Thursday, December 11, 2014

Here's something that doesn't suck

Normally I just link when I do a "something that doesn't suck" post, but this was ESPN Insider, so I'm posting it in full.  What you need to know is this: Buster Olney sometimes has dumb ideas.  This time, he has a really, really smart idea.

Mike Mussina spent each of his 18 seasons in the most treacherous waters pitchers have ever faced, among the whitecaps of what will always be remembered as an era of rampant steroid use -- and in the offense-rich American League East, no less. He was a fly ball pitcher who called two homer-happy ballparks -- Camden Yards and Yankee Stadium -- his home during his career.

It’s as if he navigated his way daily through one of those monstrous marble-hard golf courses in Scotland covered with bunkers that have names (such as St. Andrews' Road Hole Bunker), as compared to the Executive Par-3s of 2014. In 2000, Mussina’s last season with the Orioles, 47 hitters mashed 30 or more homers; in 2014, only 11 batters reached 30 homers.

Mussina finished his career with a 3.68 ERA and is 19th all time in strikeouts. He also is 24th in WAR among pitchers, and most of the guys ahead of him on the list are in the Hall of Fame. 

A park-independent stat would help (ERA+ of 123), but yeah, Mussina is a HOFer for sure.  UNLESS HE HAD BACKNE.

But his chances for induction will improve slightly this year because I’m abstaining from the voting for the first time, and won’t submit a ballot. The same is true for Curt Schilling, and Tim Raines, and at least two others who I think should be inducted into the Hall of Fame. 

Also both HOFers.  And I'm sure you all understand why Olney isn't voting, but I'll let him explain it.

To repeat: I think Mussina, Schilling and Raines and others are Hall of Famers, but it’s better for their candidacy if I don’t cast a ballot.

If that sounds backward, well, that’s how the Hall of Fame voting has evolved, squeezed between rules that badly need to be updated and the progression of the candidates linked to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The process needs to be pruned to allow voters to get back to answering a simple question about each candidate: Was his career worthy of the Hall of Fame?

How novel.  It's almost like, let's just put the best players in the hall (allowing for disagreement re: steroid users; that's not even why I'm posting this, even though Olney agrees with me), instead of making some guys wait because fuck you I'm a self-important sportswriter, or not voting for guys like Rickey Henderson on the first ballot because no one's ever been unanimous, or whatever.  Christ.  Baseball writers are the worst people on earth (besides NFL-only fanboys).

When I started covering Major League Baseball, getting the opportunity to participate in the Hall of Fame voting was something to really look forward to, a nice carrot through the long days of spring training, the travel delays of the summer and extra-inning games. 

Well now you're just mocking those of us with regular shitty jobs.

After being a member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America for 10 years, receiving a blank Hall of Fame ballot for the first time, with voting instructions and pages of notes on each candidate also in the envelope, carried the same excitement as receiving a thick college admission letter.

So it's incredible that declining to cast a ballot is even a consideration. But in light of where we are, it seems like the right thing to do for the candidates involved, until the rules are adjusted.

For years, the rule that each writer can vote for no more than 10 candidates was probably irrelevant; it certainly was for me, given that I usually voted for anywhere from four to seven players. It's not clear why the "Rule of 10" was put in place, but I suspect it was originally designed to prevent writers from flooding their ballots with names of players who had no chance of being elected, just so they could report to their buddy that they had voted for them.

Christ.  Baseball writers are the worst people on earth (besides NFL-only fanboys).

A decade ago, nobody could have anticipated the quandary that has developed because of this rule, and because of the debate surrounding the steroid-era candidates.

Mark McGwire first appeared on the ballot in December 2006, five years after he retired, and he became the first real test case for what the voters would do with players either directly linked with performance-enhancing drugs or suspected of doing them.

As written in this space many times, I think all players should be judged within the context of the era in which they played, 

I'd like to burn that last phrase into Murray Chass's lawn.  Sadly, I won't be able to do that, because it's a crime, and because I don't know where he lives.

and during McGwire's career, the sport was saturated with performance-enhancing drugs, largely because over the period of about 15 years, no one within the institution of baseball -- not the union leaders, not MLB owners, not the commissioner, not the clean players, nor the media that covered the sport -- 


aggressively addressed the growing problem. 

Good thing Tony La Russa was triumphantly inducted into the HOF last summer!  Now there's a guy who is in no way linked to PEDs.

Through that inaction, what evolved was a chemical Frankenstein of a game. Like it or not, that's what the sport was in that time: no drug testing, lots of drug use, lots of drug users, lots of money being made by everybody. (And by the way, no team, baseball executive or player has offered to give back the money made in that time.) 

And this is why park- and era-adjusted stats are so useful--we can tell from McGwire's 163 OPS+ that even in an era when everyone and their brother was hitting 25 HRs per season, he was still way way way above and beyond most other players.  (I think he's a fringe HOFer, though; just 64 WAR, probably not on an HOF track when he started using.)

The idea of retroactive morality is ridiculous, 

I would also like to burn that into Chass's lawn.

especially given that the folks in the sport had a strong idea by the mid-'90s that there was a growing problem and nobody did anything about it. Here's Jose Canseco being asked about his steroid use on national television before the 1988 playoffs, right after Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson was stripped of his gold medal. And here's a Bob Nightengale story from 1995 in which then-interim commissioner Bud Selig was asked about the problem, and made mention of a "private meeting" the year before. Yet serious testing and penalties really weren't in place until 2006.

McGwire was a star during that time, with 583 homers, including his record-setting 70 homers in 1998, so I voted for him. That was a minority opinion, for sure: 23.5 percent of the 545 voters cast ballots for him, far short of the 75 percent needed for induction, but more than the 5 percent required to remain on the ballot. The McGwire test case continued, however, because his candidacy carried over to the next ballot, and so did that of Rafael Palmeiro and others, until they became stacked up like planes on a runway, their Hall of Fame situation stuck in a weird sort of purgatory.

This is how the rule that limits writers to 10 players became a serious problem. Roger Clemens became eligible, and Barry Bonds. Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza also hit the ballot, and while there is no indisputable evidence of steroid use by those two as there is for Palmeiro, who was suspended in 2005 after a positive test, a high number of voters apparently withheld votes for them because of suspicion of PED use. The career numbers for Bagwell and Piazza are overwhelmingly worthy for Hall of Fame election, but Bagwell has never finished higher than 59.6 percent in his four years on the ballot; Piazza, the all-time leader in homers for catchers, got only 57.8 percent of the vote in his first year.

If McGwire, Palmeiro and Sosa never make it, that's fine with me.  Bonds I will be more upset about, although it'll be annoying.  But fucking fuck, if Bagwell and Piazza never make it, I'm going to go to Cooperstown just to take a piss on that building.  Christ.  Baseball writers are the worst people on earth (besides NFL-only fanboys).

So the list of serious candidates grew well beyond 10 spots. Last year I counted 17 players I thought were Hall of Fame-worthy, from Greg Maddux to Tom Glavine to Craig Biggio. But because of the Rule of 10, I had to leave off seven players who I believe are of Hall of Fame caliber. That included Mussina, Schilling and Raines. For the first time since McGwire became eligible, I didn't cast a vote for him.

The way I picked among the 17 was to rank them in order among the first nine, from the best player on down, regardless of the PED question. I also included Jack Morris, who was in his last year of eligibility; I wanted to give Morris a fair last shot with my ballot, knowing that Mussina, Raines, Schilling and Jeff Kent probably would get enough votes to stay on the ballot for this winter.

Morris got his fair shot during his mediocre career, and during the previous 14 years.  But whatever.  This is all mostly reasonable.

But really, that didn't seem right, because there's nothing in the voting rules that suggest I should weigh the candidates against each other, or must consider the landscape of the ballot. There is no guidance for picking 10 players from a 17-man field of worthy candidates. There is only this:

"Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."

That's actually more complex than I thought it was.  That's a lot of criteria.  You could elect Jeter based on any one of them!  Especially integrity, or something!

The practical reality was that I wasn't deciding on whether to vote for Mussina based on career performance. My vote was predicated entirely on his standing among an extraordinary volume of candidates, from Maddux to Glavine to Bonds to Piazza to Frank Thomas. (Let's again dismiss the notion that the "character" was ever used by writers as a serious criterion for election before McGwire's name appeared on the 2007 ballot. We all know the stories about some of the racists, alleged cheats, drunkards and PED users who already are in the Hall of Fame.)

If that commenter from last week who made the slavery argument wants to come back and discuss that analogy further, I encourage him/her to do so.

And while I think Schilling and Mussina are Hall of Fame-worthy, my ballot hurt them. My ballot counted against their percentage. Five hundred seventy-one voters cast ballots last year, and my ballot was among the 450 that didn't have Mussina included, which lowered his percentage.

That makes no sense. 


Christ.  Baseball writers are the worst people on earth (besides NFL-only fanboys).

The Rule of 10 seemed to factor heavily in the voting last year, dragging down the vote percentages for everyone from Morris to Clemens to Alan Trammell, whose numbers plummeted from 33.6 percent of the vote to just 20.6 percent. Clearly Trammell wasn't being judged based on his career; he lost votes last winter because of the choices made under the Rule of 10. 

Poor Trammell.  I'm sure White Sox fan Chris W feels the same way.

Maddux was a slam-dunk candidate after posting 355 career wins and four Cy Young Awards, 

BUT DID YOU BUY A TICKET TO WATCH HIM PLAY???????????  -stupid baseball writers

Christ.  Baseball writers are the worst people on earth (besides NFL-only fanboys).

but he was left off 16 ballots entirely. I don't know who all of those 16 were, but a couple of writers mentioned to me privately that in dealing with the confines of the ballot limit, they thought about not voting for Maddux and Glavine, knowing that they'd probably get in anyway. It would be a shame to think that Maddux lost any votes because of the Rule of 10 problem.

I'm sure he did, as well as the "we can't vote anyone in unanimously because DURRRR" problem.

Christ.  Baseball writers are the worst people on earth (besides NFL-only fanboys).

During the summer, the Hall of Fame adjusted some of its rules. Voters are now required to register to receive a ballot, writers can lose the right to vote, 


and players could remain on the ballot for a shorter period of time.

Surprisingly, however, the Rule of 10 was not altered. The same impossible math remains: I'm counting 15 worthy candidates right now for those 10 spots. Other writers are telling me they see anywhere from 12 to 20 worthy candidates, which means that in their eyes, they'll be leaving players they feel are Hall of Fame-worthy off their ballots. It means that as great as Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez were -- both should be unanimous, in light of their accomplishments -- they might lose votes as writers struggle with the question of how to deal with the ballot guideline that seems completely arbitrary. (Why not a ballot limit of 11? Why not 12? Why not eight? Why not six? Is it 10 only because it's a round number?) 

Since this was written a week ago, they have bumped it to 12.  Obviously the problem is now fixed, just like how the NFL fixed the totally idiotic fact that there are still ties by really really really mildly tweaking the regular season OT rules a couple years ago.  WE'VE GOT A GOLDEN GOOSE HERE, BOYS.  LET'S NOT MAKE A SENSIBLE RULE CHANGE AND RISK KILLING IT WHILE IT'S LAYING THESE GOLDEN EGGS.

Christ.  NFL owners are the worst people on earth (besides baseball writers and NFL-only fanboys).

Maybe I should've figured it out last year, but this puzzle cannot be solved. There's no way to judge each candidate strictly on his merits given the current ballot limitations, no fair way to vote.

I can't stand the protest ballots we've seen in the past, when someone signs a blank ballot that counts as a vote against all candidates. That's unfair. 

Someone, please fire this asshole and take away his ballot (and possibly his children, if he has any).

I've hated to hear the stories of voters who haven't voted for a player because they didn't like them personally. 

Baseball writers would never be so petty!  Don't be ridiculous!

The voting shouldn't be about the writer; it should be only about the players and whether they're worthy of induction.

You lost me there.  Please revisit that sentence, and figure out where backne fits in.

And I can't stand the idea of casting a ballot that works against players that I think should be inducted, such as Mussina, Schilling or others. So as much as it has been an honor in the past to participate in the voting, I'll abstain, and hope that in the future the rules change.

Christ.  You know the rest.




But doesn't it warm your cold, black heart just a little bit that Captain Most Wins During the 80's missed the HoF on his 15th and final try? It sure does mine.

Larry B said...

Yes. Absolutely.