Sunday, December 10, 2017

HALL OF FAME BALLOT 2018

So, it's been awhile since I've posted anything. The old adage: "life gets in the way" has certainly held true for me over the past couple of months. I am currently working on a fiction project that has nothing to do with baseball and it has kept me side-tracked along with multiple other responsibilities. But the upcoming Hall of Fame voting has turned my attention back to my favorite subject. Last year, 2 of my 3 predictions came true (for a change). So let's see if I can pick 'em this year. 

Of the returning Hall of Fame candidates, closer Trevor Hoffman and outfielder Vladimir Guerrero had the most support. With his 601 career saves (second only to Mariano Rivera), Hoffman missed by a slender one percent margin. The free-swinging Guerrero, one of baseball's best bad-ball hitters, narrowly missed as well, gathering 71.7% of the vote. Remember that 75% is needed for induction. 

Though Hoffman and Guerrero may both gain enough support this time around, there are several new prospects that may steal their thunder. For starters, I believer Chipper Jones is going to get quite a few votes. An eight-time all-star, Jones won an MVP, a batting crown and a World Series ring. His 468 career homers are the most by an NL switch-hitter. Additionally, he holds the record for most consecutive games with an extra-base hit (14).

Another worthy candidate, Jim Thome will make his debut on the ballot this year. A long-time fan favorite in Cleveland, Thome cracked 612 career homers without the aid of steroids--a remarkable accomplishment for a player of his era. With a keen batting eye, he drew more than 1,700 career walks and currently ranks seventh on the all-time list in that category. He was pretty handy with a glove too, compiling a lifetime .994 fielding percentage at first base--among the top marks of all time. 

With Jones and Thome in the mix, the baseball writers will have their hands full this year as Omar Vizquel also makes a first appearance. A master of his craft at shortstop, Vizquel's thirteen Gold Gloves are the most among any player at his position. Additionally, his lifetime fielding percentage is the highest ever recorded by a shortstop. Though he didn't swing the bat exceptionally well in his first few seasons, he improved over time, gathering 2,877 hits and more than 1,000 walks. He also stole over 400 bases while helping the Indians to six playoff appearances. 

Other first year candidates I believe will at least survive into the next ballot include Andruw Jones and Scott Rolen. Jones won ten Gold Gloves in centerfield, a number surpassed only by Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente. He also slugged more than 400 homers. Rolen, a seven-time all-star, was Rookie of the Year in 1997. He went on to capture eight Gold Gloves at third base--placing him third among hot corner guardians behind Brooks Robinson and Mike Schmidt. 

So, who will get in?

It's a tough call, but I'll go out on a limb and predict that Hoffman, Vizquel and Jones will have plaques hanging in the gallery at Cooperstown this year. The one-dimensional Guerrero will have to wait. Players sure to be eliminated on the first ballot include Jason Isringhausen, Aubrey Huff, Kerry Wood, Kevin Millwood and Carlos Zambrano.  First year candidates who may return next year include Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, Johan Santana and Jamie Moyer, though each will get just a smattering of votes.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT THE WILD CARD



Before 1993, only two teams were permitted to advance to the League Championship Series. But when expansion necessitated the formation of an additional division in each league, the playoff scenario became rather complex. Established in 1994, the Wild Card format would not be used that year due to a players strike that pre-empted the postseason. A “wild card” rule had been employed once before then—in 1981, when another players strike dramatically shortened the regular season schedule. The wild card scenario changed again in 2011 with the addition of two more teams into the mix.



Opinions vary wildly on the current format, which includes a do or die one-game showdown between two sets of Wild Card teams. Yankees manager Joe Girardi commented: “I know it’s for the excitement and the drama. But to play 162 games, you should get more than one game.” A writer from Business Insider echoed that sentiment, remarking that “The problem with the new playoff format is that four teams who fought for six months to be among the top teams in their respective leagues now have their entire seasons riding on what is essentially a crap shoot.” On the other side of the coin, there are those who support the setup established in 2011. “I think it’s working,” said baseball columnist Jay Rigdon. “…It does keep more teams involved in the playoff picture by definition, and those one-game playoff nights are some of baseball’s best theater.”   



Whichever camp you align yourself with, the Wild Card format has produced some interesting results as illustrated below.


--Entering the 2016 season, five Wild Card teams had gone on to win the World Series: The Marlins in ’97 and 2003, The Angels in 2002, The Red Sox in 2004, the Cardinals in 2011 and the Giants in 2014.


--Wild Card teams appeared in the World Series for six straight years beginning in 2002.


--The Marlins currently hold the record for most postseason series wins by a Wild Card team (6). To date, they have never been beaten in a postseason series during a Wild Card year. 


--The Best regular season record by a Wild Card team was compiled by the 2015 Pirates, who went 98-64. The Bucs lost the Wild Card game to the Cubs that year, 1-0.


--The worst regular season winning percentage by a Wild Card team belonged to the 1995 Colorado Rockies, who notched a .535 mark.


--During the first ten years of Wild Card play, 39 games were decided by a single run and 20 went into extra innings.  



 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

MY LATEST BOOK: LATINO STARS IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL Players on the Cusp (Concluded)

Wrapping up my current series of posts, I'd like to include some of the smaller Latin American countries whose contributions have been less noticeable.

BRAZIL

PAULO ORLANDO
Orlando didn't reach the majors until he was 29 years old. He has been a member of the Royals since 2015. After an encouraging rookie season, he hit .302 in his follow-up while appearing in 128 games. So far this year, he has made just 21 appearances for Kansas City and managed a feeble .164 batting average. Demoted to the minors, the 31 year old outfielder posted an impressive .341 mark at the Double-A level. Moving up to Triple-A at Omaha, he hit .293, earning another call to Kansas City on September 1st. He has been used primarily as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch-hitter since then.

CURACAO

DIDI GREGORIUS
Gregorius was excluded from my book on a technicality. Though he grew up in Curacao, he was born in the Netherlands. After failing to hold down a starting job with the Reds and Diamondbacks, Gregorius emerged as a major star with the Yankees. Faced with the unenviable task of replacing Derek Jeter at short, he is currently in the midst of his finest offensive season to date, hitting .291 with 21 homers and 68 RBIs through early September. Defensively, Gregorius has sure hands, a strong arm and covers a lot of ground.

NICARAGUA

VICENTE PADILLA
The right-handed Padilla finished with double-digit win totals five times in an eight-year span. He had his best season on the mound in 2002, posting a 14-11 record for the Phillies with a 3.28 ERA. He made an All-Star appearance that year and is perhaps best remembered for it. With the National League down to its last available pitcher, Padilla worked 2 scoreless innings but couldn't continue. The game was declared a tie, forcing Commissioner Bud Selig to change the format of future All-Star games. Padilla became less effective as time wore on and made his last big league appearance in 2012.

HONDURAS

MAURICIO DUBON
Though Honduras has only produced two major league players to date, it may soon boast of a third. 23 year-old Mauricio Dubon has slowly moved up the minor league ladder. After hitting .301 in the South Atlantic League during the 2015 slate, he followed with a .339 showing in the Eastern League. He was promoted to the Triple-A level this year and at the time of this writing was hitting .272 for the Colorado Springs Skybox--a Milwaukee Brewers affiliate. He was a South Atlantic League All-Star before his promotion. The Brewers currently have a promising young Latino at shortstop--Orlando Arcia--but Dubon may get his shot by the time September call-ups are concluded.   

 

   
 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

MY LATEST BOOK: LATINO STARS IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL: Players on the Cusp (Panama and Mexico)

Continuing with my list of honorable mentions from Latin America, here are a few players from Mexico and Panama who didn't make the final cut for my book but figured prominently into the mix.

ESTEBAN LOIAZA (MEXICO)

In 2003, Loiaza led the AL with 207 strikeouts and was the starting pitcher in the All-Star game. He made another All-Star appearance the following year. The hard-throwing right-hander spent portions of fourteen seasons with eight different clubs and finished with double digit win totals seven times. He was a runner up for Cy Young in 2003. Shoulder problems reduced his effectiveness and shortened his career. He retired with 126 wins.

AURELIO LOPEZ (MEXICO)

A right-handed reliever, Lopez spent most of his career with the Tigers. He lasted eleven seasons in the majors, earning an All-Star berth in 1983. He made 3 postseason appearances with the Tigers in 1984, allowing no runs and picking up a pair of wins as Detroit ended a long World Series drought. Lopez entered 459 games during his career and retired with a creditable 3.56 ERA.

MARCO ESTRADA (MEXICO)
 
Currently property of the Blue Jays, Estrada began his career as a reliever. He became a swing-man in 2011 with Milwaukee, making 7 starts and 36 appearances out of the bullpen. In 2014, the Brewers called upon him to start 18 games while using him in relief 21 times. Upon signing with the Blue Jays in 2015, Estrada became a regular member of the starting rotation. As of this writing, he had compiled a 26-24 record in that capacity for Toronto. He earned an All-Star berth in 2016, but his best all around season (to date) came the previous year, when he won 13 games and posted a 3.13 ERA.

ROBERTO OSUNA (MEXICO)

Just 22 years old, Osuna is at the beginning of a promising career with the Blue Jays. He finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting in 2015 and made his first All-Star appearance this season. He has averaged more than 12 strikeouts per nine innings so far in 2017. He is also on pace to break his career-high mark of 36 saves, set in 2016.

ROBERTO KELLY (PANAMA)

Kelly is perhaps best remembered for his days as a starting outfielder with the non-contending Yankee teams of the early-'90s. He made consecutive All-Star appearances in '92/'93. In the latter season, he was traded to the Reds for Paul O'Neill, who proved to be one of the missing links for the Yankees. Kelly continued to play competently after his departure from the Bronx. He compiled a lifetime .290 batting average over fourteen seasons. 

BRUCE CHEN (PANAMA)

The left-handed Chen was an enigma to several of the eleven teams he played for during his career. But his stuff was good enough to keep him at the major league level for portions of seventeen seasons. Enjoying stretches of brilliance, he was plagued by inconsistency at times. Even so, he was a versatile starter, middle reliever and mop-up man. Between 2005 and 2012, he put up double digit win totals on four occasions. He averaged close to 7 strikeouts per nine innings over the course of his career.  


 

Monday, July 24, 2017

MY LATEST BOOK: LATINO STARS IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL: Players on the Cusp (Cuba)

To date, the island of Cuba has produced well over 200 major league players. Because of obvious restrictions on immigration, many of those players went through virtual hell to get to the United States. Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig was held hostage by the criminals who smuggled him out of the country. White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu nearly drowned in 15-foot waves. The struggles that many Cuban players have endured make their stories all the more triumphant. My latest book project features the profiles of 25 Cuban standouts--one of whom is currently enshrined at Cooperstown (Tony Perez). Of the remaining group, I gave serious consideration to five candidates. Their thumbnail bios are as follows:

YONDER ALONSO
Now playing in his eighth season, Alonso earned his first All-Star selection in 2017. At the time of this writing, he had already slugged 21 homers--a single-season high for him. A solid defensive first baseman, his career fielding percentage is among the top ten marks for active players. He appears to have reached his prime and there is every reason to expect great things from him in the future. 

YUNIESKY BETANCOURT
Betancourt had quite an ordeal trying to defect to the U.S. Not only was he forced to hide out on a Bahamian beach to avoid the Coast Guard, but he was later arrested by Mexican authorities while trying to obtain a visa. He enjoyed six highly productive years with the Mariners, Royals and Brewers. He was a key ingredient in Milwaukee's 2011 championship bid, driving in 68 runs during the regular season. He collected 6 more RBIs in the postseason and scored 7 times in 11 playoff games. His last major league appearance came in 2013.

YUNEL ESCOBAR
Currently property of the Angels, Escobar is among the top ten active shortstops in putouts and assists. He has been a dependable offensive presence for five different clubs. Between 2007 and 2016, he hit .288 or better six times. He topped the .300 mark in 2015/ '16. He was a serious candidate for Rookie of the Year in 2007.  

TITO FUENTES
Fuentes was one of the biggest hot dogs of his era and fans in San Francisco loved him. He had a highly unusual batting stance and flipped his bat on home plate before every at-bat. Giants fans were known to chant his name when he came to the plate. A spray hitter, he was tough to strike out, averaging just 1 "K" per ever 11 plate appearances. He retired with a respectable .268 lifetime batting average. A gifted infielder, he made only 6 errors in 160 games at second base during the '73 slate. This was a record at the time. 

REY ORDONEZ
Ordonez had his ups and downs at the plate, but he was one of the slickest fielding shortstops in the majors for several seasons. He won a Gold Glove every year from 1997-1999. His best offensive effort came with the Mets in 1999, when he drove in a career-best 60 runs while hitting .258. He helped New York to an NLCS appearance that year. 

  

Sunday, July 16, 2017

MY LATEST BOOK: LATINO STARS IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL: Players on the Cusp (Venezuela)

Venezuela is another Latin American country with a rich tradition of sending players to the majors. 25 of the 369 Venezuelans who have worn (or currently wear) big league uniforms found their way into my latest book. Several others warranted serious consideration. They are as follows:

ASDRUBAL CABRERA
Playing in his eleventh season, the switch-hitting Cabrera is a two-time All-Star. He won a Gold Glove with the Indians in 2011. From 2008-2013, he was a regular in the Cleveland lineup. Cabrera generates decent power, having collected 15 or more homers on four occasions. He has slammed at least 30 doubles during six seasons. A reliable glove man, his fielding percentage is above the league average at second base and shortstop, which is his primary station. He is currently with the Mets.

MIGUEL CAIRO
This versatile utility man played seventeen seasons, spending time at every infield station except pitcher and catcher. Primarily a third baseman, his career fielding percentage is among the top 50 marks of all time. Cairo showed off his speed with 69 stolen bases between 1998 and 2000. He appeared in the postseason with four different clubs and hit .282 in 29 games.

 ALEX GONZALEZ
Gonzalez was a reliable hitter and solid shortstop who led the league in fielding percentage and double plays once apiece. His major league career spanned portions of sixteen seasons. He hit .273 in the Marlins World Series victory over the Yankees in 2003. He was an All-Star in 1999.

CARLOS GUILLEN
A three-time All-Star, Guillen was a fixture on the infields of Seattle and Detroit from 2000 through 2009. In that span, he hit .276 or higher in six consecutive campaigns. He surpassed the .300 mark on three occasions. His best all around effort came in 2004 with Detroit. He hit .318 with 20 homers and 97 RBIs. 

RAMON HERNANDEZ
Hernandez was Oakland's starting catcher for five straight seasons. He later held first-string status for three campaigns in Baltimore. Though he led AL catchers in errors four times, his defense grew stronger over time. He put forth his best offensive effort in 2006 with the Orioles, hitting .275 with 23 homers and 91 RBIs. He was an All-Star in 2003. He hit .375 in the 2000 ALDS and .455 in the 2005 NLDS.

OMAR INFANTE
An All-Star with Atlanta in 2010, Infante spent portions of 15 seasons in the majors, primarily with the Tigers. A lifetime .271 hitter, he led the league with 17 sacrifice hits in 2011. Infante has an extensive postseason resume that includes twelve October series. He was productive in three World Series, accruing a .316 average in twelve games. He was a dependable second baseman, logging a lifetime fielding percentage in the top 100 of all time.

MELVIN MORA
Mora was a steady performer for Baltimore over portions of ten seasons. From 2003-2008, his batting average never slipped below .274. A two-time All-Star, he hit .340 in 2004, earning a Silver Slugger Award. He also led the AL with a .419 on-base percentage that year. In the 1999 NLCS with the Mets, he logged a .429 batting average. Defensively, Mora appeared at every position except pitcher/catcher. His fielding percentage was well above the league average at third base, where he spent most of his time. He twice drove in over 100 runs.  

GERARDO PARRA
Parra has been a quietly consistent outfielder for the Diamondbacks, Brewers and Rockies over the past nine seasons. He got off to a .333 first-half start at the plate in 2017. He was among the top ten Rookie of the Year candidates in 2009 and has won two Gold Gloves since then. 

PABLO SANDOVAL
Nowadays, it appears that Sandoval's best years are behind him. But before he joined the Red Sox in 2015, he helped the Giants to three World Series titles. He was MVP of the 2012 Fall classic gathering 8 hits (3 of them homers) in 4 games. Sandoval posted double digit home run totals in seven straight seasons beginning in 2009. He hit .330 that year. He is a strong defensive third baseman, having compiled a lifetime fielding percentage above the league average.    
 

    

Friday, July 7, 2017

MY LATEST BOOK: LATINO STARS IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL: Players on the Cusp (Puerto Rico)

In this installment, I'd like to take a look at some players from Puerto Rico--a country that has produced four Hall of Famers to date (Roberto Alomar, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Clemente and Ivan Rodriguez). Of the 250-plus Puerto Rican-born players who have aspired to the majors over the years, 22 of them ended up being featured in my book. There were a dozen other players I gave serious consideration to. They are as follows:

SANDY ALOMAR JR.
Brother of Hall of Famer, Roberto, and son of major leaguer, Sandy Sr., Alomar logged 20 years of major league experience. He was a six-time All-Star. In his first full season, he captured Rookie of the Year honors along with a Gold Glove. He helped Cleveland to five postseason appearances and hit .367 in the '97 World Series against the Marlins. He was MVP of the All-Star game that year.


CARLOS BAERGA
 Baerga's career spanned portions of fourteen seasons. A three-time All-Star, he also claimed a pair of Silver Slugger Awards. He exceeded the .300 mark at the plate every year from 1992-1995 and retired with a commendable .291 average. He had decent range at second base, leading the league in assists three times. A reliable run producer, he drove in 100 runs on two occasions.

JOSE CRUZ JR.
Cruz's father is included in my book. His uncles, Hector and Tommy, didn't make the cut. Jose Jr. finished second in rookie of the Year voting during the '97 campaign. He hit 26 homers in his debut then collected 15 or more on six other occasions. He reached the 30-homer mark in 2000 and 2001. He was also a competent outfielder with a strong arm. He led the league in putouts in 2000 and won a Gold glove in 2003.

IVAN DEJESUS
DeJesus spent 15 years in the majors with seven different clubs. He peaked with the Cubs and Phillies in the late-'70s/early '80s. His best offensive effort came in '78 when he led the league with 104 runs scored. He had an excellent arm and good range in his prime. He led the league in assists twice. His range factor per 9 innings is among the top 20 figures of all time. 

ED FIGUEROA
Figueroa had established himself as one of the most reliable pitchers in the AL when an elbow injury derailed his career. Between 1975 and 1978, he posted a 71-43 record with an ERA in the low-three's. He was a member of two world championship Yankee squads. He won 20 games in 1978.

ROBERTO HERNANDEZ
A right-handed reliever, Hernandez was a two-time All-Star. He gathered 30 or more saves on six occasions. He peaked in '96 while playing for the White Sox, leading the league in closing appearances (61). He ended up with 38 saves and a stellar 1.91 ERA that year. He has the most career saves (326) among Puerto Rican born pitchers.

WILLIE HERNANDEZ
For one magical season, Hernandez was the top reliever in the majors. In 1984, he helped guide the Tigers to a World Series victory with a 9-3 record, 1.92 ERA and 32 saves. He entered a league-high 80 games that year during the regular season and six more during the postseason. He was rewarded with an All-Star berth, a Cy Young Award and an MVP nod. Two more All-Star selections followed in '85 and '86. By '87, he had faded into mediocrity.

SIXTO LEZCANO
In the late-'70s, Lezcano was among the Brewers most powerful hitters. He peaked in 1979 with a .321 batting average, 28 homers and 101 RBI. At one point, he homered in four straight games. He also won a Gold Glove. Lezcano is the only player to hit a grand slam on opening day twice.

WILLIE MONTANEZ
Well traveled, Montanez spent time with nine different clubs over fourteen seasons. His high energy level and volatile temperament were too much for some clubs. In 1971, he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting. He posted double digit home run totals eight times and drove in no fewer than 60 runs on ten occasions. His best season came in 1975, when he hit .302 and gathered 101 RBIs for the Phillies and Giants. He flashy "snatch-catch" was later emulated by Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson. 

JOSE VALENTIN
Valentin collected at least 10 homers every year from 1994-2004, peaking at 30 long balls in the latter campaign. He drove in no fewer than 70 runs five times in that span. He helped the Mets and White Sox to postseason appearances. A versatile defensive player, he played every position except pitcher and catcher. 

JOSE VIDRO
Vidro logged twelve years of major league service. A three-time All-Star, he was the Expos top second baseman from 1999-2004. He averaged 17 homers and 73 RBIs per year in that span. He retired with a .298 batting average. Defensively, he was equipped with a strong arm. He led players at his position twice in assists. His lifetime fielding percentage is among the top fifty marks of all time. 

JAVIER VAZQUEZ
A right-hander, Vazquez posted double digit victory totals for twelve straight seasons. He peaked with the Expos in 2001, going 16-11 with a 3.42 ERA. He had another phenomenal year with the Braves in 2009, posting a career-best 2.87 ERA in over 200 innings of work. Vazquez was known for his durability, reaching the 200 inning mark in nine seasons. He was a 15 game winner three times.