SweetSpot: Hall of Fame
Hall of Fame season is kind of like Christmas season: It brings gifts and memories but also a lot of acrimony and stress, and it lasts way too long. Hall of Fame ballots were mailed out Monday to eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, which means the next six weeks will feature many Hall of Fame columns, debates, analyses and other assorted name-calling and belligerence.
Here are 10 main questions of conversation this Hall of Fame season:
1. Who are the new names on the ballot?
Last year's star-studded ballot that featured the election of first-timers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas is followed by another long list of intriguing newcomers: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Gary Sheffield and Carlos Delgado are the top names.
2. How many of those guys get in?
Johnson should be a unanimous selection with his 303 career wins, five Cy Young Awards, four ERA titles, nine strikeout titles and six 300-strikeout seasons, but 16 of the 571 voters last year failed to vote for Maddux, so Johnson likely awaits the same slight and will get 95-plus percent of the vote but not 100 percent.
Martinez would certainly appear to be a lock to get the required 75 percent, but Hall voters tend to emphasize wins at the expense of everything else for starting pitchers and Martinez has just 219, so you never know. The BBWAA hasn't elected a starter with that few wins since Don Drysdale, who had 209, in 1984. Still, with the second-best winning percentage since 1900 of any pitcher with at least 150 wins (behind only Whitey Ford), three Cy Young Awards, five ERA titles and the best adjusted ERA for any starting pitcher in history, Pedro should cruise to Cooperstown at well above the 75 percent line. Really, like the Unit, there is no reason not to vote for him.
Smoltz has a little more complicated case and may suffer in comparison to being on the same ballot with Johnson and Martinez. While Pedro was 219-100 with a 2.93 ERA, Smoltz was 213-155 with a 3.33 ERA. He did pick up 154 saves while serving as a closer for three-plus seasons and maybe that will resonate with voters. Smoltz also has a great postseason record -- 15-4, 2.67 ERA -- but similar postseason dominance didn't help Curt Schilling last year when he received just 29 percent of the votes. I believe Smoltz does much better than that, but I don't see why Schilling -- 216-146, 3.46 in his career with 79.9 WAR compared to Smoltz's 69.5 -- would receive just 29 percent and Smoltz 75 percent.
Sheffield, with the PED allegations, has no chance despite 509 career home runs and over 1,600 RBIs and runs. Delgado put up big numbers in an era when a lot of guys were putting up big numbers, and his 473 career home runs with 1,512 RBIs may not be enough to even keep him on the ballot (you need to receive 5 percent to remain on).
3. Does Craig Biggio get in this year?
He fell just two votes short last year on his second time on the ballot, so you have to think at least two voters will add him, assuming some of the holdovers don't change their minds. Biggio's Hall of Fame case is kind of ironic in that he was probably one of the more underrated players in the league while active. He finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting three times (10th, fifth, fourth), but the same writers who once dismissed him as an MVP candidate will now be putting him in the Hall of Fame. He's a deserving candidate, but if he hadn't played that final season when he was terrible and cleared 3,000 career hits, you wonder if he'd be even this close. Voters love their round numbers.
4. What's the new 10-year rule?
Candidates will now be allowed to remain on the ballot for only 10 years instead of 15. Three current candidates -- Don Mattingly (in his 15th season), Alan Trammell (14th) and Lee Smith (13th) were allowed to remain on the ballot.
For the first time, the names of all voters will also be made public, although neither the Hall of Fame nor BBWAA will not reveal an individual's ballot.
5. Who will be most affected by this?
Well, all the steroids guys, obviously. Mark McGwire, for example, is on the ballot for his ninth year, not enough time in case voter attitudes toward PEDs starts reversing course. Aside from that group, Tim Raines is on the ballot for the eighth year. He received 46 percent of the vote last year; that was actually a drop from the 52 percent he had in 2013. Historically, nearly every player who received 50 percent of the vote from the BBWAA eventually got elected, but now Raines has just three years left and was affected by the crowded ballot last year.
6. But the ballot is still crowded, right?
Yep. Remember, voters are allowed to vote for up to 10 players -- although most ballots don't get to 10, so the "crowded" ballot is somewhat of an overrated issue. Still, it's there, and several players saw their vote totals decrease last year. Anyway, I would argue there are as many as 22 or 23 players who have some semblance of a Hall of Fame case based on historical precedent. In order of career Baseball-Reference WAR: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, Schilling, Jeff Bagwell, Larry Walker, Trammell, Smoltz, Raines, Edgar Martinez, Biggio, McGwire, Sheffield, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Jeff Kent, Fred McGriff, Delgado, Lee Smith. Plus arguably Nomar Garciaparra and Mattingly, who had high peak levels of performance but short careers.
Anyway, those who believe in a big ballot will once again have to make some tough choices on whom to leave off.
7. For which players is this an important year?
Raines needs a big increase this year, but it's starting to look slim for him. That makes Bagwell and Piazza two of the more interesting names. Piazza was at 62 percent last year on his second year, a 4.4 percent increase from 2013. If he sees another vote increase, we can assume he's on his way to election; but if he holds at the same percentage, we can probably assume there are enough voters who put him in the PED category and are thus keeping him permanently under that 75 percent threshold. Similar issue with Bagwell; he was 54 percent last year, actually down from 59.6 percent in 2013. If he gets back up over 60 percent, he may be back on a Cooperstown trek.
8. Hey, Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling look like pretty good candidates.
That's not a question, but, yes, yes they are. Mussina (270 wins, 82.6 WAR) and Schilling are overwhelmingly qualified by Hall of Fame standards, even by BBWAA-only standards, especially when factoring in Schilling's postseason success. That both received fewer than 30 percent of the vote in their first year on the ballot was a little shocking and definitely disappointing.
9. What about the steroids guys?
No changes -- or progress, if you prefer -- here. Clemens (35.4 percent) and Bonds (34.7 percent) both received fewer votes than the year before. Rafael Palmeiro already fell off the ballot, and I suspect Sosa (7.2 percent) falls off this time.
10. What about Jack Morris?
Mercifully, Morris is no longer on the ballot so we don't have to spend all December arguing his case yet again. His candidacy goes over to the Expansion Era committee, which will next vote in 2016. I suspect Morris gets in then.
When the guy making $23 million a year begs out of the lineup because of a bruise, it’s difficult for the manager to push others to play through pain.
Molitor’s predecessor, Ron Gardenhire, believed in maintaining cordial relations with key players. That approach worked for most of a decade. It appeared to fail in recent years with Mauer.
Can Molitor play the bad guy?
"Yes," he said. "It is a necessary part of the job. But for me, it’s kind of like surgery. It’s kind of the last option. I want to reach people in different ways before that needs to be done. We all know that different players have different buttons that need to be pushed."
Of course, part of the columnist's job is to stir things up, but blaming Mauer for the Twins' problems in recent years is something bad front offices used to do all the time back in the pre-sabermetric days: Blame your best players for a bad season.
Look, did Mauer have a good season by his standards? No. He hit .277 with just four home runs and the move to first base didn't get him into more games as he played just 120. But he also posted a .361 OBP, best on the Twins, and played solid defense at first. That doesn't mean there isn't something to Souhan's comments, but I don't believe not playing through pain is the primary reason the Twins have lost at least 92 games the past four seasons. (That would be the pitching.)
Nick Nelson of the Twins Daily site has a column up on Molitor's hiring and writes,
Helping those young players develop and realize their potential is the primary task in front of the new regime, and Molitor is as well equipped as anyone for that responsibility. He has familiarity with all the upcoming prospects, not to mention those who've already arrived, through his years as a roving minor-league instructor.
By now you've probably heard Molitor referred to as a baseball "genius" or "savant," with various individuals remarking on his unique and useful insights into the game. He has also been lauded by many players for his teaching skills, and for his ability to connect with Spanish-speaking kids in the minors. These are critical strengths considering the nature of the job he's taking on.
I agree with Nick. Molitor will be a successful manager not by getting Joe Mauer to play through a few bruises but in helping the young players develop. I heard an interview with Molitor on MLB Radio and he was asked whether the Twins needed to sign a veteran leader or two; Molitor said the main priority is giving the young players a chance to play and develop leadership from within. I liked that answer much more than the expected, "Sure, we'd love to add a veteran leader."
From Twins Daily, here are more challenges facing Molitor.
One more interesting note: Molitor joins Ryne Sandberg of the Phillies as that rare Hall of Famer-turned manager. Back in the first half of the 20th century that was a common occurrence -- guys like Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker were both player-managers and Walter Johnson managed the Senators and Indians for seven seasons (he was actually quite successful, with a .550 winning percentage, although he never won a pennant).
But since 1950, few Hall of Famers have become managers. Ted Williams managed the Senators/Rangers for four years, finishing with a losing record three times. Frank Robinson had a long tenure, managing four different franchises for 16 seasons, but never won 90 games or made the playoffs. Yogi Berra (who won two pennants) and Bob Lemon (who won a World Series with the Yankees in 1978) had some success. Red Schoendienst managed the Cardinals from 1965 to 1976 (plus a couple other interim stints after that) but didn't make the Hall of Fame until 1989. Eddie Mathews, before he was elected to the Hall of Fame, had a short managerial career. Joe Gordon managed in the 1960s and was later elected to Cooperstown.
Anyway, it puts Molitor in rare company. We'll see if his high baseball IQ translates to on-field success.
This year's candidates include nine players and one executive: Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Bob Howsam, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant and Maury Wills.
In the previous Golden Era ballot in 2011, Ron Santo was the lone inductee, a long controversial Hall of Fame candidate whose election may have been helped by his death a year earlier. Twelve of 16 votes are required for election, and Kaat (10), Hodges (9), Minoso (9), Oliva (8), Boyer and Tiant (both with fewer than three) appeared on the previous ballot.
This year's committee consists of Hall of Famers Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith and Don Sutton; baseball executives Pat Gillick (a Hall of Famer), Jim Frey, David Glass, Roland Hemond and Bob Watson; and veteran media members Steve Hirdt, Dick Kaegel, Phil Pepe and Tracy Ringolsby.
In my opinion, there is one clear Hall of Famer in this group and maybe a second strong candidate, but let's review each candidate.
Career WAR: 58.7
10-year peak (1963-1974): 54.5
Top percentage from BBWAA: 18.9
Similar players: Lance Berkman, Reggie Smith
Allen was one of the most feared hitters of his day, three times leading his league in slugging percentage and hitting .292/.378/.534 in a pitcher's era and winning the AL MVP Award with the White Sox in 1972. His career adjusted OPS of 156 is 19th all-time -- the same as Willie Mays and Frank Thomas, just ahead of Henry Aaron, Joe DiMaggio, Miguel Cabrera and Manny Ramirez. So the dude could hit. The knocks against him are that he had a relatively short career (354 home runs, 1,119 RBIs), and he was blamed for a lot of the failures of his teams.
One of things I like to consider for a borderline candidate: Is he the best player at his position not in the Hall of Fame? Allen played mostly first base but a lot of third early in his career, which complicated the question for him, but I'm not sure he's a better candidate than guys such as Keith Hernandez or John Olerud, let alone guys still on the ballot such as Jeff Bagwell and Mark McGwire.
My call: No.
Career WAR: 62.8
10-year peak (1956-1965): 56.8
Top percentage from BBWAA: 25.5
Similar players: Robin Ventura, Ron Cey, Ron Santo
A consistent 90-RBI guy for the Cardinals, Boyer was also an outstanding third baseman and the 1964 NL MVP when he led the league with 119 RBIs. Like Allen, Boyer suffers from not doing much outside of his 10-year peak. In Boyer's case, he didn't reach the majors until he was 24 -- but that was in large part due to missing the 1952 and 1953 seasons while serving in the army. What if he had reached the majors two years sooner and added 30 home runs and 150 RBIs to his career totals of 282 and 1,141?
My call: Just outside. I'm surprised he didn't fare better in the BBWAA, as he was well-liked and a respected player. There are a lot of third baseman in this area -- Boyer, Darrell Evans, Sal Bando, Cey. Santo was certainly a notch above them. Scott Rolen is similar, and he'll be on the ballot in a few years.
Career WAR: 44.9
10-year peak (1956-1965): 42.2
Top percentage from BBWAA: 63.4
Similar players: Norm Cash, Boog Powell
The much-beloved first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Hodges has, I believe, the highest vote total from the BBWAA for a player who never eventually made it into the Hall of Fame. He also earns bonus points for managing the 1969 Mets to a World Series title.
Bill James just wrote this on his site about Hodges:
You mentioned an eight-year run for Hodges ... he posted an OPS+ of 132 over that period, with the good defense and team success. Is that kind of success particularly rare? It doesn't seem that it is. Actually, you can find a guy like that in almost every era. Starting with Garvey ... Steve Garvey had an eight year run with an OPS+ of 129 (1973-80) ... he was a good defender. His teams won. Keith Hernandez had eight years at a 139 OPS+ (1979-86). He was a good defender who played on good teams, too. Will Clark had a ten-year run at a 143 OPS+ ... 1986-95. John Olerud has a ten-year run with an OPS+ of 137, 1993-02. Mark Teixeira picks up after Olerud ... he clocks a 136 OPS+ for eight years, from 2004-2011. Don't know about his defense, but he was on a lot of winners. Just taking a quick look, I was able to find a player like Hodges active from 1973 to 2010.
My call: No.
Howsam's claim to fame was building the Cincinnati Reds' Big Red Machine dynasty of the 1970s. He was the Reds' general manager from 1967 to 1977. He hired Sparky Anderson as manager and made two major trades in acquiring Joe Morgan and George Foster, although guys such as Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez were already in the organization when he came over from the Cardinals (where he had acquired Orlando Cepeda and Roger Maris, who helped the Cardinals win the 1967 World Series). Howsam was, interestingly, also one of the founding owners of the Denver Broncos, along with his brother and father, although they sold the franchise after its first season.
My call: No. Is he the most deserving executive not in the Hall of Fame? He certainly built a powerhouse in the Reds, but he was also extremely disliked by players in both St. Louis and Cincinnati (although you can argue his job wasn't to be liked by the players). He was a hard-liner against the Players Association, but then again most execs from that period were. In the end, we probably have enough executives and managers in for now. Let's get more deserving players in there before worrying about GMs.
Career WAR: 45.4
10-year peak (1966-1975): 36.7
Top percentage from BBWAA: 29.6
Similar players: Tommy John, Jamie Moyer, Bert Blyleven
Kaat won 283 games, including 20 games three times. He finished fifth in the MVP voting the year he won 25 games and finished fourth once in the Cy Young. He was a good pitcher, but not really in the same class as Blyleven, who has a career WAR of 96.5. Kaat ranked in the top 10 in his league in WAR for pitchers just five times.
My call: No. Kaat, of course, has hung on in the game forever as a broadcaster, still doing games for MLB Network at 75 years old. Considering he had 10 votes last time, it wouldn't surprise me if he gets in.
Career WAR: 50.1
10-year peak (1951-1960): 50.1
Top percentage from BBWAA: 21.1
Similar players: Carl Furillo, Enos Slaughter, Tony Oliva
Here's what I wrote three years ago:
Minoso's first full season in the majors came in 1951, when he was 25 years old. He hit .326, scored 112 runs, led the league in triples and stolen bases and finished fourth in the MVP vote. From 1951 until 1962 (when he fractured his skull and wrist running into a wall, and later fractured his forearm when hit by a pitch) Minoso had the seventh-highest WAR among all major league position players, trailing only Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Eddie Mathews, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks. In other words, for an 11-year span, he was one of the best players in baseball.
Minoso did everything well: He hit for average, drew walks, had speed, hit for some power, was durable and was regarded as a good outfielder (the Gold Glove award wasn't created until he was 31, but he won three). The writers of his time knew he was an excellent player -- he finished fourth in the MVP voting four times, an impressive achievement considering he never played for a pennant winner.
Of course, his career numbers may not look impressive, but remember: His career didn't start until he was 25 because of the color barrier. He was the first black player for the White Sox. Considering he was already a star as a rookie, what if he had reached the majors when he was 21? Now you're adding another 700 hits or so, 400 runs and 350 RBIs to his career totals and 15 seasons as one of the best players in baseball. It seems to me more than unfair to discount Minoso's totals simply because he got a late start in the major leagues due to racial circumstances.
Minoso is 85 years old and still going strong. Put the man in Cooperstown. He deserves it.
My call: He's now 88 years old and still deserving of Cooperstown.
Career WAR: 43.0
10-year peak (1964-1973): 42.8
Top percentage from BBWAA: 47.3
Similar players: Carl Furillo, Pedro Guerrero, George Bell
I got an email from Jessica Petrie, communications director for the VoteTonyO campaign, a grassroots organization trying to help get Oliva elected to the Hall of Fame. Oliva was a terrific pure hitter who won three batting titles with the Twins but had his last good season at age 32 because of knee problems. In some ways, Oliva's career is similar to another former Twins outfielder:
Oliva: .304/.353/.476, 222 HR, 947 RBI
Kirby Puckett: .318/.360/.477, 207 HR, 1,075 RBI
Puckett sailed into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. He had some advantages over Oliva: He played center field and led his team to two World Series titles. But as hitters, they were similar. But Puckett is a weak Hall of Famer, not a strong one, so that one comparison shouldn't help Oliva's case too much.
My call: No.
Career WAR: 53.1
10-year peak (1950-1959): 43.7
Top percentage from BBWAA: 1.9
Similar players: Vida Blue, Luis Tiant, Catfish Hunter
I'm glad to see Pierce's case get some consideration. An underrated star of the 1950s, Pierce had a career record of 211-169. The left-hander wasn't big (5-foot-10) but had a good fastball. The White Sox were overshadowed in the '50s by the Yankees but had a winning record every season from 1951 through 1967, and Pierce was one of the mainstays, helping the White Sox win the pennant in 1959. From 1951 to 1958 he had a 2.89 ERA, good for an ERA+ of 134, an eight-year peak better than many Hall of Famers. (Kaat, by comparison, never had an ERA+ that high in one season where he pitched at least 162 innings.)
My call: No. A stronger candidate than Kaat, however, despite the fewer career wins. (Pierce, by the way, is 87 and still alive, as well.)
Career WAR: 66.1
10-year peak (1967-1976): 45.8
Top percentage from BBWAA: 30.9
Similar players: Catfish Hunter, Jim Bunning, Don Drysdale
I wrote about Tiant's case back in July, when he was elected to the Hall of Very Good. He had a career record of 229-172, similar to Hunter and Drysdale. I think he was every bit the pitcher whom Drysdale was and better than Hunter -- trouble is, Tiant's best years were separated by a 20-loss season and two years of arm problems, which makes his timeline look a little odd (and he didn't play on World Series winners like those two).
My call: Three years ago I said "no" on Tiant. Again, he was a better pitcher than Kaat, even though he received much less support from the committee last time. I'm torn here, but would lean to "yes" now. Not that I have a vote.
Career WAR: 39.5
10-year peak (1960-1969): 36.5
Top percentage from BBWAA: 40.6
Similar players: Luis Castillo (hey, that's his No. 1 comp on Baseball-Reference), Larry Bowa, Steve Sax
Hey, Bruce Sutter made the Hall of Fame for revolutionizing the game with his split-fingered fastball, so maybe Wills can make it for helping return the stolen base to the game in the early '50s. He stole 104 bases in 1962, which got him the MVP Award ahead of Willie Mays. That looks silly in retrospect. Anyway, Wills was a good player for a decade after not reaching the majors until he was 26, but he's not a serious Hall of Fame candidate.
My call: No.
It's a good ballot. I'd love to see Minoso get elected. My guess is that Kaat gets those extra two votes, however, and is the only guy who gets in. Which opens the door for Tommy John. ...
Gordon also asks if, at age 31, Pedroia's best seasons are behind him:
Pedroia has seven years and $96.5 million left on the eight-year, $110 million contract extension he signed in July 2013, a deal that will take him through his 38th birthday.
Did the Red Sox bet on the wrong guy at the wrong position, especially at a time when they were under no compulsion to act? Pedroia, remember, still had two years left on his deal when the Sox tore up his existing contract and signed him to what was widely described as a team-friendly extension. It looked even better when Robinson Cano, whose own former Yankees teammate, Mariano Rivera, said was not Pedroia's equal, signed a 10-year, $240 million free-agent deal with the Seattle Mariners.
Pedroia finishes the season with a .278/.337/.376 line -- career lows in all three categories. I'd suggest Pedroia's decline has been the result of three things: (1) Natural aging; (2) The hand injuries; (3) The lower strike zone that has been called in recent years has allowed pitchers to pound him down low, away from his power zone.
Despite his size, Pedroia's hands were so quick he had always been able to turn on high fastballs and do damage -- especially at Fenway. But check his numbers against pitches classified as in the upper half of vertical location (all pitches, not just strikes) over the years:
The numbers have cratered the past few years and explain his decrease in power the past two seasons (16 home runs total, after hitting 15 in 2012 and 21 in 2011). Interestingly, Pedroia's line-drive rate this year was 23 percent, his highest mark going back to 2010, according to ESPN data. (Baseball-Reference had him at 25 percent, also a career high.)
At the same time, however, he's also hitting more groundballs and fewer fly balls. Thus, fewer home runs and doubles off the Monster. As pitchers throw more to the lower half of the zone, it makes sense that a hitter like Pedroia is going to hit more line drive and groundballs, since he doesn't necessarily have a natural loft in his swing.
Have we seen the best of Pedroia? Part of his offensive decline has been mirrored by the decline across the league, so he's still retained a lot of value. His defense is still strong. Baseball-Reference grades him at 4.7 Wins Above Replacement in 2014, tied for third among major league second basemen with Brian Dozier and Howie Kendrick, behind only Robinson Cano and Jose Altuve.
As for his Hall of Fame chances, his résumé so far begins with the two World Series titles and 2008 AL MVP Award. This is considered his age-30 season (he turned 31 in August); here are the career leaders in WAR among second basemen through age 30, via Baseball-Reference, and whether they made the Hall of Fame:
2. Eddie Collins: 76.3 (yes)
3. Joe Morgan: 54.1 (yes)
4. Frankie Frisch: 51.1 (yes)
5. Rod Carew: 49.9 (yes)
6. Roberto Alomar: 46.8 (yes)
7. Bobby Grich: 46.8 (no)
8. Robinson Cano: 45.1 (active)
9. Ryne Sandberg: 44.5 (yes)
10. Chuck Knoblauch: 44.1 (no)
11. Dustin Pedroia: 43.1 (active)
12. Lou Whitaker: 42.7 (no)
13. Wille Randolph: 42.6 (no)
14. Chase Utley: 42.1 (active)
15. Tony Lazzeri: 40.9 (yes, via Veterans Committee)
There are others below the top-15 who also made the Hall of Fame: Billy Herman, Bobby Doerr, Joe Gordon, Nellie Fox, Charlie Gehringer, Nap Lajoie and Bill Mazeroski. All except Gehringer and Lajoie were Veterans Committee selections. Craig Biggio -- 35.0 WAR through age 30 -- should also make it in this year.
Let's look at what some of these guys did after age 30, to see what Pedroia may have to do to get his career WAR into Hall of Fame range:
Alomar -- 20.0 (career: 66.8)
Sandberg -- 23.0 (career: 67.5)
Knoblauch -- 0.5 (career: 44.6)
Whitaker -- 32.2 (career: 74.9)
Randolph -- 22.9 (career: 65.5)
Utley -- 19.2 (career: 61.3, in age-35 season)
Whitaker and Randolph never received any love from Hall of Fame voters and haven't yet shown up on Veterans Committee ballots. They're two favorites of the stathead community. Knoblauch fell apart after turning 30. The best cases here would be Alomar and Sandberg, both of whom started declining in their early 30s but hung around long enough to build up enough career value to get them elected.
Is Pedroia viewed on their level? That's what I'm not sure about. He won the MVP Award and finished seventh and ninth in the voting two other times. Sandberg also won once and finished fourth twice and had a scattering of non-top-10 finishes. Alomar never won but finished in the top six on five occasions.
Obviously, MVP voting isn't the only thing to look but it serves as a reasonable proxy for how voters may view a player. So Pedroia's MVP results are comparable but a notch below those two.
I'd say Pedroia still needs five solid years to build a solid foundation for a Hall of Fame case -- 2-3 .300 seasons with good health are vital, to build some of those career counting numbers. He's still young enough where that can happen. Whether his hands will allow that to happen is the unknown. Ultimately, there's no reason why Pedroia shouldn't be able to accumulate 20 to 25 more career WAR. I think that gets him in -- maybe just below the Alomar/Sandberg line but above the Whitaker/Randolph line.
It's also a celebration of those great Atlanta Braves teams of the 1990s and early 2000s. Maddux and Glavine were teammates from 1993 through 2002, and the Braves won a division title in each of those seasons, excepting the never-completed 1994 season. Throw in division titles in 1991 and 1992 plus three more from 2003 to 2005 and the Braves won a remarkable 14 consecutive division titles, one of the most remarkable achievements in baseball history.
This article isn't meant to be a criticism or to detract from the accomplishments of Maddux, Glavine and Cox, but it's fair to point out that part of the legacy of those Braves teams is that those 14 playoff appearances led to just one World Series title (1995). Why wasn't it more? The law of averages -- if every playoff team were considered equal -- suggests the Braves should have won 2.1 championships in this period, so they underperformed by only one title by this measure.
But the Braves were often better than the opponent that beat them, at least in the regular season, so maybe it should have been at least three titles. I thought it would be interesting to go back and see what went wrong for them. We'll list three factors for each postseason series defeat during that period.
1991: Lost World Series in seven games to the Minnesota Twins
Let's go straight to Game 7, a classic game in maybe the best World Series ever played. (By starting at the end, we conveniently skip past Otis Nixon's drug suspension late in the season, Kent Hrbek doing this to Ron Gant in Game 2 and Kirby Puckett doing this in Game 6).
2. Still, the Braves had runners on second and third with no outs and couldn't score. Gant grounded out, and after an intentional walk to David Justice, Sid Bream grounded into a 3-2-3 double play. From what I can tell from a play-by-play search on Baseball-Reference.com, this is the only 3-2-3 double play in World Series history.
3. Dan Gladden's bloop double leading off the 10th off Alejandro Pena that eventually led to the winning run. Thank you, Metrodome turf.
1992: Lost World Series in six games to the Toronto Blue Jays
1. In Game 2 -- the Braves up 4-3 in the ninth, about to go ahead two games to none -- little-used Ed Sprague (one home run on the season) hits a two-run, pinch-hit homer off veteran reliever Jeff Reardon, who had been acquired late in the season.
2. More bullpen blues in Game 3. The Blue Jays had tied it in the eighth off Steve Avery, who was removed after a leadoff single in the bottom of the ninth. Mark Wohlers enters to face Joe Carter and Dave Winfield -- but Roberto Alomar steals second, so Bobby Cox intentionally walks Carter. Winfield bunts the runners along and Mike Stanton is brought in to face John Olerud, but Cito Gaston goes again to Sprague and Cox issues another intentional walk. Candy Maldonado then delivers a deep fly-ball single off Reardon to score the winner. The big mistake was walking Carter, a free swinger, but I'm guessing Cox never imagined Gaston would have Winfield bunt.
3. Nixon's bunt. OK, Otis could run. But in the bottom of the 11th, the Braves down 4-3, pinch runner John Smoltz at third base with two outs and the World Series on the line, Nixon tried to bunt for a hit. Gutsy play or dumb play? Mike Timlin fielded the bunt, and the Jays won.
1993: Lost NLCS in six games to the Philadelphia Phillies
1. Bad run distribution. The Braves outscored the Phillies 33-23, winning two games by 14-3 and 9-4 scores but lost three games by one run.
2. More bullpen blues: Greg McMichael, the rookie closer, lost Game 1 in the 10th inning on Kim Batiste's RBI double. Wohlers was the loser in the 10th inning of Game 5 when Lenny Dykstra homered.
3. Maddux's poor Game 6 outing. He walked four batters in giving up six runs in 5⅔ innings.
1995: Won World Series in six games over the Cleveland Indians
1996: Lost World Series in six games to the New York Yankees
1. That hanging slider from Wohlers in Game 4.
2. Earlier in that game, the Braves led 6-0 in the sixth inning when a rookie named Derek Jeter lofted a pop fly down the right-field line that Jermaine Dye chased after until he ran into umpire Tim Welke. The ball fell for a hit, starting a three-run rally. (We should have realized back then that the Yankees rookie shortstop was destined for greatness, considering he would also hit the Jeffrey Maier home run in the ALCS against the Baltimore Orioles a week earlier.)
3. Marquis Grissom's error. His dropped fly ball led to the only run in Game 5 as Andy Pettitte outdueled Smoltz 1-0.
1997: Lost NLCS in six games to the Florida Marlins
1. Eric Gregg. The worst strike zone in the history of baseball (undocumented but presumably true) helped rookie Livan Hernandez strike out 15 and beat Maddux 2-1 in Game 5. Here are all 15 strikeouts. Fast-forward to the 1:30 mark for the final out on Fred McGriff on a pitch that will make you laugh, cry and disgusted.
2. Glavine's stinker first inning in Game 6. Single, walk, single, two-run single, sacrifice bunt, intentional walk (sure seems like Cox issued a lot of intentional walks), HBP with the bases loaded, RBI groundout, strikeout. The Marlins were up 4-0 before the Braves came to bat.
3. Pinch hitting. Thought I'd throw this in here somewhere. Braves pinch hitters were generally awful in the postseason during these 14 years. I'm not sure if that had to with the strength (or lack thereof) of the Braves' benches or just something that happened. Cox always liked to carry a third catcher for the playoffs, which generally meant he wasted a roster spot when he could have had another pinch hitter available. Then again, during much of this period, he carried only nine or 10 pitchers, not the 11 or 12 you see now, so he still had plenty of pinch-hitting options. Anyway, by my count, from 1991 to 2005, Braves pinch hitters went 39-for-208 (.188) in the postseason with zero home runs, 17 walks and just 22 RBIs. Considering postseason pinch hitters are often used in critical situations, that performance had to have hurt. Outside of Francisco Cabrera in the 1992 NLCS, they were certainly lacking their Ed Sprague moments.
1998: Lost NLCS in six games to the San Diego Padres
1. Sterling Hitchcock. In two starts, San Diego’s journeyman left-hander allowed just one run in 10 innings.
2. More bullpen blues. The closer this year was another rookie named Kerry Ligtenberg, who was discovered in independent ball. He had a good year with 30 saves and a 2.71 ERA. The Braves generally had good bullpens during this period. They just didn't always pitch well in the postseason. In Game 1, Ken Caminiti torched Ligtenberg for a home run in the 10th inning.
1999: Lost World Series in four games to the Yankees
1. Another crucial error. In Game 1, the Braves lead 1-0 in the eighth, with Maddux pitching a gem. Scott Brosius singles. Darryl Strawberry, pinch hitting, walks. Knoblauch bunts, but first baseman Brian Hunter -- who had just replaced Ryan Klesko for defense -- boots the play to load the bases. Jeter singles to tie the game, and Paul O'Neill greets John Rocker with a two-run single, with Hunter making another error that allowed the runners to move up a base. After an intentional walk and two strikeouts, Rocker walked Jim Leyritz with the bases loaded. Yankees win 4-1.
2. The Chad Curtis Game. Knoblauch had tied the game in the eighth with a two-run homer off Glavine that Brian Jordan just missed -- a classic Yankee Stadium home run. That led to Curtis, now rotting in jail after being convicted for sexual misconduct, hitting the game-winning home run, his second of the game, in the 10th inning off Mike Remlinger.
By the way, if you're counting, extra-winning wins, 1991-2005 postseason:
3. Mariano Rivera. One win, two saves. The Yankees had him; the Braves didn't.
2000: Lost NLDS in three games to the St. Louis Cardinals
1. Maddux got pounded in Game 1.
2. Glavine got pounded in Game 2.
3. Kevin Millwood got pounded in Game 3.
2001: Lost NLCS in five games to the Arizona Diamondbacks
1. Randy Johnson. The Big Unit allowed two runs in 16 innings in winning both of his starts.
2. Bad Maddux, bad defense. In Game 4 -- a must-win against Albie Lopez, the weak link behind Johnson and Curt Schilling -- Maddux gave up eight hits and six runs in three innings. The Braves committed four errors in the game, including three in a four-run third, leading to three unearned runs.
3. Three-man rotation? Maddux and Glavine started Games 4 and 5 on three days' rest while Johnson started Game 5 on four days' rest. Neither pitched well. Was this an issue throughout this era? From 1991 to 2005, Braves starters pitched 24 times on three days' rest. There were some notable successes -- Smoltz pitched 7⅓ scoreless innings in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, Glavine pitched a four-hit complete game in Game 1 of the 1992 World Series, and Denny Neagle tossed a four-hit shutout in Game 4 of the 1997 NLCS -- but the Braves went 10-14 in these games and the starters allowed 4.37 runs per nine innings; when pitching on four or more days of rest in the other 98 games, the starters allowed 3.64 runs per nine innings and the team went 53-45.
So to recap, and considering Cox used his best starters on short rest:
Three days of rest: 10-14, 4.37 runs per nine innings. (The Braves were 0-3 in games started on two days' rest, after a starter had appeared earlier in relief.)
Four or more days of rest: 53-45, 3.64 runs per nine innings.
Cox understandably put a lot of faith in Glavine, Maddux, Smoltz and, early on, Avery. In retrospect, maybe he should have trusted the depth of his rotation a little more.
2002: Lost NLDS in five games to the San Francisco Giants
1. Glavine. In two starts, he lasted a combined 7⅔ innings, allowed 17 hits and 13 runs and had more walks (seven) than strikeouts (four). In his final playoff start for the Braves in Game 4, he got knocked out in the third inning after Rich Aurilia hit a three-run homer. Glavine signed with the Mets that offseason, and you wonder if his poor playoff performances in recent years was a reason the Braves let him go.
3. One last gasp that fell short. Game 5, bottom of the ninth, the Braves had two on with nobody out. Gary Sheffield struck out and Chipper Jones grounded into a double play.
2003: Lost NLDS in five games to the Chicago Cubs
1. No offense. By 2003, the Braves had morphed into an offensive powerhouse. This team led the NL with 907 runs scored as Javy Lopez clubbed 43 home runs, Sheffield hit 39, Andruw Jones hit 36, and Chipper Jones hit .305 with 27 home runs. They hit .215 with three home runs against the Cubs.
2. Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. Prior pitched a two-hitter in Game 3 (throwing 133 pitches). In Game 5 in Atlanta, Wood allowed one run in eight innings. Again, note that Wood was pitching on four days of rest while Mike Hampton went on three days.
3. Smoltz as reliever. From 2001 through 2004, following Tommy John surgery that forced him to miss all of 2000, Smoltz became the team's closer. However, he rarely had save opportunities in the postseason in these years; considering he later returned with success to the rotation, you wonder how Braves history would have been different had Smoltz been starting those years.
2004: Lost NLDS in five games to the Houston Astros
1. Jaret Wright. The Braves' Game 1 starter (posting a 3.28 ERA that year), Wright gave up 10 runs in 9⅔ innings in his two starts and lost both games.
2. Carlos Beltran. He hit four home runs and drove in nine runs for the Astros in the five games, including going 4-for-5 with two homers and five RBIs in a 12-3 rout in Game 5 -- yet another Game 5 loss at home.
3. Marcus Giles. He hit .125 in the series without an RBI. In 25 postseason games for the Braves, he hit .217/.277/.315 with two home runs and six RBIs in 101 plate appearances. Not to pick on one guy or anything.
2005: Lost NLDS in four games to the Astros
this walk-off home run off Joey Devine. You remember Joey Devine, right?
2. Kyle Farnsworth. The Braves blew a 6-1 lead in the eighth inning of that game. Farnsworth gave up a grand slam to Lance Berkman in the eighth and a game-tying home run with two outs in the ninth to Brad Ausmus.
3. Failed opportunities. The biggest came in the 14th inning when the Braves loaded the bases with one out. But Brian McCann struck out and pinch hitter Pete Orr grounded out. Roger Clemens, pitching on two days' rest after starting Game 2 and making his first relief appearance since 1984, then tossed three scoreless innings to get the win.
And that was it. The end of an era. That wasn't a great Braves club, going 90-72, at least compared to some of the earlier editions. In 2006, they fell to 79-83, but they rebuilt and gave Cox one final playoff appearance in 2010 -- in which the Braves lost the division series once again. (With another loss in 2013, the Braves have lost six consecutive division series, with a wild-card defeat thrown in as well.)
Still, it was a splendid stretch of baseball. From 1991 to 2005, the Braves played 125 postseason games. They won 63 games and lost 62. Maybe they should have won another World Series. In going through the play-by-play of a lot of these games, besides the obvious bullpen issues, I was struck by how many games were affected by errors. The Braves allowed 55 unearned runs in these 125 postseason games; as it turns out, that total isn't that much different from how the Braves performed in the regular season. From 1991 to 2005, not including 1994, they averaged 61 unearned runs per season; in the postseason, they were a little worse, as their total prorates to 71 over 162 games.
Of course, in the postseason, when the margin for error is smaller and the opponents better, those mistakes become more important. Still, maybe that wasn't a decisive factor; the Braves reached on an error 58 times in these 14 playoff years, their opponents 64.
Maybe a key to the Braves' success -- starting pitching depth -- just wasn't as big of a factor in the playoffs, when their opponents could shorten their rotations. Maybe power pitching does win in October; think of some of the pitchers the Braves lost to (Schilling with the Phillies and Diamondbacks; Johnson; Wood and Prior; Clemens and Roy Oswalt). The Braves' best playoff starter was Smoltz, more of a power pitcher than Maddux and Glavine. Maddux went 11-13 with a 2.81 ERA in his Braves postseason career but also allowed 18 unearned runs in 27 starts; he was good but not quite the Maddux of the regular season. Glavine was 12-15 with a 3.44 ERA in his Braves postseason career. (He had a 3.15 ERA in the regular season during this period.)
But Braves fans will always have 1995, Maddux pitching a two-hitter to win the opener and Glavine clinching it with that masterful Game 6 performance, allowing just one hit in eight innings. It's hard to believe that was 19 years ago.
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- The Hall of Fame voting process can wear on the emotions of a candidate who lingers on the ballot for a number of years. But it’s unseemly for that candidate to state his case too vigorously, lest he appear arrogant, or complain about the judgment or the intelligence of the baseball writers, in which case he stands a good chance of alienating the people entrusted with determining his legacy.
Few players had their nerves taxed on a big stage more consistently than Bert Blyleven, who passed through stages of anxiety, frustration, resignation and jubilation during his time on the ballot.
At the beginning, Blyleven waited for congratulatory phone calls that never came. He later expressed frustration over being excluded despite 287 career wins, 242 complete games, 60 shutouts and 3,701 strikeouts -- still the fifth highest total in baseball history.
By the time his 10th appearance on the ballot rolled around, Blyleven threw up his hands and spent election day having his truck serviced.
The public water torture finally ended in 2011 when Blyleven made it to Cooperstown on his 14th try. So he seemed like the ideal person to assess the latest directive from the Hall of Fame’s executive board, which condensed the waiting period for potential inductees from 15 to 10 years Saturday. If a decade isn’t enough for a player to crack 75 percent, his name is passed on to the Hall’s Era Committee in perpetuity.
The Hall’s decision might expedite the process, but it still isn’t going to satisfy observers who think the Baseball Writers Association of America is clueless, has too many personal agendas, or is too selective or not selective enough. And the wait, while shorter, will remain stressful for the person being judged.
“What helped me is that guys like Bob Feller and Harmon Killebrew said, ‘You’re going to get in. Be patient,’” Blyleven said. “It’s a tough thing to crack. This [change today] might put more pressure on the Veterans Committee.
“Maybe if the wait is only 10 years, the writers will look at the numbers a little bit better and quicker. I hope so. I’ve wondered over the years about some of the guys who have the opportunity to vote. You have guys like Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken and you wonder, ‘How can they not be on 100 percent of the ballots?’ Writers got more publicity for not voting for them than the guys who did it in a legit way. Maybe they ought to look at that more than the number of years [on the ballot].”
Jane Forbes Clark, chairman of the Hall’s board, praised the baseball writers Saturday for their “excellent" job in the voting. In a follow-up interview, Hall President Jeff Idelson said the likelihood of a player being elected after 10 years on the ballot was "incredibly minimal," and the overriding goal is to keep the process "relevant." If the new system is more humane, helps unclutter the ballot and forces writers to come to grips with players from the steroid era more quickly, those will be significant fringe benefits.
Still, the process could be further improved by eliminating the 10-man limit on the ballot each year. The ballot continues to get more crowded as Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and other real or alleged PED users stick around but can’t generate enough support to make it to Cooperstown. Meanwhile, other candidates are being judged by factors beyond their individual merits. When Jack Morris slipped from 67.7 percent to 61.5 percent in his 15th and final appearance last year, it didn’t help his cause that some voters simply didn’t have enough room to vote for him.
The Hall’s new system will add a sense of urgency to the candidacy of Tim Raines, who received 46.1 percent of the vote last winter and now has three more cracks at Cooperstown rather than eight. The same sense of urgency applies to Alan Trammell, Lee Smith and Don Mattingly, all of whom fall in the 10 to 15 year netherworld and will receive the full 15 years of eligibility under a grandfather clause. Trammell received a strong endorsement Saturday from Tigers Hall of Famer Al Kaline.
“I’ve always thought that he should be in the Hall of Fame,” Kaline said. “He should certainly get more recognition than he’s gotten. I’m not being prejudiced because I’m a Detroit Tiger. I watched him play for over 20 years. He was an outstanding fielder and a very clutch hitter. He was MVP of the World Series and a leader of the club. I’ve been totally shocked that he hasn’t gotten more votes.”
Many fans and Hall-watchers wonder how a player’s Hall case can change so drastically years after he’s hit his final home run or recorded his final strikeout. It’s a valid question. Blyleven received 17.5 percent of the vote in 1998 and 14.1 percent in 1999. Twelve years later, he was celebrating his election with almost 80 percent of the vote.
Blyleven benefited from a concerted lobbying effort by the sabermetric community, and human nature invariably enters into the process. Some writers change their minds with time or loosen their standards when they know a player is nearing his final appearance on the ballot. The makeup of the electorate also changes slightly each year as new voters attain the requisite 10 years of BBWAA service time and are added to the rolls.
But every time a player makes it to Cooperstown after a lengthy wait, it debunks the notion that “A Hall of Famer is a Hall of Famer, and you shouldn’t have to think too hard to figure it out.” Some of that distinction might lie in the philosophical divide that separates writers who think Cooperstown should be a place for only the true elite and others who advocate a “Big Hall” approach.
Among the Hall of Famers in Cooperstown this weekend, Jim Rice and Bruce Sutter can best understand the ordeal that Blyleven endured. Sutter waited 13 years to be inducted, and Rice went the full 15. Five years after his election, Rice still questions whether the baseball writers are the best arbiters and would be open to a system in which the writers and current Hall of Famers both have a say on new inductees.
As for the question of time on the ballot, Rice insists that he never worried about it because his fate was beyond his control.
“What’s the difference between 10 years and 15?” Rice said. “The bottom line is, if the numbers are there, it doesn’t matter if it’s 10 or 15 years. The numbers aren’t going to change.”
But the rules just did.
The biggest part of the announcement is that it’s cutting down the length of time players might stay on the ballot, from 15 years to 10, while grandfathering in three guys in that 11- to 15-year window: Don Mattingly (headed for his 15th year next year), Alan Trammell (in his 14th) and Lee Smith (headed toward his 13th). All three remain long shots at best, but at least the voters get another shot or two at being convinced.
On one level, this may not seem like a very big deal: The BBWAA’s voters can usually congratulate itself for getting the flat-out obvious guys right, albeit with less than 100 percent success, which is why there really isn't much to brag about on that score. (Chicago remembers Ron Santo.) In a perfect world, this latest twist for guys looking to get in means that the latest version of Veterans Committee voting will take up the causes of those in their respective eras and get them to Cooperstown a little sooner, rather than leave them in the back-end, five-year “pause” while they wait to slip off the ballot.
A problem with that expectation is whether you want to get hung up on the distinction between the people voted in by the BBWAA versus those selected by any version of the Veterans Committee, because if you want to cling to the assertion that being voted in by the writers is more significant -- when I'd expect most are just happy to get their plaque on the wall -- then this abbreviates that window of possibility. Which isn't necessarily the biggest deal in the world, although it does rob the electorate of late changes of heart in the face of cogent cases advanced for eminently worthy candidates -- as happened with Bert Blyleven in his 14th year of eligibility, after years of arguments advanced by sabermetricians helped swing voters all the way ’round.
Which brings us perhaps to the case of the next great “cause” candidate: Tim Raines. What do you do about the greatest leadoff hitter in the history of the National League, the latest example of a guy who needs to be talked up and debated because he spent the best years of his career in Canadian obscurity? Raines will be in his eighth year, so he, like Lee Smith, has just three more shots at getting voted in by the writers coming to him. That’s nothing if you have complete faith that the variation of the Veterans Committee or the present “Expansion Era Committee” eventually gets this done. But considering that the Hall’s extra-electoral processes have given us frankly stupid outcomes, like inducting former commissioner Bowie Kuhn while overlooking former MLBPA honcho Marvin Miller, I wouldn’t invest too much faith in the idea this will produce better justice when it comes to inducting people.
Another way of thinking about this new tweak is that it means we’ll have that much less time to put up with sportswriters yammering about the immorality of the PED scourge they either failed to discover during its heyday, or retroactively want to employ to punish people they suspect used PEDs. Think Jeff Bagwell, a slam-dunk Hall-worthy great, subsequently smeared by more than a few chuckleheads without much in the way of evidence or even rumor. Now, Bagwell has to endure just six more years of that kind of nonsense, while known users such as Mark McGwire (two years) or Sammy Sosa (eight to go) won’t have to worry about their past being brought up every December for too much longer. For me, that’s less of a big deal. The PED story has long since become more about the public posturing of people who want to sound off on the subject. I’d agree, seeing less of that is a good thing. But I don’t see how taking a generation’s greats off the ballot sooner makes for a better Hall of Fame.
The other huge problem created by shortening the window for Hall-worthy players is that this change did not also get rid of the cap on how many guys electors can vote for: It’s still at 10. With ballots already crowded with potential inductees, leaving a hard ceiling in place on who you can vote for guarantees that guys are going to get crowded out, not for lack of merit, but because of the number of worthies they’re among, and the fixed limit for how many votes are available (10 times the number of electors). This is a potentially massive, destabilizing error. You can hope it gets fixed before the next balloting, because relying on the tender mercies of whatever variation of the Veterans Committee exists now and in the years to come won't provide an effective correction.
All of which makes me ask again the question I always put to myself every time we get on this subject: Whose Hall of Fame is it? Who does it serve?
If you say “the players,” which ones? Those already elected, as often seems the case when you have guys on the various recent iterations of the Veterans Committee keeping players out? Or should it serve those who belong?
If you say “the fans,” here again, who? Today’s fans, or those who enjoyed the players in their heyday? That would seem to ill-serve someone such as Raines, a marquee player for a franchise that no longer plays in Montreal. Or are the fans a proxy for something amorphous, like the history of the game? If so, how do you tell the story of the game’s history by excluding many of the guys who made the biggest impact on the field?
At any rate, I don’t anticipate the changes being a good thing, but in the Hall’s long history of tinkering with the election process to guarantee a full and happy house every July, we’ll just have to see who gets shafted by the latest variation on this theme.
Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.
I don't have much to say about the Chicken, but Tiant actually has a pretty interesting case for Cooperstown, especially when compared to two pitchers his career overlapped with:
Tiant: 229-172, 3.30 ERA, 114 ERA+, 66.1 WAR
Don Drysdale: 209-166, 2.95 ERA, 121 ERA+, 61.2 WAR
Catfish Hunter: 224-166, 3.26 ERA, 104 ERA+, 36.6 WAR
So why Drysdale and Hunter instead of Tiant? All three were certainly famous in their time, although Drysdale and Hunter had the advantage of playing for World Series champions, while Tiant played for just one World Series participant, and his Red Sox lost. It may be as simple as that, but there were several other factors that played in to Tiant's not getting in:
1. His best seasons were spread out. He went 21-9 with a league-leading 1.60 ERA for the Indians in 1968, but followed that up with a 20-loss season and then two partial seasons due to injury issues. Healthy again with the Red Sox in 1972, he went 15-6 and led the AL with a 1.91 ERA. From 1973 to 1976, he won 20 games three times and had a 3.31 ERA while averaging 281 innings per season and completing more than half his starts. But his worst season in that span was the 1975 pennant year for Boston, when he went 18-14 with a 4.02 ERA.
If he'd had his 1966-68 seasons alongside his 1972-1976 years his record would look more like Hunter's, rather than having that three-year gap of ineffectiveness mixed in. If 1975 had been one of his best seasons, it would have had a larger impact than his forgotten great 1968 season.
2. Not understanding park effects. Why is Tiant's WAR higher than Drysdale's or Hunter's? He pitched in Fenway, a great hitter's park in the '70s, while Drysdale and Hunter spent many of their prime seasons in great pitcher's parks in Dodger Stadium and Oakland. Today, voters would consider this more than when those guys were on the ballot in the 1980s.
3. Timing. Consider this: When Drysdale hit the ballot for the first time in 1975, he received 21 percent of the vote. When Tiant hit the ballot in 1988, he received 30.9 percent. From there, Drysdale's support increased and he was elected on his 10th try. Tiant, meanwhile, fell to 10.5 percent in his second year and never recovered. Hunter sailed in more easily, topping 50 percent his first year in 1985 and getting elected in 1987.
So what happened? In 1975 and 1976, Robin Roberts and Bob Lemon were both on the ballot and Drysdale didn't get much support. After those two were elected in 1976, Drysdale's support increased more than 20 percent in 1977 as he was regarded as the best pitcher on the ballot. (Jim Bunning was the best new name on the ballot.) From there, Drysdale made steady upward progress until 1981, when Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal joined the ballot. Gibson made it into the Hall his first year as Drysdale's percentage dropped in 1981 and 1982. Marichal made it in 1983. Cleared of those two, Drysdale then gained elected in 1984.
Hunter joined the ballot in 1985. Hoyt Wilhelm was elected that year and Bunning was the only other strong pitching candidate. Hunter made it in 1987 -- a pretty weak ballot overall. Billy Williams was the top vote-getter (in his sixth year on the ballot) and Hunter was the other player elected, while Bunning, Orlando Cepeda and Roger Maris rounded out the top five. The overall lack of strong candidates undoubtedly helped Hunter.
That gets us to Tiant in 1988. He did OK for a first-timer; as mentioned, he started from a better place than Drysdale. Willie Stargell made it that year and Bunning just missed. But then look what happened:
1989: Gaylord Perry and Fergie Jenkins joined the ballot (along with Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski, who got elected).
1990: Jim Palmer (elected).
1991: Perry and Jenkins elected, Rollie Fingers joined the ballot. (Bunning, who had peaked at 74.2 percent in 1988, fell off to 63.7 in his final year.)
1992: Tom Seaver and Fingers elected.
1993: Phil Niekro joined the ballot.
1994: Steve Carlton elected, Don Sutton joined the ballot.
1997: Niekro elected.
1998: Sutton elected.
By then, Tiant's momentum had long since ended, memories of his best days more than 20 years in the past. Drysdale and Hunter had missed the rush of Palmer, Jenkins and all the 300-game winners. Tiant paled in comparison to that group and his case died. Such is the way Hall of Fame voting often works with the borderline players.
* * * *
As for Oliva, he had half of a Hall of Fame career -- he won three batting titles and led the AL in hits five times with the Twins while twice finishing second in the MVP vote -- but bad knees eventually hurt his productivity and shortened his career. Like Tiant, his voting percentage peaked in 1988 (47.3 percent) but then declined as bigger stars came on the ballot. From 1964 to 1971, he had 42.2 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference.com, ninth among position players. Seven of the eight ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame (Dick Allen being the exception) as are several below him who played all those seasons (Willie McCovey, Billy Williams, Harmon Killebrew, Pete Rose, Al Kaline, Lou Brock, Willie Stargell).
Oliva was a good one.
My quick answer: Probably more than you think. Before we answer that question, let's look back at some games of the past for reference (* indicates player started).
1994: Three Rivers Stadium
Hall of Famers (10): Roberto Alomar*, Wade Boggs*, Frank Thomas*, Kirby Puckett*, Cal Ripken*, Paul Molitor, Tony Gwynn*, Ozzie Smith*, Greg Maddux*, Barry Larkin.
Future Hall of Famers (3): Ken Griffey Jr.*, Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson.
Probably make it (4): Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza*, Mike Mussina, Ivan Rodriguez*.
Who knows (1): Barry Bonds*.
Has an argument (3): David Cone, Lee Smith, Fred McGriff, Kenny Lofton.
That was some American League starting lineup -- five guys are already in the Hall of Fame and Griffey and Rodriguez will make it, assuming Pudge skirts past PED allegations that will pop up. The only non-Hall of Famers in the AL starting nine were Joe Carter and Jimmy Key.
By the way, the game itself was a good one. McGriff hit a two-run homer off Lee Smith in the bottom of the ninth to tie it for the National League and then they scored off Jason Bere in the 10th to win 8-7 (Moises Alou doubled in Gwynn). Rosters were smaller then -- only 28 players on the AL squad, which didn't even include a second shortstop. Ripken and Rodriguez played the entire game as did Gwynn. Maddux actually pitched three innings.
Hall of Famers (16) -- Tony Gwynn*, Ozzie Smith*, Ryne Sandberg, Gary Carter, Goose Gossage, Nolan Ryan, Rickey Henderson*, George Brett*, Eddie Murray*, Cal Ripken*, Dave Winfield*, Jim Rice*, Carlton Fisk*, Wade Boggs, Paul Molitor, Bert Blyleven.
Probably make it (2): Tim Raines, Jack Morris*.
Who knows: Pete Rose.
Has an argument (3): Dale Murphy*, Lou Whitaker*, Alan Trammell, Dave Parker.
In the previous All-Star Game in Minnesota, the AL starting lineup featured seven Hall of Famers -- the most for any league since 1960. And Morris probably makes it eventually via the Veterans Committee. That leaves only the underrated Whitaker, certainly deserving of consideration if you like career WAR, so it's possible that someday all nine AL starters will make it. That has happened before: All nine 1934 AL starters are Hall of Famers -- Charlie Gehringer, Heinie Manush, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, Joe Cronin, Bill Dickey and Lefty Gomez. The NL squad that year was pretty good as well, with Wally Berger as the only non-Hall of Famer. (Not coincidentally, the 1930s are the most overrepresented era in the Hall of Fame.)
Anyway, the NL won 6-1 in 1985 behind starter LaMarr Hoyt and Ryan, who each pitched three innings.
Hall of Famers (15): Mike Schmidt*, Dave Winfield*, Steve Carlton*, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Lou Brock, Gaylord Perry, Bruce Sutter, George Brett*, Jim Rice*, Carl Yastrzemski*, Nolan Ryan*, Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson.
Has an argument: Dave Parker*, Dave Concepcion, Keith Hernandez, Ted Simmons, Bobby Grich, Tommy John.
Who knows: Pete Rose.
The game I attended as a kid has 15 Hall of Famers, plus Rose and a few others who could eventually draw support via the Veterans Committee (although Parker, Concepcion, Simmons and John have already appeared on the VC ballot and failed to get elected). The game was one of the best All-Star Games ever.
1970: Riverfront Stadium
Hall of Famers (19): Luis Aparicio*, Carl Yastrzemski*, Frank Robinson*, Harmon Killebrew*, Jim Palmer*, Rod Carew, Brooks Robinson, Catfish Hunter, Willie Mays*, Henry Aaron*, Tony Perez*, Johnny Bench*, Tom Seaver*, Willie McCovey, Joe Morgan, Roberto Clemente, Bob Gibson, Gaylord Perry, Hoyt Wilhelm.
Also: Joe Torre (elected as a manager, but borderline as a player).
Who knows: Pete Rose.
This was the famous game when Rose barreled over Ray Fosse to score the winning run in the 12th inning. What's forgotten is the NL scored three runs off Hunter and Fritz Peterson in the bottom of the ninth to tie it.
1964: Shea Stadium
Hall of Famers (17): Mickey Mantle*, Harmon Killebrew*, Brooks Robinson*, Al Kaline, Luis Aparacio, Whitey Ford, Roberto Clemente*, Billy Williams*, Orlando Cepeda*, Don Drysdale*, Bill Mazeroski, Ron Santo, Henry Aaron, Willie Stargell, Jim Bunning, Sandy Koufax, Juan Marichal.
Note that 11 of the 17 Hall of Famers were from the National League -- the Senior Circuit had a big talent advantage back then. Johnny Callison hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to cap a four-run rally as the NL won 7-4. Steve Wulf wrote a great feature on Callison's hard-knock life last year.
OK, so what about 2014? History would suggest we'll have at least 15 future Hall of Famers, maybe more. Of course, we also have more All-Stars to choose from, as rosters have expanded in recent years to 34 active players, plus others who were replaced.
Here's a guess:
Locks (2): Derek Jeter, Miguel Cabrera.
If this year's game seemed particularly lacking in big stars, this is probably why: I see only two locks.
Building strong cases (2): Robinson Cano, Adrian Beltre, Yadier Molina.
Borderline veterans (2): Tim Hudson, Chase Utley.
On the right path (6): Mike Trout, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Andrew McCutchen, Troy Tulowitzki, Giancarlo Stanton.
After that? It's a crapshoot. Adam Wainwright has 111 career wins but is already 32. Mark Buehrle will be viewed more as a compiler. It's too early to judge some of the other young players -- David Price, Yu Darvish, Paul Goldschmidt, Yasiel Puig, Chris Sale, Madison Bumgarner and so on. But some of that group will emerge down the road.
It does make me wonder if the talent right now is skewing young; also, we're in a pitching era, which deflates some of the hitter stats. But pitchers also have a tougher time making the Hall of Fame, at least by current standards.
Today's question: How many of those three should make the Hall of Fame?
OK, Chipper is an obvious Hall of Famer, Vizquel and Beltran less so.
Some quick numbers for Vizquel: Most games ever at shortstop; 2,877 career hits; 1,445 runs; .272 average; 11 Gold Gloves; three-time All-Star; career WAR of 45.3.
Beltran: 363 home runs; 1,340 RBIs; 1,356 runs; three Gold Gloves; eight-time All-Star; 308 stolen bases; .333, 16 HR in 51 postseason games; 68.3 career WAR.
It elected the bumbling commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who presided over numerous labor wars, demanded Jim Bouton "retract" what he wrote in "Ball Four," declined to offer congratulations to Henry Aaron when he hit his 700th home run, and was inexcusably in Cleveland instead of Atlanta when Aaron passed Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list.
It set up a special Negro Leagues committee in 2006, essentially designed to elect Buck O'Neil to the Hall of Fame for his contributions to the game. It elected 12 players and five pioneers/executives ... but not Buck O'Neil.
It has elected managers, general managers, umpires and owners.
So the Hall of Fame has honored a wide swath of people associated with the game. How about Dr. Frank Jobe? Jobe, who died Thursday at the age of 88, pioneered Tommy John surgery on the Dodgers' left-hander in 1974 and is one of the most important baseball figures of the past 40 years. How many pitchers have had careers saved by the surgery?
"Ten to 15 years ago, you didn't see many major league pitchers with scars on their arms," Jobe said in a 1978 Sports Illustrated story on pitchers and sore arms. "Now you see quite a few. The players recognize that what they have is a career. Their earning capacity is so very high that they are more willing to take the risk of surgery. They are beginning to understand something about the importance of sports medicine. And I think doctors now have a better understanding of what a pitcher's arm must do. More surgeons know the game; the Baseball Physicians' Association has contributed to the exchange of knowledge and to more meticulous techniques and care."
That statement is more true than ever. Back in 2012, Jon Roegele of Beyond the Box Score documented nearly 500 players who had undergone the surgery. That total is well over 500 now, and probably much higher when considering the number of cases likely missed in the study.
In Jobe's initial surgery on John, he transplanted the palmaris longus tendon from the pitcher’s right wrist (a tendon only 75 percent of us even have and is essentially useless) to his left elbow. A few weeks later, a follow-up surgery was required to arrest nerve deterioration. Jobe advised John that he'd never pitch again.
He did. John began his rehab by playing catch with his wife. He could barely toss a ball 30 feet. He threw balls against concrete walls, iced his arm and ran eight miles a day. Eventually, the nerves in his hand responded. He pitched batting practice. He returned in 1976. John won 164 games after the surgery, including three 20-win seasons. He pitched in three World Series and finished with 288 career victories.
Jobe's surgery -- and John's hard work -- made it possible.
The Hall of Fame is a museum, and while it honors the greatest players of all time with plaques and induction ceremonies and speeches, it also tells the story of baseball. The story of Tommy John's comeback is one of the most important stories of the past four decades.
I'm all for electing more players -- in fact, John himself is a pretty worthy case on his playing merits alone. But if the Hall is going to elect important contributors, think outside the box. Think of Marvin Miller. Bill James. Great scouts like Hugh Alexander and Tony Lucadello. Vin Scully. Dr. Frank Jobe.
That hasn't happened, but former Cy Young Award winner Jack McDowell just raised this issue, telling Scot Gregor of the Daily Herald that players from his generation know PED users have already been elected to Cooperstown:
Q: You've been outspoken about suspected PED users and the Hall of Fame. Why?
A: I just think it's too bad that only the handful of guys take the brunt of it from everybody. Meanwhile, a ton of other guys were into it. You can't fix the other part, the players who (Hall of Fame voters) say are clean.
All of us who were around kind of smirk at each other. There are guys in there (HOF) already that everyone knows (weren't clean). It's part of the deal.
Unless you're going to use a lie detector on everybody, you're never going to know who did and who didn't.
McDowell pitched in the majors from 1987 through 1999, winning his Cy Young Award with the White Sox in 1993. McDowell was never one to hold back on words while an active player, so his thoughts shouldn't be viewed as bitter ex-ballplayer talk. It seems to me that McDowell is using an argument I've used before: The steroid users are a product of a generation where many players used and the sport showed no inclination to care (at least until Bonds broke the game with a string of the greatest seasons ever in his late 30s). Back in January, McDowell wrote a minor tirade directed at "arrogant" Hall of Fame voters:
This s--- was so far into the game for decades ... and still is. You will never know the extent, nor will I, nor will anyone, so stop the stupid judgments on the big five of Clemens, Bonds, Sosa, Palmiero (sic), McGwire. Am I happy I had to compete with all that? No. But the point is this ... you have NO IDEA who did or didn't and you all would probably poop your pants if you found out.
McDowell has nothing to gain here. In fact, he's just returning to professional baseball to manage the Dodgers' rookie level team in Ogden, Utah, this summer, so if anything he probably has something to gain by simply nodding his head and muttering "steroids bad."
Will his message sink in? Probably not. Voters can always lean on the rationale that they simply didn't know that they voted for a steroids user.
But that's exactly McDowell's point. It wasn't just the guys with the biggest muscles using.
He was not.
He had the one brilliant post-season, of course, but other than that one three-week period he absolutely was not; it is not questionable, it is not debatable, it is not unclear. It does not seem likely that the conclusion could be altered by studying the question in a different way. Jack Morris did not have a great or even good record in Big Games, and the people who believe that he did believe that because they believe that, but not because there is any actual evidence for it.
In the games that our system has designated as regular season Big Games, Jack Morris made 46 starts, won 18 games, lost 19, 3.79 ERA. His teams were 24-22.
So there you go. Using a higher standard for Big Games, James reports that Morris was 10-14 with a 3.51 ERA. Morris still had the great postseason in 1991. He went 3-0 in the 1984 postseason with five runs allowed (for some reason, James failed to mention that postseason). As James concludes, "If you want to advocate for a pitcher being in the Hall of Fame based on his performance in Big Games, advocate for Ron Guidry, or Jim Kaat, or Mickey Lolich, or Mike Mussina."
The impetus for the series was, perhaps not surprisingly, Jack Morris, although now that Morris has officially seen his time on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot expire, he's a little less interesting (at least until he gets elected via the Veterans Committee).
James writes in the first part of the series:
OK, but we circle back to the argument that Morris was a Big Game pitcher, in general, rather than merely a Big Game pitcher in the 1991 post-season. Traditionalists assert that Jack Morris was a Big Game pitcher, because they have to assert this to defend Morris, and Analysts sneer and scoff at that because there is no general evidence for it, and also because sneering and scoffing are what we are best at.
We reject the argument that Jack Morris was a Big Game pitcher because there is no evidence for it beyond a few World Series starts, but think about it. Is there any evidence that it isn’t true? Have you ever seen any evidence that it isn’t true? What if it is true?
This is what started me off on this two-week research tangent, neglecting my wife, my personal habits and the Boston Red Sox. What if it is true that Jack Morris was, in fact, a Big Game pitcher? How would we know?
I don't want to give too much away here since the series -- James is nine articles into it, with one left to be published -- is behind the site's pay wall. Using data back to 1952 (aka the Retrosheet era, when we have box scores for nearly every game), James devised an ingenious method to isolate big games, creating what he called a Big Game Score, based on the time of the season, the status of the pennant race (or wild-card race) and the records of the teams involved. Every game with a Big Game Score of 310 or higher is regarded as a Big Game. In the end, he has 7.7 percent of all regular-season games labeled as Big Games, or one in 13.
In Part IV of the series, he lists the pitchers who started the most Big Games. Since those games usually occur late in seasons when a pitcher is on a good team, it's perhaps no surprise that Andy Pettitte has started the most Big Games with 82, one more than Jim Palmer and Roger Clemens. (Again, these are regular-season totals only; Pettitte has also started the most postseason games in history.) The three pitchers with the highest percentage of their career starts marked as Big Games are Sandy Koufax and Johnny Podres (Dodgers teammates in the '50s and '60s when the Dodgers were in a series of tight pennant races) and Jon Lester. The pitcher with the most career starts never to start a Big Game is Zach Duke, with 169.
James has another article going over some of his results, another one examining Jim Kaat's record in Big Games more closely, and then unveils his list of the top 11 Big Game pitchers. I won't give away the No. 1 guy, but I will tell you that he pitched in the major leagues last year. The No. 2 guy -- fitting his reputation -- is Bob Gibson. Mike Mussina is 11th. In 54 Big Games, Mussina went 27-13 with a 3.04 ERA. Maybe that will eventually help his Hall of Fame case.
Maybe my favorite stat from the series came in another article on teams: The Kansas City A's, in their 13 years in Kansas City, never played a Big Game.
What to make of the series? Do the results prove anything? For example, if you make a more stringent definition of Big Games than James did, you may end up with different results. Still, as James writes:
But what happens in Big Games is important whether or not it is indicative of an underlying skill. Bill Mazeroski’s home run in the 1960 World Series is a big deal, whether or not it had anything to do with Mazeroski’s ability as a hitter. Madison Bumgarner pitching 8 shutout innings in the 2010 World Series and 7 shutout innings in the 2012 World Series is important, whether or not it has anything to do with Bumgarner’s character, his underlying skills, or the allegation that he has a girl’s first name and is a bad gardener.
It's just another layer to add to what we already know about pitchers, an important one since the subject of Big Games is often brought up. And Morris? How did he do in Big Games? Stay tuned. That will be covered in that final article of the series.
he said. "But I kind of came up a Cub. For me, I couldn't pick. I really couldn't. Both places mean so much to me personally, to my family. I couldn't pick. So I'm going to go in neutral, I guess."
Maddux won three of his four Cy Young Awards with Atlanta and was 194-88 with the Braves, 133-112 with the Cubs. Hey, at least he didn't choose a Padres cap.
He's not the first player to have a Hall of Fame cap plaque controversy. Hank Aaron has an Atlanta Braves cap instead of a Milwaukee Braves cap, even though he had more years in Milwaukee. Dave Winfield went with the Padres over the Yankees even though he played 55 more games with the Yankees. (Considering how George Steinbrenner treated him, that's understandable.) Gary Carter went with the Expos, although he won a World Series with the Mets. (He played a lot more with the Expos, so this made sense as well.) Catfish Hunter went without a logo, even though he was much better with the A's than with the Yankees. (It may have been a shot at Charlie Finley.) Reggie Jackson went with the Yankees over the A's, perhaps another shot at Finley. Carlton Fisk went with the Red Sox over the White Sox despite playing 350 more games with Chicago.
Tony La Russa also went without a logo, also understandable considering that he had long stints managing the White Sox, A's and Cardinals.
What do you think? Which cap should Maddux have gone with?