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
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 email@example.com.