Friday, January 31, 2014

Eye on 2014: First base

Joe Mauer, first baseman.
Joe Mauer is the 500-pound gorilla of the Twins lineup. Between the talent and the contract, he is the centerpiece of the roster.

And now that he's no longer a catcher, the question remains: Where's the best place to put him?

This much as been established: He's the Twins first baseman now. But it's hard to believe that the least-demanding defensive position is the best use of his athleticism.

Mike Bernadino of the Pioneer Press last weekend put out a short video on Tout of Mauer talking about his limited exposure to third base in his childhood. As soon as Bernadino put the question, Mauer gave a little smile-grimace that conveyed: I know where this is going. You think I should be moved to third.

And there is an argument for the notion. Mauer has the arm and the hands for third base. The arm, at least, is wasted at first.

On the other hand, there aren't a lot of 6-foot-5 third basemen. And Mauer is now 30. He might wind up at first in a couple of years anyway.

And, more particularly, the Twins have Miguel Sano rocketing up the ladder at third base. Trevor Plouffe, the incumbent at third, is just a placeholder. The Twins don't have a Sano equivalent at first base in the minors.

They do have some prospects who might be moved to first base, Sano being one and Max Kepler another.

If the Twins were to put Mauer at third, their first base options would be some combination of Chris Parmelee, Chris Colabello and Plouffe, presumably with Sano getting a crash course in the position in the minors.

There's no real long-term gain apparent from moving Mauer to third base now.

Then there's this aspect. You know the joke about 500-pound gorillas: Where do they sit? Wherever they want. Mauer was, by all accounts, reluctant to abandon his accustomed catching position. He's more comfortable at first than at third. He's the 500-pound gorilla, and he's going to play first base.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Notes, quotes and comment

Yet another ex-Twin returns on a minor league deal. This time it's Matt Guerrier.

Guerrier's 2013 season was ended by a significant injury -- his flexor muscle had to be reattached to the bone -- and spring training opens at the beginning of the end of his rehab. Rehab is supposed to be six to eight months, and it will have been six months since the surgery.

So there's a lot unknown about his condition or ability at this point. What we do know is that he's 35 and wasn't as effective in the National League the past three years as he generally was with the Twins.

It's a low risk, low reward signing. I don't see Guerrier, even if he makes the club, playing a major role in the bullpen, and I doubt he'll make the club. My expectation is that the final spot will still come down to Ryan Pressly vs. Michael Tonkin vs. an out-of-options starter.


More prospect rankings: Keith Law of ESPN released his Top 100 list Wednesday. I can't comment intelligently about his opinions, since I don't pay for ESPN's content (I reserve my financial support on such things for entities not part of the Death Star of sports journalism).

But I do know that the Twins on his list are:

  • OF Byron Buxton, No. 1
  • 3B Miguel Sano, No. 8
  • 2B/OF Eddie Rosario, No. 49
  • RHP Alex Meyer, No. 62
  • RHP Kohl Stewart, No. 76

Law has Meyer and Stewart considerably lower than other rankers do. I don't object to that; both had some physical issues last year.

I saw that Meyer said in a TwinsFest interview that his shoulder soreness is gone and that his most recent MRI is cleaner than when he was drafted. That latter is ... let's say I'm skeptical that two years of pitching pro ball hasn't done something to the shoulder.


The Andrew Albers-to-Korea deal is now official. The lefty gets a nice payday, and the Twins get an open roster spot, which they will probably need this spring, if not before. (Guerrier, signed to a minor league deal, does not count against the 40-man roster; neither do Jason Bartlett or Jason Kubel.)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The updated "Dollar Sign on the Muscle"

The re-release of "Dollar Sign
on the Muscle" features the story
of how the Royals landed Tim
Collins, the little lefty shown on
the cover.
Away back in 1981, a college instructor named Kevin Kerrane spent the year burrowing into the world of baseball scouts. He delved in depth into the Philadelphia Phillies scouting system, and branched beyond the Phillies to get other perspectives from some of the game's most storied scouting veterans.

It took a couple years, but Kerrane turned his material into one of the best baseball books in my collection, "Dollar Sign on the Muscle," published in 1984. I got my paperback copy in '85, and for years revisited it regularly.

The book has been long out of print, and I stopped rereading it some time ago, fearing that its description of the scouting world was no longer relevant in the age of "Moneyball" -- another insightful look into the mysteries of player evaluation, and itself based on a season more than a dozen years in the rearview mirror.

Well, the book is back in print under the auspices of Baseball Prospectus. Kerrane rewrote and updated the conclusion and added a new chapter on the current world of scouting -- going in-depth on Pat Toomey, a scout for the Kansas City Royals (a profile that demonstrates that the colorful scouts aren't completely gone) and on the Washington Nationals' and St. Louis Cardinals' overall approach, but also touching on a Twins area scout, Jack Powell.

One of the conflicts in the original was the romantic individualism of the old-school scouts vs. the organizational bureaucracies, represented by the draft, scouting directors, cross-checkers and "the Bureau," a centralized scouting organization. (It's worth remembering that in 1981, the draft was only 15 years old, and the old-timers like Leon Hamilton and Hugh Alexander missed the days when, if they found a prospect, they could just sign him.)

That particular battle has been decided, if only by attrition (to a man, the old-timers profiled in the original have died in the intervening decades). The Bureau in 1981 included a majority of teams, but not all; today it is run by the commissioners' office and every team is part of it. The draft, for better or worse, isn't going away. The money involved puts the amounts scouting directors fretted over in the early '80s to shame, upping the need for organizational control.

But, as Kerrane makes clear, there remains room in the mysteries of scouting -- in the task of looking at a 17-year-old and deducing what his athletic future holds -- for the obscurities of "the good face."

"Dollar Sign on the Muscle" remains not only a good read. It remains relevant to the baseball world of today.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Catching up on prospect lists

Miguel Sano signs autographs during TwinsFest last
weekend. The Dominican is one of the most-highly regarded
prospects in the minor leagues: No. 4 on's
list, No. 14 in Baseball Prospectus' rankings.

Two notable sets of prospect rankings came out in recent days: put out its Top 100 late last week, and on Monday Baseball Prospectus issued its Top 101.

Regarding the Twins -- the team of emphasis in this corner of the Internet -- there is some agreement and some notable divergence.

The Twins prospects on the list:

  • Byron Buxton, OF, No 1.
  • Miguel Sano, 3B, No. 4
  • Alex Meyer, RHP, No. 28
  • Kohl Stewart, RHP, No.40
  • Jose Barrios, RHP, No. 90

The Twins prospects on the Baseball Prospectus list:

  • Buxton, No.1
  • Sano, No. 14
  • Meyer, No. 32
  • Stewart, No. 54
  • Josmil Pinto, C, No. 56
  • Eddie Rosario, 2B, No. 60
  • Berrios, No. 75
  • Lewis Thorpe, LHP, No. 101

An obvious point of convergence is Buxton. Both lists put him at the very top of the minor league heap. This is now conventional wisdom; Baseball America will have him No. 1 when it publishes its list next month.

Another agreement, at least in terms of the Twins rankings, is that Buxton is followed by Sano, Meyer and Stewart in that order. Again, that matches the BA list for the Twins, published earlier this month.

Now to the divergences: I was surprised when Baseball America didn't have Pinto in its Twins Top 10 rankings; I said at the time that I couldn't see ranking Pinto lower than fifth. Baseball Prospectus is the first list I've seen than agreed with me on that.

MLB and BA put Berrios ahead of Rosario; BP prefers the more advanced hitter. I agree with BP -- if Rosario is indeed a second baseman. He may not have the power to be a quality outfield regular.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Ryan Doumit, still a catcher

So, that post Saturday night about Ryan Doumit deciding he's not going to catch any more? Never mind ...

In retrospect, I should have been a bit more guarded about buying into about the initial tweet. I bit, probably for the same reasons Bernadino did: Doumit said after his August concussion that he had had many concussions, and whether it was his idea or the Twins, he was held out of catching chores in September at least in part to protect him from a repeat concussion before the offseason.

It was credible that he could have decided during the offseason that catching isn't worth the risk. Credible, but not true.

Atlanta's plans with him may not involved a lot of catching anyway. Evan Gattis, who hit 21 homers in less than 400 plate appearances last year (and played almost as much left field as catcher), is supposed to be the No.1 catcher now that Brian McCann is a Yankee. Gerald Laird, who is probably the best backup catcher around, is the No. 2, and Doumit is to take the old Gattis role of third-string catcher, backup outfielder and pinch hitter. The Braves found 380-some plate appearances for Gattis; they can find time for Doumit.

Eye on 2014: Catcher

Josmil Pinto had 26 hits in his
late-season call up, but also struck out
22 times.
When the Twins signed Kurt Suzuki a bit before Christmas, the idea was that he might be the starting catcher, but more likely would be the backup and mentor to rookie Josmil Pinto.

The word out of Twins Fest this past weekend was that Suzuki is likely to be the regular behind the dish.

I infer from this notion that Pinto would be shipped out to Triple A. He's not going to sharpen his defensive chops sitting six days a week, and with Josh Willingham, Oswaldo Arcia and Jason Kubel the presumptive corner outfielders / DH, there doesn't figure to be enough at-bats available to justify Pinto as a DH-catcher.

Suzuki's backup would be either Chris Herrmann or Eric Fryer. Herrmann, a left-handed hitter with the ability to play outfield, is probably the better hitter of the two, Fryer the superior defender.

Last year, with Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit getting the bulk of the catching time, catcher was perhaps the one position at which the Twins got better-than-league offensive production. Mauer's a first baseman now, and Doumit's an Atlanta Brave (and, apparently, not a catcher any more either), and it doesn't matter if it's Suzuki-Herrmann or Suzuki-Fryer -- the Twins catchers will be decisively below average on offense if Pinto's in the minors.

That might be acceptable if the Twins were't giving away so many outs at so many other positions. The Twins were near the bottom of the league in runs scored last year. They will probably need Pinto in the lineup to change that.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Sunday Funnies

It's 1886, and Mike "King" Kelly is a hard-drinking star of the National League's best team, the Chicago White Stockings. Manager and first baseman Cap Anson appreciates Kelly's play — when sober — but dislikes Kelly's nocturnal antics.

The White Stockings announce that Kelly has been fined for being out drinking lemonade at 3 a.m.

The King is miffed.

"I never drank lemonade at such an hour in my life," he declares earnestly. "It was straight whiskey."

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Ryan Doumit, non-catcher

Interesting tweet Saturday evening from the Pioneer Press's Mike Bernadino:

I assume this will not negate the December trade. It was no secret that Doumit had a concussion last August, and no secret that he and the Twins had agreed that he wouldn't catch in September.

The Braves may have traded for him assuming that he would catch for them, but it's difficult to see that they can claim that the Twins hid an injury.

The return of Jack Morris

A few weeks ago, the Chicago Cubs hired Ron Coomer as the analyst for their radio broadcasts. This opened a role on FSN, where Coomer did a great deal of the pre-game and post-game studio (or in-stadium) blather (switching off with Roy Smalley and Tim Laudner).

On Friday the Twins announced that Jack Morris was joining the broadcast team, presumably in the Coomer role.


Morris was, a few years ago, a radio fill-in for the Twins. Like Dan Gladden, he came off as a stubborn old-timer convinced that there is no new knowledge to be gleaned. What he knew -- or merely thought he knew -- when he was playing is all that one can know, or needs to know, today.

I specifically remember a game in which Morris went on a lengthy rant about how foolish teams were to shift Jim Thome as a dead pull hitter in the infield while playing him straight away in the outfield. Morris didn't know Thome's hit charts. Thome hit maybe two groundballs a year toward left field, but hit fly balls that way regularly. Morris didn't know that, and didn't care to know that. The problem was, he then inflicted his ignorance on his audience.

The Twins broadcast teams have been riddled for years with this failing. Bert Blyleven. Gladden. Morris. In an era in which most team's decision makers are delving deeply into statistical analysis, the Twins' broadcast analysts either cannot or will not learn enough about it to inform their audience. One possibility, of course, is that the broadcasters accurately reflected the organization's interest in the subject.

One of Paul Molitor's duties on the coaching staff will be defensive positioning, and he has said that he expects to employ more elaborate overshifts and to rely heavily on hit chart data. It will be interesting to see how this plays out with the traditionalists in the broadcast booths. The Jack Morris I heard a few years ago would be baffled.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Andrew Albers and pitching depth

Andrew Albers had a sensational first two
starts with the Twins last year.
Terry Ryan acknowledged during Thursday night's Diamond Awards that Andrew Albers, who was the Twins' minor league pitcher of the year, won't be in the organization much longer. The lefty has a deal to pitch in South Korea, and the Twins will accommodate him.

As I said the other day, it's a good deal for Albers, who will get more money for one year in Korea than he has in his entire pro career so far. While Ryan doesn't sound enthused about losing the 28-year-old, Albers obviously isn't prominent in Minnesota's pitching plans. They're not losing that much.

Still, pitching is always in shorter supply than we think in January. There aren't a lot of achy elbows and sore shoulders right now. A month from now, when spring training bullpen sessions are under way, there will be.

Half of Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects for the Twins are pitchers: Alex Meyer, Kohl Stewart, J.O. Berrios, Lewis Thorpe, Trevor May. It's easy to look at such a list and say, That will someday be the Twins' rotation, and maybe it will. But the odds are against it.

One can pick that list apart too. Meyer missed a good chuck of 2013. Stewart is just 18 and a Type One diabetic who barely pitched in rookie ball. Berrios is a short righty without a lot of projection who has yet to pitch above High A ball. Thorpe is even younger than Stewart. May repeated the Eastern League last year and led the league in walks allowed.

These are the most promising hurlers in what may be the most loaded minor league system in the game, but none is a sure thing. "There's no such thing as a pitching prospect" is more cynical than I care to accept, but there's truth behind it.

Which is why, even though Albers doesn't offer much upside, and even though the Twins appear to have plenty of alternatives both for the major league and Triple A rotations, there is reason for them to be reluctant to let him go.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A very Yankees signing

Masahiro Tanaka pitches for
Team Japan in 2009.
The Yankees won the Masahiro Tanaka competition: seven years, $155 million (plus a $20 million posting fee to Tanaka's Japanese League team).

There was talk of Tanaka going to the Dodgers, and the Cubs were said to be prepared to outbid everybody, but it's never a surprise when the Yankees come out of a free agent auction with the winter's top prize.

But this is not buying a title, a charge often laid against the Yankees.There's no title at the end of this route.

The Yankees spent a lot of money this winter — on Jacoby Ellsbury, on Brian McCann, on Carlos Beltran, on Tanaka —yet they remain a largely flawed team, one heavily dependent on long-shot returns to form by aging, injury prone stars in decline. Derek Jeter. Mark Teixeira. CC Sabathia. Brian Roberts. Robinson Cano is gone, Mariano Rivera is gone, Andy Pettitte is gone, Curtis Granderson is gone.

Tote up the additions and subtractions, and I don't see the Yankees as better than the Red Sox or the Rays.

Meanwhile, the notion that the Yankees will get under the luxury tax line is dispelled. Perhaps knowing that will free them up to chase the remaining comes-with-a-price free agents. On the other hand, as Tyler Kepner of the New York Times details here, the Yanks have already spent some $500 million this offseason, between free agents and luxury tax bills. And the signings they've made already have cost them their first three draft picks in June (although they'll get one back for losing Cano).

I love this comment in the Kepner piece:

This is what the Yankees do. They understand there is a better and cheaper way, they just cannot execute it. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Andrew Albers, South Korea and the Rochester starting rotation

Andrew Albers
was the Twins
minor league pitcher
of the year in
The word Tuesday afternoon was that Andrew Albers, a soft-tossing left-handed pitcher who had two superb starts last summer for the Twins followed by eight less impressive ones (5.70 ERA in that stretch), has a deal to pitch in South Korea.

There are hurdles to cross, not the least of which is for the Twins to agree to let Albers go.

Albers has good reason to accept the Korean offer; while he's on the Twins' 40-man roster, he's well down the totem pole. Financially, he's certain to do better there than in Rochester, and it's not easy to see his route into the Twins rotation.

Four starting rotation slots are spoken for -- Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey each have multi-million salaries. In the spring training contest for the fifth starter slot, Albers starts off behind Sam Deduno, Scott Diamond and Vance Worley, if only because those three guys are all out of options, which makes them use-or-lose. Albers has all three of his options remaining; it's easy for the Twins to send him back to Triple A.

And as for a midseason callup ... well, there figures to be some higher ceiling options.

Let's project this out. Let's say Deduno opens the season as the fifth starter, that Diamond is kept as a long reliever, that Ryan Pressly is optioned out to work as a starter (a scenario I described the other day) and that Worley and Kris Johnson don't clear waivers (I don't know that Johnson is out of options, but I presume he is). What does the Rochester rotation look like?

Kyle Gibson, for sure. Presumably Alex Meyer and Trevor May will move up from Double A. Pressly would be a serious possibility, given that he had a respectable 3.87 ERA in 76.2 innings in the majors last year. Albers might be the fifth guy in that scenario. Or maybe Sean Gilmartin would be.  It's crowded, even ignoring the out-of-options crowd.

Even if Albers makes the Rochester rotation, when the Twins need somebody to step into the major league rotation, Albers isn't likely to be the first choice.

The Twins are entering (again) the last year of their affiliation agreement with Rochester, and it's an affiliation they really want to retain. The New York Mets desperately want out of Las Vegas -- nobody wants to have their Triple A team there -- and Rochester has a great deal of appeal to them. Rochester wants a winning club.

Keeping Albers might not do anything for the major league club, but it might be very helpful for making the Red Wings happy with a continuing affiliation with the Twins.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A blogger's round number

This post is No. 2,000 since I started blogging here on May 14, 2009, less than five years ago. As I've said before, I may not be good, but I am prolific.

The big round number is as good a hook for a navel-gazing post as any. I have pared down the links on the right siderail, excising several dormant Free Press blogs and one of the AL Central blogs that simply wasn't getting updated. Also axed was a Twins blog (Twinkie Town) I seldom visit and even less seldom get anything out of. The rail links are selected as a means of easing my perusal of the Web, and I want to keep them tidy, tight and up-to-date.

As for the future of this blog ... steady as she goes. Two Twins bloggers I hold in esteem, Aaron Gleeman and Seth Stohs, occasionally make noises about abandoning the field. I understand that; blogging frequently and well is a time-consuming endeavor, and not necessarily financially lucrative.

My take on it is this: As long as the rewards are worth the effort, you keep going. (This is true of any endeavor, not merely blogging, and the rewards don't have to be monetary.) I get enough out of blogging about baseball in general and the Twins in particular to continue putting something into it. Someday I may decide I have something better to do with the time. That day has not arrived.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Eye on 2014: The bullpen

Michael Tonkin
pitched 11.1 innings
for the Twins in
2013 and struck
out 10 men.

The 2013 Twins had a very stable bullpen, with only two real changes from the bunch they opened with. Tyler Robertson washed out after two appearances— really, he probably only made the initial 25-man roster because Anthony Swarzak missed the first week at the end of his recovery from his cracked rib — and Caleb Thielbar was brought up when they went to an eight-man bullpen.

The core eight — Glen Perkins, Jared Burton, Casey Fien, Brian Duensing, Josh Roenicke, Ryan Pressly, Swarzak and Thielbar — all made at least 48 appearances (Swarzak was low man in games pitched but led the majors in relief innings), and only Thielbar (46 innings) threw less than 60 innings.

The Twins have cut Roenicke loose, and if they open 2014 with a seven-man bullpen (as they did last year), it could be the other seven. It could —but I'm thinking not.

The potential change is Pressly. The Rule 5 restrictions he was under last year no longer apply, and he still has all three of his options remaining. Three possible reasons he might get shipped to the minors:

  • There's a (flawed) notion that he could be turned into a usable starting pitcher. (The flaw is that he wasn't an effective starter in the Boston system, which is why the Red Sox exposed him to Rule 5 to begin with.)
  • Three of the contenders for the fifth starter job — Sam Deduno, Scott Diamond and Vance Worley — are out of options. If the Twins want to avoid exposing somebody who doesn't win the job to waivers, that bullpen spot is a way to keep him.
  • Michael Tonkin might be better than Pressly anyway.

Swarzak and Duensing were told at season's end to prepare to compete for rotation jobs, which is what they were told at the end of 2012 as well. Neither was seriously considered for a rotation role in 2013, and I don't really expect them to be seriously considered this time around either.

The Twins will have a few bullpen candidates in camp as non-roster invitees — Delois Guerra and Lester Oliveros come readily to mind — but there doesn't figure to be a lot of competition for bullpen jobs.

Of course, that statement assumes everybody's healthy. With pitchers, that's never a safe assumption.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Sunday Funnies

This month's tale from Kirby Higbe's "The High Hard One," talking about the Dodgers under manager Leo Durocher:

Under Durocher, we could get the signs of all the clubs except the Cardinals and the Boston Braves. The Braves didn't use them. When Casey Stengel, then the manager, wanted to bunt, he would holler, "Bunt." And he would holler for the hit and run and take, too. Leo asked Stengel if he had any signs. "No," Casey said. "If I did, the only players who would get them anyway would be your team."

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Notes, quotes and comment

Workers removed seats from the Metrodome last week.
Power to the building is to be cut off today, which
will deflate the Teflon-and-canvas roof.
Today the Metrodome is to be deflated, I believe for the first time intentionally. I had a bird's eye view as a college student living in a high-rise apartment to the east of the Dome as it was being built. I attended, I dare say, hundreds of games there. I was witness to some of the best moments there, and some of the worst. Some of them, to be honest, are kind of the same. I'm thinking of the Dave Kingman popup that never came down; I was there, wondering if the law of gravity had been repealed. It was both a travesty and impressive.

There's a piece of me that will miss the dump. Target Field is a better place to watch baseball, to be sure. But I spent too much time in the Dome not to feel some fondness for it.


Friday was the deadline for exchanging arbitration figures, and hence a day when the posturing between the two parties ends.

The Twins had three arbitration-eligible players -- Trevor Plouffe, Brian Duensing and Anthony Swarzak -- and signed all three Friday. The projected payroll is roughly $85 million, slightly more than in 2013. (It's projected because there are only 12 players officially signed; most of the 40-man roster has too little experience to have the leverage of arbitration or free agency.


The approval of instant replay was announced earlier in the week. I was wary when Bud Selig announced that expanded replay was coming; I remain wary today.

A couple of pluses: The system put forth last summer has been refined; and its clear that management and players union alike expect further revision after it's been seen in action.

It's worth noting, as well, that the "neighborhood play" on double plays is exempt from review. Nobody wants to force middle infielders to linger around second base to get clobbered.

So that's one significant change down, one to go. Exactly how baseball is going to legislate the home plate collision out of the game remains to be seen.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Eye on 2014: The rotation

Kevin Correia was
the best of a bad
rotation in 2013.
He has one year
left on his contract.
Pitchers and catchers report to begin workouts at the Twins spring training camp a week month from today. (Does that make you feel any warmer today? Me neither. It's still cold.)

The Twins caravan rolled through Mankato last night with 2014 bullpenners Brian Duensing and Ryan Pressly in tow. There's been chatter of shifting one or both (Anthony Swarzak as well) to a starting role, but I don't take the idea very seriously. For one thing, all have track records of being better in relief. For another, there isn't a lot of room in the rotation after the signings earlier this offseason.

While the Twins still have roughly $15 million in payroll space for the coming season, and while some of the bigger names in the winter's free-agent field remain unsigned, I figure Terry Ryan and Co. have made their moves. It's possible Matt Garza or Bronson Arroyo might settle for what the Twins are offering, but a more likely outcome is that those two will land with teams that don't get the biggest fish in the pitching pool, Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka. And I definitely doubt the Twins would surrender a second-round draft pick to sign Ubaldo Jimenez or Edwin Santana to the kind of deals those guys are seeking.

Which means the 2014 rotation shapes up thusly, pitchers ordered by salary commitment:

  • Ricky Nolasco
  • Phil Hughes
  • Kevin Correia
  • Mike Pelfrey
  • Another 2013 holdover (Sam Deduno, Scott Diamond, Vince Worley, Andrew Albers, Kyle Gibson)

Nolasco and Hughes represent a significant investment in free agent arms: a pair of four year deals, with Nolasco's being the most expensive signing of a free agent in Twins history (Joe Mauer was a year away from free agency when he signed his big contract) and Hughes the second biggest.

The interesting thing, really, about the signings is that the money is being paid out not on the basis of past accomplishment but on the basis of projection. Nolasco and Hughes have been around long enough to qualify for free agency, but both have considerable "upside" in this sense: Their peripheral stats have always been better than the raw results. Pelfrey's upside comes from being another year removed from his Tommy John surgery.

It's not a playoff-caliber rotation. That comes, if it does, when prospect Alex Meyer and Gibson — or eventually one or more of the younger guns, Kohl Stewart or J.O. Berrios or Lewis Thorpe — emerge as top-of-the-rotation arms and push Nolasco and Hughes down the list (and Correia off completely).

It should be better than 2013's rotation, but that's an excessively low hurdle to clear.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

This is "potent"? Really?

Alex Rodriguez paid $12,000 a month for this?
I wasn't going to comment further on Alex Rodriguez' suspension. I did a post after the arbitrator's announcement; I wrote the Free Press editorial on  the subject, which ran in this morning's paper. I'd said what I have to say.

And then the US Anti-Doping Agency chimed in with this nonsense:

"... probably the most potent and sophisticated drug program developed for an athlete that we've ever seen ... a potent cocktail of sophisticated PEDs stacked together to deliver power, aid recovery, avoid detection and create a home run champion."

Ahem. Guys, have you looked at what Alex Rodriguez did while on the "most potent drug program we've ever seen?"

The last three seasons, in which Rodriguez was on this potent, sophisticated regimen, he hit .269 and slugged .441 while averaging just 88 games a season. They were his three worst seasons since he was a teenager.

The PEDs didn't work. I know Sunday's "60 Minutes" made it sound like Anthony Bosch was supplying miracle candy, but that report was infused with a noticeable lack of thought and skepticism throughout.

The truth is, A-Rod went into the kind of rapid decline and injury rate one should expect of even a talented athlete in his late 30s. Indeed, considering how high his production was in his prime, his decline might be even more rapid than one should expect.

Home run champion? The man hasn't slugged .500 since the summer he met Bosch.

Aid recovery? That was a nice hip surgery he had last year. It matched the one he had in 2009.

The Anti-Doping Agency has a self-serving reason to sound alarmed. Guys like Bosch are its reason for existence. But really, the foes of performance enhancers should be trumpeting the failure of this "sophisticated" approach to chemical enhancement, not talking it up.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Joe Mauer and the Hall of Fame Monitor

What does taking Joe Mauer out from behind the plate
do to his Hall of Fame chances?
Another post extrapolated from revisiting Bill James' 1994 book on the Hall of Fame ...

When the Twins announced this winter that Joe Mauer would no longer catch, one aspect that got a limited amount of discussion was that this was a heavy blow to his Hall of Fame prospects. My reaction was that this was nonsense: Mauer, I thought, has done the heavy lifting for the Hall. End his career now, a la Kirby Puckett, and he's in, even with just the minimum of 10 seasons.

James (of course) has an objective way to measure how an active player stands, which he calls the Hall of Fame Monitor. The player gets points for each accomplishment. A player with 100 points is likely to get in; a player with 130 or more is a lock.

Mauer tracks at 92.5 right now.

It breaks down this way:

  • 2.5 points for each season of hitting .300, 5 points for each season of .350 (100 or more games). Seasons aren't double counted. Mauer has one over .350, five others over .300, total of 17.5.
  • No points for seasons of 200 hits, 100 RBIs or 100 runs. He has none.
  • No points for 30-plus home run seasons. He has none.
  • Three points for three seasons of 35 or more doubles, running total 20.5.
  • Eight points for his 2009 MVP award, total 28.5.
  • 18 points for his six All-Star games, total 46.5.
  • Six points for his three Gold Gloves at catcher, total 52.5.
  • Six points as the regular catcher on three division-title teams, total 58.5.
  • 18 points for three batting titles, total 76.5; no other points for league-leading stats.
  • No points for career totals in hits or homers. (Those points start kicking in at 2,000 hits and 300 homers; Mauer is at 1,414 and 105 respectively.)
  • 16 points for a career batting average above .315 (.323); this obviously can change, but for now it's a total of 92.5.
  • No points for career longevity at catcher; Mauer has 920 games behind the plate, and he would need at least 1,200 to get any points here.

There is an acknowledged arbitrariness to this system, but (a) it does identify the things that the Hall has traditionally honored and (b) walks the line of acknowledging Mauer's accomplishments as a catcher without going overboard.

The position shift obviously cuts off his chances for the career longevity points at a prime defensive position. It likely hurts his chances for further points for Gold Gloves and All-Star Games. If it keeps him in the lineup 150-plus games a year — something he has never done as a primary-position catcher — he may well start getting points for 200 hits, 100 RBIs, 100 runs. (He's had three seasons in the 90s in the run and RBI categories, one season with more than 190 hits; these get him nothing in the Monitor). He's entering his 30s now, but he's doing so at a less physically demanding position.

Mauer is close already to the 100-point mark. A few more .300 seasons with his usual doubles production, and he'll be there. What he loses from not being a catcher, he can probably regain from NOT being a catcher.

He's going to the Hall.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Baseball America's Top Ten Twins prospects

The dead tree edition of Baseball America that arrived in my mailbox Monday features the Top Ten prospects list for the American League Central teams.

No surprise: Byron Buxton leads the Twins list. Indeed, a cover line makes fun of that: "Breaking: Byron Buxton Tops Twins List."

Baseball America
says J.O. Berrios
"ultimately profiles
as a No. 2 or No. 3
The full list:

  1. Buxton, of
  2. Miguel Sano, 3b
  3. Alex Meyer, rhp
  4. Kohl Stewart, rhp
  5. J.O. Berrios, rhp
  6. Eddie Rosario, 2b/of
  7. Lewis Thorpe, lhp
  8. Trevor May, rhp
  9. Danny Santana, ss
  10. Jorge Polanco, 2b/ss

The surprise, at least to me, is that Josmil Pinto is not on that list. A hard-hitting catcher who is at worse at the upper reaches of the minors ranks below, among others: a singles hitter who doesn't have a set position; a 17-year-old who projects as mid-rotation starter; a 24-year-old pitcher who repeated Double A with a high walk rate; a 23-year-old shortstop with a walk/strikeout ratio of 24/94; and a middle infielder who hasn't played high A ball yet.

They must be really unimpressed with Pinto's defensive chops.

I can't see ranking Pinto lower than fifth on this admittedly strong list of prospects, and I think a good case can be made that he should be fourth or even third.

This list includes five pitchers and five Latin players, three from the Dominican Republic (Sano, Santana and Polanco) and two from Puerto Rico (Berrios and Rosario), plus one from Australia (Thorpe). Two of the 10 were acquirred in trade (Meyer and May).

Monday, January 13, 2014

Doing the Yankees' dirty work

Alex Rodriguez has vowed to take his
case to federal court, but the courts
are unlikely to get involved in a
labor arbitration case.
Back in the 1980s, George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees, was eager to find a way out of the 10-year contract he had signed with Dave Winfield — so  eager that he paid out some $40,000 to a lowlife named Howie Spira, who claimed mob connections, to smear the outfielder.

That scheme backfired on Steinbrenner, who wound up suspended in 1990 by then-Commissioner Fay Vincent. (That suspension is widely seen as a crucial first step in the creation of the late-decade Yankee dynasty; with Steinbrenner out of the way, the baseball people were free to draft and develop cornerstone players Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte.)

Today the Steinbrenner sons are equally eager to get out of their contract with Alex Rodriguez, which runs through 2017 and calls for the third baseman to get some $86 million the rest of the way — plus $6 million in bonuses for home run milestones.

The A-Rod contract posed a major financial problem for the Yankees, who really want to break their string of escalating luxury tax penalties. They had targeted 2014 as the year to get the payroll under $189 million. Getting under that figure breaks the string and ends the escalation of the penalties. But A-Rod was to get $25 million this year.

Now he's to just get $3 million, because on Saturday an arbitrator deemed his suspension for the full season to be valid under major league rules and the labor agreement.

Rob Manfred, COO of Major League Baseball, on
Sunday's "60 Minutes" puff piece.
Major League Baseball — the commissioner's office, and specifically Rob Manfred, widely seen as the successor to Bud Selig when Selig retires — got the evidence to suspend Rodriguez by paying a lowlife named Tony Bosch.

Few can legitimately sympathize with Rodriguez, but one lesson for all should be clear: If you want to get out of your contract, get the commissioner's office to do the bribing.

My distaste for the Yankees no doubt colors my thinking, but I would be far happier with the A-Rod ruling if it didn't relieve the Yankees of serious financial pain that was the result of their own foolishness. The $25 million should still be marked against the Yankees for luxury tax purposes.

Anything less than that will leave a legitimate suspicion that MLB's dogged pursuit of Rodriguez was less about steroids and more about helping the Yankees avoid the consequences of their bad decision.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Sunday Funnies

Jerry Coleman died last weekend. His was an impressive life. He played in six World Series with the New York Yankees as a middle infielder, winning a Series MVP award in the process, and sandwiched that around serving as a Marine pilot in two wars, WWII and Korea. Then he had a long and honored career as a broadcaster, most notably decades as the radio voice of the San Diego Padres.

In this role, he earned a reputation as master of the malaprop, with such gems as:

"Rich Folkers is throwing up in the bullpen."

"And Kansas is at Chicago tonight or is it Chicago at Kansas City? Well, no matter as Kansas leads in the eighth four-to-four."

And: "There's someone warming up in the bullpen, but he's obscured by his number."

 This is said to be his classic:

"(Dave) Winfield goes back to the wall, he hits his head on the wall and it rolls off! It's rolling all the way back to second base. This is a terrible thing for the Padres."

 Yes. Yes it is.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Deadspin ballot

The BBWAA has drummed Dan Le Batard out of future Hall of Fame elections. His offense: allowing the readers of Deadspin to set his ballot.

I don't care for Le Batard's ESPN work, and I have even less regard for Deadspin, but that's neither here nor there. The ballot itself was pretty good. It wasn't the best possible ballot -- the best possible ballot being the one that I would have cast had I a vote -- but there was no real foolishness on display.

Deadspin/Le Batard voted for Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio, Edgar Martinez, Jeff Bagwell, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Curt Schilling. There were a lot of worse ballots cast.

Deadspin had billed its plan to "buy a vote" as a satire of the Hall of Fame election process. That would certainly have been the case had its ballot included, let us say, Jacque Jones, Armando Benitez and J.T. Snow. That, we can all agree, would have been a mockery.

Oh, wait. The legitimate voters cast votes for those guys (one for Jones, one for Benitez and two for Snow). But that's OK, because those voters are not trying to look idiotic. They just are. (They probably know it, too; none of them have gone public.)

Or maybe the issue the BBWAA had with the ballot was that the vote was crowdsourced. In which case we should expect Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle, the organization's vice president and successor next year to the Star Tribune's LaVelle E. Neal III as president, to be similarly disciplined. He's been giving readers access to his ballot for years.

Don't hold your breath on that outcome, either.

The BBWAA is fine with the nonsensical and illogical ballots cast by its members. It took a logically sound one to get the organization upset.

Friday, January 10, 2014

All those camp invites

The Twins on Thursday announced that 23 non-roster players had been invited to major league camp.

Prominent on the list: Prime prospects Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Alex Meyer.

Prominently not included: Eddie Rosario, who was in camp last February as he prepared to play for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. Rosario, of course, is facing a 50-game suspension for recreational drug use. I'm confident that, had he stayed clean, Rosario would also have an invite.

Not that he would be likely to break camp on the 25-man roster. Nor are Buxton, Sano or Meyer. They'll be there to get a taste of the big league side and to be seen more closely by the major league staff. But we should expect all three to open the season in the minors: Buxton most likely at Double A, Sano and Meyer probably at Triple A. They're close.

Jason Kubel and Jason Bartlett are two familiar names on the list. The trade of Ryan Doumit opens a slot for Kubel to take, but he may have to show that his awful 2013 was a fluke. Bartlett, who didn't play anywhere last year and fell off sharply the previous two years, is a longer shot to make the roster.

And there are a handful of players who saw some time on the major league roster last year: Outfielders Darin Mastroianni and Wilkin Ramirez and infielder Doug Bernier. 

There's the usual block of catchers, invited largely because somebody has to be on the other end of dozens of bullpen sessions. The Twins have four catchers on the 40 (Eric Fryer, Chris Herrmann, Josmil Pinto and Kurt Suzuki), so there'll be eight catchers around for the opening weeks. Stuart Turner, one of the invitees, was the team's third-round pick last June.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Running to stand still

Frank Thomas dons a Hall of Fame cap
after his election.
The writers did better than I expected: They elected three players to the Hall of Fame, all first-timers: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas.

They came two votes shy on Craig Biggio, and that somehow was the big initial story, that Biggio just missed. In the context of the argument over the 10-vote limit, Biggio matters; there were plenty of writers who said, Well, if I could go over 10, yeah, I'd have voted for Biggio. The problem I have with that is: How the devil, even on this loaded ballot, do you get 10 guys better than Biggio? Answer: You don't. Not if you're being serious in your thinking.

I suspect those who would have voted for him didn't leave him off because they thought there were 10 better choices on the ballot. They were strategic voting -- giving votes to players they feared might fail to get the 5 percent they need to stay on the ballot. But Biggio, who in most of the late predictions was seen to be just on the edge of election, was the wrong guy to do that with.

Biggio will (probably) get in next year, although the backlog of highly qualified candidates isn't getting smaller. Yes, Maddux, Glavine and Thomas are off for 2015, and so is Jack Morris, who has been bypassed for the 15th and final time by the writers. But next winter the BBWAA ballot will include Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Gary Sheffield.

The upshot is: I saw 18 legitimate candidates on this ballot; four of them have been cleared off, and there will still be 18 legitimate candidates next winter. Even when electing the most players they have since 1955, the writers were simply running to stand still.


Here in Minnesota, of course, the big angle was Jack Morris not getting in. As you know, I don't have a problem with that. He wouldn't have been in my 10 if I had a vote.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Jack Morris and win points, part II

The real reason Jack Morris' Hall of Fame candidacy has persisted so long is this: At this point, NO starting pitchers whose careers began after 1970 (Bert Blyleven's rookie season) are in the Hall.


Now, everybody expects Greg Maddux to be elected when the votes are announced later today, and possibly Tom Glavine as well, but they didn't gets started until the mid-80s. There's a giant gap, essentially a generation of pitchers, without Hall representation.

Morris was the biggest winner of the pitchers of that gap, which, not coincidentally, corresponds with the start of the DH era. So he winds up the standard bearer for the late Baby Boomers.

But should he be? In the post linked to above, I suggested that Ron Guidry or Rick Reuschel might be better choices. Let's apply the win points formula, explained in Tueday's post, to those two:

Reuschel: 214-191, .528 winning percentage, 23 games over .500: 136 win points.
Guidry: 170-91, .651, 79: 190

Yes, Morris (215) beats those two, Reuschel handily, Guidry by a smaller but still substantial margin. And Big Daddy and Louisiana Lightning beat Black Jack by a wide margin on ERA.


This has nothing to do with Morris, but with fresh speculation this week about the possibility of Johan Santana signing with the Twins, I thought I'd run win points on Jo-Jo at this stage of his career.

Santana: 139-78, .641, 61: 150.

Despite a four-year run in which he was universally deemed the best pitcher in baseball, Santana's record doesn't match Guidry's (a rather comparable pitcher) and Guidry never cracked 10 percent on the writers ballot. I think Guidry was unjustly overlooked, but his precedent suggests that Santana will need a substantial comeback to be a serious Hall candidate.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Jack Morris and win points, Part I

With a crowded ballot on his
final chance with the writers,
Jack Morris isn't likely
to be elected to the Hall of Fame
this year either.
There are seven eight starting pitchers on this year's Hall of Fame ballot, plus a handful of relievers. I said here, soon after the ballot was announced, that Jack Morris was at best the sixth best starter on the ballot,  and that was giving him the benefit of the doubt over Kenny Rogers.

As I see it, Morris has only once in his 15 years on the ballot been the best starter listed. In this, his final chance on the writers ballot, he ranks (in my eyes) behind Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling.

The argument for Morris essentially boils down to two points: Wins and durability. But how does Morris' 254-186 won-loss record really compare to these rivals?

In his 1994 book on the Hall of Fame (which, as I said in a previous post, I am rereading in the wake of my Cooperstown visit last month), Bill James offers a formula he called "win points": Career wins times winning percentage, plus games over .500.

The merit of win points in evaluating won-loss record in the context of a Hall of Fame debate, he said, is that it pushes the likes of Sandy Koufax and Dizzy Dean — with short, brilliant careers — forward while downgrading longevity guys with lots of decisions, such as Tommy John and Gus Weyring.

Win points, for a variety of reasons, never caught on as a factor in HoF debates. But I thought it worth working the math in the context of Morris, whose candidacy I have long been skeptical of.

Take Maddux as an example. He was 355-227. Multiply 355 by his .610 winning percentage, and add 128 for his games over .500, and you get 345 win points.

Morris actually scores better on this scale than I expected: 215, the same as Phil Niekro, who is in the Hall. Chief Bender, the first Minnesota native to be inducted into the Hall, scores 214. There are non-Hall of Famers in the same area (Tommy John, for example, is at 217), but Morris isn't surrounded by non-Hall guys.

But in this specific company, Morris doesn't do so well. Going top to bottom:

  • Clemens: 403
  • Maddux: 345
  • Mussina: 289
  • Glavine: 285
  • Morris: 215
  • Schilling: 199
  • Rogers: 190
  • Hideo Nomo: 79

I still rate Schilling ahead of Morris; while the won-loss record is important, there are other factors, such as ERA and strikeouts, and Schilling has much the advantage in those areas. Of the top seven, Morris has the lowest winning percentage (.577).

The guy who really gets a boost in my estimation here is Mussina. I knew he had 270 wins. But I didn't realize that he had a .638 winning percentage. That's mighty impressive. There is really nothing Morris offers that Mussina doesn't trump, other than Game Seven. There's really no excuse for anybody with a vote opting for Morris over Mussina.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Filling out the Hall of Fame ballots

Shortly after my return from Cooperstown I commented on the backlog of highly qualified Hall of Fame candidates overflowing the writers' ballots — and the predictions that the writers would continue to struggle to elect anyone.

There are signs that that gloomy (at least for those who want to see players elected to the Hall) outlook was/is too pessimistic.

Over on Hardball Times today, Chris Jaffe's annual prediction has four players elected: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas and Craig Biggio. Four's a lot — the writers haven't elected more than three in my lifetime — and I'll be surprised if it is truly that high.

A big part of why Jaffe thinks a big block of inductees are coming is that there is evidence — both anecdotal and statistical — that the writers are going much deeper on their ballots than usual. The voters can vote for up to 10 players; they typically vote for around five names apiece (some more, some less).

This year, according to the ballot collecting "gizmo" at Baseball Think Factory, the known ballots are averaging better than nine names apiece.

Which matches something Tyler Kepner of the New York Times tweeted a while back:

And it's my recollection, although I can't find it, that Patrick Ruesse said he voted for nine (and felt a little soiled going that high.)

I hope Jaffe's right, that the electorate is going deeper into the ballot, and that multiple players will be elected. If an old-school small-ballot guy like Ruesse is voting for nine, it just may be so.

But I'm going to have to see it to believe it. I still think there's a hardcore group in the BBWAA that wants to lock the door to this entire generation of candidates.

Eddie Rosario's suspension

Eddie Rosario's
2014 season will
start later than
anybody would
have preferred.
Back in November, word leaked that Eddie Rosario was facing a 50-game suspension for failing a drug test. On Saturday, that suspension became official -- but it was for a "drug of abuse," not for a performance-enhancer, as originally reported.

Does the difference make a difference? In this sense: It takes two positive tests to get suspended for recreational drug use. So Rosario had been caught once before -- exactly when is unknown -- and didn't mend his ways. One time, you can call it a mistake; a second time, it's something more than that.

Terry Ryan's quote in the Star Tribune was rather pointed: "That's a sizable part of the season, but that's the price you pay for not being responsible enough to tell right from wrong."

Certainly Rosario, one of the Twins' top prospects, has done himself no favors with this. He'll miss more than a third of the minor league season. He might well have opened 2014 at Triple A Rochester (having finished 2013 at Double A New Britain); now he's more likely to return to New Britain when his suspension is finished in late May.

But he'll still be in spring training, and I have a sense that he could stand some time off. Rosario played winter ball last year; he played for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic; he played the full minor league season, split between two levels; he played in the Arizona Fall League; he played winter ball again. That's a long grind.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Sunday Funnies

Frankie Frisch was holding one of his lengthy pregame meetings, going over the opposition roster in excruciating detail.

Finally he brought up one of the opposition's little-used pitchers.

"Says this guy's a switch-hitter," the Flash said with a glance at the roster. "How are we gonna pitch him?"

A bored voice arose: "He ain't no switch hitter. He hits three ways -- left, right and never."

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The frozen pitching market

The new year is several days old, and to a large degree the Hot Stove League has frozen up.

Part of it, of course, is that many teams have made their moves. Part of it has been the holidays — it's always a bit slow between Christmas and New Years. And, this year, part of it is the belated posting of Japanese star pitcher Mazahiro Tanaka.

Three prominent established free-agent starters remain on the market — Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez — but not much is happening with them, partly because their flaws are well known and Tanaka's are not. Among those flaws: Garza missed extensive time in 2013 with arm issues; Santana's and Jimenez' strong 2013 seasons were not in line with their previous seasons; and signing Santana and Jimenez will cost not only money but a draft pick.

My expectation is that once Tanaka signs, things will unlock, at least for Garza. He will "only" cost money, not a draft pick.

(There was a report this week that the Twins had checked in with Garza, who, of course, started his career with Minnesota. The issue for the Twins, according to the report, isn't salary, it's years; they want a shorter-term deal than the pitcher wants. This may well be linked to his arm issues of the past season.)

Santana and Jimenez? With the draft pick attached, they each have the possibility of being this year's Kyle Lohse, who was unsigned until well into spring training last year.

Lohse wound up with Milwaukee, and had a pretty good season for a weak Brewers team: 11-10, 3.35 in just under 200 innings. But I don't think St. Louis regretted letting him walk — they won the pennant without him and pocketed a draft pick in the process.

The current free agent compensation system is in its second year, and none of the 22 free agents who got a qualifying offer has accepted it. I suspect that until somebody does, teams will be increasingly willing to extend the offer (expecting it to be rejected), and free agents will be increasingly frustrated by the way the draft pick penalty degrades their market.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Steroids and the Hall of Fame

A sign in the Hall of Fame museum regarding
steroids and other performance enhancers.
One reason for the heavy backlog of Hall of Fame candidates -- not the only reason, to be sure, but part of it -- is the issue of performance-enhancing drugs.

Baseball spent a decade or more with steroids an essentially open secret, tolerated if not encouraged by players, managers, owners. Then, suddenly, it wasn't OK. 

The Hall voters are now trying to judge the careers of players who thrived in the steroid era. Different people can have different views on the subject without being obviously wrong; my views have changed from time to time.

I do think this: The prevailing ethos in baseball in the 1990s -- and probably in the late 1980s as well -- said steroid use was OK. Indeed, I believe some organizations expected it, and that those players who declined to juice up were viewed as lacking in dedication.

Tony LaRussa -- who managed some of the most notorious juicers of the juicing era, who vociferously defended the likes of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire -- he's going into the Hall of Fame this summer. So is Joe Torre, whose Yankee dynasty was riddled with users suspected and confirmed. It strains credibility to believe either was ignorant of the steroid use by their teams. They were among the enablers, if not among the encouragers.

But McGwire isn't likely to be elected when the results of the writers' balloting is announced next week. Nor, presumably, are Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds -- who, if we take their numbers seriously, may well be the greatest pitcher and hitter ever, but who bear a steroid taint. Nor, presumably, will Mike Piazza or Jeff Bagwell, who are the targets of steroid rumor.

A portion of the electorate appears to hold the position that, lacking certain knowledge of who used, everybody from the era should be considered guilty. I don't see it that way.

It seems to me that, if there's room in the Hall of Fame to honor LaRussa, there's room for Bonds and Clemens, and certainly for the likes of Piazza and Bagwell. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

On the plaque: Old Hoss Radbourn

Radbourn's Hall of Fame
plaque, which declares him
"the greatest of all 19th century
Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn.
Let's say it up front: There's a lot we don't know for sure about Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn, starting with the spelling of his last name. Is it Radbourn or Radbourne? The consensus spelling today omits the "e," but his gravestone, and his Hall of Fame plaque, include it.

Nor is there complete consensus on his statistical record, which is hardly unusual with 19th century players. It does seem pretty well settled, however, that he won 59 games in his remarkable 1884 season, not the 60 he is sometimes credited with.

Nor is it certain that the term "Charley horse" originated with Radbourn's aches and pains in that iron man season; there are other competing versions that have nothing to do with Radbourn. And he may or may not have been the first to be photographed flipping the bird.

But there is sufficient photographic evidence to support this assertion: Old Hoss didn't look anything like the image that adorns his Hall of Fame plaque. That face looks like a cartoon image from an illustrated "Casey at the Bat" kids book. One wonders where they got the grandiose moustache and the chiseled, jutting jaw.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

History and the Hall of Fame backlog

In the days since I returned from my visit to Cooperstown, I've poked around a bit in the Bill James history of the Hall of Fame, first published in 1994 as "The Politics of Glory" and later republished as "Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?"

I really wish, in retrospect, that I had thought to re-read the book before the trip.

As we await the announcement this week of the results of this year's BBWAA election -- an election in which the writers are confronted with a massive backlog of highly qualified candidates, and an election in which it's entirely possible that only one player will be selected -- one of James' points seems particularly relevant.

When the voters face a backlog, it splinters the voting sufficiently that they have difficulty electing anybody. And when that happens, the Hall's powers-that-be respond by opening a backdoor that ultimately results in a watering down of the quality of the inductees.

This happened at the beginning of the Hall, when the electorate was confronted with some 65 years of players to pick from. When the process snarled, the "Permanent Committee" responded by unilaterally installing 21 people in two years (1945-46). Many were legitimate selections (Ed Walsh, Eddie Plank, Ed Delahanty -- and that's just the ones with my first name), some were debatable (the en masse induction of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance), some were just plain bad picks (Tommy McCarthy, Jack Chesbro).

This at least cleared the decks and made it easier for the writers to focus on the remainders -- at least until somebody had the lousy idea in the mid '50s to cut the voting back to every other year. And bam, the writers failed to elect anybody between 1956 (Hank Greenberg and Joe Cronin) and 1962 (Bob Feller and Jackie Robinson). The result of that drought: a revamping of the Veterans Committee that generated a wave of selections, many of them mediocre picks apparently chosen in large part for being old teammates and cronies of the members of the committee.

The writers failed last year to elect anybody. Bill Deane, who has a very good record at predicting the Hall votes, predicted earlier in December that only Greg Maddux will get in this year -- that fellow 300-game winner Tom Glavine will be left out, that 3,000-hit man Craig Biggio will be left out, that Frank Thomas and Jeff Bagwell will be left out ...

There are at least 18 players on this year's ballot who are, by the statistical record and the existing standards of the Hall, worthy of votes. The backlog is only going to grow.

And if the writers don't figure out a way to whittle it down, the Hall will inevitably do it for them.