SweetSpot: Mike Piazza

Randy JohnsonRich Pilling/Getty ImagesRandy Johnson should be a unanimous selection in his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Hall of Fame season is kind of like Christmas season: It brings gifts and memories but also a lot of acrimony and stress, and it lasts way too long. Hall of Fame ballots were mailed out Monday to eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, which means the next six weeks will feature many Hall of Fame columns, debates, analyses and other assorted name-calling and belligerence.

Here are 10 main questions of conversation this Hall of Fame season:

1. Who are the new names on the ballot?

Last year's star-studded ballot that featured the election of first-timers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas is followed by another long list of intriguing newcomers: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Gary Sheffield and Carlos Delgado are the top names.

2. How many of those guys get in?

Johnson should be a unanimous selection with his 303 career wins, five Cy Young Awards, four ERA titles, nine strikeout titles and six 300-strikeout seasons, but 16 of the 571 voters last year failed to vote for Maddux, so Johnson likely awaits the same slight and will get 95-plus percent of the vote but not 100 percent.

Martinez would certainly appear to be a lock to get the required 75 percent, but Hall voters tend to emphasize wins at the expense of everything else for starting pitchers and Martinez has just 219, so you never know. The BBWAA hasn't elected a starter with that few wins since Don Drysdale, who had 209, in 1984. Still, with the second-best winning percentage since 1900 of any pitcher with at least 150 wins (behind only Whitey Ford), three Cy Young Awards, five ERA titles and the best adjusted ERA for any starting pitcher in history, Pedro should cruise to Cooperstown at well above the 75 percent line. Really, like the Unit, there is no reason not to vote for him.

Smoltz has a little more complicated case and may suffer in comparison to being on the same ballot with Johnson and Martinez. While Pedro was 219-100 with a 2.93 ERA, Smoltz was 213-155 with a 3.33 ERA. He did pick up 154 saves while serving as a closer for three-plus seasons and maybe that will resonate with voters. Smoltz also has a great postseason record -- 15-4, 2.67 ERA -- but similar postseason dominance didn't help Curt Schilling last year when he received just 29 percent of the votes. I believe Smoltz does much better than that, but I don't see why Schilling -- 216-146, 3.46 in his career with 79.9 WAR compared to Smoltz's 69.5 -- would receive just 29 percent and Smoltz 75 percent.

Sheffield, with the PED allegations, has no chance despite 509 career home runs and over 1,600 RBIs and runs. Delgado put up big numbers in an era when a lot of guys were putting up big numbers, and his 473 career home runs with 1,512 RBIs may not be enough to even keep him on the ballot (you need to receive 5 percent to remain on).

3. Does Craig Biggio get in this year?

He fell just two votes short last year on his second time on the ballot, so you have to think at least two voters will add him, assuming some of the holdovers don't change their minds. Biggio's Hall of Fame case is kind of ironic in that he was probably one of the more underrated players in the league while active. He finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting three times (10th, fifth, fourth), but the same writers who once dismissed him as an MVP candidate will now be putting him in the Hall of Fame. He's a deserving candidate, but if he hadn't played that final season when he was terrible and cleared 3,000 career hits, you wonder if he'd be even this close. Voters love their round numbers.

4. What's the new 10-year rule?

Candidates will now be allowed to remain on the ballot for only 10 years instead of 15. Three current candidates -- Don Mattingly (in his 15th season), Alan Trammell (14th) and Lee Smith (13th) were allowed to remain on the ballot.

For the first time, the names of all voters will also be made public, although neither the Hall of Fame nor BBWAA will not reveal an individual's ballot.

5. Who will be most affected by this?

Well, all the steroids guys, obviously. Mark McGwire, for example, is on the ballot for his ninth year, not enough time in case voter attitudes toward PEDs starts reversing course. Aside from that group, Tim Raines is on the ballot for the eighth year. He received 46 percent of the vote last year; that was actually a drop from the 52 percent he had in 2013. Historically, nearly every player who received 50 percent of the vote from the BBWAA eventually got elected, but now Raines has just three years left and was affected by the crowded ballot last year.

6. But the ballot is still crowded, right?

Yep. Remember, voters are allowed to vote for up to 10 players -- although most ballots don't get to 10, so the "crowded" ballot is somewhat of an overrated issue. Still, it's there, and several players saw their vote totals decrease last year. Anyway, I would argue there are as many as 22 or 23 players who have some semblance of a Hall of Fame case based on historical precedent. In order of career Baseball-Reference WAR: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, Schilling, Jeff Bagwell, Larry Walker, Trammell, Smoltz, Raines, Edgar Martinez, Biggio, McGwire, Sheffield, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Jeff Kent, Fred McGriff, Delgado, Lee Smith. Plus arguably Nomar Garciaparra and Mattingly, who had high peak levels of performance but short careers.

Anyway, those who believe in a big ballot will once again have to make some tough choices on whom to leave off.

7. For which players is this an important year?

Raines needs a big increase this year, but it's starting to look slim for him. That makes Bagwell and Piazza two of the more interesting names. Piazza was at 62 percent last year on his second year, a 4.4 percent increase from 2013. If he sees another vote increase, we can assume he's on his way to election; but if he holds at the same percentage, we can probably assume there are enough voters who put him in the PED category and are thus keeping him permanently under that 75 percent threshold. Similar issue with Bagwell; he was 54 percent last year, actually down from 59.6 percent in 2013. If he gets back up over 60 percent, he may be back on a Cooperstown trek.

8. Hey, Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling look like pretty good candidates.

That's not a question, but, yes, yes they are. Mussina (270 wins, 82.6 WAR) and Schilling are overwhelmingly qualified by Hall of Fame standards, even by BBWAA-only standards, especially when factoring in Schilling's postseason success. That both received fewer than 30 percent of the vote in their first year on the ballot was a little shocking and definitely disappointing.

9. What about the steroids guys?

No changes -- or progress, if you prefer -- here. Clemens (35.4 percent) and Bonds (34.7 percent) both received fewer votes than the year before. Rafael Palmeiro already fell off the ballot, and I suspect Sosa (7.2 percent) falls off this time.

10. What about Jack Morris?

Mercifully, Morris is no longer on the ballot so we don't have to spend all December arguing his case yet again. His candidacy goes over to the Expansion Era committee, which will next vote in 2016. I suspect Morris gets in then.

The reason for doing this piece should be pretty obvious: Masahiro Tanaka is 11-2 with a 2.11 ERA, leading the American League in wins and ERA. He's not just the clear best rookie so far but a Cy Young and MVP contender.

Tanaka makes his 16th start on Saturday and his consistency has perhaps been his most impressive attribute. He's pitched at least six innings each start and allowed more than three runs just once, a four-run game against the Cubs in May. He's allowed more hits than innings three times and has reached double-digit strikeouts in five starts, second-most in the majors only to David Price. His splitter has been as good -- or better -- than advertised, as opponents are hitting .119 against it with one home run (his first pitch of the season, actually).

Of course, some don't like to call him a rookie considering his years of experience in Japan, but he's a rookie under MLB rules. We're just about at the halfway point and Tanaka has earned 4.1 Wins Above Replacement via Baseball-Reference. Double that and you get 8.2, and only one rookie pitcher since the lively ball era began in 1920 has been worth more.

More on that guy later. Let's take a look at some of the great rookie seasons ever since 1901.

The MVPs: Ichiro Suzuki, 2001 Mariners (7.7 WAR), and Fred Lynn, 1975 Red Sox (7.4 WAR)
Suzuki and Lynn rank fourth and fifth on the all-time rookie list for WAR among position players, if we consider Joe Jackson a rookie in 1911. Did both deserve their awards? Suzuki ranked fourth in the AL in WAR, behind Jason Giambi (9.1), teammate Bret Boone (8.8) and Alex Rodriguez (8.4). I always thought Boone deserved MVP honors that year, hitting .331 while driving in a league-leading 141 runs. Of course, one reason he drove in 141 was Ichiro getting on in front of him. There's no doubt Ichiro had the "wow" factor that year and was so unique -- this little guy playing small ball in the middle of the steroids era -- that everyone fell in love with him.

Lynn hit .331 with 21 home runs and 105 RBIs, leading the league in slugging percentage, runs and doubles and winning a Gold Glove for his defense in center. Baseball-Reference has Rod Carew (7.8 WAR) better, but you can't argue with Lynn getting MVP honors considering the numbers are close and the Red Sox won the AL East while the Twins finished under .500.

The should-have-been MVP: Mike Trout, 2012 Angels (10.8 WAR)
Not to rehash old wounds, but Trout's rookie season WAR is easily the best ever for a rookie position player -- and one of the best ever no matter the experience level. He hit .326/.399/.564 with 30 home runs, 129 runs and a league-leading 49 steals in a depressed offensive era. He played great defense, including four home run robberies. Baseball-Reference ranks his season 22nd all-time since 1901 among position players and the seventh-best of the expansion era (1961).

The only other rookie position player to lead his league in WAR was Paul Waner of the 1926 Pirates, by the modest total of 5.3.

A guy you've probably never heard of: Russ Ford, 1910 Yankees (11.0 WAR)
Actually, they were still called the Highlanders back then. Ford was a right-hander born in Manitoba, Canada -- the first player born in that province to reach the major leagues (and still just one of three, and the other two played a combined 14 games in the majors). Ford had pitched one game in 1909 and then went 26-6 with a 1.65 ERA in 1910, great numbers even for the dead-ball era. He ranked second to Walter Johnson in pitching WAR. His secret? He used an emery board hidden in his glove to scuff up the baseball. The pitch was actually legal back then and Ford was apparently an early practitioner of the pitch, or maybe even its inventor.

This SABR bio of Ford says he claimed to the press that he had 14 different varieties of the spitball (also still a legal pitch). "He had the emery paper attached to a piece of string, which was fastened to the inside of his undershirt," said umpire Billy Evans. "He had a hole in the center of his glove. At the end of each inning he would slip the emery paper under the tight-fitting undershirt, while at the start of each inning he would allow it to drop into the palm of his glove."

Ford wasn't quite a one-year wonder. He was effective in 1911 but then led the league in losses in 1912 as he started suffering from arm fatigue. He jumped to the Federal League in 1914 but then the emery ball was banned, and combined with his arm problems, Ford was out of the majors by 1916.

Best rookie teammates: Shoeless Joe Jackson (9.2 WAR) and Vean Gregg, 1911 Indians (9.1 WAR)
There is dispute on whether to call Jackson a rookie or not. He had 127 plate appearances with the Athletics and Indians over the three previous seasons, below the 140-PA standard we now use, although he probably exceeded the roster time limits. I would prefer to call him a rookie, and what a year he had: He hit .408/.468/.590, knocked in 83 runs and stole 41 bases. He was the second-best player in the league behind Ty Cobb, who hit .420.

His teammate has been forgotten, but Gregg went 23-7 with a league-leading 1.80 ERA. The 6-foot-2 left-hander was already 26 years old when he joined the Indians. Actually, the Indians had purchased his contract from Spokane in 1910, but Gregg refused to sign with Cleveland for $250 a month and was instead sold on option to Portland of the Pacific Coast League. He won 32 games and finally went to Cleveland.

That was a pretty interesting team. Besides Jackson and Gregg, you had an aging Cy Young in his final season (for seven starts) and Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie. Star pitcher Addie Joss, who had fallen ill the previous season, died in April. Anyway, Gregg was a revelation. Cobb and Eddie Collins called him the best left-hander in the league. He remains the only pitcher to win 20 or more games his first three seasons in the majors. Unfortunately, Gregg suffered from recurring arm pain throughout his career and 1913 was his last good season in the majors, although he eventually returned to the PCL and had some good years with Seattle.

1964: Dick Allen, Phillies (8.8 WAR) and Tony Oliva, Twins (6.8)
Allen's WAR total is third among rookie position players behind Trout and Jackson. He hit .318/.382/.557 with 29 home runs while leading the NL in runs and triples. Oliva won the AL batting title with a .323 mark and hit 32 home runs, also leading in hits, runs and doubles. Both had Hall of Fame talent, although they failed to get there. Oliva led the league five times in hits and won two more batting titles but had knee injuries that ruined the second half of his career.

The catchers: Carlton Fisk, 1972 Red Sox (7.2 WAR) and Mike Piazza, 1993 Dodgers (7.0)
In a dominant year for pitchers, Fisk hit .293/.370/.538, making him one of the best players in the league. Piazza hit .318/.370/.561 with 35 home runs. Fisk finished fourth in the MVP voting, Piazza ninth (although he ranked second to Barry Bonds in WAR).

The shortstops: Troy Tulowitzki, 2007 Rockies (6.8 WAR) and Nomar Garciaparra, 1997 Red Sox (6.6 WAR)
Kind of similar in one regard: If Garciaparra had remained healthy, he was on a Hall of Fame trek through the first part of his career. As a rookie, he hit .306 with 85 extra-base hits. Tulo: If he stays healthy, we could be talking about a Hall of Famer.

Ted Williams, 1939 Red Sox (6.7 WAR)
Williams hit .327 with 31 home runs and a league-leading 145 RBIs as a 20-year-old rookie. He was already cocky. When asked before the season opener who he hit like, Williams said, "I hit like Ted Williams." It was in April of his rookie season when he uttered his famous quote, "All I want out of life is that when I walk down the street folks will say, 'There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived.'"

Fifty-two years later, another future Hall of Famer put up nearly identical numbers:

Williams: .327/.436/.609, 31 HR, 145 RBIs
Albert Pujols: .329/.403/.610, 37 HR, 130 RBIs

Greatest relief season ever: Mark Eichhorn, 1986 Blue Jays (7.4 WAR)
By greatest, I don't mean just among rookies. Eichhorn's season was a season for the ages: 14-6, 1.72 ERA, 10 saves and a mind-boggling 157 innings pitched. The sidearmer struck out 166 and allowed just 105 hits. Somehow, he finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Jose Canseco and Wally Joyner, whose combined WAR doesn't beat Eichhorn's 7.4.

Britt Burns, 1980 White Sox (7.0 WAR)
Among starting pitchers since 1980, Burns has the highest WAR -- Jose Fernandez's 6.3 from last year would be second-highest. (Dwight Gooden had a 5.5 WAR in 1984; thought he'd rank a little higher.) Burns went 15-13 with a 2.84 ERA, throwing 238 innings at age 21. He actually led AL pitchers in WAR that but didn't factor in the Cy Young voting due to his win-loss record (the White Sox were 70-90 that year). Burns also finished just fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting, which didn't make any sense. Joe Charboneau won it and Dave Stapleton, a part-time first baseman for Boston who hit seven home runs, was second.

Burns, who made his debut in 1978 just two months after getting drafted, made the All-Star team in 1981 and could have been a great one. He hurt his shoulder in 1982, costing him velocity, and suffered from a degenerative hip condition. After winning 18 games in 1985, he never pitched again in the majors.


Who had the best rookie season?


Discuss (Total votes: 8,515)

Mark Fidrych, 1976 Tigers (9.6 WAR)
A lot of pitchers in the pre-1920 era put up big numbers as a rookie. Hall of Famer Pete Alexander, for example, went 28-13 while pitching 367 innings for the Phillies. Even then, Alexander's WAR doesn't beat what Fidrych did in his rookie season with the Tigers.

The numbers are astounding -- 19-9, 2.34 ERA, 24 complete games in 29 starts -- but don't begin to tell the story of Fidrych's magical season. He didn't even begin the season in the rotation, pitching once in relief in April and then once in early May before finally making his first start on May 15. He threw a two-hitter. He started again 10 days later and lost that game but then came a remarkable run: From May 31 through July 20, Fidrych went 10-1 in 11 starts with 10 complete games. He averaged more than nine innings per start because he twice pitched 11 innings. He was a phenomenon, this quirky kid with the curly hair who talked to the baseball.

I just mentioned this video the other day, but here it is again: the final moments of Fidrych's Monday night game against the Yankees that June. As the announcer says, "He is some kind of unbelievable."
Let's finish up with the 14 players I consider strong Hall of Fame candidates. Of course, if I had a ballot, I could vote for only 10 ... well, that's another essay, my friends. Here is Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

The Hall of Famers

14. Tim Raines (69.1 career WAR, 52.2 percent of the vote last year) -- I’m a big supporter of Raines although it’s possible that the sabermetric crowd has overstated his case just a bit. Raines had a high peak from 1983 to 1987 while with the Expos -- his combined WAR ranks fourth among position players, behind Wade Boggs, Rickey Henderson and Cal Ripken, meaning he was arguably the best player in the National League over that span. He was also an outstanding player in the 1981 strike season and again in 1992 with the White Sox. Other than those seven seasons, however, he was merely good instead of great and spent his late 30s as a part-time player.

Still, as others have written, as he’s a very close statistical comp to Tony Gwynn -- Raines just happened to replace Gwynn’s hits with walks. He’s one of the best basestealers in history and the WAR is right in line with recent Hall of Fame selections. The good news is that Raines’ case is building, from 22.6 percent to 30.4 to 37.5 to 48.7 to 52.2. If he can avoid a collapse this year because of the crowded ballot, his momentum appears strong enough to eventually see election.

13. Craig Biggio (64.9 WAR, 68.2 percent) -- Results from public ballots have Biggio just crossing over the 75 percent mark. Biggio reached the magical 3,000-hit barrier, meaning the only surprise was he didn’t get elected in his first year on the ballot. In the past, 3,000 hits meant you were a mortal lock for Cooperstown. Of the 28 players to reach 3,000 hits, only Biggio, Paul Waner and Rafael Palmeiro failed to get elected on the first ballot (not including Pete Rose and Derek Jeter).

Of course, to get there, Biggio wasn’t helping his club at the end. He picked up 265 hits his final two seasons while being valued at minus-1.7 WAR. He posted poor on-base percentages and had poor range at second base, not surprising considering he played in his age-40 and age-41 seasons. That's the flaw in focusing on round numbers. Biggio only got there by hanging on.

At his peak, however, Biggio was a tremendous offensive player as a second baseman, with power, speed, on-base skills and the ability to steal bases. From 1994 to 1998 he ranked third, third, second, 12th, third and second, in the NL in offensive WAR and was right up there with the best all-around players in the game.

12. Alan Trammell (70.3 WAR, 33.6 percent) -- To me, it’s clear that the BBWAA threw its support behind the wrong Detroit Tiger. Trammell is basically the same player as Barry Larkin (70.2 WAR), except he played in the same league as Cal Ripken and Larkin played in the same league as Shawon Dunston.

The weird thing about this is that I'm pretty sure Trammell was more famous while active than Larkin, at least on a national level. Larkin did win an MVP Award but Trammell's teams were in the playoff race for most of his career while the Reds were a small-market club that was up and down during Larkin's career. I think what happened is basically this: Say the 33 percent who vote for Trammell also voted for Larkin. That leaves the other two-thirds of the voting pool. Say one-third were NL beat guys and columnists and the other third were AL beat guys and columnists. All the NL guys voted for Larkin because he was the best shortstop in his league but didn't vote for Trammell. But the AL guys didn't vote for Trammell either because he wasn't Ripken -- and then after Trammell retired, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Tejada and Nomar Garciaparra came along. Larkin gets the easy label -- best in his league -- that Trammell doesn't. Which is too bad. Trammell was a beautiful ballplayer who did everything well.

11. Mark McGwire (62.0 WAR, 16.9 percent) -- One of the things I’ll never forget as a baseball fan is watching McGwire take batting practice while covering a Cardinals-Tigers game at Tiger Stadium in 1999. Standing behind the batting cage as he launched ball after ball onto the roof or over the roof made me re-think the laws of physics (not that I know the laws of physics).

Why McGwire and not Sammy Sosa, when their career WAR isn't that dissimilar? Maybe it is a feel thing, a feeling that McGwire is one of the game's historic figures. I think that counts for something. He also has the best home run rate in history (higher than Babe Ruth).

10. Edgar Martinez (68.3 WAR, 35.9 percent) -- Bias alert! I wrote about Martinez back in 2009 and then again the other day. I rate him a little higher than the guys above because he had more high peak seasons -- five with 6-plus WAR, eight with 5.5-plus WAR and two more at 4.9 and 4.8. Simply, one of the best hitters the game has ever seen. Sadly, if the Mariners didn't waste three years of his career letting him unnecessarily rot in the minors, his case would be much stronger.

9. Mike Piazza (59.2 WAR, 57.8 percent) -- We'll learn a lot about Piazza's future Hall of Fame hopes this year. He achieved a strong showing in his first year. If that grows this year, it's a good sign. If it falls or remains the same, it could be that he's maxed out already due to PED concerns. About that WAR total: It's difficult for catchers to compile the same WAR as other positions, as they play fewer games and often have shortened careers. Piazza ranks sixth all time among catchers, behind Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk, Ivan Rodriguez and Yogi Berra.

8. Mike Mussina (83.0 WAR, first year) -- As I wrote back in November, Mussina is eminently qualified for the Hall of Fame.

7. Frank Thomas (73.6 WAR, first year) -- I wrote about Thomas the other day. It looks like he'll get in on his first year on the ballot. Will Thomas' election help Martinez? Once Thomas is in, doesn't it mean you can't use the "but he was a DH" argument against Martinez? Probably not. That suggests a consistent and logical line of thinking from the BBWAA, which ... well, that's like expecting a Cardinals fan to be treated with kindness and respect while sitting in the Wrigley Field bleachers wearing a Matt Holliday jersey.

6. Tom Glavine (81.4 WAR, first year) -- Not much to add about Glavine that you don't already know. Durable, consistent, got the most out of his ability. Like Greg Maddux, an absolute joy to watch (unless you were a Mets fan). He owned the outside corner of the plate -- and maybe a few inches beyond -- with that changeup. I think Glavine and Maddux have a bit of an unfair reputation of not showing up in the postseason. Compare their results to those of Andy Pettitte, who does have a reputation as being extra-special clutch in October:

Glavine: 14-16, 3.30 ERA, 35 GS, 218 1/3 IP, 1.27 WHIP
Maddux: 11-14, 3.27 ERA, 30 GS, 198 IP, 1.24 WHIP
Pettitte: 19-11, 3.81 ERA, 44 GS, 276 2/3 IP, 1.30 WHIP

Their records aren't as good because they didn't get the same run support, not because they didn't pitch well.

5. Jeff Bagwell (79.5 WAR, 59.6 percent) -- Other than not playing an up-the-middle position, the perfect ballplayer: power, speed, on-base ability, terrific baserunner, durable (at least until a shoulder injury cut his career a few years short), excellent defender. Here's something I wrote on Bagwell last January.

There are those who refuse to vote for Bagwell under the assumption he used PEDs; Bagwell has strongly denied using PEDs, telling ESPN's Jerry Crasnick in 2010:

I never used [steroids], and I'll tell you exactly why: If I could hit between 30 and 40 home runs every year and drive in 120 runs, why did I need to do anything else? I was pretty happy with what I was doing, and that's the God's honest truth. All of a sudden guys were starting to hit 60 or 70 home runs and people were like, 'Dude, if you took [PEDs], you could do it too.' And I was like, 'I'm good where I'm at. I just want to do what I can do.'

There's nothing abnormal about Bagwell's career curve, other than his freakishly awesome 1994 MVP season when he hit .368. He didn't suddenly start posting career-best numbers in his mid-30s like McGwire or Barry Bonds. He was good as a rookie, got better, remained great and then slowly declined in his 30s.

4. Curt Schilling (79.7 WAR, 38.8 percent) -- Why Schilling over Glavine, even though Glavine won 305 games while Schilling won just 216 games? OK, here's why:

1. Wins are overrated.

2. More career pitching WAR (80.7 to 74.0).

3. Schilling had more high peak seasons -- eight 5-plus WAR seasons with three at 7.9 or higher compared to Glavine's four and one.

4. Postseason dominance.

In the end, I just feel Schilling had the bigger impact on the game's history -- the 2001 World Series triumph for the Diamondbacks, ending the Red Sox curse in 2004 and winning another title in 2007.

Glavine was more durable and lasted longer and maybe you prefer that type of career arc. But I'll take Schilling and his big seasons and go to war with him in October.

3. Greg Maddux (106.8, first year) -- The smartest pitcher who ever lived. At his 1994 and 1995 peak, maybe the best pitcher who ever lived.

2. Roger Clemens (140.3 WAR, 37.6 percent) -- Let's say Clemens started using PEDs in 1997, the year he went to Toronto and went 21-7 with a 2.05 ERA. The popular mythology is that Clemens was fat and washed up in Boston. Actually, he had ranked second among AL pitchers in WAR and led the league in strikeouts in 1996. But whatever. Anyway, through 1996 he was 192-111 with a 3.06 ERA, three Cy Young Awards and 81.3 career pitching WAR. That's more career WAR than Glavine or Schilling. After two big Cy Young seasons with the Blue Jays, he went to the Yankees. And you know what? He wasn't that great with them -- 77-36 but with a 3.99 ERA. He won a sixth Cy Young Award because he went 20-3, not because he was the best pitcher in the league. He won a seventh with the Astros because he went 18-4 (he was seventh among NL pitchers in WAR). Other than the 1.87 ERA in 2005 -- thanks to an absurdly low BABIP -- his late career basically matches what Nolan Ryan did in his 40s.

1. Barry Bonds (162.5 WAR, 36.2 percent) -- Somebody tweeted this on Tuesday night, Bonds hitting a mammoth home run at Yankee Stadium in 2002 -- a blast so impressive that even Yankees fans cheered in awe.

On a basic level, I understand the no votes: Cheaters shouldn't be honored. My colleague Christina Kahrl made a great point about how we view the PED guys: It's a litmus test that tells us what we want from the game. As she told me, we have to remember the past is plenty grimy, full of stories and people every bit as wonderful as we want them to be -- people who also happen to be human.

From 1988 to 1994, Bonds was second in the majors in home runs (to Fred McGriff) and first in OPS and sixth in stolen bases. His WAR was 13 wins higher than the No. 2 position player (Rickey Henderson). From 1988 to 1995, he was 14.5 wins better than the No. 2 guy (Cal Ripken). Ken Griffey Jr. joined the league in 1989. From '89 to '98, Bonds' WAR was 84.1, Griffey's 65.6 (and the No. 3 guy, Barry Larkin, way back at 51.1). Bonds was the most devastating force in the game before he allegedly started using PEDs sometime after McGwire and Sosa went all crazy in 1998.

Ray Ratto just wrote a brilliant Hall of Fame column and he had two great points about Bonds (and Clemens): "1. The player did things on the baseball field that few others did. ... 6. I DON’T WORK FOR BASEBALL, AND I DON’T CARE WHAT IT PURPORTS TO BE. I CARE WHAT IT IS, AND THIS IS PART OF IT."

Bonds is arguably the greatest player of all time, and, yes, a man with many flaws.

What do you want out of the game?
1965: Reds draft Johnny Bench
Back in the first draft, it was still possible to dig up a relatively unknown kid from rural Oklahoma. Bench wasn't selected until the second round -- the 36th player overall -- and seven other catchers went ahead of him. Jim McLaughlin, the Reds' farm director in 1965, in Kevin Kerrane's classic book on scouting, "Dollar Sign on the Muscle":
A friend of mine with another club said, "You better send someone down to Binger, Oklahoma, to look at this kid Bench. We're not gonna draft him because the general manager's seen another he likes up in New England." ... They took that New England catcher on the first round, and the kid never got above Double A. And we took Bench on the second round. It was kind of a poker game. Nobody else knew much about him; his team hadn't played many games, and our scout was usually the only one there, so we could wait. After the draft Bill DeWitt, my boss, said, "I've never heard of him." I said, "I know you haven't, but you will. And that's why you hired me -- to hear about kids like this one."

Does McLaughlin's story check out? Sort of. There was no catcher from New England drafted in the first round, but the Orioles did take a catcher from Dartmouth in the second round -- one pick ahead of Bench. As to the claim that nobody else knew about Bench, at least one other team saw him: the Dodgers drafted a high school teammate of Bench's in the seventh round, but passed twice on selecting Bench.

1966: Reggie Jackson falls into A's lap
In one of the more famous draft blunders, the Mets' had the No. 1 pick and passed on Arizona State outfielder Jackson to select a high school catcher named Steve Chilcott, who would battle injuries and never reach the majors. "It was a position pick," said Joe McDonald, a Mets executive at the time. "We did not feel we had an adequate catching prospect in the organization."

1966: Braves draft Tom Seaver
The Braves? Yep. Atlanta selected Seaver in the now non-existent January secondary phase of the draft (for players who had previously been drafted). Seaver, pitching at USC, had been drafted the previous June by the Dodgers, but didn't sign after the Dodgers turned down his $70,000 asking price. The Braves took him with the 20th pick of the January phase, setting off a weird chain of events. The Braves signed Seaver for $40,000, but commissioner Spike Eckert ruled Seaver was ineligible to sign because USC had already played two exhibition games (Seaver didn't pitch). But the NCAA then declared Seaver ineligible, because he had signed a pro contract. So Eckert ruled that any team willing to match the Braves' offer would enter a lottery. The Mets, Phillies and Indians matched, and the Mets won the lottery.

1971: George Brett and Mike Schmidt drafted back-to-back
Pretty cool that arguably the two greatest third basemen in history were drafted the same year with consecutive picks. The catch: They went in the second round, Brett and then Schmidt. The Royals' first-round pick was a pitcher named Roy Branch, who briefly reached the majors but never won a game; the Phillies' pick was Roy Thomas, who had a marginal eight-year career as a reliever, although never pitched in the majors for the Phillies.

1976: Trammell and Morris ... and Ozzie (sort of)
In 1976, the Tigers had one of the great drafts ever, selecting Steve Kemp in the January phase and then Alan Trammell (second round), Dan Petry (fourth round), and Jack Morris (fifth round). Trammell and Morris aren't in the Hall of Fame yet, but both could get there someday. No team has ever drafted (and signed) two future Hall of Famers in the same draft. The kicker: They also drafted Ozzie Smith in the seventh round, but he didn't sign, and the Padres selected him the following year.

1987: Mariners draft Ken Griffey Jr.
The Mariners owned the first overall pick, and penurious Mariners owner George Argyros wanted the club to draft college pitcher Mike Harkey, because he would be easier to sign and presumably quicker to reach the majors. Scouting director Roger Jongewaard won out in the end. (Harkey went fourth overall, to the Cubs.)

1988: Dodgers draft Mike Piazza ... in 62nd round
Maybe the most famous late-round pick, Piazza was the Dodgers' final pick that year -- the 1,390th pick overall out of 1,395.

1990: Braves land Chipper Jones
Hard-throwing high school right-hander Todd Van Poppel was the consensus top talent in the 1990 draft -- "the best pitching prospect ever" label had been slapped on him -- but his declaration that he didn't want to sign and instead attend the University of Texas scared teams off him. So the Braves took Jones, which worked out pretty well for them.

2000: Cardinals draft Yadier Molina
The 2000 draft as one of the worst ever -- after top pick Adrian Gonzalez (by the Marlins), the rest of the top 15 were Adam Johnson, Luis Montanez, Mike Stodolka, Justin Wayne, Rocco Baldelli, Matt Harrington, Matt Wheatland, Mark Phillips, Joe Torres, Dave Krynzel, Joe Borchard, Shaun Boyd, Beau Hale and Chase Utley (OK, finally one that panned out). Keep that list in mind when you get excited about your team's first-round pick this year. The only other first-round of note that year was Adam Wainwright (by the Braves). He would eventually get traded to St. Louis, where he would team with a young catcher from Puerto Rico also drafted in 2000.

2009: Nationals draft Stephen Strasburg
The story here is how the Mariners kicked away the No. 1 overall selection. The Nationals headed into the final weekend with a record of 59-99, having gone 3-11 over their previous 14 games. The Mariners were 58-101 and had lost 14 of 15. This was tanking at its best. All the Mariners had to do was lose one game to lock up the first pick. One loss. Easy, right? Instead the Mariners sweep the A's. The Nationals lose all three. Josh Outman's throwing error sets up Yuniesky Betancourt's two-run go-ahead in triple in the fifth inning of the season finale. In other words, if Outman doesn't throw the ball away, Strasburg might be in a Mariners uniform instead of a Nationals one. (With the second pick, the Mariners selected Dustin Ackley.)

Is this a sad day for baseball? Maybe not. There will be another election next year and one the year after that. I presume onward into the future players will get elected. But this year? The Baseball Writers' Association of America struck out.

Nobody can deny the current process is broken. This summer, the Hall of Fame will hold an induction ceremony that will honor three individuals who have been dead for over 70 years. Only one of those was a player, and Deacon White played so long ago he was a catcher without a glove.

The Hall of Fame is a museum, but there will be no Astros fans trekking to Cooperstown to see Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell inducted and take a tour of baseball history. There will be no Tigers and Twins fans going to see Jack Morris get in. No Expos fans cheering Tim Raines, Mariners fans driving 3,000 miles to see the great Edgar Martinez inducted or throngs of Mets fans making the short drive to see Mike Piazza's speech.

If you've never been to the Hall of Fame, maybe this summer is the time to go. The lines will be short.

Some quick thoughts:

[+] EnlargeCraig Biggio
Brian Bahr/ALLSPORTCraig Biggio's 3,060 hits -- good for 21st all-time -- were not enough to make him a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Craig Biggio (68.2 percent)
The BBWAA went against its history by not electing Biggio. Every eligible player with 3,000 hits except Paul Waner and Rafael Palmeiro was elected in his first year on the ballot (Pete Rose being ineligible). Somehow the writers didn't find room for a player who scored the 15th most runs in history. He'll get in next year.

Jack Morris (67.7 percent)
I almost feel sorry for Morris at this point. His vote total went up just 1 percentage point from last year, leaving him 42 votes short of election. He has one year left on the ballot, and while players as close as Morris often get the sympathy vote when they get this close, his candidacy will be hurt by the addition of Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine to next year's ballot, two pitchers in a higher class than Morris. I just heard Bob Costas on MLB Network mention that the sabermetric community has hurt Morris' case, unlike how it helped Bert Blyleven's case. I think Costas is 100 percent wrong with that statement. In Morris' first five years on the ballot, he received less than 30 percent of the vote. He was initially rejected because voters looked at his 3.90 career ERA as unworthy of Hall status. His totals have risen through the years despite the strong sabermetric evidence against him.

Jeff Bagwell (59.6) and Mike Piazza (57.8)
Bagwell's total increased 3.6 percentage points from last year, and Piazza fared well for a first-ballot guy. By historical measures, both are on an excellent Hall of Fame path. Barry Larkin, for example, received 51.6 percent his first year, 62.1 percent the next and was elected in his third year with 86.4 percent. Bagwell and Piazza are tied to PED rumors, so historical measures may not apply to them; Bagwell's total certainly didn't rise as rapidly as Larkin's did. Still, it's also true that Bagwell and Piazza are being viewed differently than Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

Tim Raines (52.2)
In his sixth year on the ballot, Raines' total increased from 48.7 percent. He still has nine years to get in; he'll get there.

Lee Smith (47.8)
While Smith's support isn't surprising in light of the fact that three of the past 14 members elected by the BBWAA have been relief pitchers, it continues to baffle me. Yes, he racked up a lot of saves, but I always put the Smith question this way: At any point in his career, even when he was at his scariest, most dominant peak, would he have been traded for a Dale Murphy, Larry Walker, Edgar Martinez, Curt Schilling or Alan Trammell? Of course not. Smith's general manager would have been laughed off the phone, yet he got more votes than any of those guys. His vote total did drop and it was his 11th year, so he's a guy who was affected by the crowded ballot. His chances took a big turn for the worse.

Curt Schilling (38.8)
While it's amazing that Schilling received almost 30 percentage points fewer votes than Morris, this is actually a decent vote total for a first-year candidate. It may be a slow trek for him, but I believe he's on the path to induction.

Roger Clemens(37.6) and Barry Bonds (36.2)
No surprise that these two received less than 40 percent. The most interesting fact is that Clemens received eight more votes than Bonds.

Edgar Martinez (35.9)
In his fourth year, Martinez lost a few votes. He is already fighting the bias against designated hitters, so even though he is just one of 16 players with at least 10 seasons with a .400 OBP (11 total), this wasn't a good day for him.

Alan Trammell (33.6)
Trammell also lost votes. His bandwagon didn't really begin until last year, but it's too late for him and the ballot is too crowded. He is every bit the Hall of Famer that Larkin is, but with three years left, it will be up to some future version of the Veterans Committee to put him in.

Sammy Sosa (12.5) and Rafael Palmeiro (8.8)
They stayed on the ballot, but they're not getting in, at least not through the BBWAA.

Bernie Williams (3.3) and Kenny Lofton (3.2)
Maybe the most discouraging result of the day is that Williams and Lofton -- admittedly, borderline guys -- will be booted off future ballots, their cases never given the opportunity to be argued. Whitaker'd.

* * *

So there we go. A crowded ballot gets even more crowded next year with the additions of Maddux, Glavine, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent. Good luck, voters.
I've mentioned this before: While the Baseball Writers Association of America have become very stingy on their Hall of Fame elections (and that's aside from the candidates associated with PEDs), other groups are just as stingy -- if not more so.

There is a group called the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, founded in 2009 by Howard Cole. Each year, the IBWAA holds an alternative Hall of Fame election. I was one of the voters this year, as were fellow ESPN writers Mark Simon and Jim Caple. So this year the IBWAA elected ... Mike Piazza. One guy.

Piazza just squeezed past the 75 percent threshold at 79 percent. But Craig Biggio (64 percent) and Jeff Bagwell (51 percent) didn't make. Neither did Roger Clemens (52 percent) or Barry Bonds (51 percent), although I suspect they received a higher percentage than they'll get from the BBWAA. The IBWAA hasn't elected Barry Larkin, whom the BBWAA elected last year.

(For more information on the IBWAA and the complete voting results, go here.

Similarly, the SportsNation ballot would elect ... well, nobody. The fans are toughest of all, as Biggio topped the ballot with 69 percent of the vote, followed by Piazza at 67 percent.

High standards everyone, very high.
Some stuff out there on the Internet, Hall of Fame related …

1. Joe Posnanski with a fun post on the Topps numbering system -- if you collected cards, you remember the best players would get card No. 100 or 300 or whatever, stars would get No. 250 or 450, and minor stars would get the other cards ending in 0. And Mario Mendoza would always get No. 78 or No. 253 or the like. So Joe checked all the big names -- I have no idea how long this took him -- and awarded points each time a player got a card ending in 0, with more points for a "prime" card (ending in 00 or 50). Jack Morris, as it turns out, appeared only once on a "prime" card -- No. 450 in 1982. That's it. So Topps definitely didn't view Morris as a Hall of Famer.

(Here's Joe's Hall of Fame ballot.)

2. OK, OK, maybe that's not the most scientific analysis. But it is one argument that contradicts the view that many are now holding that Morris was viewed as a huge star while active. You can argue that Morris was more widely respected by those in the game than outside, but that doesn't make him a better pitcher than he was. ESPN Insider Dan Szymborski compares Morris to first-time ballot guy Curt Schilling. The Morris-Schilling comparison is an interesting case study, because there will be many voters who will vote for Morris but not Schilling (largely because Morris had 40 more wins), but as Dan points out, Morris' "edge" in wins isn't that valuable -- Schilling would have to go 38-40 to match Morris' record. And if Morris' trump card is his Game 7 performance, Schilling can counter with the fact that he's one of the greatest postseason pitchers of all time, with an overall record far superior to Morris' (11-2, 2.23 ERA in 19 starts versus 7-4, 3.80 in 13 starts). Basically, there isn't a rational reason for voting for Morris but excluding Schilling.

3. Joe Sheehan had a strong take on the Hall of Fame in one of his recent newsletters (subscribe here):
What we've seen is that Hall voting in the modern era has moved away from the stats -- because when the voters made arguments about the stats, they got crushed by the outsiders -- and towards the narrative, because the writers could make up whatever they wanted. So Bruce Sutter wasn't a guy with five good years and just eight in which he did anything, with 23 WAR and a save total that wasn't at all impressive just a few years after he retired … no, he was a split-fingered pioneer who revolutionized the closer role and was a critical piece on a World Champion, and look at that beard!


Now, we have Jack Morris, and once again, the statistical case for Morris was tried and found lacking a decade ago, from his postseason work to his "best pitcher of the 1980s" to "pitching to the score". The traditional voters were beaten on the stats, so they brought in the stories of him being a bulldog, of Opening Day starts (a stat that has never before and will never again be part of a Hall of Fame case), of one night in October, and they created a legend, and that legend -- that narrative -- is what will be elected to the Hall.

Joe's point is that on his first five years on the ballot, Morris never received more than 26 percent of the vote. The rejection of his 3.90 career ERA, at that time, was pretty sound. You can argue that this is why we give players 15 years on the ballot. But those 15 years also allow narratives -- like Sutter, like Morris, like Jim Rice -- to build momentum.

By the way, you knew who else was a World Series hero? Mickey Lolich, who won three games for the Tigers in 1968, beating Bob Gibson in Game 7. He was a good pitcher as well: 217 wins, 3.44 ERA, career WAR a little higher than Morris', had a season in which he started 45 games and pitched 376 innings (the first of four straight 300-inning seasons). In his fourth year on the ballot, he received -- get this -- 26 percent of the vote. But that was it. He declined thereafter, oddly falling from 26 percent to 11 percent in one year. His narrative never developed, and memories of him faded away.

4. Tim Marchman of the Wall Street Journal says it's time to give the vote to ... the fans:
The problem is simple: The elections are carried out by writers who have been members of the Baseball Writers Association of America for at least 10 years, and consequently, the debates aren't about baseball or ballplayers but about sportswriting and sportswriters -- much less interesting subjects.

An obvious solution -- one so elegant it's surprising it wasn't put in place decades ago -- is to simply strip writers of the vote and give it to the public. Writers and traditionalists would cry to the heavens, and all would fret over the perils of mass democracy, but we'd at least be rid of an inherently toxic structure.


The worst element, though, is that the writers debating all of this have the franchise even though there's no real reason for them to have it: They have no special knowledge of the game relative to anyone else, and they've never done a good job.

I will say this: Based on voting results I've seen on the past on ESPN.com, fans would be tougher than the writers. Many think giving fans the vote (or part of it) would lead to more absurd selections or fan favorites. Actually, the opposite is true: It would lead to fewer selections. The fans, for example, certainly wouldn't have voted in Sutter or Rice. Put it this way: It's hard enough getting 75 percent consensus from 500-plus writers; it would be near impossible getting 75 percent consensus from an even larger bloc of fans, excepting only the obvious candidates.

5. Somebody has been counting published ballots, and as of Dec. 27 (and 114 ballots, or 20 percent of last year's total), NOBODY will make it in this year. That early roll call had Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza and Tim Raines all over 60 percent, but nobody at 70 percent. Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds were both at 44.7 percent. I predicted the other day that Biggio and Morris would make it, but I won't be surprised if neither does.

Giving us a Hall of Fame ceremony this summer of Jacob Ruppert (owner, died 1939), Hank O'Day (umpire, died 1935) and Deacon White (played when catchers caught the ball barehanded, died 1939).

Can't wait.
PoseyCary Edmondson/US PresswireBuster Posey hit an NL-best .336, including .367 over the final two months of the season.
As expected, Buster Posey won the NL MVP vote in a landslide, collecting 27 of 32 first-place votes.

Although you could have made strong cases for Andrew McCutchen, Yadier Molina, Ryan Braun and even Chase Headley or David Wright, Posey won for two obvious reasons:

1. His team made the playoffs. Of the other top candidates, only Molina's Cardinals reached the playoffs, and they squeezed in as the second wild card. Since the implementation of the wild card in 1995, only six MVP winners have come from non-playoff teams (Larry Walker in 1997; Barry Bonds in 2001 and 2004; Alex Rodriguez in 2003; Ryan Howard in 2006; and Albert Pujols in 2008). In an otherwise heated debate, tie goes to the guy with the better teammates. This was best exemplified last year, when Justin Verlander beat out Jacoby Ellsbury and Braun beat Matt Kemp.

2. The arc of the Posey narrative. Rookie of the year to gruesome season-ending injury to comeback season. It is a great story, although Posey's candidacy certainly went beyond that. The stats are impressive as well: A league-leading .336 average and 172 OPS+; second in the league in OBP and fourth in slugging percentage, despite playing in a tough hitter's park (17 of Posey's 24 home runs came on the road); solid defense behind the plate plus the flexibility to play first base; hitting .367 in the final two months, most of which teammate Melky Cabrera missed because of his PED suspension.

It's an award statheads and traditionalists can agree upon as Posey also led the NL in Baseball-Reference WAR:

Posey: 7.2
McCutchen: 7.0
Braun: 6.8
Molina: 6.7
Wright: 6.7

It's rare for a catcher to rate so high in WAR. During the integration era (1947 on), only 22 catcher-seasons rated 6.5 or higher. Posey's 7.2 ranks seventh, which puts his season in historic context:

1. Mike Piazza, 1997 Dodgers: 8.5
2. Johnny Bench, 1972 Reds: 8.5*
3. Gary Carter, 1982 Expos: 8.3
4. Johnny Bench, 1974 Reds: 7.7
5. Joe Mauer, 2009 Twins: 7.6*
6. Darrell Porter, 1979 Royals: 7.4
7. Buster Posey, 2012 Giants: 7.2*
8. Gary Carter, 1984 Expos: 7.2
9. Johnny Bench, 1970 Reds: 7.1*
10. Carlton Fisk, 1972 Red Sox: 7.0

(* won MVP award)

Posey's adjusted OPS ranks second among all catchers since 1947, behind Piazza's 1997 season and just ahead of Mauer's 2009. Only Mauer (twice), Piazza and Jorge Posada (.338 in 2007) hit for a higher average. And none of those guys above added a World Series victory.

What does the future hold for Posey? In looking at his splits, he absolutely crushed left-handers, hitting .433 with a .793 slugging percentage, compared to .292 with a .440 slugging versus right-handers. Because he's unlikely to hit .433 again versus lefties, he'll have to pick up his production against right-handers to match his 2012 numbers in ensuing seasons.

On the other hand, he hit .385/.456/.646 in the second half, which is perhaps an indicator that he was getting healthier, stronger and better as the season wore on. (That second half did include a .423 average on balls in play, an unsustainable figure, so I wouldn't predict Posey to hit .336 again in 2013.)

Still, Posey has vaulted onto the short list of best players in the game. I don't see this as a fluke season, and in looking at those catchers on that list above -- Bench, Piazza, Carter, Fisk -- I see a player with Hall of Fame potential and the possibility of building a legacy as the leader of a -- dare we say -- three- or four-time World Series champion.

Mike TroutKelvin Kuo/US PresswireIs Angels outfielder Mike Trout having one of the best rookie seasons of all time?

This came up on my Twitter timeline Sunday night when somebody asked if Mike Trout is having the greatest rookie seasons of all time. Entering Monday night's game against the Tigers, Trout is hitting .349/.403/.574 and leads the American League in batting average, stole bases and adjusted OPS. He also leads in Baseball-Reference WAR, at 5.0 ... despite missing the first 20 games while in Triple-A. Assuming he keeps that rate of production over the Angels, we're talking about an additional 5.4 WAR over the Angels' final 73 games (if he plays every game).

That's beyond phenomenal. That's season-for-the-ages kind of stuff. And not just because he's 20 years old. Since 1901, Baseball-Reference rates 46 different seasons for position players at 10.0 Wins Above Replacement or better -- eight of those by Babe Ruth, six by Willie Mays and so on. Only eight of those 46 have come since 1969. For those reasons, the logical analysis is that Trout will slow down a bit at some point. Maybe a little fatigue sets in. More likely, his .401 average on balls in play drops a bit or he falls into a three-week slump.

Anyway, back to the original question. Here are 12 great rookie seasons.

[+] EnlargeSeattle Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki
AP Photo/Bob GalbraithIn his rookie season in 2001, Ichiro Suzuki hit .350 and scored 127 runs.
Ichiro Suzuki, 2001 Mariners: 7.5 WAR
Stats: .350/.381/.457, 8 HR, 69 RBI, 242 H, 127 R, 56 SB, 126 OPS+, Gold Glove, MVP

Quote: "It's almost as if he has a tennis racket in his hands. I'm gonna lob this one -- and it's a blooper over the shortstop's head. I'm gonna ace this one -- and it's a liner down the right-field line. He's toying with guys, and there's nothing they can do about it." -- Mariners coach John Moses (Sports Illustrated)

Albert Pujols, 2001 Cardinals: 6.3 WAR
Stats: .329/.403/.610, 37 HR, 130 RBI, 47 2B, 112 R, 157 OPS+, 4th in MVP

Quote: "I watched him in spring training and I saw that he wanted to be here. He adjusts well, he's very coachable, very intense. He concentrates well. He does all of the things you want in a ballplayer. He's going to go through his struggles. Everybody does. But he's a young, gifted player. He's well ahead of his class. In fact, he's the valedictorian." -- Cardinals hitting coach Mike Easler (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Nomar Garciaparra, 1997 Red Sox: 6.5 WAR
Stats: .306/.342/.534, 30 HR, 98 RBI, 44 2B, 209 H, 122 R, 22 SB, 123 OPS+, 8th in MVP

Quote: "He's got power, he's got RBI, he's got average, he's got range, he's got a strong arm and he has great instincts -- but he can't (slide) headfirst. I was telling him the only thing he needs to do is slide headfirst. It seems like he's been safe on an awful lot of plays they've called him out on." -- Red Sox catcher Mike Stanley

Mike Piazza, 1993 Dodgers: 6.8 WAR
Stats: .318/.370/.561, 35 HR, 112 RBI, 81 R, 153 OPS+, 9th in MVP

Quote: "I was at a baseball card show with a scout that knew Mr. (Ted) Williams, and he told him about Mike's hitting. So when Mr. Williams asked if he could come over and see Mike's swing, I said, 'Are you kidding?' He watched Mike's swing and he said, 'If this kid is swinging this well now and he's only 16, I guarantee you that he will hit in the major leagues.'" -- Mike's father, Vince (Los Angeles Times)

[+] EnlargeFred Lynn
Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesFormer Red Sox outfielder Fred Lynn won an MVP and gold glove in his rookie season.
Fred Lynn, 1975 Red Sox: 7.1 WAR
Stats: .331/.401/.566, 21 HR, 105 RBI, 47 2B, 103 R, 162 OPS+, Gold Glove, MVP

Quote: "But if anybody is ever going to look like the deliverer whom dedicated, oft-disappointed, doggedly impatient Red Sox fans demand -- and have been demanding more and more ever since Yastrzemski filled the role in the team's last pennant year, '67 -- it may be Lynn. He does resemble Yaz, and also Musial, facially, and he has what pitchers see in nightmares: 'a live bat.' -- Roy Blount Jr. in Sports Illustrated

Carlton Fisk, 1972 Red Sox: 7.0 WAR
Stats: .293/.370/.538, 22 HR, 61 RBI, 74 R, 162 OPS+, Gold Glove, 4th in MVP

Quote: "My original intention this year was to use him primarily against running teams. We have always felt he was sound defensively, but he hadn't proven he could hit for average over an entire season. But Duane Josephson got hurt the first week, and I decided to give him his chance. Nobody's beat him out yet. He's our most consistent hitter." -- Red Sox manager Eddie Kasko (Sports Illustrated)

Dick Allen, 1964 Phillies: 8.5 WAR
Stats: .318/.382/.557, 29 HR, 91 RBI, 38 2B, 13 3B, 125 R, 162 OPS+, 7th in MVP

Quote: "I saw Richie hit one this spring that was as long as any I've ever seen hit. When he played at Little Rock last year he hit 33, and we kept getting reports that some were terrific. On March 24 in Tampa I saw him hit one that I will always remember. It came off Mike Fornieles of the Reds. Richie's best power is supposed to be to right center, but he pulled this one. Right above the sign that says 360 feet in Al Lopez field there is a light pole, and on top of the pole are the lamps. The ball hit in the middle of the lamps, and I'd guess that that pole is between 80 feet and 100 feet up. The ball actually was still rising when it hit." -- Phillies general manager John Quinn (Sports Illustrated)

Tony Oliva, 1964 Twins: 6.6 WAR
Stats: .323/.359/.557, 32 HR, 94 RBI, 43 2B, 217 H, 109 R, 150 OPS+, 4th in MVP

Quote: "As a rule, Cubans playing in the United States are looked upon as 'traitors' here and their names are not even mentioned in the newspapers or on radio. Oliva, however, has changed all that. Oliva has been wielding such a hot bat and making such big baseball news that Havana newspapers could not resist reporting his activities to baseball-loving Cubans. Too many Cubans have been calling them to find out how Oliva is doing." -- ANP

Vada Pinson, 1959 Reds: 6.3 WAR
Stats: .316/.371/.509, 20 HR, 84 RBI, 47 2B, 131 R, 129 OPS, 15th in MVP

(Technically, Pinson was not considered a rookie at the time, since he had 96 at-bats in 1958, six more than the 90 the allowed to maintain rookie status.)

Quote: "At the plate, where Pinson hits left-handed, his swing is just like Vada: smooth and compact. He stands in the middle of the box, takes a short, controlled stride, and the bat comes around in a short, controlled arc. If the pitch is in where he wants it, he pulls sharply to right; if the pitch is away, he goes to center or left. He has not allowed himself to become hypnotized by the home run. Vada Pinson is so good that he is almost boring. Except that he can run. Boy, how Vada Pinson can run." -- Roy Terrell in Sports Illustrated

Frank Robinson, 1956 Reds: 6.2 WAR
Stats: .290/.379/.558, 38 HR, 83 RBI, 122 R, 143 OPS+, 7th in MVP

Quote: "He's the greatest young ballplayer I've seen since Ted Williams. This kid can do everything. He'll be around a long, long time." --Reds manager Birdie Tebbetts (Associated Press)

[+] EnlargeTed Williams
AP PhotoTed Williams' rookie season wasn't his best statistically, but he still finished fourth in the MVP voting.
Ted Williams, 1939 Red Sox: 6.6 WAR
Stats: .327/.436/.609, 31 HR, 145 RBI, 44 2B, 11 3B, 131 R, 160 OPS+, 4th in MVP

Quote: "Notice the kid. He doesn't hit the ball; he doesn't hit at it. He swings clean through it. He's close to being, and may well be before he's through, the wrist-hitter par excellence." -- San Diego sportswriter Stuart Lake (Associated Press)

Shoeless Joe Jackson, 1911 Naps: 9.0 WAR
Stats: .408/.468/.590, 7 HR, 83 RBI, 45 2B, 19 3B, 233 H, 126 R, 193 OPS+, 4th in MVP

(Jackson had 115 at-bats spread out over three seasons before 1911. He would not have been considered a rookie at the time, but using the 130 at-bat cut-off that is now applied, we'll consider Jackson a rookie.)

Quote: "Everything he hit was really blessed. He could break bones with his shots. Blindfold me and I could still tell you when Joe hit the ball. It had a special crack." -- Pitcher Ernie Shore

A year later, Buster Posey's back in action

May, 26, 2012

Exactly one year ago, Buster Posey went from sure thing to question mark. It wasn’t because of anything he failed to do, it wasn’t because he hadn’t fulfilled every expectation for his greatness. If anything, it was a matter of professional hazard: He was a catcher protecting home plate, and when Scott Cousins took his shot at scoring, Posey was there, trying to make a play. Instants later, Posey went from the best young catcher in baseball to a young man in agony at home plate.

Giants fans were understandably devastated. Posey was the best thing to happen to catcher offense since Mike Piazza. His rookie-season performance -- hitting .305/.357/.505 with 18 home runs, gunning down 29 percent of stolen-base attempts and winning the National League Rookie of the Year award -- created a heightened expectation of what was to come. He was the new bright light on a defending champion; a first-rounder who hadn’t just lived up to his promise, he’d taken the Giants to the promised land. And then, one play at the plate later, Posey was dealing with a case of career, interrupted.

Now, one year later, we can say that interruption, however avoidable, however unfortunate, has cost Posey little in terms of what he’s able to do. One year later, and he’s hitting like the same kid catcher who provided so much joy in 2010: .297/.364/.473, not very different from the .297/.366/.479 line that ESPN Insider’s Dan Szymborski projected for him via ZiPS before the season. Posey is fourth in OPS+ and OBP among regular receivers, sixth in slugging, seventh in homers. Quibblers might note that Posey is throwing out just 22 percent of stolen-base attempts, but when people are testing you scarcely more often (0.77 attempts per nine innings) than they do Yadier Molina (0.69), that’s a sign of respect of what Posey is to this day: A big-league catcher.

Losing sight of Posey’s comeback might be easy, especially after the Dodgers’ torrid start. The Giants have had more than their share of problems beyond that: Brian Wilson’s broken beyond repair this season and Pablo Sandoval’s out with a broken hand for a few more weeks yet. Tim Lincecum has delivered just one quality start in 10 this season, and took another beating at the hands of the Fish Friday night. The long-standing Aubrey Huff versus Brandon Belt debate over who should be playing first base has been fairly pointless with both men’s bats missing in action.

But in the big picture, Posey is just the leading example of how much is going right for the Giants already. He joins Melky Cabrera’s crazy-good start, and Posey’s handling a pitching staff that, outside of Lincecum’s woes, may very well be the league’s best. In the two wild-card-team era, that’s something any skipper could work and win with.

You can consider me an interested party as an observer to Posey’s misfortune because, this time last year, I’d selected Posey in ESPN’s franchise player draft. I’d picked Posey before he suffered the injury, but the horror of this play at the plate came before we went to press. In an act of generosity, I was asked if I wanted to change my pick from Posey, taking anyone left on the board. I thought about it … and I said no.

I said no because I believed, or because I wanted to believe, not just in Posey’s promise of what could be, of what was supposed to be, but because I wanted to believe that he’d be back, that he would be every bit the player he’d already been and was always meant to be. I believed because I’m a fan, and in the way that every fan wants to see players play, I wanted to see Posey play again. Call it faith if you want, faith in a player, faith in the miracle of modern orthopedics, but I believed Posey would be back.

It wasn’t simple fandom on my part, and I don’t think any of us kid ourselves over the amount of work that went into his getting back on the field. Frankly, as a Northern Californian and an A’s fan in the late ’70s, I grew up hating the Giants, resenting the affection they received from a fawning press still buzzing off a contact high from Willie Mays, where Charley Finley’s franchise received -- and deserved -- derision. No, if I was a fan of anything, it was Posey’s game, a fan of what baseball deserves, of what he deserves.

So, seeing Posey take the field in Florida to face the Marlins on this unhappy anniversary, you can consider me guilty of a contact high of my own, one that comes from getting to say that this is one of those happy non-news stories: That Buster Posey remains the player he’s supposed to be. And whether you root for the Giants or against them, that’s a beautiful thing, all by itself.

Hunter PenceJeff Curry/US PresswireHunter Pence does a little dance with Shane Victorino, but nobody was the worse for wear.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

Eric Karabell wrote about Kevin Youkilis Insider today and then we talked about Youkilis and two other 30-something third basemen off to slow starts, Scott Rolen and Placido Polanco. We also discussed Chris Young's injury and where Ivan Rodriguez ranks all-time among catchers. Check it out!
MorganRich Pilling/Getty ImagesIn the mid-1970s, Joe Morgan was the best all-around player in baseball -- by a large margin.
In 1975, Joe Morgan hit .327 with 17 home runs and 94 RBIs. Those traditional statistics may not seem impressive, but Morgan’s season ranks as one of the best in the game’s history.

As we begin voting Monday on the greatest individual season of all time, consider Morgan's value that season:

  • He drew 132 walks, giving him a league-leading .466 on-base percentage (the highest figure, by the way, in either league between Mickey Mantle in 1962 and Wade Boggs in 1988).
  • Because of his ability to get on base, he created a lot of runs --about 145, 17 more than the No. 2 hitter in the league, Greg Luzinski. But he created his runs in an efficient manner. He used up 354 outs; Luzinski, by comparison, used up 443 outs. So Morgan created more runs while using up 89 fewer outs.
  • He stole 67 bases in 77 attempts. Factor in his speed, and he was one of the best baserunners in the league.
  • He was an outstanding defensive second baseman, not only winning a Gold Glove but also ranking as the third-best overall defensive player in the National League in 1975, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
  • He did all this in an era when second basemen usually produced little at the plate. In 1975, National League second basemen hit a collective .267/.330/.353 (BA/OBP/SLG) -- with just 80 home runs. Morgan hit nearly one quarter of all home runs by National League second basemen. In 2011 terms, that would be akin to a second baseman hitting close to 50 home runs.
  • The Reds won 108 games, Morgan was the near-unanimous MVP winner, and he even drove in the winning run in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series.

Add it up, and you end up with a player who was the best hitter in the league and one of the best defenders and baserunners in his league, and he did so while towering over other players at his position and playing on a championship team.

The wins above replacement statistic attempts to capture all this. In 1975, Morgan’s Baseball-Reference WAR was 12.0, the best of his career and easily the best in the National League. During his 1972 to 1976 peak, Morgan rated as the best player in the NL four times, at least acording to Baseball-Reference.

In 1975, Morgan was a full five wins better than Mike Schmidt, an astonishing total. Only 12 times since 1901 has a player recorded a bWAR of at least 4.5 wins higher than the No. 2 position player in his league:

1921 AL: Babe Ruth (14.0) over Ty Cobb/Tris Speaker (6.6)
1924 AL: Babe Ruth (11.9) over Harry Heilmann (6.2)
1956 AL: Mickey Mantle (12.9) over Yogi Berra (7.3)
2002 NL: Barry Bonds (12.2) over Jim Edmonds (7.2)
1975 NL: Joe Morgan (12.0) over Mike Schmidt (7.0)
1924 NL: Rogers Hornsby (13.0) over Frankie Frisch (8.0)
1967 AL: Carl Yastrzemski (12.2) over Al Kaline (7.3)
1946 AL: Ted Williams (11.8) over Johnny Pesky (6.9)
1923 AL: Babe Ruth (14.7) over Harry Heilmann (9.8)
1926 AL: Babe Ruth (12.0) over Goose Goslin (7.2)
1922 NL: Rogers Hornsby (10.7) over Dave Bancroft (5.9)
1948 NL: Stan Musial (11.5) over Johnny Mize (6.9)

For what it’s worth, only three of those 12 seasons ended in a World Series title -- Morgan, Mantle and Ruth in 1923.

So maybe Joe Morgan didn’t hit 73 home runs or drive in 191 runs or bat .400. But his 1975 season ranks as sleeper candidate for greatest individual season of all time.

* * * *

It wasn’t easy picking the 32 best seasons. I had two rules: Only one season per player, so we’d end up with a bracket of 32 different players; and I considered only seasons since 1901 (sorry, Ross Barnes fans).

It was important to get a diverse list of eras as well as positions. I did put a little more emphasis on more recent decades; basically, the quality of the game has improved over time, thus making it more difficult to post seasons with huge WAR totals like Ruth put up. Here is the breakdown by decade:

1900s -- 1
1910s -- 3
1920s -- 3
1930s -- 2
1940s -- 4
1950s -- 3
1960s -- 2
1970s -- 3
1980s -- 3
1990s -- 4
2000s -- 4

And by position:

C -- 2; Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza.
1B -- 3; Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Rod Carew.
2B -- 4; Eddie Collins, Rogers Hornsby, Jackie Robinson, Joe Morgan.
3B -- 2; George Brett, Mike Schmidt.
SS -- 5; Honus Wagner, Ernie Banks, Robin Yount, Cal Ripken, Alex Rodriguez.
LF -- 6; Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Rickey Henderson, Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols. (Ruth played left field in 1921, and Pujols primarily played left in 2003.)
CF – 8; Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Hack Wilson, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr. (Musial started at all three outfield positions in 1948 but played the most in center.)
RF -- 2; Hank Aaron, Sammy Sosa.

So there are our 32 players. I didn’t necessarily pick each player’s highest WAR season. In some cases, a player’s iconic season -- like Ted Williams’ .406 year or Hank Aaron’s 1957 MVP campaign -- was selected. In some instances, maybe a player had other things in his favor that would help him to potentially fare better in the voting, like a big RBI total. Certainly, WAR is a good baseline to use because it helps us adjust for differences in eras, but it shouldn’t be the only factor in determining the better season between two players. Was what Williams accomplished in 1941 more impressive than what Morgan accomplished in 1975? Is Yount being the best hitter in his league while playing shortstop more impressive than what Babe Ruth did in 1921 against an inferior brand of pitching? Maybe you prefer the all-around brilliance of Mays or DiMaggio over the pure hitting dominance of Rogers Hornsby or Lou Gehrig.

Which seasons just missed the cut? There were seven players who had a bWAR season of at least 10.0 who didn’t make the bracket -- Lou Boudreau, Jason Giambi, Ron Santo, Adrian Beltre, Home Run Baker, Norm Cash and Matt Kemp. Sorry, guys. (Just noticed there are three third basemen there; too late now to change the final 32, unfortunately.)

So get to the bracket and start voting. We’ll do one round per day this week, culminating in the final matchup on Friday.

Let the debates begin.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
The Jorge Posada situation is interesting on many levels, but to me it's clear what's going on: Much like the Ken Griffey Jr. situation last season in Seattle, a franchise icon is struggling and appears at the end of his career. The organization doesn't want to look bad by releasing a beloved player, so it attempts to turn public opinion against the player. (Remember the whole "Griffey falling asleep in the clubhouse" story from last year?)

Now, my take is this: the Yankees have paid Posada more than $100 million in his career. He's been a valuable (and underrated) player to the franchise and has been well-compensated for providing such production. What, exactly, do they owe him? They gave him an over-market and over-long four-year contract as he was entering his age-36 season, not the wisest investment to begin with. They've been lucky to get the years out of him that they did, including a terrific 2009 when he helped them win the World Series.

The club wants to call up top prospect Jesus Montero. He can DH, he can spell Russell Martin behind the plate once or twice or week (allowing Alex Rodriguez or another position a player a day off in the field) and the Yankees would be a better ballclub for it. Just tell that to the fans and release Posada. The fans will understand. I'm pretty sure they care more about winning than sentiment.

And for those who believe this would look bad to other major leaguers, who may then be reluctant to sign with the Yankees, I say: Really? You think a future free agent would turn down more money from the Yankees because they once released Jorge Posada? Please.

* * * *

I've always felt Posada has been vastly underappreciated during this 15-year run of Yankee greatness. Switch-hitting catchers with power and plate discipline don't grow on trees. I recently ranked Posada the eighth-greatest Yankee of all time ... ahead of Mariano Rivera. Pretty much everyone disagrees with that, but employing one of the best catchers of all time is more valuable in my opinion than employing the greatest closer ever.

Where does Posada rank all time? Let's run some numbers. If you're not familiar with WAR, it stands for wins above a replacement level player for that position. OPS+ is a players on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, adjusted for home park and era, and scaled to where 100 is a league average hitter. Anyway, here are the top 10 catches via WAR from Baseball-Reference.com, plus Posada and Roy Campanella.

Posada spent his first year in the minor league as a second baseman. But 20 errors in 64 games at Oneonta necessitated a position change and he moved to catcher. He was never a top prospect coming through the minors; although he displayed good patience and moderate power, he hit just .258 in six minor league seasons, including three years at Triple-A learning the catching craft.

As a rookie in 1997, Joe Girardi earned the majority of the playing time. Posada turned 26 that year and hit .250. Nobody was predicting he'd turn into a star at that point.

Because of that late start, Posada falls just short of the top-10 catchers on the career WAR value list above. But what about peak value? I like to look at a player's best eight consecutive seasons as another way to assess his value, more of a "Did he dominate when he was at his best?" kind of question. Obviously, not every player has his best eight seasons consecutively, but it's just another to break down a player's career.

1. Johnny Bench (1968-1975), 49.2 WAR (43.4 offense, 5.8 defense)
2. Gary Carter (1978-1985), 49.2 WAR (38.5, 10.7)
3. Mike Piazza (1993-2000), 48.4 WAR (50.6, -2.2)
4. Yogi Berra (1950-1957), 41.9 WAR (40.3, 1.6)
5. Mickey Cochrane (1928-1935), 40.9 WAR (41.0, -0.1)
6. Ivan Rodriguez (1997-2004), 40.2 WAR (32.8, 7.4)
7. Ted Simmons (1973-1980), 38.0 WAR (39.4, -1.4)
8. Jorge Posada (2000-2007), 37.1 WAR (37.8, -0.7)
9. Bill Dickey (1932-1939), 36.1 WAR (35.7, 0.4)
10. Roy Campanella (1948-1955), 34.4 WAR (33.0, 1.4)
11. Carlton Fisk (1972-1979), 33.8 WAR (31.4, 2.4)
12. Gabby Hartnett (1930-1937), 28.5 WAR (27.4, 1.1)

Anyway, not a bad career for an error-prone minor league second baseman. Even though he has a solid case as one of the 10-12 most valuable catchers ever, it seems to fall a little short of Hall of Fame standards in my book, even with extra credit for World Series rings.

Posada wasn't in the lineup Wednesday night (Derek Jeter got a night at DH) and I get the feeling we won't be seeing him much there in the coming weeks. I suppose if he's forced out he'll end up leaving the majors like he came in -- very quietly.

(For more Yankees coverage, check out our SweetSpot blog affiliate, It's About the Money, Stupid.)

Which caps will they wear into the Hall?

January, 7, 2010
Hey, if we can wonder who will be elected to the Hall of Fame in 2013, why not wonder about the logos on their caps? The Hardball Times' Pat Andriola starts with Mike Piazza. After running through the numbers, Andriola's big finish:

    Although he played better ball as a Dodger, he played longer while on the Mets, and exposed himself to the playoffs and the New York media, ultimately cementing himself as part of the franchise. Again, I admit personal bias, but if I had to guess, I'd say Mike goes into the Hall of Fame in 2012 with a NY cap on his head.

I agree that Piazza should go into the Hall of Fame as a Met. But it's close enough that his input might play a role, and I don't have any idea which way he's leaning. I'm also not so sure he'll be elected in 2012. Or rather, 2013.

Piazza last played in 2007, so he's not Hall-eligible until 2013. Also eligible in 2013: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Craig Biggio, Curt Schilling, and Sammy Sosa. Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa all will lose some votes because of the drug questions but isn't it possible that Piazza will, too? At least one voter has thrown out some wild accusations, and there's no telling what else might be thrown out between now and 2013.

Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. Yes, a Mets logo would seem to be in order if and when Piazza is elected.

What about some other top candidates and their plaque-caps?

Clemens won 193 games (including postseason) with the Red Sox, 84 with the Yankees, 42 with the Astros, and 41 with the Blue Jays. He won three Cy Youngs with the Red Sox, two with the Jays, and one apiece with the Yankees and Astros.

Verdict: Red Sox, obviously. No matter what he says.

Schilling is a tough one. Of his 216 regular-season victories, 101 came as a Phillie. He won 58 as a Diamondback and 53 while wearing the Red Sox. But when you think of Schilling, do you see him in a Phillies uniform? I don't. I see him in a Diamondbacks uniform, pitching brilliantly during their 2001 World Series run. And I see him in a Red Sox uniform, with that famously bloody white sock.

Verdict: Let him decide.

Mike Mussina's an easy one, I guess. He won 147 games as an Oriole, only 123 as a Yankee. He posted a 3.53 ERA as an Oriole, just 3.88 as a Yankee. He never won a Cy Young Award, but did have six top-5 finishes; five came with the Orioles. Mussina did record his only 20-win season as a Yankee. He won only two postseason games as an Oriole, and five as a Yankee, but never more than one in a single postseason, and just once in the World Series. It's close, but ...

Verdict: Orioles

For Randy Johnson, it's obviously the Mariners or the Diamondbacks. As a Mariner, he went 130-74 with a 3.42 ERA. As a Diamondback, he went 118-62 with a 2.83 ERA. Slight edge for M's, maybe. But Johnson's winning percentage was slightly better with the Diamondbacks, plus he won four Cy Young Awards with them, plus he won three games in the 2001 World Series.

Verdict: Diamondbacks

Gary Sheffield has played for eight teams. He's got four top-6 MVP finishes, each with a different team. He's spent as many as four seasons with just one team (the Marlins) but was on the DL for big chunks of two of those seasons. So, what do you do with him?

Well, let's start by eliminating the Brewers (bad memories), Braves and Tigers (two seasons), Padres (just one-and-a-half seasons) and Mets (one season). That leaves the Marlins, Dodgers, and Yankees. But Sheffield played only 347 games as a Yankee, and didn't play particularly well (by his own standards).

Which leaves the Marlins and Dodgers. Sheffield played 556 games as a Marlin, with a 156 OPS+. He played 526 games as a Dodgers, with a 160 OPS+. Close enough to a tie, right? Except for two things. Sheffield was a key to the Marlins' World Championship in 1997, while he never played a postseason game with the Dodgers. Also, Sheffield is a Florida native.

Verdict: Marlins

If Ken Griffey, Jr. had finished his career with the Reds -- as many of us might have expected -- there might be some argument here. Just in terms of seasons, Griffey would have wound up playing as many seasons (if not more) in Cincinnati as in Seattle. Sure, his best years would have come with the Mariners. But when you throw in Cincinnati being his home town (of sorts), there was an argument there.

No more. With Griffey spending a couple of months with the White Sox, then returning to Seattle for one season (so far), there shouldn't be any question here.

Verdict: Mariners

See, that wasn't so hard.