Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Jon Heyman Finally Uses WAR- and Does So Badly (Surprised?)

Jon Heyman Finally Uses WAR- and Does So Badly (Surprised?)

Seems our old buddy Jon Heyman has found a use for WAR that slipped by the rest of us. It appears that Heyman is regularly tweeting questions as to how Player A can have a higher WAR than Player B, when it is obvious that Player B is a much better player. So far Heyman has given us two examples, both of which to serve more to show Heyman’s intellectual shortcomings than any actual flaw in the WAR concept. Intrgued yet? You will be when you see the comps, trust me…

Bryce Harper vs Starling Marte

This is a case of basing a conclusion on a very small sample size. We are not even to the quarter post of the 2013 MLB season, and all WAR tells us is how productive each has been so far. According to WAR, Marte is up 2.2 to 1.7 over Harper, both excellent numbers. In fact, among NL left fielders, Marte is tied with Atlanta’s Justin Upton for the highest WAR, with Harper sitting 3rd. That’s a fairly reasonable representation of the case so far, as they have been easily the three best NL left fielders to date. The difference is .5 WAR at this point, a small difference than can easily vanish over the next 40 games. If all three players- Upton, Marte, and Harper- keep their production at this pace, then all three will be legit MVP candidates. Out of those three, who do you think has the smallest chance of doing so? My money is on Marte- but right now Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Washington are all real happy with their left fielders so far.

Mark Reynolds vs Elliot Johnson

Here Heyman is simply being an idiot. There is no reason to compare a starting first baseman to a backup second baseman. That’s not even an apples to oranges comp- it’s apples to your second pair of tennis shoes, the ones you wear when your first pair gets wet. Yes, WAR shows Johnson with a superficial 1.1 to 0.8 WAR edge. But that’s nowhere near relevant, since one should be comparing Reynolds to starting AL first basemen and Johnson to backup AL second basemen to get a true sense of their worth, since that’s what their WARs are based on- the replacement level for their position.

When we do that, we see that Johnson has done an excellent job of what he is supposed to be doing, i.e. backing up Chris Getz in KC. In fact, Johnson has a significant WAR lead on Getz, too- 1.1 to 0.0. This is a chimera, since Johnson has not played enough so far (again, small sample size) for his WAR to settle in. WAR, like water, finds its natural level. Johnson’s will also, since he will either A) remain in a backup role and we will see his WAR drop as his numbers fall further behind the second base pack; or B) move into the starting lineup and watch his WAR drop as his weaknesses become more exposed with increased playing time. If neither happens, than Elliot Johnson will have had a fine season, and probably should have been moved into the starting lineup. None of this will be clear using WAR until the season ends.

As for Mark Reynolds, comparisons to backup infielders are pointless, since he is not one of that group. A much better comp is to see how Reynolds stacks up so far to 
other starting AL first basemen. Let’s break this down using current WAR and both offensive and defensive WAR: (WAR/oWAR/dWAR)

AL First Basemen
Chris Davis: 1.8/1.8/-0.2
James Loney: 1.4/1.5/-0.2
Mike Napoli: 0.9/0.6/0.0
Prince Fielder: 1.0/1.4/-0.6
Mitch Moreland: 1.0/0.9/-0.2
Brandon Moss: 1.0/0.9/-0.1
Mark Reynolds: 0.8/1.4/-0.8
Albert Pujols: 0.7/0.5/0.0
Lyle Overbay: 0.5/0.2/0.1
Edwin Encarnacion: 0.5/0.7/-0.4
Justin Morneau: 0.5/0.5/-0.2
Eric Hosmer: 0.4/0.2/0.1
Justin Smoak: 0.2/0.0/-0.1
Carlos Pena: 0.1/0.2/-0.4
Paul Konerko: -0.9/-0.7/-0.4
Adam Dunn: -1.3/-0.8/-0.7 (Both White Sox guys at the bottom and in negative territory to boot? Guess wee see why the Pale Hose are stumbling along in last place in the AL Central at the moment...)

Using this group, Reynolds is ranking as the 7th most productive first baseman in the AL, just ahead of Albert Pujols. That is probably a bit low in real life, since 1B is a place where a productive bat is usually better than a productive glove, and Reynolds overall WAR is dragged down by being the worst defensive first baseman cited here. Just going by offensive WAR, Reynolds moves up to a tie for third place with Prince Fielder, running behind Chris Davis and James Loney (?!?) This most likely is unsustainable, since Reynolds is currently hitting well above his historic norm (.272 vs.237) due to a career low K% right now (25%, as opposed to a career rate of around 33%). Should Reynolds continue to keep his K% rate down around 25% (quit laughing), there is no reason why Reynolds couldn’t wind up as one of the five most offensively productive first basemen in the American League. Whether he is or isn’t will be reflected by his season-long WAR, and it is of course way too early to have an idea as to what that might be.

Bottom Line- It is foolish to make any judgments about a player using WAR less than 40 games into the season. Foolish, but Jon Heyman gets paid despite coming up with crap like this, and there is no stat anywhere which would predict that happening.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Math is Hard, Part 2- Les Winkeler from The Southern Illinoisan

Math is Hard, Part 2- Les Winkeler from The Southern Illinoisan

Allow me to introduce Les Winkeler, the sports editor of something called The Southern Illinoisan. Les appears to be both bewildered and angered by the impact of advanced statistics on baseball, so much so they he felt the need to crank out a piece on the subject, Now while he makes no reference to baseball's Hall of Fame, there is still plenty of grist for the blog mill here, so enjoy the musings of one Les Winkeler...


"There was a time I loved talking baseball. (Was? Past tense? Then what’s the point of this article?)

It was easy to spend hours discussing the relative merits of Stan Musial, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Ted Simmons, George Hendrick, Mark McGwire and Adam Wainwright. (It took you hours to discuss George Hendrick in this company? It should have only taken three seconds for one of your buddies to reply, “George Hendrick was a pretty good player, but nowhere near good enough for this conversation.”)

However, thanks to sabermetrics, those days are past. (Pray tell, why?) The concept of sabermetrics, a pure mathematical analysis of baseball, first surfaced in the mid-1960s. The science of sabermetrics, and it is a science, tells us that batting average and RBIs don’t reflect the true value of a player. (True enough.)

And, I understand that … to a point. A great hitter in a weak lineup is going to have fewer RBI opportunities than an average hitter surrounded by great players. I get it. On the other hand, don’t try to convince me that someone with 150 RBIs didn’t have a good year. (I’ll address this point in the “Bottom Line”…)

I really don’t dispute the science … at least not most of it. Some of the sabermetric stats are fascinating. Batting average on balls in play (BABIP) comes to mind, which measures the how many balls in put in play go for hits. WHIP, walks plus hits per inning pitched, is fascinating, not to mention relevant. (As is BABIP, for entirely different reasons. Say you’re a GM, and you have to decide to keep a player coming off a good year. His BABIP is way out of line with his career norm. You going to offer him a big money, multi-year deal? Not unless you want to be unemployed or work for the Cubs…)

What I don’t like is the sabermetric approach to baseball is so sanitized. Just looking at the equation used to arrive at equivalent batting average (EqA) gives me a migraine. (I know- math is hard. That’s why it’s easier to be a sportswriter than a rocket scientist.)

For the sake of full disclosure, I’ll admit I’m horrible in math. Simple calculations are no problem — hand me a restaurant check and I’ll tell you in an instant what a 15 or 20 percent tip will be. (Your tip choices are 15% or 20%? Cheap weasel- now we know you’re a sportswriter.) It’s when you throw in Xs and Ys that I struggle.

I know the importance of tendencies and playing the percentages, but taken to an extreme, a person can get bogged down by analysis. For instance, if I’m enjoying some exotic dish, don’t give me the recipe. I don’t want to know. (Fair enough- if you can’t cook, it’s better to let somebody else do it, just like if you can’t do statistical analysis. But I don’t throw away my dinner just because I can’t pronounce “guacamole”.) If I’m looking at a beautiful photo of Mount Rainier, don’t spoil the moment with a geology lesson. (But if I am climbing Mt. Rainier, please do, so I don't drive a piton into soft rock and plummet to my death- it’s all about the context.)

The sheer analytical nature of some of these statistics removes any shred of romance from the game. Baseball isn’t played by robots. It’s played by human beings on fields of grass. (Or turf, which would be more appealing to robots, I suppose. But how cool would baseball-playing robots be? Think about a typical argument with a robot ump. I would look like the robot from “Lost in Space” yelling, “Danger, Will Robinson!” or something out of the ScyFy channels’ “Robot Combat League”, which I highly recommend.)

And, while I appreciate the statistics, it isn’t math that attracts me to baseball. (Let me kill one misconception right here- it’s never math that attracts someone to baseball. It’s baseball which attracts someone to math, i.e. sabermaterics).

The beauty of watching baseball is seeing Carlos Beltran glide effortlessly to catch a fly ball. I don’t need a range factor statistic to tell me he no longer gets to hard shots in the gap. I can see that. (While we all appreciate the beauty of Carlos Beltran gliding effortlessly to catch said fly ball, I think his bullpen mates appreciate more a defensive replacement with more range catching one of those hard shots in the gap in the 8th inning when trying to hold a lead. I am also certain that fans of Carlos Beltran appreciate him more when he’s not on his annual DL trip for a month after pulling a hamstring striving to catch said hard shot.)

And, I don’t think the human factor can ever be totally eliminated from the game. (Of course it can- bring in the baseball-playing robots!) Sure, statistics can tell us the probability of Ryan Braun getting a base hit with two outs and runners in scoring position in the ninth inning while facing Jason Motte. But, there isn’t a stat that can tell us if Braun has a family illness weighing on his mind, or whether Motte’s elbow hurts. (None of which matter to A) Fans, who only care whether Braun drives in the run or Motte gets out of the jam; and B) Sportswriters, who don’t give a damn about why Braun or Motte failed unless it gets them a headline.)

Finally, I don’t like the acronyms. Seriously, it’s difficult to say things like BABIP and VORP with a straight face. (Not as difficult as it is for me to say with a straight face that Les Winkeler is the sports editor for anything, let alone The Southern Illinoisan.)

In the end, it’s just baseball. The game is still fun for me. And, that’s the bottom line."

 

Bottom Line: No, this is the bottom line- Les Winkeler totally misses the point. Sabermetrics are not taking over baseball, they are just recognizing parts of the game which for decades had been undiscovered. No sabermetrician says you have to understand advanced statistical analysis to enjoy the game. In fact, there are no sabermetricians who are not avid baseball fans. If one isn’t, there are ample other avenues for the mathematically gifted to pursue- Wall Street, NASA, Vegas bookmaking, etc- that provide all the enjoyment they could possibly want. Winkeler seems to think that sabermentricians enjoy watching a baseball game only so long as they can crank out abstract numbers with their slide rules during the 7th inning stretch. This is a stereotype advanced by many in the sportswriting community (I’m talking to you, Dan Shaughnessy). Let me clue you in on the reality- sabermetrticians cheer for their teams, boo the ump, and snarf down hot dogs and beer with the same gusto as Les Winkeler and his ilk. We are baseball fans first and foremost. If we weren’t, why would we be so passionate about the game?

Now about that 150 RBI comment. Winkeler says that he doesn’t need advanced stats to know that someone driving in 150+ had a good year. Oddly enough, this is something that sabermetrics can check out for him. So I will. Here’s my breakdown of the 150+ RBI seasons in baseball history:

Number of 150+ RBI seasons: 46.

Number of 150+ RBI seasons with an MVP-type seasonal WAR of 8+: 18

Number of 150+ RBI seasons with an All Star-type seasonal WAR between 5.0 and 7.9: 23

Number of 150+ RBI seasons remaining: 5 (all in the 4.0 range).

Summation: 41 of 46 seasons of 150+ RBI fall rank as quality seasonal WARs of 5.0 or better (89.1%). Of these, one could make a MVP argument for at least 34 of these campaigns (all have sWAR of 7.0 or better). In fact, only one of these 41 seasons does not post a sWAR of at least 6.0. Even the five years which fall short of the 5.0 mark still score as well-above average years, so Les Winkeler is correct in saying that a 150+ RBI year is obviously a good season. (The numbers don’t change very much if you run these 46 seasons only for offensive WAR.)  No sabermetrician would try to tell Winkeler otherwise, as advanced statistical analysis backs up Winkeler's claim. Why is this true? Because all of the things a hitter needs to do in order to drive in 150+ runs in a year are measureable, and reflect themselves in the seasonal WAR number a hitter posts. In short, you cannot hit enough sacrifice flies and fielders choices to drive in 150+ runs. You have to have a good year with the bat to do so.

So far, so good. But the other side of this coin is that those advanced stats which are beyond Winkeler’s scope can tell us much more. Look at the 1949 Red Sox, who had two players with exactly 159 RBI- Ted Williams and Vern Stephens. Just by looking at RBI, one could say they were about even in value. WAR tells a different story, one that clearly shows Williams and his 9.2 sWAR was much better than Stephens, who posted a sWAR of 6.9. This isn’t to denigrate Stephens, who had an outstanding year. Rather, sWAR shows that Williams was much more valuable than Stephens, and that Teddy Ballgame’s 1949 campaign was really a monster- something that was apparent to everyone at the time, as Williams was awarded his second AL MVP award for his efforts. (sWAR also shows how much better Ted Williams was than AL batting champ George Kell, who nosed out Williams for the crown but posted a sWAR of only 4.7, still a very good year.)

So what’s the true bottom line? It’s this- all baseball stats matter, all can help tell the story, and just because you aren’t smart enough to do the math doesn’t mean that you cannot become enlightened and enjoy the math. Let the math whiz kids do the work, Winkeler, and use your gray matter to explore how their numbers reflect the reality…

Monday, April 29, 2013

Off with His Head! Harold Hutchinson, Gaylord Perry, and the HOF

Off with His Head! Harold Hutchinson, Gaylord Perry, and the HOF

National Review Online contributor Harold Hutchinson is incensed- incensed, mind you- that baseball’s hallowed halls of Cooperstown are already besmirched by an admitted cheater. By having a plaque with arch-criminal Gaylord Perry’s mugshot adorning the wall, baseball has degraded itself to the point where there is no possible reason not to admit the steroid gang as well. Therefore, in order to preserve the sanctity of the Hall, Gaylord Perry must be banished forthwith for inspiring the sort of chemical shenanigans of which we are all too familiar. Now Hutchinson does not have a HOF ballot to my knowledge, which is great, since the following arguments he makes are proof that, if anyone could further lower the standard of BBWAA voting, it would be Harold Hutchinson. Enjoy…

“Long before steroids, baseball already showed it was unwilling to deal with cheaters in its midst. (Really? Tell that to the Black Sox and Pete Rose.) In 1987, Minnesota Twins pitcher Joe Niekro was ejected for having an emery board and sandpaper on the mound. He got a ten-game suspension. But years before, Major League Baseball (MLB) had allowed another cheater to run rampant for over a decade.
Gaylord Perry admitted, in his 1974 autobiography, to throwing the spitball in violation of multiple provisions of Rule 8.02(a) since 1964. He ultimately won 314 games and posted 3,564 strikeouts over a 22-year career, totals that got him elected to the Hall of Fame in 1991, his third year of eligibility. (Yup, Perry loaded up, there’s no doubt about that.)

In Me and the Spitter: An Autobiographical Confession, Perry not only detailed how he doctored the ball but also named his teammate Bob Shaw as a spitball pitcher who became his mentor in cheating. (Look at Bob Shaw getting thrown under the bus, which is more publicity than Bob Shaw received throughout his baseball career.) The spitball had been banned in 1920, with pitchers currently using it being grandfathered in. The last legal spitballer, Burleigh Grimes, retired after the 1934 season. 
At the time of Perry’s confession, MLB did nothing. He would be ejected from a game and suspended eventually, in 1982, while with the Seattle Mariners. It never should have taken that long. (It wouldn’t have if umpires had been able to catch Perry at it which, considering that they checked him for foreign substances hundreds of times between 1974 and 1982, means Perry must have been the John Dillinger of spitballers…)

It is not surprising, though. Look at the complaints about andro and steroids. Steroids were banned from baseball in 1991, and federal law forbids them unless they’re prescribed by a doctor. But much of the steroid use between 1991 and 2006, before testing became common, was by players who when in high school, college, and the minor leagues in the 1970s and early 1980s saw Gaylord Perry get away with flouting the rules. (Oh, please, spare me this silly argument. Does anyone really think that Bonds, McGwire, and the rest of the boys were inspired to juice by Gaylord Perry? What about Jose Canseco, Sammy Sosa, and the rest of the Latin players? How many of them even knew who Gaylord Perry was, let alone paid attention to his spitballing?)

Consequences for cheating? If you do well enough, you make the Hall of Fame. MLB won’t do anything about it. (Unless you are the Black Sox or Pete Rose, of whom I am certain the Bonds/McGwire/Sosa clan knew more about that they did of Gaylord Perry.) The Steroid Era may get the headlines, and it may fuel the debate today, but the seeds were planted when baseball let Gaylord Perry get away with throwing the spitball. (In case you missed it, pal, MLB isn’t doing anything about keeping the Steroid Era guys out of Cooperstown, either- it’s the BBWAA who is, since they are the sole arbiter of HOF induction.)

What is more damning is that Perry’s 1974 autobiography provided enough evidence for him to at least be suspended. Imagine if then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn had announced, in light of Perry’s admissions in his book, that he would be suspended for the 1975 season and that any further violations would result in his being banned from baseball. Could that have headed off the Steroid Era? We will never know. (Nice hypothetical straw man. Why not just ask if Bowie Kuhn having Gaylord Perry beheaded for his admissions would have prevented the Steroid Era?  If Kuhn had taken this road- year-long suspension, not beheading- the following would have been the case:  A) suspending a pitcher an entire year for admitting to throwing spitters is a ridiculously unfair and unequal punishment, the same as giving someone 20 years for driving without a license; and B) any arbitrator in the world who, when presented with the appeal of such a sentence, would laugh uproariously and tell Bowie Kuhn to get his head out of his butt and lift the suspension for time served.)

We do know, however, that corruption often starts out small. In this case, baseball’s failure to deal with a pitcher who routinely violated the rules against doctoring the baseball sent a signal to players that cheating didn’t necessarily have consequences. (Er, Perry was finally caught and suspended, you know. I guess you do, since you mentioned it earlier…) The same attitude underpinned the use of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs for two decades after Perry retired. (Gaylord Perry, the Godfather of the Steroid Era. From what I know about Perry from interviews, he might like that honor...)

If players who used steroids are to be kept out of the Hall of Fame, then it seems that Gaylord Perry deserves the same treatment. He was ejected only twice in his major-league career. But a third ejection is in order. It’s time to eject Gaylord Perry from the Baseball Hall of Fame. (And Don Sutton, Whitey Ford, and every other pitcher who ever loaded, scuffed, or in any way altered the surface of a baseball. That should take care of about 99% of all pitchers since Burleigh Grimes, and make plenty of room for Jack Morris…)”

Bottom Line- Of all the references linking Gaylord Perry and steroids, this is the most ridiculous. The juicers of the 90’s were inspired to shoot up because they saw Gaylord Perry load up when they were kids? I’m a trained historian by trade, and identifying cause and effect is a big part of what we do. Trust me, this isn’t cause and effect- a better example would be if players of the 90’s had corked their bats because they saw Perry spitballing his way through his career. And if they had- if Bonds, McGwire, and the rest came out and said that they filled their bats with a combination of Vaseline, slippery elm, chocolate pudding, and Babe Ruth’s stolen DNA, I would say great, let them into Cooperstown. They cheated within the lines of the diamond, where the enforcement arm of MLB (the umpires) could catch them. But the Steroid Era leapt over that particular line by A) cheating outside the range of detection by umpires (an ump could not administer a urine test to a hitter in the batter’s box); and B) involving parties who were not part of MLB in the process (BALCO, personal trainers, etc). If one creates a “cheating scale”, with spitballs at the low end and the Black Sox at the top, steroids ranks a hell of a lot closer to throwing games than doctoring the ball. Loading up the ball or corking a bat is both smaller in scale and far less damaging to the confidence in the integrity of the outcome of games than juicing, something which is too often overlooked in debates such as this.

The author of this piece says to kick Perry out if you are going to ban the ‘roiders, another totally unreasonable and infantile position to take. This would be analogous to a parent kicking one daughter out of the house for losing her virginity before marriage because their other daughters became notorious hookers. Does this sound reasonable to you? Yes, Perry admitted throwing spitters. I don’t hear anyone from the Steroid Era admitting that they juiced unless they get caught. Perry spoke about doing so during his career, the juicers didn’t. In fact, those using PEDs went to great extremes to hide the fact that they were using, which should tell you all you need to know about whether using PEDs was right or wrong.

Why didn’t we hear such a hue and cry about Gaylord Perry being in Cooperstown before the steroid guys became eligible?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

HOF and Updated WAR- Second Base

HOF and Updated WAR- Second Base

Just a couple of significant impacts at the dividing line between the middle and bottom tier at second base due to revised WAR methodology. The top tier stays constant, as does most of the middle. Billy Herman originally was arguably middle tier, but now clearly belongs in the bottom even with adjustments for his WW II service. (Only three 5+ seasonal WARs just won’t get it done.) Bobby Doerr, on the other hand, is now clearly a middle tier HOFer under my “Special Mention” designation, as adjustments made to his WAR Portfolio due to WW II service gives him enough career WAR to go along with his solidily middle tier number of quality seasonal WARs. Aside from Herman and Doerr, there isn’t much happening to current HOF second basemen because of updated WAR.

As for those second basemen still on the outside of Cooperstown looking in, both Bobby Grich’s and Lou Whitaker’s WAR Portfolios improves slightly, keeping them strong middle tier HOF candidates. Craig Biggio sees a little drop, but not enough to take him out of middle tier consideration. Jeff Kent is seen as a borderline case by many, but his WAR Portfolio clearly shows he falls short of even that and is at best a bottom tier HOFer. (Again, only three quality seasonal WARs). A better borderline WAR Portfolio belongs to Willie Randolph, whose HOF case is made much stronger by the improved defensive metrics. Aside from these players, no other second baseman has moved significantly up or down in a Cooperstown debate due to changes in their WAR Portfolio.

Looking at second sackers currently active, there are three who are on some sort of middle tier HOF pace- Chase Utley, Robinson Cano, and Dustin Pedroia. Utley could make a fair HOF case right now based on his WAR Portfolio, and just a couple of more above average seasonal WARs will cinch it. Cano and Pedroia are further off (Pedroia a touch behind Cano), but both still in their prime. Just matching over the next 2-3 seasons what they have already done will put them in fine position for a HOF middle tier run. No other second basemen currently active is close enough to say they may have a legit HOF middle tier case.

Monday, April 22, 2013

HOF and Updated WAR- First Base

HOF and Updated WAR- First Base

First base is the first position that is impacted to a high degree by the new method of calculating WAR. The top tier is untouched by these changes, but the middle tier is drastically affected. This happens due to two factors- 1) the changes in WAR wrought by new methods in valuing defense at first base; and B) the longevity of first basemen, who tend to play longer, and therefore can accumulate superficially eye-popping career counting stats. Here are the highlights:

Among top tier HOF first basemen, the only change is that Albert Pujols now has a strong claim over Jimmie Foxx to the #2 spot behind Lou Gehrig. It is not inconceivable that Pujols could push Gehrig for #1 if Phat Albert can post one more quality 5+ seasonal WAR and a couple of 3’s during the downside of his career. Age and injury are taking their toll on Pujols, so this isn’t a sure thing.

At the middle tier level, things have gotten very interesting. What was previously a small and shakily defined group is now a miniscule, yet much more clearly, defined tier. In fact, it’s pretty much Willie McCovey, who was the only HOF first baseman to combine a high enough career WAR and amass enough quality seasons to separate himself from the pack. Not that there aren’t current candidates that would flesh out the middle tier quite well- both Frank Thomas and Jeff Bagwell would serve as excellent middle tier ceilings, and Mark McGwire’s WAR Portfolio would fit in nicely with McCovey’s as the floor. Should these three be inducted (or at least one of Bagwell and Thomas), then we would have a firm range of what a middle tier HOF first baseman should be.

Where things get dicey here is at the top of the bottom tier. Three HOF first basemen who formerly were middle tier candidates now clearly belong in the bottom tier. Ernie Banks drops down because, while considered a first baseman in HOF terms, he built most of his WAR Portfolio during the years he spent as a shortstop and thus cannot be considered a middle tier HOFer at first base. Eddie Murray is now solidly in the bottom tier despite a middle tier career WAR due to coming up short in quality seasonal WARs, and the same is the case for Harmon Killebrew. While each of these stars sit at the very top of the HOF bottom tier, it is no longer true that being as good as these three merits middle tier consideration- a first base WAR Portfolio has to be better than theirs to deserve a Cooperstown plaque.

This is significant, since the updated WAR method now puts a number of first base candidates into this class due to the effect of increased seasonal and career WAR numbers for HOF candidates who are/were strong defensively. If Murray and Killebrew are to be considered part of the middle tier, then the middle tier HOF cases of Todd Helton, Keith Hernandez, and John Olerud, become much stronger. These three have very similar WAR Portfolios based on good offense and very good/excellent defense. As for candidates whose case is based mainly on their offense, no argument to could be made against Rafael Palmeiro (other than steroid use) and Jim Thome. (Dick Allen also would have a strong case in this scenario.) This would also make a case for HOFers Bill Terry and Tony Perez to be considered middle tier as well, opening the Cooperstown door for Lance Berkman and, to a slightly lesser degree, Fred McGriff. See how this works? The changes in WAR brought on by improved measurements of defense at first base has brought about a larger grouping of players with very similar WAR Portfolios that were built in different ways due to strong defenders moving up and weak defenders moving down. I see the need for significant break between the middle and bottom tiers, and that break appears to fall at seven quality seasonal WARs of 5 or better. McCovey has them, as do Thomas, Bagwell, and McGwire. The others do not (and only Dick Allen has as many as six), even though their career WARs are in the same ballpark. Even Palmeiro and Thome only have five quality seasonal WARs despite both having career WARs in the low 70’s. Bottom line- you need 60+ career WAR and at least seven quality seasonal WARs for the middle tier. Good defense can get you close to this standard, but cannot get you over the hump by itself if you are not consistent offensive force, as opposed to more defense-oriented positions like shortstop or second base. (See one “Smith, Ozzie” as an example of this…) Among currently active first basemen, only Joey Votto is on a middle tier HOF pace. Adrian Gonzalez has a shot, albeit a long one, and Mark Teixeira lags even further behind. And don’t bother me with Don Mattingly- he’s not even close.     

The BBWAA would do us all a great big fat favor if they got off their lazy collective arses and inducted Frank Thomas and Jeff Bagwell. That would give us about as clear a picture of the middle tier of HOF first basemen as we could ask.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Dayn Perry of CBS Sportsline on Tim Hudson and the HOF

Dayn Perry of CBS Sportsline on Tim Hudson and the HOF

Thank goodness Perry doesn't have a HOF vote- yet...(cue ominous music)...

On Friday night against the Pirates, Braves right-hander Tim Hudson will make his first attempt at earning career win number 200. (Hope the Braves get shut out- I’m going against Jason Heyward in my experts fantasy baseball league…) While I have no use for pitcher wins and losses as a measure of value (No use? While I don’t think career wins is the be-all-and-end-all in a HOF debate, no one factor is more important in a win than the performance of the pitcher), this is still a relevant career benchmark. (sure is- it would tie Hudson with Tim Wakefield and Chuck Finley, among others.) It also raises the question of whether Hudson is cobbling together a case for the Hall of Fame. (Not in my mind it doesn’t, which is funny since Perry is the one who says that he has no use for a pitcher’s won/loss record as a measure of value.)
In addition to being on the brink of 200 victories, the 37-year-old right-hander also boasts a .657 career winning percentage (21st all-time) (again, the win/loss thing, which seems to matetr to Perry more than he says it does), a 126 ERA+ (61st all-time) (better point, since an ERA+ over 120 is a hallmark of a middle tier HOF starting pitcher…) and 1,814 strikeouts (92nd all-time) (Career K/9 ranking? 238th, tied with the immortal Fred Norman and barely trailing noted strikeout artists Omar Daal and Matt Morris…) On a broader level, Jay Jaffe's JAWS system, which compares players to the established hall-of-fame norms at their respective positions/roles, paints the following picture for Hudson as things presently stand: (I deleted the inserted screencap. Suffice it to say the JAWS system reads Hudson’s HOF case about the same as my HOF Portfolio system does…)
(Deleted a paragraph explaining the HOF standards on baseball-reference.com, but you can go look at Hudson’s HOF chances there if you wish.) All of this adds up to a sensible conclusion -- that Hudson isn't there yet. (Well, considering that the WAR Portfolio, JAWS, and baseball-reference.com all agree on that point, I would indeed call that ‘sensible”…) On a rate basis, Hudson has a strong case (in terms of ERA+, for instance, Hudson is wedged in between John Smoltz and Tom Seaver, among others). However, he needs to add to his counting stats. (And, in prolonging his career to do so, Hudson will damage his rate stats, which are the only pro points in his argument. That is, unless 200 wins matter to you, but they don’t to Dayn Perry- or so he says.)
Hudson's best chance will come via the "career value" path. After all, it's unlikely that a 37-year-old is going to drastically improve his peak indicators. (Safe to say). And those peak indicators (no Cy Youngs, merely three All-Star appearances, for instance) leave something to be desired when it comes to the high standards of the Hall. (Perry is correct in saying that Tim Hudson lacks the peak indicators to be a wrothy middle tier HOF starter. Perry is also correct in citing Cy Youngs and All-Star appearances as being among them, and they will remain so as long s the BBWAA gets to keep their monopoly over the induction vote. Cy Youngs and All-Star appearances are lousy ways to measure peak value as opposed to the WAR Portfolio method of looking at career number of 8, 5, and 3+ seasonal WARs, but what do I know? I’m not a BBWAA member, which means that I’m not as smart as Murray Chass, Tracy Ringolsby, Jon Heyman, etc.)  But Hudson has indeed been remarkably consistent over his career. To put a finer point on it, only once, in 2006, has Hudson logged a seasonal ERA+ worse than 110. He'll reach 200 wins, of course, and 2,000 strikeouts should come in 2014. (Wahoo! 200 wins and 2000 strikeouts! Only a truly great pitcher could amass those mighty totals, which are obviously beyond the grasp of one of those notorious “compilers” who pitch forever- you know, guys like Tim Wakefield and Chuck Finley.)
One of the keys for Hudson will be sustaining his rate value (i.e., his run-prevention numbers) while continuing to climb the innings list. At present, Hudson ranks 190th on the all-time innings list with 2,700 1/3 frames to his credit. On that front, Bob Lemon (himself a dubious choice for Cooperstown) probably represents the low end for hall-of-fame innings, with 2,850. That's certainly within reach, should Hudson choose to continue pitching beyond this season. Hudson could also get to 3,000 innings late 2014 and something in the range of 3,250 would likely place him in the top 100 all-time (Andy Pettitte and Roy Halladay are the only active pitchers ahead of Hudson on the innings list). (Innings pitched? You want to use innings pitched in a HOF argument? Take a look at the list of pitchers who threw over 3,250 innings. With luck, Hudson could make it to Kevin Brown, or maybe even to Kenny Rogers…)
As for the prospect of getting there, the underlying indicators say Hudson can. He's a Tommy John-surgery veteran and underwent a back operation in 2012. However, eight times and as recently as 2011 Hudson has eclipsed 200 innings in a season. (I believe the phrase is “workhorse” if you support someone with this sort of record for Cooperstown, and “innings eater” if you don’t…) As well, there's nothing in his profile to suggest eminent collapse. Hudson's BABIP, groundball rate (always a strength of his), strand rate, HR/fly-ball percentage, K% and BB% are all in line with his established career norms. (Nice job of throwing out some newfangled stats to add a sheen of intellectualism to your argument there, Dayn. Problem is that these career norms are what have led to Hudson’s low peak, since there are plenty of good pitchers like him who aren’t middel tier HOFers as well.)
(I deleted another chart here, but Perry is right when he points out that A) Hudson’s fastball is slowing, and B) He’s throwing his curve harder, which is a valuable scouting report but means nothing in a HOF debate.) As you can see, Hudson has responded to a loss in fastball velocity by leaning more on his curve -- and doing so at the expense of that diminished fastball. (As most all pitchers do when they get old. It’s called “reinventing yourself”.) While the direction of causality is impossible to determine (maybe the fact that Hudson’s getting old?), it's worth noting that his curve velo has improved at the same time. That's a sign that Hudson has evolved. No surprise, then, that Hudson has logged a 3.38 ERA since turning 35. (Yes, Perry just called out a two-year sample for ERA. Now for the other shoe to drop- Hudson’s ERA+, which Perry drools over for those two seasons are 119 and 110, and his seasonal WARs were 2.9 and 1.6…)
It all suggests that Hudson can continue pitching at a high level. (See ERA+ and seasonal WARs from the past two years cited above- he’s not pitching at a high level now, so how can he continue to do so?) So, given health and willingness, he'll remain employed, he'll reach those usage benchmarks, and he'll prevent too much decline in terms of his Hall-worthy ERA+. (Given health and willingness? Hudson was below 200 IP last year, has had two major surgeries, and he turns 38 years old halfway through the season. You might get the willingness from Hudson, but I’m not betting my paycheck you will get the health- but he still might catch Kenny Rogers in career IP, which has to mean something, right?)
It should be noted that Hudson is eligible for free agency following the 2013 season. The Alabama native is comfortable playing in Atlanta, and the Braves, who are obviously in contending mode, would presumably have interest in bringing him back. Since the Braves are so well poised for the future, such an arrangement would probably help Hudson's win total. If he pitches through his age-40 season, then something like 230 to 240 career wins seems eminently possible. That would be enough, given Hudson's other strengths and well regarded character. (Yup, if he hangs in there and the Braves remain the outstanding team they have been the past few years, Hudson will pile up some more superficial counting stats. They won’t mean much as an accurate measure of whether Hudson is a HOFer, but they should be enough for the BBWAA, which is more of a condemnation of that august body than it is of Tim Hudson…)
So, hours from what may be Hudson's 200th career win, does he have a hall-of-fame dossier? No. But Hudson, should he choose to keep going, is on track to get there, probably by the end of 2015 or so. (No, he isn’t, but why let his lack of peak excellence stand in the way of a good narrative?)
Bottom Line: Tim Hudson has been a fine pitcher, and only a fool would argue otherwise. But it takes a bigger fool to see Hudson as a middle tier HOFer. Hudson has three seasons with a seasonal WAR of 5+ (none above 8). A middle tier HOF starter needs a lot more than that. Now, if you want to use someone like Eppa Rixey or Waite Hoyt as your HOF benchmark, then go ahead and induct Tim Hudson, who is at least as good as those two. Debates like this is exactly why I developed the WAR Portfolio and established my three-tier concept for HOF enshrinement. Using my system, one cannot only more accurately measure Tim Hudson’s HOF candidacy, we can eliminate the impact of “milestones” AND compare Hudson with an entire group of HOFers and see where he stands. Where Tim Hudson stands is near the top of the bottom tier of HOF starters and well outside of the middle tier, and this isn’t going to change at age 38, no matter what Dayn Perry thinks about Hudson’s career ERA.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

HOF and Updated WAR- Left Fielders

HOF and Updated WAR- Left Fielders

As in right field, the adjustments to WAR and the impact on the tiers of the HOF mainly serves to better define the difference between the middle and bottom tiers in left field. The one noticeable change is that Billy Williams does separate himself from the rest of the borderline middle tier HOFers and is now established firmly in the middle tier with a WAR Portfolio very comparable to Al Simmons and Goose Goslin. Carl Yastrzemski remains just short of top tier status but, like his counterparts in right and center, you could make a good case for his inclusion in the elite group. The updated WAR Portfolios of Ted Williams and Barry Bonds further proves the accuracy of the comparison I make in my book, that adjusting Teddy Ballgame’s WAR Portfolio for his missed time due to military service puts him about even with Bonds at the top of the left field chart, and I would give the edge to Williams.

As for those left fielders seeking HOF immortality, the biggest change wrought by updating WAR is in the case of Manny Ramirez. While I originally had Ramirez falling just short of middle tier status, the new data shows that his WAR Portfolio now sits easily in the middle tier, and I would now advocate for Ramirez if it weren’t for all the PED issues and suspensions.  Tim Raines continues to have a strong case for middle tier induction, while Sherry Magee continues to fall just a hair short. No other retired left fielders have improved their case, but Minnie Minoso continues to be a legit candidate if adjustments for the color line are made. My book article on Minoso being a worthy candidate for induction as an “international star” remains valid as well. Looking at left fielders currently active who rank I the top 1000 in career WAR, Matt Holliday has a slim chance of reaching middle tier status, but will need four excellent seasons to get there. Possible at age 33, but unlikely. Carl Crawford is even further behind, but is two years younger. If he can overcome his injury history and get back to his former self, he could make a run. Remember Crawford’s excellence was based in large part on his speed, not a talent that he is likely to recover in full. The best shot among currently active left fielders belongs unsurprisingly to Ryan Braun, who is on a middle tier HOF pace. The questions about his involvement with PEDs will dog Braun come  Cooperstown time as well, much as they have Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell.

That takes care of recapping the outfield. Look for a first base recap early next week.