Miller’s 17 for 17 article for Opening Day covered a lot of ground. Even though the season is ten days old, here’s a better-late-than-never guide to what I’m watching for in the 2017 season. I’ve mostly left the players to Miller and called out some events, and some things that might be best described as coming out of left field. But isn’t that what you’ve come to expect?
The BBWAA electors: How many plaques will they award?
Since 1970, 34 players have reached 65.0%–74.99% on a given ballot during their candidacy. Of them, 30 of them were subsequently elected by the BBWAA (88% if you’re scoring at home). No one who’s reached 65% in their first ten years on the ballot has failed to win election. Among the 30 who became Hall members, they BBWAA waited an average of 1.4 years to bestow a plaque. In 2017, the writers gave Trevor Hoffman 74.0% (up from 67.3% in 2016) of the necessary votes and Vlad Guerrero 71.0% of the vote in his first campaign. Hoffman will go in for 2018, and Vlad is pretty much a lock. No player who has picked up 70%+ very early in their Hall trajectory has failed to win election the next year. So that’s two. Chipper Jones will get his due as well to make three. Could Jim Thome make four? He’s never had a whisper of steroid use, was considered a great player, and hit more than 600 homers. If he doesn’t make it this year, it’s because he finished at 65%+, and he’ll get bronzed in 2019.
The Veterans Committee (Modern Baseball) electors: Will they give out any plaques?
The odds are with no, of course. The VC has failed to elect highly qualified players their due for a decade or so. Why should this one be any different? Danger looms in the person of Jack Morris whose final-year 66.7% with the BBWAA may portend his eventual selection. Also under potentially under consideration are actually great players such as Jack’s teammates Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Darrell Evans, Keith Hernandez, Bobby Grich, Rick Reuschel, Dave Stieb, Thurman Munson, Ted Simmons, Dick Allen, Willie Randolph, Buddy Bell, Graig Nettles, Sal Bando, Jimmy Wynn, Dwight Evans, Bobby Bonds, Roy White, Jose Cruz, and Reggie Smith. (A few of these guys straddle the Golden Days era; it’s not yet known where they’ll be placed.) I suppose the smart money is on a big fat goose egg because a ten-man ballot with this much potential quality seems unlikely to yield even one winner. Though it would be cool if the Detroit DP duo were inducted together.
Baseball-Reference.com: Will they update WAR into the 1930s?
Retrosheet recently released data that adds a great deal of missing play-by-play information to the World War II era. In correspondence with me, the world’s greatest ever website said they were awaiting that data before updating historical WAR calculations. Because there’s quite a lot of PBP data for several years prior to the war already available, it’s possible that we will have five to ten years’ worth of updated WAR info sometime this year. In the meantime, we’ve rummaged through the existing data to provide a guesstimate of what we think this new WAR might look like.
MLB ownership: Will they start talking expansion?
We’re about due for an expansion. MLB has typically gone 10–20 years between each round. In the last year to 18 months, I’ve noticed an awful lot of articles about expansion and particularly about Montreal as a focal point for it. Makes sense. At 4.09 million people, Montreal would rank about 15th among the marketing statistical areas in the US and Canada, highest among markets not currently hosting an MLB team. Here’s the other teamless towns with at least 2.00 million people in their metro area now and who would be among the top 32 US markets by population according to projected growth through the year 2030 and the same info for Montreal and Vancouver :
- Riverside, CA: 4.53 million, 5.63 million by 2030
- Montreal, ON: 4.09 million, 5.28 million by 2030
- Vancouver, BC: 2.55 million, 2.93 million by 2030
- Charlotte, NC/SC: 2.47 million, 3.13 million by 2030
- Orlando, FL: 2.44 million, 3.3 million by 2030
- Portland, OR/WA: 2.43 million, 2.89 million by 2030
- San Antonio, TX: 2.43 million, 3.19 million by 2030
- Sacramento, CA: 2.30 million, 2.72 million by 2030
- Las Vegas, NV: 2.16 million, 2.66 million by 2030
- Austin, TX: 2.06 million, 3.06 million by 2030
- Columbus, OH: 2.04 million, 2.41 million by 2030
- Indianapolis, IN: 2.00 million, 2.32 million by 2030
- San Jose, CA: 2.00 million, 2.36 million by 2030
- Nashville, TN: 1.83 million, 2.35 million by 2030
Some of these places may already be served by a big-league team and would be hard to get territorial rights for (especially Riverside, Orlando, Columbus, Sacramento, and San Jose). One of these towns is a place that would be incredibly unwise to put a team (Vegas, natch). Montreal is an obvious choice. After it probably comes Charlotte, San Antonio, or Austin. Mayors, line up today!
The City of Oakland: Will the A’s stadium situation get resolved?
With the Raiders officially gone, Oakland is a one-horse town sports-wise. That might mean that the city has more flexibility to work with the A’s to develop a new home park. Or at the worst redesign the Coliseum. Oakland is a plenty large market by population, so it makes sense for the team to stay put unless they are heading for the great, French-speaking North.
Stu Sternberg: Will they turn up the heat on a new stadium?
Stu Sternberg has made increasing noise over the last year about finding a new stadium site, so all the cities listed above may well have another chance in a few years to land a squad. With Tampa being a recipient cities of revenue sharing, the longer this situation goes on, the more big-team owners will want to resolve it. Especially because Tampa is rated somewhere between the 12th to 20th biggest media market in the US and could be a donor team instead of a lagging recipient. Getting out of the Trop, which is very difficult to drive to and has little public transportation flowing into it, and into a baseball-only fan-friendly park will go a long way. The team’s lease is up in 2027. That seems like a long time from now, but getting a new park negotiated and completed can take a very long time. Sternberg’s getting started now so that he can hold the city hostage later, if necessary.
Jeffrey Loria: Will he get the jillion-dollar price tag he wants or take his team and go home?
The worst owner in MLB and maybe all sports has the team on the market. Godspeed to him selling it. But this guy always ends up doing something I hate, so count on his not selling it and staying here to haunt us. Then again Cap’t Jeter is supposedly interested in buying the Fish, which might in some ways be worse yet.
Buck Showalter: Can he finally win a World Series?
Buck’s big shot at a ring was 1994 when his Yankees were cruising toward their first divisional championship since 1981. He’s a very good manager, but without even one World Series appearance, he’s got a massive hole in his resume. Fixing that hole is step one toward possible Hall of Fame enshrinement.
Terry Francona: Can he punch his ticket to Cooperstown?
Tito has likely done enough to merit a plaque at the Coop, but winning a World Series with another bad-luck team would make his case bulletproof. No eligible manager with three World Series wins has failed to reach the Hall. (Bruce Bochy has three but is still plying his trade.)
The Astros, Nationals, and Indians: Can one of these teams break their fugue of futility?
These three teams are preseason favorites to take their divisions. They are also three of the more cursed teams in the league. Tito Francona’s Indians haven’t won the World Series since 1948, the longest such drought in MLB. The Astros haven’t won the big one since their inception in 1962. The Nationals nee Expos have never even been to the Series. Can any of them work some of that old Cubs/White Sox/Red Sox magic this year?
Let’s round things up with a few quick-hits for players:
- Mike Trout: Can he dethrone Ty Cobb for the highest WAR total through age 25? Trout opened the year just 7.2 Wins away, which is play money for him.
- David Wright: Can he play at all? I hope so; fantastic player and a shame if he can’t make it back.
- Chase Utley: How long can he hang on as a productive player? Long enough to reach 1000 RBI? Maybe even 2000 hits? Without those, I fear he’ll be Griched by the BBWAA.
- Troy Tulowitzki: Is he done as an All-Star caliber player? Or have his many injuries so decimated him that he’s no longer a core player for a championship team?