Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Cooperstown Class of 2005

It's that time of year again. BBWAA members everywhere have debated, discussed, and drawn in their votes to determine who will take residence at the sacred shrine of Cooperstown.

Not that it amounts to anything, but you can place your vote at An interesting discussion over at Page 2 between guys whose votes actually DO matter can be found here:

I'll post a few thoughts about the Page 2 discussion, and then move on to my ballot.

Page 2 writer himself, Michael Knisley, argues this point first:
I feel about relievers the same way I feel about designated hitters. If they're a part of the game, then the best of 'em ought to be in the Hall.
I actually share these sentiments. Relievers are indeed a huge part of the modern game, and since the DH has been around for 30 years (and isn't likely to be going away anytime soon), it also should be considered a valid position. Considering, too, how both of these roles have changed the game, in the last 20 years especially, it makes more sense to start looking at the best of them and adding them to the Hall. This is my argument as to why I think Edgar should be a first-ballot HOF'er. Now that MLB and Bud Selig have shown their support by naming the DH award after Edgar, I have more fuel to that fire. Any player who singlehandedly defines a role that changes baseball, and becomes the best player to ever have played that position, should be enshrined in the Hall.

The ever-brilliant Jim Caple fires back with this response:
Backup catcher is part of the game, too, but we don't put them in the Hall of Fame.
Thankfully, Knisely puts him in his place. He continues to further my thought that guys like Gossage, Sutter and Smith deserve at least consideration, merely by the impact they had on the game:
How can you pretend that Sutter or Lee Smith didn't have a major impact on the game? They were as dominant in their roles as Boggs was in his.
Indeed (though I'm siding more with Caple on Lee Smith)! I was quite surprised that Caple didn't fire back that a pinch-hitter or a backup catcher does have a relative impact on a game, and the best of the best of them should be included in the Hall. I might be convinced by a pinch-hitter being elected, eventually, if one ever dominates the game.

However, later on in the argument, Knisely shoots himself in the foot with regards to Blyleven:
I hate to bring up the "magic number" thinking, but we're going to have to deal with it sooner or later here. So I'll say it: I'd like for Bert to have reached 300 wins.
I'm so sick of hearing this! It's as though the Win column is the first thing that people look at to determine how good a pitcher is. Whether your a stathead sabermatrician or not, it's very easy to see (if you watch a lot of baseball, that is) that it's a stat so beyond a pitcher's control it really should be banished from the record books! Here's a couple of scenarios that happen quite often through no fault of the starting pitcher:
  • After giving up 2 runs through 6 2/3 innings, the starting pitcher hands the ball to a LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY) in spite of his team being ahead 6-2, and the bases loaded. The LOOGY proceeds to give up a grand slam home run and the game is now tied (with 3 of the 4 runs charged to the starting pitcher). A new reliever comes in and strikes the next batter out. The starting pitcher's team then rallies in the 8th, scoring two runs. The reliever who came in for the LOOGY stays in, gives up 1 run, and the closer comes on in the ninth to save it the game. Reliever 2, then, gets the win. The SP goes home ticked -- he didn't give up the bomb that tied the game, and nor did he benefit from the extra two runs that the offense generated in the 8th. After leaving in the 7th with the bases loaded, the scenario escaped his control. He's credited with a) a no-decision and b) an inflated ERA because of the three runs the LOOGY allowed to score. This whole scenario is one of the hugest flaws I see in all of baseball. Runners left on base by one pitcher allowed to score by another pitcher should be at the very least split in half. For this reason, the stat for the LOOGY and any other relief pitcher (outside of, maybe, the closer)
  • Starting pitcher gives up a two-run HR with 2 outs in the top of the 8th. The runner on first had reached via throwing error from the SS on what should've been the third out. Their offense hasn't done much that day, just scoring 1 run early in the game. Same nothingness from the offense in bottom of the 8th. Starting pitcher returns in the 9th to pitch the complete game, striking out the side. Bottom of the ninth, down 2-1, the other team's closer comes in and does the same. Game over, SP is credited with the loss, 2-1. Okay maybe this is an extreme example, but it does illustrate my point. As much as I despise the guy, Ryan Franklin in 2003 and 2004 is another good example of how little the pitcher actually controls his win/loss totals. You could have an entire rotation of Pedro Martinez, Bob Gibson, Whitey Ford, Walter Johnson, and Cy Young, and a defense (and therefore an offense) full of Ozzie Smith types, and still lose 100 ball games.
  • A starter goes 4, the game is paused for a 3-hour rain delay, and a reliever inherits that 5-0 lead, and the game is called after 5 for more rain (an official game is credited). For a quarter of the work, the reliever gets the win. This sounds like a gift of Biblical proportions (see Matthew 20:1-16)...
Fundamentally, baseball is about scoring the most runs and then subsequently preventing your opponent from scoring. Your pitchers can give up just under 3 runs a game, but that requires you to score 4 runs in the 5+ innings your starters pitch for a notch to be added to their win column (and for your team to win, too).

If you haven't read it yet, go read Michael Wolverton's explanation of support-neutral stats for pitchers. For that matter, go read all of the Baseball Prospectus' Basics articles. They're well-worth the money (in spite of being free). I'm in no way shape or form a sabermatrician, but I really appreciate that perspective and am very much interested in learning more about sabermetrics and the statistical analysis approach. I've got an article brewing for the Morsels here that will probably be my first critical delve into the statistical arena.

So, with the above stated, here's the boxes I'm checking:

1) Bert Blyleven. Rich Lederer has won me over. I didn't watch him a whole lot, as I really wasn't into baseball that seriously when he pitched. Still, you can't argue against his stats. If guys like Sutton, Bunning, Jenkins and Phil Neikro can get in, then no doubt BB deserves to be there.

2) Wade Boggs. Duh. First ballot'er for sure. My favorite player of the 80's.

3) Rich "Goose" Gossage. Guys like Goose and Eck, and arguably Sutter and Smith, really defined the closer's role, and helped baseball change from the 4-man rotation, 300+ innings pitched to today's model of SP/RP/Closer. The traditionalist Catholic in me is highly resistant to change, but having grown up Lutheran respects and demands change. It's a thin tightrope that can be very crazy to walk, but baseball does change and will continue to change. It's a shame that members of the BBWAA (and others, for that matter) cling to the cobwebs and loathe the current closer's role and the DH. Personally, I were going to really loathe a particular change in baseball, I'd vote to spend my energy on loathing Free Agency or the Anti-Trust exemption.

4) Tommy John. There are guys voted in merely for inventing things. Of course, more credit should go to the doctor (Frank Jobe), but for a guy to come back and pitch the way TJ did and have the surgery eventually being named after him (even if unoffically), it could be argued that he changed the game of baseball. After all, he had to do the work to rehab (even if it was Jobe who invented and performed the surgery) and he pitched for a long, long time afterward. Give some points to being the guinea pig. Ignoring this, though, you could vote him in on the stats. Again, if guys like Sutton, Bunning, Jenkins and Phil Neikro can get in, then no doubt TJ deserves to be there.

5) Don Mattingly. What?!? That's right. I'm giving him the nod. The dude was one of, if not the, most feared hitter in baseball in the last half of the '80s. His career numbers fall short, possibly, of hall status. But if Koufax can get in for his short dominance, Mattingly deserves equally so. Compare Don's stats to Puckett's, and you'll find a lot of similarities. The 9 Gold Gloves don't hurt either. Mattingly has to be the best Yankee ever to never have won a World Series game (only postseason play was in 1995, when he destroyed M's pitching for a .417/.440/.708 line & 6 RBIs).

6) Ryne Sandberg. I'm actually quite ticked he hasn't already been elected. Ryno has to be one of the top-5 all-time greatest 2B ever, both offensively and defensively, and has the stats and the longevity to prove it. I don't understand at all why he wasn't a first-ballot HOF'er. Third time's the charm, I suppose.

7) Alan Trammell. Overshadowed defensively by The Wizard, and offensively, perhaps, by Cal Ripken. Still, the AL's best defensive shortstop for several years in the early '80s. Much better than Aparicio offensively, too. Paul White wrote an interesting piece a couple of years ago arguing that Trammell, when all things are considered, was a better shortstop overall than Ozzie Smith. Considering that I value offensive production much more highly than defensive production, I agree. Defense is important -- vital -- don't get me wrong, but I do believe that a player can contribute more to wins through offense. I'd take Manny Ramirez in the OF 8 days a week, if I can have his level of offensive production. Here's another interesting nomination for Trammell for the Hall. The duo of Ripkena and Trammell should be added to the HOF registers as the two guys who helped keep the SS position warm, offensively, for guys like Pay-Rod, Nomar, Jeter, and Tejada.

On the bubble (in this order): Jack Morris, Andre Dawson, Bruce Sutter, Jim Rice.

I guess we'll find out what the BBWAA thinks on January 4th. Thank goodness there's the Veteran's committee to cover up the messes the BBWAA can make (though they should be given the power to remove players who shouldn't be there).


At 1/25/2005 2:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not a fan of Jim Caple either, but the general thrust of his argument is valid. I don't see that each "role" on a baseball team should be considered a legitimate HoF category, with a corresponding search for the best candidates in that category. The bottom of that slippery slope is advocacy for the induction of Bob Uecker and Herb Washington as HoF players (for those not familiar with Washington, simply look him up on Baseball Reference and it will become clear what his role was...Uecker was one of the finest knuckleball catchers of all time, which his stats don't record).

I began discussing Edgar's credentials about 5 years ago, along with Harold Baines. They're different players, but each candidacy asks the same important question: What should the standard be for designated hitters? I think that they clearly sit beyond the end of the defensive spectrum, past the first basemen. Thus the offensive standard should be at least as high for the DH as for the 1B. What many people, especially Mariner fans who've become accustomed to watching a team with an everyday DH, forget is that an everyday DH actually needs to be of excellent offensive quality to avoid hurting the team. An open DH slot is a very useful tool for working injured players back into full-time roles, for getting players from demanding positions (like catcher) into the lineup every day, and for opportunistic lineup construction against opposing starters. Note that throughout Ivan Rodriguez's time with the Rangers, they never had an everyday DH in the Edgar/Chili Davis mold. They collected the Lee Stevens/Mickey Tettleton/Mike Simms type of player who were decent hitters but not so good that sitting them half the time was a problem. No matter how good a potential everyday DH was, he was going to displace plate appearances by Rodriguez. That's the roster-construction situation for at least 80% of the teams in the AL, but fans in Seattle have been watching something else for quite a while. The everyday DH punts away all those uses for the slot, so his contribution must be judged against a significantly higher standard, even higher than that of the first basemen. To be clearly worthy of induction, a DH should be able to make a case at least as good as those of the worst first basemen who were clearly worthy: Killebrew, Greenberg, McCovey, etc. I don't see an argument like that for Baines. Edgar has a better case, but that puts him somewhere near those guys rather than clearly with them. I think Edgar could eventually get in, but I don't see him as a player who clearly should. It is neither a travesty for him to be inducted nor excluded. I refuse to join in the "first-ballot" HoF argument, because I think clouding the argument with strangely-defined tiers in the HoF group is counterproductive. When Ron Santo finally gets in, I don't want that to be diminished by his lack of a magic "first-ballot" label.

I agree that Bert Blyleven is obviously a HoF-caliber pitcher, especially in an environment where people agonized over the Dodger Dons (Drysdale and Sutton) who have lesser credentials. Except for brief periods in Pittsburgh and later in Minnesota, Blyleven pitched for crappy low-profile teams in nearly every season of his career. It's not as big a problem for him as it is for Tom Seaver, but it's adverse; it prevented Blyleven from getting the shiny single-season W-L records he deserved. I invite those skeptical about Blyleven to look up his career and single-season walk and strikeout rates and then recall that Blyleven was setting up a curveball with a curveball. He has numbers like a power pitcher, but it was with breaking pitches and control. If you ask me as a GM to take any pitcher from the last 30 years or so, with the provision that I get that pitcher's entire career rather than just their peak, Blyleven would clearly be one of the first 5 I would choose.

In your comments about relief pitchers I see some evidence that you may not have thought through what constitutes an excellent relief season, and why. The relief seasons for which Eckersley is most famous are excellent relief seasons, in which he was shutting teams down in short appearances. His innings totals in those years are OK by today's standard, but pretty lame by the standards set by pitchers like Gossage and Mike Marshall in the 1970's. I think Gossage's good relief seasons in the 70's and early 80's blow away almost any closer's season from 1990 onward, because his innings are in a totally different range. To counter his quantity with higher quality one must actually present seasons like Eckersley's 1990. The modern closer, pitching only 70 innings, can't really make a good MVP case; it's like giving the MVP to a pinch hitter. How, without 40-year careers, shall we justify inducting career relief pitchers with that profile into the HoF? I think we basically can't, which is why Eckersley (who has, essentially, two medium-length careers of good quality) and Gossage (who pitched a lot more innings than today's closers) are the only relief pitchers I advocate. To advocate Sutter, Smith and their ilk, one must believe that the save meaningfully measures pitching ability, which is at least as absurd as believing W-L record does so. The only current run of seasons that looks like part of a HoF relief pitcher's career to me is that of Octavio Dotel 2001-2004, though his innings dropped down to 85 or so last year. In order to make themselves look more tactically savvy, today's managers are using good pitchers in incredibly narrow roles. They are screwing themselves, their teams and their relief pitchers out of the opportunity for truly great relief seasons. This is a problem, but it's not the HoF's problem.

I'm not very high on Mattingly's case. Your Koufax comparison is interesting, because that induction should have been far more controversial than it was at the time. We now know that Dodger pitchers in the early 60s were benefiting from what is, even today, a great pitcher's park. Beyond that, the pre-1969 unregulated pitching mound in Chavez Ravine was very tall. Judged in that context, Koufax's argument based on a few excellent seasons should have faced an uphill battle. I think it's OK for Koufax to be in, but I would prefer that it be acknowledged as an unusual case and not widely regarded as an obvious induction. I think similarly about Mattingly, except that he is worse off than Koufax for a very simple reason: After his injury, Mattingly sucked and was hurting the Yankees a lot. His offensive numbers from 1990 on are horrible compared to his peers at first base, so the Yankees were paying him a lot of money to damage their chances. Yeah, the glove was still good, but it's first base so there's only so much that a glove can do to remedy problems with the bat. It's a weird case, so it tends to yield many different conclusions. I've concluded that Mattingly is not an obvious HoF player.

Jack Morris is not a HoF pitcher, and I'm tired of the claim that he is or might be. If you look at his DIPS (HR, BB, K) the rates aren't interesting. His strikeout rate is 5.83 / 9 innings, in an era when falling below 5.0 would usually send a pitcher to the minors. His walk rate was 3.27 / 9, also unremarkable. Great pitchers typically have K / BB ratios closer to 3:1, while many good pitchers fall closer to the 2:1 range. Morriss ratio is about 1.8:1, which I can't get excited about. Preventing homers was also not a strength compared to his contemporaries. What jumps out at me in Morris's stats are his W-L records, which are clearly a product of playing exclusively for strong offensive teams. Morris was a good pitcher who threw a lot of innings on good teams, but was never the best pitcher in his league. His peak seasons are not far above his career performance level. If you put in this guy, then you've unblocked the door for dozens of pitchers. Dave Stieb, Milt Pappas...many good pitchers have an argument at least as strong as Morris's, but I seriously doubt they all deserve to go.

Thanks for reading,

Jim Campbell

At 1/28/2005 9:10 PM, Blogger PositivePaul said...

Jim, excellent points -- thanks for your comments!

I have Morris on the bubble, moreso because others have some solid arguments for him, but they're not solid enough to sway me. He probably wouldn't get my vote.

My obvious bias for Edgar wants him to be a first-ballot HOF'er, because although enshrinement in Cooperstown is a HUGE honor no matter when or how you get in there, there is at the very least the perception that getting there on your first try is extra special. To me, it would signify a philosophical shift, since there are so many BBWAA members who absolutely abhorr the DH and would refuse to enshrine Edgar even if his numbers were more Bonds-like.

That said, I can certainly understand why the BBWAA would never even vote him in. There are very strong arguments on both sides of the coin. His numbers, though, are very similar to Enos Slaughter's, and I'd say Edgar had much more impact on the game than Slaughter did. That's why I expect Edgar to be picked up by the Veteran's Committee. I would be hugely disappointed if they didn't. I'd see it as the hugest HOF travesty since, well, Ron Santo. I expect the debate to continue for quite some time for both Santo and Edgar, but I don't see how they'll avoid Cooperstown enshrinement all together.

As far as the relief pitcher scenario goes, you indeed make some good arguments. However, I'm looking past the "save" statistic, really, and trying to find pitchers who came in and shut the lights off -- and I'm not talking about those 3-run saves either. Sure, the initial closers pitched more innings. The position has evolved in such a short time, even from Gossage's and Eck's day. But the new role of the bullpen has changed the game, and the most important position in that role is the closer. It's more for the intangibles than the tangibles in this case.

Having that guy you can count on to put the nail in the coffin of a game is very much like having that "ace" starter who can come in on 3 days rest to start Game 7. It takes a lot of poise and ability to shut the other team down in a tight situation. I know that a lot of sabermetricians don't agree with that position, but that's one area of sabermetrics that I don't agree with. You want your best bullpen pitcher available in a tight last-inning situation, and that's who you have close. Managers who think and do otherwise are not very good managers in my book. Sure, as you point out, they're screwing themselves by putting relievers into narrow roles. But I look at that more as a "LOOGY" situation moreso than the 1-inning closer. Would I prefer the closer to be a 2-inning pitcher, maybe. But I'm OK with that role only being 1 inning.

I would definitely put Rivera in the HOF class for the very reason that he's the reliever version of this 7th-game Ace. Not just because he's racked up a lot of saves, but really because he's a guy that won't likely get rocked with a one-run lead. Both Gagne and Smoltz are like that, too, although Gagne is more of the classic multi-inning closer, and Smoltz is returning to the starting rotation. Certainly a guy like Shawn Chacon, were he to have a 25-year career like 2004, with 35 saves and a 7.11 ERA, though he likely would become the all time saves leader, would definitely not be deserving of the Hall. To me, both Sutter and Smith fall closer in to that category than do Gossage and Eck. That's why I don't have them listed, except, again, on the bubble (though I didn't even list Smith there).

Again, Jim, thanks for visiting the site and contributing your excellent comments!


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