Friday, April 22, 2016

Best players of the last 30 years, #21: Kevin Brown

I don't have nearly a large enough readership for anything I write here to generate controversy, but if I did, and if one thing from this countdown were going to cause a stir, I'm certain it would be this entry. Kevin Brown simply doesn't strike most baseball followers as having been excellent, and every one of the pitchers I've already written about in this countdown would beat Brown in a landslide if they were pitted against him in a head-to-head voting amongst baseball fans. If there was some sort of crowdsourced ranking of players from the last thirty years, I don't believe Brown would finish anywhere in the top 50. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I'm going to say the crowd is wrong on this one. Kevin Brown was outstanding.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Best players of the last 30 years, #22: Roy Halladay

Near the end of this countdown will be four starting pitchers who not only comprise the pitching Mount Rushmore of my life as a baseball fan, they all belong somewhere near the top ten pitchers in baseball history. Probably no era had four pitchers of such excellence at the same time. So much greatness leaves a wake in its path though, and the consequence of that wake is that other starting pitchers from the last three decades have rarely gotten their due. Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez (three of the four pitchers I alluded to) cruised into Cooperstown in their first year of eligibility; Roger Clemens has been waylaid by PED connections. Only two other pitchers whose career came mostly during my thirty years as a fan have been voted into the Hall of Fame though: Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. They both deserve the honor, but as this list will show, I think even better pitchers have landed on the ballot in recent years and been denied. The next pitcher with much of a chance of getting through the doors will be Roy Halladay.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Best players of the last 30 years, #23: Ivan Rodriguez

Some positions in baseball have what feel like a prototype. The prototype first baseman isn't a tremendous defender and may not hit for a great average, but he's got a ton of power at the plate, and posts big home run totals. The prototype shortstop is the opposite, a player without much power, but who can slap some singles, steal a few bases, and make tremendous defensive plays. The prototypical catcher has some pop in his bat (though not enough to lead the league in home runs or anything like that), but doesn't have great speed. He isn't know  for his offense though. He's known for his toughness, his leadership, his ability to call a good game, and for exploding out of his crouch to nail runners at every base with strong, accurate throws to any base. In my lifetime, the best prototypical catcher has been Ivan Rodriguez.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

2016 MLB predictions

I don't remember what happens if you make these sort of predictions and turn out to be right, because it's been a while since I had the correct World Series winner. All the same, each time Opening Day rolls around, I find myself compelled to make them again. In the four years I've been writing about baseball online, I haven't gotten a single World Series participant right. I'm 0 for 8 on those, and only 11 for 24 on division winners. I've been correct on only one of my eight Cy Young guesses, and on none of my eight MVP selections. Despite all that, when Opening Day rolls around, like the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano, I must make predictions.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Best players of the last 30 years, #24: Barry Larkin

Barry Larkin was a better baseball player than Derek Jeter.

Jeter will rank ahead of Larkin on this list, because being able to stay on the field matters, and Jeter was a lot better at that, but in terms of doing things well when on the field, Larkin was superior, and I don't think it's especially close. As hitters they're close, with Jeter batting .310/.377/.440 for his career, and Larkin batting .295/.371/.444. Adjusting for their respective ballparks and slightly different eras, Jeter had an OPS+ of 115 and a wRC+ of 119, while Larkin had an OPS+ of 116 and a wRC+ of 118. Both were good base runners, but Larkin has the edge, stealing more bases and with a higher success rate, plus doing things like taking the extra base a bit better. Once you look at defense, Larkin pulls well ahead. He was a good defender, while Jeter was a poor one. Larkin's sample size is far smaller, but he also has better postseason numbers than Jeter. It seems off to call someone who won an MVP and was voted into the Hall of Fame underrated, but I'm going to. Barry Larkin doesn't get nearly the attention he ought to.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Best players of the last 30 years, #25: Tom Glavine

The crafty lefty is one of many notable archetypes from the world of baseball. Not as famous or well-regarded as the slugger, the speed merchant, or the flamethrower, the crafty lefty is a pitcher (left-handed, of course) who doesn't seem to have the same tremendous physical gifts some possess, who doesn't have a fastball that lights up the radar gun, but who somehow still gets a lot of guys out, presumably with a mixture of wits, wiles, and voodoo magic. According to the popular view, a crafty lefty doesn't have as much talent as most other pitchers, but on the right day, or even for the right season, a crafty lefty can become the most frustrating pitcher in the world to face. If the crafty lefty puts things together like that just not upon occasion, or for a good year or two, but is instead able to do it over and over again for two mostly uninterrupted decades of success, were they really a crafty lefty?

If so, Tom Glavine was arguably the greatest crafty lefty in baseball history.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Best players of the last 30 years, #26: John Smoltz

I can't think of another player who had a career quite like John Smoltz had. He was a 22nd round draft pick, not the sort of player who seems destined to even make the Major Leagues, much less star there. In his first full season he was an All-Star, and he eventually won a Cy Young. A serious injury sidelined him for a full season though, and then not long after his return, he was moved to the bullpen. Almost immediately he became one of the best closers in the game. Then, after a few years in that role, he shifted back to the starting rotation, and was almost every bit as good as he had been a decade earlier. That's not taking the road less traveled, it's using a machete to carve out a new path entirely.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Best players of the last 30 years, #27: Scott Rolen

Every player in this countdown is someone I believe deserves to be a member of the Hall of Fame. Of the 30 players who'll be featured here, 11 of them have already been voted in; others will get in without much trouble once they're eligible. A fair number are having or soon will have a hard time because of connections (sometimes substantive, sometimes not) to performance-enhancing drugs. Absent PED problems though, and especially among the hitters on this list, very few of these players are going to face many obstacles on their path to Cooperstown. An exception to that is Scott Rolen.

Rolen won the National League's Rookie of the Year Award and eight Gold Gloves for his work at third base. He was named to the All-Star team seven times, and was the second-best player on a World Series winner. Despite those accomplishments, he is going to be nowhere near to the 75% of the vote needed for induction when he lands on the ballot at the end of 2017.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Best players of the last 30 years, #28: Miguel Cabrera

Even for baseball fans who don't get too caught up in them, numbers tend to be at least part of what the game means to them. More than any other sport, baseball is connected to its own history. By the time I began following baseball in 1986, it had been 19 years since Carl Yastrzemski won the Triple Crown (which means he led his league in batting average, home runs, and RBI). That was already the longest stretch MLB had ever had without a Triple Crown winner. Two-and-a-half decades later, we were still waiting, and the Triple Crown had long since grown into a mythical accomplishment to me, something I wasn't sure I'd ever see happen. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Best players of the last 30 years, #29: Wade Boggs

Wade Boggs led MLB with a .357 batting average in 1986, the year I fell in love with the game. He won the AL batting crown for each of the first three seasons of my fandom, and because batting average was king back then, I figured Boggs must be the best hitter in the game. If you led the league in something, the number would be italicized on the back of your trading card, and the far right side of Boggs' card, where batting average was found, always seemed to be filled with that wavy print. It wasn't until almost a decade later that I began to consider the value of walks, and to recognize that on-base percentage was a much better statistic than batting average. Did this new knowledge lead me to realize I'd been wrong about Boggs being the best? Nope. It turns out that in addition to lining singles and doubles all over the American League, Boggs walked his ass off too, and nobody was better at the plate in my nascent years as a fan.