Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Final thoughts on the Hall of Fame and future projections

Today they announced that nobody will be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and quite frankly, I'm okay with that.
I am a little perturbed by some of the numbers. I was hoping Jeff Bagwell would get a larger boost, but that is mainly for sentimental reasons for that he would get close enough that he would be able to get in next year when Biggio inevitably gets inducted. Mike Piazza should be put in the same group as McGwire, Sosa, and Palmeiro, not at the 58% he received, but somehow has managed to get a free pass. And lastly, I was expecting (and hoping) for Bonds and Clemens to get more than they did, somewhere in the 45-50% range, not the 35-40 which insures that it will take a lot longer for them to be inducted than originally anticipated.
And I do feel somewhat robbed. What would have been possibly the greatest Hall of Fame class since the inaugural class of 1936 is now empty.
But overall, I am satisfied with the results. While quite a few deserving guys were left off, it has become expected, and on top of that, it is more important that the guys who don't deserve it are left off. Because of that, the most important thing is that Jack Morris doesn't get inducted ( which I why explained in this post) and tarnish the Hall. Not only did he not reach the 75%, he didn't even gain any ground, only receiving three more votes than last year.
Another thing is that this vote greatly helps the prestige of the Hall of Fame. The baseball hall of fame is so much more special than any other sport because it is much more difficult to get in. However over the last couple decades the voting has become increasingly more lenient. Half the first ballot players would have had to wait longer in previous generations, and many of the guys who got in later years would have been veterans committee inductees, if that. By today's standards there would be many more first ballot inductees, more BBWAA inductees, and quite a few more players in the Hall of Fame in general. Thankfully, this vote will likely raise the bar back to what it was used to be, as not only will it be harder for players even slightly associated to get inducted, but the clutter of many credible candidates will make it harder for the rest.
As for next year and beyond, it will be interesting to see who gets in. There are five notable first years that will be eligible, so let's look at them first:
(keep in mind that this is not who I think should get in, but who I think will get in and when, based on how the writers tend to vote)
Greg Maddux: Definite first ballot lock. In the last 32 Hall of Fame votes (including this year), only five starting pitchers have gotten inducted on the first ballot, but there will likely be five more over the next two seasons.  The cream of this crop is Maddux.  The five aforementioned pitchers are Nolan Ryan, who received 98.8% in 1999, Steve Carlton, who received 95.6% in 1994, Tom Seaver, who received 98.8% 1992, and Jim Palmer, who received 92.6% in 1990.  Considering Maddux is a far superior pitcher to any of these guys, he should at the very least match Ryan and Seaver's voting numbers.  He won't however, as there will be some voters who won't vote for anyone from the steroid era on the first ballot, but he should still receive well above 90% of the votes.
(Side note: The last starting pitcher before these five to get inducted his first year was Bob Gibson, who got inducted with just 84% in 1981.  Juan Marichal, who was eligible for the first time that same year, didn't get inducted until 1983.  This shows how much easier it would become, as both Gibson and Marichal were superior to those five guys).
Tom Glavine: While he won't receive as many votes as his longtime teammate, he will definitely get in next year, probably getting somewhere in the 80 percent range.  It really is too bad Smoltz stuck around that extra year with Boston and St. Louis, because it would have been amazing to see the three of them inducted together.
Frank Thomas: He's more of a question mark than Maddux and Glavine due to being the kind of player he was during the era he played in, but he still gets in. He's the only player to hit 500 home runs during the steroid era without a shred of suspicion (not saying we know for sure he's clean, but he's one of the few guys who have provided no reason to believe otherwise).  I predict he barely gets above the 75% threshold.
Jeff Kent: Kent will definitely be a Hall of Famer at some point but won't come close on the first ballot.  The best indicator is to look at the trajectories of his fellow middle infielders that have gotten inducted over the past decade.  Roberto Alomar just missed getting inducted with 73.7% in 2011 before getting 90% on his second try.  Craig Biggio will likely see the same thing happen to him.
Kent won't have it as easy as Alomar or Biggio but should be able to follow the trajectories of Ryne Sandberg and Barry Larkin.   Sandberg received 49.2 in his first year eligible in 2003.  In following years he received 61.1% in 2004 before being inducted his third year with 76.1% in 2005.  Similarly, Larkin received 51.6% his first year in 2010, followed by 62.1% in 2011, finally getting inducted easily on his third try with 86.4% of the vote.  So if recent history is any precedent, Kent should receive about 50% of the vote next year and get inducted in 2016, his third year.  However, because he will be facing much more competition on the ballot, he'll probably have to wait a year longer than Sandberg or Larkin.
Mike Mussina: Schilling and Mussina are pretty much equals for the most part.  Mussina has the better record, but Schilling has a slightly better ERA and more strikeouts.  Schilling was better at his peak, while Mussina was more consistent for a longer period of time.  Schilling was one of the greatest post-season pitchers ever, while Mussina was one of the greatest defensive pitchers ever.  Overall, they balance each other out (personally, I don't believe either should be in the Hall of Fame, but that is irrelevant to this post).
So because of that, Mussina will receive a similar amount of votes next year as Schilling received this year, which is just south of 40%.  However, after that, their trajectories will be quite different and Mussina will have a much longer path (which I will go into detail when I get to Schilling later).  Mussina won't gain ground for awhile, even probably drop in support as more and more higher candidates will crowd the ballots in years to come.  Once the influx of great players settles down, he will start to gain some momentum, especially when it's just him and the steroid users.  It's too early to predict if it will be enough, as there is somewhat of a queue when it comes to returnees gaining enough momentum to receive induction, and there is no telling where he'll be on the queue and whether or not he'll be high enough to get in.  But I would say he gets in in the 10th year or later

Now, onto the guys returning from this year's ballot:
Craig Biggio: Getting close to 70% on the first year makes you a lock for the second year.  Might as well get the plaque ready now.
Jack Morris: What once was a seemingly sure thing has turned into a tossup for Morris.  After getting 66.6% with two years to go, Morris only received three more votes than the previous year.  For someone that has been on the ballot for as long as he has, and to be as close as he was after being at 53.5% in 2011, to gain nothing is completely unprecedented.
He has a decent possibility of a final year boost, but in 2009 Jim Rice received just 20 more votes in his final year compared to the previous year to get in.  Considering that Morris will need more than double that with around 42 votes (based on this year's number of 569 voters, although this numbers slightly vary from year to year), everyone but Dale Murphy is returning along with the five main new guys, and certain players likely receiving sizable boosts to their totals, I predict Morris barely misses induction into the Hall of Fame.
Jeff Bagwell: How nice would it be to see Bagwell and Biggio go in together.  Unfortunately, Bagwell didn't get enough momentum, going from 56% in 2012 to 59.6% in 2013.  He should see a pretty good increase, as I can see a decent number of writers voting for him for sentimental reasons because of Biggio's obvious induction.  The problem is he needs about 87 more votes, and I don't see nearly that many changing their no votes to a yes, at least with this cluttered ballot.  However, it will probably be a big enough jump to gain the momentum needed, leading to an induction by 2016.
Mike Piazza: His 57.8% in his first year insures that he will get inducted within a few years.  Probably not next year due to Biggio and all the first year guys, but by his third year in 2015, he'll get in, unless something comes out that makes everyone realize he was a member of the PED club.
Tim Raines: The good news has gradually improved upon his 22.7% in his second year of eligibility in 2009 and has gotten above the 50% threshold.  The bad news is that his momentum has slowed as a result of the wave of big names on the ballot, and it will be a slow crawl to Cooperstown.  He will gradually get there, but it will likely take another four years or so, getting inducted in 2017, when none of the first years will get inducted.
Lee Smith: Give or take eight percentage points, Smith has pretty much remained stagnant since his 42.6% his first year of eligibility in 2003, currently standing at 47.8%, down from his high of 50.6% last year.  Considering he only has five years left on the ballot and there will be more and more big names on the ballot in coming years, it is very unlikely he gets in.
Curt Schilling: Normally, I would say the same thing about Schilling as I said about Mussina considering their equal status.  But as everyone knows, Schilling is an outspoken blowhard and will surely be one of those guys that incessantly campaigns for his inducted until he gets the nod.  And as Gary Carter and Bert Byleven have proven, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  Therefore, I see him getting inducted around 2019.
Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds: We might as well combine these two, as their votes were almost identical (separated by just eight votes), and so will their Hall of Fame trajectories, and will most likely go in the Hall of Fame together at some point.  The only question is how long?
I had originally projected these two to get somewhere between 45-50% the first year, getting a huge boost to above 60% the second year, and the Hall by the fourth or fifth year of eligibility.  However, their lesser than expected vote totals (37.6% for Clemens, 36.2% for Bonds) indicates that the wait will be much, much longer.
The question is, how many of these voters voted against them just to make them wait, and how many will simply not vote for these two, no matter what?  The fact that over 60% of the voters voted against them makes me think that there are at least 25% of the voters, or 40% of those that didn't vote for them this year, will never vote for them.
After next year, and seeing what kind of increase they get, it will be far easier to predict how long it will take for them to get in, or if they will ever.  However, I see them topping 50% in 2014, and coming within 10% by 2016.  After that, it will be very hard for them to gain ground and it will take a long time for them to reach that elusive 75%.  What will ultimately be on their side is the new generation of baseball writers who seem to be much more lenient on the steroid users getting into the Hall, as it seems to me that the overwhelming majority of those who have less than the ten years needed to vote are in support of these two going into hall, and  eventually enough of them will have the voting power, and there will be enough writers who feel they have waited long enough, to get them in.  After that, it will open the floodgates to all the other users, as the voters will begin to loosen up at that point.
Edgar Martinez: After four years on the ballot, Martinez has consistently remained in the mid 30's in percentage points every year.  Expect him to be one of the victims of next year's great class, seeing a big dropoff.  He may eventually rise up over the years, but it won't be enough to get him in.
Alan Trammell: He's in the low 30's, following a slight dropoff, with only three years left on the ballot with a huge class coming in.  Yeah, he's not getting in.  Perhaps if he retired three-five years earlier (and he was injured most of the time while playing poorly the rest during his later years so it wouldn't have hurt him at all), he could have gained enough momentum during the crop of weaker first years in previous years to eventually get in, but he stuck around too long and as a result will have to rely on the veteran's committee to get in.
Larry Walker: He's one of those guys that will likely float around on the ballot until his time is up.  He'll never get the momentum needed for induction.
Fred McGriff: Here's a guy far away but still has 11 more years on the ballot, where a lot can happen.  He'll probably stay at a low level and it will be awhile before momentum starts to grow, but he'll be one of the guys that will be a recipient of a huge surge in his later years.  Will it be enough to get in or will it be too little too late?  I see him getting his final year on the BBWAA ballot, or pretty close.
Mark McGwire: Isn't it ironic?  He left the game after the 2001 season because he knew the steroid storm was coming, and because of that it's going to cost him whatever shot he had at the Hall of Fame.  Bonds and Clemens will eventually get in, and as a result the voters will start being more lenient to other users.  Unfortunately for McGwire, it will likely come too late, as his last year of eligibility will be 2021, likely around the same time those guys get inducted.
Sammy Sosa: Here's the difference between Sosa and McGwire: Sosa will still have time to get in.  He'll need to stay on the ballot however.  He had 12.5% this year, and there's a strong possibility, especially looking at the dwindling number of votes for McGwire and Palmeiro, that his may fall as well.
If he's still on the ballot when Bonds and Clemens get inducted, he'll probably gain some momentum.  It probably won't be nearly enough, but we don't know what everyone's attitude will be by then.
Rafael Palmeiro: Forget trying to get into the Hall of Fame, just worry about staying on the ballot.  Having one of the largest drop-offs, going from 12.6% in 2012 to 8.8% in 2013, Palmeiro lost 22 votes this year.  If he loses another 22 votes, he will fall under the five percent needed.  If he doesn't fall off the ballot after next year, he will sometime after that.

Overall, here are my predictions for the next decade:

Greg Maddux (1st ballot), Craig Biggio (2nd ballot), Tom Glavine (1st ballot), Frank Thomas (1st ballot)
John Smoltz (1st ballot), Pedro Martinez (1st ballot), Randy Johnson  (1st ballot), Mike Piazza (3rd ballot)
Ken Griffey Jr. (1st ballot), Trevor Hoffman (1st ballot), Jeff Bagwell (6th ballot)
Jeff Kent (4th ballot), Tim Raines (10th ballot)
Vladimir Guerrero (2nd ballot), Chipper Jones (1st ballot)
Mariano Rivera (1st ballot), Curt Schilling (7th ballot)
Omar Vizquel (3rd ballot), Ivan Rodriguez (I predict he gets a pass) (4th ballot)
Derek Jeter (1st ballot), Jim Thome (4th ballot)
Barry Bonds (10th ballot), Roger Clemens (10th ballot), Ichiro Suzuki (2nd ballot)
After 2022 (these are guys that already have Hall of Fame credentials, not guys who will eventually be hall of famers):
Alex Rodriguez- first eligible in 2021-2022.  Because of Bonds and Clemens getting in around the same time he's first eligible, A Rod won't have to wait nearly as long, possibly the year after those two.
Mike Mussina- first eligible in 2014.
Fred McGriff- first eligible in 2010. 
Manny Ramirez- first eligible in 2017.  A Rod, Bonds, and Clemens getting with plenty of time for Manny to get in will result in election, but it will take him awhile.
Todd Helton- first eligible 2020-2021.  Likely Hall of Famer but Coors Field will keep him out for awhile.
Roy Halladay, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera- Will likely still be playing in 2017 so they won't be eligible during the timeframe.

End note: What's really striking to me, while doing the last part, is the realization of how few active players are Hall of Famers if they retired today.  Assuming Jim Thome doesn't catch on with a team for 2013, that will leave Mariano Rivera, Albert Pujols and Derek Jeter as the only surefire Hall of Famers.  Roy Halladay is probably a Hall of Famer but not a guarantee.  Ichiro as well, but will need the 3000 hit plateau to insure it.  Miguel Cabrera would probably get into the hall but having played only 10 seasons would hurt his chances a lot.  A Rod is one of the game's greats like Bonds and Clemens but has the PED cloud.  Andy Pettitte is on the Curt Schilling/ Mike Mussina level but with the PED cloud so he won't get in.  David Ortiz has the DH stigma, steroids, and no HOF milestones so it's a long shot.  Todd Helton is a likely Hall of Famer but the Coors Field stigma may keep him out.  That leaves those three, and the four others I named that are probably Hall of Famers.  That's about all I can think of, if anyone can come up with any other names, please, let me know.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Bonds, steroids, and the Hall of Fame

A follow up to my previous post: The Hall of Fame Ballot: returnees

This will be my first and only post about Barry Bonds and/ or steroids issue, barring any new news that happens to come out in the futre.  I'm over this whole decade long discussion that always ends up running around in circles.  However, with the Hall of Fame ballots mailed out earlier this month, and with Bonds being among the names, I have to post on this.
Unlike my last article, where I broke down each candidate on their Hall of Fame merits, this one I will spend more time discussing all the first years as a whole, as with most of them, the debate centers on the steroid issue.  Despite that, each of them have varying stories regarding their career accomplishments and their steroid involvement that obviously could get some in and others out, so let's look at that:
First of all, the following names are obviously not Hall of Famers and won't even get the 5% needed to remain on the ballot in 2014, so let's just get them out of the discussion right away: Sandy Alomar Jr., Jeff Cirillo, Royce Clayton, Jeff Conine, Steve Finley, Julio Franco, Shawn Green, Roberto Hernandez, Ryan Klesko, Kenny Lofton, Jose Mesa, Reggie Sanders, Aaron Sele, Mike Stanton, Todd Walker, David Wells, Rondell White, and Woody Williams.
That leaves six names: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio.  Everyone has their own opinions based on how much steroids affected their performances.
Barry Bonds: Widely believed to have started using in the late 90's.  At that point, he was already a sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famer, the player of the decade, and one of the all time greats.  Following that, his accomplishments make him arguably the best player ever if you take away the dark cloud.
Roger Clemens: Believed to have been clean during his Red Sox years, only believed to have started using when he went to the Blue Jays and had a career resurgence.  While whether or not he was a Hall of Famer at that point is more debatable than Bonds, in my eyes he was still a Hall of Famer at that point.  His "tarnished" years puts him among the best pitchers ever.
Sammy Sosa: The only guy on this list to have actually tested positive, he'll have the hardest time getting in.  While a solid 30/30 player, he never would have come close to being a Hall of Famer prior to hitting 332 home runs over six seasons from 1998-2003.
Mike Piazza: The greatest offensive catcher of all time, Piazza's case may be the most complicated.  He denied using steroid, but has admitted to using androstenedione at the time it was a legal over the counter dietary supplement, although if taken a certain way has the same effect as steroids and is now looked at by the FDA and pretty much all sports organizations (including MLB) and doping agencies as an illegal steroid.  And while there have been no actual evidence compiled on him, circumstantial or otherwise, he has been implicated by others on multiple occasions, included an off the record admission and other players and writers have said that he was an obvious user.
Craig Biggio: One of the greatest second basemen of all time and not having any implications (although it is suspicious that his power numbers peaked at 38/39), he has the best shot of any of these guys.  
Curt Schilling: Schilling shouldn't be a Hall of Famer, with or without the steroid discussion.  His vocal bashing of anyone involved in steroid use has enabled him to dodge suspicion, despite the fact that he didn't become a top pitcher until 2001 at the age of 34 and a growth of about 30 pounds during the peak of the steroid era.

I'm not going to get into details about breaking down which years these guys were supposedly clean, which years they were using, or trying to figure out what their accomplishments would be without steroids.  I'm simply going to look at the steroids issue and the Hall of Fame as a whole.

Knowing what we know and what we don't know, there are only two rational stances to take on the steroid issue regarding the Hall of Fame voting:
1. Ignore the steroids issue and take all the statistics at face value
2. Omit the entire era.

What is completely hypocritical, is to vote no to some players because they are known/ implicated users while to vote yes on others.  What we do know is that steroid use was widespread during the era, and even accepted within baseballs inner circles, both in the clubhouses and front offices, until the public and media became more aware of it's use.  It's pretty obvious that there are many stones that have been unturned, and that there are many of these players that haven't been implicated that were also users.
In the upcoming ballots, there are over a dozen players that have never been implicated, busted, or accused that are likely or definitely headed to Cooperstown.  You'd be downright stupid to believe that many, if not most of them, were using.  The problem is, we don't know which ones were and won't.  So if you vote all of them in, while leaving out those that are known/ implicated, you will obviously be voting in some steroid users while leaving others out.
Don't forget that, at one point, everyone believed guys like Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, David Ortiz, Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and many other now-known users were clean.  So how many other users out there do most people still were clean?  I already mentioned my suspicions with Biggio and Schilling, but what about others?  Ken Griffey had a series of injuries known to be caused by steroid use.  Pedro Martinez' career dwindled after they started testing when he was at an age many players reach their prime.  Is it too farfetched that Albert Pujols suddenly went from being a non-prospect in the minor leagues to one of baseball's elite players in a little over a year because of steroids?  And who knows, maybe steroids helped Cal Ripken break Lou Gehrig's record.
The thing that really irks me are those that concede (as anybody else that isn't completely blinded by their biases) that Bonds would be a definite Hall of Famer without steroids, but aren't voting for him because of the character clause.  This is the same Hall of Fame that has included Ty Cobb, the biggest scumbag in baseball history, known racists who caused the blacklisting of black players in the 19th century and those that were openly against integration in the 1940's and 1950's.  It includes Mickey Mantle and Jimmie Foxx, whose performance at times was hampered because they were too drunk or hungover to play.  It includes Babe Ruth, who took illegal drugs and drank during prohibition.  It includes pitchers such as Gaylord Perry, Don Sutton, Whitey Ford, and others who have doctored baseballs in various ways (which is more cheating than steroids since it actually was against the rules).  The character clause is basically an excuse for the writers to say "I didn't like this player, so I'm not going to vote for them, regardless of whether or not they deserve it".
And if you want to get into the hypocrisy, what about all the known amphetamine users, including Willie Mays, Willie Stargell, and Hank Aaron, who took them in an attempt to enhance their performance, even after they were banned by the FDA in 1965?  Can someone explain to me how they are any different from steroids?  Both are illegal, potentially harmful substances that players took to make them play better on the field.  Another example of the hypocrisy.
Where do you draw the line?  Do you only leave out those that tested positive and/ or have admitted to steroid use?  Under that criteria, all these guys, except for Sosa get in.  Do you vote based on circumstantial evidences?  Well the truth is, that is subjective, and no matter how damning it may be, who are you to play judge, jury, and executioner?  Do you leave off anyone where there is anything about them, being their body mass over the years, their career trajectory, or any other factor?  Well in that case, I could make an argument about anyone that would make them look suspicious, so let's just leave them all out.
Perhaps you can leave a borderline Hall of Famer off the ballot because of steroid suspicion.  Perhaps you can single out Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez because they were actually suspended after testing positive.  But as a whole, you have to lump the entire era together.  Yeah, it may not be fair to the few guys who were clean to be punished for the sins of others.  But it's not as unfair as leaving some users off when others get in.  But considering how it was such an integral part of baseball culture at the time, the best thing to do is to take everything at face value and ignore the steroid issue altogether.
Which is why Bonds, Clemens, Piazza, Biggio, and Sosa all belong in the Hall of Fame.  Schilling isn't a Hall of Famer just because his numbers aren't good enough.  This should be one of the greatest Hall of Fame classes of all time.  Instead, there is a good chance that none of these guys will be inducted.
That is the greatest injustice of all.

Money does not equal championships

So supposedly, because the Dodgers signed Zack Greinke to a 6 year, $147 million contract, along with their mid-season pickups, are the team to beat in the NL West now?

Not so fast.

To look at the Dodgers, you have to break down their 2012 season into three parts: The start of the season through May 25th, in which the team drastically overachieved, with aging veterans Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, Ted Lilly, and Mark Ellis performing the best they had in years, guys like AJ Ellis and Andre Ethier playing way over their heads, and Matt Kemp putting up numbers that are out of this world, even for a player of his caliber, got off to a 32-15 start.  Then players came back to reality, while others, including Matt Kemp, spent a significant time on the DL.  Between their fluke start and and the trade with the Red Sox, the team went 36-43.   From August 25th to the end of the season, when everyone was pretty much healthy and they had acquired all the new guys, the team went 18-18.  So basically, you're looking at a .500 team going into the off-season. 

Does the addition of Zack Greinke turn the Dodgers from a .500 team into playoff contenders?  Or more specifically, does Greinke add thirteen wins to the Dodgers to match the Giants 94 wins from 2012?

Not even close.

Greinke's a solid pitcher, but looking at his career performances, he's only had one year, his Cy Young year in 2009, in which he was a true ace. Since then, he's been an above average starter but not much more than that.

And what does Greinke really add to the Dodgers?  He's not much better than what they already had at the back end of the rotation.  Compare the Dodgers 2012 pitching staff with the 2013, and it's not really all that much better (consider that newly signed Korean free agent Hyun-Jin Ryu will most likely be a non factor at this point):

Look at how the starting pitchers in 2012 performed (combining certain pitchers to make a full season)
Clayton Kershaw 14-9, 2.53 ERA, 229 K / 63 BB, 1.02 WHIP, 150 ERA+Ted Lilly/ Chad Billingsley (33 combined starts): 16-11,  3.45 ERA, 159K/ 64 BB, 1.20 WHIP, 111 ERA+
Aaron Harang: 10-10, 3.61 ERA, 131K/ 85 BB, 1.403 WHIP, 105 ERA+
Chris Capuano: 12-12, 3.72 ERA, 162 K/ 54 BB, 1.22 WHIP, 102 ERA+
Josh Beckett/  Joe Blanton/ Nathan Eovaldi/ Stephen Fife (32 combined starts): 5-15, 4.02 ERA, 143 K/ 62 BB, 1.41 WHIP, 104 ERA+
 Now compare those to the 2013 rotation's 3 year averages:
Clayton Kershaw: 16-8, 2.56 ERA, 230 K/66 BB, 1.055 WHIP, 148 ERA+
Zack Greinke: 14-8, 3.83 ERA,194 K/ 54 BB, 1.22 WHIP, 106 ERA+
Chad Billingsley: 11-10, 3.79 ERA, 150K/ 66 BB, 1.34 WHIP, 100 ERA+Josh Beckett: 9-9, 4.25 ERA, 141 K/ 50 BB, 1.26 WHIP, 101 ERA+
Ted Lilly: 9-9, 3.72 ERA, 118K/ 38 BB, 1.12 WHIP, 104 ERA+
Chris Capuano: 9-9, 4.10 ERA, 128K/ 43 BB, 1.29 WHIP, 92 ERA+
Aaron Harang: 10-8, 4.03 ERA, 112K/ 60 BB, 1.43 WHIP, 94 ERA+

Almost every starting pitcher for the Dodgers overachieved in 2012.  So because of that, the rotation, even with the addition of Greinke, will be no better in 2013.  And that doesn't take into account Greinke's well documented mental problems, that he didn't want to be traded to a large market team two years ago because he didn't think he could handle the pressure, and that he has pitched poorly in every big time game (notably during the 2011 playoffs), and there's a good chance of Greinke being a complete bust in Los Angeles.

So with a decent but vastly overrated rotation and a subpar bullpen (Brandon League as closer, that says it all), the Dodgers are going to have to rely on their "star studded" lineup to carry them to October.

Yeah, good luck with that.  Let's break it down to show how flawed it truly is:  At catcher, you have AJ Ellis, a career minor leaguer who, after coming out of nowhere to have a stellar first two months in 2012, really slowed down and played pretty poorly the final four months of the seasons with the exception of a decent August semi-resurgance.   At first base, you have Adrian Gonzalez, who hit a career high 40 home runs in 2009 has seen a drastic drop-off every year since, going from 40 to 31 to 27 to 18 homers in 2012.  At best, you're looking at a 20 home run guy, but realistically another dropoff is more likely, especially now that he's out of hitter friendly Fenway park and the American League.  At second base, you have 35 year old Mark Ellis, who was such deadweight in 2011 that the A's cut him mid-season after being with the team for nearly a decade, and other than one good month with the Dodgers last year, has looked pretty much the same.  At third base, you have Luis Cruz, a career minor league who performed adequately after not being able to hit minor league pitching for his first decade in professional baseball.  Good luck with expecting anything out of him next year.  At shortstop, you have Hanley Ramirez who at 29 is a clubhouse cancer that has already been washed up for a couple seasons. 

At left field, you have Carl Crawford, who was a "fantasy superstar" (someone who's fantasy baseball value far outweighs their real life value) in Tampa Bay but overall a slightly above average player.  This was before he went to Boston and stunk it up, which was before being sidelined from a major injury which we don't know that he'll be back by opening day 2013.  Do you really think he'll be of any value in 2013?  At right field, you have Mr. April Andre Ethier, who always starts off the season well before being useless the last 2/3 of the season.  And even Matt Kemp, the lone superstar in the lineup and one of baseball's elite is coming off a season in which he suffered through multiple injuries.  If that's not a red flag, I don't know what is.

All in all, can you really look at this team and see a team that will upend the reigning World Series champions two of the last three seasons?  Look past the names, and the money, and all they really have is a heavily flawed, heavily overrated team.

Just like the Miami Marlins and Boston Red Sox in recent years, expect for the Dodgers to crash and burn.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Hall of Fame Ballot: The returnees

With the Hot Stove burning slowly, much of the attention has shifted to the Hall of Fame discussion.  What possibly could have been one of the greatest Hall of Fame classes has shifted to a controversial one, in which many players who have used or been implicated as having used are eligible.  Over the next month or so, this debate will heat up.
Since I have a lot to say on the subject, I will break this down into two parts: The returnees and the first year eligibles.  On this one, I will give my thoughts on each of the returning players on the ballot.
Obviously I don't have a vote (even though there are a lot of people that do get to vote that are clearly less qualified than I am, but that's how it goes):, but this is what I would do if I have a ballot, in order of how many votes they received in 2012:

Jack Morris:  It seems likely that he will get in this year.  The record for highest percentage of anyone that didn't get the eventual 75% percent needed to get in in future years was Gil Hodges 63.4% in his final year on the ballot in 1983.  Morris received 66.6% last year, and has this year and next year to get in.
Does he deserve it?  Not really.  He was a good pitcher, but not great pitcher.  His career best in ERA was 3.05, and his lifetime ERA was slightly below 4.00, never finishing in the top ten in the Major Leagues.  His lifetime record of 254-186 averages out to about 14-10 over 18 seasons.  Good, but not great.  Morris did manage to make the All Star team four times, but for most of his career was nothing more than an average pitcher.  His 104 ERA+ is slightly above average. 
His supporters cite his five championships and post-season performances as the reason as to why he should make the Hall of Fame, but 18 seasons in which he was a little above average outweigh a few post-season gems.
And in reality, he wasn't as great a post-season pitcher as he was made out to be.  Yes, he was 3-0 in the Tigers 1984 run, and pitched the classic 10 inning complete game shutout in game seven of the 1991 World Series.  But look outside of that.  His lifetime post-season record was 7-4.   That's good, but not enough to be considered one of the greatest post-season pitchers of all time.  He got rocked in game 2 of the 1987 ALCS and didn't get to pitch in the World Series.  In 1992, he pitched horrible in all four starts, going 0-3 with a 7.43 ERA in 23 innings and the team won despite him.  In 1993, "Mr. Clutch" was left off the post-season roster entirely.  So all in all, he had two really good post-seasons, and two horrible ones.  Doesn't sound like a Hall of Famer to me.  If that makes someone a Hall of Famer, does that make Josh Beckett one? 
Definite no to Morris.

Lee Smith: Having retired as the all time saves leader, Smith lost a lot momentum on the path to Cooperstown after the saves record was broken twice, once by Trevor Hoffman, and again by Mariano Rivera.   However, many feel his 478 career saves are sufficient enough for him to make the Hall of Fame.
Considering the scarcity of relief pitchers in the Hall of Fame, for one to make it to the Hall of Fame, he should have had to pitch at an elite level for an extended period of time.  Hoyt Wilhelm was ahead of his time, being the first dominating reliever, and one of the first have his role not because he couldn't make the rotation, but because he was so valuable in the bullpen.  In addition to many outstanding years in the bullpen, he also served as a stellar starting pitcher for several seasons.  Roller Fingers became the first reliever to win an MVP, after already having been far and away the best fireman in baseball for over a decade.  Dennis Eckersley revolutionized the position, and retired as the greatest ever in that role.  Goose Gossage was somewhat iffy, but was a dominating for over a decade, and after Bruce Sutter got inducted two years prior despite arriving to the big leagues later, retiring earlier, spending a much shorter time as an elite reliever, and being less effective than their respective primes, Gossage had to get in.  Sutter was the one that really wasn't deserving, but letting one guy lower the bar for everyone using the logic "if player x is in the hall, so should player y" set's a dangerous precent and slippery slope that eventually devalues the hall altogehter.
Smith was never an elite closer.  He was just good.  He was consistent and had a lot of longevity, which enabled him to get the saves record, but consistency and longevity alone is not enough for Hall of Fame worthiness.
Perhaps if the saves statistic wasn't essentially worthless, perhaps holding the record at one point would make him a hall of famer.  But it is, so he's not.  Plus, what if John Franco broke the record?  In the middle of the 1999 season, Franco was just 62 saves away from the saves record.  But the Mets wanted to promote the up and coming "stud" Armando Benitez to the closer role (it seems laughable now, but at the time everyone thought he was going to be one of the greatest closers ever).  Franco was still an effective closer, and could have very easily demanded a trade, or bolted elsewhere when he became a free agent in the off-season.  But he didn't, he chose to stay with the Mets, and only got eight more saves in his career.  Had he left, he likely would have easily broken Smith's saves record long before Smith was eligible for the Hall of Fame.  Smith likely would have been off the ballot in a year or two, and people would be clammoring for Franco to get inducted into the hall instead.
The day someone gets inducted in the Hall of Fame based on saves alone is the day it should be closed down.  So Smith is definitely not a Hall of Famer.

Jeff Bagwell: The first of likely many victims of the "steroid era" in Hall of Fame voting.  Even though he will eventually get in, the baseball writers will make him wait because he was a power hitter during the steroid era, even though he was never actually implicated.
At face value, Bagwell is definitely a Hall of Famer.  From 1993-2002, he was consistently one of baseball's best hitters, and that was while playing most of that time in the Astrodome, one of the toughest ballparks in baseball for hitters.
That being said, and this may become a recurring theme, but the era he played in cannot be ignored.  You can't assume that Bagwell is innocent now that we know there was a wide scope of the players that have been used and there are likely many more that haven't been caught or implicated than there are that have.  So if you're going to excommunicate any known or suspected steroid user from the Hall of Fame, you have to leave out the whole era.  Otherwise, you are basically sending the message that it was ok to use as long as you haven't gotten busted, and leaves open the possibility of someone being outed as a user after being inducted.
That being said, the era was what it was, and steroids were such a widespread aspect of the game that weren't even against the rules, and even accepted within baseball's inner circles, both in the front offices and the clubhouses, until the public become more aware of it, the accomplishments of any player from that era need to taken at face value.  Therefore, Bagwell belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Tim Raines: He certainly wasn't on the level of Rickey Henderson, but he was still one of the greatest leadoff hitters ever.  Someone who has a lifetime batting average of .300 over a 23 year career is pretty much a lock for the Hall of Fame.  Raines may have fallen just short of that (.294), but he was a leadoff hitter, and a leadoff hitter's primary job is to get on base.  The OBP equivalent to a .300 batting average is .375 (approximately the number of players who get that is about the same as the number of .300 hitters during a typical year).  Raines had a .384 OBP, in over 10,000 plate appearances.  Only 22 players have a higher OBP in that many plate appearances.  Six of them are active or not yet Hall of Fame eligible.  The other 16?  All Hall of Famers. 
If you're one of those old school people who still think a leadoff hitter's job is to steal bases, well, Raines had 808 of those, making him fifth all time, fourth since 1901.
There's no doubt  Rains belongs in the hall.

Alan Trammell: When he was first eligible, I probably would have supported him in the Hall just on the basis that he was eligible for the first time the same year as fellow shortstop Ozzie Smith, who was a shoo-in to get inducted based solely on his tremendous offensive prowess.  While he wasn't the defender Ozzie was (although he wasn't no slouch himself), his offensive superiority more than made up for it.  However, it has been over a decade since then so Ozzie's induction has become irrelevant to Trammell's candidacy.
You can pretty much sum everything up the same way as most of the remaining players I'm about to mention: He was a pretty damn good player, but there is nothing about him, be it his stats, accomplishments, career body of work, or "intagibles" that make him a Hall of Famer.

Edgar Martinez: In the past, I have always believed that anyone who spent the majority of their career as a designated hitter should automatically disqualify them from the Hall of Fame.   Over the years I have come to realize that even though I hate the DH, it is a part of the game, so I've softened my stance to that where if someone's offensive numbers are among the best of their era, they belong in the hall.  That isn't the case with Edgar Martinez
He may have been the greatest designated hitter of all time before David Ortiz came along (Paul Molitor doesn't count since he did in fact play the majority of his career in the infield before becoming a DH in his mid-30's), but he still wasn't an elite hitter.  He only reached 30 home runs one time, playing most of his career in the home run friendly Kingdome.  In his 12 years as a DH, he only won four silver sluggers, so for most of that time, there was some DH that was better than him.  On top of that, he was injury prone, only playing seven full seasons without at least one stint on the disabled list.
In addition, even though I stated that everything from the steroid era should be taken at face value, it can come into play on someone that is a borderline or questionable Hall of Famer, so in the case of someone like Martinez who already has a weak case, gets completely knocked out due to being implicated having used steroids.

Fred McGriff: In any other era, 493 home runs would have been more than enough to get someone enshrined in the Hall of Fame.  When he made his MLB debut in 1986, only 13 players had hit more home runs than that.  Now that number is at 25.  Taking out two players from previous generations (Mike Schmidt and Eddie Murray), there are ten players from his era or later that have hit more homers, making it no longer an automatic trip to Cooperstown.
So the question is, are his other numbers and accomplishments enough to make McGriff a Hall of Famer?  The answer is a simple no.  Like I said for Trammell: He was a pretty damn good player, but there is nothing about him, be it his stats, accomplishments, career body of work, or "intagibles" that make him a Hall of Famer.

Larry Walker: Read my last line on the Trammell and McGriff entries.

Mark McGwire: More so than anyone else, the steroid issue hurts McGwire's hall chances more than anyone else.  And while there is a lot of hypocrisy and inconsistencies to go along with way
For one, aside from getting a bunch of walks, McGwire was the one guy that was nothing but a home run hitter.  Accurate or not, most people associate steroids with home runs.  McGwire was a lifetime .263 hitter and hit very extra base hits other than home runs- his 22 doubles per 162 games are unimpressive for anyone, but especially low for someone with his kind of power.  Aside from somehow managing to win a gold glove award, his defense was subpar. 
And McGwire wasn't just a user, he, along with his fellow Bash Brother Jose Canseco, were the players responsible for bringing steroids into the game.  And it was the 1998 home run chase that motivated many of the players all across baseball to jump across to the dark side.  So if anybody deserves to be punished, it's him.
That being said, like I said, we need to accept that it was an integral part of the era and take everything at face value.  And McGwire put up the greatest power numbers of all time.  He averaged 36.4 home runs in his 16 seasons, second only to Ralph Kiner's 36.9 over 10 seasons.  Per 162 games, he averaged 50 home runs, as well as one homer every 10.4 at bats, both major league records, by a longshot.
It wasn't all steroids either.  According to Canseco (who, as pathetic as he is, has proven to have a lot of credibility over this after being proven to be right time and time again), McGwire began juicing during his second year in the big leagues.  So what did McGwire do when he was a rookie, without the steroids?  He lead the major leagues with 49 homers, still the record for a rookie.
So because he was the greatest power hitter in the history of the game, McGwire belongs in the hall.

Don Mattingly: Here was a guy that was destined for greatness. From a 23-year-old in 1984 up until 1987, he was consistently one of the best hitters in baseball, making the All Star team every year up until 1989, the top year being his 1985 MVP campaign. On top of all that, he was the best defensive first baseman in baseball and the most popular Yankee since Mickey Mantle.
Then he started to suffer from back problems, and even though he could still field, his bat began to deteriorate, forcing him to retire following the 1995 season at the age of 34.  What could have been one the greatest careers ever turned out to be a huge disappointment.
Regardless, his combination of offense and being arguably the greatest defensive first baseman of all time gives him a strong case towards the hall.  Overall though, I'd have to say no.  What he did in his prime was not sufficient enough to make up for his lack of longevity.

Dale Murphy: Thankfully this is his last year of his eligibility.  I really don't get how this guy even continues to get the 5% needed to return to the ballot every year.  Murphy was a decent player, but had extremely underwhelming numbers for the Hall of Fame to the point where he doesn't really belong with the other returning candidates, let alone those enshrined in Cooperstown.  Huge no.

Rafael Palmeiro: Nobody in baseball went from sure-fire Hall of Famer to no chance in hell as fast as Palmeiro did when a positive steroid test caused him a 10 game suspension.  The big difference between him and the rest of the users is that he got busted for using after it got banned, and actually served a suspension.
It would be one thing to overlook if he was, in fact, one of the greats, but he wasn't.  He achieved the rare combo of 3,000 hits and 500 homers, but it was because he was a consistently solid player for close to two decades.  
He would have been a classic "milestone" Hall of Famer, which is a player that gets into Cooperstown solely on the backs of one (or in his case, two) of those milestones that nets a player automatic enshrinement.  However, it has gotten to the point where the numbers no longer make it automatic, and without those milestones, Palmeiro isn't a Hall of Famer.

Bernie Williams: Read my Larry Walker entry.

So of the returning candidates, only Bagwell, Raines, and McGwire belong in Cooperstown.  Within the next couple days I will do the main write up on the first year inductees, particularly Barry Bonds.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Done with Brian Wilson

After Robb Nen blew out his arm trying to win the Giants the World Series in 2002, it was hell trying to find a replacement.  Tim Worrell was adequate in 03, but it went downhill after that.  The Giants let Worrell go to free agency thinking Nen would be back for the 2004 season.  When that didn't happen, Matt Herges was promoted and failed.  He was replaced sometime in August by Dustin Hermanson, who was good for a minute before blowing a few crucial saves over the last couple weeks that cost the Giants the division.
Then the Giants thought they found the answer when they signed Armando Benitez, who had come off a career year with the Marlins in which he pitched better than any closer in baseball,  to a three year, $21 million contract.  That turned out to be one of the worst signings the Giants have made.  He got injured one week into the season in 2005, the first year of his contract, missing most of the season.  In the interim, Tyler Walker filled in, poorly.  Benitez returned in mid August, and was complete garbage from that time, until he was given away, while the Giants ate the rest of his contract, to the Marlins, for a worthless nobody reliever in Randy Messenger early in the 2007 season.   Brad Hennessey filled in with less than satisfactory results until Wilson took over the role near the end of the season.
During Wilson's first full year as closer in 2008, he was mediocre, but reliable.  After filtering through Herges, Hermanson, Benitez, Walker, and Hennessey, mediocre but reliable felt like a godsend, and Wilson was Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera combined into one compared to those guys.   In 2009, Wilson showed vast improvement, developing into one of baseball's better closers, and began to show signs of his off-beat, colorful personality that he became known for, and was even given his reality show on Comcast Sports Bay Area.
However, it was 2010 that Wilson became a star.  He had become one of baseball's elite closer's, and became more well known for his personality thanks to appearances on Rome is Burning and Jim Rose's The Cheap Seats.  Every time he was subject to an interview, he'd provide entertaining soundbites and moments that would leave you howling with laughter.  Every time he took the mound to finish the game, he would make you sweat a little, but always got the job done and was lights out.  He grew out a beard, dyed in black, and became one of, if not the, key players in the World Series run.  His strikeouts of Ryan Howard to end the NLCS and Nelson Cruz to end the World Series will always remain two of the most iconic and memorable images in Giants history.  
After that, it was all downhill.  At some point, the attention sprung onto him and his quirky antics during the post-season run had gone to his head.  Amidst the endorsements, merchandise sales, and media attention, he had changed.
As the beard grew, his act became more stale, annoying, and over the top.  The funny, off-beat, and goofy Wilson became a cartoonish, annoying, attention whore.  What previously seemed like off the cuff, funny moments became lame, planned out publicity stunts.  From his insipid George Lopez appearance to his spandex tuxedo at the ESPYs, to rehashing tired bits, everybody became sick of his acts.
It would be fine if he continued to pitch like he did in 2010, but he didn't.  It almost seemed like his drive for attention outweighed his drive on the field.  He started 2011 with an oblique injury, ended it with an elbow injury.  In between, he returned to the mediocre closer he was in 2008.
A young closer on a rebuilding team with no playoff hopes pitching the way he did is fine.  A now veteran closer pitching for the defending World Series champions looking to repeat is not, especially with all his antics.
Then came 2011.  After two shaky starts, Wilson had to have Tommy John surgery for the second time, thus missing the rest of the season, while making $8.5 million.  Meanwhile, his antics went from annoying to pathetic.  He went from a guy that was milking his time in the limelight to a guy who had fallen out of the limelight desperate to get back in.  From returning to the ESPYs to Chewbacca, to re-appearing during the Giants playoff run just to get camera time.  All the while the Giants were on the path to another World Series, this time without him.
So now, in his final arbitration year, the Giants are caught in a dilemma.  Since he made $8.5 million, he cannot receive more than a 20% pay-cut, making it a minimum $6.8 million in arbitration if the Giants tender him a contract.  Obviously not wanting to pay someone coming off a surgery that few do successfully a second time, and with the superior Sergio Romo having proved that he can handle being the closer, the Giants are hoping to simply sign him to a much lower base contract, possible laden with incentives.
Wilson says no way.  He feels like the Giants owe him for what he's done for the team, and he deserves to be tendered a contract and make at least that $6.8 million.
I guess making $8.5 million for doing nothing wasn't enough.
If Wilson doesn't accept a low end contract, I say goodbye and good riddance.  Would I have liked to bring him back for a low end contract?  No doubt, at least before this little entitlement ego trip.   The fact is, the Giants don't need him.  They have Sergio Romo, who previously was always far more dominating than Wilson, but the Giants were skeptical about him making the transition to closer.  Now that he has proven he can get the job done in the ninth (and pitched even better this year after making the transition), it's his job for the long haul.  They have three guys (Affeldt, Casilla, and Kontos) who I would much rather have in the game than Wilson in a non-save situation.  Then there's the two lefty specialists (Lopez and Mijares).  That leaves the last bullpen spot open, and when you have that deep of a bullpen, it's not a pressing need.  If anything, he should be crawling back on his knees for the Giants to give him any sort of major league contract, not demanding big money because it's owed to him.
Let's suppose Wilson signs a one year deal, with the Giants, or some other team, and he does have a phenomenal year.  As a result, he cashes in on a big money, multi-year contract with another team.  And on this team, he pitches horribly.  Would he ever offer to give back some of that contract?  So why should he get a lot more money that he is worth based on what he did three years prior?
If Wilson is as confident as he claims to be that he'll be back to form by opening day, he needs to back it up and prove he's not all talk.  If he was truly that sure, he would glady take a one year, heavily incentive laden contract.  He could pick up millions in incentives, and then cash in on a long term deal.  Let him earn it.  Of course, deep down he knows it's unlikely he will ever return to his 2010 form, and is grasping at his final chance of a huge payday.
Perhaps Wilson is being petty.  Perhaps this goes back to 2007, in which Wilson, who entered Spring Training as a strong possibility to take Benitez' closer job, wound up struggling in Spring Training and as a result spent four and a half months in the minor leagues.  The time spent in Fresno pushed back each of Wilson's arbitration years, and ultimately his free agency, back one year.  So yeah, perhaps it did cost him some cash.
But how much really?  He probably would have received an extra million or two in 2009, but about the same amount in the three years that followed.  Perhaps had this been his first free agent year rather than next, he could have gotten the Giants to lock him down to a long term deal prior to his Tommy John surgery.  So is Wilson, the supposed "team player", mad that he didn't get the chance to fleece the Giants?
I will always appreciate Wilson for what he did for the Giants in 2010, but I am pretty much tired of him.  From his overrated pitching on the field, to his stupid antics off the field, to his popularity among bandwagoners, I am over it.  And now that he feels the Giants owe him after getting paid $8.5 million this year for nothing?  He can go fuck himself. 
Ultimately, when Wilson needs the Giants a hell of a lot more than the Giants need him, he really has no leverage.  And if he goes elsewhere, the fans won't be as patient or forgiving with him, or tolerant of his antics as the Giants fans would be.  Offering a Major League contract at any amount is doing him a favor.  After all this, he'll probably be crawling back for a couple million dollars when the Giants are the only team offering him a major league contract (or at least more than any other team).  If he does, cool, the Giants get a little possible extra depth to the already deep bullpen.  If he leaves, all I got to say at this point is good riddance.  The team has already moved on without him and proved they don't need him. 
I just hope he lands on a team with a no facial hair policy.