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."