Baseball Reactions: Pace of Play, Clubhouse Chemistry, Leadership, and Jason Giambi’s Retirement

Wow, it’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these. In case you’ve forgotten, this is a post I do when I want to cover a multiple topics that are not sufficient enough for its own post. It’s called “Reactions” because I’m a chemist. Yes, I thought of that all by myself.

Pace of Play

MLB did something proactive, and I can’t believe that I’m saying that, by enacting rules to improve the pace of play in baseball. I believe that it’s a necessary step, especially if the game wants to attract a younger audience that finds baseball “boring”.

Nowadays, games average roughly 3 hours, except for Red Sox/Yankees games which average 3 days. In 1981, games averaged closer to 2.5 hours. Part of the reason for the games getting longer has to do with longer breaks for commercials, which of course MLB will never do anything about since it would cost them money. Some might also point to how hitters have become more patient or passive and how that could be adding time to the game. Hitters have learned the value of working the count and drawing walks. Baseball Prospectus’ Russell A. Carleton showed that this doesn’t actually make the average game significantly longer, and even if that wasn’t the case, you can’t force hitters to swing.

More recently, Carleton wrote a piece for Fox Baseball’s new microsite, Just A Bit Outside (JABO)1, back in August to discuss the issue. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

“If baseball really wanted to shorten games, it could take a few of the steps above. Eliminate social mound visits (or limit to one). Eliminate mid-inning pitching changes (or limit to one). Eliminate instant replay. Implement even a modest pitch clock (although good luck getting the players union to agree to that!) Allowing for the fact that some of the rule changes would spawn some workarounds, you might save 20 minutes off the average game.”

Obviously, that’s not much time off of a three-hour game. He did seem to touch upon it in his piece, but unless I’m misunderstanding him, I believe that Dr. Carleton is missing the point. Now I have nothing but the utmost respect for the man since he’s a great baseball writer, has an advanced understanding of statistical analysis, and is the only writer I know of that can credibly write about the psychology of baseball. He has a Ph.D. in psychology. His expertise in the subject makes it especially surprising that he didn’t seem to understand that the pace of play problem doesn’t come from the extra time that games have gained, but the perception of how quickly the game is moving. If the game seems like it’s moving slowly, then it doesn’t really matter how long it’s actually taking. As Dr. Carleton touched upon in his piece, nobody complains about the pace of play in a three-hour NFL, NBA2, or NHL game. Action is constantly happening. In baseball, on the other hand, there is constant waiting. We wait for the pitcher to throw the ball. We wait for the hitter to get back in the box because for some reason he needs to go for a walk and adjust his gloves between each pitch.

The rule changes are an attempt to make the game move faster. The length of the game doesn’t matter nearly as much as the perception of how quickly it moves. There are people who don’t mind the game the way it is, and that’s fine. I’d be ok if nothing ever changed, but I am in favor of a quicker pace. It’s interesting because I do feel that the game can drag when I’m watching it on TV. When I’m watching it live, however, there’s just something so exciting about being there that I don’t care how quickly the game is moving.

The problem is that this is not how the younger generation views the game. In an age of video games, tablets, smartphones, etc., kids are developing shorter attention spans. Heck, I’m over 30 years old and I feel like all that technology has had a similar effect on me. The game is stronger than it has ever been, and I’m not really worried about its future. That being said, appealing to a younger generation by quickening the game can only help.

The new rule changes are discussed here. The timer that will be used to make sure that game resumes promptly after a commercial break will be the most effective. I’m also in favor of requiring managers to challenge plays from the dugout. We all saw they tried to game the system in the first year of replay last season. They would slowly walk out onto the field and stall while the bench coach was on the phone with somebody reviewing the replay in order to advise whether or not the manager should challenge. It wasted time. It also, I believe, flew in the face of the spirit of the system, which intended for a manager to immediately challenge a disagreeable call, just like they always did, only now they’d actually have a chance to win the argument.

The rule requiring hitters to stay in the batters box unless an “exception” occurs, such as hitting fouls, time being granted by the umpire, and wild pitches, is going to be problematic. There’s too much subjectivity involved in when an exception occurs. There’s going to be a lot of arguments from hitters, especially since the exceptions are unlikely to be consistent from umpire to umpire. Worse still, there are no in-game penalties. It will be handled similarly to how the NBA handles flopping. You get a warning and then you start getting fined. Eventually, suspensions will occur.

I’m completely in favor of keeping hitters in the box because it’s ridiculous for them to step out after each pitch. Hitters did just fine without having to do that for well over a hundred years. It’s an unnecessary waste of time. I understand that it’s a comfort thing, but let’s be realistic here. Staying in the box isn’t going to turn a 50 hitter into a 20 hitter, or even a 45 hitter. They’ll all learn to adjust. Unfortunately, the only way to successfully enforce this new rule consistently and fairly is to call a strike whenever a hitter steps out of the box for no reason. The players union will never approve that.

David Ortiz certainly disagrees, which is obvious to anybody who has ever seen his plate appearances. He claimed that hitters need to step out of the box so that they have time to contemplate what the next pitch could be. Well, the pitchers have just as much time to come up with their next pitch as the hitters do to guess it. It’s like I already said, it won’t change who you are as a hitter. It’s impossible to succeed at the major league level without the ability to make adjustments. This is just another adjustment that hitters will have to make.

Ortiz was definitely right about one thing: There was nothing mentioned about pitchers having to speed up how often they throw the ball, and that is indeed unfair. Hitters may have to stay in the box, but pitchers can hang on to the ball as long as they would like. There is in fact already a rule in place to cover that. If a pitcher doesn’t throw the ball within 12 seconds of getting it back from the catcher, the umpire will call a ball. That only applies if there is nobody on base. That is an official rule. Of course, umpires have never had the guts to enforce the rule. As far as I know, MLB made no mention of it. Perhaps if they had the courage to enforce the rule that’s already on the books, the pace of play may never have been a problem in the first place.

The new rules also do nothing to address the biggest problem. MLB continues to insist on long commercial breaks. I’m not aware of how much say the players’ union (MLBPA) had in the new pace of play rules, but I cannot believe they let the league pass these rule without some sort of concession on commercial breaks. It’s a further indictment on how weak the MLBPA has gotten. Why should the players have to make all the concessions on improving pace of play? The MLBPA should’ve fought tooth and nail against any rule of these rule changes without MLB enacting some change on their end as well. If I were the head of the MLBPA, I’d demand that the league cuts 30 to 60 seconds off of each commercial break or give the players a chunk of the revenue that is earned during the extra commercials. Without those concessions, I would not agree to a single rule change with regard to pace of play.

On a side note, the current CBA ends December 1, 2016. It’s too early for me to be afraid of a lockout. What I am afraid of, though, is that given how weak the MLBPA has grown in recent years, the players are going to get killed in the new negotiations.

That Old Clubhouse Chemistry Thing

Now that spring training has started, the beat writers have started spinning their narratives. There isn’t much to write about right now, so writers go for the low-hanging fruit. They go for the kinds of things that don’t require any kind of proof, analysis, or brain power to write about: Clubhouse chemistry and leadership. For example, one writer fabricated a narrative about the Baltimore Orioles’ clubhouse chemistry and then criticized sabermetrics because it can’t quantify it. The writers out there who are actually intelligent enough to see through his nonsense called him out on it. He believed that his subjective perceptions were sufficient proof that the Orioles have good chemistry, and responded to challenges of his baseless claim by failing to address the argument or misrepresenting it altogether. In other words, he responded with worthless anecdotal information and strawmen.

Contrary to that writer’s beliefs, no analytical writer has ever conclusively stated that there is no value in clubhouse chemistry. I, myself, find it plausible. When asked to provide evidence that even one sabermetrician completely dismissed the idea of the value of clubhouse chemistry, he completely failed to do so. Instead, he kept firing off the strawmen arguments, as if anybody with a half a brain couldn’t see right through what he was doing.

The writer’s cheap shot at the analytical community stated that sabermetrics fails as a result of not being able to measure the value of chemistry. Little did he realize that he was just demonstrating his own lack of understanding of how logic and rational thinking work. Quite frankly, I do not believe that he cares, just as long as he can keep peddling his unverifiable claims and pandering to his readers. The reason why the sabermetric community ignores clubhouse chemistry is because it is far too subjective and nebulous to evaluate. If you want any intelligent, logical, critical thinking person to take clubhouse chemistry more seriously, then you need to provide objective evidence that proves the state of a clubhouse and exactly how it affects the team’s record.

Truth be told, that’s probably impossible. Too bad. That’s why rational people don’t make claims that they can’t defend. The fact of the matter is that currently the value of clubhouse chemistry is completely arbitrary. Completely. Arbitrary. Yet, those like the unnamed writer expect their subjective perceptions to be taken as facts. That’s either incredibly foolish, or incredibly arrogant. No rational person takes a completely arbitrary assessment seriously. He has no evidence that the Orioles will have good chemistry this season, nor does he have any evidence that it will result in extra games won.

A year ago (on my birthday, ironically), ESPN came out with an article that purported to be able to quantify team chemistry. It was an abomination. First of all, the methodology used was hidden under the cloak of proprietary secrets. Sabermetric fans love advanced stats, but only when they’re done correctly and opened up for peer review. Sometimes, like with projections systems, that can’t be done for business reasons. Perhaps it was intended for this methodology to make money, but I highly doubt it has or will. Without access to how the methodology was derived, we were just left with some of the assumptions that were made, which were terrible. You can read a good criticism of the article here.

Back to the Orioles, they are likely not to be very good this season, so if that turns out to be true, the writer is almost certain to then move the goalposts to save face. If they do succeed, he’ll claim to have been right all along, which is really just post hoc crap. Moreover, clubhouse chemistry “analysis” is frequently done post hoc. It’s all just spinning an argument to fit the narrative that whatever writer wants to make up.

Don’t believe me? You could just as easily make the case that clubhouse chemistry is detrimental to teach success. It can be argued that it’s a distraction that takes the players’ focus away from their game preparations. If the players didn’t like each other, you could say that it would allow them to perform better as a result of being better able to focus on making themselves better, instead of goofing off or joking around or whatever it is that good clubhouses do that bad ones don’t. That’s certainly not romantic nor heart-warming enough to make a good narrative, but think about it. I mean really think about it. Doesn’t that sound plausible? I have just as much evidence to support that theory as everyone else does to support the belief that clubhouse chemistry makes a team better.

I am not saying that I do not enjoy a team with good chemistry. I thought the Red Sox beard thing in 2013 was a lot of fun. I am also not saying that I believe what I wrote above about good clubhouse chemistry being a bad thing. What I’m saying is that there’s no evidence that clubhouse chemistry affects a team’s overall record. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. I don’t know. Nobody knows. Nobody.

Joey Votto Rants About Leadership

Joey Votto as been shown to be one of the most rational, logical, analytically minded players in baseball. I’m not sure that he has the personality to be a great TV analyst, but he certainly has the brains for it. His intelligence and objectivity has led him to be just as sick of the media’s team leadership talk as any other critical thinker out there3. You can read about it here. I encourage you to read the whole piece, but here are a few snippets:

“The thing that upsets me most is the people who are talking about leadership and our clubhouse are not in clubhouse. They’re not consistently here to make any sort of comment on the clubhouse. These are guys who very rarely show their face in the clubhouse. They’re never on the bus, not in the hotel, certainly not on the field. These guys are constantly commenting about the importance of leadership with no sort of experience to be able to have that conversation. They don’t see the interaction. They don’t see the bench. They’re going to write and talk endlessly about something they have no information on. And, to me, that’s doing a disservice to this team. It’s doing a disservice to the front office, the coaching staff. I think it’s highly, highly convenient because we lost last year to highlight that.

“We win this year, all of a sudden there’s going to be a leader on the team or a group of leaders, and so and so did this or so and so did that, we win and all of a sudden everything changes… Leadership is one of the things people have been pointing out. I don’t think it’s objective.

“You don’t need one focal point, we don’t need rah-rah, we don’t need everyone to be slapped on the [butt] and patted on the back, because we’re not that group of guys. None of these guys need to be motivated to be at their very best.”

If I had been there when Votto said this, I would have stood up and applauded him. I wish I could say for sure that he was saying what every major leaguer thinks, but he has always seemed to have a unique way of looking at the game. His objectivity is refreshing coming from a player. Votto made a few great points here that I’ll break down.

First, like clubhouse chemistry, the quality of leadership is frequently done post hoc. It’s an especially popular topic when a team underperforms or overperforms. Last season, the Reds underperformed, so the lazy-minded, narrative hungry writers out there apparently blamed it on a lack of leadership. It’s a much more controversial and juicy narrative than what really happened, which was injuries. But nobody is going to click on a boring article about injuries when they can read about a fabricated narrative surrounding the Reds lack of leadership, right?

What’s more, as Votto pointed out, it’s common for those who are critical of the leadership to not have the access to the team that is required to make such an assessment. Obviously the beat writers are the ones that have the most access to the team. I doubt that even they have enough access to accurately assess the quality of leadership in the clubhouse. How many team meetings and conversations among teammates are they privy to? Moreover, as Votto said, it’s difficult to trust their objectivity. Is what they’re observing real, or are they just seeing what they want to see for the narrative?

Further to Votto’s point, the overvaluation of leadership is, quite frankly, insulting. Front offices work so hard in putting their teams together, and coaches put in so much work training and managing the players, and players do everything they can to prepare for games and be the best that they can be. To say that a team succeeded or failed because they did or didn’t have a player to offer encouragement and advice to others is trivializing the game of baseball to an offensive level. Talent and luck win baseball games. Nothing else.

It’s the job of the manager and his coaches to lead, not the players. I’ve harped on this before. If a player wants to take up that mantle, then fine, but it’s not his job. As to Votto’s last point, while I find its benefits plausible, I don’t see why players need to be motivating each other. If all the pressure and money involved in being a major league baseball player aren’t enough to motivate you, then I doubt that a teammate will make the difference.

Finally, just like with clubhouse chemistry, there is no evidence that a player’s leadership adds any wins to the team’s record. Until somebody proves differently (and good luck with that), the value of leadership is totally a media fabrication. Just analyze and evaluate what happens on the field. After all, what happens on the field is why we watch baseball, right?

Jason Giambi Officially Retires

Jason Giambi officially called it quits on a great career that sadly, at least in the media’s eyes, was marred by steroid usage. He wasn’t crucified quite as much as other users, likely because he came clean. To my knowledge, he has publicly apologized at least twice for his steroid usage. While I personally don’t care that he used steroids, because there’s no evidence that it enhances baseball performance, I do applaud him for publicly acknowledging it and apologizing. I’m sure Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez wished that they had done the same thing. Lying and covering up the mistake always makes things worse.

Giambi added a surprising amount of length to his career as a part-time player, not unlike Jim Thome. Unlike Thome, however, he has not had a Hall of Fame career. Of course he has no chance of getting in as a result of the steroids, but his performance doesn’t merit it anyway.

For his career, Giambi hit .277/.399/.516 with a 140 wRC+ and 50.8 WAR. That offense looks great, but it came during one of the highest offensive eras in baseball history. A 140 wRC+ just isn’t that great for a player whose primary position was first base. He also was a below average runner and a poor defender. That all adds up to a great player, but not a Hall of Famer.

  1. An obvious homage to Bob Ueker’s famous line in “Major League”. 
  2. Well, they do if the NBA game is close near the end, because those last 90 seconds or so can take forever as a result of constant time-outs. 
  3. Ok, Ok, I’m sure defending his team had something to do with it too. 
Boston Red Sox Sign Cuban Prospect Yoan Moncada. Now Primed to Go After Cole Hamels.

Boston Red Sox Sign Cuban Prospect Yoan Moncada. Now Primed to Go After Cole Hamels.

The Boston Red Sox have announced that Cuban prospect Yoan Moncada has agreed to sign with them for a $31.5 million bonus. It’s a new record for a bonus given to an international amateur. In fact, it’s about four times the amount that the Pirates gave Gerrit Cole in the 2011 draft, whose $8 million bonus is the highest ever for a drafted player. Because the Red Sox have exceeded their allotment of international bonus money, they have to pay a whopping 100% tax on the bonus money. In other words, Moncada cost the Sox $63 million. In addition, the team will not be allowed to sign an international amateur free agent for two years unless it’s for $300,000 or less.

It seems like a lot of money, but money is an abundant resource in the game today, especially for the Boston Red Sox. The organization clearly understood this, and decided to use their riches to exploit the international amateur free agent system. Talent is a much scarcer commodity than money. It was another smart move by a smart organization. Better still, acquiring Moncada means that their arch rivals in the Bronx can’t. The Yankees really needed him, too.

When rumors were flying concerning Moncada, I was surprised that the Red Sox were involved. They had already spent a few hundred million dollars on Rusney Castillo, Pablo Sandoval, and Hanley Ramírez. Not only did they not have any holes to fill with regard to position players, they actually had tremendous depth. Just where on earth did they intend to play Moncada?

Well, the fact of the matter is that Moncada is a prospect. He’s only 19 years old, and it is expected that he’ll start out in A ball. As of now, he’s at least 1 to 1.5 years away from making it to the majors. That gives the Red Sox plenty of time to figure out what to do with him. One thing that’s for sure is that scouts don’t believe that Moncada will stick at shortstop because he has gotten too big. That suits the Red Sox just fine because they have Xander Bogaerts. He may just be a fringe average defender at short, but at least he can handle the position. Despite the fact that ZiPS projects Bogaerts to be a 2.3 WAR player this upcoming season, I’m optimistic that he can bounce back and post a high OBP like he did before the Stephen Drew signing. Back to Moncada, his bat is likely to profile anywhere on the field, though obviously you want to put him as high on the defensive spectrum as you can in order to extract the most value possible.

One possibility is to let Mike Napoli walk after this season, move Pablo Sandoval to first base, and have Yoan Moncada play third. He’d likely be an upgrade both offensively and defensively over Sandoval, but it would be awfully early in Sandoval’s contract to be moving him. The Sox would also lose a lot of value as well since Sandoval doesn’t have the bat to play at first. Of course, that’s a sunk cost to a certain extent, and if that’s the best decision they can make for the team, then they should do it. That being said, I don’t believe that will end up happening.

Acquiring Moncada gives the Red Sox extra depth that they can leverage in order to acquire Cole Hamels. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has been receiving some criticism over not having traded Hamels yet. If the rumors about what he’s asking for in return are true, then it’s at least partially fair. I only say partially even then because Amaro has to NAIL this trade. The Phillies future is hanging on it. Their present team sucks and their farm system is in bad shape. Word has it that Amaro is looking for the acquiring team to cover all or most of Hamels remaining contract, as well as a top-tier prospect. Now asking for an A-level prospect and one or two B-level prospects is exactly what Amaro needs to request. However, also demanding that the trade partner also cover at least most of Hamels contract is a grossly poor assessment of his value. If that’s really what the Phillies are asking for, then it’s no wonder that Hamels hasn’t gotten traded yet.

This is pure speculation on my part, but it’s likely that Amaro wants to be able to eat more money on Hamels’ contract, but his superiors won’t let him. That’s a shame. It’s no secret that the Phillies organization is one of the worst run teams in the league. When A.J. Burnett was willing to take a $4 million pay cut to join another team, that speaks volumes.

One way in which the Phillies fail just as much as any other team is with the concept of sunk costs. Teams will force themselves to play inadequate players who are making too much money because they’re making too much money to not play. Prime examples of this are Ryan Howard and Alex Rodriguez. You have to pay the player no matter what, so you can either pay him to hurt the team by playing him, or pay him to not hurt the team by getting rid of him. We need to see what A-Rod has left, but Ryan Howard is done. He was a sub-replacement level player last season. He’s now a platoon DH on a team that obviously can’t DH him. A player like that could be useful if he was making the veterans minimum, but he’s making $25 million. If I were a GM, Amaro would have to offer to pay at least 90% of his salary and request only one or two low-level prospects for me to even think about trading for Howard. If the Phillies aren’t willing to eat much money on Hamels’ contract, then a Howard trade is never going to happen. Honestly, it’s not even that big of a deal for the Phillies. Howard isn’t blocking any prospects and the team is going to be terrible. In fact, it’s probably in the team’s best interests to tank this season. Howard can certainly be a big help there.

Back to Hamels, there’s no use in paying an ace on a team that could win less than 70 games. The Phillies not only need to understand the concept of sunk costs, they also need to understand another point that I made earlier: Talent is a much scarcer commodity in today’s game than money. The Phillies also happen to be a high revenue team. The only way they are going to get a team to take on most of that contract is if they only get some lower level prospects in return. That isn’t going to do anything to help the team’s future. Now you may be saying that the Phillies could use the ~$75 million they’d save and use it on a free agent. At best, that would only get a second-tier free agent, something like a 3 WAR player. It would be a far greater benefit to the team to eat half of Hamels’ salary or more, and in return receive a package of prospects that will produce at multiple positions for dirt cheap. Treat the money like a sunk cost and the organization will get the trade that will help the team the most. It may sound like hyperbole, but the future of the franchise depends on the outcome of this trade.

The Red Sox and Phillies have had talks before regarding Hamels. I’m sure that Amaro is asking for a package that consists of at least one of the following players: Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, and Blake Swihart1. That’s completely fair, too. I’d ask for the same thing. However, if I’m the Red Sox, I don’t even consider parting with one of those players unless the Phillies cover at least half of Hamels’ contract. If the Phillies are willing to cover 75% or more, then adding Henry Owens or Eduardo Rodríguez would be fair. Throw in one or two more lower level prospects, again depending on how much money the Phillies are willing to eat, and you’ve got a fair trade for both sides.

As far as which one of the Bogaerts, Betts, and Swihart trio they should part with…ugh…what a difficult choice. I’d say that Swihart is untouchable since he’s a catcher, which also frees up Christian Vázquez to be traded. He’s cheap and he’s an excellent catcher who is qualified to be somebody’s everyday backstop. There’s a lot of value there. With Bogaerts’ coming off of a disappointing year, I’m more optimistic in Betts’ upside. I’d hate to see Bogaerts leave, but he’s probably the best choice. It’s just tough to say goodbye to a potential high OBP player at shortstop. He’ll probably end up moving to third base on the Phillies eventually just because they have a great shortstop prospect in J.P. Crawford coming up.

The downside with trading Bogaerts is that it would leave the Sox without a shortstop. They do have one in their system named Deven Marrero, but he’s at least a year away. Even then, he’s excellent defensively, but there are huge question marks as to whether or not he can hit. They could try putting Hanley Ramírez back at short, but at this point he’s a butcher at the position. Dustin Pedroia doesn’t have the arm for it, and I wouldn’t want to mess with the best defensive second baseman in baseball anyway. I’m curious as to whether or not Mookie Betts could handle it. He was supposed to be a plus defender at second. I just can’t say for sure without some input from a scout.

The Red Sox made what was on the surface, a peculiar signing. However, it kept Moncada away from the competition, espcially the Yankees, and strengthens what is already one of the best farm systems in baseball. This puts the Sox in a better position to trade a blue-chipper in exchange for Cole Hamels, an ace that they could really use. If the Phillies organization smartens up, they can use this to bolster their farm system and put the team in position to contend again in a few years instead of several years. The clock is ticking, though, and each day that passes diminishes Hamels’ value. They need to act soon.

  1. I’m sure that you could throw Moncada into that group, but I’m not sure that the rules permit him to be traded so soon. I know for a fact that in the regular draft, you cannot trade a player until one calendar year after he signs. That’s why Trea Turner is still part of the Padres organization. I’m not sure if that rule extends to international amateurs. 
Alex Rodriguez Does Not Owe Anybody an Apology

Alex Rodriguez Does Not Owe Anybody an Apology

Today, Alex Rodriguez released a hand-written note apologizing to Yankee fans for his mistakes. He is also scheduled to hold a press conference some time at Yankee Stadium in order to apologize further to the press and to the public.

It’s all completely meaningless and I couldn’t possibly care less.

It’s not because I don’t believe the apology is genuine. I don’t care if it is or not. It’s because he owes nobody an apology. Maybe he does to the Yankees for upsetting his employer and being a distraction, but his actions saved them $25 million in salary last season for what would’ve likely been a ~1 WAR level of production.

If you think that a baseball player owes you an apology for anything, then you’re completely delusional and think way too highly of yourself. Furthermore, no apology made would be likely to satisfy you.

Before I go any further, let me be clear in saying that I am not an A-Rod fan. I’ve never liked the guy. He makes idiotic decisions, cares way too much about what people think of him, and completely lacks any kind of self-awareness. I’m also a life long Yankee hater, though I’ve never let that get in the way of objectively analyzing them. If I feel like my biases are clouding my analysis, then I don’t write it.

How I feel about A-Rod personally has absolutely no bearing on the quality of his baseball career. Yes, he made his own mess, but that doesn’t justify how unfairly he’s been treated by the media and the fans. If Derek Jeter had been suspended for a year as a result of steroid use, he would’ve been immediately forgiven and welcomed back with open arms, especially if it had happened during his prime.

A-Rod’s biggest crime was being foolish enough to believe that steroids enhance baseball performance. As I’ve said time and time again, there is absolutely, positively no evidence that steroid use enhances on-field performance. Everything we know about how steroid use affects baseball performance is anecdotal, and anecdotal information doesn’t prove anything. That’s not how science and logic work. All the sanctimonious writers and fans out there who believe otherwise are completely guilty of intellectual dishonesty. If you insist on disagreeing, then fine, you can believe whatever you want. Just don’t expect any logical, critical thinking person to agree with you without actual evidence1.

For all the judgment and sanctimony that comes from so many out there, I don’t doubt for one second that 99% of those people would’ve done the same thing if it meant they could make over a quarter of a billion dollars.

A lazy, simple mind accepts an easy answer and calls it a day without looking for alternate explanations. Since Joe Sheehan is neither delusional nor a simpleton, he did just that, and found an explanation that does a far better job of plausibly answering where all the extra offense in the “steroid” era came from. I linked to it in my fake Hall of Fame ballot, and it’s a must read for all baseball fans here. In short, the extra offense was the result of higher contact rates, a smaller strike zone, and expansion teams. Players were hitting for just as much power as they always had, it just looked like more because they were doing a better job of making contact. A smaller strike zone will do that.

I would not be surprised at all if MLB knew this. They used steroids as a red herring, and everyone who chooses not to exercise their critical thinking skills has fallen for it. They’ve been able to paint themselves as heroes for cracking down on the problem and being able to say that their testing protocols solved it, even though that had nothing to do with the decrease in offense. It has resulted in MLB being able to weaken the most powerful union in sports because players have less trust in each other than ever. The public has even less trust in them. If the public wants to believe that a player is on steroids, no amount of negative tests are going to change their minds.

The latest A-Rod scandal has worked out especially well for MLB’s attempts to weaken the union. The Biogenesis scandal was a blow to players, not just because of the bad publicity, but because of how the MLBPA failed Alex Rodriguez. They completely hung him out to dry just because they don’t like him. Well, sorry, but player rights extend to ALL of its members, not just the unpopular ones. By screwing him over, they ended up setting a dangerous precedent. What happens if a popular player gets accused of something equally as egregious? What if it’s David Wright? Or Mike Trout? Or Andrew McCutchen? Or Clayton Kershaw? Whoever arbitrates the case will look at what happened to A-Rod in deciding how to rule, and since the MLBPA didn’t exactly represent him zealously, the next player is going to receive the same draconian punishment.

Alex Rodriguez is easily a top ten all time position player, and the argument can be made that he’s top five. For his career, he hit .299/.384/.558 with a 143 wRC+ and 116 WAR. Oh, and he also hit 654 HR. He also stole 322 bases, was a Gold Glove caliber shortstop, and at least a plus defender at 3rd. That’s an all-timer right there, folks. Yet, he’s doomed to join Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens on the outside of Cooperstown because of sanctimonious voters who refuse to get off of their high horse and look at the facts. They’ll vote in racists and alcoholics and wife-beaters, and even admitted cheaters and amphetamine users, but heaven forbid if somebody was caught using a drug that has never been scientifically proven to enhance baseball performance. WON’T ANYBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!

As for A-Rod supposedly choking during the playoffs…I don’t know where that comes from. Besides the fact that players being able to perform better in high leverage situations is a myth, he has a career .361 wOBA in the post season. That’s excellent. Oh, and what about Derek Jeter’s clutchy clutchness that makes him magic in the playoffs? He has a .366 wOBA in the playoffs. That’s barely higher than A-Rod’s, though to be fair he also played in twice the number of playoff games.

What I really find unbelievable is that the Yankees hate A-Rod and are forcing him to publicly apologize, but they’re going to retire Andy Pettitte’s number. He is an admitted HGH user, and that’s just what we know for a fact. It’s so hypocritical. A-Rod is one of the greatest Yankees of all time, which is saying a lot, but he’s never going to get his number retired.

If I were A-Rod, I would have never written that letter. Anybody who thinks they deserve an apology are not going to accept it, and anybody else, like me, doesn’t care. His press conference at Yankee Stadium is going to be a gigantic waste of time. People are going to ask stupid questions and he’ll reply with meaningless answers. The following is what I hope he says in his statement, even though he obviously won’t.

“I, Alex Rodriguez, am sorry.

I’m sorry for being by far the greatest 3rd baseman in Yankee history.

I’m sorry for hitting .291/.386/.534 and 309 HR during my time as a Yankee.

I’m sorry for winning two MVPs.

I’m sorry for carrying the team through the first two rounds of the 2009 playoffs on the way to a World Series championship.

I’m sorry for helping to deliver the best attendance in Yankee history.

I’m sorry for selflessly giving up the chance to be the undisputed greatest shortstop of all time by voluntarily moving over to 3rd base because my employer didn’t have the guts to tell their Legend to make the move instead, even though I was an excellent defensive shortstop and he should’ve been moved off the position long before I showed up.

I’m sorry for having the 6th highest WAR in all of baseball since I joined the Yankees.

I’m sorry for having the highest WAR of any player on the Yankees since I joined, and by 12 wins too.

I’m sorry that, unlike your former shortstop, I actually hit for power and fielded my position competently.

I’m sorry for being a scapegoat and being railroaded by a league that used grossly unethical tactics in their investigation that would’ve resulted in serious consequences had they been done by an actual local or federal law enforcement agency.

I’m sorry that my actions resulted in the Yankees saving $25 million on my contract last season. I’m sure they were devastated.

I’m sorry that the Yankees gave a 32-year old player a 10-year, $275 million deal. Oh wait! No I’m not! That’s their own fault! They CHOSE to do that! I didn’t force them! I could’ve been somebody else’s problem but nooooooo the New York Yankees had to have the best player in baseball no matter what the cost! They have nobody to blame but themselves for entering into a 10-year deal that began to be an overpay in year two!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go show up for spring training early. I know what the Yankees said and I don’t care. I’m a member of the team so they can’t stop me. If they don’t like it, they can cut me and pay every single cent of the $61 million they still owe me.”

I’m not an A-Rod fan whatsoever, but if he said something like that, he’d be my hero for life.

  1. If you choose to respond to this post by saying that steroid users are cheating cheaters who cheated and steroids do enhance baseball performance because… you know… c’mon, then I will completely ignore you. I try to refrain from arguing with irrational people. If you think steroids truly enhance baseball performance, then please provide me with an objective study in a reputable, peer-reviewed journal that irrefutably proves your claims. Anything else is crap. 
San Diego Padres Add James Shields, Reload for 2015

San Diego Padres Add James Shields, Reload for 2015

It was announced today that James Shields finally found a team to join. The San Diego Padres signed Shields to a 4-year, $75 million deal. Believe it or not, it’s the richest contract that the Padres have ever given out. This move is the latest in a slew of off-season moves for the Padres. They’ve revamped their roster in an attempt to contend with the Dodgers and Giants in the NL West.

Going into this off-season, I viewed Shields as free agent kryptonite. I suspected that he would sign in the range of 6 or 7 years for $110-120 million. That’s too many years and too much money for a 33-year-old pitcher who is not an ace. He’s at best a low number two. It seems like front offices agreed with me because Shields didn’t sign until less than two weeks before spring training. It’s likely that he was looking for a deal in the neighborhood of what I just mentioned, but nobody would give it to him. As a result, he received a contract that is of fair value for what he can offer. Shields is a durable, consistent pitcher who should provide a good return despite the fact that he’ll be 36 years old during the last year of the deal.

This is a good example of the value of waiting out the market. If you’re looking for the best free agent, period, and money is no object, then by all means act quickly. If, however, you’re looking for value, then it’s best to let things play out. The Padres exercised patience and were rewarded for it.

Depending on the projection system, Shields is projected to be a 3-4 WAR pitcher in 2015. His flyball/line drive tendencies will fit in beautifully in spacious Petco Park. Unfortunately, he will be backed by one of the worst outfield defenses we’ve seen in a long time (more on that shortly). In fact, the defense in the infield isn’t that great either. It’s a drastic turnaround from the elite defenses he played in front of in Kansas City and Tampa Bay.

Shields will also be pitching to inferior catchers. In Kansas City, Shields had the luxury of pitching to one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, Salvador Pérez. Derek Norris will likely be the starting catcher. He’s a below average defensive catcher who can’t throw anybody out. His backup, Tim Federowicz, is better defensively and is excellent at throwing out baserunners, so there’s that at least. Neither one of them add any value through pitch framing, though surprisingly, Pérez has always been a poor pitch framer.

Overall, James Shields will be fine in San Diego and should be effective. He’s just going to have to get used to all the extra base hits his defense will allow, which obviously won’t be his fault. He hasn’t shown any dips in velocity either. He is arguably the best player on the team now. He should be a 2-3 win upgrade over whoever it is that he’s booting out of the rotation.

Let’s take a closer look at the Padres team in order to evaluate their new look, and also to see how we can expect the team to compete with the Dodgers and Giants. To see how ZiPS evaluates the entire team, click here.

Since we were just discussing him, let’s return to Norris. ZiPS projects him to hit .237/.334/.380 this upcoming season. That’s good for a catcher, but he suffers from huge platoon splits. For his career, he has a .375 wOBA against lefties and a .282 wOBA against righties. That being said, his platoon splits suffer from small sample size as a result of having played only 285 games so far. It’s likely that he’s better against righties than his track record has shown, maybe even league average. As for Federowicz, well, he plain just can’t hit.

The rest of the infield looks rather unimpressive. Clint Barmes is a great defensive shortstop, and by far the best defender on the entire team, but he can’t hit either, which is why the Pirates let him go. He’ll struggle to be above replacement level. Jedd Gyorko should bounce back from an injury plagued 2014 in which he suffered from a .253 BABIP. Yonder Alonso also suffered from injuries and a low BABIP. Gyorko will likely be a league average 2nd baseman in 2015. Alonso is projected to be slightly above average offensively, but that’s not good enough for the high offensive bar at first base. He fields his position well, but neither ZiPS nor Steamer project him to be a league average player in 2015.

I was expecting Will Middlebrooks to be the starting 3rd baseman, and he still might be, but after taking a closer look, Yangervis Solarte might actually be the better option. When you take a close look at them, they’re basically the same player. However, Middlebrooks just cannot stay on the field. They’re both below average hitters who are, at best, mediocre defenders. ZiPS actually does have Solarte as a 2 WAR player in 2015 if he can get enough plate appearances.

The outfield is by far the most interesting of the Padres position players, all of whom were acquired via trade during the off-season. I already discussed Matt Kemp in an update to my Dodgers piece. In short, his hip problems give me serious reservations about his future. You need your hips to hit for power and to run around the outfield. ZiPS is projecting him to have a .334 wOBA, which is good given the park he’ll play in, but he’s going to give a significant portion of that back on defense. He’s projected to only be a 1.5 WAR player. Given his hip situation, that actually sounds reasonable.

The Padres paid a steep price for Wil Myers, but if he can turn back into his 2013 Rookie of the Year form, it’ll be well worth it. Myers missed a lot of time due to injury last season and was ineffective when he did play. By his own admission, he had gotten complacent due to feeling entitled by his Rookie of the Year award. If he can revitalize his work ethic, he can be a 4 WAR player. If not, he’s projected to be a 2 WAR player, which is not worth the Padres giving up two good prospects in RHP Joe Ross (brother of Tyson) and SS Trea Turner1. If Myers does unlock his full potential, the Padres will have a cheap, All-Star caliber player for five more years.

Regardless of what happens with the bat, Myers’ glove isn’t going to get any better. Now that there isn’t room for Cameron Maybin to play, Myers becomes their new de facto center fielder. That sucks. He is at best a mediocre defender in the corners. Heck, we all know that flyball he misplayed in Boston in the 2013 ALDS2. He’s going to be a disaster in center. It’s a safe bet that he’ll give at least 1 WAR back through his defense.

Although Myers has a bigger upside, Justin Upton is the safest bet to have the best bat in the Padres lineup. He is consistent and durable. ZiPS projects him to have a .344 wOBA in 2015, which will be quite good in the pitcher-friendly park he’ll play in. That should work out to a ~125 wRC+. As for his defense, he’s roughly a league average right fielder. He doesn’t have much of an arm, though, and he’s prone to misplays.

Moving on to the starting rotation, it’s a talented bunch who have struggled with staying on the field. Shields will help with that, obviously, and Ian Kennedy has always been durable. The thing is, Kennedy isn’t that good. He’s projected for 1.7 WAR and a league average FIP. Kennedy is a solid number four.

I’ve always been high on Andrew Cashner. He just has such great life on his fastball. Unfortunately, he lost the ability to miss bats in 2013, but he doesn’t walk people either. He turned in career bests in ERA and FIP last season, but only pitched 123.1 innings. If he can turn in 200 innings this season, and that’s a big if, he can be a 3-4 WAR player.

Tyson Ross is the biggest strikeout threat in the starting rotation, which the team will need very badly as a result of the wretched defense they’ll be trotting out there. Unfortunately, that slider of his that generates so many swings and misses also generates a lot of groundballs. Ross better hope that Clint Barmes sees a lot of those grounders. Hopefully the elbow soreness that he suffered from last season won’t return. If it doesn’t, he also has the potential to be a 3-4 WAR player.

If Josh Johnson can actually stay healthy, and sadly there’s no reason to believe that he can, then he should be the one to round out this rotation. He has way more upside than Brandon Morrow and Odrisamer Despaigne. It’s impossible to predict how he will actually perform this year with all the time he’s missed. A scouting report would help immensely. If I were Padres manager Bud Black, that fifth spot in the rotation should be his to lose. Despaigne is a flyball pitcher and a fifth starter at best. Morrow isn’t even that. Let me be clear, though, that I’m not denigrating the signings of Morrow and Johnson. They were signed for very little money and provide nothing but upside. However, if they don’t work out and the rotation suffers from multiple injuries, Brandon Maurer will have to step in, and then the Padres will really be in trouble.

The bullpen, ironically, is the one thing the Padres can count on. As a former pitching coach, Bud Black has always been able to consistently churn out good bullpens. Why the team chose to spend money on Joaquín Benoit in light of this fact is puzzling.

ZiPS projects the Padres as an 84 win team. Joe Sheehan evaluated them as an 83 win team. I’m less optimistic. The starting rotation looks good, but there are huge question marks hanging above the ability of Ross and Cashner to make at least 30 starts. The defense is also truly atrocious. That’s not as big of a deal if you have pitchers who excel at strikeouts, like the Tigers did last year, but the Padres don’t have that. You can also make up for that with a powerful offense, but the Padres don’t have that either. Only their starting outfielders are projected to have a better than .330 wOBA. Clint Barmes, Yangervis Solarte, and Will Middlebrooks will combine to have a sub-.300 wOBA. This is also a very right-handed heavy lineup.

As is, I believe to the Padres are an 81 win team, which is still a significant improvement from last year. If everything breaks right for them, then maybe they can reach 84 or 85 wins. They are certainly not going to give the Dodgers any problems with contending for the NL West. A wild card is within their reach, however.

The good news is that the Padres still have pieces from which they can trade. Carlos Quentin can’t field, but he can still hit. I’d hang on to Will Venable because they’re going to need his left-handed bat. I’d also want to hang on to Cameron Maybin for defensive purposes. If Josh Johnson pans out, Despaigne and Morrow could be trade bait. They also still have their best prospects available in OF Hunter Renfroe, C Austin Hedges, and RHP Matt Wisler. Hedges still needs to develop his bat, but Renfroe and Wisler have a chance to contribute this season. The main reason I bring them up, of course, is because they can also be traded, but I wouldn’t trade one or more of those players without receiving a player that will be a multi-win upgrade with at least a couple of years of team control left.

The Padres have done well this off-season, and it’s nice to see that they’re refusing to settle for another sub-par season. However, if they truly want to make a run at a wild car spot, they’re going to have to do more. They have holes that are fixable and the means from which to fix them. I’m sure the right trade is out there for them. They just have to find it.

  1. There were other players involved in the trade, but those were the most important pieces leaving San Diego. 
  2. To his credit, he completely owned the mistake. It showed a lot of accountability and maturity. 
Scouting and Evaluating Prospects is Hard. Give Scouts a Break.

Scouting and Evaluating Prospects is Hard. Give Scouts a Break.

ESPN’s Keith Law recently came out with his annual rankings of the prospects in the minor leagues, as well as each team’s farm system. Of course, ESPN isn’t the only site that covers minor league and amateur prospects. Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America, and also do this. Fangraphs, which is the most sabermetric heavy site out there, hired Kiley McDaniel last year to head up their new prospect coverage.

In terms of who’s better than who, well, it’s really a matter of personal preference. Law is my favorite because I’ve always perceived him to be the most objective option. He also consults heavily with major league scouts and executives when evaluating prospects. I also enjoy BP’s prospect coverage, especially when Jason Parks was there. I love Parks’ passion1. BP still has a great bunch of guys who share that same passion. It’s enjoyable, and it’s good to read more than one perspective. After all, no major league organization draws a conclusion on a prospect based on just one scout’s evaluation.

My interest in scouting and prospects is a relatively recent thing. I used to have zero interest in it and as a result, I knew almost nothing about it. That changed two and a half years ago when I discovered the greatest baseball podcast of all time, ESPN’s Baseball Today. Law was on that podcast and I found his scout talk engrossing. I developed a deep interest in scouting and a moderate interest in prospects. I would LOVE to have a scouting eye and to be able to see what professional talent evaluators see.

Unlike most baseball bloggers and analysts, I don’t write about baseball in order to get a job with a team some day. I have no interest in working for a team, and even if I did, I love doing chemistry research too much to ever do anything else. Seriously, I actually look forward to going back to work whenever I get back from a vacation. I’m that much of a nerd. The funny this is that, hypothetically speaking, if I were to work for a team, I would much rather be a scout than join the analytics department. Now to be clear, I’m not qualified to do either. Despite being a scientist, I only have a basic stats class under my belt and I’m actually not all that good with computers. Synthetic organic chemistry is a very qualitative field, and my medicinal chemistry research doesn’t require me personally to do any computer programming or statistical analysis. Even if I was perfectly qualified to join a team’s analytics department, I just find scouting to be so much more fun. There’s something about being at a baseball field on a warm summer day in order to check out some potential prospects that just warms my heart. Man, that’s the life.

I know a thing or two about scouting, but not much more than that. I just don’t have the training or experience2. If I were to attempt to go to a game and write a scouting report on a player, I doubt that it would go well, which leads me to the whole point of this post.

There are people out there who tend to act like children when one of these prospect lists tells them something that they don’t want to hear. If this describes you, then deal with it and grow up. Unless you are a trained, experienced scout, you have no grounds from which to object to anything on anybody’s list. None. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Quite frankly, it’s incredibly arrogant to believe otherwise. It makes absolutely no sense to object to a prospects’ ranking when it’s likely you’ve never even seen the player in person. Even if you have, there’s no way you’ve seen the hundreds of players he is being compared to. So really, what’s your argument?

Well, a popular argument amongst the people acting like children is that so-and-so disagrees or other rankings disagree with a prospect whose evaluation somebody finds objectionable. So why do people think that one ranking is right, and the other wrong? Because of confirmation bias. That is not a counterargument. If you are not a scout, how can you possibly conclude what is right and wrong with regards to these rankings? I would love to counter with argumentum ad populum, but surprisingly, I don’t think that applies here. There’s a fair amount of subjectivity in scouting, so there is value in a consensus. However, that doesn’t necessarily make the majority correct. In fact, these rankings have nothing to do with being “right” or “wrong”. It’s simply reporting the most likely outcome of a player’s future based on scouting observations.

This is incredibly difficult to do. As the old saying goes: You can’t predict baseball. You can’t know what injuries they’ll suffer and how it will affect them. It’s hard to say how a player will handle adversity, not to mention the trials and tribulations of the minor leagues. A player can be developed especially poorly or especially well. Unfortunately, coaches will sometimes screw up a pitcher’s delivery or a hitter’s swing. Sometimes a sure thing will be a bust and sometimes a late round pick will turn into a star. Players surprise and disappoint all the time. When evaluating a prospect, all a scout can do is project the most likely outcome based on his observations. Because of the variability and the subjectivity involved, they will sometimes be spectacularly wrong.

And that’s ok. If you want to be a petulant child and rub it in when a scout misses, that says a lot more about you than the scout. Believe it or not, these rankings do not lock a player’s future in place.

As a Mets fan, I was excited to see where Noah Syndergaard ranked on Law’s list. As a Puerto Rican, I was also excited to see where Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor ranked. ranked Syndergaard and Lindor higher than Law did. That’s fine. It doesn’t bother me one bit. Law saw what he saw, and the guys at BP saw what they saw, and the guys at saw what they saw, and Kiley McDaniel saw what he saw. Some will be right where others are wrong. But neither you, nor I, nor any amateur has any right to hold their misses against them. Had I come across a list where Syndergaard, or Correa, or Lindor where omitted, I would’ve been confused and maybe disappointed, but I would not be angry in the least. It makes no sense to get so worked up over such a thing.

Let’s take Yankees prospect Luis Severino for example. There were a lot of angry Yankee fans who were displeased with Law for leaving him off his top 100. It’s perfectly fair to ask why a prospect landed where you didn’t expect. However, once that scout gives his reason, that’s it, you’re done. It’s ok to be disappointed, but you got nothing to counter with it. Absolutely nothing whatsoever. Everybody else disagrees you say? So what? Why does a dissenting opinion matter that much to you anyway? Law stated that Severino has a reliever’s delivery as a result of his lack of ability to use his lower half at all when he pitches. That’s pretty damning. If that’s true, and I have no reason to doubt it, then leaving Severino out of the top 100 is perfectly defensible. Starting pitchers cannot be successful without using their lower half. Sure, Severino could learn to fix this, he’s just a few weeks shy of 21 years old, but how often does a pitcher successfully learn to do that and go on to have a successful career as a starter? If Law turns out to be right, I doubt these people are going to get in line so that they can offer an apology for their rudeness. Remember, people who rudely criticize others on the internet behind the anonymity of their keyboards are cowards.

I find it hilarious whenever somebody approves or disapproves any of these lists. It goes back again to my previous points. Unless you’re a pro scout who has seen these players in person, what basis do you have to assess these lists? If you’re really qualified to do that, then you don’t need to be looking at these rankings in the first place. To be perfectly blunt, if you’re not a trained talent evaluator, your opinions on prospects are worthless.

Keith Law, Kiley McDaniel, and all the talented prospect evaluators out there who bring us these rankings work their butts off to bring them to us every year. They do the best they can, and yes, sometimes they will be wrong. Heck, they may even be wrong a lot. That’s ok. I’d like to think that the majority of fans out there who consume that content, the ones who are actually mature enough to not get all bent out of shape over a disagreeable ranking, enjoy them because they just want to see how these prospects are doing and how they compare to each other. We enjoy these rankings and evaluations because we love baseball.

This goes out to everyone who puts out these kind of rankings, but since I get most of my prospect content from Law and BP, this is especially directed at them. Thank you so much for all the hard work you put into this content. I really love it and it’s a joy to read. Baseball is awesome.

  1. The Chicago Cubs hired him to be a scout. It’s his dream job and I’m very happy for the guy, but I’m bummed that he’s not at BP anymore! 
  2. Nor am I able to drop $500-$1,000 on a quality radar gun. 
The Hall of Fame Case for Billy Pierce

The Hall of Fame Case for Billy Pierce

I found Pierce to be a fascinating case. Like Luis Tiant, Pierce appears to be the rare breed of pitcher who was able to limit his opponent’s BABIP.

To recap what I wrote about Tiant, I think it’s more fair to judge Pierce on his RA9-WAR instead of his fWAR, which normalizes BABIP. RA9-WAR uses RA9 to calculate WAR instead of FIP, which fWAR uses and is my usual preference for pitchers. The Baseball Reference version of WAR, bWAR, uses RA9 too, but then it adjusts for the quality of team defense. It does this by using Baseball Info Solutions‘ advanced defensive metric, Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). We only have DRS data from 2003 and on. Before that, an older, inferior metric called Total Zone (TZ) was used. These metrics are far superior than relying on the Error, but they have significant flaws themselves. As a result, the defensive adjustment can be pretty shaky. Since fWAR uses FIP, it filters out the defense from the beginning. Put another way, fWAR ignores defense altogether because it doesn’t count the runs a pitcher allowed in the first place, so no adjustments need to be made. It assumes that base hits are a function of defense and luck. Once the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand, whatever happens after is beyond his control. Of course, that’s an oversimplification with its own flaws. That’s why it’s nice to have two versions of WAR. It’s a feature, not a bug. Hopefully your brain hasn’t exploded at this point.

RA9-WAR is almost the exact same thing as bWAR and is not really a separate version. Obviously, it uses RA9 too, but it makes no adjustment whatsoever for team defense. For pitchers who consistently generate weak contact, it’s the best version to use. A consistently low BABIP implies consistent weak contact. Knuckleballers in general fit this mold. Outside of that, it’s very rare to come across a conventional pitcher who can consistently turn in a low BABIP. Pitchers just cannot control what happens to balls in play, but of course there are always anomalies. I mentioned Tiant already, but other examples are Tom Seaver, Mariano Rivera, and Clayton Kershaw. Pierce also appears to be one of those rare conventional pitchers as well. As a result, he has a 70.8 RA9-WAR. He also had an excellent 3.27 ERA and 84 ERA-.

Jay Jaffe developed a WAR based metric in 2004 called Jaffe WAR Score System. It’s known as JAWS for short, which is the greatest name for a stat ever. It’s a very simple system. It takes the average of a player’s bWAR for his career and for his peak seven seasons. Those seven seasons do not need to be consecutive. Jaffe then takes that JAWS score and compares it to the average Hall of Famer at the respective position. Hopefully this goes without saying, but Jaffe does not draw conclusions based solely on the JAWS score, as anybody who has read his stuff can attest to. WAR is a useful, powerful tool, but to use it as the sole basis for a player’s evaluation would be a fatally flawed process for a variety of reasons that I will not get into here. It’s even more so when comparing careers as opposed to single seasons. Adding up all those WAR numbers compounds the margin of error in each individual season. JAWS and WAR are incredibly helpful in providing insight to a player’s career, but it’s a guide, not an absolute.

Let’s take a look at how Pierce’s JAWS numbers stack up when we calculate it using RA9-WAR.

Average HOF Starting Pitcher (bWAR) 73.4 50.2 61.8
Billy Pierce (RA9-WAR) 70.8 49.6 60.1

Interesting, huh? What’s really interesting is how he stacks up against Hall of Famer Steve Carlton.

Seasons K% BB% ERA- FIP- ERA FIP Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Steve Carlton 24 19.1% 8.5% 87 87 3.22 3.18 84.1 51.5 67.8
Billy Pierce 18 14.4% 8.5% 84 91 3.27 3.51 70.8 49.6 60.1

Let me be perfectly clear: Billy Pierce is not better than Steve Carlton. He destroys Pierce on longevity and innings pitched, not to mention his significant advantage in strikeout rate. Although I don’t put a lot of stock in counting stats, Carlton has over twice the number of strikeouts. Because of his strikeout advantage, if you calculate Carlton’s JAWS using his fWAR, he gets a big 10 WAR boost1.

It’s amazing how well they stack up in some regards. Their BB% is exactly the same, and their peak WAR and career ERA are nearly identical. Pierce’s adjusted ERA is actually better than Carlton’s! However, that’s more of a function of Pierce walking away from the game at the right time, while Carlton hung on too long. He was awful during his last few seasons. Through 1985, Carlton had a career 83 ERA-.

Back to Pierce, his biggest weakness was his control. He had terrible control during his first four seasons, but settled down after that. Still, a career 8.5 BB% is not good for a Hall of Fame candidate. Carlton overcame it with his strikeouts and longevity. Randy Johnson did as well, and he had a monstrous peak. Pierce’s 14.4 K% may seem bad, but it’s actually pretty good in the era in which he played.

All that being said, and if my analysis is correct, is Billy Pierce deserving of the Hall of Fame? Well…

No. He still falls short. He’s only 34th in JAWS and, coincidentally, 34th in ERA- among pitchers with at least 3,000 IP. Tim Hudson has a better ERA- than Pierce. Forgive me if the title to the post mislead you. While I believe that Pierce still falls short, I wouldn’t put up a big stink if he got elected. It’s not going to happen, though. Pierce couldn’t even get more than three votes in his first ever appearance on the Golden Era ballot.

Billy Pierce probably belongs in the mythical Hall of Very Good. That’s still awesome, and he was probably still underrated.

  1. Coincidentally, his peak WAR doesn’t really change. His career fWAR is much higher than his bWAR. 
My Fake Ballot for the Veterans Committee

My Fake Ballot for the Veterans Committee

For the players who made my fake ballot for the writers, click here. For those who didn’t, click here.

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance also held a fake election for the Veterans Committee (VC) ballot. There were nine former players on it. Since the Veterans Committee process is even more of a mess than the Hall’s process for the BBWAA, which is saying a lot, nobody got in.

The Veterans Committee’s ineffectiveness is the result of multiple problems, a few of which it shares with the BBWAA. One of the problems, however, is the complete opposite of the BBWAA voters. There are only 16 members on the committee. That’s way too few. It runs the risk of a strong-willed individual taking control of the group. I’m not saying that such a thing has happened, but it’s a possibility. A group of ~100 people would be preferable. The BBWAA, on the other hand, had 549 ballots cast in the last election. That number will only get higher as more and more writers become eligible. With that many people, it almost doesn’t matter if you have a ballot. That’s why Buster Olney’s abstention was not a terribly fruitful endeavor.

Like the BBWAA, the VC is lacking in subject matter experts. The Golden Era Committee is comprised of Hall of Fame members Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Pat Gillick, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith and Don Sutton; major league executives Dave Dombrowski, Jim Frey, David Glass and Roland Hemond; and veteran media members Steve Hirdt, Dick Kaegel, Phil Pepe and Tracy Ringolsby.

My first reaction to seeing the names in that group is my eyes bugging out of my head at the sight of Joe Morgan’s name on the committee. As I’ve mentioned before on this site, he may be the greatest 2nd baseman of all time, but I think he’s the worst analyst of my generation. Yes, even worse than Tim McCarver. I would not trust Morgan to analyze a Little League game.

Overall, that’s a terrible collection of people to be deciding who gets into the Hall of Fame. Now, I don’t know everybody on that committee well. I support Pat Gillick and Dave Dombrowski because they have excellent track records as GMs. I am especially confident in Dombrowski’s ability to evaluate baseball players. Frey, Glass, and Hemond I do not know well enough to say one way or the other. As for the media members, I support Steve Hirdt, but I don’t know Phil Pepe very well. I do strongly oppose Kaegel and Ringolsby. They are terrible at analyzing baseball. They’ve been covering the game longer than I’ve been alive, yet have never bothered to learn anything about it.

Other than Joe Morgan, I can’t speak for each player individually. However, I do oppose Hall of Fame players being part of the process in general. Another thing I’ve mentioned on this site before is that players tend to be poor analysts. They are experts in playing the game of baseball, not analyzing and evaluating it. Those are two different skills. They are certainly capable of being elite analysts, but for reasons I’ll decline to speculate on, that rarely happens. I will say that Gabe Kapler and Brian Bannister are the rare former players who became great analysts1. Furthermore, Hall of Fame players have an incentive to keep other players out. The more exclusive the Hall of Fame, the better they look. Maybe they are being perfectly objective, but I’d rather not take that chance.

My Ballot

SI’s Jay Jaffe broke down each candidate in-depth here and here, and it’s well worth your time.

Dick Allen

Allen was certainly an interesting character. He was an outspoken, brutally honest guy who had a habit of rubbing the media and his superiors the wrong way. Whether or not that was a major factor in him not getting into the Hall is anybody’s guess, but I would not put it past the BBWAA to be petulant rather than professional.

The media had fabricated narratives about Allen’s supposedly toxic clubhouse presence during his playing days. Again, it was petulant behavior likely fueled by Allen’s treatment of them. His former managers vouched for his positive effects and contributions to his teams, as did Hall of Famers Goose Gossage and Mike Schmidt. The writers even went as far as to say that Allen divided his clubhouses along racial lines, which is a horribly unethical and reprehensible claim to fabricate. Schmidt strongly denied those accusations in his autobiography, Clearing the Bases. African-Americans were not yet widely accepted in the game during Allen’s time, so it’s possible that the smear campaign against him was the result of racism. He certainty suffered racism from the fans.

I don’t know what the truth is and neither does anybody else. What’s more, I don’t even care. All of it goes to show how unreliable a player’s clubhouse presence is. It’s too subjective, it’s unprovable, and it’s impossible to know its effect in terms of wins and losses. That’s why it’s best to just go with that which can be objectively proven and assessed.

Allen certainly did not do anything to help himself. He struggled with alcoholism, and that led him to him being late to games or missing them entirely. He also appeared to have had a bit of a gambling problem. That, combined with his injury history, led to a relatively short 15 season career which was even less than that because of all the time he missed. He missed more than four seasons worth of games during his career!

As for his Hall of Fame case, it’s not what it could’ve been, but it merits Hall induction. He was one of the best hitters in baseball during his career. He hit .292/.378/.534 with a 155 wRC+ and 58.7 WAR. That wRC+ is roughly the same as that of Frank Thomas and Willie Mays. He slugged over .600 three times. He truly had 80 power that was likely on par with Giancarlo Stanton’s. He hit tape measure home runs and those who watched him play would comment on the sound the bat made when he made contact.

The fact that Allen had a plus .400 wOBA eight times in his career is impressive enough on its own. When put into the context of the era in which he played, it really becomes incredible. Allen played in what some describe as the second dead-ball era2. Remember, the pitching was so strong back then that MLB had to lower the mound after 1969.

Allen spent most of his time at 1st base, but was at 3rd for his peak years. He meets the offensive bar at either position. Speaking of positions, he was a poor defender at both of them, but his offense was so strong that he still meets the Hall of Fame standard. His career is also a great example on the importance of rate stats over counting stats. Allen’s 1,848 hits and 351 home runs certainly don’t look Hall of Fame worthy. However, to really make that claim in the face of his remarkable rate stats and his short career is ridiculous. An argument I would accept, though not agree with, is that Allen did not play enough games to merit Hall induction. If you’re going to make that argument, keep in mind that Ralph Kiner and Sandy Koufax had short careers and they’re in the Hall of Fame. A strong enough peak can overcome a short career.

Allen’s career is a sad tale on the effects of racism towards minority players. Some rose above it. Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson, and, of course, Jackie Robinson rose above it to turn in some truly special careers. Allen sadly, did not. He reminds me of the NBA’s Oscar Robertson. Racism did horrible things to him and his personality. Please don’t think for a second that I’m judging or condemning Allen for not being stronger, or for choosing to go down the path he did. We can’t even begin to imagine how hard it was for minorities to play during that era.

Allen only maxed out at 18.6% of the vote. He fell one vote short on the latest VC ballot. I really thought he’d get in this time around. As a result, he’ll have to wait another three years. It’s a shame. He’s pretty old, too. At 72 years old, they’re running the risk of handing him Ron Santo’s fate.

Ken Boyer

Boyer was much less controversial than Allen, to say the least, but then again, that can be said by almost anybody who every played. For his career, he hit .287/.349/.462 with a 116 wRC+ and 62.8 WAR. Obviously, those offensive numbers are underwhelming for a 3rd baseman. Boyer’s case lies in his defense. He was outstanding at fielding his position. He might’ve been an 80 defender.

It’s worth noting that the bar for 3rd basemen is low as a result of the shortage of such players in Cooperstown. Boyer has just enough offense to combine with his monster defense to merit him Hall induction. However, as I see it, he just barely makes it in.

He maxed out at 25% on the writer’s ballot. This is one instance when it’s not fair to condemn the BBWAA. The value of defense was not well understood at the time, and even if it was, he’s far from a slam dunk case. Like I just said, he just barely makes it in for me. It’s ok for borderline candidates to go either way. There’s no way that Boyer ever sees the Hall, even though it would be a posthumous induction. He couldn’t even get more than three votes from the Veterans Committee.

Hall of Very Good

These are the players who fell short for me. They had excellent careers, but not quite Hall of Fame worthy.

Minnie Miñoso

Miñoso could’ve been a Hall of Famer if not for factors beyond his control. Due to the color barrier, Miñoso didn’t debut until he was 25 years old, so he got a late start to his career. Seeing as how he had a 150 wRC+ in his rookie season, he had probably been major league ready for years. For his career, he hit .298/.389/.459 with a 133 wRC+ and 50.1 WAR. That’s not enough offense, especially in the power department, for a left fielder to get into the Hall of Fame. He provided no defensive value, either.

Jay Jaffe did make an interesting point with regards to Miñoso’s Hall case. He cited Miñoso’s “cultural importance as the game’s first black Cuban star and the first black player on either Chicago team.” It’s not the Hall of Stats, so given the historical significance of Jaffe’s statement, I believe that it would be defensible to put Miñoso in.

He never got more than 21% of the vote on the writer’s ballot. He did get 8 votes from the Veterans Committee, so getting in via that route is within the realm of possibility. What’s less likely is Miñoso living to see it happen. He’s 89 years old.

Gil Hodges

Hodges is certainly the most popular candidate on the ballot. He has a strong following of supporters who believe he should be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Quite frankly, I don’t get it. Neither did the VC, who did not give him more than three votes.

He hit .273/.359/.487 with a 121 wRC+ and 44.9 WAR. Those are very underwhelming number for a 1st baseman. If we can believe his Total Zone numbers, he was at least a good defender. Best case scenario is that he was a Gold Glove caliber defender, but even then it’s not enough for him to merit Hall induction. The offensive bar at 1st base is just too high. Hodges’ Hall case is actually remarkably similar to Don Mattingly’s.

Jim Kaat

Kaat certainly has longevity going for him with regards to his Hall of Fame case. He pitched for 25 years! Unfortunately, he was never elite, or really even close to it. For his career, he had a 93 ERA- and 90 FIP-. That’s just slightly better than Jack Morris. He only had three seasons with an ERA- or FIP- below 80. His WAR differs drastically depending on whether you go by Fangraphs or Baseball Reference. I prefer fWAR for pitchers and it has him at 69.5. His bWAR, on the other hand, is just 45.3. Even with the more favorable number, you have to keep in mind that WAR is a cumulative stat that Kaat compiled by playing for 25 seasons. Kaat was also excellent at fielding his position, but that’s still not enough.

I strongly believe that Kaat doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame. He just doesn’t have anything resembling a Hall of Fame caliber peak. He did get very close this time around, falling only 2 votes short.

Tony Oliva

Hey, another Cuban! Unfortunately, he has an even weaker case than his fellow countryman, Miñoso. During his 15-year career, he hit .304/.353/.476 with a 129 wRC+ and 43 WAR. He was a mediocre right fielder and baserunner. All in all, that’s just not enough offense for a right fielder to merit getting into Cooperstown.

It’s sad, because Oliva was certainly on a Hall of Fame track during the first half of his career. Unfortunately, he was derailed by serious knee injuries. It was so bad that he had to be moved to DH. It didn’t help, though, because overall he was a league average hitter during his last five seasons. He was barely above replacement level during that time period.

Given his weak Hall case, it’s surprising that he’s gotten the amount of support he has. I mean it’s really not given the “expertise” of the voters, but you know what I mean. Even by traditional stats, Oliva doesn’t have much of a case. He hit over .300, sure, but he has only 1,917 hits, 220 HR, and 947 RBI3. He peaked at 47.3% on the writers ballot and got at least 30% during his final eleven years. He came within one vote of making it via the Veterans Committee! I just don’t get it.

Luis Tiant

Three Cubans! This one happens to be a pitcher. I’m not sure I’d recognize him without his cigar, which he was rumored to have even in the shower! As for his Hall of Fame case, he certainly has longevity going for him, having pitched 19 seasons. Unlike Kaat, Tiant was inconsistent. If you were to look at his career numbers, you’d see a lot of variation from year to year.

That’s not the only way in which Tiant was unique. The guy had a crazy delivery. This is from his SABR bio:

“…he was said to have thrown six pitches-fastball, curve, slider, slow curve, palm ball, and knuckleball-from three different release points-over the top, three-quarters, and sidearm. His windup and motion seemed to vary on a whim. Roger Angell, writing in The New Yorker, once tried to put a name to each of his motions, including “Call the Osteopath,” “Out of the Woodshed” and “The Runaway Taxi”. It was said that over the course of the game Luis’ deliveries allowed him to look each patron in the eye at least once.”

I mean, just look at this!

That’s probably why his performance varied so much. That delivery combined with multiple arm slots had to have made it incredibly difficult for him to repeat his delivery.

Tiant also appeared to be one of the anomalous pitchers who had some control over his BABIP. He had a .261 BABIP and he would frequently come in below the American League average. A few other pitchers who share this unusual trait are Tom Seaver, Mariano Rivera, and Clayton Kershaw (as well as another pitcher who I’ll write about in my next post). The last two both had high-grade pitches that hitters could not get base hits on when they made contact. For Rivera, it was his cutter. For Kershaw, his curveball. I can only speculate with Tiant, but it’s possible that his wonky delivery played havoc on the hitters’ timing.

As a result of this anomaly, I think it’s more fair to judge him on his RA9-WAR instead of his fWAR, which normalizes BABIP. RA9-WAR uses RA9 to calculate WAR instead of FIP, which fWAR uses and is my usual preference for pitchers4. It helps his case a lot, too, because he goes from 53.9 WAR to 67.4 WAR. That’s impressive, but his 87 ERA- is not for a Hall of Fame pitcher. That, combined with his inconsistencies and lack of a Hall-caliber peak, is why I think he falls short of meriting Hall induction. Since he didn’t even get more than 3 votes from the VC, I doubt it’ll ever happen.

On the bright side, he does have an 80 grade mustache. Oh, and his middle name is Clemente! That’s awesome.

Maury Wills

Wills is basically a lesser version of Hall of Famer and Venezuelan legend, Luis Ernesto Aparicio5, who himself was a lesser version of Ozzie Smith. Those three players were all below average offensively, but were outstanding defensive shortstops and baserunners. When you’re this kind of player, you need longevity and a monstrous contribution of defense and baserunning in order to deserve entrance into Cooperstown.

Had Aparicio come at the same time as the Wizard or some time after, I doubt he gets into the Hall of Fame. Smith wasn’t as good a baserunner as Aparicio, but he makes up for it with better offense, more longevity, and the best glove that the position of shortstop has ever seen6. As is, I see Aparicio as a borderline Hall of Famer. I’m not sure I would’ve voted for him. An 83 wRC+ is really hard to overcome, but I don’t have a problem with him being in.

If Aparicio is borderline, you can imagine what I think of Wills. He does have the offensive edge on Aparicio, but Aparicio was far superior defensively. He was also a better baserunner, though how much better is up for debate. Wills stole 583 bases to Aparicio’s 508, but his 74% success rate is worse than Aparicio’s 79%. I believe that the success rate is more important. Where things get fuzzy is when you introduce the advanced baserunning statistics. Fangraphs’ BsR stat has Wills at 41.8 runs above average and Aparicio at 53.1. Baseball Reference’s Rbr has Wills 55 runs above average and Aparicio at a whopping 92. Even if BsR is closer to the “true” value, it’s still not enough for Wills to merit Hall induction.

Like Miñoso, Wills was late arriving to the majors, no thanks to the color barrier. Unlike Miñoso, I don’t believe Wills would’ve been a Hall of Famer had he arrived sooner. He just doesn’t have enough baserunning and defensive value to overcome his below average offense.

I firmly believe that Wills is not a Hall of Famer, but he got pretty close on the last VC ballot. He was just 3 votes shy. At 82 years old, Wills is another candidate that may suffer the Ron Santo treatment.

You may have noticed that I omitted Billy Pierce and Bob Howsman. I wasn’t interested in discussing Howsman because he was an executive. Pierce, on the other hand, I found to be a very interesting case. I decided to give him a separate, short write-up that you can read here.

  1. Kapler was recently hired as the Director of Player Development. Bannister was just hired by the Boston Red Sox to be a scout and analyst. Great hires by both teams! I wish my Mets had snatched them up! 
  2. It can be said that we’re currently in a third dead-ball era. 
  3. I feel so dirty citing that stat. 
  4. What bWAR, also known as rWAR, does is it uses RA9 to calculate WAR and then adjusts for the quality of defense. There’s a perfectly good argument for doing that instead of just using FIP. I may change my mind some day about my WAR preference for pitchers as I learn more, but for now I’m sticking to fWAR. RA9-WAR makes no adjustment for fielding at all. If you want to learn more about the differences between RA9-WAR and bWAR, click here. Just to warn you, it is a math intensive article. 
  5. I first learned about him during my first ever Cooperstown visit, not long after I had turned 18. My dad pointed him out because he happened to have the same first and middle name as me! 
  6. Andrelton Simmons does have the ability to take that crown.