THT Mailbag

Sometimes, it seems like baseball is still stuck in the good old ’50s. Last week, multiple maintstream media outlets touted San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman as a strong candidate for NFL Defensive MVP, just games after he returned from a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s steroid policy. The NBA saw its leading scorer suspended for about 20% of the season for his role in a bench-clearing brawl in Madison Square Garden on Saturday.

Meanwhile, baseball men are arguing about Mark McGwire‘s Hall-of-Fame worthiness and fretting over whether or not a rumor that the Dodgers might officially file a tampering grievance against the Red Sox was accurately reported.

The more things change in baesball, the more things stay the same, and that’s one of the beautiful things about the game.

I’m curious—who would you identify as the worst Omar Vizquel/Andy Pettite types already in there (from the past 40-plus years, to keep it within my time as a fan)? My own choice would be Luis Aparicio among position players (picking on him instead of Bill Mazeroski since Luis was actually elected by the writers), and probably Don Drysdale among pitchers, a choice admittedly dictated by sentiment, since I’m a Catfish Hunter fan. Also, who other than the standard choices (Ron Santo, Minnie Minoso) would you most like to see go in who’s fallen off the ballot?

- Richard D., Vancouver

John Brattain: Well, using the Baseball Writers of Association of America criteria my picks would line up pretty close to yours. A couple of other guys that I thought might have been a little dubious were Red Ruffing (109 ERA+; .548 W%; 1541/1987 BB/K on some terrific Yankees teams). However his 7-2, 2.63 ERA World Series record probably pushed him over the top. I’ll catch some heat with this one, but to me Lou Brock was a borderline choice. He has the fancy counting stats (3023 hits, 938 stolen bases), but for an outfielder his overall production wasn’t really Hall-of-Fame caliber—absent those numbers, he’d get the same consideration as Harold Baines. A counterexample is Tim Raines who, while lacking the milestone numbers of Brock ,was a far superior player.

Having said that, I think the BBWAA has done a pretty good job in this regard. If Brock, Ruffing, Aparicio and Drysdale are examples of your worst work, then I don’t think there’s much to complain about.

Guys who have fallen off the ballot? Well, I’m not 100% sure of their status, but I think Carl Mays deserves another look. Bob Johnson is close. Bob Caruthers, Wes Ferrell, and Tony Oliva all deserve another look. I’d like to see guys like Alan Trammel, Lou Whitaker, Bill Freehan and Lance Parrish be given some more respect. I used to be a Tigers fan pre-1977 so you’ll have to forgive me.

I’m a diehard baseball and Red Sox fan. I play fantasy baseball quite a bit, though not as successfully as I would like. Anyway, I’m devoting a lot more time to doing research for the upcoming season and I’m always looking for a diamond in the rough. You guys have mentioned several that I already have my eye on, but one that I may have found that hasn’t been mentioned too much yet: Kazou Matsui.

He was bragged up way too much coming on the heals of Ichiro. Him landing in New York with the Mets may have been the worst thing possible. Not everyone can adapt to the New York media, especially since he was hyped up. He couldn’t have been worse for the Mets last year after 38 games, so then he’s traded to the Rockies. Eureka! He had 32 games out there and he played by far the best baseball since he came over here. Now, I realize the chances of him putting up those kind of numbers over 162 games are slim to remote. However, even if he falls off some, his stats would be better than most second basemen out there. Do I have a leg to stand on, or am I full of it?

Buddy M.

David Gassko: To put it bluntly: You’re full of it. OK, that’s mean, but you’ll thank me when you pass on Matsui during your draft.

The reason Matsui was so successful in Colorado was his .441 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). And while hitters do have more control over their BABIP than pitchers do, that’s still going regress a lot, especially considering that Matsui has never really been a high-BABIP player in his career. Without such an extraordinary batting average on balls in play, Matsui’s line Colorado probably would have been closer to .250/.290/.370, which is pretty freaking terrible.

I read the Bill James Handbook and was a bit disappointed on the baserunning analysis.

Derek Jeter not going from first to third as often as Player X proves nothing. It may be due to:

1) With Giambi/Posada/A-Rod coming up his coach would have killed him if he got caught—thus he is only “allowed” to try it if he is 100% sure he is going to make it. Other players (David Ortiz?) have more leeway because the players behind them are not as good.

2) How may times was there 0 outs or one out or two outs? Players (at least the smart ones) know that “you never make the third out at third base”. Thus, going from first base to third base with two outs may in fact be considered a bad baserunning move, and one should certainly not get credit for it.

What do you think?

Benny G.

John Walsh: You’re right, the baserunning analysis you cite doesn’t prove anything. It’s just information that you need to look at critically and decide if it’s telling you anything or not. This is true for essentially all baseball (and many other kinds of!) analysis: there is no proof, just evidence. You have to decide if the evidence is convincing.

It’s true that no analysis is complete. There will always be things that you haven’t taken into account and each analyst has to decide what it’s worth (or indeed possible) to include in any given analysis. Of the two that you mention, I think one is important and one probably is not very important. My intuition tells me that the fact that Jeter has heavy hitters coming up behind him does not affect his baserunning decisions to a large degree.

I can’t prove it, but I can consider his stolen base attempts: your logic about him being reluctant to take the extra base should also apply to him stealing. However, he attempts quite a few steals, so he doesn’t appear to be holding back much. From an analyst’s viewpoint, a baserunning analysis that includes any possible effect due to the following hitters would be very complex and difficult. It would almost surely not be worth the trouble.

As for the number of outs, I think you make a very good point. If Jeter happened to have a large proportion of his first-to-third baserunning situations occur with two outs (for example), then his rating will appear worse than his true ability. It would complicate the analysis, but it would be straightforward to take into account the number of outs in such an analysis. Perhaps a future version will do so.

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