December 28, 2010
Prospectus Hit and Run
Class of 2011: Alomar's Second Chance
At least around these parts, the 2010 Hall of Fame ballot voting results were more notable for the two near-miss candidates than for the one who made it. While Andre Dawson gained entry to Cooperstown back in January, Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar fell just a handful of votes short, the former by four in his 13th ballot appearance, the latter by eight in his ballot debut. In fact, Alomar received the highest percentage of the vote for any first-year candidate who wasn't elected. Today we'll spotlight Alomar and his fellow second basemen on the ballot using JAWS to evaluate their candidacies.
For a refresher course on the particulars of the system as it pertains to the hitters on this year's ballot, please see here. For those in need of help deciphering the abbreviations in the first table, AS is All-Star and GG is Gold Gloves won; HoFS and HoFM are the Bill James Hall of Fame Standards and Hall of Fame Monitor, respectively; Bal is how many years the player has appeared on the ballot, and 2010% is the player's share of the vote on the last ballot, with 75 percent needed for election. In the second table, TAv is True Average, RARP is Runs Above Replacement, Position-Adjusted, and RAP is Runs Above Position, both 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.
The son of light-hitting former big-league second-baseman Sandy Alomar and the younger brother of catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., the Puerto Rico-born Roberto Alomar was signed by the Padres as soon as he turned 17 in 1985. He reached the majors three years later and spent 1988-1990 in the brown and orange with a performance that only hinted at things to come, as he hit .283/.339/.379 across the period but took his lumps in the field, showing excellent range but averaging 20 errors a year. Still, not many players can hold their own at age 20, and the ones that do often go on to greatness.
Sent to Toronto along with Joe Carter in a December 1990 mega-deal which sent Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez to San Diego, Alomar blossomed north of the border and helped the Jays become the division's powerhouse. They won the AL East in his first season in Toronto, 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 Baltimore 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 luster when a late-September ejection for arguing balls and strikes culminated in him spitting in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck, a situation which turned him into Public Enemy Number One when he added insult to injury by telling 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. When he was allowed to play in the postseason by appealing his five-game suspension, it took a court order to avert an umpire strike. Alomar spent October under a dark cloud as the Orioles advanced to the ALCS before losing to the Jeffrey Maier-aided Yankees, 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. Public sentiment remained mixed; he drew boos on the road 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 returned 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 in Cleveland via free agency. Teaming with shortstop Omar Vizquel to form one of the slickest double-play combos in memory, he enjoyed his best three-year run as a hitter, batting a combined .323/.405/.515 and averaging 5.9 WARP. Despite accolades which included the last three of his 10 Gold Gloves, not to mention a seemingly endless stream of Web Gems, 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 and looked to have a strong shot at reaching 3,000 hits. Alas, 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 (.266/.331/.376) 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.
Though he never won an MVP award, Alomar 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 trips. He won the 1992 ALCS MVP award en route to the first of his 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—dropping his peak 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 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 allegations concerning his personal life are grounds for keeping him out of Cooperstown. Enough writers bore him a grudge over Spitgate to prevent his first-ballot election, but he should get over the top this time.
Like Alomar, Boone was part of a major league family act. Grandfather Ray Boone was a two-time All-Star third baseman who spent 13 seasons (1948-1960) with the Indians, Tigers and four other teams. Father Bob Boone was a catcher who spent 19 seasons (1972-1990) in the majors with the Phillies, Angels and Royals, winning seven Gold Gloves (more than every catcher except Ivan Rodriguez and Johnny Bench), earning All-Star honors four times, catching more games than all but Rodriguez and Carlton Fisk, and managing the Royals and Reds for parts of six seasons. Younger brother Aaron Boone spent 12 years in the majors with the Reds (managed by his father for part of that time), Yankees (for whom he hit one very memorable home run) and four other teams.
Drafted by the Mariners in the fifth round out of the University of Southern California in 1990, Bret Boone reached the majors two years later, and spent parts of two seasons with Seattle before being traded to Cincinnati in a deal that brought back longtime Mariners catcher Dan Wilson and arsonist reliever Bobby Ayala. Boone didn't exactly distinguish himself during his first six seasons, batting .253/.307/.398 overall. He hit a combined .290/.343/.455 in the strike-affected 1994-1995 seasons for a combined 6.0 WARP, helping the Reds make the playoffs in the latter year, but during the next two years he plummeted to a combined .228/.286/.344. Following a strong season with the Reds in which he earned All-Star and Gold Glove honors while hitting .266/.324/.458 with a career-high 24 homers, he passed through the hands of the Braves and Padres before rejoining the Mariners as a free agent in December 2000.
To that point in his career, the 32-year-old Boone had hit .255/.312/.413 in 1,072 major league games, so it was some surprise when he showed up at camp having added 20 pounds of muscle—a development that was reported with a straight face by an unquestioning media—and emerged as an offensive force as part of the Mariners' record-setting 116-win team. Boone batted .331/.372/.578 with a career-high 37 homers and a league-leading 141 RBI; he was also 28 runs above average in the field, helping him to a league-high (and career-best) 10.6 WARP, though he fell behind both teammate Ichiro Suzuki and Jason Giambi in the MVP balloting. Though he couldn't sustain that level, he remained a threat for the next two seasons, earning 15.6 WARP on .286/.353/.499 hitting with 59 homers.
As swiftly as he emerged as a top hitter, Boone fell off. He spent another season and a half with Seattle, winning another Gold Glove but being traded to the Twins in the middle of the 2005 season and lasting just three weeks there before drawing his release. While his flatlining bat was of no help to the Mariners, his exit in Seattle was undoubtedly hastened by his having been implicated as a steroid user by Jose Canseco in his book, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits and How Baseball Got Big. The mental image of Boone allegedly telling Canseco, "Shhh. Don't tell anybody," when asked what he'd done to bulk up during a possibly apocryphal 2001 spring training encounter with the slugger remains an enduring one, though neither the Mitchell Report nor any other subsequent investigation produced any actual evidence to go with allegations of Boone's usage. While his falloff coincided with the advent of testing for steroids, Boone later attributed his decline to alcohol abuse, for which he underwent treatment after departing from the game. From a Hall of Fame perspective, none of it really matters, as he has no shot at election simply going by his hit total (1,775), since the BBWAA hasn't elected a player with less than 2,000 hits whose career took place in the expansion era (1961 onward).
Like Boone, Baerga had a few strong years during his major league career, and then a whole lot of undistinguished ones, but his career follows the aging pattern more typical of second basemen, with an early peak and a quick falloff. Baerga was brilliant in his early to mid-20s, hitting .305/.345/.454 for the Indians from 1990 through 1995, his age 26 season, but he hit just .272/.313/.378 from 1996 through 2005, disappearing completely from the major league scene for a couple years in that span.
An undrafted free agent who was signed by the Padres, Baerga spent his first four seasons of pro ball in the San Diego chain before being traded to Cleveland along with Sandy Alomar Jr. and Chris James for Joe Carter. As a 21-year-old, he debuted with the Indians in 1990, and spent his first two seasons bouncing around the infield, seeing substantial time at third base and shortstop as well as second base. He assumed an everyday role at the latter position midway through the 1991 season; taking over third base soon afterwards was a 20-year-old slugger named Jim Thome.
Baerga earned All-Star honors and accumulated at least 5.8 WARP in three of the next four seasons. He reached 200 hits and 20 homers in 1992 and 1993, and hit .314/.355/.452 in 1995 for a team that won 100 games despite the strike-shortened schedule; more importantly, the Indians reached the playoffs for the first time in 41 years. Alas, Baerga didn't stick around long enough to be part of the team's late-Nineties run; he started slowly the following season (.254/.293/.381), and was traded to the Mets near the deadline in a deal which brought back Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino.
It was a prescient move by the Indians, and not only because Baerga struggled to a .193/.253/.301 finish while battling an abdominal injury in New York. Amid questions about his conditioning, and battles with injuries, he quickly turned into a mediocre journeyman. He hit just .267/.302/.373 in two years of regular duty with the Mets before departing as a free agent, and quickly passed through the organizations of the Cardinals, Reds, Padres, Indians, Devil Rays, Mariners, Red Sox, Diamondbacks and Nationals, failing to stick even long enough to play in the majors with several of those teams. He briefly retired from the majors in 2000 and bought the Santurce Crabbers of the Puerto Rico Baseball League, becoming their player-manager, but after the team was forced to move, he spent 2001 in the independent Atlantic League as well as the Korean Baseball Organization before returning to the majors. He was outstanding in a part-time role with Arizona in 2003 (.343/.396/.464 in 231 plate appearances), but couldn't match that magic in his other stints, leaving him with even less of a Hall of Fame case than Boone.