Wednesday, November 9, 2022

One Last 2022 Postseason Trivia: Most Clutch Players of This Year's Playoffs

After a long series of trivia articles and quizzes that spanned the MLB Playoffs (you can see a decent summary of them all in my last article, the Best Active Players Without a World Series write-up, or just by browsing the site’s Sporcle tag), I have my final big trivia piece, one tying together all of this year’s big games and my new collection of Win Probability Data: Can you name the Most Clutch Players of the 2022 MLB Playoffs?

I wanted to do something unique as a sort of wrap up to the playoffs, something that took at the last month of games with a wide-angle lens, covering every series and team involved. I thought about just taking the top however-many players over the entire postseason at first, but was worried it might bias a little too heavily towards teams that played more games.

In truth, the effect wasn’t as overwhelming as I thought it might be, but it was still definitely present; both the top twenty hitters and pitchers list were about half Astros and Phillies, with another quarter or more coming from the Padres and either the Yankees (hitters) or Guardians (pitchers). So I decided to try a few other formats.

What I ended up settling on instead was a method that looked at the top performing hitter and pitcher for each team across every single round they played in (as well as an overall leader, for teams that played in more than one). There actually wound up being some decent overlap with the other method anyway, with the biggest change generally being a wider breadth of teams represented at the cost of losing lower-performing answers from teams with a lot of representatives (for example, the Astros and Phillies losing their fourth and fifth options). That didn’t seem like too big of a deal, to me.

And on top of that, I think there’s something to be said for the way this method separates each individual series out, giving you an almost chronological approach to the month and serving as a better reminder of everything that happened. Sure, there are a few weirder answers (for example, the Mariners’ ALDS hitter wound up leading the team with exactly 0.0 WPA; or I would bet the Cardinals’ position player answer trips up most people), but even in the shorter, earlier rounds where you might have forgotten the highlights, guessing a team’s stars is generally a strong fallback strategy. And hey, you might even know some of the answers here already, if you played the updated version (or read the update notes last time) of my Best Postseasons by Hitters or Best Postseason by Pitchers quizzes!

I suppose this is a type of quiz that I could also make for past playoffs, at least throughout the Wild Card Era. I still have all the data, after all. And maybe I will, if this new quiz really takes off among Sporcle users. But for now, it’s probably just going to be a one-off, a sort of memento to remember the 2022 postseason. I’m not sure how well they’ll hold up years down the line (although maybe I’ll be surprised). But for now, this will probably be the end of my 2022 Postseason Trivia Quizzes. Thank you for sticking with me throughout it all!

Sunday, November 6, 2022

New Sporcle Quiz (Best Active Players Without a World Series 2022 Edition), Plus Bonus Trivia!

The Houston Astros have won the 2022 World Series after an exciting and historic six-game set, which means that I can move forwards with my yearly tradition. Here’s the 2022 Edition of my Annual Best Active Players Without a World Series Sporcle Quiz Series! For those who enjoy hunting for bonus answers, this year’s version includes three players who are out of Major League Baseball but still playing in foreign leagues, plus an entry for players removed from this list via winning the 2022 World Series (one name this time).

I’ll discuss a little more after this next section, although there will be mild spoilers for the quiz. Before that, though: for anyone looking for more trivia after that:

Here’s a playlist including all nine entries in the series

There’s also all of my Win Probability Added quizzes that I made during this postseason:
Best Postseasons of the Wild Card Era (Hitters)
Best Postseasons of the Wild Card Era (Hitters)
Most Career WPA, Wild Card Era (Hitters)
Most Career WPA, Wild Card Era (Pitchers)
Most Win Probability Added in a World Series from Losing Players

And for good measure, here’s my quiz from last offseason looking at Hall of Famers by Birthplace, plus two more from postseasons’ past about Expansion Teams in October


I updated all of the Win Probability quizzes that needed it with 2022 data, now that the playoffs are over. No one on Philly managed to qualify for the WPA by Losing Players list, but the other four all saw some tweaks. Yordan Álvarez and Bryce Harper’s 2022 runs qualified for the single-season list for hitters (with Jeremy Peña falling just 0.04 short), and Ryan Pressly and Zack Wheeler made the pitcher list. I had the Career WPA current up through the Championship Series, so the only changes were updating the values; the only changes were both in the bonus answers (Kyle Schwarber move into bonus answer range, while Wheeler’s rough Game 2 actually knocked him off the list).

Now for the newest quiz: the biggest beneficiary of the Astros’ title was clearly manager Dusty Baker, a future Hall of Famer who finally removed the single biggest gap on his resume after three decades and removed the single biggest obstacle left to his induction. As far as players, though, Michael Brantley didn’t get to appear in the postseason at all due to injury; however, he was still on the team, so we can finally take him off the list (and even if he wasn’t, I include anyone who appeared during the season at all for my quizzes).

Outside of those two, much like with the Braves’ win last season, the biggest effect this win has on these quizzes will come down the line; Kyle Tucker and Yordan were maybe a season or two from qualifying, and newer players like Peña, Framber Valdez, and Cristian Javier would have probably been a few seasons after them if they kept up. Trey Mancini has been around a bit, and didn’t quite have the Wins Above Replacement total needed, but now it’s a non-issue.

And to follow-up on some other tidbits from this year’s Playoff Trivia article, Will Smith and Christian Vázquez now join the somewhat-exclusive group of “Players with World Series on Two Different Teams”, with former-Brave Smith becoming just the tenth player to accomplish that in back-to-back seasons.

Continuing down my yearly trivia bits, Astros-Phillies was the 71st distinct matchup in the October Classic. And the Astros won their second World Series, becoming the fifth expansion team to do so (after the Mets, Blue Jays, Marlins, and Royals), and their fifth Pennant ties them with their 1962 Expansion-mates, the Mets, for most in that group. I think there’s a very real argument that the Astros are now the most successful baseball franchise outside of the original sixteen.

If you’re not convinced and need some tiebreaker for their even postseason records, consider that in regular season games, Houston is now 4,831-4,820 all-time, making them the only expansion franchise above .500 (the Blue Jays and Angels are next-closest, at .498). And their 106-win 2022 season (the second-best mark in team history, after only 2019’s 107-win campaign) marks the fifth time they’ve won over 100 games in a season, keeping them just ahead of the Mets, who notched their own fourth 100-win year in 2022.

Even more surprising to me, only five of the other twelve expansion teams have had even one 100-win season, meaning the Astros (and almost the Mets) have completely lapped the field in this category. I knew those two were a little ahead of everyone else there, but I had no idea the gap was that large.

Either way, I still have one more 2022 Postseason-themed quiz in mind, so check back here in a few days!

Saturday, November 5, 2022

World Series Trivia: The Best World Series Performance from Losing Players

We’ve got another quiz today, in preparation for Game 6 (and potentially Game 7). I’ve been looking for more uses for my big Win Probability Added dataset (for anyone who missed those, see here, here, here, and here). And while watching the games in Philly, it occurred to me that this year’s loser is either going to be the team that threw the second-ever World Series no-hitter, or the team that tied the record for most home runs in a World Series game.

Either way, that would be an impressive resume for a runner-up, which served as the inspiration for today’s question: Which players have added the most Win Probability to their team’s chances while ultimately falling short? My cutoff ended up being 0.3 WPA, which yielded a 44-person list. That total seemed low, but given that we are dealing with only one series rather than the entire playoffs, and with teams that only won somewhere between 0 and 3 games on top of that.

(Also, although they’re combined here, I separated out pitchers’ batting WPA and pitching WPA for convenience’s sake, just like I did on the other quizzes.)


[some mild spoilers ahead]


I was expecting a bunch of legendary performances from all-time greats, and there are a few of those: a half-dozen eventual Hall of Famers, a couple more future ones, some well-known asterisks, and a few assorted borderline snubs and Hall of Very Good-types. However, most of the performances themselves are maybe less-than legendary? I could only think of three or four eventual answers going in, and most of the other ones were more of the “Oh yeah, that guy did have a pretty good October” variety. And there’s probably a higher ratio of players that I just wouldn’t think of, compared to the other quizzes that I’ve made so far.

Really, I suppose that makes sense; we tend to remember the winners overall. For example, what would you say are the most memorable World Series moments from teams that didn’t win it? Carlton Fisk’s 1975 homer stands out. Brett Phillips’s walk-off from 2021 and the 18-inning game from 2018 are also notable, although I wonder how much of that is from recency bias? Josh Hamilton’s tenth inning almost-game-winner in 2011 Game 6 probably counts, even if it is also heavily overshadowed by many other moments from that game. Ditto Rajai Davis in Game 7 of 2016. I guess you could say something like Bill Buckner’s error, but including a moment of the losing team actually losing feels like it deserves a separate category. Again, though, a lot of these teams might have won one or no games, so that’s a bit of a confounding factor here.

Since I’ve been previewing how the current playoffs would fit into the other quizzes, I’ll note that the only player above 0.3 WPA for the series so far is Ryan Pressly, at 0.68. There are a number of players above 0.2 WPA though (Alex Bregman, J.T. Realmuto, Bryce Harper, Cristian Javier , Framber Valdez, Bryan Abreu, David Robertson, Ranger Suarez), so there’s still time for that to change, especially with up to two games left.

As a preview for the days ahead at Hot Corner Harbor, my annual Best Active Players without a World Series quiz is ready to go right after the series ends, and I have another quiz idea that could serve as a nice postseason wrap-up. So look for those in the coming days!

Friday, October 28, 2022

World Series Predictions and Yet More Postseason Trivia!

You probably guessed there would be another Sporcle quiz today, but I’ll get to that in a second. First up, The Crawfish Boxes ran a staff-wide World Series Prediction article, which includes insight from yours truly!

At first, I tried to approach this from a more analytical standpoint. Sure, playoff series can be pretty random, but you might as well try and work with what you know, right? Of course, we’ve seen how the Astros going up against a theoretically-weaker NL East team has played out multiple times recently. Even stuff like this, which I still think was a very reasonable series preview, ends up feeling kind of embarrassing in retrospect.

Of course, the 2022 Phillies may share similarities with the 2021 Braves or the 2019 Nationals, but they aren’t them, and even the 2022 Astros look different than their iterations from those two years. In the end, I just approached it almost like a creative writing exercise; what do the Astros need to do to win, is that particularly likely, and how would it all play out? Maybe less logical than years past, but we see where that’s led me, so why not go with my gut for a change?



Okay, now for the Sporcle quiz: Can you name the pitchers of the Wild Card Era with the most career Win Probability Added? This is the other half of yesterday’s quiz looking at position players, and these two serve as natural follow-ups to last week’s quizzes looking at single-season records for hitters and pitchers (for any who still haven’t tried them out).

This one is longer than the position player one, with nearly twice as many entries and a top of the list far above the heights of the hitters. I was also kind of shocked at how many closers appeared here? Like, there were a lot on the single-season list as well, but the ratio feels a lot closer here. I also bet that makes the average on this one a little lower, since you have your famous, obvious names like Mariano Rivera and Kenley Jansen, but also some more surprising ones.

I’m not sure if there will be another quiz published during the World Series, but I still have all of this WPA data sitting around, so I won’t rule anything out. At the very least, I might do something like a “2022 Playoffs in Review” quiz once things wrap up, and of course there will be the yearly “Best Players Without a World Series” quiz once we know who can be removed. So keep your eyes on this space, and here’s to an exciting World Series!

Thursday, October 27, 2022

New Sporcle Quiz: Most Career Postseason Win Probability Added of the Wild Card Era (Hitters)

Hopefully, everyone has had a chance to try my two new Sporcle quizzes from last week, looking at the post individual postseasons of the Wild Card Era by Win Probability Added, for both hitters and pitchers. Today, we look at a similar topic: Can you name the position players of the Wild Card Era with the most career WPA?

This quiz might actually be a little easier than the last hitter quiz? I used a cutoff of 1 cumulative Win, which might not sound like much given how many individual hitters had 1 or more WPA in a single postseason. But as it turns out, there are only 30 players who matched that for their careers, despite there being 27 single postseasons of 1 or more Win.

I guess this goes back to my theory about hitters losing out from more opportunities to slowly erode their totals; after all, any out will bring your total down, and you’ll make an out at least 60% of the time or more. To stay above 1 WPA, even throughout your cold streaks or older years, you’ll need to build up a decent amount of big moments.


(minor quiz spoilers below)



Take Jose Altuve, for an extreme example; his hitless streak this October has cost him -0.76 WPA, but he had so much built up that he managed to stay on the list. Same goes for Justin Turner (-0.28). That wasn’t the case for Randy Arozarena or Eddie Rosario, however, who were both much closer to the 1-Win cutoff, and dropped below it.


I’ll update this quiz and all of the other new ones once the World Series is complete. I don’t foresee this one changing much (although that can always change); the single-season ones are much more likely to need names added. Yordan Alvarez remains in the lead for hitters, improving his total for the postseason to 1.39 in the ALCS. Bryce Harper also moved above the 0.8 threshold I used for my single-season quiz. After those two, it’s ALCS MVP Jeremy Peña at 0.46, and nobody else above 0.3.

On the pitching side of things, Zack Wheeler (0.95) is the current 2022 leader, with Ryan Pressly just on the outside at 0.69. Of course, all of this can change rapidly, depending on who gets hot or goes cold, especially in the case of pitchers. One really-bad outing from Wheeler or Pressly could completely ruin their chances; just look at the Astros’ first ALDS game, where Justin Verlander lost nearly 0.4 full WPA from his rough start, and Robbie Ray’s blown save was worth a full -0.913!

Anyway, check back tomorrow for the pitching follow-up, plus some World Series predictions!

Sunday, October 23, 2022

New Sporcle Quiz: Best Pitcher Postseason Performances of the Wild Card Era

Yesterday, I broke out my first Sporcle quiz of the postseason, looking at the Best Postseason Performances by Hitters, according to Win Probability Added. If you missed it, go check that out; I even wrote up a little blurb of extra info to go with it.


Today, I return with the obvious follow-up: Can you name the best postseason performances among pitchers? Once again, we’re dealing with just the Wild Card Era, so 1995 to present. This list includes both starters and relief pitchers, although a few of the top answers notably pulled double duty on that front (as a small hint). And I don’t know if the top answer is as singularly obvious as it was on the other list, but I would bet the top three players would still be most people’s first three guesses in some order or another.

I didn’t do a formal study or anything, but it might be a little easier to rack up or lose Win Probability as a pitcher than a hitter, thanks to the outsized effect a starter has in a game or the high leverage situations relievers are brought into. The spread of values is a little greater than it was with the hitters; only about 1050 pitchers out of 2500-ish fall in that 0.1 to -0.1 range that I highlighted yesterday. And we also see a lot more pitchers making that 0.8 cutoff for the quiz. The upper and lower bounds stay in similar places, but that’s in part because there are only so many games in the postseason in the first place. It also probably helps that too many losses and you don’t get many more opportunities to lose more WPA.

Anyway, go try today’s quiz (and yesterday’s, if you missed it!), then come back here for ahas been on trial for sexual assault few more bits of trivia.


[SPOILERS]

Saturday, October 22, 2022

New Sporcle Quiz: Best Postseason Performances of the Wild Card Era

As some of you may have picked up on by now, the postseason is a good time for me publishing Sporcle quizzes. One of my favorite things about regular season baseball is that it’s a thing that you can watch or listen to super intensely or passively, as a background soundtrack while you do other things.

However, playoff baseball and its added intensity kind of demands attention, which usually leaves me a little lost, since I usually multitask during games. I’ve found overtime that data entry is a good compensation, and having another relatively-easy thing leaves me feeling less anxious when games get tense. And naturally, once I have a bunch of data entered, it’s only natural I do something with it, and making trivia quizzes is a fun way to do that.

This year, I hit on a good topic: Postseason Win Probability Added (WPA). Baseball-Reference has a lot of WPA data*, but it wasn’t collected in one searchable place, like their Stathead resource. So instead, I compiled all Win Probability data since the start of the Wild Card Era (1995 and later) myself.

*For those unfamiliar with the concept, over the years, statisticians have figured out the average chance of a team winning a game from every game-state. So, to use an overly-simplified example, say a game is tied 0-0 and both teams have a 50/50 chance of winning (or .500, in win percentage). Say then that a player hits a home run to make it 1-0, and teams in that situation win 55% of the time (a .550 winning percentage), then their chances of winning went up .050, and that is credited to that player. If he instead strikes out and his team’s chances go down to 47%, that player is instead given -.030 WPA. If you’d like to play around and see exact numbers, here’s a calculator that I like to use. It’s not an all-encompassing stat (for instance, it doesn’t usually extend to fielding), but it’s a lot of fun to look at.


This has given me a wealth of cool numbers to play around with, and I’m still trying to decide all of the quizzes I want to make with it. But in the meantime, here’s the first one: Can you name the best postseason performances among position players? “Performance” in this case includes the entire postseason, so one strong World Series isn’t going to do much if they played horribly in the Division and Championship Series (although if you can remember the MVPs of individual series, that’s also not a bad starting point). Go check it out, then come back here for a few spoiler-filled discussions!


[SPOILERS]

Friday, October 7, 2022

The Newly-Expanded Annual Playoff Trivia Article, 2022 Edition!

Welcome once again to Hot Corner Harbor’s Annual Celebration of Postseason Trivia! It’s a little later than usual this year, but that’s more thanks to the delayed nature of the 2022 season than the additional teams joining this year’s affairs.

Speaking of those extra teams, I feel like I should give my thoughts about the expanded format, seeing as I pretty regularly had strong thoughts about the 10-team playoff format. At this point, though, I would say that my feelings about it are mostly neutral.

On the one hand, the expansion of the playoffs at this point feels a little excessive. It’s been over 20 years since the last time the league expanded, the longest such drought going all the way back to the Angels and Senators-Rangers beginning back in 1961. The league doesn’t feel any larger, or like there was a need for a corresponding growth in the playoffs.

And as a result, we got lucky this year, with all of our Wild Card teams at least landing in the upper-80s in their win totals… But it’s practically inevitable that a year will come when the league is a little more balanced, with fewer tanking teams soaking up losses at the bottom of the divisions, and as a result, we’ll end up with teams that are barely .500 or worse making it to the postseason. I went back and looked at years prior to this (more on that in a bit), and it wasn’t hard to find years where mediocre teams would have snuck in, and even a few with outright losing teams.

And the continued devaluation of the postseason isn’t great; I think it clearly disincentivizes teams from going all-out to compete, especially in a sport as random as baseball. After all, why would you go out and sign that big star in free agency to a nine-figure deal when building a merely-competent 85-win team will still get you a spot in the October Lottery with barely worse odds?

All of that being said… this wasn’t exactly a surprise. There have been rumbles for a while now about expanding the playoffs yet again, and based on some of those rumors, there was real potential for things to be even worse (including some proposals from last winter’s CBA negotiations for a 14-team postseason, which I think would have definitely tipped things into “excessive” territory).

And if you told me to make a positive case for this new format that wasn’t “well, it could have been worse”... I’m actually surprised how easy it would be? I get the excitement of a one-game Wild Card Game, and while I could appreciate that, I ultimately think an actual series makes more sense. Baseball isn’t a “one-game” sport, and while I’d prefer a seven- or even five-game series, a three-game set at least prevents good teams from being sent home after a single loss.

My main complaint about the five-team format was that it was often unfair to the top Wild Card team, and in an unexpected twist, this new system has actually indirectly fixed that. As I pointed out several years ago, the top Wild Card is not only better on average than the worst division-winner, but they also played a more difficult schedule to get to that point. So at the very least, I think it makes a lot of sense to make them both play through the Wild Card round.

We’ll still occasionally run into the edge cases where the Wild Card has the second-best record in their league and get relegated to the best-of-3 round anyway, but at least it should be rarer than our former problem. And I suppose you could argue that it will look weird when a team with 100+ wins loses in the first round to a team in the high 80s (something that might even happen this year!), but at a certain point, that’s just a risk of having Wild Cards (and, more broadly, a playoff tournament in a sport as random as baseball). The three-game series (plus next year’s more-balanced schedule, which will hopefully address teams that cruise off of weak divisions) should help mitigate some of the worst, most noticeable problems in the old system, I think.

My only other concern is to wonder how much of a boon the bye is for the top two seeds; it feels like we’ve seen teams go cold after too much time off in past playoffs, but that might also be a case of confirmation bias, and I’m forgetting all of the times rest has helped a team. Either way, I’m sure after a few years, we’ll have a better sense of how this new system plays out.

With that out of the way, on to our normal trivia!


DROUGHTS

After several years of dropping, we saw the average and median drought length of playoff teams bounce back. It’s still nowhere near the peaks we’ve seen, but a result near the middle beats the recent near-lows that we’ve been seeing.




It’s kind of impressive, considering how many recent winners are represented here. A full half of the twelve teams still playing have won it all in the past fifteen years, and yet we’re still looking at the midpoints being in the 20-25 year range. A big part of that is Cleveland, San Diego, and Seattle all making it, with those three representing the longest (73 seasons), third-longest (never, founded 1969), and fifth-longest (never, founded 1977) active droughts in the Majors. The Mets also fall in the top-third of the league, with their 35 years outlasting all but 8 other teams, and even the Blue Jays are nearing their third decade since their last title.

Of course, all of those teams are at risk to leave in the first round, so that does temper the expected drought-busting that can happen (especially since our top-four seeds include three of the last five champs). At least a lot of those titleless teams will be playing each other, so they can’t all leave in the Wild Card round, while the most recent champions in the Wild Card round (the Cardinals and Phillies) will play each other right away.

Of course, one thing that I wondered was whether the expanded playoffs had any effect on the potential for drought busting. So I went back and looked at every postseason of the Wild Card era (dating back to 1995) and looked how these numbers would compare in the 8-, 10-, and 12-team formats.

Long story short, it didn’t really matter. 12-team playoffs usually had the longest average and median droughts, thanks to the ability to occasionally sneak in an extra team with a really long streak, but the difference was rarely significant, and it was beaten by the other two formats over half the time.

It such a small sample size that one or two teams could dictate the entire thing (for example, the late-90s really favored bigger playoffs… because you could count on the Yankees and Braves dynasties to take two of the division slots; or the pre-2016 Cubs could swing entire things depending on whether they were a 4-seed or 5-seed, thanks to their century without a title). Consequently, this year really likes the 10-team format, because the two five seeds (San Diego and Seattle) are two of the three largest droughts we have.


PLAYERS WITHOUT A WORLD SERIES

As per another of my traditions, I have built the list that will serve as the basis for this year’s edition of my Best Active Players Without a World Series quiz. This year’s version covers a little past the top 100 active players, by Baseball-Reference’s version of Wins Above Replacement. That will be going up on Sporcle once the World Series is done and we know who all can be scratched off the list, with a link and small blurb going up here as well.

In the meantime, I’ll include a list of the players still in the running at the end of the article, so that anyone trying to avoid spoilers has an easier time avoiding it. But if you’d like to see which teams winning will take the most names out of consideration without names attached, here you go:

None: Dodgers
One: Astros, Braves, Guardians
Two: Padres, Rays
Three: Blue Jays, Cardinals
Four: Mariners, Mets
Five: Phillies, Yankees


TERRANCE GORE WATCH

This is a new idea I had in the final days of the regular season that serves as the inverse to the last section. As I mentioned last year, pinch runner extraordinaire Terrance Gore won his third World Series ring as part of the 2021 Braves (joining his titles with the 2015 Royals and 2020 Dodgers). That put him in extremely rarefied territory, as one of only 17 players to win a championship with three different franchises.

Gore returns to the playoffs this year, bringing his late-game specialties to the Mets in his search to become the first-ever playoff to win it all with four unique teams. But I had a question that required some digging to answer: is there anyone else this year looking to join him in three-peat land?

The short answer is no. I did a quick-and-dirty dive into Baseball-Reference’s Stathead search, and supplemented it with a lot of eyeball work, but according to my count, there are roughly 100 or so players going for their second (or more) World Series ring.* And of those 100-ish players, under 50 will be going for a ring on their second team.

*For the sake of completeness, I included anyone who played on the 2022 roster of a playoff team or the regular season roster of a past champion. So we’ll be including players who have since been dropped, which means that Sergio Romo (who played on all three recent Giants champions) can win his fourth title if either the Blue Jays or Mariners take it all, despite not having played in a Major League game since July. And Robinson Canó will pick up his second unique team from any of the Mets, Braves, or Padres winning (although not the Mariners).

That’s a lot of names to cover, especially since a lot of them are just bit players who made cameos on these teams. But, to cover some notable cases briefly:


EXPANSION TEAMS

Just in terms of sheer numbers, this postseason is looking extremely balanced between Original 16 teams and Expansion Teams; a full half of our dozen teams still playing are late-comers to the league. That would give us pretty good odds to see just our third-ever all-expansion team World Series, but as those who are familiar with this column might already realize, those chances aren’t quite as good as you might initially think.

The AL has four of our six expansion representatives, and at least one ALCS team is guaranteed to be an expansion team, as the winner of the Blue Jays-Mariners series will play the Astros in the ALDS (fun fact: the latter series will mark the first time MLB’s two 1977 expansion teams meet in the playoffs). But the Rays will need to upset both the Guardians and the Yankees to meet one of them there, which might be a tall order for a sixth seed that limped into the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the NL side looks downright unlikely. One of the Mets or Padres is guaranteed to lose in the first round, and the surviving team will need to knock out a 111-win Dodgers team that looks like a juggernaut. Granted, the path to our second All-Expansion World Series started in a similar manner, so nothing is impossible.


UNIQUE MATCHUPS

Our expanded bracket this year means a full 36 potential World Series matchups, and the large number of expansion teams (plus Cleveland) means that over half of them are brand new. Of course, there’s also the potential to see the Yankees play the Dodgers for the dozenth time.

Among new matchups, the Mariners represent the largest source of them; as the last remaining team without a pennant to their name, any match-up they’re involved in is new. In contrast, every single potential matchup for the Yankees has occurred before, including against the Padres (who only have two pennants at all).

Every other AL competitor has faced exactly two potential NL pennant winners, even the Rays and Blue Jays (who both also have just two previous World Series appearances). In contrast, a full half of NL teams have only faced the Yankees: the Padres and Mets are expected, given their newer status, but the Cardinals are a surprise, given their long history and 19 World Series appearances. For whatever reason, St. Louis have a large number of repeat matchups among their pennants, and with no Red Sox, Tigers, or A’s (4x, 3x, and 2x, respectively), they have a lot of potential to meet a new team. Or, they could just run into the Yankees again, which has happened 5 times already (making it the third most frequent championship pairing, behind the Yankees-Dodgers and Yankees-Giants).

Here’s a full chart of which pairs have met up in October pasts, as well as a list of when the potential repeat World Series matchups have occurred:

rematches ATL STL LAD NYM SDP PHI
NYY X X X X X X
CLE X X
HOU X X
TOR X X
SEA
TBR X X


One Time
Astros-Braves (2021)
Rays-Dodgers (2020)
Astros-Dodgers (2017)
Rays-Phillies (2008)
Yankees-Mets (2000)
Yankees-Padres (1998)
Blue Jays-Phillies (1993)
Blue Jays-Braves (1992)
Guardians-Dodgers (1920)

Multiple Times
Yankees-Dodgers (1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1963, 1977, 1978, 1981)
Yankees-Cardinals (1926, 1928, 1942, 1943, 1964)
Yankees-Braves (1957, 1958, 1996, 1999)
Yankees-Phillies (1950, 2009)
Guardians-Braves (1948, 1995)


BEST PLAYERS WITHOUT A WORLD SERIES, BY TEAM (SPOILERS)

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Reflections on the Orioles' 2022 Season, and Transitioning from Tanking to Winning

As of October 1st, the Orioles’ 2022 season has come to a close, thanks to a walk-off win by the Mariners and a regular-old win by the Rays on the final day of September. Even a nailbiter win in the Bronx couldn’t save them (edit: and they lost Saturday's follow-up anyway); at best, they can tie Tampa and Seattle, and they lost the season series to both teams, and therefore, the official tiebreaker as well.

While it’s a bit of a sour note to go out as the AL’s runner-up, the best record to be sent home before the postseason, it’s ultimately hard not to view this season as a success. This wasn’t a team meant to even be good yet, let alone be a playoff contender all the way through September, and sealing up their first winning season since 2016 while seeing so many young players make strong impressions… those are all definite wins, even if they aren’t a playoff berth.

(It also probably helps that this is the first season with three Wild Card slots, so they wouldn’t have even been the runner-up prior to this year, but we’ll ignore that for now.)

And yet... it’s also not hard to feel like they could have made it. It’s like that Crash Davis quote from Bull Durham quote about the difference between a .300 hitter and a .250 being one extra hit a week; it wouldn’t take that many tweaks to get this team over the final hurdle. And despite being plucky up-and-comers, it’s also not difficult to find areas where they were very clearly leaving some opportunities on the table.

The one that I imagine most people are going to point to is going to be the trade deadline. Dealing veterans Trey Mancini and Jorge López away is going to look like giving up, to some extent, even if there is a solid logic behind both of those deals.

But I’m not sure that I fully buy that, either. The team looked fine in the immediate aftermath of their departure, with August being Baltimore’s second-best month by record, at 17-10 (only narrowly behind July’s 16-9). And neither of them looked especially dominant post-trade either, with Mancini’s Houston wRC+ dropping from 117 to 87 and López‘s ERA and FIP both ballooning in Minnesota. Sure, maybe they wouldn’t have fallen off that much had they stayed with the Orioles, but at the very least, I think it’s clear that just keeping them wouldn’t have been enough to get the O’s over the hump either.

September was definitely rough after going 47-31 over the three summer months. They actually kept a over-.600 record for half the season, a 97-win pace! And they absolutely stumbled after that, going 13-15 in the final full month of the season. But it also wasn’t their worst month of the season: in April, they went an abysmal 7-14. And May was also rough, a virtual tie with September at 14-16; it can be easy to forget now, after a serious attempt at the third Wild Card spot, but this was a team that still looked pretty hopeless two months into the season!

And that’s ultimately why it’s difficult for me to blame any midseason moves the team made. The biggest flaws that ultimately cost the team were all cast by Spring Training, and I was predicting it not just in that May piece, but as far back as December, when I noted how disappointing the team’s pre-lockout offseason had been.
 

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Predicting and Reflecting on the Orioles' 2022 Trade Deadline

Editor’s Note: I initially wrote this over the weekend, and decided to sleep on it and publish it Monday after work. However, I wasn’t counting on the Orioles pulling the trigger on a Trey Mancini deal so soon. It does make this column a little dated, but it is mostly talking about the bigger trends rather than the specifics, so I don’t think it’s totally invalidated. And I put the time into it anyway, plus I think there are still some interesting ideas, including some things that might become another piece down the line. So I might as well put it out with a disclaimer and a few extra notes added in. I’ll also add something at the end covering the specifics of the Trey Mancini deal.

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I’ve been busy lately and haven’t been able to cover the full ins and outs of the season. But I was thinking about the Trade Deadline a little. Not any of the big rumors or prospective trade proposals, though. Instead, it’s something related to my last few pieces, talking about the Orioles and the rebuilding process.

In the time since my last check-in, Baltimore has been on something of a tear (especially compared to their recent history). They’re currently playing .500 ball, fourth in the division and 3.0 games out of the Wild Card race (now 52-51, 2.5 back). Even back in the winter, while I was writing about how this compared to the Astros final season before returning to playoff contention, I don’t know that I expected things to be going quite this well by the trade deadline.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

The End of Tanking, Post-Script: Evaluating the Start of the Orioles' 2022 Season

We’re roughly a quarter of the way through the season, and the Orioles have been having an interesting 2022 so far. Not a good one exactly, although I don’t know that anyone expected that much from them. But they’ve been on a run of exciting walk-off wins lately, they just called up their top prospect Adley Rutschman, and they’re only 2.5 games back from the Red Sox after even spending a stretch of time ahead of them (sure, it was only fourth in the division, but you have to start somewhere). They’re 18-26 so far (only a 66-win pace), but things don’t feel as hopeless as they did in years past.

And that has gotten me thinking about that long-term rebuilding project that they’ve been on. Which makes sense; I did just write a fairly comprehensive breakdown* of the process this past offseason. And for the sake of continuing that comparison to the Houston Astros and their rebuild, it’s maybe worth mentioning that the 2014 Houston team (the one I considered to be corresponding to this year’s Orioles in the rebuild process) were only 16-28 at this point, with their own exciting then-prospect having recently debuted (although George Springer had already been up for a few weeks by this point in the year).

Granted, none of this is a guarantee that the Orioles will continue on the same trajectory or better. The biggest, final test in their journey is whether they’ll develop their own central core of stars; so Rutschman, Cedric Mullins, Austin Hays, Bruce Zimmermann, et al. will need to need to become above-average or better players, much like Jose Altuve, George Springer, Dallas Keuchel, Carlos Correa, and so on did for Houston. We’ll see if that continues over the next year or so, and I’m not really sure that there’s much else we can do in the meantime other than sit back and watch.

But it does make me think about their other moves this past winter, the ones around the edges of that hoped-for core. That third part of my recap included only a partial listing of all of the Orioles’ 2021-2022 offseason moves, since it was published in late December. However, there weren’t too many more transactions of note, besides the additions of Jordan Lyles and Rougned Odor. Chris Owings and Anthony Bemboom made the roster on minor league deals, and they added Robinson Chirinos on a one-year, $900,000 deal. Bemboom was released last week in anticipation of Adley Rutschman’s contract.

And that’s still bumming me out a little bit. Just like I said repeatedly over the course of that retrospective series, there’s still this lingering sense of “it could have been a little bit better than it is”. As I pointed out in that original piece, the 2014 Astros didn’t bring in a bunch of big free agents or anything, but they did spend some money, and some of those names (Chad Qualls, Collin McHugh, Tony Sipp, Scott Feldman*) were even around on the next successful Astros team.

*Plus, new 2014 acquisition Dexter Fowler was traded for 2015 starter Luis Valbuena.

In contrast, just looking down the 2022 Orioles’ WAR leaders on Fangraphs, most of those new additions are bringing up the rear. Chirinos is at the bottom with -0.8, Owings is next at -0.4 despite limited playing time, Bemboom is at -0.2. Odor was at -0.3 until the last week, with a hot streak that has brought him up to an even 0.0. The 2014 Astros’ position players through the first quarter or so of the season look similar, but their negatives were a little less.

Lyles is the only offseason move that hasn’t been a disappointment; in fact, he’s looking much better than he’s looked in ages. But even then, he was also still just a one-year deal; there’s a better chance he’s back in 2023 than any of those other four, but it’s still not at all guaranteed. And maybe the Orioles will be able to fill out a full supporting cast for 2023 through good development, but it still feels like a more limited approach than what the Astros did. The alternative to that, at this point, is signing a lot of useful bit players in one single offseason, which of course is its own challenge, given that you need to do it all in more or less one swoop.

And it’s especially disappointing given the smattering of rumors that the Orioles were considering making a big splash in the free agent market; that seemed like a reasonable move, given that most big signings would have been around for a few years until Baltimore would be in better position to compete. An Orioles team that had, say, Carlos Correa or Trevor Story (who one-upped Odor’s current hot streak by winning the most recent AL Player of the Week) would not only have a solid core player for the immediate future, but also wouldn’t be giving as many at bats to Odor and Owings.

And even ignoring the big names for smaller signings, closer to what those Astros teams did… I don’t know for certain that the Astros’ 2013-14 signings paved the way for their 2014-15 ones, by indicating to players that they were serious about competing in the near future and all that. But I’ve seen others propose that idea, and I can’t imagine it hurts, if nothing else. Given that there are actual reasons to spread out the signings anyway (less competition with other teams, more chance to try and replace different players, etc.), it just seems like extra incentive. There’s not much to be done about all that at this point though, so I guess there’s no use in dwelling on it.

Ultimately, I don’t know that any of this precludes the chance of a strong end to the 2022 season or successful 2023 season. But it does mean that it feels a little further out of reach than it needs to. Hopefully the rest of the core continues to put up strong seasons, and John Means comes back healthy next year, and so many other things, because these long rebuilding cycles can be miserable and fans need some good news. It just feels like maybe the team is less optimistic about the chance of an imminent turnaround, even though we’ve seen that it can happen.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

The Veterans Committee Has Once Again Changed Their Rules, for Some Reason?

In a complete surprise move, the Hall of Fame announced on Friday that they would be once again changing their rules for the Veterans Committee. This is something that I’ve written about a lot, including a big, two-part article last year, so I figured I would give my thoughts on the update.

I saw some initial confusion from baseball writers (likely because this came out of nowhere and the explanation was a little odd) that the changes were about length of time before a player is eligible. And while that was a reasonable assumption (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and company are all finally eligible this winter, and it wouldn’t be the first time the Hall changed their rules to work around them), that wound up not being the case.

Instead, the big change wound up being to the Era Committees. It used to be that there were four divisions focusing on different time periods of the sport and the candidates from those eras: broadly speaking, “Before the 1950s”, “The ‘50s and ‘60s”, “The ‘70s to the late ‘80s”, and “The late 80s and on”. Those divisions seemed a little arbitrary, but I suppose that was bound to happen with any division into eras. Either way, there was a rotation, where each winter, the VC would meet and discuss one or sometimes two eras and their candidates.

That’s generally the framework they’re sticking with now, but they’ve changed the eras up quite a bit. Instead of four periods, we’re now down to just two: 1980 to Present (here named “Contemporary Baseball”), and Pre-1980 (“Classic Baseball”). And the rotation of years have switched up with that change: starting with this coming December, our yearly rotation will be “Contemporary Baseball-Players”, then “Contemporary Managers-Managers, Executives, and Umpires” the following year, then “Classic Baseball” the year after, and then back to the top.

I’m honestly trying to figure out what the driving motivation behind this was and coming up blank? As I said earlier, I don’t blame the people who jumped to “this is to keep Bonds and co. out” since that has motivated Cooperstown policy recently, but I’m not really sure how it would do that. I guess it widens the time period they’re competing with, but only barely. And it’s not like there are a whole lot of other motivations jumping out here.

Overall, this is… I guess marginally better than what existed? It gets rid of the five- or ten-year waits that some of the committees had to deal with, which I always thought was a bizarre choice. I’m a lot less positive about adding a whole year entirely for non-players, though; in fact, in that two-parter I linked to earlier, I verbatim said: “if you do that [split players and non-players into different committees], definitely don’t do what the Hall did from 2008 to 2010 and alternate voting on players and non-players each year, because that was really dumb”. Glad to see they’re taking my views into account here.

I just don’t know that the non-player field is crowded enough at this stage to demand an entire year to itself. The Hall of Stats updated their upcoming elections page following the news, and their best guesses for that 2023-24 voting cycle is: Bruce Bochy, Davey Johnson, Lou Piniella, Mike Scioscia, Sandy Alderson, Brian Sabean, George Steinbrenner, and Joe West. I bet Bochy goes in there, but I also don’t think he would have struggled to get in under the old system. I’ve spoken positively about Johnson’s and Piniella’s cases in the past, but they've also appeared on the ballot several times already (as has Steinbrenner), so I don’t know that I’d call them completely overlooked, either. The other five all have points in their favor, but some big drawbacks, too. I don’t know that any of them excites me a ton, plus most of them haven’t even been retired long enough to feel like we’re missing them on the ballot.

Also, that list is still not a full ballot; I don’t know the last time a VC cycle had only nine candidates. They’ll probably find names to fill it out a little more (I’d bet Charlie Manuel is one, as he’s been on a Vet ballot before), but ultimately, that still feels like a kind of empty ballot. And it’s going to be coming up every three years! Imagine how the 2026-27 ballot will look, with no Bochy (and honestly, no Joe West; for as disliked as he was, he has the career profile of a Hall of Fame umpire, and I bet the VC voters induct him ASAP). I guess there will be a few more strong potential options going forward, as guys like Terry Francona and Dusty Baker hang it up, but the best case here still seems to be “one to two big new names, and a recurring cast of ten or so kinda interesting non-players”, which is honestly usually the least interesting kind of Hall ballot.

And then, there’s the two new eras… I don’t get it. I could kind of see if they had just combined their previous four eras into “Pre-1970” and “1970 to Present”, but I’m not sure what the rationale in moving the line to 1980 was. The most direct negative impact is probably the ‘70s stars, who I think get their next vote pushed back a year and are getting up there in age. I still think Luis Tiant (who’s 81) has a good chance to go in on his next try, and putting that off another year makes me nervous (especially for a player who has been vocal about not wanting to be inducted posthumously). And this would also apply to guys like Tommy John, Bobby Grich, and Graig Nettles. And on top of that, it’s going to be a much deeper ballot now. They’ll also be going against earlier guys, like former Golden Age candidate Dick Allen (who was also nearing induction), or perpetual Early Baseball choice Bill Dahlen, plus any non-players who remain (since they didn’t get their own section like the modern guys, although that’s absolutely for the best).

And then there’s the stars of the Negro League, who get a mention in the Hall’s press release. Their recent re-classification as major leaguers got them renewed attention in this past voting cycle, culminating with 70% of the Early Baseball Ballot being overlooked Negro League players, but it also led to an extra-crowded affair that kept down everyone’s votes. And that’s not even getting into all of the other players who couldn’t even make it into those ten spots; if anything, this era probably needs its own special committee for at least a few cycles, and instead, it’s getting shoved into that wide “Pre-1980” group.

I don’t think it’s all bad. The smaller number of groups means snubs aren’t going to be waiting too much longer for their next chance. And if a good number of players are still getting inducted this way, we could still see some decent churn bringing in more names. But I still wish they had uncapped the ballot sizes and vote limits along with this, which would have probably done even more to fix that issue.

And I still just do not get that non-player ballot; I would bet they’re the big winners here, and I wouldn’t be shocked if we see something like eight or nine (or even more) non-players getting inducted over the next decade (assuming this system makes it that long, and who even knows at this point). Of course, if the VC voters really, really wanted to throw votes over the next few years at guys like Scioscia and Alderson and Steinbrenner and West that badly, maybe it is better to put them on their own ballot like this. It’ll give the players of that era more space, since they seem committed to keeping that vote cap and making everyone compete for those few spots. That’s the thing that would rationalize a shake-up like this the most, in my opinion.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

2022 Astros Predictions at The Crawfish Boxes

Happy Opening Day 2022! As per usual, I contributed to The Crawfish Boxes’ Predictions on the Astros season. I put a lot of thought into it, except for the playoff result. Predicting something that random this early in the year always feels a little silly to me (although I get why everyone does it), so I just went with “the last two times the Astros won the pennant, they lost in the ALCS the following year”. Go check out the rest of it for the good bits, though!

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Predicting Today's Future Hall of Fame Pitchers, 2022 Edition

I would like to begin by noting something big that I completely missed in this year’s article on Future Hall of Fame Hitters: this is my tenth year doing this series! That’s pretty neat!

For those who haven’t read one of these before, a quick overview of the process (before I discuss a trend I noticed in the results). Basically, what I’m doing is finding the median Wins Above Replacement (Baseball-Reference edition) for Hall of Fame starting pitchers by age. So I start by looking at every eventual starter in Cooperstown at 20 arranged by total WAR at that age, pick the midpoint, then look at them all at age 21 and pick the midpoint, and so on, all the way into their 40s. Once I have that trend line, I go and look at how many eligible non-Hall of Famers topped those median marks and didn’t eventually go into Cooperstown (I exclude players still on the BBWAA ballot, since their fates are more up in the air).

Once I have those numbers, I go age-by-age and determine what percent of players over the median WAR at each age go on to the Hall of Fame. So, if there are 20 Hall starters at age 20, and the exact midpoint in their value is 2.0 WAR, that’s our median point. And say that there are 90 pitchers in history who had 2.0 WAR by age 20 and didn’t make it to the Hall. We’d have 10 Hall of Famers out of 100 total 2.0-WAR 20 year olds, so our odds for 20-year-old pitchers over the Hall median for that age going on to Cooperstown is 10%. Also, for the sake of comparing to mostly modern starting pitchers, my searches here are limited to Live-ball era pitchers* (so those that debuted after 1920) who have started in 10% of their appearances.

*Out of curiosity, I actually calculated the median including Deadball Hall of Famers, just to see if it changed things. It’s a lot closer than I thought it would be, but it’s still not great. For the median line including Deadball pitchers, the biggest difference was an even higher peak value, but trailing off a few years earlier. Interestingly, the overall career median including Deadball pitchers was actually 2.0 Wins lower than the Live-ball-only one, thanks in part to the longer careers of Live-ball Hall of Famers.

This year’s look at the pitchers turned up some unusual results. For those who have followed from years past, you might have noticed that the list for pitchers is always a little sparser than the one for hitters. This year takes it to an extreme, however; there are only five active pitchers who fall above the Hall median for their age, and all five are in their 30s. Given that a major inspiration for this series was trying to identify young players on track for Cooperstown, this kind of stood out as an issue (don’t worry, I still covered the WAR leader for each age regardless of whether they topped their age-median, so there is still an article to read).

It’s hard to pinpoint one reason for this dramatic drop-off. Part of it might be the shortened pandemic season, but if so, it’s a little weird that it took an extra year for that to show up, since last year’s article was relatively normal. It’s also unusual that this didn’t seem to be the case for position players, and on top of that, most of the top players by age group would have needed a really good full 2020 season to make up the gap. Maybe one of them could have made it with a Cy Young-caliber effort, but even that’s low probability.

So there’s probably something else at play. It might be the result of more injuries to young pitchers? Or maybe the result of the different approach for younger pitchers these days, focusing on later call-ups and lighter workloads? The Median line for Hall pitchers does start early and aggressively, so a later start can affect a starter years down the line as they have to play catch-up. Given the fact that MLB players seem to be retiring earlier than they used to, would we start to see the best pitchers squeezed on both ends, or would the best of the best continue to last into their 30s? Alternatively, maybe there will be a shift in how pitchers are used as they adapt to the new state of the game, or some rule change to push back at these factors?

Or perhaps the problem is the disappearance of the below-median Hall of Fame starter, slowly pushing the standards higher and further out of reach for all but the best young pitchers? It’s hard to see how that trend might reverse itself going forward, and if younger pitchers aren’t making it as long on top of that, the issue is only going to compound itself. Or maybe Hall voters completely upend how they evaluate starters to account for that, in which case, how useful will it be to look at past Hall of Famers as a method of prediction?

In the end, I don’t know that I have an answer here, and my strategy for now will probably be to see if this becomes a larger trend in coming years, or if this is just a one-year aberration brought on by a confluence of rare-but-impactful events. For now, I’ll keep my current system while trying to brainstorm alternative methods to look at this question in the future.

With all of that preamble out of the way, let’s move onto the age-by-age breakdown. Remember that players are listed based on their age in the 2021 season (so, for example, pitchers in the Age 23 group will be 24 for the upcoming year and working towards the age-24 goal):

Monday, March 14, 2022

Predicting Today's Future Hall of Fame Hitters, 2022 Edition

I’m not going to lie, I thought I would have a little more time to write this. I put off starting this year’s edition of the Future Hall of Fame Series, since I sort of assumed we’d be missing large chunks of the season, and I would have to say something about having shortened seasons two out of the last three years, and then… we avoided the problem. I suppose it’s likely we’ll have a similar issue five years down the line when the brand-new CBA expires, and most of these players will still be around for that… but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

For now, though, a quick refresher on what this series does: First, I find the approximate “Median Career by Age” for Hall of Fame players, by looking at all AL and NL* position players in Cooperstown year by year. So I line them up by Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement at age 20, age 21, and so on, and just follow where the middle of the pack lands.

*I usually omit other major leagues for simplicity’s sake, since they’re usually a little too different to the modern game in their schedule and such. But it’s an issue I sometimes try and revisit; I just haven’t come up with a good way to do it yet.

Then, I look at how many Hall-eligible players in history have reached that median total by the same age, and see what percentage the Hall of Famers represent. So, if the midpoint for Hall of Famers at age 21 is 2.0, with 50 above the line and 50 below; and 100 total Hall-eligible players in history have reached the 2.0 WAR mark by 21, our equation would be:

(50 Hall of Famers over 2.0) / (100 total players over 2.0) = 50% of players to reach the median by this age have gone on to be Hall of Famers

Players are grouped by their ages last season, so the players in the Age 20 group are in the clear through age 20, and will be working on the Age 21 mark in 2022 (and so on). With all of that out of the way, we can begin our breakdown:

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Killing Time in the Lock-Out: Looking at Extreme Hypothetical Hall of Fame Candidacies

There’s not a lot of on-the-field baseball news going on, so why not play around with a weird hypothetical that’s centered around the Hall of Fame. Today’s question was one I saw a while ago while browsing /r/baseball over on Reddit: would a player who managed to repeat Joe Carter’s 1990 season 25 times be worthy of the Hall of Fame?

For background, 1990 was Joe Carter’s lone season in San Diego before he was traded (with Roberto Alomar) to the Blue Jays for Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff, en route to Toronto’s back-to-back World Series titles (including Carter’s 1993 Series walk-off homer). With the Padres, Carter had a weird season, picking up a few MVP votes thanks to 24 homers, 22 stolen bases, 27 doubles, and 115 RBI while playing in all 162 games. However, what actually made the season unsual is that, by most other regards… he was actually pretty bad. Baseball-Reference credits him with -1.7 WAR, while Fangraphs goes even further, saying it was a -2.0-Win season.

So this hypothetical player would have 3675 hits, 600 home runs, 550 steals, 2875 RBI (nearly 600 more than Hank Aaron’s record), and regular MVP votes... while also costing his teams somewhere between 40 and 50 Wins over his career. Would that be worthy of induction into Cooperstown?

It’s probably worth breaking down how that season worked, though, because it will matter down the line. A big part of the issue was Carter’s defense; both versions of WAR say he cost his team somewhere around 3 wins just through his defense. And while that’s probably a little extreme, in the way that old defensive stats can be uncertain, it’s also not unthinkable; it was the end of a three-year experiment trying Carter in center field, after largely being a defensive positive in the corner outfield. However, he never really took to the move, and posted negatives numbers in center (to varying degrees) in all three seasons before Toronto eventually returned him to right field.

In a world where his defense looks more like the two previous years, he’s probably around a net-zero instead of a big negative, with bad glovework canceling out the higher defensive value of being a center fielder. And in a timeline where he gets to be an above-average right fielder, he might even be a small positive on defense (even overcoming the defensive penalty of the move).

Of course, that’s only part of the problem, since all of that would only get him to the 0-1 range. The other part of the problem is that Carter’s offense wasn’t as good as the raw number suggested, either. His batting line in 1990 was .232/.290/.391, and while we know today that a low batting average isn’t a deal breaker like it once was, that sub-.300 on-base percentage is still going to be a tough sell. OPS+ marked Carter as 15% worse than a league-average hitter that year, while wRC+ (which is more heavily weighted to the more important OBP) has him a full 20% below league-average.

Carter’s totals were in part due to good health (he was in the middle of three straight 162-game campaigns) and his power and speed in spite of a poor batting eye. The thing that probably got him the most attention though was those 115 RBI, numbers that would have looked even more impressive before the full explosion of the high-scoring 1990s. He finished third in the NL and fifth in the entire league with that mark. It’s also worth noting that no other player has accumulated more RBI in a season while posting an OPS+ below 90.

And you probably already have an idea of how that happened; RBI is an incredibly team-dependent stat. Jack Clark had a .441 OBP (he didn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify for league leader status, but he was 23 points ahead of official NL leader Lenny Dykstra), Bip Roberts had a .375 mark (13th among qualified NL batters), and Tony Gwynn and Roberto Alomar had normal seasons for them (23rd and 32nd, respectively). Carter usually batted fifth or fourth, directly behind some combination of those four. According to Baseball-Reference’s splits, Carter took 361 plate appearances with runners on, tied for 99th-most dating back to 1973 (chosen just because it’s the start of B-R’s complete play-by-play data).

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

David Ortiz is the BBWAA's Lone 2022 Inductee, but Several More Poised to Follow

On Tuesday, we finally got the final part of the Class of 2022 for the Hall of Fame. On his first ballot, David Ortiz reached induction, appearing on just shy of 78% of ballots.
Official 2022 results from the BBWAA




I have a variety of thoughts on Ortiz’s induction, and they’re pretty much all positive. I don’t know that you could tell the story of baseball in the 2000s without mentioning David Ortiz. His bat was fantastic, but he was also a key fixture of the postseason, and a huge personality within the game. You could probably say he wasn’t the best player on the ballot this year, but as I’ve said in the past, I’ve largely given up on caring about the order candidates go into Cooperstown; as long as they’re deserving, it’s fine.

Really, if I have any comments, it’s that I was a little surprised that BBWAA writers were willing to put him in without waiting. I figured that his status as a pure DH might scare off some first-time voters, but after seeing the love he got from writers the last few years and his early returns on Ryan Thibodaux’s Ballot Tracker, I adjusted my expectations (I’m learning, following my shock at Vladimir Guerrero’s strong debut a few years ago; I really thought he would be another guy who would have to claw his way in).

Ortiz will be joining the six Veterans Committee inductees announced back in December, Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat, Minnie Miñoso, Gil Hodges, Buck O'Neil, and Bud Fowler. And of course, if you were here the other day for the launch of my latest Sporcle quiz, Hall of Famers by Birthplace, I’ve updated that as well.

So what of the rest of the ballot? Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens saw their percentages take their largest leaps in years, landing right around two-thirds of the vote. If they still had fifteen years on the ballot, they might have made it; they’ve been trending upwards with newer voters, and I imagine that would only continue. Unfortunately, thanks to the rule change from a few years ago, this was their final go-around on the BBWAA ballot.

However, nothing ever really ends in Hall of Fame debates. They’ll be eligible for the “Today’s Game” ballot of the Veterans Committee starting this December. Their upwards trend with newer voters probably won’t mean much there; I imagine that group will be voters on the older side of things. And this isn’t even getting into the fact that the Hall seems to have much more direct control over that voting body; I wouldn’t be shocked if they don’t even make the official ten-person ballot, as awkward as that’s going to look for them.

Sammy Sosa and Curt Schilling also aged off the ballot. Between those four, plus Rafael Palmeiro, Kevin Brown, and Kenny Lofton (all of whom are VC-eligible for the first time as of this December, I believe), things might get crowded on the ten-person ballot… which is probably why we won’t see most of them. And I don’t even want to know how having even one or two players cuts into everyone else’s vote totals, given how tight the budget of votes is in the process. Either way, I’m excited to see the gradual progress the Veterans Committee has made over the last few years suddenly slam to halt! Or maybe I’m being too pessimistic.

Let’s move on to more encouraging developments. Scott Rolen was once again the biggest winner of the non-inducted set, seeing his percentage jump by double-digits for the third year. Sure, his 10.3-point increase is smaller than his last two years, but this was also a stronger debut class than the last few years (at least, just going by the number of first-year candidates getting votes). He’s just 11.8% shy of induction, and given that the 2023 debuts look closer to the 2020-21 classes than this year (plus there will be a lot more room on the ballots, given all of the names aging off)… there’s a very real chance he’s inducted next year.

Continuing down the ballot, Todd Helton jumped past Billy Wagner, and will be going into the 2023 election as the returning runner-up. Like Rolen, his pick-up wasn’t as big as the last two seasons (just 7.1%), but it was still good enough to tie for the second-biggest pick-up this year, and it got him past the 50% mark. Historically, that’s been a very good indicator for future candidate induction. 23% is probably a little much to make up in one year, so we’ll likely be waiting until 2024 or beyond… although again, we’re going to be seeing pretty unprecedented clearing of ballot spaces next year in a weak debut class, so weird things may happen.

After him, Billy Wagner also passed that 50% line in his seventh try; he now has three more tries to pick up 24% of the vote. For some perspective, three years ago, he was only getting 16.7%. I think it’s pretty likely he gets in on the BBWAA ballot now, especially once you factor in that players in their final year usually get an extra boost from voters, on top of what they normally get from trends. That will hopefully be enough to cancel out any crowding from stronger debut classes.

10% after Wagner, we have Andruw Jones, who passed Gary Sheffield and tied Helton for the second-biggest gain of the year. He’s about 34% shy of induction, which is coincidentally almost exactly what he’s picked up over the last three seasons. Of course, Jones is only in his fifth ballot appearance, so he even has some wiggle room there. Again, I feel extremely confident that his case continues to build to an eventual induction.

Everything after that is a much more open question. Gary Sheffield didn’t make up any ground in try number eight, even ignoring that he likely has a ceiling somewhere around where Bonds and Clemens topped out. Alex Rodriguez debuted at 34.3%, which is coincidentally right around where Bonds and Clemens started out. Jeff Kent and Manny Ramírez both gained less than a single percent in attempts number nine and six, respectively; I imagine Kent at least will eventually go in front of a much more receptive Veterans Committee. And Omar Vizquel saw one of the biggest single-year voting drops in history (-25.1%), following a year of reports on his horrendous behavior (including domestic abuse allegations from his ex-wife, which MLB is still investigating; and the revelation that his firing from minor league coaching a few years ago was tied to sexual harassment of a team batboy, which Vizquel and the Birmingham Barons are still facing a lawsuit over).

And then, we have the bottom of the ballot. Andy Pettitte dropped 3% of the vote, landing around 10%. Jimmy Rollins debuted at 9.4%, which is honestly better than I expected on a still relatively-crowded ballot. I expect he’ll hang around a few more years. Bobby Abreu remained relatively stagnant as well; it’s probably not a great sign that Rollins passed him on his first try, but who knows, maybe he’ll pick up more votes next year from big-Hall voters having more room.

Mark Buehrle and Torii Hunter just finished above the 5% threshold, ensuring they’ll see a third year on the ballot. Meanwhile, Tim Hudson lost 2% and fell off in his second year, and Joe Nathan didn’t quite make it to the line in his first try. I’ve written about Hudson in the past, and it’s a shame he won’t be back. Meanwhile, I’m a little more indifferent to closers in Hall voting at this point, and I don’t know that Nathan is an egregious miss. On the other hand, there’s a reasonable argument he’s the best non-Wagner closer not in the Hall right now, and a 45% difference between them like we see in the voting seems extreme. But back on the first hand, there is still a ballot crunch, and using two of your ten spots on closers with this many good options feels like a hard sell. I don’t know what to make of all that.

Either way, no one below those two will be back next year. Speaking of, as I mentioned, it’s a weaker ballot. Carlos Beltran leads first-time names, and like I said last time, I really don’t know what to expect. His numbers are obviously worthy, but I have no idea how voters will treat him after the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. My guess is that if it affects voters’ opinions at all, it will be closer to the one-year penalty Roberto Alomar endured than the indefinite purgatory that Bonds and Clemens have seen, but I also don’t really have anything to go off of at this point other than a gut reaction.

After him, there are a few interesting names, but nobody I expect to see serious traction (John Lackey, Jayson Werth, Jered Weaver, etc.). I’m curious if that, plus all of the spots opened up by Bonds/Clemens/Schilling/Sosa leaving, leads to large gains up and down the ballot, even for cases that likely ultimately fall short (like Sheffield and A-Rod).

2024 is the much busier year, with Adrian Beltre at the head as the likely first-ballot choice. Joe Mauer will also get a lot of support, and should be inducted eventually, but catchers have notoriously generally not been first-ballot elections. Chase Utley is also there, and while he should be a Hall of Famer someday, he’s so underrated by large swaths of the baseball press that I wouldn’t be shocked if he lands somewhere in the low 20s for a few years (maybe even lower). David Wright is an interesting might-have-been, and might make it to a second ballot. Given all of those names, plus the relative lack of age-outs in 2023 (only Jeff Kent), I wouldn’t be shocked if the backlog candidates see smaller gains, more akin to what they got this year.

And 2025 will likely be more of the same, with Ichiro Suzuki (easy first ballot) and CC Sabathia (maybe not first-ballot, but I think the writers elect him eventually) debuting alongside a few other interesting names who might pick up some votes. Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, Felix Hernandez, Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin, Brian McCann, Ben Zobrist, and Curtis Granderson all feel like guys who should at least get something in the 5-10% range. I don’t know if I personally would induct any of them (maybe Martin and McCann? I need to think about their framing value a little more; and maybe Felix for his peak?), but they all feel like they deserve a few years of discussion?

Of course, that’s a lot of guys to keep around for only two or three ballots, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they all cancel out. Maybe there will be a bit of room, though, between Rolen, Helton, Beltre, and maybe some combination of Wagner (2025 will be his final year), Jones, Beltran, and Mauer going in by this point. Either way, there isn’t much in the pipeline for the year after that (Cole Hamels, if he can’t make a comeback? Alex Gordon? Ryan Braun???), so it’s not like there’s a lot of pressure to clear out names at that point.

That will bring us to Buster Posey and the players who are retiring this year, which we technically don’t yet have a complete list of, so we should probably cut things off there. In the meantime, congratulations again to David Ortiz and the other 2022 inductees!