Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Thing With Shifts

Sunday was the first day on the job for new baseball commissioner Rob Manfred. He wasted no time in wading into controversy. In an interview with ESPN's Karl Ravech that day, he said,
For example, things like eliminating shifts, I would be open to those sorts of ideas.
He later backtracked a bit, but the idea of eliminating shifts is now on the table.

This isn't new. Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci proposed eliminating shifts last summer, and I responded to his idea then. Then, as now, I don't think it's a good idea, but let me unpack the argument a bit more here. 

What kind of shifts are we talking about?

This isn't the usual shifts, like infielders guarding the line to protect against doubles, or outfielders playing shallow when a low-power hitter like the Phillies' Ben Revere is at the plate. These are what some call "extreme shifts," generally defined as three infielders on one side of second base. Take the example at right. That's a game between the Astros and the Mariners in April 2013. The Mariners' Franklin Gutierrez is at the plate. The Astros' second baseman, shortstop, and third baseman are all playing on the left side of second base. 

Why are they doing this? Because Gutierrez has a pronounced tendency to hit ground balls there. Here's a chart showing the location of his batted balls in 2012 and 2013. (Source: FanGraphs.) The green dots are grounders. As you can see, Gutierrez hits the vast majority of his ground balls to the left side. Put another way, if Gutierrez hits a grounder, he's likely to hit it within range of the Astros fielders above. That wouldn't necessarily be the case in a traditional defensive alignment, with the second baseman on the first base side of the bag and the shortstop further toward second.

How prevalent is this?

Well, shifts like this have been around for a long time. The first instance I could find was used in the 1920s against Phillies outfielder Cy Williams. The most famous one was probably the 'Williams Shift" that teams employed against a different Williams, Red Sox slugger Ted. A left-handed batter, he tended to pull balls to the right side of the field, so teams would line up fielders there. It began in a 1946, in a doubleheader in July. In the first game, Williams went 4-for-5 with three homers and eight RBI in a game against the Indians. In the second game, Indians manager Lou Boudreau moved his team into a crazy alignment when Williams came to the plate. (I figure Boudreau effectively said, "Shit, I don't know, let's try this" as a last resort.) The outfielders shaded to the right with the rightfielder playing deep. The shortstop (Boudreau) moved between first and second, the third baseman played to the right of third, and the second baseman was in the short outfield, near the right field line. There were effectively four outfielders (two in right), three infielders to the right of second base, and none to the left of second. Williams got two walks and a double in four trips to the plate, scoring two runs in a 6-4 Red Sox victory, so in the context of Ted Williams, maybe it worked. One of the baseball card companies, Fleer, commemorated it with a card, shown above.

Anyway, the Williams Shift had limited success, given that the Splendid Splinter finished his career with arguably the best hitting statistics of all time. Shifts like this didn't really catch on widely until recent years, as baseball analytics have enabled teams to chart every batted ball, resulting in charts like the one I showed above for Franklin Gutierrez.

The 2015 Bill James Handbook has a section on shifts, full of bad puns (e.g., the title is "Who Gives a Shift?"). I'm not going to reproduce everything here--buy the book, it's really good, if you want details--but one of the interesting figures is that there were 2,357 shifts employed in 2011 but 13,296 in 2014. That's a 464% increase in three years. In terms of shifts per game, that works out to 0.97 shifts per game in 2011 (that's the total for both teams) and 5.47 shifts per game in 2014. In 2014, the Houston Astros shifted the most, 1,341 times, or 8.3 times per game. That's extreme, and there were only six teams (Astros, Rays, Yankees, Orioles, Blue Jays, and Pirates) that shifted more than four times per game.

So to answer how prevalent shifts are: Growing rapidly, but other than a few teams, not deployed all that often.

How much have shifts suppressed offense?

The Bill James Handbook answers that pretty clearly:
If you look at the league as a whole, the average decrease in batting average when players are shifted is 30 points.
That's a lot. When Boston's David Ortiz, who faced a shift in 95% of his plate appearances, hit a ground ball or a soft liner--the types of batted balls the shift is designed to turn into outs--he batted .201 when the shift was on but .250 when it was off. 

The Bill James Handbook estimates the impact of shifts in 2014 was 195 runs. In other words, shifts prevented 195 runs from being scored. Thirty points in batting average, 195 runs--no wonder Manfred's thinking about stamping out shifts, right?

Except that's not really big, as Ben Lindbergh points out in this article and Dave Cameron does in this one. (For comic relief, read this post by Grant Brisbee.) That 30 point suppression of batting averages, as I pointed out, occurs in only 5.5 plays per game, on average. And 195 runs scored...well, there were 19,761 runs scored in 2014. 195 equals a shade under 1%. Teams scored 4.07 runs per game last season; adding back 195 boosts the figure only to 4.11.

And I want to reiterate a point I made in July. Let's look at the league-wide batting average on balls in play and the batting average on grounders. (The difference between overall batting averages and batting averages on balls in play is that the latter excludes strikeouts and home runs, neither of which can be defensed.) Here's the table over the past ten years, from FanGraphs:
           Batting Avg   Batting Avg
   Year   Balls in Play   Grounders
   2005      .295           .233
   2006      .301           .236
   2007      .303           .239
   2008      .300           .237
   2009      .299           .232
   2010      .297           .234
   2011      .295           .231
   2012      .297           .234
   2013      .297           .232
   2014      .299           .239
Do you see a pattern there? I don't. Batting average on balls in play went up in 2014 despite the explosion of shifting. And the batting average on grounders was the second-highest in the 13 seasons for which FanGraphs has data (.2386 compared to .2394 in 2007). What gives? If shifts are hurting batting averages, why aren't these batting averages going down? And if the averages aren't going down, why are runs being suppressed?

Why aren't batting averages and grounders and balls in play lower?

Because batters are really good. Seriously. I mean, we hear all the time about how pitching's dominating the game. The average fastball velocity last season was 91.6 mph, the highest in history. Pitcher struck out 19.4% of batters, the most in history, and walked only 7.1%, the fewest since 1921, which is just crazy. But at the same time, starting pitchers are typically done after six innings. (2011 was the last time starters averaged more than six innings per start.) The reason? Yes, there are pitch counts and eight-man bullpens and all that, but also, there aren't easy outs. Despite all the challenges for hitters, they're still batting about .300 on balls in play and in the .230s on grounders. That hasn't changed, and it's a reflection of the skill of major league batters.

So why is scoring down?

Well, let's look at that batting average on balls in play in two ways. First, let's consider the type of hits that batters get. I'm going look at the number of singles, doubles, and triples batters get when they hit balls in play. Add them together, and you get the total batting average on balls in play. Here's the table: 
Season         1B         2B       3B      Total
2005 0.221 0.067 0.007 0.295
2006 0.225 0.069 0.007 0.301
2007 0.226 0.070 0.007 0.303
2008 0.224 0.069 0.007 0.300
2009 0.224 0.068 0.007 0.299
2010 0.224 0.066 0.007 0.297
2011 0.222 0.066 0.007 0.295
2012 0.223 0.066 0.007 0.297
2013 0.226 0.065 0.006 0.297
2014 0.227 0.065 0.007 0.299
Singles and Doubles per Batted Ball, 2005 = 100

That's not very helpful, is it? But given that triples are pretty rare events, occurring in about 0.7% of plays, let's focus just on singles and doubles. In 2005, when balls were put in play, batters got a single 22.1% of the time and a double 6.7% of the time. Let's use that as our baseline, and set those years equal to 100. Look at the chart at right. Over the past few years, singles are up and doubles are down. Overall batting averages on balls in play, as we've seen, are holding steady. But there are more singles and fewer doubles. That's not because of shifting--shifts suppress singles, not doubles--but it affects scoring overall.

Home Runs and Strikeouts per Plate Appearance, 2005=100
Now, let's look at batting averages on balls in play another way. What's excluded? Home runs and strikeouts. Here's another chart like the one above. But this time, let's look at home runs and strikeouts per plate appearance. This one's more pronounced. Home runs are in decline, while strikeouts have moved unremittingly upward. When batters are hitting balls in play, they're getting more singles but fewer doubles, as the chart above demonstrates. When they're not hitting balls in play, they're striking out more and hitting fewer homers.

So are shifts the problem?

There is no question that offense is down. Teams scored 4.07 runs per game in 2014, the lowest in a non-strike year since 1976. The reasons, as I've shown above, are clear: More strikeouts, fewer homers, fewer doubles. Shifts have played a minor role and are pretty insignificant compared to the other factors. If the new Commissioner wants to address scoring, he should look at ways to promote more contact, and more hard contact, by batters, not worry about where the fielders are standing.

(Thanks to JBM for inspiring me to write this.)

If the Orioles Are Really Going to Do Something

I think the Orioles should trade for San Diego's Carlos Quentin.

Let me rewind a bit. It's been a very quiet offseason for Baltimore. They lost three regulars from their 2014 American League East championship squad to free agency: Right fielder Nick Markakis, designated hitter Nelson Cruz, and left-handed reliever Andrew Miller. They replaced them with...well, they haven't done much of anything. Until yesterday, their biggest roster move was to re-sign free agent left fielder/DH Delmon Young, who had 255 plate appearances last year. Like every team, they added some fringe-type players, mostly signed to minor league contracts. But until yesterday, when they traded for Pirates outfielder Travis Snider, who started 47 games in right field for Pittsburgh last year, they've done nothing to replace the three players I listed above. And while Snider had a decent year in Pittsburgh, with a .264/.338/.438 slash line in 359 plate appearances, it was his first above-average season since 2010. 

There've also been questions raised about the reason for their inactivity. The Toronto Blue Jays wanted to hire Baltimore's general manager, Dan Duquette as their CEO. Duquette is under contract with the Orioles through 2017. Orioles owner Peter Angelos reportedly demanded a king's ransom (three top prospects) from the Blue Jays in order to take Duquette. (Not that this is a common occurrence, but the industry standard appears to be to let a front office employee depart for a promotion, and to get perhaps one prospect as compensation for a lateral move. This would be a promotion for Duquette, who is the Orioles' executive vice president of baseball operations, so Angelos insisting on compensation is a bit aggressive, and going for elite compensation is pretty out there.) This leaves the Orioles in the bizarre position of having their top everyday executive apparently desirous of working for one of Baltimore's American League East opponents. In turn, there's a question as to how dedicated Duquette is in improving the team. Yesterday, the Blue Jays announced that their incumbent CEO, Paul Beeston, will stay on through the end of the current season, after which he'll retire. That, of course, leaves open the question of who'll fill the role in 2016.

Lost in this controversy is the fact that the Orioles didn't do a lot last winter, either, until the very end. In December 2013, they traded for outfielder David Lough, who was basically a late-inning defensive substitute in the outfield (112 games played, but just 47 started) and signed right-handed reliever Ryan Webb, who pitched 49.1 innings of middle relief spread over 51 games. They traded their closer, Jim Johnson, to Oakland in what turned out to be a brilliant move, as Johnson turned into a pumpkin, going from 50 saves and a 2.94 ERA in 2013 to two saves and a 7.09 ERA in 2014. They signed the aforementioned Delmon Young in January. That's pretty much it. Their big moves--signing free agents Ubaldo Jiminez and Cruz--didn't occur until late February, and only the Cruz signing worked out. Jiminez, signed for four years and $50 million, was 6-9 with a 4.81 ERA last season. Cruz, signed to a one-year $8 million contract, led the league in home runs with 40 and finished seventh in the MVP voting. The Mariners signed him to a four year, $57 million contract in December.

So maybe the plan is, like last year, to more or less stand pat and then make some moves once spring training starts. Still, the team is down a right fielder (unless Snider takes a big step forward), a DH, and a middle reliever. Middle relievers are pretty fungible in modern baseball--every team has young guys in their system who can throw gas for an inning. They probably can't do it a skillfully as Miller, who compiled a 2.02 ERA over 73 games split between Boston and Baltimore, striking out 103 and allowing just 53 baserunners (hits, hit batters, and unintentional walks) over 62.1 innings last year, but the Orioles at least have options there. As for Markakis, I wrote back in December that Alejandro de Aza, whom the Orioles acquired last August, may provide comparable value. So I don't view those as glaring holes.

Plus, the Orioles will enter the season with a presumably healthy catcher Matt Wieters (who played just 26 games last year before undergoing Tommy John surgery last June) and third baseman Manny Machado (who missed half the season with various knee ailments). First baseman Chris Davis is done serving a drug suspension for Adderol. So three key players will be back, although Davis was pretty bad last year (.196/.300/.404 slash line and 26 homers after hitting .286/.370/.634 with 53 homers in 2013). If Davis falters, Steve Pearce, who had a .293/.373/.556 slash line last year, easily the best of his career, can play first.

Which leaves designated hitter. That's where Quentin comes in. He was awful for San Diego last year, and only a half-time player the two prior seasons:
2012 29 86 340 284 44 74 21 0 16 46 36 41 .261 .374 .504 .877 146
2013 30 82 320 276 42 76 21 0 13 44 31 55 .275 .363 .493 .855 145
2014 31 50 155 130 9 23 6 0 4 18 17 33 .177 .284 .315 .599 75
SDP (3 yrs) 218 815 690 95 173 48 0 33 108 84 129 .251 .352 .464 .816 132
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 1/28/2015.

So why should the Orioles trade for him? Here's my logic:
  • The Orioles can buy low on Quentin, given his lousy recent performance.
  • The Padres have a serious logjam in their outfield. They added three full-time players via trade (former Dodger Matt Kemp, former Brave Justin Upton, and former Ray Wil Myers). They still have Will Venable (146 games played last year) and Cameron Maybin (95 games). They need to deal somebody.
  • Quentin is signed for $8 million this year, the same as Cruz earned in 2014. His contract has a $10 million mutual option for 2016, subject to a $3 million buyout if he plays 320 games in 2013-2015, which he won't. In other words, he'll cost $8 million in 2015 and $10 million in 2016 if all goes well, nothing if it doesn't. That's pretty reasonable.
  • The reason he's missed so much time is that he's had a series of injuries. Since joining the Padres, he's been out with knee, wrist, shoulder, and groin injuries, including three stints covering 152 games on the disabled list. Quentin is a bad outfielder, enough so that he'll probably be healthier if he doesn't have to spend half the game running around chasing balls while wearing a glove. (He also gets hit by pitches a lot.) Paul Molitor and Edgar Martinez are Hall of Fame-caliber players who went from oft-injured to extremely durable once they became full-time DHs. Not that Quentin's another Molitor or Martinez, but a full-time DH role could keep him in the lineup more.
  • Amplifying that point, prior to playing in San Diego, Quentin played for the White Sox, mostly as an outfielder but also as DH, with better durability:
    2008 ★ 25 130 480 96 138 26 1 36 100 66 80 .288 .394 .571 .965 149
    2009 26 99 351 47 83 14 0 21 56 31 52 .236 .323 .456 .779 98
    2010 27 131 453 73 110 25 2 26 87 50 83 .243 .342 .479 .821 119
    2011 ★ 28 118 421 53 107 31 0 24 77 34 84 .254 .340 .499 .838 122
    CHW (4 yrs) 478 1705 269 438 96 3 107 320 181 299 .257 .352 .505 .857 124
    Provided by View Original Table
    Generated 1/28/2015.
  • The Padres' home field, Petco Park, is the most extreme pitcher's park in baseball. The 2015 Bill James Baseball Handbook estimates that it suppresses home runs by 12%, home runs by right-handed hitters like Quentin by 24%, and runs by 17% compared to the average NL ballpark. In his three seasons there, Quentin slugged just .394 at home but a robust .510 on the road. His overall numbers were clearly dragged down by his home park. Oriole Park, by contrast, is more hitter-friendly, boosting runs by 5% and righties' homers by 7%. Quentin's overall numbers would benefit from a move.
  • Quentin is good at getting on base. Among the 168 players with 2,500 or more plate appearances between 2008 and 2014, he ranks 47th with a .352 on base percentage. The Orioles led the majors in home runs last year, easily, with 211, and were second in the AL in slugging percentage with .422, but only sixth in runs scored, with 705. The reason is that their .311 on base percentage was fifth worst in the league. They didn't get enough guys on base to take advantage of the long balls. The current Orioles roster has only three hitters with 30+ games played last year with a 2014 on base percentage better than the league average of .316: Pearce (.373), Young (.337), and Machado (.324). Quentin would address the team's key offensive weakness. 
Track record as a DH, buy low, reasonable contract (always a plus for Angelos), fills a need...all the Orioles need is for Duquette to continue to show signs of life. Do it, Dan. You're not going to work for the Blue Jays this year anyway.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Contours of the Steroid Era

My latest at FanGraphs Community is here. In it, I look at the so-called Steroid Era in baseball. As you probably know, offense was way up during the late 1980s, through the 1990s, and until the introduction of drug testing in 2004. I looked at whether the increase was even across positions, and it wasn't. Positions we usually associate with slugging--specifically, designated hitter, first base, and corner outfield (left and right)--had, in aggregate, a disproportionate share of the increase. So while everybody hit better, players at the bat-first positions got more of a boost than players at the glove-first positions. It's not a huge difference, but enough of one to be of note.

For those of you who have waded into the untreated cesspool that is the comments section of political websites and pretty much any newspaper, I encourage you to check out the FanGraphs comments to my piece. They are a model of intelligence, clarity, and civility. One of the many reasons I vastly prefer baseball to politics: It draws a higher class of people.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Reality Check: Steve Garvey

If you've read this blog, you probably know that I listen to SiriusXM's MLB Network Radio a lot. It's pretty much the only thing I have on in my car (though I like some programs less than others, and I have almost no patience with PED and Hall of Fame discussions, fan call-ins, and the insufferable ads they run for GEICO and DISH). You listen long enough, you get to know some of the radio hosts' traits. Former major league second baseman Steve Sax, for instance, really dislikes batters striking out. He often talks about how it's become accepted, and that's bad, because it's better to put the ball in play. He does think that the trend of more and more strikeouts, and batters viewing that as no problem, is changing, though. (That's an interesting observation, given that there were more strikeouts per game in 2014 than ever before in baseball history, and that record's been broken for seven straight years.)

Anyway, one of the guys he extolled as someone who didn't strike out a lot was his Dodgers teammate Steve Garvey. He noted that Garvey was good for 25 to 32 home runs a year, yet never struck out as much as 100 times. (By contrast, 117 players--yes, that's correct--struck out at least 100 times in 2014.)

Garvey's an interesting case. Sax is right; his high year for strikeouts was 1977, when he whiffed 90 times. However, he hit that 25-to-32 home run range only three times: 33 in 1977 (close enough to 32), 28 in 1979, and 26 in 1980. He was pretty well-regarded in his day, though: MVP in 1974, runner-up in 1978, sixth in the voting three times, ten-time All-Star, hit .300 or better seven times. But was he really that great?

Let's start with what I think was his best skill: The guy stayed in the lineup. He missed six games in 1974, two in 1975, and no more until he was traded to the Padres after the 1982 season. In San Diego, he missed one game in 1984, none in 1985, and seven in 1986. Staying in the lineup is a skill, and Garvey possessed it in abundance. He holds the National League record for consecutive games played with 1,207.

But beyond that, his offensive contribution gets overstated, I think. He was a regular from 1974 to 1986. During those years, there were 41 first basemen with seasons of 25 or more home runs. Garvey, as noted, had three. That ties him with a couple forgettable guys, Steve Balboni and Jason Thompson, who also had three seasons of 25+ homers during those 13 years. Eddie Murray did it seven times. And I totally cherry-picked the seasons, using only Garvey's years as a regular. If I cast a wider net by three years, going from 1971 to 1989, Glenn Davis, Kent Hrbek, Don Mattingly, John Mayberry, Mark McGwire, and Willie Stargell get added to the list; Davis had 25+ homers four times during those years, and the other guys all did it three timesAnd I'm counting only games played at first base, so that denies players like Cecil Cooper, who hit 32 homers in 1982 and 30 in 1983 but one of his 25 bombs in 1980 as a DH. Point is: Garvey's home run numbers were nothing special. Among first basemen since about 1938 (there aren't data before then, and some of the data in the earlier years are incomplete), Garvey ranks eighth in games played but 27th in home runs. 

But home runs don't tell the whole story. I've explained why on base percentage and slugging percentage are important indicators of a batter's abilities. Over Garvey's career, from 1970 to 1987 (I'm ignoring his three at bats in 1969), there were 31 players with 2,500 or more plate appearances as a first baseman. Not surprisingly, Garvey played the most: 2,052 games as a first baseman, 116 more than the runner-up, Chris Chambliss. Of those 45, Garvey ranks a middle-of-the-pack 15th in slugging percentage but 27th in on base percentage. His OPS--the measure that combines the two--of .783 is 21st overall, just behind George Scott at .786 and just ahead of Willie Upshaw at .781. As I noted above, Garvey finished in the top six in MVP voting five times. That's five times more than George Scott and Willie Upshaw combined, as you might imagine. Somebody's overrated or somebody's underrated.

But he was the best player on a run of successful teams, right? Garvey played for the 1974-82 Dodgers, which  won their division three times and finished second five times, and the 1983-86 Padres, which finished first in 1984. Well, here's a season-by-season list of the top three hitters on Garvey's teams, ranked 1-2-3 by park-adjusted OPS:

There you go. There was not a single season in his career in which Garvey was the best hitter on his team, other than 1983, when he played only 100 games for a .500 club. Yet he won the MVP award in 1974, was sixth in 1976 (Cey was 23rd), sixth in 1977 (Smith was fourth, Baker got no votes), second in 1978 (Smith was fourth), and sixth in 1980 (Baker was fourth, Smith got no votes). 

That's the thing about Garvey: He had an outsized halo as a player. He had outstanding durability, but he was only solidly good, not great--not at his position, not on his team.

Oh, and those strikeout totals? Let's go back to that list of 31 first basemen with 2,500 or more plate appearances during Garvey's career. Garvey struck out in 10.4% of his plate appearances. That's quite decent, but it's only 11th among the 31 first basemen. Over his entire career (including appearances other than as a first baseman), he struck out in 10.6% of his plate appearances, which again, is very good, but not sensational, as the major league average those years was 13.7%. That trails, by a lot, a teammate of Garvey's on the 1982 Dodgers. That would be MLB Network Radio host Steve Sax, who struck out in only 7.7% of his plate appearances over a 14-year career.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Vote Tim Raines

As some of you know, I have sponsored the Baseball Reference page for Tim Raines for several years. The sponsorship reads:
Amy's Husband sponsor(s) this page.
Our first baseball game together was Rock's first game back from the '87 collusion - 4 for 5, grand slam in the 10th to beat the Mets. She had a hero for life, and a year later, we were married. He remains her favorite; she remains mine.
As of today (and with Amy's permission), I changed it to:
Amy's Husband sponsor(s) this page.
Dear BBWAA member: Thanks for stopping here and at Tim Raines has only two more years of HOF eligibility. We hope you’ll agree that he is one of the top ten LFs of all time and deserving of the Hall. Thank you for your consideration. 
Tim Raines really, really should be in the Hall of Fame. He has been, as I've mentioned, screwed by the ten-vote ballot limitation, and also by the Hall's arbitrary get-those-steroid-guys-out-of-our-sight policy change last year cutting players' eligibility for election from 15 years to 10. (He's been on the ballot eight years.)

His last year of eligibility will be 2016. It pains me to think how many people are going to be focused on other elections that year.

Monday, January 5, 2015

A Lousy Hall of Fame Argument

UPDATE JANUARY 6: Yes, I know that four players got in. No, it doesn't change anything I say here a bit.

I don't like writing about the Hall of Fame. First, it's not, referring to the title of this blog, on the field of play. Second, the arguments about the Hall get so pitched that I'd rather not pile on. This year, as in every year, members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) will vote for up to ten candidates. This year, as in every year, some BBWAA members will vote idiotically, and many more people will write or say idiotic things about the balloting. I'd rather just avoid the idiocy. It'll end, or at least settle down, starting tomorrow, when the results are announced.

BBWAA members can vote for, at most, ten candidates. In recent years, some BBWAA members and others have lobbied for expanding that figure, allowing members to vote for 12, 15, or even 20 candidates. One of the reactions to that proposal has been, "Voting for ten players has been good enough for for the Hall since its inception, so why change it now?"

That's a lousy argument. Let me explain why.

First, until the American League expanded from eight teams to ten in 1961, and the National League followed suit in 1962, voters were selecting from a pool of players derived from 16 teams. That total has expanded over the years to 30 teams starting in 1998. So the Hall of Fame electorate is voting on a pool of players that has expanded by 87.5%--from 16 teams to 30--from 1960 to today, yet its voting capacity has increased by 0%. Even if you believe that there's been a falloff of talent (a questionable proposition, given the expansion of talent pool to include Latin America and Asia, combined with US population growth of 75% since 1960), it's pretty out there to suggest that the talent's diluted by 87.5%.

Second, and more importantly, in my view, is performance enhancing drugs. There are three prevailing attitudes about PEDs from Hall of Fame voters:

  1. Nobody who used PEDs, or is rumored to have used PEDs, belongs in the Hall.
  2. We can't quantify who was using and who wasn't, nor the related impact on performance, so allegations (or proof) of PED use should be ignored.
  3. Something in between.
Look at this year's ballot. Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez are no-brainers, it seems. That's two votes. How is a voter going to fill out the rest of his or her ballot?

If the voter belongs to the first camp, they are not going to vote for the following players, who have been associated with PED use, either by their own admission, various reports, or innuendo: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Mike Piazza, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa. There is no way voters in the first camp will vote for those guys.

For voters in the second group, the first six players have a pretty rock-solid case. You can make a case for Sheffield and Sosa as well. 

So the first group will vote for Johnson, Martinez, and none of the eight players I mentioned. The second group will vote for Johnson, Martinez, and all of the eight players I mentioned.

Granted, most voters are somewhere in between. But with such a large minority of players who will appear on absolutely none of the ballots of one group of voters and every ballot for another group, how are (in my opinion) deserving players like Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, and Alan Trammell supposed to get 75% of the votes? The answer is that they can't.

There are some who will say that this problem is the players' fault for bringing the scourge of PEDs into the sport, but I'm sorry, that's ridiculous. Tim Raines shouldn't get elected because Barry Bonds was juiced his last few years? 

I point the finger of blame at the Hall. It has allowed BBWAA members to make their own rules regarding voting. The Hall, it seems to me, has three options:
  1. Instruct its members that they should not vote for any player whom they believe took PEDs. 
  2. Instruct its members that should not take PED use into consideration when voting for the Hall.
  3. Expand the number of players for whom electors can vote.
The first two are entirely unenforceable. So the only option is the third. The Hall refuses to do it, keeping great players on the outside looking in.

That's all I'm going to say about the Hall. But if you want to read a couple very smart takes on this, though, I recommend William Juliano at The Captain's Blog and Buster Olney at ESPN (Insider subscription required). William's analysis of this year's ballot is spot-on, and Olney lays out the problems with the Hall of Fame electoral process.