On the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot

It’s nice to know that Major League Baseball has arranged its annual calendar so that we never go more than a week or two without something to talk about. Less than two weeks after the last awards are given out, the Hall of Fame ballot is announced.

This year, we’ve got a couple of no-brainers in the first-timers (Mariano Rivera and Roy Halliday), some likely to make it in this time (Edgar Martinez and Mike Mussina). the usual problematic holdovers (e.g. Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds), and a whole bunch of other very good players who may or may not get in, but deserve some respect and honor.

Just an aside: Some of the criticism of Edgar Martinez is that he was a designated hitter, and as technically a ‘part-time’ player, he shouldn’t be included among The Greats. But Mariano Rivera, who was also a ‘part-time’ player, is nonetheless one of the All-Time Best? I don’t get it….

Then there are the “one and done” guys, who probably won’t last more than one year on the ballot. They made it to the ballot by being good enough to last ten or more years in the major leagues.

There’s really not much to say about some of them, but let’s give them a salute anyway.

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On the 2018 World Series

This year’s series wasn’t as exciting as the previous two (or even three), but then it would be hard to come close to the fun and excitement of those two. Of course, there’s always stuff to say about a World Series, no matter how many games it lasts or who wins.

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Never Made the World Series

Seems that every time the World Series comes around, there’s always a little talk about the players that are appearing there for the first time. I got to thinking. Really great players are often on great teams; the kind that win pennants on a regular basis. And they have careers that are long enough so that even by chance, they might wind up in the World Series. We even take it as granted that being in a World Series – even if your team doesn’t win – is one of the key factors in being a “great” player.

So I got to wondering. What great players had the bad luck to never be on a pennant winning team, and therefore never appear in a Fall Classic? Heck, you could probably go through the Hall of Famers and put together a full nine-player team….

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deGrom, Nola, Scherzer

There’s a great race in the National League that’s going to make September really exciting. No, not the NL West division race, nor the NL Wild Card race. But the battle for the Cy Young Award. There are three prime candidates to choose from. Jacob deGrom of the Mets, Aaron Nola of the Phillies, and Max Scherzer of the Nationals. The decision is probably going to come down to what you think counts the most in considering an “outstanding pitcher”.

(NOTE: All stats current as of 9/6/18, prior to the start of the day’s games. Numbers in parentheses indicate their ranking in the NL)

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On the 2018 All Star Game

Well, another “Midsummer Classic” has come and gone, and will be forgotten in due time.

Much of what I said last year still holds. FOX using their robot football guy to introduce a baseball game, not showing the names of the players as they are being introduced….

I hope the people at the game got more information about the Medal of Honor recipients than we did. The announcers could have at least sent us to a website to learn more.

Anyway, while there are official regulations governing who is eligible for the award (they were finally put in writing in the early 60s), there are some unwritten, unofficial requirements:

* There must be at least two eyewitnesses to the incident. Got to have proof.
* You must put your life in danger. Fair enough.
* It must be something that if you didn’t do it, no one could blame you.

Go check out the official citations of the honorees, and hope that if you do find yourself in such a dangerous situation, you behave with even a fraction of their courage.

The game itself? A perfect example of baseball these days. Homeruns, strikeouts, and practically nothing else.

Total plate appearances: 90
Total home runs: 10
Total strikeouts: 25
Total walks: 9

Half the plate appearances didn’t need a fielder to do anything.

I get it’s an exhibition, so the pitchers are all throwing flames and the batters are all swinging for the seats. But good heavens, it’s dull viewing. Major League Baseball really needs to make some changes in the off season.

By the way, Nationals Stadium did have its traditional President’s Race in the middle of the fourth inning. This time, Theodore Roosevelt jumped out to an early lead, but was blindsided by a flying rabbit. George Washington dashed past the ensuing pile-up and won handily.

They had a couple of players hooked up with microphones for in-game conversations again. Mike Trout and Bryce Harper were rather dull (except for Trout’s in-game weather commentary). Thankfully, Francisco Lindor and Charlie “I check my hole for gloves” Blackmon made up for it. If they do it again, get talkative and fun players like those guys.

Speaking of weather, MLB must have contingency plans in case there’s a rain delay or a rainout. Right?

By the way, what’s the deal with those wild socks that some players were wearing? And do enough people (other than collectors) buy those silly special All Star Game caps to justify making them?

All Star Week

Next week is when baseball’s annual All Star Game is played. Major League Baseball tries to make a week-long festival out of it, but for some reason they schedule the game itself on Tuesday night, which means all the pre-game stuff gets compressed into two days, while there are two days after the game when there’s absolutely nothing going on.

That seems rather inefficient to me. I know the players want and deserve a couple of days off, but there should be a better way to do it.

Like moving the All Star Game to Wednesday.

Here’s what that would allow:

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Book Review: The Year of the Pitcher

The Year of the Pitcher: Bob Gibson, Denny McLain, and the End of Baseball’s Golden Age
by Sridhar Pappu
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
(c) 2017 by the author

1.12 and 31.

The two numbers that essentially defined the 1968 baseball season.

The former is Bob Gibson’s earned run average for the season (basically, he only gave up one run for every eight innings he pitched); the latter is the number of games won by Denny McLain – the most in over thirty years. These stats epitomize the low-scoring environment of baseball in the 1960s. But rather than focus on the actual games of that season, Pappu takes a much broader look.

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Baseball’s Other Issue

There’s been a lot of talk over the past few off-seasons about “pace of play” issues. Dawdling during the game has caused the average game time to grow by an excruciating five minutes or so over the past couple of years!

In an effort to speed things up, rules have been introduced that turn the Intentional Walk into a simple “go ahead and take your base”, compel batters to stay in the batter’s box during an at-bat, and limit the number of “meetings on the mound” a team can have.

This is all well and good, but there’s something else that needs attention. As the number of strikeouts continues to rise, it’s not just the pace of play, but the lack of play that’s affecting the game.

Percentage of Plate Appearances Ending Without a Ball In Play:
(strikeouts, walks, hit batters, and intentional walks)

2013 – 29.2%
2014 – 29.4%
2015 – 29.4%
2016 – 30.7%
2017 – 31.7%

2018 (as of the start of play on April 30) – 33.3%

One in three plate appearances ends with nothing happening in the field! The fielders could take naps out there, and very few people would notice. Much of it is due to the significant rise in strikeouts, which is the downside of increased use of bullpens and more “swinging for the seats”. It affects the pace of play too; a study from a few years ago found that it takes 4.5 pitches on average to strike out a player, compared to an average of 3 when the out is recorded on a ball in play.

I’m not sure what can be done about this; tinkering with the strike zone and pitcher’s mound are obvious places to look.

But something probably should be done. Speeding up play is nice – but there need to be actual plays first.

ADDENDUM (5/2/18)

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The Race to the Bottom

Opening Day for the baseball season is tomorrow – which means all the sports journalists have come out with their power rankings and predictions for the season. It’s pretty easy to choose who the division winners are going to be. With the exception of the American League East (which has two – the Yankees and the Red Sox), each division has just one powerhouse team that should have no problems running away with their flag.

That’s just how the game has turned out these past few years. Sure, a few teams can sneak in to the playoffs via the wild card, but even there you don’t have more than a couple of teams capable of doing that. Most teams are mediocre at best, with no chance of getting anywhere.

And however it happened, the current economic situation has actually encouraged – at least it hasn’t actively discouraged – poor teams from giving up and selling or trading off the few good players they might have in the hope of getting a bunch of good prospects or draft choices.

With the pennant races virtually decided even before the first shout of “Play Ball”, the real races to watch are the ones for last place. Will the crappy teams do the honorable thing and try to win as many games as they can, or make the good business decision to “tank” and hope for the best in the off-season?

Here are my choices for the worst teams in every division (and how they might actually pull off a miracle):

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