Wait ‘Till Next Year: the 2013 Hall of Fame Ballot

Yup, another Clubhouse Confidential appearance, from Tuesday, January 10, this following my three-hour chat on the day the results were released and my evaluation of the voting results. This time, I discussed the top candidates who will debut on the 2013 ballot, a slate that’s as controversial as it is stacked, with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, and Craig Biggio all eligible for the first time. The first four of those players have connections to PED use, a topic I explored at length in the forthcoming Extra Innings: More Baseball Prospectus Between the Numbers. Host Brian Kenny and I discussed the impact those PED allegations might have on the receptions of the candidates, what JAWS says about them if you put all of that aside, and what the flood of new candidates might mean for top 2012 holdovers Jack Morris (66.7 percent) and Jeff Bagwell (56.0 percent). See it here:

I had a blast at the MLB studio on this particular day, starting with a chance to shake hands with newly-elected Hall of Famer Barry Larkin and ending with the chance to do same with Peter Gammons. I was in the studio watching a bit of Larkin’s interview with Harold Reynolds and Greg Amsinger — both of whom I also met; Harold even liked my tie — for Hot Stove, and stayed to watch Gammons tape his CHC segments as well. All in all, pretty cool. Now that the Hall of Fame circus is leaving town I don’t expect to have my number called quite as often by CHC, but I’m hopeful I’ll continue to be a presence on the show.

The Ballot Battle

Another day, another TV appearance… Okay, it really isn’t that routine, but twice in one week? From the same show? Somebody up there must like me. Even before I’d gotten to appear on last Wednesday’s Clubhouse Confidential with my own JAWS take on the ballot, host Brian Kenny and company had booked me to participate in a Friday free-for-all roundtable with former Baseball Prospectus colleague and fellow Clubhouse Consultant Joe Sheehan as well as BBWAA voter Jon Heyman of CBS Sports and MLB Network.

Our panel kicked around the candidates for over 15 minutes, with each of us taking the lead making the case for several of them; mine were Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez and Lee Smith. In the process, we produced our fair share of disagreements. Heyman, who has been hostile to the notion of using sabermetrics in the past — “[T]he day I consider VORP is the day I get out of the business,” he wrote back in 2007 — stuck with the party line on Jack Morris, noting opening day starts and waving off the high ERA while sprinkling the conversation with plenty of I-saw-him-plays, as though the rest of us were hiding under the bed during Morris 18-year career. He also refused to consider the notion that anybody should be re-evaluating anything in a sabermetric light (such as the value of Alan Trammell’s defense) 20 years after the fact. That’s obviously a position I’m not buying, even if it did come at the expense of withdrawing my support for a longtime pet candidate, albeit one who’s going nowhere on the ballot.

But it’s not like the rest of us were marching in lockstep all the way; much as I love Bernie Williams as a player, I’m less open to the idea that he’s a Hall of Famer than either Heyman or Sheehan are. We didn’t all see eye-to-eye on the notion of what to do about candidates who may have used performance-enhancing drugs, but that’s no surprise in this day and age. Our debate produced its share of sparks, but I don’t think we became disagreeable in the course of our disagreements, and none wound up using our chairs as weapons. Ah, well.

Here’s Part I:

And Part II:

The voting results will be announced at 3 PM Eastern. I’ll be chatting at BP starting at 1 PM and running through the announcement, with a recap up at BP tomorrow. I’ll also be on Clubhouse Confidential again tomorrow looking ahead to the 2013 ballot, which offers a bumper crop of strong candidates — Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Craig Biggio, and Curt Schilling, for starters — and promises a fair bit of fireworks when it comes to PED-related issues.

Haul of Fame 2012

It’s Hall of Fame season, and I’ve been a busy man, not only publishing my annual JAWS series, but talking about the Hall of Fame with anyone who will listen. Most notably, I was invited to run down the top candidates on the ballot at Clubhouse Confidential. On Wednesday, I did a short segment in which I discussed the merits of Barry Larkin, Alan Trammell, Jeff Bagwell, Edgar Martinez, Tim Raines and Lee Smith with host Brian Kenny:

It was probably the most fun I’ve had in a segment yet, in that I not only smiled but let loose a genuine belly laugh. Maybe it was because they finally let me do a segment with my jacket unbuttoned, or maybe it’s because I was finally able to tie a decent Half Windsor knot (apparently, I had been working with something called a Four In Hand knot all these years). Anyway, n Friday (January 6), I’ll be back on the show for a ballot roundtable with Brian and former BP colleague Joe Sheehan, possibly joined by a BBWAA voter to be named later. I’m told there will be folding metal chairs so things can get really out of hand.

If you missed any of my JAWS series at Baseball Prospectus — my ninth ballot go-round at that venue — here are the links:

• The Golden Era ballot and Ron Santo’s election

• Resetting the Standards

• Middle Infielders: Barry Larkin, Alan Trammell, Eric Young, Tony Womack

• Third Basemen: Edgar Martinez (and the thorny DH problem), Phil Nevin, Bill Mueller, Vinny Castilla

• First Basemen: Jeff Bagwell, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Fred McGriff, Don Mattingly, and a fun discussion of PEDs and the ballot.

Pitchers: Jack Morris and Lee Smith

• Outfielders, Part I: Bernie Williams, Larry Walker, and Juan Gonzalez

• The Catch-All, with Outfielders, Part II (Tim Raines, Tim Salmon, Brian Jordan, Ruben Sierra, and Jeromy Burnitz) and Catcher Javy Lopez.

Because I’m hard to shut up at this time of year, I’ll be hosting a chat at BP on Monday, January 9 at 1 PM Eastern, an hour before the voting results are announced by the Hall of Fame. Prepare for me to be outraged that Raines, Bagwell, and Martinez fell short yet again — I’m hopeful all three can climb to at least 50 percent because it’s a strong precedent towards eventual election, and if the Bert Blyleven election taught me anything, it’s that these things don’t happen overnight.

The Best of Baseball Prospectus (1996-2011)

“15,200 ARTICLES ENTER. 152 ARTICLES LEAVE. WE ARE THE 1%.”actual sales pitch

In a project that’s been long in the works, Baseball Prospectus is publishing a two-volume set covering the best work that’s run on the site in its long history — over 900 pages in all. I’m pleased to report that I’ve got no less than seven pieces in the first volume, not including an all-new introduction to the Offense section, which you can download in PDF form to see as a sample. I’ve got three more in the second volume, so don’t feel as though you can skimp on my account, bub. Other contributors include BP co-founders Clay Davenport, Gary Huckabay, Rany Jazayerli, Christina Kahrl, and Joe Sheehan, alumni such as Russell Carleton, Will Carroll, James Click, Dan Fox, Jonah Keri, David Laurila, Marc Normandin, Nate Silver, Michael Wolverton, and Keith Woolner, and current columnists Mike Fast, Kevin Goldstein, Steven Goldman, Ben Lindbergh, Jason Parks, and Colin Wyers.

You can buy both in paperback at Amazon for $16.95 apiece, or as PDFs at BP for $7.95. Kindle/e-book versions are forthcoming as well, if that’s how you roll.

This is just one of three BP book projects I’ve had my hands in over the past several months. Another is Baseball Prospectus 2012, which you can already order if so inclined; it will be available sometime in mid-Feburary or so. A third is our sequel to Baseball Between the Numbers, the original of which I had very little to do with but which was popular anyway. This time around I’ve got over 30,000 words on steroids, the Hall of Fame, and steroids and the Hall of Fame; as to whether it took performance-enhancers to achieve that, all I can say is, “No comment.” That book will be available come springtime, and you can bet I’ll have links when it does.

As Seen on TV, and Just About Every Place But Here

Well, it’s been awhile since I checked in here, far too long in fact. I never intended to celebrate the 10th anniversary of this site and then disappear for an entire baseball season, but between Baseball Prospectus, Pinstriped Bible, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, I didn’t lack for ways to reach an audience whether it was to publish a full article or just a one-line zinger, and in the time since I last posted I’ve been involved in no less than three BP book projects (more about which in my next post). But I miss blogging here, and I miss that people are able to find what I’ve been up to in my far-flung adventures as well, so we’re going to change that.

The catalyst for this is that I’ve had the incredible fortune to be invited as a guest on MLB Network’s new, sabermetrically-oriented Clubhouse Confidential show as one of their “Clubhouse Consultants,” and I just want a place to stash the videos so family and friends who are less social media-oriented can find them too (if you follow me on Twitter, you’d have a hard time missing my blatant self-promotion). My first appearance was back on November 29, discussing the Hall of Fame Golden Era ballot (about which you can read what I had to say here) with a particular emphasis on Ron Santo (who won election just over a week later, a year after his death and eons after JAWS tabbed him as worthy):

My second appearance was on December 13, discussing the Marlins’ spending spree, an under-the-radar element of the Ryan Braun PED case (which I dove into at length over the weekend), and the Hall of Fame case of my personal nemesis and frequent target, Keith Hernandez:

I seem to have snuck into the CHC rotation, joining folks like Joe Sheehan and Rob Neyer as occasional contributors. No idea when they’ll ask me back, but with the Hall of Fame ballot season in progress — my JAWS breakdown of the BBWAA ballot will start next week — it will hopefully be soon.

Ten Years Down the Road

Ten years down the road making one-night stands
Speeding my young life away
Tell me one more time just so I’ll understand
Are you sure Hank done it this way?

Waylon Jennings

April 9 marked a momentous day in the history of FutilityInfielder.com. Namely, it’s now been 10 years since the inception of this site, a decade since I penned this memorial tribute to Willie Stargell, registered a domain name that had been rolling around in my head for a few weeks, started learning the basics of HTML and web site construction, and began inflicting my version of baseball fandom and Luis Sojo worship on an unsuspecting public.

It has turned out to be a life-changing journey, in more ways than one. Over the decade of this site’s existence, I’ve transitioned from full-time graphic design work to full-time writing, joined the staffs of Baseball Prospectus and Pinstriped Bible, battled my way into the press box, and earned a BBWAA card; so far as I know, I am the first of those who started as independent bloggers to claw his way up through the ranks. Along the way I’ve traveled in pursuit of spring training, the All-Star Game, and the World Baseball Classic. I’ve run in the famous Sausage Race, dropped an f-bomb in the Wall Street Journal, and had my mug on TV plenty of times, to say nothing of the hundreds of radio hits I’ve done. I’ve been published at ESPN, SI.com, Salon, and New York Magazine, contributed to six Prospectus annuals, six Fantasy Baseball Indexes, and a handful of non-annual books, writing approximately 3.7 bajillion words about the national pastime along the way. I’ve generated some laughs, pissed a few well-chosen people off, and worked tirelessly to bring a dose of rational analysis to the often irrational Hall of Fame voting. I take great pride knowing that I helped elect Bert Blyleven into the Hall, even if I don’t have a vote yet myself.

I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to work with wonderful people, and made some incredible friends along this journey. While not wishing to omit anyone from an honor roll that would number in the hundreds, I must single out Alex Belth, Cliff Corcoran, Steven Goldman, Christina Kahrl and Emma Span, all of whom I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to collaborate with, and none of whom I likely would have met had it not been for the initial decision to follow my muse at the encouragement of my then-girlfriend Andra Hardt and two of my closest friends, Nick Stone and Issa Clubb.

As I said five years ago, writing this blog allowed me the chance to find a new voice for myself, a voice I realized I’d been seeking my entire life. I thank you all for listening and for reading while looking forward to our next ten years together.

Badge #643

It arrived yesterday, the most important envelope I’ve received since my college acceptance letter nearly 23 years ago, but also nearly the emptiest, just a single piece of plastic, with no accompanying document. Still, I was told this would be arriving, and the enclosed item spoke for itself:

No: 643
Baseball Writers’ Association of America

Jay Jaffe
Baseball Prospectus
New York

is a duly qualified member, and is entitled to the press courtesies of the clubs of the National and American Leagues of Professional Baseball Clubs, subject to the conditions set forth on the back hereof.

Back when I first got the news I was in, no less an authority than Rob Neyer reminded me to savor this occasion: “Enjoy your BBWAA card when it arrives in the mail. That moment is about as good as it gets.” Hence this little celebration.

Now back to work… plenty busy over at Baseball Prospectus and Pinstriped Bible, even if it seems pretty quiet around here.

Gus Zernial (1923-2011)

Former major league outfielder Gus Zernial passed away on Thursday at the age of 87. A World War II veteran, he didn’t debut in the majors until he was nearly 26, but he enjoyed an 11-year career with the White Sox, A’s and Tigers, earning All-Star honors once and leading the AL in homers and RBI in 1951. Nicknamed “Ozark Ike” after a popular comic strip character and billed as “the New Joe DiMaggio,” he was something less than that as a complete ballplayer, but he was a genuine thumper, placing in the top five in the AL in dingers five other times from 1950-1957, and ranking sixth on the leaderboard during that span, surrounded by Hall of Famers:

Rk   Player           HR
 1   Duke Snider*     288
 2   Gil Hodges       263
 3   Stan Musial*     235
 4   Ted Kluszewski   231
 5   Eddie Mathews*   222
 6   Gus Zernial      220
 7   Yogi Berra*      215
 8   Roy Campanella*  211
 9   Mickey Mantle*   207
10   Larry Doby*      202
11   Hank Sauer       202
12   Ralph Kiner*     201
*Hall of Famer

For a long time Zernial held the distinction of hitting the most homers for a player whose last name ends in the letter Z with 237, but Todd Zeile passed him in 2003 while playing for the Yankees, hitting a homer off the Red Sox Bruce Chen. In 1951, Zernial and Al Zarilla did team up to form the first outfield with two players with the last name starting with Z, so there’s still that.

I’m too young to have seen Zernial play, but I’ll always remember him for the oddity of the above card, which came to my attention via one of my all-time favorites, The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading, and Bubble Gum Book by Brendan C. Boyd and Fred Harris. Here’s the entry for Zernial’s 1952 Topps card:

This is one of my all-time favorite cards. How do you suppose they got those baseballs to stay up there anyway? Nails? Scotch tape? Postage stamp hinges?

And why do you think Gus is giving us the high sign? Is he trying to assure us that everything is OK? Is he trying to indicate to us that he thinks the Athletics are a big zero? Does he want a cinnamon doughnut to go?

And why is he wearing a pink undershirt?

And what the hell is it all supposed to mean anyway?

The back of the card sheds very little light on the situation. In fact, other than telling us that Gus was a radio mechanic in the Navy during the war it is not particularly informative on any matter whatsoever.

Gus Zernial was a member of that band of bulky, slow-moving, power-hitting outfielders who made their way into the majors shortly after the end of the war. It included among its number Roy Sievers, Clyde Vollmer, Irv Noren, Elmer Valo, and Gil Coan. Of these, Gus Zernial was the best. He was also the bulkiest.

Hey Gus, do you know where I can pick up on a pink T-shirt?

Rest in peace.

Rookie Blogger Stumps for Blyleven: January 2002

With the voting results for the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2011 scheduled to drop at 2 PM today, I dug deep into the Futility Infielder archives and found my first piece advocating for the election of Bert Blyleven to the Hall of Fame. It dates to January 6, 2002, a day short of nine years ago, and less than a year into this site’s existence. I hadn’t invented JAWS yet, hadn’t discovered the existence of WARP yet, hadn’t started writing for Baseball Prospectus, and was still taking wins and losses into consideration, just like Bill James was (and to an alarming extent still is). At that point, Win Shares was the total value metric du jour:

Win Shares is a promising new system, but until the methods behind it are published, all we have to go on is what’s in the new Abstract, which is why [Jack] Morris’s numbers aren’t included above – he didn’t rate in James’s top 100 pitchers, while Blyleven (39th), [Tommy] John (63rd) and [Jim] Kaat (65th) did. Using Win Shares right now is like calling up a hot prospect in the middle of a pennant race – maybe he can help you here or there, but he’s not ready for prime time. Until the methods see the light of day and can be picked apart from the master’s own idiosyncracies, they remain somewhat suspect. That said, I do think we should take a look at what he’s made available thus far. So… WS is the player’s career total in Win Shares; the Top 3 are his top 3 seasons, the Top 5 is a total of his five best consecutive seasons, and the AVG is projected to 43 starts per season (a high total given all of these pitchers spent most of their careers in 5-man rotations).

Of Blyleven, John, and Kaat, none are overwhelming on the basis of their career peaks; Kaat and John each had three 20-win seasons, Blyleven just one. But all had extremely long careers, John at 26 years, Kaat at 25, and Blyleven the baby of the bunch at 22. All of them come from a time period which is somewhat over-represented in the Hall; six 300-game winners (Carlton, Ryan, Sutton, Niekro, Perry, and Seaver), plus Hall of Famers Fergie Jenkins (285-226, 115 ERA+, seven 20-win seasons in an eight-year span), Jim Palmer (268-152, 125 ERA+, eight 20-win seasons in a nine-year span), and Catfish Hunter (224-166, 104 ERA+, five straight 20-win seasons). Those three all had longer (and higher) sustained peaks than our three, not to mention hardware in the shape of Cy Young Awards (three for Palmer, one each for Jenkins and Hunter), while our fair trio won none.

So these three are not clearly better than the bottom ranks of the enshrined from their era. But each of them has their additional merits which I feel should be enough to vault them into the ranks of the Hall.

Blyleven ranks number four on the career strikeout list, having been passed by Roger Clemens near the end of the 2001 season. He is also in the top 10 in shutouts (#9, with 60). He came up big in the postseason (5-1, 2.47 ERA , with World Series wins for champions Pittsburgh in ‘79 and Minnesota in ‘87). And his curveball had the reputation as being the best in the game. He spent most of his career with some mediocre (but not horrible) Minnesota and Cleveland teams, and rarely outperformed them by significant margins in the Won-Loss columns–he was an inning-eating horse who stuck around for the decision most of the time. But his ERAs relative to the league were excellent, as was his consistency–outperforming the league average by 15 percent or more (that is, an ERA+ of 115 or better) for the first nine years of his career and fourteen times overall. He won in double figures seventeen times, and won 17 or more games seven times. He gets my vote.

Win Shares has long since been superseded as a value metric, but back then it was as good as the tools got. Strikeouts and ERA+ figured prominently in my discussion, as did some notion of the distinction between career and peak. I’ve come a long way from certain aspects of my evaluation, particularly the reliance on W-L records (read the article and you’ll see I was still open to the idea of Morris being a Hall of Famer), but as opening salvos go, I’m quite proud of this.

The JAWS Take

All may look quiet around Futility Central, but that’s only because after a brief Xmas respite following 26 straight working days, I’m busy putting my pedal to the metal to finish this year’s JAWS series on the Hall of Fame candidates at Baseball Prospectus. In case you’re looking for a quick set of links as to where they can be found, you’re in luck:

Starting Pitchers: Bert Blyleven, Kevin Brown et al (leiter).Will this be the year Blyleven gets in? I certainly hope so. I’m starting to fear that Jack Morris is picking up Jim Rice-level momentum though he’s nowhere near as deserving.

First Basemen: Bagwell and Baggage. It’s unbelievable to me just how many writers have come out of the woodwork to make Jeff Bagwell — a player who never tested positive for steroids, never was named in an investigation related to steroids, never was leaked among the supposedly anonymous list of 104 players who tested positive during the survey testing — has been made the water boy for the collective failure of the players union, owners, commissioner and media to address the steroid problem coherently. The Hall of Fame debate surrounding him lays bare the great divide between those of us who adhere to “the search for objective knowledge about baseball” — the very definition of sabermetrics — and those who prefer witch-hunting. It’s the season of the witch for Jeff Pearlman, Danny Knobler, Dan Graziano and so many others willing to put hearsay, innuendo and Ye Olde Eyeball Test ahead of facts; their justifications speak so poorly of their own character that they should refrain from judging those of others. Kudos to Joe Posnanski for nailing them and so many others, and for going a perfect eight-for-eight versus JAWS when it comes to his definites. Colleague Christina Kahrl nailed it, too:

The problem of sportswriters investing themselves with too much significance in the process and belated paragons of probity is just another manifestation of the Chinese water torture that trails every “new” revelation about who tested positive seven or eight years ago, before a comprehensive testing regime was part of MLB’s operations and practice. After missing history instead of recording it, only to see the industry itself tardily address the problem of PED use, it’s as if the sportswriting community can’t spend enough time wailing about what happened then to make up for lost time. Having so thoroughly, absolutely, and completely failed to produce history’s first draft, it seems as if any number of writers are investing in a narcissistic thrill-kill, avenging themselves on the game’s history by assuming a moral responsibility they already shirked. Steroids stopped being a relevant or timely issue years ago, having long since been reduced to self-absorbed media navel-gazing: What didn’t we know, and how long didn’t we know it, and now I’m belatedly mad as hell now that I no longer need to dig a quote out of this guy.

Second Basemen: Roberto Alomar’s Second Chance. After finishing eight votes short in his first ballot appearance, Alomar should get over the top.

Shortstops: No Shortage of Quality. Both Barry Larkin and Alan Trammell are worthy of votes, but while the former cleared 50 percent in his ballot debut last year, the latter reached just 22 percent in his ninth year on the ballot.

• Edgar Martinez: In both ESPN and Baseball Prospectus flavors, I put forth the argument that Martinez was the Mariano Rivera of DHs: so good within his limited role that he produced enough value to transcend it. In writing up Edgar’s career, I discovered that his most famous hit, his 1995 ALDS-winning double, has its own Wikipedia page, putting him in very select company.

Bronx Bombers on the Ballot: At Pinstriped Bible, I made a quick rundown of the former Yankees who are up for election. With the exception of Tim Raines and maybe Kevin Brown, none of them are particularly strong candidates, but they’re fun to write about nonetheless.

I’ve still got to polish off the outfielders (Raines and Larry Walker being the most interesting) and the relievers before next Wednesday’s announcement of the voting results. Wait ’til next year, as they say…

In the meantime, thank you, dear readers and Twitter followers, for your support in 2010, and best wishes to you for a happy and healthy 2011!