Around the Web: Research, the Hall, and the PanTanakapticon

marc w · December 31, 2013 at 12:30 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

It’s been a while since we’ve discussed research and musings from the baseballing web, so let’s discuss and muse.

1: Andrew Koo of Baseball Prospectus wrote a very interesting post on the success the A’s have had by apparently targeting fly-ball hitters (the post was republished by Deadspin here, so you don’t need a BP account to read it). This is counterintuitive given Oakland’s homer-suppressing park – why would they target pitchers who benefit from the pitcher-friendly Coliseum and then pick up just the hitters you’d expect to be destroyed by the same home park? Well, flyball hitters – as a group – are slightly better than neutral batters. But that advantage is magnified when they face ground-ballers, whose sinkers drop invitingly onto the barrels of uppercutting fly-ball hitters. It’s probably not a fluke that the A’s hit .272/.338/.439 off GB-pitchers, for a sOPS+ of 113 (where 100 is league average), and they hit into the 2nd fewest double plays in the league from 2012-13.

It’s kind of funny looking at the FB% leaderboards and seeing the M’s so high. Reminds me of reviewing Bojan Koprivica’s work on platoons at THT and seeing the M’s rank so high in percentage of ABs with the platoon advantage. The problem isn’t the theory, it’s the execution. The M’s had de jure platoon advantages when they needed de facto ones – Justin Smoak and Nick Franklin “had the advantage” standing at the plate right-handed, but their own horrific platoon splits made the assumed advantage moot. Similarly, the M’s had the second lowest GB/FB ratio in baseball last year, but it didn’t help them hit groundball pitchers, flyball pitchers, or much of anyone. Their big fly-ball hitters include Kyle Seager (not bad), Justin Smoak (eh), Nick Franklin, Mikes Zunino and Morse, and, comically, Brendan Ryan. Add it up, and the M’s posted an sOPS+ against groundballers of just 91 (and an sOPS+ against flyballers of 90).

2: Ballots for the Hall of Fame’s class of 2014 are due today. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but Edgar Martinez is not going to be elected. Jack Morris – the guy who was maybe the 4th-5th best player on some good Tigers teams – might get in, and none of it makes any sense.* No-doubt cases won’t be admitted due to whispers about steroids, great players will be looked over for reasons that simply don’t make any sense (Jack Morris had more opening day starts than Mike Mussina, so….), and we’ll all question why people who haven’t been beat-writers in years get to vote while [fill in your favorite baseball writer here] can’t. I don’t understand what this system is for, and what it’s doing, other than generating a lot of vituperative “dialog” and “buzz” or some other marketing cliche. At this point, I basically dread the whole thing – the sub-talk radio level of discourse, the aggravation, the sanctimony, all of it.

I wouldn’t mind caring about the Hall a little more, and I think I might once I go and visit the museum. But I just don’t have it in me to get worked up over it, and I say this as someone who’s devoted thousands of words to Garrett Richards, Carlos Peguero, Jordan Lyles and various AAAA guys who’ve played for or against the Rainiers. The system appears broken, and the weighting of various qualities seems arbitrary. But the Hall seems to have anticipated this and created the Veterans’ Committee as a side door to the Monument room. It’s funny that the VC, long the target of sabermetric jokes and scorn, is now something of the last best hope of people like me, who think Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Mike Mussina and, yes, Edgar Martinez should be in a place where the best ballplayers are remembered. The Hall seems to judge more recent players much more harshly, and while I understand why, I’m fairly certain that a future VC will rectify at least part of the damage.

3: Masahiro Tanaka, wooooo! There’ve been several great articles on Tanaka just within the past 24 hours. Our fearless leader posted a poll on what Tanaka’s contract might be, and the results were about what I’d expect – 6 years at $20m or so per annum. Ex-M’s analyst Tony Blengino weighed in on Tanaka’s stuff, how his stats may translate, and what some of the red flags for teams may be as the 25-year old heads to MLB. Doug Thorburn took a look at Tanaka’s mechanics in a gif-heavy post at BP. On the face of it, it looks odd – a guy with great numbers but without true ace stuff, a guy who’ll be adjusting to starting every 5th day instead of every 7th, and a guy who never showed an ability to avoid good contact in Japan, is going to get paid like an upper-tier free agent. There are a number of things that follow from this collection of facts/assumptions.

First, this (presumed) contract looks bizarre because we’ve essentially never seen a fully-fledged, MLB-ready player drop into the league *as a free agent*. Blengino mentions it in his post, and Dave discusses the implications here, but think about it: Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka came over under the old posting process, so while the posting fee was something like a free market, the ultimate contract offered to the player certainly wasn’t. The player could negotiate with only one team, and if they didn’t like the deal, their option was simply to go back to Japan. So yes, it helps that Tanaka’s a bit younger than Darvish and Dice-K were, but that’s marginal stuff, really. Tanaka’s the first *actual* free agent from Japan, and he’s been deemed much more MLB-ready than the big Cuban emigres who’ve come over recently, Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes (both of whom exceeded expectations).

Second, Blengino’s post reiterates for me just how varied the perceptions of Tanaka’s value must be around baseball. With the posting fee of just $20m, every team should at least kick the tires a bit, but I’d anticipate huge gaps between what teams would offer him. Blengino points to certain skills that would be harbingers of success – most importantly, his ability to get whiffs or outs on pitches up in the zone. This is essentially a scouting exercise, and I’m not qualified to opine there – but think of everything a team might evaluate when considering Tanaka’s ability to pitch up without getting hammered. Should we limit the number of pitches he throws to really hone great arm action on the fastball and splitter? Can we sequence pitches to maximize deception? Do we have coaches who will notice the instant Tanaka starts to drop his arm angle or tilt his head at delivery? Should a team like the Dodgers bid more than the Yankees because of their home park, or would the Yankees just utilize him differently (fewer elevated FBs, more splitters at the knees)? Are we sure he can sustain his velocity on high fastballs pitching every 5th day instead of every 7th?

The fact that Hisashi Iwakuma and Hiroki Kuroda have been so successful as GB%, sinker-splitter guys is telling. If Tanaka ultimately can’t pitch up without yielding a number of home runs, Iwakuma shows how to be extremely successful despite that flaw. Other teams may want to look at possible platoon splits and how to tweak his pitch mix to minimize them.** Some teams may view his BABIP success in 2013 as evidence that his command had taken a big step forward (and they could point to his miniscule walk rate as well), but it would certainly be helpful to know exactly what he did and why it resulted in poorer contact allowed if you wanted to pay him $140 million. Tanaka’s young enough, and baseball’s rich enough, that a team’s place on the win curve isn’t as important as it would usually be. How a team sees his arsenal and their own ability to deploy it effectively is perhaps *more* important than it is with a known entity like Garza or Jimenez.

* That sounds harsher than I mean it to. Morris was a pretty good pitcher who was extremely durable and fought off aging exceedingly well; he’s the type of player that voters often overlook and saber-folk rally around. The fact that this whole saga is the bizarre inversion of the Burt Blyleven thing is just another facet of this I don’t quite understand. I hate saying it, but so much of the HOF debate resembles trolling, and while I’m sure it was like this back in the pre-internet days, it sure doesn’t make me want to dive in to these “debates” more fully. Does Murray Chass deserve some of the vitriol aimed at him? Probably, but what could I possibly say that Joe Posnanski hasn’t said earlier and better?

** The M’s appear to have done this with Iwakuma, incidentally. Because he relies so much on his split, Iwakuma’s posted reverse splits in his career, and he changed his approach to righties from 2012-2013. Against lefties, Iwakuma’s a strong GB pitcher, who succeeds by allowing poor contact. Against righties, his GB% was 10 percentage points lower, and while he gives up plenty of homers to them, he also gets a lot of pop-ups. Iwakuma hasn’t been credited enough for his ability to adapt, and the M’s probably deserve some credit for this too.


13 Responses to “Around the Web: Research, the Hall, and the PanTanakapticon”

  1. Westside guy on December 31st, 2013 12:51 pm

    1. I got nothin’.

    2. I’m at the point where I just don’t care about the Hall of Fame. I used to care… but I’m just too jaded anymore. It’s not even about Edgar – it’s more about guys like Jim Rice who really had no valid legitimate credentials for entry, but did have an excellent PR campaign. I have no confidence in the voters, so I just don’t care since I think HoF membership doesn’t really mean much at this point.

    3. Interesting tidbit from Blengino’s piece. He mentions, in passing, the way the Mariners managed Iwakuma early on – that period so many of us got worked up about, railing against Wedge. Blengino was in a better position to have actual facts, and what he said pretty much exactly parallels what we heard from Wedge – Kuma really did need a lot of prep before he was ready to be an MLB starter. So, while it’s unlikely she’ll read this, I want to tip my imaginary cap to Shannon Drayer – her accounts on this, looking back, seemed to have been spot-on, while I was making erroneous statements regarding what I saw as revisionist history coming from her (and others). I was wrong, Ms. Drayer, and you were right.

  2. SeattleSlew on December 31st, 2013 1:51 pm

    1. I’m with you, I care about the baseball Hall of Fame as much as I care about the WWF Hall of Fame.

    2. I would rather they spend less money on Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana. If you take a closer look at Tanaka’s stats you will see that they are not as impressive as they first appear. Even though he has shown excellent command, history has shown as his contact rates get worst, he will walk more (as he scrambles to get hitters out). He looks more like an above average pitcher. To even consider paying him $20 million per year is absurd…

    Also during negotiations Tanaka really wanted to come to America this winter, almost as if he knows that he can’t repeat anything close to the year he just had.

  3. LongDistance on December 31st, 2013 2:52 pm

    Yes, someone’s going to pay too much for Tanaka, and either it’ll be out of petty cash like LA or NY (if they said to hell with the luxury tax, that is) or it’ll be blood money for everyone else.

    Would it make sense for the Mariners though? At this point, I’m thinking this is now situational more than purely logical.

    If he was THE starting arm they needed, I’d say, as most anyone else would say, a resounding no.

    But because he’d be bookended, his contribution would most likely be just what is needed to shore up and solidify the starting rotation. All else considered, meaning the unlikelihood of pulling down much else this winter… either in terms of a catcher or a real outfielder of some sort… means it could make sense to go for it.

    The big problem is that, offensively, we’re just going to have to deal with crossed fingers suckitude, for now… hoping for the best, but really not expecting much production for 2014.

    That negativity expressed… I’ll go out on the limb and say we’re one good deal away from +.500.

  4. smb on December 31st, 2013 3:57 pm

    Regarding Koo’s interesting article, I also wonder if it’s not a case of the A’s smartly attacking a neglected margin again. Since player evaluation has come a long way over the last few decades, maybe the skill profile is now just so out of vogue that the A’s are again finding diamonds in the rough (in terms of talent) among these fly ball-hitting acquisitions, AND a discount when they negotiate a contract with them, due to lack of competition for the players. That’s a powerful and high-octane combo in terms of value to a small budget team.

    FWIW I have a suspicion it’s also tied into the whole “Your eyes are lying to you” phenomenon, the best example of which would be people watching Beltre play for years here and concluding he can’t hit “because that’s what it looks like.” The A’s see the value in a guy like Cespedes where most people just look at the BA and conclude he can’t hit, and they’re staying competitive in part because of it.

  5. PackBob on January 1st, 2014 12:25 am

    Tanaka should benefit from Darvish/Cespedes/Puig having very good to outstanding performances with the teams taking a chance on them. Recent history tends to have more influence and some teams may want to get on board, even though the boat may sink. Add to that the success pitchers like Iwakuma have had and teams may look at Tanaka through a rose-colored glass.

  6. maqman on January 1st, 2014 5:40 am

    As is at this moment Steamer projects the M’s as an 83.1 win team, so .500 should be the expectation. How much better their potential becomes depends on what else they do this off-season. Tanaka won’t get them into contention in a re-armed AL West in 2014 but going forward he could be a weapon in a pitchers park so I’d like to see them sign him. I just don’t think they are going be successful against the Yankees who’s whole vibe is on the line and he and his wife like the spotlight, which rarely shines on Seattle.

  7. bluemoonking on January 2nd, 2014 7:26 am

    The HOF has become a joke. It has lost it’s identity. Once a bucket list thing, now it’s well if we are ever out that way…

    Yes, the supporting cast is not that of a contender but it makes more sense for the Mariners to sign Tanaka because of the Japanese interest in the Mariners. He could be even bigger than Ichiro. He would be going to a pitchers park. I don’t like the money that Z spent on Cano but if they don’t get Tanaka and win 85 games, thankfully Z would be gone.

    I hate to see another lost year, but if it means that Z crawls back under the rock he came out from under, I could live with that.

  8. Lefebvre Believer on January 2nd, 2014 9:00 am

    RE: The HOF

    I kind of wish getting in were a bit harder to get in. Seems like a few too many guys get in. I think ideally guys who get in should be sure things, no doubters, though I guess no matter what there’s always going to be guys on the borderline soooooo… Yeah.

    Jack Morris? Heck of a pitcher, would love to have him on my team, but HOF? Eh…

    His Tiger teammates, Trammel and Sweet Lou? Yeah, don’t think so…

    Moose? I initially thought no, but looking at his overall career, man he was really good for a long time… Even won himself a bunch of Gold Gloves…

    Edgar… Oh if only the current crop of young Mariners modeled their approach at the plate after him…


  9. rowlandice on January 2nd, 2014 8:49 pm

    Wouldn’t it make better use of limited resources to take the amount predicted to sign Tanaka and use it on several pieces like Garza, Balfour and Buck?

  10. Pete Livengood on January 3rd, 2014 2:32 am

    On the Hall: I still care (I’m a glutton for punishment, I know), and I think there are *some* signs that the BBWAA is stepping up to the job this year. Early returns have an average of over 9 names per ballot, and some signs of consensus about how certain of the “surer” PED names are going to be handled (not good news for Sosa, Palmeiro, and McGwire). At this point, it looks like a pretty safe bet that three players will be elected (Maddux, Glavine, Thomas), with Biggio *really* close and Piazza a dark horse who will probably end up within spitting range of 70% and poised for a run next year. Bagwell should finish around 60%, maybe higher.

    Edgar has it tough, because, even for those of us who are True Believers, if you have any intellectual honesty about this ballot, it’s hard to put Edgar much higher than *at best* near the bottom of a full ballot (#9 at best, probably), and maybe not even that high unless you choose ON THIS BALLOT to table the known PED guys. Yet, he’s running at about 20%, with many former supporters dropping him but expressing continued support once there is room. The number of public voters who have at one time or another voted for him is now at about 40% and there is another significant chunk that hasn’t supported him yet! but is beginning to show signs of considering it. Thomas going in with 90%+, and Boston guys begining to wonder how to make the Big Papi case (that is coming in 6-8 years) if nobody buys the vastly superior case for Edgar first, should help.

    All that really matters is that his support doesn’t fall so much that voters give up on Gar as a hopeless case…. 20% should do that. Larry Walker, who is an excellent candidate, may be pushing the boundaries of hopelessness with 9-12%, but hopefully all voters recognize that this unprecedented ballot (11 candidates with 70+ rWAR; the Hall of Fame *average* is 69 for both position players and pitchers – and the median is closer to 60 – so there is more than a full ballot full of players who far exceed the HOF “standard”) is no indication of what kind of support, or progress, any but the best candidate have or could display.

  11. Pete Livengood on January 3rd, 2014 2:39 pm

    BTW, tracking votes by voter over the years:

    Last year I had a sample of 224 publicly revealed (either before or after the results were announced by the HOF), with 76 voting for Edgar, or 34.82%. That’s a little worse than he did on the full results 35.9%), so Edgar is one of those guys who actually does slightly *better* with the crowd that chooses not to reveal their ballot than with those who do.

    This year, so far I have tallied 20 yes votes out of 89 revealed (I am off the BTF Gizmo because Repoz has some votes that are revealed to him on the condition that the voters anonymity is protected; I don’t count those). So this year (as of 1/3/2013 mid-day), Edgar sits at 22.47%, and needs less than 10 more yes votes to be assured of remaining on the ballot.

    Interestingly, there are almost as many voters who said yes to Edgar last year who’ve left him OFF their ballots this year (16, so far) as voters who are still saying yes. The “switchers” are almost 18% of the sample, alone. If all of those voters maintained support (a reasonable assumption if the logjam were to clear), Edgar’s support would have grown to over 40% in this sample. And that doesn’t count voters who previously voted for Edgar but switched to no last year or the year before, indicating a “true” support level approaching 45%.

    In other words, this is a good indication that Edgar’s declining totals do NOT reflect declining support, but the difficulties of dealing with the backlog. He’s getting closer and closer to that 50% threshold that has been a nearly sure bet for enshrinement (only one player who ever got 50% support was not eventually inducted, albeit many got in through the VC – Gil Hodges). Edgar needs to just stay on the ballot, and the BBWAA needs to make significant progress in clearing the backlog (as it appears to be doing this year) every year.

    This year, Morris comes off one way or the other. Current projections have Maddux, Glavine and Thomas at 90%+, and Biggio at 81%. Those totals are high enough to expect that the first three will be elected, and Biggio is likely though less of a sure thing (needs 73.7% of the remaining ballots to get to 75%). Piazza is tantalizingly close (73.4%, needs 75.4% of the remaining ballots to be elected). Mattingly (currently l4.6%) ooks as though he won’t get 5%, and both Sosa (8.3%) and Palmeiro (7.3%) – both of whom have historically fared far worse with those who don’t reveal their ballots than with those who do – are no better than 50-50 to stay above 5%. McGwire, at about 11%, is not out of the woods, either, and frankly the handwriting is on the wall for *all* PED guys not named Bonds or Clemens.

    So, something in the range of a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 8 players out of the 36 on the 2014 ballot won’t return next year, for one reason or another. The following year sees two sure-fire, don’t-even-have-to-think-about-it first-ballot guys in Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez (effectively taking Maddux and Glavine’s spots on most ballots), and one guy (Smoltz) who is only a tick or two below that level and should debut on over 50%, possibly 60%, of ballots in 2015 (taking Thomas’s spot). The other 1st timers on the 2015 ballot who are interesting either had PED issues, or a lesser/shorter peak than the down-ballot returners like Edgar and Larry Walker (Sheffield, Delgado, Nomar, Giles, Erstad) and aren’t likely to upset the apple cart much.

    If Biggio gets in this year, too, that means that all the legitimately qualified down-ballot guys move up a notch. The chance of Piazza clearing this year means there is a chance they move up two – and if Piazza doesn’t get in this year, he seems well-poised to be an automatic next year; Bagwell (currently over 66% in the Gizmo) seems to be in that boat, as well.

    Assume that RJ, Pedro, Piazza, and Bagwell are locks to appear on 80%+ 2015 ballots. Smoltz, Schilling, Raines, Clemens, Bonds, and Mussina should all do well, and appear on something between 50% and 65% of ballots.

    The rest (Edgar, Trammell, Walker, Lee Smith, McGwire, McGriff, Kent, the remaining 1st timers) have to fight it out for the spots where one or more of the above were left off. Significantly, Edgar appears to be at or near the top of these remaining guys. Maybe not the top (Trammell in his 15th year might get that distinction), but I expect Edgar to creep up close to 25-30% in 2015; not back to where he was, but close.

    2015 should clear RJ, Pedro, Piazza, and Bagwell. I think there is a decent chance that McGwire falls below 5% (let him join Sosa and Palmeiro in being considered by some 1990s era VC)’ and I’d say all of the other 1st timers save Smoltz are in danger of that fate as well.

    For most voters, in 2016, they’ll have four spots cleared. Of the 2016 newcomers, only Junior is the kind of lock we’ve seen from 2013-2015. The next best new candidate is Jim Edmonds a nice player, but one who would be lucky to be in the 10-15% range on a still-crowded ballot.

    THIS IS WHERE EDGAR CAN BEGIN TO MAKE A PUSH. It’s also where Raines, Schilling, and possibly Bonds and Clemens can make a push toward election. I expect 1-2 to make it, with Junior (probably Schilling and Raines), with Mussina nearing 60%, and Edgar probably in the 45-50% range.

    If those three clear in 2016, 2017 should see another push. The best candidates coming on have PED issues (Pudge, Manny) that will derail them to large or small degrees, and Vlad is a short-career borderline guy who will need to make a long push (like Walker). If Edgar can get up near 60% (remember, Edgar does significantly better with newer BBWAA members who by then will make up a much more significant portion of the electorate by then), he should be able to go over the top in 2018 or 2019.

    That’s my scenario, and I’m stickin’ to it….

  12. smb on January 3rd, 2014 3:19 pm

    Maybe the fans should establish the Edgar Martinez Hall of Fame for DHs, Very, Very Good Players, & Other Notable Baseball Humanitarians.

    I do care about the Hall but only insofar as I’m upset that the stewards of the voting are so frequently willfully ignorant about some players and issues. I’d rather have them open the gate a little wider to the effect of guys like Edgar getting in, then effectively close it or hold the same old line on it to make sure guys like Edgar, Dawson, et al don’t get in.

    It just doesn’t take anything substantial away from the hall (IMO) to add that next mini-tier of great players. To the contrary I think it enriches it. I guess for me the line is just right below the Dawson/Blyleven/McGriff/Edgar line.

  13. Pete Livengood on January 6th, 2014 10:28 am

    Not sure who is still watching this thread, or if anybody cares, but:

    Just about exactly 48 hours before the total, final HOF vote is announced, I now have 121 known votes in my Edgar Ballot Tracker, which is just under 23% of the electorate (based on last year’s vote totals). Just over 28% of this sample (34 votes) have voted for Edgar. Another 19% (23 voters) didn’t vote for Edgar this year, but did last year. If all of those voters had room to vote for Edgar again this year, Edgar’s vote totals would be up about 7% this year at 42.34%. In fact, Edgar is probably THE poster boy for voters forced to leave worthy candidates off full ballots (22% of all ballots last year contained ten names – what were those voters supposed to do to accommodate 1st timers Maddux, Glavine, Thomas, and even Kent?), who are now clamoring for the ten-vote limit to be raised.

    Based on the sample, and how Edgar historically has fared in the full vote as compared to the sample, I am pretty comfortable pegging Edgar’s support level for the HOF this year at 23%, give or take 3%. While it is disappointing that this number isn’t at least what it has been in years past (low-to-mid 30s), we can be encouraged that it didn’t drop to a point where his candidacy loses credibility (as have Palmeiro’s, McGwire’s, and Sosa’s, for instance), and the 42% “real” support level is actually quite encouraging – especially when you consider that five players whose support levels range from mid-to-high 60s (Morris), to low 80s (Biggio), to low (Thomas) to high 90s (Maddux, Glavine) should be coming off the ballot.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.