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Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Jerry Green: Baseball’s slow response to steroid era clouds Hall of Fame credentials

I’m all winky-dinked up trying to read Jerry Green’s column through doodle-strafed cellulose acetate film…but he’s gonna vote FOR Bonds/Clemens?

Piazza is clean in the minds of the Hall of Fame electorate. And there are those who maintain that he is the best hitting catcher of all time, with 427 home runs and a .308 career batting average. I’ve read or heard that claim several times through the past several years and this past week.

I challenge that belief with the names of Ernie Lombardi, Johnny Bench, Mickey Cochrane, Roy Campanella and Bill Dickey — all worthy Hall of Famers. Not by the numbers so much, but in my mind they were superior ballplayers to Piazza.

...By the end of this month, I plan to inscribe little Xs alongside several names of retired players I consider worthy of election to Cooperstown.

First Jack Morris, who has been forced to wait too long and had the strongest support among those who missed last year. Then Bonds and Clemens to the hisses of the mob.

I plan to skip over Sosa and Piazza and also Curt Schilling, another new candidate. I just cannot be convinced Piazza — glamorized with the Dodgers and the Mets — was better than borderline. He merits some further reflection.

Then an X for Alan Trammell, who never has been close to election, but deserves it — perhaps a hometown vote. Trammell and Lou Whitaker, some day, ought to be elected by the Veterans Committee in tandem.

Pity that the Hall of Fame is going to be deprived — likely into eternity — of such number-crushing ballplayers as Bonds, Clemens, McGwire and Palmeiro. And yes Pete Rose!

Repoz Posted: December 05, 2012 at 06:54 AM | 26 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, hof

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. salvomania Posted: December 05, 2012 at 08:29 AM (#4317398)
At least he admits that Lombardi was better than Piazza in his mind, as opposed to in reality.
   2. Bitter Mouse Posted: December 05, 2012 at 09:21 AM (#4317414)
What an odd ballot with a mix of yes and what all over the place. Still I do like that he put it out there and Bonds + Clemens + Trammell (with a shout out to Whitaker) goes a log way in my book, far enough I can look past Morris and no Piazza.
   3. John Northey Posted: December 05, 2012 at 09:58 AM (#4317444)
To list Piazza as borderline but being enthused about voting for Morris is just plain weird. But it is a hometown vote which he admits.
   4. Sean Forman Posted: December 05, 2012 at 12:04 PM (#4317580)
Sounds like a no on Biggio as well.
   5. JRVJ Posted: December 05, 2012 at 12:07 PM (#4317583)
I, for one, am absolutely not looking forward to HoF voting season. Even more than Xmas, I want it to end and see how the chips fell (hopefully, a lot of worthy ones got in, and if that's the case, I don't really mind if Morris goes in).
   6. vivaelpujols Posted: December 05, 2012 at 04:47 PM (#4318021)
I actually kind of agree with this. Piazza was worth 67 career WAR per FanGraphs an 56 career WAR per baseball reference. Those are very borderline numbers - about on par with Lofton, Edmonds, Edgar, Tim Raines.

Does anyone take issue with a specific part of Piazza's WAR valuation?

Also, I think Schilling is getting a huge bone job here. 76 career WAR per Baseball Reference puts him well past borderline. And he was one of the best postseason pitchers of all time.
   7. Randy Jones Posted: December 05, 2012 at 04:52 PM (#4318028)
Does anyone take issue with a specific part of Piazza's WAR valuation?


Absolutely. Catchers' career values are already depressed because they tend to have short careers. Also, the defensive values for all players are questionable, and for catchers far, far more so than any other position.

In addition, Piazza has the same bWAR as Yogi. Anyone who thinks Piazza is a borderline candidate is either incredibly ignorant or incredibly stupid.
   8. Ron J2 Posted: December 05, 2012 at 04:53 PM (#4318029)
#6 Piazza is an extended prime candidate. If I had to pick one of Piazza or IRod (though I see both as easily qualified) I'd pick Piazza even though IRod has more career value. Rodriguez had a fairly long stretch of "useful regular" that to me has zip to do with a HOF case.
   9. JJ1986 Posted: December 05, 2012 at 04:55 PM (#4318033)
I actually kind of agree with this. Piazza was worth 67 career WAR per FanGraphs an 56 career WAR per baseball reference. Those are very borderline numbers - about on par with Lofton, Edmonds, Edgar, Tim Raines.


But that value makes him one of the highest valued catchers of all time, while it only puts an outfielder as maybe the 30th-50th best.
   10. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: December 05, 2012 at 05:03 PM (#4318048)
I, for one, am absolutely not looking forward to HoF voting season.

If you look at the process as an annual Ragnarök, fought on side-by-side roller coasters, with the riders on each track angrily swinging at the riders on the other track with mesh onion bags filled with monkey shit, you'll get into the new spirit of the thing.
   11. dlf Posted: December 05, 2012 at 05:04 PM (#4318050)
But that value makes him one of the highest valued catchers of all time, while it only puts an outfielder as maybe the 30th-50th best.


Taking that argument to a logical conclusion, then the best player at every position must be a HOFer regardless of overall value. Not knowing your position on Edgar Martinez, before he was eligible, should Hal McRae or Don Baylor have been inducted? I tend to think that Piazza is overwhelmingly qualified, but if the demands of a catcher are such that it is impossible to contribute as much as a very good player in the OF, then maybe catchers aren't improperly 'penalized' by WAR.
   12. vivaelpujols Posted: December 05, 2012 at 05:40 PM (#4318092)
Anyone who thinks Piazza is a borderline candidate is either incredibly ignorant or incredibly stupid


Anyone who makes this kind of absolute statement is either incredibly ignorant or incredibly stupid. So I guess we both are then. Moving on...

Per FanGraphs WAR Piazza is the 7th best catcher of all time, a tiny bit behind Torre and Berra. Berra's a HOF obviously, while Torre is not. FG also says Piazza was about a -6 win defender over his career, and I think that's probably on the high side.

But yeah it depends on whether you care about absolute value or relative value to position. If it's relative value that opens up the door for guys like Edgar Martinez and Billy Wagner to be first ballot HOFers. Hell Francisco Rodriguez could easily end up in the top 10 in reliever WAR. So could Paplebon.
   13. Randy Jones Posted: December 05, 2012 at 05:43 PM (#4318094)
FG also says Piazza was about a -6 win defender over his career, and I think that's probably on the high side.


So, since you apparently ignored the rest of my post, I will repeat it:

The defensive values used in either WAR system are highly suspect for all players. They are even more questionable for catchers.
   14. vivaelpujols Posted: December 05, 2012 at 05:49 PM (#4318101)
The defensive values used in either WAR system are highly suspect for all players. They are even more questionable for catchers.


I don't think they are. Over a large sample size, Total Zone is pretty accurate. I also don't think measuring catcher defense is that hard. FanGraphs simply looks at SB and CS and passed balls. Those are very easy to measure and quantify the value of. The only thing it doesn't take into account is framing pitchers and pitcher handling and stuff. Are you arguing that Piazza was above average in those?

Even if you're statement holds true, so what? Does that mean we assume Piazza was an average defender just because it's hard to measure? Of course not, Piazza was obviously a poor defender. FG says -6 wins over his entire career. I think that's high. The worst defenders at their position are typically much worse than -6 wins over 14 years.
   15. My guest will be Jermaine Allensworth Posted: December 05, 2012 at 05:49 PM (#4318102)
If it's relative value that opens up the door for guys like Edgar Martinez and Billy Wagner to be first ballot HOFers.

A closer isn't a position. It's a role, like fourth outfielder.
   16. RMc is a fine piece of cheese Posted: December 05, 2012 at 05:51 PM (#4318105)
I think Schilling is getting a huge bone job here.

There's an image I did not need in my head.
   17. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: December 05, 2012 at 05:59 PM (#4318110)
The correct term is "the bloody coc...", on second thought, just forget it.
   18. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: December 05, 2012 at 06:12 PM (#4318118)
Per FanGraphs WAR Piazza is the 7th best catcher of all time, a tiny bit behind Torre and Berra. Berra's a HOF obviously, while Torre is not.


Including Torre is not a good comparison though. Piazza played 700 games more than Torre did behind the plate, Torre was able to accumulate a bunch of WAR in the second half of his career as a non-catcher, his last season with 100 or more games caught was at age 26.
   19. DanG Posted: December 05, 2012 at 06:13 PM (#4318120)
A closer isn't a position. It's a role, like fourth outfielder.
Likewise, DH. Baseball's official rules refer to the "role" of designated hitter.
   20. JJ1986 Posted: December 05, 2012 at 06:19 PM (#4318127)
The only thing it doesn't take into account is framing pitchers and pitcher handling and stuff. Are you arguing that Piazza was above average in those?


I don't know why anyone wouldn't argue that. He was very good in both and I think stats bear that out.
   21. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: December 05, 2012 at 06:19 PM (#4318128)
Taking that argument to a logical conclusion, then the best player at every position must be a HOFer regardless of overall value. Not knowing your position on Edgar Martinez, before he was eligible, should Hal McRae or Don Baylor have been inducted?

I'm not sure that an equivalence between 20 years of DHs in one league and 120 years of catchers throughout professional baseball can be considered a logical conclusion.
   22. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: December 05, 2012 at 06:22 PM (#4318132)
But that value makes him one of the highest valued catchers of all time, while it only puts an outfielder as maybe the 30th-50th best.


I tend to think that Piazza is overwhelmingly qualified, but if the demands of a catcher are such that it is impossible to contribute as much as a very good player in the OF, then maybe catchers aren't improperly 'penalized' by WAR.


FWIW I used BBRef's Play Index to find where Piazza's WAR would rank at each position (I used 1000 games at each);

1B - 19th (player ahead of him - Keith Hernandez)
2B - 14th (Biggio)
3B - 15th (Bando)
SS - 18th (Boudreau)
OF - 49th (Willie Davis)
C - 5th (Fisk)
P - 58th (Bunning)
   23. Bob Tufts Posted: December 05, 2012 at 07:22 PM (#4318194)
Would MLB's response to steroids have been as slow if players and owners were all taking amphetamines?
   24. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: December 05, 2012 at 08:21 PM (#4318235)
Not by the numbers so much, but in my mind


This guy has the same take on Dickey's superiority to Piazza as Karl Rove does on Mitt Romney's presidency.
   25. bobm Posted: December 05, 2012 at 08:44 PM (#4318247)
FWIW I used BBRef's Play Index to find where Piazza's WAR would rank at each position ... P - 58th (Bunning)


Morris is tied at 122nd by bWAR. How does the writer of this article support Morris and then call Piazza "borderline"?
   26. Heinie Mantush (Krusty) Posted: December 05, 2012 at 09:32 PM (#4318264)

I also don't think measuring catcher defense is that hard. FanGraphs simply looks at SB and CS and passed balls. Those are very easy to measure and quantify the value of. The only thing it doesn't take into account is framing pitchers and pitcher handling and stuff. Are you arguing that Piazza was above average in those?


Pitcher handling and pitch framing are absolutely massively important skills which literally impact every single pitch of every single game. However minute they might be on an individual level, I have a hard time believing the aggregate effect isn't massive (particularly the difference between an excellent defensive catcher and, say, Matt LeCroy.)

Piazza was an all-around unimpressive defensive catcher to my eye. However, I'll freely admit that despite my avid fandom, I was still a young padawan who might not have appreciated the finer points of catcher defense unless they were pointed out to me.

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