Has Albert Pujols fallen off a cliff at age 32? If so, he's an outlier among his rarified comps.
Believe it or not, most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.
An all-time great hitter threatens to upend his career with drinking, but sadly enough he's had predecessors on this path.
In Roger Ebert’s essay on Michelangelo Antonioni’s classic 1966 film Blow-Upin his book The Great Movies (a version of which can be read here), Ebert dismisses the film’s ambiguous ending, saying that the film is neither about the “swinging London” in which it is set nor the possible murder in which the main character becomes concerned. Rather, he says, the movie is, “A hypnotic conjuring act in which a character is awakened briefly from a deep sleep of bored alienation and then drifts away again.” It is, he says, “simply the observation that we are happy when we are doing what we do well, and unhappy seeking pleasure elsewhere.”
It seems to me that this is a pretty good summation of the professional athlete’s life—a brief awakening, followed a drifting away and an oft-unfulfilled quest for find pleasure elsewhere. Or, as the song from Damn Yankeesgoes, “A man doesn’t know what he has until he loses it.” Are you listening, Miguel Cabrera?
Perhaps fictional analogies won’t do the trick. Let’s try a real antecedent, Jimmie Foxx. There’s a funny scene in A League of Their Own, the 1992 film about women’s professional baseball during World War II where “Walter Harvey,” a stand-in for Phil Wrigley, lectures ex-player “Jimmy Dugan,” a character inspired by Foxx:
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The former Red Sox ace and longtime pitching coach reflects on a lifetime in the game.
Bill Monbouquette is as old-school as they get. The 74-year-old “Monbo” spent 50 years in the game -- 11 as a big-league right-hander and many more as a pitching coach -- and few have been more hard-nosed. Three years after being diagnosed with leukemia, he remains every bit as feisty.
Jim Thome has never been considered among the game's elite players but his home run and walk totals make him worthy of the Hall of Fame.
One year ago, Jim Thome was almost a forgotten man. Traded by the White Sox to the Dodgers just prior to the August 31 waiver deadline, he was a fish out of water in the National League, instantly reduced to a pinch-hitting role by his inability to play the field and even further limited by a bout of plantar fasciitis. Including the postseason, Thome went just 5-for-20—all singles—with a walk and three RBI for the Dodgers. Since the team fell short of the World Series, he didn't get to serve as designated hitter in the Fall Classic, the primary job for which he was acquired. At 39 years old, he looked like he might be done.
A deeper look at the Hall of Fame candidacies of Todd Helton and other first basemen (active or less so) on the outside looking in.
Tuesday's piece on Todd Helton's Hall of Fame chances was greeted with enough enthusiasm to spur an installment of the Cooperstown Casebook. For a starting point, I want to revisit a line from Tuesday's piece:
Sorting out the all-time achievements of the game's greatest sluggers can give us an answer we can all agree upon.
You're going to have to pick your poison here, old-timers. You can either hate Barry Bonds, or you can hate statheads, but when it comes to solving the "problem" of the all-time home run title, you can't have it both ways. Those that want to place an asterisk on Bonds' achievements have always focused on the question of whether or not he's been cheating, something that remains unproven in the legal if not literal sense. In that argument, you can never win, not until Bonds pumps out a positive steroid test, something that seems pretty unlikely at this late stage of his career. Instead, if you really want to make your point sans the Frickian asterisk, you're going to have to rely on that other thing that baseball purists hate: math.
Over and over, people always bring up that we can't compare Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron to Barry Bonds. To that, we say "nuts." Because we most certainly can. There's some question as to how physical skills might translate, but it's easy enough to translate statistics to adjust for park, league, and era. In fact, it's one of the bedrocks of Baseball Prospectus. Since before its founding, Clay has been making translations available. Translations of player performance aren't that complex on the surface and are easily read, just like a normal stat line. It's behind the scenes where it gets complex, and why Davenport Translations have never been seriously contested. Unlike attempts at the "One True Stat" like VORP, or Runs Created, or WARP, or Win Shares, all with their various degrees success or failure, translations seldom raise any significant argument among serious statheads, and no one has developed a competing system.
After last week's column, Dayn got plenty of mail about his new Triple Crown. So, let's try this again.
In last week's column, I proposed a revised hitter's Triple Crown, one that made notional improvements upon the current troika of batting average, home runs and RBI. I chose on-base percentage, slugging percentage and plate appearances as the components of the New and Improved Triple Crown (NITC). Well, the inclusion of plate appearances raised many a hackle among readers, and when that happens it's usually a sign I've fouled something up.
It's been a couple of weeks since the 30th anniversary of Hank Aaron's historic 715th home run and the accompanying tributes, but Barry Bonds' exploits tend to keep the top of the all-time chart in the news. With homers in seven straight games and counting at this writing, Bonds has blown past Willie Mays at number three like the Say Hey Kid was standing still, which--
Baseball Prospectus' Dayn Perry penned an affectionate tribute to Aaron last week. In reviewing Hammerin' Hank's history, he notes that Aaron's superficially declining stats in 1968 (the Year of the Pitcher, not coincidentally) led him to consider retirement, but that historian Lee Allen reminded him of the milestones which lay ahead. Two years later, Aaron became the first black player to cross the 3,000 hit threshold, two months ahead of Mays. By then he was chasing 600 homers and climbing into some rarefied air among the top power hitters of all time.
Aaron produced plenty of late-career homer heroics after 1968. From ages 35 (1969) through 39, he smacked 203 dingers, and he added another 42 in his 40s, meaning that nearly a third of his homers (32.4 percent) came after age 35. The only batters other than Aaron to top 200 homers after 35 are Bonds and Rafael Palmeiro.
He still had a fantastic career--you can make an argument that Mantle was the most valuable player in the American League for at least 10 years (he was first or second in runs created/game in 1952-1958, 1960-1962, and 1964, while playing a key defensive position), but many, including Stengel, were left wondering what the boy with the power of Ruth and the speed of Cobb would have done had he been completely healthy for even one season. His 1957-1958 performance, 358/.487/.686 in a league that hit .266/.343./.404, seemed only to scratch the surface. No one will ever know if their expectations were too high. Once Mantle's knee was damaged the opportunity to find out vanished. Earlier this week, 20-year-old Twins rookie catcher Joe Mauer tore medial meniscus cartilage in his left knee sliding after a foul ball on the hard Metrodome turf. It is said to be a minor injury, though it still required surgery to repair. The catcher will be back on the field in about a month, and there are not expected to be any lingering consequences to Mauer's assumedly glorious future. Yet, any sudden disruption of a young player's career can have unanticipated consequences.
Last week's rather long-form adventure in defense of critical thinking, peace, love, and Moneyball took us as far back into the past as two Thursdays ago. This week we cast a wider net over the deep and dark, starting with a catalogue of boo-boos and the unknowable ramifications of a castrated future.
Thus the main import of Yawkey's largesse was mostly symbolic. As a competitive program, he and Collins were misguided. As is now grudgingly accepted, the difference between a star and an average player may only be a few wins a year. There is no player, pair of players, or trio of players, that is capable of taking a team staffed by replacement-level players and turning it into a pennant winner. Improved talent must be diffused throughout the roster. In the 1933-1936 period, the Red Sox never came close to achieving this goal. Two key problems: The Yawkey/Collins program never got around to addressing the outfield; the Sox annually presented the most punchless pasture aggregation in the league; after Grove and Ferrell, the Red Sox were unable to dig up anything like another eight decent pitchers, or even another three. One lesson to be drawn is that even in an environment in which rival teams are "freely" giving away talent, it's almost impossible to buy enough to staff an entire ballclub. Not only will the pool of available talent, at its deepest, be unequal to the demand (note that even this year's Yankees, who have acquired a number of big-ticket items from more conservative clubs, have not been able to buy certainty for their starting rotation) but buying off the rack forces a team to be overly dependent on making the right selections--that is, on luck. A team that chooses to bank on stars rather than on depth faces a greater risk of having no fallback should their star prove to be infirm, unreliable, or simply on the way down. The large influx of talent that comes with developing a strong minor league system gives a team the depth to survive its own misjudgments.