In a perfect world, this post would have come out a week ago, but I had that sweet and clearly very helpful Florida Spring Training post to share. I know you’ve been waiting with bated breath to know what I’m looking forward to in 2019, so without further ado, here it is!
As you are perhaps aware, the folks at Fangraphs have decided to incorporate catcher framing into their WAR numbers. Baseball Prospectus had already been doing this for some time. And while framing was on my schedule to resolve this spring/summer anyway, its inclusion over at Fangraphs has put, perhaps, a bit of pep in my timetable’s step. Catchers are the hardest players on the diamond to understand, and thus, their rankings are the ones in which I have the least confidence. Still, we can only use the information we have at our disposal, so I’m going to analyze the literature as deeply as I’m able and incorporate some level of framing into my catcher rankings this spring or summer. Word is that’s great news for Brian McCann, Russell Martin, and Yadier Molina. As an aside, I must say the Molina information delights me. When narrative and performance align, as they do for, say, Babe Ruth, Bob Feller, and Roy Campanella, our job at the HoME is easy. It’s harder when narrative and performance don’t quite align, as with Whitey Ford and Sandy Koufax. And it’s pretty much impossible when narrative and performance have little to do with each other, as for Jack Morris and Omar Vizquel. I thought Molina would might be the next Vizquel. Perhaps with the new framing information offered by Fangraphs, we won’t have to worry about that.
Baseball Reference WAR Update
A bit more under-the-radar than the framing update at Fangraphs is the annual WAR update over at Baseball Reference. They’ve made some tweaks to catcher defense prior to 1953, so that means it’s update time at the HoME, both for catchers and pitchers. In short, that means completely reworking, and maybe in a few cases reevaluating, about 200 players. As it takes me about 15 minutes to work through a player, my math says that’s about 50 hours of copying, pasting, simple math, double checking, and triple checking. The framing work is going to be fun, this quite a bit less so.
As a Sabermetrically inclined observer of the game, you might think I don’t care too much for all-time lists. Oh, would you ever be wrong. Looking at these lists brings back the first days of my baseball fandom. I love seeing players rise through the all-time ranks. Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of great, old players in the game today, so fun risers will be limited in 2019.
- With his 90th game played this year, he passes Tris Speaker for 25th all-time. If he gets to 143, that brings him all the way up to 18th.
- With 328 plate appearances, he passes Omar Vizquel for 20th place on the all-time list. If he gets to 564, that brings him up to 14th.
- There’s a lot of work to be done on the all-time runs list. He’s in 22nd now and very likely to move up three spots. If things go very well, it could be six.
- If he smacks 103 hits, he passes Ichiro, Winfield, A-Rod, Gwynn, Yount, Waner, Brett, Beltre, and Ripken to move into 15th in history.
- You’d think 19 doubles would be easy, but his last four seasons are 22, 19, 17, and 20. If he manages another 19, that gets him past Honus, Yaz, and Nap, up to 7th all-time.
- With 27 home runs, he catches Willie Mays with 660.
- He’s 18 runs batted in away form 2,000, but he only needs 15 to pass both Gehrig and Bonds.
- He’s currently second all-time in intentional walks. With 28 in 2019, his career total would exactly half of Barry Bonds’, but there’s no way he’s going to get there, not this year or ever.
- With 0.8 WAR, he’ll pass Joe Morgan for 20th place among position players. I hope he gets there and fear he won’t.
- Robinson Cano is 30 hits shy of 2,500.
- Miguel Cabrera needs 35 home runs for 500.
- Edwin Encarnacion needs 20 home runs for 400.
- You’d think it improbable for Nelson Cruz to hit the 40 he needs for 400, but he’s hit 37, 39, 43, 44, and 40 over the last five years. It’s possible.
- With 70 runs batted in, Miguel Cabrera takes over 25th on the all-time list.
- Cabrera can do some real damage on the GIDP list. In his last nearly complete season, he had 15, which would put him past Julio Franco and tie him with Eddie Murray and Jim Rice. With 20, he’d get past Dave Winfield, and with 24, he’d pass Carl Yastrzemski to get into 5th place in history.
- A season of more than 5 WAR gets Justin Verlander past Walsh, Feller, Rusie, Halladay, Tiant, Coveleski, Smoltz, Lyons, Faber, Palmer, Willie, Reuschel, K. Brown, Sutton, and Hubbell. That’s pretty amazing.
- It seems like CC Sabathia, Clayton Kershaw, and Zack Gerinke will all enter the top-50 in WAR among pitchers. An improbable 7 WAR season from Cole Hamels would get him there too. A repeat of 2018 would put Max Scherzer just a tad shy of that level.
- CC Sabathia needs just four wins to reach 250. With ten, he ties Andy Pettitte for 42nd
- With 13 wins, Zack Greinke gets to 200.
- With 34 saves, Craig Kimbrel ties former all-time leader Jeff Reardon for 10th on the list.
- Kenley Jansen needs 32 for 300.
- Aroldis Chapman needs 14 for 250.
- CC Sabathia will reach 3,000 strikeouts with only 14. With 132, he gets by Smoltz, Schilling, and Gibson and would retire 14th in history.
- Justin Verlander struck out 290 last season. With 294 this year, he gets to 3,000.
- Felix Hernandez is 33 whiffs shy of 2,500. Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, and Cole Hamels should all get to 2,500 as well.
While I love looking at the standard all-time categories, what I care about even more is how my all-time rankings shake out. With the caveat that pitching numbers will change some, there are some really cool things to look forward to this year.
- A season of 5 WAR gets Clayton Kershaw to 25th, passing Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina.
- With a 6 WAR season, a level he’s topped each of the last three seasons, Justin Verlander would move past seven pitchers, all the way to 28th.
- Just 4 WAR gets Zack Gerinke past seven pitchers, including Nolan Ryan and Bob Feller, into 33rd
- A season of 7 WAR seems reasonable for Max Scherzer. Such a campaign would bring him past 15 pitchers, all the way up to 42nd in history.
- Cole Hamels might be in the HoME already. With 3 WAR, he’d move to 72nd, passing Orel Hershiser. While that would guarantee nothing, it would make a “no” vote tough.
- A 7 WAR campaign would move Chris Sale up 40 spots to 83rd. Should he get there, a HoME election in his future would be possible.
- With 2.1 WAR, Miguel Cabrera would pass Keith Hernandez for 17th. To pass Hank Greenberg, he’d need 5.5.
- It will take Joey Votto 1.9 WAR to pass Rafael Palmeiro for 22nd With 3.1, he passes Willie McCovey too. A season of 4 WAR moves him beyond Dick Allen. With a great year of 6 WAR, Jim Thome and Keith Hernandez would also go down.
- Robinson Cano needs 4.6 WAR to climb to 8th, ahead of Jackie Robinson.
- With 1.6 WAR, Ian Kinsler will pass both Jeff Kent and Bobby Doerr, making it difficult to keep him out of the HoME.
- A repeat of last season moves Mike Trout past Rickie Ashburn, Billy Hamilton, and Ken Griffey. With a more modest season of 7 WAR, he passes Hamilton; with only 3 Ashburn goes down. It’ll be nice for him only to look up at DiMaggio, Mantle, Speaker, Cobb, and Mays after the season.
Enjoy 2019, everyone!