Would Stephen Strasburg and/or Chris Sale be HOFers if Their Career’s Went Like This?

June 25, 2012

Two young pitchers who have performed very well in their brief major league careers are Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals and Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox. Both youngsters were dominant in college. Strasburg was the top overall pick in the 2009 draft, while Sale was selected 13th overall a year later.

Both made their major league debuts very quickly. In fact, Sale signed right after the 2010 draft and was in the majors after only 10 innings in the minor leagues.

Strasburg has been solely a starting pitcher while Sale started in the bullpen and this season became a starting pitcher (Sale did have a relief appearance earlier this season, when he came in relief after the White Sox moved him back to the pen because of elbow stiffness). Strasburg and Sale, after both were called up to the major leagues in mid-season during 2010, have been downright dominating at times.

Strasburg has gone 15-5, 2.51 ERA in his short career, while Sale has a 12-5, 2.41 ERA. Both have similar WHIPs, ERA+ and H/9 numbers, with high K/9 rates. Strasburg’s numbers have been affected by his Tommy John surgery and Sale’s overall numbers by his two-year bullpen stint.

Each filled a glaring need for their teams. Strasburg became an attendance draw for a franchise in the early throes of their resurrection. Sale, however, was needed to become a stopper in the bullpen for two years before his transformation to starting pitcher, a role he has known throughout his entire career.  

Let’s fantasize a little and plot out one of these young pitchers careers. We can choose either Strasburg or Sale in our “for instance”, and since I am an American League fan, I will select Sale. Remember, although I will consistently reference Sale, these scenarios could also play out for Strasburg.

For arguments sake let’s say Sale, who has two Grade A pitches (fastball & slider), plus a very nice developing change-up, continues to pitch well in 2012 leading the White Sox to a playoff run.  He ends up winning 16 games, losing 7 while posting a great ERA of 2.85. Bothered by some arm issues the following season, Sale regresses to a record of 9-7.* The White Sox resist the Joba Chamberlain urge to move Sale back to the bullpen and he comes back strong in 2014, winning 22 games, losing 5 with a stellar ERA of 2.54. His strikeouts pile up consistently during that 2014 season, and Sale finished with 267 whiffs.

He will, of course, win his first Cy Young award.

*Sale does have a wicked delivery, one that if off-line to the plate and takes his throwing arm back way behind his body, getting into a high “Inverted W” arm action. Many evaluators believe this type of delivery is great for his velocity, but terrible for his health, and some have predicted a future arm surgery. While predicting future arm surgeries are not difficult for today’s pitchers (many, many pitchers who are babied have them –including Stephen Strasburg), I believe Sale’s delivery (except being off-line to the plate) is more like Randy Johnson’s. Johnson leaned over when delivering the ball, giving the image of a terrible delivery, when his delivery was actually not harmful to his health.

Over the next six seasons (while hitting his prime), Sale racks up totals of 20, 18, 17, 21 (another Cy award), 18 and 18 wins. American League hitters are oftentimes in awe and state “Sale is the premiere pitcher in the A.L…,” and “the movement on his pitchers sometimes make him impossible to hit.” After a devastating 19 strikeout performance against the cross town Chicago Cubs in the summer of 2015, a Sports Illustrated writer quotes the home plate umpire as saying, ” that was the best pitched game I have ever umpired.”

Remember that Strasburg (despite still being on strict pitch counts and innings limits) is putting up equally gaudy number in the National League. Because of these two phenoms, the drafts of 2009 (Strasburg, Dustin Ackley, Zach Wheeler, Drew Storen, Shelby Miller and Mike Trout) and 2010 (Sale, Bryce Harper, James Taillon, Manny Machado, Matt Harvey, Christian Yelich, Zach Lee) is now being considered two of the best drafts of all time.

After those 7 great seasons, Sale runs into some unforeseen difficulties and more elbow problems, posting only 31 wins over the next 4 seasons. But, in 2025 he bounces back, making 34 starts and going 21-7 with a 2.30 ERA and 295 strikeouts.  A third Cy Young award takes its rightful place in his trophy case (just missed his fourth in 2015, placing second to Ivan Nova of the New York Yankees). But, late in the comeback 2025 season Sale has a recurrence of the elbow problems which had plagued him over the prior four seasons.

With the White Sox clearly wanting him to continue playing, at age 36 Sale decides to take the Sandy Koufax/Mike Mussina route and retires gracefully from the game, and as George Costanzo would likely approve, he exits on a high note.

His career numbers are exceptional with a record of 213-118, an ERA of 2.97, with 2882 strikeouts recorded in slightly more than 3000 innings. He won the three CY Young awards and helped lead his team to at least one World Series title.

Remember it could also be Strasburg that has this career.

After that type of career, do you think Sale or Strasburg would be a Hall of Famer? Absolutely they would!

The writers would be falling all over themselves to proclaim Sale/Strasburg as the “best pitcher of his generation” and are predicting they might generate close to the vote totals of Greg Maddux, who became the first unanimous player voted into the Hall of Fame. 

So why then is there any debate at all about Roger Clemens’ chances for Hall of Fame induction?

Those career “fantasy numbers” presented above are exactly Clemens’ career totals AFTER the 1997 season in Toronto. This was the season BEFORE he has been named by his trainer Brain McNamee of being on the receiving end of “performance enhancing steroids” and human growth hormone (HGH).

Early in Clemens’ career, he had shoulder surgery and bounced back to go 24-4, slightly better than what Sale or Strasburg “did” above. But Clemens also won four Cy Young awards during this early period, before his ultra-competitive nature allegedly pushed him into the forbidden zone of performance enhancers.

About 99% of the baseball public has already persecuted Clemens, and an informal survey of 80 probable Hall of Fame voters, taken the day after the Mitchell Report came out, witnessed 28 saying they would vote YES for Clemens, 21 voting NO, with 31 UNDECIDED. Many undecided’s are clearly in the NO category after Clemens’ recent trial acquittal.  

The source of Clemens’ involvement was his long time trainer, Brian McNamee, who said he personally injected Clemens with steroids and HGH during the 1998, 2000 and 2001 seasons. Most people who have an opinion believe McNamee, but what McNamee said was under direct pressure from the federal government to “tell the truth” or face deep prosecution for distributing controlled substances.

While Greg Anderson kept his secrets regarding Barry Bonds, McNamee felt compelled to tell what he knew. And like I mentioned earlier, mostly everyone believes him.

But for the powers that be (the writers) to reduce Clemens’ entire body of work before the allegations made by McNamee is ridiculous.

Clemens is a Hall of Fame player with HOF credentials. If you add in the seasons which McNamee said he didn’t administer PEDs to Clemens (1999, 2002-2007), the non-alleged PED numbers are even more staggering. If you want to remove all the seasons from Clemens’ career after his first use of PEDs, then you still have a tremendous career. Clemens (and Barry Bonds) were HOF players before they became supposed “cheats.”

Should we then remove Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker from the HOF, great ball players who were implicated in a game-throwing scandal during the 1919 season? Do we remove from the HOF all the players like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Willie Stargell and Mike Schmidt who supposedly used “greenies” and other amphetamine drugs to stay on the field during the 1960s and 1970s?

Is it OK because the use of greenies (and reds, etc)  that was widely accepted in the game back then?

MLB writers constantly call on the game’s umpires to just call the game and not impose themselves into the game. Now it appears like the writers are not only calling the HOF game, but are actually imposing themselves into the contest.

And that is bad for baseball.

 

 


Happy Birthday, Frank Robinson!

August 31, 2010

Today, August 31, is Hall of Famer Frank Robinson’s birthday. He is 75 years old. I met him two years ago at the baseball Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, and he was gracious and kind.

He was with baseball commentator Ed Randall, who said, “See Frank, someone does remember you!” And Robby laughed.

The Judge, as he was sometimes known, was one of the most underrated ball players of his generation. And it is tough to be underrated when you are  Hall of Famer! He played the game hard all the time and was one of the fiercest players on the diamond.

Robinson is one of my favorite all time players, and not just the way he played the game.

We share the same birthday.

But Robinson is not the only Hall of Famer born on this day. Eddie Plank, a left-handed pitcher for Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s team in the first two decades of the 20th Century was also born on August 31st. Plank won 326 games over 17 season with 2.35 career ERA.

Five times he threw over 300 innings, with a high of 357 IP in 1904 when he won 26 games.

Maybe we can get another HOFer born on this date as Tim (Rock) Raines was born today, too.  Rock received 30.4% of the ballots this year, his third on the ballot.  He is currently the manager of the Newark Bears in the independent Atlantic League.

Other well-know ballplayer born on August 31st include Tracy Stallard (Gave up Roger Maris’ 61st HR), Claudell Washington, Tom Candiotti, Von Hayes, Hideo Nomo and Ramon Ramirez.

These are good baseball players, but none were better than Frank Robinson.

Happy Birthday, Frank!


Johnny Damon Needs the Yankees More Than the Yankees Need Damon

November 29, 2009

While every one is pondering why Roy Halladay is needed on the Yankees (he isn’t), I want to focus on the first free agent deal that Brian Cashman will attempt to get done.

After Johnny Damon finally helped the New York Yankees back to the World Series, and winning their first title since 2001, he is a free agent again. And every time Damon has been a free agent, he has changed teams. He was the good corporate guy who said all the right things before, during and after the big parade down the Canyon of Heroes.

Damon would “love to be a Yankee again,” and he wants “to end my career in New York.”

But after making the defining play of this years World Series with his double steal, smart dash to third base, it appears Damon does want more of the Yankees…more of their money and more years in his contract.  

Before his breakout in the 2009 post season, it was widely thought that the Yankees and Damon would agree to a one year deal with incentives, similar to what Andy Pettitte signed with New York last off season. That type of situation would work well for both sides; the Yankees would retain the popular Damon with reasonable dollar figures and Damon would continue to play his usual 150+ games per season.

Damon would play mostly left field and occasionally DH to give his 36-year-old legs a rest.

Now Damon (his wife, Michelle and agent Scott Boras) says that many teams are interested in his services, and he has told friends that he will not give the Yankees a discount to stay with the World Champs.

There is no other way to say this – Johnny Damon is a moron. Simply put, if he leaves the Yankees then he is a very stupid individual.

While a member of the Boston Red Sox, Damon was considered one of the “idiots” of their 2004 World Series title team.

That name aptly fits this older version of Damon, too.

After finally experiencing a World Championship in the best city to win a sports title of any kind, Damon wants more money. His agent has bandied about needing a four year deal for the 36-year-old outfielder. But Boras’ free agent rants never get his client wha he says they deserve.

In separate interviews Boras has said that Damon should get the same type of deal that Yankee catcher Jorge Posada (also 36 at the time) received prior to the 2008 season. Then Boras said that Damon “made Derek Jeter” by hitting behind him this season and his client compares favorably (saber and fantasy stat wise) to the Yankee Captain over the last three seasons. He stated that “whatever the Yankees plan on doing with Jeter long-term, Damon deserves similar consideration.”

Problem for Boras and Damon is that the decision on Johnny will come well before any work on Jeter’s new deal begins.

Also, Boras does not realize (or maybe he does and is just blowing his usual smoke), that the Yankees really needed Posada that off season, as they had nothing in their system at the catching position remotely close to the major leagues and the other choices available in free agency or via trades were terrible.  At that time Francisco Cervelli had finished his first full season in the minors at High-A Tampa.

In fact, the Yankees were willing to give Posada a three-year deal, but had to go the extra year because Jorge was being courted by Omar Minaya and the New York Mets, and at that time, the best available catcher was their own backup Jose Molina or free agent Paul LoDuca. Also, Alex Rodriguez had already opted out of his Yankee deal at that time, and the Yankees were in desperate need of  right handed power, something the switch-hitting Posada provided.

Also, Posada plays a more demanding position (although not as well as his younger years) and was a mainstay Yankee from their dynasty years, part of the vaunted Core Four.

Not quite the same situation as with Damon is it Mr. Boras? But when have you ever been reasonable in your free agent demands?

And in regards to comparing Damon to Mr. Jeter, a five-time World Series winner, de facto leader of the Yankees over the last 10 years, this generation’s version of Joe DiMaggio and a sure fire first-ballot Hall of Famer… well I guess I just said all their needs to be said.

As the title of the piece says, Damon needs the Yankees more than the Yankees need him. Their are quite a few left fielders available via free agency (Jason Bay and Matt Holliday) and within the Yankees own system – they can promote Austin Jackson, and have a trio of Jackson, Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner man center and left field. Lefty power can be supplied by Juan Miranda or re-signing Eric Hinske.

Or the rumored trade involving the Yankees and Detroit Tigers for center fielder Curtis Granderson would move Cabrera or Gardner to left field and Granderson in center will supply the lefty power Damon provided last season. While I personally do not like Granderson for the Yankees, it is another option for Brian Cashman.

According to reports Damon has options, too. Remember that even Damon said several teams have shown interest. Those teams include the San Francisco Giants and Chicago White Sox (very early reports). But lefty hitters are a dime a dozen. What most teams need is righty power such as Bay and Holliday. The Red Sox, Rangers, Rays and a dozen other teams fit this category.

And from what I remember, Damon hits left handed. So I do believe some teams are interested in a guy who put up a line of .284/.365/.489 this season with an OPS+ of 126. It is just that those teams are not good and would be in Damon’s worst interest to sign with them.

Damon needs to think about himself first, but not in the monetary sense, but in terms of legacy. It is what every person wonders – how will I be remembered in this game, business, job, family etc? And in major league baseball, legacy is determined by World Series Championships and the Hall of Fame.

According to baseball-reference.com, Damon has made a tick over $97 million in his baseball career. Assuming he hasn’t blown it all (and TMZ is more busy following Tiger Woods’ life), he is pretty well set, as are his children, his future grandchildren AND THEIR future grandchildren!

Unless you are Montgomery Brewster, a person can’t even begin to spend all that cash.

In other words Damon doesn’t need any more money.

What Damon does need is more career hits, runs, doubles,  HR’s and RBI’s. Evidenced by his never being in the Top 10 of any MVP vote, Damon has not been dominating in any aspect of his game during any part of his career.

Damon needs to accumulate stats to even get a whiff of the Hall of Fame. He has two World Series rings, but Damon needs to get 3,000 hits, needs to get to around 1,800 runs scored, needs 600 doubles, needs 300 homers and needs about 1,300 RBI’s.

Is Damon going to get to those numbers hitting second in the White Sox lineup? Will he get there hitting in spacious AT&T Park in San Francisco, hellish for a lefty hitter? No and no. The Red Sox might need a left fielder this year, but Damon can never go back there.

Damon bests interests  for HOF consideration (and a great legacy) in playing for the Yankees where he gets to hit in cozy Yankee Stadium, hitting behind a Hall of Famer in Jeter and in front of Mark Teixeira (potential HOFer) and Alex Rodriguez (lock HOFer). Hitting in that lineup, while in that park will get Damon more of the accumulated stats he needs to get serious Hall of Fame votes somewhere around 2020.

It would be great for Damon if they can work out that two year deal, and a TEAM OPTION for a third, which would keep Damon hungry for more.

Here is what Damon said during the parade, “I want to continue to be on a team that can win and to play in front of great fans – and we know that the Yankees fill both of those,” Damon said. “I think everyone knows my desire to come back. Still, every time I’ve been a free agent, I’ve ended up switching teams. It’s the nature of the beast. If people are interested, I’m going to listen.”

Go ahead and listen to them Johnny, because when you take that bigger contract in San Francisco for more money and years, but fall short in career numbers for the Hall of  Fame, you only have yourself to blame. Imagine a 70-year-old Damon sitting on the front porch answering another reporter’s question about his thoughts on falling short of the Hall of Fame?

Don’t be an “idiot” this time around Johnny, but be a man and tell your agent, Mr. Boras, to get a deal done with the Yankees.

It will be in your legacy’s best interest.


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