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Thursday, January 07, 2010

  Players We Hate to See Leave

While unsuccessfully searching Google Images for a good picture of Andre Dawson in a Red Sox uniform, I stumbled upon this photo of Jason Bay taking the oath of citizenship last summer. Damn, I'll miss Bay.

Jason Bay becomes an American

Side note: I grabbed the pic, originally run on the Boston Globe web site, from a blog post that bemoaned the "loss" of another Canadian baseball player. I think I'll bookmark the site, which appears to be maintained by a Torontonian. As people close to me know, I have a special place in my heart for guys from Toronto. OK, just one.

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  Hall of Fame Paradox

I'd like to offer congratulations to the newest electee to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, erstwhile Red Sox Andre Dawson. Then I'd also like to point out an article from SportsIllustrated.com's Sky Andrecheck that suggests Dawson and one of last year's inductees, Jim Rice, perhaps aren't quite Hall of Fame material. I don't necessarily agree with everything in the article, but it raises some very good points and illustrates the danger of voting based on gut feelings instead of careful analysis of a player's career.

Even statistically minded folks like myself have trouble putting mind over matter. Edgar Martinez and Tim Raines don't feel like Hall of Famers to me. Andre Dawson and Jim Rice do. But a look at the numbers shows the opposite. Raines and Dawson have nearly identical OPS numbers in about the same number of games. Add in Raines' incredible speed and he is probably the better Hall candidate. Meanwhile, the numbers show that Martinez (OPS+ 147) was a vastly better hitter than Rice (OPS+ 128) in about the same number of plate appearances. Granted, Martinez was mostly a DH, but Rice wasn't exactly known for his defense, either.

Ignoring the gratuitous slam against Rice, Andrecheck gets to the heart of the matter: what makes a player Hall of Fame worthy? If you are of the mind of Worcester sports writer Bill Ballou (who likes to say that it's the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Skill), then it makes sense that Dawson and Rice would outpoll other players who may have been better by statistical standards. Every player is judged in comparison to his peers, and when the comparison is subjective, perception often overshadows fact. That would also explain why someone like Dominic DiMaggio never got into the Hall; even though he was one of the preeminent center fielders of his era, he got lost in the shadow of the teammate to his right and his brother to the southwest.

On the other hand, as the New York Times writer Tyler Kepner points out, Dawson's election may help the cause of another overlooked but qualified player, Dwight Evans. A strong hitter in his own right—and that's what Kepner looks at—I believe what really set Evans apart throughout his long career was the outstanding defense that led to eight Gold Gloves for the right fielder. Alas, defense, like walks and other less glamorous skills, is undervalued by BBWAA voters.

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