Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Future Hall of Famers (NL)

Rollins has a better Hall of Fame case then you realize (LATimes)
Same deal as the last post--no absurdly young players like Jose Fernandez, Wil Myers, and Matt Harvey.

NL East
Atlanta Braves
Nobody on the Braves at present seems to have a great shot at induction. Nick Markakis is already more than halfway to 3,000 hits at the end of his age-30 season, but even if he gets there he'll probably be remembered more as a Johnny Damon complementary type of player.

Miami Marlins
Giancarlo Stanton
If that dude stays healthy (no more Tony Conigliaro-esque scares), he's going to end up in Cooperstown. It's a given.

New York Mets
David Wright
Peaked early but has had enough success since to keep him on pace to finish among the game's all-time great third basemen. The seven-time All-Star just turned 32 and is already at 50 bWAR, which means he only needs to play like an average regular over the rest of his contract to get into Hall-territory.

Philadelphia Phillies
Jonathan Papelbon
One of the best closers ever, hands-down. Has been phenomenal for a decade now and remained effective into his mid-30s. Might not be Mariano Rivera, but who is?

Chase Utley
Utley's counting numbers won't blow anybody away, but his towering five-year peak and subsequent stretch of solid seasons should be enough to get him in. The 36 year-old is already worthy with 61.5 bWAR; now he just needs to pad his career totals. Would be great if he could get to 2,000 hits--he's 431 away.

Washington Nationals
Bryce Harper
Like Mike Trout, I'm willing to concede him a spot in Cooperstown based on how ridiculously good he was at such a young age.

NL Central
Chicago Cubs
The Cubbies are loaded with young talent and probably have a good number of Hall of Famers on their team or about to arrive, but it's just too early to tell.

Cincinnati Reds
Joey Votto
Perhaps the best hitter in baseball when healthy, the 2010 NL MVP is under contract for nine more years at least, which will give him plenty of time to rack up impressive career numbers. Unless his career dissolves Don Mattingly-style, he'll get to Cooperstown.

Milwaukee Brewers
Their best candidate has been caught using PEDs twice, so yeah. Francisco Rodriguez, last seen with the Brew Crew, has compiled 348 saves at the end of his age 32 season, so 400 is a very good possibility and 500 is attainable.

Pittsburgh Pirates
'Cutch could very well make it in. See below.

St. Louis Cardinals
Matt Holliday
Has been an outstanding hitter for more than a decade and is coming up on 2,000 hits and 300 homers.  Proved he could still be a great hitter away from Coors Field and has continued to put up big numbers as pitching has overtaken the game.

NL West
Arizona Diamondbacks
Sorry, D-backs. Grit only gets you so far, and usually not to Cooperstown.

Colorado Rockies
Troy Tulowitzki
His pre-30 career arc is eerily similar to Nomar Garciaparra's, which is to say he'd have to be chronically injured throughout the rest of his playing days to screw up his Cooperstown chances.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Clayton Kershaw
If Kershaw retired tomorrow we'd remember him the same way we remember Sandy Koufax. Reached 40 bWAR after his age 26 season, so even if he craps out at 30 he'll have probably accomplished enough by then.

Jimmy Rollins
J-Roll is going to have a very interesting case, especially since his most similar statistical oomp is Barry Larkin (and his second-best is another worthy Hall of Famer--Alan Trammell). A great defensive shortstop with power and speed, he's going to wind up with around 1,500 runs, 2,500 hits, 500 doubles, 500 steals, 250 home runs, and 1,000 RBI. The sheer volume of his counting numbers are going to be hard to overlook, even if his peak wasn't that great (2007 NL MVP notwithstanding).

San Diego Padres
Even with all their recent trades and added star power, I still don't consider any Padres to be probable Hall of Famers. Maybe Matt Kemp...

San Francisco Giants
Tim Hudson
Huddy has had quite the career, which has seen him win 214 games (most among active pitchers) while piling up more than 3,000 quality innings (122 ERA+).  The end if probably near as he'll turn 40 next year,  but he's remained effective into his late 30s and could have one more solid year left in him. Pitching for San Francisco won't hurt.

It's possible
Aramis Ramirez
One of the better-hitting third basemen to ever play the game, but probably needs a few more productive seasons so he can hit some major milestones such as 400 home runs, 500 doubles, 2,500 hits, and 1,500 RBI. If he hits those benchmarks, it's going to be hard to leave him out.

Adrian Gonzalez
Having a Mark Teixeira-type career, but will need several more big seasons to be a legit candidate.

Carl Crawford
Was so good during his 20s that he'll have a good chance if he can just last into his late 30s (kinda like Tim Raines or Kenny Lofton).

Ryan Braun
See Crawford, Carl.

Jon Lester and Cole Hamels
Both need to keep it up through the end of the decade at least, but if they do their combination of postseason and regular season success should carry them to Cooperstown.

Justin Upton and Andrew McCutcehn
Have accomplished so much already, but their only midway through their primes and still have a lot of baseball left.

Starlin Castro, Jason Heyward, Buster Posey, Paul Goldschmidt, Jay Bruce, Madison Bumgarner
All are off to amazing starts--check back in five years.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Future Hall of Famers (AL)

Pujols was a Hall of Fame guarantee before becoming an Angel (SportsOnEarth)
With Hall of Fame ballots due tomorrow, I was thinking about which of today's players will be enshrined in Cooperstown someday. I stayed away from really young and inexperienced players like Xander Bogaerts, Manny Machado, Jose Abreu, and Masahiro Tanaka. Here's the list I came up with, organized by team.

AL East
Baltimore Orioles
Maybe Matt Wieters or Adam Jones, but right now they're both far from sure things. Jones will have a decent shot if he keeps having 30-homer seasons and winning Gold Gloves, but his low OBPs means he might be remembered as something of his generation's Andre Dawson.

Boston Red Sox
David Ortiz
I wrote at length about Ortiz's compelling Hall of Fame case last summer. Even if this is the year his bat finally falls off, I think he's done enough to merit a plaque in Cooperstown.

Dustin Pedroia
The Boston version of Derek Jeter is well on his way with four Gold Gloves, two World Series titles and an MVP under his belt. Even if he's nothing more than a league average hitter over the remainder of his career, he'll still finish with stellar counting numbers and the reputation of a Red Sox legend.

Hanley Ramirez has a good shot if he hits the cover off the ball at Fenway and stays relatively healthy.

New York Yankees
Carlos Beltran
Beltran's best days are behind him at 38, but he'll need to be productive over the remaining two seasons on his contract in order to reach several important milestones. If healthy, he should surpass 2,500 hits, 1,500 runs/RBI, 400 homers, and 500 doubles. He's already one of the top 10 center fielders of all time according to JAWS, but those numbers, combined with his previously elite defense, would strengthen his case dramatically as far as old-school voters are concerned.

Alex Rodriguez
A dead-ringer for Willie Mays statistically.

CC Sabathia
Before his career started heading south two years ago, Sabathia had been one of the best pitchers in baseball for more than a decade. He was second only to Roy Halladay in fWAR from 2001 through 2012, during which time he was first in wins and strikeouts and second in innings pitched. The 2007 AL Cy Young winner is well-decorated with four other finishes in the top-five, six All-Star nods, and a World Series ring. With 208 career victories at 34 years of age, the big southpaw has an outside chance to reach 300.

Ichiro Suzuki
The 41 year-old free agent will be a shoo-in thanks to his 10 consecutive 200 hit seasons from 2001 through 2010. He also batted .300, made the All-Star team, and won a Gold Glove during every one of those years. The active leader in steals is just 156 hits shy of 3,000, but even if he doesn't get there he's still a lock.

Tampa Bay Rays
Evan Longoria
At the end of his age-28 season, Longoria had already compiled 40 bWAR while establishing himself as one of the best two-way third basemen and all-around players in the game.

Toronto Blue Jays
Mark Buehrle
The five-time All-Star might not seem like a Hall-worthy pitcher, but he's about to pass 200 wins and is coming up on 60 bWAR, which he'll reach with one more solid season. Never had a peak per se but has had several very good years scattered throughout his 14 year run of merely good ones. The ability to churn out 200+ quality innings every year like clockwork is exceptionally rare and valuable, and he deserves to be rewarded for it. A couple more typical Buehrle years should do the trick.

AL Central
Chicago White Sox
Abreu and Chris Sale still have a long ways to go.

Cleveland Indians
Terry Francona for sure, but none of their veterans scream Cooperstown.

Detroit Tigers
Miguel Cabrera
Could retire tomorrow and get in easily. His first dozen seasons have been nothing short of outstanding, and he's on the cusp of reaching 400 home runs. With nine All-Star appearances, back-to-back MVPs, the first Triple Crown in nearly half a century, and countless other accolades, he's a sure thing.

Justin Verlander
Looked like a surefire HOF hurler before last year and now appears to be at a career crossroads. If he can't even be an average pitcher from this point forward, then he probably won't make the grade, but if he can bounce back and/or be converted into a super-reliever, then he'll make it in someday.

Kansas City Royals
The Royals have a ton of young talent, but it's too early to make a call on any of them. Salvador Perez and Eric Hosmer would be my best bets, but they're only going to be 25 next year and haven't done enough to say anything about them with a good deal of certainty.

Minnesota Twins
Joe Mauer
The best-hitting catcher since Mike Piazza should have no problem reaching Cooperstown someday. The 2009 AL MVP has already made six All-Star teams, received three Gold Gloves, and won a trio of batting titles. Last season's move to first base should prolong his career and help him remain a productive hitter throughout his 30s. The Twins better hope so, as he's owed $92 million over his next four seasons.

Torii Hunter has had a fine career, but he's destined for the Hall of Very Good rather than the Hall of Fame.

AL West
Houston Astros
Jose Altuve's not even 25. We'll revisit his chances in five years.

Los Angeles Angels
Albert Pujols
If Pujols retired today he'd be a first-ballot Hall of Famer with his 520 home runs, three MVP awards, and 97 career bWAR. JAWS rates him as the second-best first baseman of all-time, behind only Lou Gehrig. The Machine is still under contract for seven more years, during which time he'll only add to his already outstanding counting numbers, which should end up north of 3,000 hits, 2,000 runs and RBI, and 650 homers.

Mike Trout
Though he's only 23, his first few seasons have been so spectacular that I'm pretty sure he'll be a no-doubter by his 30th birthday. When you're off to the best start of any player in history, you get the benefit of the doubt.

Oakland A's
Is there even anyone left on that team right now? Sonny Gray maybe, but he has a long way to go.

Seattle Mariners
Robinson Cano
Cano is like Pedroia, only with two more quality seasons under his belt. The 32 year-old has already surpassed 50 bWAR, 400 doubles, and 200 home runs. He could reach 2,000 hits and 100 RBI next year as well. One of the best players in baseball for a decade now, he's been the second-best second baseman over his career behind only Chase Utley. Coming off five straight top-six MVP finishes and six consecutive .300 seasons, he's showed no signs of slowing down. And with nine more years to bolster his counting numbers, he'll sail in no problem.

Felix Hernandez
10 years into his career, King Felix has put himself in a great position to one day achieve enshrinement. Not yet 29, he's already amassed more than 2,000 spectacular innings and 45 bWAR. He's also won a Cy Young award and finished runner-up twice. Has had a marvelous six-year peak, now he needs only to stay healthy and have a few more good years.

Texas Rangers
Adrian Beltre
Beltre has quietly put together a tremendous career that has him just outside the top-five for JAWS at third base. He's indisputably one of the 10-best third basemen ever and could be top-five by the time he's done. Will pass 400 homers next year and has a sneaky good shot to eclipse 3,000 hits (he'll be 36 and needs 396 more). Throw in his four Gold Gloves, 77.8 career bWAR, and his reputation as one of the game's best defensive third basemen, and he's a cinch.

Brian McCann
Had been the National League's version of Mauer before signing with the Yankees, where he struggled last year. Is still only 31, so a bounce back is certainly possible, and he'll be an interesting case if he winds up with 350 or so home runs (he's currently at 199). Already a seven-time All-Star and five-time Silver Slugger recipient, he might turn out to be the Ted Simmons of the 21st Century.

Mark Teixeira
A modern day Gil Hodges of sorts, Tex's chances looked much better a couple years ago. He's going to be 35 next year and appears to be breaking down, and I'm not sure a few more 20-homer seasons are going to cut it. He needs to stay healthy and productive for a few more years at least.

Prince Fielder
Will be 31 next year and is still young enough to have a few more monster seasons in him (especially now that he's playing for Texas), but players like him typically don't age well. Got off to a fantastic start with 288 big flies before his 30th birthday, but now he needs to produce on the back nine of his career.

Victor Martinez
Needs to remain an elite hitter throughout his 30s a la Ortiz, then we'll talk.

Jose Bautista
Late bloomer needs to keep hitting like Edgar Martinez to make up for lost time at the front end of his career. Joe Bats must stay healthy and can't afford any more injury-plagued years like 2012 and 2013.

Sox Need Ace

Scherzer is out of Boston's price range (Freep)
Yesterday I wrote that the Red Sox need an ace, but how should they go about acquiring one? Here are the three most likely routes I think they'll take:

1. Sign James Shields
Signing "Big Game" James Shields will probably require a five-year, $100 million commitment, which is hardly ideal for a 33 year-old who's thrown more innings than anyone since 2007. Shields has benefited from pitching-friendly venues in Tampa Bay and Kansas City throughout his career, which obviously won't be the case if he has to pitch in front of the Green Monster. It's also concerning that his strikeout rate has declined drastically over the past two seasons, from nearly a batter per inning in 2012 to the league average in 2014, a sign that his decline could already be underway. On the plus side, he has loads of postseason experience, is incredibly durable, and has succeeded in the AL East. His contract would compare favorably to those already signed by Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, which is to say it will be expensive on an annual basis but won't linger into the next decade.

2. Trade for Cole Hamels
Hamels has said he wouldn't okay a trade to Boston even though the Red Sox project to be a much stronger team than the Phillies next year (and several after that). Philadelphia would be stupid not to at least entertain some Sox trade proposals, as Boston is rife with prospects while the Phillies' farm system is barren. The Phils have no use for Hamels, as they will be a terrible team with or without him, and by the time they're good again he'll be well past his prime. Hamels would be a great get for Boston, as he has been nothing short of outstanding throughout his nine-year career, with a 3.27 ERA (125 ERA+), 1.14 WHIP, and 3.77 K/BB ratio while averaging 200 innings per season. Like Lester, he's a lefty, a three-time All-Star, and a proven postseason pitcher. He's 31 and has never pitched in the American League, but he represents the closest equivalent to Lester besides Lester himself.

3. Sign Max Scherzer
Scherzer, a Scott Boras client, is going to blow Lester's contract out of the water. The 2013 AL Cy Young winner is almost seven months younger than the new Cubs ace and has been much better over the past three seasons, worth 16.9 bWAR to Lester's 8.3. I've heard reports that his price tag could approach $200 million over seven years, but I'd be surprised if he exceeds the $180 million Justin Verlander got two winters ago. The Tigers seem serious about re-signing him based on their $144 million extension offer last spring, and will push hard for him if they don't think David Price will stay beyond this year. I don't see the Sox committing so much money to one player when they refused to go over $150 million for Lester. Pitchers are just too risky.

Who Will Buchholz Be in 2015?

What does Boston's erstwhile ace have in store for 2015? (NESN)
Of all the questions the Red Sox have going into 2015--how will Hanley Ramirez handle playing the outfield? How will Rusney Castillo perform in his first full major league season? How much will Xander Bogaerts improve?--perhaps none is harder to answer than how effective will Clay Buchholz be?

Buchholz, after all, is 30 years old, coming off knee surgery and a terrible season in which he was worth 1.6 wins below replacement. The year before that, he missed three months and still ran out of gas in October as Boston streaked towards another championship. The year before that, he had a 5.53 ERA at the All-Star Break and only started to pitch well after Boston's season went in the tank.

Will Buchholz be the ace that he has been at times in the past? Probably not. Aside from a stellar first half in 2013 and a fluky 2010, the two-time All-Star belongs in the middle of a rotation more than the top.

Still, it bears mentioning that in 2014, Buchholz didn't pitch nearly as poorly as his 5.34 ERA suggests. In fact, his strikeout rate was right in line with his career rate (a smidge better, actually), his walk rate was half a batter lower per nine innings than his career rate, and his 2.44 K/BB ratio was significantly better than his 1.99 career ratio coming into the season. His home run rate was a near perfect match for his career mark and his batted ball distribution was about the same as it usually is.

So if Buchholz pitched as well as he normally does, then why did he end up with such terrible results?

For starters, he was unlucky on balls in play with a .315 BABiP that was 30 points higher than his career mark. It was the second-highest mark of his career and, not surprisingly, resulted in the second-highest hit rate of his career, which led to the second-highest WHIP of his career. He was also terribly unlucky with strand rate, with the worst LOB% in baseball. Buchholz's ERA should have been at least a run lower, as his FIP, xFIP, and SIERA were all barely above four.

Mere regression to the mean should make Buchholz a much better pitcher in 2015, at least league average if not better. The same could be said about a lot of Red Sox who underperformed last year, but for Buchholz it holds especially true.

Even more challenging than figuring out how Buchholz will pitch is trying to determining how often he will pitch. The polar opposite of sturdy former teammate Jon Lester, Buchholz is notoriously fragile and has earned a reputation in Boston for being soft, a guy who won't take the mound unless he's 100 percent healthy (Jacoby Ellsbury, somewhat unfairly, had a similar reputation). Eight years into his career, he's still yet to make 30 starts or complete 190 innings in a season. Even more troubling is that he's never made 17 starts in back-to-back years. The question isn't if he will miss time, but how much?

The Red Sox have to hope it's just a handful of starts, if only because their fortunes have closely mirrored those of Buchholz. The team folded when he got hurt in 2011, and stunk when he stunk in 2012. They won the World Series when he had a Cy Young-caliber half in 2013, then bottomed out again when he faltered the year after. For better or worse, as Buchholz goes, so go the Red Sox.

And as one of the team's five starting pitchers, Buchholz is an incredibly important piece. If he regains his form, Boston probably will too. But if he has another crappy season, then it's going to be much harder for the Sox to succeed in spite of him, especially if they don't have an ace who can pick up the slack.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Red Sox New Year's Resolutions

The Red Sox could really use Shields or a pitcher of his caliber (Komu)
The Red Sox have done a lot of work this winter towards building a contender in 2015, but there's still unfinished business as they prepare for the upcoming season. Here are three goals I think they should focus on for the remainder of the offseason.

1. Land an ace
The Red Sox overhauled their rotation by trading for Wade Miley and Rick Porcello as well as signing Justin Masterson, a former Sox, but still need an ace to anchor the staff. They were outbid by the Cubs for Jon Lester, but there are still several appealing options available. Max Scherzer and James Shields remain unsigned, or Boston could try to trade for Jordan Zimmermann, Cole Hamels, or Doug Fister. Cherington says the Sox aren't searching for an ace, but they should be, otherwise their busy offseason will be incomplete.

2. Clear the outfield logjam
The Sox did good by swapping Yoenis Cespedes for Porcello, but they still have an abundance of outfielders. Allen Craig is expendable, though I doubt Boston would get much in return for him coming off an atrocious season. Mike Napoli could also be moved, but he's a good fit so I hope he isn't. Spare parts Daniel Nava and Jackie Bradley Jr. might be dealt as well. Boston will need outfield depth with injury-prone Hanley Ramirez playing left field for the first time, rookie Rusney Castillo patrolling center, and an aging Shane Victorino in right, but three extra outfielders seems excessive.

3. Bolster the bullpen
I don't have much faith in a 40 year-old Koji Uehara who struggled mightily in the second half last year (4.41 ERA after June 17th). Sans Andrew Miller, a victim of last summer's roster purge, the Red Sox could really use another arm or two in the 'pen. I was hoping the Sox would sign Jason Grilli, but now he's off the table so that's out. If they miss out on an ace and decide to go with their average rotation, they're going to need a shut-down bullpen to compensate, and as it stands they don't have one.

Questionable Rookies of the Year: 1970s

Carbo (left) was robbed despite a monster offensive season (CNN)
1970 NL Carl Morton over Bernie Carbo
Morton made a strong first impression by hurling 284 and 2/3 innings and winning 18 games, but those innings weren't ultra-high quality. He led the league in walks, had a 1.43 WHIP, posted a 114 ERA+, and only struck out 29 more guys than he walked. Carbo, on the other hand, was one of baseball's best hitters on a per-game basis. Besides batting .310/.454/.551 (164 OPS+), Carbo also clubbed 21 home runs, stole 10 bases, and walked 17 times more often than he struck out. Given the depressed offensive environment, Carbo's season (a 1.004 OPS!) was much more impressive and worthy of the award. He also played a key role in helping the Reds win the National League pennant.

1971 AL Chris Chambliss over Bill Parsons
Chambliss would go on to have a fine career, but his rookie season was actually very mediocre, (0.4 bWAR). His nine homers, 48 RBI, and .749 OPS (104 OPS+) were pedestrian for a first baseman. Runner-up Bill Parsons, who compiled a 3.20 ERA over 244 and 2/3 innings, was valued at 3.1 bWAR and would have been my pick.

1976 NL Butch Metzger over Pat Zachry
This one went down as a tie but was a clear foul-up, as Zachry deserved to win outright. For reasons unexplained, voters failed to choose a very good starting pitcher over a decent reliever. Zachry had a superior ERA and WHIP while pitching over 80 additional innings. This disparity was evident in their bWAR totals, as Zachry compiled 3.5--two more than Metzger's 1.5. Zachry also pitched for the World Series-winning Cincinnati Reds, which should have gone in his favor.

1977 AL Eddie Murray over Mitchell Page
Murray wound up with the best career of the 1977 rookie class, but he was not the best rookie in the American League that year. Page, who batted .307/.405/.521 (154 OPS+) with 21 home runs and 42 steals in 47 attempts, was. His raw OPS was 123 points higher than Murray's, which more than made up for the fact that Murray appeared in 15 additional games and logged 110 additional official at-bats. At 6.0 bWAR, Page was nearly twice as valuable as Murray (3.2). Why did Murray win? He played more often, and thus had 27 home runs and 88 RBI to Page's 21 and 75.

1978 NL Bob Horner over Don Robinson
Horner, a slugging third baseman in the mold of Mark Reynolds, won on the strength of his 23 home runs (in just 359 plate appearances) and .852 OPS (124 OPS+). But with a .313 OBP and poor defense at the hot corner, he really wasn't that valuable. Robinson, who placed third, was more valuable in my opinion with his 228 and 1/3 frames of 3.47 ERA-ball. He also had strong periperhals with a 1.14 WHIP, 3.33 FIP, and 2.37 K/BB ratio. Robinson racked up 3.7 bWAR, considerably more than Horner's 2.1.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Questionable Rookies of the Year: 1980s

Gordon, shown here with the Yankees, was robbed in '89 (ESPN)
Lots of questionable calls in this decade. Let's get down to it.

1980 NL Steve Howe over Lonnie Smith
Howe had 0.5 bWAR, the second-lowest total of the nine vote-getters. How he won over third-place Smith, who batted .339/.397/.443 (130 OPS+) with 33 steals, is beyond me.

1983 AL Ron Kittle over Mike Boddicker
Kittle had big-time power numbers with 35 home runs, 100 RBI, and a .504 slugging percentage, but he also whiffed a major league-leading 150 times, batted just .254, and was a poor defensive outfielder. In short, he was a one-dimensional slugger. Boddicker, on the other hand, had an unequivocally excellent season for the World Series champion Baltimore Orioles, going 16-8 with a 2.77 ERA (143 ERA+), 1.08 WHIP, and the most shutouts in baseball (5). He also posted the lowest hit rate in the American League at 7.1/9. Boddicker's 4.2 bWAR were more than double Kittle's 1.8.

1985 AL Ozzie Guillen over Teddy Higuera
This one utterly baffles me. Guillen hit an empty .273 (just one home run) with no speed (seven steals) and only a dozen walks. I don't care if you play Ozzie Smith-like defense at short; a 74 OPS+ isn't going to cut it. Higuera, the runner-up, hurled 212 and 1/3 quality innings with a 107 ERA+, 3.77 FIP, and 1.17 WHIP. That's much more valuable than a shortstop who can't hit his way out of a paper bag.

1985 NL Vince Coleman over Tom Browning
Steals are overrated, and so was Coleman. Granted, he stole 110 of them, which is sensational, but he also caught 25 times and hit a lackluster .267/.320/.335 with just one home run. Had he been a shortstop, like Maury Wills, that would have been more tolerable, but a .655 OPS (84 OPS+) from a left fielder is simply unacceptable. Browning, who placed second, won 20 games with a 3.55 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 261 and 1/3 innings. That combination of quality and quantity made him nearly twice as valuable as Coleman, and thus the more deserving candidate.

1986 AL Jose Canseco over Mark Eichhorn
Once again, voters were swayed by Canseco's monster power numbers (33 bombs, 117 RBI) overlooked his 175 strikeouts, .240 batting average, and .318 on-base percentage. Runner-up Wally Joyner had a more productive offensive campaign, with his .805 OPS (119 OPS+) comfortably above Canseco's /775 (116). But third place Eichhorn, with his 7.4 bWAR, should have walked away with the award. Though he pitched exclusively in relief, his workload was more like a starter's as he delivered 157 innings. And let me tell you, he pitched like an ace with a 1.72 ERA (246 ERA+), 0.96 WHIP, 3.69 K/BB ratio, and 2.31 FIP.

1986 NL Todd Worrell over Robby Thompson
Everyday second baseman with league average bat trumps a good-not-great closer in my book.

1988 AL Walt Weiss over everyone else
Weiss was really mediocre, hitting just .250/.312/.321 (81 OPS+), which is pretty brutal even for a shortstop. He offered neither power nor speed, with only three home runs and four stolen bases. Runner-up Bryan Harvey had a strong season out of the Angels bullpen (2.13 ERA, 1.04 WHIP). Third-place Jody Reed played the same position as Weiss--shortstop--but was a much better hitter with his .293/.380/.376 (110 OPS+) batting line. Don August (13-7, 3.09 ERA) also would have made a fine choice and probably would have been my pick.

1989 AL Gregg Olson over Tom Gordon
Olson's 1/69 ERA and 9.5 K/9 rate must have dazzled voters, because Gordon pitched almost twice as many innings and went 17-9. A true swingman, Gordon made 16 starts, finished 16 games, and made 17 relief appearances in between. He did a little bit of everything and performed well, which I value more than a one-inning closer. I also would have preferred third-place Ken Griffey Jr. (16 homers, 16 steals, center fielder) to Olson.

1989 NL Jerome Walton over Dwight Smith
The writers gave the award to the wrong Cub. Smith posted an OPS that was 154 points higher than Walton while playing only seven fewer games. Granted, Walton was a center fielder whereas Smith was a corner outfield, but at 150+ point differential in OPS is just too great to ignore.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Questionable Rookies of the Year: 1990s

Kenny Lofton (pictured) deserved the 1992 award over Pat Listach (CheapSeatsPlease)
1990 AL Sandy Alomar over everyone else
Roberto Alomar's older brother has to be one of the most overrated players in baseball history. He somehow swindled his way onto six All-Star teams despite totaling a mere 13.7 bWAR across 20 big league seasons. Such was the case in 1990, when he earned the first of those All-Star nods and walked away with Rookie of the Year honors by batting an empty .290. Runner-up Kevin Maas, who slugged 21 home runs and posted a .902 OPS (150 OPS+) was a more deserving candidate, as was another Kevin--third-place Kevin Appier. Appier, who led all rookies that year with 5.3 bWAR, should have been a no-brainer after compiling a 2.76 ERA (139 ERA+) in 185 and 2/3 innings with Kansas City. He would go on to become one of the best pitchers of the 1990s but was rarely recognized as such, making just one All-Star team and drawing Cy Young consideration only once.

1992 AL Pat Listach over Kenny Lofton
I don't get this one at all. Listach and Lofton were basically the same player offensively, only Lofton did everything a little better. He scored a few more runs, hit a handful of more home runs, stole a dozen more bases, got on base more frequently, and slugged a little more. Sure, Listach played shortstop, but he was merely adequate, whereas Lofton became a Gold Glove-winning center fielder. Lofton was actually much more valuable defensively in addition to being a better hitter and baserunner, which is reflected in the fact that he was worth close to six wins while Listach came in around four. It was a fitting beginning to what turned out to be a very underappreciated career by Lofton, a poor man's Tim Raines who fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after his first year of eligibility.

1992 NL Eric Karros over everyone else
Voters were so swayed by Karros's 20 home runs and 88 RBI that they overlooked his terrible .304 OBP and pedestrian (especially for a first baseman) .730 OPS. At 0.4 bWAR, Karros was barely above replacement level and had no business being named Rookie of the Year. Runner-up Moises Alou played 34 fewer games but was much better offensively, hitting .282/.328/.455 (120 OPS+) while throwing in 16 steals. Reggie Sanders, who finished fourth, probably had the best case given his .831 OPS (127 OPS+), power/speed combo (12 dingers/16t thefts), and 77 games in center field. Karros went on to become extremely overrated due to his strong home run and RBI totals, which belied his middling on-base and power numbers.

1996 NL Todd Hollandsworth over Edgar Renteria
Hollandsworth had 1.1 bWAR in '96, but somehow finished in front of Edgar Renteria and Jason Kendall even though they hit roughly as well as he did while playing shortstop and catcher, respectively (Hollandsworth was a left field). His .785 OPS, for instance, is not significantly better than Renteria's .757 or Kendall's .773, both of whom contributed much more defensively. Looking back, it's clear Hollandsworth was not worthy.

1999 NL Scott Williamson over Preston Wilson
An everyday center fielder who bats .280/.350/.502 with 26 home runs and 11 steals should beat out a reliever who doesn't even pitch 100 innings, unless said reliever pitches like Clayton Kershaw or Pedro Martinez. Williamson was very good, but I'm siding with the position player on this one.

Questionable Rookies of the Year: 2000s

In past years I've looked at where writers went wrong in determining MVP and Cy Young winners. Now I re-examine their missteps in the Rookie of the Year races.

2000 AL Kazuhiro Sasaki over everyone else
Of the nine American Leaguers who received votes, Sasaki ranked seventh in bWAR with 1.3. He had a nice season with a 3.16 ERA (146 ERA+), 1.17 WHIP, 11.2 K/9 rate and 37 saves in 40 attempts, but hardly a great one (4.30 FIP, 2.52 K/BB ratio). I'm more impressed by third-place Mark Quinn, who hit .294/.342/.488 with 20 home runs in a tough hitter's park in Kansas City, and runner-up Terrence Long, who batted .288/.336/.452 with 18 homers and 104 runs in an even tougher park in Oakland. Meanwhile, Sasaki benefited enormously from Safeco Field, where he had a 1.60 ERA and 0.92 WHIP as opposed to a 4.97 ERA and 1.45 WHIP everywhere else. I'm generally opposed to relievers winning awards because they pitch so infrequently and can't impact games nearly as much as position players. There are exceptions, of course, of a reliever has a truly outstanding season or if it's a weak year for position players, but Sasaki's year definitely doesn't qualify as "outstanding"; he wasn't even one of the top 60 relievers per fWAR.

2002 NL Jason Jennings over Austin Kearns
Jennings might be the most mediocre Rookie of the Year in recent memory. How he won with a 4.52 ERA, 4.68 FIP, and 1.46 WHIP is beyond me (think it had something to do with that 16-8 record of his?). Granted, he pitched half his games at Coors Field during the height of the steroid era, so his numbers weren't quite as bad as they seemed, but they're still very mediocre. Outfielders Brad Wilkerson and Austin Kearns, who finished second and third, respectively, had better cases. Wilkerson whacked 20 home runs, scored 92 runs, and worked 81 walks while slashing .266/.370/.469 (117 OPS+) and playing 153 games for the Montreal Expos, including 73 in center field. Kearns, a right fielder, only played 107 games but raked when he suited up, batting .315/.407/.500 (134 OPS+) with 13 home runs. Those are huge rate stats for a rookie, even after adjusting for the era. Seeing as how Kearns was worth 4.1 bWAR for Cincy while Wilkinson was only worth 1.2, the former deserved to win (Jennings was worth 2.7, for what it's worth).

2003 NL Dontrelle Willis over Brandon Webb
Remember them? Willis and Webb were two tremendous young pitchers who flamed out before they were 30. Both debuted in 2003 with incredible promise, culminating in the Rookie of the Year going to Willis while Webb finished third. Looking, back, it's clear Webb should have won. Not only did he pitch 20 more innings than Willis, but his ERA was nearly half a run lower despite pitching in a much better park for hitters. As such, Webb's 165 ERA+ dwarfed Willis's 127 mark. Webb also held a sizable advantage in pitching bWAR (6.2 to 3.9) and WHIP (1.15 to 1.28) with slight edges in FIP, strikeout rate, and K/BB rate. So why did the writers choose Willis? He went 14-6 while Webb was barely above .500 at 10-9, primarily because he played for a better team. Willis won because of narrative, as he helped pitch his Marlins to the postseason and World Series glory while Webb starred for a .500-ish D-backs squad. Furthermore D-Train, an electric 21 year-old southpaw, was more exciting to watch than Webb, who was three years older and more polished.

2006 AL Justin Verlander over everyone else
Not sure why Verlander was the runaway winner here when Jonathan Papelbon and Francisco Liriano both had better cases. I think it's because the hard-throwing Verlander went 17-9 and pitched the previously mediocre Tigers to the World Series, even though his other numbers weren't really anything special (1.33 WHIP, 4.35 FIP, 2.07 K/BB ratio).  Jonathan Papelbon, the runner-up, was literally unhittable, what with his 0.92 ERA (that's not a misprint) and 517 ERA+, not to mention a 0.77 WHIP, 2.14 FIP and 5.77 K/BB ratio. He had a five-win season, which is nearly impossible for a reliever to attain given their workload. Third-place Francisco Liriano was also way better than Verlander on a per-inning basis and pitched more than twice as many innings as Papelbon, albeit still 65 fewer than Verlander. Even so, His 2.16 ERA (208 ERA+), 1.00 WHIP, 2.55 FIP and 4.5 K/BB ratio all put Verlander to shame. Even though Liriano made just two starts after August 1st, he was still worth more than Verlander per bWAR (as was Papelbon). It's true that Verlander pitched wire-to-wire while Liriano and Papelbon made only one appearance in September, but if anything his late season performance should be held against him, as he faltered down the stretch with a 5.86 ERA over his final nine starts. Had Liriano just stayed healthy, I think he beats out Verlander.

2010 AL Neftali Feliz over Austin Jackson
The 22 year-old Feliz was a top 10 reliever, finishing a league-high 59 games with a 2.73 ERA (165 ERA+), 2.96 FIP, 0.88 WHIP, and 40 saves in 43 chances. He also struck out more than a batter per inning and totaled nearly four times as many strikeouts as walks. While Feliz was more dominant compared to his fellow relievers, Jackson was more than twice as valuable with 5.1 bWAR to Feliz's 2.3. Jackson, a top 10 center fielder, batted .293/.345/.400 (102 OPS+), scored 103 runs, and stole 27 bases in 33 attempts in addition to his strong defense at a premium position. I suspect the writers dinged Jackson for his meager four home runs and 41 RBI, but I'll take the everyday center fielder and leadoff man over a one-inning reliever any day.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Was Joe Torre a Hall of Fame Player?

Torre (center) was inducted to Cooperstown last summer. Did he deserve the call sooner? (NYPost)
Joe Torre was elected to the Hall of Fame as a manager, but people forget that he also was a very good player who had a pretty compelling Cooperstown case before helming the Yankees to four championships from 1996 through 2000, cementing his status as one of the all-time great skippers. Had that never happened, though, would he have a plaque hanging in Cooperstown today? What I mean to say is, did his playing career merit one? Let's take a closer look.

A quick glance at Torre's numbers suggest Hall of Very Good more than Hall of Fame. His counting numbers are strong but not outstanding, as he racked up 2,342 hits and batted .297/.365/.452 in a pitcher's era (29 percent above average after adjusting for league and park) but scored fewer than 1,000 runs and barely surpassed 250 long balls. At 57.6 bWAR/62.3 fWAR he's right around 60, which is generally marks the lower end of a Hall of Fame career. He had a nice peak, but not a dominant one by any means with just three seasons as one of his league's 10 most valuable position players (and none in the top five).

Torre wasn't the kind of well-rounded player that Cooperstown tends to underrate or flat-out ignore, either (i.e. Lou Whitaker and Bobby Grich). He was a non-factor on the bases, and while he often played defensively demanding positions, he did not play them well. Still, one must acknowledge that the wear and tear he endured behind the plate likely resulted in his premature decline (he had his last great season at 30) and explains why he played fewer than 120 games in seven of his 18 years.

Thus, the basis of Torre's case rests in his offense, which doesn't quite measure up to Hall standards (he'falls short in gray and black ink, Hall of Fame monitor, and Hall of Fame standards). Had he spent the bulk of his career behind the plate, those numbers would be plenty good enough, but he played 59 percent of his games elsewhere. Accordingly, as a player he did not appear to have a Cooperstown-caliber career. Case closed.

Torre's totals belie two things, however. One is that he was an elite player for the majority of his career; from 1961 (his rookie season) through 1974 (his fourth-to-last) he was one of the ten most valuable position players in baseball, outplaying Hall of Famers such as Willie McCovey, Harmon Killebrew, Billy Williams, and Al Kaline during this time. He was the fifth-most valuable National League position player during this time as well, which is really impressive considering how loaded the league was at the time, and in both cases all the players ahead of him are Hall of Famers. For more than a decade, Torre performed at their level.

The other is that his peak years occurred during the second deadball era, and so his numbers don't reflect just how good he truly was. His .297 batting average, for instance, looks pretty great considering Hank Aaron hit .305, Willie Mays batted .302, and Mickey Mantle finished at .298. His neutralized batting statistics yield a .309/.377/.468 career line, boosting his career OPS by 28 points and pegging his counting numbers closer to 1,100 runs, 1,300 RBI, and 2,500 hits. Those still might not smell like Hall of Fame numbers, but they're not far off, especially since offense was so hard to come by during those days.

Torre debuted in 1960 for the Milwaukee Braves, one of the National League's top teams at the time after having finished in the top three of the standings for the eighth straight season. The following year, at age 20, he was the team's starting catcher and finished runner-up to future Hall of Famer Billy Williams in the NL Rookie of the Year vote. Two years later, he made the first of nine All-Star appearances, including five in a row from 1963-1967 and four straight from 1970-1973, by batting .293 with 14 homers and a 125 OPS+.

Torre just kept getting better. In 1964 he batted .321/.365/.498 (140 OPS+) with 20 homers and 109 RBI to earn a fifth place finish in the MVP vote. The following year he hit 27 home runs and received his first and only Gold Glove. In 1966 he exploded for 36 big flies, 101 RBI, and a .315/.382/.560 (156 OPS+) batting line in what was his finest season per bWAR (he was worth 6.4 that year).

His numbers dropped off during the dark days of 1967-1968, but he bounced back in 1969 in his first season with the St. Louis Cardinals (who swapped future Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda for him straight up). No longer an everyday backstop with Tim McCarver entrenched behind the plate for the Cards, he moved to first base and batted .289 with 18 homers and 101 RBI. A trade for Dick Allen forced him back behind the plate and over to the hot corner in 1970, but he responded with his best season since 1966 with 203 hits, 21 home runs, 100 RBI, and a ,325/.398/.498 (137 OPS+) line.

In 1971, Torre erupted to hit a major league-leading .363 with 230 hits, 137 RBI, and 352 total bases. It was a career year for Torre, who was the runaway MVP with 21 of 24 first place votes.

After that Torre remained a good player for several more seasons, but nowhere near as good as he'd been in previous years. His power dropped off dramatically--he never again slugged higher than .420 or hit more than 13 home runs, managing just 47 over his final six seasons--and his OPS plunged 200 points, from .976 in his MVP season to .776 the following year. His OPS hovered around that mark as he made two more All-Star teams with St. Louis, who traded him the year after his final All-Star nod to the Mets, where he wrapped up his career.

Torre hung around on the writer's ballot for 15 years but was never a serious candidate, typically polling between 10 and 15 percent before getting a 22.2 percent burst in his final year of eligibility (1997, by which point he was staking a new claim to fame as manager of the latest Yankees dynasty).

Clearly the BBWAA didn't see Torre as Hall-worthy or particularly close, but maybe they should have. Perhaps they remembered him only as the corner infielder from the second half of his career. Maybe they knocked him for never making the playoffs, or for having just one 30-homer season, or for having his best years when pitchers were dominating the game.

I think with Torre, it all depends on how you see him. If you view him as a catcher because that's the position he played most and compare him to other catchers, then he's Hall-worthy. He compares favorably to Bill Dickey, Gary Carter, Ted Simmons, and Roy Campanella, among others. But if we look at him as a corner infielder, which he was for the majority of his career, then he falls a bit short. JAWS rates him as a first baseman, and the 22nd-best one at that, in the same neighborhood as Will Clark, John Olerud, and Jason Giambi, surrounded by iffy HOFers like Bill Terry and Tony Perez.

That's more how I view Torre: a really good hitter who had a handful of great seasons, but not enough dominant ones to overcome his slightly-lacking counting numbers. It's hard for me (and others, I'm sure) to get past the fact that he was never one of his league's five-best position players per bWAR, which is reinforced by how rarely his name appeared on the NL leaderboards. That said, I readily acknowledge he had stiff competition in the stacked 1960s and '70s NL, and that he spent numerous prime years behind the plate, which hampered his numbers somewhat.

If Torre had spent more time at catcher, like if his position splits were reversed (59 percent at catcher, 41 percent elsewhere), then I'd give him the nod. As it is, he falls just short for me as a player. All I can say is that it's close, really close, and I'm glad he was inducted last summer so I won't lose any sleep over it.

15 Baseball Players to Watch in 2015

What does A-Rod have in store for 2015? (The Greedy Pinstripes)
Here are 15 ballplayers to keep an eye on next year;

1. Alex Rodriguez
What will the 39 year-old (who turns 40 in July) be able to contribute to the Yankees coming off a season-long PED suspension? Not much, I suspect, but he could be moderately useful.

2. Bryce Harper
Harper hasn't quite lived up to expectations, primarily because of his penchant for running into outfield walls, but he's also 22. He hasn't come close to reaching his ceiling.

3. Josh Hamilton
Remember him? He's been a huge bust in the first two years of his five-year, $125 million pact with the Angels, contributing just three bWAR between the two seasons combined. Played just 89 games last year after hurting himself while diving into first base, so will a healthy Hamilton return to form in 2015? Seeing as how he turns 34 in May, probably not.

4. Xander Bogaerts
The Red Sox shortstop was a major disappointment in his first full season, batting just .240/.297/.362 with questionable defense. He's still just 22, though, and will undoubtedly get better.

5. Masahiro Tanaka
The Yankees rookie was lights out in the first 16 starts of his big league career before struggling and missing most of the second half with a partially torn UCL. Which begs the question; how will he hold up over the course of a full season?

6. Chris Davis
A beast in 2013, terrible in 2014 before his lousy season was mercifully cut short by a PED suspension. Which Davis will show up in 2015; the MVP-caliber slugger of two years ago or the Mark Reynolds-esque version from last year?

7. Javier Baez
The definition of raw, Baez struck out 95 times in just 213 official at-bats last year, resulting in a meager .169 batting average and .227 on-base percentage. The rare times when he did make contact, he flashed his enormous power potential by slugging nine home runs in 50 games. The former first round draft pick is only 22 and could break out if he cuts down on his swing.

8. Jorge Soler
Another 22 year-old Cubbie (though he'll be 23 next year), Soler raked in his brief debut last year, batting .292/.330/.573 with five home runs and 20 RBI in jut 24 games. The Cuban outfielder could be Chicago's Yasiel Puig.

9. Ryan Braun
His last two seasons have been underwhelming compared to his first six. Now 31, is he merely just a good player instead of the perennial All-Star and MVP candidate he used to be?

10. Justin Verlander
Over the past two years, Verlander hasn't come close to matching his brilliant 2011-12 seasons. He was horrendous last year, will be 32 next year, and has steadily lost velocity over the past five years. Will the Tigers continue to let him start if his struggles persist, or will they try to convert him into a super-reliever a la Wade Davis or Tim Lincecum circa 2012 postseason?

11. Giancarlo Stanton
How will he perform under the pressure of signing baseball's first $300 million contract? How will he respond to the beanball that drilled him in the face last September, costing him the final three weeks of what was shaping up to be an MVP-run? Probably by hitting more towering home runs, I'd imagine.

12. Joey Votto
Batted a career-worst .255/.390/.409 and missed 100 games in 2014. Have to think the 31 year-old former MVP returns to form in a healthy 2015.

13. Clayton Kershaw
What will he do for an encore? It's not like he can get any better, can he?

14. The Texas Rangers
Pretty much their entire team got hurt last year, turning a 91-win team in 2013 into a last place team in 2014 (yep, they were worse than the Astros). Positive regression is coming, but how much? And how will they fare under new skipper Jeff Bannister?

15. The San Diego Padres
Will they hit? The Padres loaded up on righthanded power, this offseason's soup de jour, but their park is brutal on righties. One thing's for certain; they're going to be way more fun to watch than recent editions.