Tuesday, December 28, 2021
What Does the End of the Tanking & Rebuilding Process Look Like? Comparing the Orioles and the Astros, Part 3
-Preseason: Traded Jordan Lyles and Brandon Barnes for Dexter Fowler; Released JD Martinez; Signed Chad Qualls, Collin McHugh, Matt Albers, Jesse Crain, Tony Sipp, Scott Feldman, Jerome Williams
-Midseason: Traded away Kiké Hernandez and Jarred Cosart
This was actually a really busy offseason for the Astros. For those who don’t remember, just the season before, Jesse Crain had been an All-Star reliever, and Scott Feldman had been a hot trading chip at the deadline; both were considered some of the top free agents of the winter (although Crain had injuries concerns at the end of 2013 that made him more of a bet on upside than a reliable signing).
Qualls, Albers, and Williams weren’t as high-profile, but they were all still signings, as part of the over $40 million Houston spent on free agents, easily the team’s biggest foray into the market in years (whether you go by total expenditure or quality of top signings). And the Fowler trade was similarly notable; he hadn’t yet reached his peak, but Fowler was still already an above-average everyday player, and the team was giving up on their former top prospect in Lyles to acquire him. At the very least, it sure looked like a “win now” move, compared to the kinds of moves they had been making the last few years.
Unfortunately, they didn’t all pan out. Williams was cut early in the season, Crain never played another game in the Majors, and the Astros had yet another losing season. However, this did end their streak of 100-loss, last-place finishes, with the team improving to fourth place and 72 wins.
The Tony Sipp, Collin McHugh, and JD Martinez moves weren’t as notable at the time, but they wound up big in retrospect (although obviously, one of them was actually a net negative for the team). And the mid-season Jarred Cosart trade was another one that seemed questionable to some at the time, but which clearly paid off; Cosart never looked as good as he did in his 2013 debut, and the Marlins traded away Hernandez after the season. In return, the Astros got Jake Marisnick, Colin Moran (who was the other half of the package they used to acquire Gerrit Cole), and a 2015 first round pick that they used on Daz Cameron (who was later traded for Justin Verlander). Which serves another reminder: a big part of having a good farm system is using the extra depth to acquire players when you need them!
Wednesday, December 22, 2021
What Does the End of the Tanking & Rebuilding Process Look Like? Comparing the Orioles and the Astros, Part 2
-Preseason: Traded Mark Melancon for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland
-Midseason: Traded away Brett Myers, J.A. Happ, David Carpenter, Brandon Lyon, Chris Johnson, Carlos Lee, Wandy Rodriguez, and others for prospects
2012 marked the start of the Astros’ new ownership and front office, as they stepped in on the heels of the franchise’s first 100-loss season. There were again a number of reclamation project signings (Chris Snyder, Zach Duke, Livan Hernandez, Jack Cust…), and a lot of them didn’t even wind up playing a game with Houston. No Clint Barmes-like successes this time.
They did, however, make a trade for a veteran player, sending Mark Melancon to Boston for Jed Lowrie. Lowrie was 28 at the time and had played in parts of four seasons, but hadn’t managed to lock down a regular starting role. He had a breakout campaign in Houston as the full time shortstop, marred only by an ankle injury that cost him a few months.
During the season, the team basically traded away every notable holdover from the previous front office. Brett Myers went to the White Sox for three players (Chris Devenski being the most notable). Carlos Lee went to Miami for more than a straight salary dump. Wandy Rodriguez went to Pittsburgh.
There were also two notable moves that weren’t simply trading away older players. First, the new management apparently had thoughts on J.A. Happ similar to what I mentioned in Part 1, not helped by Happ’s performance since the trade taking a nosedive (or rather, his FIP was rather consistent, but his ERA jumped, likely due in part to pitching in front of a worse defense). He was packaged with David Carpenter (also see Part 1) and Brandon Lyon (another big free agent overpay) and sent to Toronto, in exchange for a seven-player package (although one of those was veteran Francisco Cordero, as part of a salary dump). A lot of those players didn’t pan out, although one of them was Joe Musgrove, who would play key roles on the 2017 squad before being dealt for Gerrit Cole.
The other was trading away Chris Johnson. I remember people making a bigger deal about this at the time, but in retrospect, he was a 27-year-old third baseman with a decent bat and a bad glove. He would play okay for Arizona down the stretch, then the D-backs would flip him and Justin Upton to Atlanta for a big package of players. The Braves would immediately sign him to a three-year deal, which would give them his single above-average season (by Baseball-Reference WAR, at least) and two bad ones. Given that, the Astros probably sold on him at close to peak value; the biggest gripe you could probably put on their side of this whole sequence was that the prospects they got for him didn’t really pan out, either.
-Preseason: Mark Trumbo departs as a free agent; Dylan Bundy traded away for prospects; Jonathan Villar waived and traded away; Signed Jose Iglesias, Wade LeBlanc, Tommy Milone
-Midseason: Traded away Rich Bleier, Mychal Givens, Tommy Milone, Miguel Castro for prospects
The Jose Iglesias signing was again one of a number of small pick-ups, and it was the most successful. Iglesias would have a strong season, the team would pick up his 2021 option, then ship the then-31-year-old shortstop to the Angels. That’s basically what you want rebuilding teams to do.
I don’t know what to make of the Dylan Bundy trade just yet; Bundy had long been a top prospect for the Orioles who the team had failed to develop to his full potential (maybe some of it is bad luck or something on the prospect’s end, but at this point, it’s happened so frequently that I just assume it’s due to the Orioles). His 2020 season with the Angels was so good that it got him Cy Young votes, but he struggled hard in 2021. I suppose we’ll see this year if ‘20 or ‘21 was the fluke, but either way, pitchers who look immediately better upon leaving Baltimore is a clear, frustrating trend.
The other two preseason deals really feel like they accentuate some of the difference in the Orioles’ and Astros’ strategies. Maybe Trumbo leaving was inevitable, as he wasn’t exactly some hot trade candidate; but then again, the Astros got something for Carlos Lee. Maybe it’s a shift in philosophy or a change in the league strategies or some other underlying change in attitudes, but it’s a difference all the same.
The other was the Villar dealings; Villar was arguably the best player on the 2019 Orioles, a shortstop who could handle the position and provide above-average offense. He was 28 and entering his final season of control, so he might not be a leader on the next Orioles winning team, but he should at least be able to fetch the team something in return if they shopped him around effectively. Instead, the team waived him at the end of November, basically guaranteeing they wouldn’t have him on the roster in two weeks time. Paying for his raise was never seriously under consideration.
With that, the Marlins were basically able to get him for very little, a former 14th round pick who the GM said could maybe be a back-end starter if he developed right. Because, again, if there’s one thing the Orioles have become synonymous with in recent memory, it’s properly developing their young pitching talents. Again, it’s hard not to look at this next to, say, the Lowrie deal in Houston; sure, he wasn’t going to be in Houston for the long-term either, but the team actually kept him around until they got something for him.
The reliever sell-off is what it is. A good bullpen wasn’t going to fix the other massive holes on this team; we’ll see if the prospects they got ever develop.
Monday, December 20, 2021
What Does the End of the Tanking & Rebuilding Process Look Like? Comparing the Orioles and the Astros, Part 1
But the more shocking reports say that they’re considering trading John Means, which in contrast, doesn’t seem like the type of move a rebuilding would make. Means, who turns 29 in April, has had about as strong first three years as a team could hope; he finished runner up in the 2019 Rookie of the Year race, he’s already been an all-star, he threw a no-hitter last season that might be the best game pitched in team history* (no small feat on a team with the pitching history of the O’s).
*If you go by Game Score, Means’s no-hitter had a score of 99, which as far as I can tell, is higher than any other pitching performance in team history. That’s not a bad opening argument in the discussion, at least!
We can’t really know how serious the team is about this; maybe they’re actively considering offers, or maybe it’s just the principle of “anyone can be moved if a team is willing to overpay enough”. But it did get me thinking about their larger rebuilding process, which has been going on since the trade deadline of the 2018 seasons. Here we are, three and a half years later; how far along should the team be at this point? Are they really still at the “trading away stars for prospects” stage? Or should they maybe be looking at picking up some free agents?
Each rebuild is of course different, and I’m no expert on prospect evaluation. But I did want to compare it to another major rebuild, that of the early 2010s Houston Astros. Partly because both teams started from a similar place, partly because I’m fairly familiar with the Astros’ rebuild, and partly (perhaps mostly?) because Orioles GM Mike Elias was a key part of the front office of those Astros teams. They won’t be identical, but we should see at least some overlap in strategy, right?
When comparing the two, it seemed like the best place to start was during the 2010 season for the Astros, and the 2018 season for the Orioles. That makes it easy to line both of them up chronologically (since we’d be starting at a trade deadline for each team), and both represent the point where both teams really started to dismantle their existing teams (including trades of Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, Manny Machado, and others). If we use that alignment, our general equivalencies in this scenario would be:
And as a reminder, 2015 was the year the Astros returned to the postseason as a Wild Card team. Of course, one major complicating factor here is that we didn’t lose most of the 2012 season to a pandemic like we did 2020, but there’s not a ton we can do about that other than to just keep it in mind. However, it’s also worth considering that the Elias administration in Baltimore got an earlier start on their project than Jeff Lunhow and company did in Houston; Ed Wade was the Astros’ GM through the 2011 season, while Elias was already in place for the 2019 Orioles season. I don’t know if those factors balance everything out perfectly, but at least it’s not extremely lopsided in one team’s favor, I suppose.
So, with that out of the way, how do these team’s seasons line up? And is there anything we can learn about where the Orioles should be in the process, and what they potentially should be doing this winter after the lockout?
Sunday, December 5, 2021
The selections came across two separate ballots. The Golden Days vote (covering 1950 to 1969) voted to induct Minnie Miñoso, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, and Tony Oliva,* while the Early Baseball vote (everything pre-1950) selected Buck O'Neil and Bud Fowler. I have long been critical of the Veterans Committee as an electoral process (for a fairly comprehensive list of reasons, this two-part series from earlier this year is a good starting place), so I want to congratulate them here: this is definitely a good result, in my opinion, even if it’s not perfect.
*Since I always talk about Retired Numbers, I will note here that Miñoso and Oliva are already honored by the White Sox and Twins, respectively. The Dodgers have a policy that a player must be in the Hall to be honored, which has long been the stumbling block for Hodges’s case. Either way, it’s worth noting that the Dodgers’ #14 and the Twins’ #36 were both absent from their rosters this past season, so maybe expect some movement there soon.
If you didn’t go back and re-read my old pieces, one major problem was that contrary to its reputation, the Veterans Committee had generally become too stingy in its inductions. For the last few years, they’ve started to reverse that trend and let in a number of players, including some strong snubs (and non-player Marvin Miller certainly fits into that category as well). Sure, not every induction was an overwhelming win, but I’ll take “correcting some errors and maybe inducting a few too many players” over “never inducting anyone” any day.
This year’s induction is firmly in that category. I even mentioned Miñoso and O’Neil as long-overdue snubs in that older piece that I linked. I am less familiar with Fowler’s case (pre-1900s baseball, especially the earliest days of the sport, is not my strongest sub-topic), but he also seems like a very strong choice. And I don’t know that Hodges, Kaat, or Oliva were my top choices on the Golden Days ballot, but I also think they’re all fine choices, and there are plenty of people who have long considered them snubs.
Perhaps the biggest key for Kaat and Oliva: they were two of the three candidates under consideration who were still alive (the other being Maury Wills). I am not surprised that either was inducted, as both long seemed to be the sorts of candidates who would make it eventually, for a variety of reasons. And if that’s going to be the case, it’s much better to honor them while they’re alive to enjoy it. Unfortunately, that might have been a factor that hurt Dick Allen, who fell one vote short of election following his death last year.
Which kind of gets us into the second half of this topic: this year’s veterans committee really did the best that they could working around the limitations of the system, but those limits were still very present, just out of sight.
For one example, let’s go back and look at the ballot math again. I feel like I break this example out all the time, and I’ll stop beating this drum once it stops being relevant. From the Hall’s press release, we have:
Golden Days Ballot
Minnie Miñoso: 14 votes
Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva: 12 votes
Dick Allen: 11 votes
Ken Boyer, Roger Maris, Danny Murtaugh, Billy Pierce, Maury Wills: less than 4 votes
The voting body was comprised of 16 people, so to reach the 75% needed for induction, a player needed 12 votes. Also keep in mind that the voters met and discussed the ballot prior to casting their votes; I wouldn’t be shocked if there had been some discussion of maximizing votes in this year’s discussion.
Because it is genuinely difficult to achieve a result like this in the current system absent that, especially when none of the candidates were unanimous. Voters only get 4 votes, so between 16 voters, there are only 64 total ballot spots to go around. The four inductees this year plus Allen combined for 61 of them. We fell one stray vote shy of the maximum possible inductees.
Which kind of just highlights what’s frustrating about the process. It’s really dumb that Allen falls one vote short again.* It’s also really dumb that the next chance anyone will have to adjust this problem is in five years, the next time the committee will tackle this era (which only serves to underline the importance of getting the living players in this time). And it’s really dumb that the only way to avoid this problem would have likely come at the expense of Hodges, Kaat, or Oliva, since I imagine there were some potential Allen voters who had him as their fifth choice, and would have had to cut someone else to make that happen.
*It last happened on the 2015 ballot. I will also take a brief moment to publicize this new and amazing tool by Hall of Fame experts Adam Darowski and Graham Womack, which is the most complete record of Veterans Committee ballots that exists.
The other ballot faced similar issues, but more extreme:
Early Baseball Ballot
Buck O’Neil: 13 votes
Bud Fowler: 12 votes
Vic Harris: 10 votes
John Donaldson: 8 votes
Allie Reynolds: 6 votes
Lefty O'Doul: 5 votes
George Scales: 4 votes
Bill Dahlen, Grant Johnson, Dick Redding: less than 4 votes
Even with all of those frustrations still present and looming over the proceedings, it’s hard to not take this as a win. Some great and deserving players finally got their due, that’s really the most important part; and the Veterans Committee seems to be moving far away from its worst instincts. Hopefully, things keep trending in the right direction and the Hall itself finally institutes some fixes to its process, but at least in the meantime, the voters seem to have recognized some issues and how they could work around them.
Monday, November 22, 2021
One thing that I mentioned was the idea that it’s better for team building to rely on one star rather than multiple players. It’s pretty generalized, but the example I included does a good job with it: one player worth 5 Wins Above Replacement is more valuable than two 2.5-WAR players, for the same reason those two players are better than five 1-WAR players.
Because it’s not just the one 5-WAR player you’re getting in the first scenario; you still have to fill those other roster spots that the two-player and five-player options. There’s no option to just run a 24-man or 22-man roster. And if you’ve done your job right, those other roster spots should be worth more than 0 Wins, so the actual trade-off is 2.5+2.5 versus 5+(something else).
Of course, the catch here is all hypothetical and cost-independent. When teams have managed to circumvent this, it’s been by more efficiently allocating the same resources. To provide another oversimplified example, if the team that goes for the 5-WAR player doesn’t know what they’re doing and does get a 0-Win player as back-up, while the 2.5-WAR players have higher ceilings (maybe they’re coming back from injury, or have untapped potential or something, so the 2.5 estimate is inaccurate). Of course, that’s a trade-off that will depend heavily on the specifics.
That’s part of the problem with the shortstop question here. We don’t really know the cost specifics yet. Free agent negotiations are complicated. Carlos Correa might want a Lindor-size deal, like Cody reported in the original article, but he’s not the only party deciding this. Another team has to decide to give him that, and while there are other teams trying to sign him to bid the eventual winner up, there are also plenty of other shortstop options for those other teams to consider this winter, including Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Trevor Story, and Javier Báez. And of course, we largely aren’t going to be privy to any of these processes.
We are dealing with a lot of unknown variables here*, which is why I tend to retreat to the abstracts for now. Or, like I pose during the article itself, it’s especially easy to say “I don’t want Correa Correa at $300 million over ten years, let’s just sign Trevor Story instead” when you don’t actually know what the market for Story is. We can make guesses, like maybe Story will sign for below-market because of his 2021 season, but there might be multiple teams who have that same thought and bid him up anyway (especially if all of them think he’ll bounce back, which might in turn improve his ask).
*And none of this is even getting into whatever changes to the game’s financial structures the new CBA institutes. I’ll be working with what’s in place when necessary for lack of a better option, but the main balance I’ll be getting at is the balance of Player Value versus Dollars Spent, which should be relatively unaffected by any changes.
So, as an outside observer with few specifics, I tend to go with the broadest case; sign the best player you can. In that regard, Seager (who’s a year older) is the only one who matches Correa in peak and age, even with both of their injury concerns. Semien has matched their peaks, especially recently, but he’s four years older than Correa, so any deal for him will be missing out on his ages 27 through 30 seasons and likely comes with more risk as a result. Story and Baez are both two seasons older (so again, you’re losing two peak seasons to work with), and you need to contend with their own questions (Story’s downturn last year, Baez’s lack of a batting eye). Maybe one of them sees their price drop as a result of those issues, maybe there’s something teams see in them that make their specific risks manageable, but again it’s hard to know all of that right now.
And for my final point of the article, there really isn’t anyone like Correa or Seager for the next few years. I had to do a brief scan in real time to keep up with the discussion, but even with more time to go over it, the pickings look pretty slim. Here’s the 2022-23 Free Agent Class; the only players with recent MVP-level performance (leaving aside the players with options, since those will likely be picked up) are Trea Turner and Aaron Judge. Turner as a free agent will be three years older than Correa as a free agent, so you’re again missing out on three peak seasons in whatever deal he signs (in addition to not having a star in his spot for the 2022 season). Judge is a year older than Turner.
The next year is a stronger class, but there isn’t a clear better choice. José Ramírez and Matt Chapman are the most obvious picks, but they’ll be coming off their age thirty seasons (so again, you’re missing out on four years in your deal and forgoing a star for the next two seasons). Cody Bellinger will be 27, but has… whatever has been his issue for the last two seasons; even if he returns to MVP-form, I’d find this two-year valley much more worrisome than Correa or Seager’s injuries. Maybe Manny Machado will opt out of his deal following his age-30 season, but I certainly wouldn’t be putting all my eggs in that basket this early.
(I guess if you make it to 2025, you have a shot at 26-year-old Juan Soto, but even then, you’re gambling on the Nationals not locking him up before then, on top of all other uncertainty that comes with being a free agent deal that will not be starting until four seasons from now. And for the Astros, at that point, Kyle Tucker and Yordan Álvarez’s free agencies will be looming in the next winter, although Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman’s deals will be coming off the books at that point as well.)
As I said in the piece, if it makes you feel better, you can think of it as an incentive to spend on Correa now; there are no stars like him the next few years, no one to worry about missing out on in the meantime. Absent the specifics of the negotiations (a big asterisk, to be sure), there’s no reason not to be trying hard to lock him up right now.
Thursday, November 11, 2021
But perhaps the most surprising aspect, for me at least, was realizing that Posey was part of a dying breed: players who debuted in the 2000s.* Technically, Posey only played in seven games in the 2009 season, but it counts, and we need all the help we can get in this category. It doesn’t feel like it should be that rare quite yet; it wasn’t that long ago.
*“2000s” here refers to the first decade after 2000, which doesn’t have as clear a name as the 2010s or 2020s. Thus, I’ll just be sticking with “2000s” or “‘00s” for this piece.
And yet, as of 2021, MLB is already down in the double digits when it comes to players from the ‘00s who received any playing time. That feels a little shocking, right? I’m not alone here? We aren’t that far into the following decade yet, it’s still only 2021. This seemed like it was something worth looking into. After all, I have experience here; I wrote something a few years ago looking at who would be the final player from the 1990s (that answer ended up being a tie between Adrian Beltre and Bartolo Colon, by the way; both of them made it to 2018 in the Majors, although Colon continues playing internationally). How does the situation now compare to what I saw then?
I’ll need to do some adjusting, of course, since my last piece was in 2014, closer to the middle of the decade. But our 2021 total still feels abnormally low; going by a search on Baseball-Reference, there are only 75 active players who debuted in the 2000s. And even that feels like a generous ruling, given that the search turns up players who didn’t play in 2021 for a variety of reasons (including injuries like Justin Verlander and Cole Hamels, players who sat out like Homer Bailey and Chris Davis, as well as the suspended Robinson Cano). Even if you expand the search to include players who retired during the 2021 season but were active at some point, you pick up Jordan Zimmermann (2 games with the Brewers) and Jay Bruce (10 games with the Yankees), but that still only brings us to 77 ‘00s players in the 2021 season.
In comparison, there were still over 100 players from the 1990s still active for the 2011 season: 105 just counting players who debuted in 1990 or later, plus 1980s debuts Jamie Moyer and Omar Vizquel, who both lasted until the 2012 season. So it’s not just my memory, we do appear to be losing 2000s players faster than we did 1990s players (and 1980s ones, apparently?).
Wednesday, November 3, 2021
Best Active Players without a World Series, 2021 Edition
Expansion Teams by World Series Performance
World Series Matchup Grid
(Also, for those who want to hunt for extras, there are five bonus answers on the quiz, all players who are technically active, but who didn’t play on a Major League roster in 2021. Good luck, and make sure to come back here after for some more fun facts!)
Sunday, October 24, 2021
With that, I have once again attempted to put this information into the format of a Sporcle quiz. I’ve tried before, but no past version has quite been as intuitive as I would have liked, so I keep trying. This year is probably the closest yet, with the help of the Grid feature: Can you pick every World Series Matchup? That version will check the answers by team as you go, which almost makes it more like a logic puzzle. If you’d like a harder version that doesn’t do that, I have also prepared a Hard Version of the quiz, which will only check your answers as right or wrong at the end of the quiz (whether that’s by hitting 100%, running out of time, or giving up).
It’s probably the closest I’ve come to what I want, but it still isn’t all the way there. I was sort of hoping to set it up like a logic puzzle, where you only need to fill in the spaces that have occurred, but the Grid format doesn’t quite work that way. So instead, I made it so every answer is either an O or an X, and instructed players to start the quiz by filling in every space with an X and work from there. It’s not perfect, but it’s a good workaround.
I’ve also updated the other quizzes in my World Series Trivia Playlist to add in an Astros-Braves matchup where it's necessary, and I’ll make one more pass upon the series’ conclusion to note the winner in the few that include that info. In the meantime, feel free to try them all out (including my full directory of Sporcle Quizzes)!
Saturday, October 23, 2021
As has become tradition with me, I've been spending the time in between innings and such during the playoff games to research and create Sporcle quizzes, and I should have a few coming in the next few days. However, with the Astros clinching the AL Pennant, it seemed like a good time to launch the first of them: Can you match the MLB Expansion Teams to their World Series track records? It might need another update soon, but I figured it would be better to spread out my World Series quiz ideas, so this one can go up now.
It will of course be added to the Sporcle Quizzes Page here, as well as my World Series Trivia Playlist. And of course, I've already updated my surprise hit from last year, World Series with an Expansion Team. In case you were curious, after over 1000 plays, that quiz's current most-guessed answer is 2001 (just over four-fifths of players have gotten that right), while last place is 1973 (just a touch over one-third have that one).
Monday, October 4, 2021
If you’re neutral towards all of the teams in the postseason, one way to pick a bandwagon rooting interest can be to support the teams with long title droughts. If that is your usual strategy, though, I’m sorry to report that this year’s remaining teams represent slim pickings.
For our third straight postseason, the average and median drought lengths of the teams playing in October are shorter than those in the previous postseason. In fact, this season represents the second lowest both figures have been since the dawn of the Wild Card era, with only 2009 (9.75 year average drought to 15.6; 8 year median drought to 11) featuring more recent winners.
The Brewers, who haven’t won it all since they were founded in 1969 and are thus facing their 53rd year without a title, are far and away the leaders in this category. Of the twelve teams with three decades or more between their most recent title (or the founding of the franchise), the Brewers are the only ones still in it this year. In fact, our next longest active streaks still playing, the Braves (26 seasons) and Rays (24), represent the exact mid-points of the league, as the fifteenth and sixteenth-longest active winless streaks.
In contrast, half of the teams represented have won it all in the last decade (the Dodgers in 2020, the Red Sox in 2018, the Astros in 2017, the Giants in 2014, and the Cardinals in 2011), with the final two (the Yankees in 2009 and the White Sox in 2005) not far behind
PLAYERS WITHOUT A WORLD SERIES
As per usual, I will be putting out my yearly Sporcle Quiz, on the active players with the most career Wins Above Replacement who haven’t won a title, once the World Series wraps up. Or another way, we're looking at the top 100 active players by WAR who haven't yet won the World Series (I'll shorten this in my writing sometimes, because this is a mouthful to reiterate every time). The Nationals and Dodgers were heavy on top veterans during their championship runs, which helped clear things out a little bit, but some retirements have helped to restock Baseball-Reference’s Active Player leaderboard.
Once again, my rules are that anyone who played a game at the Major League level in 2021 is eligible, so I include a few players who technically retired during the season, as well as players who are active but won’t be on their team’s postseason roster (including players who will be suspended for October). I won’t publish the full list of names just yet to help preserve some surprises for the quiz itself, but if you want to see which specific players are on the playoff teams, I’ll include them in a section below. For now, though, here are the overall counts.
Every team but the Red Sox brings at least one player without a World Series title with them in some form or another, while the Yankees will provide far and away the most rings to titleless players, with half a dozen of them gracing their 2021 roster at some point.
None: Red Sox
Two: Astros, Braves, Brewers, Cardinals, Rays, White Sox
The 2021 Playoffs will include a few expansion teams, between the Brewers, Astros, and Rays. Had the Mariners and Blue Jays succeeded in upsetting the Yankees and Red Sox, we’d be seeing even more. However, even in that scenario, due to their uneven distribution between leagues, the chances of our third All-Expansion Team World Series would ride entirely on the success or failure of the Brewers. As is, it’s still unlikely, but by no means impossible.
Our playoff set this year is pretty well-decorated; the Yankees, Cardinals, Red Sox, Giants, and Dodgers are five of the six teams with the most World Series wins and appearances (only the A’s are missing). Those five teams together account for 62 championships and 113 pennants (in the World Series era), with the other five bringing our net totals up to 69 wins and 133 appearances.*
*In fact, it’s genuinely difficult to construct a set of ten teams with more titles. If you swap the A’s (nine championships) out for the Astros (one), the Pirates or Reds (five each) out for the Brewers (zero), and the Tigers (four) out for the Rays (zero), you can get us up to 86 wins, the maximum possible in the current playoff format. If you wanted to maximize pennants, you would keep the A’s and Tigers, but swap the Orioles in for the White Sox and the Cubs in for the Pirates or Reds, resulting in 165 total pennants among the ten contenders.
As you might figure with a set like this, unique matchups are a little harder to come by. But they still aren’t impossible! In fact, there are even a few matchups between original, non-expansion teams that could happen for the first time. Specifically, the Braves facing either Sox team or the Cardinals and White Sox meeting up would represent the first of their kind.
Additionally, the Brewers have never won an NL Pennant (their one World Series appearance came as an AL team), so every matchup involving them would be unique. And since the Nationals and Phillies both missed out, any matchup involving the Rays or Astros will be unique should the Dodgers miss out. Also, while not World Series matchups, it’s also worth noting that the ALDS round will include a rematch of the 2005 World Series (the Astros and White Sox are facing off), and should they both make it to the NLCS round, the Cardinals and Brewers could give us yet another rematch of the 1982 World Series.
In stark contrast, the Dodgers have faced every potential AL opponent, and the Brewers are one of three NL teams the Yankees have never faced in the World Series (the other two being the Rockies and Nationals, who each have one pennant to their name). And the Giants have faced all three original teams present, but are missing both expansions.
Also, thanks to the age of so many teams involved, we could be seeing a rematch of a number of classic series. The Yankees and Dodgers have met eleven times, more than any other World Series opponents. But the Yankees and Giants (seven times) and Yankees and Cardinals (five times) are the second- and third-most-common World Series pairings, and Yankees-Braves and Red Sox-Cardinals are two of the four matchups that have happened four different times (only missing here are the A’s-Giants, and Tigers-Cubs).
Red Sox-Dodgers (2018)
White Sox-Dodgers (1959)
White Sox-Giants (1917)
Red Sox-Giants (1912)
Yankees-Dodgers (1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1963, 1977, 1978, 1981)
Yankees-Giants (1921, 1922, 1923, 1936, 1937, 1951, 1962)
Yankees-Cardinals (1926, 1928, 1942, 1943, 1964)
Yankees-Braves (1957, 1958, 1996, 1999)
Red Sox-Cardinals (1946, 1967, 2004, 2013)
(spoilers for Best Players Without a World Series below)
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
So let’s fix that! I’ll be using my method and numbers from last time to keep things simple. If you haven’t read one of these pieces before, the gist isn’t too complicated: first, I looked at how many strikeouts each eventual 3000 Strikeout pitcher had at each age (so, their totals through their age 23 seasons, then through their age 24 seasons, and so on). Next, I sorted them from highest to lowest and broke them into quartiles, and compared those quartiles to the overall number of liveball pitchers who fell in those ranges at that age. So if the range of the second quartile of the 3000 strikeout club at age 25 was 500 to 750 strikeouts, I looked at how many total pitchers also fell in that range, and then found the percent that eventually reached 3000 as a fraction of that total.*
*One note here: instead of just a lowest quartile, I broke out Phil Niekro’s rate as a totally separate outlier, since he was such an anomaly in how late he started and lasted. So that’s the reason each set includes both a “Lowest” and “Second Lowest” threshold.
And to clarify, this piece (like the others that I’ve done) aren’t necessarily guarantees that all of these players will pull it off. Rather, it’s intended to give a different perspective on the future of the milestone than just eyeballing the active leaderboard. Essentially, I’m looking at where past members of the club were at each age, and looking for players that look similar. A key part of reaching any milestone is staying productive into your 30s, which is not something every player can manage. Instead, we’re looking at which players are best positioned to do that in each age bracket, and giving a perspective of how many other players could or couldn’t keep it up from that age on. So with that, let’s get started.
Monday, September 13, 2021
For those who haven’t followed the Nationals outside of their trade deadline sell-off, Corbin has had an extremely rough 2021, with 14 losses and a league-worst (among qualified pitchers) 5.98 ERA in 155.0 innings. If you go by Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement, Corbin has cost his team 1.5 Wins this season, the fourth-worst mark for a pitcher behind only Jake Arrieta, J.A. Happ, and Matt Shoemaker. Of course, Arrieta, Happ, and Shoemaker are only making a combined $16 million this year; Corbin, meanwhile, is signed through 2024 and will make roughly $108 million from 2021 through then.
Of course, position players Eugenio Suarez (-2.7 WAR) and Hunter Dozier (-2.9) have been even worse, and both are signed to longer term deals, albeit still for less than Corbin (and Cody Bellinger and Jarred Kelenic have also been slightly worse, although neither made it beyond arbitration). And another complicating factor is that it’s debatable if Corbin is even that bad, as Fangraphs’ version of WAR places Corbin at a much better 0.0 WAR, thanks in part to a much better FIP (5.47) and xFIP (4.34) rates. And none of this is getting into whether Corbin can rebound, as it wasn’t that long ago that he was making All-Star Teams and picking up Cy Young votes.
Of course, I think the single biggest argument against Corbin being the worst contract is his key role in winning the 2019 World Series. He finished eleventh in Cy Young voting that year, finishing with 202 innings of 135 ERA+ (or a 77 FIP-*, if you prefer) before becoming a key cog on the eventual champs as they leaned heavily on their rotation to avoid exposing a weakened bullpen. Even if he never returns to that form, Corbin played a key role in bringing home a flag that will fly forever (and for a franchise and a city that were both in long World Series droughts, at that).
*A reminder, since I don’t always use it; FIP- works like ERA+, but inverted; so a 77 mark would mean a FIP 23% better than league average, since 77 is 23 points lower than the 100-average.
I’m not sure if there’s a set quantity of “value” that a World Series championship brings in evaluating how good a contract is, but my gut says that if a player played a crucial role in bringing home a title, at the very least, any “WAR shortfall” over the course of their contract should be forgiven. For a long time, my test case for this idea was Barry Zito and his seven-year, $126 million deal* with the Giants, which ran from 2007 to 2013.
Friday, July 23, 2021
The obvious starting point is “who has made the most All-Star Games”, which, for anyone not aware, is Henry Aaron. The late Hammerin’ Hank made 25 different All-Star teams across his 23 years in the Majors, only missing in his first and final seasons. For anyone looking at those numbers for a typo, it’s worth mentioning that there were two Games per year from 1959 to 1962 (this will come up later), during which time Aaron went 8-for-8.
Stan Musial and Willie Mays also made two games all four years, which is a big part of their runner-up totals of 24 All-Star selections. The highest total for a player who couldn’t double up like that is Cal Ripken Jr., who made the Midsummer Classic in nineteen different seasons (which is still two behind Aaron and one behind Mays and Musial). Meanwhile, Mariano Rivera leads all pitchers with thirteen Games, with Tom Seaver right behind him at a dozen. Kind of a big step down there. Anyway, all of that is easy enough to find with a basic search, so let’s move on to the more complicated stuff. I’ll separate it into position players and pitchers.
Wednesday, June 2, 2021
So join me now, as I reflect on all of my observations and predictions from over the course of the Retired Number Series, and compare them to how the last decade of new retired numbers has shaken out, from 2011 to present. First, let’s look at the teams that have retired a number in that span:
Friday, May 28, 2021
But Longo is off to a great start in 2021, his best in years, in fact, so I wanted to take advantage of that to finally write about how good his career has been. When I look at his stats every year for the Future Hall pieces, I’m always struck by how good he has been over his career, particularly relative to the accolades that he’s received in that time.
For instance, did you know that he’s only made the All-Star team three times? But in his case, that’s more of a way to illustrate why using them as a career overview can be dumb and misleading. Which makes sense, in a way. After all, we hear hours of griping every year about how the rosters are bad; Longoria has just been on the losing end of that equation a lot. For example, he didn’t make the team in 2011 or 2013, despite finishing in the top ten in MVP voting both seasons. Those are the most obvious whiffs, but you can do that for a number of his other seasons as well if you’re willing to drill down a little more.*
*For instance, take 2016. Evan lost out on a spot via the Final Vote to Michael Saunders, of all people. And there were plenty of other worse players taking up spots, too; sure, Eduardo Nuñez and Eric Hosmer were locked into spots via the one-per-team and fan-vote rules, but there was also Mark Trumbo, Ian Desmond, tons of relievers, etc.
But all of that isn’t going to come across when he retires (and, let’s be real, when he hits the Hall of Fame ballot, where it will especially matter). I’m hoping he can ride this hot start to a spot this year to maybe make up a little bit for those snubs, but it’s still just one season. And on a larger scale, I can already see plenty of other ways that voters are going to unfairly come up short in evaluating his career, for similar, less-than-thought-out reasons, and I would like to go against those narratives now, hopefully before they’re fully settled.*
Tuesday, May 25, 2021
As a quick catch-up, we’re essentially looking at how many hits each member of the 3000 Hit Club had at each age, compared to how many non-3000 Hit players matched them at those ages, to determine a current player’s chance of one day joining the former group. If you want a more specific example of this, feel free to refer to the last article. Also, as mentioned last time, Baseball-Reference changed their search feature since the last time I looked at this, so for now, I’m stuck reusing my numbers from a few years ago (although the actual values likely haven’t changed much in the years since, for what it’s worth).
With that out of the way, let’s dive in!
Age 22 Median: 323 Hits, 14.16% of players go on to 3000 hits
Age 22 Third Quartile: 118 Hits, 4.01% of players go on to 3000 hits
It doesn’t necessarily mean a lot at this age, but Juan Soto is already pretty far ahead of the 3000 club median, with 361 hits to his name, and that total will only increase in the coming months. And while it’s not the most meaningful milestone, it’s also true that a 14% chance isn’t anything to sneeze at either, especially for players this young! Elsewhere in the league, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (238) and Fernando Tatis Jr. (202) are also above the third quartile mark already, and while Tatis is a bit of a stretch, Vlad could definitely still pass the median before the season is over. Dylan Carlson (66) also has a decent chance to reach the third quartile milestone this year.
Tuesday, May 18, 2021
As is the case when big milestones are imminent, I’ve seen people speculating about future members of the club, and a surprising number of them seem pessimistic about the future of both clubs. I could understand that about the 300 win club, but not either of the batting milestones. Sure, there aren’t many players on the immediate horizon, but both clubs have gone through lulls in new members before. You just have to be willing to look into the future a bit.
Which is something I’ve done before! So I figured, it’s been a few years, why not update those numbers a little and look at how active players’ paces match up to the members of the club? For those who aren’t familiar with the last article, I used a process similar to my yearly Future Hall of Famer piece. I start by looking at how many homers each member of the 500 club had at each age, and marking the median totals (as well as a few others, like the first and third quartiles, and the lowest and second-lowest totals). Then, I see how many retired players in those ranges fell short, which allows me to see the percentage of that group that went on to make 500 homers.
(To use made-up numbers for an example, say one quarter of the 500 club, or 7 players, had 100 homers by age 23, and half of the club had 50. If 10 players in history had 100 homers by that age, and 7 went on to 500 home runs overall, our odds for players with 100 homers by age 23 are 7 in 10, or 70%. And if 14 players fell between 50 and 99 homers, and 7 of those are the ones who went on to 500, then the odds for players in that quartile are 7 in 14, or 50%.)
This should be a much better way to visualize which players are actually on-pace than basic active leaderboards (take, for instance, Robinson Cano, who is fourth place among active players with 334 dingers, but is also 38 years old and has roughly zero chance to stick around for another 166). Unfortunately, I couldn’t update my figures from last time due to changes to Baseball-Reference’s search tools, but these numbers are an estimate anyway, so they should be good enough for our purposes.
Monday, April 5, 2021
Petriello’s case is more of a conversation starter than anything, noting the similar OPS+ marks for both catchers through their age 30 seasons; both debuted at the same age (21), and Perez is currently at 101*, while Molina was at 99 at the same age. Yadier was already getting some Hall of Fame buzz by this point (2013 was his age-30 season), but Salvador hasn’t seen a similar outpouring of Hall support that Yadi had at that age. So why is that the case? Petriello mentions a few other similarities between the two as well, including their defense and intangibles.
*I’m going to be using stats only through the 2020 season and ignoring the first few days of 2021, since that’s when Petriello’s original comparison was made.
So let’s just start from the top. Using rate stats made me a little suspicious; that can be a good way to gloss over major playing time disparities, which might explain the difference. In this case… it’s not the full story, but it is part of the issue. Molina through 2013 had over 200 more games played than Perez does at this point, thanks to the shortened 2020 season and Perez missing all of 2019 for Tommy John surgery. And in comparing those lines, I noticed the other major issue with this comparison: Molina’s age-29 and -30 seasons were his two best ones, with the backstop finishing fourth and third in MVP voting those years, respectively. Baseball-Reference puts his combined value from those seasons at 13.4 Wins Above Replacement, while Fangraphs (thanks in part to their inclusion of catcher framing) has him at 15.5. That’s a lot of value that Perez just doesn’t have.
In fairness to Perez, his shortened 2020 was fantastic, and over a full season, it may have looked a little like Molina’s 2013 campaign. His offensive rate stats were better, with a 160 OPS+ to Molina’s 133 mark. But again, a 160 OPS+ over 37 is still no match for a 133 mark over 274 games (especially given that 37 games removes a lot of the wear and tear a catcher might face; there’s no guarantee he’d keep it that high over 240 more games, so we can’t just multiply it by six or something). If there’s a silver lining, it’s that it seems like Perez is still capable of having an MVP-caliber season like Molina’s, but the problem is still that Molina actually has two MVP-caliber seasons rather than just the potential for one.
Of course, there are other issues in this comparison that hurt Perez. For example, let’s look at their status as “catching gods” that Petriello mentions. I’m assuming he’s referring to defense, and that is an area where Perez is usually highlighted; he has five Gold Gloves, after all (Molina was at the same point by this age, and has gone on to win four more since then).
Thursday, April 1, 2021
Happy Opening Day! In honor of that, I contributed my thoughts on the Astros to The Crawfish Boxes' 2021 Team Predictions. I spent a few paragraphs rambling about the things that keep me up at night about the team, especially all of the ways that injuries could smite this team's chances. But ultimately, I agreed with everyone else that the team's outlook was still pretty rosy for the time being. Go check it out for all of the details!
Tuesday, March 30, 2021
As a reminder, there are currently 27 members of the 500 Home Run Club and 32 members of the 3000 Hit Club, so we’re looking for a round number of walks that somewhere around 30 players have reached. Ideally, this cutoff should also provide some sort of connotation of Hall-worthiness, so most or all of the players above this mark should either be already in Cooperstown, currently on the way, or kept out due to steroids or gambling or something.
The big round numbers are probably the best starting place. For those who don’t know offhand, the all-time leader in walks is Barry Bonds at 2558, well ahead of runner-up Rickey Henderson’s total of 2190. A 2000 Walk Club would still be far too exclusive, though, with only Babe Ruth (2062) and Ted Williams (2021) joining Bonds and Henderson.
A 1000 Walk Club won’t do, either; there are currently 120 players who have reached four digits, with Carlos Santana (991) set to join the bunch this season. And right now, the dividing line falls between Boog Powell (1001) and Jim Edmonds (998). It’s a solid group of players, but still way too big, and it doesn’t seem especially useful in regards to Hall voting.
1500 walks might be a good number to use. It’s a little on the small side of what we’re looking for, though, with only 18 members. Given that we’re partly trying to match the size of the other clubs, we might want a little lower bar, but this isn’t a bad choice. And it’s hard to beat a multiple of 500. We’ll come back here in a bit.
Thursday, March 11, 2021
As I mentioned last time, I decided to just carry on like normal, shortened pandemic and all. Players from other generations have faced shortened seasons for other reasons, so it’s built into the precedent we’re working with, to some degree. But it did make me wonder a little, are pitchers better suited to the missing time? Like, it’s to some degree expected that pitchers will miss a season here or there due to injury, in a way that isn’t common with position players. Right?
But looking a bit deeper, I’m not actually sure. For example, while Tommy John surgery isn’t rare and usually wipes out a whole season, there actually aren’t that many players in the Hall who have had it; to date, it’s just John Smoltz and non-pitcher Paul Molitor (although maybe Billy Wagner or Tommy John will be added in the near future). And sure, there are a few more Hall pitchers with non-UCL injuries that took time, but on the whole, Hall pitchers are probably noticeably healthier than pitchers as a whole. It also doesn't help that the year-ending injuries are a relatively recent phenomenon, seeing an uptick since the 2000s and especially since the 2010s, meaning we are still some time away from seeing how it's handled by Hall voters. So in short, my feeling is that for now, we should assume the missed time will still matter, although we will probably need to wait to get a sense of the exact degree.
Anyway, if you’re looking for an explanation of the general methodology of this series, the process is the same as the one I discussed at the beginning of the position players article, measuring the Wins Above Replacement totals for Hall players across ages, and then seeing how many other position players also reached that mark. The one difference is that, for the pitchers, I narrowed my scope to just starting pitchers from the liveball era on (1919-present), since pitching has varied wildly throughout baseball history and this helps keep it to just a single, more recognizable standard.
I will also note that the standard caveats I mentioned last time hold here as well. This is only descriptive and can miss modern extenuating circumstances, like testing positive for PEDs and how that impacts voting (or, again, the modern spike in injuries). Some starters who will make the Hall, by definition, are below the Hall median, so missing these marks isn’t the end of a player’s chances. Also, my research on Cooperstown failing to fully understand modern pitchers applies here as well, and that may affect future Hall voting.
One other major thing I want to cover before diving in is the difference between what the position player median means versus the pitcher median. This is something that I’ve covered in-depth before, but to summarize: the position player median is much more straightforward. Position players who reach the mark young tend to stay good, one that debut later needs a strong but steady run to catch up, and it’s just generally fairly predictable from early on. Pitchers are not like that; passing the median early doesn’t mean nearly as much, and pitchers with later major successes in their 30s isn’t nearly as rare. The Hall of Fame formula for pitchers, for the ones who aren’t instantly dominant from the start and always stay ahead of the median, is to just be somewhat close to the WAR median until your early thirties or so, and then just having enough strong seasons in your 30s to catch up from there.
With all of that out of the way, let’s finally ask the question: which current starting pitchers are trending towards the Hall of Fame?
Thursday, March 4, 2021
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that, while the specifics differ, players in history have missed time for various reasons: from the labor stoppages of the ‘80s and ‘90s, to the players serving during wartime, to players who got later starts due to the color line barring non-white players, to the less centralized league structure from the turn of the century. Shoot, in the past versions of this series, I’ve even noted that the latest debut for a Hall of Fame position player was Jackie Robinson, or that Ichiro Suzuki debuted just a year shy of Robinson’s mark; they certainly could have been in the league and racking up counting stats much earlier than they did.
So sure, not every generation has dealt with missed time, but it’s not uncommon. And it’s hard to tell how Hall voters will react to different reasons for missed time, but it’s probably for the best to not try and guess those things just yet, and instead just report the stats as they are.
So with all of that disclaimer out of the way, let’s move on to the article proper. As a reminder, the process for this article is: first, I look at every Hall of Fame position player at a given age, say, where they were at 21, sorting by Baseball-Reference’s version of Wins Above Replacement. The midpoint of that gives me the median WAR; then, I look at how many players in history have had that much WAR through that age. This gives me the percentages. So, to make an example with fake data, if half of the Hall of Famers had 2.0 through age 21, and 50 of 100 players with 2.0 WAR through that age eventually made the Hall of Fame (filtering out non-eligible players and ones still on the ballot), then our percentage is that 50% of position players with 2.0 WAR through age 21 went on to make the Hall of Fame.
This of course comes with a number of caveats. This is entirely descriptive, and won’t be able to predict things like how the voters will react to steroid users or something. This also obviously doesn’t predict whether a player will go on to deserve induction and get snubbed (a number of the false positives are in fact players I would argue should be inducted). And of course, missing these marks isn’t a death sentence for a player’s chance at Cooperstown; by definition, half of the Hall of Famers didn’t reach these totals. This is mostly just to give us an idea of younger players’ chances at reaching the Hall; after all, they don’t just suddenly appear, fully-formed, with a Hall case ready to go. It takes years to build to that, and we can watch in real time as it happens.
Now then, we can move on to the post-2020 results! Players are listed based on their ages from the 2020 season.