Tony La Russa thinks “new metrics” are keeping Jeff Bagwell out of the Hall of Fame

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137 plate appearances with a 1.078 OPS will have an impact on an opposing manager. Among players with at least 100 PA against the Cardinals between 1996 and 2011 (the years in which Tony La Russa managed the red birds) former Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell has the sixth-highest OPS against the Cardinals.

Bagwell’s Astros were rivals of La Russa’s Cardinals throughout the mid-2000’s. The Cardinals defeated the Astros in the 2004 NLCS, an epic seven-game series. The Astros exacted revenge the following season, taking out the Cardinals in the 2005 NLCS in six games. La Russa has a lot of respect for the players who made life difficult for him as a manager, and believes that Bagwell and Biggio are worthy of the Hall of Fame. But he thinks “new metrics” are part of the reason why Bagwell only got 54 percent of the vote in his fourth year of eligibility.

Via MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart:

“Houston, in our division, Bagwell, Biggio and [Lance Berkman], they had good surrounding characters the couple of years you had [Carlos] Beltran and [Jeff] Kent,” La Russa said. “So I saw Bagwell as a huge influence, not just on the field but off. One of the best players of our generation.”

La Russa said he doesn’t understand the criteria members of the BBWAA use to vote for the Hall of Fame.

“Otherwise, Jack Morris would be in the Hall of Fame,” La Russa said. “The new metrics have a real important place, just don’t exaggerate them, and I think they get exaggerated at times. Like with Jack Morris, and maybe Bagwell.”

La Russa is off the mark with the reason why Bagwell is not in the Hall of Fame. Sabermetrics actually bolster his case for enshrinement. According to Baseball Referece, Bagwell’s career 79.5 Wins Above Replacement ranks 37th all time among position players, and third among Hall of Fame or Hall of Fame-eligible first basemen (min. 75 percent of games played at first base). He ranks ahead of Eddie Murray, Willie McCovey, and Hank Greenberg. In the years Bagwell played, 1991-2005, only Barry Bonds (122.0) and Alex Rodriguez (80.5) posted more WAR. To boot, FanGraphs’ version of WAR is slightly more kind, putting Bagwell at 80.3. Bagwell is a slam dunk Hall of Famer according to the most well-known and most often cited “new metric”.

The real reason why Bagwell isn’t in the Hall of Fame? Baseball moralists.

Exhibit A, Murray Chass in December 2013:

The boxes next to these 10 names will not get an X: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Eric Gagne, Paul Lo Duca, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa.

These non-exes won’t get my vote because they were proved to have cheated, admitted they cheated or are strongly suspected of having cheated. I have not voted for any player in those categories and am not prepared to start doing so now.

Bagwell never tested positive and his name never surfaced in any PED-related investigation. The only rumors that included his name were baseless, like that of Chass.

Exhibit B, Bob Brookover in December 2011:

For the second straight year, I look at Jeff Bagwell’s name and wonder if he beat the system while he was also pounding baseballs out of ballparks all across the country. I’d love to vote for him, because he was always a class act whenever I had to interview him and his numbers scream Hall of Famer.

Mark McGwire, Juan Gonzalez, and Rafael Palmeiro remain on the ballot as documented cheaters, and I don’t vote for them even though their numbers also are Hall of Fame-worthy.

I’ve listened to the argument that Bagwell should be a Hall of Famer because there is no proof he used the same performance-enhancing drugs that inflated the heads, bodies, and resumés of some of his peers. I suspect, however, that there are a lot of players who cheated and never were caught. We’re going to see many of those names on the Hall of Fame ballot in the near future.

Exhibit C, Howard Bryant (and others) in January 2013:

As it turned out, I sent my 2013 Hall of Fame ballot in blank.

This wasn’t science. It wasn’t a clever attack in the three-front culture war among the players, the SABRs and the BBWAAs. It wasn’t a protest either. It was just one voter’s inability to reach a comfortable verdict on a colossal mess that for years no one wanted to take responsibility for and that isn’t going to get any less complicated as time goes on.

The voters were handed a basket of rotten vegetables called the steroid era by the players, the Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball and told to make a chef’s salad.

Chass and Brookover weren’t the only ones to exclude Bagwell with baseless suspicion of PED use, and Bryant hasn’t been the only one to submit a blank ballot. They are merely examples.

If you emptied the BBWAA ranks and replaced them entirely with Saber-minded voters, Bagwell would probably get in with 95-plus percent of the vote. If you emptied the BBWAA ranks and replaced them entirely with baseball moralists, Bagwell would likely struggle to reach 40 percent.

MLB Network airs segment listing “good” and “bad” $100 million-plus contracts

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On Wednesday evening, Charlie Marlow of KTVI FOX 2 News St. Louis posted a couple of screencaps from a segment MLB Network aired about $100 million-plus contracts that have been signed. The list of “bad” contracts, unsurprisingly, is lengthier than the list of “good” contracts.

As Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, it is problematic for a network owned by Major League Baseball to air a segment criticizing its employees for making too much seemingly unearned money. There’s a very clear conflict of interest, so one is certainly not getting a fair view of the situation. MLB, of course, can do what it wants with its network, but it can also be criticized. MLB Network would never air a similar segment in which it listed baseball’s “good” and “bad” owners and how much money they’ve undeservedly taken. Nor would MLB Network ever run a segment naming the hundreds of players who are not yet eligible for arbitration whose salaries are decided for them by their teams, often making the major league minimum ($545,000) or just above it. Similarly, MLB Network would also never think of airing a segment in which the pay of minor league players, many of whom make under $10,000 annually, is highlighted.

We’re now past the halfway point in January and many free agents still remain unsigned. It’s unprecedented. A few weeks ago, I looked just at the last handful of years and found that, typically, six or seven of the top 10 free agents signed by the new year. We’re still at two of 10 — same as a few weeks ago — and that’s only if you consider Carlos Santana a top-10 free agent, which is debatable. It’s a complex issue, but part of it certainly is the ubiquity of analytics in front offices, creating homogeneity in thinking. A consequence of that is everyone now being aware that big free agent contracts haven’t panned out well; it’s a topic of conversation that everyone can have and understand now. Back in 2010, I upset a lot of people by suggesting that Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract with the Phillies wouldn’t pan out well. Those people mostly cited home runs and RBI and got mad when I cited WAR and wOBA and defensive metrics. Now, many of those same people are wary of signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer and they now cite WAR, wOBA, and the various defensive metrics.

The public’s hyper-sensitivity to the viability of long-term free agent contracts — thanks in part to segments like the aforementioned — is a really bad trend if you’re a player, agent, or just care about labor in general. The tables have become very much tilted in favor of ownership over labor over the last decade and a half. Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs pointed out in March 2015 that the players’ share of total league revenues peaked in 2002 at 56 percent, but declined all the way to 38 percent in 2014. The current trend of teams signing their talented players to long-term contract extensions before or during their years of arbitration eligibility — before they have real leverage — as well as teams abstaining from signing free agents will only serve to send that percentage further down.

Craig has written at great length about the rather serious problem the MLBPA has on its hands. Solving this problem won’t be easy and may require the threat of a strike, or actually striking. As Craig mentioned, that would mean getting the players all on the same page on this issue, which would require some work. MLB hasn’t dealt with a strike since 1994 and it’s believed that it caused a serious decline in interest among fans, so it’s certainly something that would get the owners’ attention. The MLBPA may also need to consider replacing union head Tony Clark with someone with a serious labor background. Among the issues the union could focus on during negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement: abolishing the draft and getting rid of the arbitration system. One thing is for sure: the players are not in a good spot now, especially when the league has its own network on which it propagandizes against them.