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Terry's 2018 GOR comments: the other stuff  

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ventboys
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December 18, 2018 8:55 am  

Rick Ankiel, 0.1. Players with at least 40 home runs and 40 games pitched:

  • Babe Ruth (714, 163)
  • Rick Ankiel (76, 51)
  • Johnny Lindell (72, 55)
  • George Van Haltren (69, 93)
  • Cy Seymour (52, 141)

Ruth (93), Seymour (61) and Van Haltren (40) each won at least 40 games; Ankiel won 13. Ruth is the only pitcher to start a postseason game who had more career home runs than Ankiel.

Lance Berkman, 0.8. What were the most dramatic singles in baseball history? Merkle’s boner play comes to mind off the top of my head, but I’m sure there have been others that would rank higher. Berkman’s staved off defeat but it didn’t grab victory, so I’m not sure where it would rank.

Berkman had the range of a tree sloth, but he played nearly a thousand games in the outfield anyway because of Jeff Bagwell and (later) Albert Pujols. He was still a championship-level producer; a .400+ onbase percentage and a career ops+ of 144 gave him a net value around five wins above replacement every year, even with the defensive losses. He earned his six top-10 MVP finishes.

Kevin Brown, 1.3. Brown compiled 1.21 Cy Young award shares, 49th all time.

How good is 49th? There are currently 76 players listed in the BBR’s Hall of Fame pitcher register; 35 of them played in 1956 or later and 27 began their careers in 1956 or later.

Orlando Cabrera, 0.0. Last year I called Cabrera, “Edgar Renteria without the postseason highlights.” Renteria is actually third on Cabrera’s historical comps list, behind Royce Clayton and Dick Bartell. It’s a pretty impressive list; Tony Fernandez, Alvin Dark, Garry Templeton, Pee Wee Reese and Frank White are among Cabrera’s top ten comps.

David Cone, 1.0. Allie Reynolds, who missed election to the Hall of Fame by a single vote in 2010, retired at 182-107, 3:30 era, similar numbers to Cone. So if the Hall adds an Allie, it’ll pave the way for a Cone. Yes, I’m sorry. And no, I never considered just deleting it.

José Contreras, 0.2. Contreras posted a 48-27 won-lost record with a 4.28 era (107 era+) in his first four seasons, accumulating 9.8 WAR, 43 Winshares. The rest of his career seems like a massive bust at first glance, 30-40, 4.92 era (93 era+), 3.7 WAR, 24 WS. Keep in mind, though, that he was 31 years old when he threw his first major league pitch.

By then, Contreras had already collected more Cuban hardware than a Miami Beach outlet store the day after Christmas. He was named Cuba’s Athlete of the Year three times during the 1990s. He won gold medals in the Pan American Games, the Baseball World Cup and the Summer Olympics.

He compiled a 57-18 won-lost record with a 2.07 era in the Cuban National Series between 1997 and 2002 before defecting; he was 13-4, 1.76 in his final season.

Manny Corpas, 0.0. By most accounts and measures, Corpas had a huge outlier year in 2007 with a career-best 2.08 era and 19 saves, over half his career total. His eras from 2006-2010 were 3.62, 2.08, 4.52 and 5.88.

But he was the same basic pitcher the whole time. His FIP eras for the same four years: 3.61, 3.60, 3.96, 3.54.

Carlos Delgado, 1.0. In 2000, Carlos Delgado hit .344 with 41 homeruns, 137 runs batted in. He added 57 doubles for a total of 99 extra base hits and 378 total bases. He drew 123 walks and scored 115 runs. His onbase percentage was .470, his slugging percentage .664. Pretty special season, huh?

Not really. Delgado finished fourth in the MVP voting that year:

  1. .333-43-137, 476-.647
  2. .328-43-143, .436-.625
  3. .316-41-132, .420-.606
  4. .344-41-137, .470-.664
  5. Pitcher (Pedro, 18-6, 1.74, 284k in 217 innings)
  6. .324-37-145, .423-.579
  7. .351-38-122, .457-.697

Delgado’s season was one of six virtually interchangeable stat lines from that year alone.

Octavio Dotel, 0.0. Dotel pitched for 13 different teams, throwing anywhere from 5.1 innings to 449, and his earned run average was over three for all 13 teams. His best was 3.25 for the Astros, in 449 innings.

Guys like Dotel, the “have live arm, will travel” types, could be compared to the second wife centerfielders, I suppose. But “have arm, will travel” is dangerously close to “have arm, won’t tell your wife.”

Jim Edmonds, 1.1. Edmonds was a hell of a ballplayer. He was a hell-of-a ballplayer. The D-level Hall of Fame candidates are all like that, aren’t they?

They aren’t the Greats; the BBWAA grabs the Greats, sort of like how your parents used to steal all the snickers bars out of your candy bag on Halloween night. The D-level candidates are the ones that are left after the BBWAA gets done raiding the candy bag, the ones who get the “he was a hell-of-a ballplayer” treatment. They are the Helovas.

Joe Rudi was a Helova (player). Ron Cey was definitely a Helova (player).

Helova, helova, helova. I think this is where I’m supposed to doff my straw hat, wiggle my ears, shake my cane and dance away sideways.

Because old-timers committees are faced with a wide array of players within a narrow array of analytical values, separating them by analytical methods is pretty much impossible. So the committees tend to go for (1) popular choices, usually BBWAA near-misses (Jack Morris, Nelly Fox, Jim Bunning, etc.) (2) their own favorites (the Frischian choices) or (3) the best argument in the room before the voting (Jerry Reinsdorf selling Harold Baines to the 2018 committee).

I think that’s why the old-timers committee choices are invariably controversial. The respective differences between, say Jim Edmonds and Kenny Lofton, Rusty Staub and Harold Baines, Tommy John and Jim Kaat are too small to overrule subjective bias; I think we all understand that. But it’s the same thing with Edmonds and Kaat, Staub and Lofton, Baines and John. D-level candidates are virtually all within the subjective gray area of each other.

So the choices are emotional … and the protests are, in turn, emotional. The references might sound analytical, but the arguments can almost always be distilled down to emotional pleas.

In that environment, Edmonds should do well; he was a perfect Helova. Even his detractors thought he was a hell of a ballplayer.

Which, of course, he was.

Freddy Garcia, 0.1. I presume he holds the record for most 2-strike fastballs that sailed three feet high and wide of the strike zone. He did it so often that his catcher would sometimes just stand up and head over there while Freddy was still winding up.

Travis Hafner, 0.3. Musclehead Hafner was a Reader’s Digest-condensed version Jim Thome. Hafner led the AL in ops+ twice, in 2004 and 2006; Thome only did it once (2002).

Hafner wasted three years in the minors, waiting for a major league opening, and was pretty much finished as a top-level player before his 30th birthday. For three years in between, though, he was arguably the best hitter in the American League.

Todd Helton, 1.5. Take the air out of his stats and he’s Orlando Cepeda, who finished with an identical 133 ops+ and lands on his BBR comps list despite needing a downward context adjustment that would take a week to figure with a slide rule.

That’s not bad; Cepeda was a borderline C-level candidate who got in quickly through an old timers committee vote after just missing on the BBWAA ballot. I suspect Helton will have a similar path, and maybe get in a little quicker if can dodge the Feds.

Trevor Hoffman, no idea. I mentioned last year that there was no tangible difference between Hoffman and Lee Smith as Hall of Fame candidates. I suspect that is the argument Jerry Reinsdorf made in his (successful) argument for Smith before this year’s old timer’s committee election.

Brandon Inge, 0.0. He should have won a few gold gloves at third base, but as a hitter he was just a guy. I remember he used to hit a bajillion home runs in Spring Training every year. Insert your favorite Hedwig joke here.

Andruw Jones, 0.8. He crossed the defensive spectrum like he was shot out of a cannon. Unlike most D-level candidates, Andruw’s old-timers case will be more analytical than emotional. That might hurt his chances.

Josh Johnson, 0.1. Johnson ultimately underwent three Tommy John surgeries before grudgingly giving up one of the all-time what-if careers in January, 2016. Through 2011 (age 27) he was 48-23, 2.98 era (142 era+) in 725 innings. His top age-27 comp, according BBR, was David Cone.

Johnson’s age 25- and age 26- comps were, ironically as well as redundantly, Rich Harden and Rich Harden.

Nick Johnson, 0.0. Edgar Martinez stole Johnson’s career while he was on the DL nursing a hammy or something.

Jeff Kent, 1.1. Data on aging patterns is one of the simpler “forensic sabermetrics” tools available to the hard-core baseball sleuth. Kent’s aging pattern, for example, looked like a gerbil with the tail of a lion. Ok, maybe a ferret with the tail of a beaver.

Mark Kotsay, 0.0. Kotsay made the most jaw-dropping outfield throw I ever saw. While he was with the Padres, from his position in right field he ran and grabbed a rolling ball off the warning track in deep right-centerfield, spun and heaved it on a line toward the infield before colliding with the wall just right of the centerfield distance marker and rolling around toward left field. The ball traveled something like 380 feet in a giant banana hook and (I swear) hit the catcher on the fly.

His stats tell the story of his rocket arm and its eventual demise. His assist totals were 20-19-14-4 (injury year)-11-13-11 from ages 22-28, then seven to six to, “Hey, have you tried first base?” after that.

Kenny Lofton, 1.3. Lofton played 47 postseason games for five different teams after the age of 35, and four out of the five teams won a playoff series.

Lofton was certainly a Helova, but all that moving around might hurt his chances when it comes time to get emotional about his Hall candidacy. We tend to think of people who move around a lot as sluts; while we think fondly of sluts, we don’t fall in love with them.

Derek Lowe, 0.1. Lowe is one of three pitchers to have a 20-win season and a 40-save season (John Smoltz, Dennis Eckersley) and one of just three pitchers since WWII (Smoltz, Johnny Sain) to top the league in wins in one season and saves in another.

Hideki Matsui, 0.4. If you tied a bandanna around his head he’d look like the “where are they now?” version of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

Willie McGee, 0.4. Speaking of players who looked like amphibians … Willie’s career, all things considered, was comparable to the average Hall of Fame candidate.

Corky Miller, 0.0. Miller played 216 games in 11 seasons with a career high of 39 games, 129 plate appearances. Career batting average .193, career earnings roughly $5 million. Bob Eucker, eat your heart out.

Kevin Millwood, 0.0. In his final ten seasons he pitched 283 games, all starts. It seems strange that he was never tried as a reliever later in his career, given that his early-career era from the bullpen was 1.88 compared to his 4.12 career era as a starter. His peripherals weren’t as impressive as the ERA, though, and it was only 14.1 innings.

Jamie Moyer, 0.5. If Bobby Mathews somehow gets the call to Cooperstown – Bob has friends on the 19th century committee so it’s possible – Moyer would be behind only Tony Mullane, Tommy John and Jim Kaat on the win list among outsiders. I can see all those guys getting in, which would leave Moyer as the wins leader outside Cooperstown.

John Olerud, 0.8. Smooth as melted caramel, flowing down a warm spoon.

Roy Oswalt, 0.3. Curt Schilling lite. As a pitcher, I mean; I don’t know a thing about Oswalt’s politics.

Rafael Palmiero, 1.3. Two players come immediately to mind when I think about Palmiero: Will Clark and Al Oliver. Clark, who swapped places with Raffy twice, finished with 1.84 career MVP shares, most of them with the Giants before the PED rush. Al Oliver, Raffy’s closest pre-juice comp, finished with 1.25. Raffy finished with 1.20.

Andy Pettite, 0.8. Pettite doesn’t do well on the Test, but that might just mean I’m sort of sour on him because I’m a Yankee hater. I wonder how he’d do if Marisfan Tested him.

Juan Pierre, 0.3. Pierre led his league in caught stealing while playing for five different teams.

Pierre eventually played for seven teams if you count his return to the Miami Marlins, eight years after leaving the Florida Marlins, but unlike Kenny Lofton, Pierre was never traded during the season. If Lofton was the pricy call girl you paged from the bar; Pierre was a Seinfeld character. Every show, Jerry had a different girl friend and Elaine was dating some guy we’d never heard of. But they limited themselves to one per show.

Darren Oliver, 0.1. Oliver is almost certainly a one-and-done, and I’m sure some people wonder why he made the Cooperstown Hall of Fame’s 35-man ballot But the extreme conditions of Oliver’s time hid how good he was, to an extreme degree.

As a reliever, Oliver posted a 205 era+ when he was 41 years old. It wasn’t one of those 20-inning flukes, either; he pitched 62 games, 56.2 innings. From 2008-2012, in 314.1 innings, his era was 2.52, an era+ of 175. As a young starter (25 years old), he finished 14-6 in 1996 despite a 4.66 era. Was he pitching in good luck? Sure, but not as much as you might think. His era+ was 113.

Oliver threw nearly 2,000 innings in 20 years of major league service, retiring with what looks like a replacement-level 4.51 era but an adjusted era+ of 104 (for reference, Jamie Moyer’s was 103). Oliver posted an era+ of at least 108 in six of his first seven major league seasons, including three seasons of at least 30 starts. After his 35th birthday, he posted seven consecutive seasons with an era+ over 120 as a reliever, five straight over 150 and three straight over 180.

That ain’t a Hall of Famer, but I think he earned his spot on the ballot.

Tony Phillips, 0.3. Phillips played at least 294 games at 2b, 3b, ss, lf and rf, adding 97 games in cf. His range factor was above league average at every position.

Plácido Polanco, 0.1. An outstanding defender who won gold gloves at both second and third base, Polanco may have been miscast. His range numbers at shortstop, albeit in a small sample size, were outstanding. But the Cardinals signed Ed Renteria in 1999 and the Phillies (his next team) had Jimmy Rollins.

Had Polanco gotten a shortstop gig at the start of his career, he may have been a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate. He may have been a gold glove defender and he was a better hitter than Renteria, who was a good enough hitter to be a Hall of Fame candidate.

Jorgé Posada, 0.9. One curious effect of the 30-team league, compared to the old 16-team league, is that it doesn’t spit out more A-, B- and C- level Hall of Famers than the 16-team league did. But it spits out nearly three times as many D-level players.

Bob did a study in 2010 on 2,000-game careers; here’s the link: http://boards.billjamesonline.com/showthread.php?1712-Playing-2000-Games

I repeated the study, using different criteria (I must have, I got different results):

By decade, using the final season of the player’s career, the number of 2,000 game careers:

  • 1890s: 2 (Cap Anson, Bid McPhee)
  • 1900s: 6
  • 1910s: 10
  • 1920s: 9
  • 1930s: 15
  • 1940s: 9
  • 1950s: 5
  • 1960s: 14
  • 1970s: 24
  • 1980s: 41
  • 1990s: 31
  • 2000s: 41
  • 2010s: 36

The proliferation of D-level Hall candidates will generate cries to “raise the bar,” but I don’t see how that can happen. The “bar” can’t really go up. As I said, the number of A,B and C level candidates hasn’t increased, just the Ds. The Helovas.

Finding separation between Helovas is mostly emotional; if you’ve analyzed these guys as much as I have, you know that there is relatively little analytical difference between them.

Every Helova election brings out the editorials, imploring the BBWAA to “shut the back door!” in an attempt to keep all those rejects from invading the Hall through the old-timers committees. But if the writers close the door, the Hall of Fame will just open it back up. They want their five speeches per year, and it’s their door.

What’s the solution? Tiers. Cooperstown needs to build a new Hall of Fame home with separate tiers to make each tier its own special place. But that’s another discussion, far too big a discussion for, um … who was I talking about?

Oh right, Hip-Hip Jorgé. He’s probably screwed until they build a bigger box. Who’s next?

Mauricio Robles, 0.0. Robles is one of 51 players who retired with a higher career whip than era. He is one of eight players who retired with a career era under two and a career whip over two:

  • Steve Larkin pitched twice in May, 1934 for the eventual AL champion Detroit Tigers. He struggled with his control most of his career, compiling a 5.3 bb/9 in the high minors, but pitched as many as 280 innings in a season.
  • Suter Sullivan, who took the mound once for the 1898 St. Louis Browns, played 127 games for the infamous 1899 Cleveland Spiders, primarily at third base. He spent 15 years in organized baseball (1896-1910), playing for two American League teams in 1900 in addition to his two years as part of the St. Louis/Cleveland syndicate. BBR has no record of him pitching in the minor leagues.
  • Harry Raymond tossed an 11-walk complete game in his only major league mound appearance, in 1889. He was Louisville’s regular thirdbaseman in 1889-1890 and played five years in the majors. He also pitched a game for San Antonio in 1888, giving up 11 hits and eight runs in six innings (2.00 whip) but only two earned runs (3.00 era).
  • Bob Pepper got into a single game with the Philadelphia A’s in 1915, during their first purge. BBR doesn’t have any minor league records for him.
  • Jim Delahanty played about half his games at second base and the rest all over the field during an 11-year major league career plus two later years in the Federal League. He was one of the better hitters in the game, but he never found a defensive position he could play well. In case you aren’t sure, yes. He was the fourth-born of five Delahanty brothers who played in the majors. He had the second most impressive career of the family.
  • Doug Allison, primarily a catcher between 1871 and 1879, pitched once for Providence in 1878. He returned to the majors (as a catcher, not a pitcher) for a single-game cameo in 1883, collecting two hits in three atbats for the American Association Baltimore Orioles.
  • Steve Connelly, who appeared with the 1998 Pirates, had a 3.000 whip to go with his 1.93 era. No other player on the list had a whip over 2.75, so he owns that list. A career reliever, Connelly would have likely had a career in today’s game. but the bullpen labor pool was smaller in 1999. He is currently the pitching coach for the Midland RockHounds, the A’s AA farm team.

Sullivan, Raymond, Delahanty and Allison were position players and Pepper was a cypher, leaving Robles, Connelly and Larkin as the only career pitchers on the list.

Robles is still just 29 years old, but he last pitched in 2016 for the independent Bridgeport Bluefish. He could resurface, but he’s swimming down there pretty deep.

I’ll wrap up a few loose ends here:

  • Austin Maddox has the lowest listed era among the 51whip-over-era finishers (0.52, compiled for Boston in 2017) but he’s still active. He was awful in the minors in 2018, though, so it’s possible he’ll hold onto the record.
  • Juan Pena, incidentally another Red Sox pitcher (1999) is second on the list with a 0.69 career era and a .985 whip. Just 22 years old, Pena compiled a 1.64 era in 2000 Spring Training and was slated to be the Sox’ fifth starter. Just before the season started, though, he was hit on the elbow by a line drive. He underwent MCL surgery and never got back to where he was. He retired in 2005 to his native Dominican Republic, continuing to pitch winter ball until 2008.
  • The innings leader among the whip>era guys is Harry Otis. Otis threw 26.1 innings for the 1909 Cleveland Naps, compiling a 1.37 era and a 1.671 whip. He won 24 games in the minor leagues in 1909, but that’s about all I could find. Nicknamed “Cannonball,” Otis passed away in Teaneck, New Jersey in 1976 at the age of 89.
  • The wins leader is Don Florence, who went 3-0 with the 1995 Mets (1.50 era, 1.917 whip). I’m sure one of you guys knows more about him than I can find online. He pulled off the whip>era feat in the minors in 1995 as well, pitching 47 innings with a 0.96 era and a 1.149 whip.
  • Florence pitched the most games (14) with Maddox (13) right behind him. Pena (15) had the most strikeouts.

I didn’t include pitchers who did not give up any earned runs at all. John Dagenhard pitched the most innings without giving up an earned run, 11 in two appearances for the 1943 Braves before leaving for WWII. BBR has no record of him pitching after 1943, but he lived until 2001. His final game was a complete-game win on the final day of the 1943 season.

Scott Rolen, 1.4. If the BBWAA passes on him, he’ll be tossed in the mix with Darrell Evans, Matt Williams and Graig Nettles. I suspect he’ll be at the top of that list because of his high WAR and all the gold gloves, but I don’t know if that’s fair or not.

WAR is an attempt to reflect reality. The key word, in Rolen’s case, might be “reflect.”

Think of WAR as a mirror. It allows you to see what something looks like in reflection, but mirrors distort when you hold them at bad angles. I think there are four angles that are noticeably prone to distortion:

  • Good-but-not-great offensive production at a key defensive position
  • Poor defense at the left end of the spectrum
  • Great defense at the right end of the spectrum
  • Offensive production during periods of extremely high scoring

There is a fifth distortion, but it’s hard to explain because it’s more like the blind spot in the reflection than an actual distortion. The middle positions – second base, center field and third base – get exaggerated results with players who combine good-but-not-great defense and good-but-not-great offense.

I think what happens is that they get sort of a double-count, effectively being twice credited for the difference between average and replacement without being penalized for their lack of value above average. I suspect that the distorted area is largest a little below the .500 player point, roughly halfway between replacement and championship level. Above that point the distortion starts going the other way, as the double counting balances out. I’m sure it exaggerates at the top as well, but wins above championship level might be worth double the wins at replacement level or average level.

Rolen was a good defender at an important position and played in a historically high offensive context. That’s a lot of distortion factors, and all of them in the same direction. I don’t think he’s massively overrated by WAR, but I do think the existing metrics overrate him.

Sammy Sosa, 2.0. My favorite Sammy fact: He did not lead the league in home runs in any of the seasons he hit over 60. I would put Bonds in before Sosa. Bobby Bonds, I mean.

Miguel Tejada, unknown. Tejeda (that’s the correct spelling according to his birth certificate) was repeatedly beset by scandal late in what looked like a C-level Hall of Fame career. Revelations of age deception and PED use, a federal charge for lying to the Congress and a 105-game suspension for amphetamine use did everything but erase Tejeda/Tejada from baseball’s history books.

Tejeda/Tejada made $96 million in his career. Now living on a Florida chicken farm he owns with his wife and two kids, Tejeda/Tejada declared bankruptcy in 2015. I don’t know if that means he’s broke or if he is just fading some expenses, and I suspect it’s the latter. But if he’s broke, that’s the cherry on top of a fall from grace that would give Horatio Alger whiplash.

Omar Vizquel, 1.1 Vizquel started with the Mariners, and I got to watch him play for a couple of years before he moved on to Cleveland. When he hit .333 in 1999, I figured it was a typo.

And it was, basically. He never hit .300 in any other year.

Billy Wagner, 0.4. His case got a huge boost when the old timers elected Lee Smith. Wags might be the next man up; it’s either him or Dan Quisenberry. If so, Wagner’s grotesque postseason record will probably be dismissed as a small sample size.

I can’t remember who I argued with about Wagner (I think it was a couple of guys), but I’m happy to admit that I was wrong about his Hall of Fame chances. At this point, I think he’s going to make it in. It’ll be a few years yet, but his chances are just miles better now than they were a year ago.

Tim Wakefield, 0.1. I can’t remember why I gave him the .1, but he’s still on the ballot. That’s something.

Larry Walker, 1.4. Walker went from a pitcher’s park in the early 1990s to Coors Field in the middle of the PED era. He missed a lot of games in Colorado and people said he was brittle, but maybe he was just suffering from decompression sickness.

Vernon Wells, 0.0. Hit .270 with 270 homers. I didn’t look; did anyone do that with more homers?

Wells was just a guy, really – a left fielder with a 104 career ops+ – but he had a couple of all-star level years and won three gold gloves. He is still married to his high school sweetheart.

Bernie Williams, 1.2. Bernie was the best first-wife centerfielder of his generation, ironically because the rest of ‘em sucked and he didn’t.

Matt Williams, 1.1. Will he get another chance to manage? He’s coaching third base with the A’s now, a good organization. With his bald pate, pasty white skin and cheek full of chaw, he could be the next Don Zimmer. Is it too late to stick a steel plate in his head?

Kevin Youkilis, 0.1. Youk now scouts for the Cubs, owns a brewery with his brother and is married to Tom Brady’s sister. Apparently preferring underinflated things isn’t a family trait.

Michael Young, 0.2. At the plate he looked remarkably similar to Steve Garvey, the whitest guy in the universe, but Young is ethnically Hispanic; his mother’s family is from Mexico. His wife Christina is also of Mexican descent, so his kids are three quarters Hispanic.

I hope they don’t get deported.

Curmudgeon would be a great name for a newly discovered species of crab.


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