The Grain of Salt

It’s now late April, and baseball season has been well underway, although with a small sample data set. Joey Votto still doesn’t have a home run. Logan Morrison has a solid -19 wRC+. It’s the most autonomous time of year to be a baseball blogger because you have an excuse to write about why David Peralta (and his 177 wRC+) is here to stay. I get to try and explain Jake Marisnick’s 53.3% K%! I am in baseball nerd heaven. It’s the time when fans look at Jose Ramirez’s sub-Mendoza line batting average and start to draw conclusions as to why he has suddenly fallen off the cliff. Too many strikeouts? Nope, he has a 5.4% K%. Too many pop-outs? His IFFB% this season is lower than his career rate, so no. Bad luck? As with most of these guys who are being debated on the premature “Panic Meter” segment of SportsNation or whatever podcast you listen to, that’s probably the reason. Ramirez’s BABIP is .151 with lots of room to regress. However, there are some stats that have some legs to stand on. Maybe not Quadzilla size, but a solid Mitch Moreland calf muscle is fair. Baseball Savant just released the 2018 Statcast leaderboards for things such as sprint speed, outs above average, and expected outcomes. I am currently tingling with excitement. Here are a few numbers that are worth dissecting, and maybe say something about the player we didn’t know in January.

 

Sprint Speed

Bryce Harper may not be a 5 tool player, after all. Last year, in 187 opportunities he had an average sprint speed of 27.8 feet/second. Although not blazing, of the 42 right fielders who had at least 75 opportunities, Harper ranked 19th. This year, he is 33rd out of 35 right fielders (25.5) with at least 10 chances on the base paths. Only Kole (not Cole) Calhoun and the out of position Jay Bruce trail him. The lack of speed is showing in the field, with -3 Outs Above Average so far and a -11% catch percentage added. I am starting to think he would be a better fit at DH next year with Giancarlo playing left. You know since he will be a Yankee.

Outs Above Average

Corey Dickerson had 0 outs above average and a -1% expected catch percentage last year. He isn’t exactly the breathtaking athlete that succeeds in a major league outfield. He looked like a good fit for the rebuilding Pirates, who are trying to give off the impression that they give a damn. “Pirates acquire All-Star Dickerson from Rays!” The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette played that headline up, huh? This year, though, he has 3 OAA and an added catch percentage of 8%. Of the 67 outfilders with at least 25 opportunites, he ranks 3rd in catch % added. Sustainable? Probably not at this rate. He has, however, registered one win on Fangraphs in only a tenth of the games he played in last year. Dickerson may be a valuable trade piece come July for the Buccos. Oh, and check out this dope catch from last year.

xwOBA

This one is stumping me a bit. Joe Panik has a .429 xwOBA so far this season. xwOBA is calculated through the quality of contact (Exit Velocity/Launch Angle) and BB+K numbers. Panik’s plate discipline numbers are fairly similar to last year, so his dramatic increase in xwOBA must have to do with his quality of contact, right? Not necessarily. His exit velocity and launch angle are essentially the same as last year. So what could it be? Well, he is pulling the ball more, and his xwOBA on balls in play is .433, so he must be producing the perfect combination of exit velocity and launch angle on his batted balls. On balls to the pull side, Panik has a 231 wRC+.Pulling the ball in the air is usually a recipe for success (see Betts, Mookie). He also has 19 balls hit 95+ MPH, 78th out of 253 qualified hitters.

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, Baseball Reference, Baseball Outsiders, and Fangraphs. Thanks for reading!

Article written by Cameron Levy

Cover photo credits: The Mercury News

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Top Ten Right Now: First Basemen

Sluggers will slug. That is what we have learned, especially in today’s airball revolution. Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera are some of the best hitters of our generation, and both are first ballot HOFers, but the back 9 of their careers have hit hard. GM’s hopefully have become warier of paying first basemen with players like Ian Desmond, Chris Davis, and Wil Myers giving a negative return on investment with their deals. The position is trending towards the youth, and I expect names such as Bird and Bellinger to make the top 10 next year.

 

Methodology

I weighed 2nd half stats more heavily than first because as a Texas High School football coach probably once said, “it’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish.” After compiling all of the stats, I found the mean and standard deviation of each statistic. With this information, I standardized each player’s number relative to their position (Z-Score). Refer to Top Ten 3rd basemen for how these numbers were formulated.

  1. wRC+ from 2016 & 2017
  2. Quality of Contact
  3. Contact Skills
  4. Defense
  5. Games played in 2016 + 2017
  6. Plate Discipline
  7. Base Running

 

The List

  1. Joey Votto
    • Arguably the best bat in baseball, Votto still resides in the barren ozone layer that is Cincinnati. He is an everyday player with the best eye in the sport, and he’s got jokes too.
  2. Freddie Freeman
    • Freeman was on pace for 60 (!) home runs when a wrist injury cut into his unsustainable, yet spectacular, 1.200 OPS. If he can stay healthy, I think that lineup could surprise some people (Acuna, Albies, Inciarte). Although all the panelists put Goldschmidt here, the shredder and I agreed on Freeman’s ranking.
  3. Anthony Rizzo
    • The combination of good defense and excellent contact skills (Z-Score of 1.2) puts Rizzo, a kid at heart, near the top of this list.
  4. Paul Goldschmidt
    • This isn’t really a knock on Goldy, as it is much more of a testament to Freeman and Rizzo. Paul Bunyan is a true all-around player, earning 3.3 Base Running Runs last year.
  5. Jose Abreu
    • With a 148 wRC+, Abreu was only behind Joey Gallo for most home runs at the position in the second half of the season.
  6. Brandon Belt
    • Brandon Belt is severely underrated. He has a great eye, a solid bat, and plays great defense. Unfortunately for him, AT&T Park limits his production, but he still produced a 130 wRC+ in the second half last year.
  7. Matt Olson
    • One of many unsung prospects on the A’s (see Chapman, Matt), Olson may be the second coming of Jason Giambi. The lefty slugger had a .487 xwOBA on BIP and a 183 wRC+ in the second half. Let’s just hope he doesn’t bolt for the money like Giambi did. Only Bill James had Olson listed on his top 10.
  8. Edwin Encarnacion
    • He still does everything well. The contract should be seen as a success by the time it expires.
  9. Joey Gallo
    • Ahhhhh, Joey Gallo. The ultimate lottery ticket, if you will. Gallo had more home runs last year than singles. Take that in. The guy either whiffs, miserably or demolishes the ball through Cowboys Stadium (.587 xwOBA in the second half). Vince Gennaro had Gallo as high as 6th.
  10. Carlos Santana
    • A more contact-oriented player, Santana will bring some much-needed experience to the Phillies.

Just Missed

  1. Eric Hosmer
  2. Joe Mauer
  3. Justin Smoak

 

Data courtesy of ESPN and Baseball Reference. Thanks for reading!

Written by Cameron Levy

Cover Photo Credits: Sports Illustrated

Top Ten Right Now: 2B

Arguably the most watered down position in baseball, 2nd base is thirsty for talent. With all of the exceptional hitters starting to move to shortstop and 3rd, 2nd base has been pillaged of its talent. 2nd base used to be where more physical guys played, who could handle bunting during the dead ball days. The old guard at the position consists of a few former AL East second basemen who are all but finished, and the new wave has yet to reveal itself. The feeble bats at the position have made second base a more contact and speed oriented position. There is a lack of new talent busting through the pipeline, so the hierarchy for second basemen is still Altuve…and everyone else.

 

Methodology

I weighed 2nd half stats more heavily than first, because as a Texas High School football coach probably once said, “it’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish.” After compiling all of the stats, I found the mean and standard deviation of each statistic. With this information, I standardized each player’s number relative to their position (Z-Score). Refer to Top Ten 3rd basemen for how these numbers were formulated.

In order of importance:

  1. wRC+ from 2016 & 2017
  2. Contact Skills
    • 2nd base is not a power hitting position. These guys need to get on base by putting the bat on the ball.
  3. Quality of Contact
  4. Defense
  5. Games played in 2016 + 2017
  6. Plate Discipline
  7. Base Running

The List

  1. Jose Altuve
    • The guy has it all. A younger (and better) version of Dustin Pedroia.
  2. Daniel Murphy
    • Despite a defensive Z-Score of -1.72, Murphy hits the ball extremely hard for his position and the air-ball revolution has guided him to a 146 wRC+ over the last 2 years. Vince Gennaro was the lone panelist to have Murphy above 3rd.
  3. Brian Dozier
    • The Jose Bautista-like switch in Dozier’s previously mundane career has made him a top free agent next winter.
  4. Jed Lowrie
    • I could talk all day about the baseball version of Jarrett Jack, an average player who you always assumed was still playing but had no idea where. This past year, however, Lowrie had the largest increase in average exit velocity, plate discipline (Z-Score of 3 in 2017), and xwOBA among 2nd basemen. Lowrie has graduated from the Courtney Lee journeyman tier. Only Bill James had Lowrie on the list, at 8.
  5. DJ LeMahieu
    • LeMahieu has abused the .300 batting average that Coors serves up on a silver platter. His face value home-road splits are a bit concerning, but all of my stats account for the ballpark. Gennaro was the high man on LeMahieu, placing him at 4.
  6. Robinson Cano
    • The decline is real. He isn’t poor at any one skill, other than base running. However, with injuries starting to take a toll, Cano is approaching the final phase of an excellent career
  7. Ian Kinsler
  8. Whit Merrifield
    • I really like saying his name. Without researching, I’m guessing he was born on a farm in Texas and learned to play baseball with a tree branch and an apple while his dog would shag flies for him. Anyway, he’s fast and young. Exciting piece for the decrepit Royals moving forward.
  9. Dustin Pedroia
    • If he was healthy, Pedroia would be higher. But father time has entered the theater, and the Laser Show is closing its curtains.
  10. Jonathan Schoop
    • This may surprise a few people, but Schoop finished with a negative Z-Score in the wRC+ category. The guy hits the ball hard but lacks discipline and contact skills. Without the run production numbers to compensate, Schoop just barely snuck in. Bill James had him 2nd. Well.

Just Missed

  1. Ozzie Albies
  2. Cesar Hernandez
  3. Asdrubel Cabrera

 

Data courtesy of ESPN and Baseball Reference. Thanks for reading!

Article written by Cameron Levy.

Cover Photo Credits: Sporting News.

Top Ten Right Now: Shortstops

The shortstop position has evolved from the Mark Belanger, gotta have range, defensive position. With a flurry of young shortstops already here, the league will be spoiled with excellence by the time guys like Gleyber Torres, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Bo Bichette come up. The top 3 SS are all interchangeable, similarly to the top 4 3rd basemen.

Methodology

I weighed 2nd half stats more heavily than first, because as some random Texas High School football coach probably once said, “it’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish.” After finding all the numbers, I found the mean and standard deviation of each number. With this information, I standardized each player’s number relative to their position (Z-Score). Refer to Top Ten 3rd basemen for how these numbers were formulated.

In order of importance:

  1. wRC+ from 2016 & 2017
  2. Defense
    • An excellent defensive shortstop is more valuable than an excellent defensive 1st basemen. Andrelton Simmons defense>Eric Hosmer defense
  3. Quality of Contact
  4. Contact Skills
  5. Games played in 2016 + 2017 and Base Running
  6. Plate Discipline

The List

  1. Francisco Lindor
    • Here’s a guy that had a 2nd half wRC+ of 142. His increased production was a result of excellent contact skills and a swing that fosters more fly balls. He and my #2 were neck and neck.
  2. Corey Seager
    • Seager plays shortstop caliber defense but slugs like a 3rd baseman. His plate discipline Z-Score was 1.88. The next closest shortstop was Brandon Crawford at 1.28.
  3. Carlos Correa
    • The former top pick has put up the best numbers, despite not playing a full 2017 season. Although I personally believe he is best suited at 3rd in the long term, Correa’s offensive skills are exceptional relative to his current position. The elite triumvirate of Seager, Lindor, and Correa is the Nomar, Jeter, and A-Rod of this era. I couldn’t tell you which is which because they are all so damn good.
  4. Andrelton Simmons
    • The gaping hole in Simmons’ game was his bat. The hole shrunk a bit last year, but his defense (2.67 Z-Score) still carries him. He is the best defender in baseball, and it’s not particularly close.
  5. Manny Machado
    • As a future Yankee, this hurts to see. Machado is not in the same $400 million league as Bryce Harper is, another pending free agent. The positional swap with Tim Beckham will make Machado’s bat, which dealt with some bad luck last year, even more valuable.
  6. Paul DeJong
    • Despite only playing in 108 games, DeJong hit 25 home runs. Over a full season, that projects to 37. Only Corey Seager hit balls in play harder than he. The effortless power to all fields profiles extremely well for the future.
  7. Trea Turner
    • The list significantly falls off at this point. Turner’s sprint speed of 29.2 is the fastest among qualified shortstops, but has missed time and lacks enough contact skill to turn his groundouts into singles and singles into doubles
  8. Didi Gregorius
    • The buzz Didi experiences is largely juiced by the “following a legend” narrative. Although productive, he is essentially a better Xander Bogaerts. Didi has greatly benefitted from the fly ball revolution because he can pop home runs just over the short right field porch in the Bronx. Of all players with at least 25 home runs, Didi had the shortest average HR distance. Ben Lindbergh also had him 8th, so I’m not alone on this one folks.
  9. Addison Russell
    • If he stays healthy, his bat will eventually catch up to his glove. Vince Gennaro was the high man on Russell, slotting him in 7th.
  10. Trevor Story
    • Story is a potential 20-20 guy, in my eyes. He has a 28.4 sprint speed and has enough power, especially at Coors, to get back to his rookie year power output. Mike Petriello had him 10th, too.

Just Missed

  1. Elvis Andrus
  2. Brandon Crawford
  3. Ketel Marte

 

Data courtesy of ESPN and Baseball Reference. Thanks for reading!

Written by Cameron Levy.

Cover Photo Credits: AP Images.

Top Ten Right Now: 3B

Every Winter, MLB network releases their top ten players at each position. The Shredder and its objective, unbiased methodology spits out a list of ten guys who are currently at the top of their respective positions. My mind pictures some 23rd-century printer churning out a list of players in the Brian Kenny’s secret saber hideout. The Shredder itself, also of another generation, eats up every pertinent statistic in the world and right before it combusts into flames from an flooding of numbers, it calmly prints out the list. It’s difficult to argue with a sequestered machine with a name as rad as The Shredder, but luckily MLB Network brings on some of the great sabermetricians of our time such as Vince “SABR” Gennaro, Ben “Effectively Wild” Lindbergh, Mike “Statcast” Petriello (my personal favorite), and the Godfather himself, Bill James to dispute the robot. If they can argue with it, why can’t I? This is the first of a series of top ten lists I’ll be sharing. My #1 is not the guy that will have the highest WAR (Wins Above Replacement) in 2018, but rather the guy I think is the best player. WAR  is a subjective stat, evidenced by the many different versions of WAR. This is my version.

Methodology

I weighed 2nd half stats more heavily than first, because as some random Texas High School football coach probably once said, “it’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish.” After finding all the numbers, I found the mean and standard deviation of each number. With this information, I standardized each player’s number relative to their position (Z-Score).

In order of importance:

  1. wRC+ from 2016 & 2017
    • Start with a baseline, right? Made sure to add in 2016 production because..track record.
  2. Quality of Contact
    • xwOBA, a statcast staple, determines the expected wOBA of a player based on the launch angle and exit velocity of the ball. I took walks and strikeouts out of the equation, just focusing on Balls in Play. For example, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge have obscene scores because when they hit the ball at an outfielder, that poor fielder wishes he was DH’ing. I’m an expected outcomes dork.
  3. Defense
    • For infielders, I used DRS and UZR/180. To give credit to guys who didn’t get as many chances to make plays, I gave more weight to UZR/180 scores. Both stats attempt to quantify how many runs a player saved or gave up.
  4. Contact Skills
    • We all love Dee Gordon. He is a former batting champion, and definitely not one of the worst hitters in baseball. But xwOBA would say he is because he doesn’t have much pop. Using Zone-Contact %, I determined the best guys at hitting the ball when the pitch is in the strike zone, since making contact at a pitch out of the zone usually doesn’t end well for the free swinger.
  5. Games Played the last 2 years
    • I love Paul DeJong and Matt Chapman probably more than I should. However, they are still somewhat unproven. Not fair to other guys who have shown consistent excellence if I rank the 84 mid-season call up games of Matt Chapman’s rookie season over the full season of stellar play from others. This will also penalize some of the more injury prone guys who are fighting father time. There is value in health.
  6. Plate Discipline
    • If you have ever played little league, or even just watched baseball, you have definitely heard some someone used the banal phrase “Good eye, kid.” Although feverishly overused, a good eye is important. To determine the best eyes, I subtracted Out of Zone-Swing % from Zone-Swing %.
  7. Base Running
    • I used Sprint Speed to determine the fastest guys in baseball. Simple. Albert Pujols: my dog is faster. Byron Buxton: dude can fly.

The List

  1. Josh Donaldson
    • Slightly worried about his injuries, but the MVP track record is too strong. Despite some average defense and contact skills, he hammers baseballs.
  2. Kris Bryant
    • His MVP resume and superior baserunning gave him the push for top 2.
  3. Nolan Arenado
    • Baseball intelligence immediately use what I call “Coors Criticism”, against Arenado. His aptitude for defense is exemplary (Z-Score of 1.4) and he shows up every day.
  4. Anthony Rendon
    • Surprised? Me too. Consider this, though. Highest contact score. 2nd highest defense score. Bill James ranked him #1. I guess you can call me the Godfather Part II. (Sorry, had to.) He is the anti-Donaldson, in a sense
  5. Jose Ramirez
    • He projects better at 2nd base, IMO. His lack of hard contact would play better there, but with his speed and contact skills, Ramirez still thrives at the lifeline of the Cleveland offense.
  6. Justin Turner
    • He fell off in the second half but is consistent enough to make the top 10.
  7. Adrian Beltre
    • Age is a concern, for sure. He will be 39 in April and played less than 100 games last year. But he still puts up elite defense and makes contact with the best of ’em.
  8. Eduardo Suarez
  9. Matt Chapman
    • My new favorite player. Look up his highlights on YouTube. In 84 games, it seems he had a web gem and/or home run in…84 of those games. He’s fast, has an elite eye, and is maybe the best defensive 3rd baseman. I was tempted to put him higher but resisted with a guy who has only played a half season. Looking to avoid a 2017 Aledmys Diaz disaster.
  10. Alex Bregman
    • Bregman isn’t really a slugger in the traditional sense. The relatively short former top prospect had a wRC+ of 141 in the second half last year, only behind Donaldson, Arenado, and Bryant at the position. He makes enough contact where he can afford to strikeout in exchange for power.

Just Missed

  1. Miguel Sano
  2. Kyle Seager
  3. Travis Shaw

 

Data courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball Reference

Projecting the Best Case Scenario of Murderer’s Row 2.0

The 1927 Yankees are widely considered one of the greatest teams of all time. The term Murderers Row was coined by a sportswriter in the pre-Babe Ruth era, but once Ruth and Lou Gehrig came into the fold, the term was much more appropriate. After an expedited rebuild, the Yankees have created a somewhat-cloned lineup 91 years later. They have built, as Brian Cashman would say, the Golden State Warriors of baseball. With the acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees are the first team to lead the Majors in home runs and then acquire that season’s individual homer champ since they purchased Babe Ruth from the Red Sox way back in 1919. But how good can this lineup be? With a world of potential, I decided to look at what optimal production could be for this team. This is NOT a projection. This is the BEST CASE SCENARIO. Most likely, their wOBA’s will be around .02 lower than I have projected (wOBA credits a hitter for the value of each outcome (1B, 2B, HR) rather than treating all times on base equally, like OBP). So let’s take a look at what could be the best Yankees lineup since Ruth and Gehrig.

 

Photo Credits: New York Times

 

Giancarlo Stanton:

Travis Sawchick wrote an excellent piece on FanGraphs this past August about how Stanton’s closed stance has impacted his game. Private swing instructor Bobby Tewksbary noted “Stanton has always been a classic Pull Pattern hitter. This means he’ll create separation between his hips and shoulders, but his hands would come forward with his shoulders. He would close off in his stride, but he wasn’t able to delay the hands.” The article mainly pointed out that since about the end of June, the closed stance saw his production go crazy. From June 29th until the end of the season, Stanton, with a career 28.5 K%, struck out only 23.6% of his AB’s and raised his BB% by a significant 2.1%. Stanton had a 178 wRC+, including a .712 SLG%. He put together one of the greatest stretches in history. With 39 (!) home runs during this 84 game stretch, that projects to 74 over a full season. With some regression bound to hit, I say best case scenario is ¾ of what Stanton delivered after his stance change. AKA, a season for the ages.

.290/.380/.660 62 Home Runs, .440 wOBA

 

Photo Credits: AP Images

 

Aaron Judge:

In a vacuum, Judge had an MVP caliber season, finishing with the highest wOBA in the sport. Oh, and he was a rookie. It was a season of streaks for Judge. From the start of the season until the All-Star Break, he hit .329 with a 197 wRC+. Unsustainable, obviously. From the ASB to September 1st, he hit a putrid .181 with an 86 wRC+. However, he made his final MVP push in the last month+ of the season, slugging .889 while hitting .311 up until the Yankees were eliminated from the playoffs. Now, Judge isn’t either of these extremes, but it’s clear that he is closer to the MVP version. We have to account for a few things when it relates to Judge. First, he is still developing, so his game should naturally improve just based on the aging curve of great young players. Second, Stanton will create massive protection for Judge and in turn get more pitches to hit. Third, Judge was so god awful for a stretch, that if those numbers are even slightly better, he wins MVP.

.280/.410/.650 58 Home Runs .440 wOBA

 

Photo Credits: Sports Illustrated

 

Gary Sanchez:

Despite playing in only 122 games, El Gary hit 33 bombs. Assuming he plays a full season, accounting for days off, he should hit around 40. Again, a better lineup around the star catcher will give him more pitches to hit, so expect fewer walks and more contact. In addition, Gary raised his launch angle 5.4 degrees from his rookie year, and I expect that number to rise even more as he matures. Gary was fairly level-headed for the season, meaning he didn’t have any awful stretches or monstrous ones, so his projection is a bit easier than Judge’s. He is arguably a better hitter than Jorge Posada ever was.

.290/.350/.550 42 Home Runs .380 wOBA

 

Photo Credits: Getty Images

 

Greg Bird:

Bird… is the word. Unlike the other members of Murderers Row 2.0, Bird isn’t as popular a name. But check out this graphic via FanGraphs on Bird’s numbers since coming off the DL with a nagging foot injury.

 

Bird, Since Coming off DL

Bird PA BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
2nd Half 98 0.253 0.316 0.575 0.365 128
Postseason 17 0.308 0.471 0.769 0.501 221
Total 115 0.261 0.339 0.604 0.385 142

“In his pre-DL performance, Bird averaged 87.7 mph exit velocity on his batted balls, but since returning, that mark has jumped to 91.1 mph. For reference, only 13 hitters with at least 100 batted balls averaged 91 mph in exit velocity this year.”

Bird has played in 108 games in his career and hit 23 home runs. Over a full season, that projects to 34 home runs. However, these numbers include the 19 games he played injured this past season. Over the stretch, he hit .100/.250/.200 with 1 homer. Taking those games out, his full-season Home Run projection is 39 long balls. The guy has not played 160 Major League games, so he’s still learning the nuances of the majors. Bird doesn’t have to be the stud everyone projected him to be last March. Instead, he can thrive as the forgotten man in this death lineup.

.275/.370/.550 40 Home Runs .390 wOBA

 

This lineup is set to mash. This is not a scenario in which the window of excellence is closing. These guys are all either in their prime or are yet to enter it. Combine this with the consistent Brett Gardner, high ceiling Aaron Hicks, and top prospect Gleyber Torres, the Yankees are ready to mash. The 1927 Yankees could have company.

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, Baseball Reference, Five ThirtyEight, and MLB.com.

Article written by Cameron Levy

Cover Photo Credits: AP Images

My Hall of Fame Ballot

How do I measure baseball greatness?

What defines a Hall of Famer? In my opinion, the two most important characteristics of baseball immortals are longevity and relative excellency. To measure both of these, I am going to use career WAR (based on the FanGraphs formula) as a reference point. Career WAR takes into account longevity, as it is a cumulative statistic, and it takes into account relative excellency, as it is adjusted based on how well the league itself performed each year.

Chipper Jones (Career WAR–84.6)

Chipper owns the highest career WAR out of any player on the ballot this year who didn’t take steroids. His 84.6 career WAR ranks sixth all-time amongst third basemen. He averaged 4.7 WAR in his eighteen years as a regular. Some might suggest this was the product of playing a lot of games and getting a lot of PAs. Although he was durable–Chipper averaged 138 games and 589 PAs in those eighteen years–he also was excellent; his career wRC+ of 141 ranks tied for ninth all-time amongst the 588 third basemen with at least 1000 PAs. Keep in mind the fact that Chipper did it for longer than most on that list, with 10614 PAs–in fact, he had the most PAs of the top 17, discounting A-Rod, a steroid user. One of the players he is tied with is A-Rod. Furthermore, he is behind Edgar Martinez, who only started 533 games at third base (as opposed to Chipper’s 1970). He has the second highest offensive runs above average, behind only A-Rod, in that group, and there is an argument to be made that using offensive runs above average is the best all-around measure because defensive statistics can be unreliable. Some other stats of note: for his career, Chipper walked more than 1000 times more than he struck out, and had a .401 career on-base percentage. He stole 150 bases at a 76.5% success rate. Chipper Jones is a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Mike Mussina (Career WAR–82.2)

Mussina has the next highest career WAR total on this year’s ballot. His total of 82.2 WAR ranks 16th all-time amongst pitchers (15th if you discount Roger Clemens, who probably used steroids). This is especially telling of Mussina’s excellency because he has the lowest career innings total amongst those 16. This is not due to durability issues, either: Mussina averaged 31 starts (and 4.7 WAR) during his seventeen full seasons. Rather, it is a matter of the era that he pitched in, which saw pitchers accruing fewer starts. The era he pitched in has adversely affected him in other ways, too. I think that the reason Mussina hasn’t received much love on the ballot is because his career ERA of 3.68 (FIP of 3.57) is considered underwhelming. I think the higher ERA is also a product of the era in which Mussina pitched: the steroid era. ERA is not a good measurement in this sense. Instead, league adjusted stats (like WAR), which take into account the higher offensive output of the era, should be used.

Jim Thome (Career WAR–69.0), Edgar Martinez (Career WAR–65.5)

I lumped these two guys together because they were incredible hitters, but poor defenders. As I said previously, though, I weigh offensive metrics for hitters much more heavily than defensive ones. The reason for this is that most, if not all, offensive events in baseball are discrete and can be measured probabilistically. Defensive events, however, are not. A player’s defensive value is determined based on the plays he made and the plays he could have made. “The plays he could have made” has always been a relatively subjective way of measurement. Some people might think it was possible for him to make that play, while others may not. However, statistics like wRC+, used to quantify offense, are purely objective. While I don’t think that defense should be entirely ignored, I think that it should be weighed far less significantly than offense.

All of that being said, we have two of the best pure hitters ever on the ballot this year.

Of the 431 players with at least 7000 PAs (longevity!), Martinez ranks 25th and Thome ranks 30th in terms of wRC+ (relative excellency!).

Thome was one of the greatest home run hitters of all time. His 612 dingers places him 8th on the list. His career OBP was .402. His career ISO of .278 ranks seventh out of those 431. Thome is a first-ballot Hall of Famer by tradition means and by advanced measures.

Martinez is different. He is adored by Sabermetricians for walking more than he struck out in his career, his astounding wRC+ of 147 (higher than even Thome’s 145), and his incredible career OBP of .418. However, he is not loved by traditional statisticians, since he was a DH for a while, has a middling home run total, and limited accolades. Nevertheless, I think he deserves to be in the Hall.

Scott Rolen (Career WAR–70.1)

While Rolen’s eight Gold Gloves signify that he was known primarily as a glove-first third baseman, he also should have been know for his offensive prowess and longevity. Don’t get me wrong, he was an excellent defender, posting positive defensive runs above average in every year except his rookie year in which he played only 37 games. But he also had a career wRC+ of 122 and an ISO of .210. He’s tied for 20th on the all-time home run list for third basemen (Chipper is fifth, by the way). Discounting his rookie audition, Rolen averaged 4.4 WAR over 16 years. Excellence and longevity.

 

That’s it for my ballot. I’ll write a post soon talking about my snubs, don’t worry! If you want to read some more about the unreliability of defensive metrics and attempts to better quantify defense, try this link:

http://www-stat.wharton.upenn.edu/~stjensen/research/safe.html

Data from FanGraphs and Baseball Reference. Picture from MLB.com. Thanks for reading!