Hall of Fame Scripts: Arguments against the PED class

While there are a multitude of issues facing the Hall of Fame currently, what to do with steroid-era players is the most challenging. After all, this one is in the hands of the voters. That’s not to say that the 10-vote limit and the fact that some of the writers seem to be making this process more about themselves than the institution aren’t major concerns.

This year for the first time, I had the privilege of casting a ballot for the IBWAA. Even though my vote was unofficial in nature, I took it very seriously, as I consider myself to be a well-read and historically driven student of the game. As you can see in my ballot below, I chose to leave off any player with even the smallest connection to the use of performance enhancing drugs. This decision did not come easily, as I used almost the entire amount of time allotted to me to submit my final ballot. I did an absurd amount of reading, talked with dozens of other writers and made sure to do my own research.

Here’s my 2015 IBWAA ballot (with my picks highlighted in yellow):

HOF Ballot

As I mentioned, my decision to leave players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens off my ballot was a tough one. From a pure numbers perspective, I effectively left two of the greatest players in baseball history out in the cold. I realize this, and although it was not fun to have to do, I will stick to my guns. I of course respect the opinions of the pro-steroid voters, as they are not without validity in their arguments. So it goes.

I realize some criticism is warranted in leaving players like Jeff Bagwell off the ballot, as it was never proven that he used. Hell, there was never concrete evidence that Bonds used either. In trying to be as fair as possible, I used a form of probable cause in my decision making. You know, the kind of skills that police officers use while on the beat. If they have probable cause that you committed a crime, they can pull you over. In that, any player that I even think may have been linked to steroids will not appear on my ballot. I realize that this may sound silly to some, but I didn’t want to make the mistake of voting for a player who juiced without every possible piece of information. Sure, there are going to be rare cases where I’m wrong and I left off a player who was actually clean. However, I’m willing to take that risk in order to make absolutely sure that my vote doesn’t taint baseball’s most sacred institution. Maybe more information comes out about a player in the future, absolving them of any dark cloud. In that scenario, I would gladly reconsider. For now though, this is how I chose to approach it.

There’s no doubt that it’s hard to decipher between those who used, those who probably did, those who may have and those who did not in an era where steroids were reportedly widespread. How widespread it really was though, we will probably never know. Before we close up shop, I just wanted to take a minute to critique the arguments of those who would call me crazy (and there have been many).

Tony Gwynn
Are we really willing to put steroid users right up with true Hall of Famers like Tony Gwynn?

Everyone was doing it: Wrong. Ken Griffey, Jr. was never linked to the use of performing enhancing drugs. Plenty others had great careers, and had them on the up and up. Many were doing it, but many also refrained.

It wasn’t illegal: While this is true to some degree, it still doesn’t exonerate those who used. Baseball looked the other way for the entirety of the 90’s and into the early 2000’s before cracking down. Some will argue that the home run races of this era brought baseball back after the ’94 strike. I understand the fact that athletes are always going to look for an edge over their competition. I get it. But to allow these factors to wipe away the fact that some chose to cheat would be foolish.

He was great before he started using: Just stop, stop it right now. Then why use? I’m sure those who use this argument would say “to gain an even greater edge”, but really? Do we have no morality? This argument has been paramount to those who support Barry Bonds’ candidacy.

His numbers outweigh his steroid use: No they don’t. It’s likely that a solid chunk of his numbers (at the least), especially those in relation to power came as a direct result of PED use. I really don’t get this argument. If the CEO if a big bank accumulates large quantities of money in a way that is clearly shady while there were no penalties for it, does that make it alright? It’s a slippery slope to be sure, but I don’t think that makes the way in which the funds were acquired any less wrong from a moral standpoint.

And finally, I’ll just leave this here. This has been copied directly from the BBWAA’s election rules via the Hall of Fame’s website.

5. Voting: Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

At the very least, this rule should give those who are quick to pencil steroid-users in on their ballots some pause.

Statistical credits: http://baseballhall.org/hall-of-famers/bbwaa-rules-for-election, http://baseballhall.org,
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/GTr8pP

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Timothy is a co-owner, head editor and sometimes writer at The Sports script. Follow him on Twitter @TKing978!

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Transaction Scripts: Jason Motte and the Cubs Bullpen

Hector Rondon
Can Motte and Maddon rain on Rondon’s parade or does this create a buying opportunity?

“The best way to predict the future is to study the past, or prognosticate.” Robert Kiyosaki

When I saw that Jason Motte had signed a one-year deal with the Chicago Cubs, I immediately jogged my memory to all of the closer reclamation projects of Tampa Bay’s past. Is it a coincidence that one of the first things the Dodgers have done under Andrew Friedman regime is clear house in their bullpen trying to get rid of the salary burden? For years, the Rays built their bullpens with players who were discarded or unwanted by other clubs. As romantic and whimsical as all of this sounds, it also makes trying to predict what Joe Maddon will do with his closer as difficult as any manager in baseball.

In his nine-year tenure as the Rays skipper, only Fernando Rodney led the team in saves for two seasons in a row. In that span, the average age of the team’s leader in saves was 32.5 years old. If you take out J.P. Howell and Jake McGee who were thrust into the role to replace Troy Percival and Grant Balfour respectively, the number jumps to 34.3 years old. Speaking of coincidence (and this is bad news for Jake McGee), the only two other pitchers to lead the Rays in saves during Maddon’s tenure in Tampa Bay required surgery the next season. Reports that McGee’s surgery was just for loose bodies should relieve his fantasy owners in keeper leagues, but it took Jeremy Hellickson until July to return from a similar procedure.

How do we delve into the mind of Maddon and predict what his bullpen will look like in 2015? For some clarity and to justify my research on his tendencies in Tampa, here are the leaders in saves over his time with the Rays:

2006: Tyler Walker 10 Saves, 16/7 K/BB, 4.95 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
2007: Al Reyes 26 Saves, 89/31 K/BB, 4.75 ERA, 1.21 WHIP
2008: Troy Percival 28 Saves, 38/27 K/BB, 4.53 ERA, 1.23 WHIP
2009: J.P. Howell 17 Saves, 79/37 K/BB, 2.84 ERA, 1.20 WHIP
2010: Rafael Soriano 45 Saves, 57/14 K/BB, 1.73 ERA, 0.80 WHIP
2011: Kyle Farnsworth 25 Saves, 51/12 K/BB, 2.18 ERA, 0.99 WHIP
2012: Fernando Rodney 48 Saves, 76/15 K/BB, 0.60 ERA, 0.78 WHIP
2013: Fernando Rodney 37 Saves, 82/36 K/BB, 3.38 ERA, 1.34 WHIP
2014: Jake McGee 19 Saves, 90/16 K/BB, 1.89 ERA, 0.90 WHIP

Off all of the above pitchers, Jason Motte has similarities with Troy Percival and Fernando Rodney in regards to his signing with the Cubs. At a relative low cost of 4.5 million dollars with incentives to close games, Motte is a chance worth taking.

If the Cubs are going to build toward contention they need a veteran presence in the bullpen to not only groom the up and coming pitchers but to set the tone for the other relievers. Only two years ago Jason Motte closed out 42 games for the Cardinals before requiring Tommy John surgery in May of 2013. Looking at his pitches thrown and batting averages against in 2012 versus 2014 show some changes, but being only a year removed from TJS, he still threw with good velocity:

Jason Motte 2012:
Fastball: 97.9 MPH, 59% Usage, .182 BAA
Sinker: 96.3 MPH, 13% Usage, .219 BAA
Change: 84.9 MPH, 2% Usage, .000 BAA
Cutter: 92.4 MPH, 26% Usage, .215 BAA

Jason Motte 2014:
Fastball: 95.1 MPH, 50% Usage, .245 BAA
Sinker: 93.6 MPH, 3% Usage, .000 BAA
Change: 89.7 MPH, 8% Usage, .000 BAA
Cutter: 89.7 MPH, 38% Usage, .400 BAA

In 2014 Motte relied much more on his cutter than in 2012. Further, he threw only 13 sinkers in 2014 as opposed to 156 in 2012. It will be interesting to see what pitches he uses with the Cubs this year and how much of his velocity he can recover moving ahead. It could be addition by subtraction if he can not only regain his sinker, but throw more of them. In 2011, Rodney used his fastball and sinker almost equally. However, when he arrived in Tampa Bay he moved his spot on the pitching rubber and shelved his fastball, resulting in his best season:

Fernando Rodney 2011:
Fastball: 96.3 MPH, 32% Usage, .259 BAA
Sinker: 96 MPH, 31% Usage, .308 BAA
Change: 83.2 MPH, 26% Usage, .191 BAA
Slider: 89.3 MPH, 11% Usage, .217 BAA

Fernando Rodney 2012:
Fastball: 98.2 MPH, 7% Usage, .333 BAA
Sinker: 96.7 MPH, 55% Usage, .227 BAA
Change: 83.2 MPH, 37% Usage, .071 BAA
Slider: 89.8 MPH, 0.5% Usage, .000 BAA

Rodney ditched his slider and primarily used his sinker and changeup to record 48 saves with an ERA and WHIP under 1. What I find interesting are the seasons of not only Motte and Rodney prior to joining Maddon’s team, but Troy Percival. Percival is interesting to take note of as he was returning from a forearm injury at a much more advanced age but was still able to save 28 games with Tampa in 2008:

Troy Percival 2007: 3 W, 34 G, 40 IP, 36/10 K/BB, 1.80 ERA, 0.85 WHIP
Fernando Rodney 2011:
3 W, 39 G, 32 IP, 26/28 K/BB, 4.50 ERA, 1.69 WHIP
Jason Motte 2014:
1 W, 29 G, 25 IP, 17/9 K/BB, 4.68 ERA, 1.52 WHIP

If Jason Motte can regain his velocity or at least his sinker, his three years prior to surgery were pretty impressive:

Jason Motte 2010-2012: 13 W, 53 Sv, 201 G, 192.1 IP, 203/51 K/BB, 2.43 ERA, 0.98 WHIP

Also, over those three years Motte had a K/9 of 9.5 and K/BB of 3.9. However, Joe Maddon has not had a weapon like Hector Rondon who will only be 27 during the 2015 season. While there is speculation that the Cubs need an upgrade at the closer position, it appears that people are missing some out on some of his statistics. Rondon had TJS in 2010 and fractured his elbow in 2011. After being selected in the 2012 Rule V draft by the Cubs he was able to regain his fastball and took over the closer role in 2014 replacing Jose Veras early in the year. His overall stat line passes the eye test, but going deeper into his splits by first and second half, there is a lot to like:

Hector Rondon 2014 totals: 4 W, 4 L, 29 Sv, 64 G, 63.1 IP, 63/15 K/BB, 2.42 ERA, 1.06 WHIP
Hector Rondon 2014 1H:
3.93 ERA, 39/13 K/BB, .259/.324/.311 with .290 wOBA, 10.2 K/9, 3 K/BB
Hector Rondon 2014 2H:
0.62 ERA, 24/2 K/BB, .162/.178/.202 with .170 wOBA, 7.5 K/9, 12 K/BB

In the second half, Rondon traded some strikeouts for contact but the results were something to like as his K/BB quadrupled from 3 to 12. Combine that with a .66 WHIP after the All-Star break and Rondon seemed to be gaining confidence in the role. Oddly enough, he and Jason Motte have similar arsenals:

Hector Rondon 2014:
Fastball: 97.1 MPH, 52% Usage, .222 BAA
Sinker: 96.6 MPH, 22% Usage, .278 BAA
Slider: 84.7 MPH, 17% Usage, .133 BAA
Cutter: 92.4 MPH, 8% Usage, .222 BAA

One area that Rondon does need to improve upon is his ability to enter a game with runners on base and maintain his effectiveness. If he comes in with no one on his slash lines against are .186/.234/.241, but if there are men on those numbers jump to .263/.307/.298. It is difficult to come in and put out a fire in the eighth or ninth inning if your BAA is .263. That will be up to the Cubs to monitor and consider as he develops in the role. Therein lies the rub, can Rondon start in and maintain the closer role for 2015 in its entirety?

If Rondon starts the year in the role and can avoid early meltdowns, I think Maddon will stick with him as his closer. It has been mused that since the Cubs are spending for pitching like Jon Lester that a big ticket closer will be acquired as well. But a Jonathon Papelbon has never been Joe Maddon’s style and I do not think it will change. In fact, Rondon seems like a player that Maddon would love to take a chance on, so I think Motte is a Cub to fortify the bullpen and to provide insurance in the event that anything happens to Rondon either by injury or effectiveness. Motte will be a popular sleeper heading into the season and that could be justified, but I think this will help keep Rondon’s price below what is should be and make him a value pick entering 2015, as long as we do not tell anyone. Just remind people of the blown saves with runners on for Rondon then steal him late in the draft for auction. Unless Maddon burns us all, Rondon will be the man.

Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, BrooksBaseball.net, Fangraphs.com, MLB.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/ZBW4Ln (Rondon), http://goo.gl/WNxj3o (Motte)

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Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!