Friday, February 8, 2019

What Have the Marlins Gotten Back from All of Their Trades?

ESPN noted that, following the J.T. Realmuto trade, 23 of the Marlins’ top 25 players by WAR have been traded, rather than leaving as a free agent or eventually retiring with the team. It’s a pretty sorry affair after 27 seasons, but I wondered if maybe they had at least gotten back prospects to rebuild the team over the years. This isn’t necessarily to see how the trades looked at the time, just to see the eventual outcomes. So let’s take a quick look at the returns for the 23 players sent away.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The Best Players Without a Retired Number, by Number

Jonah Keri posted something the other day over at CBS Sports about the best players to wear each uniform number. It made me think of an idea I had been kicking around for a while (read: had a filled-out spreadsheet sitting open on my desktop for months), the “Best Players Without a Retired Number, by Number” list, where I basically try and guess the best retired number candidates for each uniform number. This seemed like as good of an excuse as any to see how that experiment would go, so let’s dive right in.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

2019 Hall of Fame Ballot and 50 Best Players Not in the Hall of Fame

I realized the other day that it’s been 3 years since the last time I did a “50 Best Players Not in the Hall of Fame” piece, and even that was a reduced 25-player ballot. The last proper 50-player list was five years ago. It seems Graham Womack had ceased work on the project, but I still find the subject interesting, so I wanted to pick it up again and see what my list today would look like.

After all, with so many players going in over the past few years (18 inducted over the past five cycles, with likely another five or six joining them this year), there must be a lot of turnover, right? Let’s start by looking at my list from last time (sorted by Hall Rating); as a reminder, players are eligible even if they’re on their first ballot this year and haven’t gone through a election cycle yet:

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Some Quick Thoughts on Predicting Active Players' Hall of Fame Chances

Since I write a lot about future Hall of Famers, especially among active players, I wanted to expand on some comments I left on William Metzger’s article on Jose Altuve’s Hall of Fame candidacy over at The Crawfish Boxes. Generally, my stance is that we can start talking about players being future Hall of Famers well before we normally do. Metzger does a good job of looking at what Altuve has to do to have Hall-caliber stats, but how likely a player is to do that is a different question.

As a simple example, I looked at every second baseman in history who was within 10 WAR of Altuve at the same age; specifically, that means anyone between 25 and 35 WAR by the end of their age-28 season. That leaves us with a group of 22 other players; two of them are the also still-active Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia.

Of those 20 retired examples to work from, 12 went on to the Hall of Fame. Simple enough, then, right? Altuve has something like a 60% chance to stay on a Hall-pace.

But the remaining 8 players aren’t a list of players who started strong and then broke down, like you might think. One of them is Pete Rose, who has…let’s say some mitigating factors that you might be aware of, but he put up a Hall-quality back-half to his career, if nothing else.

There are a few other weird cases as well, though. For example, Larry Doyle walked away after a 3-WAR age-33 season to go manage a minor league team in Toronto closer to his home. Maybe he could have a few more good seasons if he stuck it out, but he didn’t feel like it, so we’ll never know. And then, there’s Fred Dunlap, who broke his leg on a slide during his age-32 season in 1891. However, it wasn’t the injury that ended things; it was the ensuing dispute with the team over (essentially) disability play for the injury that got him to walk away.

That’s not to say weird, unaccountable things couldn’t still spring up for Altuve. But, at the same time, we know that at least the Dunlap scenario won’t happen today, and Rose is the only gambling-related permanent ban in over seven decades. Despite the weirdness of all of those scenarios, and the low chance of them recurring, they still make up a significant portion of our Altuve comps, because there are so few players good enough to actually use as a comparison!

Then, three of the remaining five Hall-outsiders are Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker, and Willie Randolph, all of whom had Hall-level numbers for their career but just didn’t get any electoral support. I know there are still large groups of people saying that they were snubbed, and they might still even get in via the Veterans Committee! But even if you don’t want to account for the unpredictable VC, they pretty clearly didn’t “fall apart” or anything; they held up their end of the deal and played well, the voters just didn’t see how good they were.*

*Also, there’s a question of whether Altuve can even be grouped with them anymore; he already has as many career All-Star selections as any of them, and he has as many top-ten MVP finishes as all three of them combined. If attention from fans and writers is what doomed that trio, it doesn’t seem like Altuve will be facing that issue, particularly if he plays as well as they did in their second career-halfs.

All told, that just leaves us with two stereotypical “Hall-trajectory player falls apart and plays himself out of Cooperstown” cases from the twenty players similar to Altuve, Chuck Knoblauch and Cupid Childs. There are actually more players in the “weird, unpredictable, non-injury stuff” category than there are these guys.

All of that gets me to my main point: players who are this good, this young, to the extent that someone like Altuve is, are in a class of their own. They’re more likely than not to finish out a career that gets them to Cooperstown, and even if they don’t make it to the Hall, almost all of them end up at least playing at a Hall-of-Fame-level the rest of the way. Being good but going unrecognized is about as common, or even more so, than totally falling apart. Just a thing to keep in mind when having “future Hall of Famer” discussions

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Coors Field Probably Isn't the Main Thing Hurting Larry Walker's Hall of Fame Chances

After eight years languishing on the Hall of Fame ballot, Larry Walker’s candidacy is starting to show signs of life. He topped a third of the vote last year for the first time, and the early returns this year show him nearing two-thirds of the vote for the 2019 voting cycle. For the first time since he debuted at 20.3% of the vote back in 2011, it seems possible that Walker might finally be inducted into Cooperstown.

It would certainly be a worthy induction, if he does make it. But it’s also worth wondering why he’s taken so long to build up traction with voters. I’ve seen some claiming that Walker’s time on the Rockies (and therefore, his years playing in Coors Field) might be causing some voters to ding his candidacy unfairly.

There are plenty of other things that could be causing voters to unfairly discount him, and a lot of them are things that we’ve seen play out with other Hall candidates. For instance, Walker missed a lot of time from injuries (only once did he top 150 games, and seven of his seventeen seasons saw him miss 35 games or more), which resulted in a relatively short career, something that has hurt other players on the ballot in the past (Jim Edmonds, for one). Walker also was pretty well-rounded rather than exceling in one area, something that people have identified as a problem for decades now (even early Bill James writings referenced voters overlooking players who were well-rounded, like Dwight Evans and Bobby Grich).

There’s nothing to say that it couldn’t be multiple things hurting him, but up until this year, there hasn’t really been a great way to assess Coors Field’s impact in the mind of Hall voters. No one else who spent significant time on the Rockies spent much time on the ballot, nor did they really deserve to (the only other non-Walker players to hit the ballot with more than 10 WAR in Colorado prior to this year were Vinny Castilla, Andres Galarraga, and Ellis Burks).

Not only that, but we haven’t really seen a ton of evidence that a lot baseball writers refuse to vote for Rockies in other awards; for example, the Rockies have done pretty well for themselves in MVP voting (Dante Bichette and Carlos Gonzalez both have top-three finishes, and guys like Nolan Arenado, Troy Tulowitzki, Matt Holliday*, and Todd Helton all finished in the top five/ten spots pretty regularly), which pulls from the same voting body. Maybe voters only have a problem with Coors Field when it comes to Hall of Fame voting, but it feels difficult to prove that when we really only have one data point.

*You could MAYBE argue that Holliday should have won the MVP award in 2007, when he finished second and was a little better than winner Jimmy Rollins. But you could also easily argue that neither of those two was one of the top three players in the NL that year anyway, let alone top five.

But this year, we finally got a second candidate to include in our analysis. Career-Rockie Todd Helton finally hit the Hall of Fame ballot, and he has numbers that wouldn’t look too out of place in Cooperstown, between 2519 hits, 369 home runs, 592 doubles, 61.2 WAR, and a 53.9 JAWS rating. Based on what we see in the early results, is Helton below what we might expect of a player of his resume?

Is Justin Verlander Already a Hall of Famer?

Over at The Crawfish Boxes, I once again took a look at something Hall of Fame related. This time, it's whether or not Justin Verlander has already done enough that he could get inducted right now. 

Monday, December 10, 2018

Harold Baines Is One of the Strangest Hall of Fame Selections in History

I’d like to start off congratulating the Hall of Fame’s newest inductees, Lee Smith and Harold Baines. To even make a Hall of Fame or Veterans Committee ballot makes them among the elite of the elite in game’s history, regardless of whatever else you can say about them.

Ballot newcomer Lee Smith is not a surprising choice. Back when I covered this year’s Veterans Committee candidates, I pegged him as the most likely person to make it, and even had him on my hypothetical ballot. He’s the former all-time saves leader, an he was one of only two players in history to pass 50% on the BBWAA ballots and not be inducted, so it was just a matter of time before that changed.

Harold Baines, though, is a legitimately surprising choice, in a way that I don’t think any other selection I’ve seen has been. Hall voters are extremely predictable, once you learn their patterns, and Ryan Thibodaux and his team have done such a good job of tracking ballots pre-results the last few years that you generally have a solid idea of what to expect before we hear the actual announcement.

Given all of that, I regarded Baines as something as an also-ran. I don’t feel too bad on that miss, though. No one in the comments of my piece thought to disagree with my analysis of him. Jay Jaffe, who contributes yearly in-depth series on the full Hall of Fame ballot to places like Sports Illustrated and Fangraphs and has literally written a (wonderful) book on the Hall, was shocked by the results. Even Baines himself was rather surprised.

A big part of this is the unusualness of the Veterans Committee process, relative to the rest of Hall voting. Whereas the main, BBWAA voting process contains hundreds of voters who can all choose to discuss or isolate themselves from discussion as they see fit during the voting process, the Veterans Committee is just 16 people with some connection to the Hall (usually players and executives) who meet in person to discuss their choices. The smaller number means there’s a much greater chance for variation in the results, and since it’s discussion based, campaigning can make a big difference.

Longtime White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and former White Sox manager Tony La Russa (who’s first full year as a manager was Baines’s rookie season) were both among the sixteen members voting this year. It’s not hard to imagine one or both of them taking up an advocate role for his case. Then you look at the other members of the committee, and it’s not hard to imagine others who may have had a similar soft spot for him. Pat Gillick traded for him as GM of the Orioles. Roberto Alomar played with him in Baltimore. Bert Blyleven spent years as a division rival, including Baines’ peak. Greg Maddux played across town for years. And as more and more people became swayed, pressure on the rest of the voters probably rose.

Without being in the room when that happened, though, it’s hard to know what exactly those voters were voting based on. By traditional numbers, Baines’s case seems pretty lacking. He didn’t hit any of the big milestones, falling 134 hits short of 3000. He didn’t finish with a career .300 batting average, or 400 homers, or 500 doubles. His .820 OPS and 121 OPS+ were fine, but not really Hall-caliber for a designated hitter and corner outfielder. He finished ninth and tenth in MVP voting once each, and got votes two other years. His six All-Star selections are acceptable, but not exceptional. He managed to stay on the BBWAA’s ballot for five years the first time around, keeping above the 5% necessary to stick, but he also never rose above 6.1% of the vote.

More advanced measurements don’t really help his case, either. Over 22 seasons, Baines compiled just 38.7 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball-Reference (remember, 2 WAR is considered starter-level performance), good for 545th all-time. By Wins Above Average, which sets the baseline at 2 WAR rather than 0 (so you’re comparing play to a hypothetical starter rather than a hypothetical fringe major leaguer), he fares even worse, with 1.8 in his career. That’s tied for 1390th all-time. Jaffe’s JAWS has him as the 74th-best right fielder in history, and that’s despite more of his games coming at DH. I also like Adam Darowski’s Hall of Stats and Hall Rating system; that has Baines as 42% worse than a borderline Hall of Famer, and the twelfth-worst player ever inducted.

Given all of this, it’s hard to see Baines as anything other than a solid player who was good enough for long enough to stick around for over two decades, without ever really being one of the best players in the game. You could pretty easily come up with fifty-plus more egregious snubs from Cooperstown (in fact, he basically never even came up on my lists back when I was contributing to Graham Womack’s 50 Best Players Not in the Hall of Fame project).

In a way, he almost makes for an interesting thought experiment, something like “what’s the longest that a player could be an average, 2-win player before that in and of itself makes them notable and possibly Hall-worthy”. Of course, Baines himself didn’t even do that, as he fell short of the 44 WAR he would have needed, but it’s still an interesting question to think about.

In the end, I don’t know what to make of this. Baines might be the worst player to make it to Cooperstown from the modern era, but despite all of that, I also feel like it’s a little hard not to feel at least a little happy for him? He, singularly, doesn’t really re-define the Hall standard, nor is he the only bad or even overall worst selection; he wasn’t exactly a nobody, even if he wasn’t really up to the normal marks we expect; it doesn’t seem like there was anything corrupt about the process, but rather it was a once-in-a-blue-moon confluence of factors in his favor that’s interesting in its own way; and if nothing else, I’m sure his selection will at least make White Sox fans and anyone who enjoyed watching him play happy. So congrats to Cooperstown’s two newest members, even if it’s an unusual start to the Class of 2019.