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April 7, 2003

Prospectus Today

Small Sample Size Tzuris

by Joe Sheehan

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I think I've written about this before, but for someone whose niche is performance analysis, the first few weeks of the season are a twilight zone. Any analyst worth his salt recognizes that you can't draw conclusions from a week of games. To spend a lot of time breaking down, say, the Royals' 5-0 start or the Pirates' 5-1 week or even the Red Wings'...er, Tigers' offense is silly. One week of baseball doesn't tell you much, and just because it's happening at the start of the year doesn't change its importance.

Organizations regularly ignore this basic tenet. A six-game losing streak that makes a team 36-46 will be unpleasant; if it makes a team 0-6, it can get people fired. Hell, sometimes reasonably intelligent columnists will forget this, and write about how the first three games of the season indicate that the Braves' offense could be a real problem, just in time for them to score 26 runs over the weekend.

So finding column topics in April is difficult. I'll spend a good many hours over the next couple of weeks staring at a blank screen and trying to resist the temptation to inflate the importance of 20 innings or 50 at-bats. If I fail, call me on it.

For today, fortunately, there's Ken Griffey Jr. and his porcelain body. For the second straight season, Griffey has suffered a debilitating injury in the season's first week, this time a dislocated shoulder while diving for a fly ball in Saturday's game. The injury will keep him out for a minimum of six weeks, and possibly all year.

The immediate impact is that the Reds are dead in the water. I picked them to win the NL Central based on Griffey and Barry Larkin having comeback seasons. They didn't have to return to MVP-level, but they did have to hit the way they were hitting when they signed their contracts back in 2000. For Griffey, that meant .280/.375/.550 in at least 500 plate appearances.

The Reds just don't have the talent to replace that production. The best solution is probably a Reggie Taylor/Ruben Mateo platoon, which would be a defensive upgrade but has the potential to be an offensive disaster:


Taylor vs. RHP, 2000-02: .253/.292/.434
Mateo vs. LHP, 2000-02: .303/.367/.477

PECOTA is something less than excited about the idea, projecting a .241/.291/.383 line for Taylor and a .255/.306/.396 season for Mateo. I'm willing to be a bit more optimistic than that, given that both players are young (Taylor is 26, Mateo still just 25). Used in a strict platoon, I could see the Reds getting .275/.330/.430 from the two players, with above-average defense and 25 steals (albeit at a lousy percentage). That won't make up for Griffey, but it will be on par with the value the Astros, Brewers, and Pirates get from their center fielders.

This solution would at least put a real center fielder in the lineup, something the Reds, with their ball-in-play rotation, will need. Boone has messed around with Larkin in center field, but Larkin isn't enthusiastic about the idea, was awkward is his limited exposure in spring training, and would be an even greater injury risk than Griffey if he played out there.

There was some spring-training talk about how the Reds might use Adam Dunn in center field if Griffey were incapacitated; they're that in love with Dunn's athleticism. I think it's a bad idea for the same reason that I don't like playing Bobby Abreu or Brian Giles in center; Dunn is too valuable at the plate to have him risking injury playing out of position. It's certainly not worth it if the end result is merely getting Wily Mo Pena into the lineup. Pena, who is only on the Reds' roster because he's out of options, is effectively a Rule 5 pick, someone who isn't ready for the majors and can't be expected to contribute (PECOTA says .220/.281/.376).

Looking forward, one positive result that could come out of this is that the injury might finally get Griffey out of center field. An overrated defender at his peak, he's now incapable of making up for his poor jumps with his raw speed, leaving him not only a defensive liability, but a danger to himself. It's hard not to see his injury--the result of a desperate attempt to catch a ball he couldn't reach--as the final blow to his status as a premier center fielder.

When he returns, Griffey should be parked on an outfield corner for the rest of his career, in the hopes that lessening his defensive responsibilities preserves his body and enables him to stay in the lineup. A healthy Griffey will produce more than enough offense to be an asset in left field, and hopefully the move will enable him to remind us of the player he once was.

Man, I hope this is the last article I have to write looking at the options a team has for replacing a Hall of Famer after a terrible injury.

The DiSar Awards

I was disappointed to realize that not only had I not launched the 2003 DiSar Awards, but that the 2002 winners had never been announced. The DiSar Awards, in their fourth year, honor former Angels shortstop Gary DiSarcina, who once said that it was his goal to go an entire season without a walk. The DiSars go to the player in each league who best approximates that goal, by accumulating the most at-bats before drawing his first walk (intentionals do count).

The 2002 DiSar Awards went to Carl Crawford and his 90 at-bats in the AL, and Shawon Dunston in the NL with 81. It was Dunston's second Golden Crutch in three seasons:


        American League        National League

2002    Carl Crawford          Shawon Dunston
2001    Alfonso Soriano        Marquis Grissom
2000    Jacque Jones           Shawon Dunston

The pattern is becoming pretty clear: youth rules in the AL, while veterans lead the way in the NL. Dunston will be hard-pressed to make it three years in four--he's not on a roster as of yet. However, I wouldn't put it past him; in 2000, he came from way behind to catch Placido Polanco for the title.

None of the 120 entrants in our contest picked both winners--no one saw Crawford, who started last year in the minors, coming.

Some of you may recall that while the 2001 winners were Marquis Grissom and Alfonso Soriano, I wasn't able to verify if any reader had been able to pick those two and win a prize, due to a new computer purchase that year. I can now announce that no one, of the more than 100 entrants, had those two, and just a few people had even one (mostly Soriano).

Even though the season has started, I'll go ahead and take DiSar nominations through the end of this week. One name in each league, most at-bats before their first walk. Winners will receive a prize to be determined from BP's grab bag.

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

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