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December 21, 2009
Prospectus Hit and Run
Alomar, the Crime Dog, the Big Cat and Big Mac
The BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot has been out for a few weeks, and by now just about everybody who's got an opinion on the subject of which candidates are worthy of election has beaten the Christmas rush by weighing in on Rock, Hawk, Rik Aalbert, and friends. While the cabal which sent Jim Rice to Cooperstown last year might like to believe that I've told my spreadsheet to shut up, the reality-deadlines for this year's annual impeding my progress-is much more mundane. There's still time to beat the Christmas rush, however, so away we go.
To recap, since 2004 I've been using a methodology called JAWS-the name actually came along a bit later-to evaluate the Hall of Fame ballot for Baseball Prospectus. JAWS stands for Jaffe WARP Score, and WARP stands for Wins Above Replacement Player, our metric to measure each player's hitting, pitching, and fielding contributions relative to those of a freely available reserve or minor-league call-up in runs, and then convert those runs into the currency of wins. Park and league contexts are built into WARP, so that a player in a low-scoring environment such as 1960s Dodger Stadium can be measured on the same scale as one in a high-scoring environment such as turn-of-the-century Coors Field. A solid, full-time player might accumulate three or four WARP in a season, an All-Star five or six; a season of eight WARP often earns a spot in an MVP discussion, if not the award itself.
The stated goal of JAWS is to raise the standards of the Hall of Fame by identifying and endorsing candidates who are as good or better than the average Hall of Famer at their position, a bar set so as to avoid further diluting the quality of the institution's membership. This is done by comparing the candidates to their enshrined counterparts; those with JAWS higher than the average Hall of Famer at their position are deemed worthy of election. The positional averages-what I refer to as the JAWS standards-are actually computed after the score of the lowest player, invariably an underqualified player voted in by the Veterans Committee, has been dropped.
JAWS is separated into two components, a player's career WARP total and his peak one, covering his best seven years at large. This prevents longevity from being the sole determinant of who's worthy. In essence, the player's best seasons are double-counted, an appropriate strategy given the research regarding pennants added and the premium value of star talent: individual greatness can have a non-linear effect on a team's results both in the standings and on the bottom line. The career and peak WARP totals are thus averaged to give a JAWS score.
For all that goes into it, JAWS can't incorporate everything that goes into a player's Hall of Fame case. It makes no attempt to account for postseason play, awards won (whether they were justified or not), leagues led in important categories, historical import, or-it should go without saying, but thanks to Rice's hagiographers, here we are-fear factor. In discussing the candidates in brief, I'll bring such accomplishments into context; they can certainly shade an argument for or against a player whose credentials are otherwise borderline.
The past year or so has seen Clay Davenport incorporate some key changes to WARP, raising the replacement-level floor by about 20 runs per player, lifting it significantly beyond the level of the bottom-of-the-barrel 1899 Cleveland Spiders or a current Double-A player to conform to a more modern definition of the major-league replacement level. At the level of the WARP data provided in our annual book, Clay has incorporated a play-by-play-based defensive system, but that system has yet to be implemented further back due not only to the various challenges such a system prevents but also to his other responsibilities, which this year have grown to include the daunting task of running PECOTA and of providing in-season updates of our projections.
The good news is that, unlike last year, what you see here should more or less be reflected on the DT cards, allowing you to play along at home. So without further ado, we turn to the positional standards:
Pos # EqA RARP RAP FRAA Career Peak JAWS C 13 .285 448 238 69 60.6 41.0 50.8 1B 18 .306 542 287 -12 64.0 43.0 53.5 2B 18 .286 579 308 82 76.8 50.1 63.5 3B 11 .290 545 266 81 71.8 47.1 59.5 SS 21 .274 477 204 105 70.0 47.9 59.0 LF 20 .302 548 273 4 65.3 42.1 53.7 CF 17 .306 565 316 21 68.8 44.2 56.5 RF 23 .305 597 321 38 75.7 46.6 61.2 CornerInf 30 .300 543 279 22 66.9 44.6 55.7 MI 38 .279 524 252 94 73.1 48.9 61.0 INF 68 .288 532 263 64 70.5 47.1 58.8 OF 60 .304 572 303 22 70.3 44.4 57.4 Middle 69 .287 520 265 71 69.8 46.3 58.0 Corners 72 .302 558 291 22 69.3 44.6 56.9 Hitters 141 .295 540 278 46 69.5 45.4 57.5
For those in need of help deciphering the abbreviations, EqA is Equivalent Average, RARP is Runs Above Replacement, Position-Adjusted, and RAP is Runs Above Position. Both measures, which replace Batting Runs Above Replacement and Batting Runs Above Average as part of our suite of metrics, incorporate a positional adjustment not found in their predecessors (see Clay's essay in BP2009 for details). Both are included here as good secondary measures of career and peak value. Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) is a bit more comprehensible to the average reader than measuring fielding from replacement level.
In the interest of prioritizing the freshest above-the-line candidate in this particular sub-batch, I'm going to deviate from positional propriety and address the ballot's lone second baseman before turning to the first basemen. Much of what I wrote is a revision of a piece written upon Roberto Alomar's retirement, but the wholesale changes in WARP since that point necessitate revision, and the importance of his career merits a full airing in this context.
Player H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG AS MVP GG HoFS HoFM Bal 2009% Roberto Alomar 1508 210 1134 .300 .371 .443 12 0 10 57.0 194.0 0 N/A Player EqA RARP RAP FRAA Career Peak JAWS Alomar .288 675 370 30 79.4 49.8 64.6 AVG HoF 2B .287 579 308 82 76.8 50.1 63.5
More abbreviations to decipher: AS is All-Star appearances, GG is Gold Gloves won, HoFS and HoFM are Hall of Fame Standards and Hall of Fame Monitor, respectively, a pair of hoary but somewhat useful evaluation systems created by Bill James during the Baseball Abstract era, Bal is how many years the player has appeared on the ballot, and 2009% the player's share of the vote on the last ballot, with 75 percent needed for election.
The son of light-hitting former big-league second baseman Sandy Alomar and the younger brother of catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., Roberto Alomar reached the big leagues as a 20-year-old San Diego Padre in 1988. His three years in the brown and yellow only hinted at things to come, as he hit a fairly one-dimensional .283/.339/.379. He took his lumps in the field, showing excellent range but averaging 20 errors a year. Still, not many players can hold their own in the majors in their age-20 seasons, and the ones that do often go on to greatness.
Alomar blossomed after being sent along with Joe Carter to Toronto in a December 1990 mega-deal which paired him and Joe Carter while sending Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez to San Diego. The move helped the Jays become the division's powerhouse; they won the East in his first season north of the border, and in the two years following brought new meaning to the term World Champions. Alomar averaged 7.2 WARP over that three-year span, and put up a Joe Morgan-esque line of .326/.408/.492 with 17 homers and 55 steals in 1993. But the Jays fell below .500 during the two strike-torn seasons, and Alomar departed as a free agent for the Orioles, forming a well-decorated double-play tandem with Cal Ripken Jr. His 1996 stats were in the Morgan mold as well (.328/.411/.527), as he led the O's with a career-high 8.2 WARP and helped them to their first postseason berth since 1983.
Alas, Alomar's season lost some luster when a late-September ejection for arguing balls and strikes culminated in him spitting in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck. Adding insult to injury, the second baseman told reporters that the ump had become "real bitter" since the death of his eight-year-old son due to a rare brain disease in 1993. Alomar was instantly anointed Public Enemy Number One by the nation's fans and sportswriters; when he was allowed to play in the postseason by appealing his five-game suspension, it took a court order to avert an umpires' strike. Alomar spent October under a dark cloud as the Orioles advanced to the ALCS before losing to the Jeffrey Maier-aided Yankees.
He served his suspension to start the 1997 season and made high-profile amends with Hirschbeck, shaking his hand on the field and donating money to aid research on the disease which claimed the ump's son. But public sentiment was still mixed: Alomar drew boos around the league even as he was voted to start the All-Star Game. Hampered by a shoulder injury which limited him to 112 games, and to batting left-handed for the season's last four months, he still hit .333/.390/.500. The Orioles made it back to the LCS but lost to the Indians, his brother's team. Shortly after the loss, the O's took the express route to total irrelevance when skipper Davey Johnson fell out with owner Peter Angelos, culminating in the surreal sequence of Johnson resigning mere hours before winning Manager of the Year honors. They haven't seen .500 since.
Following a desultory 1998 which featured the ludicrous accusation from Angelos that Alomar hadn't been the same since the spitting incident, the second baseman joined his brother via free agency. Teaming with shortstop Omar Vizquel to form one of the slickest double-play combos of all time, he enjoyed his best three-year run as a hitter, batting a combined .323/.405/.515 and averaging 5.9 WARP. Despite the accolades, which included the last three of his 10 Gold Gloves, his defense was slipping, from +13 runs in 1999 to -9 and -6 in the next two seasons.
At that point, through his age-33 season, Alomar had amassed 2,389 hits at a .306/.378/.455 clip. He looked to be a lock for the 3,000 hit club, with the Bill James Favorite Toy estimate showing him as having an 87% chance of reaching 3,300 hits. But the wheels quickly fell off once he was sent to the Mets as the centerpiece of an eight-player deal in December 2001. He struggled to a .266/.331/.376 showing in 2002 as the Mets slid below .500, and when his decline didn't reverse, he was pawned off to the White Sox halfway through the next season. He lasted just one more year in the majors, and met an ignominious end, making two errors in one inning of a spring training game as a Devil Ray, then hanging up his spikes the next day.
Alomar never won an MVP award, but he placed in the top five twice (1999 and 2001) and finished sixth in his first three years in Toronto. He was otherwise well-decorated, as no other second baseman won the Gold Glove more often. He was worth at least 10 runs in the field in three of the seasons in which he won the award, and the one year amid that 11-year stretch in which he didn't (1997). He excelled in October, outdoing his career line with a .331/.381/.448 showing in 260 postseason plate appearances across seven separate trips. He won the 1992 ALCS MVP award en route to the first of hs two rings with the Blue Jays.
Those are Hall of Fame credentials, and his JAWS numbers back up that assertion. While his defensive reputation falls surprisingly shy of the average Hall second baseman-pushing his peak all of 0.3 wins below the standard (but still about four wins above the average Hall hitter)-his career mark is safely above the line even given his early, inglorious end. Only four second basemen (Eddie Collins, Rogers Hornsby, Joe Morgan, and Nap Lajoie, all Hall of Famers) outrank him on the JAWS scale, though they all leave him in the dust, with scores above 93.0. Alomar does outdistance BBWAA-sanctioned keystoners Charlie Gehringer, Frankie Frisch, Ryne Sandberg, Jackie Robinson (whose JAWS mark is obviously just the tip of the iceberg), and Rod Carew, as well as the unduly snubbed Bobby Grich (who ranks right behind him, JAWS-wise). Neither the spitting incident nor the salcious, subsequently withdrawn lawsuit which emerged earlier this year are grounds for keeping him out of Cooperstown. There are enough writers out there who bear him a grudge over Spitgate that I doubt he'll gain first-ballot election, but I suspect his stay on the ballot will be a short one.
Player H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG AS MVP GG HoFS HoFM Bal 2009% Andres Galarraga 2333 399 1425 .288 .347 .499 5 0 2 35.0 114.0 0 N/A Eric Karros 1724 284 1027 .268 .325 .454 0 0 0 17.0 30.0 0 N/A Don Mattingly 2153 222 1099 .307 .358 .471 6 1 9 34.1 134.0 9 11.9% Fred McGriff 2490 493 1550 .284 .377 .509 5 0 0 48.0 100.0 0 N/A Mark McGwire 1626 583 1414 .263 .394 .588 12 0 1 42.0 169.5 3 21.9% David Segui 1412 139 684 .291 .359 .443 0 0 0 16.0 15.0 0 N/A Player EqA RARP RAP FRAA Career Peak JAWS McGwire .327 661 450 -11 71.6 48.7 60.2 McGriff .302 543 253 -24 59.0 40.6 49.8 Mattingly .291 342 116 37 42.9 36.3 39.6 Galarraga .279 243 -25 -35 23.8 21.2 22.5 Karros .272 136 -83 36 20.3 20.3 20.3 Segui .273 107 -53 0 12.2 13.1 12.7 AVG HoF 1B .306 565 306 -12 66.4 44.1 55.3
Mark McGwire isn't much fun to debate because of the steroid-related questions that surround his career, but taken at face value, his accomplishments put him well above the JAWS standard for first basemen. In the interest of brevity and reduced agita, I'll refer you back to what I wrote last time around and note that his 583 home runs rank eighth all-time (tied with Alex Rodriguez), his .588 slugging percentage is ninth, and his .327 Equivalent Average is 13th-solidly in a Hall-worthy stratosphere. As far as JAWS is concerned, McGwire comes in ahead of both the career and peak marks for first basemen, and ranks 12th among first basemen all-time; of the 11 players above him, seven are already in the Hall, with Albert Pujols still active and birthday twins Jeff Bagwell and Frank Thomas not yet eligible. Big Mac's JAWS total outdoes 12 enshrined first basemen, including BBWAA electees Willie McCovey, Eddie Murray, Tony Perez, Hank Greenberg, and Harmon Killebrew, many of whom similarly bore the "one-dimensional slugger" tag.
McGwire's failed to garner much support on the ballot from the same body which put him on a pedestal back in the late Nineties, doing so while shunning the writer who exposed his dirty little secret of androstenedione. His support actually declined slightly last year, down from 23.6 percent on the 2008 ballot. I don't pretend to have an answer to the vexing problem of how the voters should handle his case, but as the number of superstars alleged to have used performance enhancers continues to grow-since last year Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz have all been outed via even more dubious means-it's clear that this issue won't be leaving the ballot anytime soon.
Don Mattingly's case is one I've hammered every year since the introduction of JAWS. The revisions aren't pushing him any closer to the Hall standard, so we'll forego the retelling of his tale of woe.
Which brings us to Fred McGriff, the Crime Dog. A ninth-round pick by the Yankees in 1981, McGriff's big break came six months later when he was traded to the Blue Jays along with Dave Collins, Mike Morgan, and cash for Dale Murray and Tom Dodd. Nonetheless, he made slow progress to Toronto, finally cracking the big-league lineup as a DH in 1987, the year the Jays lost their final seven games to fumble the AL East flag into the hands of the Tigers. McGriff hit .247/376/.505 with 20 homers that year, the first of 15 seasons in which he would reach a plateau. Only 13 other hitters have equaled or surpassed that feat; 10 are in the Hall of Fame, and the other three are Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., and Jim Thome. The next year, McGriff began a string of seven straight 30-homer seasons, the first five of which were worth at least 5.9 WARP. He won the 1989 AL home run crown with 36 dingers, and won the 1992 NL crown for hitting 35 with the Padres in 1992, making him the first player to top both circuits (McGwire would become the second) and the last player for 16 years to lead a league with less than 40.
McGriff was traded to San Diego in the aforementioned December 1990 trade (with Tony Fernandez, for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter)-a star-studded trade if there ever was one. The move helped the Blue Jays win two World Series in 1992 and 1993, but McGriff missed out on those parties, though he was swapped-part of the Padres' infamous fire sale-to the defending NL champion Braves in July 1993. Those Braves were 53-40, eight games behind the Giants in the NL West standings when the deal went down; they would go a remarkable 51-18 the rest of the way, winning the West before being bounced by the Phillies in the NLCS. Settling in as one of the cornerstones of a dynasty, McGriff hit .310/.392/.612 with 19 homers in 291 plate appearances with Atlanta, and set a career high with 37 homers overall. Though the strike wrecked the 1994 season, McGriff would be part of three straight division champs (1995-1997) and back-to-back pennant winners in the first two of those years. He bopped a pair of homers and slugged .600 in both World Seres, the first of which the Braves won over the Indians, and the second of which they lost to the Yankees. Throughout his career, McGriff had an excellent track record in October, hitting .303/.385/.532 with 10 homers in 50 postseason games.
McGriff slumped to 22 homers and 0.9 WARP in 1997, and after the season the Tampa native was traded to the expansion Devil Rays (a transaction that received a decidedly lukewarm reception from one Chris Kahrl in these pages). He spent three and a half years with the godawful Rays, enjoying a mini-renaissance (34 homers, 2.7 WARP) in 1999 but otherwise merely clocking time in front of sparse crowds. After some no-trade clause-based resistance, he was swapped to the Cubs in July 2001, and while he again hit well upon switching teams, he couldn't spur them to the postseason. After his 10th and final 30-homer season in 2002, he bounded to the Dodgers and then back to the Devil Rays before hanging up his spikes.
For years now, there's been talk of the fact that with his 493 homers, McGriff might unseat Dave Kingman (442 homers) as the player with the highest total not to make the Hall of Fame. Jose Canseco (462 homers) has already erased the so-called "Kingman Line," but then his transgressions insured he'd never make Cooperstown anyway. There's bound to be a certain nostalgia among voters for McGriff, who hit the majority of his shots before the pharmaceutically-fueled assault on the single-season home-run record began, and an acknowledgment that the round-numbered milestone he fell short of means less today than it did a generation ago.
Even so, McGriff doesn't have a particularly strong case for Cooperstown. Despite the two home-run titles, he's well short of the Black Ink of a typical Hall of Famer (though that Jamesian metric fails to adjust for expansion). He never won an MVP award (his top single-season WARP total of 6.8 isn't quite MVP territory), and while he did place in the top 10 in the voting in six straight seasons (1989-1994), he only cracked the top five in 1993. JAWS-wise, that stretch of six-win seasons still isn't enough for him to measure up to the average Hall of Famer on peak score, and he's even further below the standard on career WARP. The shape of his JAWS line is very similar to that of Tony Perez (59.0/41.3/50.2), but that particular Doggie had five pennants, two rings, and a more famous dynasty to his name. The guess here is that he'll fall far short, but linger on the ballot for a long time.
Joining the Crime Dog on the ballot is the Big Cat, Andres Galarraga, who walloped 399 homers for seven teams over the course of his 19-year career. Signed by the Expos out of Venezuela in 1979, Galarraga was a latecomer who didn't debut in the majors until he had already turned 24, in 1985, and didn't win a starting job until the following year. His most valuable season came in 1988, when he hit .302/.352/.540 with 29 homers, good for a .322 EqA and 6.5 WARP. He's best remembered for his stretch with the expansion Rockies, for whom he clubbed 172 homers over five seasons, including a league-leading 47 in 1996; he also won a batting title by hitting .370 in 1993. His stats with the Rockies were distorted by playing in the most hitter-friendly environment in modern times, however, and properly accounted for, they weren't worth a whole lot; only in 1993 was he worth more than 2.0 WARP. His 1995 season (.280/.331/.511 with 31 homers) actually comes in as below replacement level (-0.4 WARP), one of four times he would compile at least 300 plate appearances and finish underwater-a harsh assessment. MVP voters, blind to the need to park-adjust his statistics, nonetheless voted him into the top 10 five times during his six years with the Rox.
Galarraga bounced around after leaving the Rockies, putting up one fantastic year as McGriff's replacement with the Braves (a .305/.397/.595 line with 44 homers, his third straight year above 40, good for 4.5 WARP) in 1998. Alas, he missed all of the following season when it was discovered he was suffering from non-Hodgkins lymphoma, but he beat the disease and won Comeback Player of the Year honors at the age of 39 in 2000 (.302/.369/.526 with 28 homers), and stuck around the majors until he was 43. His battle cost him a spot in the 400 Home Run club, but it doesn't really matter here; he simply didn't have enough truly valuable seasons to mount a credible Hall of Fame case.
Eric Karros won Rookie of the Year honors in 1992, when he hit .257/.304/.426. Of course nobody cared about his lousy OBP or slugging percentage at the time, they were more impressed by his 20 homers and 88 RBI, both first basemanly totals. Karros would go on to spend 11 years as the Dodgers' starting first baseman, a tenure longer than that of Steve Garvey; he topped 30 homers five times in that span, but cleared a .330 OBP just three times, and a .500 SLG just twice; even in pre-renovation Dodger Stadium, those were hardly unattainable bars. His best season came in 1995, when he bopped 32 homers and hit .298/.369/.535 for a team that gave Tommy Lasorda his last trip to the postseason, a season worth 5.9 WARP.
Karros overstayed his welcome in LA by a couple of years, declining from 34 homers, a .300 EqA and 4.1 WARP in 1999 to 31 homers, a .263 EqA, and 0.7 WARP in 2000, and then-at the point where most of us Dodger fans were sure he had joined the ranks of the undead-15 homers, .244 EqA, and -0.7 WARP. And yet they still didn't replace him for another year. After departing in 2002, he bounced to the Cubs, then the A's, and finally into a broadcast booth.
The son of longtime major league pitcher Diego Segui, David Segui spent 15 seasons in the majors, although sometimes it seemed as though he were merely around to rack up time on the disabled list (he finished with 516 days, according to the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia). He played in more than 130 games just three times and qualified for a batting title (3.1 plate appearances per team game) just six times. He generally hit for decent batting averages, topping .300 in four of those six seasons, but didn't walk much, and reached 20 homers just once. He never won an award, never sniffed the postseason, and his greatest claim to fame aside from winding up in the Mitchell Report (and actually admitting to using steroids) is a personal one.
The incident has forever become known among my close circle of friends as the David Segui Foul Ball Incident. On May 8, 1999, with the Mariners playing the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, Segui faced Orlando Hernandez, batting left-handed. He fouled off a pitch towards the third-base side of the stadium's upper deck, where my brother, my roommate, and I were sitting in the front row. As I looked up at it spinning against the overcast sky, I judged a fly ball correctly for possibly the first time in my life. "That's yours," I told my roommate, who was on the aisle seat. A soccer player with no baseball experience whatsoever, he lunged at the ball as it arrived in his hands, rather than cradling it. The spinning sphere caromed off his hands and over the railing, and my roommate slumped sheepishly into his seat as a crowd of 41 thousand and change showered him with boos. You don't forget a thing like that.
So, having covered the right side of the infield, the JAWS verdict is a yes on McGwire and Alomar, with the other infielders on deck.