Friday, January 27, 2012

Hall of Fame post revisited

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post regarding the Hall of Fame, specifically regarding the candidacies of the prominent first basemen on the current ballot: Jeff Bagwell, Rafael Palmeiro, and Mark McGwire. While I generally felt good about the final result - definitive yes to Bagwell, debatable yes to Palmeiro, debatable no to McGwire - one of the methods I used to measure sort of bugged me, so I wanted to take a chance to re-examine and update my results.

Initially, I measured the number of seasons each of the players had with a WAR over 10, 8, 5 and 3. I used these values because they seem like good cutoff points. Why, though? I'm not sure, really, and as I re-read my post, they just seemed too... arbitrary. Of course, the whole process is a bit arbitrary. Drawing the line from what makes a Hall of Famer and what doesn't is ENTIRELY the preference of the person making that choice. If you're a "small Hall of Fame" voter, and believes that the Hall should only be for the Ruth/Mays/Aaron/Williams types, and you vote that way consistently, that's fine. As long as someone puts thought and effort into their methodology and is consistent with their standards, then that's all I can ask for.

However, "consistent" shouldn't mean "unchanging" in this case. As new information becomes available, of course it should be considered. The case I've used a few times this year is regarding Mike Fast's work at Baseball Prospectus regarding catcher defense. If we discover new information, we should use it. At the same time, if a methodology is developed for rating players, and a flaw is found in that, it's ok - in fact, it's necessary - to change it.

So I went back through my study, and realized these WAR season scores were just TOO arbitrary. Why was I drawing the lines where I was? No reason - they just seemed like good places to draw lines. However, with only one season of a first baseman having a 10+ WAR in our study, maybe that's too arbitrary? So I decided to put every season of our 25 players back into a spreadsheet, and instead of WARs of 10, 8. 5 and 3 as dividers, I'd use percentiles - the 99th, 90th, 75th and 50th.

This isn't perfect. It includes seasons at the beginning and end of careers when players weren't regulars or ended up stopping play. Still, it is BETTER. "Meliora" - that's what we're shooting for, right Yellow Jackets? If we can do better, then we should, even if better still isn't perfect.

Once completed, we're left with 396, sorted by WAR. the 99th percentile is 8.8, the 90th is 5.9, the 75th is 4.1 and the 50th is 2.0. These are still technically arbitrary cutoffs, of course - they're just drawn where they are for a reason.

Thomas, Frank0691530
Bagwell, Jeff15111330
Thome, Jim0591327
Palmeiro, Rafael0381425
Helton, Todd1571225
McGwire, Mark0391123
Clark, Will1261221
Giambi, Jason146819
McGriff, Fred0261018
Olerud, John0261018
Grace, Mark0051217
Delgado, Carlos0241016
Lee, Derrek003710
Joyner, Wally001910
Vaughn, Mo00369
Galarraga, Andres00268
Konerko, Todd00156
Martinez, Tino00246
Clark, Tony00044
Segui, David00044
Casey, Sean00033
Karros, Eric00033
Morris, Hal00033
Young, Kevin00123
Snow, JT00022

Compare this to our chart in our original post - Frank Thomas, who had no 8+ WAR seasons, had six where he's in the 90th percentile - he now gets credit for that. To me, this is just a more sensible measurement.

This changes our final results so slightly that my conclusions are the same. Thomas, Bagwell and Thome are still the definite choices, arguments can be made for Palmeiro and Helton, and McGwire and Giambi are, again too far off:

PlayerHHRTBTOBWAR10-peark3-peak5 BestSeasonsTOTAL
Thomas, Frank343222441.531.5
Bagwell, Jeff775411211.532.5
Thome, Jim81233365343
Palmeiro, Rafael1311461094.551.5
Helton, Todd5117664334.567.5
McGwire, Mark1821013577.57690.5
Giambi, Jason158999512893
McGriff, Fred254510119109.595.5
Clark, Will1015.5131179587106.5
Olerud, John917147887.569.5110
Delgado, Carlos1268101210111112128
Grace, Mark4211281112131211137
Galarraga, Andres696121518151416156
Lee, Derrek141315161413141513.5169.5
Joyner, Wally111917141315181613.5175.5
Konerko, Todd131011151617171817.5182.5
Vaughn, Mo191419181714121315192
Martinez, Tino161216171816161717.5199.5
Casey, Sean202421211919211922.5243.5
Clark, Tony241822232021202019.5247.5
Karros, Eric1715.518202322.5222122.5250.5
Snow, JT212020192220242225259
Morris, Hal232524242124252322.5274.5
Segui, David222323222422.5232419.5275
Young, Kevin252225252525192522.5288.5

Who knows - I may change this even more as I move on. But for now, I feel like it's an improvement over my previous results.

Does Jeff Francis fit with Cincinnati?

On the surface, the Reds signing of Jeff Francis to a minor-league contract seems like no-news news. However, I think he has a chance to play an important role on a team that should probably be considered the favorite in the National League Central.

Ok. A pitcher who went 6-16 with a 4.82 ERA and only 4.5 K/9 isn't generally much in demand, and Francis is several years and a major injury removed from his time as a promising young pitcher. The ninth pick in the 2002 draft, Francis rose quickly through the Colorado Rockies organization. Before the 2005 season, Baseball America ranked him the #23 prospect in baseball. In 2006 and 2007, he went 30-20. His ERA was 4.19, a number that might otherwise be mediocre but in Coors Field was a 116 ERA+. In 2007, he struck out 165 in 215.1 innings, and helped the Rockies reach their first World Series. Going into 2008, Francis's age-27 season, things looked good for both player and team.

Of course, these things don't always work out - Francis was experiencing shoulder soreness that caused him to be ineffective in 2008. The injury was determined to be an injured tendon in his biceps, and he was shut down after 21 starts. He attempted to rehab, but to no avail, and opted for shoulder surgery in February 2009, which shut him down for the next 15 months. Upon his return to the Rockies in May 2010, his fastball's velocity had lost about 4 mph, and he was generally ineffective all season. The Rockies cut ties with their former top prospect and Francis signed a one-year contract with the traditionally bottom-feeding Kansas City Royals for 2011.

In 2011, Francis wasn't especially good, but there are some positives, and some reason to think he could be a good signing for the Reds. First of all, while his 4.82 ERA is unsightly, his 4.10 FIP and 4.23 xFIP show that his peripherals are sometimes better than results. This is the second consecutive year Francis has underperformed what his statistics would predict, so it's important to determine whether Francis has been unlucky and should be expected to improve, or if he's just an AJ Burnett-corollary type, who consistently underachieves. That's not easy to do.

While his early-career ERA was generally in line with his FIP and other predictors, Francis is a totally different pitcher now, with a fastball that tops out at about 85. To compensate for his loss in velocity and declining strikeout rate, Francis has thrown more ground balls the last two seasons. Unfortunatly, he's been doing that in front of some pretty poor defenses - the Royals were 24th in baseball with a defensive efficiency(DE) of .701, and Francis ended up with a .316 BABIP. The Cincinnati Reds were 3rd in baseball and best in the National League with a .718 DE. That difference makes an especially big difference to a pitcher like Francis, who doesn't strike many batters out.

On the other hand, in his second year back from his injury, Francis's fastball actually lost velocity from 2010. Also, after an extremely effective July where he did everything well, he pitched very poorly the rest of the year. Whether this was fatigue or simply a regression to his actual ability remains to be answered. It's important to keep in mind, though, that he was at 135 IP by the end of July - he last reached that number in 2008, and he last reached it while healthy in 2007. If this was a case of fatigue, it was certainly understandable.

Something else to note - Francis allowed home runs on only 8.5% of his fly balls last year, despite a relatively low amount of infield flies, as Ryan Campbell of FanGraphs told us last week. That's not a good sign going into the Great American Ballpark, one of the best home run parks in baseball.

Even so, slightly worse luck on keeping fly balls in the park would be evened out by the fact playing in front of Cincinnati's defense will mean less people  are on base when those home runs are hit. He also will be facing pitchers instead of designated hitters this year, so if his durability and velocity come back to his previous numbers a bit more, he should be able to post a strikeout rate in the mid-5's, a number that should help bring keep his ERA in the low 4's.

Does that fit with Cincinnati? Sure, "you can never have enough pitching" as the old saying goes. Still, the Reds have Mat Latos and Johnny Cueto entrenched, can probably expect some sort of revival from the previously consistent Bronson Arroyo, and after that have Homer Bailey, Mike Leake and Aroldis Chapman. Of those three, Leake has more than earned the right to start. He wasn't as hyped as the other two, but as a first round draft pick who went straight to the majors, improved in every conceivable way in 2011, and is still only 24, why wouldn't they just pen him into the rotation?

Chapman, by contrast, has only made three professional starts, all in the minor leagues. The Reds say they are committed to him as a starter, and with his talent, they should be. Relievers are always available - the Reds owe it to themselves to give someone with Chapman's upside a chance to be as valuable as possible. What's the harm of letting him start the year at Triple-A though? With six other established starters in a weak division, the Reds are already poised to compete. No reason to throw Chapman into the fray before he's ready and risk both his confidence and their chances at the division.

That's where Francis fits in. Appearing as the 7th starter at first glance, he's more MLB-ready than Chapman. Quick question - do you expect all five of those starters, particularly Cueto and Bailey, to go the entire season without injury? That's unrealistic of any staff, even one comprised entirely of starters with a good health history. Francis could have significant value as a "swingman" type, starting out as a left-handed long reliever who is ready to move into the rotation if (when) one of the starters gets hurt. Much better him than trying to coordinate calling up Chapman the first time an injury strikes.

For $1.5 million for a pitcher with Francis's experience and likelihood of success, that seems like a sensible investment for the Reds.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

2011 Richie Ashburn Awards

Last year, I invented the "Richie Ashburn Award," dedicated to those rare players who have an on-base percentage higher than their slugging percentage. These players are rare because they can work deep counts and consistently get on base despite the fact that the player doesn't have such significant power that a pitcher would be disinclined to throw him strikes. Richie Ashburn was the master of this. Despite hitting only 29 home runs in his entire career, he led the National League in OBP four times. In 1960, he led the league with a .415 OBP and drew 116 walks despite not hitting a single home run, along with only 16 doubles and 5 triples.

I created some rules last year for a qualification for an Ashburn Award, which I'll review here.

1. The player must have an OBP higher than his SLG. Close doesn't count. Sorry, Alberto Callaspo (.288/.366/.375).

2. The player must have an OBP above. 350. Sorry Adam Dunn (.159/.292/.277). The award isn't given out just for being uniquely terrible. 

3. The player must have at least 400 plate appearances. I almost wanted to cheat and bring this number down in order to acknowledge Mets backup middle infielder Ruben Tejada (.284/.360/.335 in 374 PA). However, arbitrary rules are arbitrary rules. Still, a 21 year old middle infielder with a .360 OBP can probably expect some more playing time in the future. I can't even make the obligatory "unless he's stuck playing for the Mets" joke here, because Sandy Alderson is competent. 

That's it. Three simple rules to gain an Ashburn Award. With power numbers dropping around the majors, you figure there'd be quite a few players of this type, right? 

Wrong. We congratulate Jamey Carroll, our one and only winner of a 2011 Richie Ashburn Award. While playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Carroll had a 2011 line of .290/.359/.347.

Jamey Carroll - April 4, 2011
Credit: Cbl62 via Wikimedia Commons

This is Carroll's second consecutive award, and the third time he's met all qualifications in the last four years - in 2009, he missed because the Cleveland Indians gave him only 358 plate appearances.

I discussed Carroll's career in some detail in last years post, but I need to reiterate that it's nice that Carroll has gotten a run of playing time in his 30's. After not debuting until after his 28th birthday and not having a year with 400 plate appearances until his age-32 season, Carroll now has 3439 career PAs.

Carroll signed a two-year, $6.75 million contract with the Minnesota Twins back in November, where he will be a tremendous upgrade, even if he regresses some. Twins' second basemen had a .228/.278/.332 line in 2011, the worst in the American League in average and OBP, second worst in SLG. By contrast, only the Red Sox, led by Dustin Pedroia, had a higher team OBP from their second basemen than Carroll's .359. Indeed, that .359 number outpaced American League regulars Ian Kinsler (.355), Ben Zobrist (.353) and Robinson Cano (.349).

So congratulations to Jamey Carroll on his award, and on the Minnesota Twins for identifying such a valuable player at a position they desperately needed to upgrade.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Yu Darvish will probably be excellent

Why do I think that? Pretty simple really - he's always been excellent. Players who are excellent in one league generally are excellent in the next. We expect the best players in the Australian League or the International League or the Dominican Winter League to become the best players in the Major Leagues. The skills that make you good at baseball are the same, pretty much no matter where you play. Sure, there are some skills that aren't rooted out in the minor leagues. Pitchers who mix their pitches well but have mediocre stuff usually don't excel in the majors. Batters who have a specific weakness that minor league pitchers aren't good enough to exploit might be found out. In general though, the best players at a level tend to carry that through to the next level.

Yu Darvish has been, by far, the best pitcher in Japanese baseball. He has five consecutive seasons with an ERA under 2.00, and he seems to be improving. In 2011, as a 24 year old, he set a career best in every potentially important category - no matter what categories it is you find important: innings pitched (232), ERA (1.44), wins (18) , strikeouts (276), K/9 (10.7), BB/9 (1.4), HR/9 (0.2), WHIP (.828)... you don't need me to tell you that these are exceptional numbers.

It's not just numbers - Darvish has the sort of stuff that, even if he'd had no history of success, would make scouts take notice. Jonah Keri posted this piece on which I can't really add much to. I'm not sure he'll actually throw six pitches - unless all six are excellent, Mike Maddux will probably have him focus on his four best, and perhaps using a fifth on rare occasions. He's also built like the prototypical starting pitcher, at 6'5", 220. If a guy had put those numbers against college-level talent, with the stuff and build Darvish has, they'd probably be the #1 pick in any draft and expected to rocket through the minor leagues.

With that in mind, why does everyone seem so worried?

I know, I know. Daisuke Matsuzaka. Five years ago, he came in with similarly unbridled expectations. He'd been the Greatest Japanese Pitcher Ever. A national treasure. The scouts and stats both loved him - Baseball America named him the #1 prospect in baseball going into the 2007 season. (Go back and look at this list - only five years later, and the list would be... quite different. Anyhow, moving on). It didn't quite work out. His first two seasons were probably better than you remember,* but classifying Matsuzaka's stateside performance as a disappointment is probably fair.

*He was 33-15, ERA+ of 126 in 372.1 innings, striking out 355 and walking 174. Really.

We see tons of comparisons between Matsuzaka and Darvish, some well done, and some less so. Occasionally, I will see these comparisons labeled "racist." I don't think that's fair - Darvish and Matsuzaka were coming from pretty similar circumstances, and begin their U.S. careers at about the same age (Matsuzaka was about 8 months older in April '07 than Darvish will be on opening day). And both came in with similar hype. Certainly some of the people comparing the two are racist, or at least a bit jingoist. Most people, though, are just baseball fans who are trying to get a handle on what Darvish's statistics actually mean. "He was the best pitcher in Japan? So what - we heard all these things five years ago." That's understandable.

So if we're going to compare them, we need to dig a little bit deeper than "the best pitcher in the Japanese League." Both of them being the "best" at their time doesn't make them equivalent, in the same way Pedro Martinez's Cy Young-winning 1999 season wasn't equivalent to Felix Hernandez's 2010. In his last five seasons in Japan, Darvish has a 1.74 ERA and a 4.9 K/BB ratio, while Matsuzaka had a 2.63 ERA and a 4.2 K/BB. Darvish has the superior stuff and build. And, perhaps most importantly, Darvish has the less-checkered injury history - after throwing 240 innings as a 20 year old in 2001, Matsuzaka got hurt and got to only 73 the next year. He didn't reach 200 innings again until the 2005 season. Darvish, by comparison, has thrown 200 innings in four of the past five years, and the one he missed he got to 182. He's thrown more innings, but he's been much more consistent with the innings thrown. All pitchers are injury risks, but a 25 year old without a history of health problems is a better bet than a 25 with a history.

All of which is to say, Darvish should be rated more highly than Matsuzaka was going into 2007.

Beyond thinking he will succeed, though, I need to disclose something to you, the reader. I am rooting, openly, for Yu Darvish to succeed.

Why? Well, for one thing, because I can.

More importantly, I'm rooting for Yu Darvish to succeed, because I want to get over the "can Japanese pitchers succeed in the majors" question. Of course they can. Hideo Nomo, Kaz Sasaki, Hideki Kuroda, Takashi Saito, Shigetoshi Hasegawa, and yes, to an extent, even Daisuke Matsuzaka had success in the majors. None of them had awesome success, though. Of that group, Nomo had by far the most decorated career, winning the 1995 NL Rookie of the Year Award, pitching two no-hitters, and twice leading his league in strikeouts (1995 and 2001). He won 123 games. That's a nice career and all, but no Japanese pitcher was so good that he has taken away the curiosity effect.

*Note: I know that Darvish is half Iranian. That's not especially relevant - he is, and will almost definitely continue to be, discussed as a "Japanese pitcher."

What do I mean by "curiosity effect?" Basically, the fact that he's Japanese will be treated as a story itself. When Ichiro Suzuki leads off a game against Darvish for the first time (likely during that April 9-12 series in Texas), inevitably it will be treated as a big deal. In 2012, 17 years after Nomomania, that's a little silly. We don't see that when Carlos Ruiz bats against Mariano Rivera (they're Panamanian!) or Jacoby Ellsbury against Jeremy Guthrie (they're Oregonian!), and I'd like to see a Darvish-Ichiro at bat to be treated as a baseball matchup, rather than a national one.

To create that normalcy, Yu Darvish needs to live up to his lofty expectations. If he doesn't, people will ask why, and the easy answer will be that he wasn't properly prepared to play in the major leagues. Not because he's Japanese, but because they just develop players "differently" in Japan.

However, if he DOES live up to those expectations, and becomes an ace quality pitcher? That's one less question GMs will need to ask themselves, one less question every Japanese pitcher will be faced with, and one more pool of talent that every team will make sure they have access to. That way, when the next phenom comes down the road, instead of "can he pitch in America?" the question will simply be "can he pitch?"

Monday, January 16, 2012

Yankees rebuild their starting rotation; Mariners have a new best hitter

I know that last week I promised a breakdown of the Oakland A's rebuilding. I'm working on it, I promise. Also, I know that this is yet another post on the American League East. What can I say, this was the biggest news of the weekend. I suppose you can have your money back. 

As you probably know by now, the Yankees have reportedly signed former Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda to a one year, $10M contract. In an even bigger move, they traded their top prospect, Jesus Montero*, to the Seattle Mariners for starting pitcher Michael Pineda. Pineda and Montero are both potential franchise cornerstones, and making this deal took a lot of guts by both Brian Cashman and Jack Zduriencik.

*Note that I did not list a position for Montero. This is not an accident.

Going into the weekend, the Yankees rotation consisted of C.C. Sabathia and a lot of questions. Ivan Nova had a nice but inconsistent rookie season. He was the only sure bet for the rotation after Sabathia. Phil Hughes was injured and not very good in 2012. Freddy Garcia faded down the stretch. Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances had inconsistent seasons at AAA. (Betances especially. He turns 24 in March, and had over 6 BB/9 and an ERA over 5.00 at Scranton. I really don't think he'd be considered a prospect if he wasn't a Yankee). And AJ Burnett stinks, despite what some others still would have you think.

So, going into the weekend, the crew of Hughes, Garcia, Burnett, Banuelos, Betances in was going to make up 3/5 of the Yankees starting rotation. Now? Depending on the health of the front four, they'll likely be counted on for less than 250 innings pitched, total.

First, the Kuroda deal. In four seasons stateside, Kuroda has a 3.45 ERA and a K/BB ratio over 3.0. He is coming off his best overall season in 2011, with a career best 3.07 ERA while setting career highs in innings pitched (202), and strikeouts (161). On the other hand, Kuroda is 37 years old, and gave up 1.1 HR/9 pitching for the Dodgers last year. If that's his home run rate in Dodger Stadium, what would he do in Yankee Stadium?

The Yankees don't need Kuroda to put up a 3.07 ERA though (and are paying him as such). If he can have an ERA in the 4.00-4.50 range and get over 180 innings, he'll be a 15 game winner and really stabilize the middle of their rotation. This seems a likely scenario. There's always a risk involved in signing any 37 year old pitcher, but Kuroda was as durable as ever last year, and a one year risk is pretty much a no-brainer.

One note - Kuroda had stated a preference to remain on the west coast, and even vetoed a trade to come east during the season. New York moves with a different speed than LA - this will be an adjustment. In general I think the transition to pitching in Boston/New York/Philly is overstated - almost everyone who is good elsewhere is good there - but there is the inexplicable occasional Kenny Rogers. Kuroda will probably pitch fine, but if he isn't, it will almost certainly be blamed on the transition.

On the other hand, you have to wonder what the heck every west coast team is thinking, don't you? Are the Dodgers so screwed up right now that they couldn't afford to keep a guy who wanted to pitch there on such a team friendly contract. The Mariners, A's and Padres may all be rebuilding, but all play in pitcher-friendly ballparks, and Kuroda got a team-friendly deal. It seems like he could've been a fit giving stability to those young rotations. The Giants and Angels get a pass, I suppose - the Giants need to spend their money on stuff other than the rotation, and the Angels have certainly not been cheap this offseason - but the other four west coast teams really dropped the ball here.

The Pineda-for-Montero swap is the much more interesting deal, with much longer-lasting implications. Both of these players have franchise player-type upsides. It's also something of a rarity in that it's a Yankees trade where money wasn't a primary concern with the trading partner. Montero is under control until 2017 (probably - I'm assuming an opening day roster spot), while Pineda will be after the 2016 season. Pineda will also be arbitration eligible a year earlier. But those considerations are a ways off - this was a pretty straight up baseball trade. The Yankees were the second highest scoring offense in the AL last year, and they needed young pitching. The Marniers were last in the league in runs, batting average, SLG, OBP and walks. They led in strikeouts. They had two offensive players with a WAR above 2.0.  That's not a park effect, it's an inability to hit. The Mariners had a young, unproven potential ace. The Yankees had a young, unproven, potential home run champ. It was a sensible deal, but far from an obvious one - none of the sources I know of had talked about it. The Yankees also included Hector Noesi, who appeared in 30 games last season.

So, how good are these guys? Michael Pineda, who turns 23 on Wednesday, was Baseball America's #16 prospect heading into the 2011 season. The biggest reason was his high-90's fastball, which was one of the most effective in the majors in 2011, generating an extremely low contact rate. The pitch averaged 94.7 mph, and batters made contact only 80% of the time when they swung (a very low rate for a fastball). Perhaps the more impressive development was his slider, which batters made contact with on only 62% of their swings. Getting batters to swing and miss is the most important thing a pitcher can do, and Pineda spent 2011 doing it as well as anyone. The result was a rookie season where he struck out 9.1 batters per 9 innings, second best in the AL. The 3.74 ERA (a mediocre 103 ERA+ in Safeco) showed some fatigue- his ERA gradually rose throughout the season. That's to be expected in any 22 year old as the league makes adjustments. Those swing and miss numbers are ace-like, and drew him comparisons with Pedro Martinez.

Note: These comparisons are dumb. Every Dominican pitcher with good stuff now gets compared to Pedro Martinez. At his peak from 1997-2003, Pedro Martinez was arguably the best pitcher of all time. Pineda could be significantly worse than Pedro and end up in the Hall of Fame. Also, Pineda's like a foot taller or something. They're really not all that similar, other than the fact their sliders are really tough on right handed batters. The comparison is unfair to both Pineda and Martinez.

So, he's a slam dunk, right? Well, not quite. He generated ground balls with only 26% of his fastballs, meaning it is an extreme fly ball pitch. He threw his fastball to lefties 62% of the time. Yankee Stadium is the best park in baseball for lefthanded hitters to hit home runs. You see where I'm going here. Pineda is going to need to generate a secondary quality pitch against lefties, or teams are going to go into the Bronx with lefty-loaded lineups. 

Still, what we're talking about is a very specific problem with a pitcher who is only 23 years old. Even if Pineda ends up giving up 25-30 homers a year in Yankee Stadium, his low walk rate and high strikeout rates that will go with it will likely keep his ERA somewhere below 4.00. If his changeup turns into a plus pitch? Then we're talking about a Cy Young candidate. As always, the injury possibilities of any young pitcher are there. That's especially true with Pineda, who pitched only 47 innings in 2009 because of elbow problems. Still, with a chance to acquire a much-needed #2 pitcher with ace potential to complement Sabathia, the Yankees were compelled to jump.

But, you ask, what about Jesus Montero? Wasn't he just the talk of the season with his monster September? Why is all of the talk we're hearing about Pineda? Doesn't Montero deserve some love? Montero was Baseball America's #3 prospect last season, and after he was called up he had a .328/.406/.590 line in 69 plate appearances. Isn't he as much of an impact player as Pineda, with much less of a chance of being a bust? 

Short answer no, with an if. Long answer yes, with a but.

For two years now, when talking about Montero, the conversation inevitably be drawn to whether or not he was a catcher. So let's get this out of the way right now. Jesus Montero is not a catcher. Say it out loud if you need to. It may help. 
In 2010, with Jorge Posada and Francisco Cervelli the nominal Yankee catchers, there were calls among Yankee fans to bring Montero up. "We don't care how bad he is at catching, we need SOMEONE there, and his bat will carry him." To that, I say, it becomes really easy to forget how good major league baseball players are at what they do. When we say someone is "bad" at something, we mean worse than other major leaguers. So when Yankee fans heard that Montero was a bad catcher, they thought of Mike Piazza or Mike Napoli. Their own Jorge Posada was never a good defensive catcher, and he was their for five World Series wins and 7 AL pennants. You can win with a bad defensive catcher!

But Jesus Montero is not a bad defensive catcher on the standard of other major league defensive catchers. He's not Mike Piazza or Jorge Posada or even Brandon Inge. A more apt description came from Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus. In 2010, when Yankee fans were clamoring for Montero, Goldstein said something along the lines that the Yankees would just as well served to put Lance Berkman back there.

Indeed, when watching major league quality baseball every day, it can become jarring to watch lower level baseball, where the skills and mechanics aren't anywhere near the same quality. While the difference between good and bad in MLB might be the slightest split second, hard for the untrained eye to notice, the difference between a mediocre but serviceable MLB player and someone who isn't is immediately striking. With Montero, he wasn't just bad at catching, he was strikingly far from being anything close to a major league catcher. 

To which I say: So what? Most of the best hitters in baseball aren't catchers. We don't criticize Albert Pujols for not being a catcher. The Yankees tried to make Montero a catcher, and he isn't. He's still a major league quality hitter.

The best comparison I can think of was, in the early 1990's, the Toronto Blue Jays had a slugging minor leaguer who they signed out of Puerto Rico and were trying to make into a catcher. The Blue Jays, of course, were a perennial contender, winning consecutive World Series in 1992 and 1993. They needed a catcher, and if this kid could catch, he'd fill a major spot for them. 

Of course, Carlos Delgado wasn't a catcher. Despite their efforts, it wasn't happening. His footwork and release were too slow, his pitch blocking too inconsistent. After a 17-year career where Delgado had a borderline-Hall of Fame-level .280/.383/.546, is anyone criticizing him for not being a catcher? No! He was a great hitter, and when he was ready for the majors, the Blue Jays let him hit. 

Montero is that type of talent. Still, the Yankees seemed ever-so-intent on making him a catcher, to the point where he NEVER played another defensive position in the minor leagues! I mean, doesn't that seem kind of silly? Shouldn't he have at least been practicing at 1B, 3B or the outfield? It was almost like giving him instruction at another position was admitting to the world that he couldn't catch. In so doing, they locked themselves into a corner - a young hitter who had only ever caught but couldn't catch.

There is a bias against putting good young hitters at DH. I guess it's seen as a dead-end street. It's fine to sign an old guy to DH, but putting a young guy there is taboo. It's a silly bias. Every AL team needs a DH, and having a crummy hitter there hurts you MORE than having a crummy hitter elsewhere, because that crummy-hitting SS can make up for it by playing quality defense. The bias against young designated hitters resulted in guys like Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz taking FAR to long to get the starting jobs that they deserved, and consequently will likely keep both out of the Hall of Fame.

In 2011, Seattle Mariners designated hitters put up an astonishingly poor .225/.316/.332 line. Montero, now 22 years old, has a .289/.351/.493 in almost 1000 plate appearances at Triple-A, where he has been one of the youngest players. Maybe he has the dreaded "old-player skills" that won't age well, but so what - he'll probably be a free agent going into his age 28-season, unless there's a contract extension forthcoming. What kind of player he'll be in his 30's is not the worry for the Mariners today. He has 35-to-40 home run type power, and is probably the best hitter on his new team already, with apologies to Dustin Ackley. 

So, who "wins" this trade? Obviously, when talking about two players in their early 20's, it's a little silly to make such a proclamation. I will say, though, that it is a sensible trade for both sides. Pineda is the higher risk player, both in terms of downside and injury possibilities. There's a chance he'll break down and be a total bust. On the other hand, Montero has very little of that risk - I'd be shocked if he doesn't turn out, at the very least, an above average MLB hitter (think .290/.375/.475 as a lower baseline, and go up from there). That said, good hitters are available more often than potential ace pitchers. If Pineda turns into the next Felix Hernandez or Pedro Martinez, he's worth more than any DH. Considering where both teams are coming from, this makes sense. The Yankees can take risks - they've spent big and lost before, and have finished first or second in their division 17 of the past 18 years. On the other hand, the Mariners already have the original Felix Hernandez, and really need a consistent bat in the middle of their lineup that they can depend on. 

Both teams are taking a chance, and you have to give them credit for not becoming overly enamored with their own prospects to the point they became blinded to their overall needs. Pitchers and catchers report in a month - who's excited?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Roy Oswalt still available, probably still good

This has been a strange offseason. There were only three managerial openings. The biggest free agent signed with a team nobody expected. The Oakland A's started rebuilding again (ok, that's not strange at all, and will merit it's own post in the coming days). The Red Sox, Yankees, Mets, and Cubs all seem to not be spending money - instead, the Angels and Marlins are the ones running up the checkbook.

Because of this, several free agents are still available. I can understand teams being wary of giving a long-term contract to Prince Fielder, who is a tad on the heavy side and has the dreaded "old-player skills" that often don't age well. Ditto not giving Edwin Jackson the five year (?!) deal he is asking for - he's been traded five times since the end of the 2008 season, after all.

On the other hand, there's Roy Oswalt. Sure, he's 34 and coming off a season when he hurt his back. Back injuries are scary things, so between that and his age, there's a good chance he'll never again be the pitcher he once was. Still, it's hasn't been so long since the 2010 season, when he led the National League in WHIP. Even last year, when he was injured, he managed an ERA+ of 105 and a K/BB ratio of 2.82. Sure, those are way down from his career 133 ERA+ and 3.52 K/BB, but they're still quite good.

Roy Oswalt, 9/28/2010
By dbking on Flickr (Originally posted to Flickr as "IMG_1540") [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

It's not like Oswalt is "injury prone" either - he just has one very specific injury. In the previous seven seasons, he made at least 30 starts every year and fell below 200 innings pitched only once. He was an extremely durable pitcher until last year, when he wasn't. It stands to reason that, if his back injury is under control, he can once again be durable.

Of course, that's a big if. There's a risk involved here. However, unlike Jackson, Oswalt isn't looking for a big, long-term investment. He is reportedly willing to take a one-year deal in order to prove that he is healthy - likely in hopes of garnering a long term investment from somebody last season. This is reminiscent of the Adrian Beltre situation. Beltre became a free agent after 2009, the worst year of his career. Instead of working toward a long-term contract with a lower potential annual value, Beltre and the Red Sox agreed to a one year, $9M contract to show the world he could again be healthy and productive. With Boston, he put up a .321/.365/.553 line to go along with his typically fantastic defense, turning that season into a 6-year, $96M contract with the Texas Rangers.

The upside for Oswalt would seem to be even higher than Beltre's was in 2010. Essentially every competitor, with the exception of the Angels, needs another starter. An $8 to $12M, one-year contract to find out if Oswalt is healthy seems like an incredibly sensible risk. He'd be making MUCH less money than AJ Burnett or John Lackey, with none of the downside. If he's healthy, he makes your team better. If he stays hurt, he's off the books after the season. It's a short-term risk for a potentially momentous award.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Top 10 of 2011

Ladies and gentlemen, a recap of the Top 10 posts of 2011 here at The Dunne Deal:

For one of the feel good stories of the year, this one seemingly went under the radar.  Burroughs wasn't particularly productive, but he got into 78 games for a team that made the playoffs, and had three more postseason at-bats than Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp or Jose Bautista. Burroughs signed a minor league contract with the Twins this offseason.

Bautista ended up playing 25 games at third. I expect about the same in 2012.

This one got linked to on SoSH, a pretty big Red Sox forum, which propped up the hit count. I still believe, to this day, that Rudy Pemberton would've been the difference for the Sox in the late 1990's. Sigh...

Damon hasn't yet received an offer from the Rays for 2012. He's remained a 2.0+ WAR player even in his decline phase. That should keep him employed somewhere as he marches toward 3,000 hits.

A post where I compared Upton's offense to that of Melky Cabrera.

He'll always have the series against the Athletics. After this post, Hottovy appeared in 5 games, gave up 3 runs in 2.2 innings, was designated for assignment, spent the rest of the year in Triple-A, and then signed a minor league contract with the Kansas City Royals. We hardly knew ye.

4. Bruins: 6/16/2011
People do a google image search, and found this incredibly academic post about the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup. 

A lot of searches for this that specifically mentioned Brooklyn. I stand by this idea.

I followed this with another post regarding Delmon Young. A few Twins' blogs linked to this one, as the Twins had their worst season in over a decade. After the season, Smith was removed from the GM position and reassigned within the organization.

1. The Mariners Need to Call up Dustin Ackley: 6/23/2011
Traffic for this one came almost entirely from Google hits. The Mariners did indeed call up Ackley, about two weeks later. He hit .273/.348/.417 and played a solid second base. His 2.5 WAR ended up second on the team, behind Brendan Ryan. It didn't help the Mariners, who collapsed anyway.

It was a fun year - a lack of other important responsibilities over the summer allowed me to post more than I'd ever been able to, and I really enjoyed it - I have to believe it led to me getting the opportunity. Thank anyone who read for a great 2011!

Reevaluating the Bagwell, McGwire and Palmeiro candidacies

The Hall of Fame results will be announced today at 2:00. The votes have long been in and counted, so this piece is, in some ways, past history. All indications are that Barry Larkin will be the only player elected by the BBWAA. Larkin is a deserving Hall of Famer, but it seems strange that, following the greatest offensive era in baseball history, a shortstop with only 198 home runs will be the only one inducted.

Perhaps, though, it’s not so odd. After all, if everyone was hitting for ridiculous power numbers, it is easiest to appreciate someone with a great all-around game like Larkin or Roberto Alomar, last years induction.  It’s been hard to rate the power hitters of the past era because they lack historical context. I’m not sure whether or not hitting 40 home runs is more impressive when everyone else is doing it. I’m largely sure that it’s not a whole lot *easier.* What I am confident in, however, is that it’s much less valuable. If the 40 home run hitter becomes a free agent in an era when everyone is hitting at that level, finding a replacement is easier. It also draws attention to all of the other things a baseball player can do – defense, baserunning, drawing walks, getting base hits.

In the past, I’ve advocated the Hall of Fame candidacies of Jeff Bagwell, Rafael Palmeiro, and Mark McGwire. However, a lot of people who I consider to be pretty smart are leaving at least those last two off of their ballots. I thought a thorough investigation as to what a Hall of Fame level production from a first baseman during the offensive era should look like.

Now, naming it the offensive era may seem like a cop-out to avoid calling it the “steroid era.” After all, steroids (or suspicion of steroids) is a huge element in keeping Bagwell, Palmeiro, and McGwire out of the Hall of Fame.  My take is the same as it’s always been – players need to be compared to their contemporaries. It’s impossible to know, for certain, who was using. MLB failed to put testing and penalties in place. I think it’s unfair to punish individual players – particularly the BEST individual players – after the fact. That said, it IS fair to measure  players against the bloated accomplishments of their contemporaries. Comparing Mark McGwire to Willie McCovey doesn’t fly. He needs to be compared to Bagwell, Thomas, Thome, and the other great sluggers of his era. That, I think, is what makes people so mad- they love to compare players across eras, and now they can’t. Therefore, I think “offensive era” works – it identifies both the high level of offense in the 90’s and early Aughts as well as how offended people seemed to be by it.

For this quick study, I considered anyone who played at least 1000 games at first base between 1990 and 2006. If this dating seems arbitrary, it is, in some ways. I needed a start date and an end date. Extending this to 2007 would have added quite a few more players who might not really be identified with the offensive era – Pujols, Fielder and Teixeira, specifically. My study gave me 26 players:  Jeff Bagwell, Sean Casey, Tony Clark, Will Clark, Carlos Delgado, Andres Galarraga, Jason Giambi, Mark Grace, Todd Helton, Wally Joyner, Eric Karros, Paul Konerko, Derrek Lee, Travis Lee, Tino Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Hal Morris, John Olerud, Rafael Palmeiro, David Segui, JT Snow, Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, Mo Vaughn, and Kevin Young. I then eliminated Travis Lee because he failed to reach 10 years of service time. This left me 25 players to compare, and it made it easy to see why voters may be reluctant to vote for Palmeiro and McGwire – a question of whether they were significantly more valuable than their contemporaries.

I started out by comparing their career based on hits, home runs, times on base, total bases, and bWAR. (I prefer B-R’s WAR to FanGraphs for long term value. FanGraphs may have more predictive value, but that’s not helpful when comparing past players):

Bagwell, Jeff1991-20052150943123144490.2970.4080.540421379.976.33.6
Thomas, Frank1990-200823221007424685210.3010.4190.555455075.983.2-7.3
Thome, Jim1991-PR24851012722876040.2770.4030.556459571.475.1-3.7
Palmeiro, Rafael1986-200628311204630205690.2880.3710.51553886661.94.1
McGwire, Mark1986-20011874766016265830.2630.3940.588363963.166.7-3.6
Helton, Todd1997-PR2054872523633470.3230.4210.550402859.950.19.8
Clark, Will1986-20001976828321762840.3030.3840.497356257.656.51.1
Olerud, John1989-20052234906322392550.2950.3980.465353056.847.19.7
Giambi, Jason1995-PR2103850919484280.2810.4040.525364153.761.7-8
McGriff, Fred1986-200424601017424904930.2840.3770.509445850.553.2-2.7
Grace, Mark1988-20032245929024451730.3030.3830.442356547.139.37.8
Delgado, Carlos1993-20092035865720384730.2800.3830.546397644.248.7-4.5
Joyner, Wally1986-20012033811520602040.2890.3620.440313334.228.95.3
Lee, Derrek1997-PR1942796319593310.2810.3650.495344431.129.91.2
Galarraga, Andres1985-20042257891623333990.2880.3470.499403826.729.5-2.8
Konerko, Paul1997-PR1998816320243960.2820.3580.500359225.929-3.1
Vaughn, Mo1991-20031512641016203280.2930.3830.523289425.830.4-4.6
Martinez, Tino1990-20052023804419253390.2710.3440.471334925.719.66.1
Casey, Sean1997-20081405564415311300.3020.3670.447226715.812.92.9
Clark, Tony1995-20091559512011882510.2620.3390.485219611.712.1-0.4
Morris, Hal1988-2000124644431216760.3040.3610.433173210.810.70.1
Snow, JT1992-20081716655315091890.2680.3570.42724071012.8-2.8
Karros, Eric1991-20041755710017242840.2680.3250.4542922910.6-1.6
Segui, David1990-20041456544914121390.2910.3590.44321457.911.9-4
Young, Kevin1992-20031205435110071440.2580.3240.43817085.11.53.6

As you can see, while Palmeiro is at or near the top in many counting stats, he finishes only fourth in WAR, contributing to the perception of him as a player who was good for a long time, but rarely great. Jeff Bagwell, on the other hand, has the highest WAR of this group, though a shorter career (700 games fewer than Palmeiro) left him lagging in the counting stats. McGwire, fifth in WAR, stands out only in the home run category. His low finishes in hits, total bases and times on base feeds into the perception of him as the anti-Palmeiro: a player who was fantastic a his peak, but also had very poor years and fell off very quickly. Finishing behind contemporaries Andres Galarraga in times on base, behind Jason Giambi in total bases, and behind Eric Karros (?!) in hits certainly doesn’t scream “Hall of Famer.”

Of course, Hall of Fame isn’t chosen entirely on overall career value, there is also peak value to consider. Jim Rice, despite middling career totals, was recently elected for who he was at his best. (As a Bostonian, I’ve caught some flak for pointing out how tenuous this claim was.) Do Bagwell, Palmeiro and McGwire measure up when considering peak performances? To find out, I’ve measured our 25 players by their WAR in their best 10 and 3 year peaks, and by their best 5 seasons overall:

Bagwell, Jeff1992-200165.761.24.5
Thomas, Frank1991-200058.065.0-7.0
Thome, Jim1995-200453.255.8-2.6
Helton, Todd1998-200752.845.77.1
Giambi, Jason1997-200648.754.2-5.5
Palmeiro, Rafael1990-199948.141.26.9
McGwire, Mark1990-199947.049.8-2.8
Olerud, John1993-200246.939.67.3
Clark, Will1986-199543.943.20.7
Delgado, Carlos1997-200641.644.9-3.3
McGriff, Fred1987-199639.839.40.4
Grace, Mark1989-199837.331.16.2
Lee, Derrek2000-200928.928.80.1
Vaughn, Mo1992-200126.829.0-2.2
Joyner, Wally1988-199725.021.23.8
Martinez. Tino1995-200422.818.54.3
Konerko, Paul2002-201122.324.6-2.3
Galarraga, Andres1992-200118.021.1-3.1
Casey, Sean1998-200715.912.83.1
Snow, JT1997-200612.012.6-0.6
Clark, Tony1996-200511.813.0-1.2
Karros, Eric1994-200311.711.30.4
Segui, David1993-200211.713.2-1.5
Morris, Hal1990-199910.910.60.3
Young, Kevin1994-20035.93.22.7

By best 10-year stretch, Bagwell remains #1 overall, by a significant margin. Palmeiro and McGwire fall to 6th and 7th respectively, falling behind Helton and Giambi. McGwire maintains a .1 WAR advantage over John Olerud.

Giambi, Jason2000-200226.326.7-0.4
Bagwell, Jeff1996-199823.121.71.4
Helton, Todd2000-200221.818.33.5
Thomas, Frank1991-199321.723.4-1.7
Clark, Will1987-198921.119.51.6
Thome, Jim2001-200320.021.2-1.2
McGwire, Mark1996-199818.621.5-2.9
Olerud, John1997-199918.615.72.9
McGriff, Fred1988-199017.616.01.6
Palmeiro, Rafael1991-199316.815.01.8
Delgado, Carlos2000-200215.617.3-1.7
Vaughn, Mo1996-199814.715.5-0.8
Grace, Mark1995-199714.411.52.9
Lee, Derrek2003-200512.412.20.2
Galarraga, Andres1996-199812.113.0-0.9
Martinez,. Timo1995-199711.09.51.5
Konerko, Paul2009-201110.610.9-0.3
Joyner, Wally1986-198810.09.20.8
Young, Kevin1997-19999.66.82.8
Clark, Tony1997-19998.48.10.3
Casey, Sean1998-20007.96.61.3
Karros, Eric1997-19996.86.80.0
Segui, David1996-19985.96.1-0.2
Snow, JT1997-19995.75.8-0.1
Morris, Hal1994-19965.35.10.2

By best 3-year stretch, Bagwell’s 1996-1998 finishes second to Giambi’s sublime 2000-2002. It’s easy to forget how dominant Giambi was during those years. Palmeiro’s 10th place ranking does little to dissuade the notion that he was a good player for an exceptionally long period who was rarely elite. However, McGwire finishing in 7th does put a dent in his claim to having a short but transcendent peak.

Bagwell, Jeff39.737.72.0
Giambi, Jason36.938.3-1.4
Helton, Todd36.731.45.3
Thomas, Frank35.538.0-2.5
Thome, Jim33.034.4-1.4
Olerud, John32.128.04.1
McGwire, Mark31.732.3-0.6
Clark, Will30.428.81.6
Palmeiro, Rafael30.026.33.7
McGriff, Fred27.525.22.3
Delgado, Carlos27.128.6-1.5
Grace, Mark23.219.43.8
Vaughn, Mo22.222.6-0.4
Galarraga, Andres20.721.2-0.5
Lee, Derrek20.019.70.3
Joyner, Wally18.016.61.4
Martinez, Tino17.113.63.5
Konerko, Paul16.718.5-1.8
Casey, Sean13.810.83.0
Clark, Tony12.812.70.1
Karros, Eric11.811.40.4
Snow, JT11.311.8-0.5
Morris, Hal10.911.0-0.1
Segui, David10.411.1-0.9
Young, Kevin9.76.82.9

Finally, by 5 best seasons, Bagwell is back to the top. Palmeiro finishes 9th, right behind old rival Will Clark. McGwire, though, is stuck in 7th. His five best seasons not only fall behind Bagwell, Thomas and Thome (who seem, by the measures I’ve brought in, to be the three strongest candidates), but also Jason Giambi, Todd Helton and John Olerud. If the five best seasons of McGwire’s career don’t measure up to the five best seasons of Olerud’s, it becomes very hard to consider McGwire as someone whose best seasons demand he be placed into the discussion for Cooperstown.

After running through the WAR summations, I decided to look at the individual seasons these 25 players had. Specifically, I would total how many seasons each had with a WAR over 10, 8. 5 and 3:

PlayerYears10+8+ 5+ 3+SUM
Bagwell, Jeff1991-20050391325
Thomas, Frank1990-20080081119
Thome, Jim1991-PR0151218
McGwire, Mark1986-20010071017
Olerud, John1989-2005026917
Palmeiro, Rafael1986-20060041216
Helton, Todd1997-PR016815
Giambi, Jason1995-PR124815
McGriff, Fred1986-2004003912
Delgado, Carlos1993-2009004812
Clark, Will1986-2000011911
Grace, Mark1988-2003001910
Vaughn, Mo1991-200300257
Galarraga, Andres1985-200400246
Lee, Derrek1997-PR00145
Joyner, Wally1986-200100044
Konerko, Paul1997-PR00134
Martinez, Tino1990-200500134
Casey, Sean1997-200800033
Snow, JT1992-200800022
Karros, Eric1991-200400022
Young, Kevin1992-200300022
Clark, Tony1995-200900011
Morris, Hal1988-200000011
Segui, David1990-200400000

While it might again seem arbitrary to add these up in the way I have, it proves useful – 4 points for a transcendent type season, 3 for an MVP-level performance, 2 for an All-Star level, and 1 for one that is quite good but not great. Bagwell shines here again, with three seasons of 8+ WAR, and thirteen (in a fifteen year career) of 3+. With twelve seasons of a WAR over 3.0 but only four over 5.0, Palmeiro again fits the description of being often very good but rarely great. McGwire, on the other hand, had seven seasons where he surpassed a 5.0 WAR, but none over 8.0.

Quick time out. In order to agree with my methodology, you are agreeing to putting a lot of trust into B-R’s WAR calculation. I understand that it is constantly being tweaked. Perhaps in five years our perceptions will change, the algorithm will be adjusted, and McGwire or Palmeiro’s best seasons will appear even better. Isn’t that the reason  a player is given 15 years on the Hall of Fame ballot? Perceptions change over time. Another study as comprehensive as Mike Fast’s research into catchers may come along. Until then, we can only use the resources that we have. With that in mind, I’ve made a simple summation of the 25 players ranking in all of the categories discussed. Overall WAR ranking has been quadrupled – everything else is considered equally:

PlayerYearsHHRTBTOBWAR10-peark3-peak5 BestSeasonsTOTAL
Bagwell, Jeff1991-200577541121132
Thomas, Frank1990-200834322244232
Thome, Jim1991-PR81233365343
Palmeiro, Rafael1986-2006131146109653
Helton, Todd1997-PR5117664337.570.5
McGwire, Mark1986-20011821013577.574.589
Giambi, Jason1995-PR1589995127.592.5
McGriff, Fred1986-2004254510119109.595.5
Olerud, John1989-2005917147887.564.5105
Clark, Will1986-20001015.51311795811110.5
Delgado, Carlos1993-2009126810121011119.5125.5
Grace, Mark1988-20034211281112131212138
Galarraga, Andres1985-2004696121518151414154
Lee, Derrek1997-PR141315161413141515171
Joyner, Wally1986-2001111917141315181617179
Konerko, Paul1997-PR131011151617171817182
Vaughn, Mo1991-2003191419181714121313190
Martinez, Tino1990-2005161216171816161717199
Casey, Sean1997-2008202421211919211919240
Karros, Eric1991-20041715.518202322.5222121249
Clark, Tony1995-2009241822232021202023.5251.5
Snow, JT1992-2008212020192220242221255
Morris, Hal1988-2000232524242124252323.5275.5
Segui, David1990-2004222323222422.5232425280.5
Young, Kevin1992-2003252225252525192521287

With that, I have my rankings of the 25 first basemen of the offensive era. While they may be imperfect, I feel pretty good about them. Bagwell and Frank Thomas are tied at the top, with Bagwell’s peak value and Thomas’s offensive consistency matching up. Jim Thome sits a solid third. Without question, I would advocate that these three deserve enshrinement without question. The writers are doing a disservice by not voting for Bagwell.

Rafael Palmeiro’s exceptional durability put him at the top of three of our four counting stats. That can’t be easily overlooked. Tim Raines has been a favorite candidate of the statistical community. His supporters love to quote that he was on base 3977 times, 22 more than Tony Gwynn. Palmeiro was on base 4460 times. That ties him with Paul Molitor for 18th all-time, ahead of Wade Boggs, Cal Ripken and Joe Morgan. It’s 200 more than Frank Thomas, his closest among contemporary first basemen. If we’re giving Raines credit for getting on base so much, we have to do the same for Palmeiro. His lead over his contemporaries in total bases is even more impressive. At 5388, he totals nearly 800 more than Jim Thome.  So, while he was never one of the elite, dominant forces in the game, none of those around him proved to be as good for as long. With that in mind, I would vote for Palmeiro as well. Still, as he was only the 4th best first baseman of his era, I won’t begrudge the voter who disagrees.

With insufficient counting stats, Mark McGwire’s only claim to the Hall of Fame rests with the argument that he had a very short, but very dominant peak. My research suggests that wasn’t the case. To vote for McGwire, I’d also have to back Jason Giambi, who has a similar career value and a higher peak, as well as Todd Helton, who also had a higher peak and a better overall statistical profile.

It appears Helton will have an interesting case in a few years. After a down 2010, he had something of a bounce-back season in 2011. However, he still appeared in  only 124 games. In order to sway voters, he’ll need to get to some significant statistical milestones as Palmeiro did – but he appears to lack Palmeiro’s durability. It appears he’ll fall short of 3000 hits, 400 home runs, 5000 TB, and will finish somewhere near 4000 times on base. The only counting category he seems poised to finish in the top 20 all-time is doubles. That probably won’t be enough.

In conclusion: no to McGwire, yes to Palmeiro, and a big, fat resounding yes to Jeff Bagwell.