Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Fred McGriff: A victim of a tainted era

The National Baseball Hall of Fame class of 2019 will be announced today. By all indications, the Baseball Writers Association of America is sure to elect at least Mariano Rivera, Edgar Martinez and Roy Halladay with the fate a couple of fringe candidates up in the air as always.  But, there’s one candidate worth talking about who is neither a lock or on the periphery. This year marks the last chance for Fred McGriff with the BBWAA on the Hall of Fame ballot. The minute Tim Raines was elected in 2017, McGriff became the most underappreciated candidate on the ballot.

                                       Getty Images
In 2010, McGriff debuted on the ballot with 21.5% of the electorate behind him. Last year, his name appeared on 23.2% of the ballots. Most of the players that land in this range fall into one of two categories. Some are more suited for the hall of very good, but have enough support to stay alive by a comfortable margin as five percent of the vote is what is needed to make it to the following election. Others have ties to performance-enhancing drugs and are not named Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens. McGriff does not fit into either group yet has not seen the steady uptick in voting percentage that Raines did as the electric leadoff man opened at 24.3% in 2008 and was elected two years ago with 86.2% of the vote.

The Hall of Fame election announcement day can often spark new school versus old school baseball debates amongst fans and voters.  Comparative analysis using advanced metrics isn’t going anywhere, though there are plenty of individuals that cling to the older counting statistics. As baseball statistician Ryan Spaeder notes here, McGriff checks off boxes from both crowds when looking at how he stacks up with players that have already made it to Cooperstown. The more you stare at Spaeder’s tweet, the more frustrated you should get. How is it possible that someone can be equal to or better than so many Hall of Famers in so many statistical categories, both old and new, and still be a full 50 percentage points shy of election?

Now, let’s narrow our focus to one statistic that everyone should believe in. The Crime Dog hit 493 home runs. That gives him the most dingers out of anyone not in the Hall of Fame that does not have steroid ties.  If the work stoppage does not happen in 1994, McGriff gets to 500 homers and this isn’t a conversation. Maybe some voters are so stuck in their ways with those kinds of benchmarks that the difference between 493 and 500 is far more than just seven bombs.

Perhaps the most extraneous factor that plays a role in both Hall of Fame and award voting is team success and lack thereof. Though, even that doesn’t explain the disrespect for McGriff. He played on some very good Toronto teams in the late 80s and 1990 to start his career. He also had some big years for Atlanta in the mid 90s and was a part of the Braves 1995 World Series title, even if he wasn’t the biggest name on the roster. He did play for some cellar dwellers in Tampa Bay and Chicago at the end of his career, but by then he already had put together a nice resume.

All that’s left to point to here is the fact that McGriff played right through the prime of the steroid era. This brings us back to his home run total of 493. Now that we’re 15 years removed from McGriff’s playing days, it’s probably easy to look at that number and be impressed and question why he isn’t close to Cooperstown. But when he was accumulating those statistics, he was drowned out by the likes of Bonds, Sosa, McGwire, Sheffield and Ramirez. Another one of those extraneous factors than can come into play for voters is an era bias. In other words, how did you compare with your peers and were you one of the best players to play the game for the majority of your career? For obvious reasons, McGriff does not compare well with other power hitters that played during his time. This same argument could be used in favor of pitchers that played during the steroid era and probably works to Mike Mussina’s advantage as he looks to get closer to the 75% threshold today.

Put your feelings about the players from the steroid era aside for a minute and think more about how the era always had players like McGriff that were doing it right all along left behind. He only made it to the All-Star game five times. He only finished in the top five of MVP voting once. So, he must not be a Hall of Famer!

It’s a shame that this is likely why McGriff never got close to Cooperstown with the writers. He’ll probably get some sympathy votes today with it being his final year, but that’s not going to change anything. Thankfully, the Today’s Game Committee will almost certainly put him in. I can’t think of a better candidate whose career is worth a second look through such a committee than McGriff. If Harold Baines and Lee Smith can get in this way, then Fred McGriff certainly can. I look forward to the day we have justice for the Crime Dog. It’s long overdue.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Putting the Nick Foles experience into words

It’s the second week of January and the Eagles are still playing football. One month ago, Amari Cooper caught a tipped ball in overtime in Dallas and walked into the end zone to defeat the Eagles and essentially lock up the division for the Cowboys. The Eagles weren’t mathematically eliminated, but that sure felt like the nail in the coffin. An improbable win the following week on the road against the Los Angeles Rams just felt like an end-of-season tease. But the regular season ended with a reassurance for the Eagles and their fans that Kirk Cousins was still Kirk Cousins and it was, somehow, back to the playoffs.

                                                           Yong Kim/Philly.com
Ironically, that Dallas game one month ago was the final one quarterback Carson Wentz will play for the season. A back injury has ended his season, and of course that meant Nick Foles was back in the spotlight for Philadelphia. He answered the bell with three regular season wins and a playoff win. Last week’s 16-15 win in Chicago in the Wild Card round kind of summarized everything you get with Foles. He started hot, finished strong in the guts of the game and everything else in between was wildly inconsistent.

Now he leads the Eagles to New Orleans, where they’ll be in the underdog role yet again. What his stat line will look like is anyone’s guess. Foles might not always make the right plays, but he’ll make the big plays. That’s become abundantly clear during the last 12 months. He’ll remind you why he was almost out of football prior to rejoining the Eagles, and later in the same game, play like the Super Bowl MVP he was last season. Most of the time, the rest of the team manages to play well enough to keep the Eagles in the game when bad Foles shows up for a couple series. Almost all the time, Doug Pederson calls a good game for Foles that accentuates his strengths.

None of this is to say the magic that is Nick Foles in must-win games as the quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles is going to last forever. It’s certainly set him up for a lucrative future, where ever he lands in the spring. The reason every team in the National Football League plays the game is to win the Super Bowl. Foles has proved in the biggest moments in the sport to be up to the task. There are a lot of supremely talented quarterbacks in the NFL who have never been in that situation and therefore it remains unknown how those gunslingers would respond. Foles has played his best football on some of the biggest stages in sports. Now he’s getting an opportunity to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke, and having to win on the road in the process.

The Eagles were an underdog of close to two touchdowns in that game in Los Angeles versus the Rams in week 15. They had the lead almost the entire way and the offense all of a sudden caught fire. Foles threw for close to 500 yards against the Houston Texas in week 16. Last week, he had to lead a game-winning drive in the closing minutes against arguably the best defense in the NFL. This is not to slight Wentz either. There’s a time and place for those discussions and it’s not now. But, don’t be surprised if Foles’ next act involves some late-game heroics in perhaps the league’s toughest place to play. It’s what he does.

Photo: http://www.philly.com/eagles/nick-foles-sports-illustrated-cover-eagles-nfl-playoffs-20190108.html

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Work cut out for Sixers after another loss against Boston

The rivalry between the Sixers and Celtics has been one-sided of late to say the least. After yesterday’s 121-114 victory in overtime, Boston has now won 16 of the last 18 regular season meetings with Philadelphia and dispatched of the Sixers in five games in last year’s second round. Yesterday did nothing to change the narrative that the Sixers are a different team for all the wrong reasons against the Celtics.

Most of these games have followed one of two scripts. Either it’s over in the first half and the Sixers never have a chance, or it’s a game they should win and find a way to lose late. Often, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid have wilted down the stretch in the hotly contested games. Brett Brown has been outcoached by Brad Stevens in many of these games. Boston has a much deeper bench than the Sixers which was reflected in the box score yesterday. Jimmy Butler did not get a touch at the end of regulation when the Sixers had a chance to win the game. Instead, JJ Redick missed a jumper he had a good look at.

                                                       USA Today Images
Brett Brown has struggled to find answers
late in close games against the Celtics.
Given all of this, you’d think it’s night and day when comparing the two teams, and it has been on the court. In the standings, the Sixers are even with the Celtics in the loss column. The top-end talent on both rosters is probably even. However, to go with more depth and a better coach, Boston has more veterans that seem to make more plays in the tight games. If there’s anything to take away from yesterday’s loss, it’s that even with Jimmy Butler, the Sixers are likely not going to get out of the East as presently constructed.

With the trade deadline about six weeks away, new general manager Elton Brand has work to do and not much to play with. Sensing the cupboard that was once full of assets was nearing empty, the organization traded for the Miami Heat’s 2021 unprotected first-round pick at the draft last year with the Phoenix Suns. That Miami pick is team’s lone bargaining chip so they’ll have to get it right if they’re to part with the pick this season. Otherwise, it’s likely that the buyout market is where they’ll turn to in hopes of churning out similar finds to Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova from last season.

What’s scarier for the Sixers is that the Celtics also have much more to negotiate with. There are several young players that have not established themselves as a part of Boston’s core that could be moved in a trade for another star player. The Celtics own more future draft picks as well. In addition to looking up at Boston, Toronto’s trade for Kawhi Leonard has paid dividends and the Raptors may enter the playoffs as the favorite to win the East.

The Butler trade certainly created a buzz around the Sixers that wasn’t there early in the season after they did not land another star in the offseason. But, having seen them for six weeks since, they’re not ready to contend yet and it might be time to start getting concerned.