Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Projecting the Hall of Famers in the 2008 World Series

While Fox Sports may be disappointed by a Tampa Bay Rays/Philadelphia Phillies World Series, a fan of old-fashioned baseball should look forward to the match-up.

Tampa is riding one of the great sports stories of all time: never having won more than 70 games in a season, the Rays dropped the "Devil" and went from a worst-in-baseball 66 wins a year ago to 97 wins (trailing only the LA Angels, and tied with the Cubs.)

Playing in a division with two super-powers, the Rays have adapted by drafting good young talent, and building a team that should be able to compete for the next 3-4 years. Evan Longoria (22 years old), BJ Upton (23), and Carl Crawford (26(!)) are the anchors to build a line-up around. And the pitching is perhaps even better, with James Shields (26), Scott Kazmir (24), Matt Garza (24), and live-armed David Price (22).

Historically, virtually every World Series champ sports at least one Hall-of-Famer (see below posts for the comprehensive (we hope) list), and many have two or three. (From 1903 to 1980, every single team had at least one player; the 1981 strike-season Dodgers have only manager Tommy Lasorda, and like the 2005 Chicago White Sox, seem unlikely to add any more players.) While the vagaries of the Hall-of-Fame selection process are the subject for another post, the relationship between the HOF and WS Champs is probably two-fold:

1. In order to win, you need great years out of your great players. Like a bad penny, 'bad' players --- Babe Ruth, Tris Speaker, Harry Hooper, Johnny Evers in the old days, and Jack Morris, Rickey Henderson, and Reggie Jackson in the modern ones -- keep showing up with championship teams.

2. Hall-of-Fame voters -- like other voters in other elections -- like winners. When your team wins the title, you are more likely to be remembered, and enshrined in Cooperstown. Yes, yes... we are talking about you, Curt Schilling. And Enos Slaughter as well. And of course (and ironically, as his career ended when the Yankees cut him to make room for Slaughter in August, 1956), Phil Rizzuto. A World Series title or two is a huge bonus for a guy who otherwise would be on the HOF bubble.

So who are the HOF candidates for these two teams? For the Phillies, it's easy: 1B Ryan Howard and SS Jimmy Rollins have both taken significant steps towards Cooperstown in their first few years in the bigs (5 years for Howard, 9 for Rollins). Both have earned more than half of the mythical 100 points that Bill James has documented is necessary to be a 'likely HOFer' in his HOF Monitor. (Howard has 63.5/100, while Rollins has 58/100.) And both will take a further step if their team wins it's first title in 28 years.

Tampa's players are so young, in contrast, that no one is on track for the HOF. Crawford, the longest tenured Ray with 7 years, has accumulated just 31.5 HOF Monitor 'points'; however his list of "similar players" includes HOFers Sam Crawford and Roberto Clemente. Closer Troy Percival is a potential HOFer (86/100), but he has been hurt and has yet to pitch in the 2008 post-season.

Tampa seems deeper and better. And the Rays win, we could be looking back some day to the day when a young Ray took the first step toward baseball immortality.

Prediction: Rays in 6.

And another rebuilding year in the Bronx in 2009.

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