Polo Grounds

Polo Grounds

Friday, January 16, 2015

Tulo and Nomar

These are always fun:

Player A 4176 1231 272 173 669 82 .323 .370 .555 .925 134 41.2
Player B 4064 1068 205 176 604 55 .299 .373 .517 .891 125 37.6

Player A is Nomar Garciaparra, through his age 29 season (2003).

Player B is Troy Tulowitzki, also through his age 29 season (current).

These two players are often talked about together, and for good reason. Not only are they statistically similar, they both have another (unfortunate) thing in common: injuries. Injury prone players often make coaches (and fans) very nervous once they hit age 30. Garciaparra is somewhat of a poster boy for this, as he was only able to accrue 1940 more plate appearances over five seasons after age 30, before bowing out at age 35. While his production only dropped slightly (he hit .291/.343/.446 in that span) his inability to stay on the field turned a once promising Hall of Fame career into a big game of what-if. 

Fans in Colorado have to wonder the same thing about their fan favorite at shortstop. Every year there is talk about the Rockies trading Tulo away, but it has yet to happen. The fans there love Tulo, but one has to wonder if his previous injury problems will catch up to him in a big way. Tulowitzki put up a 5.5 WAR just last year alone, so it seems likely that he will eclipse the 3.0 WAR that Garciaparra put up in his 30's. However, his value might not get much higher than it is right now, and the glut of prospects the Rockies could get in return may make it worth it.

It felt like robbery when the baseball world was not able to see a healthy Nomar in his 30's. His prime was as good or better than Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, and without injuries he could have had a career that cemented himself as one of the best hitting shortstops of all time. Even with his injury-riddled 30's, Garciaparra still got 5.5% of the BBWAA voters to vote for him as a HOFer, meaning he will get to stay on the Hall of Fame ballot for next year. 

Tulowitzki could be baseball's redemption for our loss of Nomar. If he is able to fight off the injury bug, his career could take the path that we know Nomar's could have, vaulting him into the ranks as one of the better shortstops the game has ever seen, and earning him the plaque that Nomar should have earned. Of course, this is a massive if, for a few reasons. One - as we look at the stats above, they are indeed comparable but Nomar is better in nearly every category. So even if Tulo is able to continue to play, he may not be what Nomar could have been. Again though, he could more than make up for that in his 30's. The big if is of course the injuries. If Tulo can stay healthy, his ceiling could reach the upper echelon of big, power hitting shortstops. The Alan Trammell, Barry Larkin, Nomar Garciaparra prototype could live on through a guy like Tulo (although comparing him to the games greatest (clean) power hitting SS, Cal Ripken Jr, seems comical because of his "iron man" reputation). 

I hope Troy Tulowitzki can stay healthy and show us the Garciaparra that we never had, if only because I hate seeing careers derailed by injuries. No one likes the what-if game.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Hall of Fame Fallout and Congrats

Four of the greatest players I have ever watched play baseball in my lifetime received a call this morning that they will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. While there is a lot to talk about regarding the ballot, the voters, the rules for induction etc, I want to first congratulate Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez and Craig Biggio for getting the call to Cooperstown. Ultimately, this day should be about celebrating their accomplishments on the field, and boy are there a lot of them. It's not every year that you get to see 3000 hits, 3000 strikeouts, 300 wins, 200 wins/100 saves, and multiple pitching triple crown seasons inducted in the same year. Seeing the three pitchers get in on the first ballot was excellent, and Biggio's name was finally heard, after having to wait three years too long for a guy who had 3000 hits and has the most doubles of all-time by a right handed hitter. A huge congrats to the four of them.

Upon seeing the ballot results for the first time, my mind raced with a whole lot of different thoughts, reactions, questions, and so on, and I am going to use this outlet to voice all of them in a stream of consciousness type of setting. As always, please comment or ask questions, I love debating these things!

First thought: Four players going in and one player falling off the ballot (Don Mattingly, who received 50 votes this year) really helps clear up the ballot for the class of 2016. There were certainly voters who used 5 of their 10 votes this year on Randy Pedro Smoltz Biggio and Mattingly, who will now have much more space on their 2016 ballot. Next years ballot will have only one no doubt, must vote for player in the person of Ken Griffey jr. After that, Trevor Hoffman, Billy Wagner and Jim Edmonds will all garner some attention, but do not carry nearly the firepower that a class like Randy, Pedro, Smoltz, Carlos Delgado, Gary Sheffield and Nomar Garciaparra does. (Troy Glaus, Garrett Anderson and Jason Kendall deserve some love, although not as realistic HOF candidates).

This ballot cleanse should be a breath of fresh air for Mike Piazza, who has a very good chance of gaining the additional 5% he needs to be in the Hall next year. It is also good news for +50% guys Jeff Bagwell (55%) and Tim Raines (55%). Theoretically, the voters who typically use all 10 of their votes should have four new openings on their ballot, with one of their votes going to Griffey. Hoffman seems likely to get over 50% and possibly enough to go in, so voters still will have two additional votes that are likely to go to guys like Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Fred McGriff, Larry Walker and Alan Trammell, who all have seen their support limited by the overcrowding of the ballot and the asinine, outdated "rule of 10". Many, many BBWAA writers who posted their ballots expressed their frustration with not being able to vote for players they feel deserve HOF enshrinement, including Tim Kurkjian, who came on ESPN this morning and admitted that he "lost sleep" over not voting for Mike Mussina, Alan Trammell and Edgar Martinez. It seems that next year Timmy will be able to pick a couple of those guys for his ballot.

Second thought (That was a long first thought): What hat will Randy Johnson wear into the Hall of Fame?

The first three are easy: Pedro goes in as a Red Sock(Sox?), Biggio as an Astro, and Smoltz as a Brave. But then we get to Randy.

Randy Johnson spent the majority of his career with two organizations, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Seattle Mariners. His resume with Arizona slightly outdoes his Seattle one, but his legacy seems to be most associated with the Mariners. Ultimately the choice is Randy's and if he goes with his heart I think Seattle will be the choice. They are the team that gave him his start, and really taught him how to be a pitcher, not just a thrower. He would not have been the pitcher he was in Arizona if not for his coaches in Seattle. Having said that, winning back to back to back to back (!) Cy Young awards, a pitching triple crown and a WS with the Dbacks will be tough to turn down. My hope is that he goes in as a Mariner, my prediction is that he goes in as a Mariner, but my fear is that he goes in without picking a team, like Greg Maddux did last year. I personally think that is a cop-out, and I hope that Randy at leasts picks a team, even if it is Arizona.

Third thought: Which 49 voters didn't vote for Pedro Martinez?

Every once in a while a player comes along who is very apparently a step above everyone else. These are once in a generation talents, guys who seem to defy all laws and simply dominate. Yet, in the history of Hall of Fame voting, not a single player has been elected to the Hall of Fame unanimously. Tom Seaver received 98.8% of the vote in 1992, which remains the highest percentage in voting history. With all due respect to Tom, what did Cal Ripken, Stan Musial, Roberto Clemente, Mickey Mantle, Greg Maddux, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron need to do to get 100% of the votes? 5000 hits? 900 home runs? Sadly, the reason that Willie Mays and Hank Aaron were left off of ballots is very likely tied to old voters who refused to vote for them based on the color of their skin. While tragic, this reflects a cultural shift that is (hopefully) no longer impacting voters. At least that is what I thought, until today when I saw that 34 more ballots were cast for Randy Johnson than Pedro Martinez. 34 people who felt that Randy Johnson was a HOFer, but not Pedro Martinez. Is Randy a better candidate than Pedro? Probably, but only slightly. I don't see any rationale for saying Randy Johnson deserves it, but not Pedro. I cannot prove that any of the voters who did not vote for Pedro did it because they are racist, because I have not seen any of them come out and publicly defend their ballot. Which leads me to my next thought.

Fourth thought: Why aren't ballots published?

Voters have never been required to disclose their ballots to the public. Many current writers choose to post their ballots on twitter or other social media, and some choose to write articles as well. However, well over 45% never disclose their ballot, meaning that discrepancies like the one listed above are never answered. I want to know who did not vote for Pedro, because they should have a chance to have their say in court. If they chose not to vote for him simply because they didn't like him, or because they are bigoted, shouldn't the HOF consider not allowing them to vote? The two guys who voted for Aaron Boone this year? The guy who voted for Jacque Jones last year? I want to know who they are. If the guys who voted for Aaron Boone chose to only vote for Boone, or voted for ten guys (including Boone) but left off someone like Tim Raines or Carlos Delgado (who just missed getting enough votes to stay on the ballot) I want to know, and I want the BBWAA to seriously consider revoking their voting privileges. If they have some logical reason for making that decision, and they publish it defending themselves, than so be it. But to hide behind anonymity and cast a ballot that seems to mock the entire system is cowardly and devalues the system put in place by the Hall of Fame to induct the games greats. I hate thinking that if I had a ballot I would take it more seriously that a large chunk of the people who vote, but knowing that some of the voters have voted for candidates like Boone, Jones and Armando Benitez makes me feel like I would.

Final thoughts:

I love talking about the Hall of Fame. I love debating each candidates case for induction, comparing players, looking at highlights, and making predictions for each year. I do not love seeing many of my favorite baseball writers agonizing over who to choose, because the ballot is so stuffed with talent and they can only choose to elect ten players per year. Seeing guys like Buster Olney, Jayson Stark, Tim Kurkjian and Ken Rosenthal publically denounce the rule of 10 and cry out for a new system that allows them to vote for who they want should send a huge message. These four are some of the most intelligent baseball minds in the world right now, and for them to say "I want to vote for Alan Trammell but I can't" should speak volumes about the flaws in the system.

I also hate the current situation that steroids are playing in the voting process. Either the HOF needs to come out and say that they do not want known users in the Hall and remove Bonds/Clemens/Sosa/McGwire/Sheffield from the ballot, or they need to acknowledge their use and tell the voters to vote based purely on stats, basically nullifying the "integrity of the game" rule in the voting process (I still believe that many writers would continue not to vote for Bonds and Clemens, but making the vote public would at least put everyone in the public eye). If those names get cleared off of the ballot, and the voters are allowed to vote for as many candidates as they want, and each voter must publicize their ballot, we are going to see a dramatic change in many players voting totals, including Edgar, Raines, Jeff Bagwell, etc... Unfortunately none of these changes seem imminent, and we are most likely going to be looking at a crowded ballot, a ten vote limit, and about half of the ballots being closed from the public eye for 2016. Won't stop me from continuing to blog about the HOF and discuss it with anyone who will listen. This brings me to my last point:

My 2016 Ballot and predictions: 

I will change my ballot between today and January 5th of 2016. I might change it tomorrow even. But looking at the new candidates for 2016 and the layovers from this ballot, here is who I anticipate "voting" for in 2016:

Mike Piazza
Jeff Bagwell
Tim Raines
Curt Schilling
Edgar Martinez
Alan Trammell
Mike Mussina
Fred McGriff
Ken Griffey Jr
Trevor Hoffman

This is preliminary, and I will need to take a closer look at Jim Edmonds, Billy Wagner, Jason Kendall and Troy Glaus, but I believe that these are the ten candidates who most deserve enshrinement next year. I feel bad leaving off Larry Walker and Jeff Kent, just as I felt bad leaving off great candidates this year, but at least next year won't be quite as bad.

As for a prediction, I think Griffey, Piazza and Trevor Hoffman will be inducted. Somewhat bold on Hoffman, especially when you consider the voting results for Lee Smith, but Hoffman and Mariano Rivera redefined the closer position and deserve recognition for that. Griffey is a no brainer, and Piazza does not need too much more support to gain induction. Another year of 3 inductees would do wonders for the clearing of the ballot. Here's to hoping we can see that.

Congrats again to four of the best players the game has ever seen, and enjoy your immortality in Cooperstown among the greats.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Mike Mussina vs. Curt Schilling

On Tuesday the Baseball Hall of Fame will announce new members for it's 2015 class. Early reports appear to indicate that Randy Johnson Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz will enter the Hall on their first try, with Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza potentially joining them as well. (The tracker can be found here: ( https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AmkBNPY405WAdFBOUVBhbjNRZjYzbWI2d201bm0tSmc&usp=sharing#gid=16 )

Earlier this month I posted who I would vote for-should I have a ballot. The post can be found here, but the ten players I selected were Randy Johnson, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Fred McGriff, Pedro Martinez, Mike Piazza, Edgar Martinez, Tim Raines, John Smoltz and Mike Mussina. I also mentioned that I believe Carlos Delgado, Larry Walker, Alan Trammell and Curt Schilling are all HOF caliber players. I have been closely tracking the HOF ballots of other people, and have been re-evaluating my ballot as well (Unlike actual BBWAA writers who submit their ballot, I can go back and make changes). The closest battle in my mind was between fellow starting pitchers Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling. I went with Mussina in my original ballot, having studied his career and determined he was hall worthy. However, I do not feel that I did adequate research on Schilling, and I want to spend some time comparing the two of them, to see who should earn a spot on my (sadly fictional) ballot!

First off, here are their career numbers:

Schilling is listed first with Mussina right below. The two striking differences are the Win total and the strikeout numbers. Mussina had 270 wins compared to only 216 for Schilling. I have been very adamant about the over valuing of wins for pitchers, and this situation is no different. Schilling played on some very bad teams early in his career in Philadelphia, whereas Mussina was on the Orioles and the Yankees on years where they were very successful. As you can see by the ERA and WHIP numbers, each were very good at getting batters out and keeping teams from scoring. Mussina earning 54 more wins than Schilling is not necessarily a reflection of his superior talent.

Schilling struck out 3116 batters, compared to 2813 for Mussina. This is especially notable when you consider that Mussina threw 301 innings more than Schilling, and started 100 more games. The 8.6 K/9 for Schilling is substantially higher than the 7.1 for Mussina, although they were both above average strikeout artists.

The rest of their stats are extremely similar, to the point where it is hard to tell them apart. Schilling had 26 more complete games, a large difference but in a relatively meaningless stat.

Ultimately, I believe both of these players are Hall of Famers. They are slightly above the camp of great starters who fall just short of Hall worthy, such as David Cone, David Wells, or Bret Saberhagen. (although on the same level as Kevin Brown, a notable absence from the Hall). If I had to pick, I think I would change and submit my last vote for Curt Schilling instead of Mike Mussina. They are extremely close and it hurts me to pick Curt instead, as I have always liked Mussina, but he is a (slightly) more deserving candidate.

Tomorrow is the big day - less than 24 hours until Randy and Pedro (and hopefully a couple of other guys) will hear their name called for the Hall. Good luck to all the candidates!