Monday, April 30, 2012

New Beers Resolution Update #2

Well, it looks like I've made it through four months of 2012 without drinking the same beer twice, and it's really becoming an enjoyable exercise. But, it will be an even greater challenge in the coming months.

First of all, I've already used up my one Bud Light for the year, as our second softball game of the season happened to fall on a Friday night. I'm not really sure why, but this is the only beer my teammates ever purchase for these post-game down-at-the-field gatherings. But, let me tell you, after drinking one last Friday night, I'm left wondering if I'll ever drink that swill again.

You see, I've reached the age where even drinking one beer results in a less-than-adequate night of sleep. I've struggled with this reality for a few years and even wondered if I should consider giving up drinking entirely, especially considering the new addition to the family. But, I like craft beer too much—and brewing my own on the all-too-rare occasion—that I can't bring myself to take such an extreme measure.

So, I limit my beer drinking to one or two on Friday and Saturday nights and I just deal with being a little tired the next day. But, to feel that way after drinking one Bud Light? Definitely not worth it.

Besides, I have a resolution to maintain.

Back to that subject. The other major challenge, which I've mentioned before but which hasn't yet become relevant, is the home brewing thing. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it, though.

Since I've been tracking my consumption, I'm able to see how much I'm drinking each month and I found a recent trend surprising. Here are my numbers of beers drank each month so far:

January - 14
February - 16
March - 17
April - 12

Now, February included the Super Bowl—oh, what a glorious occasion to drink five beers in one evening—and March included the Farrar/Anders/etc. show (four beers) but, I hadn't realized my April consumption was so low until I counted.

Oh well. I guess I'm slowing down, but the total of 59 through four months means the upper end of my original prediction (180) is looking pretty realistic.

Whether I make it through the entire year without breaking the resolution still remains to be seen.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

All-Time Teams #4: Boston Red Sox

This is part of an ongoing series where I'm naming an all-time team for each of the current 30 MLB franchises, and using this as a vehicle to discuss their greatest eligible player who is not in the Hall of Fame.

I didn't know what to expect when I solicited input from BBA bloggers and a few others on this project. That is, I didn't know how much response I'd get—not much, really—nor how I would feel about the responses. So, I wanted to keep my options open, meaning I had no intention of considering these submissions as votes I would simply tally. Rather, I would just consider them as input.

But, when I quickly received responses from my two favorite bloggers who identify as Red Sox fans, I knew those votes would be taken quite seriously.

Adam Darowski writes for Beyond the Boxscore, but more importantly, he's the creator of the Hall of wWAR, an alternative Hall of Fame based on an intelligently devised and diligently refined statistical formula. If you're not already familiar with his work, I highly recommend you check it out. You should also follow him (@baseballtwit) on Twitter. But, since he has about three times as many followers as I, you probably already do.

Bryan O'Connor is the sole blogger behind the cleverly titled Replacement Level Baseball Blog, but I'm sure I'm not the first to say his writing is well above replacement level. I also loved Bryan's response to my request for input: "If you don't get a ton of responses to this, I don't understand what other bloggers think about in the shower."

If you're in need of material to ponder in the shower or when you're trying to get your stressed-out mind off the things that are keeping you up at night—that definitely doesn't describe me, I swear—Bryan's blog is an excellent place to start. You should also like his page on Facebook.

Franchise History
Boston Red Sox (1908- )
Boston Americans (1901-1907)

An asterisk (*) denotes a Hall of Famer.

Starters
C - Carlton Fisk* (1969, 1971-1980)
1B - Carl Yastrzemski* (1961-1983)
2B - Bobby Doerr* (1937-1944, 1946-1951)
SS - Nomar Garciaparra (1996-2004)
3B - Wade Boggs* (1982-1992)
LF - Ted Williams* (1939-1942, 1946-1960)
CF - Tris Speaker* (1907-1915)
RF - Dwight Evans (1972-1990)

Rotation
Roger Clemens (1984-1996)
Cy Young* (1901-1908)
Pedro Martinez (1998-2004)
Lefty Grove* (1934-1941)
Luis Tiant (1971-1978)

Closer
Jonathan Papelbon (2005-2011)

There were only a couple minor differences between what Adam and Bryan sent me with regard to the starting eight, rotation and closer.

Bryan had Jimmie Foxx at 1B and Yastrzemski a reserve outfielder, but I was already considering a position switch for Yaz and his 765 games played at first to fit the second-best position player in Red Sox history into the starting lineup.**

Adam had Babe Ruth in his starting rotation, but Bryan had him as a reserve, with Tiant slotted into the fifth spot in the rotation. I chose to go the latter route, essentially selecting Ruth as this team's ultra-utility player.

**I didn't grant a similar accommodation to Chipper Jones on my Braves all-time team because I didn't think his 357 games (and two seasons as starter) in left field were enough to warrant it. So, I guess somewhere in between is my unofficial cutoff.

Reserves
P/OF - Babe Ruth* (1914-1919)
C - Jason Varitek (1997-2011)
1B - Jimmie Foxx* (1936-1942)
IF - Johnny Pesky (1942, 1946-1952)
SS/3B - Rico Petrocelli (1963, 1965-1976)
OF - Jim Rice* (1974-1989)
OF - Reggie Smith (1966-1973)

Bullpen
Smoky Joe Wood (1908-1915)
Mel Parnell (1947-1956)
Ellis Kinder (1948-1955)
Dick Radatz (1962-1966)

As close as these guys were in their thinking about the top players in Red Sox history, there was less consensus about filling out the roster. Both Adam and Bryan had Ruth, Foxx, Rice, Wood and Parnell somewhere on their teams, but beyond that the choices weren't as easy. In fact, a couple of these guys (Pesky and Radatz) appeared on neither of my contributors' 25-man teams.

Personally, I thought it was a tossup between Pesky and John Valentin for the utility infield spot. I gave Pesky the slight edge based on the fact he lost three of his early prime years to World War II. Frankly, both of them had better Red Sox careers than Hall of Famer Joe Cronin, whose best years were with the Washington Senators.

I said before I don't necessarily feel the bullpen has to be filled with true relievers, but when one of them is as dominant as Radatz was for the first three years of his career (14.3 WAR in 414 relief innings, 181 ERA+), that's hard to ignore. Yeah, he was pretty much done after that, but the remaining options (Tex Hughson, Dutch Leonard, Wes Ferrell), while solid, don't break my heart to leave off.

Manager
Terry Francona (2004-2011)


Greatest Eligible non-Hall of Famer

When I went through this exercise last year, I chose Reggie Smith as the greatest eligible Red Sox player not in the Hall. But, as I planned to revisit the project, I got to thinking about what this distinction really means. Sure, I was clear I was looking at the player's entire career when making this assessment, and that hasn't really changed. But, I also decided, when it's a really close call, that I should go with the player whose career more closely resembles that of a lifelong member of the team. Dwight Evans played his entire career, except for a final year in Baltimore, with the Red Sox. Smith only spent about half his career in Boston.


Dwight Evans baseball card (c. 1974)

Most statistics-oriented bloggers contend Evans was better than Jim Rice. I'll admit, that thought wasn't on my radar as a young baseball fan, but I've come to agree with it the more I've learned about advanced statistics. Rice in his prime was a better hitter than Evans, but that's where his advantage ends. On-base percentage, defense, base running and longevity are the reasons there's really no comparison.

But, my point isn't to claim Evans was a great player at Rice's expense. Evans was a great player, period.

Should he be a Hall of Famer? Not even close, according to the voters. After peaking at 10.4% of the vote in 1998, his second year of eligibility, he fell off the ballot by receiving just 3.6% the next year.

But, of course, I'm not willing to accept that as his final evaluation. His traditional statistics (385 HR, 1384 RBI, 2446 hits, 1470 runs, .270 BA) don't necessarily make an obvious case, although I'd love for someone to tell me what Tony Perez has on him. But, there I go again, making a comparison to a borderline Hall of Famer, which I know isn't the way to go.

As usual with the under-rated players, we have to look beyond the mainstream stats. Using WAR, my basic test is to look at a player's best 15-year span. If he's worth four WAR per year (I set that bar a little lower for non-19th century pitchers) over that time frame, he's a no-doubt Hall of Famer in my book. 3.75 and up is in the gray area. Evans averaged 3.79 from 1974-1988, the peak of his career, so he definitely falls into that category.

But still, he's worthy of much more consideration than he received when his name was on the ballot. Apparently, I'm not alone with that opinion.

I identify as a Yankees fan, so the fact that I consider "Dewey" my all-time favorite Red Sox is quite meaningful. Well, either that or it doesn't really mean much at all. I'm honestly not sure which.

Next Up: Chicago Cubs

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Indecisive Umpiring + Complacent Base Running = Controversial Triple Play

There was an umpiring controversy in the Padres-Dodgers game on Sunday. A lot has been written about it since, but, for some reason, I only first read any of it on Tuesday, and have only just had enough time to collect and finalize my thoughts today.

Most of what I've read has been fairly objective—except this*—even if it's shown me the one area that is the Achilles heel of even the most well-respected bloggers is knowledge of the rules and umpiring mechanics.

*Incidentally, this particular post and most of its 500+ comments leaves me baffled as to why people seem to take it so personally when calls don't go their team's way.

Before I even discuss what happened, let me get one thing out of the way first. When I write about umpiring, I have a tendency to come down on the side of the umpires, for reasons that will be obvious to some of you. Maybe I do this to a fault, and I'm sure I could be accused of not always being objective on this sensitive subject.

In this case, there is no doubt there was a screwup on the part of the umpire at the center of this controversy. Additionally, his mistake was potentially made worse by Major League Baseball's response, which barely admitted any blame on the part of the umpire. That's not a good situation, but that's only part of the story, because there were others who contributed to the fact this crazy play was a big reason why the Padres lost the game in question.

OK, time to talk about the play. (Also, hopefully watch it below.**)



**Since the embed code was made available, I can only assume I'm within my rights to reproduce it here. If not, I'll take it down and you'll have to visit one of the above links to view the play, if you haven't already seen it.
 
With the Padres batting, and with runners on first and second and no outs of a tie game in the top of the 9th, San Diego batter Jesus Guzman attempted to lay down a sacrifice bunt. But, the pitch came up and in on him and was headed for his neck or chin when he got his bat on the ball.

The batted ball went straight to the ground and trickled out in front of home plate. Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis immediately pounced on it and threw to third. Both San Diego base runners were frozen with indecision and the after-effect of using the bat to defend himself from getting hit by the pitch caused Guzman to recoil in the direction of the third base on-deck circle. As a result, Los Angeles was able to turn an easy triple play.

But, there's a little more to this story than what I just described.

Home-plate umpire Dale Scott created a confusing situation, to say the least. As Ellis reacted to the play, and Scott attempted to stay out of his way, Scott's arms came up to the point his hands were maybe slightly higher than the top of his head. I've read this referred to as his signal that the ball was foul. This is absolutely incorrect.

Scott's next action, however, was the confusing part. He raised his hands up over his head in an emphatic motion that would seem to indicate he was ruling the play dead (either a foul ball or hit batter). He then immediately and almost in the same action pointed the ball fair.

Both runners froze. Presumably, both were looking at Scott for his call, when they should have been running the instant the pitch made contact with the bat. Remember, I said the ball went straight to the ground. Therefore, there was no reason for the runners to hesitate, even if they weren't sure if the pitch had hit the batter instead of the bat. In that situation, the play is dead anyway.

Furthermore, umpiring mechanics dictate that a foul ball be ruled with a vocal call (with remaining umpires echoing his call on less-than-obvious rulings such as this one), while a fair ball is ruled on silently. That way, runners and fielders don't need to look to the umpire for fair/foul rulings. By all indications, Scott did not make a verbal call. Why both runners chose to look at him for a call rather than run until they heard otherwise is unknown, but was clearly a mistake on their part.

Scott's indecisive hand signals were very similar to an umpire starting to outstretch both arms to make a safe call only to change his mind and lower his left arm while elevating his right to indicate an out call. Of course, this is not something you expect professional umpires to do frequently, but something that happens because they are, in fact, human.

Note I said very similar, not equivalent. The reason for this is an unintentional dead ball call rules a play dead, and all action ceases, whereas a call of safe or out doesn't stop subsequent action (unless an out is the third of an inning).

It was fairly obvious that Scott's indecision created confusion in the minds of the runners, enough so that I would like to have seen the umpires get together and talk this one through. I would also have liked to see Padres manager Bud Black ask for such a conference, but judging by his quick ejection he was in an arguing rather than a discussing mood.

One or more of Scott's partners had to have been initially confused by his mechanics as well. Would it be so crazy for the crew to have the authority to collectively decide what might have happened? Quite possibly, if expanded instant replay was adopted by Major League Baseball, a replay review could aid such a process.

Clearly, the runner from second would have been out at third on a bunt that landed right in front of home plate and was quickly retrieved by the catcher and thrown accurately to third base. Since Guzman, the batter, made no attempt to run to first, he would have easily been out as well. The only thing left to rule on would be whether the runner on first, if he hadn't been confused into thinking the play was dead, would have made it safely to second.

I suspect the end result of such a conversation, if it wasn't so outside the realm of how these situations are ordinarily handled, would have been to place the runner from first on second, with the runner from second and batter ruled out. In my opinion, that's the best possible outcome the Padres could have hoped for, despite the fact their fans were clamoring for the play to be ruled a foul ball. Which, of course, means those folks are complaining they were cheated out of the benefit of an incorrect ruling. I'll let you try and figure out the logic there.

But, of course, the same baseball culture that condones the type of unprofessional behavior that is routinely directed towards umpires also dictates such a compromise ruling would have created a firestorm of controversy from the other side. Or, quite possibly, both sides would have been unhappy with the outcome.

So, instead of being able to try to reach a conclusion that's right and fair, baseball umpires are forced to continue to umpire for their survival, even when that sometimes means standing their ground when admission of a mistake might be more appropriate and equitable.

Monday, April 16, 2012

All-Time Teams #3: Baltimore Orioles

This is part of an ongoing series where I'm naming an all-time team for each of the current 30 MLB franchises, and using this as a vehicle to discuss their greatest eligible player who is not in the Hall of Fame.

The Baltimore Orioles were one of the eight original American League teams when the junior circuit began play in 1901. Of course, you may know those Orioles became the New York Highlanders and later the Yankees.

The Orioles we know today were also an AL flagship franchise, but were called the Milwaukee Brewers in their first year of existence. One year later, they moved to St. Louis and were the Browns for more than half a century, before settling in Baltimore in 1954.

The toughest decision in selecting an all-time team for this franchise was at first base, as I was surprised I gave so much consideration to George Sisler, before relegating him to the bench in favor of Eddie Murray. Of course this won't be the last time I have to deal with the dilemma of two Hall of Famers at the same position.

Franchise History
Baltimore Orioles (1954- )
St. Louis Browns (1902-1953)
Milwaukee Brewers (1901)

An asterisk (*) denotes a Hall of Famer.

Starters
C - Chris Hoiles (1989-1998)
1B - Eddie Murray* (1977-1988, 1996)
2B - Bobby Grich (1970-1976)
SS - Cal Ripken* (1981-2001)
3B - Brooks Robinson* (1955-1977)
LF - Ken Williams (1918-1927)
CF - Paul Blair (1964-1976)
RF - Frank Robinson* (1966-1971)

Rotation
Jim Palmer* (1965-1967, 1969-1984)
Mike Mussina (1991-2000)
Urban Shocker (1918-1924)
Dave McNally (1962-1974)
Mike Cuellar (1969-1976)

Closer
Gregg Olson (1988-1993)

Reserves
C - Rick Dempsey (1976-1986)
1B - George Sisler* (1915-1922, 1924-1927)
1B - Boog Powell (1961-1974)
IF - Bobby Wallace* (1902-1916)
3B - Harlond Clift (1934-1943)
OF - Ken Singleton (1975-1984)
OF - Brady Anderson (1988-2001)

Bullpen
Hoyt Wilhelm* (1958-1962)
Jack Powell (1902-1903, 1905-1912)
Stu Miller (1963-1967)
Ned Garver (1948-1952)

Manager
Earl Weaver* (1968-1982, 1985-1986)

I guess it's not such a good sign for the current version of this team that there's not a single active player on this squad.


Greatest Eligible non-Hall of Famer

It's not really cut and dried what cap would be depicted on a Bobby Grich Hall of Fame plaque. He played longer with the Angels and accumulated greater counting stats there, but according to WAR he had five of his seven best years in Baltimore. A big part of that was his defense, which was much better in his younger years. Still, for my purposes, I'm considering him as an Angel.

So, it basically comes down to Shocker, Singleton or Powell. The latter two had nice careers, but Urban Shocker is the only borderline Hall of Fame candidate here.

Urban Shocker in St. Louis Browns uniform
If not for a late start and an early end to his career, I feel quite certain Shocker would've had an excellent Hall of Fame case. In fact, despite these factors, you could definitely make an argument.

Although he's a pitcher and they're position players, Shocker's case is pretty similar to that of Kirby Puckett and Thurman Munson. You'll see why shortly.

Because I haven't done extensive research on him—although I'm interested enough to be considering it—I don't know why Shocker didn't appear in the majors until he was more than halfway between his 25th and 26th birthdays in 1916. One account says he wasn't converted to a pitcher until his first years in the minors, at age 22. So, he probably just wasn't major league ready, although in two full years at the class B level (the modern equivalent of long-A), he was dominant to the tune of a 2.07 ERA over 540 innings. The following year he was even better—at AA, which back then was the highest level of the minors—posting a 1.31 ERA in 185 IP, proving to his original club, the Yankees, that he was a major league quality pitcher.

He was still underutilized by the Yankees in 1917 and then subsequently traded to the Browns following that season. With St. Louis, from 1918-1924, he would go 126-80 with a 3.19 ERA (127 ERA+), including a run of four consecutive 20-win seasons (1920-1923, 91-51 W-L, 132 ERA+). If the Cy Young award had existed back then, he would have surely been one of the top two or three candidates in three of those four years.

Following a sub-par—for him—but still solid, season in 1924, he was traded back to the Yankees. There he would become a key member of two American League championship teams (1926 & 1927) and, of course, the World Series champs of 1927. He would also team with future Hall of Famers Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock to form a pretty impressive rotation, although it's debatable whether those two guys are actually more deserving than he.

Shocker pitched briefly in 1928, then walked away from the game barely past his prime at 37. He played his final game on May 30. On September 9, he died of a congenital heart condition.

It was later learned that, due to the heart condition, he'd been unable to sleep lying down for two years. Suffice it to say, his health had to have an effect on the later years of his career and certainly played a role is his premature retirement.

In 12 years in the big leagues, Shocker was worth 47 Wins Above Replacement, 50 if you count his offensive production. 4 WAR per year over a 15-year career makes a pitcher a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame. But, of course, he didn't last 15 years, although it was partly due to non-baseball factors, just as with Puckett (who's in the Hall, but not necessarily deserving) and Munson (who's not in the Hall, but probably more deserving than Puckett).

Here's where Shocker ranks among his contemporaries—other pitchers whose careers overlapped his by at least five years—based on cumulative WAR from pitching (an asterisk * denotes a Hall of Famer):
  1. Walter Johnson* - 127.7
  2. Pete Alexander* - 104.9
  3. Ted Lyons* - 58.8
  4. Dazzy Vance* - 56.4
  5. Red Faber* - 55.2
  6. Stan Coveleski* - 54.0
  7. Eppa Rixey* - 51.2
  8. Eddie Cicotte - 49.7
  9. Jack Quinn - 49.7
  10. Waite Hoyt* - 47.0
  11. Urban Shocker - 47.0
  12. Babe Adams - 45.2
  13. Wilbur Cooper - 43.7
  14. Eddie Rommel - 42.1
  15. Bob Shawkey - 40.4
  16. Dolf Luque - 40.2
  17. Carl Mays - 39.6
  18. Hippo Vaughn - 37.9
  19. Burleigh Grimes* - 37.2
  20. Herb Pennock* - 36.9
As you can see, he ranks 11th, with eight Hall of Famers higher and two lower on the list. But really, only Johnson and Alexander were clearly better, with the others simply playing longer. In fact, at third on the list, it took Lyons seven additional years to accumulate 12 more WAR.

So, is Shocker really a deserving Hall of Famer on the outside looking in? Not necessarily, but it seems to me he could just as easily be in rather than not. Hopefully, I'll have the time to take a further look at Shocker's life and career in a future post.

Next Up: Boston Red Sox

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

All-Time Teams #2: Atlanta Braves

This is part of an ongoing series where I'm naming an all-time team for each of the current 30 MLB franchises, and using this as a vehicle to discuss their greatest eligible player who is not in the Hall of Fame.

Hall of Famers who played all or close to their entire careers with a specific team are not necessarily locks to make my version of their all-time team. If they're questionable Hall of Fame selections, they might get passed over, but if it's a toss-up, the Hall of Famer probably gets the nod.

There's an example of the latter situation on this team. It shouldn't be too hard to figure out who I'm talking about.

Franchise History
Atlanta Braves (1966- )
Milwaukee Braves (1953-1965)
Boston Braves (1912-1935, 1941-1952)
Boston Bees (1936-1940)
Boston Rustlers (1911)
Boston Doves (1907-1910)
Boston Beaneaters (1883-1906)
Boston Red Stockings (1876-1882)

An asterisk (*) denotes a Hall of Famer.

Starters
C - Joe Torre* (1960-1968)
1B - Fred Tenney (1894-1907, 1911)
2B - Bobby Lowe (1890-1901)
SS - Herman Long (1890-1902)
3B - Eddie Mathews* (1952-1966)
LF - Hugh Duffy* (1892-1900)
CF - Andruw Jones (1996-2007)
RF - Hank Aaron* (1954-1974)

Rotation
Kid Nichols* (1890-1901)
Warren Spahn* (1942, 1946-1964)
Greg Maddux(1993-2003)
Phil Niekro* (1964-1983, 1987)
Tom Glavine(1987-2002, 2008)

Closer
John Smoltz (1988-1999, 2001-2008)

Reserves
C - Brian McCann (2005- )
1B - Joe Adcock (1953-1962)
SS/2B - Rabbit Maranville* (1912-1920, 1929-1933, 1935)
3B/LF - Chipper Jones (1993, 1995- )
OF - Wally Berger (1930-1937)
OF - Dale Murphy (1976-1990)
OF - Tommy Holmes (1942-1951)

Bullpen
John Clarkson* (1888-1892)
Vic Willis* (1898-1905)
Tommy Bond (1877-1881)
Lew Burdette (1951-1963)

Manager
Bobby Cox(1978-1981, 1990-2010)

This is one of the teams where starting pitchers reign supreme. Maybe that will be the case for most franchises with such a long history, but with eight Hall of Fame caliber starting pitchers (thank goodness one of them is also the greatest closer in team history), it was hard to think of someone like Gene Garber as deserving of a roster spot.


Greatest Eligible non-Hall of Famer:

With nine existing Hall of Famers, four virtual locks for future induction (Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, C. Jones) and two additional active players (A. Jones, McCann) on this roster, that narrows things down a bit. In my opinion, the distinction pretty clearly comes down to either Torre or Murphy.

Murphy played a greater portion of his career with the Braves (12+ of 14 full seasons vs. 8 of 16 for Torre), but Joe Torre, in my book, has a greater overall Hall of Fame case.

Joe Torre baseball card from his Milwaukee Braves days
Torre will likely get into the Hall of Fame based on his managerial success with the Yankees in the late '90s and early '00s, but his playing career was, at worst, pretty damn near Hall-worthy as well.

He hit .297/.365/.452 (BA/OBP/SLG) over 8802 plate appearances for his career. 2342 hits, 252 HR, 1185 RBI and 996 runs beef up his resume as well. Those numbers don't really jump out at you as indicative of a sure-fire Hall of Famer, but his 128 OPS+ says he was a pretty great hitter in an era that favored pitchers.

Additionally, Torre's Hall of Fame candidacy gets a boost from the difficulty of the primary position he played. However, one mistake Hall of Fame analysts often make is to compare a player like Torre to other catchers when making a case for him. Catchers, due to the demands of the position and the reduced playing time that results, deserve special consideration, but Torre only deserves partial catcher credit. Here's how his primary positions break out by year for his 16 full seasons (not including insignificant partials at the beginning and end of his career):

C: 1961-63, 1965-69
C/1B: 1964
C/3B: 1970
3B: 1971-72, 1975
1B: 1973-74, 1976

That makes nine seasons (eight full plus two halves) as a catcher, and 3 1/2 each at first and third base. So, a little more than half of his career (less than half if you go by games played, but that's mainly due to the playing time disadvantage of the position) behind the plate.

Torre's 56 WAR over those 16 seasons (3.5 per) would be Hall of Fame worthy for a player who was exclusively (or close to it) a catcher. But, for a guy who was essentially half-catcher/half-corner infielder, they're borderline.

My opinion is Torre falls a little short of the Hall based on his playing career. Of course, that still means he's more deserving than a lot of current Hall of Famers, and he's plenty worthy based on his managerial career. In fact, if you were to evaluate his lifetime of baseball service, it would be hard to say that any player-turned-manager is more deserving.

He and Murphy do share very similar experiences with regard to Hall of Fame support. Torre received consistently greater than the necessary 5% and remained on the ballot for the full 15 years. But, he never even reached 25% in a single year, peaking at 22.2% in 1997, his final year on the ballot. Barring an unforeseen spike in his support, Murphy will drop off the ballot after next year's vote, his 15th unsuccessful attempt at enshrinement. Although it occurred earlier in his campaign (his second year on the ballot), Murphy's peak of 23.2% in 2000 was quite similar to Torre's.

Next Up: Baltimore Orioles

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Eephusing Around

Last week in an email promoting the MLB Predictions Pool my pal and I run on an annual basis, said friend called me the most knowledgeable baseball person he knows. I scoffed internally at the suggestion, although I was also kind of flattered. Honestly, I used to be one of the most knowledgeable baseball people I know, until I started networking with all the amazing baseball bloggers out there.

But, I still contend I know a lot about baseball, and I do probably have a certain niche in that my knowledge of the game comes from many different angles.

Math was always my best subject in school, so I've always been a stats guy. In fact, at an early age, much of my education in arithmetic came from memorizing the batting averages associated with different hits-per-AB combinations, to the point my grandfather used to have me show off my mathematical skills at family gatherings. But, I won't go into that.

I also developed a fascination for baseball strategy at an early age—probably from Strat-O-Matic—which explains why I preferred baseball video games where I managed, rather than controlled, the players. I also used to try to tell my dad how to run my youth baseball teams that he managed, but I won't elaborate on that subject either.

However, the umpiring experience is probably what makes my baseball knowledge somewhat unique. I attended Brinkman/Froemming Umpire School in 1994—eventually I'll write about a few of my experiences here—and, although my professional umpiring aspirations never got off the ground, I did work a few college games. I honestly haven't umpired in years, other than a little slow-pitch softball, but my interest in and knowledge of the rules, and my understanding of what umpires have to do to survive, still remain.

Of course, I was a pretty good ballplayer as well. I'm sure there are plenty of bloggers who were better players than I, but from the looks of some of them—not you, of course—there are quite a few who never played competitively at all.

But, that's neither here nor there. My point of all of this is to admit that, despite a knowledge of the game that exists on so many levels, I know very little about pitching. And, since I now have a son, I may be called on to teach him a little about a craft I have virtually no experience with.

Which brings me to the title of this post, a subject which was the catalyst for the only starting pitching appearance in my entire career playing organized ball, which adds up to somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 years, including softball.

The main weakness of my game was I didn't have a very strong throwing arm. I suppose that explains why I played regularly at positions like left field, second base and first base, although I did spend one season as a starting center fielder.

Not too many Little Leaguers had good "stuff." In fact, when a 12-year old threw a curve ball, the thinking was he was eventually going to ruin his arm. I'm not really sure if that was a bit over-reactionary, but I'm sure there's information out there that warns when it's developmentally unsafe for a kid to throw a breaking pitch.

But, my point is there were two basic skills that determined a Little Leaguer's viability to be a pitcher. #1, of course, was how fast he could throw. #2 was whether or not he could throw strikes. #2 could be worked at, but #1 was based solely on god-given ability, and my arm was sorely lacking in that respect. (I suppose I just as easily could have written this paragraph in present, rather than past, tense.)

So, a pitcher I wasn't. Which was fine with me, because I was good with a glove (at multiple positions) and at the plate, except in the power department. (Now that I've already knocked two of the five "tools" off my resume, you probably don't believe when I say I was good, but I swear I possessed the other three.)

Despite not being a pitcher, I occasionally threw batting practice, because my control was solid. One day—I guess I was goofing around a bit—I tried to throw a blooper, or Eephus pitch, during batting practice.

I'm surprised I didn't get told to quit horsing around, especially considering dad was a coach. But, somehow I was allowed to throw it enough to discover I could throw it for strikes, and it was a pain-in-the-neck to hit.

My team had finished in first place the previous year, but due to losing most of our star players to the next level of competition, we fell back to a .500 team. A matchup with the current first-place team was upcoming, and somehow our manager and my dad hatched a plan to use me as our secret weapon.

I would start on the mound for our next game versus the league's powerhouse and hopefully last two or three innings—just enough to throw their timing off—before giving way to our ace, a much harder-thrower, of course.

The plan was pretty much a failure. I gave up three runs, including a homer, in the first and was yanked after yielding a solo shot to lead off the second. I don't remember exactly (because I was 11 years old), but my pitching line went something like this:

1 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 0 SO, 2 HR, 4 ER

Of course, if you do the math (6 base runners plus 3 outs), this means I gave up a home run to the 9th place hitter, and I really don't think that was the case. So, maybe I'm not remembering that 4 ER in 1+ IP result as well as I thought.

But, I digress. I do recall the pivotal moment in that first inning was when I threw the blooper—as I called it long before the word Eephus meant anything to me—to my friend from down the street on a 3-2 count. The pitch dropped nicely into the top of the strike zone, in my opinion, but the umpire called it ball four.

In our post-game discussion, my father and I lamented that the umpires just didn't know how to call the zone on such a pitch. Given my own subsequent umpiring experience, I can honestly say this could be true. When I was used to calling a baseball strike zone, if I was thrust into duty to call a slow-pitch softball game, I had a difficult time with the arc of the pitches.

If only the umpire had called that pitch a strike. That first inning might have been less devastating, I might have been able to dispatch the bottom of the order in the second and even make it through the third.

Who knows? Maybe the experiment would have continued to future games. Maybe I would have continued to work on mastering the pitch and become a mainstay in our team's rotation through my final year in Little League.

But, most importantly, I would have recorded the one and only strikeout of my pitching career, if you want to call it that. Because honestly, that's really the only difference it would have made. The experiment was just a futile attempt at thwarting a superior team. My Eephus pitch was ineffective without a real fastball to offset it, and I would never throw it in a game again, despite two subsequent mop-up appearances (one of which resulted in a 1-2-3 inning).

This post was at least partly inspired by a piece written earlier this week by the always excellent William Tasker (aka The Flagrant Fan) for the Yankees blog It's About the Money, Stupid.

Monday, April 02, 2012

All-Time Teams #1: Arizona Diamondbacks

This is the first entry in an ongoing series where I'm naming an all-time team for each of the current 30 MLB franchises, and using this as a vehicle to discuss their greatest eligible player who is not in the Hall of Fame.

There is one more thing worth mentioning before I officially kick this thing off. That is, as far as bullpens are concerned, I didn't feel it was necessary to pick five or six actual relief pitchers, when most of these guys are in relief roles because they're worse than their teams' starters in the first place. Not to mention that, for the most part, relievers are not nearly as valuable as starters.

I do have a self-imposed requirement that there be a closer on each squad, and there will generally be a couple more true relief pitchers. But, beyond that I decided I'd rather include the sixth, seventh and maybe eighth best starting pitchers if they're more deserving than the third, fourth and fifth best relievers.

Again, as I said in the introductory post, beyond the 14 players (eight position players, five starters, one closer) who make up the team's regulars—so to speak—the remaining 11 slots will have more to do with worthiness than some pre-determined roster makeup. Provided, of course, that the end result is a collection of players who could realistically make up a team.

OK, now it's time to get down to business.

Franchise History
Arizona Diamondbacks (1998- )

Starters
C - Damian Miller (1998-2002)
1B - Chad Tracy (2004-2009)
2B - Jay Bell (1998-2002)
SS - Stephen Drew (2006- )
3B - Matt Williams (1998-2003)
LF - Luis Gonzalez (1999-2006)
CF - Steve Finley (1999-2004)
RF - Justin Upton (2007- )

Rotation
Randy Johnson (1999-2004, 2007-2008)
Brandon Webb (2003-2009)
Curt Schilling (2000-2003)
Dan Haren (2008-2010)
Ian Kennedy (2010- )

Closer
Jose Valverde (2003-2007)

Reserves
C - Miguel Montero (2006- )
1B - Erubiel Durazo (1998-2002)
2B - Orlando Hudson (2006-2008)
IF - Craig Counsell (2000-2003, 2005-2006)
CF - Chris Young (2006- )
OF - Eric Byrnes (2006-2009)

Bullpen
Miguel Batista (2001-2003, 2006)
Byung-Hyun Kim (1999-2003)
Brian Anderson (1998-2002)
Matt Mantei (2002-2004)
Greg Swindell (1999-2002)

Manager
Bob Brenly (2001-2004)


Greatest Eligible non-Hall of Famer:

There's not a single Hall of Famer in this group, although Randy Johnson is a lock once he becomes eligible, and Curt Schilling is a likely inductee.

Of the 25 players on this all-time team, 10 are still active (Batista, Drew, Haren, O. Hudson, Kennedy, Montero, Upton, Valverde, Webb, Young) and nine are not yet eligible for the Hall ballot (Byrnes, Counsell, Finley, Gonzalez, Johnson, Kim, Miller, Schilling, Tracy). That leaves Anderson, Bell, Durazo, Mantei, Swindell and Williams.

Since Williams played more time with the Giants, Bell more with the Pirates, and Swindell more with the Indians (and all three had clearly greater success with those teams), and Durazo was only in the majors for seven years, this distinction goes to Brian Anderson, over Mantei.

Brian Anderson in Arizona Diamondbacks uniform

Anderson played 13 years in the majors: five with Arizona and three each with Cleveland, Kansas City and California (as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were called in saner days).

He posted a career record of 82-83 with a 4.74 ERA and 98 ERA+ in 1547 innings. With Arizona, he was 41-42 with a 4.52 ERA and 101 ERA+. Obviously nowhere near Hall of Fame material—he didn't even make the ballot upon becoming eligible in 2011—but he did enjoy some postseason success, pitching in the World Series for both Cleveland and Arizona.

In all, he pitched in three separate postseasons: 1997 with Cleveland, and 1999 and 2001 with Arizona. In 11 appearances (including two starts) spanning 29 2/3 innings, Anderson allowed just 29 base-runners (22 hits, 7 walks), while striking out 17 and posting a 2.43 ERA. He was 2-1 with one save, and is a proud member of Arizona's 2001 World Series championship team, although his only loss came in that series.

Next Up: Atlanta Braves