DMB News March 2006
Diamond Mind Email Newsletter
March 17 , 2006
Written by Tom Tippett
Welcome to the second edition of the Diamond Mind email newsletter for the year 2006. Through these newsletters, we will try to keep you up to date on the latest product and technical information about the Diamond Mind Baseball game, related player disks, and our ongoing baseball research efforts. Back issues are available on our web site, www.diamond-mind.com.
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Topics for this issue:
As scheduled, the 2006 Projection Disk, began shipping on March 9th in both version 8 and version 9 formats.
It's our biggest projection disk ever, with over 1800 players, including hundreds of top minor-league prospects who have a chance to make an impact, or at least get some big-league playing time for the first time, in 2006.
Anyone who buys the 2006 Projection Disk prior to March 31st will receive two editions of the disk -- the March 9th edition and a free update in early April that reflects the opening day rosters and events from the remainder of spring training. After March 31st, you'll receive only the April edition.
Between now and the April update, we'll create a few new players if some long shots make the opening day rosters, and we'll update the rosters and manager profiles to reflect late player moves. But we don't plan to make any changes that would affect the performance of players included in the March edition.
Don't forget to order your copy of the 2006 Bill James Handbook. The regular edition is only $17.95 and the convenient lays-flat-on-your-desk spiral-bound edition is just $21.95. Hardly a day goes by when we don't reach for the Handbook as part of our work.
Among the many great features are career registers for every active player, including minor-league stats for players with little big-league experience; complete 2005 fielding statistics; expanded pitcher stats that include hitting, fielding, and holding runners; park factors and rankings; left/right splits for all batters and pitchers; conventional and sabermetric leader boards; team standings, augmented by many team performance splits; and team rankings for batting, pitching and fielding.
NOTE: Because of the added weight, first-class and air mail shipping rates are not available for orders including this book. Priority Mail and Overnight shipping rates are available.
The 1954 and 1961 Classic Past Seasons have been updated to include real-life transactions and/or game-by-game lineups. These updated seasons are now shipping. A few other CPS updates are underway, and we'll have more details on the seasons involved and the release dates in the coming weeks.
Recently we've been receiving reports from a few gamers who are having trouble installing a season disk. They're getting the message:
Unable to decompress
In the past, problems like this have always been traced to rogue spyware that interferes with the DMB season disk installation process, and it may be that a new spyware program is causing these problems. Fortunately, there is an alternative installation procedure that will work with these files:
- Start DMB
- Go to the Transfer menu and choose "Create league database"
- Navigate to the folder where the season disk is saved
- On the Open window, second line from the bottom, set File Name to "*.alt" (without the quotes)
- Click on the Open button
- The selection window will display all sub-folders and season disk installation files
- Open the season disk file you want to install
- On Copy New Database window, set "Name of the new database" to the folder name you want to use for this season
- Click on OK
The procedure is the same for version 8 and version 9 of Diamond Mind Baseball. If it doesn't work, let us know.
As you know, Bruce Sutter was the only player elected in this year's Hall of Fame voting.
Meanwhile, folks in Boston were very disappointed when Jim Rice came up short again. Others, including Rich Gossage himself, were more than a little dismayed when Sutter got more votes than the Goose. And many in the baseball research community have been aggressively touting Bert Blyleven, but the voters weren't swayed.
Did Sutter deserve election? Did anyone else?
I don't claim to have any special ability to decide who belongs in the Hall and who doesn't. It's called the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Performance or the Hall of Statistics or the Hall of Good Guys.
There's always going to be room for subjectivity and differences of opinion when comparing players. How much weight should be put on peak performance versus longevity? What's the best way to compare players across eras? How do you handle changes in the game, such as the designated hitter and the increasing role of the bullpen?
And even if the baseball world could settle on a perfect method for evaluating performance across eras, there's still the question of where to draw the line between the ins and the outs. Even if we can all agree that A was 10% more valuable than B, does that mean both are in, both are out, or A is in and B is out?
Nevertheless, I'm going to wade in with a few observations about this year's slate of candidates.
We have a method for comparing performances across eras, one that we use for our All-time Greatest Players Disk. It's not the only way to evaluate players, of course, but it does have at least a couple of things going for it. All stats are park-adjusted, and all players are evaluated relative to their peers, so changes in eras are accounted for.
Our method rates players based on their best sequence of consecutive peak seasons. We don't always use entire careers because some of the best players in history arrived on the big stage at a very young age and stuck around for a long farewell at the end. Those extra seasons, which often pale by comparison with the player's peak years, can narrow the gap between the truly great and the nearly great.
For most players, the peak period consists of at least eight seasons, though it can vary depending on playing time. But our definition of a peak period is long enough to avoid overrating guys who had a great run of two or three years in an otherwise nondescript career.
Bruce Sutter was a dominant closer in his day, posting a career ERA of 2.83 in 1042 career innings, leading the league in saves five times, and averaging 4.7 outs per appearance. But is he the most deserving candidate?
Our method identifies the years from 1976 to 1984 as Sutter's peak period. That leaves out the three mediocre years he spent with the Braves at the end of his career. On a peak basis, he's among the best ever among those who are eligible, but he's not the best of the best.
In fact, adjusted for era and park, Sutter's peak ranks 10th in ERA and 7th in OPS among eligible relievers.
One of guys ahead of him is Rich Gossage, whose peak extended from 1977 to 1986, making him a contemporary of Sutter. Not only does Gossage have a higher peak value, he has longevity on his side, too. Sutter pitched only 152 innings after he turned 31, and wasn't very good during that part of his career. Meanwhile, Gossage pitched until he was 43 and had several good seasons after his age-31 campaign. As others have pointed out, it's hard to see why Sutter belongs in the Hall and Gossage does not.
And what about John Wetteland? Because he garnered only 4 votes this year, exactly 1/100th as many as Sutter, he'll be dropped from the ballot. Wetteland's peak runs from 1991 to 1999, and on that basis, he ranks as the #1 relief pitcher in relative ERA and #2 in relative OPS using our method.
He's well ahead of Sutter on both counts, and it's not hard to see why. Wetteland compiled a career ERA of 2.93, ten points higher than Sutter's, but Wetteland did much of his work in a DH league and all of it in the hitter-friendly 1990s. Wetteland saved more games and had a much better save percentage, too.
There is one big difference, however. Wetteland pitched in the era of relief specialists. As a result, he recorded only 3.7 outs per appearance in his career, and that includes 17 starts. Even with those starts, his career added up to 277 fewer innings than Sutter's. Is that a deal breaker for Wetteland? It appears that 396 voters feel that it is.
There's no question that shorter outings help a pitcher put up better rate stats. Our reliever rankings are dominated by modern pitchers such as Wetteland, Robb Nen, Tom Henke, Bryan Harvey, and Jeff Montgomery. In time, they'll be joined by today's dominant closers, including Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, Troy Percival, and Billy Wagner.
Very soon, the HOF voters are going to have to deal with this issue. How do you compare the workhorse relievers of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s with the specialists of the 1990s and 2000s?
So far, with the exception of Dennis Eckersley, who also had a meaningful career as a starter, it appears the voters are drawing a line between those eras. Older guys like Sutter, Hoyt Wilhelm, and Rollie Fingers are in, while more recent players like Wetteland, Henke, and Harvey aren't getting a sniff.
No matter how you look at it, Gossage deserves to be a member of any club that includes Sutter. In fact, even if you believe Sutter wasn't worthy, Gossage should be enshrined. And if you drawn the line so it includes Sutter, Dan Quisenberry has to be in as well, and you have to give serious thought to Sparky Lyle and Kent Tekulve.
The Jim Rice debate centers on peak value versus longevity. He was among the most feared hitters in the game through his age-33 season, but tailed off quickly and was done before he turned 37. If he'd put up another two or three seasons, even mediocre ones, he would have topped 400 homers, approached 3000 hits, and added to his impressive RBI total. That might have been enough.
But is it true that Rice was clearly qualified on a peak basis? Was it only the lack of a normal tail that has kept him out so far?
That's far from clear. According to our peak-period rankings, more than 30 left fielders rank ahead of Rice, mainly because his raw numbers were boosted by Fenway Park. After discounting his stats for the park, he's still very good, but he's not among the elite.
In fact, he ranks behind another player who barely survived the cut to remain on the ballot. Albert Belle ranks 8th among LFs in our method but was named by only 40 voters. Compared with Rice, Belle got more help from his era but less help from his home parks. Take both factors into account and Belle comes out ahead.
Neither Rice nor Belle was an asset in the field. Both were used at DH a fair amount of the time, more so for Rice than Belle. Neither was a great runner, but Belle had more stolen bases and a higher success rate. Neither had a great relationship with the press. Both saw their careers end early, Belle because of a degenerative hip condition, Rice because he stopped hitting.
On a rate basis, and focusing on peak performance, it's hard to see how Rice could be a borderline candidate for election while Belle is a borderline candidate to be dropped from the ballot. But longevity is clearly an important factor in HOF voting, and the voters appear to be discounting Belle because he had 2400 fewer atbats. Or maybe they're holding Belle's much-publicized fits of temper against him.
Dale Murphy is at least as good a candidate as Rice, though Murphy received only 56 votes to Rice's 337. Murphy's career was just as long. And he played center field, a more demanding defensive position. As a result, Murphy ranks higher among CFs than Rice does among LFs.
Among shortstops, Alan Trammell ranks even higher than Murphy does among center fielders, yet Trammell was listed on only 92 ballots. Maybe the voters are leery of electing any more shortstops with Derek Jeter, Miguel Tejada, Nomar Garciaparra (if he can resurrect his career), and Alex Rodriguez (if he doesn't become seen as a third baseman) on the horizon.
Much has been written about Bert Blyleven in recent years, most of it favorable. The sticking point appears to be his career 287-250 record, which makes him appear to be a .500 pitcher in the eyes of some people.
Blyleven was a terrific pitcher. On a peak-years basis, Blyleven is among the best ever, ranking 22nd in era/park-neutral ERA and 12th in OPS. He struck out more than 200 hitters in a season eight times, and is 5th on the all-time strikeout list.
And it's not as if he was a flash in the pan, either. He broke in as a 19-year-old in 1970 and pitched until he was 41. He's among the all-time leaders in wins, innings, strikeouts, and complete games. He won at least 15 games ten times.
But he never dominated. He posted only one 20-win season, and he rarely led the league in high-profile categories like wins (never), ERA (never), and strikeouts (once). He just did his job very well week after week, year after year.
Does that remind you of another right-handed pitcher who IS in the hall? How about Don Sutton? Sutton was a very good pitcher for a very long time, and his career numbers are similar to Blyleven's. Sutton pitched about 5% more innings, posted similar (but slightly weaker) walk and strikeout numbers, and lost even more games (256) than Blyleven.
Furthermore, Blyleven's stats are clearly better than Sutton's after adjusting for league and park. Sutton did his best work in pitcher's parks and a non-DH league. Blyleven did not have that luxury.
But Sutton is in the Hall and Blyleven is still on the outside looking in. Why is that? It's got to be the wins. Sutton surpassed the 300 mark (324) and Blyleven came up a little short. To me, that's not enough of a reason. Blyleven was better. If Sutton's worthy, so is Blyleven.
By the way, in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006, Bill James also makes a compelling argument for Blyleven. Bill asked whether Blyleven somehow lacked the ability to win the close games. He looked at this question in several interesting ways, and concluded that Blyleven's teammates deserve much of the blame for failing to provide enough runs in a large number of games in which Blyleven pitched very well.
Jack Morris, author of that memorable 1991 World Series performance, had a peak period that fell short of both Blyleven (by a lot) and Sutton (by a little). Like the others, he was a very good pitcher for a long time without dominating the league at any point, though his career was more than 1000 innings shorter.
Maybe Morris is HOF-worthy, maybe he's not. But if he makes it some day, Blyleven should be there waiting for him.
As I said at the beginning, deciding where to draw the line is a matter of taste. Some 16,400 players have appeared in a major league game. How many are worthy of this honor? 200? 400? 800?
Your answer is as good as mine. But wherever you draw that line, it would be nice if the most-deserving players were allowed to cross it. All in all, I think the voters do a pretty good job, but there's room for improvement, to be sure.