Saturday, December 27, 2014

Is Alan Trammell the Most Underrated Player in MLB History?

There is little doubt that the recently retired icon - New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter ('95 - '14) - will be a first ballot Hall of Famer; and rightfully so.  Playing his entire career in New York, Jeter was an integral part of five world championship teams; seemingly doing everything right when the national spotlight was shining the brightest.  The media loved him and so did the vast majority of fans - not just in New York - but everywhere.

On the other hand, there is little doubt that former Detroit Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell ('77 - '96) - who is actually ranked one notch higher (#11 all-time) than Derek Jeter on - will not even come close for induction, for the 14th straight year.  Most people probably don't even know he's still on the ballot.  Then again, most people have no clue about Trammell's Hall of Fame-caliber career; worse yet, most Hall of Fame voters from the BBWAA have no clue.

Last year, Trammell only got 20.8% of the vote; proving that nearly 80% of those voting never really bothered to research the career accomplishments of this unassuming former elite player.  A quick look on would do the trick.

Here's what we would discover:

*There are 21 shortstops currently in the Hall of Fame

*Only 8 of those Hall of Fame shortstops had better Cooperstown credentials than Trammell

*The average career WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for Hall of Fame shortstops is 66.7

*Trammell's career WAR is 70.4

*The average 7-year peak WAR for Hall of Fame shortstops is 42.8

*Trammell's 7-year peak WAR is 44.6

*The average JAWS (average of career & 7-year peak WAR) for Hall of Fame shortstops is 54.7

*Trammell's JAWS is 57.5

*Trammell's career slash line: .285 BA/.352 OBP/.415 SLG - (110 OPS+) - This compares favorably with Hall of Fame shortstops (typically a position geared towards defense - not offense)

*Trammell won 4 Gold Glove Awards - deserved 7 - Career dWAR is + 22.0 (that's good)

*Derek Jeter won 5 Gold Glove Awards - deserved 0 - Career dWAR is - 9.7 (that's not good)

*Trammell's postseason career was far more limited than Jeter's (13 total games compared to 158); however, Trammell's performance was outstanding (.333/.404/.588 - 3 HR - 7 R - 9 RBI).  In fact, when Tigers won '84 World Series, Trammell was MVP (.450/.500/.800 - 2 HR - 5 R - 6 RBI).

Playing in New York during the Yankees' reign of terror (to the rest of MLB), Jeter had moments of greatness that will forever be etched into our national consciousness:  The backhand flip to retire a lumbering Jason Giambi at home plate in the 2001 ALCS; and most prominently, his dramatic November 1, 2001 World Series opposite-field walk-off home run to beat the D-backs in Game 5.  "He is Mr November!"  That's some heavy marketing and America was buying the product - a sure-fire Hall of Famer.

Prior to the advent of defensive metrics, Jeter was widely regarded as an excellent defensive shortstop (erroneously); hence the five Gold Gloves.  What helped perpetuate that myth was his flashy method of fielding ground balls in the hole; and with his momentum carrying him towards the left field line, he would jump and complete the pass to the first baseman for the out.  Very stylish.  Even more dramatic was a famous catch he made in foul territory; running full speed, when he grabbed the ball, then catapulted into the stands with total disregard for life and limb.  That play alone guaranteed him a Gold Glove for three more years.

Trammell, on the other hand, fielded his position so smoothly, he made difficult plays look routine; but he had terrific range and hardly ever made a mistake.  He was so consistent, it was boring; and his splendid defensive prowess was never fully appreciated.  That's the problem.  The typical fan (or Hall of Fame voter) scrutinizes a player's batting average, home runs, runs scored and RBI's.  Unless they're making sensational diving plays and barehanded grabs, they pay no attention to their defense.  However, we should know that there are two ways to enhance a team's run differential over their competition:  (1) Run production and (2) run prevention.  Of course, run production gets the most attention.  We love those big home runs; alas, we rarely notice the runs saved from great glove work.

However, advanced metrics enables us to specifically measure the "cause and effect" of a player's defensive prowess - or lack thereof.  A good defensive player like Trammell essentially creates runs for his team by shutting down the opposition on a regular basis - by flashing the leather; and over the course of his career, Trammell's defense was worth 81 runs.

Unfortunately for Jeter and the Yankees, that five-time Gold Glove winning shortstop cost his team 182 runs over the course of his career.  For some reason, I don't think very many people know that; or if presented with that information, would acknowledge it.  "Just hogwash; fancy-schmancy saber-metric garbage", they would say.  I would have to do some research, but I'm fairly certain no five-time Gold Glove winning shortstop has ever been so bad defensively to essentially cause 182 runs to disappear - evaporate - over their career.  Poof!  It's a good thing he could hit.

In five years, when Jeter's name first appears on a Hall of Fame ballot, it's a safe bet he'll be voted into Cooperstown; and rightfully so.  Meanwhile, Alan Trammell will no doubt be passed over until his name is removed from the ballot, altogether.

Then, he'll have to wait for the opportunity to appear on a Veteran's Committee ballot ten, fifteen or twenty years down the road.  Maybe by then, more enlightened members of that future committee will judge the player on his true merits; maybe not.

Maybe he'll continue to be major league baseball's most underrated player.  That would be a shame.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

10 (Possibly Controversial) Hall of Fame Selections

I don't have the privilege of casting an official BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot, but if I did, I'm pretty sure a couple of my selections would raise the ire of two-thirds of the general population; but so be it.

Also, since the maximum number of candidates eligible to receive votes on a single ballot is ten, I'm forced to leave off a couple of guys who clearly have Hall of Fame credentials ( ranks every player at each position, for comparison); but my hands are tied by Cooperstown.  Sorry.  Maybe next year.

My votes go to the most qualified, not necessarily the most popular.  They are:

Craig Biggio - After coming up just a bit short last year with 74.8% of the vote, I hope he doesn't have to play the waiting game any longer.  His career numbers are compelling, with 3060 hits in his 20-years with the Astros (112 OPS+); not a particularly great defensive player, but good enough overall to be ranked #14 all-time for second basemen (his primary position).

Mike Piazza - Clearly the best hitting catcher in MLB history (.308/.377/.545 - 143 OPS+), with moderate defensive liabilities during his 16-year career; but not enough to justify exclusion from the Hall of Fame; however, with the PED issue still raging among the voting ranks of the BBWAA, I'd be surprised if he gets in this year, despite being ranked #5 all-time for catchers.

Jeff Bagwell - His 15-year career was hampered by injuries, but the slugging first baseman still posted HOF-caliber numbers (.297/.408/.540 - 149 OPS+) and is ranked #6 all-time at his position.  He'll more than likely get in within the next 2-3 years, barring any shocking revelation that he did in fact, juice.  There's still too much suspicion within the voting ranks to be a likely inductee in 2015 - especially with the new competition coming up the ranks.

Tim Raines - So far, being the second-best lead-off hitter in MLB history as well as the eighth-best left fielder hasn't been good enough for induction.  Go figure.  In a career that spanned 23 seasons, Raines posted excellent offensive numbers (.294/.385/.425 - 123 OPS+) plus he stole 808 bases!

Roger Clemens - Of course, he's not getting in any time soon, but the third greatest pitcher in MLB history (354-184 - 3.12 ERA - 143 ERA+) won 7 Cy Young Awards, had a 12-8 postseason record - including a perfect 3-0 in World Series play and was on 2 World Series winners:  '99 & '00 New York Yankees.  His controversial career spanned 24 seasons.

Barry Bonds - Also not getting in the Hall of Fame any time soon, but the greatest left fielder in MLB history (.298/.444/.607 - 182 OPS+) played 22 seasons, retiring with the single season (73) and career 762) home run records.  He's probably the most despised player in MLB history, but his talent was certainly remarkable - a first ballot Hall of Famer if he had refrained from the temptation of hitting the juice in the wake of the McGwire single season home run record (70), set in '98.

Curt Schilling - There are 59 starting pitchers already enshrined at Cooperstown, and Schilling is ranked #27 all-time (216-146 - 3.46 ERA - 127 ERA+); and that's before including his astounding postseason record (11-2 - 2.23 ERA, including 4-1 - 2.06 ERA in World Series play).  Oh yeah, he was co-MVP (with Randy Johnson) in the 2001 World Series as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks, leading that franchise to its first championship; then 3 years later, helped the Bambino-cursed Red Sox to their first title since 1918 - bloody sock and all; then did it again for Boston in 2007.

Alan Trammell - This may be the most underrated player in MLB history.  Overlooked by the BBWAA who apparently viewed him as good, but not great as a 20-year fixture at shortstop for the Detroit Tigers.  His offensive numbers (.285/.352/.415 - 110 OPS+) compare favorably to most shortstops already inducted into Cooperstown and his defensive skills were far better than he was given credit for; winning four Gold Gloves, but deserving at least seven. ranks him #11 all-time at his position, one notch higher than the universally heralded Derek Jeter.
Of course, he won't even come close this time around, as usual; but he belongs.

Randy Johnson - Making his appearance on the ballot for the first time, he's certain to get at least 90% of the vote; and rightfully so.  Ranked #9 all-time for starting pitchers (303-166 - 3.29 ERA - 135 ERA+), the Big Unit played 22 seasons, highlighted by his 3-0 - 1.04 ERA in the 2001 World Series win over the Yankees.

Pedro Martinez - The best pitcher in the AL during the height of the Steroids Era (219-100 - 2.93 ERA - 154 ERA+), ranked #21 all-time following his 18 year career.  Like Johnson, he should have no trouble getting in on his first try.

Just missing the cut on my imaginary ballot were first-time candidate John Smoltz (#58 all-time for starting pitchers) and the great and highly underrated Larry Walker (#10 all-time for right fielders).  Smoltz has an excellent chance of getting enough votes on his first try; Walker has zero chance; unfairly downgraded by his tremendous offensive production at hitter-friendly Coors Field during his time with the Colorado Rockies.  Yet, his career numbers were staggering (.313/.400/.565 - 141 OPS+), and he did it for 17 seasons.  Sooner or later, he's got to get in.

For now, it looks like Johnson and Martinez will definitely get in; Biggio has about a 50/50 shot, and Smoltz maybe slightly less than 50/50.  If Cooperstown is really the final destination for the all-time greats of baseball, this ballot currently has the top candidates, based on performance; not hype.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Cooperstown's 9 Most Shocking Inductions

What do Jesse Haines, Rick Ferrell, High Pockets Kelly, Rabbit Maranville, Bill Mazeroski, Freddie Lindstrom, Chick Hafey, Lloyd Waner and Tommy McCarthy have in common?

For some reason, they're all members of Baseball's most elite fraternity:  The Hall of Fame.

Yet, for some reason, Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce and Luis Tiant are not members.  Go figure.  All of these Golden Era candidates were recently rejected by the sixteen-member Veteran's Committee, along with Maury Wills (who really doesn't qualify to begin with) and former executive Bob Howsam (who may be worthy, but not as worthy as these guys).

Of course, along with this latest batch of rejections, the Hall of Fame is still missing the likes of Ted Simmons, Bobby Grich, Alan Trammell and Larry Walker - players who were apparently regarded as merely "good"; not "great".

Yet, undeniably, each position on the diamond is represented by players who were in fact, "good" but not "great"; and they're all Hall of Famers.  Go figure.

Advanced metrics reveal the truth in every player's actual performance over the course of their career.  Some startling examples of Cooperstown's mysterious selection process - position by position - is listed below.  Next to the player's name is their all-time rank for their primary position - based on sabermetric data compiled by

As a point of reference, there are 59 Starting Pitchers in the Hall of Fame - 13 Catchers - 19 First Basemen - 19 Second Basemen - 13 Third Basemen - 21 Shortstops - 19 Left Fielders - 18 Center Fielders - 24 Right Fielders

These are the lowest ranked players to have ever been inducted into the Hall of Fame at their position:

P - Jesse "Pop" Haines (Rank - 298) Won 210 - Lost 158 - 3.64 ERA - 19-year career, mostly with the St Louis Cardinals - appeared in 4 World Series with the Cardinals ('26, '28, '30 & '34) - Won 2 World Championships - Claim to Fame:  Career World Series Record:  3-1 - 1.67 ERA - Won 2 Games in '26 Series vs New York Yankees - including Game 7 - to help Cardinals win first Championship in Franchise History - Veteran's Committee Inductee in 1970

C - Rick Ferrell (Rank - 43)  .281 Career BA - .363 SLG - Brother of Pitcher Wes Ferrell who hit .280 with .446 SLG (but he's not in the HOF!) - Claim to Fame:  1884 Games Played as Catcher - Most in MLB History for a Catcher (at the time) - Veteran's Committee Inductee in 1984

1B - George "High Pockets" Kelly (Rank - 85)  .297 Career BA - .452 SLG - 16-year career, primarily as a member of the New York Giants during the John McGraw Era - Claim to Fame:  Played in 4 World Series - Notorious for striking out a lot (23 times in 26 games) while maintaining a low batting average (.248) and very little power (.297 SLG) - Veteran's Committee Inductee in 1973

2B - Bill Mazeroski (Rank - 50)  .260 Career BA - .367 SLG - 17-year career with the Pittsburgh Pirates - Great defensively, but not much of a hitter, except for one swing of the bat which essentially punched his ticket to Cooperstown - Claim to Fame:  1960 World Series Walk-Off Home Run in Game 7 - Veteran's Committee Inductee in 2001

3B - Freddie Lindstrom (Rank - 70) .311 Career BA - .449 SLG - 13-year career primarily with John McGraw's New York Giants - Claim to Fame:  1924 World Series - Game 7 - victimized when a ground ball he was trying to field hit a pebble - good for a double - leading to the winning run of the Series scoring for the Washington Senators - Veteran's Committee Inductee in 1976

SS - Rabbit Maranville (Rank - 37)  .258 Career BA - .340 SLG - 23-year career with five different NL teams - beginning and ending with the Boston Braves - Good defensively, but not great - Claim to Fame:  Crazy antics and madcap approach to baseball - Appeared in 2 World Series - Died in January, 1954 - 2 weeks later, received 83% of the vote from the sympathetic BBWAA - Note:  Had Maury Wills received enough votes from the Veteran's Committee, he would have supplanted Rabbit as the least qualified Hall of Fame shortstop (Rank - 46)

LF - Chick Hafey (Rank - 58) .317 Career BA - .526 SLG - 13-year career cut short due to bad health and bad eyesight - wore glasses - Claim to Fame:  4 World Series appearances with the St Louis Cardinals ('26, '28, '30 & '31) - hitting .205 in 23 games - Veteran's Committee Inductee in 1971

CF - Lloyd "Little Poison" Waner (Rank - 113)  .316 Career BA - .393 SLG - 18-year career, mostly with the Pittsburgh Pirates - Claim to Fame:  Played alongside his Hall of Fame brother, Paul ("Big Poison) - Both appeared in futile match-up in the 1927 World Series vs the New York Yankees - who swept the Pirates in 4 straight games.

RF - Tommy McCarthy (Rank - 128)  .292 Career BA - ..378 SLG - 13-year career with 6 different teams in various leagues from 1884 - 1896 - Claim to Fame:  On defense, he used to trap the ball in right field to confuse base runners.  Seriously - Old Timers Committee Inductee in 1946

CONCLUSION:  Catchy nicknames while managing to play in a World Series or two was a winning formula for induction in the past.  These days, it's a whole new ballgame.  

Let's face it; the Hall of Fame is losing its credibility.