June 22, 2000
The Daily Prospectus
Belles, Part 2
The truer category of "Belles", at least by name, are the players who are having good seasons without anyone knowing. This can be because their bad start has clouded perceptions, and is hurt by the fact that these player don't pop up in statistical leader categories until much later in the season.
I've chosen to call players like this Belles because I'm a really lousy headline writer. No, seriously, the name comes from the man who has a long history of slow starts and torrid second halves, Albert Belle. This year, as has become his pattern, Belle had a mediocre April, hitting .250 with a .420 slugging percentage. Since then, he's been Albert Belle: .341/.399/.659, dragging his OPS up over 950. His slow starts keep him in the shadows, but Belle is as dangerous a hitter as he's ever been.
While most of the players I've talked about are being overrated or ignored by the mainstream media, it's not like anyone is immune to quick judgment. In an e-mail exchange a few weeks ago, I made an offhand comparison of Eric Chavez to the Twins' Todd Walker, as a left-handed batter who hadn't done much at the major-league level in a fair number of at-bats. Suffice to say that was silly and shortsighted: Chavez is hitting .288/.367/.513, and his torrid June has been a big part of the A's run to the top of the AL West. I missed the boat on this one in a big way, writing off a good player based on insufficient evidence.
There's another pretty good left-handed hitter who is having a good year, unbeknownst to many people, a victim of the overemphasis on batting average. Ken Griffey is hitting just .231, but his league-leading walk total--the result of a career-best walk rate--gives him an OBP of .393. Griffey's average hovered around .200 for most of the first two months, contributing to the perception that he's struggling. In reality, he's Crash Davis's "one hit a week" from having a typical Ken Griffey season--a dozen singles would give him a .281 batting average--with Mark McGwire's plate discipline. If there's a darkhorse MVP candidate out there, it's Griffey.
One pitcher performing much better of late is the Mets' Mike Hampton. Hampton's terrible April--6.99 ERA, more walks than strikeouts--was a big part of the Mets' early slump. Since then, though, he's improved his control, cutting his walk rate in half and his ERA by almost as much. He's still dancing on the edge, though, and he is showing the effects of some high-pitch outings in May.
There's even one multi-player Belle I'd like to mention. In mid-May, the Cubs' bullpen was visible from miles around--all you had to do was look for the mushroom cloud. But Ed Lynch finally dumped Brian Williams and Kyle Farnsworth, and their replacements, Todd Van Poppel and Tim Worrell, have been excellent. Rick Aguilera, a disaster in May, hasn't given up an earned run since May 24 or blown a save since May 17. As a whole, the Cub bullpen has gone from bad in a legendary way to acceptable, even an asset.
Joe Sheehan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.