Saturday, January 29, 2011

Austin Jackson's Line Drives

Austin Jackson's 2010 season and projected 2011 season have probably been over analayzed.  Every sabermetric site and every Tigers blogger has covered it with Chris Hannum of Motor City Bengals making the most recent contribution.  Beating topics to death is what bloggers do though, so I'm going discuss Jackson's past and future some more today.

Jackson, of course, had an excellent rookie season batting .293 with 48 extra base hits and 103 runs scored out of the Tigers leadoff spot.  The best part of his rookie campaign was his sterling defense in center field even if the advanced defensive systems can't agree on the extent of his range.  Even after his fine season though, most statistical-minded fans are not ready to project future stardom.

The concern stems from his league leading 170 strikeouts.  It is difficult to bat .293 every year with so many strikeouts.  He was able to do it last year because of a league leading .396 Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP).  Most say that he can't sustain such a high rate and his batting average will drop as his BABIP comes back to earth next year unless he makes more frequent contact. 

Before we assume that he can't sustain his BABIP though, we need to understand why it was so high last year.  First, he got a lot of infield hits.  Of his 214 ground balls in 2010, 11.8% went for infield hits which was fourth best in the league.  With his speed, he should continue to get plenty of those types of hits over the next several years.

The second reason for his high BABIP and relatively high batting average was his line drive rate. Nearly a quarter (24.2%) of his balls in play were line drives which ranked second in the league to Twins catcher Joe Mauer.

It should come to no surprise to anyone that players who hit a lot of line drives tend to have high batting averages.  The batting averages from 2005-2009 on different types of batted balls are shown below:

Line drives .732
Outfield flies .280
Ground balls .243
Infield flies .022

That number is correct.  Players hit .732 on line drives!

We are interested in balls in play here though, so let's the remove home runs from batted balls and recalculate batting averages:

Line drives .726
Outfield flies .181
Ground balls .243
Infield flies .022

It is clear that Jackson's line drive hitting helped him a lot last year.  The question is can he keep it up? While batters do have some control over how many line drives they hit, line drive rate tends to vary a lot from year to year.  So, even if Jackson really is a line drive hitter, we can't expect him to hit them at such an outstanding rate each year.

What will happen to his batting average if his line drive rate goes down some?  First, let's assume that his batting averages on line drives, fly balls and pop ups are the same as the MLB averages listed above.  We have to assume that is ground ball rate will be higher because he'll get a lot of infield hits.  Last year, he batted .318 on ground balls, so we'll guess the same for next year.

Now, suppose he has the same number of plate appearances, walks, strikeouts, home runs and bunt hits in 2011 as he did in 2010.  The only thing we are going to change is his batted ball rates.  Assume his line drive rate drops to the league average (18%).  In that case, he would go from 107 line drives to 80 line drives.  We'll take the 27 extra batted balls and make them ground balls, fly balls and pop flies.  About two-third of his non-line drives were ground balls last year, so we'll assume the same in our projection for next year. Given all that, we would estimate a .265 batting average for Jackson next year.

Ok, suppose he really is a good line drive hitter and not just league average.  Let's say his line drive rate drops to 21.5% which is still better than 90% of the hitters in baseball.  Again, we are keeping everything else the same except his line drive rate.  In this case, he would bat .275. 

There is no guarantee his line drive rate will drop, but it probably will and I think 21.5% is a sufficiently generous projection. The result would be an OBP under .330 which is not too good, especially for a lead off hitter without power.

What all the above tells us is that he'll probably need to make some other changes to compensate for a potentially lower line drive percentage.  Those could include more walks, fewer strikeouts and more power.  I'm guessing we'll see all three happen to some extent and that he'll end up with a line something like .275/.345/.415.  Coupled with outstanding defense, I would be pretty happy with that.   

The data for this article were taken from Fan Graphs and Retrosheet.  

Some of the information used here was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by
Retrosheet.  Interested parties may contact Retrosheet at ""

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Do Winning Streaks Create Momentum?

Fans, broadcasters and writers often talk about momentum within a game or over the course of several games.  A Tigers fan might get concerned, for example, if the Tigers are playing a game against an Indians team which had just won five games in a row.  The thought is that the momentum of a five game winning streak could carry into the next game giving the Indians an advantage.  On the other hand, the Tigers fan might be more confident if the Indians had just lost five games in a row.

A couple of years ago, I looked at the effect of a walk-off win/loss on the following game.  One might expect a walk off win to create momentum and make a team more likely to win the next game.  Conversely, a demoralizing walk-off loss might cause a team to perform poorly in the next game.  Using 13 years of data, I found no correlation between walk off wins/losses and wins/losses in games after walk offs.  Teams simply performed at the same level in the game after the walk off as they did in ordinary games. 

I recently worked on a similar study of teams with winning and losing streaks.  Using retrosheet data from 1995-2009, I found 69,182 sets of five consecutive games followed by a sixth game.  Table 1 below shows that there were 2,700 instances of a team losing five consecutive games, 11,159 times when they went 1-4, etc.

Table 1: Record in Game 6 after a Five-game Set

We can see that the better a team performed in the five-game set, the more likely they were to win game six.  For example, teams that went 0-5 won 45.4% of the time in the sixth game.  On the other hand teams which went 5-0 won 54% of game sixes.  So, at first glance, it looks as if winning streaks create momentum that carries into the next game.

We need to be careful here though.  We can't directly compare teams that lose five games in a row with teams that win five games in a row.  The teams that lost five in a row won 46.2% of their other games during the year.  This is similar to the their game six winning percentage of 45.4%.  Conversely, teams that won five in a row won 53.3% of their other games.  This is pretty close to their 54% winning percentage in game sixes.  The full results are shown in Table 2 below.

Table 2: Record in Game 6 Versus Overall Record

So, it appears that five-game losing and winning streaks do not cause teams to perform differently in the next game.  Instead, their performance in game six is similar to their overall record throughout the season.  To be more sure, I also looked at teams with three game losing/winning streaks and seven game losing/winning streaks.  The results were similar to those in Table 2.

So, the next time the Tigers face a hot or cold team, it might be better to look at the overall record of their opponent rather than worry about their short-term streaks.   

The information used here was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by
Retrosheet.  Interested parties may contact Retrosheet at ""

FanGraphs Gets More Friendly

You may have noticed that many (most?) of my posts contain links to the FanGraphs database.  FanGaphs is easily one of the top two sites (along with Baseball-Reference) for obtaining statistical data on players or teams.  Not only that, but it's all free.  One area where Fan Graphs has lacked to some extent in the past is in sabermetrics education.  Newcomers to sabermetrics would sometimes get frustrated by the maze of numbers at the site and there was not always an adequate explanation of the statistics in their old glossary. 

Thanks to Steve Slowinski's FanGraph's Library, you should never get lost on FanGraphs again.  Steve originally created his sabermetric library about a year ago, but moved it to FanGraphs this week.  There is now a clear and concise description of each statistic with an emphasis on use and interpretation rather than calculation and theory.  If you want to know what wOBA is, it's defined very simply in the library.  Don't understand WAR? It's there.  Confused about UZR?  The library will clear it up for you.

It's easy to find from the FanGraphs home page.  Just click on the "glossary" tab at the top of the page and you'll get to the library.  Once there, you'll see five tabs at the top of the page "offensive statistics", "defensive statistics", etc.  There is even a "sabermetrics principles" tab where you can find explanations of commonly used terms such as "regression to the mean" and "sample size".  And he explains all of these concepts in very simple language, so nobody should be turned off or intimidated. 

One of my favorite parts of the library is the percentile charts included for each statistic.  I used similar percentile charts in my book Beyond Batting Average and suggested the idea to Steve.  For example, he calculated percentiles for isolated power (ISO) for players with 400 or more plate appearances in 2010.  He shows that the MLB average was .145.  Ryan Braun's .197 ISO was at the 75th percentile meaning that 25% of the players did better than him and 75% did worse.  You can quickly see from the chart that an ISO of .200 is good and an ISO under .100 is not good.

The explanations are geared for people who are not so familiar with sabermetrics and are trying to learn it.  However, if you wish to learn how to calculate a statistic or understand the theory behind it, the library includes links to more detailed articles.  The library is a great addition to the site and should make it easier to use for everyone. 


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Introducing the Detroit Tigers Annual 2011

Every February and March, a number of annual baseball preview guides appear on bookshelves across the country.  This includes Athlon, Street and Smith's and The Sporting News, to name a few.  They contain recaps of the previous season, previews of the upcoming season and other things needed to keep you up-to-date on all the teams in Major League Baseball.  You may have read these magazines and enjoyed them, but perhaps you felt that the Tigers coverage was a little slim.  After all, space is limited and writers can only say so much about one team when they are covering all thirty teams. 

There is now a magazine/book that covers only the Tigers written by people who obsess about the Tigers as you do all year round.  The Maple Street Press Detroit Tigers Annual 2011 was edited by Kurt Mensching of Bless You Boys and will appear on bookshelves throughout Michigan on March 1.  If you pre-order now online, you should receive it by late February.      

Kurt wrote about 25 percent of the book and he did an outstanding job putting the whole thing together. I did my small part writing articles on Rudy York and Austin Jackson. There were many other familiar contributors as well.  Kurt listed them on his site and I'll repeat them here:

The book includes recaps of 2010, previews of 2011, a look at the farm system, articles on past Tigers players and seasons and tributes to Ernie Harwell and Sparky Anderson.  You should enjoy the book and I urge you to pre-order it now.  

Friday, January 21, 2011

Four Tigers Catchers Among All-Time WAR Leaders

In earlier posts, I compared Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell to all-time top second basemen and shortstops respectively using the FanGraphs WAR Grids.  Today, I'm going to look at the careers of some great Tigers catchers and see how they rank on the all-time list.  For an explanation of WAR and WAR grids, refer to the Whitaker post.  

The top 25 catchers by WAR are shown on the chart below (Click on it to make it bigger).  If you peruse the list carefully, you will find four former Tigers in the top 15: Ivan Rodriguez at number three, Mickey Cochrane (11th), Bill Freehan (13th) and Lance Parrish (15th).

Table: All-Time Top 25 Catchers by WAR


With 73 WAR in his twenty year career, Pudge Rodriguez trails only Reds great Johnny Bench (82) and Red Sox and White Sox stalwart Carlton Fisk (74). Pudge may pass Fisk before he is done. Pudge was good for a long time posting 15 consecutive years of 15 WAR or better. He had his best years with the Rangers contributing six WAR or better each year between 1996-1999. Rodriguez had five WAR in his first year with the Tigers in 2004 and 13 in his four tears in Detroit. Rodriguez would be a slam dunk Hall of Famer based on his performance, but his rumored steroid use may hold him back.

Mickey Cochrane played only four years in Detroit. but is typically identified as a Tiger because he led them to pennants as player/manager in 1934 and 1935. Black Mike had his best WAR years in 1929-1933 playing for the Philadelphia Athletics. However, he was considered indispensable to the Tigers in 1934 and 1935 and went into the Hall of Fame as a Tiger in 1947.

Some Tigers fans have suggested that the underrated Bill Freehan desrves to be in the Hall of Fame. Like most catchers, he didn't have a lot of great seasons (just eight years of three WAR or better) but he had some outstanding peak years for the Tigers. He had seven WAR in 1967 when the Tigers barely fell short of a pennant and eight WAR for the 1968 world champions. He finished in the top three in the MVP voting both years. He added six WAR in 1964 and 1971.

I don't know if Freehan is a Hall of Famer but has enough peak value to make a case at a position which is underrepresented in Cooperstown. Given that writers tend to remember big years for players who played on pennant winners, it's a little surprising that he received just two votes in his only year on the ballot in 1982.

Big Lance Parrish accumulated 48 WAR playing mostly for the Tigers. He had his best year in 1982 when he had six WAR. He was an outstanding catcher and an important piece of some strong Tigers teams in the 1980s, but doesn't have enough career value or peak value to be a serious Hall of Fame candidate.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Trammell Not Getting his Due

After seeing my recent post on WAR Grids and Lou Whitaker, some may have guessed that something on Alan Trammell was sure to follow.  And they guessed correctly.  The WAR Grid for the top 25 shortstops is shown below  (Click on the chart to make it bigger).  Thanks again to Joshua Maciel of Fan Graphs for developing this tool.

An explanation of WAR is included in my article on Whitaker linked above.  Keep in mind, of course, that WAR is only one way to compare players.  It's a pretty good method for comparing the career value of players , but it is dependent on defensive statistics which are far from perfect.  Much of the uncertainty with defensive statistics should go away with the large career sample sizes, but they are still not nearly as reliable as hitting statistics.

The chart shows that Trammell does not rank quite as well at first glance as his keystone partner Lou Whitaker.  Trammell is 16th in career WAR among shortstops, while Whitaker was 8th at second base.  He had 11 years of four WAR or better compared to 14 for Whitaker.

All-Time Top 25 Shortstops by WAR


On the other hand, Trammell does have some darker green boxes (WARS of seven and eight) indicating that his best years were better than Whitaker's best years.  As, I mentioned in the previous article comparing Whitaker to Ryne Sandberg, players with strong peak years are typically noticed more than players with long consistent careers.  It also didn't hurt Trammell that his two best years (1984 and 1987) helped the Tigers to a World Championship and division title.  Some might say that he led them to the title in 1987.    

Trammell is not getting as much backing as other comparable shortstops.  With 69 WAR, he is just one WAR short of Hall of Famers Ozzie Smith and Pee Wee Reese and probably soon to be Hall of Famer Barry Larkin.  Trammell is similar to all three in terms of number of good years and great years. He is also one behind Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau who had a shorter career but a higher peak.  The next three on the list - Bobby Wallace, Luis Aparicio and Joe Tinker - are also enshrined in Cooperstown.  Tinker went in at the same time as Chicaco Cubs doubleplay partners Johnny Evers and Frank Chance.

So, while Trammell is getting more backing than Whitaker, he is not getting the same support as his closest comparables at shortstop.

Friday, January 14, 2011

WAR Grid: Whitaker Among Top Ten Second basemen

FanGraphs has added yet another exciting new feature to its statistical pages.  Wins Above Replacement (WAR) Grids developed by Joshua Maciel visually show us the peak years and career trajectories of several players at the same time.  Kurt Mensching used it to look at the top 25 Tigers position players of all-time.  One thing Kurt noticed about the WAR grid was that it clearly showed how well Lou Whitaker compared to other Tigers greats.  That prompted me compare "Sweet Lou" to other top second basemen in the history of the game. 

First, remember that WAR is an estimate of the number of wins a player contributed to his team's win total above what you would expect from a replacement level player - a player who could be acquired for league minimum salary.  An example of a replacement player would be a player in Triple-A, who is good enouigh to get some time in the majors, but is not regarded as a top prospect.  WAR takes into consideration everything a player does on the field, including hitting, fielding and base running.

Looking at the chart below (click on it to make it bigger), we can see that Whitaker had 74 WAR for his career.  This ties him for eighth all-time among MLB second basemen.  There is one colored block for each year of a player's career.  For example, Whitaker had zero WAR at age 20, four WAR at age 21, etc.

All-Time Top 25 Second basemen by WAR


What is unique about these charts is that the more WAR a player accumulated in a particular year, the darker the color of the block. This allows us to quickly identify the best years of a player's career. Since Whitaker had zero WAR in his first year, his block is white for that year. The most WAR Whitaker had in one season was six. He did that three times - at ages 26, 32 and 34. So, those years have the darkest blocks.

The long string of green boxes indicates that Whitaker was good for a long time. Why then was he dismissed by so many writers that he failed to gain the five percent of the vote needed to stay on the ballot in his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility in 2001? One reason might be his lack of a huge impact season which the chart shows clearly. All of the second basemen above him and some below him had dark green boxes indicating seven plus WAR in a season. In other words, Whitaker had great career value, but lagged behind others in peak value.

I think the voters remember impact seasons vividly and when a player does not have such a season, he can go unnoticed. An interesting comparison is Whitaker and contemporary Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg. We can see that Sandberg does not have as many green boxes as Whitaker, but has more darker green boxes. This says that Whitaker had more good seasons, but Sandberg's best seasons were better than Whitaker's best seasons.

Numerically, Sandberg had only 63 WAR for his career which is 11 less than Whitaker. Sandberg had seven years of four WAR or above, while Whitaker had 14. On the other hand, Sandberg had four years of seven WAR or greater and Whitaker never had more than six WAR.

Sandberg made the Hall of Fame and Whitaker was left off the ballot by virtually all voters. This might be an indication that the voters favor peak value over career value or it could be that Whitaker's lack of a monster year gave them the impression that he wasn't a great player. Personally, I don't think it's necessarily wrong that Sandberg is in the Hall of Fame and Whitaker isn't. I value longevity and peak equally and can see the arguments on both sides.

What bothers me is that Whitaker received no support at all while a comparable player received votes from the vast majority of voters. That is not right for arguably the 8th most valuable second baseman ever.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Penny Should Start if Healthy

Recently acquired Brad Penny will almost surely have a spot in the Tigers rotation if he is healthy. That's a big "if" as he has been suffering various health problems since 2008. His last good year was 2007 when he had an excellent 3.03 ERA in 33 starts for the Dodgers. He was terrible in 2008 posting a 6.27 ERA and missing the second half with a sore shoulder. He was almost as bad in 24 starts for the Red Sox in 2009. However, he had six solid starts down the stretch for the Giants.

He got off to a strong start last year with the Cardinals. On the advice of pitching coach Dave Duncan, he threw his fastball less often a bit and increased the use of his split finger pitch.  The results were good - a 3.23 ERA, 9 walks in 9 starts and a 53% ground ball rate.  His career seemed rejuvenated until he went on the disabled list with back and lat problems.  His ailments didn't appear to be serious at the time, but he never returned to the mound.

So, the Tigers are hoping they get the Brad Penny that had 15 good starts for the Giants and Cardinals in late 2009/early 2010. If he only gives them a good half season, it will be a big help.  At the very least, he gives them depth at the back of the rotation which previously included Phil Coke and Armando Galarraga. 

Coke has virtually no major league experience as a starter and there is no guarantee he can make a successful transition from the bullpen.  Galarraga has been a starter for three years, but Penny has a better track record.  Specifically, Penny has better control and a lower home run rate.  My guess is that Galarraga will start the season in long relief.  Chances are they'll all get a good number of starts by the time the season is over.  A team can never have too much pitching depth. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tigers sign Penny

The Tigers have signed right-hander Brad Penny to a one year contact for three million dollars plus incentives. Penny had a 3.23 ERA for the Cardinals in 55 2/3 innings last year before going on the disabled list with a strained back. This seems like a low risk potentially high reward move. He gives them depth and will compete with Armando Galarraga for a rotation spot. He also gives them insurance in case Phil Coke does not work out as a starter. More later.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Tigers Lacking Team Speed

For most of baseball history, baserunning has been measured by stolen bases and caught stealing. Fans have insisted for a long time that there is more to baserunning than stealing bases and they are correct. For example, a good baserunner will go from first to third on a single or advance from second to third on a fly ball more often than a poor baserunner. Yet, those types of maneuvers where not tracked until recently.

With the development of play-by-play databases such as Retrosheet, it is now possible to measure baserunning beyond stolen bases.  The most advanced baserunning metric is Equivalent Baserunning Runs (EQBRR) found at at Baseball Prospectus.  Developed by former Baseball Prospectus writer and current MLB team statistician Dan Fox, EQBRR takes into account the following types of baserunner advancement:

(1) Ground outs (e.g. Runner is on first base with other bases unoccupied and less than two outs and then advances to second on a ground out)

(2) Air outs (e.g. Runner is on second base with third base unoccupied and less than two outs and then advances to third on a fly out)

(3) Stolen bases, caught stealing and pickoffs.

(4) Hits (Runner goes from first to third on a single, second to home on a single or first to home on a double)

(5) Other (passed balls, wild pitches, balks)

A complex algorithm takes all of the above into consideration in estimating the number of runs which a player contributed to his team above what you would expect from an average baserunner. For those who are interested in the details, the methodology can be found here, here and here.  .

The top baserunners in the Majors according to EQBRR from 2008-2010 are listed below:

Michael Bourn 29.9
Ian Kinsler 19.2
Ichiro Suzuki 18.1
Brett Gardner 16.9
Shane Victorino 16.6
Rajai Davis 16.3
Chone Figgins 15.8
Carl Crawford 15.8
Jacoby Ellsbury 14.1
Willy Taveras 13.7

Austin Jackson had an EQBRR of 6.9 in 2010 meaning that he contributed about seven runs with his base running beyond what you would expect from an average runner. This ranked him fifth in the American League and ninth in the Majors.

Beyond Jackson, the Tigers don't create a lot of runs with their baserunning. Last year, the rest of the team was 9 runs below average. Take away Johnny Damon (+3.7) and Gerald Laird (+1.0) and they were nearly 14 runs below average. They haven't done anything during the off-season to rectify that. Victor Martinez, their biggest acquisition of the winter, had an EqBRR of -4.9 from 2008-2010.

Most of next year's starters were below average from 2008-2010:

Austin Jackson 6.9
Scott Sizemore 0.9 (small sample)
Ryan Raburn 0.7
Will Rhymes -2.2 (small Sample)
Alex Avila -2.5
Calos Guillen -2.9
Victor Martinez -4.9
Miguel Cabrera -6.3
Magglio Ordonez -7.3
Brandon Inge -7.4
Jhonny Peralta -8.6

Baserunning is not nearly as important as hitting in run scoring, and I'm not overly concerned about the Tigers lack of speed. However, it's not something that can be ignored. Consider that there were an estimated 31 baserunning runs or three wins between the Rays (12.7) and Royals (-18.3) in 2010. The Tigers will probably be below average on the bases again in 2011 and will have to make up for it with their bats.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Alomar and Blyleven Get into Hall of Fame

The Hall of Fame announced today that second baseman Roberto Alomar and pitcher Bert Blyleven have made it into the Hall of Fame. A candidate needs to receive 75% of the votes cast by the eligible Baseball Writers' Association of America members in order to make it. Alomar received 90% in his second year of eligibility and Blyleven received 79.7%.

It is especially good to see Blyleven get in after his long wait. With 3,701 career strikeouts (fifth all-time) 60 shutouts (9th), 4,970 innings (14th) and 328 pitching runs (23rd), he certainly deserved it. Blyleven received less than 30% of the vote in his first six years on the ballot and it appeared he would not make it. However, he gained steam in recent years thanks in part to the internet and sabermetrics.

Long-time Tigers Right-hander Jack Morris had a small jump this year from 52.3% to 53.5%. That does not bode well for Morris, who has only three more chances. Unlike Blyleven, Morris receives little support from the sabermetric community due to his underwhelming statistics such as a 3.90 ERA and 105 ERA+.

Tigers Shortstop Alan Trammell rose from 22.4% last year to 24.3% this year, so there is little chance of his ever getting voted in by the writers. I've always thought he and Lou Whitaker would get voted in together by the Veteran's Committee some day ala Joe Tinker, Jonny Evers and Frank Chance. I'm less sure about Whitaker though since he was knocked off the ballot getting less than 5% of the vote in his first year of eligibility. The VC doesn't generally consider those who received so little support from the writers.

This year's Whitaker was Kevin Brown who received only 2.1% of the vote. He deserved better. It's a flawed process no doubt.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Thoughts on The Hall Of Fame

With the Baseball Hall of Fame ready to announce its 2011 inductees this Wednesday, I wanted to give my thoughts on the ballot.  First, there are 33 players on the ballot including 14 holdovers and 19 first-timers.  A candidate needs to receive 75 percent of the vote from eligible BBWAA members to be elected.

Before I comment on specific players, I want to give my view on performance enhancing drugs and Hall of Fame voting.  I am convinced that hundreds of players used PEDS.  This includes pitchers, batters, great players and players who barely made it to the majors.  We really don't know who took PEDs and who didn't.  We also don't know how much players were helped by these substances.  We can guess, but we really know very little.  Therefore, I consider PED's to part of the era and will judge players based on their final results. 

Who will make it?

Bert Blyleven received 74.2% of the vote in 2011 and has been gaining support rapidly, due partly to a big push from the sabermetrics community.  He should have been inducted a long time ago, but will probably finally make it in his 14th year.  

Roberto Alomar got 73.7% of the vote in 2010 and should get over 75% in his second year on the ballot.  He was an outstanding player both offensively and defensively and was among the top ten second basemen in the history of the game.

Who will come close?

Barry Larkin received 51.6% of the votes in his first year on the ballot last year.  He's not likely to reach 75% this year, but he should come close.  If I had a vote, Larkin would be one of my choices.  He was a great all around player - better than the majority of shortstops in the Hall of Fame.

Jack Morris garnered 52.3% of the vote last year.  He should inch a little closer this year, but probably won't get to 75%.  Morris was an important played on my all-time favorite Tigers teams of the 1980s.  He was a good pitcher with a lot of durability, but he was not Hall of Fame material.  A 3.90 ERAand 105 ERA+ is simply not good enough for the Hall of Fame.

What about intangibles?  It's been said that he was a big-game pitcher because of his work in 1984 and his historic victory over the Braves in the 1991 World Series.  But he was horrible in the 1987 and 1992 post-seasons.  They say his ERA was high but he won games because he "pitched to the score" easing up when his team had a big lead.  The problem is that every pitcher claims to pitch to the score to some extent and there is no evidence that Morris was any better at it than anyone else. What we do know is that he played for some very strong offensive teams, who gave him a lot more opportunities for victors than a pitcher like Blyleven.

Lee Smith is one of the best closers in the history of the game and received 47.3% last year.  He'll move up closer to 75% in his 10th year of eligibility, but has very little chance to make it.  He's borderline, but it's hard to judge the rapidly evolving closer role.  I think that only the elite closers should make the Hall of Fame.  I don't think he's in the same class as Mariano Rivera or Goose Gossage.  I would not vote for him. 

Jeff Bagwell is the best first-time candidate on the ballot.  He was one of the elite hitters of his era and arguably among the best thirty hitters of all time.  Even after factoring in defensive contribution, he probably finishes in the top 40 among position players.  I consider him a definite YES.  Unfortunately, there are suspicions that he used steroids and that will probably keep him out.

Others holders who should get consideration:

Alan Trammell reached 22.4% last year.  He is borderline due to a lot of injuries late in his career. He is probably a sliver below Larkin, but is still better than about half the shortstops in the Hall of Fame.  I'm biased but I'd vote for him.  I consider him a better candidate than Morris, but the BBWAA does not agree.  Trammell will probably have to wait for the Veterans Committee to vote him in some day.  Perhaps, he and Lou Whitaker will go in as a duo 20 year from now.

Edgar Martinez (36.2% last year) faces an uphill battle as a designated hitter.  A DH needs to be an elite hitter to make it and Martinez was.  I've gone back and forth on him, but I would vote for him.  

Tim Raines (30.4%) loses votes because of his Cocaine use.  I consider him one of the great all around players of his time and would vote for him.

Mark McGwire (23.7%) is surrounded by steroids rumors and won't get voted in.  However, he's one of the all-time great sluggers and I think he belongs.

Other Holdovers:

Don Mattingly - great peak, but he didn't last long enough.

Fred McGriff -Good slugger with a long career, but not elite.

Harold Baines - Good hitter and remarkably consistent for 22 years but not a star.

Dave Parker - Excellent all around player, but not enough great peak years.

Dale Murphy - Super for a few years like Mattingly, but faded fast.

Other first-year players worth considering:

Rafael Palmeiro  - His positive steroids test will keep him out.  He was very good and consistent for a long time.   I think he lacks the monster years that a first baseman needs.  I don't think I'd vote for him, but could perhaps be talked into it.   

Larry Walker - very  good player at all phases of the game.  He was helped a lot by playing in Colorado.  Modern statistics adjust for ballpark, but I have a sense that Coors Field may have helped Walker more than others.  His frequent injuries don't help him.  I don't think I'd vote for him, but again I could be convinced.

Kevin Brown - Did not have a really long career but his peak years were fantastic, better than I realized.  I'd vote for him. 

Juan Gonzalez - Lots of injuries, not enough great years.  No.

John Olerud - Better than I remembered, but not enough.

Bobby Higginson - Has he really been retired for five years? Gets more grief from Tigers fans than he should but obviously not close to HoF.  I only mentioned him because he was a long-time Tiger.


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