Saturday, January 05, 2008

Oakland A's/Hall of Fame

Other than the usual steroid crud, it's been a fairly quiet few weeks. The big exceptions have been Billy Beane's decision to blow up the Oakland A's, trading his best hitter and best position player within about three weeks, and revamping his farm system in the process, along with the upcoming Hall of Fame vote. I'll go over both.

As for the A's trades, it's an aggressive maneuver by Beane. He identified that the core of his team was not strong enough to compete with the Angels in the West, or whoever comes out of Sox/Yankees/Tigers/Indians as the wild card, and wasn't going to be for some time. Some poor personnel decisions, and some poor drafting had left the A's with a mediocre, injury-prone big league club, and very little in their own system to fix the problem.

The first mistake, though one just about anyone would have made, was identifying Eric Chavez as man to build the organization around. It made sense a few years ago - at 24, he was already the best defensive player in baseball, and was coming off back to back 30 home run seasons. He looked like a guy who was going to spend most of the decade as an MVP candidate. Instead, he's spent time on the disabled list in three of the past four seasons and, despite setting a career high with 68 extra base hits in 2005, never made that leap to the elite superstar that a lot of people thought he would. In the past two years, his batting average has dropped into the .240's as all sorts of health issues have come up. It's strange to think that he's still only 30, and even stranger that he's never been an all-star. There's probably some level of comeback left in him, but it's not as the franchise cornerstone.

The Chavez deal wasn't really the killer, though. Ever since Moneyball, Beane has done some very un-Moneyballish things, like signing Mark Kotsay and Scott Hatteberg to extensions, and of course, the killer Jason Kendall deal. Even worse, his ability as a brilliant manager of the amateur draft has eluded him. Ever since the famed Moneyball draft produced Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton in the first round, he's had some tough luck. Their 2004 draft, so highly rated at the time, did not pan out. Landon Powell, Danny Putnam and Richard Robnett are all first rounders who have not made an impact, and 2005 #1 Cliff Pennington seems to be able to draw walks, but do little else. Huston Street and Travis Buck seem like quality picks, but in all, the A's had zero prospects rated by baseball America as A or A-, and only one, Daric Barton, as a B+ (though I'd have Barton higher than that).

They were able to pick up three B+ prospects for Danny Haren in Carlos Gonzalez, Brett Anderson and Chris Carter (along with a B-), and two B+ guys for Swisher in Gio Gonzalez and Faustino de los Santos (along with a C+). As of today, five of the A's top six prospects, and seven of the top twelve, have come to the organization in the past two weeks. Not content to putter around mediocrity, the A's have completely revitalized their system by trading two non-elite players. They probably won't win more than 65 games this year. Most of the guys they traded for need some seasoning in the minors. Now, though, instead of having very little in the way of guys able to step in over the next two to four years, They have a solid half dozen.

As far as the Hall of Fame...
I'd be a bit shocked if Goose Gossage doesn't make it in. My guess is that Jim Rice will also make it. As a Bostonian, I suppose I'm expected to join the crowd and tout Jim Rice as "one of the most feared hitters of his generation." However, it simply wasn't true, and he's really nowhere near a Hall of Famer. I don't want to hear any of the "pre-steroid era" bullplop, 382 homers just isn't enough for a guy who is making his run to the Hall as a power hitter. Darrell Evans, Dwight Evans, Andres Galaragga and others are nowhere near the Hall, despite the fact they hit more homers than Rice AND contributed on "the defensive side of the ball," to steal a catchline from football.

If Rice was so feared, why was he 33rd in baseball during his 10 year prime in intentional walks? He had only four seasons of 30 or more home runs, one of 40 or more. The dominance of his 1978 season is overstated - it certainly wasn't rare to hit 46 homers in the "pre-steroid era." George Foster hit 52 in 1977. Dave Kingman hit 48 in 1979. The simple matter is that if Rice had only five years that were near great, which is fine if you are a very good player for several years more, Rice had maybe three good years beyond that. Rice only finished in the top ten in his league in OPS+ only five times, and his home/road splits are incredibly skewed, showing he gained more of an advantage from Fenway than even most of his teammates. I included Rice among my "yes" votes last year, and I really have trouble figuring out why. I think I watched Baseball Tonight too much that week.

The issue here with Rice (and the support for Don Mattingly) is that, because he played in the big market, he's getting all kinds of press support. If Rice and Mattingly had played for Seattle and Houston, respectively, both would've been lucky to make it past the 5% marker.

Take Tim Raines, for example. It's Raines first year on the ballot, and how many people know that he was on base more times, for his career, than Tony freaking Gwynn? If Raines had been a New York Yankee in the 1980's, rather than a Montreal Expo, forget the Hall of Fame plaque, he'd have a Manhattan skyscraper named after him. He'll be lucky to get 30% of the vote.

Bert Blyleven was 3rd alltime in strikeouts when he retired, he's 5th now, and voters who leave him off their ballot are essentially morons. Their argument that "he didn't make enough all-start teams" is vomit-inducing. Great, you subjectively underrated him when he was still playing, so that makes it ok to do the same now?

Voting for Jack Morris and against Bert Blyleven should result in losing your voting privelages. Joe Sheehan makes the argument about Morris better than I can right here. He pretty much did an ungodly amount of reasearch to put to rest the "Morris had a high career ERA because he pitched to the score" myth. Read it.

I loved Andre Dawson, growing up, and I have his starting lineup figure on my desk, but outfielders with .323 career OBPs really aren't Hall of Famers. He does have over 400 career homers and 300 career steals though, and was a great defensive player early on, making him a much better choice than Rice.

I'm close on Alan Trammell, but still leaning towards no. The career totals just aren't there, and I'm not sure that he was better than Davey Concepcion, who is on the same ballot.

Don Mattingly wasn't as good for his career as Mark Grace or Keith Hernandez. Yes, he was amazing before the back problems, but if we're going to start putting in guys who would've been Hall of Famers without getting hurt in, let me know when Mark Prior is eligible. The similarities between his supporters and Rice's are uncanny, right down to that one excellent season (Rice in '78, Mattingly in '86).

I'm still in the yes category on Dale Murphy. 398 career homers, legit top notch defense, and a peak that was just as good at the plate as the aforementioned Mattingly and Rice.

I'd vote for McGwire, but he's not going to get in, because he's only a great player because of steroids. You know, like Chris Donnels and Manny Alexanders steroid-aided borderline Hall of Fame legacies.

So there you have it. Yes votes for Gossage, Blyleven, McGwire, Murphy, Raines.

Go Redskins.