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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Mariano Rivera

The following article is the first part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2018 Hall of Fame ballot. It has been adapted from The Cooperstown Casebook, published in 2017 by Thomas Dunne Books. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Nobody closed the door like Mariano Rivera. The wiry, unflappable Panamanian not only set the all-time record for saves (652), he prevented runs at a greater clip relative to his league than any other pitcher. Yet neither of those accomplishments capture his brilliance in October. During Rivera’s 19-year-career, the Yankees missed the playoffs just twice, and for all of his regular season dominance, he was even better when the stakes were the highest, helping the Yankees to five championships. He was the last man standing on the mound an unprecedented four times, securing the final outs of the World Series in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009.

Rivera did all of this while relying almost exclusively on one pitch, a cut fastball discovered almost by accident in 1997, his first year as closer. Even when batters knew what was coming — and at speeds as high as 98 mph in his younger days, it was coming fast — they could rarely predict its sideways movement well enough to make hard contact. If they connected at all, they often broke their bats. Teammates and opponents marveled at the success of the pitch, while writers placed it in the pantheon of great signature offerings, alongside Nolan Ryan’s fastball, Roger Clemens’ splitter, Sandy Koufax’s curve, Steve Carlton’s slider, Pedro Martinez’s changeup, and Hoyt Wilhelm’s knuckleball.

Debates have long raged over how to value relievers and determine their fitness for the Hall of Fame, no small task given that just six are enshrined, as much for their roles in shifting the paradigm for closers as for the numbers they racked up. Yet Rivera’s case shuts those debates down like they’re opponents trailing by three runs in the ninth inning of a playoff game. He’s so far ahead of the field on so many levels that one could argue he’s the lone reliever outside the Hall worthy of entry, and as the top newcomer on the 2019 ballot, he’ll likely become just the second reliever to gain first-ballot entry, after Dennis Eckersley (2004).

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Slights, Returns, and Hall of Fame Ballots

There’s often a bit of weirdness on the fringes of the annual BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot, and 2019 entry, unveiled on Monday, was no exception. What transpires on those fringes rarely has any bearing on who will wind up on the podium in Cooperstown next July, joyously thanking families, teammates, and coaches. But with the news of the ballot’s arrival still fresh, and with the Very Serious Business of analyzing the top candidates a task best suited for after Thanksgiving, it’s worth considering the margins for a few moments.

Because the ballot’s release is a Big Deal to yours truly, writer of more words about the Hall of Fame on an annual basis than just about anybody with a claim to sanity, I had Monday’s article, “The Big Questions About the 2019 BBWAA Hall of Fame Ballot,” ready to go in advance of the Hall’s 12 pm ET official press release, save for the final total of candidates and the list of first-timers. While the official rules make anybody who played at least 10 seasons in the majors and has been retired for five seasons eligible — anybody who’s not on baseball’s ineligible list, that is, or has not otherwise exhausted his eligibility — not everybody who meets those requirements actually lands on the ballot. That’s because there’s a stage that involves some subjective choices by the BBWAA Screening Committee, a six-member panel that puts the ballot together.

To appear on the ballot, a player must be nominated by any two of the six members of that committee. That’s a mere formality for all of the obvious candidates, but it becomes a coin toss the further down the list you go. Historically, the worst slights probably belong to three-time Gold Glove winner and two-time All-Star Willie Davis, who racked up 60.7 WAR (Baseball-Reference version, which I’m sticking with for all things ballot-related) in an 18-year career that spanned from 1960-1979 and included a 1977-1978 detour to Japan that put him out of sight and out of mind, and Negro Leagues-turned-Brooklyn Dodgers staple Jim Gilliam, who accrued 40.7 WAR from 1953-1966.

That pair is hardly alone. Among recent examples, in 2014, outfielder Shannon Stewart (24.9 WAR from 1995-2008, highlighted by a fourth-place finish in the 2003 AL MVP voting) was left off the ballot, while his former Twins teammate Jacque Jones (11.6 WAR from 1999-2008) was included. That same year, Esteban Loaiza (23.0 WAR from 1995-2008, highlighted by a second-place finish in the 2003 AL Cy Young voting) was on the outside, while Armando Benitez (17.0 WAR from 1994-2008, highlighted by a cheap shot that set off an infamous brawl between the Orioles and Yankees in 1998) was on the inside. Yes, Jones had more homers than Stewart in less playing time, and yes, Benitez had more saves than Loaiza had wins, but none of them had a chance at actually being elected. It was completely arbitrary who among them received the honor of being on the ballot.

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The Big Questions About the 2019 BBWAA Hall of Fame Ballot

On Monday, the Baseball Writers Association of America released its 2019 Hall of Fame ballot, with 15 holdovers — led by Edgar Martinez, who received 70.4% of the vote last year — joined by 20 newcomers including the late Roy Halladay, Todd Helton, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera. In all likelihood, this will be the sixth year in a row the writers elect multiple candidates, something that hasn’t happened since their run of six straight years from 1951-1956. Already, the 16 players elected from the past five cycles exceeds the record of 13 elected in either of the two overlapping five-year spans within that earlier stretch. And once again, this will be a fairly top-heavy ballot; the five holdovers who have received at least 50% of the vote could prevent some of the candidates further down the ballot from gaining momentum.

Over the next six weeks, I’ll profile all 35 candidates, either at length or more in brief, examining their cases in light of my Jaffe WAR Score (JAWS) system, which I’ll be using to break down Hall of Fame ballots in an annual tradition that’s on the verge of earning its drivers’ license. The series debuted at Baseball Prospectus (2004-2012), then moved to SI.com (2013-2018), and now I’m excited to bring it here to FanGraphs. The candidate profiles will begin next week; today I’ll offer a quick look at the biggest questions attached to this year’s election cycle.

First, it’s worth reviewing the basics. To be eligible for election to the Hall of Fame via the BBWAA ballot, a candidate must have played in the majors for parts of 10 years (one game is sufficient to be counted as a year in this context), have been out of the majors for five years (the minors or foreign leagues don’t count), and then be nominated by two members of the BBWAA’s six-member screening committee. Since the balloting is titled with respect to induction year, not the year of release, the current slate of players will have last appeared in the majors in 2013. Each new candidate has 10 years of eligibility on the ballot, a reduction from the 15-year period that was in effect for several decades; the 2017 ballot marked the final one for Lee Smith, the last candidate grandfathered into a longer run. To be elected, a candidate must receive at least 75% of the ballots cast, and in this case, they don’t round up; 74.9% won’t cut it. Likewise, candidates who don’t receive at leasts 5% of the vote fall off the ballot and can then only be considered for election by the Today’s Game Committee, an entirely separate process — but not until what would have been their 10-year run of eligibility expires.

The voters, each of whom has been an active BBWAA member for 10 years and is no more than 10 years removed from active coverage, can list as many as 10 candidates on their ballots, a number that’s become a point of contention in recent years given the high volume of qualified candidates. In 2015, the Hall tabled a BBWAA proposal to expand to 12 slots (I was on the committee that recommended the change). Last year, the third since the Hall purged the rolls of voters more than 10 years removed from coverage, 422 ballots were cast, 20 fewer than the year before and 127 fewer than in 2015.

Last year, acting on a motion its membership voted to accept in December 2016 by an overwhelming 80-to-9 margin, the BBWAA planned to begin publishing every voter’s ballot, similar to what the organization does with its annual awards. Only when the ballots were mailed did voters and the general public discover that the Hall’s board of directors had rejected the proposal. Voters may still reveal their ballots prior the announcement, as 57.6% did last year; you can track the reported ballots via Ryan Thibodaux’s Ballot Tracker if you want. Voters can also check a box on the ballot to authorize the publication of their choices via the BBWAA’s website two weeks after the election results are revealed. Ballots must be postmarked by December 31, with the results to be announced on MLB Network on January 22, and inductions to take place next July 21 in Cooperstown, New York.

The 35 candidates, with the newcomers in italics:

Rick Ankiel, Jason Bay, Lance Berkman, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland, Travis Hafner, Roy Halladay, Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, Jeff Kent, Ted Lilly, Derek Lowe, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mike Mussina, Darren Oliver, Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte, Juan Pierre, Placido Polanco, Manny Ramirez, Mariano Rivera, Scott Rolen, Curt Schilling. Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa, Miguel Tejada, Omar Vizquel, Billy Wagner, Larry Walker, Vernon Wells, Kevin Youkilis, Michael Young

In a cool new feature we’ve added, you can see the career statistics of the candidates in sortable tables, one apiece for hitters and pitchers. And yes, Ankiel — who spent as an outfielder after wildness ended his pitching career — is in both. He’s the most surprising inclusion on the ballot, particularly as he’s been reportedly mulling a comeback. That’s a story for another day, though.

Now, on to the big questions…

Will Rivera be the first unanimously-elected candidate?

Probably not. Even outside of our current, ultra-polarized political scene, getting hundreds of baseball scribes of all shapes and sizes to agree on any player has proven to be an impossible task. In the 71 times the BBWAA has voted (excluding special elections, more on which momentarily), there’s never been a unanimous selection — not for Babe Ruth (95.1% in 1936), Willie Mays (94.7% in 1979), Hank Aaron (97.8% in 1982), or Greg Maddux (97.2% 2015). The highest share of the vote came in 2016, when Ken Griffey Jr. received 99.3%; all but three of the 440 voters included him on their ballots.

None of those three voters published their ballots or came forward to explain their reasoning, likely because they didn’t want to face the resultant firestorm of criticism. To understand why, one need only go back a few years to see the blistering responses received by Dodgers beat writer Ken Gurnick of MLB.com in 2014 for only voting for Jack Morris, and refusing to vote for Maddux or any candidate “who played during the period of PED use,” or by Twins beat writer Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press in 2015 for leaving Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez off — both were locks anyway — to find room for Walker and Alan Trammell. As in so much else in life, the public doesn’t reward nonconformity, even or especially when it’s a matter of conscience.

Some observers, including this scribe, thought that if the Hall allowed the BBWAA to follow through with its plan to publish every ballot, it might increase the chances of a player running the table, with Rivera a strong possibility given his accomplishments as the all-time saves leader, as an incredible postseason performer who closed out four World Series, and as a public figure with a sterling reputation. But with naysayers still able to cloak themselves in anonymity, unanimity seems less likely, and that’s on top of the fact that some voters may be philosophically opposed to including relievers in the Hall — even the best in baseball history.

Will Halladay’s death lead to his election?

Before his tragic death in a plane crash in November 2017, Halladay appeared to have a solid but not overwhelming case for Cooperstown. Perhaps not a player who would be elected on the first ballot, but one with a very good chance of getting there eventually. On the one hand are the modest wins (203), strikeouts (2,117), and innings (2,749.1) totals, and on the other the eight All-Star selections and two Cy Youngs, a perfect game, and the second postseason no-hitter in history. From a JAWS standpoint, his 64.3 career WAR (the Baseball-Reference version, which I’ll use throughout this series) is a bit short of the standard for pitchers (73.4), but his 50.6 peak WAR is bit above (50.1) — and higher than holdovers Mussina (44.6) and Schilling (48.7), both of whom had longer careers (with higher JAWS), topped 50% last year, and appear to be on the pathway to eventual election.

As anyone who has studied the history of the Hall of Fame in depth can tell you, one uncomfortable reality about the collision between human mortality and baseball immortality is that death may work in a candidate’s favor. Apart from Roberto Clemente, who was elected when the BBWAA took a special vote in March 1973, just two months after he died in a plane crash, several other players have been elected in the short period after their demise, including Roger Bresnahan and Jimmy Collins (both elected in 1945), Herb Pennock (1948), Three-Finger Brown (1949), Harry Heilmann (1952) and Ron Santo (2012). My educated guess — and really, this is still just a guess — is that on a ballot that already has enough darkness, voters will focus on the positives surrounding Halladay and elect him in short order.

Is this finally the year for Martinez and Mussina?

Back in 2015, Martinez (27.0% in his sixth year) and Mussina (24.6% in his second year) were both a far cry from election, but with five holdovers elected in that timespan since (along with four newcomers), the pair are now the top returnees. Martinez, who has posted double-digit gains in each of the past three cycles, fell just 20 votes short of election last year. Mussina, with two years of double-digit gains out of three, received 63.5%.

The situation is rather urgent for Martinez, who’s in his 10th and final year of eligibility, but does appear to have a good chance to join Red Ruffing (1967), Ralph Kiner (1975), Jim Rice (2009), and Tim Raines (2017) as candidates elected in their last go-round; in fact, he’s 0.6% ahead of Raines’ “pace.” Since the voters returned to annual balloting in 1966, 19 out of 20 candidates who received at least 70% of the vote and had eligibility remaining were elected the following year, with Jim Bunning the exception; he received 70.0% in 1987 (his 11th year of eligibility), then 74.2% in 1988 before slipping to 63.3% in 1989. He couldn’t get back to 75.0% via the writers, but the Veterans Committee elected him. For what it’s worth, the VC also came to the rescue of two other candidates who made bigger jumps into the 70-something range but fell short in their final year, namely Nellie Fox (74.7% in 1985) and Orlando Cepeda (73.5% in 1994). Still, it would be a great thing to see Martinez, the most potent DH in history (and an adequate third baseman before that) gain entry via the writers, particularly as the Hall’s 2015 rule change unilaterally reduced his remaining eligibility from nine years to four.

As for Mussina, in the big picture, he’s clearly trending towards election, but historically speaking, it might not be imminent. Since 1966, just one of the three previous candidates with a percentage within five points of Mussina’s in year five, Luis Aparicio (67.4% in 1983), was elected the following year; both Andre Dawson (61.0% in 2006) and Tony Perez (65.7% in 1996) needed four more years. What’s more, of the 19 times a candidate received somewhere between 58.5% and 68.5% — again, within five points of the Moose — at any point from year three to year seven, just four times was that candidate elected in the next year, with Aparicio, Eddie Mathews (from 62.4% in 1977 to 79.4% in 1978) and 300-game winners Early Wynn (from 66.7% in 1971 to 76.0% in 1972) and Phil Niekro (from 68.3% in 1996 to 80.3% in 1997) the only ones getting in. The average gain of those 19 was just 4.2 percentage points; six actually lost ground. That said, all of this took place during the period when candidates had 15 years on the ballot and voters were generally filling in far fewer names, so progress was slower. Still, it seems more likely that Mussina falls short of 75.0% this time around.

And how about those ultra-polarizing candidates, Bonds, Clemens, and Schilling?

Speaking of darkness on the ballot, I wrote over 400 words about this trio, all of whom are in their seventh year of eligibility. But you know what? The debates surrounding them — which concern connections to performance-enhancing drugs for Bonds and Clemens, and the post-career conduct of Schilling — will suck up much of the oxygen in the coming weeks while making everybody surly. So while I promise that I’ll fully explain what’s happening with this trio down the road, today, I’m going to skip the tea leaves and instead mention a few other noteworthy newcomers. You’re welcome.

And those newcomers?

From a traditional standpoint, the one who stands out is Pettitte, with his 256 wins, five World Series rings and several postseason records. With last year’s Modern Baseball Era Committee election of Jack Morris, owner of a career 3.90 ERA, Pettitte’s 3.85 mark would no longer be the Hall’s highest, though of course he stands up much better relative to his league’s averages, with a 117 ERA+ to Morris’ 105. That said, Pettitte ranks just 91st in JAWS (47.2), well below the standard for pitchers (61.8), not to mention the aforementioned trio of Schilling (64.1), Mussina (63.8) or Halladay (57.5), and he’s got the additional burden of having been mentioned in the Mitchell Report for using HGH. No candidate has overcome that yet.

From an advanced statistical standpoint, the newcomer who stands out the most is Helton, who’s ranked 15th at first base in JAWS (61.2 career WAR/46.5 peak WAR/53.7 JAWS, versus the average Hall first baseman’s 66.8/42.7/53.9). While WAR contains adjustments for park and league that bring his Coors Field-inflated numbers back down to earth, that hasn’t been enough for Walker, who’s 10th among right fielders. And where Walker won three batting titles and an MVP award, Helton won just one batting title and was never MVP. While I think he’s worthy of a spot in Cooperstown, he’ll face an uphill climb.

Who stands out further down the ballot?

It will be very interesting to see which direction the support of Vizquel goes. The 11-time Gold Glove winner, whose comparisons to Ozzie Smith simply aren’t supported by the advanced stats on either side of the ball, received 37.0% in his debut. Of the 10 modern (post-1966) candidates within five points of him on either side, four are still on the ballot (Bonds, Clemens, Martinez, and Schilling), while five were elected (Jeff Bagwell, Hoyt Wilhelm, Gossage, and Mathews by the writers, Bunning by the VC). Only Steve Garvey, who received 41.6% in his 1993 debut, remains outside, as does the just-out-of-range Smith (42.3% in 2003), to these eyes the top candidate on the Today’s Game ballot.

Two other 2018 debutantes, the JAWS-supported Andrew Jones (7.3%) and Scott Rolen (10.2%), need to get out of no-man’s land quickly lest they become afterthoughts or worse, slide off the ballot. And at this point, the returns for Walker (34.1% in his eighth year) and Fred McGriff (23.2% in his ninth) are more about setting themselves up for a better outcome via the Today’s Game committee down the road, as Trammell — who didn’t top 37% until his 15th year on the ballot (40.9%) — did before being elected by the Modern Baseball committee last year.

Do you get to vote yet?

Alas, no. I’m about to begin my ninth year of BBWAA membership, which means that I’m two years away from getting an official ballot. As with previous years, after cycling through profiles of all of the candidates, I’ll fill out my virtual ballot to illustrate the hard choices voters must make. And, in a new wrinkle at FanGraphs, so will you, via a cool, crowd-sourced feature we’re cooking up behind the scenes.

Obviously, there’s a whole lot more to be said about all of these candidates, the burning questions that surround them, and the ones I’ve dodged. We’ll get to those all in due time, I swear.


For Lee Smith, Relief May Finally Come via Today’s Game Ballot

This post is part of a series concerning the 2019 Today’s Game Era Committee ballot, covering executives, managers and long-retired players whose candidacies will be voted upon at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas on December 9. Use the tool above to read the introduction and other installments. For an introduction to JAWS, see here. Several profiles in this series are adapted from work previously published at SI.com and Baseball Prospectus. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

2019 Today’s Game Candidate: Lee Smith
Pitcher Career Peak JAWS WPA WPA/LI IP SV ERA ERA+
Lee Smith 29.0 20.9 24.9 21.3 12.8 1289.1 478 3.48 112
Avg HOF RP 38.1 26.5 32.3 27.7 19.2
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Over the course of his 18-year career, Lee Arthur Smith was consistently considered to be one of the game’s top relievers. Physically intimidating — officially listed at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds but reported as big as 6-foot-6, 269 pounds — and mellifluously middle-named, Smith pitched for eight teams, earned All-Star honors seven times, led his league in saves four times (and finished as runner-up in four other seasons), and placed as high as second in the Cy Young voting. He passed Jeff Reardon on April 13, 1993, to grab the all-time saves record and held it at 478 until September 24, 2006, when Trevor Hoffman finally surpassed him.

When Smith retired in 1998, just two relievers had been elected to the Hall of Fame: Hoyt Wilhelm (1985) and Rollie Fingers (1992). Since then, that number has tripled via the elections of Dennis Eckersley (2004), Bruce Sutter (2006), Rich Gossage (2008), and Hoffman (2018), with Mariano Rivera poised to join them via the 2019 BBWAA ballot. Smith appeared to be on track to join that company, debuting on the 2003 ballot at 42.3% and inching his way to 50.6% by 2012, his 10th year of eligibility. But over his final five years of eligibility, he got lost in a deluge of polarizing, high-profile candidates whose continued presence on the ballot made it tough to find room for Smith. By 2014, his share of the vote was down to 29.9%, and he never got back to 35%.

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Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 11/15/18

12:31
Jay Jaffe: Hi folks, and welcome to today’s chat. I’ll be along in a few minutes after I dot the final i’s and cross the final t’s on my Lee Smith Today’s Game profile. Apologies for the delay…

12:34
Jay Jaffe: Ok, I’m back! Let’s get to this.

12:35
Hi Jay!!!: Hi Jay,  Among the southpaws, would you rather have Keuchal, Paxton, or Corbin?

12:37
Jay Jaffe: They’re all a bit imperfect, aren’t they? If we’re talking for a single game today, I’d take Corbin, who’s coming off a strong, robust season of 200 innings. If we’re talking for the next few years via trade or free agency, think I’d lean Paxton, who despite being fragile is the one who misses bats with the most consistency, giving him the most margin for error as he ages.

12:37
stever20: So Fox reups for 7 more years.  About another 200 million per year- so a good 6.5 million more per team.  Some rights bubble heh?

12:37
Jay Jaffe: Reports of baseball’s death have again been greatly exaggerated.

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The Compelling Cooperstown Cases of Steinbrenner and Sweet Lou

This post is part of a series concerning the 2019 Today’s Game Era Committee ballot, covering executives, managers and long-retired players whose candidacies will be voted upon at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas on December 9. Use the tool above to read the introduction and other installments. For an introduction to JAWS, see here. Several profiles in this series are adapted from work previously published at SI.com and Baseball Prospectus. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

2019 Today’s Game Candidate: Lou Piniella
Manager G W-L W-L% G>.500 Playoffs Pennants WS
Lou Piniella 3548 1835-1713 .517 122 7 1 1
AVG HOF Mgr 3648 1961-1687 .546 274 7 5 2.6
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
Managerial averages computed by Cliff Corcoran based on 21 Hall of Famers inducted for 20th and 21st century managerial careers. See here.

Lou Piniella

“Sweet Lou” Piniella spent even more years managing in the majors (23, between 1986 and 2010) than he did playing the outfield (18, between 1964 and 1984). To both, he brought a flair for the dramatic and a fiery intensity — his dust-kicking, hat-stomping, base-throwing tirades became the stuff of legend — as well as tremendous baseball acumen. Like fellow Today’s Game candidate Davey Johnson, he won championships in both phases of his career, but his failure even to reach the World Series a second time as a manager cast a long shadow on every successive stop and could limit his chances for election.

A native of Tampa, Florida who was signed by the Indians as an amateur free agent in 1962, Piniella passed through the hands of the Senators, Orioles (for whom he played four games in 1964), Indians (again, with a brief 1968 cameo) and Pilots (in their lone spring training) before winning AL Rookie of the Year honors with the Royals in 1969. A high-average contact hitter who didn’t have a ton of patience or power (as his .291/.333/.409 line suggests), he was particularly potent as a lefty-masher on four pennant-winning Yankees teams, including their 1977 and 1978 championships.

He was also notoriously hot-tempered, known for breaking water coolers even before he arrived in the Bronx. “Yes, I had a bad temper,” Piniella said in 1974, his first spring as a Yankee. “I guess I was trying to succeed too much. I probably was trying to exceed my capabilities and was expecting perfection all the time. When I couldn’t reach it, I’d get mad at myself… Last year, they had a wire mesh screen around the water cooler at the new park in Kansas City so I couldn’t kick that one.”

As a left shoulder ailment limited Piniella’s playing time late in his career, he became the Yankees’ hitting coach in 1984, while still a reserve outfielder. By mid-June, he decided to retire as a player so as to take over first base coaching duties as well. In 1986, he became the team’s manager, that during an era when owner George Steinbrenner was eating managers for breakfast and lunch. Billy Martin, in his third of five stints managing the Yankees, had gone 91-64 in relief of Yogi Berra in 1985, as the Yankees finished second, but he was fired yet again, this time after a late-September brawl with pitcher Ed Whitson. Piniella’s Yankees won 90 games but finished second in 1986, 5.5 games behind the Red Sox, then slipped to fourth despite winning 89 games in 1987. When general manager Woody Woodward resigned following the season, Piniella spent half a year as the team’s GM before returning to the dugout in May, after Martin was canned yet again. Piniella himself was axed after the 1988 team finished with 85 wins. He had two years remaining on his contract, the first of which he spent in the Yankees’ TV booth.

Piniella returned to the dugout with the Reds, taking over as manager in November 1989 after Pete Rose received his lifetime ban for gambling. His first year was the most successful one of his managerial career. Driven by stars Barry Larkin and Eric Davis as well as the “Nasty Boys” bullpen of Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble, and Randy Myers, the Reds went 91-71, won the NL West (the Senior Circuit’s screwed-up geography somehow had both Cincinnati and Atlanta in the West and St. Louis and Chicago in the East) and the World Series, the last by sweeping the heavily favored A’s, the defending champions.

The Reds collapsed to just 74 wins in 1991, and while they rebounded to 90 in 1992, Piniella resigned at season’s end, just weeks after brawling with Dibble. His departure owed more to owner Marge Schott’s lack of support when Piniella was sued for defamation by umpire Gary Darling. Following the reversal of a home run call in a 1991 game, Piniella had claimed that Darling was biased; Schott refused to pay for a lawyer, forcing Piniella to do so out of his own pocket. The suit was eventually settled out of court and Piniella issued a statement of apology, retracting his comments and praising Darling and umpires in general. “But I got no backing,” he said of Schott, who by the time of his comments had been suspended for a year due to racially insensitive remarks. “It got in my craw. That was the big thing.”

Piniella wasn’t out of a job for long. In November 1992, he reunited with Woodward in Seattle, where the Mariners had finished with a winning record just once in 17 years. With young Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez, and later Alex Rodriguez, he oversaw the most successful stretch in franchise history. The Mariners finished above .500 in seven of his 10 seasons (1993-2002), making the playoffs four times (they’ve yet to return).

His 1995 team overcame a 12.5-game deficit to finish the lockout-abbreviated season tied with the Angels atop the AL West. The Mariners won the one-game tiebreaker, then beat the Yankees in a thrilling five-game Division Series that ended with Martinez bringing Griffey home with the winning run via The Double. The excitement of the moment helped generate the groundswell of support that secured the Mariners a new taxpayer-funded stadium within a week of the series’ end. Piniella won the first of his three Manager of the Year awards that year.

He took the Mariners back to the playoffs in 1997, 2000 (after Johnson and Griffey had been traded in advance of their free agency) and 2001 (after Rodriguez had departed via free agency). Fueled by the arrival of Ichiro Suzuki, the 2001 Mariners tied the major league record with 116 wins, and Piniella garnered his second Manager of the Year award. Yet his Mariners teams never advanced past the ALCS, falling at the hands of the Yankees in both 2000 and 2001. Often, they were limited by horrible bullpens, and Piniella made matters worse; the 1997-1999 units all finished with ERAs of 5.44 or above and totaled an AL-low 0.7 WAR over that span, squandering the last years of the Johnson/Griffey/Rodriguez nucleus.

After winning 93 games in 2002, Piniella, who still had one more year under contract, wanted to get home to Tampa to help care for his ailing mother. The Mariners obliged by trading him to the Devil Rays for two players. Though he guided the expansion team to its first 70-win season in 2004, the Devil Rays weren’t able to progress further, and he became frustrated by the team’s minimal payrolls. After agreeing to a buyout with one year remaining on his deal, he became the manager of the Cubs in October 2006, succeeding Dusty Baker.

With a cast led by Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, and Carlos Zambrano (a man with an infamously hot temper of his own), Piniella guided the Cubs to back-to-back NL Central titles in 2007 and -08. He won his third Manager of the Year award in the latter year after leading the Cubs a league-high 97 wins, but in both of those seasons, Piniella’s squads were swept out of the Division Series. The Cubs declined to 83 wins in 2009, and in August 2010, with the health of his ailing mother again in mind, Piniella stepped down for the final time.

Because he managed for 21 full seasons plus two partial ones, Piniella ranks high in managerial counting stats. He’s 14th in games managed, third behind Gene Mauch and the still-active Bruce Bochy among skippers outside the Hall. Piniella is 16th in wins, trailing only Bochy, Mauch, and Baker among those not enshrined. He’s 13th in losses as well, with Mauch, Bochy and Jim Leyland the only unenshrined mangers ahead of him. Due in part to his time in Tampa Bay, he’s a modest 122 games above .500, 41st all-time; even if you wave off his time there (200-285, .412), he’d rank just 27th.

So the positives for Piniella’s case boil down to his longevity, a memorable run that legitimized major league baseball in Seattle, and one hell of a highlight reel for his tantrums. Those are offset by his lack of postseason success beyond 1990 — his teams won just three series in his final 18 full seasons — and a comparatively unexceptional winning percentage. Even if you exclude his lost-cause Devil Rays stint, his .533 would rank 30th among managers with at least 1,500 games.

Ultimately, Piniella’s case as a Hall of Fame manager rests more on longevity — which fellow candidates Johnson and Manuel lack – than it does sustained success. As I wrote when he stepped down in 2010, “In a world where [Whitey] Herzog and [Dick] Williams — two innovators who won multiple pennants, and made the playoffs more frequently without benefit of the wild card — needed a quarter of a century to gain election via the Veterans Committee, I just don’t see how Piniella has got enough to get into Cooperstown.”

George Steinbrenner

Often a bully and sometimes a buffoon, George Michael Steinbrenner III was unequivocally “The Boss,” and occasionally as unhinged as the British monarch with whom he shared both a name and a numeral. A football player at Williams College and an assistant coach at Northwestern and Purdue, he fully subscribed to Vince Lombardi’s “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” ethos, often failing to understand that running a baseball team on a daily basis required a more subtle touch and a deeper reserve of patience than his gridiron sensibility could muster.

Nonetheless, aside from Connie Mack and Walter O’Malley, no other owner in the history of baseball was as influential or successful over such a long period. Beyond O’Malley, who uprooted the Dodgers from Brooklyn, none provided his critics and detractors with more ammunition, or unified so many in their hatred. Steinbrenner spent much of his tenure as a cartoon villain, and was suspended from baseball by commissioners not once, but twice. Yet even in absentia, he had the foresight to embrace the dawn of the free agent era, and for all of his tyrannical meddling — hiring and firing 21 managers in his first 20 years, and burning through general managers at a similarly absurd clip — he stayed out of the way of what his baseball men built in his absences long enough to preside over four pennant winners and two world champions from 1976-1981, and six more pennants and four world champs from 1996-2003, adding one final championship in 2009, the year before his death.

And for all of his notorious bluster, Steinbrenner was a big softy at heart, quick to put the Yankees name behind charitable causes and to give players and other people in his organization second (and third, and fourth…) chances, just as he had received. In the end, he was the benevolent despot who restored the luster to the Yankees franchise, turning it into the most valuable property in professional sports at the time of his death, with an estimated worth of $1.6 billion. Now run by son Hal, its estimated worth has climbed to $4 billion as of March 2018 (both figures according to Forbes).

A shipbuliding magnate from Cleveland, Steinbrenner got his first taste of professional sports ownership with the Cleveland Pipers of the short-lived American Basketball League from 1960 to 1962; the league folded midway through its second season. He resurfaced in the world of sports when he led a group of investors that purchased the dilapidated Yankees — who hadn’t appeared in a World Series since 1964, or won since 1962 — from CBS in 1973 for about $10 million, $3.2 million less than CBS had paid in 1964. Initially, Steinbrenner pledged to keep his nose out of the team’s business, saying, “We plan absentee ownership as far as running the Yankees is concerned.” Soon enough, however, he was crowding out his fellow investors, starting with team president Mike Burke, who had run the Yankees during the CBS era and negotiated with the City of New York to renovate Yankee Stadium. “Nothing is more limited than being a limited partner of George,” minority owner John McMullen would later say.

Steinbrenner quickly ran afoul of baseball, pleading guilty in August 1974 to charges of making illegal contributions to Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign and of obstructing justice. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended him for two years (later reduced to 15 months), during which time he exerted his influence via the direction of Gabe Paul, who, while still general manager of the Indians, had initially paired Steinbrenner and Burke. Desperate to restore glory to the franchise, Steinbrenner embraced the era of free agency, signing A’s ace Catfish Hunter to a five year, $3.35 million deal in December 1974, when A’s owner Charlie O. Finley failed to make an annuity payment in a timely fashion. He followed that by adding superstar slugger Reggie Jackson, Hunter’s ex-teammate, in November 1976 on a five-year, $3 million deal after arbitrator Peter Seitz’s landmark Messersmith-McNally decision kicked off the free agency era in earnest, and a year later added Goose Gossage via a six-year, $2.7 5 million deal — that despite the presence of reliever Sparky Lyle, who weeks earlier had won the AL Cy Young award.

Under manager Billy Martin, the Yankees won the pennant in 1976 but were swept in the World Series by the Big Red Machine. They beat the Dodgers the following year, with Jackson, “Mr. October,” tying the series record with five homers, three in the Game Six clincher. Amid so much turmoil that the team became known as “The Bronx Zoo” (not coincidentally the title of Lyle’s diary of that season), they repeated again in 1978, overcoming a 14-game mid-July deficit behind the Red Sox (whom they would beat in a Game 163 play-in) and a blowup between Martin and Jackson that led to the skipper’s dismissal after he said of the superstar and the owner: “The two men deserve each other. One’s a born liar, the other’s convicted.”

Fueled by more free agent signings, particularly those of Tommy John and Dave Winfield, the Yankees won the 1981 AL pennant, but lost a rematch with the the Dodgers. During the World Series, Steinbrenner injured his hand in what he claimed was a scuffle with two Dodger fans in the hotel elevator. Yet no police report was ever filed, no culprits ever found. Hmmm… As the Dodgers clinched in the Bronx, Steinbrenner issued a gauche public apology for his team’s performance, and a promise that plans to build a champion for 1982 would begin immediately.

Those plans did not come to fruition, as Steinbrenner’s profligate spending and meddling led to the team’s downfall. Prospects were swapped for over-the-hill veterans who flourished elsewhere while the Yankees, despite winning 89 games or more four times from 1983-1987, with a high of 97 in 1985, failed to win another AL East flag for more than a decade. After souring on Winfield (whom he nicknamed “Mr. May”), Steinbrenner tried to escape his 10-year contract by hiring a shady small-time gambler, Howard Spira, to dig up dirt. When commissioner Fay Vincent learned of the plot in 1990, he banned Steinbrenner from baseball for life, just over a year after President Ronald Reagan had pardoned Steinbrenner for his Nixon-era transgressions.

The ban didn’t last; Vincent reinstated Steinbrenner as of March 1, 1993, just before being ousted by the other owners. While he remained as feared as ever, Steinbrenner stayed out of the way of what general manager Gene Michael — whom he had already hired and fired as manager and GM in the early 1980s — had done during his absence. Michael curbed the team’s tendency to swap prospects, sowing the seeds of the forthcoming dynasty by astute drafting and amateur free agent signings such as “the Core Four” of Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada, not to mention a brilliant deal that sent Roberto Kelly to Cincinnati for Paul O’Neill and freed up center field for Bernie Williams. He also hired Buck Showalter to manage the club. Showalter’s four-season tenure ran through 1995, when the Yankees reached and were ultimately eliminated from their first postseason appearance in 14 years — at the hands of Piniella’s Mariners — was the longest on Steinbrenner’s watch thus far.

Michael was shifted into an advisory role after 1995, while Showalter departed. Steinbrenner hired Bob Watson as GM, and Watson’s choice as manager was Joe Torre, a former National League MVP who in 14 seasons of managing the Mets, Braves, and Cardinals had won just one division title and produced a .470 winning percentage. The tabloids derided the choice of “Clueless Joe,” but Torre was more than up to the task of managing both the team and the Boss. The Yankees beat the Braves in the 1996 World Series, kicking off a 12-year run that included 10 division titles, six pennants, and four championships, earning him a spot in Cooperstown in 2014.

Steinbrenner’s persona as a benevolent despot emerged during this time in the form of his repeated lampooning on Seinfeld, with series creator Larry David giving voice to the owner’s long and often petty diatribes. His soft, paternalistic side revealed itself in the multiple second chances given to Steve Howe, Dwight Gooden, and Darryl Strawberry, all of whom had battled substance abuse problems. While attaching the Yankees’ name to charities, he bristled at the thought that they should include his competitors. “I would sooner send $1 million to save the whales than send it to the Pittsburgh Pirates” he told his fellow owners.

With the Yankees restored to the top of the heap, Steinbrenner withstood the temptation to sell the team (at various times, Donald Trump and Cablevision both expressed interest) or move it to the suburbs or Manhattan’s West Side. Whatever the legerdemain it took to build the $1.5 billion “House That Ruthlessness Built” next door to “The House That Ruth Built,” he ultimately understood that the Bronx was a key part of the Yankees’ brand, as was the big-dollar spending that brought in free agents Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Mark Teixeira, and CC Sabathia, and led to trades for Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, and Kevin Brown. Though he chafed at the credit that Torre and GM Brian Cashman, who took the reins in 1998 at the tender age of 30 after rising through the front office ranks, received, and retained a semi-anonymous cabal of Tampa advisors who often undercut the Bronx brass, he finally ceded control of daily operations to sons Hal and Hank in late 2007. That chain of events, which was followed by Torre’s departure when the team was eliminated from the playoffs, led to Steinbrenner receding from the public eye.

Ultimately, the indomitable owner’s legacy is a mixed and complicated one. Neither a saint nor a pure font of evil, he understood that nothing drove financial success the way winning did. He won more often than any owner of his era, and rebuilt the Yankees into the most valuable property in baseball. For all of his transgressions, you can’t even begin to tell the story of a substantial stretch of baseball history without him. Unlike the eight other candidates I’ve reviewed on the Today’s Game ballot thus far, he’d have my vote. But as he came nowhere close to election with either the 2010 Veterans Committee or the 2017 Today’s Game ballots, he’s hardly a lock this time around.


Davey Johnson and Charlie Manuel Likely to Come Up Short on Today’s Game Ballot

This post is part of a series concerning the 2019 Today’s Game Era Committee ballot, covering executives, managers and long-retired players whose candidacies will be voted upon at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas on December 9. Use the tool above to read the introduction and other installments. For an introduction to JAWS, see here. Several profiles in this series are adapted from work previously published at SI.com and Baseball Prospectus. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

2019 Today’s Game Candidates: Davey Johnson and Charlie Manuel
Manager G W-L W-L% G>.500 Playoffs Pennants WS
Davey Johnson 2443 1372-1071 .562 301 6 1 1
Charlie Manuel 1826 1000-826 .548 174 6 2 1
AVG HOF Mgr 3648 1961-1687 .546 274 7 5 2.6
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Nearly 15 years ago at Baseball Prospectus, I introduced a means of using player value estimates to compare Hall of Fame candidates to those that are already enshrined at their positions — the system that soon became known as JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score). There is no similar comparison method for managers, but a few months ago, when news of Mike Scioscia’s pending retirement broke, my former SI.com colleague Cliff Corcoran made an interesting attempt to figure out the Hall of Fame standards for managers. Cliff calculated the averages above based upon 21 enshrined managers, excluding three 19th-century skippers (Ned Hanlon, Frank Selee, and Harry Wright) as well as the Negro Leagues’ Rube Foster. While the shorter careers of modern managers — shorter relative to Connie Mack and John McGraw, at least — and the ever-expanding playoff format make cross-era comparisons a bit more complicated, the numbers do help as guideposts when it comes to discussing Hall of Fame managerial candidates

Davey Johnson

Like Billy Martin before him — albeit with far less drinking and drama — Johnson was renowned for his ability to turn teams around. He posted winning records in his first full season at four of his five managerial stops and took four of the five franchises that he managed to the playoffs at least once. However, after six-plus seasons managing the Mets, he never lasted even three full seasons in any other job and never replicated the success he had in piloting the 1986 Mets to 108 wins and a World Series victory.

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Retiring Mauer and Utley Both Worthy of Cooperstown

It was hardly unexpected, but within an hour-long period on Friday evening, Twitter brought news of the retirements of both Joe Mauer and Chase Utley, two players worthy of spots in the Hall of Fame once they become eligible five years from now, on the 2024 ballot. Mauer, who had not previously declared his intentions, wrote a personal letter to Twins fans, explaining his decision to retire at age 35, while the Dodgers merely announced they had given Utley — who had declared in mid-July that this season would be his final one — his unconditional release so as to facilitate his retirement.

While I’ve written about both players before at FanGraphs, the pairing of the announcements serves as an opportunity to round up that work and update their credentials.

Mauer is the more obviously qualified of the two. A former No. 1 overall pick out of St. Paul, Minnesota’s Cretin-Derham Hall High School in 2001, he spent the entirety of his 15-year career with the Twins, making six All-Star teams, helping the team to four postseason appearances (though, alas, no series wins), and winning three Gold Gloves and three batting titles apiece. Though he debuted on Opening Day 2004 (April 5) with a 2-for-3 showing against the Indians, he was limited to just 35 games in his rookie season due to a torn meniscus in his left knee. Even in that brief stint, he showed that he was a force to be reckoned with at the plate, batting .308/.369/.570 with six homers in 122 plate appearances for a 139 wRC+.

While Mauer would only intermittently show that kind of power thereafter — he had just six seasons with at least 10 homers — he established himself as a high-average, high-OBP hitter in a way seldom seen among catchers. He won batting titles in 2006 (.347), 2008 (.328), and 2009 (.365), making him the only three-time winner among catchers. Hall of Fame Ernie Lombardi is the only two-time winner (.342 in 1938 and .330 in 1942), while Deacon White (.367 in 1875), Bubbles Hargrave (.353 in 1926), and Buster Posey (.336 in 2012) are the only others to win. Mauer topped a .300 average six times as a catcher and once as a first baseman. More importantly, he topped a .400 OBP six times, second among catchers to Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane’s eight, and is the only catcher to lead league more than once, doing so both in 2009 (.444) and 2012 (.416); he ranked among the AL’s top 10 seven times. In that 2009 season, when he hit a career-high 28 home runs, he also led the league in slugging percentage (.587), thereby making him the only catcher ever to win the “Slash Stat” Triple Crown. He was elected the AL MVP that year, receiving 27 out of 28 first-place votes.

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Hershiser’s Doggedness Isn’t Enough for Today’s Game Vote

This post is part of a series concerning the 2019 Today’s Game Era Committee ballot, covering executives, managers and long-retired players whose candidacies will be voted upon at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas on December 9. Use the tool above to read the introduction and other installments. For an introduction to JAWS, see here. Several profiles in this series are adapted from work previously published at SI.com and Baseball Prospectus. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

2019 Today’s Game Candidate: Orel Hershiser
Pitcher Career Peak JAWS W-L SO ERA ERA+
Orel Hershiser 56.3 40.1 48.2 204-150 2014 3.48 112
Avg HOF SP 73.4 50.1 61.8
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Kirk Gibson’s walkoff home run off Dennis Eckersley may be the year’s most enduring highlight, but Orel Hershiser owned 1988 the way Babe Ruth owned 1927, or Roger Maris 1961, or Denny McLain 1968. That year, the Dodgers’ wiry righty set a still-standing record with 59 consecutive scoreless innings, surpassing that of Don Drysdale. After his 23 wins, 15 complete games, eight shutouts, 267 innings, and 7.2 WAR all led the NL, he won MVP honors in both the NLCS and World Series while helping a banged-up Dodgers squad upset the heavily favored Mets and A’s. Not only was he the unanimous winner of the NL Cy Young Award, he netted the year’s Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year and Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year awards, as well. It was a very good year.

Hershiser never equaled those heights again, but who could? Still, he showed incredible tenacity in an 18-year major-league career (1983-2000) bifurcated by a 1990 shoulder injury, ranking as the NL’s most valuable pitcher for a six-year stretch (1984-89) before his injury and reinventing himself after a groundbreaking surgery by Dr. Frank Jobe, best known for his innovation in saving Tommy John’s career. Hershiser actually won more games and pitched in more World Series after the injury than before (105 and two, compared to 99 and one), living up to the nickname “The Bulldog,” which manager Tommy Lasorda had originally bestowed upon him as a rookie to inspire him to pitch more aggressively.

Drafted by the Dodgers in the 17th round out of Bowling Green in 1979, Hershiser made his major \[league debut on September 1, 1983. After pitching eight games in relief that year and spending most of the first three months of the 1984 season in the bullpen, he tossed a complete game against the Cubs on June 29, allowing one run and setting off a 33.2-inning scoreless streak that included three complete-game shutouts, two of them two-hit, nine-strikeout efforts. He finished third in the league with a 2.66 ERA in 189.2 innings, and came in third in the NL Rookie of the Year vote behind Dwight Gooden and Juan Samuel. Armed with a new split-fingered fastball to complement a sinker that would become legendary, he made even bigger waves by going 19-3 with a 2.03 ERA (again third in the league) and finishing third in the Cy Young vote (Gooden won that, too).

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Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 11/8/18

12:01
Jay Jaffe: Good afternoon, folks, and welcome to another offseason edition of my Thursday chat series. I’m immersed in the Today’s Game ballot, the third installment of which just went up this morning https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/thrills-provided-by-carter-and-clark-n…

12:02
stever20: what surprises, if any, did you have with the award finalist announcements on Monday?

12:07
Jay Jaffe: While it took me a day even to get to looking at the list of finalists because of how immersed I was in the Hall stuff, I guess the biggest surprise — but not all that big of one — was that Chris Sale didn’t make the AL top three in Cy Young voting, owing to his late-season absences. That’s not to begrudge Verlander, Snell and Kluber their spots, it’s just a gauge of the steep cost of Sale’s absence and subsequent struggles upon returning.

Beyond that, slight surprise Lorenzo Cain slipped out of the NL MVP top three and Javier Baez in, but both had great seasons. Not a major quibble, though.

12:08
The Old Buccaneer: Do you see the Zunino/Mallex deal as one likely to work out for both teams?

12:10
Jay Jaffe: quite possibly. I think Zunino’s ongoing ups and downs on the offensive side are indicative that a change of scenery could help. Smith turned in a nice season and fills a hole that the Mariners have really struggled with in recent years.

12:10

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Thrills Provided by Carter and Clark Not Enough for Today’s Game Ballot

This post is part of a series concerning the 2019 Today’s Game Era Committee ballot, covering executives, managers and long-retired players whose candidacies will be voted upon at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas on December 9. Use the tool above to read the introduction and other installments. For an introduction to JAWS, see here. Several profiles in this series are adapted from work previously published at SI.com and Baseball Prospectus. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

2019 Today’s Game Candidates: Carter and Clark
Player Career Peak JAWS H HR SB AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
Joe Carter 19.8 21.5 20.5 2184 396 231 .259/.306/.464 105
Avg HOF RF 72.7 42.9 57.8
Will Clark 56.5 36.1 46.3 2176 284 67 .303/.384/.497 137
Avg HOF 1B 66.8 42.7 54.7
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Joe Carter

Hailed as a reliable run producer for his 15 consecutive seasons with double-digit home-run totals and 10 with over 100 RBI, Carter is most famous for hitting just the second World Series-ending home run. His three-run shot off Phillies reliever Mitch Williams in Game Six of the 1993 World Series sent the Blue Jays to their second consecutive championship and produced a call for the ages from Tom Cheek: “Touch ’em all, Joe. You’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life!”

Unlike the first player to hit a Series-ending homer, Bill Mazeroski (Game Seven, 1960), Carter was unable to parlay his fame and his superficially impressive counting stats into a spot in Cooperstown. To the relief of a burgeoning stathead community that had begun spreading the gospel of on-base percentage, he received just 3.8% of the vote in 2004, his lone BBWAA ballot appearance.

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Sluggers Harold Baines and Albert Belle Likely to Whiff on Today’s Game Ballot

This post is part of a series concerning the 2019 Today’s Game Era Committee ballot, covering executives, managers and long-retired players whose candidacies will be voted upon at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas on December 9. Use the tool above to read the introduction and other installments. For an introduction to JAWS, see here. Several profiles in this series are adapted from work previously published at SI.com and Baseball Prospectus. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

2019 Today’s Game Candidates: Baines and Belle
Player Career Peak JAWS H HR SB AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
Harold Baines 38.7 21.4 30.1 2866 384 34 .289/.356/.466 121
Avg HOF RF 72.7 42.9 57.8
Albert Belle 40.1 36.0 38.1 1726 381 88 .295/.369/.564 144
Avg HOF LF 65.4 41.6 53.5
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Harold Baines

The weight of expectation that comes with being selected with the No. 1 overall pick of the amateur draft is heavy enough without anybody bringing up Cooperstown, yet after Baines was chosen first by the White Sox in 1977, out of a Maryland high school, Chicago general manager Paul Richards said that the 18-year-old outfielder “was on his way to the Hall of Fame. He just stopped by Comiskey Park for 20 years or so.” Baines had actually been spotted playing Little League in Maryland by once and future Sox owner Bill Veeck Jr. when he was 12. No pressure, kid.

While Baines did spend 22 years in the majors and racked up an impressive hit total and compares favorably to other No. 1 picks, his accomplishments were nonetheless limited by injuries to his right knee that led to eight surgeries. From his age-28 season onward, he served mainly as a designated hitter while rarely playing the field. His 1,643 games at DH are more than any player besides David Ortiz.

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Today’s Game Ballot Is Tomorrow’s Headache

Will the Hall of Fame find room for an all-time saves leader in 2019 — besides current leader and first-ballot lock Mariano Rivera, that is? (He’ll headline the BBWAA ballot, to be released on November 19.) I refer instead to Lee Smith, the record holder from April 13, 1993 (when he overtook Jeff Reardon) to September 24, 2006 (when 2018 Hall inductee Trevor Hoffman surpassed him). At first glance, he not only appears to be the most likely ex-player to be elected from among the six on the 2019 Today’s Game Era Committee ballot, which also includes three managers and one owner, but the only one with a path to election. Released on Monday, the ballot, which centers on candidates who made their greatest impact upon Major League Baseball from 1988 onward, is as notable for its omissions as well as its inclusions.

The full slate of candidates alongside Smith includes former outfielders Harold Baines, Albert Belle, and Joe Carter; first baseman Will Clark; starter Orel Hershiser; managers Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel, and Lou Piniella; and owner George Steinbrenner. Carter and Manuel are the ballot’s only newcomers besides Smith, which is curious because there wasn’t exactly a clamor to elect the rest, who served as bystanders when John Schuerholz and Bud Selig were elected two years ago. Six of the returnees received “fewer than five votes,” a shorthand the Hall typically uses so as not to embarrass any candidate. Piniella received seven votes, still far short of the 12 needed for election from among the panel of 16.

To these eyes, which have been studying the Hall of Fame voting since the 2002 election cycle, Smith isn’t necessarily the best candidate, but it’s not hard to see parallels with 2018 inductee Jack Morris, who was elected by the Modern Baseball Era Committee last December. Both candidates spent a full 15 years on the BBWAA ballot, Morris from 2000 to -14 and Smith from 2003 to -17; the latter was the last player to do so after a 2014 rule change that truncated candidates’ windows of BBWAA eligibility to 10 years. Both built up support slowly until they appeared to be trending towards election, with Morris crossing the all-important 50% threshold in his 11th year of eligibility and Smith in his 10th. The claims of both to a plaque in Cooperstown hinge(d) upon compiling big totals in a stat that’s since been devalued within stathead circles — 254 wins for Morris, 478 saves for Smith — but one that plays better in front of a panel where writers and historians generally constitute just a quarter of the electorate, with executives and Hall of Famers (both players and managers) making up the other three-quarters.

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Remembering Willie McCovey, a True Giant of a Man

Unlike Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, who retired after the 1973 and -76 seasons, respectively, Willie McCovey was still playing in 1978, which means that I was old enough to see the tail end of his career, and to have more than an inkling of his significance. My father and grandfather, lifelong Dodgers fans, spoke with a mixture of awe and “ohhhh” regarding the towering slugger nicknamed “Stretch,” while my eight-year-old brain marveled at the back of his 1978 Topps card, which required a different, smaller font than the standard cards in order to contain every season, and every home run — 493 of them, 92 more than any other player in the set — of a career that stretched back to 1959. McCovey was power-hitting royalty, with a regal bearing and a uniform number (44) that linked him both to Aaron, whose home run heroics I’d already read about, and Reggie Jackson, whose exploits I’d seen on television.


 
Indeed, McCovey was the only player to reach the 500 home-run plateau — which he did on June 30, 1978, the 12th player to do so — between September 13, 1971 (Frank Robinson) and September 17, 1984 (Jackson), and when he retired with 521, he was tied with Ted Williams for eighth on the all-time list. Jackson had only just passed McCovey when I encountered the two at Phoenix Municipal Stadium in March 1986. The former, entering his final season as an Angel, merely growled at my request (and the requests of several others) for an autograph, but the latter, a newly elected Hall of Famer and a spring instructor for the Giants, cracked a modest smile as he slowly and methodically signed every last scrap of paper handed to him.

So it was a sizable pang that I felt upon hearing Wednesday night’s news that McCovey passed away at the age of 80 after what the Giants called “a battle with ongoing health issues.” Of the small handful of Hall of Famers whose autographs I’ve obtained myself, I don’t think any had shuffled off this mortal coil until McCovey.

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Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 11/1/18

12:02
Jay Jaffe: Hey folks, good afternoon and welcome to today’s first chat of the long, dark offseason. I’m still catching my breath from an exhausting month and working on some stuff that has yet to see the light of day, including an ESPN-Plus piece on the Defensive Players of the Year, a piece on the passing of the great Willie McCovey, and my contributions to our Top 50 Free Agents list. The Jaffe-Span household is also battling various stages of a low-grade but stubborn cold, and all of the Haribo gummies left over from Halloween can do only so much.

12:03
stever20: what % chance do you think the Nats have of retaining Harper?

12:07
Jay Jaffe: That’s a very good question. it wasn’t entirely clear whether Scott Boras was merely joking when he said the other day that a deal was “already completed and done, but Bryce has told me that he wanted to tell you personally.” https://nypost.com/2018/10/29/scott-boras-drops-improbable-bryce-harpe…

If that’s true, the only team that could be with is the Nationals, who do enjoy a particularly chummy relationship with Boras such that Stephen Strasburg actually went the extension route rather than free agency. Most believe Boras had tongue in cheek when he said that. Still, I think that there’s a reasonable chance, somewhere between 33% and 50%, that Bryce stays in Washington.

12:08
Guille: hi Jay! What do you say are the chances Yankees don´t sign either Machado or Harper? It´s gotta be higher than 50% considering neither is a great fit for the team.

12:10
Jay Jaffe: I’d put it around 50%. Given the re-signing of Gardner, even at fourth outfielder money, as well as the continued presence of Judge, Hicks and Stanton and the pending arrival of Clint Frazier, Harper doesn’t make much sense. Machado makes more sense given Didi Gregorius’s Tommy John surgery. The team loves him some Didi but he’s going to miss roughly half of his final season under club control. If they really want Machado, it’s not just to alleviate what might be a three-month absence.

12:10
Guille: hi Jay! IF Kershaw extends his contract with the Dodgers, is something like 5/175 in the ballpark?

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Eight Factors That Decided the 2018 World Series

In Game Five of the World Series on Sunday night, behind a stifling seven-inning, three-hit effort from David Price — on three days of rest, even — and a pair of home runs by Steve Pearce, the Red Sox completed their dismantling of the Dodgers with a 5-1 victory and a four-games-to-one Series win. Like the other games in the series, this one was close for a while. Ultimately, though, the Red Sox pulled away late, with the Dodgers unable to produce a run beyond David Freese’s leadoff homer in the bottom of the first inning. On top of their franchise-record 108 wins, the Red Sox went 11-3 in the postseason, losing just one game in each round of the playoffs. They’ll take their place among the most dominant championship teams of recent vintage, and have a claim as the best in franchise history.

To these eyes, the World Series turned on eight factors, areas that set the Red Sox apart from the Dodgers in what was, at times, a fairly close series that will nonetheless look rather lopsided in the history books.

Two-Out Damage

Continuing what they did against the Astros in the ALCS, the Red Sox scored the majority of their runs against the Dodgers with two outs. In fact, the totals and rates in the two rounds match up almost exactly: 18 out of 29 runs scored against Houston (62.0%) and 18 of 28 against Los Angeles (64.3%). In the World Series they hit .242/.347/.484 in 72 plate appearances with two outs and put up video-game numbers — .471/.609/.882 in 23 PA — with two outs and runners in scoring position. Their OPS in that latter situation set a World Series record:

Best Two-Out, RISP Peformances in World Series History
Rk Team Season PA AVG OBP SLG OPS
1 Red Sox 2018 23 .471 .609 .882 1.491
2 Giants 2010 23 .421 .522 .895 1.416
3 Red Sox 2007 33 .391 .576 .652 1.228
4 Orioles 1970 27 .458 .519 .708 1.227
5 Yankees 1951 26 .350 .500 .700 1.200
6 Dodgers 1956 25 .316 .480 .684 1.164
7 Yankees 1956 21 .278 .381 .778 1.159
8 Reds 1975 40 .333 .450 .697 1.147
9 Dodgers 1978 20 .316 .350 .789 1.139
10 Athletics 1989 28 .350 .536 .600 1.136
SOURCE: Stats LLC

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Yasmani Grandal’s October From Hell

It would take some doing to have a more difficult postseason on either side of the ball, particularly at a pivotal time in one’s career, than Yasmani Grandal has had. As the Dodgers’ starting catcher during the regular season, the switch-hitting 29-year-old (who turns 30 on November 8) hit for power, showed typically excellent plate discipline, and stood out as one of the game’s best pitch-framers. Alas, he’s looked hapless this month, and between some bad breaks defensively and a deepening offensive slump, he’s lost his starting job for the second straight postseason. As a pending free agent, he could be headed for a rough winter, though he should get at least another shot to help the Dodgers overcome their two-games-to-none deficit in the World Series.

In his seventh season in the majors and fourth with the Dodgers, Grandal hit a solid .241/.349/.466 with 24 homers for a 125 wRC+. The last mark was the best of his career as a regular (he posted a 144 wRC+ in 226 PA as a rookie in 2012) and one point shy of the Marlins’ J.T. Realmuto, who was the the majors’ best among catchers. Admittedly, his season was streaky. Here’s how it looked by month, straight from our splits:

Yasmani Grandal’s 2018 Monthly Splits
Month PA HR AVG OBP SLG BABIP BB% K% wRC+
Mar/Apr 102 4 .315 .402 .551 .364 9.8% 18.6% 162
May 89 4 .181 .315 .347 .188 16.9% 24.7% 88
June 71 3 .162 .197 .324 .170 4.2% 25.4% 35
July 82 6 .364 .488 .727 .409 19.5% 19.5% 226
August 89 5 .162 .303 .392 .167 16.9% 30.3% 95
Sept/Oct 85 2 .254 .365 .451 .333 15.3% 25.9% 126

Holy fluctuating BABIPs! I haven’t shown his ISOs (SLG – AVG), but you can do the mental math; he swung from two straight months in the .160s to a July with a .364 ISO. About the only thing he did with consistency was knock the ball out of the park. He even had a month (June) where he drew just four walks. On a rolling average basis, however, Grandal wasn’t much streaker than he’d been in 2017, when he hit .247/.308/.459 for a more modest 102 wRC+. Here are his last three seasons by 15-game rolling wOBA (15-game Rolling wOBA is also the name of my new band):


 
That’s a bit of a rollercoaster ride, but not one that’s especially more dramatic than that of the similarly offensively productive Realmuto, who had a 107 wRC+ in 2017 and a 111 mark (to Grandal’s 116) in 2016:


 
Realmuto had just one calendar month in 2018 with a wRC+ lower than 100 (79 in August), but he also had a drastic first half/second half split (147 before the All-Star break, 99 after) whereas Grandal was somehow Mr. Consistency in that regard (124 and 126). Go figure.

By our version of catcher defense, which does not include pitch framing, Grandal was nine runs above average en route to 3.6 WAR, second among all catchers behind Realmuto’s 4.8. By Defensive Runs Saved, he ranked ninth out of 47 qualifiers with nine runs above average, including 10 above average in terms of framing (rSZ). By Baseball Prospectus’ numbers, he was an MLB-high 15.7 above average in framing and 17.7 runs above average overall, second to Jeff Mathis’ 18.2. By BP’s other components of catcher defense, he was 0.8 runs above average in pitch blocking (preventing passed balls and wild pitches), ranking 22nd out of 82 catchers with at least 1,000 framing chances. (For reference, the top-to-bottom spread there was just 8.2 runs.) He was 0.1 runs above average in terms of throwing out baserunners, which either ranked 30th (as displayed on the page) or was in a 21-way virtual tie for 15th (there’s no second decimal place shown) in a category where the top-to-bottom spread is all of 1.9 runs.

By BP’s numbers, Grandal’s 2018 defense was his worst season out of his past four in total but just the second in that span in which he was average or better in framing, blocking, and throwing in the same season:

Yasmani Grandal’s Defense, 2015-2018
Year Framing Chances Framing Runs Blocking Runs Throwing Runs FRAA
2015 5958 26.2 -0.7 0.0 25.6
2016 6749 28.0 0.3 0.5 33.6
2017 6735 26.2 -1.4 1.3 27.7
2018 6851 15.7 0.8 0.1 17.7
SOURCE: Baseball Prospectus

In other words, there were no particular red flags about his defense heading into the postseason. And yet in the small-sample spotlight, he had a nightmarish NLCS against the Brewers, after a relatively quiet Division Series in which he caught every inning against the Braves without either a wild pitch or a passed ball, and threw out the only stolen base attempt against him.

Grandal’s troubles began in the first inning of Game 1 of the NLCS, with Clayton Kershaw on the mound. With Lorenzo Cain on first, he lost a low slider to Christian Yelich:

The ball didn’t get far but it was enough to advance Cain, whom Kershaw eventually stranded. Two innings later, with one out, men on first and second and Jesus Aguilar at the plate, another Kershaw slider squirted past him, with both runners advancing.

Two pitches later, Aguilar hit a screaming liner that first baseman David Freese dove and caught, but home plate umpire Scott Barry ruled that Grandal had interfered with his swing, and Freese was awarded first base. Cain then scored on an Hernan Perez fly ball, which would have been an inning-ender had Aguilar’s lineout been allowed to stand; the throw home from center fielder Cody Bellinger clanked off Grandal’s glove, allowing both runners to advance and costing the catcher his second error of the inning (the catcher’s interference having been the first).

Thus Grandal became the first catcher in postseason history to complete the trifecta of an error, an interference, and a passed ball in a single inning. Though Kershaw limited the damage in those two innings to a pair of runs, they loomed large in what became a 6-5 loss.

Backup Austin Barnes caught Game 2, but Grandal returned to catch Walker Buehler in Game 3. With the Dodgers trailing 1-0 and Travis Shaw having smacked a two-out triple, the 24-year-old righty bounced a knuckle curve on the plate that Grandal couldn’t come up with, as Shaw scored.

With one out in the eighth, and Shaw facing Alex Wood with Ryan Braun on first base, Grandal simply failed to catch a 91.9 mph fastball that missed its mark; Braun advanced but did not score.

Grandal has caught just eight innings since; two apiece in NLCS Games 4 and 6, with the balance coming in the two World Series games after entering as a pinch-hitter. In that limited time, he’s been party to another couple of wild pitches. In the seventh inning of Game 6, he caught Kenta Maeda with the Dodgers down 5-2. When the Brewers put runners on second and third with two outs, the lead became 6-2 after Maeda bounced a slider near the front left-hand corner of the plate that ricocheted away from Grandal. Aguilar scored and Mike Moustakas took third. In Game 2 of the World Series, with the Dodgers down 4-2, Grandal blocked a Scott Alexander slider in the right-hand batter’s box; Mookie Betts, who was on second, sped to third but didn’t score.

All told, that’s three passed balls, three wild pitches, a catcher’s interference and an error catching a throw on Grandal’s watch. By the Win Probability Added calculations in our play logs, the eight plays add up to -0.245 WPA for the Dodgers’. About half of that came on wild pitches (0.107 on Shaw scoring, 0.026 on Aguilar scoring, 0.003 on Betts advancing) — plays where that the official scorer judged Grandal not to be the primary culprit — but that’s still gonna leave a mark.

Meanwhile, Grandal has hit .120/.241/.280 in 29 plate appearances, with four walks and 12 strikeouts; two of his three hits have gone for extra bases. After striking out three times in four PAs in Game 1 of the NLDS, he homered off Anibal Sanchez in Game 2, walked three times in four plate appearances in Game 3 (he was batting eighth) and went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts in Game 4. He went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts in Game 1 of the NLCS, his defensive game from hell, grounded into a bases-loaded double play as a pinch-hitter in Game 2, and went 1-for-4 with a fifth-inning double (off Jhoulys Chacin) and three strikeouts in Game 3, the last with one out and the bases loaded in the ninth. In his four subsequent pinch-hitting appearances, he’s 0-for-3 with a walk, which was drawn off Ryan Brasier to load the bases in the seventh inning of Game 1 of the World Series.

All told, Grandal has the sixth-lowest WPA of the postseason from an offensive standpoint, though he doesn’t even have the lowest mark on his team:

Lowest WPA of the 2018 Postseason
Rk Player Team PA BA OBP SLG WPA
1 David Dahl Rockies 11 .000 .000 .000 -0.732
2 Kiké Hernandez Dodgers 37 .094 .216 .188 -0.672
3 Yuli Gurriel Astros 36 .226 .333 .387 -0.411
4 Martin Maldonado Astros 21 .105 .150 .316 -0.391
5 Trevor Story Rockies 18 .278 .278 .389 -0.385
6 Yasmani Grandal Dodgers 28 .125 .250 .292 -0.384
7 Jonathan Schoop Brewers 8 .000 .000 .000 -0.335
8 Jose Altuve Astros 37 .265 .324 .412 -0.331
9 Giancarlo Stanton Yankees 22 .238 .273 .381 -0.329
10 Jesus Aguilar Brewers 41 .216 .275 .459 -0.303
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Meanwhile, Barnes is just 2-for-22 with -0.121 WPA int he postseason, that after hitting a disappointing .205/.329/.290 (77 wRC+) in 238 PA, down from .289/.408/.486 (142 wRC+) lasts year. A good framer (8.3 runs above average) and blocker (1.0 runs) but subpar thrower (-0.2 runs) according to BP’s metrics, he’s thrown out two out of five runners attempting to steal, but was unable to stop the changeup that Ryan Madson bounced in front of the plate on his first pitch upon entering the World Series opener, with both runners advancing and later scoring.

Grandal started 110 games behind the plate in 2018 and 113 in 2017, but this is the second straight October that he’s taken a back seat in the postseason. Last year, he went into a tailspin over the final two months of the season while understandably distracted by his wife’s high-risk pregnancy that culminated with the birth of his son on the eve of the World Series; Grandal traveled back and forth to his wife in Arizona on off days, sometimes making five-hour drives on back-to-back days. He started just twice in the postseason, going 0-for-8 with three walks while Barnes made 13 starts and hit .217/.288/.326 in 52 PA. Grandal now owns a dismal .099/.256/.197 line in 87 postseason plate appearances, all with the Dodgers. Among players with at least 75 postseason PA since 1969, only one has a lower batting average (Dan Wilson at .091) and only two have a lower slugging percentage (Wilson at .102 and Mike Bordick at .174).

As reported by the Orange County Register‘s Bill Plunkett, Grandal credited the Brewers for holding him in check but blamed himself for “a horrendous job by continuing to not make an adjustment” at the plate. As for the defense, he struggled to accept the notion that he’s in some kind of slump:

“How much control do I have on a ball that hits the dirt? That’s the best way I can put it. … How many guys did I throw out during the two series? If you’re strictly basing a defensive slump off of three blocks that could have gone either way, three blocks that I talked to three, four other catchers about and they’ve all told me the same thing – if you go off of those three, then I guess you can say I’m in a slump.”

The catcher did say that after reviewing video of Game 1, he was too “flat-footed” in his setup, which affected his positioning in blocking a ball, but that he had fixed that issue. In his view, the bounces just haven’t gone his way:

“You’ve got one of the best defensive catchers in the game in [Gold Glove winner] Martin Maldonado and he’s blocking balls where they hit him dead on, the way it should be hitting, and the balls going other places. You’ve got [Brewers catcher] Erik Kratz, same thing in L.A. Ball hits him perfectly and it goes somewhere else. There’s nothing you can control as soon as that ball hits the dirt.”

Before Game 1 of the World Series, manager Dave Roberts said he anticipated starting Grandal at some point and was looking for the right matchup. With Barnes not hitting and with righty Rick Porcello on the mound, Game 3 would be a good spot. Grandal has been considerably stronger while batting from the left side of the plate, with a 120 wRC+ over the past three seasons and a 131 mark this year; he’s at 103 for 2016-2018 and 106 for this year from the right side. Via Statcast, he had a .447 wOBA against fastballs from righties this year, .365 for those 95 mph or faster (relevant for a potential Nathan Eovaldi start in Game 4).

As to what lies beyond this World Series, the assumption is that Grandal won’t be back in L.A., given that the Dodgers have, according to our own Kiley McDaniel, “two of the top three catching prospects in the game waiting in the upper levels” in Keibert Ruiz and Will Smith. They may need a stopgap to pair with Barnes in 2019, but don’t seem likely to make a multiyear commitment to Grandal, who will share top billing among the free agent catchers with Wilson Ramos.

Ramos has been slightly better hitter over the past three seasons (120 wRC+ to Grandal’s 116), albeit in about 300 fewer PA, but not nearly in Grandal’s class as a defender (79 runs above average to 6 via BP’s metrics, 39 to -11 via DRS). While the industry consensus is that Grandal may have cost himself money with his play this October, he’s 15 months younger and more durable than Ramos. He’s averaged 128 games per year to Ramos’ 104 over the past five seasons, and has had one knee surgery (2013) to Ramos’ two (2012 and 2016) — though he did also have A/C joint surgery in 2015.

We’ll have more to say on those two free agents — and all the others — after the World Series, of course. For now, we’ll see if Grandal can do anything to reverse the course of a very rough October.


A Madson Moment Turns World Series, Again

Wobbly Dodgers starter pitches his way into a jam. Red Sox lineup turns over to the third time through the order. Manager Dave Roberts summons reliever Ryan Madson. All runners score, Red Sox take the lead for good. You could be forgiven for feeling a sense of déjà vu regarding the basic template of the first two games of the 2018 World Series.

The Dodgers beat the Braves in the Division Series and the Brewers in the and League Championship Series in part because Madson, an August 31 acquisition from the Nationals, came up very big in a few key spots, but they’re down two games to none in this World Series because he’s failed to replicate that success. But whereas one could point to at least half-a-dozen other mistakes the Dodgers made en route to losing Game One, particularly in the field — to say nothing of Roberts’ ill-fated summoning of Alex Wood, who surrendered a game-breaking three-run homer to Eduardo Nunez — the Madson move stood out in Game Two, in part because the Dodgers played a cleaner game and in part because it cost them their only lead in this series thus far.

The Dodgers traded for Madson not only because they needed additional bullpen support due to myriad injuries but because the 13-year veteran is about as battle-tested as they come. His numbers at the time of the trade weren’t good (5.28 ERA, 4.36 FIP, 21.0% strikeout rate, 0.0 WAR in 44.1 innings), but he’d made 47 postseason appearances (fifth all-time) in six previous trips (2008-11 with the Phillies, 2015 with the Royals and 2017 with the Nationals), winning World Series rings with the Phillies and the Royals. “The numbers aren’t indicative of the stuff,” Roberts said at the time. “For us, we’re betting on the stuff and the person.”

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World Series Offers Rare Meeting of Potentially Hallworthy Closers

In October 1998, at a time when the Hall of Fame included just two relievers, the World Series featured a pair of Cooperstown-bound closers, namely the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera and the Padres’ Trevor Hoffman — not that anyone could have known it at the time, given that both were still relatively early in their careers. Twenty years later, while it’s difficult to definitively identify the next Hall-bound closer, the matchup between the Red Sox and Dodgers features what may be this generation’s best prospects for such honors in Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen. In a striking parallel, both have a chance to close out the most challenging seasons of their careers in the ultimate fashion.

When the Yankees and Padres met in 1998, Rivera was in just his fourth major-league season, Hoffman his sixth. On the postseason front, their fates diverged: Rivera threw 4.1 scoreless innings in the World Series (with 13.1 that fall) while notching three saves, including the Game Five clincher, while Hoffman served up a go-ahead three-run homer to Scott Brosius in Game Three, the only World Series inning he’d ever throw. Still, both had numerous great seasons and highlights ahead. Hoffman would break Lee Smith’s career saves record of 478 in 2006, become the first reliever to both the 500- and 600-save plateaus in 2007 and 2010, respectively, and get elected to the Hall in 2018. Rivera would seal victories in three more World Series (1999, 2000, and 2009), break Hoffman’s record in 2011, and retire in 2013; he’s a lock to be elected in his first year of eligibility this winter.

Currently, there’s no obvious next candidate to join enshrined relievers Hoyt Wilhelm (elected in 1985), Rollie Fingers (1992), Dennis Eckersley (2004), Bruce Sutter (2006), Goose Gossage (2008), Hoffman, and Rivera — save maybe for Smith, who will be eligible for consideration by the Today’s Game Era Committee this December (the ballot hasn’t been announced). Billy Wagner remains stuck in down-ballot obscurity, and the likes of Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon, and Francisco Rodriguez, whose excellent careers petered out before they could reach major milestones, don’t threaten to move the needle. Given the difficulty of their jobs, Kimbrel and Jansen could both meet the same fates. Both are still quite a distance away from Cooperstown, whether one measures by traditional or advanced statistical standards, murky as they may be, but as they cross paths, it’s worth taking stock of the distance they’ve traveled and the challenges they’ve faced while savoring the specialty of this matchup.

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The Ties That Bind the Red Sox and Dodgers

Given that the Dodgers have won 20 pennants and the Red Sox 13, and that the two teams have combined to make 25 trips to the postseason during the Wild Card era, it seems improbable that this World Series will be just their second meeting in the Fall Classic — and more than a century since their first. Both franchises have endured ups and downs over the decades, but in general have been among the majors’ most successful, with the Dodgers owning the third-highest winning percentage since 1901 (.526) and the Red Sox the fifth-highest (.519).

What follows is an exploration of nine shared aspects of the two teams’ rich histories, listed in vaguely chronological order. Not all of them will come to bear directly upon the action, but for a sport and an event where the present is always linked to the past, it’s worth keeping these relationships in mind.

1916: The Original Matchup

The Red Sox were one of the nascent American League’s most successful teams, winning six pennants in the Junior Circuit’s first 18 years and going undefeated in five World Series during that span: 1903 (the inaugural one, against the Pirates), 1912 (against the Giants), 1915 (against the Phillies), 1916 (against the Dodgers), and 1918 (against the Cubs). (John McGraw’s Giants refused to play them in 1904, and so there was no World Series.) As for the Dodgers, they began life as the Brooklyn Atlantics in the American Association in 1884 and were known variously (and unofficially) as the Grays, Bridegrooms, Grooms, Superbas, and Trolley Dodgers. They enjoyed some success in the 19th century, winning the 1889 AA pennant and the 1890, 1899, and 1900 NL ones, but they didn’t win their first of the 20th century until 1916, when they were known as the Robins in honor of manager Wilbert Robinson (a moniker that bore special significance to this scribe and expectant father a century later). Not until 1932 did they officially become the Dodgers, though a program from the 1916 World Series did bill them that way:

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