Friday, December 30, 2011


Right in the middle of the 2012 post-season, a unique baseball collection will go to auction.

Baseball table game collector Dr. Mark Cooper (who always seems to have that monicker applied at the front of his name, just like Dr. Joyce Brothers) will let go of an assemblage of over 250 board games that span more than a century.

Heritage Auctions in Dallas is putting this event together, and it's currently scheduled to occur on October 25-26, 2012--an event that might just coincide with another post-season appearance by the local team (the Texas Rangers).

The graphics and visual layout of these early board games have the same antique charm and nostalgic resonance as so much of the more well-known baseball memorabilia, and often conspicuously feature star players of yesteryear (looking, no doubt, for endorsement income at a time when the possible windfall was something more than a drop in the bucket).

We'll feature more of these as we move closer to the auction date. It will be awhile before Heritage has a highly structured area up and running, so we'll keep the previews coming. Great stuff!

Monday, December 26, 2011


As the Christmas goose reaches its final stages of dessication, we now face an off-season of punditry, what with all sort of folk weighing in on Yet Another Despicable Display of Abjection--henceforth acronymmed (sp.?) to YADDA--swirling around the pressbox. Bill Conlin, longtime media fixture in Philadelphia, has become the Herman Cain of baseball writers--and quite possibly worse. Allegations of child molestation and sexual abuse have surfaced, and seem to be multiplying at an astonishing rate.

We rush to write about this because the rush to judgment is already proceeding at a breakneck pace. Our old pal Rob Neyer, in the final stages of a transformation from proselytizer to pundit, is out front asking readers to vote on Conlin's fate. While this is a wonderful way to indirectly moralize (let's call it meta-moralizing), it's still part of a "peer review posse" mentality that seems to be overlooking one basic fact of American law.

Bill Conlin: a handsome devil
even with the extra chin...
Which is: innocent until proven guilty.

What ought to happen in America, away from the blatherings of a fractious but oddly insular sub-world of the press, is that Conlin should be indicted and tried.

Until then, we should not have any polls about what his "fate" should be.

Complicating this scenario, however, is the fact that Conlin's alleged acts occurred so long ago that law enforcement is stymied by statute-of-limitation issues. (Neyer, to his credit, references all this. But he can't resist imposing a "court of public opinion.")

Late meta-capitalist genius at work: commodification
of the hash-slinging slang of misfortune and dross...
Further complicating the process is the unfortunate timing of a BBWAA/Hall of Fame award that Conlin received for lifetime achievement as a baseball writer. To be blunt, most of the rationale behind all of the feather-fluttering over a piece of YADDA that's come right into the BBWAA's nest has to do with the turd in the punchbowl that currently floats in disturbingly plain view.

Rob's poll is really a referendum on the nature and limits of moralizing and how far it can be extended into action where legal remedies are unavailable. In essence, what 70% of the respondents to the poll are currently saying is that we can impose sanctions and penalties even if we have no direct evidence that someone has done something wrong.

There is something innately disturbing in such a result, but it is not especially surprising. Human beings want to impose order: after all, it was humans who invented the phrase "nature abhors a vacuum."

Rob's poll would be more interesting (and more potentially useful to the BBWAA) if it addressed this aspect of the question. Absent conclusive evidence of wrongdoing, what penalties can/should be imposed on an individual who's widely believed to have done wrong on multiple occasions?

Civil law often provides remedies in cases where criminal law cannot. Wrongful death, damages for pain and suffering, palimony: the signs of an age encroached upon by shades of grey.

One way for a judgment against Conlin to gain traction would be for his alleged victims to escalate their accusations into a civil proceeding. But such a proceeding would be problematized by the length of time that has passed since the alleged acts occurred.

So--what to do? Pundits will rush to judgment; radio call-in shows will seek to boost their ratings; the public will furrow up its brow a bit more. All part of the Human Frailty Industry and the cyncial news cycle in quest of the next YADDA with which to feed itself.

We should do nothing to Bill Conlin until some kind of legal matter is undertaken against him. An oddly timed leak of an investigation is not in and of itself sufficient for a rush to judgment. The sense of deflation in Neyer's article at the realization that the only real action possible at this time is to downplay Conlin's presence in the Hall of Fame exhibit should not distract from the fact that, for now, this is the only possible action that makes sense.

It is embarrassing, to be sure. It is ill-timed and "inconvenient." But mostly it is a sad commentary on how so many of those who enter into the world of the media find themselves caught up in the need to promote readership via premature punditry.

We need a poll question that addresses how we reign in those tendencies without doing any more damage to our democracy, but it's a subject that is thornier and a good bit more murky than the pointed fingers that surround Bill Conlin.

For what it shows is that human beings, hamstrung by their own need for self-esteem, can become overly obsessed with reward and retribution. The urge to strip an honor from someone sometimes seems to be more innate than the desire to bestow one. A few deep breaths--possibly from some of that (purportedly) fine product from the shores of Humboldt County--might help more than a few of the current YADDA fulminators to chill out and wait for the rest of the Conlin story to emerge before preparing the tar and feathers.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


Prince Fielder: a bit too ready for his close-up...
Twenty-eighty hours to Xmas and rather than wrap presents we can't help but spike the egg nog for old times' sake. And after one too many, we are seized by yet another silly but semi-subversive idea as we stumble over Jeff Passan's free agent master list at The one-liners there are strictly sweatshop material but the list shook loose a vagrant thought...

Which is, what would it be like if baseball simply declared the free-agent period over and done with at Xmas, with all of the remaining players summarily assigned to a new team? Baseball could have fun with a variant on expansion by creating a thirty-first team via a bidding war between the various metro areas with a rooting interest in joining America's giddiest monopoly, and by making the thirty-second team a team filled with the free agent leftovers left unsigned by Xmas.

This is, admittedly, more whacked than our earlier proposal (back in the 1995 BBBA) that teams simply be moved from city to city on a yearly basis...well, come to think of it, maybe this idea actually makes more sense.

Let's have that thirty-second team land permanently in a place where everything that happens there is supposed to stay there--Las Vegas. Let's call the team the "Leftovers." And let's have the team be disbanded every year, only to be replaced by a new set of free agents.

Of course, this would be hard to implement, because once teams saw who was available, they would tend to snap up all the best players by the deadline. But we could think up ways to make it work if we really wanted to: it's not that important to cross t's and dot i's for the purposes of spiked-egg nog whimsy. Suffice it to say you could devise a method that would ensure that a sufficient number of good players would be available to a franchise specializing in a permanently-imposed makeover. (If these players were all free agents again in the following year, for example, the Players' Union would probably sign off on it.)

Let's take a look at how this would work in our current 2011-12 offseason. And let's begin with some context, using Passan's master list. We've taken his rankings and distributed them across a grid of free agents that's organized by position. The ones in orange are the ones that have already been signed.

Passan has 181 free agents on his master list; as of December 23, 71 (just under 40%) have been signed. (Perhaps some enterprising researcher can tell us if this percentage is on track with the average progression of free agent signings over any given off-season.)

The list set up this way (players are anonymous, though we've coded Yu Darvish and his posting lottery fee in pale blue so you'll see where it is on the chart) tells us several interesting things.

First, more than half of the Top 50 free agents (according to Passan, of course: YMMV) have already been signed.

Second, catchers and middle infielders tend to have high signing percentages. Teams seem to focus on getting these guys signed early. (This is subject to further verification, however.)

When we look at the actual players who are sill available and place the best of them onto an actual roster, we get:

C--Ramon Castro (137), Jorge Posada (96), Ivan Rodriguez (146), Jason Varitek (160)
1B--Prince Fielder (2), Conor Jackson (122) Carlos Pena (19)
2B--Mark DeRosa (117), Carlos Guillen (118)
SS--Ronny Cedeno (72), Edgar Renteria (119)
3B--Wilson Betemit (57), Kevin Kouzmanoff (81), Sean Burroughs (171)
UT--Aaron Miles (134), Willie Harris (135)
LF--Johnny Damon (34), Andruw Jones (56), Scott Hairston (103)
CF--Coco Crisp (29), Rick Ankiel (94)
Roy Oswalt contemplating the potential run support
from his Leftover hitters...
RF--Ryan Ludwick (47), Kosuke Fukudome (64)

Starters--Roy Oswalt (7), Hiroki Kuroda (13), Edwin Jackson (17), Hisashi Iwamura (18), Javier Vazquez (21), Rich Harden (38), Jeff Francis (61), Kevin Millwood (78).

Relievers--Ryan Madson (15), Darren Oliver (51), Chad Qualls (53), Brad Lidge (54), Joel Zumaya (79), Mike Gonzalez (80), Dan Wheeler (91), Shawn Camp (102).

It is a team blessed with surprisingly credible pitching and an offense that's barely existent once you get past Prince Fielder.  You will see what we mean when you take a look at the team's projected batting order:

1. Crisp cf; 2. Damon lf; 3. Fukudome rf; 4. Fielder 1b; 5. Castro c; 6. Betemit 3b; 7. Guillen 2b; 8. Cedeno ss.

It's a team that projects to score 600-625 runs over the course of a season, which would have ranked thirteenth in both the AL and the NL last year.

When we played out the year, we got the following stats in one of those sim-seasons (as is often the case in a simulations, the game simply trashes a few players--this time it was Betemit):

What leaps out here is that Prince Fielder would be getting pitched around as often as possible. The team loses seven points of BA, five points of OBP, and nineteen points of SLG if Prince were to be replaced at first base by Carlos Pena. And estimates indicate that the team would score 35-40 fewer runs with Pena on first instead of Fielder.

The best estimate of the runs allowed for the pitching staff is right at 700 for the season. The Pythagorean Method suggests that this team would go 72-90 with such a runs scored/runs allowed differential.

What are the chances that a "leftover" team can be a playoff team? Probably about 1 in 9, which isn't awful odds. After all, some teams don't make the playoffs anywhere near that often, even with bonafide efforts to build a farm system and play within the current rules of MLB.

While definitely right on the ledge in terms of wackiness, there is something oddly irresistible about a team that has virtually 100% turnover from one season to another. The years in which such a team contends for the playoffs would contain a smidge of surrealism--a quality that wouldn't exactly hurt a game that has tilted dangerously in the direction of uniformity over the past couple of decades.

Er, Morganna--this is not what they meant by the "double switch"....
And, finally, for a team with such a built-in revolving door policy, the proper management method would be a return to the Cubs' "college of coaches" approach, with the person in charge on any given day determined by any number of occult practices--day of the week, biorhythms, seance, short straw, karaoke contest.

Or Vegas showgirls. Yeah, that's the ticket--a gaggle of showgirls are the perfect "brain trust" for the Leftovers. It would constitute sweet revenge for good ol' Morganna the Kissing Bandit, except that the ladies who managed the team might well decide within a matter of weeks that, unlike their highly protuberated precursor, they really didn't like every ballplayer that they happened to meet.

So many social problems to solve, and so little time!! Merry Xmas, and don't forget to doctor that egg nog...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


The mayhem Glenn Langan causes has nothing on what seems to be
heading in the direction of the Hall of Fame in January 2013...
The topic looms larger and larger, growing with a force as alarming as what faced poor Glenn Langan in The Amazing Colossal Man...

Before we know it, an avalanche of Hall of Fame candidates will come crashing down on the BBWAA. Doomsday scenarios of various forms and denominations are already being concocted.

We're actually going to try to go beyond the cheap symmetry in our title, and present our own speculative account of what's coming when the floodtide of qualified Hall of Fame players begins next year.

Our rationale is based on the fact that while a large majority of the BBWAA continue to exhibit a pronounced moralizing bent, they will be swayed by a series of practical considerations that will prevent them from imposing the type of across-the-board ostracism that many fear will be the case.

Forget about the Curse of the Bambino: might not the residual
malaise that continues to fester in Beantown stem from this
archetypal moment...the Great Molasses Meltdown?
But there's a greater worry: a crowded ballot will simply turn what is already a problematic enshrinement process into a molasses-like mush.

Some are envisioning a 2016 ballot with up to twenty bonafide Hall of Famers spinning their wheels in a combinatoric nightmare where no one can get the required vote percentage.

Others think the process will become a more protracted quagmire that will doom candidates to the vagaries of a Veterans' Committee that has been molasses-like in its own right over the past decade.

We think people who think this way are the luckiest...well, no, actually we think they are borrowing an entire molasses plant worth of trouble. And the psychology of the "disloyal opposition" to the BBWAA, a group that has done a better job of putting people through the front door of Cooperstown than anyone in the numbers community is willing to admit, is focused on the prospect of a "doomsday scenario" if for no other reason that it would constitute proof that the Hall of Fame's main voting body is more flawed than the cluster of seismic faults in and around the San Francisco Bay Area whose probability of catastrophic event is edging into Chicken Little territory.

Perhaps we should have called this article "Adventures in Future Schadenfreude." (And perhaps we would be in Pot. Kettle. Black. territory ourselves.)

What would be preferable would be to look at what is likely to happen in Hall of Fame voting beginning in 2013 and see if there is any reason to be constructing "sky is falling" scenarios.

Clearly, a 2016 voter stagnation'n'strangulation scenario depends on the BBWAA doing two major things wrong: 1) being unable to promptly elect deserving candidates and 2) conflating moral issues in such a way that all candidates suffer proportionally as a result.

If that happens, we would be looking at a 2016 ballot with the following 20 players still trying to get elected:

Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Ken Griffey, Jr.*, Randy Johnson, Jeff Kent, Barry Larkin, Greg Maddux, Edgar Martinez, Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, John Smoltz, Sammy Sosa, Frank Thomas, Larry Walker.

(*) means first year on the ballot

(numbers under the "2011" column in the chart indicate vote % in that HoF election)

Notice that for the purpose of this display, we are not even bothering to add in several folks who might still be on the ballot in 2016:

Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Lee Smith, Alan Trammell.

We are not expecting that the following players will receive (or retain) the minimum 5% support to remain on the ballot:

Juan Gonzalez, Kenny Lofton, David Wells, Bernie Williams.

Well, yes, if you look at it from this perspective, and come to the conclusion that the BBWAA, which shows a certain amount of molasses-like tendencies, will dawdle and double-dribble all over their shirts, then for goodness' sakes the sky has already fallen.

However...there are other perspectives. There are actually more than a few hopeful signs that argue against Chicken Little. We will go through them in a way that, if not convincing, will at least be confusing.

First, let's take a look at the most crowded ballot in the history of the Hall of Fame voting--1936. That ballot had nineteen hitters whose OPS+ was 130 or higher. It had eight pitchers whose ERA+ was 120 or higher (not including Babe Ruth). It had twenty-two players whose career Wins Above Replacement (WAR) was 60 or higher (not including Joe Jackson, who actually got two votes despite being ineligible).

The potential for chaos, for Chicken Little being more than just a future fryer with an advanced case of paranoia, was just as great.

What happened in that election? Five players (Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson) were enshrined.

Ah, you say. But those were five of the greatest players of all time, and the backlog of talent was much, much greater than five years. The players in the 2016 group have subtler, more elusive qualifications, and the BBWAA hasn't shown an ability to discriminate. This is the tsunami that will topple them, the perfect storm of candidates who will all founder on the rocks as the wind pushes all the boats against the current. Years of deadlock will  ensue.

Sorry, we don't buy it. One way to track the level of deadlock is to look at how decisive the BBWAA is in terms of players. Is there a pervasive tendency to make players wait years after they first become eligible?

The answer is: no. The Hall of Fame had some issues with its voting rules, which took two decades to sort out. Once the BBWAA had a five-year waiting period and a yearly ballot, they began to become noticeably more decisive with respect to inductees. (This doesn't mean that they were flawless in identifying all Hall of Famers, and one of the criticisms of the BBWAA is in its inability to keep players with more subtle--and previously unmeasurable--achievements on the ballot long enough for arguments about them to ripen.)

But it's clear from the graph at right that the BBWAA has had no problem identifying first-round inductees. Their cumulative percentage has progressed upward steadily since the 50s and approached its original 30s level in the last decade.

Ah, you say. But there is a catastrophic complicating factor--AKA "the age of PEDs." The BBWAA has its own case of "roid rage" that it will be systematically imposing upon the voting process. This will lower the vote totals of all players coming onto the ballot, as demonstrated by what's happened to  McGwire and Palmeiro.

We'll give you a "maybe" on that. So far the only serious vote suppression that has occurred has come at the expense of those two players. (The stats cadre wants to make a case that such is the case for Tim Raines, but the fact is that players like Raines often take time to ripen on the vine in terms of HoF voting. The insistence on the part of certain stathead factions that Raines is a first-ballot Hall of Famer is one part analysis, one part rhetoric, and one part attack-dog tactics. High OBP, low SLG players do take longer to get recognized, and Raines doesn't match up with players like Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, or Rod Carew, who were at the top of their leagues' offensive performance levels over a much longer period of time. WAR is not a perfect instrument.)

And what's likeliest to happen over the course of the next few years is that the BBWAA will single out the most controversial (read: arrogant) players from the age of PEDs and make examples out of them. As a voting group, they know that it would be impolitic to bar the doors of Cooperstown to all the players from the wraparound decades (1990s/2000s). They also know (when they are not pontificating) that the Mitchell Report is not...a perfect instrument.

To leave too many of these players out of the Hall of Fame based on the unreliable evidence that has been assembled would make everyone look bad.

And thus the real catastrophe would happen in Cooperstown, New York, where the ongoing financial health of the Hall of Fame--dependent on a PR stream from new inductees--would be seriously threatened.

Though many erstwhile revolutionaries would love to see the Hall crumble into dust, they should not hold out false hope for such an occurrence. The BBWAA isn't going to be party to that, no matter how devoutly one might wish it so. They will be stepping back from this brinksmanship and making an example of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

And there is tremendous good fortune in the fact that the two greatest players of the "age of PEDs" will be systematically ostracized. It will force the BBWAA to examine players that would otherwise get less attention in the voting process. This will serve to sustain several worthy candidates through what will be a crowded ballot period (people like Raines and Edgar Martinez) and give them a chance to be enshrined within the fifteen year period.

There is already good evidence to indicate that this is going to happen. Roberto Alomar's election in his second year of eligibility signals that the BBWAA is very likely to be selective in its punishment.

Barry Larkin
Craig Biggio--how many catcher/second
basemen/center fielders are there
in the Hall of Fame? None--yet.
Alomar's selection is good news for both Larkin and Biggio. It signals that the BBWAA is cognizant of positional difference and that they'll take it into account. Larkin is positioned to sneak over the line in 2012 as a result.

Biggio has an important ace up his sleeve that no other candidate can bring to the table--3000+ hits. It's one of two things that will make him a first-ballot inductee. (The other is his ability to successfully play two other positions on the left side of the defensive spectrum--catcher and center field. It makes him a unique player.)

The Hall of Fame history of 3000+ hit players is a strong indication that Biggio will come in at around 80% of the vote.

Even though in this rare collection of players (only 28 in baseball history) Biggio is down near the bottom of the group (as measured by hits, OPS, OPS+), he gets a big boost from the fact that out  of 25 players eligible for the Hall of Fame with 3000+ hits, 96% of them are in Cooperstown--and 76% of them were inducted on the first ballot.

And the only reason that three of the other members of this group weren't inducted on the first ballot was because they happened to be on the "first ballot" in 1936: Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker, and Eddie Collins. Lajoie and Speaker went in the second year (1937), along with Cy Young; Collins was inducted in 1939.

Twelve of these players received 90+% of the vote when they went in.

Oddly enough, when we average all of these players' first-year voting percentages (even the three 1936 players, the odd anomaly of Paul Waner, who was part of the late 40s confusion that hampered the Hall of Fame for the better part of a decade, and the scapegoated Palmeiro) we get an overall average of 80% for this group. That looks about right for Biggio, who has more similarity with players like Robin Yount and Lou Brock--career longevity and several moments when he was seriously mentioned as the best player in baseball.

(Interesting fact: Forman et fil's intriguing Elo-Rater system has three second basemen piled up together in slots #64-#66: Biggio, Ryne Sandberg, and Alomar. While it's not "scientific," it's a solid little tool--and the other two guys are in the Hall. Neither of them played catcher or center field.)

It's silly of us to post a speculative scenario for how the Hall of Fame vote will proceed over the next four years, but--what the heck, we'll do it anyway. You'll be able to see where the assumptions are, and how those have more than a small chance of coming unglued. What we expect to happen in the upcoming vote is that Larkin will get inducted, Jack Morris will max out a bit lower than what other folks expect, and Bagwell will actually slip past Jack. Why will Bags get a boost? Someone has to, and there's no one else on the ballot with numbers remotely like his.

Someone will remind his pals that Bags had a helluva lot of RBI per game, and that of players with a moderate length career (2000-2200 games), he ranks fourth (behind Lou Gehrig, Harry Heilmann, and Joe DiMaggio). The ones who've cottoned up to on-base percentage will note that Bags is 21st lifetime (.408). They'll note that he had a lot of round-number seasons (nine seasons with 100+ runs scored, eight with 100+ RBI, seven seasons with 100+ walks, and six seasons where he did all three in the same year). They'll notice that in addition to winning the MVP (in 1994), he also finished 2nd and 3rd, and was in the top ten of MVP voting six times. And they'll note that while he didn't manage to lead the league in HRs, he hit 30 or more in nine seasons.

The breadth of these accomplishments will rub off on voters--in part because there is no one else to focus on in 2012--and Bags will move up. (He will be more evidence that the scurrilous folk who toss around baseless accusations of PED use are not going to poison the jury pool any more than has already been the case--we are on the downslope of all this, and pond scum such as Jeff Pearlman will suddenly discover that they no longer have working vocal cords.)

With Biggio on the ballot in 2013, the memory of the "Killer B's" will be just enough to bring them over the line. It will be a massive PR coup for Cooperstown. The "Schadenfreude crew" will be conflicted--torn between a sense of relief and a lack of satisfaction over the dimming prospects of the Fallen Sky Scenario.

The chart shows how we think it will play out...with Larkin, Biggio and Bagwell voted in, the logjam is lessened, and The Perfect Storm can remain a lugubrious, inauthentic film.

What we find out in 2013 is that the moralizing bloc will not be able to crush Bonds and Clemens to the extent that they did with McGwire and Palmeiro: these two guys were just too great for too long to be completely trashed. They'll get around 30% of the vote, and it will be more loyal and tenacious on their behalf because these guys were really and truly inner circle players.

Mike Piazza, also on the ballot in '13, will draw down a solid percentage that will be off by around 6-9% from what Yogi Berra polled in his first year on the ballot (67%). He will be in position to go in on the third ballot in 2015.

The reason he won't make it in 2014 is that an exceptionally strong crop of candidates will debut that year, with Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, and Tom Glavine all crashing through in their first year. Jack Morris, in his last year of eligibility, will go out with a semi-quaver as two 300+-game winners will be inducted in the same year for the very first time.

In 2015, we'll have two more all-time pitchers in Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez, and Piazza will join them for the second consecutive troika on the Cooperstown dais--something that won't have happened since 1937. Bonds and Clemens will be joined in their 30s holding pattern by Gary Sheffield.

The BBWAA will steam through this purported Perfect Storm without a glitch, but it won't gain them much respect. Basement dwellers will still be miffed about Raines; some of us will still be venting about Edgar Martinez; and there will be a series of splinter groups mouth-foaming about Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker and Rick Reuschel.

In short: life will return to normal.

It will just be another cataclysm that didn't happen that we won't talk about even though we still think we can see it coming in the rear-view mirror.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


This cap (with its seven-layer burrito rendition of
"fame as in Hall of...") is not yours when you
cast your vote in BBBA's Hall of Fame Redux...
A couple of years ago we suggested to the folks at the Hall of Merit that they extend their efforts by following the strictures of actual history and select potential Hall of Fame inductees according to the original rules:

--Vote for 10 players;
--75% of the votes produces enshrinement;
--Eligibility rules as in existence for each year in question, with the exception of Gehrig (presumed inducted via special vote in 1939).

So far the Hall of Merit folks have not taken us up on this idea. That's fair enough: they have their own activities and approaches, and we can all applaud their alternative take on the best ballplayers in baseball history.

But we remain fascinated by the prospect of having a more sabermetrically-engaged membership take on a "Hall of Fame Redux" where the first ballot begins precisely when it did in 1936, using the exact parameters that the BBWAA faced (and continues to face seventy-five years later).

So here's our pitch. If the good folks at Baseball Think Factory will see fit to link to this post, thus creating a thread where anyone who is interested can vote, we will tabulate the votes after a five-day voting period, announce the results, and continue with weekly posts moving through the years toward the present.

We'll also create an ongoing comparison chart of the BBWAA inductees and the BTF-HOF inductees which will be updated with each weekly result.

For the eligible players, refer to the link provided to Baseball Reference's useful Hall of Fame voting results page for 1936. There is a great deal of useful data summarized there that will help you make your picks.

Lou Gehrig will, alas, sit out this election and all the others, but will
be inducted in 1939 just as was the case when it actually happened.
Here is our vote for the 1936 election (in alphabetical order):

1. Pete Alexander
2. Ty Cobb
3. Eddie Collins
4. Rogers Hornsby
5. Walter Johnson
6. Nap Lajoie
7. Christy Mathewson
8. Babe Ruth
9. Tris Speaker
10. Cy Young

Vote early, vote once only, and let's see how many players can receive 75% or higher in the vote count. Five players made it in the actual BBWAA election; we're thinking that it might be possible to elect seven or eight in the Redux version.

We look forward to your participation...

Friday, December 9, 2011


As we suggested awhile back, Yu Darvish will emerge as the most pivotal chip in the major league baseball post-season when the Nippon Ham Fighter ace becomes the most-talked-about Japanese baseball player to be "posted" for acquisition by American MLB clubs.

Yu Darvish: possibly a bit too ready for his close-up...
Darvish, who turned 25 in August, had his best-yet season in 2011 for the Fighters (18-6, 1.44 ERA, 276 K's, 10.7 K/9). His lifetime record is 93-38 with a 1.99 ERA--in short, the best JPPL pitcher ever eligible to make a transcontinental trek.

Bloggers (particularly those within a certain radius of the Bronx) have been trying to contain themselves in the manner of Internet porn users working hard not to go one stroke over the line, but Sweet Baby Jesus it's almost impossible not to have a mass relocation of blood flow when contemplating the figure and form of Darvish. With C.J. Wilson opting to go west, the Yankees would seem like the logical folks to be priming the pump for an infusion of stud-muffin pitching power.

Let's face it, the Yanks got by with a whole lotta smoke and mirrors in the starting rotation last season, and odds are not short that they can pull a repeat with what they're currently projecting to put out there behind C.C. Sabathia.

Where else could Yu go? The Red Sox are paying two pitchers (John Lackey and their earlier "Big in Japan" investment Daisuke Mastuzaka) some serious coin to heal in 2012, and new Boston GM Ben Cherington is downplaying his team as contenders for Darvish.

Big dollars have already flowed in Miami and Anaheim (oops, sorry: the Angels still want us to think they are actually based in Los Angeles, don't they?), so it would be even more astonishing if either of them decided to enter the fray.

Of course, we are rooting for some kind of totally counterintuitive result from all this. We're firmly convinced that baseball, now that MBAs have taken charge from top to middle to Yu's-soft-as-a-baby's bottom, is about to enter its most virulent phase of meta-collusion to date, a barely-hidden travesty that will only become more overt in the next several seasons as we transition from the reign of Budzilla to the MBA's version of David Petraeus. The anarchic environment within the industry is gaining steam; in such a context, meta-collusive transactions are becoming likelier and likelier.

In that spirit, examine these possible counterintuitive locations for Yu:

1. San Diego. Sure, Jed Hoyer is gone, but the moles that Jed and his new-old boss in Chicago, Theo Epstein, have implanted within the Padre organization could pay off with a stutter-step maneuver that brings Darvish to the West Coast as a short-term "rental" followed by a pass-through to the Cubs in 2014 or 2015 when the Cubs are ready for the final piece of their "break the curse" puzzle. (Of course, that assumes that Theo and Jed really are going to lead the Cubs out of hibernation.)

Chances are higher than usual that Darvish is going to get an opt-out clause in his contract...whether this is for everyone's mutual benefit or to establish as many pass-through options as possible will just have to remain to be seen.

2. Philadelphia. Hey, why stop with Phour Aces? They have the money.

3. Seattle. Actually, not so counterintuitive. A good ballpark fit, with similar weather.

It's just a question as to whether Jack Z. can convince his bosses that Darvish can get the M's back on track when they have so much more left to do in order to be competitive.

4. Kansas City. (Hey, you knew this was coming.) The Royals need to go for it now--and what would better symbolize the breathless abandon of a long-dormant but suddenly heel-swingin' franchise than the acquisition of an actual, bonafide whirling Darvish for a team in need of an even newer twist?

Plus it would give Joe Pos something to get extra creamy about.

Actually, only 1) and 4) really provide any likelihood of pass-through or meta-collusive scenarios, but the fact that it's a 50-50 proposition should tell you something.

• •

Wherever Yu winds up, though, the perfect American theme song awaits him...

Little girl lost Lauren Hillman, moving her way through to synth-pop resurrection via a crossbred tune mashing up The Beach Boys and Enya, gives Darvish an angelic, Kotomi-esque chorus. And why not?

Well, because Yu will almost certainly wind up in New York, and they'll probably decide to make him into a Metal Man. Big mistake, Ninja guy: power pitcher needs ethereal girl to achieve grace and balance. Wherever you go, make this your theme song, and America will be at your feet.

Monday, December 5, 2011


One very large slight in the Hall of Fame voting results was at long last rectified today. Ron Santo, the fourth key member of the 1960s Chicago Cubs--the most star-crossed franchise of that decade, the one with absolutely nothing to show for itself--was finally admitted by what seems like the four hundredth incarnation of the serially dubious and excessively bureaucratized Veterans' Committee.

Sadly, though, this vote was (unnecessarily) too tardy to permit Santo (who passed away almost exactly one year ago) to enjoy this honor while still alive. And it sends a signal that in an age of accelerating cultural and economic factionalization, public institutions such as the Hall of Fame will be increasingly forced to take these types of mincing steps only with the convenient impetus of dead bodies.

For some reason, we are faced with the paradox that as the life of the world becomes more accessible to us, it is more and more necessary to not engage in any type of official judgmental activity unless those involved are already dead and gone.

This is a terrible and unfortunate trend, and it sends a tragic message to an entire series of aging ballplayers who are as deserving as Santo, but whose mistake (or so it would seem) is that they are still alive.

It is not fair to Santo to point out the series of reasons why his honor was so long delayed, but we must do so. His supporters, who naively believe that his enshrinement is part of a larger cultural-economic-rationalist "movement" to save baseball from a dark, protracted age of insiderist myth-mongering, have spun a narrative that Santo was merely an overly enthusiastic "yokel" whose on-field braggadocio was essentially harmless and homespun. When this is done in the mainstream media, it is known as "whitewashing."

Santo was no saint. He was not a pleasant man. He was a bully. He was also a great baseball player, an excellent third baseman, a hitter with power and strike-zone judgment--and a man who overcame a serious medical condition (diabetes). He also had the great good fortune, however, to play in a ballpark (Wrigley Field) that aided hitters the most of any during the time frame (1960-74) in which he played.

And, as the data shows, Santo took advantage of it more than anyone. The current "advanced metrics" which have become part of the long drumbeat on his behalf have conveniently cast off the constraining reality of these park effects and what they can tell us about Santo's actual level of offense.

This inconvenient truth does not mean that we are concluding that Santo is not deserving of induction. We suggested back in 2002, when we were writing a column for the Baseball Think Factory, that in a gesture of sabermetric and cultural healing, Santo and Dick Allen be inducted in the same ceremony. Such a concept was always naive and sentimental, because while Santo had been snubbed by a coterie of sportswriters who'd found him to be less than couth, Allen had come to symbolize far greater levels of hubris and social leprosy.

But with our lenses tinted to the maximum value of rose, we fearlessly suggested such a redemptive scenario. And it is to the eternal degradation of American culture, as embodied in the little world of baseball, committed both by those with the power to have made it happen, and those whose voices could have created a narrative to give it some real impetus, that this did not occur.

It is a blemish that will never go away.

We harbor no illusions that Dick Allen--clearly no saint, but a far greater hitter than anyone of his time who's not already in the Hall of Fame--will ever be enshrined while he is still breathing. After all, if the various editions of the bureaucracy could not manage to do so for Ron Santo, how can anyone in their right mind expect that for Allen?

And, likewise, we feel nothing but pity and regret for Minnie Minoso, a member of the first generation of black ballplayers to play in the major leagues. Minoso is in his mid-to-late 80s, and while his achievements are arguably more modest than those of Santo or Allen, the combination of his talents and personality are more than sufficient for such an honor.

We know that there are legions of "numbers folk" who have become comfortably numb with respect to Dick Allen. We can only shake our heads at their inconceivable certainty, and be saddened by their incalculable cultural cowardice. They were led by a series of terribly unfortunate slurs written by Bill James in a sprawling, dyspeptic, often downright nasty book originally entitled The Politics of Glory. Bill has recently recanted those words, but he did so in a backhanded way that was too little and too late. (It was the equivalent of a retraction of a libelous comment buried somewhere deep in the classified ad section.) His influence was much greater than he knew, and it remains infinitely more damaging than that.

Allen and Minoso must take solace in their enshrinement by two smaller but infinitely more cogent institutions--the Baseball Reliquary and the Hall of Merit. The former has an actual concept of American culture; the latter has an actual concept of the true on-field value of baseball players. This is better than nothing, to be sure. But we are left with the ugly residue of a series of cultural clashes that played out in the middle part of the twentieth century that, apparently, we are still centuries away from successfully resolving. (If we make it far enough.)

So, while there are tears of joy for Ron Santo (particularly for his family, who know more than any of the rest of us how much Santo recognized his own personal shortcomings and worked to ameliorate them during his post-baseball life), there are only tears of infinite sadness for the lost opportunities to rectify so much more than one great ballplayer who had unfairly been on the outside looking in.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


What a coincidence that 1-0 games are back to 1969 levels (well, not quite: there were 112 1-0 games in both 2011 and 1969, but there were more total games played this past season, so the percentage of 1-0 games was still higher in Ye Olde Year of the Moon Landing and the Miracle Whip™ Mets), but it's close enough for government work and our Curler Boy® Chart (below).

There are so many wacky things that were part of the Metsies' improbable run to glory that year (Nixon, war protests, Weathermen, the invention of heavy metal, etc., etc.) that it just makes the blood run cold while The Wind Cries Mary (sorry, axtually released in 1967), but we'll stay on point and remind you that the Mets kept the echo of 1968 alive in baseball's most expansive year ever with 14 1-0 games and a full half-season's worth of contests in which both teams combined to score six runs or less.

The starting pitching was righteous, all right--and those former hapless denizens of Flushing went 9-5 in the 1-0 games and went 53-28 in those low-scoring games, ratcheting up their record over the last two months of the season with hellacious hurling from such unlikely stalwarts as Jim McAndrew and Don Cardwell.

As our chart at left indicates, the Mets reached a crescendo of run suppression in August and September of '69, following up a 13-6 mark in August with a well-nigh unconscious 15-2 record down the home stretch.

Let's face it, winning 24 of 34 games (.706 WPCT) in which both teams score a total of 3 runs or less is a pretty astonishing feat. The only other teams to win at least two-thirds of such games with such a quantity of games during the season were deadball-era teams (the 1913 Senators were a mind-boggling 26-4 in such contests) and the 1968 St. Louis Cardinals (26-13).

Part of the incandescence of the Mets came from their 1-0 wins, in particular the legendary double 1-0 wins in Pittsburgh on September 12th behind Cardwell (game two) and Jerry Koosman (game one). Adding spice to the proceedings was the fact that in each game, the only run was driven in by the pitcher.

Three weeks earlier, the Mets had won a 1-0 game in which rookie Gary Gentry battled the Giants'  Juan Marichal to a draw, leaving after 10 innings in a scoreless tie. Later in the game, the Mets employed a four-man outfield against Willie McCovey: in a bizarre and miraculous variation on his ill-fated line drive in Game Seven of the 1962 World Series, McCovey drilled a ball that no three-man outfield could have possibly caught.

With four outfielders, however, Cleon Jones was able to be in position to make a leaping catch to keep the ball in the park. The Mets would eventually win the game, 1-0, in the sixteenth inning.

Koosman was the man who was in the most of these 1-0 games, turning up in a total of five of 'em.

You may have noticed the (parentheses) for some of the games, which depict doubleheaders. More than anything else, the biggest difference between 1969 and 2011 is the number of doubleheaders played during the course of the season. The Mets played 22 doubleheaders in 1969. That total of 44 games represents more than a fourth of the season. They went 30-14 over this span of games.

What the breakout by pitcher shows is that Tom Seaver and Koosman were simply 1-2 dynamite for the Mets, combining for a 13-2 record when they pitched in doubleheaders. Right behind them, however, is McAndrew, who didn't get the run support that the two aces received and went only 3-3 in these games. And Cardwell wasn't exactly chopped liver, either.

Another serious difference has to do with how relievers were used. Tug McGraw was a combination long-man/closer, averaging nearly two innings an appearance and not so occasionally pitching much longer (and we're not counting his four early-season starts).

Jack DiLauro
As Leonard Koppett suggested forty years ago, however, the Mets' most pivotal game in 1969 may have occurred in their very first doubleheader of the year. Having lost three straight to the Cubs in their first meeting of the year--including a blown save from ex-Cub Cal Koonce in the first game of their April 27th doubleheader at Shea Stadium--the Mets found themselves in a scoreless game with two-game swing in the standings dependent on the game outcome. McAndrew, who'd been pitching terribly in the early going, inched his way through five innings. McGraw threw four innings of scoreless relief and the Mets won on Jones's three-run walkoff HR. It was the game that stemmed the tide and, according to all who were around at the time, gave the Mets the confidence that they could play with the mighty Cubs.

This was a 3-0 win, however, and is a bit off-point...the early-season 1-0 game that gets the most ink is the one on June 4th, as the Mets were in the midst of what would become an eleven-game winning streak.

Obscure lefty Jack DiLauro, obtained from the Tigers over the 1968-69 off-season, made his first big league start in this game--and proceeded to shut the Dodgers out for nine innings with stuff that wouldn't have blown over a feather. It took the Mets six more innings to finally push across a run, but DiLauro had come out of nowhere to fuel the improbable rise of a franchise still living on the fumes of these distant memories.

These may be too distant to bring Gil Hodges a slot in the Hall of Fame (the new version of the Veterans Committee will convene next week, with the fate of several notables hanging in the balance), but the Mets could use a little something to lift their spirits. No one ever did so much with so little: here's on ya, Gil.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


We will now officially "cherry-pick" from BTF (Baseball Think Factory) the way they do from everyone else.

The fugitive world of baseball statistics is fast becoming meta-parasitic anyway, and the handy chart compiled by the embedded insurgent renegade group RBI, showing how the types of parasitism in baseball discourse have operated over the past few seasons (with an entirely new strain emerging in the past year), is a telling indicator of the (apparently) inevitable direction that things are taking.

So, when in a Petri dish...

Actually, we are stealing our own list out of a thread that has grown as frayed and brittle as many of them do over at the Shrink Factory, where fabric softener is no longer an optional product. The list came from a bit of business following up a slice of commentary at Bill James' web site, where registered site visitors can engage Bill in questions and comments, sometimes about baseball, sometimes not.

In this case, it was a set of related questions about the Hall of Fame likelihood for two highly regarded late-blooming infielders, the Phillies' Chase Utley (right) and the Red Sox' Kevin Youkilis (left)--who are both turning 33 prior to the start of the 2012 season, and who are showing some signs that they might not be able to sustain the career momentum necessary to power their way into Cooperstown.

Both players have a 127 OPS+ going into next season, but there's a difference in their number of career games played--Utley (1109) has about 200 more than Youkilis (911). James noted the small number of players in the Hall with less than 1,000 games at the age of 32, and pretty much consigned these two also-ran status.

That got us thinking about the players who were like these two--as good or better--who'd come up late and had somewhere between 911 and 1109 games in their careers at age 32. How many were there? How many of them have made it into the Hall? Are there other late bloomers who've been overlooked in terms of the Hall due to short careers?

We went to Forman et fil and created a list of players in what we might call the "Utley-Youkilis Gap." It turns out there are 29 of them. We've sorted them into the list below at right, and will now proceed to explain (as best possible) what all the freakin' color-coding means.

First, the players in "hard orange" are the four who beat the odds and made it into the HoF--Kiki Cuyler, Bill Terry, Earle Combs, and Earl Averill.

The rest are color-coded by the number of games they played from age 33 on. The guys with 800 or more games played from age 33 are listed in two different color schemes (we'll explain the reason for this later--three (Ken Williams, Edgar Martinez, Bob Johnson) are in light orange, while two (Brian Giles, Rico Carty) are in pink.

We did the same thing with the guys with 600-799 games played at age 33 on. Two (Jack Fournier, Dolph Camilli) are in yellow; one (Cliff Johnson) is in blue. (Can you figure out why the reason for the subcategorization?)

The players with 400-599 games (actually 598, we cheated to get Camilli on the earlier list)  are coded in dark green; those with 200-399 games are shown in light green.

Everyone with 0-199 games is shown in light blue.

Edgar Martinez
The separation of the top groups into two separate color codings is to differentiate the players whose OPS+ averages actually increased in their 33-year and up seasons. Five players did that: Williams, Martinez, Bob Johnson, Fournier, Camilli.  Only three of these guys saw their OPS+ averages and their WAR totals increase: Williams, Martinez, Bob Johnson.

And those are the three guys who, in our estimation, deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.

They beat the odds. Everyone lost fifteen points off their OPS and saw their WAR total drop 60% in the 33+ age window.

These guys went the other way--and actually played more games from age 33 on than they did through age 32.

"Indian" Bob Johnson
Edgar, of course, is the current case--and we're just going to have to hope that the BBWAA gives him a full ride over the ballot process. This next vote will give us a much better sense of how things are going to go--with any luck, Edgar will go up into the mid-to-high 40s due to the lull in the coming "perfect storm" of HoF candidates that will arrive beginning in 2013.

Johnson and Williams are going to require a lot of proselytizing--and it won't be a walk in the park, even compared with the arduous efforts expended on behalf of Bert Blyleven. However, it's easier to convince a VC body than the full BBWAA, so educating folks as to just how rare it is to beat your "decline phase" is something that's possible with such a small group. Or so we can hope.

We wouldn't give much for either Johnson or Williams' chances. But both did a wonderful job of defying time, and this is a very rare achievement worthy of recognition.

(BTW, the numbers for "UTLEY" and "YOUKILIS" on the big chart are not for the individuals, but for the groups broken out by the thick line between Riggs Stephenson and Earl Averill. The "Utley group" is above (more than 911, less than 1109 games at 32). The "Youkilis group" is below (less than 911 games).

Ken Williams
It's going to be harder for Utley to play more games after 33 than through 32 than it will be for Youkilis, but if he could do so, it would probably mean enshrinement (especially if he can manage to stay a second baseman well into his late 30s). Chase is farther advanced WAR-wise than anyone else on the list (Terry gives him a very close run for his money, but Bill is one of the ~30% of these guys who had a better year at 33 than at 32. Utley really needs to do the same: he's going to need to shake off the injuries that have slowed his meteoric rise.

Youk made a successful move to third base last year, but his body type is such that it doesn't seem plausible for this switch to be viable for more than a couple of more years. He needs the Red Sox to decide that he's indispensable in their lineup: he's got about a 14% home park advantage at Fenway, which is exceptionally well-suited to his doubles-centric batting style. If he tries to jack up his HR totals, it might backfire on him, causing his BA to drop too much to keep him in MVP contention.

What did the "Gang of 29" do in their age-32 and age-33 years? Their aggregate OPS+ dropped from 134 to 119. They lost about 18% in WAR, a shade under 12% in OPS. Career-wise, they plated just over half the number of games they'd managed through age 32 from age 33 on.

I expect Utley and Youkilis to beat that 50% figure, but they probably won't break 70%. Clearly, the higher this percentage, the greater chance they'll have for Cooperstown. Utley has the better shot, given his head start in games and the fact that he's been playing the tougher defensive position.

What's also clear is that this group of late-blooming players is quite interesting unto itself. They still need a shortstop and a catcher to be able to field a full team, but they'd be an awfully solid hitting unit if they could do that.