Thursday, January 31, 2013


PAP is back!

What's that, you say? Isn't there enough PAP in the world as it stands? Has it ever gone away?? How can something that never went away be "back"??

Before you get hopelessly confused by this semi-philosophical sleight-of-hand, let's explain. PAP is short for "Pitcher Abuse Points." It was something of a cause celebre during the years 1998-2001, when the original crew at Baseball Prospectus developed a hypothesis about how single-game high pitch counts were destroying young pitchers' careers.

Keith Woolner: seeing red.
Rob Neyer was converted to the PAP cause in 1999; the hand-wringing about the issue increased exponentially at that point.

Skepticism about the validity of the concept in the pre-careerist world of baseball analysis caused Keith Woolner to repurpose the original system, and it became one of the calling cards that lifted him into the front office of the Cleveland Indians.

What it didn't do, however, was prove that either the approach or the data described much of what was really happening in the real world with respect to the issue.

Pitch counts for starting pitchers dropped, though no one (to our knowledge, at least) has indicated that this has occurred due to the revelations of PAP.

What's interesting, however, is that there are no studies indicating that the drop in pitches/game for starters has resulted in a material lessening of injury rates.

Bill James: greener than the Green Monster.
Bill James took that matter up in 2004, and tried at that time to show that what had come out of the pitch count analysis method was much ado about very little. (Please note that we are not saying that pitcher injuries are a minor thing, and that intelligent efforts not be made to minimize them: we are just saying that any abstract "system" to measure risk needs some more tangible basis in reality than what any of the systems or ideas about pitch counts and usage patterns have contained to date.)

But nine years have passed since the last mini-flap over PAP. Many folks have inveigled their way into baseball front offices in that time frame. There has not been much evidence that these people have revolutionized the way the game is played on the field, or that their ideas have produced any tendency for teams who utilize these analytical precepts to be more successful than teams who don't. PAP, of course, is not even part of such analytical tools--its ability to give teams an "on-field advantage" is miniscule at best. It was a beast of a different order, a kind of moral crusade with numbers.

Bill recently answered a question at his web site about pitcher workloads, and a number of folks thought that he was reinventing PAP. We looked at what he wrote and we don't really see it that way. We think that Bill was doing what he does a good bit these days at his web site--which is to talk out of his hat. (Something, in fact, that most of us do.) That's often interesting and enlightening--but it's also often a bit confounding; remember, though, that Bill is responding to questions from readers in that section of his web site, and the material appearing there is extremely variable in the amount of research/thought put into it.

Lou Whitaker (r.) to Frank Tanana: "Does anyone remember when
you owned the Big A, man? 36-18 at home from 74-77; 28-29 on the
road...and DON'T ask me how I know this!!!!"
While Bill's answer was relatively lengthy, it was not especially detailed: it fell back on the concept of extremely high single-game pitch counts (or, going further back into the sketchy past of the research conducted on this issue, to Craig Wright's primitive model of "batters faced"). The careful reader will note that Bill never suggested that a pitch count of 130, if reached a few times during a season, would be a starting pitcher's "death knell." It was the repeated application of higher-than-130 pitch games that he referenced (with Frank Tanana being the example). This is similar to the alternate theories of workload abuse that were largely ignored in the rush to judgment at the time. (During the height of the pitch count hysteria, Neyer suggested that two consecutive 127-pitch games had ruined Wade Miller's career, and that young pitchers--for example, then 20-year-old Rick Ankiel--should not be allowed to throw more than 100 pitches in a game. As we know, workload issues had nothing to do with what happened to Rick's pitching career.)

Now it's true that Bill did reference a few key elements that were prominent in the Woolner construct--particularly the "square of pitches thrown," an arbitrary construct to measure "stress" that could be replaced by several other approaches; and the notion that the most stressful pitches occur when a pitcher is tired, a conclusion that seems logical but is merely common sense.

But he also suggested another fanciful concept (not as fanciful as the type of stuff we are known to traffic in, of course; but you can't have everything). Namely: that starters should pitch every third game with pitch counts (80-90 per start) well below the levels championed by the original Prospectus crusaders.

Bottom line: this proposal by Bill is so different from what was being bandied about in those early years of hysteria that it's odd folks are trying to place it into that continuum.

Frankly, we love Bill's idea and really wish that he could convince the Red Sox management to try it. It couldn't be any worse than what's befallen their starting staff over the past two seasons. Bold, even reckless experimentation was once the hallmark of baseball: that spirit seems to have become as scarce as...well, as least as scarce as the triple.

Robert Browning: "...a man's reach should exceed his grasp,
or what's a..."--what's a beard like that going to do for you down
at the local watering hole, Bob?
So, at best, this "mini-flap" about PAP is about as "mini" as it can get. It's just part of the muddle that has befallen the field as its widespread involvement in insider baseball reaches its troubled teenage years. We don't know if Bill would really want to implement this latest pet idea of his, but we suspect that if he did, it would be well-nigh impossible for it to happen. The reach of "radical ideas" in baseball has always exceeded its grasp; despite the presence of advanced analysts in front offices, that gap doesn't appear to be getting any smaller.

[FURTHER THOUGHT: Near the conclusion of his comments, Bill makes a cogent point about what we might term the "received psychology" of starting pitchers. That psychology has not caught up with the changes in usage patterns--changes that are more encompassing than pitch counts. That helps to pinpoint where the resistance to change exists; Bill's concept was clearly designed with that in mind, as a kind of workaround for what otherwise might remain stubbornly intractable. However, in a time frame where pitching in general is gaining ground, it's unlikely that anyone will take the bait.

And then there's the fact that most reasonable analysts have learned over the course of this discussion: no single scheme can have all the answers. Pitchers (and pitchers' arms) are individualistic: it's likely that only a few of them could work in a system like Bill's. But it would be interesting to find out who could; by doing so, we might actually learn more about the true limits as they exist in the real world.]

Saturday, January 26, 2013


As noted earlier (Stan Musial entry...), there are forty-eight player seasons in which the individual hitter managed an adjusted OPS+ of 200 or higher. Let's anatomize that "upper 48" here.

A total of eighteen hitters have accounted for these "mega-star" seasons. Three of these hitters (Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Barry Bonds) have accounted for just under half of these seasons: Ruth 11, Williams 6, Bonds 6--a total of 23 among them.

After the 1932 season, Ruth had accounted for exactly half of these. He managed this feat in three consecutive seasons on three separate occasions (1919-1921, 1926-1928, 1930-1932).

Only Bonds did it in four consecutive seasons (2001-2004).

Here's the full list: Ruth (11), Williams (6), Bonds (6), Rogers Hornsby (4), Ty Cobb (3), Lou Gehrig (3), Mickey Mantle (3), Jimmie Foxx (2), Jeff Bagwell, George Brett, Norm Cash, Nap Lajoie, Willie McCovey, Mark McGwire, Stan Musial, Sammy Sosa, Frank Thomas, Honus Wagner.

The table that captures the full data for these 48 player-seasons can be found at the following link over at Forman et fil. [NOTE: subscription to Play Index is necessary.]

Of players not currently ensnarled in the steroids brouhaha, all but one of these folk are in the Hall of Fame. Who's the one on the outside looking in? Norm Cash.

We would be remiss if we did not mention the ten other player seasons where an OPS+ of 195-199 was  achieved:

199: Lajoie (1910), Dick Allen (1972), Jason Giambi (2001)
198: Lajoie (1901), Frank Robinson (1966), Mike Schmidt (1981)
197: Jim Thome (2002)
196: Cobb (1911), McGwire (1996)
195: Mantle (1961)

We gain twenty more player seasons when we move down to the 190-194 group, including four more seasons from Ty Cobb, three consecutive Joe Jackson seasons (1911-13), two more Ruth seasons, and two more Gehrig seasons. Also in that group: Hank Aaron. There are three borderline "mega" years from players who will never make it into the Hall of Fame: George Stone (1906, 193 OPS+), Albert Belle (1994, 194 OPS+), and Kevin Mitchell (1989, 192 OPS+).

There are two hitters who are often ranked in Top Ten lists who never cracked 190 OPS+ as a single-season peak: Willie Mays and Tris Speaker.

Getting back to our forty-eight: historically they are most plentiful in the 20s and 30s. Bonds led something of a comeback for these types of seasons in the 90s and 00s.

Ruth has the most in any one decade, of course (seven in the 20s).

It's also interesting to note in which offensive categories these "mega" player seasons were league leaders. As you'd expect, these guys dominated in OPS and SLG. They also lead in OBP and BB in more than half of their seasons. Runs, RBI, HR, and BA--the traditional counting stats--are in the next tier, between 40-50%. Hits and doubles are in the teens, and stats with speed associated with them (triples, stolen bases) are virtually non-existent as league-leading categories for these players.

Stan Musial was the last of these players to lead his league in triples in 1948.

Let's pretend that it's Bud that Barry is launching here...
Of course, when one looks at the list and sees where Bonds ranks, it becomes increasingly difficult to condone what the Hall of Fame voters are doing. They simply don't understand how well they've been played by BS and the ownership class over the past decade. We have no way of quantifying the benefit of performance-enhancing drugs, going all the way back to the beginning of baseball history--but the writers have been duped by the simplest possible variation of the "slam the barn door shut after the horses have escaped" ploy.

Scapegoating Bonds for having such superhuman seasons in a climate created by the owners and not regulated until after its effects had achieved the desired economic result is probably no more reprehensible than slavery or torture or the type of orchestrated economic panic that was engineered in 2008, but that's probably the neighborhood in which it resides. The Hall of Fame will have a smelly brown "mega-smudge" on itself until it finds a way to send a message to the BBWAA to stick its moralizing where the sun don't shine.

[EDIT: We promised to reveal some answers to questions asked in the earlier part of this survey of the best hitting seasons in baseball history (as measured by OPS+). It occurs to us that given the back-asswards nature of blogging, we will be giving answers to questions that some of you won't have read yet. So we will put those answers where they should have been in the first place, in the original essay. In the semi-permeable words of John Barth: "Life is a mobius strip."]

Thursday, January 24, 2013


Quick note to remind y'all that we still control the vertical, horizontal and the diagonal when it comes to pushing out the prescient poop....though our friend Buzzin' Fly, who makes the Arctic tern look like a piker given the miles he logs in getting the scoop from the various insider sources across the country, messed up the geography on us.

As we told you, the Upton brothers (Justin and B.J.) will play together, but not in Boston. The boys from Norfolk are going south and will prance around the outfield in Atlanta for at least the next three seasons. If all goes well, they will either have a box of cough drops manufactured for them (and Braves fans, with their penchant for war whoops, are always in need of a soothing lozenge or two...) or the Turner Field concessionaires will concoct a specialty sandwich in their honor.

Move over, Georgia dog!
Unless, of course, they live down to their intermittent reputations over the past few years, in which case the "sandwich" will be something more akin to the canine species.

Our sense is that the Braves, having had a great run of talent development over the past few years, have tried to fill an inside straight and might well wind up with the first of several "enigmatic" teams as the next part of the decade unfolds. Unlike the Red Sox, who decided go the "fixing a hole where the rain comes in" route after they done gone and drowned, the Braves think they are gearin' up for 100 wins, but likely will be shocking their fans when they find 2013 to be a season where the team finds itself trapped in a vat of .500-proof molasses.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


What's my line??
Words are too brittle and inadequate when it comes to Stan Musial, who passed away a few days ago at age 92. We need--more desperately than words can say--players like Stan the Man, not only because of his all-American good guy heroism (though that is of undeniable importance), but because of the unique range of hitting skills he possessed.

Timeless baseball hero...
We need high batting averages, despite what we know about the incompleteness of that stat in terms of player value. We need high triples totals, to counteract the two-dimensional encroachments of the post-modern game.

There was nothing two-dimensional about Stan Musial.

His career (and his stats) straddle the beginning of the modern game, with its increasing emphasis on homers. While the two rough halves of Musial's career are still recognizably the same player, it's easy to see that the lower line is right in the pocket of the stat shapes we see all the time today, while the upper line documents the ascent of some wondrous alien. (Ironic, in fact, that his descent would prove to be what has become the commonplace shape of excellence.)

His greatest season, 1948, was the closest he came to a triple crown. (Not a classic swing-from-the-heels slugger, Musial clubbed over 900 non-HR extra base hits, something that only two other players in baseball history have done.) That season was the one time he had an adjusted OPS (OPS+) of at least 200, and it's a remarkable coincidence that this masterful '48 campaign is one of just 48 such seasons in baseball since 1901. (That odd symmetry will doubtless change sometime soon, so we should celebrate it while it's here.)

We'll look at that list of 48 elite hitting seasons in more detail next time, but let's contextualize Musial's '48 season within that pantheon before we depart...

--Stan had 103 extra-base hits in '48 (46 D, 18 T, 39 HR). Only eight players had 100+ XBH in their ≥200 OPS+ years.

--Stan led the NL in doubles and triples in '48, and only two other players on this list achieved the same feat. (We'll reveal those names in the companion essay.)

A swing so ferocious that it could conjure up dust clouds all by itself.
--Stan is one of only four players to have more than 60 XBH other than HRs in ≥200 OPS+ seasons. (Same caveat as above...but you probably won't be surprised to know that he's the last hitter to do so.)

The more astonishing facts about Musial's '48 are contained in the batting splits for that year. While Stan's home field in St. Louis (Sportsman's Park) was considered a hitter's park, the bald facts document an incredible feat: Musial hit .415 on the road that year. His batting line at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn was something out of science fiction: 24-for-46, .522/.560/1.022. That's an OPS of 1.582.

There were similar numbers at Shibe Park in Philadelphia, Braves Field in Boston, and Crosley Field in Cincinnati. Stan hit 8 HRs in 11 games vs. the Giants at the Polo Grounds.

It might have been the greatest "road warrior" performance in baseball history.

We can only hope that we will someday see another player with his unique combination of skills.

[EDIT: Answers to the questions above--redirected from the future, so to speak...

Who are the two other players besides Musial to lead the league in doubles and triples as part of their ≥200 OPS+ season? Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb.

Who are the four players with 60+ XBHs other than HRs in one of these "mega"-seasons? Nap Lajoie, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, and Musial.]

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Now that Rob Neyer is waving red flags at the BBWAA bulls in the aftermath of the HOF elections (imagine Robert Conrad with the battery on his shoulder from those old commericals, saying: "Come on! I dare you to knock it off!!"), we can envision the writers' ultimate revenge on all of us with a numbers bent: nobody gets in but Jack Morris next year, not even Greg Maddux, followed by six inductees in 2015. Yes, revenge is a dish served ice cold...

But enough of that. Let's talk about something wacky. Let's remind all of you just how wacky we really are when it comes to baseball.

Let's revisit that pet idea of pet ideas, that delirious (but effective) partial solution to baseball's encroaching two-dimensionality. (In case you aren't picking up on the cadences we are aping here as we wind up to make our big pitch, look to your right and peruse the face you see there...that man is William Conrad, and among his many credits in film and television, he was the narrator of the show featuring the obscure character below at your left, always encouraged to go "faster, faster!" by his legendary, downright nutty producer, cartoon genius Jay Ward.)

So, OK, we'll go faster, faster ourselves...this is the new rule that creates two half-innings of mayhem in the midst of a game sliding into a TTO lethargy (that's "three true outcomes," for those of you who haven't encountered it--for more info, see J. Quackenbush McPivot's epic, Sabermetric Cults of the Fin de Siecle and Associated Delusions of Grandeur, available in a self-immolating kindle edition at

Sorry, sorry, faster!! The new rule:

a. A Line shall be affixed to each playing field at 195 feet from home spanning from the left field line to the right field line.

The 195-ft. line, as drawn by
Bullwinkle J, Moose.
b. Prior to each game, a half-inning between the the third and sixth innings shall be chosen at random for both home team and visiting team.

c. During the designated inning, the center fielder for the team on defense will be required to take a position at or inside the 195-foot line.

d. No shifting of infielders to distances beyond the 195-foot line will be permitted during this designated half-inning. 

OK, now. So what does this do? It means that in one of nine innings while your team is on defense, it plays with a short center fielder and there are no Joe Maddon-style shifts that allow you to compensate; you are opening up outfield territory to provide a way to add triples and doubles.

The estimate is that we'll add a triple a game to the current frequency. That would quintuple the number of triples per game. That means that lumbering Mike Sweeney, the long-suffering point of light on so many benighted Royals franchises, could have at least tripled his lifetime triples totals (five in just under six thousand PAs) thanks to this rule change--all, as Bullwinkle's flighty pal would say, on this itty-bitty card.

It's a wacky idea, but it would produce semi-profound results (no overstatement here, and contrary to what many of you suspect, we are not listed as one of the examples in McPivot's cautionary tome).

So what do the critics say about this? Most of them are just too stunned by this wackiness to speak, which is why those flies are buzzing around in their head--close those slackened jaws already!! They would say that it's akin to a carnival side show. It's something that Charlie Finley would have thought up if he wasn't hung up on his orange baseball, or becoming just a bit too emotionally attached to his Mule.

You might suggest, after rolling your eyes in both directions at once, that something like this should be achieved more, er, "organically." Brock Hanke (after he stopped laughing...) suggested using ground rules to create triples. Interesting, but psychologically tricky, we replied. Hitters aren't going to take kindly to hitting balls out of the park, only to find that they're not homers. Others suggest altering field dimensions--but post-modern ballparks are predominantly optimized for the home run game, and employ architectural strategies that don't leave much room for moving fences out, or creating unorthodox configurations.

So, when we discard those ideas, and we grant that more triples is still a worthy goal, we are left with this idea. Shake up the game and add a wrinkle in the middle innings, give the offense an opportunity to create more long hits that don't go over the fence, and add a new feature to the game that doesn't involve playing "God Bless America" or putting perky stadium announcers in the stands to treacle up the between-innings with their medicated goo.

We'll leave it to the math whizzes to project the overall increase in offense that would occur as a result of this rule...our guess is maybe a fifth of a run per team per game. But there will be more excitement at the park, more variety in the type of hits, more intrigue in each game as the random selection of the half-inning comes into play, more strategy employed--all as a result of constraining the location of the center fielder for one inning.

And--a lot more triples.

We urge baseball to test out the idea in the minors somewhere. But give it at least a full short-season somewhere. Rather than dismiss it out of hand, give it a chance to see how it actually works and how people respond. Think outside the box and test out some unorthodox ideas. There is nothing to lose except your inhibitions.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


We need to do a little more work with the 2013 Hall of Fame voting results before releasing a combination post-mortem and "where do things go from here?" statement, but we can take a moment to briefly look at what might be the most important "fallout" from those results--namely, that Jack Morris did not make it across the 75% threshold and bring full Armageddon to the world of baseball.

The response in post-neo land was, predictably, more subdued than it would have been had the BBWAA managed to shut out all of the other candidates and enshrine Whisky Jack. With that inestimable calumny averted (for one more year, at least), it was possible for them to reflect on more long-term issues that stem from the collision of steroids and a logjammed candidate list.

The reaction to Morris' shortfall was subdued for a couple more reasons. First, Jack was stopped virtually in his tracks, gaining only three votes on the 2013 ballot over his 2012 performance (385 to 382). That probably brought a collective sense of relief to see Morris's momentum slow as dramatically as it had revved up in 2011 and 2012, when he'd moved from 42% to 67%.

Back by popular demand!!
Second, it's possible that the scientists decided that it might pay to keep a lower profile than had been the case in those years, just in case our pronouncements from a year ago were accurate (that the "stathead" desire to "take it to" the BBWAA, as manifested in the conflated clash over various components of the Hall of Fame selection process, had created a backlash that took its cue from the time honored practice of "flipping the bird" at those on the outside looking in).

While a portion of post-neo folk in the media (and across the blogosphere) couldn't really contain themselves as much as would have been prudent, the overall level of vitriol did take a noticeable dip (we'd attempt to quantify it, but we don't know if the "offensive" and "defensive" components can be reconciled).

Did that help to keep Jack from marching into the Hall in his General Sherman costume? Yes. No. Possibly. Who knows?

That there had been a concerted effort on the part of some BBWAA types to stick it to the neo-sabes did surface at last, though: columnist Jon Heyman, notorious for his reversal from agnosticism on the steroid issue to a full "mouth of foam" in less time than it takes to save 15% or more on your car insurance, was choking back tears during the MLB network's coverage of the ballot results when it sunk in that Morris was still on the outside looking in. Sources have indicated that Heyman was active in chatting up fellow writers over the past couple of years, leading one to conclude that there has in fact been a bandwagoning effort for Morris.

"Now warming up in the bullpen...Marcel
"Lapdancer" Duchamp."
Now, the question capable of launching a thousand H-bombs (or is that F-bombs?): has the effort to carry Whisky Jack over the goal line been pushed back for good? To move out of the realm of baseball for a moment, the Morris advocates find themselves in a fourth down and goal situation from the seven-yard line, needing that touchdown and extra point to pull things out of the fire just before the gun goes off.

(Come to think of it, framing a question such as this in non-baseball terms is immensely satisfying.)

The answer, I think, is a slightly guarded yes. As many have noted, there are three pitchers with more wins and better ERA+ values coming on the ballot in 2014 (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina). That's not going to help keep the voting bloc intact.

And it will make it harder for those already not on board to climb onto the bandwagon.

But since we seem to have become alarmingly in need of elections that involve a level of hypertension that's guaranteed to chew up and spit out the ventricles of ordinary citizens, and since we don't have a political skirmish scheduled until the fall of 2014, same time next year is a marker that has a peculiar resonance, a surreal charm, a skunky panache reminiscent of that piecemeal nude descending into a world of gawkers disguised as abstract shapes.

Why, anyone--even a sabermetrician--could take a look at that painting and see that our pole dancer's mechanics are all screwed up.

Anyway, as we like to say at times like this...

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


These are the four guys...
'Tis the season to be grumpy, right? Announcing Hall of Fame results so close to the end of the holidays has become increasingly slicey/dicey, particularly with all of the leftover portions of the Christmas goose being hurled around with such rapacious gusto.

The voting results have become akin to the terribly inappropriate and downright embarrassing Christmas gift that can't be returned--or hidden from public view.

At least that's the take from the post-neo world, which has (mostly for worse) defined itself as a political entity in terms of this issue. (We will say this: the hammer-and-sickle does look striking when it's sewn on to a lab coat.)

But we're just rehashing what we've been saying about this for some time now, and that's not the real reason for this column. No...the purpose here is to lay bare the only reasonable approach to the current Hall of Fame voting, utilizing a perspective that actually spans both world views, acknowledges the logic of both sides, and cuts through the crap like a hopped-up Veg-o'matic.

It also makes sno-cones for the kiddies, but that costs extra.

So here's the Hall of Fame ballot for 2013 to end all of this nonsense once and for all.
...who deserve to be in the Hall of Fame...

There are thirteen players on the current ballot who are front-door Hall of Famers. We can only vote for ten, so we have to determine a way to combine the quality of the players with the need to address the so-called "character issue" that is but the latest red herring of the most retrograde elements of the media. (That issue will, however, play itself out over time, as all such retrograde elements ultimately do--it just won't happen fast enough for many.)

So here are the ten players, factoring in the above, who should appear on anyone/everyone's 2013 ballot:
...but who won't get in for awhile....

Jeff Bagwell; Craig Biggio; Barry Bonds; Roger Clemens; Edgar Martinez; Mark McGwire; Rafael Palmeiro; Mike Piazza; Tim Raines; Alan Trammell.

These are the three Hall of Fame level players who have to wait for room on the ballot, but who'll get enough support to remain there while waiting for that room:

Curt SchillingSammy Sosa; Larry Walker.

Here are four noteworthy players with very different HoF vote totals in the current scheme of things who are not  front-door Hall of Famers:

Kenny Lofton; Jack Morris; Lee SmithBernie Williams.

Here are the holdover players still hanging around on the ballot who are not front-door Hall of Famers:

Don Mattingly; Fred McGriff; Dale Murphy.

A Hall of Fame ballot in 2013, after a decade of moralizing about steroids, needs to address the issue head-on by selecting the four players with Cooperstown-level credentials who are being scapegoated. What we know about steroids is clearly not sufficient to make the type of rash judgments that would legitimize a ban of these players, and those who are outraged need to look in the mirror, swallow hard, and get over it.

...because they are being scapegoated.
Wonks will ask: why Martinez and Palmeiro over McGriff and Walker? Here are the clear, unvarnished, and logically consistent reasons for that:

1. Always favor the players who sustain their performance level late into their careers; we know now how unusual that is.

2. Give black ink in OBP its due.

3. Adjust for egregious park factors (such as Coors Field--or Wrigley Field back in the day: while Ron Santo belongs in the Hall despite that, there's a reason why he should have waited awhile, and that same principle applies to Walker: his OPS+ for his years in a hitters' paradise is no better than Edgar's career OPS+).

4. Blend facets of performance when necessary to get a total picture of a player's excellence (Raines).

5. Understand and accept that there is an implicit pecking order set up by the precedents in earlier Hall of Fame voting and that the number of years that a player waits is neither arbitrary nor random. (If you fail to accept this, you will tear you hair out and will wind up throwing leftover Christmas goose forever in a special circle of Hell devised just for you.)

Occam and Aquinas: who's who?
Bigger wonks will say: you're not providing enough data for the players you've selected for the ballot vs. the ones you haven't selected.

OK, let's deal with that, but succinctly. 3000 hits gets you in, like it or not. 500+ HRs gets you in, offensive spike or not. A .400+ lifetime OBP gets you in, even if you were "only" a DH. (Over-simplified, you say? Hey, we'll take Occam over all of you budding Aquinas[ses] any time.)

And don't get hung up about WAR. WAR is not the answer, it's just a convenient (and flawed) framework to utilize if more rudimentary and straightforward approaches are not sufficiently clarifying.

Finally, ideas such as Joe P.'s "needs more clarification" category or Tim Marchman's "let the public vote" are well-meaning but misguided attempts to band-aid a process that is not nearly as flawed as they want (or need) to portray it as being. The "character clause" is such a basic red herring that it can be dismissed out of hand (and, really, Joe P.'s experiences with the other Joe P. should be a cautionary reminder to him that his ability to assess "character" needs some more work). The notion of the Hall of Fame as an utterly botched concept that Marchman takes up is a convenient fiction borrowed from Bill James's compelling but fatally slanted Politics of Glory (a book with a truly pernicious legacy); while the Hall isn't perfect, it's not nearly as f'ed up as the mouth-foamed minions in the post-neo brigade claim it is.

It is an overblown argument that rests on two items: slightly more than a dozen players who were shunned by the BBWAA over the past twenty years and the vagaries of Frank Frisch's tenure on the Veterans' Committee. That's unfortunate, but this is real life. It's not the end of the world as we know it.

There will be no movement away from the BBWAA as the instrument for Hall of Fame selection, no matter how loudly the post-neos shout and wail. The combination of steroids moralism and ballot crowding has and will continue to produce a logjam; but it will be worked through, and more quickly than the doomsayers (with their vested interest in such a failure) are predicting. The writers may not be math geniuses, but they are not nearly as stupid as they are being portrayed. They will adjust. It won't happen as quickly as it should, that's for sure; but it will happen, and we are just going to have to live with that. It will be a blip, not a blot.

But the malignancy has metastasized, the trenches are dug; the bullet casings have been laid out with exceptional care, in hopes that Murray Chass and his ilk will be there. (With abject apologies to Clement C. Moore...)

It's all for naught--but, apparently, there's no turning back. Remember, folks: tragedy, then farce.

Monday, January 7, 2013


The timing of the Baseball Reliquary's annual announcement of their Shrine of the Eternals ballot could not be better and worse (Charles Dickens fans, take note...), what with the massive waxy buildup over the "incipient Cooperstown fiasco" still agglomeratin' as we write this.

But Terry Cannon and Albert (Buddy) Kilchesty prefer to remain blissfully ignorant about the goings-on outside their beneficent bubble of baseball history, a paradise filled with wonder, one-liners, and a perfect combination of seriousness and whimsy. For fourteen years, they've served up a list of fifty candidates that celebrate the marvelous margins of the game and of America. Forty-two of these folk are ensconced in the Shrine of the Eternals, a pantheon that we've come to term "the Hall of Fame for the rest of us." While we praise the lord and refrain from passing the ammunition as we celebrate that fact, let's note quickly that Terry and Buddy shut us completely out of their selection process, leaving all ten of our candidate suggestions back in July off their new list.

But we aren't upset...not at all. While we still believe in our "ten for eternity," we respect the marvelous and mysterious thinking process that informs the ballotmeistering duo's efforts--and, indeed, with one masterstroke of synthesis, Terry and Buddy have shown all of us the way to the core connection between baseball and history, by bringing to the 2013 ballot a highly significant yet almost completely forgotten American hero.

Who's that, you ask? The name of this forgotten individual is Octavius Valentine Catto. (That's Catto, not Cotto.) In this bold new world of mega-information, you can read about Catto in some detail at his Wikipedia entry. The Reliquary write-up, while possibly a bit too succinct for such an astonishing historical discovery, will give you the flavor of his qualifications:

Octavius V. Catto (1839-1871) - African-American scholar, educator, community activist, political organizer, and baseball player, Catto founded and managed the all-black Philadelphia Pythian Baseball Club shortly after the end of the Civil War. In 1869 Catto's Pythians played the first recorded interracial baseball game, taking on an all-white nine comprised of Philadelphia newspapermen. His growing prominence in local and national Republican Party affairs made him an increasing threat to White Democrats; he was assassinated on his doorstep in 1871 as he returned from voting.

Yes, you'll have to get your head wrapped around the party reversal--yes, the Republicans used to be the "good guys"--but here in a nutshell is a mostly unknown and forgotten chapter of American history--what authors Daniel Biddle and Murray Dubin term "the first Civil Rights movement."

Catto is an extraordinary figure, and his relevance to the intersection of baseball and American history is undeniable. He is a perfect fit for the Reliquary's sub-group of "pioneers" within their group of Eternals.

We will stop short of any further proselytizing, for fear of allegations of "tampering." But we urge all readers (not just Reliquarians) to invest some time in reading more about Catto--his Wikipedia page, for certain, and then on to Biddle and Dubin's exemplary socio-biography, Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America. Here is the story of a true American hero, a man of unique courage and vision. No matter how the voting results turn out in 2013, the Baseball Reliquary deserves kudos for "walking the walk" in its quest to fully integrate baseball into the overall fabric of American history.

Nobody does it better--heck, nobody else even comes close.

For a look at the full 2013 Shrine of the Eternals ballot, visit the Reliquary web site. For more context about interracial baseball and the early civil rights movement, also visit John Thorn's indispensible "Our Game" blog, where Randall Brown's pioneering essay, "Blood and Base Ball," is reprinted in five installments.

Saturday, January 5, 2013


It is what in so many other contexts is frequent and well-known: you can call it The Build-Up to the Let-Down.

Mel and Vince teamed at Variety's date-movie of the week: "Scum on the Run"
That's what we are enmeshed in, here, right now, with four days remaining until the Hall of Fame voting results, amped up by a kind of vexed, vitriolic anticipation unwilling to take prisoners in its headlong pursuit of collateral damage, will have a "black-carpet" opening reserved for only the most distastefully controversial of film projects (think Mel Gibson and Vincent Gallo as escaped prisoners, one of whom is a serial rapist, the other falsely convicted of the same crime, only you don't know which one is which until you've been dragged through 140 minutes of muck).

That is the current state of affairs in the 2013 edition of an selection process that seems determined to exceed the stress level found in 21st-century presidential elections. All variations of the democratic process are subject to flaws, but the biggest vulnerability for any example of that process is for it to be subverted--particularly from within.

The question that critics of the Hall of Fame voting process need to keep asking themselves--even after they've made up their minds about what they think they know about the process and its flaws--is whether that subversion is actually occurring.

The great--and greatly missed--Matt Kostoroff builds things up, then gives us
the letdown in another wistfully sarcastic episode from Whaleocalypse...
Ironically, one conclusion that they most desperately need to draw--namely, that it's too soon to tell if the steroids issue will produce the type of botched voting results that they claim will be the case--is an analogous conclusion that the embattled BBWAA members need to make regarding the impact of steroids on Hall of Fame eligibility.

Critics of the BBWAA voting bloc--from those on the outside (beginning with the original intransigent opponent himself, Bill James) to those who've moved inside the whale's belly itself (the various writers who would like to deny the credentials of the more senior members of their organization who aren't voting the way they want them to)--have become increasingly confrontational. Words like "irrelevant" and "moribund" have replaced the usual terms of derision, such as "moron" and "chucklehead." (Which is too bad: we've always really enjoyed the term "chucklehead.")

They embraced a "science" that they believe explains how the voting should occur, and while much of what they say makes sense, their increasing aggression and escalating vitriol has been backfiring on them.

We keep pointing this out here--seemingly to no avail. Since we are implacable in mirroring back to them some elements of their critique of the BBWAA (these so-called "mediots"--a now-quaint and ironically more polite term of derision coined back in the day before the more arrogant and ambitious of the neo-sabes found entry points into baseball front offices) our words tend to fall on deaf ears.

The obligatory baseball illustration,
with two obligatory targets of bibulous bile...
And that should be a lesson to us all--repeated, indiscriminate vitriol directed at anyone will not change their minds, it will simply cause them to dig their heels in that much more.

That's what happened with Jim Rice, and it's what's been happening with Jack Morris. The jury is still out as to whether Morris will get over the hump (he has one more shot at the "front door" in 2014), but the orgy of hate that has oozed and spewed over his candidacy has undoubtedly been a major contributor to Morris' rapid ascent in voting percentage over the past three years.

My dear old (now departed...) dad always used to say that "like spawns like, and hate spawns hate." While I always thought (and still do) that this was overly simplistic, it nevertheless has a lot of truth in it: by heeding that in situations where one is motivated to be persuasive, it's possible to avoid the escalation of negativity that, if fanned into flames, will surely produce a result opposite of the one that's desired.

The "second act" in this overwrought potboiler is located in the glut of qualified candidates who are coming on to the ballot. There is a strong sentiment among the critics that the combination of the steroids backlash (already evident in the past four years of HOF voting) and the purported lack of evaluation skills will doom the BBWAA to electing no one for a protracted period.

In fact, many of the critics are rooting for this to be the case. That's kind of like going to see that (hopefully fictional) Gibson-Gallo movie and rooting for one of them to be the serial rapist.

The truth has finally leaked out: Mr. Eliot was not bi-polar,
he was tri-polar, and all of his poems were written by committee.
It's worse than that, in fact. It's hoping for upheaval and discord and violent, messy change as opposed to a more rational, but slower-paced set of reforms. It's reenacting a set of adolescent impulses that cynical social manipulators have learned how to put into play, often while only masquerading as "progressives."

In this case, of course, it quickly becomes comical--because, after all, what we are talking about here is an "election" about guys in jock straps. One senses that many of these folk really need to get out of the basement more and try to do something that might be more useful to the world at large.

Given how much of this is driven from adolescent impulses, of course, what you will see in the days after the vote results are announced (and we still have some hope that our earlier projections--the elections of Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell--will come through: it's going to be tight, but the current exit polls give us reason to keep fingers crossed) is--to trot out T.S. Eliot, someone with more literary chops than thee, me and Joe P.--not a bang, but a whimper.

Bet it's much too soon for you to be seeing this guy again,
pouting or not...but we'll probably all have an expression like
this when he becomes Commissioner when BS retires!
It will be, in short, a Big Pout. But it will almost certainly have an even bigger reprise in 2014, when three of four players are elected, and the sorting out process that is inevitable in a scenario where there are more viable candidates than at any time since the Hall of Fame was invented will begin to work itself out.

Such a result will be unwelcome only for those who have a vested interest in failure.

And you know who you are!