Evaluating Pitchers

I have a guest column on AL Firebrand about evaluating pitchers based on stuff. Check it out!


Two trades to report

The first trade sends Phil Nevin for Chan Ho Park, pending Bud Selig’s approval. Texas is not one of the teams included in Nevin’s no-trade clause. This deal definitely makes a lot more sense for Texas. The salaries are probably going to be equal, as the Rangers will send some money to the Padres. As I noted a week ago, Nevin is actually a pretty good hitter; he should do well in Texas. He will likely platoon with David Dellucci and Hank Blalock, both who struggle with lefties. Park stinks; more so, his only positive quality is that he hasn’t allowed many home runs this year (though he’s given up a lot of long balls over the course of his career), while Petco Park suppresses homers, meaning that it won’t help mask his weaknesses. In all, I like this trade more for the Rangers, though the Pads don’t really lose here either.
The second trade is between the Rockies and the Orioles. Colorado sends newly-acquired Eric Byrnes to Baltimore for Larry Bigbie. I like this trade for Baltimore: Byrnes will provide some much-needed offense. I don’t get this trade for the Rockies: Bigbie isn’t exactly young and he stinks. I guess they didn’t want to pay Byrnes beyond this year; still I don’t get it. The Orioles made out like bandits.

Who makes it into the Hall of Fame?

Dave Schoenfield wrote an interesting article on who he expects to get into the Hall of Fame. And by interesting, I mean horse s***. Schoenfield says that
Based on the historical trends, about 40 currently active majors leaguers will be elected to Cooperstown eventually.
No! Based on the numbers he presents, 30-35 players playing in any given year would be expected to make the Hall. In fact, the number seems to be decreasing, not increasing, so 25 or 30 would have been a much better number. But I understand, Schoenfield needed to stretch this into two columns, so what the heck.
Based on a regression of Bill James’ Hall of Fame Standards, I’ve derived a formula that predicts the percentage of votes a player would get if he were to retire today. Remember that you need 75% of the vote to get in. (Also, a note: I used Baseball Reference’s numbers, so these are only though 2004).
Based on this regression, there are currently 17 players not yet eligible for the Hall of Fame that should get in:
1. Barry Bonds (95%)
2. Roger Clemens (91%)
3. Greg Maddux (88%)
4. Jeff Bagwell (83%)
5. Randy Johnson (83%)
6. Mike Piazza (82%)
7. Cal Ripken (82%)
8. Pedro Martinez (82%)
9. Rafael Palmeiro (82%)
10. Roberto Alomar (81%)
11. Frank Thomas (81%)
12. Alex Rodriguez (79%)
14. Gary Sheffield (78%)
15. Ken Griffey (78%)
16. Larry Walker (77%)
17. Rickey Henderson (77%)
The number in parenthesis is the predicted percentage of votes. By the way, Hall of Fame Standards are a good proxy for a player’s chances of getting in, with a score of 50 meaning a 50% chance, etc. Walker’s presence is discounted because of the Coors Field effect. Henderson and Ripken are not active players, so they weren’t eligible for consideration by Schoenfield. In total, that leaves 14 players that should have been on that list.
Of the players on my list, Schoenfield doesn’t mention five – Martinez, Palmeiro, Alomar, Thomas, and Sheffield – in his top-20. I suspect all will be discussed in his next column, or at least they should, but all of those are much better than some of the guys Schoenfield chooses. Let’s take a look.
4. Tom Glavine
Glavine has 269 wins and his career is winding down (wait, make that “his career is about to hit a brick wall”), so it appears he’ll fall just short of the automatic 300-win barrier. No doubt, many electors — especially those who used to pour down beers with Cy Young and Lefty Grove — will disqualify Glavine because of that. After all, no starting pitcher with fewer than 300 wins has been voted in by the writers since Fergie Jenkins in 1991. That’s insane. Glavine has won 20 games five times and has two Cy Youngs, finishing in the top three in four other years. He has a 2.47 ERA in eight World Series starts, including a one-hitter in the clinching game in 1995. He’s a lock.

Glavine is a questionable choice, and I think that whether or not he gets inducted into the Hall of Fame will play a large role in determining future requirements for pitching inductees.Glavine doesn’t have the magic number 300 in any important category: not wins, nor runs saved above average, and not even Win Shares. He’s third among active pitchers in innings pitched, and 13th in ERA+. He’s a good pitcher, but not a great one, and would make a questionable Hall of Fame choice. Certainly, not fourth-best.
5. John Smoltz
Not fifth, but Schoenfield actually has a pretty convincing argument in terms of Smoltz vs. Dennis Eckersley. Too bad he doesn’t realize this and puts it at the end of his comment. Smoltz’s 248 career Win Shares are very good, and he’ll be closer to 255 by the end of the year. 300 is the magic number, and Smoltz could still get there. Right now, however, Smoltz is not a Hall of Famer. Period.
7. Mariano Rivera
How many consecutive postseason saves could Rivera blow and still be known as the Sandman? I say 14. He’s been that good: 70 postseason games, 108.2 innings, 0.75 ERA (that’s nine earned runs), 32 saves in 35 chances (and, yes, Red Sox fans, we’re all aware of blown save No. 3).

Closers are not included in Hall of Fame Standards since there are no standards. However, I am inclined to agree with Schoenfield here. Entering 2004, Rivera had 177 runs saved above average. But we have to remember that as a closer, he has a higher leveraged index than a starting pitcher; that is, he pitches in more important situations. I would estimate that Rivera’s career LI is around 1.7 (meaning that when he pitches, the situation 1.7 times more crucial than the average situation), which would put him right at 300 runs saved above average. He only has 153 career Win Shares, but nevertheless, given Rivera’s postseason dominance and regular season greatness, I do think he’s a Hall of Famer.
8. Derek Jeter
He’s nowhere near as great as Tim McCarver thinks he is, and nowhere near as overrated as Yankee-haters want you to believe. But he’s a clear Hall of Famer, on his way to 3,000 hits and 2,000 runs scored, and you know, he plays the game the right way.

A “clear” Hall of Famer? I think not. Schoenfield says that Jeter is on his way to 3,000 hits and 2,000 runs, which I think would certainly make the Yankee shortstop a Hall of Famer. But is he? Let’s look at Jeter’s 10 most similar players through age 30. Five are in the Hall of Fame (and Jeter is not very unique; that is, those 10 players are very similar). Based on those 10, Jeter would be projected to gather 2,342 hits and 1,354 runs. He’d be projected to hit 200 home runs and gather 1,003 RBI. Are those Hall of Fame numbers? No. Will he surpass them? Maybe. But Derek Jeter is nowhere near a Hall of Famer, and while I’m willing to bet he makes it in, I’m pretty sure he won’t deserve it.
10. Albert Pujols
I do predict, however, that Pujols will crack it.
11. Vladimir Guerrero
Vlad already has Hall of Fame-caliber nicknames — Vlad the Impaler, Vladdy Daddy — and will eventually have Hall of Fame-caliber numbers, assuming he doesn’t permanently ruin his back carrying Darin Erstad and Steve Finley into the postseason this year.
12. Miguel Cabrera
Yes, it’s completely ridiculous to project somebody who has just two years in the big leagues as a Hall of Famer, but that’s the fun part of this exercise. Next to Pujols in the 25-and-younger set, Cabrera has clearly established the most high-end potential. Of course, in 1975, that list would have included Jeff Burroughs and Claudell Washington.

“Completely ridiculous?” You betcha. Look, maybe I’m just a hard worker (not!), but I’d rather write two columns on two vastly different topics than choose an easy topic and embarrass myself. Especially if I have hundreds of thousands of readers. Then again, that’s just me.
As much as I love Pujols, he’s older than he says he is (I think BP reported that he’s 29) which means that he’s going to decline sooner than expected. Much like Alfonso Soriano. I’m not sure he’ll be a Hall of Famer, even with the other-wordly numbers he’s putting up now. Guerrero is even less likely to make it: too many injury problems, etc. And Cabrera? If Bill James refuses to project his career, Schoenfield should do the same.
14. Manny Ramirez
I project him as having a 74% chance after 2004, which might well be up to 75% by now, so this one is okay with me.
15. Sammy Sosa
Despite the steroid rumors, the corked-bat scandal and the leap (“Yes! It’s going, going ohh, no, it’s just a fly ball to the warning track”), Sosa will be an easy first-ballot Hall of Famer. Certainly, few of his peers have been more famous. That said Sosa’s greatness is exaggerated. His run as a truly elite player only lasted five seasons, from 1998 to 2002. And, yes, his 2001 season (64 home runs, 160 RBI, 146 runs, .328 average, .737 slugging percentage) looks like Kelly Leak’s Little League numbers. But prior to ’98, he didn’t get on base enough — his lifetime on-base percentage through 2004 (.348) is barely better than the league average (.339) — and even though he’s only 36, he’s looking like he may be done by 37.

Sosa is projected with a 72% chance and I have a hard time believing he won’t make it, so he falls into the same category as Ramirez.
16. Miguel Tejada
Sportswriters drool over power-hitting, RBI-machine shortstops like they do when a woman wears a skirt in the press box. Miggy is on his way to his sixth season of 100 or more RBI. Only Joe Cronin (eight) and Alex Rodriguez (seven) have had more as a shortstop.

You want to know what luminaries Tejada is tied with right now (44% chance of getting in if he retired right now, BTW)? Bret Boone, Ray Lankford, Eric Young, Jay Buhner, Darrin Fletcher, Edgardo Alfonzo, Mark Loretta, Garret Anderson, Marquis Grissom, Delino DeShields, Luis Castillo, Mike Stanley. I suggest Schoenfield wait before having another wet dream about Miggy.
18. Ivan Rodriguez
Pudge wins with the arm, but Piazza wins with the bat and his underrated game-calling skills. And since the value of the arm is overrated, Piazza ranks better on my list. But both are clear Famers and join the Bench/Berra/Cochrane/Campanella debate over the best catcher ever.
19. Craig Biggio
He has more than 2,700 hits and should reach 3,000, but he doesn’t have to get to that magic number. This guy has done everything on the field: hit for average (four times over .300), hit for power (six times with 20-plus homers, twice with 50-plus doubles), steal bases (as many as 50 in one season), draw walks (.400 on-base percentage four times), score runs, win Gold Gloves, change positions, hustle (one year he grounded into zero double plays while playing every game), stay healthy well, everything except clean his helmet.

73% and 74% respectively, so I’ll let these slide as well even though I don’t think I-Rod is anywhere near a Hall of Famer, nor do I think he will get in.
So all in all, this wasn’t as bad a list as I thought. Still, Schoenfield made some stupid decisions, and I expect part two to be completely asinine. Why can’t ESPN get real writers?

Shawn Chacon traded to the Yankees

Sorry I was gone yesterday, internet problems kept me away. But I have plenty of stuff to talk about today. First of all, the Shawn Chacon trade. The Yankees, in desperate need of a starter, any starter for the weekend, dealt two prospects – Ramon Ramirez and Edwardo Sierra – to the Rockies for Chacon, who will provide an arm. But can he do more? Chacon’s 39/36 K/BB road ratio suggests a big, fat “no”. Chacon has a pretty good curveball, which one might expect to help him more away from Coors, but over the last three years Chacon has averaged less strikeouts and more walks on the road than at home. His home run rate drops drastically away from Denver, and Yankee Stadium should help him there as well, but it seems to me that he is going to get eaten up in the American League. Chacon has also been a horrible second-half pitcher (6.73 ERA vs. 4.95 in the first), which further suggests that he won’t do much to help the Yankees, other than eat innings.
The two prospects the Rockies received are not much; I would have held out for one of the Yankees’ better prospects if I were Dan O’Dowd. Ramirez looks like a decent prospect: he doesn’t allow home runs and has an okay K/BB rate, but even though he is still pretty young, I doubt he’ll be anything more than a reliever in the major leagues. Sierra, in my opinion, is a non-prospect. He’s not particularly young for his level, he doesn’t strike out too many batters, and he has atrocious control. The Yankees didn’t give up much here.
Overall, the Rockies got rid of a pitcher they didn’t want or need, and the Yankees got an arm, which is something they desperately needed (after all, their only other alternative was Hideo Nomo). Neither team really wins here, but both lose. The Yankees literally (as in they will lose games with Chacon starting) and Rockies because they could have gotten more, I think.

How bad is the NL West?

Ok, I do actually have one other quick observation: looking at BP’s playoff odds report, I see that Colorado has a better chance of winning the NL West than of being a wild card (4.5% vs. 0%). In fact, the Rockies, the team with by far the worst record in baseball, the only team under .400, have a better chance of winning the West than the divison-leading Padres’ chance of winning the wild card. How sad is that? Another way to look at it: on average, it took between 91.9 and 97.8 wins to win the other five divisions in baseball. It only took 83.6 wins, on average, to win the NL West based on BP’s simulations. The NL West is historically bad.

Go Baseball Prospectus

They have made all pay content available free for a week. I’m having too much fun to post anything more substantial. (Click on the link to your right). Be back tomorrow.

Kerry Wood

Kerry Wood goes on the DL again, and the Cubs now plan on bringing him back as a reliever. And while the Cubs bullpen, whose 4.43 ERA ranks it 19th in the major leagues, does need some help, a reliever is never as valuable as a starter if they can pitch on the same level. Can Wood pitch effectively as a starter? I doesn’t seem so. He has a 4.67 ERA this year and has been feeling pain every time he takes the mound. He likely will be more effective as a reliever, but the fact is that it should have never come to this. Wood is a big, young fire-baller – not the type of pitcher you would expect to get injured so often.
But as Sig Mejdal explains in the 2005 Bill James Handbook, there is “a noteworthy correlation regarding the number of high pitch outings…Experienced by youthful pitchers (i.e. 25 years or less) and later shoulder injuries.” Well, in his first three seasons (he turned 25 during his fourth), Wood averaged over 107 innings per start, a dangerously high number. More so, in that time period, he had Tommy John surgery, and never had more than 28 starts in a season. Wood was used way too much, even for a big guy, and even after the Tommy John surgery, the Cubs did not let up. It’s no wonder Wood has been injured so often the past two years.
While studies have shown that there is little or no correlation between high pitch outings for veterans and injuries, I would expect to find that older pitchers with prior injury histories are much less likely to get injured if their pitch counts are kept down. And I would present Pedro Martinez as Exhibit A. While there was no need to keep Wood’s pitch counts below 100, even after the Tommy John surgery, he should not have been allowed to pile up the huge pitch counts that he has. Because the Cubs did let him throw so many high-pitch outings, they are now forced to live with the consequences.
Which leads to my conclusion: I would never want to pitch for Dusty Baker.