Friday, November 25, 2016

Hold My Beer: Tony Massarotti

I thought I was prepared for HOF season. What is HOF season? It's what makes Jesus not 100% the reason for the season. HOF season makes me want to dropkick the Salvation Army change buckets. HOF season makes me want to go take a dump on Toys For Tots dropoffs. Because HOF voters are, in small numbers, illogical. They make their head do their heart's bidding. I don't want to won't do this in every case, but because Boston's own Tony Massarotti published his ballot so early, he gets the horns. Will it give him page views that end up rewarding his own moral two-step? Probably, but if I didn't include the link for you to verify, you wouldn't believe that an adult human could make the logical jumps Massarotti makes. Let's just do this and get it over with.

I'm a yes on Manny Ramirez. I'm a yes on Pudge Rodriguez. I'm a no on Vladimir Guerrero.

Let's table the Pudge discussion for a minute. In 2302 games, Manny hit .312/.411/.585 with 555 homers and a 153 wRC+. Vlad hit .318/.379/.553 with 449 homers and a 136 wRC+. Vlad posted a 54.3 fWAR, Manny - with two more seasons than Vlad - posted a 66.3 fWAR. Most of this has to do with Manny's offensive numbers overshadowing Vlad's, but Manny was a far worse defensive outfielder than Vlad. How bad? FanGraphs has Vlad's defensive rating at -115.0 (which, given Vlad's arm, I admittedly do not understand) but Manny's defensive rating at -276.6. From 1995-2011, roughly the bulk of both outfielders' careers, Andrew Jones was considered by FanGraphs to be the best defensive outfielder in baseball. His rating was 282.6. Now look back at Manny's -276.6 rating. As good as Andrew Jones was with the glove, Manny Ramirez was the baseball Lennie to Andrew Jones' George.

Applying the FanGraphs filter to 328 outfielders who played between 1995-2011, Manny had the absolute worst defensive rating in baseball. Vlad had the 20th-worst. That said, between this time frame, Manny's 620.8 offensive rating is far better than Vlad's 370.2.

Now let me try to explain why.

What's there to explain? If you're looking simply at numbers, Manny Ramirez was a better player than Vladimir Guerrero. Now I understand that - in order to rack up such poor defensive numbers in this time frame - your offense had to justify your statistical liability in the field. If you weren't phenomenal offensively, there was no reason to keep you on the team. Both were great players, Manny was better. What's there to explain?

Steroids were a part of the game, folks - and a bigger part than anyone really wants to admit. Quite simply, there is no way to know who used and who didn't. What we're left with is a guess, plain and simple, no matter what anybody says. 

Superficially this works. What if a guy hit 50 homers in 149 games in 1996, and 159 homers in the other 1685 games in his career. Whispers. Could be an explanation. Could be a prescription. But what if one of your Yes votes actually says Yeah, He Used PEDs and was suspended *twice* for the offense?

And what if one of your No (Vlad) votes hasn't admitted to or ever been found guilty of ridin' dirty, beyond the suspicion of having played in the part of the timeline of baseball history where some players did, in fact, ride dirty?

Just by looking at the years at which Vlad/Manny were at their peak, your "Steroid Era" alarm bells are likely already ringing. But a selective Steroid Era Defense doesn't work. To say it's a "Steroid Era" indicates that the use of steroids was rampant. Otherwise the select few who were deemed to be Dirty would be ostracized from the game's history, not an entire generation of players. So when Massarotti says there's "no way to know who used and who didn't," it's true for a number of players. But not Manny. That's not a "guess," as Massarotti puts it. That's a simple admission. A fact, confirmed by the man(ny) himself.

If you were to ask voters whether they think (emphasis his) Mike Piazza used steroids, I bet most of them would say yes. But the large majority of them voted for Piazza last year, anyway, and that just seems kind of dumb. 

So there are voters who "think" Piazza used steroids, and he was still inducted last summer. "Most" of those voters still said he was one of the greatest players of all time. Piazza was a catcher. Hey Ivan Rodriguez was a catcher, too, and he was implicated in Jose Canseco's seemingly factual account of the Steroid Era. How do you explain that? But Piazza never admitted to using any form of PEDs. Manny did. Yet Massarotti voted for Manny and not Piazza. How do I know this? Because...

Me? I didn't vote for Piazza

That confirms that. But why not vote for Piazza last year, and vote for Manny this year, exactly?

Mostly because I regard (Piazza) as product (sic) of the era. 

Nice grammar, professional writer, but whatever. More importantly: Which era? The one where you don't know who did and who didn't use PEDs, unless they - like Manny - basically admit they did, and then vote for that guy, anyway? Or the era in which there are players who denied ever having used, or were never implicated in using, steroids beyond the so-called whispers...but you don't believe them.

I feel the same of Jeff Bagwell.

Here we go.

If that sounds terribly vague, it is, and I don't blame you for rolling your eyes or pounding your fist. 

Fists. Plural.

The real problem with the steroid era was that it tainted everyone, which makes voting a damn-near impossibility.

But you, Tony Massarotti, are more than willing to vote against Piazza last year, for Manny this year, against Vlad this year, against Bagwell this year (and years previous). You, Tony Massarotti, in a list of Manny, Vlad, Piazza, and Bagwell, will happily vote for the one guy who admitted to using and against the guys who said they didn't. Your "impossibility" is now invalid.

The numbers don't mean anything anymore. 

How about the players of the game you are paid to cover? What's their word worth? Or do you just punish the players whom you do not believe?

(Rafael Palmeiro has both 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, and he's not in.)

Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for stanozolol after wagging his finger and lying to Congress about it. That's why he's not in, Tony.

And the simple truth is that they shouldn't because baseball players, owners, executives, media and fans all contributed to the pollution of the game. 

Oh yes. The "We're All To Blame, So I'll Decide Who's *Really* At Fault" defense. Also: Tony Massarotti has covered the Red Sox - for the Boston Herald and Boston Globe, except for a short break, since 1994, or for the entirety of Ramirez's Red Sox career - And yet he voted for Manny Ramirez. That's notable for a variety of reasons.

So here's what I've been left with: I vote with my eyes and my gut. 

Ah yes. The Neighbor-metrics of baseball media. I'm going to trademark "Neighbor-metrics."

If, as a result, you find my votes, inconsistent (sic), so be it. My job is to tell you what I think and feel - based on my ballot - so that's I do (also, sic).

This is the equivalent of the "I know I'm being unreasonable, so I'll tell you I'm being unreasonable, thus you can't hurt my feelings if you tell me I'm being unreasonable." But with worse grammar.

Which brings me to Manny, who will almost certainly be snubbed by a majority of the voters because of multiple steroids violations and suspensions.

Hold the phone. Manny was suspended for "multiple" steroids violations and Massarotti votes for him. Vlad, Piazza, and Bagwell were - stay with me - *not* suspended or found guilty of even a single steroid violation and he doesn't vote for any of them. Yet Massarotti acknowledges that most of the voting members of the BBWAA will disagree with him precisely for the violations of the criteria that Massarotti acknowledges as valid, yet ignores.

Here's what I can tell you about Manny: he was perhaps the most gifted right-handed hitter I have ever seen, right there with Edgar Martinez (whom I also vote for). 

Okay. So Massarotti has only ever covered American League teams. He's not going to vote for Piazza and Bagwell - National League guys - and Vlad, for some reason. But Edgar is in, so we can ignore Massarotti's "Defense" part of the Hall of Fame argument.

From 1994 through 2000, Ramirez was a centerpiece of the Cleveland Indians lineup that led the American league (sic) in runs scored. From 2001 through the middle of 2008, he was then a centerpiece of the Boston lineup that produced more runs than any AL team other than the New York Yankees. Add it all up and get the single, best middle-of-the-order bat in the American League over what amounted to a 15-year period, and there is no more valuable skill in the game. 

Massarotti is happy to admit that defense and baserunning doesn't matter. Only what you do with the bat matters, regardless of how clean/unclean said player actually was. Get suspended for PEDs - twice! - it doesn't matter. Manny was good, really good. Other players - who weren't ever actually accused of using PEDs - were not as good as the player who was actually suspended for using PEDs, but Massarotti watched almost every day, are not Hall of Famers. Manny is. Got it.

Was (Manny) a good fielder? No. Was he a good baserunner? No. But Manny was so elite in the batter's box that nothing else really matters, and I'm not basing that on his individual numbers. I'm basing it on his swing, his plate disciple, his situational awareness in the batter's box. Manny was a freak, plain and simple, and that was true whether he used or not.

Let me get this straight: Massarotti voted for Manny Ramirez, a great one-dimensional player in an era when offense was so highly valued that it encouraged the use of PEDs - an offense for which Manny was suspended multiple times. But in 2016 he did not vote for Fred McGriff, Gary Sheffield, or even Mark McGwire. McGwire is another player, like Manny, who provided a lot of offense and not much else, also accused of PEDs and declined to "talk about the past" before Congress.

In 2014 Massarotti voted for Maddux, Glavine, and Frank Thomas - all of whom earned Induction. He also voted for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. There's no rhyme or reason.

Guerrero? He's close, but he's not quite there. He obviously had tremendous hand-eye coordination, but he lacked plate discipline. 

Vladimir Guerrero struck out in 10.9% of his plate appearances. Manny Ramirez struck out in 18.5% of his plate appearances. But yeah, Manny had a 5.5% edge in career BB% so that means Vlad "lacked plate discipline." Sure.

(Vlad) was fast, for sure, but he was not a great baserunner. And for all the talk about Guerrero's arm, he was not an especially good defensive player. (Ramirez, for what it's worth, actually has more career assists.)

Did we not discuss this already? According to FanGraphs Manny is the worst defensive outfielder of his era. But because he played up against a green tower he could throw more guys out than Vlad did, in Montreal and Anaheim, he's a Hall of Famer and Vlad isn't? This is a terrible, illogical, uneven-handed argument.

So where's my line for induction? Apparently, somewhere between Guerrero and Ramirez.

Two players diverged in a wood, and Tony Massarotti? He chose the one who - despite the multiple failed PED tests - he saw the most often.

As for Pudge, he is a most interesting case.

"Interesting" because Massarotti is about to totally contradict himself.

Between his late-20s and mid-30s, when steroid testing was implemented, his slugging percentage dropped nearly 250 points. (Given the simultaneous changes in his body, that is hard to ignore).

And yet Massarotti is perfectly willing to ignore it as he already voted for Pudge. He'll vote for Manny, as well, whose slugging percentage did not drop presumably because he continued using PEDs ("presumably" because he was twice suspended for PEDs). This is moral gymnastics.

(Pudge) was never disciplined as a hitter. And yet, because he was simply dominant as a defensive player (13 Gold Gloves, including 10 in a row), Rodriguez remained a centerpiece of playoff contenders late into his career, making him of one of the most well-rounded players ever to field his position. All things considered, he was even a good baserunner. 

There are two catchers between 1991-2010 (The Pudge Era) who had a 60+ fWAR: Pudge (68.7 fWAR) and Mike Piazza (63.7 fWAR). According to FanGraphs, Piazza was a far better offensive catcher and Pudge was a far better defensive catcher. Pudge's baserunning rating was -24.9 (Piazza was slightly worse) so that's a pretty terrible qualifier for a shady argument about stats. But Pudge was linked to PEDs while Massarotti has his concerns about Piazza's backne. Let's also not forget that Pudge was a catcher in the AL - who regularly visited Boston, Massarotti's beat - while Piazza travelled in National League circles.

So I guess Massarott's concern with PEDs extends only to what players can do defensively: otherwise Pudge - linked to steroids - gets a vote and Piazza - whispers - doesn't. Only that doesn't work for the Manny/Vlad argument, Vlad - not linked to steroids - was better defensively while Manny - suspended twice for PEDs - was better with the bat. Oh, and if he saw them for more than one inter-league series.

For me, that's good enough. 

Tony Massarotti's "good enough" is terrible logic. This is what Jeff Bagwell is up against: straw men and sight bias.