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June 6, 2008

Prospectus Matchups

Hall Jones

by Jim Baker

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Hitting Lots of People

You can watch a week's worth of baseball and not see as much activity as took place in last night's Rays-Red Sox game. Between the intra- and inter-squad brawls and the injuries, there were five hit batsmen. That seems like a lot, but is it anywhere close to being a record? It is not; since 1957, there have been eight games in which six batters were hit, and three wherein seven were dusted. The majority have come since the strike, which shouldn't be too surprising if we recall this piece by Dan Fox that describes the upswing of hit batsmen in recent times. These are the three games in which seven men were hit:

Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals, April 13, 1971: The interesting thing about this game is that none of the seven hit batsmen were perpetrated by the starters, Steve Barber and Mike Hedlund. It wasn't until the relievers came in that flesh and bone started to get impacted. All five relievers in the game managed to hit somebody, with Tom Burgmeier of the Royals and Ron Perranoski of the Twins plunking two apiece. The teams next met in Minnesota six days later, and only one batter was hit.

Kansas City Royals at Texas Rangers, September 3, 1989: This was the next-to-last start of Kevin Brown's rookie year, and it did not go well. He was chased with nobody out in the second, by which time he had allowed nine Royals to reach, including two by way of plunking. Six of them scored, Brown made his earliest exit of the season, and the Royals went on to win 13-2. Mark Gubicza hit Steve Buechele in the home half of the second. Rangers reliever Drew Hall hit back-to-back batters in the fourth, representing half his career total in 195 1/3 innings. When the teams met again a week later, no batters were hit in the three-game series.

Oakland A's at Anaheim Angels, June 7, 2001: Way back at the dawn of the 21st Century, Scott Schoeneweis was in the Angels starting rotation. On this particular night, he hit four A's, tying the American League single-game record. His opponent, Barry Zito, hit one, and relievers on both teams hit one each, making the final count five to two in favor of Anaheim--if that's actually how you phrase something like this. Schoeneweis would go on to hit a total of 14 men that year, good for third place in the American League. (Again, if that's the proper way to phrase it when discussing hit batsmen.) This was the last game of the series. The next time they met, only one batter was hit in the course of three games, including a complete game from Schoeneweis in which he hit no one. (How ironic it is to be discussing this the day after Schoeneweis forced in the winning run by hitting Paul McAnulty in the bottom of the ninth in San Diego last night.)

A Billy Mays Season?

Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones hit his 400th career home run yesterday and raised his 2008 batting average to an alarming .418. I was going to say that it's very reminiscent of Billy Mays. Surely I meant to type "Willie" Mays, right? No, I really do mean Billy Mays, the black-bearded Oxi-Clean and dent puller pitchman you've seen countless times on television. Why would I have thought that Chipper Jones' 2008 campaign deserved mention in conjunction with Mr. Mays? Well, at the end of all his commercials, Volume Billy always offers a clincher. No matter how convincingly he has made his case that your life's a pathetic mess without the product upon which he is expounding, he offers further inducements to get you to buy. I was thinking that this is what Jones is doing in 2008--offering a clincher season to convince voters he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Then I took a closer look and realized this is not a clincher season, but, according to Jay Jaffe's JAWS, a season that is still very much a part of the initial pitch. In fact, one could make the case that had Jones not played as well as he has for the past season-plus, he would not be on a Hall of Fame path at all. The JAWS threshold for a Hall of Fame third baseman is 92.4. Through the end of the 2006 season, Jones was at 69.0. While that was already much better than George Kell (one of the worst-ever choices for Cooperstown), it would not have put him in range of the threshold even if he played until 40, given a typical decline phase. One of the quick and dirty methods I use for making Hall of Fame considerations is how many times a player got into double figures in WARP3, and as a secondary consideration, how many times he broke 9.0. Before 2007, Jones had never hit double figures and had gotten over 9.0 just twice. Now, he's on the verge of hitting double figures twice in a row. Of course, had Jones been even a league-average fielder, this whole discussion would be moot. On offense alone, Jones is most definitely a Hall of Famer, but few men have had their offensive contributions negated by defensive shortcomings as much as he has.

Instead of having a decline phase, however, Jones has been pushing in the opposite direction. Last year was his best WARP3 season ever, and 2008--even with some inevitable fall-off--could be better still. Jones raised his JAWS to 76.5 last year and will be well up over 80 at the end of 2008. Now, with two truly great seasons under his belt, he can enter his late thirties in an excellent position to make the threshold. If he plays four more years after this, bringing him to 40, and returns to the level of play he was at before the 2007-2008 outburst (let's say a 5.0 WARP3 average), he'll have a career WARP3 of about 120. That, along with his peak, would make him a Hall of Famer.

Had he not had this renaissance, his case would have been harder to make--at least to those in the stathead community. Among those with votes, I believe the Hall vibe was already resonating before this recent upsurge. Now, posting the two highest EqAs of his career at the ages of 35 and 36 (not to mention two of his least-worst FRAAs), he's on his way to making himself a choice that everyone can accept. If he approximates this season's production again next year or in 2010, then I can conjure up the Billy Mays comparison.

All-Star Gaps and the Hall of Fame

It's a pretty safe bet that Chipper Jones is going to make the National League All-Star team this year. It will be the first time he's done so since 2001, a gap of six missed seasons in the middle of his career. Is that something that Hall of Famers do, as a rule--go six seasons without making the All-Star team? Looking at Hall of Fame position players who began their careers after World War II, the answer is yes, but not often. And when it has happened, it's usually at the end or beginning of a player's career. Here is a list of the Hall members who went the most consecutive seasons without being named to the All-Star team either as a starter or as a reserve:


Years Player           Seasons    Note
10    Robin Yount      1984-1993  End of career
10    Tony Perez       1977-1986  End of career
 8    Willie McCovey   1972-1980  End of career
 6    Orlando Cepeda   1968-1973  End of career, not incl. final partial season
 6    Duke Snider      1957-1962
 6    Robin Yount      1974-1979  Beginning of career
 5    Luis Aparicio    1965-1969
 5    Eddie Mathews    1963-1967  End of career, not incl. final partial season
 5    Eddie Murray     1992-1996  End of career, not incl. final partial season
 5    George Brett     1989-1993  End of career
 5    Lou Brock        1962-1966  Beginning of career
 5    Roberto Clemente 1955-1959  Beginning of career
 5    Carlton Fisk     1986-1990
 5    Dave Winfield    1990-1994  End of career, not incl. final partial season
 4    Paul Molitor     1981-1984
                       1995-1998  End of career
 4    Willie Stargell  1974-1977
                       1967-1970
 4    Willie McCovey   1959-1962  Beginning of career
 4    Harmon Killebrew 1972-1975  End of career
 4    Gary Carter      1989-1992  End of career
 4    Richie Ashburn   1954-1957
 4    Joe Morgan       1980-1983  End of career

Should Jones become a Hall of Famer, he will join Duke Snider as the only player who had a six-game All-Star hiatus in mid-career. McCovey, Stargell, and Molitor each had two runs of at least four seasons without an All-Star nod. No Hall of Famer can match Robin Yount, though. He was only named three times in a 20-year career, creating two great gaps, one of which ties him with Tony Perez for the longest run without being named--although Perez was just a half-time player toward the end of his career.

This does not address undeserved All-Star snubs or choices made for sentimental reasons, but it does illustrate that a player can take a step back from being perceived as part of the upper tier for a significant block of time and still have his career retrospectively assessed as deserving by voters.

Thanks to Bil Burke for his research contribution.

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