Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Is Tanking Still the Best Strategy for Teams to Get Ahead?

With the season about to start, one thing that struck me about this upcoming year when previewing it (and especially following the long, strange postseason that followed it) is how many teams are tanking. This especially became apparent when I was writing my most recent article and looking over last year’s last place teams. By my count, at least seven different teams (the White Sox, Tigers, Braves, Marlins, Phillies, Reds, and Padres) who are in various stages of a complete tear-down.

Some of them are further along in the process than others, to the point where several of them even made big signings this winter. But overall, these teams all stripped down their rosters recently in the hopes of rebuilding into a superteam in the near future, and almost all of them make no expectations about being able to compete for the playoffs in 2018.

In some ways, it’s not hard to see why they would decide to do that, with the last two World Series winners having gone through the process themselves. But for as good as that track record looks, I’m a little skeptical that it’ll work for all of these teams. Obviously, they won’t all win the World Series like the Cubs and Astros; that’s the absolute best case scenario, and since only one team a year does that well, it’s likely most of those teams won’t win a World Series. But I’m even not sure all or even most of those teams will see notable turnarounds, because I think the number of teams tanking has an adverse effect on the teams doing said tanking.

Basically, it comes down to the concepts behind Moneyball. While the term was for a long time understood to mean “using advanced statistics, looking for players that take a walk, and drafting safer, college pitchers”, that’s not really accurate. As many before me have noted, Moneyball is actually about looking for undervalued attributes in baseball; in layman’s terms, zigging when others are zagging. At the time, for the early-to-mid-2000s A’s and Red Sox, it was those things. For the late 2000s Rays, it was stockpiling young draft picks through the old draft system and locking up young players, among other things. For the recent Royals, it was a focus on defense and the bullpen when others had moved away from those things. And for the Cubs and Astros, it was tanking.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Which 2017 Last Place Team Has the Best Chance to Turn Things Around and Make the 2018 Postseason?

As we stand at the start of the 2018, with Spring Training under way, it’s worth remembering the popular saying, “You can’t predict baseball”. The possible set of outcomes is just too vast to accurately call every little event that’s going to happen in the season.

That being said…we have some pretty good ideas of where uncertainty might come in. For example, there’s a good chance that a team that struggled in 2017 will see their fortunes reverse in 2018. After all, since 2011, every season except one has seen at least one team go from last in their division to in the playoffs the next year. Some years, like 2015, see multiple teams turn it around (the Cubs and Astros serving as that year’s worst-to-first stories, a sign of the good things to come for both long-struggling franchises). The one year that didn’t was 2014, but of course, that year’s champion Giants had finished second-to-last in their division in 2013, so it was still pretty close.

Given all of that, it’s probably not accurate to say that we’re guaranteed a massive turnaround, but it’s at least something worth thinking about going forward. And if we do see a last place team progressing leaps and bounds this year, who would it be?

First, let’s look at how each of those teams did last year, for an idea of what each one has to build off of:


Baltimore Orioles & Oakland Athletics: 75-87
Cincinnati Reds: 68-94
Philadelphia Phillies: 66-96
Detroit Tigers & San Francisco Giants: 64-98


The O’s and the A’s are starting off with a slight advantage over the other four; all other things being equal, starting seven to eleven wins higher is a big advantage for teams trying to turn things around fast.

Of course, 2018 isn’t 2017, and these teams all look very different from last year. Of course, we don’t have any hard-and-fast records yet, but projections are another good starting point to look at. In this case, Fangraphs is projecting those six to finish thusly:


Giants: 82-80
Athletics: 80-82
Orioles: 78-84
Phillies: 76-86
Reds: 71-91
Tigers: 70-92


Only two of these teams are predicted to repeat as cellar-dwellers (the Reds and Orioles*), which is a good enough start. And even the Orioles aren’t being predicted to finish any worse than they were 2017, so it’s not all bad news for them.

*With the Alex Cobb signing, the Orioles are now predicted to be tied for fourth with the Rays.

Still, it seems fair to say that the Reds and Tigers are on a different level from the other four; they’re both still deep in the throes of rebuilding, and will need a few massive surprises to make a serious run at competitiveness this year. The biggest offseason move for either of them was trading away Ian Kinsler, and most of the pieces they’ve brought in have been bit parts and depth pickups, meant to fill out a lineup until the prospects are ready. 2018 is probably just too soon for either of them.

As for the other four, it’s worth noting that two of them (the Giants and Orioles) were in the playoffs just a year ago. Record-from-two-years-ago maybe not as good of an indicator as last year’s record, or projections for this season, but it’s also not nothing, and at the very least, it demonstrates how quickly a team’s fortunes can turn around.

If we were to break down the case for why or why not these four teams might make the playoffs in 2018, I imagine it would look something like this:


Sunday, February 25, 2018

What Makes a Dynasty in Baseball?

Spring Training is finally starting, bringing and end to the long, dull offseason. Naturally, this seemed like a good time to talk about the postseason.

Well, sort of. This was actually sort of inspired by the recent Super Bowl, the ongoing NHL and NBA seasons, and (of course) not having much baseball news to chew over in the offseason. Obviously, although they lost to the Philadelphia Eagles, the lead-up to the Super Bowl saw much talk of the NFL’s modern New England Patriots dynasty. At the same time, the NHL and NBA have seen their own share of dynasty-like teams as of late, including the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks, Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, and LeBron James & Co. Meanwhile, I’ve seen some people contrast this with baseball, with its relative lack of dynasties at the moment.

So, this seems like a good chance to discuss sports dynasties. I’ve always wanted to discuss it in some capacity, although I’ve never gotten a good chance to do so, so I may as well take advantage of the relative lull. Let’s start with the first question: what makes a dynasty?

The obvious is championships; you need some amount of titles in a short span of time, although we don’t really have a hard and fast number. I’d say there are other factors as well, though, like title game appearances, playoff appearances, and win totals. Also, I’d argue that those carry even more importance in baseball compared to other sports, since the baseball playoffs are easily the most random (which makes sense; all playoffs are of somewhat similar length, but baseball’s regular season is much, much longer, so the playoffs are a much less indicative sample size). This, in turn, means there are a lot more edge cases for what might make a run of years a dynasty or not. Helpfully, there are some recent National League teams that make for interesting demonstrations of this effect.

First, let’s look at the recent Giants. They fit the most conventional definition of a dynasty, with three World Series titles in five seasons (2010 to 2014, if you forgot). But you could also easily argue that they weren’t dominant in that stretch, either; they actually had fewer division titles than World Series titles in that stretch, they never won more than 94 games in any season, and the odd numbered years in that stretch were pretty mediocre, leading to an average record of just 87-75. Also, even if you think they’re a dynasty, does that span extend to 2016? While they only won 87 games that year, that’s just one win less than their 2014 total. And we’re already skipping mediocre odd years to count the even years, so why draw the line there? And what if they win it all in 2018? Would we extend that dynasty label then, even with their awful 2017 season in between? More on that in a bit, though.

The Cardinals of the 2000s also make for an interesting test case. They have two titles, in 2006 and 2011. They have two more pennants in that stretch as well, in 2004 and 2013, plus five more NLCS appearances and plenty of 95+ and 100+ win teams. You could easily break it into two successful runs, given that they missed the playoffs in 2007, 2008, and 2010. But at the same time, there was a good deal of continuity throughout, and that 2011 title year looks a lot more like the 2000-2010 period than the 2012-present period, given the departure of Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols that followed. Also, two of the years of missed playoffs in the middle (2008 and 2010) saw them win more games than their 2006 title run.

If the Giants are one extreme, the Braves run would be the other end of the spectrum. They appeared in every postseason between 1991 and 2005 and picked up five pennants in that span. They averaged a .606 winning percentage in that time, which translates to a little over 98 wins. But on the other hand, they only won one actual World Series in that time. Does that count against them enough to make them not a dynasty?

Ultimately, this is just going to come down to personal preference. Personally, I think all of those things should be a factor in determining a dynasty, and I’d count all three of those as examples. Of course, if someone thinks that ultimately titles outweigh the rest and only the Giants count…the definition is fuzzy enough that I don’t think I can really argue against it. Really, with any combination of those, it just comes down to personal preferences; as long as your reasoning is internally consistent, it is what it is.

The one other factor that’s harder to quantify is continuity; it’s sort of a mini Ship of Theseus paradox. As you continually replace players, the team eventually no longer looks like it once did. At what point is it just become a new “dynasty”. See the 1947-1964 Yankees for an example of this; sure, they appeared in all but three World Series in that span, but they also went through four managers in that time, and had enough roster turnover that the 22-year-old rookie catcher on the 1947 team was the manager of the 1964 team. Do you draw a line in there? If so, where? It’s another factor that just muddies the water some (more on this later).

Of course, the other thing about dynasties is that they’re really only clear in retrospect. We don’t really have many teams at that stage yet, but I’d argue that there are some teams that could become dynasties depending on how this year (and maybe the next couple after that) play out. Multiple dynasties seem like the starting place for determining a dynasty, so let’s play a game of hypotheticals: if the 2018 World Series winner is one of the most recent champions, would that make their run a dynasty?


Monday, February 19, 2018

Predicting Today's Future Hall of Fame Starting Pitchers, 2018 Edition

And finally, we have the second part of my annual series predicting active players’ chances of one day making the Hall of Fame. If you missed the first article focusing on position players, you can find it here.

As a quick recap of the methodology: first, I find the median Wins Above Replacement among Hall of Famers for each age (that is, the median WAR for Hall of Fame careers at age 20, then age 21, and so on) up until it matches the overall median for Hall of Famers. Then, I look at how many players in history have matched that total at that same age, and take a simple percentage: how many of the players who hit that Hall of Fame median would go on to make the Hall of Fame?

So, if for example (to pick easy numbers to work with), there were forty Hall of Fame starters, exactly half of them had 10 or more WAR at 24, and twenty-five total players had 10 or more WAR at that age, we’d use (20 Hall of Famers)/(25 total at the median)=80% chance of making the Hall. It may not be exact, but it’s a good starting point to visualize the odds, especially for young stars.

There are the normal caveats with this, too. Since Hall status is still up to voters, using precedent assumes that the standards the voting body uses won’t change. Players who aren’t in might be inducted by the Veterans Committee later. And of course, since I’m using medians, half of all Hall members didn’t hit these marks themselves, so no one is totally out of the running. This is more focused on finding early favorites. Pitchers have a few extra things to note: I’m focused on just starting pitchers, not relievers, since there aren’t really that many of them to be trying to compute a hard “Hall standard” for. This means I focused on pitchers who started 10% of their games when I was drawing historical standards, to cover young starters while being eased into the roll from the bullpen while ruling out straight-up reliever. Also, I limited my study to post-1920 pitchers, because I needed to separate “modern” pitchers from the very-different early days of the sport, and the start of the Liveball Era seemed like a good place to do that.

With all of that out of the way, let’s move on to looking at the modern aces:

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Predicting Today's Future Hall of Fame Hitters, 2018 Edition

We’ve reached the point in the offseason where it’s time for my annual Predicting Future Hall of Famers article. For those who haven’t read one before (past entries can be found here), this is my attempt to try and determine which players are on track for a Hall of Fame career. Instead of focusing just on players who are already in the homestretch of their careers, though, I extend my analysis to even the youngest of players.

I do this in a pretty straightforward mathematical way. First, I look at the sample set of Hall of Famers (divided into position players and starters). Then, I use Baseball-Reference’s Play Index to look at their Wins Above Replacement at every age during their careers. Next, I take note of the median WAR total for Hall of Famers who were active at that age.

Once I have this Median WAR (which will be noted for each age group in this article), I also look at the total number of players in history who have met this marker, Hall of Fame or not. Then, I take a simple percentage: how many of the total players who have hit this mark went on to make the Hall of Fame? I also remove players not yet eligible or still on the ballot, as their Hall fates are still uncertain. In the end, though, the result is a rough guideline to what a Hall of Fame player’s career looks like, as well as odds that even the youngest players in the league will see the inside of Cooperstown.

Of course, there are some other disclaimers necessary here. This is strictly descriptive of what has happened, and can’t really foresee changing standards in voting. Similarly, it doesn’t factor in non-numerical arguments. Though it’s also worth noting that, by definition, half of all Hall of Famers didn’t hit these standards, so a current player missing them doesn’t mean all is lost.

And of course, the Hall itself has some rather amorphous standards, so players who hit these cutoffs may not make the Hall anyway, even if they end up with deserving careers. Conversely, players who are currently not in the Hall may eventually be added via the Veterans Committee. So maybe these odds actually underestimate players’ chances, in the long view of things.

With all of that preamble out of the way, let’s look at which active position players appear to be on pace for Cooperstown!

Monday, February 12, 2018

International Baseball Representation in the Hall of Fame, Now and in the Future

An interesting bit of trivia about recent Hall of Fame inductee Vladimir Guerrero is that he is just the third Hall of Famer from the Dominican Republic, which seems almost surprising considering how dominant they players from the island have been for years now. A friend asked me about the potential future members of this club, and it was an interesting question that lead me to do some research on baseball’s history and make some future projections.

First, though, let’s go through the history of international players in the Hall of Fame. As is, there are a dozen players who have been voted into the Hall of Fame by either the Baseball Writers or Veterans Committee* who were born outside of the 50 states. Overall, they represent six nations and Puerto Rico.**

*There are a few other international inductees from other groups like the Early Game Committee and Negro League Committee, but those groups aren’t really my area of expertise (and some of those aren’t inducted as players anyway, complicating comparisons further). But, for reference, those inductees are: Harry Wright, Henry Chadwick, Tommy Connolly (all born in the United Kingdom), Martin Dihigo, Jose Mendez, Cristobal Torriente (all three born in Cuba), and Barney Dreyfuss (Germany).

**Puerto Rico is a tricky case. It is part of the United States, even if it isn’t itself a state. But it has a notably different history with Major League Baseball than the rest of the US. Puerto Ricans were for the most part kept out of the league by the color line, although the light-skinned Hi Bithorn and a few others like him managed to debut a few years before the league began allowing Negro League stars to play. Players from the island were signed rather than drafted like young stars from the states until 1989 (just two years before Canada was added, interestingly enough), and even to this day, there are usually Puerto Rican teams separate from US teams in international competitions like the World Baseball Classic, the Little League World Series and the Baseball World Cup.

The first of these dozen players inducted into the Hall was Roberto Clemente, fittingly. Following his untimely death of the Puerto Rican star on New Year’s Eve 1972, he was inducted into the Hall in a special election the next year. It would be more than a decade before the next inductee, Dominican Republic native Juan Marichal, in 1983, followed by Venezuelan-born Luis Aparicio the next year. 1991 saw the first double-induction of international stars, with Fergie Jenkins (Canada) and Rod Carew (Panama). The Veterans Committee elected Orlando Cepeda (Puerto Rico) in 1999, while Tony Perez (Cuba) was inducted the following year by the BBWAA on his ninth try.

We’ve really seen the rate pick up the last few years, though. 2011 saw another dual-induction, between Roberto Alomar (Puerto Rico) and Bert Blyleven (born in the Netherlands). In 2015, Pedro Martinez became the second Dominican Republic native in the Hall. Last year, Ivan Rodriguez became the fourth Puerto Rican in the Hall*, and that brings us to Guerrero this year.

*Fun fact: if you’ve been wondering what he’s up to these days, Rodriguez was recently named a member of Puerto Rico’s five-person shadow delegation to the House of Representatives.

Overall, it’s a really solid batch of players right now, but it also looks like we’ll begin to see the membership in the group expand rapidly. Baseball has become increasingly international over the years, and now that we’re three decades out from the big jump in international players we saw in the late eighties and into the nineties, the best players from that period are finally hitting the Hall ballot.

Let’s start with the next few years of voting. Next year, Mariano Rivera will join the ballot and almost certainly get above 95% of the vote. That would make him just the second Panamanian Hall member after Rod Carew. Also, Edgar Martinez finished about 20 votes shy of induction and will almost certainly make it in 2019. Although Martinez was born in New York City, his family returned to Puerto Rico when he was just two years old, and he grew up on the island.


Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Op-Ed: Baseball Teams Should Retire More Numbers

The Giants announced on Tuesday that they will be retiring number 25 for Barry Bonds. They’ve held the number out of circulation since he retired (or forced out of the league, depending on your view of things) after the 2007 season, but will formalize the whole thing now, after over a decade in a sort of limbo.

This makes Bonds the third confirmed player to see their number retired this coming season, after the Tigers announced that they’d be honoring both Alan Trammell and Jack Morris follow the Veterans Committee electing both of those players into the Hall of Fame.* Like Bonds, both had seen their numbers unofficially removed from circulation following their retirements (although Trammell’s #3 found its way back into use a few times in the meantime).

*I expect we’ll see a few more announcements on this front soon. The Indians still haven’t announced anything about Jim Thome’s #25 since his induction was announced. Ditto the Angels and Vladimir Guerrero, who will be the first player with an Angels logo on his plaque, but his case is maybe more complicated given that his #27 has since been reissued to Mike Trout. We’ll see how that plays out. Also, I wouldn’t be shocked to see one other announcement; there always seems to be a wild card or two in the mix.**

**Edit, February 12: This year's wild card is Roy Halladay .

All of these points factor in to a couple of my strong opinions on baseball teams retiring uniform numbers; I guess writing a couple hundred pages on the topic will give you some of those. Namely, I think teams are making some errors in their judgment of what makes someone worthy of getting a number retired, and this is manifesting in a couple of notable ways that could best be summarized as “teams are being a little too cautious in their decisions”.


Thursday, January 25, 2018

Congratulations to the Hall of Fame Class of 2018; Plus What Does Voting Look Like the Next Few Years?

First things first: congratulations to new Hall of Famers Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome, and Trevor Hoffman. They are all very deserving, and with Alan Trammell and Jack Morris going in thanks to the Veterans Committee at the same time, you could argue that this is one of the strongest classes in the Hall’s history.*

*It depends on how you feel about quantity over quality and how you feel about including managers, umpires, and executives in a class versus just counting the players elected, but it definitely seems like an argument that you could make.

But at the same time, it’s hard not to be a little disappointed as well. A lot of the surprise of who makes it has gone away as the tracking of ballots improved, and those four seemed pretty safe the entire cycle. Really, probably even before the election cycle began, if we’re being honest; Thome and Jones seemed like obvious first-ballot guys, and Guerrero and Hoffman were so close last year that it was hard not to see them making it.

Instead, we found out in the announcement that Edgar Martinez, who was above 75% on Ryan Thibodaux’s ballot tracker basically since the 2018 edition launched, wound up falling 20 votes shy of induction, and Mike Mussina, who poked into the low-70s as late as a few days ago, dropped all the way down to 63.5%.

Of course, it might not be all bad news, either. What are the longer-term implications of this year’s induction?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Reconsidering Johnny Damon for the Hall of Fame

When I was looking over the stats for my recent Hall of Fame ballot article, an unexpected player gave me pause. I had never really considered Johnny Damon a Hall of Famer, or even particularly close. But as it turns out, it’s a lot easier for me to envision a case for him than I thought.

But first, a short diversion, because there’s a second part to this that may have changed my thinking. I also recently covered the paucity of Hall inductees at third base, particularly in comparison to the other positions. If you remember from that piece, third base (and catcher) are pretty underrepresented in Cooperstown, but there’s some other weirdness afoot as well. Center field just happens to be one of the locations of that other weirdness.

It’s not strikingly obvious though, like third base is. It’s small stuff that adds up. For example, they have the third fewest representatives in the Hall at just nineteen (third base and catcher had thirteen and fifteen, respectively), while every other position sits at 20 or more. If you use JAWS, Jay Jaffe’s system for studying Hall-worthiness across positions, center fielders have the second highest average JAWS after right field. In my article from last time, I noted that center also tied with third base for the most not-elected “second tier” players (check that earlier link for a fuller explanation). And when I measured out the number of players at each position who hit 60 and 50 WAR without making the Hall, center field had the second and third highest percentages, respectively.

On top of all of that, though, was their “middle”; when I divided inducted Hall of Famers at each position into upper, middle, and lower thirds based on WAR, the top of the “middle” third for center field was right in line with everyone else’s, at 66.5. But the lower end of that same middle third was just 49.5, closer to catchers (who see lower WAR totals due to less playing time) than any of the other positions, who sit in the mid-50s for the most part.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Trade Analysis: Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros

Some big news in from the Hot Stove, finally! The Astros have agreed to a deal with the Pirates for Gerrit Cole, sending infielder Colin Moran, pitchers Joe Musgrove and Michael Feliz, and minor league outfielder Jason Martin back to Pittsburgh.

Let’s start with the obvious: it’s pretty easy to see why the Astros wanted to do this trade. They spent all of last year poking around for spare pitching, and while Justin Verlander was no-doubt a big pick-up, it never hurts to have too much pitching. And Cole isn’t just any pitcher, a former All-Star and #1 pick who’s received Cy Young support. He slots into a rotation with Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers, and one of Collin McHugh, Charlie Morton, and Brad Peacock.

The Astros’ bullpen was probably weaker than their rotation at this point (as you no doubt realized if you saw any part of their postseason performance), but an extra starter lets them move two of McHugh, Morton, and Peacock into that bullpen, which is a big pick-up, plus in the event of injuries like they had in 2017, they’ll make for much better fill-ins. And with Keuchel a free agent after next season, it makes sense to try and maximize their chances in the short term.

I’ve seen some people imply that this trade was something of a robbery, though, and I think that’s not totally accurate, either. I can see where one would get that idea from, though. Just look at all those descriptors I used in the second paragraph, then look at the players the Pirates got in exchange. None of them are exactly top prospects or anything, and that’s the type of thing that we normally look for in these type of deals.


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

My (Hypothetical) Ballot for the 2018 Hall of Fame Election

I’ve said it before, but there are a ton of good players on the Hall of Fame ballot this year. It’s actually been just a little bit overwhelming trying to determine a way to even approach breaking this year’s candidates, and in the end, I decided to combine several different methods.

First, just as a starting place, let’s look at my ballot from last year’s election. I did all that work already, after all, and most of those players are returning to the ballot.

Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Tim Raines, Manny Ramirez, Ivan Rodriguez, Curt Schilling, Larry Walker

The good news: Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan Rodriguez were all inducted, and that’s a lot of ballot space freed up! Yay! The bad news: Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Scott Rolen, and Andruw Jones are just the head of this incredibly stacked class of newcomers (which I’ve been predicting for five years now). That’s…definitely more than three slots, at least. Curse you, 10-player limit!

What happens if we line everyone up by WAR? That’s a pretty good way to start, take a broad survey of what kinds of players we’re dealing with. Remember, usually, 50+ WAR is in the conversation, 60+ is a strong candidate, and 70+ is usually a lock.


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Who Was the First Hall of Fame Inductee for Each Team?

One interesting bit of trivia that I’ve seen before is that the Colorado Rockies have never had a Hall of Famer. Not just someone inducted into the Hall wearing a Rockies cap, which is what most people think of when they hear that sort of thing. What I mean is that no one who has ever played for Colorado has ever been inducted into Cooperstown at all. They are the only team where that is the case.

This naturally leads one to wonder who that first Rockie will be. Larry Walker is incredibly deserving, but he’s also in his eighth year (out of ten) on the ballot and struggling to get anywhere near the 75% he needs. Next year, life-long Rockie Todd Helton will join the ballot, but recent voting trends have me very skeptical he will see massive support; better direct comparisons in Walker and Jeff Bagwell have struggled as of late, and Helton isn’t quite their equal. But if it’s not one of those two who will be the first of the former purple-and-black making their way to upstate New York some July, who will it possibly be?

One the one hand, you could go with youth, pick some rising star like Nolan Arenado. But that will take time, and there’s still the chance that his career falls short. Maybe the Veterans Committee will wise up and induct Walker or Helton? Again, though, this will take some time; the VC is unpredictable at best, and we have no idea how they’ll react to them (not to mention Helton will still need ten more years before he’s even eligible). But are there any other options?

Actually, as it turns out, yes. We just…don’t have any idea who they are. You see, the first inductee from expansion teams are frequently not who you’d expect. Along the way, I decided to take a look at every team’s first inductee (including, for teams that moved, their first inductee in their new, current home). The results alternate between rather predictable and sort of surprising.


Friday, December 29, 2017

How Badly Has Third Base Been Snubbed in Hall of Fame Voting?

Let’s start with the obvious: third base is wildly underrepresented in the Hall of Fame. I could have sworn that I had written a full article about this at some point in Hot Corner Harbor’s history (it’s even right there in the name!), but apparently not. I’ve definitely referenced it in the past, but never devoted a full piece to it, so with two great third basemen on this year’s Hall ballot in Chipper Jones and Scott Rolen (the latter of whom is incredibly deserving but clearly being overlooked), now seems like a good time to lay it all out.

The straight quantity of inductees is as good a place as any to start. I’m going with JAWS’ definitions for convenience’s sake; in building his Hall-evaluating system, Jay Jaffe included just players who were inducted specifically for their MLB playing careers (ignoring pioneers, executives, coaches, and Negro League stars). By those standards, the tally of Hall inductees for each position looks like this:


Catcher: 15
First Base: 20
Second Base: 20
Third Base: 13
Shortstop: 21
Left Field: 20
Center Field: 19
Right Field: 24


It’s pretty obvious just from that listing that something is unusual, right? Every position but catcher and third base has at least nineteen. But if it’s missing inductees that other positions have, one question worth asking in order to look deeper might be: what type of players is it missing?

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Hall of Fame Ballot's Math Problem

The Hall of Fame is suffering from its refusal to expand the ballot. I wrote about this some last year, but now that we have some hard numbers rather than an abstract word problem to work with. What we’re seeing is the problem with the current Veterans Committee voting, but on a larger scale.

First, let’s start with the positives: the early balloting this year is looking mega-promising. Ryan Thibodaux’s amazing yearly ballot-tracker is a must-follow for any baseball fan, tallying any and every ballot published by a voter prior to the official announcement. Right now*, the gizmo has 88 of them, a little over a fifth of the expected voting body, and the early returns are good. Nine different players are at 69% or higher, something that would be historic if it held through to the final tally.** Five players (first-timers Chipper Jones and Jim Thome, plus hold-overs Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, and Edgar Martinez) are all currently above the 75% threshold needed for induction***, with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, and Curt Schilling all right behind them.

*As of writing, on December 22, 2017. The exact figures will quickly be out of date as more ballots continue to trickle in, but the overall percentages and underlying issues won’t change much at all.

**It won’t, because the early results always run high, but it’s worth noting that even in the context of past ballot-tracking, this is still really, really good.

***This one might actually carry through, although it will be close. Almost every player sees their votes drop between the final pre-announcement tally and the results; the voters who don’t reveal their ballots tend to include fewer names than those who do. But Jones, Thome, and Guerrero are all polling above 90%, which has historically been pretty safe, and Martinez is sitting at over 86% with the Mariners launching a large campaign for his induction. Hoffman will be close, sitting at 78.4%, but closers are historically one of the few types of players who actually see their total increase for the final results. If they all make it, they would represent the first 5-person class for Cooperstown since the inaugural one way back in 1936.


The biggest problem with this, though, is that the ballot has waaaay more than just those nine overqualified stars. In fact, I think you could make a convincing argument for twenty different players on this year’s Hall ballot. Larry Walker, Scott Rolen, and Andruw Jones are just some of the players around who would raise the median for Cooperstown inductees while escaping the stain of steroids scandals. Those three currently sit at 40.9%, 11.4%, and 9.1%, respectively. They’ll all probably make it around to the next ballot, but those totals are still wildly out of line with how good those players actually were. Billy Wagner is Trevor Hoffman’s equal in just about every way but save total, yet he sits at just 9.1%. And these are just half of the cases you could be making.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

Thoughts on Manager of the Year: Is There a Better Way to Vote?

This is sort of a follow-up to my piece on Dusty Baker from a few weeks ago. I’m still not sure that I have too many hard-and-fast, sweeping conclusions to draw on, but it’s been bouncing around in my head all the same.

Paul Molitor won the AL Manager of the Year Award in 2017, and that’s not really a bad choice or anything. But I think it does highlight some of the weirdness of the award. The Twins weren’t expected to compete for the postseason after finishing 2016 with the worst record in the majors, but wound up claiming the second Wild Card spot. Traditionally, that type of turnaround has guaranteed a Manager of the Year winner, so it makes sense that Molitor won based on the precedent at the very least.

But then again, the Twins are only viewed as having overperformed in 2017 because they underperformed in 2016. They entered that year coming off of an 83-win 2015 but dropped 24 games in the standings…all under the stewardship of Molitor. Granted, 2015 was in turn a surprise, seeing as it followed four straight years of 70 wins or fewer, and that was Molitor’s first season. On the whole, I’d say that he’s probably a good manager; he just makes for an interesting case-study this year. How much of that turnaround was players returning to form versus Molitor being better? Of course, maybe the players improved because of Molitor’s guidance? Separating all of these factors can be difficult, which makes voters’ decision to use surprising teams look somewhat reasonable.