The Game of Bases

On the Outs

No Need for Illegal Defense in MLB

by Joe Holland

Tom Verducci posted an article today at SI.com about the need for an illegal defense rule in MLN and I have to say Tom, I completely disagree. 

His argument centers around how with the rise of the defensive shift in the last ten years, that left handed batters specifically have seen their batting average and babip decline over that time significantly.  He wants to see the SS or 2B not be allowed to shift any farther than 2b, leaving only two infielders on either side of the bag.  He acknowledges that the shift may not be the only factor involved here, but he focuses on it and that MLB cannot continue to sell a product that doesn’t score boatloads of runs.  

So what does his stance on this subject mean?  That smart defense should be penalized?  That slow footed pull hitters need to be elevated back up and rewarded for being one dimensional players? Why couldn’t we desire to have athletes that can hit the ball around the field?  These players exist and do not have a shift employed against them because they are well rounded hitters. A well rounded hitter renders this silly argument null and void.  Instead he wants hitters that can only hit the ball to the right side and prevent the defense from waiting for the ball where they almost always hit it?  If one of these hitters he cites, let’s say Curtis Granderson of the Mets, were to hit the ball down the 3rd base line while the shift is on, he easily gets extra bases than he would have with the shift not on.  Why not desire to have players do that? That sounds like more offense to me.  Tom laments that none of those left handed hitters were in this years all-star game, because players who don’t have shifts employed were hitting well… it is quite “sad” that the fans picked GOOD players to be part of the ASG.

Joe Maddon is quoted in the article that we can’t fix the players that are already in the majors, that it is organizational training to pull the ball.  I don’t really understand why this strategy has been employed when you think about it.  For it is ALSO each organizations training to employ the shift.  So you are telling me that you are teaching your defense to eliminate pull hitting and teaching your left handed hitters to pull the ball into the shift you KNOW the rest of the league is playing?  If this has been going on for the last 10 years, someone in baseball must have realized this and I do not accept this as being truth.  

So Tom, I’m sorry that the “extinction” of left handed hitters hitting for power and average is in full force.  Perhaps out of this extinction we will see a rise of quality left handed hitters.  We would be lucky to have more left handed hitters like the recently deceased Tony Gywnn, who if he were playing today would have never seen a shift.  I want that.  I do not want to tell a SS where he can and can’t stand.  If he wants to risk playing out of position, let him.  Until you can hit it where he isn’t, then you aren’t going to be much of a useful major league baseball player.  

Is Giancarlo Stanton Really Open to an Extension?

by Joe Holland

No.

Will the Miami Marlins actually offer him said extension?

No.

So those are the simple answers, but why? Let’s start with the PR Giancarlo Stanton told Joe Frisaro of MLB.com:

“I want some team security as well,”

“I’m very pleased with how things panned out for me. But I would like to see it grow. I have my security, somewhat now. I’d like to see a team full of that, which we are going in the right direction.”

“How things panned out for me” is in regard to just avoiding arbitration by agreeing to a $6.5 million dollar contract according to Juan Rodriguez of the Miami Sun Sentinel.  Now Stanton is right, the Marlins have the potential to be better soon.  Jose Fernandez put up an ace season last year at the age of 20, hard to imagine he could top that, but not out of the realm of possibilities, especially considering he got better every month of the year with his xFIP dropping in a linear fashion.  Christian Yelich got a cup of coffee last year and if he lives up to some of the hype, they have themselves a strong center fielder going forward. There are other bright spots in their minor league system including pitcher Andrew Heany.  The rest of the team is not good. By not good, I mean terrible. This is your starting Miami Marlins team for 2014:

Lineup Player POS
1 Rafael Furcal 2B
2 Christian Yelich OF
3 Giancarlo Stanton OF
4 Garrett Jones 1B
5 Jarrod Saltalamacchia Catcher
6 Casey McGehee 3B
7 Brian Bogusevic OF
8 Adeiny Hechavarria SS

Does this lineup strike fear into your heart?  It probably scores a few more runs this year than the 513 the 2013 Marlins scored.  Baseball Prospectus predicts based off their recently released PECOTA rankings, the team to come in with 567 runs.  However, BP still projects them to finish 5th in the NL East with a record of 69-93.  Owner Jeffrey Loria has earned his reputation for gutting rosters at a moments notice and we are looking at a gutted team that happened upon a few young stars to come through it’s own system.  Stanton is reaching the point though at which this team historically dumps players.  This is expected even more because his annual salary could well surpass the Marlins total 40 man roster salary for 2008 of $ 21,811,500.  This is a team that isn’t afraid to spend money, in 2012, they shelled out big bucks to pick up Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes and Heath Bell, pushing their payroll over $100 million.  They chose to make that “splash” on players with a checkered and/or iffy past, which had plenty of folks fooled and all geared up for playoffs in Miami.  That didn’t pan out, they were all shipped out of town, two to the Blue Jays, and again many expected a good result again… that’s another story.  So they paid money for these guys, but I don’t think they are willing to do so for Stanton.  His price will be very high yes, can they afford it? Yes.  However, a contract of that size, limits who can afford to take him on and I don’t think those teams are going to be itching to take on that salary and give up a boatload of talent to boot.  They don’t want to pay for these guys long term.  Look what they got back from Reyes, Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonafacio and John Buck:    Yunel EscobarAdeiny HechavarriaHenderson Alvarez, Anthony DeSclafani, Justin Nicolino, Jeff Mathis and Jake Marisnick.  Escobar is gone. Hechavarria, Alvarez and Mathis are in the “starting” group, though at least Hechavarria shouldn’t be. *Mathis to his credit has been a great defensive catcher and was a huge influence on Fernandez this past season I will admit and this is wonderfully looked  at by Sam Miller from Baseball Prospectus.  DeSclafani, Nicolino are in the minors, though I think they likely give decent value for the back end of their rotation in the next two years despite neither being flashy or big names.  Marisnick I don’t really buy into, but most reviews see him still growing into his hit tool.  So maybe they win enough games with the small additions of talent from within to finish 4th in the NL East.  So they gave up 5 guys, got 7, none of a great deal of worth… what are they going to get if they have a $25+ AAV over 7-10 years Giancarlo Stanton to trade?

Okay, let’s pretend I’m wrong and the Marlins offer Stanton $250 million over 10 years.  Why would he even consider staying? When your team doesn’t field quality around you, or even try, what are you playing for?  You can love $250 Million. You can love the game all you want.  You can love your city and weather all you want.  If you are trying to drag a perennial dead corpse to the playoffs by yourself along with a 20 year old kid pitching every 5th day, you will only go so far and I can’t see there being any fun in that.  If he isn’t traded, he is going to get the money.  A little patience and not getting hurt is all he needs once he hits the free agent market, he will be like Robinson Cano from this past offseason.  I know deep down every player wants to win, even if many are greedy for more and more money, after losing his whole career, he is going to want a chance to win.  He will go to another team that legitimately tries to win more years than not.

So, could the Marlins actually be a contender and/or fool him into thinking so?  A weak free agent is market coming up in 2015, who could very well sign extensions of their own before hand, including some young big names like Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Colby Rasmus, Max Scherzer, James Shields and Jon Lester.  2016′s FA class looks to be a little stronger headlined by Miguel Cabrera, David Price, Jason Heyward, Mat Latos, Doug Fister, Rick Porcello and Justin Upton.  You could conceive that adding a few of these guys would go a long way, but won’t come cheap and the Marlins would need to start acquiring guys now, keeping them leading up to Stanton’s 2017 free agency.  Real effort showing their star slugger they mean business and won’t flip the switch and dump them for pennies on the dollar takes time and I do not believe there is enough time.  We also know Loria better than that at this point, he will publicly belittle his players, managers, GM and continue to ostracize the teams fan base.

The only way I see Stanton staying put? It is a scenario in which Jeffrey Loria is no longer connected to the team in any way with new ownership that wants to use some common sense.  I don’t see this happening however.

Stanton will say the right things to play the part of the good player, he’s going to get his money whether he’s traded or not.  The Marlins will say the right things too, they already have a jaded fan base and hope that he will keep the ballpark from being completely empty for the next two years until they can flip a cheap, budding star for hope another day.  It is unfortunate that I fear we will be talking about this leading up to the 2018 free agent class when “Super Two” Jose Fernandez is in the same boat.

Grady Tries Sox On For Size

by DT Masterson

The Boston Red Sox have signed Grady Sizemore to a 1 year contract worth anywhere from $750,000 to $6 million based on incentives.

Believe it or not, Grady Sizemore was well on his way to a Hall of Fame career before he was derailed by an astounding series of injuries starting in 2009. Still only 31 at the start of the 2014 season, Sizemore had put up a WAR of close to 30 in the first eight years of his career, almost all of that coming in his first 4 full seasons from 2005-2008.

Fangraph’s Jeff Sullivan notes “Between 22 and 25, Sizemore was worth 26.8 WAR, 20th in baseball history. Names around him include Evan Longoria, Barry Bonds, David Wright and Andruw Jones. He was worth 5.5 WAR per 600 plate appearances, 58th in baseball history. Names around him include Hank Greenberg, Hanley Ramirez, Frank Robinson and Reggie Jackson.”

That tantalizing upside had a number of teams interested in Sizemore this winter. The Red Sox were the only one to dangle a major league contract though, looking to bring Sizemore to spring training to challenge Jackie Bradley for the starting Center Fielder job vacated by Jacoby Ellsbury this winter.

The Red Sox have had luck recently with this kind of contract having benefited from a similar one-year make-good contract with the oft-injured Stephen Drew last year.  The contract for Sizemore includes quite a bit more risk though given how extensive his injury history is. Sizemore has only managed 210 games since that 2008 season, none of those coming in the past two years. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick notes “Sizemore turns 32 in August and has had seven surgeries since September 2009: two for a sports hernia (2009 and 2011), one on his elbow (2009), one on his back (2012) and three on his knees (one on his left, two on his right).”

There are a number of questions with Sizemore. Given two full years of rust, is he likely to be able to catch up to major league pitching again by opening day? Given the number of surgeries on his knees, can he still handle Centerfield, or any position, on a regular basis? Can he still be an impact on the basepaths – a huge part of his game when was healthy? Individually, these question marks can permit some degree of optimism, but taken in total and it looks highly unlikely that Sizemore will ever be able to put his once promising career back on anything close to the track it was on.  

Still, this is the kind of contract that always fascinates me when it come along.  Whether it’s Rich Harden, Ben Sheets, Mark Prior, or Brett Anderson, it’s always compelling when you get to see that combination of world class talent and injury-ridden underdog combined into the same person. Sometimes these stories work out to varying degrees.. Sometimes you get a Scott Kazmir that gets that one-year opportunity and is able to get themselves right again. Sometimes you get a story like Mark Mulder, where him just appearing in spring training games this year is a happy ending of sorts. I’m going to be rooting for Grady this spring. He’s worked hard to get himself back on the field and I hope he gets a chance to see that work rewarded.

What More Could Biggio Have Done?

by Joe Holland

What-more-could-Biggio-Have-Done

3,060 Hits

668 2B

291 HR

414 SB

1160 BB

.796 OPS

64.9 WAR

Am I missing something?  So yes, no postseason heroics. No WS win.  No MVP.  1,000 more strikeouts than the average HOF batter. Plus, he wore all that body armor, what a cheater (except that loses some credibility when you vote for Bonds who happened to wear some himself) *  He fell two votes short of making the HOF this year, next years ballot isn’t going to be any more friendly to his chances with Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Gary Sheffield in the mix.

*Thanks to Jonah Keri for finding these (is this guy a worse cartoonist or voter?):

Will Le Batard’s Stunt Actually Bring Change?

by Joe Holland

The news in November that Deadspin.com had successfully purchased a BBWAA members HOF ballot created a swirl of rumors, which yesterday were put to rest, as Dan Le Batard of ESPN2 was revealed as the culprit.  Deadspin allowed the fans to vote, despite some discrepancies, it falls in line compared to the actual overall BBWAA voted.

chart_1

Notable exceptions to that? Jack Morris received 19.8 percentage points less from the Deadspin voters, also the only selection that was lower than what the BBWAA selected.  The largest discrepancies were Mark McGwire, Edgar Martinez and Don Mattingly, all with 43+ percentage points different.  Meanwhile, Tom Glavine was nearly spot on, .2 percentage points.  Greg Maddux, Lee Smith and Craig Biggio all were very close too.  Biggio would have been inducted, as well as Mike Piazza, had Deadspin had the final say.

As expected, yesterday the BBWAA stripped Le Batard of his voting privilege and suspended him for one year, which is allowed under their constitution.  So why would he do this?  He doesn’t need the money and is actually giving it to as an unnamed (as of now) charity.  Let’s allow him to explain why:

I feel like my vote has gotten pretty worthless in the avalanche of sanctimony that has swallowed it.

I have no earthly idea if Jeff Bagwell or Frank Thomas did or didn’t use steroids.

I think I understand why the steroid guys were the steroid guys in this competition-aholic culture.

I hate all the moralizing we do in sports in general, but I especially hate the hypocrisy in this: Many of the gatekeeper voters denying Barry Bonds Hall Of Fame entry would have they themselves taken a magical, healing, not-tested-for-in-their-workplace elixir if it made them better at their jobs, especially if lesser talents were getting the glory and money. Lord knows I’d take the elixir for our ESPN2 TV show if I could.

I don’t think I’m any more qualified to determine who is Hall of Fame-worthy than a fan who cares about and really knows baseball. In fact, many people analyzing baseball with advanced metrics outside of mainstream media are doing a better job than mainstream media, and have taught us some things in recent years when we were behind. In other words, just because we went to journalism school and covered a few games, just because accepted outlets gave us their platform and power, I don’t think we should have the pulpit to ourselves in 2014 that way we did in 1936.

Baseball is always reticent to change, but our flawed voting process needs remodeling in a new media world. Besides, every year the power is abused the way I’m going to be alleged to abuse it here. There’s never been a unanimous first-ballot guy? Seriously? If Ruth and Mays and Schmidt aren’t that, then what is? This year, someone is going to leave one of the five best pitchers ever off the ballot. Suck it, Greg Maddux.

I’ve become a more and more lenient voter over the years, often allowing the max 10 guys in a year, and I wanted to put in more this year. I happen to agree with most of the reader selections. I was afraid you guys were going to have me voting for Jacque Jones and no one else. I was kind of surprised this particular snark-land respected the process. I found it impossible to limit it this year to 10, but 10 was all that was allowed, so thanks for the help. But why limit it to 10 in a year that has more than 10 worthy candidates, by the way? How dumb is that?

And my final reason: I always like a little anarchy inside the cathedral we’ve made of sports.

I’m not sure what kind of trouble this is going to bring me. I imagine I’ll probably have my vote stripped. But I don’t want to be a part of the present climate without reform anyway. Given that climate, doing THIS has more impact than my next 20 years of votes as sanctimony bars the HOF door on the steroid guys. Because, in a climate without reform, my next 20 years of votes will be counted but not actually heard. At least this gets it heard, for better or for worse.

So, he feels his vote was dead.  He feels he’s not anymore qualified than his contemporaries.  He feels the system is stuck and unwilling to grow or change.

He has a high profile platform with ESPN2, why didn’t he just take to the air with it? Well, he very well may have been stripped of his vote there too, just threatened/hushed and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.  This is his civil disobedience, it gave him his chance to take it to another level. Even he says in his response:

 I was kind of surprised this particular snark-land respected the process.

So even he expected some ridiculous vote to draw attention to this, but it wasn’t all that ridiculous (depending on where you stand on the PED users)  So he is hoping that the system can change, he’s drawn awareness to it, but will anything change? Will this get swept under the rug?  Can a legitimate ballot cast by the fans win over more members of the BBWAA, or are too many of the old guard in place to protect the “sanctimony” as Le Batard calls it? He certainly did what he could, but it is going to take more members to stand up with him.  This idea doesn’t seem so far fetched however, as reports have it that Le Batard was not Deadspin’s first pick to buy a vote, another member had to back out just before sealing the deal. Deadspin claims they are planning to revisit the stunt next year, will the BBWAA change the language of their constitution to ramp up the consquences?  He isn’t alone, but are there too few to bring about a system that doesn’t limit how many to vote for? That doesn’t play moral police?

The moral police question is not one that carries an easy answer.  A polarizing or flip-flopping idea for pretty much anyone you speak to.  Speaking with fellow thegameofbases contributor Brian Kelly, he opines that we take the morality out of it, merely comparing players to the context of their era, which is an intriguing idea.  I will clarify, you may have noticed from Brian’s ballot, that he is not interested in honoring any of the cheats, however he is willing to share their story without them getting plaques which I respect.

The limits on who to vote for are unnecessary in my opinion.  Just because the voters have extra votes doesn’t necessarily mean they will vote for every player on the ballot at any given time.  I don’t think any of the voters are stupid, they are all smart people, whether I agree with their opinions or not.  Some years we will have 10+ worthy candidates and I find that a good problem.  Some years will have 1 or less good candidates and that is a good problem too.  It may not be good for downtown Cooperstown on induction weekend, but if we don’t have a worthy candidate to induct, then we’ll revisit the next year.  Limiting the voters options is only going to continue to ignite fire under some of their base, like it is now.

Who to allow to vote?  Changing restrictions to allow? Limiting terms?  Currently the eligible voters are selected by:

Only active and honorary members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, who have been active baseball writers for at least ten (10) years, shall be eligible to vote. They must have been active as baseball writers and members of the Association for a period beginning at least ten (10) years prior to the date of election in which they are voting.

I’m open to tweaking this, we have a great deal of fantastic minds analyzing the game now that are not part of the “traditional” journalistic world, who would use more logic than many do now.  Take for instance Ken Gurnick’s choice to only vote for Jack Morris, is quoted as saying:

“As for those who played during the period of PED use, I won’t vote for any of them,”

“It’s not a personal thing,”

“It’s an indictment of an era.”

Logic being based in reason and I’d love to see the merit, statistics and rational that says Greg Maddux didn’t deserve a vote. Throwing a blanket statement for every player in this era (he says starts in 1992-93, which INCLUDES Jack Morris who played through 1994) with no proof, no tests, not even any casual accusations or perceptions is not logic, it is a cop out.  I don’t want to have to think about it, so we had some bad apples, well I don’t want to put a cheater in, so instead of using what I know, I’ll just abstain.  Now, I’m not saying that anyone who starts a blog should be given a vote (though Brian, Damian and I would be honored to take part in the process). Allowing the general public to vote?  I actually would support this, but if we gave them one cumulative vote to be put into the pool, like what Deadspin did.  The vast number would then weed out the “homer” votes for JT Snow that would happen, instead of getting some of the All Star debacles of the grass roots campaigns that have popped up in recent years across different sports.

Updating the method of voting is something I can be swayed on.  The knock against it for me? They are given photocopies of ballots and have to fax them back… really?  Are they done on typewriters too?  If you wanted to keep paper ballots for some sense of history, I’m okay with it. Let’s give it some honor then, use a nice card stock with the BBWAA and HOF logo on it maybe?  Better yet, make the ballots part of the induction weekend exhibit!  Frame them, it could be a really cool thing to see 500+ votes in a room, a work of art, or even bind them in a book for each year!  If not and you insist on handing out these copy machine marked up pieces of printer paper, why not do an online ballot? Or email it? These guys are supposed to be professionals covering baseball, they all have computers with access to the internet everywhere, no excuse not to get with the times.

I’d like to see transparency too.  Now, some of the lack of transparency is that they would have to take the extra step of putting it out there, but I’m sure there are folks that don’t want to defend their choices.  I reject that though, if you are making a historic decision, you should be able to defend it and should not be scared to.

I hope that Le Batards decision wasn’t done in vain and that we get the furor that has been building over the HOF voting process in the general public to infiltrate more of the inner circle so that an honest conversation can happen.  Time will tell, but I bet the old guard is ready to batten down the hatches. Change can be scary, but it doesn’t mean it is a bad thing.

Le Batard’s Ballot

Deadspin-LeBatard-Ballot

player deadspin bbwaa difference
maddux 98.3 97.2 1.10
thomas 92.6 83.7 8.90
glavine 92.1 91.9 0.20
piazza 81.7 62.2 19.50
biggio 78.1 74.8 3.30
martinez 69.9 25.2 44.70
bagwell 66.8 54.3 12.50
clemens 66.6 35.4 31.20
bonds 64.9 34.7 30.20
schilling 58.9 29.2 29.70
raines 57.4 46.1 11.30
mcgwire 56.4 11 45.40
mattingly 51.3 8.2 43.10
mussina 45 20.3 24.70
mcgriff 44.9 11.7 33.20
walker 42.4 10.2 32.20
morris 41.7 61.5 -19.80
sosa 40 7.2 32.80
kent 39.3 15.2 24.10
trammell 38.5 20.8 17.70
smith 33.4 29.9 3.50
palmeiro 33.3 4.4 28.90
nomo 18.7 1.1 17.60
alou 16.4 1.1 15.30
gonzalez 13.1 0.9 12.20
rogers 10.2 0.2 10.00
durham 9.8 0 9.80
gagne 9.7 0.4 9.30
timlin 9 0 9.00
sexson 7.2 0 7.20
casey 5.5 0 5.50
j. jones 4.6 0.2 4.40
snow 4.6 0.4 4.20
t. jones 4.6 0 4.60
lo duca 4.4 0 4.40
benitez 4.2 0.2 4.00

The Big Hurt and the Hall of Clean

by DT Masterson

The Baseball Writers Association of America has elected Frank Thomas to join Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine as the three members of the 2014 class being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Frank Thomas joins a prestigious pantheon of greats, like Nolan Ryan, George Brett, and Hank Aaron, who were able to put together Hall of Fame careers without the benefit of having a proper last name.

Thomas will be 6th White Sox player to enter the Hall of Fame. He’ll be joining Luis Aparicio, Luke Appling, Red Faber, Nellie Fox, and Ted Lyons. Thomas played for Chicago White Sox for 16 years, as well as the Oakland A’s and the Toronto Blue Jays for 2 years each. He won back to back MVP Awards in 1993 and 1994. Thomas finished in the top ten in AL MVP voting for 7 straight years from 1991-1997. For his career he finished in the top 5 in MVP voting 6 times, including a 4th place finish in his late career renaissance season in 2006 at the age of 39.  For his career he was 13th all-time with a 4.79 career MVP Award Share.

By far, the best season of Frank Thomas’ career came during the strike-shortened 1994 season in which he hit 38 HRs with 106 Runs and 101 RBIs in only 113 games. His slash line for the season when play had stopped was .353/.487/.729. Thomas was quoted at the time as having said, “I’ve had a career year, but I’m not going to be able to finish it.”

Frank Thomas is going to go into the Hall of Fame as a First Baseman, but he never played that position particularly well. Of the 2322 games he played in his career, he only played 971 games at First. Thomas will be the first player elected to the Hall of Fame having played the majority of his games as a Designated Hitter and joins the Paul Moliter as the only Hall of Famers to play more games as a Designated Hitter than any other position.

While in no way a particularly special fielder, Thomas was easily one of the greatest hitters to ever play the game. Thomas was the model of  balance and consistency at the plate over his 19 seasons . He was the only player in MLB history to log seven straight seasons with a .300 average, 20 home runs, 100 RBIs and 100 walks. Thomas finished tied for 18th in career Home Runs with Willie McCovey and Ted Williams. He finished his career both  22nd all-time in Career  SLG, while also finishing 20th all-time in career OBP – One of only 9 players to finish in the top 25 of both lists.  That combination was good for 14th all-time in career OPS and tied for 19th all-time in career OPS+ with Dick Allen and Willie Mays. Some of the even deeper Sabrmetric stats like Thomas even more than that. For his career, Frank Thomas finished 13th all-time in  Win Probability added, 7th all time in Base/Out Runs Added, 8th in Base/Out Wins Added, and 8th in Situational Wins Added.

Frank Thomas is unique, particularly in the current Hall of Fame voting climate, in that he is a big strong hitter who put up historic numbers during the height of the big-offense steroid era, while being largely untouched by steroid controversy. A key component of his reputation as a clean player is that he came out early and consistently against performance enhancing drugs at a time when most of the press and baseball leadership were largely turning a blind eye to the rapidly worsening problem. It’s unfortunate that there will always be whispers about any player with a physique and production level like Thomas’, but what no whispers will ever be able to take away from him is that he spoke up about drugs at a time when few other people were willing to, and that willingness was instrumental to changing the drug culture engulfing baseball during his time as a player.

For that contribution, as much as anything he ever did with a bat, I am more than happy to see Frank Thomas elected to join the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

2014 HOF Inductee: Greg Maddux

by Joe Holland

Drafted at the age of 18 with the 3rd pick of the 2nd round in the 1984 draft (31st overall) by the Chicago Cubs, Greg Maddux began his storied career, until pitching his last game on September 27, 2008 as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, beating Matt Cain that day 2-1.  Between then he amassed incredible numbers and achievements that led to today’s announcement of his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In his first appearance on the ballot Maddux (along with Frank Thomas and Tom Glavine) was inducted with 97.2% of the vote, appearing on 555 ballots falling short of the record set by Tom Seaver of 98.8% in 1992.  Turns out the BBWAA only had one chance to vote for Maddux, so there were 16 folks that missed the chance to be part of the history.

Minors

The 1984 draft class included fellow 2014 inductee and future teammate, Tom Glavine, who was taken 16 picks after, as well as HOF ballot mate Mark McGwire.  From 18-21, Maddux found himself moving up the ladder through the Cubs system, finding some success along the way, but sporting underwhelming K/9 numbers did not forecast him as a prospect to take great notice in, let alone be a future Hall of Fame member.  Today over at Baseball Prospectus, surfaced a look back at a scouting report on other members of the ballot from their time in the minors, including this Duffy Dyer report on the Cubs farm team in Peoria in 1985.  The comments include “Small”, “Good arm” and “Not strong enough to be a starter” which in retrospect looks silly, but at the time was probably a good assessment.

Majors: Chicago Cubs; Part 1

1986 saw Maddux get a cup of coffee in the Chicago, throwing 31 uninspiring innings, with spotty command.  He returned in 1987 with 155.2 ip (the lowest total of the rest of his career) with largely the same result as the year before.  1988 however proved to be a turning point, throwing 249 innings, 3.18 ERA and beginning to show signs of reeling in his free passes and limiting the long ball. He made the All Star team and managed to win 18 games that year, the best was yet to come. 1989 saw basically the same results, 19 wins, 2.95 ERA, but this time he finished third in the CY Young vote.  1990 saw an incredible string begin for the pitcher, he won his first of 13 straight seasons (18 altogether) of winning the Gold Glove award!  Obviously we are left to look at fielding % and stats like Errors, Double Plays, Put Outs and Assists, not a larger defensive spectrum that UZR can provide, but Maddux earned those awards (and probably could have won more) with fantastic fielding % along the way. 1990, no errors committed, not easy to do for any player! His motion left him ready to field and make smart throws. 1991 we see a jump in K/9 from 5.47 to 6.78 and more importantly a drop in BB/9 from 2.70 to 2.26 and the legend of the control pitcher that we think of today really begins to take off.  1992 was another fine season, winning 20 games and beginning a stretch of 4 straight seasons winning the Cy Young Award tying himself with Steve Carlton for 3rd all time, behind Randy Johnson who had 5 and Roger Clemens who had 7.

Majors: Atlanta Braves

1993 saw Maddux leave the Cubs for the Atlanta Braves, signing a 5 year contract worth $28 Million Dollars.  Nothing to sneeze at of course, but do you remember that the NY Yankees were doing everything they could to sign him?  Ultimately offering him $34 Million, with a $9 Million dollar signing bonus.  However, Maddux wanted to win and at the time, the Braves were the team to be on, already sporting a rotation with young John Smoltz, Steve Avery and Glavine, and had lost the World Series in a hard battle with the Toronto Blue Jays, also losing the World Series in 1991 to the Minnesota Twins.  Could you imagine the Yankees Dynasty of the 90′s forming with Maddux already in place?  Maddux pitched wonderfully in 1993, again winning 20 games and dropping the BB/9 to under 2 this time (which didn’t go over 2.03 the rest of his career).  He helped the Braves win 104 games that year, but they ultimately lost in the NLCS to the Phillies. In the strike shortened seasons of 1994 and 1995, we see what could have been an career seasons from Maddux, who in only 53 games combined amassed a WAR of 15.1 and won 35 of those contests, including finally winning the World Series over the Cleveland Indians in 1995 and getting closest to winning an MVP award he would ever come, finishing 3rd on the ballot.  1996 included another WS trip for the Maddux led Braves, but this time they lost to the NY Yankees. 1997-98 two more loses in the NLCS before another WS loss to the Yankees in 1999. Maddux continued to pitch well through the remainder of his time in Atlanta despite losing the K/9 bump that he enjoyed for many years, dipping back into the 5′s, but the team that was perennially in the playoffs, only put together a string of NLDS and NLCS losses until Maddux returned to the Chicago Cubs via free agency after the 2003 season.

Majors: Chicago Cubs; Part 2

In his 2nd stint with the Cubs starting in 2004, he was no longer an elite force that dominated the league through the 90′s, but still enjoyed success.  August of 2007 Maddux notched his 300th victory, beating the San Francisco Giants 8-4.  2005 saw Maddux square off against Roger Clemens in the first MLB game in history with two 300 game winners, which Maddux won.  On July 26, 2005, despite not being a large strike out force, Maddux notched his 3,000 strike out, also against the Giants.  Despite the achievements, Maddux suffered his first losing season since 1987, with a 13-15 record.  He had a run of 17 seasons of 15 or more wins, Cy Young merely did it for 15 straight years.  The nice reunion with his original team came to an end when he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers during 2006 season in their playoff hunt.

Majors: Los Angeles Dodgers; Part 1, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers; Part 2

He helped the Dodgers tie the San Diego Padres for the AL West title by record, but the Padres won the tie breaker in 2006.  They faced off against the NY Mets, but were beaten 3-0. 2007 saw him sign on with the San Diego Padres, when he won 13 games, giving him sole possession of the record for 20 consecutive seasons of 13 or more.  In 2008, Maddux was traded again, back to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were in the playoff hunt again and were hoping for another bump from Maddux.  They made the playoffs with some help from Maddux.  He notched a win in his final start of the season, Sept. 27, 2008 proving to be his final victory giving him 355 for his career, 8th best all time and 2nd most since the 1920′s marked the start of the “live ball era” only bested by Warren Spahn.  He accumulated 104.60 pitching WAR good for 7th best of Hall of Fame pitchers. Ended with 3,371 strikeouts, good for 8th best and a 3.16 ERA.

I feel fortunate I got to witness one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game, even though he pitched in a steroid fueled environment when long ball was king.  I never wanted to see him play my team, because when “The Professor” or “Mad Dog” or whatever you wanted to call him came to town, you knew your hitters were not going to have much of a chance.    I respect the differing opinions of most all of the people on this years HOF ballot, but if you didn’t think Greg Maddux deserved it, I don’t know I could respect that.  Congratulations Greg Maddux, I am excited to see him on that stage in Cooperstown this summer and help honor the man he is.

He had the stats, he had the character, he is a true Hall of Famer.

HOF WAR / pos Inductees

by Joe Holland

HOF - WAR - POS

hof War/Pos inductees

| Infographics

Is the Truth Still Out There for Mark Mulder?

by DT Masterson

The Los Angeles Angels signed Mark Mulder to a minor league contract that included an invitation to spring training. The total value of the deal, if Mulder makes the big league club and reaches all of his incentives, could be worth more than $6 million.

The Angels pitching was terrible last year, and they now have a crowded field competing for spots in their rotation. Jeff Weaver, C.J. Wilson, and Garrett Richards have been joined by recent acquisitions Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs. Fringier candidates for the rotation would also include Joe Blanton and Wade LeBlanc, both of whom might be even more of a long shot at this point to make the cut than Mulder at this point.  

Mulder hasn’t pitched since 2008, and not pitched effectively since 2005. In his first 6 years in the majors, Mulder put up almost 20 WAR between the A’s and Cardinals. For his career we was 103-60 with a 4.18 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP. He managed to succeed without ever posting a K/9 better than 6.9 – his career average falling over a K below that at 5.7. Unfortunately, Injuries began to derail his career during his second season in St. Louis.

Mulder began to have rotator cuff and shoulder issues that forced him to the DL in 2006. Efforts to rehab the injury weren’t successful and Mulder was forced to have offseason surgery that cost him almost all of 2007. He returned in September, but ineffectiveness led to an MRI that showed that another clean-up surgery would be necessary. Mulder began 2008 on the DL and when he did return he left his first start with an injury after throwing eight straight pitches out of the strike zone to the second and third batters in the game.

Mulder was compelled to retire at this point and turn his attention to golf and broadcasting work for ESPN.  Neither Mulder’s handicap nor broadcasting statistics are presently available for this time period.

The inspiration for this comeback came to Mulder from watching Paco Rodriguez, a relief pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Mulder spotted something in Rodriguez’s mechanics that he suspected would allow him to pitch again despite his shoulder issues. Mulder tried his new mechanics out for clubs during the winter meetings and garnered enough interest from those workouts to have his choice of a few teams to make his comeback with.  

Even under ideal circumstances, Mulder’s skill set isn’t necessarily one that one would think would age particularly gracefully, nor would one think he would be much helped by a 5 year sabbatical. He’s still young enough to make a contribution at 36, and a left-handed pitcher who can eat any amount of innings while keeping the ball on the ground will always have value on any pitching staff. The only question that remains is whether he can stay on the field. Regardless of the outcome, this will be a heartwarming story to follow this spring.   

Another 2014 Hall of Fame Ballot

by Brian Kelly

Having laid out what I’m doing with Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro et al. for now, here are the chaps who earn a vote on my 2014 All-Star ballot.  As Joe and Damian have pointed out previously, it’s a well-stocked ballot. And it’s a fun one as it includes so many players whose careers were starting just I was becoming a dedicated day-to-day fan – in other words, it includes the first batch of players for whom I witnessed the full arc of their careers, from start to finish. While troubling to realize that this means I’m not eight years old anymore, it’s cool to be able to remember how these guys were perceived at both the dawn and twilight of their playing days.

Who’s in – in no particular order other than the Met going first:

1. Mike Piazza The thing that jumps out at me about Piazza is that his defensive numbers aren’t nearly as bad as the conventional wisdom – that he was an all-offense catcher – seems to suggest. He was a positive defensive contributor each year through his age-31 season. His contributions behind the plate fall of quickly from there, but he continued as an offensive powerhouse for a couple more season. Also of note: he didn’t get to play that much postseason baseball and his overall October numbers are nothing impressive. But in the Mets’ World Series run of 2000, Piazza did his part with four bombs and an OPS over .900.

2. Tim Raines The small-ball, low-offense 1980s were dominated for a time by this man, as he put up OPS figures rarely matched before or since by his fellow single-digit home run types. The luster of his career fades on the back end, as it’s a long denouement as a productive role-player. But it was so long, and so productive, that it complements his blazing peak sufficiently to earn a place in Cooperstown.

3.  Alan Trammell It’s a sore spot for me that Lou Whitaker fell off the ballot so quickly. I’m not sure he belongs in the Hall, but he warranted a longer period of reflection. His double-player partner and fellow 1977 September call-up (they debuted on the same day!) and career-long Tiger has been treated better by the voters, but not as well as I’d like him to be. Trammell was no Raines when it comes to finding a second career as a really useful part-timer; once Trammell was done being a star, he had little to offer. But his peak – centered around the Tigers’ dominant 1984 championship season – was excellent on both sides of the ball, and just long enough to make it into my Hall.

4. Jeff Bagwell If I have a positional bias in my Hall of Fame preferences, it’s most certainly toward athletic middle infield/outfield types for whom defense and a varied offensive skill set comprise much of the value. Accordingy, my bias is away from big, lumbering sluggers. So Bagwell never feels all that special to me, but his peak was tremendous and the first 14 of his 15 seasons saw him valued at 3 or more wins (I’m using Fangraphs win totals here; the figures are higher with the B-Ref win metric). That’s makes for a rapid buildup to greatness and a respectable wind-down. Keep in mind that two of his prime seasons were strike-shortened, bringing his counting stats down a tad. That’s the case for everyone on this ballot since their careers overlapped with 1994 and 1995 – but in Bagwell’s case it’s especially significant because 1994 was a preposterous campaign in which he slugged .750. Given 45 or so more games, he likely would have topped 10 WAR.

5. Frank Thomas The other slugging 1B to get my vote in 2014 offered little as a defender but more than made up for it by being, you know, the 20th-best on-base guy in the game’s history. Thomas brought counting stats, rate stats, a tremendous peak, notable longevity – the whole bit. And though I noted above that power numbers bore me, I’ve always had a soft spot for that age-38 season where he followed up two years of injuries and ineffectiveness by hitting 39 bombs for Oakland.

6. Greg Maddux This guy basically had a 12-year peak, seven more-than-useful seasons before and after the peak, and really no glaringly bad years. I know I’m not breaking ground there, but what he sustained on an every-five-day basis, free of injuries for the better part of 22 seasons, is a testament to both durability and excellence. He wasn’t far from 400 wins, folks, when the reality is that we’ll probably never see a 300-win pitcher again. Dumb stat though pitcher wins may be, it’s actually quite telling when you get up that sort of rarefied air. If I were ordering my ballot, he would be the first name in.

7. Tom Glavine Yeah, why not do both of the mostly-Braves here? Glavine pales next to Maddux, of course, but grades out as slightly better than the average Hall of Fame pitcher. He doesn’t stand out in memory for his power like a Randy Johnson or his cerebral mastery like Greg Maddux, but rather for his consistency. He does rival Maddux for durability, though – it’s worth noting that the Braves were so good for so long in part because their top two pitchers were so healthy. I just wish things had gone differently against the Marlins that day in September.

8. Mike Mussina He wasn’t talked about as a surefire Hall of Fame contender very often during his career, but he should have been. I’ll reach into the stash of traditional stats to point out two interesting factoids from Mussina’s career: his best ERA was his first full season, and as is more well-known his highest win total came in his last season. In between he was a reliable and consistent performer who was rarely the best pitcher in the league but frequently the best pitcher on his team. As a 1990s Orioles and 2000s Yankee he saw plenty of October action and pitched well, though he failed to win any championships as his time in the Bronx coincided exactly with the Yankees’ eight-year World Series “drought.”

9. Curt Schilling Slightly ahead of Moose in peak, just behind him in total performance. His mix of power and control always intrigued me: 300 strikeout seasons are just about a thing of the past, and Schilling provided three of them, while consistently ranking among the best in K/BB.  His stature benefits from his legendary post-season performances in 2001 and 2004, but he was also quite effective in 1993 and 2007.

I’m not quite ready to pull the trigger on Biggio, Walker and Martinez. All compelling options, but I’m not convinced. I was a Biggio guy for years, but I’m having trouble with the iffy defense over much of his career. So I’ll stick with 9 guys this year and be That Guy who didn’t vote for Biggio the year he got inducted (as I assume he will this time).

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