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March 9, 2010

Transaction Action

Hammering Hank

by Christina Kahrl

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NEW YORK YANKEES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Sold RHP Edwar Ramirez to the Rangers. [3/9]

What, you expected something yummy, Yankees fans? Nothing like greenbacks to keep you in caviar and calvados, and if you're the spiteful type of Bomber booster who wishes ill to every unstriped former Yankee, sending a pitcher to Texas isn't usually the nicest thing to do to him, or his career.


TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed 1B-L Hank Blalock to a split deal for 2010 worth a $925,000 base, with a player opt-out if he fails to make the club. [3/8]

I'm not quite sure why the enthusiasm for all things Hank Blalock persists. It's sort of like still being a John Edwards supporter, or a Milli Vanilli fan, or remaining kaisertreu: the expiration date for these things has surely passed, hasn't it? Blalock's last truly compelling season was in 2004, when he was 23 and a third baseman and healthy; he followed that with two below-average seasons at the plate, then a pair of injury-hampered campaigns, and then last year's disaster. It's the sort of run that makes you wonder if he broke a mirror or something. But nevertheless, here he is, and he did hit 25 more home runs off of major-league pitching last year than you or me, and that has to be worth something, right?

The 25 home runs are nice, of course, except for the price that they came at: a ton of outs, his highest full-season strikeout rate since he was a 21-year-old rookie, with an unintentional walk rate of 4.9 percent. A fly-ball hitter, he set a career high for homers per fly ball—does anybody really think that's going to get better? Having drawn just 24 unintentional walks last season in 495 plate appearances to go with those 25 homers, Blalock's outhomering his walk tally is amusing, but not especially historical—or even all that flattering.

The all-time leader for a combined total of homers and self-generated freebies with more homers than walks in a single season is Sammy Sosa in 1998, when his combo of 66 homers and 59 unintentional walks produced a single-season tally of 125. That beat the previous record set all the way back in... 1997, by Ken Griffey Jr. (56 homers, 53 UBBs), so we might consider that the "extra biscuit for breakfast"-only all-time leader if you're a stickler for such things and presume innocence and all that good stuff. Little did we know (or care), but the Kid had beaten out the achievement of George Foster in 1977 (52 homers, 51 freely-drawn freebies), a feat worthy of the wearer of some of the game's best sideburns ever. Those are the only three men to top 100 bombs plus unintentional walks; fourth place in this particular meaningless statoid is held by Andre Dawson in his MVP season of 1987—49 homers, 25 unintentional walks, which also stands as the highest single-season differential between homers and unintentional walks.

Moreover, this feat has been achieved 205 times, most frequently by Dawson, Juan Gonzalez, and Matt Williams at seven times apiece, Ernie Banks six times, and the original Tony Armas, Orlando Cepeda, and Vladimir Guerrero five times apiece. Vladi's still a going concern, of course, as is Alfonso Soriano, who has four such seasons. That's a lot of Cubs in the mix, of course, but you could almost automatically expect that to be the case somehow, couldn't you? Sure enough, the Cubs have the all-time lead in this kind of high-achiever, getting the benefit of 15 such seasons; the Rangers and Reds are tied for second with 13, so Texas fans can never say Blalock did nothing for the franchise's place in history.

Of course, what all of these guys have in common is that they were basically all better ballplayers than Hank Blalock. In part because of a long and ever-lengthening list of injuries great and small, a lot of excuses have been made for Blalock's seemingly perennial case of decay, but as Marc Normandin noted in a Player Profile three and a half years ago, he was already trying and failing to live up to exaggerated expectations. That was then, and since then he's had two injury-plagued campaigns in which he hit, and one relatively healthy year last season in which he did not. His career home/road splits point to his being just another piece of Texas toast, with outsized promises made for what in the end is basically just big and bland and waiting to get burned: .293/.358/.516 in Arlington, against .245/.300/.414 everywhere else on the planet. That includes the healthy years, the good years, and the two years (of eight) in which he was both healthy and good. That's .245/.300/.414, and this is a man who's been signed to potentially take time at DH because Pat Burrell's been labeled an injury-prone disappointment. Ahem.

Of course, there's always the speculation that he could play third now and again, giving him at least the virtue of positional flexibility instead of being a weak-hitting first baseman or an oxymoronic DH. This would involve testing a surgically repaired shoulder, and that may not be such a good idea, and statistical evaluations of his glove work at the hot corner in 2007 and 2008 are less than kind. Nevertheless, some people pretend Blalock might be able to play there now that his shoulder was fixed up in 2008. So, he might play third base, assuming you asked nicely—a player this fragile, you don't want to bruise his feelings—and perhaps you put him in bubble wrap, just to get around the danger of any bruising whatsoever.

Of course, there's always that big 'if': if Blalock was healthy. Well, sure, if he was healthy, I'm sure he would cure cancer, fly, and toss busloads of villainous investment bankers into the Marianas Trench. You can be sure that the Rays expect less than that, but for his major problems, the surgery to repair his Thoracic Outlet Syndrome was in 2007. If he was going to recover from that, he has already. Last year's litany leans towards early-season hurts, before his bat went into the tank: a quad strain, a neck woe. Once he got better from those things, his batting got worse.

In the end, the real problem with Blalock is that he's not a cipher, he's more like a disco ball. With so many different facets to reflect back whatever it is people shining any light upon him wish to see—injury-hampered could-be, might-be player, or platoon asset (despite hitting a Kingmanesque .239/.294/.471 for Texas vs. RHPs last year), or third baseman, or a one-time top prospect—get past the gaudy maybes or what might have been true at some point, and you're left instead with a core of more tangible ain'ts, because he ain't any of those things any more. That he's signed is less of a story than the sort of deal he had to resort to signing—non-guaranteed, with an opt-out for him to scram and avoid Durham if the Rays perhaps understandably decide that they'd rather have Willy Aybar and Matt Joyce and Sean Rodriguez, and maybe even Dan Johnson, get at-bats if Pat Burrell's still not quite right.


TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Purchased RHP Edwar Ramirez from the Yankees. [3/9]

When the Yankees elected to punt Ramirez from the 40-man to make room for Chan Ho Park, I briefly went into why Ramirez's capacity for success might be a bit limited (not to mention difficult to translate from his minor-league dominance). That's not to say he couldn't survive as an extra arm at the back end of a Mike Maddux-coached bullpen, but the ballpark's not very forgiving to a pitcher who has to get by with a business lunch-mix on the mound: nibbling plus a sales pitch. And a rubber chicken, but hitters aren't picky when it's on the plate and seems prepped for mashing and mastication. Here's hoping he can fool enough of the people enough of the time to prove his doubters wrong, and show that what gets served in Scranton works just as well in Texas.


MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHPs Mark Rogers and Alex Periard to the minor leagues. [3/8]

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

Related Content:  Hank Blalock,  Year Of The Injury,  Quad-a

28 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Bill N

Kenny Lofton's Wikipedia page has been updated to mention he's signed a minor league contract with the Brewers. I have not heard anything else about it, and the only Google results seem to have Wikipedia as their source. Christina I was wondering if you'd heard any rumblings at all about this.

Mar 09, 2010 14:13 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

John Perrotto notes he spoke with Lofton over the winter, and Lofton expressed a desire to still play then... we'll be checking up on this to let you know.

Mar 09, 2010 14:17 PM
 
elgato7664

Not true. In fact, anything that has wikipedia as the single source of information is usually not true.

Mar 09, 2010 15:18 PM
rating: -1
 
Dr. Dave

Mmmm, calvados. You can keep the fish eggs, though.

Mar 09, 2010 14:27 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

My favorite restaurant in Chicago, Erwin, a place I've never had a bad meal at while dining there for a good 15 years now (it's blessed with propinquity to Wrigley Field) used to have a superb liver dish where they'd marinate said organ in calvados, then lightly pan-fry it. Even if you don't eat liver, it was wonderful. Naturally, it's no longer on the menu, but it's one of those dishes you never forget.

Mar 09, 2010 14:40 PM
 
Lou Doench

I haven't had Liver in at least 30 years but that description hits all the right foodie notes. Erwin you say? Is this thge kind of place I can take 3 small children when I drive up to Chitown for spring break?

Mar 09, 2010 18:27 PM
rating: 0
 
eighteen

mmmmm....children.

Mar 10, 2010 11:15 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Not to put too fine a point on it, I suspect it would depend on how well behaved the kids are. It's definitely an adults' venue.

Mar 10, 2010 11:37 AM
 
Rowen Bell

Great restaurant, Erwin. They have a dessert that drives me insane -- a peanut butter mousse cake with chocolate ganache.

Mar 10, 2010 16:02 PM
rating: 0
 
dianagram

Do they deliver .... to NYC?

Mar 10, 2010 17:20 PM
rating: -1
 
doncoffin
(422)

On the Hank Blalock and HR + UIBB front...Are we forgetting some guy named Bonds? Hit 73 HR and has 142 UIBB back in 2001? Or are we excluding him for some reason?

Mar 09, 2010 14:34 PM
rating: -3
 
elm
(41)

Implicit in CK's discussion is that these are the rankings of HR+UIBB only for people who's HR>UIBB.

Mar 09, 2010 14:40 PM
rating: 0
 
formersd

The list was for players with more HR than UIBB.

Mar 09, 2010 14:40 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Gotta have more homers than walks, as elm notes. Consider this my effort to put the trivial in trivia. ;-)

Mar 09, 2010 14:41 PM
 
sroney

Joe Dimaggio did it his rookie year with 29HR and 24 walks (of all kinds). We don't seem to have IBB numbers for him, so he may even have done it some other time. His second season with 46 HR and 64 total walks might be a candidate. Of course, he had more HR than strikeouts seven times......

Mar 09, 2010 16:58 PM
rating: 0
 
fawcettb

That little essay on Blalock was fabulous. You're now officially the L.F. Celine of baseball writing in my books.

Mar 09, 2010 15:04 PM
rating: 0
 
dianagram

OK ... so does this mean you don't like the Rays' move? :-)

Mar 09, 2010 16:39 PM
rating: 0
 
JoeSky60

But, can you tell us how your REALLY feel about Blalock?

Mar 09, 2010 18:52 PM
rating: -1
 
Richard Bergstrom

I think we're taking this wrong. Isn't this a great move by the Rays if it inspires such prolific prose from our preferred proponent of e-penmanship?

Definitely worth the price of a minor league contract. ;)

Mar 09, 2010 19:23 PM
rating: 0
 
cubs-bp fan

For the casual fan, I think the fascination with Blaylock comes from his association with Mark Teixiera.

For a few years, it seemed that the names Teixiera/Blaylock were linked like McGuire/Canseco, Dawson/Raines.

Why a MLB GM would give any creedance to this association, I don't know...

Mar 10, 2010 06:28 AM
rating: -1
 
joepeta

I too thoroughly enjoyed Christina's take on the career of Hank Blalock. Super example of pointed analysis and criticism. And yet . . . . as with all transactions, price matters. I can buy something of little worth but if the price is right, I might be getting a good value. This isn't a Zito multi-year contract or even a 2-year Jamie Moyer-like albatross which seemed loyal and harmless on the surface but played a part in breaking up a Halladay/Lee/Hamels rotation. This is simply a $925k contract. Real money to any one of us, but truly loose change, even for the Rays. Everything Christina wrote may be true but it's still not a bad signing, right?

I'm reminded of the old Jay Leno joke -- when he was actually a comedian -- about his review of his father's letter to a cereal manufacturer when there was no 'surprise toy' in his box: "Dad, I think disembowel is a little strong."

Mar 10, 2010 10:10 AM
rating: 0
 
TheRealNeal

The Hank bashing is ironic in that she spends so much time bashing Blalock because of his perceived over-valuation that she actually under values him.

Bashing Texas players for their home/run splits is popular, but don't they have to play more games in Oakland, Seattle and Los Angeles than the Red Sox and Yankees do?

Mar 10, 2010 20:44 PM
rating: 0
 
Dano

But it's like buying a broken-down 1976 Chevy Nova when you already have a 1999 Honda Civic and a 2006 Nissan Altima in the garage. It's an inferior option to what you already have in almost every possible way. It's wasting money on something you'd not likely use. The Rays can't afford to blow any money on bad deals.

Mar 11, 2010 05:07 AM
rating: 1
 
TheRealNeal

Suppose your 1999 Civic and your 2006 Altima are in the shop - I guess you'd rather walk 10 miles to work then drop $500 for a Chevy Nova?

Plus this is a guy that had an EQA in the high .280's two out of the last three years. He's not Neifi Perez at the plate.

Mar 11, 2010 12:24 PM
rating: 1
 
pbconnection

I'm amused that BP is now citing exaggerated expectations for Hank Blalock. They themselves rated him as baseball's #1 prospect at one point, so they have only themselves to blame...

Mar 11, 2010 07:50 AM
rating: -2
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Shame on me once, shame on me, shame on me twice... ? I guess I don't see the prospective benefit of pretending that, between then and now, a lot of stuff didn't happen. Different people got off the bus at different times; I've been off for years, and as I noted, Marc pointed out good reasons to be off years ago, while some people, here and everywhere, seem willing to still believe that Blalock's going to come around, play third base, star in an off-Broadway musical, fly... wait, my bad, I already ran through all of that before. Happily, it's a free country, and anybody and everybody's free to change his or her mind on any and every subject.

Mar 11, 2010 08:08 AM
 
David Coonce

Really? The writers of Baseball Prospectus told Hank Blalock to get injured often and swing at everything? Their institutional mind-think coercive powers are stronger than I thought...

Mar 12, 2010 13:45 PM
rating: 1
 
ZacharyRD

Thanks for the truly fun and entertaining section on players with more unintentional walks than HRs - I really liked it.

Mar 11, 2010 15:13 PM
rating: 1
 
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