SweetSpot: Hall of Fame
The easiest way to determine those 10 games is by searching Baseball-Reference for Game Score -- the metric Bill James designed as a simple way to measure the effectiveness of a pitcher’s start. James gives a point total based on the pitcher's innings, strikeouts and runs, hits and walks allowed. A Game Score of 90 is outstanding. There were just 21 such starts in the majors in 2014.
Not surprisingly, considering the volume of high-strikeout games in his career, Johnson has more 90-plus Game Scores (20) than Martinez (12) and Smoltz (6) combined.
But we can't go just on Game Score alone. Too boring. So, using some judgment on my part, here are the 10 greatest performances from these pitchers with a link to each box score:
10. Randy Johnson: Nov. 4, 2001
Fun Johnson facts: Perhaps the two most memorable outings of his career actually came in relief. The first came when he was with the Mariners. In Game 5 of the 1995 Division Series against the Yankees, Johnson entered in the ninth with two runners on and no outs -- and escaped the inning. He pitched the 10th and the 11th (giving up a run), but Edgar Martinez's double drove in Joey Cora and Ken Griffey Jr. and the Mariners won their first playoff series in history, saved baseball in Seattle, got Buck Showalter fired and got Joe Torre hired ... which all led to the Yankees dynasty that won four World Series in five years.
Then came Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, when Johnson, then with the Diamondbacks, threw the 17 most important pitches of his life. He had thrown seven innings the day before -- and 104 pitches -- but when Curt Schilling couldn't finish off Game 7, Johnson came on to get the final out of the eighth with a runner on and then tossed a 1-2-3 ninth. After the Diamondbacks rallied in the bottom of the ninth, Johnson had his third win of the series and his only World Series championship.
9. John Smoltz: Sept. 6, 1998
Smoltz's best Game Score was a 93, not in his Game 7 performances against the Pirates in the 1991 NLCS or the 1991 World Series against the Twins. Not Game 5 of the 1996 World Series against the Yankees. But rather this regular-season game against the Mets.
I've been to a few hundred Mets games, and this was definitely the best-pitched one I’ve seen in person. (My father could top me; he was at Jim Bunning’s perfect game.) Smoltz struck out 13, walked none and pitched a three-hitter that (at least according to my memory) could easily have been a perfect game.
The Mets had a bit of a rough lineup that night, with Lenny Harris hitting fifth and Jorge Fabregas hitting sixth, and Larry Vanover (to my recollection) had a very wide plate -- six of the strikeouts were looking -- but this 3-0 win was dominance at its finest. --Mark Simon
8. Johnson: Sept. 16, 1992
At some point in 1992, a young, wild Johnson had a talk with Nolan Ryan. Johnson points to that chat as a turning point for his career. While 1993 was Johnson's breakout season, he showed signs of what was to come during this late-season outing. In a duel against former Mariner Mark Langston, Johnson allowed just one hit in nine innings while striking out 15 and walking one, good for a Game Score of 97. The one hit was a ground-ball single to Hubie Brooks in the fourth, and an error later in the inning led to unearned run. Langston had a pretty fair game himself: He pitched 10 innings and struck out 12. Neither pitcher got a decision, though, as the game went 13 innings.
7. Smoltz: Oct. 17, 1991
As Mark mentioned, this wasn't the highest Game Score of Smoltz's career, nor even his highest postseason Game Score, but it came against the Pirates, on the road, in Game 7 of the NLCS. He pitched a six-hit shutout with eight K's in a 4-0 victory, good for a Game Score of 82. He threw 123 pitches, 82 for strikes, but more important this was the game that got the Braves' dynasty rolling and established Smoltz as the team's postseason ace.
6. Pedro Martinez: Oct. 11, 1999
Pedro had started Game 1 of the Division Series but left after four innings because of a bad back, which left him unable to start Game 5. But with the game tied 8-8 in the fourth, Martinez put his career on the line, entered the game and proceeded to throw six hitless innings against a scary Cleveland lineup that included Kenny Lofton, Roberto Alomar, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Harold Baines and Travis Fryman and had scored a combined 1,009 runs. Here are the highlights of this legendary relief appearance.
5. Johnson: May 8, 2001
This was Johnson's record-tying 20-strikeout game, good for a Game Score of 97. It came in Arizona, but I have to discount it just a bit: That was an ugly Reds lineup -- Donnie Sadler, Juan Castro and Alex Ochoa hit first, second and cleanup -- and Johnson also gave up a run, although he allowed just three hits with no walks. Here are the highlights.
Johnson ended up with a no-decision as the game went extra innings. Here's an interesting note: A starter has gone nine innings and earned a Game Score of 97 or higher in 63 games. The pitchers are 57-0 in those games. Two of the no-decisions belong to Johnson. Two also belong to Walter Johnson. (Matt Harvey and Van Mungo are the others.)
4. Martinez: June 3, 1995
Martinez never threw a no-hitter, but he came close for the Expos in this game against the Padres. He actually threw nine perfect innings but the score remained 0-0 as Joey Hamilton matched Pedro. The Expos scored in the top of the 10th, so Martinez went back out to the mound, but Bip Roberts led off with a double to right. Even though Martinez had thrown only 96 pitches, Felipe Alou went to the bullpen. Mel Rojas managed to get Montreal out of the inning, so at least Martinez got the win.
Here's young Pedro -- so skinny! -- getting his 27th out of that game and here's Roberts' double.
3. Martinez: Aug. 29, 2000
I remember watching this one on TV. Pedro nailed Gerald Williams of the Devil Rays to lead off the bottom of the first, triggering an ugly brawl. Williams may have knocked Pedro down during the fight, but Martinez showed that you don't mess with him. He pitched a one-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts, earning a Game Score of 98. The only hit was John Flaherty's leadoff single in the ninth.
2. Martinez: Sept. 10, 1999
When people talk about Pedro's greatest games, this -- or that relief outing against the Indians -- is usually the one they reference.
This game came against the powerful Yankees lineup that featured Chuck Knoblauch, Derek Jeter, Paul O'Neill, Bernie Williams and Tino Martinez. Pedro allowed just one hit, no walks and struck out 17, including the side in the bottom of the ninth, and tied his career best in strikeouts. (I was at the other game, a 1-0 loss to Steve Trachsel of Tampa Bay in 2000 in which Trachsel struck out 11 and allowed just three hits.) The Game Score of 98 matches Martinez's career high, set two other times. The only flaw: The one hit was a Chili Davis home run in the second inning, off what looked like a 1-1 changeup.
Here are highlights of the game. I love the Dominican flags waving at Yankee Stadium.
1. Johnson: May 18, 2004
This was Johnson's perfect game against the Braves. He had 13 strikeouts and a Game Score of 100 -- one of just 11 nine-inning games in history in which a pitcher recorded a Game Score of 100 or higher.
While 2004 was the first year players faced punishment for a positive steroids test, it was still in the middle of the high-offense/small-strike-zone era. In fact, 2004 saw slightly more runs scored per game than 2001, when Barry Bonds broke Mark McGwire's home run record, or 1998, when McGwire and Sammy Sosa eclipsed Roger Maris.
On the other hand, the Braves didn't roll out the toughest of lineups that night. They did have Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones hitting 3-4 and J.D. Drew sixth, but somebody named Jesse Garcia hit leadoff (I have zero recollection of him, but he played sparingly in seven different seasons with a career average of .216); 45-year-old Julio Franco, who actually hit .309 that year, batted second; and Mark DeRosa (who had some good years, but hit just .239 in 2004) batted seventh, followed by Nick Green. Johnson threw 117 pitches, 87 for strikes.
Johnson had 46 starts in which he struck out more than 13 batters, but a perfect game is a perfect game. It's hard to argue against this being his best ever. Here's the final out.
As if the Hall of Fame vote isn't fun and controversial enough, ESPN.com unveiled its annual Hall of 100 list -- the 100 best players of all time. And for this list, it doesn't matter if you used steroids, greenies, extract from sheep testicles or elixir of Brown-Sequard. No judgments here! The only thing that matters is what you did between the lines. We don't even care if you snorted a few lines between innings.
Anyway, I'm here to offer some expert commentary on a few issues regarding this year's update. I offer only my assessment of the truth. If you can't handle the truth, well, I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to somebody who questions the manner in which I provide it!
Wait, sorry, I just finished watching "A Few Good Men." OK, four questions:
No. 1: Is Derek Jeter's final placement (No. 31) too high, too low or just right?
This question is more complicated than defending freedom. Or not. We can go the easy route. Jeter's career WAR on Baseball-Reference is 71.8, which ranks 88th, just below Larry Walker and Harry Heilmann and just above Rafael Palmeiro and Ted Lyons. None of those guys are ranked close to 31. Or even in the top 100.
But we can play with Jeter's ranking a bit. For example, let's leave out the 19th century guys. Frankly, I wouldn't put any 19th century guys in my top 100, no offense to the 19th century. That eliminates 12 players ahead of Jeter and gets him up to No. 76. Then there are players who are just ahead of him in career WAR that I feel comfortable in saying that I'd rather have Jeter over without digging too deep: Walker, Heilmann, Luke Appling, Jim Thome, Frank Thomas, Lou Whitaker, Paul Molitor. I love Thome and Thomas, awesome hitters, feared, all that, but shortstops are hard to find. Bobby Wallace, an obscure turn-of-the-century shortstop. Reggie Jackson. Yes, even Reggie, career WAR of 73.8. I think I'd take Jeter's career over his. So that's nine more slots. He's up to 67th.
OK. What if WAR is penalizing Jeter a little too much for his defense? The defensive metrics used at Baseball-Reference hate Jeter's defense; they treat him as if he played shortstop wearing cement cleats. Maybe he did. They value him at 246 runs below average on defense. That's bad. That's all-time bad. It's the worst career total in history -- 51 runs worse than the No. 2 awful defender, Gary Sheffield. Are the metrics wrong here? I'm not saying they are; I generally believe in the metrics and different systems all have evaluated Jeter as a bad defender. But they could be wrong, or at least a little wrong. Let's say Jeter wasn't 246 runs below average but 146 runs. That still would make him the fourth-worst defender of all time. One hundred runs is worth about 10 additional wins (every 10 runs is worth about a win). Now we've bumped him further, to about No. 45.
Then we have the postseason stuff. I believe Jeter won a few rings. How much extra credit do you give him for that? He also hit .308/.375/.464 in his postseason career with 111 runs in 158 games, facing better pitching than in the regular season. If you want to give him a lot of extra credit, maybe you can justify moving him to No. 31 overall.
Now, I don't think Jeter is the 31st-best player of all time. That's Albert Pujols territory -- he's No. 29 on the Hall of 100 and 33rd on the career WAR -- and I'd easily take Pujols over Jeter. So to answer the question: too high.
No. 2: Should Alex Rodriguez (No. 23) be higher considering his numbers?
Our beloved A-Rod slipped four spots from last year, no surprise considering he didn't play. Again, steroids don't matter. Wall art doesn't matter. Fashion photo shoots don't matter. Enjoying popcorn doesn't matter.
I'd say No. 23 is a little low. A-Rod is 17th all time in WAR and nine of those ahead of him were born in the 1800s. The overall caliber of play in the early 1900s wasn't as strong as it is now -- there was more variation between the best players and worst players -- so it was easier back then for the best players to exceed the level of their peers and thus compile a huge WAR. If you don't believe in this concept then you have to believe that nine of the top 20 players of all time were born in the 1800s, which is pretty silly.
I'd comfortably rank A-Rod in the top 15 and maybe as high as No. 10.
No. 3: Will Felix Hernandez (No. 114) eventually crack the top 100?
I'm surprised he moved into the top 125 considering he has just 125 career victories. Of course, we have a smart panel of voters here at ESPN who understand that Felix has been victimized through the years by some horrible offenses in Seattle. His career WAR of 45.4 puts him 124th ... among pitchers. So 114th overall seems a little high. But he's certainly on a top-100 path. He turns 29 in April and has averaged 5.5 WAR over the past five seasons. If he can average 5.0 WAR over the next five seasons that gets him to 70.4 career WAR and easy top-100 status. And if he remains healthy into his late 30s, he has inner-circle Hall of Fame potential.
No. 4: Where's Ichiro Suzuki?
What's with all these Mariners? I promise you that my editor selected these questions, not me. Anyway, Ichiro wasn't even included on the ballot due to failing to meet our qualifying standard -- he wasn't one of the top 150 position players according to Dan Szymborski's metric called GAR (greatness above replacement). Not named after Edgar Martinez (another cheap Mariners reference).
I asked about Ichiro's exclusion but rules are rules and what Ichiro accomplished in Japan doesn't factor in here. Even though his MLB career didn't start until he was 27, Ichiro ranks 190th in career WAR at 58.8. Obviously, that's not going to climb much -- if any -- higher, but Miguel Cabrera's career WAR is 59.4 and he ranks 47th on the Hall of 100. In his first 10 seasons, before he started slipping, Ichiro averaged 5.5 WAR per season. I'd say that peak value alone probably warrants him top-100 merit.
So send in your protests and let's get Ichiro on the ballot next year.
Johnson, Martinez, Smoltz and Biggio. What an honor to play against them all and appear on the same ballot as them. Well deserved for them.— RichAurilia35 (@RichAurilia35) January 6, 2015
Three teammates and the ONLY pitcher I preferred not to see in October. I'd take the matchup, but definitely preferred someone else. #clutch— Curt Schilling (@gehrig38) January 7, 2015
If my math is right, there was an average of 8.4 votes cast on the 549 Hall of Fame ballots. There was one blank ballot submitted.— Andrew Baggarly (@CSNBaggs) January 6, 2015
Still, there were a lot of fans and writers upset that Mike Piazza fell a little short and others didn't have higher vote percentages. But as Andrew Baggarly's tweet shows, the problem isn't voters not wanting more Hall of Famers, not when the average ballot had over eight votes. The problem is there are too many strong candidates and the votes get split. Some voters like Tim Raines, those ones like Jeff Bagwell, this group likes Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling, and others check off Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire.
With four new Hall of Famers, the ballot gets a little less crowded next year, but Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman join it. The same debates this year will continue to rage. The question: Which guys will pick up momentum? Who becomes the next Bert Blyleven that everyone rallies behind?
Lewie Pollis of Baseball Prospectus asks, "Are secret ballots ruining Cooperstown?"
That’s why, when the thought first crossed my mind four years ago, I was disturbed to find that voters who kept their ballots secret didn’t just vote significantly differently than those who shared their picks -- their selections were worse. I thought perhaps that was a fluke until the same thing happened in 2012. And 2013. And the trend continued last year, when anonymity probably cost Craig Biggio an earlier place in Cooperstown.
Pollis then goes through the numbers of this year's results. Martinez, for example, received 98 percent of the public votes but just 87 percent of the private votes. Still enough to easily get elected but it is odd that one in eight private voters didn't deem Martinez Hall-worthy. Piazza received 76 percent of the public vote and 66 percent of the private vote, enough to knock him below the 75 percent threshold. The biggest gap was Curt Schilling, who received 51 percent of the public vote and just 32 percent of the private vote.
As Pollis points out, there is probably an important difference in demographics here:
Those who reveal their ballots probably skew younger, both because they are more likely to use and be active on social media and because retired journalists have fewer writing outlets at their disposal. Younger writers, in turn, are more likely to be tuned into contemporary baseball analysis. They probably also have more favorable opinions of recent players ...
I think that's exactly it. Why did one in eight not vote for Pedro? Other than a few voters who left him for strategic reasons (so they could vote for the others), I'm guessing it's because he didn't win 300 games. Why did Schilling fare so poorly in the private sector? Didn't win 300 games. Why did Lee Smith get a higher percentage in the private vote than Schilling or Mussina or many others? He retired as the all-time saves leader. Older voters love round numbers and easy labels. Younger voters are going to dig more into advanced metrics like WAR and more easily dismiss a guy like Smith while supporting Schilling and Mussina.
Jayson Stark with five things we learned from this election. Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated, inventor of the JAWS Hall of Fame score, reacts to Tuesday's results. Here are Pedro and Smoltz discussing their elections. Always two of the most interesting guys to hear talk about baseball.
Nothing gives my inner troll more satisfaction than calling Barry Bonds "The Home Run King" in posts. Truthful trolling = the best trolling.— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) January 7, 2015
Speaking of Bonds, he told Barry Bloom of MLB.com that he think he'll get in some day:
"I deserve to be there. [Roger] Clemens deserves to be there. The guys that are supposed to be there are supposed to be there. Period. I don't even know how to say it. We are Hall of Famers. Why are we having these conversations about it? Why are we talking about a baseball era that has come and gone? Era, era, era. Do the best players in the game deserve to be in the Hall of Fame? Yes. Everything that everyone has accomplished in baseball is in that [record] book. Correct? So if that's correct, then we need to be in there. End of story."
Finally, Jonah Keri of Grantland looks ahead to the next five years of Hall of Fame inductions.
And how will those elections turn out? My predictions for future votes:
2016: Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Piazza.
2017: Nobody. Best first-timers are Ivan Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero and Manny Ramirez.
2018: Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Jeff Bagwell, Rodriguez.
2019: Mariano Rivera, Curt Schilling, Guerrero.
2020: Derek Jeter, Mike Mussina, Trevor Hoffman.
That means no Tim Raines, who has just two years to climb 20 percent. I think he'll get a big boost but will run out of time. Then the Veterans Committee will correctly vote him in.
Johnson and Martinez never started a game against each other -- not even an All-Star Game -- but the two all-time greats will be seated next to each other on the podium in Cooperstown in July as members of the Hall of Fame class of 2015.
Really, the only question regarding the voting results was whether either pitcher would surpass Tom Seaver's record of being named on 98.8 percent of the ballots. Johnson came close with 97.3 percent of the vote, while Martinez surprisingly received only 91.1 percent. A few writers who publicly posted their votes had said they weren't voting for Johnson or Martinez since they knew they'd get in and wanted to use their 10-person ballots on other players. This likely prevented Johnson from beating Seaver's percentage. As for Martinez, it's probable that a larger number of voters didn't vote for him because he didn't win 300 games.
Johnson is arguably the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time, combining the longevity of Warren Spahn with the dominance of Sandy Koufax. Only Lefty Grove can offer up a strong case against Johnson. The Big Unit won five Cy Young Awards and finished second in the voting three other times, and he racked up all kinds of strikeout records. His performance for the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2001 World Series, when he won three games, including Game 6 and then Game 7 in relief, was the stuff of legend.
The amazing thing about Johnson's career is where he was at the age of 28. He was 49-48 with a 3.95 career ERA, a guy who threw 100 mph and had absolutely no idea where the ball was going. I grew up Seattle and saw just about every Johnson start in those days, in person or on TV. Believe me, there wasn't one Mariners who thought he'd turn into a Hall of Famer; we just hoped he wouldn't kill anybody. He grew so frustrated he contemplated quitting the game, but a talk with Nolan Ryan -- a man familiar with control problems -- in 1992 helped turn Johnson's career around, a reference point Johnson would make on Tuesday after his election.
He had his breakout season in 1993 and then helped save baseball in Seattle in 1995. Literally. The Mariners had never made the playoffs and were trying to get a new stadium built. Ken Griffey Jr. missed two months with a broken wrist and the Mariners were well behind in the pennant race. In early September, the state legislature voted down a new ballpark proposal. Baseball in Seattle appeared doomed. Then the Mariners mounted a miraculous comeback -- Johnson went 18-2 with a 2.48 ERA that year -- and Johnson beat the Angels in a tiebreaker for the AL West title, and Seattle had acquired baseball fever. The legislature later decided to fund a new ballpark.
As great as Johnson was, Pedro's peak performance may have been the best ever for a pitcher. From 1997 to 2003, Pedro went 118-36 with a 2.20 ERA and won three Cy Young Awards and five ERA titles. While Johnson relied on his blazing fastball and slider, Pedro had a blazing fastball and a devastating curveball and maybe the best changeup of all time. He was as unhittable a pitcher as I've ever seen -- batters hit .198 against him over those seven years -- and made things even scarier for hitters with an occasional ball that was a little up and in. Anyone who saw Pedro pitch in Fenway during his prime with the Red Sox will agree that there have been few places more exciting than that ballpark in that period, with the Dominican flags waving proudly and fans chanting throughout the game.
In the end, percentages don't really matter, but it would have been fun to see Johnson break Seaver's record and, really, both Johnson and Martinez are inner-circle Hall of Famers, guys who deserved to have been placed on every ballot.
After falling two votes short last year, Biggio got in with a comfortable 82.7 percent. If you dissect the numbers, he's probably a borderline Hall of Famer, a player who had a tremendous peak from 1995 to 1999 when he was one of the best players in the game and then held on long enough to get 3,000 hits.
John Smoltz, with 82.9 percent of the vote, is a deserving Hall of Famer, although I remain surprised at how much support he received his first year on the ballot in comparison to Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling, two similar pitchers with slightly more career value.
Now, let's look at some of the winners and losers of today's results.
Mike Piazza: He received 69.9 percent of the vote, up from 62.2 percent last year. That's great news, a sign that he isn't being held back by steroid rumors. Since seven players have been cleared off the ballot in the past two votes, and only Ken Griffey Jr. is an obvious first-timer joining the ballot next year, Piazza should continue to see his percentage increase and get elected next year.
Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina: Both saw their percentages increase from last year, although Schilling is still at just 39 percent and Mussina at 24 percent. The good news is that Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Johnson, Martinez and Smoltz have been cleared off the ballot. So Schilling and Mussina have no competition from other starting pitchers for the next five years and should see their vote totals increase. Hall of Fame election is often about timing; their timing now improves.
It's interesting to note that both Schilling and Mussina fared much higher from voters who revealed their ballots before Tuesday's announcement. Baseball Think Factory tracked public ballots (202 out of the actual total of 549) and Schilling was at 50 percent and Mussina 35. Most of the public ballots are from still-active beat writers and columnists compared to the former or retired writers who make up a large percentage of voters. These still-active writers -- who include big names in the industry -- have the forum to start stumping the cases for Schilling and Mussina.
Gary Sheffield: He at least stayed on the ballot. I was sure he would fail to receive the 5 percent needed to stay on. Then again, maybe it would be better if a guy like him got booted off the ballot and over to the Veterans Committee.
Everyone else, potentially: With four players getting elected and Don Mattingly now off the ballot, nearly 2,000 votes will be excised from this year's ballot. That could help some of the borderline guys, such as Jeff Kent and Larry Walker, to build some momentum or at least get their cases discussed.
Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa: The only surprise here is that Sosa managed to remain on the ballot with 6.6 percent of the vote.
Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines: Both saw small increases from last year -- Bagwell up to 55.7 percent and Raines up to 55 percent -- but they still have a long ways to go, and Raines has only two years left on the ballot. Bagwell is actually below the percentages he received in 2012 and 2013, so the lack of momentum is bad news. He's down to five years left. Maybe a slightly less crowded ballot will help him, but he needs to find a wave of support.
Edgar Martinez: He received 36 percent of the vote his first year on the ballot, a starting point from which many Hall of Famers have eventually been elected. But he’s been a big victim of the crowded ballot, stalling at 25 percent last year and now 27 percent. Pedro Martinez just called him the toughest batter he ever faced. Start stumping, Pedro!
Anyway, if I did have a vote, I've come around to using "wins above average" as a good starting point for examining Hall of Fame candidates. I'm a little more interested in peak performance than pure longevity. Obviously, the easy Hall of Fame choices such as Randy Johnson had both. Sometimes, a guy such as Pedro Martinez had such a dominant peak that he's an easy choice, as well.
By looking at wins above average instead of wins above replacement, we focus more on Hall of Fame-level seasons and give less credit or no credit to seasons where the player was more or less just compiling counting statistics. An average player is worth about 2.0 WAR per season, so we're looking at value above that level. Some guys -- such as Mike Mussina or Fred McGriff -- seem to be dismissed for being judged as "compilers" rather than big stars. But is that perception or reality?
Here are the wins above average totals for the 20 strong Hall of Fame candidates on this year's ballot, via Baseball-Reference.com. (Doesn't include Lee Smith, as relievers need to be judged differently.) I also included each player's career WAR, the difference between WAR and WAA, and then the percentage of each player's career value that could labeled "peak" value.
(In some ways, this is similar to Jay Jaffe's JAWS system, which combines two aspects of a player's career to arrive at a JAWS score: his best seven seasons and his career value.)
Anyway, what can we learn from this chart? The biggest compiler here is Craig Biggio, with only 44 percent of his career value coming from wins above average. Mussina did have a lot of "non-peak" value, but his career wins above average still ranks in the top 10. In fact, he should be viewed as less of a compiler than John Smoltz, who may get elected this year while Mussina struggles to get even one-third of the votes.
McGriff, on the other hand, rates low across the board, both in wins above average and percentage peak value. McGriff's proponents like to argue that he hit 493 home runs and did it clean. That's the difficult part of judging this era if you're going to factor in PEDs: Do you give McGriff extra credit because there are no steroid rumors attached to him, and thus he compares favorably to Hall of Famers like Willie Stargell and Willie McCovey?
The player perhaps most helped by this method is Larry Walker, which makes sense. He had a relatively short career, in part due to myriad injuries, but his career WAR is high, with 66 percent of that value coming from wins above average. I'm still skeptical about Walker due to the short career and the Coors Field boost. Yes, WAR makes park adjustments, but I don't believe it accurately accounts for how much a good hitter is boosted by playing in Coors. Edgar Martinez may have hit .400 if he'd played there.
So if I had a ballot, which 10 guys would I vote for? I would vote for PED guys and I'd vote for my top 10 players, regardless of trying to rig the ballot to help certain players: Bonds, Clemens, Johnson, Pedro, Bagwell, Schilling, Piazza, Mussina, Trammell, Edgar.
Others I'd classify as Hall of Famers: Smoltz, Biggio, Raines, McGwire.
On the fence: Kent, Walker, Sheffield, Sosa, McGriff.
Not a Hall of Famer: Delgado, Smith.
Aside from those four, however, this election may prove most critical for Jeff Bagwell. I've written about Bagwell's Hall of Fame case before, so I won't rehash all the numbers and arguments. Let's look at voting trends and focus on Bagwell's odds of eventually getting elected.
This is his fifth year on the ballot. In his first three years, he made good progress, increasing from 41.7 percent to 56 percent to 59.6 percent. That put him a direct path to the 75 percent total needed for enshrinement. Many players eventually elected by the Baseball Writers Association were under 60 percent after three years on the ballot. Jim Rice was at 37 percent. Gary Carter was at 49 percent. Andre Dawson was at 50 percent. Duke Snider, the great Brooklyn Dodgers center fielder of the 1950s? He was at 21 percent. Bert Blyleven was at just 17 percent.
The bad news for Bagwell: His vote total dropped last year to 54.3 percent. That was partially the result of a crowded ballot, a problem that still exists this year but will be slightly alleviated in future ballots. It could also suggest that the line has been drawn on Bagwell due to the allegations (without any evidence) that he used steroids. Bagwell's pool of voters may simply be extinguished and he'll continue to sit around 55 to 60 percent.
The other bad news is the rule change that now limits a player to 10 years on the ballot instead of 15. In rare cases, it takes years to develop Hall of Fame momentum. Rice got elected in his 15th year on the ballot, Blyleven on his 14th, Bruce Sutter on his 13th. Bagwell is already four years in and now has fewer years to regain back his lost momentum.
That's why getting back up to 60 percent is critical. Here are some recent non-first-ballot Hall of Famers with the year they first received 60 percent of the vote and how long until they got elected:
Jack Morris: 66.7 percent in 2012 (13th year on ballot), not elected
Barry Larkin: 62.1 percent in 2011 (2nd), elected in 2012
Roberto Alomar: 73.7 percent in 2010 (1st), elected in 2011
Bert Blyleven: 61.9 percent in 2008 (11th), elected in 2011
Goose Gossage: 64.6 percent in 2006 (7th), elected in 2008
Andre Dawson: 61.0 percent in 2006 (5th), elected in 2010
Jim Rice: 64.6 percent in 2006 (12th), elected in 2009
Bruce Sutter: 66.7 percent in 2005 (12th, elected in 2006
Ryne Sandberg: 61.1 percent in 2004 (2nd), elected in 2005
Gary Carter: 64.9 percent in 2001 (4th), elected in 2003
Tony Perez: 65.7 percent in 1996 (5th), elected in 2000
Leaving aside Alomar, who didn't get elected his first year because some voters only vote for inner-circle Hall of Famers on the first ballot, the average number of years from 60 percent to election has been 2.3, with a max of four (and excluding Morris). When you get to 60 percent, momentum seems to really ramp up, even more so than getting to 50 percent. I can't attempt to understand the collective psychology of the BBWAA here, but my prediction is if Bagwell gets to 60 percent he'll get elected in three years.
A few quick notes on some other guys on the ballot:
Mike Piazza: He's similar to Bagwell in that some don't vote for him due to steroids allegations, but his vote total actually increased last year, his second on the ballot, to 62.1 percent. I don't think he gets in this year, but he's a good candidate for 2016.
Tim Raines: He now has just three years left and he fell from 52 percent to 48 percent last year. I think he may get some push as his years on the ballot wind down, but he's definitely been hurt by the crowded ballot. Needs a huge spike this year to have any chance in the future.
Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina: I wrote about them on Friday. Both were under 30 percent last year and I doubt they get much movement this year. I'm not sure that's a big deal just yet. Last year they had to fight Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine for votes, and this year they're fighting Johnson and Martinez. Once those names are cleared (and maybe Smoltz as well), these two will start receiving more support as the lack of other starting pitching candidates increases.
Sammy Sosa and Gary Sheffield: My guess is they both fail to get 5 percent, and their more than 1,100 home runs combined will be booted off the ballot.
Jeff Kent: He received 15.1 percent of the vote in his first year. I suppose there's a danger of him falling off the ballot as he's one of those guys -- I'd throw in Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff and Larry Walker in this group as well -- getting lost in the crowded ballot, their Hall of Fame arguments relegated to the deep corners of the Internet.
The greatest moment in Mariners history. And this may be the second-greatest moment.
The first highlight was from Game 5 of the 1995 Division Series, one of the most exciting playoff games ever played. MLB Network has been re-airing its series from a few years ago on baseball's greatest games -- this one was No. 14 -- so, being a Mariners fan, I recorded it from the wee hours of Friday morning and just watched it again. Yes, Buck Showalter still leaves in David Cone to throw a gut-wrenching 147 pitches and Edgar's double is still a thing of joy.
The show on MLB Network had Cone and Lou Piniella in the studio talking about the game and Cone called Martinez the best right-handed hitter he ever faced. It's easy to see why he'd say that; many pitchers from that era would agree. Check Martinez's year-by-year on-base percentages from his first year as a regular in 1990: .397, .405, .404, .366 (injured), .387, .479, .464, .456, .429, .447, .423, .423, .403, .406, .342 (called it a career).
That's 11 seasons with an OBP over .400. You know how times a right-handed batter has posted a .400 OBP over the past five seasons combined? Twelve. Not different players, 12 times total. Yes, different era, less offense ... but ... still ... 11 seasons with an OBP over .400.
Martinez, of course, as you regular readers of the blog know, is my favorite player of all time. So I'm a little biased. He's on the Hall of Fame ballot for the sixth time and he's not getting in despite that career batting line of .312/.418/.515. After getting between 32.9 and 36.5 percent of the vote his first four years, he dropped to 25 percent last year, squeezed out by the 10-man limit and overstuffed ballot.
Yes, he was primarily a DH and because he didn't play his first full season until he was 27, his career was somewhat abbreviated even though he played until he was 41. Aside from those issues, however, one aspect I believe Hall of Fame voters consistently undervalue is greatness. That may sound silly in a Hall of Fame sense -- all these players we discuss as potential Hall of Famers were great players -- but there are two kinds of greatness. Players who are great for long periods of time and players who are GREAT, capital letters, those guys who have those multiple monster seasons, maybe win MVP Award along the way, the kind of players opposing pitchers years later will call the best they ever faced.
This is an area where Martinez excelled. It's why Pedro Martinez will deservingly get elected this year even though he won "only" 219 career games. It's why Curt Schilling should be considered a better Hall of Fame candidate than John Smoltz. But how do measure something like that?
Baseball-Reference has a measurement called Wins Above Average. It's similar to Wins Above Replacement except it compares players to an average level of production rather than replacement-level. (Average is about two wins about replacement-level.) A player who plays a long time and is merely average or slightly above can still rack up a lot of Wins Above Replacement. There's real value in that but when you think of "Hall of Famer" you're not really thinking of average. You're thinking of greatness.
Edgar Martinez had more Wins Above Average than Ryne Sandberg. Or Paul Molitor. Or Robin Yount, Tony Gwynn, Duke Snider, Reggie Jackson, Carlton Fisk, Roberto Alomar, Willie Stargell, Ernie Banks or Dave Winfield. Not exactly a group of cheap Hall of Famers there. More than Mark McGwire, Tim Raines, Pete Rose or Jim Thome. More than Derek Jeter -- quite a bit more than Jeter, actually, 38.4 to 30.5.
I can't express this any more simply: Edgar Martinez was great. If that's what you want in a Hall of Famer, than Martinez deserves more support than he's been getting.
As it turns out, Noble has used this thought process before. Just last year, in voting for Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Jack Morris, he wrote, "The candidacies of Maddux and Glavine made this vote easy and enjoyable. No angst. They're automatic; there was no need for research or investigation. Morris never has approached automatic status, but he clearly deserves the benefit of the doubt."
You just know. Automatic.
OK. Can you tell the difference between these pitchers?
Pitcher A: 270-153, 3.68 ERA, 3,562.2 IP, 2,813 SO
Pitcher B: 216-146, 3.46 ERA, 3,261 IP, 3,116 SO
Pitcher C: 194-126, 3.46 ERA, 2,898.2 IP, 2,668 SO
Pitcher D: 213-155, 3.33 ERA, 3,473 IP, 3,084 SO
Pitcher E: 211-144, 3.28 ERA, 3,256.1 IP, 2,397 SO
Pretty hard to differentiate among the five, right? Pitcher A has the highest ERA but won the most games and pitched the most innings. Pitcher B has the same ERA as Pitcher C but won more games -- and also lost more games. Pitcher B has about the same win-loss record and innings pitched as Pitcher E but has more strikeouts while Pitcher E has the better ERA. Pitcher A won 57 more games than Pitcher D while losing only two fewer. Pitchers B, C, D and E all played on World Series winners while pitchers A, B and D were the best performers in the postseason -- although Pitcher C was 8-3 in the postseason. Pitchers C, D and E all won Cy Young Awards, but Pitcher B has the highest total of Cy Young award shares (percentage of points available). Whew.
Pitcher A is Mike Mussina. Pitcher B is Curt Schilling. Pitcher C is David Cone. Pitcher D is John Smoltz. Pitcher E is Kevin Brown. Cone and Brown combined to receive just 33 votes in their one year on the ballot, their Hall of Fame cases quickly dismissed. Mussina and Schilling both received less than 30 percent of the vote last year.
But Smoltz? According to this tabulation at Baseball Think Factory that tracks all public Hall of Fame votes, as of Friday morning, Smoltz's percentage stands at 89 percent, meaning he'll easily sail into Cooperstown in his first year on the ballot.
Apparently, Marty Noble isn't the only one who just knows Smoltz is a Hall of Famer.
Call me confused.
Now, I'm guessing the percentages listed at Baseball Think Factory are higher than what the actual vote totals will be; active members/beat writers of the Baseball Writers Association who publicly list their ballots tend to have more "yes" votes than the inactive members who haven't covered baseball in years. That page lists Schilling at 58 percent and Mussina at 44 percent, both players doubling their percentage from a year ago, which seems unlikely.
So why Smoltz instead of the others? In terms of career pitching wins above replacement via Baseball-Reference.com, Smoltz doesn't appear to be the best of this group:
You can certainly boost Smoltz ahead of Brown based on Smoltz's postseason numbers, and I guess you can try to boost Smoltz ahead of Mussina based on the same logic (although Mussina was a solid postseason pitcher with a 3.42 ERA), but that doesn't work when comparing Smoltz to Schilling, considering they are two of the greatest postseason pitchers of all time. (Smoltz was 15-4 with a 2.67 ERA while Schilling was 11-2, 2.23 ERA. Schilling also won three World Series titles compared with just one for Smoltz.)
Now, I've left something out. Smoltz spent three years as a closer from 2002 to 2004, recording 144 saves (plus 10 more in 2001). Is that what's swaying voters? Ben Lindbergh of Grantland has an in-depth analysis of the Smoltz phenomenon and points out 14 of the 99 public ballots he had seen at the time of his article mentioned versatility as a reason they were voting for Smoltz.
Ben suggests this is a key factor for Smoltz's support:
The portrayal of Smoltz as a Swiss Army ace relies on shaky logic: Every elite starter has the ability to be a dominant closer, and Smoltz shouldn’t get extra credit for the fragility that temporarily forced his team to use him in a less valuable role. After all, Mussina wouldn’t be a better candidate if he’d taken a sabbatical from starting to pitch out of the bullpen for Baltimore.
While Schilling, Mussina, and Smoltz were all great starters, Smoltz’s story has a hook: As many voters mentioned, he did something unprecedented, becoming the first pitcher to win 200 games and save 150 more. And while he didn’t come close to the magic milestone of 300 wins, 200 plus 150 equals 350, which is greater than 300. That’s the kind of math that even the most WAR-averse voters don’t mind.
I don't know if that's what voters are doing, but if they are, they're certainly overrating the value of Smoltz's tenure in the bullpen. Just compare his three years in the bullpen with some other closers during those same seasons:
Eric Gagne: 13-7, 1.79 ERA, 152 saves (6 blown saves)
Smoltz: 3-5, 2.47 ERA, 144 saves (13)
Mariano Rivera: 10-8, 2.03 ERA, 121 saves (14)
Armando Benitez: 7-6, 2.19 ERA, 101 saves (16)
Jason Isringhausen: 7-5, 2.61 ERA, 101 saves (15)
Billy Wagner: 9-6, 2.19 ERA, 100 saves (13)
Keith Foulke: 16-8, 2.37 ERA, 86 saves (15)
Trevor Hoffman: 5-8, 2.49 ERA, 79 saves (7)
Francisco Cordero: 10-12, 2.39 ERA, 74 saves (17)
I'm not dismissing Smoltz's performance; he was arguably the second-best closer in that period behind Gagne. But you can see there are many other relievers who posted a similar stingy ERA. And those are just the years 2002-2004. You can find many other closers who had great three-year runs of dominance. It's just not a unique accomplishment.
I think there's something else going on, something more simplistic: I think voters are just overrating Smoltz. Think about it: The Braves won 14 consecutive division titles from 1991 to 2005, not counting the 1994 strike season. Smoltz was there the entire time. The Braves won before Maddux joined the team; they won after Glavine left the team. They won after both Glavine and Maddux had left. Meanwhile, Smoltz remained. (Of course, they also won in 2000 when Smoltz missed the entire season and 2001 when he pitched sparingly, but you get the point: Smoltz was always there.)
So that's what it became: Glavine, Smoltz and Maddux. The Big Three. Interchangeable to a degree. Plus, Smoltz was better than those two in the postseason, clouding the perception of how good he was in the regular season. Here's what I mean. These are the best regular-season performances by Braves pitchers during that 1991-2005 run:
1. Maddux, 1995: 9.7 WAR
2. Maddux, 1994: 8.5
3. Glavine, 1991: 8.5
4. Maddux, 1997: 7.8
5. Smoltz, 1996: 7.3
6. Maddux, 1996: 7.1
7. Maddux, 2000: 6.6
8. Maddux, 1998: 6.6
9. Kevin Millwood, 1999: 6.1
10. Glavine, 1998: 6.1
11. Glavine, 1996: 5.8
12. Maddux, 1993: 5.8
13. Glavine, 1997: 5.5
14. Smoltz, 1991: 5.4
15. Steve Avery, 1991: 5.2
Maddux has seven seasons in the top 15, Glavine four and Smoltz two. (Smoltz also had a 5.9-WAR season in 2006 after the title run came to an end.)
We can do a similar comparison with our group of five pitchers listed earlier. Here are all their seasons with a WAR of 5.0 or higher:
1. Schilling, 2001: 8.8
2. Schilling, 2002: 8.7
3. Brown, 1998: 8.6
4. Mussina, 1992: 8.2
5. Brown, 1996: 8.0
6. Schilling, 2004: 7.9
7. Smoltz, 1996: 7.3
8. Brown, 2000: 7.2
8. Cone, 1993: 7.2
10. Mussina, 2001: 7.1
11. Brown, 1997: 7.0
12. Cone, 1994: 6.8
12. Cone 1997: 6.8
14. Mussina, 2003: 6.6
15. Schilling, 1997: 6.3
16. Schilling, 1998: 6.2
16. Brown, 1999: 6.2
18. Mussina, 1995: 6.1
19. Schilling, 2003: 6.0
20. Schilling, 1992: 5.9
20. Smoltz, 2006: 5.9
22. Cone, 1988: 5.6
22. Mussina, 2000: 5.6
24. Schilling, 2006: 5.5
24. Mussina, 1997: 5.5
26. Mussina: 1994: 5.4
26. Smoltz, 1991: 5.4
28. Mussina, 2008: 5.2
29. Cone, 1991: 5.1
30. Mussina, 1998: 5.0
30. Mussina, 2006: 5.0
"Great" seasons is one way to evaluate Hall of Famers, and Smoltz just didn't have quite as many Cy Young-caliber seasons as the other pitchers. Now, some of this is hidden in the numbers, which is why his ERA is a little lower than Schilling's or Mussina's. Smoltz pitched in the National League and in more neutral parks, whereas Mussina spent his entire career in the American League in two good hitter's parks in Camden Yards and Yankee Stadium. Schilling pitched in better hitter's parks in Philadelphia (old Veterans Stadium) and Arizona.
Schilling is also hurt, I think, by some of the interruptions and timing in his career. He was a postseason hero for the Phillies in 1993 but missed time in 1994 and 1995. He struck out 300 batters in 1997 and 1998 but played on bad Phillies teams and was underrated at the time. He then missed some time in 1999. In 2001, 2002 and 2004 with the Diamondbacks and then the Red Sox he won 22, 23 and 21 games ... but finished second in the Cy Young voting each year. In 2003, however, he was injured again and went just 8-9 (although he pitched well). He was injured again in 2005 and pitched poorly before finishing off his career with a World Series win in 2007.
As Dan Szymborski wrote the other day on ESPN Insider,
ERA, while a better stat than pitcher wins, suffers a great deal in many cases when context is added. Schilling played almost entirely in a high-offense era and retired before that era ended. In the parks and leagues Schilling pitched in, a league-average ERA over his career would have been 4.39. Contrast that with a pitcher like Don Drysdale, who pitched a lot in Dodger Stadium in the 1960s, resulting in a 3.53 ERA being league-average over the course of his career. ERA+ compares ERA to league average and Schilling's 127 meets Hall of Fame standards -- the other pitchers with more than 3000 innings and an ERA+ between 125 and 129 are Schilling, four Hall of Famers (Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Jim Palmer, Stan Coveleski) and Kevin Brown.
So even if the seasons all end in September, Schilling would have a strong argument for Hall of Fame induction. However, the postseason is an important part of Schilling's career highlight, and for all the great tools we have to support arguments these days, sabermetrics hasn't done a whole lot with playoff performance. Yet the story of Schilling's career is woefully incomplete without it.
All this isn't meant to knock Smoltz. In my book, he is a deserving Hall of Famer. But Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina are more deserving. If I had to line them up, I'd go:
I'll be happy if Smoltz is on stage in July next to the Big Unit and Pedro. I'd just like to see Schilling and Mussina with him.
That's already more than 30 players, and I haven't even mentioned the steroids guys.
What about the 1984 season? Thirty-two Hall of Famers played then.
1974? Thirty-eight Hall of Famers, not including Joe Torre, who was elected as a manager.
1954? Thirty Hall of Famers.
1934? Forty-eight Hall of Famers, not including 15 Negro Leaguers.
You get the idea. And, yes, there were about half as many teams in 1934 and 1954 (16) as compared to now (30), so some quick math reveals that the 1930s are represented in the HOF way above and beyond what we see now.
As for the present ... we're in an interesting era regarding potential Hall of Famers because there are so few obvious active candidates. In 2014, we had just four no-doubt future Hall of Famers -- the now-retired Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Ichiro Suzuki.
You can probably devise an argument against Cabrera or Suzuki, but both have excelled at things that have been barometers of Hall of Fame success -- RBIs, hits, batting titles, MVP awards. Both have been transcendent figures in the game in their own way and Cabrera certainly still has good years ahead. So I'd consider them locks. Alex Rodriguez, inactive in 2014, would be another sure Hall of Famer based on his statistical résumé, but of course won't get elected unless a change occurs in current voting trends regarding steroid users.
So which active players are good Hall of Fame bets? In addition to those mentioned above, let's look at the top 15 players in career Baseball-Reference WAR. Keep this number in mind: Of the 115 players whom the Baseball Writers Association has elected, the median career WAR is around 70 -- half are above that and half are below.
1. Adrian Beltre (Career WAR: 77.8)
Beltre has been a tremendous player since he turned 31. His late-career peak has turned him into a strong Hall of Fame candidate. Over the past five seasons, Beltre has hit .316, averaging 29 home runs and 96 RBIs and ranking third among all position players in WAR (trailing only Robinson Cano and Miguel Cabrera). That stretch as one of the game's best, combined with his career WAR easily pushes him above typical Hall of Fame standards -- but I don't see him as a lock just yet. A large percentage of his WAR results from superb fielding metrics, and while Beltre is widely acknowledged as a good fielder (he has won four Gold Gloves), his reputation isn't in the Brooks Robinson/Ozzie Smith class that would push him right into Cooperstown.
Beltre is also approaching those career milestones that voters love. He has 395 home runs, 1,384 RBIs and 2,604 hits. He's entering his age-36 season and still playing well, giving him a good chance at 3,000 hits. If he gets there, he's a lock.
2. Carlos Beltran (Career WAR: 67.5)
Beltran's career WAR is close to what should be automatic territory -- but often isn't. Some players with a similar WAR cruise into Cooperstown, while others are quickly dismissed. Look at a list of players since 1970 with a career WAR between 65 and 70:
In: Barry Larkin, Gary Carter, Tony Gwynn, Eddie Murray, Carlton Fisk, Ryne Sandberg, Don Sutton, Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio (well, soon to be in).
Out: Alan Trammell, Tim Raines, Kevin Brown, Edgar Martinez, Kenny Lofton, Graig Nettles, Dwight Evans, Luis Tiant, Buddy Bell, Willie Randolph.
Hall of Famers with a career WAR just below 65: Andre Dawson and Dave Winfield.
Which camp does Beltran seem most similar to? It's the second one, right? The "Yeah, he was a very good player, but he was never The Guy" kind of player (except for that wondrous 2004 postseason). Each of the guys in the first group were at one time regarded as the best player at their best position (except Sutton, but he won 300 games). Has that ever been said of Beltran? The players in the second group were (A) underrated during their careers, and (B) achieved value from less-heralded components of the game like defense or walks.
Beltran fits into the all-around player category like Alomar or Sandberg or Dawson did, but has just two top-10 MVP finishes (a fourth and a ninth); a .281 career average that won't jump out at voters; won't reach 3,000 hits (he has 2,322) and is digging to get to 400 career home runs (he has 373). The Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor score has Beltran at 70 points. James says if a player is above that mark he has a realistic shot at the Hall. Like Beltre, I'd consider Beltran a Hall of Famer; I'm just not sure how he'll resonate with voters, especially the large number of voters who aren't into advanced metrics or haven't covered the game in years.
Chase Utley (Career WAR: 61.5)
Despite a high WAR score and an enormous peak value from 2005 to 2009, when he was second in the majors only to Pujols in cumulative WAR, Utley's Hall chances are very slim because of his mediocre career counting stats. He does score 63 points on the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor and, at 36, could have a few good years left. But Utley has only 1,569 career hits and the excellent defensive metrics that boost his WAR numbers didn't translate into any Gold Gloves.
4. Mark Buehrle (Career WAR: 58.3)
He's kind of the Don Sutton of this generation -- except that pitchers of this generation don't get as many decisions, so Buehrle, who turns 36 in March, is closing in on 200 wins instead of 300. A look at both pitchers' career numbers through age 35:
Buehrle: 199-152, 3084 IP, 3.81 ERA, 117 ERA+, 58.3 WAR
Sutton: 230-175, 3729 IP, 3.07 ERA, 111 ERA+, 50.8 WAR
Sutton has the lower ERA thanks to pitching in a different era and primarily in a pitcher's ballpark, but he wasn't really any better overall (Buehrle has the better adjusted ERA). Sutton pitched until he was 43 with about a league-average ERA from age 36 on, but he was good enough to win 94 more games. Buehrle is viewed as a compiler so, like Sutton, may have to get 300 wins to get in. Bill James estimates his chances at 6 percent.
5. Tim Hudson (Career WAR: 56.9)
Hudson leads active pitchers with 214 wins, but considering that Kevin Brown got booted after one year on the ballot and Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina haven't received much support -- and all three were better than Hudson at their best -- Hudson's potential case would seem to rest on pitching several more years and getting past 250 wins.
6. CC Sabathia (Career WAR: 54.7)
He looked like a strong candidate a couple of years ago, but injuries and decline have dimmed that likelihood. Sabathia is still young enough, at 34, to bounce back and add to his 208 wins if he can get healthy. His peak performance was higher than Hudson's or Buehrle's, so he'll have a better case than those two if he can string together a few more good seasons.
7. Robinson Cano (Career WAR: 51.5)
Did you realize he's had five consecutive top-six MVP finishes? How many other players have done that? Cano is getting close. He's already at 74 points on the Bill James Monitor and is nearing the career counting stats that are needed for admission to the Hall. He's durable, has been the best player at his position at times and, assuming a normal decline phase for a player of his ability, I'd say he has the best chance of getting to the Hall of Fame of any player on this list.
8. Jason Giambi (Career WAR: 50.8)
I guess he hasn't officially retired yet. Nice career. No shot at Cooperstown.
9. Torii Hunter (Career WAR:50.3)
I'm surprised that his career WAR is that high, but he has lasted a long time, aged well and continued to contribute at the plate, in the field and on the bases. Hunter is not a strong Hall of Fame candidate -- he has only one top-10 MVP finish and only one season with a WAR above 5.0 -- but he has been a valuable player.
10. David Wright (Career WAR: 49.6)
Where have the years gone? Seems like he was a young star only a few seasons ago -- and now he has 11 years in the majors. Despite his inconsistency the past few seasons, Wright has a pretty strong résumé for his age (he's entering his age-32 season). But last year was a big red flag. He needs to bounce back.
11. Mark Teixeira (Career WAR: 48.6)
Three years ago he looked like a strong candidate to get to 500 home runs, but now he's just trying to stay in the league.
12. David Ortiz (Career WAR: 47.7)
His eventual Hall of Fame debate is going to be a fun and heated one. The Edgar Martinez supporters -- assuming Martinez hasn't been elected by then -- will point out that Ortiz's career WAR is well short of Martinez's mark. The Ortiz supporters will point to the home runs (he's at 466), RBIs, clutch hits and World Series rings. The steroid allegations will be tossed around. Others won't vote for Ortiz because he has been a DH. Based on career totals, larger-than-life personality and postseason play, you'd think he'd be a lock, but I have no idea how voters will treat the PED rumors.
13. Joe Mauer (Career WAR: 46.4)
He's in a similar place as Wright. He'll be 32 this season but coming off a 1.5-WAR season. Still, he's a catcher who won three batting titles, an MVP Award and three Gold Gloves. On the other hand, he lacks power numbers and the move to first base may lengthen his career but hurt his Hall of Fame chances.
Felix Hernandez (Career WAR: 45.7)
Playing on lousy offensive teams has hurt his win total -- he's at 125 overall and has won 15 games in a season only twice -- but he'll get in if he stays healthy. Bill James estimates Hernandez's chance at 300 wins at 26 percent, second-highest among active pitchers to Clayton Kershaw's 31 percent, not that either percentage is very high. As James writes in The 2015 Bill James Handbook, "Sportswriters were saying that 300-game winners were going extinct when this was obviously untrue, if you looked at pitchers' ages and their career wins. It isn't obviously untrue now."
15. Jimmy Rollins (Career WAR: 45.6)
Rollins will be an interesting case. His career WAR suggests that he's not really Hall of Fame-caliber, but he has done a lot of things voters like and he won an MVP Award. He's at 66 points on the Hall of Fame Monitor, which makes him a strong candidate.
(Note: Bobby Abreu played in 2014 but has since retired. He has a career WAR of 59.9 but won't get elected by the BBWAA.)
* * * *
We won't go in-depth into the other guys, but here are the top 10 remaining active candidates listed in order of their Hall of Fame Monitor points and then their career WAR. I'm going to skip relievers, because Joe Nathan and Francisco Rodriguez rate the highest and I don't think the system works for relievers.
1. Matt Holliday, 60 (43.9)
2. (tie) Victor Martinez, 56 (34.4)
Adrian Gonzalez, 56 (38.2)
4. Ryan Braun, 55 (36.0)
5. Ryan Howard, 54 (17.9)
6. (tie) Justin Verlander, 51 (41.4)
Aramis Ramirez, 51 (33.0)
8. (tie) Yadier Molina, 50 (29.4)
Hanley Ramirez, 50 (36.5)
10. Dustin Pedroia, 48 (43.2)
I'm not sure any of these guys are strong candidates right now. Maybe Molina, who will be considered in that Brooks Robinson/Ozzie Smith-category for defense.
Then we have the younger set -- Kershaw, Mike Trout, Madison Bumgarner, Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey, Giancarlo Stanton and so on. It's too early to tell on these guys, although Kershaw's career WAR is already over 40. They've certainly all established Hall of Fame potential.
It also wasn't completely true to history. One of the key plot points involves Turing designing and building a machine -- an early version of a computer -- to break Enigma. In truth, Turing's machine was an improvement on a Polish device. And Turing didn't collaborate solely with a small team to break the German code; there were thousands of people working on it.
What obligation does a movie -- even one "based on a true story" -- have to historical accuracy? After all, it's just a movie. As I researched Turing and thought of this, I realized a similar problem exists with the Hall of Fame and its voting process.
What's the obligation of Hall of Fame voters? We know the Hall of Fame is supposed to tell the story of baseball, through exhibits and artifacts and plaques honoring the game's best players, managers and important contributors. But that's where it gets complicated. Hall of Fame voters are allowed to tell the story they choose, with little to no direction on the ultimate objectives beyond the vague idea of electing the best players. But how many players? What makes a Hall of Famer? Can voters erase the careers of Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds? That's why we have these heated debates every year.
Anyway, I had vowed to stay away from writing about the Hall of Fame this year but ... well, people love to read about the Hall of Fame. Mostly, of course, people just like to argue. Here are six issues with the current system -- and a potential solution:
1. The 10-person ballot is clearly a flawed concept.
Think about it: What are Hall of Fame voters -- active or honorary members of the Baseball Writers Association of America -- asked to do? They are presented a ballot with a list of candidates, with the purpose of electing recently retired players to the Hall of Fame. Candidates who receive 75 percent of the votes will earn election. The voters are instructed to vote for the "candidate[s] of your choice." This year's ballot includes 34 names. Simple enough. Voters, however, are restricted to voting for a maximum of 10 players, implying a ranking or hierarchy of players must necessarily be involved. But no such wording exists on the ballot. Voters don't list their choices in order. Players are either "in" or "out."
The fact that the BBWAA has failed to understand and fix this flawed logic has led to ballots like this one:
Yes, I left Randy, Pedro off my ballot. Counting on fellow BBWAA voters to elect. Trammell, Walker needed me more. pic.twitter.com/z6OnfJtZAf— Mike Berardino (@MikeBerardino) December 29, 2014
I'm not knocking Mike, but he's decided to not vote for two of the most accomplished players on the ballot. If voters were instructed to vote for the best players, Mike would have voted for Johnson and Pedro. He's not the only one who has been forced to strategize his ballot because he wants to vote for more than 10 players. Others like Buster Olney decided to abstain from voting this year, hoping instead the 10-player limit gets changed in the future.
2. A lack of understanding of ballot history.
The reasoning for not changing the rule is, I suppose, that the limit on the number of players has always been there or that no more than a handful are ever elected in a given year anyway.
Consider this, however: Every Hall of Fame ballot contains more Hall of Famers than are elected that year. Some random examples:
1998: Seven (one elected)
1991: Eight (three elected)
1990: Eight (two elected)
1982: 14 (two elected)
1973: 15 (one elected)
1964: 19 (one elected in a special run-off)
3. That said, the 10-player limit may not be keeping anyone out of the Hall of Fame.
Well, it may have kept Craig Biggio out last year, when he missed election by two votes. He will likely get in this year, however. But the average Hall of Fame ballot contains fewer than 10 votes:
Even last year's crowded ballot, with newcomers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas alongside all the strong leftover candidates and the steroid-suspicion-tainted guys, didn't quite approach 10 players per voter and was a big increase over recent averages. We may get a similar result this year, with high-profile newcomers like Johnson, Martinez and John Smoltz, but the list of automatic new candidates thins a bit after that.
But there is a potential ripple effect going on here. Clearly, with an average of 8.4 votes per ballot, many of the 571 voters last year did turn in a full ballot, and presumably some of those would have voted for more than 10. So that holds down vote totals for candidates like Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez or Curt Schilling, and those players fail to develop the "momentum" that helps propel disputed candidates forward to election.
The anti-steroids voters have won this debate so far, at least in the cases of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa, with some effect on the totals for Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell. Here are the two sides of the debate from two of the most prominent BBWAA members.
As written in this space many times, I think all players should be judged within the context of the era in which they played, and during McGwire's career, the sport was saturated with performance-enhancing drugs, largely because over the period of about 15 years, no one within the institution of baseball -- not the union leaders, not MLB owners, not the commissioner, not the clean players, nor the media that covered the sport -- aggressively addressed the growing problem. Through that inaction, what evolved was a chemical Frankenstein of a game. Like it or not, that's what the sport was in that time: no drug testing, lots of drug use, lots of drug users, lots of money being made by everybody. (And by the way, no team, baseball executive or player has offered to give back the money made in that time.)Tom Verducci:
The idea of retroactive morality is ridiculous, especially given that the folks in the sport had a strong idea by the mid-'90s that there was a growing problem, and nobody did anything about it. Here's Jose Canseco being asked about his steroid use on national television before the 1988 playoffs, right after Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson was stripped of his gold medal. And here's a Bob Nightengale story from 1995 in which then-interim commissioner Bud Selig was asked about the problem, making mention of a "private meeting" the year before. Yet serious testing and penalties really weren't in place until 2006.
First, you must understand the voting process. A ballot is sent to me in the mail -- a personal ballot, just as it is sent to about 570 baseball writers eligible to vote. This is not an SAT test or a trivia contest. There are no "right" and "wrong" answers. This one ballot is my judgment. Yes, I am being asked to be "judge" or juror, in the parlance of some writers uncomfortable with responsibility, but I am only one of many hundreds.
When I vote for a player, I am upholding him for the highest individual honor possible. My vote is an endorsement of a career, not part of it, and how it was achieved. Voting for a known steroid user is endorsing steroid use. Having spent too much of the past two decades or so covering baseball on the subject of steroids -- what they do, how the game was subverted by them, and how those who stayed away from them were disadvantaged -- I cannot endorse it.
The Hall of Fame itself has refused to weigh in on the issue, leaving the voters to make their own judgment on history.
5. Are we even debating the right issue?
In a recent article on Bill James Online titled "Fixing the Hall," Bill James made an interesting point:
The first thing that should be noted, about the Hall of Fame's selection process, is that more than 99 percent of the shoddy work has been done not by the BBWAA, but by the various and sundry and mundry committees that have acted on the Hall of Fame's behalf.
It is an odd thing, that:
1) MOST of the people who are in the Hall of Fame were not actually selected by the BBWAA ...
2) ALL or virtually all of the unworthy selections to the Hall of Fame were not made by the BBWAA, and yet ...
3) Discussion about the Hall of Fame selection process is 90 percent focused on the BBWAA voting process.
James is right. The BBWAA has elected 115 players, but there are 305 men -- and one woman -- in the Hall of Fame. The various and sundry committees have elected 96 major league players (and 35 Negro Leaguers). The BBWAA hasn't helped itself in recent years, however, by electing some of its weakest members (Bruce Sutter, Jim Rice) while leaving out more worthy candidates.
6. The BBWAA doesn't elect enough players.
Aside from steroids, this is the issue that gets fans most riled up, that the BBWAA is simply too tough, that its standards are too high considering the caliber of players already enshrined, that their favorite player is getting passed over.
That's true; as a collective voting bloc, the BBWAA is tough. A low point came two years ago when nobody got elected. But look at the average number of votes per ballot. Individually, voters do want to see more players get elected. Other than obvious choices like Maddux and Glavine, they just have trouble agreeing on whom to elect. There were enough votes last year to elect 11 candidates, but only three got in.
This isn't surprising. If we look at the 115 Hall of Famers elected by the BBWAA, the midway point in career WAR is right around 70: Half the Hall of Famers are above that, half are below. (If we included all Hall of Fame players, it's way below 70.) Anyway, this year's ballot contains 15 players with between 55 and 85 career WAR. Pedro Martinez may seem like an easy selection, but it's the other 14 that we argue about, and while they are strong candidates, few are getting in right now.
Solution: Elect a minimum number of players each year.
It's the one thing most of us do agree on: We want more Hall of Famers. Yet the writers haven't elected at least two candidates in back-to-back years since 2005. Meanwhile, we managers and umpires and team owners and players from the 1800s keep getting enshrined.
Bill James again:
The first thing that needs to be done, to fix the Hall of Fame system, is: Terminate all of the side committees. Close all of the back doors and side doors and windows and air vents or however the hell it was that Alex Pompez and Travis Jackson and Dracula got into the building. Get rid of those, and promise us that there will never, ever, ever be any more of them. That's a good start.
Next, establish a rule that four persons must be selected to the Hall of Fame in each year; not four persons MAY be selected; four persons MUST be selected.
A regular flow of entries of a fixed and steady number -- coming out of a consistent and well-defined process -- creates standards. The Hall of Fame suffers from indefinite standards because inconsistent and incompatible processes are used to make the selections. Travis Jackson is in; Alan Trammell -- obviously a better player than Travis Jackson -- is out. This is because those passing judgment on Alan Trammell's career are different in every way than those who plucked Travis Jackson from the lost island of New York Giants history. If four candidates and only four candidates could be selected each year in a well-thought-out public process, Rick Ferrell, Alex Pompez, Eppa Rixey and Dracula would never have been selected because they could never have fought their way past the better-qualified candidates who have been left out.
James proposed a radical tournament-style election that would have 32 candidates running off against each other in a playoff, one candidate nominated from each team plus two at-large candidates from remaining players, managers and executives. I love the idea, in part because it asks voters to weigh in on history: Was Edgar Martinez better than Larry Walker? Was Jeff Bagwell better than Tim Raines? It forces voters to at least consider all the candidates and creates a more defined goal.
Of course, the idea is way too fun to ever be considered.
The important point is that the current process doesn't work. As James writes, "The BBWAA has little history of selecting unqualified candidates, but the BBWAA has passed on -- rejected -- a large number of well-qualified candidates. The BBWAA whiffed on Joe Torre, Ron Santo, Nellie Fox, Tim Raines, Luis Tiant, Dwight Evans and others. These are failures, too. These failures create pressure to open the alternative admissions process -- and the alternative admissions process is a dart board."
On Jan. 6, this year's election results will be announced. I expect Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Craig Biggio to get elected. While we'll celebrate their achievements and careers, we'll also criticize a system that failed to elect Raines or Bagwell or Schilling.
Then we'll start up again next December.
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.