Top 100 Baseball Blog

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Kevin Youkilis is Now a Brewer? The Baseball Historian's Notes for January 20, 2018

This week marks the triumphant return of the Baseball Historian’s notes. Keep reading for some of the interesting tidbits from the history of the game that have surfaced recently.

-The completion of the Hot Spring Historic Baseball Trail will be attended by baseball royalty. The family of Babe Ruth will be on hand for the dedication that will occur this March. Hot Springs was a popular location for spring training long before teams made the annual journey exclusively to Florida and Arizona. Many famous players sweated off pounds from lethargic off-seasons by rambling through the woods. which will now be commemorated.

-The comeback efforts of 53-year-old Rafael Palmeiro are still alive and well. Although he last played in the majors in 2005, the left-handed slugger still believes he has what it takes to make a successful return to the diamond. His enthusiasm is impressive but the odds of him achieving this goal are long. Charley O’Leary is the oldest position player ever, as he singled and scored a run in a lone pinch-hitting appearance for the St. Louis Browns in 1934 just before his 59th birthday.

-Baseball’s popularity continues to slip, and it can no longer be accurately described as America’s pastime. A recent poll just found that the sport has slipped to third in popularity in the United States behind football and now basketball. Hopefully, the game will eventually regain its traction with sports enthusiasts, as it continues to produce a strong product.

-Former pitcher Rudy Arias passed away on January 12th at the age of 86. The Cuban southpaw won two games in 34 relief appearances for the 1959 Chicago “Go-Go” White Sox. It was his only major league experience in a professional career that stretched from 1953-1966. He threw a no-hitter in 1958 for the Havana Cubans, which helped propel him to the big leagues. He finished with a 4.09 ERA in his 44 innings with Chicago.

-Former New York Yankees slugger Hideki Matsui has been voted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. Prior to an above average 10-year major league career, the left-handed outfielder had an outstanding decade-long run in the Japanese leagues, winning three MVP awards and three home run titles. Across both levels, he hit a combined .293 with 508 home runs and 1,654 RBIs. Congratulations to Godzilla!

-Hall of Fame umpire Doug Harvey has passed away at the age of 87. The ninth arbiter elected to the Hall, he worked 4,673 games during a 31-year career spent entirely in the National League. He was a crew chief for 18 years of his career and worked five World Series and six All Star games during his distinguished career. This was an especially impressive accomplishment given that he never attended umpiring school. Retired in 1992, he was elected to the Hall in 2010.

-It may be 2018 but legendary pitcher Satchel Paige, who died in 1982, is still in the public’s conscience. His name was invoked in a funny sketch that Saturday Night Live did regarding technology such as the Amazon Echo.

-January 11th marked the 45th anniversary of the American League adopting the designated hitter. The New York Yankees Ron Blomberg was the first player to bat in such a capacity when he drew a walk against Luis Tiant and the Boston Red Sox on Opening Day, April 6th of that year. A thorough breakdown of how the DH evolved is available on the SABR site.

-Although left-handed pitcher Jeff Ballard had a Hall-of-Fame career with the Stanford baseball team, his seven years in the majors (primarily with the Baltimore Orioles) were largely unremarkable. In a small sample size, he was an excellent hitter, collecting five hits in 13 at-bats. One of his most memorable knocks was a ground rule double he hit on September 16, 1993 against and David Weathers and the Florida Marlins. About a year ago collector Gary Stilinovich bought a collection of balls and was amazed to find one of them was the ball Ballard hit into the stands nearly 25 years ago. He went on a journey to reunite the treasured item with the long-retired southpaw, as documented in David Seideman’s excellent piece for Forbes.

-Kevin Youkilis had a strong 10-year career spent primarily with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees; winning two World Series during that time. A career .281 hitter, he has proven just as successful off the field with his involvement in an award-winning Brewery that he runs with several business partners. Tom Brady’s brother-in-law is building himself quite a career in his post-baseball retirement. If you’re ever in the San Francisco area, check out his Loma Brewing Company for a nosh, and of course, some suds.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Saturday, January 13, 2018

When Should The Boston Red Sox Decide to Pass on Signing JD Martinez?

There’s nothing I’d like better than to see slugger J.D. Martinez wearing a Boston Red Sox uniform in 2018 and beyond. The free agent has been in serious negotiations with the team for quite some time now, and reports are that he is holding out for a contract that exceeds six years in length and $180 million in value. If that’s true than no matter how much Boston may need his power in the lineup they should pass on his services.

The 30-year-old right-handed hitter bashed .303 with 45 home runs in 119 games last season with the Detroit Tigers and Arizona D-Backs. There is no doubt that he is an impact bat with few peers in the game. However, for a nuanced team like the Red Sox who have deep pockets every postseason, he may be too much of a luxury if his price rises too high.

Martinez is an outfielder by name only. His advanced defensive metrics suggest he is among the worst glove men in the game. Given his age, it’s only reasonable to surmise that his “nimbleness” in the field is only going to decline over the life of his next contract. His value to the Red Sox (who have a pretty loaded outfield already with Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr.) is strictly his bat. While that is high value for a team that finished last in the league in home runs last year, it is not enough to pay him $30 million a year for a better part of the next decade.

When negotiating a contract with Martinez, one must also take his health into account. About to enter his eighth year in the majors, he has appeared in more than 123 games just once before (2015). Lingering nagging injuries have kept him off the field in just about every season except one.

This is no attempt to minimize or take down Martinez. He is a wonderful player and particularly a top-flight hitter. However, there are concerns, and enough of them, that a team should be resolute in only going as far as they feel comfortable in terms of dollars and years. When a car has some mileage and dings, it should not be expected that they command a brand new dealership lot sticker price (but there is no shame in trying).

The Red Sox have reportedly been willing to go as far as a five-year offer somewhere in the $120-$150 million range. That seems awfully strong for a likely designated hitter with a couple of rather significant concerns on file—not to mention entering his thirties.

Hopefully Boston and Martinez can reach an agreement that works for the both of them. The fit seems mutually strong, with the team’s desperate need for power and the potential damage he could do playing half his games in a cozy stadium like Fenway Park.

Although spring training is just around the corner, the off-season can be a waiting game, especially for free agents like Martinez. His agent, Scott Boras, is also the best in the business when it comes to playing every angle and getting his client the best contract possible. If he believes there is even a chance he can get his asking price, he’s not afraid to roll the dice and refuse to budge off his position.

The Red Sox should remain strong in their pursuit of Martinez, yet should keep their eyes clear in terms of not spending past the value they have assigned him. Hitters like him don’t come along very often but the risks associated with signing him keep him from being a slam dunk. Time will only tell if this will all work out but in the meantime Sox fans remain on the end of their seats to see if their team will be able to work out a deal for this intriguing upgrade.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Baseball Hall of Fame Case of Andruw Jones

The 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot is loaded with a plethora of talented players. Some may seem like more sure things than others, while there are other cases that are certain to inspire furious debate. Continuing a series, we’re exploring some of these non-locks who are making their first appearance on the ballot and dissect their cases piece by piece. Let’s continue with center fielder Andruw Jones.

Jones was just 19 when he burst on to the national stage as a 19-year-old in 1996 with the Atlanta Braves, hitting three post-season home runs and playing spectacular defense. He followed that up with a decade run as perhaps the best pound-for-pound defensive player in the game, while averaging .268, 34 home runs and 101 RBIs per season.

One must go back to his defense, particularly during the first decade of his career. Breathtaking, immortal and legendary are all words that aptly describe his abilities in the field without the fear of being too generous in the description. Based on metrics and the “eye test” he is a solid candidate when it comes to discussing the all-time greats. In fact, his 24.1 career dWAR is the best ever by an outfielder.

Jones peaked in 2005 with the Braves, slugging a league-leading 51 home runs and 128 RBIs to go along with a .263 batting average and his other-worldly glove work. He won a Gold Glove and finished second in MVP voting to Albert Pujols.

Through his age 30 season Jones appeared to be a superior candidate for the Hall. Then his career went off the rails. He played only five more years, for four different teams. His production dropped so significantly that he was only a part-time player during that time, providing below average production; even seeing his defense take a significant tumble—at least according to advanced metrics.

Overall, Jones ended up playing 17 major league seasons, hitting .254 with 434 home runs, 1,289 RBIS and 152 stolen bases. He had 1,933 hits and 1,204 runs scored. His 62.8 bWAR puts him in the same range as Hall of Fame outfielders Billy Williams (63.6) and Dave Winfield (63.8).

Although he never won a World Series, he played in an impressive 11 post seasons, hitting a combined .273 with 10 home runs and 34 RBIs in 76 games. He made five All Star Games and won 10 Gold Gloves, giving him a pleasingly cluttered mantel.

Other than being 47th all time in home runs and 105th in position player bWAR, he doesn’t have any stand-out stats offensively. Defensively is another story. He’s second in Total Zone Runs (1st as a center fielder); 25th in putouts; 34th in assists. Essentially, the advanced statistics back up his legend as a defender.

It would seem to be that placing Jones in the Hall based on his offensive numbers would be a non-starter. He had could handle a bat, but nothing that would make him a slam dunk. However, his defense was so world-class that largely whatever else he did in a game was gravy.

Shortstop Ozzie Smith, who played a more demanding position in the field, was a deserving first-ballot selection in 2002. The Wizard of Oz was transcendent with the glove and at his best was merely competent with his bat. It is okay to have players enshrined for their excellence on one side of the ball. Jones not only matches Smith in defensive impact, he also did quite a bit more offensively.

The true challenge to Jones’ candidacy was the shortness of his peak. He was done as an average player, let alone a stellar player, by the time he was 30. However, since he debuted at such a precocious age, he was able to produce a decade of outstanding play, which is a pretty nice run.

Certainly not a slam dunk candidate, Jones is a classic conundrum with a complicated web of arguments for and against his enshrinement enveloping his legacy. As far as voting goes, keeping him out shouldn’t spark too much indignation. That being said, his impact on the game may well be underappreciated and punching his ticket to Cooperstown would be far from a mistake

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Baseball Hall of Fame Case of Omar Vizquel

The 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot is loaded with a plethora of talented players. Some may seem like more sure things than others, while there are other cases that are certain to inspire furious debate. Continuing a series, we’re exploring some of these non-locks who are making their first appearance on the ballot and dissect their cases piece by piece. Let’s continue with shortstop Omar Vizquel.

The switch-hitting Venezuelan boasted one of the slickest gloves in the game during his playing career that spanned nearly a quarter of a century. He played for six teams between 1989 and 2012, appearing in a total of 2,968 games (12th all time). During that time he accumulated 2,877 hits, a .272 batting average, 80 home runs, 951 RBIs and 404 stolen bases. He also won 11 Gold Gloves and made three All star teams.

With such an impressive resume, one might think Vizquel would be a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame. However, that is far from the truth.

Vizquel had a career bWAR of 45.3, but 28.4 of that came from defense, making him one of the more one-dimensional candidates. His counting numbers on offense look solid, but when taking into account his 24 years playing, they take a much more Tommy John accumulator look.

It’s possible for players who were more one dimensional to be all-time greats and earn a ticket to Cooperstown. Fellow shortstop Ozzie Smith is a great example. Could Vizquel have been that dominant with the glove that he is a Hall of Famer? His .985 fielding percentage is the best at the position, ever. He’s first in double plays turned, third in assists. His dWAR is tied for seventh. That all said, Smith’s 76.5 bWAR dwarfs that of Vizquel. It’s not even close.

Vizquel also has additional strong arguments against him. Sports Illustrated’s Jay Jaffe writes that the former shortstop doesn’t measure out nearly as well when it comes to his range and that many advanced stats suggest his reputation with the leather wasn’t as super hero-esque as it typically portrayed.

It’s also problematic to overlook Vizquel’s deficiencies with the bat. His counting numbers are nothing to be ashamed of but they fall short of a Hall-of-Fame resume. A league average hitter is expected to have a 100 OPS+ (On base plus slugging percentage). He only exceeded that mark two times in his 24 years and had a light-weight mark of 82 for his career. Not only does that translate to his production being 18 percent less than a league average hitter, it puts him just above former offensive luminaries like pitcher Dontrelle Willis who boasted a career OPS+ of 75 to give an idea of the comparative value of that particular statistic.

There is also reason to correlate what successes Vizquel had on the offensive side with him playing on a number of gifted hitting teams. He began with the Ken Griffey Jr.-led Seattle Mariners; spent over a decade with the Cleveland Indians and their murderer’s row that included the likes of Kenny Lofton, Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome; and then another four years with Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent and the San Francisco Giants. It’s a reasonable assumption to surmise that a relative weak hitter like Vizquel saw a benefit in his overall production, particularly in seeing better pitches to hit and scoring more runs because of being able to bat in such talented lineups.

In order for Vizquel to be a surefire candidate, his defense would have to be historical. It is absolutely fair to say he was among the best of all time, but there is no evidence to suggest that he was “the best,” or even that close to it. This isn’t an effort to split hairs. A fair summary of his career is that he was a stand-out defender whose bat you could live with. He left a remarkable legacy and impact on the game but is outside the qualifications needed to be enshrined in Cooperstown.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew