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May 2, 2001

From The Mailbag

Free Erubiel Durazo!

by Baseball Prospectus

Free Erubiel Durazo!

Last I looked, Erubiel Durazo had more HR and RBI than Mark Grace, despite being the backup and being banished to the minors for a time. It'll be amusing to see how long the D'backs will stubbornly play Grace. They are unwilling to admit they made a mistake, no matter how much evidence exists to show playing Grace is costing them games.

--Sean Smith

It might be time for a grass-roots effort. Maybe we need to start a guerrilla movement, some fan- based push to get Erubiel Durazo the playing time he so richly deserves.

If you're at a D'backs game, start chanting, "Free Erubiel Durazo!" Tear up a pillowcase and put the war cry on it in bold red letters. Call your local sports-talk station on the premise of discussing the NBA playoffs or how many letters Eric Lindros has in his alphabet, then shout the mantra to the world. E-mail sportswriters, both in Phoenix and around the country, with just three little words that will take baseball by storm.

We can do this. We can change the world, or at least the NL West.

--Joe Sheehan

Do I make any sense with this idea? The Cardinals are looking for a first baseman to caddy for Mark McGwire. They've gone as far as trying to coax Will Clark out of retirement. The Diamondbacks have a logjam at first base and are probably starting the worst option of the bunch. Why don't the D-backs trade Mark Grace to the Cards for cash (something we know they can really use)? With the unbalanced schedule it could be fun watching Grace take on the Cubs.

--DL

I agree with you that the Cardinals could use some extra OBP instead of wasting ABs on Craig Paquette and Placido Polanco. That said, it's not realistic to expect them to acquire Mark Grace. Grace has the better part of two seasons left on his deal, and the Redbirds expect to have Mark McGwire back sometime in the second half.

The D'backs should be looking to trade Grace. Then again, they never should have signed him in the first place. Free Erubiel Durazo!

--Joe Sheehan

Changing the Game, Part II

I was interested to see you suggesting a "bonus baby" rule as a possible reform in baseball. As you probably know, baseball experimented with rules of this sort in the 1950s and generally they were a dismal failure. I'm curious as to how you would tweak the rule to make it more successful, or whether you think the industry has changed in the intervening 50 years in some way that would make a similar rule today more successful?

--AS

It's because of that very reason--the failure of the bonus baby rule in the '50s--that I'd be in favor of this sort of change. I'm undoubtedly guilty of some bass-ackwards thinking on this front, but I'd want teams to have a disincentive to sign amateur talent to big bonuses if they're really so concerned about bonus sizes. Would the Yankees be as ready to throw around large bonuses after amateurs if it cost them roster spots, either on the 25- or 40-man rosters? Probably not. Would some prospects be harmed by the rule? Yes, they would. Ambitious high school players with bad agents would undoubtedly get harmed in terms of swapping a player's potential development for a short-term payoff. It would all get stored away under the umbrella of negative reinforcement, where teams, players and agents learn that it's usually going to make more sense to try to build a career than score a quick payoff with negative side-affects. Considering that many young players would be losing a chance at a big payday, it would make sense that this kind of proposal would go hand-in-hand with a more liberal rights scheme, where minor league free agency could be moved up from six years to five, or where the savings in bonuses could instead be plowed back into pay hikes for minor league veterans.

Now, the question is whether or not what I'm proposing really makes that much sense. I can understand how most people would think it makes more sense to let teams exercise their rights to blow their money in whatever way they choose, and I can just as easily understand that if the Yankees don't get to exert muscle on signings in the way they can now, that isn't going to stop them from finding new ways to spend it. Indeed, you might even argue that by preventing the Yankees from giving an Andy Morales scads o'cash, you'd be giving them a greater opportunity to spend the exact same amount of money on amateur talent acquisition as they do now, but that they'd wind up with more players because they can distribute the money to more prospects, all just under whatever threshold you'd arbitrarily set to determine who a "bonus baby" is.

To these complaints, I'd say that this proposal clearly depends on creating meaningful revenue sharing among the 30 teams, and may well depend on Sandy Alderson's scheme to internationalize the draft. Essentially, this kind of proposal would merely be an add-on to a more comprehensive reform of the game's economic and player development structures.

--Chris Kahrl

The Rest

Do you have an idea why Jeremy Giambi has yet to translate his minor league performance on to the Major League stage? I know that major league performance can be accurately predicted by minor league performance, but clearly Giambi has not thus far performed as expected.

--Will Ostdiek

Giambi's numbers from the minors are a good match for his major league numbers... except for Omaha.

                 EQA
1996  Spokane   .234
1997  Lansing   .260
      Wichita   .251
1998  Omaha     .310
      KC        .259
1999  Omaha     .317
      KC        .262
2000  Oakland   .265

He had 30 AB at Sacramento, which isn't enough to tell us anything, but he did hit well (.310) there.

Omaha is an unusual stadium if I recall correctly; it is very short down the right-field line. Giambi is supposed to have taken extreme advantage of it; a look at the stats say that he did in '98, but not in '99. At this point, I believe that Omaha was just an unusually good match for his hitting style, and his numbers there are not indicative of his major league ability.

Midre Cummings was another one-park wonder - great numbers at Buffalo, when he was in the Pirate system, and mediocre everywhere else.

--Clay Davenport

I have recently read a couple of articles in the Cincinnati Post about the Yankees being interested in Dennys Reyes as a starter, while the Reds are interested in trading him for starting pitching. I have tried to be patient with the Reds' sometimes ridiculous evaluations of players, BUT NOT ANYMORE DAMN IT!!! DENNYS REYES IS STARTING PITCHING.

The article also said that the Reds could end up with Ted Lilly (unlikely) or Randy Keisler. If you were the Reds, would you put Reyes in the rotation or trade him? Would you expect fair compensation since he has not had a real chance to prove himself and will be a free agent in two years?

--JK

You raise a very interesting point, in that the Reds are currently goofing off with Jim Brower, which would seem to indicate a need for starting pitching. But Dennys Reyes is the best available internal alternative, and the Reds would rather deal him? There is an element of better certainty I guess, in that returning Reyes to the rotation might be considered a "risk" insofar as it's been a while since he was a regular starter, while people like Ted Lilly or Randy Keisler have been starters all along. I'm inclined to believe that's pretty small beer, because if anything, Reyes probably needed the time in the pen to protect his arm after a few years of working hard at a young age in the Dodgers' chain.

So you've got my sympathies, in that as much as I've always like Lilly and don't have any problems with Keisler, I'd rather have Reyes, and I'd rather do as you suggest, which is to start him to potentially increase his value in trade and/or help myself out in the meantime.

--Chris Kahrl

With Fred McGriff passing Mark McGwire in the ever-relevant number-of-different-ballparks-homered-in category, I recollect that Ellis Burks was in third a couple of years ago, and has switched back to the American League since then. Since he only has two dingers this year, I'm sure he's not really catching up. Still, where can I find this information?

--EB

If Burks gets a decent number of ABs this season, he should be able to break or at least tie this important record. He's homered in 36 parks, two behind McGriff, and he hasn't hit a homer in Jacobs Field (his home park), Comerica, Safeco, Tropicana, or the Ballpark in Arlington. Here's the piece from espn.com that has the information.

McGwire probably has a good chance to end up with the record. He could add two to his park collection this year (Miller and PNC), and he seems more likely than Burks to crank them out in ballparks that open after 2001 -- e.g., the one opening next year (?) in Cincinnati.

--Michael Wolverton

The reason Roosevelt Brown wasn't considered for center field is because he is an average left fielder who would be terrible in center. Having watched Brown at the end of last season and in spring training, he is as capable of playing center as Laddie Renfroe was of closing games in the Jim Essian era. I am frightened that Baylor will eventually play White in center in order to get more offense in the lineup. I can think of worse ideas (like using White in center) than calling up Todd Dunwoody and seeing if he can hit better than Little Sarge.

--TG

Rosie Brown is not a good outfielder, and I would never advance the claim that he is. While defensive stats are primitive to the point of being nothing better than hints at ability, they generally don't say good things about him. But what Rosie Brown can do is hit, and he's a much more viable offensive half of an offense-defense platoon in center than Brant Brown was in 1998. Getting three plate appearances out of Rosie, followed by replacing him with Damon Buford (an overrated defender, but far better than Rosie) or Gary Matthews Jr., would at least put runs on the board (admittedly, for both teams), while giving Don Baylor the flexibility in his lineup to go for offense or defense as needed, as opposed to have two bad alternatives that you have to pinch-hit for.

All that calling up Todd Dunwoody would do is add another crummy player to the mix. Whether or not he can outhit Little Sarge is immaterial. In over 900 big league plate appearances, Dunwoody's career OBP is .282 and his career SLG is .351, all while playing in one of the best offensive eras. If Dunwoody hits that well again, he isn't doing the Cubs any favors. If Matthews can't outhit that (and he hasn't), neither is he. The Cubs would have been better off shopping for a guy like Mike Frank or James Mouton, but Andy MacPhail turned up Dunwoody. To Dunwoody's credit, he's more experienced and also eight months younger than Matthews, but playing Russian Roulette with fifth outfielders can take forever, since all you'll do is shoot blanks.

--Chris Kahrl

Thinking about the recent increases in offensive output has got me to wondering why was it that pitching was so dominant in the 1960s? Why did offense decline so much in that decade that the Lords of Baseball lowered pitcher's mounds?

--CK

Major league baseball changed the strike zone in 1963 because they felt there was too much hitting; the strike zone was moved from the armpits to the top of the batter's shoulders. That's probably not the only reason, but it was the primary one.

--Greg Spira

I've noticed over the last week that Alfonso Soriano has been carrying a BA HIGHER than his OBP. I'm pretty sure this has never been 'achieved' over a whole season, but I'd like to know what the closest difference between the two has been for a regular over a whole season.

--Joseph Gennarelli

Limiting the search just to players after 1954 (when data for all the components of OBP become available), you're right that the "Guillen Standard" (as I called it in Baseball Prospectus 1999) has never been achieved in a full season. The closest is Ellis Valentine's 1982, in which he walked a mere 5 times, was hit by a pitch once, and had an all-important 7 sacrifice flies in 350 PAs. The seasons that came closest to the Guillen Standard since 1954 (minimum 300 ABs):

  PLAYER           YEAR      BA    OBP    DIFF
  Ellis Valentine  1982    .288   .294   .006
  Alfredo Griffin  1984    .241   .248   .007
  Rob Picciolo     1979    .253   .261   .008
  Hal Lanier       1964    .274   .283   .009
  Ozzie Guillen    1996    .263   .273   .011
  Doug Flynn       1982    .225   .236   .011
  Ozzie Guillen    1991    .273   .284   .011
  Ozzie Guillen    1993    .280   .292   .012
  Tim Foli         1983    .252   .263   .012
  Mariano Duncan   1996    .340   .352   .012

Rob Picciolo is the career Guillen Standard champion, by a wide margin (non-pitchers, minimum 1500 ABs):

  PLAYER            BA    OBP    DIFF
  Rob Picciolo    .234   .246    .012
  Andres Thomas   .234   .255    .020
  Don Mueller(*)  .296   .318    .023
  Ozzie Guillen   .264   .288    .023
  Alvaro Espinoza .254   .279    .025

(*) - numbers since 1954 only

Ernie Bowman is the player with the most PAs in a season to actually have achieved the Guillen standard, when he went 127 PAs without drawing a walk or getting hit by a pitch, but hit 2 SFs for the 1963 Giants. That's a .184 BA to go with a .181 OBP.

--Michael Wolverton

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Related Content:  Mark Grace,  Erubiel Durazo,  The Call-up

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