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 12, 2006


Clearing the Bases -- All Will Be Revealed Edition

A few quick hits:

Buster Olney on the wink-and-nod Hall of Fame votes for the unqualified:
We see it every year, these odd little vote totals, with some writers exercising their constitutional right to fill out their ballot with guys who -- with all due respect -- should only enter the Hall of Fame after purchasing a ticket.

We try to make sense of it.

...Walt Weiss, one vote . What you know is that the former shortstop had a lifetime average of .258, including two seasons of more than 130 hits. What you don't know is that one writer did, indeed, lose a 4 a.m. bet at a bar seven years ago, and finally paid up.

Gregg Jefferies, two votes. What you know is that the ex-Sports Illustrated cover guy never scored 100 nor drove in 100 runs in any season in the majors. What you don't know is that he is the greatest player ever to practice his swing underwater, and for two voters, that put him over the top.

...I'm sure that some of these votes are given with a wink and a nod, a personal tribute to someone who was enjoyable to cover, to someone who always stood at his locker and answered questions when other players hid in a trainer's room. The problem, however, is that placing a vote for Hal Morris or Walt Weiss for the Baseball Hall of Fame is like picking Terrell Owens for president -- it's silly, and adds thick reinforcement to the notion that the writers don't have any idea what they are doing.

Believe me, we can accomplish that without those two Hall of Fame votes for Gregg Jefferies.
Amen to that, Buster.

Joe Sheehan on the election of Bruce Sutter:
It’s not fun writing that a guy shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame. It’s much easier to write that someone does deserve an honor, which is just one reason why most players see gradual rises in their vote counts over time. It’s more enjoyable to talk about what a player’s accomplishments were, what positive memories he created, rather than objectively compare him to his peers and to established standards. Because of this, much of the coverage of Sutter’s election ignored his short career and his clear inferiority to another reliever on the ballot, and continued exaggerating his role in the use of the split-fingered fastball and the development of the closer position.

It remains true, however, that Sutter didn’t have nearly the value that Rich Gossage did, and his edges over Gossage stem largely from usage patterns that were developed to protect Sutter from injury. In other words, to cover up a flaw, an area in which he was inferior to Goose. Save totals are the primary manifestation of this, but you can also see it in ERAs, where Sutter’s lighter usage helped his numbers as compared to Gossage.

...What’s galling is that Sutter is getting his Cooperstown pass in much the same way that he got that Cy Young Award: through a crack in a voting process. This is the most frustrating aspect of his election, and the one that calls the electorate into greatest question. What was acknowledged openly in the coverage of yesterday’s voting results was the idea that Sutter benefited from the lack of qualified first-ballot candidates. With no new players to vote for (Orel Hershiser led the way with 58 votes, and only two new candidates, he and Albert Belle, will make it back for another year), the voters changed the question from, “Is this player a Hall of Famer?” to “Who is the best player in this group?” That’s simply the wrong question to ask; this isn’t the MVP award, where you’re trying to determine a winner from among a field of candidates. This is the Hall of Fame, where the standards are set and it is entirely possible to have a year in which no one meets them.

If you look at the voting, though, you can see the shifted standard. Fourteen of the 15 returning candidates saw their vote totals rise in this election (Willie McGee being the understandable exception). The absence of new, highly-qualified candidates caused voters to lower their standards and drop votes on players who they normally would have ignored. That factor, and not some sudden collective reconsideration of Bruce Sutter’s career, is what pushed him over the top.

I think this is a huge hole in the process. Being a Hall of Famer should be about being one of the greatest players of all time, and even if the various Veterans Committees have screwed that standard up permanently, we should at least look to uphold the standard in the initial balloting. By electing Bruce Sutter just because he was the returning guy with the highest vote total, and there was no one new to vote for, the BBWAA has sullied the process and the honor.

...As I wrote the other day, in immortality, as in life, timing is everything.
Amen to that, Joe.

Silly fun with Photoshop in the service of an interesting concept at Baseball Prospectus. Not my idea, but I'm guilty of performing the execution.

Baseball Between the Numbers, the forthcoming non-annual book from BP in which I did a minor bit of glossary pinch-hiting, is now available for Amazon pre-order. It ships in the first week of March. Jonah Keri has the details here. Screw the haters, I think this will be a great book.

Meanwhile, the annual book ships in the last week of February, for those asking. I'm told that Fantasy Baseball Index will be available via Amazon as well, as it's been in the past.

• My Angels chapter for BP06 comes into focus much more clearly witth the news that Darin Erstad and his anemic bat are moving back to centerfield. Well, the bat probably won't be out there in center, that would be weird, dangerous, and probably illegal. But it's easier to stash a good fielder who's hit .274/.326/.374 over the past five years out there than at first.

The move gives Casey Kotchman his long-awaited entry into the lineup. It raises the question of where Chone Figgins plays; will he beat out Dallas McPherson -- an injury-riddled bust last year but a guy who can probably hit 30-40 homers in the near future -- at 3B? Will he move back to his natural position at 2B, thereby making Adam Kennedy expendable and keeping the seat warm for Howie Kendrick, a guy with a career minor-league batting average of .359? Will he push Erstad to the bench? I'm very intrigued to see how this plays out.

• Will Carroll, all 5'10," 230 lbs of him, is putting his money where his mouth is:
So I’ve decided to do what I should have been doing all along and combining it with my quest to bring out the truth – the real truth – about steroids and supplements. I would spend a year using the most advanced legal technology to bring my weight down, my strength up, my cardio to a solid level, and most importantly, prove that steroids aren’t needed to make the type of gains that we’ve all secretly wondered about.

I’ll take the next year of my life as a quest to do what I should have been doing all along – staying in shape – and also conducting a bit of an experiment. I’ll use what I’ve learned in researching steroids and supplements for good, not evil. I’ll have goals, talk to professionals, chemists, trainers, doctors, gurus, wackos, and whoever else could help this process along.

And I’ll write about it.

I’ll have goals for fat loss, weight, strength, power, cardiac endurance, and muscle building. I’ll guarantee that I won’t be a major league caliber ball player at the end of this, but I do think we’ll have a much better idea on what a world-class athlete with resources far beyond mine could do. I’ll be calling in favors, looking for suggestions, and in the end, I’ll succeed.
Best of luck with that, Will; it should make for a fascinating project.

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