The Unfortunate 2011 Twins Season

April 29, 2011

You’ve probably noticed a lack of baseball posts for me. This is partly because I’m working two jobs, partly because no one wants to hear about my fantasy baseball teams, but mostly because the Minnesota Twins suck.

The Twins started off the season slumping, haven’t gotten much better, and show no signs of being any good at all.

This is what it must feel like to be a fan of the New York Mets, who are perpetually terrible despite a ridiculous payroll and optimistic preseason expectations.

Before the season, most Twins fans were cautiously optimistic. Granted, they lost several contributors from last season’s team. But they returned Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, two of the best hitters in the league. And they did flat-out dominate the AL Central last year and flirted with the best record in the majors until late September, when a 2-8 finish dropped them to 94-68 on the season.

Then the 2011 season started.

In stunning fashion, every single one of the organization’s many missteps over the past year was exposed in stunning fashion.

It started at the trading deadline last year, when the Twins’ brass decided to deal catching prospect Wilson Ramos for reliever Matt Capps. This trade was stupid on many levels, none more so than the overvaluing of the save. Twins’ fans have largely come to terms with the organization’s complete shunning of advanced statistical analysis, mostly because the team still wins fairly consistently. But this situation was a different situation altogether: not only were the Twins not paying attention to valuable statistical tools, they were actively paying attention to the wrong ones. They paid $3 million and gave away one of their top prospects to get a guy who was decent at accumulating a statistic invented out of thin air by a guy named Jerome Holtzman in 1960.

Of course almost anything is defensible and you can certainly defend the trade on its merits. After all, Capps is probably the best reliever on the team this season, his 3.55 ERA and $7.15 million paycheck not withstanding.

Then you remember that Joe Mauer had offseason knee surgery and is currently dealing with bilateral leg weakness, which sounds and awful lot like one of those nebulous injury definitions that last forever.

And that Ramos (who is making $415K this season) has a beautiful looking .373/.421/.569 line this season so far.

And that the Twins also traded away one-time backup catcher Jose Morales in December for a single-A reliever.

And that Drew Butera is the worst hitting starter in the league, with a .125/.167/.175 line that makes you wonder if you couldn’t get on base in the majors 17 out of every 100 times.

And that Butera’s backup is 31-year old Steve Holm, a career minor leaguer with 53 major league games under his belt.

And that Mauer knew all of this, so hurriedly came back before he was ready. Those aren’t my words, those are his trainer’s words.

Suddenly that trade doesn’t look so hot.

Then you consider the rest of their offseason moves. For non-Twin fans that happen to be reading this, I did not make any of these terrifying details up:

They traded SS J.J. Hardy to the Orioles for minor league reliever Jim Hoey. Hoey has managed to work his way from the minors to a high leverage bullpen role to a low leverage bullpen role in just four weeks and four major league games. Seriously.

They turned the shortstop position over to Alexi Casilla, who somewhat uniquely has been below replacement level OFFENSIVELY and DEFENSIVELY over the past three years. Yes, italics and caps were completely necessary. And no, it doesn’t matter that Hardy is hurt. Hardy will eventually be healthy and Casilla will still suck.

They chose not to re-sign the always solid Orlando Hudson at second base after winning the bidding war for Japanese batting champion Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Nishioka promptly broke his leg. This sounds like a tough break, until you realize that the Twins already had Nishioka work all spring training on not getting his leg broken on breakups of double plays.

Even this wouldn’t be too bad…except that the Twins finally decided to ditch Nick Punto this offseason after paying him $4 million each of the last two seasons. Apparently the $750,000 that the Cardinals pay him was too much for the Twins to match.

The preceding four paragraphs serve as the long-winded answer to the trivia question: how do you end up with guys named Matt Tolbert, Alexi Casilla, Luke Hughes as your middle infielders? It’s probably not a good sign when none of those three guys would crack a starting lineup in a 12-team AL-only fantasy league.

There was the decision to guarantee Nick Blackburn a rotation spot in Spring Training despite a brutal 2010 season that saw him briefly get demoted to the minors. Even after a decent September, he still finished with a 5.42 ERA and an ugly 68-40 strikeout-to-walk ratio on the season.

But that pales in comparison to the team’s inexplicable handling of Francisco Liriano. Liriano was the Twins’ best pitcher last year, with a 3.62 ERA (despite having the highest BABIP in the league) and a stellar 201-58 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Of course the Twins weren’t content with this, so pitching coach Rick Anderson decided that Liriano needed to learn how to “pitch to contact.” Somewhat predictably, Liriano was shelled in two of his last three starts and is reportedly one start away from heading to the bullpen. Again, this was their best starting pitcher last season.

Middle relievers are fairly interchangeable. This is why everyone understood the Twins’ decision not to re-sign Brian Fuentes the huge paycheck that he expected to be paid as a potential closer. No one could argue with that.

Then they decided not to re-sign Matt Guerrier. And Jesse Crain. And Jon Rauch. And Pat Neshek. And Ron Mahay. And Rob Delaney.

Instead, they went with a reliever so bad that the Kansas City Royals let him go (Dusty Hughes); a guy clearly not fully recovered from Tommy John surgery (Joe Nathan); a converted crappy starter (Glen Perkins); and well…I gotta be honest, there isn’t even really a whole lot else to say about the remaining relievers. I’m not even sure what their plan was, other than just letting a bunch of below average pitchers duke it out in spring training.

All that maneuvering adds up apparently.

Twins fans were optimistic because the team returned all of the “good” players from last year’s AL Central champions. Yet the “bad” players and the unknowns contribute too. Enough of those silly moves, and you end up with box scores like this one. A whopping eight of the fifteen players the Twins played on Thursday had little or no role on last year’s squad. They lost 15-3.

Sometimes baseball sucks. Twins fans are in the rare position of being fans of a small market team expected to contend…at least until the season started and all of our worst fears came true.

At least the Royals’ fans have the minor league system in their 30-year rebuilding project. Pirate fans are happy with 70 wins. The Marlins and Rays don’t have any fans to be upset. Clevelanders are used to their bad luck; so long as Travis Hafner doesn’t sign with the Yankees in an offseason special, they’ll bend over and take what the Indians give them. And so on.

Maybe being a fan of all those teams is far worse than having unmet expectations. I have no real argument about that. I just know that I can’t handle watching this team much longer.

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Meaningless Opening Week Statistics

April 11, 2011

Subtitled: Why the Red Sox and Rays should or shouldn’t panic.

Or why the Orioles should or shouldn’t be excited.

The Opening Week of the AL East inspired this post. The Red Sox and Rays both came out of the gate and immediately fell flat on their faces with 0-6 starts.  Both teams’ worst fears were realized: the Red Sox’ weak pitching gave up 38 runs in six games and the Rays’ biggest free agent signing retired six games into the season.

Meanwhile, Orioles’ fans are cautiously optimistic for the first time since the late 1960’s. The Orioles started out 6-1 and will enter April 12 in first place. Regardless of how the rest of the season plays out, the Orioles will consider the season a victory after that first week.

The general consensus is that Opening Week is meaningless. Teams have played either six or seven games of a 162-game season. It stands to reason that 4% of a season has very little baring on the rest of the season.

Or does it?

Curious, I went back and looked at the standings after the first week of each season since the league expanded to three divisions in 1994. These statistics are almost certainly meaningless, but they are fairly interesting.

As a tiebreaker, I used run differential to determine which team was in first and last place a week into the season. Not a perfect tiebreaker, but the idea is to pick which teams got off to a hot start and which got off to a cold start, so run differential will do.

Teams that were in first place after Week One:

1st place – 35
2nd place – 25 (13 wild cards)
3rd place – 18
4th place – 17
5th place or last place – 7

Teams that were in last place after Week One:

1st place – 12
2nd place – 12 (4 wild cards)
3rd place – 20
4th place – 14
5th place or last place – 44

***************

Starting out hot is certainly no guarantee of a playoff appearance, but it doesn’t hurt: 48 of 102 first place teams ended up making the playoffs. And the 48 isn’t limited to teams that were predicted to be good. Five examples stand out – the Marlins in 1997, when they rode a hot start to a wild card and World Series championship in only their fifth year of existence; the White Sox in 2005, when they won their first World Series since 1917 (and the Astros, the very same year, when they made their first World Series); the Tigers in 2006, when they shocked everyone to make the World Series just three years after finishing 43-119; the Brewers in 2008, when they eventually qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 1982; and the 2010 Giants, who finally won their first championship in San Francisco.

Only six teams that led after the first week ended up finishing last. Even that is a little deceptive though. The 1994 Angels (4-3), 1999 Angels (3-3), and 2002 Mets (3-3, 5-way tie for first) all happened to be leading the division after the first week despite being near .500. Only the 1997 A’s (4-2), 2001 Expos (5-1), and 2008 Orioles (4-1) fell all the way to last after solid starts.

On top of that, starting with the league’s best record is a pretty solid indicator of a playoff team, which should bode well for this year’s Rangers. In twelve of seventeen years, at least one team that had the best record after one week qualified for the playoffs.* Only the 2001 Expos (5-1) started off with the best record in the league yet finished last in their division.

* In several years, teams were tied for the best record after one week. Last year, for example, the Phillies, Giants, Tigers, and Blue Jays all started 5-1. The Phillies and Giants both went on to division titles, while the Tigers and Blue Jays missed the playoffs in emphatic fashion. In other years, like 1997, both teams that started out with the best record – the Marlins and Astros at 5-1 – both made the playoffs.

So that’s good news for this year’s first place teams. Teams that start off hot tend to at least contend for a playoff spot well into the season.

The news isn’t as bad for this year’s train wrecks. While a whopping 44 of 102 last place teams have finished fifth or worse in their division, sixteen of them have come back to make the playoffs.

Most of these teams were around .500 and just happened to be in last, but the Red Sox and Rays can take heart with several other teams. The 1995 Reds started off 0-6 before winning the NL Central by nine games in the 144-game season. The 1999 Diamondbacks won the NL West in their sophomore season by a whopping 14 games after finishing 100-62 after starting the season 1-5.

Then there is the 1998 Yankees. One of only a handful of teams in the conversation for the best team ever, the Yankees actually started the season 1-4. Lucky for them, they close well: they won 113 of their next 157 games en route to a 114-48 record. The wild card Red Sox finished 22 games back.

On the down side, only two of the 23 teams that were tied for the league’s worst record after one week managed to come back and make the playoffs: the aforementioned 1995 Reds and 1999 DBacks. A ridiculous 17 of those finished fourth or worse in their division.

Hard to tell what this means for the Red Sox and Rays (other than nothing). Most of the teams on that list were all expected to be terrible. After it turned out they actually were terrible, it is no surprise that they kept sucking. The Red Sox and Rays were not expected to be that bad, so who knows how they will react.

********************

The full list of teams that finished first after leading one week into the season: 1994 Reds (5-1), 1995 Red Sox (4-2), 1995 Mariners (5-1), 1995 Braves (5-1), 1996 Rangers (6-0), 1996 Padres (5-1), 1997 Orioles (4-2), 1997 Indians (4-2), 1997 Astros (5-1), 1998 Indians (6-0), 1999 Yankees (5-1), 1999 Indians (5-1), 2000 Braves (4-2), 2000 Cardinals (5-1), 2001 Indians (3-2), 2001 Mariners (4-2), 2001 Astros (4-2), 2002 Yankees (5-1), 2002 A’s (5-2), 2003 Yankees (5-1), 2003 A’s (5-1), 2003 Giants (6-0), 2004 Angels (4-2), 2004 Dodgers (4-2), 2005 White Sox (4-2), 2005 Braves (4-2), 2006 A’s (5-2), 2006 Mets (4-1), 2007 Angels (5-2), 2007 Diamondbacks (5-2), 2008 White Sox (4-2), 2008 Angels (4-3), 2009 Cardinals (5-2), 2010 Phillies (5-1), and 2010 Giants (5-1).

The full list of teams that finished last after leading one week into the season: 1994 Angels (4-3), 1997 A’s (4-2), 1999 Angels (3-3), 2001 Expos (5-1), 2002 Mets (3-3), 2008 Orioles (4-1).

The full list of Opening week first placed teams that qualified via wild card: 1994 Indians, 1994 Braves (were both in position when season canceled), 1995 Rockies, 1996 Orioles, 1997 Marlins, 1998 Cubs, 1999 Mets, 2000 Mariners, 2002 Giants, 2004 Red Sox, 2005 Astros, 2006 Tigers, 2008 Brewers.

The full list of teams that finished first after being stuck in last place after one week: 1994 Expos (3-4), 1995 Reds (0-6), 1995 Dodgers (3-4), 1997 Giants (4-2, only 1/2 game back), 1997 Mariners (2-4), 1998 Yankees (1-4), 1999 Diamondbacks (1-5), 2001 Diamondbacks (2-4), 2003 Braves (2-4), 2006 Padres (1-4), 2006 Twins (1-5), 2008 Phillies (2-4).

The full list of wild card teams in last place after one week: 2001 A’s, 2005 Red Sox, 2008 Red Sox, 2009 Red Sox (Take heart Red Sox fans!)

The full list of last placed teams that stayed in last: 1994 Padres (1-6), 1994 Tigers (2-5), 1996 Royals (2-4), 1997 Cubs (0-6), 1997 Phillies (2-5), 1997 Blue Jays (2-3), 1998 Tigers (1-5), 1998 A’s (1-4), 1998 Pirates (3-3), 1998 Diamondbacks (1-5), 1999 Marlins (2-4), 2000 Cubs (2-6), 2000 Phillies (2-4), 2000 Devil Rays (2-5), 2001 Devil Rays (1-5), 2002 Padres (1-5), 2002 Rangers (1-5), 2002 Tigers (0-6), 2003 Brewers (0-6), 2003 Rangers (2-4), 2003 Tigers (0-6), 2003 Devil Rays (2-5), 2004 Diamondbacks (2-4), 2004 Mariners (1-5), 2004 Blue Jays (1-5), 2005 Rockies (1-4), 2005 Pirates (2-4), 2005 Mariners (2-4), 2005 Royals (3-3), 2007 Giants (1-5), 2007 Rangers (2-4), 2007 Royals (2-4), 2008 Mariners (2-4), 2008 Tigers (0-6), 2009 Diamondbacks (2-4), 2009 Nationals (0-6), 2009 A’s (2-4), 2009 Indians (1-5), 2010 Royals (2-5), 2010 Orioles (1-5).


Ten Predictions for the 2011 MLB Season

April 4, 2011

Four days into the season and I finally am getting around to writing a prediction column for the upcoming/ongoing MLB season. I had grand plans for long division previews for each division, but decided to go a different route when I realized that there is not really anything I could write that hasn’t already been written by someone else already. So instead here are ten, somewhat bold predictions for the year:

1. The Yankees will win the AL East.

I made fun of the Yankees’ train wreck of an offseason in this fun post back in February. I stand by that: it was an absolute mess of an offseason.

They will still win the AL East.

The Yankees’ batting order is fine. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are getting older and figure to keep slipping. But Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson are due for huge bounce back seasons. Their one good offseason move landed them Russell Martin – only one of the best catchers in the league up until two years ago and someone they can easily replace with Jorge Posada if he does not pan out.

Pitching is weak after C.C. Sabathia and Phil Hughes. A.J. Burnett is a 50/50 proposition. Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova round out the starting rotation…but does anyone actually think those two (and Burnett, if he struggles) will be in the rotation after the trade deadline? Not a chance – they will make a trade for one or two starters. Their pitching will be fine too.

Meanwhile, 45 of 45 ESPN.com experts picked the Red Sox to win the division. 33 of 45 picked them to win the World Series.

Um, what?

Lost in the shuffle of all the news of the high profile acquisitions of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez is the fact that the Red Sox weren’t really all that good last season. Granted, injuries were a problem, but at no point did they seriously contend for a playoff spot.

Crawford is a great pick up for the Red Sox – he will make the team appreciably better. Gonzalez is a great player and the Red Sox made the right move to pick him up. But I fail to see how Gonzalez makes the Red Sox that much better. Offense and defense considered, is Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis really that big of a step up from Adrian Beltre and Youkilis? I guess a lot of that depends on how well Gonzalez hits in Fenway and how well Youkilis plays third, but I just don’t think they will be that much better.

As good as Crawford and Gonzalez are, acquiring both didn’t really address their biggest problem: pitching. After Jon Lester, is any Red Sox fan really thrilled about John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett, and Dice-K? I know I wouldn’t be.

Looking at their roster, I see a very good team. I do not see a team so good that they should be a unanimous pick to win the AL East and a runaway favorite to win the World Series.

The Red Sox will falter under the heightened expectations and the Yankees will win the division.

2. The Rays will be better than people think…or not.

Speaking of the AL East, the Rays are by far the most confusing team in the league. They could win 100 games or lose 90 games and I wouldn’t really be surprised. For the record, I think they will be a lot closer to 100 wins than to 70 wins.

The general consensus seems to be that the Rays’ time has passed, until they rebuild through their farm system. Only four of the 45 ESPN experts picked the Rays to win the wild card. Like most small market teams, the thinking goes that they had a three year window where they were dynamic, but now they are doomed to irrelevancy because they cannot afford to keep all their players.

Their offseason was even weirder than the Yankees. Their two big moves consisted of signing Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon (combined age: 114) to one-year deals. Those would have been bizarre moves for any team, let alone the perpetually young Rays. Their roster looks like a bizarre Kansas City Royal-like experiment: two superstars (Price and Longoria), two participants in the 1979 All-Star Game* (Damon and Ramirez), one very good, but incredibly inconsistent player (B.J. Upton), and a bunch of random role players.

* Citation needed.

But here’s the thing: that lineup isn’t really that different than the 96-win AL East winning team from last year. They will miss Carl Crawford in left and their bullpen could easily be the worst in the league. Besides that, their team is pretty much the same. Reid Brignac replaces Jason Bartlett at shortstop – can’t imagine anyone will notice. Dan Johnson replaces Carlos Pena at first, but that can’t be a big step back either, since Pena batted .196 and finished 20th of 22nd in OPS among qualifying first basemen in the majors last season. If the Rays get anything out of ManRam and Damon, they can’t possibly be that much worse than last season.

Then they go out and get swept by the Orioles at home in the opening series. This could be a fun roller coaster ride.

3. The AL Central will again be the worst division in the majors.

I wanted to write something about the Twins winning the division, but I think that would make me a homer. To be honest, I think they had a terrible offseason. I disagreed with every single move they made other than re-signing Jim Thome. Seriously, every move. In what might be a first, I even disagreed with every single trade rumor they were involved with.

The best thing that the Twins have going for them is that the Tigers and White Sox don’t impress me either. The Royals are still a year away (although they might surprise some people if their prospects move up fast).* The Indians might be historically bad both on the field and in the stands (they drew a ridiculous 9,800 in their second game of the season – even the Marlins are embarrassed).

* Soon, the Royals might dominate the Central division. They have five of Baseball America’s top 19 prospects and a record-setting nine of the top 100. Most of them will start to hit the big leagues in 2012. They might be very, very good, very soon. The counter to that argument is that they are the Royals. So who knows?

The AL Central has not won a playoff series since 2007. That will continue this year – the division winner takes the division with a 84-78 record, good for seventh best in the AL, and are promptly dispatched in three games by the #2 seeded Yankees.

4. The Rangers will be really, really good.

The #2 Yankees, eh? That’s right – the Rangers finish with the best record in the American League and become only the third AL team since 2005 (2008 Angels, 2009 Yankees) to win 100 games.

Everyone is making too big of a deal about the Rangers not re-signing Cliff Lee. These people do realize that they didn’t get Lee until the trade deadline, and they had already essentially locked up the AL West at that point, right? The loss of Lee will hurt come playoff time, but the Rangers pitching staff was the toast of the league last season well before they traded for Lee. If they come up with anything close to last year’s performance, the Rangers will be dominant.

The real story shouldn’t have been Lee, but the fact that they got BETTER this offseason.

Joe Posnanski helpfully pointed out this week that five of the last 15 AL MVPs have played with the Rangers, a team that was pretty terrible up until last season. He was nicer about it than I was, but there is only one conclusion to draw from that: the writers are too stupid to realize that the Rangers’ offensive stats are ridiculously inflated in Arlington.

With that said, Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli are huge pickups for Texas. Those guys are going to mash the ball. Mostly because of these two guys, the already potent Rangers offense will be even better this season.

And we haven’t even mentioned the quietest offseason pickup in the entire league. The Rangers snagged Brandon Webb after he missed the last two seasons with shoulder problems. If he gives the Rangers anything close to his Cy Young winning-form of a few years ago, that will be a major coup, especially in an offseason in which neither the Red Sox or the Rangers added to their starting pitching staffs.

5. Indians and Pirates battle for the worst record in the majors; the Rust Belt weeps.

Hard to imagine that the Indians were only one game away from the World Series just four years ago. They got really terrible, really quickly. I seem to recall that they had a lot of really good young players. Now…well…

Their third baseman was the worst position player in the majors early last season for the Mariners before he was cut at the end of May. The Mariners, by the way, finished with the worst record in the AL.

Their Opening Day starter gave up ten runs in three innings, and no one was even a little bit surprised.

They have Adam Everett and Orlando Cabrera on their roster. I couldn’t decide on just one joke, so I’ll just go with this. Combined age: 70. Combined teams since 2007: 11.

On the bright side, Carlos Santana is one of the top young catching prospects in the league. So there’s that. It won’t be enough – the Indians finish an AL worst 61-101.

As for the Pirates? They have been one of the three worst teams in the NL every year since 2005. The other teams that periodically join them in the cellar (Nationals, Padres, Diamondbacks, and Cubs) all tend to make concerted efforts to get better. The Pirates do not. They again finish with the worst record in the NL at 59-103.

6. The Phillies will be the best team in the majors.

When I wrote my NFL prediction review column a few months ago, I pointed out that there tended to be a groupthink thing going on with NFL experts. The analysts seemed to make the same picks over and over, and my theory was that they were all scared to look stupid at the end of the season. Turns out they did all look stupid for the most part, but at least they looked stupid together.

The same thing went on with the Red Sox and the Phillies. When the Phillies shocked the majors by picking up Cliff Lee this offseason, they were quickly anointed World Series favorites. Then at some point this spring every analyst talked themselves out of the Phillies. We heard many arguments for why the Phillies wouldn’t be as good as people thought. Pitchers won’t stay healthy, Chase Utley is on the DL with a mysterious injury, Jimmy Rollins and Raul Ibanez are getting older, and so on.

My response to that: Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels.

Yeah, let’s not overthink this one. They are going to be historically good.

7. Five teams will be within eight games of the NL Central title. Nobody will care.

In the aforementioned ESPN.com article, only the Pirates weren’t selected by at least one expert to win the NL Central title. No other division even had four teams picked to win the division.

That can only mean one thing – mediocrity will rule in the NL Central.

I actually applaud the experts for this one. Judging by their track record, I would have expected all of the experts to pick one team and all go with that team. They didn’t, and that was the right move. I can’t really differentiate between any of these teams either.

When in doubt, go with the best players. The Cardinals have two of the three best players in the division in Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. The Cardinals win by being the slightly better than the rest of the teams in the division.

8. The Giants won’t make the playoffs.

I think the Giants will be very good for a long time. They have the best young pitcher in the league (Tim Lincecum) and the best young hitter (Buster Posey). They will contend for a playoff spot for as long as they can afford to keep their current lineup intact.

Yet I see this team as a clone of the 2009 Rays. In 2008, the young Rays surprised everyone by coming out of nowhere to capture the AL pennant. In 2009, expectations were too high in and the Yankees and Red Sox were too good. The Rays came up short of the playoffs before making it back in 2010.

That should remind you of this season’s Giant team. Buoyed by young stars Lincecum and Posey, they came out of nowhere to win the World Series title. Expectations are extremely high coming into this season. The Rockies and Dodgers are both very good teams in the NL West.

I actually like the Dodgers to pull the minor upset and win the division. I have no rational reason for this – on paper the Rockies and the Giants are better teams by far. Just call it a hunch.

9. The Phillies and the Rangers meet in the World Series.

Every single person that watches MLB knows that the playoffs are a crapshoot. After 162 games, the league decides its champion by a best-of-five series followed by two best-of-seven series. The system has pros and cons (more cons, in my opinion), but we accept it.

So why in the world would 42 of ESPN’s experts pick the Red Sox to win the AL pennant? It is one thing to pick them to win the AL East. After 162 games, the best team will almost always win the division thanks to the law of averages. If you really think the Red Sox are the best team in the AL East, by all means, pick them.

But we know going in that each team has a roughly 25% chance of winning the championship series after they make the playoffs. Since the wild card era began in 1995, the team with the best regular season record has won only seven of 16 AL pennants – and three of those were the great Yankee teams of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Even if the Red Sox do have the best record in the AL, they have less than a 50% chance of making it to the World Series…and only three people on ESPN.com picked a different team to make the World Series.

I suppose if no one else will step out on a limb, I will. The Rangers will become the first team since the Yankees’ 1998-2001 run to win back-to-back AL pennants. Last season, they proved that they could win in the playoffs. I think they are going to be even better this season. To top that off, I think they are probably the safest bet to make the playoffs. The AL Central is a mess and only two of the Rays, Yankees, and Red Sox can make it.

My prediction for the AL: #1 Rangers over WC Red Sox, 3 games to 2; #2 Yankees over #3 Twins, 3 games to 0. Rangers over Yankees 4 games to 2.

And yes, I realized afterwards that if you replace the Red Sox with the Rays you get last season’s playoffs. Whatever. I’m still going with it.

**********

I already gave my National League pennant winner away with my discussion on the Phillies’ pitching staff. I look at that team and can’t figure out how any team will be able to beat them in the playoffs. You can argue that injuries and age will catch up with them in the regular season but, assuming they make the playoffs, how can they lose?

In 2001, the Diamondbacks rode Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling to the title. This season’s Phillies have four pitchers they can ride to the title. What happens if they scale down to a three-man rotation for the playoffs? Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels, with Roy Oswalt the first one out of the bullpen? Wow.

The Braves and Rockies are trendy picks in the National League. I don’t like picking the trendy teams, but even with my division winners, one of these teams has to make it as a wild card almost by default. I’ll go with the Rockies for the same logic as I used with the Giants above. The Braves are a very good young team, but will face some pressure after they surprisingly qualified for the playoffs last season. The Rockies were in that position last season after they were the 2009 wild card. They put it together and make it in.

My predictions: #1 Phillies over WC Rockies, 3 games to 1; #3 Cardinals over #2 Dodgers, 3 games to 1. #1 Phillies over #3 Cardinals, 4 games to 1.

Did I just pick two #1 teams to make the World Series after typing how stupid that is several paragraphs ago? Yes, yes I did. Hey, I never claimed that I was very good at following my own advice.

10. The Phillies win the World Series.

The poor Rangers make it back and meet a buzzsaw. No team has lost back-to-back World Series since the Atlanta Braves in 1991 and 1992. It will happen again this year after the Phillies’ pitchers mow the Rangers down, especially after the NL wins home-field advantage with their second consecutive All-Star Game victory. Phillies take the Series, 4 games to 1.

Bonus: Award winners.

Just for kicks, here are my picks for award winners. I suspect none of these will be anywhere close to correct at the end of the season; I will consider it a victory if any of these players picks up votes for their respective awards.

AL MVP: Mark Teixeira, Yankees
NL MVP: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
AL Cy Young: CC Sabathia, Yankees
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
AL Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon, Rays
NL Manager of the Year: Don Mattingly, Dodgers
AL Rookie of the Year: Kyle Drabek, Blue Jays
NL Rookie of the Year: Brandon Belt, Giants


Opening Day

March 31, 2011

“Ray, people will come Ray.

They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past.

Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.

People will come Ray.

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”

–Terence Mann


MLB All-Star Teams of My Lifetime

February 19, 2011

When I write my periodic sports lists, I usually try to come up with an original angle. Most of the time, an idea for a list pops into my head shortly before I fall asleep and I do my best to remember it when I wake up the next morning.

This list is not one of those. It is a shameless rip-off of Joe Posnanski’s idea from last week. Posnanski wrote about which players would make the MLB All-Star team of his lifetime. This is a brilliant idea. As he puts it, that’s just the way his mind works.

My mind works in a similar fashion, but not nearly as efficiently. This is probably why I have such a man-crush on Poz: my thinking and writing can best be described as “Posnanski without the talent.” So I decided it would be okay to steal the idea, but figured I’d better add some value, since my lifetime overlaps with Poz. I selected a full 34-man All-Star team from each league, based on their careers between 1984 and 2010. Although the number of players from each position varies from year to year, I went with an average team: two catchers, three from each infield position, seven outfielders, and thirteen pitchers. To mix things up, I used Fangraphs’ WAR for this post as opposed to my baseball-reference WAR from previous posts.

Catchers

American League: Ivan Rodriguez and Jorge Posada

The list starts off with one of the easiest selections: Ivan Rodriguez at AL catcher. Pudge was selected to the AL All-Star team 14 times between 1992 and 2007. No other American League catcher really comes close to his offensive and defensive prowess in my lifetime – his 73.4 WAR is third best among catchers all-time and by far the best in my lifetime.

The second spot on the team is a bit trickier. I gave Jorge Posada the slight nod over Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk. Fisk was already 36 by the time I was born; although he had three of his better seasons (1985, 1989, and 1990), he was barely passable in 1986 and a part-time player in three other seasons (1988, 1992, and 1993). Posada has made five All-Star Games and no other catcher who spent the majority of his career in the American League during my lifetime even comes close to Posada’s 51.3 career WAR. The closest competitors are Lance Parrish (who was past his prime by 1984), B.J. Surhoff (ha!), and Joe Mauer. I wanted to put Mauer over Posada, but that would make me too much of a homer. According to WAR, Mauer’s best season is better than Posada’s, but Posada has four seasons better than Mauer’s second best season. I’d expect that by version 2.0 of this list in 2015, Mauer takes over for Posada.

Honorable mention goes to Matt Nokes because he was at the center of my favorite fantasy baseball story. I started playing fantasy when I was seven years old with the guys at my dad’s work and promptly dominated the league. I distinctly recall the 1994 draft when a guy named Bill brought his secret cheat sheet that the kept in his hat. Somewhere around the third or fourth round, he pulled that bad boy out and drafted Matt Nokes as the rest of us tried not to laugh. Nokes played 28 games as a backup for the Yankees that season. Bill did not return to the league the following year.

National League: Mike Piazza and Gary Carter

Like Rodriguez, Piazza is a no-brainer. Piazza is by far the best offensive catcher in baseball history. Quick tangent: I wrote a few weeks ago about how positions change over time, but we shouldn’t necessarily hold it against players. Piazza and Pudge ushered in a new era of young offensive-minded catchers. As a result, both are undoubtedly future Hall of Famers. The closest comparison to Piazza according to Fangraphs’ WAR? Joe Torre, who like Piazza was an offensive stud but struggled defensively. Torre lingered on the ballot for 15 years but did not top 15% of the vote until receiving a token 22% in his final year on the ballot. Piazza will take no more than a couple of ballots because offensive catchers are more appreciated. Poor Torre was just too far ahead of his time.

The second spot goes to Hall of Famer Gary Carter, mostly by default. Carter had two of his four best seasons in 1984 and 1985 but basically fell off a cliff after 1986 and was barely a replacement level catcher until he retired in 1992. Of course catching was in such bad shape in the 1980s NL that Carter still made five All-Star teams between 1984 and 1998. Carter’s main competition comes from three-time All-Stars Jason Kendall and Javy Lopez, neither of whom can top Carter. Kendall was merely an above average catcher for many years for the Pirates; he was never really even very good. Lopez, on the other hand, had a great season in 2003, but was just barely above average for a few more years. I’ll take Carters’ two great seasons and several average to below average seasons over those two guys.

First Basemen

American League: Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, Rafael Palmeiro

Tough call for the three American League first basemen. First, there are four solid candidates for the three positions, including Eddie Murray (six if you want to throw in Fred McGriff and Don Mattingly). Second, all of the top four candidates spent a decent amount of time as a designated hitter. I chose to leave DHs out, so I named all of them as first basemen.

The unappreciated Thomas gets the nod as the starter. How good was the Big Hurt? According to Fangraphs batting statistic, the top four players that received at least 1,000 PAs at first base are Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, Jimmie Foxx, and Frank Thomas. Yeah, that’s good company. Amazingly, he only made five All-Star teams.

Thome and Palmeiro get the edge over Murray for two reasons. All three of them had similar careers (Murray had a 78.8 WAR, Palmeiro 75.5, and the still active Thome 73.5), but Thome and Palmeiro both had their entire primes in my lifetime. But more importantly, I find Murray a bit overrated. Yeah he put up those numbers in the low-scoring 1980s, so he certainly deserves credit for that. But I can’t help but think that his birth date is the biggest reason he was a first ballot Hall of Fame selection. He had the luck of being born a decade before Palmeiro, Will Clark, Mark Grace, and the rest of the very good first basemen that dominated the late 80s and early 90s. The high-powered offenses of the 1990s and the steroid problem certainly had something to do with the fact that Murray was a first ballot selection and Palmeiro is considered a fringe candidate. But I can’t help but think that it was just that much easier for Murray to stand out.

National League: Albert Pujols, Jeff Bagwell, and Todd Helton

Pretty easy calls here. For why Pujols is the starter, look no further than my recent post regarding his contract negotiations. He is just that good.

Like Thomas, Bagwell is laughably underrated. He is the seventh ranked first baseman of all-time on Fangraphs’ WAR. Outside of Pujols (who is currently just behind Bagwell and will pass him this season), no other recent NL first baseman even comes close to Bagwell. The closest are Willie McCovey and Willie Stargell.

The third spot narrowly goes to Todd Helton over Mark McGwire. McGwire had a better career, but half of it was in the American League. Helton gets the edge because he put together more successful years in the National League – he has been selected to five All-Star teams, compared to McGwire’s three with the Cardinals.

Second Basemen

American League: Roberto Alomar, Lou Whitaker, Chuck Knoblauch

Recent Hall inductee Alomar is the clear starter – he made the AL All-Star team all eleven years in which he was a full-time AL starter. That’s not a bad track record, even if it was mostly because there wasn’t a single second baseman that could come close to breaking the run.

I have written before about how perplexing it is that Lou Whitaker received so little Hall of Fame support. His WAR is actually higher than Alomar’s, but seven of his years came before I was born. His prime was between 1983 and 1987, when he made five straight All-Star teams. He was by far the best second baseman of the 1980s and easily gets the second spot on this list.

And then it gets difficult. I’ve only reached the second basemen and I already want to change my own rules. But I said I would pick three from each position, so Knoblauch reluctantly gets the second backup spot.* I might be missing someone, but who else do you pick here? Alfonso Soriano? Ray Durham? Yikes. I doubt Knoblauch gets in my hypothetical All-Star Game unless it goes more than 15 innings.

* Which in turn makes the lack of Whitaker support even more perplexing – in the 26 years since I was born, there were only two great second basemen that played in the American League and Whitaker was one of those two. Throw the man a bone.

National League: Craig Biggio, Ryne Sandberg, Jeff Kent

Much easier. Biggio, Sandberg, and Kent were by far the best second basemen in the NL and I can’t even think who would be fourth (Chase Utley maybe?). As players, these guys couldn’t be more opposite. Sandberg, while very good, is overrated. He made the Hall on his third try mostly because he played for the Cubs…the superior Whitaker played for the Tigers and couldn’t get a sniff. That’s not to say that he is not a Hall of Famer, just that he gets more appreciation than he should.

Kent is chronically underrated. He is rarely thought of in the same group as the great second basemen of all-time, but made five All-Star teams and won the 2000 NL MVP Award. Only eight other second basemen can say that (Joe Morgan won it twice). Seven of those eight are in the Hall of Fame and Dustin Pedroia is still active. Yet I can’t imagine a scenario in which Kent gets in and it is hard to pinpoint exactly why. My leading theory was that he was an asshole that the media hated to cover, but I’m open to suggestions.

And Biggio is properly rated. For a long time he was underrated because he was always solid and never stood out. But then he became overrated because he was an example of a player that supposedly “played the game right” in the steroid era. Now that he’s been retired a couple of years, those two things have combined to make him properly rated. He will go in to the Hall somewhere between his first and third ballots, and that seems just about right.

Shortstops

American League: Cal Ripken Jr., Derek Jeter, Alan Trammell

Ripken and Jeter would have been the top two shortstops on Poz’s All-Star team…and he was born 17 years before me. You could make a pretty good argument that those two would be the top two shortstops on the all-time AL All-Star team. Guess that means I don’t need to lookup any statistics to prove my case, which is nice.

Trammell gets the third spot because I classified A-Rod as a third baseman and Robin Yount was exclusively an outfielder by the time I was born. But he was a solid shortstop in his own right – his 69.5 WAR is 16th best in major league history for a shortstop.

National League: Ozzie Smith, Barry Larkin, Jimmy Rollins

Another couple of easy selections in the first and second spot. Ozzie Smith gets the starting spot over Barry Larkin because he has a slightly higher WAR (70.3 to 69.8), but really they are pretty interchangeable. Smith was the best defensive shortstop in baseball history and Larkin might be the most complete all-around shortstop in baseball history.

Like the American League, it gets tricky with the third spot. By career WAR, the third spot would go to Jay Bell. Seriously. I went with Jimmy Rollins instead because he won an MVP Award – the only shortstop not named Ripken or Larkin to win the award in the last 27 years.

Third Basemen

American League: Alex Rodriguez, George Brett, and Wade Boggs

You know a position is stacked when Paul Molitor gets left out…and it’s not even particularly close. Because A-Rod is such a douche, we often forget just how great the guy is. He already owns the second best career WAR among third basemen, and he will pass Mike Schmidt with one more merely average season.

Aside from A-Rod (who played the first half of his career as shortstop) and the aging Scott Rolen, there really aren’t many great third basemen left in the game. I find it interesting how third base and shortstop have basically switched positions. I remember when I first started playing fantasy baseball, third basemen were in demand and no one picked shortstops outside of Ripken and Larkin until the late rounds because they were all the same (I picked the immortal Kurt Stillwell in 1992 and actually felt good about it). Now the best shortstops are power hitters and some of the early picks in the draft (Tulowitzki, Ramirez, Reyes etc.). Third base is now as weak as shortstop was in the early 90s in that there isn’t much separating the very best from the average – the best third baseman by OPS last season was Adrian Beltre and tenth was Aramis Ramirez. Just not a whole lot separating those two. I think this paragraph made sense.

George Brett and Wade Boggs round out the top three. Both were easily first ballot Hall of Famers. Talk about a stacked position: the three third basemen on the AL team are three of the six best of all-time according to WAR. Honorable mention goes to Paul Molitor and Edgar Martinez, both of whom would have made the team as a designated hitter.

National League: Chipper Jones, Scott Rolen, Matt Williams

Chipper Jones and Scott Rolen are two guys who are easily forgotten as great third basemen. They are both extremely boring at what they do, but if you want to see a perfect fundamental swing out of a third baseman, you look no further than Jones; if you want to teach a third baseman how to play defense, you show them a video of Rolen. According to WAR, Jones is the 7th best third baseman in history and Rolen is the 12th. I think between these two guys and the AL third basemen, it is fair to say that the 1990s were the golden era for third basemen in major league history.

The third spot goes to Matt Williams, who like Knoblauch, doesn’t figure to see much playing time behind Jones and Rolen. Williams gets the nod based on a much higher career WAR (47.4) than NL MVP Award winners Ken Caminiti (38.0) and Terry Pendleton (29.9). Caminiti and Pendleton are two of the stranger MVP winners in retrospect. By career WAR, Caminiti is the 58th best third baseman ever and Pendleton sits at 104th. Those two must have had some damn fine single seasons. I’ll stick with the longer prime of Williams.

My favorite thing about Williams is that he stood a very good chance of breaking Roger Maris’s home run record in the strike-shortened 1994 season (he had 43 when the remaining one-third of the season was canceled). Can you imagine the retrospective outrage? Williams just looks like a guy who would ingest whatever drug came his way. I mean, I knew he was on steroids at the time…and I was 10 years old. I would have bet money on a Williams positive drug test before McGwire and his giant muscles. That’s saying something…I feel like we really got robbed with that strike.

Outfielders:

American League: Rickey Henderson, Ken Griffey Jr., Manny Ramirez, Ichiro, Juan Gonzalez, Vladimir Guerrero, Kirby Puckett

I thought it would be difficult to limit my outfield to seven players. Instead, it was kinda hard to get to seven outfielders. Rickey and Griffey are no-brainers. There has not been a player like either one before or since.

ManRam and Ichiro are pretty close to locks. I’m actually not even sure why Ramirez isn’t a lock other than the fact that I’m falling into the same trap as the reporters who jump on him every time Manny be Manny. The dude is a flat-out offensive machine. And Ichiro doesn’t have the stats as the other guys on this list, mostly because he hits singles and little else, but he is an experience. I attended a Mariner game in both Los Angeles and Seattle and in both cases everyone stopped what they were doing to watch him take batting practice. There has never been a non-power hitter that can say that. That’s enough to make the All-Star team in my book.

Then it gets a little bit trickier. The AL has struggled with outfielders in my lifetime…not a single one of the remaining three made Posnanski’s top seven for each outfield position. The only AL outfielder on his lists that played in the past 25 years is Dave Winfield, but he was past his prime by the time I was born. I first went with Juan Gonzalez, who went from a nobody to a star to a nobody in a shorter period of time than most players can dream about. But he did win two MVP Awards. Even if his WAR (38.8) is probably less than any other player on this list, two MVPs is good enough for me.

Guerrero is actually the next outfielder on the WAR list that played his best years in the American League in my lifetime after Rickey, Griffey, and ManRam. I had to scroll down quite a bit and skip past Winfield (past his prime), Kenny Lofton, and Gary Sheffield (both bounced between leagues) to get to Guerrero. Still, not bad company.

The final spot goes to Kirby Puckett, who has been called overrated for so long that he has become underrated. Puckett was on his way to a Hall of Fame career before he had to retire because of glaucoma. No matter: the Hall voters elected him anyway, because they have a soft spot for players whose careers ended suddenly.* He instantly started getting railed on for being one of the worst outfielders in the Hall. Which might be true, but with a few more good years he would have been a deserving Hall of Famer. All that talk got to me, and I almost left him off completely, before I remembered that he was a great center fielder.

* There is no difference between Andruw Jones and Puckett, other than the fact that Jones suddenly hit a wall but kept on playing even though he wasn’t very good any more. Jones will get little Hall consideration because he struggled for the later years in his career. This makes almost no sense. Apparently, he should have gone out in his prime like Puckett.

National League: Barry Bonds, Tony Gwynn, Robin Yount, Sammy Sosa, Larry Walker, Tim Raines, Andruw Jones

The National League was quite a bit easier than the American League. Barry Bonds was the easiest choice in the entire post – his 169.7 career WAR is second all-time among all players, behind only some guy named Babe Ruth.

Tony Gwynn and Robin Yount both got on base a lot. Yount had quite a bit better stats but Gwynn’s swing was more fun to watch, so I gave Gwynn the nod for the second spot on the list. Gwynn made ten All-Star Games, I assume because his swing was so sweet. Yount made only three All-Star Games, which is insane to me. What exactly were people watching in the 80s?

Posnanski had Walker three spots ahead of Sammy Sosa on his list. I think they both make the team, but come on…Sosa in his prime was something to see. I’m a big sabermetric guy, so I understand that Walker was statistically better than Sosa. At the same time NO ONE watching baseball in the 1990s thought Walker was better than Sosa. I think this is a perfect example of overthinking things. Walker was a great player and makes my All-Star team. Sosa was a great player and a cultural phenomenon. He finishes one spot ahead of Walker.

That leads us to Tim Raines. People more capable than me have written about his Hall of Fame case before, so I don’t really need to write it here. A Google search will lead you to better arguments than I could give you. As far as I can tell, Raines would be a no-doubt Hall of Famer if he did not have the misfortune of playing in the same era as the one-of-a-kind Rickey Henderson. His career WAR is 71.0 – one spot ahead of Willie Stargell. Not a bad spot to be in.

The final NL spot should go to a center fielder, as Yount is the only center fielder on my list.* Andruw Jones gets the small edge over Jim Edmonds. His WAR (70.5) is slightly higher than Edmonds (68.1) and Edmonds spent several of his better years with the Angels in the American League. Plus I just compared Jones to Kirby Puckett above so he seems like the logical pick here.

* As an aside, how weird is it that Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines were left fielders? Seems like two of the fastest players in major league history would have been center fielders. Alas, I guess you can’t teach instincts.

Pitchers

American League: Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Roy Halladay, Johan Santana, Nolan Ryan, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, CC Sabathia, Bret Saberhagen, Bartolo Colon, Mariano Rivera, Francisco Rodriguez, and Dennis Eckersley

Like outfielders, I thought I would have trouble cutting the pitching staff to thirteen. Instead I had trouble getting to thirteen. I suppose this makes sense – we like to think that there are a lot of great pitchers at any given time, by thirteen in one league is a lot. Ten years ago, the 2001 AL All-Star team had Joe Mays, Eric Milton, Paul Quantrill, Mike Stanton, Jeff Nelson, and Freddy Garcia. Yikes.

Additionally, I was free-wheeling it since I don’t particularly like career WAR for pitchers. I am a big short-term greatness guy. Pitchers get hurt so often that a long, average career tends to skew things on a stat like career WAR. So I went with my own memories and the list of award winners.

I went with ten starters and three closers, which seems to be fairly close to the norm for All-Star teams. Clemens, Martinez, Halladay, Santana, Rivera, and Eckersley were the easiest choices. Clemens was the best pitcher in the early part of my youth (six Cy Young Awards), Martinez was the best pitcher of my teenage years (two Cy Young Awards), and Santana and Halladay (two and one) were the best pitchers in recent years. Rivera is the best closer of all-time and Eckersley is the only relief pitcher elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. I assume that those six pitchers would make pretty much anybody’s list of the best AL pitchers of the last quarter century.

Next come the pitchers that probably make most people’s lists, but that you could talk somebody out of: Ryan, Mussina, and Pettitte. Ryan was already 37 by 1984, but still pitched for another nine years. He did make two All-Star teams and threw two no-hitters in my lifetime, so he’s not a bad choice to the All-Star team, even if it feels more like a lifetime achievement award.

I have previously covered Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina before, so there is no real need to discuss them here. In short, my argument is that we need to lessen our expectations from modern technology. We have become so accustomed to Tommy John surgery and pitchers pitching until they are into their 40s that we don’t appreciate the statistics of guys like Mussina and Pettitte. Both were among the best pitchers in the AL for their entire careers (Pettitte’s short exodus to Houston aside) so they make my team.

The last four guys are the best I could come up with and I could easily be talked out of them. Bret Saberhagen was outrageously good over his short career. Clemens, Martinez, Santana, and Saberhagen are the only pitchers to win multiple AL Cy Young Awards in the last three decades. That’s select company – I’ll take Saberhagen’s prime before an average pitcher who pitched for a long time anyday.

Sabathia and Colon are interchangeable with pretty much any AL pitcher that was very good over a short period of time – Bob Welch, Pat Hentgen, David Cone, and Barry Zito, among others are in the conversation. I am not really set on either one of these two guys, but they came to mind first and I couldn’t think of any reason to bump them for any of the remaining pitchers.

Then we get to Francisco Rodriguez, who was fortunate enough to accumulate a lot of saves for an Angels team that played a lot of close games. He shattered the MLB record by saving 62 games in 2008. The save is basically a meaningless statistic, but it was good enough for the third relief spot on the team, mostly because I couldn’t think of a reason to bump him either.

National League: Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Roy Oswalt, Orel Hershiser, Dwight Gooden, Curt Schilling, Tim Lincecum, Jake Peavy, Trevor Hoffman, Lee Smith, and Eric Gagne

I count five no-brainers among National League pitchers: Johnson, Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, and Hoffman. The first four figure to easily make the Hall of Fame and Johnson and Maddux could easily cross 95% of the vote on their first ballot. Hoffman might not make the Hall of Fame but the conversation on best National League closer of all-time (if there is one) begins and ends with Hoffman.

Oswalt and Smith are really the only two pitchers on the next tier. I would guess that most people would put them on their All-Star ballot of the last 26 years, but you could talk yourself out of either one. Oswalt has quietly been one of the best pitchers in the NL over the last decade and has three All-Star Game selections to show for it.

Smith has inched ever so close to making the Hall of Fame and was the MLB career saves leader before Rivera and Hoffman blew him out of the water. I would have trouble coming up with two other relief pitchers that could knock Smith off this team.

Then it gets tricky. Hershiser and Gooden both were dominant pitchers for a short time in the 1980s. Gooden won the 1985 Cy Young Award and Hershiser won the 1988 Award. Gooden made four All-Star teams and Hershiser made three. If I use the same logic that I used on Saberhagen above, I have to include both of these guys.

I tried to have a fair balance of players from the late 1980s and early 1990s throughout this post. But it was almost impossible to do that with the NL pitchers. Check out this partial list of NL Cy Young Award winners between 1984 and 1990: Rick Sutcliffe, Mike Scott, Steve Bedrosian, Mark Davis, and Doug Drabek. I don’t even think any of those guys could crack the top 50 NL pitchers of my lifetime. After that, the 1990s were dominated by Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez (on the AL team), and the Atlanta Braves pitchers I already selected. So the remaining selections come from recent years out of necessity.

Curt Schilling was one of the best pitchers of the past two decades, but this was a tougher call than you would think. Although he pitched the majority of his career on a National League team, his best/most famous years came with the Red Sox in the American League. So think of Schilling as the Nolan Ryan of the National League – his selection to the team is sort of a lifetime achievement award.

Tim Lincecum has only pitched for three full seasons, but who really cares when you win two Cy Young Awards? The list of multiple NL award winners in my lifetime consist of Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine, and Tim Lincecum. So yeah, he’s in.

Eric Gagne gets in as the third reliever because of two dominant seasons. Voters got a little carried away with voting relievers as Cy Young winners in the 1980s and early 1990s, back when the save was still a new, cool statistic. Now we realize that closers are overrated…and Gagne still won the award in 2003 because he was just that dominant. That’s good enough for me.

That leaves Chris Carpenter, Jake Peavy, and Brandon Webb as the one-time Cy Young Award winners of the 2000s. I went with Peavy for the final spot, but could be talked into either of the other two. They are all basically equal in my opinion, but Peavy had more very good years in the National League than the others.

And now that I’m breaking down subtle difference in the careers of three very similar and still active pitchers, it’s probably a good time to end the post.


An Open Letter to the St. Louis Cardinals

February 16, 2011

Dear St. Louis powers-that-be:

What could you possibly be thinking?

Today, you let the contract deadline for signing Albert Pujols to an extension pass. If reports are correct, you didn’t even put anything close to a viable offer on the table. The reliable Ken Rosenthal speculated that the deal was for somewhere between $19 and $21 million. That would have made Mr. Pujols somewhere around the tenth highest paid player in baseball and only the third highest paid first baseman.

Albert Pujols. The third highest paid first baseman in baseball. As owners and general managers, I would assume that you watch your own players. If you did, it would seem that you would realize that not only is Pujols the best first baseman in baseball, he is the best hitter in baseball.

Of course, maybe you saw something that the rest of us did not. He did have a down year last season: after finishing as the major’s overall leader in OPS three of the four seasons between 2006 and 2009, he fell all the way down to fourth last season.

The Cardinals seem like a progressive organization, so I’ll throw a few stats your way. Pujols has led the National League in WAR for six consecutive years. He ALREADY has a higher career WAR than every active player not named Alex Rodriguez. By this measure, the 30-year old Pujols has had a more productive career than future Hall of Famers Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones, and Ken Griffey Jr. He is the youngest player in the top 30 in career WAR of active players.

He led the NL in OPS+ in three of the last five years and has finished no lower than third since 2003. He has led the league in Runs Created three times since 2003 and has never finished lower than sixth. He is the best active defensive first baseman in the majors according to the Range Factor statistic. By literally any measure, he is the most dominant player in the majors.

But suppose you aren’t in to any of those crazy acronyms and you want to stick to the traditional stats. Joe Posnanski helpfully points out a few numbers to put Pujols in historical context. Through ten years in the league, Pujols ranks first all-time in home runs, second in runs, and fourth in RBIs. He has won three MVP Awards and two Gold Gloves.

All of this while making just short of $97 million in his career. In the same time frame, A-Rod (the only other player in the discussion for best major league hitter) has made $266 million. I wanted to find a first baseman that got paid more between 2001 and 2010 than Pujols that would shock the conscience, so I went with Jeff Bagwell, who made $100 million over the course of the decade. Bagwell retired in 2005.

Twenty-four players will make more than Pujols this year, one of whom (Matt Holliday) is a Cardinal. The best player in the majors is the second highest paid player on his own team. There is no doubt that over the past decade St. Louis has gotten a ridiculous bargain with Pujols.

By itself, the current bargain contract doesn’t necessarily mean that the Cardinals should sign Pujols. This isn’t charity work – it’s a business and the Cardinals should not have to pay extra for services already rendered. However, it has to be a factor that goes into the negotiations. Pujols will (correctly) feel under-appreciated. He wants to get paid on his next contract based on the bargain first contract. Someone will give him that money and it is nonsensical to think otherwise.

There are any number of reasons why the organization has decided to lowball Pujols. He will be 31 when his next contract starts. Assuming he has a standard career, he will start trending down by the third or fourth year of his contract, so from a financial standpoint, those last however many years will not be worth the investment. Additionally, rumors are that the organization lowballed him because the biggest spenders (Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies) are set at a first base. And $30 million a year for ten years is a lot for any player, no matter how great.

All of these excuses are ridiculous. The team just needs to pay the man.

I’m not from St. Louis, so take all of this with a grain of salt. But the way I understand it, no player has meant more to the city since Stan Musial. Here in Minneapolis this offseason, the Twins had to re-sign hometown hero Joe Mauer or risk a fan mutiny. If Pujols and St. Louis are anything close to that, the Cardinals organization should sign Pujols at whatever the cost.

I don’t think the Cardinals’ analysis on the Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies is correct. Yes, those three teams have Mark Teixeira, Adrian Gonzalez, and Ryan Howard at first base…but with a player like Pujols and a bajillion dollars to spare, you sign first and ask questions later.

But let’s assume the Cardinals are right that none of those three teams would make a play. That leaves the Angels, but I can’t imagine they would make a play after taking on the Vernon Wells contract and with fan favorite Kendry Morales already occupying first base.

The Mets are likely to try to sign Pujols, especially with somebody named Ike Davis playing first. I would imagine that the Mets will head into the offseason ready to spend money, although they are so bad that they might want to spread money out among more positions.

Then there is the team that will emerge as the favorite: the Chicago Cubs. Uh oh. The Cubs won’t even have a first baseman under contract for 2012 (they signed Carlos Pena to a one-year deal this offseason). The monster contracts of Kosuke Fukodome, Carlos Silva and Aramis Ramirez (with a $2 million buyout) will all end after this season. They will have plenty of money to spend and they will want to spend it.

Can you imagine the carnage if Pujols signs with the Chicago Cubs? Take it from a Packer fan: it was excruciatingly painful when a washed-up Brett Favre played with the rival Vikings for two seasons even though Green Bay had a better quarterback. You might as well take that times ten if an in-his-prime Pujols signed with the rival Cubs for ten seasons, leaving St. Louis with a major hole at first base.

So well done Cardinal management. You could have signed Pujols with no competition. You might have overpaid but now you stand to lose so much more. Now that Pujols will become a free agent, you will be either forced to a) overpay him more than you would have this offseason; or b) risk losing one of the greatest players of all-time in his prime, potentially to your rival. I think we call that “backing yourself into a corner.”

Sincerely,

Baseball Fans Everywhere

 


Messing with Hall of Famers’ Similarity Scores (Part II)

February 10, 2011

Yesterday I looked at the similarity scores of a few select recent Baseball Hall of Famers and candidates currently on the ballot. Today I look at the similarity scores of recently retired players who will show up on the ballot in the next five years. This should be fun – after a dry election in 2012 the following four years’ ballots are STACKED.

2012

Apparently not a single great player retired after the 2006 season. Only Bernie Williams stands a realistic chance of getting the 5% of the vote needed to stay on the ballot for a second year. Nevertheless, there are are a few interesting candidates from that election.

Vinny Castilla: #1 comp – Adrian Beltre (932). Being a sports fan has a way of making you feel old, even if you aren’t really that old to begin with. I felt really old when Fred Couples joined the Senior Tour. I remember when Vinny Castilla came up with the Rockies…and now I feel old knowing that he has already been retired for five years. Anyway, he was already 27 years old when he played his first full season in the majors, otherwise we could be talking about a potential Hall of Famer. Instead, he’s a one and done guy.

Javy Lopez: #1 comp – Jorge Posada (878). Lopez is the only incoming player that actually has a Hall of Famer among his top ten comps – #2 Roy Campanella and #5 Ernie Lombardi. I doubt Lopez will get much consideration. He was continuously overshadowed by peers Posada, Ivan Rodriguez, and Mike Piazza, but this seems a little unfair.

Yesterday I wrote about how positions change over time and we shouldn’t necessarily hold it against players from different eras. Along with Posada and Mike Piazza, Lopez was one of the first members of the generation of power hitting catchers that now permeate the league. From age 25 to age 35, Lopez’s top comps were Hall of Famers Gabby Hartnett and Carlton Fisk. The only difference is that those two played in eras when power-hitting catchers were rare. As a result, Fisk played until he was 45 and Hartnett played until he was 40 simply because they were still viable catchers even though they were well past their primes. Lopez did not have that luxury. In 2003, he had a 169 OPS+ and finished fifth in NL MVP voting with the Braves. Then he hit the wall. Three years and two teams later, he was out of the league at only 36 years old.

Brad Radke: #1 comp – Jon Lieber and Kevin Tapani (949). As a Twins fan, I was hoping for something a little better than Lieber and Tapani. This depressed me.

Ruben Sierra: #1 comp – Joe Carter (900). Sierra’s top three are Carter, Paul O’Neill, and Bobby Bonilla. Seems about right. In 1994, the great Bill James completed the same exercise as I did here, when he tried to project the players currently playing that would be in the Hall. One of his picks was Ruben Sierra. Whoops.

Bernie Williams: #1 comp – Bobby Abreu (931). O’Neill and Bonilla also crack Williams’ top four, although Sierra himself is conspicuously absent. Another example of why it is beneficial to play in New York. Despite similar statistics, former Yankee Williams is likely to linger on the ballot for a second year. Sierra will be lucky to pull in more than five votes.

2013

Now it starts to get ridiculous: it seems like at least half of the great players from my childhood retired after the 2007 season. The first batch of steroid candidates popped up on the last couple of ballots, but other than Mark McGwire, no one really cared all that much. Jeff Bagwell and Rafael Palmeiro should be Hall members, but no one got really worked up about their vote totals. In 2013, it will get ugly. Check out this murderer’s row of candidates: Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, and Sammy Sosa. Of those six, only Schilling doesn’t have the statistics of a surefire Hall of Famer. But four of the other five players have been implicated in various steroid discussions, so no one really knows what will happen. Additionally, I threw in Kenny Lofton and David Wells, who won’t get serious consideration in 2013 but might have in a drier year.

Craig Biggio: #1 comp – Robin Yount (836). Eight of Biggio’s top ten comps are Hall of Famers; the other two are Lou Whitaker (who should be there) and Derek Jeter (who will be there). His list reads like a who’s who list of great modern infielders: Yount, Joe Morgan, Roberto Alomar, Cal Ripken Jr., Brooks Robinson, George Brett, and Ryne Sandberg.

James also invented the Hall of Fame Monitor, yet another measure of a player’s potential candidacy. A score over 100 means that a player is more likely to make the Hall of Fame. Biggio finishes with a fantastic 169…but that’s only good for sixth place among the six new candidates. Still, with many voters claiming they will never vote for a steroid user, Biggio has a very good chance at being the only player of the six elected in his first year on the ballot. He is certainly deserving of selection. But it will be hilariously awkward.

Barry Bonds: #1 comp – Willie Mays (762). Bonds is a unique player – a similarity score of 762 is exceptionally low. Unsurprisingly, his top three comps are Mays, Hank Aaron, and Babe Ruth. That’s great company, but we already knew he was in that company. Bonds is a tough call: I could see him easily making it in on the first ballot, but I could also see voters holding him back for several years.

Bonds is in a category of his own. Unlike the other steroid users, the refrain on Bonds seems to be that his statistics pre-steroid use were good enough to get him in the Hall, even without the bajillion home runs. Look, I understand not voting for any suspected steroid user. For better or worse, there is a character clause in the Hall of Fame standards. I don’t agree with voters using this provision to act as the moral police, but at least I understand.

What I don’t get is this idea that Bonds had a Hall of Fame career before he started using steroids. Unless some bizarre security tape exists, we can never actually know with 100% certainty that Bonds used steroids. But with the whole BALCO scandal, the evidence is stacked pretty heavily against him. What we don’t know is when or how many times he used. This doesn’t stop Hall voters from speculating when he started using based on his head size. Scientists that have studied steroids for decades still disagree on the benefits and dangers of steroid use. Yet we have a small handful of writers who know nothing about steroid use other than “we think it makes you hit the ball far,” deciding on a player’s candidacy based on when they think the player used steroids and the affect it had on his play? This is preposterous.

Roger Clemens: #1 comp – Randy Johnson (850). Everything about Bonds applies here. Somehow Clemens has become more disliked than Bonds with his post-career legal troubles. Bonds never even retired, but every team in baseball disliked him so much that he couldn’t find a team to sign him. On the other hand, Clemens was brought out of retirement something like seven straight years by teams that wanted his services. The odds that Clemens would become more hated than Bonds since retirement had to have been staggeringly high.

Seven of Clemens’ top ten comparables are in the Hall of Fame. The other three are Johnson, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine. Maddux and Glavine come on the ballot in 2014 and Johnson follows in 2015. All figure to be strong candidates to be selected on their first ballot. If writers punish Clemens for suspected steroid use/general asshole-ishness, all ten of Clemens’ comparables could make it into the Hall of Fame before he does. Like most baseball fans, I would find this hilarious.

Kenny Lofton: #1 comp – Jimmy Ryan (874). Yesterday I noted that Kenny Lofton was just behind his time. He was a great leadoff hitter for many years, but thanks to the offense-heavy steroid era, we stopped caring about leadoff hitters for the two decades or so between the primes of Tim Raines and Carl Crawford. It makes sense, then, that Lofton’s #1 comp is a fairly obscure center fielder from the 1890s. Three of Lofton’s top ten comps are Hall of Famers; two (Ryan and George Van Haltren) are under-appreciated 19th century players not in the Hall of Fame but in the Baseball Think Factory’s Hall of Merit; another (Ken Griffey Jr.) is a sure future Hall of Famer; and one more (Tim Raines) might make it in. It is safe to say that we did not appreciate Kenny Lofton as much as we should have. Figures that he joins the ballot on a stacked year, giving us one more chance to not appreciate him. I don’t think he makes a second ballot.

Mike Piazza: #1 comp – Yogi Berra and Johnny Bench (828). Of the 2013 players, only Barry Bonds has a lower similarity score with his #1 comp than Piazza. This goes to show just how great an offensive player Piazza was; not even Yogi Berra and Johnny Bench come close to his numbers. Yet like Javy Lopez, he is hurt somewhat by just how much of an offensive force he was. Piazza’s dominance ushered in an era of offensive-minded catchers (Joe Mauer, Matt Wieters, Victor Martinez, Geovanny Soto, Buster Posey, and so on). Because of this, it is easy to forget how much of a revelation Piazza was when he came up into the big leagues. At the time, it was ridiculous to see a catcher penciled into the cleanup spot. Now it is fairly commonplace. That shouldn’t make us forget how good Piazza was.

Curt Schilling: #1 comp – Kevin Brown (920). Schilling is a solid Hall candidate; yet his number one comp fell off after one year. He fits in with my discussion yesterday on short-term greatness. In fact, his top three comps are the very three pitchers I mentioned: Brown, Bob Welch, and Orel Hershiser. The only two Hall of Fame players on his list are Don Drysdale and Dazzy Vance – the two pitchers that I pointed out were exceptionally great for a ten-year span but did little before or after. I swear, I did not plan this.

Unlike the other three pitchers, Schilling has two things to hang his hat on – the Bloody Sock Game in the 2004 World Series and the fact that he reached 3,000 strikeouts. This isn’t totally fair. As I pointed out yesterday with Jack Morris and Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, what’s the point of waiting five years if one game dominates our memory of a player? And the 3,000 strikeout barrier isn’t as impressive as it used to be. In the 1990s and 2000s, it became okay for hitters to strike out for the first time in baseball history. It is not a coincidence that six of the 16 members of the 3,000 strikeout club pitched in that era. Or that five of those six (all but Maddux) have a higher K/IP ratio than any pitcher in the club besides Nolan Ryan. But of course I don’t expect voters to figure this one out. Schilling will eventually receive the 436 votes required for election, despite the fact that Brown received only 12 votes in his one year on the ballot.

Sammy Sosa: #1 comps – Jim Thome and Mike Schmidt (858). Seven of Sosa’s top ten comps are Hall of Famers. The other three (Griffey, Thome, and Gary Sheffield) are solid candidates. Even though Sosa has better career stats than Mark McGwire, he will always be second to McGwire in most people’s heads because of the 1998 home run chase. McGwire received only 19% of the vote in his fifth year on the ballot. This does not bode well for Sosa.

It is an extreme longshot, but I think there is a chance Sosa doesn’t make it a second year on the ballot. Surely enough voters will be sane enough to vote for him, but you can’t really rule it out. With McGwire’s history and the stacked ballot, I’d be worried if I was Sosa. The anti-steroid voters are going to love Schilling and Biggio as candidates. On top of that, Sosa is undoubtedly fourth among the four suspected steroid users on this ballot. Yet another sign of the times: the seventh best home run hitter of all time is only the sixth most viable new candidate on the 2013 Hall ballot.

David Wells: #1 comp – Andy Pettitte (898). Wells won’t last a second year on the ballot. But maybe he should – four of his top ten comps are Hall of Famers. Better candidates Pettitte, Mike Mussina, and Schilling also crack the list. It’s just too bad he couldn’t have retired a year earlier.

2014

More names get added to an already stacked ballot in 2014. By 2014, voters will start to feel the backlog of candidates. Larkin might be the only player elected next season. I think Biggio will be the only player elected in 2013. If that’s the case, we could be looking at a minimum of 21 candidates on the 2014 ballot that scored more than 100 on Bill James’ Hall of Fame Monitor. If Bernie Williams and Juan Gonzalez hang on for a few more years, that number jumps to 23. Writers can only vote for a maximum of ten players and very few will max out their ballot on principle. That means a lot of very good Hall of Fame candidates won’t stay on the ballot for a second year simply because there aren’t enough votes to go around. Furthermore, with that many qualified candidates and only ten votes for each writer, the backlog will keep adding up. It will become that much harder for a player to receive 75 percent of the vote.

Tom Glavine: #1 comp – Hall of Famer Early Wynn (874). Four of Glavine’s top ten comps are in the Hall of Fame, led by #2 Tom Seaver. Glavine was a boring pitcher, and he’s kinda boring to talk about. I don’t think he gets in right away, but he will be the last 300-game winner for the foreseeable future. That in itself is enough to get him in.

Luis Gonzalez: #1 comp – Dave Parker (907). I wrote about Gonzo yesterday. He gets overlooked because he played in the steroid era, everyone assumes that he juiced, and he still wasn’t one of the premier sluggers of his time. But four of his top ten comparables are in the Hall of Fame and #1 comp Parker lasted the full fifteen years on the ballot.

Of course those four are marginal Hall of Famers Billy Williams, Tony Perez, Andre Dawson, and Al Kaline. In the steroid era, that just won’t cut it. Gonzalez is a one and done guy.

Jeff Kent: #1 comp – Ryne Sandberg (802). Jeff Kent was really good. And really underrated. This is almost certainly because he was a jerk; the only things I really remember about his career are his MVP Award and the year that he tried to be a bigger douche than Barry Bonds.

As far as second basemen go, Kent was historically great. His #1 comp was Sandberg, but even he wasn’t all that comparable to Kent. The other nine players on Kent’s top ten list weren’t even second basemen. Five of the ten are Hall of Famers. But I’m guessing Kent goes the way of Lou Whitaker and becomes a one and done guy.

Greg Maddux: #1 comp – Don Sutton (862). If you had to bet on one recently retired player to make it into the Hall on the first ballot, you’d pretty much have to go with Maddux. Not only is Maddux extremely qualified, he is the exact opposite of every player that the anti-steroid crew won’t vote for. Nine of Maddux’s top ten comps are in the Hall; the tenth is Roger Clemens. Yeah, the guy was pretty good.

Mike Mussina: #1 comp – Andy Pettitte (875). Yet another perfect comp. Both Mussina and Pettitte are former Yankee pitchers with borderline Hall of Fame credentials. Five of Mussina’s top ten comps are Hall of Fame pitchers. Not a bad start, but I don’t see how Mussina gets in.

Two voter quirks keep Mussina out. First, he retired with 270 wins – 30 short of the magical 300. He had 20 wins in his final season, so he may have gotten there with two more years and definitely would have gotten there with three more years. He would have been older than 40, so he would have almost certainly been a below average starter. Yet three more below average seasons would have gotten him to 300 wins and made him a slam dunk Hall of Famer.

Second, Mussina has a 3.68 ERA, which would put him among the worst starters in the Hall. Although his ERA is very good for his era, voters won’t give him much credit. For some reason, voters are willing to discount the fantastic hitting numbers of players like Palmeiro and McGwire because of the steroid era, yet we aren’t willing to do the same for pitchers.

Frank Thomas: #1 comp – Jeff Bagwell (874). Three of Thomas’s top ten comps are in the Hall of Fame. That’s not too exciting. The names of those three players are way more exciting: Mickey Mantle, Jimmie Foxx, and Willie McCovey. Now that is some good company.

2015

Carlos Delgado: #1 comp – Willie Stargell (892). That Stargell comp looks nice, but poor Delgado will be lost in the shuffle at this point. On his own merits, he is a viable but marginal Hall candidate. But by the time his five year waiting period is up in 2015, he might only be the sixth best first baseman on the ballot. Palmeiro and McGwire will still be lingering. So will McGriff, who seems to be a likely candidate to pick up steam as anti-steroid voters start supporting his cause. Bagwell might not be in yet and Thomas probably doesn’t get in on his first year on the ballot. This extremely impressive list of first basemen will keep Delgado from getting the consideration he deserves.

Nomar Garciaparra: #1 comp – Michael Young (869). Seems weird to think there was a time not too long ago that Garciaparra was considered a surefire Hall of Fame shortstop. Thru age 29, Nomah’s number one comp was Ernie Banks. Now it’s the decidedly less impressive Michael Young. Young will pull farther away from Garciaparra the longer he plays, leaving Joe Gordon, Bret Boone, Wally Berger, and Travis Fryman as his top comps. Yikes.

Randy Johnson: #1 comp – Roger Clemens (850). How good was the Big Unit? You may have heard of the names on Johnson’s comp list: Clemens, Tom Seaver, Bob Feller, Jim Palmer, Lefty Grove, Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton. Wow.

In terms of the Bill James statistics, Johnson is the most qualified candidate on this list. Not only are his comparables ridiculous, he scores a whopping 331 on the Hall of Fame Monitor. Among recent retirees, only Bonds (336) and Clemens (332) scored higher than Johnson, and they have problems that go beyond their statistical qualifications. Greg Maddux (254) is the only other player within 120 points of Johnson.

Pedro Martinez: #1 comp – Curt Schilling (870). Since Hall of Fame voters love to compare players to one another, even if they aren’t really comparable (Jack Morris and Bert Blyleven, anyone?), Schilling is lucky he has a two year jump on Pedro. They both were dominant pitchers for a relatively short period of time, but Pedro was more dominant for a longer stretch of time. Pedro’s seven years with the Red Sox were ridiculous: 117-37 with a 2.52 ERA and 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings. And that was in the middle of the steroid era.

Gary Sheffield: #1 comp – Mel Ott (875). Sheffield will be another casualty of the steroid era. Six of his top ten comps are in the Hall and three more (Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Thomas, and Chipper Jones) will certainly get there. The tenth is borderline candidate Fred McGriff. The six Hall of Famers are no slouches – Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, and Reggie Jackson join Ott on the list.

I see Sheffield in the same light as Rafael Palmeiro. Like Palmeiro, he put up stellar stats over his career but was never in the discussion for best hitter in the league in any given season. This opens the door for revisionist history. I expect many to argue that Sheffield wasn’t a top candidate even without the steroid talk, similar to what happened with Palmeiro this season. Never mind the fact that Sheffield would absolutely cruise in on the first ballot based on his stats if there were no steroid suspicions involved. My hunch is that Sheffield lasts the full fifteen years on the ballot. Of course he might not even do that – Palmeiro only received 11% of the possible votes this season and the ballot wasn’t nearly as crowded this year as it will be in 2015.

John Smoltz: #1 comp – Curt Schilling (876). I was a bit surprised that Dennis Eckersley (the other famous solid starter turned dominant closer) didn’t show up on Smoltz’s list. Instead, all ten of Smoltz’s comps were starters for their entire careers. That doesn’t really tell us too much, since the majority of Smoltz’s Hall appeal comes from the fact that he was very good as a starter and a reliever. Smoltz will be a good test as to how cyncial the voters have become. He is basically a better Eckersley in a tougher era, and Eckersley cruised in on the first ballot with 83.2% of the vote.

2016

Ken Griffey Jr.: #1 comp – Frank Robinson (900). Five of Griffey’s ten comps are current Hall members. The other five are Palmeiro, Sheffield, Sosa, ManRam, and Alex Rodriguez. Of course none of that matters: any thinking about Griffey’s candidacy is just wasted time. He is basically the hitting version of Maddux and a no-doubt first ballot Hall of Famer.

Trevor Hoffman: #1 comp – Mariano Rivera (901). Rivera makes sense. Unsurprisingly, the rest of Hoffman’s list is made up of slightly above average closers. I wrote about this in my 35 Future Hall of Famers column. My argument was that it was impossible to tell with any certainty whether Hoffman will be elected into the Hall of Fame because we don’t know how voters will treat the modern closer. The comp list bares this out: names like Jeff Reardon, Roberto Hernandez, Doug Jones, and Todd Jones aren’t all that impressive. Hoffman will be the first test case for the modern closer.

Andy Pettitte: #1 comp – David Wells (898). In the same column, I picked Pettitte to make the Hall of Fame. Kinda wish I had that one back – I placed him in the “close, but not quite there yet” category, figuring that the Yankees’ money would squeeze two or three more years out of him. Apparently not. Not much more to say about Pettitte that hasn’t been said about the other similar pitchers. His top four comps are Wells, Kevin Brown, Bob Welch, and Mike Mussina. Like those four pitchers, Pettitte was a very good pitcher that doesn’t quite have the all-important 300 or 3,000 on his resume. I think he gets more support than Brown’s 12 votes, but not enough to get in.