HOF talk …

The Hall of Fame inductees get announced today. Nobody cares what I think, but I’ll set forth my view anyway. It aligns pretty well the thinking of Joe Posnanski, a writer I admire. I find particularly well thought out his view on PEDs, which is set out in this post on his blog.

In my mind, this whole PED obsession needs to go away. The players who are being punished may deserve some destain, but not as much as they are receiving. And, as a former criminal defense lawyer, I’d like to have more evidence about how wide spread the use was, how good the testing was, and how reliable the testing was before we tar guys with the PED brush. I’m not sure we can get that, so I think we need to move on. I saw a clip recently where Bud Selig says he takes responsibility for the growth of PEDs during his tenure. That’s all fine and good, but what responsibility has he taken? What punishment has he received? None that I can see. In fact, he has been and will be handsomely rewarded for his service as commissioner. Is Selig willing to say he can never be elected to the Hall of Fame (not that I think he would ever deserve this honor) because of his complicity in the PED era? That would be taking responsibility. Is Selig willing to give back a big chunk of his pension as punishment? That would be taking responsibility. Did he step down as commissioner when the extent of the steroid use was exposed? That would have been taking responsibility. Words are fine, but actions are better.

That’s a problem today. People in the public eye say they take responsibility for things they’ve done but it doesn’t mean anything for the most part because they don’t really suffer any consequences (apart from the politicians who get caught up in sex scandals, that often seems to be a career ender).  They don’t step down, they don’t give up money, they don’t change their ways, they just spout the words -“I take responsibility” and it means nothing because there is no consequence. They just spout words.

What is it the sportswriters and fans want from Bonds and Clemens et al.? Words? What will be the consequence of those words? Forgiveness? If you say you took PEDs will the BBWA forgive and rethink their stance on voting for or against those players? Is that really what a sportswriter on the BBWA will do? I don’t know. I tend to doubt it. And really, what is the point in admitting something we already know? To make us all feel better that the truth has been spoken? That there was a PED era in baseball and 70 home run seasons don’t really mean much? That for players in that era statistics are just different? We know that, why do we need the mea culpa? Move on, vote for PED era players with that knowledge in mind. We all know the score to some extent, let’s not pretend that until an admission comes things can’t change. It’s a mindset that we need to move on from for the players of the past were the products of their time as well – minorities were excluded in different eras, there were changes in the game that altered different periods (offensive era of early 1920s to early 1930s, the lowering of mound, expansion, and the advent of the DH), and there was not an insignificant use of amphetamines and other drugs at different times.

In the end, all you can do is compare players within eras. Who were the best in their era? Who did you have to see? Until we can equivocally say Joe took PEDS and Fred did not, I don’t see how the BBWA can make these judgments. He looks bigger so he must have? He had an outlier season so he must have? This is just too hard and too unfair. Give the players their due in their era. That’s all you can do.

Here is my ten person ballot for the Hall of Fame:

1. Barry Bonds

2. Roger Clemens

3. Randy Johnson

4. Pedro Martinez

5. Craig Biggio

6. Mike Piazza

7. Tim Raines

8. Alan Trammell (only this year and next left for him on the ballot)

9. Gary Sheffield

10. Mike Mussina

I left Smotlz off because I don’t think he’s better than Mussina or Schilling. I’d vote for both of those guys in the future though. Let’s hope four guys get on so we can clear some space from the ballot.

*I had to update my list. I earlier put Randy Johnson on twice and left Craig Biggio off.

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Vasgersian and Rosenthal Give Smoltz The MLB Network Hug

This morning, I watched the MLB network show with Harold Reynold’s and Matt Vasgersian while folding laundry. Fortunately, I wasn’t near any sharp objects when Vasgersian started going off on how he disagrees with the sabermatrician community when “they” suggest in hall of fame discussions that Mike Mussina is a better pitcher than John Smoltz. Vasgersian started spouting off (1) that Smoltz was a more versatile pitcher than Mussina because he took one for the team when he went to the bullpen to become the Braves closer and (2) that he played injured. Those things are intangibles that count, he said. They make a difference, he shouted. Harold, off to the side, nodded happily in agreement and Ken Rosenthal chimed in with his “me too.”

Logic seems to have taken a hiatus among this threesome when it comes to Smoltz and the HOF.

Smoltz Had Relief Versatility:

The argument that Smoltz took one for the team when he stepped into the closer role is not really an argument, it’s a straw man. Mike Mussina, apparently, was never asked to close by the Orioles or the Yankees. Does that make him lesser of a pitcher, lesser of a team player, and thus filled with fewer intangibles? Is Vasgersian suggesting that Mussina didn’t have the “it” factor to close? I call bullshit on that.

Mike Mussina never recorded a save during the regular season, made only one regular season relief appearance in his entire career, and made only two relief appearances in his playoff appearances.  One of those playoff relief appearances is one I’d rank up there as a top clutch performance. I should know, I sat through it groaning the entire time.

It was game seven of the ALDS, Yankees v. Sox. Mussina took over for Roger Clemens in the top of the fourth after Roger gave up a lead off homer to Kevin Millar to put the Sox up 4-0 and then walked Nixon and gave up a single to Bill Mueller. The Sox were rolling and there was glee in Beantown, the Yankees were going down! It was not to be for Mussina came in and shut the door. Mussina single handedly saved the day and set the stage for Grady Little to blunder away the lead by leaving Pedro in too long. In that key fourth inning when the gam could have been put out of reach, Mussina struck out Varitek and induced a double play grounder from Damon to close the floodgates. He pitched another two innings and it was enough to keep the Sox at bay and allow the Yankees the chance to mount a comeback.

Mussina just wasn’t a team player and didn’t display the versatility of John Smoltz – previous line dripping with sarcasm.

Do Vasgersian and Rosenthal really think that Mussina couldn’t have been a closer? I am of the opinion that any great starter, and I’d put Mussina in that category, can pitch in relief. There was just no opportunity for him to pitch in relief. His team didn’t need him to fill that role. In New York, the Yankees had Rivera. In Baltimore, the O’s had squadouche in the rotation and the bullpen. Here is what Mussina had around him in Baltimore and note from 1998 to 2000 the Orioles finished 4th in the AL East:

  • 2000: no closer of note in part because most starters outside of Mussina had ERA’s north of 5.
  • 1999: Mike Timlin, 27 Saves, 3.57 ERA
  • 1998: Armando Benitez, 22 Saves, 3.82 ERA
  • 1997: Randy Myers, 45 Saves, 1.51 ERA
  • 1996: Randy Myers 31 Saves, 3.53 ERA

It certainly appears that Smoltz became a reliever because he sucked as a starter after he returned from Tommy John Surgery. Smoltz started off 2001 as a starter and bombed. He made five starts from May 17 to June 9. In those starts he had a 5.76 ERA and was not the pitcher he had been. The Braves put him in the bullpen and he didn’t make an appearance as a reliever until July 22. Clearly, he hadn’t yet recovered from the Tommy John surgery and the Braves let him build some arm strength. Smoltz did not take over the closer role until August 15, after the Braves traded the mercurial John Rocker to the Indians for Steve Karsay and Steve Reed. Karsay took over the closer role and held it until he blew a save against the Rockies on August 14. That was his third blown save in 15 appearances for the Braves and Smoltz got the nod. He never let go.  Unlike the Orioles, who had little chance of doing anything from 1998-2000, the Braves were still in the middle of winning division titles. They needed a reliable closer to solidify a rotation still anchored by Greg Maddux (Glavine left after the 2002 season) and pitchers way more talented than the Orioles had during Mussina’s tenure. The Braves could afford to move Smoltz to the bullpen in hopes of keeping him healthier than if he started every fifth day. Smoltz didn’t take one for the team, the team arguably moved him to a safer place to protect him.

It’s a nice narrative for reporters but it’s not really true and doesn’t set Smoltz apart from other great starters because he somehow had the intangible quality of selflessness. That just doesn’t seem to have been the case.

Mussina was never a reliever so he wasn’t as great as Smoltz? I’d say taking the ball for 27-34 starts a year from from 1995 to 2008 is quite a feat. But, gee, Vasgersian and Rosenthal wished he taken a turn as closer, they’d like that narrative a whole lot more and it would make Mussina a better player because he was selfless. That seems to be the argument. Consider this about  Smoltz’s reliever year – his WAR as a reliever during 2001-2004 was 0.8, 1.2, 3.3, and 2.2. His WAR for the next three years as a starter after rejoining the rotation was 4.9, 5.9, and 4.9. One could certainly argue that Smoltz was more valuable as a starter. Perhaps he’d have been more selfless and more of a team player if he’d argued to stay in the rotation.

Smoltz pitched injured:

I have no idea where this comes from.

It is true that Smoltz suffered injuries – he missed the entire 2000 season with Tommy John surgery and was on and off the disabled list in the 1998 and 1999 seasons. Maybe Vasgersian and Rosenthal were thinking about 2005 when Smoltz was alleged to be suffering a sore shoulder but managed a strong seven innings against the Astros in Game 2 of the 2005 NLDS. But, how can anyone suggest that Mussina didn’t pitch injured. We have no idea what injuries Mussina pitched through and kept to himself. To say that Smoltz somehow is tougher than Mussina has very little, if any, basis. It’s as if Vasgersian and Rosenthal knew that Brian Kenney wasn’t in studio and couldn’t call “Bullshit” on them for this contention. It is a questionable argument in support of Smoltz.

Vasgersian is quickly becoming a FOHR (Friend of Harold Reynolds), which requires, as membership, the desire to disbelieve fact and rely instead on the eyes of former players and broadcasters who interview and interact with major league players on a regular basis instead of the stat geeks who sit in front of computers and don’t deal with people. Sorry, but I’m not buying that and it conveniently puts former players and broadcasters on a pedestal they don’t deserve.

Smoltz might very well be a hall of famer, but he is not more deserving than Mike Mussina. Vasgersian and Rosenthal don’t get to argue that they saw Smoltz, talked to other MLB players, and considered all the intangibles that they saw in person and thus they know things about Smoltz’s makeup that make him a hall of famer. If I were Mike Mussina, I’d be insulted and offended.

Is there something to the fact that John Smoltz is a regular on the MLB network? Might that color the opinions of Vasgersian and Rosenthal? I don’t see Mussina’s name on the list of MLB On-Air personalities. I do see Smoltz’s.

Hmmm.

James Shields?

I’ve read reports that the Red Sox talked to James Shields’ representatives at the winter meetings and that they were “in the picture” on Shields. I think Nick Cafardo reported this drivel in December.

Today, MLB.com reports, via Jim Bowden that the Sox have “not had much recent discussion with …” Shields. This is news?

I am fascinated about how “reporters” and former front office types come up with this nonsense. Is any of this really news? It seems as if these guys have to find something to write about so they write about the fact that people have or have not met with players. Really? That’s worth writing? They can’t come up with anything better? This tells me next to nothing. I wish they’d stop with this already.

Let’s look at Shields for a second. First, his nickname – Big Game James – annoys me. When has he performed well in a big game? He has started 11 games in the post season and gone 3-6. He lost both of his starts in the World Series last year allowing a total of fifteen hits in nine innings. That is not big game studliness. In his first two appearances in the post season in 2008 he went 6 1/3 and 7 1/3 innings. He won one game and lost the other. Since then, he has not pitched into the seventh inning in any of his remaining post season appearances. That is not big game material. Can we put that stupid nickname to bed?

The guy is, though, a solid regular season pitcher. However, he’s never struck me as ace material. He does have his days but if he were on the Red Sox and slated for the start I wouldn’t feel as if I had to watch him pitch. Pedro, you watched. Schilling, despite his moronic views on the world, you watched. Lester, I might watch and when he pitched I might think a no no possible, but I would not say Lester was much watch material. Kershaw, must watch. Verlander in his prime, much watch. Shields? I would not go out of my way. To me he’s not an ace.

Here is a comparison of the ERA+ for four pitchers pretty close in age over the past five years:

Pitcher A:

  1. 75
  2. 134
  3. 109
  4. 131
  5. 124

Pitcher B:

  1. 133
  2. 137
  3. 132
  4. 104
  5. 151

Pitcher C:

  1. 134
  2. 124
  3. 87
  4. 110
  5. 155

Pitcher D:

  1. 112
  2. 171
  3. 148
  4. 135
  5. 160

Who are these guys? A – Shields, B – Hamels, C – Lester, and D – Cueto. This surprised me a bit. I don’t see that much difference between Shields and Lester. Hamels seems a slight tick better than both, but Johnny Cueto surprised me. He is in another world. I hadn’t realized how well that guy has pitched. He had one injury year in 2013, but seems to have bounced back with a solid 243 innings of 2.25 ERA with 242 Ks in 2014. Clearly, I’d rather have Cueto than any of those other guys. If Cincy is dangling him, I’d be hard pressed not to respond. I might even give up Betts or Swihart for him. Cueto looks like a stud. Shields does not. Neither, for that matter does Lester. I think we are jaded by Lester’s post season performances and that is always a bad idea.

Admittedly, Shields may be better than I think. Yes, I probably discount his ability because I find his nickname annoying, but is he really worth similar contract numbers to Lester? I’d rather survive with what the Red Sox have now, unless we can wait Shields out and get him for a three or four year deal. I’d be loath to pay him beyond his age 35 season. He eats innings and that has significant value, just not ace value.

Are the Sox considering him? Probably. I doubt, though, that they are clamoring and climbing over themselves to sign him. Long term deals to pitchers in their thirties should be avoided. Cueto turns 29 next month, has been nothing but studly when healthy, and hits free agency after next year. He’s going to be looking at a $25 million dollar a year deal. He might be worth it. I used to want to Sox to acquire Jordan Zimmerman, but looking at him and Cueto side by side, I’ve come to the conclusion that I want Cueto. Plus, the irrational side of me looks at his windup and is reminded of El Tiante. I love that.

 

 

As we age …

I heard another story about someone a bit older than me, someone in their sixties, who broke their hip while riding a bike. As I get older, I start noticing that stuff more and more. My running group consists of people of all ages, but there is a main core of older guys, guys in their sixties. I’m not quite in their group, but I feel closer to them then the younger guys. And, the older guys have recently started talking about taking vacations together when they retire. I’ve been included in that conversation. How does this relate to baseball?

Well, the age thing got me thinking about older players. I was doing some fiddling around with the play index on baseball reference for a podcast I am going to do with Marc and I stumbled upon Hoyt Wilhelm. It’s not like I didn’t know of Hoyt, it’s just that I didn’t focus on how his greatness came after he turned 40. Wilhelm pitched until he was 49. At 51, I can’t imagine anyone getting out on the mound against a major league lineup and getting guys out. From age 40-49 Wilhelm threw 881 innings of 2.18 ERA ball. That is mind boggling. His ERA+ looked like this (he tossed at least 78 innings each year through age 47). I will include the highest ERA+ pitcher for each age season as well in the list below:

  • Age 40 – 132 (Mariano Rivera – 241 in 60 IP)
  • Age 41 – 174 (Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman – 226 in 61 and 54 IP respectively)
  • Age 42 – 174 (Babe Adams – 341 in 39 IP)
  • Age 43 – 192 (Don McMahon – 263 in 30 IP
  • Age 44 – 230 (Hoyt leads)
  • Age 45 – 185 (Hoyt leads)
  • Age 46 – 160 (Hoyt leads)
  • Age 47 – 126 (Jack Quinn 145 in 64 IP)
  • Age 48 – 127 (Hoyt leads)
  • Age 49 – 74

That is insane.

There have only been two guys in the history of baseball to pitch more than 25 innings in their age 49 season – Hoyt and Jamie Moyer. The amazing thing about Wilhelm was his late start in baseball. He broke into the big leagues at age 29. Despite the late start, he broke Cy Young’s record for games pitched, ending his career with 1070 games pitched. This record is now held by  Jesse Orosco who finished his career in 2003 with 1252 games pitched. Hoyt is the only guy in the top fifteen of the games pitched list to have ended his career before 1989. Aside from Hoyt, Kent Tekulve, and Rich Gossage the rest pitched during an era of relief specialization – Orosco, Stanton, Franco, Rivera, The Eck, Plesac, Timlin, Hoffman, Mesa, Lee Smith, Roberto Hernandez, Mike Jackson and LaTroy Hawkins. Those last three names point out how the role of the relief pitcher prolonged careers. Heck, LaTroy Hawkins is signed through 2015 and only recently announced the he will retire after the 2015 season. In his career he’s made just over $45 million. Relief pitcher, a good gig if you can get it.

All this old age pitcher stuff made me wonder about Mariano Rivera. If he had not retired at age 43 how long he could have kept up his stellar relief pitching? He clocked out at age 43 and in that final season he threw 64 innings of 190 ERA+ ball. In his 19 year career, Rivera had an ERA+ below 190 only four times.  No doubt a first ballot Hall of Famer.

What’s up?

Another set of fits and starts last year. I’m not even going to suggest that a promise to get some writing down every day is a New Year’s resolution because isn’t that a resolution every year? I say with a twinkle in my eye, that It is just coincidence that I am posting an entry today. I repeat, it’s just a coincidence.

As I’ve said many times before, I am not a huge Will Middlebrooks fan. It will come as no surprise that I was not upset when he was traded to the Padres this winter.  Joe Sheehan (I subscribe to his newsletter) most succinctly summed up Will Middlebrooks with this line:

  • Will Middlebrooks, first month in majors: .316/.343/.570 in 99 PA
  • Will Middlebrooks, since: .227/.277/.389 in 795 PA

While this says a lot, I must admit that my first text to my buddy Marc on the Middlebrooks trade lamented that I thought the Sox would get more than Ryan Hanigan for him, after all Middlebrooks still is a bit of a shiny pebble.  While Hanigan is a fine backup catcher for Vazquez, a placeholder for Swihart, I was hoping for some shiny swag for Middlebrooks – another similar shiny pebble with its gloss worn off. I mean, we all like the hope of a shiny pebble. The Sox, though, know better than me what is out there. I’m just grateful I don’t have to watch Middlebrooks strike out any more. I do, however, miss Jenny Dell on the sidelines.

On a different topic, I have an inordinate fascination with the head of the MLBPA. I was a huge Marvin Miller fan. As a lawyer, it is hard not to recognize what a great lawyer he was and how he ran circles around the owners. I can’t say that the Players Association head has done such a stellar job in these last two agreements. It will be interesting to see how Tony Clark, who is not a lawyer, handles the next CBA negotiation. The CBA is set to expire on December 1, 2016 so I would think that preliminary discussions/negotiations should start some time this year.

There are some big issues in my mind that need to be addressed – PEDs, the draft and rookie compensation, and compensation picks to teams for free agent losses to name three. One area that indicates to me that the Players Association has been bested by the owners lately is how the qualifying offer system works. It seems pretty clear to me that Marvin Miller never would have agreed to any CBA provision that tied a player’s compensation to a draft pick to his former team. Miller was against such shenanigans and I wonder how the Players Association caved on this issue in the last CBA. I wonder if Tony Clark and other executive comittee members will try to rectify this imbalance. Also, it seems that the Players Association has abdicated its responsibility to rookies in the draft by limiting compensation and what teams can pay draft picks.  I don’t think Miller ever would have agreed to this either and it’s not a good sign that the union sides with veterans over lower level players.

i will be watching that this year and just looking under the hood as much as I can at baseball – the industry, teams, and players.

Game 3: Sox top O’s 4-3

The Sox took two of three from the O’s to open the season. Birthday boy, Koji, needed just seven pitches to close out the game and earn his first save.  Can he keep this ridiculous pitching up?

This will be a quick post.  I am off to Opening Day and the Ring Ceremony. Yes!

Peavy takes the mound against Marco Estrada of the Brewers. Why do is there inter league play so early in the season. I find that annoying.  There should be a set period for inter league play. MLB, in all its wisdom, decided to just toss the inter league games all over the schedule.  Arrrggghhh.

It’s been nearly six years since Peavy faced the Brewers. Back in the day, he owned them. In 31 innings he struck out 37 with an ERA of 1.99.  But, that was a different Peavy ago. Peavy had a decen spring, so if he’s healthy and staying away from fishing knives, he should be a solid starter for the Sox this year.  Those days of being a number one guy are gone, but he’s a nice fourth starter – reliable and savy. Estrada is an average pitcher. He turns 30 this year and did not make much of an impact in the majors until 2011. He walks about two guys per game and strikes out between 8 and 9. We’ll see if he can withstand the rigors of the Red Sox lineup and grinding at bats. I expect he’ll be gone by the sixth and we’ll see what the Milwaukee bullpen can do.

Game MVP? Xander Bogaerts.

 

Game 2: Sox take down O’s 6-2

Just a reminder – who said Napoli was going to be yesterday’s game MVP?  Yours truly.

Everything fell into place yesterday for the Sox.  They pitched and they hit for power. None of this 0-12 with RISP stuff.

On the pitching side: Lackey went a six solid innings. The only blemish on his outing was another homer by Nelson Cruz. This one an opposite field shot that drove in Chris Davis. Farrell then brought what I suspect will be a common sight – Mujica in the seventh, Tazawa in the eighth and Koji in the ninth.  One observation – I thought Mujica threw harder then what we saw last night. NESN had his fastball at 89, topping out once at 90. A quick look at Fangraphs shows that his fastball has, from 2008-2013, ranged from 91.6 to 92.8. The 89 we saw last night is a bit of a drop off. I hope that is not a cause for concern.

On the offensive side: Ortiz and Napoli each hit two run homers and Napoli drove in two more with a single. The Sox did their usual, saw a lot of pitches and got runners on base. Here are the number of pitches seen by each batter in the Sox lineup yesterday:

  1. Nava – 18
  2. Pedroia – 18
  3. Ortiz – 14
  4. Napoli – 14
  5. Gomes – 18
  6. Sizemore – 22
  7. Bogaerts – 19
  8. Pierzynski – 9
  9. Middlebrooks – 15

Who doesn’t fit the pattern? Pierzynski. As is his bent, AJ swung at the first pitch in three of his four at bats. That is not the Red Sox way and is going to bug me to no end this year. As you can see, I’m not a big AJ fan. I wish we still had Salty.

Today’s matchup – Doubront vs. Chen.

In his last five starts against the O’s, Doubront is 1-2 with a 3.16 ERA in 31 1/3 IP. He’s allowed 26 hits, 7 walks and struck out 42. I must confess, I am a bit concerned about Felix.  He struggled at the end of 2013 and his spring training performance was far from encouraging. His strike out rate dropped last year while his walk rate stayed about the same. I’d much prefer a young pitcher to make solid improvement in both areas not stand pat or lose ground. Felix has not. I’m just not sure he is anything more than an average to below average pitcher. The Sox, though, believe in him so that gives me some hope.  They know more than I do.

Today’s game MVP? Dustin Pedroia.