SweetSpot: Alex Rodriguez

TAMPA, Fla. -- The first baseman described by none other than Brian Cashman as the best hitter in the New York Yankees' organization was just a student. Greg Bird was at Single-A Charleston listening as intently as possible to the guest lecturer. Every word meant something to Bird because of who was saying them and the simple message he was delivering.

It was the crazy Yankees summer of 2013. Alex Rodriguez was on the verge of being suspended for more than a year while simultaneously trying to come back from hip surgery. He was making back-page news daily, leading "SportsCenter" nightly and annoying the Yankees' front office regularly.

But at each stop in the minors on his rehab from hip surgery, A-Rod was allowed to push aside Biogenesis for a few minutes and serve as a teacher. Bird, then in his first season of pro ball, was eager to listen.

[+] EnlargeGreg Bird
AP Photo/David GoldmanYankees prospect Greg Bird is thankful for the advice he received from Alex Rodriguez in 2013.

“Some of the things that he told us still is some of the best advice I've ever gotten as a hitter, just as far as professional baseball went,” Bird, now in his first big-league camp, said the other day.

A-Rod told Bird and the rest of the Single-A Charleston River Dogs that the higher the level you go, the easier the game becomes -- the stadiums are nicer, the lights are better, the umpires are more precise, on and on. A-Rod also gave practical advice on hitting, making it simple.

In each at-bat since, Bird has taken with him the intelligence that, according to A-Rod, not even in the big leagues can a pitcher fire three straight fastballs on the inside corner on the black.

“He is not even worried about it,” said Bird, a 22-year-old, 6-foot-3, 215-pound, left-handed first baseman. “You can’t worry about the inner half of the plate because if you do, you give up the outer half. You give up off-speed pitches. Just hearing that out of his mouth that first full season was big. It stuck with me ever since.”

Bird not only took in Rodriguez’s advice, he caught A-Rod’s eye. Rodriguez, before Bird was on many top prospects lists, singled out Bird, saying Bird had a swing and an approach that could make him the next great Yankees hitter.

“I've seen enough baseball that you see a guy in a uniform and you see the way it comes off his bat [you can tell],” A-Rod said.

Bird and Aaron Judge -- whom Reggie Jackson compared to Dave Winfield, among others -- are looked at as possibly the future foundation of the Bronx Bombers. While Judge has received a little more publicity, Bird could soon push Mark Teixeira for playing time.

“You want a hitter who's got high-end hitting ability, high-end plate discipline, high-end power,” Cashman said. “Not just one of them."

Hitting coach Jeff Pentland added, “He has easy power. He doesn't have to swing hard to hit it hard. That’s a good thing.”

In 2014 in Single-A and Double-A, Bird hit .271 with 14 homers and 41 RBIs in 102 games. His OPS was .848.

Cashman said Bird will start 2015 at Double-A Trenton. Cashman also said Bird will dictate when he is promoted by how he plays.

“It is a performance-driven business,” Cashman said.

The head of the Yankees’ amateur scouting, Damon Oppenheimer, is the man who pulled the trigger on drafting Bird out of Aurora, Colorado's Grandview High School in the fifth round in 2011. Bird was a catcher then headed for Arkansas, but the Yankees offered $1.1 million to convince Bird to skip college. For Bird, it was an easy choice.

“I always wanted to play professional baseball,” Bird said.

While A-Rod’s tale offers more than a few cautions, his love for the game is something that can be emulated. When you speak with Bird, you sense that same joy for baseball.

Bird lived his first 10 years in Memphis, Triple-A home to the Cardinals, so he grew up sort of a Cardinals fan, but really he just loved the game, everything about it. Like A-Rod, he just wants to play it, watch it and talk it.

Even at lunch the other day, A-Rod said he sat with Bird and Judge talking about the game. The youngsters asked more questions and listened.

“That tells me they have a chance to be big stars in this league,” A-Rod said.

This is what the players should have done back in 1995 or 1998 or 2001: Police themselves.

The new agreement between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association creates even harsher penalties for those players who violate the Joint Drug Program: A first suspension increases from 50 games to 80 and a second one from 100 to 162. A third positive still results in permanent suspension. Further, if you're suspended during the season you're ineligible to play in the postseason, even if your suspension has elapsed.

By agreeing to the rules and these expanded penalties, the players have made it even more clear that they want the game cleaned up and kept clean. No more Ryan Brauns, no more Jhonny Peraltas and definitely no more Alex Rodriguezes (one A-Rod is undoubtedly enough). In theory, tougher penalties will curb PED usage, although that's purely speculative; we don't really know how many players are using now and how many are getting away with it. In a recent ESPN The Magazine survey of major leaguers, one player suggested PED use is next to zero while another estimated 20 percent of players are still using. So even the players aren't exactly sure what's going on, let alone how many players are currently skirting the drug tests.
[+] EnlargeRyan Braun
Courtesy is Jerry CrasnickExpanded PED penalties for all players might be Ryan Braun's less happy legacy.

Why the urgency for players to want changes? There was a lot of negative reaction from players when Peralta, coming off a PED suspension with the Tigers, signed a four-year, $53 million contract with the Cardinals this offseason. What penalty did Peralta pay? He missed 50 games, but he still played in the postseason with Detroit and then got a fat contract from the Cardinals.

Of course, these new rules won't necessarily change that potential outcome, although there is now greater risk for those teams who sign a player who has previously been suspended.

Aside from the lengths of the suspensions, modifications include more in-season random urine collections (from 1,400 to 3,200) in addition to the 1,200 mandatory collections from players on the 40-man major league roster during spring training and 1,200 more during the season. In theory, this will make it more difficult to beat the drug testers. More testing means that, during the season, anybody using will be rolling the dice because they're at that much more risk of being caught. There will also be more blood tests for human growth hormone. The two sides also agreed to add DHEA -- an endogenous steroid hormone found in supplements and widely available -- to the list of banned substances, although with less stringent penalties (follow-up testing for a first violation, 25-game suspension for a second violation, 80 games for a third and permanent suspension for a fourth).

Some will argue the new rules still aren't tough enough; some will argue they're too harsh, especially if a player tests positive for inadvertently using a product with a banned substance (there are allowances for that if a player can prove it was accidental). Some will argue this all just a big waste of time since PEDs don't really help all that much anyway.

The one thing the new modifications don't account for is the high percentage of MLB players allowed to use ADHD medication. Last season, 119 players were granted therapeutic use exemptions (or TUE) for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and allowed to use medication that basically acts as a stimulant. Stimulants are banned in the JDE if you're not granted a TUE. That 119 total was approximately 14 percent of the players on Opening Day rosters or disabled lists. The percentage of adults ages 18 to 44 with ADHD is estimated at 4.4 percent, so it seems fairly clear that MLB players are abusing this loophole.

In the end, the players wanted a cleaner game and they're the ones who have made this happen. Bud Selig will surely claim this as another check mark on his legacy list but we know he slept on this issue for at least a decade.

If you want to credit anyone, give credit to Tony Clark, the new head of the MLBPA, for his being willing to modify the current agreement. You can call this another win for the owners but I call it a win for the players.
We talked a lot about Mike Trout in Tuesday's chat session. Following up on that, a couple Trout links to check out.

Buster Olney writes today:
If Trout were a free agent right now and told teams he would only sign a one-year deal, what would he get?

The responses to this purely hypothetical question, from club officials around MLB, invariably began with laughter Tuesday afternoon -- not at the mode of examination, but because the numbers would be so ridiculously enormous.

"I'd think the bidding would begin at $35 million," said one evaluator, "and wind up somewhere in the range of $45 million to $50 million."

Said a second evaluator: "If he was on the open market and the Dodgers had a chance to get him -- and pull him away from the Angels -- he'd get $50 million."

Meanwhile, the crew at Baseball Prospectus dreams up trade scenarios for Trout. I wrote in my chat that Trout is basically untradeable, four years from free agency. If you view him, somewhat conservatively, as a 9-WAR player, that's 36 WAR of value you're trading away. You have to luck into an enormously talented group of prospects to earn that back if you trade for young guys; but if you trade for veteran players, you're picking up too much salary (which the Angels, already hammered with the Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols contracts, wouldn't want to do).

Here's the first trade the BP folks came up with:

1. The Orioles Deal Manny Machado and Kevin Gausman
There aren't too many organizations in baseball who can boast a pre-arb one-two punch strong enough to offer a duo for Trout and not get laughed out of the room. For the Orioles, the duo of Manny Machado and Kevin Gausman is plenty powerful to accomplish that goal (of not getting laughed out of the room, that is).

I love Manny Machado like my old Dave Concepcion glove from Little League, but I wouldn't do that trade if I'm the Angels. Trout is better than Machado and Gausman is still too much of an unproven commodity to guarantee making up the difference.

There are a couple more serious suggestions before the article quickly deteriorates to comedy. That's how good Trout is: He's so good you can't even come up with enough plausible trade scenarios.

The other thing I mentioned in the chat was that I'd write something on thebkind of contracts all-time great players would receive as free agents in 2014 if we could transport them from the past. In other words, if Willie Mays had the same value as when he played and reached free agency after his first six full seasons, what kind of contract could he expect?

The first step is evaluating what the current market is for free agents. The Mariners gave Robinson Cano $240 million over 10 years. Dan Szymborski's ZiPS system projects Cano being worth 35.3 WAR over the life of that contract, or $6.8 million per win. The Yankees gave Jacoby Ellsbury $153 million for seven years. His projected ZiPS WAR of 22.0 gives a value of $6.96 million per win.

Those numbers may seem high, but that's the going rate for an elite player, especially when you consider that the cost per win may continue to increase in the future. For the purpose of this study, we're actually going to use a slightly lower figure of $6.5 million per win.

Anyway, over the past two seasons, Cano was worth 16.1 WAR. Trout has been worth 20.1 WAR. Keep those figures in mind.

Willie Mays: Free agent after 1958 (entering age-28 season)
We're not giving credit to Mays for missing the 1953 season while in military service, so he reaches free agency after hitting .347/.419/.583 with 29 home runs and a league-leading 31 steals in 1958. The home run total was actually a low mark for him: Over the previous five seasons he'd averaged .328 and 38 home runs. His two-year WAR total was 18.5 and he'd played 150 games each season (in a 154-game schedule).

So you're talking about a Gold-Glove, power-hitting center fielder who had led the NL in steals three years in a row reaching free agency at 28. So he's three years younger than Cano and a better hitter, faster, better defensively and just as durable. We could project his 10-year WAR totals at something like this: 9.5, 9.0, 8.5, 8.0, 7.5, 6.5, 5.5, 4.5, 4.0, 3.0. That's 66 WAR. At $6.5 million per win, that's a $429 million contract.

Too much money? According to Baseball-Reference.com, Mays was actually worth 88.8 WAR from ages 28 to 37, including an amazing run from ages 31 to 34 where he topped 10 WAR each season.

Mickey Mantle: Free agent after 1957 (entering age-26 season)
Mantle was called up during the 1951 season, so he hits free agency after his seventh season in the majors. What he had done: Well, in 1956, he hit .353 with 52 home runs and won the Triple Crown. In 1957, he hit .365 with 34 home runs and a .512 OBP. His WAR over those two seasons was 22.6. At that point in his career, he also looked pretty durable, averaging 147 games per season the previous four years.

Imagine a guy with a .512 on-base percentage hitting free agency in the prime of his career, a switch-hitter with enormous power who played a premium defensive position? Magic Johnson may sign over his entire movie theater chain to sign him.

What could we project for Mantle? He was more valuable at the plate than Mays due to his ability to draw walks -- a skill that ages well. He wasn't the defensive player that Mays was, however, so maybe you would project that he'd move to right field at some point during the contract, lowering his value a bit. Let's say something like 11.0, 11.0, 10.5, 9.5, 8.5, 8.0, 7.0, 6.0, 5.5, 4.5. That's 81.5 WAR from ages 26 to 35. At our $6.5 million per win estimate, that's a $530 million contract.

Frankly, it's going to be hard to top Mantle since he was at his absolute peak when he would have hit his fictional free agency. As it turns out, he earned 55.5 WAR over those 10 years.

Babe Ruth: Free agent after 1920 (entering age-26 season)
Ruth is a little harder to calculate since 1920 was his first full season as a hitter and his first year with the Yankees. But what a year: .376/.532/.847, 54 home runs, worth 11.9 WAR. This would probably put him somewhere between Mays and Mantle in projected value.

Ruth, of course, remained the best hitter in the game well into his 30s. He earned 100.7 WAR over our 10-year span. In other words, fictional free agent Ruth would have been worth a $650 million contract in today's dollars.

Ty Cobb: Free agent after 1911 (entering age-25 season)
Cobb has the advantage of being a year younger than Mantle or Ruth. In 1911, he hit .420 and led the American League in batting average, slugging percentage, doubles, triples, runs, hits, stolen bases and RBIs. Value: 10.7 WAR. Considering his age and speed, this places him in the $450 million range. In real life, he was worth 73.1 WAR from 25 to 34, his 1917 season being the only one valued higher than his 1911 campaign.

OK, OK ... comparing Trout to four of the greatest players of all time isn't all that fair. Well, it is, but maybe that places unrealistic expectations on a player.

Two more recent players.

Ken Griffey Jr.: Free agent after 1994 (entering age-25 season)
Since Griffey reached the majors at 19, he would have been a young free agent. 1994 was the strike season and he'd hit .323 with 40 home runs in 111 games, which projects to 58 over 160 games. In 1993, he'd hit .309 with 45 home runs. He didn't get on base like Mantle or play center quite like Mays, so his WAR totals were 8.8 in '93 and a pro-rated 9.9 in '94.

We could project something like: 10.0 (he looked like he was still getting better), 10.0, 10.0, 9.5, 9.0, 8.5, 7.5, 7.0, 6.5, 5.5. Total WAR: 83.5. Estimated contract: $543 million. Oops, I just valued him higher than Mantle (in part because you would easily project Griffey to remain in center field at that point in his career).

Griffey got hurt in '95 but was great in 1996 and 1997 (his MVP season). He hit 56 home runs in 1998, but his average dropped under .300. He started putting on weight. He was traded to the Reds in 2000. He got hurt. The Reds were afraid to move him out of center. He was worth 9.6 and 9.1 WAR in '96 and '97, but just 42.2 cumulative from 25 to 34. (Griffey never did test free agency in his prime, although he did sign a $116.5 million extension after getting traded to the Reds.)

Alex Rodriguez: Free agent after 2000 (entering age-25 season)

Mike Trout would be a free agent after the 2017. He'll be 26. What kind of contract do you think he would get?


Discuss (Total votes: 2,186)

Of course, A-Rod actually was a free agent after posting 10.3 WAR in 2000 (4.8 in 1999). He received his record-breaking $252 million contract, which he later opted out of to sign the ridiculous extension the Yankees are now trapped under. From 2001 to 2010 he earned 71.6 WAR. By Baseball-Reference's evaluation, 2000 was his best season. Never should have left Seattle, Alex.

You can do this for other players easily enough -- maybe you think Trout is worth more than Rickey Henderson or Reggie Jackson or even Cesar Cedeno or Vada Pinson. Maybe you don't think Trout should be compared to Mays and Griffey. But the truth is he's every bit the player they were. Actually, at his age, he's better.

That possible $400 million contract that Buster wrote about Monday isn't outlandish at all. The question may actually be: When Trout becomes a free agent, will $500 million be out of the question?

SweetSpot TV: The face of baseball

September, 12, 2013

Eric Karabell and myself take a closer at a survey that found Alex Rodriguez to be "The Face of Baseball." Say what?

Best seasons by third basemen since 1980, at least according to Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement formula:

1. Adrian Beltre, 2004 Dodgers: 9.6
2. Alex Rodriguez, 2007 Yankees: 9.4
3. Rodriguez, 2005 Yankees: 9.4
4. George Brett, 1980 Royals: 9.4
5. Scott Rolen, 2004 Cardinals: 9.1
6. Wade Boggs, 1985 Red Sox: 9.0
7. Mike Schmidt, 1980 Phillies: 8.8
8. Miguel Cabrera, 2013 Tigers: 8.8 (projected)
9. Wade Boggs, 1989 Red Sox: 8.4
10. David Wright, 2007 Mets: 8.3

Cabrera is certainly having a historic season with the bat. If we look strictly just at hitting by third basemen, the list looks like this in terms of runs produced compared to an average hitter from that season:

1. Cabrera, 2013: 79 (projected)
2. Rodriguez, 2007: 65
3. Rodriguez, 2005: 64
4. Brett, 1980: 61 (in just 117 games!)
5. Jim Thome, 1996 Indians: 60
6. Chipper Jones, 1999 Braves: 59
7. Chipper Jones, 2007 Braves: 58
8. Boggs, 1988 Red Sox: 57
9. Ken Caminiti, 1996 Padres: 56
10. Boggs, 1987 Red Sox: 56

Eric Karabell argues that the first list gives too much credit to defense; he may be right -- Rolen is credited with 3.3 WAR on defense alone in 2004, for example, although he doesn't top 2.0 in any other season. And it's true that none of the players on the first list were bad defensive players in those seasons, except Cabrera, who is credited with minus-1.1 WAR on defense so far. Boggs didn't have a great defensive reputation early in his career, although he later won two Gold Gloves with the Yankees, and Baseball-Reference credits him as a plus defender for most of his career (although not in the class of Rolen or Beltre).

Does Cabrera's offensive output make up for his subpar range at third base? In the video, we discuss Schmidt's 1980 season, when he hit .286/.380/.624. Schmidt posted a 1.004 OPS that year; the only other National Leaguers to reach even .900 were Keith Hernandez at .902 and Jack Clark at .900. Bob Horner and Dale Murphy, both playing in the Launching Pad in Atlanta, were the only other National Leaguers to reach 30 home runs.


Which third baseman had the best all-around season since 1980:


Discuss (Total votes: 4,911)

As impressive as Schmidt was compared to his peers, Baseball-Reference still credits him with "just" 47 runs produced above average, compared to Cabrera's projected total of 79. As Karabell says in the video, .286 is not the same as .359. But do Schmidt's defense and baserunning advantages make up for Cabrera's edge at the plate? I think it's close. Schmidt was still a very good third baseman in 1980 and B-R credits him with plus-11 runs, compared to Cabrera's minus-15 so far. B-R actually gives Cabrera the minor edge in baserunning, plus-1 to minus-1, although Schmidt did steal 12 bases that year.

Anyway, measuring defense remains imperfect. But in measuring the complete package of a player, it must be considered. Cabrera is having an all-time great offensive season, but it's a good debate whether it's the best all-around season by a third baseman of the past 35 years or so. (And to be fair, WAR isn't going to factor in that Cabrera is hitting an insane .422 with runners in scoring position.)

What do you think?
OK, we get it: Other major leaguers are not currently members of the Alex Rodriguez fan club. As colleague Jim Bowden and others have put it, players feel Rodriguez stole money from them by cheating; he got money that would have otherwise gone to other players.

Three quick thoughts:

1. When Ryan Dempster purposely hit Rodriguez in the second inning -- and he did, of course, hit him on purpose and should have been ejected -- the Red Sox were up 2-0. A-Rod was leading off the inning. Dempster hasn't exactly been Pedro Martinez 2000 here with his performance in 2013. Why jeopardize a game -- a game you need to win since you're battling for first place -- by plunking Rodriguez to make a point? That hit by pitch started a two-run rally and arguably changed the complexion of the game. No matter how strongly the Red Sox felt about Rodriguez, it was a stupid, stupid decision.

2. Did Red Sox manager John Farrell know what was going to happen? According to WEEI, the Red Sox will option pitcher Rubby De La Rosa back to Triple-A before today's game. De La Rosa pitched an inning on Sunday but was a starter in the minors. Did the Red Sox keep him around an extra day in case Dempster got ejected early?

3. Considering the Red Sox have their own dubious history with PEDs, watch those stones you throw. The Red Sox are completely clean? Nobody on their team has used PEDs or is using them? Or has a prescription to Adderall or something ADHD drug when they don't really need it? If Red Sox players are unhappy that Rodriguez gets to play while his appeal is under way, they should remember that Rodriguez -- and every other player -- has negotiated that privilege. Players shouldn't forget all the years of labor unrest they fought for to acquire those rights.
Thursday's blog titled "Did A-Rod really gain an edge from PEDs" stirred up some heated debate in the comments section. On Twitter, Paul Sporer asked about Alex Rodriguez's isolated power on contact, the Joe Sheehan stat used in the chart listed in that piece.

Remember, isolated power is slugging percentage minus batting average -- it takes singles out of the equation. By removing strikeouts, we're then checking A-Rod's power only when he makes contact.

1996: .330
1997: .236
1998: .303
1999: .384
2000: .372
2001: .383
2002: .402
2003: .380
2004: .289
2005: .376
2006: .307
2007: .417
2008: .351
2009: .314
2010: .290
2011: .235
2012: .210

Well, one thing, if Rodriguez has been using PEDs in recent seasons, they haven't helped. His isn't a Barry Bonds-like career path, that's for sure, but a rather conventional downward arc beginning in his mid-30s. It's interesting to note that Rodriguez's ISO/con didn't really increase all that much from his final two seasons in Seattle after he joined Texas in 2001, when he said he used PEDs -- even though he moved into a better hitter's park in Texas (the Mariners had moved into Safeco midway through the 1999 season).

We can only speculate about the dips and rises. In 2004, he joined the Yankees. Maybe he did stop PEDs, as he claimed, or maybe he just felt more pressure playing in New York ... and fell from 47 home runs and 83 extra-base hits to 36 and 62. He had a big spike in 2007 when he went from 35 home runs to 54. Did he start using PEDs? Make adjustments at the plate? Just have a great year?

We also don't know the typical variance in ISO/con. What's normal and not normal for an elite slugger? Here, let's look at Jim Thome, a guy with 612 home runs and whom everyone believes was clean:

1994: .346
1995: .324
1996: .418
1997: .414
1998: .428
1999: .402
2000: .378
2001: .513
2002: .525
2003: .447
2004: .429
2005: .209 (injured)
2006: .443
2007: .416
2008: .365
2009: .351
2010: .490
2011: .333

Well ... certainly a different arc than A-Rod (and also: Man, did Thome have some serious power or what?). A mammoth peak in 2001 and 2002 (when he was 30 and 31 years old) but otherwise pretty steady until he started getting old. Anyway, this proves nothing, other than Thome had more power than A-Rod, but Thome is also one of the all-time Three True Outcome kings (home run, walk or strikeout), so he's a pretty unique guy to compare to anybody.

You could do this all day with various players -- Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Mike Schmidt, Miguel Cabrera ... Barry Bonds. Bonds would be a fun one. From 1958 to 1960, Mays averaged 31 home runs per year. From 1962 to 1965 he averaged 47. Did he start juicing? Probably not. Players change, conditions change, ballparks change. You can look at the numbers but the numbers don't always us provide an answer.

All the anger, the venom, the indignation directed towards Alex Rodriguez comes from an essentially unproven pretense: That performance-enhancing drugs actually enhance performance. In baseball, that basically means one thing: home runs. Nobody seems to care all that much whether PEDs help players run faster or field better or throw a tighter curveball. It's all about the home runs.

Rodriguez has admitted in the past to using PEDs while he played with the Rangers; as we know, MLB now alleges he used them over a longer period of time. He's hit 648 home runs in his career and the belief -- no, the accusation -- is that he wouldn't have hit that many without PEDs. He cheated. That's the story.

But do PEDs help? Specifically, do they help players hit for more power? The consensus opinion is yes, at least if you ask Bud Selig, fans or most baseball writers.

Proof? Of course, there's proof. Runs are down and home runs are way down from 10 to 15 years ago. In 2000, when the runs per game average peaked at 5.14 (higher than any one team is scoring this season), there were a record 5,693 home runs hit; in 2012, there were 4,934 home runs, and that total was up from 4,552 in 2011. That's 759 more home runs in 2000 than 2012 and a whopping 1,141 more than 2011.

Proof? Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs, Mark McGwire hit 70, Sammy Sosa topped 60 three times. Luis Gonzalez went from 10 home runs at age 29 to 57 at age 33. Brady Anderson hit 50.

Proof? In 1996, 16 players hit 40 or more home runs. In 2000, 15 players did it. In 2012, only six guys did it, and in 2011, only two. Lower the bar to 30 home runs, and in both 1999 and 2000, 44 players hit that many; in 2010, 2011 and 2012, the totals were 18, 24 and 27.

* * * *

Joe Sheehan is one of my favorite columnists (you can subscribe to his newsletter here). He's an excellent writer, opinionated, smart and, at times, smartly contrarian. His writing on the Rodriguez case -- leading up to the announcement of the suspension and after -- was superb.

On Aug. 4, he sent out a newsletter titled "The Big Lie."

His second graph read:
The big lie is this: Steroids caused home runs and testing stopped home runs. That didn't happen. I used to think it was laziness that spread the misinformation, and then I thought it was fear of math, perhaps hatred of certain individuals. I know better now. It's a lie proffered by people who can see the truth but are so invested in the lie that they would prefer you didn't.

He then presented a fascinating chart, which I'll reprint here. As Joe wrote, "It shows what happened when bats met balls over a 21-year period that bridges what is popularly known as 'The Steroid Era' and the era of testing that followed through today. '/con' is 'on contact,' which is simply at-bats minus strikeouts."


Year    HR/con   SLG/con   ISO/con

1993 3.13% .478 .166
1994 3.65% .517 .188
1995 3.61% .511 .184
1996 3.89% .525 .193
1997 3.70% .519 .189
1998 3.74% .519 .190
1999 4.06% .533 .200
2000 4.19% .538 .205
2001 4.08% .530 .202
2002 3.77% .514 .192
2003 3.83% .518 .194
2004 4.02% .528 .200
2005 3.70% .514 .189
2006 3.97% .533 .200
2007 3.66% .523 .191
2008 3.64% .519 .190
2009 3.81% .524 .195
2010 3.52% .508 .184
2011 3.47% .504 .182
2012 3.83% .520 .193
2013 3.67% .511 .186

ISO is isolated power, which is slugging percentage minus batting average. What does the chart show? Well, in recent years, batting averages have dropped as strikeouts have risen. Joe's argument is that home runs are down merely because the rate of contact is down. When batters actually put the ball in play, their rates of home runs and isolated power haven't changed all that much through the years. In other words, steroids didn't help players hit more homers.

Joe isn't the only writer to point this out. FanGraphs author (and ESPN Insider contributor) Dave Cameron wrote last August about rising strikeout rates, "That historic lack of contact has masked the fact that power has made a pretty strong return to today's baseball game, and has perpetuated the idea that steroid testing has led to dramatically different results in offensive performance."

Joe does allude to the slight 1999-2001 power spike, explaining that it resulted from "many factors unrelated to sports drugs. The double expansion, combined with changes in roster construction, had a significant short-term impact on the caliber of pitching in MLB. ... The strike zone, as called, was very small. The success of the take'n'rake approach that helped the Yankees and Indians in the 1990s spawned imitators throughout the game. There are many reasons why power on contact would have been higher during this three-year period that have nothing to do with sports drugs."

Joe's evidence is strong; if you look at the numbers and dismiss your animosity for A-Rod or Bonds or Sosa you have to at least admit that's one compelling chart. However, I believe most of you will disagree with Joe, even when staring right at the facts. Joe would argue there's nothing to "believe" -- that he has the data.

Regardless, isn't it fair to ask: If Alex Rodriguez didn't gain any benefits from using PEDs, why get all worked up over his pending suspension? Why are some current players calling for lifetime bans for those who test positive? Is it really all a big lie?

* * * *

I looked some stuff up. Here's one thing I checked: The top 50 individual home run seasons (plus ties) over different three-year intervals. How do the numbers stack up?

1996-1998 (ranging from 70 to 38 home runs):
.371 ISO/con
49 home runs every 500 nonstrikeout at-bats

1999-2001 (from 73 to 38 home runs)
.388 ISO/con
51 home runs every 500 nonstrikeout at-bats

2004-2006 (from 58 to 35 home runs)
.360 ISO/con
46 home runs every 500 nonstrikeout at-bats

2010 to 2012 (from 54 to 31 home runs)
.327 ISO/con
41 home runs every 500 nonstrikeout at-bats

The evidence, at least in this relatively small group of players, is pretty clear: The top home run hitters are hitting for less power now, even when they do make contact -- 10 fewer home runs, on average, for every 500 non-strikeout at-bats, compared to that 1999-2001 peak. Except it's not that clear. The totals from 2004 to 2006 -- after drug testing had already started -- aren't all that different from 1996 to 1998 or 1999 to 2001.

A few more data points:

ISO/con for leadoff hitters:
1998: .144
2001: .147
2005: .148
2012: .161
2013: .152

ISO/con for No. 2 hitters:
1998: .162
2001: .159
2005: .156
2012: .163
2013: .163

ISO/con for No. 3 hitters:
1998: .243
2001: .292
2005: .235
2012: .241
2013: .220

ISO/con for cleanup hitters:
1998: .268
2001: .276
2005: .259
2012: .246
2013: .235

ISO/con for. No. 7 hitters
1998: .179
2001: .194
2005: .171
2012: .194
2013: .188

ISO/con for No. 8 hitters
1998: .153
2001: .164
2005: .168
2012: .157
2013: .159

Here's what I take from this: Power for leadoff hitters has risen slightly, held steady for No. 2 and 3 hitters, decreased for cleanup hitters, held steady for 7-8 hitters.

* * * *

Bonds had a quote in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2001: "There are some things I don't understand right now. The balls I used to line off the wall are lining out [of the park]. I can't tell you why. Call God. Ask Him."

I don't agree completely with Joe. I do believe steroids can help. Why do athletes continue to take them -- in all sports -- if they don't believe in some benefits, however small? This piece from Patrick Hruby on ESPN.com in 2006 does a good job explaining how PEDs could have helped Bonds -- and, thus, how they also could have helped Alex Rodriguez. (Disclosure: I worked with Patrick on that piece as his editor.)

On the other hand, how much did or do they help? It's impossible to answer that, although Patrick tried in his piece, pointing out advantages such as increased strength (which leads to more bat speed), improved eyesight and stamina, even more confidence. I think the answer is "more than zero" but "a lot less than most fans believe."

Baseball is constantly changing. Something in the playing conditions changed rapidly between 1992 and 1994, when offense suddenly skyrocketed. It wasn't just PEDs, unless you think everyone started using the same offseason. PEDs were just one factor, maybe a small one, along with expansion, livelier baseballs, more strength training, smaller strike zones, bad pitching, maple bats and new, homer-friendly ballparks.

But the conditions continue to change, even in the testing era that began in 2004 (anonymous testing was first conducted in 2003). Pitch F/x data has influenced umpires, players are still big and strong and teams are looking for more big and strong players and more new ballparks have been built -- Miller Park (2001), Great American Ballpark (2003), Citizens Bank Park (2004) and Yankee Stadium (2009) are all better home run parks than their predecessors. The weather changes. And the pool of players change, making any study of the issue complex; we don't have the same pitchers and hitters as 1998 or 2001 or 2004.

Strikeouts, of course, continue to rise -- not only because of better pitching, but also because players continue to evolve their offensive philosophy into an all-or-nothing approach. Isn't it possible that one reason players are still hitting for as much power in the post-testing era is simply because they're trying to hit for more power (at the cost of some strikeouts)? In a game where hitting for average is harder than ever, you need to hit for power to keep your spot in the lineup. Maybe the elite power hitters aren't hitting home runs quite as frequently as a decade ago, but that decline has been masked to some extent by the fact that other players are hitting more home runs. The poster boy for modern baseball is somebody like Dan Uggla -- a second baseman hitting .186 and leading the league in strikeouts but who has 21 home runs.

Personally, I find the attempts to whitewash an entire period of baseball history rather distasteful, and the exaggeration of the impact of PEDs a little exasperating at times. There are no simple answers here; my scant data isn't proof of anything, but I'm not sure Joe's data is proof that PEDs have no effect.

Before we dismiss A-Rod as a cheater -- or Bonds or Roger Clemens or Jeff Bagwell or Mike Piazza or whoever else Hall of Fame voters wish to presume guilty -- it is kind of important to know what they potentially gained by using. Joe's data suggests it may not be much.

If I had a Hall of Fame ballot, I'd certainly vote for Bonds or Clemens or, when he's eligible, Alex Rodriguez. They were the greatest players of their era, with or without PEDs.

Eric Karabell and myself fill in for Buster Olney on today's Baseball Tonight podcast and we attempt to discuss an entire season in 35 minutes! OK, maybe not the entire season, but we do talk about the red-hot Dodgers and our power rankings, the weird Jack Clark accusation about Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Clayton Kershaw, Wil Myers and James Shields, the playoff races, the season's big disappointment and more!

Could A-Rod play winter ball?

August, 9, 2013
NEW YORK -- Now that Alex Rodriguez has formally appealed his 211-game suspension, it opens up clamor on what other possibilities may arise in the future.

One such scenario is that Rodriguez goes trough with his appeal and loses some time in, say, November.

Should Rodriguez be banned from Major League Baseball for most or all of 2014, there is another avenue for Rodriguez to play baseball.

He would be eligible to play in the Dominican winter league this coming winter. However, it's not as easy as him agreeing to play in the native country of his parents.

A team like Licey, the equivalent of the Yankees in the Dominican Republic, would probably love to have Rodriguez play for them. However, Rodriguez would need permission from the New York Yankees in order to sign and play.

All major and minor league players that play winter ball in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Mexico must have permission from their major league organization. That's because each player is signed to an exclusivity clause in their contract.

It's not unusual for a big league front office to allow minor league players to play winter ball, believing the experience will only help further those players careers.

It's also not unusual for established major leaguers to play some winter league games during January, a practice that helps them get ready for the start of spring training in mid-February.

A high-ranking Yankees source said the club has not given any thought to this possibility, though an MLB source confirmed it would be allowed. As some might remember, Bartolo Colon pitched for Aguilas last winter when he was in the midst of his 50-game suspension for PED use.

Rodriguez is appealing a 211-game suspension handed down by Major League Baseball. A final decision on his appeal is not expected until after the end of the World Series in late October.
Predictably, the reaction from the media and fans toward Alex Rodriguez hasn't exactly been supportive. He's not a sympathetic character, but very few questioned the severity of the 211-game suspension levied upon him. Here is what they're saying:

I'll start with Joe Sheehan, who has been doing some of the best writing on the subject, a rare contrarian among the masses:
It seems to me that where you stand on this issue comes down to whether you trust authority, and more than that, whether you trust Bud Selig. Certainly the national media does, as does the New York media that, in recent weeks, as functioned as a cross between Selig's mouthpiece and his id. The fans, getting their information from those sources, conditioned to dislike the rich, hate the druggies and attack the weak, have lined up against Rodriguez as if he were violating their women and stealing their children. It's easy, and I say that in the most disdainful way, to hate Rodriguez.

Me, I don't trust Bud Selig. Maybe I'm the only person to whom it matters, but his history matters a great deal to me. He participated eagerly in a violation of anti-trust law; he orchestrated a labor strategy that crippled baseball and was deemed a violation of labor law; he threatened to kill two franchises as part of a labor strategy. That's just the stuff I can pin on him for sure. Throw in the minor collusion of 2001-03, extensive lying about the game's financial health, serving as the game's foremost anti-marketer and, finally, turning MLB into a decade-long episode of "Miami Vice".

Joe is asking the tough question that few seem to be asking: What is Selig's motivation? If it's fair to question A-Rod's motivation for using PEDs, isn't fair to ask why the commissioner just handed out a 211-game suspension when the Joint Drug Agreement with the union calls for a 50-game suspension for a first-time offender?

Joe frames his argument as Rodriguez versus Selig. Maybe that's too narrow but if you want to frame it that way it's fair to suggest that Selig has as many skeletons in his closet as A-Rod.

* * * *

Scott Miller, CBS Sports:

Me, I would have handed A-Rod three consecutive life sentences Monday.

One for being a serial cheater, gobbling PEDs as if they were Flintstones vitamins.

One for being so dishonest and disingenuous that he makes pathological liars look like honest, God-fearing men.

And one for being a delusional, deranged dope who long ago should have forfeited the privilege to play major league baseball. And yes, as in whatever job you're working, A-Rod's gig is a privilege. Not a right.
* * * *

Bob Kravitz, USA Today:
If they cared -- if fair play, a respect for the guys who play the game clean, was an issue for them -- they wouldn't have doped (some repeatedly).

But cheating makes sense.

This is especially true for the Latin players, who dominated Monday's role call of Biogenesis/steroid violators. It's always been said of players from the Caribbean that you get off the island swinging the bat. But there's more to it, apparently. If you come from nothing, if you come from some small, desperate town in the Dominican Republic, and you have a chance to support yourself and your family and set them up for life, are you going to let anything get in your way?

Ask Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers. He will be suspended 50 games, which means he will return at season's end and enter the winter as a high-priced free agent.

Melky Cabrera, who was suspended 50 games last year while with the San Francisco Giants, got a two-year, $16 million contract to sign this past year with the Toronto Blue Jays.
* * * *

Ian O'Connor, ESPNNewYork:
But unless A-Rod wins his appeal, nothing he does at the plate anymore can save him. Up until this case, I was among those willing to vote him into Cooperstown as a member of the With or Without Club, as another Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens -- players I believe were so exceptional that they would've been Hall of Famers with or without drugs.

Rodriguez has Willie Mays numbers, after all, with 647 homers, 1,950 RBIs, a career batting average of .300 and an on-base percentage of .384. But he no longer qualifies for the Hall after his pathetic behavior here. Man, if A-Rod could do everything baseball said he did in a desperate attempt to keep his job, he would've done anything over his 19 years to maintain his standing in the game.

I now believe Rodriguez used PEDs his entire career, an automatic no-go for the Hall.
* * * *

Bob Nightengale, USA Today, quoting former commissioner Fay Vincent:

"There are a lot of similarities between this and (Pete) Rose. They were very delusional. They lied. They misbehaved," he said.

"Baseball has to stand for things. It just can't have these drugs. If chemists win, baseball is finished. Otherwise, we'd have the Yankees and Red Sox buying up chemistry departments and not caring about who is pitching.

"Baseball really is going to have to ratchet the deterrent, and make it one-and-done, because anybody who says the (drug) testing is working is crazy. It's not working. You use these performance-enhancing drugs just once, you should be banned for life."

* * * *

Mike Lupica, New York Daily News:
Lance Armstrong, one of the great bums in the history of sports, still has his money and fame. So does Alex Rodriguez. They still come up phonies and losers in front of the world. You know who wins? People who love sports, and still think it is not some cynical joke for sports to be on the level. You wonder if the next generation of cheats are paying attention, at last.
* * * *

Jon Paul Morosi, Fox Sports:
But to justify a lifetime ban, MLB would need to prove that Rodriguez’s sins were far more egregious than those of Melky Cabrera – who tested positive for PEDs last year and tried to deceive MLB officials by creating a phony website. Or of Ryan Braun, who tested positive in 2011, attacked the integrity of the drug-testing program, reportedly appeared in the Biogenesis records, and lied repeatedly about PEDs.

Cabrera’s sentence was 50 games. Braun’s was 65. They doped, got caught, and went to great lengths in an effort to cover it up – which, come to think of it, sounds similar to what Rodriguez supposedly did. So it would be incongruous, perhaps even unfair, for A-Rod to be sent away for good.
* * * *

Jeff Passan, Yahoo:
Selig scoffs publicly at the idea that he is doing this for his legacy – that levying a 211-game suspension on Rodriguez is not the commissioner's equivalent of a manhood-measuring contest. There is no reason to deny this. Of course he is doing this for his legacy, just as every man or woman in a position of power and authority has, dating back to the dinosaurs. Leaders wanted their names scratched into the walls of caves with great glory, and Bud Selig wants his similarly scrawled into the annals of baseball. He wants his triumphs to overwhelm his foibles, and at 79 years old he is taking bold steps that turn him into as polarizing a figure as the man he's prosecuting and, many would say, persecuting.

Jeff is from a younger generation of writers, a generation that isn't so revolted by PEDs, that believes there are multiple layers to a complex story. You don't have to defend A-Rod to question Selig or question the punishment.

David Schoenfield took your questions in a live video chat to discuss today's Biogenesis suspensions.

There’s never a better time to overreact than on the eve of the trade deadline! General managers, their assistants, their scouts, their special advisors and their stat geeks in the front office have spent weeks assessing their own talent and that of other organizations. But one night can change everything.

Some thoughts on Tuesday's news, rumors and game results ...

Who needs Jake Peavy when you have Brandon Workman! The Red Sox have won the Peavy Sweepstakes, although I don’t know if that means winning the lottery or cashing in your $10 prize at 7-Eleven. Peavy’s injury history (long) and home run issues (14 in 80 innings) make him a wild card acquisition; this isn’t the same thing as trading for Cliff Lee, or even close to trading for Cliff Lee.

Peavy, however, comes a lot cheaper. The Red Sox got to keep all their top prospects and surrendered only slick-fielding Jose Iglesias, who has a superficially good .330/.376/.406 batting line with the Red Sox in 215 at-bats. He’s not close to a .300 hitter, let alone a .330 hitter. A few weeks ago I looked at all his hits and they featured an unsustainable number of infield singles, five-hoppers that sneaked through and bloopers just over the heads of infielders. In July, he’s hitting .205 with one extra-base hit in 83 at-bats and he’s a career .244/.296/.292 hitter in Triple-A in nearly 1,000 plate appearances. But he can pick it at shortstop (or third base, where he’s been playing a lot for the Red Sox) and I suppose there’s a small chance that he could improve at the plate, a la Omar Vizquel.

So good job by Red Sox GM Ben Cherington to sell high on Iglesias, even if Peavy is more of a No. 3-4 starter than a 1 or 2. But acquiring Iglesias makes sense for the Tigers, who will likely see shortstop Jhonny Peralta get suspended any day now in the fallout from the Biogenesis investigation. Iglesias will be an improvement over Peralta on defense -- although Peralta’s minus-3 Defensive Runs Saved haven’t hurt the team as much Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, both rated at minus-10 at the corner infield spots.

The White Sox get Avisail Garcia in the deal, a player scouts like a lot but sabermetric types are skeptical about, due to a low walk rate in the minors. Still, if he puts it together, there’s a lot of upside there. Put me in the skeptical category; probably a big league regular, but I don’t foresee a star player.

The Braves can stand pat. When Detroit’s Alex Avila hit that grand slam off Stephen Strasburg as the Braves were crushing the Rockies, it seems a symbolic moment of the Nationals’ 2013 season to me. They’re now 10 games behind the Braves and the Braves only have seven games left against teams currently over .500. At least the Nationals won’t have to worry about Strasburg’s innings in October.

So the Braves don’t have to make a deal, plus Alex Wood’s strong outing against the Rockies means he should get a few more turns through the rotation. With Peavy off the market, there isn’t really a starter who is a guaranteed upgrade anyway, other than Cliff Lee and he’ll cost a fortune.

You don’t win division titles on paper. Ignore the run differentials. Ignore the recent histories. The Pirates now have the best record in baseball after sweeping Tuesday’s doubleheader and lead the NL Central. Not that the Cardinals organization ever panics or overreacts, but Cardinals fans are certainly tired of seeing Matt Holliday ground into double plays (he’s done that 24 times, giving him a chance to catch Jim Rice’s single-season record of 36) and some dude named Brandon Cumpton shut them down in the second game. Maybe the Cardinals do make a move.

The Pirates should still get a bat. This is one reason we love the trade deadline: When the Cubs signed Nate Schierholtz in the offseason for $2.25 million -- $29.75 million less than Josh Hamilton will make in 2016 and again in 2017 -- it wasn’t exactly headline news. Now he’s viewed as a must-have acquisition for the Pirates because he’s slugging over .500 and Pirates right fielders have the lowest OPS in the majors.

The Orioles should get a bat as well. Chris Davis did hit a big home run a 4-3 win over the Astros, but he and Manny Machado haven’t matched their first-half exploits. The bottom four hitters in Tuesday’s lineup had on-base percentages of .302, .295, .273 and .293. Their DHs are hitting .200. They should be able to find an upgrade. Getting a pitcher would be sexier -- well, if that pitcher were Cliff Lee -- but a hitter would add more depth to an already solid lineup.

Michael Young is great! Hey, forget that he has -0.6 WAR this season, he went 2-for-4 with a home run on Tuesday. His trade value just shot up. Plus he’s a veteran presence in the clubhouse! Warning: Has the range of a flower vase at third base. Beware of defensive risks if employing full time at the hot corner. The Rangers need a hitter, but at least in their case it would be to use Young at DH or first base.

Who needs a third baseman when you have Juan Uribe! Uribe hit a 441-foot home run off Andy Pettitte and is hitting a respectable .263/.335/.406. The Dodgers may do just as well playing Uribe as acquiring some of the lackluster options for third (Young, Aramis Ramirez) or acquiring a shortstop and moving Hanley Ramirez to third (he's hitting so well, don't mess with him right now).

The Indians have momentum (if momentum existed in baseball). They started nine guys on Tuesday and the guy batting ninth had the highest slugging percentage in the lineup. (That’s Yan Gomes, hitting .291 and slugging .520.) They’ve won six in row after rallying from a 3-0 deficit to beat the White Sox. They acquired Marc Rzepczynski from the Cardinals to add a second lefty to the bullpen but acquiring another starter or reliever would help.

Zack Wheeler is the second coming of Matt Harvey. This is one reason we love the trade deadline, part 2: The hope that the prospect your team acquires can turn into Zack Wheeler and flash the no-hit stuff like Wheeler did against the Marlins. Two years ago, the Mets got Wheeler from the Giants for Carlos Beltran. There may not be a Wheeler in this year's crop of trades -- there rarely are -- but you never know.

Cameron Diaz fed popcorn to Alex Rodriguez. Wait ... that didn’t happen on Tuesday? Ahh, those were simpler times.
Albert Pujols was placed on the disabled list on Sunday, sort of the exclamation point to the Los Angeles Angels' debacle of a season. Sunday was Hall of Fame induction day -- you may have missed it, considering the lone player elected played his final game in 1890 -- and Pujols' injury and the ceremony in Cooperstown got me wondering: Which of today's players will be future Hall of Famers?

There are probably more than you realize. Pujols, of course, is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, even factoring in the somewhat disappointing results of his first two seasons with the Angels. With three MVP Awards, 492 home runs, 1,491 RBIs, a .321 average and a career WAR of 92.9 (27th all time among position players) his legacy is ensured, even if his Angels career never lives up to the expectations of his contract.

Based on historical trends, I estimate about 40 current players are future Hall of Famers -- possibly more, although Hall of Fame standards have been growing tougher in recent years, both by the Baseball Writers Association, which pitched a shutout this year, and the Veterans Committee, which has voted in just one post-1950 player since 2001. The steroids era fallout is also affecting voting results.

Anyway, if we look back at 10-year increments we can see how many Hall of Famers were active that season:

1953: 28 players
1963: 36 players
1973: 37 players
1983: 34 players
1993: 19 players

There are fewer players in 1953 because there were fewer teams, just 16 compared to 30 now. Compared to 1983, when there were 26 teams, 1953 still has a higher percentage of players inducted (1.75 per team versus 1.30). Still, 1983 already has 34 players who active that season already in the Hall of Fame, plus potential enshrinees like Jack Morris, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Lee Smith, Dale Murphy, Lou Whitaker, Keith Hernandez, Ted Simmons and others (some of whom are off the BBWAA ballot but could be Veterans Committee selections).

OK, to our little list. Here are 40 active players who will be Hall of Famers -- listed in order of most likely to make it. We're at a moment when there are very few sure-thing Hall of Famers -- I count only five -- so the list thus involves a lot speculation. I considered only players who have played in the majors this year, so no Andruw Jones, Manny Ramirez or Scott Rolen.

1. Derek Jeter: Would anyone find reason not to vote for Jeter? Well, he did date Mariah Carey. Jeter may seem like a lock as a unanimous selection, but keep in mind that eight voters somehow found reason not to vote for Cal Ripken Jr.

2. Mariano Rivera: No matter what you think of closers, Rivera will be a slam-dunk selection, with his "greatest closer ever" label, World Series rings, universal respect among opponents and writers, and 0.70 postseason ERA in 141 innings. While writers have generally become very generous to relievers -- Dennis Eckersley made it in his first year on the ballot -- I suspect a few won't vote for Rivera out of an anti-reliever stand.

3. Albert Pujols: If his career continues to peter out, that more recent perception may cast a shadow over his dominant run from 2001 to 2010, when he averaged 8.1 WAR per season. Many Hall of Famers never achieved that in one season.

4. Miguel Cabrera: Cabrera is now in his age-30 season, with 53.2 WAR. Through age 30, Pujols had 81.1 WAR. That's how good Pujols was -- nearly 30 wins better than a sure Hall of Famer who arrived in the majors at a younger age. Much of that advantage comes on defense and the basepaths, but Baseball-Reference estimates Pujols created 590 runs more than the average batter through 30, with Cabrera at 447 (and counting).

5. Ichiro Suzuki: He may not get to 3,000 hits in the majors -- he's at 2,706 after Sunday's four-hit game -- but with 1,278 hits in Japan, voters should factor that he didn't arrive in Seattle until he was 27. With his all-around brilliance, he should sail in on the first ballot.

6. Robinson Cano: He has done a lot of things MVP voters like -- hit for average, drive in runs, win a World Series -- and done it with exceptional durability. He's already at 42.4 WAR and needs three to four more peak seasons to ensure lock status, but he's just 30 and still at the top of his game. Considering his durability and age, 3,000 hits isn't out of the question either.

7. Clayton Kershaw: Obviously, he could get hurt, and a lot of pitchers who were dominant through age 25 couldn't carry that success into their 30s. But Kershaw has been handled carefully, is on his way to a third straight ERA title and second Cy Young Award. He's the Koufax of this decade … minus the World Series heroics. But maybe he'll get that shot this year.

8. Felix Hernandez: He's 27 and has won 109 games, despite playing for some of the worst offenses in the history of the game. He has earned 38.8 WAR, which puts him about halfway to Hall of Fame lock status. As with Kershaw, barring injury he'll get there.

9. Roy Halladay: He leads all active pitchers with 65.6 WAR, a total higher than Hall of Famers Bob Feller (65.2), Eckersley (62.5), Juan Marichal (61.9), Don Drysdale (61.2) and Whitey Ford (53.2), to name a few. But what if he never pitches again? Is he in? He has 201 wins and voters still fixate on wins for pitchers. To Halladay's advantage is the general consensus that he was the best pitcher in baseball at his peak, his two Cy Young Awards and two runner-up finishes, three 20-win seasons and the second no-hitter in postseason history.

10. Adrian Beltre: Voters have never been kind to the good-glove third basemen -- excepting Brooks Robinson -- so I may be overrating Beltre's chances. But he also has the chance to reach 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. If he gets to those milestones, that combined with his defensive reputation should get him in.

11. CC Sabathia: He has 200 wins and looked like a possible 300-game winner entering this season, but that 4.65 ERA has everyone wondering how much he has left in the tank at age 33.

12. David Wright: Similar in a lot of ways to Cano -- same age, similar career WAR (Wright is actually a little higher at 45.9) -- so if he plays well into his 30s like Beltre has, he'll get in. But a lot of players have looked like Hall of Famers at 30.

13. Justin Verlander: He still has a lot of work to do, with 134 career wins and just two seasons with an ERA under 3.00.

14. Carlos Beltran: I suspect he'll have a long, slow trek to Hall of Fame status, as his all-around game may be difficult for voters to properly assess. His having just two top-10 MVP finishes will work against him, but he has eight 100-RBI seasons, should reach 400 home runs, is one of the great percentage basestealers of all time and should reach 1,500 runs and 1,500 RBIs.

15. Mike Trout: Well, of course this is premature; he's only 21. He could be Willie Mays, he could be Cesar Cedeno. I'm betting on Mays.

16. Evan Longoria" Beloved in sabermetric circles, he could use that one monster MVP season to create more of a Hall of Fame aura around him.

17. Joey Votto: Will voters appreciate the on-base percentage in 20 years?

18. Joe Mauer: Like Votto, Mauer has an MVP award that helps his case; any time you can argue "he was the best player in the game" about a guy, his candidacy shoots up in the minds of voters. He's not going to end up with the big home run and RBI totals but his .323 career average, .405 OBP and solid defense (three Gold Gloves) will garner support. He has to stay healthy and probably needs to stay behind the plate a few more years.

19. Andy Pettitte: See Jack Morris. Probably a slow crawl on the BBWAA ballot, perhaps hurt by admitting he tried PEDs (although he seems to have escaped the stain), with eventual election by the Veterans Committee. With 252 wins, five World Series rings and 19 postseason wins, it's difficult to ignore his fame and constant presence in October.

20. Bryce Harper: Most home runs before turning 21: Mel Ott 61, Tony Conigliaro 56, Ken Griffey Jr. 38, Harper 37, Mickey Mantle 36, Frank Robinson 34.

21. Buster Posey: Yadier Molina may be the most valuable catcher right now, but Posey is the better Hall of Fame candidate.

22. David Price: Pitchers become Hall of Famers in their 30s, not their 20s, but Price is already 66-36 with a Cy Young award.

23. Dustin Pedroia: I'm a little skeptical how he'll age into 30s, but Pedroia seems like the kind of player voters would love to put in if he becomes a borderline candidate. He does have an MVP award and recognition for his all-around play, but since he's not a big home run or RBI guy, he'll have to remain durability and approach 3,000 career hits.

24. Manny Machado: He's in a big slump right now but we have to remember he's still just 20 years old. But few players have shown this kind of ability at his age and his defense -- Jim Palmer said recently he makes plays at third base that Brooks Robinson could not have made -- is already Hall-of-Fame caliber.

25. Todd Helton: We can just about close the book on him. The .318/.417/.541 career line is impressive, although voters will have to adjust for Coors Field. The 361 home runs and 1,378 RBIs are short of Hall of Fame standards for recent first base inductees. Considering Larry Walker's poor support so far, Helton will probably have to get in through the back door.

26. Andrew McCutchen: How about an MVP Award for 2013?

27. Giancarlo Stanton: Injuries are an issue, but I'm still betting on him (or Harper) to be the premier power hitter of his generation.

28. Troy Tulowitzki: He has to stay healthy, of course, but he has 30.5 WAR so far, in his age-28 season. Jeter had 36.8 and Ripken 50.1 through age 28, but you don't have to be Derek Jeter or Cal Ripken to make the Hall of Fame. Recent inductee Barry Larkin had 30.9 WAR through age 28 and only played 140 games three seasons after that (although did play until he was 40).

29. Miguel Tejada: Tough one here. He has the PED rumors, but he also has six 100-RBI seasons as a shortstop, an MVP award, more than 300 home runs and he will top 2,400 hits. Perhaps a Veterans Committee choice?

30. Prince Fielder: He hasn't hit 40 home runs since 2009 and is going through the worst season of his career. Still, he's just 29 and has 277 home runs and 838 RBIs. He has been the most durable player in the game since his rookie season, but his body type certainly raises questions about how he'll do as he gets into his mid-30s. If he does remain healthy and reaches some of the big milestones he's going to be a Morris-like controversial candidate, because his career WAR (currently 22.4) isn't going to reach Hall of Fame standards.

31. Madison Bumgarner: He turns 24 on Aug. 1 and already has 46 career wins, two World Series rings and is in the midst of his best season. Check back in 10 years.

32. Yasiel Puig: Is he not in already?

33. Andrelton Simmons: We're starting to get into the area of crazy projections. Hey, a lot of Hall of Famers didn't look like Hall of Famers their first few seasons in the league. Anyway, the Braves have four young players you could reasonably project long-shot HOF status onto -- Simmons, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Craig Kimbrel. I like Simmons; he'll have to have an Omar Vizquel-type career with most of his value coming from his glove, but what a glove it is.

34. Chase Utley: He basically has no chance to get in via the BBWAA because his career counting totals will be well short of Hall standards. His five-year peak from 2005 to 2009 was among the best ever for a second baseman -- in fact, since 1950, from ages 26 to 30, the only players with a higher WAR were seven guys named Mays, Pujols, Yastrzemski, Aaron, Bonds, Boggs and Schmidt. If he can stay healthy for a few more years -- a bit of a dubious proposition -- he enters Veterans Committee territory.

35. Jose Fernandez: This could be Chris Sale or Stephen Strasburg or some other hotshot young pitcher.

36. Tim Hudson: I believe pitching standards will have to change, as the idea that you need 300 wins eventually subsides in this day where starters just don't as many decisions as they once did. Hudson is out for the year after breaking his ankle and, at the age of 38, you have to worry about his future. But he does have 205 wins and one of the best winning percentages of all time at .649. He sounds like a Veterans Committee choice in 2044.

37. Nick Franklin: The point isn't that I think Franklin is a Hall of Fame player, but that somebody like Franklin will turn into a Hall of Famer. It could BE Franklin, it could be Wil Myers, it could be Marcell Ozuna, it could be Jurickson Profar. As for Franklin, he has reached the majors at 22, has flashed power (10 home runs and 12 doubles in 52 games) and shown a good approach at the plate. You never know.

38. September call-up to be named: Xander Bogaerts? Oscar Taveras? Miguel Sano?

39. David Ortiz: There's no denying the fame and the peak value -- he finished in the top five in MVP voting five consecutive seasons -- but he has several strikes against him, notably the PED allegations (Ortiz was mentioned in the Mitchell report) and the fact that he may not be the best DH eligible (that would be Edgar Martinez, with a career WAR of 68.3 to Ortiz's 42.7). Papi is at 420 home runs; if he gets to 500 (round number!), his chances go up, but like all the guys tied to steroids, he'll be a controversial candidate.

40. Alex Rodriguez: He hasn't actually suited up in the majors yet this season, but let's assume he does to be eligible for this list. I also assume, at some point in the future -- 20 years? 25 years? 75 years? -- the moral outrage against the steroids users eventually subsides. Maybe, like Deacon White, A-Rod makes it some 130 years after he plays his final game.
What to make of Matt Moore right now?

His 9-3 record looks nice, but he hasn't pitched like a 9-3 pitcher, especially of late. Even when he started the season 8-0, there were some red flags: a lot of walks, high pitch counts that led to early exits and a .181 batting average allowed that seemed unsustainable.

After that hot start, a one-inning outing truncated by a rain delay was followed by three blow-up starts: six runs and six walks in two innings, 12 hits and nine runs in five innings and five runs and four walks in 5⅓ innings.

I don't know if we really learned anything from Thursday's 8-3 victory over the Yankees, in which Moore took a shutout into the sixth inning before giving up three runs. For starters, the Yankees' is a pretty sad excuse for a major league lineup, and it's particularly pathetic against left-handers. Chris Capuano, who has been terrible for the Dodgers, just threw six scoreless innings against New York on Wednesday.

Moore did throw 63 of 99 pitches for strikes, about four percent higher than his season rate, but he should be throwing strikes against a lineup that had Jayson Nix batting second and Ichiro Suzuki hitting sixth. The uncertainty over Moore's production -- is he an ace or a No. 4 starter? -- makes him the most important guy moving forward in a Tampa Bay rotation that has been a disappointment.

You could pick almost any Tampa Bay starter here, including David Price, who begins his rehab stint from a strained triceps Friday, or Jeremy Hellickson, who has a 5.50 ERA. But if Price is healthy, he should be fine. Hellickson has a better strikeout rate, lower walk rate and the same home run rate as last season; instead of the 82 percent strand rate he's had the past two seasons, it's 61 percent this seaspn. He should be better moving forward as well.

That makes Moore the key starter if the Rays are to stay close in the crowded American League East race. In fact, with the Blue Jays surging -- winners of eight in a row -- seven games separate first-place Boston from last-place Toronto. Here are nine other key players the rest of the way, one hitter and pitcher per team.

[+] EnlargeJohn Lackey
AP Photo/Paul SancyaJohn Lackey could well be Boston's No. 2 starter right now -- and will be a key player in the AL East race.
Matt Joyce, Rays
Since April 26, Joyce has hit .292/.383/.590 with 12 home runs to give the Rays a lethal 1-2 combo with Evan Longoria. If he continues hitting like he is, the Rays offense will continue scoring runs.

John Lackey, Red Sox
Lackey continues to impress in his return from Tommy John surgery, throwing seven strong innings against the Tigers on Thursday, leaving with a 3-2 lead and lowering his ERA to 3.03. Red Sox fans might not be willing to forgive him just yet for 2011, but he's starting to win them over. He's throwing in the low 90s, painting the corners with his fastball and getting inside to left-handers with his slider (lefties are hitting just .174 against that pitch). Considering Jon Lester's inconsistency, Lackey has arguably become the team's No. 2 starter. Who would have thought that?

Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
He's not the MVP candidate of 2011 -- just one home run -- but he's providing energy at the top of the lineup with a .281 average, .348 OBP and 31 steals in 34 attempts. While more power would be nice, the Red Sox just need him to at least keep replicating what he's done so far.

Jason Hammel, Orioles
Look, the Orioles can't expect to keep running Freddy Garcia and Jake Arrieta out there and expect to win the division. They'll get Wei-Yin Chen back soon, but they're desperate for Hammel to replicate his 2012 performance. Last season, Hammel was getting great sinking movement on his fastball, off which batters hit .252/.318/.378; this season, he's leaving it up too often, and hitters are pounding it for a .309/.377/.510. Last year was a career season for Hammel, so the Orioles might have to decide on banking on his improvement or look to supplement the rotation via trade.

Chris Davis, Orioles
Well, he's on pace for 58 home runs and 146 RBIs. I don't think he'll keep doing this, and while he's clearly an improved hitter over last season, we have to expect some regression at some point … right?

CC Sabathia, Yankees
Most pitchers would be happy with a 7-5 record and 3.93 ERA, but it's been an up-and-down season for Sabathia. Manager Joe Girardi is still riding his horse -- Sabathia's on pace for 230 innings -- but righties are slugging .447 off him, up from last season's .374 mark. It's clear he doesn't have the fastball he once had (average velocity: 90.3 mph), so the issues here: Should Girardi back off him a little? Does Sabathia get better? Should we just view him as an innings-eater instead of an ace?

Alex Rodriguez, Yankees
We have to put somebody here, and I can't bring myself to write "Vernon Wells." But the Yankees do need to find some right-handed bats. Heck, maybe they'll sign Manny Ramirez.

R.A. Dickey, Blue Jays
The Jays are starting to get healthy again, Josh Johnson has looked better of late and Mark Buehrle is looking like Mark Buehrle, so if Dickey can find some consistency and pitch like last season's NL Cy Young winner, the Jays will climb over .500 -- they're 35-36 now -- and make things interesting.

Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
The Jays are seventh in the AL in runs, and while Jose Reyes will improve the offense when he returns in a few days, they could use a patented Bautista tear in the second half. His numbers are OK, not great -- .257, 15 home runs, .352 OBP -- but, considering the hole they dug, they'll need more from him.