Saturday Stuff

On Sunday, Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, and it seems like a good time to point a few things out as I drink my morning coffee.

First of all, if you don’t understand why Wade Boggs belongs in the Hall of Fame — and there appear to be some who don’t, though most of them have been shamed into moving to other countries by now — I’ll have to question your fundamental grasp on the concept of baseball, which is this: you get 27 outs, three at a time, in which to do your damage before heading for the showers. Of the 16,000+ players ever to play major-league baseball, Wade Boggs is 26th all-time in not making outs, with a career on-base percentage of .415. Combine that with the fact that he ranks 18th all-time in the number of times on base (at bats plus walks plus hits-by-pitch), and you’ve got an excellent building block for an offense, one that lasted 18 years in the bigs and racked up 3,000 hits along with numerous other honors.

One single Boggs at-bat stands out to me, and if you’re a Yankee fan, you know which one I’m talking about: Game Four of the 1996 World Series, the one in which the Yanks clawed back from a 6-0 deficit thanks in part to Jim Leyritz’s eighth-inning three-run homer. The game remained tied into the 10th inning, when the Yanks loaded the bases with two outs against Steve Avery. Joe Torre brought Boggs — the last player on the bench on this night — in to pinch-hit for Andy Fox. The perfect man for the job — you need exactly one base? How about a guy with a 40+ percent chance of getting it for you? — Boggs worked the count and drew a walk to force in the go-ahead run. The Yanks added one more, and never looked back on their way to a World Championship, one replete with the admittedly bizarre sight of Boggs on horseback.

I looked at Boggs’ candidacy back in December, when I reviewed the Hall ballot for Baseball Prospectus using the Jaffe WARP Score (JAWS) system. Here’s what I wrote:

Third basemen are the Hall’s redheaded stepchildren. Not only are they criminally underrepresented in the ranks of Cooperstown, with only ten enshrinees, but it’s quite apparent that the Hall doesn’t even have the right ten. Ron Santo (84.2), Darrell Evans (76.4), and Graig Nettles (71.4) all have JAWS scores above the position average, while the likes of George Kell (51.9) and Fred Lindstrom (41.8) rank among the Veterans Committee’s more egregious mistakes.

The impending election of Boggs will do more than that. At 103.0 JAWS, Boggs will take over the top score among Hall third basemen from Mike Schmidt (102.8). While this shouldn’t be taken as the definitive say on who’s the better player–any slight change in either Davenport’s methodology or mine might put the other in the lead–that’s still a hell of an accomplishment for a guy with 430 fewer career homers. Boggs topped 200 hits eight times and 100 runs seven times; he won five batting titles in a six-year span from 1983-88. He wasn’t a slugger, breaking into double-digits in homers just twice, with a high of 24 in 1987, when homers cost a dollar if you wore an onion on your belt (which was the style at the time). But he was a doubles-hitting machine, topping 40 eight times, with a high of 51.

Hits weren’t the only things that made Boggs great; there’s also the small matter of the walks. To his .328 career average, Boggs added a plate discipline that was almost otherworldly. In 1988, he walked 125 times and struck out 34, and he piled that on top of a .366 batting average and a .490 slugging percentage. In that same 1983-1988 span, he led the league in OBP five times; the one time he didn’t, he finished second with a .407 mark. How about this: Boggs led the league in times on base every single year from 1983 through 1990. Yeah, that’ll play.

Boggs never won an MVP award, but he should have won a raft of them. Consider:

      AL Winner  WARP3  Boggs
1984 Hernandez 8.7 10.1
1985 Mattingly 10.6 12.3
1986 Clemens 11.6 11.9
1987 Bell 9.0 13.1
1988 Canseco 12.0 12.6
1989 Yount 10.1 11.7

Over a six-year span, Boggs not only outperformed the AL MVP every time, he did so by an average of 1.6 wins a year. Yet at a time when he had a solid claim on being the best player in the league, he never finished higher than fourth in the voting, even on a team that went to the playoffs twice in that span. That’s Rodney Dangerfield territory, but no matter; Boggs should get his due in January. He’s not just a Hall of Famer, he’s another one of those inner-circle types. And he threw a pretty good knuckleball, too.

Sandberg isn’t quite the slam-dunk Boggs is, but JAWS puts him in the upper half of all Hall second basemen, and that includes both Roberto Alomar (who retired this spring) and Craig Biggio, who should eventually join him in bronze. Yes, Sandberg was helped by his park, and since that article was written, Retrosheet has filled out his splits to completeness (their box scores and splits now go back to 1960, rather than 1972, a huge boon to researchers). At Wrigley, Sandberg hit .300/.361/.491 with 164 homers, away he hit a more pedestrian .269/.326/.412 with 118 homers. It’s never been a crime to take advantage of one’s environs when it comes to hitting; even Hank Aaron‘s homer total was helped by his park.

As I link to this handful of Baseball Prospectus articles, it’s a good time to point out that all of BP’s premium content is free through August 3, meaning that those of you misers who aren’t subscribed can catch up on what you’ve missed behind the green curtain, including the JAWS companion piece on the pitchers and the one on the Veterans Committee ballot. BP is working extra hard to bring readers trade deadline coverage, and if you haven’t checked Will Carroll’s rumor mill pieces, you should.

I’m off to the ballpark to witness Shawn Chacon’s debut in pinstripes. Chacon was acquired from the Colorado Rockies on Thursday for a pair of live arms (Ramon Ramirez and Edwardo Sierra) from deep within the Yankee system, a considerably cheaper price than what they were asking for before, which was reportedly Scott Proctor and Sean Henn. Chacon’s in his fifth major-league season and he’s probably best remembered for his disastrous year as the Rox closer last year, when he posed an undgodly 7.11 EA and blew nine saves. Not counted in that total was a key September 28 game against the Dodgers, when, after being called upon to protect a 4-0 lead in the ninth, he issued four straight walks before yielding to another reliever who let them all in along with the winning run.

Chacon’s been more successful as a starter; though he’s only 1-7, he’s put together a 4.09 ERA, which is impressive for a Rockie even if it’s a rickety number which masks a low strikeout rate (4.83) and 1.08 K/BB ratio. In other words, he’s another Granny Gooden for the Yanks. Oh joy.

In the spirit of hoarding other organizations’ pitching detritus (Hideo Nomo, Darrell May, Wayne Franklin, Tim Redding, AL Leiter– see Derek Jacques’ hilarious telethon-style rundown at BP)the Yanks signed former Sox lefty reliever Alan Embree, who’s put up a 7.65 ERA this year in 37.2 innings. Embree’s strikeout and walk peripherals aren’t bad – 7.17 K/9 and 2.73 K/BB ratio — but he’s allowed 8 homers (1.91 per 9) and a .306 BABIP, suggesting he’s left a lot of pitches in people’s happy zones. It’d be nice if the Yanks could rehabilitate him into a useful reliever, but given their track records, I’m not optimistic. Paging the Big Dingo

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