The baseball off-season does crazy things to us, doesn't it? Without current performance, playoff odds, suspect awards choices, or actual baseball to think about, all that's left for baseball geeks is a suboptimal crop of free agents getting overpaid and signing with the wrong team and some pretty hard-to-penetrate trade speculation. So two guys decided to start a blog.
So who are we, and where do we get off?
The other writer will be Solomon, who I'll allow to introduce himself later. But at any rate...
I'm Steve, a long-time sports nut who always got the sense sportscasters and analysts didn't actually read a lot or watch a lot in order to commentate on their games. I like the Detroit Tigers, totally jumped on the Colorado Rockies bandwagon (because he likes purple? because Matt Holliday is bald? because they play baseball at an elevation equivalent to the moon?), and was a bigger college basketball fan before my current baseball geekery.
I read FireJoeMorgan and Baseball Prospectus, although I'm not convinced that strikeout-to-walk ratio is a good way of evaluating pitcher performance (it's great for projecting though!). I play Out of the Park Baseball, the coolest baseball simulator ever. My favorite geeky statistic is WARP3, because I love comparing players across eras and I'm a sucker for defense. My favorite crappy evil traditional statistic is RBI, because I watch enough baseball to get pissed off when a walk and a single yields no runs. It's totally fallacious, I know, but I can't help myself: I like when people get hits that plate runners. Just to prove my sabermetrically-inclined credibility, I hate when people call hitting with runners on base in any situation "clutch." That's not clutch, it's doing your damn job.
Lineup of my all-time favorite players based on purely subjective understandings of how good they are/were and how much I like them. Which is the most important ... metric ... ever. I'm including pretty much only people who played during my lifetime, guys who I have some sense of their personality, not as an official criterion but just because I feel like I could have rooted for these guys if I'd been paying attention. I am by no stretch of the imagination saying I don't love Lou Gehrig or the idea of Babe Ruth, I just feel more connection to guys who wore powder-blue road unis on my baseball cards in the 80s and hit in parks I have seen on TV, so I pick them out as "favorites."
Catcher - Johnny Bench. I'm too young to have seen him play, but he hit a crapload of home runs in an era when that wasn't so easy, and he threw guys out and drew some damn walks. Lack of an ability to take pitches is why Detroit Tiger and defensive wonderbeast Ivan Rodriguez isn't on this list. Johnny Bench appears to have been better than Yogi Berra, Bill James be damned. That means that the Sporting News Top 100 Players list did something right, which I admit but just barely.
First Base - Frank Thomas. Did I mention walks? The Big Hurt has an outstanding nickname, a career OBP of .421, and had 38 HR and 101 RBI in the strike-shortened 1994 season. As a sucker for ridiculous seasons, I can't help but love the fact that Thomas slugged .600 5 years in a row while posting OBPs of roughly .455 the whole time. He also seems to smile a lot in interviews, which means he is gregarious. If I could nominate a human being to be Santa Claus, I might nominate Frank Thomas.
Second Base - Craig Biggio. The amazingness of Craig Biggio drips like Texas barbecue sauce from stathead originator Bill James and sports journalists alike. He gets hit by pitches! He hits a million doubles! He has played three significant up-the-middle defensive positions! He's a career Astro! He looks kind of like an elf! Unfortunately, Biggio is a little overrated because he (a) wasn't that good defensively, especially as he got older and (b) hit for somewhat less power than even some of the non-facesmasher types of his era, only slugging .500 twice. As a former Houston resident, though, it's hard to imagine a person I'd rather like to see as the best Astro of them all, and he's got to be a nicer person than Roberto Alomar, his best contemporary at 2B. Which is like saying he's thinner than Jared Fogle in the "before" photos, but you catch my drift.
Third Base - Mike Schmidt. Mike Schmidt was so much better defensively than George Brett--his closest competitor for "best 3B ever" honors--that over the course of his career he saved 240 more runs, and won 24 games through sheer defensive brilliance. Schmidt played before the statheads got a hold of numbers, and that .380 OBP now looks positively sparkling when his .267 BA did not. Sure, he's a bit of a crotchety tool sometimes, but that doesn't stop him from being amazing. His son, who lived across from me my freshman year in college, is a heck of a nice guy--so he can't be that much of a dick. I have a truly great Mike Schmidt encounter story that I'll relay at some point.
Shortstop - Alex Rodriguez. I consider A-Rod a shortstop, for now. He's the best hitter in baseball, has some wheels, and overall keeps it pretty classy. Arrogant, sure, but he's never struck me as particularly antagonistic or backbiting. He's also the actual best baseball player alive, so...arrogant kind of makes sense. If he retired today he would be the second- or third-best shortstop of all time. He is 32 years old. That...is dumb.
Left Field - Rickey Henderson. Yeah, so I put a douchebag, or a guy most people say is a douchebag, on the list. The fact is, I'm a sucker for the "eye," and Rickey may have had the best batting eye of anyone in his era. Even way late in his career when he could no longer hit the ball out of the infield, Rickey was still worth at least a .343 OBP. That was his career low, even in his twilight era, and he was usually the leadoff man. Leadoff men, like all men, should get on base, and Rickey got out less for longer than most people I can think of. Except Barry Bonds. But who likes Barry Bonds? Rickey Henderson is a player whose numbers could be loved by anyone who looks at baseball in any direction.
Center Field - Curtis Granderson. I couldn't leave off my favorite current player, if for no other reason than to take a dig at his inferior, SI-cover-gracing counterpart Grady Sizemore. Sizemore is on SI covers. Curtis Granderson is better than Grady Sizemore at almost everything, especially baserunning and defense. He is less young and less caucasian than Grady Sizemore, which probably has a lot to do with the hype. Granderson had 13.2 WARP3 in 2007, bolstered by his freaking nuts 23 fielding runs above average. Sizemore played 30 (!) runs worse on defense - below league average - and took home a Gold Glove because of his reputation. Granderson walks less, but he hits triples and runs like the wind. He plays way more aesthetic baseball and is more fun to watch. Love Him More!
Right Field - Ichiro Suzuki. I know I said I'm a walks freak, but Ichiro is just so beautiful. He hits the ball always. He is hilarious in interviews, and I wish so much we could have the Star Trek-style translators to hear just how hilarious. And for a Tony Gwynn-style poke hitter, Ichiro still gets on base a living ton. So much charisma, and he's the most important player for the game in my lifetime. I love the international game, and making it a trans-Pacific thing is just wonderful in my mind. Yata.
Starting Pitcher - Pedro Martinez. I was one of the few people who is generally pro-Red Sox that just thought it was awesome when he made the "Yankees are our daddy" comment. Pedro is an honest guy, a straightforward guy, who threw more strikeouts than innings. Sandy Koufax did that, but threw fewer innings and fewer strikeouts per, while walking more people than Pedro. I know I said K-BB ratio isn't an amazing measure of pitcher performance, but it's a measure of hard-to-hit-ittude, which is the word that best describes Mr. Martinez. Totally dominating in a small-park, homer-happy era. In 1999, Pedro gave up 9 home runs in 213 IP, while striking out 317 and walking 37. It was the best season by a pitcher in the 1990s. The best season by a pitcher in the 2000s was Pedro in 2000, when he was better. Vote for Pedro.
Starting Pitcher - Greg Maddux. Greg Maddux looks like your bowling partner or your wine merchant, especially when he had the glasses. I think he's probably a genius; he certainly worked at-bats like one, throwing balls all the time and walking people very rarely after the first few years of his career. He might be the best called-third-strike pitcher of all time.
Relief Pitcher - Dennis Eckersley. Eck threw a lot more innings as a great-then-mediocre starter than as a completely insane reliever, so I know I'm fudging here, but he is best remembered for his pirate-haired, pirate-mustachioed days as the closer for the Bash Brothers. His pitching form looked like he was throwing darts or something, lazy and simplistic. He was also ridiculously unhittable during his best years. You know, like 1990 when he was worth 8 wins as a freaking closer. Do you have any idea how hard that is? Greg Maddux's best year, he was worth 15, and most peak years 11. Throwing three times as many innings. That was the year where Eckersley struck out 73, walked FOUR (4), gave up 41 hits in 73.3 innings, and had the 0.61 ERA. That year, Dennis Eckersley allowed 9 runs to score in his relief innings. Total. Five earned runs.
I will be back with more later. Welcome to the blog. Someone will read this someday, I hope.