Thursday, January 27, 2011


I've been completely swamped recently and haven't been able to post much. Never fear, however, as I'll return to semi-regular posts in the near future. Stay tuned, keep reading, and keep loving baseball!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

All-Time Team: New York Mets (pitchers)

Continuing my most recent entry, here is the Mets' all-time rotation.  Don't worry, fans of the other 29 teams, your team's time will come one day.

SP: Tom Seaver, 1967-1977: 75.8 WAR/136 ERA+/198-124
Well of course.  Seaver is one of the best pitchers of all-time, and is both the only Met in the Hall of Fame and the only Mets player to have his number retired by the team (though that should change soon with Piazza's #31).  His resume: 1967 Rookie of the Year; 1969, 1973, and 1975 Cy Young Awards; the gaudy stats in this heading; and other notable Mets career statistics, such as a 1.076 WHIP, 2541 strikeouts, and 44 shutouts.  This entry will be very brief because there's not much to say.  Seaver was awesome and won't ever be usurped from his position at the top of the Mets all-time rotation.

SP: Dwight Gooden, 1984-1994: 41.2 WAR/116 ERA+/157-85
Gooden could have overtaken Seaver, but drugs and a mid-career decline ensured that it was not to be.  Much like with Darryl Strawberry (see yesterday's post), however, that doesn't mean that Gooden's accomplishments should be diminished (though they sometimes are, unfortunately).  From 1984-1988, his first five seasons in the majors, he averaged 18 wins a season with a 2.62 ERA and 213 strikeouts.  With 91 wins and 1067 strikeouts under his belt by the age of 23 (I know; crazy, right?) Gooden had already earned himself a place at the top of pantheon of Mets starters.  His next six years were fine (with 1990 and 1993 probably his best years), but nothing close to his earlier success.  While most people will always ask "what could have been?" I am content with what was.  Gooden helped lead the Mets to a World Series title, and racked up the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young awards along the way.  For that, he could be deserving of a #1 spot, but I assume he'd be all right playing second fiddle to Seaver.

SP: Jerry Koosman, 1967-1978: 41.8 WAR/113 ERA+/140-137
Koosman almost made the cut for my article on players who should be in the Hall of Fame, but barely missed it.  He would have been on my top twenty list for sure.  Anyway, despite being overshadowed by Tom Seaver, Koosman was very good as the Mets #2 pitcher from 1968-1978.  Over those eleven seasons he averaged a 13-12 record with a 3.07 ERA (114 ERA+), 163 strikeouts, and a 3.8 WAR.  Not Hall of Fame numbers, but they're very solid nonetheless.  Koosman thrived by being very above average for a very long period of time, though he did have moments of greatness.  He had four seasons with a WAR greater than 5 (defined as "All-Star level") and finished second in the Cy Young voting in 1976.  He was never particularly flashy or exciting, but he was a key cog in two World Series rotations (one victorious, one unfortunately not) and is still one of the best Mets pitchers of all-time.

SP: Al Leiter, 1998-2004: 26.3 WAR/124 ERA+/95-67
The pitcher of my childhood, Leiter actually managed to get four Hall of Fame votes this year.  I won't claim to think that Leiter was a Hall of Fame-caliber pitcher--he emphatically wasn't--but he was more than serviceable as the Mets' sometimes ace from 1998-2004.  Although he was twice usurped from the (un)official title of "ace," first by Mike Hampton and then by Tom Glavine, Leiter was better and lasted longer than either of those pitchers.  In his first year with the Mets, Leiter won 17 games with a 2.47 ERA and was one of the best pitchers in the league.  In 1999 his production fell a bit, but he will always be remembered for pitching the Mets over the Reds and into the postseason in the 163rd game of the season.  In 2000 he was slotted behind Hampton in the rotation, but pitched at basically the same level (Leiter actually had a .1 higher WAR).  From 2001-2004 the Mets weren't very good, but Leiter still averaged a 12-10 record with a 3.50 ERA (119 ERA+) over those four years.  In his last year, his seventh with the Mets (at age 38), he went 10-8 with a 3.21 ERA and a 4.2 WAR.  It was probably time to let him go--he was old, the Mets were trying to completely remodel the franchise--but that didn't stop me from agonizing over the Mets' decision to not tender him a contract for 2005, even if I knew it was the correct one.  Back when he was pitching, Leiter was acknowledged as a very good pitcher, but that seems to have faded since he basically left our consciousness. It's undeserved, though.  He was one of the very best the Mets have had.

SP: Jon Matlack, 1971-1977: 27.0 WAR/115 ERA+/82-81
It's a really close race for the fifth spot in this rotation between Matlack and Sid Fernandez.  While the two had fairly comparable statistics, Fernandez got his by being above average for a long period of time.  Matlack, on the other hand, had two great seasons and four adequate years.  It's those two seasons--and the fact that, had the Mets been better during Matlack's tenure with the team, he would have racked up many more wins than he actually registered--that force me to pick Matlack.  His rookie season, for which he won the 1972 Rookie of the Year award, was quite incredible (15-10, 2.32 ERA, 6.7 WAR), as was his 1974 (13-15, 2.41 ERA, 8.6 WAR).  Matlack actually only had one bad season, and in the other three (that I previously categorized as "adequate") he averaged sixteen wins and a 3.17 ERA (a surprisingly low 109 ERA+).  The Mets were a very average team in the first half of the 1970s, and the fact that he lost 81 games while pitching to a 3.03 ERA suggests that a lot of Matlack's losses are due to bad luck.  He petered out at the end of his Mets career, and didn't regain his magic during six mostly average years with the Rangers.  His 1972-1976, were some of the best pitching seasons in Mets history, and I feel compelled to give him the final spot in this rotation.

CL: John Franco, 1990-2004: 12.8 WAR/132 ERA+/276 SV
I've already argued for John Franco's induction into the Hall of Fame (a moot point now), so it makes sense that he would be my pick for the best Mets closer of all-time.  Although he was shaky at times (a blown saves  percentage of 19% is not good news), Franco's seven years with an ERA+ over 150 and Mets-record 276 saves speak to both his longevity and general dominance.  He was forced out of his role by the next entry in this list, but continued to serve as a more than functional reliever.  (He even gave up his treasured #31 to Mike Piazza.)  For a more extensive analysis of Franco's career, see my article on this year's Hall of Fame ballot (linked to at the beginning of this paragraph).  As a Met, though, he was one of the best closers in the game, and the best the Mets ever had.

RP: Armando Benitez, 1999-2003: 10.6 WAR/159 ERA+/160 SV
When Benitez was on, he was on.  He holds three of the top seven spots for Mets closer seasons, sorted by WAR.  In 1999, his first year with the team, he pitched to a 1.85 ERA (241 ERA+) with 22 saves (he more or less shared the role with Franco).  However, while he remained solid for the next four seasons, he would soon come to be remembered for something less-than-ideal: blown saves.  He coughed up game one of the 2000 World Series and let the Braves make a heartaching comeback to basically end the Mets' late September surge in 2001 (fun fact: that was the last time I cried about the result of a baseball game).  Halfway through the dismal 2003 season, despite the fact that he was still one of the most dominant closers in the game, the Mets got tired of Benitez and traded him to the Yankees.  I won't ever forgive him for either of his notable blown saves, but as I am more rational now than I was in 2001 I can see Benitez for what he really was: one of the best Mets closers of all-time.

RP: Jesse Orosco, 1979-1987: 12.2 WAR/133 ERA+/107 SV
Orosco actually has better statistics than most people probably remember.  Over his six (was it really that few?) full seasons with the Mets, Orosco had an ERA+ above 128 five times.  While Darryl Strawberry gets all the attention for his performance during the 1983 season, Orosco had a 1.47 ERA (248 ERA+) with 17 saves (not so bad when you consider that the league leader had 29 and that the Mets only won 68 games all year).  Orosco is also most notable for being on the mound to close out both the 1986 NLCS and World Series (the former of which he almost blew).  Orosco never overpowered, save for his 1983, but managed to find his way onto this list due to a combination of his solid and steady play, and the weakness of the other closers in Mets' history.  The two next best closers, after Orosco, are Billy Wagner and Tug McGraw.  The former didn't play for long enough, though, and the latter has compelling statistics, but they're just slightly worse than Orosco's.  It's close, but Orosco wins out.  (Also, this photo is still awesome.)

Monday, January 10, 2011

All-Time Team: New York Mets (position players)

Here's a fun (and easy) one: the best player by position for my favorite team!  I'll try to do this for every team over the course of this blog, and it seemed like a good idea to start with the team I know best.

  • Note 1: I set a player's positional qualifying as having played 40% of his games at his position.  Even if he played more games at one position than another, what position he qualified was up to me.  (For a more coherent explanation of this, see the entry for second base.)
  • Note 2: I didn't have enough room to put all of the tags in for a combined post, so I'm doing the position players today and the pitchers tomorrow.

C: Mike Piazza, 1998-2005: 24.6 WAR/136 OPS+/220 HR
From 1991-1996 the Mets were just terrible.  There were quite a few reasons for this prolonged struggle, but one of the main reasons was that the Mets weren't able to find a true star hitter since Darryl Strawberry's acrimonious departure in 1990.  Enter Piazza.  Over the next seven and a half seasons Piazza carried the Mets to two deep playoff appearances and hit quite a few memorable home runs (including, most notably, his post-9/11 game winner against the Braves) along the way.  He ranks at the top of many all-time Met leaderboards (home runs, 2nd; hits, 8th; WAR, 7th; OPS, 2nd).  While you may be tempted to think that Gary Carter or Jerry Grote could threaten for this position, it's not even close.  Piazza beats every other Mets catcher on home runs, hits, OPS, OPS+, WAR, and basically any other offensive category you can think of.  While he tailed off a bit at the end of Mets career, his accomplishments over his first five and a half seasons were quite incredible.  He is, without a doubt, the best Mets catcher of all-time.

1B: Keith Hernandez, 1983-1989: 26.5 WAR/129 OPS+/52 FV
Another position where the sentimental fan favorite also happens to be the deserving winner, Hernandez ably manned the Mets first base for six and a half seasons, leading the team to a World Series in 1986.  The best defensive first baseman of all-time was excellent for his first four and a half seasons.  He finished in the top ten of MVP voting three times, won four Gold Gloves, and was elected to three All-Star Games.  If John Olerud had played for the Mets for more than three seasons he might have beaten Hernandez here (to say nothing of the WS titles that would have resulted from having The Best Infield Ever together for more than one season).  As it is, Hernandez' dominance and leadership in the 1980s makes him the solid and clear choice.

2B: Edgardo Alfonzo, 1995-2002: 29.1 WAR/113 OPS+/1136 H
Although he actually played more games as a third baseman for the Mets, I'll allow Alfonzo's body of work as a Met to qualify at second base.  His three full seasons as a second baseman coincide with the Mets' three most exciting seasons of the Bobby Valentine era (1999-2001), and his two best seasons fall in this period (1999 and 2000).  With this qualification in mind, I'll be examining Alfonzo's career Mets stats, not just his stats during his 2B seasons (see the notes section).  After looking at his numbers, it's easy to conclude that Alfonzo isn't just the best Mets second baseman, but one of the best Mets of all-time.  He ranks third all-time for WAR and fourth for hits.  He was an essential cog of every Mets lineup in which he featured, and is criminally underrated by both Mets fans and baseball fans alike.  After his Mets years he went to San Francisco, where he actually fared all right for three years, but was out of the majors by the end of 2006, at the age of 32.  It's a shame that Fonzie was never able to harness his talent and establish himself as one of the great baseball players of his era.  His Mets years will have to stand alone as a testament to his greatness--not a terribly difficult feat, considering how good those seasons were.

3B: David Wright, 2004-Pres.: 31.1 WAR/135 OPS+/.305 AVG
Despite the Mets' supposedly legendary weakness at the hot corner, they've had some pretty solid third basemen.  While I acknowledge the greatness of Howard Johnson, Edgardo Alfonzo (who resides at second base for the purpose of this post), and Robin Ventura's 1999, nobody can touch David Wright's still-young Mets career.  Even though he's been a staple of the Mets' lineup for seven years now, he still feels recent to me.  It's easy to forget that he played alongside Mike Piazza, Al Leiter, and John Franco.  He is the bridge from the Mets of yore to the Mets of today (and tomorrow).  What's most incredible is that he hasn't yet had a bad season.  People like to rag on his 2009 for its lack of power, but he still hit .307 with an OPS+ of 124. A down year for David Wright is well above average for everybody else.  On the Mets all-time leaderboard, he's first for batting average, second for WAR, second for RBI, third for hits, fourth for home runs, and fourth for OPS+.   He's started the All-Star Game four out of the last five years and has finished in the top-ten of MVP voting three times.  It almost goes without saying that he's the best Mets third baseman of all-time.  By the time he's done, he could be one of the best third basemen all-time, regardless of team.

SS: Jose Reyes, 2003-Pres.: 23.3 WAR/101 OPS+/331 SB
Did you know that Reyes is the only Mets shortstop with over 100 games and an OPS+ above 100?  He's also only one of two shortstops with a WAR above 10.  The lack of real competition puts Reyes over the top (almost by default), but even with some good competition he'd still probably be an easy pick.  Like with Wright, I can't believe that Reyes has been around for so long (even longer than David, though Reyes wasn't a great player until after Wright had already established himself).  Still, there's a nagging feeling that he's never quite played up to his potential.  He's only had five seasons with more than 100 games, and has only hit .300 or above twice (once in his rookie season, in which he only played in 69 games).  His speed, however, is undeniable--he way in first place on the Mets all-time stolen bases list--and his quality presence is key to the Mets' success.  2011 might be his last season in a Mets uniform, but he'll be the Mets' best shortstop of all-time for a long while.

LF: Kevin McReynolds, 1987-1991: 17.0 WAR/120 OPS+/122 HR
This one surprised me.  I originally gave it to Cleon Jones, but after comparing their two careers I had to switch to McReynolds.  He had the unfortunate luck of not being Kevin Mitchell (for whom he was traded in an oft-maligned deal), but McReynolds could hit, even if he never put much emotion into it.  For five straight years he gave the Mets solid, almost identical seasons in which played in over 140 games, hit his fair share of home runs, and put up good OPS+.  McReynolds was not an all-time great, and he certainly benefits from weak competition, but let's examine how he stacks up to his closest competitor (Jones, a fan favorite).  McReynolds beats Jones in OPS+ (120 to 111), home runs (122 to 93), OPS (.790 to .746), and WPA (12 to 8).  Jones wins out in durability categories, such as hits and WAR, but the fact that McReynolds only loses WAR by .6, despite playing in 400 fewer games than Jones, is important.  McReynolds was a most unheralded player, but I am comfortable giving him the left field slot on my all-time team.

CF: Carlos Beltran, 2005-Pres.: 28.4 WAR/126 OPS+/42 FV
It frustrates me to no end when (supposed) fans rip Beltran.  What more could he have done since arriving here in 2005?  From 2006-2008 he put up one of the best stretches in Mets history, and was one of the best players in baseball (averaging a 6.7 WAR, 34 home runs, and 113 RBI per year, with a 134 OPS+ and three gold gloves).  His other years, while less amazing, have still been above average.  It is really a shame that Beltran doesn't get his due.  Is it because he didn't swing at Adam Wainwright's devastating curveball?  Because he's getting paid a lot of money?  Because the Mets haven't performed up to their potential?  Because he's Hispanic?  It's probably a combination of those four.  Still, while the Mets have had a number of worthy center fielders (Mookie Wilson, Lenny Dykstra, and Lee Mazzilli) none ever dominated their game as much as Beltran did, nor exhibited all five tools at such a high level.  Hopefully some day Beltran will receive his deserved praise as one of the best Mets of all-time.  In the meanwhile, however, he'll have to deal with ignorant fans booing him for no reason.

RF: Darryl Strawberry, 1983-1990: 37.7 WAR/145 OPS+/252 HR
And here we go.   Straw should have coasted into the Hall of Fame proudly wearing the interlocking NY on his cap.  He didn't, of course, but that shouldn't stop us from recognizing him as the best right fielder (to say nothing of position player) in Mets history.  And it isn't even close.  He has more than four times the WAR of the second place right fielder in that category (Joel Youngblood) and more home runs than the second through fourth place right fielders in that category combined.  Straw's Mets career OPS+ of 145 is ten points higher than David Wright, who is next on that leaderboard.  Besides WAR and OPS+, Strawberry is also the Mets' all-time leader in home runs, RBI, and WPA.  His all-too public rift with the Mets, combined with his drug troubles, has given Strawberry something of a "what coulda been" aura among Mets fans.  He deserves to be remembered not for his foibles, however, but rather for the offensive monster that he was.  He's in the Mets Hall of Fame, and that's good enough for me.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

2011 Hall of Fame: Winners and Losers

Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven: Well, obviously.  The former only had to wait two years, but the latter had to wait fourteen long and agonizing years before his well-deserved Hall call.  Out of all the players this year, these two were the most deserving of induction, and I'm very happy that they both made it.

Barry Larkin: Having 61% of the vote in your second year on the ballot is nothing to sneer at, and it basically guarantees that Larkin will make it eventually.  Though he fell a ways short of election this year, his total did represent a 10% from last year.  To make matters better, next year's class is very weak, and Larkin should be considered something of a favorite to make it in 2012.

Tim Raines: It will take him a while, but I think he'll make it as well.  He jumped 7% over last year's total, to 37%.  The influx of talent in 2013 might make things difficult, as he might get lost in the fray.  I wouldn't be surprised to see him voted in in about ten years as he continues to climb higher and higher each year.

Bernie Williams: He's the strongest new candidate next year, and will probably be able to take advantage of a generally weak year.  He probably won't get in next year, but I could see him being named on at least 50% of ballots, which would almost guarantee that he'll make it at some point in the future.

Lovers of confusion: If you thought this year's logjam was bad, wait for 2013.  That's when there will be nine players with a HoF standard above 50 on the ballot, including some of the biggest names of the Steroid Era (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa).  The Hall had better quickly figure out how to deal with PEDs, or else the 2013 ballot might be an epic disaster/snafu.

Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro: The steroid boys barely made a dent.  Surprisingly, even though McGwire came clean last April, his total fell by 4% to 19%.  Palmeiro only managed 11%.  Dealing with PEDs is difficult for voters, as the Hall has refused to make an official comment on how to consider them.  It's clear that voters have decided to resolve this matter by simply not voting for these guys.

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens: In that same vein, the two men who should be the stars of the 2013 ballot will probably fall well short as well.  It will be an uncomfortable twenty years as all of the PED stars of the 1990s will stay on the ballot well past 2020, probably never receiving 75%.  It's just another unfortunate consequence of the steroid era.

John Franco and John Olerud: Two very strong candidates failed to make the 5% cutoff, and will sadly not appear on future ballots.  I believe that Franco deserves induction, and while I don't think Olerud is quite there, he has a similar case to some players who linger on the ballot (I'm looking at you, Don Mattingly).  Perhaps if one of them were nicknamed Johnnie Baseball....

Larry Walker: Only 20%?  Wow, I was not expecting that.  One of the premier players of the 1990s/2000s, Walker's crime isn't PEDs, but rather that he had the good fortune to play his home games in Coors Field.  That a man with a 140 career OPS+ (which, yes, allows for ballpark factors), 230 stolen bases, and seven Gold Gloves only barely appeared on a fifth of ballots must be sad for him.  It's not the end of the line for Walker.  I think he stands a decent shot at making it some day.  It's just that starting from 20% is both disheartening and tough to recover from (though if you ask Bert Blyleven...).

The Designated Hitter: Both Edgar Martinez and Harold Baines saw their percentages fall this year (the latter is now off the ballot), as voters make a collective turn away from anything resembling slugging.  While Martinez very well make it up to 75% (he has thirteen more years to convince the voters that his position was perfectly valid, if lacking a glove), future designated hitters--such as Frank Thomas and David Ortiz--may have tougher cases to make, even if they are perfectly deserving (Thomas is, Ortiz is not).

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Ranking: World Series of the 1990s

A random list to herald HoF day.  Because, you know, why not?  Also, congrats to Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven.  My extended thoughts on this year's vote to come tomorrow.

1. 1991: Minnesota Twins vs. Atlanta Braves (4-3)
I wasn't a baseball fan at the time (to be fair, I was less than a year old), but I still love watching old highlight footage of this one.  You'll know it for a few notable events: Mark Lemke's hook slide; Lonnie Smith's failure to score from first on Terry Pendleton's double in game six; Kirby Puckett's walk-off home run in game six; and, of course, John Smoltz and Jack Morris' pitching duel for the ages in game seven.  Game seven is often talked about as one of the greatest games in baseball history, and that's no exaggeration.  The Smoltz/Morris match-up was exciting for any baseball fan, and the drama with Lonnie Smith in the eighth inning gave the Series a "what could have been?" aura that would enhance any sporting event.  Though the last two games are what make this World Series one of the greatest of all-time, the first five games didn't lack for drama either.  Games 2-4 were all decided by only one run, and game three went into the twelfth inning.  The series as a whole was also unique in that, in 1990, both the Twins and the Braves had finished last in their respective divisions.  It just goes to show: sometimes you don't need a big market team to have a good World Series.

2. 1993: Toronto Blue Jays vs. Philadelphia Phillies (4-2)
Joe Carter.  That's really all I need to say about this Series, but I'll go on anyway.  For the first three games, this one seemed pretty routine.  The teams exchanged wins, with Toronto ahead, and none of the games were particularly close.  That changed in game four, which was conceivably the beginning of the end for the Phillies.  A slugfest that saw the Phillies ahead 14-9 going into the top of the eighth, Larry Andersen and Mitch Williams combined to give that lead back to the Blue Jays (and Toronto won, 15-14).  Interestingly, while the Phillies hit three home runs in the game, the Blue Jays didn't hit any.  Anyway, the first elimination game for the Phillies turned out rather well for them: Curt Schilling pitched a gem and the Phillies won 2-0.  But really, game six is what makes this series.  Back at the SkyDome, Toronto took an early 3-0 lead on hits from Paul Molitor and (newly minted Hall of Famer) Roberto Alomar.  Eventually Philadelphia would take the lead back, setting up the bottom of the ninth.  With the Phillies up 6-5, they once again turned to their closer Mitch Williams.  And like in game five, the Wild Thing couldn't get the job done.  Next thing you knew Tom Cheek was screaming "touch 'em all Joe!" and one of the best World Series of all-time was over.

3. 1992Toronto Blue Jays vs. Atlanta Braves (4-2)
Nobody remembers this one, probably due to the fact that 1993 was much more exciting, but it had its moments.  Game two, for instance, was a compendium of a few such moments.  Atlanta took a 4-3 lead into the top of the ninth, but Jeff Reardon allowed a two-run home run to Blue Jays reserve Ed Sprague.  The Jays almost gave the lead back in the bottom of the inning, allowing Terry Pendleton to come to the plate with two runners on and two outs, but Jays' closer Tom Henke was able to seal the deal.  Game three saw the Blue Jays again take the lead back from the Braves in the late innings, with Reardon once again yielding the winning run.  Game six, in which the Jays clinched the Series, was an epic pitching duel between Steve Avery and David Cone, and this time it was the Jays who first blew the lead, allowing Otis Nixon and the Braves to send the game to extra innings.  Unfortunately for the Braves, Toronto took the lead in the top of the eleventh on a two-run Dave Winfield double.  Despite their best efforts to cough it back up to the Braves, the Jays managed to hang on to end one of the most dramatic and underrated World Series.

4. 1997: Florida Marlins vs. Cleveland Indians (4-3)
Although this series went to seven games, I had to give the edge to 1993 due to Joe Carter's home run.  Still, 1997 was not without its exciting moments.  The first Series to feature a wild card team (Florida), 1997's best game before its legendary game seven was game three, which saw Florida take a 14-7 lead (after being tied) in the ninth inning, and them almost cough it up in the bottom of the inning.  Anyway, jump ahead to game seven: the series was obviously tied, with the Indians just having denied the Marlins a chance at glory the night before.  Game seven had it all: a pitchers duel (the final score was 3-2), moments of agony (Jose Mesa's blown save, Tony Fernandez' error in the eleventh that allowed the Marlins to eventually score the winning run), and a moment of glory (Edgar Renteria's hit with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eleventh, of course).  That game alone makes this series one of the best of all-time, let alone the 1990s.

5. 1995: Atlanta Braves vs. Cleveland Indians (4-2)
Here we get to the... lesser Series of the 1990s.  On paper, this series should be one of the best.  Five of its six games were won by just one run.  It featured Glavine-Maddux-Smoltz in their prime.  And, speaking of which, it was the only Series during their run of NL East dominance that the Braves actually managed to win.  But in spite of all that, 1995 just doesn't have any moments that people are still talking about today.  Tom Glavine shut down the Indians in the clinching game six?  I'm a huge baseball fan, and not even I knew that.  Maybe 1995 isn't as well known because each of its teams played in a much more exciting Series at some other point during the decade.  Still, I'm sure it was fun to watch at the time.

6. 1996New York Yankees vs. Atlanta Braves (4-2)
Notable for being the beginning of the Yankees' run of dominance, the Braves actually won the first two games (both in New York).  The Yankees won game three fairly comfortably, but it then seemed like the Braves would go up three games to one by winning game four.  However, despite being down 6-0 in the top of the sixth, the Yankees would roar back into action, and tied the game at six in the top of the eighth (thanks to a three-run Jim Leyritz home run).  The Yankees would then complete their comeback in the top of the tenth by scoring two runs off of the once-great Steve Avery, tying the Series at two and swinging the momentum back to the Yankees.  Despite the fact that both games five and six were only won by one run each, there weren't any all-time great dramatics.  There was some drama in game six, as John Wetteland almost blew the save that won the Yankees the Series, but he got the job done, and the Yankees dynasty was more or less born.

7. 1998: New York Yankees vs. San Diego Padres (4-0)
In spite of this being a sweep, 1998 was surprisingly dramatic.  Perhaps that's just a relative term, however.  The drama here was "could the Yankees actually lose, after having won 115 regular season games?"  The answer turned out to be a resounding no, but for the first six and a half innings of the Series that answer seemed to be in doubt.  Kevin Brown shut down the Yankees, as David Wells struggled to subdue the Padres.  Then in the seventh the floodgates opened, and the Yankees scored seven runs to go up 9-5 (and would eventually win the game 9-6).  They would only spend one more inning (over the next three games) trailing, though that too was a good game.  Game three saw the Padres take another early lead, only to have their bullpen (including a surprisingly shaky Trevor Hoffman) cough it up.  This Series was good partly for the great games one and three, and partly because it's fun to speculate on how great of a Series it would have been had the Padres closed the deal in those same games.

8. 1999: New York Yankees vs. Atlanta Braves (4-0)
Ho-hum.  After each of these teams had featured in their fair share of Series throughout the decade, 1999 was pretty boring.  The only game that was won by fewer than three runs was game three, in which Chad Curtis hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the tenth.  Still, despite that exciting moment, the rest of the Series was basically just a Yankees coronation.  If you're looking for a good Yankees-Braves series, look at 1996.

9. 1990: Cincinnati Reds vs. Oakland Athletics (4-0)
Wow, what a great Series!  The Swingin' A's and the Big Red Machine played seven excellent games, and we got to see Joe Morgan, Catfish Hunter, Frank Robinson, Pete Rose, and Rollie Fingers, too!  Wait, no, that was 1972.  1990 was devoid of any drama, save for a Dennis Eckersley blown save in game two, and was clearly the worst Series of the 1990s.

10. 1994: Montreal Expos vs. New York Yankees

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Ten Best Rookie Seasons

In honor of the new year, today I will examine the best rookie seasons of all-time, dating back to 1901.
  • Note 1: The player must have qualified for either a batting or ERA title in his rookie year to appear on this list.
  • Note 2 (UPDATED): I had originally only included players who hadn't played at all before their rookie seasons.  Then I decided to not be so lazy, and thus the new and improved post includes players for whom their rookie season was not their first shot at the bigs.  The old entries are preserved, however, making this technically a top twelve list.  Thanks to Mike and "anonymous" in the comments, for inspiring me to go through with this. 
  • Note 3: I've been trying out giving all pitchers a uniform heading line of WAR/ERA+/W-L and hitters WAR/OPS+/FV (though FV will be replaced another stat for today).  I may play around with this, as I don't know how much I love WAR yet, so don't get mad if I seem inconsistent with my "important" statistics.

1. Vean Gregg, SP, 1911 (CLE): 7.8 WAR/189 ERA+/23-7
Here are Vean Gregg's standings among rookies, all-time: ERA+, 2nd; ERA, 3rd; WHIP, 3rd; wins, 3rd; and shutouts, 4th.  No, he doesn't lead in any of those categories, but find me another rookie pitcher who can claim top-four status in all of those categories.  What Gregg do, however, was establish himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball in 1911, leading the American League in ERA, WHIP, and H/9.  He only finished tenth in MVP voting for that year, but performed markedly better than some of the players who came ahead of him.  Gregg continued his dominance for the next two seasons, and then fell off.  His WAR over his first three seasons: 18.3; over his next (and final) five: 0.9.  It's not a wonder that Gregg isn't talked about as one of the all-time greats.  His career simply wasn't there.  His rookie season, however, seems to be criminally underrated.  For a very small amount of time he was one of the best pitchers in the game--a period set up by his brilliant rookie season, the best of all-time of its kind.

2. Ichiro Suzuki, RF, 2001 (SEA): 7.6 WAR/126 OPS+/242 H
Ichiro probably didn't deserve the MVP award that he received for this season, but his dominance over the AL cannot be understated.  In an era dominated by power hitting (you may remember that Barry Bonds hit his 73 home runs in 2001), Ichiro's brand of play was a breath of fresh air.  He was fast (leading the AL in stolen bases with 56), could hit (led the AL in hits, as well as batting average [.350]), and was a flashy defender (fourth in the AL with a fielding value of 27).  His game wasn't that balanced--he only hit eight home runs with sixty-nine RBI--but that didn't matter when he was getting on base more than anybody else in the league.  His contribution to his team, which had just traded away Ken Griffey, Jr. for a pretty uninspiring bunch of talent, was astounding.  As a rookie, albeit one with prior experience in Japan, he carried the Mariners through their outstanding 116 win season and made them forget all about the last star outfielder from Seattle.  Simply amazing.

3. Ted Williams, LF, 1939 (BOS): 6.8 WAR/160 OPS+/145 RBI
While Williams only ranks eighth among rookies in WAR, I give him the number three spot here for a few reasons: I know RBI is a statistic much dependent on the hitters in front of you getting on base, but it clearly takes more than a little skill to consistently drive them in all season.  Williams didn't just do that well in 1939, he did it better than anybody else in the American League.  The second-place hitter in that category, none other than Joe DiMaggio, only had 126.  (Williams also led the league in total bases, with 344.)  His OPS+ of 160 is second-highest all-time among rookie position players, but he had more eleven more home runs, fifty two more runs batted in, and forty nine more hits than Johnny Mize (who had an OPS+ of 162 in his rookie year).  Williams leads all rookies (all-time) with an OBP of .436, an OPS of 1.045, and led all left-fielders in WAR in 1939.  In his first season in the majors, only two years before he would hit .406, the Splendid Splinter had already established himself as one of the finest all-around players in the major leagues.  For doing that, I'm happy to give him the number three spot on this list.

4. Albert Pujols, 3B, 2001 (STL): 6.9 WAR/157 OPS+/37 HR
While the dynamic Ichiro was taking the American League by storm, a young, mostly unknown Hispanic third baseman named Albert Pujols was destroying the National League.  What Pujols accomplished was nothing short of spectacular.  As you might be able to tell, the difference between Ted Williams' and Pujols' seasons is mostly negligible.  I gave the tie to Williams because of his slightly higher OPS+ and greater dominance on a statistic-by-statistic basis relative to the other hitters in the league at the time.  Still, Pujols' 2001 is clearly one of the all-time great rookie seasons.  He hit for power, average (.329 AVG, 194 hits), and his slugging percentage of .610 is an all-time rookie high.  His durability was admirable too, as he played in 161 games, making him one of only four rookies ever to play in 160 or more games.  For his 2001, Pujols was fairly rewarded with the Rookie of the Year, an All-Star appearance, a Silver Slugger, and a fourth place finish in the MVP voting. Fourth may seem too low (as in, closer to 10th) for this season; but that just speaks to the competition he has from Gregg, Ichiro, and Williams, rather than the quality of Pujols' 2001.

5. Mark Fidrych, SP, 1976 (DET): 8.5 WAR/159 ERA+/19-9
Man, what more can be said about Mark "The Bird" Fidrych's rookie season?  He charmed the MLB with his odd antics (e.g. he would talk to the ball while on the mound), but unlike some of the other most colorful characters baseball has seen, Fidrych could flat-out play.  (His nationally televised game against the Yankees is still shown on MLB Network.)  He led the MLB in WAR, ERA (2.34), and complete games (an astounding 24 out of just 29 starts).  He didn't strike out very many batters, but made up for it by having a WHIP of only 1.079, third in the AL.  Fidrych ran away with the Rookie of the Year and finished second in the Cy Young voting to Jim Palmer.  Although Fidrych's career would soon take a disastrous and injury-filled turn, the magic of his rookie season still inspires years later.

6. Fred Lynn, CF, 1975 (BOS): 6.1 WAR/161 OPS+/.331 AVG
In 1975, Fred Lynn won Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, a Gold Glove, and was an All-Star.  There was a reason for this: he was basically unstoppable.  Lynn, as a mere 23 year-old, helped lead the Red Sox to an ill-fated World Series appearance by doing basically all that he could.  He led the AL in runs, doubles, slugging percentage, and OPS, and finished second in batting average and extra base hits.  He even finished in the top ten for defensive WAR.  No, I don't think that Lynn--despite a slightly higher OPS+--had a better season than Ichiro, Williams, or Pujols.  His OPS, home runs, and RBIs are inferior to those of the other two power hitters, and he clearly didn't hit or run as well as Ichiro did.  Lynn definitely deserved all the accolades he collected during his historic 1975 season.  In the scheme of rookie seasons, however, I believe he's right at home in 6th place.

7. Dick Allen, 1B, 1964 (PHI): 9.1 WAR/162 OPS+/29 HR
I don't understand how WAR is calculated.  I'm sure it's a good system, as I trust it enough to use it here, but I don't see how Allen's 1964 has been deemed to be worth two more wins than either Williams' or Pujols' aforementioned seasons.  In any case, while I don't think Allen had as good of a season as either of those two all-time greats, he certainly put up impressive numbers in 1964.  His 29 home runs, 201 hits, and .939 OPS are daunting, and any player would kill to be able to have that line.  My main problem with Allen's 1964 is that he didn't lead the league in any categories besides WAR, runs, triples, and strikeouts.  To my untrained eye, Willie Mays and Ron Santo actually had better seasons (something borne out by the OPS of each).  Allen in 1964 established himself as an all-around threat and hitting machine, but I don't think he did better than any of the players ahead of him on this list.  (Not that there's any shame in that.)

8. Ed Reulbach, SP, 1905 (CHC): 7.8 WAR/209 ERA+/18-14
Reulbach pitched in the middle of the Dead Ball Era, but unlike Vean Gregg was not far and away the best pitcher in baseball during his rookie season (that honor would go to Christy Mathewson).  His statistics are impressive, to be sure: an ERA of 1.42; 28 complete games; a WHIP of 0.963; and a paltry 6.4 H/9 (the only major category in which he led the league).  eulbach, despite not having as good rookie seasons as Gregg or Fidrych, went on to have a long and prosperous career, winning 182 games with a career ERA+ of 123.  The presence of Mathewson, and the general dominance of pitching in his era, means that I can't move him higher than this (though finishing sixth on this list is still pretty nice).

9. Reb Russell, SP, 1913 (CHW): 7.3 WAR/154 ERA+/22-16
Oh look, another Dead Ball Era pitcher whom nobody's ever heard of!  That's not quite fair, as I'm sure there are a few people out there who know Russell for his nickname.  While he didn't have much of a career of which to speak, his rookie season was plenty good.  He pitched eight shutouts, a rookie record, and his WHIP of 1.039 is second among rookies.  His ERA was 1.90, tied for third in the AL, and his 26 complete games was second.  Like Reulbach, Russell suffers from the strong pitching competition he had that year (Walter Johnson had a 1.14 ERA with an unreal WHIP of .780).  His durability (he led the league in games pitched, with 52; maybe he suffered from Mark Prior syndrome before we knew of such a thing?) and dominance, however, ensure that his rookie season will still be remembered as one of the all-time greats.

10. Pete Alexander, SP, 1911 (PHI): 7.8 WAR/133 ERA+/28-13
"Wait, not another one?" you may thing.  Well, you may know this pitcher better by the name Grover Cleveland Alexander.  Unlike the other pitchers on this list, his rookie year was no aberration.  In 1911, Alexander led the NL in wins, complete games, shutouts, innings pitched, and H/9.  The reason why he's not higher is that none of those statistics are particularly compelling.  His ERA, 2.57, is solid but not outstanding, as is his WHIP (1.128).  This season is notable in that it heralded the arrival of one of baseball's great pitchers, and showed just how good he could be.  Alexander would lead the league in wins five more times before his career was over, finishing with 373.  It was his first, however, that would prove to be his most recognized, as he finished higher (3rd place) in the MVP vote that year than in any other season.

*NOTE: The players below would otherwise be on my "runners-up" list, but I decided to preserve what I wrote about them.*

11. Dale Alexander, 1B, 1929 (DET): 4.8 WAR/147 OPS+/215 H
Not to be confused with the similarly-named pitcher on this list, Alexander's WAR can be deceiving (he had an offensive WAR of 5.5, but it got knocked down .7 points for bad defense).  Alexander led the league in hits (215) while also finishing in the top five in many other categories (home runs, 25; slugging, .580; extra base hits, 83; and runs created, 141).  He was an offensive machine with a good all-around game.  To be fair, however, he played during an incredible period of offense, and so his .343 average was only tenth in the AL.  Still, though, his great statistics should be acknowledged (and indeed, his OPS+ bears out that he was a much above-average hitter in 1911; being in the top ten in almost every offensive category as a rookie is no easy accomplishment).  I'll do that by giving him a spot on this ranking.

12. Paul Waner, RF, 1926 (PIT): 5.7 WAR/147 OPS+/.336 AVG
Remember Lloyd Waner, from yesterday's list?  Paul was his more talented brother.  Before winning MVP in 1927, Paul put up quite the impressive rookie season.  He hit .336 with an OPS of .941, and led the league in triples, with 22.  His WAR was third in the league, and first among position players.  It's actually worse, I think, that Waner went on to have such a great career.  This season is one of his more middling ones, so it doesn't stand out as much as, say, Fidrych's does.  But while that might be an interesting thought experiment, it doesn't detract from the quality and dominance of Waner's 1926.  He just had an all-around very good season, finishing 12th in the MVP voting for it, and for that he gets a spot on this list.

Runners-up: ; Curt Davis, SP, 1934 (PHI); Johnny Mize, 1B, 1936 (STL); Mike Piazza, C, 1993 (LAD); Frank Robinson, LF, 1956 (CIN)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Ten Worst Players in the Hall of Fame

I have no notes.  Just a self-explanatory list.

1.  Tommy McCarthy, OF (1884-96, BOS): 19 WAR/102 OPS+/32 FV
McCarthy was a rather mediocre outfielder for the better part of nine seasons, over which period he had a .301 AVG and an 106 OPS+.  Those numbers seem all right, but they're basically just the average of five good seasons and four bad ones.  During that stretch (aka "his whole career") he hit above .300 only four times, and had an OPS+ above 100 five times.  His biggest accomplishment was stealing bases, and he did rack up a decently impressive 468 in his career, however that's only makes him 43rd all-time.  Overall, McCarthy did nothing during his career to distinguish himself, and his place in Cooperstown is most puzzling.  I must concur with Bill James: Tommy McCarthy is indeed the worst player to be a member of the Hall of Fame.

2. Jesse Haines, SP (1918-37, STL): 210-158/33.8 WAR/109 ERA+
Much like McCarthy, Haines was a good--but not great--pitcher whose Hall of Fame status is a bit of a mystery.  Haines managed to rack up 210 wins for his career, getting at least twenty three times, but that was mostly a product of the talented St. Louis Cardinals teams on which he played.  Over the eleven seasons in which Haines started at least twenty games, he had an ERA under 3.00 only twice.  The most number of batters he ever struck out in a season was 120, and his lowest WHIP was 1.270 (his career number was 1.350, among the worst in the Hall).  His career ERA+ is not bad, but it's certainly not Hall of Fame level.  The other pitchers in the Hall with an ERA+ around 100 all had some significant accomplishment during their careers.  Not Haines, though.  He was a merely fine pitcher in an era with many a better pitcher.  He could be first on this list, but I'm more underwhelmed by McCarthy's lack of accomplishment.  It's a toss-up though.

3. Rick Ferrell, C (1929-47, SLB): 22.9 WAR/95 OPS+/-3 FV
The Hall of Fame cites Ferrell as a "defensive standout" whose most notable accomplishments include that he "retired having caught more games than any other American Leaguer" and that "he had a knack for handling the knuckler."  Color me unimpressed.  As his fielding value shows, he clearly was not a "standout," but rather a liability.  Catching more games than any other catcher in half of the major leagues is a nice statistic, like Dave Stieb having the most wins in the 1980s, but it doesn't mean you were an all-time great.  And being able to catch the knuckleball?  That's kind of necessary when your pitching staff is comprised wholly of knuckleball pitchers, but it doesn't mean that your ticket to Cooperstown should be automatically stamped.  All this would be somewhat all right if Ferrell was a decent hitter, but he was quite subpar, only hitting over .300 four times (lifetime average: .281).  Ferrell isn't at the top of this list just because I'm sure he was instrumental in the development of the position, or something, but it's close.  His WAR is the second lowest (first: Tommy McCarthy, of course) among all players who were inducted solely for their hitting in the major leagues, making him a clear choice for inclusion on this list.

4. Lloyd Waner, CF (1927-45, PIT): 24.3 WAR/99 OPS+/17 FV
Waner's probably in the Hall of Fame solely based on his .321 AVG, which is impressive until you realize that in 1929, when Waner hit .353, he only barely cracked the batting average top ten list.  That is, in the 1920s and 1930s people were hitting quite a lot, and Waner got swept up in the times.  If you look at his stats relative to the league at the time (aka OPS+) he fares rather poorly.  His OPS+ from 1927-1942, the duration of his career, is tied for 141st.  Getting 2459 hits is impressive enough, but when it's just a product of the era it loses a bit of its luster.  Waner had nothing else to supplement his game, and he is yet another odd, and ill-fitting, HoF case from the early 20th century.  Maybe the voters thought they were voting for his much more talented brother, Paul Waner.

5. Roger Bresnahan, C (1900-15, NYG): 41.6 WAR/126 OPS+/-15 FV
Speaking of underwhelming catchers from olden days of baseball, here's Bresnahan!  Most notable for being Christy Mathewson's catcher (a precedent that got Jerry Grote and Tim McCarver elected to the Hall?), Bresnahan slugged a fair bit for his day.  And by that I mean that during his seven seasons with 100+ games, he slugged at or above .400 only three times.  To further attack the first part of that sentence, it's remarkable how little Bresnahan played.  Over his fifteen seasons with double digit games, he averaged only 96 games per season.  If I were his manager, I would have been benching him that often too!  He didn't hit for average, was a bad defender, and hit for power in an era when power meant five home runs per year.  Bresnahan's relative "slugging" is the only thing that saves him from rising on this list, but there's no good reason for why he's in the Hall of Fame.  Maybe Christy Mathewson really was that hard to catch.

6. Freddie Lindstrom, 3B (1924-36, NYG): 29.2 WAR/110 OPS+/21 FV
In the ten seasons he played in at least 77 games (half the season), Lindstrom had a below average OPS+ four times, and an above average one seven times.  What does this tell us?  Lindstrom was merely a fair hitter.  He's so similar to the other entries on this list (decent hitter from the 1920s who was just above average for the era) that I won't spend much more time on him.  He got over 200 hits twice, which is nice, and once hit .379.  Does that make him a hall of famer, however?  It shouldn't.

7. High Pockets Kelly, 1B (1915-32, NYG): 24.3 WAR/109 OPS+/52 FV
George "High Pockets" Kelly is the first player on this list who's not merely mediocre.  That said, he wasn't anything too special.  He played in the same era as Lloyd Waner, yet only managed to bat .297 with 1777 hits.  Unlike Waner, Kelly was a slugger, and actually led the National League with 23 home runs in 1921.  He managed an above-average OPS+, showing that his game was actually elevated above that of his colleagues (hear that, Waner?).  Just because it was "elevated," however, doesn't mean that it was Hall of Fame-worthy.  From 1920-1930 Kelly had an OPS+ of 112, which is 45th over that period of time (and almost half that of Babe Ruth, who had a 215).  He was a "slugger," but wasn't nearly as good as others for his era.  His defense was good, but not enough to compensate for his average hitting.  If Kelly had produced at his 1920s level in the 1910s his statistics would look pretty good, but as it is they're fairly blah.  He was a good player, and had a few well above average seasons, but he was never a Hall of Famer.

8. Jim Bottomley, 1B (1922-37, STL): 32.4 WAR/124 OPS+/-73 FV
Hey look, another 1920s slugger whose numbers were good, but not great, relative to the time.  Actually, Bottomley was a tiny bit better than the others.  He won an MVP in 1928 for hitting .325 with 136 RBI and 31 home runs (both of which led the league).  He was a pretty consistent slugger for a decent period of time, and shakes out pretty similarly to Will Clark and Don Mattingly.  What did Bottomley have that Clark and Mattingly didn't, however?  A glove with a hole in it.  Okay, not literally, but Bottomley was just an awful defender.  His FV is fourth lowest of all the position players in the Hall, and third worst all-time at first base, but he was a significantly worse hitter than the players he is above (Willie McCovey, Harmon Killebrew, and Dave Winfield).  Fielding is an integral part of the game, and Bottomley failed at it.  Of course, in the modern era he would be a perfect designated hitter.  In the 1920s, however, Bottomley was a good slugger who had a small number of great seasons and an inability to field his position.  That is not a Hall of Fame-making combination.

9. Herb Pennock, SP (1912-34, NYY): 241-162/36.9 WAR/106 ERA+
Pennock's career was strangely akin to High Pockets Kelly's.  They both started playing full-time at the tail end of the Dead Ball era, had MVP consideration-caliber seasons in 1924-6, and faded by 1932.  Similar to Kelly, Pennock put up good numbers, but each was really just average compared to his colleagues of the era.  From 1919-1932 Pennock registered an ERA under 3 four times, though he did post an ERA+ over 100 nine times.  Pennock's wins are deceiving: he was a starting pitcher for the Yankees during the "Murderer's Row" age, hence his ability to register 23 wins while subsequently having an ERA of 3.62 (ERA+: 107).  Pennock was clearly not a bad pitcher, and might even have a Hall of Fame based on his ERA+'s, but being able to pitch when Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth are in the lineup every day would greatly boost any pitcher's career.

10. Chick Hafey, OF (1924-37, STL): 29.5 WAR/133 OPS+/-8 FV
When he played, Hafey was a very good player.  He had an OPS+ greater than 130 seven times (six of them from 1927-32), though he never played in more than 144 games in a season (averaging 116 over his main starting stretch of 1925-34).  My main problem with Hafey's inclusion in the Hall of Fame is that he was a very good player for only a short stretch of time.  He's very similar to Dale Murphy in that way, however Hafey never really established dominance over the game the way Murphy did.  Hafey's 1927-32 OPS+ of 149 is ninth in that period of time.  Also, Hafey's performance outside of that stretch was only fair.  He only played 583 games in the seven other seasons he was in the major leagues (an average of 83 per year), and had an OPS+ of 111 (fairly mediocre) during that period.  If you read my post on this year's Hall of Very Good, you probably noticed that I don't think Murphy belongs in the Hall of Fame.  Well, the same applies to Hafey, though it's semi-close.

Runners-up: Burleigh Grimes, SP (1916-34, BRO); George Kell, 3B (1943-57, DET); Rube Marquard, SP (1908-25, NYG); Ray Schalk, C (1912-29, CHW)