Tim Raines

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.

Yu Darvish will report to spring training on time, hopes to begin mound work in March

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Rangers ace Yu Darvish missed the entire 2015 season after undergoing Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery last March 17. Most starting pitchers take 13-15 months to fully recover from that procedure, and the Rangers aren’t counting on Darvish until sometime this May.

His rehab so far has gone on without issue.

Darvish offered some very positive updates Tuesday to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram …

Darvish, 29, boasts a 3.27 ERA and 1.196 WHIP in 83 career major league starts. He can also claim a whopping 680 strikeouts in 545 1/3 career major league innings.

Texas has him under contract for $10 million in 2016 and $11 million in 2017.

Masahiro Tanaka throws off mound for first time since October elbow surgery

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According to the Associated Press — via Chad Jennings of The Journal News — Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka threw off a bullpen mound Tuesday for the first time since undergoing a cleanup procedure on his right elbow last October.

The throwing session took place in New York, and Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild later told the media in Tampa that all of the reports he heard were good.

Tanaka might be behind some of the Yankees’ other pitchers when spring training officially begins, but he should be ready for the start of the 2016 regular season.

The 27-year-old native of Japan posted a 3.51 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and 139/27 K/BB ratio across 154 innings last season for New York. He owns a 3.16 ERA (123 ERA+) in 290 1/3 innings since becoming a major leaguer in 2014.

Tanaka is still pitching with a partially-torn ligament in his right elbow that could eventually require Tommy John reconstructive surgery. His surgery last October was of the arthroscopic variety and simply removed bone spurs.

Bud Selig to teach a class at Arizona State law school

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Before Bud Selig ultimately retired, he had a couple of false start retirement announcements only to have the owners beg him to sign on for one more term. In one of those false starts he talked about how the University of Wisconsin had set up an office for him in the history department and that he’d be doing some research and teaching a class now and again. And he has, in fact, taught some one-off seminars at Wisconsin’s law school and the like.

Now something a little more permanent along those lines is in the works for The Greatest Commissioner in Baseball History. The Arizona Republic reports that Selig will join the Sports Law and Business program at Arizona State University’s law school where he will teach and advise as well as start up a speakers series in which he will bring in high-powered guests. No word on how many speakers will talk about big, important historical sports law cases like, say collusion in baseball, which was orchestrated by an ownership class in the mid-to-late 80s, of which Bud Selig was far and away the most influential member. That could get sort of awkward, I suppose.

Either way, it’s a good way to keep busy. I mean, that’s what it has to be as he’s not hurting for cash, what with the obscene $6 million severance package the owners gave him to, I dunno, not give interviews about bad stuff that happened back in the day like Fay Vincent does all the time. Stuff like collusion. Maybe he gets the $6 million for some other purpose. Who can say, really? It’s never made any sort of sense otherwise.

Anyway, good luck in Tempe, Bud. Maybe I’ll stop by your office at ASU when I’m there next month — I always stay in Tempe — and we can chew the fat or climb that butte with the big A on it or something. First round at Four Peaks afterward is on me.

White Sox sign first baseman Travis Ishikawa

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First baseman Travis Ishikawa has agreed to a minor-league contract with the White Sox that includes an invitation to spring training.

Ishikawa was previously reported to have a minor-league deal with the Mariners last month, but the signing was never finalized. Now he joins the White Sox, who have Jose Abreu and Adam LaRoche ahead of him on the first base/designated hitter depth chart.

Ishikawa had some big moments for the Giants in the 2014 playoffs, but he’s a 32-year-old journeyman with a lifetime .255 batting average and .712 OPS in 488 games as a big leaguer.

It’s possible the White Sox could keep him around as a bench bat and backup first baseman/left fielder, but Ishikawa seems more likely to begin the season at Triple-A.