It’s been awhile since I checked in here. I took a vacation to see my folks in Salt Lake City, caught a couple of minor league games in the process — the first two I’ve seen in Utah since the late 1980s — dropped a couple of Pinstriped Bible entries, and farmed the Hit List out to capable colleagues Marc Normandin and Ben Lindbergh. It was a nice getaway.
Rounding up those stray dogggies:
• On Wednesday I took a look at the Hall of Fame candidacy of Jim Thome, who belted four homers over a three-day span to pass Mark McGwire and tie Frank Robinson on the all-time list at 586. Park and era have much to do with Thome’s totals; he’s got the fifth-highest ratio of home-to-away homers while playing during a time when the longball was more prevalent than ever. His JAWS score coming into the year had just cleared the Hall of Fame standard for first basemen, and he’s put some daylight beyond that mark with a season worth 3.4 WARP thanks to a .278/.407/.635 line with a team-high 21 homers for the Twins:
Whether that will be enough to get him to Cooperstown is unclear. As noted above, Thome doesn’t have an MVP award to call his own, although he did finish in the top 10 in the vote four times and does have some other solid credentials. He made five All-Star teams and led the league in homers once (2003, with 47 for the Phillies during his odd NL foray), which helps whip his Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor and Hall of Fame Standards scores (145 and 55) into above-average territory. He reached the 40-homer plateau six times, which is tied for eighth all-time. His post-season credentials aren’t sterling (.222/.321/.488 with 17 homers), but he was a vital part of the Indians during the period in which they made five straight postseasons (1995-99), did hit .255/.352/.511 with three homers in the 1995 and 1997 World Series, and bashed four homers in losing causes in both the 1998 ALCS against the Yankees (suffice it to say he made quite the impression on this fan; he killed the Yanks for years) and the 1999 ALDS against the Red Sox. He’s also served on three other teams that have reached the postseason and could make that four if the Twins pull through.
What Thome does have going for him along with the homers and the other numbers is a clean rap sheet. Unlike so many of the other players who have reached the 500 home-run plateau during his career — Bonds, Sosa, Rodriguez, McGwire, Palmeiro, Ramirez, and Sheffield — Thome has never been implicated as a user of performance-enhancing drugs, either via positive test, leaked test result, or involvement in a steroid-related investigation such as BALCO or the Mitchell Report. Only Griffey and Thomas, two virtual locks for the Hall, can say the same thing, and while that’s not the same as knowing definitively that they’re clean—we still don’t know around 100 of the names on the 2003 survey test list from which some of the aforementioned players have been outed—it’s the best we’ve got in this cynical age. McGwire is the only one of those players to appear on a ballot thus far, and the voters have treated him poorly. They’re likely to snub Palmeiro, who’s eligible this winter, but it won’t be until 2013, when Bonds and Sosa reach, that we’ll have a better sense of what fate awaits the implicated players at the 600 level.
Against that backdrop, Thome may do well in the voting when he finally becomes eligible, particularly as he’s a player with a good-guy reputation and not to mention something of a throwback with his high socks and mighty uppercut. He’ll certainly deserve that bronze plaque for his work, and the guess here is that he’ll get it in due time.
• The NL and AL Hit Lists are here and here. In the former, I didn’t pull many punches when it came to the Dodgers and Mets:
[#9] Dodgers Blew: Manny Ramirez is gone, but the idiot wind still blows. And so does the Dodgers’ offense: they’ve hit just .236/.305/.342 since the All-Star break, with Andre Ethier (.232/.3035/.387), Matt Kemp (.235/.300/.369) and James Loney (.210/.281/.326) competing for the title of the Ultimate Vortex of Suck. This season can’t end soon enough.
[#10 Mets] We Don’t Like To See It, Either: Another year, another Mets team staggering towards an ignominious finish while exhibiting a special talent for turning minor nicks and cuts into gangrenous wounds. As the team meanders along with a 21-31 second-half record, Carlos Beltran, Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo — three disappointing, immovable players owed $36 million in 2011 — skip the annual trip to Walter Reed Army Medical Center; Beltran says it’s due to commitments to his own charitable foundation, but Perez refuses to answer questions about the snub, while Castillo admits to squeamishness: “Sometimes when you see people with no legs, no arms, to also be in the hospital like that, I don’t like to see that.” Fans watching Castillo’s declining play at second base and at the plate can certainly relate.
From the latter, here’s the 1-2 punch of the Yankees and Rays:
[#1 Yankees] Problems of the Rich and Famous: The Yankees’ winning streak reaches a season-high eight games to push their Playoff Odds into the 99-percent range, but they’re not without their anxieties. Nick Swisher is limping (somewhat heroically), Jorge Posada has a concussion scare, Derek Jeter is hitting .234/.307/.313 since July 1, and the rotation now features three starters with ERAs above 5.00 since the break (Phil Hughes, 5.47; A.J. Burnett, 5.91; Javier Vazquez, 6.10). Andy Pettitte’s nearing a return, but the real question is whether the team will need rookie Ivan Nova to take the ball in the postseason; at the very least, his performance (2.92 ERA, .562 SNWP) merits consideration.
[#2 Rays] Well, We Like the Pants Idea: Joe Maddon is a smart guy, but he’s all wet when it comes to wanting a balanced schedule, an historically awful idea which was rightly scrapped for preventing AL rivals from playing each other down the stretch. While the current strength of the AL East is obviously a huge factor in Maddon’s thoughts, does he think his team (ninth in the league in attendance) would draw better with fewer games against the Yanks and Red Sox? In their fight for first place, the Rays have relatively little to complain about these days. Their remaining opponents have a weighted winning percentage of .489 and their final three series come against the Mariners, Orioles and Royals; the Yankees’ remaining opponents have a .540 winning percentage, and their last three series come against Boston (twice) and Toronto.
• As for the Yankees, I’ve had plenty to say at the Pinstriped Bible lately. I cut the legend of Futility Infielder Homer Bush down to size, weighed in on Robinson Cano’s MVP candidacy, uncovered a particularly interesting facet about Alex Rodriguez reaching 100 RBI for the record-setting 14th time, sounded the alarms on Jorge Posada’s concussion symptoms, and checked in on Kerry Wood and the progress of the Yankees’ bullpen. On Cano:
Of course, it’s unfair to base the conversation simply on offense; the MVP award should take into account defensive value, so towards that end, here are the above eight candidates ranked by averaging three competing valuation metrics. WARP is Baseball Prospectus’ Wins Above Replacement Player, while the two WAR figures represent Baseball-Reference’s and Fangraphs’ dueling methodologies for computing Wins Above Replacement via different defensive metrics and theoretical frameworks. “Wins” is the average of the three:PLAYER WARP bWAR fWAR Wins Hamilton 8.1 6.0 7.9 7.3 Longoria 7.0 6.3 5.9 6.4 Cabrera 7.0 6.2 5.9 6.4 Cano 6.3 6.4 6.0 6.2 Beltre 6.9 5.1 6.2 6.1 Bautista 5.5 5.3 5.7 5.5 Mauer 5.7 5.2 4.7 5.2 Konerko 4.9 4.8 3.9 4.5
WARP and fWAR both say Hamilton’s the league leader, while bWAR says Cano. In the aggregate, the Texas left fielder comes out nearly a full win ahead of the rest of the pack even after adjusting for hitting environments and accounting for the difference in value between playing a difficult up-the-middle position and an easy corner outfield one, both important considerations. Cano ranks fourth overall, third if you exclude Cabrera because of the losing team factor. Because of that, it’s difficult to make the case that he should win.
Whether he will win may be another story, quite literally. As a group, the BBWAA voters’ standards as to what constitutes an MVP tend to shift from year to year. Furthermore, they tend to be rather wary of sabermetrics, so it’s unlikely that most of them will be using the leaderboards in the above valuation metrics as their guide. Also worth noting is the fact that the voting body isn’t exactly in awe of the Yankees. During their long run of excellence — 14 postseason appearances, seven pennants and five world championships in 15 years — A-Rod is the only player to win an MVP while wearing pinstripes; he’s done so twice, in 2005 and 2007, with overwhelming offensive numbers in years the team didn’t have the best overall record, perhaps suggesting that the voters valued him as the difference between the Yankees making the playoffs or not.
For all the hand-wringing about A-Rod’s subpar 2010 showing — not to mention those nasty rumors about him having been caught clubbing baby harp seals, thus causing a worldwide recession — it’s worth noting that he is leading the league in something positive: he’s tops in the Junior Circuit in Baseball Prospectus’ OBI% (Others Batted In Percentage), meaning that he’s driven in the highest percentage of baserunners of anyone in the AL, at 21.3 percent. Note that OBI% excludes a player driving in himself via his own home runs. A quick look at the major league leaderboard:Rk NAME TEAM PA PA_ROB ROB OBI OBI% 1 Carlos Gonzalez COL 542 225 305 66 21.6% 2 Alex Rodriguez NYA 492 247 366 78 21.3% 3 Delmon Young MIN 517 268 389 77 19.8% 4 Jose Bautista TOR 578 229 307 60 19.5% 5 John Buck TOR 359 150 207 40 19.3% 6 Josh Hamilton TEX 559 251 342 66 19.3% 7 Joey Votto CIN 558 265 344 66 19.2% 8 Paul Konerko CHA 551 259 339 65 19.2% 9 Ryan Ludwick SLN 314 131 167 32 19.2% 10 Nelson Cruz TEX 348 180 262 50 19.1% 11 Vladimir Guerrero TEX 547 291 394 75 19.0% 12 David Wright NYN 578 267 359 68 18.9% 13 Adam Laroche ARI 527 244 354 67 18.9% 14 Carlos Quentin CHA 471 221 309 58 18.8% 15 Buster Posey SFN 347 169 236 44 18.6% 16 Neil Walker PIT 360 168 221 41 18.6% 17 Angel Pagan NYN 535 205 272 50 18.4% 18 Rafael Furcal LAN 357 123 169 31 18.3% 19 Carlos Lee HOU 546 259 341 62 18.2% 20 Magglio Ordonez DET 365 195 259 47 18.1%
PA is plate appearances, PA_ROB is those with runners on base, ROB is the actual runners on base, OBI the number of those runners driven in, and OBI% the percentage of OBI divided by ROB.
A-Rod’s 21.3 percent is actually a pretty impressive rate. By comparison, the next highest rates on this year’s Yankees, the majors’ top-scoring team, are owned by Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher, who’ve all driven in between 16.3 and 16.8 percent of baserunners. It’s also the highest mark of Rodriguez’s career by far; his second-best mark came when he drove in 20.4 percent in 2000 with the Mariners, and he was right at 20.0 percent with them in 1996. He’s been above 17 percent just one other time while wearing pinstripes, with a 19.2 OBI% during his MVP-winning 2007 campaign. Last year, when he packed his 100 RBI into just 535 plate appearances, he was at just 16.6 percent, his third-highest mark with the Yankees.
Less on Posada, who didn’t actually sustain a concussion and was subsequently cleared to play, than on concussions themselves; the first link contains some absolutely mortifying numbers:
Sadly, concussions have become a Very Big Deal in professional sports in recent years as their devastating and harrowing long-term effects have come to light. Among football players, they’ve been implicated in the onset of dementia. On the diamond, they’re thought to be the real cause of what’s previously been accepted as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a/k/a Lou Gehrig’s Disease, at least according to one recent scientific paper. Concussions have ended the careers of players such as Brewers’ third baseman Corey Koskie, who collided with a wall while attempting to catch a pop-up in 2006, and Giants’ catcher Mike Matheny, who was forced into retirement in early 2007 as a result of the cumulative effect of all the foul tips he took in the mask — a situation that rings a bell both literally and figuratively as far as Posada is concerned.
Other players such as Jim Edmonds, Ryan Church, Justin Morneau and Jason Bay have been forced to the sidelines for extended and maddeningly indefinite periods of time due to concussions and their aftermath, the poorly understood post-concussion syndrome, which can include headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, loss of memory, insomnia… a potpourri of misery. Cardinals’ manager Tony La Russa basically impugned Edmonds’ manhood while the latter recuperated, and Mets manager Jerry Manuel similarly made a hash of Church’s situation to the extent that his club came under well-deserved fire for their general handling of such cases.
The tide may have begun turning over the past few years as teams have recognized concussions as threats to players’ long-term well-being. Morneau hasn’t played since taking a knee to the noggin while attempting to break up a double play on July 7, and Bay is apparently done for the year, though only after the Mets were slow to react to his having collided with a wall in late July; he played two games before complaining of symptoms following a cross-country flight.
The Yankees haven’t been immune to concussions, either; it was after suffering one via a beaning during spring training that Cervelli donned the oversized “Great Gazoo” batting helmet designed to better cushion the head upon impact — a piece of equipment the Mets’ David Wright shunned after being ridiculed for wearing one in two games last year following his return from a beaning.
On Wood and company:
Wood arrived carrying a hefty 6.30 ERA thanks to a few early-season drubbings which stuck to him like Ben and Jerry pints on a coed’s thighs, but he’s been pretty close to lights out since coming over. Relieved of closer duty, he’s become the reliable righty setup man the Yanks have sorely needed all year, with a solo homer in his second outing the sole blemish on his mark. He’s pitched 16.2 innings for the Yankees, allowing 10 hits while striking out 20, even stranding all eight runners he’s inherited. Sure, his 10 walks have made for some adventures, but with men on base, batters are just 4-for-22 against Wood.
As noted before, the Yankees’ bullpen has suddenly jelled with the addition of Wood. After ranking ninth in the league in BP’s Reliever Expected Wins Added stat (WXRL, which incrementally credits and debits every reliever with a fraction of a win based upon the game state in which he enters — inning, out, runners on base, relative score — and when he departs) through the All-Star break, they’ve been the best in the AL by a long shot in the second half:Tm WXRL1 FRA1 WXRL2 FRA2 NYA 2.7 4.31 6.3 2.26 CLE 1.3 5.09 4.9 3.54 SEA -2.4 5.47 4.4 3.57 KCA 4.2 4.25 3.9 5.74 TBA 7.5 3.53 3.5 4.56 TEX 5.1 3.61 3.4 3.64 MIN 5.0 3.22 2.5 4.61 OAK 2.2 4.43 2.5 3.36 BAL -0.4 4.95 1.9 4.64 BOS 3.9 4.74 1.6 4.30 TOR 2.3 4.44 1.6 4.38 ANA 3.8 5.43 1.3 3.87 CHA 5.5 3.98 0.1 4.94 DET 5.6 3.81 -0.3 5.78
FRA is Fair Run Average, a pitcher’s runs allowed (earned and unearned) per nine innings, adjusted for inherited and bequeathed baserunners and the number of outs.; the 1′s and 2′s denote the half of the season in question. As you can see, the Yankees are 1.4 wins better than any other AL bullpen since the break, nearly three wins better than the Rays in that span, and nearly five wins better than the vanquished Red Sox. Wood himself has been worth 0.7 WXRL; by comparison, Joba Chamberlain’s been worth 1.1 the entire year, David Robertson 1.6, and Mariano Rivera 4.0. To be fair, Chamberlain (1.0), Robertson (1.2) and Boone Logan (0.9) have all been more valuable in the second half, but then they did have two more weeks to accrue that value before Wood arrived.
That oughtta hold you for awhile.