Lots of things in life give me a great deal of pleasure. I have a wonderful wife, who generally puts up with me amid all my foibles. My sons are grown and haven’t seen fit to supply me with a new generation of Mariners fans, so I’ve replaced them with three amazing Australian Shepherds. Can’t say they are good at following pitch counts or checking Nelson’ Cruz’s exit velocity at StatCast, but they are good company. I have an awesome job, and tremendous friends who share my love of baseball.
But one of my secret pleasures is writing this column. Yes, I’m just a fan blogger. I have no access to secret sources. Though I do regularly consult FanGraphs and BaseballReference.com, as well as other news sources such as ESPN, SI, and Baseball Prospectus, what you get is what I believe based on the stats and based on my gut. I try not to make wild predictions, but I am often critical. I love to make comparisons and try to explain. I’m a history teacher, thus an explainer-in-chief, it’s how I’m drawn.
But at bottom I’m a baseball fan, specifically a Mariners fan. Five or so years ago I began writing blog posts about baseball, and specifically the Mariners. Three years ago I began this blog, and I now have 173 posts, plus dozens of drafts I’ve abandoned.
I suffer from the same problem most bloggers do, and that is getting my stuff read. I think every writer has to be satisfied writing for themselves. That means being smart, accurate, and having something original to say. I try, and often succeed-sometimes not, and that’s okay too. The hope is someone will read, perhaps comment, or offer their thoughts.
I’m not offended by those who disagree with me. I’m a great believer that there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and generally I’m put off by those who know “the truth,” whether they are religious fanatics, sabermetricians or Donald Trump. And civility, I’m big on civility. It’s fine to disagree with me. Make your points or state your reason, but don’t be jerk about it. Old stats, new stats, logical reasoning, they all work with me. We may disagree at the end of the day, but I’m still happy to shake hands and call it good, as long as you aren’t a name calling, judgmental, internet trolling dirtbag.
When I began writing this blog, I learned about the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, IBWAA. It’s an organization of bloggers and writers for the web. Some of them are quite well known and you’d know their names-Jim Caple, Jerry Crasnick, and David Schoenfield from ESPN, Eno Sarris from FanGraphs, Jason Churchill and Luke Arkins from Prospect Insider-many others are equally accomplished. But lots of the 400 members are men and women just like me; they have a passion for baseball and especially their home town team. Two years ago I paid my $35 for a lifetime membership and I am honored to see my name in the directory.
What are the benefits of membership? There’s a bit of cachet to have one’s name associated with the organization. There’s also an off-chance that someone will see my name in the directory and read my stuff.
But the IBWAA mirrors the BBWAA, the traditional print writers, and holds post season award voting for members. And this time of year, of course, is Hall of Fame voting. The IBWAA holds its own Hall of Fame vote, and this morning I submitted mine.
Just to be clear, there are 475 writers who have binding HoF votes, and mine is not one of them. But, if you follow baseball, you know the level of controversy and public scrutiny and dissatisfaction with the annual outcome of this vote. IBWAA is full of typically younger voters, tied to new statistics and typically votes for more players, is less conservative and is more interesting than the BBWAA traditionalist. This also makes for interesting votes. IBWAA has a Hall of Fame that is sort of in a parallel universe. My ballot doesn’t include Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, or Tim Raines, because our membership, in its considerable wisdom , voted them into the Hall last year.
Our voting rules are also different. In the crowded ballot facing the BBWAA voters, they are allowed to only select 10 players. IBWAA allows 15 selections. This year I voted for ten players I believe are Hall-worthy.
A couple of quick things.
- I believe in a big Hall. It hurts nobody to select players who were really good and celebrate their accomplishments. A player should not have to be Babe Ruth to get into the Hall of Fame.
- I will not vote for players who we know used steroids. I’ve written my feelings about this here, and I simply don’t think any further explanation is necessary.
- So how did I decide on who I was voting for? I used Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system to compare players to past inductees to the Hall. But I also used some common sense and logical reasoning.
That said here is my ballot:
- Ken Griffey, Jr.-Together with Willie Mays, Ken Griffey is the best player I ever saw. I made lots of treks to the Kingdome to watch him with my wife, my sons, and my friends. I still have and cherish the ticket stubs to his first home game in 1989 where he hit his first home run. That was a good day. First ballot Hall of Famer for sure, everyone is holding their breath to see how high the vote percentage goes.
- Edgar Martinez-An even better day would be a day when Junior and Edgar went in the Hall together. Edgar is probably the most complete hitter I ever saw. Hits, doubles, his fair share of homers, and walks, walks, walks. I am convinced Edgar would be a great hitter in any era. Five years from now we’ll be having another conversation about designated hitters and David Ortiz. But when the collection of victims that call themselves Red Sox Nation begins to whine because their guy isn’t in the Hall, I’ll ask where they were when Edgar, a vastly superior hitter to Ortiz, was when his years on the ballot expired.
- Mike Mussina-Moose mostly pitched on teams I didn’t like, but he was a helluva player. He pitched through the heart of the steroids era and still managed to win 270 games. Ranked #29 all time on the JAWS scale, Mussina is just ahead of Tom Glavine in WAR with 83.0 and just behind Pedro Martinez with 84.0, and had an ERA+ of 123. He was a winner.
- Curt Schilling-Sometimes you just have to hold your nose and read the numbers. Schilling was a tough competitor, and played on some awful Phillies teams before he went to Arizona only to play in the shadow of Randy Johnson, arguably the best left-handed pitcher ever, pitching the best baseball of his career. Schilling is ranked 27th all time in JAWS. With 79.9 WAR and a 127 ERA+, Schilling is deserving of election to the Hall of Fame. Though others have withdrawn their support for Schilling because he says such ridiculously stupid stuff on social media, I’ve stayed the course and continue to vote for him. My advice, stick that bloody sock in your mouth when you feel an attack of “honesty” coming on.
- and 6. Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner-They were among the dominant relievers of their era, with Hoffman holding the saves record until passed by Mariano Rivera. Hoffman’s and Wagner’s numbers are so similar it is hard to separate them so I’ll discuss them together. Look this really comes down to the sabermetric argument that anybody can close, that saves are overrated, that teams shouldn’t even designate a closer. My response is: right, you don’t need a closer until you have someone who can’t close. Leading a game into the last inning and losing is the most demoralizing thing that can happen to a team, and can derail a season Let me count the ways:
A. In 1992 the Mariners traded starting pitcher Bill Swift, and relievers Mike Jackson and Dave Burba to San Francisco for disinterested and out of shape slugger Kevin Mitchell. Amid considerable opening night fanfare the Mariners blew a five run lead in the 8th inning when closer Mike Schooler gave up five consecutive hits, needing only one out to end what became a nine run rally. The Mariners lost 12-10, the first of 98 losses. Schooler saved 13 games, blew five saves and the team had a save percentage of 59%. Pitiful.
B. In 1997 the Mariners were in the hunt for a playoff spot, but their relief pitching was so terrible they traded away budding catcher Jason Varitek and young right-hander Derek Lowe to Boston for wretched Red Sox closer Heathcliffe Slocumb. Varitek and Lowe went on to star for the Bosox (and others), while Slocumb saved ten games for the M’s in ’97 and three games the following year (losing his job to Mike Timlin). Though the M’s scored 925 runs in ’97 and 859 in ’98, they just couldn’t get far with a closer who allowed a WHIP of 1.45 and 1.71 respectively.
C. On Saturday September 13th I was in the sellout crowd at Safeco Field when Mariners closer Fernando Rodney walked four batters in the 10th inning to give up the lead to Oakland in the top of the 10th inning. Mariners lose 3-2. Mariners lost a playoff spot by one game.
My view is that a dependable closer is indispensable and Hoffman and Wagner were among the best and had the most longevity of their era. Knocks on them is that they didn’t pitch enough innings even for good relievers. I would argue that for the past twenty years, that is how closers were used, an inning or less, shut down the bad guys and end the game. Context matters, and they get my votes.
7. Alan Trammell is in his final year of eligibility. He was a fine shortstop and a key component of the Tiger dynasty of the middle 80’s. A big man with power who could play good defense, Trammell is ranked number 11 according to JAWS, ahead of Barry Larkin, Lou Boudreau and Joe Cronin, all very good and all in the Hall of Fame. He’s not Cal Ripken or Alex Rodriguez, but he was good enough for Cooperstown.
8. Larry Walker was an oft-injured outfielder who amassed wonderful numbers in Colorado. Though short in traditional counting numbers-only 2,160 hits and 383 home runs, his career .965 OPs, 141 OPS + and performance in the oufield rates him 10th in right field for JAWS, behind Reggie Jackson and Harry Heilmann, but ahead of Paul Waner, and Dave Winfield. A fringe candidate to be sure, but most definitely Hall-worthy.
9. Jim Edmonds epitomizes the term fringe. Another guy who lost lots of games to injury, mostly because of how hard and how well he played, the Angels and Cardinals centerfielder is ranked 14th by JAWS, behind Hall of Famers Andre Dawson and Richie Ashburn, but ahead of Max Carey and Earl Averill. Edmond was a highlight reel centerfielder, who spent way too much on the training table due to his excessive exuberance. With a .903 OPS, and a 132 OPS +, he banged 393 home runs. If the guy could walk, he could play. I don’t expect him to remain on the ballot after this year, but he was definitely worth a look.
10. My last player is Fred McGriff. The Crime Dog was so good for so long that we kind of lost sight of him. McGriff is in his last year of eligibility. Six homers short of the 500 that would make him a shoe-in for the Hall. Even if McGriff had picked up those homers in the strike shortened 1994 and 1995 seasons, it’s hard to say he would be elected with certainty. McGriff ranks as the 29th best first baseman according to JAWS, ahead of Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda, but behind non hall players John Olerud and Will Clark. I think his heroics and consistent play that got Toronto and Atlanta in to the playoffs are worthy of Hall consideration.
So there you go. Those are my choices and my reasoning. Have at it.