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 30, 2003


The Hoyt Scale Re-Revisited, and other Primate Tales

The Baseball Primer version of my Hoyt piece, featuring 20 additional pitchers (now a total of 55), is now up. It's even listed on the front page of the site. This is the first time I've had an article published at BP, so it's a proud day for me. I guess this makes me a Primate -- a worthy prize for spending so many hours monkeying around with a spreadsheet.

Speaking of Primates and Primers, there's the Primeys, the results of which were posted a couple days back. No, I didn't win for Best Internet Baseball Weblog. The result wasn't even close; the very talented TEAM of Baseball Prospectus writers won in a landslide, claiming over 50% of the vote. I came in a respectable third place, just behind Aaron's Baseball Blog:

1. 50.8% Daily Prospectus
2. 18.6% Aaron's Baseball Blog
3. 15.9% Futility Infielder
4. 10.1% Big Bad Baseball
5. 4.6%

Really, I'm not disappointed in the showing at all, though I do feel that the B-Pro team belonged in a different category (one Primer poster, imitating Coffee Talk's Linda Richman, noted: "Daily Prospectus is neither daily nor a prospectus. Discuss.") Still, according to the turnout, this means I got about 70 votes. Since I don't recall paying off that many non-Jaffe family members, that means a good handful of you out there voted for me on your own accord, for which I thank you sincerely. It was an honor to be considered, and a thrill to be sharing space on a ballot which included names such as Bill James, Rob Neyer, Voros McCracken, Doug Pappas, and Joe Sheehan, not to mention Primer legends such as Tolaxor, the Score Bard, the Royals Slogans thread (I'm on there as Royle Stillman) and the Giambi-Mabry thread. And as they say, wait 'til next year.

Finally, while we're on this prime(r) tip: Aaron Gleeman, whose blog edged me for 2nd place, has an interesting look at 2003's Top 50 Prospects on Baseball Primer. Check it out.


Early Birthday Party

On February 1st, the best website in the history of the galaxy will celebrate its third birthday. If you've read my site regularly, you know that I often sing the praises of and you may even know that I designed the site's Babe Ruth banner that gets seen millions (yes, millions) of times a month. But you might not know much about the man behind B-Ref, Sean Forman. Doctor (yes, Doctor) Forman's an assistant professor of mathematics and computer science at St. Joseph's University who runs B-Ref in his spare time, and he covers the site's expenses by selling sponsorships of individual pages (I sponsor eight myself). Philadelphia's weekly City Paper has a worthwhile article on Dr. Forman and his labor of love. Go read the piece and then buy yourself a player to celebrate.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003


Keeping Tabs

I'm nerding out over revising my Hoyt piece for Baseball Primer and I think I just discovered why my data charts look different depending on which browser I'm using -- it's the invisible tab characters which are artifacts of cutting and pasting from Excel. Might try to redo some of those charts in my piece here for posterity's sake. In the meantime, know that I'm back working on SOMETHING after another unspeakable week at my job, and should be resuming my regularly scheduled posting soon.

Postscript: Hot damn, my chart fix worked! Expect new and improved charts from this day forward.

Monday, January 20, 2003


Rock the Vote

Here's one shameless final plea to consider voting for this site in the 2003 Primeys. My category, Best Internet Baseball Weblog, is #9 on the list, and voting closes today. Thanks!

Sunday, January 19, 2003


The Cooperstown Class of 2003: Relievers or The Hoyt Scale Revisited

Relief pitchers are the most underrepresented position in the Hall of Fame. Thus far, voters have deemed only two of them, Hoyt Wilhelm and Rollie Fingers, worthy of admission to Cooperstown. This year's ballot contained three reasonable candidates -- Rich Gossage, Lee Smith and Bruce Sutter -- none of whom came close to the 75% necessary for election.

There's no shortage of reasons for why these firemen are getting closed out:

• Unlike all of the other positions, we have a very tough time measuring the current candidates against those enshrined; a class of two doesn't exactly make a strong sample size or produce de facto standards for admission. Wilhelm is widely acknowledged as the greatest reliever ever, while Fingers simply had visibility and popularity -- in the form of several successful postseason appearances, a couple of big awards, and a distinctive moustache -- on his side.

• The tools which are readily at our disposal -- wins, losses, and especially saves -- do a less than ideal job for measuring the reliever's impact. This is especially true when comparing pitchers between different eras; Jeff Reardon has over 50% more saves than Hoyt Wilhelm, but anybody who wants to argue that Reardon was as valuable as Wilhelm has an uphill battle ahead.

• The tools which do a better job at helping us measure a reliever's impact, such as Baseball Prospectus' Adjusted Runs Prevented or Tangotiger's Leverage Index, are relatively recent developments based on play-by-play or situational data and thus unavailable for the larger chunk of the game's history.

• As Mike's Baseball Rants continues to explore, the role of the reliever has been in a nearly constant state of evolution across baseball history. Several pitchers are often identified as paradigm of the "modern" reliever based upon their pattern of usage, including Wilhelm, Sutter, and Dennis Eckersley.

• Finally, most baseball fans, whether knowledgeable statheads or simply men on barstools (not that the two are exclusive, and that'll be another round for me, thanks), intuitively grasp that while relief pitching is an important part of the game, the impact of an ace reliever isn't on par with that of an ace starter or All-Star position player. Several measures of player value -- both sabermetric and economic -- bear that out.

All of this combines to make a reliever's road to the Hall of Fame an uphill one. But that doesn't eliminate the question of where our three candidates fit in with respect to the two already in the Hall, to each other, and other good-to-great relievers who are or will be eligible for the Hall in the not-too-distant future. With Eckersley up for election next year, and a generation of save-happy closers on the horizon (Smith, the career leader, has already arrived), it's worth looking at some ways to compare them.

Last year Baseball Primer's Rich Rifkin introduced a measure designed to judge relief pitchers based on a combination of innings pitched and on ERA+ (which is park-adjusted ERA relative to the league). The reasoning behind this is simple: a pitcher's job is to prevent runs; a good pitcher prevents runs at a better than league-average rate; the more innings a pitcher throws at a better-than-average rate, the more valuable he is.

Based on the widely-agreed notion that Wilhem was the best ever, Rifkin called his measure the Hoyt Scale, and created a simple formula:

(ERA+) + 4*IP/75 = uH (unadjusted Hoyts)

Rifkin then produced a Hoyt Constant such that Wilhelm winds up with exactly 100 Hoyts, and all other relievers are calculated relative to the master. By Rich's calculations, the best relievers after the ol' knuckleballer were Kent Tekulve and Rich Gossage (84.2), John Franco (82.8), Dan Quisenberry (81.7), Lee Smith (80.4), Tom Henke (80.2), Sparky Lyle (81.0), and Rollie Fingers (79.3).

This was a quick-and-dirty attempt at getting a handle on the relative values of a select group of top-notch relievers, but it contained a few flaws. First off, Rifkin's numbers for calculating the Hoyt factor were off; for whatever reason he reported Wilhelm's total number of innings in relief as 1,890 when it's in fact 1,870 (still a major league record).

That's a minor problem, easily correctible. However, a much larger problem exists. Several pitchers in the group we're examining, including Wilhelm, have significant numbers of innings pitched as starters. Using a pitcher's total ERA+ and total number of innings favors anybody who racks up the mileage a starter gets; yet we're trying to measure relievers.

While breakdowns between innings pitched and runs allowed as starter/reliever are not always available, we do have a large amount of data for the thirty-five pitchers in my study. Using Retrosheet and a few instances where ALL of a pitchers appearances in a single season were starts, I was able to completely separate the stats as starter and reliever for eleven pitchers. Another eight obliged me by never starting a single game. That's over half of the pitchers for whom I was able to use Relief IP and Relief ERA+ to recalculate their Hoyts. We'll call all of these pitchers whose stats cooperate with our mission Group A. Wilhelm himself is included in this group because if we know his Relief IP, we know his Starting IP. I made an estimate of his Relief ERA+ which I'll explain shortly.

Here are the Group A pitchers, sorted by Relief Innings Pitched (RIP). GS(d) is the number of games started for which we have data for, and RERA+ is Relief ERA+. The rest should be familiar:
                G  GS GS(d)  W   L   Sv     IP     RIP    ERA+  RERA+

H. Wilhelm 1070 52 0 143 122 227 2254.3 1870.0 146 145
K. Tekulve 1050 0 0 94 90 184 1436.3 1436.3 132 132
S. Lyle 899 0 0 99 76 238 1390.3 1390.3 127 127
L. Smith 1022 6 6 71 92 478 1289.3 1252.3 132 143
T. Burgmeier 745 3 3 79 55 102 1258.7 1248.7 119 120
J. Orosco* 1187 4 4 85 78 142 1261.3 1243.0 130 132
B. Stanley 637 85 85 115 97 132 1707.0 1159.0 118 131
J. Franco* 998 0 0 88 76 422 1150.3 1150.3 143 143
J. Reardon 880 0 0 73 77 367 1132.7 1132.7 121 121
D. Jones 846 4 4 69 79 303 1128.3 1112.3 130 130
M. Jackson* 960 7 7 60 67 142 1141.7 1108.0 127 131
G. Lavelle 745 3 3 80 77 136 1085.0 1077.7 126 128
D. Quisenberry 674 0 0 56 46 244 1043.3 1043.3 146 146
B. Sutter 661 0 0 68 71 300 1042.3 1042.3 136 136
J. Montogomery 700 1 1 46 52 304 868.7 863.7 134 136
D. Eckersley 1071 361 361 197 171 390 3285.7 807.3 116 180
T. Henke 642 0 0 41 42 311 789.7 789.7 156 156
R. Aguilera 732 89 89 86 81 318 1291.3 740.3 117 131
J. Wetteland 618 17 17 48 45 330 765.0 683.0 148 165
T. Hoffman* 632 0 0 45 44 352 701.0 701.0 146 146
Group B consists of pitchers for whom we have incomplete data on their time as starters. For the group, we have data on 55% of their total starts. For Goose Gossage, we've got 32 out of his 37, for Rollie Fingers only 8 of 37. I went ahead and removed the known starter stats from their lines, such that we've got Relief IP and Relief ERA+ which still include some starter innings (which we'll adjust for down the road). Interestingly enough, every pitcher in either Group A or Group B had a better ERA+ as a reliever than as a starter, sometimes dramatically. Here are the Group B pitchers, sorted again by RIP (keep in mind that this RIP is not a complete total):
               G  GS GS(d)   W   L   Sv     IP     RIP    ERA+  RERA+

R. Gossage 1002 37 32 124 107 310 1890.3 1659.0 126 139
R. Fingers 944 37 8 114 118 341 1701.3 1656.7 119 122
G. Garber 931 9 1 96 113 218 1510.0 1505.7 117 117
T. McGraw 824 39 15 96 92 180 1514.7 1435.3 116 121
C. Carroll 731 28 9 96 73 143 1353.3 1299.0 120 123
M. Marshall 723 24 19 97 112 188 1386.7 1285.0 118 124
J. Hiller 545 43 35 87 76 125 1242.0 1012.0 134 135
Group C pitchers are the ones for whom we have no data on separating Relief IP and Relief ERA+. Five of the eight are older pitchers, contemporaries of Wilhelm who spent most of their careers as relievers. Perranoski and McMahon combined for only three starts; we could have ignored the lack of data and thrown them into Group A, but I chose to keep them here once I decided to add Nen and Hernandez to the study. Sorted by IP:
               G   GS  GS(d)   W   L   Sv     IP    RIP   ERA+  RERA+

L. McDaniel 987 74 0 141 119 172 2139.3 n/a 109 n/a
S. Miller 704 93 0 105 103 154 1694.0 n/a 115 n/a
E. Face 848 27 0 104 95 193 1375.0 n/a 109 n/a
D. McMahon 874 2 0 90 68 153 1310.7 n/a 119 n/a
R. Perranoski 737 1 0 79 74 179 1174.7 n/a 123 n/a
R. Myers 728 12 0 44 63 347 884.7 n/a 122 n/a
R. Hernandez 696 3 0 48 51 320 775.0 n/a 143 n/a
R. Nen 643 4 0 45 42 314 715.0 n/a 138 n/a
Here's a quick comparison of the three groups:
        G   GS   GS(d)   W    L    Sv     IP      RIP    ERA+  RERA+

A 16769 632 580 1643 1538 5422 26022.3 21851.3 130 136
B 5700 217 119 710 691 1505 10598.3 9852.7 121 126
C 6217 216 0 656 615 1832 10068.3 n/a 119 n/a
In general the trend seems to be that the more data we have on these pitchers, the better that data reflects on them. Note the improved RERA+ for the A's and the B's.

Back to Wilhelm. Poring over his stats, I became concerned about the impact his one year as a regular starter (1959, 32 GP, 27 GS, 226 IP, 173 ERA+) had on his overall stats. So I decided to cobble together an estimate of his Relief ERA+. Knowing his total number of starts and innings as a starter, I calculated his number of innings pitched per start (7.39), and then resolved his pitching lines for each year he started games:
      G  GS   IP     SIP    RIP    ER    SER   RER  IP/GR

1958 39 10 131.0 73.9 57.1 34.0 19.2 14.8 1.97
1959 32 27 226.0 199.6 26.4 55.0 48.6 6.4 5.29
1960 41 11 147.0 81.3 65.7 54.0 29.9 24.1 2.19
1961 51 1 109.7 7.4 102.3 28.0 1.9 26.1 2.05
1963 55 3 136.3 22.2 114.2 40.0 6.5 33.5 2.20
384.3 106.0
Not a bad estimate; his ERA as a "starter" here is 2.48 compared to his career ERA of 2.52. But the one thing which troubled me about this was the last column, the estimated innings pitched per relief appearance. For 1958, this comes out to over 5 innnings pitched per appearance. I decided to rerun the numbers using a higher estimate for that season (8.0 IP/GS) and a lower estimate for all the others (6.75):
      G  GS   IP     SIP    RIP    ER     SER    RER   IP/GR

1958 39 10 131.0 67.3 63.7 34.0 17.5 16.5 2.20
1959 32 27 226.0 216.0 10.0 55.0 52.6 2.4 2.00
1960 41 11 147.0 74.0 73.0 54.0 27.2 26.8 2.43
1961 51 1 109.7 6.7 102.9 28.0 1.7 26.3 2.06
1963 55 3 136.3 20.2 116.1 40.0 5.9 34.1 2.23
384.3 104.9
My extra work eliminates only one more run, but it does get his innings pitched per appearance down to a more uniform range. I then removed the totals from his line and recalculated his ERA+ as a "reliever": 145, compared to his overall 146. Not a huge difference in the grand scheme of things, but enough to satisfy a few nagging doubts I had about the impact of that 1959 season.

Using Wilhelm's Relief ERA+ and Relief IP, we can now calculate a new Hoyt Constant so that the man winds up with an even 100. In Rifkin's original study it was .4051 (100/246.8), here it becomes .4086 (100/244.73).

One more hurdle remains: how to avoid overestimating the number of Hoyts for the Group B and Group C pitchers. I decided to dock them a small amount for each missing start as a percentage of their total appearances, settling on the following formula:

Hoyt = G - (1.5*(mGS)/G) * uH * Hc

G is Games, mGS is missing Games Started (the ones we DON'T have data for), uH is Unadjusted Hoyts, and Hc is the Hoyt Constant. I tested the factors of 1 to 3 in increments of 0.5, and 1.5 provided a good equilibrium; anything more and you penalize the old swingmen too much, anything less and you reward them too much for piling up the innings as a starter. For what it's worth, I also ran the calculations another way, using a very reasonable 6 IP/GS for the missing Games Started; the results are almost identical.

Anyway, and without further ado, here is new Hoyt list:
              IP     RIP    ERA+  RERA+  Hoyt

Wilhelm 2254.3 1870.0 146 145 100.0
Gossage 1809.3 1578.0 126 139 90.5
Smith 1289.3 1252.3 132 143 85.7
Tekulve 1436.3 1436.3 132 132 85.2
Franco 1150.3 1150.3 143 143 83.5
Quisenberry 1043.3 1043.3 146 146 82.4
Wetteland 765.0 683.0 148 165 82.3
Lyle 1390.3 1390.3 127 127 82.2
Fingers 1701.3 1656.7 119 122 82.0
Orosco 1261.3 1243.0 130 132 81.0
Henke 789.7 789.7 156 156 81.0
McDaniel 2139.3 n/a 109 n/a 80.9
Garber 1510.0 1505.7 117 117 79.7
Stanley 1707.0 1159.0 118 131 78.8
Sutter 1042.3 1042.3 136 136 78.3
Marshall 1386.7 1285.0 118 124 77.9
Jackson 1141.7 1108.0 127 131 77.7
Jones 1128.3 1112.3 130 130 77.4
McMahon 1310.7 n/a 119 n/a 76.9
McGraw 1514.7 1435.3 116 121 76.9
Burgmeier 1258.7 1248.7 119 120 76.2
Eckersley 3285.7 807.3 116 143 76.0
Lavelle 1085.0 1077.7 126 128 75.8
Perranoski 1174.7 n/a 123 n/a 75.7
Hiller 1242.0 1012.0 134 135 75.5
Carroll 1353.3 1299.0 120 123 75.5
Hoffman 701.0 701.0 146 146 74.9
Hernandez 775.0 n/a 143 n/a 74.8
Montogmery 868.7 863.7 134 136 74.4
Reardon 1132.7 1132.7 121 121 74.1
Nen 715.0 n/a 138 138 71.3
Face 1375.0 n/a 109 n/a 70.9
Aguilera 1291.3 740.3 117 131 69.7
Myers 884.7 n/a 122 n/a 67.4
Miller 1694.0 n/a 115 n/a 67.3
Even with the slight deduction for five missing starts, Gossage clearly leaps into second place in this study. Smith edges Tekulve for third place and Franco's alone in fifth. The next seven pitchers are separated by a mere 1.5 Hoyts. Rollie Fingers is right in the middle of that pack. In his original piece, Rifkin used Fingers' score to define the cutoff for Hall of Fame relievers. By this measure, Smith, Tekulve, Franco, Quiz, Wetteland, and Lyle should get the nod, while Orosco, Henke, McDaniel, Garber, Stanley, Sutter and a whole bunch of others fall by the wayside.

Intuitively, this isn't a bad conclusion, but it's worth remembering that Fingers' exact position might be considered somewhat fluid. We're missing 29 of his starts, and additional data (say, Retrosheet splits for 1970, when he started 19 games) could shift his position. If I'd used a different deduction factor, say 2.0 instead of 1.5 per missing start, it would have knocked him below Orosco and Henke at 80.7. A deduction factor of 1.0, on the other hand, would slide him past Quiz, Wetteland, and ol' Sparky at 83.3. Admittedly, one of the reasons I settled on 1.5 was because he fit into the middle of this grouping rather than significantly beyond or behind it.

It's just as well that we don't depend too much on Fingers' exact position, because as a barometer of what makes a Hall of Fame reliever, it's the definition of a slippery slope. But more importantly, the question is, is the Hoyt Scale alone enough to tell us who belongs in the Hall and who doesn't? I don't think so. It ignores postseason credentials, awards, and other factors. But it's of great help in pointing us in the right direction.

Let's remember what the Hoyt Scale does and doesn't do. The Hoyt is a measure of career value for relievers based entirely on runs and innings and the pitcher's performance relative to the league average. It doesn't take into account peak value. It dismisses any performance a pitcher had as a starter. It ignores the relatively trivial aspect of the reliever's W-L record, and somewhat helpfully shades us from being influenced by save totals. It's worth noting how the all-time save leaders rank:
            S   Hoyt  rank

Smith 478 85.7 3
Franco 422 83.5 5
Eck 390 76.0 22
Reardon 367 74.1 30
Hoffman 352 74.9 27
Myers 347 67.4 34
Fingers 341 82.0 9
Wetteland 330 78.1 7
Hernandez 320 74.8 28
Aguilera 318 69.7 33
Nen 314 71.3 31
Henke 311 81.0 11
Gossage 310 90.5 2
Montgomery 304 74.4 19
Jones 303 77.4 18
Sutter 300 78.3 15
Most of the more recent closers don't fare so well on this list, given their low number of innings pitched; Wetteland is the exception. On the contrary, the Hoyt rewards yeomen who racked up quality innings amid little fanfare. Tekulve, Orosco, McDaniel, Garber, Burgmeier, and Lavelle aren't exactly tip-of-the-ongue names when it comes to relief aces, but those guys were very good for a long time. Not Hall of Famers, perhaps, but no slouches either.

I should add somewhere in here that among the lower reaches of our "Top 35 (Guys Whose Hoyts I Bothered to Calculate)" there are probably pitchers I've omitted who would score just as well, especially among active players and players whose splits I don't have. Today's free-agent signing Steve Reed, a guy I suggested the Yanks find a spot for, rolls in at a respectable 71.5. Among older pitchers, Ron Reed, Dave Smith, and Steve Bedrosian are around 70 as well. If anyone finds a pitcher above 75 who's not active and who's missing from this list, let me know.

Among our three candidates for BBWAA election this year, Gossage has a clear edge on Smith, and Sutter's even further back. I still want to examine what Win Shares and the Leverage Index tell us about these relievers, but rather than dragging this out even longer, I'll hold that for another day.

Thursday, January 16, 2003


Blimey! It's the Primeys

Pitchers have their Cy Youngs, scientists have their Nobels, and movies have their Oscars. Now we internet-savvy baseball buffs have our own award: the Primeys. Sponsored by Baseball Primer, the Primeys reward serious commentary and silly humor, great posts, great discussion threads, and great websites. Some of the people nominated for these awards are pros like Bill James, ESPN's Rob Neyer and Jim Baker, and Salon's Allen Barra. Others are amateurs who simply do it for the love of the game and of connecting with their fellow fans.

I'm proud to announce that yours truly has been nominated for one of these Primeys: Best Internet Baseball Weblog! I'm up against four other fine blogs: Don Malcolm's Big Bad Baseball, Aaron Gleeman's Baseball Blog, the Ryan Wilkins/Ben Matasar/Tim Kraus Baseball Junkie site, and the Baseball Prospectus staff's Daily Prospectus.

It's truly an honor to be mentioned in such fine company, and I offer my hearty and sincere congratulations to the other candidates. At the same time, I know that off the top of my head, I can reel off at least twice as many weblogs equally worthy of being nominated. Just check out the guys (and gals) listed at left. You bloggers know who you are, and the readership we likely all share does as well.

Needless to say, and despite some long odds in going up against the Prospectus hydra, it would be quite a thrill to win this award. So I'm asking you, dear readers, to consider voting for this site when you fill out your ballot (my category is #9 out of 11). The voting ends on Monday, so please take a few minutes today to register your opinion. My sincere thanks and undying gratitude to you all for your continued support of this website.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003


Laying Mushroom Clouds and Clearing a Few Bases

I'm swamped with work right now and pretty damn ornery as well, stuck on a three-month-long math project at work which has made my life a living hell. I'm Samuel L. Jackson's Jules Winfield character in Pulp Fiction when he's on brain detail, a "mushroom-cloud-laying m*****f*****." It ain't pretty.

Needless to say, I haven't had the chance to do much writing lately. I'm working on my Hall of Fame analysis for relievers, which will hopefully be up later this week. Three or four other things I wanted to write about have been stashed on the back burner, if not rendered completely irrelevant. That's life as a blogger when you've gotta pull down a paycheck, too.

So for now, I'm going to have to settle for passing on a few links, not all off which are fresh:

• Baseball Prospectus' Derek Zumsteg has a worthwhile take on the possibility of Fox selling the Dodgers now that their five-year window for writing off player contracts is closing. For those unfamiliar, the five-year rule allows half of a franchise's purchase price to be allocated to player contracts and depreciated over that span, creating an artificial loss which reduces the owner's tax liability. So if I buy the Dodgers from Fox for $400 million, I can write off $200 million of that, which is $40 mil a year. When five years are up, I, just like other owners, particularly the corporate ones, bail on the Dodgers and find a new tax shelter. See: Disney's Anaheim Angels, anything Jeffrey Loria has touched, and the entire history of the Florida Marlins (Huizenga to Henry to Loria, Oh Shit!).

Incidentally, the guy who came up with this grand scheme is the same guy wearing the ugly toupée. From a CNN/SI piece last spring:
"This legal rule was actually generated by a major tax law victory won by Bud Selig in his former baseball role, as a new owner when Selig bought the Seattle Pilots for $11 million in 1969 and moved them to his hometown of Milwaukee,'' says [Harvard law professor Paul] Weiler, author of Leveling the Playing Field. "It was a terrible legal verdict that was won by a guy 30 years ago in a different world."
No wonder those owners love Bad Rug Bud.

• Also at Prospectus, Will Carroll's first Under the Knife column is worth a read. For the uninitiated, Carroll has been running a free email list of the same name which details player injuries and their outlooks from an informed sports-medicine standpoint. He gets a lot of good inside stuff about the game in general as well. The first BP column discusses the now-quashed Bartolo Colon-Brad Penny deal involving the Expos, Marlins, and Reds. Of Penny, Carroll writes: "Rumors circulated fairly regularly last season that Penny's elbow was not the only concern, but that his shoulder had come up abnormal during an MRI. While tears were not seen, sources indicated that Penny had some lesions inside his shoulder capsule and according to some reports he may have the dreaded Hill-Sachs lesions that would imply rotator cuff problems." If that kind of talk is your cup of joe (and if you own a fantasy-league team it had better be), then you've got a new columnist on your reading list, particularly once the season hits.

• Mike C. over at Mike's Baseball Rants has been working on a lengthy, multipart analysis on the history of relief pitching. It's now five parts and thick with numbers, but it's definitely an interesting look at the development of an important, if nebulous, facet of the game. Start with Part 1 and then go scroll crazy...

Christian Ruzich has one of the best baseball sites around. He's got a weblog devoted to the Chicago Cubs called The Cub Reporter, an article on the Ex-Cub Factor, the most comprehensive list of retired baseball numbers on the web, a baseball bookshelf feature which has me green with envy, and a little doodad in the upper-lefthand corner of the Cub Reporter which tells you how many days until Pitchers and Catchers (today we're at 31!). If that's not worth a look during the dark days of January, I don't know what is.

Christian's been stewing about the Cub-related Hall of Fame candidates -- Sandberg, Dawson, Sutter and Smith -- none of whom received the magic 75% during last week's voting results. As if being a Cubs fan isn't hard enough already. He's also done a fair bit of research related to another Cub candidate, one who should have been in the Hall long ago, Ron Santo. "Number of players dubbed 'the next Santo': 3 (Gary Scott, Kevin Orie, Cole Liniak). Career games for the three next Santos: 251." Hmmm...

• Introducing a new blog devoted to baseball analysis and rotisserie advice, called At Home Plate. It's done by a guy named Jonathan Leshanski. I'm not sure I agree with his suggestions for speeding up the game, but they're worth a look, and so is the rest of his site.

Friday, January 10, 2003


The Birthday All-Stars

The concept for my birthday piece, in which I selected the best team of ballplayers who share my December 25 birthday (compiled via Baseball-Reference's birthday feature), has been spreading around the baseball blogosphere like wildfire, with folks like Baseball Blog's Aaron Gleeman, The Cub Reporter's Christian Ruzich, Only Baseball Matters' John Perricone and Bobby's Sports and News Bloggy's Bob Mong chiming in with their own teams. With the above link, it's officially reached Cluch Hit status, and now everybody can weigh in. Way cool!

Tuesday, January 07, 2003


The Cooperstown Class of 2003: Outfielders

Among the seven outfielders on the BBWAA ballot are four heavy hitters who were almost exact contemporaries: Andre Dawson, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, and Jim Rice. Aiming straight for 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
Murphy 2111 398 1266 161 .265 .346 .469 7 2 5 34.3 115.5 294 150
Rice 2452 382 1451 58 .298 .352 .502 7 1 0 42.9 147.0 282 127
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 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.

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.

Here's another look, via their Baseball Prospectus numbers:
           G   EQA   BRAR  FRAR  RAR  RAR/162             WARP3

Dawson 2627 .284 653 321 974 60.1 (40.3/19.8) 106.1
Parker 2466 .286 627 224 851 55.9 (41.2/14.7) 88.0
Murphy 2180 .289 563 287 850 63.2 (41.8/21.3) 90.2
Rice 2089 .300 703 226 929 72.0 (54.5/17.5) 92.6
This isn't clear-cut by any stretch. My first impulse would be to rule out the guys with shorter careers and heavy park effects -- Rice and Murphy. Except that Rice's hitting really was a hell of a lot better than the other three, even once the park effects are stripped away. In order of career OPS+, they are: Rice 128, Parker and Murphy 121, Dawson 119. You could spin these around any which way and still, there's not much difference other than Rice coming out on top.

Short of running the BPro numbers for all the Hall of Fame outfielders to see where these guys slot in -- something I'm not inclined to do at this late juncture in part because I wasn't especially satisfied with the payoff in doing so for other positions -- I'm left to my gut call on each of these four:

• The hole the middle of Parker's career (1980-1984), largely of his own making, kept him from 3000 hits, probably 400 HRs as well, and bona fide Hall of Fame status. His defensive value was just about gone by the time he returned to productive playing. Out.

• Murphy's rapid decline is much more mystifying, but just as troubling. His park splits are disconcerting, as well. Out.

• Rice declined early as well, but he was a head above the others as a hitter, and he had a 12-season string that's almost without blemish. In.

• Dawson's longer career gives him a boost as well. In.

So this time around, without further evidence I'm going to pull the lever for the Hawk and Jim Ed, and let the Cobra and the Murph wait for another day. Next year, when all four will likely still be on the ballot, we'll do it again with whatever's stats are the state of the art at the time.

Oh, there are three other oufielders on the ballot as well: Brett Butler, Vince Coleman, and Danny Tartabull. You don't need me to tell you that neither Coleman nor Tartabull were HOFers, because their numbers do it for them:
             H    HR   RBI  SB    AVG   OPB   SLG  AS  MVP  GG  HOFS   HOFM   WS  Top 5

Butler 2375 54 578 558 .290 .377 .376 1 0 0 36.0 50.5 295 124
Coleman 1425 28 346 752 .264 .324 .345 2 0 0 12.9 27.0 138 87
Tartabull 1366 262 925 37 .273 .368 .496 1 0 0 25.1 31.0 188 99
Butler doesn't look too great at first, but his Prospectus numbers open my eyes a bit: .286 EQA, 570 BRAR, 434 FRAR and 108.3 WARP3. Despite the fact that he was nowhere near the heavy hitter that the previous foursome was, his ability to get on base and good defense in centerfield (something Win Shares backs up as well) bump up his value to equal with theirs. But it troubles me that he was so unheralded in his time, no Gold Gloves and only one All-Star appearance. With more time to study the issue, and more comfort with BP's defensive metrics, I might warm to his case enough to consider voting for him, but I'm going to pass this time around. This leaves eight men on my ballot: Blyleven, Carter, Dawson, John, Murray, Rice, Sandberg, and Trammell.


The Cooperstown Class of 2003: Infielders

Moving around the horn, there are three infielders on the BBWAA ballot (and none of them futilitymen), second baseman Ryne Sandberg and shortstops Alan Trammell and Davey Concepcion. These three could build a pretty good trophy case to hold their Gold Gloves and other honors; Sandberg won an MVP in 1984, Trammell finished second in 1987 (more on that in a moment) and was the World Series MVP in 1984, while Concepcion had to settle for an All-Star Game MVP in 1982. Here's a breakout of their accomplishments:
              H    HR   RBI   AVG   OPB   SLG  AS  GG  HOFS   HOFM   WS   Top 3    Top 5

Sandberg 2386 282 1061 .285 .344 .452 10 9 42.7 157.0 346 38,37,34 154
Trammell 2365 185 1003 .285 .352 .415 6 4 40.4 119.0 318 35,29,26 132
Concepcion 2326 101 950 .267 .322 .357 9 5 29.1 107.0 269 25,25,24 111
Sandberg was an excellent all-around second baseman who combined power, speed (344 steals in his career), and glovework. He scored over 100 runs seven times, drove in 100 twice, and hit 25 or more homers six times, topped 30 steals 5 times (as high as 54) and 20 another 4 times, and won 9 straight Gold Gloves. He keyed the Chicago Cubs to two NL East flags, and hit well in the postseason (.385, 1107 OPS) despite losing causes. Bill James ranks him 7th all-time among second basemen, behind only Joe Morgan, Eddie Collins, Rogers Hornsby, Jackie Robinson, Craig Biggio (!), and Nap Lajoie. Is there even an argument that he doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame?

Actually, there is. The case against Sandberg starts with how inflated his stats were by Wrigley Field. Retrosheet's home/road data, which covers the first 9 seasons of Sandberg's career (61% of his total plate appearances), shows him with a .309 AVG/.366 OBP/.504 SLG at Wrigley, and only .266/.319/.401 away. We don't have post-'90 data, and it's worth noting that Wrigley became a less extreme hitters park in that timespan, judging by the Park Factor numbers over at, so it's possible that split evened out a bit. Overall, he didn't walk much, which kept his OBP down; five times in his 15 seasons it was below .330. He had a few monster years, which camouflage some mediocre ones, and he was done at 37 after coming back from a year-long retirement at 35. His Gold Gloves might be inflated as well; Win Shares shows Sandberg as the top 2B three times, and #2 at least twice (James lists only the #1 up to 1989). Baseball Prospectus holds his fielding in high regard, showing him at 597 FRAR and 190 FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average).

Overall, Sandberg's case isn't iron-clad. But it's clear that he spent a solid decade far above average -- and sometimes great -- on both sides of the ball, at a position not known for heavy hitters. That's good enough for me.

Alan Trammell was similar to Sandberg, a very solid hitter who more than held his own in the field and on the bases. Though the Ryno had more power, Trammell was better at getting on base. His numbers aren't far off, taken in context. For his career, Sandberg's OPS+ (OPS normalized to the league on a scale with 100 being average, as ERA+ is to ERA) is 114; Trammell's is 110. Like Sandberg, he combined some monster seasons with some fairly middling ones, but those monster seasons really drove his ballclub. 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 he barely lost the vote to 47-HR outfielder George Bell. Win Shares illustrates the injustice: 35 for Trammell, 26 for Bell. His four Gold Gloves may be overstated (but then whose aren't?); Win Shares shows him as the best in the league only once, and considerably below average among players with as many innings logged at shortstop: 5.04 Fielding Win Shares per 1000 innings, compared to an average of 5.72 for shortstops with over 10,000 innings. Baseball Prospectus holds a kinder view of his fielding, as I'll get to in a moment. Bill 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's in by my vote.

Trammell spent 15 of his 20 seasons as the Detroit Tigers' regular shortstop. He was one of four prospects the Tigers came up with 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, his keystone partner Lou Whittaker, Jack Morris, and catcher Lance Parrish. They, along with Kirk Gibson, were the nucleus of the '84 champs and their '87 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 the Tigers at least reached a second World Series, all of their candidacies would be helped thanks to the increased exposure, with Trammell having the most to gain. Instead, the fact that they didn't win more often may be held against them. Whittaker, who is otherwise inseparably linked with Trammell, was bumped off the ballot in his first year by failing to garner the necessary 5% vote (Trammell got 15.7% in his first season of eligibility, not great but not horrible). Lou's candidacy, while not a slam-dunk, deserved at least a longer look. He places 13th on James' 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's not far off.

Davey Concepcion was the shortstop for one of the greatest teams in history, the Big Red Machine, as they won five divisions, four pennants, and two World Series during the 1970s. He wasn't much of a hitter (his career OPS is below 700), although he wasn't a total loss with the bat; at his best he put up a few .350 OBP/.410 SLG seasons. But he was a defensive wizard, a sheer pleasure to watch, whose sabermetric stats back his case: five times he posted the best Fielding Win Shares total among NL shortstops, and with an excellent 6.37 WS per 1000 innings. Baseball Prospectus' Fielding Runs holds him in similarly high regard. Here he is, along with Trammell for comparison:
             G    BRAR  FRAR   RAR  RAR/162  

Concepcion 2488 275 637 912 59.4 (17.9/41.5)
Trammell 2293 546 567 1113 78.6 (38.6/40.1)
This chart actually illustrates the flaw with Concepcion's case; the two are pretty even with the glove by this measure, but Trammell dusts Concepcion with the bat. Davey was a key component of those Cincy teams, but he doesn't belong in Cooperstown alongside the big Reds (Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, and Pete... oh, wait). So, to recap: no on Concepcion, and yes on Sandberg and Trammell, joining Bert Blyleven, Tommy John, Gary Carter, and Eddie Murray on my ballot thus far.

• • • • •

I was apparently a bit too optimistic in trying to get through the Hall of Fame ballot in a single weekend, as the voting results will be announced on Tuesday before I can weigh in on my outfield and reliever picks for the ballot. But I've already "cast" my vote at the Internet Baseball Hall of Fame, and I'll continue to weigh in on my choices in the next couple of days.

Monday, January 06, 2003


The Cooperstown Class of 2003: First Basemen

The BBWAA ballot contains three holdover first basemen who are superficially attractive candidates, in Steve Garvey, Keith Hernandez, and Don Matttingly. Added to this ballot is Eddie Murray, whose credentials are considerably stronger. Cutting straight to the chart of the matter:

Murray 3255 504 1917 .287 .359 .476 8 0 3 55.8 155.0 437 142
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
AS is All-Star appearances, GG is Gold Gloves, WS is Win Shares, and Top 5 is Win Shares in a player's best five consecutive seasons. Murray's case is so strong that he's got not just one but two "magic numbers" for enshrinement: 3000 hits and 500 homers. In fact, only two other ballplayers can claim both of those milestones: Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. You may have heard of them... Murray was a machine, annually good for about a .300-25-100 season for about the first 17 years of his career, and still valuable after that. He never won an MVP award, but he placed in the Top Ten in the voting eight times. He played in three World Series, and though he didn't do especially well (.169, 4 HR) he was overall pretty solid in the postseason (825 OPS). He's second all-time in grand-slam homers (19), tied for 6th in all-time games played (3026), 8th in total bases (5397), 8th in RBI (1917), 12th in hits, 14th in extra-base hits (1099), 17th in doubles (560), and 17th in homers. Since he didn't talk to the media his profile wasn't very high, and some writers will probably hold it against him, but there's absolutely nothing but Hall of Fame written all over his candidacy.

The same, alas, cannot be said about the other three candidates. All three 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. But in a position crowded with Hall of Famers, they don't quite measure up. I'm of the opinion that 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. Mattingly's injury-shortened career works against him, Garvey's low OBP works against him, Hernandez's lack of power works against him.

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 (though Win Shares shows that it was a dubious one, with eight players higher in the same season), 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. Bill James ranks Garvey only 31st among first basemen, while he places Mattingly 12th and Hernandez 16th (Murray is 5th). Goodbye.

Mattingly and Hernandez get their names mentioned a lot because of the New York factor. Both had creepy moustaches. And both get a lot of ink for their glove work. How much does it help them? James' Win Shares book has Mattingly leading AL 1Bs in Fielding Win Shares only once, with at least three other Top Three finishes (which only cover from 1989 on). Hernandez led the NL only once as well (no Top Threes listed). Garvey cleans up here, leading the NL seven times, including a big chunk of Hernandez's career. Overall, Garvey scores 2.12 WS per 1000 innings, Mattingly 2.06, and Hernandez 2.02; not a lot to separate them except that Mattingly has about 3000 fewer innings. Here's a look at the Baseball Prospectus RAR numbers, both fielding and batting:
             G    BRAR  FRAR  RAR  RAR/162  

Murray 3026 1016 189 1205 64.5 (54.4/10.1)
Garvey 2332 531 236 767 53.3 (36.9/16.4)
Hernandez 2088 643 333 976 75.7 (49.9/25.8)
Mattingly 1785 620 232 852 77.3 (56.3/21.1)
Garvey doesn't do so well here with the leather, while Hernandez jumps further ahead. Overall, on a rate basis, both Hernandez and Mattingly were superior to Murray, thanks to their defense. But Murray's total production was about 24% more than Hernandez and 41% more than Mattingly, and that's gotta count for something as well.

Baseball Prospectus provides another way of crunching those numbers by boiling them down to Wins Above Replacement and adjusting for season length and league difficulty. Here are the WARP3 numbers for all of the HOF 1Bs (except for Negro Leaguer Buck Leonard):

Cap Anson 144.6
Lou Gehrig 140.3
Jimmie Foxx 132.1
Roger Connor 123.0
Willie McCovey 109.3
Johnny Mize 103.7
Dan Brouthers 101.8
Harmon Killebrew 99.5
Tony Perez 97.8
Orlando Cepeda 87.5
Hank Greenberg 84.4
Bill Terry 76.9
Jake Beckley 75.8
George Sisler 73.8
Jim Bottomley 61.7
Frank Chance 46.0
George Kelly 39.1

Eddie Murray 127.3
Keith Hernandez 103.5
Don Mattingly 89.7
Steve Garvey 80.8
Like the catchers, we've got some dubious selections at the low end. None of our four candidates look terrible by comparison, and in fact Hernandez starts to look especially good. Of course, there are a dozen others outside the Hall who I haven't listed who would place well on this chart: Rafael Palmeiro 124.8, Jeff Bagwell 112.5, Frank Thomas 106.8, Mark McGwire 106.7, Will Clark 99.2, John Olerud 98.4, Fred McGriff 97.2, Mark Grace 92.3, Dick Allen 87.3, Norm Cash 85.6, Mickey Vernon 74.7, and Gil Hodges 72.7.

The high totals of the recent players, though, have me questioning the validity of this measure -- while it SHOULD be adjusting sufficiently for context (park and league), I don't know enough about the nuts and bolts of the method to equivocally state that it IS. For all that I'm tossing these numbers around, I don't profess to say that they're the answer. And given the way two elaborate systems (Prospectus and James) are contradicting each other regarding fielding, I'm inclined to take each with a grain of salt.

I didn't vote for any of the Garvey-Hernandez-Mattingly trio last year, and I'm not going to this year. But I'm warming to the possibility that Hernandez belongs. It would take a lot of convincing that BP's fielding measures are more reliable than James', and hence enough to elevate Hernandez, before my vote swings. So: yes on Murray, no on the other three, but my ears are still open.

Sunday, January 05, 2003


The Cooperstown Class of 2003: Catchers

I'm going to skip over the relievers for the moment, since it's a big can of worms, and move on to catchers.

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 of who was 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. Along with Bert Blyleven and Ron Santo (who's long since fallen off the BBWAA ballot), he's got a claim on being the best player in baseball history eligible but not yet elected to the Hall of Fame. Carter missed last year by eleven measly votes, but he should have been in several years ago.

Three other catchers are on this year's ballot: Darren Daulton, Mickey Tettleton, and Tony Pena. While all three have their merits, none of them stack up to being HOFers. Here's a chart, tossing Carter in as well:
              H   HR   RBI   AVG   OPB   SLG  AS  GG  HOFS   HOFM   WS   Top 3    Top 5

Carter 2092 324 1225 .262 .335 .439 11 3 41.3 135.0 337 33,31,30 141
Daulton 891 137 588 .245 .357 .427 3 0 30.9 25.0 159 31,29,23 101
Peña 1687 107 708 .260 .309 .364 5 4 22.8 97.0 175 21,21,17 84
Tettleton 1132 245 732 .241 .369 .449 2 0 29.0 17.0 184 27,24,24 111
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. Daulton and Tettleton were hitters first, catchers second. Both had low batting averages, but high OBPs and SLGs -- efficient but underrated offensive threats out of the Gene Tenace mold. In other words, sabermetric darlings. Each had some very good seasons, and Daulton at his best helped propel the Phillies to the '93 World Series, but neither had the longevity required of a HOF catcher. Peña is a horse of a different color, a defensive whiz who had a reputation as being one of the best handlers of a pitching staff. His offensive contributions are a thin gruel compared to the meaty chunks offered up by the other two. Does his D make up for it? Not via Win Shares, it doesn't. Pena's longer career and good glove doesn't offset Tettleton's value with the bat, and Tettleton isn't close to being a Hall of Famer.

Here's a look at the candidates using another measure: Baseball Prospectus Runs Above Replacement (BRAR is Batting Runs Above Replacement, FRAR is Fielding Runs Above Replacement, and RAR/162 boils it down to a per season rate with the batting/fielding breakdown in parentheses):
             G   BRAR  FRAR   RAR  RAR/162  

Carter 2296 514 649 1163 82.1 (36.3/45.8)
Daulton 1161 250 210 460 65.6 (34.9/29.3)
Peña 1988 138 570 708 57.7 (11.2/46.4)
Tettleton 1485 429 175 604 65.9 (46.8/19.1)
Carter is clearly at least one or two heads above the other three. He's the only one of the bunch who combined the offense/defense package (Daulton doesn't fare too badly, actually) and did it for much longer than the rest.

Though he's not on the ballot, a catching contemporary of Carter ought to be in the Hall as well: Ted Simmons. Here's a comparison of the two:

Carter 2092 324 1225 .262 .335 .439 11 3 41.3 135.0 337 33,31,30 141
Simmons 2472 248 1389 .285 .348 .437 8 0 44.5 125.0 315 30,28,28 127

Carter 2296 514 649 1163 82.1 (36.3/45.8)
Simmons 2456 565 328 893 58.9 (37.3/21.6)
Simmons was a slightly better hitter than Carter, and for a longer time. He topped 20 HRs six times, 90 RBI eight times, and at his peak carried around a 900 OPS. His James numbers are right there with the Kid, and he's ranked 10th in the NBJHA among catchers. Older than Carter, he suffered in comparison with Bench, particularly on defense. That he played a good portion of his career as a DH (279 of his 2456 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 (though the DHing hurts his numbers in the RAR analysis). How does he compare to the other HOF catchers? Here's a chart, sorted by career RAR:
              G    BRAR  FRAR   RAR   RAR/162  

Fisk 2499 622 527 1149 74.5 (40.3/34.2)
Bench 2158 597 495 1092 82.0 (44.8/37.2)
Berra 2120 542 501 1043 79.7 (41.4/38.3)
Hartnett 1990 504 487 991 80.7 (41.0/39.7)
Dickey 1789 515 457 972 88.0 (46.6/41.4)
Cochrane 1482 453 298 751 82.1 (49.5/32.6)
Lombardi 1853 456 203 659 57.6 (39.9/17.8)
Campanella 1215 338 319 657 87.6 (45.1/42.5)
Ferrell 1884 252 397 649 55.8 (21.7/34.1)
Schalk 1762 128 496 624 57.3 (11.8/45.6)
Bresnahan 1446 333 182 515 57.7 (37.3/20.4)
Props to blogger Bob Mong, who did this number-crunching over at Baseball Primer; I'm presenting it in slightly different form. This is a tough mix to grapple with, in part because it includes a couple of the Hall's more dubious selections in Ferrell (whom Veterans Committee voters apparently thought was his brother, pitcher Wes) and Bresnahan, whose candidacy was aided by him dying a few weeks before the election, garnering a swell of sympathy. We've got five legitimately great two-way catchers with long careers, two more every bit as great but with injury-shortened careers (Campy and Cochrane), a good-hit/no-field (Lombardi), a good-field/no-hit (Schalk), the dubious two (who end up pretty even with the one-way guys), and Josh Gibson, who's no help here.

There's a chasm between those top five (or seven) and the next tier, both in terms of career value and rate. Carter fits squarely in the top group, with the highest career value and tied for the third highest rate; in other words he's not only a Hall of Famer, but a Hall of Famer with a claim on being the all-time best at his position (I'm not saying he IS, just that he's up there). Somewhere in that chasm belong Simmons, Joe Torre at 905 and 66.4, and Bill Freehan at 796 and 72.7. That distinction is really a problem for another day. None of them are on the BBWAA ballot, but Carter is, and he gets my vote.


The Cooperstown Class of 2003: Starting Pitchers

Around this time last year, I put together a two-part review of candidates on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The pieces were possibly the most popular of any I've written for this site (one was a Clutch Hit), and were very well received. Since my thinking on the various candidates hasn't changed all that much, I'm going borrow liberally from what I wrote then. So if this seems like déjà vu all over again, you're probably right. In this installment, I'll consider starting pitchers.

Before I delve into this, 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.

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 23 pitchers, going down to 249 wins, 13 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 39 108.5 225 21,20,20 94 18.36
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 a year ago in his New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. I'm not about to go into detail here about Win Shares 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. 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 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 these 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 warrant consideration.

Blyleven ranks number five on the career strikeout list, having been passed by Roger Clemens in 2001 and Randy Johnson in 2002. 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 is the best pitcher eligible for the Hall of Fame who isn't in yet. 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 (Bill James calls them the Tommy John family of pitchers). He had a fairly concentrated peak, winning 80 games over a four-year span from 1977-80 and reaching the World Series three times. In the six-year span from 1977-1982, his teams made the postseason five times, and he was the best or second-best starter on his team (using Win Shares) in all but the last of those seasons, when the Angels acquired him late in the season. 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. He's got a huge intangible hanging beside his name. 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.

I've voted for Kaat before in the Internet Baseball Hall of Fame balloting, and advocated him elsewhere. And from the hundreds of games I've watched that he's been doing color commentary for the Yankees, I think he's a helluva guy. But the more I examine his case, the more I'm convinced he falls behind Blyleven (which is obvious) and John (which is less so). What separates John from Kaat, in my mind, is that John's peaks elevated his teams to the postseason, and Kaat's did not. Kitty's teams made it twice while he was a starter, but they weren't close to being his best seasons. In his best seasons with the Twins (1962 & 1966), they were second in the American League, but several games out of first. In his best seasons with the White Sox (1974 & 1975), they were at best a .500 club. It's bad luck and bad timing, but it does count for something in this hair-splitting contest. So, out.

Morris had a shorter career than that trio ("only" 18 years), but his peaks were fairly high. He was the de facto 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.

Prior to last season's exercise, I could see voting for Morris, 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 242 and Randy Johnson at 224). 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).

What swayed me against Morris was examining his Win Shares pattern (which I didn't have at this time last year). The seasons where he looks big by traditional measures (wins, mainly) don't make as big a dent as far as Win Shares. He earned only 14 WS for the '84 Tigers (behind Dan Petry's 16), only 18 for the '91 Twins (behind Kevin Tapani's 21 and tied with Scott Erickson), and only 15 for the '92 Jays (behind Juan Guzman's 16). The main reason Win Shares penalizes him is the same reason his candidacy otherwise sticks out awkwardly; it's the runs, stupid. His ERA+ in those three seasons is only 112; nothing to be ashamed of, just not particularly impressive if you're trying to make a case for him carrying a team to victory. It's simply tough to make a case for him as an elite pitcher with the high ERA. I'm going to pass on him as a candidate for now.

There are a handful of other starting pitchers on the ballot -- Sid Fernandez, Danny Jackson, Darryl Kile (RIP), and Fernando Valenzuela -- but none have a shot at being elected. Fernando is the only one who's got a case (his phenomenal 1981 season and his role at bringing Latino fans to the game are his two prime qualifications), and Eric Enders does a good job over at Baseball Primer of making it via the Keltner Test. I wish Fernando had enough juice, but a 173-153 record and a 103 ERA+ doesn't cut it in Cooperstown by any standard.

I was going to squeeze relief pitchers into this piece, but I decided it needed a bit more homework than just a quick revision of last year's analysis. So that will come in a later installment (greaaaat, another open-ended series for me to keep up with). Back soon.

Wednesday, January 01, 2003


2002 Futility Infielder of the Year

Happy New Year to everybody out there. I gorged myself on college football today, watching more ball in a single afternoon than I had all season long. But the day wasn't completely wasted. I put together a page I've been itching to do for some time: the Futility Infielder of the Year Award.

Though I've bestowed the title before (on Luis Sojo at some point last year), this is the first time I've ever devoted a page to it, or explained my reasoning. The purpose of the award, if you need it spelled out, is to honor achievement among futility infielders both past and present, on or off the field. The voting body consists of my lazy butt and the idiot who brushes my teeth, and the decision of the judges is final. The award carries no cash value and may not be exchanged even with a receipt.

The 2002 winner is Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who in the face of contraction led his team to the AL Central title. For more on Ron's award, see his new page in my Wall of Fame. And yeah, I'll get around to Looie's page pretty soon as well. In the meantime, best wishes to everybody for a great 2003!


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