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May 27, 1999

NL East Notebook

A Quiet Chase

by Joe Sheehan

The Chase for... .500?

Yes, it's early, but given the attention Larry Walker and Sean Casey are getting for having batting averages around .400, it's probably not unreasonable to mention that John Olerud's OBP is .505. In 1998, Mark McGwire spent a few weeks around the magic mark, and in 1994, Frank Thomas ran a .494 OBP in a season ended by the strike.

But no player has been on base in half of his plate appearances since 1957, when Ted Williams (.528) and Mickey Mantle (.515) posted the fifth- and ninth-best OBPs in history. Thomas' 1994 is the only season above .490 since then. Now, granted that the period from 1958-1993 was predominantly a pitchers' era, and since 1994 we've been in a tremendous offensive upswing. This is still a feat that has been accomplished just 16 times in history. Batting .400? 27 times.

Olerud is no fluke. In 1993, he made his first run at .500, ending up with a .478 OBP. Like his counterpart Thomas, he is a hitter capable of hitting for a high average and willing to take lots of walks. Offensive levels--and walk rates--are very high, a contributing factor to his jump this year. And Olerud hits left-handed pitchers: he's following up his .980 OPS against them in 1998 with a 1.094 OPS against them so far in 1999.

His own talents are in his favor. His environment is not. With Mike Piazza behind him, Olerud is unlikely to see many intentional walks, which would be helpful. Additionally, Shea Stadium hurts his batting average slightly. Larry Walker, despite a much-inferior walk rate, may be a better bet thanks to 5,280 feet of altitude. Walker is currently at .458, not much over his .405 BA.

So with your nightly dose of Sean Casey's sharp single to right, and Tony Fernandez's blooper into left, keep in mind Olerud's two walks. They aren't going to be greeted by a "Boo-yah!", but they just might add up to history.

A Lot of "Bull"

Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine are trying out for a permanent job hosting "World's Meatiest Changeups". The left fielders are hitting...well, like Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. John Smoltz is on the disabled list.

The Braves are 27-18.

Exactly how is this team keeping it together in the face of the worst performance in years by its vaunted rotation? Especially since we all know that their bullpen consists of guys nicknamed "Napalm". Doesn't it?

                    ERA    IP     H   R  ER   HR   BB  SO
Mike Remlinger     1.31  20 2/3  12   3   3    1   11  18
John Rocker        2.41  18 2/3  11   6   5    0   10  24
Kevin McGlinchy    2.53  21 1/3  17   8   6    1   12  19
Rudy Seanez        2.66  20 1/3  16   6   6    2    6  14
Justin Speier      3.18  17      12   6   6    5    7  16
Next time anybody in a suit they didn't pick out themselves tells you the Braves need Rick Aguilera or Billy Taylor or the ghost of Hoyt Wilhelm, you have carte blanche to think very, very bad thoughts. The Braves' bullpen is a strength, and it's a strength at an absolutely microscopic cost.

Develop enough good arms, and you can have the luxury of a cheap, hard-throwing bullpen. Sure, the Braves got a bit lucky with Rudy Seanez, but he always had the skill set to be effective in this role. And the pen is only going to get deeper when Smoltz returns and Odalis Perez moves in.

The Braves' bullpen is a strength. Tell a friend, and maybe we can get a movement started.

Notes

Kevin Millar is getting another chance in Florida, where Todd Dunwoody has been demoted and Derrek Lee may follow. Millar is no glove man, but he can hit well enough to carry first base, and should end up with 300 or so at-bats. He and Bruce Aven, minor league veterans, are the best stories on the Marlins right now.... Much-maligned Doug Glanville is having a Goodwinesque turnaround: he has walked 23 times and is currently posting a .400 OBP, a big reason why the Phillies are third in the league in runs scored.

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:  John Olerud

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