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October 17, 2001

The Daily Prospectus

Return of the Cripple Stick

by Joe Sheehan

For a variety of reasons, I've become even worse than usual about answering my e-mail from readers. I'll use today's column to rectify that, at least for a few people.

I think Paul LoDuca deserves a few votes at least in the Rookie of the Year. Jimmy Rollins was great but look at the OPS for LoDuca. Considering the relative [equality] of the their defensive positions, LoDuca at minimum should be included in the discussion.

-- Stephen Raines

Thanks for the note, Steven. Paul LoDuca had a great season, and might deserve some down-ballot votes for NL Most Valuable Player. Unfortunately, he had 174 major-league at-bats coming into this season, and as such, was no longer a rookie.

I'm a big fan, but why am I the only one not particularly impressed with Jimmy Rollins? He's got an awful strikeout-to-walk ratio of 108 to 48, and an adequate (for a shortstop), but not special OBP/SLG of .323/.419. That's OK for a shortstop, and 46 out of 54 steals(85%) is quite good, but it doesn't elevate him to the level of Adam Dunn (.371/.578) in my eyes.

Does Dunn's 200-point advantage in OPS in about 280 PAs not make up for Rollins's slightly above-average performance in about 700 PAs? I know it's a big difference in playing time, but I don't think you should settle for someone who's been good in an extended chance over someone who's been great in limited chances.

-- A.S.

It's a legitimate comparison. Dunn did have a great half-season, after the Reds made room for him in July. By EqA, he blows Rollins away, .306 to .263, and those figures give Rollins full credit for his excellent basestealing.

Playing time does matter, though, and Rollins, despite lesser rate stats, was about two wins better than a replacement shortstop this year, while Dunn added about one win to the Reds' totals. Rollins played a good shortstop (sixth in the NL in Zone Rating), as well, and I think he deserves a little extra credit on the margin for having his season for a team that played important games up to the last weekend. Add it all up, and he's the third-best rookie in the NL this year in my eyes.

Alfonso Soriano led David Eckstein in OPS, slugging percentage (by 80 points), homers (18 to 4), doubles (34 to 26), and stolen bases (43 to 29). They both quite ably filled key defensive voids on their teams--one of which had a successful season. And it should be noted Soriano also showed a nice improvement over the year: his post-All-Star OPS was about 100 points higher than his first-half OPS. Eckstein's numbers pre- and post- are about the same.

Is there any argument for Eckstein that doesn't center on his "underdog" status or the marginal difference in importance between shortstop and second base, which doesn't come close to making up the much more stark difference in their contributions at the plate (and on the bases)?

-- J.L.

Close call, and I chose Eckstein on balance, but as with Rollins/Dunn, can understand placing Soriano ahead.

While you point out Soriano's advantages in a number of categories, most of them can really be summed up by this: Soriano hit for more power than Eckstein did. Eckstein, though, was much better at getting on base, enough to help him edge Soriano in EqA, .266 to .265. The two players were essentially even in Clay Davenport's RARP, with Eckstein ahead by about a run, within the margin for error of the tools we're using.

That leaves defense. Eckstein ranked better in Zone Rating than Soriano did, and did so while playing a more difficult position. That, to me, was enough to push Eckstein ahead of Soriano in the balloting.

That's the first time I've ever seen the result of a baseball game described as an "upset" [in reference to the first game of the Indians/Mariners Division Series]. It made me think. Football people, for all their talk of "on any given Sunday," seem genuinely surprised when, say, Cincinnati beats Baltimore. But when we see the Pirates beating the Astros on the scoreboard, nobody says, "wow, big upset in the making." Why is that?

-- J.O.

There are a variety of reasons, but primarily it has to do with the length of the baseball season. Baseball teams play each other from six to 19 times a year, and even in as few as six games, the worst team in the game should be able to beat the best team at least once. If NFL teams played as frequently, you'd see this happen as well.

Additionally, the relative strength of a baseball team varies greatly from day to day, mostly by starting pitcher. Sure, most days the Mariners should beat the Devil Rays, but if it's John Halama against Joe Kennedy, and we know Bret Boone is sitting because of a slight hamstring pull, it's not at all surprising to see the Devil Rays win.

As baseball fans, we accept that the best teams will lose 60 games and the worst ones will win 60, so dealing with day-to-day aberrations is just part of the fun. The NFL's structure is much different, with each game infinitely more important, and the differences in team quality more static (injuries aside).

Put more simply, "on any given Sunday" applies in baseball, but it's such an integral part of the season that there's no reason to regard it as an interesting observation.

Thanks to all of you who take the time to send me your feedback. The e-mail I get from people who read this site is one of the best parts of the job, and even if you're not hearing back from me, know that I'm reading and giving thought to all the mail I receive.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

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

Related Content:  Baseball Ops,  Paul LoDuca

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