Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Baseball Hall of Fame

Today this year's baseball Hall of Fame votes will be announced. Jayson Stark over at espn.com has a good article on who he voted for and why. Some of what he writes coincides with the baseball-related thoughts I've been having lately.

I got into baseball in the late 80's. I started collecting baseball cards and became stat obsessed. Bo Jackson and Jose Canseco were huge back then; my card collecting buddy chose Bo as his favorite player, and I chose Canseco. In 1988 he batted over .300, was the first player to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases in the same season, and had 120+ rbi's. He won the MVP that year, just a couple years after he had won Rookie of the Year. He was the game's current and future star. Sadly, he stopped being the good all around player that I loved and became a home run hitting, .250 batting average getting, injury riddled, defensive liability best known for letting a fly ball bounce off his head and over the fence for a home run. Even more sad was that once his quest for 500 home runs ended because no one would give him a job anymore, he wrote a tell-all book about steroids, naming names and incriminating players all over the game, including himself. In a way it was a fitting end to his career, as he became the face of the steroid era for me, and his book was a big step towards exposing all the secrets.

What this has to do with today's Hall announcement is that Canseco's career ushered in an era of huge offensive numbers. An era that was directly preceded by very low offensive output. Home runs and batting averages were way down when compared to the 90's. When Cecil Fielder hit his 50 and 51st home runs on the last day of the 1990 season, it was the first time since 1977 that a player had reached the milestone. In fact, only one player hit 50 or more home runs between 1965 and 1990. The 80's are the only decade in baseball without a 50 home run hitter. Coincidentally, these are the stars currently up for enshrinement. And they've been waiting a long time.

Jim Rice, Dale Murphy, Andre Dawson, and Tim Raines come on down!

Their numbers don't compete well with the stars of the next decade. None of them reached 500 home runs. None of them broke single season or all-time hitting records. But compare them with their contemporaries, and they shine. All of them were the stars of their era. And all of them belong in the Hall of Fame.


Ashlee said...

I remember the names Andre Dawson and that Dale guy too. That's about it. Hey...maybe it will make your collection worth more if they are in the hall of fame! :0)

Cameron said...

Andre Dawson was cool. I've got some of his cards.

Dale Murphy played for the Braves and led just about every hitting catagory for the 80's and won consecutive MVP's. And he's a Mormon.

The other guy that should have made it was Jack Morris. He's a pitcher who won a bunch of games and was awesome in the playoffs. One of the first World Series I remember wathcing was '91 which featured probably the awesomest game 7 ever. Morris pitched 10 innings without giving up a run and his team won 1-0.

Unfortunately, none of these guys made the Hall. My card collection has zero chance of ever being worth anything. There goes my retirement.

None said...

Jim Rice? I just read an article comparing his stats.. and he is borderline at best. In the end, the HOF is a joke. I mean.. you cant get a bigger question mark than Gary Carter. I say, let them all in (or keep everybody out). But, to hold the HOF up as some sort of goal.. or shrine.. well. its not.

As for Canseco.. I remember him up close and personal. Those were special times in Oakland. We had 3 consecutive ROYs. Not bad. Canseco has had an interesting life. And, to see this liar become redeemed is more than interesting. Even the Greeks couldnt have made that one up.

As for Dawson.. I remember being on vacation.. and sitting in the freezing weather in Chicago.. just before they turned the lights on there... and watching him roam the outfield. The game went 16 innings.. Shawn Dunston.. Lee Smith.. what a great day.

Cameron said...

The Jayson Stark colum I linked to says it best:

"It tells you something that this guy was a top-five finisher in six MVP elections. It tells you something that, in his 12 seasons of domination from 1975 to '86, he led everyone in his league in homers, RBIs, runs, slugging and extra-base hits. It tells you something that in all of those categories except home runs, the only player even close to him was the great George Brett."

Compare Rice to the players of his era and he was clearly at the top.

Baseball's Hall of Fame is the most prestigious of any sport. It's the hardest one to get elected to. There are voters who won't vote for a guy for a couple of years just because they don't think he's a "first ballot" hall of famer. These debates on who deserves to get in are fun.

Oakland's three ROYs. Canseco, McGwire, and Walt Weiss. Obviously, Walt wasn't in on the "B-12" shots to the rear.

None said...

I cant say that I care the slightest bit about the MVP voting, RBIs, Runs and many other "traditional" means of valuing a player. Rice did have great years. I'm not saying that he should or even really shouldn't be in. Could go either way and I wouldn't lose sleep over it.

What Rice did in 16 seasons, Albert Belle did in 12. That sort of underlines many of the problems with the HOF for me. There is too much voting with faulty memories going on. Or just voting for a guy because hes liked (or vice versa). Its going to be interesting to see what happens with Bonds/Clemens. But, that is a far different topic.

Speaking Dawson and ol' Cubbies, Shawn Dunston got a vote :)

Cameron said...

Albert Belle did it in the 90's, when everyone was hitting 40 and 50 home runs a year.

Jim Rice hit in a far different era. There was exactly one 50 home run season between 1965 and 1990. To compare Rice with Belle is comparing apples to oranges.

For example, Babe Ruth's home run records have all been eclipsed the last few years. But when Babe was hitting 60, he was hitting more home runs than entire teams of that era. To me, that's far more impressive than somebody hitting 70 today.

If McGwire is any indication, Bonds and Clemens will have a hard time getting in.

I've got an old Dunston card from a series that I think Topps did called "Rocket Arms" or something like that. He had the biggest infield arm in the game for a while.

None said...

Fair enough, different eras.. but what about Dwight Evans? Then consider some folks just dont like DHs.

The HOF just seems arbitrary to say the least. That was sort of my point with Belle. Same could be said for Rice. Players loose credibility because they had a spat with some writer. Kind of messed up if you ask me.

Cameron said...

I think Evans is an example of a good player being good for a long time. But he's not in Rice's league.

In some important ways the HOF is arbitrary, but I would argue it's much less so than other leagues. Baseball is so stat driven that for the most part it's pretty clear cut. That's why Canseco was so mad about not getting another shot at playing; he was about one injury free year away from getting to 500 home runs, which at the time was a golden ticket to the Hall. Because of steroids things are a little murkier now, at least for the players of the last 15 years or so.

It'll be really interesting when guys like Jim Thome, Todd Helton, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, Jeff Bagwell and Carlos Delgado come up for the Hall. They all have reached, will reach, or are really close to the "magic" 500 home runs mark, but I wonder if that'll be good enough considering the era and the steroids etc.

None said...

Well.. kind of. Evans had some very very good years. Depending on which stats you look at, one could make the argument that he had better years than Rice. Even better, Evans did play RF in Boston. Not the easiest place to roam.

But if longevity doesnt matter, then there is no reason Belle should not be in the HOF. 1995 alone should put him in. Even after you adjust for era.. he stands as one of the best to ever play. Amazing really.

I think Sheff was doing drugs.. perhaps he didnt know it.. perhaps he did. As for the others.. and really any other that played from that generation may have the difficult task to prove they did not use drugs. Again.. thats another question for another day.

Cameron said...

I'm not saying longevity doesn't matter. But if you want to get in to the Hall based solely on that, then you'd better have much bigger numbers than what Evans wound up with. Rice bests him in just about all of them, despite playing fewer years.

I think Belle is an interesting case. He won't get in because of two reasons: His career was cut short, so his overall numbers aren't quite there, and (and this might be the biggest reason) he's seen as a huge jerk.

Kirby Puckett got in on the first ballot, yet his career numbers are similar to Belle's. Both players' careers ended early because of sudden injuries, so again, the overall marks don't really add up. Puckett got in mainly because he was so well liked, and generally thought of as a great guy.

None said...

"Kirby Puckett got in on the first ballot, yet his career numbers are similar to Belle's."

First.. no. Almost nothing is similar to Belle's. Even after adjusted for Era. Belle played at a different level than everybody else. Second, if they have "similar" numbers.. and one guy goes in first ballot. The other gets the cold shoulder? The HOF has some real jerks. Heck even Puckett turned out to be weird. So, in the interest of "fairness" Belle should be in.. similar numbers and all.

As for longevity.. Puckett clocks in with 12 years. The same as.. you guessed it.. Belle.

As for Evans vs. Rice, it depends on how you cut the numbers. Evans had better years than Rice. Perhaps even a better career. This includes playing RF, not DH. Rice was good at some things. For example, hitting while in Fenway, making outs and hitting into DPs. There is plenty to be desired on Rice's resume. What I really want to know is why Rice could not hit on the road.

I'm just saying the HOF is arbitrary.

Cameron said...

Which was my point in bringing up Puckett and Belle.

Their numbers are similar. Belle was more of a home run hitter, and Puckett was more of a 200 hits guy who hit for a higher average. But both were on track for Hall worthy numbers after 12 years, but had to quit suddenly because of injury. Belle was despised and Kirby was loved. Belle will never get in, and Kirby got in on the first try. I was actually agreeing with your "arbitrary" point here. With guys that don't quite have the golden ticket career numbers, like Puckett, Belle, and the guys this post is about, things can be arbitrary.

One noteworthy difference between Belle and Puckett, though, is that Puckett's career ended in 1995, which was just before the steroid era really got going. Belle, however, lasted until 2000, and coincidentally transformed from a 35 homer guy into a 50 homer guy during the late 90's. Coincidence?

That's a question a lot of players are going to have to answer.

None said...

"Their numbers are similar."

Umm.. thank you? I've seen their numbers. These two are not even playing the same sport. If you want to take a guy with lots of hits, be my guest. I'll take the guy that hit HRs.

The most Puckett ever walked was 57 times. His highest OBP was .379. He had some very good seasons ('88 & '92). Rumor has it he even played defense. But, hes not Belle when it comes to hitting. Check out '95. 103 extra base hits. That is completely insane. He had 99 extra base hits in '98.

Another thing to keep in mind, Belle played in far fewer games than Puckett. This despite playing the same number of seasons. For example, Belle's first 2 seasons were not exactly productive ones.

I completely understand how people felt about Puckett and Belle. Didn't Bob Costas name his kid after Puckett? And, I'm glad that we agree that the HOF is arbitrary. However, Puckett on the first ballot? Just for being a nice guy? Just a little over the top. An argument could be made for how well anybody really knows these players. Just how "nice" was Puckett? He turned out to be a little crazy.

In my area, people absolutely love Omar Vizquel. And why not? I think he's got a radio show during the season. Even better, he (used to) play great defense. We all love that hustle. I've also heard stories about this married man flirting with high school students.

Did Belle use steroids? I would think so. But, thats a different topic. One thing going for him is his age. That may explain the large jump in production.

Cameron said...

Okay, if I'm going to be put in the position of defending Kirby Puckett, then here goes.

He played center field, one of the most demanding positions, and won 6 Gold Gloves. Belle played Left and Right field, and won zero Gold Gloves.

He was top ten in MVP votes 7 times; Belle 5.

Puckett was an All-Star 10 times (in 12 seasons), 6 times as a starter. Belle made it 5 times, twice as a starter.

In those All Star games, Puckett won an MVP and hit .292 overall. Belle hit .100

Puckett won every postseason series he was in, won 2 World Series, hit 5 home runs, batted .309, and won the ALCS MVP. Belle never won a World Series, and hit only .230 in the postseason.

Kirby had 200 hits in 5 seasons, including 4 in a row, with two more seasons of 199 and 195 hits. He hit over .300 in 8 of 12 seasons, and would have made it 11 of 12 if not for two seasons of .296 and one of .298. In that 12th season he hit .288 - not bad.

As for the points you brought up, Belle may have walked more than Puckett, but he broke the 100 walk mark just once and only made the top ten of his league twice.

As for OBP, Belle made the top ten twice, and hit 30 points higher than the league average. Puckett hit 25 points higher than the league average.

You are right in that Belle played in over 200 fewer games than Puckett. Yet he had the same number of strikeouts as Kirby, and 578 fewer hits.

Belle did hit more home runs than Puckett. But if that's going to be your calling card to the Hall, then you'd better get more than 380. Just ask Jim Rice. Especially if you played in the 90's when even shortstops could hit 20 home runs in their sleep. And it's not like Kirby didn't hit for power. He averaged 19 a year and had seasons of 31 and 28. And that in an era where 25 made you a power hitter.

None said...

Gold Gloves? All-Star? All-Star Game? Even the post season? Batting average? I couldn't care less about these topics. Further, you really dont want to be comparing walks to strikeouts with these two. Puckett stuck out plenty and his low walk total shows up in his OBP. Belle mashed during his time and after adjusted for era. Do you like the WARP values he puts up?

Again, as you have pointed out.. Puckett liked to hit singles. Belle liked to hit homeruns (and doubles). Go with the lower OBP / singles hitter. Thats fine. He's in the HOF. But, Belle was a far superior hitter. The only reason he is not in is the perception that Puckett was good.. and Belle was bad. You might as well be tossing names in a hat for the HOF at this point. Our memories are terrible things. Further, these invented ideas that we actually know these players is deceiving.

Cameron said...

Puckett: 414 career doubles
Belle: 389 career doubles

Puckett: .360 career OBP
Belle: .369 career OBP

Gold Gloves don't matter? Post season performance doesn't matter? Of course they do.

There are plenty of players with Belle's hitting resume. Todd Helton comes to mind. He's played 11 seasons, is a few years short of reaching Belle's home run totals, but kills him in your coveted OBP and doubles categories, not to mention batting average, hits, runs, and strikeouts. And he played in the same era. If his career ended today, I don't think he makes it to the Hall. Or Juan Gonzalez, who has the same batting average, more home runs, RBIs, hits, and runs than Belle does. Again, all while playing during the same era. He won't make the Hall either.

Belle wasn't transcendant enough for his era to make it to the Hall of Fame without reaching the magic hitting milestones. Without those milestones, like 500+ home runs, you have to go to the other stats. And he just doesn't cut it.

None said...

Career doubles? So, longevity does matter? Are we back to the Evans argument? Just feels like we're driving in circles here. Again, this seems to be the problem with the HOF. They dont know how to value a player. And, thats ok with me. I just dont consider it the be all, end all. Just take a look at the selection process. The Baseball Writers' Association of America gets to pick? Give me a break. From my area, Ann Killion and Gwen Knapp get to vote. These two excel at one thing, penning unfortunate opinions. Oh, and Ray Ratto is on the list. I can not express to you in words what a complete idiot he is. In fact, these three are a large reason that I have stopped reading the sports page and skip to the box scores or AP stories.

And.. Todd Helton.. yes.. a hitter in Belle's league. Gonzalez or Puckett, not even close. All I see you proving is that Belle has similar career numbers to Puckett. With Belle having superior seasonal statistics. Yet, Puckett is a first ballot guy and Belle is well.. just hated by everybody. When, in the end, they both turned out to be crazy.

Gold gloves dont matter for the same reason the HOF is questionable. For starters, even valuing defense is difficult. Second, you have managers / coaches voting for this? Again, back to relying on memory. The post season matters little. I suppose if you wanted to give a guy the benefit of the doubt. But, the seasonal / career numbers should have considerably more weight.

Cameron said...

The doubles matter because you brought them up. I don't know how longevity comes in since they both played 12 years.

Your OBP argument is sunk since they have basically identical marks.

Your argument that he was so amazing, even after adjusting for era is sunk because there are other players with the same stats. There is absolutely no way that Todd Helton makes the Hall if he never plays another game. And he kills Belle in every single category you have brought up. Juan Gonzalez, who you don't think is in Belle's league, kills him in every category too.

That's why he's not in the Hall. He's just one of many home run hitters during that era, and his numbers don't set him apart. So then you have to go to the periferals, and he doesn't cut it there either.

Kirby played in a different era, and his periferals are off the charts. The list I gave you a couple comments back shows the difference between Kirby's "extras" and Belle's. Kirby kills him too.

10 All Star games in 12 seasons means you were a trancendant player for your time. 6 consecutive Gold Gloves while playing the first or second most demanding position on the field means you were a trancendant player for your time. Being a clutch performer during the post season and leading your team to 2 World Series victories adds to the luster. Kirby's got the bonus points that Belle lacks.

Kirby's in, Belle's out.

None said...

OPB? You're making things up Cameron. Belle is still 9 points higher than Puckett. While we're talking about hitting, lets just not take a peek at the SLG%. This is all before "advanced batting statistics" takes over. Again, you said it best. Puckett hits singles, Belle hits home runs.

And CF is not the first or second most demanding defensive position on the field.

Juan Gonzalez? I think its pretty clear we are looking at different statistics at this point. He had one amazing year ('93). Belle had five amazing years between '93 and '98.

As for era.. Puckett played '84-'95. Belle: '89 through 2000. Helton's first full season was '98. Yet, Helton played in a the same era as Belle? And Belle played in a different era than Puckett? Yeah, I'm not buying that. Still that's all not the same thing as making statistical adjustments for era.

All Star game? Its a popularity contest. Its like saying Kelly Clarkson is the most talented singer in the world. Same goes for the gold glove. Oh.. and Eckstein won the freakin' WS MVP. Talk about making something irrelevant.

I guess we'll just have to agree that I'm right :)

Cameron said...

Hold up Hillary, I never said Puckett only hit singles. That's all you.

As for doubles and OBP, here's what you wrote:

"Belle liked to hit homeruns (and doubles). Go with the lower OBP / singles hitter. Thats fine."

The facts don't back you up. Puckett actually hit more doubles than Belle did, and his OBP is not significantly lower than Belle's, especially if you compare them to the league average.

Now, if Belle hadn't struck out at a much higher rate than Puckett, his OBP could have been higher. But who wants to be a "singles hitter" when you can strike out instead, right?

Juan Gonzalez vs. Albert Belle:

JG: .295 BA
AB: .295 BA

JG: 434 HR
AB: 381 HR

JG: 1404 RBIs
AB: 1239 RBIs

JG: 2 MVPs
AB: 0 MVPs

JG: 1936 Hits
AB: 1726 Hits

JG: 1061 Runs
AB: 974 Runs

JG: 388 Doubles
AB: 389 Doubles

You're right, we must be looking at different stats. Especially since the only "good" year you give Gonzalez is '93, which isn't even one of the two years he won the MVP award. Not to mention that Belle's "five amazing" years didn't produce a single MVP, and include his clunker '97 when he hit only .274 with a .332 OBP and only 30 home runs. Walt Weiss could have hit 30 homers in 1997.

As for eras, the steriod induced home run era began in the early to mid 90's and lasted until around 2004 or so when they started testing. That's pretty much Belle's entire career. Todd Helton and Juan Gonzalez's too. They are all a part of that era. Not so much with Kirby.

None said...

Well.. that was great. I wrote a response and the power kicked out. Cameron, I hope you live in an area that gets a better connection than here. I dont know what it is. Its not like I'm off the grid or anything. Old infrastructure I guess?

Anyway, I was at that baseball-reference website. They have the following (near the bottom of the page) about Belle:

Black Ink: Batting - 28 (62) (Average HOFer ≈ 27)

Gray Ink: Batting - 137 (119) (Average HOFer ≈ 144)

HOF Standards: Batting - 36.1 (178) (Average HOFer ≈ 50)

HOF Monitor: Batting - 134.5 (98) (Likely HOFer > 100)

Overall Rank in parentheses.

These numbers appear to be slightly better than Puckett's. But, Puckett is not really the point. Belle never was discussed for the HOF. It just doesnt seem right to me that he put up these kind of numbers and doesnt get anything for it.

As for the number that I generally look at. I take more of a Baseball Prospectus / Bill James / Moneyball / Billy Beane approach to things. They dont value traditional statistics like RBI, Runs, Batting Average or MVP voting.

Thats my two cents. Just think, pitchers and catchers report in a few weeks. And (at least out here) college ball has already (when its not raining like crazy) started.