July 16, 2003
Dodgers Tap Henderson
They Didn't Lose Rickey's Number
The Dodgers are 49-44, three and a half games out of the Wild Card, but if their pitching were as bad as their offense they'd be the worst team in the majors. Paul Lo Duca (.307/.374/.438, .285 EqA) is having a good year, but when the All-Star catcher looks out at the rest of his team, he sees an offensive wasteland. At first base, Fred McGriff (.249/.318/.430, .261 EqA) was unimpressive before going on the DL. Up the middle, Alex Cora (.240/.281/.319, .213 EqA) and Cesar Izturis (.255/.290/.302, .210 EqA), who have gotten most of the playing time, are a combined black hole. Third baseman Adrian Beltre (.225/.286/.356, .227 EqA) has seen his star come crashing to earth after having once been one of the hottest prospects in the game.
In the outfield, Shawn Green (.255/.317/.429, .262 EqA) is underachieving, and none of the combination of Mike Kinkade, Dave Roberts, Jolbert Cabrera, Chad Hermansen and Wilkin Ruan has been exceptional. Brian Jordan (.299/.372/.420, .282 EqA) had been the best of the bunch, but a severe injury means his season and Dodger career are over. Faced with the option of buying or selling for the stretch run, the Dodgers made their move, trading for Jeromy Burnitz and plucking Rickey Henderson from Newark.
While Chris Kahrl will offer a thorough take on Burnitz in Transaction Analysis, this is Rickey time. Henderson's .377 EqA was leading the Atlantic League. Sure, we're talking about an independent circuit, but the Atlantic League still plays just below the quality of Double-A, meaning that .377 EqA translates into a still-solid 284 in the majors; only one Dodger--Lo Duca (.285)--can top that.
A full translation for Henderson shows that his performance is virtually identical to his translated Boston line from 2002, and when you put those two together, they look an awful lot like 2001:
AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO R RBI SB CS AVG OBP SLG EqA EqR 2001 SDG 390 94 17 3 9 80 76 75 46 26 7 .241 .373 .369 .265 55 2002 BOS 181 44 7 1 6 39 41 43 18 8 2 .243 .386 .392 .275 28 2003 NWK 176 44 12 1 6 38 26 36 22 5 3 .250 .387 .432 .279 28
The only place where Henderson's lost a step is on the basepaths. He may never get to 1,500 steals (he's at 1,403 right now), but the Dodgers don't need him to. They don't have time to worry about stealing bases, because they're never on base. Only the pitiful Tigers (.290) have a team OBP lower than LA's .304. (The Dodgers' .239 EqA is 'topped' only by the Tigers' .225.)
More to the point, the Dodgers are dead last in the majors in walks. That's where Henderson comes in. He's lost his power, he's lost his speed and he can't hit for average anymore, but as befits this old man, he can still walk. Even if you take into account the pitchers' paradise that is Dodger Stadium, Henderson's Newark line still translates to .227/.368/.390. Among Dodger regulars, only Lo Duca and the injured Jordan can top that .368 OBP. The name of the game is getting on base. As long as Rickey can do that, he belongs in the majors.
So is Henderson going to save the Dodgers? Let's not get ahead of ourselves: as impressive as his translated .284 EqA is, it's middle of the pack for corner outfielders--only because the Dodgers are so awful does he look anything like a savior. And with Green entrenched in right and Burnitz (.274/.344/.581) now starting in left, Henderson isn't even going to be a regular. Most likely, he'll start for Burnitz against some lefties, and come up in the late innings to pinch-hit and get on base, which is what he does best.
In 1993 Blue Jays GM Pat Gillick got Henderson for the stretch drive; he hit .215, but with a .356 OBP. Columnist Thomas Boswell wrote that Gillick, to get another piece of that '93 team, signed Dave Stewart, "not because he was still great but because he was still Stewart." Rickey isn't the greatest anymore, but he's still Rickey, and he still knows how to get on base. And with the Dodgers, you can bet he'll do just that.