Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Hiroki Kuroda's Unique Place in International Baseball History

I want to talk about Hiroki Kuroda for a moment.

Maybe you haven’t thought about him much in the recent past. I wouldn’t really blame you, considering that he left the Majors back in 2014 and hasn’t really been in the public eye (in the US, at least) since. That’s totally fair; he had seven years as a solid starter in the majors, which isn’t nothing, but still…time moves on, you know?

I was basically in the same boat anyway, so I can’t really say that I blame you. Plenty of pitchers have good seven year runs, and even if you’ve like me and have devoted as much of your memory to random baseball trivia at the expense of most other useful things, you just can’t remember all of them all the time. But that just made it all the more surprising when I saw his name pop up recently in some research that I was doing.

In case you haven’t thought about Kuroda’s career lately, it’s worth noting that, when he debuted in the Majors way back in 2008, he was already 33, with over a decade of seasons in Japan already under his belt. Despite his rookie season coming at such an advanced age, Kuroda went on to post a surprisingly strong career line: in 1319 innings pitched, Kuroda posted a 986 to 292 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a 1.172 WHIP, and a 3.45 ERA (good for a 115 ERA+). All of that adds up to 21.7 Wins Above Replacement, in spite of the rather mediocre-looking 79-79 career record.

That would be a good run for just about anyone, but for a pitcher to post that in their ages 33 to 39 seasons is especially impressive! And not only that, he went back to Japan for two more seasons with his longtime NPB* team, the Hiroshima Toyo Carp.

*Nippon Professional Baseball

To have a run like that, at those ages, is pretty exceptional. In fact, Kuroda ranks 55th all time in pitching WAR after age 33. Even more notable are some of the names immediately around him: you’ve got a trio of Hall of Famers (Fergie Jenkins 22.8, Whitey Ford 21.6, Jesse Haines 21.6) and another trio of knuckleballers (Tim Wakefield 22.8, Tom Candiotti 22.8, R.A. Dickey 22.7). That’s interesting company, if nothing else.

And pitching that good late in your career isn’t exactly a guarantee that one is destined for Cooperstown (those knuckleballers are evidence of that, as are numerous others on the list), but it’s also certainly not nothing. Indeed, only 27 Hall of Famers are better. It’s certainly enough to make me wonder: how might Hiroki Kuroda have done if he had started his career in the Majors? Would he be looking at a possible Cooperstown induction? I decided to take a stab at it.

Monday, September 11, 2017

How Many Active Players Should Make the Hall of Fame?: Using 2008 as a Case Study

Recently, I looked at active players to determine who would possibly make the Hall of Fame if it was more accurately sized. In this case, “accurately” refers to “in regards to historical precedence”, which is a little up for debate, but is definitely bigger than what we’re getting now. At the lower-end, that should be at the very least 40 players in any given year; at the upper-end, that number may go as high as something like 75 players active at once making Cooperstown. Realistically, I think something in the fifties is reasonable, but I wanted to demonstrate that.

While looking at active players is fun, it’s also difficult and hard to visualize. In part, that’s because at least some of your active players, by law of averages, have to be just starting out, which makes them hard to predict. So I figured, why not do it for a year a little further in the past? I’ve done this before, but it was a while ago, so I figured I’d update it and use a different year for good measure.

In this case, I picked 2008. Players who debuted in 2008 are now a decade into their careers, meaning they have the ten years required to appear on the Hall of Fame ballot, as well as a decade in the majors under their belt to help us evaluate if they have a realistic shot at Cooperstown.

In fact, some players active in 2008 are already inducted.

Already Inducted: Ivan Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas

That’s eight players that we for-sure need to account for. On top of that, there were two players active in 2008 who each received over 70% of the vote, Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman. For all intents and purposes, we should probably consider them as good as in, bringing our number to 10. Additionally, Mike Mussina finally topped 50% of the vote last year. Given that he still has over half of his time on the ballot ahead of him and that he’s more than deserving, we may as well include him, giving us 11 players.

Next, we can probably run down the locks quickly, since no one will argue them.