Monday, March 5, 2012

ESPN greatest MLB season of all-time bracket

ESPN has an interactive bracket of the 32 greatest MLB seasons of all-time. As a player can only make the list once, obviously it isn't the best 32 seasons, period, but it is a neat list. For fun, here is how I would rank the seasons, with the ESPN ranking in parenthesis next to it.

1.       Babe Ruth, 1921 (1)
2.       Honus Wagner, 1908 (9)
3.       Barry Bonds, 2001 (2)
4.       Mickey Mantle, 1956 (4)
5.       Joe Morgan, 1975 (5)
6.       Tris Speaker, 1912 (24)
7.       Carl Yastrzemski, 1967 (8)
8.       Ty Cobb, 1911 (12)
9.       Ted Williams, 1941 (3)
10.   Lou Gehrig, 1927 (6)
11.   Cal Ripken Jr., 1991 (14)
12.   Robin Yount, 1982 (11)
13.   Stan Musial, 1948 (7)
14.   Johnny Bench, 1972 (31)
15.   Jackie Robinson, 1949 (20)
16.   Ernie Banks, 1959 (23)
17.   Alex Rodriguez, 2000 (15)
18.   Mike Piazza, 1997 (29)
19.   Willie Mays, 1962 (10)
20.   Joe DiMaggio, 1941 (16)
21.   Jimmie Foxx, 1932 (19)
22.   Rogers Hornsby, 1922 (13)
23.   Sammy Sosa, 2001 (25)
24.   Ricky Henderson, 1990 (21)
25.   Albert Pujols, 2003 (17)
26.   Eddie Collins, 1913 (27)
27.   George Brett, 1980 (26)
28.   Mike Schmidt, 1980 (28)
29.   Ken Griffey Jr., 1997 (18)
30.   Rod Carew, 1977 (30)
31.   Hank Aaron, 1957 (22)
32.   Hack Wilson, 1930 (32)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The BPP All-Time Dream Project

Graham Womack of the baseball blog Baseball Past and Present has a project up where you can vote for your all-time lineup. The idea being if you could pick one player for each position, no bench, relievers, etc., who would you take. If you want to look at the players Graham thought most worthy or to submit a vote, click here. Below is the team I would choose, including the lineup order I would put them in.

1. Barry Bonds, LF: While you could certainly pick Ted Williams as your LF (or possibly Stan Musial or Rickey Henderson), I take Bonds because of his amazing offense and defense. Even if you throw out his late "steroid" years, I think he still is a great fit. Take his 1990 season (age 25), where he led the NL in slugging while also stealing 52 bases.

2. Willie Mays, CF: Ty Cobb would fit here perfectly as well. Frankly, good arguments for Tris Speaker, Mickey Mantle, Oscar Charleston, or Joe DiMaggio. But it's Willie Mays. He's on the team.

3. Babe Ruth, RF: This is pretty easy as he is the best player of all-time. He also works as an emergency pitcher in case anything happens to my starter. Apologies to Hank Aaron.

4. Josh Gibson, C: Between the statistics available and the opinion of him at the time, he has a compelling argument as a legendary slugger and greatest catcher of all-time. If you wanted to choose Johnny Bench or Yogi Berra, I could see that.

5. Lou Gehrig, 1B: If I had more flexibility, I might go with Stan Musial as my 1B, but he is correctly listed as a LF, and I can't argue with the choice of Gehrig, although I could understand people choosing Jimmie Foxx or Albert Pujols.

6. Rogers Hornsby, 2B: If you want to go with Eddie Collins or Joe Morgan or even Jackie Robinson, I can understand that, but I couldn't pass up Hornsby's hitting prowess from the 2B position. Also, I love that my 1-6 hitters alternate between lefty and righty (although that isn't as big a deal if the other team also doesn't have relievers).

7. Mike Schmidt, 3B: He is pretty clearly the best 3B of all-time, who hits for power and played great defense. Apologies to Eddie Mathews (ironically a teammate of Aaron).

8. Honus Wagner, SS: As much as I wanted to put Cal on this team, I had to go with Wagner. Consideration could also go to John Henry Lloyd or Alex Rodriguez.

9. Cy Young, P: There are plenty of great candidates for pitcher. Walter Johnson. Christy Mathewson. Bob Gibson. Sandy Koufax. Tom Seaver. Roger Clemens. Lefty Grove. Nolan Ryan. Pete Alexander. Warren Spahn. Pedro Martinez. Randy Johnson. Kid Nichols. Satchel Paige. Smokey Joe Williams. That is 15 names right there off the top of my head who would be perfectly great choices. But at the end of the day, I have to go with the pitcher whose name has been chosen to honor the best pitcher each season. It helps that having thrown the most innings in the history of baseball, I don't have to worry about him tiring in extra innings.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Talent on the Cleveland Indians from 1994-2001

As Peter’s post about the Nationals pitching staff indicated, baseball season is right around the corner, and so the pieces here should pick up. I have a couple posts that I stored up during the winter that I’ll be posting before I start commenting on more current events.

Over at the Hall of Merit, talk has started on the upcoming 2013 election (congrats to Rafael Palmeiro, Rick Reuschel, and David Cone for being elected in 2012) and with Craig Biggio being eligible, discussion has focused on how he compares to Roberto Alomar and Jeff Kent, both of whom spent some time with the Cleveland Indians during their recent glory days in the mid-1990s and early-2000s. It got me thinking about how much great talent came through Cleveland from 1994-2001, and what a team would look like if you compiled the best players to have played for Cleveland for any length of time during that period. How much or how well they played for Cleveland during this time is irrelevant—I’m looking at the career values of anyone who played on those Cleveland teams and constructing an all-time team. You could make a great team from the players who didn’t make the cut. Below is the lineup and pitching rotation for this hypothetical team:

1. Kenny Lofton, CF: I was a huge fan of Lofton when he played. I loved how much range he had in CF, his line-drive corkscrew swing, or how he ran the bases with daring. As a great defensive CF with a 114 wRC+, he has a pretty decent argument for the Hall of Merit (I don’t see how he gets over 5% on the Hall of Fame ballot, regardless of his credentials), although I would bet the casual fan doesn’t imagine Lofton that way. I think this is partially because of the caliber of teammates he had in Cleveland, but Lofton was hurt arguably more than any other player by the 1994 strike. When the strike hit, he was having his big career year, hitting .349/.412/.536 with 60 SB while playing excellent defense in CF (he won a Gold Glove that season) while on a pennant-contending Cleveland team, the first Cleveland team over .500 since 1986. But instead of there being debate over whether he should have won the MVP over winner Frank Thomas or the other worthy candidate Ken Griffey Jr., all the focus on baseball was on the strike. And while Lofton was still a great player after the strike, he didn’t have any MVP seasons like Thomas or Griffey to boost his reputation as a great player. Nevertheless, I always think of him first when thinking of these great Indians teams, so I’m glad he made the cut and is batting leadoff.

Didn’t quite make the cut for this position: Ellis Burks

2. Roberto Alomar, 2B: Alomar only spent three seasons with the Indians (1999-2001) but they were all great seasons (he hit .323/.405/.515 over the three years while averaging 35 steals a season). Shockingly, after Alomar left Cleveland, his career fell off the proverbial cliff and he was basically done as a player. Coincidentally, Cleveland’s winning streak also came to a halt after Alomar left, so it was an end of an era all the way around.

Didn’t quite make the cut for this position: N/A

3. Jim Thome, DH: The only question regarding Thome was where to put him in the field, as he started his career in Cleveland at 3B and has played a lot of 1B in his career. Of course, he didn’t play either position particularly well, so DH is probably the best fit for him. There is no doubt about his ability to hit enough for DH, as his 604 home runs are good for eighth all-time, and he should pass Sammy Sosa for seventh easily this season.

Didn’t quite make the cut for this position: Albert Belle (from 1994-1996, his lowest slugging percentage was .623!); Harold Baines

4. Manny Ramirez, LF: Another masher for the middle of the lineup whose best position is DH, but at least Ramirez can be entertaining in the outfield. From 1999-2006, Ramirez’s lowest wRC+ was 151. Another way to think of how great a hitter Ramirez was: in Lofton’s great 1994 season I referenced earlier, his wRC+ was 153—Ramirez’s career wRC+ is 152.

Didn’t quite make the cut for this position: Brian Giles; Juan Gonzalez

5. Eddie Murray, 1B: The first player who did not have a great season in Cleveland (and there are more coming), he was still very valuable for the Indians in 1995, hitting .323/.375/.516 and providing veteran leadership for an inexperienced Indians team that made it to the World Series. I also like that he is the 1B on this team because it leads into the most inexplicable thing regarding the 1995 Indians: how did a team with this much talent end up with Paul Sorrento as their starting 1B? According to FanGraphs, he was worth .6 WAR in 1995; that was a positive view, however, as Baseball-Reference has him being worth .1 WAR that season. Needless to say, he was not on the Indians in 1996 (of course Seattle didn’t learn from Cleveland’s mistake, as they gave him plenty of meaningful at-bats). I don’t understand why in 1995, they didn’t let Murray play 1B, shift Belle or Ramirez to DH, and bring up Brian Giles to play the vacant corner OF spot. If they were worried about Murray’s ability to play 1B and/or stay healthy due to his advanced age, that is one thing, but I’m confident Belle or Ramirez couldn’t butcher 1B anymore than they did the OF, opening up a spot for Giles. Not only would they have been better in 1995, they would have been better in later seasons as well as Giles would have developed quicker and reached his potential sooner, possibly leading to Cleveland not trading him to Pittsburgh. It is just mystifying that Sorrento had such a large role on that team and is a credit to the rest of the talent on the team that they made the World Series anyway.

Didn’t quite make the cut for this position: Julio Franco;

6. Dave Winfield, RF: I had forgotten that Winfield was also on that 1995 Indians team to provide veteran leadership and timely hitting—probably because he hit .191/.285/.287 (a 50 wRC+), and it proved to be his last season in baseball. Not remembering Winfield, I thought Giles would get the 3rd OF spot. For their careers, Murray and Winfield were basically equals as hitters, but I put Murray one spot ahead of Winfield in the lineup because he is a switch-hitter and because he actually contributed positively for the Indians in his career.

Didn’t quite make the cut for this position: David Justice

7. Jeff Kent, 3B: The toughest part of this mental exercise was choosing Kent over Giles. I ultimately decided that the overall value of Kent playing 3B, Thome playing DH, and Ramirez playing LF was greater than Giles playing LF, Thome playing 3B, and Ramirez playing DH, but it is close. I think Kent’s offensive production compared to fellow 2B or 3B is greater than Giles’ compared to corner OFs, and I’d rather have Ramirez’s mangled defense in LF than Thome’s at 3B, the more important defensive position. But I admit it is a close call and could go either way. For what it’s worth Giles’ 136 career wRC+ would be the third best on this team, behind only Ramirez and Thome. But Kent’s 122 wRC+ is nothing to sneeze at either, and he isn’t lacking pop—he slugged .500 for his career.

Didn’t quite make the cut for this position: Matt Williams

8. Sandy Alomar Jr., C: So I initially thought Victor Martinez would qualify here, but he didn’t start with the Indians until 2002 (if Martinez had made the team, then Lofton’s career 114 wRC+ would have been 8th best on the team—ridiculous). But like Lofton, Alomar is one of the Indians I initially think of when thinking about the 1990s teams, and while he is not of the caliber of anyone else on this team, he is a solid defensive catcher who can keep the pitching staff (and hopefully Ramirez) in line. He would have become an all-time hero in Cleveland if they had won the 1997 World Series, as he hit .367/.406/.600 with 2 home runs and 10 RBI against the Marlins.

Didn’t quite make the cut for this position: N/A

9. Omar Vizquel, SS: This team really doesn’t need any more offense, so it is fitting that this team has a defensive anchor at arguably the most important defensive position on the field. You could argue that Vizquel and Alomar made the most graceful double play combination in baseball history when they were with the Indians together. Vizquel also had his one good offensive season when Alomar was there, hitting .333/.397/.436 in 1999.

Didn’t quite make the cut for this position: Tony Fernandez

To sum up, that is three already Hall of Famers in the lineup, and five others where you can make an argument that they belong in Cooperstown. Not too shabby. But how does the pitching rotation look?

1. CC Sabathia: Sabathia is still adding to his career totals, but he already deserves to be the ace of this rotation. He also provided the most value to the Indians, although he just barely made the cutoff for this team as he premiered in 2001.

2. Orel Hershiser: Hershiser rejuvenated his career coming to Cleveland in 1995 and provided to the pitching staff what Murray provided to the lineup. Hershiser particularly left his mark in the 1995 playoffs, as he won four games and only gave up six earned runs in 35.1 innings. He was one of the big-game pitchers of his era, as his career postseason ERA is 2.59 in 132 innings, and his run of 59 scoreless innings to end the 1988 season is simply remarkable.

3. Dwight Gooden: Gooden probably had a bit of a better career thanks to his monstrous peak than Hershiser, but I rank Hershiser higher due to his impact with the Indians. You can make a good argument that Gooden’s 1985 season was the greatest pitching season all-time and that his prime in the late 1980s makes him a worthy candidate for the Hall of Fame or Merit.

4. Chuck Finley: Usually my memories of baseball from when I was younger more or less match up with what the stats indicate, but for whatever reason I instinctually think of Finley as a bad baseball pitcher, whereas he was actually quite good. It’s possible his 5.54 ERA with the Indians in 2001 might have something to do with that, but he wasn’t nearly that bad—his FIP was a respectable 3.94 that year. He was also 38 that year, so it is not as if this season was during his prime. Nevertheless, he only had 2.5 years in Cleveland, and I couldn’t rate him above Gooden, even though you can make a case of it based on their total careers.

5. Jack Morris: With apologies to Dennis Martinez, Bartolo Colon, Mark Langston, and Tom Candiotti, I chose Morris as the 5th starter for this team. If Hershiser’s impact was similar to Murray’s, than Morris’ with the Indians was like Winfield’s (although Morris was on the 1994 team and then retired rather than 1995). While I don’t support Morris for the Hall of Fame, I do believe there is a lot of value in the amount of innings he threw. He threw more innings than anyone else in the 1980s and the 3,824 for his career is very impressive. And ultimately, a huge innings eater like this is really good for a fifth starter.

The pitching staff doesn’t quite matchup with the lineup, but then again it doesn’t have to. The sports gods have not been very kind to Cleveland, but from 1994-2001 the fans of Cleveland got to witness many great players—even if not all of them played great for the Indians.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Should the Nats Employ a Six-Man Rotation?

Ever since the Nationals signed Edwin Jackson to a one year, $11 million contract, the team has faced something of a conundrum: what should they do with all of their pitching? Looking at the roster as currently constructed, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, earlier offseason acquisition Gio Gonzalez, and now Jackson are firmly set as the top 4 pitchers in the rotation. Chien-Ming Wang is likely the 5th starter by default, since he is out of options and cannot be traded until May since he technically signed as a free agent during the offseason. That leaves John Lannan as the odd man out of a 5-man rotation, but the Nats owe Lannan $5 million this year, and that’s a lot of money to pay a minor league pitcher.

The Nats have shopped Lannan around on the trade market, but they are unlikely to get a good return on a guy like Lannan. My fellow Crazy-(Good)-Eighter Drew first suggested to me that the Nats could use a 6-man rotation in order to extract some value from Lannan at the major league level, and now that Adam Kilgore has summarized the roster situation going into spring training, I’m beginning to think such an arrangement might be possible, if a little complicated.

Ideally, adding a sixth man would be a simple matter of moving a pitcher destined for the bullpen into the starting rotation. As Kilgore points out, though, the Nats already have seven pitchers bound for the bullpen, and none of them are John Lannan. Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Henry Rodriguez, Sean Burnett, and newly-signed Brad Lidge are all pretty much entrenched. Meanwhile, both Tom Gorzelanny and Ross Detwiler are out of options, meaning the Nats would almost certainly lose the rights to these players if the team attempted to send them to the minors. Would the Nats dare carry 13 pitchers on their roster, leaving only 12 position players?

Kilgore predicts Rick Ankiel will be the starting centerfielder on Opening Day, but Ankiel will likely be part of a (decidedly unsavory) platoon with Mike Cameron, who would start against opposing lefties. That leaves 4 other players on the bench: back up catcher Jesus Flores, 5th outfielder Roger Bernadina, and utility infielders Mark DeRosa and Steve Lombardozzi. Kilgore correctly points out, though, that Lombardozzi really ought to be playing every day, yet he is currently blocked by Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond in the middle infield. I contend that the Nats should leave Lombardozzi in Syracuse for further development and keep Lannan on the major league roster as a 6th starter. Sure, having 13 pitchers on the roster carries some risk, especially in the National League where multiple pinch hitters are needed per game, but at this point I should point out an added benefit of a six-man rotation in the Nats’ current situation.

The Nats have several pitchers, namely Strasburg, Zimmermann, and Wang, whose innings will be limited this season due to recent health concerns. If the Nats intend, as I’m sure they do, to play meaningful games in September and (if they catch a few breaks) October, then they will surely want their best pitchers available. A six-man rotation to start the season allows the Nats at least some of this flexibility, as it would allow Strasburg and Zimmermann an extra day of rest. One of the pitchers will inevitably get hurt, at which point the Nats can revert to a traditional five-man rotation. Or Lannan will impress to the point that the Nats will start to receive palatable trade offers. To me, the benefits of giving Strasburg and Zimmermann a chance to contribute late in the season, combined with nurturing the development of Lombardozzi and avoiding paying $5 million to a minor league player outweigh the costs of giving a pitcher an extra plate appearance every once in a while at the beginning of the season.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Craig Biggio Not a Hall of Famer?

Adam Darowski from Beyond the Boxscore (BtB) recently polled the BtB readership regarding a list of players who are not yet on the Hall of Fame ballot but who he thinks are deserving of enshrinement and wanted to know who the readers thought should get in and who will get in. While the results as a whole are interesting, the one thing that really surprised me was that Craig Biggio was considered unworthy of the Hall of Fame by the readers and that they also felt the BBWAA would not vote him in either. Of all the players who first become eligible in 2013, I figured Biggio had the best shot of being honored (which does not mean he is the most deserving, but that is another post entirely).

Biggio seems to fit the “old school” view of a great player. He was a gritty, hustling player (414 career stolen bases at a 77% success rate) who moved around the diamond in the interests of his team. He played for 20 seasons, all with the Astros, and was a seven time All Star and twice finished in the top five for MVP voting. He also got to the magical number of 3,000 hits—there are no players that have been eligible with 3,000 hits not in the Hall of Fame (Biggio and Derek Jeter are not eligible yet, and Pete Rose has been suspended indefinitely).

Biggio also seems to fit the “new school” view of a great player. His 117 wRC+ from weak-hitting positions (catcher, second base, and centerfield) made him extremely valuable. Baseball-Reference gives him 66.2 WAR, while FanGraphs gives him 70.5 WAR. Both metrics put him at the 10th best 2B WAR in history. Now you could certainly argue that Biggio is not one of the top ten 2B of all-time, but Bill James argued back in 1998 that Biggio was the fifth best 2B of all-time. And even if you want to knock Biggio slightly out of the top ten, isn’t he still a worthwhile Hall of Famer?

But what most shocked me about the results is that Biggio has something going for him that most contemporary hitters do not—no steroid suspicions.  Biggio is listed as 5’11’’ and 185 pounds on Baseball-Reference, and he never hit more than 26 home runs in a season (and that being in Minute Maid Park, which really helps right handed power numbers). He never bulked up and put up crazy power numbers, as evidenced by his respectful but not impressive .433 career slugging percentage.

So why is there no love for Biggio and the Hall of Fame? Honestly, I’m not sure.  But it will be interesting to see how the BBWAA’s actions compare to the estimates of the BtB readers.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Veteran's Committee Doesn't Do Enough

Much has been made of Ron Santo’s well-deserved induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but unfortunately not enough attention is being paid to the plight of the other prominent Chicago superstar on the ballot, Minnie Minoso. While not everyone is glossing over the Veteran’s Committee‘s decision, there is nowhere near the level of outrage about Minoso’s displacement as there should be.

Part of the reason people were so upset that Santo had not been enshrined was because he had a multidimensional impact on baseball. His caliber of play and career statistics practically speak for themselves: A career 125 wRC+, including 342 home runs and 1,108 walks, combined with good defense at 3B, a position that has been fairly scarce of great players, easily puts Santo as one of the ten best 3B of all-time based purely on the numbers. But Santo was about so much more than the numbers. He and teammate Ernie Banks were so popular in Chicago and around the nation because it was so obvious they loved playing baseball and appreciated how lucky they were. Baseball at its core is a game and is supposed to be fun, and Santo never forgot it. Santo’s heel-clicking after every Cubs win was the perfect embodiment of this mindset. Santo also became an inspirational figure when it was discovered that he was able to play at such a high level while having diabetes, proving the disease can be manageable and that it can’t stop people from doing great things. For all these reasons, Santo was obviously worthy of being a Hall of Famer.

Even though Minoso spent much of his career in the same city as Santo, for whatever reason his cause has not been picked up with the same fervor, even though his impact on the game also goes way beyond his statistics. Minoso could hit (his career 132 wRC+ is greater than Roberto Clemente’s), run (he stole 205 career bases and his presence was integral for the “Go-Go Sox” style of play to be successful), and fielded LF very well. Unfortunately, his career was fairly short, as his performance dropped off a cliff after 1961, which makes his numbers borderline for the Hall of Fame (although I believe on the inclusive side of the line). But what is important to remember is that Minoso is one of baseball’s racial pioneers and that his career was adversely affected by the segregation present in baseball. Minoso’s first year in baseball was 1951 at age 25, where he burst onto the scene, hitting .326/.422./.500 and leading the league with 14 triples and 31 stolen bases. If Minoso had been white instead of a black Latino, his talent would have gotten him into the majors much sooner.

Roberto Clemente is normally thought of as the leading pioneer for Latin American players, and rightly so. However, it is important to note that when Clemente entered the majors in 1955, Minoso had already been a star for four years, and had shown that Latin American players could be successful at the highest levels. For me, I view Minoso as the Latin American version of Larry Doby. Besides their playing statistics being remarkably similar, I see Doby’s ability to be a star CF as justifying taking a chance with Willie Mays, just as Minoso’s ability justified taking a chance on Clemente. The success of players such as Doby and Minoso were important at the time to prove that Jackie Robinson wasn’t the exception or an aberration, but that MLB needed to open its doors fully to the African American and Latin American populations. This has been appreciated with Doby, as he is in the Hall of Fame. Why not so with Minoso?

If I had a vote on the Veterans Committee, I would have voted for Santo, Minoso, Ken Boyer and Luis Tiant. I can understand Boyer and Tiant not being selected as their statistics are borderline, and that they don’t bring a whole lot else to the table (besides Tiant’s awesome wind-up). But it seems that Minoso could be destined to be another player unrecognized by the Hall of Fame for his greatness, and that seems quite unjust considering all he contributed to baseball.

Rizzo's Final Offer to Buehrle

Adam Kilgore reports that the Nats' final offer to Mark Buehrle was 3 years, $39 million. Fangraphs' contract crowdsourcing results had Edwin Jackson getting 3 years, $31 million. Going into the offseason, Jon Heyman projected Jackson to get 3 years, $36 million. Did I mention that Jackson's and Buehrle's numbers over the past three years are eerily similar?