My imaginary Hall of Fame ballot

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The Hall of Fame ballot came out yesterday. One does not get to vote unless one has been a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America for a decade. I am not a BBWAA member, of course, so my voting will have to be imaginary. That’s OK, though, I do a lot of pretend things.  Anyway, if I had a ballot, here would be my slate:

Barry Larkin
Jeff Bagwell
Edgar Martinez
Mark McGwire
Tim Raines
Alan Trammell

The Shortstops

Trammell and Larkin should be no-brainers. Superior defensive shortstops who, it just so happened, also happened to be superior-to-elite hitters through much of their careers. We got spoiled by the brief shining moment in the 1990s and early 2000s when some shortstops hit 40 homers and batted .350, but that’s a crazy-aberration. A-Rod in his prime is not the standard for a shortstop making the Hall. Both Trammell and Larkin are above the standard — way above the standard — and until the A-Rod/Jeter/Tejada/Garciaparra blip occurred, you could argue that the only better ones were Honus Wagner, Arky Vaughn and Cal Ripken.

Larkin will likely get in this year. Trammell won’t, despite the fact that they are basically identical players. This is a travesty. If I ever fully flip out and take the to streets as a costumed avenger, there’s a decent chance I’ll be wearing a Tigers number 3 jersey.

Raines

Tim Raines was the best player in baseball for about four or five years in the 1980s. People don’t believe this, but it’s true. He suffers because he had similar skills to Rickey Henderson who is an all-time elite, and that’s just as unfair as comparing those shortstops to similar outliers.  He also suffers because so much of his value was about getting on base and people just didn’t appreciate that as much at the time as they should have and still don’t, really. He also suffers because some people hold him to a different standard with respect to his cocaine use than they held Paul Molitor, for example, and that’s some ugliness I don’t think anyone wants to explore. But Raines is easily a Hall of Famer in my view.

The Designated Hitter

Edgar Martinez was a DH. And his career started late, meaning that his raw numbers aren’t as impressive as a lot of Hall of Famers. But his rate stats were astonishingly good. He had an OPS+ of 150 or greater eight times.  Sure, you have to hit at a higher rate than your average Hall of Fame hitter if you want to get in with no defensive value, but I think Martinez did that.

The PED Casualties 

As for McGwire and Bagwell, I don’t think anyone disputes that their numbers make them Hall of Fame first basemen. What people are doing with them is knocking them out because of steroids. In McGwire’s case because he has admitted to their use. In Bagwell’s because people — for reasons no one has yet had the information or the guts to explain — assume he used them. What they’re doing to Bagwell is outrageous, by the way, but we’ll save it until someone writes his “I have questions …” column about him later this month.

Here’s my thing on PEDs and the Hall of fame. I don’t totally ignore them.  My inclusion of McGwire shows that. However, my exclusion of Rafael Palmiero shows that I do consider it to some extent.  Yes, I know it’s not a perfect system, but my approach is (a) if the PED use is established; (b) to determine whether, roughly speaking, the guy was a Hall of Famer even if he never used PEDs. Yes, that’s subjective as hell, but I see it preferable to either assuming a player’s entire record was fraudulent because he took drugs, which would be silly, or alternatively assuming that PEDs had zero impact on his career performance. because we know neither of those things is the case.  I give guys like McGwire and Palmiero a discount, and in my mind that slips Palmiero below the Hall of Fame line and doesn’t do the same for McGwire. Have at me.

The Exclusions

  • Fred McGriff: McGriff continues to be really hard for me. I go back and forth on him all the damn time.  I’ve argued for and against his candidacy on alternate occasions. I’m a basketcase when it comes to him. I think there’s a good argument that he was the best first baseman in baseball for a few years there in the late 80s and early 90s, and usually if you were the best in baseball at your position for a few years, that’s enough for me.  Maybe I’m making a big mistake here. Someone help me out. Convince me one way or the other on him.  If I had a real ballot I think I’d be spending most of my December considering Fred McGriff’s candidacy. I don’t rule out changing my mind here and putting him on.
  • Jack Morris: He is not a Hall of Famer. I’ve spilled a lot of virtual ink on this. Short version: Morris didn’t prevent the opposition from scoring runs at anything much greater than an average clip.  He didn’t “pitch to the score” (or, if he tried to, he was not particularly successful at it), as so many will tell you when trying to explain away his pedestrian ERA.  Apart from one game in the 1991 World Series, he was nothing special as a playoff pitcher.  Despite his “best starter of the 80s” reputation, he was rarely thought of as special by Cy Young voters, who gave him the same number of Cy Young votes over his career as Mike Hampton and Dontrelle Willis. That title is a function of him putting his best ten year stretch together in a way that corresponded with the decade beginning and ending, not by being the best pitcher in the decade most of the time. He wasn’t. Just cut it out, OK?

So that’s my ballot. Have fun.

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

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Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.