Archive for Hall of Fame

Comparing the Captain: Jeter vs. Trammell

On Wednesday, February 12th, Derek Jeter announced that he will be retiring at the end of the 2014 season. This has taken over baseball headlines, and rightfully so. Jeter, a lifetime New York Yankee, is their captain and has been their starting shortstop since 1996. He is a 13 time All Star, 5 time Silver Slugger award winner, 5 time Gold Glove winner, and a 5 time World Series champion. On top of all that, Jeter has long been considered one of the true class acts of the game. In 2020 when he is eligible for the Hall of Fame, he will almost certainly be elected to it with close to a unanimous vote. Derek Jeter’s playing career was nothing short of spectacular.

On the other side of the comparison we have Alan Trammell, who played his entire career with the Detroit Tigers. Manning shortstop from 1977 to 1996, Trammell is a 6 time All Star, a 4 time Gold Glove winner, a 3 time Silver Slugger winner, and a World Series champion. He is not in the Hall of Fame and is barely holding onto a spot on the ballot. His career was also spectacular.

When you compare the accolades that each earned, Jeter easily beats out Trammell. Funny thing about all of those awards mentioned above is that they are either voted on by a committee or earned with 24 other guys on the roster. The only way to truly compare their careers is to delve into their individual advanced statistics, so let’s do exactly that!

Offense
Let’s start with with the offensive side of the stats. Through 11,986 plate appearances, Derek Jeter has a career OPS of .828, a wOBA of .365, and an average wRC+ of 121. Jeter is also a member of the 3,000 hit club. In 9,375 career plate appearances, Tram has an OPS of .767, a wOBA of .343, and an average wRC+ of 111. Alan Trammell does not have 3,000 hits, coming up short with 2,365.

Shortstops are generally considered to have the least amount of offensive production among position players. Based off of the numbers from Scoresheetwiz, the average shortstop OPS is around .749. According to FanGraphs, in 2011 the average wOBA for shortstops was .303. The average wRC+ for shortstops during Trammell’s career fluctuated between 68 and 93, and 80 and 97 during Jeter’s career according to SABR. Among shortstops, all of Jeter and Trammell’s numbers are considered well above average, but the Captain clearly has the edge.

For Hall of Fame shortstops, both of their numbers stack up quite well. Among Hall of Famers, OPS fluctuates between .653 and .859, wOBA between .296 and .409, and wRC+ between 83 and 147. Jeter will be near the top in all three of those hitting categories when he enters the Hall, while Trammell would be more towards the lower middle. Needless to say, both have earned their spots among the all time greats based off of their performances at the plate.

Defense
Comparing Derek Jeter’s defense to Alan Trammell’s is where this article gets tricky. Defensive metrics have come a long way since Trammell’s day. Today, sabermatricians use advanced metrics such as Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), and Probabilistic Model of Range (PMR). I’ll mention Jeter’s UZR, but I won’t use it to compare him to Trammell. The statistic I will use, which is widely considered to be the most accurate way of measuring defensive ability from 1954-2001, is Total Zone (TZ).

Alan Trammell’s TZ for his entire career at shortstop was 80, while Derek Jeter’s is -129. Total Zone isn’t as accurate as a defensive metric such as UZR, but when you have a 209 run difference, I think it’s fairly easy to distinguish the better fielder. Trammell only had a negative TZ in 5 seasons out of his 20. The only years that Jeter posted a positive TZ rating were 98′, 04′, and 09′.

The metric that I used to compare both of these players to other Hall of Famers was Defensive WAR. The lowest career Def in the Hall of Fame is 27.3, held by Robin Yount. The high Def is 375.3, which is from Ozzie Smith. Alan Trammell would actually be tied with Honus Wagner for 13th on the list of Def with 184.4, while Derek Jeter would be in last place with a Def of -25.7.

I am well aware of some of the seemingly spectacular plays that Derek Jeter made in the field. Unlike Trammell, I grew up watching Jeter. Yes, Jeter made some eye popping plays throughout his career, but people fail to acknowledge that there were numerous plays that he didn’t make. Judging by Jeter’s UZR, he cost the Yankees -67.8 runs throughout the more recent bulk of his career. He may have made some big plays along the way that will be remembered, but he cost the Yankees way more runs that theoretically could have made it so the big plays weren’t even necessary.

Bottom line, Alan Trammell was a much better defensive shortstop than Derek Jeter despite having fewer Gold Glove awards. Judging by Jeter’s advanced metrics, he really wasn’t that good of a fielder at all.

Total Value
Oh no, this is where I bring out that WAR mumbo jumbo. If you’ve read anything from me before, you probably know that I am an advocate of using Wins Above Replacement to analyze a player’s total value. While it shouldn’t be the end all, be all statistic, it is great to use when comparing two players’ total contributions on the field.

Derek Jeter has a career WAR of 73.7, and Alan Trammell has a career WAR of 63.7. Despite Jeter’s poor defense throughout his career, he hit well enough to still prove more valuable than Trammell. I think that’s a testament to how truly great of a hitter Jeter was. When compared to other Hall of Famers, both WARs fit in nicely. Honus Wagner holds a large lead for WAR at 138.1, while John Ward is in last with a 39.8 WAR. When Jeter enters the Hall, he will be 4th on the list, and if Tram was in the Hall, he would be 11th.

Conclusion
Overall, Derek Jeter had a better career than Alan Trammell, but both are much deserving of spots in the Hall of Fame. To almost any baseball fan, Jeter is considered a first ballot Hall of Famer. Why then, is Allan Trammell being completely overlooked? The voters in the BBWAA need to sit down and reexamine Trammell’s career. Trammell didn’t have the New York media following that Jeter has gotten to experience throughout his legendary career, but media coverage shouldn’t be what decides who goes into the Hall and who doesn’t. Allan Trammell deserves justice, and when you compare his numbers to the greatest players to ever play his position, you will see that he ranks right up there with them.


A Hall of Fame Moment, Parsed and in Context

There were two outs. Many baseball stories, whether real or fantasy, begin with this situation. It’s when the stakes are highest for both the offense and the defense. An out means reprieve and perhaps a win for the team on the field, while reaching base means an extended opportunity for the hitters and possibly a win as well. Such stories tell moments of baseball history. They freeze the instance in time that might otherwise get lost in the accumulation of statistics, games played, and sometimes even wins and losses. Baseball moments can encapsulate a player’s entire career, or the essence of baseball at a particular time. Moments are what we remember. They are not always heroic—sometimes a great baseball moment does not capture the essence of a player as much as a quotidian aspect of the game—but they can nonetheless be what I would consider a Hall of Fame moment. While these stories will not, and should not, be part of the calculations when determining a Hall of Fame player, they have a way of remaining with the observer.

In one of my own early baseball memories, there were two outs. It was, in my estimation, a Hall of Fame moment. What makes it notable is that there were only two outs. In an April 24th game of the strike-shortened 1994 season, the Montreal Expos played a nationally-televised away game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Chavez Ravine. In the bottom of the first inning, with a runner on first base and one out, there was a pop-up to Expos right fielder Larry Walker. Being the quality defender that he was and given the relative ease of the pop-up from a right-hander, Walker tracked down the ball for the second out. So far unremarkable, but what he did next stood out.

Walker handed the ball to a receptive young baseball fan in the front row and started trotting back to the dugout. The runner on first, Jose Offerman, tagged first and took off running. Noticing that he just turned a live ball into a souvenir, Walker ran back to the fan, took the ball, and threw it to the infield. It turns out he didn’t need to retrieve the ball. According to the rules, once the ball left the field of play the runner was awarded two bases. In the moment, though, neither Offerman nor Walker mentally flipped through the rulebook. Offerman tried to score before Walker could get the ball back in play, all while Larry Walker pilfered a material object from a fan and in the process made a memorable moment for one fan unforgettable for everyone watching.

In 1994 Larry Walker was in his fifth full major-league season. His career was off to a fantastic start. Through the 1994 season, Walker slashed .281/.357/.483. He had hit 99 home runs, stolen 98 bases, had a wRC+ of 128, and accumulated a WAR of 20.9—about seven wins more than Jose Offerman produced in his 15-year career. Not only that, but in the strike-shortened 1994 season, Walker put up numbers that would be All-Star worthy over the course of 162 games. In 452 plate appearances, he hit .322/.394/.587 with 19 home runs, 15 stolen bases, a wRC+ of 149, and put up 4.4 WAR. While WAR is the only statistic cited that includes defensive value, it should be noted that over this time he played above-average defense, had a cannon for an arm, and had already won two Gold Gloves—something a cheeky producer reminded the audience of after Walker forgot how many outs there were.

That particular play is so memorable because it showed a famous athlete, a group so often abstracted as herculean, as eminently human. Incidentally, in the time-span from 1989-1994, admittedly chosen only because of my focus on Larry Walker’s early career, the major-league leader in WAR was well ahead of not only Walker, but everyone else in Major League Baseball. At 50.8 WAR and 15 wins ahead of Hall of Famer Ricky Henderson, it would only be later that Barry Bonds’ all too human actions, including mistakes, would be cause for the indictment of a generation and withholding him and others from the Baseball Hall of Fame.

But back to the play at Chavez Ravine in 1994. It was not just a Hall of Fame moment because a right fielder who in my opinion should be in the Hall of Fame fielded a routine pop fly and brain farted it into the stands. The other part of the story is the hitter, who happens to be someone else who I believe belongs in Cooperstown: Mike Piazza. In 1994, Piazza was a year removed from a Rookie of the Year award. Earning this award is anything but a guarantee of a Hall of Fame worthy career or even years of average play. For instance, Piazza was second in a string of five consecutive National League Rookies of the Year for the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1992 until 1996. Eric Karros, Raul Mondesi, Hideo Nomo, and Todd Hollandsworth have garnered little attention and even fewer votes for the Hall of Fame, despite solid to above-average careers. Piazza, like Walker, had a shortened 1994 season that would be valuable for an entire 162-game season. In 441 plate appearances, he slashed .319/.370/.541, hit 24 home runs, had a wRC+ of 139, and accumulated 3.8 WAR.

Like Walker’s case, only the most aspirational observer would have been thinking about the Hall of Fame and Mike Piazza in April of 1994 when he popped out to right field. Also like Walker, it’s the rest of his career that makes him a Hall of Famer. Piazza accrued 7745 plate appearances and hit 427 home runs over the course of the rest of his career, which ended after the 2007 season; his triple slash was .308/.377/.545; he had a wRC+ of 140; he ended his career with 63.7 WAR. He was the best-hitting catcher of all time, and the only real debate left, as Eno Sarris compellingly demonstrates, is whether he or Johnny Bench was the best catcher of all time. Larry Walker concluded his career after the 2005 season with more plate appearances than Piazza, 8030—his final tallies were a line of .313/.400/.565, a wRC+ of 140 (the same as Piazza’s), and 69 WAR. That Walker was able to do all of this despite missing quite a bit of time due to injury should buoy his Hall of Fame chances rather than diminish them, contrary to what Denver Post writer Troy Renck suggests. Additionally, that wRC+ and WAR are park-adjusted stats should mitigate the stigma of Coors Field.

Finally, somebody had to pitch the ball to Mike Piazza for Larry Walker to run it down, catch it, and give it away—that somebody was, in fact, future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez. It was Martinez’s second full season as a major-league pitcher, and it was his first with the Montreal Expos. Prior to the beginning of the 1994 season, the Expos traded second basemen Delino Deshields to the very same Los Angeles Dodgers for Martinez. 1994 was also Martinez’s first great season as a starting pitcher. He tossed 144.2 innings in the short season, had an ERA of 3.42, which was slightly worse than his FIP of 3.32, and he struck out 8.83 batters per nine innings, all contributing to a 3.4 WAR mark. Martinez’s 1994 season in the context of the rest of his career was a blip akin to a pop out. He ended his career after the 2009 season with a 2.93 ERA, a 2.91 FIP, 10 K/9, 87.1 WAR, and a near guaranteed first-ballot selection to the Baseball Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible next year.

That play at Chavez Ravine in April of 1994 was as extraordinary as it was banal. Pedro Martinez got Mike Piazza to pop out to Larry Walker in right field in the first inning of an April game and within a shortened season when there wouldn’t even be a World Series. At the time, they were just baseball players. They are now potential and future Hall of Famers. One will be a first-ballot selection, another will likely be elected in the next two years, and I can reasonably see the third as either being the victim of an overcrowded ballot and losing candidacy—or sneaking in somewhere around his 13th-15th year of eligibility. The pop out that resulted in the second out of an inning was a Hall of Fame moment not just due to the players involved, but because it was a story that lodged itself into the collective memory of baseball fans. Stories and moments accumulate to create baseball legacies just as much as statistics do. Viewed in context, they are counter-narratives that illustrate that great baseball moments, and the greatness of players, are told through the stories of exceptional athletes and flawed human beings. Take a look.


A Different Look at the Hall of Fame Standard

I’m writing this as a response to Dave Cameron’s two articles on December 19 and 20 concerning the Hall of Fame.  While I completely understand the point Dave is/was trying to make in both pieces, I felt that his methodology was slightly flawed and perhaps deserved a fresh look.  As mentioned multiple times in the comments section on both articles, the data he used included players that were elected via the Veterans Committee.  Also included were players elected by the Negro Leagues Committee.  The purpose of this post is to look at players elected strictly by the BBWAA.  That list includes 112 inductees, the most recent of which being Barry Larkin.

Using the data Dave listed in his follow-up article that limits the player pool to either 5000 PA or 2000 IP, we get the following results:

Year of Birth

“Eligible Players”

Elected Players

Percentage

<1900

258

20

7.8%

1900-1910

93

16

17.2%

1911-1920

66

10

15.2%

1921-1930

77

8

10.4%

1931-1940

99

22

22.2%

1941-1950

168

15

8.9%

1951-1960

147

19

12.9%

1961-1970

160

2

1.3%

If you combine all the data, you get 112 elected players out of 1068 “eligible” players.  That works out to 10.5% of the eligible population being inducted.  If we remove the 1961-1970 births, it’s 110 elected out of 908 eligible, or 12.1%.  If we try and bring the 1961-1970 total up to the overall average, that would mean ~17 inductees.  To reach pre-1961 levels, we need ~19 inductees.  To reach the lowest percentage of induction, we need a total of ~12 inductees.  To reach the highest percentage, we need a total of ~36 inductees.  I think it is safe to assume that, with the scrutiny given by Hall voters to the Steroid Era, the possibility of 36 inductees is nearly zero.

Dave also listed six players that he felt would surely get inducted in the coming years.  That list included Greg Maddux, Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Mariano Rivera, Tom Glavine, and Craig Biggio.  If we include those six with the two already elected from the era (Barry Larkin and Roberto Alomar), the Hall would only need to elect four more members from the era to reach the current lowest standard.  I would think that John Smoltz has a pretty persuasive case for the Hall of Fame as well, being the only pitcher with 200 wins and 150 saves.  Also, Smoltz is one of the 16 members of the 3000 Strikeout Club.  That list includes 10 current Hall of Famers (all elected by BBWAA).  The other members not currently inducted include Smoltz, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, and Greg Maddux.  Dave already included Johnson and Maddux on his list of “should be in” Hall of Famers.  Martinez was born in 1971, so he isn’t included in this discussion.  That leaves Smoltz, Schilling, and Clemens.  Clemens’ story doesn’t need to be rehashed at this point, and Schilling received 38.8% of the vote on his first ballot last year.  Also, simply looking at traditional stats, you have to think Frank Thomas has a strong case as well (521 HR, .301 BA).

Another point I wanted to bring up involves the ages of the players elected by the BBWAA.  The average age of a player elected is 49.7 years, with the median age being 48.  The data gets skewed a bit by pre-1900s players (as the first election wasn’t until 1936) and by extremely young inductees like Lou Gehrig, Roberto Clemente, and Sandy Koufax .  Gehrig was elected by a special ballot the year he retired after being diagnosed with ALS.  Clemente was elected a year after his death.  Both were elected before the five-year retirement period required for most players elapsed.  Koufax only played 11 years in the MLB, a remarkably short time for a Hall of Famer.

If we use the ~50 year average age of election though, anyone born in 1964 or after still “has a decent chance” at election.  If we figure an even distribution of eligible players born each year between 1961-1970, that means 60% of eligible players, or 96, still can make a case.  That becomes 90 if we take out Maddux, Glavine, Griffey, Rivera, Johnson, and Biggio.  As I stated earlier, they only need to elect four more to reach previously seen levels of induction.  4/90 is only 4.4% needed.  That list of 90 players also doesn’t include still eligible players such as Don Mattingly, Roger Clemens, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, and Mark McGwire.

I’m not trying to take a stand on either side of the PED Hall of Fame discussion.  I’m just trying to point out that maybe the Hall of Fame isn’t being so much more strenuous on eligible players as they’ve been throughout history.  Just something to think about.


The Bill James Hall of Fame–Pitchers

The Hall of Fame (HOF) voting will be announced in a month or so, and with a very competitive ballot full of worthy new players, deserving holdovers and numerous players with suspicions hovering over their candidacy, it will be one of the most compelling ballots in years. There will be no shortage of analysis in the coming month, and I’ll add to it, but hopefully in a manner that helps clarify instead of confuse.

In his wonderful book “Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?” Bill James laid out criteria for two measures he invented to evaluate HOF resumes. He devotes Chapter 14 to describing one of them, the HOF Standards and an additional measure, the HOF Monitor on p359-61. At the risk of being 100% incorrect, the two systems complement each other very well–the Monitor essentially measure the successful seasons (number of hits, home runs, runs scored, etc.) while the Standards measures these numbers over a career (did a pitcher win 200 games? 250? 300? Did a hitter hit 350 home runs? 400? and so on). In a perfect world, a player does well on both scales–he has a long career filled with career milestones AND has years in which he is clearly the best in the game. Putting these two factors together goes very far in helping evaluate HOF worthiness.

The tests work on two different scales–James states that anything over 100 on the Monitor and 50 on the Standards places the player in the company of those already enshrined. Therefore, that creates a fun thing to measure–just how well do HOF inductees match up with James’ measures? This graph shows pitchers of recent vintage only (from around 1960 or so) and plots them on a scatter graph on both of these measures:

Yellow dots are HOF members. Take a moment and peruse the players in the upper right quadrant, those that meet both tests for Standards and Monitor. These are truly worthy of enshrinement and the names are understood as among the best pitchers in baseball history. Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson are far right because they were power pitchers who racked up huge numbers of strikeouts per season and over a career, whereas Greg Maddux was simply a dominant pitcher who got batters out however he could. It doesn’t matter either way–any serious discussion of the best pitchers of the past 25 years includes these three pitchers, no matter how different their styles were.

The others in the upper right quadrant are Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina. Glavine and Mussina are on the 2014 ballot and will generate no shortage of discussion, some of which might even concern their career achievements. I won’t discuss the quirks and shortcomings of HOF balloting in this post but will do so over the next week or so at my blog Beyond The Scorecard. Mussina in particular will generate tremendous discussion since he “only” won 270 games, whereas somehow Glavine’s 35 more wins is a wide chasm. Leaving aside the uselessness of the win as a stat in modern baseball (I have more thoughts on that here, for starters), it sets up a magical threshold that is exceedingly difficult to attain, and yet rewards no shortage of pitchers who missed that mark.

Nobody suggests that James’ measures should be hard and fast rules, and he himself argues on p182 that it would be a “terrible idea,” but that doesn’t mean that some element of rigor can’t be applied to the review of these pitchers to see if they’re truly amongst the best in their generation. Jamie Moyer had more career wins than Pedro Martinez–is there anyone who seriously suggests that Moyer was a better pitcher than Martinez? We don’t use metrics to create artificial (and often capricious) cutoffs as much as give nuance and context to the numbers we see. Particularly as the role of the starting pitcher has changed over the years, these types of values are even more important. So what do we do with the pitchers in the lower right quadrant? There’s plenty of precedent for enshrinement but it appears that at least in recent years, egregious errors made in the past are becoming far fewer. Even the “worst” HOF inductee on this chart, Jim Bunning was inducted by a Veterans Committee in 1996 and is far from the worst selection the HOF has made.

My real point is that James’ measures hold up remarkably well when tested against actual inductees. Like just about everything else he’s done in baseball metrics (and for the Boston Red Sox), it’s a measure that adds true value and allows us to make informed decisions as we evaluate HOF candidates. It’s been almost 20 years since he conceived these measures and perhaps time will require tinkering with the numerical values (for example, is 300 wins still a reasonable upper limit for pitching wins? If not, what should it be dropped down to?) to reflect changes in the game. But the overall structure remains very robust and does an excellent  job of matching up our remembrances with actual events. As Bill savors his third World Series title while being associated with the Red Sox, he should also be remembered as the man who attempted (and very much accomplished) something very important–helping us accurately evaluate player careers and place them in the proper context.

There are several unlabeled dots due to space:

In the lower right quadrant there are four dots between Andy Pettitte and Justin Verlander–they are (from top to bottom) CC Sabathia (just to the left of Pettitte), David Cone (left of Morris), Ron Guidry (right below Cone) and Vida Blue (above Verlander)

In the lower left quadrant there are six dots right around Jim Bunning–they are Luis Tiant (right below), Kevin Brown (just to the left of Tiant), Dwight Gooden (left of Brown), Mickey Lolich (below Bunning), Mike Cuellar (just below Lolich), Orel Hershiser (to the left of Cuellar) and Johan Santana (left of Hershiser). Other notable pitchers in that quadrant are (going down the Monitor number) David Wells, Dave Stewart, Cliff Lee, Bret Saberhagen, Frank Viola, Bob Welch, Fernando Valenzuela, Kenny Rogers and Jamie Moyer.

Be sure to visit my blog for more thoughts on the Hall of Fame and other baseball stuff

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Is Jonathan Papelbon a Hall of Famer?

Note: I have no idea if I’m the first to do this, but quite frankly I don’t care.

Wait, don’t go! I swear I’m not crazy! Seriously, though, Jonathan Papelbon is an interesting case, one which has fascinated me ever since his last pitch with the Red Sox¹, and since the Jewish community² has been so gracious as to allot me this day off from school, I don’t really have anything better to do; hence, this.

While there has been a lot of criticism directed at Papelbon recently, the fact that everyone seems to overlook is that he is still a pretty good pitcher. It’s true that his strikeout rate has decreased dramatically (“only” 23.3% compared to 29.2% for his career); however, he has compensated for this by reducing his walk rate (4.2% compared to 6.4% for his career) and having a lower HR/FB% (6.1%, compared to 7.1% for his career). Consequently, while his xFIP and SIERA are both higher than his career numbers (3.43 and 2.93 compared to 3.09 and 2.50, respectively), his ERA and FIP (2.35 and 2.70, respectively) are right around his career numbers of 2.34 and 2.65; these numbers rank him him 33rd and 27th, respectively, out of 140 qualified relievers. Combine that with pitching in one of the more offense-friendly parks in baseball, and his WAR is 25th-best out of all relievers.

Now, the obvious counterpoint is that Jonathan Papelbon is not being paid the highest salary of any relief pitcher in all of baseball to be the 25th best. Obviously, this is true, and this post could very easily devolve into the usual “it’s not his fault Amaro’s a dipshit” argument; however, that’s not what I want to write about today. No, I choose to follow a higher calling: to determine whether or not Mr. Papelbon shall be enshrined forevermore in Cooperstown.

To do this, I decided to get a historical perspective, keeping in mind that the Hall of Fame voters are not sabermetrically-inclined, though they are still rational people³. Looking at the FanGraphs all-time ERA leaderboard, we see that Papelbon’s career ERA is the third-best all-time of pitchers with at least 500 relief IP, behind only Mariano Rivera and Billy Wagner⁴. Looking at the Baseball-Reference all-time saves leaderboard⁵, we can see that Papelbon is 29th all-time in saves; establishing an arbitrary cutoff, we can see that 5 of the top 37 players in saves are in the Hall, and Rivera and Trevor Hoffman will obviously make that seven.

So, roughly 20% of the “elite” relief pitchers of all time are in Cooperstown. If Papelbon were to retire today, his chances would probably be slim, so the question becomes: how good can he be expected to be over the twilight of his career?

Papelbon is 32, and currently in the second year of a four-year contract. Since his birthday is conveniently located in the offseason⁶, we can identify the next two years as his age-33 and -34 seasons. Most reasonable people would say that the Phillies are several years away from being contenders, so a realistic assumption would be, say, 40 save opportunities over each season. This season, he’s converted 80% of his save opportunities (roughly league average); optimistically speaking, let’s say that rate holds up over the next two years. With Charlie Manuel now gone–and, hopefully, his attitude towards closers taken with him–Papelbon will also probably work some in tie games or games where the opponent has the lead. Let’s assume, again optimistically speaking, he pitches 70 innings each season, and continues to outperform his declining peripherals, allowing 20 earned runs in each season.

Now, the deal that he signed also had an option for a fifth year. Just a random speculation, but let’s say Ruben Amaro–being the genius that he is–decides to pay $10 million for a 35-year-old closer. At this point, there’s probably going to be a dropoff in Papelbon’s production; let’s say he converts 28 out of 40 save opportunities, and allows 24 earned runs in 60 innings.

What does all of this add up to?

IP ER ERA SV SVOPP
Papelbon now 553 144 2.34 281 320
Papelbon later 753 208 2.49 373 440

That ERA would rank Papelbon as the 4th-best all-time among pitchers with at least 500 relief innings, and that save total would rank him 7th-best of all-time; in addition, this is assuming that he doesn’t pitch at all after the contract expires.

Another interesting angle: which active pitchers have similar cases to Papelbon? Aside from the Sandman, there are three active players ahead of Papelbon on the saves list; since one of them has probably ended his career (by pitching in a hot dog jersey, no less), that leaves but two: Joe Nathan and Francisco Rodriguez⁷.

All three of them have sub-3.00 career ERA’s and have never (as far as I know) been connected to PEDs; Nathan and K-Rod each have more than 300 saves (a feat only 25 pitchers have accomplished). Rodriguez has accepted a non-closer role with the Orioles, and he may never close again. Even if his exceptional start with the O’s (1.82 xFIP! 1.60 SIERA!) is no mirage, it’s hard to envision him being enshrined; plus, y’know, there’s the whole “assaulted his girlfriend’s dad” thing, though it’s not like the voters ever exclude people on moral grounds. Nathan, on the other hand, has never had any off-the-field problems; the biggest crutch holding him back may be his age. He debuted at 24–the same age as Papelbon when he debuted–but took a while to figure things out⁸, and only started pitching really well from age 29 on, when he was traded to the Twins in one of the more infamous trades of the decade. While his career relief ERA is quite good (2.35, the same as Papelbon) his overall ERA is a not-quite-as-spectacular 2.78, and he’s shown some signs of wear at age 38, with a 3.29 BB/9 rate that’s his highest since 2003.

Overall, I–the baseball expert–would say that Papelbon has the greatest chance of the three of heading to Cooperstown. Papelbon has some other notable achievements–the first pitcher ever with 25 saves in each of his first five full seasons, the fastest pitcher ever to reach 200 saves–which may help his case. Overall, this was a pretty good usage of a Jewish holiday. If you read this article in its entirety, I probably just wasted a lot of your time, although it’s not like you definitely didn’t come here for that.

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¹A pitch, I should add, that I will remember (and constantly remind Red Sox fans that I remember) until the day that I die.

²I tried to look up the It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia clip where they talked about what to refer to Jewish people as, but I couldn’t find it. Does anyone know where that might be found? It’s from “The Gang Goes Jihad”, if that helps.

³Yes, I get that the tweet was sarcastic. The fact that he felt the need to joke about it proves that people with those archaic beliefs still exist.

⁴Wagner’s got an interesting Hall of Fame case as well–it’s outlined here.

⁵I used this instead of FanGraphs’ leaderboard because Baseball-Reference includes the “+” next to the player’s name if they’re a HOFer.

⁶I think a rule should be established saying only players with offseason birthdays can play baseball. That way, there won’t be any confusion with these midseason birthday guys–when people say “he’s in his age-__ season”, do they mean that was his age when he started the season, or that’s his age now?

⁷This could’ve been written about those two, but I chose to focus on Papelbon because cases for Nathan and for Rodriguez have already been outlined, and–as far as I could tell–none such actions had been taken for Papelbon.

⁸People really forget just how bad Nathan was in those early years. In 1999 and 2000, he pitched 183.2 innings, with a 4.70 ERA and a 5.70 FIP, due largely to a 5.34 BB/9 rate; to top it all off, he did it pitching in SAN FRANCISCO.


Pettitte vs. Buehrle

Note: I have no idea if I’m the first to do this, but quite frankly I don’t care.

I feel as though this will be the article where my disclaimer is put to full use, as this seems to be a comparison that is an easy one to make, but no one (at least from what I can tell) is making it. Andy Pettitte and Mark Buehrle have very similar career ERA’s (3.88 and 3.85, respectively); they were both late-round draft picks, as I covered earlier, and…well, that’s basically where the similarities end.

Buehrle is obviously famous for his durability, having never gone on the DL, and while Pettitte has had some durability issues recently, he’s been pretty durable for his career, with 10 seasons of 200 innings in his first 14 years in the majors. Obviously, Pettitte has considerably more innings pitched (3255.1 to 2829.1), as he’s existed for five more years.

One key difference between the two is peripherals. Pettitte’s career K% is a solid¹ 17.4%, whereas Buehrle’s is, well, a less solid 13.8%. While Buehrle also has better career control than Pettitte (5.5% to 7.3% BB%), Pettitte is a little more groundball inclined (48.6% to 45.4% GB%).

Put it all together, and Pettitte has a career xFIP² of 3.70, whereas Buehrle’s sits at 4.21, a 51-point difference that would suggest that these two men are not very similar. Their respective WAR values (4.1 WAR/200 IP for Pettitte, 3.3 for Buehrle) also works to support this conclusion. However, this is FanGraphs WAR, based off of FIP; looking at their Baseball-Reference WAR–i.e. runs-allowed WAR–it would appear that Buehrle is better than Pettitte (3.8 to 3.6)³.

While we’re on the subject, let’s see some other pitchers in that general vicinity of career rWAR/200 innings, that I may or may not have picked selectively to further my argument⁴.

Nolan Ryan–3.0

Ted Lyons–3.2

Gaylord Perry–3.4

Steve Carlton–3.5

Phil Niekro–3.6

John Clarkson–3.7

Bert Blyleven–3.8

Fergie Jenkins–3.8

Are several of these pitchers people from the days of yore whom you’ve never heard of? Yes. Are they all Hall of Famers? Also yes.

So why is Pettitte considered to to have a strong case for the Hall of Fame, while Buehrle is borderline at best? It all comes back to that key pitcher stat: wins. Because, as the article cites, Pettitte is part of an elite group: only 46 pitchers have 250 career wins, and 32 of them are in the Hall⁵. Buehrle, meanwhile, is toiling away with a meager 182 wins, only 157th all-time.

Obviously, wins are a completely meaningless statistic, and Pettitte having that many career wins is almost entirely circumstantial. The above article mentions that Pettitte played on playoff teams for 14 of his first 17 seasons, compared to only two for Buehrle’s first 13 seasons, and, of course, Pettitte has played most of his career with one of the best closers of all time, whereas Buehrle played much of his career with a guy who partakes in, uh, unusual fowl ingestion techniques.

There’s also the fact that Pettitte played most of his career in New York, the attention pimp⁶ of cities; while Chicago is one of the larger cities in the U.S., its media shrivels up and dies in comparison to the Big Apple’s. How much this contributed to Pettitte’s alleged divaism–and confirmed indecisiveness–will never be known; what we do know is that Buehrle is humble about himself and his achievements, probably more so than Pettitte.

In many ways, the situation with Pettitte and Buehrle mirrors that of NFL linebackers Ray Lewis and London Fletcher; both Lewis and Fletcher have very similar career stats, but the former is a surefire Hall of Famer, while the latter has more of an outside shot. Some have theorized that the reason for Lewis’s increased fame are twofold: first, that he came from a high-profile school (Miami) as a high-round draft pick (26th in the first round), as opposed to a low-profile school (John Carroll) as an undrafted free agent; obviously, since both Pettitte and Buehrle are both very low-round draft picks (22nd and 38th, respectively) from very low-profile schools (San Jacinto and Jefferson, respectively), this is obviously irrelevant.

And the second reason for Lewis being more popular than Fletcher? Well, this. In short, what Mr. Easterbrook’s theory states is that Lewis–and possibly, by connection, all similarly-inclined athletes–act the way they act in order to promote their own fame, and build up a case for the Hall of Fame. This could easily be applied to to Pettitte and Buehrle; the former is considerably more self-promoting, while the latter is much more willing to give his teammates credit.

So, while this may have been a largely pointless article, the main message remains clear–two pitchers are very similar in most respects, instead of their reputation, and that reputation may have a lasting effect on their immortality. Why are men judged by their reputations instead of their accomplishments? Now there’s a question worth answering.⁷

———————————————————————————————————————————-

¹Remember, this was mainly accrued during the steroid era, when that level was (roughly) average.

²Please note that xFIP only goes back to 2002, and Buehrle’s and Pettitte’s careers (and their career ERAs cited above) go back to 2000 and 1995, respectively.

³If aggregate WAR values are more your thing: Buehrle has nearly 20 fewer career wins than Pettitte by fWAR (47.3 to 67.0) but is less than five wins worse than him by rWAR (54.0 to 58.5).

Twain was right.

⁵Of the 14 that are not, 8 are still eligible or have not yet become eligible: Pettitte, Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, Jamie Moyer, and Jack Morris.

⁶I.e. one that makes attention whores out of the famous.

⁷Believe me when I say I did not intend that to sound as deep as it did.


Should pitcher hitting count for Hall of Fame consideration?

The arbitrary cut-off I use for what is to be considered a great season is a minimum of 6 WAR.  Or 6 wins.  This is the cut-off for many.  Some others will count a say, 5.8, as a 6.  But I don’t.  I use a strict baseline.  It benefits some, hurts others.  But in reality does nothing, since I have no vote for any award that Major League Baseball currently has.

Since I wrote about Tom Glavine not quite being great enough to receive my hypothetical Hall of Fame vote,  I received a bunch of feedback.  Readers of the piece said I shouldn’t use FIP, that it is not as relevant over the course of a long career.  A point well-received.  A point that certainly has some validity behind it.

Many chose to use bWAR in Glavine’s defense instead since it takes into account runs allowed, rather than just the three true outcomes a pitcher encounters.

Here are Glavine’s numbers:

Glavine’s pitcher bWAR: 74.  two seasons of 6 or more WAR.

Glavine’s pitcher fWAR: 63.9. no seasons of 6+ WAR.

But according to Baseball Reference, Glavine added 7.5 wins at the plate.  Yes, his career .454 OPS actually added value.  Adjusted, that is an OPS+ of 22.

At Fangraphs, he added 5.7 wins with his bat, while having his career .214 wOBA.

But the question here  is, should we include Glavine’s offensive game?  We are comparing one player to another in cases like these and not every pitcher has the chance to hit in his career.  Or at least a consistent chance to hit and accumulate value by hitting.

It’s not like a general manager would try to sign a free agent pitcher that could hit and use lingo like, “You know, you have a pretty good stick for a pitcher.  If you sign with us in the NL, that will probably increase your total WAR when the statistic is invented in the future, and give you a better Hall of Fame case.”

Of course, the general manager probably would use the fact that he could hit as a “selling point.”  But obviously not the way I described the scenario above.

So if you add in Tom Glavine’s hitting, he all of a sudden has four seasons of 6+ bWAR and two seasons of 6+fWAR.

Neither are particularly dominating, or truly great, but they definitely help his case a little.

But let’s take a pitcher such as  Mike Mussina, who seems to be a good comp in people’s eyes to that of Glavine.

Mussina pitched in the American League his entire career.  He accrued -0.1 wins as a hitter.  He didn’t hit.  He pitched.

He totaled 82 fWAR with three seasons of 6+ wins.

And totaled 82 bWAR with four seasons of 6+ wins.

He has a better case for the Hall of Fame with or without Glavine’s bat.  But that is kind of aside from the point.

So I ask the question: should a pitcher, who hits terribly, but based on opportunity and even more terrible hitting by other pitchers, get credit for it in terms of value?  In particular, in terms of Hall of Fame voting?

It’s a legitimate argument.  But it seems to be unfair to American League pitching.  And when we compare Hall of Fame pitchers to one another, we compare them from both leagues.

Glavine still isn’t a sure-fire Hall of Famer, no matter which way you look at it.  He was never nearly as dominant as a Maddux or Randy Johnson.

But then again, he didn’t have to be.  He just had to be good enough to make a strong enough impression on the voters.


Cooperstown and Tom Glavine Just Don’t Mix

Normally, I wouldn’t even address a pitcher’s won/loss record.  They aren’t useless, they aren’t irrelevant, but they are something that should be overlooked when evaluating a player’s performance.  Front offices don’t look at a pitcher’s wins and losses, so why should we?  Exactly.  They should be nothing more than a fun little stat to add to all the other fun little stats that have use, but are closer to useless than practical.

But 305 wins for a pitcher, well that’s extraordinary.  But an extraordinary number doesn’t necessarily translate into extraordinary performance.

The 305 wins (and 203 losses) HAS to be looked at, and addressed.  Because in 2014 when Tom Glavine is considered for induction into baseball’s most prestigious sanctuary, those 305 wins are going to be discussed, frequently.  Very frequently.  Nearly every old-school writer, former player and most fans of Glavine’s era, are going to be backing him up, using that number: The number 305.

Just to delve into wins and losses for a second if you happen to have come across this article in an old-school mindset:

A pitcher controls less than half of the outcome of a baseball game.  The offense controls 50 percent.  The fielders control some.  And we can add in that a manager affects some of the game too, we just don’t know how much.  So we will just use a manager’s impact, whatever it may be, and include that in the production of the offense, pitching and defense.

So you can see there why wins and losses should not be looked at when determining the quality of a pitcher.

So what is it that makes a Hall of Famer?  Greatness.  Yes, simply put, greatness makes a Hall of Fame player.  They do great things on a baseball field, for a long enough period of time, to allow us as critics to say, “Wow, that guy was a great player.”  A player can actually go through his career without being exceptional at any one aspect of his game, yet still be an exceptional player, a Hall of Fame player, a great player.

Yet, when it comes to pitchers, the guy kinda has to be great at pitching.  Because pitcher fielding is nearly useless.  And a pitcher’s bat is normally about the equivalent of Jeff Francouer’s swings against sliders out of the strike zone.

Bad.

Tom Glavine was a very good pitcher.  He accumulated 63 fWAR in his career, 74 bWAR, 118 ERA+, 3.54 base ERA.  Very, very good pitcher.  His WAR totals are right in that threshold where Hall of Famers “on the brink” usually sit.  Players that could be looking in, or looking out, based on a little subjectivity and bias from the writers who induct these guys.

But Tom Glavine had a 3.95 FIP.  And if you believe in FIP; that’s not great.  He pitched in the National League, so that FIP includes the pitchers he faced — which are easier to strike out, less likely to walk, and extremely unlikely to go deep.

Two times in Glavine’s career, he struck out more than seven batters per nine innings.  He kept his walks under control, walking 3 per nine throughout his career.  But that’s not “exceptional.”  Neither that nor his strikeouts per nine innings are.

Glavine won two Cy Youngs, and finished in the top-five in voting six! times.  Remarkable, yet equated to the subjective.  I’m not saying he didn’t deserve those awards, I’m just saying that a lot of noise goes into the process of who receives the award.

Dwight Evans was a very good baseball player.  One of the better defenders at the corner and well above average offensively.

Orel Hershiser racked up 204 wins in his career and once went 59 consecutive innings without allowing a run.

As for Tom Glavine, he pitched very well, for a long, long time, on one of the greatest runs by an organization that any sport has ever seen.  He made it to the postseason several times because of the talent of he and his supporting cast.  And during his time in October, he performed incredibly well.  To the tune of a 3.30 ERA in 218 innings.  And that probably meant his opponents were better than average offenses than he faced in the regular season, given that they were good enough to qualify for postseason play.

But listen to some of the deserving  names for the potential 2014 Hall of Fame ballot:

Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Edgar Martinez, Alan Trammell, McGwire, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent.

Then you have a few outsiders that aren’t quite in the same caliber: Sammy Sosa, Jack Morris, Rafael Palmeiro, etc.

There are so many more deserving players than Glavine in next year’s class.  But there are clouds overhead with many of them.  And Glavine doesn’t have a cloud following him around wherever he goes.

I expect Glavine to get voted in:  305 wins.  No storm-cloud.  Played for a great, winning organization.  Seemed to be well-liked by anyone that came across him.  Or at least I know of no incidents surrounding him.

This will be why Tom Glavine gets into the Hall of Fame.  Because of very good pitching, along with very well-known variables by anyone that knows anything about Tom Glavine.

But I don’t think he should be inducted.  He was never an exceptional pitcher.  It wouldn’t be an egregious decision by any means.  And he wouldn’t be the worst player in the Hall of Fame

But the most exceptional thing about Tom Glavine’s career was that he, or anyone for that matter, could pitch that well, for that long.


Bill “Moneyball” Veeck

I was sitting on a park bench reading Veeck as in Wreck, the memoir of legendary ballclub owner Bill Veeck, when I came across this passage:

Ken Keltner, our third baseman and one-time power hitter, had a miserable season in 1946. There seemed little doubt that he was on the downgrade. Still, when I signed him for the next year, I gave him the same amount of money and told him that if he had what I considered a good year I’d give him a bonus of $5,000.

The next year, Kenny hit the ball better than anybody on our club, with less luck than anybody in the league. If you walked into the park late and saw somebody making a sensational leaping, diving backhanded catch, you could bet that Keltner had hit the ball.

On the last day of the season, he was hitting under .260 and had driven in around 75 runs. I called down to the locker room, got him on the phone, and said, “Hey, where have you been? Weren’t you supposed to come up and see me at the end of the season?”

“I didn’t win anything,” he said. “I’m having a lousy season.”

I suggested that he wander up anyway. As he came through the door I said, “I’ve got $5,000 for you.”

And he said, “I didn’t earn it, Bill.” And he started to weep.

“You hit the ball better than anybody else on this club,” I told him. “It wasn’t your fault they kept catching it.”

As a loyal FanGraphs reader, I immediately thought: BABIP! For those who need a quick reminder, batting average on balls in play (BABIP) measures just that: batting average on balls hit somewhere the defense can get to them. It’s expected that BABIP will generally hover around .300, modified by such factors as the enemy defense (this averages out over a season), whether the balls you hit go over outfield fences, and, most of all, luck.

Now, Veeck’s comment that Keltner “hit the ball better than anybody else” was probably a kindness rather than a hypothesis. But his observation that “they kept catching it” checks out. I looked at the leaderboard for the BABIPs of every qualifying hitter in 1947. Sure enough, Ken Keltner’s down near the bottom, ranking 68th of 86 with a BABIP of .264. The median that year was almost thirty points higher: .292.

Ken Keltner had lousy luck, but was still an average hitter (102 wRC+). And the next year was the best of his career (7.9 WAR), so it looks like Bill Veeck saw the Keltner case exactly right. Only there’s a twist. One of Veeck’s 1947 Indians had it even worse. Down there at 74th is the .256 BABIP of Joe Gordon. Joe Gordon slugged 27 doubles, 6 triples, and 29 home runs, so things turned out well for him, but if Veeck’s latecomer had bet that “a sensational leaping, diving backhanded catch” was on a ball hit by Ken Keltner, you’d want to bet against him. Joe Gordon’s luck was worse; he compensated by putting more balls in the outfield bleachers.

There’s weirder to come. Dead last, 86th of 86, is Roy Cullenbine, Tigers first baseman, who paired a grotesque .206 BABIP and .224 average (83rd of 86) with the second-highest walk rate in baseball. His 22.6% walk rate was topped only by Triple Crown winner Ted Williams. (By the way, in the previous year, Williams had been introduced to the defensive shift, as pioneered by, yes, Bill Veeck’s Indians.)

No player in 2012 came close to matching Cullenbine’s bizarre season. The lowest BABIP of any qualifying hitter in 2012 was .242 (Justin Smoak); of all hitters with BABIPs below .256 (fifty points higher than Roy Cullenbine’s), none came within fifty points of Cullenbine’s .401 OBP. The best analogy is this: Cullenbine hit for average like Dan Uggla, had Justin Smoak’s luck, and still drew walks at the rate of Barry Bonds.

Roy Cullenbine was only 33 in 1947, and in past years his offensive numbers were impressive. Had he been on Bill Veeck’s Indians instead of playing for the Tigers, his unlucky 1947 might have ended as Ken Keltner’s did,with a $5,000 bonus. The Tigers, not valuing Cullenbine’s patience, released him, and he never played a major-league game again.

There’s another interesting name among the ten unluckiest batters of 1947. Coming in at sixth-worst, with a BABIP of .247, is a patient slugger who got on base even more than Cullenbine did, with four more walks than he had hits. He too retired after the season. His name was Hank Greenberg, and that winter he accepted a job in a major-league front office, where he was groomed to be the team’s next general manager. The team was the Cleveland Indians. His new boss was Bill Veeck.


Hall of Fame Voters Really Made Love to the Pooch with This Closer Situation

One of the hallmarks of the annual Hall of Fame debates is the comparison to players already enshrined. It can be a very good exercise in determining the merits of a particular player, especially because after so many years, there are now a lot of players in the Hall of Fame. There are plenty of players at every single position. There are pitchers. There are power hitters, average hitters. There are great fielders. One area where the present Hall of Fame lacks in providing a good comparison is the Closer situation.

As Wendy Thurm’s post indicated in evaluating Lee Smith’s candidacy*, it is difficult to judge because the only full-time relief pitchers in the Hall of Fame are Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter. Hoyt Wilhem is not an apt comparison, having retired in 1972 with 500 more innings pitched than even Rollie Fingers. Wendy reached the conclusion that Smith was better than Sutter, not as good as Fingers and Gossage, and put Smith just on the other side of the Hall of Fame. It feels like the right call, but if Sutter is in the Hall what exactly is the standard for relief pitchers?

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