I know the results from the latest Hall of Fame voting aren’t in yet, but it’s already clear that the process is deeply flawed. It was always imperfect, but its flaws are now deep, possibly mortal. The voting process is not equipped to handle the messy challenges of our day, and the Hall of Fame is suffering as a result.
Consider what is likely to happen when the results are announced on Jan. 9. The early betting was on Jack Morris and perhaps one or two other apparently clean players, such as Craig Biggio, earning enshrinement. The current guess is that no one will be inducted from this tremendous class of players, perhaps the best of all time. This would be a travesty.
The (arguably) greatest pitcher and batter in the history of the game won’t be admitted? The (unarguably) greatest-hitting catcher of all time won’t be admitted? What of some of the greatest home run hitters the game has ever seen?
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The Hardball Times Baseball Annual for 2013 is now yours for the purchasing. This is something we do every year, just for the heck of it. In fact, this is our ninth THT Annual, and we’re trying a few new things this year.
First of all, we went the self-publishing route. We always had a great relationship with our previous publisher, ACTA Sports, but it’s so easy to self-publish, and the economics are better (we think). So you’ll notice that our cover art has changed, and we won’t be available in bookstores. The price is lower, and the dimensions are a bit smaller, too. We’ll let you know how it goes.
The Annual is now 6″x9″—easy to carry and read. We dropped the stats altogether after significantly cutting them back last year. As time went on, the stats became a less important feature of the Annual, because it’s so easy to pick up your stats online at any time. Other than that, the format is exactly the same.
You’re left with 300 pages of baseball eloquence, primarily contributed by THT and Fangraphs writers, as well as a few special guest writers. Here is the specific table of contents:
Joe Crede is finally hitting the way Baseball America thought he would. Remember, when Crede was a 24-year-old third baseman in AAA Charlotte, he batted .312/.359/.571 with 24 home runs in just 359 at bats. His minor league career was filled with honors (twice the MVP of his league and twice the White Sox’s minor league player of the year) and an All-Star major league career seemed inevitable.
Before this year, it hadn’t quite happened. Over the last three full years of play, he’s batted .261, .239 and .252 with a high of 22 home runs. His OPS (On-Base plus Slugging) was below the league average each year, as was his batting WPA . Despite his fine glove and World Series heroics, Crede was considered a disappointment by most White Sox fans.
Something has clicked for Joe this year. He’s batting .298/.333/.545 and he’s already set a career high with 25 home runs. He’s creating 6.8 runs a game and his batting WPA is 1.53, making him three wins better than average.
As you can see on the following graph of his Runs Created per Game, he’s been consistently fine this year, suggesting he truly has moved up to another level of production.
How has he done it? He’s striking out less and hitting more flyballs, without losing any power. Crede has always managed to put the bat on the ball, but this year he’s been particularly adept at it:
When a player makes better contact, you might expect him to give up something in power, but 13% of Crede’s outfield flyballs have been home runs, the same as last year. His home run totals are up because he’s hitting more outfield flies:
The White Sox’s Jermaine Dye is also clearly having a career year. He’s creating 9.7 runs a game and his WPA is 4.25. But his production is driven by a big jump in his BABIP (from .286 last year to .353 this year) and flyball production (17% home runs last year to 25% this year). No one should expect him to maintain that pace.
Joe Crede’s story appears to be different. Of course, he could also go back to his old self the rest of this year and next year, but the stats indicate something more permanent. At the age of 28, Joe Crede is finally meeting the expectations folks had for him.
A week ago, the Rangers and Brewers swapped leftfielders and a few other players. Texas acquired Carlos Lee and minor leaguer Nelson Cruz for Kevin Mench, Laynce Nix, Francisco Cordero and a minor leaguer. At the time, I thought Cordero (an A reliever most of his career) was the key to the deal, and I called Mench a “poor man’s Lee.”
Most Internet posters seem to think that the Rangers got the best of this deal. For instance, ESPN’s Keith Law opined…
Unless the Brewers have a second move in mind involving Mench, Cordero, or Turnbow, it’s hard to see how this is a good return on arguably the most attractive position player on the trade market.
But the erstwhile MGL, in this thread feels that once you include fielding and baserunning, Mench is actually a better player than Lee — and he’s cheaper to boot. So I thought it would be fun to compare the two. Let’s start with a basic Runs Created graph, showing each player’s Runs Created over their career:
You’ve got to say that the Brewers picked a fine time to trade Lee, who is having the best year of his career and will be a free agent at the end of the season. Mench isn’t having as good a year, but his production was very similar to Lee’s prior to 2006.
Breaking down their stats a little, Mench and Lee have exhibited the same level of on-base skill throughout the years…
..but the difference between the two this year has been their power.
Almost 18% of Lee’s outfield flies have been home runs, compared to a previous average of about 13%. Given his track record, I’d say it’s highly unlikely he will maintain that rate for the rest of the year.
In comparison, Mench has kept his home run/outfield fly rate at about 11% (aided by his old home park), but his 2006 slugging decline is more related to a higher groundball rate (42% vs. a previous career average of 36%). That could be a disturbing trend, because changes in batted ball rates can signal abrupt changes in a batter’s true performance. At least, that’s my hypothesis. Maybe I’ll test that someday…
If you had compared Lee and Mench at the end of last year, you might have said that Lee has a slight edge in power but not much else. Does this year–particularly Mench’s increase in groundballs–change that assessment? I will leave that to you.
As for fielding, Mench ranked 15th among leftfielders last year and Lee ranked 23rd, according to John Dewan’s Fielding Bible. Lee truly looks like a bad baserunner, however. The Hardball Times Annual gave him -2.8 baserunning runs and Mench received a positive 2.2.
Overall, there appears to be about a 10-run edge for Mench in fielding and baserunning (equal to one win) and prior to this year, you might have rated Lee and Mench relatively even in batting prowess. Add in the fact that Mench is younger and won’t be a free agent for two years, and you might actually believe that Mench really isn’t that “poor” a relation to Lee. In the meantime, watch his groundball rate.
They say that 50 is the new 40, but I like to say that Francisco Liriano is the new Felix Hernandez. Seattle’s Hernandez made a splash in his major debut last year, going 4-4 with a 2.67 ERA and displaying great velocity, control and the ability to keep the ball on the ground. Sadly, he has not performed as well in 2006, though his long-term potential remains intact.
This year, Minnesota rookie Liriano is even better than Hernandez was last year, with a 9-1 record and a 1.99 ERA. Like Hernandez, Liriano strikes out batters, doesn’t walk them and keeps the ball on the ground. But some of you may have forgotten that Liriano actually made his debut last year, when his ERA was very similar to Hernandez’s 2006 ERA (admittedly, in only 23.2 innings pitched). In fact, the two youngsters over the past two years form an “X” on this ERA graph:
Two pitchers, so similar in stuff, have been contrasts the past two years. Let’s take a closer, graphical look at some of their components to see if we can spot the key differences between them last year and this year.
Both pitchers are premier strikeout pitchers, though Liriano is particularly impressive. He leads the major leagues in strikeouts per nine innings and Hernandez is 14th.
Both pitchers also have great control — Liriano has particularly improved his control this year, a key to his great start…
In general, pitchers have the most control over strikeouts and walks — after that, things start to break down a bit. For instance, a big difference between these two young studs in 2006 is the last of the “three true outcomes,” the home run. Hernandez and Liriano have have formed another “X” on either side of the major league average, which partially accounts for Liriano’s improvement and Hernandez’s decline.
Once a ball is hit in play, a pitcher is dependent on his fielders for help. Liriano’s fielding support has remained around the major-league average, but Hernandez’s hasn’t, as you can see in this graph of each pitcher’s Batting Average on Balls in Play.
But the most dramatic difference between the two phenoms the past two years has taken place on the basepaths. Take a look at the percentage of baserunners each pitcher has left on base this year and last:
Felix’s LOB% has gone down, and Liriano’s has gone WAY up. Now, this change isn’t entirely random; pitchers with a 1.99 ERA will almost always have an impressive LOB%. But it’s one more part of the equation for each pitcher, which might be summarized as follows:
Hernandez in 2006: more home runs, more hits falling in, more baserunners scoring.
Liriano in 2006: improved control, fewer home runs, fewer baserunners scoring.
These trends mean next to nothing regarding each one’s long-term promise. In fact, the most meaningful difference between the two is one I haven’t graphed, age. Hernandez is two-and-a-half years younger than Liriano, which makes his potential long-term career a bit brighter.
Here are a couple of bonus graphs, the batted ball types for both pitchers. First up is Hernandez’s, and you can see that he hasn’t been as strong a groundball pitcher as he was last year (Note: the green line is the percent of batted balls that are groundballs, the blue line represents the flyball percentage and the red line represents the percentage that are line drives):
Finally, here is Liriano’s graph. The key is that he is getting batters to pound the ball into the turf as often as Hernandez. In fact, the two kids rank fourth and fifth in highest groundball percentage among all league pitchers — an extremely impressive stat.
Remember that combination: groundball pitchers with 95-100 mph fastballs and great control. You can’t beat it.
Mark Teixeira hasn’t had a good first half. He’s batting .282 with an OBP of .366, figures that are very much in line with his performance the last three years. But he’s only hit eight home runs, compared to 38 and 43 the last two years. As a result, his power numbers are down. On the left graph, you can see the key stat for Teixeira, his Isolated Power. Last year, his Slugging Percentage was fifth-best in the league. This year, his power has been just average.
So, what happened? Well, the first thing to note is that Teixeira’s underlying profile hasn’t changed much at all. For instance, both his walk and strikeout rates are in line with career stats — if anything, he’s improved in these two areas.
When a player’s home run count drops suddenly, you might assume that his flyball rate has dropped, too. After all, pitchers’ home run rates are often a simple result of their flyball rates. However, batters don’t typically change their batted ball profiles very much, and Teixeira hasn’t really changed his this year either, as you can see in this graph:
Teixeira did hit a lot more flyballs in the beginning of the year, but his groundball rate has risen (not a good trend) and his average flyball, groundball and line drives rates are now in line with his previous years. So, what gives indeed?
The simple answer appears to be that he’s not hitting the ball as hard as he used to. Over the last three years, 20% of his outfield flyballs were home runs. This year, he’s at 7%. The good news is that his out rate on outfield flies is holding steady around 77%, which means that last year’s home runs are falling for singles and doubles this year. In fact, he’s tied for second in the AL with 26 doubles; his career high is 41.
Mark Teixeira is the same hitter he’s always been, just less powerful. Perhaps his timing is off, or perhaps pitchers know something about him. Perhaps he’s in a protracted power slump and he’ll turn it around the second half of the year. Perhaps he has a nagging injury. In this age of unsubstantiated rumors, I don’t want to make any other guesses. Let’s just watch and see what happens.
With Albert Pujols on the sidelines, the best player in baseball right now is Carlos Beltran. Beltran is fourth in the league in Runs Created, behind Pujols and two Designated Hitters (Thome and Hafner). Add his excellent glove in center field, and you’ve got the best player currently playing.
Things didn’t go so well for the multimillionaire last year. He batted .266/.330/.414 for the entire year, compared to.300/.408/.643 so far this year. Plus, he’s already stolen 17 bases in 19 attempts, vs. 17 of 23 last year. Improved health has got to be a factor for the Mets’ center fielder, as well as adjusting to New York. Let’s see if we can spot any other details in his peformance graphs.
First of all, Beltran is striking out at a noticeably higher pace this year, higher than at any time in his career.
Strikeouts aren’t necessarily a bad thing, however, if they’re offset by higher walk rates and performance, and Beltran is doing quite well in both categories. His walk rate has spiked this year, and the following graph illustrates that 2005 appears to have been an aberration against a longer trend of increasing walk rates.
Most importantly, Beltran’s batted ball profile has changed dramatically this year. Last year, he hit more groundballs than flyballs, a pattern he had established in three of the previous four years. This year, however, he’s following the same pattern he had in 2004, batting most pitches far into the sky and forsaking groundballs and line drives. On the following graph, flyballs are blue, groundballs are green and line drives are red. I think the changing pattern is pretty clear, don’t you?
The bottom line is a marked increase in Beltran’s Slugging Percentage. In fact, if he were to maintain his pace for the entire year (an unlikely event), it would establish a career high.
Carlos Beltran has become a different type of hitter this year: a swing-for-the fences power hitter with great plate discipline and speed. This is probably a permanent change in style for the 29-year-old — many players have undergone similar changes at this age. If he avoids injury for the next few years, Met fans will not regret that big contract after all.
It’s the latest baseball scandal — Jason Grimsley took steroids, he took greenies, he took Human Growth Hormone. Once diligent steroid testing began (and after he tested positive for steroids in 2003), he quit the ‘roids. But he kept taking HGH, and he’s not the only one. Now that he’s been caught, he’s naming names.
I know it sounds terrible, but I take some pleasure in this latest news. Hasn’t it been obvious that lots of players beside Barry Bonds have taken illegal drugs for years to enhance their performance? Can’t we now spread our ire to the many instead of the few?
This is obviously just the beginning of the next black mark for baseball. In the meantime, I’ve been wondering if we could pick out when, exactly, Grimsley started using the stuff. According to the affidavit, he first took steroids in 2000 to help him recover from Tommy John surgery, but he may have been taking them sooner. Can we pinpoint a date? Did the drugs have an impact? Let’s see. First, here’s a graph of Grimsley’s ERA for every year of his career…
Whoa. Tom Verducci claims that Jason Grimsley was a different pitcher in 1999 and it sure looks like something happened between 1996 and 1999, doesn’t it? Of course, maybe he just got better, or maybe he performed better in relief (he was primarily a starter before 1999 and a reliever afterwards) Let’s take a closer look at some of his component stats. First, strikeouts per nine innings…
If steroids impact strikeout rates, it doesn’t appear that Grimsley’s medical routine had an impact until 2001 and 2002. And even then the evidence is sketchy. How about walks per nine innings?
This is surprising. It appears that Grimsley’s drug routine may have helped him locate the ball better. I’m sure the truth isn’t that simple, but this kind of finding is perplexing. How about home run rates, you ask?
Some evidence, but nothing too compelling here. Steroids and HGH might have helped Grimsley keep the ball in the park but, as a groundball pitcher, he didn’t give up a lot to begin with. For one last clue, let’s take a look at his Batting Average on Balls in Play (or BABIP):
This is, perhaps, most telling. Grimsley’s batted balls were fielded more often, for whatever reason, after 1998. As a groundball pitcher, Grimsley’s BABIP would tend to be above the average, but pehaps he gained an extra measure of movement or speed on his sinker, making his balls more fieldable and giving him more confidence to throw strikes.
This is all speculation, of course. Drugs may have had no impact on Grimsley’s performance at all. Perhaps he was just better suited to a relief role. If drugs did make an impact, it seems that he started taking them before 2000.
Uncovering the impact of performance-enhancing drugs for any single player is not going to be easy.