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December 6, 2004

Prospectus Today

Into the Mailbag

by Joe Sheehan

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The Holdovers

You may have written about him before so I apologize if you've already addressed this, but what about Luis Tiant? He certainly seems comparable to current HOFers Catfish Hunter, Don Drysdale, and Jim Bunning and prospective entrants like Bert Blyleven.

--G.W.

El Tiante is no longer eligible for election by the Baseball Writers Association of America, having passed from the ballot in 2002. Only in his first year on the ballot did he ever crack 100 votes, so he was never considered a serious candidate by the electorate.

Should he have been? I'm inclined to say, "no." Hunter was a direct peer, one of the weaker BBWAA selections to the Hall, and yet a stronger candidate. You can say much of the same about Drysdale and Bunning, neither of whom are among the BBWAA's stronger selections. There are any number of pitchers not in the Hall, starting with Blyleven and Tommy John, who I'd put in before Tiant, and that list will grow considerably over the next few years.

With all that said...I loved him when I was eight years old and he came to pitch for the Yankees near the end of his career. What a fun guy to watch.

The controversy surrounding Ryne Sandberg's Hall Of Fame candidacy is particularly puzzling since his career numbers are so very close to Joe Morgan's, the gold-standard second baseman already in the Hall. One of the primary questions the BBWAA asks is "was he the dominant player at his position in his era?" Sandberg undoubtedly was, yet we have to have these yay/nay conversations every year.

--J.W.

First of all, Sandberg isn't close to Morgan as a player, being about 50 wins worse than him over the course of their careers. Park effects, OBP and baserunning all combine to wipe out Sandberg's power edge.

Keep in mind that Sandberg is almost certainly going to get in. There's not much precedent for a player starting out with 49% of the vote, jumping over 60%, and then not making it in. It just doesn't happen that way.

The resistance Sandberg has met stems in part from a recognition that his raw stats were inflated by Wrigley Field in the 1980s and in part from the awkward way in which his career came to an end. I think the mid-season retirement and subsequent return have had a small negative effect on his support; not enough to keep him out, but enough to make it easier for someone to remember him not as a great player, but as a guy with some weirdness in his career.

While I can see how you might not consider Alan Trammell Hall-worthy, his career stacks up extremely well against Sandberg. Fewer great seasons (though Trammell's best is better than any single Sanberg season), but relatively fewer bad seasons and a longer career, while playing a more difficult defensive position.

Looking at more advanced stats, Trammell and Sandberg had identical EQAs (.281) and Trammell has a slight edge in WARP2 and WARP3 (the difference essentially being that Sandberg took the year and a half off).

Personally, I think both are HOFers, but I can see why someone might not put them in that class. I can't see what could seperate them and make Sandberg a better candidate than Trammell.

--N.F.

The reason I dismissed Trammell was that in three years on the ballot, he's received essentially the same level of support, about 70 votes each time. He doesn't seem to be a serious candidate, although he'll probably stay on the ballot for the next decade. Managing helps, as it keeps you visible.

There's no question that the perception of Trammell's career has been hurt by the performances of the great shortstops who have come after him. He might have survived being second fiddle to Cal Ripken Jr., but he can't survive the huge numbers being put up by Alex Rodriguez, et al.

Trammell's lack of support does not bode well for Barry Larkin, a superior player who has never been perceived as a superstar. I shudder to think that Larkin and Tim Raines, two Hall of Famers on merit, might pass from the ballot unrecognized in short order.

Jason Giambi

Your version of Jason's career (an MVP and several great seasons BEFORE using steroids, the health problems this year AFTER he started using the cream and the clear from BALCO) doesn't fit the testimony. We don't know when the Giambis first took steroids, but both said they had used steroids earlier in their career, and Jason was already using Deca-Durobolin and HGH when he met Anderson. Pituitary tumors seems like the sort of thing that occurs after several years of steroid use have wreaked havoc with hormone levels, not the near-immediate result of starting a new steroid regimen. It is at least as likely that Giambi was using anabolic steroids regularly in the off-season prior to his MVP season as that he started very recently to try to return to his earlier level of play.

I also think you are delusional if you believe that the Jason Giambi timeline will be a wakeup call and a deterrent to other baseball players. Ken Caminiti's body was destroyed by steroids, he died at 41, and clearly his MVP-to-rags story didn't deter Jason Giambi from using. Selig is actually right (god, that sticks in the throat) to argue that the stricter minor league testing must be matched at the major league level; he should also supplement testing with funds for education at high school, college and international baseball levels.

Giambi and Bonds' steroid use isn't a surprise to anyone. A stubborn refusal to acknowledge the extent of steroid use in the game today won't help to solve the problem. Trying to force events to fit a morality play in which steroid users are invariably punished for their sin won't work either. The fact is that steroid use can help players build muscle, pitch faster, throw farther, recover from injuries. And if the steroids are taken in moderation, side effects will mostly be minor or won't show up for years.

ESPN.com is polling whether Bonds' records should come with an asterisk. Of course not. But MLB has to catch up to the NFL and the Olympics and implement year-round random testing for a wide variety of substances with serious sanctions for positive tests.

--S.F.

Lots of steroid e-mails...I chose this one because it hit a lot of points and was short on name-calling.

One of the issues I have with the reaction to the grand jury leaks is that people are picking and choosing what to label as "truthful." Look, you can't have it both ways: either it's Grand Jury Testimony, and you're taking it at face value, or you're not. You can't decide it's partially truthful because doing so helps you build a case.

Giambi said he did steroids in 2001. I'll go with that, and concede that I don't know what he might have done before that.

This factor is much worse in the case of Bonds, who has basically been declared a perjurer by the public.

Moving on, I have no idea if steroids make you a better baseball player. No one does, because there's not enough real evidence in the room. People throw out things like Ken Caminiti's MVP award and Barry Bonds' 73 home runs, and we hear very little about the lesser players named in the BALCO witch hunt, or the minor leaguers caught, or the two lesser lights nabbed in the Olympic testing program.

BP got started in part because conventional wisdom wasn't enough. It's still not enough, and I'm not going to assume that the conventional wisdom that steroids improve baseball performance is true until there's actual evidence--not hearsay, not inferences, not the shouted half-truths of a vindictive media--of a relationship.

Finally, it's not the NFL's drug-testing program that needs to be copied by MLB, but its marketing and press-relations programs. That this is a baseball issue and not a football one has nothing to do with drugs, and everything to do with the entities' relationship to the media.

While I think that using steroids is an idiotic decision that is encouraged by owners and the player's union alike, I have no particular moral problem with it on a standalone basis. I do, however, have a problem with the message that it sends to younger athletes. Despite what Charles Barkley may think, youngsters do emulate and imitate the behavior of professional athletes. The Center for Disease Control reports that 6.1% of high school students have used steroids, and that number has increased from 3.7% in 1997. This is not good, this is not behavior that we want to see. We do not want to send the message to youngsters that the way to increase performance, to reach their goals, and to compete at the next level is to torture their bodies this way.

--C.B.

If you're a teenage athlete capable of acquiring and using steroids, but not capable of understanding, in this environment of hysteria, that what you're doing is condemned by everyone around you, I don't think a testing program is going to help you.

I also don't think it's the responsibility of one set of individuals to give up their rights to privacy to make parenting easier. You're shifting the responsibility for keeping young athletes off of steroids from parents to professional athletes, and that's not right.

This is, by far, the weakest argument for a testing program.

Catching a Good Deal

Mike Rose was picked up the Dodgers several weeks ago. A nice snag I think.

-M.

There was apparently a three-part "Dateline" on this transaction, because judging from my inbox, everyone knew about it but me.

It is a nice pickup by Paul DePodesta, who needed to add some offense behind the plate, and didn't have many options for doing so. Rose and David Ross will be a $600,000 solution providing performance not far behind what the Brewers will get from Damian Miller for the $2.7 million.

One other correction from that column: Arthur Rhodes' contract pays him $9.2 million over three years, not $15 million.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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