Thursday, December 21, 2017

Hall of Fame Thoughts and Theoretical Ballot

Now that our 1980s heroes Alan Trammell and Jack Morris have been voted into the Hall of Fame via the Modern Era ballot, there is a lot less HoF anger among Tigers fans. The historic 1984 team which went 35-5, won 104 games overall and won the World Series is finally getting represented in the Hall of Fame.  They had been one of only two championship teams prior to the 90s - the other being the 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers - with no Hall of Famers.  So, now we can relax.  Well, not completely.  That won't happen Trammell's double play partner Lou Whitaker gets in.  

Trammell was always a fan favorite in Detroit and has always gotten a lot of support from the sabermetric crowd as well.  If you favor a small Hall of Fame of only top tier players, then it made sense to leave him out as he is not in the elite class with the likes of Honus Wagner and Cal Ripken Jr.  However, Trammell was as good or better than half the shortstops in the Hall of Fame, so I would say he belongs based on the standards that have been set by the voters. I would vote for Whitaker on a similar basis.   

Jack Morris is more controversial and has long been one of the most debated players on the ballot.  Baseball traditionalists felt that he belonged and the sabermetrics crowd argued that his statistical credentials fell short.  I would not have voted for him, but I am happy that the debate can finally be put to rest and I am not upset that he finally made it.  

Morris was not the best pitcher of the 80s, there is no evidence that he pitched to the score more successfully than anyone else and he was not always a big-game pitcher.  However, he was very good and very durable (he completed a third of his starts) for the era in which he pitched and was an important part of three world championships and there was that epic game in the 1991.  That's not enough for me to vote for him, but if that is your argument (and not the winningest pitcher of 80s and pitched to score stuff) then I respect your views.  

I am done arguing about Morris and am excited to see two Tigers go in together.  We can now end the arguments and move onto other Sweet Lou!
Whitaker is not eligible for at least a couple more years though, so let's take a look at this year's candidates.  There have been 12 new Hall-of-Fame Inductees in the past four years including 2017 inductees Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Pudge Rodriguez.  This alleviated the log jam on the ballot which was due largely to confusion and division on how to deal with players linked to the Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED).  Many holdovers and a few worthy new candidates still make the vote a challenge though.  There are 33 eligible players and writers can vote for up to 10 candidates.  I, of course, do not have a vote, but will fill my theoretical ballot here.

My selection process involves comparing players to their contemporaries, other players at the same position and current Hall-of-Fame members.  I value peak performance and career performance equally.  I use many traditional and advanced statistics, most of which can be found on Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.  Some of my favorites are plate appearances, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging average, batting runs, wOBA,and WAR for hitters and innings pitched, ERA, pitching runs, strikeouts and WAR for pitchers.  I used multiple WAR statistics in my analysis, but any WAR cited below is Baseball-Reference WAR.

In earlier years, I did not bring PED use into my thought process.  The use of PEDs was very widespread, not only in the 1990s and 2000's, but all the way back to the sixties and even further.  It was impossible to know which players stayed clean and which used and how much it affected their performance.  Eliminating or even judging players based on suspicion seemed very unfair to me.  It also seemed pretty obvious that the game turned a blind eye to the problem for many decades.  Thus, I considered PED use to have been part of the game and choose players solely based on their on-field performance.  

Starting in 2005, Major League Baseball players and owners accepted a new policy banning steroids and issuing penalties to steroid users.  The policy has been expanded in recent years to include amphetamines and other PEDs.  Now that it accepted by all parties that steroid use is absolutely prohibited, this makes the process more complicated.  I think it's fair to penalize players who tested positive under the agreement starting in 2005, but I do not believe these offenders should be banned from the Hall of Fame entirely. They did, after all, already serve their time through suspension.  However, the qualifications for inclusion in the Hall of Fame do include integrity, sportsmanship and character as illustrated by the following clause:
Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played.
Those things are very subjective and near impossible to measure, but failed drug tests are objective.  Thus, I shall use proven drug use as another data point feeding my decision process.  Since I do not believe PED use turns a player into one of the game's all-time greats, I would still vote for an elite player such as Alex Rodriguez when his time comes. However, I might drop a borderline player from the ballot.  

The PED question first became an issue for me when first baseman Rafael Palmeiro appeared on the ballot in 2011.  He was a legitimate candidate, who had tested positive in 2005.  He was not a particularly strong candidate though and, given that the ballot had more than ten deserving candidates that year, it was not difficult to dismiss him.  

Outfielder Manny Ramirez who tested positive for PEDs in both 2009 and 2011 is eligible this year on a ballot that is not quite as loaded as previous years.  Based on his numbers, 69 WAR and a 154 OPS+, Ramirez was one of the best hitters of his generation and would surely make it if he were clean. 

However, the PED data point exists for Ramirez (twice!).  Ramirez was a very one dimensional player and not a slam dunk choice of the magnitude of ARod.  He is more comparable to designated hitter Edgar Martinez, another viable candidate but a one dimensional hitter.  In the end, I decided that Martinez makes it and Ramirez doesn't.  

Now, for my ballot:

Barry Bonds: The greatest player of his generation and on a very short list of the best players ever.  You can't have a Hall of Fame without him.  

Roger Clemens: As with Bonds, the Hall-of-Fame would not make much sense if it excluded Clemens.  He is one of the five best pitchers in the history of the game.

Chipper Jones: New to the ballot this year, he is an easy choice based on a combination of peak quality and career length.  He had 85 WAR along with a .401 OBP and 141 OPS+.  

Mike Mussina: Might get overlooked because he never won a Cy Young award, but had a 123 ERA+ in over 3,500 innings and his 345 Pitching Runs was an impressive 13th all-time.

Curt Schilling: Not a very bright person and I wish he would keep his shallow opinions to himself, but that has zero to do with his Hall of Fame worthiness.  Arguably the best post-season pitcher ever, but was a lot more than that.  He had a 127 ERA+, 3,116 strikeouts (15th best ever), 81 WAR (21st best).  

Jim Thome: Might get overlooked because he was a power hitter whose career was defined by the "steroid era", but he was truly one of the great sluggers of his time accumulating 612 homers to go with a 147 OPS+.  

Edgar Martinez: Gets knocked down by some because he was primarily a designated hitter. On the other hand, some of his supporters think he belongs because he was one of the best ever at his position.  This is not a good argument because the position is limited to a pool of players who were among the worst fielders in the game.  For a designated hitter to make the Hall of Fame, he needs to be an elite hitter and Martinez's 147 lifetime OPS+ (32nd best ever) shows that he was.  He also accumulated 68 WAR with virtually no fielding contribution. 

Larry Walker: A bit controversial because his numbers were inflated by the Denver altitude, but he had a 141 OPS+ and 73 WAR and was also an excellent fielder.  

Scott Rolen: The Alan Trammell/ Lou Whitaker of his time, had a long distinguished career, but was never regarded as a superstar.  His 122 OPS+ and outstanding defense at third base helped him accumulate 70 WAR.

Vladimir Guerrero - Was a tremendous all around player with a lifetime 140 OPS+, but had a relatively short career by Hall of Fame standards and accumulated only 59 WAR.  Some view him as a slam dunk Hall of Famer and he got 71% of the vote last year.  That was a bit surprising to me as I think he is a bit overrated.  I am still on the fence because he didn't have as many good years as most Hall of Famers, but I am voting for him this year.  

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Day I Bumped Into Jack Morris and Alan Trammell

I have not posted anything on this site for a long time, but regardless of how busy my life has become the last few years, I have to say something about Alan Trammell and Jack Morris going into the Hall of Fame via the Modern Era committee.  The 1980s Tigers were my all-time favorite baseball team, so I am so proud to see that squad finally get represented in the Hall of Fame.  The historic 1984 team which started the season 35-5 and went on to win 104 games and the World Series had previously been one of the few championship teams with no Hall of Famers.  So, it has been a long time coming.

 Trammell and 19-year teammate (and double play partner most of those years) Lou Whitaker were the heart and soul of the 80s era Tigers and have never gotten the attention they deserved, not when they played and not when they were up for the regular Hall of Fame vote.  I could write a long analytical piece about why Whitaker should be inducted along with Trammell and why Morris doesn't really belong, but I won't do that today.

For now, I will just enjoy the fact that the 1984 team has finally gotten its' due recognition and will re-tell a tale I wrote several years ago about the time I ran into Morris and Trammell in spring training. The meeting couldn't have captured their personalities (at least the ones I had imagined them to have) more perfectly.  It is something I will never forget.

In the Spring of 1988, my father and I made one of our frequent spring training trips to Florida.  We stayed at the Tigers team hotel in Lakeland that particular year, so I figured I might catch a glimpse of some players.  When we got there, I found out that most of the major leaguers had their own places and didn't stay at the hotel.  So, I didn't see any players the first day, except of course at Joker Marchant Stadium.

The next night, we were in the hotel lobby when I heard a familiar voice.  I knew it was Frank Beckman, who I had heard many times doing news and talk about the Tigers on WJR radio in Detroit.  So, we took the opportunity to talk to Beckman for a few minutes.  It was nothing deep, just some general light talk about the Tigers.

Beckman then had to leave to do some interviews down the hall.  I asked if we could watch the interviews and he said it was OK.  The first interview would be with Sparky Anderson.  There were no seats left in the small interview room, so my father and I stayed in the hall and watched through the open door.

As I was standing there watching Anderson, I saw minor league catcher Chris Hoiles walk by.  I only knew it was him because he had a tee shirt with "Hoiles" hand written on the back of it. While I didn't follow minor leaguers that closely back then, it was still pretty cool to see Hoiles in public.  I was more interested in watching Sparky though.

Then I looked up and noticed somebody much more intriguing than Hoiles.  The Jack Morris (who was next in line to be interviewed) was right next to me watching the interview too.  Apparently, he was also more interested in watching Sparky than talking to Hoiles.  I'm not sure what Hoiles was doing there since he was never interviewed. 

Soon a couple of other fans saw what was going on and timidly asked Morris for an autograph.  Morris did not look thrilled, but he signed without complaint.  As the fans left, Morris backed away and accidentally bumped into me.  Yes, future Hall of Famer Jack Morris and I really did collide.  He turned around, glared at me and mumbled "Scuse me" (He probably wasn't really glaring but he always looks like he's glaring so I'll pretend he was).  I mumbled "hi" and smiled nervously at the Tigers ace.

A few moments later, my father then asked Morris if he was ready for the interview.  Morris turned around and glared at my father (This time I think he really was glaring) and said "Scuse me?".  My father asked him again.  Morris responded with "Are you kidding? I own Beckman.  I'm going to chew him up.

Then none other than Alan Trammell walked in and Morris, probably relieved to get away from the Panases, started talking to him.  Finally, it's time for Morris to go in for the interview.  A few fans came over to get autographs from Trammell.  You could sense that they were more comfortable with Trammell than Morris.  One of them had me to take a picture of her and Trammell.

There was going to be a special event at the hotel the next day and the organizer asked Trammell if he could make it.  He said he couldn't but almost sounded guilty and wanted to know if any other players were going to be there.  He seemed genuinely concerned which is what you would expect from the humble shortstop.

Trammell eventually went to chat with Sparky who had now left the interview room. Trammell said something about how tough it was for young players just starting out.  Then Anderson gave a long rambling tale about something unrelated.  What else would you expect from Anderson?

After a while, Morris came out of the interview room and Trammell asked him how it went.  Morris said: "I gave Beckman some shit.  Then I gave him a little more shit.  Then I gave him all the shit."  Morris knew there were fans around, but he was going to be his own brash self.  It would have been disappointing if he wasn't.

In fact, the great thing about this little interview drama was that there was not a huge crowd around and I could watch players be themselves. There's plenty more to talk about from that interview session - like a glimpse into the secret lives of Willie Hernandez and Gary Pettis - but I'll save that for another time.  Or maybe I won't since I am not sure they would appreciate it.

Today, I want to focus on the two soon to be inducted Hall of Famers.  Yes, the 1984 Tigers finally have some representatives.  Congratulations to Trammell and Morris.


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