Polo Grounds

Polo Grounds

Saturday, January 21, 2017

HOF Congrats and notes

Last week, three MLB legends got a phone call informing them that they will be enshrined in Cooperstown at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. One player had a short wait, another a medium (but longer than it should have been) wait, and another a long, long wait. But I am sure for each of Ivan Rodriguez, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines, the feeling of elation and joy is the same.

Congratulations to the greatest catcher of all time not named Johnny Bench, the greatest (modern) lead off hitter of all time not named Rickey Henderson, and a top 5 first baseman of all time for their accomplishments, and induction. Here are a couple more of my reactions to the voting this year:

Trevor Hoffman and Vladimir Guerrero

422 members of the BBWAA submitted a ballot this year, and Trevor Hoffman was left only five ballots short of induction. He is basically a lock to go in next year, assuming voters who selected him this year continue to select him next year, and new voters select him at a high percentage (which they did last year). Likewise, Guerrero fell only 15 votes short in his first year on the ballot, and will very likely hear his name called next year. Both are deserving candidates, but I would argue there are players on the ballot at their respective positions who are getting far less support, yet are as, if not more, deserving...

Billy Wagner and Larry Walker

I could write a huge blog comparing Larry Walker and Vlad, but Fangraphs beat me to it so I'll leave it up to the pros. A few sparknotes for the lazy:

WAR: 68.7 (Walker) vs. 54.4 (Guerrero)
JAWS: 58.6 (Walker) vs. 50.2 (Guerrero)

Walker loses out on most counting stats (less HR, RBI, hits) but that is mostly because of a shorter career, and more time spent injured during his prime.

The Coors field effect is what is hurting Walker's vote totals (he received 21.9% last year, still a long ways away from induction). I wrote a blog detailing this more here, if anyone is interested. Point is, Larry Walker should be in the Hall of Fame, and his vote totals, while growing, do not appear to be heading that direction, which is a shame.

If you read my post last month where I talked about how I would handle voting for the 2017 HOF class, you saw that I narrowed my last vote down between Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner, and gave the edge to Hoffman despite some inferior numbers to Wagner (more info here). I still stand by that decision, but it is disheartening to see Hoffman earn 74% of the vote while Wagner gets 10.2%, when their careers are very close in merit. Had Hoffman gotten in this year, I think we would see an uptick in votes for Wagner, but since he did not I think a lot of voters will be in a similar position again next year. It's possible after Hoffman does go in that Wagner's totals will grow, but 75% seems like a pretty steep climb for the lefty. Maybe he will get some attention on the Veteran's Comittee years down the road.

The steady rise for Edgar Martinez

Edgar Martinez jumped up again this year, after going from 27% to 43% a year ago, he climbed again, this time all the way up to 58%, ahead of Bonds and Clemens, as well as Mike Mussina (51%, up from 43% last year) and Curt Schilling (45%, down from 51.3 last year). Edgar has two years left on the ballot, but is in almost the exact same position that recently inducted Tim Raines was in, who had 55% with two years remaining and got in this year with 86% of the vote. I think Edgar will climb again next year, likely into the mid to high 60's, and will finally hear his name called in 2019. It's too long to wait for the greatest DH of all time, but at least he will finally get what he deserves, a plaque in Cooperstown.

Mike Mussina has seen another large jump as well, and with six years still remaining on the ballot for him, I feel much more confident about his likelihood of receiving induction.

The rising vote totals for Bonds and Clemens indicate a shift in voter attitudes towards PED users, and could squeeze some deserving candidates off some ballots, as long as the 'rule of 10' still prevents voters from voting for more than 10 candidates. However, once they get inducted we should see many of the players who are hanging out on the ballot start to see their totals climb. Edgar and Mussina will make it, Schilling likely will as well, but guys like Fred McGriff, Jeff Kent, Gary Sheffield, and the above mentioned Larry Walker and Billy Wagner might be SOL.  It also doesn't help a few of the deserving candidates who got bumped from the ballot after only one year, such as Jim Edmonds and Kenny Lofton (thankfully, there was no one in that category this year, as the highest vote getter under 5% was Jorge Posada, a fine player worthy of consideration, but not enshrinement). In my opinion, in order to avoid having a lot of deserving candidates out of the Hall, the Veteran's Committee is going to have to get busy adding some of the talent the BBWAA isn't able to vote in.

The class of 2018 

With three new players going in this year, and one player (Lee Smith) falling off the ballot, quite a few voters have 3/4 new spots on their ballot for next year. At first glance, this is great news for the holdovers who need more votes, but a new class of first time eligible ballplayers next year is going to make that tough. Joining the ballot next year will be Chipper Jones, a near lock for first ballot induction, Jim Thome, whose 600+ home runs and lack of steroid suspicion should get him in, if not in one year than likely soon, Andrew Jones, an elite fielding center fielder with over 400 home runs, who would be a lock if he hadn't fallen apart in his 30's, but who still will gain some consideration, Scott Rolen, a sabermetrics darling who never quite reached the offensive milestones, but his defense and WAR will gain him votes by newer voters, and Omar Vizquel, the second greatest defensive SS of all time who also amassed over 2800 hits and 400 steals. Toss Johnny Damon and Johan Santana (who had a six year peak rivaling Sandy Koufax) into the frey and you have a very loaded, very challenging ballot to navigate.

I personally haven't decided exactly how I'll vote next year. I am gaining three slots on my ballot, but I know Chipper will get one, Thome will get another, and I think Vizquel/A. Jones/Santana are probably all deserving, and possibly Rolen as well. I also left McGriff/Wagner/Kent off my ballot last year, and still haven't voted for Bonds and Clemens. It will be tricky to determine which ten are most deserving from this ridiculous class. Who knows, maybe by December of next year the rule of 10 will be abolished, and I'll be able to toss all the names on the ballot I think are deserving, as well as first timer Jamie Moyer, who will hit the ballot next year.

Congrats again to Pudge, Bags and Rock, and I look forward to congratulating a few more candidates next year as well!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Arthur Rhodes Appreciation Post

Tomorrow, the Baseball Hall of Fame will open up their hallowed gates for the class of 2017. It looks like we will have two new Hall of Famers, as former Astros slugger Jeff Bagwell and speedster Tim Raines appear to have gained enough votes for enshrinement. Ivan Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman all look like they will be very close, and it's possible one or more of them get inducted as well. However, that means there will be 30 or so players who DON'T get inducted this year, many of whom this will be their first, and last, time on the ballot. But before these players fade back into anonymity, I want to focus on one in particular, a player who won't (or at least shouldn't) get any votes for the Hall of Fame, but has always been a personal favorite of mine. That player is former Baltimore, Seattle, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, St. Louis (deep breath), Oakland, Texas, Cleveland, and Florida lefty Arthur Rhodes.

To be clear, this isn't going to be a blog advocating for Arthur Rhodes and the Hall of Fame, like most of my blogs are. Non-closing relief pitchers are probably never going to be in the Hall, unless of course they make their own relief pitcher Hall of Fame, in which case Rhodes is a first ballot guy. 

8 teams and 3 million years ago when Rhodes came up with the Orioles, they tried him out as a starting pitcher. He started 61 games over four years with the O's, with less than stellar results. Although he did manage to throw 5 complete games, (3 of them shutouts) his 18-22 record, 5.81 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, and 1.46 K/BB ratio didn't inspire a lot of confidence, so they tried him in relief. The rest, as they say, is history. Rhodes threw 839 games and 865.2 innings out of the pen, with a much more respectable 3.43 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 2.62 K/BB ratio, and 9.3 K/9.

Rhodes ended up pitching in 900(!) games in his 20 year career, good for 25th all-time, and sixth all-time among lefties. Only Jesse Orosco, Mike Stanton, John Franco, Dan Plesac and 'Everyday' Eddie Guardado threw more games than Arthur Rhodes from the left side.

Similarly, Rhodes is 21st all time in K/9, and 12th all-time among lefties. Seven of those lefties are still active, and therefore likely to see their K numbers decline. The five retired lefties who have a higher K/9 than Rhodes are Randy Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Sam McDowell, Johan Santana and Dan Plesac. The case for Arthur Rhodes as the best left-handed reliever of all time is a stretch, as Billy Wagner has that on lock down, with Dan Plesac and John Franco not too far behind. However, the case as the best LOOGY of all-time is a little more wide open.

In fact, taking a look at left handed relief pitchers who had over 500 appearances, but weren't closers, Rhodes stacks up very well. Here's a small chart: (Stats are only as relievers)

Rhodes                 3.43 ERA   1.20 WHIP   9.3 K/9    15 WAR     .221/.297/.349 against
Orosco                  3.12 ERA  1.26 WHIP   8.2 K/9   22.9 WAR   .222/.308/.335 against
Stanton                 3.93 ERA  1.35 WHIP   7.2 K/9   13.8 WAR   .258/.327/.378 against
Assenmacher        3.50 ERA  1.32 WHIP   8.5 K/9   13.2 WAR   .251/.319/.369 against
D. Marte               3.48 ERA  1.26 WHIP   9.5 K/9    10.3 WAR  .222/.314/.348 against
S. Kline                3.49 ERA  1.38 WHIP   6.5 K/9    9.9 WAR    .253/.333/.379 against
M. Guthrie           3.75 ERA   1.36 WHP   7.6 K/9     9.3 WAR   .254/.328/.392 against

Rhodes finishes in first place in WHIP, BA against, and OBP against. He finishes second in ERA, second in K/9 (to Marte, who threw 330 less games than Rhodes) and second in WAR. His only real competition for top LOOGY is from Jesse Orosco. Orosco is first all-time in appearances, and still had a lower ERA and similar batting stats against him. His K numbers were slightly lower, but he threw in 300 more games than Rhodes, and probably deserves the nod for #1 LOOGY of all-time, although you could certainly argue for Rhodes. And even if you take Orosco, no one else is really challenging Rhodes for second place on that list.

So why is the second best LOOGY, and the 25th most used pitcher of all time, a personal favorite of mine? Well, for starters, back in September of 2001, in the midst of the Mariners record breaking 116 win season, I went to my first MLB game. At that game, I went down the first base line to watch the pitchers throw long toss pregame, and Arthur Rhodes came over and signed a card for me, the first autograph I ever got in person at a game. I was big into card and autograph collecting for a very long time, and I have Rhodes to credit for a lot of that.

Outside of personal connections, I have always been fascinated by players who have runs of dominance, and Arthur Rhodes, between 2001-2002, was absolutely out of his mind amazing. For two seasons, Rhodes came out of the Mariners bullpen and was lights out. During those two seasons, Rhodes made 137 appearances, throwing 137.2 innings. Here are the stats for those 137 innings:

18-4, 2.03 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 164/25 K/BB, 10.7 K/9, 6.56 K/BB, 208 ERA+, 5.2 WAR.

A 208 ERA+ means that for two years, Arthur Rhodes was twice as good as the average pitcher in the league. Simply amazing. 2001 Arthur Rhodes has to be one of the best seasons of all time by a relief pitcher who wasn't primarily a closer. 68 innings, 8-0 record, 1.72 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 83 K's and only 12 walks. Rhodes only gave up 13 runs all season. His success that season, along with fellow set-up man Jeff Nelson and Kazuhiro Sasaki, helped propel the Mariners to one of the best regular seasons of all-time. Amazingly, Rhodes didn't make an all-star team in either 2001 or 2002, although he did in 2010 as a member of the Cincinnati Reds, at age 40. (For the record, Rhodes had a 2.29 ERA, a 1.02 WHIP and a 179 ERA+ in 55 innings that season).

Tomorrow will be Arthur Rhodes' last day on the Hall of Fame ballot, but I hope that he doesn't begin fading into obscurity, but is instead remembered as one of the best LOOGY's of all time, a position that is ever increasing in importance in a new sabermetric minded baseball world. He should remembered for his longevity and his period of dominance, and not just for his earring incident with Omar Vizquel in 2001.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The All-Willie Team

Last year I posted a blog comprising the "All-Dave team", the best historical roster I could make with 25 guys named Dave or David. That team was phenomenal, with a very balanced roster of hitting and pitching. I decided this time to challenge myself a little more, and make the all Willie team. I could have added Will's, or William's, or Bill's, but I wanted to try and make the roster with just Willies. I almost succeeded, I needed a little help at the catcher position but otherwise, without further ado, let's meet the All-Willie team!

Note: This is not just the 25 best players named Willie. In the interest of actual roster construction, I selected two catchers, a utility player, five starters, and a bullpen. There were some players left off the roster who are better than some players on it, but this is the best roster I could construct.

C: William Fischer (1913-1917, 7.0 WAR)

1B: Willie McCovey (1959-1980, 6 time AS, 1959 ROY, 1969 MVP, 64.4 WAR, 1986 HOF Inductee)

2B: Willie Randolph (1975-1992, 6 time AS, 1 SS Award, 65.5 WAR)

SS: Willie Bloomquist (2002-2015, 1.8 WAR)

3B: Willie Kamm (1923-1935, 35.2 WAR)

LF: "Wee" Willie Keeler (1892-1910, 54 WAR, 1939 HOF Inductee)

CF: Willie Mays (1951-1973, 20 time AS, 1954 ROY, 2 time MVP, 12 GG, 156.2 WAR, 1979 HOF Inductee)

RF: Willie Davis (1960-1979, 2 time AS, 3 GG, 60.5 WAR)

DH: Willie Stargell (1962-1982, 7 time AS, 1979 MVP, 57.5 WAR, 1988 HOF Inductee)

Batting line-up:

1. (L) Willie Keeler - LF                (.341/.388/.415, 3 hr, 62 rbi, 38 SB) 127 OPS+
2. (R) Willie Randolph - 2B           (.276/.373/.351, 4 hr, 51 rbi, 20 SB) 104 OPS+
3. (R) Willie Mays - CF                 (.302/.384/.557, 36 hr, 103 rbi, 18 SB) 156 OPS+
4. (L) Willie McCovey - 1B            (.270/.374/.515, 33 hr, 97 rbi) 147 OPS+
5. (L) Willie Stargell - DH              (.282/.360/.529, 33 hr, 106 rbi) 147 OPS+
6. (L) Willie Davis - RF                  (.279/.311/.412, 12 hr, 70 rbi, 27 SB) 106 OPS+
7. (R) Willie Kamm - 3B                (.281/.372/.484, 3 hr, 79 rbi) 97 OPS+
8. (L) William Fischer - C               (.274/.332/.374, 4 hr, 45 rbi) 110 OPS+
9. (R) Willie Bloomquist - SS         (.269/.316/.342, 3 hr, 35 rbi, 20 SB) 78 OPS+

This is a very interesting line-up. 3-4-5 is flat out dominant. With 33 all-star games, 4 MVP awards, and 1656 home runs between the three Hall of Famers, good luck to any pitchers having to face the heart of this order. HOFer Wee Willie Keeler and his .388 career OBP lead things off, followed by Willie Randolph, who brings a .373 OBP to the table setter spot. These two get on base with the best of them, and their speed combined with the power bats that follow should lead to lots and lots of runs. However, the line-up loses some of its luster in the bottom half. Willie Davis was a fine outfielder whose WAR is boosted heavily by his defensive numbers in CF, but he will shift to right for this line-up, bringing his somewhat pedestrian .279/.311/.412 line and a 106 OPS+. Willie Kamm could get on base, but had limited power and speed. And William Fischer and Willie Bloomquist round out the order. There is only one catcher in history named William (our backup is named Willard) who had a positive WAR. Fischer played five seasons, amassed a 7.0 WAR, and was slightly above average with the stick. We will take it. Bloomquist takes the SS position because the only other player to spend any time at SS named Willie was a player in the 50's named Willy Miranda, who played 9 seasons and over 1000 games at SS, but had a negative career WAR and a fantastically bad 55 OPS+. Bloomquist would make a phenomenal utility infielder for this team, but is forced into a starting role by virtue of his SS experience, despite his pedestrian hitting numbers and his -2.3 dWAR. However, the top half of this order should supply enough offense to carry the load for this squad, even if the bottom half leaves something to be desired.


Willard Hershberger (C, 100 OPS+, 2.0 WAR)
Willie Upshaw (1B/LF, 103 OPS+, 13 WAR)
Willie Harris (OF/2B, 79 OPS+, 3.4 WAR)
Willie Jones (3B, 101 OPS+, 25.1 WAR)
Willie Horton (LF/DH, 120 OPS+, 26.4 WAR)
Willie McGee (CF, 100 OPS+, 34 WAR)
Willie Wilson (CF, 94 OPS+, 46 WAR)

There are a lot, I mean a lot, of good outfielders named Willie. They also almost all played in the same era (50's-80's). The outfield is historically where more African-American players have played, and the majority of the hitters on this team are from that era, and are African-American. It's an interesting concept, and it gives this team some depth in the grass, with power hitting slugger Willie Horton (325 home runs) and two speedy CFers in Willie McGee and Willie Wilson. Six OF may seem excessive, but Horton is certainly more of a DH type, and McGee or Wilson can both function in more of a PR capacity. Willie Upshaw had a short career but hit well when he did play, and he will serve as the third 1B/DH player on this squad, behind McCovey and Stargell. Willie Jones almost cracked the starting line-up but narrowly lost out to Willie Kamm. Jones has more power, and could be inserted into the line-up and they wouldn't miss a beat. Willard Hershberger is the only player on this team whose first name doesn't end in E or Y, but he is necessary to include as a backup catcher. The last roster spot was a toss up between Willie Greene and Willie Harris, but ultimately I went with Harris because he has more experience in the MIF. He didn't play much at SS in his career, so any rest for Bloomquist could compromise the defense. Willie Montanez and Willie Aikens were both fine outfielders in their career, but miss out on this roster because of the depth we already have in the outfield.

Just missed the cut: Willie Montanez, Willie Aikens, Willie Crawford, Willie Greene, Willy Miranda


SP: Willie Mitchell (1909-1919, 83-92, 2.88 ERA, 17.5 WAR, 104 ERA+)

SP: Willie Sudhoff (1897-1906, 102-135, 3.60 ERA, 14.4 WAR, 91 ERA+)

SP: Willie McGill (1890-1896, 71-73, 4.57 ERA, 10.5 WAR, 100 ERA+)

SP: Wily Peralta (2012-Now, 42-48, 4.18 ERA, 3.3 WAR, 94 ERA+)

SP: Willie Blair (1990-2001, 60-86, 5.04 ERA, 3.4 WAR, 88 ERA+)

It's interesting to me that the 60's and 70's were filled with good hitting ballplayers named Willie, but that finding a pitcher named Willie was damn near impossible. This rotation is pretty darn awful, and the three pitchers atop the rotation were all out of baseball around the first World War. Mitchell, Sudhoff and McGill are all interchangeable as average dead ball era arms, nothing to write home about. Peralta had a 17 win, 3.53 ERA season in 2014, but has only earned 12 wins and a 4.80 ERA since then. At age 27, he's running out of time to turn it around. Rounding out the rotation is Willie Blair, who managed to stick around in the big leagues for 12 seasons despite pretty awful numbers. He was a swingman who made 139 starts in his career, pitching to a 5.34 ERA as a starter. He went 16-8 with a 4.17 ERA in 1997 with Detroit, but was decidedly below average otherwise.


RP: Willie Hernandez (1977-1989, 119 ERA+) 1984 MVP and Cy Young winner
RP: Willie Ramsdell (1947-1952, 107 ERA+)
RP: Willie Banks (1991-2002, 90 ERA+)
RP: Willie Fraser (1986-1995, 90 ERA+)

It seems impossible, but this bullpen might actually be even worse than the rotation. Led by Willie Hernandez, who is easily the best pitcher on this team, the all Willie bullpen will struggle to hold down leads, assuming our starters can keep runs off the board early on. Ramsdell (4.05) and Banks (5.54) were both swing men, and both were actually worse as relievers than they were as starters. That doesn't really bode well for this squad. Either of them could step in and replace Blair, who was better as a reliever, but had over 50 starts more in his career than either of them. Our last arm, Willie Fraser, was at least better as a reliever (3.87 ERA) but his 165 K's in 316 innings out of the pen doesn't look great. Regardless of how you set the pitching rotation up, this team is going to surrender a lot of runs.

Future Additions

Last year, 21 year old second base prospect Willie Calhoun blasted 27 home runs in 132 games for the AA Tulsa Drillers, an affiliate of the LA Dodgers. Calhoun is now listed as the Dodgers 4th best prospect, and could make his MLB debut as soon as 2017. He doesn't project to stay at 2B after making 18 errors in 65 games there, but could still make the bigs as a 3B or a LF. He's undersized, but has raw power and a sweet left-handed swing. Cracking this squad as an OF would require a pretty spectacular career for Calhoun, but if he stays in the infield he could easily challenge Harris or W. Jones for a spot on this roster someday.

Final Thoughts

If your favorite era of baseball was the late 90's, when teams were winning games 9-7 and scoreless innings were a rarity, you would like this squad. It has tremendous OF/1B/DH depth, but is seriously lacking on the left side of the infield, behind the plate and on the mound. This team would probably be good against normal competition, based solely off of the Keeler/Randolph/Mays/McCovey/Stargell top 5, but I can't imagine them faring well against teams like the All-Dave team, or other "name" teams. The pitching is too thin, and the lack of power outside of the big three would hurt this team in the long run.