Tag: Jim Thome

Phillies Thome celebrates his game winning walk off home run against the Rays during the ninth inning of their interleague MLB baseball game in Philadelphia

Jim Thome says he’s not retired yet


Most players of a certain stature announce their retirement. Not all. Jim Thome is sort of letting retirement happen to him, though not 100% willingly. He was on MLB Network’s Hot Stove show this morning and said that he’s not officially retired and has not ruled out a comeback.

I suppose it’s entirely possible that Ruben Amaro gives him a call, but barring that Thome’s career is over. And it was damn fine enough career that Thome is 100% allowed to talk about comebacks and do whatever the heck else he wants, be it continue to serve as a White Sox special assistant or mash taters on some high school field someplace.

And, of course, to enter the Hall of Fame when he’s eligible in 2018. Assuming the writers don’t bollocks up the voting.

Red Sox redefine what it means to be dynasty


These Boston Red Sox are a new kind of dynasty. I suppose there’s a question if they really ARE a dynasty, if that word “Dynasty” even means anything in today’s game, with 30 teams and the game’s structure pushing toward parity. But Boston did win its third World Series in a 10-year-span. Only eight teams have done that since the Live Ball Era began in 1920.

— The 1923-32 Yankees — powered By Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Herb Pennock, Waite Hoyt, etc. — won four World Series.

— The 1926-34 Cardinals – first Rogers Hornsby and then the Gashouse Gang with Frankie Frisch and Ripper Collins and Pepper Martin — won three World Series.

— The 1936-43 Yankees — with some leftovers from the earlier dynasty plus Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey, Lefty Gomez, Joe Gordon — won six World Series.

— The 1942-46 Cardinals — Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Marty Marion — won three World Series.

— The 1947-62 Yankees won 10 World Series. In the early years of baseball’s greatest dynasty the Yankees were driven by DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto and so on. The later years was driven by Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Roger Maris, Elston Howard and so on. It’s hard to draw dynasty lines when it comes to the Yankees because one dominant team simply bumps into another.

— The 1955-65 Dodgers won four World Series. The first was the last stand for Brooklyn and the Boys of Summer — Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella and that great bunch. The last three championships were in L.A., with Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale at the heart.

— The 1972-74 Oakland Athletics won three World Series in a row. The best players: Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers, Vida Blue, Joe Rudi.

— The 1996-2009 Yankees dominated their time with five World Series championships — Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera were on the first and last of those teams.

More: Red Sox win World Series after routing Cards | What a difference a year makes

— I went through all eight of those dynasties for a reason: There is something connecting them all. When you think of those dynasty teams, you think of players. You might think of managers — Casey Stengel, Walter Alston, Joe McCarthy, Joe Torre. You might think of a certain style, a certain rhythm, a certain ethos. You might think of the nicknames and rebelliousness of the 1970s A’s, the high mounds of the 1960s Dodgers, the Murderers’ Row lineup of the Ruth-Gehrig Yankees.

This Red Sox team? No. They have none of that. Oh, they’ve had great players. They’re just not the SAME great players. You’ve probably seen the answer already, but do you know how many players on this year’s Red Sox championship team were also on the Red Sox team that broke the curse in 2004?*

*Speaking of curses: A lot of people, it seemed, were trying to make a big deal out of the fact that this year was the first time that the Red Sox had clinched a World Series AT HOME since 1918. Television made it seem like the overriding story of the Series. The “clinch at home” angle seemed to give everyone a chance to trot out all the old curse talk, rehash the Babe Ruth trade, chat up all the old Red Sox fans who have been coming to the park for decades and had never gotten the chance to see a World Series clincher.

Seriously – clinching a World Series at home is a thing now? It’s not enough to just win two World Series in the previous eight years, not you have to win it at home for it to really count? I mean, look, it’s great that a wonderful town like Boston got to win the World Series in a wonderful park like Fenway. Happy that it worked out that way. It was great to see Red Sox fans get to unleash their happiness.

But I believe, and my Red Sox friends seem agree — not winning a World Series AT HOME is not a thing. It’s not a curse. It’s not a drought. It’s not anything. If you win a World Series you win a World Series, it doesn’t matter where. The Chicago White Sox have not clinched a World Series at home since 1906. The Reds did not clinch either of the Big Red Machine World Series at home. Those poor Giants fans have never clinched a World Series in San Francisco. So what? The Red Sox don’t have a losing tradition anymore. It’s over, you can’t just keep bringing it up like it’s a storyline. The Red Sox have won three World Series in 10 years. It’s time for everyone to just deal with being Boston being Goliath.

Sorry, back to the question: How many players from 2004 — even in a minor role — were on the 2013 team?

Answer: One. That’s ONE. Uno. Une. Odin. Um. Ett. David Ortiz is the only one left. He was an awesome DH for the 2004 Red Sox. He was an awesome DH for the 2013 Red Sox. That’s all. One.

And this goes beyond players. The manager is gone. The general manager is gone. The pitcher and catcher on that 2004 team — Pedro Martinez and Jason Varitek — are now special assistants to Ben Cherington, who was a player-development guy back for the Red Sox then. The highest ranked guy in the front office who seems to have the same job he had in 2004 is writer, historian and sabermetrician Bill James. More on him in a minute.

More: Ortiz wins World Series MVP | Is Papi headed to the Hall?

The point is not that this team has changed from 2004. All teams change. The 2009 Yankees were very different from the 2000 Yankees. No, the point is that this is a completely different team from 2004. And, even stranger, the 2007 team in the middle that won a World Series is kind of distinct from either team. Take a look at the Top 5 WAR from each team.

2004: Johnny Damon, Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Varitek, Mark Bellhorn.

2007: Ortiz, Mike Lowell, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Coco Crisp.

2013: Pedroia, Shane Victorino, Jacoby Ellsbury, Ortiz, Mike Napoli.

Other than Ortiz on all three teams and Pedroia the last two, there are no matches. And top five pitchers by WAR? It’s even more striking.

2004: Curt Schilling, Martinez, Keith Foulke, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Timlin.

2007: Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Schilling, Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima.

2013: Clay Buchholz, Koji Uehara, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Craig Breslow.

Other than Schilling, again, no overlap whatsoever. The Red Sox dynasty, if you are willing to call it that, represents three distinct and largely unconnected teams.

This is the time in which we live. Baseball is geared heavily against dynasties these days. There are the reasons everyone talks about how much it costs to try and keep a great team together. That cost can hit you two ways. One, the obvious way, it can cost too much to keep your best players. The Pittsburgh Pirates of the early 1990s won three consecutive division titles, then Barry Bonds and others left for more money, and the Pirates were dreadful. The 1990s Cleveland Indians went to two World Series, then Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome and Bartolo Colon and others priced themselves out and they had to start over. The 2003 Marlins had a young Beckett and Miguel Cabrera and others, but, not long after, did not have any of them.

But there the less obvious and perhaps deadlier way cost can destroy a great team. This happens when teams spend a ton of money to keep their best players (or to import new ones). This can often cripple the team in utterly unexpected ways. Look at the Yankees now. Look at the Angels. This, of course, happened to the Red Sox. They spent a fortune on Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford and Lackey and a fortune to retain Beckett, Youkilis and Papelbon. And what they found was that when things weren’t going well, they were powerless to do much about it. The team got stale. The older players faded but were huge investments and so played too big a role. There was no freedom to make changes. The Red Sox floundered away a playoff berth in 2011. They were the worst Red Sox team in a couple of generations in 2012.

That’s why the Red Sox get so much credit for the enormous trade they made with the Dodgers last year. They should. The Red Sox didn’t really GET anybody in that deal. And they traded away good players — Gonzalez had a good year for the Dodgers, Crawford wasn’t bad when he was healthy — but it was still a win for the Red Sox. They were able to take the team back. They were able to reorder and refocus the direction. And some good things followed, some expected, some not. Lackey rebounded, which was huge. Uehara decided to become unhittable, which was huge. Victorino, at 32, took to Fenway Park (he hit .322/.365/.485 there and was fantastic defensively) and had perhaps his best season. That, too, was huge.

And the rest came together. The starting pitching was good enough. The bullpen was terrific despite injuries. The lineup blended familiar Red Sox faces like Pedroia, Ortiz and Ellsbury with some shrewd choices like Victorino, Napoli, and 30-year-old minor-league lifer Daniel Nava. They led all of baseball in runs scored.

So, they were smart about the way they built this team. But it isn’t just cost that crushed dynasties. It isn’t just the crazy distractions that come after winning. No, there’s something more direct: You need postseason luck to win a World Series now. Take a look at the dynasties above. Six of the eight came before the 1969 expansion. That meant the teams who won their league went right to the World Series. They did not have to pass Go. They did not have to collect $200. There were no five-game Division Series. There was no seven-game Championship Series. Win the league, win the Series. Two steps.

The Oakland A’s of the early 1970s had three steps. They had to win five-game championship series each of their three seasons. They beat Detroit in 1972, Baltimore in ’73 and ’74. Two of those series went five games.

Then you look at the amazing Yankees run where they won four World Series in five years. It was an incredible run because suddenly there were FOUR steps. Win the division (or Wild Card). Win the Division Series. Win the Championship Series. Win the World Series. Even great teams need luck. The Yankees did. The Jeter flip (or the Jeremy Giambi non-slide). The Jeffrey Maier game. In 2000, the Yankees won only 87 games — they had the fifth-best record in the American League — but they made it into the playoffs, and they won the World Series.

Then, for the next eight years, the Yankees did not win the World Series. They were almost annually the best team. The Yankees had the best record in the American League in 2002, ‘03, ‘04, ’06 and ’07 (tie) and did not win the World Series any of those years (You can throw in ‘11 and ’12, too). This is the essence of the playoff system. It brings a lot more luck into the game. It basically invalidates the season. It gives the surviving teams a fresh start in a much more volatile kind of tournament. Not one time from 2000-12 did the best record in the American League play the best record in the National League.

So, to win three World Series in a decade the way the Red Sox have, they have needed to win nine postseason series. And in many ways, winning the actual World Series has been the easy part. In 2004, the Red Sox had to come from a 3-0 deficit against the Yankees in the ALCS. In 2007, the Red Sox trailed the Cleveland Indians 3-1 in the ALCS. They roared back and stomped Cleveland three in a row. This year, the real challenge was probably Game 2 against Detroit in the ALCS. The Red Sox had lost Game 1 at home, they trailed Game 2 by four runs in the eighth inning when Jim Leyland went to his calamitous bullpen and Papi hit the grand slam. No slam, it’s hard to see the Red Sox winning that series.

More: Cardinals will be back, and often | Ellsbury, Drew take star turns in possible Fenway finales

But they did. Three times in the last decade they got into the postseason and then navigated through. It’s a different kind of success from Stengel’s Yankees or Koufax’s Dodgers. This is what a 21st Century dynasty looks like.

Finally, Bill James. As mentioned, he seems to be the highest-ranking front-office guy — not counting the executive guys like president Larry Lucchino and owner John Henry — to have been around for all three championships. It’s hard to say exactly what Bill does for the Red Sox. He’s very discreet about it, and he would never take any credit whatsoever for Boston’s success. It was funny to see Jonny Gomes, in the glow of winning a World Series, choose to rip sabermetrics — a word Bill James coined — since I’m guessing it was probably some sabermetric thinking that got Gomes to Boston in the first place.

But here’s something to think about. A little more than a year ago, when the Red Sox were in the middle of their disastrous season, Henry went public with his complaint that the Red Sox had not listened enough to James in recent years. James is one of the great baseball minds in the history of the game. He has changed the way countless people look at baseball – and other things too. He is constantly questioning what we know, what we think we know, what we should know, what we can’t know. In his role with the Red Sox, he does not decide who to trade, who to draft, who to acquire, who to start or how to play. He is just there to ask questions and to be a different voice.

The Red Sox had stopped listening to him for a while, and they fell off considerably. I’m not saying ignoring Bill James was the reason why they went in the tank. But I do think it was a symptom of why. They stopped asking questions because, I think, they believed that they had all the answers.

John Henry announced last year that Bill James would report directly to him, and his voice would again be heard in the organization. Did that make a difference? I suspect people in Boston are too busy celebrating another World Championship to worry too much about it.

Shane Victorino’s grand slam puts the Red Sox back on top in the seventh inning of Game 6

ALCS - Detroit Tigers v Boston Red Sox - Game One

Shane Victorino stopped switch-hitting again. For the Red Sox, it’s a good thing he did. With the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the seventh, Victorino drove a Jose Veras curve down the left field line into the seats atop the Green Monster. The Red Sox took back the lead, 5-2 with six outs left in the game.

The seventh inning started with Max Scherzer looking to continue his sterling performance against the Red Sox, but Jonny Gomes led off with a double off of the Monster, just inches from becoming a game-tying solo home run. After Stephen Drew struck out, Xander Bogaerts impressively worked the count to draw a walk, ending Scherzer’s night.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland brought in lefty Drew Smyly to face the left-handed Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury hit a rocket back up the middle, but shortstop Jose Iglesias was able to field it cleanly. In an attempt to shovel the ball to second baseman Omar Infante, the ball got away from Iglesias, so the Tigers weren’t able to record an out anywhere, loading the bases.

Leyland came out again to bring the right-handed Jose Veras into the game. And that is where it was lost. Victorino watched the ball sail deeper and deeper into the left field, pumping his fist as it landed in the seats. It is his second career post-season grand slam, joining Jim Thome as the only two players to have two career grand slams in the playoffs. Victorino hit one off of CC Sabathia, then with the Brewers, in the NLDS back in 2008. It is also the second timely grand slam in the ALCS for the Red Sox, as David Ortiz took Joaquin Benoit deep in Game 2.

If the Red Sox can record six more outs, they will be on their way to the World Series.

Does pride keep sluggers from bunting against the shift?

david ortiz bunt

So, yeah, I don’t like the sacrifice bunt. I don’t like the way it’s scored. I don’t like the way managers use it. I don’t like percentages. I don’t like people’s hyper-eagerness to just give away an out, like it’s nothing, like it is actually worth just one base. I suspect I’ll be talking about all this at some length with Brian Kenny at 9:35 a.m. on his radio show.

But there is a kind of bunt I like, a kind of bunt I’d like to see players use more: The bunt against the shift.

Wait, let’s start with the NBA. From 1965 to 1980, as you probably know, Rick Barry shot underhand free throws. He made a rather extraordinary 89.3% in his career — but shot an even more incredible 92% his last six years. He got better as he got older. He was convinced — and he remains convinced — that anyone who takes the time to learn the underhand free throw and develops it can shoot 80% free throws, minimum. There is some science that backs him up.

Do you know much how much good 80% free throw shooting can do for some players? Last year, Dwight Howard averaged 17.1 points per game despite making just 49.2% of his free throws. He would have scored 222 more points total and averaged 20 points per game had he made 80% of his free throws. DeAndre Jordan made just 39% of his free throws — even at 70% he scores maybe 100 more points this past season and is an infinitely more valuable player at crunch time. Seventeen NBA players who averaged at least 20 minutes per game shot worse than 60%. I’m not saying this as some sort of old fogey “oh the kids today with their free throws” … I’m just saying: Why wouldn’t they TRY to shoot underhand?

The answer seems to be: It looks silly. It’s embarrassing. Great athletes simply find it intolerably demeaning to shoot a free throw underhand, like they were Betty White. For a little while, Wilt Chamberlain — a dreadful free throw shooter — tried the underhand method. It’s hard to find the numbers, but anecdotally there is some suggestion he improved a little bit from the line. Thing is, his heart wasn’t in it. Wilt Chamberlain shot 51% in his long career and still averaged 30.1 points per game. If he had shot 80%, he would have scored 3,400 more points and averages 33.4 points per game. Anyway, he did not stick with it. But he stopped shooting underhand because, as he wrote in his autobiography, “I slept with 20,000 women.” No, wait, he also wrote that shooting underhand free throws made him feel like a sissy, and the other players mocked him. Even an iconoclast like Wilt Chamberlain could not stand up to the intense pressure of not shooting underhand.

Rick Barry finds all this maddening. What’s a little taunting when you can SCORE MORE POINTS? In his mind, you are hurting your team and hurting yourself by not doing everything in your power to excel. It drives him crazy that players would rather miss free throws and look conventional than make free throws and look out of place.

So it brings us back to the bunt against the shift. As we know, it’s become more and more popular to play three infielders on the right side against power lefties … and put the third baseman close to shortstop. it’s proven to be quite effective against many players. But there is a way to beat it consistently. You could bunt the ball down the third base line. This works, even for players we have come to know as very slow. Three examples:

David Ortiz is 6-for-11 on bunts.

Jim Thome was 2-for-4 on bunts.

Jason Giambi was 2-for-3 on bunts.

We don’t have a lot of data for this because, of course, hitters rarely bunt against the shift. Ryan Howard never has. Josh Hamilton tried it once, unsuccessfully, and took much abuse over it. Ted Williams once bunted against the shift and it was national news, the Splinter giving in. He did not give in again. “Like Ruth before him,” John Updike would famously write of Williams pulling balls relentlessly into the teeth of the defensive shift, “he bought the occasional home run at the cost of many directed singles — a calculated sacrifice certainly not, in the case of a hitter as average-minded as Williams, entirely selfish.”

No, it’s not selfish … but the more interesting question: Is it productive baseball? How often would a player need to be successful on bunts against the shift for it to be clearly the better strategy. I asked our pal Tom Tango if he had some numbers for the occasion and, not surprisingly, he did. He looked specifically at situations with the bases empty.

“If you are successful on a bunt with bases empty,” he wrote, “you add +.26 runs. If you are out, it’s -.16 runs. If you are successful 60% of the time, then you have added: .26 x .60 – .16 x .40 = +.092 … And that’s pretty much the limit to what an exceptional hitter can add (with the bases empty). Therefore, ANYONE who can bunt at least 60% of the time into an open field (with bases empty) should do it every single time.”

This makes sense to me. But even if you don’t do it every time, why wouldn’t you bunt against the shift at least now and then. I mean LOOK AT THIS? I’m not saying it’s as easy as Robbie Cano makes it look there, but it’s an opportunity to get on base a very high percentage of the time. And as Bill James points out, it also could have the auxiliary benefit of stopping the other team from using the shift. Why wouldn’t hitters take greater advantage of that?

I think the reason few players bunt is two-fold. One, obviously, revolves around the Rick Barry underhand free throw. Bunting against the shift is embarrassing, it’s demeaning, it’s somehow admitting defeat. Of course, that’s the cunning power of the defensive shift. The shift in many ways is like the final Tom Cruise maneuver on Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men” — it is a play on the subject’s ego and hubris and refusal to look weak. Nicholson, who clearly had no misgivings about lying through his teeth, only had to say, “No, I didn’t order the code red,” and Tom Cruise is off somewhere getting disbarred. But he didn’t. A batter has only to bunt a few balls down that third base line to completely destroy the defensive shift. But he doesn’t.

Two, baseball remains inextricably tied to what people want to believe. In so many ways, I think that’s why the sacrifice bunt is still such a viable baseball play — it’s because, it SHOULD be a good play. I mean, look, this guy’s giving himself up for the good of the team. This guy’s moving into scoring position. That should increase our chances of scoring! The inconvenient fact that it doesn’t increase chances of scoring — not mathematically, not historically, not at all — simply cannot overwhelm the optics.

And so speedy guys still keep getting put at the top of batting orders, and little guys who can’t necessarily hit but can “handle the bat” still hit second and the team’s best hitter are hitting third, and the bopper keeps hitting cleanup even though there are many, many reasons to believe (and many studies that prove) that this is a poor way to construct a lineup. Why? It SEEMS right. It feels right. It looks right. I mean the fast guy gets on, he steals second, the stick man hits behind the runner and moves him to third, the team’s best hitter hits a sacrifice fly … great inning, right?

People have to understand, logically, that pitchers don’t win games. But the pitcher win seems right. People have to know that walks are valuable. But, wait, don’t you see that Joey Votto only has 72 RBIs? People have to know that sluggers will help their team more by bunting and getting on base at a very high rate than by trying to bang ball into a tiny gap in a defensive shift. But, wait, then they won’t hit home runs. Baseball, very often, focuses on what SHOULD be true rather than what actually IS true.

When it Raines, Part I

Tim Raines

A fantastic point here made by Tom Tango, and I have to admit that it has made me (for the nine millionth time) rethink the Baseball Hall of Fame. As you might have heard, Fangraphs asked a bunch of writers to name the three best eligible players not in the Hall of Fame. They asked the writers to leave out Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and Pete Rose, which was smart, those players are bogged down by issues other than baseball. The point here, as I understood it, was to simply name the best eligible baseball players not in the Hall of Fame.

Tim Raines got the highest vote total, with Mike Piazza second and Jeff Bagwell third. Then came Craig Biggio and Curt Schilling. That seems right in line with what I’ve been writing for the last couple of of years. BUT — and this is strange — when I saw the list, I had this weird and utterly counterintuitive thought, something I almost don’t want to write.

I almost don’t want to write this because, as anyone who reads this site knows, I am a huge Tim Raines fan. Huge. OK, maybe I’m not quite at the Jonah Keri level, but I’m a big fan and I absolutely believe that he is a Hall of Famer. I have made that argument many times. I have made that argument based on Raines’ greatness compared to the players who are actually in the Hall of Fame right now. As I wrote here, of the 11 left fielders that the BBWAA has voted into the Hall of Fame, Raines is comfortably in the middle. He was, I think, a better player than Ralph Kiner or JIm Rice or even a great player he resembled, Lou Brock. His career value was very similar to right fielder Tony Gwynn’s … it’s just that Gwynn’s greatness came in obvious and bold colors (lots of hits, absurdly high batting averages, batting crowns galore, Gold Gloves galore) while Raines’ greatness tended to be cloaked in drab gray (lots of walks, extraordinary base stealer, lots of runs scored, a lot of value as a part-time player later in his career).

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Tim Raines should be in the Hall of Fame.

So here comes to the counterintuitive part: If I was only given three votes — and this is even if I was told to skip over Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and Pete Rose — I would not vote for Tim Raines.

Like I say: It hurts me to say that. I have long looked at Raines as my guy, as someone I not only vote for the Hall of Fame but also as someone I lobby for the Hall of Fame. I am on the picket line, holding up my “Vote Tim Raines” sign. But, see, that’s by the current rules, where we voters are allowed to vote for 10 players.

With 10 players, I can afford to be pretty generous. I don’t need to make too many hard choices. If I think they deserve to be in, I vote them in. Let’s come up with a bizarre analogy: If I go into a Brookstone with a gift certificate that allows me to get TEN THINGS, sure, I might pick up the water foot massager or the Rosetta Stone langugage lessons for Spanish or a travel water purifier or an electric globe.

But If I’ve only got a gift certificate for THREE things, I’m going to be a lot choosier and choose things I NEED rather than things I want. Admittedly, this distinction might not help me as much in a Brookstone, but I think you get the point. Ten things, sure, a water purifier sounds great. Three things, no, I’m probably getting something like luggage.

Tim Raines … great player. Belongs in the Hall. But is he one of the three best players not in the Hall? No. I don’t think so. I don’t think he’s particularly close. That’s not a knock on his awesomeness, it’s simple reality. I put together this list of the highest WAR (I average Baseball Reference and Fangraphs WAR) for non Hall of Famers. Let’s see how far down we have to go to get to Tim Raines. Then, next post, I’ll go through Tango and Bill James ideas for a better Hall of Fame vote:

In this list, I’m going to include ALL retired players (after 1900), including those who are just retired and those who are not yet eligible for the Hall of Fame. I’ll bold out the people who are already on the Hall of Fame Ballot.

1. Barry Bonds (163.4 WAR).

How about this Bonds tidbit: If Barry Bonds had retired after the 1998 season — so before anyone believes he was a using anything, before 73 homers, before the most absurd stretch of baseball ever — look at how his career compares with the entirety of Duke Snider’s career..

Bonds through 1998: .290/.411/.556, 1,1916 hits, 411 homers, 1,364 runs, 1,216 RBIs, 445 SBs, 164 OPS+, 8 Gold Gloves.

Duke Snider: .295/.380/.540, 2,116 hits, 407 homers, 1,259 runs, 1,333 RBIs, 99 SBs, 140 OPS+.

It’s not just lip service: Barry Bonds was a clear Hall of Famer even before his bulked up.

2. Roger Clemens (139.6 WAR)

3. Greg Maddux (109.6 WAR … eligible 2014)

Who will be the numbskulls to leave Maddux off their 2014 ballot?

4. Randy Johnson (107.2 WAR … eligible 2015 )

5. Pedro Martinez (86.4 WAR … eligible 2015)

One of the craziest and least appreciated parts of the Steroid Era is that while it is known for all the home runs, it really should be remembered for giving us four of the greatest pitchers in baseball history.

6. Chipper Jones (85.2 WAR … eligible 2018)

7. Mike Mussina (82.5 WAR … eligible 2014)

You probably did not expect to see Mussina this high. He seems destined to be the next Bert Blyleven, someone who will get pretty low vote totals at the start and will need to become a cause.

8. Curt Schilling (82.1 WAR)

At some point, we’re going to have to figure out a way to get postseason performance in career WAR.

9. Ken Griffey Jr. (80.5 … eligible 2016)

I added the Junior here so there would be no confusion. Ken Sr. weighs in at a more-than-respectable 36.7 WAR.

10. Pete Rose (80.0 WAR … eligible when Bud Selig melts)

(tied) Jeff Bagwell (80.0 WAR)

12. Frank Thomas (73.0 WAR … eligible 2014)

13. John Smoltz (72.5 WAR … eligible 2015)

14. Lou Whitaker (71.5 WAR … off ballot)

15. Kevin Brown (71.3 WAR … off ballot)

You will notice that we are 15 deep now, and we till haven’t gotten to Tim Raines. Truth is, we still have quite a long way to go.

16. Rafael Palmeiro (70.9 WAR)

17. Larry Walker (70.7 WAR)

Was Larry Walker a better player than Tim Raines? Such a tough question because they were such different players, they played in somewhat different eras and Walker spent the bulk of his career playing at Coors Field when it was am absurd hitters park. Also Raines played about 500 more games than Walker. You could make an argument, after neutralizing their statistics, that Raines was the more valuable offensive player.

Neutralized batting:

Raines: .299/.392/.433, 1,598 runs created.

Walker: .294/.378/.530, 1,379 runs created.

Then again, Walker was a better outfielder than Raines and had two seasons that were probably better than Raines’ best. These are the tough calls that have to be made.

18. Jim Thome (70.4 WAR … eligible 2018 if he retires)

19. Bobby Grich (70.1 WAR … off ballot)

At this point, I’m pretty sure Bobby Grich is the most underrated player in baseball history, and I’m not even sure who is in second place. Minnie Minoso, maybe? Dick Allen? Darrell Evans? Grich is the truest kind of underrated in that you almost never even hear about him being underrated. Grich was a four-time Gold Glove winning second baseman and, by the advanced numbers, deserved them — he was a brilliant fielder. He was a hugely valuable offensive player because he walked a lot and hit with power … this at a time when middle infielders could not hit. Only Joe Morgan was better offensively among second basemen and shortstops. And he was Joe Morgan.

Grich suffers from all the underrated blues. People noticed his low batting (.266) and not his high on-base percentage (.371). He played in a very low scoring era, and he played in dreadful hitters parks throughout his career. He has the misfortune of having perhaps the best year of his career (.304/.378/.543 — led the league in homers and slugging) in the 1981 strike season, which obviously was truncated. He was overshadowed by great players on his own teams (Frank Robinson for his offense, Brooks Robinson and Mark Belanger for their defense, Reggie Jackson, Don Baylor the year he won the MVP), and great players on other teams (particularly Morgan, who just happened to be legendary when Grich was merely great). He also had a relatively short career, which prevented him from putting up the baseline numbers that people look at first — things like hits (he had 1,833 career hits).

20. Scott Rolen (70.0 WAR … eligible 2018 if he retires)

Is he retired? It sounds that way. I suspect he will go the way of Ken Boyer, Graig Nettles, Buddy Bell … the third basemen who just can’t garner much Hall of Fame support.

21. Ivan Rodriguez (69.5 WAR … eligible 2017)

22. Rick Reuschel (69.0 WAR … off the ballot)

23. Tom Glavine (69.0 WAR … eligible 2014)

Baseball Reference WAR has Glavine worth about six more wins over his career than Reuschel. Fangraphs WAR has Reuschel worth about five more wins over his career than Glavine.

I’ll readily admit: It’s stuff like this — Fangraphs having Reuschel as a markedly better pitcher than Glavine — that makes people mock the statistic. But this is really because we are so used to seeing statistics through the traditional prism. Glavine has 305 wins to Reuschel’s 214. Glavine had a much higher winning percentage (.600 to .528). Glavine won a Cy Young Award and won 20 five times; Reuschel only came close to winning a Cy Young Award once (he finished a close third) and won 20 once. Reuschel had a better career ERA than Glavine (3.37 to 3.54) but Glavine had the better ERA+, reflecting the times when they played.

So how in the world could Reuschel have a higher Fangraphs WAR? Well, of course, WAR doesn’t care at all about wins. So that goes out the window. It doesn’t exactly care about ERA either. Fangraphs WAR bases a pitcher on three things: Walks, strikeouts and home runs allowed. Based on a fairly simple formula that I just had my 12-year-old daughter (who is learning basic algebra now) help me with — ((13 times homers) plus (3 times walks+HPB) minus (2 times strikeouts) divided by innings pitched — the two pitchers raw fielding independent pitching numbers look like so:

Reuschel: .539

Glavine: .932

The lower number is better so you can see Reuschel has a pretty strong advantage. He struck out about as many batters per inning as Glavine, walked fewer and allowed fewer home runs. So then you adjust for time. Glavine obviously pitched in a much higher scoring time than Reuschel, so he gets credit for that. On the other hand, Reuschel spent more than half his career pitching at Wrigley Field when they was a dreadful park for pitchers. So he gets some credit for that. Then the whole thing is adjusted to more or less look like ERA so it will be easier to understand.

Final FIP numbers:

Reuschel: 3.22

Glavine: 3.95

That’s why Fangraphs has Reuschel as the better pitcher. You may total disagree with the method or the result. But that’s how it works.

24. Tommy John (68.9 WAR … off ballot)

25. Tim Raines (67.6 WAR)

And finally, we get to Raines. Now, it’s true that this list includes a bunch players who are not eligible for the Hall of Fame — of the players on the 2013 ballot, he is ranked seventh if you include Bonds and Clemens, fifth if you do not. But that’s still not Top 3. And four players are added in 2014 with a higher WAR, and that does not even include Jeff Kent, who has his Hall supporters.

And while you might disagree with WAR and say that Raines was definitely more valuable than a lot of players on this list — starting with Tommy John, Rick Reuschel, Bobby Grich and Larry Walker among others — you have to admit there are a bunch of players BELOW Raines on the list who have arguably as strong or stronger cases.

Would you vote Tim Raines ahead of Mike Piazza (who ranks 41st on the list)? That’s tough. Piazza might have been the best hitting catcher ever.

What about Craig Biggio (No. 32 on list)? He had those 3,000 hits, is 18th all-time in times on base, is 15th all-time in runs scored and so on.

Was Raines a better player than Shoeless Joe Jackson? We obviously know Jackson’s issue, but forget that for a moment … we’re only trying to come up with the best players not in the Hall of Fame. Was Raines a better player than Joe Jackson?

How about Alan Trammell? Graig Nettles? Dwight Evans? Dick Allen? Mark McGwire? Ken Boyer? Minnie Minoso? The Keith Hernandez?* Vlad Guerrero? All of these players and many other excellent ones rank below Raines in WAR … but maybe you think they were better players. There’s also a pitcher you might have heard of who ranks way below Raines in WAR, a pitcher named Mariano Rivera.

*For some reason, I wrote “The Keith Hernandez” in my first draft. I decided to keep it.

And we haven’t gotten anywhere near Jack Morris, who will be discussed again in Part II.

The point is: This is where the real Hall of Fame contest is waged. I have always thought that the best way to decide who belongs in the Hall of Fame is to determine where the Hall of Fame line has been drawn and vote for players who I believe are above that line. Now I’m thinking that this mythical Hall of Fame line, while worth figuring, isn’t really the deciding factor. The deciding factor is: Does a player, by whatever standard you use, have a better case for the Hall of Fame than the many, many great players out there who have not yet been elected.

Tim Raines, I love you. I absolutely will keep voting for you. I hope to be there on the day your are inducted into the Hall of Fame. But if I’m being completely honest, you are not one of the three best players not in the Hall of Fame, and that’s even if we do leave out Bonds, Clemens and Rose.