Tuesday, November 30, 2010

50 Greatest Baseball Players Not in the Hall of Fame, Part 2

Since this is such a daunting task, and there really isn't much time to do the heavy analysis that I'd like to, I asked for a little help on Pickin' Splinters, a blog I contribute to more than occasionally, and I decided to vote for all of the suggestions I received, except one. This provided me with my second list of ten:

Will Clark
Dwight Evans
Ron Guidry
Tommy John
Jim Kaat
Don Mattingly
Jack Morris
Dale Murphy
Billy Pierce
Lee Smith

Plus, I'm going to add five more of my own:

Steve Garvey
Mark McGwire
Thurman Munson
Rafael Palmeiro
Luis Tiant

Now, with the deadline being tomorrow night at midnight, I've still got to add 25 more names to my list.

Although my final list of 50 names won't be arrived at with the kind of analysis I would prefer, I've decided that the outcome of this exercise will be to develop my own ranked list of the 25 greatest non Hall of Famers. This is a list that I'll update every year, as players drop off by being elected to the Hall, and as my opinions change based on new information and on viewing current information differently.

Stay tuned for that, and for part three of this mini-series.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Where in the Hudson Valley...?

The December 2010 issue of Hudson Valley magazine delivers the answer to a question that I've been seeking for almost a year and a half now.

In a feature called "Where in the Valley: Out of the Park", the whereabouts of the Wappingers Falls, New York monument to 19th century slugger and Baseball Hall of Fame member Dan Brouthers is revealed. Well, actually it's hinted at being just a stone's throw away from the churchyard cemetery where he's buried, but since I know that St. Mary's is the location in question, it shouldn't be too difficult to find my way there eventually.

As shown in the photo that accompanies the article, the monument has been nicely restored. To see for yourself, visit the link to the article above and compare to the picture I posted here back in February, which is one I took almost 20 years ago.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

50 Greatest Baseball Players Not in the Hall of Fame, Part 1

A blog called Baseball Past and Present is asking its readers and other baseball writers to vote on the 50 best players not enshrined in Cooperstown, not including those who haven't been retired long enough to be eligible. The latter condition means this includes all players who haven't played since 2005.

Ballots are due by December 1, and I just learned about this yesterday, so I've got my work cut out for me. As a result, I'm not going to do an in-depth analysis, but instead I'm going to come up with a list of the 50 players who jump out at me as deserving of the Hall of Fame or of serious consideration for the honor.

However, I'm going to do this in stages, beginning with the easy choices. That is, the players who, in my opinion, should already be in the Hall of Fame. In some cases, these are the players who would already be so honored if not for factors preventing them from getting in. It will be pretty obvious who I'm talking about once you see the list.

Since they're asking for players who haven't played since 2005—rather than 2004—this means that players who are eligible for the first time this year are included. So, technically there's one player on the following alphabetical list of my first ten choices whose Hall of Fame candidacy hasn't yet been voted on.

Dick Allen
Roberto Alomar
Jeff Bagwell
Bert Blyleven
Joe Jackson
Barry Larkin
Dan Quisenberry
Tim Raines
Pete Rose
Ron Santo

Friday, November 19, 2010

Is Roy Halladay Overrated?

How could I suggest such a thing?

While I'm not trying to imply that Roy Halladay isn't as good as everyone thinks, when it comes to the recent National League Cy Young voting, I do have a bit of a beef.

My complaint is not that Halladay's season was undeserving of the award. Rather, it's with the way in which he won it. That is, unanimously.

What I don't completely understand is how all 32 voters considered him the top choice when there was another candidate who was equally deserving by most measures, and even more deserving by others. That candidate is Adam Wainwright.

Of course I'm not going to make such a statement without backing it up. So, let's start by looking at the mainstream statistics, the three categories commonly considered the Triple Crown of pitching.
  • W-L record: Halladay 21-10, Wainwright 20-11
  • ERA: Wainwright - 2.42, Halladay - 2.44
  • Strikeouts: Halladay - 219, Wainwright - 213
Pretty even, right? Halladay's six-strikeout edge and slightly better won-lost record, while playing for a team that won 7% more of its games than Wainwright's, certainly isn't justification for the wide margin by which he won the award.

So, let's take a slightly deeper look. Halladay is lauded for his 7.30 K/BB ratio, and compared to Wainwright's 3.80, this appears to be a pretty big edge, on the surface. But, taking a closer look, Wainwright actually averaged 8.32 strikeouts per nine innings to Halladay's 7.86. So, obviously this means Wainwright had a considerably higher walk rate (2.18 to 1.08). However, Halladay made up for this by giving up more hits than Wainwright.

In fact, looking at opponents' batting statistics versus each pitcher, Halladay yielded a higher batting average (.245 to .224), which effectively canceled out Wainwright's higher walk rate, as evidenced by their almost identical opponents' on-base percentages (Wainwright - .274, Halladay - .271). But, Halladay not only got hit harder, he also gave up considerably more home runs (24 to 15). This gives Wainwright a considerable edge in opponents' slugging percentage (.330 to .373) and OPS (.604 to .645).

Let's dig a little further and look at a few SABRmetric statistics. I'm providing simplistic explanations regarding each, rather than attempting to explain how each is calculated, which would be quite difficult.
  • ERC (Component ERA) measures a pitcher's ERA based on the hits and walks he allowed, rather than actual runs: Wainwright - 2.38, Halladay - 2.69
  • DIPS ERA (Defense-Independent ERA) attempts to measure a pitcher's ERA independent of the defense behind him: Wainwright - 2.97, Halladay - 3.09
  • ERA+ is park-adjusted and league-adjusted ERA, expressed as a percentage relative to the average pitcher: Halladay - 165 (65% better than average), Wainwright - 161
As you can see, Wainwright outshines Halladay in two of three SABRmetric measures that attempt to normalize a pitcher's ERA, one of them by a pretty wide margin.

So, where does Halladay have a clear advantage over Wainwright? Well, he pitched more innings (250 2/3 to 230 1/3), and threw more complete games (9 to 5) and more shutouts (4 to 2). His other considerable edge is in the fact that he's Roy Halladay.

Is he overrated? Well, not really. But, did he receive preferential treatment in this year's Cy Young voting due to his reputation? Quite possibly, yes. Did he have a season that was deserving of the award? Of course, but Adam Wainwright was just as, if not more, deserving and how he managed to earn zero first-place votes is a question I can't possibly answer.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Frequent Spins (2010.7)

This will likely be the final Frequent Spins of 2010, as I begin to focus my music-listening efforts on compiling my year-end list for the 15th consecutive year.

This one is a bit of a hodgepodge with the preview widgets, as my main source does not prove as reliable as usual.

Antony and The Johnsons - Swanlights
Swanlights is the second Antony album since 2005's breakthrough I Am a Bird Now. While both have been very good albums, his wistful-but-soulful chamber pop sound is starting to get to the point of saturation for me.

Belle & Sebastian - Write About Love
I've only been a true Belle & Sebastian fan for their last few albums. In fact, I came along around the time they teamed up with Trevor Horn. The former member/producer of the Buggles and Yes is no longer on board for Write About Love, but the album still picks up where The Life Pursuit left off. That is, it embodies a more poppy and upbeat sound than their earlier efforts, and that—to me—is a good thing.

Cloud Cult - Light Chasers
When I did my Fab 40 series a few years ago, narrowing the list down to 40 bands/artists was a difficult process. Initially, I had decided that all artists who had an album-of-the-year, according to my rankings, would make the list. But, then I reconsidered by cutting Ryan Adams—who did make the cut with Whiskeytown—and Brian Wilson. Cloud Cult's The Meaning of 8 was my first #1 album to follow, so in some sense, they're the 41st band on the list. While they may never release another album as good as that, their latest effort is another impressive one.

Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz
Whereas my slight disappointment with Antony and The Johnsons' latest is that I want to hear something a little different, when it comes to Sufjan Stevens, I'm a little frustrated that he's strayed from his trademark sound. The Age of Adz is still a good album, but a little too schizophrenic for me, and nowhere near as brilliant as Illinoise.

The Walkmen - Lisbon
What prevents this one from being as good as 2008's You & Me is a lack of standout tracks, but otherwise this is another strong effort from these indie rockers.

Neil Young - Le Noise
I thought I'd share a few remarks that were written about Young's new songs when he played them live on his recent Twisted Road tour: "...that momentum quickly subsided when the next three songs were his less-than-inspiring new material;" "...it pains me to say...Neil's songwriting skills are clearly fading;" "...my initial impression of his forthcoming material doesn't provide me with a lot of optimism." The source of those quotes? Yours truly. I take it all back. This is a much better album than anticipated, and easily his best since 2006's Living With War.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Inevitable

There's a certain inevitability that we all face. We see it coming, more and more with each passing year, although we try to deny it, or at least to postpone it. We rationalize that it's only partly true, but then witness partly turn to mostly, until one day we give in to the realization.

This is a little off topic from what I usually write about here, but it's only taken me two-plus weeks of living in my new home to realize the inevitable. That is, I am my father. Actually, it's only true that I'm much more like my father than I even realized. There are still a few distinct differences, but I expect these will be erased over time.

What makes me say that I am my father? First of all, let me admit that I began noticing these tendencies many years ago, but several new factors have really driven this point home. I'll get to those in a moment. First let me share a few of the responses I got, from those who know my father best, when I made the following declaration on Facebook:

Only two weeks into living in and owning my first house, and already it's obvious how much I am my father.

  • "You fell asleep in the comfy chair watching TV and snored so loudly the next-door neighbors could hear it?"
  • "Oh how scary!! Are you fixing everything with duct tape? Just wait 'til it's time to put up the Christmas lights."
  • "Have you mastered the deep throat grumble grandpa always does?"
But, of course, none of these are what I was talking about, although the first two have the most potential to come true. No, actually, the behaviors that have convinced me of how I've become my father are as follows:
  • Religiously checking that the thermostat has been lowered to the proper temperature, and the bolts on the doors have been locked, before going to bed.
    (Actually, I don't have to turn down the main thermostat before going to bed, because it's programmable, but programming it was one of the first things I did after moving in.)
  • I explained to KJ how a leaf could cause the garage door sensor to activate, resulting in the door reversing direction.
  • I offered to back the car out of the garage because only I could possibly understand the precision with which I parked the car in the first place. 
While we're on the latter subject, in my childhood home, I was the only driver (out of four, including dad) who never hit the basketball pole due to cutting the steering wheel too quickly while backing out. Of course, I was the youngest and was off to college only a year or so after getting my license, but this is still a point of pride for me.

While I haven't completely become my dad just yet, these are among the future behaviors of mine that KJ has to look forward to:
  • Walking around the house turning off the lights in rooms that are not in use, asking the question, "Are you done in here?" in the process.
  • Preaching against leaving the water running while lathering up the soap on one's hands.
  • Rolling up towels against door crevices that could be letting just the slightest bit of cold air in.
  • While reading the newspaper and magazines, underlining certain parts for emphasis and writing notes to no one in particular in the margins.
I just have to say that it's a good thing KJ finds my dad adorable. We'll see how she feels when she's living full-time with an exact replica of him.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Craft Beer in Cans

Last Friday kicked off the first weekend in our new house, so I thought I'd pick up a few beers on my way home from work. Using the extremely useful web site that is The Beer Mapping Project, I scouted out a couple locations that are on my walk home from the train. There were two, as depicted on the map below:

Wollaston Wine and Spirits is actually along my walking route, while the curiously spelled Wolliston Supreme Liquors is actually about 1/10 of a mile out of my way. But, it didn't take long to realize that the latter has better selection, so that's where I ended up.

Since it's still a 15-minute walk home from there, I had my sights set on some good craft beer in cans, which, of course, would feel much lighter in my backpack. I already have a couple favorites that are sold in cans, but I ended up opting for something new to me. My selection was Snapperhead IPA, brewed by Garrattsville, New York's Butternuts Beer and Ale.

I'd only just recently heard of this brewery, and I didn't realize until now that they're another brewery in Otsego County, an area that is fast becoming an upstate New York haven for craft beer. Located only half an hour from Cooperstown, Butternuts will be an easy side trip on my next journey to the "birthplace of baseball."

Snapperhead IPA is curiously described on its can as "all malt," which initially seems to be an odd characteristic for the style. But, then again, what exactly do they mean by "all malt"? My assumption is this implies there is no use of other fermentable adjuncts, such as sugar, and that it has nothing to do with the beer's hops/malt balance. In fact, while this one is not as overwhelmingly hoppy as some IPAs, there is no doubt of their presence.

I've read some pretty lukewarm, and even some bad, reviews of this beer elsewhere online, but I don't agree with them. To me, it's a fairly well-balanced high octane IPA. It's definitely a little higher on the malt side of the equation than most brews of the style, but it has a nice hoppy finish. I'm not raving about it, but I'm looking forward to drinking the four remaining beers from the six-pack I purchased last week.

Tonight, I picked up a six-pack of one of the more established and well-known canned craft beers. But, I'll write about that one later.

Instead, I'll explain my new quest. For the remainder of this fall and through the winter season, I plan to seek out as many canned craft beers as I can, with the goal of finding and identifying the best of the lot. So, come next March or so, be on the lookout for the post that will summarize my findings.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Congratulations to the Giants, and No Hard Feelings for the Eviction

Unless you really couldn't care less about baseball—in which case, you're probably not reading this—you're well aware that the San Francisco Giants are 2010 World Series Champions. This makes me happy on a number of levels, one of which I'll get to in a moment.

What you may or may not know is that the Yankees and the Giants used to share the same home. Actually, the Polo Grounds were the Giants' home, and the Yankees were their tenants. That is, until they were evicted in 1921. Yes, due to the overwhelming success at the box office the Yankees were experiencing—mainly as a result of the purchase of the popular Babe Ruth from the Red Sox—the Giants decided they had to go.

The Yankees and their fans hold no ill feelings towards the Giants regarding their actions, though. I suppose that would be like holding a grudge against your landlord who kicked you out of your $500/month apartment, when you're now living in a $10-million mansion. But, I digress.

The main reason I'm happy for this year's champions of the baseball world is that my mother's family were New York Giants fans. It's a special feeling that, less than two months after visiting my maternal grandfather's birthplace—the Tuscany region of Italy—the team he grew up rooting for wins its first World Series since leaving New York for the West Coast.

Now, I'm not so certain my grandfather would actually be happy for the Giants, as he was in the camp of those who were angry with them for moving, and was a Mets fan during the time I knew him. Still, I fondly recall hearing about his hero, Bill Terry, in addition to the amusing stories about him running from truant officers across Manhattan roof tops. I'm pretty certain, though, that my mom—a much more benevolent soul—would still be happy for the Giants, although she was also a Mets convert.

It's also hard not to like the current cast of characters that constitutes the 2010 San Francisco Giants. From likable veterans—Aubrey Huff, Édgar Rentería and Juan Uribe—to unassuming youngsters—Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner and Pablo Sandoval—as well as non-conforming individuals—Brian Wilson and Tim Lincecum—the Giants are a team that's easy to root for. Plus, I'd much rather see the citizens of San Francisco celebrate their team's first World Series victory than the folks from Dallas.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Win or Else?

After the New York Football Giants defeated the Dallas Cowboys last Monday night, and—more significant to this story—knocked Cowboys Quarterback Tony Romo out of action for the next 6-8 weeks, I thought about sending an old friend a text message offering my condolences on the end of his team's season. Said friend is a Dallas fan, of course. I knew that, in the process, he would return my dig by denigrating the Yankees, but I didn't care.

I never sent that text, not because I feared the repercussions, but simply because I forgot. Still, it got me to thinking about what constitutes a successful season for a sports franchise. Not from the perspective of players, coaches and front office personnel of the team, but from the point of view of the fans.

As spectators, what is our primary motivation for watching our favorite sports? I'm sure the answer varies a little from person to person, but I think the common denominator is entertainment. That is, we watch a game because it is enjoyable to us. Does it get any simpler than that?

Taking it a step further, why do we choose to follow a particular team, rather than just let ourselves be entertained by individual games in which we're less personally invested in the outcomes? I would assume the answers to that question would vary a little more than the first, but, still I think it boils down to increased entertainment level.

So, my point here is really to ask the question, is the only entertainment value associated with rooting for a specific team to witness them win a championship? If the answer is yes, then it's a pretty said state of affairs, because that means we spend 5-6 months a year worrying about an outcome that most likely will never happen.

I contend that the answer, in fact, is no. We root for a specific team because it provides us with added entertainment value, and that value is measured on a spectrum, rather than being an absolute either/or proposition. That is, the more successful our team's season, the more entertainment value they've provided us with. If they kept us believing they had a chance to win a championship for almost seven months—and survived only two weeks less than the most successful teams—then they did a very good job of entertaining us.

Don't get me wrong, here. I'm not saying I'll ever take consolation in a season that exceeds expectations, especially when it comes to the Yankees. In fact, it could be argued that, since the Yankees can never truly exceed expectations, that a little entertainment value is foregone just being a fan of theirs. But, that's a road I've been down before, and I have no intention of going there right now.

What I am saying is I'm not going to let myself get sucked into that 29-losers-and-only-one-winner mentality. I enjoyed my team's success for much of the season, despite being briefly disappointed in its final outcome. In the end, though, it provided me with a great deal of entertainment, something that I suspect Dallas Cowboys fans will be sorely lacking for the rest of this year.