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Hall of Famers talk about character, PEDs and sabermetrics

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Jerry Crasnick of ESPN interviewed several Hall of Famers — Craig Biggio, Tom Glavine, Jim Palmer, Barry Larkin and Bert Blyleven — to ask them their thoughts on the various controversies that tend to come up whenever the Hall of Fame is mentioned.

Things like, how to treat guys who were primarily DHs or relief pitchers. What role, if any, “character” should play in a guy’s candidacy. PEDs, obviously. It’s a pretty interesting conversation — all of the guys Crasnick speaks to have a reputation for being smarter than your average baseball player — so it’s certainly worth your time.

Blyleven’s comments were somewhat . . . curious, however. As he has in the past, he’s pretty hard on players who used PEDs while thinking Pete Rose should be in. Which, yes, a lot of you think, but the manner in which he approaches the topic is odd.

Blyleven justifies voters dinging PED guys based on the vision the Hall of Fame’s leaders, Jane Forbes-Clark and Jeff Idelson, have for their institution and “what they expect out of their inductees.” Fair. But he then laments Pete Rose not being in there without mentioning that the reason Rose has never been on the ballot is that Forbes-Clark and Idelson ruled that he not be, presumably because he is not “what they expect out of their inductees.” Maybe he doesn’t realize that’s why Rose isn’t there, I have no idea, but he comes off as praising their character judgments in one instance but slamming it in the next.

More interesting to me, however, is what Blyleven says about how Hall of Fame voters should consider sabermetrics and statistical analysis. Here he is today:

“I’m from the old school, so I don’t really get into the Sabermetrics or analytics. I try to see what’s in a guy’s heart. I’ll look at his hustle and desire and leadership and character. I don’t care what the numbers say. Sometimes they don’t show what a guy really means to a ballclub.”

Again, a lot of baseball players say that. But there is no baseball player who owes his Hall of Fame induction to sabermetrics and analytics like Blyleven does. Blyleven polled below 30 percent on his first six times on the ballot, going a low as 14% in 1999.

In 2003, Rich Lederer founded a website, The Baseball Analysts, and Lederer made it part of his mission to advance Blyleven’s candidacy. As Lederer’s campaign proceeded — joined by many sabermetric voices and fellow travelers — Blyleven’s vote totals climbed. Eventually, of course, he was elected.

Blyleven was always thankful for Lederer’s advocacy and gave him shoutouts for it. Like he did here, to the Washington Post in 2011:

“I thank all of those people in my corner trying to get me into the Hall of Fame, that the day has finally come,” Blyleven said.

Although Blyleven wasn’t viewed as one of the elite pitchers in the game during the era in which he played, his backers argued — apparently quite convincingly — that he should have been. There were the well-known “counting” stats, such as his 60 shutouts (ninth all-time) and 3,701 strikeouts (fifth all-time). But there were also advanced metrics, such as WAR and ERA+, that placed Blyleven’s career in a different light.

“[Lederer] brought out so many stats,” Blyleven said. “[He showed] it wasn’t just about wins and losses.”

To be clear: I don’t think Blyleven is contradicting himself here. It’s possible for him to be thankful for someone for bringing advanced stats to bear in support of his Hall of Fame case while still believing that his legacy is, in reality, a function of hustle and heart, like he said today.

But you’d think he’d believe there are other players who get overlooked despite having his level of hustle and heart too, and that he’d be in favor of those guys being properly assessed the way he eventually became. Sabermetircs and sabermetric advocates are how it worked for him, so you’d think he’d believe it could work for the next Bert Blyleven to come along too.

I dunno. The only definitive takeaway I have of this is that talking to ex-ballplayers is not necessarily the best way to get insight into stuff that isn’t directly related to that particular ex-ballplayer.

James Paxton will “nerd out big-time” to stay healthy next year

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To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.

So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”

When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.

Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.