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The Envelope Please: Our Hall of Fame Crowdsource Ballot Results

FanGraphs readers want their Hall of Famers, and they want ’em now! That’s the take-home message from the results of our inaugural Hall of Fame Crowdsource Ballot, for which we invited registered users of our site to partake in our version of the real thing. To an even greater degree than the Baseball Writers Association of America — which over the past five years has elected 16 candidates, more than any other five-year stretch in the institution’s history, while using more slots per ballot than at any time since 1966 — our voters went deep, and they weren’t shy about honoring the ballot’s best.

A total of 1,213 users (including some of our staff) cast their electronic ballots (something the Hall of Fame currently does not yet have); they could vote for up to 10 candidates while adhering to the same December 31, 2018 deadline as the voters. Remarkably, more than three-quarters of our voters — 77.6% — used all 10 slots, well above the rate in the @NotMrTibbs Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker (55.8% of the 217 ballots as of midnight ET on Monday), and well beyond the modern BBWAA record of 51%, set in 2015. Our voters averaged a generous 9.41 votes per ballot, again ahead of both the current Tracker (8.61) and the modern BBWAA record (8.46), set last year.

Oh, you want to know who we elected? No fewer than seven of the 35 candidates received at least 75% of the vote from our crowd. Keep in mind, that’s two more than in any actual Hall of Fame class, and three more than in any class besides the 1936 inaugural one (Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth, and Honus Wagner). Not only did our users anoint the three candidates who appear to be locks this year (Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, and Mariano Rivera) and the man on the bubble (Mike Mussina), they waved in the slate’s two most controversial candidates, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, and still had ample room to include Larry Walker as well.

Here’s the full breakdown, as well as how our results square up with those in the Tracker as it stood at midnight ET on Monday:

2019 HOF Crowdsource Vs. Tracker
Player Crowdsource Tracker Dif
Edgar Martinez 92.5% 90.8% 1.7%
Mariano Rivera 91.1% 100.0% -8.9%
Mike Mussina 89.2% 81.6% 7.6%
Barry Bonds 87.1% 70.5% 16.6%
Roger Clemens 85.7% 71.0% 14.7%
Roy Halladay 82.6% 92.6% -10.0%
Larry Walker 79.6% 65.4% 14.2%
Scott Rolen 61.1% 20.7% 40.4%
Curt Schilling 59.0% 70.5% -11.5%
Manny Ramirez 44.1% 24.9% 19.2%
Andruw Jones 43.3% 8.3% 35.0%
Todd Helton 26.5% 18.0% 8.5%
Gary Sheffield 20.8% 13.8% 7.0%
Billy Wagner 16.7% 16.6% 0.1%
Fred McGriff 16.0% 38.7% -22.7%
Sammy Sosa 12.5% 11.5% 1.0%
Andy Pettitte 12.5% 6.9% 5.6%
Jeff Kent 7.3% 17.1% -9.8%
Omar Vizquel 4.9% 37.8% -32.9%
Lance Berkman 4.4% 0.9% 3.5%
Roy Oswalt 2.3% 0.9% 1.4%
Rick Ankiel 0.5% 0.0% 0.5%
Kevin Youkilis 0.5% 0.0% 0.5%
Michael Young 0.4% 1.4% -1.0%
Miguel Tejada 0.4% 0.9% -0.5%
Placido Polanco 0.1% 0.0% 0.1%
Vernon Wells 0.1% 0.0% 0.1%
Travis Hafner 0.1% 0.0% 0.1%
Derek Lowe 0.1% 0.0% 0.1%
Darren Oliver 0.1% 0.0% 0.1%
Juan Pierre 0.1% 0.0% 0.1%
FanGraphs crowdsource ballot based on 1,213 votes, Tracker based on 217 votes. No votes via either source: Jason Bay, Jon Garland, Freddy Garcia, Ted Lilly

In an electorate roughly triple the size of the actual one, and 5.6 times the number published in the Tracker, Rivera was not only not unanimous, he wasn’t even the top vote-getter. Meanwhile, Mussina outdistanced Halladay, and all seven candidates cleared the 75% bar with considerable room to spare.

As for where our voters differed most from those in the Tracker, defense carried the day, at least to a point. Rolen, who ranks third among third basemen in both fielding runs (+175) and Gold Gloves (eight), received about triple the support he’s gotten in the Tracker, and Jones, who’s tops among center fielders in fielding runs (+236) and won 10 Gold Gloves, got nearly five times as much support. On the other hand — and I swear I’m not making this up — the 11-time Gold Glove-winning Vizquel, who’s 18th in fielding runs among shortstops (+129), fell below the 5% mark. Don’t worry, we’re not going to Five Percent him off our crowdsource ballot next year. Our voters were generally much more forgiving of candidates linked to PEDs, whether they were actually suspended by MLB (Ramirez) or not (Bonds, Clemens, and Sheffield). Even Pettitte and Sosa did better with our electorate than they are in the Tracker.

Besides Vizquel, our voters were not as keen as the actual electorate on McGriff or Schilling, and to a lesser but still significant extent, the same was true for both Halladay and Rivera. None of the 217 published ballots excluded the latter (one voter kept his dissent in his pocket, so we can stop talking about it), but 108 of our voters did so.

According to FanGraphs developer Sean Dolinar, who deserves a hat-tip for building our ballot and providing me with the data, there were 660 different ballot combinations, of which 532 appeared just once. The five most frequent combinations all included the seven candidates who topped 75%, as well as Rolen — the “Big Eight,” if you will — with these variations:

Most Popular “Big Eight” Plus Combinations
Combination Total Pct
Jones, Schilling 82 6.76%
Ramirez, Schilling 65 5.36%
Jones, Ramirez 35 2.89%
Helton, Schilling 25 2.06%
Helton, Jones 22 1.81%
All of the above combinations also included votes for the “Big Eight” of Bonds, Clemens, Halladay, Martinez, Mussina, Rivera, Rolen, and Walker.

Just below that, tied at 13 ballots, was our top nine-candidate slate (Schilling plus eight) and a 10-candidate ballot that omitted Rolen but included Ramirez, Jones, and Schilling. Only one voter in the Tracker, the New York Post‘s Ken Davidoff, actually had our top combination, but six had our number two choice (you can see the other combinations in the Tracker here). While only one voter in the Tracker (Tracy Ringolsby) matched my virtual ballot, which included Helton and Wagner plus the eight, six of our voters did so.

Here’s our breakdown of ballots by the number of slots used, and how it compares to the Tracker:

Ballot Size, Crowdsource vs. Tracker
Votes Crowdsource Pct Tracker Pct
10 941 77.6% 121 55.8%
9 87 7.2% 25 11.5%
8 70 5.8% 23 10.6%
7 51 4.2% 9 4.1%
6 21 1.7% 14 6.5%
5 23 1.9% 14 6.5%
4 12 1.0% 3 1.4%
3 4 0.3% 5 2.3%
2 3 0.2% 2 0.9%
1 1 0.1% 1 0.5%

Neither the Tracker nor our crowdsource included a blank ballot, thankfully. One was submitted for realzies last year by a voter who remained anonymous, while Bill Livingston and Murray Chass did so in 2017. Speaking of what we might charitably call “former Spink Award Winners who take great joy in presenting exceedingly minimal ballots,” the Rivera-only vote of Dan Shaughnessy was matched by one voter in our crowdsource, though I don’t believe “The Shank” is a registered user here.

As for ballots that used two slots, while the Tracker contains Rivera-Halladay and Rivera-Martinez combinations, we had a Rivera-McGriff, a Rivera-Mussina, and — here’s an outlier for you — a Schilling-Walker. We had one crossover with the Tracker when it came to three-ballot combos (Halladay-Rivera-Martinez). The rest of ours all included Halladay, with Rivera-Mussina, Rivera-Helton and Schilling-Wagner combos, while those in the Tracker had Halladay-Rivera-Walker, Halladay-Rivera-Schilling, Bonds-Clemens-Rivera and Martinez-Rivera-Vizquel.

When Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson opens that envelope on MLB Network on Tuesday evening, he certainly won’t be calling out seven names. By now, most of the suspense boils down to whether Rivera will be the first unanimous selection (probably not, but it’s newsworthy until somebody dissents), and which side of the coin comes down for Mussina; Jason Sardell (@sarsdell) projected his chance of topping the 75% threshold at 63%. Whether three or four candidates are elected this year, just remember that you, the FanGraphs crowd, are the ones who really got it right.

Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 1/17/2019

Jay Jaffe: Hey gang, it’s my staycation week but a short window opened up in my schedule and I decided to take some questions. So let’s talk some baseball!

Mat: Jayson Stark recently posted his HOF ballot. With his voting for a Closer, DH, Coors players, and PED suspected players, do you believe all HOF barriers have now been broken?

Jay Jaffe: People have been voting for various categories within your list for a long time. We’ve had relievers in the Hall since Hoyt Wilhelm was elected in 1985, with five getting in from 2004 (Eckersley) onward. DH’s — depends on your definition but Paul Molitor (elected 2003) had a plurality of his games there, and now . PEDs, let’s not be naive, there are already users enshrined. And people — not a lot of them, but some — have been voting for Larry Walker since he hit the ballot in 2011.

Now, whether we get our first Coors player in is another matter…

B: Is Joey Votto a hall of famer if he retires today?

Jay Jaffe: From a JAWS standpoint, he’s close enough that I would vote for him — above on peak ( 58.8/46.1/52.4 for him,    66.8/42.7/54.7 for the standards) but with only 1,729 hits, he’d still have the Rule of 2,000 resistance to overcome, and right now that’s pretty daunting.

Alec: Today is his birthday. Do you think Don Zimmer should be in the Hall Of fame as a ambassador of the game?

Read the rest of this entry »

Jed Lowrie Joins Mets’ Overcrowded Infield

In the abstract, the Mets’ signing of infielder Jed Lowrie to a two-year, $20 million contract is a nice little move. The team gets a versatile, well-regarded veteran who’s coming off such a strong enough year that he might have received double that guaranteed money in a more hospitable free agent market. In the real world, the signing of Lowrie raises more questions than it answers, questions for new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen about how the Mets plan to allocate playing time throughout not just their infield but their outfield, and about how they value the futures of the promising youngsters within both groups.

The switch-hitting Lowrie, who turns 35 in April, has spent the last three seasons with the A’s and is coming off career bests in home runs (23), wRC+ (122, with a .267/.353/.448 line), and WAR (4.9). That comes on the heels of a previous career high of 3.6 WAR in 2017, accompanied by 14 homers and a 119 wRC+. Before that, he had his ups and downs — we’ll get to those — and he has a long history of playing all over the infield, but during this two-year surge, 95% of his defensive innings have come at second base.

Of course, less than six weeks ago, the Mets traded for an eight-time All-Star second baseman in Robinson Cano, and just this past summer, in the second half of an otherwise lost season, they stumbled upon a productive, homegrown second baseman in Jeff McNeil. As with their outfield of the past two seasons — a collection light on capable center fielders, and populated with more lefty-swinging corner outfield bats than any reasonably assembled roster needs — it’s not at all clear how they intend to fit all of the parts together into a coherent whole. They do intend to play Lowrie every day, according to Newsday’s Steven Marcus, but with position(s) to be determined.

I’ll attempt to sort all of that out below, but first, Lowrie is worth a closer look. Before his big 2017 and ’18 seasons, you’d have to go back to 2013 to find a similarly strong campaign on his resumé. He was below replacement level in 2016 before missing the final two months of the season due to surgery to remove a bunion and repair a ligament in his left big toe, and from 2014-2016 hit for just an 89 wRC+ with 2.2 WAR in 292 games while missing additional time due to a fractured right index finger (2014) and a torn ligament in his right thumb (2015).

Lowrie, who lists at a modest 6-foot and 180 pounds, has cited improved lower body conditioning and late-2016 surgery to repair a deviated septum — a procedure that improved the quality of his sleep and his ability to recover from workouts — as reasons for his recent improvement. He speaks like a man aware of the flood of data available to players these days. “I look back at the success I’ve had in my career hitting, and the focus has always had to be on my legs, getting the most out of my legs as I can,” Lowrie told the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Susan Slusser last April. “Some guys are strong enough to manipulate their mechanics and get an ideal launch angle. I’m trying to maximize bat speed to maximize exit velocity.”

As he told Sports Techie’s Joe Lemire in September:

“I check [Statcast] regularly. We have our system upstairs in the clubhouse, so if you see me leaving the dugout, 99 percent of the time it’s to go up and look at either video or exit velocity and launch angle. I use that information more as a debriefing. I can figure out that if I take the swing that I wanted to mechanically on a pitch that I know I can hit hard, but the exit velocity wasn’t what I expected it to be, then maybe it’s because my legs aren’t underneath me.”

By and large, Lowrie’s 2017 and ’18 Statcast numbers are better than his 2015 and-16 ones:

Jed Lowrie Via Statcast, 2015-2018
Season GB/FB Exit Velocity Launch Angle wOBA xwOBA
2015 0.80 89.0 16.2 .305 .310
2016 1.33 85.7 11.3 .282 .294
2017 0.68 88.8 18.6 .347 .375
2018 0.76 89.0 17.1 .348 .333
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

He’s elevating the ball more consistently and hitting it harder, which explains why he’s been more successful at ages 33 and 34 than earlier in his 11-year major league career, which began with the Red Sox (2008-2011) and has included multiple stays with both the Astros (2012, 2015) and A’s (2013-2014, 2016-2018). That should mitigate some fears about an expected fall-off in his mid-30s.

On the defensive side, Lowrie made 132 starts at second base in 2017, and 133 in 2018; he was above average there in the latter season (6.1 UZR, 1 DRS) after three straight years in the red by both metrics (-5.5 UZR, -12 DRS). He last played shortstop in 2016, and that was for just three innings, with 16 starts in 2015; his metrics had slipped far enough into the red prior that he’s best regarded as an emergency solution at the position these days. He’s played only a smidgen of third base recently (three innings in 2017, 14 starts in 2018); his most extensive work at the hot corner came in 2015, when he played 47 games and was within a run of average via both UZR and DRS.

In terms of his recent usage, Lowrie doesn’t look like the second coming of Ben Zobrist, Kiley McDaniel’s admiration notwithstanding, but the Mets, who lost out on the real Zobrist in December 2015, when he signed with the Cubs, are planning to move him around. Not only is second base overpopulated, but third baseman Todd Frazier is under contract for one more season and $9 million. Oh, and Lowrie, like Cano and Frazier, is a former Van Wagenen client. Things could get awkward as these guys fight for playing time, and in the meantime, it’s fair to raise an eyebrow regarding this agent-turned-GM’s penchant for collecting his aging former clients.

Indeed, right now, it’s hard to make sense of how Van Wagenen and manager Mickey Callaway plan to piece this together. Not only did they trade for Cano, they just added utilityman J.D. Davis for a rather steep prospect price. They got a nice 63-game rookie season out of McNeil and a not-so-nice sophomore campaign from shortstop Amed Rosario. They have last year’s first base prospect, Dominic Smith, and next year’s first base prospect, Peter Alonso. I don’t even dare crack wise about another reunion with Jose Reyes, as his 2018 season and the Mets’ justifications for keeping him were both terrible.

Let’s put these guys in a table:

Mets’ Infield Logjam
Player Bats 2019 Age Primary Pos Secondary Pos 2018 WAR 2019 Proj
Peter Alonso R 24 1B N/A 1.5
Dominic Smith L 24 1B LF (LOL) -0.5 0.0
Robinson Cano L 36 2B 1B 2.9 3.3
Jed Lowrie S 35 2B 3B, 1B? 4.9 2.1
Jeff McNeil L 27 2B 3B?, OF? 2.7 1.1
Amed Rosario R 23 SS 1.5 2.1
Todd Frazier R 33 3B 1B 1.5 0.9
J.D. Davis R 26 3B 1B -0.6 0.2
Projections via Depth Charts

Alonso, Smith, and Davis all have minor league options; so does Rosario, but lacking a ready alternative at shortstop, we can ignore that. Worth adding to the picture is the knowledge that Smith’s stock is very low, that Davis is a bench piece for now, that McNeil didn’t seem to have any problems against southpaws as a rookie (124 wRC+, albeit in 62 PA), that Frazier suddenly struggled against lefties in 2018 (52 wRC+ in 129 PA), which may just be a fluke, and that Lowrie’s been about average versus lefties over the past two years while mashing righties. That still leaves a fierce game of musical chairs.

If the Mets go around the horn with Ye Oldest Lineup, Frazier-Rosario-Lowrie-Cano, then not only are they playing their marquee offseason acquisition at a position where he’s got just 14 games under his belt — and he’s still quite playable at second base (2.8 UZR in 2018) — but they need to figure out how to get enough playing time for McNeil, who hit .329/.381/.471 (137 wRC+); they clearly aren’t calling up Alonso (.285/.395/.579 with 36 homers split between Double-A and Triple-A) anytime soon in this scenario. If they go Lowrie-Rosario-McNeil-Cano, they’ve got two corner guys playing their lesser positions, a second baseman on whom the jury is still out defensively (0.4 UZR, -2 DRS), a bench player making $9 million, and again no clear path for Alonso. McNeil-Rosario-Lowrie-Cano trades a comparatively minor question about second base for a major one about whether McNeil can handle third, something the Mets appeared reluctant to find out in 2018. McNeil-Rosario-Cano-Lowrie? The new guy has a total of 28 major league innings at first base, all of them in Boston in 2010-2011; that’s 11 more innings than McNeil has played at first in the minors, lest you think about swapping those corners. Frazier-Rosario-Cano-Lowrie may as well be Lowrie-Rosario-Cano-Frazier; the Toddfather might be the better defender at both positions.

All of this is reminiscent of the Mets’ mismatched outfield of the past two seasons, with Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson, Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, and no true center fielder besides the oft-injured Juan Lagares. Granderson was traded to the Dodgers in late 2017, Bruce went to Seattle in the Cano trade, Cespedes may not play at all in 2019 after surgery to remove bone spurs in both heels, Nimmo has established himself as one of their top hitters, and they just acquired Keon Broxton in a 3-for-1 deal, so it’s a stretch to say they’ve got things sorted out there beyond some kind of Conforto-Lagares/Broxton-Nimmo arrangement. Reportedly, they plan to find time for McNeil in the outfield, though he has just nine minor league appearances totaling 65.1 innings out in the pasture. At whose expense will that playing time come?

I don’t know those answers, and right now, I’m not sure the Mets do, either. The fear is that they’re now overly stocked with infielders in their mid-30s who are cutting into the playing time of infielders and outfielders in their 20s, but it’s worth acknowledging that Opening Day is 2 1/2 months away (gah) and that this move probably means others are in store. Perhaps they trade Frazier in a salary dump, or deal Conforto for another young, controllable player who fits their lineup better.

For all of the above hand-wringing, the good news is that Van Wagenen continues to add useful players, and that the Mets are projected to win 85 games, which should put them in the thick of the NL East fight. Van Wagenen’s vision of a competitive 2019 squad may not be my vision or your vision, but it’s certainly more visionary than what we’ve seen in Queens in the past couple of seasons, and that counts for something.

JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Big Jumps Redux

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

It would be inaccurate to say that in the months from November through January, I spend hours a day simply refreshing and reloading the Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker. On the advice of my doctor, I’ve cut down to an hour a day, tops, and besides, I’ve got spreadsheets of my own that get jealous of how I spend my time. My voting results sheet, which has every candidate’s year-by-year progress since 1966, is a particular favorite. With my profiles of all 35 candidates on this year’s ballot complete, it’s time to think about what these two particular spreadsheets are telling us right now, particularly with regards to two candidates: Larry Walker and Mike Mussina. Read the rest of this entry »

Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 1/10/2019

Jay Jaffe: Howdy folks and welcome to another edition of my weekly chat – and as before, this one figures to be Hall of Fame flavored. Towards that end, I’ve got a piece on big year-to-year jumps in the voting centered around Larry Walker, which should be up by the time this chat is over.

Ray Liotta as Shoeless Joe: Hey there Jay. Did you ever get into Strat-o-Matic or MLB Showdown?

Jay Jaffe: No. I played Strat a couple times but growing up, neither my brother of my other friends were into such things at the time. What I did play a bit of was  Avalon Hill’s Baseball Strategy, and a ton of Strategic Simulations Inc.’s Computer Baseball, which I wrote about for Michael Clair’s blog-a-thon a few years ago…

Jay Jaffe: Sorry, I had to spend a couple minutes in Google tracking that down, and now my lunch — banh mi from Hanco’s — is here. So if things are as slow-starting as Larry Walker’s Hall of Fame candidacy, that’s why.

Brodie: So Grandal only got one year… looks like a misread the market pretty badly to offer four years…

Jay Jaffe: I’d say it was a misread of Grandal’s to turn down four years — if that was actually offered, and with Heyman, Nightengale and Rosenthal all reporting that he did have one, in the 4/$50-60M range (see, then I’ll take that as solid. But he gets to play for a contender, in a hitter-friendly park, so if he stays healthy, he’ll get another shot next year without being attached to a qualifying offer.

Read the rest of this entry »

JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Loose Ends

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Over the course of delivering a novel’s worth of words, sentences, and paragraphs about this year’s Hall of Fame ballot, including revisions to 15 candidate profiles previously published at, inevitably, I’ve let various tidbits — some more pertinent to their cases than others — slip through the cracks. Sometimes, I learned new information about the player in question after those profiles’ publication, remembered something that slipped my mind, or decided that a tangent would lengthen an already-long piece. Other times, a reader or fellow writer called my attention to a detail that I’d missed.

In the interest of Getting It Right, I’ve been keeping notes on those things, and figured I’d share them in one catch-all post, which will serve the additional purpose of prompting me to include some of these items in the candidates’ respective profiles next time around.

Working alphabetically…

Barry Bonds

As anyone who follows Hall of Fame voting knows, ever since Bonds and Roger Clemens became eligible in 2013, both players have received far less support than their accomplishments would otherwise merit due to allegations connecting them to performance-enhancing drugs. While voters have treated the pair similarly, Clemens has received more votes than Bonds on every ballot thus far, by a margin ranging from one vote (2017) to eight (2013); last year, it was four. I’ve read and heard myriad explanations for that gap, ranging from race to longstanding sportswriter grudges to the perception that the drugs had a greater effect on the slugger’s career (insofar as they aided him in breaking the single-season and all-time home run records) to Bonds’ roundabout admission under oath that he used the drugs, pitted against Clemens’ vehement denials.

A recent Twitter conversation between colleague Dan Szymborski and ESPN’s T.J. Quinn offered an additional explanation that touches upon an issue I had failed to include in my writeup. In 2007, Quinn (then at the New York Daily News) broke the story that Bonds had failed an MLB-administered test for amphetamines during the 2006 season; Bonds initially blamed it on a substance taken from the locker of teammate Mark Sweeney. While amphetamines and other banned stimulants such as Adderall are considered PEDs under MLB’s drug policy — some of them are allowed for legitimate medical reasons, so long as a player gets a therapeutic use exemption (a possibility Bonds later explored) — a player is not publicly identified and suspended for stimulant use until a second offense (à la Miguel Tejada). A player testing positive for the first time is instead referred for treatment and counseling, and is subject to additional testing. Quinn reported that Bonds subsequently passed six tests in six months.

Thus, if Quinn’s reporting is correct — and there’s no reason to believe it is not, given his stellar track record — Bonds did actually fail an MLB-administered test, where Clemens (so far as we know) did not. For voters interested in splitting hairs, well, there’s one to split.

Todd Helton

At the recent Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, two writers who covered Helton during his career with the Rockies,’s Thomas Harding and the Denver Post‘s Patrick Saunders, offered a couple of notes regarding my profile, one concerning Helton’s brief college football career at the University of Tennessee — and specifically my assertion that he had won the starting job as a junior — and the other noting a potential trade later in his career that I had long forgotten about.

Entering the 1994 season, Helton’s junior year, Jerry Colquitt was Tennessee’s starting quarterback, succeeding the NFL-bound Heath Shuler. On the seventh play of the season-opening game at UCLA, Colquitt tore his left ACL. Helton, freshmen Peyton Manning, and Branndon Stewart all played QB during that game, as coach Phillip Fulmer tried to “get a competition started.” Helton rallied the Volunteers for 23 fourth-quarter points, but Tennessee lost, 25-23. He started Tennessee’s next three games (a win over Georgia, and losses to Florida and Mississippi State) but injured a knee in the last of those games and yielded to Manning, who took over the job and went on to fame and fortune. Helton likely would have stopped playing football after the season anyway to focus on baseball; he was chosen with the eighth overall pick by the Rockies the following spring.

As for that potential trade, in January 2007, the Rockies talked to the Red Sox about a possible deal that would have sent Helton — who had waived his no-trade clause and still had $90.1 million remaining on his $141.5 million contract — to Boston, with third baseman Mike Lowell, pitcher Julian Tavarez, and prospects heading to Colorado. The Red Sox did not want to include the two relief prospects the Rockies wanted in the deal, namely Craig Hansen and Manny Delcarmen, while Colorado didn’t want to include more than $36.1 million of Helton’s remaining salary. The talks broke down. Later that year, of course, the two teams met in the World Series.

Andruw Jones

It’s no secret that the foundation of Jones’ candidacy rests upon his defense. He won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves (1998-2007) and based on the combination of Total Zone and Defensive Runs Saved used at Baseball-Reference, his 235 fielding runs ranks first among all center fielders. Thanks to that glovework, he’s 11th in JAWS at the position.

Of course, there’s room to quibble when it comes to defensive metrics, particularly at the extremes. On the one hand, it’s worth noting that UZR values Jones’ defense more highly than DRS does; for the years 2003-2012, for which we have both metrics, his 111 UZR is well beyond his 66 DRS. One system, however, takes a very different view: RED (Runs Effectively Defended), a forerunner to other batted ball data-based metrics such as DRS and UZR that was created by Chris Dial. RED is not currently published anywhere (hopefully, that will change), but it is included among the alphabet soup of metrics in the SABR Defensive Index, which has accounted for 25% of the Gold Gloves voting since 2013.

“By every metric available in the late 1990s – Baseball Reference Total Zone, Michael Humphries’ DRA, and RED, which is based on STATS Zone Rating batted ball data — Andruw’s defense was outstanding,” wrote Dial in a data-heavy email to me (which he gave permission to share). In Dial’s assertion, Jones came back to the pack in the early 2000s, and fell below average defensively from 2003 onward, more or less. Here’s his table comparing the various metrics:

Andruw Jones’ Defensive Metrics, 1997-2008
Season Weight Speed RED TZ DRA UZR DRS SDI
1997 170 4.8 7.8 14.2 10.1 10.2
1998 170 7.5 22.2 35.3 41.0 30.9
1999 185 5.7 14.6 35.7 58.9 32.4
2000 185 6.2 1.4 25.0 30.6 15.8
2001 210 4.8 3.3 26.6 43.7 20.7
2002 210 3.1 -1.4 19.2 33.8 15.7 14.3
2003 210 3.6 -8.5 18.6 20.7 17.3 14.0 10.7
2004 210 3.8 -3.3 17.3 16.8 24.4 8.0 11.2
2005 210 3.5 0.7 18.5 -5.9 26.2 15.9 11.3
2006 210 3.1 -7.7 18.8 1.9 12.8 12.0 6.7
2007 210 3.8 -8.6 12.0 10.1 23.2 19.0 10.6
2008 210 2.9 -1.6 -7.5 1.7 0.3 -6.0 -2.7
Total 18.9 233.7 263.4 120.0 62.9 172.1
SOURCE: Chris Dial
SDI = SABR Defensive Index (weighted average of the included metrics: RED & DRS 25%, UZR 20%, TZ & DRA 15%). Speed = Bill James Speed Score; see
Weights via Topps baseball cards, “which are likely conservative,” according to Dial. “Their 2009 card lists him at 240 pounds, which is closer.”

Where the weighted SDI supports’ Jones’ claim on 10 Gold Gloves, Dial’s RED-driven view suggests he should have won only three (1997-1999). According to Dial, the other metrics, both before the arrival of batted ball data and after, aren’t sensitive to the way Jones’ fielding numbers are propped up by discretionary plays, routine ones where more than one player could have caught the ball. “Jones just took all the discretionary plays from the left fielder and continued to do so after he had lost his range. That’s not talent, it’s Kelly Leak,” referring to the ball-hogging star of the Bad News Bears. UZR and DRS “weight plays made by percentage for a position – when Andruw takes a discretionary play, he gets too much extra credit in those systems. Everything else tells us Andruw lost a step or three. His zone ratings (percentage of balls caught), his extra weight, his speed scores, his range factors. How the other metrics miss this, I cannot say.” Dial wrote. Another table:

Average fielding chances for Braves Outfielders
Postion Pre-Jones (1989-1993) Prime Jones (1997-2003) Old Jones (2004-2007)
Center field 477 481 462
Left field 361 290 348
Right field 378 368 356
SOURCE: Chris Dial

Dial has excluded the shortened 1994 and ’95 seasons as well as Jones’ cup-of-coffee 1996 season from the table. Note the big dip in left field chances for 1997-2003, which rebounds to a number on par with the right fielders’ total because, according to Dial, the older Jones could no longer get to as many balls, and also because the team upgraded from less capable left fielders such as Ryan Klesko (alongside Jones in 1997 and ’98) and Chipper Jones (2002 and ’03).

I’m not sure I buy that last part; if the discretionary plays disappeared, why are his 2004-2007 metrics via other systems still so strong? Nonetheless, Dial has provided a compelling alternative view that at the very least is in line with the voters’ general consensus regarding Jones, who has received just 8.0% from among the 162 ballots published thus far after getting 7.3% last year.

Edgar Martinez

Between Craig Biggio (74.8% in 2014), Jeff Bagwell (71.6% in 2016), Vladimir Guerrero (71.7% in 2017), Trevor Hoffman (74.0% in 2017) and Martinez (70.4% in 2018), we’ve had an unusually large number of near-misses in recent elections — players getting between 70 and 74.9% — and that’s not even counting Mike Piazza (69.9% in 2015) or Tim Raines (69.8% in 2016). Thus, I’ve often hauled out a bit of research that, as updated for Martinez’s 2019 profile, read like this: “Since 1966, 19 out of 20 candidates who received at least 70% of the vote and had eligibility remaining were elected the following year, with Jim Bunning the lone exception; he received 70.0% in 1987 (his 11th year), then 74.2% in 1988 before slipping to 63.3% in 1989. Ultimately, he was elected by the Veterans Committee…”

Left unexplained is exactly how Bunning missed out, and what caused him to fall further. To the first point, as it turns out, in 1988, nine voters — including Bill Madden and Phil Pepe of the New York Daily News, Moss Klein of the Newark Star-Ledger, and at least four other New York-area voters submitted blank ballots as a general protest against what they believed to be the erosion of Hall of Fame standards. “Maybe my standards are higher than most people,” Pepe said. “But I think the Hall of Fame is too crowded … I think to go in alongside Ruth, DiMaggio, Williams, Aaron, Cy Young, you have to be the cream of the cream.”

Had the blank ballots — which are counted in the total, and therefore each require three “yes” votes to offset for a candidate to maintain a 75% share — not come in, Bunning would have received 317 votes out of 418 (75.8%) instead of 317 out of 427 (74.2%). As for Bunning’s support plummeting the next year, to the point that he missed election by 53 votes, it probably owed something to the flood of strong first-time candidates. Both Johnny Bench (who received 96.4% of the vote) and Carl Yastrzemski (94.6%) were slam-dunk first-ballot guys, and some voters may have simply kept their ballots short, leaving off even 314-game winner Gaylord Perry, who had the next-highest share of the vote (68.0%). In head-to-head comparisons, Perry’s win and strikeout numbers dwarf Bunning’s, as do those of Ferguson Jenkins (52.3%); by the next year, the latter overtook Bunning in the voting as well.

Alas, I uncovered one tantalizing Bunning-related lead that turned out to be a dead end. In a 2011 Baseball Prospectus interview with current FanGraphs contributor David Laurila, BBWAA secretary-treasurer Jack O’Connell suggested that the Bunning-bumping blanks were in protest of the Veterans Committee election of catcher Rick Ferrell (the lowest-ranked Hall of Famer at the position according to JAWS). But since Ferrell’s oft-mocked election was in 1984, that theory appears farfetched.

Mike Mussina

Maybe it was because I’d already included a GIF from Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) showing Mussina’s knuckle curve in action that I chose to leave this one out, but more likely, I just plumb forgot.

Gotta love Joe Torre’s reaction. Given the score bug atop the GIF, a bit of Play Index sleuthing reveals that this encounter was from the ninth inning of Mussina’s May 31, 2006 start against the Tigers. Up 6-0, he allowed a two-out RBI single to Magglio Ordonez, who brought home Placido Polanco, who had reached on an Alex Rodriguez throwing error. Mussina finished the job by striking out Carlos Guillen, capping the last of his 57 career complete games.

JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: One-and-Dones, Part 4

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

At last, we’ve reached the final installment of my round-up of the 14 players on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot who are certain to fall below the 5% threshold, with most of them being shut out entirely. It’s no tragedy that they’ll miss out on plaques in Cooperstown, but their triumphs and travails are worth remembering just the same.

Jon Garland

Known mainly for his durability, Garland was the perfect embodiment of a League Average Innings Muncher (LAIM), a term coined by blogger Travis Nelson in late 2003, generally describing dogged but unspectacular sorts such as Dave Burba, Jeff Suppan, and Steve Trachsel who rarely deviated from average run prevention by more than 10%. Over a nine-year span from 2002-2010, the heavy sinker-reliant Garland never made fewer than 32 starts or threw fewer than 191.2 innings, only once finishing with an ERA+ outside of the 91-to-111 range. In 2005, he put it all together, making his lone All-Star team and helping the White Sox to their first championship in 88 years.

Born September 27, 1979 in Valencia, California, Garland grew to 6-foot-5 1/2 and 200 pounds by the time he was a senior in high school (1997), able to throw 90 mph when that was a big deal. That year, he made a variety of pre- and postseason All-America teams, and planned to go to the University of Southern California, but when he was chosen with the 10th pick of the amateur draft by the Cubs, he signed for a $1.325 million bonus and was on his way. Less than 14 months later, he was traded to the White Sox straight up for reliever Matt Karchner in a rare crosstown deal; the Cubs got all of 60.2 innings of 0.1 WAR relief work in exchange for their top pick from the previous season.

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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: One-and-Dones, Part 3

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Yet another installment of our quick look at the 14 players on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot who are certain to fall below the 5% threshold — with most of them being shut out entirely — but are worth remembering just the same.

Kevin Youkilis

At the major league level, Youkilis’ reputation — “Euclis: the Greek god of walks,” as nicknamed by Michael Lewis in the 2003 bestseller, Moneyball — preceded his arrival by over a year. First a source of friction between the A’s analytically-minded front office and their scouts ahead of the 2001 draft, and later a player they coveted as a potential acquisition, Youkilis was Billy Beane’s white whale, forever eluding Oakland’s general manager. Though he lasted just 10 years in the majors, he hit .281/.382/.478 (123 OPS+) while making three All-Star teams, and winning a Gold Glove and two championship rings, one as the Red Sox’s starting first baseman.

Born in Cincinnati on March 15, 1979, Youkilis did not have any actual Greek ancestry. Via Sports Illustrated‘s Mark Bechtel in 2007:

Youk’s family history reads like a Michael Chabon novel: Back in the 19th century in Romania, males were conscripted at the age of 16. The Cossacks in the region weren’t known for their tolerance, so many Jews tried to avoid enlisting in the army. Youk’s great-great-great-grandfather—no one is sure what his first name was, but the family name was Weiner (it’s actually pronounced WINE-er)—moved to Greece, where the family had friends. After a year or two he got homesick and returned to Romania, but he assumed a Greek name so he could avoid the army and jail. And with that, the Youkilis family was born.

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Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 1/3/19

Jay Jaffe: Hey folks, good afternoon, happy new year, and welcome to my first chat of 2019. Sorry for the delay — the payoff of a long game of phone tag came due. Anyway, let’s get started…

Sirras: Do you have any baseball-related resolutions for the new year?

Jay Jaffe: 1) More time at the ballpark — figuring out child care coverage of a 2-year-old when both my wife and I are working within the confines of daily baseball coverage is a trick we have yet to master.

2) Spread out my viewing among more teams.

Travis: Given Larry Walker’s (potential?) surge in balloting so far, and assuming he finishes above 50% – still more likely for him to go in via the Today’s Game committee? Or are we saying there’s a chance?

Jay Jaffe: We’re really kind of in uncharted territory here.

Jay Jaffe: we’ve never seen a surge from 20-something to 75%+ within a 2-year span, and we really haven’t seen even anybody recent get in from mid-50s to 75% in one year. I wrote about big jumps in the modern era of voting history (1966 onward) in connection to the candidacies of Bagwell and Raines a few years back (…) and the closest analogue I can come up with is Luis Aparicio, who went from 36.9% to 84.6% in three years. And that was years 3-6 within a 15-year cycle.

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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: One-and-Dones, Part 2

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

We continue our quick look at the 14 players on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot who are certain to fall below the 5% threshold — with most of them being shut out entirely — but are worth remembering just the same.

Placido Polanco

A valuable player who started for five playoff teams, Polanco didn’t pack much punch with his contact-oriented approach at the plate, but he was quite a glove whiz, rangy and sure-handed, at home at both second base and third. In fact, he was just the second player to win Gold Gloves at multiple positions (after Darin Erstad), and his 136 career fielding runs ranks 31st among all infielders.

Born on October 10, 1975 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Polanco came to the U.S. on a student visa, attending Miami Dade Community College. Drafted by the Cardinals in the 19th round in 1994, he began his minor league career as a shortstop, and though he spent all of 1996 and ’97 as a second baseman, played more short than second during his 45-game callup in 1998. He spent most of his five-season tenure in St. Louis as a utilityman, earning an increasing amount of playing time as his offense improved. In 2000, he hit .316/.347/.418 in 350 PA, while in 2001 he upped his playing time to 610 PA while batting .307/.342/.383; he was a combined 23 runs above average at third base (his primary position), second and short, boosting his WAR to 4.5. The Cardinals made the playoffs in both of those seasons.

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