Thursday, February 23, 2012

In This League Office

Major League Baseball has a serious problem. Over the last decade-plus this problem has sullied the names of some of the greatest men ever to play the game. Guaranteed Hall-of-Famers will be lucky to get enough votes to stay on the ballot from year to year. It's petty and disgusting and quite frankly I'm sick of hearing about it from everyone. This problem is not going away anytime soon though and the breaking news today about Ryan Braun's suspension being overturned shows just how important this issue is in the game today. The issue I'm speaking about of course is none other than the extreme breaches of confidentiality exhibited in recent years by the MLB, specifically with regards to performance enhancing drugs.

There is no doubt that the steroid era (which possibly isn't over) put a black mark on America's pastime, but the ignorance on the part of MLB management, the media, and the fans are as equally culpable for the results as the juiced up players. I think bygones should remain bygones and we should evaluate the era for what it was. There's no need to find out exactly what every player was on for every game he played and besides, if we start digging up skeletons from this era we should go back and deal with the spitballers, greenie junkies, and racial black-listers from past eras as well. Unfortunately there are some who feel that the players of the steroid era deserve to be dragged through the mud more than any others. Although I don't support that opinion I can understand how some would want to follow this path. What I do have a problem with though, is MLB leaking confidential information to aid in the witch hunt. It is completely inappropriate and unfair to the players involved and I'm surprised that no one has brought a lawsuit yet.

In 2003 the players agreed to a survey drug test under the condition that the results would remain anonymous. In this test 104 players tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. However that list has since been passed around or seized by BALCO, Quest Diagnostics, the MLBPA, and federal authorities. In doing so the names of stars such as Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, and Sammy Sosa among others have had their names leak off this supposedly confidential list. And although not a direct breach of confidentiality, MLB also commissioned the Mitchell Report knowing full well that they would not act on it in anyway. Its purpose was to indict a few more players who passed drugs around in "shady locker room dealings" and try to pass the MLB off as innocent and above the whole ordeal.

Now we have the Ryan Braun incident. To quote from Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention And Treatment Program:
The Commissioner’s Office, the Association, the Treatment Board, the IPA, the Medical Testing Officer, Club personnel, and all of their members, affiliates, agents, consultants and employees, are prohibited from publicly disclosing information about an individual Player’s test results or testing history, Initial Evaluation, diagnosis, Treatment Program (including whether a Player is on either the Clinical or Administrative Track), prognosis or compliance with a Treatment Program.
This was clearly violated. This test will hang over Braun now for the rest of his career regardless of his new-found innocence.  He will be accused of cheating in every road game he plays in until he retires and it probably won't stop there. Besides the damage to Braun, this is also completely embarrassing for the MLB. Accusing and suspending a player for performance enhancing drugs is a delicate matter, even more so when that player is the freshly minted MVP. The leak shows a complete lack of class and calls into question the entire MLB drug testing procedure. If Braun were to have failed the test and had it overturned on review without the leak the league would have held steady. Now people will be clamoring to know exactly how Braun "beat" the test. If he beat it on a technicality, how did such a careless mistake occur, or if he truly was clean or tested positive as the result of legal and prescribed medication, how was this not resolved immediately and discretely and are their possible flaws in the science?

I doubt that it was any high ranking official who has been responsible for these leaks but that's largely irrelevant. An atmosphere of distrust has been created and the MLB front office needs to seriously clean up their act, if not for the sheer dignity of it, then perhaps to avoid litigation in the future.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Omar's Comin'

The man, the myth, the legend Omar Vizquel has joined the hometown Toronto Blue Jays. My first reaction to Omar coming to Toronto was that of complete giddiness, not so much over what I expect the soon-to-be 45 year old to produce this year, but just because it will be so awesome to see one of the great defensive players of the last couple decades don the new beautiful Toronto blues.

I don't have great expectations for Omar this season, mostly because I don't think he'll see much if any playing time. I think 100 PA would be generous and even if he completely stinks it up during those games, he'll probably still bat better than Jeff Mathis. Hopefully he can pass on some defensive nuggets of wisdom to the kids on the left side of the infield, but beyond that I don't see him being of much value to the team. He's not as mobile as he used to be so even as a late inning defensive replacement we have better options.

So why bother thinking about the present then, let's look to the past and the future. One of the first things I was asked when Vizquel signed was whether he'll make it into the Hall of Fame. My immediate answer was no, it won't even be close. After 23 seasons and possibly more though, on his defensive stalwart reputation and the fact that he may be one of the most liked guys in baseball, the BBWAA might look more and more favourably on him with every passing year. So let's examine his HoF case.

The Hall of Fame is not exactly filled to the brim with shortstops elected by the BBWAA. Since 1970 only Barry Larkin, Cal Ripken, Ozzie Smith, Robin Yount, Luis Aparicio, Ernie Banks, and Lou Boudreau have gained entrance to the hall. If we're looking for comparables to Vizquel let's knock Ripken, Yount, and Banks off the list immediately. They were all tremendous offensive forces with multiple MVPs and were no-doubt HoFers. I'm also going to ignore Boudreau, he was a far better offensive player than Vizquel, still provided solid defence, but also played in a completely different era.

For Hall comparables then we're left with Larkin, Ozzie, and Aparicio. Larkin isn't a great comparable either. In the same era, he accumulated 26 more WAR, while compiling a .366 wOBA compared to the .312 Vizquel put up. That on top of being an average defender puts Larkin way out of Vizquel's league.

The most logical Hall comparisons that we're left with are Ozzie and Aparicio. Ozzie actually had a comparable offensive career to Vizquel. He put up an almost identical .311 wOBA, essentially trading some of Vizquel's power for speed. But looking over the career doesn't tell the full HoF story, Hall voters like to look at peak periods as well and here's where any comparisons to Ozzie fall apart. Vizquel had a total of 6 seasons with 3+ WAR, and only 3 seasons of 3+ offensive WAR. Ozzie had a 6 year consecutive stretch where he put up 3+ WAR offensively alone. The defensive value between the two isn't even that comparable. Omar's 11 Gold Gloves are impressive but Ozzie beat him 21.6 to 13.3 in career defensive WAR. I realize that the defensive WAR numbers don't always represent what we feel we see on the field, but I don't think anyone can argue with Ozzie's defense. Aparicio draws similar comparisons. He had similar defensive value to Vizquel and posted a higher career WAR. The Fangraphs WAR graph below highlights these differences pretty clearly.

It's tough to ignore the accolades these men have earned throughout their careers as well. Ozzie was a 15-time all-star and earned MVP votes in 6 different seasons. Aparicio was a 10-time all-star with MVP votes in 10 different seasons. Vizquel on the other hand was only a 3-time all-star with MVP votes in one only one season, finishing 16th in voting. Here's where the argument for Vizquel breaks down. We've shown that he doesn't compare favorably to the shortstops in the hall, but in any given season he didn't even compare well to other shortstops on the diamond. Even in his career-best 1999 season he was still only the third best shortstop in the American League, behind Jeter and Garciaparra. In fact his career-best .379 wOBA that year would be only one of two seasons he topped Yunel Escobar's 2011 .345 wOBA. In any given year, in addition to the players previously mentioned, he wasn't as good as ARod, Tony Fernandez, Travis Fryman, Tejada, and Renteria among others. Comparing the WARs of some of these guys in the graph below, it really doesn't look too good for Vizquel, and aside from Jeter no one is clamouring for the other guys to make it in. The Gold Gloves are impressive, but not enough to put him into the Hall.

Assuming he ever retires, Omar will get some love when his turn to be voted on comes. Given the disdain for anyone possibly linked to steroids from this era, it wouldn't surprise me if Omar even topped 5% and hung on the ballot a few times for "playing the game the right way". He's not a Hall of Famer though, but besides him and his loved ones, who cares? Let's just sit back, enjoy the solid career he's had, and admire what a guy in his 40's can still do on the field.