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May 8, 2003

Prospectus Today

Silly Slides

by Joe Sheehan

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A Friday type of column on Thursday...

  • Do you have mental blind spots? I know I do, because I put one on display the other day for everyone to see, referring to Joe Borchard as a right-handed batter. He's a switch-hitter.

    I do this a fair amount, usually with players I haven't seen or have seen just once. I've probably called Aaron Heilman a left-hander a dozen times in print, and until I actually watch him do his Kevin Brown Lite thing, I'll be prone to doing it some more. Zack Greinke is still an infielder in my mind, although the Royals elected to make him a pitcher. There are others...I keep wanting to give the Blue Jays Khalil Greene, a 2002 draftee who is actually in the Padres system.

    Anyway, thanks to all of you who caught the error, for keeping me on my toes and hopefully beating this particular blind spot out of me.

  • There's one particular baseball play that I don't get: First and third (or bases loaded) and two outs, ground ball hit to a middle infielder who throws to his double-play partner for a force at second base. Most of the time, you'll see the runner slide into the bag, and the times he doesn't, it's because he's nowhere near it when the play is made.

    Why?

    Sliding has two purposes: avoiding a tag and decelerating into a base you can't legally overrun. While the above fits the latter category, it's a situation where the cost of deceleration is greater than the penalty for overunning the bag. If a runner instead chose to sprint through second base and keep heading for third, he might be safe--I don't know, let's say one time in 20, but I think it would be more than that--but every time he was safe, a run would score, with the runner likely being out in a tag play on his way to third base.

    I suppose you could argue that the runner slides in case the middle infielders botch the play, but I don't buy that, because an error gets made there about as often as I eat tofu. It seems to me that teams are "giving up" here, where a more aggressive approach--running through the bag and making the turn--could steal a few runs a season. This wouldn't apply all the time; some plays are going to be close enough to warrant a slide, and on others the runner isn't close enough to bother. But on maybe 40% to 50% of these plays, a meek slide into second base reduces the chance that the run will score for no reason other than politeness.

    Is there something I'm missing, a rule dating from the days of John McGraw's Orioles that disallows this practice? Or is it something from the Big Bob Book of Unwritten Rules, with its pages and pages of crayon drawings?

  • Without ripping off another epigram about the state of baseball fandom, I have to say I really don't understand Royals fans booing Johnny Damon this week.

    You see this a lot, where a player who was traded before leaving on his own gets booed when he comes back to play his former team. I know Damon was dealt because he was going to be difficult to sign, but it's not like the Royals even tried to get a contract done. Instead, they dumped him a full year before he was eligible for free agency. There was no drawn-out negotiation, and as far as I know, there wasn't even a Seattle situation where the player in question forced a trade, a la Ken Griffey Jr.. The Royals simply decided they didn't want to pay what a player of Damon's caliber would make on the open market.

    For this, Damon gets booed. I don't get it.

    At the core of this is the disconnect I have with the whole notion of player loyalty. Players don't choose teams; they end up on one because that organization selects them. The idea that they're supposed to have some level of loyalty ignores that when a major leaguer reaches free agency, it's the first chance he's had as an adult to choose where he'll live and for whom he'll work. That's a decision most of us make at 22 (or younger), and we have the right to change it at any time, for any reason or for none at all. Ballplayers get that choice, finally, when they're 27 or 28 or older, and I don't understand why they're supposed to simply stay where they are because of a decision they had no control over a decade ago.

    For the fans? Well, the fans aren't really rooting for you; they're rooting for you as long as you're on their side. As Johnny Damon can attest, once you're wearing gray, you're just as much a target as anyone else.

  • Have you noticed what the Diamondbacks are getting from their catchers?
    
    Player              AB    AVG   OBP   SLG
    -----------------------------------------
    Chad Moeller        79   .354  .395  .557
    Rod Barajas         37   .432  .447  .703
    Robby Hammock       19   .421  .421  .632
    
    

    Small sample size, but...that's a monster 135 at-bats or so. It's largely BA-driven, so look for all three players to return to earth shortly. Rod Barajas has gone on runs like this in the past (1998 in the Cal League, 2001 in the PCL) and he hits lefties, while Chad Moeller is, like Damian Miller before him, a Twins reject who might develop into a millionaire given enough playing time. Robby Hammock is mildly interesting as a guy who draws walks and hits doubles, but because he's played in such great hitters' environments as a pro, he's hard to evaluate.

    All together, they're a better idea than paying Miller, and miles ahead of people like Einar Diaz and Sandy Alomar. Nice job by Joe Garagiola of saving some money and handing the job to some low-profile guys whose main shortcoming as opposed to Miller was in service time. I dismissed Barajas and Moeller this winter in evaluating the Miller trade, and I was wrong.

  • I haven't clocked it, but are games coming out of commercials faster? Overall time of game is down slightly, and I think it has everything to with innings starting quicker. I know that the mental clock I use to gauge how much time I have to get food, or check other games, or make sure Sophia hasn't left me, has been way off this year.

    If this is true, it's a great thing, a sign that at least one of MLB's initiatives in shortening game times is having an effect. The key will be whether they can carry this into the postseason, where games start 75-90 minutes later and the extra commerical time really drags out the evenings.

Catch the Doug Pappas World Tour as it rolls into California. SoCal Pizza Feed this Saturday, May 10. NoCal Pizza Feed Wednesday, May 14. Special guests, mystery guests, and more. Head here to sign up.

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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