Not for nuthin’: Goose’s legacy and hypocrisy

 In a recent interview with ESPN, Hall of Fame reliever Rich “Goose” Gossage went to great lengths to express his disdain for the way baseball has changed since his retirement from the game after the strike-shortened 1994 season. To put it mildly, he wasn’t pleased by what he’s been observing.

Gossage criticized the theatrics of Toronto Blue Jays hitters and specifically called out their slugging outfielder — Jose Bautista, who he referred to as a “disgrace to the game” Bautista’s crime against baseball? An energetic bat flip after hitting a home run.

Kids today!
The retired reliever, who played for nine teams, also included New York Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes into the category of players who, according to Gossage, don’t play the game the right way. It’s not just the flamboyant play of some current stars that irks the veteran of 22 big league seasons.

Gossage also took umbrage with pitch counts, pitchers not brushing back hitters, and the fact that base runners are no longer permitted to “take out” the catcher at home plate or an infielder at second base. Considering his disappointment with so many facets of today’s game, I’m surprised that Goose didn’t take aim at craft beer being served at ball parks.

When informed of Gossage’s f-bomb tirade directed at him, Bautista declined to escalate the situation. Rather, he took the high road and referred to the Hall of Famer as “a great ambassador for the game.” Cespedes’ response was also subdued. In fact, he didn’t even know who the 64-year-old was until informed by reporters.

Not long after eviscerating Bautista, Goose continued his assault on the Millennial baseball player during an interview with the Waddle and Silvy show on ESPN Chicago 1000 by stating “This kid doesn’t know squat about the game, and [has] no respect for it.” The “kid” he was referring to was 2015 National League Most Valuable Player Bryce Harper.

The Hall of Famer didn’t limit his criticism to action on the diamond. He harbors a great deal of animosity for a certain type of baseball executive too.

Nerd alert!
Gossage referred to front office personnel who rely on sabermetric data as “nerds” and complained they were turning the game into a joke. He colorfully lamented that the new wave of executives “played Rotisserie baseball at Harvard or wherever the f— they went.”

Reaction to Gossage’s assault on flashy players and statistically inclined executives was swift from fans and the media alike. In this particular situation, there was no gray area — people were either speaking on the behalf of Goose, or they heavily criticized the outspoken Hall of Famer.

Personally, I don’t understand Goose’s negative attitude towards the new wave of baseball executives who advocate advanced metrics. Several of the stats advocated by seam-heads make a compelling case that he shouldn’t have been forced to wait nine years to reach Cooperstown. Before discussing how the shed light on Gossage’s greatness, let’s do a quick overview of the stats I’m going to use.

Same game, new insight
WAR is a “one-stop shopping” statistic that summarizes a player’s total contributions into one number. I like using it as a snapshot when comparing players — regardless of generation — although it’s worth noting that relying on just one metric isn’t advisable when evaluating a player’s performance or value.

RE24 utilizes the run expectancy (RE) for the 24 possible base/out situations illustrated in the following table and is cumulative through a season or career. It’s especially useful with relievers because it captures how they affect the run expectancy of the game and then credits/debits them for their run prevention performance. For instance, when a reliever comes into a game with no outs and runners on first and third, 1.6496 runs are expected to score, on average. How he performs in that situation dictates whether he is credited/debited.

Run Expectancy in 2015
# Runners 0 Out 1 Out 2 Out
None 0.479 0.2572 0.0996
3B 1.3045 0.8916 0.3606
2B 1.0762 0.6487 0.3154
2B/3B 1.9017 1.2831 0.5764
1B 0.8427 0.5004 0.2203
1B/3B 1.6682 1.1348 0.4813
1B/2B 1.4399 0.8919 0.4361
1B/2B/3B 2.2654 1.5263 0.6971

Win probability added (WPA) is also a cumulative metric that represents the hitter’s or pitcher’s impact on the win expectancy (WE) of their team during each plate appearance over the span of a season or career. The higher the leverage, the higher the WPA associated with the situation. For example a home run surrendered in the top of the first inning has a lower WPA than one surrendered in the top of the ninth in a tie game.

This is helpful when assessing relievers since the best are repeatedly used during the most crucial time in games. That’s why elite relievers will have a higher WPA than most starters, while less reliable or inexperienced relief pitchers will have register a low or negative WPA.

If you’d like to read more about these statistics and other sabermetric measurements, Baseball Reference and FanGraphs provide detailed explanations on an array of metrics. The run expectancy is regularly updated during the baseball season and can be found at Baseball Prospectus.

Elite performance redefined
The following table shows how Gossage stacks up against the 10 relievers with the highest career wins above replacement (WAR). To be considered for comparison, pitchers had to have made 95-percent of their appearances as a reliever and log 1,000 or more innings during their career.

Also included are several other new-age statistics. For those, I listed where each pitcher ranked against all relievers who met the 95-percent relief appearance/1000-inning criteria. If you’d like to review the actual statistics for the 38 players who met the criteria since 1901, you can find the information here.

All Time Top 10 Relievers (Based on WAR)
Player WAR RE24 WPA WPA/LI Pitching Runs Saves
Mariano Rivera 56.6 1 1 1 1 1
Hoyt Wilhelm 50.1 2 4 2 2 15
Rich Gossage 41.8 4 3 3 3 9
Lee Smith 29.4 6 6 9 7 3
Trevor Hoffman 28.0 3 2 3 4 2
Kent Tekulve 26.2 8 15 6 8 19
Rollie Fingers 25.0 7 11 4 13 6
Dan Quisenberry 24.9 9 7 11 5 13
Bruce Sutter 24.5 11 10 12 16 11
John Franco 23.7 13 8 13 6 4

Clearly, the new-age statistics used by the nerds that Gossage can’t stand make a compelling case that he was one of the game’s best relievers — regardless of era. His WAR places him in the upper class of the greatest relievers ever. The only two better than Goose are the first Hall of Fame reliever — Hoyt Wilhelm — and future Cooperation inductee Mariano Rivera, who is considered by most as the best closer ever. The rest of the pack lags far behind.

When Gossage retired, only Wilhelm was ahead of him in any new-age category. He’s still number-three in everything, except RE24, 21 seasons after hanging up his cleats. Plus, the big right-hander retired is significantly ahead of two other Hall of Fame relievers — Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter. I wonder if Goose would be as dismissive of those Ivy Leaguers if he realized that their nerdy approach would’ve made him look even better.

Some may notice that saves are listed, yet didn’t I discuss the “old school” statistic. There’s a simple reason for my omission. Using saves to gauge a reliever’s value is akin to using batting average with runners in scoring position (RISP) to measure a hitter’s ability to be clutch — it’s dumb.

A closer can enter the ninth inning with a three-run lead, surrender two runs, and “earn” a save because he didn’t blow the lead. Bear in mind that Todd Jones and Jose Mesa had more career saves than Gossage. Does anyone seriously believe either pitcher was on the same level as the Hall of Fame reliever? The sabermetric values used above provide a much clearer illustration of Goose’s value.

Great stats, bad attitude
Gossage is one of the best relievers of all time, but his disparaging remarks about current players who, in his opinion, don’t have “respect” for the game are off base and hypocritical. How do players from Goose’s generation time reconcile their complicit silence during the steroid era?

When he retired in 1994, the scourge of performance enhancing drugs (PED) had already taken hold in the majors. Did he call out Jose Canseco or Mark McGwire? Canseco was his teammate in 1992 and McGwire in 1992-93. Maybe I missed that interview with ESPN.

Goose has admitted to using amphetamines, which were in baseball decades before steroids entered the game. How does the illegal use of a controlled substance by Gossage and many, many of his peers show respect for the game?

Former players — like Gossage — will rationalize away their speed abuse by saying it’s not the same as steroid use. The desired outcome from using the drugs may be different, but what makes one better than the other? Both are controlled substances and are both performance enhancing drugs. How is the unlawful abuse of any drug respectful to the game of baseball?

Some might defend Gossage by pointing out that he’s pointed out a recent PED user — Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun — for being “a f—ing steroid user.” He was incensed that Braun received a standing ovation on Opening Day from the home crowd. “How do you explain that to your kid?” he asked. Gossage’s comments probably echo the frustration felt by many fans; parents in particular.

Considering the salvo he shot in the direction of the Braun, it’s a tad ironic that Gossage, — a Spring Training instructor with the New York Yankees — didn’t mention a player currently in his own organization, who received an even larger suspension for his involvement in the same Biogenesis scandal that nabbed Braun — Alex Rodriguez. Although Goose is reflecting the opinion of many, isn’t he a bit disingenuous by not expressing his moral outrage over A-Rod?

Finally
Every generation faces the challenges of using newer technologies directed at youth, dealing with younger people who act differently than they did at the same age, and applying modernized methods to solve old problems. It’s sort of a rite of passage once you pass the half-century mark on the calendar.

Ironically, Goose refuses to embrace a modern method — advance metrics — that points out the true value of a great relief pitcher and would’ve solved his Hall of Fame induction problem much sooner. He should’ve chosen advocating a sabermetric WAR rather than declaring war on baseball’s current generation.

Worse though, his seemingly uncontrollable outbursts could do more to tarnish his legacy than sabermetrics could ever do to shed light on his truly elite abilities on the ball field. It’s sad to think that younger baseball fans and players may end up remembering Goose Gossage for being a grumpy old man when he was, in fact, one of the best relievers in the history of the sport.

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Luke Arkins

Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home. During the baseball season, he can be seen often observing the local team at Safeco Field. You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins
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