HOF voters: choose Mike Piazza or accuse him of using steroids

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Jeff Bagwell gave the Hall of Fame voters an easy way out. Sure, his body of work leaves him qualified for Cooperstown based on the standards for first basemen, but he didn’t bat .300 for his career or hit 500 homers. His one MVP season came in strike-shortened 1994. That’s also the only year he led the league in a Triple Crown category.

Thus, a Hall of Fame voter can look at Bagwell’s record and say it’s not quite Hall of Fame worthy, all without getting into the messy steroid issue.

Will they be able to do the same for Mike Piazza? A career .308/.377/.545 hitter with 427 homers in 16 seasons, Piazza is pretty obviously the greatest offensive catcher the game has ever seen. His 143 OPS+ is well in front of any other player to catch at least 70 percent of his games. Joe Mauer is next at 135, and he’s yet to enter his decline phase. Mickey Cochrane is third at 129, followed by Bill Dickey and Johnny Bench.

Of course, Piazza’s defensive reputation was shaky at its best, dreadful at its worst. But that was mostly (almost entirely?) due to his arm. It doesn’t seem like he ever held back his his teams. Here are the NL ERA ranks from all of Piazza’s staffs in his years as a team’s primary catcher:

1993 Dodgers: 3rd
1994 Dodgers: 9th
1995 Dodgers: 2nd
1996 Dodgers: 1st
1997 Dodgers: 2nd
1998 Mets: 4th
1999 Mets: 5th
2000 Mets: 3rd
2001 Mets: 5th
2002 Mets: 5th
2005 Mets: 3rd
2006 Padres: 1st

So, how bad of a defensive catcher could he have been? In 12 years as a primary catcher, his pitchers finished in the top third of the league in ERA 11 times.

(And whether it’s worth pointing out or not, the 1994 Dodgers, the one odd ball on the list, had a 3.97 ERA with Piazza catching and a 5.28 ERA with Carlos Hernandez and Tom Prince behind the plate.)

All of this has been a long-winded way of saying there’s absolutely no way to justify leaving Piazza out of the Hall of Fame based on performance. We can argue whether Piazza is inner-circle or not, but he’s certainly a Hall of Famer according the numbers. Still, I’m guessing he’ll be left off 35-45 percent of the ballots when the votes are counted in January, despite never having failed a drug test.

And for that reason, I’m challenging Hall of Fame voters; if you don’t vote for him, call him out for using steroids. Say “I’m not voting for Piazza because I think he was a cheater.” Preferably present some evidence if you have it, but whether you do or not, make the reason clear. No wishy-washy stuff. There’s no excuse for leaving him off the ballot otherwise.

Yankees oust Aroldis Chapman from the closer’s role

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The writing was on the wall, but the Yankees made it official on Saturday: Aroldis Chapman is no longer closing games for the Bronx Bombers. Comments from manager Joe Girardi suggested that the move is a temporary one, however, and he told reporters that Chapman will be utilized at “different points” in the game as the Yankees try to pinpoint the source of the left-hander’s struggles.

There’s no question that the flame-throwing southpaw has been off his game for a while, and his season 4.29 ERA, 4.3 BB/9 and 12.6 SO/9 hints at some of the issues he’s been facing. He imploded in each of his last three appearances, issuing a cumulative five hits, six runs and five strikeouts over just 3 1/3 innings. It seems plausible that the left rotator cuff inflammation that sidelined him several months ago has resurfaced, but the veteran lefty said Friday that he doesn’t believe any physical issues have caused his decline.

While Chapman works out the kinks in his mechanics, the Yankees will look to some combination of Dellin Betances and David Robertson to cover the ninth inning. Girardi wouldn’t commit to either reliever in the closer’s spot, however, and said he’d take it on a case-by-case basis depending on the match-ups in any given game. The long-term plan is still to reinstate Chapman, whenever that might make sense for the team.

“He’s been scuffling over the past 10 days, two weeks,” Girardi said. “I just thought for us to get him back on track, maybe the best way would be to move him around a little bit until he gets going. When we get him going like I believe he’ll get going, there’s a good chance I’ll put him right back in that closer’s role.”

Nationals activate Stephen Strasburg off the disabled list

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The Nationals officially activated Stephen Strasburg off the 10-day disabled list, the team announced Saturday. They’ll pencil him into the starting lineup for their second set against the Padres on Saturday night. Strasburg is expected to assume Max Scherzer‘s roster spot after Scherzer landed on the disabled list with neck inflammation prior to Friday’s series opener. No other roster moves appear to be necessary for the time being.

Strasburg, 28, is finally looking stable after serving a 26-day stint on the DL with a right elbow nerve impingement. It’s the first serious injury he’s sustained since last August, when he missed 20 days with inflammation in his right elbow, and one the Nationals are taking seriously as they juggle multiple stints for their elite starters. He’ll enter Saturday’s competition with a 10-3 record in 20 starts, supplemented by a 3.25 ERA, 2.7 BB/9 and 10.4 SO/9 through 121 2/3 innings.

Elbow issues are nothing to be played around with, but Strasburg’s performance in his lone rehab outing relieved any residual apprehension the Nats might have had about his activation this weekend. He tossed 66 pitches for High-A Potomac, hitting 95 MPH with his heater and logging three hits, one run, one walk and five strikeouts over five innings. Club manager Dusty Baker is hoping for a similarly dominant start against the Padres, and told reporters that he’ll hold Strasburg to a performance count as the righty works his way back to a full-time gig.