30 December 2007

Cooperstown Calling? Notes on the Hall of Fame Hopefuls...

We'll find out in a few days how many, if any new players have been elected to the baseball Hall of Fame this year. For the record, I'm guessing that Goose Gossage finally gets in this year, but unfortunately Jim Rice probably will as well. I expect that Mark McGwire will get about 35% of the vote.

I've long been a proponent of Goose getting into Cooperstown, and not just because he was a Yankee. Why isn't Goose Gossage in the Hall of Fame if Rollie Fingers (and now Bruce Sutter) are? Goose had fewer saves than Rollie, but more than Sutter, and a much better W/L record than either of them. He pitched more innings, allowed hits less often than either of them, struck out batters more often, allowed homers less often, and had a slightly lower adjusted ERA than Fingers, though slightly higher than Sutter (relative to the league) for his career. Goose was on nine All-Star teams to Fingers' seven and Sutter's six. Both Goose and Rollie led their league in saves 3 times, while Sutter did it five times. Rollie and Goose also each finished among the top 10 in the MVP voting twice (Fingers won it, with the Cy Young, in 1981). Fingers was among the top ten in Cy Young voting four times to Goose's and Sutter's 5 times, though Sutter won it once. Rollie and Sutter did each win four Rolaids Relief awards to Goose's one, but this is a kind of contrived award anyway, based simply on statistics rather than value, and statistics that can be manipulated, no less. Heck, Dan Quisenberry won 5 of them in 6 years, it doesn't make him a Hall of Famer.

I think that there are probably two main reasons that Goose is not yet in the Hall. Rob Neyer has argued that in the time it took Rollie Fingers to retire and then to be elected to the HoF, the status of the Save, as a statistic, changed. Managers started using pitchers specifically for the purpose of getting saves, and pretty soon, Goose's 310 didn't look so impressive anymore. At this point, he's only 17th on the career Save list, with fewer than Roberto Hernandez, Troy Percival, or Joe Table, and barely more than Jeff Montgomery.

Rollie and Goose were approximately contemporaries, with mostly overlapping careers, though Fingers ('68-'85) started sooner and retired sooner than Gossage ('72-94), but if Goose had retired two years earlier, he would have had a 2.93 ERA instead of 3.01, and the memory of him as one of the premier stoppers would have been fresher in the voters' minds when voting time arrived. Instead, he stayed a little longer than some of the BBWAA might have liked, pitching into his 22nd season, and still effectively I might add, with an ERA below the league average when the strike hit in 1994. I guess these guys want their favorites to ride off into the sunset as soon as their skills begin to diminish a little, that if you can't be The Stopper you should just stop. It's ironic that the same men who don't elect people like Ron Guidry for not pitching long enough also punish people like Gossage and Bert Blyleven for pitching so long.

My feelings on Rice were outlined in a post a few years ago, and have not changed significantly:

#1 - Jim Rice. I understand that he was very good, but being young enough not to have my opinion tainted by seeing him play, I can go to Baseball-Reference.com, look objectively at his numbers and admit that they are very good, but only borderline for a Hall of Famer. But then I can also visit Retrosheet and see his home/road splits and realize that he was helped a LOT by Fenway Park throughout his career. He hit .320/.374/.546 at home but only .277/.330/.459 on the road. I think you can’t vote for him for the same reason you likely won’t vote for Andres Galarraga (a better fielder with similar career numbers) or Larry Walker (a better fielder with better numbers). Their parks helped them too much.

I would add in Rice's defense that he may be knocked a bit unfairly for all the double plays he grounded into over the course of his career, as it seems that this stat is unfairly influenced by the fact that he played for a lot of teams that had good hitters, which means that thee were a lot of opportunities for him to GIDP, because there was always someon on in front of him. Still, he was slow, which made him both a lousy fielder and a lousy baserunner, in addition to being more prone to GIDP than someone with a modicum of speed.

Rice does not have longevity to cite in his career, so his case for the Hall relies entirely upon the fact that he was "dominant" for a period of time. There's no question that this is true, of course, but he also played half his games in a hitter's haven, and he did the kinds of things that MVP voters otice, like hit homers and drive in runs. What he did not do were things that are almost asimportant but that nobody realized were such a big deal at the time, like take walks and avoid making outs. In fact, in the New Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James argues that Roy White was actually a better player than Rice, when you adjust for the leagues and parks in which they played, and for the was in which they helped their teams win. Roy White, for crying out loud.

Tim Raines is the only player that's new to the Hof Ballot this year who actually deserves enshrinement, or for that matter, who's even close. His case is ot immediately obvious, because he was not a big RBI man, which the MVP and HoF voters tend to like, and didn't hit many homers for a left fielder. Still, though, he was probably the second best leadoff hitter in baseball history, though admittedly a distant second to Rickey Henderson.

Jayson Stark, in his online debate with Peter Gammons ovr at ESPN.com, argued that if you gave Raines creditfor all the time he missed due to collusion and to the players strikes in 1981 and 1994-95, he would have maybe had the 3,000 hits needed to be a shoe-in for Cooperstown, instead of only 2,605, but I'm not so sure. I projected Rock's performances out over the games he would likely have played in those years and I only found about 150 hits total, including about a dozen homers, in addition to 60 steals and 115 runs or so. In other words, not that much.

If you wanted to, you could even give him about 60 hits in 1980, when he only got a cup of coffee with the big league team, who for some reason thought it better to have Raines playing second base in Denver of the PCL, hitting .354 and stealing 77 bases in 108 games, than to have him in the majors, where their own secondbaseman (Rodney Scott) hit .224 with ZERO homers. Even considerng that he might have hit about .280 or .300 in about 200-250 or so at-bats, Raines only picks up another 50-60 hits, leaving him well below the 3,000 mark.

But forget that. We don't need to play Woulda/Coulda/Shoulda with Tim Raines. We can look at what he actually did, objectively, and see that he belongs in Cooperstown. He was among the league leaders in OBP 7 times, and was still putting up those kinds of numbers in limited playing time in his late 30's. He's 46th in career runs scored, and of the 45 players in front of him, 37 are already in the Hall, and Craig Biggio (#13), Rickey Henderson (#1), Barry Bonds (#3) and Rafael Palmiero (#29) either will be or would be if not for the steroid thing. The others are Pete Rose (#6), who's banned for life, and three 19th century players (George van Haltren, Bill Dahlen and Jimmy Ryan) who had long careers at a time when run scoring was cheap.

Jayson Stark points out:

...did you know Tim Raines reached base more times in his career than Tony Gwynn did -- and that they had nearly identical career on-base percentages? And did you know that every eligible player who reached base as many times as Raines did, and had as high an on-base percentage as he had, is in the Hall of Fame?

Well, technically, he's wrong about that. George Van Haltren scored 68 more runs and had the exact same OBP (.385) but is not in the Hall. Jimmy Ryan scored 71 more runs than Raines with an OBP that was only .011 lower, but is not in the Hall either. But that's beside the point, and I've already explained why. It should also be noted that Rusty Staub got on base more times than Tim Raines, and Gary Sheffield has already passed him on that list. Still, though, Jayson's point (I think) is that if Raines had gotten on base by hits more often and walked less often, he'd have ended up with gaudier looking numbers, without necessarily being any more valuable to his team. If Gwynn's in the Hall, then Rock should be, too.

Others previously on the ballot:

This is my opinion on Jack Morris, excerpts from something I wrote a few years ago:

Jack Morris. Sure he won more games than anyone else in the ‘80s, but that’s a confluence of circumstances more than anything, since he happened to come into his own just as the ‘70s were ending. Seaver, Palmer, Carlton, Sutton, Ryan, Niekro, Fernando, Guidry, Dave Stieb, and a bunch of other pitchers were as good as or better than Morris for most of the first half of his career and Clemens, Hersheiser, Cone, Gooden, Viola, Saberhagen, Dave Stewart, Mike Scott and others were comparable or better than Morris for most of the latter half of his career. No other pitchers of his quality or better happened to come up around the same time and last as long, but being the best of a weak era doesn’t make him one of the best of all time.

Morris was helped by his teams’ success tremendously. From 1979-1990, when he was the preeminent starter for the Tigers, the only team that won more games in those 12 seasons was the Yankees. And he followed that up by pitching his swan song years for three World Series winners and a would-be Wild Card team, the 1994 Indians. Put him on the Cubs for most of that career and you can summarize his candidacy for Cooperstown in two words: What candidacy?

Here are my recycled thoughts on Bert Blyleven:

Bert “Be Home” Blyleven. Besides having one of the best Bermanisms ever, this guy was a heck of a good pitcher. Blyleven’s ERA was better than the league and park-adjusted average in 16 of the 18 seasons in which h pitched enough to qualify for the ERA title. The man started pitching in the majors at 19, and was 37 years old before his adjusted ERA for a full season dropped more than 5% below the league average, and it had done that only once before. His adjusted career ERA (118) is better than that of Hall of Famers Robin Roberts, Gaylord Perry, Fergie Jenkins, Steve Carlton, Don Sutton, Phil Niekro, Early Wynn, and others, I’m sure.

Only twelve guys faced more batters in their careers, and they’re all in the Hall. Only four have ever struck out more of them, and they will all be in the Hall. In the 20th century, only Tommy John, who had the benefit of good teams and pitchers’ parks, has more wins and is not or will not likely be in the Hall, and he’s only got one more.

I just don’t see, based on what they did, not what their teams did around them, how Morris gets in while Blyleven doesn’t.

I do think that Bert Blyleven may actually get in this time, given the trend that his vote totals were taking prior to last year, when he lost a handful of cvotes thanks to the newly-arrived Gwynn and Cal Ripken. Some sportswriters have been coming over to his side, but he may not get enough back before his 15 years of eligibility are up.

Other new notable names:

Brady Anderson
Momentarily held the title of the only player ever to hit 50 homers in one season and steal 50 bases in another, until that greedy Bonds character came by and stole that record, too. Had a nice six-pack and those Luke Perry-sideburns, but not much to offer besides that.

Rod Beck
Speaking of six-packs...the late Rod Beck was a fun player to watch and emminently quotable (he once defended his lack of a workout regimen by saying that he'd never heard of anyone going on the DL with "pulled fat"). He might get a few more votes that you would expect because of his recent death, but he's got no shot.

Shawon Dunston
Speedy guy with a cannon arm and some pop in his bat, but he usually didn't hit for average and he absolutely never walked.

Chuck Finley was named to 5 All-Star teams but never won more than 18 games in a season, never placed higher than 7th in the AL Cy Young voting (and only got mentioned once) and never won a World Series, having left the Angels just before they won it all in 2002. When the most famous thing you ever did was marry the girl from the Whitesnake video, your resume is pretty thin.

Travis Fryman

Made 5 All-Star teams, and hit .300 or better twice, but only played 13 seasons, never scored 100 runs, and for a guy who played his whoe career in the power-mad 1990's, he never hit 40 doubles or 30 homers, which is a big knock against you when you play a power position like third base. Cool first name, though.

David Justice has a very similar resume to Fryman, ironically, though he had more power. He never did score 100 runs though, and only played 14 years, almost a third of them as a DH.

Chuck Knoblauch
It's hard to remember how good Chuck Knoblauch once was, because all we remember now is that he dropped way off when he went to the Yankees and that his defensive yips made everyone remember, and then forget, Steve Sax.

Robb Nen
I always wanted to spell his name "Rob Nenn". Seems like that woulda made more sense. He made three All-Star temas and finished 4th in the NL Cy Young voting once, but that was about it. 300 Save guy grow on trees these days.

Jose Rijo
Talk about Woulda/Coulda/Shoulda. Rijo had a world of talent, but just couldn't stay healthy. Give him credit for trying to make a comeback at 36, after 5 years away from the majors. But nobody's gonna vote for him. When he was eligible back in 2001, he got one vote. Probably from his mom.

Todd Stottlemyre Mel's son and the first guy I ever heard of who tried to come back form a rotator cuff injury with therapy instead of surgery. Didn't work, but you gotta give him credit for trying. Maybe he should have tried steroids...?

Notable/Controversial holdovers...

Harold Baines is a tough case. Well, I don't think so, but some fans might. The guy basically hung around forever, which gives him moderately impressive counting stats (2866 hits, 1628 RBIs, 3942 times on base, etc.) but his averages are weak. For his career, he hit .289 with a modest .356 OBP and a .465 Slugging percentage that is only decent for a power hitter. He hit .300 or better several times, but didn't walk that much and never hit 30 homers or scored even 90 runs in a season. His knees went bad early and he was basically a full-time DH by age 28, so he had no defensive value for more than half of his career. Sort of the Vinny Testaverde of the baseball world, without the color blindness and all those interceptions.

Andre Dawson was a BBWAA-type player if ever there was one. He hit for average, hit homers, stole bases and drove in runs, so they voted for him, ignoring the fact that he never walked, got caught stealing too often, and his knees prevented him from contributing much on defense. His 286 career Win Shares are fewer than Chili Davis, Dwight Evqns or Will Clark, and are only a handful more than Lou Whitaker or Jack Clark. Dave Parker is even lower, at 276 Win Shares, well below the standard set by contemporary sluggers Reggie Jackson and Mike Schmidt.

Tommy John
Good, but not great for a long time, like Baines. Played for a lot of good teams, which helps his win total just like the reverse hurt the totals of Blyleven. People have said that he should get into the Hall, at least in part, because they named a surgery after him, but in reality, if anything, Dr. Frank Jobe ought to get elected before Tommy John does. Having the surgery with his name on it is legacy enough, in my mind.

Dale Murphy was great for about 6 years, playing every game, averaging .289/.382/.530 with 36 homers, 105 RBIs, 110 Runs, 18 steals and 90 walks from 1982-87. But for the rest of his career he hit just .247/.317/.418 with 15 homers, 45 runs, 53 RBIs, 5 steals and an average of only 101 games played per season. And that was more than 1200 games, compared to the 967 he played during the 82-87 stretch. I just can't see voting for a guy who was great for a third of his career and pretty lousy for two thirds of it.

Mark McGwire has Hall of Fame numbers, but also a huge asterisk next to his accomplishments in the minds of many fans. I think he'll get in eventually, but not this year.

The Rest of the Rest...

Dave Concepcion is probably a little underrated, because so much of his value was wrapped up in defense, but is probably a little overrated for having played on all those great Reds teams in the 1970s, so I guess that evens out.

Don Mattingly
A world of talent, but too many back problems, and gets more credit (and more votes) than he deserves for having played in New York.

Lee Smith held the All-time career Saves record for a little while, but then so did Jeff Reardon, Johnny Murphy and Firpo Marberry. Smith wasn't really the best relief pitcher in baseball, probably ever, but he was one of the first and most successful at the one-inning save, and he pitched forever. None of that makes him a Hall of Famer.

Alan Trammell probably deserves more credit than he's gotten, having been overshadowed by Cal Ripken for most of his career, but that doesn't make him a Hall of Famer, either. A good to very good player for a long time? Sure, but only truly "great" that one year, in 1987. Not enough.

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