Friday, December 30, 2022

HALL OF MERIT's HALL OF FAME VOTING + PREDICTIONS re UPCOMING BBWAA VOTE...

[Those 1st half numbers we "cranked" through before Xmas still require some hand-to-hand combat for summarization: we had a lot of plates spinning on other matters in the interim. We plan to pull that all together & combine with the earlier 2nd half results over the '22-'23 "transition." Stay tuned...]

In the meantime, though, the Hall of Fame voting season has unleashed itself on us. Voting is still in process; results will be announced January 24. We did some lurking at the Baseball Think Factory site, where a slowly dwindling mix of schizoid-and-eclectic (R. Meltzer, eat your heart out!) collaborationists still congregate; the subgroup that still masterminds the Hall of Merit (which seems to be currently without the participation of ailing long-time partner-in-crime Brock Hanke) has posted its own 2023 Hall of Fame poll. 

Their results (on the chart at right) represent the problematic present state of so-called "informed voting," in the post-neo-sabe tradition that is becoming ever more silly-and-astute (...which is precisely when eclectic folks turn schizoid). 

The Pct column in the chart reflects the Hall of Merit results, which would elect six platers into the Hall of Fame were their votes carry the day decision-wise. (Reminding us of the post-neo kneejerk defensive Kool-Aid phenomenon--we need our own "WikiGonzalez" to set all of this straight for you--the HOM mob followed the FanGraphs lemmings into the sea by coming exceedingly close to mock-inducting Andruw Jones via their poll, while continuing to snub Jeff Kent. That puts them at odds with many of the "previous generation" of sabe-types, including Bill James--if he hasn't changed his mind again, of course.)

The rest of the data on the chart shows us where the current BBWAA voting is at as of early today (12/30). The Hall of Fame tracker, as it's being doing for nearly a decade now, will compile the publicly released ballots from now until 1/24, so this data is very dynamic: we take a first shot a predicting what the final BBW(AA) vote will be like by looking at what the vote percentages looked like in 2022 (the BBW column) and then applying a "secret bathtub gin formula" to the voting patterns to our historical compilation of yearly HOF voting. All of that produces the percentage you see in the EST column--which is not a reference to the old self-help chicanery of the 1970s, but an ESTimate of what the final BBW(AA) voting percentage will look like for each player on the 2023 ballot. 

As you can see, we currently see no one making it over the 75% threshold for induction. (Which was one reason why so many arms were twisted earlier in the month to elect Fred McGriff: all things being what they might be, there will at least be someone to stand on the dais next summer.)

Part of the problem for the players being scrutinized is the fact that overall voter enthusiasm/engagement appears to be down again. We measure those two "e's" by looking at the number of voters who fill out a ballot with all ten possible voting slots filled in.  As you can see from the chart at left, the "Full10%" has fallen off the table during this decade. The "candidate glut" that produced elevated levels of full ballots during the 2010s ran its course at the end of the decade, and the numbers have taken a precipitous drop--the current percentage for the 2020 decade is about 80% below the level of full ballots turned in from 2016-19. 

Of course, we are still more than three weeks away from knowing the full results, and the situation is still very dynamic (if not highly fluid).

The HOM/BBW voting results do signal some issues about performance evaluation that need to be noted. The Bobby Abreu/Carlos Beltran juxtaposition is another example of the electic-turning-schizoid phenomenon at work. Abreu's OBP gets short shift compared to Beltran's extra homers, and certain questionable adjustments that fold into the flawed, idiosyncratic Wins Above Replacement (WAR) "system" distort Beltran's numbers upward, with the result that the silly-but-astute folks who follow some form of WAR over an intellectual cliff are making a dubious "distinction" between these two players. Beltran also gets credit for his early play in CF, much like Andre Dawson did, which may explain why the BBW(AA) appears to be starting Beltran off with a much higher vote count than Abreu, who has struggled to get much traction from any constituency despite a lifetime .395 OBP. 

If we were ranking our own choices for the 2023 ballot (shown in bold type on the chart at top), we'd definitely have Abreu in the #9 slot (out of our nine selections). He's a more marginal candidate, but one who needs support early in the voting process, thus ensuring him a  chance to grow on the ballot over time and acquire enough exposure to ultimately warrant a Vets Committee selection in 15-20 years from now. We don't want to see inferior players make it through the front door ahead of him--that would definitely be the case for Jones, a post-neo-sabe darling continuing to benefit from their "media bubble virus" that has come to infect so much of current baseball "discourse." Beltran is much closer in value to Abreu, but is seen as significantly better by post-neos (as discussed above). 

Our view is that if one of these three is relegated to a side door admission, all three of them should enter in that fashion--but only after the silly-but-not-astute Vets Committees rectify things and admit Dick Allen and Lou Whitaker and Bobby Grich (and that lovable curmudgeon Jeff Kent, whose "10-year-bump" this year will only give him enough momentum to land unceremoniously in a ditch).

...And one last broadside against the astute-but-silly denigration of relief pitchers as manifested in the Hall of Merit ballot. The Hall of Fame is not the "Hall of WAR," no matter how hard the authoritarian we call the "TangoLovePie™" works at cramming it down everyone's throat. If relief pitchers were as marginal as the cult of WAR-mongers insist is the case, they simply wouldn't exist in the game. Since they exist, the best of them deserve a place in the Hall of Fame (as opposed to the "Hall of WAR"). Billy Wagner is one of the best relievers in baseball history, and he belongs in the Hall of Fame. 

The Hall of Merit voters missed a great opportunity ten years ago to synthesize an extremely useful perspective on their work vis-a-vis the vagaries of the Hall of Fame...when they declined to pursue a suggestion we made to them regarding a side project where they'd use their voting group to "re-do" the Hall of Fame voting process using the BBW(AA) induction rules. Rather than discover how their votes would lead to a different but still insufficient "front door" policy, they opted to look the other way. It's never too late, guys--until we've all stopped breathing, of course...at that point, whether you are eclectic or schizoid (or astute and silly)--it's all academic. Instead of continuing to operate as people wagging their fingers at "mediots," let's look for approaches to these issues where we might all learn something. 

Thursday, December 15, 2022

CRANKING FROM THE START/12--2010-22

We bring the list of first half slashers up to date with this installment. Keep in mind that the Top 300 list is determined by the statistic adjusted on-base plus slugging (OPS+). Welcome back to 2010, when our world began to connect with the forces that would plunge it into its increasingly defiant "fraughtness"--and when baseball would take its own strange "walk on the wild side" that would (inadvertenly, perhaps) expose the falsity of the "three true outcomes." Here we go:


Even in a period of offensive downturn (which was followed by a rollercoaster ride in the second half of the decade) slugging is still uber alles for those in the Top 300 of half-season performance. (That said, we should note that "first half" was often getting very lopsided: with earlier and earlier starts to the season, the All-Star game was often coming well after the true mid-point of the season. Not taking that into account makes some of this slugging, such as Chris Davis' 37 HRs in 2013, look somewhat more impressive than it actually is.)

Davis and Justin Morneau would soon take rides down the elevator shaft almost as swift as the one taken by Charles Laughton in The Big Clock. But these were the salad days for Miguel Cabrera, part of an eight-year period where he cemented a slot in the Hall of Fame. (The jury is still out for Joey Votto.) Jose Bautista had the most impressive first half of anyone in the decade (#30 all-time), just beating out Bryce Harper's 2015. 


And here he is, showing up in a Top 300 ahead of Mike Trout, who operated at around 150 points of OPS lower--but did it all the time. (He'll be showing up soon enough.) We have first sightings for Paul Goldschmidt and J.D. Martinez, and we witness the last hurrah of Troy Tulowitzki. (Which reminds us: take a guess as to how many shortstops have a Top 300 first half or second half--we'll fill you in on that in an upcoming post.)


In what became an increasingly fraught (there's that word again...) "launch angle" time frame for baseball and the nation (think of the Orange Menace as a hoary, bloated missile sent hurtling at the increasingly desiccated core of America...), no single hitter pushed hard against the upper strata of the Top 300. (Trout was close, but the "fragile" aspect of his career made its first appearance in '17 and he just qualified to even be on the list.) 

A somewhat elevated level of "flash in the pan" coincided with the peaks found in the "launch angle" phaselet, as seen by Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich (and even, possibly, in Mookie Betts, whose enforced trade to the Dodgers has stolen something from the thunder he produced due in part to playing half his games in Fenway). We see the first coming of Aaron Judge (and you've already seen his second coming previously, with his "second half advent" in '22) and we witness a last hurrah from David Ortiz. 

Oh yeah...and Trout adds himself to the list two more times, despite what appears to be an inexorable decline in BA. 

We'll pause here to sum up the 19 members of the Top 300 list who come from the 2010-19 decade. Of those nineteen, no one hit .400+; 3 were at .350+; and all 19 were over .300 (Trout just makes it in '19). In terms of OBP, we have: no one at .500+, nine at .450+ (including Trout three times), and 18 at .400+. Moving on to SLG, we have five at .700+, 11 at .650+, and 18 at .600+. In the realm of homers, we have six players with 30+, nine at 25+, and 14 at 20+.

Now onto the 20s...


Offense levels took a hit in '21 and '22 (despite a relative abundance of HRs in '21), and slugging was the only way for anyone to crack the Top 200. What was lost in the fetishizing of Shohei Ohtani in '21 was that his first half stats, eye-popping as they might be, weren't quite as good as those of Vladimir Guerrero II. (Of course, Ohtani's unique two-way achievements make just about anything he does seem even larger-than-life.) Had it not been for an injury that cost him a month of the '22 season, Yordan Alvarez might have given Aaron Judge a run for his money, despite #99's finishing kick.

And speaking of #99, folks might be wondering why he's not on this list. After all, he hit 33 of his 62 HRs in the first half. What gives?

Glad you asked. Yes, #99 hit 33 homers in the first half of '22. But he didn't hit all that well otherwise. (Actually, he did hit really well relative to the league--but remember that the Top 300 in any given half of the season has an OPS+ of at least 185 or so. #99 only comes in with a 173 OPS+ for the first half of '22.

Let's see where that ranks him amongst first halves in the next tier down for 2021-22:


He ranks 579th all-time for his first half in 2022. Remember, there are 122 years' worth of first half performances to be ranked. 579th is pretty darned good from that perspective, but it's somewhere between Jupiter and Saturn from the "distance from the sun" (#1) perspective. Ah, maybe a bit better than than--maybe somewhere in the asteroid belt. 

Note that Paul Goldschmidt won an MVP award this year while having only the 339th best first half in baseball history. When we get finished with anatomizing the decades (as we did for the second half in an earlier post), we'll look at MVP awards relative to first/second half performances. And we'll also look for the seasons where both the players' first/second halves are in the Top 300. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

CRANKING FROM THE START/11--2000-09

More controversy is in store as we push into the 21st century, which seems so much more fraught than what we experienced in the second half of the 20th (the atom bomb and the Cold War notwithstanding). In baseball, fans have embraced the sluggerly ways that have twisted the game into an ungainly shape even as they pillory certain of the original exemplars of the current trend, who set records that seem to attract the same type of repulsion that we see in "election deniers." 


In 2000-01, we had what would have been a decade's worth of Top 300 first half achievers in just two years--and the trend toward slugging is cemented here (all ten hitters have 20+ homers, eight of them with 25+; seven of the ten have SLGs in excess of .700).

Most won't recall that Barry Bonds had a bit of a "practice run" in 2000 before his adjustment to the higher strike zone sent him into the stratosphere (and his high-flying achievements over the next years quickly painted a target on his back--or was it his oversized head?). What we really see here, however, is a litany of great hitters bringing it all back home as baseball's turn-of-the-century offensive explosion reached its apogee.


Things calmed down quite a bit in 2002-03, but there was Bonds taking matters into his own hands and setting a new first-half record for OBP (probably a natural evolution from him having set a new first-half record for HRs in '01). His 2002 first half ranks #3 all-time, but he'll manage to top himself in 2004.


Folks probably don't remember what a fantastic first half Derrek Lee had in 2005. Many of them would prefer to forget Bonds' 2004, which included a record number of intentional walks and an OBP that still seems like a misprint. If you can't warm up to Bonds, give some love to Travis Hafner, who rose like a rocket and fell to earth as crashingly as a tree toppled by angry lumberjacks.


With that eyesore Bonds finally out of the way (no one would offer him a contract for 2008), the way was finally cleared for Albert Pujols to take over the top rung--and he delivered a very solid first half in 2009, becoming the fifth hitter to jack 30+ HRS in the first half during the 2000-09 timeframe. 

WHICH gets us back to counting...and let's start with HRs this time. 20 of 23 hitters with Top 300 first halves (as measured, remember,  by OPS+) had 20+ HRs; 14 had 25+ HRs. In terms of BA, there were no .400+ BAs in the group, but nine hitters managed .350+. In terms of OBP, that Bonds guy went over .500+ three times and over .600 once; no one else managed that (of course), but all 23 were over .400, and 14 were over .450. As regards SLG, thirteen cracked .700 (with that Bonds guy even getting over .800 once), with 20 of 23 exceeding .650. As offense finally started to ebb at the end of the decade, hitters like Pujols and Chipper Jones actually hit fewer than 20 HRs in their first halves, making the list despite SLGs closer to .600 due to high accompanying BA/OBP. 

And that would lead us into the most fraught, bifurcated decade yet...

[NOTE: Oh, and by the way--tomorrow's post will be #1000 for BBB. This has been accomplished primarily by staying out of open-air motorcades in Dallas, a practice we plan to continue at least for awhile longer...]

Monday, December 12, 2022

CRANKING FROM THE START/10--1990-99

After the dropoff to just ten Top 300 first halves in the 80s, we bounce back to a more robust 21 in 1990-99, a grouping that features many controversial players.


Was anyone "roiding" in 1993? Can we take Jose Canseco at his word? (Insert flatulent noise here...) The only "inflated" number in this brace of seven Top 300 first halves belongs to John Olerud, who broke Earl Webb's record for most doubles in the first half. (To be fair to Webb, he hit his 36 doubles in just 73 games; Olerud would add only 17 more in balance of his fine '93 season and wind up with 54, far short of Webb's full season record.)

Andres Galarraga gave Olerud a run for the top first-half BA in '93, with a little bit of help from the thin air up in Denver. (Galarraga was hitting .413 at Mile High Stadium at the All-Star Break that year, and wound up hitting .402 at home for the season.)

This list now features two Hall of Famers--Rickey Henderson and Fred McGriff. It should feature a third, but "roid rage" simply will not die off. 


The Big Hurt (aka Frank Thomas) supplied his most devastating punishment in the first half of 1994, with a performance that ranks #12 all time. Riding shotgun for him are Jeff Bagwell and Albert Belle. Note also Paul O'Neill, whose brief second-half slump (as you may recall, the season came to an end on August 10th...) was less dramatic than Thomas's and left him with the AL batting title (.359).

We have our first Mark McGwire sighting in '95, while he's still with the A's, hitting in park that suppressed homers. Things will change a couple of years later, and he'd do some serious damage to the record book (and to his own career, too).


Our man Edgar Martinez looked as though he might be the guy to really give Earl Webb a run for his money in the doubles department, but he petered out in the second half and wound up with "only" 56. McGwire comes into his own as a truly fearsome slugger in '96; the following year, Larry Walker discovers a Rocky Mountain high...


Here in the fin de siecle we have McGwire on pace for 75 HRs at the 1998 All-Star Break; whatever folks may think of it all now, the second half of the year, with Sammy Sosa staying within striking distance of McGwire into September, was among the most dramatic sequence of events in baseball history. People can deride it in retrospect if they so choose, but it was beyond electric. (Possibly more incredible: the two did it all again in 1999--just a notch or two down from their HR pace...and neither man broke into the Top 300 during the first half of the season.)

Spooling up the numbers here, we have no .400+ BAs in any of the 1990-99 first halves (Walker and Olerud came closest), but we do have nine .350 BA+ performances. We have one .500+ OBP performance (Thomas in '94, with a couple of others--McGwire in '96, Walker in '97--extremely close), with ten .450+ first-half OBPs. We have six .700+ SLGs, with a total of 12 at .650+. 

In first-half homers, we have two 30+ (Thomas in '94, McGwire in '98), with 12 at 20+. (Those figures ratchet up starting in 1994: in 1990-93, only one of the seven Top 300 first-half performers hit 20+ HRs; from 1994-99, that shifts to eleven out of fourteen.)


Sunday, December 11, 2022

CRANKING FROM THE START/9--1980-89

When we looked (first) at second-half hitting peaks, we combined the 80s and the 90s. We won't do that here, as we want to utilize this post to emphasize the fact that the 1980s were the low point for top-notch offensive performances. For both first-half and second-half peaks, the 1980s produced only ten of each.


If you've been reading these posts consistently, you'll likely recall that George Brett had a monster second half in 1980 (you can see it at the top of this post). His injury-shortened second half in '83 didn't quite match up to that, but it was good enough to crack the Top 50 all-time. His more sustained run in the second half of '85 might have been more pivotal in ensuring that his Royals could win the AL West and eventually go on to win their first World Series championship.

Dwight Evans had the opposite scenario from Mike Schmidt in '81, starting out the year with a blistering pace, finally achieving the potential many had projected for him ever since he'd reached the majors. 

The other three players in the Top 300 (as ranked by OPS+ or adjusted OPS) all had their hot first half performances in '87. Jack Clark was a first-half RBI machine helping the Cardinals to their third and final pennant under the guidance of Whitey Herzog; Eric Davis was possibly the most exciting player of the decade, with his combination of power and speed--all of it on display in abundance during the first half of '87; and Wade Boggs joined the uptick in homers peaking in that year to have a stellar first half en route to his finest overall season.


Some unexpected names here in the wake of adjustments to the ball and to the strike zone that were implemented after the '87 "homer spike." Mike Greenwell and Dave Winfield managed to thrive in the first half of '88 as many others struggled; they wound up #2 and #4 in the MVP voting that year, losing out to Jose Canseco.

Lonnie (Skates) Smith had always been a solid hitter (integral to the Cardinals' 1982 World Series run), and he was rejuvenated in '89 while with the Braves, ultimately hitting 21 HRs for the season (the only time in his career that he cracked double figures). Kevin Mitchell wound up with 47 HRs for the Giants in '89, leading them to an earthquake-interrupted World Series in which they were swept by their across-the-bay rivals.

Running numbers for this rather scarce assortment, we get the following breakouts: no .400+ BAs, with three with .350+ (Brett twice, Boggs) ; no .500+ OBP performances, but five over .450; one .700+ SLG (Brett), and six over .600. Of the ten players on the Top 300, one (Mitchell) hit 30+ HRs, with a total of three first-half performances cracking 20 HRs.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

CRANKING FROM THE START/8--1970-79

 In terms of hot first halves, the 1970s come in with a very big bang and go out with less than a whimper. (That will become more self-evident shortly...)


That's a total of twelve hot first halves over two years (seven in '70 and five in '71). Flukish hot spells were all over the NL in the first half of 1970, fueled in part by an early home run spike. Three hitters--Bernie Carbo, Dick Dietz and Jim Hickman--performed a good bit above their respective pay grades in the first half of that year, joined by Rico Carty (who kept it up all year and led the NL in hitting) and Tony Perez (who finished third in the MVP voting). Harmon Killebrew and Boog Powell jump-started their teams (Twins, O's) to their second consecutive rendezvous in the newly-minted post-season playoffs, with the same result as in 1969.

In 1971, Willie Stargell set a new April record for HRs (11) and matched that total in June as he helped the Pirates blast off to a blistering start reminiscent of the 2022 Yankees. (They had a similar mid-season swoon, but recovered to win the pennant and the World Series.) Over in the AL, Tony Oliva and Bobby Murcer didn't quite match their first half totals in the balance of the season, but they wound up 1-2 in the batting race at the end of the year.


Carlton Fisk's 40-game hot streak in '72 from June 10th to the (very late) All-Star Break (.358/.449/.754) captured many an imagination and propelled him onto the AL All-Star squad for the first of what eventually became eleven appearances in the "midsummer classic." He even managed to steal some of Dick Allen's thunder, at least for a little while. Over in the NL, 21-year old Cesar CedeƱo looked as though he was going to become the game's next reigning superstar: it didn't quite work out that way. Billy Williams had his career year for the Cubs, who continued to go nowhere. 

The following year, Willie Stargell tried mightily to lift the floundering Pirates (reeling from the tragic loss of Roberto Clemente), eventually leading the league in homers, RBI, doubles, SLG, OPS and OPS+. It wasn't enough: the Pirates finished 80-82.


No first-half hellion in '74, but Fred Lynn and Joe Morgan made headlines in '75, and their two teams would meet in one of the most memorable World Series of all time. Morgan was even better in '76, as his Cincinnati Reds became the last NL team to win back-to-back World Series. Rod Carew's great start in '77 was the only time during the decade that a Top 300 first half featured a player who hit less than 10 homers in his half-season slice. 

And, as they say, that's that...there were no first-half Top 300 heroes in either 1978 or 1979, which leaves us with a total of just 22 first halves crossing that magic barrier for the entire decade. Within that group, there were no .400+ BAs, and only five .350+ BAs. Likewise, no .500+ OBPs, and seven .450+ OBPs. We did have one .700+ SLG (Stargell in '71), and a total of six .650+ SLGs (sixteen hitters had a SLG of .600 or higher). In homers, Stargell had both of the 30+ half-seasons, and there were 11 instances of players hitting 20+ HRs during their Top 300 first halves.

Friday, December 9, 2022

CRANKING FROM THE START/7--1960-69

We now move into a time frame in which a sizable number of fans will have tangible memories of actually seeing the players who appear in our first-half Top 300 list. (As always, remember that the list order here is determined by OPS+ rather than raw OPS, because the former takes into account league run scoring and ballpark effects...


What's interesting in the 1960-61 list is not just who's where, but for what year. For example, Roger Maris is here--but it's not for the 61-HR year, it's for 1960, when he had a sensational opening salvo after being traded to the Yankees. (Note that his .703 SLG is the highest of all the players on the list.) Other appearances here are more orthodox: Norm Cash and Frank Robinson (who won the NL MVP Award in '61 as his Reds made it to the World Series for the first time since 1940). 

We probably don't remember the really hot start that Harmon Killebrew had in '61--and we almost certainly don't recall that Jim Gentile was on fire in the early going of the 1960 season, a fact obscured by his more robust HR totals the following year. Finally, there's the apotheosis of George Altman, who had a couple of impressive seasons for the Cubs in the early 60s before doing a not-so-slow fade.


This table covers 1962-65, and note that no one cracks the Top 300 in '63, the year the strike zone changed. 1964 seems to be the year where a number of folks charged out of the gate with high-flying performances: both Willie Mays and Billy Williams were hitting over .400 in early June that year before drifting sharply downward in the intervening weeks before the All-Star break. We also see a half-year peak for the Twins' Bob Allison, whose career would soon be thwarted by injury. (Speaking of which, Mickey Mantle's highly ranked--#13--first half in '62 just barely exceeds our 200 PA cutoff. Despite this, it's a barnburner, with both a .500+ OBP and a .700+ SLG.)


Frank Robinson's Triple Crown season for his new team (the Orioles) in '66 can now be seen as having been dwarfed by the start he had the following year, which actually ranks much higher (#34 as opposed to #199). Injuries soon took their toll on Frank's 1967, as the defending champion O's took a nosedive into the second division.  

Two terrific hitters--Dick Allen and Willie Stargell--make their first appearances on this list in '66, with Allen also popping up near the low end of the Top 300 the following year. Orlando Cepeda, who was somehow absent in his league-leading HR season (1961), makes a more 30s-style appearance on the list for his start in 1967, after his trade to the Cardinals. Carl Yastrzemski also had a great start for the Red Sox in '67 before his stalwart September that propelled Boston into the World Series for the first time in twenty-one year. That quiet superstar Al Kaline quietly cracks the Top 300 in both '66 and '67.

And whither Adolfo Phillips, a flash in the Cubs' pan? It would take nearly 40 years for the Cubs to get back to the World Series, and nearly 50 years for them to actually win it. Call it "the curse of the double leadoff/double cleanup man"...


As we get into the late 60s we see a trend for more games in April, which means that the number of games in the first half of the season often is in excess of 50%. That explains why we have two players--Reggie Jackson and Frank Howard--with 30+ HR first halves in 1969.

Howard, Willie McCovey and the ever-controversial Dick Allen are the hitters who show up in the Top 300 in both years. Some interesting new names make their only appearance on this list: Ken Harrelson, Rico Petrocelli, and Willie Horton (whose team, the Tigers, would win the World Series for the first time in twenty-three years).

Note also that all four of the players cracking the Top 300 in 1968 have BAs below .300.

Doing the usual category count to sum up the decade, we see no .400+ BAs on the list, and only 3 out of the 41 first-half performances in the Top 300 for 1960-69 cracking a .350 BA. There are six sub-.300 BAs, five of them in 1968-69. There's only one .500+ OBP (Mantle in '62), six .450+ OBPs, and 31 .400+ OBPs. You'll find only four .700+ SLGs, 14 .650+ SLGs, and 28 .600+ SLGs. (These will all be summarized into a table a bit later, just as we did previously for the second-half results.) We have four 30+ HR first halves (three of them occurring in 1969), nine 25+ HR first halves, and 25 with 20 or more HRs.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

CRANKING FROM THE START/6--1950-59

As you'll see, the 50s are really Stan Musial's decade from the standpoint of first-half performance; Stan the Man is the only player who shows up in each of our inter-decade breakouts. (Of course, Ted Williams was in Korea for a couple of years, and Stan's rankings in the Top 300 are down the list, but no one else provides such a consistent level of top-notch performance. Let's get to it...)

Williams' injury-plagued 1950 season could have resulted in his highest seasonal HR total based on his hot start, but it was not to be. HR totals for first-half high-flyers remained relatively low in this time frame, with '52 being a pitcher's year. 1953's uptick didn't really kick in until the second half of that season; as a consequence, there were no first-half performances that made it into the Top 300.


In '54, the homers have definitely become more profuse; we can see it in Willie Mays' 31 first-half HRs, with Musial right on his heels. Note the 20-year old Al Kaline getting off to a blistering start for the Tigers in '55; he's accompanied in the 1954-55 time frame by young superstars (Mays and Mickey Mantle, both 23; Eddie Mathews, 24). These guys will all hang around for a long, long time...


Mantle's two monster starts (with '57 ranking in the Top 10 according to OPS+) fueled what proved to be two of the best seasons in his somewhat star-crossed career. We pick up an outlier in Charlie Maxwell, a first-half superstar over the first half of 1956, and we get our first glimpse at Hank Aaron. As always, what separates Williams from Musial is the former's more pronounced propensity for drawing the base on balls.


'58 brought something of a downturn in offense (for example Ted Williams led the AL with a .328 BA after hitting .388 the year before). Teddy B. doesn't show up here in either '58 or '59 (he and Musial finally proved that they were human in the latter year). But Stan the Man was still firing on all cylinders in '58, and Jackie Jensen finally showed what his career might have been like if he'd been in a favorable ballpark and had set aside the internal doubts that always seemed to plague him. And then there was 25-year-old Hank Aaron, blossoming into the best hitter in the NL in 1959...

Counting up the categories, we see no .400+ BAs in the 50s, with just eight .350+ BAs out of the 22 hitters in the decade who cracked the Top 300. 14 of the 22 hit 20+ HRs in their respective first halves (including one 30+ HR slice, from Mays in '54). There was only one .500+ OBP, and it was Mantle (in '57), not Williams. There were only seven .450+ OBPs, and just four .700+ SLG first halves (there were 10 .650+ SLGs, however). Only four of these seasons cracked the Top 100 (Mantle twice, Williams and Snider once each).

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

CRANKING FROM THE START/5--1940-49

We segue into the era of Ted Williams and Stan Musial as we enter the decade of the 1940s in our continuing pursuit of the top first-half offensive performances in baseball history. Remember that the basis for the "Top 300" rankings is adjusted OPS (OPS+). Here goes...

Our man Roy Cullenbine emerges in '41 as a unique offensive force (check out that walk total, which works out to a BBP of just under 22%). But even more evocative is the comp between Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, with the former chasing .400 from the start of the '41 season and the latter embroiled in his 56-game hitting streak. As tremendous as Joe D's numbers are, he's still eclipsed by the young (23-year old) Teddy Ballgame. Note also the strikeout totals for these two...


We telescope the war years (1942-45) where we pick up two Top 40 performances, featuring the departing shot of Ted Williams and the return of Mel Ott. We also have our first Stan Musial sighting (note that skimpy HR total...) , along with a truly astonishing first half from Tommy Holmes in 1945. Some other obscure but interesting names pop up here: Phil Weintraub, Bob Johnson, Vern Stephens, and Dom Dallessandro, just sliding over our 200 PA limit. And, last but not least, Bobby Doerr--the only man to appear twice during this time frame...


1946 brings us the last hurrah of Charlie (King Kong) Keller before his back miseries thwart his career. Ted Williams is back from the war with a vengeance, even managing to crack the Top 40 with a first half in '47 that has a shockingly low BA (at least for him). Johnny Mize ups his HR game in the Polo Grounds as the Giants preview the offensive style that will dominate the 1950s. 


Stan Musial has truly monster first half in 1948, managing to push past Ted Williams as they both land in the Top 40 all-time. But it's Ralph Kiner who becomes the most feared "slugger" in the NL during the late 40s, as he also embodies the emerging shift in offensive strategy. (He also becomes just the second man to make it onto the Top 300 first-half list with a BA under .300--there will be more of these soon enough.)

Summarizing the numbers that emerge in the top first half performances of the 40s, we see two .400+ BA (Williams in '41, Musial in '48--though Holmes is very close in 45); five .500+ OBPs (four from Williams, one from Cullenbine), with a total of 15 .450+ OBPs out of the 26 "Top 300" first halves on this list. Note that there's only one .700+ SLG season here--Musial in '48.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

CRANKING FROM THE START/4--1930-39

As you might well expect, we have a good bit more of the same in terms of first-half performance peaks in the 1930s as was the case in the 1920s. Remember, the "Top 300" here is sorted using descending order of OPS+...here we go:


As you definitely expect, there's a bumper crop of hitters in 1930-31, eleven in all. Nine of these are firmly in the "slugger" category, meaning that those nine hit 20+ homers in their first half scalds and had SLGs north of .650 (with seven of them above .700). Ruth, Gehrig and Chuck Klein were the "repeat offenders," with the Babe adding two more Top 25 first-half performances to his collection. Of the two hitters here with <20 HRs in their first-half stats, Earl Webb stands out, setting a first-half record for doubles en route to his still-standing major-league record 67 doubles in a single season.


After being absent from the top in 1930-31, Jimmie Foxx returned with a vengeance in 1932-33, featuring first half-performances that both rank in the Top 20 all-time. (1932 was the year in which Double-X challenged the Babe's HR record and wound up with 58.)  As was also the case with Chuck Klein, Ruth added two more "Top 300" first halves in 1932-33, though as you can see they are much closer to the bottom end of the list than was the case in 1930-31.


We telescope four years (1934-37) into this list, which features three first-half performances spikes for Lou Gehrig (missing out only in 1935). We see Joe Medwick and Hank Greenberg for the first time, and witness a remarkable first half from 23-year-old Arky Vaughan, who just misses joining Medwick as a .400+ hitter, while compiling an OBP (.502) topped only by Babe Ruth in 1930-31. The depth of Yankee talent at this point in the 30s is embodied by George Selkirk, used in a strict platoon by manager Joe McCarthy.


Jimmie Foxx has another 50 HR season in 1938, but 1939 would be his last appearance on our first-half leaderboard. The Reds' Ival Goodman was on fire in the first half of 1938, which makes him the most obscure player to appear on this list during the 1930s. 

Facts from the numbers: 20 of the 34 hitters in the first-half "Top 300" hit 20 or more HRs, while only two of them hit .400 or higher. Three players had OBPs higher than .500, but 20 had an OBP of .450 or higher. Sixteen had SLGs higher than .700, and all 34 had an OPS of 1.000 or higher.

Monday, December 5, 2022

CRANKING FROM THE START/3--1920-29

Warning: the landscape of first half statistics is about to take seismic shift as we move into the 1920s. (Of course, the same thing happened when we looked at second-half stats, but that data is buried back in the recesses of blog posts and you may not remember it.) No gasping, please...


You're probably not going to be surprised to discover that the top first-half performance (as measured by OPS+) belongs to Babe Ruth, as he created the seismic shift in baseball when he moved to the Yankees in 1920. The first-half HR record goes from 11 to 28 to 32 in short order, and Ruth sets new records for first-half SLG and OPS in both '20 and '21. Underneath him are some remarkable .400+ first halves from Hall of Famers such as Tris Speaker (the only other player on the 1920-21 list twice), Rogers Hornsby, and Harry Heilmann. You also get the first swatch of Joe Jackson's swan song season, before the hammer came down on him for all eternity.


Ruth didn't burn things up from the get-go in 1922, but he was back at it in '23, the year that the Yanks won their first World Series. This is the year when Ruth set what looked like an unbreakable record--170 walks--which would later be demolished by Barry Bonds. Shadowing the Babe on this list are Rogers Hornsby (showing some HR pop in '22), Harry Heilmann (hitting "only" .392), and George Sisler, in his sterling all-around peak--note the stolen base numbers--before his sinus malady turned his career upside down.


Hornsby's second half in 1924 (.451 BA, just for starters) ranked #13 on that list, so if you it together with his first half in 1925, you might have the greatest "July-to-June season" in baseball history. (We'll look at that a bit later). And here's Ty Cobb, age 37, hitting .410 for the first half in '25.


Our first sighting of Lou Gehrig, and the numbers for his first half in 1927 are simply staggering (note that RBI total). Ruth rebounds from the "tummy ache" season of '25 with his usual lusty slugging, adding two more "top 25" first-half performances to his already-bulging list. And say hello to Al Simmons, who rather quietly drives in 91 runs in the first half of 1927, as the Philadelphia A's built toward their end-of-decade dominance.


Hornsby has a magnificent first half for the Boston Braves (where he's been banished after an acrimonious season with the Giants in 1927) but note how low his runs/RBI totals are compared to everyone else: that's because the Braves were a weak-hitting team (at least in the context of the 1928 NL). New names from the NL surface as the league's offense warms up toward its historical high in 1930, including Jim Bottomley, Hack Wilson, and a 20-year-old Mel Ott. Over in the AL, 22-year-old Jimmie Foxx is the key addition that turns the As' into a three-peat pennant winner beginning in 1929. It's truly a great time to be young...

Counting things up, we have: 10 .400+ BAs in for first halves in the 1920s; eight .500+ OBPs; and twelve instances of .700+ SLGs (including three that topped .800: two from Ruth, one from Gehrig). Looking at these numbers provides us with a strong corollary for the argument that the 1920s represent baseball's golden age, with its feast of highly varied offensive excellence.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

"GLORY" A BIT CONTRIVED FOR McGRIFF...

As a "big Hall" advocate, we are on board with Fred McGriff's election into the Hall of Fame by the latest "clown car contrivance" of a "Vet Committee" selection process. Our own "system" (which one of these days we just might reveal to you...) suggests that he's comfortably more than qualified; the problem in terms of this particular ballot, however, is that Fred was the fifth best player on it. 

From our standpoint, "if Fred," then also Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling and Rafael Palmeiro. But the voting results as announced point to the "poli-shticks" we noted previously.

It's patently absurd that Fred was elected unanimously by this body while the quartet of players listed above had a cumulative vote total lower than his. But we live in increasingly absurd times, and this voting result just adds another platypus to the barbie.

Clearly this voting group was subject to tampering, and delivered a result that produced the least controversial selection.

We now move on to the BBWAA phase, where we might see two players--Scott Rolen and Billy Wagner--cross the threshold. Even there, the better candidates--Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, Jeff Kent--are certain to be on the outside looking in come January.

Friday, December 2, 2022

CRANKING FROM THE START/2--1910-19

More first-half heroics herein, and the 1910-19 decade begins with a BOOM! in the person of Ty Cobb, who shows us what happens when a real hitter collides with an offensive upswing. We'd best get right to the numbers so that you all will experience a true "contact high":

We're thinking that Cobb's first half in 1911 has the most statistical records set ever (runs, hits, doubles, triples, RBI, stolen bases, BA, SLG and OPS). Of course, you'll remember from our earlier series that Harry Heilmann hit .457 in the second half (in 1927), but BA was the only record he set that year. Cobb is clearly "unto himself," though he's surrounded by some formidable names here in the 1910-11 time slice: Lajoie, Tris Speaker and "Ain't So" Joe Jackson.

Offensive levels cooled off in 1913, but that didn't stop Joe Jackson--who pounded out a first half that, when adjusted for the run scoring differences, actually ranks a bit higher than Cobb's eye-popping 1911 numbers. Ty's second half in 1912 ranked 38th all-time, and he actually had a higher BA that year (.409) than he did in '13, but it's the same thing--the ball was still livelier in '12, which is why all of the top first-half hitters from that year rank lower despite some impressive-looking stats. 

(Note that Tris Speaker sets new first-half records for doubles and triples in consecutive years--and note that "Jack Meyers" is actually Giants' catcher Chief Meyers, whose "heritage nickname" is now out of fashion...whatever you decide to call him, he was en route to his best year at the dish in 1912.)


Welcome to the "Federal League" years (1914-15), where we find four first-half heroes (two from Benny Kauff, who'd fail to live up to his comparisons with Ty Cobb once he joined the Giants after the FL did its el foldo). Speaking of Ty, he had another hell-raising start in '15, transforming himself into an OBP machine and setting new first-half records in runs, stolen bases, walks (and, of course, on-base percentage).


Offense sank further in 1916-17, which explains why the relatively prosaic first halves  turned in by Cobb and Speaker rank so highly. We have our first Rogers Hornsby sighting, with numbers that look positively anemic compared to what will be associated with his name in the decade that follows.


Cobb's second halves were the fiery season slices in 1918-19, years in which he continued to win the batting title (something he did throughout the 1910s save for one year--can you name it without looking it up?). That made room for two different types of slugger to step up in '19: the Baker Bowl-fluky Gavvy Cravath (whose other "fluke," apparently, is a misspelled first name), and the soon-to-be Sultan of Swat himself, who'd set a new second-half HR record in this very same year. Speaking of flukes: Federal League part-timer Al Wickland followed up his hot start for the Boston Braves in '18 by hitting .185 in the second half and was shipped back to the minors in the following year, never to return.

Summing up: we have 4 first-half .400 BAs; 11 .450+ OBPs, seven .600+ SLGs; 14 instances of 20+ doubles, nine instances of 10+ triples. and just three instances of 10+ HRs. How things will change...

Thursday, December 1, 2022

CRANKING FROM THE START/1--1900-09

Now that Sight & Sound has saved world cinema culture by moving VERTIGO back down to #2 on its list, we can all breathe more easily (though the extra oxygen helps...) and focus on truly elemental things--such as what hitter in baseball history had the best first half.

To do that, we won't have a bunch of bleary-eyed meta-intellectuals conduct a poll...we'll do it by focusing on OPS+. That's adjusted on-base plus slugging, a stat that gets maligned now and again for lacking a few nuances, but that, oddly enough, continues to work better than all of its increasingly abstract and over-determined would-be replacements. (Please note that we said which hitter, not which second baseman or catcher or centerfielder: this is all about hitting, and not the skanky modeling mishegas that has taken over in the post-latter day of "sabermetrics.") 

The format here is the same as what we did for the second half performances earlier (you'll find them down the slipstream a bit). They're presented by decades, and them generally broken up into components of two-to-four years. Players in the Top 40 are highlighted in orange; record performances in particular stat categories are shown in red as they evolve over time. Here we go...


Nap Lajoie's start in 1901 looks a bit more impressive than Ed Delahanty's from-the-chute totals/averages for 1902, but 1901 was a very robust hitting year...so much so that Nap only ranks #74 according to OPS+. We are reminded that Buck Freeman was a formidable slugger who hit 25 HRs in a season when that was almost impossible to do, and we're also given a glimpse of just what an on-base machine John McGraw was before he hung up his spikes to become a manager.


You may not be convinced that Lajoie's start in 1904 was better than what he did in 1901, either. But relative to the league he was in, he shows up just ahead of himself on the Top 300 list. Honus Wagner shows up in both '03 and '04 (which won't be the last time we see him...) and there are two guys who played catcher a good bit (Roger Bresnahan and Frank Chance) flexing their batting muscles in the first half of their respective seasons. (Chance even takes over the lead for most SBs in the first half.) 


We toss together three years as we move toward the low ebb of offense in the Deadball era, though these first-half peaks cut against that reality. Frank Chance joins John McGraw in the .500+ OBP club; we have two more Top 300 year from Honus Wagner; Elmer Flick grabs the lead in first-half triples and might crash into our consciousness as a Hall of Famer thanks to his start-up performance in 1907. Harry Davis does some nice slugging in 1906, grabbing the lead in first-half doubles and homers (at least for now). 


In 1908, our first Ty Cobb sighting (it won't be the last...and he won't be down in 290th place the next time, either). Honus Wagner's extra power in '08 (check the triples and homers) combined with the game's offensive nadir causes this first half to be rated much more highly in the Top 300 than his follow-up startup in '09. 

The numbers will get more spectacular in the next decade (at least for a little while). Stay tuned...and no matter how beautiful the woman might be, if she jumps into San Francisco Bay, don't jump in after her!