Saturday, December 31, 2011

Batted Ball Boondoggles

Where and how a player hits a baseball has become fascinating stuff to think about. And perhaps someday this author might understand what it all means. But there are a few concepts that are starting to make sense. For example, it is nigh on impossible (save a rare inside the park home run) to hit a homer on a ground ball. Just as obviously, the most productive batted ball is one that goes over the wall. But less obvious are the fact that the line drive (aside from the homer) is the most productive batted ball of them all. Well, let's restate that. It's obvious that a line drive is a good thing, but it's not obvious how much of a good thing it is. This posts takes a look at some batted ball boondoggles found thanks to the wonders of sites like and

What is a boondoggle? Well, it can either be this braided thing a boy scout wears around his neck or it can be a wasteful and impractical project or activity. We'll focus on the latter meaning (obviously). So in this post a batted ball boondoggle is at bats that were wasteful activities. In other words, these players proclivities to hit a lot or a little of certain batted ball types isn't a good thing. Since this is New Year's Eve, it's a nice time to reflect back not only on this past year, but on a two year period that began this current decade.

Let's start with line drives. Most of us know that if you hit a line drive, you've squared the ball up pretty good and hit it hard. Certainly, there might be a few of those soft humpback line drives mixed in. But generally, a line drive is hit hard. And that's a better thing than most people realize. has a nice feature that looks at batting for the entire league over the course of a season. From there, you can click the league splits and get a lot of information. From their data, we learn that in 2011, players who hit line drives had a .722 batting average, a .716 on-base percentage and a .971 slugging percentage. Wow, eh? Players who hit line drives become the best players that ever lived. They are better than Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds.

When it comes to line drives the past two years, nobody hits them more often than Joey Votto, whose batted ball data shows that of all the balls he puts in play, 24 percent of them are line drives. No wonder he's so good. But here is where the confusing part comes. The ability to hit a lot of line drives doesn't guarantee batting success overall. It does for Votto. But check out the number two, three and four guys for line drives over the past two seasons: Nyjer Morgan, James Loney and Andre Ethier. Whuh? Nobody would claim Morgan and Loney as valuable hitters. But they hit line drives a lot. Can we at least say that if they didn't, they would be even worse than they already are.

So who has been the worst in baseball at hitting line drives the past two seasons? They are:
  1. Mark Reynolds - 13.2 percent
  2. Alex Rodriguez - 14.0 percent
  3. Carlos Quentin - 14.1 percent
  4. Vernon Wells - 14.3 percent
  5. Carlos Pena - 15.0 percent
A-Rod is a surprise being on that list. But then again, so would Jose Bautista, who would be sixth on our list if that many places were used. Reynolds is so much lower than anyone else, he becomes somewhat unique. Between his swing and misses and his lack of line drives, it would be impossible for him to hit with any kind of regularity. And the lack of line drives from these five certainly seems to be correlated in their BABIP. Their BABIPs in order are: .261, .289, .251, .246 and .245. Here is where we'd love to have batted ball speeds. If we had those, this writer would suspect that A-Rod--who hits a lot of ground balls--often hits them harder than these others. Certainly, his BABIP is higher than the other low line drive guys. But that could be just luck.

Ground balls are good if you are a fast runner. Ichiro Suzuki and Brett Gardner certainly beat out a lot of them for singles. But if you are just a mediocre runner, it's hard to make a living hitting a lot of grounders. Again, according to B-R's splits data, all ground balls resulted in a slash line of: .237/.237/.257. Ugh. For those keeping score, that would be a .484 OPS. Grounders resulted in 1/3 the number of doubles than fly balls and 1/4 the number of doubles as line drives. Triples occurred ten times more on fly balls than on grounders and six times more on line drives. And only one homer resulted from just under 59,000 ground balls hit in 2011.

Ground balls are easily the most frequent event in batted balls occurring more than 11,000 more times than fly balls in 2011. That's good for pitchers. Some batters make the pitcher's job easy. They hit a lot of ground balls. What follows is the players with the highest ground ball rates the past two seasons:
  1. Derek Jeter - 64.2 percent
  2. Ichiro Suzuki - 58.6 percent
  3. Elvis Andrus - 58.4 percent
  4. Juan Pierre - 56 percent
  5. Casey Kotchman - 55.6 percent
All these players hit twice as many ground balls as fly balls and Derek Jeter, incredibly, is the only player in baseball the past two seasons (combined) that has hit three times as many grounders as fly balls. Jeter, Ichiro and Andrus all had BABIPs well over .300. Juan Pierre and Kotchman had BABIPs of .294 and .287 respectively, so not all ground balls are created equal.

Fly balls are not as productive as line drives. But then again, nothing beats the line drive. Fly balls have an even lower batting average than ground balls at .218 compared to .236 (in 2011). But fly balls can become doubles, triples and homers easier than ground balls as we have seen. Thus, according to B-R's splits for 2011, the fly ball led to a .575 slugging percentage. That's very good, right?  But if your fly balls don't go over the wall, it becomes a boondoggle because it will only result in a .218 average and on-base percentage. Players with the lowest fly ball to home run rates the last two seasons:
  1. Chone Figgins - 0.9 percent
  2. Juan Pierre - 1.1 percent
  3. Ryan Theriot - 1.2 percent
  4. Michael Bourn - 1.9 percent
Infield pop ups must be the biggest boondoggle of them all. It's almost an automatic out except for that old wind-aided thing that falls in or that occasional bloop double that falls just behind a corner infielder's head.  Among the best of baseball the last two years at avoiding infield pop ups are: Joey Votto, Howie Kendrick, Matt Kemp, Ryan Howard, Derrek Lee, Michael Young and Derek Jeter. Votto is amazing. Not only does he lead the world in line drive percentage the past two seasons, but only 0.3 percent of his batted balls result in pop ups. He is the only player in baseball under two percent the past two seasons. Incredible.

On the flip side of the pop up issue are the following players:
  1. Vernon Wells - 18.8 percent
  2. Kurt Suzuki - 17.3 percent
  3. Gordon Beckham - 17.1 percent
  4. Chris Young - 16.4 percent
  5. Alex Gonzalez - 16.2 percent
As you might have noticed, Vernon Wells has now landed on two boondoggle lists. Not only does he not hit line drives with regularity, but his pop up rate is obscene.

One last obscure boondoggle for you. Juan Pierre has 32 bunt attempts for base hits in the last two seasons. That's a lot. Derek Jeter has the best success rate at attempting for a bunt base hit at a 50 percent success rate. But we have a player who was terrible at bunting for base hits. In the last two seasons, Brandon Phillips has attempted fifteen times to bunt for a base hit. He was successful once. That's fourteen of fifteen attempts that resulted in a gift out. Perhaps he should stop doing that.

Happy New Year, folks

Friday, December 30, 2011

Obligatory Hall of Fame Post

The Twitter feed is going bonkers as it always does this year. It's Hall of Fame voting time. Writers around the country who are fortunate enough to vote have started posting their ballot. Those of us who don't have a vote get into the act too. This Fan certainly doesn't want to feel left out. Before listing this writer's own personal ballot, some thoughts need to be expressed.

First, this writer does not give a rats...umm...posterior about who used drugs, both PEDs or otherwise (cocaine, marijuana, greenies, etc.). On top of that is a total IGNORE of the morality part of the balloting process. As many, many people have pointed out over the years, the baseball Hall of Fame is full of malcontents and immoral people. This stance makes voting very easy. The only criteria is this: Was the player among the best of his era and less importantly, how does his work stack up against former eras and those already in the HOF? As many writers this Fan admires have already stated, keeping someone off your ballot because of an unproven suspicion of drug use is un-American and just plain wrong no matter where you are. But since this Fan doesn't care who used, that doesn't matter either. And yes, this Fan is a big Hall kind of guy.

All that said, here is how this Fan would vote if the privilege was granted.


Jeff Bagwell - Barry M. Bloom, Gary Brown, Bob Brookover, Tom Dienhart, Chris Elsberry, Jeff Jacobs, Fred Klein, David Lariviere, Mike Nadel, Bob Nightingale, Mark Purdy, Jeff Schultz and Tom Singer so far are the knucklehead writers that have supposedly left Bagwell off their ballots (as listed here).
Edgar Martinez - Who cares if he was a DH? If he was a DH or a lousy third baseman his entire career wouldn't have differed that he was one of the best hitters of his generation.
Mark McGwire - McGwire was NOT a one trick pony. His OBP was terrific and drugs or not, he helped save baseball after the strike.
Rafael Palmeiro - Look, this Fan hates him as much as the next guy. But every time a significant batting list is presented, Palmeiro's name is on it.
Tim Raines - The arguments have all been made before. Smarten up, people.
Barry Larkin - It looks like he is going to get in this year and he should.
Alan Trammell - If Larkin is deserving, then Trammell is too. Very close in most numbers.

That's it.

Those close but no cigars:

Jack Morris - Just not as good as Blyleven. Argue all you want. It's not enough.
Don Mattingly - Oh, Donny Baseball. If only your back had held up.
Larry Walker - Can't get past the Coors thing. Brilliant when healthy and engaged. Just wasn't often enough of either.
Juan Gonzalez - Before there was MannyBManny, there was Juan Gone. Just didn't do it long enough.
Lee Smith - Very good. Not the greatest.
Dale Murphy - MVP that fell off a cliff far too early. Alas.
Fred McGriff - Very good player. Very valuable. Just not valuable enough.
Bernie Williams - If he was rated a better fielder, maybe. Love ya, Bernie, but not enough for a vote.

And the rest can just fall off the list without comment.

War Graphing Some Notable Non-Hall of Fame Players

Graham Womack of Baseball: Past and Present recently undertook a huge project of asking 86 other baseball writers, fans and researchers who the best players were that are not currently in the Hall of Fame. The results, which Womack posted here were fascinating. Since there was little else to do on this eve of New Year's Eve and since your favorite Fan was supposed to be voter number 87 and procrastinated beyond the point of no return, the idea came to support some of these non-Hall players with War Graphs to others already in the Hall of Fame.

What is a War Graph? It's a fabulous tool on Fangraphs that they generously and wondrously provide free to the public and even allow us to download the results. What the War Graph does is give a graphical view of how a player accumulated wins above replacement during their career. And we can use it to compare any two or more players side by side. Now, before this writer gets roasted by comments, WAR is not the be all and end all of all statistics in measuring players. It is simply one statistic site's snapshot of the value provided by a player during the players's seasons and career. There are other useful tools such as OPS+, wOBA, wRC, win shares, WPA and many others. But since no site has created "wOBA Graphs," let's just use this one and call it a conversation starter, okay?

While the following War Graphs do start a conversation about a non-Hall player compared to HOF players, this Fan wouldn't go so far as to say in every case that the non-Hall guy should be in the Hall of Fame. There are a couple of exceptions to that statement as you will see. But for the most part, start with Womack's list, look at the War Graphs and have a conversation.

There. Has the Fan covered his fuzzy behind enough to continue? Re-reading... Yeah, looks good, let's continue. Here are the War Graphs. If they prove hard for you to see, simply click on the graph itself to make it larger. Then hit your Return key to see to come back.

The first one compares Minnie Minosa to the fearsome Jim Ed Rice. The funny line at the top of Minosa's graph shows that he had a habit until late in life to make guest appearances in the game for the fun of it.

This next one compares Robbie Alomar (who is in) compared to Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker and Willie Randolph who are not in. In this case, this Fan thinks all three have a case.

This next one compares Hank Greenberg to Jon Olerud and Keith Hernandez. Hernandez and Olerud had stunningly similar careers.

This one compares Barry Larkin, who many predict will get into the Hall of Fame to Alan Trammell, who will never get in.

This one compares Tim Raines, who is not in, to Dave Winfield, who is.

This one compares one of this Fan's favorite all time players (Dwight Evans) with another whose longevity and magic numbers (like 3000 hits) got him into the HOF: Dave Winfield.

The next one compares Graig Nettles, Ken Boyer and Ron Santo. Santo seems like the right choice based on this graph.

And finally, this one compares Jeff Bagwell to Harmon Killebrew.

Thanks once again to Fangraphs for being so freaking cool!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

BBA Link Fest - Many General Returns

Well hello boys and girls. It's time for another buggy whip around the General Chapter of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. It may be the holiday season, but our writers have kept themselves busy with fine writing from around the country and indeed, around the world.  Please give our folks a visit with a click and leave a comment. To be sure, our members will enjoy your company and your thoughts.

Here we go!

The post of the week easily goes to The Common Man over at The Platoon Advantage. The Man gives what this Fan thinks is the ultimate Hall of Fame take on the PED issue. Awesome.

A close second and easily the most entertaining post of the week goes to Old Time Family Baseball for their romp through the best moments of 2011. And the cool thing is, this is just Part One! Cool!

Off Base Percentage doesn't get Boxing Day. This Fan doesn't either. heh. Oh! And a birthday is celebrated.

MLB Reports features a guest post by Doug Booth this week (among their other great content) who thinks a great DH is an overlooked asset.

Jonathan Mitchell wrote about Jon Olerud this week over at MLB Dirt and this Fan couldn't be happier. Loved that guy.

The Fan's bro over at Left Field continues to show that we generalists are well rounded people with Part Four of his series on the best music of 2011. Read the entire series. Terrific.

We've had to wait four months for Theo's next edition of his retired numbers series. It was well worth the wait as Theo covers the Dodgers over at Hot Corner Harbor.

The Fan doesn't know how to categorize The Hall of Very Good's year end post other than to say that it is fantastic. It presents its own series of links to click, but all very well worth the investment of time. Enjoy this one with a nice steaming cup of coffee.

This Fan is a sucker for historical pieces. How could you not be? That said, they never get many hits on the Fan's site. Oh well. Perhaps if the Fan did them as well as Grubby Glove does them, they would do better. Great post on Duke Snider!

If you haven't been reading along at Golden Sombrero's terrific series on the top fifty prospects, you should really do that. But this Fan this week wanted to feature a Mike Rosenbaum piece on a name you might hear a lot about in the future.

The Baseball Index wonders who is going to close games in Oakland now that they have dealt Andrew Bailey. Freakin' good question! You have to feel terribly for those A's fans, don't you?

Our German entry, Dugout 24, features the nine weirdest injuries ever in baseball. How much fun is that!?

Matt Whitener of Cheap.Seats.Please. thinks Carlos Beltran will brighten things up in the Cardinal birdbath. Agreed.

Mario Salvini of our Italian entry, Che Palle! doesn't think that any Italians make the list of the ugliest athletes in pro sports. Being half Italian, this Fan couldn't agree more.

The prolific and terrific Call to the Pen features a post by Joe Soriano on the new Red Sox closer.

Another take on the Red Sox - A's trade is provided by the always entertaining Sooze over at Babes Love Baseball.

It appears that this Fan blew the link last week to Ryan Sendek's terrific Analysis Around the Horn. Many apologies for that. This site is a must read so it is hoped you went anyway. If not, check out this terrific wish list Sendek sent Santa.

Not to be outdone, Russ Blatt of 85% Sports gives us another wish list. Love it.

And what would this links page be without The Sports Banter Monday Mullet? Nowhere, man, nowhere.

Sully over at Sully Baseball is saddened by one of Washington baseball's starkest facts.

Through the Fence Baseball always has a ton of terrific content. Check out this scouting report on Oscar Taveras written by Eric Longenhagen.

Our French entry,, gives their take on the Bailey deal for the Red Sox. Check it out.

Curley Bender over at Crum-Bum Beat (isn't that fun to say!) gives us a delightful 33 things we learned in 2011.

Those are the links. May you all have a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year.

Kind of Bullish on Ryan Sweeney

The trade between the Oakland Athletics and Boston Red Sox yesterday should engender solid research and statistical analysis. You won't find that in this post. Keith Law has already done it and so has Andrew Martin over at This is more of a hunch based on little more than watching baseball's ebb and flow for decades. Ryan Sweeney is going to be a nice piece for the Boston Red Sox.

It's fun to watch the minds of those in the Red Sox front office work. Most people know that the renowned Bill James roams those back offices along with several of his proteges. To see that the Red Sox liked Ryan Sweeney is obvious. All you have to do is look at the Bill James' projections for Sweeney on Sweeney's Fangraphs page. But if this Fan may make the observation: the projection could be pessimistic.

There are a couple of solid statistical facts that back up this hunch. First, in his career, Ryan Sweeney has hit the ball to the opposite field more often than he's pulled the ball (306 to 239 times). As a left-handed batter, that's a nice thing to do in Fenway Park with it's enticing Green Monster. Secondly, when Sweeney does hit the ball to the opposite field, his slash line doing so is: .384/.379/.485. That will play well in Fenway. Lastly, Sweeney has never hit less than 20 percent of his ball in play as line drives. That means he squares the ball up nicely.

Add to the hunch is Sweeney's defense. Back in 2009, Fangraphs gave Sweeney 20.9 runs saved playing the outfield. The last two years have been in slightly negative territory. But if this Fan isn't mistaken, Sweeney hasn't been overly healthy in the last two seasons. Fix that and you should get the solid defending found in 2009 and the years before. Sweeney is still only 26 years old. He should be able to rebound health-wise. Right field is an important position in Fenway. It's has odd angles and there is a lot of room out there. It's a much more important field than left with the big wall out there half way past the infield it seems.

The scouting reports indicate that Sweeney has excellent instincts in the outfield with a strong and accurate arm. All pluses in right field for the Red Sox. But the thing this observer really likes is kind of a pooh-poohed statistic nowadays. Ryan Sweeney has played 444 games in the outfield and has only made four errors total for his career. Four. And three of those were in 2009. So take away those three errors in 2009, and Sweeney has made one error in all the rest of his big league seasons. That's pretty impressive.

Of course, there are a few concerns. First, Sweeney swings from the left side of the plate. The Boston Red Sox are already overloaded with lefty swingers. It would have been nice to pick up a right-handed bat. Secondly, the Red Sox have been high on Ryan Kalish for a long time and had hoped that the young slugger could be the next Red Sox star. He'll probably get his shot in right in Spring Training. If Kalish is legitimate, Sweeney could take away his playing time. But it's a nice insurance policy to have, no? Plus, Sweeney can play all outfield positions so he is a hedge in case (God forbid) Jacoby Ellsbury goes down or Carl Crawford continues to struggle as the Red Sox left fielder.

This deal reminds this Fan of the Carney Lansford deal years ago when the Red Sox picked up Lansford as an extra piece from the Angels in a trade in 1981. Lansford wasn't highly touted before his arrival. He had more power than Sweeney does, but, otherwise, Lansford's numbers were similar to what Sweeney has done with the A's. Once he became the Red Sox third baseman, Lansford had two terrific seasons for the Red Sox. Sweeney--and remember, this is all just a hunch--feels like that same kind of player except he plays the outfield.

Sweeney will hit .280 or higher. His OBP will be .350 or higher. And perhaps he'll slug a little more. This observer simply has a hunch that Sweeney could be a three and a half to four WAR player for the Red Sox. Again, those Red Sox are no dummies. This writer will throw his hat in with that crew any day.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Garza and Nolasco are Interesting Comps

Charlie Saponara had a great post yesterday on his Fantasy Baseball 365 site about his love/hate relationship with Ricky Nolasco of the Miami Marlins. The read itself spurred some curiosity from this Fan about Nolasco, who has always seemed like a bit of an underachiever. It was great to have a little chat about Nolasco on Twitter with Saponara after reading his post. The post, the chat and looking at Nolasco's numbers reminded the Fan about another seeming underachiever, Matt Garza. So his numbers were checked as well. Amazingly, the two pitchers, both of whom threw for Florida-based clubs, have very similar comps.

Before getting into the similarities, we should get their differences out of the way. Garza is a full year younger than Nolasco. Garza has a bigger fastball that's three MPH faster than Nolasco. Garza was the more touted prospect and was a former first round draft pick. Nolasco was drafted in the fourth round. Garza was drafted out of college and Nolasco right after high school. Nolasco toiled in the minors for several years before getting the call to the majors. Garza was pitching in the bigs the year after his draft. Garza is slightly taller and thinner. Those are the differences.

There are far more similarities. Both are California dudes. Garza was born in Selma, a western-California city in central California. Nolasco is from Corona, with is also a western-California community, though much further south. Nolasco has thrown 922.1 innings in the big leagues. Garza has pitched 923.1. Nolasco has struck out 7.67 batters per nine innings, Garza, 7.50. Garza's career FIP is 3.98. Nolasco's career FIP is 3.83. Nolasco has six complete games in his career and two shutouts. Garza has eight complete games and three shutouts. Nolasco has thrown a two-hitter. Garza has thrown a no-hitter. Nolasco's career WHIP is 1.289. Garza's career WHIP is 1.303.

Both pitchers have made an attempt to change their pitching style in the last year, which is serendipitous as well. In 2010, Ricky Nolasco threw a two-seam fastball only 5.6 percent of the time. Garza in 2010 threw his 10.5 percent of the time. But in 2011, Nolasco increased his use of that pitch to 14.9 percent while Garza increased his two-seam usage to 15.5 percent. As a result, both pitchers saw a jump in their ground ball rates.  Thus, Nolasco's 45.1 percent ground ball rate in 2011 was the highest of his career. Garza's 46.3 percent ground ball rate was also the highest of his career. Both pitchers saw spikes in their line drive rate in 2011. Nolasco's was the highest of his career. Garza's was his highest since his rookie season.

Matt Garza has a clear edge on Nolasco in WPA with a career number of 2.42 compared to Nolasco's -0.67. But that is understandable considering that Garza pitched on a highly successful Tampa Bay Rays team in 2009 and 2010 while Nolasco's Marlins have muddled around a bit. Their "clutch" numbers are remarkably similar with Garza rated at -0.64 in his career compared to Nolasco's -0.69. and Fangraphs have widely divergent views of Nolasco's career value but agree pretty much on Matt Garza. Garza has compiled 12.7 rWAR compared to 14.6 fWAR. Nolasco, however, is only given 4.7 rWAR by B-R while Fangraphs is much more bullish at 15.4. Baseball Prospectus has Nolasco at 10.6 WARP and Garza at 10.1 WARP for their careers. Two of the three sites, then, rank the two pitchers remarkably similar in value.

What's the point of all this? Well, you could just take it at face value as a piece that simply compares two pitchers and their careers. Of course, you have to take into account park effects, defenses behind them (Nolasco has had awful defenses behind him), and competition. But on another level, you can see two pitchers that haven't been quite as good as they seem capable of being. For whatever reason, their careers have sputtered around. Garza's past season for the Cubs gives hope that he is starting to put it together as he posted the top ERA and FIPs of his career. Nolasco? Not so much. In many ways, the two pitchers have been the same pitcher for their big league careers. Garza now has shown a greater upside going forward.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Top Ten Position Players of the Past Ten Years

Putting lists together is sort of like trying to run across the highway. Somebody is bound to run you over for your efforts. But lists are fun even if, in the end, people end up poking holes in your logic. For this little exercise, this writer went to Fangraphs and used their handy and amazing leader board to find the top ten position players for the past ten years (2002 through 2011). The criteria used was fWAR. Again, you can poke holes in that logic. But so what? The amazing thing about the list is that all of the players on it are still playing. Yeah, a few of them are getting ancient now, but they are all still with us. Such long term performance signifies greatness in this writer's book. There are a few obvious players on the list and a few that may surprise you.

So here's the list in descending order with a few comments:

  1. Albert Pujols: (80.1 fWAR): Ten of Albert's eleven year career are covered by these stats. And they are amazing. Everything about his ten seasons lead the world. In those seasons, he had the highest wOBA, the highest wRC+, the highest ISO, the highest slugging percentage, the highest batting average, the highest on base percentage. He scored the most runs, drove in the most runs, hit the most homers and struck out fewer than any player that follows him on this list. Incredible. But what about the next ten years?
  2. Alex Rodriguez: (67.9 fWAR): This is the Pujols Era and everyone else is chicken fodder. But with all the negative press he's received, A-Rod has been an amazing player. And even with a few years of late that were below his standards (he is getting old), he's been just below Albert in most every category.
  3. Carlos Beltran (51.2 fWAR): Surprised? You shouldn't be. Not if you have been a steady reader here in the FanDome. Beltran easily earned (as the Fan proved) his Mets contract with a decade of good defense, good base running and consistently good offensive numbers. He is the best centerfielder of his era.
  4. Chase Utley (50.6 fWAR): Utley has the fewest games played over the ten years of all the players on this list. But when he has played, he's been amazing. Great fielding metrics, very good base running and good offensive numbers. He might not be the best second baseman in baseball right now, but over the last decade, he has been.
  5. Lance Berkman (49.7 fWAR): Another surprise. Tucked away on the Astros for most of his career, few have really noticed how excellent he has been. It took a comeback year for a higher profile Cardinal team to show how really good Lance Berkman is and has been. Berkman has the second highest on base percentage on our list and third best slugging percentage and wOBA. If it wasn't for his positional adjustment (1B), his less than stellar fielding and his leaden base running, Berkman could easily have been third on our list. Even so, he's been far better than most realize.
  6. Ichiro Suzuki (46.9 fWAR): Ichiro along with the next two players on our list built his high fWAR based just as much on defense as he has on offense. He's not a great on-base guy and he has shown no power, his ability to blow past 200 hits every season takes somewhat of a hit because of those facts. But according to Fangraphs, Ichiro has saved 104.6 runs with his defense over the past ten years and has been an above average base runner. This writer would put him in the Hall of Fame already.
  7. Adrian Beltre (46.7 fWAR): Seattle Mariner fans might choke a bit on this one. But he was much better for them than people thought. And his overall defense for the past ten years make him the best defensive player on our list with 138+ runs saved at third base. His offense had some off seasons (hence the Seattle hate) but he's averaged 28 homers and 88 runs driven in over the ten year period. Hardly shabby. He's been a great, great player.
  8. Scott Rolen (46.3 fWAR): Rolen is the third of four third baseman that will make our list. And he is a surprise of sorts to be here. But he has saved 114.5 runs with his defense and his ten year slash line of: .281/.360/.485 is not chopped liver either. It's a shame that injuries have kept him from building more WAR and being the household name that he should be. He's played the third least amount of games of our list of ten players.
  9. Chipper Jones (46.2 fWAR): It's a shame that a lot of baseball fans will only remember the last couple of broken down memories of Chipper Jones. His offense might be the third best of our ten players with a ten year slash line of .302/.404/.521. Defense has chipped away a bit of his value and he hasn't been a great runner on the bases. But he's a first ballot HOF guy in this Fan's book.
  10. Derek Jeter (45.6 fWAR): Yes, Jeter has given away 48.9 runs on defense over the ten year period. But he's also averaged 189 hits, 100 runs scored, 70 RBI and 20 stolen bases. His base running over the decade was excellent (though he's stumbled the last two years). His offense put him four wins above replacement above Jimmy Rollins over the same time period.

So that's the Fan's list. The compiler will now commence dodging speeding cars on that highway! Happy Boxing Day everyone!

Hondo and Denny

When the kids grow up, Christmas isn't quite the same. At least it isn't until your kids have kids and then you can watch grandchildren open presents. This Fan isn't there yet for the latter, but yeah for the former. And since there were no toys opened this Christmas in the Tasker family, memories come flooding back to when the kids were little and toys from Santa were the bomb. Memories, of course, go back further than that to our own childhood. There weren't video games back then. There were much cruder things to play with. It's hard to say they were any less fun though.

Some of the favorite gifts from this Fan's childhood were things like the electric football game where a vibrating metal football field propelled little plastic players around the field. It was hard to find any of those suckers that would run straight up the field though. One year, us boys got an indoor golf game that featured felt greens and little cotton golf balls. It was something like this game here, but it wasn't an Arnold Palmer game. It was hard to get those little cotton projectiles to land on that patch of felt.

The best gift this Fan received as a kid wasn't a toy. It was a subscription to The Sporting News. To a kid of this Fan's era, there was nothing better for sports than The Sporting News. It was "TSN" before Ted Turner turned those initials into a television station. We didn't have highlight shows on television. We saw one team all season so we knew those players. We sort of knew other players from baseball cards. And we knew some as opponents of our favorite team we watched. But knowledge of players on other teams was nebulous. TSN changed that because all the teams were covered and each team was given a two page spread in each weekly issue which allowed feature stories on players for each team. It was those pages that brought other players from other teams to life. Plus, there were statistics in the back of each issue for each team. It was awesome.

Those columns usually were the best writers from around the country. And a nice, large picture of that week's featured player usually graced the article. This Fan used to cut out these pictures to make a scrapbook. The scrapbook had a section for each team. Naturally, there were extra pages for our favorite team. But each team was well represented. This writer filled up two scrapbooks during those young years and that interest fostered by TSN has endured to this day. Those two scrapbooks are still in this author's possession.

The scrapbooks covered the years from 1968 to 1972. A recent romp through those old relics made this author pause at the Washington Senators' section gathered mostly in 1970 and 1971. Staring up out of those pages were Frank Howard and Denny McClain. What a flood of memories those two individuals recall! 

They couldn't have been two more different people. There has never been anybody in baseball that has ever disliked Frank Howard. He was the lovable giant who stood six foot, eight inches tall and was built like Gronkowski. Every piece on his was painted as this loving portrait of a monster of a man. Denny McClain was just the opposite. By 1971, he was tarnished by a bookie scandal. And he was only a shell of the pitcher who had won 31 games in 1968. People blamed his demise on his lifestyle. But the truth was more likely that his arm was dead by then. He only lasted one more season after 1971 and fittingly, the last batter he ever faced was Pete Rose (verified by game logs).

The Washington Senators were the laughingstock of baseball in 1970 and 1971. They had the horrifically bad idea of hiring the great Ted Williams as their manager in 1970 and it didn't work. The situation was so dreadful that after those two misshapen seasons, the team moved to Texas and became the team that nearly fifty years later came within an out of winning the World Series.

Denny McClain lost twenty-two games in 1971 after winning 55 games combined in 1968 and 1969. That's a heck of a fall. Frank Howard was 34 that season and entered the decline phase of his career in 1971. He would only play two more seasons himself. This Fan was fascinated (thanks to TSN) by both players. McClain's interest was sort of like the fascination with a NASCAR car wreck. Howard was larger than life and crushed baseballs. 

The interesting thing about these two teammates in 1971 is that just two years earlier, they were the best in the American League. McClain was the Cy Young Award winning pitcher who got the Tigers to the World Series. Howard was the top slugger despite playing on the American League's worst team (the Senators) with no protection in the line up. The contrasts between the two men are endless. 

From 1967 to 1970, Frank Howard might have put together four of the most impressive slugging season runs in baseball history. He hit 172 homers in those four seasons and led the league in that category in twice. Sure, that isn't as impressive as the streak that Babe Ruth put together or Barry Bonds. But the timing of Howard's slugging is what makes it impressive. 1968 was the year of the pitcher. The American League homers per nine innings was 0.68. Compare that to today's game with its 1.00 homers per nine innings. Frank Howard hit 44 homers that season. Nobody was within eight homers of him. And, he played that season with a terrible cast of characters that came in next to last in batting average and slugging percentage. Those factors make his 44 homers incredible.

Howard's OPS+ for those four seasons was: 153, 170, 178 and 170. It was still 144 in 1971, but Howard declined to only 26 homers that season.

Nearly everyone remembers Denny McClain as baseball's last thirty game winner. His 31-6 season in 1968 was brilliant and earned him the Cy Young Award and the MVP. But few remember that the previous three seasons, he was 53-35 on some pretty bad teams and the year after his 31-win season, he went 24-9 and won a second straight Cy Young Award. Few also know that he began his great run at the age of 21 and it reached its pinnacle at the age of 24. In fact, his 1969 season is rated higher (in rWAR) than his 1968 season. 

McClain threw 661 innings in 1968 and 1969. His suspensions in 1970 due to the gambling case and a later incident with sports writers cost him almost the entire season. But the fact was, his career would probably have faded anyway. His strikeout rate plummeted in 1969 and never recovered. His right arm simply threw too many innings. He had 51 complete games in 1968 and 1969 (combined) out of 82 starts. He led the league in batters faced in both seasons. It's no wonder his arm died.

Yes, McClain has been in the news since his last season in 1972 for all the wrong reasons. The arrests, the weight gain have all painted him as baseball's John Daly. But like Daly, when McClain was young, he was something to behold. Most will say that McClain--like Daly--squandered his talent and threw away his career. It's much more likely that his career was used up anyway.

These two pictures staring at this writer in the old scrapbook represent two completely different players joined together by fate on one of the most abysmal teams in the early seventies. Both were on their way out of the game when their pictures were added to the scrapbook. But both had a four or five year period where few were better and more awe-inspiring in what they did in baseball. Joined together for one miserable season, they remain joined together in this writer's mind forever.