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April 7, 2006
All About the Marilyns
Best Matchup (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Los Angeles Dodgers (4th) @ Philadelphia Phillies (7th)
I wish Jimmy Rollins had gotten all irrational after failing to keep his hitting streak going on Thursday. You know, just blown up at his teammates like this: "I made the second out of the seventh inning. All you had to do was get on base twice to get me another shot. Was that so much to ask? You didn't even get on base once! It's all your fault."
On that note, based on your longest hitting streak, it has now been determined which class of Marilyn you get to marry after your career ends:
The Jason Repko comment in BP 2006 discusses the folly of letting a player win a job based on a good run in spring training that doesn't jibe with the years of previous evidence acquired in the minors. Many in baseball, it seems, have still not grasped the concept of small sample sizes and luck. The Dodgers were at it again this spring, giving Joel Guzman an opportunity to win the left field job while Jose Cruz Jr. was off trying to win the WBC for Puerto Rico. At least with Guzman there is a record of success and a promise of great things to come, although trying to figure out if he's ready for the bigs on the fly is probably not the best way to go about it. Better to evaluate him as he rises through the minors.
Getting back to Repko, he's off to a 5-for-8 start. Naturally, there has to be some kind of explanation for this amazing turnaround! "I'm squared off and wider, and it gives me a better postured swing and helps me see the ball longer," Repko told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. "Manny Mota helped me a lot last year and when I step into the box, I'm automatically more comfortable."
I want to see a follow-up question when he reverts to form in the next few games and his performance levels out to expectations. "Still squared off and wider?"
Biggest Mismatchup (opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): Boston Red Sox (3rd) @ Baltimore Orioles (26th)
A lot of rookies get into their first major league game and start hacking and whacking at everything in sight if only out of pure excitement. Most settle down soon enough while others, like Jeff Francoeur, take a little longer. Then there are those who ease their way into the swing of things. Orioles rookie Nick Markakis took this approach to his major league debut, becoming just the third player since 1960 to walk in his first three trips to the plate. (He later followed with his first career home run.)
The last two men to do so were Danny Klassen of the 1998 Diamondbacks and Bob Johnson of the 1960 Kansas City Athletics. Klassen's walks came in the same game, while Johnson had one in his debut on April 19 and then two more three days later. Both strings were broken by strikeouts while Markakis's first non-walk at bat resulted in a fly out. Neither player went on to become noted for a keen batting eye.
One way you know a player has arrived--or when a team has begun to comprehend his real worth--is when they stop asking him to sacrifice. The Orioles Miguel Tejada, for instance, has not been credited with a sac bunt since July 2, 2001. Now, part of that has to do with having spent a lot of the time since then with the sac-averse A's. (Ironically, Tejada's last bunt came in the 11th inning of a 0-0 tie that he himself won with a game-winning single an inning later.) The rest has to do with him ascending to become one of the better offensive threats in the game.
I thought it would be interesting to look at the sac bunt records of some of the most productive veteran players in baseball. In order to qualify for this list, the player had to rank among the leaders in VORP last year and be at least 30 years old as of this writing, so that they have established a reputation for being able to deliver successfully by means other than bunting.
Lee had no sacrifices in his time with the Marlins but notched the only two of his career in his first year with the Cubs. Thank goodness he didn't have any last year when he posted the highest VORP in baseball, otherwise there would have been an investigation centering around the "best interests of the game." His last bunt came in the bottom of the ninth of a game tied 1-1. The Cubs' lone run had come on, yes, you guessed it, a Lee home run. Did it pay off? Sort of. The next man was walked intentionally and the two after that unintentionally to force in the winner. Lee could have gotten the same result with one swing of the bat.
After Rodriguez's amazing 1996 campaign at the age of 20, his sac bunts tapered off appropriately in the succeeding years until they reached zero three seasons later. Two years later to the day, the next-highest player in VORP in 2005 laid down his last successful sacrifice. Although nowhere near old enough to qualify for this list, we have probably already seen the one and only sac of Albert Pujols's career.
Let's face it, when your nickname is "Big Papi," giving yourself up to move a runner one base should not be something you're asked to do. Ortiz's sole sac bunt came with him batting out of the fifth slot and with the Twins holding a two-run lead. He advanced two runners with nobody out. Both eventually scored and Minnesota won going away.
Hats off to Felipe Alou and Cito Gaston for never wasting anybody's time by having the likes of Guerrero or Delgado lay one down for the team--even when they were young pups. You only get so many at bats on this mortal coil, why misspend a single one of them?
Tejada comes next, followed by Ramirez who was already established as a serious threat by the time he dropped the two sac bunts of his career a week apart in the early going of 1995. Both were in the course of extra inning contests, the second of which went 17 innings. The Indians and Twins rushed to a 9-9 tie through eight and then shut each other out for the next eight innings while piling up 44 combined hits in the process. With a scoring blackout like that in progress you can probably excuse Mike Hargrove for asking his young bopper to lay one down.
Helton's sacrifice of May 15--only the second of his hit-filled career--was part of the madness that gripped Clint Hurdle's bunt-fevered brain last year. Rockies position players laid down 52 sacrifice bunts. Regardless of which mail order university you used to get your psychology degree, you have to admit: that's pretty damn crazy. Helton bunted a runner from first to second with nobody out in the fourth inning of a 1-1 game. At home. Here's the kicker: it was against Shawn Estes. To say anything more would be piling on.
Speaking of madness, Jeter's bunting in 2004 was absolutely certifiable. He cut way back last year, from 16 successes to seven, but he's right back at it again this year, thrilling the A's on Tuesday night by releasing himself from RBI responsibility during his seventh-inning at bat. Jeter, alone among current Yankee stars, is the only one taking this course of action. Every other sacrifice by a Yankee in the last two years (save for two by Bernie Williams) has come from a player of the Miguel Cairo or Bubba Crosby variety.
I cannot, for the life of me, get a mental image of Giles squaring around. Nobody with arms like that should ever have to do such a thing again. Except for maybe Gabe Kapler.
Closest Matchup (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): St. Louis Cardinals (8th) @ Chicago Cubs (11th)
We've all got it and there's nothing we can do but wait it out. I admit that I have it, fight it though I try. I'm talking about the disease known as "5S," or Springtime Small Sample Size Syndrome. The sooner you confess to yourself that you have it, the sooner you can take the steps to overcome its ravages. Admitting you have a problem is the first step on the road to recovery from believing that somebody like Aaron Miles is some sort of wand-wielding wood whacker because he's gotten seven hits in his first 11 at bats. Look at the previous two seasons when he played in a hitters' paradise. Look at his age. Now look again at his line through the first three games of the 2006 season. Which do you choose to be your reality?
Succumb to 5S or resist the temptation through patience. One path will lead to disillusionment and the other to enlightenment. When things return to normal in due time, your state of mind is your choice.
Thanks to Keith Woolner and William Burke for contributing info to this column.