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April 18, 2003

Prospectus Today

Stroll Through the Sortables

by Joe Sheehan

I was messing around with ESPN.com's sortable stats late Thursday night, when I began to realize something. We're on the cusp of when the performances we're seeing start to have some meaning; guys are making their fourth starts, hitters are edging towards 100 plate appearances. For a performance analyst, it's a fun time to take a global look at the numbers.

Now forget everything I just wrote, because Brent Mayne leads the world in OPS. Mayne's .472/.512/.806 performance is one of those fun early-season flukes that, if he can keep it up for another three weeks, will get him a four-page spread in Sports Illustrated, right around the time he reverts to being Brent Mayne. Derek Bell and Ruben Sierra are just two recent examples of players who received the SI treatment off of 50 good at-bats.

Second in the majors in OPS is Sammy Sosa, on the strength of a .549 OBP, fed by 21 walks. As recently as 1996, Sosa walked 34 times in the entire season, so his Bondsian patience reflects a tremendous amount of growth as a player, and a reminder that every player has the potential to surprise us with his development. Sosa may not sustain a 240-walk pace, but he's a lock for 100 free passes and a .400 OBP, which is a sentence I never figured I'd write when I got on this train back in '96.

Sosa's walk rate will mean a boatload of RBIs for Hee Seop Choi, who's sixth in OPS with a .281/.521/.688 line. Choi has shown the power and patience that marked his entire minor-league career, and after sitting twice in the first week, has played in all but one Cubs game since. If that holds, it will mean my criticism of Dusty Baker's choices that first week was premature and that Choi will battle Kurt Ainsworth for NL Rookie of the Year.

Speaking of guys BP has spent countless HTML code pimping, Hank Blalock is just behind Choi at .423/.464/.731. His four walks in 52 at-bats isn't special, but his power is, and he hits just about every ball hard. Blalock can be a .320-.340 hitter, which means he'll get by with a walk rate of one every 10 at-bats.

I want to mention Carl Everett's hot start--.348/.423/.717--mostly because I have him on all three of my fantasy/Scoresheet teams, and spent all winter saying that if he was left alone on a corner, he'd rake. As I like to say when I drop a nine-iron on the green, "blind squirrels and acorns."

Who isn't hitting? ESPN.com lists 221 batting-title qualifiers, and the name at the bottom of the list is Dmitri Young, whose .104/.140/.125 performance stands out even on the Tigers. One of the side effects of the awful Tigers offense is that two of their regulars, Omar Infante and Brandon Inge, don't qualify for the list despite having played in 11 and 10 games, respectively. The team just isn't getting through the lineup four times a game.

The big disappointment is Carlos Pena, who hit well after his trade to Detroit but has opened the year with a .167/.279/.333 performance. He's one of a number of young players potentially playing their way out of jobs; Brandon Larson is at .093/.212/.093, Josh Bard is hitting .186/.271/.233, Mark Teixeira is making it hard to get mad at Buck Showalter for limiting his playing time, putting up a .136/.208/.295 line.

Rocco Baldelli, who was the most popular AL DiSar Award pick, drew a walk Thursday night off of Pedro Martinez after 60 walkless at-bats. AL players with no walks yet include Deivi Cruz with 53 and Bengie Molina with 54. NL walkless leaders are Carlos Baerga and Kevin Young with 23 at-bats each.

The league leaders in ERA look like nothing you'd expect. Of the top seven in MLB, just one has ever had a year with an ERA below 4.00--and that's the top guy, Kris Benson. All of these pitchers are getting a lot of help from their defense; among those seven only Esteban Loaiza is averaging even close to a strikeout an inning; I'd expect Runelvys Hernandez, Shawn Chacon, Ricardo Rodriguez and Jeff Suppan to all disappear from this section of the stats shortly.

ERA can be deceiving at this point, but strikeout-to-walk ratio rarely is. Javier Vazquez is at 26/3; Mike Mussina and Mark Prior are both 25/4, as is Cory Lidle. Vicente Padilla is at 20/3. David Wells hasn't walked a batter yet, while striking out 17 in 22 innings.

Hmmm...maybe we need a pitchers' DiSar Award.

Notes

  • Like all of you, I was horrified by the scene in Comiskey Park Tuesday night, when a drunken fool capped a night of fan idiocy by attacking umpire Laz Diaz. Fortunately for Diaz, his assailant didn't inflict much damage, and was quickly set upon by assorted Royals and White Sox.

    As after last September's attack on Royals first-base coach Tom Gamboa, there's a lot of grandstanding about what needs to be done, from significant barriers alongside the field to attack dogs to greater security to more restrictions on alcohol sales. The ideas are all well-intentioned, but no more likely to be implemented than they were eight months ago.

    I think the problem runs deeper, that the behavior we see at sporting events is symptomatic of a general change in society over the past 20 years. I'm not old enough to be saying things like this, I know, and I don't think it's something I can describe in less than 2,000 words. It's just a sense I have that the rules of public behavior are hewn to by a smaller and smaller percentage of people, and for reasons you'd need a team of sociologists, demographers, and anthropologists to discern. It's a little disconcerting, but it's there almost every time I'm in a public place.

    I'm nervous, even a little scared, that we're heading for something truly disastrous at a ballgame, something that no amount of policy or protection can actually prevent.

    I hope and pray that I'm wrong.

  • Last week, I complained about ESPN's blackout of MLB Extra Innings on a night when ESPN was broadcasting one baseball game. This past Wednesday, with the various ESPN networks again showing playoff hockey, there was no Extra Innings blackout.

    I've inquired as to whether this is temporary, and I've been told that it is not, that the Wednesday night blackout has been lifted for good.

    Hallelujah.

    Those of you who have used the Wednesday night blackout as a reason to pass on the package, get thee to your telephone. This is behavior we want to encourage. For all the problems the game has in marketing itself, the beautiful thing that has happened in just the last ten years is the amount of baseball available to any motivated fan.

    I sound like a shill. You know what? I don't care. MLB Extra Innings is worth the money, and it's something I want all my baseball-fan friends to have.

  • I have this gig for a lot of reasons, and one of the biggest is the rope I've been given over the years by my wife, Sophia. She's put up with a lot of missed vacations and low-key anniversaries while I pursued something vaguely resembling a career in wiseass baseball writing.

    Starting tomorrow, she gets some payback in the form of an anniversary trip to California wine country, the first real vacation she's been treated to in some time. If the week I took off last July is any indication, there will be three major trades while I'm gone and Bud Selig will declare some game on Tuesday a tie.

    Enjoy the silence, folks. I'll see you April 28.

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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