Wednesday, January 13, 2021

The Case for Jeff Kent 1/13/21

 Hey baseball fans!

It's my first post of 2021 and it's a doozy! Because we are officially in the month when we find out the 2021 Hall of Fame class, it's time to ramp up the Hall of Fame content on Baseball with Matt. With that being said, let's talk about Jeff Kent, who is appearing on the ballot for the eighth time this year. Given his voting percentage of roughly 27% last year, his Cooperstown chances are slim, but he is certainly a Hall of Famer. Here's why:

Jeff Kent has a weird career. Usually, players slow down as they age. Their first decade in baseball is, by and large, much better than their second. That's not the case with Jeff Kent. Much like Paul O'Neill, Kent had a couple of alright seasons in his 20s, but his career really took off in his 30s, specifically as the starting second baseman for the Giants, Astros, and Dodgers. The sheer fact that his career numbers look flipped, with better seasons occurring in the latter half of his career, is probably a huge bias for Hall of Fame voters. But, as I've stated, the accumulation of statistics is what's more important than individual seasons when it comes to Hall of Fame legitimacy, no matter when the bulk of that accumulation took place.

Kent's numbers are more impressive when you consider the fact that he was a second baseman. For a lot of positions, mainly corner infielders and the outfield, defensive positioning isn't that important when considering offensive statistics. But second baseman aren't usually signed to be amazing hitters. Elite defense is required at the position, but elite offense is a competitive advantage that Kent definitely has. For starters, Kent is the all-time leader among second baseman when it comes to homers (377) and third in RBIs (1,518, behind Hall of Fame legends Rogers Hornsby and Nap Lajoie), while his 2,461 career hits rank above Hall of Fame second basemen such as Ryne Sandberg and Bobby Doerr. Then, there are the seasonal averages: a .290 batting average, with 22 homers and 89 RBIs over 17 years, not to mention his .500 career slugging percentage, which only ranks under Hornsby for the category among non-active second basemen. 

And then there are the intangibles. He won the MVP in 2000 and was a pivotal part of the 2002 pennant-winning Giants and the 2004 almost-pennant-winning Astros. I could mention the four All Star Games and four Silver Sluggers, but I don't need awards to determine how good of a second baseman Jeff Kent really was. If I were to sum up Jeff Kent's Hall of Fame candidacy in one sentence (and you really only need one), he was, by far, one of the most powerful second basemen baseball has ever seen, and, for that reason, deserves to be talked about by future generations of baseball fans who use the Hall as a lesson plan. Thanks for reading this post and I hope you enjoyed it. Check back soon for more of "all the buzz on what wuzz."

Thursday, December 24, 2020

The Negro Leagues and Hall of Fame Standards 12/24/20

 Hey baseball fans!

Big news came out recently about the Negro Leagues being elevated to Major League status. A lot of people had a lot to say about the racial sensitivity that went into this move (which was called "correcting a longtime oversight" by the MLB), but I'm going to tackle the story from a different angle  and discuss the ramifications it has for the Hall of Fame. 

As I've said time and time again, Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby are not Hall of Famers solely because they're black. Sure, they broke the color barriers in the NL and AL, respectively, but because the National Baseball Hall of Fame is the most benchmarked of all the American sports halls of fame, I can't justify their induction by the color of their skins because, indeed, they were both insanely good. You can argue that Doby got propped up by his resilient status a little bit more than Robinson (Jackie is objectively the better player), but it's impossible to ignore Larry Doby's power surge of the 1950s in Cleveland. In other words, the dominant reason that Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby have permanent residencies in Cooperstown is because they could hit a baseball, plain and simple. 

With the Negro Leagues finally getting the major league label after last week's MLB super-announcement, it got me thinking about a couple of things regarding judging players who played either most or all of their wonderful careers in the Negro Leagues. First of all, the move is going to motivate intense fact-checking and stats verification (which, as a future auditor, I am excited about on a reconciliation basis) to ensure that the stats from the time period elevated, 1920-1948, are correct. Statistical historians could uncover and/or verify a whole bunch of stats that were lost to Father Time, excavating the careers of forgotten Negro Leagues stars onto Hall of Fame ballots, which brings me to a second point. We're finally going to hear more about Negro Leagues players that already do have verifiable stats, like Oscar Charleston or "Cool Papa" Bell. In addition, Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson's numbers are going to be beefed up, along with other names of Hall of Famers that I can't even name off the top of my head because the league they played in was considered secondary until this year!

What I'm trying to say is that I'm tired of the talk of putting Negro League players in the Hall because they're black. It's not fair to the hard work that they put in on the field, the same work that's been put in by black players after the breaking of the color barrier. This move is going to motivate voters to put them in because they're good, which they are, and that fact is proven by Robinson and Doby, who made the transition from the Negro Leagues to Major League Baseball without much of a learning curve. There is more to this move than just recognizing the Negro Leagues as being legitimate. It's about acknowledging that the players, too, were the top ballplayers of a generation. Thanks for reading this post and I hope you enjoyed it. Check back soon for more of "all the buzz on what wuzz."

Friday, December 11, 2020

The Case for Todd Helton 12/11/20

 Hey baseball fans!

With 2020 coming to an end, the 2021 Hall of Fame class is the only thing on my mind. So, let's talk about some of the potential members of the class and why they should get in, starting with the guy who I think is the most underrated on the ballot: Todd Helton. I think the lifelong member of the Colorado Rockies from 1997-2013 and friend of Peyton Manning (they both went to Tennessee) deserves a spot in Cooperstown, but his sub-30% performance on last year's ballot doesn't bode well for the first baseman. Still, there's a lot to learn about how I view Hall of Fame candidates when looking at Helton, so if anything, his career will be a nice case study for any Hall of Fame voter hopeful, such as myself. 

He could beat anyone at the plate in a multitude of different ways. Todd Helton's .316 lifetime batting average looks a lot more impressive, now that the stat has been deflated in priority by batters over the past five years. He batted over .330 in four seasons and even batted a league-leading .372 in 2000. He also had a career slugging percentage of .539, which is actually 36th on the all-time list. To top it all off, his career OPS (on-base plus slugging percentages) is an astounding .955, which equates to an OPS+ of 133. Carl Yastrzemski and Dave Winfield both had a 130 career OPS+, just to provide some context for how good Helton was comparatively to plenty of guys who cheated. 

His cumulative stats are on the cusp. Hall of Fame legitimacy relies on consistency and longevity. Helton's excellent lifetime percentages give him an edge in the first category, while in the second, Helton is good, but not great. His 2,519 hits and 369 home runs over 17 years is 148 hits and 22 homers a season. For any hitter to be on pace for 3,000 hits and/or 500 home runs in a career, they would need 150 hits and 25 home runs a season over 20 years. For hitters who play less than 20 years, those expected averages go up. Vlad Guerrero's numbers are a perfect example of this desire by Hall of Fame voters. So, even though Helton's per-season stats are close to being very good, they're not past the mark, which is why I think he hasn't gotten his deserving share of votes on the ballot. Still, the fact that he's almost on pace for both 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, the two biggest and most clear Hall of Fame benchmarks for any eligible player, boosts his legitimacy a lot. 

He's a fan favorite. Yes, I can talk about his Gold Gloves and All Star Games, but Helton doesn't have enough of either to boost his case. And yes, this is a controversial and taboo topic, but a topic that deserves to be taken into consideration. Like I said before, Helton played his entire career a mile above sea level, which might make him a subject of the Coors Effect, but that's a debate for a different day. My point is that the fans loved him. I loved him when I watched him play in his late 30s. And because the Rockies are such a young franchise, he is literally one of the best players in the history of the Colorado Rockies. His #17 is retired by the club, for goodness sake. The Bicentennial State worships him. The Hall of Fame is looked at as this heralded and hallowed sanctuary that honors god-like men, but in reality, the meaning behind the Hall is to teach baseball history to the masses, so shouldn't a player who represents a franchise be included in that lesson plan?

Do I think Helton will get in this year? No. Do I think he will ever get in? Yes. Does he deserve it? Absolutely. Should he have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer? In theory, no, but everyone (or at least 75% of the voters) should realize the greatness that resides in Todd Helton. Thanks for reading this post and I hope you enjoyed it. Check back soon for more of "all the buzz on what wuzz."

Thursday, November 26, 2020

2021 Hall of Fame Ballot: The First-Timers with a Connection to Me 11/26/20

 Hey baseball fans!

We are about two months away from the 2021 Hall of Fame class announcement, but it's never too early to talk about the Hall, especially when the 2021 official ballot was just released! I'll get into my actual predictions as we approach late January, but for this post, I'd like to talk about some of the guys who I grew up watching who are eligible for the Hall of Fame for the first time. 

In more ways than one, the 2021 Hall of Fame ballot first-timers shows how long I've been a baseball fan. The first season I really remember was 2009, when my Yankees won their 27th World Series championship. For the Yankees to make it to the Fall Classic, however, they needed some offseason help. Before the '09 season, they signed AJ Burnett and traded for Nick Swisher, two players who are appearing on their first Hall of Fame ballots this year. I remember AJ Burnett as the runt of the Yankees pitching staff litter because they also had fan favorite Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia. In other words, AJ was good, but nothing compared to the rest of the starters in the Bronx. As for Nick Swisher, the outfielder/first baseman had a wild personality and a switch-hitting bat that could smack lasers out of the ballpark. His crazy antics on and off the field, as well as his All Star power, were big reasons for the Yankees' 103 wins. But I can't skip over Mark Buehrle, who pitched the first perfect game I ever watched, which occurred during the 2009 season. He is also making his debut on the ballot after posting a career ERA+ of 117. Not too shabby for the White Sox legend. 

In the 2009 ALDS, the Yanks faced off against the Twins and another first-timer on the ballot, Michael Cuddyer. Cuddyer was great in seasons that occurred before, during, and after 2009, so I remember him at many different points in his career. And as someone who grew up in New York, not only did I see him a lot because the Yankees and Twins played each other in plenty of playoff series, but Cuddyer also made a lot of noise when he signed with the Mets in 2015. All of my Mets fan friends were so excited for him, but he barely batted over .250 and was no help in the Mets' 2015 World Series run. But going back to 2009, the Yankees faced off against a very formidable Philadelphia Phillies team in the World Series, a team which featured Shane Victorino, yet another player making his debut on the 2021 Hall of Fame ballot. "The Flyin' Hawaiian" was never the best player on the field for any of his championship teams, but was disruptive enough on the base paths to certainly earn a cult status among fans. His most prominent moment in the MLB, in my opinion, came with the Red Sox in 2013, when he hit a clutch Game Six grand slam that helped lift the Sox over the Tigers in the ALCS. 

What's funny about me describing these players is that, although I remember them vividly from my youth, I don't think any of them belong in the Hall of Fame. It's just exciting for me that I've now seen Hall of Fame candidates in action. I guess I'm getting older. Anyway, thanks for reading this post and I hope you enjoyed it. Check back soon for more of "all the buzz on what wuzz." 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

My Thoughts on Kim Ng 11/15/20

 Hey baseball fans!

The Miami Marlins have made history, a sentence that isn't so common, but when it's uttered, is monumental. Two days ago, they hired Kim Ng to be their new general manager, making her the first woman and East Asian to hold that position in Major League Baseball. But what does this hiring mean for all sports, and more importantly, what does it mean for us as fans?

I've been thinking a lot about why I follow baseball, beyond the enjoyment I get out of it, and have come to the conclusion that baseball isn't just a game. If any professional sport was just a game, then how can it be professional when games, by definition, are recreational? I know that not all sports players participate in athletics for monetary gains, but the figureheads of the world of sports certainly do. With this being the case, how come we are so driven to watch these games, to follow these players, and to root incessantly for outcomes that benefit one side over the other? Subconsciously, I think it has to do with the life lessons we garner from sports. I say that these lessons are subconscious because when I argue about Hall of Fame legitimacy, I don't judge players based on the lessons they taught me, but this very judgement teaches me how to argue and how to believe in those arguments. And when I played baseball in high school, learning to take pitches outside the strike zone taught me patience, while crafting pick-off plays and practicing run-down helped me understand how to plan methodically. 

Then, there are the times when lessons are a little more on the surface, like integration and treating everyone equally. Baseball was the first sport to break the color barrier, the biggest sport in the US when the biggest immigration waves came to Ellis Island, and is the sport that is the most shaped by American history, so it's fair to say that baseball is a sport of resiliency. It's not a sport that's defined by the people trying to segregate it. It's a sport that's defined by perseverance and trail-blazing. So, when I see the Marlins hiring Kim Ng, not only do I see the emphasis of baseball's metaphorical mission statement. I also see a woman of East Asian descent, who has been in the game for so long, finally getting the chance to show the world what she's made of.

It's no coincidence that Derek Jeter hired Ng. After all, Ng was an assistant general manager under Brian Cashman during the Yankees dynasty of the late '90s, a period that saw Jeter go from prodigy to superstar in the Yankees organization, not to mention the fact that Jeter was born to biracial parents just seven years after the landmark Supreme Court case, Loving vs. Virginia. But what I love the most about this hiring is that this wasn't the Marlins trying to prove that they're "up with the times" or even that they are "the most woke team ever." Kim Ng is getting her shot because she deserves it, not because the Marlins are trying to meet a quota. After all, the Marlins are a baseball team trying to win ballgames, so they just needed to hire the best general managing candidate on the market. It was as simple as that. 

Thanks for reading this post and I hope you enjoyed it. Check back soon for more of "all the buzz on what wuzz."

Monday, November 2, 2020

Gibby, Orel, and the '88 Dodgers 11/2/20

 Hey baseball fans!

The 2020 season is officially over and the Dodgers are world champions! This is their first championship since 1988, a championship I'd like to discuss this, because of how interesting a team it was. 

The 1988 Dodgers didn't have a star-studded lineup. Only three hitters in their lineup had double-digit home runs that year and only one hitter had more than 20. One might call it a coincidence, however, that the hitter with 20+ homers for the '88 Dodgers was the National League MVP, Kirk Gibson. It was his first of three years in LA after spending the first nine years of his professional baseball career with the Tigers, where he won a ring in 1984. Now on the West Coast, Gibson basically carried the Dodgers to first place in the NL West, at least on the batting side of things. In 1988, Kirk Gibson hit 25 homers, batted .290, stole 31 bases and had an OPS of .860. It wasn't even Gibson's best year, but I can't emphasize enough how depleted this Dodgers lineup was, especially compared to the franchise's great lineups of the late 1970s and early 1980s. 

As for the pitching? Well, it was electric. Orel Hershiser was the ace, at one point going 59 straight innings without allowing a single run. That record-setting stretch helped his seasonal ERA reach a miniscule 2.26 and was probably the main reason for his '88 NL Cy Young Award. Tim Leary and Tim Belcher each posted ERAs below three, while veterans Fernando Valenzuela and Don Sutton (a Hall of Famer) performed excellently, too. The squad also had a great bullpen, which included All Star Jay Howell and the all-time leader in appearances, Jesse Orosco. All in all, the 1988 Dodgers had an ERA of 2.96, a miraculous mark by today's standards, but a mark that was actually higher than the champions of the NL East, the New York Mets. In a hard-fought National League Championship Series, the underdog Dodgers actually outlasted the Mets in seven games, pitting them against the Oakland A's for a chance at their first title in seven years. 

It was no secret that the A's were favored in this World Series, which makes the Dodgers' winning it in five games one of the biggest series upsets in history. But the big play that everyone talks about is in Game One, when MVP Kirk Gibson, who injured himself badly multiple times in the NLCS, got the chance to win the game for LA with the Dodgers down by one in the bottom of the ninth with a runner on first and facing future Hall of Fame closer, Dennis Eckersley. Gibson, barely able to move, was used as a pinch-hitter in this situation. After working the count to 3-2, he waited for Eck's backdoor slider and crushed it over the right field wall in Dodger Stadium for an improbable home run. The dinger is one of the greatest moments in baseball history, and a moment from which the A's never recovered. It was Gibson's only at-bat of the World Series.

Thanks for reading this post and I hope you enjoyed it. Check back soon for more of "all the buzz on what wuzz." 

Friday, October 23, 2020

A Historical Look at the 2020 World Series 10/23/20

 Hey baseball fans!

The 2020 World Series is here, which means that it's time for me to give you a historical look on the matchup, which pits the Rays against the Dodgers!

The Tampa Bay Rays are making their second World Series appearance in franchise history and their first since 2008. This marks the second time that a 1990s expansion team is making its second World Series appearance, joining only the Marlins. Having lost that 2008 World Series to the Phillies, the Rays are one of six teams to never win a World Series title. They will be facing the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are looking to win the franchise's seventh ring in its storied history, having not won a World Series since 1988, but making it in 2017 and 2018. If the Dodgers lose the 2020 World Series, they will join the 1911-1913 Giants and the 1907-1909 Tigers as the only teams to lose the Fall Classic in three out of four years. Also, it should be noted that the Dodgers have one of the worst World Series championship percentages out of the teams that have rings. With only six championships in 20 tries, the Dodgers have the third-worst success rate on baseball's biggest stage, behind the Phillies (an original NL team that didn't win its first World Series until 1980) and the Cubs (who didn't even appear in a World Series from 1946-2015). 

This marks the fourth time in the Wild Card era that the top two teams in each league have made the World Series, joining the 1995, 1999, and 2013 editions of the Fall Classic. What's even more interesting is that the 2020 World Series has the highest combined regular season winning percentage of all time. The Rays and Dodgers had a combined winning percentage of .692 during the shortened 2020 campaign, surpassing the 1906 World Series combined regular season winning percentage of .690 between the Cubs and White Sox. In other words, this World Series is supposed to be one of the most competitive World Series ever and I'm excited to see how it all plays out. If you want to know who I think will win the World Series, click here to listen to the newest episode of my baseball podcast, Baseball for Breakfast, where me and my friends talk all about the 2020 World Series!

Thanks for reading this post and I hope you enjoyed it. Check back soon for more of "all the buzz on what wuzz."