Sunday Notes: Cooperstown Could Use More Closers

Sunday Notes: Cooperstown Could Use More Closers

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Billy Wagner has a chance to be voted into the Hall of Fame this year. As I type these words on Saturday evening, the erstwhile left-handed reliever — this in his penultimate appearance on the BBWAA ballot — is polling at 80.0% with nearly half of the electorate having disclosed their choices. If he finishes at or above the 75% threshold required for induction he will become the ninth closer enshrined in Cooperstown.

Many will argue that closers — at least not those named Mariano Rivera — don’t belong in the Hall of Fame. The reasoning, by and large, is lack of innings thrown (Wagner has just 903), which factors into comparably low WAR totals (Rivera has 38.6, whereas workmanlike starters such as Kenny Rogers and John Lackey are north of 40). Add in a rule that allows for what might be deemed “cheap saves” and the argument against closers is understandable.

Personally, I don’t think there are enough closers in the Hall of Fame. It’s not as though the role isn’t important, and it certainly isn’t recent. The first 15-save season came exactly 100 years ago, with Firpo Marberry doing the honors with the Washington Senators (the right-hander added two more saves in that year’s World Series). Marberry subsequently logged the first 20-save season in 1926, and by career’s end he’d led the American League in saves and appearances six times each. Marberry isn’t in the Hall of Fame, but when you factor in his historical significance — ditto his higher JAWS score than all of Rollie Fingers, Lee Smith, and Bruce Sutter — he arguably should be.

If a “closer” with Marberry’s statistical résumé — he finished with 99 saves and 148 wins (56 of them as a reliever) — could be deemed Hall-worthy, what about a Wagner contemporary like John Franco? While not as overpowering as Wagner, Franco did amass 424 saves — two more than the on-the-doorstep Hall of Famer’s total, and the most ever for a southpaw. Moreover, it ranks fifth-most all-time, while his 1,119 appearances ranks third-most. With the caveat that JAWS isn’t bullish on his credentials, Franco presents an intriguing case.

Which brings us to Joe Nathan and Francisco Rodríguez. The latter, who is polling at 7.0% on the current ballot, is compromised by off-the-field issues. But for that reason, Rodríguez would likely be garnering far more support. With 437 saves, including single-season record 62 in 2008, he has a solid argument statistically. As for the former, my esteemed colleague Jay Jaffe found room for Nathan on his 2022 ballot. That speaks volumes.

Names like Dan Quisenberry, Jeff Reardon, and Lindy McDaniel likewise belong in a discussion of most-accomplished late-inning arms, as do still-active stalwarts like Kenley Jansen and Craig Kimbrel. Are any of them worthy? Again, I’m of the opinion that closers aren’t adequately represented in the Hall of Fame. Hopefully Wagner becomes the ninth to be so honored when the results are announced on Tuesday night.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Troy Tulowitzki went 22 for 66 against Matt Cain.

Dustin Pedroia went 22 for 45 against Scott Kazmir.

Ian Kinsler went 12 for 19 against Wandy Rodriguez.

Brian McCann went 12 for 23 against Aaron Harang.

Russell Martin went 11 for 30 against Adam Wainwright.

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Andrew Nardi had a solid first full season in 2023. The 25-year-old left-hander came out of the Miami Marlins bullpen 63 times and logged three saves, a 2.67 ERA, and a 3.60 FIP over 63 appearances. Pitching primarily in innings six, seven, and/or eight, he went 8-1 in the won-lost column.

Were it not for rain and a rule decision, his record would most likely have been 9-1. On September 28, with Nardi having finished the eighth frame, the Marlins scored twice in the top of the ninth to take a 2-1 lead over the New York Mets at Citi Field… only to later have those runs erased from the record. The game was suspended due to unplayable weather conditions, and with the outcome immaterial to postseason considerations it was never resumed. The Mets were awarded a 1-0 win, with Nardi getting a no-decision.

His results come courtesy of a two-pitch mix. Nardi relies almost exclusively on heaters and sliders, the former of which he prefers to feature at the top of the zone. Learning that the pitch is effective when elevated has played a big part in his success.

“[The Nationals] told me that I get good vertical on my ball, so if I throw it belt-up, it will be a good pitch for me,” the University of Arizona product told me when Miami visited Boston midway through the season. “From there it was kind of just doing it and seeing the outcomes, and then when the analytics came out it was, ‘Yeah, my fastball plays better up.’”

His slider is relatively new. Nardi used to throw a curveball — “it was really more of a slurve” — but one of his friends back home in Southern California (Shea Barry, who has pitched in the Houston Astros organization) showed him a slider grip that he liked. That was in 2021, and in August of the following year Nardi made his MLB debut.

Deception is another of his weapons. Nardi has been told that he hides the ball well, in part because he “steps across [his] body a little bit” when delivering a pitch. Same-sided hitters felt that effect last season. Lefties went just 12-for-76 (.158) with 30 strikeouts against Nardi last year, while righties fared somewhat better at 33-for-135 (.244) with 43 strikeouts. Overall, the southpaw’s K-rate was an impressive 30.8%.

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A quiz:

Rickey Henderson had the most stolen bases in the 1980s. Which player had the most stolen bases in the 1990s?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

The Boston Red Sox have hired Kyle Boddy as a special advisor to Chief Baseball Officer Craig Breslow. The Driveline owner/founder, and former Cincinnati Reds Minor League Director of Pitching Initiatives, will contribute to the club’s pitching R&D arm.

The Cleveland Guardians have hired Dan Puente as an assistant hitting coach. The 42-year-old former Baltimore Orioles catching prospect has spent the last two seasons as the hitting coach for the High-A South Bend Cubs.

Bill Voss, an outfielder who played for five teams in a career that spanned the 1965-1972 seasons, died recently at age 80 (per Baseball Player Passings). A left-handed hitter, Voss logged 10 of his 18 big-league home runs with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1971.

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The answer to the quiz is Otis Nixon, with 478 stolen bases. Rickey Henderson was second with 463. Kenny Lofton was third with 433.

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Left on the cutting-room floor from my recent interview with longtime scout Tom Allison were his thoughts on Matt Carpenter’s having lasted until the 13th round of the 2009 draft. A senior at Texas Christian University at the time, Carpenter went 399th overall to the St. Louis Cardinals.

“I ended up seeing Matt Carpenter in a game at TCU,” recalled Allison, who was then the scouting director for the Arizona Diamondbacks. “He was playing against [Paul Goldschmidt’s] team. If you know Matt’s story, his father was a tremendous coach in the Houston area. And he’s a guy that just always loved to play. I can’t say that enough about Matt Carpenter: he loved to play.

“Matt didn’t perform much in his junior year [just eight games due to injury], but he came back as a senior. You talk about having a bias… he was older, but he was performing at a high level. He stood out on our metrics — our analysts were singing his praises — but he’s one those guys who, because he was a senior, kept getting pushed down the board. I give Jeff Luhnow and the St. Louis Cardinals credit. Matt has had a really good career.”

A Cardinal from 2011-2021 before spending the past two seasons with the New York Yankees and San Diego Padres respectively, Carpenter is a three-time All-Star with a 125 wRC+ over his 13 big-league seasons. Now 38 years old, he’s come full circle. Carpenter inked a one-year deal with St. Louis on Friday.

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Old friend Travis Sawchik recently pointed out something on Twitter that I hadn’t been aware of. While I knew that Todd Helton had good numbers away from Coors Field, I didn’t know how they compared to those of his teammates. The difference was eye-opening. Per Sawchik, Helton had a 121 road wRC+ in his 17 seasons with Colorado, while the Rockies as a team had a 79 wRC+ over that span.

As Sawchik also pointed out, Helton is a Hall of Fame talent.

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Which of Bobby Grich and Lou Whitaker is more deserving of the Hall of Fame? I asked that question on Twitter this past week, and the results were more one-sided than their respective numbers and accolades would suggest. To wit:

Grich: 1,833 hits, 224 HRs, 129 wRC+, 69.1 fWAR, 58.7 JAWS, six All-Star nods, four Gold Gloves.

Whitaker: 2,369 hits, 244 HRs, 118 wRC+, 68.1 fWAR, 56.5 JAWS, five All-Star nods, three Gold Gloves.

As for the poll results, Whitaker garnered 73.8% of the votes cast, while Grich received just 26.2%.

I’m an advocate of future induction for both of the erstwhile second basemen via an Eras Committee. That said, which would I favor if forced to choose just one? With the caveat that the above snapshot suggests Grich may have been slightly better, I’m inclined to agree with the majority and go with the longtime Detroit Tiger. The reason why is fairly straightforward.

In last Sunday’s column I brought up the “fame” component as it pertains to Hall of Fame third baseman Pie Traynor. In this case, Whitaker-Trammell is the most-storied keystone combination in any of our lifetimes, arguably of all time. Alan Trammell has a plaque in Cooperstown, and Whitaker deserves to have one as well. With apologies to Grich, who himself is worthy, “Sweet Lou” Whitaker is a more-storied part of baseball history.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

The KBO’s Kiwoom Heroes announced this week that they will post Hye-seong Kim following the upcoming season. The soon-to-turn-25-year-old, left-handed-hitting second baseman slashed .335/.396/.446 with seven home runs and 25 stolen bases in 2023.

Zac Rosscup is 2-1- with a 2.42 ERA and 26 strikeouts in the same number of innings for the Dominican Winter League’s Leones del Escogido. The 35-year-old former big-league left-hander spent last season with independent Atlantic League’s Spire City Ghost Hounds.

Jesus Valdez is slashing .320/.353/.418 in 204 plate appearances for the Mexican Pacific Winter League’s Venados de Mazatlan. Now in his 18th professional season, the 39-year-old outfielder played in the Chicago Cubs organization from 2003-2007, and in the Washington Nationals system from 2008-2012.

Yuhi Sako threw six-and -a-third scoreless innings on Thursday as the Canberra Cavalry topped the Melbourne Aces 2-0 in Australian Baseball League action. The 24-year-old right-hander — mentioned here at Sunday Notes a few weeks ago following an equally-stellar seven-inning outing — is 2-2 with a 2.21 ERA on the season.

Tayden Hall is slashing .297/.383/.461 with four home runs in 149 plate appearances for the ABL’s Brisbane Bandits. The recently-turned-21-year-old first baseman/catcher in the Milwaukee Brewers system had a 121 wRC+ this past season between the Arizona Complex League and Low-A Carolina.

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A random obscure former player snapshot:

Billy Grabarkewitz batted .289 with 17 home runs and a 135 wRC+ over 640 plate appearances with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1970, his first full big-league season. Hampered by injuries, Grabarkewitz proceeded to play in just 276 more games, never coming close to his rookie exploits. The flash-in-the-pan second baseman’s career slash line over seven seasons was .236/.351/.364, while his home run total was a humble 28. His November 1972 departure from LA was notable. Grabarkewicz was part of a seven player trade between the Dodgers and the California Angels that included Andy Messersmith, Frank Robinson, Bill Singer, and Bobby Valentine.

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Kyle Teel is one of the game’s top catching prospects. Drafted 14th overall last summer by the Boston Red Sox out of the University of Virginia, the left-handed-hitting backstop burst onto the pro scene by logging a .363/.483/.495 slash line over 114 plate appearances between the Florida Complex League (just nine PAs), High-A Greenville and Double-A Portland. His wRC+ was a lusty 173.

Baseball isn’t his only passion.

“I love music,” Teel told me at Fenway Park, where he participated in the team’s Rookie Development Program this past week. “I play a bunch of instruments. I taught myself how to play the guitar when I was in eighth grade — that’s where it started — and from there I taught myself how to play the bass. I also play the ukulele. I love string instruments.”

Teel plans to have a guitar in his locker this coming season, and also expects to be bringing it with him on most road trips. And if you’re wondering, yes, he sings as well. As for styles, the New Jersey native is a big country music fan, albeit one who enjoys multiple musical genres.

His favorite artists?

“That’s a great question,” said Teel. “What I listen to, and use for my DJ stuff — I do some DJing, as well — is a real mix. Greta Van Fleet is really good. That’s more rock. For EDM music, I like Disco Lines a lot. For country music, I’d say Morgan Wallen.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Alex Coffey wrote about how 27-year-old Cal-Berkeley alum Ani Kilambi is trying to help make the Phillies an analytics leader.

Sports Illustrated’s Emma Baccellieri and Stephanie Apstein teamed up to discuss the trust the San Francisco Giants are putting into their pitching system with the Jordan Hicks signing.

Lookout Landing’s Becca Weinberg wonders if a second stint at Driveline can help solve Taylor Trammell’s contact issues.

Twinkie Town’s John Foley wrote about how Eduoard Julien’s discerning approach, and the analytics that back it up.

There is growing speculation that 22-year-old pitching wunderkind Roki Sasaki will make a move to MLB after the 2024 NPB season. Yuri Karasawa has the story at JapanBall.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Robert Stephenson had 32 relief appearances last year in which he didn’t allow a baserunner. Twenty-two of those outings were for a full inning, four were two-thirds of an inning, and six were one-third of an inning. Stephenson fanned all six batters he faced in the one-third of an inning stints.

Ron Santo played in 2,243 games, had 2,254 hits, 342 home runs, and 3,779 total bases. Aramis Ramirez played in 2,194 games, had 2,303 hits, 386 home runs, and 4,004 total bases.

Kenny Lofton had 2,428 hits, 130 home runs, 116 triples, and 622 stolen bases. Jimmy Rollins had 2,455 hits, 231 home runs, 115 triples, and 471 stolen bases. Each was awarded four Gold Gloves.

Mark Grace had more walks than strikeouts in each of his 16 big-league seasons. He had 511 doubles, a .303/.383/.442 slash line, a 120 wRC+, and was awarded four Gold Gloves.

Jim Hegan received the most intentional walks among American League hitters each year from 1948-1951 (hat tip to @CooperstownDave). Batting almost exclusively in the eight-hole, the Cleveland Indians catcher slashed .233/.302//.369 hitter over that four-year stretch. Cleveland pitchers slashed .198/.248/.299.

Charlie Bicknell’s big-league career comprised 30 pitching appearances for the Philadelphia Phillies across the 1948 and 1949 seasons. The Phillies lost all 30 games. (per Adam Darowski, via Stathead)

The Montreal Expos signed Lee Smith as a free agent on today’s date in 1997. The Hall of Fame reliever, 39 years old at the time, went on to record five of his 478 career saves with Les Expos de Montréal in what was his last big-league season.

The New York Yankees signed Mike Stanley to a free agent contract on today’s date in 1992. The underrated catcher/first baseman proceeded to log a 135 wRC+ over 1,501 plate appearances for the pinstripers over the next four seasons.

Players born on today’s date include John Mohardt, who went 1-for-1 with a walk in his two big-league plate appearances, both for the Detroit Tigers in 1922. The University of Notre Dame product also played in the NFL, suiting up for the Chicago Bears in 1925.

Also born on today’s date was Josh Wall, a right-handed pitcher who went 1-1 with a 15.15 ERA in a career comprising 13 appearances with the Los Angeles Dodgers across the 2012-2014 seasons. Wall’s ERA is second highest in MLB history among pitchers to record at least one win. Fernando Hernandez went 1-0 with an 18.00 ERA in three appearances with the Oakland Athletics in 2008.

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