Memo to Mrs. Carter: a greater catcher and better philosopher than your husband had some wisdom which applies here: "It ain't over 'til it's over." Memo to Mrs. Mattingly: skip the cake.

Mrs. Carter and her husband can at least take solace in the fact that her husband showed the largest percentage gain of the holdover candidates, moving up almost 8 percent from last year (64.9%). Sutter (47.6% in 2001), Blyleven (23.5% ), Morris (19.6%), and Tiant (12.2%) showed gains; Tiant's wasn't enough, as he falls off the ballot. Perhaps he'' do better at the hands of the new and improved (?) Veterans Committee

Several ballot holdovers saw their percentages fall, among them Rice (57.8 in 2001), Gossage (44.3%), Garvey (34.7%), John (28.3%), Mattingly (28.2%), Kaat (27.0%), Murphy (18.1%), Parker (16.3%), Concepcion, Stewart, and Guidry.

Sutter joins Carter and Rice in crossing the 50% threshold, which is very significant. Not counting the players on this ballot, 68 of 69 who have received 50% eventually were elected; the odd man out was Gil Hodges (these numbers are from a Baseball Primer poster named jimd, who did a quick study). Eighteen of those 69 were elected in the next year, 16 in the year after that.

That's not to say that I think Sutter should have beaten Gossage across that line. I felt that Gossage was one of the three strongest candidates on my ballot, along with Smith and Carter. Blyleven, whom I'd have ranked fourth, came nowhere near 50%, except among egghead types [he placed third in the STATLG-L Hall of Fame voting at 63.4%; Smith (83.2%) and Carter (76.0%) got in there].

• The other big news in baseball these days is the revelation that So-Called Commissioner Bud Selig took out a loan from a bank owned by Twins owner Carl Pohlad a few years ago. If that rings a bell, it should, because Pohlad is the man who stands to gain hundreds of millions of dollars if Bud has his way and the Twins are contracted. The loan itself is relatively small potatoes ($3 million), and it was paid back with interest in a timely fashion, but it violated one of Major League Baseball's rules, Rule 20 (c), which states: "No club or owner, stockholder, officer, director or employee (including manager or player) of a club shall, directly or indirectly, loan money to or become surety or guarantor for any club, officer, employee or umpire of its, his or her league, unless all facts of the transaction shall first have been fully disclosed to all other clubs in that league and also to the commissioner, and the transaction has been approved by them."

Despite the obvious appearance of a conflict of interest, baseball owners don't seem too concerned about Selig's transgresssion. Bud's best bud, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf (a man who makes my skin crawl), takes a very interesting attitude towards the whole thing: "We have a lot of rules we don't necessarily enforce all the time," Reinsdorf said. "What is the big deal? ...To me, it's a like a cop sees a guy going 62 (mph) in a 55 zone. You let him go. What's the harm?" I wish I'd passed by Officer Reinsdorf a bit more often back when I had a car.

On the other hand, three previous Commissioners were less charitable in their assessments. Fay Vincent, ousted by a Selig-Reinsdorf junta in 1992, decried, "It's such a treacherous thing. It would raise in my mind all sorts of concerns." Some of the senators forced to watch the Bud and Pony show last month in front of Congress felt similarly. Michigan Senator John Conyers called for Selig's resignation, though he's since backed off.

What's amazing in all of this is the miraculous ineptitude of Selig. Between this loan and the backroom machinations behind the Red Sox sale, the smoking guns continue to turn up--with Selig's fingerprints all over them and the driver's license which fell out of his wallet as well. If Selig thought he was having a hard time selling the contraction/poverty stuff before, his sales job just got harder. This won't lead directly to Bud's ouster, but sooner or later the other owners are going to get tired of having the World's Dumbest Liar giving them an even worse reputation, and they'll realize that he's part of the problem, not the solution.

• Part of my nice little just-celebrated birthday haul was baseball related. My friend Nick gave me "When It Was a Game," a 3-DVD set which aired on HBO last summer (which I missed). All of the footage is from fans' 8-and 16-mm home movies, and almost all of it is in color. I watched the first volume, which includes footage from 1937 to 1953, and some of it is jaw-droppingly spectacular--well preserved, with more than passable color. Seeing Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Dizzy Dean, Connie Mack, Judge Landis, Leo Durocher and others in this is like stepping into Oz. I half-thought some of these players' natural complexions were gray before watching this. And the old ballparks... seeing color footage of old Yankee Stadium for the first time gave me goosebumps. There's a there's a ground-level shot up to the facade which is awesome. Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds, Fenway (with an advertising-covered, not Green, Monster), Wrigley Field (before the ivy coverred the outfield walls), Sportsman Park--they're all here. So is footage from the 1938 World Series, believed to be the first color recording of any World Series. The voice-overs of the ballplayers are interesting, but the narration is flowery enough to make Ken Burns gag. Still, the footage is worth the price of admission.

My friend Lillie gave me a book entitled The Greatest Baseball Stories Ever Told. Edited by Jeff Silverman, the anthology includes writing by Roger Angell, Ring Lardner, Red Smith, John Updike, Red Barber, and others. There are transcripts of Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First" skit, Casey Stengel's hilariously cryptic testimony before Congress, and Vin Scully's call of the last inning of Sandy Koufax's perfect game. Some of the other pieces are familiar--the Updike selection on Ted Williams and Gay Talese's profile of Joe DiMaggio were selected for a book edited by David Halberstam called The Best American Sports Writing of the Century last year. A nice addition to my baseball library.

And my mother sent me a book called The World Series: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Fall Classic, by Josh Leventhal. This oversized book summarizes each series, and features great photos, detailed line scores for every game and composite box scores for every World Series through 2000, plus sections at the end on series records and an All-Star team. The endpapers alone are worth looking at--color reproductions of World Series program covers going back to at least 1907. Another one worth adding to the roster.

• Speaking of that Halberstam book, I went to a book signing at Barnes and Noble when it appeared last year and had the opportunity to have Halberstam, Talese, George Plimpton, Ira Berkow, and Dick Schaap sign my copy. I was saddened and somewhat shaken to learn that Schaap passed away just before Christmas. He was one of the finest sportswriters of all, a man ahead of his time who saw the way the Civil Rights movement would change the face of sports. I have fond memories of reading and re-reading Instant Replay, the as-told-to diary of Green Bay Packer Jerry Kramer, which I read before I'd gotten my hands on Jim Bouton's Ball Four. It remains one of my favorite sports books. I'm glad I had the opportunity to oh-so-briefly tell Schaap how much the book meant to me. He was one of a kind, and he'll be missed.

• Speaking of passings, Bruce Markusen of the Baseball Hall of Fame does a very respectful and respectable job of chronicling all of the baseball-related people who died in 2001 in this piece over at Baseball Primer. From Willie Stargell and Eddie Mathews to Lawrence "Crash" Davis and Brian Cole, each of them left some kind of mark on the game. Worth a read.

• One passing which didn't make the list because it happened in the new year was that of Al Smith, an American League outfielder from the 1950s. Though he was a solid player (.272 AVG, 164 HRs, two All-Star appearances in 12 years), you probably know him best from a famous photo. He's the poor outfielder who got beer spilled on his head in a 1959 World Series game following a home run. The spill wasn't intentional--the fan was going after the home-run ball, off the bat of Dodger Charlie Neal. It's not a great claim to fame, but it's certainly one of the most memorable sports photos of all time. Your 15 minutes should be so rich.

Tuesday, January 08, 2002


My Hall of Fame Ballot--Part II

In my previous post, I considered the pitchers I would add to my hypothetical Hall of Fame ballot. In this one I'll consider the hitters.

Before I go too deeply into this, I want to mention one thing that colors my thinking on this issue. The voting rules for the Baseball Writers of America portion of the Hall balloting automatically drop players who failed to draw 5% of the vote from consideration. In several cases, I think this rule has rushed players worthy of further scrutiny out of eligibility too soon. The new voting system announced by the Hall of Fame last August, which reformulates the Veterans Committee into a 90-member body made up of living honorees, will supposedly restore them to consideration. But that voting won't start until next year (the new VC will consider players every two years, and execs/umps/managers every four years).

As I've already made up my mind not to consider a certain banned hustler for my ballot until he's actually eligible, I'm going to stick by the rules and not include any ineligibles here. But that won't preclude me from discussing them.

Friends, I was never a fan of Gary Carter. For some reason, I always found him annoying, though I can't really put my finger on why. It probably had something to do with his earnest, gung-ho attitude combined with the fact that I rooted against the '86 and '88 Mets as hard as any teams I ever rooted against. That said, I am absolutely convinced that Gary Carter is a Hall of Famer. I had an unshakeable feeling of watching a Hall of Famer in the prime of his career when I watched him, and I'll wager that was a consensus perception among those of you reading this right now. If you thought about the question the best catcher in the National League after Johnny Bench declined, there simply wasn't any other credible answer besides Gary Carter.

Keeping in mind that as a catcher his hitting stats are a bit deflated, Carter still scores well on the James Standards and Monitor methods (41.3 HOFS, 135 HOFM). By his Win Shares method, Carter is fourth among catchers in terms of career value, and in the middle of the top 10 in peak value as well--James rates him eighth overall. Carter hit 324 HRs for his career, topping 20 nine times. He topped 80 RBI eight times and 100 four times--that's some serious production for a catcher. While he only hit .262 for his career, he was about at a .280 AVG/.360 OBP/.485 SLG level at his peak. He played in eleven All-Star Games (winning the MVP award twice), and won three Gold Gloves. He had a great '86 World Series, driving in 9 runs, and went for .280 AVG, 4 HR, and 21 RBI in 30 postseason games overall. Everywhere you look, there is evidence of his greatness. In, unequivocally and without further ado.

Another catcher, Ted Simmons, ought to be in as well. Simmons was a better hitter than Carter, and for a longer time. He amassed 2472 hits while hitting .285 AVG/.348 OPB/.437 SLG (Carter was at .262/.335/.439 with 2092 hits). That Simmons played a good portion of his career as a DH (279 of his 2035 games) has more to do with his being a good enough hitter to keep in the lineup than it does with his being a lousy defensive catcher (which he apparently was not, according to those who've studied the issue). Topped 20 HRs six times, 90 RBI eight times, and at his peak carried around a 900 OPS. He played on 8 All-Star teams. His James numbers are good (44.5 HOFS, 125 HOFM, and he's ranked 10th in the NBJHA among catchers). Older than Carter, he suffered in comparison with Bench, particularly on defense. But he deserves serious consideration for the Hall, and if he were eligible, I'd probably vote for him.

First Basemen
Two first-basemen are popular candidates among New Yorkers, Keith Hernandez and Don Mattingly. While they were excellent players in their day, and both fair very well in James's rankings (Mattingly is ranked 12th, Hernandez 16th), I'm not inclined to add them to my ballot. I'm of the feeling that, especially with last year's election of Tony Perez, there are too many first basemen already in to be adding those with 2100 hits and less than 225 HRs. Had James examined their careers more closely in the NBJHA (he gives Donnie Baseball a one-liner and compares Mex to, among others, Chris Chambliss and Mark Grace, neither of them my idea of a Hall of Famer), I might be more inclined to consider the weight of their defensive contributions, but without a better picture of them, it's tough.

Steve Garvey is a candidate that always gives me some pause. He was the matinee-idol star of my favorite team as a kid, and he put up some nice shiny numbers primarily in the context of a lousy hitters' park, Dodger Stadium. Basically, Garvey did the things that tend to impress Hall of Fame voters--he scores at 131.0 on the Hall of Fame Monitor thanks to his clockwork ability to rap out 200 hits, hit .300 with 20 homers, drive in 100 runs, make the All-Star team, and have perfectly coiffed hair in doing so. He was great in the postseason overall (.338/.361/.550 with 11 HR and 31 RBI) in helping--no, leading his teams (he never hit less than .286 in an LCS or division series) --to five World Series, he won an MVP award, four Gold Gloves, played in ten All-Star games and set the National League record for consecutive games played. His career totals (2599 hits, 272 HRs) are certainly better than Mattingly or Hernandez, though he didn't have as high a peak. The knocks against him are that he didn't get on base enough (only a .329 OBP despite a .294 AVG), or have enough power (.446 SLG, never topping .500). He's not a popular candidate thanks in part to his post-retirement zipper problems. James ranks Garvey only 31st among first basemen.

Hell, let's got to the chart:
              H   HR   RBI   AVG   OPB   SLG  AS  MVP  GG  HOFS   HOFM   WS  Top 5

Garvey 2599 272 1308 .294 .329 .446 10 1 4 31.5 131.0 279 124
Hernandez 2182 162 1071 .296 .384 .436 5 1 11 32.0 86.0 311 136
Mattingly 2153 222 1099 .307 .358 .471 6 1 9 34.1 134.0 263 146
Most of these categores are self-evident. AS is All-Star appearances, GG is Gold Gloves, WS is Win Shares, and Top 5 is Win Shares in a players best five consecutive seasons. None of them overwhelm, but all three candidates have their merits, no question about it--one way or another, they were thought of as among the best in the game in their time. The questions are how much should we compensate for the lower offensive levels of Garvey's time and environment (which also would boost Hernandez a bit), how much was Hernandez's stellar glove play worth (though the other two weren't slouches), how much the longer career benefits Garvey, and whether anybody's candidacy is helped by postseason play. Win Shares, which adjust for offensive context and include defense, offer us some guidance: Garvey at his peak was worth less than either of the other two, and scores lower than Hernandez on the career mark as well despite a longer career. What he gains in postseason play may narrow the gap, but it probably doesn't overcome it.

My personal preferences color this one beyond being able to choose, I'm afraid. While Garvey was never my favorite Dodger, he was unquestionably The Man for them in the same way that Mattingly was for the Yanks later on, with one big exception--the Dodgers won with Garvey, and he was a big part of that reason. That might be a tad unfair to Donnie Baseball, but hey, I was rooting against the Yanks back then, and them's the breaks. Hernandez I never liked; his early drug problems, his being a Met (see Carter), and that awful mustache... eugh. What I said about the Perez selection still applies, and I don't see any of these three as signifiantly better, so I'll pass on all three.

Among infielders, two first-time-eligible shortstops who are very different top my list: Ozzie Smith and Alan Trammell. The Wizard of Oz wasn't a wiz with the bat, though he was hardly a liability at his peak--six times he topped a .350 OBP, and he stole 580 bases, most of them in the service of Whitey Herzog's small-ball Cardinals teams. He was, of course, a magician with the glove, whether you look at the highlight reels or the numbers. Bill James rates him 2nd among all shortstops defensively by the Win Shares method (and places him 7th overall); though we don't really know everything that entails, James points out how wide the margin Smith's assist totals exceed statistical expectations--504 over the course of his career, or about 28 a season. He won 13 Gold Gloves for his efforts. Not many players get into the Hall on the merits of their defense alone, but Oz is one who deserves it.

Alan Trammell is a horse of a different color--a very solid hitter who more than held his own in the field. Trammell racked up 2365 hits to the tune of .285/.352/.415 and hit 185 HRs to boot. He should have been the MVP of the American League in 1987, when he went .343/.402/.551 with 28 HR and 105 RBI, yet barely lost out to 47-HR George Bell. James ranks him 9th overall, right behind Joe Cronin, and ahead of Pee Wee Reese, Luke Appling, Lou Boudreau, and Luis Aparicio--all Hall of Famers. Welcome to flavor country. He does reasonably well on the earlier James methods too (40.4 HOFS, 104 HOFM). In, by my book.

Trammell's keystone partner, Lou Whittaker (the two of them were as inseparably linked in their time and place as my all-time favorite sporting duo, Utah Jazzmen Karl Malone and John Stockton), was one of the unfortunates bumped off the ballot by the 5% rule. I'm not totally convinced he should be in the Hall, but I do think his candidacy bears closer scrutiny. He places 13th on James's list, ahead of enshrinees Nellie Fox, Tony Lazzerri, and Bobby Doerr. He hit .276/.363/.426 with 242 career dingers, and was generally good for about 20 HR and 70 RBI. He won three Gold Gloves and made five All-Star teams. He might not be good enough for the Hall, but he deserves some further consideration.

It's interesting to note that the Detroit Tigers came up with four prospects at almost exactly the same time (debuting in 1977 and sticking in '78) who went on to long, stellar careers that wind up on the fringe of the Hall of Fame--Trammell, Whittaker, Jack Morris, and catcher Lance Parrish. They, along with Kirk Gibson, were the nucleus of the Tigers' outstanding 1984 World Champions and their 1987 team, which had the best record in baseball, but went to an early playoff grave at the hands of the 85-win Minnesota Twins. Had they at least reached a second World Series, all of their candidacies would be helped thanks to the increased exposure. Instead, the fact that they didn't win more often may be held against them.

There are other infielders just as worthy of consideration as Whittaker who fell off due to the 5% rule. Bobby Grich, Darrell Evans, and Graig Nettles are the most prominent--all of them fitting a similar profile: relatively low batting average, good power, lots of walks, very good defense. In other words, not likely to impress a particularly dull voter uninclined to sift through the numbers. Bill James, who has sifted through the numbers until the cows came home, rates Grich 12th, Evans 10th, and Nettles 13th--definitely in the realm of the Hall of Famers.

It's tough to believe there are only nine MLB third basemen in the Hall: Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Eddie Mathews, Home Run Baker, Brooks Robinson, Jimmy Collins, Pie Traynor, George Kell, and Freddie Lindstrom (plus two Negro Leaguers, Ray Dandridge and Judy Johnson). Wade Boggs, with his 3010 hits, will make it ten in a few years. A more equal distribution by position would have about twice as many third basemen in. Several worthy candidates, including Ron Santo, Ken Boyer, and Stan Hack--all of whom place in James's top 10--should be in, but aren't. Additionally, Lindstrom and Kell are among the worst selections by the Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee. If you were going to tear down the Hall and start over (which is what the soon-to-come Hall of Merit over at Baseball Primer promises to do), the enshrinees at third base would get a mighty welcome overhaul. Unfortunately, none of my men are on the ballot, so we'll have to move on.

There are plenty of heavy hitters on the docket for the Hall, including first-timer Andre Dawson and holdovers Jim Rice (whose candidacy is building), Dave Parker, and Dale Murphy. Let's cut to the chart:
            H   HR   RBI  SB    AVG   OPB   SLG  AS  MVP  GG  HOFS   HOFM   WS  Top 5

Dawson 2774 438 1591 314 .279 .323 .482 8 1 8 43.7 117.5 340 132
Parker 2712 339 1493 154 .290 .339 .471 7 1 3 41.1 125.5 327 150
Rice 2452 382 1451 58 .298 .352 .502 7 1 0 42.9 147.0 282 127
Murphy 2111 398 1266 161 .265 .346 .469 7 2 5 34.3 115.5 294 150
No slouches here. Murphy was a Gold-Glove centerfielder who was shifted to rightfield when he got older. Ditto for Dawson, except he kept winning Gold Gloves after the shift. Parker was a Gold Glove rightfielder who became a DH, Rice a mediocre leftfielder who became a DH. Murphy and Rice petered out early; Rice at 36, Murph at 37. Parker had some drug problems, but had a mid-career rebound which gives his candidacy some extra muscle.

Dawson's MVP award in 1987 with the last-place Cubs is one of the more dubious awards of all time, but he was also a two-time runner-up, including once to Murphy, who got big help from his park that year. On the road in '83, Dawson went .322/.351/.615 while Murphy went .266/.356/.503. In general, Murphy was helped greatly by his home parks (.284/.374/.511 with 206 HR at home vs. .251/.329/.445 with 170 on the road; the splits from Retrosheet are incomplete but not far off). Rice got big help from Fenway (.323/.379/.539 with 156 HR at home vs. .271/.327/.456 with 127 HR on the road). Parker was helped a bit (.297/.346/.495 with 134 HRs at home, vs. .276/.327/.445 and 127 HRs on the road). Dawson is pretty much even (.278/.331/.477 with 147 HR at home vs. .288/.327/.508 and 180 HR on the road). We're missing bigger portions of Parker, Rice, and Dawson's splits than the Murphy; the biggest gap is two years of Dawson at Wrigley Field.

Like the first basemen, each of these guys has his knocks. Rice has the short career, the least defensive value, and the most park help. Murphy has the short career and some serious park help. Dawson has the low OBP. Parker's on the lower end defensively and he's got character issues (though he was seen as an asset during his late-career days in Oakland). None of them have very good postseason resumes, and Parker's the only one with a ring.

It's not clear-cut by any stretch. I'm inclined to rule out the guys with shorter careers and heavy park effects first--so, no to Rice and Murphy. Then the question becomes whether Dawson's aesthetic value--more speed, better defense, positive character--is enough to overcome Parker's advantage in peak value (Parker had four seasons as good or better than Dawson's best, according to Win Shares). Had Parker not spent two seasons wandering in the wilderness mid-career, there's no question he'd be pretty close to 3000 hits and a bona fide Hall of Famer. Hawk's knee troubles curtailed his stats in Montreal and probably cut his chances at 3000 as well. After much agonizing deliberation, I'd say it's a slight edge to Dawson because his problems were less of his making. And I'm swayed by the combination of speed and power. Yes on Dawson, no on Parker.

So, adding in yesterday's results, that makes my ballot Bert Blyleven, Jim Kaat, Tommy John, Rich Gossage, Gary Carter, Ozzie Smith, Alan Trammell, and Andre Dawson. This wasn't easy, and I'm tempted to round it out to ten with the borderline calls I made on Jack Morris, Luis Tiant, Bruce Sutter, Steve Garvey, and Dave Parker. But I'm going to restrain my inclusive tendencies and various biases. For now, at least. Ask me again in a year.

Oh, and here's my hunch: Carter, Smith, and Gossage get in, Blyleven and Jim Rice come up just short.

Sunday, January 06, 2002


My Hall of Fame Ballot--Part I

About a month ago, I partook in the 2001 STATLG-L Internet Hall Of Fame vote, an online poll which simulates the portion of the Cooperstown process determined by the Baseball Writers of America. It's open to anyone and everyone who wishes to cast their own electronic ballot, and just like the real thing, one can check off ten names worthy of enshrinement.

Giving exactly half of a lunch break and half an ass worth of effort to consider the matter, I checked off my ten (listed here alphabetically): Bert Blyleven, Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Rich Gossage, Tommy John, Jim Kaat, Jack Morris, Ozzie Smith, Bruce Sutter, and Alan Trammell. Not a list I'm ashamed of, but one which probably could have withstood a more rigorous analysis. So, with the Hall of Fame voting results to be announced Tuesday, I'll take this opportunity to re-examine my choices.

Before I do, a few caveats. The Hall of Fame is a deeply flawed institution which has been particularly sullied by dubious choices on the part of the Veterans Committee, especially when it comes to the hitter-happy 1930s. So I'm not of the opinion that arguing that so-and-so was better than this or that dubious choice makes one a Hall of Famer. Having said that, my tastes in the Hall of Fame tend to run towards the inclusive, rather than the exclusive, especially among players whose careers I've seen. I'm not saying that's necessarily a good thing, but it is a bias of mine. Hand in hand with that bias, I tend to place more weight on career value than peak value--I do think that longevity counts for something. Finally, my choices are guided by several tools invented by Bill James, but I don't promise any rigidly consistent methodology in the choices I've made.

With all that, I'm still willing to bet I've put more thought into this than many of the writers who actually get to vote.

Starting Pitchers
Twenty men have won 300 games in the big leagues and every single one of them is in the Hall of Fame. On the career wins list, of the next group of 21 pitchers (including a tie), going down to 253 wins, eleven are in, two (Maddux and Clemens) are mortal locks, and four are nineteenth-century freaks of nature whose pitching stats bespeak a much different ballgame. This leaves four pitchers from that group sitting outside the Hall. Three of them are fairly similar in terms of their basic career statistics and their careers overlap considerably: Bert Blyleven, Jim Kaat, and Tommy John. The fourth pitcher is Jack Morris.
           W    L   ERA+  HOFS   HOFM   WS   Top 3    Top 5    AVG

Blyleven 287 250 118 50 113.5 339 29,23,23 114 26.36
John 288 231 111 44 100.0 289 23,19,19 86 23.73
Kaat 283 237 107 44 120.5 268 26,22,22 88 22.64
Morris 254 186 105 39 108.5
Wins and losses you're familiar with. ERA+ is the ratio of the pitcher's ERA to a park-adjusted league average, multiplied by 100. A 100 denotes a league-average performance (adjusted for park), a 120 represents a performance 20 percent better than league average. HOFS is short for Hall of Fame Standards, a metric Bill James invented which awards points to players based on their career accomplishments ("One point for each 150 hits above 1500, limit 10," etc.). One hundred is the maximum score; 50 is an average Hall of Famer. HOFM is short for Hall of Fame Monitor, another Jamesian metric which attempts to assess how likely an active player is to make the Hall. Like the Standards system, it awards points based on accomplishments. A score of 100 means a good possiblity of enshrinement, a 130 is a lock. computes scores in both of these systems for every player, and lists the criteria here.

The next four columns relate to Bill James's new metric, Win Shares, which he introduced recently in his New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. I'm not about to go into detail here about Win Shares (the full methodology behind it hasn't even been published yet) except to summarize that it boils down the value of a player's season (based on runs created or allowed, plus defense, and their context) to a simple integer. A score of 30 represents an MVP-candidate season.

Win Shares is a promising new system, but until the methods behind it are published, all we have to go on is what's in the new Abstract, which is why Morris's numbers aren't included above--he didn't rate in James's top 100 pitchers, while Blyleven (39th), John (63rd) and Kaat (65th) did. Using Win Shares right now is like calling up a hot prospect in the middle of a pennant race--maybe he can help you here or there, but he's not ready for prime time. Until the methods see the light of day and can be picked apart from the master's own idiosyncracies, they remain somewhat suspect. That said, I do think we should take a look at what he's made available thus far. So... WS is the player's career total in Win Shares; the Top 3 are his top 3 seasons, the Top 5 is a total of his five best consecutive seasons, and the AVG is projected to 43 starts per season (a high total given all of these pitchers spent most of their careers in 5-man rotations).

Of Blyleven, John, and Kaat, none are overwhelming on the basis of their career peaks; Kaat and John each had three 20-win seasons, Blyleven just one. But all had extremely long careers, John at 26 years, Kaat at 25, and Blyleven the baby of the bunch at 22. All of them come from a time period which is somewhat over-represented in the Hall; six 300-game winners (Carlton, Ryan, Sutton, Niekro, Perry, and Seaver), plus Hall of Famers Fergie Jenkins (285-226, 115 ERA+, seven 20-win seasons in an eight-year span), Jim Palmer (268-152, 125 ERA+, eight 20-win seasons in a nine-year span), and Catfish Hunter (224-166, 104 ERA+, five straight 20-win seasons). Those three all had longer (and higher) sustained peaks than our three, not to mention hardware in the shape of Cy Young Awards (three for Palmer, one each for Jenkins and Hunter), while our fair trio won none.

So these three are not clearly better than the bottom ranks of the enshrined from their era. But each of them has their additional merits which I feel should be enough to vault them into the ranks of the Hall.

Blyleven ranks number four on the career strikeout list, having been passed by Roger Clemens near the end of the 2001 season. He is also in the top 10 in shutouts (#9, with 60). He came up big in the postseason (5-1, 2.47 ERA , with World Series wins for champions Pittsburgh in '79 and Minnesota in '87). And his curveball had the reputation as being the best in the game. He spent most of his career with some mediocre (but not horrible) Minnesota and Cleveland teams, and rarely outperformed them by significant margins in the Won-Loss columns--he was an inning-eating horse who stuck around for the decision most of the time. But his ERAs relative to the league were excellent, as was his consistency--outperforming the league average by 15 percent or more (that is, an ERA+ of 115 or better) for the first nine years of his career and fourteen times overall. He won in double figures seventeen times, and won 17 or more games seven times. He gets my vote.

John was a much different type of pitcher than Blyleven--a finesse pitcher who relied on ground balls rather than strikeouts and gave up more than his share of hits. A prototype, in fact, of certain breed of successful left-handers. He had a fairly concentrated peak, winning 80 games over a four-year span from 1977-80 and reaching the World Series three times. What's amazing is that span started when he was 34 years old and had overcome an unprecedented surgical elbow-reconstruction procedure which now bears his name. He did very well in the postseason (6-3, 2.65 ERA) and was subjected to one of the most questionable pitching moves in World Series history, being pinch-hit for in the fourth inning of a 1-1 Game 6 (at a time when his ERA on the series was 0.69). The next two Yankee relievers allowed seven runs in two innings, allowing Tommy Lasorda's Dodgers to finally best the Yanks in the Fall Classic. He had an ERA+ of 115 or better eleven times. He won in double digits 17 times. His case isn't as strong as Blyleven's, but it's strong enough to get my vote.

Kaat was a remarkably consistent performer for the Minnesota Twins for a 12-year span, a teammate of Blyleven's for the better part of four seasons (their 1970 division-winning rotation also included Jim Perry and Luis Tiant--a foursome with at least 215 career wins apiece). Had the Cy Young Award been given in both leagues instead of just one overall, he likely would have won in 1966, when he went 25-13, 2.75 ERA, and he would have been in the mix in '65, with an 18-11, 2.83 for a pennant-winner. Until David Cone won 20 games in 1998, Kaat held the record for the longest drought between 20-win seasons (eight years). He won in double digits 15 times (he lost in double-digits 16 times), won 17+ games six times, but had a 115 ERA+ or better only six times. A lefty, he tacked on a successful second career as a middle reliever, which enabled him to set a record for the longest gap between World Series appearances (1965-1982). Oh, and he also won 16 straight Gold Gloves, though a look at his raw fielding stats suggests several somebodys weren't paying attention--five times in that span his Fielding Percentage was below .930, though his range factors were always 50-100 percent higher than the league average at the position. If I had to pick one of the three to leave off, it would be Kaat, but I still think he should be in.

Morris had a shorter career than that trio ("only" 18 years), but his peaks were fairly high. He was the ace on three World Champions--the '84 Tigers, the '91 Twins, and the '92 Blue Jays, and he put up some stellar performances in the postseason (7-4, 3.80), most notably a 10-inning 1-0 complete game in Game 7 of the '91 Series--a performance which, in my mind, rates as high as any no-hitter I ever saw (and as a matter of fact, I did watch Morris's no-no, on April 7, 1984 against the White Sox). He won 20 or more games 3 times, topped 17 victories eight times, and was in double-digits 14 times. He had an ERA+ of 115 or better seven times. And unlike the above three pitchers, he had a very clearly identifiable peak in terms of W-L and ERA+ that lasted awhile. From 1983-87 he was 94-54 with an ERA+ of 120. But... Morris's career ERA and ERA+ are nothing to write home about, and they especially took a hit during the last two years of his career, raising his overall ERA from 3.73 to 3.90. And he got tagged pretty hard in the 1992 postseason, though the Jays won it all.

I could see voting for Morris (he was on my initial list), and I have argued vehemently in his favor in the past. Guys who win 254 games in their career don't grow on trees (after Clemens and Maddux, who've surpassed that mark, the next closest active players are Tom Glavine at 224 and Randy Johnson at 200). He's not a horrible choice, though his raw ERA would be the highest of any Hall of Famer--higher than Burleigh Grimes (3.53 ERA, 107 ERA+), Waite Hoyt (3.59 ERA, 111 ERA+), Herb Pennock (3.60 ERA, 106 ERA+), Jess Haines (3.64 ERA, 108 ERA+), Ted Lyons (3.67 ERA, 118 ERA+), Red Ruffing (3.80 ERA, 109 ERA+). With the exception of Grimes and Ruffing, those guys don't do very well on James's older metrics--in the low 30s on the HOFS and the 70s or lower on the HOFM (which is NOT to say that those were bad pitchers). Morris wouldn't be the worst Hall of Famer by any stretch. I'm going to leave him off my ballot for now, because I believe he's less deserving than the other three. But I might be willing to vote for him at a later date upon further review.

A couple of others I thought about: Ron Guidry is a popular candidate among Yankees fans, and he's not far off the pack above when it comes to the James scales (38 HOFS, 98.5 HOFM). He ranks 66th in the NBJHA (though the actual methodology of how James arrived at those rankings from his raw Win Shares totals has already started too many catfights over at Baseball Primer to take seriously). His overall record (171-91, 3.29 ERA and 120 ERA+) is very good, but in my eyes, he lacks the longevity of the others. And like I said, I'm a career guy. Luis Tiant (229-172, 3.30 ERA, 114 ERA+) is probably worth a longer look than I'm prepared to give him here. He's a little short on the James scales (41 HOFS, 91 HOFM), but he does well in the Win Shares (putting him in the chart above, we have 256 total, Top 3 of 29, 28, 22, a top 5 of 108, and an average of 27.43). James places him 52nd, and argues that he was a better pitcher over the course of his career than Catfish Hunter (224-166, 3.26 ERA, 104 ERA+). With more time to study the issue, I could be convinced.

Relief Pitching
There are exactly two relievers in the Hall of Fame: Hoyt Wilhelm and Rollie Fingers. While the modern-day closer (and its ever-shifting definition) has evolved into a unique and somewhat overrated species of pitcher, this underrepresentation in the Hall simply shouldn't exist. There are any number of excellent relievers who should be in, and the line, in my opinion, starts with Goose Gossage. Gossage saved 20+ games 11 times, back when that figure meant something--he led the league three times and was in the top 5 eight times. And he had an amazingly long peak. Over a 12-season stretch from 1975 to 1987 (excluding an ill-spent season as a starter in '76), he posted a 2.25 ERA, while striking out 8.5 per nine innings and allowing only 1.1 baserunners per inning. Oh, and he made the All-Star team nine times in that span.

Gossage came into ballgames to put The Fear into the hitter, and he simply blew them away with his heat. And he wasn't just waltzing in for a one-inning save--over that stretch he averaged 1.7 innings per appearance. He was good in the postseason (2-1, 2.87 ERA, 8 saves), though he did give up a couple of famous homers--George Brett's 1980 ALCS shot which finally killed the Yankees, Kirk Gibson's clincher in the 1984 World Series. Like the Arizona Diamondbacks' jubilation at beating Mariano Rivera, you knew that if you beat Gossage, you were beating the best. Goose remained a useful reliever long after his peak, lasting until 1994. James placed him 37th on his list, though his details about Win Shares for relievers are largely absent. Still, I'm as sure he belongs in the Hall of Fame as I am of anybody this year.

Bruce Sutter has the reputation of being a one-inning save man, but he averaged 1.6 innings per appearance over the course of his career. He was a pioneer of the split-fingered fastball, though he didn't invent it. He had seven great seasons in an eight-year stretch for Chicago and St. Louis, leading the league in saves five times and placing no lower than fourth in that span. For that stretch, he posted a 2.52 ERA, striking out 7.6 per 9 and allowing 1.1 baserunners per inning. Also, during that stretch he was being used more heavily than Gossage--nine appearances and ten innings more per year, which may help to explain their relative extremes in career length--Sutter fell apart in the three years after that stretch in Atlanta and was cooked at 35, while Gossage stuck around until he was 42. James places Sutter 57th, with slightly higher peak but only about 2/3 of the career value as Gossage. I do think he should be in, but I'm willing to wait a year to get a better look at him via Win Shares.

I also think that will tell us more than we know right now about several other relievers who may or may not be worthy of the Hall--Sparky Lyle, the late, lamented Dan Quisenberry, Kent Tekulve, and the off-the-ballot Tom Henke (who failed to garner the 5% required to stay on), to name a few. Not to mention the wave of big-save-total relievers to come: Lee Smith, Dennis Eckersley, John Franco, Randy Myers and others, none of them eligible yet (hell, Franco's still active). Let's face it: between Fingers being elected and Mariano Rivera getting in someday (and I'm pretty damn sure he will), some of these other guys are worthy of enshrinement and the construction of a standard for what constitutes a Hall of Fame relief pitcher.

So, to summarize thus far... I listed six pitchers on my original ballot, and upon further review, I'm keeping four of them: Blyleven, John, Kaat, and Gossage. I'm tabling the decisions on Morris and Sutter for the moment. I'll evaluate the hitters in my next piece.

Tuesday, January 01, 2002


Happy New Year!!!

Best wishes for a great 2002 to everyone reading this. I hope you all had happy holidays. Today I'm going to gorge on football, but I'll be back with my irregularly scheduled postings in the next day or two.


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