SweetSpot: Philadelphia Phillies

After looking at which players not on a 40-man roster have been invited to spring training in the AL East, AL Central and AL West, it's time to move to the National League. Only a few of these guys will crack Opening Day rosters, but many will end up playing important roles at some point once the injuries start to pile up.

BravesAtlanta Braves

Considering that the Braves are in a state of transition, you might expect to see some interesting names here ... and you'd be right. Wandy Rodriguez made just six starts last year because of a knee injury -- and just 12 in 2013 thanks to some arm problems -- but his ERA was under 3.80 every season from 2008 through 2013. ... The Braves' outfield is kind of a mess, so Eric Young Jr., who led the NL in steals in 2013, has a chance to stick. ... Kelly Johnson is back where he started. He could win a backup job in the infield. ... Sugar Ray Marimon has to be singled out just for his name. He's a right-handed pitcher and that's his given name, not a nickname. ... Eric Stults hopes to be this year's Aaron Harang. ... Jose Veras moves on to his ninth team, always pitching just well enough to get a job somewhere. ... Chien-Ming Wang once won 19 games in back-to-back seasons with the Yankees, but that was a long time ago. ... Bet you didn't know Matt Capps was the winning pitcher in the 2010 All-Star Game. ... John Buck isn't on the 40-man roster, but A.J. Pierzynski is. At this point, you don't really want either guy to play too much.


MarlinsMiami Marlins

Reed Johnson is back after 201 plate appearances with the Marlins last year. But considering his .266 OBP, his days as a right-handed pinch hitter/backup outfielder may have expired. ... Outfielder Tyler Colvin has had spurts of production, but didn't hit last year with either the Giants or Triple-A Fresno. ... Scott Sizemore has seen his career ruined by knee injuries. ... Wait, the Tigers let Don Kelly get away? ... Jordany Valdespin split time between the Marlins and Triple-A last year and will probably do the same this year. ... Vin Mazzaro had a decent season in relief for the Pirates in 2013 but spent most of 2014 in Triple-A.


MetsNew York Mets

Not only did the Mets do very little this offseason after they signed Michael Cuddyer, they didn't even seem interested in bringing in non-roster guys. I guess they believe they already have enough depth on their 40-man roster and in the upper minors to not worry about bringing in some of those 4-A players. Scott Rice is left-handed and has made 105 appearances for the Mets over the past two seasons. ... Buddy Carlyle had a 1.45 ERA in 31 innings with the Mets, along with an impressive 28-5 strikeout-walk ratio. He was nonetheless booted off the 40-man roster after the season. ... Infielder Matt Reynolds hit .355 at Double-A and .333 at Triple-A. He's played shortstop and second but profiles best at second. There's not a ton of power here -- and everybody hits at Las Vegas -- but Reynolds looks like he could make the club as a utility guy or an early call-up and maybe even get some time at shortstop if Wilmer Flores struggles. ... Catcher Kevin Plawecki reached Triple-A in 2014 and will likely make his debut at some point and then push Travis d'Arnaud for a starting job in 2016.



PhilliesPhiladelphia Phillies

Jeff Francoeur wasn't even that good when he was good. ... Kevin Slowey spent time with the Marlins the past two seasons, and while he rarely walks anyone he got hit pretty hard. ... Former pitcher-turned-outfielder Brian Bogusevic was last in the majors in 2013. ... Infielder Chris Nelson has spent parts of the past five seasons in the majors but hasn't hit outside of one season in Colorado -- and even then he didn't really do that much, considering it was Colorado. ... Xavier Paul will battle Francoeur and Bogusevic for a potential roster spot. ... Jeanmar Gomez is the best bet to make the team. He had a 3.28 ERA the past two seasons with the Pirates. ... Catcher Koyie Hill has forged a career as a Triple-A insurance policy.


NationalsWashington Nationals

I can't see Dan Uggla actually making the team, but reports in the offseason said that he had played through an undiagnosed concussion in 2014. That doesn't explain the .179 average in 2013 and the defense that makes it difficult to play him no matter what he hits. ... Mike Carp got a World Series ring with the Red Sox in 2013, when he hit .296/.362/.523. But he fell to .175/.289/.230 last year. ... Ian Stewart was once rated the No. 4 prospect in the game, a burden he perhaps has never been able to escape. ... First baseman Kila Ka'aihue has long been a favorite of statheads for his ability to get on base in the minors. He has been in Japan the past two years. ... Second baseman Cutter Dykstra is the son of Lenny and fiancé of "Sopranos" actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler. He hit .274/.349/.391 at Double-A. ... Heath Bell dropped 40 pounds in the offseason in an attempt to better position himself for a bullpen job. Maybe he should have done that in 2013 or 2014, when he was making $9 million per season and pitching poorly. Really, he hasn't been effective since leaving the Padres after 2011, but the Nationals' pen may have an opening if he looks good in camp.
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It's time for my second annual pre-spring training power rankings. You love them, you hate them, you laugh, you cry. But they stir up debate and get us thinking about baseball with spring training right around the corner.


Arizona30. Arizona Diamondbacks

Big offseason moves: Hired Chip Hale as manager; signed Cuban 3B/LF Yasmany Tomas to six-year, $68.5 million contract; traded LHP Wade Miley to the Red Sox for RHPs Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa and a minor leaguer; traded C Miguel Montero to the Cubs for two minor leaguers; acquired RHP Jeremy Hellickson from the Rays; acquired LHP Robbie Ray from the Tigers in a three-team deal that sent SS Didi Gregorius to the Yankees; signed Cuban RHP Yoan Lopez for an $8.25 million bonus.

Most intriguing player: Expectations will be high for Tomas following the success of fellow Cubans Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu the past two seasons. But Tomas isn't viewed as an all-around player like Puig or a polished hitter like Abreu. He has power potential, but the first test will be to see whether he can handle third base; many scouts view him as a left fielder but the Diamondbacks will give him a shot at third.

Due for a better year: Paul Goldschmidt and Mark Trumbo, projected to perhaps combine for 70 home runs, both missed large chunks of time and instead combined for just 33 as they missed a combined 127 games.

Due for a worse year: Outfielder Ender Inciarte, pressed into service after a slew of injuries, didn't hit much but the defensive metrics loved him, pushing his WAR to 3.7, third best on the team behind Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock. He's likely to serve in a bench role this year, especially if Tomas ends up in the outfield.

I'm just the messenger: New general manager Dave Stewart, hired by chief baseball officer Tony La Russa in late September to clean up the mess that Kevin Towers left behind, remains a bit of a mystery. It didn't help his reputation, especially among statistical analysts, when he said in January that the Diamondbacks may be viewed as more of a "true baseball team versus some of the other teams out here that are geared more toward analytics and those type of things." It was also a bit curious that La Russa hired a veterinarian named Dr. Ed Lewis, whom he has known for 30 years and worked with in the past, as the team's director of analytics. There are certainly different ways of doing things but this regime doesn't look all that different so far from the previous one that espoused grit and toughness.

The final word: Stewart's first moves brought in some interesting young arms but this is still a rotation that doesn't look much better than the group that ranked 27th in the majors in ERA in 2014. Offensively, the D-backs plan to rely on the power of Goldschmidt, Trumbo and Tomas. The issues here are even if Trumbo hits 30 home runs, he owns a .298 career OBP and he's a big defensive liability in the outfield; Tomas may end up profiling similar to Trumbo as a guy with a low OBP who doesn't project as a plus defender at either third base or left field. Catcher is currently a black hole -- Tuffy Gosewisch, come on down -- and the whole lineup aside from Goldschmidt has an aversion to taking walks.

Prediction: 66-96

Philadelphia Phillies29. Philadelphia Phillies

Big offseason moves: Traded SS Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers for two minor leaguers; traded OF Marlon Byrd to the Reds for minor league P Ben Lively; umm ... signed OF Jeff Francoeur, which even as an act of desperation is a curious act of desperation; have shopped LHP Cole Hamels, RHP Jonathan Papelbon and 1B Ryan Howard; signed RHPs Aaron Harang and Chad Billingsley.

Most intriguing player: Hamels, obviously. He may start the season with the Phillies but nobody expects him to end it there.

Due for a better year: Domonic Brown gets what is maybe his final chance to prove himself as a big league regular. An All-Star in 2013 when he hit 27 home runs, he fell apart in 2014 with a .235/.285/.349 line. There's still some talent here, but how much?

Due for a worse year: Ruben Amaro Jr.

SportsNation

How many games to the Phillies win?

  •  
    31%
  •  
    41%
  •  
    17%
  •  
    5%
  •  
    6%

Discuss (Total votes: 13,837)

I'm just the messenger: Everyone has been predicting the decline of the Phillies for a few years and Amaro finally admitted that a rebuilding was in order. He's been asking for a ransom for Hamels, understandably so because he's really the only valuable commodity he has, unless Chase Utley agrees to a trade or Cliff Lee comes back and proves he's healthy. The past two seasons were painful for Phillies fans, but 2015 could be their worst season since losing 97 games in 2000.

The final word: Hey, on the bright side the Phillies outperformed my prediction last year by seven wins .. and still won just 73 games. If there's a bright spot, it's the bullpen, led by closer-in-waiting Ken Giles (1.18 ERA as a rookie), which should be solid even if Papelbon is traded.

Prediction: 67-95

Atlanta Braves28. Atlanta Braves

Big offseason moves: Hired former Indians GM John Hart as president of baseball operations; traded OF Jason Heyward and RHP Jordan Walden to the Cardinals for RHPs Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins; traded OF Justin Upton to the Padres; traded C/OF Evan Gattis to the Astros; signed OF Nick Markakis, OF Jonny Gomes, RHP Jason Grilli, IF Kelly Johnson and IF Alberto Callaspo; lost free-agent Ps Ervin Santana, Aaron Harang and Kris Medlen.

Most intriguing player: Hart is gambling on Miller putting everything together after two solid but inconsistent seasons with the Cardinals. The 24-year-old righty had a 2.92 ERA in the second half after he started using a sinker to go along with his four-seamer. If he proves to be a solid No. 2-type starter, the Braves will be happy with the return they got for Heyward.

Due for a better year: Andrelton Simmons makes too much contact to hit .244 and saw his extra-base hit total fall from 50 to 29, a big reason his WAR dropped from 6.9 to 3.5 despite another Gold Glove season at shortstop.

Due for a worse year: It wouldn't be nice if I said B.J. Upton. Alex Wood went 11-11 with a 2.78 ERA, using that funky delivery to hold batters to a .239 average. The peripherals are solid (3.25 FIP), so this doesn't scream out "fluke" to me, but natural regression suggests he won't post a 2.78 ERA again and I worry about an injury with that delivery.

I'm just the messenger: The Braves have been pretty public about what they did this offseason, so there's no reason to pile on. Instead of trying to compete with the Nationals, fall short, and then lose Heyward and Upton to free agency, they decided to rebuild and aim for 2017 when the new ballpark opens. The issue is whether Hart did well in the trades he made and there's no way of knowing that for several years, because most of the prospects he got in return won't be major league ready in 2015.

The final word: The Braves haven't had back-to-back losing seasons since the pre-dynastic seasons of 1989 and 1990, but that's going to happen in 2015. The rotation could actually be pretty solid with Julio Teheran, Miller, Wood and a back-to-form Mike Minor, and funny things can happen with a good rotation. But the offense is going to be horrific. The Braves were next-to-last in the NL in runs last season and they've traded away three of the four good hitters they did have. They'll head into 2015 with one good hitter in Freddie Freeman and one average-ish hitter in Markakis, who is coming off neck surgery. So good luck. But at least they won't strike out as much.

Prediction: 68-94

Minnesota Twins27. Minnesota Twins

Big offseason moves: Named Paul Molitor manager; signed RHP Ervin Santana and OF Torii Hunter; signed RHP Tim Stauffer; umm ... Tom Milone changed his number.

Most intriguing player: Center fielder Byron Buxton was baseball's top prospect entering 2014 but suffered a series of injuries -- wrist, dislocated finger, concussion -- that limited him to 31 minor league games in the regular season before a stint in the Arizona Fall League. He's still a potential superstar (Keith Law has him ranked as his No. 2 prospect in baseball) and could reach the majors this season.

[+] EnlargeJoe Mauer
AP Photo/Craig LassigJoe Mauer hit just four homers in 120 games last season.
Due for a better year: Joe Mauer's move to first base was supposed to get him in the lineup more often; instead he played just 120 games and he hit just .277, the lowest of his career. He turns 32 in April so there's no guarantee he gets back to hitting .300, especially considering his walk-to-strikeout ratio has decreased from better than even just two seasons ago to 60 walks and 96 K's in 2014 (still a strong ratio compared to the MLB average, but this is a guy who walked more than he struck out most of his career).

Due for a worse year: Danny Santana hit .319/.353/.472 as a rookie, fueled by a .405 BABIP -- the highest by a player with 400 plate appearances since Rod Carew in 1977. Santana never hit .300 in the minors so look for a sizable decline.

I'm just the messenger: I know a lot of Twins fans are kind of excited by the rotation -- well, at least compared to recent Twins rotations: Phil Hughes had a breakout year, they signed Ervin Santana, Kyle Gibson won 13 games in his first full season, Alex Meyer appears ready for a shot and Ricky Nolasco can't be that bad again. Well, Nolasco can be that bad again and I'm skeptical about the Santana signing. He had a 3.95 ERA with the Braves (3.39 FIP) but now moves over to the American League and won't have Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons playing behind him. Plus, there's this problem: Torii Hunter and Oswaldo Arcia are penciled in as two starting outfielders, two guys who would have trouble covering enough ground in a beer league softball outfield. Hunter had minus-18 defensive runs saved and Arcia minus-10 (in about half a season of playing time). The Twins ranked as the second-worst defensive team in the majors via defensive runs saved in 2014 and that's going to be a big issue again.

The final word: There is potential here on offense, which ranked fifth in the league in runs. But I don't see any improvement coming there as players such as Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe have likely peaked and Santana regresses. The defense is still a problem and the rotation -- which had the worst ERA in the majors in 2014 -- still doesn't do a lot for me. It looks like another holding year as the Twins wait for Buxton and Miguel Sano to arrive.

Prediction: 68-94

Colorado Rockies26. Colorado Rockies

Big offseason moves: Promoted Jeff Bridich to general manager; signed RHP Kyle Kendrick; signed IF Daniel Descalso; traded 2B Josh Rutledge to the Angels for RHP Jairo Diaz; lost OF Michael Cuddyer, LHP Brett Anderson and RHP Matt Belisle to free agency; some other minor moves that probably won't turn the Rockies into the 1927 Yankees.

Most intriguing player: Troy Tulowitzki. Isn't he always the most intriguing Rockies player? He was having an MVP-level season last year until he predictably landed on the DL. Bridich resisted the temptation to deal Tulowitzki or outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, but if the Rockies are way back come in July, you have to wonder if those two will be back on the trading block.

Due for a better year: Gonzalez played just 70 games and hit .238/.292/.431.

Due for a worse year: Charlie Blackmon made the All-Star team on the basis of hitting .374 in April with a 1.034 OPS, but his highest OPS in any month after that was .806. He had a .269 OBP on the road. In a neutral park, he's probably a borderline starter and he'll platoon with Drew Stubbs assuming Gonzalez and Corey Dickerson stay healthy.

I'm just the messenger: Same old Rockies. The rotation isn't good -- and don't blame Coors Field, as the Rockies had the worst road ERA in the majors. The offense is overrated -- maybe you can blame Coors Field, as the Rockies led the NL in runs but barely outhit the Padres on the road with a .228 average. Tulo and CarGo have to stay healthy. The young starters have to stay healthy.

The final word: Everyone also focuses on the pitching problems with the Rockies and it's certainly not good that 26 pitchers have started for the Rockies over the past two seasons. But Bridich must also properly evaluate the offense; the Rockies are always going to score runs because of Coors Field but they're not going to be competitive unless they score more runs on the road. They were 45-36 at home but a miserable 21-60 on the road. Winning at altitude isn't the issue; it's winning away from altitude.

Prediction: 71-91

Texas Rangers25. Texas Rangers

Big offseason moves: Named Jeff Banister manager; acquired RHP Yovani Gallardo from the Brewers; acquired LHP Ross Detwiler from the Nationals; traded LHP Robbie Ross to the Red Sox for RHP Anthony Ranaudo; re-signed RHP Colby Lewis; acquired C Carlos Corporan from the Astros; lost OF Alex Rios to free agency.

Most intriguing player: Prince Fielder. He says he's happy and healthy after neck surgery but he appeared to be a player in decline before coming over to the Rangers.

Due for a better year: Well, the Rangers led the majors in days spent on the disabled list, so pick your injured player of choice.

SportsNation

How many games do the Rangers win?

  •  
    15%
  •  
    38%
  •  
    24%
  •  
    15%
  •  
    8%

Discuss (Total votes: 11,907)

Due for a worse year: No obvious candidates, although Adrian Beltre has to start showing his age one of these years and his home runs did drop to 19 after topping 30 the three previous seasons.

I'm just the messenger: The Rangers ran through a mind-numbing 64 players in 2014, including -- is this right? -- 40 different pitchers if you count position players Mitch Moreland, J.P. Arencibia and Chris Gimenez. So, yes, you can easily dismiss the disaster of 2014. But I can't just as easily dismiss a starting rotation that looks shaky behind Yu Darvish and Derek Holland. Gallardo's strikeout rates have plummeted the past two seasons and now he goes to the league with deeper lineups and a park where the ball flies out to right field. The Nos. 4 and 5 spots are up for grabs. The bullpen is full of question marks, starting with closer Neftali Feliz, who had a 1.99 ERA in 31.2 innings ... but a 4.90 FIP. He's hardly a sure thing and hasn't pitched a full season since 2011.

The final word: The Rangers are probably the most difficult team in the majors to evaluate. I could be way off here and Banister should certainly be an upgrade on the strategic front over Ron Washington, but I see too many unknowns on the pitching staff, a tough division and concerns about the overall value of Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo.

Prediction: 72-90
In honor of Pete Carroll's decision in the Super Bowl -- you know the one, already cemented in history as the worst play call in Super Bowl history (although maybe it wasn't a horrible call) -- let's have a little fun with a list of the worst decisions in World Series history.

Dave Cameron reports that the Seahawks had an 88 percent chance of winning when facing second-and-goal from the 1-yard line. He tried to find a similar equivalent in baseball, although a similar scenario is difficult to match in baseball. Even a team with the tying run on third and winning run on second with no outs would have a win expectancy of only 71 percent, aside from the strengths of the hitters and pitchers involved.

We can increase the odds by instead focusing on the defensive team. When the Red Sox led the Mets 5-3 in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the 10th, their win expectancy was 99 percent -- maybe a little less if you factor in that Calvin Schiraldi was pitching. When Mariano Rivera took the mound in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 in 2001 with a 2-1 lead, the Yankees' win expectancy was 86 percent -- and a little higher with Rivera pitching.

Anyway, this list isn't based on mathematical probability but simply looks at some managerial decisions in key moments of the World Series that didn't work out.

1986, Game 6: Buckner stays in the game

Speaking of the Red Sox and Mets, John McNamara left in Bill Buckner in that fateful 10th inning even though he had used Dave Stapleton as a defensive substitute in all seven of Boston's previous postseason wins. Mookie Wilson's grounder went through Buckner's legs and the Mets won the game -- although keep in mind the Mets had already tied it before Buckner's error ... and the Red Sox still had a chance to win the series in Game 7.

1986, Game 7: Too much Schiraldi

Less remembered but worthy of its own criticism is McNamara's decision to bring in Schiraldi in the seventh inning of Game 7 with the score tied 3-3. Ray Knight, the first batter he faced, hit a go-ahead home run, and the next two batters singled and eventually scored. The Red Sox did have a thin bullpen that year, but Schiraldi was a rookie coming off a horrific loss in Game 6 who had also faced 16 batters in that game. Although there was a rainout between Games 6 and 7, he had probably thrown 60 to 70 pitches in Game 6. On the other hand, McNamara didn't have a lot of good choices after starter Bruce Hurst. Roger Clemens had started Game 6, and "Oil Can" Boyd, his No. 3 starter, wasn't exactly available since he was drunk and strung out on crack.

1925, Game 7: The Big Train goes the distance

Game 7 between the Senators and Pirates was played on a cold and rainy day in Pittsburgh, and it would grow colder and wetter as the game went along. Hall of Famer Walter Johnson started for Washington. He was 37 years old and on his last legs as a pitcher, but still had enough zip on his fastball to go 20-7 with a 3.07 ERA in the regular season. He already had won twice in the series, and Senators manager Bucky Harris was determined to ride his star. Washington scored four runs in the top of the first, but the Pirates chipped away, getting to within 4-3, then 6-4 and then tying the score at 6-6. Johnson stayed in the game, as the grounds crew spread sawdust on the mud-slick mound. The Senators took the lead in the eighth, but the Pirates scored three runs in the bottom of the inning -- all with two outs -- to win 9-7. Johnson went the distance and allowed 15 hits. Yes, it was Walter Johnson and his defense let him down with two errors, including a crucial one in the eighth. Still ... who gets left in to allow 15 hits in Game 7?

2003, Game 4: Where's Rivera?

The Yankees were a game up on the Marlins and had tied Game 4 on Ruben Sierra's two-run triple in the ninth inning with two outs. The game rolled along. Jose Contreras pitched the ninth and 10th innings for the Yankees. Jeff Weaver then pitched a scoreless 11th. Joe Torre sent him back out for the bottom of the 12th, but Weaver gave up a leadoff home run to Alex Gonzalez. The series was tied, and the Marlins took the next two games to upset the Yankees.

How do you lose a crucial game without using the best closer of all time? Torre said he couldn't use Rivera because it was a tie game on the road. "I had no options," he said. "People say bring in Mariano. I had no options. It was an extra-inning game on the road. There was never consideration of other options." By choosing to wait for a save situation and limit Rivera to one inning, however, Torre ignored what he had done throughout Rivera's postseason career, which was to often use him for more than one inning and, at times, in tie games. Rivera had pitched two innings the day before -- throwing 23 pitches -- but that shouldn't have been reason to use Weaver without first getting Rivera into the game.

2009, Game 4: Manuel sticks with Lidge

Closer Brad Lidge had been one of the heroes of the Phillies' 2008 World Series champions -- converting all 41 of his save chances in the regular season and all seven in the postseason. But 2009 was a nightmare season for Lidge: 0-8, 7.21 ERA, with a lot of hits, home runs and walks allowed. The Phillies were able to overcome his ineffectiveness to win 93 games, but manager Charlie Manuel stubbornly stuck with Lidge as his closer. You knew it would eventually blow up in a big way in the postseason, and it did in Game 4 when Lidge entered in a 4-4 tie in the ninth inning and coughed up three runs. The Yankees won the series in six games.

1958, Game 7: Frank Torre hits third

The Milwaukee Braves of the late '50s and early '60s were an enormously talented team. They won one World Series title in 1957 and reached Game 7 in 1958, but they should have dominated the National League for a longer stretch. Fred Haney managed the club from 1956 through 1959, and, in '58, he platooned Frank Torre (Joe's brother) with Joe Adcock at first base. Torre was a better glove and did hit .309 in 1958 that year, but he hit just six home runs in 372 at-bats. Eddie Mathews didn't have a great year in '58, hitting .251/.349/.458, but he did hit 31 home runs. And Wes Covington hit .330/.380/.622 in 324 plate appearances.

In Game 7, Haney hit Red Schoendienst (.313 OBP) leadoff, Bill Bruton (.336 OBP) second, Torre third, Henry Aaron cleanup, Covington fifth and Mathews sixth. Imagine if a manager rolled out a lineup like that today. In the first inning, after Schoendienst and Bruton reached on a single and a walk against a shaky Don Larsen, Haney had his No. 3 hitter ... bunt. You're not bunting there with Mathews or Covington. Mathews was later intentionally walked in the inning as Del Crandall left the bases loaded. Instead of playing for a big inning, the Braves scored just one run. The score was tied 2-2 in the eighth when the Yankees scored four runs with two outs.

2001, Game 5: Brenly turns to Kim ... again

After Byung-hyun Kim served up home runs to Tino Martinez and Derek Jeter in Game 4 -- throwing 61 pitches -- for some reason Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly thought it was a good idea to have him close out Game 5. I was in the auxiliary press box for that one and remember all the writers criticizing the move before seeing what happened next -- Scott Brosius hit the tying home run (and who can forget Kim crouched on the mound in despair) and the Yankees won in 12 innings. Brenly survived the blunder as the Diamondbacks won Games 6 and 7.

1947, Game 4: Almost a no-hitter

Yankees right-hander Bill Bevens threw hard, but he also had no idea where the ball was going. In Game 4 of the '47 World Series against Brooklyn, he took a 2-1 lead and a no-hitter into the bottom of the ninth. But he'd also walked eight batters. He walked Carl Furillo with one out in the ninth, then pinch runner Al Gionfriddo stole second with two outs. Yankees manager Bucky Harris -- yes, the same guy from 1925 -- then ordered Pete Reiser intentionally walked, going against convention that you don't put the go-ahead run on base. Pinch hitter Cookie Lavagetto then hit a game-winning two-run double. That tied the series up at two games apiece, although Harris and the Yankees went on to win Game 7.

Those are just a few, and I didn't even get to Ron Washington's performance in the 2011 World Series (let alone some of the decisions from other rounds of the playoffs). Next time...
With Keith Law unveiling his top 100 prospects this week, I thought it would be fun to look back at the top prospects from 2005. Has it already been 10 years since 2005? Yes it has! We'll use Baseball America's list and, as always, we're not criticizing the list. Evaluating prospects is part art, part science and a lot of unknown.

The Top 10
1. Joe Mauer, Twins
2. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
3. Delmon Young, Devil Rays
4. Ian Stewart, Rockies
5. Joel Guzman, Dodgers
6. Casey Kotchman, Angels
7. Scott Kazmir, Devil Rays
8. Rickie Weeks, Brewers
9. Andy Marte, Braves
10. Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox

Just a reminder: Not all top-10 players become All-Stars, let alone future Hall of Famers, and many don't develop at all. Young, who rose to the No. 1 overall prospect in 2006, has had a long major league career but at barely replacement level (2.5 career WAR), making him one of the most disappointing prospects of the past decade. His aggressive approach that existed in the minors has proven to be a fatal flaw in the majors, but he's also been a poor defender and his athleticism declined rapidly.

Stewart was coming off a 30-homer season in low A ball at age 19 in which he also hit .319 with some walks and he certainly looked like a future star. He did have a 25-homer season with the Rockies in 2009 but has never been able to make enough contact or hit left-handers. Guzman was a big, 6-foot-7 shortstop who wasn't likely to stay there but had put up good numbers as a 19-year-old, albeit with a poor strikeout-to-walk rate. It was really the only season he hit like a top prospect in the minors and he made the majors for just 24 games.

Kotchman was a much different hitter than Young, Stewart or Guzman, a sweet-swinging first baseman who walked more than he struck out and projected to hit for a high average, but he never should have been a top-10 prospect. He had been injury-prone in the minors and didn't hit for much power and first basemen without power aren't top-10 overall prospects. In the majors, he was injury-prone and didn't hit for much power.

Weeks was that rare second-base prospect to crack the top 10. He's been worth 12.3 career WAR even though he has power and patience as he's only hit .249 despite his quick bat and his defense has been historically awful. At the time, Baseball America admitted he "had a lot of work to do with the glove." Ten years later, the defense never did improve and he can't find a job this offseason because of that liability.

Then there's Marte, one of the more famous prospect flops in recent years. "His potential as an all-around impact player is unquestioned," wrote Baseball America. Even though he was described as mature for his age in the BA scouting report, Marte's work ethic was later questioned and he added some weight, a concern cited even in 2005. He's hit .218 in 308 career major league games and is still scuffling around, appearing in six games for the Diamondbacks last year.

Nos. 11-25
11. Lastings Milledge, Mets
12. Dallas McPherson, Angels
13. Matt Cain, Giants
14. Jeff Francoeur, Braves
15. Prince Fielder, Brewers
16. Adam Miller, Indians
17. Jason Kubel, Twins
18. Jeremy Hermida, Marlins
19. Chad Billingsley, Dodgers
20. Jeff Niemann, Devil Rays
21. Brian Dopirak, Cubs
22. Carlos Quentin, Diamondbacks
23. Jeff Francis, Rockies
24. Nick Swisher, Athletics
25. Jose Capellan, Brewers

Three hits with Cain, Fielder and Swisher and a half-hit with Billingsley, who is trying to rebound from two years of injuries and just signed with the Phillies. Kubel was a hit-first prospect who ranked 17th on the list even though he had torn up his knee in the Arizona Fall League, after reaching the majors at the end of 2004. Already considered slow in the outfield before the injury, he had some good years at the plate in the majors but was best suited to DH, and it's possible he was never the same player after the injury. Quentin has also seen his career interrupted by various injuries through the years.

The interesting guy here is Hermida, who rose to the No. 4 overall prospect in 2006. He was supposed to be a can't-miss hitter, due to excellent plate discipline and a nice lefty stroke with medium-range power and good makeup. He had a good year for the Marlins in 2007, hitting .296/.369/.501 but the bat went downhill from there. There were some nagging injuries and a trade to Boston, a collision with Adrian Beltre and then a bunch of years as a 4-A player. He's spent all of the two past years in Triple-A.

Nos. 26-50
Best hits: No. 27 Ryan Howard, No. 28 J.J. Hardy, No. 30 Edwin Jackson, No. 35 Gavin Floyd, No. 39 Erick Aybar, No. 44 Brian McCann, No. 48 Homer Bailey, No. 49 Brandon McCarthy.

And by "best hits" I mean only hits. Well, there's Yusmeiro Petit and Zach Duke and Ryan Sweeney and Anthony Reyes had that one good start for the Cardinals in the World Series.

Nos. 51-75
Best hits: No. 51 Shin-Soo Choo, No. 54 Franklin Gutierrez, No. 56 Edwin Encarnacion, No. 57 Curtis Granderson, No. 59 John Danks, No. 62 James Loney, No. 64 Aaron Hill, No. 65 Nick Markakis, No. 71 Cole Hamels, No. 72 Brandon Moss, No. 75 Billy Butler.

Even with Mauer and Hernandez, it looks like this block of 25 has produced more value than the top 25.

Nos. 76-100
Best hits: No. 76 Kendrys Morales, No. 81 Neil Walker, No. 82 Ubaldo Jimenez, No. 91 Jonathan Papelbon, No. 97 Huston Street, No. 98 Ian Kinsler.

Kinsler had a monster year in the minors in 2004, hitting .345 with 20 home runs, 51 doubles, 23 steals and good contract rates. I'm guessing he was ranked so low because he had been just a 17th-round pick the year before and caught everyone by surprise (although Baseball America mentioned an offseason strength training program and hitting instruction from Rangers coaches that led to the breakout performance).

Ten best prospects not in the top 100
Here are the top guys by career WAR not included in the top 100

1. Robinson Cano (51.5) -- Baseball America did rate him as the Yankees' No. 2 prospect (behind Eric Duncan) but had concerns about his ability to hit left-handers, his speed and his range at second. He'd hit .283/.339/.457 between Double-A and Triple-A at age 21 and obviously continued to get better.

2. Dustin Pedroia (43.2) -- He'd been a second-round pick in June of 2004 and hit .357 in the low minors. He'd crack the top 100 the next year at No. 77.

3. Adrian Gonzalez (38.4) -- He had a cup of coffee with the Rangers in 2004 and even though the Marlins had made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2000, was left out of the top 100 after hitting .304/.364/457 at Triple-A at age 22. The power started developing more in 2005, although the Rangers traded him after that season to the Padres.

4. Ben Zobrist (36.6) -- He certainly wouldn't have been on anyone's prospect radar after being a sixth-round pick out of Dallas Baptist in June of 2004, although he'd hit .339/.438/.463 with more walks than strikeouts in the New York-Penn League. The Rays got him from the Astros in 2006 and he reached the majors that season.

5. Jon Lester (32.6) -- Lester had been a second-round pick in 2002 but had ho-hum numbers in the Florida State League, with a 4.28 ERA and 97 strikeouts and 37 walks in 90 innings. The scouting report was positive: 92-93 mph and hitting 96, with Baseball America noting his secondary stuff needed refinement. He had also missed some time with shoulder tightness. Still, considering the size and arm strength, a little surprising he didn't crack the top 100.

6. Adam Wainwright (32.5) -- This one made more sense. He made just 12 starts in Triple-A because of an elbow strain and posted a 5.37 ERA. Baseball America did note that his "curveball may be his best pitch." Yeah, maybe.

7. Shane Victorino (30.2) -- He'd actually been a Rule 5 pick by the Padres from the Dodgers in 2003 and had 73 plate appearances in the majors before the Padres returned him. The Phillies then made him a Rule 5 pick again after the 2004 season. Despite his plus speed and a solid season in Double-A in 2004, he was listed as just the 19th-best prospect for the Phillies.

8. Russell Martin (30.1) -- He'd hit .250 with 15 home runs in Class A and had been catching for just two years, although he had positive reviews for his defense. He wasn't overlooked -- No. 6 among Dodgers prospects -- and it's noteworthy that he did have a good hitting approach even then, with 72 walks against 54 strikeouts.

9. Jose Bautista (29.6) -- He was easy to miss because he'd spent 2004 as a Rule 5 pick, going from the Pirates to the Orioles to the Devil Rays (off waivers) to the Royals (sold) to the Mets (for Justin Huber) and then back to the Pirates in another trade. All told, he batted just 88 times. And that was after playing sparingly in 2003 after breaking his hand punching a garbage can. Baseball America did note his athleticism and ability to play third base or outfield in naming him Pittsburgh's No. 12 prospect.

10. James Shields (28.7) -- He was really just an organizational player at this point in the minors, a 16th-round pick who wasn't listed among Tampa Bay's top 30 prospects or even in a longer depth chart of right-handed pitchers. He'd had a 4.72 ERA between Class A and Double-A with 106 strikeouts in 135 innings.


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The Brewers are in talks with the Phillies to acquire Jonathan Papelbon, which makes a lot of sense since the Phillies have no need for Papelbon. The Brewers' closer right now is Jonathan Broxton, and their bullpen could use some depth.

Anyway, the Phillies would likely have to include a large amount of cash in a trade since Papelbon is owed $13 million in 2015 and has a vesting option for another $13 million in 2016 if he finishes 48 games in 2015. Papelbon also has a no-trade clause to 17 teams, although you have to think he'd want to get out of Philadelphia at this point.

Aside from all that, did you realize that Papelbon is building a pretty strong Hall of Fame case? Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating Papelbon for the Hall of Fame; I'm pretty much against all closers not named Mariano Rivera. I'm saying the voters, who have been kind to relievers in recent years, could take a liking to Papelbon's case (not that they actually like Papelbon).

If Bruce Sutter can get elected and Lee Smith can peak at 50 percent of the vote, then Papelbon has some sort of case if he strings together a few more good years. Sutter had just eight good years as a closer and Papelbon -- yes, pitching in a more coddled age for relievers -- has already had nine good seasons (or eight, depending on how you value 2010, when he had a 3.90 ERA).

A more interesting comparison is Trevor Hoffman, who enters the ballot next year and is expected to receive a lot of support and possible first-ballot election. Hoffman retired as the all-time saves leader with 601 (since passed by Rivera) and Papelbon has just 325, so he's way behind Hoffman there ... but he's arguably been the better pitcher.

Papelbon: 35-29, 2.37 ERA, 184 ERA+, 22.0 WAR, 88% save pct.
Hoffman: 61-75, 2.87 ERA, 141 ERA+, 28.0 WAR, 89% save pct.

Their save percentage is about the same, and maybe that's all that matters for a closer, but Papelbon has the lower ERA, much better adjusted ERA and better win-loss record.

Then there's the postseason. Hoffman basically gagged in every big situation he got into: 1996 NLDS, 1998 World Series, 2006 All-Star Game, 2007 tiebreaker game. Meanwhile, Papelbon has a 1.00 career ERA in the postseason, with three runs allowed in 27 innings -- and all three runs came in one game.

To have any chance, Papelbon will have to climb a lot higher on the saves list. He's currently 16th all time, but if he averages 30 saves over the next four seasons, which takes him through age 37, that moves him up to 445 saves and behind only Rivera, Hoffman and Smith. If he gets there and keeps that ERA close to where it is, he'll become a strong Hall of Fame candidate.
Jordan ZimmermanEvan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsJordan Zimmerman will be a free agent following the 2015 season. Will he end up on the trade block?
We’re a month away from the official start of spring training, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some unresolved issues and potential news items still out there in baseball land. Here are 30 things to keep an eye on:

1. Now that the Nationals have signed Max Scherzer to a seven-year contract, will the Nats look to trade impending free agent Jordan Zimmermann? A rotation of Scherzer, Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez certainly has the ability to be one of the best we’ve seen in recent years, and that doesn’t even include Tanner Roark, who quietly went 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA last year.

2. If the Nationals do look to move Zimmermann (or Fister, also a free agent at season’s end), will they use that trade to help restock the farm system or acquire depth in the bullpen? The pen looks a little thin after they traded setup man extraordinaire Tyler Clippard and lost Rafael Soriano to free agency.

3. Where will James Shields go? The one difference-making free agent who is still unsigned, Shields reportedly turned down $110 million from a team he apparently didn’t want to play for. Or maybe that was just posturing to try to ramp up the offers.

4. Will the Marlins trade Dan Haren? The veteran right-hander, set to make $10 million, had threatened to retire if he wasn’t traded back to a California team. But the Dodgers just traded him to the Marlins and don’t have room in their rotation, and the Los Angels also added rotation depth in the offseason. The Dodgers gave the Marlins $10 million to offset Haren’s salary, which they keep even if Haren doesn’t play. It looks like the ball may be in Haren’s court, as you know Jeffrey Loria would be more than happy to keep the cash.

5. Is Billy Beane done wheeling and dealing? It’s been a whirlwind offseason for the Oakland A's general manager, who has traded away Josh Donaldson, Jeff Samardzija, Derek Norris, John Jaso and others, while acquiring Ben Zobrist, Brett Lawrie, Clippard and other young players and prospects. Yunel Escobar was even acquired from the Rays and quickly dealt to the Nationals for Clippard.

6. Are Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer done wheeling and dealing for the Cubs? They just picked up Dexter Fowler from the Astros, giving the club a more legitimate center fielder than converted infielder Arismendy Alcantara. With the addition of Fowler, the Cubs' lineup could look like this:

Fowler CF
Starlin Castro SS
Jorge Soler RF
Anthony Rizzo 1B
Kris Bryant 3B
Miguel Montero C
Chris Coghlan LF
Javier Baez 2B

That lineup has potential, and it's backed up with a rotation featuring Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, Kyle Hendricks and Travis Wood. But with Fowler signed only through 2015, maybe the Cubs will make one more big move to draw closer on paper to the Cardinals and Pirates. Maybe Shields, to bolster the rotation even more?

[+] EnlargeJohnny Cueto
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesJohnny Cueto was second in the National League in 2014 with a 2.25 ERA.
7. Will the Reds sign Johnny Cueto to a long-term contract? Cueto will be expensive to sign, and while he may not command Scherzer money due Cueto's injury history, he’s coming off a season that would have won the Cy Young Award in most years. The long-term commitments the Reds have already made to Joey Votto and Homer Bailey may mean that a third $100 million-plus player doesn’t fit into their budget.

8. Will the Reds sign Aroldis Chapman to a long-term contract? Like Cueto, Chapman is a free agent after 2015. The Reds are hosting the 2015 All-Star Game, so don’t expect them to trade either player -- at least until after the All-Star Game and only if the Reds are well out of the pennant race.

9. Are the Cardinals satisfied with their rotation? They had been rumored to be interested in signing Scherzer or maybe acquiring David Price from the Tigers, but Price is certainly unavailable now -- not that he was in the first place -- with Scherzer out of the Detroit picture. The Cardinals did sign Lance Lynn to a three-year extension. But the health concerns of Michael Wacha, Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia and the uncertainty of young arms such as Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzalez means the Cardinals have question marks within their depth.

10. Are the Braves really committed to keeping Craig Kimbrel? After trading away Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis, the Braves have all but admitted they’re building for 2017 when they open their new park. General manager John Hart insists the club can still compete in 2015, but the projection systems argue otherwise and say the Braves will be one of the worst teams in the majors. The smart move would be to cash in Kimbrel now.

11. Speaking of ... are the Tigers going to do anything about the bullpen?

12. Speaking of ... Francisco Rodriguez is still a free agent. And probably with good reason, considering he led all relievers in home runs allowed in 2014. Still, he posted a 3.04 ERA and recorded 44 saves for the Brewers, so some team may be willing to give him a shot at closing. Especially a team that had major issues up and down the bullpen last year, including in the postseason.

13. Will the Mets acquire a shortstop? I think we’re all a bit tired of this story by now. Mets fans seem to want a new shortstop. The New York media definitely believes the team needs a shortstop. Sandy Alderson would probably like a new shortstop. Troy Tulowitzki may want to become the new Mets shortstop. Meanwhile, the Wilpons are probably too busy watching old films of the Brooklyn Dodgers to care.

14. Will the Diamondbacks trade Mark Trumbo? This is probably more of a spring training decision, depending on whether Cuban free agent Yasmany Tomas can handle third base. If he can’t, he'll move to left field and the D-backs have to shop Trumbo.

15. Will Dave Stewart give us more quotes about "real" baseball teams and those apparently fake teams that worry too much about analytics?

16. Will the Mariners acquire a right-handed bat? Right now, the M’s have Nelson Cruz penciled in at DH, Logan Morrison at first base, and a right-field platoon of Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano (with lefty-swinging Dustin Ackley in left field). Jesus Montero is still around, but a right-handed bat who can play first base or DH against southpaws (with Cruz moving to the outfield) would create more balance in the lineup.

17. Will the Phillies release Ryan Howard? At this point, it’s probably best for all if Ruben Amaro just puts Howard on waivers. Nobody is going to trade for Howard, but that doesn’t mean you need to create a negative distraction by inviting him to spring training. It’s a sunk cost. Let it sink and see if any team wants to give Howard a shot to DH.

18. Who will be the first columnist to point out Howard’s RBI total from last year? Like, in a good way.

19. Will the Red Sox make a move for their rotation? While the Red Sox actually project to have a decent rotation, according to some projections, it’s also difficult to buy completely into Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Joe Kelly and Justin Masterson.

[+] EnlargeCole Hamels
AP Photo/Alex BrandonCole Hamels was in the top 10 in the National League last season in ERA (2.46) and strikeouts (198).
20. Will Cole Hamels be traded? Hamels may be worth more at the trade deadline than he is now, so don’t be surprised if Hamels is starting on Opening Day for the Phillies. But if he does get traded, the Red Sox and Padres still seem likely destinations; the Red Sox have a slew of prospects and the Padres have catching prospect Austin Hedges.

21. What’s going on with Dan Duquette? The only noise the Orioles’ president has made this offseason has been with the rumors that he’s leaving Baltimore to take over the presidency of the Blue Jays. If this was going to happen, it should have been resolved by now, as Duquette’s lack of activity in Baltimore could have the appearance of a conflict of interest.

22. Will the Orioles bring in a right fielder? Colby Rasmus is the best free agent out there and would be the easiest option, if inelegant. There are also unappealing trade options such as Andre Ethier or Carlos Quentin.

23. Which young star will get locked up by a long-term extension? Small-market teams have been able to remain competitive in recent years in part by signing their young stars to team-friendly extensions -- think Andrew McCutchen in Pittsburgh or Evan Longoria in Tampa Bay -- but as premium free agents continue to get $100-million plus contracts, there’s going to be less incentive for young players to potentially leave tens of millions on the table.

24. Where will the other free-agent relievers sign? Casey Janssen and Soriano are two relievers out there with closing experience. Soriano averaged 39 saves the past three seasons but lost his closer job with the Nationals late last season, while Janssen missed time with a back injury and saw his strikeout rate decline. Besides the Tigers, the Dodgers are seeking relief help.

25. Are the World Series champs done? The Giants just signed Norichika Aoki, although he and Gregor Blanco don’t make for a traditional platoon since both hit left-handed. They struck out on signing Jon Lester and Pablo Sandoval and trading for Justin Upton. The Giants could still be in on Shields, or could bring back Ryan Vogelsong for rotation depth.

26. Back to the Nationals: Could they trade shortstop Ian Desmond? It seems unlikely, but Desmond is a free agent after 2015 and reportedly turned down a $100 million extension. And the club did trade for Yunel Escobar, although moving him to shortstop would create a hole at second base. The team perhaps most desperate for a shortstop is the Mets, but they’re a division rival.

27. Arbitration tracker: Who’s left? While a lot of players have already signed, the most interesting remaining unsigned players are those who are still several years from free agency and who could potentially negotiate multiyear deals (similar to the one Lynn signed with the Cardinals). This group includes Josh Donaldson of the Blue Jays; Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford of the Giants; Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain of the Royals; Devin Mesoraco of the Reds; and Garrett Richards of the Angels.

28. What will happen with highly touted Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada? The 19-year-old switch-hitter is projected as a power-speed combo who will likely end up at second or third base. The Giants recently held a private workout with him, and the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Nationals and Marlins are among those teams reported to have strong interest and financial means. MLB has declared Moncada a free agent, but he needs to be cleared by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control before he’s eligible to sign.

29. Who will join Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs in guaranteeing his team will win a division title?

30. Who will be the first player to report early to spring training in the best shape of his life?



Jason KipnisOtto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesJason Kipnis is posed for a big rebound -- and, barring injuries, could be an All-Star in 2015.
It's been a slow few weeks in the world of baseball. So here are some random thoughts going through my mind as we wait for Max Scherzer to sign ... and wait ... and wait ...

1. I still don't understand the lack of support that Mike Mussina has received in the Hall of Fame voting. Well, I do understand: The majority of voters aren't analyzing their ballots much beyond a certain level of gut instinct. If they did, they'd realize Mussina should be a no-brainer Hall of Famer. He isn't in the Tommy John/Jim Kaat class.

2. Heard Chris "Mad Dog" Russo arguing that Jeff Kent was clearly better than Craig Biggio. I mean, sure, if you ignore little things like defense, baserunning and getting on base.

3. That said, I expect Kent's case to start picking up momentum. Biggio's election probably helps Kent because voters can argue that Kent was the better hitter, plus he has more than 1,500 RBIs and more home runs (377) than any other second baseman.

4. I like what St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz wrote about the Hall of Fame: "I don't like the idea that MLB and the Hall of Fame has left it up to the ball writers to serve as the police force on PEDs. Among other things, it's a conflict of interest. We're supposed to be covering the industry as an independent group of journalists. We're not supposed to be establishing the baseball industry's standards for morality."

5. Congrats to Randy Johnson on his election to the Hall. My favorite Johnson memory is Game 5 of the 1995 American League Division Series, but I'll always remember this home run he served up to Mark McGwire. Steroids or not, good lord.

6. I miss Dave Niehaus.

7. That home run gives me an excuse to link to the video of this home run that Glenallen Hill hit onto a rooftop beyond Wrigley Field. "It's gotta be the shoes!" Well, that or maybe something else.

8. I've always wondered whether the balls weren't just a bit juiced in that era. After all, how do you explain runs per game going from 4.12 in 1992 to 4.60 in 1993 to 4.92 in 1994? Yes, there was expansion in 1993, but that hardly explains that much of an increase. So unless you believe everybody started using steroids at once, there were other factors in play beyond PEDs.

9. Back to the present. Loved the Ben Zobrist/Yunel Escobar acquisition by the A's. GM Billy Beane has now given manager Bob Melvin the most flexible lineup of hitters in the league. Zobrist can move back and forth between the infield and outfield, Marcus Semien can fill in anywhere in the infield, and Oakland has several platoon options.

10. Speaking of Zobrist, I’ll write about my all-time all-underrated team on Monday and my current all-underrated team on Tuesday. Zobrist fits the classic profile of an underrated player: draws walks, is a good defender, is durable, has medium-range power. He’s been one of baseball’s best players the past six years.

11. Two keys for the A's: Brett Lawrie has to stay healthy and have a solid season at third base, and Escobar has to bounce back from 2014, when some minor injuries may have contributed to his poor defensive metrics.

12. Outfielder Josh Reddick, initially critical of the Josh Donaldson trade, has apparently jumped back on the Beane bandwagon. He can't wait for the season to start. Me, neither.

13. How about those Seahawks?!?!

14. With their win over the Panthers on Saturday, the Seahawks became the first defending Super Bowl champ since the 2005 Patriots to win a playoff game. Doesn't that seem a little weird? Does it mean that winning the Super Bowl, like winning the World Series, involves a certain amount of luck in the playoffs?

15. With all due respect to the great Kenny Easley, I don't think he was the same kind of force on defense as Kam Chancellor. Yes, that's an old Seahawks reference.

16. I'm not ready to jump on the Padres' bandwagon.

17. I mean, I love the boldness of new general manager A.J. Preller, but I don't like the idea of Wil Myers playing center; Will Middlebrooks just isn't that good. Plus, San Diego's first baseman has no power, and shortstop is an issue.

18. But the Padres are going to be interesting, which is certainly more than has been said about this team in years.

19. There's no reason not to believe in Matt Shoemaker, other than he wasn't good before 2014. But there's nothing that says "fluke" in his numbers: good strikeout rate, excellent control and that great changeup/splitter.

20. Chris Davis will have a much better season in 2015.

21. I'm not so sure about Josh Hamilton, however.

22. Signing Scherzer to a mega-contract doesn't seem like a Cardinals type of move, but they do have to be a little worried about the health of Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha.

23. I don't quite get the rumors about David Price. Shouldn't the Tigers just keep him and maybe sign Scherzer and put out their best team for 2015? How many more great years are they going to get from Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez? Detroit's window is now.

24. Of course, I get that they don't want to cash in so many chips and then turn into the Phillies. But, at age 85, does Tigers owner Mike Ilitch really care about 2019?

25. Jayson Stark wrote about Carlos Delgado getting bumped off the Hall of Fame ballot after one year. I don't see Delgado as a Hall of Famer, and while he did have some monster seasons, he's also way down my list of first basemen with possible Hall of Fame cases. You have Mark McGwire, Fred McGriff, Rafael Palmeiro, John Olerud, Keith Hernandez and Will Clark to consider before you get to Delgado.

26. Juan Lagares made 2.85 outs per nine innings in 2014; the average center fielder made 2.48. That's .37 more plays per game. Willie Mays' career best was .24 plays above the MLB average per nine innings.

27. Let's hope Matt Harvey returns as the same pitcher we saw in 2013.

28. The Braves are going to be terrible. No Jayson Heyward, no Justin Upton. Having Evan Gattis in the outfield and Alberto Callaspo at second base will severely weaken the defense.

29. It's almost like John Hart was a general manager from a different era when he didn't have defensive metrics to examine.

30. If the Braves are indeed just building for 2017 and their new ballpark, why not look to trade Craig Kimbrel?

31. Go see "Selma." It's an important American film with a lesson that still resonates in many ways today.

32. King Felix's changeup makes me smile even in the middle of winter.

33. I've been meaning to write a Mookie Betts/Javier Baez piece, but FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan beat me to it.

34. The answer: Mookie.

35. Your 2015 American League home run champ: Chris Carter.

36. Speaking of the Astros, I predict a huge breakout season for George Springer. Get him on your fantasy team if you can.

37. Your 2015 National League home run champ: Giancarlo Stanton. I know, too easy.

38. I wonder if the Giants will be conservative with Madison Bumgarner's innings, at least in the first couple of months of the season. He ended up throwing 270 innings between the regular season and playoffs, well above the 223 he threw in 2012, when the Giants also won the World Series.

39. If I were to bet on the Yankees either winning the AL East or imploding, I'd go with the implosion.

40. Still, there are enough big names on their roster, and if the rotation stays healthy, it wouldn't shock me if the Yankees did win the division.

41. A young pitcher who could make a big leap forward this year: Drew Hutchison of the Blue Jays.

42. Weren't the Rangers supposed to be in the middle of an AL West dynasty by now?

43. Wish the Indians would make one more move for a bat, but unfortunately they have a lot of bad money invested in Nick Swisher, David Murphy and Michael Bourn.

44. Yes, Corey Kluber will contend for another Cy Young Award.

45. Barry Bonds was intentionally walked 120 times in 2004. That's still maybe the most impressive stat in baseball history.

46. Brandon McCarthy, everyone's favorite smart major league pitcher, thinks PED users should be admitted to Cooperstown. Give that man a vote!

47. Still don't quite understand why the Dodgers gave McCarthy $48 million, however -- considering that he's made more than 25 starts in a season just once during his career.

48. You know, Zobrist would have been a nice acquisition for the Nationals. Maybe they can pry Chase Utley away from the Phillies.

49. I think Yasiel Puig's power will bounce back this year. He might hit 25 home runs -- which would make him a very strong MVP candidate.

50. An important man in 2015: Red Sox outfield coach Arnie Beyeler, who will work with Hanley Ramirez and our man Mookie.

51. I have the March in Paris on TV in the background. Amazing.

52. You can never watch too many videos of puppies playing in snow.

53. A quiet offseason move that could pay nice dividends: Toronto getting Michael Saunders from Seattle. I'll be curious to see how his numbers increase as he escapes the AL West.

54. Of course, he has to stay healthy.

55. A trade that still makes sense: Mark Trumbo to the Mariners. Even if Yasmany Tomas proves he can handle third base for the Diamondbacks, we know Trumbo can't really play left field. The Mariners could still use another right-handed bat, and Trumbo would give them the flexibility to sit Logan Morrison against left-handers and use Nelson Cruz in the outfield at times.

56. I love watching Jonathan Schoop play defense. He can really turn two. It wouldn't surprise me to see him win a Gold Glove this year.

57. Will Stephen Strasburg take a leap forward this year?

58. I think Bryce Harper will make The Leap.

59. If you've never read "Ball Four," why not?

60. I'm enjoying Dan Epstein's "Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of '76."

61. That was the first year I remember watching baseball, and as Epstein's book shows, although it's not remembered as a classic season -- mostly because the World Series was a four-game sweep -- it was a widely entertaining year and an important one. The reserve clause was struck, Charlie Finley fought with Bowie Kuhn, the Yankees fought with the Red Sox, and Bill Veeck had his White Sox players wear shorts.

62. Plus, Mark Fidrych.

63. Here's a good piece on how the Phillies reached this sorry state of affairs.

64. I predict that Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera will each give up at least one home run this season.

65. If you're bored, go watch some highlights of Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon and Jarrod Dyson playing defense.

66. I know everybody is down on the Reds, but if Joey Votto is healthy, Jay Bruce returns to being Jay Bruce and Billy Hamilton improves at the plate, it's not impossible to dream about them being competitive.

67. No, Tim Lincecum isn't going to be better. He's been below replacement level for three seasons now. There is no reason to expect him to turn things around. His road ERA is 5.55 over the past three years. Take him out of AT&T Park, and he's exposed.

68. Casey McGehee won't be the answer at third base for the Giants.

69. Would you take Clayton Kershaw or the field for NL Cy Young?

70. Another fun note about 1976: Joe Morgan led the NL with 1.020 OPS. No other hitter was within 100 points. And he played a key defensive position and won a Gold Glove. He also stole 60 bases in 69 attempts. You can argue that Morgan's level of play that year was as high as any position player's ever. The only knock against him is he missed 21 games.

71. I can't wait to see what Jorge Soler can do over a full season.

72. Also: Rusney Castillo.

73. Kolten Wong or Joe Panik moving forward? I'll take Wong.

74. If I'm drawing up a list of the most important players for 2015, I might start with Justin Verlander.

75. I'm going "Selma" over "Boyhood," "The Imitation Game" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel" for best picture of 2015. Haven't seen "American Sniper" yet, although that could factor in the running as well.

76. Hollywood needs to make more movies about strong and courageous women. Is there a girl version of "Boyhood"? Why not?

77. I have the Pirates even with the Cardinals right now. Not sure why it seems like St. Louis is such a consensus favorite.

78. A signing that isn't going to work out: Torii Hunter and the Twins.

79. Joe Mauer will be better. Right?

80. An interesting thing to watch: How will Mike Trout adjust to all those high fastballs?

81. As that article points out, even as Trout started seeing more high fastballs as the season progressed, he still slugged .502 in the second half. But he also hit just .257 with a .347 OBP.

82. I hope you read Mark Simon's defensive storylines to watch for the National League and American League.

83. If you like spy novels, I recommend Alan Furst's work. Just discovered him last year. He writes hyper-realistic novels set in Europe in the days before World War II. You feel like you're in Paris or Warsaw with war looming.

84. Another guy I can't wait to see: Joc Pederson.

85. A waistline I can't wait to see: Bartolo Colon's.

86. How can you not love Jose Altuve?

87. I'm up to No 87 and haven't even mentioned James Shields yet. So I just did. No idea where he's going to sign. Giants? Red Sox? Cardinals?

88. Guy who will rebound in 2015: Jason Kipnis. He played through some injuries in 2014, so if he's healthy, I wouldn't be surprised to see him back in the All-Star Game.

89. That said, he's up against a tough field of second basemen in the AL: Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, Altuve, underrated Brian Dozier, Ian Kinsler, Zobrist. At least Howie Kendrick got shipped over to the NL.

90. I'd like the Marlins better if Jose Fernandez were going to be ready at the start of the season.

91. A Seahawks-Patriots Super Bowl would be the revenge of Pete Carroll. I want Bill Simmons to write a 25,000-word preview if we get this matchup.

92. I'd take Pedro in his prime over Koufax in his prime and not even hesitate about it.

93. I had the Rays as the sleeper team of 2015 before the Zobrist trade, but losing him is a big blow to the 2015 offense.

94. Chris Archer could be a breakout pitcher, however. If he can cut his walks just a bit, he's ready to become an elite starter.

95. Corey Dickerson > Charlie Blackmon.

96. Yes, the White Sox wore shorts for a game in 1976. How can you not love 1976?

97. Yes, I'll watch the final season of "Mad Men." I'm guessing Don Draper will drink a lot and not much will happen.

98. I rate the Dodgers as the favorites in the NL West, but they are relying on a lot of old players and injury-prone pitchers: Juan Uribe will be 36; Jimmy Rollins is 36; Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford are 33; Howie Kendrick is 31; and McCarthy and Brett Anderson haven't been the picture of health. The Dodgers do have depth on the roster, but there's a good chance they'll need it.

99. Pirates' outfield or Marlins' outfield: Which do you like more?

100. Edgar Martinez is a deserving Hall of Famer. Come on, I've managed to work Edgar into just about everything else I've written lately! I promise this will be my last Edgar reference for ... well, OK, I don't want to make a guarantee I can't keep. Just check out his Baseball-Reference page.
Yes, nothing much is going on in baseball unless you want to complain about the Yankees' payroll, but that's an old topic.

So I was on an email chain with some friends the other day, and my friend Messina joked about when the first middle reliever will get inducted into the Hall of Fame. Which led somebody else to ask, "Who are the best middle relievers of all time?" I suggested Jeff Nelson. Somebody else suggested Kent Tekulve.

Which gets us to this post. Tekulve, the skinny, bespectacled submariner with the Pirates and Phillies in the 1970s and '80s, spent much too time as a closer to qualify for this list -- 184 career saves. I want guys who were true middle relievers their entire careers. I set these parameters: at least 80 percent of career games in relief, fewer than 50 saves and the highest career WAR.

Let's see who we get ...

10. Scot Shields (12.2 WAR) -- Shields was a rookie on the 2002 World Series champion Angels and did make 13 starts in 2003 before going on a nice run in the bullpen. From 2002 to 2008, he posted a 2.98 ERA when offense was still high, and he threw 105.1 innings in 2004 (only one reliever since has topped 100 innings, Scott Proctor in 2006).

9. Matt Thornton (12.7 WAR) -- Thornton was a first-round pick of the Mariners in 1998 but didn't reach the majors until 2004. Too wild as a starter, the hard-throwing lefty made one start as a rookie but has been in relief ever since and has just 23 career saves. He did get a chance to be the White Sox's closer at the start of 2011 but blew saves in four of his five appearances and was moved back to a setup role. He has a career 3.43 ERA and even made the 2010 All-Star team.

8. Eric Plunk (13.4 WAR) -- A big right-hander who helped set up Dennis Eckersley with the A's in 1988 and '89, Plunk had a good stretch of work from '88 through '96 with the A's, Yankees and Indians, posting a 3.19 ERA over 722 innings. Known for his thick glasses, Plunk was also involved in two different trades for Rickey Henderson (he went to the A's when the Yankees got Henderson and then went to the Yankees when the A's got Henderson back), which is at least the answer to a trivia question.

7. Larry Andersen (13.7 WAR) -- Yes, Andersen with an "e." Andersen has an even more infamous trade background: He was the guy the Astros sent to the Red Sox to acquire a minor leaguer named Jeff Bagwell. Now a broadcaster with the Phillies, Andersen had a tremendous two-year peak in '89 and '90 (when he was traded) with ERAs under 2.00 both years while pitching a combined 183.1 innings.

6. Jeff Nelson (14.8 WAR) -- So I had a good guess. A 6-foot-8 guy who came from the side with a hard, sweeping slider (maybe the biggest-breaking slider I've ever seen), Nellie was death to right-handers. I don't know how right-handed batters ever hit it. He came up with the Mariners and went to the Yankees along with Tino Martinez in a bad trade by the Mariners. He was a key guy for the Yankees as they won four titles in five years, posting a 3.24 ERA in the postseason over those five seasons in 36 appearances.

5. Joaquin Benoit (14.8 WAR) -- Benoit is up to 48 career saves, so he might get bumped off this list next year. Not that we'll run this list again next year. I forgot that the Rangers kept trying to make him a starter when he first came up; he made 55 starts early in his career before moving to the bullpen (he had a 6.06 career ERA as a starter, so that time didn't help his WAR total).

4. Arthur Rhodes (15.0 WAR) -- Rhodes was a top pitching prospect in the minors who reached the majors right at the dawn of the steroids era. Maybe if he'd come up at another time he'd have eventually settled in; the mid-'90s ruined many young pitching prospects. Rhodes lasted until he was 41, pitching for nine teams, mostly with the Orioles and Mariners. He joined the Cardinals at the end of 2011 in his final season and won a ring with them.

3. Steve Reed (17.7 WAR) -- Another sidearmer/submariner, Reed's best years came with the Rockies in the mid-'90s, so his dominant seasons look better once you factor in Coors Field. He had a 2.15 ERA in 84 innings in 1995, valued at 4.1 WAR, and a career 3.63 ERA.

2. Paul Quantrill (18.0 WAR) -- This is getting exciting! Quantrill spent his first few years starting and relieving before taking his sinker permanently to the bullpen in 1997. In the heart of the steroids era, he had a 2.81 ERA from 1997 to 2003 with the Blue Jays and Dodgers. The rubber-armed Quantrill led his league in appearances each season from 2001 to 2004. That was his last good year, as Joe Torre ran him into the ground with 86 games and 95 innings. In Game 4 of the ALCS, it was Quantrill who gave up David Ortiz's 12th-inning walk-off home run.

1. Mark Eichhorn (19.3 WAR) -- Fittingly, we end with another sidearmer. How he became a sidearmer is interesting. He reached the majors with Toronto in 1982 with a conventional style and made seven starts but hurt his shoulder, forcing him to eventually drop down with a release point below his belt. He didn't make it back to the majors until 1986, when he had one of the great relief seasons of all time with the Blue Jays. He went 14-6 with a 1.72 ERA and 10 saves while pitching 157 innings -- all in relief -- with 166 strikeouts (Eichhorn didn't have quite enough innings to qualify, but no starter averaged more strikeouts per nine in the AL that year). At 7.4, Baseball-Reference ranks it only behind Goose Gossage's 1975 season and John Hiller's 1973 season for single-season relief WAR. The next year, Eichhorn pitched 89 games and 127.2 innings. He had other fine seasons like a 1.98 ERA in 82 innings for the Angels in 1991 before finishing up his career in 1996.

So there you go. Just in case you want to impress your friends with obscure baseball knowledge.

Defensive storylines of the offseason: NL

January, 8, 2015
Jan 8
10:15
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Getty ImagesJason Heyward, Miguel Montero and Howie Kendrick are notable defense-minded acquisitions.

The major league baseball offseason still has a way to go, but I thought I'd take a look at how teams have changed defensively heading into 2015.

Here's a look at the National League:

 

NL East

Atlanta Braves
Every move the Braves made this offseason weakened them considerably defensively.

First they traded the best defensive right fielder in baseball in Jason Heyward to the Cardinals (for fear of losing him in free agency next offseason) and signed Nick Markakis (now recovering from neck surgery) to replace him. The difference defensively may be a couple of wins alone (just for all the balls that Heyward chased down in the right-field corner that others don't reach).

They also traded Justin Upton with the intent of plugging the hole in left field with Evan Gattis. That could be dicey, given that Gattis chalked up -10 runs saved in 48 games in left field in 2013.

They signed Alberto Callaspo to play second base. He's accumulated -28 defensive runs saved there in the past six seasons.

And lastly, to mentor Christian Bethancourt, they signed A.J. Pierzynski. All Pierzynski did was rank 34th in defensive runs saved among the 35 catchers with the most innings played last season (-11).

Miami Marlins
The Marlins remade their infield, though not in a great way with Michael Morse penned in at first base (-5 career runs saved there) and Dee Gordon at second (-5 runs saved). Gordon at least looked comfortable at the position and there's potential for improvement there. Martin Prado was a good get from the Yankees. He has 24 runs saved at third base dating back to the start of the 2010 season and is definitely an improvement over Casey McGehee.

New York Mets
The Mets don't necessarily have their shortstop yet, and who that is could go a long way in determining their level of offseason success. It could end up being Wilmer Flores by default. Flores had minimal range in a tryout there last season, but proved skilled at converting outs on balls hit at him and at turning double plays.

The corner outfield also could be a bit shaky. Michael Cuddyer typically rates among the worst defensive outfielders in baseball and his and Curtis Granderson's aging legs in right and left field respectively could create a lot of extra ground for amazing center fielder Juan Lagares to cover.

Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies need to find some defensive skill among their young players, as they traded two of the few players on their roster who were decent defensively in Marlon Byrd and Jimmy Rollins. Looks like we'll find out if Freddy Galvis can play shortstop full-time. In 41 games there, he's at -4 defensive runs saved.

Washington Nationals
The much anticipated move of Ryan Zimmerman to first base will finally come to fruition now that Adam LaRoche has signed with the White Sox. Zimmerman, a former Web Gem champ at third, hasn't been the same since he hurt his right shoulder, limiting his throwing ability.

The Nationals also signed Dan Uggla to a minor league deal. His usage should anything happen to Danny Espinosa could be problematic. Twice in the past four seasons, Uggla has ranked last among second basemen in defensive runs saved. Perhaps he could get a look at first base as well.

 

NL Central

Chicago Cubs
The Cubs' most visible defensive overhaul comes behind the plate, where Miguel Montero and David Ross, both excellent in the pitch-framing department, replace Welington Castillo, who ranked among the worst in that area.

"Framing is something [Montero] does well, especially in the low part of the zone which is important for us," said Cubs president Theo Epstein. "We have a lot of guys that pitch down there. He had outstanding framing numbers last season which jibes with the narrative of Henry Blanco working with him [in Arizona]. They really focused on that. It's a nice thing to have. He can steal a couple strikes here and there for your pitching staff."

Cincinnati Reds
The Reds had done little this offseason that tinkered with their defense until trading for Marlon Byrd.

Byrd should be a nice fit in left field for a year, though he's played only two games there in the past five seasons. He's been credited with 18 defensive runs saved the past two seasons in right field, which is currently occupied by Jay Bruce.

Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers finally found a first baseman to replace Prince Fielder by trading for Adam Lind, but he's a shaky defender there (-13 career runs saved). There is an addition by subtraction element with the departure of second baseman Rickie Weeks, but Scooter Gennett needs to improve, lest he'll give the team below average production at that position. In short, this could be a very shaky infield. But at least the Brewers have Carlos Gomez and (at least sometimes) Gerardo Parra in the outfield to make up for it.

Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates couldn't afford Russell Martin, so they went back to the well that yielded him and Chris Stewart by trading for another good pitch framer (though one likely not in Martin's class) in Francisco Cervelli. The Stewart/Cervelli platoon will make for an interesting experiment.

Pittsburgh also will have a new first baseman with the move of Pedro Alvarez there and Corey Hart as his backup. Sean Rodriguez, in his jack-of-all-trades role, could also see time there, as he's someone capable of filling in defensively just about anywhere.

St. Louis Cardinals
The team with the most defensive runs saved in baseball last season just got better with the outstanding Jason Heyward patrolling right field. His defense could add a couple of wins by itself, considering Cardinals outfielders combined for -4 runs saved there last season.

 

NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks face two questions regarding their defense heading into spring training.

Can Yasmany Tomas handle third base?

Who is going to catch with the trade of Miguel Montero to the Cubs?

The answer to each is unknown. What is known is that Mark Trumbo is not a great fit in such a spacious outfield (to his credit, he is a good first baseman), but he'll be given another shot in left field.

Colorado Rockies
It sounds like the Rockies are going to try to see if former Gold Glove winner Carlos Gonzalez can shift to right field full-time, with Corey Dickerson now in left. The sample size on Gonzalez is less than 1,000 career innings there, but the results are decent (9 runs saved).

Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers will look very different on the defensive side with a new double-play combination in Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick (described by team president Andrew Friedman as "dynamic players on both sides of the ball"), rookie Joc Pederson in center and a stellar pitch framer in Yasmani Grandal behind the plate.

"There's no question we're going to be significantly better defensively. I think it's going to help on the run-prevention side quite a bit," Friedman said earlier this offseason.

San Diego Padres
The Padres have an all-new outfield with some combination of Matt Kemp (most likely in right), Wil Myers (most likely in center) and Justin Upton (most likely in left).

The hope will have to be that they hit more than they let in. Kemp doesn't rate well at any of the three outfield spots, so it's a matter of finding where he'll do the least damage. Myers is basically stuck playing center by default, but given that he was at -11 runs saved over two seasons in right field, who knows how that will go.

Upton is great at getting to balls, but there's only so far he can go playing left field, and his throwing arm tends to spray balls all over the place.

The one thing the Padres do have going for them is that they can put a better defensive team on the field late in games, with Cameron Maybin and newly acquired infielder Clint Barmes serving a useful role on the bench.

San Francisco Giants
The big thing to watch will be how much the Giants miss the presence of Pablo Sandoval, who was actually a very good defensive third baseman when he was in good shape (such as last season). Casey McGehee has never rated particularly well at the position and we'll see how big a drop-off he represents.

Joe Panik rated about average at second base in a 70-game look in 2014, though he looked better than that in the postseason. He should get a full-time look there in 2015.
I don't have a Hall of Fame vote since I've been a BBWAA member for only one year. Will there even be a Hall of Fame in nine years when I'll be eligible to vote?

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.
The other night I was watching MLB Network's Hall of Fame discussion show when Marty Noble, longtime writer and columnist for Newsday and now a contributor to MLB.com, explained why his ballot this year would include only Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz, saying something like, "You don't even have to think about those three or do any research. You just know they're Hall of Famers."

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:

Mussina: 82.7
Schilling: 80.7
Brown: 68.5
Smoltz: 66.5
Cone: 61.7

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:

1. Schilling
2. Mussina
3. Smoltz
4. Brown
5. Cone

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.


Byrd heads to Reds, but is Hamels next?

December, 31, 2014
12/31/14
4:45
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Marlon ByrdAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarMarlon Byrd will bring the Reds some thunder with his lumber from the right side.


The easiest thing to say about the Reds getting Marlon Byrd is that it’s good for the Reds and good for Marlon Byrd.

To really belabor the obvious, Byrd is a right-handed outfielder with power going to a ballpark that rewards right-handed batters with power. The Reds have been pretty unfamiliar with that kind of guy lately. As ESPN Stats & Info relates, the Reds’ righty outfield bats hit an NL-low 25 home runs despite playing in Great American Ballpark, which, according to Baseball Info Solutions, is tied for the highest park index for right-handed homers (133) in the major leagues over the last three years. (To anticipate the question if you haven’t already picked up your copy of the new Bill James Handbook -- and why haven’t you? -- the Gap is tied with Miller Park.)

So Byrd addresses an obvious need. Given his career .308/.353/.508 line when he has visited the Gap, he should be set up nicely for two good years over the remainder of his contract if the Reds pick up an $8 million club option for 2016. Sure, it will be park-aided, but that’s because Byrd has the ability to exploit the ballpark’s homer-happy features. And it will contribute to Byrd’s ongoing late-career renaissance. While most players peak in their late 20s, Byrd has slugged 51 points higher in his 30s (.445) than he did in his 20s (.394).

You can credit a lot of factors for that unusual development: his work with Rangers and later Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo; a good ballpark or two; but perhaps most of all, the hard work he put in, taking better care of himself than perhaps he had at the start of his career. Byrd’s a great example of what a ballplayer can control and change about himself at the pro level. He’s a great fit for the Reds, providing an excellent bookend in an outfield that already features Jay Bruce’s lefty power and last year’s breakout rookie, Billy Hamilton, in center.

But what do I really love about this deal? Not that the Phillies got prospect Ben Lively, the Reds’ minor league player of the year; a good arm is a good thing, and Lively’s mix of low-90s heat with good command and promising off-speed stuff will be sure to put him close to the top of the Phillies’ prospect possibilities. That’s a decent haul for a team that’s rebuilding. And I’m not at all excited about the payroll savings the Phillies will realize, even as they ate a small cash salad on the side to put Byrd in Cincinnati.

No, what I really love about this deal is that it opens an outfield slot for the Phillies. A slot where Padre-of-the-moment Wil Myers might fit very nicely should the Cole Hamels-to-San Diego rumor heat up again. Add in the Padres’ acquisition Tuesday of live-armed Mariners hurler Brandon Maurer, and you can see how Padres GM A.J. Preller is building a mound of talent from other people’s organizations that might provide an excellent package for the Phillies in return for Hamels -- while also perhaps being able to hold on to the Padres’ top prospects, like Matt Wisler or Hunter Renfroe. Because if there’s one thing we seem to have learned about Preller in short order: Like a baseball Godfather, he’ll find a way to make you an offer you can’t refuse.


Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.
In any given season, there are more future Hall of Famers than you probably realize at first glance. Take 1994. Eighteen current Hall of Famers played that season, which was a strike-shortened one that didn't include any late-season call-ups. So did Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Craig Biggio, who should get elected this year. And John Smoltz, who may get in the Hall in 2015. Future locks like Ken Griffey Jr. (eligible in 2016) and Jim Thome (2018), as well as strong candidates currently on the ballot like Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez, Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina also played in 1994. So did guys not yet on the ballot, such as Vladimir Guerrero, Ivan Rodriguez and Omar Vizquel.

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.


SportsNation

Which of these players in their 30s will have the best Hall of Fame case?

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    27%
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    4%
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    27%
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    38%
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    4%

Discuss (Total votes: 7,603)

3. 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.

SportsNation

Which of these players in their 20s will have the best Hall of Fame case?

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    7%
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    18%
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    43%
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    4%
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    28%

Discuss (Total votes: 9,459)

14. 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.
Over the weekend, I saw "The Imitation Game," the story of British mathematician Alan Turing. Turing helped crack the German Enigma code machine during World War II, allowing the Allies to decipher German secret messages and help bring an earlier end to the war. The movie was sophisticated and compelling and is a definite Oscar contender.

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:


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:

SportsNation

In general, how many Hall of Famers would you like to see elected each year?

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    3%
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    13%
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    33%
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    32%
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    19%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,922)

2005: Seven (two elected)
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:

2014: 8.4
2013: 6.6
2012: 5.1
2011: 6.0
2010: 5.7

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.

4. Steroids.

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.

Buster Olney:
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.)

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.
Tom Verducci:
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.




(Hal) McRae was the most aggressive baserunner of the 1970s, a man who left home plate thinking "double" every time he hit the ball. The rule allowing the second base umpire to call a double play if the runner from first leaves the baseline to take out the pivot man is known informally as the McRae Rule. He was probably thrown out on the bases, I would guess, 40 times a season. He took the lessons of the early days of the Big Red Machine, and transmitted them to the Kansas City Royals, becoming the unquestioned clubhouse leader of the team that dominated the division from 1976 through 1985.
-- Bill James, "The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract"


When Bill James wrote that, he didn't have to access to all the detailed historical play-by-play data -- compiled by researchers at Retrosheet and available at websites such as Baseball-Reference.com -- that we have now.

As it turns out, he was a little off on his guess about McRae. McRae did get thrown out a lot, but nothing close to 40 times a season. I don't think any manager would put up with a player who got thrown out once every four games for long. McRae's highest total came in 1978, when he made 18 outs on the bases, including nine at home plate. If you include caught stealing -- I'm not sure if James factored them in, but it doesn't sound like he did -- McRae's total was 26.

Here are McRae's year-by-year totals for outs on the bases during his prime years with the Royals, not including the times he was caught stealing:

1974: 5
1975: 10
1976: 12
1977: 10
1978: 18
1979: 12
1980: 7
1981: 4
1982: 9
1983: 9

So, is 18 a lot? I'll get to that in a moment, but I thought of James' quote about McRae this past season while watching some of Yasiel Puig's baserunning adventures. Like this one.

As it turns out, Puig led the majors with 15 outs on the bases in 2014, according to Baseball-Reference. Puig also got picked off three times, and those don't appear to be part of his outs-on-the-bases total. (He also got picked off/caught stealing a fourth time, which is already accounted for in his caught stealing total. He was just 11-for-18 stealing bases. Really, keeping track of baserunning statistics is somewhat complicated.)

Is Puig the Hal McRae of his generation? Obviously, Puig's aggressive baserunning leads to some positive results, like stretching this single into a double. But are the bases gained worth the bases lost?

* * * *

Obviously, or maybe not so obviously, the worst baserunners are the slowest ones, even if they don't get caught trying to stretch a single into a double or going from first to third on a single. They don't get caught because they never try for the extra base. Billy Butler of the Royals went first-to-third on a single just once in 31 tries in 2014 (the league average was 29 percent) and scored from second on a base hit just once in 10 opportunities. According to a measurement of baserunning from Baseball Info Solutions, Butler's net gain on the bases was minus-31 -- including double plays grounded into. (Baserunning gain is defined as "the total of all the types of extra baserunning advances minus the triple penalty for all the baserunning outs compared with what would be expected based on the MLB averages.") That tied with Alex Avila of the Tigers as the worst total in the majors.

Compare that to Ben Revere of the Phillies, who had the majors' highest net gain in 2014 at plus-54. Some of that is his stolen base value but he went first-to-third successfully eight out of 22 times and second to home 16 out of 24.

The slow guys don't really get called out that often even though they're hurting their team. According to Baseball-Reference's evaluation, Revere's baserunning was valued at 9.4 runs, topping Jose Reyes (9.1) and Dee Gordon (9.0) for most valuable baserunner of 2014. Casey McGehee, who grounded into 31 double plays, tops the worst list at minus-6.8 runs. Butler ranked 11th at minus-4.4 runs. Here is the bottom 10 for 2014:

1. McGehee, -6.8 runs
2. Victor Martinez, -6.4
3. Avila, -6.1
4. Brian McCann, -5.4
5. Alberto Callaspo, -5.1
6. Brayan Pena, -5.1
7. David Ortiz, -5.0
8. Matt Kemp, -4.9
9. Albert Pujols, -4.7
10. Adrian Gonzalez, -4.6

A bunch of slow guys plus one player, Kemp, who isn't regarded as a plodder. Kemp took the extra base 41 percent of the time, right at the league average of 40 percent, but a far cry from the 62 percent rate at which he advanced back in 2011. It's pretty clear that he's lost some of his speed, which is probably one reason his defensive metrics are also horrible. Kemp made nine outs on the bases, was picked off twice, was just 8-for-13 stealing bases and grounded into 21 double plays.

Since 1950 -- the first season for which there is complete play-by-play data -- Baseball-Reference's worst baserunning season belongs to Randy Milligan of the 1991 Orioles, who rated at minus-11.2 runs. That year, Milligan made six outs on the bases, was picked off twice, went 0-for-5 as a base stealer, grounded into 23 double plays and took the extra base just 25 percent of the time. Oddly, he had taken the extra base in 53 percent of his opportunities the year before, so he either lost his "speed" overnight or got injured.

The 10 worst baserunning seasons since 1950:

1. Randy Milligan, 1991 Orioles, -11.2 runs
2. Cecil Fielder, 1993 Tigers, -9.6 runs
3. J.T. Snow, 2000 Giants, -9.4 runs
4. Paul Konerko, 2006 White Sox, -9.3 runs
5. Dave Parker, 1985 Reds, -9.3 runs
6. Magglio Ordonez, 2008 White Sox, -8.7 runs
7. Kenji Johjima, 2007 Mariners, -8.5 runs
8. Harmon Killebrew, 1970 Twins, -8.5 runs
9. Billy Butler, 2010 Royals, -8.1 runs
10. Mike Piazza, 1996 Dodgers, -8.0 runs

No surprises on that list, which includes a bunch of big, slow guys who grounded into a lot of double plays and rarely took the extra base. Fielder took the extra base just 19 percent of the time in 1993, Snow 21 percent in 2000, Johjima just 17 percent in 2007. Parker was a little faster but was 5-for-18 stealing bases.

* * * *

That's one list. What I was really more interested in was the McRae/Puig issue. Is Puig hurting or helping his team on the bases? His net gain in 2014 was minus-12 bases, and that's despite grounding into just seven double plays. Puig was perhaps a little more cautious on the bases in 2014, as his extra-base advancement percentage fell from 58 in 2013 to 47. Now, that net gain isn't factoring in singles that were stretched into doubles, or doubles into triples, which is why measuring baserunning can be difficult (although Baseball Info Solutions does track this, as well).

McRae, for example, did hit a lot of doubles, twice leading his league and ranking in the top five six other times. How many of those were obtained by sheer hustle? Still, Baseball-Reference rates McRae as a negative baserunner for his career.

As it turns out, 18 outs on the bases is a lot ... but only the second-highest total in a season since 1950. In 2004, Chone Figgins of the Angels made 20 outs on the bases: five at first base, four at second, four at third and seven at home. He also got picked off once, which isn't included in his 13 caught stealings. Figgins did steal 34 bases that year and had an extra-base advancement rate of 62 percent; still, his overall baserunning value that year comes out to zero runs. All the good stuff was cancelled out by the additional outs.

Most outs on the bases since 1950:

1. Chone Figgins, 2004: 20
2. Hal McRae, 1978: 18
3. Carl Yastrzemski, 1963: 17
4. Yonder Alonso, 2012: 17
5. Dick Allen, 1965: 16
6. Pete Rose, 1977: 16
7. Vince Coleman, 1986: 16
8. Albert Pujols, 2012: 16

Then a bunch of guys at 15, including Puig in 2014.

That was the only year McRae led the league in outs on the bases. In a fun twist, his son Brian had the most outs on the bases in 1993.

Rose deserves special mention here. He led the majors in outs on the bases in 1977, 1980 and 1981. He was old by then, and apparently in denial that he had lost a step or three. In 1977, he was also thrown out at home plate 11 times, the highest single-season total since 1980.

And honorable mention for worst baserunner: Harold Reynolds, a player from the Mariners of my youth. Reynolds was pretty fast. He led the American League in 1987 with 60 stolen bases -- but he was caught stealing 20 times. He made 13 outs on the bases, including seven at home plate. He was also picked off 10 times, seven of which weren't included in the caught stealing total. Reynolds led the league in steals but his overall baserunning value was minus-3 runs.

He was even worse the next season, when he was just 35-for-64 stealing bases, made seven outs on the bases (four at home) and got picked off seven times. His baserunning value was minus-7 runs.

Is Puig the worst baserunner of all time? No. Does he make a few too many mental mistakes on the bases and hurt his team? Yes. But perhaps his future as a network analyst is secure.

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