Archive for Hall of Fame

The Baseball Fan’s Guide to Baby Naming

I’ve often wondered if some sort of bizarre connection exists between names and athletic ability, specifically when it comes to the sport of baseball. Considering I grew up in the 90’s, I will always associate certain names with possessing a supreme baseball talent. Names like Ken (Griffey Jr.), Mike (Piazza), Randy (Johnson), Greg (Maddux) and Frank (Thomas) are just a few examples. With a wealth of statistical information available, I thought I’d investigate into the possibility of an abnormal association between names and baseball skill.

I began digging up the most popular given names, by decade, using the 1970’s, 80’s & 90’s as focal points. This information was easily accessible on the official website of the U.S. Social Security Administration, as they provide the 200 most popular given names for male and female babies born during each decade. After scouring through all of the names listed, the records revealed there were 278 unique names appearing during that timespan.

Having narrowed down the most popular names for the timeframe, I wandered over to FanGraphs.com, to begin compiling the “skill” data. I will be using the statistic known as WAR (Wins Above Replacement) as my objective guide for evaluating talent. Sorting through all qualified players from 1970-1999, the data revealed 2,554 players eligible for inclusion. After combining all full names with their corresponding nicknames (i.e.: Michael & Mike), the list was condensed down to 507 unique names.

By comparing the 278 unique names identified via the Social Security Administration’s most popular names data, with the 507 qualified ballplayer names collected through FanGraphs, it was discovered that 193 of the names were present on both lists. The following tables point out some of the more intriguing findings the research was able to provide.

The first table[Table 1], below, is comprised of the 25 most frequent birth names from 1970-1999. The second table[Table 2] consists of the 25 WAR leaders by name, meaning the highest aggregate WAR totals collected by all players with that name. Naturally, many of the names that appear in the 25 most common names list, reappear here as well. Ken, Gary, Ron, Greg, Frank, Don, Chuck, George and Pete are the exceptions. It’s interesting to see that these names seem to have a higher AVG WAR per 1,000 births(as seen on the final table), perhaps indicative of those names’ supremacy as better baseball names? The last table[Table 3] contains the top 25 names by AVG WAR per 1,000 births; here we see some less common names finally begin to appear. These names provide the most proverbial bang (WAR) for your buck (name). Yes, some names, like Barry and Reggie, are inflated in the rankings — probably due to the dominant play of Barry Bonds and Reggie Jackson, but could it not also mean these players were just byproducts of their birth names?!? Probably not, but it’s interesting, nonetheless.

So if you’re looking to increase the chances your child will make it professionally as a baseball player, then you might want to take a look at the names toward the top of the AVG WAR per 1,000 births table, choose your favorite, and hope for the best…OR, you could always just have a daughter.

Please post comments with your thoughts or questions. Charts can be found below.

25 Most Common Birth Names 1970-1999

Rank

Name

Total Births

Total WAR

WAR per 1,000 Births

1

Michael/Mike

2,203,167

1,138

0.516529

2

Christopher/Chris

1,555,705

184

0.11821

3

John

1,374,102

799

0.581252

4

James/Jim

1,319,849

678

0.513316

5

David/Dave

1,275,295

859

0.673491

6

Robert/Rob/Bob

1,244,602

873

0.70175

7

Jason

1,217,737

77

0.062904

8

Joseph/Joe

1,074,683

616

0.573006

9

Matthew/Matt

1,033,326

95

0.091646

10

William/Will/Bill

967,204

838

0.866415

11

Steve(Steven/Stephen)

916,304

535

0.583649

12

Daniel/Dane

912,098

233

0.255674

13

Brian

879,592

154

0.174967

14

Anthony/Tony

765,460

314

0.409819

15

Jeffrey/Jeff

693,934

298

0.430012

16

Richard/Rich/Rick/Dick

683,124

888

1.29991

17

Joshua

677,224

0

0

18

Eric

627,323

122

0.194637

19

Kevin

613,357

305

0.497426

20

Thomas/Tom

583,811

505

0.86552

21

Andrew/Andy

566,653

184

0.325243

22

Ryan

558,252

17

0.030094

23

Jon/Jonathan

540,500

61

0.112118

24

Timothy/Tim

535,434

253

0.473074

25

Mark

518,108

397

0.765477

 

25 Highest Cumulative WAR, by Name, 1970-1999

Rank

Name

Total Births

Total WAR

WAR per 1,000 Births

1

Michael/Mike

2,203,167

1,138

0.516529

2

Richard/Rich/Rick/Dick

683,124

888

1.29991

3

Robert/Rob/Bob

1,244,602

873

0.70175

4

David/Dave

1,275,295

859

0.673491

5

William/Will/Bill

967,204

838

0.866415

6

John

1,374,102

799

0.581252

7

James/Jim

1,319,849

678

0.513316

8

Joseph/Joe

1,074,683

616

0.573006

9

Steve(Steven/Stephen)

916,304

535

0.583649

10

Thomas/Tom

583,811

505

0.86552

11

Kenneth/Ken

312,170

439

1.405644

12

Mark

518,108

397

0.765477

13

Gary

176,811

353

1.998179

14

Ronald/Ron

246,721

342

1.38456

15

Anthony/Tony

765,460

314

0.409819

16

Kevin

613,357

305

0.497426

17

Gregory/Greg

324,880

303

0.931729

18

Jeffrey/Jeff

693,934

298

0.430012

19

Donald

215,772

298

1.380161

20

Frank

176,720

298

1.687415

21

Charles/Chuck

458,032

262

0.571357

22

Timothy/Tim

535,434

253

0.473074

23

Lawrence

220,557

248

1.126239

24

George

226,108

246

1.090187

25

Peter

181,358

246

1.357536

 

25 Highest WAR per 1,000 Births, by Name, 1970-1999

Rank

Name

Total Births

Total WAR

WAR per 1,000 Births

1

Barry

34,534

175

5.079053

2

Leonard

31,626

123

3.895529

3

Omar

13,656

53

3.873755

4

Fernando

13,180

47

3.543247

5

Theodore/Ted

27,144

93

3.444592

6

Jack

53,079

176

3.323348

7

Reginald/Reggie

47,883

157

3.283002

8

Frederick/Fred

54,529

146

2.681142

9

Bruce

56,609

141

2.487237

10

Calvin

43,412

107

2.453239

11

Gary

176,811

353

1.998179

12

Roger

77,458

151

1.948153

13

Glenn

33,794

65

1.929337

14

Darrell

53,317

102

1.920588

15

Frank

176,720

298

1.687415

16

Dennis

131,577

218

1.653024

17

Jerry

122,465

201

1.638019

18

Dale

36,162

54

1.48775

19

Lee

62,922

89

1.406503

20

Kenneth/Ken

312,170

439

1.405644

21

Louis/Lou

142,969

200

1.400304

22

Ronald/Ron

246,721

342

1.38456

23

Roy

59,004

82

1.382957

24

Donald

215,772

298

1.380161

25

Jay

63,795

87

1.368446

 


In an Imperfect World, Chase Utley is a Hall-of-Famer

“Criminally underrated” is now an overused phrase, meaning exactly what I want it to mean in regards to Chase Utley.

Overshadowed by inferiors, Utley has flown under the mainstream for the most part because of the common fans obsession with statistics that, while not useless, are very much flawed.

“Inferior” does not mean bad.  Ryan Howard was a good baseball player for a number of years.  Ditto for Jimmy Rollins.  The two players range somewhere in the above-average range, to just plain good.

But neither player can touch Utley in either peak seasons, or cumulative value.

But this isn’t written to compare Utley to non-Hall of Famers.  And it’s not written to compare him to Hall of Famers that are probably not deserving of the honor, either.

Utley stands up well to the actual Hall of Famers.  The players who already have their plaques enshrined in Cooperstown.  And the guys that aren’t there yet, but should be eventually (not voted in yet/not eligible).  He is one of the all-time greats and he still has some mediocre to good baseball left, especially since he is currently on pace to exceed five wins again this year, if one were to assume good health.  Which with Utley though, is not necessarily a safe assumption.

He knocked out five 7-7.9 win seasons in five consecutive seasons from 2005-2009.  It’s not like my normal loose threshold of Hall of Fame caliber seasons that I set at 6 wins.  Utley eclipsed the *6* by at least a win, in every one of those five seasons.

I get that 58 wins is generally perceived to be a borderline Hall of Famer.  And Utley has not reached the counting stats that so many of the current Hall of Fame voters have grown — and adopted permanently, apparently — a love for.  So if an observer of baseball does not consider advanced statistics and/or sabermetrics then the case for Utley seems less apparent.

But with that said, the right to vote should at least be exercised by observers of the game who realize that playing a certain position, and playing it well, matter greatly.  It’s not necessarily the case, but it should be.  You don’t have to be infatuated with WAR and WARP to know that a guy who can handle second base defensively has more value than a guy that can only handle first base.

Utley could obviously handle 2B.  But he wasn’t just an adequate “handler” of the position as much as one of the better handlers of the position of all time.  Perennially a good defender, perennially a 2B, perennially one of the best-hitting 2B ever…and what he have is a guy that might just end up getting lost in an extremely crowded ballot.

58 wins may not be enough.  But if he ages with any kind of grace, I don’t see how 65 is out of the realm of possibility.

The one thing Utley has going for him is that sabermetrics is growing.  And there will still be hard-headed voters when Utley’s case ultimately rolls around.  But there should be less stubborn, “set-in-their-ways” voters, than we currently have to deal with.  And most likely, there will be guys that just don’t view Utley as a Hall of Famer with any kind of non superhero like finish to his career.

That’s their right.

But Chase Utley was — at his best — better than Whitaker.  He was better than Biggio.  And he was better than Alomar.

If he retired after this season, he’d get my vote.  But since it is likely he stays healthy enough to produce at a decent-enough level for a few more seasons, he may get a lot of other people’s votes as well.

In reflection, Chase Utley will look better when the ballot rolls around, to the voters, than he does to them now.  Even his peak years will.


Satchel Paige: Baseball’s Believable Myth

One of the biggest drawbacks of statistics is the how they can get in the way of our imagination. I’ve heard stories of how Pete Rose could will his team to victory on any given day of his career that spanned 23 years. Our stats claim that, actually, you can value his contributions at 80 wins. Rickey Henderson’s speed was electric and unfathomable, and no one can put a number on that, we’ve heard. FanGraphs says, really, his baserunning was worth 142 runs. Aroldis Chapman throws so hard, his fastball isn’t comparable to anyone else’s in baseball. Our data suggest that last year it was 7 runs above average.

While statistics have contributed significantly more than they’ve taken from us, it is occasionally fun to ignore them and just pretend the stories we want to believe are true. However, for a pitcher that is the focus of some of the most incredible tales in baseball history, a few stats from the end of his career are all the more reason to trust the absurd stories we have about him.

Satchel Paige pitched almost all of his professional baseball career in the Negro Leagues and barnstorming. He estimated that he played for 250 teams, though his “facts” about himself were often far from reality (for instance, he claimed that he never hit under .300, but he actually hit .097 in the majors). Baseball wasn’t integrated until Paige was 41 years old. Up until that point, he had built a legendary career that earned him the first Hall of Fame induction for any Negro Leagues player. Unfortunately, record keeping from these leagues was nearly non-existent, and almost no statistical evidence remains of his elite performances.

Stories of Paige paint a picture of arguably the most talented and entertaining pitcher to ever throw a baseball. As a teenager playing semi-pro baseball in Alabama, he supposedly got so mad at a poorly performing defense that he ordered his outfielders to sit down in the infield, where they watched him strike out the game’s last batter to complete his shutout with the bases loaded.

The greatest Negro Leagues hitter, Josh Gibson, once told Paige that he was going to hit a grand slam off of him in an upcoming game. With Gibson in the hole and one player on base, Paige intentionally walked the next two hitters, so Gibson would have an opportunity to hit a grand slam. Paige struck him out.

Joe DiMaggio called Paige the best pitcher and hardest thrower he had ever seen. Teammates claimed he could consistently throw his fastball over a gum wrapper. In his six exhibition matchups against Dizzy Dean (during two seasons in which Dean achieved a total WAR over 13), Paige won 4 games, and Dean said Paige’s fastball made his own look like a changeup.

Witnesses of Paige’s pitching would go on to tell countless other stories of his heroics, and a good number of them can’t be true. But what is possibly most remarkable is how historically effective he was when he was finally allowed to play in the majors, long after his prime.

Satchel Paige’s pitching demands were enormous, because through almost his entire career, people only paid to watch him pitch. He would frequently throw over 100 pitches in consecutive days. While his estimate of 2,500 games started is almost certainly exaggerated, he may very well have thrown more professional innings than anyone ever has. He pitched professionally for 22 years before Major League teams would allow him to join a roster; he would have done so with more financial incentive to pitch frequently than any reasonable person could expect.

Considering the wear and tear on his arm, expectations even for such a legendary pitcher would need to be very tempered for his performance in his 40’s. After all, only 67 pitchers have ever even thrown 100 innings after they turned 40.

Of those 67, Paige ranks 8th in ERA- (81). Of the seven in front of him, three were knuckleball pitchers, one pitched before World War I, and one has been held out of the Hall of Fame due to steroid allegations (whether fair or not).

In the course of his first 4 seasons, 128 pitchers threw at least 300 innings. Of those 128, Paige’s strikeout rate ranked 2nd. At the end of that four-year stretch, he was 46. 46 year olds don’t strike players out. You have to go down 20 spots to find a pitcher who was less than 10 years younger than Paige.

After Paige had been out of the majors for over a decade, the Kansas City A’s had him throw for them when he was 59 years old. He threw three scoreless innings, allowing only one runner.

It’s easy to wish we had better stats of Satchel Paige’s early career. It could help us establish if he really had, as he said, over 20 no-hitters. We could definitively say whether or not he had 250 shutouts, 2000 wins, 21 straight wins, or over 60 consecutive scoreless innings, all of which he claimed to be true. It’s quite likely all those numbers are fabricated. It’s possible that many of the stories about his pitching are exaggerated.

But when Satchel Paige was finally given a chance to prove himself, he blew away any realistic expectations anyone could have set for him. No one will ever know what stories about Satchel Paige really happened, or how trustworthy people’s observations of him were. But 25 years into his career, at years in his life few ever spend pitching professionally, he gave us a reason to believe them.


Would Charlie Root Really have Beaned Babe Ruth?

I’m speaking about one instance in general, the famous or infamous alleged “called shot” by Babe Ruth at Game 3 of the 1932 World Series.

Stimulated by ESPN Chicago NOT calling that the No. 1 moment in Wrigley Field’s 100-year history (more on that later), I got curious.

The “called shot” game from the 1932 World Series has the mythos of whether or not Ruth did point at center field while at bat in the fifth inning, after making some sort of gesture before that, it seems, at Cubs pitcher Charlie Root (sic, per Baseball-Reference, Wikipedia and elsewhere; FanGraphs’ “Charley” is much less attested) after he got 2 strikes on him.

To me, this is the No. 1 event not just because of gray-area questions about what Ruth did and did not do, but also from Root’s vociferous denial that Ruth was calling anything, claiming he would have beaned him if he was.

Really? Let’s first look at quotes from the Wikipedia link above on the “called shot.”

  • “Don’t let anybody tell you differently. Babe definitely pointed.” — Cubs public address announcer Pat Pieper (As public address announcer Pieper sat next to the wall separating the field from the stands, between home plate and third base. In 1966 he spoke with the Chicago Tribune “In the Wake of the News” sports columnist David Condon: “Pat remembers sitting on the third base side and hearing [Cubs’ pitcher] Guy Bush chide Ruth, who had taken two strikes. According to Pat, Ruth told Bush: ‘That’s strike two, all right. But watch this.’ ‘Then Ruth pointed to center field, and hit his homer,’ Pat continues. ‘You bet your life Babe Ruth called it.'”)
  • “My dad took me to see the World Series, and we were sitting behind third base, not too far back…. Ruth did point to the center-field scoreboard. And he did hit the ball out of the park after he pointed with his bat. So it really happened.” Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, United States Supreme Court
  • “What do you think of the nerve of that big monkey. Imagine the guy calling his shot and getting away with it.” – Lou Gehrig
  • The Commissioner of Baseball, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, attended the game with his young nephew, and both had a clear view of the action at home plate. Landis himself never commented on whether he believed Ruth called the shot, but his nephew believes that Ruth did not call it
  • Washington Post legendary columnist Shirley Povich, detailed in an interview with Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey. “Ruth was just mad about that quick pitch, Dickey explained. He was pointing at Root, not at the centerfield stands. He called him a couple of names and said, “Don’t do that to me anymore, you blankety-blank.”

So, hard to say, but it adds to the mystique, right? And, of the collected quotes, three say he called the shot, and the others are kind of ambivalent.

So, can we explore further?

Relatively recently discovered footage leans more toward the idea of Ruth pointing his bat at the Cubs dugout, Wikipedia claims. That said, even that and him reportedly holding two fingers up to Root, or pointing at him, would have been something halfway like saying “here it comes.” In other words, short of Ruth pointing to the centerfield scoreboard, Root arguably had reason to bean him anyway. Beyond the above, Ruth had already homered off him earlier in the game.

And speaking of …

Let’s look at Baseball-Reference’s play index for that game, to further question Root’s claim.

First, the game was tied 4-4 entering the top of the fifth. Root wouldn’t want to jeopardize that lead. And, beaning Ruth with 1 out would have brought up Lou Gehrig who, like Ruth, had already hit one homer in the game and by this point was a more dangerous batter than Ruth.

So, especially with two strikes on Ruth, from quick-pitching or whatever, no Root wouldn’t have beaned him. He would have tried to strike him out. Beaning him with a two-strike count to know he would face Gehrig next in a tie game would have been stupid. Root needed the out. The Cubs needed the win. A strikeout of Ruth would have given the bench-jockeying Cubs dugout more ammunition, too.

In actuality, Root didn’t and couldn’t strike out Ruth. Gehrig then hit another homer too, at which point Root got yanked.

So, Root may be right, but I kind of doubted it. He had reasons for his statement, of course. Root’s not a HOFer, but he is arguably a member of the Hall of Very Good, winning more than 200 games and posting nearly 40 career WAR. And he’d like to be remembered for that rather than for getting shown up, getting “faced,” by Babe Ruth. Who wouldn’t?

Beyond that, as I talk about in more detail at my blog, about the history of Wrigley, besides the “called shot” dethroning the Bartman game from the top spot, I’m not even sure I’d rank that game at No. 2 on Wrigley’s Top 100. That’s in large part because I’m not a Cubs fan, I know.


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

Follow me on Twitter @ScottLindholm


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

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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.