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.

Friday, November 17, 2017

2017 World Series Wrap-Up & Trivia: Best Active Players Without a World Series, 2017 Edition

It took a little while to finish, but another yearly tradition is done: once again, Can You Name the Best Active Players Without a World Series? This is fully updated through 2017, including a few players who hung it up for next year. Click over to Sporcle to try this out, then come back and click “read more” for some spoiler-filled extra thoughts.

First, the Houston Astros’ title win clearly shook up a lot. First of all, it ended a couple of pretty major droughts. Houston had one of the longest active championship droughts across Big 4 sports, with the Astros serving as the team’s first champions since the 1994-5 Rockets finished off their repeat, although measuring degrees of “worst” involved for city-droughts can be messy.*

*How do you compare, say, two-team city that hasn’t won in 30 years versus a three-team city that hasn’t won in 20? How do you account for teams moving, or cases like Milwaukee, which technically hasn’t won a title since 1971 but who semi-shares a market with much more recent champions the Green Bay Packers? In any case, the only cities with as many teams and less recent titles than Houston were the Twin Cities (1991 Twins), Washington (1992 Redskins), and Toronto (1993 Blue Jays).
It also, of course, ended one of the longest remaining droughts in Major League Baseball. With no titles in 55 years, the Astros had taken over third place in the active drought list, behind just Cleveland (now 69 years) and Texas (57). That 55 year mark will stand tied for the ninth longest in baseball history, with the Giants’ recently ended drought.

Speaking of, looking back at the last 13 years, it’s a little crazy to think about how many historically-cursed teams have turned things around. Going into the 2004 postseason, the “Longest World Series Droughts” leaderboard looked like this:

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Breaking Down the 2018 Veterans Committee Hall of Fame Ballot

Monday marked the beginning of Baseball’s annual Hall of Fame season. You may have missed it, but the current iteration of the Hall’s Veterans Committee announced its ten-player ballot for the 2018 Induction, focusing on players from 1970 to 1987.

It’s actually one of the deeper ballots that I can remember, at least as far as players go. Usually, there are a lot of managers and executives, which can clog things up given the low vote ceiling on individual ballots (voters can choose up to 4 of the 10 names). When you have all-time greats on that side of the game going up against guys overlooked by the BBWAA ballot, the players are usually the ones who come up short.

This year, though, with nine of ten slots going to players, we have a good chance to see a player inducted for just the third time since the VC switched to this format back in 2011 (and given that one of the two previous players was Deacon White, who last played in 1890, the process has felt even more helpless lately). Obviously, I think the process still needs overhauled significantly, but this year at least has me feeling optimistic for the time being.

Moving on to the ten players they submitted…I have to say, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. As someone who writes frequently on deserving Hall of Fame snubs, I know just how many there are to pick from. And yet, I would still probably advocate for election less than half of the players on the ballot. The full list:

Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Marvin Miller, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, Luis Tiant, Alan Trammell

That said, I wouldn’t necessarily mind if anyone from this said gets in; I can at least see a case for each of them, and it’s been such a dry spell that I’d be happy just to see someone inducted. But at the same time, missing highly qualified guys like Lou Whitaker, Bobby Grich, Graig Nettles, Keith Hernandez, Dwight Evans, etc. so that we can debate Steve Garvey for the nineteenth time (as best as I can tell) does feel like a little bit of a let-down.

In fact, most of these guys got fifteen turns on the ballot; all except the one-and-done Ted Simmons aged off rather than dropping below the 5% threshold that keeps you around for another year. That hardly feels as overlooked as some of those guys I named who fell off the ballot early, and since the Veterans Committee exists specifically to help players overlooked on the Baseball Writers’ ballot, it feels like a bit of a failure. But the, you also have extremely deserving people in that group like Alan Trammell, so maybe it’s not all bad. Maybe it’s just the 10-name ballot squeeze that needs to be re-examined going forward, to get a wider variety of names reconsidered.

With all of that out of the way, let’s go name by name down the list to see each one’s case for induction:

Sunday, October 22, 2017

New Sporcle Quiz: Match Every World Series

I've been trying to find the best way to do this quiz for a while, but I think this might be the best way to do it: can you match the different World Series match-ups in history? Let me know if you have any feedback on how to make it better. And it's now including the newest pair - congrats to the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers on their 2017 Pennants!

Friday, October 20, 2017

My Issues With the Nationals Letting Dusty Baker Go

I’m going to be honest: I’m not sure that I see the logic in the Washington Nationals letting go of Dusty Baker.

I mean, I’ve heard the arguments for it; that Dusty is a “bad tactical manager”, that his teams can’t win in the postseason, and so on. I’m just not sure that I totally buy it. Arguing that being a “good tactical manager” is necessary to win a World Series seems like a specious argument, given that three of the last four World Series were won by Joe Maddon (who has repeatedly come under fire for his strange bullpen management the last two years as well as his other “quirkier” habits), Ned Yost (no one’s idea of a stat-head), and John Farrell (who just found himself let go). In fact, just in the past decade, we’ve seen Yost and Ron Washington, two of the managers traditionally thought of as the least statistically-minded, each win back-to-back pennants; Yost with a title, and Washington a misplayed Nelson Cruz flyball away from his own.

That’s not to say that being bad at tactics is a benefit or anything crazy; just that there are many things to being a manager, and while tactics are the only one we can really traditionally measure at this time, they clearly aren’t everything. And really, we know this; most studies on lineup optimization have found that it can save maybe a win or two a year, which is nice, but also not enough that a team can’t win 95 games and a World Series while batting Alcides Escobar and his .257/.293/.320 triple slash line leadoff.

This is something that I’ve sort of changed my mind on over the past few seasons, that managing is easy and can be done by anyone willing to listen to their front office. Over the last few years, we’ve seen teams trying to hire inexperienced managers who apparently take orders pretty directly from their front offices, and the results have been…mixed at best, I would say. Guys like Mike Redmond, Robin Ventura, Walt Weiss, and Craig Counsell haven’t exactly done anything to impress (and the first three were all fired before 2017). Even the ones who have made the playoffs for the most part haven’t exactly set the world on fire; Brad Ausmus was just fired and Matt Williams’ tenure in Washington came to a pretty miserable end. The most “successful” manager of this type may be Mike Matheny, which…as a Cardinals fan, let me just say that I have many, many issues with his tenure. Viva El Birdos has a summary good enough that I don’t feel like I need to write my own.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Great 2017 MLB Playoffs Trivia Preview

Over my years of writing at Hot Corner Harbor, I’ve acquired several traditions of pre-playoff previews, all of which make for interesting trivia. I’ve explored all of them in-depth in the past, so this year, I decided to combine them all into one mega-preview. So without further ado, let’s jump right in.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Hiroki Kuroda's Unique Place in International Baseball History

I want to talk about Hiroki Kuroda for a moment.

Maybe you haven’t thought about him much in the recent past. I wouldn’t really blame you, considering that he left the Majors back in 2014 and hasn’t really been in the public eye (in the US, at least) since. That’s totally fair; he had seven years as a solid starter in the majors, which isn’t nothing, but still…time moves on, you know?

I was basically in the same boat anyway, so I can’t really say that I blame you. Plenty of pitchers have good seven year runs, and even if you’ve like me and have devoted as much of your memory to random baseball trivia at the expense of most other useful things, you just can’t remember all of them all the time. But that just made it all the more surprising when I saw his name pop up recently in some research that I was doing.

In case you haven’t thought about Kuroda’s career lately, it’s worth noting that, when he debuted in the Majors way back in 2008, he was already 33, with over a decade of seasons in Japan already under his belt. Despite his rookie season coming at such an advanced age, Kuroda went on to post a surprisingly strong career line: in 1319 innings pitched, Kuroda posted a 986 to 292 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a 1.172 WHIP, and a 3.45 ERA (good for a 115 ERA+). All of that adds up to 21.7 Wins Above Replacement, in spite of the rather mediocre-looking 79-79 career record.

That would be a good run for just about anyone, but for a pitcher to post that in their ages 33 to 39 seasons is especially impressive! And not only that, he went back to Japan for two more seasons with his longtime NPB* team, the Hiroshima Toyo Carp.

*Nippon Professional Baseball

To have a run like that, at those ages, is pretty exceptional. In fact, Kuroda ranks 55th all time in pitching WAR after age 33. Even more notable are some of the names immediately around him: you’ve got a trio of Hall of Famers (Fergie Jenkins 22.8, Whitey Ford 21.6, Jesse Haines 21.6) and another trio of knuckleballers (Tim Wakefield 22.8, Tom Candiotti 22.8, R.A. Dickey 22.7). That’s interesting company, if nothing else.

And pitching that good late in your career isn’t exactly a guarantee that one is destined for Cooperstown (those knuckleballers are evidence of that, as are numerous others on the list), but it’s also certainly not nothing. Indeed, only 27 Hall of Famers are better. It’s certainly enough to make me wonder: how might Hiroki Kuroda have done if he had started his career in the Majors? Would he be looking at a possible Cooperstown induction? I decided to take a stab at it.

Monday, September 11, 2017

How Many Active Players Should Make the Hall of Fame?: Using 2008 as a Case Study

Recently, I looked at active players to determine who would possibly make the Hall of Fame if it was more accurately sized. In this case, “accurately” refers to “in regards to historical precedence”, which is a little up for debate, but is definitely bigger than what we’re getting now. At the lower-end, that should be at the very least 40 players in any given year; at the upper-end, that number may go as high as something like 75 players active at once making Cooperstown. Realistically, I think something in the fifties is reasonable, but I wanted to demonstrate that.

While looking at active players is fun, it’s also difficult and hard to visualize. In part, that’s because at least some of your active players, by law of averages, have to be just starting out, which makes them hard to predict. So I figured, why not do it for a year a little further in the past? I’ve done this before, but it was a while ago, so I figured I’d update it and use a different year for good measure.

In this case, I picked 2008. Players who debuted in 2008 are now a decade into their careers, meaning they have the ten years required to appear on the Hall of Fame ballot, as well as a decade in the majors under their belt to help us evaluate if they have a realistic shot at Cooperstown.

In fact, some players active in 2008 are already inducted.

Already Inducted: Ivan Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas

That’s eight players that we for-sure need to account for. On top of that, there were two players active in 2008 who each received over 70% of the vote, Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman. For all intents and purposes, we should probably consider them as good as in, bringing our number to 10. Additionally, Mike Mussina finally topped 50% of the vote last year. Given that he still has over half of his time on the ballot ahead of him and that he’s more than deserving, we may as well include him, giving us 11 players.

Next, we can probably run down the locks quickly, since no one will argue them.

Friday, August 4, 2017

What Would a Hypothetical Backyard Baseball 2017 Look Like?

The recent Hall of Fame induction ceremony gave me a lot of varied ideas for articles. This one might be the silliest though, so of course I had to follow through on it.

Few things have been as influential a part of my life as baseball, but video games are up there. Maybe you already knew that though; after all, I sometimes even write about them. And, like many kids my age who grew up with a love of both things, one title reigned supreme: Backyard Baseball.*

*You too can enjoy having this song stuck in your head, just as I did while writing this (in alternating shifts with this, of course).

For those who might not be aware, Backyard Baseball was a series that started with a computer game released in 1997. The premise was generally pretty simple: it was a relative simple baseball game* aimed at younger audiences, with a colorful cast of neighborhood kids, straightforward and easy-to-understand gameplay, and a slew of cartoonish elements serving as the main selling points, and it made a strong enough impression that in spawned an entire, multi-sport franchise that became a cultural touchstone for a generation of sports fans.

*Fun fact: in researching this, I read that the original game was made in a point-and-click engine, which seems like a strange way to build a sports game, but makes more sense given that maker Humongous Entertainment was known for that style of game.

The second game, released in 2000 (but titled Backyard Baseball 2001), is probably even better known, however, as it tightened up things from the first game and added a bunch of features, including one of the things the series is most known for, the addition of 31 major league stars as kids to the game’s roster. A 2002 follow-up (but again subtitled 2003) would repeat the formula with a slightly shuffled set of 31 players (then subsequent games would shuffle the formula even more as the series generally declined in quality, but we won’t go there).

What got me thinking about it in relation to the Hall of Fame was that, as the writers at Cespedes Family BBQ noted, two of the inductees were on the Backyard Baseball 2001 roster. Indeed, Ivan Rodriguez and Jeff Bagwell are actually the eighth and ninth Backyard Representatives in the Baseball Hall of Fame. But it was their reference to Tim Raines that got me thinking, where they called him “one that would have been had the game been made 15 years earlier”; it’s been even longer than that since the release of 2001. What would a Backyard Baseball 2017* installment look like, as far as major league stars go? Since the series is functionally dead at this point, this will forever be stuck in the realm of fantasy, but it’ll still be a lot of fun to think about.

*Keeping track of 2001 and 2003 is already hard enough, so I won’t be calling this one Backyard Baseball 2018. Sorry.