But Torre's Yankees have won four World Championships out of the past five, including three in a row, and Torre has handled Steinbrenner better than any man or manager ever has. By dint of his success, Torre's salary has risen from $500,000 a year to $3 million. But his contract is up at the end of this season, and thus far Boss Steinbrenner has been dragging his feet about giving him a new one. Torre is reportedly seeking a three-year deal worth as high as $4 million per year, a pittance when compared to the cost of a star player, especially when your franchise is working on securing a license to print money.
The excuse for not having a deal in place is that Steinbrenner has been too busy. He's working on a deal for a new stadium. He's formed a partnership with the New Jersey Nets basketball team and the New Jersey Devils hockey team, and somehow the Manchester United soccer team fits in there, too. He's building a cable network which will increase the value of King George's property into the stratosphere. He's probably annexed a couple of countries while he was at it, and if he hasn't, I'd recommend Cuba and the Dominican Republic as places to start--there's an endless supply of baseball talent there.
Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News has a good piece on the situation. According to Lupica, this is purely a Steinbrenner power play:
"[T]his story, for as long as it lasts, isn't about logic. It is George M. Steinbrenner. He wants the Yankees to be about him, not Torre, even at a time when Torre is the most popular manager in Yankee history and the most popular sports figure in New York. This is about power, and it is about control, not about Steinbrenner's schedule..."
While it's probable that a deal will get done, there have been rumblings that Steinbrenner is setting up Torre to take the fall should the Yanks falter. This, of course, would be a huge mistake. Torre shouldn't be kept on such a short leash (neither should GM Brian Cashman, who's a free agent at the end of the season, but that's another story); his success has earned him much more than that. Even given the Yanks' extreme payroll (they're now the highest in the game after their midseason additions), this has been viewed as a transitional year; Tino Martinez, Paul O'Neill, Chuck Knoblauch, and Scott Brosius are all in the final year of their contracts, and Martinez and Brosius have highly touted prospects waiting in the wings (whether they're ready for next season is, again, another matter). But neither Torre nor Cashman deserves to twist in the wind given their level of accomplishment.
So, back to that scary thought, here's an even scarier thought balloon floated by the Providence Journal's Art Martone: given that Red Sox manager Jimy Williams is a goner at the end of the year, is it too much to fathom that Joe Torre could be the next Red Sox manager? Writes Martone:
"If the Yanks should get rid of Torre -- a move that would be incomprehensible to me, but Steinbrenner is Steinbrenner -- don't you think Torre might take it personally? Don't you think he'd be driven for revenge? What better revenge could there be than leading the Red Sox to the World Series championship?"
Martone goes on to point out that all of the key Red Sox players are already under contract next year, and that the expensive dead weight they'll be shedding (Mike Lansing, Troy O'Leary, John Valentin, Dante Bichette) will enable them to spend even more on improvements. The situation might be enticing to a manager with a thirst for revenge.
Torre has said countless times that his tenure as Yankees manager will be his last job, but that he wants to continue as long as he enjoys it. It would be a shame if Torre were pushed out by an egomaniacal owner whose stripes really haven't changed as much as we've been led to believe. It would be an even bigger shame if Torre were driven into the arms of the enemy. That alone should be enough for Steinbrenner to get his Yankee Doodle Dandy ass in gear and extend Torre's contract. It would be the wrong reason, but the right result.
On Monday, the day after its induction ceremony, the Hall of Fame announced sweeping changes on the way it elects members. For one thing, the Veterans Committee, a fifteen-member crew which has been the source of most of the questionable selections to Cooperstown, has been disbanded. It will be replaced by a new Veterans Committee consisting of all of the Hall's living members, the broadcasters in the Hall via the Frick Award, and the writers in the Hall via the Spink Award. The New committee will vote on players every other year starting in 2003, and umpires, managers, and executives every four years. Additionally, the candidacies of several players who slipped off the writers' ballot after failing to receive 5 percent of the vote will have their eligibility restored. This includes a couple of players I mentioned in my quick list a few days ago, Lou Whittaker and Ted Simmons (I did not realize that Simmons had suffered that fate when I made my list). I'm happy to see their candidacies revived, as I am for those of Bobby Grich, Dwight Evans, and several others. They may not all be worthy, but they are worthy of more than a single vote for consideration.
While the changes don't solve all of the problems with the Hall of Fame (then again, what would?), I do think these are steps in the right direction. The 15-man Veteran's Committee, while it righted some wrongs, has been guilty of admitting a number of substandard candidates over the course of its history. The small number of people wielding great power has made it possible for crony-ism to dictate who gets elected, and the lack of public accountability has shrouded some of the politicking that goes into those elections. The new system, whatever its flaws, will make it harder for a few men to wield so much power over who gets in, and making the voting results public will bring greater scrutiny to the process.
ESPN's Jayson Stark details the positives of the new system. Over at Baseball Primer, Eric Enders, a former researcher at the Hall of Fame library, weighs in with a more balanced look at the pros and cons of the new system. The Baseball Primer discussion of the topic has weighed in with spirited defenses of several candidacies, as well as the standards of what constitutes a Hall of Famer.
Speaking of the Hall of Fame, Baseball Primer's Don Malcolm reports on an organization which is focusing on a more iconoclastic type of shrine, the Baseball Reliquary. The Reliquary (as in "a depository for relics") combines a collection of offbeat objects (a cigar smoked by Babe Ruth, a humanitarian award once given to Ty Cobb) with a shrine full of offbeat personalities. It is "dedicated to fostering an appreciation of the historical development of baseball and its interaction with American culture by the preservation and exhibition of artifacts related to the National Pastime," according to its home page. This year's inductees into its Shrine of the Eternals were Satchel Paige, Jim Bouton, and Jimmy Piersall, and past inductees include Bill Veeck, Curt Flood, Marvin Miller, Pam Postema, Dock Ellis, and Moe Berg (the backup catcher turned WWII spy whose unusual life was thoroughly chronicled in The Catcher Was a Spy by Nicholas Dawidoff). I can get behind any organization that recognizes such a diverse and noteworthy collection of honorees as those--and what a reading list it would make!
According to Malcolm, who was in attendance at the induction dinner, Bouton spoke at length and to great delight at the ceremony. His address, as with the rest of the ceremony, will be available on videotape. Having met Bouton and conversed with him at length, I'm salivating at the opportunity to hear what he had to say about the state of the game.
Speaking of Don Malcolm, another piece of his on the new series of stamps issued by the United States Post Office is worth a look. The series commemorates great ballparks, and includes Yankee Stadium, Ebbetts Field, Fenway Park, Tiger Stadium, Wrigley Field, the Polo Grounds, Shibe Park, Forbes Field, Crosley Field, and Comiskey Park. Don has scanned each of them in and enlarged them, providing descriptions of the details on each one. Worth it for the visuals alone.
On Friday night, I was watching the Yankees game with my brother, who lives in New York City as I do, but is not a Yanks fan. The Yankees trailed the Angels 3-2 in the 7th inning when Tino Martinez came to bat. As the announcers made a remark about how Tino had been swinging the bat as well as he did in 1997, when he hit 44 home runs, I went into my standard anti-Tino tirade. Sure enough, on the second pitch, Tino jacked one into right field for the eventual game-winning home run.
Saturday, he vicitimized the Angels with another two-run shot in the eighth inning, for his fifth home run in his past six games, and 17th in his last 36--an impressive streak, no doubt. But before he's annointed the Yankees MVP or worse, re-signed to a big contract (he's a free agent after this season), I wanted to take a look at his numbers and show just where they fit in.
Tino's hitting .262, with 26 home runs and 86 RBI. He's sixth in the league in the latter category, among perennial studs like Manny Ramirez, Juan Gonzalez, Alex Rodriguez (apparently it helps to have your name end in a "z" if you want to drive in runs), along with Jim Thome, who just crushes a lot, and Brett Boone, who's having the most amazing career year aberration of anybody since Brady Anderson hit 50 HRs in 1996. It's impressive company, but don't let anybody tell you Tino belongs in this class of hitters.
There are two reasons for this: On Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage. Here are his numbers alongside the ten other top RBI men in the league. Rather than OPS, I've included their Slugging Percentage * On Base Percentage, because it correlates better with their productivity (see here, because I've discussed this before).
Two hitters stick out like sore thumbs on this list--Martinez and Anaheim's Garret Anderson, both of whom have low OBP and SLG. Neither of them is nearly as productive a hitter as the others here. Their reputations are inflated by their power numbers, but in truth, they're contributing less to their teams' offenses than their teammates on this list, Posada in Tino's case and Glaus in Anderson's case.
There are plenty of other measures which will tell you the same story. Here is another table, with the players listed in the same order as above:
OWP is Offensive Winning Percentage, which will tell you, using Runs Created, how often a theoretical team composed of 9 of the same player would win, based on that level of offensive production. Again Martinez and Anderson stick out like sore thumbs. The others are all offensive dynamos, whereas Tino is barely adequate, and certainly not championship quality as a hitter.
The other two columns are taken straight from Baseball Prospectus's figures. EqA is a statistic which puts a player's total offensive performance on a scale similar to batting average. It's adjusted for home park and league offensive levels, which is nice when you're putting the stuff in perspective (by contrast OWP is not park adjusted). It's a bitch to calculate, which is why I don't refer to it more often; fortunately, Baseball Prospectus does all the number-crunching for us here. The last column is Runs Above Position, which tells us how many runs better or worse than the average player at his position a player is (it comes from the same galaxy of statistics as EqA, in the same way that OWP and Runs Created come from the Bill James quadrant of the statistical galaxy).
And here is where we get to the root of the problem. Tino Martinez is hot right now, but he's still well below average for a first baseman in terms of his total productivity. First basemen are generally among the big power studs in any lineup; they're good hitters who draw a lot of walks (which shows both plate discipline and a respect from opposing hurlers) and hit for a lot of power. Tino isn't in the same class with Giambi, Thome, and Palmeiro. He isn't in the same class as Carlos Delgado, Tony Clark, John Olerud, Mike Sweeney, Doug Mientkiewicz, Brian Daubach or Paul Konerko. He ranks behind all of those guys in OWP--Konerko brings up the rear of that pack at .621, and Tino's a long taxi ride away at .530.
Similarly, he's 21th among major league 1Bs in EqA, and he's used far more outs than any other first baseman in the majors. Tino's used 316 outs; the next five are Richie Sexson, 299, Jeff Bagwell 295, Mike Sweeney 293, Rafael Palmeiro and Lee Stevens, 291 apiece. Some of those guys are excellent hitters, others are offensive leaks. Tino, based on the Prospectus's overall numbers, is much closer to a leak.
Let's get back to that 1997 season of Tino's, and while we're at it, let's throw in every season in between (unfortunately, I don't have EqA or RAP from seasons past because the Baseball Prospectus player card server has been down for some time):
Does anybody still want to make the argument that Tino is back to where he was in 1997? He's been rotting away like a tree with termites since then; not only is he not the hitter he was in '97, he's not even the hitter he was in '98. The consistency of his decline over the past four seasons is alarming, and it's only this year that he's picking it up at all. What's amazing is that he's only 33--past his peak, but still in what should be his productive years as a ballplayer.
Okay, enough flogging. I would like to point out a couple more things as we mop up the blood:
1. Tino's past month has done quite a bit to dig him out of the early season hole he's created for himself. Two weeks ago, his OWP was at .505, for example, and if he continues to hit the way he has been, his stats will improve. But unbelievably, his OBP during this hot streak has actually fallen--he's walked three times in the last month, a sign that the pitchers aren't afraid of him. Also, he has one intenional walk on the year, compared to 14 in '97.
2. The Yankees offense as it currently exists is somewhat nontraditional in that they get a lot of productivity from up-the-middle players--specifically Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams--and less from their corner players (1B, 3B, LF, RF). Because of how productive that trio is--they're the Yankees best hitters, by far--they've been able to withstand the drag Tino (among others) puts on their offense. And yes, it is a drag--the team's OWP is .549, nineteen points higher than Tino's.
So don't be fooled. Tino's hot right now, and the Yanks have certainly taken advantage of his timely hitting. But he's hardly an elite hitter by *any* analysis, and if the Yankees think otherwise during the offseason, they will be tossing tens of millions of dollars down the drain. As the great sabermetrician Flavor Flav put, "Don't believe the hype."
I didn't see today's Hall of Fame induction ceremony, except for about 2 minutes of highlights on SportsCenter. But I have no beef with any of the three players (Bil Mazeroski, Kirby Puckett, and Dave Winfield) who got in--I'd have voted for each as well, despite Puckett's shortened career and Mazeroski's defense-based qualifications.
Below I present a list of fifteen eligible players (as of next year's election) who, in my opinion, belong in the Hall of Fame, along with three non-players who should be there as well. I'm not going to set up arguments for any of them right now, but I will return to this issue in an expanded form at a later date.
I've listed two numbers, both of which are based on systems created by Bill James, and slightly revised by Sean Forman at baseball-reference.com, which presents these numbers on its player pages. Both are tests which reward the types of things Hall of Fame voters look at. The first is the Hall of Fame Standards. It's weighted so that the average HOFer scores 50 points based on various career totals (the complete list of critera is found here). The second is the Hall of Fame Monitor. This system attempts to assess the likelihood of a particular player's election to the Hall. It's weighted so that 100 points signifies a likely Hall of Famer, and is based both on single-season and career accomplishments (the complete list of criteria is here).
Anyway, here's my list, with each player linked to his page on baseball-reference.com.
I saw all of the players except for Santo, who is, in several peoples' opinions, the most qualified candidate not to get in. Some of these guys will get in eventually; at least one will not--Whittaker failed to draw enough support during his first appearance on the ballot, a shameful oversight by the BBWAA.
Various people have offered their proposals to fix the Hall of Fame in order to correct for the errors of inductions past. This article by Slate's Bryan Curtis is an attempt to reform the Hall. Calling the current Hall "a bottomless pit of mediocrity," Curtis attempts to set some benchmarks for admission. First are the objective measures; Curtis suggests a few metrics which automatically guarantee entry--300 wins, 2873 hits (Babe Ruth's total) and 493 Home Runs (Lou Gehrig's total). Then Curtis suggests two players as a baseline for further determining who should get in, Roy Campanella and Don Drysdale--anybody better than them, as determined by the analysis of a board of seven baseball historians and mathematicians, should get in. Curtis re-enshrines 136 players already in, evicts 52, and adds another five, including the two black sheep, Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson.
Another impressive effort is the Baseball Immortals web site. Writer Lee Sinins' doesn't list his criteria for induction, but he's creating a page for each player on his list. For now, 45 players have pages which present their basic stats along with various sabermetric measures, and extensive lists of their accomplishments; eventually they all will. Sinins even goes so far as to write (or rewrite) their plaques. There's definitely some food for thought here, though in my opinion, mixing in players who are not yet eligible (though they may be sure things) confuses the issue a bit.
Like I said, I'll revisit this issue somewhere down the road...