Author Archive

JAWS and the 2020 Hall of Fame Ballot: Bobby Abreu

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2020 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.

Bobby Abreu could do just about everything. A five-tool player with dazzling speed, a sweet left-handed stroke, and enough power to win a Home Run Derby, he was also one of the game’s most patient, disciplined hitters, able to wear down a pitcher and unafraid to hit with two strikes. While routinely reaching traditional seasonal plateaus — a .300 batting average (six times), 20 homers (nine times), 30 steals (six times), 100 runs scored and batted in (eight times apiece) — he was nonetheless a stathead favorite for his ability to take a walk (100 or more eight years in a row) and his high on-base percentages (.400 or better eight times). And he was durable, playing 151 games or more in 13 straight seasons. “To me, Bobby’s Tony Gwynn with power,” said Phillies hitting coach Hal McRae in 1999.

“Bobby was way ahead of his time [with] regards to working pitchers,” said his former manager Larry Bowa when presenting him for induction into the Phillies Wall of Fame earlier this year. “In an era when guys were swinging for the fences, Bobby never strayed from his game. Because of his speed, a walk would turn into a double. He was cool under pressure, and always in control of his at-bats. He was the best combination of power, speed, and patience at the plate.” Read the rest of this entry »


JAWS and the 2020 Hall of Fame Ballot: Gary Sheffield

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2020 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2015 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. 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.

Wherever Gary Sheffield went, he made noise, both with his bat and his voice. For the better part of two decades, he ranked among the game’s most dangerous hitters, a slugger with a keen batting eye and a penchant for contact that belied his quick, violent swing. For even longer than that, he was one of the game’s most outspoken players, unafraid to speak up when he felt he was being wronged and unwilling to endure a situation that wasn’t to his liking. He was a polarizing player, and hardly one for the faint of heart.

At the plate, Sheffield was viscerally impressive like few others. With his bat twitching back and forth like the tail of a tiger waiting to pounce, he was pure menace in the batter’s box. He won a batting title, launched over 500 home runs — 14 seasons with at least 20 and eight with at least 30 — and put many a third base coach in peril with some of the most terrifying foul balls anyone has ever seen. For as violent as his swing may have been, it was hardly wild; not until his late thirties did he strike out more than 80 times in a season, and in his prime, he walked far more often than he struck out. Read the rest of this entry »


JAWS and the 2020 Hall of Fame Ballot: Manny Ramirez

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2020 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2017 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. 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.

A savant in the batter’s box, Manny Ramirez could be an idiot just about everywhere else — sometimes amusingly, sometimes much less so. The Dominican-born slugger, who grew up in the Washington Heights neighborhood of upper Manhattan, stands as one of the greatest hitters of all time, a power-hitting right-handed slugger who spent the better part of his 19 seasons (1993–2011) terrorizing pitchers. A 12-time All-Star, Ramirez bashed 555 home runs and helped the Indians and the Red Sox reach two World Series apiece, adding a record 29 postseason homers along the way. He was the World Series MVP for Boston in 2004, when the club won its first championship in 86 years.

For all of his prowess with the bat, Ramirez’s lapses — Manny Being Manny — both on and off the field are legendary. There was the time in 1997 that he “stole” first base, returning to the bag after a successful steal of second because he thought Jim Thome had fouled off a pitch… the time in 2004 that he inexplicably cut off center fielder Johnny Damon’s relay throw from about 30 feet away, leading to an inside-the-park home run… the time in 2005 when he disappeared mid-inning to relieve himself inside Fenway Park’s Green Monster… the time in 2008 that he high-fived a fan mid-play between catching a fly ball and doubling a runner off first… and so much more. Read the rest of this entry »


JAWS and the 2020 Hall of Fame Ballot: Derek Jeter

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2020 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.

No other player, not even 2019 Hall of Fame inductee Mariano Rivera — the first player ever elected unanimously by the writers — typified the Yankees’ late-1990s resurgence and evolution into a dynasty more than Derek Jeter. A 1992 first-round pick out of Kalamazoo, Michigan, the 6-foot-3 shortstop seemed not only to be built for stardom but engineered to withstand the spotlight’s glare. Famously instilled with a level-headedness by his parents, who during his childhood made him sign code-of-conduct contracts, he pulled off the remarkable feat of simultaneously exuding a cocky charisma and an off-the-charts baseball IQ while remaining completely enigmatic even in the country’s largest media market. Not only did he avoid mental mistakes on the field, he ably evaded virtually every controversy that surrounded the Yankees; by the time he turned 29 years old, he had been named team captain. During his two decades in pinstripes, he played a pivotal role for 16 playoff teams, seven pennant winners, and five champions. Not until he was 34, deep into his 14th season, did he play a game in which his team had been mathematically eliminated from postseason contention.

With an inside-out swing that yielded consistently high batting averages and on-base percentages, Jeter was a hit machine, an ideal table-setter among the Bronx Bombers. In 15 of his 18 full seasons, he collected at least 179 hits, and 13 times, he scored at least 100 runs. He did both with such consistency and longevity that he ranks sixth all-time in hits (3,465) — not just more than any other shortstop, but more than any other infielder — and 11th in runs scored (1,923). Though he had less power than Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra, the pair with whom he formed the “Holy Trinity” of shortstops, he was fully capable of hitting a well-timed home run. In fact, his 20 postseason homers are third all-time, yet one of the rare October (and November, ahem) records that he does not hold. He wasn’t without flaws, of course. Though his strong arm, sure hands, and low error totals helped him pass the eye tests of casual fans, broadcasters, and even the opposing managers who bestowed five Gold Gloves upon him, his defensive metrics are brutal. Even so, they’re outweighed by contributions in every other aspect of the game.

Thanks to his 3,000-plus hits and his collection of championship rings, Jeter will have no trouble gaining first-ballot entry to the Hall of Fame. With the precedent of non-unanimity finally broken, the primary suspense of this cycle is whether he’ll match Rivera by receiving the full 100% from the writers. Secondarily, and more frustratingly, the possibility exists that his presence on the ballot will overshadow other worthy candidates. Either way, he’ll be standing on the dais in Cooperstown next summer. Read the rest of this entry »


JAWS and the 2020 Hall of Fame Ballot: Andy Pettitte

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2020 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2019 election, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. 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.

As much as Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte was a pillar of the Joe Torre-era Yankees dynasty. The tall Texan lefty played such a vital role on 13 pinstriped playoff teams and seven pennant winners — plus another trip to the World Series during his three-year run with Houston — that he holds several major postseason records. In fact, no pitcher ever started more potential series clinchers, both in the World Series and the postseason as a whole.

For as important as Pettitte was to the “Core Four” (Williams always gets the short end of the stick on that one) that anchored five championships from 1996 to 2009, he seldom made a case as one of the game’s top pitchers. High win totals driven by excellent offensive support helped him finish in the top five of his leagues’ Cy Young voting four times, but only three times did he place among the top 10 in ERA or WAR, and he never ranked higher than sixth in strikeouts. He made just three All-Star teams.

Indeed, Pettitte was more plow horse than racehorse. A sinker- and cutter-driven groundballer whose pickoff move was legendary, he was a championship-level innings-eater, a grinder (his word) rather than a dominator, a pitcher whose strong work ethic, mental preparation, and focus — visually exemplified by his peering in for the sign from the catcher with eyes barely visible underneath the brim of his cap — compensated for his lack of dazzling stuff. Ten times he made at least 32 starts, a mark that’s tied for seventh in the post-1994 strike era. His total of 10 200-inning seasons is tied for fourth in that same span, and his 13 seasons of qualifying for the ERA title with an ERA+ of 100 or better is tied for first with two other lefties, Mark Buehrle and CC Sabathia. He had his ups and downs in the postseason, but only once during his 18-year career (2004, when he underwent season-ending elbow surgery) was he unavailable to pitch once his team made the playoffs.

Even given Pettitte’s 256 career wins, he takes a back seat to two other starters on the ballot (Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling) who were better at missing bats and preventing runs, and who also had plenty of postseason success. Both of those pitchers have reasons why voters might exclude them from their ballots even while finding them statistically qualified, and the same is true for Pettitte, who was named in the 2007 Mitchell Report for having used human growth hormone to recover from an elbow injury. Between those dents and dings and the additional presence of both Roy Halladay and Mike Mussina, who were elected last year, Pettitte received just 9.9% in his ballot debut. In a less crowded field, he could build upon that, at least well enough to persist on the ballot, but he seems unlikely to make much headway towards 75% barring a significant change in the electorate’s attitudes towards PEDs.

About those wins: Regular readers know that I generally avoid dwelling upon pitcher win totals, because in this increasingly specialized era, they owe as much to adequate offensive, defensive, and bullpen support as they do to a pitcher’s own performance. While one needn’t know how many wins Pettitte amassed in a season or a career to appreciate his true value, those totals have affected the popular perception of his career.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Andy Pettitte
Pitcher Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Andy Pettitte 60.2 34.1 47.1
Avg. HOF SP 73.2 49.9 61.5
W-L SO ERA ERA+
256-153 2,448 3.85 117
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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JAWS and the 2020 Hall of Fame Ballot: Curt Schilling

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2020 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2018 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. 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.

On the field, Curt Schilling was at his best when the spotlight shone the brightest. A top starter on four pennant winners and three World Series champions, he has a strong claim as the best postseason pitcher of his generation. Founded on pinpoint command of his mid-90s fastball and a devastating splitter, his regular season dominance enhances his case for Cooperstown. He’s one of just 18 pitchers to strike out more than 3,000 hitters, and is the owner of the highest strikeout-to-walk ratio in modern major league history.

That said, Schilling never won a Cy Young award and finished with “only” 216 regular-season wins. While only one starter with fewer than 300 wins was elected during the 1992-2014 span (Bert Blyleven), four have been tabbed since then, two in 2015 (Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz) and two in ’19 (Roy Halladay and Mike Mussina), suggesting that’s far less of an obstacle than before.

Schilling was something of a late bloomer who didn’t click until his age-25 season, after he had been traded three times. He spent much of his peak pitching in the shadows of even more famous (and popular) teammates, which may have helped to explain his outspokenness. Former Phillies manager Jim Fregosi nicknamed him “Red Light Curt” for his desire to be at the center of attention when the cameras were rolling, while Phillies general manager Ed Wade said, “Schilling is a horse every fifth day and a horse’s ass the other four.” Whether expounding about politics, performance-enhancing drugs, the QuesTec pitch-tracking system, or a cornerstone of his legend, Schilling wasn’t shy about telling the world what he thought.

That desire eventually extended beyond the mound. Schilling used his platform to raise money for research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and, after a bout of oral cancer, recorded public service announcements on the dangers of smokeless tobacco. In 1996, USA Today named him “Baseball’s Most Caring Athlete.” But in the years since his retirement, his actions and inflammatory rhetoric on social media have turned him from merely a controversial and polarizing figure to one who has continued to create problems for himself. Read the rest of this entry »


JAWS and the 2020 Hall of Fame Ballot: Todd Helton

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2020 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2019 election, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. 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.

Baseball at high altitude is weird. The air is less dense, so pitched balls break less and batted balls carry farther — conditions that greatly favor the hitters. Meanwhile, reduced oxygen levels make breathing harder, physical exertion more costly, and recovery times longer. Ever since major league baseball arrived in Colorado in 1993, no player put up with more of this, the pros and cons of playing at a mile-high elevation, than Todd Helton.

A Knoxville native whose career path initially led to the gridiron, ahead of Peyton Manning on the University of Tennessee quarterback depth chart, Helton shifted his emphasis back to baseball in college and spent his entire 17-year career (1997-2013) playing for the Rockies. “The Toddfather” was without a doubt the greatest player in franchise history, its leader in every major offensive counting stat category save for triples, stolen bases, caught stealing, and sacrifice hits, none of which were major parts of his game. He made five All-Star teams, won three Gold Gloves, a slash line triple crown — leading in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage in the same season — and served as a starter and a team leader for two playoff teams, including Colorado’s only pennant winner. He posted batting averages above .300 12 times, on-base percentages above .400 nine times, and slugging percentages above .500 eight times. He mashed 40 doubles or more seven times and 30 homers or more six times; twice, he topped 400 total bases, a feat that only one other player (Sammy Sosa) has repeated in the post-1960 expansion era. He drew at least 100 walks in a season five times, yet only struck out 100 times or more once; nine times, he walked more than he struck out.

Because Helton did all of this while spending half of his time at Coors Field, many dismiss his accomplishments without second thought. That he did so with as little self-promotion as possible — and scarcely more exposure — while toiling for a team that had the majors’ sixth-worst record during his tenure makes such dismissal that much easier, and as does the drop-off at the tail end of his career, when injuries, most notably chronic back woes, had sapped his power. He was “The Greatest Player Nobody Knows,” as the New York Times called him in 2000, a year when he flirted with a .400 batting average into September.

Thanks to Helton’s staying power, and to advanced statistics that adjust for the high-offense environment in a particularly high-scoring period in baseball history, we can more clearly see that he ranked among his era’s best players — and has credentials that wouldn’t be out of place in Cooperstown. But to an even greater extent than former teammate Larry Walker, a more complete player who spent just 59% of his career with the Rockies, Helton’s candidacy is off to a slow start. He received just 16.5% of the vote in his first year, 3.8% less than Walker did in his 2011 debut. Hopefully, he can benefit from a less crowded ballot than Walker faced for much of his candidacy, but he’s a long ways from Cooperstown right now.

2020 BBWAA Candidate: Todd Helton
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Todd Helton 61.2 46.5 53.9
Avg. HOF 1B 66.8 42.7 54.8
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2,519 369 .316/.414/.539 133
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 11/25/19

12:02
Avatar Jay Jaffe: Hey folks, welcome to my first solo chat in over two months! Between our postseason group chats, the Hall of Fame ballot releases timed to coincide with this time slot, and some lesser issues, I’ve been out of the loop with this process but for today, I’m back at it, just in time to avoid giving you any useful Thanksgiving tips.

12:03
Bring Back Jeff: In all seriousness, I do understand what you mean about batting average. This is fundamentally a game about entertaining us. We get to choose what we care about. And batting average is fun, even though it may not correlate all that strongly with the “value” of the player.

12:06
Avatar Jay Jaffe: Last week, a good chunk of our staff descended upon New York City and we did a FanGraphs live thing on Thursday. During my panel, which also included The Athletic’s Lindsey Adler and Marc Carig, I went into a tangent on batting average, saying, “Let’s give a shit about batting average again” or words to that effect (I haven’t played this back https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/effectively-wild-episode-1460-live-fro…), a sentiment that I’ve been mulling for months but haven’t had the chance to write up in full treatise form

12:07
Avatar Jay Jaffe: The statement, which i only briefly fleshed out, has to do with countering the aesthetic shortcomings of the current iteration of baseball before us, and I think Bring Back Jeff’s non-question kind of summarizes some of that. Anyway, I’ll have more to say about the topic at some point this winter, perhaps even in the next couple weeks, but I make no promises as to when because it’s Hall season and I’m up to my neck in both Modern Baseball and BBWAA processes.

12:08
Avatar Jay Jaffe: Anyway… on with the show, which will also be interrupted by a brief radio spot that you can hear via SiriusXM at about 12:35

12:08
Dave: After reading your piece it seems that Rolen didn’t end up having a good relationship with the Cards or Phils. If he’s elected does he go in without a logo?

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JAWS and the 2020 Hall of Fame Ballot: Scott Rolen

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2020 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2018 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. 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.

“A hard-charging third baseman” who “could have played shortstop with more range than Cal Ripken.” “A no-nonsense star.” “The perfect baseball player.” Scott Rolen did not lack for praise, particularly in the pages of Sports Illustrated at the height of his career. A masterful, athletic defender with the physical dimensions of a tight end (listed at 6-foot-4, 245 pounds), Rolen played with an all-out intensity, sacrificing his body in the name of stopping balls from getting through the left side of the infield. Many viewed him as the position’s best for his time, and he more than held his own with the bat as well, routinely accompanying his 25 to 30 homers a year with strong on-base percentages.

There was much to love about Rolen’s game, but particularly in Philadelphia, the city where he began his major league career and the one with a reputation for fraternal fondness, he found no shortage of critics — even in the Phillies organization. Despite winning 1997 NL Rookie of the Year honors and emerging as a foundation-type player, Rolen was blasted publicly by manager Larry Bowa and special assistant to the general manager Dallas Green. While ownership pinched pennies and waited for a new ballpark, fans booed and vilified him. Eventually, Rolen couldn’t wait to skip town, even when offered a deal that could have been worth as much as $140 million. Traded in mid-2002 to the Cardinals, he referred to St. Louis as “baseball heaven,” which only further enraged the Philly faithful.

In St. Louis, Rolen provided the missing piece of the puzzle, helping a team that hadn’t been to the World Series since 1987 make two trips in three years (2004 and ’06), with a championship in the latter year. A private, introverted person who shunned endorsement deals, he didn’t have to shoulder the burden of being a franchise savior, but as the toll of his max-effort play caught up to him in the form of chronic shoulder and back woes, he clashed with manager Tony La Russa and again found himself looking for the exit. After a brief detour to Toronto, he landed in Cincinnati, where again he provided the missing piece, helping the Reds return to the postseason for the first time in 15 years. Read the rest of this entry »


JAWS and the 2020 Hall of Fame Ballot: Omar Vizquel

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2020 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2018 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. 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.

In the eyes of many, Omar Vizquel was the successor to Ozzie Smith when it came to dazzling defense. Thanks to the increased prevalence of highlight footage on the internet and cable shows such as ESPN’s SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight, the diminutive Venezuelan shortstop’s barehanded grabs, diving stops, and daily acrobatics were seen by far more viewers than Smith’s ever were. Vizquel made up for having a less-than-prototypically-strong arm with incredibly soft hands and a knack for advantageous positioning. Such was the perception of his prowess at the position that he took home 11 Gold Gloves, more than any shortstop this side of Smith, who won 13.

Vizquel’s offense was at least superficially akin to Smith’s: he was a singles-slapping switch-hitter in lineups full of bigger bats, and at his best, a capable table-setter who got on base often enough to score 80, 90, or even 100 runs in some seasons. His ability to move the runner over with a sacrifice bunt or a productive out delighted purists, and he could steal a base, too. While he lacked power, he dealt in volume, piling up more hits (2,877) than all but four players who spent the majority of their careers at shortstop, each in the Hall of Fame or heading there: 2020 first-time candidate Derek Jeter (3,465), Honus Wagner (3,420), Cal Ripken (3,184), and Robin Yount (3,142); he’s second only to Jeter using the strict as-shortstop splits, which we don’t have for Wagner. During his 11-year run in Cleveland (1994-2004), he helped the Indians to six playoff appearances and two pennants.

To some, that makes Vizquel an easy call for the Hall of Fame. Debuting on the 2018 ballot, he received 37.0% of the vote, a level of support that doesn’t indicate a fast track to Cooperstown but more often than not suggests eventual enshrinement. Last year’s rise to 42.8%, modest though it may look, is an even stronger indication of eventual election — although these eyes aren’t so sure it’s merited. By WAR and JAWS, Vizquel’s case isn’t nearly as strong as it is on the traditional merits. His candidacy has already become a point of friction between old-school and new-school thinkers, and only promises to be more of the same, not unlike that of Jack Morris.

2020 BBWAA Candidate: Omar Vizquel
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Omar Vizquel 45.6 26.8 36.2
Avg. HOF SS 67.0 43.0 55.0
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2,877 80 .272/.336/.352 82
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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