When it Raines, Part I

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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.

And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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Happy Memorial Day, everyone.

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Blue Jays 10, Padres 1: Cavan Biggio had three hits, including his first career home run, giving the Biggio family 292 combined career homers. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. hit a homer too. He, his brother Yulieski and their father Lourdes Gurriel Sr. have a combined 299, depending on how much credence you want to give to Cuban stats from the 1970s-90s when dad played. No matter the exact number their dad was amazing, jack. He substantially outhit both Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi head-to-head in amateur play back in the day, even though he was older than Bonds and much older than Giambi. He would’ve been a certified stud in the majors. Vlad Guerrero Jr. had three hits on the day. He and his dad have a combined 2,610 hits now. Justin Smoak hit two homers. I have no idea if his dad ever hit any. For all I know he’s a dentist or a tool and die guy or something.

Can’t wait until the Jays call up Dante Bichette’s kid, Bo Bichette, and every recap of their games is about dads. Dads rule.

Mets 4, Tigers 3: The homer explosion in baseball over the past few years has drastically increased the percentage of runs scored via the longball. Which, as a guy who does recaps and tends to focus on the runs that are scored, I must admit it makes things somewhat . . . boring at times. Or at lease repetitive. But it is what it is, and if you write about what happens in games you gotta write about what, you know, happened.

Unless you’re the AP beat writer who covered this game, in which case you spend the first 178 words of a 500-word story talking about Todd Frazier dropping down a bunt against the shift. It was a pretty nifty bunt — it scored the Mets’ first run of the game — but given that two batters later Adeiny Hechavarría hit a three-run homer that brought the Mets back from behind and gave them what proved to be the game’s winning runs, it seems, I dunno, a bit unrepresentative. I get it. I really do. It’s more fun to talk about a bunt-against-the-shift in which the “long-time pro” “cleverly” pushed that punt into right field than it is the 10,000th home run of the past week, but I feel like you gotta give Hechavarría his props there before you go on about wily veterans doing wily veteran things. Anyway: New York takes two out of three from the Tigers and wins the sixth of seven overall.

Twins 7, White Sox 0: Jake Odorizzi tossed one-hit, shutout ball into the sixth, striking out nine, and the Twins’ powerful lineup continued to be powerful, with Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario each hitting three-run homers. Minnesota sweeps Chicago for the team’s seventh series sweep this year. They’ve won 11 of their past 12 games too and have built a big lead in their division because . . .

Rays 6, Indians 3: . . . Cleveland kinda stinks. Trevor Bauer‘s struggles continue. He coughed up four runs on five hits in six innings while the Rays’ bullpenning brigade shut Cleveland out until eighth, by which time Tampa Bay was up 5-0. Austin Meadows, meanwhile, led off the game with a home run and was 4 for 4 with three RBI and the Rays took three of four from the Tribe. Cleveland is now at .500, a full ten games — 10! — behind the Twins. I guess allowing the team to get worse in the offseason because they felt like the division was gonna be a cakewalk isn’t working out all that well for the Indians, huh?

Nationals 9, Marlins 6: On Friday I observed on Twitter that if the Marlins win streak were to continue against the Nats and Washington were to get swept out of this series that it’d be a mortal certainty that Dave Martinez would get fired. That hypothesis was not tested as the Nats have taken the first three games of this four-game set. Here Howie Kendrick homered, had three hits and drove in three. If you want to look for a the gray lining on this otherwise fluffy white cloud, note that while Washington built up a 9-0 lead, the bullpen coughed up six runs in the final two innings which is not what you want.

Dodgers 11, Pirates 7: Justin Turner had five hits and scored three times, Matt Beaty had four RBI, and Corey Seager homered and drove in two and Joc Pederson went deep as well. The Dodgers scored six runs in the sixth. Two of them came via back-to-back bases loaded plunkings. I guess what I’m saying is that the Buccos’ pitchers weren’t exactly sharp in this one. L.A. sweeps Pittsburgh in three.

Red Sox 4, Astros 1: Eduardo Rodríguez allowed a first inning run but that’s all he allowed in six innings of work as he outdueld Justin Verlander. The Sox didn’t exactly pummel JV — Rafael Devers homered but the other runs came on an error, a groundout and a sac fly — but they did enough. The win allowed Boston to avoid a sweep. The season series between these two is over, with Houston taking four of six. Wouldn’t be shocking to see them meet in the playoffs once again.

Brewers 9, Phillies 1: Brandon Woodruff allowed a solo homer in the sixth but was otherwise perfect — like, literally perfect; no hits, walks, runs or errors — in eight innings of work. If not for that dinger he’d almost certainly have come out for the ninth given that he was only at 97 pitches. No need for that here, of course, as the Brewers’ bats gave him nine runs of support. Ben Gamel had two homers, Hernan Pérez, Yasmani Grandal and Christian Yelich also went deep. Yelich’s was his major league-leading 21st home run on the year. Gamel now has four homers in his first year in Milwaukee. That puts him two homers behind Mat Gamel on the Brewers’ All-Time Gamel home run list.

Royals 8, Yankees 7: The Royals had a 7-1 lead after five and blew it, with a three-run ninth inning rally capped off by a two-run RBI single from Aaron Hicks forcing extras. Yankees reliever Jonathan Holder failed to live up to his name in the 10th, though, as he walked Billy Hamilton — and, really, who the hell walks Billy Hamilton? — who then did the obvious thing and stole second base. With two down in the inning Whit Merrifield came to the plate and scored Hamilton for the walkoff win.

Merrifield got an eat-the-third-baseman-alive bounce on this one, but sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good:

Reds 10, Cubs 2: Bad day for the Cubbies. Both because of the loss and because Kris Bryant — starting in right field — collided with center fielder Jason Heyward as the two converged to catch a fly ball. Neither caught it and a run scored but, more importantly, Bryant had to leave the game and now he’s on concussion watch. Nick Senzel had three hits and scored four times for the Reds. Eugenio Suárez finished with two hits and three RBI and Joey Votto banged out a couple of hits as well. Tanner Roark tossed five shutout innings and the Reds too two of three from the Cubs in Wrigley.

Rockies 8, Orioles 7: Colorado scored twice in the bottom of the ninth to come from behind and snag the walkoff win. The first run of the ninth came on a bases-loaded walk to Ian Desmond, which again, who walks Ian Desmond? The second run came on a sac fly from Tony Wolters which, hey, you load the bases and you don’t have much margin for error. Before all of that Nolan Arenado homered for the third straight game and Rockies starter German Márquez tripled and drove in three runs on the day. The triple was kind of a cheapie, if such a thing exists, as the O’s had pulled the outfield way in against him and he just lofted one to the wall and trotted in to third without a play. Colorado takes two of three from Baltimore.

Athletics 7, Mariners 1: Brett Anderson allowed one run while pitching into the seventh, leading the A’s to a three-game sweep of the M’s. Matt Chapman and Josh Phegley hit bombs. Oakland has won nine in a row. Though, actually, that winning streak could later be taken away because in the middle of it is a suspended game against the Tigers which they could end up losing when they finish it later this year. It’s the closest thing baseball has to time travel. 

Diamondbacks 6, Giants 2: Arizona came into this series on a five-game losing streak and swept the Giants in three. Here they sent San Francisco to its fifth straight loss. Ketel Marte homered and Eduardo Escobar had three hits. Rookie Mike Yastrzemski had three hits. I was at one of his minor league games a couple of years ago and a guy behind me said “ah, it’s Carl Yastrzemski’s son.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was his grandkid. Life comes at you fast and all of that, but jeez, Carl Yastrzemski is gonna turn 80 this summer.

Holy crap. I’ve seen a guy who is almost 80 play in person. He’s not the only one who’s old.

Angels 7, Rangers 6: Texas had a 5-1 lead heading into the seventh when the Angels put up a six-spot. Mike Trout homered early and then doubled in a run and scored on a wild pitch in the Halos’ big seventh. Two runs scored on wild pitches in that inning, in fact, both by Kyle Dowdy. L.A. took two of three from Texas.

Braves 4, Cardinals 3: This one has to hurt if you’re a Cards fan. St. Louis took a 3-0 lead into the ninth and Jordan Hicks came out to get the easiest of all saves. He couldn’t record a single out, though, and ended up being charged with three runs. The third run came when Ozzie Albies singled to conclude a ten-pitch at bat against Shelby Miller in which he fouled off pitch after pitch.  In the tenth Tyler Webb put two on — one via an unintentional walk — and then Mike Shildt called for an intentional walk of rookie Austin Riley to load the bases. Next batter up was Brian McCann who, yep, walked to force in the go-ahead run. Atlanta takes two of three from the Cards. They’ve won 12 of 16 overall. They’re a game and a half behind the Phillies.