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Monthly Archives: January 2014

In the year 2000, the Veteran’s Committee elected slick-fielding Bid McPhee, who played during the late 1800s, into the Hall of Fame.  McPhee’s election to the Hall of Fame marked the first time a player from the 1800s was elected into the Hall of Fame during the 2000s.  Deacon White, in like fashion, was inducted into Cooperstown, as voters have finally decided to cast another analytical look at players of the game’s early years.  Another player worthy of a glance is former Cleveland Spiders second baseman Cupid Childs.

Childs, a stocky middle infielder, came about his nickname due to his cherubic appearance.  He may have looked like the Valentine’s Day mascot, but Cupid Childs was a remarkable ballplayer.  A solid if not sound defender, Childs was one of the premier middle infielders during the high-powered 1890s.  Modern day general managers, who obsess over on-base percentage, would go gaga for Cupid, whose keen batting eye made him a difficult out.  A perfect table-setter, Childs’ career on-base percentage is well over the .400 mark, which allowed for many runs scored.

With a career slash line of .306 BA/.416 OBP/.389 SA, Cupid’s value was slapping out base hits and drawing a large amount of walks.  Childs has a few Hall of Fame peers, such as the aforementioned McPhee, George Davis and player/manager Hughie Jennings.  Of these four ballplayers, Childs was handily the best on-base machine.  Cupid’s career mark of .416 was separated nicely from Jennings (.391), Davis (.362) and McPhee’s (.355) averages.  The Cleveland second baseman posted six seasons with an OBP of .400 or higher (nine consecutive years with an OBP of .390 or higher) while Jennings had six consecutive years of an OBP of .390 or higher.  George Davis, who enjoyed four .400 OBP+ seasons, and Bid McPhee, who only had three such campaigns, weren’t on-base nearly as much as Cupid.

With a hawk’s eye, Childs was an expert batsman who never seemed to giveaway at-bats.  It wasn’t an unusual feat for Cupid to walk 100 times in a season—well before the modern day 162 game schedule.  Unlike modern day drawers-of-walks, Cupid rarely struck out.  In four different seasons, Childs drew 100 walks yet failed to register over twenty whiffs.  None of Cupid’s peers ever had a 100-walk season: Jennings never drew more than 80 in a single season and Davis never reached 70 bases on balls.  In eleven straight seasons, Cupid finished in the league’s Top Ten in walks drawn, which enabled him to enjoy five Top Five finishes in on-base percentage.  George Davis never had a Top Five finish in on-base percentage, while McPhee never even saw his name reach a Top Ten list in that important category.  Hughie Jennings was the closest to Childs in on-base percentage, and he, too, failed to mirror Cupid’s excellence in that department.  Hughie had three Top Five finishes in on-base percentage and just one Top Ten finish in walks drawn.

Drawing walks was hardly the extent of Cupid’s game.  A well-rounded ballplayer, Childs also led the league, back when there was just one Major League in existence, in doubles and runs scored.  George Davis, who was championed for Hall of Fame enshrinement several years ago by historians, never led his league in an extra base hit department, nor did he ever pace his circuit in runs scored.  Hughie Jennings, as well, never saw his name atop a leader board in either runs scored or an extra base hit department.

Ask anyone who knows the basics of baseball, and they will tell you that the most important aspect of the game is the scoring of runs.  By scoring more runs than your opponent, your team is victorious.  Profound logic, huh?  When it came to scoring runs, Childs was head and shoulders above his Hall of Fame peers.  In two separate seasons, Cupid averaged over one run scored per game—McPhee and Davis accomplished this feat in one lone season.  The feet of Mr. Childs trampled home plate at a greater clip than the fellows enshrined.  For his career, Cupid averaged 0.833 runs scored per game; far superior to Hall of Fame peers McPhee (0.788), Jennings (0.773) and Davis (0.651).

As a star of a now defunct team, the Cleveland Spiders, Cupid Childs’ memory is lost but to the few historians that embrace disbanded franchises.  The left-handed hitting second baseman enjoyed a solid career, yet given that his team is one no longer in existence, his name has gone unrecognized.  Not regarded in a club’s Hall of Fame, Cupid Childs has only the Veteran’s Committee to offer him the immortality that comes with enshrinement.

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For those individuals well versed in baseball trivia, a question I will soon put forth might shock a great deal of baseball enthusiasts.  The Hall of Fame has acknowledged the relief pitcher, with selections of firemen such as Rollie Fingers and Hoyt Wilhelm, and recent inductions of Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter.  Sutter and Gossage are modern relief artists, who both reached 300 career saves, however, when you ask the question who has the most career saves between Hall of Famers Gossage, Sutter and their unenshrined peer Tom Henke, few people would put forth the proper answer.  The two men with plaques in the Hall of Fame were outperformed by the underappreciated closer of the Blue Jays.  Henke saved 311 career games to Gossage’s 310 and Sutter’s 300.

The closer has become a valuable piece to a roster and few stoppers were as dynamite as Tom “The Terminator” Henke.  An overpowering closer who racked up high strikeout totals while also limiting base-runners by issuing few walks, Henke was an elite fireman whose career is more impressive than his two enshrined peers.  Not only did Henke amass more saves than Gossage and Sutter, but he also posted lower career totals in ERA and WHIP.  His totals weren’t just a little lower than the two Hall of Famers—they were a great deal lower.

When Henke hung up his spikes, he walked away from the game with a tidy ERA of 2.67.  Bruce Sutter’s career mark was quite a bit higher at a respectable 2.83 while Gossage’s exceeded 3.00, albeit by the scantest of margins.  With a career WHIP of 1.092, Henke was that uncommon fireman who kept runners off base.  Not only was The Terminator difficult to hit, but he was also stingy with bases on balls.  Bruce Sutter’s career WHIP of 1.140 was much higher than Henke’s while Gossage posted a decent career mark of 1.232, far inferior to both Henke and Sutter.  Henke enjoyed three seasons with a WHIP below 1.000, a feat matched by Gossage but not by Sutter, who only had two such campaigns.

Tom Henke posted an ERA under 2.50 in seven separate seasons (Sutter only had three such years) and enjoyed six 30+ saves seasons.  Relief pitchers are typically judged by the games they saved, which baffles the analyst as to why Sutter and Gossage were enshrined at the expense of Henke.  Whereas Tom had six 30+ saves seasons, Goose only notched two such campaigns while Sutter enjoyed four.  Of the three, Henke was also the most reliable, for he stringed together four consecutive seasons with 30 or more saves, while Bruce Sutter’s 30+ saves seasons were all spread out throughout his career—he never had back-to-back 30 saves seasons.

The mark of a terrific pitcher is limiting base-runners, and with firemen, the need to keep batters off base is of uppermost importance.  Oftentimes, especially in the days of these three gentlemen, stoppers were brought into games with runners already on base.  With inherited ducks on the pond, the fireman capable of missing bats was important.  Henke bested his peers in this regard as well.  In only one season did Henke allow more hits than innings worked—Gossage allowed this to happen in five seasons and Sutter in three.  On average, Henke allowed 6.9 hits per nine innings, a mark that easily eclipsed Sutter’s 7.6 and Gossage’s 7.4.  Strikeouts, the best way to strand runners, was a forte of Henke’s as well, for The Terminator averaged 9.8 whiffs per nine innings: Gossage (7.5) and Sutter (7.4) lagged way behind.

Many things separated Tom Henke from his bullpen peers, but what was most impressive about his game was his terrific location for a power pitcher.  Your typical late inning flamethrower simply pulls back and uncorks a fastball as hard as he can throw it, with little regard to accuracy, which, as one would imagine, often leads to free passes.  Strikeout-to-walk ratios aren’t as impressive as they could be given this disregard for control.  But Henke had both the strikeout arm and the control pitcher’s accuracy.  He retired with an impressive SO/BB of 3.38, which outdistanced Gossage’s (2.05) and Sutter’s (2.79) by margins immense.  At the top of his form, Henke posted five seasons in his career with a SO/BB of 4.25 or higher—something Bruce Sutter only did once, while Gossage was never able to perform.

Tom Henke was an elite closer, who, upon his initial run at the Hall of Fame, failed to receive even two percent of the vote from the BBWAA.  Why Henke was overlooked and the voters zeroed in on Sutter and Gossage is anyone’s guess, but it seems clear to me, that the best fireman owns not a plaque in the Hall of Fame’s gallery.

Congratulations go out to Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas for their Hall of Fame inductions.  Both Maddux and Glavine received over 90% of the vote while The Big Hurt came in a little behind the hurlers with 83.7%.  Houston Astros legend Craig Biggio missed by the scantest of margins with 74.8% of the vote.  Mike Piazza saw a slight raise in his percentage while everyone else on the ballot, all the holdovers, went the other direction.  Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines, both deserving candidates, each dropped a bit in the vote with former closer Lee Smith’s support falling off a cliff.

Jack Morris, his last try on the writer’s ballot, came up short with 61.5% while the two hot topic performers, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, each saw their limited support from last year slip a bit as well.  Rafael Palmeiro, a member of the 3,000 hit club and one of the top homerun hitters of all-time, fell short of the five percent needed to be retained for 2015’s ballot.

Earlier I made predictions for this year’s HOF class and, I must admit, they were off by quite a bit.  I viewed this class as a rather weak class with Greg Maddux as the only lock among the new-comers.  Tom Glavine received a lot more support than I imagined.  With new-comers to the ballot, I do the eyeball test first: I ask myself whether they looked like Hall of Famers when they played.  When I watched Greg Maddux pitch, I thought I was watching a Hall of Famer operate on the mound.  When I watched Frank Thomas hit, I thought I was watching a Hall of Fame slugger in the batter’s box.  When I watched Craig Biggio play, I thought I was watching a Hall of Famer perform.  I felt this way about Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza, as well, but never perceived Tom Glavine in such a way.  With Glavine, while he pitched, I felt he needed a home plate umpire with a liberal strike zone to succeed, and that he wasn’t in the upper echelon of performers, where peers like Maddux, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez were stationed.

The 300 win benchmark pushed Glavine into the Hall of Fame, although, in this era, the concept of Hall of Fame benchmarks is now obsolete.  You can point to homerun kings like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa as proof that benchmarks are meaningless nowadays, but a better representation of this concept is Craig Biggio.  Craig is a member of the 3,000 hit club and no right-handed hitter in the game’s history has more doubles than Mr. Biggio.  McGwire, Palmeiro and Sosa all have PED issues, which makes them poor subjects of the exit in benchmarks argument, but Craig Biggio was a man of class with an impeccable character.  After the ballot’s results were made public, Mr. Biggio again exuded class by congratulating the three men newly enshrined without taking shots at the 25% of writers who foolishly did not vote for him.

Will Craig Biggio make the Hall of Fame next year?  It wouldn’t shock me to see him fall below 70%, to be honest.  Next year he’ll have to contend with newcomers like Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Gary Sheffield and John Smoltz—all strong HOF candidates.  In 2016, he, Piazza and Bagwell will have a better shot, with Ken Griffey Jr. the main standout—other first-timers in 2016 are Jim Edmonds, Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner.  In the upcoming years, 2017 looks to be the weakest group of first-timers with a pair of catchers, Jorge Posada and Ivan Rodriguez, leading the new-comers.  Vladimir Guerrero will see plenty support, and Manny Ramirez will also be on that ballot.  The names for 2018 look fairly impressive, with Chipper Jones and Jim Thome as locks, and Bobby Abreu, Johnny Damon, Andruw Jones and Omar Vizquel also on that year’s ballot.

The results for this year’s ballot are as follows, with 571 ballots cast: Greg Maddux (97.2), Tom Glavine (91.9) Frank Thomas (83.7), Craig Biggio (74.8), Mike Piazza (62.2), Jack Morris (61.5), Jeff Bagwell (54.3), Tim Raines (46.1), Roger Clemens (35.4), Barry Bonds (34.7), Lee Smith (29.9), Curt Schilling (29.2), Edgar Martinez (25.2), Alan Trammell (20.8), Mike Mussina (20.3), Jeff Kent (15.2), Fred McGriff (11.7), Mark McGwire (11), Larry Walker (10.2), Don Mattingly (8.2), Sammy Sosa (7.2), Rafael Palmeiro (4.4), Moises Alou (1.1), Hideo Nomo (1.1), Luis Gonzalez (0.9), Eric Gagne (0.4), J.T. Snow (0.4), Armando Benitez (0.2), Jacque Jones (0.2), Kenny Rogers (0.2), Mike Timlin, Richie Sexson, Paul LoDuca, Todd Jones, Ray Durham and Sean Casey (0%)

Next year, don’t be terribly surprised if big names like Sammy Sosa, Larry Walker, Mark McGwire, Fred McGriff and Jeff Kent fail to receive the five percent needed to be retained for 2016’s ballot.  It’s almost a guarantee that one, if not more, of these fellows will fall off the ballot in the upcoming years.  As of right now, if I had to cast a ballot for 2015, I’d vote for newcomers Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Gary Sheffield and John Smoltz, while rounding out my ballot with holdovers Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling and Alan Trammell.  Voting for ten men seems excessive to me, but I have been swayed to Raines, Schilling and Trammell’s camps due to the Cooperstown comparisons.  Tim Raines was a poor man’s Rickey Henderson, Curt Schilling has the greatest strikeout-to-walk ratio in modern baseball history and Trammell is very comparable to recently enshrined Barry Larkin.