Thursday, August 26, 2021

My Interview with Derek Stevenson, Umpire from the 2021 Perfect Game All-American Classic

Derek Stevenson umpires games in the greater Atlanta area

On August 22, 2021, San Diego’s Petco Park hosted the 19th edition of the Perfect Game All-American Classic.  This annual event brings together the nation’s top amateur players heading into their senior year of high school to face off in an East versus West battle.  Elijah Green, Dylan Lesko, and Jayson Jones each took part in this year’s contest along with many other top high school prospects from the Class of 2022.  The game also featured the sons of former major leaguers CC Sabathia (Carsten), Andruw Jones (Druw), Matt Holliday (Jackson), Carl Crawford (Justin), and Lou Collier (Cam).  Coverage of the event was broadcast live on the MLB Network.  Over the years this game has showcased dozens of future first-round draft picks.  Moreover, five recipients of the MVP Award—Freddie Freeman, Bryce Harper, Buster Posey, Kris Bryant, and Andrew McCutchen—have played in the All-American Classic along with 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello and frontline starting pitchers Gerrit Cole, Kevin Gausman, and Zack Wheeler.  Each club was managed by a former major league player with Clint Hurdle helming the East and Luis Gonzalez in charge of the West.  Hurdle skippered the Colorado Rockies to the 2007 NL Pennant and managed in the majors as recently as 2019.  Gonzalez hit 354 home runs during his impressive 19-year playing career and is most remembered for his Game Seven, Series-ending walk-off RBI single to help the Arizona Diamondbacks triumph over the New York Yankees in the 2001 Fall Classic.

The East won this year’s game, 9-1, with ten pitchers combining to no-hit the West.  The no-hitter was the first in the history of the All-American Classic.  Catcher Luke Heyman hit the only home run of the night, a two-run shot in the bottom of the third inning to put the East up 3-0, and was named the game’s MVP.  It was neat to get a glimpse into the future as I expect to see several of these players selected in the 2022 Amateur Draft and popping up in the major leagues over the next few seasons. 

However, what made this year’s All-American Classic special for me was seeing my friend Derek Stevenson in uniform as the game’s third base umpire.  Derek and I worked together in 2012 and 2013.  Since that time, our mutual love of baseball has helped us stay in touch and it has been wonderful to see Derek follow his career path and become an umpire.  Derek currently works games in the greater Atlanta area and was nice enough to answer some of my questions about his participation in the All-American Classic and his career as an umpire.

Derek, first of all congratulations for getting the opportunity to work this game and thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.  Can you tell us what it was like to receive the invite to work the Perfect Game All-American Classic and about your experiences during the event?

Thank you so much.  Getting this opportunity was a blessing.  When I received the invite, I was shocked.  Very unexpected. I believe I was speechless.  The experience was amazing. Seeing all of that talent from these young men just motivates me to be a better umpire for the game.  During the pregame Home Run Derby, I got to see some of these young men 16, 17 years old hit upper deck home runs at Petco Park.  And I got to stand in the same spot as some of the great umpires, Joe West, Hunter Wendelstedt, Jansen Visconti, and Tom Hallion.  It was an honor to be a part of this and I wish all these young men the best in the future. 

What types of games do you generally work as an umpire in the greater Atlanta area?

I generally work high school, college, and travel ball games here in Georgia.

When did you first become a baseball fan and who were your favorite teams and players growing up?

I was a baseball fan probably when I was in the womb.  Hahahaha.  I remember playing baseball since I was 5 and watching the Yankees, Mets, and Braves.  I gravitated towards the Braves because I watched Greg Maddux pitch one time and just was in shock at how great of a pitcher he was.  Chipper Jones was and is my favorite player.  His ability to switch hit amazed me and I wanted to play just like him and tried. 

When did you start umpiring and what made you realize you wanted to pursue this as a career?

I started umpiring about 4 years ago.  The moment I put on my uniform I knew this was what I wanted to do forever.  I was doing a travel ball game and I was the home plate umpire and it was an amazing close game, fans were into the game, the players were great—playing hard and making amazing plays.  I said to myself “this is where I belong!”  The joy and feeling I get on the field makes me want to continue this.  These players are so talented.

Can you tell us about the progression of your umpiring career that led to you getting the call to work the Perfect Game All-American Classic?

I have had a lot of help along the way.  My trainers, instructors, and my umpire brothers have all helped me.  They saw that I had raw talent and a drive to be a better umpire, so they took me under their wing and have and continued to mold me into a good umpire.  Going to umpire camps every year, working on your mechanics at home in the mirror, and the most important thing, being in your rule book, have all helped with my progress.  I have a long way to go to get to where I want to be.  I believe that Perfect Game has some of the best umpires you can find and we all work hard together and push each other to be better than yesterday.  It’s a blessing.

You mentioned umpire camps, what were some of the things you learned or felt you were able to improve on by attending these camps?

“What can’t you learn” is probably the better question and easier question haha.  I can go on for years about this topic.  When you go to these camps, you’re learning everything about the game of baseball.  They improve your rules knowledge of the game which helps your confidence on the field.  They improve your mechanics so they are nice, crisp, and sharp.  You come out these camps gaining a confidence you didn’t have going in.  There so much more these camps offer you as well.  They offer you a chance to be a part of something special.  Seeing these talented players on the field up close is a blessing and these camps humble you and make you feel special.

What is the most unbelievable moment that has happened during a game you were working?

I think the most unbelievable moment for me was doing a quarterfinal game for Perfect Game and I got to see a kid throw a seven-inning no-hitter at the age of 17.

Occasionally we see umpires get hit by the ball, what’s the worst injury you’ve sustained working behind the plate?

The worst one I had was getting hit in the mask by a foul ball.  I had to be taken out of that game. 

Ouch.  Sounds painful.  I know concussions are a concern for umpires too.

Yes they are.  The catchers do a great job in trying make sure we don’t get hit but it happens.

Have you officiated any other sports besides baseball?

Yes.  I do football and softball.

As we know umpires get more than their fair share of verbal abuse.  What is the funniest or strangest (family-friendly) thing a player or coach has said while arguing a call?

Hahahahahaha yes we do from time to time.  I think the funniest thing was when a parent told me that I’m supposed to ask for help on a check swing every time. 

What is your advice for someone looking to pursue a career in umpiring or officiating?

Always be humble, work hard on your mechanics on and off the field.  Always remember someone is watching you no matter the level game you’re calling.  Be professional, don’t be afraid to fail or make a mistake.  Get and stay in your rule book.  And lastly have fun.  As Harry Wendelstedt once said, “You can’t hide a good umpire.”

Derek, thank you for taking the time with me today.  I look forward to seeing the continued progress of your umpiring career.  And once again congrats for working the Perfect Game All-American.

Thank you so much John.  I had a great time doing this interview.
Derek working the third base line during the Perfect Game All-American Classic

----by John Tuberty 

Follow me on Twitter @BloggerTubbs

Sources: Perfect Game, MLB Network telecast of Perfect Game All-American Classic

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Friday, July 9, 2021

An In-Depth Look at Hall of Fame Candidate Tim Hudson’s Career and How it Compares to Recent Cooperstown Inductees and Prominent Pitchers From His Era

The 2021 BBWAA Hall of Fame election marked one of the few times in which no candidate was voted into Cooperstown.  While the controversy surrounding the three highest drawing candidates on the ballot, Curt Schilling, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens, garnered most of the attention, an overlooked story of the election was the debut of first-time candidate Tim Hudson.  Despite a distinguished 17-year career, Hudson barely picked up enough support to be eligible for next January’s upcoming election.  Nevertheless, Hudson brings an underrated Hall of Fame case to the table that hopefully members of the electorate will take the time to reconsider. 
Hudson’s career spanned from 1999 to 2015, during which time the right-hander pitched for three different teams:  the Oakland Athletics, Atlanta Braves, and San Francisco Giants.  Noted for his mastery of the sinkerball, Hudson used the pitch to frustrate opposing hitters by generating weak contact and inducing ground balls.  Hudson retired with a career win-loss record of 222-133 and a 3.49 ERA.  When Hudson’s career ERA is ballpark and league adjusted, his 3.49 mark translates into a more illustrious 120 ERA+.  In addition, Hudson accumulated 57.9 career WAR during his career.  Yet, what might be Hudson’s most impressive career statistic is his excellent .625 win-loss percentage, which is the equivalent of a team posting a 101-61 record over the course of a full season.  Historically, a pitcher with the combination of Hudson’s 222 victories and .625 win-loss percentage has been voted into the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA or through one of the incarnations of the Era Committee.  However, wins have become devalued by some in the baseball community, which likely played a role in Hudson receiving less support in January's election than he would have from previous generations of voters.  With this in mind, I decided to take a deeper look into the validity of Hudson’s win-loss percentage by comparing the righty to seven prominent pitchers in a variety of categories that affect wins and losses.  Rather than just rely on the popular traditional and sabermetric methods, I chose to take a different approach by using some alternative advanced metrics and statistics to analyze the pitchers.
The seven hurlers I am comparing Hudson to include:
•the three starting pitchers most recently voted into the Hall of Fame:  Roy Halladay, Mike Mussina, and Jack Morris; 
•the highest returning holdover candidate on the BBWAA ballot:  Curt Schilling;
•two of Hudson’s contemporaries whom he currently shares the BBWAA ballot with:  Andy Pettitte and Mark Buehrle;
•as well as another contemporary who is not yet eligible but has a strong chance at being elected to Cooperstown:  CC Sabathia.

The Rare Combination of Hudson’s 222 Wins and .625 Win-Loss Percentage
Before delving into the comparisons, I wanted to see how rare it is for a pitcher to retire with Hudson’s impressive combination of career victories and win-loss percentage.  In fact, only 16 pitchers have completed their careers with more victories than Hudson’s 222 while also posting a higher win-loss percentage than the righty’s .625 mark.  To date, 14 of those 16 pitchers have been voted into the Hall of Fame while the two hurlers who have yet to be elected, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, are still on the BBWAA ballot.  Of course, Clemens’ and Pettitte’s Hall of Fame candidacies have each been adversely affected by their ties to PEDs.  Had it not been for the PED allegations, Clemens would have been an easy first ballot or even unanimous Hall of Fame selection while Pettitte would have certainly drawn a much higher vote total than the respective 9.9%, 11.3%, and 13.7% he collected in his first three years on the ballot.

However, Hudson’s 222 victories and .625 win-loss percentage represent the minimum of the standard.  Nevertheless, if the standard is changed to pitchers with 200 victories and a .600 win-loss percentage, Hudson still belongs to a very exclusive club as he is one of just 37 hurlers to retire with this impressive statistical combination.  Moreover, at present, 28 of those 37 pitchers have been voted into the Hall of Fame.  Aside from Hudson and the aforementioned Clemens and Pettitte, the remaining hurlers sitting outside of Cooperstown who retired with the 200 victory/.600 win-loss percentage combination includes the yet-to-be eligible Sabathia along with David Wells, early 20th century right-hander Carl Mays, and a trio of 19th century pitchers—Charlie Buffinton, Bob Caruthers, and Jack Stivetts.  Other than Sabathia, Hudson’s career is a healthy step above these additional hurlers as Mays and Stivetts only just clear the 200-victory threshold while Wells, Buffinton, and Stivetts barely meet the .600 win-loss percentage standard.  Mays has appeared on the Veterans Committee ballot in the past but has never come close to election.  His Hall of Fame case has been overshadowed by throwing the errant pitch that killed Ray Chapman and suspicion that he purposely lost World Series games during the 1921 and 1922 Fall Classics.  The trio of 19th century hurlers have never been serious Hall of Fame candidates as each had careers that were barely a decade long and also played during an era when two or three-man pitching rotations were the norm and the disparity between the best and worst teams was more pronounced.  Wells is the only pitcher of recent times to retire with the 200 victory/.600 win-loss percentage combination and fall off the BBWAA ballot.  However, Wells’ Hall of Fame case was likely doomed by his 4.13 career ERA which would be, by far, the highest in Cooperstown.
Only 16 pitchers have retired with more victories & a higher W-L% than Hudson, 14 of those 16 are HOFers

Career Totals as a Starting Pitcher
Since the majority of the stats I am using reflect the hurlers’ performances in games in which they were the starting pitcher, their career record, win-loss percentage, and ERA shown below slightly differ from their overall career totals.

The pitchers I consider most fitting to compare Hudson with are Buehrle, Halladay, Pettitte, and Sabathia because their career timelines most overlap with Hudson’s.  Keep in mind, Hudson is being judged against hurlers who have promising Hall of Fame cases or are already enshrined in Cooperstown.  It is certainly possible that each of these pitchers will one day find their way into the Hall of Fame either through the BBWAA vote or on a later Era Committee ballot.  Thus, being at or near the mean of these pitchers in these categories is impressive.

Percentage of Games Started Won and Lost
During his career, Hudson regularly won while rarely losing.  In fact, Hudson finished with a sub-.500 win-loss percentage in just two of his 17 major league seasons.  Moreover, Hudson had just four double-digit loss campaigns, including two where he lost exactly ten games.  By contrast, Hudson had 13 seasons with double-digits in wins.  Hudson’s career-high total of defeats was just 13—a total he met or exceeded in victories ten times during his career. 

The tables above show Hudson is slightly below the mean among the eight hurlers in percentage of games started where he was credited as the winning pitcher.  However, Hudson really shines in the low percentage of games started where he was tagged as the losing pitcher.  Hudson took the loss in just 27.77% of his starts, trailing only Halladay who easily leads the octet of hurlers in both categories—underscoring why “Doc” is the only first-ballot Hall of Famer of the group.  These two categories also illustrate how Hudson won with more regularity than contemporaries Buehrle and Sabathia and lost with less frequency than Pettitte, Buehrle, and Sabathia.

Quality Start Percentage and Average Game Score (Version 2.0)
Quality start and game score are two useful metrics to evaluate a starting pitcher’s performance.

A pitcher is given credit for a quality start when they pitch six or more innings while giving up three or fewer earned runs.  When a starting pitcher is removed from the game, you’ll often hear a commentator remark, “he gave his team a chance to win” or “he kept his team in the game.”  If a hurler has a quality start, they’ve essential pitched well enough to earn the win or have, at the very least, kept the game close by limiting the opposing team’s scoring.

Game score is a metric which gauges a starting pitcher’s performance by converting it into a number figure based on the quantity and quality of the outing.  Game score was originally devised by Bill James, however, I prefer Tom Tango’s refined version of the metric because it uses a slightly different formula which penalizes pitchers for giving up home runs, something James’ version does not do.

At 63.05%, Hudson is comfortably above the mean in percentage of quality starts and a good distance ahead of Pettitte, Sabathia, and Morris.  For average game score, Hudson’s 56.25% is an eyelash below the 56.34% mean.  The three pitchers Hudson trails in average game score are a pair of Hall of Fame hurlers, Halladay and Mussina, along with Schilling—who if it hadn't been for a crowded ballot and his off-the-field controversies, would have been voted into Cooperstown several years ago.

Cheap Wins and Tough Losses
A cheap win is when a starting pitcher earns the victory in a non-quality start by pitching fewer than 6 innings or allowing more than 3 earned runs.

With just 28 of his 222 career triumphs being classified as cheap wins, Hudson rarely was the recipient of a gifted victory despite making a non-quality start.  Hudson’s 12.61% mark ranks a strong third among the eight hurlers and is easily better the 15.70% mean.

Essentially the opposite of a cheap win, the pitcher is credited with a tough loss when they are the losing pitcher of record in a quality start.

This is the first category in which Hudson looks poor in comparison to the featured hurlers.  With 35 of his 133 career defeats coming in quality starts, Hudson is about 5 tough losses below the mean.  Nevertheless, Hudson’s solid average game score mark somewhat nullifies his lower number of tough losses.  Interestingly, Hudson’s highest percentage of tough losses came in 2014 when the righty posted a career-worst 9-13 record for the San Francisco Giants despite making quality starts in seven of those defeats.  Hudson’s losing record was largely the byproduct of being a victim of particularly poor run support as San Francisco’s offense scored zero or one run in each of the seven games in which the sinkerball-specialist made a quality start but was tagged with the loss.  Yet, it all worked out for Hudson and the Giants as the season ended with the veteran lifting the World Championship trophy over his head after the club beat the Kansas City Royals to win the 2014 Fall Classic.
Wins Lost and Losses Saved
The wins lost table shows how often the eight pitchers were in the position to be credited for the victory at the time they faced their final batter, only to be denied the win due to their bullpen blowing the lead.

Hudson has the dubious honor of leading the octet of hurlers in wins lost.  Over the course of his career, Hudson lost out on a staggering 50 potential wins due to his bullpen blowing leads.  In fact, the lead Hudson holds over the other pitchers is so significant that the difference between the sinkerballer’s 10.44% wins lost mark and the 8.46% of the second-highest placing hurler, Roy Halladay, is greater than the gap from Halladay to the 6.61% total of the next-to-last ranked CC Sabathia.

Hudson spent the early part of his career with the Oakland Athletics.  Along with Mark Mulder and Barry Zito, Hudson was part of an impressive trio of young starters known as the Big Three.  Before being split up by Hudson’s and Mulder’s respective trades to the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals following the 2004 season, the Big Three helped lead the A’s to three AL West Division Titles and one AL Wildcard.  Unfortunately for Hudson, Oakland’s bullpen had a bad habit of costing him wins.  Hudson was particularly victimized between 2002 and 2004 when the A’s relief corps cost the sinkerballer 18 potential wins.  Taking a deeper look into the game logs, only one of those 18 probable victories were lost as a result of Hudson leaving a runner on base.  What’s more, Hudson’s leads were often blown by the A’s closers during those years as Billy Koch squandered 3 of the 8 potential victories the bullpen cost Hudson in 2002 while Keith Foulke accounted for all 4 of Hudson’s probable wins that were lost in 2003.  However, because Oakland’s potent offense was able to retake the lead when they were the pitcher of record, Koch was credited with the win for all three of the potential victories he cost Hudson while Foulke picked up the “W” for two of the four probable victories he cost Hudson.  Despite blowing Hudson’s potential wins, Koch and Foulke were each named the respective AL Rolaid Relievers of the Year in 2002 and 2003.  While Oakland’s bullpen struggled to hold Hudson’s leads, it was certainly not due to the righty coming out of games too quickly as he regularly pitched deep into ballgames, averaging 7 innings per start between 2002 and 2004.  Moreover, Hudson ranked third among AL hurlers for innings pitched in both 2002 and 2003.
Over the course of his career, Hudson lost out on 50 potential wins due to his bullpen blowing leads
The antithesis of wins lost, losses saved accounts for the number of times the eight hurlers were in position for the loss but their team came back to tie the game or take the lead, thus saving them from being the losing pitcher of record.

Hudson ranks fifth with an 8.56% losses saved mark that is a tick better than the mean.  Hudson is a good distance in front of sixth place Schilling and is well ahead of his contemporaries, Buehrle and Sabathia, who bring up the rear.  Among the eight pitchers, Hudson along with Hall of Famers Halladay and Mussina are the only ones with more wins lost than losses saved.

“Adjusted” Win-Loss Percentage
Cheap wins and tough losses essentially have their respective opposites in wins lost and losses saved.  As the previous tables illustrate, some hurlers excel amongst their fellow pitchers in one category while struggling by comparison in another.  However, by deducting cheap wins and tough losses from the pitcher’s career totals while adding wins lost and losses saved to their ledger, an “adjusted” career win-loss percentage is created which gives an idea of the eight hurlers’ overall performance in those four categories.  The table below shows each pitcher’s “adjusted” starting pitcher career win-loss record and the increase or decrease from their “adjusted” to their actual starting pitcher win-loss percentage.

Hudson once again finds himself among Hall of Famers as his .0117 increase from his actual to “adjusted” win-loss percentage ranks second, in between Halladay and Mussina.  Hudson and Halladay are the only two hurlers who have more tough losses than cheap wins as well as a greater number of wins lost than losses saved.  Hudson’s contemporaries, Pettitte and Sabathia, stand out in a different way as they are the only two pitchers to see a decrease from their actual to “adjusted” win-loss percentage.  In fact, Pettitte’s and Sabathia’s decreases are so significant that they bring the mean all the way down to .0040 with each of the other six hurlers comfortably above it.

Run Support
Aside from National League pitchers occasionally helping their own cause, the level of run support a hurler receives from their offense is out of their control.  Nevertheless, run support can have a major effect on a pitcher’s win-loss record.  Run support is judged in two different ways: run support per game which measures runs scored for the entire game per 27 outs and run support per innings which accounts for runs scored per 27 outs while the starting pitcher was in the game.  Below are each of the hurler’s career run support per game and per innings versus the MLB average which is in parentheses.  These tables are followed by the combined differences between each pitcher’s run support per game and per inning versus the MLB average during their career.

Hudson ranks an impressive second on all three tables, trailing only Schilling.  However, calculating a true ranking based on run support is difficult since a pitcher’s run support is affected by a variety of factors that are unique to each hurler including the pitcher’s home ballpark, the division their team played in, and the era during which their career took place.  For example, the hurler with, by far, the lowest run support is Schilling who spent eight-and-a-half years of his career playing for the offensively-challenged Philadelphia Phillies who finished at or near the bottom of the NL in runs scored during the bulk of his time with the club.  Conversely, the pitchers with highest run support are Pettitte and Mussina who respectively spent the majority and entirety of their career’s playing in the high-offense AL East during what is often referred to as the Steroid Era.  Nevertheless, aside from Schilling, it does not appear Hudson benefited from higher run support in comparison to the featured hurlers.

Individual Starting Pitcher Win-Loss Percentage vs. Team Win-Loss Percentage
During his career, Hudson generally pitched for competitive teams.  In fact, just two seasons of Hudson’s 17-year career were spent with a team that finished the campaign with a sub-.500 record.  Thus, a Hall of Fame voter might assume the hurler’s excellent .625 win-loss percentage is a byproduct of playing the majority of his career with competitive teams.  Nevertheless, it is also true that the best pitchers will generally play the bulk of their careers with winning teams, in part, because their services will be sought by the most competitive franchises.  This is certainly true of Hudson's career:  the Braves made a deal with the A’s to acquire the right-hander as he was approaching free agency and quickly signed him to a lucrative contract extension to keep him from testing the open market.  And, towards the end of Hudson’s career, the Giants signed the hurler to add veteran depth to their rotation as the club embarked on its third Championship run in five seasons.  While Hudson’s services were in demand by contending teams, it is undoubtedly true his win-loss record was enhanced by playing for competitive franchises.  However, most of the featured hurlers followed the same pattern of spending a significant portion of their careers with winning ballclubs.  The table below illustrates which pitchers benefited most from playing for competitive franchises by showing the difference between each’s individual win-loss percentage as a starting pitcher versus the accumulated win-loss percentage for the teams they played for during their career.

The teams Hudson played for during his career put together an overall win-loss percentage of .553 which is roughly the equivalent of a club posting a 90-72 regular season record while the righty’s .625 individual career win-loss percentage translates to a 101-61 record over the course of a full season.  The .072 difference between Hudson’s individual win-loss percentage versus the .553 mark of the teams he played for ranks the sinkerball-specialist fourth among the eight hurlers, just shy of the .077 mean.  Hudson’s win-loss percentage was aided by playing for competitive franchises but it is also evident that he outperformed his teams in comparison to his contemporaries Sabathia, Buehrle, and Pettitte as his .072 mark is comfortably ahead of each of these hurlers.

Average Finish in the Ranked Categories
To give an overall picture of how Hudson stacks up among the eight pitchers here is the average finish of the featured hurlers based on their classification in the ranked categories.  I chose to omit the three run support tables from the rankings because there are too many variables and not a clear enough picture to give an accurate ranking.  I also excluded “adjusted” win-loss percentage from the rankings since it is a composite of cheap wins, tough losses, wins lost, and losses saved.

Hudson’s 3.89 average finish ranks the sinkerballer fourth among the eight pitchers.  Hudson’s combined rankings from the nine categories add up to 35 points, putting him just three points behind Schilling and two points away from Mussina.  Hudson is above the mean in five of the nine ranked categories.  What’s more, the righty sits well above the mean in four of those categories:  lowest percentage of games started lost, average quality start percentage, lowest percentage of cheap wins, and highest percentage of wins lost.  By contrast, Hudson is well below the mean in only one metric:  highest percentage of tough losses.
Hudson's average finish in the nine categories puts him just behind Schilling and Mussina

As for the seven other featured hurlers, not surprisingly Halladay leads his fellow pitchers by a sizable gap.  In fact, Halladay ranks first or second in seven of the nine categories and his 17 points from the combined rankings translates to an average finish of 1.89.  With such a wide margin separating Halladay from the three-way battle for second place between Schilling, Mussina, and Hudson, it is clear that among the nine ranked categories the first-ballot Hall of Famer is truly in a class by himself.  A ways back from the Schilling-Mussina-Hudson triumvirate, Buehrle and Pettitte are tied for fifth place with their equivalent 48 points giving them each a 5.33 average finish.  Further back is Morris with 55 points and a 6.11 average finish while Sabathia is dead last with 56 points and a 6.22 average.

Morris’ seventh place rank is not surprising since his 3.90 ERA is the highest among Hall of Fame pitchers.  Nevertheless, Morris’ Hall of Fame case was greatly strengthened by his stellar World Series performances during the 1984 and 1991 Fall Classics, each of which played a role in his election to Cooperstown.  However, Sabathia’s last place finish is somewhat unexpected.  During the final season of his career, Sabathia joined the prestigious 3,000-strikeout club while also reaching the secondary milestone of 250 wins.  Reaching these dual milestones will undoubtedly help Sabathia draw support when he becomes eligible to appear on the BBWAA ballot in three years.  That being said, Sabathia’s low ranking is due, in part, to his pitching several seasons past his prime.  With 3577.1 innings pitched, Sabathia ranks second among the eight hurlers, behind only Morris’ 3824 frames.  This longevity enabled Sabathia to reach the 250-win/3000-strikeout milestones but the quantity he added also came at the expense of quality as, over the final seven seasons of his career, the hurler often struggled to pitch at a league average level, going 60-59 with a 4.33 ERA while posting a pedestrian ERA+ of 97.  Moreover, during Sabathia’s final seven campaigns, the veteran was the beneficiary of 16 cheap wins and saved from a staggering 31 potential losses compared to being the victim of 14 tough losses with just 5 potential wins lost.

While Hudson’s 3.89 average finish and fourth place ranking puts him in the neighborhood of Schilling and Mussina, many of the popular sabermetric stats such as WAR and JAWS judge the sinkerball-specialist’s career value as being closer to his contemporaries, Buehrle, Pettitte, and Sabathia.  Nevertheless, with Hudson’s strong overall showing in the nine categories, the righty sets himself apart from Buehrle and Pettitte, whom he currently shares the ballot with.  Hudson also distinguishes himself from Sabathia, who will be eligible for the 2025 vote.  In addition, Hudson’s solid ranking and the edge he holds over three of his contemporaries underscores the validity of his 222 victories and .625 win-loss percentage.  Wins may be devalued by some in the baseball community, however, the rarely seen combination of Hudson’s victory total and win-loss percentage are key elements of a Hall of Fame-caliber career that should one day earn the hurler a bronze plaque in Cooperstown.
The Long But Not Impossible Road to Cooperstown
Despite an impressive list of accomplishments and being one of the top pitchers of his era, when the results of the 2021 BBWAA ballot were announced, Hudson garnered just 5.2% of the vote and barely retained his eligibility for next January’s election.  With such a disappointing debut, Hudson’s chances of election to Cooperstown via the BBWAA ballot are slim and his Hall of Fame candidacy may ultimately be determined by the Era Committee some years down the road.  However, one need only look at a few of the names on the current ballot to see examples of candidates overcoming humbling debuts to accumulate significant support:  Andruw Jones drew an underwhelming 7.3% and 7.5% in his initial pair of appearances on the ballot but began trending in the right direction and amassed 33.9% in year four.  Billy Wagner hovered around 10% in his first three years of eligibility before a series of gains brought his total to a promising 46.4% in his sixth year in the ballot.  Scott Rolen debuted at 10.2% but just three years later has seen his support steadily increase all the way up to 52.9% and looks to be on his way to eventual election.  Larry Walker’s total dropped as low as 10.2% in his fourth try before a surge in support resulted in him picking up momentum and being elected with 76.6% of the vote in his tenth and final year of eligibility in 2020.

Unfortunately for Hudson, the controversy surrounding Curt Schilling, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens resulted in the electorate pitching a shutout on the 2021 ballot.  The elections of Schilling, Bonds, or Clemens would have cleared space on the ballot for voters to consider new candidates such as Hudson.  Instead, each of those candidates will return to the ballot as the three highest drawing holdovers for what will be each of their final shots at election through the BBWAA.  On top of that, a pair of prominent newcomers, David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez, are slated to make their debut on the upcoming ballot.  Ortiz and Rodriguez will undoubtedly garner a significant amount of support and as a result, Hudson could lose votes from members of the electorate who run out of room on their ballot to include him.  However, if Hudson is able to obtain the necessary 5% in the next election and retain his eligibility, the eliminations of Schilling, Bonds, and Clemens will help clear the crowded ballot.  Moreover, with only a few strong candidates due to become eligible for the next several ballots, Hudson may be able to build momentum and see his support trend upward in future elections.

----by John Tuberty 

Follow me on Twitter @BloggerTubbs

Cards:  Tim Hudson 2004 Donruss, Mark Buehrle 2002 Upper Deck Ballpark Idols, CC Sabathia 2010 Topps, Roy Halladay 2006 Fleer Ultra, Mike Mussina 1996 Topps, Andy Pettitte 1996 Fleer, Curt Schilling 2000 Upper Deck Pros & Prospects, Jack Morris 1984 Fleer, Tim Hudson 2003 Plumbers Steamfitters Refrigeration Local Union 342, Tim Hudson 2008 Topps Heritage, Tim Hudson 2015 Topps Heritage, Tim Hudson 2002 SP Authentic, Tim Hudson 2008 Topps, Tim Hudson 2014 Bowman Chrome, Tim Hudson 2006 Upper Deck Sweet Spot Update, Curt Schilling 2004 Fleer Ultra, Mike Mussina 2003 Upper Deck First Pitch

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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Dave Parker Brings His Unforgettable Career to Life in “Cobra: A Life of Baseball and Brotherhood”


During the prime years of his career, Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Dave Parker was often in the conversation for the best player in baseball.  With the ability to hit for both average and power while also showcasing a cannon throwing arm and speed on the basepaths, Parker was a true five-tool talent.  Standing 6’5”, he was not only one of the game’s most dominant players but one of the most physically impressive as well.  Add in a charismatic personality and an engaging smile and you had the perfect ingredients for a superstar ballplayer.  As the 1978 NL MVP and an integral part of the 1979 World Series champion Pirates, the towering right fielder garnered his fair share of praise and recognition.  Parker chronicled his impressive career in his recently published book, Cobra: A Life of Baseball and Brotherhood, which he coauthored with Dave Jordan.  This is the second book Jordan has coauthored with a baseball player, having previously worked with pitcher John D’Acquisto on his excellent 2016 release, Fastball John.  Parker’s book takes its title from the memorable nickname the slugger was known by during his playing career.

Parker gives readers a look at his childhood growing up in Cincinnati.  He shares his dreams of playing football and how his career path changed to baseball.  From the outset of the book, Parker’s confidence, swagger, cockiness, and occasional audaciousness are on full display but his charismatic and charming personality make it impossible not to be entertained by and root for the slugger.  Cobra takes readers through the highs and lows of Parker’s life but maintains a positive tone and never gets bogged down by the negative experiences he endures.  Parker doesn’t shy away from admitting to mistakes he made in life and shares the lessons he learned from his missteps.

Cobra primarily covers Parker’s 14 years in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.  The slugger doesn’t just glaze over his time in the minor leagues, instead he makes you appreciate the level of difficulty it was to crack Pittsburgh’s deep major league roster.  Parker gives readers insight into the importance of a young player having an advocate in the front office or on the coaching staff which can mean the difference between multiple opportunities to succeed at the major league level as opposed to one brief chance or no shot at all and staying mired in the minors.  Parker brings to life the Pirates locker room he entered as a 22-year-old rookie in 1973 with Willie Stargell growing into the team leader and elder statesman role, the ultra-focused Al Oliver passing along his hitting knowledge, and the jovial Manny Sanguillen keeping the atmosphere light.  Teammate Dock Ellis proves to be a much more layered character than just the zany pitcher who threw a no-hitter in a chemically altered state.  Unlikely as it may seem, Ellis provided the club with strong leadership, showing younger players the ropes and helping them stay out of trouble.  However, later on we witness Ellis’ own self-destruction that led to his trade from Pittsburgh.

One of the book’s main highlights is Parker’s detailing of the inner workings of the Pirates franchise.  The slugger illustrates how the organization valued its homegrown players and what made them different and more successful than other teams.  He gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at club politics and the role it played in roster decisions and trades.  Parker also gives insights into the different managing styles of Bill Virdon, Danny Murtaugh, and Chuck Tanner, the three skippers he played under in Pittsburgh.  In addition, Parker also looks at the contrasting front office regimes of general managers Joe L. Brown and Harding “Pete” Peterson.

Parker played alongside veteran Willie Stargell as part of the 1979 World Series champions

As the decade progressed, Parker became one of the best players in the game, earning perennial trips to the All-Star Game, multiple Gold Glove Awards, and even the 1978 NL MVP.  In 1979, the Pirates defeated Parker’s hometown Cincinnati Reds in the NLCS to advance to the World Series.  With Parker and Stargell sparking the offense, Pittsburgh defeated the Baltimore Orioles in a closely-contested seven-game Fall Classic to become world champions.  Parker does a great job of bringing the 1979 championship season to life and the Pirates raucous clubhouse which famously used Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” as it’s rallying song.  The big right fielder’s love of music is apparent in Cobra.  Like John D’Acquisto and Dave Jordan did in Fastball John, Parker and his coauthor cleverly weave snippets of song lyrics into his writing.

To his credit, Parker does not shy away from tackling the controversial years of his life.  The slugger openly discusses the drug and weight issues that plagued him in the early 1980s.  Parker’s struggles coincided with the decline of the Pirates franchise.  When he became a free agent following the 1983 season, Pittsburgh made no real effort to re-sign the 32-year-old.  Only two teams showed serious interest in Parker:  the Seattle Mariners and his hometown club, the Cincinnati Reds.

After a difficult last few seasons in Pittsburgh, Parker embraced the elder statesman role with the Cincinnati Reds

Upon his return to Cincinnati, Parker set about rebuilding his tarnished reputation and re-establishing himself as one of the premiere players in the game.  Parker spends a portion of his book writing about his career renaissance in Cincinnati where he embraced the elder statesman role and provided valuable veteran leadership for the club’s young sluggers, Barry Larkin, Eric Davis, and Kal Daniels.  Parker also writes about his experiences playing for one of the idols of his youth when Pete Rose returns to the Reds in the dual role of player-manager.

One of the main things that makes Cobra an excellent book was reading about the relationships Parker formed throughout his lifetime.  Pirates fans will enjoy reading Parker’s memories of Willie Stargell, Dock Ellis, Bill Madlock, Kent Tekulve, and other franchise greats.  However, Parker doesn’t just focus on the friendships he developed with Pittsburgh’s star players but also lesser known teammates such as Larry Demery, Ed Ott, and John Milner as well as career minor leaguers who never made it to the majors like Bill Flowers, Charles “Charlie Boo” Howard, and Ron “Satch” Mitchell.  Reading Parker’s stories about these players was just as interesting as reading his memories of Stargell and the other superstars.  Parker also provides first-hand accounts of several memorable moments from his eventful career including his slide into catcher John Stearns where he suffered a broken jaw and his highlight reel throw home to gun down Brian Downing during the 1979 All-Star Game.  Some of the most enjoyable parts of the book are the verbal sparring matches between Parker and infielder Phil Garner.  While they constantly needle and playfully trash-talk one another, the two men are bound by a deep mutual respect and a desire to win.

Cobra is a terrific book.  I am glad Parker put the memories of his unforgettable career and fascinating life into print.  I rank Cobra among my favorite sports books and highly recommend baseball fans give it a read.

----by John Tuberty

Follow me on Twitter @BloggerTubbs

Cards:  1979 Topps Dave Parker and Willie Stargell, 1982 Topps Dave Parker, 1986 Topps Dave Parker 

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