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(The following is being syndicated from The Captain’s Blog.)

The Hall of Fame voting results will be announced tomorrow and there is a growing consensus that Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven will be elected. Alomar’s selection seems mostly likely because his exclusion last year probably resulted from the misguided (and unfortunately persistent) sentiment that seeks to uphold the sanctity of a first ballot coronation (after all, if every voter held the same philosophy, extremely qualified candidates would drop off the ballot after failing to reach the minimum threshold of 5%). Blyleven’s potential induction, however, would be the culmination of a long campaign that has attracted many tireless advocates, particularly in what has become known as the sabremetric community. Long overlooked because of his less than stellar showing in more primitive measures of pitching ability, Blyleven’s candidacy has slowly gained traction as a wider acceptance and understanding of advanced statistical concepts have emerged.

Regardless of where you come down on the old school/new school statistical debate, Blyleven’s selection would be historic in terms of how long he had to wait to get elected. This year marks Blyleven’s 14th time on the ballot, so if he once again falls short, he’d only have one year left of consideration. However, if he does finally get the needed 75% of the total vote, he would become only the second player to be enshrined by the baseball writers after waiting at least 14 years. In 2009, Jim Rice finally crossed the finished line in his 15th and final year of eligibility. Before Rice’s election, Bruce Sutter joined Ralph Kiner as the “longest suffering” Hall of Famer when he was elected in 2006 on his 13th attempt.

Hall of Famers with Most Years on BBWAA Ballot

Player Year Elected Years on Ballot
Ralph Kiner 1975 13
Bob Lemon 1976 12
Duke Snider 1980 11
Don Drysdale 1984 10
Tony Perez 2000 9
Bruce Sutter 2006 13
Rich Gossage 2008 9
Jim Rice 2009 15
Andre Dawson 2010 9
Bert Blyleven ? 14
Jack Morris ? 12

Note: Only players elected since 1967, when BBWAA first adopted annual votes, are included.
Source: Baseball-reference.com and baseballhall.org/hall-famers

Of the 109 players elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA (104 in regular elections, three in runoffs and two in special elections), only nine have needed at least nine years (60% of the allowed tenure) on the ballot. However, four of those cases have come in the last five years (and, if Blyleven is elected, it would be five in the last six years). Is this a sign of Hall of Fame voters becoming more liberal? Perhaps it is the growing ranks of the BBWAA that has given long-time candidates a second life? Or, could it be something much more subtle like a backlash by older voters against the modern statistics espoused by younger counterparts? In the case of Rice, that seems like a plausible theory, but the steady progress of Blyleven puts that conspiracy to rest.

Interestingly, another four cases were also clustered in one 10-year period from 1975 to 1984. In that era, however, it seems as if the combination of a candidate backlog, adaptation to annual elections in 1967 and the recent retirements of several superstars conspired to prolong the candidacies of more than a few overqualified players. It’s shocking to see that Ralph Kiner and Duke Snider had to wait 13 and 11 years, respectively, for enshrinement, but it becomes a little more understandable when you look at preceding years’ results. In the case of Kiner, his election in 1975 was preceded by the selection of Mickey Mantle in 1974, Warren Spahn in 1973 and Sandy Koufax and Yogi Berra in 1972. Snider, meanwhile, had to wait through all of those elections as well as Willie Mays in 1979, Eddie Mathews in 1978 and Ernie Banks in 1977.

Looking at the recent group of long-time candidates, an opposite phenomenon might be true. Instead of having to wade through too many qualified options, it seems as if the voters may be too eager to find suitable candidates, either because of a lull in the process or the exclusion of those players suspected of using PEDs (e.g., Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Jeff Bagwell). That might help explain why players like Rice and Andre Dawson gradually enjoyed increased support. After all, Rice’s and Dawson’s candidacies occurred during the “steroid era”, so if you discount the numbers being produced during that time, the relative performance of players from the previous generation would appear more impressive. Also, in the cases of Sutter and Rich Gossage, the evolving role of the relief pitcher and increasing acceptance of its importance may have helped get each candidate over the hump.

Vote Progression of “Long-Term” Candidates


Note: Year refers to either the most recent recorded vote total or date of election.
Source: Sean Lahman database, Baseball-reference.com and baseballhall.org/hall

Unfortunately, at the same time that BBWAA seems poised to right a wrong by electing Bert Blyleven, they are also inching toward electing Jack Morris, who would rival Rice as one of the writers’ poorest choices. The interesting thing about Morris’ candidacy is it has lacked the one big bump that most long-term nominees experience. With the exception of Tony Perez, who debuted at a relatively high 50%, every Hall of Fame who spent at least nine years on the ballot enjoyed at least one year with a 10% spike in support. To date, Morris’ largest increase has been the 8.3% increase experienced last year. If Morris is to be elected, he will need to have his breakthrough soon because none of the other similar candidates have had a vote total as low as his in their 11th year of consideration.

Finally, looking at things from the flip side, if Blyleven fails to win election and drops off the writers’ ballot after 2012, he would hold the distinction of having the second highest vote total without being elected (74.2% in 2010) by the writers. In 1985, Nellie Fox dropped off the BBWAA’s ballot after receiving 74.7% in his final year of eligibility. Fox eventually was elected by the Veteran’s Committee in 1997, so even if Blyleven continues to get the snub from the writers, the doors of the Hall might still be opened to him some day.

Players with Highest Vote Total Not Elected by BBWAA

Player Highest Total Year Result
Nellie Fox 74.7% 1985 Elected by VC in 1997.
Bert Blyleven 74.2% 2010 Still eligible.
Jim Bunning 74.2% 1988 Elected by VC in 1996.
Orlando Cepeda 73.5% 1994 Elected by VC in 1999.
Frank Chance 72.5% 1945 Elected by OTC in 1946.

Note: Bunning’s highest total was recorded in 12th year of eligibility.
Source: Source: Sean Lahman database, Baseball-reference.com and baseballhall.org/hall-famers

The Mets made a nice move yesterday, signing lefty Chris Capuano to a $1.5MM deal (along with Taylor Buchholz). With those two off of the market–as well as Brandon Webb–the only real buy low options at this point are Chris Young and Jeff Francis. Moshe laid out a great case for Francis last month and after reviewing that, and perusing the current market, he is definitely the best option out there.

As a lefty, Francis has a natural advantage over the right handed Young. And, despite missing all of 2009, Francis still pitched more Major League innings in 2010 (104.1) than Chris Young did in 2009 and 2010 combined (96.0). Young’s 2009 and 2010 seasons were also rife with control issues: 4.7 BB/9 and 5.0 BB/9 respectively, with K/9 marks of 5.9 and 6.8. There is also something very concerning about Young.

In 2010, Young averaged just 84.7 MPH on his fastball in 2010. That is most definitely not a good sign. His control hasn’t been there in the last two years (also had a 4.2 BB/9 in ’08) and he’s lost his strikeout numbers, as well as his stuff. There is always a chance he could regain his stuff, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. We could be looking at another case of Javier Vazquez and the Nothingball.

I was pretty ambivalent about Francis in the last few weeks, but with the options dwindling, I think he’s worth taking a flier on. The market dictates a one year deal for around $1MM or less, and I’d definitely be okay with that. Francis would likely be able to beat out whoever for the 4th/5th starter race and would probably be more successful than Sergio Mitre in the rotation.

For what it’s worth, Bill James projects Francis to throw 87 innings in 2011 at a 4.25 FIP. That IP total is definitely incredibly conservative, especially considering Francis pitched over 100 innings in 2010. That 4.25 FIP, though, is something more than acceptable out of a 4th/5th starter. We have to note, though, that the FIP projection is not adjusted for playing in the A.L. or at Yankee Stadium III. Having pitched in Coors Field, however, Francis has experience pitching in a hitter’s park. He’s also adjusted his batted ball profile over the last few years. He upped his GB% from 43.6 to 47.0 in 2010, while dropping his FB% from 36.1 to 32.2%, the third straight season with a drop in FB%. 2010 also saw Francis put up a 106 tRA+ as a starter, so the contact he was giving up was weaker than league average by six percent.

Part of the possibility of Jeff Francis rests on Andy Pettitte. If Andy Pettitte changes his apparent course and decides not to retire, the need for Francis decreases and the Yankees could use Ivan Nova as the fifth starter instead of the fourth starter. This would hardly be unacceptable and if the Yankees decided to stand pat with a hypothetical rotation of Sabathia/Hughes/Pettitte/Burnett/Nova, I’d be fine. But, I think signing Jeff Francis would still be a wise move. At the very least, it would give the Yankees another arm to look at in Spring Training. The loser of that competition could also be transferred to the bullpen to give the Yankees another option at long reliever, which is something I prefer. No matter what happens with Andy Pettitte, the Yankees should try and sign Jeff Francis.

Billy Beane has said on many an occasion that his team building strategies do not work in the postseason. What he means by this is that although talent tends to rise to the top over a long season, all bets are off in a short postseason series. The better team will often be sent home due to a handful of surprisingly good performances on one side and equally weak ones on the other. This thought came to me last night while discussing a difficult night in Yankees history:

The 9th inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series displays just how random the postseason can be. The inning started off with clean line drive single up the middle by Mark Grace, a left-handed hitter. Rivera has held lefties to a .519 OPS in his career, and shut them down to the tune of a .435 OPS in 2001. Damian Miller then bunted, and Mo went for the force at second and threw wildly. Mo made one error in 2001, and it was the first of his career. He currently has 6 career regular season errors. On the next play, Scott Brosius, a plus defender for his career who was still a good glove, fielded a bunt and got the force at 3rd. However, he had a seemingly easy throw across the diamond to turn two, and for some reason refrained from making it.

Tony Womack was up next, another lefty who had a .652 OPS that year. Of course, he roped a double into right, scoring one run and moving the winning run to 3rd. Mo then unleashed just the 10th HBP of his career to put Craig Counsell at first. Joe Torre kept the infield in, and lefty batter Luiz Gonzalez blooped one just over the head of Derek Jeter to win the World Series.

Let’s recap: Mo, unhittable against lefty batters, allows 3 hits to them in one inning, including two line drives. The guy with the game’s biggest hit, Womack, was a bad hitter who had 30 RBI’s all season. Mo made the second error of his entire career and threw his 10th HBP, and Scott Brosius forgot how to turn a double play. Finally, Torre kept the infield in against the Diamondbacks best bat, and he looped one just far enough for it to evade the pulled-in Jeter. The amount of unexpected or entirely random things that happened in this one inning is fairly astonishing.

I have seen many Yankees fans write off the 2011 season before it has even started, noting that the team currently looks like a Wild Card team at best. While that may be true, and they would not be the favorite if a playoff series were held against Boston tomorrow, this viewpoint ignores the randomness inherent to a short series in baseball. Game 7 of the 2001 World Series should have taught us that once you get to the postseason, anything can happen. Write a potential playoff team off at your own risk.

Jan 042011

The current collective bargaining agreement between MLB and MLBPA is set to expire in 2011, five years after the most recent round of negotiations and sixteen years since the last major conflict of any note. The two sides probably have the best working relationship in any pro sport. They both saw how much damage the 90s conflict had on the game, and see the game growing at an unprecedented rate. The CBA is an enormously important document which basically covers all aspects of the game. The players can pretty much negotiate for anything they want from rule changes to retirement benefits to the structures of how players are paid. In practice, all the things that would grow the game in general (rule changes, international exposure, etc) is agreed upon between the two sides right off the bat, and the real conflict comes down to structures governing player salaries.

The 2006 CBA negotiations were really boring. Basically, everything  stayed the same. MLB increased the minimum salary, changed some draft pick compensation rules, and gave clubs draft picks for draftees who failed to sign. That’s it. While I don’t think there is anything close to a threat of a work stoppage looming, I do believe that this round of negotiations will be a lot less boring.

First off, as I mentioned briefly here, there is a growing disparity between league revenue and player salaries. The graph from that post:

I can say with 100% certainty that the MLBPA will attempt to shift that little red line upward. The NFL, NBA, and NHL players all receive somewhere around 55% of league-wide revenue. MLB players were there around 2000-2001, but since then salaries have grown much more slowly than revenues. In fact, this graph may understate the pace of MLB revenue growth, since clubs are increasingly finding alternate means of making money through certain kinds of equity (like the Yankees’ stake in YES) that probably doesn’t show up in league-reported numbers.

This means that average player salaries, which are now ~$3.5 million, should (in the MLBPA’s eyes) grow to somewhere around $5 million dollars. Some of this will come as newly-richer clubs spend more on free agents and extensions which buy out free agency, but that won’t make all that big of an adjustment. Clubs (unless they collude, a real possibility) will naturally adjust to some sort of market price equilibrium in free agency and at the draft – and we’ve seen those prices rise with revenues.

However, most MLB players start out being paid the league minimum or close to it for three years, and then have their salaries governed by 3 years of arbitration or negotiations revolving around arbitration. This sets a price baseline that affects all other player salaries – free agents (especially the low-to-middle types who tend to sign 1-year deals) would be paid more if the substitute of using a young guy is increased.

Below are five changes that I think we could see, after the jump:

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