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April 19, 2002

6-4-3

Glittering Prizes and Endless Compromises

by Gary Huckabay

I'd like to get to a couple of topics today, so let's jump in...

Ichiban!

On Valentine's Day, I made the mistake of making an apparently unflattering comment about an extremely popular player. I wrote:

TV, as a visual medium, lends itself to interesting moments, and all of us have a tendency to remember the single, outstanding moment, rather than the 5,000 more common instances of the same event. As a result, we end up with some strange artifices in the world of baseball. Brooks Robinson was a great defensive third baseman, but he's considered the best ever by many people because of about five plays in a single World Series. Ichiro Suzuki's reputation as a cannon-armed right fielder was created and reinforced by an amazing throw he made to gun down Terrence Long early last season. (Ichiro ended up with a grand total of eight assists for the year, fewer than the average MLB right fielder had.)

I was stupid enough to actually be surprised when I received a boatload of e-mail from Mariner fans, telling me...several hundred times...

This is admittedly a small complaint from very biased fan, but I am unsure as to the intent of your aside about Ichiro having a "grand total" of eight assists. Are you implying that Ichiro doesn't have an above-average arm? Or that he is overrated defensively? While it is cliched, can't the respect that players and third-base coaches have for an outfielder's ability limit the number of assist chances?

That particular note is from Ned Hannah, but there were hundreds of others along the same line. (Thanks for writing, Ned.) At the time, I was extremely bummed, because the data necessary to answer the question isn't readily available any more, because STATS is no longer publishing the book that had the base-advancement information. Fortunately, I do have the data--thanks to a friend and former STATS employee--for right fielders in 2001.


Fielder            xtra    opp      %     Inn.   Asst.   A/Opp

Larry Walker 34 90 37.8 1097 8 8.9% Matt Lawton 31 79 39.2 1210 3 3.8% Raul Mondesi 53 135 39.3 1319 19 14.1% Bob Abreu 46 109 42.2 1411 11 10.1% Randy Winn 26 60 43.3 536 8 13.3% J.D. Drew 33 75 44.0 780 8 10.7% Vladimir Guerrero 67 149 45.0 1368 15 10.1% Ben Grieve 23 50 46.0 540 0 0.0% Ichiro Suzuki 52 113 46.0 1313 8 7.1% Reggie Sanders 33 71 46.5 1020 5 7.0% Brian Jordan 54 116 46.6 1234 11 9.5% Jermaine Dye 63 135 46.7 1334 13 9.6% Jeromy Burnitz 65 138 47.1 1333 14 10.1% Moises Alou 54 110 49.1 1117 10 9.1% Tim Salmon 53 104 51.0 1087 13 12.5% Trot Nixon 36 70 51.4 657 3 4.3% Alex Ochoa 38 73 52.1 872 9 12.3% Magglio Ordonez 78 147 53.1 1328 11 7.5% Bubba Trammell 48 90 53.3 821 3 3.3% Kevin Millar 29 54 53.7 516 2 3.7% Paul O'Neill 52 96 54.2 1094 1 1.0% Sammy Sosa 75 137 54.7 1385 8 5.8% Juan Encarnacion 39 71 54.9 529 3 4.2% Shawn Green 66 120 55.0 1402 8 6.7% Juan Gonzalez 45 81 55.6 981 10 12.3% Mark Quinn 30 54 55.6 435 4 7.4% Armando Rios 32 55 58.2 624 7 12.7% Chris Richard 42 70 60.0 538 5 7.1% Brady Anderson 32 51 62.7 543 7 13.7%

An extra base is defined as advancing two bases on a single or three bases on a double. The average right fielder had runners attempt to take an extra base on him 49.8% of the time. They tried on Ichiro 46.0% of the time. In terms of assists per game, or assists per attempted extra base, Ichiro is slightly below average.

I know he's a cult hero, but compared to other right fielders, I still don't believe Ichiro's arm is particularly impressive. It's not as if it's weak, but people throw around superlatives so easily that they forget how many other tremendous arms are out there--it's WHY they're in right field, gang. Ichiro may have a great arm compared to say, Rickey Henderson, but the right-field population has some serious cannons in people like Vladimir Guerrero, Raul Mondesi, Jermaine Dye, Tim Salmon, and Jeromy Burnitz. One of the best things Bill James ever wrote was "saying an outfielder has a great arm because of low assist totals is like saying someone's a great home-run hitter because of low home-run totals, indicating no one wants to pitch to him."

So, yes, Ned, my intent was to imply that he doesn't have a great arm--compared to other right fielders. At least not in 2001.

Effectiveness

Six months after the first threat of contraction, through the first economic downturn of any variety in nearly a decade, the Minnesota legislature and chief executive have put forth a $330 million stadium proposal, half of which would be paid for by the Twins. Initially, the cry was for Carl Pohlad to put up the Twins' $165 million share in cash up front, but Dean Johnson (co-chair of the conference committee) is now working under the assumption that they can get any bill through, even if the private money is paid out over a period of time. Don't be surprised if that time horizon lengthens, the amount of money the Twins need to pay shrinks, and the deal gets dispatched quickly.

Don't ever make the mistake of thinking Bud Selig is a fool. Yes, he may have done some damage to the image of the game with the timing of that announcement, but that damage is minor compared to the gain of cutting a couple of favorable stadium deals, which is where things appear to be heading.

Coming Attractions

On Wednesday, MLB President and CEO Bob DuPuy told the Washington Post that it's "complicated" but "inevitable" that Major League Baseball will return to the nation's capital.

This probably goes a long way in explaining the conversion of Peter Angelos from a labor dove to MLB's version of Ariel Sharon. Angelos's Orioles claim to draw a very significant number of fans from D.C., and he expects the Orioles' gate to be adversely affected by the arrival of the D.C. Expos. Until such time as MLB and Angelos negotiate how much recompense Angelos is to receive for the invasion of his territory, expect Mr. Angelos, who has recently diversified his legal revenue base, to be a lock-step vote for the majority in ownership meetings.

It'll be interesting to see how the D.C./Baltimore and Oakland/San Francisco/San Jose territorial issues get resolved.

Gary Huckabay is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

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

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