Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My 2015 Hall of Fame Ballot

Once again, it’s time for me to cast my vote in the Baseball Bloggers Alliance’s Hall of Fame election. This year, they switched to a binary “Yes/No” choice for each player, rather than keeping the BBWAA’s system of a ten-person limit. That saved me the trouble of trying to decide whether to leave off the top choices to make room for the down-ballot players. So, briefly, here are my thoughts on each player.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Why Steroid Rumors Against Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza Are TotallyBaseless (Beyond the Obvious...)

This is more of a short collection of my thoughts as we lead up to the Hall of Fame announcements, to refer to this year and in future Hall elections. Unfortunately, It will probably take future elections. Baseball Think Factory’s Ballot Collecting Gizmo has Mike Piazza at 79.3% and Jeff Bagwell at 73.9% as we speak, and generally speaking, every player sees their percentage drop due to writers who don’t reveal their ballot. So while Piazza barely clears the 75% cutoff, he probably won’t make it this year, especially with four candidates ahead of him (last year, he went from 67.9% all the way down to 62.2%, and a drop off that size this year would leave him just over 73%). Bagwell, being further back, will almost certainly need to wait until next year.

This is not due to a lack of worthiness on their part; the fault lies totally on the electorate. Both are easily among the top ten at their positions all-time, and arguably among the top five. Bagwell hit 449 home runs, stole 202 bases and fell just shy of posting a .300/.400/.500 career batting line (he hit .297/.408/.540). His career weighted Runs Created+ (like OPS+, but properly weights OBP and slugging) is 149, and is fifth among first basemen with over 8000 plate appearances, and he was by most measures a good fielder. Piazza was the best hitting catcher ever. The only qualified catcher with a higher wRC+ is Buster Posey at 141, and he still hasn’t entered his decline phase; he’s played in a third as many games as Piazza.

The five reasons for not voting for them, as I can tell, are as follows:

1) Not understanding how to evaluate baseball players
2) Not understanding what the Hall’s standards are
3) Running out of space on the ballot (rather justified, especially given this year)
4) Imposing an artificial limit on your ballot beyond the existing ten-man limit (which is not at all justified, especially given this year); or
5) Penalizing them for imagined PED use

The latter is the most irritating. The perception is that, as sluggers, Piazza and Bagwell are more likely to have been taking steroids. They’ve never been linked to them in any official capacity, though. And on top of that, good luck finding any consistency in characteristics among players busted for taking steroids. Even among the batters, there’s no common link, with almost as many slap hitters as sluggers.

But both have additional “strikes” against them, in the mind of voters; both are seen to have “become” power hitters.  Even if we ignore the wide range of results we’ve seen in players taking steroids, in both cases, there are plenty of other factors in play.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Brian Giles: The 2015 Hall Ballot's Forgotten Candidate

We are fast approaching 2015, and with it, the announcement of who will be added to the Hall of Fame. January 6th is the big day, and already we’re starting to get an idea on who might be in and who might not. I’ll be posting my ballot in a few days, but there’s one specific player that I want to focus on for the time being. Someone who probably won’t get a second thought from most voters, let alone a vote: Brian Giles.

I suppose you could say that part of my reason for wanting to write about Giles is personal. I lived in Pittsburgh for a while when I was younger. It wasn’t enough to make me a Pirates fan (really, given the awfulness of those early-2000s Pirates teams, it’s a minor miracle I didn’t develop a burning hatred for the entire sport), but it gave me a soft spot for the team and the stars from that era. I’ve written about Jason Kendall and Jack Wilson already (here and here, respectively), but Brian hung up his cleats a little earlier than either of them. So I’ll take this temporary return to relevance as an excuse to reflect on all that he did, since most people probably won’t be.

To start with, a personal story. At least, this isn’t really relevant to the rest of the article, so I’ll just say it here. Back when I played Little League, I used to look forward each year to seeing what jersey number I would get and who had that number in the Majors. I remember the year that I got 24 specifically because it was Brian Giles’s number. I don’t remember if I ever got 8 for Cal Ripken, or 17 or 27 for Scott Rolen, or any of my other favorite players from back then, but 24 sticks out in my mind.

As a young child in Pittsburgh, I remember thinking the Pirates would be good soon. Even after the chances of me actually being a fan of the Pirates were basically zero, you still sort of overestimate the hometown team. So when 2003 came around, I figured that the Pirates would be competing that year. After all, they had Kendall and Giles and Wilson and Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton and Reggie Sanders and Matt Stairs and Kip Wells and Kris Benson and Jeff Suppan and Josh Fogg and Randall Simon

No really, I actually remember being excited about Randall Simon and Josh Fogg. It’s easy for a small child to get caught up in the newness of acquisitions and the blind optimism of local fans and so on. That team would disappoint, going 75 and 87 for their eleventh straight losing season (officially halfway done with the streak, though!), with Giles and several of the other players being shipped out midseason.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Who Will Be the Last Active Player from the 1990s?

The offseason is the team for indulging in strange, off-the-wall investigations. And so, I will take this opportunity to explore a question that occurred to me during the regular season: who will be the last active player who debuted in the 1990s?

I really wish I remember what inspired this question, but the context is lost to the sands of time, as all the remains is a note on my “To Do” list that says “WHO WILL BE THE LAST PLAYER FROM THE ‘90s?” Apparently, I was really excited about it when it occurred to me, and that’s all that really matters.

With that, I headed to Baseball-Reference’s Play Index to find out who all was left from the ‘90s. The details of my search were pretty simple: sort by ascending year of debut, active players with last season 2013 or later. I thought about setting final season to 2014 or later, but I figured there might be a few cases of players who were active in 2014 but couldn’t play due to, say, injury, or steroid suspension.

With those criteria set, I got a list of 30 players who fit the criteria. However, I had to cull the list even more, as some of the results were no longer possibilities. Derek Jeter, Paul Konerko, Bobby Abreu, Eric Chavez, Ryan Dempster, and Alfonso Soriano have all announced their retirements. I suppose comeback tours are all possible, but I don’t know that we should be betting on them happening. That leaves us with 24 names.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Offseason Plan #2: Baltimore Orioles Edition

Earlier this week, Nelson Cruz officially became a Seattle Mariner. And yesterday (well, it was yesterday when I started this…), Nick Markakis became a member of the Atlanta Braves for the next few years. As an Orioles fan, Cruz moving on was expected for more or less all of 2014. And Markakis, while a sentimental favorite as a nine-year veteran of the Orioles, seemed gone as soon as rumors began to surface that he and the Orioles had hit a rough patch in negotiations.

However, that doesn’t change that the team has lost two outfielders (or “outfielder”, in the case of Cruz) in a week (this also isn’t even to mention that the surprisingly effective Delmon Young might also depart, as he’s a free agent). So where does the team go from here? Well, first it helps to look at what they’re losing. (Note: While reliever Andrew Miller, I won’t focus on him as much both because they only had him from the Trade Deadline on and because it’s easier to limit the scope of this article to what the Orioles can do for their offense.)

Let’s start with Cruz. In 159 games, the slugger put up 40 home runs to lead the league. However, that doesn’t tell the full story; his weighted Runs Created+ was only 137, indicating he was only 37% better than league average. That’ll happen when you have a .333 OBP. Granted, that’s still respectable (tied for 17th in the majors last season), but it’s not like leading the league in homers. And to be fair, at 34, it’s unlikely that Cruz himself will duplicate that performance in 2015. Add in that he was primarily a DH, and that when he did field, he did so poorly, and you have yourself a player who was worth just shy of 4 Wins Above Replacement in 2014 (3.9, Fangraphs).

By WAR, Markakis is an even easier replacement. The right fielder was worth 2.5 Wins on the strength of a 106 wRC+ and better fielding metrics than he’s posted in years. Like, a full win better than anything he’s done in five seasons (although still not deserving of the Gold Glove award he received), in fact, which makes me expect regression in that department in 2015. Add in that he’s apparently facing neck surgery (albeit offseason surgery), and I’m even more glad that the Orioles didn’t get into a bidding war with Atlanta.

But still, those are two players the Orioles will have to replace. What are their options?