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    Friday, December 29, 2017

    How Badly Has Third Base Been Snubbed in Hall of Fame Voting?

    Let’s start with the obvious: third base is wildly underrepresented in the Hall of Fame. I could have sworn that I had written a full article about this at some point in Hot Corner Harbor’s history (it’s even right there in the name!), but apparently not. I’ve definitely referenced it in the past, but never devoted a full piece to it, so with two great third basemen on this year’s Hall ballot in Chipper Jones and Scott Rolen (the latter of whom is incredibly deserving but clearly being overlooked), now seems like a good time to lay it all out.

    The straight quantity of inductees is as good a place as any to start. I’m going with JAWS’ definitions for convenience’s sake; in building his Hall-evaluating system, Jay Jaffe included just players who were inducted specifically for their MLB playing careers (ignoring pioneers, executives, coaches, and Negro League stars). By those standards, the tally of Hall inductees for each position looks like this:

    Catcher: 15
    First Base: 20
    Second Base: 20
    Third Base: 13
    Shortstop: 21
    Left Field: 20
    Center Field: 19
    Right Field: 24

    It’s pretty obvious just from that listing that something is unusual, right? Every position but catcher and third base has at least nineteen. But if it’s missing inductees that other positions have, one question worth asking in order to look deeper might be: what type of players is it missing?

    Saturday, December 23, 2017

    The Hall of Fame Ballot's Math Problem

    The Hall of Fame is suffering from its refusal to expand the ballot. I wrote about this some last year, but now that we have some hard numbers rather than an abstract word problem to work with. What we’re seeing is the problem with the current Veterans Committee voting, but on a larger scale.

    First, let’s start with the positives: the early balloting this year is looking mega-promising. Ryan Thibodaux’s amazing yearly ballot-tracker is a must-follow for any baseball fan, tallying any and every ballot published by a voter prior to the official announcement. Right now*, the gizmo has 88 of them, a little over a fifth of the expected voting body, and the early returns are good. Nine different players are at 69% or higher, something that would be historic if it held through to the final tally.** Five players (first-timers Chipper Jones and Jim Thome, plus hold-overs Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, and Edgar Martinez) are all currently above the 75% threshold needed for induction***, with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, and Curt Schilling all right behind them.

    *As of writing, on December 22, 2017. The exact figures will quickly be out of date as more ballots continue to trickle in, but the overall percentages and underlying issues won’t change much at all.

    **It won’t, because the early results always run high, but it’s worth noting that even in the context of past ballot-tracking, this is still really, really good.

    ***This one might actually carry through, although it will be close. Almost every player sees their votes drop between the final pre-announcement tally and the results; the voters who don’t reveal their ballots tend to include fewer names than those who do. But Jones, Thome, and Guerrero are all polling above 90%, which has historically been pretty safe, and Martinez is sitting at over 86% with the Mariners launching a large campaign for his induction. Hoffman will be close, sitting at 78.4%, but closers are historically one of the few types of players who actually see their total increase for the final results. If they all make it, they would represent the first 5-person class for Cooperstown since the inaugural one way back in 1936.

    The biggest problem with this, though, is that the ballot has waaaay more than just those nine overqualified stars. In fact, I think you could make a convincing argument for twenty different players on this year’s Hall ballot. Larry Walker, Scott Rolen, and Andruw Jones are just some of the players around who would raise the median for Cooperstown inductees while escaping the stain of steroids scandals. Those three currently sit at 40.9%, 11.4%, and 9.1%, respectively. They’ll all probably make it around to the next ballot, but those totals are still wildly out of line with how good those players actually were. Billy Wagner is Trevor Hoffman’s equal in just about every way but save total, yet he sits at just 9.1%. And these are just half of the cases you could be making.

    Sunday, November 26, 2017

    Thoughts on Manager of the Year: Is There a Better Way to Vote?

    This is sort of a follow-up to my piece on Dusty Baker from a few weeks ago. I’m still not sure that I have too many hard-and-fast, sweeping conclusions to draw on, but it’s been bouncing around in my head all the same.

    Paul Molitor won the AL Manager of the Year Award in 2017, and that’s not really a bad choice or anything. But I think it does highlight some of the weirdness of the award. The Twins weren’t expected to compete for the postseason after finishing 2016 with the worst record in the majors, but wound up claiming the second Wild Card spot. Traditionally, that type of turnaround has guaranteed a Manager of the Year winner, so it makes sense that Molitor won based on the precedent at the very least.

    But then again, the Twins are only viewed as having overperformed in 2017 because they underperformed in 2016. They entered that year coming off of an 83-win 2015 but dropped 24 games in the standings…all under the stewardship of Molitor. Granted, 2015 was in turn a surprise, seeing as it followed four straight years of 70 wins or fewer, and that was Molitor’s first season. On the whole, I’d say that he’s probably a good manager; he just makes for an interesting case-study this year. How much of that turnaround was players returning to form versus Molitor being better? Of course, maybe the players improved because of Molitor’s guidance? Separating all of these factors can be difficult, which makes voters’ decision to use surprising teams look somewhat reasonable.

    Friday, November 17, 2017

    2017 World Series Wrap-Up & Trivia: Best Active Players Without a World Series, 2017 Edition

    It took a little while to finish, but another yearly tradition is done: once again, Can You Name the Best Active Players Without a World Series? This is fully updated through 2017, including a few players who hung it up for next year. Click over to Sporcle to try this out, then come back and click “read more” for some spoiler-filled extra thoughts.

    First, the Houston Astros’ title win clearly shook up a lot. First of all, it ended a couple of pretty major droughts. Houston had one of the longest active championship droughts across Big 4 sports, with the Astros serving as the team’s first champions since the 1994-5 Rockets finished off their repeat, although measuring degrees of “worst” involved for city-droughts can be messy.*

    *How do you compare, say, two-team city that hasn’t won in 30 years versus a three-team city that hasn’t won in 20? How do you account for teams moving, or cases like Milwaukee, which technically hasn’t won a title since 1971 but who semi-shares a market with much more recent champions the Green Bay Packers? In any case, the only cities with as many teams and less recent titles than Houston were the Twin Cities (1991 Twins), Washington (1992 Redskins), and Toronto (1993 Blue Jays).
    It also, of course, ended one of the longest remaining droughts in Major League Baseball. With no titles in 55 years, the Astros had taken over third place in the active drought list, behind just Cleveland (now 69 years) and Texas (57). That 55 year mark will stand tied for the ninth longest in baseball history, with the Giants’ recently ended drought.

    Speaking of, looking back at the last 13 years, it’s a little crazy to think about how many historically-cursed teams have turned things around. Going into the 2004 postseason, the “Longest World Series Droughts” leaderboard looked like this:

    Saturday, November 11, 2017

    Breaking Down the 2018 Veterans Committee Hall of Fame Ballot

    Monday marked the beginning of Baseball’s annual Hall of Fame season. You may have missed it, but the current iteration of the Hall’s Veterans Committee announced its ten-player ballot for the 2018 Induction, focusing on players from 1970 to 1987.

    It’s actually one of the deeper ballots that I can remember, at least as far as players go. Usually, there are a lot of managers and executives, which can clog things up given the low vote ceiling on individual ballots (voters can choose up to 4 of the 10 names). When you have all-time greats on that side of the game going up against guys overlooked by the BBWAA ballot, the players are usually the ones who come up short.

    This year, though, with nine of ten slots going to players, we have a good chance to see a player inducted for just the third time since the VC switched to this format back in 2011 (and given that one of the two previous players was Deacon White, who last played in 1890, the process has felt even more helpless lately). Obviously, I think the process still needs overhauled significantly, but this year at least has me feeling optimistic for the time being.

    Moving on to the ten players they submitted…I have to say, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. As someone who writes frequently on deserving Hall of Fame snubs, I know just how many there are to pick from. And yet, I would still probably advocate for election less than half of the players on the ballot. The full list:

    Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Marvin Miller, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, Luis Tiant, Alan Trammell

    That said, I wouldn’t necessarily mind if anyone from this said gets in; I can at least see a case for each of them, and it’s been such a dry spell that I’d be happy just to see someone inducted. But at the same time, missing highly qualified guys like Lou Whitaker, Bobby Grich, Graig Nettles, Keith Hernandez, Dwight Evans, etc. so that we can debate Steve Garvey for the nineteenth time (as best as I can tell) does feel like a little bit of a let-down.

    In fact, most of these guys got fifteen turns on the ballot; all except the one-and-done Ted Simmons aged off rather than dropping below the 5% threshold that keeps you around for another year. That hardly feels as overlooked as some of those guys I named who fell off the ballot early, and since the Veterans Committee exists specifically to help players overlooked on the Baseball Writers’ ballot, it feels like a bit of a failure. But the, you also have extremely deserving people in that group like Alan Trammell, so maybe it’s not all bad. Maybe it’s just the 10-name ballot squeeze that needs to be re-examined going forward, to get a wider variety of names reconsidered.

    With all of that out of the way, let’s go name by name down the list to see each one’s case for induction:

    Sunday, October 22, 2017

    New Sporcle Quiz: Match Every World Series

    I've been trying to find the best way to do this quiz for a while, but I think this might be the best way to do it: can you match the different World Series match-ups in history? Let me know if you have any feedback on how to make it better. And it's now including the newest pair - congrats to the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers on their 2017 Pennants!

    Friday, October 20, 2017

    My Issues With the Nationals Letting Dusty Baker Go

    I’m going to be honest: I’m not sure that I see the logic in the Washington Nationals letting go of Dusty Baker.

    I mean, I’ve heard the arguments for it; that Dusty is a “bad tactical manager”, that his teams can’t win in the postseason, and so on. I’m just not sure that I totally buy it. Arguing that being a “good tactical manager” is necessary to win a World Series seems like a specious argument, given that three of the last four World Series were won by Joe Maddon (who has repeatedly come under fire for his strange bullpen management the last two years as well as his other “quirkier” habits), Ned Yost (no one’s idea of a stat-head), and John Farrell (who just found himself let go). In fact, just in the past decade, we’ve seen Yost and Ron Washington, two of the managers traditionally thought of as the least statistically-minded, each win back-to-back pennants; Yost with a title, and Washington a misplayed Nelson Cruz flyball away from his own.

    That’s not to say that being bad at tactics is a benefit or anything crazy; just that there are many things to being a manager, and while tactics are the only one we can really traditionally measure at this time, they clearly aren’t everything. And really, we know this; most studies on lineup optimization have found that it can save maybe a win or two a year, which is nice, but also not enough that a team can’t win 95 games and a World Series while batting Alcides Escobar and his .257/.293/.320 triple slash line leadoff.

    This is something that I’ve sort of changed my mind on over the past few seasons, that managing is easy and can be done by anyone willing to listen to their front office. Over the last few years, we’ve seen teams trying to hire inexperienced managers who apparently take orders pretty directly from their front offices, and the results have been…mixed at best, I would say. Guys like Mike Redmond, Robin Ventura, Walt Weiss, and Craig Counsell haven’t exactly done anything to impress (and the first three were all fired before 2017). Even the ones who have made the playoffs for the most part haven’t exactly set the world on fire; Brad Ausmus was just fired and Matt Williams’ tenure in Washington came to a pretty miserable end. The most “successful” manager of this type may be Mike Matheny, which…as a Cardinals fan, let me just say that I have many, many issues with his tenure. Viva El Birdos has a summary good enough that I don’t feel like I need to write my own.

    Sunday, October 1, 2017

    The Great 2017 MLB Playoffs Trivia Preview

    Over my years of writing at Hot Corner Harbor, I’ve acquired several traditions of pre-playoff previews, all of which make for interesting trivia. I’ve explored all of them in-depth in the past, so this year, I decided to combine them all into one mega-preview. So without further ado, let’s jump right in.

    Wednesday, September 20, 2017

    Hiroki Kuroda's Unique Place in International Baseball History

    I want to talk about Hiroki Kuroda for a moment.

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

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

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

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

    *Nippon Professional Baseball

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

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

    Monday, September 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Friday, August 4, 2017

    What Would a Hypothetical Backyard Baseball 2017 Look Like?

    The recent Hall of Fame induction ceremony gave me a lot of varied ideas for articles. This one might be the silliest though, so of course I had to follow through on it.

    Few things have been as influential a part of my life as baseball, but video games are up there. Maybe you already knew that though; after all, I sometimes even write about them. And, like many kids my age who grew up with a love of both things, one title reigned supreme: Backyard Baseball.*

    *You too can enjoy having this song stuck in your head, just as I did while writing this (in alternating shifts with this, of course).

    For those who might not be aware, Backyard Baseball was a series that started with a computer game released in 1997. The premise was generally pretty simple: it was a relative simple baseball game* aimed at younger audiences, with a colorful cast of neighborhood kids, straightforward and easy-to-understand gameplay, and a slew of cartoonish elements serving as the main selling points, and it made a strong enough impression that in spawned an entire, multi-sport franchise that became a cultural touchstone for a generation of sports fans.

    *Fun fact: in researching this, I read that the original game was made in a point-and-click engine, which seems like a strange way to build a sports game, but makes more sense given that maker Humongous Entertainment was known for that style of game.

    The second game, released in 2000 (but titled Backyard Baseball 2001), is probably even better known, however, as it tightened up things from the first game and added a bunch of features, including one of the things the series is most known for, the addition of 31 major league stars as kids to the game’s roster. A 2002 follow-up (but again subtitled 2003) would repeat the formula with a slightly shuffled set of 31 players (then subsequent games would shuffle the formula even more as the series generally declined in quality, but we won’t go there).

    What got me thinking about it in relation to the Hall of Fame was that, as the writers at Cespedes Family BBQ noted, two of the inductees were on the Backyard Baseball 2001 roster. Indeed, Ivan Rodriguez and Jeff Bagwell are actually the eighth and ninth Backyard Representatives in the Baseball Hall of Fame. But it was their reference to Tim Raines that got me thinking, where they called him “one that would have been had the game been made 15 years earlier”; it’s been even longer than that since the release of 2001. What would a Backyard Baseball 2017* installment look like, as far as major league stars go? Since the series is functionally dead at this point, this will forever be stuck in the realm of fantasy, but it’ll still be a lot of fun to think about.

    *Keeping track of 2001 and 2003 is already hard enough, so I won’t be calling this one Backyard Baseball 2018. Sorry.

    Tuesday, August 1, 2017

    Who Are the Hall of Famers Playing Today, If We Adjust for Size?

    With the Hall of Fame induction over the past weekend, I’ve had a few ideas for related articles lately. Let’s start with the most directly-related idea.

    I saw an interesting article over at Sporting News recently from Hall of Fame expert Graham Womack. If you aren’t already familiar with his work, you may still recognize his name from the “50 Best Players Not in the Hall of Fame” Project that I frequently participate in. In any case, he ran a piece recently looking at how many active players today might one day make it to Cooperstown.

    It actually reminded me of something I wrote several years ago, and even though we took slightly different approaches, we wound up with similar conclusions: the Hall of Fame, as is, is just too small. And not just that, but we even wound up with similar numbers for our numbers too: while we’re seeing a little under 40 active players per season making the Hall, based on the precedent, it should probably be a little over 50 at least, possibly even as much as 75 (although we both agreed that end of the spectrum seemed a little too high).

    It’s nice to see someone else who knows what they’re talking about come to that conclusion. And I figured it could be a good opportunity to run an update on my subsequent articles on the matter, where I tried to demonstrate how a Hall of this size would look transposed onto modern times (using both 2012 and 2006; you can find all of those pieces on this page under “Series 2”). It’s been five years, and the Hall of Fame induction ceremony was on Sunday* after all, so this is extra timely!

    *Also, six months later, it’s still hard for me to believe Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines , and Ivan Rodriguez all got in this year, let alone that two more players missed by less than 20 votes.

    So, what would 40/50/60/70+ active players making the Hall of Fame look like in todays game? Which players would we be looking at?

    Friday, July 14, 2017

    2017 Champions? Revisiting the Famous Astros Sports Illustrated Cover, and How Well My Prediction of Their Plan Has Held Up

    Three years ago, Sports Illustrated published a notable* cover in which they declared the Houston Astros “Your 2017 World Series Champs”. It got some derision at the time, seeing as the team was then in the middle of a 92-loss season coming on the tails of three straight 100-plus-loss seasons (all of which saw them finish with the worst record in the majors). Some writers, myself included, defended the call, though.

    *and pretty cool-looking

    And then immediately after that, the Astros started the next season on a hot start and rode that all the way to the Division Series. In fact, they came a bad eighth inning away from going even further. In any case, the people who had been critical of the original cover mostly shut up at that point. However, the cover is getting renewed attention lately, partially because it’s the year Sports Illustrated originally gave, and partially because this year’s stellar Astros team is looking like Galactus, devourer of punier baseball teams, in turn making SI look like a bunch of prophets. So with that, I wanted to go back and look at my original take on the article and see how much of it came true to get the Astros to where they are today

    The first thing I noted back in 2014 was the strength of the Astros’ farm system: they had six prospects in Baseball America’s Top 100 rankings from that year. I noted that it wasn’t realistic to expect all of them to hit their best-case scenarios, and that certainly happened. Mark Appel (now with Philadelphia) still hasn’t reached the majors at 25, Jon Singleton saw some time at the Major League level back in 2014 and ’15 but is back at AA, and Mike Foltynewicz is with Atlanta now* (but finally putting together his first above-average season, so good for him at least).

    *Folty and Rio Ruiz, who I also name-dropped in my original piece, were part of the package to bring Evan Gattis and another key 2017er to Houston. Part of the upside in prospects though is being able to trade them for things you need, so it’s probably fair to call this one a success for the Astros as well, even if Foltynewicz isn’t himself an ace.

    Monday, July 10, 2017

    Is It Time for Dan Duquette and the Orioles to Part Ways?

    The Orioles have felt like they’re in something of a tenuous position over the last few years. That may seem odd, given that no other team in the American League won more games in the previous five seasons. Indeed, from 2012 to 2016, the Orioles’ 444 wins were surpassed only by the Cardinals (461), Dodgers (455), and their Beltway Buddies, the Nationals (458). They’ve also managed three playoff appearances in that five-year span, more than 22 other teams and behind only the Dodgers and Cardinals at four apiece.

    So why did it always feel like they were teetering on the edge of disaster? Maybe because there was a decent amount of luck involved; the Orioles have regularly beaten their projected record based on runs scored and allowed (even this year, which has been rather miserable thus far, they’re running five games ahead). Maybe it’s how they’ve pretty routinely outplayed even the best projection systems.

    You’d think after years of stuff like that, their position would feel a little more stable, but it doesn’t. The closest comparison I can think of is to a few years ago, when Dave Duncan was the Cardinals’ pitching coach and they would regularly enter the season with a patchwork rotation: you’d know things would look bad on paper, but there would be faith that things would turn out okay. The only issue is, it’s a lot harder to feel like things are under control when that’s the approach for the entire roster instead of the 3 through 5 slots in the rotation.

    And of course, on top of that, it's always hard to separate out how much of that overperformance is the result of Duquette's moves and how much is from other factors, like Buck Showalter's in-game management skills. It's worth separating out how much Duquette himself is responsible for in evaluating his performance, at least to the extent that it's possible to do so.

    Friday, June 23, 2017

    2017 Teams With a Chance to Set Home Run History: The Double-Digit Dinger Club

    A few years ago, the Houston Astros shocked everyone by jumping out to a surprising early division lead, and they did it in part by hitting a lot of dingers. As I watched the season progress, an interesting subplot cropped up, beneath the question of whether the surprising young club would hold on to make the playoffs: they had a chance to make home run history.

    No individual player was challenging any records, though. Rather, it was a team record the announcers would update viewers on: Most players with double-digit home runs. The all-time record was 11, set by the 2004 Detroit Tigers, who, like the 2015 ‘Stros, had no big masher leading the way; both teams were led by 27-homer guys (Carlos Pena and Evan Gattis, respectively). The Astros ended up tying this mark towards the end of the year, and had two more players finishing the season with 9.*

    *Trivia time: almost half of those players aren’t on the Astros anymore, just a season and a half later. I’ll let you know who they are later in the column.

    It’s a remarkable set of circumstances that leads to a team having more 10-home run guys than available lineup spots, but MLB was entering a period ideal for this, given the overall upward shift in home run totals. That trend continued in 2016, and another team joined those two atop the leaderboards: the 2016 Twins. Despite losing 103 games, just shy of a dozen Minnesota players went yard ten or more times last year.

    MLB has seen yet another increase in home run totals this year, which got me wondering: could we see our fourth 11-10-homer team this year? Is there a better name for that exclusive club? And most importantly, what are the odds that some time has a full twelve players reach that mark? With just over 70 games in the books, lets take a look at the early leaders in 10-homer players, and who else they might see reach that total.

    Friday, June 2, 2017

    Do the Astros Need to Make Any Trades?

    Today is the sixth anniversary of Hot Corner Harbor, and by some coincidence, I’ll be looking at a similar question as I did six years ago. Back then, I was wondering if one of the top teams in the league needed to make any moves to shore up their roster, despite having the second-best record in the majors. Today, I’ll be doing the same, only this time for the team with the best record in the majors: do the Astros need to make a trade, and if so, for whom?

    Let’s start with the obvious: the Astros are already a really, really good team. You don’t get to a 38-16 record at the start of June if you aren’t. Sure, sometimes bad teams will fluke their way into a division lead at this point, or close to it. For instance, look no further than June 1, 2014, where half of the division leaders finished the season between 79 and 83 wins… but those types of teams aren’t generally 38-16 with a 11-game division lead. The Astros are already in rare territory.

    Of course, nothing guarantees that they’ll keep up this pace, and even if they do finish the year with 114 wins, there’s still a chance they get bounced early in the playoffs (remember the 2001 Mariners?). Upgrading an area of weakness couldn’t hurt.

    So what would that area of weakness be? Well, the team is second in the majors in both most runs scored per game (barely behind the Nationals) and fewest runs allowed per game (behind the Dodgers). That…seems pretty balanced. Digging deeper, we see that the Astros lead the majors with a 121 wRC+. That’s as a team, which is just incredible. They’ve hit, on average, 21% better than a league-average hitter. So yeah, they’ve got their bases covered there, both metaphorically and literally.

    Their pitching isn’t quite that strong; they have a team ERA- (like ERA+, but below 100 is better instead of above) of 86, fourth-best staff in the majors. However, it’s worth noting that they’re currently outperforming their FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) by a little bit. At 90, they drop all the way to seventh in the league. Both are good, they just don’t live up to the high standards the hitters set.

    Breaking it down to starters and closers is a little rougher; while their bullpen rates highly, their starters currently carry an 87 ERA- (fifth in the league) and a 97 FIP-. This makes some sense: while Dallas Keuchel has looked like his old Cy-Young-winning self and Lance McCullers has broken out in a big way, the rest of the rotation has been more ordinary. Collin McHugh has been hurt all year, Charlie Morton has been fine but just went on the DL, Joe Musgrove isn’t super overpowering and is prone to surrendering dingers, and Mike Fiers at the back end has been giving up homers like he thinks the Sky Gods demand sacrifices. They could stand to have a little bit more depth here. After all, you can never have enough arms.

    Wednesday, May 17, 2017

    Out of the Park Baseball 18: Trying to Build a Playoff-Caliber Core, Part 3

    Out of the Park Baseball allowed me to try their latest release, Out of the Park Baseball 18. For this year’s edition of my review, I wanted to do something different: a multi-part attempt to build a championship core for a rebuilding team to get them to the playoffs. In Part 1, I added Mike Trout to this year’s San Diego Padres and watched them go 68-94. In Part 2, I added Trout and Chris Sale and watched the team miss the second Wild Card in the last week of the season, finishing 83-78. What would my third go-around bring?

    ATTEMPT 3: 2017-B

    As the start of the season rolled around in the 2017-B timeline, the San Diego Padres made a series of shocking moves. On a single day, they managed to trade Manuel Margot for Mike Trout, Jered Weaver for Chris Sale, and Erick Aybar for Manny Machado. Fans didn't question this stroke of good luck, as it considerably brightened their outlook on the coming year.

    Opening Day was a 4-1 loss to Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers, with the new acquisitions putting up some mediocre performances. Trout went 2-4 with 2 singles, Machado went 0-3, and Sale gave up 4 runs on 5 hits (2 home runs) and 4 walks with 5 strikeouts in 7.0 innings.

    We end the first month just above .500, at 14-13. That puts us in third place, just three games behind the NL West-leading Diamondbacks and a half-game behind the second place Dodgers. That feels a little disappointing, but it is two games ahead of where the Machado-less Padres of 2017-A were at this point, and they turned okay.*

    *And in a representation of the variance that occurs within any baseball season, it also means that we're six games ahead of the Sale-and-Machado-less Padres of 2017, and three games ahead of the Trout-Sale-and-Machado-less Padres of real-world 2017 were at the end of April.

    Mike Trout is doing his usual Mike-Trout-esque things, hitting .302/.407/.615 (a 185 OPS+) with 7 homers. Chris Sale is only kind of doing Chris-Sale-type things, though (44 K, 2.98 ERA, 125 ERA+, 3.25 FIP in 42.1 IP), and Manny Machado is decidedly un-Manny-Machado-like (.240/.339/.310, 86 OPS+; mediocre fielding stats, although he's playing shortstop now). We also don't really have the backup we did in 2017-A; Yangervis Solarte is playing decently, but not one else is really stepping up yet.

    Monday, May 15, 2017

    Out of the Park Baseball 18: Trying to Build a Playoff-Caliber Core, Part 2

    Out of the Park Baseball once again gave me the chance to try the newest version of their game, Out of the Park Baseball 18. I decided that, this year, I would run a more comprehensive simulation than it years’ past: I would take the roster of a tanking team (namely, the San Diego Padres) and slowly add star players until the team made it to the postseason.

    In Part 1, the team got an infusion of Mike Trout in center field, but it wound up not being enough; the team lost 94 games, coming nowhere near playoff baseball. Clearly, one man wouldn’t be enough to turn this team into a powerhouse. But what about two men? Enjoy these dispatches from the alternate timeline, 2017-A:

    ATTEMPT 2: 2017-A

    Okay, so the best position player of today wouldn't be enough to bump the Padres up to playoff status. What about the best pitcher on top of that?

    There was just one problem with that: if my goal was to take the Padres to the playoffs, taking Clayton Kershaw directly from a division rival would have double the effect of just adding a great pitcher. I'd be directly harming someone standing right in the way of my goal. So at this point, I basically decided that I would have to limit myself to taking only the best AL players, as even players from other NL teams would still make my path to the Wild Card easier.

    And so, that's how I wound up adding both Mike Trout and Chris Sale to the 2017-A San Diego Padres. After once again sending Manuel Margot to the Angels, I followed that up by sending Jered Weaver to Boston. They probably won't notice the difference, right?

    Monday, May 8, 2017

    Out of the Park Baseball 18: Trying to Build a Playoff-Caliber Core, Part 1

    Once again this year, I was given a chance to try this year’s edition of Out of the Park Baseball (Out of the Park Baseball 18) and review it in some way. For those who are unaware, Out of the Park Baseball is a simulation game, meaning it focuses on the managerial and front office side of the game. But even that is underselling it; it's the most complete experience a baseball fan could want in this regard. You can simulate the current season into the future, or start from any historical season in history, or even generate an entirely fictitious league.

    In the past, I’ve used the game’s amazing simulation abilities to run some scenarios of various levels of craziness; this year, I wanted to go in a slightly different direction though. Something equally as impossible as putting Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, and Kevin Brown on the same team in their prime. Rather than getting deep into one scenario, I want to instead use it to re-run the same scenario many times, each time tweaking things and recording the results. The basis of this thought experiment is simple: every now and then, I'll sit and think about various "cores" of good teams, specifically things like how good the best stars on a team need to be, or how many of them a team needs.*

    *For one example of some of this, see my ramblings on Lou Piniella and the Mariners from when he was on the Veterans Committee Hall of Fame ballot this past offseason.

    In practical terms: I'm going to take the 2017 Padres*, and I'm going to add Mike Trout and see if they make the playoffs.** If they don't, I'll go back to the start of 2017 and add a second amazing player; if they don't make it that time, start the process over a third time, and so on.

    *While they aren't the worst team in the majors right now, I settled on this example before the season. It just took me a while to carve out the free time to play, at which point it was too late to switch. Either way, it's hard to argue that a team looked more in it to tank in 2017 than San Diego.

    **Some may argue that this isn’t too different than the 2017 Angels. I’m not sure I could argue against that claim too vigorously.

    Without further ado, here is the first part of my grand experiment for this year:

    Tuesday, March 21, 2017

    Predicting Future Hall of Famers 2017 Follow-Up: The Disappearance of Below-Median Starters

    In the previous post, I was discussing active pitchers above the median Wins Above Replacement for Hall of Famers by age when I noted something interesting at the end: there are only two starters* above the overall median who are eligible for the Hall but not inducted or still on the ballot. Kevin Brown and Rick Reuschel both cleared the median by less than a full Win. Other than them, everyone above the median has made it.

    *As defined last time, this is pitchers who began post-1919 with 10% or more of their total games as a starter. See last time for the reasoning on that, although I'll be jumping back and forth in this one between "Live Ball" starters and "Total" starters; I'll make the distinction clear when those shifts happen.

    This makes for an interesting contrast with the hitters. Limiting ourselves to just post-1919 debuts so that we're working with comparable sets of players, the median WAR for hitters is 65.1 (held by Craig Biggio)*, just a bit lower than the pitchers' mark of 67.95 (between Jim Palmer and Carl Hubbell). While there are only two pitchers above the median not yet in or still on the ballot, there are nine such hitters, ranging from Rafael Palmeiro (71.6 WAR) to Willie Randolph (65.5). And if we expand this to include players on the ballot, it becomes five starters to thirteen position players (plus the ineligible Pete Rose). And while those three pitchers all look likely to get inducted, the four hitters are much more uncertain, with Barry Bonds and Edgar Martinez looking likely to get inducted before they age out but Larry Walker and Manny Ramirez looking like long shots.

    *Note that this is a little different than the median I used in the previous piece; that’s because I did not limit that median to post-1919 batters. However, I wanted the two to be on a level playing field here, so there’s a slight upwards shift as a result.

    That's an interesting level of uniformity. Maybe this is a sign of those pitchers all being particularly obvious? But let's look at the flip-side; how have players below the median done? After all, the median is the middle point, not the end-all, be-all. We should be seeing at least some below-median names getting inducted, right? Well, that's the interesting part: we really aren't for pitchers.

    Friday, March 10, 2017

    Predicting Today's Future Hall of Fame Starting Pitchers, 2017 Edition

    Continuing the fifth anniversary of my “Predicting Future Hall of Famer” projects, we of course have the pitchers next. Here’s this year’s hitters article, if you need to get caught up first, though.

    As a quick recap of how this works, I look at what the Hall median Wins Above Replacement is for starters at each age, look at how many total players had that much WAR at that same age (only for retired players who have had a chance to appear on the ballot, with pitchers still on the ballot factored out to account for their uncertain outcome), then take a percentage to figure out a rough numerical “chance” each active player has.

    I’m interested especially in starting pitchers specifically, as relievers are their own sort of beast. The Hall has only inducted a handful of relievers, and the few they’ve inducted don’t adhere to a pattern quite as well as the starters, who correlate pretty strongly with career WAR. At every step of the way, I’ve filtered my numbers down to pitchers who started 10% of more of their games played; this seems low, but I wanted to factor in starters who were eased into the role via the bullpen, as some Hall of Famers were.

    Additionally, I’ve filtered this just to Hall of Famers who debuted post-deadball era (1920 on). Starting pitching is a pretty constantly evolving role, and a lot of the earliest starters would really mess with our numbers; take, for instance, Old Hoss Radbourn, who debuted at 26, pitched for eleven seasons, including ones of over 13 and 19 WAR, and then retired. We simply aren’t going to have any pitchers today who have a career that looks like that, so it didn’t make much sense to me to include them. I’ve picked a hard cut-off for the sake of convenience.

    And I’ll run through the standard disclaimers, which are even more relevant for the pitchers than for the hitters. This is solely based on precedent, which can be a fickle thing in Hall of Fame voting. This is especially true when you factor in that the players in each “not in the Hall of Fame” group still have a chance to reach Cooperstown in the future by way of the Veterans Committee, which is even less predictable than the standard BBWAA voting. And of course, this isn’t to determine who will wind up “deserving” of making the Hall of Fame, as plenty of deserving players get snubbed. On the flip side, this doesn’t mean any player has no chance, as half of the players in the Hall didn’t reach the median, by definition.

    Okay then, onward to the modern starters with Hall hopes:

    Friday, March 3, 2017

    Predicting Today's Future Hall of Fame Hitters, 2017 Edition

    This year is the fifth anniversary of my annual “Predicting Future Hall of Famers” project (see the past four years here), so I don’t know how much of an introduction is necessary. Let’s just jump right into the methodology refresher so that we can move on to the active players on pace, shall we?

    Basically, I’m looking at how the Hall’s elected players (hitters today, pitchers next) have historically looked at each age en route to their eventual election into the Hall of Fame. I use Wins Above Replacement (Baseball-Reference’s version, for the sake of research) due to its high correlation to Hall election, and look at how each hitter looked, career-total-wise, each year. I pick out the median as a baseline, then look at what percentage of players with the median WAR at that age eventually got into the Hall.

    To put concrete numbers on this, say that there were 99 hiters in the Hall of Fame, and the 50th most WAR at the age of 28 was 30. I would then see how many total players in history had 30 WAR at 28, then take a percentage of players in the Hall out of total players (removing players still on the ballot or not yet eligible, as their status is still up in the air). So if there were 100 players with 30 WAR at 28, we’d say there was a 50% chance of a player at the Hall median for WAR at age 28 eventually getting elected. It’s a little simple and crude, but it’s a good visualization of how historic Hall of Fame careers have looked.

    And of course, the standard disclaimers: this is based entirely on precedent, which is a fickle thing in Hall voting. Good, deserving players get snubbed all the time from Cooperstown. Other times they have to wait years before the Veterans Committee before they get in. On the flip side, by definition, half of the players in the Hall of Fame were below the median, so not hitting the mark is not a death sentence for their eventual enshrinement. This is just to pick out the strongest cases and assign rough odds.

    Good, now, with all that out of the way, let’s see who all is absolutely, totally, 100% going to get elected on the first ballot 20 years from now:

    Saturday, February 25, 2017

    The Best Players Without a Retired Number (+Quiz!)

    As you may or may not know, I have a bit of an interest when it comes to retired numbers. And that intersected with my interest in trivia a few years ago, when I decided to make a Sporcle Quiz on the best players by Wins Above Replacement who had never had their numbers retired. Well, with the Hall of Fame induction of Ivan Rodriguez last month came the news that the Texas Rangers would finally be retiring his number 7, which reminded me of that quiz.

    Ivan Rodriguez wasn’t the only bit of turnover, though. In the five years (really? It’s that old?) since I had published that list, over a fifth of the names on it were no longer eligible, and twenty-five individuals in total had gotten their numbers retired by a team. This year alone will see at least four (edit: five, with the White Sox's announcement that they'd retire Mark Buehrle's number, but more on that later), between Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez for the Mariners, David Ortiz for the Red Sox, and Derek Jeter for the Yankees.

    With all that change, I decided totally starting from scratch might be the easiest plan if I wanted to revisit that quiz, to see what all was different. And while I was at it, I could comment on the individuals on the list in a sort of mini-article, looking at which ones might one day get their number retired and which ones probably wouldn’t.

    The quiz focuses on players who have actually worn a number, as retiring numbers for pre-numbered jersey players is a little more difficult. Not to say it hasn’t ever been done, just that it didn’t seem fair to compare the two standards. I did include a bunch of pre-number players as bonus answers though, for those who feel like seeking them out (44 in total).

    Of course, if you want to play the quiz, reading the article would probably ruin the fun of it, so all of the body text will be hidden behind the “read more” break. If you want to play the Sporcle trivia quiz on “Best Players by WAR Without a Retired Number”, click here now. Spoilers will follow!

    Tuesday, January 24, 2017

    Scott Rolen: Getting an Early Start on the 2018 Hall of Fame Push

    After months of anticipation, the Hall of Fame voting results were finally announced on Wednesday. We got a three-person class for 2017, featuring Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan Rodriguez, and all are extremely deserving of the honor. Their inductions makes for twelve total electees in the past four years, tying the Hall’s record set from 1936-9.

    Of course, the interesting thing about Hall of Fame voting is that, with their induction, we can already begin looking forward to the next cycle. We know who all will be appearing on the ballot, and we know all the relevant stats we could need to discuss their inductions already; nothing will change in the interim. And so, it’s looking like the Hall will easily shatter their five year record of thirteen*.

    *This is sort of fudging things; the Hall of Fame didn’t actually hold elections in 1940 or 1941, meaning that their “five year” record was actually spread out from 1936-1942. Only Rogers Hornsby made it on the first year back, although every other player in the top 30 of total votes would eventually make it to Cooperstown.

    Trevor Hoffman only fell five votes short, while Vladimir Guerrero fell fifteen short. That makes them seem like safe bets to make it in on the 2018 ballot. But at the same time, we’ll also be seeing an incredible class of freshmen, headlined by likely first ballot picks Chipper Jones and Jim Thome as well as Andruw Jones, Omar Vizquel, and Johan Santana. And that’s on top of the rest of the returning class, which is incredible strong as well, and featured nine players with 50% of the vote or more (tied for the most all-time).

    Clearing out three players looks good, but going forward, it might not have been enough. Which makes me incredibly nervous that Scott Rolen is going to be lost in the shuffle. Maybe he’ll get something in the low 20%, which is as good as not going anywhere, but I’m even worried about him getting the 5% minimum required to stay on the ballot. We’ve lost some deserving players that way in the past, including (most recently) Kenny Lofton and Rolen’s former teammate Jim Edmonds.

    So, what can be done about it? How do you make someone see that a player is deserving of induction? I think the best cases are the ones that you can reduce to one simple, straight-forward concept. Voters work better in one dimension than two; it’s why they have an easier time inducting “milestone” guys, or ones who were the best at one thing rather than very good at a bunch. Maybe you can use two points if they work together well and you can get them repeated a lot (like some advocates have done in the past with Raines or Bert Blyleven). But those points have to distill down the larger case for the player.

    So let’s work in reverse. Let’s start with the broader question, “What makes Scott Rolen worthy of the Hall of Fame?”, then from there reduce it to a list of highlights, and then from there see if we can narrow it down to a one-sentence “elevator pitch”-type case.

    Friday, January 20, 2017

    Congrats to the Class of 2017, but also the 2017 Hall of Fame Vote Showed Why 10-Person Ballots Are Awful

    Yesterday’s Hall of Fame inductions didn’t turn out to be a disaster! That seems like a good place to start.

    I had been following Ryan Thibodaux’s annual Ballot Tracker, and I was starting to get a little nervous there. It started off very strong, with five players above the 75% mark needed for induction. Five! I couldn’t believe it! That would put it in a tie with the initial Class of 1936 for largest number of inductees in a year, and it would go a hell of a long way in clearing out some of the ballot’s logjam.

    But of course, things are never as rosy as the initial predictions look. Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines continued to pull in strong numbers, so they were never in doubt. But first Vladimir Guerrero* slipped below the mark needed for election, then Trevor Hoffman followed. It was starting to look like Ivan Rodriguez would follow, ending up at 79.6% with a strong possibility of a big drop coming once the anonymous ballots came in. After all, only one catcher had ever been inducted on the first ballot**, and I had always assumed Trevor Hoffman would have the better chance of making it in this year.

    *I’m still kind of surprised that Guerrero did so well. In all honesty, he wasn’t one of the five best corner outfielders on the ballot this year, and even if you limited it to just the non-steroid set, it was still difficult to argue that he was better than third best at the position. In a world in which Raines took ten years on the ballot, Bagwell took seven, Larry Walker is stuck in the low 20s, Jim Edmonds fell off after one season…it just doesn’t make much sense. I guess voters went for the big home run and hit totals though (even if he didn’t hit 500 or 3000)? I won’t complain, as I think he’s deserving and I’m not nearly as concerned now about guys going in “in the correct order” as I once was, but it’s still kind of confusing.

    **I still can’t get over how crazy this is. This might be the clearest sign that something in the BBWAA’s approach in voting was wrong, that a position had only had one first ballot guy. Hopefully, Pudge is the signal of coming change.

    After a start like that, and a ballot that overall saw an incredible number of players pulling in large totals (nine different players got greater than 50% of the vote, tied with the all-time record set seven decades earlier in 1947*), only getting two players in would have been an incredible disappointment. But thankfully, Rodriguez held on to join Johnny Bench as the only first ballot backstops. Three candidates isn’t bad, in the grand scheme of things. And all three constitute and incredible Class of 2017.

    *Every one of those nine would eventually make it in to Cooperstown. That year saw the top four get in: Carl Hubbell, Frankie Frisch, Mickey Cochrane, and Lefty Grove. Fifth-place Pie Traynor and ninth-place Herb Pennock made it the next year (with Pennock somehow leapfrogging everyone on his way to the most votes), with sixth place Charlie Gehringer coming the year after that. Rabbit Maranville and Dizzy Dean wouldn’t make it until the early ‘50s. Overall, I’d say this ballot is much stronger than that one, and yet, the top seventeen finishers that year all found their way to the Hall eventually.

    But then…we discovered that Hoffman only missed by five votes, while Guerrero missed by fifteen. This marks the third time in four years that we’ve had a candidate miss by an extremely narrow margin like that, after Craig Biggio fell two votes shy back in 2014. And of course, if you go back just a few more years to 2010, you’ll find it happened again, with Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar missing 75% by five and eight votes, respectively. Clearly, this is not a rare issue.

    And what’s worse is that, given how crowded the ballot is, the 10-player limit on Hall ballots is what probably kept them out. Well, maybe not Alomar and Blyleven, given that 2010 was a little less crowded and they had other things going on, but certainly with the other three; after all, public ballots over on the tracker averaged 8.5 names. And Ryan even kept track of names columnist mentioned when they said they would have voted for more than 10 players. Hoffman has four votes, while Vlad has ten*. Given that we don’t know 40% of the ballots, and that not every full ballot that we know even listed eleventh choices, it’s basically a given they would have made it.

    *Eleven if you count Joe Posnanski, who wrote a good column on how hard it was to decide his final spot but wasn't included in the tracker's list.

    This has been a recurring issue, and everyone knows it, but the Hall refuses to do anything. It’s stupid to have players competing for votes when the question is simply “Are they worthy?”, and not “Are they more worthy than everyone else on this arbitrary ballot?”. But even dumber, the Hall has refused to compromise on this issue at all, shooting down a request from the BBWAA to moderately expand the ballot to twelve slots two years ago.

    Nothing about Hoffman or Guerrero will change next year. 75% of writers already think they’re deserving, which should be the most important thing. Instead, about 330 writers will need to waste at least 660 ballot slots (out of a possible ~4400) on guys that, for all intents and purposes, have already cleared the necessary requirements, ballot slots that could be better spread around to the other five players who cleared 45%, or the incredible class of newcomers (which includes Jim Thome, Chipper Jones, Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, Johan Santana, and Omar Vizquel, among others), or the numerous players struggling at the bottom of the results who deserve more attention (like Larry Walker, Manny Ramirez, Billy Wagner*, etc….). All in all, 19 different players on next year’s ballot will have 50 or more career WAR, and that’s excluding Hoffman, Wagner, and Vizquel. With that much depth, we're going to need as many spare votes as possible.

    *Let’s be honest, if Hoffman is going in, it’s very difficult to argue against Billy Wagner unless you reduce their cases to comparing save totals.

    Fewer votes being wasted on guys who “should” be in already means a greater chance that someone deserving falls off the ballot, or sees their case stall out (which, given the time limit has been reduced from fifteen years to ten, is much more urgent). It’s a waste of time for everyone involved, and there’s no good reason for this rule to exist. Baseball writers have historically been fairly resistant to change; when they’re proactively requesting fixes, something is massively wrong in the system.

    Saturday, January 7, 2017

    The 2017 Hall-of-Fame-a-Palooza (featuring over 20 guys up for induction, plus my ballot)

    When we last left off, I was writing about my thoughts on the Veterans Committee election, albeit a little late. It’s a shame, too, because maybe my random article on the internet would have filtered up to someone on the committee, and they could have shared it with the other fifteen voters to spread my wisdom. I should probably write about the BBWAA ballot before the results are announced to avoid a similar tragedy.

    The easiest way is to probably just look at last year’s ballot and look for what I would change. So, without further ado, last year’s ten-person ballot:

    Jeff Bagwell
    Barry Bonds
    Roger Clemens
    Jim Edmonds
    Edgar Martinez
    Mike Mussina
    Mike Piazza
    Tim Raines
    Curt Schilling
    Larry Walker

    Yep, I did the “don’t vote for Ken Griffey, Jr. because he’s a lock so you can spread the votes around”. Clearly, the BBWAA did not find my article last year, as Jim Edmonds couldn’t lock up the requisite votes to stick around another year. That, plus the election of Mike Piazza, freed up two spots for me this year, which is good, because we got four solid candidates in Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Vladimir Guerrero, and Jorge Posada. So, we can just add those names and be done with…

    Nope, never mind, I did that math wrong; four is more than two. I’m gonna have to do some parsing of the names. And I forgot all the holdovers I couldn’t vote for anyway; even with Alan Trammell and Mark McGwire aging off, there are still plenty of interesting names remaining.

    Let’s start with the most simplistic ranking: if we just line up everyone by Wins Above Replacement (WAR, Baseball-Reference edition), what does that top ten look like?


    That’s…not too bad, actually. It’s basically my ballot from last year, with first-timers Pudge and Manny thrown in to fill those open spots. And not only that, but there’s a pretty clear demarcation there-Gary Sheffield is next, a full 8 Wins below Edgar, with the rest of the ballot below 60. If we were trying to draw a line somewhere between those four names between 68 and 70 WAR, that would be one thing, but this is a lot more noticeable break.

    And I do think some positions need some upward adjustments to their WAR totals; notably, catcher and relievers. But Rodriguez made it on his own, while Posada is the lowest non-reliever I think of as “in consideration”, with only 42.7. A 25+ WAR boost is just ridiculous. Posada is right where I would consider the borderline for catchers, so I’m not too bent out of shape by omitting him anyway. With the Hall already missing catchers like Ted Simmons, Thurman Munson, and Bill Freehan, I’m much more comfortable leaving him off my list.

    Then, there are the relievers. We’re basically looking at Lee Smith, Trevor Hoffman, and Billy Wagner. And I can see them all having a case for Cooperstown, but given how crowded the ballot is, I wouldn’t want to vote for more than one. So which one do I go with? Let’s line them up, and include some other stats, excluding their save totals to make who is who less clear:

    A: 29.6 bWAR, 26.6 fWAR, 1289.1 IP, 2.93 FIP, 1251 K, 8.73 K/9, 1.256 WHIP, 82.3 SV%
    B: 28.4 bWAR, 26.1 fWAR, 1089.1 IP, 3.08 FIP, 1133 K, 9.36 K/9, 1.058 WHIP, 88.8% SV%
    C: 28.1 bWAR, 24.1 fWAR, 903.0 IP, 2.73 FIP, 1196 K, 11.92 K/9*, 0.988 WHIP, 85.9 SV%

    *This would be the all-time record, if C had enough innings to qualify.
    So…which one do you pick? Because honestly…they all look too similar to me. I just can’t vote for one of them and feel like it wasn’t made somewhat arbitrarily. And I’m still not convinced that any of them deserves a spot over the other ten.

    (For reference, A was Smith, B was Hoffman, and C was Wagner.)

    Let’s look at things a different way, though; how does our list look when we use Wins Above Average? For reference, WAA is basically WAR, with the baseline set at 2 rather than 0 (that is to say, to calculate a player’s WAA for a season, subtract 2 from their WAR). This gives us a better sense of dominance, how much better the players were than just some random starter. For that, we’ve got:

    Sammy Sosa-28.0
    Jeff Kent-26.3
    J.D. Drew-25.0
    Mike Cameron-20.8
    Fred McGriff-19.6

    First things first: not a great look for those last five, falling below Drew and Cameron (at the same time though, good on those two; they had great but underrated careers, even if they fell a little short overall). And this further cements my belief that I can scratch off all three closers.

    Once again, the same ten names are at the top, albeit in a shuffled order. And once again, there’s a decently-sized gap between ten and eleven. I feel like I can say that the top six are locks, because of how far ahead of the rest they are. There’s just no question that they’re the cream of this crop.

    Plus, Rodriguez made the top ten in both cases despite all of the lack-of-playing-time penalties that double-count against catchers. I think it’s safe to say he’s easily the best catcher not in Cooperstown too, so he’s in. And this is Raines’s final year on the ballot before he ages off, and he’s right on the cusp, so I feel obligated to throw him a vote. So that gives me eight names.

    So, those last two spots seem like they come down to Edgar, Manny, Vlad, Sammy, and Sheff, with those first two the favorites. This is a good group to look at too, as it’s four corner-outfielders who were got most or all of their value from their bat alone, plus a designated hitter.

    If you want to compare them, here’s a custom Fangraphs leaderboard. To be honest…I’m kind of inclined to stick it out with Manny and Edgar. They were far and away the best hitters, with Sheffield the next closest. Vlad probably has the best “intangible” arguments, given how notable he was and the steroid ties for Ramirez, Sosa, and Sheffield. But at the same time, he’s far and away the weakest candidate, to the point where he’d be noticeably among the weaker outfielders in the Hall.

    So that’s the final ballot: Bagwell, Bonds, Clemens, Martinez, Mussina, Raines, Ramirez, Rodriguez, Schilling, and Walker. If I were feeling clever, I would probably drop Manny and Walker in favor of Hoffman and Guerrero; based on the early returns, those two are riding the knife’s edge, currently at 75.0% and 73.3% on 175 ballots as I type. Meanwhile, the rest of my ballot is over 50% and needs help building momentum, while Ramirez and Walker are just sorta languishing in the low-20s. The more people we get in this year, the more cleared out the ballot is next year, meaning we can work to getting even more people inducted.

    And we’re gonna need those spots next year. Because outside of Bagwell, Raines, Hoffman, Rodriguez, and Guerrero, everyone else I mulled over is basically a lock to return next year, plus we’ll be adding Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, and Johan Santana, all of whom I have strong opinions about (plus Omar Vizquel, who I personally don’t but many other people will). A five person induction class would reduce so many headaches going forward (and it would match the largest Hall class ever, which would be cool). So godspeed, five guys getting over 70% of the vote; let’s hope we all see you in Cooperstown this summer.