Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 11/25/19

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: That’s an interesting question whose reality we should be so lucky to ponder. Rolen seems to be a likely candidate for a blank cap given the bitter divorces he had from the aforementioned teams. He grew up rooting for the Reds and had two All-Star seasons there, but relatively few games, so I’m not sure that one makes sense.

stever20: what do you make of the early start to the free agent market(with a lot of above average signings)?  Is free agency “back”?  Or just a few fluky signings?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I think it’s a promising start to see major free agents – guys among the best available at their positions such as Grandal and Will Smith — come off the board before anybody has put their Thanksgiving turkey in the oven. That said, the bullshit of the Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers and other teams emphasizing how much they CAN’T spend should have everybody concerned that a) things could quickly get frosty and b) not everything is on the up-and-up.

Logan: A lot of Grandal’s value comes from pitch framing, but it seems that robot umpires are going to arrive at the MLB level within a few years.  Do you think that at all impacted teams’ evaluation of Grandal’s long-term value?  And more generally, do you think we’ll see smaller contracts for catchers in the future as a result of the electronic strike zone?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: We’re probably at least a half decade away from full implementation of robot umps, given that it’s something that would have to be addressed in the next CBA, contentious topics within which will hardly be in short supply even without this, and  there has to be something in the next umpires’ CBA too though I’m not sure when that’s up for negotiation. Of greater relevance is the way framing ages for catchers in the early to mid 30s, but if you consider that including this past year’s deal Grandal wound up getting about $90 million for his five years, a very modest advancement on the McCann and Martin deals, i don’t think his valuation took much of a hit

bosoxforlife: Derek Jeter is unquestionably a Hall of Famer but I am puzzled by his bWAR. Despite having a 96.3 Offensive WAR his overall number is only 72.4. His defenseive number is -8.3. That can be argued about but where did the remaining 15.6 WAR go?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: WAR is not the sum of oWAR and dWAR; the positional adjustment is included within both. By B-Ref’s reckoning, using Total Zone and Defensive Runs Saved, Jeter was a whopping 243 runs below average but because he played shortstop, the second-most difficult position, he gets a boost via the adjustment whereas a DH like David Ortiz, who was just -15 runs afield, has a dWAR of -20.9.

ben: Putting aside contract provisions, do the Yankees have a legitimate gripe with Ellsbury, or is this just about saving money?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I don’t think any of us knows enough to say for certain. The description of the doctor makes him sound like a sketchy grad from Hollywood Upstairs Medical College, but the timing of this complaint by the Yankees — they’re only learning about this now? — raises eyebrows.

Wes: Is it too early to start a ‘Bill Dahlen / Buck O’Neil / Gil Hodges 2021’ campaign?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: The guy promoting Jim McCormick’s candidacy has been at it for a couple years already, and the Munson guys were at it for years, too. Knock yourself out, but don’t expect me to retweet you endlessly (and I’m a firm no on Hodges — it’s Miñoso and Dick Allen who deserve to go in via the Golden Days ballot).

Travis: The HoF is the one selecting the players/execs/etc. for the various committees, and there’s little to no insight/transparency as to how those ballots are constituted & selected. Is there a >0% chance of that process ever being made more transparent for fans who wonder how those ballots are created?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: LOL no.

JKD: I am on board with you, about batting average! As a Nats fan, one of the fascinating things over the past not just season but six seasons, was how they really rebuilt the team basically *against* the consensus of “strikeouts and batting average don’t matter” and chased players who put the ball in play (of course, hitting it hard), work at-bats, but mostly don’t strike out. As everyone got to see – they’re fun to watch! And I do think there is an extra, hard-to-quantify element where being able to put the ball in play helps you in the postseason.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: The successes of the Nationals (2nd-lowest K-rate in NL), 2018 Red Sox , 2017 Astros (leaving aside the obvious) and before them the 2014-15 Royals have suggested that lower strikeout rates can be very helpful so long as they’re not just producing easy grounders to shortstop and so on. It’s an interesting push-pull as to how that plays out in the postseason given the increased parade of hard-throwing, high-K% relievers, but I do think the industry in general has been underrating contact skills.

Jason N: I didn’t know blank cap was a thing.  Doesn’t the Hall just choose his cap?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: The player can voice his preference, which will be taken into consideration, but the Hall has final say. I don’t think they’ve gone against anybody who has preferred a blank cap.

Slapshot: Do you have any thoughts on Anthony Rieber’s HOF ballot and his reasons for the vote?  Seems quite insulting to the players he dumped from last year.  Not to mention the fishy logic needed to claim Derek Jeter is so transcendent an athlete that he should be on stage at Cooperstown this coming summer alone (I mean, Mariano Rivera isn’t worthy of the same honor in his eyes?).

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I’m out of the business of critiquing even the crummiest individual ballots, not because I’m giving anyone a pass for their poor choices (or in most cases lack of same) but because I’d rather save my energy for the more positive aspect of Hall season, namely promoting candidates I (and my system) support. I’ve found that this is a much more productive tactic when it comes to gaining acceptance for my work

Avatar Jay Jaffe: ok there will be a brief pause while I talk to Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette on SiriusXM

Ben: Does Dwight Evans have any chance?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: …and I’m back, thank you to those who stuck around.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Evans has a chance, I guess, in that he’s on the ballot and we don’t know what the electorate will consist of — call this the Baines of Our Existence Effect — but I believe that there are at least 4 stronger candidates in there in Marvin Miller, Lou Whitaker, Ted Simmons, and Thurman Munson, and IMO, the debate for the fourth spot comes down to Evans or Munson, which is a career vs. peak argument most of all

Mac: Thoughts on the Jeter-Walker-Rolen comparisons? Why Jeter is an easy 1st ballot selection while Walker and Rolen might not get voted in at all despite very similar WAR totals among all three?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: it’s not hard to understand why; Jeter had a much longer career, reached the major milestone of 3,000 hits, and played on five championship teams, while the others missed a lot of time due to injuries and only rarely had a postseason spotlight upon them.

What I hope the comparisons do is highlight the fact that our ability to estimate most every aspect of a player’s game shows that even less-than-perfect-attendance guys like Rolen and Walker were every bit as valuable, if not moreso, than guys whom we routinely laud for reaching those milestones and sticking around until the bitter end.

Guest: How would you address the “5%” guys who deserve serious consideration but got dropped off the ballot because everyone forgot to vote for them? There obviously needs to be a way to distinguish them from the “nice to see on the ballot but no way a HoFer” guys. Maybe have the screening committee re-consider last year’s dropoffs for re-nomination or something?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I think I’d prefer a progressive threshold for remaining on the ballot, maybe three chances to get to 5%, and five chances to get to 15%. Something like that.

Robert: Over or under on 2022 as the year Bonds gets into the HOF? Seems like momentum is on his side, especially with the Selig induction.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: The momentum was on Bonds and Clemens’ sides when the retired voters were sunset-clause’d in 2016 and Bud was elected in 2017, but that’s no longer the case. The gruesome twosome has gained just about 5 points over the past two cycles and despite their receiving 83-85% of support from new voters, the electorate isn’t turning over quickly enough to get them to 75%. And so long as the Hall of Fame can stack the Era Committee panel with whomever it chooses — Joe Freakin’ Morgan, writer of the letter that helped to push back against the PED guys, was on last year’s committee, fercryinoutloud — well, it could be a long while.

Denny: Given Beltran’s lack of coaching/managing experience, is Meulens a decent choice for bench coach? Do you know much about him? Am curious about whether his strengths are in being a good clubhouse chemistry guy, a good in-game strategery guy, someone reasonably well-versed in analytics, etc…

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I like the choice, yes. I’ve heard great things about Muelens and am surprised he hasn’t received stronger consideration as a manager, but the regime change in San Francisco, where both he and Ron Wotus were vying to succeed Bruce Bochy, obviously created an obstacle. I think he’s viewed as a culture/communication guy (he speaks 5 languages) but he’s got experience managing in the minors and WBC, as well as previous bench coach experience, so I imagine he’ll help with the in-game stuff considerably.

Dave: Maddux, Halladay, Mussina examples of blank cap guys

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Catfish Hunter i think was the first, at least of the recent wave.

v2micca: Wheeler isn’t Cole or Strasburg.  But is there any reason that a team that intends to contend in 2019 shouldn’t taking a closer look at him?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: He’s vying with Ryu as the 3rd-best free agent starter after that pair. I’d imagine his injury history might be cause for concern, but he’d help most contenders by providing 180+ innings of above-average work for a few years

Roid ragin cajun: How do you feel about the HOF voters when they turn in a blank ballot? You don’t have to answer that, just blink twice if you think its stupid.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: While I am loathe to criticize individual one-name ballots, I think blanks shouldn’t be counted and that the idiots who send them in should be pelted with rotten tomatoes in the town square

Big Joe Mufferaw: I’m sure you have answered this, but are you more of a “Big Hall or Little Hall” guy? To me it seems if we have that debate, it means we are doing it the right way.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I’m for an equitable Hall of Fame where we maximize the inclusion of deserving candidates and minimize the inclusion of undeserving ones. I’d like to think that’s more nuanced than a big/little distinction but it probably is more the former than the latter.

Matt: I know you think the rationale for even considering this is absurd but can the Cubs move Contreras and/or Bryant and still be competitive in ’20? Seems to be a move it or lose it approach to their core players, with respect to extensions.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I mean, it depends on what they get in return, right? and on having some of the guys who underperformed in 2019 bounce back. I can’t imagine a return for Bryant would justify a trade if he wins his grievance and gets to 5 years of service time, though I’m also not very sure he does win it. With Contreras, you’re talking about a catcher who’s averaged about 2 WAR over the past 3 years, that’s hardly irreplaceable.

Cove Dweller: Just wanted to say that I really enjoyed your recent Marvin Miller article.  I didn’t know about how he felt about his induction (but I still think he should be in there).

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Thank you! Yes, I struggle with the question somewhat given his wishes and those of the family but I think the bigger priority is to appropriately recognize his place within baseball history, and having his plaque glare at Bowie Kuhn’s for eternity seems fitting.

Jaffe SZN: Is it more fun when the ballot is overflowing like recent years or now when it might open it up for other folks?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Good question. I think the packed ballots have been been boom times for my own work and the use of advanced stats to help triage the overcrowded ballots but I’m also happy to see a bit more breathing room so that guys like Walker, Rolen, Wagner, maybe even Sheffield and Abreu get some more love from voters.

Charlie: Is Max Scherzer a HOF lock yet? 7 years in a row of top 5 Cy finishes, including 3 wins. Does he need to get to 200 Ws to be considered a lock for the voters? I’m excited about the first HOFer to go in with a Nats hat on his plaque

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Though he didn’t win the Cy Young this year, his 3 awards, World Series ring, and the inevitability of 3,000 strikeouts probably put him into near-lock territory

Tom: Thank you, for all of your HOF articles, but especially for your Vizquel article and the way you drew the contrast between him and Ozzie Smith. Growing up a Cardinals fan in the 1980s, it became cool for a time in the 1990s for kids to say that Vizquel was actually better than Smith. I’m glad to see you refute that

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Thanks. I can’t say I love raining on people’s parade about a player that many of them revere, but my commitment is to the process of analyzing candidates with the tools and context available, and letting our conclusions follow. And somebody’s always gonna get the short straw there. That said, all of this, I think, is more interesting when it’s challenging the conventional widsom in some way, and I think the Omar piece does that as much as the Rolen and Walker (e.g.) pieces do.

just a guy: bryant to the dodgers for may, lux, and someone else seems to make a lot of sense for both clubs no?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: LOL no, not if he’s got only one year of control left and probably not with 2 years left even. Those are top-20 prospect guys, and Friedman isn’t going to just give them away when they’re already able to help.

TomBruno23: Today’s unsolicited book rec: They Bled Blue by Jason Turbow. A Halbertstam-esque deep dive into the 1981 LA Dodgers. Do it

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I have to get to Michael Fallon’s Dodgerland first — finally bought that via the U of Nebraska Press sale a few weeks ago and it’s high on my list.

Roger: If you were inducted into the HOF of the National Sports Media Association, would you go in with a Fangraphs cap, an SI cap, or a . . .  Thomas Dunne Books cap (as the publisher of The Cooperstown Casebook)?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Haha, ask me in a couple decades on that one.

In all seriousness, one of the challenges I’ve put myself up to since becoming a BBWAA member in 2011 is getting out of the habit of wearing the caps of current teams. That means retiring my Yankees cap instead of wearing it to games I attend as a fan (I’m part of a partial season ticket package that dates back to 1998) and opting for others that have some significance. Salt Lake Bees (recognizing where I grew up, with a throwback to their pre-affiliation PCL days), Brooklyn Dodgers (since I’ve lived here since late 2007, and with multiple design varities), Walla Walla Padres (where my grandparents lived), and a Jayson Stark Spink Award commemorative cap are the ones in the current rotation.

Big Joe Mufferaw: For Thurmon Munson, why isn’t he a HOFer if his peak is good enough for it? He DIED on his way to a 4 WAR season.. Are we assuming he would’ve sucked the rest of his career?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Because for all too long, Hall voters have been way too focused on career length rather than peak.

Cooperstown Casebook fan: If Sweet Lou and Ted Simmons make it this year, will you consider a CC Vol 2?  (Since maybe it means voters are heeding your advice?)

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I would really like to do a Casebook 2 and intend to pursue the matter in earnest soon. From the current book we’ve already got Raines (who was already elected by the time the book went to press, but was a victory lap), Trammell, Edgar, Mussina, and Rivera in. We can hope the same for Walker, and the two guys you name, and Schilling’s election is inevitable. I’ve got current/recent profiles I’d include and some other ideas for ones, too (Bill Dahlen, come on down!) plus a few longer-form pieces in mind.

Greene: Now that Rivera broke the “unanimity barrier,” so to speak, will we see much more frequent unanimous HOFers?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: More frequent in that we may see some — perhaps even Jeter — but I don’t think it’s going to be automatic.

Matt: Do you expect both Lester and Quintana to continue experiencing the steady deterioration in performance that we’ve begun to see over the last couple seasons?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I’m more optimistic about Quintana than Lester due to age/mileage but I think both are capable of being better than average in 2020.

PM: Jay great job on the panel last Thursday. I wanted to ask a question to all of the three panels but time never allowed. Knowing what we know right now, if forced to choose a single position for him, would you have ohtani hit full time or gamble on the “ace” upside and convert him 100% to pitching

Avatar Jay Jaffe: That’s a tough one. If I’m going the hitting route I’d want him to play the outfield, too, so as to augment his value, but I think the pitching might be worth pursuing first, knowing that the hitting can be a fallback if there are complications.

v2micca: I’m one of those that still believes in the quality of Jharel Cotton’s stuff and think the Cubs got an absolute steel on what could easily become their Jake Arrietta 2.0.  Am I just completely off in my assessment?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: That’s almost certainly a stretch but he’s worth a flyer at the very least

Roid ragin cajun: What are the odds that any of the accused steroid users (Clemens/Bonds/Sosa, etc), making the HOF?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Unless the current dynamic changes, long odds. But never is a long time and I do think we’ll see a point where the wind shifts.

Hal: How much faith do you put in pre-UZR/DRS defensive stats? Your Vizquel article led me to read up on how Total Zone’s calculated and now I think we treat it as much more authoritative than it really is

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I put some faith in TZ, obviously. Intuitively the way it’s constructed makes some sense — divvy up responsibility on balls in play, compare to league positional average — but certainly think it’s worth looking at multiple systems. With Omar, he does pretty well by those numbers, but the giant crater left by his offensive shortcomings means it’s not nearly enough to justify election, IMO.

Cownose Ray: How much do you think catcher defense, or defense in general, will be rewarded by the committee going forward?  Isn’t it fair that McCann and Rolen look really great only in light of defense, but weren’t spectacular (like Ozzie Smith or Brooks Robinson spectacular) to garner special recognition among the stodgier voters?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: If you don’t think Rolen wasn’t spectacular you (by which i mean voters) weren’t paying attention. The Gold Gloves suggest at least somebody was, and the work is well-supported by the advanced metrics.

Which, getting back to the question about TZ: any system where Brooks Robinson, Mark Belanger (and very close behind, Ozzie Smith), Willie Mays, and Roberto Clemente rank number one at their positions, backing a whole lot of conventional wisdom and contemporaneous observation, seems to be a system worth paying attention to.

Wireless Joe Jackson: Not sure how to report this, but the “load more comments” button hasn’t worked for me on any articles for about a month now (Chrome).

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Will relay this to our tech side.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: OK, with that, it’s time for me to call it a day. Let’s do more of these, yes? I’ll set my alarm to do one in this timeslot next week. Thanks for stopping by, and enjoy turkey day. Here’s hoping you have as much to be thankful for as I do.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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Glad to see the support for Minoso and Dick Allen. Minnie was a great player and paved the way for many Latin players. I saw Allen several times in his brief White Sox stint – fearsome hitter, good defensively and terrific base runner. His rate stats are really good.

Both are deserving.