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

Now that Bert Blyleven has finally been welcomed into the Hall of Fame, the small coterie of Internet zealots can now shift their attention to another deserving, but overlooked candidate.

There are more than a few deserving players left over from yesterday’s election, but it’s not exactly clear who needs the most help. Barry Larkin is perhaps the most deserving of the remaining options, but he is all but assured of a coronation at some point in the near future. Therefore, he really doesn’t need any help from the minions of stat crunchers who dare to be objective. So, if not Larkin, than whom?

Since the BBWAA started conducting annual ballots in 1966, 71 Hall of Famers have been inducted by the writers. Of that total, 37 were honored with a “first ballot” election, while 34 were forced to endure varying degrees of suspense (included in this latter group is Red Ruffing, who in 1967 was selected as the result of a run-off, a part of the process discontinued thereafter).  

Breakdown of Hall of Fame Selections by Year of Eligibility

Source: Baseball-reference.com

As evidenced by the chart above, it becomes increasingly difficult to earn a nod from the BBWAA as the years pass. Since 1966, there have been 663 unique candidates considered for election, of which only 5% have been enshrined after being passed over in their first year of eligibility. In other words, the first impression given by a player usually dictates their chances for election. Recently, however, we’ve seen more “long-term” candidates overcome low vote totals in their initial years of eligibility. An evolving understanding of statistics as well as an increased appreciation for more limited roles (i.e., relief pitchers) has likely been a part of this reversing trend, but in general, a candidate’s road to Cooperstown continues to get steep with each subsequent election.

So, outside of falling off the ballot completely, is there a vote percentage that effectively amounts to a death sentence for candidates in their first year of eligibility? The average first ballot score for the 34 Hall of Famers who did not win immediate selection was 40.2%. However, if you remove six players whose first year of eligibility occurred before 1966, the average rises to 46.2%. The median of that more select group is still higher at 50%.

That data won’t be encouraging to this year’s first timers. Of the 19 candidates making their ballot debut, only four received the minimum 5% needed for future consideration. From that quartet, only Jeff Bagwell recorded a respectable total, but even his 41.7% (which is almost identical to the total earned by Steve Garvey in his inaugural year on the ballot) falls below the first ballot average of multi-year candidates who eventually made the Hall of Fame. On the other hand, Bagwell’s first year total ranks third among non-Hall of Famers, behind only Larkin and Lee Smith at 51.6% and 42.3%, respectively. Considering Larkin’s likelihood of being elected, Bagwell seems to be in a gray area. Perhaps a future electorate more enlightened about PEDs will give him a boost, but regardless, Bagwell seems assured of facing an uphill battle.

In addition to Bagwell, there are seven others players for whom one can make a strong argument (Alan Trammell, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Tim Raines, Barry Larkin, Larry Walker and Edgar Martinez) as well as two other candidates who have received solid support over several years on the ballot (Lee Smith and Jack Morris).

2011 Hall of Fame Ballot “Holdovers”

Player YoB % of Vote WAR
Jeff Bagwell 1st 41.7% 79.9
Barry Larkin 2nd 62.1% 68.9
Larry Walker 1st 20.3% 67.3
Edgar Martinez 2nd 32.9% 67.2
Alan Trammell 10th 24.3% 66.9
Rafael Palmeiro 1st 11.0% 66
Tim Raines 4th 37.5% 64.6
Mark McGwire 5th 19.8% 63.1
Jack Morris 12th 53.5% 39.3
Lee Smith 9th 45.3% 29.7

Source: Baseball-reference.com

As previously mentioned, Larkin is not only the most deserving of all holdover candidates, but also the most likely to eventually win election. Meanwhile, like Bagwell, McGwire and Palmeiro have to overcome the electorate’s steroid aversion before making a significant jump, so the merits of their candidacies must continue to take a backseat. Digging further, Morris and Smith really don’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, while Walker (Coors Field) and Martinez (career DH) both have issues that give pause. So, after whittling down the list, Trammell and Raines remain as the candidates most deserving of a concerted advocacy campaign.

Current Candidates Yearly Vote Progression Compared to All Non-First Ballot Hall of Famers
Source: Baseball-reference.com

As illustrated in the chart above, only Larkin’s vote total is above the average and median pace of other Hall of Famers who failed to win election on their first ballot. Every other player’s most recent vote total stands well below the milestone that is relative to their current year of eligibility. Unfortunately, both Raines and Trammell remain far off the pace, but it is really the latter’s candidacy that faces the most peril. With only five years left of consideration, the former Tigers’ shortstop finds himself over 30% behind the average and median vote totals that would foreshadow an eventual selection. At this point, Trammell’s election would require such an unprecedented about face from the BBWAA that his candidacy seems to be a lost cause. As a result, we are left with Raines as the best candidate upon which to mount a new Hall of Fame campaign.

Although Raines respectively stands 10% and 20% below the average and median milestone vote percentages, all hope is not lost. Over the past two cycles, he has experienced a considerable bump of approximately 7% in each.  If Raines were to enjoy similar support over the next two elections, he would suddenly be on pace for induction.  Of course, continuing the momentum is key, which is exactly why Raines seems to be the ideal candidate for a focused effort on the part of those who use knowledge as influence. Hopefully, the Rock will find his very own Rich Lederer sooner than later.

Jan 062011

I saw two interesting articles this morning on the Yankees possibly targeting star reliever Rafael Soriano, and I wanted to comment briefly on the issue. The first comes from Mike Silva, who addresses concerns about the fact that Soriano will cost the Yankees a first round draft pick:

Back in March of ’10, Moshe Mandel of the Yankee U recapped a John Sickels conversation with Yankees VP of Baseball Operations Mark Newman. In that column, Newman pointed out how they have relied on the international market, as well as risking lower draft picks on players that are signability issues, because the lower first round picks don’t have the highest ceilings. Knowing that, I don’t think the lack of a first round pick eliminates the Yankees from having a productive draft in 2011.

This is not the Yankees of the turn of the century, who had a shallow farm system and needed to plug a majority of their holes via free agency. They are rich with arms, catchers, and have seen some positional player’s progress over the last couple of years. I do not think they should sacrifice the big league club because of the possibility there is a gem in the 2011 amateur draft.

Silva goes on to suggest that the Yankees target Soriano on a one year deal, as the market on him has seemingly dried up. Joe Pawlikowski over RAB responded to Silva’s post:

The point, made concretely, is that even previously good relievers can collapse at any time. Soriano could certainly help the Yankees if he progresses in the same way as Francisco Cordero, but at that point is he worth the salary and the draft pick? This is where I’d say I lean towards the leave him alone camp. The signing would be risky enough without losing the draft pick. Adding in that factor has me opposing a Soriano acquisition.
Silva’s counterpoint: why not a one-year deal? That would certainly reduce risk. But if Soriano gets hurt, or has terrible luck, as we’ve seen with a number of relievers previously, the loss of the draft pick hurts that much. I’m not saying that’s probable, but it’s certainly within the realm of possibility. I’d actually feel a bit better about losing the draft pick over a multiyear deal than a one-year deal, since the Yanks can still get some value out of Soriano in later years of the contract if he flops in the first.

I disagree with Joe’s last point, as I think a one year deal mitigates both the risk of injury and the draft pick issue. A one year commitment means that an injury will not hurt you past 2011, such that the worst case scenario is that the Yankees lose his salary and need to add another reliever during the season. As for the draft pick, it seems fairly likely that Soriano will be worth draft picks next off season as well. Unless he totally falls apart, the Yankees are likely to offer him arbitration. If he remains a Type A free agent, the Yankees would actually earn an additional pick, as they will only sacrifice one this year while gaining two upon his departure. Even if he declines to a Type B, he will be worth a supplemental pick, costing the Yankees about 10-15 spots in draft position plus one year of developing a prospect. While that is not an insignificant cost, it is not high enough to prevent the club from signing a player of Soriano’s ilk. Conversely, a multi-year deal increases the risks associated with a major injury, and pushes the retrieval of draft picks further into the future.

Ultimately, the Yankees interest should depend on the market. If Soriano has teams that are willing to give him a multi-year contract, the Yankees should heed Joe’s warning about long-term deals for relievers and back away. However, if the market does in fact make a one-year contract feasible, it would behoove the Yankees to consider making an offer for Soriano’s services.

Ultimately

Jan 062011

Diving right in

Yanks Interested in Bondo

I don’t feel strongly either way on this, honestly. On a minor league deal, sure, why not? I think almost anyone is worth a minor league deal for depth. I would expect literally nothing out of Bonderman at this point. It’s also worth noting as friend of the blog @SteveH_MandAura pointed out, Jeremy Bonderman is essentially Sergio Mitre.

Andruw Jones for 4th OF?

Again, I’m not feeling strongly either way. I’ve been in support of Scott Hairston for most of the off season, and I’ll stick to that. Jones, however, did have a .402 wOBA against LHP in 2010 as well has been a plus UZR defender on the corners for the last two seasons.

That link also includes a bit from John Heyman saying the Yankees could sign Rafael Soriano as part of a ‘shutdown bullpen’ should Andy Pettitte retire. I expressed this sentiment previously, but I’ll remind you of my stance on this again: I do not think having a “shutdown bullpen” can do that much to make up for an average or below average starting rotation. The worse the rotation is, the less the bullpen matters. Soriano’s unattractive to me two main reasons. He’s going to require a commitment of at least three years, which is unsettling when it comes to relievers. He’s also going to be paid closer money while not closing for at least two of those seasons. And, at the end of those two non-closing seasons, there is absolutely no guarantee that he’ll be healthy enough or effective enough to close.

Millwood and Garcia?

I’m tempted to say no to either one of these guys right away. But at the same time, neither one could be THAT much worse than Sergio Mitre. It’s worth noting that Millwood can eat some innings–but that’s about it–and that Garcia has good control, though he’s had trouble keeping the ball in the park the last few years. Unless it’s a minor league deal, I’d pass on these guys.

Update-With yesterday’s HOF selections, I thought it would be a good time to update this piece. The most common argument I encountered with people who don’t think ‘The Quiz’  belongs was he just didn’t do it long enough. I would invite them to compare his innings pitched (1043.1 IP) with that of a sure-fire 1st ballot HOFer in Trevor Hoffman (1089.1 IP) who recently retired. Part of Hoffman’s Hall case will be his longevity, and it’s important to remember how different the Closer’s role was during the 70s and 80s when Quisenberry pitched. As Mo and I discussed in the comments below, we’re dealing with an evolving standard when it comes to relievers. So far, Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter have set the bar, and Dan Quisenberry (24.3 Career WAR) fits in nicely with both of them, particularly Sutter (25.0 Career WAR).

Original post-For the second installment of our “The Case for Cooperstown” series, I’d like to introduce you to a pitcher that has been passed over for HOF consideration. For a 6 year period from 1980-1985 Dan Quisenberry was the most dominant reliever in the American League. He wasn’t a hard thrower, he had a submarine style that he modeled after Kent Tekulve’s success as the closer of the World Series Champion Pittsburgh Pirates teams of the mid-late 1970′s. He threw a sinking Fastball, Curveball and Change up, all with pinpoint control. His ability to throw strikes and induce ground balls was the key to his success, along with the deception that came with his underhand delivery. He won the Rolaids Relief Award every year from 1980-1985, with the only exception being the 1981 strike season. His career walk rates at the time he retired were the lowest of any pitcher in the modern era and still are to this day. His 45 saves in 1983 was at the time a single season record, which was tied the following year by Bruce Sutter and broken in 1986 by Dave Righetti. He was also the first pitcher in MLB history to save more than 40 games twice in his career.

In an era when ‘Relief Aces’ of the 1970s and early 80s that featured Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage later morphed into the ‘Closer’ role we know today, Dan Quisenberry was one of the top pitchers of that prior generation. While the modern Closer often gets a clean inning in which to face the bottom of a lineup, these Relief Aces were typically called upon in the 7th and 8th inning, with men on base, facing the heart of the opposing lineup. That’s why you can’t compare them to modern Closers and their Save records. Their job was much different, and frankly much more difficult. Check out what was probably his best season, his 1983 campaign.

ERA-1.94 W-5 L-3 G-69 IP-139.0 H-118 ER-30 BB-11 SO-48 ERA+210 WHIP-0.928

My criteria for the Hall of Fame is simple and pragmatic. Write me a plaque for the player that will be sufficiently impressive to put him in a place that houses the likes of Cy Young, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Tom Seaver and Tony Gywnn. Not that the player has to be as good as those all time greats, but if you can put him in this picture without laughing, then we have something to discuss.

With that in mind, here’s my Hall of Fame plaque for him:

Dan Quisenberry

Led the American League in saves a record five times (1980, 1982-85)

Retired in 1990 with 244 saves, then the 6th-highest total in history

Tied (w/Walter Johnson) for 5th all time in ERA+

20th all time in Walks/9IP (Lowest rate since 1926)

Whether or not you agree with my selection, I hope I’ve made the case that he deserves further consideration by the Veteran’s Committee. He fell off the ballot at a time when relievers weren’t given much consideration by HOF voters, but now that they are getting in, he stacks up well with recent Closer inductees. His numbers are remarkably similar to that of Bruce Sutter, who was elected in 2006. He outperformed 2008 HOF inductee Goose Gossage annually during the prime of both of their careers from 1980-1985 and was used in a similar fashion. While he didn’t have quite as much longevity as Goose, his peak was in some areas better. Dan Quisenberry is a Hall of Famer to me.

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