Saturday, January 10, 2015

Still more Hall of Fame comment

Lest we forget: Craig Biggio
began his career as a catcher and made
the NL All-Star team at the position
the year before he moved to second base.
Let's see if I can't wrap this up and move on to other topics next week:

■ The BBWAA -- or at least past president LaVelle Neal -- seems pretty satisfied with the last two rounds of voting, and indeed the writers did select seven players the past two winters.

But six of them were first-timers on the ballot, and they only got four this year because more than half the electorate used all 10 ballot spots.

The key question moving forward is: Will the voters continue to cast deep ballots, or will they revert to voting for three or four rather than nine or 10? The 2016 ballot will include Ken Griffey Jr,, and he's a cinch, but the next first first-timer is Trevor Hoffman, and he's a more dubious candidate. There's an expectation that Mike Piazza will get in.

I'm a skeptic on the BBWAA voters, and will be until the body is pared back and/or the 10-candidate ballot limit is gone.

■ One reason John Smoltz may have vaulted past Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling is his three-and-a-half year sojourn in the bullpen. Smoltz racked up 154 saves in 2001-04 after having Tommy John surgery, then returned to starting in 2005 (and led the National League in wins in 2006).


This strikes me as faulty thinking. Position players don't get any additional love from the voters for making mid-career position switches. Craig Biggio, to cite another 2015 inductee, made the 1990 National League All-Star team as a catcher in 1991, In 1992 he was a second baseman. There were plenty of arguments put forward on Biggio's Cooperstown credentials, but nobody argued that he belonged because he could catch AND play second base AND outfield.

Smoltz, in a sense, followed the Dennis Eckersley track to the Hall. Smoltz was a better starter than Eckersley, and the Eck was probably a better reliever, but if you split Eckersley's career in two -- here's a starter, and here's a reliever -- neither's getting in. Do the same with Smoltz, and I'm not sure he does either. Those 154 saves tend to differentiate his stat line from Mussina and Schilling.

But nobody can seriously believe Mussina and Schilling couldn't have been just as dominant in relief. They weren't relief pitchers because they could start, and starters are more valuable. Smoltz spent those years in the bullpen because of his injury and surgery. It's more a weakness than a strength. He was good enough at it that he certainly didn't hurt his case with his bullpen years, but it shouldn't have helped.

The same is true for Biggio. He moved to second base in part because he wasn't all that good a receiver. His catching days aren't a part of his Hall of Fame argument. He was good enough to play there, not good enough to stick there.

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