Friday, January 1, 2010

2010 Hall of Fame Ballot, Part 3.

  • Eric Karros (1B) - .268 BA, 1724 hits, 284 HRs, 1047 RBIs, Rookie of the Year (1992), 1 Top 5 MVP finish. A rich man's Wally Joyner, perhaps? Karros' numbers were typical for a solid first baseman in the 1970s and early 80s, but he gets hurt on two fronts. First, he played in Dodgers Stadium, traditionally one of the best pitching parks in the league. Second, his career fell almost entirely during the offensive explosion of the 1990s, and he numbers were regularly overshadowed by contemporaries like Bagwell, Frank Thomas, and to a lesser extent, Mark Grace. Maybe he's a poor man's Mark Grace? Or Jeff Bagwell? Karros never won a Gold Glove, beaten regularly by Mark Grace and later J.T. Snow, and was just an average fielder by most evaluating criteria. One final note: Bill James and the rest of Sabrematicians, have, by studying thousands of baseball careers, surmised the average right-handed batter peaks in offensive numbers at age 27, and left-handers a year later. The real only group that doesn't match this are catchers, who tend to be rushed to the majors because of their defensive skills, and don't peak until their early 30s as hitters. Now that we're getting players who fell during the Steroid Era, isn't it wise to at least look at possible steroid users, simply by evaluating their years? Take Karros, for example:

  1. Age 27: .298 BA, 32 HR, 105 RBI, .905 OPS (145 OPS+)
  2. Age 28: .260 BA, 34 HR, 111 RBI, .795 OPS (113 OPS+)
  3. Age 29: .266 BA, 31 HR, 104 RBI, .787 OPS (110 OPS+)
His peak was at age 27, and began a subtle decline. But then...

4. Age 31: .304 BA, 34 HR, 112 RBI, .912 OPS (132 OPS+)
5. Age 32: .250 BA, 31 HR, 106 RBI, .780 OPS (100 OPS+)

Which suggests at age 32 he produced at the league average. He never in a full season reached that level again. Did Karros try steroids? Why a second peak at age 31 in his career? What the voters will do: Nice career Eric, and thanks. What the voters should do: One and done.
  • Ray Lankford (OF) - .272 BA, 1561 hits, 238 HR, 874 RBI, 258 SBs, 122 OPS+, 1 All Star game. Lankford joined the Cardinals in the early 90s, finishing 3rd in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1991, replacing Willie McGee in center field. I'm not sure if Ray was ever able to decide what type of ballplayer he should be. His first two full years in the NL he stole 40+ bases, but was caught a ton of times, and through his first four years was under 60% for success rate. After that, he became much more successful on the basepaths, finally winding up successful 69% for his career...but he never reached 30 again. He struck out a ton, and in his early 30s became an on-base machine and offered 30+ HRs in 1997 and 1998, when HRs went through the roof in the league overall. While his OPS peaked in those years (at age 30 and 31), his career looks like a normal bell curve, rather than two distinct peaks. His legs went first (his 15 triples his rookie year was never topped), and then his ability to catch the inside fastball. He returned to St. Louis in 2004 at age 37 hoping to rekindle that ability, but it was five years removed. What the voters will do: One and done. What the voters should do: One and done. What Tim Kurkjian will do: Rave about what an outstanding ballplayer he was, then check "yes".
  • Barry Larkin (SS) - .295 BA, 2340 hits, 198 HRs, 960 RBIs, 116 OPS+, 12 All Star games, 3 Gold Gloves, 1995 MVP winner, 1 other Top 10 finish (twice finished 12th). Barry Larkin is one of two people on this year's ballot I can't decide from day-to-day whether he should be in the Hall of Fame. I'll discuss at length my criteria in the other player's section, but let me first point out the negatives about Larkin, and then rebut them. No: He played nineteen seasons, and was often injured, amassing only 7937 at bats and 9057 plate appearances. If they were spread evenly over his career, he would qualify for a batting title by only 6 plate appearances, and would appear in only 114 games a year. Yes: He was good enough to stay in the league for 19 years, even after injuries that would've retired many other players. No: He only won 3 Gold Gloves in his lengthy career. Yes: His career overlapped Ozzie Smith's, arguably the best defensive shortstop in the history of the game, yet still made 12 All Star games, equal to Roberto Alomar. No: his offensive statistics don't dominate like today's shortstops, winding up with less than 200 HRs and 1000 RBIs. Yes: When judged against his contemporaries, only Ripken outproduced him, and while Larkin was in the lineup he could match Ripken. In addition, when Ripken got older he moved to third base, an easier position to field, while Larkin stayed at shortstop his whole career. What the voters will do: Larkin will squeak in on the first ballot. What the voters should do: Today, I'm with the voters. Ask me again tomorrow.
  • Edgar Martinez (DH) - .312 BA, 2247 hits, 309 HRs, 1261 RBIs, .418 OBP, .933 OPS, 147 OPS+, 7 All Star games, 2 Top 10 MVP finishes. Last year when the voters were deciding who should make the HOF and who shouldn't, I took a stand against Bert Blyleven. This year, I'm making my stand against Martinez. Why? The arguments for Edgar go something like this:
1. Best DH ever, they even named the award after him.
2. One of the best hitters in the league; retired before he slipped too far.
3. Didn't receive the accolades he should have because he played in Seattle, well out of the view of mainstream America.
4. Career wasn't long enough, but that's the fault of Seattle's management, since Edgar didn't get his chance until he was 27 while keeping a dead body named Jim Presley at third base.
5. He wasn't a bad fielder, they just wanted to protect his legs from injuries after he pulled a hamstring early in his career.
6. Just because he only hit can't be held against him - he played more innings and had more at-bats than pitchers like Goose Gossage faced hitters. If Goose can make it, so can Edgar.

I'll try and refute each of these arguments in order, but to do so I have to explain my opinion on the criteria for the HOF. I believe, to be inducted into the HOF, a player/pitcher must be both:
  • One of the dominant players in the league for a period of time
  • Must have a lengthy enough career to reach certain milestones.
  • If one is not dominant (the Don Sutton corollary), then one must achieve the Pantheon of Statistics, 300 wins or 3000 hits. 500 HRs used to be the number, but due to the 1990s I think Reggie Jackson's 563 might be the new number, or even 600.
With that in mind, let me approach the current arguments in favor of the World's Greatest DH.

1. Yes, they named the DH award after him. Can someone explain to me why there is a specific name for the award? Is there an award for being the best second baseman? And why do they choose someone who just retired to become the poster boy for the award? There are some that argue Edgar won't get his just due because he was a DH, but I disagree. I think that since MLB named the award after him he will get more support than he normally would get, so being a DH works in his favor. With that in mind, I wish they had waited another decade at least to name it after him, because I think they may have called it the Frank Thomas Award in a couple years...
2. I have no doubt Edgar Martinez was one of the best hitters in the league for a couple of years, but for this section I submit his candidacy to Bill James' Ken Keltner List, first written about in his 1985 Baseball Abstract. For Bill James, there are 15 questions that need to be asked about a player to decide if he is worth of Cooperstown. At a stretch, I think Edgar is a "yes" for five of them. I hate to write about all of them here, so I'll keep it short. Well...short for me.
  1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball? No.
  2. Was he the best player on his team? Maybe in 1995, but that was it.
  3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position? Yes.
  4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races? One. 1995.
  5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime? We don't know - he retired before he slipped more than a little bit.
  6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame? No.
  7. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame? This is Edgar's weakest point. His career cumulative stats are weak for a HOF candidate.
  8. Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards? Batting average yes. That's it.
  9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics? No, other than the argument that Seattle management decided to screw him by not bringing him to the majors until age 27.
  10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in? Yes.
  11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close? He finished 3rd in 1995, and 6th in 2000, his only top 10 finishes.
  12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go to the Hall of Fame? 7 All Star Games - Baseball Reference doesn't list those with 7, only 8 or more. Of the 17 hitters with 8 (I don't include pitchers, as they are picked by the managers, and are generally more worthy of their selection), only 5 are in the HOF.
  13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant? They didn't in 1995, when he was the best player on the team. They had the best record in 2000, but he wasn't the best player.
  14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way? His biggest yes. They named the award after him.
  15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider? Yes.
That's 5 yes, 10 no. But, and I think it's important to note here, the discussion of being a DH. Others have compared his candidacy to relievers, and how he played more of the game than some (like Goose Gossage), and therefore shouldn't be discriminated against for only being a DH. As I said earlier, I think that having an award named after him works in his favor, but I also want to point out - if the only job a player has to do in the game is to hit, and there is nothing else to compare him to with other players, than he should hit (career/season) better than the average candidate. Look at Frank Thomas' numbers. Edgar doesn't match up to him. Look at Albert Belle's numbers, and you'll find they're more similar to Martinez. Finally, look at the "similarity scores" for career numbers. Of the ten players whose career is most similar to Edgar, only 1 is in the HOF, and he was put there by the Veterans Committee.

3. A great point made by someone who wrote about David Schoenfield's promotion of Edgar's claim to the HOF: Seattle in the 1990s was NOT Seattle in 1906. The year Edgar finished third in MVP voting, Randy Johnson won the Cy Young, and the nation watched as they stormed back to take the division, then beat the Yankees in the Division Series. The year before, Griffey finished second in MVP voting. ESPN showed highlights every night. If anyone could complain about a lack of exposure in the 1990s, I think only Montreal had an argument.

4. Those supporting Edgar's candidacy here are playing the "What If..." Game, a favorite of mine when thinking if I had bought Microsoft stock in 1986, or Google stock a couple of years ago. I would own an island, and would date Hollywood stars, and... but we can't play "What If" with a player's career. We can only take what we have. If we do that, then we wonder about Cecil Travis, who got frostbite fighting in World War II preventing him from reaching the HOF, or the players who stayed in the International League because Jack Dunn wouldn't sell them to the majors.

5. I don't trust defensive statistics, and I don't have access to Billy Beane's Zone Ratings charts. There is a reason why Edgar Martinez was kept in the minors as long as he was: Seattle management thought his defense was horrible, but he hit so well they had to find a spot for him. After two years in the majors, he became the full-time DH. I know what the statistics say about his fielding; I'm saying that this is one case I don't think I can pretend to judge appropriately because the stats might not tell the whole story. Edgar was a hell of a hitter; don't pretend he got screwed out of being the next Brooks Robinson because the GM was a moron (he may have been, but still...)

6. Again, the references to the relievers I think are inappropriate. I believe in comparing apples to apples, and in this circumstance Edgar should compared to the other hitters of his time period, not only DHs. And when I do that, I'm left with this: 91st all time in BA (6 of the 16 above him eligible for the HOF are in), 154th in hits (1 of the 11 above him are in the HOF), 22nd in OBP (his strongest argument, but Ferris Fain and Max Bishop are above him), 112th in HRs (2 of the next 14 are in), 115th in RBIs (2 of the next 9). If a player is only going to be judged on their hitting, I think these numbers need to be stronger.

What the voters will do: This is one case that I really don't have a feel for, but I think Edgar will come out near 50%...which almost guarantees his future election.
What the voters should do: wait a couple of years, then reevaluate. I think his numbers will diminish in stature over time.

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