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June 29, 2000

The Daily Prospectus

The Silent Assassin

by Joe Sheehan

This is a column I have avoided writing, in part because I'd hoped I wouldn't have to and in part because I know some people are tired of hearing about it. But I can no longer stand idly by and watch this player, one of the most overrated, undercriticized players in baseball today, continue to torpedo his team's offense.

I'm speaking of Garret Anderson. Anderson, who has been a target of my barbs almost since he came into the league, has completely outdone himself in 2000. There are 89 players in the American League who have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. Of those 89 players, 88 have a higher on-base percentage than Anderson. His .256 OBP is lower than that of Rey Sanchez, the worst hitter in baseball this year. It's lower than that of Troy O'Leary, who has gone through a painful divorce this season. Even Deivi Cruz, who walks about as often as A.C. Green buys condoms, has a higher OBP than Anderson.

Cruz is one of the few players Anderson has more walks than. His eight free passes--one every two weeks or so--rank him 155th in the American League. Russ Branyan has been with the Indians for about an hour and a half and he has more walks than Anderson. Steve Cox only plays when the rest of the Devil Rays are late coming back from the "Senior Special" at Applebee's, and he has more walks than Anderson.

Even for Anderson, far from a patient hitter at his best, this kind of walk rate is unusual. His six unintentional passes in 316 at-bats-plus-unintentional-walks is the worst rate of his career:

Year   AB+UIBB   UIBB   UIBB/AB

2000: 314 6 52.3 1999: 646 26 24.8 1998: 643 21 30.6 1997: 648 24 27.0 1996: 629 22 28.6 1995: 389 15 25.9

Anderson's decent batting averages, increasing power and, in 1999, good center-field defense made him an average, if overrated, player. What's happened in 2000 is that he has hit in bad luck; his average has hovered between .240 and .260 for much of the season, and his OBP has slid accordingly from borderline acceptable to...well, .256.

But even if you give Anderson his missing singles, his OBP is below its normal level, and his increased power doesn't make up for it. Right now, Anderson is hitting .240/.256/.494. For the sake of argument, let's give him the 18 singles that would bump his batting average to its customary .300 level. At that point, Anderson would be hitting .299/.316/.552, and while the slugging percentage would be impressive, the OBP would still be unacceptable.

For Anderson to be productive with his current walk rate, he has to hit .330 or so, and he hasn't shown that kind of ability.

Anderson's season illustrates one of the problems with hitters who don't walk. Hitting for average is more subject to fluctuation--luck--than plate discipline or power. When a high-average, low-walk hitter like Anderson hits in bad luck he can absolutely kill you. Which is what he's doing.

Of course, it's not apparent that the Angels notice. They seem quite happy with his career-best power and his--wait for it--120-RBI pace. Mike Scioscia continues to bat Anderson ahead of Troy Glaus, rather than moving the player with the .420 OBP up in the lineup.

Anderson's performance is a significant problem for the Angels. His abysmal plate discipline is a problem they have avoided addressing for years. Now that they have committed to him by trading Jim Edmonds and giving him a lucrative contract extension, they have to take steps to ensure that he'll be a productive player, and not a 475-out vacuum.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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