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2016 MLB thread. Baseball is upon us! Royals are the champs - Page 646

post #19351 of 73406
Originally Posted by ChampCruThik View Post
Originally Posted by 223 at ya View Post

Dodgers/ Mariners is where Tanaka will end up,

Arizona won't shell out the cash for Tanaka
Ownership approved 7/140 for Choo. Some think that money could be transferred to Tanaka instead.


Possible but think about it Choo is an everyday player, who they didn't have to pay an extra 20 million to sign.


And what is not being mentioned is Tanaka will choose where he plays. What ever team is more appealing to him is where he'll go which is why I would rule out some of the teams being called contenders. 

post #19352 of 73406
Blue Jays will reportedly land either Santana or Jiminez.
post #19353 of 73406
Thread Starter 
Trout, Kershaw on HOF path.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
On Wednesday afternoon, the Baseball Hall of Fame will announce its inductees for the 2014 class. Unlike last year, when no candidates were voted in by the writers, the presence of Greg Maddux on the ballot practically guarantees an inductee will make a speech at Cooperstown next summer. Based on public ballots released, Tom Glavine looks to be a shoo-in and Frank Thomas and Craig Biggio also have received strong support.
But instead of looking two days ahead, let's instead fast-forward two decades and guess which of today's young players are most likely to put together Hall of Fame-worthy careers.

Predicting the distant future isn't exactly an easy task, but it is a fun one, so long as we're not imagining our future waistlines or hairlines. It's inevitable that some future Hall of Famers are in the early parts of their careers right now. Given that players tend to peak in their mid-to-late 20s, even some of the greatest players in history, many future inductees are likely filling out some of the most important parts of their Hall resumés.

To be a little more objective about the best candidates, I asked the ZiPS projection system to project the rest of the careers of today's young players. There's obviously a great deal of uncertainty in any look at the the future, but one of the nice things about having a projection system hanging around is that it can do things, like calculate long-term risk (age-related decline, injury rates, etc), that are difficult to estimate.

For this exercise I used only players who will be age 30 or younger as of July 1, 2014 -- you wouldn't need projections to know that Derek Jeter is a future Hall of Famer. Here are the top 10 based on projected career WAR. (All historical WAR numbers are courtesy of

1. Mike Trout (92.4 WAR)
Projected career stats: .283/.385/.474, 138 OPS+, 307 homers, 2,400 hits, 420 stolen bases

What's scary about this figure is that based on Mike Trout's first two seasons, projecting him merely to finish with the 29th-best positional WAR in baseball history almost seems like a disappointment. But being only 22 with a lot of years left in front of him, the issues of long-term uncertainty require us to be a little cautious.

When a player is at the top of his game and putting up some of the best seasons in history, most of the unexpected things that can happen are likely to be negative. A healthy Trout is likely to be the default preseason MVP favorite for the next several years assuming he remains healthy. When Trout was a rookie, I used to joke that if he kept it up, we wouldn't be calling him The Next Willie Mays, but instead calling Willie Mays The Previous Mike Trout. Some distance to go, but the joke's not looking as preposterous as it once did.

Bottom line: Very few players are on a Hall course in their early 20s, but Trout is one of them. Every eligible outfielder with more than Larry Walker's 72.4 WAR is in the Hall, with the exception of Barry Bonds (for other reasons).

2. Clayton Kershaw (79.9 WAR)
Projected career stats: 246-136, 2.77 ERA, 133 ERA+, 3,408 strikeouts

Though Kershaw doesn't turn 26 until March, he already has 32.2 WAR, 77 wins and two Cy Young Awards under his belt. By the time Kershaw is eligible for the Hall, it'll be somewhere around 2035 and the electorate should be used to elite pitchers falling short of 300 wins (which was always a fairly rare feat even in the days of four-man rotations).

Even factoring in the yearly injury risk that every pitcher faces, ZiPS projects Kershaw's final win total to be behind only CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander among active pitchers, both with more wins already in their stat lines. Kershaw is so good that three or so more years at his current level and he essentially has the Koufax Argument to make the Hall if something happens to his arm.

Bottom line: Only an injury or a severe case of writer myopia can derail Kershaw's Hall of Fame run. A 79.7 WAR puts Kershaw just below Bob Gibson and Curt Schilling and just above Tom Glavine and Old Hoss Radbourn.

3. Andrew McCutchen (77.7 WAR)
Projected career stats: .279/.360/.451, 126 OPS+, 317 homers, 2,727 hits, 304 stolen bases

McCutchen has firmly established himself as one of the most well-rounded players in baseball, without any real weakness to his game. The only thing that can really hurt his case is the general decline in offensive numbers from the 1993-2010 era -- he has are terrific numbers, but they won't look quite as sexy to a lot of the writers who grew up in the '90s/'00s that will make a large percentage of the electorate by then.

McCutchen also is fortunate that he's on the Pirates at a time they appear to be on the upswing; Brian Giles got very little notice for his superstar years in Pittsburgh, partially because of the team's doormat status.

Bottom line: 77.7 WAR would put McCutchen seventh among center fielders. Problem is, Kenny Lofton, who's currently in seventh place, got practically no Hall of Fame support. McCutchen probably will have to hit a major milestone to guarantee a spot in Cooperstown, with 3,000 hits being the most likely.

4. Felix Hernandez (75.3 WAR)
Projected career stats: 241-176, 3.18 ERA, 126 ERA+, 3,843 strikeouts

The way he has pitched so far, King Felix deserves more than his 110-86 record. Thanks to some rather moribund Mariners offenses, Hernandez hasn't won 15 games in a season since 2009 despite pitching more than 200 innings every season and not putting up an ERA north of 3.50. Despite the lack of support from his team, the Mariners ace is still a respectable 34th since 1901 in wins through his age-27 season.

Bottom line: Assuming his slight loss of velocity isn't a bad omen, the King's early start will give him the bulk numbers needed to get by the voters.

5. Buster Posey (71.1 WAR)
Projected career stats: .288/.360/.451, 123 OPS+, 241 homers, 2,182 hits, 546 doubles

Posey has an uphill battle to challenge the best catchers in home run totals because of a tough home park and a league-wide drop in offense. As a result, he's unlikely to hit enough homers to come close to the homer numbers of Mike Piazza, Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk. But 2,182 hits would put him fifth among catchers, and 542 doubles only behind Ivan Rodriguez (who needed a lot more plate appearances to do it than Posey is projected here). Posey is a solid defensive catcher, but currently overshadowed by the amazing Yadier Molina.

Bottom line: Every eligible catcher (except Piazza, who will likely be inducted soon) with more than the 50.3 WAR of Ted Simmons is in the Hall. The question for every catcher is durability, but Posey has recovered well from injury thus far, which bodes well for his future.

6. Evan Longoria (70.8 WAR)
Projected career stats: .268/.347/.466, 121 OPS+, 367 homers, 2,094 hits

When projecting Longoria, ZiPS singles out Scott Rolen as Longoria's top recent-year offensive comp. Like Rolen at the same age, Longoria is an elite defender at third. The support that Rolen gets will be a good litmus test for how the projected Longoria would fare in the voting. I'm not optimistic as HOF voters have been bad about inducting second or third basemen who have not hit a magic number, such as 500 homers or 3,000 hits.

Going down the top 20 third basemen in history by WAR, only eight of the eligible 17 have been inducted into the Hall, and without clearing a major home run milestone, Longoria may need a whole closet of Gold Gloves.

Bottom line: Every eligible third baseman with more than 70 WAR is in the Hall, but the guys just short (Graig Nettles, Buddy Bell, Ken Boyer) are not. Even Ron Santo (70.6) had an uphill climb. Longoria is a coin flip.

7. Troy Tulowitzki (65.5 WAR)
Projected career stats: .286/.354/.486, 113 OPS+, 346 homers, 2,222 hits

While one would think that the boost his raw career numbers will get from Coors Field would help his Hall of Fame argument, as we've seen from Larry Walker's case, voters are prone to overpunishing a player for achieving in Coors, simply dismissing a player's stats rather than properly adjusting for environment.

Tulo fans will know more how he may fare when Todd Helton hits the ballot in five years. If Tulowitzki hits these numbers, he would certainly be worthy of a trip to upstate New York on merit.

Bottom line: 65.5 WAR would rank 15th in history among shortstops, a similar career WAR is in the Hall (Derek Jeter will be, Joe Cronin, Pee Wee Reese, Lou Boudreau). Problem is, the one that's actively being voted on right now, Alan Trammell, is finding the Hall a struggle. I think in the end, Tulo makes the Hall, as the next generation of voters will likely be more savvy when it comes to adjust for offensive context.

8. Dustin Pedroia (64.1 WAR)
Projected career stats: .285/.352/.425, 110 OPS+, 194 homers, 2,453 hits

Middle infielders aren't known for aging gracefully, but Pedroia is playing at such a high level that he can withstand quite a bit of decline and still be a really good player. He's not likely to reach the magic 3,000 hit milestone that Craig Biggio did -- Biggio also was behind the pace, but his 1,955 hits after age 29 were a top-10 performance in MLB history. What will help Pedroia is his very high-profile place at the heart of this Red Sox generation.

Bottom line: For most players, this would be a coin flip, given the inability of Lou Whitaker (74.8 WAR), Bobby Grich (71.0) and Willie Randolph (65.6) to get anywhere near the votes needed for induction. As visible as Pedroia is, I think he's one of the second basemen who does in fact get over the bar, like Ryne Sandberg (67.7) or Roberto Alomar (66.7).

9. Bryce Harper (60.3 WAR)
Projected career stats: 265/356/478, 127 OPS+, 366 homers, 2,214 hits

Harper's eventual career numbers are the most unpredictable of any of the top 10 on this list. We've yet to see Harper have his big power breakout, but he's also incredibly accomplished in the majors for a player who only recently became able to drink legally. The No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft could very easily become a 500-600 homers type player, but we shouldn't get too aggressive projecting him yet.

Bottom line: Between 55 and 65 WAR, the majority of outfielders have not gotten into the Hall, so Harper probably will need more than 60 WAR to get there. The Harper projection puts him in the company of Willie Stargell (57.3), Enos Slaughter (55.2) and Billy Williams (63.9), but also players such as Reggie Smith (64.4) and Willie Davis (60.7), who got little support. I'd give Harper a 1-in-4 shot for now, but his untapped potential gives him the crazy upside to possibly crush that projection.

10. Giancarlo Stanton (56.1 WAR)
Projected career stats: .258/.357/.498, 130 OPS+, 456 homers

Stanton has the most high-end power potential of any young player in baseball today, but has actually seen his projected career numbers drop over the past year. After battling constant injuries over the past two years, the concerns about his ability to stay on the field can't simply be dismissed.

It's hard to be a Hall of Famer playing 120 games a year, even if players like Eric Davis gave it a run. If he can stay on the field, Stanton can quickly re-establish his odds of being a 600-homer type. Playing his entire year during drug testing, Stanton probably would not face the same barriers that Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa have in getting into the Hall.

Bottom line: If healthy, Stanton will beat that number and get into the Hall. If he continues to have durability problems, he won't put up the homer numbers to be inducted, as happened with Jack Clark and Jim Wynn.

David Price could end up staying put.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Tampa Bay Rays are credited for their use of defensive shifts, for their bullpen reconstructions, for their trades, for competing in the AL East annually. But what the club's leadership doesn't get enough credit for is how competitive it is.

Manager Joe Maddon is eclectic and intellectual, GM Andrew Friedman is analytical and self-deprecating, and owner Stuart Sternberg is genial and circumspect. But the three of them have demonstrated, through their work, a dogged desire to -- how can we put this politely? -- deliver a groin shot to other teams. There is a great competitive arrogance, a necessity given all the inherent disadvantages in place for Tampa Bay; they believe they will outwork or outthink or out-executive or out-something when they play. It is from this place that Maddon made eight pitching changes in the Rays' last game of 2013, in the team's attempt to will itself over a better team.

The Rays know their odds, they know the postseason history of teams with modest payrolls, and they've demonstrated they will make big-picture, clear-eyed assessments.

But at heart, the Rays, as much or more than other teams, want to kick some butt, which brings us to the current state of the David Price trade talks. The equation being weighed by the Rays is shifting as the winter drifts by.

At the outset of the winter, rival executives fully expected Tampa Bay to trade the left-hander, who is two seasons away from free agency, and the primary question for the Rays was: Which offer will be best for Price?

Officials with other teams say it was evident Tampa Bay had done a lot of summer assessment work on the minor league systems of the Diamondbacks, Rangers, Dodgers and others. Price acknowledged at the end of the season that it was very possible he had pitched his final game for the Rays.

But the current climate for trading a player of Price's caliber is not good. The perceived value of prospects has rocketed to an unprecedented level, making teams extremely reluctant to part with the kind of package of prospects that Texas got for Mark Teixeira, or that Baltimore got for Erik Bedard. Those kinds of trades are increasingly dinosaurs.

At the same time, the salary cost of veteran pitchers has exploded, with the exponential escalation of deals signed by Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke, Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander. Any team interested in trading for Price knows that Tampa Bay would demand a boatload of prospects in return, and soon after, Price -- who is eligible for free agency following the 2015 season -- would need to be paid like CC Sabathia, like Hernandez, like Verlander.

On top of all that, the availability of Masahiro Tanaka is potentially another wrench in the Price trade talks: Teams interested in acquiring a frontline starter can bid on Tanaka rather than surrender prospects and money for Tampa Bay's left-hander.

As one official noted last week: If Price is going to be traded, doesn't it make sense that Tampa Bay is already aware of the best offer it can get for him?

With a month and a week until the start of spring, the internal question for the Rays may well have shifted to this: Is the collection of talent that Tampa Bay could receive for Price now -- or, for that matter, next winter -- worth the damage that the trade of Price would do to the Rays' chances for winning in 2014?

Because if the Rays keep Price for the front of their own rotation, they would appear to have a chance to have a great team, maybe the best team of the Maddon/Friedman/Sternberg era. Alex Cobb, Matt Moore and Chris Archer could team with Price to form a devastating rotation. Despite their payroll limitations, the Rays have managed to build a relatively deep lineup and roster, with two good defensive catchers in Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina, extra outfield depth with David DeJesus, Desmond Jennings, Matt Joyce and Wil Myers. They have bullpen questions, but hey, they go into every season with bullpen questions.

Keeping Price, who is arbitration eligible, would cut directly into their bottom line; MLB Trade Rumors projects his salary for 2014 at $13.1 million, or more than 15 percent of their entire payroll. History has shown that the Rays' attendance isn't really going to be changed all that much by the promise of winning.

They can always get at least decent trade return for Price. Sternberg must decide whether he wants to absorb Price's salary for one more season, or if he'd rather keep the pitcher and give the Rays the best possible shot at winning the last game in October.

For a dignified organization, which nonetheless wants to kick in the teeth of every team it plays, this must be a very tempting option.

It's possible David Price will be back, writes Roger Mooney.

Around the league

• As Adam Rubin writes, the Mets' front office is split on whether to add Stephen Drew.

Here's why an investment in Drew makes absolutely no sense unless it's on a one-sided, team-friendly deal for one year and for less than the $14.1 million qualifying offer Drew rejected in November:

The Mets are almost certainly not going to seriously contend in 2014; if you gave truth serum to club ownership, they would admit this publicly. Matt Harvey will miss the whole season, and they have a lot of holes in their everyday lineup. What is the point of paying a lot of money to a player who turns 31 in March -- a player with a daunting injury history -- when the player really doesn't fit the team's long-term plan? Unless the deal is completely on the Mets' terms, it'd be an overpay ... and for what reason?

Now, Drew makes more sense for the Red Sox, the defending champions, who could use the middle-infield depth. A major question with Boston will be whether the Red Sox management would hold Drew's feet to the negotiating fire and insist he take less than the qualifying offer to come back. They could say -- quite rightly -- that the shortstop market has changed, and Drew is worth less in the market today than he was in November, before all the shortstop jobs were filled.

And presumably, agent Scott Boras could argue the other way that talent is talent, and Drew should be paid for his talent, which was good enough to help the Red Sox win the World Series in 2013.

But the Mets aren't winning the World Series in 2014, and Drew doesn't fit their timeline unless he would be willing to take a lot less than the Red Sox offered.

The Mets are still waiting to see how far the price tag on Drew falls, writes Andy Martino.

• As the bidding war looms over Masahiro Tanaka, questions loom.

• Front offices are dotted with west Pennsylvania natives, writes Rob Biertempfel.

• Jack Morris awaits the Hall of Fame call, in this, his last year on the ballot. Teammates recall Craig Biggio's hustle, as Jesus Ortiz writes.

The ballot caused some angst for Bob Klapisch. Here's Paul Hoynes's Hall of Fame ballot. There's no room in the Hall for rumors, writes Troy Renck. Difficult duties remain for the Hall of Fame voters, writes La Velle Neal.

NL East

• The Phillies' TV deal is good for the roster.

NL Central

• The Cardinals are going global for prospects.

• The Reds' quiet offseason continues, as John Fay writes.

NL West

• Joc Pederson is going to attend the Dodgers' winter development program.

AL East

• The Orioles remain focused on upgrading their pitching, writes Eduardo Encina.

• The Red Sox are seeking the right path for some of their prospects, writes Scott Lauber.

• Richard Griffin offers five reasons for hope for the Blue Jays.

AL West

• The guy at the center of the college football national title game tonight could be a Rangers prospect. Or not.

• The Astros' staff visited with Jason Castro.

Other stuff

• The first time I chatted with Jerry Coleman, the longtime player and broadcaster who passed away Sunday, I really wasn't interested in talking about him, which is probably why he jumped into the conversation enthusiastically. Nothing bored Jerry more than talking about himself, I thought, as I got to know him.

What I wanted to know about, in that first conversation, was the way in which journalism legend David Halberstam had interviewed him for the extraordinary book "Summer of '49," for which Jerry was a primary source.

I asked Jerry about the structure of Halberstam's questions, about the setting for the interview, about whether there were a lot of yes-no questions, or something more. Halberstam had a genius for extracting anecdotes, and as a young reporter -- I met Jerry when I was 27 years old, as a reporter at the San Diego Union -- I wanted to know how he got to them. Jerry recalled how exhausted he felt after each of Halberstam's interviews, because the reporter pressed him for details, details and more details.

This is how Halberstam captured Jerry so perfectly in the book, as a keen, anxious observer who tended to downplay his own achievements:

One day near the end of spring (of 1949), Joe Trimble, a sports writer for the Daily News, came up to Coleman and asked him to autograph a baseball. It was the ball signed by all regular players who had made the big club. "Are you sure you want me to sign this, Mr. Trimble?" he asked. "Hey kid," Trimble answered, "relax, you're going to make the club." This was the way Coleman found out he was a Yankee. He would be paid $7,500 a year instead of $5,000 if he was still with the Yankees on June 1, which was the big day. His promotion ended one phase of terror and began another, the haunting fear that at some critical moment in some crucial game he would fail and cost the Yankees the game and the pennant.

The punchline, of course, was that Jerry got the pivotal hit in the biggest game of that season, a three-run double on the last day of the season, in a winner-take-all game against the Red Sox. But as I got to know Jerry better and asked him about that hit, he would dismiss it as a complete fluke. "Lucky," he said, sitting in the Padres clubhouse one day. "Just lucky."

His nine-year playing career, including participation in six World Series? "Lucky," he said. "I was just in the right spot at the right time."

His military service, in two wars, World War II and Korea, as a Marine pilot? "I did my job, like everybody else did," he said. Jerry waved off the word "hero," which made him feel uncomfortable; I heard him get emotional over the word a couple of times, because I think Jerry felt the heroes were those servicemen and servicewomen who never went home.

Jerry laughed easily, and made fun of himself as a hitter, laughed at himself for his one year as manager, and joked about being honored at the Hall of Fame as a broadcaster, talking about it as though he was an outsider being invited into a room of legends.

He was dead honest about how he perceived himself, and in conversation he was honest about what he saw. I think he felt a little sorry for Joe DiMaggio, who was so constricted by the importance DiMaggio placed on never looking bad or awkward. He had deep respect for Ted Williams, for his confidence and ability to hit. He hated the technique he saw in modern-era fielders, which really shouldn't be surprising, because Jerry's whole career was built on his defense and fundamental skills. He hated what he perceived as a lack of effort, and when he saw it from players, I'd get an off-air earful of frustration.

Tom Brokaw wrote a book called "The Greatest Generation," and as I read it, Jerry was the first person who came to mind as a model of what Brokaw described. Jerry was a good and decent man who lived a good and honest life, of modesty and service, and there was nothing lucky about any of that.

Jerry Coleman was part of some legendary Yankees teams, as Bill Madden writes.

Corey Brock wrote this very nice piece on Jerry last year. Chris Jenkins writes about the San Diego legend. He will be missed by all, writes Jeff Sanders.

Here's the speech he made at the Hall of Fame in 2005.

And today will be better than yesterday.

Astros should be all in on Tanaka.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
We knew that CC Sabathia's preference, when he became a free agent in the fall of 2008, was to return to his home state of California, if all things were equal. He might have loved to sign with the Dodgers, if all things were equal. But that was before the Yankees, well aware of Sabathia’s interest in playing in the Golden State, made the bidding unequal, with their offer of $161 million.

When Robinson Cano became a free agent two months ago, we knew the gap between what his side asked for and what the Yankees offered was enormous, and we knew that the tension between the two sides was building -- a clue that Cano was ready to leave for the right offer.

When Albert Pujols filed for free agency, there was clearly a breach developing between him and the Cardinals, and a year later the same was true in the talks between Josh Hamilton and the Rangers. The player’s perception of his own value was far different, in those cases, than the team he was leaving, and this is how Pujols wound up completing his deal in about 48 hours, and how Hamilton left the Rangers for a division rival.

But in the case of Masahiro Tanaka, we really don’t have clues about what he wants from his free agency. Around the edges, there is word that he might prefer to sign with a West Coast team. In Japan, he was a longtime Rakuten teammate of Hisashi Iwakuma, before Iwakuma left to sign with Seattle, and there is some question among bidders about whether this will give the Mariners a significant recruiting advantage.

Is Tanaka intent on playing with a longtime friend? Will he gravitate toward the highest offer? Does he have a secret dream to play for the Dodgers, or the Yankees? It’s unclear, maybe even to Casey Close, the agent recently chosen to represent Tanaka.

We don’t yet know how much Tanaka will drive this negotiation, or whether he’s open to all ideas.

If Tanaka isn’t focused on a narrow range of options -- only West Coast teams, for example, or merely reaching for the best dollar offer -- there is a courtship that should take place, because it makes so much sense for the team. If the Houston Astros would be willing to pay Tanaka the kind of money he will get in the bidding, he would be absolutely perfect for them as a major piece of their development into a contender.

AP Photo/Alex Gallardo
Starter Scott Feldman signed a three-year deal with the Astros this offseason.
Start with this: The Astros have what is essentially a blank canvas in financial obligations. Beyond the contracts agreed to with their draft picks, Houston has a total of $34 million in deals beyond the 2014 season, with $20 million of that allotted for Scott Feldman. Right now, the Astros could be the working definition of payroll flexibility, even at a time when they are still mired in a legal fight over their local television deal. Even if they failed to draw a single customer to a ballgame in 2014 -- and it hasn’t gotten that bad, even after Houston had its third consecutive season of 106 or more losses last summer -- the Astros could easily cover a costly player, like Tanaka, with the money they make through Major League Baseball.

Tanaka would be marketable for the franchise in the short term, and at the same time he’s an absolutely perfect fit within their long-term rebuilding plan, as the leader of a young and dynamic pitching staff.

The signing of Feldman surprised some rival executives because he turns 31 in February, and by the time the talent the Astros have been hoarding begins to manifest in the big leagues -- players like former No. 1 picks Mark Appel and Carlos Correa -- Feldman’s productivity may well be in decline.

Tanaka, on the other hand, is just 25 years old, and the Astros could try to sell him on the idea of being the leader of a building power, just as Iwakuma was at Rakuten years ago. He could be the anchor of a pitching staff, in years to come, of a group capable of dominance, with Appel and, presumably, Carlos Rodon, who is widely expected to be the first player chosen in the June draft, by the Astros.

Tanaka will be 27 or 28 years old as Appel and Rodon reach the majors, and by the time the likes of Appel and Rodon accumulate service time and start to get expensive, through arbitration, Tanaka will be at the back end of his contract.

To repeat: We really don’t know what Tanaka wants. It’s possible he would dismiss the Astros, the worst team in the majors, as potential suitors. He might want to rejoin Iwakuma, or play in New York, or become part of one of the greatest rotations in recent memory by signing with the Dodgers. Undoubtedly, the Astros would have to overpay and crush all other bidders to land Tanaka, in the same manner that the Yankees did with Sabathia.

But it would be worth it to give the Astros a jump-start while also continuing the reconstruction plans designed to build a winner for years to come.

If you think the idea is nuts, you probably thought this suggestion back in mid-November was a little crazy, too.

Around the league

• A fire destroyed part of the ballpark of a Tigers affiliate.

• The Phillies are really happy with their new television deal.

• Bryce Harper expects to weigh 240-245 pounds by spring training.

• The A-Rod verdict is days away.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Astros promoted Kevin Goldstein.

2. The Mariners announced some signings.

AL East

• James Loney’s return probably means a record payroll for the Rays, depending on what happens with David Price.

AL West

• Neftali Feliz says he’s ready to go. Feliz says he wants to be a closer.

Other stuff

• The Hall of Fame vote has become a series of swings and misses, writes Thomas Boswell.

• The Hall vote has never been harder, writes John Erardi.

• Mike Mussina and Frank Thomas are awaiting word. I covered Mussina for three seasons of his career, and I remember that among all hitters, Mussina was more confounded by Thomas than any other; he just could not find a way to get him out consistently. Thomas had 96 plate appearances in his career against Mussina, more than against any other pitcher, and in those he had an OPS of 1.263, with 18 extra-base hits.

• After his playing career, Paul Blair greatly enjoyed golfing.

• Rockies owner Charlie Monfort pleaded guilty to a DUI.

And today will be better than yesterday.

Why I vote for PED users for the HOF.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
On Monday afternoon, revealed the Hall of Fame ballots for the 17 folks here who cast votes, and this seemed to set Twitter on fire in the baseball corner of the world.

A brief review of the voting process: Voters are allowed to name up to 10 players on their ballots, because of a longstanding rule. This is an enormous problem, as I've written about in the past, because of the logjam that has developed. I think there were 17 players worthy for induction on this year's ballot -- alphabetically, those are Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Jeff Kent, Greg Maddux, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Mike Mussina, Rafael Palmeiro, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell.

But because of the Rule of 10, I had to leave seven of those players off my ballot -- Kent, McGwire, Mussina, Raines, Schilling, Sosa and Trammell -- and ended up checking boxes next to the following 10 names: Bagwell, Biggio, Bonds, Clemens, Glavine, Maddux, Morris, Palmeiro, Piazza and Thomas.

There were lots of questions about this on Twitter, and the 140 characters don't usually provide the space to give suitable answers, so we'll attack some of those issues more in depth here.

How could you vote for Palmeiro and not McGwire?

McGwire has been on the ballot seven times before this year and I've voted for him every time, because he's one of the best players of his era: His 583 career homers rank 10th all-time, and he finished in the top six in MVP voting four different times. He broke Roger Maris' single-season home run record, and regardless of whether he hit his 70 homers under the same circumstances as Maris, the fact is he got there. Major League Baseball has never expunged McGwire's 1998 record, or McGwire's numbers; it's all right here, still.

But because of the limits of the Rule of 10, I had to leave seven Hall of Fame-worthy players off my ballot, and had to come up with some sort of method of picking and choosing. There is no perfect way to do this, so basically what I did was to vote for the best players on the ballot for nine spots, and then, for the 10th spot, I made sure to vote for Jack Morris because it's his last year of eligibility.

So I had to leave McGwire off the ballot. I think Palmeiro was the better player, as one of four in history with 3,000-plus hits and 500-plus homers.

How could you vote for Morris over Mussina or Schilling?

Nobody needs to tell me about the greatness of Mussina or Schilling. I covered Mussina as a beat writer for The Baltimore Sun in 1995 and 1996, and at The New York Times in 2001, and he is Hall of Fame-worthy. He thrived in his career while competing in the AL East, with its history of stacked lineups, and in the midst of the steroid era. I witnessed firsthand a lot of the great stuff that Schilling accomplished, in the 2001 World Series and the 2004 postseason; he is a Hall of Famer, in my eyes.

But because of the Rule of 10, I had to pick and choose who I voted for, and because I don't think Mussina has a chance at being elected, in this first year on the ballot, and don't think Schilling -- a colleague here at ESPN -- will get close enough this year, I turned to others.

In future years -- and hopefully, the HOF rids itself of the arbitrary Rule of 10 before next year's voting -- I will vote for Mussina and Schilling.

As I explained to Curt, I set aside a vote for Morris this year because it's his 15th year on the ballot. Last year, Morris had 67.7 percent of the vote, which is 7.3 percent short of the 75 percent required for induction; in the past, players in his situation have had their best shot at induction at this time, with a spike in their vote totals.

But I suspect that Morris' vote total will decline this year, and not because of the ongoing sabermetric jihad aimed at his career (I understand the arguments, and just disagree). Rather, Morris will lose votes, I'd bet, because of the Rule of 10. Other voters, faced with the same logjam as I was, will feel compelled to not vote for Morris after voting for him in the past.

And there's something really terrible about that, because all of the candidates on this year's ballot, from Moises Alou to Larry Walker, should be judged solely on the merits of their playing career, and not how they might be squeezed onto a ballot.

How can you not vote for Tim Raines?

I have voted for him in the past, and I will in the future. My vote for him was sacrificed because of the Rule of 10.

Why aren't you weighing character in your vote?

There is no evidence that the character clause was given pivotal weight in more than a half-century of voting before the steroid issue popped up. Gaylord Perry admitted to cheating repeatedly -- heck, he wrote a book about it -- and was voted in. Ty Cobb had a long and ugly history of incidents not related to what he did on the field, and was voted in. Mickey Mantle was infamous for drinking problems, to the degree that it sometimes left him unprepared to play, and was voted in. Heck, the guy who had a lot to do with the composition of the character clause, legendary commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, worked to keep black players out of the sport.

The Hall of Fame is not a house of the holy. It's a baseball museum -- the best sports museum in the world, in my opinion -- and nobody should pretend it's more than that. That includes the current Hall of Famers, some of whom admittedly used amphetamines in their careers because that was the context of the times.

How can you vote for steroid users?
[+] Enlarge
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Bonds' era may have been tainted, but he was the best player of his time.

I've covered that here many times in the past, but it comes up every year when the Hall of Fame votes are prepared. The bottom line: It's all about context.

For a period of about two decades, the institution of baseball had a burgeoning PED problem, and its collective response -- from the union leaders, who held the most practical power; to the owners, who cashed the checks; to the clean players who knew what was happening but allowed themselves to be muted by union doctrine; to the players who chose to use -- was to do nothing. Before Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, Jose Canseco answered questions about alleged steroid use on national television, so nobody can pretend there wasn't awareness, but it would be another 15 years before any form of testing was put into place.

In that vacuum, the problem exploded. Some players initially did it to gain a competitive advantage, many did it to keep up with rival users, some did it to cope with injuries. By 2001-02, my guess is that many, many players -- as in, thousands of major and minor leaguers -- were using.

Jason Giambi, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and others have gotten the most scrutiny, but in my opinion, most of the elite players were using something. Whether we like it or not, this is what the sport became because of inaction from the top to the bottom. During the 1990s, every team had the option of requesting a steroid test for a player, for cause. The number of times this happened: zero. None. Nada.

So even as steroid suspicion mounted, management did nothing. The union leadership was far too slow to recognize the impact of the problem on players who wanted to remain clean, so the leadership remained entrenched, in keeping with the players' association dogma of the time.

Even after the sport stepped up to address the issue, in 2003, it took four more years before players got more than a 10-day suspension. Think about that: Rafael Palmeiro was popped for a positive test in 2006 and he got the same suspension you would get for scuffing a baseball, which says a lot about how seriously the sport regarded PED use at the time.

When Hall of Fame voters swoop in now after the fact, and render retroactive morality, this seems ridiculous. It's all about context, and the fact is that none of us will ever know exactly who did what and when they did it and what the impact of those drugs were on the outcome of games and the record books. To play a guessing game on who did and who didn't seems absurd, which is why I decided years ago that there really are only two fair and defensible standards on the PED quandary:

1. Ignore the PED question and vote for the best players of the time.
2. Vote for nobody.

There are voters who aren't casting votes for Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa and others because they suspect they used -- and to repeat, I'm far from naive about the possibilities of what happened. But it seems capricious for voters to essentially determine they are attaching their own personal lifetime ban on a player like Piazza without rock-solid evidence. If you aren't voting for Piazza, who has overwhelming Hall of Fame numbers, you ought to be able to explain why that is beyond "He had back acne."

And at the same time, it's ridiculous to not vote for Clemens, Bonds and McGwire while knowing that a huge percentage of the players in the era did the same thing -- including, probably, others who are already in the Hall of Fame or who are current candidates.

Where were the writers on this during the steroid era?

I wrote an op-ed about this for The New York Times in 2006. You can read it here.

Will you vote for Ryan Braun and Manny Ramirez if they're Hall of Fame-worthy?

I've gone back and forth on this one in my mind, but I think that in the end, the answer will be: Yes, I would vote for them.

Major League Baseball -- and, by extension, the Hall of Fame -- drew a line with Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson, banning them and removing them from Hall of Fame consideration. Let's say for argument's sake that the Baseball Writers' Association of America decided to mount a rogue effort on behalf of Rose, and everybody with a ballot decided to cast a write-in vote for Rose, the all-time leader in hits. I don't think a result like that would ever be honored by the Hall, and I strongly suspect that if it did, Major League Baseball officials would never attend, because Rose is persona non grata. He is dead to the sport because he was deemed guilty of a capital offense: betting on baseball.

But Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Bagwell, Sosa, Palmeiro, et al are not regarded in this way. Most of them are employees of teams, working with the approval of Major League Baseball. The Hall of Fame chose to include them on the ballots, regardless of their perceived offenses, regardless of their pasts.

If MLB and the Hall of Fame have determined those players are in good standing -- unlike Rose -- is it really the writers' place to throw up a roadblock in front of them?

I think my vote should reflect history, and whether we like it or not, the history -- effectively approved and stamped for authenticity by MLB, and presented by the Hall -- is that Bonds, Clemens, Palmeiro, Sosa, McGwire, etc. were the very best players at a time when the sport was saturated with PED use.

Manny Ramirez was suspended and then welcomed back to baseball repeatedly. The same is true with Braun, and will be with Alex Rodriguez, if he serves a suspension.

If MLB doesn't like that, or the Hall of Fame, well ... change the rules. If it's important to them, then MLB, the union and the Hall of Fame can negotiate a proviso in which any player busted for PED use is permanently ineligible for induction at Cooperstown. It's not the role of the writers to render death penalties to a legacy; that responsibility lies in the hands of the leaders of the sport. If they have a problem with the steroid era guys, then they should kick them out, as they did Rose. If they don't, then they need to take ownership of what happened in the game. I'll start treating the achievements of the steroid era as fraud with my Hall of Fame ballot the instant that fans who paid to watch those games get their money back.

If you ever forget what the sport was all about at that time, it's worth reviewing this commercial, which came at the height of the late-'90s home run boom and featured Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Maddux and Glavine are likely to join Bobby Cox in Cooperstown next summer, writes David O'Brien.

Jack Morris will be at peace with whatever happens, writes Tom Gage.

Bob Dutton writes about Edgar Martinez's chances.

Around the league

• The Orioles have interest in right-hander Bronson Arroyo, who could be the type of innings-eater they need to help stabilize their staff. Arroyo has been relatively injury-free in his career, but the question for the negotiation is about the length of the deal. Arroyo is said by one club source as wanting more than a one-year deal.

• Speaking of which: Chris Capuano is looking for a two-year deal, and sources say he'll be patient in waiting for it.

• As written here last week, the Blue Jays are in an excellent position to take a shot at signing either Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez. In at least one corner of the organization, there is a lot of interest in Jimenez, because of his power stuff.

• An announcement on Don Mattingly's next contract is forthcoming. Ramona Shelburne wrote about the turn in the negotiations two months ago.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Pirates agreed to terms with Chris Dickerson.

2. The Red Sox worked out a partnership in Korea.

3. Jim Riggleman will be back as the Reds' Triple-A manager.

4. The Indians signed Jeff Francoeur and Scott Atchison, as Paul Hoynes writes.

5. The Rays signed an infielder.

6. The Cardinals claimed an outfielder.

7. The Astros must decide whether to try to extend Jason Castro, or trade him, as Evan Drellich writes. Some rival executives fully expect Houston to move Castro sometime before the July 31 deadline.

NL East
• The Phillies have various options for their lineup.

• The Mets need to make an Ike Davis deal, writes Ken Davidoff.

NL Central

• Andrew Lambo could be part of the Pirates' first-base solution.

• Bernie Miklasz wonders if the strain of October innings will weigh on the Cardinals.

• Walt Jocketty says it'll be difficult to sign Homer Bailey.

• The Brewers are turning to their young players, as GM Doug Melvin told

AL Central

• Mike Pelfrey's salary could reach $8 million.

• Detroit is cold; new manager Brad Ausmus is not.

AL West

• The Astros are going to consider a move to Arizona for spring training.

• A Rangers outfielder is on a hot streak in winter ball, writes Gerry Fraley.

Other stuff
• The Padres' leaders paid tribute to Jerry Coleman.

• Here is George Vecsey's obituary of Coleman.

And today will be better than yesterday.

M's, Yankees need Tanaka most.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The free-agent market got a little deeper last week. One of this offseason's unanswered questions was whether Masahiro Tanaka would be able to play in the United States in 2014. This had been by no means certain as Tanaka's team in Japan, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, spent a month publicly waffling over whether they would allow their ace to be posted. With Tanaka officially cleared to sign an MLB contract, the interesting question now is which uniform he ends up wearing.

In a shallow free-agent market, Tanaka is in a position to bring in an impressive amount of cash in return for that new uniform. While every team should at least consider Tanaka and do their homework -- the posting fee, which maxes out at $20 million, is paid only by the team that eventually lands him -- not every team is going to be willing to spend nine figures on any free agent, let alone one who has never played in the U.S.

Estimating the performance of an NPB player isn't easy, given that we have few examples of major league players moving back and forth over the Pacific. Tanaka's bread-and-butter pitch is a nasty split-fingered fastball that should induce ground balls and silly swings in the majors. He also has a fastball that can hit the mid-90s, though without a lot of movement, a solid slider and a curve that probably won't be used too heavily in MLB.

Tanaka had a terrific record in Japan -- 24-0 in 2013 -- but he's also not likely to be as good as Yu Darvish has been. They're not really similar pitchers, though the comparison is inevitable because of their shared Japanese heritage, but Darvish struck out nearly 11 batters per nine innings in his final season in Japan, a number Tanaka hasn't ever touched (7.8 in his 2013 season).

Despite these caveats, ZiPS projects Tanaka as the most valuable pitcher available in free agency this year. ZiPS estimates a mean projection (neutral park/league) of a 3.46 ERA in 190 innings from Tanaka, for an ERA+ of 117 and 3.9 WAR. The 117 ERA+ projected compares favorably to the 124 ERA+ projected for David Price in a neutral park. While Price comes out a little better in the comparison, signing Tanaka has the fringe benefit of not necessitating the Rays stealing some of your best prospects.

So, what are the best homes for Tanaka? I've ranked six potential suitors based on which one gains the most by signing him.

1. Seattle Mariners
Seattle has a history of being a comfortable home for players from Nippon Professional Baseball and the wallet necessary to make the signing. And even more important, the Mariners have a pressing need for another top arm.

How bad was Seattle pitching last season? Despite starting with the No. 1 and No. 7 pitchers in the AL by Baseball Reference's WAR (Hisashi Iwakuma, Felix Hernandez), the team's ERA+ of 86 was the second-worst in the AL, just barely ahead of the Houston Astros. The Robinson Cano signing was huge, but outside of that, the team has only been able to engage in its yearly ritual of accumulating designated-hitter types.

Erasmo Ramirez may be the worst No. 3 starter in baseball, and while Taijuan Walker is a terrific prospect, he's still just 21 years old and has never topped 141 1/3 innings in a season. ZiPS projects Tanaka in Seattle with a 3.24 ERA, for a 118 ERA+ and 3.8 WAR. Depending on whether Ramirez or James Paxton would get the boot from the rotation, Tanaka adds 3 or 4 wins to a team that still needs another 10 or so to frighten Oakland or Texas.

2. New York Yankees
The Yankees are essentially out of options to significantly upgrade the offense any further and with some question marks in the rotation, Tanaka is a logical player to add. It would be even better for the Yankees if they could find out the status of Alex Rodriguez's suspension (and salary) before committing to Tanaka, but either way, adding Tanaka would be a big boost to a rotation that's going to have to give 400 innings on the back end to some combination of David Phelps, Michael Pineda, Adam Warren and the rest of the gang.

Give half of those to Tanaka and the Yankees can feel a lot better about leaving the fifth-starter question unresolved until spring training is underway. While the Yankees infield doesn't project to be all that exciting defensively -- at least on the days Brendan Ryan is not on the field -- Tanaka's ability to keep the ball down make Yankee Stadium's right-field fences a bit less scary.

3. Philadelphia Phillies
Faced with a choice to rebuild or restock, the Ruben Amaro-led Phillies have appeared to go with "neither" this winter, tinkering around the edges by bringing back Carlos Ruiz and signing Marlon Byrd. The team hasn't significantly improved its 2014 outlook (or that of 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, etc.) and landing Tanaka is the best chance remaining to improve the team's talent base at this point.

Given that the team is comfortable putting Cuban defector Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez in the rotation despite a long layoff from actual games, it shouldn't be afraid of a pitcher who has excelled in NPB, the second-highest level baseball league in the world.

4. Baltimore Orioles
Masahiro Tanaka won't play for the Baltimore Orioles in 2014. The Orioles didn't even put on a show of trying to land the best free agent remaining, with GM Dan Duquette recently declaring that the Orioles won't be signing Tanaka (and that the team doesn't agree with the posting system).

The Orioles don't do a lot of things that they should and this is another example. Baltimore's rotation is full of inning-eaters, but nobody who frightens another team in a one-game, winner-take-all matchup. The O's are missing a golden opportunity here, going with the "do nothing and hope another player suddenly becomes an MVP candidate like Chris Davis did" plan.

5. Los Angeles Angels
The team still has money. The team still has an aging core with its time running out. The team also still has either Garrett Richards or Joe Blanton in the rotation and Tanaka would serve as an impressive upgrade. The AL West is a tough division and the Angels have too much invested in winning now to not win now.

A Jered Weaver-C.J. Wilson-Tanaka top of the rotation matches up well against most teams in baseball and takes some of the pressure off Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs at the back end. Blanton and Richards are still available as fallback positions, both better suited to being Plan B than Plan A.

6. Chicago Cubs
Don't laugh. Well, too much. The Cubs are still in the rebuilding phase, but Tanaka is young enough (turned 26 last month) that unlike most free agents, he's likely to still be just as good when the Cubs move beyond the bottom-tier of teams in baseball.

The Cubs clearly aren't afraid of spending money and bringing in Tanaka gives the team more freedom to get what they can for Jeff Samardzija via trade. The team may not feel all that close to competing, but the club played non-embarrassing baseball in 2013 until the end of July and has a loaded minor league system. The team is closer to being relevant than many fans think and Tanaka makes that future even better.

Five teams with the best shot at Tanaka.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
After weeks of drama, the Masahiro Tanaka posting saga is finally over. Rakuten, his team in Japan, has agreed to post him, and now all MLB teams have a chance to negotiate with him if they agree to put up the posting fee, which likely will max out at $20 million per the new posting rules. (If a team doesn't sign him, no fee is paid.)

Now the question is: Which team will get the prized right-hander? As far as I'm concerned, these are the five clubs with the best shot:

1. New York Yankees

The Yankees' top free-agent pitching target has always been Tanaka. Although their goal was to stay under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold, it was more of a goal than a mandate, as GM Brian Cashman explained to me during the winter meetings. Tanaka is a potential top-of-the-rotation starter who can, at the very least, replace the retired Andy Pettitte and, at the very best, anchor the rotation for years to come.

2. Los Angeles Angels

The Angels' entire offseason was designed to rebuild the pitching staff -- and that included saving enough money to sign either Tanaka or Matt Garza. Owner Arte Moreno has proved over the years that he's not afraid to outbid everyone when he wants to. However, like the Yankees, the Angels are dangerously close to the luxury-tax threshold and have only between $15-16 million per year allotted for one of these two pitchers. (And remember, they have to save room in the budget for a potential Mike Trout extension.)

3. Texas Rangers

The Rangers may have spent all their budgeted payroll on the trade for Prince Fielder and the free-agent signing of Shin-Soo Choo. However, the Rangers are also probably one starting pitcher from a legitimate shot at another World Series appearance, as their postseason rotation is not as formidable as those in Detroit, Tampa Bay, Boston and Oakland.

Having Yu Darvish in their rotation could serve as a recruiting edge, as Tanaka can surely see how well Darvish has thrived in Texas. And the Rangers' brass has to know that having the Japanese duo could be great for international marketing. I wouldn't bet against GM Jon Daniels.

4. Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers' rotation is already set and deep with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dan Haren. However, Tanaka would finish the rotation perfectly if inserted between Greinke and Ryu. The Dodgers can afford it, and one more solid pitcher would put them in position needed to compete with the Cardinals and Nationals for the NL's best rotation.

In addition, with Kershaw still unsigned after 2014, it would provide insurance in case he departs.

5. Atlanta Braves

The Braves are a long shot here but also need him most. They are in desperate need of an elite starter, and a surprise bid might make sense, especially considering the new stadium revenues that are expected in the years to come.

Team president John Schuerholz oversaw 14 divisional titles in Atlanta thanks mostly to the trio of aces he had in Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Although it would be difficult to ever get that level of starting pitching again, the Braves won't stop trying, and pairing Tanaka with Julio Teheran, Mike Minor and Kris Medlen would give the Braves a formidable rotation.

Tanaka is needed here if they want a chance to defend their NL East title with the improved Nationals breathing down their necks.

MLB's most divisive hitters.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
As hot stove season starts to wind down and Opening Day draws near, a baseball fan's mind naturally turns to thoughts of the season to come. Whatever your personal prognosticative prowess, the best place to start when looking for what to expect from your favorite player in 2014 is consulting the various projection systems that can be found around the baseball blogosphere.
Most of the time, there's a pretty clear consensus among the projection systems about what to expect from an established player -- last year, for example, Bill James, Steamer, Oliver and ZiPS all projected Asdrubal Cabrera to hit between 15 and 17 home runs with between 69 and 73 RBIs, and he ended up with 14 and 64. But sometimes the models don't agree with each other. Those are the players it's fun to debate. So I decided to look at some of the players on whom the projection systems disagree most.

Starting with hitters, I looked at weighted on-base average, better known as wOBA, which is essentially a batting average that knows the difference between a single and a home run. To use F.C. Lane's century-old analogy, if you had a quarter, a dime and a nickel, wOBA would know that you have 40 cents while batting average would say that you had three coins.

I then turned to the Steamer Projections created by Jared Cross, Dash Davidson and Peter Rosenbloom, and the Oliver system, designed by Brian Cartwright, and isolated every hitter whom both models project to get at least 400 plate appearances in 2014. (I use Steamer and Oliver not because they are necessarily better than any other systems, but because their 2014 numbers have already been published and the data were easily accessible on FanGraphs. However, anecdotally speaking, in past years Steamer and Oliver seemed to disagree more than most projection systems.)

Subtracting one system's wOBA projection from the other's for each player yielded some intriguing results, and you can find a list of the top 20 most divisive hitters in MLB at the bottom of this piece. Here's a look at five of the most interesting names from that group of 20 -- and my analysis of which projection system is more likely to be right.

Derek Jeter, SS | New York Yankees

2013 stats: .190/.288/.254, .247 wOBA
Steamer 2014: .281/.339/.376, .317 wOBA
Oliver 2014: .252/.315/.331, .289 wOBA

Mr. November has a reputation for being consistent, but after injuries limited him to just 17 forgettable games in 2013, there's considerable disagreement about how much Jeter has left in the tank. It's clear that his career is on the wane (both projections have him in line for the worst full season of his career) but Steamer sees him as a solid contributor in 2014 while Oliver puts him at barely above replacement level.

Oliver's pessimism stems from a projected 16 percent strikeout rate that would be Jeter's highest since 2005, and a .291 BABIP that would be the lowest of his career; assuming he's healthy, both of those predictions seem too cynical.

Verdict: Steamer

Chris Davis, 1B | Baltimore Orioles

2013 stats: .286/.370/.634, .421 wOBA
Steamer 2014: .266/.341/.527, .370 wOBA
Oliver 2014: .277/.356/.566, .392 wOBA

Two things made Chris Davis' breakout 2013 season possible: more walks and more power. Both Steamer and Oliver think Davis' plate discipline improvements are for real, but they disagree on how well he can duplicate his power surge, with Steamer projecting a .261 ISO and Oliver expecting a .290 ISO.

Expecting anyone to hit for a near .300 ISO is questionable. That's especially true for Davis, who has topped .200 only twice in the past four seasons and slipped to .270 in the second half of 2013.

Verdict: Steamer

Albert Pujols, 1B | Los Angeles Angels

2013 stats: .258/.330/.437, .329 wOBA
Steamer 2014: .282/.357/.515, .370 wOBA
Oliver 2014: .275/.343/.467, .348 wOBA

Pujols is a good bounce-back candidate for 2014, both because he suffered a career-worst .258 BABIP in 2013 despite hitting proportionately more line drives than he'd hit in five years and because ... well, he's Albert Pujols.

Oliver expects modest improvements in his power numbers and BABIP to help him reclaim his place as a formidable but aging hitter. By contrast, Steamer projects across-the-board improvements like those one might expect for a player several years younger, and foresees him enjoying his best season since leaving St. Louis. For baseball's sake, it'd be nice to see Prince Albert reclaim his throne as one of the game's elite hitters, but that's probably not a realistic expectation.

Verdict: Oliver

Bryce Harper, RF | Washington Nationals

2013 stats: .274/.368/.486, .371 wOBA
Steamer 2014: .271/.356/.480, .363 wOBA
Oliver 2014: .288/.368/.526, .385 wOBA

The biggest challenge in projecting young star players is balancing the potential for growth with the empirical evidence for how players age, and regression to the mean.

The latter phenomenon is what's truly to blame for sophomore slumps and cover jinxes: A player who does exceptionally well is unlikely to continue to perform at such a high level over a long period of time. So while it's subjectively tempting to trust Oliver's prediction that Harper will continue to improve in his age-21 season, Steamer's projection of very modest regression is the better bet, especially since much of the improvement Oliver foresees is fueled by a higher BABIP.

Verdict: Steamer

Prince Fielder, 1B | Texas Rangers

2013 stats: .279/.362/.457, .358 wOBA
Steamer 2014: .286/.386/.498, .380 wOBA
Oliver 2014: .277/.362/.463, .359 wOBA

Across 2011 and 2012, Fielder had the fifth-best wOBA in baseball among hitters with at least 1,000 plate appearances, but in 2013 he fell into the company of Justin Upton and Jason Kipnis. The question for him is the opposite of that for Harper: As he enters his age-30 season, was his performance last year his new norm, as Oliver suggests, or will he regress toward his career mean in 2014, as Steamer projects?

This was a tough call to make, but given his age and his move to the hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, he's probably got a partial bounce-back year left in him.

Verdict: Steamer

Difference of opinion
Based on wOBA, these are the 20 hitters whom the Steamer and Oliver projection systems disagree on most for 2014.

1 Derek Jeter .289 .317 .028
2 Raul Ibanez .286 .313 .027
3 Michael Young .293 .319 .026
T4 Torii Hunter .308 .331 .023
T4 Lance Berkman .318 .341 .023
T4 Jamey Carroll .269 .292 .023
T7 Chris Davis .392 .370 .022
T7 Albert Pujols .348 .370 .022
T7 Bryce Harper .385 .363 .022
T7 Dexter Fowler .332 .354 .022
T11 Prince Fielder .359 .380 .021
T11 Kole Calhoun .323 .344 .021
T13 Marco Scutaro .302 .322 .020
T13 Nick Swisher .330 .350 .020
T13 Brian McCann .360 .340 .020
T16 Jurickson Profar .332 .313 .019
T16 Brett Wallace .307 .326 .019
T16 Alex Rodriguez .305 .324 .019
19 Mike Trout .423 .405 .018
T20 Adrian Gonzalez .345 .362 .017
T20 Lyle Overbay .285 .302 .017

Fits for remaining pitching bargains.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Masahiro Tanaka has the attention of nearly every team in Major League Baseball right now. Not every franchise is going to bid on Rakuten's ace, but interest in him is so high that it has essentially shut down the market for other starting pitchers as well, as free agents like Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez are waiting until Tanaka signs so they can market themselves as a Plan B to the teams who fell short in the bidding war.

The trickle-down effect has basically pushed back the market for starting pitchers, so even though we're only a few months from spring training, there are still some interesting pitchers left unsigned. And the good news is there are even some pitchers who won't break the bank. Even teams that are dealing with tight budgets could still add a quality arm by looking beyond Tanaka and the rest.

Here are three pitchers who are likely going to sign for a fraction of what the top pitchers get this winter, but could be perfect fits for teams looking to add quality innings without spending an arm and a leg.

Chris Capuano, LHP
Perfect fit: Seattle Mariners

Here's a fun fact for you: Capuano and teammate Zack Greinke posted identical 3.22 K/BB ratios as starting pitchers in 2013. Two other starting pitchers also posted a 3.22 K/BB as starters last year: Jose Fernandez and Mat Latos. Madison Bumgarner was just behind them, at 3.21, while supposed big-time free agent Garza checked in at 3.24. Pitching isn't just walks and strikeouts, but if you can get batters to swing and miss while throwing strikes, you're most of the way to being an effective hurler, and that's exactly what Capuano did last year. And it was actually the third consecutive year in which Capuano ran a K/BB ratio over 3.00. From 2011 to 2013, Capuano posted the 29th-best K/BB ratio of any regular starting pitcher in baseball.

Because he's given up some hits on contact and hasn't done a very good job of stranding runners, his ERA doesn't match up with his underlying numbers, but those variables bounce around a lot, and with slightly better luck, Capuano could easily be a quality midrotation starter again in 2014. And for a team like Seattle in need of multiple starters while also planning a big offer for Tanaka, a cheap, effective hurler like Capuano could be just what the doctor ordered. After all, Dan Szymborski called Erasmo Ramirez the "worst No. 3 starter in baseball" earlier this week, and even signing Tanaka wouldn't fix their depth problem.

Toss in the fact that Safeco Field is still a pretty decent place for pitchers, even after they moved in the fences last year, and Seattle should be an appealing destination for Capuano. While the marine layer didn't exactly save his 2013 ERA, these pitch-to-contact strike-throwers do best in West Coast parks where the ball doesn't carry as well in the summer, and no West Coast team needs a cheap effective starter as much as the Mariners. Even if they sign Tanaka, Capuano should still be in their sights, and they definitely shouldn't let him get away while they ponder a bid for the Japanese right-hander.

Jerome Williams, RHP
Perfect fit: Houston Astros

The Astros already threw $30 million at Scott Feldman to give their rotation a boost, but Williams would also be a good addition to a team that doesn't yet have five big league starting pitchers. While his lack of an out pitch gives him limited upside, Williams has shown the ability to get ground balls and avoid walking too many hitters, which is the basic recipe for a classic innings-eater, and in that regard, isn't too terribly different from Feldman.

Only Williams should cost Houston a lot less than the $10 million per year they spent on their first free-agent starter, since the Angels decided to non-tender him rather than risk offering him arbitration and having him earn roughly $4 million in salary next year. The fact that he was put on the free-agent market rather than get paid $4 million for one year suggests that there's not going to be a dramatic bidding war for his services, but Williams could provide a team like Houston some additional innings of major league quality without any long-term commitment or financial outlay. And if Williams ends up giving them 100 good innings by the All-Star break, then they'd have a decent little trade chip on their hands, having rehabilitated Williams' value and signed him to a team-friendly contract. For a non-contender with a little bit of money to spend, like the Astros, guys like Williams are a great place to use a few million bucks.

Paul Maholm, LHP
Perfect fit: Toronto Blue Jays

If you stopped paying attention at the halfway point of 2013, you probably remember Paul Maholm having a pretty decent year. At the break, he had thrown 115 innings and had a 3.98 ERA, and had helped the Braves build a nice big lead in the NL East. Then, in his first start of the second half, he gave up seven runs in three innings and was subsequently placed on the DL with a left wrist contusion, which caused him to spend the next month on the sidelines. He was pretty mediocre after returning from the DL in late August, and then was left off the Braves' playoff roster, ending his season on a pretty sour note.

But prior to those 35 bad innings in the second half, Maholm was on a 450-inning run of consistently solid performances. He ran a 3.66 ERA/3.68 FIP in 2011, and then followed that up with a 3.67 ERA/4.00 FIP in 2012. At the All-Star break, he was at 3.98 ERA/4.07 FIP. These aren't sexy numbers, but they're perfectly serviceable for a major league starting pitcher, and that's not the kind of track record you want to ignore because a guy had 35 bad innings surrounding a stint on the DL.

As a 32-year-old lefty with an 87 mph fastball, though, Maholm doesn't exactly get anyone excited. However, it isn't hard to make a case that Maholm can give a team most of what Jason Vargas could put up, and Vargas got $32 million over four years earlier in the offseason. On a cheap one-year deal, Maholm could be a great addition to a team like the Blue Jays, who need a short-term upgrade but hate giving long-term deals to pitchers. Maholm won't be the kind of signing that gets Blue Jays fans excited like last year's trades did, but he'll help make sure that they don't have to watch Ricky Romero take the mound again in 2014, and that makes it a move worth doing in and of itself.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Possible suitors for Homer Bailey
January, 7, 2014
By Doug Mittler |
The Cincinnati Reds would like to sign Homer Bailey to a long-term contract, but general manager Walt Jocketty admitted to’s Mark Sheldon that such a deal will not come easy. "He would be probably the one guy that's going to be the most difficult because of how well he's done and where he's at in this service class," Jocketty said.

Jocketty’s candor will only fuel speculation that the Reds would be opening to deal Bailey, who is heading into his third year of arbitration this winter and free agency after the 2014 season. Bailey posted career bests last season in ERA ( 3.49), innings (209) and strikeouts (199).

It seems entirely plausible that the Reds simply hold on to Bailey and seek their fourth playoff berth in five seasons. The Reds would then make him a qualifying offer next offseason that would result in a first-round compensation draft pick in 2015 if Bailey were to sign elsewhere.

While Jocketty said at the winter meetings that he was not interested in trading Bailey, the righthander would be a valuable trading chip for a team looking to add offense after losing Shin-Soo Choo to free agency.

Teams that have been mentioned as possible suitors for Tampa Bay’s David Price – such as the Mariners, Dodgers and Rangers – would presumably be interested in Bailey, whose price tag would not be as high. Another possibility is the Blue Jays, who are looking to add to their rotation.

Teams that are unwilling to give up a first-round draft pick to sign a pitcher like Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana might be willing to explore a deal for Bailey.

If the Reds were to move quickly on a Bailey deal, that could also leave open the option of re-signing free agent Bronson Arroyo, who has yet to find a deal to his liking.
Tags:Cincinnati Reds, Homer Bailey
Tribe waiting for Jimenez price to fall?
January, 7, 2014
By Doug Mittler |
The Cleveland Indians skillfully demonstrated patience last offseason. Could they do it again in their effort to retain Ubaldo Jimenez?

Last winter, the Indians were late entrants in the race for Michael Bourn, who agreed to a four-year, $48 million deal with the Tribe in late February after seeing his value on the free agent market decline. While his numbers were not spectacular (.263/.316/.360), Bourn did help the Tribe to their first playoff berth in six seasons.

The Indians have not been mentioned as a suitor for Masahiro Tanaka, but they could be contenders for pitchers who have seen their own free agent process stalled as teams pursue the Japanese sensation. Jimenez could be among the pitchers lowering their demands as spring training approaches, and the Tribe could get another bargain.

"If it gets to the point where a one- or two-year contract is possible, then the Indians might again be players to re-sign Big U," wrote's Jordan Bastian on Monday.

Tags:Cleveland Indians, Ubaldo Jimenez
Capuano seeks two-year deal
January, 7, 2014
By Doug Mittler |
The market for free agent starting pitchers has been stagnant all winter with the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza and Ervin Santana still looking for work. There also are a host of middle- to back-of-the-rotation starters available, including lefthander Chris Capuano.

Capuano is looking for a two-year deal, and “is said to be willing to wait for that deal to evolve someplace,” tweets out Buster Olney.

Capuano had a 4.26 ERA in 24 games for the Dodgers last season, including a couple of stints on the disabled list with shoulder and calf injuries. Health is always an issue with the 35-year-old Capuano, who has had a pair of Tommy John surgeries, so a multi-year deal may be a bit optimistic.

Dave Cameron
Fits for Remaining Pitching Bargains
"Safeco Field is still a pretty decent place for pitchers, even after they moved in the fences last year, and Seattle should be an appealing destination for Capuano. While the marine layer didn't exactly save his 2013 ERA, these pitch-to-contact strike-throwers do best in West Coast parks where the ball doesn't carry as well in the summer, and no West Coast team needs a cheap effective starter as much as the Mariners. Even if they sign Masahiro Tanaka, Capuano should still be in their sights, and they definitely shouldn't let him get away while they ponder a bid for the Japanese right-hander."
Tags:Chris Capuano
Medical concerns with Drew?
January, 7, 2014
By Doug Mittler |
Free agent shortstop Stephen Drew has undoubtedly seen his market value dragged down by the issue of draft pick compensation after he turned down Boston’s $14.1 million qualifying offer.

Andy Martino of the New York Daily News floated another possibility for the lack of a contract, citing an unnamed official that Drew’s medicals “are raising some concerns.”

Rob Bradford of strongly disagreed, tweeting Monday that Drew is “perfectly healthy” and has “no physical issues.”

It also doesn’t help Drew that he had a brutal postseason at the plate for the Red Sox\ (6-for-54, .111).
Tags:Stephen Drew
Monday Roundup: Mattingly deal near?
January, 6, 2014
By Doug Mittler |
Don Mattingly has made no secret of his desire to land a contract extension after leading the Los Angeles Dodgers to an NL West title and a trip to the League Championship Series. With spring training about six weeks away, that may soon be happening.

Ramona Shelburne of tweets Monday that the negotiations between the Dodgers and their manager are “in the home stretch.” Ken Rosenthal of tweeted earlier Monday that a deal is expected to be done soon.

A contract extension would represent a dramatic turnaround for Mattingly, who was in danger of losing his job before the Dodgers caught fire and won 42 times in a 50-game span.

Who else might be close to a deal? Here is Monday’s roundup around MLB:
Masahiro Tanaka: The bidding process for the Japanese righthander will begin in earnest now that the holidays are behind us, writes Wallace Matthews of
David Price: It is no slam dunk that the Tampa Bay Rays will trade the 2012 AL Cy Young winner by Opening Day.
Stephen Drew: The New York Mets are reluctant to offer more than a one-year deal for the free agent shortstop, even though they are getting plenty of calls from Scott Boras.
Oakland Athletics: Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wonders if the A’s could be interested in Drew if they decide Jed Lowrie is not a good enough shortstop.
Bronson Arroyo: The 36-year-old righthander is still looking for a job, and a return to Cincinnati may no longer be an option. The Orioles are one of the interested teams, says our Buster Olney.
Brett Tomko: The 40-year-old righthander, who last pitched in the majors in 2011 with the Rangers, is open to a minor league deal.
Johan Santana: A return to Minnesota is "a real possibility" for the two-time Cy Young Award winner who is coming off a second shoulder surgery.
Texas Rangers: Is there any chance they could convince Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston to play baseball? One report says it sounds far-fetched but not outside the realm of possibility.
Ike Davis: Brewers GM Doug Melvin acknowledged he is continuing to discuss a deal for Davis, but said he is nowhere close to a deal for the Mets first baseman.
Nyjer Morgan: The Twins are NOT one of the teams who will pursue the outfielder who spent last season in Japan’s Central League, tweets Darren Wolfson.
Tags:Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, New York Mets, Tampa Bay Rays, Don Mattingly, David Price, Stephen Drew, Bronson Arroyo, Ike Davis, Masahiro Tanaka, Nyjer Morgan
The market for Bronson Arroyo
January, 6, 2014
By Doug Mittler |
There was plenty of buzz at the MLB winter meetings regarding free agent Bronson Arroyo, but like many of the prominent free agent starters, he entered the new year without a contract.

The odds of Arroyo remaining in Cincinnati may be declining as well. According to John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer, general manager Walt Jocketty says the Reds are not going to be talking to Nelson Cruz, Stephen Drew or even Arroyo. "We don't have the money," Jocketty admitted. "I don't see how we make it fit financially."

Another team in the Midwest could be a viable option. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported Sunday that the Minnesota Twins are "still very high on signing Arroyo." The Twins already have signed Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, so there is a question as to how much more the Twins would be willing and able to spend.

ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney tweets Monday that the Orioles are among the suitors for Arroyo.

Terry Bross, Arroyo's agent, says he could have gotten his client signed to a two-year deal at the meetings, but held out for a third year or at least a vesting option for a third season.

While that may seem like a lot for the 36-year-old Arroyo, he remains one of the game’s most durable pitchers, reaching 200 innings in all but one season since 2005. Given that 40-year-old Bartolo Colon got a two-year, $20 million deal from the Mets, Arroyo’s demands seem reasonable, but he may have to compromise as spring training approaches.

The Pirates were among the teams who met with Arroyo’s camp a few weeks ago and could still be in the mix. The Yankees have also been linked to Arroyo, and the righthander could be a more viable option if they fail to land Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.'s Jerry Crasnick recently listed the Angels, Orioles and Diamondbacks as possible fits:

Jerry Crasnick
Bronson Arroyo waiting for a job
"Although lots of scouts and evaluators think Arroyo would be better served pitching in the National League than the American, he's been hardened enough by life in the Great American Park band box in Cincinnati to think he can survive in any venue. He would prefer the East Coast to the West Coast, but that's not a deal-breaker by any means, and he's physically fit enough to think he can pitch at least three more seasons, even though he turns 37 in February."
Tags:Bronson Arroyo
Twin Cities encore for Santana?
January, 6, 2014
By Doug Mittler |
We mentioned last week that Johan Santana was getting closer to making a decision on a minor league deal. The two-time AL Cy Young Award winner may end up choosing some familiar surroundings.

Andy Martino of the New York Daily News reports the Twins “remain a real possibility” for Santana, who began his major league career in Minnesota before being traded to the New York Mets.

The 34-year-old Santana is trying to return from his second major shoulder surgery and has drawn interest from approximately 12 teams, as per Martino’s report.

Santana could represent a low-risk and potentially high-reward deal for the Twins, who already have added Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes this winter.
Tags:Minnesota Twins, Johan Santana
Why David Price could stay put
January, 6, 2014
By Doug Mittler |
Now that we have reached the new year, the prospect of the Tampa Bay Rays trading David Price is no longer a slam dunk. At the very least, the courting of Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka is slowing down the process.

Rumor Central’s AJ Mass noted Sunday that “doubts are starting to arise that that a deal will come to pass by Opening Day." According to an article by Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times, one of the new skeptics regarding a potential Price deal is Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey. "I wouldn't drop over dead if he ended up traded, but I'd be surprised," Hickey said. "We're going to have a damn good team, and he's a leader of the pitching staff. Even if you can cash that in for a couple of prospects, I would be a little bit surprised."

Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune says a Price trade is still possible, but interested teams may want to see if they are able to land Tanaka before making a serious play for the 2012 Cy Young winner. The period to sign Tanaka ends January 24, so there is still time for teams to keep their options open.

In Monday’s column, ESPN The Magazine’s Buster Olney chronicles plenty of reasons why Price could stay put, starting with the simple fact that the Rays will not deal unless they get exactly what they want:

Buster Olney
Bargaining with the Rays
"Officials with other teams say it was evident Tampa Bay had done a lot of summer assessment work on the minor league systems of the Diamondbacks, Rangers, Dodgers and others. Price acknowledged at the end of the season that it was very possible he had pitched his final game for the Rays. But the current climate for trading a player of Price's caliber is not good. The perceived value of prospects has rocketed to an unprecedented level, making teams extremely reluctant to part with the kind of package of prospects that Texas got for Mark Teixeira, or that Baltimore got for Erik Bedard. Those kinds of trades are increasingly dinosaurs."
Tags:Tampa Bay Rays, David Price
Could Jameis Winston land with Rangers?
January, 6, 2014
By Doug Mittler |
Jameis Winston has things other than baseball on his mind right now. Specifically, the Heisman Trophy winner will be behind center for Florida State in Monday’s BCS championship game against Auburn.

Winston also was used as a reliever and an outfielder for the Seminoles’ well-regarded baseball team last season and the Texas Rangers selected him in the 15th round in the 2012 draft out of Hueytown, Alabama.

Winston has not closed the door on playing in both the NFL and Major League Baseball, leading to some talk that he could be the next Deion Sanders or Bo Jackson. Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News writes the idea of Winston “as a Rangers outfielder sounds far-fetched but is not outside the realm of possibility.”

The Rangers tried to get Winston to play in their minor league system, but Fraley says they were undone by baseball’s new draft rules that made it tougher to sign multi-sport players. Winston will be eligible for the baseball draft again in 2015

Signing Winston to play baseball may sounds like a pipe dream, but give the Rangers credit for continuing to think outside the box. It was only a few weeks ago that they selected Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in the Rule 5 draft. Wilson was a second baseman at N.C. State and played in the Colorado Rockies system before landing in the NFL.
Tags:Texas Rangers
Mets won't overpay for Drew
January, 6, 2014
By Doug Mittler |
The New York Mets may be interested in free agent shortstop Stephen Drew, but are reluctant to offer more than a one-year deal, reports Andy Martino of the New York Daily News.

The Mets have dropped hints for weeks that they are prepared to bite the bullet and begin the season with Ruben Tejada as their starting shortstop. Drew is an obvious upgrade, but the Mets apparently are holding the line on multi-year demands from agent Scott Boras. According to Martino, “Boras has called the Mets about Drew far more often than the Mets have called Boras.”

Drew turned down Boston’s $14.1 million qualifying offer and is among the free agents who have seen their market value dragged down over draft pick compensation. Drew also had a brutal postseason at the plate (6-for-54, .111). There may be another factor in play here - an unnamed official tells Martino that Drew’s medicals “are raising some concerns.”

Adam Rubin of reported Sunday the signing of Drew by the Mets was more of a "possibility than a probability."

The Boston Red Sox have talked with Boras about keeping Drew, but who else might be interested? Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wonders if the Oakland Athletics consider moving Jed Lowrie to second base to make room for Drew, who finished the 2012 season in Oakland. One major question here is whether the A's would part with the necessary draft pick compensation to sign Drew.

Our Buster Olney gives his take on why Drew should not end up in Queens:

Buster Olney
Drew an unlikely fit for Mets
"Here's why an investment in Drew makes absolutely no sense unless it's on a one-sided, team friendly deal for one year and for less than the $14.1 million qualifying offer Drew rejected in November: The Mets are almost certainly not going to seriously contend in 2014; if you gave them truth serum to club ownership, they would admit this publicly. Matt Harvey will miss the whole season, and they have a lot of holes in their everyday lineup. What is the point of paying a lot of money to a player who turns 31 in March -- a player with a daunting injury history -- when the player really doesn't fit the team's long-term plan? Unless the deal is completely on the Mets' terms, it'd be an overpay ... and for what reason?"

Tags:New York Mets, Boston Red Sox, Stephen Drew
Brett Tomko draws interest
January, 6, 2014
By Doug Mittler |
We are at the stage of the offseason when clubs tend to accelerate the signing of aging veterans to minor league contracts. One option could be Brett Tomko, who spent last season with the York Revolution of the independent Atlantic League.

Zach Links of MLB Trade Rumors says about a half dozen clubs have expressed interest in the 40-year-old right-hander who will throw for teams within the next few weeks. Tomko’s last pitched in the majors in 2011 with the Texas Rangers.

Tomko has a 4.65 ERA over 14 seasons in the majors, never reaching the potential expected of him when he was a key piece of the 2000 trade that sent Ken Griffey Jr. from Seattle to Cincinnati. Tomko was an innings-eater earlier in his career, and would be worth a look in spring training.

The New York Yankees reportedly had interest in Tomko last season, so they could be kicking the tires again.
Tags:Brett Tomko
Ichiro on the move?
January, 5, 2014
By AJ Mass |
Having signed Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury, the New York Yankees are very likely to move one of their other outfielders before the start of spring training. At least one of the trio of Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki or Vernon Wells will probably get sent elsewhere for 2014.

As ESPN New York's Wallace Matthews wrote two weeks ago, "Brett Gardner could still be dealt for a starter. The Yankees will probably wait to see what officially happens with (Masahiro) Tanaka before making a move. If not, Ichiro Suzuki or Vernon Wells -- maybe both -- could very well be goners. They won't bring back much, if anything, in deals."

Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe seems to think that Suzuki could be the first to get moved, and suggests the San Francisco Giants as a possible landing spot. However, they might only be interested in Gardner to supplement Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence, and probably don't want to pay $6.5 million for a player of Suzuki's age.

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports suggests that the Arizona Diamondbacks might be interested in Suzuki, now that they have added Addison Reed to the their bullpen. "J.J. Putz is signed for $7 million in 2014, and the D-backs most likely would be required to accept a comparable salary in return," he writes.
Tags:Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Yankees, J.J. Putz, San Francisco Giants, Ichiro Suzuki, Hunter Pence, Angel Pagan
Reds likely done on FA market
January, 5, 2014
By AJ Mass |
The Cincinnati Reds are very unlikely to make any more free agent signings this offseason, at least in terms of the bigger names still out there for the taking, due to the fact that they simply don't have the money to spend.

According to John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer, general manager Walt Jocketty says the team is not going to be talking to Nelson Cruz, Stephen Drew or even pitcher Bronson Arroyo. "We don't have the money," Jocketty admits. "I don't see how we make it fit financially."

Fay goes on to suggest that the Reds could indeed make it fit, if they're willing to deal away pitcher Homer Bailey. "Bailey is in his final year of arbitration. He's due to make about $9 million this year and he'll be eligible for free agency in 2015.

"If the Reds are certain they aren't going to be able to re-sign Bailey, it makes sense to move him. If they get someone in return who doesn't make a lot of money – say, Brett Gardner of the Yankees – they may be able to sign Arroyo."
Tags:Cincinnati Reds, Homer Bailey, Nelson Cruz, Stephen Drew, Bronson Arroyo, Brett Gardner
Jays rotation may not be complete
January, 5, 2014
By AJ Mass |
As it currently stands, the Toronto Blue Jays rotation for 2014 would appear to look something like R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Mark Buehrle, Esmil Rogers and J.A. Happ. There certainly would seem to be room for improvement, should the team decide to add at least one, if not two, more starters to the mix before the start of the season.

That's why Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports writes that he believes the Blue Jays are "a leading candidate" to sign either Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez. Rosenthal cites the fact that Toronto has two protected first-round picks, so the loss of a second-rounder should not be a dissuading factor in their pursuit of either of those "qualified" free agent starters.

Rosenthal also theorizes that, come July, if Toronto is still looking to add an arm for the 2014 stretch run, there could be a large pool of arms from which to choose from, including potentially Jeff Samardzija, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Homer Bailey, Justin Masterson, Francisco Liriano and James Shields, depending on where all of their current teams sit in the standings around next season's trade deadline.
Tags:Toronto Blue Jays, Jeff Samardzija, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana
Morgan ready to return
January, 5, 2014
By AJ Mass |
RECOMMEND0TWEET2COMMENTS0EMAILPRINT's Jerry Crasnick writes that outfielder Nyjer Morgan is once again "pursuing jobs in Major League Baseball" and, according to the outfielder's agent there are 6-8 clubs that have expressed interest.

Morgan spent last season with Yokohama in Japan's Central League, and at the end of 2013, he seemed very upbeat and positive about the whole experience, tweeting his thanks to "BayStar Nation for giving me opportunity to play with a great team and teammates" and saying that he would be back.

Morgan's agent didn't rule out a return to Japan for the outfielder, and should he not get a deal in the United States, he "would still enjoy playing there." However, if the right situation comes along, we may once again see Morgan and his alter-ego Tony Plush in a major league uniform this season.

Possible fits might include a return to the Milwaukee Brewers, in the event that Khris Davis doesn't work out in left field, the Minnesota Twins, who started Alex Presley in center all September, and the Cincinnati Reds, who recently had been flirting with the idea of adding Grady Sizemore who hasn't played since 2011.
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Thread Starter 
Trying to Understand Bronson Arroyo.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
For five years now, Bronson Arroyo has been better than his peripherals. Since 2009, only three pitchers have a bigger gap between their fielding independent numbers and their ERA, and those three didn’t come close to pitching as many innings. It’s tempting to say the free agent 36-year-old has figured something out… but what has he figured out, exactly? How has he become more than the sum of his parts? It has to be more than a whimsical leg kick.

Let’s use some basic peripherals to find comparable pitchers. His fastball struggles to break 90 mph, he doesn’t strike many out, and he doesn’t have great worm-burning stuff — but the control has been elite. Here are a few other pitchers that fit that sort of mold.

Name K% BB% GB% vFA (pfx) IP ERA FIP HR/9 BABIP LOB%
Bronson Arroyo 14.1% 5.5% 42.6% 87.6 1039 4.05 4.73 1.42 0.267 76.0%
Josh Tomlin 13.6% 4.5% 37.1% 88.8 329.2 4.72 4.54 1.37 0.273 68.6%
Jason Vargas 15.3% 6.7% 38.1% 87.4 837 4.10 4.33 1.14 0.280 73.3%
Dallas Braden 14.5% 6.2% 38.9% 87.6 347.1 3.63 3.77 0.73 0.283 71.5%
Bruce Chen 15.8% 7.2% 32.5% 87.6 613 4.42 4.60 1.28 0.284 72.8%
Kyle Lohse 15.0% 5.5% 41.5% 89.9 806.2 3.80 3.94 0.96 0.284 71.7%
Jamie Moyer 13.2% 5.8% 42.1% 80.5 308.2 5.22 5.27 1.66 0.284 69.1%
Randy Wolf 15.9% 7.7% 39.6% 88.7 791.2 4.07 4.46 1.13 0.285 74.5%
Jeff Karstens 13.8% 5.2% 42.8% 89.0 411.2 4.15 4.33 1.18 0.288 72.1%
Eric Stults 14.8% 6.2% 39.6% 87.6 345.1 3.81 3.73 0.73 0.291 71.0%
Freddy Garcia 15.2% 6.7% 39.8% 87.4 515.1 4.54 4.58 1.31 0.292 72.6%
Rodrigo Lopez 13.1% 6.4% 38.2% 88.1 315.1 4.74 5.17 1.63 0.297 70.2%
Kevin Millwood 15.3% 7.7% 41.3% 89.9 604.2 4.30 4.54 1.16 0.297 72.6%
Livan Hernandez 12.8% 7.2% 40.7% 84.7 570.2 4.48 4.11 0.80 0.307 69.1%
Average 14.5% 6.3% 39.6% 87.5 559 4.29 4.44 1.18 0.287 71.8%
There, even among his peers in terms of walks, strikeouts, velocity and grounders, Arroyo stands out. He has the biggest gap between his ERA and his FIP, based perhaps on the largest strand rate of the group, and the lowest batting average on balls in play.

Maybe a look at Arroyo’s history would give us a clue. He used to strike guys out and show batting averages on balls in play above .300 even. Has he altered his pitching mix since 2009? Thanks to BrooksBaseball, we can check:
Pitch Type Before 09 After 09
4 Seamer 29% 17%
Sinker 17% 28%
Changeup 16% 20%
Curve 36% 32%
Cutter 2% 3%
It looks like Arroyo has ditched the four-seamer some, for more sinkers and changeups. That can be the way of older pitchers — fastball percentage and age are negatively correlated, albeit weakly (.102 r^2) — and at first blush, it could be the full reason for the lower BABIPs. Changeups do have lower BABIPS than other pitches (since 2009):
Pitch Type BABIP
FT 0.314
SI 0.310
FA 0.307
FF 0.304
FC 0.296
CU 0.295
SL 0.294
FS 0.292
KC 0.289
CH 0.287
KN 0.284
Unfortunately, you’ll notice sinkers aren’t known for their batting average on balls in play, so any added sinker usage probably offsets his added changeups. And though his ground-ball rate has been better since the change, it hardly seems enough to explain this phenomenon. He went from allowing .95 ground balls per fly ball to upping that to 1.1. And the extra ground balls haven’t helped him suppress home runs — his homer rate has only gotten worse as he’s aged.

He’s been with one team, and they’ve had similar personnel around the infield? There could be something to this. The Reds have allowed the lowest batting average on balls in play in the National League since 2009. Brandon Phillips has good glove, the team has usually focused on defense at shortstop, and among Joey Votto‘s many strengths is being above-average in the field. And that batting average on balls in play has probably helped Arroyo strand a few extra runners over the course of the last five years.

Bronson Arroyo has separated himself from pitchers with similar skill sets by stranding more runners and allowing fewer hits on balls in play. He’s altered his pitching mix some, and that might be a small part of the picture. More importantly, perhaps, he’s been with the same team for five years. If he doesn’t return to Cincinnati, his new team will be betting that his stuff will play up in front of a new infield, and that the magic continues.

The Problem With Stephen Drew’s Market.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
If Stephen Drew were a better player, he’d be in greater demand. I guess you could say that’s the main problem with the free agent’s current market. The better a player is, the more that player is wanted, and I can’t believe this is a sentence I’m writing on FanGraphs. It’s the same with literally everyone. If any given player were better, he’d be in more demand and/or he’d be guaranteed more money. Remember, every player has room for improvement, and baseball is such an easy game! There’s no excuse for not being perfect, really.

Drew’s good, though. Good enough to be wanted by someone. He’s in his 30s, but he’s not old, and he’s a proven, everyday shortstop. He seems to be over his grisly ankle injury, and he was worth 3.4 wins for a World Series champion during a season in which he missed a few weeks. He can hit a little, he can field,and he plays up the middle. Given no other information, you’d figure that sort of player would be pretty appealing. Yet what we observe is that Drew’s market hardly exists. We can never be sure of the inside reality — and we don’t know how this is going to turn out — but for now, it looks more like Drew’s in pursuit of a team, rather than a team is in pursuit of Drew.

It matters, of course, that Drew doesn’t project to be what he just was, in large part because his 2012 can’t be forgotten and his 2012 was lousy. For his career, he’s been a slightly below-average hitter. And while he’s solid in the field, he isn’t outstanding. Drew should be a fine shortstop for 2014. A guy who doesn’t hurt a team. That should get some real attention.

But there’s also the reality of what teams already have in place. I don’t know if this is a golden age of shortstops or something, but there aren’t many teams for which Drew would represent a meaningful improvement. There are a lot of good shortstops out there, there are a lot of young shortstops out there and teams are increasingly appreciating the values of youth and cost control. Even given a talent gap, a team would be reluctant to replace a young shortstop with an older free agent. That team would probably have to be in a certain situation.

The teams most connected to Drew right now are the Boston Red Sox and the New York Mets. They’re also kind of the only teams connected to Drew at the moment. The Red Sox already had him once, and they’ve already got Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks lined up to occupy the infield’s left side. The Mets, meanwhile, say they’d be content to enter the season starting Ruben Tejada, despite his most recent down season. Tejada just turned 24 in October. But it isn’t just about the players they already have.

Right now, we have the Red Sox projected for baseball’s highest WAR total. They’re projected to win the AL East by a handful of games over a team thinking about trading David Price. The Mets are projected for a higher WAR than the Brewers but a lower WAR than the Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres. They’re projected for the National League’s 11th-best record — or fifth-worst record — and though it wouldn’t be like that with Matt Harvey, they don’t get Matt Harvey. Not next year. For the Red Sox, Drew wouldn’t increase their playoff chances very much. For the Mets, Drew wouldn’t increase their playoff chances very much, either. He’d presumably be an improvement on both rosters, but what’s important is the significance.

We’ve written about the win curve, and about how extra wins are worth the most to teams on the playoff bubble. Those are the teams for which short-term overpayments are justifiable, because a win isn’t worth the same money to everyone across the board. If we have an overall average, and an area where we expect overpayments, then there must be corresponding areas where we look for underpayments. If money and demand follow need, then Drew’s in a little trouble.

Because right now a claim can’t be made that a team needs Stephen Drew. He’d help the Red Sox a little, but he’d make a very small impact on their overall chances, so there’s no need to pay much for his services. Drew would help the Mets by maybe a win or two, but that might just help them lock up third place in the NL East, trailing the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves in some order. That improvement isn’t valueless, but the Mets needn’t pay market price, since this isn’t supposed to be a championship season. And the difference between Drew and Tejada would presumably be smaller in 2015, when Harvey is expected to return.

What Drew’s market needs, for Drew, is an interested team on the bubble. The New York Yankees have already said no. The Pittsburgh Pirates don’t have the money, so they’ll run with Jordy Mercer. They also wouldn’t want to give up the draft pick. The Kansas City Royals don’t have the money, so they’ll run with Alcides Escobar. They also wouldn’t want to give up the draft pick. The Detroit Tigers appear committed to Jose Iglesias, after waving goodbye to Jhonny Peralta. And the Tigers aren’t really on the bubble anyway. Kendrys Morales and Nelson Cruz have tiny markets, but at least, for their sakes, they’ve been linked to the Baltimore Orioles and the Seattle Mariners, which are currently in sensitive places. Drew’s market so far seems to be a really good team and a really mediocre team, and both teams could live without him. In theory, neither team would see the sense in getting into a bidding war.

Which means the money probably won’t be there, in a huge sum. It’s not even really because of the draft-pick compensation attached, although that doesn’t help. The Mets would lose just the 82nd pick, and the Red Sox would lose what would be a compensation sandwich pick were Drew to go somewhere else. It’s a small market because Drew isn’t needed by any team with real money to spend.

My preferred wild card would be that Scott Boras contact the Toronto Blue Jays and sell Drew as a second baseman. Drew’s never played second base before, at least a professional, but he has done well at a more difficult and similar position. In theory, it wouldn’t take a lot for him to move to the other side of the bag. The Jays have nothing but Ryan Goins and Maicer Izturis at second base right now, and they’re on the playoff bubble, and they’ve got a pair of protected first-round draft picks. At this point, it’s a hypothetical, and it would require that Drew be open-minded. Still, there might be an opportunity to secure a bigger deal, especially if Toronto ends up frustrated by the starting-pitcher market. Drew could make the Blue Jays better by a few games and vault them into wild-card position.

Failing that, in time, Stephen Drew is going to be guaranteed some millions of dollars to work. There are worse realities on the planet, but Drew’s likely to come up short of his hopes. To some extent, a market can be manipulated, but one can’t really be created.

The Worst Position on a Contending Team.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The best position on a contending team is center field for the Angels. This is because that’s where Mike Trout is. There’s no single greater roster advantage in baseball right now than possessing Mike Trout. So, writing about the worst of something might seem needlessly negative, or bitterly critical, but there’s no sense in writing about the best of this, because everybody already knows. Already, we struggle with not writing every single FanGraphs article about Mike Trout. This is indirectly about Trout, in that it’s about positions that project to be the anti-Trout.

The long and short of it is that I wanted to know which position projects to be the worst out of teams looking to contend in the season ahead. It’s impossible to do perfectly, but there’s a lot at our disposal. We’ve got staff-generated team-by-team depth charts, and corresponding Steamer projections. We’ve got projections on a team level, allowing us to identify teams with legitimate hopes. If nothing else, this should get us in the ballpark, as we search for areas of considerable need. The worst position on a contender is a position that probably ought to be addressed, soon.

The first step is removing non-contenders. This is necessarily subjective, but the way I figure, if you project for a .500 record, the error bars are big enough that you’re able to be a dreamer. Replacement level is just under 48 wins, per team, so a .500 record would require just over 33 WAR. Setting a minimum threshold of 33.3 WAR eliminates the following teams, and all of their positions:

White Sox
Maybe it’s not fair to exclude the Reds, but here we are, and the Reds could use some help if they want to go to the playoffs. Some of these teams might aim to contend, but right now they don’t look like contenders. And all of these teams obviously have needs, but they’re less pressing than they are for teams with more ambitious missions. There are positional messes here, according to the projections, but how much does that matter, really, if the overall team doesn’t?

So then it became a matter of finding the worst positions on the remaining teams. There are a few ways one could do this, but I opted to settle for standard deviations away from the mean, by projected overall positional WAR. Just going by straight lowest WAR doesn’t change anything, turns out. The Yankees don’t project well at DH. The Tigers don’t project well in left field. The Angels don’t project well in the bullpen. But I wound up with basically a three-way tie for the worst position on a contender, and I’ll comment on them now, beginning with the projection I trust the least.


Alexander Guerrero, etc.
0.2 projected WAR
-1.9 standard deviations from 2B average
The Dodgers paid good money for the Cuban defector, and he’s supposed to carry the bulk of the playing time at second base, supported by Justin Sellers and Dee Gordon. It’s true that there’s risk, and it’s true that this position projects to be thin. No one’s quite sure what Guerrero’s going to do, and it’s well within the realm of likelihood that he doesn’t do anything noteworthy. But Steamer doesn’t even really bother to project Cuban imports, as Guerrero is projected for the same terrible line as Jose Abreu. ZiPS likes Guerrero quite a bit more, and so I’m not really comfortable asserting that the Dodgers look like a mess at second. They do by Steamer, and Steamer might luck itself into Alexander Guerrero accuracy, but there’s plenty of upside here and the investment alone suggests the Dodgers are pretty big fans. This section hardly really belongs.


Sergio Romo, etc.
-0.4 projected WAR
-1.9 standard deviations from RP average
The only bullpen in baseball projected to be below replacement level. The only other positions projected to be below replacement level are first base for the White Sox and Marlins, and we already touched on the Abreu projection in the section above. It’s weird, because last year, the Giants’ bullpen posted baseball’s tenth-best FIP. On the other hand, it posted baseball’s seventh-worst FIP-, so while Steamer projects a decline, it doesn’t project a massive one. Santiago Casilla‘s coming off some bad peripherals. Jeremy Affeldt‘s coming off some bad peripherals. Javier Lopez is a specialist. Romo’s quite good, but he’s trending poorly, and he doesn’t contribute a particularly heavy workload. I’d be surprised if the bullpen were actually this bad, since reinforcements can be called upon or acquired with relative ease, but don’t forget the gigantic AT&T run-suppressing park effect. This looks like a pretty shaky unit, behind a pretty shaky rotation.


Ryan Goins, Maicer Izturis
0.3 projected WAR
-1.9 standard deviations from 2B average
From a few weeks ago:

TORONTO — With each passing day, it’s becoming more and more likely that the Blue Jays will head into Spring Training with rookie Ryan Goins as the expected starter at second base.

“We really like Goins, we like what he did in September,” Gibbons said last week. “He gave us a shot in the arm. I thought he handled the ball well enough to be top dog going in there.”

Goins batted .252 in limited time, with two walks, 28 strikeouts, and a couple of dingers. He posted a .679 OPS in Triple-A, 130 points below teammate Eugenio Velez. He did play good defense, and he’s always been considered a good defender, but he’s presumably not an all-world defender, making his offensive limitations difficult to tolerate. Izturis, meanwhile, went into last year looking like a steady, reliable veteran, then he had one of the very worst seasons in all of baseball. So where he used to be dependable, positive depth, now he might well be a problem, supporting another potential problem. There’s no such thing as one position that can cripple a team, especially when that one position is only about two projected wins below average, but there might be no bigger need than second-base help in Toronto. At least, in the short term, as far as contenders are concerned.

The talk right now is about the Jays looking to add a starting pitcher. It’s not a bad idea; the rotation could use the help, and there’s plenty of help available. And certainly, an upgrade is an upgrade, no matter where it is or what you’re upgrading. Toronto doesn’t need to focus on upgrading at second base, just. But Goins is the kind of guy you use to challenge another guy in spring training. He’s not the kind of guy who’s supposed to be the favorite, not at this point, and one has to figure Alex Anthopoulos knows that. In every chat, I get asked where Nick Franklin might be off to. There are plenty of teams that would like him, but he might fit the Blue Jays best of all. Because while you can squint and kind of see a decent player in Goins going forward, if you squint any harder you’ll pop out your contacts.

The Orioles Stars and Scrubs Problem.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Whether you go by ZIPS or Steamer, the Orioles have exactly five good position players. In Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Matt Wieters, and J.J. Hardy, the Orioles have a core of talent that projects for roughly +15 WAR, meaning that they’d only need to get about +25 WAR from the other 20 spots on the roster in order to project as a legitimate contender for 2014. +25 WAR across 20 roster spots is not a particularly high bar, and with the head start that their Big Five give them, the Orioles should be a good team next year.

But right now, they don’t project as a particularly good team. Our forecasted standings based on the Steamer data (ZIPS will be included once all the team projections are finished) have the Orioles as a 78 win team, 10 wins behind the Red Sox and in last place in the AL East. Steamer thinks the Orioles are approximately as good as the Mets. The Orioles, as currently constructed, are a perfect example of why roster spots #6-#30 matter quite a bit, and why the Stars and Scrubs model of building a baseball team isn’t always all its cracked up to be.

Here’s the Orioles depth chart, from the ZIPS projections roll-out post that Carson did a few weeks ago.

All of these numbers are rounded, but the Orioles should basically expect to get nothing or close to nothing from what they currently have at LF, 2B, DH, and RF. Right field is tough to do much about, because they’re already paying Nick Markakis $15 million, so bumping him to a bench role would be a tough pill to swallow for the organization. And besides, with the glaring holes at several other spots, replacing Markakis is hardly a priority, even though he’d be a problem on most any other contender.

But for a team that is currently projecting Nolan Reimold, Henry Urrutia, and Ryan Flaherty as opening day starters, Markakis looks like a non-issue. Sure, the Orioles have alternatives, but it’s not like the team looks a lot better if you swap in David Lough, Steve Pearce, and Jonathan Schoop. There’s some validity to taking a lot of crap, throwing it against a wall, and seeing what sticks, but that’s a better plan for a team that is trying to build for the future than a team that has five guys who would fit nicely on the best team in baseball.

The theory behind the Stars and Scrubs approach essentially boils down to the belief that “scrubs” are easily replaced with moderately useful role players, and because there is a greater supply of +1 to +2 WAR players hanging around, finding a few useful players to fill the gaps shouldn’t be particularly hard. It’s not so much that people believe that a few stars and a handful of terrible players will make a good team, but that those terrible players can be easily replaced by not terrible players and then you can have a roster stars-and-solids, which would make for a good team.

This is also the core belief that drives the idea that the value of additional wins is not linear, if those wins are contained within one player. There is certainly a strong sentiment that a +4 WAR player is more valuable than a pair of +2 WAR players, because having the same WAR total use one less roster spot means that your total potential value from the two spots is theoretically higher. After all, if you can come up with a +1 WAR player to fill the second player’s void, now you’re at +5 WAR, and since +1 WAR players are easy to find, it shouldn’t be hard to get to 4+1 instead of 2+2.

It’s a nice enough theory, and my understanding is that it works pretty well in fantasy baseball — which is where the “whoever gets the best player wins the trade” axiom was born — but I think the Orioles current roster is a pretty decent counter to the idea that filling holes is both cheap and easy. Because, for pretty much every team in baseball, the real constraint is not roster spots, but dollars, and stars are almost always expensive.

Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy, and Manny Machado are all underpaid relative to their market values, but they’re still going to cost a combined $40 million in salary for 2014, and Nick Markakis is going to make another $15 million from a contract that was signed when he too looked like a future star. Those six are going to cost the team about $55 million of their roughly $95 million budget for 2014, leaving the Orioles with about $40 million to spend on the other 19 spots on the roster. Getting +20 to +25 WAR from 19 spots might seem easy on the surface, but it gets a lot more difficult when you require the team to spend about $2 million apiece to acquire each of those wins, especially when the market price of wins is over $6 million now.

Even including all of the guys making the league minimum and having their salaries held down by arbitration, the overall cost of a win is a little over $3 million now, and a lot of the guys who are productive and make no money aren’t available to acquire. In the market of available players, the going rate is much higher, and that’s the market that teams have to shop in if they want to improve their rosters in the short term.

Most observers, myself included, eventually expect the Orioles to eventually give in and sign either Nelson Cruz or Kendrys Morales to improve their offense; both are looking for multi-year deals in excess of $10 million per season, both will cost the Orioles a draft pick, and both project as roughly +1 to +2 WAR players for 2014 and even worse beyond that. These guys are very clearly not cheap. And while they will probably be the most expensive +1 to +2 WAR free agents to sign this winter, even guys like Justin Morneau, Nate McLouth, Rajai Davis, Michael Morse, and Garrett Jones suggest that there is not a large supply of cheap productive free agent hitters just waiting to be scooped up by a team that needs some better role players.

For a team that needs to get at least +20 WAR from 20 players, $40 million doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room. You need a lot of guys to produce real value while making no money. The Orioles have a few, with pitchers like Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, and Kevin Gausman, but even having a few average starting pitchers making the league minimum still doesn’t leave a lot of money left to upgrade the other spots that need upgrading. And as the current Orioles or the 2013 Brewers have shown, surrounding a half dozen good players with a bunch of bad ones isn’t a great plan for contention.

As it stands, the Orioles have the makings of a good team, but look to be 3-4 solid everyday players shy of being able to stand up to the best teams in the American League. And as the Orioles off-season is showing, it isn’t so easy to just add 3-4 solid everyday players to your roster. The Orioles probably didn’t mean to end up with a stars-and-scrubs roster, but even if you develop quality young players yourself, the reality is that stars are rarely cheap for long, and they will eat up a large chunk of your payroll.

The Orioles are at something of a crossroads, and the fact that they’ve reportedly been open to listening to offers for Matt Wieters suggests that they know that this kind of roster construction isn’t sustainable. With Wieters and Davis both in line for significant contracts in the near future, along with the money they’re already paying Jones and the raise they’ll need to give Hardy (or a Hardy replacement) next off-season, the Orioles Big Five is probably going to have to become a Big Four, or even a Big Three. Baltimore simply can’t afford to keep all of their stars and still have enough left over to put good players around them.

There are certainly scenarios where a +4 WAR player is worth more than a pair of +2 WAR players, but if the +4 WAR player costs twice as much as each of the +2 WAR players, then the added value of consolidating roster spots is a lot smaller than people think. It is simply not true that a team can easily go from +0 to +1 or +1 to +2 WAR with little cost or effort. Even marginal player role players cost money, and if the stars are taking up most of your spending allowance, adding enough role players to fill all the gaps can run through a team’s budget in a hurry. Stars and scrubs can work, especially if you have a really large payroll or a prolific farm system, but it isn’t a magic formula for success, and in some cases, it can even be the wrong path.

Good Luck, Mark Mulder: You’ll Need It.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Over the next week or so, we’re going to learn who gets into the Hall of Fame and (likely) the results of Alex Rodriguez‘ suspension appeal. Those are the kinds of stories that tend to bring out a lot of ugliness around the game, so it’s important that we take the opportunity to focus on smaller stories that remind us why we spend so much time following this sport in the first place — things like Mark Mulder signing a contract with the Angels on New Year’s Day, attempting a comeback after not having appeared in the bigs in the previous five seasons.

It’s incredibly unlikely to work, for reasons we’ll get to in a second, but it’s pretty easy to see why the Angels are willing to give this a chance. Mulder’s deal reportedly has zero guaranteed money, making it entirely performance-based, so the risk is low, and despite the well-received additions of Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs in the Mark Trumbo trade, the Los Angeles rotation is still thin. Jered Weaver and his terrifying trends remain at the top along with C.J. Wilson, and Garrett Richards figures to slot in somewhere. Joe Blanton will likely be cut loose one way or another, and the Angels may yet be the most likely landing spot for Matt Garza, but for the moment, their improved rotation is one that could still use some help.

So, fine, it’s a chance worth taking. But can Mulder make this work? Has anyone, ever?
Thanks to the appreciated assistance of Jeff Zimmermann, we can dig into the data and find that there have been 24 pitchers since 1960 who have appeared in the bigs, then failed to do so for at least five consecutive seasons before making it back:

Name Seasons Missed Final Played
Carlos Pulido 8 2004
Jim Bouton 7 1978
Vicente Romo 7 1982
Danny Boone 7 1990
Efrain Valdez 6 1998
Mike Norris 6 1990
Jim Crowell 6 2005
Ken Ray 6 2006
Joe Winkelsas 6 2006
Adam Pettyjohn 6 2008
Brad Thomas 6 2011
Chuck Hartenstein 6 1977
Jose Rijo 5 2002
Larry Luebbers 5 2000
Brandon Knight 5 2008
Ravelo Manzanillo 5 1995
Brian Sikorski 5 2006
Justin Thompson 5 2005
Mike Kinnunen 5 1987
Jose Alvarez 5 1989
Kevin Hickey 5 1991
Kip Gross 5 2000
Steve Fireovid 5 1992
Marc Kroon 5 2004
That’s maybe more than I might have thought, but then again, a lot of these guys aren’t great comparables. Joe Winkelsas, for example, faced six batters for the 1999 Braves, then saw action in seven innings for the 2006 Brewers after years of bouncing around the minors. Carlos Pulido has the record for longest gap for a pitcher — not including obvious stunts like 58-year-old Satchel Paige popping up for the 1965 Kansas City Athletics — but he had only 111.1 career innings, and spent most his time away from the majors pitching in the minors and independent leagues. There’s not a lot we can learn from those cases.

So let’s run this again, this time restricting it to starting pitchers only who had at least one season of 200 innings pitched and 3 WAR before their hiatus, as Mulder did.

Now we’re getting somewhere, because only four pitchers aside from Mulder fit that criteria, although the results aren’t exactly encouraging:

Name Seasons Missed Comeback Year(s) Post-Hiatus GS Post-Hiatus IP
Jim Bouton 7 1978 5 29.0
Mike Norris 6 1990 0 27.0
Jose Rijo 5 2001-02 9 94.0
Justin Thompson 5 2005 0 1.2
Bouton barely even counts here because he did a few stints in the minors in between, and came back as a knuckleballer, which is a different beast entirely; Norris had a single great season (2.53 ERA and 24 CG in 284 IP in 1980) before drug issues helped sidetrack his career, and he pitched sporadically in the Oakland minor league system while he was away from the majors. Thompson had back-to-back four-WAR seasons for the Tigers in 1997-98 and, like Mulder, dealt with shoulder injuries for years before making a cameo for the 2005 Rangers, but since he hadn’t actively retired like Mulder, his path is more along the lines of a Mark Prior.

Instead, it’s Rijo that’s the closest — and perhaps only — real comparable here. Like Mulder, Rijo was a formerly great starter who made his final appearance in an injury-shorted age-30 season, eventually retiring after being unable to overcome serious arm injuries. (In this case, his elbow.) When he eventually made it back, he was more or less replacement-level in the limited innings he was able to throw.

None of this is encouraging, really. Over the last 65 years, almost no one similar has made it back, and of those who have, none lasted all that long. And while we’ve been saying that Mulder “missed five seasons,” even that’s underselling it. He managed only 13.2 innings in 2007-08, so he hasn’t been a regular big leaguer in the last seven seasons. In 2006, he pitched 93.1 innings, but he was awful, with a 7.14 ERA. So it’s now actually been eight full seasons since the last time Mulder was any good, back in his first season with St. Louis in 2005. It was the first season baseball had been gone from Montreal. It’s been a long time.

Still, we’re hearing scouts tell Ken Rosenthal that Mulder is throwing “87-92 MPH with good sink and good change,” and Mulder apparently plans to come back with new pitching mechanics, as related to Jerry Crasnick:

“I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am,” Mulder said by phone Tuesday. “To be honest with you, I never anticipated this five or six weeks ago. It was just a flat-out fluke that came from me trying to imitate Paco Rodriguez in my living room.”

A fluke viewing of Rodriguez on TV apparently changed that. Mulder had always separated his hands at his delivery at his midsection, but tried raising them near his head similar to the way Rodriguez does. He became convinced he was onto something after playing catch with former Cardinals teammate Kyle Lohse on Oct. 27, when they were hanging out at a birthday party for their daughters. The two pitchers threw from a distance of 150-200 feet, and Mulder was encouraged when Lohse told him he looked like his former self.

Really, if all the numbers above didn’t get the point across about how long Mulder’s been gone, perhaps this will: When I tried to do a visual comparison of what he was and what Rodriguez is, it turned out to be difficult, since Mulder’s last appearances pre-date what I can get out of the archives and forced me to dig up some 2002 ALDS footage from YouTube.

So if you’ll forgive the difference in quality, we can take a quick look at what Mulder means. Here’s Rodriguez from Game 3 of the NLDS against Atlanta last October:

You can see that he separates his hands right around his collarbone, though I can’t imagine Mulder is intending to go the full Paco and stick the ball straight up in the air after that. Mulder, at least back in 2002, broke his hands closer to his waist and swung the ball below his belt on its way back up:

It remains to be seen if that actually makes any difference, though Mulder seems to think it will. (Rodriguez has one of the more unique pitching motions in the game; either way, after dominating for five months with a 1.88 ERA and .399 OPS against, Rodriguez was so bad in September and October [when Mulder apparently saw him] that he was left off the NLCS roster in favor of Carlos Marmol.)

Obviously, every pitcher is a unique case, and Mulder isn’t Bouton or Rijo or Thompson, so just because this didn’t work out especially well for them doesn’t mean it can’t for him. Still, if he even sets foot on a big-league mound again, it’ll be a success. If he’s valuable, eight seasons after that was last the case, it’ll be closer to a miracle. Pragmatically, it might be more likely to be like Jim Palmer, who attempted a comeback after six years off and never made it out of spring training. But even for those of us with no connection to the Angels, it’s hard not to root for him. It’s the kind of story that makes baseball great.

Don’t Expect Big Changes in Philadelphia.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Late last week, it was announced that the Philadelphia Phillies had reached a 25-year, $2.5 billion TV rights deal. The club will remain with its current network, Comcast SportsNet. The Phillies have reportedly upped their equity stake in the network to 25 percent and will receive some portion of the ad money. 2016 is the first season under the new contract and revenues are expected to escalate over time, starting at around $65 million. I assume that our own Wendy Thurm will offer her usual sharp analysis on the business components of this deal. Today, let’s focus on why this won’t immediately affect the team’s overall strategy.

First, it’s important to acknowledge that this was obviously an expected deal, so the Phillies have almost certainly factored their future windfall into their plans. As such, fans hoping that the Phillies will enter the bidding for Masahiro Tanaka due to the new television deal are likely to be disappointed.

The club’s payroll has declined in recent years, even as the aging core has become more expensive. Thurm estimated that the Phillies payroll fell from $172 million in 2012 to $159 million in 2013. Phil Roth’s payroll tool shows that the Phillies’ high water mark was in 2011. And back in December, Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro Jr. noted that payroll was unlikely to increase in 2014. Amaro is not always truthful with his comments, so we do need to take that with a grain of salt, but there’s reason to believe that the Phillies payroll won’t grow unexpectedly.

With the recent middling performance of the club, the team’s record attendance has trailed off. 2011 saw the highest turnout per game in club history*. That rate dropped slightly in 2012, when the club went 81-81 and then fell precipitously in 2013. Turnout went from 44,000 fans per game to just over 37,000 fans per game. The club has to be concerned that the trend will worsen too. Last season still saw the ninth highest attendance in club history despite the drop off. If ownership is feeling conservative, they may want to earmark a large portion of the new TV revenues – both local and national – to covering for lost attendance.

*The highest attendance season was actually 2010 when the Phillies had 84 home games due to a G20 summit in Toronto.

When the Phillies had payrolls over $170 million, club president Dave Montgomery would occasionally comment that the club was not making much money and even hinted that the club was in deficit. Owners have a vested interest in managing expectations about the club’s ability to increase payroll, yet it’s believable that the Phillies were taking in less profit than some other teams during their payroll expansion era. In 2011, it was released that the Phillies were one of nine teams out of compliance with MLB’s debt rules. Whether the club is still over-leveraged by MLB’s standards is not known, but it does support Montgomery’s assertion that profits may have been less than desired.

In recent history, clubs have spent between 50 and 60 percent of revenues on the major league payroll. Revenues also have to be used in other areas such as stadium maintenance, debt payments, various insurances, staff, minor league affiliates, and the myriad other costs that go into maintaining a major league franchise. And of course, the owners will want to take their slice of the pie.

It’s unclear how much of the new TV deals will go towards major league payroll, since they do feel like found money. For example, building a new stadium to increase revenue involves a ton of costs, financing, and maintenance. Reaching a new television agreement simply means hiring a few extra employees (probably lawyers). The cost of acquiring a TV contract is seemingly quite a bit lower than other revenue streams. This leads to an expectation among the fans that all or most of the new found war chest will go into player payroll, but this sounds doubtful. Especially in light of the luxury tax system and amateur spending limits put in place by the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement, both of which serve to constrain the areas where MLB teams can spend excess revenue.

All of these factors taken together mean that the Phillies are unlikely to re-expand payroll in the next couple seasons. With the deal now reached, the club may even be more aggressive in pursuing a rebuilding phase, since they now know for certain that strong television revenues are guaranteed beginning in 2016. The payout for fielding a competitive roster will also be higher in 2016 due to the increased equity stake, so there is some incentive to plan for that season.

The good news for Phillies fans and insiders is that they almost certainly won’t have to suffer through the pain felt in San Diego and Houston, where some local distributors have refused to pay high carriage fees. Comcast is headquartered in Philadelphia and has a strong local presence. They practically own the sports complex in Philadelphia, including the local NBA and NHL clubs and dominate the market as the top cable provider. Even if some local providers refuse to pay the carriage fee, it won’t be as damaging as it has been in other marketplaces.

Of course, this is all pure speculation. Short of being included in the club’s internal meetings, there is no way to know what the Phillies’ brass is truly thinking. If the organization has proven anything in recent years, it’s that they’re perfectly happy to make moves that baffle the analysts here at FanGraphs and on other similar sites.

Nonetheless, if you’re a Phillies fan, don’t expect instant gratification. You should rejoice that the club’s financial future is now more secure than ever before, but the effects of that security are likely to be subtle to outside observers – at least for the next few seasons.

Does Every World Series Champion Have a Hall of Famer?
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Last weekend, I saw an interesting article in colleague Mike Petriello’s Twitter timeline. It was from retired Detroit News sportswriter/columnist Jerry Green, who was — for the 15th and final time — advocating for Jack Morris‘ Hall of Fame candidacy. Without getting into a line-by-line critique of the article, there were several things in the article that I did not agree with, but one thing did catch my attention:

I think it is quite sad that Morris will be left out. That the best baseball team I ever covered —the 1984 Tigers — will have not a single player in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame. Only Sparky Anderson, the manager, has been elected to the Hall of Fame. And forced to choose, Sparky opted to go into the Hall as the once-manager of the Cincinnati Reds.

Now, Green didn’t out and out declare that every World Series winner should have a member of its team in the Hall of Fame, but that was certainly the tangent that I led myself on in thinking about that passage. So, I decided to investigate — does every team have a Hall of Famer on it?

I started with just players that were voted in by the Baseball Writers Association of America. But I wanted to be a little more nuanced than just “yes” or “no.” As Petriello pointed out to me in subsequent conversation, some teams — like the 1988 Dodgers, technically had a Hall of Famer (in this case, Don Sutton) — but that doesn’t mean they were big contributors to the team. So, I broke things down into seasonal WAR groups — negative WAR, 0.0 to 1.9, 2.0 to 3.9, 4.0 to 5.9 and 6-plus. Here is what I came up with:

As you can see, the ’84 Tigers are not the only team that has gone unrepresented in the writer’s voting. And while the ’88 Dodgers only had Sutton, and he really shouldn’t count, this simply wasn’t the case for most teams. Looking at specific teams without a Hall of Famer, we have another Dodgers team, from 1981. In addition, the 1940 Reds, 1931 Cardinals, 1919 Reds, 1907-08 Cubs and 1906 White Sox all were shut out by the writers. To be fair, there are a couple of weird years in there. Perhaps the playoff format of 1981 wouldn’t look odd to children of this current generation, but at the time, the way that postseason was (necessarily, you might say) structured, it likely threw things off a little bit. For instance, the Expos beat the defending champion Phillies, who had two Hall of Famers. And then the Dodgers beat those Expos, who had two Hall of Famers, and may end up with a third. And it’s not too surprising, I suppose, that no one from the 1919 Reds was voted in, since they were likely seen as having benefited from the White Sox throwing the Fall Classic.

A couple of those teams did stand out as funny to me though. For instance, those Cubs teams. Any ardent Simpsons fan will clearly remember Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, and most baseball fans have heard the phrase Tinker to Evers to Chance. So I decided to go one step further, and include Major League Baseball players that were elected by the Old Timers and Veterans Committees as well. To wit:

As you can see, things filled up a lot. Those 1907-08 Cubs went from having zero Hall of Famers to having four. Same goes for those ’31 Cardinals. Even the two Reds teams squeaked through one Hall of Famer, and both were at least average contributors to the cause. Still, there’s that ’81 Dodgers team joining the ’84 Tigers sans Hall of Famers. Probably the best case you could make for someone on that squad is Reggie Smith.

Smith tallied 64.6 WAR in his career, which was certainly better than anyone else on that season’s team. And that total is comparable to other Hall of Fame outfielders. But Smith didn’t have a very defined peak — he only had three consecutive seasons with 5+ WAR — and he only tallied three votes in his first and only time on the ballot. Furthermore, he wasn’t a big contributor to that ’81 Dodgers team — he only came to the plate six times that postseason.

As we move forward, there may be more teams that join this club. Take the 2002 Angels, for example. Who is going to be the Hall of Famer from that squad? I can’t make a good case for anyone on it. Kevin Appier only notched one vote in 2010. I suppose Francisco Rodriguez will get a couple votes when he retires, but I can’t see a legitimate case for his candidacy. Maybe if John Lackey pitches well for another decade…probably not.

Perhaps there will be others. The best candidate from the 2010 and 2012 Giants appears to be Buster Posey, and certainly he is on track. Since 1901, Posey ranks 12th in WAR through his age-26 season. But not all of the players in front of him ended up being Hall of Famers, and he is well behind the pace of semi-contemporaries Joe Mauer and Brian McCann. If Posey remains this productive as a catcher for another decade or so, he’ll have good odds. But at this point, it’s hard to see him as a slam dunk, and there really isn’t anyone else on the team that fits the bill. Maybe Madison Bumgarner.

The 2013 Red Sox might have similar issues. Momentum is building for David Ortiz‘s case, and the eyes of Red Sox Nation certainly will turn to Xander Bogaerts. Dustin Pedroia may make for another interesting case. Through age 29, since 1901, he ranks 17th among second basemen in terms of WAR, but again, some of the players ahead of him didn’t reach the Hall. One of them is Lou Whitaker.

Which brings us back to our original point. Not every team is going to end up with a Hall of Famer, though as this exercise shows, nearly all of them have. In that sense, it is a little sad that the ’84 Tigers don’t have a Hall of Famer. At least, right now. I think eventually Morris and Alan Trammell will get in, and perhaps Whitaker will be enshrined some day as well. The book may be closed on the ’81 Dodgers though, and I’ll be pretty surprised if anyone from that ’02 Angels team makes it. Perhaps teams without a Hall of Famer will become more common, especially now that fewer players are being inducted. And that isn’t a crime. We tend to like everything to fall into nice, organized patterns in this game, but much of the beauty of baseball is that it often fails to cooperate to our preconceived notions. It makes intuitive sense that every World Series champion should have a Hall of Famer, but there will be exceptions. And that’s OK.

The Hall of Fame Mess: How Did We Get Here?
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Within the next few days, word will come down from on high regarding the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2014. This year, at least there will be a “class” elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America, unlike 2013, when dozens descended upon the idyllic town of Cooperstown, N.Y., to celebrate the induction of three men who were dead when Adolf Hitler invaded Poland. How did we get here, to the current mess of a ballot featuring the most Hall-worthy players in history – most of who have zero chance of being elected, or at the very most have a significantly worse chance than, say, the 17th or so best player on the ballot. Better yet, how do we get out of this fix?
First of all, a disclaimer: One should not take arguments regarding a player’s “Hall-worthiness” as an indictment of that player’s talent. To play at the lowest level of the minor leagues — let alone graduate to involvement in a Hall of Fame discussion — a player must possess significant levels of innate talent and finely honed skill. Baseball is foremost about the player, not the writer, the analyst or the club employee. Each individual who makes a living in the extended baseball industry owes a debt of thanks to the players, who are indirectly responsible for their livelihood. But if we are going to have a Hall of Fame, we might as well do it right. The players themselves deserve this, the sport deserves this, and, say what you will about the historical veracity of the site, the city of Cooperstown deserves this. The regional economy depends on it. Secondly, anyone who wants to study the history of the Hall and the evolution of its voting process and results simply must read “Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame,” by Bill James, and hunt down anything written or said on the topic by Hall historian/expert Bill Deane.

There is no such thing as a perfect Hall of Fame. Those who select the membership — in this case, the BBWAA — have two basic responsibilities: The voters must do their best to avoid induction of undeserving members. And, I think most importantly, the primary responsibility is to ensure that the game’s true greats are inducted. This is done by holding players to high standards, and by maintaining intellectual integrity and avoiding emotion. People will complain somewhat if the Hall gets too “big,” but while each one of us who cares about this topic gets peeved when a lesser candidate gets inducted, we eventually get over it. The real problem arises when the Hall gets too “small.” The worst-case scenario has been realized in recent years as the BBWAA has failed on both fronts, by electing a number of relatively undeserving candidates and erecting artificial barriers to induction for some of the game’s all-time greats.

The resulting ballot gridlock threatens to drop players who are worthy of serious consideration from the ballot, kicking them way down the road to some future iteration of the Veterans’ Committee. Predictably, the BBWAA have criticized the rules — created largely by them — citing the limit of 10 selections per ballot, instead of focusing on the real problems. Chief among them are a lack of academic rigor applied to the evaluation of candidates (which has been addressed somewhat by the admittance of some new blood into the BBWAA and a willingness of some members to consider emerging analytical tools when constructing their ballots) and the stark level of hypocrisy present when reconciling media members’ coverage of the so-called “Steroid Era” as it happened with their current revisionist view.

Let’s examine the recent historical record, back to the year 2000:

2000 5.63 Fisk T.Perez Gossage J.Morris
2001 6.33 Winfield* Puckett* Mattingly (Whitaker)
2002 5.95 O.Smith* Dawson Trammell
2003 6.60 Murray* G.Carter Sandberg L.Smith
2004 6.55 Molitor* Eckersley* None
2005 6.31 Boggs* Sandberg None
2006 5.64 Sutter None
2007 6.58 Ripken* Gwynn* McGwire
2008 5.36 Gossage Raines
2009 5.38 R.Henderson* Rice None
2010 5.67 Dawson R.Alomar Larkin E.Martinez McGriff
2011 5.98 R.Alomar Blyleven Bagwell L.Walker Palmeiro
2012 5.10 Larkin (Be.Williams)
2013 6.60 None Biggio Piazza Schilling Clemens Bonds Sosa (Lofton)
* = 1st time on ballot ( ) = No longer on ballot
The “Elect” columns list all players elected by the BBWAA in the years indicated, with an asterisk indicating players elected in their first year of eligibility. The “New” columns indicate other notable newly eligible players in the years indicated, with players who have fallen off of the ballot in parentheses. The most interesting column, though, might be the first one: the number of average votes on each ballot, by year. Why on earth should the number of possible votes per ballot be expanded beyond 10, when it would take a 50% increase from the 2013 level in total votes submitted to reach that limit?

Let’s mentally work through this table to see how things go to this point. Between 2000 and 2003, 12 legitimate candidates were added to the ballot – the four elected on their first try, plus Gossage, Morris, Mattingly, Whitaker, Dawson, Trammell, Sandberg and Smith. The world did not end, because A) the slam-dunks were, well, slam-dunked, and B) with the exception of Whitaker, a shameful result, the remainder of the candidates largely remained in an electable range. Between 2004 and 2006, the BBWAA’s job got really easy. Only three legitimate candidates became eligible for consideration, and Molitor, Eckersley and Boggs were all slam-dunks. In 2007, Ripken and Gwynn deservedly cruised in, but the addition of Mark McGwire to the ballot offered just a hint of what was to come. I would not call McGwire a slam-dunk, but was he really deserving of only 23.5% of the vote on that particular ballot?

In 2008, the looming disaster was certified when the BBWAA deemed Tim Raines, a very strong candidate by almost any measure worthy of only 24.3% of the vote. In 2009, the voters easily swept Rickey Henderson into the Hall, but also decided that Jim Rice, arguably the third best player in his own outfield for most of his career, was better than Raines. Dwight Evans, clearly a superior player to Rice, lasted all of three years on the ballot in the late 1990s. This egregious result set the disaster that was the 2010-2013 results into motion.

Between 2010 and 2013, 15 legitimate Hall candidates were added to the ballot, compared to 20 in the entire previous decade. Only two of those 15 entered the Hall between 2010 and 2013. None was elected on the first try. Of the 20 2000- 2009 candidates, 14 have entered the Hall — 10 on their first try. Of those 15 2010-2013 candidates, I would consider no fewer than nine of them slam-dunks: Bonds, Clemens, Bagwell, Biggio, Alomar, Piazza, Larkin, Schilling and Martinez. Only one of them is in. Behind them are a few more who others might legitimately consider slam-dunks, as well. Between 2000 and 2009, one could argue all of slam-dunks got in, the vast majority on their first ballot. Then throw 2014 on the pile, with slam-dunks Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina and Frank Thomas, along with another viable candidate in Jeff Kent being added to the ballot. The waiting list might be shorter for Green Bay Packers season tickets than it will be to get some of these eminently deserving players into the Hall.

In addition, take a look at the total votes cast per year. The average generally trended up from 2000 to 2003, as slam-dunks entered the ballot consistently. The declining number of legitimate candidates added each year caused a decline through 2006 that brought the total number of votes down to exactly the number cast in 2000. After a one-year spike caused by Ripken and Gwynn’s presence on the ballot in 2007, the total number of votes cast dropped to a low for this century in 2008, despite Raines’ addition to the ballot. Then look at what happens from then through 2012: Eight legitimate candidates were added to the ballot, and total votes somehow dropped to a new low of 5.10 names per ballot. That’s barely half of the maximum 10 that many voters want to eliminate. This is nothing less than voting malpractice. The number of total votes increased sharply to 6.60 per ballot in 2013, and will likely surge higher this year, but it’s too late. The ballot is clogged, and it’s going to take more than a bottle of Drano to clear it.

At this point, it is no longer possible to ignore the elephant in the room — steroids. Does anyone else find it laughable that the BBWAA has decided to take a morally superior stand on this issue now, decades since the deeds were supposedly done? Where were the voters when these players were active? They were extolling their virtues and crediting them for “saving the game” in the wake of the previous collusion/strike/lockout era. Virtually everyone around the game at that time simply had to know something was going on. Bodies were changing, and long-held records were falling at an alarming rate. The writers — as well as many of the game’s other stakeholders — simply elected to look the other way for an extended period of time.

It’s true that consideration of the game’s greats from this era represents quite a moral dilemma. The steroid connections to various players range from fairly direct to incredibly circumstantial. But throwing an entire era of superstars out of the Hall of Fame would clearly not seem to be the appropriate remedy. How about a more practical approach, where you take each such player on a case-by-case basis, and attempt to conclude whether steroids might have made that player a Hall of Famer, or if they simply would have pushed him farther above the bar? Such an approach would enable us to quickly induct the Bondses and Clemenses, as well as a few others. That would clear those names off the ballot and allow the battle be fought around the McGwire-Sosa line, where it should probably be engaged.

To get out of this mess, a couple of things need to happen. First, the electors need to remember that this process isn’t about them, it’s about the players. The vast majority of their decisions should be easy: Induct the players whose accomplishments clearly measure up to the standards that have been in place for decades, and leave the social commentary to others. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina, Frank Thomas and others are Hall of Famers, by just about any standard. Get them in. It will take a few years to undo the damage that has already been done to the ballot — but if something isn’t done immediately, the system will eventually need to be blown up.

Keep the guys who clearly don’t measure up to the rest of the Hall. Jack Morris and Lee Smith are two names. It would be a shame on a personal level for Morris to miss at this point, and his induction would simply be a continuation of the ongoing Dawson-Rice trend, but the occasion of the current ballot overload would be a perfect time for that trend to be broken. Use all 10 of the spots on your ballot — you’ve never used more than two-thirds of them, on average. If that’s done for a few years, we can chip away at this problem.

Unfortunately, in the short term, we will be losing some players from the bottom of the ballot. Like Lou Whitaker, Bernie Williams and Kenny Lofton, the omission of the folks such as Sosa, Palmeiro and McGwire at the very least cheapens the discussion. Continue to expand BBWAA membership to include more progressive thinkers who embrace advanced analytics, while existing BBWAA members expand their processes to include the same in their evaluations. One can criticize previous generations for their overreliance on RBI and win totals, but hey, they elected Dazzy Vance, a truly dominant pitcher who lacked career counting numbers and would have been unlikely to be honored by today’s BBWAA.

On a personal level, my family owes some of its best memories to time spent in Cooperstown. For future generations of lovers of the game to do the same, the game’s true greats need to be in the Hall, or it will descend into irrelevance. The men who play this game are not perfect, and never have been. We didn’t exclude the players from the pre-integration era for not playing against the best, we did not exclude the players from the ’60s and ’70s “greenies” era, and we must not exclude the greats of the most recent era of flawed men who played a flawed — but great — game.
post #19355 of 73406
Congrats to Dodger beat writer Ken Gurnick for being the first clown to reveal he is not voting for Greg Maddux.
post #19356 of 73406
Originally Posted by RyGuy45 View Post

Congrats to Dodger beat writer Ken Gurnick for being the first clown to reveal he is not voting for Greg Maddux.

A T H L E T I C S | U C L A | L A K E R S | R A I D E R S

A T H L E T I C S | U C L A | L A K E R S | R A I D E R S

post #19357 of 73406
Originally Posted by RyGuy45 View Post

Congrats to Dodger beat writer Ken Gurnick for being the first clown to reveal he is not voting for Greg Maddux.

What a ******g idiot.

Do we have a Twitter handle for that guy so we can badger the **** outta him?
post #19358 of 73406
post #19359 of 73406
Originally Posted by RyGuy45 View Post

Congrats to Dodger beat writer Ken Gurnick for being the first clown to reveal he is not voting for Greg Maddux.

Came in here to post this.....laugh.gif

What a ******g imbecile. Morris didn't pitch in the 90s? There weren't any steroids at all in the 80s?
post #19360 of 73406
Originally Posted by RyGuy45 View Post

CP -


Thank you Ry.
post #19361 of 73406
Thread Starter 
laugh.gif let us know how that plays out. Can't see it at work mean.gif
post #19362 of 73406

And he covers the dodgers, He was already a scumbag before this.
post #19363 of 73406
Ken Gurnick sucks.

It's one thing to not vote for guys who were proven, admitted, or highly suspected of PED use, but any one who played in that era won't get his vote?

Why even cover baseball laugh.gif

Does that mean he won't vote for Rivera? Or Griffey? Or the few dozen guys who have Hall numbers in the 90s to mid 2000sbut have never been suspected of Steroids?

I can't wait until year after year he just doesn't vote for anyone who deserves it like Maddux this year.

Ironic that Canseco took PEDs his whole career, and Morris pitched until 1994..
Edited by Essential1 - 1/7/14 at 11:22am
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post #19364 of 73406

I've been saying this for a long time....and while this Gurnick situation is not exactly the same thing, it is in the same neighborhood.  We are going to start to see a bunch of very good baseball players make the Hall of Fame strictly based upon the fact that they were in no way linked to steroids.  These players who, all things considered, wouldn't have a realistic shot of making it if you were strictly looking at career accomplishments and statistics, will start to get in based on the voters using their own moral judgments on them. 


I hope I am wrong.  I have always been of the belief that there should be no qualifications to make the HOF (i.e. you get 3000 hits you are in automatically).  I believe the Hall should be reserved for the best players of every generation, not very good players like Craig Biggio for an example.

post #19365 of 73406
Originally Posted by dland24 View Post

I've been saying this for a long time....and while this Gurnick situation is not exactly the same thing, it is in the same neighborhood.  We are going to start to see a bunch of very good baseball players make the Hall of Fame strictly based upon the fact that they were in no way linked to steroids.  These players who, all things considered, wouldn't have a realistic shot of making it if you were strictly looking at career accomplishments and statistics, will start to get in based on the voters using their own moral judgments on them. 

I hope I am wrong.  I have always been of the belief that there should be no qualifications to make the HOF (i.e. you get 3000 hits you are in automatically).  I believe the Hall should be reserved for the best players of every generation, not very good players like Craig Biggio for an example.

Biggio has 3,000 hits
Twitter - @EssentialShow
Instagram - MarshallLaw518
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Instagram - MarshallLaw518
post #19366 of 73406
Originally Posted by Essential1 View Post
Originally Posted by dland24 View Post

I've been saying this for a long time....and while this Gurnick situation is not exactly the same thing, it is in the same neighborhood.  We are going to start to see a bunch of very good baseball players make the Hall of Fame strictly based upon the fact that they were in no way linked to steroids.  These players who, all things considered, wouldn't have a realistic shot of making it if you were strictly looking at career accomplishments and statistics, will start to get in based on the voters using their own moral judgments on them. 

I hope I am wrong.  I have always been of the belief that there should be no qualifications to make the HOF (i.e. you get 3000 hits you are in automatically).  I believe the Hall should be reserved for the best players of every generation, not very good players like Craig Biggio for an example.

Biggio has 3,000 hits

I know he does.  And thats what I meant when I said I dont personally believe that reaching a specific milestone should automatically make you a Hall of Famer.  Yes Biggio has 3000 hits....and yes, he was a very good player that 95% of teams would be stupid to say they wouldnt have wanted on their team.  But at no point in his career was he considered one of the best players in baseball.  And I think thats what the  HOF should be reserved for.  The best of the best.

post #19367 of 73406
Originally Posted by dland24 View Post

Originally Posted by Essential1 View Post

Originally Posted by dland24 View Post

I've been saying this for a long time....and while this Gurnick situation is not exactly the same thing, it is in the same neighborhood.  We are going to start to see a bunch of very good baseball players make the Hall of Fame strictly based upon the fact that they were in no way linked to steroids.  These players who, all things considered, wouldn't have a realistic shot of making it if you were strictly looking at career accomplishments and statistics, will start to get in based on the voters using their own moral judgments on them. 

I hope I am wrong.  I have always been of the belief that there should be no qualifications to make the HOF (i.e. you get 3000 hits you are in automatically).  I believe the Hall should be reserved for the best players of every generation, not very good players like Craig Biggio for an example.

Biggio has 3,000 hits
I know he does.  And thats what I meant when I said I dont personally believe that reaching a specific milestone should automatically make you a Hall of Famer.  Yes Biggio has 3000 hits....and yes, he was a very good player that 95% of teams would be stupid to say they wouldnt have wanted on their team.  But at no point in his career was he considered one of the best players in baseball.  And I think thats what the  HOF should be reserved for.  The best of the best.

I misread what you said then.. I disagree but proceed.

Someone like Mussina won't get in when he has Hall of Fame numbers. Simply because "he wasn't considered the best" But put up numbers with some of the best.
Twitter - @EssentialShow
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post #19368 of 73406
Originally Posted by Proshares View Post

laugh.gif let us know how that plays out. Can't see it at work mean.gif

CP ‏@CP1708 2h
@kengurnick So, Greg Maddux is NOT a hall of famer? You're going to stand on your soapbox about an era he thrived in, despite 0 allegations?
CP ‏@CP1708 2h
@kengurnick You just want to be "that" guy? Jack Morris is a hall of famer (to you) but not Greg Maddux? How do you have a job in baseball?

I didn't want to go all cussing f you mode and have him easily block me. I was hoping this would be enough to get a reply outta him, but to no avail.

Apparently he just said on some radio show that he will never vote for the HOF again. Also implying he wouldn't vote for Mo ******g Rivera. mean.gif Somebody shoot this ************ in the face already. laugh.giflaugh.gif
post #19369 of 73406
Thread Starter 
It's just stupid logic all around from 90% of these guys.
post #19370 of 73406

I also think that every single voter should not only vote for the players that they think should get in, but also be required to publicly include detailed explanations as to why he voted the way he did.

post #19371 of 73406
I agree with dland's general comments on the Hall......I think the voting is obviously flawed but I also wish it was more for the best of the best.

"If he's debatable then he's not."
post #19372 of 73406
Probably voted NO to get his name out there. mean.gif
post #19373 of 73406
Thread Starter 
Best of the best is debatable though laugh.gif

You have guys like Ozzie who are voted in as best of the best defensively with little offensive value and voters don't blink an eye.

Then you have guys like Edgar who are best of the best offensively but because he was a DH his entire career, he's being held out.

It's not as cut and dry as we'd all like it to be.

Nomar is a perfect example. He was absolutely one of the best of the best for a six year span but was cut short. So it's widely held against him and we hold out certain players who had extremely high peaks that were cut short by injuries or dramatic decline. But someone like Jeter, who was at the top maybe one of two years but was consistently average to above average for a lengthy career, is (should be) an automatic.

Lack of middle ground is always going to be an issue with these old farts who hold all the ballots. That and stubbornness/stupidity.

There's no reason that Maddux, Bags, Thomas, Piazza, Schilling, Moose, Glavine, Biggio, Bonds, Clemens, Raines, Edgar, Trammell, Walker, McGwire, McGriff, Palmeiro, Sosa and Kent should not be in the HOF.
post #19374 of 73406
Absolutely agree with Pro.

And his examples make PERFECT sense. Repped fully.
post #19375 of 73406

smh @ not voting maddux 

post #19376 of 73406
Im a medium hall guy, some are small, some are big, there will always be arguments.
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post #19377 of 73406
Thread Starter 
The Greatness of Greg Maddux.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Greg Maddux officially becomes a Hall of Famer today, and the only controversy surrounding his election is that it won’t be unanimous. He is, without question, one of the greatest pitchers of all time. So, let’s celebrate the things that made him great.

Greg Maddux threw 200 innings in every single season from 1988 to 2001, with the streak snapping after throwing just 199 1/3 innings in 2002, before he proceeded to throw four more consecutive seasons with 200 innings pitched. That streak stopped in 2007, when he just threw 198 innings. Or, put another way, Maddux threw 198 or more innings in every single season from age-22 to age-41, even though the 1994 strike ended the season in 1994 (202 innings in 25 starts) and caused it to begin late in 1995 (210 innings in 28 starts). For 20 straight years, Maddux was a guaranteed 200 innings, even if Major League Baseball didn’t even bother to finish their season.

In 1994, the league average home run rate per nine innings jumped to 1.04, up from 0.90 in 1993, which is one of the main reasons it is often labeled as the start of the “Steroids Era”. When the strike occurred, Matt Williams was on pace to break the all time single season home run record, and five other players looked like they might get close to it as well. And in that year, the beginning of the home run boom, Maddux allowed four home runs for the entire season. Four. It’s the only season of the last 60 years where a pitcher has thrown 200 innings and given up fewer than five home runs, and it happened in the era when home runs were most plentiful. While people remember Maddux for having impeccable command, his walk rates are not historically unprecedented. His ability to never give up home runs, though, might not ever be seen again.

Of course, we shouldn’t just ignore his ability to never walk anyone either, because that was a significant part of why he was so good. In a time where offensive levels were surging and pitchers could be forgiven for avoiding the heart of the plate, Maddux pounded the strike zone like few others ever have. From 1995 to 1997, Maddux walked 2.7% of the batters he faced; among the pitchers who threw at least 600 innings in those three seasons, only two — Shane Reynolds and Denny Neagle, at 5.0% and 5.2% respectively — posted walk rates that were not twice as high as Maddux’s walk rate. When it came to not walking hitters, Maddux regularly lapped the field.

And it’s not like he was Bob Tewksbury, just grooving the ball over the plate and hoping for soft contact. While Maddux was not Randy Johnson, his strikeout totals have often been undersold because of strikeout rate has often been measured as total strikeouts per nine innings, rather than per batter faced. Because Maddux never put anyone on base, his innings often consisted of just three batters instead of four or five, giving him fewer opportunities to record a strikeout each inning. On a percentage basis, though, in-his-prime Maddux was actually a prolific strikeout pitcher.

Take 1995, for instance. Among pitchers who threw just 100 innings — a lower barrier than usual due to the shortened season — Maddux’s 7.77 K/9 ranked just 18th in baseball, in between Jeff Fassero and Mark Gardner. But by K%, which just looks at strikeouts per batter faced, his 23.1% strikeout rate was 5th best in baseball, putting him in a near tie with John Smoltz, who no one considered a pitch-to-contact strike-thrower. In fact, Maddux’s strikeout rate in 1995 was 35% better than the league average, and if you translate that 2013, his 1995 strikeout rate was essentially equivalent to the K% that Matt Harvey put up last year. 1995 Maddux was 2013 Matt Harvey if he also never walked anyone and gave up the fewest number of home runs in recent baseball history.

Not surprisingly, that 1995 season posted by Maddux is one of the best of all time. By ERA- (and minimum 150 innings pitched), it’s the 5th best run prevention season in baseball history. Only it’s not even Maddux’s best year, as his 1994 season ranks 3rd on that list. Two of the top five seasons in baseball history, in terms of run prevention relative to the league average, belong to Greg Maddux.

And remember, he threw 200 innings in both of those seasons despite the strike reducing his number of starts, so he wasn’t just getting lifted early and letting the bullpen strand his runners. In 1994, he averaged more than 8 innings per start. He went at least 7 innings in 22 of the 25 starts he made that year, and threw 9 innings in 11 of them. He put up the third best ERA- in baseball history in a season in which he basically never let his bullpen in the game.

But maybe the greatest thing about Greg Maddux wasn’t any of these accomplishments, but instead, how he did it. Unlike Randy Johnson, he didn’t look like a super hero who threw 100 mph. He looked like one of us. He was 6’0, wore glasses, and dominated with pitches that didn’t look like they should dominate. In an era of oversized athletes and outsized personalities, Maddux was just a guy doing his thing and embarrassing everyone else in the process. There wasn’t anything particularly flashy about Greg Maddux, until you looked up two hours later, realized the game was over, and the opposing team had only managed a couple of weak singles.

Greg Maddux personified greatness and humanity at the same time. I fully expect that he’ll be the best pitcher I ever see take the mound. Welcome to Cooperstown, sir. You deserve it more than just about anyone.

Mike Ohlman and the Passed Ball Dilemma.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Just about anyone reading FanGraphs probably knows about the debate surrounding defensive statistics. About the only thing everyone seems to agree on is that all defensive statistics are inadequate reflections of defense, or at least need extremely large sample sizes to attain reliability. This is especially true with regard to catchers, whose defensive contributions are quite the riddle to solve.

These issues extend even more in the minor leagues, where the sole widely available statistics are the traditional ones–assists, putouts, errors, double plays, range factor, and fielding percentage. Needless to say, these are not broadly effective arbiters of defensive aptitude. Again, catcher defense is arguably even more elusive, with passed balls and caught-stealing percentage the only remotely notable metrics. The desperate search to link numbers to potential leads these stats to often stand for “receiving skills” and “throwing arm,” respectively, which is a gross overstatement of their utility.

In this post, I want to examine just how meaningful, or perhaps meaningless, the passed ball statistic is for catching prospects.

Baltimore catching prospect Mike Ohlman is a good example. Ohlman is a catcher, or perhaps a “catcher,” who hit .313/.410/.524 in High-A Frederick this year. He was just 22, so he wasn’t too old for the level, his 93/56 K/BB checks out, and though he hit in a very friendly home park, he still managed an excellent .290/.374/.464 mark on the road in a generally pitcher-friendly league.

I’ve seen Ohlman live, and he’s not just some unbalanced hitter beating up on inexperienced pitchers. Check out this swing:

Three things:

1.) Mike Ohlman is big.
2.) Mike Ohlman is strong.
3.) Despite the clear truth of the above statements, Ohlman doesn’t sell out for power, utilizing a fairly balanced medium-length stroke with a lot of natural leverage.

Ohlman’s relatively sound hitting mechanics, natural power, and solid plate discipline give him a chance to hit something like .265/.340/.455 in the big leagues in a few years, which would put him in the .345 wOBA range. That would place him in the upper third of MLB catchers (who hit a combined .245/.310/.388 in 2013) but would be fairly pedestrian at first base, the only other position Ohlman has a chance of playing (1Bs hit .261/.337/.436 in 2013).

Ohlman could hit enough to be useful at either spot (or DH) if he meets his upside, but the former 11th-rounder would be a much bigger find if he could stick behind the plate. Unfortunately, I can’t offer much personally on his defensive capability as a catcher, because I only saw him in the lineup as a designated hitter. I can, however, offer up a few basic facts about his defense.

1.) At 6’4″, he’s a dreaded “tall catcher.”
2.) He caught 46 times and DHed 53 in 2013, even though the other catchers on his team were 26-year-old indy ball signee Zane Chavez (45 starts) and 25-year-old journeyman Allan de San Miguel (50 starts); he also only caught in 14 of his 71 games played in 2012.
3.) In his 46 games caught this year, Ohlman allowed eight passed balls while catching 22 of 77 (29%) attempted basestealers. For his career, he’s allowed 41 passed balls in 195 games and caught 27% of base thieves.

This trio of facts doesn’t exactly paint the most optimistic picture regarding Ohlman’s future behind the plate. The scouting bias against tall catchers doesn’t help him, his inability to push aside two veterans in High-A says something about where the Orioles view his defense, and eight passed balls in 46 games caught would work out to 24 miscues in 138 contests, roughly a full season of everyday catching. By comparison, current Orioles catcher Matt Wieters has 16 career passed balls in 618 games caught; Ohlman allows pitches to get by him approximately six times as often.

Those numbers seem grim, but we need context. For one, in 2013, High-A catchers allowed 517 passed balls whereas MLB backstops permitted just 318, a split that’s even more pronounced when one considers that High-A teams played a 140-game schedule. Part of the reason for the elevated passed ball rate is that High-A catchers aren’t as talented as MLB ones, of course, but another part is that they simply have less experience, in much the same way that error rates of infielders tend to improve as they progress from their teenage years to their primes.

We can debate how relevant passed ball totals are to the quality of a major league catcher’s defense, but that’s a separate discussion. What is undeniably true, however, is that passed ball rates like those of Ohlman and many other low-minors catchers are never seen in MLB unless knuckleball pitching is involved–J.P. Arencibia led MLB with 13 in 131 contests this past season. The minimization of passed balls may not say much about a catcher’s framing skill or his ability to handle a pitching staff, but it does seem that they have to be quite infrequent for a catcher to be deemed worthy of sticking behind the plate in a major league uniform.

We need a way of measuring this standard, and I’m going to proceed using the quite crude measure of passed balls per game caught. In a perfect world, one would measure passed ball frequency by (passed balls/number of non-wild pitches that were not contacted by the batter), but we obviously don’t have that data for minor league catchers–in fact, there’s not even innings caught data for them. Games caught data obviously comes with issues–it counts catching an inning as a defensive replacement as equal to catching a 17-inning marathon–but it’s broadly functional, and the best (really only) thing to work with from the available data.

For some perspective on what is “normal” for the statistic, I looked at MLB data for the last several years and found that the average MLB rate is approximately .065 passed balls per game caught, or around one passed ball for every 15 contests, with the threshold of “passable” and “problematic” being somewhere around .1 per game.

Obviously, many minor league catchers are far above this threshold. San Diego’s Austin Hedges is touted as perhaps the best defensive catcher in the minors, but he allowed 16 passed balls in 94 games in 2012 (.17 per game), cutting down to 7 in 79 (.089 per game) this year. Texas’ Jorge Alfaro, another highly touted backstop, committed 26 miscues in 82 contests (.317 per game). There are plenty of other examples.

So the question is, do numbers like these mean anything? Do nightmarish passed ball totals foreshadow defensive inadequacy, or does almost everyone eradicate the issue with experience? Let’s look.

To obtain a sample, I looked at all catchers who were 22 between 2003 and 2007 and caught at least 50 games (at any level) in their age-22 season. Age 22 works well because it a) includes college draftees and not just high schoolers and international signees, b) most fairly talented players are in full-season ball by age 22, and c) it is still fairly representative of a somewhat nascent developmental stage. There were 131 such players, and their passed ball rates at age 22 ranged from Jose Reyes‘ mere 1 in 91 contests (.011 per game) to Lucas May‘s 31 in 78 games caught (.397 per game). The average age-22 passed ball rate was .149 per game, slightly more than double the MLB rate.

I wanted to see where the passed ball rates of these players ended up when they were essentially “finished developing.” Age 27 is the most common “peak year” for position players, followed by age 26 and 28, so for the sake of increasing the sample size of the metric, I decided to compare the age-22 passed ball rates of the catchers in the sample to their passed ball rates over their age 26-28 seasons. If a player hasn’t figured out how to curb the miscues at that age, he’ll likely never turn the corner.

Of course, not all 131 catchers in the sample managed to stay in organized baseball through their age-28 seasons. Two never played again;,11 played just one more season, 19 others didn’t make it past age 24, eight were finished at 25, eight more at 26, and seven more at 27. Mike Jacobs was moved to first base, Tyler Parker and Phil Avlas were moved to the outfield, and Jake Fox, Matt McBride, and Max Ramirez were largely moved, seeing only spot duty at catcher by their late twenties. Eight others were moved to the mound, leaving 62 of the 131 (47.33%) as still-employed catchers in affiliated ball at age 28.

First, then, I wanted to see if age-22 passed ball rate had anything to do with who was still catching in organized ball six years later. The catchers who didn’t make it average .154 passed balls per game at age 22, whereas those that did averaged .144. That’s a slight difference that probably doesn’t mean anything, and for the catchers who were done by age 27, age-22 passed balls per game had no correlation with the last year they played. Heck, Reyes and his tremendous rate were done at 24, while May’s survived behind the plate through the 2013 season.

That in itself doesn’t mean age-22 passed balls mean nothing; the ability to hit is obviously paramount, not to mention the other aspects of the catcher position defensively, and a catcher’s ability in these other areas likely plays a far bigger role in his longevity than passed ball numbers. But what of those age 26-28 passed ball rates for the 62 catchers who did stick around through their hypothetical primes?

That’s age-22 passed balls per game on the horizontal axis, with age 26-28 ones on the vertical axis. Let’s note a few things here.

First off, every single catcher in the sample got their passed ball rate down to less than .16 per game in their age 26-28 years, the worst being Steve Lerud’s .158 (the best was J.R. Towles‘ .02). Twenty-two of the 62 (35.48%) were at .16 or higher at age 22, and all of them improved to get below that threshold. Thus, we can call .16 a rough “floor” of sorts for experienced catchers. These .2 and .3 numbers that we see in the low minors are almost guaranteed to vanish, and if they don’t, the player likely will be cut or moved elsewhere on the diamond. Ohlman has a .21 career rate and was at .173 this past season; if he’s still around in six years, he’s virtually guaranteed to have taken at least a small chunk out of that number.

Second, there is a correlation. Lerud had the second-worst passed ball rate of any age-22 catcher and ended up with the worst rate at 26-28; May had the worst rate at 22 and the fourth-worst at 26-28. The best age-22 rate was put up by Brian McCann, who ended up well above-average (.048) in his prime; Towles, likewise, already had an MLB-average passed ball rate (.065) at 22. The r^2 of .1376 indicates a correlation, though not a particularly strong one.

And that leads me to my final point–while there is a general trend here, there is certainly the potential for catchers with poor passed ball rates at 22 to be relatively problem-free in that regard in their primes. Brad Davis allowed 15 passed balls in 59 games caught (.254 per game) at 22, but just 11 in 294 games caught (.037) from age 26-28. Chris Snyder went from .257 to .072, Wyatt Toregas from .286 to .088, Kris Watts from .212 to .058, Brett Hayes from .197 to .056, Nevin Ashley from .182 to .046, and Chris Robinson improved from .16 to .03. The formula of the trendline indicates that a catcher who allows a passed ball every five games (.2) at age 22 will allow just .085 per game at 26-28–a below-average mark, but one that is not necessarily unplayable, falling on the good side of .1.

In summary, while it’s easy to look at the passed ball numbers of certain young catchers and wonder how it’s possible that they’ll ever improve enough to come anywhere near capable of receiving pitches at the game’s highest level, there should never be much fear that a catcher will be letting dozens of pitches by in the prime of his career, to say nothing of the passed ball statistic’s woeful inadequacy at capturing receiving or even blocking skill in the first place. Still, a catcher’s passed ball rate at 22 does have some predictive value with regard to passed ball prevention a few years down the line, so 22-year-old catchers who are behind their peers are somewhat likely to stay behind their peers–it’s just that the gap between good rates and bad rates closes dramatically as the players gain experience and eliminate many of the head-scratching plays that come to characterize a facet of the minor league baseball experience.

2014 Top 10 Prospects: Baltimore Orioles.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Orioles front office doesn’t get enough credit for developing a solid, home-grown system that boasts some impressive talent — especially on the mound. The system lacks impact bats — outside of Jonathan Schoop — but the scouting staff acquired some intriguing hitters in the 2013 amateur draft.

#1 Dylan Bundy | 65/MLB (P)
19 1.2 0.00 5.40 20.0 % 0.00 4.89 8.42 0.1 0.0
The Year in Review: Bundy entered 2013 as one of the Top 3 arms in the minor leagues but he blew out his elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery in late June. The talented right-hander didn’t pitch at all in 2013 because of his health issues.

The Scouting Report: Bundy’s stuff is undeniable but he also has excellent makeup, which helps him squeeze every ounce of ability out of his immense talent. His fastball sits in the mid to upper 90s and both his cutter and curveball show plus potential. His changeup should be average or better. Both his control and command have a chance to be plus attributes. The biggest concern with Bundy is his durability due to his recent surgery and modest frame.

The Year Ahead: Because he didn’t have surgery until late June, Bundy will likely miss most of 2014 but it’s possible he might get into some official game action in August. He likely won’t see any big league action during the coming season but stranger things have happened.

The Career Outlook: The injury certainly adds a level of uncertainty to Bundy’s future. However, most pitchers are able to recovery fully so the Oklahoma native could still reach his ceiling as a No. 1 or 2 starter at the big league level. Youth is certainly on his side as he didn’t turn 21 until November.

#2 Kevin Gausman | 60/MLB (P)
22 47.2 9.25 2.45 42.0 % 5.66 3.99 3.04 -0.2 0.4
The Year in Review: The fourth overall pick in the 2012 amateur draft, Gausman reached the Majors in his first full professional season after spending half the year at both Double-A and Triple-A. A starter in college and during his minor league career, the right-hander pitched mostly out of the bullpen in the Majors. He struggled with his command and allowed 51 hits and eight homers in 47.2 innings of work.

The Scouting Report: The biggest knock on Gausman is his lack of a consistent breaking ball but his slider made strides in 2013. His fastball sits comfortably in the mid-90s and his splitter is a solid offering that could develop into a plus pitch. The right-hander has the frame to develop into an innings-eater and his athleticism helps him on the mound.

The Year Ahead: The Orioles’ inability to upgrade their pitching in the offseason (at least as of the date of this writing) makes Gausman an early favorite to break camp with the big league club. He has the present talent to step in and be a solid No. 4/5 starter — if not better.

The Career Outlook: Gausman’s rough introduction to The Show in 2013 should not cause anyone to doubt his future. He still has the talent to develop into a No. 2 starter at the big league level and it shouldn’t be too long before he rises to that lofty projection.

#3 Eduardo Rodriguez | 60/AA (P)
20 30 30 159.2 147 10 7.95 3.10 3.61 3.36
The Year in Review: The Venezuelan southpaw split the 2013 between High-A and Double-A. He showed above-average control for his age while walking 49 batters with 125 strikeouts in 145.0 combined innings. After he made 25 minor league starts during the regular season, Rodriguez compiled another five starts in the Arizona Fall League but was hit around a bit and posted a 5.52 ERA with 16 hits allowed in 14.2 innings of work.

The Scouting Report: Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman are names that are fairly well known among well educated fans around baseball but Rodriguez has yet to gain similar notoriety despite having the talent to challenge them in the rankings. He has an above-average fastball for a southpaw and it can hit the mid-90s with excellent movement. Both his slider and changeup should be above-average — if not plus — offerings for him when he reaches his full potential.

The Year Ahead: The experience in the AFL could convince the Orioles to push the lefty to Triple-A if he has a strong spring. Both Gausman and Rodriguez could be in Baltimore’s starting rotation in the second half of 2014. A healthy Bundy will likely join them in 2015, and them will potentially give them a stellar 1-2-3 pitching punch.

The Career Outlook: Rodriguez has the ceiling of a No. 2 or 3 starter but he’ll likely slot into the Orioles’ No. 3 slot in the future with the other young, talented arms also reaching the Majors around the same time as him. It could soon be a very good time to be an O’s fan.

#4 Jonathan Schoop | 60/MLB (2B)
21 15 6.7 % 13.3 % .286 .333 .500 .364 128 0.5 -1.4 0.0
The Year in Review: Schoop’s season looked to be in jeopardy when he went down with a significant back injury in May. However, he still managed to play 70 games at the Triple-A level and also made his big league debut with five games in late September. He also tried to make up for the lost development time by playing in the Arizona Fall League but he struggled and hit just .177 with 17 strikeouts in 16 games.

The Scouting Report: The best hitting prospect in the Orioles system (by a fairly wide margin), Schoop isn’t afraid to use the whole field and currently flashes gap pop. He should hit for a solid average with 10-15 homers in his prime. Defensively, he has a strong arm but lacks ideal range for shortstop and is probably best suited for second due to his lack of traditional pop (expected from a third baseman).

The Year Ahead: Schoop, 22, will likely return to Triple-A to open the 2014 season. However, the club has question marks at two infield positions with Jemile Weeks (second base) and Ryan Flaherty (third base) projected to open the year as starters at their respective slots. Don’t be shocked to see Schoop back in the Majors by June, if his back is truly healthy again.

The Career Outlook: Back injuries have a way of lingering but the Curacao native will hopefully leave his issues in the rearview mirror as he advances into the 2014 season and beyond. If he stays healthy, he has a chance to be an above-average contributor at the big league level and could be paired with Manny Machado for years to come.

#5 Hunter Harvey | 60/SS (P)
18 8 8 25.1 21 0 11.72 2.13 1.78 1.31
The Year in Review: Picking 22nd overall during the 2013 amateur draft, the Orioles nabbed a high-ceiling prep arm out of North Carolina. Harvey looked even more advanced than expected during his pro debut by showing above-average control while pitching in both Rookie ball and Short-season A-ball. He produced impressive ground-ball out numbers and also struck out 33 batters in 25.1 innings.

The Scouting Report: Harvey is a projectable arm that currently throws in the 88-93 mph range and could eventually hit the mid to upper 90s. He has a curveball that should develop into a plus offering — once he learns to throw the offering with a consistent arm speed — but his changeup is well below average. Like a lot of young pitchers his mechanics could use smoothing out.

The Year Ahead: Harvey, 19, should move up to pitch in full-season Low-A ball in 2014 but should spend most, if not all, of the season there. With three very talented arms ahead of him there really is no reason to rush his development.

The Career Outlook: Harvey has the ceiling of a No. 2/3 starter but, with just eight professional starts under his belt, he has a long way to go to realize his full potential. And, as we learned with Dylan Bundy, serious injuries can pop up at any time.

#6 Mike Wright | 55/AAA (P)
23 27 27 150.1 158 9 8.26 2.33 3.11 3.12
The Year in Review: Wright spent the majority of the 2013 season pitching in the Double-A starting rotation. He displayed outstanding durability by making 26 starts with 143.2 innings pitched. He showed above-average control but his command was not as consistent and he allowed 152 hits. Wright, 24, was promoted to Triple-A at the end of the season to make one starter in which he held the Durham Bulls to no runs over six innings of work.

The Scouting Report: Wright can match the talent of many of the arms ahead of him on this list but he’s an impressive prospect in his own right with the ceiling of a No. 3 starter. The right-hander pounds the strike zone with his four-pitch repertoire, which includes a low-90s fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. He needs to take better advantage of his size and pound the lower half of the strike zone.

The Year Ahead: Wright should return to Triple-A for a full season in 2014 but could be one of the first pitchers recalled in the even of an injury to someone on the Orioles’ starting staff. However, he could be hurt by the fact that he doesn’t have to be added to the 40-man roster until after the 2014 season — unless Baltimore is truly convinced that’s he’s MLB ready.

The Career Outlook: As alluded to above, Wright has the ceiling of a mid-rotation, innings-eating starter and should be ready to settle into a big league rotation in 2015, if not sooner. With so many talented arms ahead of him, the South Carolina native could eventually be used as trade bait to help acquire some more offence.

#7 Tim Berry | 55/A+ (P)
22 34 29 166.2 167 13 7.02 2.32 3.67 3.59
The Year in Review: The 22-year-old southpaw spent the year in High-A ball and showed his durability with 27 starts. He then appeared in another seven games (two starts) in the Arizona Fall League and compiled a total of 166.2 innings. Berry flashed his above-average control but allowed 156 hits in 152 A-ball innings.

The Scouting Report: Berry attacks the strike zone with a low-90s fastball and his curveball shows plus potential. The changeup remains a work in progress but it should be at least an average offering for him. He still has work to do to become more consistent against right-handed hitters and the improved off-speed pitch could go a long way towards that goal.

The Year Ahead: Berry will move up to Double-A where he’ll look to continue to polish his secondary offerings and find a way to miss more bats. He’ll be entering his fifth pro season and could receive a taste of big league action in September, if not sooner.

The Career Outlook: The left-handed hurler isn’t flashy but he should develop into a solid back-end (No. 4) starter or middle reliever.

#8 Michael Ohlman | 55/A+ (C/DH)
22 466 122 32 17 67 99 5 .311 .416 .543 .433
The Year in Review: Ohlman produced a strong offensive season in High-A ball with a .313 average and .934 OPS in 100 games. He showed a willingness to take a free pass and also produced solid power — especially against left-handed pitching. Ohlman, 23, continued his hot hitting with an appearance in the Arizona Fall League where seven of his nine hits went for extra bases. He also walked 11 times compared to just six strikeouts in 10 games. He still has some rough edges to sand down behind the plate.

The Scouting Report: A former 11th round draft pick (2009) out of a Florida high school, Ohlman struggled with the bat in his first three pro seasons but it kicked into high gear over the last two years. The young catcher has the potential to be a very good hitter with a solid average and decent power, although he’s prone to slumps. Defensively, he has a large frame and projects to be average in the throwing, receiving and blocking categories. He’s considered a solid game caller.

The Year Ahead: Ohlman will move up to Double-A and will want to add some more polish to the defensive side of his game. Currently, he projects to provide above-average offensive production from a key position.

The Career Outlook: With Matt Wieters looking like a solid big league catcher, but not the star he was projected to be, there could eventually be an opening for the Orioles’ full-time catcher and Ohlman is the current favorite to fill that role if the incumbent leaves as a free agent in 2016 (if he’s not traded before that).

#9 Chance Sisco | 60/R (C/DH)
18 124 37 4 1 18 23 1 .363 .468 .451 .444
The Year in Review: The 61st overall pick in the 2013 amateur draft, Sisco was a beast in his pro debut with a .371 batting average and .938 OPS in 31 rookie ball games. He showed an impressive eye and patience with 17 walks. The catcher was so impressive that he earned a late-season promotion to the New York Penn League.

The Scouting Report: Sisco has only been catching regularly for a short period of time so he has a lot of work to do behind the plate but, if the bat advances too quickly, he’s athletic enough to handle a corner infield position, or possibly even left field (although the move would significantly hamper his value). At the plate, he could develop into a solid hitter with modest pop. Sisco is still young and needs to improve against left-handed pitching.

The Year Ahead: Catching depth is quickly becoming a strength of the organization with Matt Wieters at the big league level and Michael Ohlman projected to be in Double-A. Sisco should move up to Low-A ball in 2014 and there is no need to rush his development. He’ll want to continue to work on his defense and polish his approach against southpaws.

The Career Outlook: Strong offensive catchers that swing from the left side are always in high demand. It’s early — and young catchers have a nasty habit of stagnating when they hit full-season ball — but Sisco looks like he could develop into something special.

#10 Henry Urrutia | 50/A+ (DH)
26 58 0.0 % 19.0 % .276 .276 .310 .257 55 -3.6 -1.5 -0.3
The Year in Review: Cuban signees have been all the rage recently with the successes of players such as the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig. Urrutia was more of an under-the-radar acquisition but he needed less than one year of minor league seasoning to reach The Show. He hit more than .300 with good gap power at both minor league stops (Double-A and Triple-A). Urrutia appeared in the Arizona Fall League after the season and continued his scorching attack against professional pitchers.

The Scouting Report: Urrutia has an impressive left-handed swing that should allow him to hit for a solid big league average and he hangs in well against tough southpaws. He makes good contract and shouldn’t strike out much but he’s also aggressive, which will negatively impact his on-base percentage. The knock against Urrutia is that, despite his solid frame, he’ll likely never hit for much power because his swing is geared more for the line drive. Defensively, he’s not a great fielder but his arm is average; he should be relegated to left field.

The Year Ahead: Baltimore appears set with giving the newly-acquired David Lough, a defensive whiz and fellow left-handed hitter, the first shot at the regular left field gig so that should force Urrutia to Triple-A to begin the year. It’s possible that the Cuba native could win the fourth outfielder role but his lack of ability to play center field hurts him.

The Career Outlook: There are split opinions on Urrutia’s future. Some feel he has the potential to be an impact corner bat due to his strong hitting, while others feel his lack of true raw power will prevent him from being a strong everyday option at the key (traditional) power position. As long as he continues to handle southpaws OK, Urrutia should be a solid regular outfield option for a team that doesn’t mind the lack of pop from the corner — or he could be an above-average option in a platoon role.

The Next Five:

11. Zach Davies, RHP: A former 26th round draft pick, Davies is an example of excellent scouting by the Orioles. Just 20 years old, he’s ready for Double-A and has proven durable to date. He could eventually develop into a No. 3 or, more likely, 4 starter at the big league level.

12. Josh Hart, OF: A 2013 supplemental round draft pick out of a Georgia high school, Hart impressed during his pro debut even though the results were not there statistically speaking. He’s athletic outfielder with speed, a solid eye and developing gap power.

13. Branden Kline, RHP: Kline’s season was all but wiped out by a broken right lower leg. He made just seven regular season starts and got beat around in Low-A ball. Things go even worse for him when he was torched while pitching out of the bullpen in the Arizona Fall League but he was both young and inexperienced for the league. He’s expected to be fully healthy in 2014.

14. Dariel Alvarez, OF: Signed out of Cuba last July, Alvarez hit more than .400 in his first 13 pro games to earn a promotion to Double-A but found the going there more difficult. He recovered his footing a bit in the Arizona Fall League but still posted an OPS below .600. Alvarez, 25, should return to Double-A to open 2014.

15. Francisco Peguero, OF: Peguero was caught in a roster crunch in San Francisco this past off-season and was removed off their 40-man roster. A defensive specialist, his aggressive nature at the plate in the Majors has prevented him matching the success he had in the minors. Despite that he should make a solid fourth outfielder.

Mike Trout: Top-Ten Outfield.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
It’s not so much that we’re in the offseason’s dead period — we’re just in its waiting period. There’s a lot of life left, but there likely won’t be any breaths until we get to Masahiro Tanaka’s signing deadline, at which point several dominoes ought to fall. That’s two and a half weeks away, and for the time being there’s not much going on. Dave and Carson talked on the podcast about how the things being written about these days are Tanaka and the Hall of Fame. As a change of pace out of desperation, I’m choosing to turn to the comfortable default FanGraphs fallback, that being Mike Trout, and how very good he is.

This is a question from my own chat earlier Tuesday:

Comment From Eddie
How many MLB outfields post less value than Mike Trout in 2014? Have to think the Cubs are on that list.

I was in love with the idea right away, and below, my subsequent investigation. I’d like to thank Eddie for the prompt, and for giving me another reason to re-visit Mike Trout’s unparalleled player page. Obviously, we can’t know anything yet about how the coming season is going to go. But we do have complicated mathematical guesses, which I’m happy to depend on for these purposes. By WAR, how many outfields does Mike Trout project to out-produce on his own during the 2014 regular season?

Our projection system of choice will be Steamer, because ZiPS hasn’t fully rolled out yet. Also, there aren’t massive differences between Steamer and ZiPS anyway. As you can see on Trout’s player page, Steamer projects Trout for 684 plate appearances over 146 games, and 9.0 WAR. Oliver actually projects more WAR in less time, and Trout reached double digits the last two years, but we’ll stay conservative, where by “conservative” I mean the system that thinks one player will be worth nine wins above replacement. There’s our line.

The harder part is figuring out projected combined outfield WAR, but this, actually, is also simple, and only harder relative to glancing at Trout’s FanGraphs page. Here are position by position and team by team projected WAR totals for 2014. Steamer is the system used, and the depth charts used are created by a small handful of FanGraphs authors. So the only thing to do is, for each team, add up LF WAR and CF WAR and RF WAR. Of course, the depth charts aren’t perfect, because they’re manually generated, but they’re not going to completely miss on a team, so they convey the right ideas. We have all the data we need for Trout. We have all the data we need for team-by-team outfield projections. Here’s the resulting graph, with the Angels eliminated and Trout inserted as a substitute:

The top ten (eleven) projected outfields:

Braves (t)
Blue Jays (t)
Mike Trout
Rays (t)
Indians (t)
Mike Trout is projected for 9 WAR. Seven outfields are projected for more than that, meaning 22 outfields are projected for less than that. It’s not literally true that Mike Trout would be a top-ten outfield on his own — that would actually be a catastrophe — but a top-ten projected outfield could realistically feature Trout flanked by a pair of replacement-level corners. Say, Delmon Young and Jeff Francoeur. How do you turn Young and Francoeur into a top-ten outfield? Put Mike Trout in between them and you’ve got a better unit than the Nationals. And Giants, and Indians, and so many others. Look at the far right side. The Cubs and White Sox are currently tied for last, at 4.5 projected outfield WAR each. Mike Trout is projected for as much outfield WAR as the city of Chicago.

We all already knew that Trout is amazing, but this might help underscore the sort of advantage he provides. Trout doesn’t just give the Angels the best situation in center field in the league. He automatically makes them a top outfield, just by himself. Let’s say you need, I don’t know, 40-45 WAR to be a real playoff contender. Trout can provide a fourth or a fifth of that in one place, and at least for 2014 he’s projected to do that for practically nothing. Last year Trout was paid a hair over the league minimum. This year he should get a raise, but not much of one, relatively speaking. By making almost no dent on the Angels’ budget, Trout makes up a huge chunk of what the Angels want to build.

Right now the Angels are big-money contenders in the AL West, along with the Rangers and A’s. Take Trout away, and the Angels have basically the same payroll. But take Trout away, and they project for fewer WAR than the Orioles. They project for only a few more WAR than the Twins and Astros. The Angels, in a lot of ways, are a complete mess, but because of the Trout advantage they can realistically think about playing in October anyway. Because of his massive value over his salary, Trout effectively boosts the Angels’ payroll by tens of millions of dollars. That’s what happens when you maximize the productivity you get out of a little contract.

Mike Trout is why the Angels are better than the Mariners. Mike Trout is why the Angels are better than the Mets. Mike Trout is why the Angels still have most of the same people in charge in place. It’s hard to be terrible with a healthy Mike Trout, because the guy is perfect and still hardly costs anything. That won’t continue much longer, but it is what it is for the time being.

This is sort of an extreme example of why teams are beginning to so highly value their own cost-controlled youth. Every team has a budget, and within that budget, they want to get something like 40-50 WAR. Getting a lot of WAR out of cheap players increases the effective available payroll, allowing for flexibility elsewhere. It’s those young guys who allow for bigger investments and overpayments. When you have a cost-controlled core in place, then you can modify the roster by adding free agents and so forth. If you can pay pennies for wins in some areas, then you can pay market price for wins in others. Because just about no one can afford to pay market price for wins everywhere. I mean, a lot of teams could afford it, but they don’t and won’t spend like that. This is why efficiency is always so critical, for almost every single team.

But that’s getting to a larger point, which wasn’t the purpose of this exercise. The purpose of this exercise was to compare 2014 Mike Trout to other outfields around MLB. Turns out Trout is better than most of them, combined. We talk about Trout all the time because there’s pretty much no way we’re appreciating this enough.

The Braves’ Good Problem.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Last week, Grant Brisbee made the very salient point that the Atlanta Braves are essentially akin to a small-market team these days. Since the ballclub has stacked their team with homegrown talent, this has not been a glaring problem in years past, but this offseason we have seen them lose both Brian McCann and Tim Hudson. Which was bad, in a sense — the team has replacements at the ready, even if they might not be as good.

The real problem though — and it is no doubt a good problem — will come two-to-three years down the road. Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and Kris Medlen are set to become free agents following the 2015 season, and the next season, Freddie Freeman and Craig Kimbrel (and Brandon Beachy) are also due to become free agents. It’s pretty unlikely that the ballclub will be able to keep all five (or six, if you count Beachy). So, who should they keep?

Looking at the team’s contract situation, let’s say that they can keep three of the five. That sort of feels right. They will have three $10 million-plus contracts this year: the Upton brothers and Dan Uggla. Uggla’s contract will mercifully end at the same point that that the first trio will be up for free agency. Heading into their respective free agent seasons, this is how old they will be:

Freeman: 2017, Age 27
Heyward: 2016, Age 26
Kimbrel: 2017, Age 29
Medlen: 2016, Age 30
Upton: 2016, Age 28

The first thing that sticks out is that these guys are all very young for possibly hitting free agency. Players that age don’t often hit the free-agent market anymore. If you go back to Keith Law’s top 50 free agents from November, only 12 were under the age of 30. Two of them were Asian international free agents, two others were ranked 47th and 50th, and one was a former Braves player (McCann). It just doesn’t happen that desirable players make it to free agency this young. So, before we start in, kudos to the Braves and their player development system for accruing such talent.

Speaking in absolutes is rarely a good idea when it comes to things that have yet to occur, and that is even more true in a situation where we are years removed from a necessary decision. So we’ll just go with pros and cons for now. And even though they don’t all hit free agency in the same year, we’ll treat them as the same, because realistically the Braves will have to decide who to keep and who not to keep well ahead of them reaching free agency.

– Durability. Freeman has played in at least 147 games in each of his first three seasons, and 93% overall. That’s always a good thing.
– Hard Contact. The more line drives a player hits, the better off he’ll be, and Freeman excels in this area. In his three full major league seasons, he ranks ninth among qualified players in line drive percentage (25.2%). Over the past two seasons, only Joey Votto and James Loney have roped a greater percentage of line drives than has Freeman.
– Defense. Freeman has always had a good defensive reputation, and last year that reputation finally matched up with the metrics, as he posted his first season with both a positive DRS and UZR.
– Swing rate. Freeman has improved his BB/K in each of his full seasons, but last season his swing rate went up. He swung at four percent more pitches out of the strike zone, and 3.6% more overall. That wouldn’t be so bad necessarily, had his contact rate gone up in kind, but it didn’t. Freeman actually lowered his strikeout rate last year. This means one of two things — either Freeman is able to tow the line of swinging and missing more frequently but not actually striking out, or his luck is about to change. Given the fact that he hit .198/.265/.282 with two strikes last season, I’m going to suggest that it’s the latter.
– Power. Freeman’s ISO is still relatively middling for a first baseman. Last season, his .181 ISO was a mere five points above the league average for a first baseman. From 2012-2013, he ranked 12th out of 23 in qualified first baseman ISO. If you lower the qualification to 500 plate appearances, Freeman’s rank drops to 22nd, as players like Brandon Moss, Mike Napoli and Mark Teixeira jump over Freeman on the list.

– Youth. Seriously, players really don’t hit free agency this young these days. It’s kind of amazing that he could enter the market heading into his age-26 season.
– Defense. Heyward is one of the biggest plus defenders in the majors during his time in the Show. Since 2010, the only two players with a better UZR/150 than Heyward are Manny Machado and Nolan Arenado, and neither of them even have half the innings played that Heyward does (Arenado barely has one-fourth the innings played).
– Strikeout rate. Last season, Heyward cut his strikeout rate by nearly seven percent. Even if he doesn’t retain all of those gains, it wasn’t a total mirage. He swung less and made contact more. That’s a recipe for success, and it was borne out in his higher line drive rate.
– Durability. Shoulder, neck, abdomen, foot, knee, thumb. Heyward can have a pass for the appendix, and again for fracturing his jaw on a hit by pitch. He really didn’t have any control over those things. But he still seems to come down with a lot of owwies. He’s failed to reach 130 games played in two of the past three seasons, and his health will remain a question until he strings a couple of full seasons together.
– Speed. Heyward’s speed vanished last year. His Speed Score, as calculated in these internet pages, dropped from 6.2 to 3.2. He followed up his one good season of UBR with one that looked a lot like his first two seasons, and his wSB dropped into the red. His stolen base percentage for his career is a less-than-optimal 68%, and last year he was only successful on two of his six stolen-base attempts.

– Filth. Most pitchers don’t reach pitch values of 10 or higher on one pitch. Kimbrel has come incredibly close to doing so in three straight seasons, and he did do it last season.
– Grounders. Over the past two seasons, Kimbrel has struck out nearly 44 percent of the batters he has faced. Of those who were able to put the ball in play, nearly 50% of them hit ground balls.
– Velocity. Kimbrel has not only not lost juice on his fastball, he’s actually gained a few ticks. That won’t last forever of course, but his decline might be softer as a result of his ability to maintain his velocity these first three seasons.
– Consistency. Kimbrel is the only relief pitcher to post at least 2 WAR in each of the past three seasons.
– He’s a reliever. There are a very few relievers who have proved worthy of long-term extensions, so Kimbrel is fighting an uphill battle just by the nature of his role.
– Contact rate. Last year, batters were able to make contact off of Kimbrel much more easily than they had in the past. His contact rate was still one of the 10 lowest among qualifiers, and his strikeout rate was still one of the five highest. But Kimbrel was not head and shoulders above the rest of the game the way he was in previous seasons.
– Zone percentage. In three of his four seasons in the majors, Kimbrel has had a below-average zone percentage. Last year, he threw the fewest pitches in the strike zone yet. He doesn’t have the best control going, and if his K rate keeps declining along with his zone percentage, Kimbrel may just lose his edge.

– Control. Of the 86 pitchers with at least 300 innings pitched over the past two seasons, Medlen’s 5.2% walk rate is essentially tied for 10th-best.
– Deception. Medlen is able to live in the strike zone and maintain that good control because of his ability to consistently fool hitters. Last season, the only pitchers who were able to generate a higher percentage of whiffs per swing via the changeup than Medlen were Jarrod Parker and Stephen Strasburg. And there was a big gap between Medlen in third and Cole Hamels in fourth. Since the changeup is Medlen’s second-most frequently thrown pitch, that’s an important fact.

– Injury concerns. Medlen has now tossed 337.1 innings since returning from Tommy John surgery, which means he is already nearing the end of his honeymoon phase. By the time 2016 rolls around, if Medlen hasn’t succumbed to a second Tommy John surgery, he’ll likely be very close.
– Velocity. Since 2008 (when PITCHf/x began stabilizing), there have been 445 pitchers who have been both 27-years-old or younger and have tossed at least 100 innings in a season. Of them, only 45 have failed to average 89 mph on their four-seam fastballs, and of those, just 21 have been right-handers. Here is that list:

Name Season IP vFA
Carlos Villanueva 2011 107.0 88.9
Kris Medlen 2013 197.0 88.9
A.J. Griffin 2013 200.0 88.8
Jeff Karstens 2009 108.0 88.8
Brian Bannister 2008 182.2 88.8
Jered Weaver 2009 211.0 88.7
Kevin Correia 2008 110.0 88.7
Micah Owings 2009 119.2 88.6
Kyle McClellan 2011 141.2 88.4
Carlos Villanueva 2008 108.1 88.4
Doug Fister 2010 171.0 88.3
Darrell Rasner 2008 113.1 88.1
Mike Fiers 2012 127.2 88.0
Josh Tomlin 2011 165.1 88.0
Dylan Axelrod 2013 128.1 87.9
John Ely 2010 100.0 87.3
Josh Collmenter 2011 154.1 87.2
Andy Sonnanstine 2008 193.1 87.1
Jeremy Bonderman 2010 171.0 87.0
Shaun Marcum 2008 151.1 87.0
Josh Geer 2009 102.2 86.1
A quick scan of this list makes it very apparent that it is not an enviable one. Aside from Medlen, Jered Weaver and Doug Fister are pitchers who one would consider signing to a long-term deal, though Weaver may be somewhat of a cautionary tale. The velocity on his four-seamer dipped under 87 mph last year, according to PITCHf/x, and probably not coincidentally, his ERA and FIP rose for the second-straight season (actually, his FIP rose for the third-straight season). Medlen will be as old when he hits free agency as Weaver was last season, so if that’s what Medlen’s future is, that’s probably not a good sign.

– Lack of holes. Upton is pretty good at everything. He’s got a good batting eye, both his walk rate and swing rates are above average. He has good power as well. Both his isolated power and slugging percentages are above league average for a right fielder. His basestealing isn’t amazing, but he is over the 70% mark for stolen-base success, and over the past three seasons, his 13.1 BsR ranks 10-best in the game. He also hits every pitch well. For his career, he has positive values per 100 pitches on every pitch except the knuckleball, and he probably hasn’t seen enough knuckleballs for that to matter.
– Pain tolerance. While there are plenty of injury issues in his timeline, none of them kept him out of the lineup for very long. He played through a thumb injury in 2012 to the detriment of his statistics, and while the other issues have not been as severe, it seems likely that he has played through things that other players would not have. He has only missed 28 games over the past three seasons.
Price. Of the five players on this list, Upton might end up being the most expensive, simply because he is already far more expensive. Upton will earn more than $14 million during each of the next two seasons, so it’s hard to imagine that he would accept an extension that paid him less than that. The Braves can certainly afford to pay him a little more than that, and he should remain that valuable, at least in the short-term, but in comparison to the other five players, it puts him at a disadvantage.

Taking the situation as a whole, it seems that as of right now, Freeman and Heyward are the two you would look to lock up first. You do what you need to in order to get those deals done, particularly with Heyward. From there, things get more murky. Upton probably will be worth keeping around, but the price may not be right for Atlanta. Kimbrel may be a luxury for a team that has consistently churned out quality pitchers for two decades, and Medlen’s velocity needs to be monitored. History tells us it will dip, and when it does, so too may his effectiveness. And finally, there’s Beachy. Thanks to his shoddy health track record, he doesn’t merit much discussion at this time, but if he proves capable of being both healthy and effective over the next two seasons, the Braves will have a difficult decision to make with him entering 2016 as well.

In all, this is a good problem to have. Every team wants to have this kinds of problem, and it’s a credit to the Braves front office that they are in a position where they may be forced to pick which of their young assets they want to lock up. Unfortunately for Atlanta, their now-more-obvious budgetary restrictions leave them less margin for error.

Which Active Players Are Going to Cooperstown?
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Hall of Fame announces its results tomorrow, and the next few days will be filled with voters publishing their ballots online, giving you ample opportunity to shake your head in wonder at the thought process of some voters. But, instead of getting frustrated by decisions made by other people we have no influence over, I’d like to do something else while waiting for Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and maybe even Frank Thomas to be acknowledged as all time greats. So, today, let’s update a post I did a few years ago, and look at which players currently active are going to eventually end up in Cooperstown.

Before I started picking names, though, I was curious as to what the historical precedent was for active Hall of Famers in any given season. I noted a few weeks ago that, historically, between 1-2% of all players have been inducted in the Hall of Fame, but because the best players have long careers and end up crossing over eras, it would make sense that there are more than 8-15 Hall of Famers playing in any given season. So, with assistance from Baseball-Reference’s Play Index, I pulled the number of players in every season of baseball history who were eventually elected to the Hall of Fame.

I won’t reproduce the whole list here, since it covers 134 seasons even after you exclude the nine recent years in which no one has yet to be elected, but I will note that the most Hall of Famers ever in one season is 53, back in 1928-1929-1930. There were 52 in 1926, 1927, and 1932. In fact, there are only 15 seasons in baseball history where there were 40 or more active Hall of Famers in that season, and those 15 years are every season from 1923 to 1937. Here are those 15 seasons, with rank being their position on the all time leaderboard for seasons with most Hall of Famers active.

Rk Year #Matching
15 1923 40
11 1924 47
8 1925 51
6 1926 52
5 1927 52
3 1928 53
2 1929 53
1 1930 53
9 1931 48
4 1932 52
7 1933 51
10 1934 47
12 1935 44
14 1936 41
13 1937 41
I think we can safely say that the era of Babe Ruth has been romanticized more than any other in baseball history, and agree that there are probably some players in the Hall of Fame who were simply the recipients of some fortuitous timing. That kind of representation of an era is not normal.

But, interestingly, the median number for active Hall of Famers in a season doesn’t really change much even if you throw out that entire time period. Including all the years in which there were any active players who have already been inducted into Cooperstown, the median is 30. If you throw out the 1923-1937 era, the median only drops to 28. If you limit the years to just the 20th century, the median is 33. No matter how you slice and dice the data, you’re going to end up with a historical norm around 30 active players. So, let’s set that as our target, and try to identify 30 players who will take the field in 2014 who might have a decent shot at ending up with a plaque in the Hall of Fame.

Already Earned Their Way

1. Albert Pujols, +87 WAR
2. Derek Jeter, +74 WAR
3. Ichiro Suzuki, +55 WAR

Barring a late career PED test failure, the first two are absolute locks, and Ichiro’s close enough to 3,000 hits that, with the bonus he’ll get for not coming to the U.S. until age-27, he’ll meet the Fame threshold for most voters.

Would Be a Lock, Except PEDs

4. Alex Rodriguez, +111 WAR

My guess is, at some point in the not too distant future, the Hall of Fame will adopt rules regarding players who were suspended for PED usage, and those rules will determine whether or not Rodriguez is eventually enshrined in Cooperstown. On performance alone, he obviously belongs.

Almost There, Just Don’t Suck for a Few More Years

5. Miguel Cabrera, +55 WAR
6. Carlos Beltran, +64 WAR
7. CC Sabathia, +62 WAR

Thesse guys have the rate stats to get inducted, and essentially just need to ensure that their counting stats get up near Hall of Fame levels for voters who prefer milestones. They don’t even have to be good for the next few years, as long as they stay healthy and keep playing most everyday. Adding in a decent 1,500 plate appearances or 500 innings would push them over the top for most voters, based on what they’ve already done.

On Track, but Not Quite There Yet

8. Adrian Beltre, +65 WAR
9. David Wright, +50 WAR
10. Joe Mauer, +44 WAR
11. Justin Verlander, +44 WAR
12. Felix Hernandez, +41 WAR
13. Robinson Cano, +37 WAR
14. Evan Longoria, +36 WAR
15. Dustin Pedroia, +34 WAR
16. Joey Votto, +33 WAR

These nine are guys that have played at a Hall of Fame level to this point in their career. You could potentially make a case for Beltre in the tier above this, but because so much of his value is tied to defense, he probably needs to do a bit more offensively to get over the hump. The rest mostly just need to age well.

Could Make it With Strong Finish

17. David Ortiz, +42 WAR
18. Chase Utley, +55 WAR
19. Cliff Lee, +45 WAR

These guys are all going to need to put up more great seasons in their late-30s in order to push themselves into the conversation, but they’ve done enough to at least make it possible.

Off to a Great Start

20. Clayton Kershaw, +29 WAR
21. Andrew McCutchen +27 WAR
22. Mike Trout, +21 WAR
23. Yadier Molina, +29 WAR
24. Zack Greinke, +37 WAR
25. Bryce Harper, +8 WAR
26. Giancarlo Stanton, +14 WAR
27. Buster Posey, +18 WAR
28. Manny Machado, +8 WAR
29. Stephen Strasburg, +11 WAR

The next generation of superstars — and Molina, who has made himself a potential candidate with his last few seasons — as best as we can tell right now. Some of these guys will get hurt or fall apart, but if I was going to pick the cream of the crop for the future candidates, these guys would probably be it.

The Reliever

30. Craig Kimbrel, +9 WAR

Voters have traditionally favored closers with longevity, but Kimbrel’s run of dominance is something we’ve never really seen before. His career ERA- is 37; Mariano Rivera only had three seasons in which he matched that mark. He’s going to have to stay healthy for another decade or so, but his peak was so high that he only really needs to have a couple more dominant years and then hang around as a save gatherer to go down as the best closer of his generation.

That’s my 30, anyway. It might skew too much to the older generation, and perhaps I’d be better off excluding guys like Utley and Lee in favor of super premium prospects who might get a cup of coffee, but this is the definition of an inexact science, so feel free to quibble with my picks and put your own in the comments.
post #19378 of 73406
Nice articles on the Braves. I'd keep Freeman, Heyward & Kimbrel let Medlen, . Upton walk as free agents or trade them. Too bad Braves will probably only keep 1 of them. Kimbrel will surely go to the Yankees frown.gif

Maddux, Glavine, Cox into the HOF pimp.gif
post #19379 of 73406
I liked Frank but I didn't think he would go in today. Good for him. Obviously Maddux was going in.

Here's a few of the percentages I heard on the radio.

Maddux 97.2
Glavine 91.9
Frank 83.7
Biggio 74.8
Piazza 62.2
Jack Morris 61.5
Bonds 34.7
Curt 29.2
post #19380 of 73406
The Big Hurt! pimp.gif
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