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May 26, 2004

Prospectus Today

Stroll Through the Boxes

by Joe Sheehan

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Reading box scores is a time-honored tradition for baseball fans. The one-inch wide strips of agate contain entire stories within them, usually ones more informative than the wire copy that accompanies them.

These days, though, I don't scour the box scores the way I did when I was a kid, or even when I was 29. With the satellite package bringing 12-15 games a night into my home, plus scoreboard Web sites that give me real-time information, I no longer have a morning ritual of devouring the small type for information. That sounds a bit too much like, "my eyes tell me all I need to see" for my taste, but it's how I follow baseball these days.

Last night, though, I was out for almost the entire afternoon/evening, catching only a few innings of the early games and the final few outs of the Giants/Diamondbacks tilt. So today, I'm presenting 13 random things I learned from reading box scores:

  • Hideki Matsui went two-for-two with a triple and three walks. He's having a much better sophomore year than freshman one, perhaps the only Japanese player about whom that can be said. (Maybe Kazuhiro Sasaki's year two vs. year one, I guess.) Matsui's hitting for much more power (.193 isolated power, vs. .148 in 2003) because he's getting the ball in the air again (1.53 GB/FB ratio, vs. last year's 2.17). He's also walking at a rate much closer to his Japanese performance (29 in 156 AB, vs. last year's 63/623). This is the player the Yankees expected to get last year, and at his current pace, he's a legitimate All-Star, if not necessarily a legitimate starter.

  • Not very long ago, maybe two weeks, the top five batters in the Orioles' lineup were hitting well above .300. Now, Rafael Palmeiro has slipped to .267, and his power (six doubles and six homers in 146 AB) has lagged. The Orioles' bigger problem is that Brian Roberts is down to .260, and his .330 OBP and .349 slugging make him barely adequate at second base. That's the level you'd expect from him.

    I could probably make a whole list of these guys, people who get all kinds of hype based on hitting some extra singles in April, and who are below average for the year come the All-Star break. Sports Illustrated usually ends up doing a four-page spread on someone like this just before reality kicks in. It was Derek Bell one year, Ruben Sierra in another.

    The lesson is that April stats are vastly overrated, and the popular ones like BA and W-L record are even more so, given the small sample size. Is R.A. Dickey still a thing? How about Ismael Valdez? Marco Scutaro? Tony Womack?

  • Mark Bellhorn didn't walk last night. On the other hand, he was three-for-six with a double and a homer, scored four runs and was credited with five RBI. Bellhorn is pretty much an infield version of Rob Deer at this point: as good a player as you can be with an average below .250. Credit Terry Francona for not getting caught up in the strikeouts--one every three-at-bats--and pushing Bellhorn into the #2 slot in the lineup.

  • After two perfect innings last night, Rafael Betancourt now has 25 strikeouts and one walk this year. His ERA is still 4.15, largely because opponents are hitting .411 when they put the ball in play off of him. He's still the best pitcher in the Indians' pen by far, and needs to stop being used with four-run leads in the ninth, and more as he was last night, for two innings in a tie game.

  • Eddie Perez batted sixth last night for the Braves.

    No, that is the punch line.

  • I can't think of anything to say about the Mets or the Mariners. There are really a lot of parallels between the two teams right now, although I suppose that should be an article of its own.

    But my god, you couldn't find two less interesting baseball teams right now.

  • Cheating a bit...this is from last night's Reds/Marlins wrap-up:
    "Plus, Griffey had never hit a home run off Beckett, the World Series MVP."
    Given that neither player has played a full season during Bush II, I looked it up. Josh Beckett had made exactly one career appearance against the Reds before tonight, on May 29, 2002. Ken Griffey Jr. didn't play in that game, and Beckett barely did (1 IP, 7 ER).

    So the statement should more accurately have read, "Griffey had never, in his two previous at-bats, both of them tonight, hit a home run off Beckett."

    How the hell does that line get into the story? How does the writer even THINK TO PUT IT IN THERE!?!?!?

    (Actually, I'm pretty sure I can answer that. Some PR person probably announced in the press box that it was Griffey's first career home run off of Beckett, and the writer used the fact to fill a half-inch of space, not bothering to question whether it was meaningful.)

    When people ask me how something like Prospectus got started, I can now point them to that nugget. That's exactly the kind of misuse of information, passed off as analysis, that made us want to do better.

  • Why batting average isn't very useful, data point #11,983, the top of the Twins' lineup:
    
    Ford    3 0 0 0 .331
    Guzman  4 0 1 0 .305
    
    

    Two guys having pretty good years, right? Except Ford has mixed in 16 walks and 14 extra-base hits, while Guzman has seven walks and 10 extra-base hits, in more at-bats. Ford is one of the best outfielders in the AL so far, while Guzman is basically a RobertsMonth(tm) from replacement level.

  • Here's a nod to Buck Showalter, who moved Hank Blalock down to sixth in the lineup last night against Scott Schoeneweis, after batting him second against everyone for the entire season (and most of '03). Blalock has improved slightly against left-handers, enough to warrant his continued playing time against them, but not enough to justify batting him second. Moving him down in the lineup acknowledges the team's need to score runs while allowing Blalock to keep getting reps against southpaws.

    More teams should find this middle ground, rather than either stubbornly batting guys who can't hit one side in the same lineup spot all the time, or giving up and sticking them into a platoon.

  • To the list of good things Kenny Williams has done, add picking up a virtually free Juan Uribe. The .342 batting average is unlikely to last, but it doesn't have to as long as Uribe keeps showing a close-to-acceptable walk rate (12 in 149 AB) and good power (.181 isolated power). The team that employs Jose Valentin should have a pretty good idea of the value of a middle infielder with secondary skills.

  • I would argue that right now, Alex Sanchez is the worst .353 hitter in baseball history. It's not just that he doesn't walk (four in 150 AB), and Joe likes walks. It's also that so many of his hits are either bunt singles or slap singles that don't advance runners more than one base, making his .433 SLG look better than it is. It's also that he has just seven extra-base hits. It's also that he's 11-for-20 stealing bases, which is worse than worthless. It's also that he's a lousy center fielder for someone with his speed, and he throws like Bernie Williams' little sister.

    Is he helping the Tigers? It's hard to have a .368 OBP and be actively hurting your team, but Sanchez comes close.

  • I suppose equal time demands that I pick on Sean Burroughs. The .330 average is very good, but 10 walks and 10 extra bases in 176 AB, along with four-for-six stealing bases, isn't. He gets a bit more slack for being a good defensive third baseman, but on the whole, the Padres need to see some development of his secondary skills. The Age of Oberkfell ended 20 years ago.

  • It's good that Jason Schmidt showed no immediate after-effects following his 144-pitch start against the Cubs. Schmidt threw 111 pitches in eight innings against the Snakes last night, allowing one run on four hits and a walk and striking out six.

    It's not necessarily evidence that all is OK--whatever damage might have occurred could take longer to show up, either in a box score or an MRI--but it is a data point in his favor. Facing the Diamondbacks on a cool night at Whateverthehellthey'recallingitnow Park didn't hurt.

***

Those of you who have written about Doug Pappas in the last couple of days, whether on a Weblog or in an article somewhere, should know that those tributes have been getting back to Doug's mother. Carolyn is overwhelmed by the number of people who were touched by Doug, and by how strongly those people feel his loss. She has been buoyed in this time by those words, and is thankful to everyone who has expressed their sympathy.

I will be compiling the many e-mails about Doug that have been sent to me this week and passing them on to her. If you would like to be a part of that, please drop me a line by Thursday.

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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