Showing posts with label Greg Maddux. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Greg Maddux. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Craig Biggio elected to baseball Hall of Fame

Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio were elected to baseball's Hall of Fame on Tuesday. The Hall will welcome four new players in the same year for the first time since 1955.

Johnson, Martinez and Smoltz were voted in on their first try, while Biggio was elected on his third attempt after falling just two votes shy last year.

Let's take a look at each of the four 2015 inductees:

Randy Johnson

I wasn't alive when Sandy Koufax was pitching, so Johnson is the best left-handed pitcher I've seen in my lifetime. He won 5 Cy Young Awards and finished second on three other occasions. He totaled 303 wins, 4,875 strikeouts and led his league in strikeouts on nine occasions. Johnson had six seasons of at least 300 strikeouts, and averaged 10.61 strikeouts per nine innings over the course of his career. His .646 career winning percentage is pretty darn good, too. Not too many pitchers have been more dominant.

Pedro Martinez

Here's the most remarkable thing about Martinez: He played from 1992 to 2009, an 18-year period that featured some of the most prolific offensive seasons in the history of the sport. Yet, his career ERA was a sparkling 2.93. The league average ERA during that period was 4.49. That goes to show how great Martinez was. He finished with a 219-100 career record, and he had a dominant six years in the middle of his career that saw him win three Cy Youngs and finish second on two other occasions. He went 23-4 in 1999, but I think his best year was actually 2000. He went 18-6 with a 1.74 ERA for the Boston Red Sox. A 1.74 ERA in the American League? During that steroid era? That's one of the better individual seasons I've seen from any player in my lifetime.

John Smoltz

Smoltz had an unparalleled career in my book. He won a Cy Young as a starter, went to the bullpen and led his league in saves, then returned to the starting rotation because that's what his team needed at that time. There aren't a lot of guys who have been great both as a starter and as a closer. Dennis Eckersley comes to mind, but even that isn't a parallel because once Eckersley went to the bullpen he stayed there for the rest of his career. Smoltz eventually returned to starting and continued to pitch effectively. But here's what makes Smoltz a first-ballot Hall of Famer: He went 15-4 with a 2.67 ERA in postseason play. I know the stat people don't like to talk about clutch, but you can't ignore that kind of performance on the game's biggest stages. You're not getting fat on 95-loss teams pitching in October. You're going against the best teams with the best lineups. Smoltz was a guy who was at his best when he went against the best.

Craig Biggio

Isn't it interesting that it took three years for Biggio and his 3,060 career hits to get elected to the Hall? It used to be that 3,000 hits was one of those magic numbers that made you a first-ballot lock. Not anymore. A couple other notable numbers about Biggio: He had 668 doubles, more than any other right-handed hitter in the history of the game. He also had 51 doubles and 50 stolen bases during the 1998 season, becoming the only player to have 50 doubles or more and 50 steals or more in the same year. Why did it take so long for him to get in? Well, I don't know. Some people think Jeff Bagwell, Biggio's longtime teammate in Houston, is a steroids guy, so perhaps Biggio is guilty by association in the minds of some.

This four-man class comes on the heels of last year's three-man class that included Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas.

All seven men who have been elected the last two years are worthy choices, but here's my takeaway: I find it interesting that five of the seven most recent inductees are pitchers. There are several notable hitters on the ballot, including Bagwell, Mike Piazza and Edgar Martinez, who have strong cases and are still on the outside looking in.

The steroids era didn't seem to change voter behavior in terms of pitchers. The great ones, for the most part, are still promptly getting elected to the Hall. Hitters? Not so much. Guys who would have been slam dunks in the past are having to wait now. Biggio is a prime example of that. He's not thought of as a steroids guy, but he still had to wait a couple years because the magical offensive numbers -- 3,000 hits, 500 home runs -- aren't as meaningful as they used to be.

Part of this preference for pitchers, of course, can be explained by the quality of pitchers that have come onto the ballot the past couple years. Maddux, Johnson and Martinez are the short list of the game's all-time greats. Glavine and Smoltz also are easy picks. There won't be an elite starting pitcher coming on the ballot as a first-timer next year.

We'll see if that allows for some of these hitters who are waiting their turn to finally have their day, or if the cloud of the steroid era still looms large.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Game 4 of the NLDS shapes up as a defining moment for Clayton Kershaw

Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw is widely considered the best pitcher in baseball. We'll make no argument to the contrary.

Kershaw's performance over the past four seasons has been without peer. This year, he finished 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA. He claimed his fourth consecutive National League ERA title, and that 1.77 mark was nearly half a run better than his closest competitor. He is a lock to win his third NL Cy Young award in the last four years.

Kershaw had a 1.83 ERA during the 2013 campaign, so that means he is just the second pitcher in the live-ball era to post an ERA of 1.85 or less in consecutive seasons. Hall of Famer Greg Maddux is the other.

Yes, Kershaw is the best in the game right now.

But you know what has eluded him to this point in his career? Postseason success. I've heard some people compare Kershaw to another former Dodgers' lefty, Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax. Some say Kershaw may go down as the best pitcher to play in the live-ball era once he's all done. Who am I to say he can't do that? But if he is going to be considered better than Koufax, he better figure out a way to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs.

The Cardinals will take a 2-1 series lead over the Dodgers into Tuesday's Game 4 of the National League Division Series. Kershaw is taking the ball on three days' rest. The season is on the line for the favored Dodgers.

Normally, a team feels pretty good about sending its ace out there in a must-win game, but Kershaw's postseason numbers are inexplicably terrible.

In 10 postseason games (7 starts), he's 1-4 with a 5.20 ERA. He has lost each of his last three playoff starts, all against the Cardinals. In two of those outings, he got bombed.

Kershaw went to the mound in a similar situation in Game 6 of last year's NLCS. The Cardinals were up 3-2 in the series, at home and looking to clinch. St. Louis roughed up Kershaw to the tune of seven earned runs on 10 hits over four innings. The Cardinals won, 9-0, and advanced to the World Series.

In Game 1 of this NLDS, Kershaw was staked to a 6-1 lead. He coughed up the whole thing, allowing eight earned runs on eight hits over 6.2 innings pitched. The Cardinals rallied to win, 10-9.

In Kershaw's last two playoff starts, he's allowed 15 earned runs on 18 hits over 10.2 innings pitched. Those aren't numbers you would associate with someone whose name is being mentioned alongside some of the all-time greats.

Most experts picked the Dodgers to win this series, because they figured the combination of Kershaw and teammate Zack Greinke would be too much for the Cardinals to handle. Greinke did his part in Game 2, a 3-2 Dodgers victory, and he's poised to pitch Game 5 back in Los Angeles if Kershaw can lead the Dodgers to a win in Game 4.

This game is a defining moment for Kershaw. His postseason failures are a black mark on an otherwise brilliant resume. As of this writing, we're just three hours from the first pitch of Game 4. I'll be interested to see how Kershaw responds in this pressure-packed start.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Frank Thomas, a true White Sox, goes into the Hall of Fame

If you're a White Sox fan like me, Sunday's baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony was unlike any other.

Sure, we've seen our fair share of former Sox players go into the Hall during our lifetimes. If you watched Sunday's ceremony, you saw a few of them in attendance -- Carlton Fisk, Roberto Alomar and Tom Seaver. Heck, Tony La Russa, who was inducted into the Hall on Sunday as a manager, also made significant contributions to White Sox history.

But it's different with Frank Thomas. Unlike Fisk, Alomar and Seaver, all of whom have significant ties to other teams, Thomas is one of our own. He's the pride of the South Side. The first White Sox player to be elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. The best player in team history. Even though he had brief stints with Oakland and Toronto late in his career, Thomas is a White Sox -- the most well-known player associated with the organization over the last quarter century. Watching him go into the Hall on Sunday was a moment of great joy for me, as it should have been for all Sox fans.

His numbers speak for themselves, but we'll repeat them again. A lifetime career batting average of .301, to go along with a .419 on-base percentage, .555 slugging percentage and a .974 OPS. 521 career home runs. 1,704 career RBIs. Four Silver Sluggers, two MVP awards, the 1997 batting title and a 2005 World Series ring.

How's that for a career?

If there is one thing that separated Thomas for every other hitter I've seen, it would be his legendary plate discipline. He simply didn't swing at bad pitches, and that was the case from the first day he entered the big leagues. I've seen other hitters through the years develop that patience and discipline (think Barry Bonds) at the plate as their careers move along, but you just don't see that often from guys at age 22 -- which was how old Thomas was when he joined the Sox in 1990. It usually takes time for a young hitter to develop that knowledge of the strike zone. Thomas had that the day he walked in the door. That was his edge, his gift.

Thomas led the league in walks (138) and on-base percentage (.453) in 1991, his first full season in the majors. Who does that? Not too many. Later in his career, Thomas was more of a pure power hitter, but in his White Sox heyday, he was a great hitter who just happened to hit his fair share of home runs. He hit 41 home runs while striking out just 54 times during his MVP season of 1993. Again, who does that? You don't see too many guys hit that many home runs without giving up some of their ability to make contact.

Thomas was a great contact hitter, a great power hitter and a guy who would take his walks. That combination is so very rare, and I don't know if all of us realized it at the time just how good he was.

Here's the number that, for me, sums up Thomas' greatness. His on-base percentage the first eight years of his career was .452. Only two players in the history of the game can claim to have been better -- Ted Williams (.488) and Babe Ruth (.467). That's elite company.

On Sunday, Thomas also was in elite company, joining Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, LaRussa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre in one of the greatest Hall of Fame classes of all time.

Thomas' acceptance speech was the most emotional of the six. Plenty of tears were shed as he spoke about his parents, his brother and countless others who helped him during his early years and baseball career. Perhaps the most heartfelt moment of the day came when Thomas spoke of his late father, Frank Thomas Sr.

"Thanks for pushing me and always preaching to me, 'You could be someone special, if you really work at it.' I took that heart, pops, and look at us today," Thomas said.

The speech also featured a "verbal montage" to former teammates, during which Thomas mentioned 138 names of guys he played with during his 19-year career. During his playing days, Thomas was often portrayed as selfish and sometimes aloof. On this induction day, he proved otherwise with a speech full of humility and gratitude. White Sox fans should be proud to claim him as one of their own.

I don't agree with Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on much, but I applaud him for proclaiming Sunday as Frank Thomas Day in Illinois. This is a day for celebration.

Bravo, Frank Thomas. Congratulations on your induction into baseball's Hall of Fame. Chicago is proud of you.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine elected to Hall of Fame

I'll admit it: I was nervous. I wasn't sure former White Sox slugger Frank Thomas would be elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

I was worried the Baseball Writers Association of America would hold a grudge against Thomas because he played a majority of his career games as a designated hitter.

Fortunately, common sense prevailed. Thomas was elected to the Hall of Fame on Wednesday; his name appeared on 83.7 percent of the 571 ballots cast. He was comfortably about the 75 percent threshold needed for election.

Thomas finished his career with a .301 lifetime batting average, 521 home runs, 1,704 RBIs, a .419 career on-base percentage and a .974 career OPS. He also won two MVP awards and finished in the top four of MVP voting on three other occasions. Nine times, he placed in the top 10 of the MVP balloting.

There's no question that is a Hall of Fame resume, and kudos to the voters for putting aside the silly anti-DH argument and giving Thomas his proper place in Cooperstown.

Thomas will be joined in the 2014 class by two other deserving honorees, pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.

Maddux, the former Atlanta Braves and Cubs ace, earned the most votes from the electorate, appearing on over 97 percent of the ballots. He is eighth all-time on the wins list with 355. He won four consecutive Cy Young awards -- one with the Cubs and three with the Braves -- from 1992 to 1995. He also was the best fielding pitcher of his era, earning a record 18 Gold Glove awards.

Glavine, Maddux's former teammate with the Braves, totaled 305 career wins and won two Cy Young awards. The left-hander was also comfortably above the 75 percent threshold; his name appeared on just under 92 percent of the ballots.

The two former Atlanta pitchers will be joined by their former manager, Bobby Cox, at July's induction ceremony. Cox, Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa were elected to the Hall in December for their managerial successes. 

A couple of other interesting things about this vote: Craig Biggio just missed. His name was on 74.8 percent of the ballots. That means he was exactly two votes short of induction. More than likely, he'll get into the Hall in 2015, which will be his third year on the ballot. It's a little unusual for a player with 3,060 career hits to have to wait three years. I'm not sure what the reasoning was by those who did not vote for Biggio. He seems like a no-brainer to me.

It also was notable that both Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens actually lost support. Bonds went from 36.2 percent to 34.7 percent, while Clemens dropped from 37.6 to 35.4.

What's interesting is the voters seem to draw a distinction between Bonds and Clemens and some of the other steroids guys like Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. The latter three aren't getting near as many votes. Palmeiro, in fact, will fall off the ballot after only getting 4.4 percent of the vote this year. Sosa was at 7.2 percent, while McGwire got 11 percent.

Why are Bonds and Clemens different? Well, I think those two guys could have been Hall of Famers without using steroids. You look at their performances going back into the 1980s before all the steroid scandals started, and they seemed to be on the path to the Hall. In the case of these two men, the PEDs seemed to lengthen their careers and allowed them to put up unbelievable numbers into their late 30s and early 40s.

They aren't going to get into the Hall because that drug use taints their legacies, but there are some voters who are supporting them because their greatness is only partially attributed to steroids. Both Bonds and Clemens were elite players pre-steroids. They didn't really need to take that stuff, but for whatever reason, they chose to do so.

In the cases of Sosa, McGwire and Palmeiro, more than likely they would have just been ordinary players without the juice. At minimum, there's a perception their greatness was completely the result of steroids, and that's why they are getting little support from the electorate.

Lastly, I think it's time for the BBWAA to take a look at its own membership and review whether the guys who are voting on the Hall are qualified to do so. Right now, the standard is you have to have been a BBWAA member in good standing for 10 years in order to get a vote. Personally, I think the voters have made several errors in recent years. They've inducted some guys with marginal resumes, while making some guys who should be slam-dunk choices (like Biggio) wait.

You wonder how much baseball some of these voters actually watch. Are they really "baseball writers" anymore? Or are some of them former sports editors and former columnists who are no longer really in the industry? I wish I had a little more trust that these guys are all actually qualified to vote.

At least they got Maddux, Glavine and Thomas right. But you're allowed to vote for 10 guys each year, and it's not real hard to find other deserving players on that ballot who were left out again.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Frank Thomas should be elected to the Hall of Fame ... this year

As we noted on Tuesday, the Baseball Writers Association of America has announced its 2014 Hall of Fame ballot.

There are three slam-dunk, no-brainer choices who were added to the ballot this year: pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and former White Sox 1B/DH Frank Thomas.

Well, at least I think those guys are locks for enshrinement this year. They should be, but I awoke this morning to a front page story in the Chicago Tribune sports section that questioned whether voters will allow Thomas in on the first ballot. Frankly, I can't believe this is even up for debate. But since it is, let me make the case for Thomas:

1. He is 18th on the all-time list with 521 home runs. He hit over 30 home runs in a season nine times and topped the 40 mark on five occasions.

2. He finished with lifetime career batting average of .301. Only five players in the history of the game have hit more home runs and had a higher batting average. Those players are Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Manny Ramirez and Jimmie Foxx

3. He hit .300 or better in nine seasons, including seven consecutive years from 1991 through 1997.

4. His career on-base percentage is .419. He had 10 seasons where his on-base percentage was over .400, and his on-base was never lower than .426 during his seven years of dominance from '91 to '97. He led the league in walks three times.

5. He finished with 1,667 RBIs, including 11 seasons of 100 RBIs or more. He had 100 RBIs or more in eight consecutive seasons from 1991 to 1998. After a rare down season in 1999, he posted a career-high 143 RBIs in 2000.

6. He is a two-time MVP (1993, 1994) and finished in the top four of MVP voting on three other occasions. Nine times, he placed in the top 10 in the MVP balloting. 

7. His .974 career OPS ranks 14th all-time. He had seven seasons where his OPS was over 1.000, including a sick 1.217 mark in his MVP season of 1994.

8. If you're into the new-age statistical analysis, Thomas' lifetime war is 73.6. By way of comparison, the average WAR of first baseman already in the Hall of Fame is 65.7.

The evidence is overwhelming. How can anyone not vote for Frank Thomas for the Hall of Fame? If voters are willing to enshrine Tony Perez with his .279/.341/.463 career slash line, then they cannot ignore Thomas and his .301/.419/.555 career slash line.

I've heard arguments about Thomas being "one-dimensional." I've heard people pooh-pooh his candidacy because he had over 5,000 plate appearances as a DH. Well, I think the "purists" can take a leap. Designated hitter is a position in baseball now. It's been around for 40 years. It's not going anywhere. I see no reason why players like Thomas and Edgar Martinez, who defined greatness at that position, shouldn't be enshrined in the Hall.

One-dimensional? Pffftttt. The Hall is already full of one-dimensional players. They are called pitchers. Nolan Ryan couldn't hit his way out of a brown paper bag. Neither could Tom Seaver. And neither of those two men were winning a bunch of Gold Gloves for their fielding prowess either. But who cares? They were quite rightfully elected into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot because they rank among the greatest pitchers the game has ever seen.

Likewise, Thomas should be elected into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot because he ranks among the greatest hitters the game has ever seen. The numbers don't lie.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Hall of Fame voting is broken

The Baseball Writers Association of America announced it's 2014 ballot on Tuesday, so this is as good a time as any to point how derelict in its duty to elect worthy players the BWAA has been in recent years.

Among the first-time candidates are former Cubs and Braves ace, Greg Maddux, a four-time Cy Young Award winner with 355 wins to his name, and all-time White Sox great Frank Thomas, who collected two AL MVP awards and belted 521 home runs to go along with his .301 batting average and .419 on-base percentage.

With fellow first-timer, 300-game-winner Tom Glavine, it looks like there are three no-doubt Hall-of-Famers added to this year's ballot.

But what about the rest of the ballot?

Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina are two more additions who I think have pretty strong Hall cases. Kent ranks among the best-hitting second basemen of all time. Mussina didn't collect as many wins or pitch as many innings as Glavine, but you could argue they were better innings.

How much traction Kent and Mussina -- or even Maddux, Thomas and Glavine -- receive really depends on how the BWAA approaches the backlog of candidates on the ballot.

Among the holdovers are Craig Biggio, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Edgar Martinez, Curt Schilling, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. I mention those players by name because they are the players I would vote for if I were a BWAA member. And if you could include more than 10 players on your ballot.

That's ignoring Rafael Palmeiro, Jack Morris, Lee Smith, Larry Walker, Fred McGriff and Don Mattingly. None of whom I'd vote for, even as a Big Hall supporter, but are other guys who have a strong statistical case (Palmeiro, Walker) or support from other corners (Smith, Morris).

How is it so many obviously qualified guys are getting left out?

If it were just a matter of the BWAA voters being stingy with who gains entry, that would be a good explanation. Except the voters have enshrined guys like Jim Rice (not that good), Tony Perez (also not that good) and Kirby Puckett (not good for long enough).

Part of it might also be a reluctance to render any verdict on baseball's Steroid Era, particularly with regard to Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro and others.

This is another area where the logic gets fuzzy. Some of those players are suffering the steroid stigma when the evidence of PED use is flimsy and anecdotal at best (Bagwell, Piazza). Sometimes it's downright convoluted ("I think Bagwell was a 'roider, and that Biggio guy must have been, too!").

Other writers feel like it's just a great opportunity to grandstand, so submit ballots with no selections, thus demonstrating they don't really take the vote all that seriously. At least not seriously enough that we should pay attention to their nonsense. Just abdicate the duty if you don't want it.

Perhaps it will take a Veterans Committee to sift through some of these candidacies once more time has passed, though for my part, I don't think you can whitewash any steroid era, or pretend like it never happened.

The games were played, and for the most part they were with none of those players violating any MLB rules. They can't be replayed with any retroactive standard in place.

Though baseball, by and large, hasn't tried to follow professional cycling down that rabbit hole to nowhere, stripping its former champions of hardware with the largest effect being to taint the entire sport, the Hall of Fame seems willing to let column-writing voters test the institution's relevancy.

So it goes, I guess.