Dan: Yet here the Rays are, still competing with a team that has more than triple the payroll that they do.
Orel: It’s got to be Moneyball 2.
I was thinking about some of the best players who never made the Hall of Fame, and why they didn’t. Figure there are four main causes:
- They deserve to go, but writers don’t appreciate the way they were good (i.e. walks, defense, etc.);
- They deserve to go, but they were overshadowed by teammates or similar players;
- They deserve to go, but Hall of Fame voters have some systemic bias against the position they played;
- Or their career was too short. They might still deserve to go, they might not, but they never accumulated the round-number milestones that get players elected.
There’s some overlap. So here’s a diagram:
You recognize the guy in the middle as Chase Utley, the second-best player in baseball in his past six seasons and, I would argue, unlikely to make the Hall of Fame. All the pieces are in place to make him, someday, one of the greatest players ever left out by voters.
Yes, I’m arguing with hypothetical Hall of Fame voters 15 years head of schedule, which is probably a sign that the Internet can shut it down now. But consider:
• Utley didn’t get to play regularly until he was 26. You can make the case that, on another team, he would have debuted late in his age 23 season and played full-time at 24 and 25 — he was considered a very good prospect and he already had a full year at Triple-A — but he was blocked by Placido Polanco. Milestones matter to HOF voters.
• He’s crazy overshadowed by an inferior teammate. In the past five years, Howard has finished higher than Utley in MVP voting every year. This, even though Howard’s best season (by Wins Above Replacement) would be Utley’s fifth-best season. Utley has produced nearly twice as many WAR in his career as Howard, yet Howard has received triple the MVP votes. Hardware matters to HOF voters.
• Even in an era of more enlightened analysis, Utley’s skills aren’t exactly industry approved. For instance, his defense is superb — he’s finished first, third, third, fifth and third in the Fielding Bible voting the past five years — but he has never won a Gold Glove. He led the league in being hit by pitches three years in a row. He almost never hits into double plays. And over his past five seasons, he has been the fifth most valuable baserunner in baseball, according to Baseball-Reference.
• Second basemen are already at a disadvantage compared to other positions. Only catchers and third basemen have fewer Hall of Fame representatives. By the JAWS system of measuring HOF candidates created by Baseball Prospectus’ Jay Jaffe, second basemen have the highest standard.
So there it is. Chase Utley, Best Player Not In The Future Hall Of Fame.
*More WAR than Jim Rice according to Baseball Reference’s model for WAR, at least
When I started writing about baseball, I got in a lot of fights on the internet with old-school types. I was way too sure about things. I almost never get in fights, or even arguments, anymore. Just believe what you want to believe, friend!
But in those feuds, I dealt with a lot of intellectually dishonest arguments, and my least favorite of these was when people would say something ridiculous — for instance, Jeff Mathis is a really good hitter! — and then, after three games, point out that Jeff Mathis had hit .285 since that argument so look how stupid I am. Basically, claiming victory the moment that any incomplete data backs you up. You know what I mean?
So, today I was looking at Raul Ibanez’ three seasons with the Phillies. Obviously, this is not a deal that has worked out well for the Phillies. By Fangraphs’ model for WAR, Ibanez has been worth 4.3 wins at a price of $31.5 million. Baseball-Reference’s model has him at 3.0. He cost somewhere between $7 million and $11 million per win. Awful, awful signing.
But do you remember the summer of 2009, when Ibanez was just a few months into the deal and at something like 4 WAR already? Mission Accomplished banners were hanging everywhere. I’m not saying any of these guys were intellectually dishonest — a lot of times writers just have to write stuff all the time (I’ve done some stuff) — but whoa were they wrong.
Jon Heyman named him the No. 1 signing of the offseason.
Here’s my explanation: He’s playing in a better ballpark for hitting (no letters please about his current home-road splits — not playing in Safeco still is a plus), he’s with a better team, he works hard and he’s good.
John Shea wrote on May 26 in the San Francisco Chronicle:
Fans of the Giants and A’s didn’t complain that their teams, both in need of sock, didn’t pursue the best free agent on the market over the winter.
Troy Renck wrote in the Denver Post on May 31:
Ibañez is a pro who has fit in seamlessly. His power numbers weren’t expected, but not a shock given that he’s a flyball hitter who now plays half his home games in Williamsport, uh, Citizens Bank Park. Just as pleasant has been Ibañez’s defense. He lacks range, but he makes plays on the flyballs he reaches. At three years, $30 million, this ranks as the best offseason signing.
Rick Hummel wrote in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on June 7:
Two months into the season seems an appropriate time to pass judgment on the free-agent signings of the offseason. And, hands down, the winner is Philadelphia outfielder Raul Ibanez.
Mandy Housenick wrote for the Morning Call:
It’s plain and simple: This team needs Raul Ibanez.
Richard Oliver, for the San Antonio Express:
Raul Ibanez has found a home with the world champion Philadelphia Phillies.
And he’s effectively taking it over.
Ibanez still leads the Phillies with 22 home runs and 59 RBIs, the production the Phillies expected when they signed him to a three-year, $31.5 million contract in December.
Paul White for USA Today:
Phillies fans filled winter talk shows with their skepticism about a three-year, $31.5 million contract for a 36-year-old (he turns 37 Tuesday). Then they knew little about the replacement for free agent Pat Burrell, but now they display their knowledge with every at-bat, chanting, “Rauuuuuuul.”
And there were the local writers who were sad that their teams hadn’t signed Ibanez.
Carl Steward wrote in the San Jose Mercury News:
Imagine where the Giants might be if they’d signed Raul Ibanez as a free agent instead of the Phillies.
Bill Maddon complained that the Mets didn’t sign him:
Nor were they interested in Raul Ibañez, a strong character guy with more RBI over the last three years than Manny Ramirez, who instead went to the Phillies for three years, $30 million and has been a major force. Where was the plan? It’s like (the Mets) do everything on the fly.
So don’t do this. Just wait.
You guys. I think this is the final Sunday Night Baseball of the year. I had a lot of fun doing this, and I really appreciate all the space Dustin gave me.
These things weren’t really designed for search engines, so they’ll be lost to history for the most part. I just want to link to some of my favorite items so at least they’ll exist here.
Sam Miller is a baseball writer who covers the Angels for the Orange County Register. He is on Twitter.