What can we learn from the Hall of Fame voting this year?

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I’m not one of those people who go crazy at the actual vote totals. You’re either in or you’re out, and if someone got 53.4% of the vote as opposed to 66.2% I’m not going to blow a gasket.

That said, there are a lot of things we can learn from the vote totals. So, in the interests of observation and science, let’s see what this year’s ballot really means:

  • For all of the ink spilled in his name, Jack Morris got only a slight bump in Hall balloting from last year, going up to 53.5%  from 52.3% in 2010.  While it’s true that most players who get 50% of the vote eventually get in, one would think that Morris would get a bigger bump.  If he doesn’t make huge strides next year, he may be blotted out by the Maddux-Glavine-Pedro-Johnson conga line that will come in a few years. Oh, and he’s going to fall off the ballot in three years regardless, so he had better enlist a good campaign team;
  • Barry Larkin seems to be on a strong course toward election. 62.1% in his first year of eligibility is strong. Next year’s class is weak.  I think he gets the call in 2012.
  • How does Robbie Alomar go from 73% to 90% in one year?  The only real explanation is that there was a huge penalty placed on him for not being what some consider a traditional first-ballot guy.  Which just goes to show that, no matter what the actual Hall voting rules say — and they specifically say that there is no special designation for “first ballot” guys — voters will read their own rules into the process.
  • Edgar Martinez got only 32.9% of the vote. I guess that tells us what the electorate thinks of the DH.
  • Mark McGwire — who for years was implored by voters to “come clean,” came clean in 2010.  He was rewarded with a reduction in his vote totals, going from 23.7% in 2010 to 19.8% this year.
  • Jeff Bagwell — who has been lambasted for, well, nothing — only received 41.7% of the vote despite being — arguably — the best first baseman in National League history.  Not a terrible vote for a first-timer, as many who have gone on to election began with vote totals in the 40% range, but far below where he should have been. Really, he is a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
  • Other PED-associated players were killed: Rafael Palmeiro only got 11%. Kevin Brown fell clear off the ballot with 2.1%.  I don’t think that either of them would be slam dunk guys anyway, but their vote totals — and the totals for Bagwell and McGwire — suggest that other players tied — or in Bagwell’s case, erroneously-tied — to steroids are going to face a bloodbath.  Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens get on the ballot in two years.  They’re going to get creamed and that’s going to make all of the little Jeff Bagwell and Bert Blyleven arguments seem like pleasantries exchanged over tea and cucumber sandwiches.
  • B.J. Surhoff got two votes. Wow.  Benito Santiago and Brett Boone got one. Double wow.

There’s a lot more that can be mined from that data.  The vote totals are here.

Astros vs. Dodgers is a match made in heaven

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A lot of people who work at the league office or who take paychecks from the Fox network probably wanted to see the Yankees and the Cubs in the World Series. They won’t admit it, of course, but I suspect that many did, as the ratings for a Cubs-Yankees Series might’ve broken modern records. If they are at all disappointed by the Astros and Dodgers winning the pennant, however, they should let that go because they’ve been gifted by a wonderful matchup from a purely baseball perspective. Indeed, it’s one of the best on-paper matchups we’ve had in the Fall Classic in many years.

Before the Dodgers went on their late-August, early-September swoon, this was the potential World Series pairing most folks who know a thing or two wanted to see. At least I did, and I don’t think I was alone. It was certainly the matchup which represented the teams with the two best regular season records and storylines at the time. While Cleveland ended up winning more games than Houston did, for the first time since 1970 we have a World Series pitting two 100-win teams against each other.

Like that Orioles-Reds series in 1970, which featured Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and a host of other All-Stars, the Dodgers-Astros provide us with an embarrassment of big names and future Hall of Famers. Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw and Astros DH/OF Carlos Beltran are destined for induction already. Astros ace Justin Verlander may very well join them, especially if his late 2017 surge is evidence of a second career peak. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve‘s first seven years and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen‘s first eight are the stuff upon which Cooperstown resumes are made as well. People will be arguing Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley‘s Hall of Fame case for years once he retires.

Youth is served as well in this matchup, with each club featuring a handful of the game’s best young players to accompany their big name veteran stars.

The Dodgers will bat their no-doubt N.L. Rookie of the Year first baseman Cody Bellinger second or third in the lineup every game. 2016 Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, who sat out the NLCS with a bad back, is expected to be activated for the Series where he’ll be the Dodgers shortstop. The Astros are actually an old team on paper — Verlander, catcher Brian McCann, starter Charlie Morton, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, outfielder Josh Reddick and DH Evan Gattis are all over 30 while Beltran is 40 — but young players are essential to their attack as well. Shortstop Carlos Correa just turned 23 and he’s one of the game’s brightest stars. Third baseman Alex Bregman, also 23, made the play that may very well have broken the Yankees’ back during Saturday night’s pennant clincher. Age aside, the Astros are the product of a major, multi-year rebuild and many of their players are making their first national splash this postseason.

Beyond just the names and resumes, though, the Dodgers and Astros represent a fantastic strategic matchup. The Dodgers attack this postseason has featured admirable plate discipline, with third baseman Justin Turner, right fielder Yasiel Puig and center fielder Chris Taylor all letting balls out of the zone pass them by while abusing pitches left out over the plate. Astros pitchers not named Justin Verlander, however, have lived by getting the opposition to chase bad balls. Game one starter Dallas Keuchel did this by relying on his very fast sinker. Lance McCullers pitched well starting Game 4 of the ALCS and pitched spectacularly closing out the final four innings of Game 7 mostly by virtue of his curveball, which Yankees pitchers could simply not lay off. Indeed, his final 24 pitches of Game 7 were all curves, many of them low and away. Who will give in first in this series?

On the side of things, Dodgers relievers have made a living by pumping in strikes. Particularly strikes high in the zone from Jansen and Brandon Morrow. There may be no better fastball hitter in all of baseball than Jose Altuve, however, and the team as a whole was one of the best in the bigs in dealing with gas in the zone. This was a big reason why the Astros struck out less than any team in baseball this year while simultaneously boasting the best offense in the game. The Dodgers throw strikes. The Astros make you pay when you throw them strikes. Again, something’s gotta give.

Maybe the suits in New York wanted the Yankees and Cubs. But everyone else is getting exactly what we want: a matchup of the two best teams in the game. A matchup of strength against strength. What is, from a purely baseball perspective, the best World Series we could’ve possibly hoped for.