The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Picking Good Italian Restaurants Easier than Predicting Hall of Famers

Today the National Baseball Hall of Fame inducted three well-deserving players, Jeff Bagwell, Ivan Rodriguez, and Tim Raines.  Raines squeaked in on his last year of eligibility, while Bagwell and Rodriguez overcame any suspicions of PED use to enter the hallowed Hall in Cooperstown.  30-35 years ago, when these players first started out, would anyone have predicted they would eventually be recognized among the immortals in baseball?

My son Lee and I will be making our annual trek to major-league cities this week.  We’ll catch games at Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Guaranteed Rate Field (which sounds more like a hockey arena), as well as at Milwaukee’s Miller Park.  Three days.  Three games.  Three different parks.  Six different teams.  You gotta love it!

So, what does this have to do with Italian food and Hall of Fame predictions?

In addition to finding good, authentic Italian food in our destination cities, one of our favorite things each trip is to predict which players we see play will wind up in the Hall of Fame.  There’s a tendency to overrate players, particularly the up-and-coming stars who have yet to fully prove themselves over an adequate period.  On the other hand, longevity tends to allow for high career stat accumulation, which are not necessarily good indicators of a player’s actual value.  Furthermore, a player’s popularity can often skew objectivity.  We try to be unbiased in our prognostications, but admittedly we have relied on our hearts, more than our heads, a few times to make our predictions, especially when we are watching our favorite teams.

This year we’ll get to see the White Sox vs. Blue Jays, Cubs vs. Diamondbacks, and Brewers vs. Cardinals on our short trip.  I’ll preview some of the players we’ll get to see, with an eye toward who the potential Hall of Famers from these teams might be.

As I wrote in last week’s blog post, the White Sox have unloaded practically all of its star players in a rebuilding initiative.  The best player left on that team is first baseman Jose Abreu, who is in his fourth major-league season.  He has a Rookie of the Year Award in his trophy case and is well on his way to his fourth 100-RBI season.  He has a career 140 for OPS+ and his career batting average is near .300.  The biggest potential drawback for Abreu ultimately being a viable HOF candidate is that he is already 30 years old, and he would have to maintain or exceed his current performance well into his late 30s to have enough years of peak performance for strong HOF consideration.

22-year-old White Sox rookie second baseman Yoan Mondada was the top-rated prospect in all of baseball coming into this season.  He recently got a call-up to the White Sox after their recent fire sale.  Of course, he is still unproven in the big-leagues, but he’s one to keep on the watch list.

After his first five full major-league seasons, I would have bet heavily that Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitski would be a Hall of Fame selection.  However, injuries have curtailed his playing time in several years such that he has averaged only about 120 games during the ten seasons after his debut year.  Nevertheless, he has still put up over 225 career home runs and has a career .361 OBP.  Tulowitski has the second highest all-time fielding percentage for shortstops, although that stat is no longer considered by most analysts as a meaningful measure.

Another Blue Jay who has stood out from the rest of the pack is Josh Donaldson.  From 2013 to 2016, the third baseman has been among the top finishers for MVP, claiming the title in 2015.  He is currently 31st among active players in WAR.  Like Abreu, he is already at an age (31), where he must continue producing at a high level well into his late 30s for HOF consideration.  The Texas Rangers’ Adrian Beltre is proving that is not impossible.

The Chicago Cubs have several potential Hall of Famers on the current roster.  Jon Lester has finished in the top four for the Cy Young Award in three seasons.  He has won World Series with the Red Sox in 2007 and 2013 and one with the Cubs last season.  Lester has posted a sterling 2.63 ERA in 22 post-season games.  At age 33, he is already among the top 100 pitchers of all time in several advanced metrics.

Cubs infielder Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are young players who have already made an impact, and if they stay healthy during the remainder of their careers, should have reasonable chances for HOF induction.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon has two pennants and a World Series championship under his belt after 11 seasons in Tampa and Chicago.  Considered one of the top analytical managers, if he and the Cubs can get on a team dynasty path, including a couple more World Series championships, he will get strong consideration for the Hall of Fame.

Similar to the Cubs’ Rizzo and Bryant, Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks is another younger player who has been among the game’s top current stars.  He has demonstrated a good combination of hitting and fielding talents, but doesn’t get as much ink because he plays for a small-market team.

The D’backs’ Zack Grienke makes his case for the Hall of Fame by getting high marks in several of the advanced metrics for pitchers, including Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched (WHIP), ERA+, and Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP).  He has been a Cy Young Award finalist in four seasons, claiming the award in 2009.  His career won-lost record was 155-100 through 2016.

Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun would be in the Hall of Fame discussion today if he hadn’t been suspended for violation of MLB’s drug policy and his linkage to the Biogenesis Scandal in 2013.  Considered a five-tool player, he has one MVP award and five Silver Slugger awards under his belt, while finishing in the top 10 for Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in four seasons.

St. Louis Cardinals backstop Yadier Molina doesn’t have the gaudy offensive stats of previous HOF catchers like Berra, Bench and Piazza, but he certainly ranks among the best defensive catchers of all time.  He has twice finished in the top four for the MVP Award.  He is one of the primary reasons the Cardinals have appeared in four World Series since 2004, including two championships.

The Baseball Hall of Fame is truly an elite group; only the best of the best get their image on a bronze plaque.  In all likelihood, only one or two of the players mentioned above will ultimately gain membership.  If I had to pick only one from this group, I’d have to give the nod to Molina.

In any case, it’s fun to think about who the candidates are.  Some of the players we’ve been fortunate enough to see on our baseball journeys in recent years include Adrian Beltre, Omar Vizquel, Carlos Beltran, and David Ortiz.  They’ve all got reasonably good chances to be inducted.

Getting back to the Italian food, Lee and I have had good success in identifying some outstanding restaurants on our trips.  Unlike picking future Hall of Famers, we’ve had very little trouble gauging the best eateries—with neither heads nor hearts, but with our stomachs.

A few restaurants that make our “Culinary Hall of Fame” include Amicci’s in Baltimore’s Little Italy, Primanti Bros. in Pittsburgh, Lorenzo’s in South Philadelphia’s Italian Market, and Mama Anna’s in Boston’s North End.  They represent a good mixture of your traditional and more eclectic Italian dishes, as well as tasty pizzas, sandwiches and subs.

We’re looking forward to experiencing Chicago’s Little Italy in the Near West Side area, but aren’t expecting too much in Milwaukee.  Got some good recommendations from one of Lee’s co-workers who lived in the area and from my “coolinary” friends, Carol and Ed, who used to frequent the Windy City when their daughter and son-in-law lived there.

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