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May 4, 2004

Prospectus Today

Stroll Through the Stats: NL Edition

by Joe Sheehan

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We're a month into the season now, and while even that much baseball can be misleading, it's a good time for a stroll through the stats:

(Does anyone else miss David Schoenfield at ESPN.com?)

  • Last year, when they were averaging fewer than four runs per game in the second half, the Diamondbacks chose Matt Kata and Shea Hillenbrand over Chad Tracy. Think they might regret that? Tracy is off to a .359/.419/.487 start for the Snakes, and will get regular playing time for at least as long as Richie Sexson's shoulder hurts. He can hit; think of him as a Rance Mulliniks for America.

  • Diamondbacks' batters have struck out just 23 more times than they've walked. Over a full season, that would be a gap of 125 or so; the smallest gap I can find in the majors last year was the Red Sox, with 323 (AL gaps should be lower because pitchers hit in eight or nine games a year, not 153 or 154). In full seasons since the strike, the smallest gap is 173, by the 1996 Indians. Smaller gaps were more common in the 1980s, with a bunch of teams in the first half of the decade having them. The 1982 Indians were the last full-season team to walk more often than they struck out (651-625). Mike Hargrove, Andre Thornton and Toby Harrah led that group.

    (See, this is why I don't use the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia too often. I used to get lost in the Baseball Encyclopedia--I still can, now that the great new edition is out--now I get lost running queries until 3 a.m. It's an addictive tool.)

  • The Braves are once again trying to reach the playoffs with no corner infielders. As ridiculously great as they are up the middle--Marcus Giles, Andruw Jones and Johnny Estrada are all at .297 EqAs or above--even average hitters on the corners would guarantee a league-best offense. Adam LaRoche (.194 EqA) and Mark DeRosa (.236 EqA) are replacement level and below. Thank heavens for Julio Franco (.302 EqA) and the portrait no one has been able to find just yet.

    It should be easy to find a first baseman who can fill out the left side of a platoon and post a .280 EqA. The Twins have, what, 17 of them? That the Braves can't or won't, and haven't for the past four years, is a searing indictment of John Schuerholz. (I get to say this in part because I never understood the hype on LaRoche, or the Braves' eagerness to make him their first baseman this year.)

  • With Todd Walker in the lineup, Dusty Baker's bench on most days consists of Todd Hollandsworth and four guys who are 13-for-87 with three doubles and six walks this year. Not that Baker needs another reason to leave his starting pitchers in, but at least three of them are better hitters than the available pinch-hitters, save Hollandsworth.

  • I was hyping Ryan Wagner in the offseason, so I should point out that he's the worst reliever in baseball this year, with an ERA of 11.25, and just eight innings pitched in 10 appearances. The league is hitting .488/.520/.707 against him, and at this point, he needs to be demoted before the words "David Clyde" start seeping into stories about him. He'll be back, though.

  • There has to be some category for what Hee Seop Choi is up to: nine homers, no other extra-base hits. Choi, by the way, is at .277/.405/.692 so far. Derrek Lee is a good player, but the Cubs could have had Ivan Rodriguez and Choi for what they're paying Lee and Michael Barrett. That they don't is a cost of employing Dusty Baker.

  • Choi aside, I don't believe the Marlins are for real. There's no viable bullpen, and I don't see Dontrelle Willis and Josh Beckett staying healthy and effective all season long. I do love Jack McKeon, though; he used Franklyn Gracesqui to get the last out of a one-run game on the road with the tying run on third base. No big deal, except it was Gracesqui's major league debut.

    I think McKeon would look at what I do and laugh, but stuff like that makes it hard not to like the guy, regardless.

  • Good: Adrian Beltre is hitting .368 and slugging .695.

    Bad: Beltre has two walks in 95 at-bats.

    I'm pretty sure I know how this ends, but check back in 100 at-bats or so.

    Meanwhile, Cesar Izturis has 50% more walks than Beltre in the same number of at-bats, and he's hitting .303. Now, I know how that ends.

  • Derek Zumsteg picked on the Expos last week, and I don't want to pile on too much. While their raw stats are horrible, watching them--as I did all weekend--shows you that not only do they not have a good offense in general, but they are horrible with runners in scoring position: .152 BA, .199 SLG. They just never ever seem to drive in a run with a hit.

    They "exploded" for 14 runs in the series against the Dodgers. Of those, just three came home on a non-homer hit. Five were driven in with outs, three solo homers were hit, one home run came with a runner on first base, a run scored on an error, and three were driven in on three separate singles. It's painful to watch, and a look through their play-by-plays shows that while they don't get enough runners on base, when they do, they're awful about getting them home.

    Nick Johnson was expected to provide a .400 OBP and above-average power. His playing time has basically been divided among Terrmel Sledge, Ron Calloway and Valentino Pascucci. Those three guys are 11-for-97 with two doubles and four walks. Pitchers, basically. Every healthy regular on the team opened the year not hitting, and with the Johnson replacements and yet another failed Peter Bergeron experiment (.214/.250/.214), the team basically had six replacement-level players and three pitchers in the lineup. Not good times.

  • Mike Cameron helps the Mets with his glove. The idea that he was somehow going to break out outside of Safeco Field was misguided, and his .230/.346/.437 start shows why. Had he been going anywhere else, I might have bought in; Shea Stadium, however, is a big park for strikeouts, and Cameron is a high-K guy. Whatever boost he gets from the park being a bit easier on fly balls he gives back in a career-high strikeout rate (32 in 87 AB).

  • Some fun strikeout-to-walk ratios: John Smoltz, 13/0; Ben Sheets, 34/3; Billy Wagner, 18/0.

  • A year ago, I pointed out that Jack Wilson was improving as a hitter, and speculated that he could have a Mike Bordick-style leap in him. Bordick had his first big year at age 26, hitting .300/.358/.371 for the A's. Wilson, 26 this year, is off to a .362/.378/.532 start for the Pirates.

    On the other hand, Wilson has two walks in 94 at-bats. That might look bad, except that the leadoff hitter for the Pirates, Tike Redman, has two walks in 102 at-bats. Maybe they have a bet?

    I can't wait for the Pirates to get everyone healthy, just to see how Lloyd McClendon aligns the available talent. Will Craig Wilson and his 1100 OPS have to share time again with Randall Simon? Will Redman and his .226 OBP continue to lead off? Will Rob Mackowiak and Chris Stynes play instead of Bobby Hill and his .386 OBP? It's like wondering who the Salem Stalker will whack next.

    (Lloyd McClendon : Pirates :: Marlena : "Days of Our Lives." Discuss. But not with me.)

  • Ray Lankford, 2001: .252/.358/.491. Lankford, 2004: .288/.403/.559. Never mind the two lost years in-between.

    Lankford has come back to be virtually the same hitter he was when he was one of the game's least-known stars. He doesn't run or play defense as well as he used to, but when you hit like that, who cares? This is a great story, and one not getting nearly enough attention. I thought the Cardinals were nuts for trying this, and I have to say that I'm quite happy to have been wrong. Lankford is an easy guy to root for.

  • Any stroll through the NL stats has to at least mention Barry Bonds, so let me throw this idea out there. I think there's a 15%, maybe 20% chance that Bonds finishes the season with more walks than at-bats. He has 44 walks and 54 at-bats right now, and since April 17, has seven more walks than ABs.

    That the Giants probably won't be playing important games for much of the second half argues against this, as the less relevant wins and losses become, the easier it will be to pitch to Bonds.

  • To all the people cogitating on how to rework the intentional-walk rule: stop. You don't change the rules because of one extreme case. There have been two guys like this in the entirety of baseball history, and we might not see another for decades. The rules are fine.

    Besides, if the intentional walks to Bonds are so bad, he can always swing at the first wide one and see what that does to the process. If you have Bonds down 0-1, do you then take a shot at getting him out, when you only intended to walk him? Given the staggering gap that usually exists between results after 1-0 and 0-1, I'd have thought this would be a poor strategy for Bonds. Then I looked it up: after falling behind 0-1, he's batting .375/.423/.958. I actually think this is worth a shot at some point, as much to see what the opposing manager would do--and perhaps to allow Bonds to let off some steam--as anything else.

    Kelly Leak. And Michael Tucker is Ahmad, and Brian Dallimore is Tanner, and Dustan Mohr is Ogilvie (who had just one time on base, remember?). You've gotta love the idea that Kirk Rueter is Amanda. Tatum O'Neal throws harder than he does, anyway.

American League tomorrow...

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

Related Content:  Walks,  The Who,  Lloyd McClendon

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