Six one time Yankees are on the Hall of Fame ballot this year. The six Yankees are: Roger Clemens, Johnny Damon, Andruw Jones, Hideki Matsui, Mike Mussina and Gary Sheffield. A seventh, Fred McGriff, was traded to the Blue Jays for a journeyman pitcher named Dale Murray while still in the minors. That remains one of the worst trades in Yankee history. The six Yankees include one very good player, Mastui, who despite his heroics in the 2009 World Series, is not a serious candidate and will likely get little support. Another candidate, Roger Clemens, has unequivocal Hall of Fame credentials as the best pitcher of his generation, but has been associated with PED use. The debate around Clemens is essentially a steroids debate about which pretty much everybody has already made up their mind. My position is that If I had a vote, I would vote for Clemens and Barry Bonds, but the remaining five candidates on the ballot are all more interesting from a purely baseball perspective.
The Cooperstown case for John is based on having had a long and very good, if never quite great, career and for the larger impact he had on baseball. For Tiant, his very impressive peak, relative longevity, including 229 wins and just short of 3,500 innings pitched, are a big part of his case, but there is more to Tiant than that. He was a reliable big game pitcher and one of the first great Cuban stars to make it to the big leagues. Starting pitchers are not well represented in Cooperstown. Tiant and John are among the best of their era who are not in yet, so electing them would begin to rectify that and perhaps open the door to even more qualified pitchers, like longtime Yankee Mike Mussina, from later eras. And, for what its worth, both were better pitchers than Jack Morris who may just get in on some kind of strange sympathy vote this year.
The Red Sox might not be able to trade Lester, or the the prospects they get for Lester may not turn into valuable players in the future, but the willingness of the Red Sox to shop Lester demonstrates why the Red Sox are one of the smartest organizations in baseball. It also presents a stark contrast between the Red Sox and their top rival the New York Yankees. In recent years, the Yankees have never accepted that they are out of contention or decided to trade a player approaching free agency. This has contributed to a cycle that demands the Yankees sign increasingly expensive and old free agents to field a team that is unlikely to play deep into the playoffs.
Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas's election to the Hall of Fame represents one of the best years for Hall of Fame selection in a long time. Although there were numerous other deserving candidates including those tainted by steroids, like Barry Bonds and those with no steroid association, like Craig Biggio and Mike Mussina, it is still a good sign that three players, the most since 2003, were elected by the BBWAA. Biggio missed by an agonizing 0.2% and is in strong position to get elected next year.
This year, due to the quality of players on the ballot, the question of which players get less than 5% of the vote and fall off the ballot is almost as interesting as who will get elected. It is very possible that players with clear Hall of Fame credentials will not meet this 5% threshold and thus not get future consideration by the BBWAA. In this regard former Oriole and Yankee pitcher Mike Mussina is one of the most interesting candidates. He is not as well known as many of the other players on the ballot, but his career numbers compare favorably to many Hall of Famers. Mussina falling off the ballot is a real possibility, but is made more notable by the likelihood that an inferior pitcher, Jack Morris will be elected.
The question of whether or not Posada is one of the twenty greatest Yankees will have to be left to future, and longer, subway rides, but his place in the top 25 is reasonably secure. The same ambiguity around Posada’s place in Yankee history will probably surround his Hall of Fame candidacy, but there is no ambiguity around his role in the last four Yankee championships. If game five of the LDS was indeed Posada’s last game, he will be missed by all Yankee fans, whether hunched over their computers looking at numbers or cursing A-Rod while semi-conscious on the subway.
In all elections, whether for awards, political office or All Star Games, the election system has a big impact. This will continue to be the case for the baseball Hall of Fame and it will add another dimension to an already complex and sometimes irrational process over the next few year
Cain is, however, an intriguing pitcher from a statistical angle. His career win-loss record is an unimpressive 65-67, but this is largely because during 2007 and 2008, he got very poor run support posting a 15-30 record despite an ERA+ of 120. While Cain has been unlucky in one area, some argue that he has been lucky in others, because he has managed to post a lower ERA than his other numbers, such as walks and strikeouts would suggest. Cain has consistently managed to hold his opponents to a lower BABIP than most pitchers, as when Cain is pitching more batted balls turn into outs than might be generally expected.
When Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel sent Chad Durbin to the mound to start the bottom of the fifth inning of game six of the 2009 World Series, replacing future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, it was the end of a baseball era. Martinez’s last game in the big leagues had not gone well as the New York Yankees, led by Hideki Matsui, rocked him for four runs in four innings. Martinez was the last of a quartet of pitching superstars also including Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux, who, at a time when offensive production was higher than ever, dominated the game as no other group of pitching peers ever have.
There are nineteen new players on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot: Carlos Baerga, Jeff Bagwell, Brett Boone, Kevin Brown, John Franco, Juan Gonzalez, Marquis Grissom, Lenny Harris, Bobby Higginson, Charles Johnson, Al Leiter, Tino Martinez, Raul Mondesi, John Olerud, Rafael Palmeiro, Kirk Reuter, Benito Santiago, B.J. Surhoff and Larry Walker. There are no new candidates this year that can be expected to easily get elected. The closest to this is Jeff Bagwell, who is deserving of the Hall of Fame, but is not viewed as a sure thing. There are, however, several players on the ballot who, while being good players, in some cases for many years, are clearly not Hall of Famers. This group includes Baerga, Boone, Grissom, Harris, Higginson, Johnson, Leiter, Martinez, Mondesi, Reuter, Santiago and Surhoff. That leaves a diverse group of seven players including Bagwell, Brown, Franco, Gonzalez, Olerud, Palmeiro and Walker whose candidacies should at least be seriously considered.
Posada and Jeter’s offensive production took a great deal of pressure off of the rest of the Yankee offense during theoe years. The late 1990s are already more than a decade ago, so it is often forgotten that those Yankee teams did not always get great production from what are usually thought of as important offensive positions such as first base, DH and the corner outfield positions. The 1998 team was an extraordinary team with no real weaknesses, but their worst hitter was left fielder Chad Curtis who posted an OPS+ of 90. However, in 1999, the players most often used at DH, LF, RF, 1b and 3b, all posted OPS+ of 110 or lower. These are extraordinarily poor numbers for a World Championship team, especially for one which won 98 regular season games and finished third in the league in runs scored. The 2000 team was similar as none of the players who played those five positions most frequently had an OPS+ of even 100. The offense in 2000, which scored 871 runs, good enough for sixth in the league, came from the catcher, shortstop, centerfielder and a handful of part time players. The 2009 team, however, hit from top to bottom and was the most balanced Yankee offense to win a championship since 1998.
When the ALDS opens today in the Bronx, it will be the latest installment in the now familiar baseball series called “Can the Yankees make it out of the first round?” Before missing the playoffs last year, the Yankees had been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in three consecutive years, part of a seven year streak of making the playoffs but not winning the World Series.
The problem with the inning limit, estimated at 150-160, the Yankees have imposed on Joba Chamberlain for the season is not the number of innings, but that there never seemed to be a plan for implementing the limit. Did Yankee management really think that starting Chamberlain every fifth day for half the season and every sixth to tenth day for the second half of the season was a good idea? Did they really think that this was a good way to get the most out of him in the post-season? On August 1st, Chamberlain looked like he could be the Yankees number two starter in October. Thus far in August, he has pitched his way into the number four spot in the post-season rotation; and there is real danger the Yankees will not want to use him at all in October.
The Yankees are a great franchise, the most successful in baseball history. They not only have the ability, but also the willingness, to spend money to put a strong team on the field. However, Yankee management has developed some very bad habits over the last few years. It doesn’t look like the next generation of Steinbrenners is any more patient than the first generation was. Moreover, they are already repeating some of their father’s mistakes. It is worth noting that the Yankees’ longest period without a pennant, since Babe Ruth joined the team in 1920, was 1982-1995 and occurred entirely during the elder Steinbrenner’s tenure, when the team was managed much how it is today. I don’t think any Yankee fan wants to go back to that, but this is the direction the franchise is going unless management’s thinking changes.