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, May 01, 2008


Hit and Run

"I think blogs are dedicated to cruelty, they’re dedicated to journalistic dishonesty."
-- Honest Buzz Bissinger, best-selling author on "Costas Now"

That blanket statement was the opening salvo fired on behalf of Tired Old Media on Tuesday night's "Costas Now" segment devoted to The Way Those Big Mean Bloggers Are Destroying Journalism. Actually, that's not entirely accurate. Bissinger began by telling Deadspin's Will Leitch, "I really think you're full of shit," a not-unreasonable allegation that nonetheless instantly lowered the terms of the debate in a way that made one pine for the civility and reverence of the recent Democratic Presidential candidate tête-à-tête.

It's tough to claim the moral high ground for tone when you're flecked with spittle and spewing obscenities on cable TV, telling us how blogging "really pisses the shit out of" you, as Bissinger did. Dishonesty? How about the intellectual dishonesty of picking one post from one blog and using it to dismiss an entire medium, a responsibility that's borne in part by Bob Costas for narrowing the focus on the medium down to a single, controversial site. As Fire Joe Morgan inimitably put it, that's akin to "picking a random romance novel off an airport bookstore shelf and saying, 'This book sucks. Fuck you, Tolstoy -- your medium is worthless!'"

Having recently said my piece about these battle lines, I don't have much else to add to the fray except a pointer to the always-thoughtful Jon Weisman's column on this melee, another pair of pointers to Bissinger's own dishonesty, and my own dedicated bit of cruelty in recommending that ol' Buzz have a scalding cup of my favorite beverage poured into his lap. Good grief, what a raging, unprofessional assclown.

• • •

From today's Prospectus Hit and Run:
During last Friday's chat, I was treated to a heaping helping of Hall of Fame-related questions, including a few that I didn't have time or space to answer. In light of a few recent milestones and some hot- and cold-running starts, I though it might be a good time to devote a column to the JAWS cases of these players, who form the core of the most frequently inquired about among my readers.
In the piece, I took a look at four "Cooperstown Cases" covering eight active players: a trio of pitchers (John Smoltz, Mike Mussina, and Curt Schilling), two relif aces (Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman), a pair of sluggers (Frank Thomas and Jim Thome) and, in a class by himself, Chipper Jones. Here's the part about Smoltz and Mussina, with a look at the rankings of the active pitchers (with you-know-who still considered active):
Pitcher         Career   Peak    JAWS
Roger Clemens 199.6 83.9 141.8
Greg Maddux 180.3 86.0 133.2
Randy Johnson 147.0 77.3 112.2
Tom Glavine 137.4 63.7 100.6
Pedro Martinez 118.0 68.8 93.4
Mike Mussina 117.8 64.3 91.1
John Smoltz 122.8 58.5 90.7
Curt Schilling 110.3 65.9 88.1

Avg HoF SP 106.0 67.2 86.6
Among this group, Maddux and Glavine are locks for the Hall thanks to their 300+ wins and their assorted hardware. One question that I get asked often, both by fellow analysts and by readers, is whether their longtime rotation-mate Smoltz will be joining them. Last week, Smoltz whiffed his 3,000th hitter, becoming just the 16th pitcher to do so--an impressive feat even given the high-strikeout environment of this era, and one that places him in the company of every other pitcher listed above except for Glavine and Mussina. While he won't reach 300 wins (he's got 210), it's important to remember that Smoltz spent four years working primarily as a closer, saving 154 games but notching just six wins from 2001-2004. He's got a very solid case with respect to his other traditional merits, one that includes a Cy Young award, eight All-Star selections, a crucial role on a team that's won 13 division titles, five pennants, and a World Championship, and a stellar post-season record -- 15-4 with four saves, a 2.65 ERA, and 194 strikeouts in 207 innings. Hell, that's a season's worth of work these days, one that would set a career best for ERA while as a starter.

Turning to his JAWS, from a peak standpoint, Smoltz falls a bit short of the average Hall of Fame starter, but he more than makes up for it with his longevity. Lest there be any suggestion that he's simply padding his stats, it's worth noting that his 336 Pitching Runs Above Average and 1263 Pitching Runs Above Replacement blow past the Hall of Fame averages of 279 and 1099; this isn't Tommy John we're talking about. Smoltz ought to be considered a surefire Hall of Famer at this juncture.

Not that he needs them to cement his Hall of Fame case -- five Cys and the third spot on the all-time strikeout list ought to suffice -- but unless the Big Unit can eke out another 15 wins, it will be a while before another pitcher joins the 300 Win Club. Mussina (253 wins) is the next closest pitcher, and one of only three (along with Pedro Martinez at 209 and Andy Pettitte at 204) who have over 200 wins and are still under 40 years old.

At 39 and now reduced to employing a fastball that wouldn't get ticketed in a school zone, it's a safe bet that the Moose isn't going to become a member of the club. Which isn't to say that he doesn't have Hall-worthy numbers, at least from a JAWS standpoint. As with Smoltz but to a lesser extent on both scales, Mussina's ahead on career and short on peak numbers, with PRAR and PRAA numbers (284 and 1221, respectively) that also surpass the benchmarks. What Mussina doesn't have going for him, particularly relative to Smoltz, is the hardware which will augment his much more traditional case: no World Series ring, no Cy Young, no 20-win season (he's had 18 or 19 five times) and "only" five All-Star appearances. His post-season record is "just" 7-8, albeit with a 3.42 ERA and 145 strikeouts in 139 2/3 innings; the fact that his teams have scored just 3.2 runs per game for him is a big reason, and certainly hasn't helped his quest for a ring.

In Mussina's favor is a long stretch in which he could lay claim to being one of the league's best pitchers; he finished in the top five of the Cy voting six times from 1992 to 2001, with two sixth-place finishes as well, and has eight top five finishes in ERA, and eight top 10 finishes in strikeouts. While not the equal of Clemens, Johnson, or Martinez, he was one of the league's top-shelf hurlers for a good long time. He's probably facing a tooth-and-nail fight, but it ought to turn out in his favor.
As with most things JAWS, it's a pretty long piece -- I do tend to jaw on such matters.

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