Immortalized in Bronze? A Look At This Year’s Hall-of-Fame Ballot First Timers

Roberto Alomar has the numbers of a first ballot Hall-of-Famer.

Roberto Alomar: The best second baseman of the 90’s, Roberto Alomar was a model of consistency both offensively and defensively, winning 10 Gold Gloves (the most ever by a 2B) and capturing four Silver Sluggers during his illustrious career. The 12-time All-Star collected 2,724 hits, 504 doubles, 210 HR’s, 1,134 RBI’s, 474 stolen bases and hit an even .300 in his 17-year playing tenure with the Padres, Blue Jays, Orioles, Indians, Mets, White Sox and Diamondbacks. Delivering surprising pop and excellent speed for a middle infielder, Alomar is one of the most decorated second baseman in the history of the game and compares favorably to another recent Hall-of-Famer at his position, Ryne Sandberg. The native of Puerto Rico captured two World Series titles with Toronto in 1992 and 1993, hitting .480 in the ’93 Fall Classic and finishing with a .318 career postseason average. If there’s a knock against Alomar’s candidacy it would be an embarrassing incident in 1996 when he spat in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck, leading to a five game suspension. However, in an era of rampant steroid abuse and numerous other off-field transgressions, Alomar’s moment of stupidity probably won’t cost him that many votes. His numbers speak for themselves…Alomar is one of the game’s best second baseman ever. Verdict: First Ballot Hall-of-Famer

Barry Larkin: Barry Larkin was the preeminent shortstop of the National League in the 1990’s, making eight All-Star appearances in the decade. Born in Cincinnati, Larkin attended the same high school as Ken Griffey Jr and played the entirety of his 19-year career with the Reds after being selected fourth overall in 1985. Larkin’s tenure with Cincinnati was highlighted by his selection as the NL MVP in 1995 (.319-15 HR’s-66 RBI’s-51 SB’s), but he also thrived defensively, capturing three Gold Gloves at SS. Despite the fact that he won nine Silver Sluggers during his career, Larkin never led the league in a single offensive category, and his career numbers (.295-198 HR’s-960 RBI’s-379 SB’s) aren’t that overwhelming. He was a very good player for a long time, but the Hall-of-Fame was created for greatness. Verdict: Outside looking in

Edgar swung a mean stick, but will his lack of time in the field cost him a shot at the Hall?

Edgar Martinez: The only man who could legitimately challenge Ken Griffey Jr. as the most beloved player in Seattle Mariners’ history, Edgar Martinez helped to save a franchise on the brink with his steady presence and clutch hitting (his game winning double in the 1995 ALCS against New York is one of the best postseason moments of the past 20 years). Martinez was one of the game’s finest right-handed hitters, finishing his career with 2,247 hits, 514 doubles, 309 HR’s, 1,261 RBI’s and a .312 lifetime batting average. His career .418 OBP is 22nd all-time, placing him ahead of Hall-of-Famers Stan Musial, Mel Ott and Hank Greenberg, while his OPS is the 34th best in the history of baseball. “Gar” was a 7-time All-Star, 5-time Silver Slugger and 2-time AL Batting Champion (1992 and 1995) while playing his entire 18-year career in Seattle. The main argument against Martinez is that he accumulated the majority of his stats as a designated hitter, but he did so well enough that the award for the best DH is now named after him. The fact that he was never associated with steroids helps his cause, as does voters willingness to consider “newer” statistics like OBP and OPS in which Martinez excelled. Leaving a player out of the Hall-of-Fame simply because he didn’t play in the field seems like quite an injustice, especially if players who made their living almost solely defensively (Ozzie Smith, Luis Aparicio, etc.) or couldn’t field at all but hit well (Jim Rice, Paul Molitor, etc.), have been enshrined in Cooperstown. Verdict: Hall-of-Famer, but not in 2010

Fred McGriff: When he retired in the middle of the 2004 season, Fred McGriff fell just short of the mythical 500-HR plateau, finishing with 493 career longballs (although he could still pull a Bernie Mac and return for one last shot at glory ala Mr. 3000). Much like Larkin, McGriff was a good player for an extended period of time, making five All-Star teams and winning three Silver Sluggers. The Crime Dog was a consistent run producer with eight seasons of 100+ RBI’s and 10 seasons in which he hit 30 or more HR’s, although he never hit more than 36 in any one year. His career numbers (.284-493 HR’s-1,550 RBI’s-2,490 hits) are certainly impressive, but McGriff never finished in the top-3 of MVP voting, and is 8th all-time in strikeouts. There have been worse selections in the history of Cooperstown (Ted Lyons?), but McGriff isn’t quite worthy of joining baseball’s most exclusive fraternity. Verdict: Close but no cigar

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Baseball Gets It Right: Zack Greinke Named A.L. Cy Young Award Winner

Felix was phenomenal in '09, but Greinke was clearly the game's most dominant pitcher all year long.

As a Mariners’ fan I wanted Felix Hernandez to win this year’s AL Cy Young Award, because as a rule of thumb Seattle sports don’t win much (and no, I’m not forgetting about you Storm). After all, Hernandez came up through the farm system and matured before our eyes from a 19-year-old prodigy into a certified staff ace. He was dominant in 2009, leading a pedestrian Mariners team to an 85-win season, and looking better and better as the year progressed. The King finally lived up to his nickname, winning 19 games with a 2.49 ERA and 217 K’s, but even as a Mariners fan, I knew Felix didn’t deserve the award. C.C. Sabathia, Justin Verlander and Roy Halladay didn’t even deserve to be in the discussion; it was truly a two-horse race, and unfortunately, sweet Barbaro wasn’t one of them. No, Hernandez picked a bad season for his coming out party because, despite being stuck in the baseball wasteland that is Kansas City, Royals right-hander Zach Greinke was the best pitcher in 2009, not just in the American League…but in the entire sport.

Despite pitching for one of baseball's worst teams, Greinke was able to convince voters he was the AL's best.

Although his finish to the 2008 season should have raised a few eyebrows (4-1 with a 2.18 ERA in September), Greinke came into the year with virtually no fanfare—but it didn’t take long for that to change. By the end of the season’s first month, Sports Illustrated was heralding Greinke as the game’s best pitcher and it was easy to see why. In five April starts, the Royals’ ace went 5-0, had a dead-ball era 0.50 ERA and struck out 44 batters in only 36 innings. Kansas City was riding high and looking like a favorite in the AL Central but as often happens to a team that relies on Mike Jacobs as the big bat in their lineup, the Royals quickly faded from contention and Greinke was once again left to toil in obscurity. That didn’t stop him from mowing down hitters though, and despite some sub par run support (is Mark Teahan really hitting cleanup?) Zach-Attack cruised into the All-Star break with a 10-5 record, 2.12 ERA and amazingly, only four HR’s allowed in 127 innings. Although somehow not chosen to start the All-Star game, he made the most of his opportunity, striking out two NL batters in one inning and showing a national audience that he was a true star in the making.

The second half of the season was a struggle for Greinke, as he won only six games in 15 starts, though the blame clearly fell on the woeful Kansas City offense. The Royals only managed to score 13 runs in Greinke’s eight losses (1.6 runs/game) on the season, while scoring just 21 runs in his nine no-decisions (2.33 runs/game). Playing for a team with an average offense, Greinke would likely have finished with 22-23 wins, instead of the 16 he collected with Kansas City, and the Cy Young race wouldn’t have been a race at all, rather a runaway. Despite his team’s numerous shortcomings (no offense Sidney Ponson), Greinke never let up and capped off his historic season with a 3-0 record and 0.55 ERA in September.

If you take away wins (unfair, I know, but so is playing for K.C.), the choice of Zach Greinke as the Cy Young was really a no brainer (a good thing for voters):

–>Greinke: 2.16 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 242 K’s/51 walks, 6 complete games

–>Hernandez: 2.49 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 217 K’s/71 walks, 2 complete games

Sorry C.C., not even playing for the Yankees was enough to get you this year's Cy Young award.

If that’s not enough, digging even deeper shows that Greinke was at his best when it mattered most (which technically is never when pitching for the Royals, but bear with me). He held hitters to a .253 average with the bases empty, and incredibly was tougher with runners on, allowing opposing batters a miniscule .197 average and .235 OBP. Even when batters got ahead in the count Greinke was unhittable. He faced 111 batters with a three ball count, which typically favors hitters not named Yuniesky Betancourt, yet he held those batters to 19 hits, or a Richie Sexson-esque .171 average. The 26-year-old righty showed his true grit by improving each time through the lineup (.264 average on first plate appearance vs .189 average on third plate appearance), and holding hitters to a .199 BA with runners in scoring position. By any statistical measure you choose to look at Zack Grienke, was the best pitcher in the AL, and it wasn’t even close.

Although often criticized for questionable and uneducated decisions (cough–Derek Jeter Gold Glove–cough) baseball voters got the right man this time. Not only was Zach Grienke a great story in overcoming social anxiety disorder, but he was also baseball’s best pitcher all season long. It looks like the Royals have found their ace for the next decade, now if they only could find a catcher, first baseman, shortstop, second baseman, right fielder, third baseman and left fielder, they might be in business. Regardless of the talent (or lack thereof) that surrounded him, Zack Grienke pitched like a superstar all year and was more than worthy of the 2009 AL Cy Young award. Here’s hoping the humble young pitcher carries his success into next season…and brings some much needed hope to a hapless franchise.

Finally Some Sunshine in Seattle: Ken Griffey Jr. Returns to Mariners for 2010

ken-griffey-jr-mariners

If one year is good, two years is better. Welcome back Junior.

It looks like Seattle Mariners fans will have to get ready for a few more standing ovations (though it’s highly unlikely they’ll mind) with today’s news that Ken Griffey Jr. has reached an agreement on a one-year contract with the Mariners. Exact terms of the signing have yet to be released, but the contract is thought to be similar to last year’s salary of $2 million plus another $3 million in incentives (ticket sales, merchandise, etc). A bargain at any price, bringing Junior to the Mariners was a no-brainer. The Kid is an institution in Seattle, and although his numbers might not bear it out, 2009 was a rousing success for both Griffey and the Mariners.

Seattle came into last season as a franchise in limbo. The team was fresh off one of the worst years in the club’s history, losing 101 games and generally looking like a team that didn’t care whether they won or lost. The clubhouse was fractured, fingers were pointed and no one seemed to be having any fun (except of course, for the teams that played the Mariners). Enter Griffey, who after a nine-year stint in Cincinnati and Chicago, came home to the city that never stopped loving him. The Kid was integral in creating a clubhouse atmosphere that fostered winning and was even able to break the normally quiet Ichiro out of his shell, with the two soon becoming best friends. Griffey was always quick with a smile or a prank and never complained about his diminished role as a platoon player; he was a consummate professional,  and the perfect fit for a Mariners team looking for leadership. Although not the sole reason for their dramatic improvement, the impact of Griffey’s return cannot be overstated as a factor in transforming Seattle from a 61-win team to an 85-win team that stayed in the postseason hunt all year long. Here are some of the highlights of his first year back in Seattle:

ken-griffey-jr-mariners-debut

Griffey's not the only one smiling with the word of his return to the Mariners.

–>Created neck-ties featuring manager Don Wakamatsu’s image and gave them to every member of the team to promote unity on road trips. He also handed out ties that had his picture and the words “World’s Greatest Teammate” on them.

–>Hit 400th career homerun as a Mariner, becoming the first player in major league history to record 200 HRs with one team (Cincinnati) and 400 HRs with another (Seattle).

–>After Adrian Beltre returned from a freak testicle injury, Griffey had the P.A. play the theme to “The Nutcracker” on Beltre’s first at-bat back.

–>Came through with a clutch pinch-hit, walk-off single against the Chicago White Sox in the 14th inning of an August game at Safeco.

–>Homered in three of his last five games of the season, raising hopes for a return to the diamond in 2010, and finishing the year 5th on the all-time homerun list with 630 career longballs.

Griffey_homer_PX00098_9

Can Griffey finally capture a World Series in his last go-round with the Mariners?

Does Griffey have anything left in the tank for 2010? He wasn’t great at the dish in ’09, finishing  the year with a .214 average, but he still managed to hit 19 HR’s with 57 RBI’s and there is some optimism that Junior’s offseason knee surgery will help him to perform better next year. It’s unclear what kind of role Griffey will have for the Mariners next season, but his signing makes it unlikely that Seattle would go after someone like Hideki Matsui (another DH-type with bad knees). While some might argue that Griffey’s return will hinder the growth of Seattle’s younger talent like Mike Carp or Michael Saunders (players who would lose at-bats to Junior), the veteran seems content with whatever playing time he is offered, and could serve as a great mentor to the next wave of Mariners’ hitters (who better to take advice from than a first ballot hall-of-famer). Besides, Ken Griffey Jr. has done enough for the city of Seattle and the Mariners franchise (a virtual afterthought in the baseball world before he arrived) that he deserves to go out on his own terms. Think of him like Bobby Bowden, but without the straw hat, Southern accent and strong odor of Bengay.

Two thousand and nine was a great year for the Mariners, climbing from the AL West cellar into playoff contention, and now with one more season of Griffey, Seattle has its sights set on a return to the postseason for the first time since 2001. M’s fans get another year with the greatest player ever to don turquoise (apologies to Muggsy Bogues) and Junior gets one last crack at that elusive World Series title, the only thing missing from an otherwise storied career.

It’s been almost 15 years since the Mariners crashed the playoffs in 1995 and came this close to making their first Fall Classic. Can Griffey finally lead Seattle to the promised land and finish what he started all those years ago? Why not? If Jack Zdrunciek signs some key free agents to surround Griffey, Felix Hernandez and Ichiro, anything can happen. Seattle’s favorite son is back where he belongs, and Mariners magic will once again sweep through the streets of the Emerald City. The 2010 baseball season can’t start soon enough in Seattle—Ken Griffey Jr’s back, the sun is shining and there’s reason to believe that this might be the most special year in the Mariners’ history. Let’s play ball!

Yankee Fans Continue To Insult Intelligence of General Populous: Derek Jeter Named Hank Aaron Award Winner

The AL's best offensive performer? Well, not really.

The American League’s best offensive player? Sure, in bizarro world.

In a postseason rife with egregious umpiring mistakes and base-running gaffes it was perhaps the fans who turned in the worst performance of all, selecting Derek Jeter as the American League’s Hank Aaron Award Winner. Now, if this award was given to the third or fourth best Yankees’ player every year that wouldn’t be an issue, but the Hank Aaron Award is supposed to be given to the best offensive player in each league.

The award is voted on by fans at MLB.com who narrow down a field of 90 players to the final two recipients, but judging by the shocking results, B.C.S. computers must have been involved somehow. How else could a player who had the worst OPS (on-base plus slugging) of any Yankee infielder win the award for best offensive player?

It’s not like Derek Jeter was bad in 2009 as he finished the season with a .334 average, 18 HR’s, 66 RBI’s and 30 SB’s. Jeter ranked 3rd in the AL in both batting average and OBP, while finishing 4th in runs and 7th in SB’s. Those are fine numbers for any player, but perhaps a bit magnified by the spotlight that always shines on the New York Yankees (it wouldn’t be the first time something Jeter did was blown wildly out of proportion).

To put Jeter’s stats in perspective his Hank Aaron Award counterpart in the NL, Albert Pujols, finished with the following stat line: .327-47 HR’s-135 RBI’s-16 SB’s. Sure it’s apples and oranges, but clearly Jeter’s numbers (which he posted while playing for the game’s best offense) weren’t that overwhelming.

In a perfect world Joe Mauer would have won the 2009 Hank Aaron Award. Of course in a perfect world, there wouldn't be Yankees fans.

In a perfect world Joe Mauer would have won the 2009 Hank Aaron Award. Of course in a perfect world, there wouldn’t be Yankees fans.

In fact, here is a list of the players who finished ahead of Derek Jeter in OPS: Joe Mauer, Kevin Youkilis, Mark Teixeria, Ben Zobrist, Miguel Cabrera, Alex Rodriguez, Adam Lind, Kendry Morales, Jason Bay, J.D. Drew, Jason Kubel, Carlos Pena, Michael Young, Evan Longoria, Shin Soo-Choo, Jason Bartlett, Justin Morneau, Hideki Matsui, Torii Hunter and Robinson Cano.

That’s right, Jeter was fifth on his own team in OPS and couldn’t even crack the league’s top-20. Granted OPS isn’t the only way to tell how effective an offensive player was, but it is a good indicator of a batter’s combination of power and plate discipline. So, the league’s “best offensive player” finished behind J.D. Drew, Jason Bartlett and Shin Soo-Choo…well that just doesn’t quite add up.

But if Derek Jeter wasn’t the AL’s best hitter, then who was? It could have been his teammate, Mark Teixeria, who after a slow start, hit .292 with 39 HR’s and 122 RBI’s. Or, it could have been the upstart Ben Zobrist, who despite 130 less at-bats, finished with more HR’s, RBI’s, extra-base hits and an OPS 70 points higher than that of Jeter (not to mention his 17 SB’s, 91 walks and ability to play at multiple positions).

Any number of players could have laid claim to being the AL’s top offensive performer, but one man stood head and shoulders above the rest. A man revered for his sideburns, sweet swing and love of all things American. A man who breaks more hearts in day than Mola Ram does in a lifetime. A man named Joe Mauer. While that  kind of hyperbole is normally saved for Jeter, the season that Mauer had was nothing short of historic. The 26-year-old catcher hit .365 with 28 HRs and 96 RBI’s, even though he missed the first month of the season with back problems (suffered while. Joltin’ Joe led the AL by a wide margin in batting average, slugging, OBP and OPS, all while playing Gold Glove caliber at the game’s most physically taxing position.

Joe Mauer had one of the best offensive seasons of the past few decades, and arguably the greatest ever by a catcher, but failed to garner an award he rightly deserved because of the media’s (and dimwitted Yankees’ fans) never-ending love affair with Derek Jeter.

It’s not all that surprising, but let’s hope the same thing doesn’t happen when it comes time to hand out the MVP.