Saturday, May 31, 2003

State of the Red Sox Saturday

Well, I guess there's good news and bad news. The bad news obviously is that the Red Sox have lost three games in a row for the first time all season and have fallen back into second place, half a game behind the Yankees. Also bad is that they're only a game ahead of Oakland and 2.5 games ahead of Toronto.

The good news is that the Red Sox just got some pitching help and got rid of their most overrated player before he lost his overratedness (if that's a word). Anyway, let's go through the team and see what's what.

Starting Rotation

This has been the biggest weakness of the team recently. Pedro Martinez is still hurt and Bruce Chen has been ineffective in two spot starts. There had been hope that Pedro would start Tuesday in Pittsburgh (which I would have loved since I'll be at that game), but Byung-Hyun Kim is getting that start instead. I haven't seen anything saying when Pedro might get back since the trade happened.

Derek Lowe continues to be great at home and not so great on the road, although I'll take six runs in 15 innings over two starts anytime. He's still walking too many people, so hopefully he'll be fine once he gets his control under control.

Tim Wakefield made two decent starts against the Yankees, three runs on four hits and two walks in seven innings the first time and three runs on four hits and six walks in five innings the second time. He's now 5-2 with a 4.57 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP. I'd obviously like him to lower those numbers, but I can deal with the way he's pitching so far.

Casey Fossum has allowed five runs in each of his last two starts and faces a very dangerous Toronto lineup today. Despite having a higher ERA (4.92) than Wakefield, Fossum has a lower WHIP (1.36). I still think Fossum has great potential, but only three of his 10 starts this season have been quality starts. Hopefully, he'll have put everything together in time for the stretch run in September.

And then there's John Burkett. You may be expecting me to complain about Burkett, but I'm not going to. I'll admit that I never feel comfortable with him on the mound, but if you take out two of his starts against Toronto he's 3-1 with a 4.42 ERA.

I was thinking the other day that the Red Sox should sign Chuck Finley after the amateur draft because they wouldn't need to give up a pick for him then, but they may not need him. With Pedro (when he's healthy), Lowe, Wakefield, Fossum, Burkett, Kim (until he becomes the closer), Chen and Robert Person, the Red Sox have eight people in the majors who can start if needed. Boston also has Ryan Rupe (1.91 ERA) and Bronson Arroyo (3.92) doing nice work in Pawtucket, and they could come up for a start or two if needed. If Finley's still in shape he's a nice pitcher, but I'd rather see the Red Sox save the rest of their budget and try to get a real impact player at the deadline.


Ramiro Mendoza recently got his ERA under 7.00 for the first time since the opening weekend, but he's since allowed six runs on 16 hits and two walks in his last six innings. His ERA is 7.34, his WHIP is 1.96 and I always cringe when he comes in a game that has less than a three-run margin one way or the other.

Mike Timlin has had a nice month, posting a 3.09 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP in 11.2 innings. The surprising thing is that his WHIP in May isn't much better than it was in April. For the season, Timlin has a 3.90 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP. He's only struck out 17 batters in 30 innings (5.1 K/9IP), but he's only walked one batter all season. You've gotta love a relief pitcher who doesn't come in and put men on base.

Brandon Lyon has had a tough May (4.91 ERA), but he's been better than any of us could have expected. Plus, what happened against the Yankees wasn't really his fault. Yes, he gave up the double to Hideki Matsui, but doubles usually result in a runner being on second, not third. Without the bad throw, Lyon could have just intentionally walked Alfonso Soriano and tried to get Jason Giambi to hit into a double play.

Don't look now, but Alan Embree has been lights out recently. In his last four appearances (4.1 IP), he's allowed no runs on two hits and no walks with four strikeouts. In his last nine appearances (8.1 IP), he's allowed one run on six hits and two walks with seven strikeouts. His ERA is down from 14.40 to 6.09.

When Kim becomes the closer, this bullpen could be a real strength with Lyon, Timlin and Embree pitching the seventh and eighth innings. I think Lyon could develop into a relief ace, but it's hard to stick him in that role right away at the age of 23 in the middle of a pennant race after starting his whole career. Better to let him develop as one of the setup men in front of a proven closer (who happens to be just 24 and under our control for two years after this. How could anybody think Arizona won this deal?).


Catcher - Jason Varitek is quietly still having a nice season, batting .278 with a .345 OBP and a .496 SLG with six homers and 25 RBI. I really can't think of a catcher I'd want on my team more than Varitek. Doug Mirabelli, on the other hand, should not be playing as much as he is. He's on pace for 200 at-bats, but he's only hitting .250/.269/.391. I like him as Wakefield's regular catcher to keep Varitek from getting beat up and that's it.

First Base - Kevin Millar seems to have settled in with an OPS in the .815-.830 range. It would be nice to see him get that back up to his career .865 mark or so, but I'm just happy to not see Shea Hillenbrand playing first anymore.

Second Base - Todd Walker has been pretty much what I expected. He's hitting .326/.366/.426 and getting criticized more than he should for his defense. I think Freddy Sanchez will be the starting second baseman next year, but it will be interesting to see if the Red Sox offer Walker arbitration to see if they can get a draft pick from another team.

Third Base - Bill Mueller has been a revelation, hitting .386/.442/.621 while playing better defense than Shea Hillenbrand. People talk about the team being hurt the next couple years without Shea, but even if Shea were that good it wouldn't be true. Mueller's signed for next year and the Red Sox have a $2.1 million option (I think the option money goes up to $2.5 million if Mueller gets a certain amount of playing time) for 2005 if Kevin Youkilis isn't ready by then.

Shortstop - Nomar Garciaparra is hitting .306/.338/.548 and I expect him to get back up to his usual, great level of hitting. However, I do have a few questions. First, didn't the Red Sox have an off day on Thursday? Yeah, I thought they did. And don't they have another off day on Monday? Okay, that's what I thought. So why in Hell did Nomar need the day off yesterday? I don't think it would have made a big difference, but it would be nice to see our superstar shortstop play all three games of a series when there's an day off on both sides of the series.

Left field - Boston has one of the best offenses in baseball right now, and Manny Ramirez hasn't even really started to hit yet. He's batting .297/.396/.477 with just seven homers (on pace for 21). One of these days, Manny's going to start one of his super-hot streaks and the Red Sox offense will be even more ridiculous than it already is.

Center field - I don't want to alarm anybody, but is Johnn Damon gonig to be Jose Offerman redux? The Red Sox sign a former Royal to an expensive four-year deal, he has a great first year, slips noticeably in his second year and the Sox are stuck with him for two more seasons. Offerman had an .826 OPS his first year with Boston and slipped to .713 the following year. Damon had a .799 OPS last season, and is at .720 this season.

I don't think it's the same for two reasons. First, except for last year, Damon's been a notoriously slow starter and I think he'll turn it around. Second, even when he's not hitting, Damon helps the Red Sox with his defense. Even when he was hitting, Offerman hurt the Red Sox with his defense.

Right field - Trot Nixon has gone stone cold recently, and is now hitting .288/.377/.439. It was probably unrealistic to think Trot would break out this season, and I expect him to do about what he's always done.

Designated hitter - If you think Mueller's offensive output was the only reason Shea was expendable, then you haven't noticed that David Ortiz is hitting .340/.404/.553 in May and has his OPS up to .797. It will be easier to get him at-bats with Shea gone, and I still think Jeremy Giambi will help the team.


I like the way the Red Sox roster is composed right now, but I am a little worried about the losing streak heading into interleague play. Luckily, the Red Sox play the Pirates and Brewers first, so hopefully they can avoid their usual interleague slump. I probably won't be making a post tomorrow, as I'm leaving to go to Toronto with my girlfriend, Stacy, in a little while. We're staying up there tonight and going to the game tomorrow. Hopefully we won't catch SARS, but I may get sick anyway if the Red Sox get swept.

Friday, May 30, 2003

Mora needs more love

Aaron Gleeman wrote a very nice piece today on the MVP in each league through a third of the season. He gave his top five for each league, and I agree with nine of his 10 selections. The only one I think he messed up was his choice for the fifth-most valuable player in the AL.

Aaron picked Edgar Martinez for that spot. He does acknowledge that there were several players he could have picked instead of Martinez, but the player I have in mind is not one of the players he mentions.

The guy I think should be fifth is Melvin Mora. Don't laugh. Look at Mora's numbers this season.

Mora is batting .356 with a .457 OBP and a .603 SLG for a 1.059 OPS. He has 13 doubles, seven homers, 25 RBI, 31 runs, 23 walks and 26 strikeouts in 41 games. He's played mostly left field, but has also played second base, shortstop, center field and right field. Mora ranks second in the league in batting average, first in OBP, third in SLG and second in OPS.

Martinez is batting .317/.421/.590 for a 1.011 OPS. He has eight doubles, 12 homers, 44 RBI, 23 runs, 29 walks and 29 strikeouts in 45 games (obviously none in the field). He's 10th in the league in batting, fifth in OBP, fifth in SLG, fourth in OPS, ninth in homers and third in RBI.

Mora has played in four fewer games, but I think that is more than made up for by his defensive versatility and his edge on offense. You might think Martinez gets the edge on offense because of his home ballpark, but Mora's EqA (which takes park factors into account) is .361 and Martinez has a .353 EqA.

So, it seems clear to me that Mora has been more valuable than Martinez, but my intention here was not to take Aaron to task. I really enjoyed his post today, as I do every day. My intention was to talk about Mora, which I've been meaning to do the past three days but am just now getting around to.

Mora signed as a non-drafted free agent with Houston in 1992. He then toiled exclusively in the minor leagues for seven seasons before coming up with the Mets in 1999 at age 27.

Mora's minor-league numbers were pretty uninspiring. He had a .569 OPS in 49 games in Rooke ball. He posted a .746 OPS in 243 Class A games, a .727 OPS in 193 Class AA games and a .749 OPS in 284 Class AAA games.

Mora played 66 games with the Mets in 1999, but he only got 31 at-bats. He wasted those at-bats, batting .161/.278/.161, but got another chance in 2000. He hit ..260/.317/.423 for a .256 EqA in 79 games for the Mets before being traded to Baltimore. Mora played 53 games for the Orioles, hitting .291/.359/.397 for a .258 EqA. Mora then hit .250/.329/.362 for a .259 EqA in 128 games in 2001 and hit .233/.338/.404 for a .273 EqA in 149 games in 2002.

Clearly, this is not a great hitter we're talking about here, so why is he doing so well this season? I have no idea. It's interesting to note that his EqA went up in each season with Baltimore even though his batting average went down. Maybe the hits that weren't falling in before are now and he's continuing to improve his power and plate discipline.

I think it's more likely that Mora will finish with an OPS below .800 than it is that he'll finish with an OPS above 1.000, but I hope I'm wrong. It gets boring when every player follows the same career path, so every now and then it's nice to see a player break out on the other side of age 30.

Whoa nellie!

From the first day's worth of reaction to it, this trade may be able to occupy everybody's time until the trading deadline arrives. From my very scientific research, I estimate that over a million words have already been written about Boston's trading of Shea Hillenbrand to the Diamondbacks for Byung-Hyun Kim. For those of you who want to know more about this trade, I'll help you out with links.

First, there's the generic news story from the AP.

Then we have two writers pretty much disagreeing. Jayson Stark says it's a good trade for both teams, while Rob Neyer writes that it's a steal for the Red Sox.

To see how this affects your fantasy team, check in with Graham Hayes.

To see a Boston fans opinion, go visit Edward Cosette over at Bambino's Curse. Also, check out what Pedro's Posse has to say about the trade.

For lots of stat-based argument and some name-calling, you should read the Clutch Hits link over at Baseball Primer. There were 228 comments the last time I checked.

To read about how relieved Cubs fans are that Hillenbrand isn't going to Chicago, check out what The Cub Reporter has to say.

For those of you who like the mainstream journalists, here are links to Gordon Edes of the Boston Globe, Tony Massarotti of the Boston Herald, Mark Gonzales of the Arizona Republic, Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic and Greg Hansen of the Arizona Daily Star.

So, there you go, have fun with all of those opinions. What's that? You want to know what I think about the trade?

Well, let me put it this way. If I had not been covering a road race yesterday when I heard that the trade was official, I would have jumped up on the nearest table and started dancing, singing and making a general fool out of myself due to my excitement about it.

Most of the things I've read hit the nail right on the head. Hillenbrand is a 27-year-old who is unlikely to become much better than he already is, and he ain't that great already. Kim is a 24-year-old who has already been a relief ace and has at least a decent chance of becoming an ace starter.

Also, the Red Sox don't need Hillenbrand. They have Bill Mueller hitting better than Hillenbrand right now and they have Kevin Youkilis with a .460 OBP for Class-AA Portland. The Red Sox do, however, need Kim.

I don't know where they're going to put him and I don't particularly care. He could certainly help the Boston bullpen, but he could also be the second-best starter on the team (and the best uninjured starter) if they put him in the rotation. And whoever gets bumped from the rotation would be better than the worst pitcher currently in the bullpen.

Finally, there's one thing that really bugs me that I haven't really seen touched on. A lot of people are saying the Red Sox are losing a decent third baseman and getting a good pitcher. That, however, isn't quite true. Arizona is getting a decent third baseman and losing a good starting pitcher, but the opposite isn't true for the Red Sox.

How's that? It's because Hillenbrand hasn't strictly been a third baseman for the Red Sox this year. People mention that Hillenbrand's .778 OPS makes him the ninth-best third baseman out of the 23 who have played enough to qualify, but Hillenbrand has only played 78 more innings at third base (242) than at first base (168) and only have 38 more at-bats at third base (108) than at first base (70).

Where would Hillenbrand rank among first baseman in the majors in OPS? 12th, and much closer to 13th (two points) than 11th (25 points). Maybe you decide to look more closely and see that Hillenbrand has an .852 OPS when he plays first. Fine, but that's still a pretty small sample and if you give him credit for that, you have to take away credit for his .689 OPS when he plays third base. Based on those numbers, Arizona's either getting an awful third baseman or a pretty good first baseman.

All I know is that I like the Red Sox roster a lot better this morning than I did yesterday morning. Theo Epstein and company continue to do nothing but impress me.

Unrelated note - While I was covering the road race yesterday, I got to interview a Hall-of-Famer for the second time in my journalism career. Former Buffalo Bills QB Jim Kelly was there on behalf of the Hunter's Hope Foundation (for those of you who don't know, Kelly's son, Hunter, has Krabbe disease and Kelly and his wife, Jill, founded Hunter's Hope to help find out more about the disease) and I got to talk to him for about 10 minutes. He seems like a nice guy and he has one hell of a handshake. The other HOFer I got to interview was baseball great Frank Robinson a couple summers ago (before he started managing the Expos). He was a lot nicer than people told me he would be. It seemed like he had mellowed a bit in his older age.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Lowell on impressive pace

With the Red Sox apparently on the verge of trading Shea Hillenbrand to Arizona, the best chance for a team to improve at third base is Mike Lowell. Lowell was the better choice all along in my opinion, even though he's more expensive than Hillenbrand.

Lowell hit two doubles while going 4-for-7 in yesterday's doubleheader sweep of the Expos. He's now hitting .299 with a .357 OBP and a .616 SLG for a .974 OPS. He has 17 doubles, a triple and 16 home runs, which puts him on pace for 102 extra-base hits (XB hits from now on) this season.

Only 15 times since 1900 has a player banged out at least 100 XB hits in one season. I don't think Lowell will make it 16, but I want to look through the list of 15 anyway.

Not surprisingly, the list begins with Babe Ruth. The Bambino had 119 XB hits in 1921 when he set the record with 59 home runs and also hit 44 doubles and 16 triples. The Sultan of Swat hit .378/.512/.846 for a 1.359 OPS and a 239 OPS+ and would have won the MVP award easily had there been one that year.

Lou Gehrig (no, this list does not read like a "Who's Who in Yankees History." Ruth and Gehrig are the only New Yorkers on the list, they just happen to be the top two on the list) had 117 XB hits in 1927 when he hit 47 homers, 52 doubles and 18 triples. The Iron Horse hit .373/.474/.765 for a 1.240 OPS and a 221 POS+ to easily win the MVP Award. Gehrig also had 100 XB hits in 1930 with 41 home runs, 42 doubles and 17 triples. He hit .379/.473/.721 for a 1.194 OPS and a 203 OPS+ that year (there was no MVP award).

Barry Bonds led the pack in 2001, when four players -- all in the National League -- reached 100 XB hits. Bonds had 107 after setting the record with 73 home runs and also hitting 32 doubles and two triples. He hit .328/.515/.863 for a 1.379 OPS and a 262 OPS+ to win the MVP award going away.

Todd Helton had 105 XB hits that year with 49 homers, 54 doubles and two triples while hitting .336/.432/.685 for a 1.116 OPS and a 160 OPS+ to place ninth in the MVP voting.

Sammy Sosa had 103 XB hits in 2001 with 64 homers, 34 doubles and five triples. Slammin' Sammy hit .328/.437/.737 for a 1.174 OPS and a 201 OPS+ to finish as the MVP runner-up.

Luis Gonzalez's career year in 2001 ended with exactly 100 XB hits -- 57 home runs, 36 doubles and seven triples. He hit .325/.429/.688 for a 1.117 OPS and a 176 OPS+ to finish third in the MVP voting.

Helton's 2001 season made him the only player to reach 100 XB hits in consecutive seasons. Helton had 103 XB hits in 2000 with 42 home runs, 59 doubles and two triples. He hit .372/.463/.698 for a 1.162 OPS and a 158 OPS+ to finish fifth in the MVP voting.

Chuck Klein is the only player besides Helton and Gehrig to reach 100 XB hits in a season twice. Klein had 107 XB hits in 1930 with 40 homers, 59 doubles and eight triples while hitting .386/.436/.687 for a 1.123 OPS and a 159 OPS+. He then had 103 XB hits in 1932 with 38 home runs, 50 doubles and 15 triples while hitting .348/.404/.646 for a 1.050 OPS and a 164 OPS+ to win the MVP award.

Albert Belle had 103 XB hits in 1995 when he became the only player to reach 50 homers and 50 doubles in the same season. "Joey" had 50 home runs, 52 doubles and one triple while .317/.401/.690 for a 1.091 OPS and a 178 OPS+. He should have won the MVP award, but the writers didn't like him and gave it to Mo Vaughn (who hit .300/.388/.575 for a 145 OPS+) instead. Belle finished second.

Hank Greenberg had 103 XB hits in 1937 with 40 home runs, 49 doubles and 14 triples. Hammerin' Hank hit .337/.436/.668 for a 1.105 OPS and a 172 OPS+ while finishing third in the MVP voting. Second baseman Charlie Gehringer hit .371/.458/.520 for a144 OPS+ to win the award and Joe DiMaggio posted a 168 OPS+ (hitting .346/.412/.673) to take second in his sophomore season.

Stan Musial had 103 XB hits in 1948 with 39 home runs, 46 doubles and 18 triples. Stan the Man hit .376/.450/.702 for a 1.152 OPS and a 200 OPS+ to win the MVP award.

The only non-first baseman/outfielder on the list, Rogers Hornsby had 102 XB hits in 1922 with 42 homers, 46 doubles and 14 triples. Rajah hit .401/.459/.722 for a 1.181 OPS and a 207 OPS+ (no MVP award that year).

Finally, Jimmie Foxx had 100 XB hits in 1932 with 58 home runs, 33 doubles and nine triples. Double X hit .364/.469/.749 for a 1.218 OPS and a 205 OPS+ to win the MVP award.

So there you have it, if you're looking for a dozen hitters to associate your name with, you could certainly do a whole lot worse. This group has seven Hall-of-Famers (Ruth, Gehrig, Klein, Greenberg, Musial, Hornsby and Foxx), two certain future Hall-of-Famers (Bonds and Sosa) and one player who would have been a Hall-of-Famer if not for a career-ending injury (Belle).

Those of you who are surprised, as I was, that Ruth only reached 100 XB hits once would probably like to know that he almost made it four times. Ruth had 99 XB hits in 1920 and 1923 and 97 XB hits in 1927. Greenberg had 99 XB hits in 1940 and 98 in 1035 and Belle had 99 in 1998.

Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that Preston Wilson is on pace for 101 XB hits. He has 20 doubles, a triple and 12 homers. I don't think either Wilson or Lowell will make it, but Lowell's pace is more impressive because (with all respect to Helton's offensive abilities) Colorado helps out a lot.

Walker indeed

In my Around the Majors post last Saturday, I wrote that Larry Walker wasn't slumping as badly as it looked because he was drawing a lot of walks. That was true then, and it's getting ridiculous now.

In his last seven games, Walker is 7-for-13 (.538). Why does he only have 13 at-bats in seven games? Because he's drawn 17 walks in those games and has an .800 OBP and a .923 SLG. When somebody is playing that well on offense, it would be better to just walk him every single time.

Walker is now hitting .272/.442/.497 (.938 OPS) and is on pace to draw 125 walks (his career high is 82 in 2001). If he can get his average above .300 (and he's never had a season in Colorado with at least 100 games played and a sub-.300 average) while staying on pace for about 125 walks, he will finish with some scary numbers.

While I'm talking about a Rockies hitter, I may as well talk about a Rockies pitcher and then the Rockies in general.

Shawn Chacon pitched eight shutout innings last night, allowing two hits and a walk with seven strikeouts, to improve to 7-2 with a 3.36 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. Those numbers might lead you to believe that he's done most of his pitching on the road, but just the opposite is true.

Chacon is 6-0 with a 2.61 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP in 51.2 innings at home. He has 40 K's (6.97 K/9IP) and 15 walks (2.67 K/BB) in Colorado. Meanwhile, he is 1-2 with a 5.50 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP in 18 innings on the road. He has eight K's (4.00 K/9IP) and eight walks (1.00 K/BB) away from Coors. The only thing that makes sense is his four home runs allowed at home and none allowed on the road.

Before this season, Chacon's splits were about what you would expect. He had a 5.77 ERA and a 1.51 WHIP at home and a 4.94 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP on the road. He had allowed 36 homers in 137.1 innings at home and 15 homers in 142 innings on the road.

Why are his splits so strange this year and will he keep it up? I don't know and I'd have to say I'm doubtful. However, the entire Rockies team has been good at home and bad on the road. The hitters are batting .299/.386/.490 (.876 OPS) at home and .236/.332/.365 (.697 OPS) on the road, which isn't really a surprise. The pitchers, however, have a 4.67 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP at home and a 5.37 ERA and a 1.65 WHIP on the road, while you'd probably expect those to be reversed.

It's no wonder, then, that the Rockies are 20-8 (.714 winning percentage) at home and 6-19 (.240 winning percentage) on the road. Actually, those records are a little more extreme than they should be.

The Rockies have scored 6.8 runs/game and allowed 5.1 runs/game at home, which gives them an expected winning percentage of .641, which works out to 18-10. On the road, they've scored 4.0 runs/game and allowed 5.5 runs/game. That gives them an expected winning percentage of .344, which works out to about 9-16 (8.6-16.4 to be exact).

If the Rockies can keep winning more than 65% of their home games and start winning around 50% of their road games, they will challenge for a playoff spot. On the other hand, if the Rockies keep winning fewer than 35% of their games on the road and start winning around 50% of their games at home, it will be a very long summer in Colorado.

I always like seeing how the Rockies do because they're just so damn unpredictable, and this year isn't any different.

New MVP?

Over at Baseball Musings, David Pinto wrote yesterday that Rafael Furcal is the early front-runner for the NL MVP award.

Furcal is having an amazing season, hitting .341/.406/.565 (.971 OPS) with 10 steals in 10 attempts and playing a tough defensive position in each and every one of Atlanta's games. I don't think this is necessarily a fluke either, but I do think the man who won the last two MVP awards will have something to say about this year's as well.

Barry Bonds went 2-for-3 with a home run and two walks yesterday. He's now hitting .299/.497/.642 (1.139 OPS). Bonds is definitely going to outhit Furcal, but Furcal is probably going to play more games and he plays better defense at a tougher position while providing more production on the basepaths. The question (if this does turn into a two-horse race, which it probably won't) is whether Bonds can outhit Furcal by enoguh to make up for Furcal's other advantages.

Speaking of Bonds, with Roger Clemens going for his 300th victory and everybody wondering where he ranks all-time, I've been thinking again about where Bonds ranks among the greatest players ever. I'm not going to argue for where he ranks right now (it's too soon to really have any idea), but I do want to address whether or not he has any chance of ever overtaking Babe Ruth as the greatest player ever.

The correct answer is that he does not. Rob Neyer likes to write that Ruth is clearly the greatest of all-time because he dominated as a hitter and as a pitcher. Neyer's one of my favorite writers, but he's not right about this. Ruth was only really a pitcher for five years, and he was only a great pitcher for one of those years.

The reason nobody has a chance of ever catching Ruth is that Ruth was a dominant hitter like nobody else could ever be. Bonds has just finished having two of the greatest seasons of all-time, posting a 262 OPS+ in 2001 and a 275 OPS+ last year. Both of those seasons are better than any Ruth ever had, but Bonds had just two other seasons with an OPS+ above 200. He had a 205 OPS+ in 1992 and a 206 OPS+ in 1993.

Wanna guess where those seasons (the third- and fourth-best of Bonds' career) would rank in Ruth's career? 11th and 12th. Ruth had 11 seasons with an OPS+ above 200 (in order -- 255, 239, 239, 227, 226, 220, 219, 219, 211, 208, 201).

Bonds has a career OPS+ of 177 coming into this season. Ruth had a career OPS+ of 207. That means that, for his career, Ruth had an OPS 107% better than the average hitter under the conditions he played in. That is just something that cannot be duplicated and makes Ruth the greatest of all-time even if you pretend he never pitched.

Note - Sorry for the lateness of my first post today. I plan on making at least a couple more this afternoon, so please come back and check them out.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Offensive Pirates

I got so caught up in Nomar Garciaparra's hitting streak that I didn't even notice that Kenny Lofton was also working on a nice streak. As you probably know already, Nomar went 0-for-4 to end his hitting streak at 26 games last night, but Lofton went 3-for-5 to extend his streak to 25 games.

During his hitting streak, Lofton has gone 41-for-101 (.406 average) with eight doubles, four homers, 12 walks, six steals (on eight attempts) and 26 runs scored. Before the streak started he was hitting .205 with a .255 OBP and a .285 SLG for a .539 OPS. Now, he's hitting .312/.375/.455 for an .830 OPS and got a day off today after playing in 17 straight games.

During the month of April (Lofton's streak started in the last game he played in April), I thought Lofton was finished as an offensive producer. Well, his performance in May has proved me wrong.

Lofton is now on pace for 187 hits, 16 homers, 114 runs and 32 steals (in 42 attempts). In his excellent career, Lofton has only scored more than 110 runs twice, he's only had more than 180 hits twice and he's never hit more than 15 homers.

Do I think Lofton will actually reach those totals this season? No, but he's clearly still capable of being a valuable contributor for at least a month at a time (Lofton had very nice numbers in April, July and September last year) and he's been the sparkplug for Pittsburgh's offense recently.

In fact, the previously dismal Pittsburgh offense has gone into high gear the past 10 games. The Pirates averaged 3.7 runs per game and went 16-25 in their first 41 games. In their last 10 games, they've averaged 6.4 runs per game and gone 6-4. Lofton isn't the only hitter on a tear, either.

Aramis Ramirez went 23-for-45 (.511 average) with a homer, two doubles, two walks and 11 RBI during those 10 games and currently has an 11-game hitting streak. His numbers are up from .219/.288/.311 (.599 OPS) before the 10 games to .288/.340/.387 (.727 OPS) now.

Reggie Sanders went 7-for-23 with three walks, two home runs and three doubles in the seven games he played during the 10-game stretch. He's up from .238/.302/.421 (.723 OPS) to .252/.321/.476 (.797 OPS), but is currently hobbled by a sore right hamstring.

Brian Giles went 13-for-37 (.351 average) with 11 walks, two homers, two doubles, nine RBI and 10 runs during the 10 games. He's up from .222/.410/.381 (.791 OPS) to .268/.437/.454 (.891 OPS). You wanna talk about patience? Before today's game, Giles still had more walks (27) than hits (26) this season.

Even Kevin Young is getting in on the act. Young went 2-for-7 with six walks (.615 OBP), a home run (.714 SLG), four runs and four RBI in his brief playing time during the 10-game stretch. He's up from .214/.254/.321 (.575 OPS) to .222/.319/.365 (.684 OPS).

The Pirates have even scored four runs today against Mark Prior, who entered the game with the sixth-best ERA (2.61) in the NL. Prior had only allowed two runs on five hits, no walks and eight strikeouts through seven innings, but Dusty Baker decided to send him back out for the eighth and he finished the game with a 122 pitches thrown and a lost quality start.

Meanwhile, Jeff D'Amico pitched pretty well, allowing five hits and no walks with five strikeouts in seven innings. The problem is that he gave up two home runs, and they came with the other three hits on base. The Cubs went down in order in five of the seven innings D'Amico pitched, but they got two hits before a second-inning two-out home run and a double preceding a fourth-inning home run.

The Cubs scored five runs in the first eight innings, but the only runner they left on base was Mark Grduzielanek, who walked with two outs in the eighth.

Assuming they don't score in the ninth, the Pirates will have scored 6.2 runs per game in their last 11 contests. Hopefully their bats will have cooled off by the time I get to PNC Park to watch them take on the Red Sox. The nice thing about living in Rochester is that there are three parks within a 3-4 hour drive and a few other parks close enough to drive to for a short trip. I've wanted to see Pittsburgh's new park since it opened and a game against Boston is enough for me to drive out by myself on my day off (Tuesday) and take a day off from work on Wednesday to drive back.

Holes in the lineup

Before this season started, I thought the Oakland Athletics would have problems scoring runs because they would have three big holes in their lineup. The holes I was thinking of were Terrence Long, Chris Singleton and Ramon Hernandez.

Well, the A's are struggling a bit to score runs, but it's not Hernandez's fault. Hernandez currently has the third-best OPS on the team at .831. He's hitting .288 with a .352 OBP and a .479 SLG with six homers and 20 RBI (that puts him on pace for 19 HR and 65 RBI). That's startling production from a player with a career .710 OPS.

Hernandez played 40 games in 1999 and hit .279/.363/.397 for a .760 OPS. Since then, his best year was 2001, when he hit .254/.316/.408 for a .724 OPS. Those numbers represent his career high in each of those four categories. His career high in home runs is 15 and in RBI is 62. Last year was a particularly awful season for Hernandez, as he hit .233/.313/.335 for a putrid .648 OPS.

So, if Oakland's worst hitter from last year has improved his OPS by almost 180 points, then how are the A's struggling on offense? Well, first I should prove that they are struggling on offense.

Oakland has scored 231 runs, which is 10th in the American League. The A's are averaging 4.62 runs per game, which puts them on pace to score 748 runs this year. Last year, the A's scored 800 runs (4.94 per game). So, they are struggling, but are the main offenders the other two players I thought would drag them down?

Not really. Long is not a good offensive player, that's for sure. He never has been and he probably never will be. However, his pathetic .707 OPS is still about 20 points better than his .688 OPS from last season. So, while he's probably not helping them score extra runs, he's not the reason they're scoring fewer than last year.

What about Singleton? Well, Singleton is essentially replacing David Justice in Oakland's lineup. Justice got 398 at-bats last year and Singleton is on pace for 388 at-bats this year. Justice hit .266/.376/.410 for a .785 OPS and Singleton is hitting .308/.341/.417 for a .758 OPS. That's certainly a drop-off, but it's not what's causing a difference of potentially 50 runs at the end of the year.

Okay, I'll stop pretending the answer to this question is a tough one. The obvious reason the A's are scoring fewer runs is Miguel Tejada. Tejada is batting .220/.283/.390 with a .673 OPS after leading the team with an .861 OPS last year. I always thought Tejada was overrated because of his home run and RBI totals (he averaged about 32 homers and 120 RBI the last three years, but he had just an .831 OPS over those three season), but he is not this bad.

The funny thing (to me anyways) is that Tejada is being hurt by exactly the same thing that helped him win the MVP award last year -- luck. More specifically, a fluky batting average. Tejada is on pace to play 162 games and hit 29 home runs and draw 48 walks. Wanna guess what his 162-game averages for homers and walks are for his career? 27 and 49, respectively. So, Tejada is hitting for about the same amount of power and patience as he has his whole career.

The problem he's having illustrates the biggest problem with batting average -- it's horrible as a predictive tool because it's the batting stat that fluctuates the most from year to year. Before 2002, Tejada was a career .257 hitter. Last year, he hit .308 (51 points above his career mark), won an MVP award and was labeled one of the best players in the game and somebody the A's absolutely had to lock up with a long term deal. The problem is that Tejada didn't really show any improvement in the parts of his game that actually have predictive value.

Before this season, Tejada was a career .268 hitter. The odds were that his luck would reverse at least a little bit and he'd hit closer to .268 than .308. Well, his luck has reversed completely and he's hitting .220 (48 points below his career mark). Odds are his luck won't be this bad all year, and he'll finish with an average around .250 and an OPS around .800.

Tejada is the obvious part, but the other key to Oakland's offensive struggles this year is Scott Hatteberg. Hatteberg has received a lot of attention since Moneyball by Michael Lewis came out. That book talks about how Oakland liked him so much because getting on base is the most important part of the game and he had always been good at getting on base. Since he was very cheap, he was extremely valuable to them.

All of this was true -- last year, when Hatteberg had a .374 OBP and provided a little bit of pop (.433 SLG) as well. This year, however, Hatteberg's batting average is only down nine points (.271 vs. .280), but his OBP is down 26 points to .348 and he's not hitting for any pop at all (.384 SLG).

A first baseman with an .807 OPS can be valuable if he's cheap and has a high OBP. A first baseman with a .732 OPS is going to hurt a team no matter what else is going on.

Interestingly, the A's do have a player with significant playing time who has an OPS more than 120 points higher than anybody on the team had last year. Eric Byrnes is batting .355/.418/.565 for a .983 OPS in 124 at-bats since Jermaine Dye has been out. Byrnes is not going to keep hitting .355, but he had an .860 OPS in 198 career AAA games and he can help Oakland. The A's can improve their offense by giving Long's spot in the order to Byrnes when Dye is ready to play again.

Finally, I just thought I'd give you an idea of how significant a loss of 52 runs is for a team. The A's are on pace to score 748 runs, which is 52 less than last year like I said. If they did that and allowed the 654 runs they allowed last year, their expected winning percentage would be .568, which would give them a record of 92-70 (10.5 games worse than last year's 103-59 record and five games worse than last year's expected record of 97-65). If you thnk 92 wins is good enough, talk to fans in Seattle and Boston because the Mariners and Red Sox both missed the playoffs with 93 wins last year.

Fortunately for the A's, their pitching and defense have made up for the lack of offense this season. It may not look like it because their .580 winning percentage is awfully close to that .568 mark I talked about, but Oakland's expected winning percentage so far this season is .643. The A's have allowed 172 runs this year, and no other team in the AL has allowed fewer than 200.

It's funny, just when you get used to the idea of Oakland as a beer-swilling, fun-loving softball team, they switch personalities and win with pitching and defense.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Speed kills

For those of you who don't already know this, Rafael Furcal is very fast. I already knew this because I saw him in spring training, and because his stats indicate that he's fast, and because people frequently say that he's fast. However, watching parts of yesterday's Atlanta-Cincinnati game, I was reminded just how fast Furcal is.

With one out in the third inning, Furcal tried to bunt for a base hit. But for some reason he tried to do it one-handed and it obviously didn't work. No matter, he simply blooped the next pitch just into fair territory in shallow left field. Cincinnati's left fielder kicked the ball, but it didn't matter because when ESPN's camera switched back to Furcal immediately after the boot, he was already slowing down mere feet from second base. What that means is that on a bloop hit to left field, Furcal was going to get a double even if the left fielder barehanded the ball and made the best throw humanly possible.

Later, in the eighth inning, Furcal hit a ball into the right field corner and easily went to third for a triple. ESPN showed the replay a few times, and it was like watching a racehorse run. I don't know if Furcal is the fastest player in baseball or not, but he definitely knows how to use his speed on the bases as well as anybody.

This season, Furcal has nine stolen bases and has not been thrown out yet. He has seven triples and he has yet to ground into a double play. Strangely, while he's always been fast, Furcal seems to be just now taking full advantage of his speed.

In 364 career games coming into this season, Furcal had hit 12 triples, grounded into 15 double plays and stolen 89 bases in 124 attempts (71.8% success rate). In 51 games this year, Furcal has hit nine triples, grounded into zero double plays and stolen nine bases in nine attempts (100% success rate). His total before this year work out to 162-game averages of 5.3 triples, 6.7 double plays and 39.6 steals. This year, he's on pace for 162-game totals of 22 triples, zero double plays and 29 steals.

Speaking of speed and not grounding into double plays, the Braves as a team have been the best in the majors at not grounding into double plays. Atlanta has grounded into 28 double plays this season (one double play every 1.8 games). Last year, with pretty much the same players, the Braves grounded into the third-most double plays in the majors -- 147 or one every 1.1 games. So, not only have the Braves improved their team OPS from .741 to .828, they've also grounded into vastly fewer double plays.

Of the eight Braves with more than 75 at-bats this year, only one -- Vinny Castilla -- has grounded into more than four double plays. Castilla has grounded into seven double plays and is also the only player from that group grounding into double plays more frequently this season than the rest of his career. Here's a list of those eight players followed by two numbers. The first is the number of plate appearances they average for every double play this year, and the second is the number of plate appearances they averaged for every double play in their career before this year.

Javy Lopez - 49.3 -- 30.7
Robert Fick - 70.5 -- 40.1
Marcus Giles - 209 -- 39.6
Rafael Furcal - ??? -- 106.3
Vinny Castilla - 26.7 -- 33.7
Chipper Jones - 53.8 -- 42.9
Andruw Jones - 72.7 -- 57.6
Gary Sheffield - 105 -- 50.0

That, folks, is amazing. Not only has everybody except Castilla been better, they've all been significantly better. I haven't had time to check this out, but it would seem to me that the Braves are being more efficient than we could reasonably expect them to be. There is probably a lot of luck involved in grounding into this few double plays and eventually that luck will probably even out. The Braves are on pace to ground into 89 double plays this year. Last year, only one team -- Pittsburgh -- grounded into fewer than 100 double plays. The Pirates grounded into 97 double plays, one every 1.66 games. In 2001, no teams grounded into fewer than 100 doubles plays. Milwaukee grounded into the fewest doubles plays -- 102 or one ever 1.59 games.

While the Braves have grounded into the fewest double plays in the league, two other teams have grounded into fewer than 30 double plays and both are one pace to ground into fewer than 100 double plays this season. Cincinnati and Detroit have each grounded into 29 double plays this season. The Reds are on pace to ground into 94 double plays and the Tigers are on pace for 98. Like I said with the Braves, there is probably some luck going on here, but there are some things we can identify that may be contributing factors.

For the Tigers it's easy -- they don't get many baserunners, so they can't ground into many double plays. The Tigers have the worst OBP (and the fewest runs scored) in the majors. Last year, Pittsburgh grounded into the fewest double plays in the majors and had the fourth-worst OBP (and scored the third-fewest runs). In 2001, Milwaukee grounded into the fewest double plays and tied for the third-worst OBP (although the Brewers only scored the 11th-fewest runs. Oddly (or purely coincidentally), the Tigers were the worst in the majors at both getting on base and scoring runs last year as well, but 11 teams grounded into fewer double plays.

Cincinnati, meanwhile, just hits home runs when runners are on base instead of grounding into double plays. The Reds have hit 38 of their 76 homers with runners on base. They're tied for the NL lead in percentage of homers hit with runners on (St. Louis has hit 32 of its 64 homers with runners on) and second in the majors in that category (the Yankees have hit 51.4% or 38 of their 74 homers with runners on). On average this season, teams are hitting 41.6% of their homers with runners on base (the White Sox at 29.1% and Houston at 30.2% are the worst in the majors, which may help explain why their offenses aren't clicking as well as expected).

Does Cincinnati's HR rate with the bases on really affect their double plays? Maybe, maybe not. Last year, the White Sox hit the second most home runs in the league with runners on base and grounded into the fourth-fewest double plays in the majors. In 2001, Arizona led the majors in home runs with runners on base and grounded into the third-fewest double plays. It stands to reason that if you're hitting a higher percentage of homers with runners on, then you have to be hitting a lower percentage of something else with runners on, and maybe that something else in these cases is double play balls.

Why am I so interested in double plays today? Well, because if you hit into a double play, you're giving up an extra out. However, it's not something that shows up in batting average, OBP, SLG or OPS, so it's often overlooked and it shouldn't be. The reason that there's so much emphasis these days on OBP, sacrifice bunts, stolen base percentage, moving the runner over, etc. is that outs are the most valuable commodity a baseball team has. You only get 27 of them and you don't want to give any of them away (similarly, you don't want to give the other team any of it's outs back).

Okay, so there's a reason for talking about double plays, but what does all of what I've said mean? I'm not really sure, to be perfectly honest. I just thought all of this stuff was interesting and wanted to bring it to your attention. I could look at numbers all day long and probably still not have a concrete idea whether these double play totals are indicative of something else. My hunch, however, is that the Braves and Reds are going to have trouble operating this efficiently on offense the whole season. I'll try to keep an eye on this and let you know if things start to change.

Finally, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of the people who have stopped by my site yesterday and today. I've gotten nearly 200 visitors between the two days so far, which is easily my highest two-day total to date. I hope I didn't lose any readers by only making one short post late last night and waiting until now to make another one. I was out golfing today and it took me longer then I thought it would. When you need 123 shots (plus a few mulligans) to complete 18 holes, it apparently takes about four and a half hours. One of my goals in life is to get good enough at golf that I don't embarass myself if I have to golf with co-workers and/or bosses at some point.

Deceiving numbers

I'm definitely what some people would call a "stathead" and I put a lot of faith in numbers. However, sometimes number can be very deceiving, and you need to know which numbers are important. The most difficult players to analyze are relief pitchers, especially while a season's still in progress. Since most relief pitchers don't pitch more than 100 innings (and the majority of them don't even pitch near that many), their ratio stats can fluctuate wildly from performance to performance. To demonstrate, here are two relief pitchers with some of their stats:

Player A - 21.2 IP, 24 K, 22 BB
Player B - 20.2 IP, 23 K, 10 BB

If you had to pick which one was the better reliever based only on those numbers, you would obviously pick player B. Well, both of the relievers are young flamethrowers and both of them pitched last night. Player A is 23-year-old Franklyn German, who pitched a perfect ninth inning for his second save of the season and now has a 2.91 ERA. Player B is 24-year-old Juan Cruz, who faced four batters and allowed all four of them to reach base (a hit, a hit batter and two walks). All four runners eventually scored to raise his ERA to 7.40.

German has a 1.66 WHIP with 14 hits to go along with his 22 walks. Cruz has a 1.50 WHIP with 21 hits allowed and 10 walks. German has obviously been more effective at not allowing runs so far this season, but if I had to pick which pitcher I thought would probably be better the rest of this year, I'd have to pick Cruz.

Cruz is striking out more batters and walking fewer than he did in his first two seasons, but he's allowing a significantly higher batting average on balls in play. This year, he's allowing a .344 average on balls put in play whereas his first two seasons he allowed a .290 average on balls put in play. Many people have argued (and I agree) that a pitcher's batting average allowed on balls put in play is largely due to luck. So, the fact that Cruz's BABIP is very high this season is probably just bad luck and his excellent strikeout and walk ratios are much more solid and are signs of a promising pitcher.

Meanwhile, German has allowed a .250 average on balls put in play, which is rather low. His strikeout ratio is good (9.97 K/9IP), but his walk ratio (1.09 K/BB) is not good at all. He still has a promising future, but he needs to improve his control or else he'll start giving up a ton of runs when more balls start finding the holes.

Sunday, May 25, 2003

Barry Larkin, Hall-of-Famer?

I was going through the blogs listed in the column to the right the other day, and I came across something that peaked my interest at Shawn Weaver’s Cincinnati Reds Blog. Shawn says that Barry Larkin has said that he realizes he is not a full-time player anymore and will accept a part-time role when he returns from the DL. Shawn then says that Larkin is a tremendously deserving candidate for the Hall of Fame.

It may be because I was more of a Red Sox fan than a baseball fan until a few years ago, and thus paid much more attention to the AL, but I’ve never really considered Larkin a Hall-of-Famer. The ridiculous numbers being posted by some of today’s shortstops also probably had something to do with it.

Anyway, Shawn’s post got me curious about whether or not Larkin really does deserve to be in the Hall someday, so I thought I’d take a page out of Aaron Gleeman’s book and check it out (in case you missed it, Aaron has made wonderful posts -- on May 13th and 14th -- on the Hall of Fame candidacies of Rafael Palmeiro and Fred McGriff and Friday he made a less in-depth, but still compelling argument for Bernie Williams). First, I thought I’d take a look through Larkin’s career through the end of 2002.

Larkin was drafted in the first round by Cincinnati in 1985 and reported to Class AA Vermont, where he posted a .676 OPS in 72 games. In 1986, he moved up to Class AAA Denver and posted an .898 OPS in 103 games with 19 steals in 25 attempts before being promoted to Cincinnati at age 22. In 41 games for the Reds, Larkin put up a .723 OPS that actually wasn‘t that bad. With a league OPS of .738, Larkin had an OPS+ of 95 or just below average.

In 1987, Larkin’s first full season with the Reds, he batted .244 with a .306 OBP and .371 SLG. He hit 12 home runs, but only 16 doubles. He did steal 21 bases in 27 attempts (77.8% success rate), but he was well below average offensively.

Larkin made his first All-Star game in 1988, hitting .296/.347/.429 with 12 home runs, 40 steals and 91 runs scored. He has an OPS+ of 119, a .292 EqA and 9.2 WARP (for those of you who don’t know, EqA is equivalent average. It measures total offensive value per out, with corrections for league offensive level, home park, and team pitching. An average EqA is .260. WARP is wins above replacement player and means what it sounds like. It’s the number of wins this player contributed, above what a replacement level hitter, fielder, and pitcher would have done, with adjustments only for within the season. Both of these stats are from Baseball Prospectus).

Larkin made the All-Star game again in 1989 and won his first Silver Slugger award despite playing just 97 games. He hit .342/.375/.446 with a 132 OPS+ and .301 EqA. He was worth 6.4 WARP despite missing 65 games.

I’m sure 1990 is the year Larkin will remember most fondly when he looks back at his career. He played 158 games and, although he only hit .301/.358/.396 for an OPS+ of 104 and an EqA of .277, he finished seventh in the MVP voting. Actually, the voters may have gotten it right, because he was worth 9.7 WARP. How was he worth .5 more WARP than 1988 when his offense was clearly worse? Defense, of course, and speed. According to Baseball Prospectus, Larkin was 28 fielding runs above average and 60 fielding runs above replacement, both easily career highs. He also stole 30 bases in 35 attempts for an 85.7% success rate.

Larkin’s personal achievements obviously weren’t the highlight of that season, however. The Reds went 91-71 to win the NL East by five games. Cincinnati beat the Pirates 4 games to 2 to advance to the World Series and then swept the Oakland A’s. Larkin struggled in the NLCS, but went 6-for-17 with a double, a triple and two walks in the World Series.

The next two seasons, at ages 27 and 28, were just the kind of breakout years you might expect from somebody who had shown the talent Larkin had over the previous three seasons.

Larkin hit .302/.378/.506 with a career-high 20 homers and he stole 24 bases while scoring 88 runs. His OPS+ was 143, his EqA was .315 and he was worth 10.2 WARP. Unfortunately, he only played 123 games and the Reds slipped to 74-88, so Larkin did not get any MVP consideration.

In 1992, Larkin was able to play 140 games and hit almost as well as the previous year, batting .304/.377/.454 with 12 homers, 76 runs and 78 RBI. He had a 132 OPS+, a .305 EqA and was worth 9.1 WARP. The Reds rebounded to go 90-72, but finished in second place, eight games behind the Braves. Oddly, 1992 was Larkin’s last season with double-digit FRAA (fielding runs above average). He was 10 FRAA in 1992, capping a string of six straight years that he was at least 10 FRAA. Why didn’t he win the Gold Glove any of those year? Well, Ozzie Smith took home the Gold Glove every year from 1980 to 1992.

The next season, Larkin dipped back down to 100 games, but he still hit .315/.394/.445 for a 125 OPS+ and a .303 EqA with 5.9 WARP.

Larkin was back up to 110 games in the strike-shortened 1994 season, but his offense slipped a bit. He hit .279/.369/.419 for a 107 OPS+, a .285 EqA and 6.2 WARP, but he did win the first of three straight Gold Glove Awards. The Reds were 66-48 and leading the NL Central by half a game over Houston when the season was called off.

1995 was the season that got Larkin the most attention. He played in 131 of Cincinnati’s 144 games and hit .319/.394/.492 with 15 homers, 51 steals in 56 attempts (91.1% success rate) and 98 runs scored. His OPS+ was 134, his EqA was .315 and his season was worth 8.2 WARP. He won the MVP Award, made the All-Star team and won the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards.

Also, the Reds went 85-59 to win the NL Central by 9 games. Cincinnati swept the Dodgers and then got swept by the Braves. Larkin went 12-for-31 with two doubles, a triple, two walks and five steals in the seven games.

Despite winning the MVP in 1995, Larkin’s best season was probably 1996. He played 152 games, hitting .298/.410/.567 with 33 homers, 117 runs and 89 RBI. Despite the sub-.300 average, Larkin set career highs in OBP and SLG because his 33 home runs and 96 walks were both 50-percent better than his previous career bests. Larkin had a 156 OPS+, a .329 EqA and was worth 10.7 WARP, but did not get any MVP consideration because the Reds went 81-81 to finish third.

After the best consecutive seasons of his career, Larkin was only able to play in 73 games in 1997. He did hit .317/.440/.473 for a 139 OPS+ and a .324 EqA, but was worth just 4.9 WARP.

Larkin bounced back nicely with 145 games in 1998, his last great offensive season. He hit .309/.397/.504 for a 134 OPS+, .312 EqA and 8.6 WARP.

Larkin set a career-high with 161 games in 1999, but hit just .293/.390/.420 for a 107 OPS+, .280 EqA and just 7.5 WARP.

The 2000 season was Larkin’s last as an above average player. He hit .313/.389/.487 in 102 games for a 114 OPS+, a .289 EqA and 4.3 WARP.

Injuries limited Larkin to just 45 games in 2001. He hit .256/.373/.372 and his 95 OPS+ and .263 EqA meant he was about average in those games, but overall his season was worth just 0.7 WARP.

He was able to play 145 games last year, but he had the worst season of his career. He hit .245/.305/.367 for a 71 OPS+, a .238 EqA and 3.4 WARP.

So, Larkin had a 13-year stretch where he was an above average player and he had about five great seasons. For his career, he hit .296/.372/.448 with 188 home runs, 375 stolen bases in 452 attempts (83% success rate) and 1,235 runs scored in 1,999 games (through 2002 of course). He had a career 117 OPS+ and a career .292 EqA with 111.8 career WARP. However, those WARP are just from adding up each of his season totals. If you adjust his season totals for the difficulty of the league and for short seasons using a stat called WARP-3, then Larkin’s career total is 118.4.

Larkin’s numbers don’t approach any of the “automatic milestones,” but he doesn’t really have to as a shortstop. So, now let’s compare him to the other shortstops in the Hall of Fame.

There are 22 shortstops in the Hall of Fame and Cal Ripken Jr. will make 23 by the time Larkin’s eligible. Two of the shortstops enshrined are from the Negro Leagues, so we can’t really compare Larkin to them.

Only five of the 21 shortstops - Ernie Banks (122), Lou Boudreau (120), George Davis (121), Arky Vaughan (136) and Honus Wagner (150) - have posted a career OPS+ of at least 120. Banks and Davis played fewer than 60% of their games at shortstop and Boudreau played in only 1,643 games.

Also, Larkin played 97% of his games at shortstop and, of the 21 shortstops, only Luis Aparicio (100%), Dave Bancroft (98%), Phil Rizzuto (99%), Joe Sewell (99%) and Ozzie Smith (98%) have played a higher percentage of their games at shortstop than Larkin. Of those five, only Aparicio (2,599) and Smith (2,573) played in more total games than Larkin.

It’s probably more useful to compare Larkin to just the Hall-of-Fame shortstops who played at least 1,800 games and played at least 75% of their games at shortstop. That narrows the list down to a dozen - Aparicio, Luke Appling, Bancroft, Joe Cronin, Rabbit Maranville, Pee Wee Reese, Ripken, Sewell, Smith, Joe Tinker, Vaughan and Bobby Wallace.

Only two players from that group -- Cronin (119) and Vaughan -- have a career OPS+ higher than Larkin’s 117. Ripken (112) and Appling (112) are the only others with a career OPS+ above 110. Also, only Vaughan (.312) has a higher career EqA than Larkin’s .296. Cronin (.291) is the only other player on the list with a career EqA above .290. Larkin’s 118.4 wins above replacement using WARP-3 are fewer than only Ripken (168.3), Smith (136.8) and Appling (121.6), but each of those three players had significantly longer careers.

For his career, Larkin was worth one win more than a replacement player every 16.9 games. Only Vaughan (15.5) needed fewer games to be worth an extra win. Ripken (17.8) and Smith (18.8) are the next closest.

Larkin had seven seasons with significant playing time and an OPS+ above 130. Only Vaughan, with eight seasons, had more and Ripken’s four seasons with an OPS+ above 130 were the next most. Larkin and Vaughan were tied with eight seasons with an EqA above .300, while Ripken had five and Appling and Cronin had four each.

It seems clear to me that the only player in this group who was better on offense was Vaughan. Ripken and Smith may have had better careers because of their longevity, but Larkin definitely belongs in this group of “true” shortstops.

I kind of overlooked defense a little bit, but it looks like only five of the 12 shortstops were significantly better on defense than Larkin, and all of them were significantly worse on offense. According to Baseball Prospectus, Larkin was 108 fielding runs above average in his career. Only Appling, Reese and Vaughan had lower FRAA numbers for their career, but only Bancroft, Maranville, Smith, Tinker and Wallace were more than about 10% better than Larkin when career length is factored in.

Just to double check, let’s see what a Keltner List has to say about Larkin’s qualifications. For those of you who don’t know, a Keltner List is a series of 15 questions developed by Bill James to help us determine whether a player is worthy of enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.

Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?

No, there were always at least a handful of players who were considered to be better than Larkin.

Was he the best player on his team?

In 1995 and 1996, Larkin was the best player on the Reds because he was either the best or second-best hitter each year, he provided above-average defense at shortstop and none of the pitchers were spectacular. In 1991, 1992 and 1998, Larkin was arguably the best player on the team. He was the best position player in each of those three years, but Jose Rijo was a great pitcher in 1991 and 1992 and Pete Schourek had a great season in 1998. Larkin was one of the four or five best players on the team in 1988, 1989, 1990, 1993 and 1994. He would have had a case as the best player on the team in 1989 had he been able to play a full season rather than just 97 games.

Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

From 1988 through 1992, you could probably argue for either Larkin’s offense or Smith’s defense as making them the best SS in the NL. Ripken was the best SS in baseball in 1991, but if you thought Larkin was better than Smith, then Larkin was the best SS in baseball in 1989, 1990 and 1992.

From 1993 through 1995, Larkin probably was the best SS in baseball and when Alex Rodriguez took that title in 1996, Larkin remained the best SS in the NL through the 2000 season although you could probably pick somebody else (Jeff Blauser?) in 1997 since Larkin only played 73 games.

Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

The Reds went to the playoffs twice with Larkin. The probably would have won the NL Central in 1995 without him, but they would have had trouble winning the NL West without him in 1990. Also, it’s quite likely that Larkin would have had an effect on the pennant race in 1994 if the season had continued.

Was he good enough that he could play regularly after his prime?

It depends what you consider his prime. If you think every player’s prime is from ages 25 to 30, then Larkin’s best four-year stretch came after his prime and the answer is a resounding yes. If you consider that four-year stretch to be his prime, then the answer is still yes, but not as resounding. Larkin was able to play more than 100 games at a productive level at ages 35 and 36, so he was clearly good enough to play regularly after his prime.

Is he the very best player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

This question is tough to answer because he hasn’t retired yet, but he will probably be one of the handful of best players not in the Hall of Fame when he first becomes eligible. I’m sure people could make arguments for both Ryne Sandberg and Alan Trammell being better (assuming they’re not in by then), but Larkin probably had a better career.

Are most comparable players in the Hall of Fame?

According to, the 10 most similar batters to Larkin are Alan Trammell, Craig Biggio, Jay Bell, Joe Cronin, Roberto Alomar, Arky Vaughan, Tony Fernandez, Julio Franco, Bobby Doerr and Dick Bartell. Cronin, Vaughan and Doerr are in the Hall, Alomar probably will be when he’s eligible, and Trammell and Biggio may make it eventually.

Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

Larkin’s HOF Standards number is 43.9 and an average HOFer is about 50. There are five players with a HOF Standard of 44 -- Ted Simmons and HOFers King Kelly, Joe Sewell, Willie McCovey and George Sisler. Larkin’s HOF Monitor is 118 and likely HOFers have over 100. Players with a HOF Monitor between 117 and 119 are Manny Ramirez, Trammell, Kiki Cuyler (a HOFer), Andre Dawson and Todd Helton.

Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

Not really. Larkin’s home park favored hitters very slightly for most of his career, but it also favored pitchers very slightly some years. In the end, it probably all evened out or had, at most, a minimal effect.

Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?

After Ripken goes in, it will probably be either him or Trammell.

How many MVP-type seasons did he have. Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

Larkin won an MVP award in 1995 and finished seventh in the voting in 1990. He also probably had four seasons that were better than either of those seasons.

How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the players who played in this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame?

Larkin had 13 straight seasons that were arguable good enough for him to be an All-Star and he actually made the All-Star game 11 times. There are nine players who have played in an All-Star game in 11 seasons (some of them may have played in more actual All-Star games because of the period when there were two games) - Ernie Banks, Barry Bonds, Gary Carter, Bill Dickey, Carlton Fisk, Bill Freehan, Ken Griffey Jr., Harmon Killebrew and Mel Ott. Freehan is the only eligible player there not in the Hall and Bonds and Griffey will both probably be in when they’re eligible. The list of players who’ve played in an All-Star game in either 10 or 12 seasons includes mostly HOFers as well.

If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

Larkin was definitely the best player on his team twice and the team made the playoffs one of those years. When Larkin was at his best, he could definitely lead a team to the playoffs as its best player.

What impact did the player have on baseball? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?

Not as far as I know.

Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

Larkin won the Roberto Clemente Man of the Year award for outstanding skills, sportsmanship and community involvement in 1993. In 1994, he won the Lou Gehrig Memorial award for the player who best exemplifies the character of Lou Gehrig. And, as Shawn points out, his acknowledgement that he shouldn’t be a full-time player anymore is the sign of a standup guy. Too many superstars feel they're entitled to hang onto their full-time jobs as long as they want to.

I think the Keltner List confirms my thoughts after looking through his career that he deserves to be in the Hall. I was able to answer 13 of the 15 questions in what I feel are favorable ways for Larkin’s Hall-of-Fame consideration.

That said, Larkin is still active. If he plays too much longer at too much of a lowered ability level, he may lose a lot of the advantage he currently has over the shortstops who played longer than him.

Have a nice Memorial Day everybody. I'll probably make my next post on Tuesday.