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.

Monday, January 25, 2010


Bobby Bragan (1917-2010)

Baseball lifer Bobby Bragan died last week at the age of 92. The man did just about everything in his career, arriving in the majors as an infielder with the Phillies in 1940, learning to catch and becoming the backup backstop of the Brooklyn Dodgers a few years later, transitioning to managing first at the minor league level (where he won championships with the Fort Worth River Cats and Hollywood Stars) and then in the majors (going 443-478 with the Indians, Pirates, and Braves, getting fired in midseason all three times). A protege of Branch Rickey, who hired him to skipper both Fort Worth and Pittsburgh, he managed future Hall of Fame players such as Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski, Warren Spahn and Eddie Mathews. After moving onto coaching, he then served as president of the Texas League, and later of the minor leagues' governing body, the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. His was a full, rich life.

Bragan last made headlines in 2005, when he came out of retirement at 87 years old for one game to become not only the oldest manager in professional baseball history (beating Connie Mack by a week) but also the oldest manager to get ejected; he was tossed on the heels of the ejection of one of his players. Around the country, he's been memorialized as the last manager of the Braves' Milwaukee era, the first of their Atlanta era, and as Fort Worth's foremost ambassador to the sport, a man simply known as "Mr. Baseball."

As a Brooklyn resident and a Dodger fan, to me the most compelling part of his career is the transformation Bragan experienced during his four seasons in Brooklyn (1943-1944, 1947-1948, with two seasons missed due to military service). It wasn't for his hitting (.258/.306/.324 during his Dodger days, highlighted by a game-tying pinch-double in Game Six of the 1947 World Series) but rather for his initial opposition to and ultimate championing of Jackie Robinson, whose breaking of the color barrier afforded him a front-row seat to an earth-shaking change. During the spring of 1947, Alabama native Bragan supported Dixie Walker's infamous petition stating that he didn't want to play with Robinson. Unsympathetic, manager Leo Durocher roused his team at 1 AM andtold them, "Take the petition and, you know, wipe your ass."

Bragan soon paid a visit to Rickey's office. From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Randy Galloway:
I will always treasure the Alabama-native drawl telling me this one from long ago:

"Mr. Rickey, well, since you asked, sir, I got to admit, I don't want no colored boy playing on the Dodgers."

And so, in 1947 the Jackie Robinson story was about to begin in Brooklyn, and general manager Branch Rickey, whom Bobby claimed to have admired and feared "as much as God himself" told the Dodgers' backup catcher, "Bobby, I ought to get rid of you, but you know what, I don’t think I really believe that’s in your heart, what you now tell me about this young man [Robinson]."

Within six months of Bobby meeting Jackie in spring training, and Jackie breaking baseball's color line, Bragan began a family friendship with Robinson that would last until Jackie passed away, and then continued with Jackie's widow.

"Knowing Jackie Robinson turned my life around," Bobby always said.
From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Ken Sugiura:
Bragan initially resisted Robinson, as did other teammates, most of them like Bragan raised in the South. Bragan even sought to be traded rather than play with Robinson.

That changed when the team took a two-week road trip early in the season.

"On those long train rides, that's when I really started to get to know Jackie," Bragan told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 2007, the 60th anniversary of Robinson's entry into major league baseball. All of us did, actually. This man was about class, culture and courage. All my prejudices begin to slowly fade.

"I started off that trip determined to have nothing to do with Jackie. But when that trip was over, the team goes back home, then, when the second road trip started, I was one of those jockeying to sit next to Jackie on the train. Jackie Robinson, the person and the ballplayer, changed my views, and changed my life."
Profiled as the leadoff personality in Donald Honig's The Man in the Dugout: Fifteen Big League Managers Speak Their Minds (you can read the entire chapter via Google Books), Bragan elaborated:
Jackie won the respect of everybody by sheer guts and ability. Nobody ever came into the big leagues under less favorable circumstances, and he handled himself beautifully and he played like a demon. he was one of the greatest ballplayers ever to come down the pike.

Being Jackie Robinson's teammate was one of the best breaks I ever got. Watching what he had to go through helped me. It helped make me a better, more enlightened man, and it helped me to have a future in baseball as a manager because later on I was gong to have to manage fellows like Felipe Alou, Maury Wills, Henry Aaron, and plenty of other black players. If I hadn't had that experience with Jackie, I don't think I could have done it. It was a breakthrough for me, a great experience that I learned from and built upon later in life.

Jackie and I became good friends. Side by side we mourned our great loss in the same pew at Mr. Rickey's funeral. The respect and admiration that we shared for our mutual "father" served to cement our friendship.
A gifted raconteur, Bragan had a lighter side as well, particularly when it came to his managing career. After finishing above .500 in three straight years in Milwaukee (1963-1965) but failing to climb higher than fifth place in a 10-team league, he recalled, "I told them in Milwaukee that I was leaving, and I got the biggest ovation I ever got... But I'm taking the team with me." Former Star-Telegram columnist Jim Reeves retells a scene from Bragan's autobiography:
In the foreword to Bragan's book, "You Can't Hit the Ball with the Bat on Your Shoulder," Howard Cosell called him "baseball's Music Man ... Elmer Gantry in uniform."

Cosell tells about the day in 1957 when Bragan, then Pittsburgh's skipper, was sitting at the piano in Howard's Manhattan apartment, playing and singing "Mack the Knife," when he was interrupted by a call from Pirates GM Joe Brown. Bobby took the call, talked for a couple of minutes, then resumed singing.

"What did Joe want?" Cosell asked.

"Mack the knife is ... back in town," Bragan sang, then added a new verse. "Joe Brown just fired me."
Judging from all of the testimonials to Bragan that have surfaced, he cemented many a friendship during his time in the game. He'll be missed.

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Friday, January 22, 2010


Kicking Chass (again)

As somebody who's all too familiar with the senile ravings of fomer New York Times columnist and Spink Award winner Murray Chass, I tip my cap to Baseball Analysts' Patrick Sullivan. After being singled out for attack over the issue of the Hall of Fame — and having his credibility compared to that of Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, another of the field's bigger idiots, he responded by exposing the numerous fallacious assumptions on which Chass' bilious screed rests. Most of it might not translate in an excerpt, but the end, where Sully catches some hopelessly bad math, certainly does:
The piece ends the way so many of these do. After berating those of us who look to statistics to form the basis of our baseball-related arguments, he transitions to Tommy John's Hall of Fame case, comparing his to Blyleven's.
John had a career 288-231 record with a 3.34 earned run average. Blyleven’s record was 287-250 and his e.r.a. 3.31. John retired 57 percent of the batters he faced, Blyleven, with all his strikeouts, 59 percent.
Yup, stats. But not just any stats, moronic, wrong stats that say Tommy John yielded a career .430 on-base percentage and Bert Blyleven yielded a .410 figure. Truth is, John's career on-base against was .315 while Blyleven's was .301. I am not sure where that gets us, but at least we're dealing in reality.

Anyway, back away from the word processor, Murray. People, successful people, knowledgeable people who adore baseball, are all laughing at you.
Nice work!

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This and That

In today's Prospectus Hit and Run, I examine the fates of Orlando Hudson and Randy Wolf after the Dodgers failed to offer them arbitration, thus surrendering the right to first round draft picks and supplemental first round compensation picks in each case, hardly chump change. The decision wasn't out of step with the industry trend; only 10 out of 26 Type A's were offered arbitration.

Still, given the long odds that either would return to the Dodgers given their desire to receive well-deserved multi-year deals, the decision was surprising and rather enraging. But one reader of my last piece on the Dodgers' offseason took issue, asking, "I disagree with the idea that Hudson wouldn't have accepted arbitration. He most likely would have and would be due a raise. And would Wolf really be off the market right now were he not free?" I thought it was a question worth a closer look, given that Wolf signed a three-year, $29.75 million deal with the Brewers, but that Hudson remains at large.
At this point, all 10 of the Type As have signed contracts for 2010. Seven of them did so with new teams, thus costing their signing teams either a first-round or second-round draft pick...

The sample sizes are obviously small here, but I think we can make some inferences. Let's start with the guy who signed. Given the perception that Type-B free agent Andy Pettitte had no plans beyond returning to the Yankees, Wolf was clearly the second-best starting pitcher on the market after [John] Lackey. He'd even had a better year than Lackey both by traditional standards (the latter was 11-8 with a 3.83 ERA in 27 starts) and the more advanced metrics. The next tier down, both performance and dollar-wise, appears to be Joel Pineiro (two years, $16 million with the Angels) and Jason Marquis (two years, $15 million with the Nationals), a pair of Type B free agents who are both low-strikeout worm killers coming off their best seasons in at least half a decade. As is Wolf for that matter, though he's considered less of a one-year wonder because the perceived value of his 12-12, 4.30 ERA, 0.5 WARP 2008 showing is boosted by his late-season run with the Astros.

The team that signed Wolf was the Brewers, who managed to go 80-82 while finishing last in the league in starter ERA (5.37) and SNLVAR (8.0), and thus in dire need of rotation help. As it happens, the Brewers finished with a record more or less at the point of inflection where the marginal dollar value of an additional win starts to climb, so it doesn't take too great a leap of faith to suppose that they might have been willing to rationalize the punting of the draft pick handcuffed to Wolf had he been offered arbitration. Perhaps that would have lowered their bid on the pitcher somewhat, but I don't think it would have lessened their desire for a multi-year deal. Even if the entire Milwaukee option wasn't on the table if Wolf had been offered arbitration, it's certainly possible that another team which fancies itself a contender (correctly or not) might have been willing to make that same choice. The Mets come to mind, and in a world where they also sign Bay, Wolf would have only cost them a second-round pick. Perhaps the Angels, who having lost two Type As were already going to net compensation picks, would have valued his services more highly than Pineiro. All it takes is one team.

As for Hudson, while he lacks the versatility of [Chone] Figgins and [Marco] Scutaro — the other infielders in this set, neither of them perfect comps—he's got a longer track record of above-average play than either. He's stuck in a strange market, though. Consider that the Giants, who at 88 wins finished near the summit of the marginal dollar value of a win curve, chose to lock up the similarly aged but significantly inferior Freddy Sanchez for two years before the World Series even ended, rather than wait to see how the market unfolded. Then, of course, Brian Sabean moves in mysterious ways. Sanchez underwent season-ending knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus, and the word on the street this week is that he just underwent shoulder surgery, threatening his opening day availability. Maybe they should have had Boston's doctors give him a physical.

...At this juncture, Hudson probably would have been better off had he been offered arbitration and accepted. His comments about Torre — which weren't over the top by any means, but were critical — certainly fueled the impression that he had no desire to return. The Dodgers may have taken them too personally, leading to a suboptimal business decision. Hudson found himself in the bargain bin last winter because he (and/or his agent, Paul Cohen) misread the market by searching for a long-term, big-dollar deal during an exceptionally tough winter. He's apparently seeking a larger payday to make up for last year's shortfall, though he did wind up making about $8 milllion thanks to his incentives. A report linking him to the Nationals suggests he's asked for $9 million for 2010. It's not that he's not worth it; at an average of 4.3 WARP per year over the past four, he is. But with none of the big-money contenders particularly in need of a second baseman, the O-Dog is out in the cold.
Switching gears for the second half of the piece, I examine the Hall of Fame case of Jim Edmonds, who earlier this week expressed a desire to mount a comeback after sitting out all of last year. Edmonds' JAWS case is actually sound; he ranks as the seventh-best center fielder of all time thanks to strong defense as well as offense; his scores (66.2/ 46.5/56.4) are substantially ahead of the JAWS standard (68.3/44.0/56.1) and well ahead of recent electee Andre Dawson (59.6/40.2/49.9).

But Edmonds has a few things going against them, starting with a short career in which he accumulated "only" 1881 hits and derived a fair amount of his value from walks. The writers haven't elected an expansion era (1961 onward) player into the Hall with less than 2000 hits, and they've poorly served high-OBP guys like Tim Raines, Ron Santo and Bobby Grich, all of whom rank among the very best players at their positions outside the Hall. Furthermore, Edmonds never won an MVP award and never led the league in anything. Regardless of how his comeback fares, I don't see his candidacy getting the reception it deserves when the time comes.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010


The Sausage Factory

If you're wondering how the sausage that is the Baseball Prospectus annual gets made, editor Steven Goldman explains it in his latest chat:
Nick (Manhattan): I'm curious about the annual. Did Joe Sheehan contribute? And are the authors cited at the end of team sections so that we know who is writing what? I've always thought it would be nice to know who did what because you have such distinct voices.

Steven Goldman: Hi, Nick. No, Joe did not contribute. It's not something he had chosen to do in recent years. Consistent with long-standing BP tradition, we still have not by-lined the chapters. As we've said many, many times before (and as I alluded to a couple of answers ago), too many fingers get into each chapter to make that an easy thing to do. Let's talk about the St. Louis Browns chapter in the 1953 Baseball Prospectus annual. I might write the essay and the Rogers Hornsby manager comment. Jay Jaffe might do most of the comments, but as editor I might feel that his Dick Kryhoski comment missed the point, so I might ask him for a redraft or for various reasons (Jay may be skiing in Utah) change it around myself. Then I'll ask Kevin Goldstein to come in and take a look at what we wrote for all the prospects on the team, and in a couple of cases, Kevin might say, "You know, the Joe DeMaestri comment really overestimates his minor-league numbers. I have three scouts who tell me he hits with his eyes closed." So Kevin will rewrite that one. Then Christina will take a look and add her two cents and add and subtract a few more details (sometimes this happens in the opposite order -- she starts, I close). After that, it goes to the publisher's editor, who makes his own comments. Those come back to us, we evaluate them and keep what we can use, and stamp it finished -- at which point they trade the whole roster and Christina and I have to scramble to account for the changes, which causes even more rewriting.

See what I mean? And aren't you sorry you asked?
Just thought I'd share that.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Baby Blues

In my latest piece for Baseball Prospectus, I examine the Dodgers' offseason in light of the news that they avoided arbitration with Chad Billingsley and Matt Kemp, signing the latter to a two-year deal. Both were among the core of eight players who are arbitration eligible this winter:
Last week, a scrap of good news emerged from the Dodger camp, as the team agreed to terms with Matt Kemp and Chad Billinglsley, two of those arbitration-eligible players (both first-time eligibles are represented by former big league ace Dave Stewart, whose menacing glare surely must have been worth something at the negotiating table). Billingsley, who pitched his way onto the All-Star team last summer before enduring a second half so wracked by injury and inconsistency that he didn't make a postseason start, signed a one-year deal for $3.85 million. Kemp, who enjoyed a breakout season which saw him lead the team in WARP (7.3) and post the highest EqA of any qualifying center fielder (.304), inked a two-year deal for almost $11 million. His 2010 salary of $4 million is believed to represent a high for a center fielder in his first year of arb eligibilty, but his 2011 pact ($6.95 million base plus $600,000 in potential incentives) is more significant.

That 2011 deal more or less represents the Dodgers' strongest acknowledgment to date that the world will not end after the coming season, which should come as a relief to anxious fans. According to the data at Cot's Baseball Contracts (h/t new colleague Jeff Euston), the team has just four players under contract after this year: Kemp, Rafael Furcal ($12 million), Casey Blake ($5.25 million), and Carroll ($1.925 million). The club will still have control over the seven remaining arb-eligible players: Billingsley, James Loney and Hong-Chih Kuo (who will be in their second years), Jonathan Broxton, Andre Ethier, and Russell Martin (third years), and George Sherrill (fourth year).

Given the significance of those players to the team's current and future prospects, one can understand the unease which the uncertainty over their salaries represents at this juncture. That goes doubly when one considers the pre-sale teardown that the recent divorce proceedings of owner John Moores forced upon the division rival Padres; under California's community property law, Moores and his wife split the team 50-50, requiring the sale of the club to settle the tab. The 2010 season isn't so much of a concern for the Dodgers, given all the parts in place, but the threat that the McCourts' divorce could force a similarly wrenching course of action still looms large, particularly when one considers the additional evidence of their tight-fisted ways.
I spent a lot of space summarizing those tight-fisted ways in the forthcoming Baseball Prospectus 2010. Breaking it down to a hail of bullets:

• Failing to offer obviously departing Type A free agents Orlando Hudson and Randy Wolf arbitration, thus costing themselves first-round picks as well as supplemental first-rounders, all worth about $24 million according to some old work by Nate Silver.

• Forgoing the free agent market this winter in anticipation of the raises those arb-eligible players would receive in order to keep payroll down. Meet Jamey Carroll, the team's marquee signing this winter!

• Consistently surrendering better prospects than they might otherwise have to in their midseason trades in exchange for remaining more or less payroll-neutral. Catcher Carlos Santana (the Indians' number one prospect, traded as part of the Casey Blake deal in 2008) and third baseman Josh Bell (the Orioles number two prospect, traded as part of last summer's Sherrill deal) are the most prominent of this bunch, which also includes Andy LaRoche and 2006 first-rounder Bryan Morris (who admittedly looks like a bust in the making) in the Manny Ramirez trade and 2007 second-rounder Michael Watt (not the Minutemen bassist) in the 2008 Greg Maddux deal.

• Paying a major-league low $8.5 million in signing bonuses to draft picks over the past two years, and going similarly cheap when it comes to international signings — long a Dodger stronghold.

• Deferring partial contract payouts until 2011-2014 to Ramirez and Rafael Furcal as well as the not-so-dearly departed Andruw Jones and Jason Schmidt.

In the face of all of that cost-cutting, one can see where locking in Kemp, if only for one extra year, counts as progress... Despite all the talk of this crop of baby blues, it's worth noting that the team's strong showing last year had less to do with the performances of their young and largely homegrown nucleus... than is sometime assumed. A couple of weeks ago, Matt Swartz ranked the 30 teams according to the WARP contributions of players in various service-time classes. The Dodgers ranked just 13th in the majors in WARP received from non-market salaries (NM), players either in their pre-arbitration or arbitration-eligible years. On the other hand, they ranked third in the majors in WARP received from auction-market salaries (AM), players with enough service time to be eligible for free agency or to have come from Japan or other foreign markets...

While the Dodgers received more value from their non-market players than three of their four NL West competitors (all except the Rockies), their advantage over the Giants, who received the least value from such young 'uns, amounted to less than three wins. On the other hand, the Dodgers got nearly as much value from their auction-market players as the rest of their NL West competitors combined. Of their eight most valuable players according to WARP, five (Hudson, Blake, Rafael Furcal, Ramirez and Wolf) were free agent signings.
Since filing the piece, various reports from the Twitscape have Martin ($5.05 million), Sherrill ($4.5 million), Loney ($3.1 million), and Kuo ($950K) signing one-year deals, and the latest word is that they've tied up Ethier and Broxton via two-year deals as well. There are no dollar amount attached to those two, but Ethier's is certainly higher than Kemp, since for arbitration purposes, he's a year ahead in terms of service time. The great MLB Trade Rumors offers Nick Markakis' two-year, $17 million deal as an appropriate comparison given service time and general caliber of play, which is what this arbitration business is all about anyway. Stay tuned.

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Friday, January 15, 2010


Friday's Child (The Return)

So I'm finally finished with what I refer to as my winter workload, my contributions to the Baseball Prospectus and Fantasy Baseball Index annuals as well as Maple Street Press' Dodgers Annual, edited by Dodger Thoughts' Jon Weisman. All of that stuff is about a month away from hitting the shelves, but I'm back in circulation at Baseball Prospectus with a couple of articles this week.

Today's piece is a recurring feature based upon a chapter I wrote for BP's pennant race book It Ain't Over, "The Replacement-Level Killers." It's about players whose production was so awful that it might have prevented their team from reaching the postseason, yet so easily replaced that it's more an indictment on the managers and general managers who put up with that production rather than solve the problem (though many of these teams took steps to try to address them). Since we're in the middle of the Hot Stove season, I checked in on teams' attempts to remedy these problems and found, to my surprise, that many of them had taken a half-assed approach, likely in connection to economic uncertainty. The Giants were one of two teams to actually fill multiple Killers, and since I hate the Giants, here they are as the excerpt:
Second Base:
Emmanuel Burriss (.211 EqA, -1.1 WARP), Freddy Sanchez (.221 EqA, 0.3 WARP), Giants

The Giants finished last in the majors in EqA, and at no position did they get worse production than at second base, where five players made at least 16 starts and hit a combined .236/.281/.329; remove Juan Uribe (.274/.331/.538 in 35 games at second, less than he saw at third or short) and those numbers become .227/.269/.280. Burriss more or less held the job from Opening Day to mid-June before being sent to the minors and subsequently hurting his foot. The team then spent the next six weeks briefly trying on Matt Downs (.187 EqA, -0.1 WARP), Kevin Frandsen (.086 EqA, -0.5 WARP) and Uribe for size before trading for Sanchez, who strained his shoulder two weeks after arriving and then tore his meniscus upon returning from that injury. All told, the team finished four games behind the Rockies in the Wild Card, a gap that could have easily been narrowed with a competent solution at the keystone.

Remedy (?): The Giants didn't even wait until the World Series was done to re-sign the 32-year-old Sanchez to a two-year, $12 million deal, this despite the fact that the signing has limited them to some fairly cut-rate solutions elsewhere which cast Mark DeRosa as a corner outfielder, Aubrey Huff as a first baseman, and Night Train as the house's top red wine option. Yeah, good luck with all of that.

Right Field:
Randy Winn (.248 EqA, 2.2 WARP), Nate Schierholtz (.249 EqA, 0.4 WARP), Giants

In the final year of a three-year, $23.5 million deal, Winn hit a godawful .262/.318/.353, a performance driven — through a guardrail overlooking a cliff — by a .158/.184/.200 showing in 125 PA against southpaws, the single worst righty-on-lefty performance of the Retrosheet Era (1954 onward). With Bruce Bochy dissatisfied with left fielder Fred Lewis' production (his .348 OBP, second on the team, clashed with the sub-.300 zeitgeist the manager was trying to instill), Winn also saw significant time in left so as to allow Nate Schierholtz (.267/.302/.400) to wave a wet noodle at NL pitchers. If not for Winn's above-average defensive contributions (+15 FRAA) things would have been even worse, but as it was, this debacle and the one at second base were enough to dash the Giants' Wild Card hopes.

Remedy (?): With Winn gone and the team saving its pennies in fear of a big arbitration award for Tim Lincecum, the Giants appear to be vying for an entry on There I Fixed It by letting Schierholtz and John Bowker battle for the right to eat up more outs than necessary.
Writing about ineptitude is always one of the more fun parts of my job, and this one was no exception. Anyway, earlier in the week I wrote a piece arising from a question in last week's chat, is an attempt to answer the question — an important one popularized via Bill James' Keltner Test — of who the best player at each position is outside the Hall of Fame, using JAWS. Five of the 10 position leaders (and two runners-up) are on the current Hall of Fame ballot, and part of the JAWS ticket which went 0-for-7 on Hall of Fame election day. The rest aren't so obvious. Who would have thought I had a good excuse to write about George "Piano Legs" Gore or dust off an old comparison of Bobby Bonds to Reggie Jackson?
Center Field

JAWS Standard: 68.3/44.0/56.1

Best eligible player: George Gore (62.5/44.6/53.6)
Who? "Piano Legs" Gore was a hard-drinking, skirt-chasing character with massive calves. He played center field for Cap Anson's Chicago White Stockings from 1879 through 1886, a span during which he was a key part of five pennant winners; he went on to play for two more pennant-winning Giants clubs. He led the league in walks three times during an era where one needed six to nine balls for a free pass, and was consistently among the league's OBP leaders, hence his strong WARP totals, though they still leave him shy of the JAWS standard in center field. I don't know if the Veterans Committee ever seriously took up his case, but Lord knows there are far less accomplished VC-anointed outfielders in the Hall of Fame; his JAWS numbers crush those of Hugh Duffy, Max Carey, Earl Averill, Hack Wilson, Edd Roush, Earle Combs, and Lloyd Waner, all VC selections.

Runner up: Jimmy Wynn (57.1/47.6/52.4)
The Toy Cannon spent the first 11 years of his career playing in the Astrodome, a godforsaken hitting environment if there ever was one. Properly adjusted for context, he was a helluva hitter, topping a .300 EqA six times during that span, with a high of .348 in 1969. He had two more outstanding years with the Dodgers in 1974 and 1975 before injuries washed him out of the majors at age 35. In the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, James ranks Wynn 10th all-time among center fielders, and likens him to former teammate Joe Morgan, another small, strong, speedy guy with outstanding control of the strike zone and good defense.

Right Field

JAWS Standard: 75.7/46.6/61.2

Best eligible player: Dwight Evans (59.5/37.7/48.6)
Evans spent parts of 19 seasons in the Red Sox outfield (1972-1990), during the prime of which he was overshadowed by Jim Rice and Fred Lynn. He wasn't entirely overlooked, however, cracking the AL top five in the MVP voting twice (1984 and 1987) and winning eight Gold Gloves in a 10-year span (1976-1985). Like many other players here, he was undervalued in his day because a large part of his offensive contribution came via walks; he topped 100 three times and ranked in the league's top three six times in a nine-year span. He lasted just three years on the BBWAA ballot, though, and his numbers, which were once above the JAWS standard, now come up short. They're still ahead of Rice's (34.2/28.5/31.4) by more than one win per year at their peaks.

Runner up: Bobby Bonds (55.2/41.8/48.5)
Barry's father was a pretty fair player in his day, best known for reaching the 30/30 club (homers and stolen bases) five times, an all-time record shared by father and son. A natural center fielder who got stuck in right field by the Giants because he had the misfortune of arriving when Willie Mays was still a going concern, Bonds seemed to spend much of his career under a cloud of bad luck. He and Reggie Jackson were almost exactly the same age and debuted one year apart. Both had power, considerable speed and a ton of strikeouts, and the two players finished with similar career rate stats (.268/.353/.471/.296 EqA for Bonds to .262/.356/.490/.300 for Jackson), Yet one was a superduperstar who won an MVP award and five World Series rings, and stuck around into his 40s. The other never finished higher than third in an MVP vote, played just three postseason games, left the majors at 35, and died young.
The leader at first base, Mark McGwire, had an eventful week, admitting during a Monday media blitz that he used steroids during his career. This was not exactly news; ever since an AP reporter named Steve Wilstein found a bottle of then-legal androstenedione in his locker, we've had plenty of clues that Big Mac was on the juice. He was named in Jose Canseco's book, involved in an FBI investigation into steroids trafficking called "Operation Equine," and last seen in public tearfully tiptoeing around his right not to self-incriminate during the 2005 dog-and-pony show in front of Congress.

It was a dark day for baseball, of course, and an even darker day for journalism, as many of the fourth estate hacks who goaded McGwire to come clean now vilified him for doing so. Via Twitter, Craig Calcaterra, who's been killing it over at NBC's "Circling the Bases" blog, offered a dollar to the first person who caught one of the come-clean camp slamming McGwire for coming clean, and soon claimed his own reward by nailing Jon Heyman, who twattled, "If you lie for 10 years, and everyone knows you're lying, what's the value of finally telling the truth?" Craig asked Heyman directly, "On October 18th you wrote 'its time for Mark McGwire to come clean.' If you don't think there's value, why did you say that?" He got no response.

Which isn't to say that Heyman was the only egregious offender. The ever-idiotic Dan Shaughnessy shat himself in public once again by invoking Hitler, always a popular pastime among morons on the Internet. Even the more reasonable Tom Verducci and Ken Rosenthal spent their time on the MLB Network after viewing McGwire's interview by declaring that now for sure they wouldn't vote for him for the Hall of Fame, because he had removed all doubt about his involvement with steroids. Guh.

McGwire sure as hell didn't cover himself with glory with his admission, and his belief that steroids actually had no effect on his level of accomplishment was laughably self-delusional. It was also, however, a pretty typical display of the athletic mindset, the long-hardened belief in one's own abilities often in the face of directly contradictory evidence ("I still believe I can get hitters out in this league," says the pink-slipped pitcher). Nonetheless, he apologized, showed contrition, cried enough times to make even children uncomfortable, did just about everything short of committing fireside harikiri. Yet it wasn't enough for some.

As is often the case when a big steroid story breaks, I spent about three and a half hours doing morning drive time phoners — 13 in all — for the Fox News Radio network, sparring with some hosts, agreeing wholeheartedly with others and trying to put what was said into context. I found it notable that though he was hired as the Cardinals' hitting coach back in late October, his "Meet the Press" moment, which had to be a precondition for his return from oblivion, occurred after the Hall of Fame election cycle, perhaps so the slugger could avoid the accusation that he was pandering to BBWAA voters or at the very least could avoid overshadowing the other candidates on the ballot. Yet some hosts didn't seem to understand why this genie was coming out of the bottle now.

Some of the hosts were well-prepared and had the news in perspective; the guys on Louisville's WHAS and San Diego's KOGO were especially good. The poor guy on WMT in Cedar Rapids, an admitted Cardinals fan, sounded like he had contemplating throwing himself out of his office window but had realized that it being just the second story, probably wouldn't put him out of his misery. On the other hand, the host on Omaha's KFAB asked a rambling two-minute question in which he tried to connect the steroid culture with President Bill Clinton's infidelity, doing so much pontificating that I thought he was about to kiss a baby and announce a Senate bid. Being a good lefty, I called him on it, accused him of scoring political points irrelevant to the matter at hand and stuck to my talking points. This was not my first rodeo.

So how do I feel about McGwire? Disappointed and saddened but hardly surprised. He's a product of a very specific time in baseball history, one where he made some bad choices in which the MLB Players Association, the owners, the commissioner, the media and fans were quite complicit. It's the height of hypocrisy to hang him for those choices and declare that we need to expunge his numbers from the record book. Hell, if the stats from the thrown 1919 Black Sox World Series — as grievous a crime as has ever been committed against the integrity of baseball — are on the books, then a few tainted home runs can certainly stand. Records record what happened on the field; it's up to us to interpret them properly. Sadder and wiser, we move on with our lives.

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Thursday, January 07, 2010


All Hall, All the Time

Wow, now that was an unintended hiatus — thirty days since my last blog post here at Futility Infielder. Needless to say, I've been plenty busy over the past month, even cobbling away at my winter work during a 10-day trip to Mexico in honor of my 40th birthday. After completing my work for the Baseball Prospectus 2010 annual and the Fantasy Baseball Index, I'm back in circulation. Aside from those responsibilities and my random Twitter activity, I've primarily been occupied with the Hall of Fame vote via my annual JAWS series:

• Part one examined the first and second basemen on the ballot, including the Crime Dog, the Big Cat, Big Mac and Roberto Alomar.

• Part two examined the shortstops and third basemen on the ballot, including Barry Larkin, Alan Trammell, Robin Ventura and Edgar Martinez, who played third before migrating to his natural home as a designated hitter.

• Part three examined the outfielders, including Tim Raines and Andre Dawson.

• Part four, published mere hours before the voting results were announced, covered the pitchers, including Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris.

The four-part series identified seven players as worthy of election to the Hall (Alomar, Blyleven, Larkin, Martinez, McGwire, Raines and Trammell) but as I conceded in the conclusion of the finale, I wasn't at all surprised when that slate was shut out and Dawson gained entry; in fact, it's exactly what I predicted. Today's addendum to the series breaks down the actual voting results:
The announcement of Dawson's election was overshadowed in some circles by two near-misses that were shocking for entirely opposite reasons. Stathead pet candidate Blyleven, in his 13th year on the ballot, moved up from receiving just over 60 percent in the last two years to 74.2 percent, a mere five votes short of enshrinement. Alomar, in his first year on the ballot, received 73.7 percent, falling just eight votes shy of the magic number.

Whether the latter is due to the collective grudge still held by certain writers over the infamous 1996 incident in which Alomar spit in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck—an impulsive, unpremeditated act for which Hirschbeck has not only forgiven Alomar but gone on to befriend and defend him as the two have worked together to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote awareness of the genetic disorder which claimed the life of the ump's son—or due to the BBWAA's more generalized institutional politics, which create a hair-splitting artificial distinction between first-ballot Hall of Famers and the rest, is unclear. Likely the incident had direct bearing on some voters' willingness to invoke that first-ballot distinction.

In any event, it's highly likely that a year from now, Alomar will gain induction. He received the highest-ever vote percentage of any first-year player not elected; in fact, since the BBWAA switched back to an annual vote in 1966, no player has ever polled above 43 percent on his first ballot and not eventually won election from the BBWAA. Furthermore, no player has ever polled above 64 percent and not eventually gained induction by either the BBWAA or Veterans Committee routes, which means Blyleven is practically sitting in the catbird seat, too. The Hall of Fame might as well start casting both plaques now. Particularly since next year's class,, which is headed by Jeff Bagwell, Rafael Palmeiro, John Olerud, Kevin Brown, and Larry Walker, isn't terribly strong, and the following year's class is as thin as prison gruel. As I joked in Wednesday's chat, there may not be five players worthy of more than a paragraph in my annual JAWS rundown, and Bernie Williams is easily the top candidate on the ballot, but far from a slam dunk.

In any event, it's the first time in Hall history that two players on the same ballot missed by fewer than 10 votes. Blyleven's five-vote shortfall was the fifth-smallest in history, and the sting of the near-miss was amplified by the news that the 539-vote tally included five blank ballots, cast either as a protest or as evidence of an ongoing midlife crisis. Each of those five blank ballots thus required three votes in favor of a given candidate to offset. Had that ignominious quintet gotten lost on the way to the mailbox, Blyleven would have still fallen a stitch short with 74.9 percent of the vote; in this game they don't round up. In fact, he needed the support of all of them, at least one of whom publicly declared during his supermarket-aisle meltdown that he had voted for the pitcher last year.
As agonizing as the near-misses were, I'm optimistic that both Blyleven and Alomar are on track for next year. Furthermore, I think there's hope for Raines and Martinez:
Among the holdovers, Tim Raines (30.4 percent in his third year) received nearly an eight percent bump, a showing that's at least somewhat encouraging. Sutter (29.1 percent), Duke Snider (21.2 percent), and Luis Aparicio (12.0 percent) all received less during their third years of eligibility and still eventually got the call, with the latter representing the biggest comeback of any candidate to gain BBWAA entry. Mark McGwire (23.7 percent in his fourth year), rose nearly two percent from last year and set a personal best by 0.1 percent, but with more than three-quarters of the electorate giving him the cold shoulder over steroid allegations or simply his continued unwillingness to talk about the past, he's going nowhere.

Besides Larkin and Alomar, only two other first-year candidates received above five percent, the showing needed to remain on the ballot for another year. Edgar Martinez got 36.2 percent, and Fred McGriff received 21.5 percent. While those showings may disappoint their supporters, rallying from this point is hardly unprecedented. Consider the less-than-stellar debuts of these 11, all of whom eventually earned the requisite 75 percent:
Player             %
Gary Carter 42.3%
Hoyt Wilhelm 41.7%
Rich Gossage 33.3%
Eddie Mathews 32.3%
Jim Rice 29.8%
Early Wynn 27.9%
Luis Aparicio 27.8%
Bruce Sutter 23.9%
Billy Williams 23.4%
Don Drysdale 21.0%
Duke Snider 17.0%
Onto a few choice questions from the chat:
dianagramr (NYC): Hi Jay ... thanks for the chat. Is Edgar Martinez's run creation in the ballpark with Jim Rice's, when you take into account Rice's subpar defense in LF? In other words, how much better must a DH be in order to make the Hall, assuming voters take defense into account?

JJ: If Edgar's overall production WERE the ballpark, Jim Rice's overall production would be stuck in the breakdown lane 50 miles away. It ain't even close. Edgar accumulated double Rice's WARP over the course of his career (68.9 to 34.2) and about 2.5 wins more per year at his peak. (46.4 to 28.5). I can't tell you if that will be enough for the voters because there really isn't much evidence to suggest voters DO take defense into account at all, or even that some of them think rationally about the process.

Christina Kahrl (BP Volcano Hideout): Five blank ballots were submitted, apparently. While I can understand that more readily than ballots that have Morris but not Blyleven or Dawson or Parker but not Raines, that seems interesting.

JJ: Blank ballots are voters' way of throwing themselves on the ground in the middle of the produce aisle and hoping mommy notices.

Especially given that Mariotti was one of the guys who voted for Blyleven in the past.

Nick Stone (New York, NY): Jay, since I'll be under a pile of work when the HoF announcement is made, I've tried to come up with a question that will cover every conceivable issue raised by the results: What does the (election/stagnant support/dropping off the ballot) of (Andre Dawson/Bert Blyleven/David Segui) say about the BBWAA's general attitude towards (impatient mustache aficionados/Dutch Old Masters/ill-considered bleach jobs)? Does the dramatic falling off of the ballot of (Karros/Raines/McGwire) mean baseball will change the composition of the Veterans Committee in order to better represent (the undead/people with a basic understanding of baseball/chicks who dig the long ball)?

JJ: Too funny! I definitely think that the disappearance of Segui from the ballot is a shot across the bow at those ill-considered bleach jobs, and that the road to the Hall just got considerably longer for Mike Piazza, Alex Rodriguez, and Bret Boone. The disappearance of Karros from the ballot means that the VC will be changed to better accommodate the undead.

Bern Wang ( I doubt Bernie Williams will ever get in to the HOF since he was usually overlooked on those Yankee teams (never finished high in MVP voting) and so he won't "seem" like a HOF to many of these voters...but do you think he has a decent case? He had maybe 8 great years in a row and was quite possibly the most valuable player on those Yankee teams from 1994 through 2002. At the very least, I guess with Jim Rice being in, Bernie definitely has a legit case for being in as well since he was clearly better than Jim Rice.

JJ: Bernie's got four more World Series rings than Jim Rice, and the rest of his candidacy is hardly anything to be ashamed of. You'd be surprised what hitting .300 and playing center field for the World Champion Yankees can do for a guy's Cooperstown credentials. Not that it helped Mickey Rivers...
And if that ain't enough on the topic, I recorded a Baseball Prospectus Radio segment with Will Carroll today which you can hear here, via BP's home page, or via iTunes (subscribe to the Baseball Prospectus podcast).

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