Whatever happened to the Hall… oh, can’t use that?
January 13, 2009 2 Comments
By now, you’ve probably heard that the Baseball Hall of Fame will be welcoming two new members in a few months. Rickey Henderson, a man who had a career .401 OBP, which is a) good, b) never mentioned, and c) oddly puts him behind Brian Giles (.403) for his career so I suppose we should start printing “Giles for the Hall” t-shirts… anyway, Rickey made it in. Oh yeah, Rickey stole some obscene number of bases. But, much in the same way that Cy Young is the all-time losing-est pitcher in baseball history, Rickey Henderson is the all-time leader in being caught stealing.
To his credit, he was an 80% base stealer, which is above break-even. But let’s see about something for a minute, Is it just that Rickey liked to run. Let’s look at a little toy formula (SB + CS) / (1B + BB + HBP), which is roughly “percentage of time on first base in which the player tried to steal.” There are other ways to first, and other bases to steal than second, but let’s stick to this for a moment. Limiting ourselves to those with more than 250 AB in a season, Henderson comes in with the 2nd (1982), 17th (1983), and 23rd (1986) most steal-happy seasons. Ever. (He has #51 and #66 as well.) For his career, he’s the 18th most steal-happy guy ever (min 1000 career AB). If you’re wondering the names ahead of him include Miguel Dilone (#1, 59%), Vince Coleman (#2, 57%), Jose Reyes (7), Deion Sanders (8), and Scott Podsednik (16). Henderson had a “go rate” of roughly 39%.
With the exception of Reyes, those guys are all low OBP, high speed guys. I once summed up Luis Castillo as “his 50 SB represent him stealing second and third after the 25 times he managed to make it to first base.” Henderson stole a lot of bases. Yes, he was a pretty good base stealer, but he was also a good hitter who got on base a lot and liked to run when he got there. And he was fast. And he could hit a few HR. Yes, the SB totals are nice, but let’s appreciate Rickey for what he was. A pretty good hitter.
Jim Rice made it in. My father has a simple phrase for times like these. “I think that’s nice.” The only word which seems to be used in Jim Rice’s defense is “fear.” Every article I’ve come across calls him “the most feared hitter of his age.” Why then, is he only in the top ten of one category all time: grounding into double plays? Then again, the five guys ahead of him (Ripken, Aaron, Yaz, Winfield, and Murray) are all in the Hall. Look, if “fear” is all it takes to get into the Hall, then there should be a lot more players in the Hall.
Once upon a time, I taught a few undergrad classes. The hardest things to do in teaching is to be able to look someone in the eye and tell them that they didn’t make the cut. You have to have a killer instinct to give someone an F and more and more, people seem to be averse to saying, “You tried hard, but you just didn’t make it.” This is why we have grade inflation. I think that HOF voters are falling prey to the same pressure. Seeing that this was Rice’s last chance, they voted him in. I think the fear that Jim Rice inspired was actually in the heads of the writers who didn’t want to feel like they “robbed” Rice of some sort of accomplishment.
Bert Blyleven didn’t make it in. But then neither did Jack Morris. We still love you Bert.
But the most fun part of the annual HOF balloting are the random guys who get a vote or two. This year, the honors go to Jay Bell, and Jesse Orosco. Two separate people actually looked at Jay Bell and said, “This guy was a Hall of Famer.” Please re-read that sentence.
Jay Bell did hit the first pitch he ever saw in a Major League game for a home run, off Bert Blyleven no less, for whom he had been traded. (Oddly enough, I specifically remember listening to that home run when I was six.) Bell put up a career .265/.343/.416 line over 18 years. He never really embarassed himself in the field, but was never a wizard with the glove. Doesn’t your favorite team have about five of those guys right now? In fact, in 2008, the average Major Leaguer hit .264/.333/.416. We’re now down to rewarding mediocrity?
And then there’s the curious case of Jesse Orosco. He’s a guy with a career 3.16 ERA who had a good K-rate, and even though he had a reputation as a LOOGY, his career splits against righties were .230/.320/.353. Not a bad pitcher to have around, which is why he played until he was 46 and holds the record for pitching in the most games. (He even played right field once!) Good career, but certainly not Hall-worthy. Perhaps since the “door has been broken down” for closers to enter with the enshrinements of Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter, maybe someone was trying to make a stand for left-handed people everywhere and break down the door (which was probably hung with the knob on the right side) for LOOGYs everywhere. I guess.
Yeah, another year in the Hall of Fame voting.