Hall of Fame debate season is upon us, and subjectivity is inherent in the process. For every no-brainer candidate there are always several for whom a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down is largely in the eye of the beholder. Pushing bias aside — not always an easy exercise — one must weigh a ton of factors. Think “The Scales of Justice,” but with WAR, win totals, and DRS taking the place of a blindfold, a balance, and a sword.
Cutting to the chase, Omar Vizquel — arguably the most-polarizing player on the current ballot — probably deserves to be enshrined in Cooperstown. Attempting to not clumsily put a thumb in my eye while stating his case, I hereby offer the following statistical facts:
Vizquel ranks 43rd all-time with 2,877 hits. Nine of the 10 players directly below him on that list — Brooks Robinson among them — are in the Hall of Fame. The one who is not is Harold Baines. Vizquel had more hits as a shortstop than did Cal Ripken.
Vizquel had 7.676 assists as a shortstop, third-most in history behind Ozzie Smith and Luis Aparicio. He ranks first in both double plays and fielding percentage (minimum 6,000 innings). Official scorers charged him with just 183 errors.
Vizquel holds the record for most big-league games played as a shortstop. His 2,709 games at the position — a position near the top of the defensive spectrum, no less — ranks right in front of Derek Jeter’s 2,674. Vizquel played more games at shortstop than Ernie Banks and Lou Boudreau combined.
Here is a list of the players with the most defensive games at each position:
With the exception of Vizquel and Bonds — a first-ballot selection were in not for extenuating circumstances — all of those players have been voted into the Hall of Fame. Is Vizquel the least-accomplished of the bunch? That is probably the case, but just how much should it matter?
Playing in the big leagues is hard. Playing in the big leagues long enough, and effectively enough, to accumulate high-number counting stats is harder. Far harder. Thus the conundrum; how exactly should one weigh counting stats vis-a-vis rate stats when assessing Hall of Fame worthiness? Again, subjectivity is inherent in the process. Lady Justice is an allegorical personification.
It came out before he was born, so there’s a decent chance Nick Northcut isn’t familiar with the King Crimson album “Discipline.” He maybe should be. The 19-year-old Red Sox prospect approaches hitting — and life — in much the same way Robert Fripp approaches his guitar stylings. Northcut is all about technical expertise and structure, yet not afraid to explore boundaries.
Had he not signed with the Red Sox this summer as an 11th-round pick, he would have gone to Vanderbilt as a two-way player. He originally committed to the SEC powerhouse as a pitcher, but then his “hitting started taking off a little bit” and the Commodores changed their tune. Not that it ultimately mattered. With third base and hitting now his “bread and butter,” he decided to go pro.
Bypassing college to chase his dream wasn’t necessarily an easy decision. Education is important to the artistically-inclined family from Mason, Ohio. Northcut’s father has a doctoral degree and is a professor in the music department at the University of Cincinnati. His mother has a master’s degree and gives private flute lessons.
The apples didn’t fall far from the tree. Northcut plays the guitar, while his younger sister — “the one with the most talent in the family” — was runner up for Annie, on Broadway, when she was nine years old. As the proud older sibling put it, “She’s chasing her dream as well.”
Northcut’s dream chasing began this summer in the Gulf Coast League, and later with the short-season Lowell Spinners. His right-handed stroke is built for power, and the hitters he tries to learn from bear that out. He name-checked Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado when I asked who he most keeps his eyes on. Not surprisingly, he admires Joey Votto as well.
As for the approach he’s taken into pro ball, that circles back to the mathematical precision found in much of Fripp’s work, as well as what he learned watching his parents play.
“Coming from the background that I do, I learned at a young age to do things like a professional,” Northcut told me. “I was knee high to a grasshopper, going to my parents’ concerts and watching people take care of their business. They stuck to their routines and performed. They were disciplined. That’s what I try to be, but at the same time, you have to let yourself have fun. You have to play this game with a man’s mind and a kid’s heart.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Frank Howard and Larry Sherry were Dodgers teammates from 1958-1963. They were later rivals, “Hondo” slugging for the Senators, Sherry pitching for the Tigers. How did they do when matched up against each other? Glad you asked. Howard went 5 for 6 with four home runs against Sherry.
Steven Brault led this column two Sundays ago, at least to the extent that he offered some opinions and his name was in the title. As much as anything, the subject at hand was Shohei Ohtani and future of two-way players. Brault’s ability to hold his own with the bat — and more than hold his own in the quote department — gave him top billing in the piece.
This week we hear from Pittsburgh left-hander on a different subject: himself. More specifically, his pitching self. Brault made a career-high 45 appearances for the Pirates this year — five of them starts — and went 6-3 with a 4.61 ERA. I asked him how he goes about attacking hitters.
“What makes me effective is when I attack the zone and just have fun with it,” responded the anthem-singing southpaw. “I can’t nibble. I’m not a Tom Glavine, a guy with pinpoint accuracy, but I do hide the ball well and kind of make people uncomfortable. When I’m good, I’m tapping into that and saying, ‘Hit this.’”
For Brault, hiding the ball well isn’t a contrived talent. It’s his natural motion.
“I throw like a weirdo, I guess,” Brault said with a shrug. “That’s always been one of my things. My fastball is faster than it is.”
Kieran Lovegrove, who led last Sunday’s column, has signed a minor-league deal with the San Francisco Giants. Lovegrove spent his first seven professional seasons in the Cleveland Indians organization.
Geelong-Korea is off to a 1-7 start in their first Australian Baseball League season. On Saturday, they were obliterated by the Perth Heat, losing by scores of 15-2 and 23-2. Tim Kennelly, who played in the Phillies system from 2005-2012, went 7 for 10 with two doubles, a triple, and two home runs for the Heat in the double-dip slaughter.
Joe Siddall has been inducted into the Baseball Ontario Hall of Fame in the Player category. Currently a member of the Blue Jays broadcast team, Siddall caught for the Montreal Expos, Florida Marlins, and Detroit Tigers from 1993-1998.
A random 50-year-old snapshot of the pitcher with the most career appearances (545) in Detroit Tigers history:
On August 20, 1968, Tigers southpaw John Hiller threw a one-hit shutout against the White Sox. Three days later, the Scarborough, Ontario native came out of the bullpen to throw nine scoreless innings against the Yankees in a game that ended in a 3-3, 19-inning tie.
An addendum to last Sunday’s look at “The Walking Man”:
In 1956, Washington Senators third baseman Eddie Yost had a .231 batting average and a .412 on-base percentage. In one nine-game stretch that year he went 4 for 27 with 17 walks.
Section 40 at Fenway Park is in the lower bleachers, right behind the Red Sox bullpen. I watched a large number of games from there in 2007, and a constant was the loud jeering of Drew from a fan seated a few rows behind me. He called him Nancy, and despite being an obvious Red Sox fan, reveled in the right fielder’s every failure.
In Game 6 of that’s year’s ALCS — a must-win game for the Red Sox — Drew came up to bat in the first inning with two outs and the bases loaded. I said to the friend sitting next to me, “If Drew hits one out, I’m turning around and telling The Nancy Guy to go F himself.”
Drew drove the ball out to give the Red Sox a 4-0 lead, and I did as promised. The fan, with whom I’d never before interacted, predictably responded with a stunned look. I proceeded to explain myself, at which point he admitted that the crude admonishment was very much deserved.
The Red Sox proceeded to win that game, and the next day they triumphed in Game 7. Drew then slashed .333/.412/.467 in the World Series. Apparently appeased, “The Nancy Guy” henceforth quit dogging Drew.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Over at Our Game, John Thorn wrote about how the sky Is falling, baseball is dying, and the roof may leak.
Ashley MacLennan wrote about the reality of the blockbuster contract at Bless You Boys.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
(The first two items in this week’s list come courtesy of Aidan Jackson-Evans, who is a great follow on Twitter if you enjoy this kind of baseball esoterica.)
Bruce Chen is the only player in MLB history to have a 1.000 batting average in as many as three seasons. Playing in the DH-less American League, the itinerant southpaw went 1 for 1 in 2006, 2009, and again in 2010. Two of those three hits came against Livan Hernandez.
Ron Mahay holds the record for most seasons with a 1.000 winning percentage. The journeyman reliever, who pitched from 1997-2010, had six such seasons. His records in those loss-free campaigns were 5-0, 3-0, 3-0, 3-0, 2.-0, and 2-0.
Glenn Williams played in 13 big league games — all with the Minnesota Twins in 2005 — and hit safely in all of them. The native of New South Wales, Australia went 17 for 40 while setting the obscure record he still holds. No other player in MLB history has appeared in more than three games and recorded a hit in each one.
Adrian Beltre batted .286 with 237 home runs and an .820 OPS in home games. He batted .286 with 240 home runs and an .818 OPS in away games.
Stan Musial had 3,630 hits — 1,815 in home games, and 1,815 in away games.
From 1911-1918, Brooklyn first baseman Jake Daubert batted .310 and struck out 310 times in exactly 4,000 at bats.
Terry Mulholland had three hits in his first 71 at bats. He then had three hits in his next five at bats. He followed that up with… three hits in his next 71 at bats.
Mariano Rivera made 96 post-season performances and allowed 86 hits in 141 innings. His post-season ERA was 0.70.
Brian Doyle slashed .161/.201/.191 in 214 plate appearances over parts of four big league seasons. He went 7 for 16 for the New York Yankees in the 1978 World Series.
In 1903, Pittsburgh Pirates left-hander Ed Doheny went 16-8 with a 3.19 ERA. That September, while his team was playing in the first modern World Series, Doheny suffered a nervous breakdown. He was subsequently committed to an asylum, and remained institutionalized for the remainder of his life.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.