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March 2, 2004

Can Of Corn

Bullet Point Tuesday

by Dayn Perry

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I'd like to offer my heartfelt gratitude to the inestimable Joe Sheehan for passing editorial muster with his periodic Bullet Point Friday column. In honor of Sheehan's groundbreaking contributions to baseball columnists temporarily out of 900-word ideas, I'm going to pony up with my own Bullet Point Tuesday piece. It's a pale imitation, but I'm pale and have never been above abject imitation. Tally ho...

  • Although your discretionary-spending priority should most certainly be BP '04, this year's Scouting Notebook is also worth a purchase. My favorite thing about the SN is the breakdown of park factors in terms how they influence various in-game events and affect batters and pitchers depending on their handedness. What's more is that three-year averages, which are far more telling than perhaps aberrant single-season figures, are also provided.

    Some interesting numbers come out of the wash (and now for the unprecedented sub-bullet points):

    • It's no surprise that in Fenway it's about 30% tougher for lefties to go yard than right-handed batters.

    • Comerica's change in fence dimensions make it easier to hit homers, but it changed what, in the previous two seasons, was a terrific park for triples. Comerica's triples factor in 2003 was 126, but from 2001-2002 the figure was a whopping 209.

    • Kauffman Stadium's homer factor for left-handed batters last season was 94, but for right-handed batters it was 120. That's in keeping with the previous three seasons.

    • Network Associates Coliseum was quite rough on lefty power hitters last season; it yielded a home run factor of 75, while right-handed batters enjoyed a factor of 114.

    • Putative pitcher's haven Safeco Field does indeed reduce run scoring, but for the last four seasons, it's actually been beneficial to lefty power hitters. In 2003, for instance, the home run factor for left-handed hitters was 124. Perhaps this was one of the points Mariners GM Bill Bavasi was hinting at in his defense of Raul Ibanez.

    • Last season, right-handed hitters in Wrigley had a 33% easier time going deep than did lefty batters. Over the previous three seasons, they had a 36% easier time. Even so, Sammy Sosa has a higher SLG on the road over the past three seasons.

    • Recent history shows Dodger Stadium, somewhat surprisingly, to be a roughly average park in terms of home runs. However, with factors of 37 and 52 in 2003 and from 2001-2003, respectively, it's the toughest park in baseball for triples. It also has suppressed doubles by 18% over the last three seasons.

    • It would seem that the days of conflating basestealing ability with leadoff skills have passed. It would seem. But Rays manager Lou Piniella has announced plans to bat Carl Crawford in the number-one spot this season. He can steal bases, but that's it. He's got a career .304 OBP in the majors, which I don't need to tell you is patently inadequate for any hitter, much less a reputed table-setter. It's not as though the Rays have a bevy of ideal options, but making a fifth outfielder your leadoff man is not the path to greater run scoring.

    • You may recall that Gary Huckabay last year did an excellent job of addressing the Questec controversy of 2003. There's really nothing I disagree with in Gary's piece, and I also concur that accurately and consistently calling balls and strikes is beyond normal human faculty. That said, I have some concerns about the possibility that the Questec system will take hold. These are more aesthetic worries than any sort of neo-Luddite hand-wringing, but I'll burden you with them nonetheless.

      My opinion is that the current levels of run scoring in baseball are close to ideal. After some tinkering, run levels are back to where they were in the pre-1994 levels, which is just where I like it. On an anecdotal level, it seems to me baseball has struck an ideal balance--one that provides us a handful of white-knuckled pitching duels without stamping out the healthy number of staggering individual offensive performances to which we've become accustomed. I have a suspicion that the random-as-lightning strike zones we so often see have something to with this.

      If we have a strictly uniform zone (which I realize is the only fair thing to do from a player's perspective) my fear is that hitters will quickly figure things out once they get an intuitive grasp of what's a strike and what isn't, and realize that grasp will be "one size fits all." Just imagine Barry Bonds and Brian Giles under this arrangement. I have nothing quantitative to back me up on this, but I believe that pitchers benefit (or, more accurately, hold serve) because of the inconsistent calls. Questec eliminates that, and, after a period of hitter acclimation, the pitchers no longer have uncertainty on their side. Ergo, run levels increase beyond what I believe is optimal. Sure, MLB can perform other atmospheric contortions to bring the levels back down, but forgive me if by now I'm a little wary of an activist commissioner's office. Anyway, it's a selfish argument on my part, but I enjoy the design of the game at this moment in time. So I'm not going to let something as abstract as "fairness" get in the way of my personal enjoyment. Only half kidding there...

  • Remember when Scott Rolen was considered a disappointment in some circles? Check out these career numbers: .282/.374/.510, 192 homers, 528 walks. Throw in five Gold Gloves and don't forget that he's still 28 years of age. Rolen's not a disappointment; he's a future Hall of Famer, health permitting.

  • Not to overwhelm you with the bonhomie, but I'd like to echo Joe Sheehan's words from last week. It's an honor to be read by and interact with such intelligent readers. I look forward to much, much more of it in the upcoming season.

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