Tuesday, December 31, 2013

This Year's HOF Ballot, Part 1

Many have been talking about the ballot this year...and why now more than ever it's time to revise the methods of election - after all, each writer is only allowed to include 10 names on their ballot.  When one looks at the 36 names, there might be half of them who earn some support.  I don't know how writers decide to vote, especially in a year like this, but I presume there are 3 or 4 ways to approach it:

  1. A voter selects those whom he feels are the best.
  2. A voter may choose a few whom he thinks are deserving, and vote for a few others who he is sure won't get enough support but would like them to stay on the ballot to give them a chance in upcoming years (though, with some of the names coming in 2015 or 2016, may be a long shot)
  3. A voter might leave a ballot blank because if Babe Ruth wasn't getting unanimous support, they'll be damned if anyone else does.
  4. Anyone suspected of PEDs will be left off their ballot, whether there is any proof or not.
Let's look at this year's ballot alphabetically and see who might get in, who might stick around, and who doesn't stand a chance in hell. (all WAR comes from Baseball-Reference.com)

Moises Alou (1st year on ballot):  Alou was a hell of a player and may have generated significant support for the HOF if he had stayed in the lineup as much as Barry Larkin did...and Larkin was known for being injured often.  Compared to Alou, Larkin was a Ripken/Gehrig type.  He was a six-time All-Star, finished third two times in the MVP voting...and played in 150 or more games 4 times in his 17 year career, and was forced to miss the entire 1991 and 1999 season due to injury.  What if we added in two full seasons to his career totals to make up for some of his lost time?

  • .303 career average
  • 2490 hits (top 100 all time)
  • 388 HRs
  • 1501 RBIs (top 60 all time)
  • 47 WAR? (ahead of Jim Rice)
  • 128 OPS+
Alas, these aren't his numbers...so he won't get many votes...especially on this ballot

Prediction:  3 votes (out of 570)

Jeff Bagwell (4th):    I don't need to rehash Bagwell's claim to the HOF...but I will.  He was the Rookie of the Year in 1991, MVP in 1994 (2nd and 3rd place finish as well), 4 time All-Star, .297 BA, .408 OBP, 449 HRs even though he played some years in the Astrodome, 1401 RBIs, 202 SBs (impressive for a first baseman), and a career WAR of 79.5.  Each year his support has increased for the HOF - his 1st year on the ballot he got 41.7%, then up to 56%, and last year 59.6%.  Unfortunately, this is a ballot packed with future HOFers.

Prediction:  He will get just under 50% of the vote, and will eventually find his way to Cooperstown, though I expect it will be closer to 2020 than 2015.

Armando Benitez (1st):  2-time All-Star, and 25th in career saves isn't going to be enough to get any support in a year like this one.

Prediction:  No votes

Craig Biggio (2nd):  7-time All Star (at 2 positions), 4 Silver Sluggers (at 2 positions), 3 top 10 MVP finishes, 3060 hits, over 400 SBs, 291 HRs.  In his blog, Joe Posnanski calls Craig Biggio the 93rd best player to have ever played baseball.  In his entry about Biggio, Posnanski references Bill James' Historical Baseball Abstract, in which James argued that Biggio was a better player than Griffey from 1994-99, but because he did so many things well his ability he was overlooked.  It's a great article, in one of the best baseball books around (hell, it's one of the best BOOKS around, period).  So why wasn't he voted in last year (68.2%, tops of all vote getters)?  Because last year the ballot was packed as well, and voters were split among them.  So why will he get in this year, when even more great players are on the ballot?  In my opinion (unfounded), I think BBWAA members are influenced by the votes of others.  As Blyleven's support grew, I feel like voters fell in line and pushed him towards the magical 75% mark.  The same thing has been going on for Jack Morris as well, but Morris' time will run out before he gets there.  This is only Biggio's second time on the ballot, but I think a few of the voters don't vote for first-timers, and the nine ballots left blank will probably have his name on them.  The 3000+ hits gets the old-timers' votes, Bill James' analysis gets the new ones.  The only thing that prevents him getting over 90% is the quality of this ballot.

Prediction:  Biggio is elected with just over 75% of the vote.

Barry Bonds (2nd):   The most polarizing player since Albert Belle, and maybe ever.  If one were to look just at his statistics, he might be considered one of the 3 best players in the history of the game.  The story has been told of Bonds' jealousy over America's fawning of McGwire and Sosa's HR chase in 1998, and how he responded by doing steroids.  As pointed out numerous times, if Bonds' career stopped after 1999 and he dropped off the face of the Earth, he was still a Hall of Famer.  So how can Cooperstown exist as a place where fans can see and read about the greatest players in history, when Bonds/Clemens/McGwire aren't there?  And what is going to be done about it?
  1. Before this year, I always thought they should be left out of Cooperstown - why should the cheaters be rewarded for cheating?  
  2. This year, I've changed my mind:  after seeing LaRussa, Cox and Torre rewarded (unanimously, by the way) for managing during the Steroid Era, and knowing Bud Selig will eventually get into the HOF upon his retirement, I can't hold the players accountable while everyone else comes away from this tainted period in baseball history unblemished.
  3. The current PED policy was implemented in 2005.  
  4. I think that maybe the steroid users should be taken off the ballot until their 15 year eligibility period is over, then voted on by a different group.  Until then, there is going to be backlog and arguments in favor of the Hall of Fame directing the voters how to vote...but as of now, they haven't shown any interest in doing so.
Prediction:   Just under 30%.

Sean Casey (1st):  .302 BA, 3 All-Star games.  Good player, friendly by all accounts, and has found the perfect post-baseball career on the MLB network.  Congratulations on everything.

Prediction:  Due to his good relationship with...well, EVERYONE, someone will give him a vote.

Roger Clemens (2nd):  354 wins, 143 ERA+, 4672 K's (3rd all-time).  See Bonds, Barry.

Prediction:  Got just over 37% last year...that will drop to just over 30% this year.

Ray Durham (1st):  2 All-Star games, 2054 hits, and...nothing particular to make him stand out, especially on this ballot.

Prediction:  No votes.

Eric Gagne (1st):  Cy Young, 3 All-Star games, 187 saves (152 in 3 years).  Eric Gagne is not going to get in the Hall of Fame - we can all agree on this.  But does anyone remember how dominant this guy was?  I picked up Gagne when he was in the Dodgers farm system with the hope he would become a decent starter.  He didn't; in his two years as a starter he was 10-13 with a 4.91 ERA.  Gagne threw hard, and threw two pitches, and doing that isn't going to get you around the lineup a couple of times.  The Dodgers figured it out, moved him to the bullpen where he was lights out for three years.  What I find interesting is how the strikeout rates have increased over the last thirty years or so:  Rob Dibble blew people away when he was strikeout rate was 12 per 9 inning, peaking at 14.1 in 1992.  Five years later Gagne topped 15; today Craig Kimbrel has topped out at 17.4.  When Bill James wrote about a pitcher effectiveness, he estimated that to stay in the majors, a starter needed to average at least 5.5 strikeouts per 9 innings.  This was certainly true when he wrote it fifteen years ago, but I would suggest that number has been increasing for decades.  The average K/9 in the deadball era was closer to 3, so a pitcher could've hung around average 2 strikeouts per game.  With that type of context, Walter Johnson's 5.3 strikeouts per 9 innings is impressive (77% higher than the average).  Today, the major league K/9 is 7.6 - to be as dominant as Johnson was, someone would have to average 13.5 K/9 for their career.

To put that even more in context, Randy Johnson is the all-time leader at 10.6.  Kimbrel career average is 15.1, but he hasn't pitched enough innings.

Gagne is at 10.0.

Prediction:  No votes.

I'll carry on part 2 tomorrow with Tom Glavine.

Monday, December 30, 2013


Most baseball fans my age have an addiction to statistics:  batting average, home runs, runs batted in and stolen bases for hitters, wins, ERA and strikeouts for pitchers.  Over time, we've learned that on base percentage is more important than batting average, wins are more a product of the offense supporting the pitcher, and that there are much better ways to evaluate a player's value to a team.

By the late 1980s, a revolution of sorts was under way, led by Bill James.  Admittedly, he had started doing this years earlier, but it took some time to catch on.  I don't know anyone who thought this was a bad idea, but not everyone accepted it:  after all, Bob Welch won the Cy Young in 1990, going 27-6 with a 2.95 ERA.  A great year, but Roger Clemens went 21-6 with an ERA a full run lower and Welch's teammate Dave Stewart had a 2.56 ERA in forty innings more.  Voters were in love with the 27 wins.

Since then, we've come even further - but that wasn't enough.  Fans/statisticians/sabrematricians/geeks wanted a way to compare players who played different positions, different years, different eras...and so WAR was developed. Unfortunately, while many give lip service to it not being the "end all" stat, they continually use it and refer to it as a way of proving their point.

So - what is WAR, and why is it NOT as good as pundits suggest?

As Baseball-Reference.com states:
he idea behind the WAR framework is that we want to know how much better a player is than what a team would typically have to replace that player. We start by comparing the player to average in a variety of venues and then compare our theoretical replacement player to the average player and add the two results together.
There is no one way to determine WAR. There are hundreds of steps to make this calculation, and dozens of places where reasonable people can disagree on the best way to implement a particular part of the framework. We have taken the utmost care and study at each step in the process, and believe all of our choices are well reasoned and defensible. But WAR is necessarily an approximation and will never be as precise or accurate as one would like.
So there are a number of ways to determine WAR.  What do they include, and why are they questionable?

  1. WAR establishes a base level, called "replacement level".  This assumes what a AAA minor leaguer would accomplish at the major league level.  It usually assumes that a team of minor leaguers would have a 52-110 season.  Why?  It is an arbitrary choice - one of many within WAR that doesn't have a factual origin.  Again, it's not exact - Baseball-Reference uses 48-114 as their base.
  2. Ballpark effects are used to balance a hitter's performance between various ballparks.  We can accept that PetCo is a pitchers park, and Coors Field is a hitters park, but to what level?  Again, the numbers for each ballpark are included, and are NOT an exact number.
  3.  Fielding statistics have come a long way since fielders were merely graded on putouts, assists and errors.  For instance, a shortstop on a team of ground ball pitchers will get more opportunities than a SS on a fly ball staff.  BUT, fielding statistics are still incomplete.  UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) and TZR (Total Zone Rating) are two of the more accepted methods of evaluating fielding, but as it says in its description, "defense is best judged over three-year spans, as a given year contains a relatively small sample and can result in large statistical swings."  In addition, if a fielder positions themselves differently than what UZR anticipates (such as in a shift), it will skew the numbers.
  4. So what is the value of defense vs. offense for a player?  No one has been able to establish the ratio of value - how much value does a no-hit, great fielding shortstop bring in comparison to a Derek Jeter, for instance, who in his career has been viewed as a great hitting, poor fielding shortstop.  How much should defense count in a player's value?  Here too an arbitrary ratio is used.
  5. In addition, values are assigned to each position in the field. Again, from Baseball-Reference:

      1. C: +10 runs
      2. SS: +7.5 runs
      3. 2B: +3 runs
      4. CF: +2.5 runs
      5. 3B: +2 runs
      6. RF: -7.5 runs
      7. LF: -7.5 runs
      8. 1B: -10 runs
      9. DH: -15 runs
         Constants included in the formula designed to give credit to the positions that are more important defensively...or more difficult to play.  For catchers, this does NOT include the ability to "frame pitches", which has significant value and may be included in future WAR formulas, nor does it include the ability to call a game.
6.  For pitchers, the formula is more complex with just as many arbitrary variables.
 So what's my point?

  1. With so many artificial constants placed in the equation, AND variables that aren't quite understood exactly, it is hard to accept WAR as the end-all formula that compares player to player.  It is useful to compare players...but it should not be relied on as the final say.
  2. With our ability to adjust statistics over different years and ballparks, ERA+, OPS+ and others do as good a job of evaluating players.  What those statistics do NOT do is allow the overall comparison between different positions, which is why a formula like WAR is used.
  3. I view WAR as similar to physicists' Unified Theory.  There MUST be a way of uniting all of these other formulas into a nice, neat single method.  Physicists have yet to find the Unified Theory, though much progress has been made.  In that sense, I think baseball is exactly like physics. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Japanese Posting

This past year, major league baseball came to a new agreement with the Nippon Professional Baseball league concerning the offer of Japanese players to play in the United States.  Before this year, MLB teams were notified of a player being offered, and they would bid for the right to offer the player a contract.  The highest bidder then had 30 days to come to an agreement with the player - as a result, a lot of money changed hands.  For instance, the Boston Red Sox won the right to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka by paying the Seibu Lions $51,111,111 - collectable only if the Red Sox and Dice K came to an agreement.  They did (to the tune of 6 years, $52 million), but there were some parties unhappy with the agreement.  For one, since the bidding process was expensive, it limited the number of MLB teams who were capable of offering that money.  Japanese players weren't happy with the arrangement either - many thought if the posting figure was lower, the rest of the money would end up in the player's contract.  As a result, a new agreement was struck:  if a player were to be posted, the NLB team would be given $20 million, at which point all those offering the $20 million would then compete for the player's services.

The first player to be offered under this new agreement is Masahiro Tanaka, an exceptional pitcher with the Rakuten Eagles.  This past year, Tanaka was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA.  Based on the success of Yu Darvish, I would expect Tanaka's salary to be in excess of seven figures.

Unfortunately, we are repeating history...and I worry that this is the end of Japanese baseball as we know it.  Those who worry about the health of the game should worry, though I think most will not.  About a hundred years ago, we went through the same thing.

The minor leagues as we know them today have been in existence since the 1930s, when Branch Rickey organized one for the St. Louis Cardinals.  Until then, the minor leagues were independent - teams struggling to make ends meet, looking for talent on their own, and trying to win the championship of whatever league they played in.  One of the better "minor" leagues was the International League, which had an owner of incredible scouting talent named Jack Dunn.  Dunn owned the Baltimore Orioles, which had success on the field but none at the box office.  The Federal League was attempting to become a third major league, and their team in Baltimore (the Terrapins) drove Dunn to move his team to Richmond.  To avoid losing money, Dunn was also forced to sell his prize star Babe Ruth to the Boston Red Sox for around $25,000.  After the Federal League folded, Dunn moved the Orioles back to Baltimore and vowed to never sell another player (he believed Ruth was worth much, MUCH more than Dunn sold him for).  Over the next ten years, Dunn accumulated a massive amount of talent, and won seven straight championships from 1919-1926.  His teams won over 100 games each year, burying the competition and causing fans to lose interest early in the season, resulting in lost revenue for the other owners. 

The rest of the league was jealous of Dunn's success...and the major leagues jealous of Dunn's talent.  To thwart his successes (and ability to avoid selling his talent), the International League and MLB entered into an agreement in 1925 to allow the purchase of IL stars for $5,000.  Dunn didn't sign on initially - he sold Lefty Grove to the Philadelphia Athletics for $100,600 that year.

Following that agreement, slowly but surely the minor leagues lost their independence.  While most will believe the health of baseball is better than ever, there are signs that all is not well. 

  • Television ratings are getting worse.  Regular season games on national TV fail to draw 2% of the audience, and among younger audiences draw even less.  The postseason games ratings are lower than regular season NFL games, and they are getting worse.
  • MLB attendance peaked in 2007 before the economic recession, and they haven't come back.  What's worse is as the baseball supporters get older and older, the chances of winning the younger generation's hearts will be more and more difficult.
Why?  Some suggest it's the pace of the game, but Joe Posnanski thinks the issue is much broader than that.   He thinks (and I tend to agree) that the game has become regional - fans are interested only in their local clubs, but at the minor league level (where they don't keep players, try to win, or attempt to build a following) interest is waning.  As Posnanski points out, last year's minor league attendance totaled 41 million...just above where it was in 1949.  1949??!!  The United States population that year was 149 million...while this year it is about 313 million, less than half of what it is today. 

The minor leagues are locked into an agreement with MLB, and this may be causing interest in the sport to wane.  As baseball looks to become a more international game, I don't think MLB should be creating a minor league overseas - a league that has been incredibly successful without selling players to the "major leagues".

If Japan simply becomes a farm system for the MLB, I think this will be bad for the health of the sport...and the MLB.

Friday, December 27, 2013

This year's HOF ballot

For many of the BBWAA voters, this year's ballot for the baseball Hall of Fame will be the most difficult ever.  There are many reasons for it, which has numerous BBWAA voters and outsiders clamoring for a change.  Before plunging into the ballot itself (36 players this year, many of which are qualified), let's take a closer look at those who are voters, what the guidelines are, and where most of the complaints about the current system lay.

Current Guidelines
  1. The voters are current or former members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, who were active for at least 10 years.  
  2. For a player to be elected to the HOF, they must receive 75% of the submitted votes.
  3. Electors may vote for as few as 0, or as many as 10 players.
  4. There is no specific criteria for the players, other than they played at least 10 seasons, had been retired for 5, and were nominated by a selection committee (i.e., no write-in allowed).
So...what are the complaints?

1.  Who gets to vote?
  • The biggest cry I've heard about this is that there are a significant amount of voters who are retired, or no longer follow baseball closely, and therefore how can they be an educated voter? To that point, some have recommended the number of voters be reduced; others suggest the voting should be expanded to include baseball fans.  Others offer that only current baseball writers should be involved in the election process.
    • As for expanding the voting rights to more people, it has been pointed out that it might be even more difficult for a consensus to be reached.  This is probably NOT the answer, unless changes are made to what percentage was needed for a player to get elected.
    • Others have suggested to reduce the number of voters.  The only problem with that is...well, it's been done before.  
    • Jonah Keri has been a bit more specific about his complaints as to who qualifies as a voter - to be specific, he mentions three retired who work for Golferswest.com and no longer cover baseball.  He says:
      • "The most jarring example of this surfaced last year, when three former baseball writers publicized their Hall of Fame votes at their current place of employment … GolfersWest.com. If the BBWAA truly cares about the voting process, it'll stop allowing people who haven't covered the sport since acid-washed jeans were popular to retain voting rights."
    • Let's have a closer look at these three men who are out of date with baseball:
      • Bob Sherwin covered the Mariners for 20 years, and retired from newspaper writing in 2004.
      • Jim Street covered baseball for the better part of forty years before retiring in 2010.
      • Kirby Arnold covered baseball from 1984-2011.  
    • These are the men who Keri wants to revoke their voting rights?  Men who actually covered the baseball players who are on the ballot currently?  What makes a current voter for the Hall of Fame (maybe, a Bob Ryan?) better equipped to evaluate these players than these three?  If we look at the basis of the argument against the current method of voting, the issue is two things:  
      1. Keri (and others) don't like who they've voted for, and:
      2. They are upset that too many qualified candidates aren't getting 75%.
I think we discount the argument against who votes and who doesn't - expanding the voting membership won't improve the "intellect" of the voters, and reducing it might cause a person to have undue influence over the voting.  From Wikipedia:
The Hall of Fame suffered in the 1970s, when Frankie Frisch was a major voice on the committee. The old Hall of Famer, backed by former teammate Bill Terry and sportswriters J. Roy Stockton and Fred Lieb, who covered Frisch's teams, managed to get five of his teammates elected to the Hall by the committee. Additionally, in the three years after his death, two more teammates were elected.
After Frisch died and Terry left the Committee, elections were normalized. In 1978, membership increased to fifteen members, five Hall of Famers, five owners and executives, and five sportswriters. The members would meet in Florida during spring training to elect a player or two every year.
Do we need this?  With a body of 500+ voters, the best are going to get voted in...and some might not, which leads us to the second argument.  This year, we have legitimately 19 players who will garner significant support for their Hall of Fame candidacy.  With the voting limited to a maximum of 10 players, some writers are arguing that some qualified players won't get in, and some might not even garner the 5% needed to stay on the ballot.  The players, in no particular order:

  • Craig Biggio
  • Jack Morris
  • Jeff Bagwell
  • Tom Glavine
  • Greg Maddux
  • Barry Bonds
  • Roger Clemens
  • Mark McGwire
  • Alan Trammell
  • Tim Raines
  • Lee Smith
  • Curt Schilling
  • Edgar Martinez
  • Frank Thomas
  • Fred McGriff
  • Rafael Palmeiro
  • Mike Mussina
  • Jeff Kent
  • Mike Piazza
I haven't included Sosa, Mattingly or Larry Walker, but they do have their supporters as well.

This leads us to:

2.  How many players can a person vote for, and what percentage is needed to be elected to the Hall of Fame?

Again, let's listen to Jonah Keri's stance on the subject:

1. Lift the limit of 10 votes per ballot. Some voters' inflexibility on players linked to PEDs (or even players accused of being muscular) has created a backlog of viable candidates. What's more, the split on those players has caused a negative trickle-down effect for other deserving holdover candidates.
Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina, and Jeff Kent join this year's ballot, meaning writers who want to vote for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and the like have to exclude candidates they might find worthy in order to whittle down to 10. Hell, even writers who definitively refuse to vote for PED guys are running into this problem. But the 10-player ballot limit remains in place because … well, there's actually no reason, other than that's how it's always been. The good news is that some BBWAA members are speaking out. New York Times writer Tyler Kepner broached this at the winter meetings, arguing that the 10-candidate limit does more harm than good. While the idea met with some resistance at the higher levels, many rank-and-file BBWAA members supported Kepner's proposal, and the group voted overwhelmingly to form a committee to discuss this issue and other potential voting reforms.
Others have tried, unsuccessfully, to challenge the ballot limit in the past. But with Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz set to hit the ballot next year, and with no end in sight for the backlog, expect a growing chorus of support for reform.
2. Until no. 1 happens, abolish the 5 percent minimum threshold. With so many deserving candidates, some players who merit consideration are instead ignored, putting them at risk of not earning 5 percent of the overall vote and getting knocked off the ballot for good. We saw this last year, when first-time candidates Kevin Brown and Kenny Lofton were one-and-done; neither Brown nor Lofton was a slam dunk Hall of Famer by any stretch, and the fact that both are criminally underrated played a big role in them missing the cut, but some voters might have given Brown and Lofton the nod if they'd been allowed to go deeper than 10.
This year, players like Sammy Sosa (12.5 percent of the vote last time), Rafael Palmeiro (8.8 percent), and maybe Kent (the all-time leader in home runs by a second baseman) run the risk of suffering the same fate as Brown and Lofton. Again, I'm not saying Sosa and Palmeiro have perfect track records, especially to voters who won't back players suspected of PED use; nor am I denying that Kent's home runs came in an era rife with offense, or that he delivered only two truly elite seasons. But if lesser candidates like Jim Rice and Lee Smith can hang around for years and build support, it seems unfair to deny others that right simply because they became eligible when so many great candidates were also on the ballot.
As long as the 10-player limit exists, the 5 percent rule needs to go.

I think Keri misses an important point here:  change the criteria, and the way voters vote will change as well - how does the saying go?  "Water will always find its level."  To suggest that "all players who achieve 50% of the votes eventually make the Hall of Fame, so we should just reduce the percentage need to 50%" is oblivious to the attitudes voters would have.  Would they be more selective with whom they put on their ballot?  I would suggest it would.

So, where does this leave the candidates on this year's ballot?

I think four players will get elected this year, whom I'll write about in my next post.  This will "relieve" some of the pressure facing the BBWAA, but not all:  2015 is a stocked class as well.  But, should the 19 viable candidates split the voting in such a way that no one is elected again this year, I predict there will be major changes made to the voting process, starting with the ten player maximum (which in turn will allow Tim Kurkjian to vote for all the players on the ballot).  If no one is elected, I think they should institute the following:

  1. The top vote getter each year gets in.  The Hall of Fame has lost money 8 of the last 10 years, and not surprisingly, most of their money is earned during HOF weekend.  When Deacon Jones made it last year, not a lot of people came out to see his great-grandson accept it on his behalf.  By letting the top vote getter in, it would guarantee some type of crowd every year.
  2. I don't think the Veterans Committee is doing a great job.  We can talk about how the three managers elected this year overlooked the use of steroids on their team, and how players are penalized during this era when managers aren't...or not.   Personally, I think the Veterans Committee should be set up as a debate on players who have been off the ballot for a number of years...and the top vote getter gets in.  
But that's just me.  Besides those minor tweaks, I don't have a problem with the criteria for who gets to vote...or who gets in.  

Now if we could just deal with the PED issue...

Monday, April 29, 2013

Jason Collins

Today, Jason Collins became the first professional athlete in one of the four major American sports to declare himself gay while still an active player, to which I congratulate him.  Attitudes have changed immensely in this country, my own attitude included.  Twenty-five years ago, a classmate of mine at college gave a speech in our Public Speaking class on how we should support his rights as a gay man.  He was openly gay, and a number of people in class were uncomfortable with him, myself being one of them.  I responded to him by giving a speech religious-based on how I could not in good faith be supportive.

Years later, my brother came out.  I never suspected he was gay, though I guess I should have.  There were hints of it, but my gaydar isn't really that good.  Since 2002 when he came out, I have worked hard to become a better brother, friend...and have changed my attitude towards the LGBT community.  To that point, I want to apologize to my former classmate Todd for being so narrow-minded.  I should've accepted his differences, ALL of our differences - fortunately, I've grown.


The media is making a huge deal out of this - to an extent, it is.  But I hear some comparing this to Jackie Robinson's integration of baseball, and I think this is going too far.  Why?

  1. The United States was segregated at this time.  Horribly segregated.  Robinson began playing baseball with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1947...seventeen years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended most of the segregation of this country.  There were hotels he couldn't stay at with his teammates, restaurants that wouldn't serve him.  Today, the LGBT community lives largely unaffected within every American community.
  2. There have been some gay men who played in the major leagues before:  John Amaechi, Billy Bean, Wade Davis to name a few.  Before Robinson, the last African-American to play baseball was Moses Fleetwood Walker, who was chased from the game by Cap Anson among others in 1889.  African-Americans couldn't hide among their peers on the field/court/ice.  They couldn't hide in plain sight, like the gay athlete could.
  3. There has been an growing movement among professional athletes encouraging someone to come out.  Chris Kluwe has been outspoken on this issue, as has Brendon Ayanbadejo.  Today, Jason Collins' Twitter followers jumped from 4,000 to over 35,000, and positive Twitter responses have outnumbered negative ones by 4-1.  On the other hand, Jackie Robinson was not welcomed as warmly - while some teammates accepted him immediately, the abuse he suffered from fans, opposing teams and some teammates early in his career may have contributed to his stress-related illnesses later in life, to which he finally succumbed at age 53. 
So, I want to congratulate Jason Collins, and I hope that he is in the NBA next year.  I hope the announcement gives him some peace of mind, and I hope teammates and our society continues to be as welcoming as they appear in the first moments of this coming out.  But the next big, BIG barrier we're to face?

When a woman attempts to make a realistic attempt to play in one of those four leagues.  And you know what?  It's coming.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Case for Cashman

About a year ago, my friend Black Asian and I started a debate over a few beers...and in the last couple of months, it has become increasingly violent in tone.  It began innocently enough:  is Brian Cashman a good GM?

I argued he was - in fact, I thought he was one of the top 10 GMs in the game over the last fifteen year.  But before I'm accused of being a "homer", I should mention that I despise the Yankees:  I've been an Orioles fan since the mid-70's, with the Phillies (my hometown) a distant second.  As much as I enjoy those teams, one of the greatest moments I remember is Luis Gonzalez's hit over a drawn-in infield against Mariano Rivera in the 2001 World Series, ending three-year run the Yankees had as champions.

I couldn't sleep that night, I was so excited.  That's how much I hate the Yankees.

So how could I possibly defend his tenure as GM?  (some of this information comes from E-Yes-PN, so bear with me)

  1. George Steinbrenner bought the team in 1973, and between then and 2010 when The Boss passed away, Steinbrenner had 11 GMs...and average of 1 every 2 1/2 years.  Cashman is the third-longest tenured GM in baseball today (trailing Brian Sabean and Billy Beane, the latter by only 3 1/2 months).  So he's served under the most demanding, meddling owner this side of Jerry Jones.  And he's still there. 
  2. How did he survive?  A few reasons.  Firstly, the Yankees have won non-stop since he arrived, only missing the playoffs one time (which cost Joe Torre his job).  The worst record since he took over?  87-74...and they won the World Series that year.  Their second worst was 89-73, when they missed the playoffs.  Otherwise, they've been at 95 wins or better, including a asinine 114-48 his first year on the job.
  3. To those who wish to NOT give credit to him in 1998, 1999, or 2000, remember Cashman has dealt with a meddlesome owner.  At the trading deadline in 1998, Steinbrenner wanted Cashman to get Randy Johnson who was on his way out of Seattle.  Cleveland, who had knocked New York out of the playoffs the year before, wanted him badly.  Cashman put his job on the line (he had a one-year contract at the time) and refused to trade for him.  In the end, Johnson wound up in Houston, New York defeated the Indians in the AL Championship Series 4 games to 2, then swept the Padres.  In 2005, Steinbrenner finally got his man.  How did that go?
  4. My friend suggests that most of the hard work was done by Cashman's predecessor, Gene Michael.  The farm system was stocked, and four of those players have been mainstays on the Yankees roster:  Pettite, Posada, Rivera and Jeter (Bernie Williams was a fifth I'll add to that list).  To that point, Cashman has done a good job of filling out the team around its stars.  Yes, it helps to have a checkbook with no balance, but he has needed it.  Why?  For a few reasons:  the Yankees have not drafted well, which has forced Cashman to spend to fill roster weaknesses where other teams could trade for them or bring them up from the minors.  And we can not place the blame of the farm system on Cashman, because he isn't in charge of that aspect of the Yankees.  
  5. Who did Cashman get to fill in on those first three championship teams?  He got Chuck Knoblauch for Brian Buchanan, Cristian Guzman, Eric Milton and Danny Mota.  When we look at WAR to see who won the trade, it's fairly close (7.5 vs 8.0)...but almost all of that value is through Guzman a few years later.  Knoblauch was worth 2.8 and 3.5 wins in those first two years, so we can assume Cashman came ahead in the trade.  He also brought in David Justice for Zach Day, Ricky Ledee and Jake Westbrook in 2000.  While in the long-term the Yankees lost that trade, David Justice stabilized the DH position.  He also added Chili Davis (DH in 1999), Roger Clemens as a free agent, Orlando Hernandez and others.  Was there anything like that in the Yankees farm system?  No.
  6. Another example of how Cashman has been forced to compensate for a weak farm system (taken from Bleacher Report): 
    The Yankees went through the 2003 season with a rotation of Mike Mussina, David Wells, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Jeff Weaver, with some starts from Jose Contreras. That offseason, they lost Clemens to “retirement” and Wells and Pettitte to free agency. This would have been a devastating blow to any team—no club can, under normal circumstances, replace three-fifths of its rotation in one winter, particularly not when the pitchers in question include a seven-time Cy Young Award winner and two top-50 all-time lefties.
    Cashman found that there was little help on the farm, and given the Steinbrenners’ historic distrust of young players—George Steinbrenner almost always preferred to play someone else’s mediocre veteran over his own most promising kid—it might not have mattered if there had been help. As a result, he rebuilt the rotation, or tried to, with Javier Vazquez (who cost Nick Johnson, Randy Choate and Juan Rivera), Kevin Brown (for the ineffective Weaver and two prospects) and Jon Lieber, whose rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery Cashman had elected to pay for in 2003, a gamble that paid off.

    The following offseason, Cashman tried again. Lieber was allowed to depart as a free agent; the vastly disappointing Vazquez was traded for Randy Johnson; Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright were signed as free agents; and (miracle) Chien-Ming Wang was added from the farm system. Johnson was 41 and the Pavano and Wright moves were almost guaranteed not to work, but what is a GM to do? You need pitching. You have none in the cupboard. You go to the supermarket looking for caviar, but all you find is hamburger. If you’re hungry, you buy the hamburger.
    Hamburger indeed - the Yankees won 101 games in 2004, and another 95 in 2005.
  7. Cashman has never let his ego get in the way.  Theo Epstein was one of the rising stars in the GM world, and he decided to make a power play in October of 2005.  He wound up caving in and returning to the Red Sox in January 2006...but wound up leaving again in 2011.  Is he a good GM?  Yes, but Epstein would've never survived in New York.
  8. Sometimes, the best moves are the ones he didn't make.  In 2007, Cashman went out to dinner with Carl Crawford's agent to make it seem like they were interested in him.  Epstein and the Red Sox bit on the fake, signing him to a seven-year, $142 million deal.  How well did that go for the Red Sox?  
  9.  Then there's the issue of A-Rod.  Cashman was able to trade for the talented shortstop, get the Rangers to pay 1/3 of his salary, and take back Alfonso Soriano.  In addition, A-Rod agreed to switch to third base, and change uniform numbers.  When Boras and Rodriguez announced that A-Rod was opting out of his contract, Cashman did not want to resign him, but was once again overruled by the Steinbrenner family.  
  10. Cashman has the respect of the players as well.  When rumors of discord became popular knowledge, he sat down with Jeter and told him that he and A-Rod needed to get on the same page.  They did.
So where does leave us?   It leaves us with a General Manager working for a team who has no control over the farm system, and only one option:  to win every year.  To do so, he needed to spend money to fill the needs of an aging team, and he did this exceptionally well.  In addition, he managed to keep his owner's own impatience and ego in check at times, while containing his own frustrations with moves made that he didn't want.  How many GMs could've dealt with this, in addition to the microscope that is the New York media?

I don't think Billy Beane could.  Theo Epstein's own actions suggest he could not.  In fact, I don't believe any general managers in the game today, or fifteen years ago could have.  On top of it all, the Yankees have won four World Series, and have been in the playoffs every year but one, and while the general manager does not have much control over the game-to-game situations, his job is to get them an opportunity to play in those important games.  Brian Cashman has proven himself worthy.

One final note:  the Yankees are looking to cut their salary to $189 million in 2014, which means they'll have to find a way to reduce their costs by about $30 million.  Their farm system doesn't have anyone that can replace their aging pieces, and Cashman's one ability is about to be taken away from him.  Will he survive?  I don't think so, but don't underestimate the ability of this Top 10 GM.

Friday, March 29, 2013

My letter to Rick Reilly

Many writers have been down on Rick Reilly since he joined ESPN and became a mere shadow of himself.  His lazy efforts in column writing have left a sour taste in some readers' mouths, and I'm sure jealousy contributes to their vindictiveness.

It doesn't help when you get caught doing this on national TV.

His latest column about the Lakers 33-game win streak left a sour taste in my mouth.  So sour, in fact, that I felt I needed to respond.

Way to "mail in" another column Rick.  Nice cliche at the end, but the facts of the story are weak.  Case in point:

In 1966-67 there were a total of 10 professional basketball teams, but by 1971-72 there were 28 teams between the NBA and ABA.  That "expansion" led to some extremely weak teams, and they were not (whether you believe it or not) all in the ABA.  Have you looked at the Portland Trailblazers roster from that year?  Or what Lanier was working with in Detroit?

When those ABA teams joined the NBA in 1976 (an eternity later, but you opened the door), how did they do?  The Denver Nuggets won their division, the Spurs had a winning record, and only the Nets (better than both the Spurs and Nuggets the year before) embarrassed themselves...because they were forced to sell their best players (Erving especially) to pay off the Knicks.  10 of the 24 players in that year's All-Star game were ABA alum.  Why didn't you see them in the NBA beforehand?  Because the ABA paid better.

Your "beasts" the Lakers had to face, night-in, night out?  I love Wes Unseld, but the man is 6-7...and was playing center for the Baltimore Bullets.  LeBron is 6-8 and spends some time at guard.  If these teams played each other, the Heat would beat them 8 out of 10.  In 2013, better and bigger athletes play the game.  The travel might be easier, the rules about 3 games in 3 nights may have changed, but the game overall today is much tougher to play. Your Lakers shot 73.4% at the free throw line...which would be good for 22nd in the league this year.

Defense didn't exist in the NBA - yes, the Lakers scored 121 points per game, but that's easy to do when a team takes 8000 shots in a season.  Last year in the NBA, the most shots a team took was 5400.  With fewer possessions and tougher defense, games are going to be closer...which is why the Heat had a tougher time winning 27 in a row.

Give credit where credit is due - both streaks were tough, and congratulations on the Lakers still having their record intact...but winning in the NBA today is much tougher.

But at least it gave you a nice ending to your story.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A few final words on the AL MVP

Answer:  Mike Trout

Question:  Who was the AL Player of the Year in 2012?

Before we move into the new season, I wanted to say a few things about last year's MVP race, and take on the statheads and pundits who screamed bloody murder and how the voters are concerned only about the Triple Crown statistics that aren't a true evaluator of performance.

Here are my problems with their arguments:

1.  What exactly is WAR?  Fangraphs has Trout at 10.0, Baseball Reference at 10.7 - because they're based on different weighted formulas.  Each gives different positions different values, and the defensive metrics are still in their infant stage.  I was a big fan of Bill James' Win Shares, but I think he's copyrighted that since I can't find his own rankings.  When WAR becomes the same for everyone, I think the older guard will gradually accept it...or just retire and let the younger generation accept it.

2.  Statheads also argue that there is no such thing as "clutch", and that a game in April is as important as a game in September.  To an extent, they are correct:  it counts the same in the standings.  But anyone who has seen a 92% free throw shooter miss the first of a 1 & 1 in the final minute of a last game, or a wide receiver letting a sure TD pass slipping through their hands on the final drive knows that the games at the end of a season are under a magnifying glass.  While it may be the same as an April game, the pennant race is studied a lot, lot closer - in the locker room, on sports radio, and the players can feel it.  So what did Trout do at the end of the year?  August and September were his worst months.  For Cabrera, it was the exact opposite - the last two months were his strongest.

3.  Finally, Cabrera was in the position to do something no has done since 1967:  win the Triple Crown.  More importantly, he did it...and while we can all agree that RBIs has more to do with opportunity given to a player by his teammates, the fact is Cabrera succeeded where others have failed.  So, not only was the Tigers being watched as they moved towards the post-season, Cabrera was under intense scrutiny for his pursuit of an achievement accomplished only 13 times.* 

This is why Cabrera won the MVP award, and I'm really not upset by it, even as I focus more and more on OPS, xBA, UZR and the like. 

Mike Trout was the best player in 2012...but Cabrera was the MVP. 

*I'm not counting Lajoie's achievement in 1901 when the AL was a minor league, or the two times Baseball Reference counts it from the 1800s.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Comments on this year's (lack of) class

I'm worried about some of the comments made by various pundits on ESPN, Yahoo! and the like.  Since no one was elected this year, many are screaming at the top of their lungs, clamoring for change, claiming the system is broken and needs revision. 

This isn't a new claim - it happened after Bill Mazeroski was elected by the Veterans Committee, an election many view as lowering the standards by which players were chosen after their opportunities on the ballot were extinguished.  After the rules for the Veterans Committee were changed, they failed to elect anyone that would bring crowds to Cooperstown, so the rules were revised again.

Let's review the facts, and make a few assessments:

1.  569 BBWAA members voted. 
2.  Any number of voters above "1" will create the possibility there isn't unanimous agreement.  No matter what various voters, TV personalities, baseball bloggers or morons who idolize every MLB player say, there is going to be disagreements on who belongs, and who doesn't.
3.  That's why there are so many discussions about the election.
4.  When there are less standout players, votes tend to coalesce around them.  When there are more, votes get scattered, making it more difficult for anyone to reach 75%.
5.  Why?  For a few reasons:
  • Writers are limited to selecting a maximum of 10 players a year.  This, I believe, is a good thing, since we live in an era where everyone gets an award for participating in sports, rather than just the winners.  If there are more than 10 players worthy of serious consideration, votes will be split.
  • The "small Hall, big Hall" split.  Whereas Tim Kurkjian will vote for almost one-third of the eligible players per year, others prefer to keep their standards a bit higher.
  • Steroids.
  • Steroids.  Or did I already state that?
  • No clarification on what makes a "Hall of Famer".  I don't have a vote, but I've always subscribed to the "small Hall" theory.
6.  This will change, and the logjam that's been created will dissipate.  Why?
  • Because voters are influenced.  If they didn't get influenced, Bert Blyleven wouldn't be in the Hall of Fame, and Jack Morris wouldn't be knocking on the door.
  • Based on this year's votes, some voters who weren't initially influenced to vote for Biggio, or Bagwell, or Piazza will do so.  
  • Next year, a few untainted players become eligible.  Maybe that keeps a few from this year's class from getting elected, but they will get elected.  A democratic process acts slowly, but it usually gets it right.  
However, if no one is elected next year, I can promise you changes will be made...and it won't be for the better.  Cooperstown needs players to be elected, our impatient psyche as a nation needs players to get elected.