Friday, September 18, 2009


So, great news (for me)--this blog is moving! I'm joining a couple Friends of the Blog, and a whole bunch of great sports bloggers I don't know yet, over at the Bloguin Network. Very excited about the move--they've designed a much prettier new site for me, and the network is growing really fast with all kinds of quality sports blogs (mostly sports, anyway, as far as I know). It's exciting stuff.

In related news, I've finally shelled out the ten bucks for my own domain name:

So while you'll have to update your RSS feeds, bookmarks, etc., and that will be annoying, and I'm sorry, at least the new addy will be easy to remember!

Please join me over there, take a look around, leave a comment, etc. There's nothing new up there right now, but as of tomorrow (or at least by Monday--headed to Wisconsin and a Brewers game this weekend), the baseball-related ramblings will be popping up over there, just like they used to over here, just about every single day.

And this one will be dead. Still here, but dead. So remember: See you there!

Should Vada Pinson be in the Hall of Fame?

Friend of the Blog Brad from Baseball In-Depth doesn't say it in so many words, but seems to think so. As (understandably, I suppose) do the folks at Reds Nation.

Brad does what he does often and very well, which is compile really interesting (if kind of arbitrary) sets of statistical benchmarks a player reached in his [career/season/series of seasons] and show you in whose select company the player put himself by putting up those numbers. It's good stuff. Here, Brad comes up with critera that puts Pinson up there with the likes of Bonds, A-Rod, Mays, and Aaron. And those lists are great fun, and the accomplishments are pretty impressive.

But here's another list Pinson will end up on, should he ever make it into the Hall:
Harry Hooper
Sam Rice
Richie Ashburn
Vada Pinson
Billy Southworth
Lou Brock
Max Carey
Tommy McCarthy
Ned Hanlon
Lloyd Waner

That is the complete list of current Hall of Famers (plus Pinson, placed where he would fall in the order) who had significant Major League careers as players, were primarily outfielders, and put up an OPS+ of 115 or less.

With the exception of Brock, every one of these guys was elected by the Veterans' Committee, in whose fickle (and brittle) hands Pinson's hopes now rest. Brock is frankly a pretty questionable selection himself, but he did have 3000 hits and hold the all-time stolen base record for quite a while, so we'll leave him out of it.

Hooper is a virtual unknown today, but it just so happens that he was inducted five years after the wonderful book The Glory of Their Times, in which he was prominently interviewed, was published. I'm willing to bet that that had more to do with his place in the Hall than his 2466 hits or .281 batting average.

Rice hit .322 and is currently the player who has come the closest to 3,000 hits without actually getting there (and will probably be so forever, since nowadays a player who needed fewer than 13 hits to get there would almost certainly be able to find somebody to put him on the field for a few final weeks). I'd still argue he was a very poor selection, as his gaudy batting average was almost entirely a product of the live ball era.

Ashburn is one of the greatest defensive center fielders ever to play the game, and led his league in OBP four times. When is a 110 OPS+ more than a 110 OPS+? When you're a leadoff hitter with a career .396 OBP and can cover ground like Mays or Speaker.

Southworth was inducted as a manager.

Carey is probably the best comp for Pinson currently in the Hall. Mostly a center fielder but probably not a great one, OK but not great hitter. Carey has going for him a vastly superior OBP and a huge string of years leading the league in stolen bases; Pinson probably had a better peak. It's hard to see what it is that caught the VetCom's eye with Carey.

McCarthy was a giant collective brain fart by the VetCom. All but one of his good years were in the old American Association, and even giving him credit for those, he shows up as an average hitter with a way-too-short career.

Hanlon is another manager.

Waner is famously one of the worst selections the VetCom has ever made -- it almost seems like some of them just confused Lloyd with his very-good-at-baseball brother.

So you can see where I come out on this. Pinson did have a very nice start to his career; from ages 20-24, he played virtually every game his team did and posted a 128 OPS+. But that's all that is, a nice start--once it became clear that that was his peak (just one that hit much earlier than normal), that didn't look very impressive at all. And from age 25 through the end of his career, he was basically an average hitter.

I understand that OPS+ isn't everything. Not even close. But the thing is, that fact actually hurts Pinson more than it helps him, since a hitter's most important job by far is to get on base, and Pinson's OPS came mostly from his power. OPS+ certainly wasn't what the voting writers were looking at when they rejected him in the 1980s, but they were nonetheless able to gather that he simply wasn't that good.

And there's something to be said for star power, flash, leading the league in various categories, and so on...but I just don't think that two top-ten MVP finishes, one gold glove, two all-star appearances, and a couple years leading the league in hits, doubles or triples comes anywhere close to getting Pinson there. The likes of Brady Anderson and Steve Finley (did anyone else know those two were brothers-in-law until just now?!) have most of those things.

Another number: 55.7. That represents Pinson's Adjusted Wins Above Replacement Player according to Baseball Prospectus, another thing I'm quite sure the voters in the '80s weren't looking at. If Jim Rice (55.1) is your idea of a qualified Hall of Famer, maybe Pinson is your guy. It's also worth noting that he finishes ahead of Brock (54.4) Lloyd Waner (38.6!!), and Sam Rice (50.6), and comes within spitting distance of Hooper (57.7) and Carey (59.1). He beats a few more atrocious selections like Chick Hafey (31.1!!!) and Chuck Klein (44.4), and comes fairly close to Billy Williams (59.3).

But he's well behind guys generally considered (or considered by me, at least) to be deserving-but-low-end Hall of Famers, like Ashburn (76.2), Puckett (66.5), Stargell (82.2), and Slaughter (72.1). He's also pretty indistinguishable from non-Hallers Fred Lynn (56.2), Darryl Strawberry (60.0), and Dave Parker (58.5), and he's way behind Dwight Evans (70.2).

Again, not by any means a decisive factor on its own, but I think that if you take everything together, the inescapable conclusion is that Pinson is deserving only if you're in favor of a really big Hall--one that has room for not only both Rices and Carey and Hooper and Brock, but also Lynn and Strawberry and Parker and Evans and probably Dale Murphy and Harold Baines and a couple dozen other guys.

I think Pinson has a good chance to get in. It's the Veterans' Committee, and he's a Red, and Joe Morgan's on the Veterans' Committee. And if he does get in, he'll be very far from the worst selection they've ever made. But in this day and age it would be tough for them to top the likes of Hafey and McCarthy in terrible selection terms. And I think that at the end of the day, Pinson just wasn't even that good, let alone great, and there's really no reason to put him in the Hall.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Best One-Link Links Post Ever

I don't have time today, but luckily, junior from the brilliant but now long-departed FJM blog put up one of the greatest things I've ever read in my whole sadly long history of reading stuff on the internet:

Jesus Is The Derek Jeter Of Christianity

In which the author basically goes all FJM on the ass of Allen Barra, normally a pretty solid dude as baseball writers go, who (about two weeks ago now on made a truly pitiful attempt to make a case for Derek Jeter to win the MVP award. I mean, no serious case can be made, for Jeter or for anyone other than Mauer, but Barra did a noteworthily execrable job of trying to make one. And junior points out exactly how and why that is like no one else (except those other FJM guys) can.

Junior is hilarious, and it's great when he gets really great material (that is, really awful writing) to work with. If you haven't happened to read this yet, go do it. And if you saw it but didn't make it all the way to the last paragraph, you missed the best part...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Somethingiest Something of the Aughts: The Hitters

Funny thing about writing a daily blog with no remuneration and no one to hold you accountable: sometimes life gets in the way and you don't really feel like writing anything. Sorry about my absence on Tuesday, but real-life Monday sucked like you wouldn't believe. Things now are...not okay, but they're not getting any worse, so here's your new thing.

As he often does, Rob Neyer made me think of something today. He pointed out (via some link to somebody else) that there's something of a race for the batting champion of the decade, with Ichiro! and Pujols running pretty much neck-and-neck. Which left me wondering who led in all the various other categories, and by how much. And as long as I was wondering, I thought I might as well write about it. Verducci, the "somebody else" in Neyer's post, did much the same thing, but I don't care about that, and I'm going to look at some different categories and in a different way. So away we go, stats through Monday night:

Home Runs: Alex Rodriguez, 430
No surprise here. A-Rod led his league in homers five times this decade, and this is the first year he's likely to finish out of the top eight (and he's only four out of the top ten, with at least two of the dudes in front of him out for the rest of the season). What's a little surprising is by how much A-Rod leads: he's up by 62 over Jim Thome's 368, meaning he's hit about 17% more homers than anybody else this decade. The 1990s' leader was Mark McGwire, with 405. The 1980s? Mike Schmidt, with 313. Eight players have hit more than 313 homers from 2000 through 2009, and I suppose Andruw Jones or Lance Berkman could make it nine or ten with a couple hot weeks.

Runs Batted In: Rodriguez, 1227
That's right, the unclutchiest choker ever leads the decade in the lazy man's ultimate clutchy stat, by a comfy 125 over Pujols (approximately one season's worth, which is appropriate since Pujols didn't start playing until 2001). Your 1990s leader was Albert Belle (really?) with 1099, and 1980s was Eddie Murray with 996. Murray's total would place 10th in the 2000s, right between Big Papi and Bobby Abreu.

Runs Scored: Rodriguez, 1181
That A-Rod guy? He's a good player. And one who stayed pretty healthy for an entire numerological decade, which has at least as much to do with it. This is a closer contest than the ones above, with Johnny Damon close behind at 1110. Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu mean that four of the top five have spent at least some of the decade as Yankees. 1990s: Barry Bonds, 1091. 1980s: Rickey Henderson, 1122. Hey, score one for the eighties, almost!

On-Base Percentage (min. 3000 PA): Barry Bonds, .517
What what what? Bonds OBP'ed over .500 for the whole decade? Somehow that shocks me. But I guess OBPing .559 in 2001-2004, four of his five full years in the decade, will do that. Todd Helton is a distant second with a Coors-aided .439, with only three other players within 100 points of Bonds. Frank Thomas led the nineties at .440 (Bonds just behind at a merely fantastic .434); 1980s, Wade Boggs at an equal but more dominant .440.

Slugging Percentage: Bonds, .724
Naturally, and well ahead of Pujols at .630 (though Pujols will end up with nearly 2000 more plate appearances in the decade). 1990s: McGwire, .615 (Bonds right behind again at .602); in the 1980s, Schmidt at .540. In the aughts, you'd have to go to #19 before you drop below .540; Schmidt slots between Teixeira at .542 and Bagwell at .534.

OPS+: Bonds, 221
Well, duh. Pujols second at 173, then Manny at 160. Theoretically, this should be pretty constant across the decades, and it almost works that way, but doesn't. Bonds paces the nineties again at 179, Schmidt the 80's at 153.

Stolen Bases: Juan Pierre, 455
That surprised me a little, but Pierre has played since 2000 and was a regular from 2001 until late 2008, while Carl Crawford (#2 but way behind at 359) didn't play full time until 2003 and missed about a third of 2008. 1990s: Otis Nixon, 478; 1980s: Rickey Henderson, 838. Rickey led that decade by a whopping 255 (over Tim Raines) and missed leading the 1990s by 15, coming in second place. He was #105 in the 2000s.

Hit By Pitch: Jason Kendall, 155.
Up by 17 on Jason Giambi. I never thought of A-Rod or Jeter as guys who get plunked a lot, but they're both in the top ten; lots of plate appearances -> lots of stray inside fastballs, I guess. Chase Utley has been hit 104 times despite not becoming a regular until 2005. Craig Biggio was hit 147 times in the 90s (and was fourth in the 2000s at 132). Don Baylor crushed everyone else in the eighties with 160, 52 more than Chet Lemon and more than three times as many as #8 Lloyd Moseby.

Sacrifice Flies: Mike Lowell, 76.
Now that's a surprise. One leadoff triple by Denard Span could mean that Lowell gets tied by the even more surprising Orlando Cabrera, now at 75, and don't count out the less surprising Carlos Lee (74). After that, you hit Abreu at 66, and I don't think he's getting ten sac flies in three weeks. Frank Thomas had 82 in the nineties, Andre Dawson 74 in the eighties.

Double Play Groundouts: Miguel Tejada, 222.
Again, the identity of the leader is surprising, but even more surprising is the margin; Miggy is crushing Paul Konerko and his 193. Belle led the 1990s at 172, and Jim Rice predictably dominated the 1980s with 224. Rice's 224 trumps Tejada's 222 by more than it looks like, considering that (a) Julio Franco was second in the eighties at 166, which would've been seventh in the aughts, and (b) Tejada took over a thousand more plate appearances than Rice did to arrive at his total.

Plate Appearances: Bobby Abreu, 6864
This one could very easily change hands before the end of the decade, as Derek Jeter is only six behind Abreu and is batting leadoff for the best offense in the majors. Next is Tejada, a hundred behind Jeter. Biggio had 6794 in the nineties and Dale Murphy had 6540 in the eighties.

Hits: Ichiro!, 2005
He's 85 ahead of Jeter or anyone else for the decade, which is especially impressive when you consider that he was in Japan for the year 2000. Going down the rest of the list, Pujols is the next one you'll see that did not play at least a little big-league ball in both 2000 and 2009 (he's ninth at 1697), and to find the next such player, you'd have to go all the way down to #33 and Jeff Kent, who retired after last season and may end up 600 hits behind Ichiro for the decade.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Just a Day: April 15, 1968

I've finally broken the twin streaks of posting these on the 10th of the month and writing about the 10th of a month. This time around, the randomizer gave us Tax Day in the Year of the Pitcher, April 15, 1968.

1968 was a fascinating year, but April 15 was a Monday, which, like now, was probably the slowest baseball day of the week. Only six games were played, and five of them were kind of unspectacular. Let's get to that one huge, glaring exception right away, huh?
  • The Astros beat the Mets 1-0 in 24 innings. About 35% of the innings played in all of MLB on this day are played between the two relatively recent expansion squads. 23 year old Tom Seaver starts and goes 10 for the Metropolitans, permitting only two hits and no walks, and at one point retiring 25 batters in a row, but I guess he didn't pitch well enough to win, as Don Wilson gives up five hits and three walks but holds the Mets scoreless through nine.

    The Mets threaten in a few innings, but can't get anything through; the Astros get a man on third with one out in the second (on a double and a Seaver wild pitch), but then see him erased on a fielder's choice groundout and don't get another baserunner until the 10th. There's a lot of back and forth in extras, but nobody can get a run across until the 24th. In the bottom of that inning, with Les Rohr pitching, Norm Miller singles. Rohr then balks with Jimmy Wynn batting, so Wynn is then intentionally walked. After a weak Rusty Staub groundout advances both runners, pinch hitter John Bateman is also intentionally walked, bringing up Bob Aspromonte, who blew the Astros' previous best chance in the 2nd. Here, he hits a grounder to short. Utilityman Al Weis boots it, and the longest shutout win in history is over. Some contemporary accounts reprinted here.

  • Just a couple more things about that amazing game--Tommie Agee and Ron Swaboda both go 0-f0r-10. Both teams finish an identical 11-for-79, a .139 batting average. Pitchers issue a total of twelve walks, six of them intentional. One of the only hitters to have what you might call a good day is Hector Torres, a career .218/.260/.281 hitter, who had three singles in eight at-bats. There are 35 strikeouts, and Seaver records only three of them.

  • The Twins beat the Orioles 6-3. Carew and Oliva collect two hits apiece, and Bob Allison has two doubles and a triple. Dick Boswell goes the distance to get the win, permitting four hits and six walks while striking out seven (too bad they don't have pitch counts available). The Twins go to 5-0 on the year, but go 74-83 the rest of the way and finish 24 games behind Detroit. One telling sign of the times: Bob Allison, a fading star in his last full year at just 33, had a productive season batting 5th in a pretty powerful lineup in front of three pretty great hitters (though they were rarely all healthy at the same time this season), cracks out 22 home runs...and ends up with 52 RBI.

  • Bob Gibson has arguably the "worst" game of his incredible season, permitting three earned on five hits and three walks (striking out five) in seven innings of work. The Cards come back to win it in 10 innings, 4-3, Joe Hoerner facing one batter to earn credit for the "win." Gibson gives up 3 or more earned seven times in 1968, but after this, his second start of the season, doesn't go less than 8 innings in any other start all season (he'd also gone 7 in his first start on April 10).

  • The A's beat the Yankees, 6-3. I mention this only because a 22 year old named Reggie Jackson, who hits his second home run of the season, was batting second in the A's order. He batted second for the first 32 games, 8th (!) for a while, then 5th or 6th for a while, then moved back to second for most of the rest of the season, starting a total of 69 games there. Almost nobody these days (or then, I would think) would bat a guy who strikes out as often as Reggie in the #2 slot, but it's a pretty good spot to put him. Of course, the following year, 1969, is the one in which Reggie had 37 homers at the break, and 47 for the year. He started that year batting second too, but was very quickly moved to the third slot, and spent the next 18 years or so batting third or fourth somewhere.

  • Billy Brewer is born. Lefty reliever in the mid to late nineties, and one of the great baseball names of all time.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Jeter Is Just Alright with Me

So Derek Jeter has been in the news quite a bit lately. He is, after all, the most recent proud owner of a Viagra Milestone Moment. Yesterday, Craig was excoriated by legions of barely literate Yankee fans* in the comments to the NBC blog for suggesting that maybe seven separate stories by one newspaper surrounding the tying (not even setting, tying) of a single franchise record by a single player was overkill.

* I'm not making a generalization about Yankee fans at all, just talking about those particular Yankee fans, and I'm not exaggerating. Go read those comments and discover for yourself.

Also yesterday, Jason at IIATMS put up what I think is a really nice piece on what Jeter means to him as a fan. And I think that's great. Jason expresses exactly what one should feel about a great player that's played for your own team for 14 years.

I've been a pretty harsh Jeter-basher over the years (only mentioned him once on this blog, but it wasn't friendly), but none of that has anything to do with how Yankee fans feel about him. And really, none of it has anything to do with Jeter himself; while I feel he's showboated and behaved overtly selfishly more than the greatest leader in baseball history should, guys who play hard are fun, and he seems like a pretty solid character overall.

Rather, my problem has been with how the national media has taken all that love and all that character and rolled it together into this larger-than-life, iconic hero for the whole baseball nation. It obscures his weaknesses--which have been real and numerous--and takes a lot of attention away from other players who (if only momentarily) have been better. Kirby Puckett and Tony Gwynn were heroes to their own fans, and that's a wonderful thing. And they were great players. But they weren't the kind of players who should have dominated all coverage of the sport. I believe that essentially, Jeter is basically what would've happened if Puckett or Gwynn or Cal Ripken, Jr. had played his entire career with the Yankees instead. And that can get awfully annoying to the rest of us.

But let me change gears completely: I think it's time for us -- and by "us" I mean sabermetric types who are fans of teams other than the Yankees -- to back the hell off and give Jeter his due. No, to this point, he arguably hasn't been markedly greater than Barry Larkin or Alan Trammell, both of whom will have a hard time getting into the Hall, while Jeter will waltz in on the first ballot if he retires tomorrow. But those guys should be in the Hall, and the unfortunate fact that they haven't gotten the attention they deserve isn't a great reason to deprive Jeter of the credit he has earned.

Furthermore, you can't really look at Jeter and compare him to those other guys and say "and he hasn't even had his decline phase yet!" anymore. Yes, the decline phase is coming eventually, but Jeter is 35 years old. At 35, Trammell was no longer a full-time player, and immediately became a very bad half-time player for his final three seasons starting with age 36. Larkin had already declined significantly and was in his last year as a useful player. Jeter, meanwhile, is having one of the best seasons of his career.

And then there's that defense. I remain thoroughly convinced that Jeter has never been even an average shortstop, and I think Bill James was probably more or less right when he wrote that he was one of the worst regular shortstops we've ever seen who was allowed to stay at the position for more than a year or so. Moreover, it still kind of pisses me off that they moved A-Rod to third for him, when A-Rod was obviously the superior shortstop. But. UZR and plus/minus aren't available before 2002, and I don't trust any other defensive stats. Even the new measures are subject to wild fluctuations from year to year that can't just be explained away by players having good years or bad years. But by UZR, Jeter has had two awful years, one bad year, and four more or less average years since 2002, and now this year he's been above zero, and actually very good (+5.1). I'm not prepared to believe that a guy who can look that good at age 35, and average so many other times, is as awful as we once thought.

Another common stathead criticism of Jeter is that (in a given year) he's not even the best player on his own team, and I guess I get that when you're trying to combat all the Jeter love, but it also strikes me as a little silly--the fact that Bernie Williams is having a great year or A-Rod is A-Rod shouldn't take away from Jeter's greatness any more than Nick Punto and Delmon Young being bad at baseball should take away from Mauer's MVP candidacy. And at any rate, now -- at an age when most middle infielders, even the best of them, are in serious decline or retired -- Jeter unquestionably is the best player on his team, and that team is the best team in the game right now. So that doesn't work anymore either.

Finally, there's his consistency. Jeter has been one of the two or three best shortstops in the American League every single year for at least the last twelve and possibly more, and that's really something when you're playing at the same time as A-Rod and Nomah and Miggy. That's more than one can say for Trammell or Larkin, both of whom fluctuated quite a bit over their careers (and Larkin was always hurt). Jeter could justifiably have won two MVPs, and would be in line for a third deserving MVP this season if not for Mauer.

No, Jeter is not one of the three or four best Yankees of all time. It's profoundly silly to compare him favorably to Ruth, Mantle, Gehrig or DiMaggio. But he's a great, great player, certainly among the greatest of our current time, and it's time to stop begrudging Yankee fans their right to enjoy that. And maybe to start enjoying it just a little bit ourselves? I can't believe I just said that.

Totally cool to keep ripping on ESPN and Tim McCarver, though. I mean, everybody has a breaking point.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Three Comparisons

One: Half-Season MVP Division
Through their first 42 games with their new, National League teams:
Manny Ramirez, 2008: .395/.478/.743 (1.222 OPS), 29 R, 14 HR, 43 RBI
Matt Holliday, 2009: .379/.437/.702 (1.139 OPS), 33 R, 12 HR, 41 RBI
(thanks to the StL P-D for that one.)

Two: I Told You So Division
Orlando Cabrera, since August 1: .256/.283/.353 (.636 OPS), -6.2 UZR (yes, -6.2 runs in 34 games. I mean, what?)
Nick Punto, season: .220/.320/.275 (.595 OPS), +1.4 UZR

Three: Obviously, They're Just Being Cheap Again Division
Since June 3:
Nate McLouth: .264/.353/.439 (.792 OPS), -5.2 UZR
Andrew McCutchen: .278/.355/.470 (.826 OPS), +2.4 UZR