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Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.



Posted by Mike on Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Forget about the Yankees signing Tony Clark for whatever unjustifiable reason they had in their heads and I can only think of one reason myself, Clark’s goofiness (George will need someone to make a scapegoat of come May), the Yankees made a great pickup when they signed Kenny Lofton to a two year deal worth $6.2 million. Maybe the Yanks paid a little more than market value to get Kenny but they have a history of paying a premium to get the players they want the most. Let’s be honest too, when your payroll can hover near $200 million it just doesn’t really matter if you’re throwing around 3-4 million on free agents to fill so holes in the armor. Spending somewhere between 1-2% of the payroll on a player like Kenny Lofton can more than make up for spending any money whatsoever on a player like Tony Clark. Now, the reason the Yankees wanted Kenny so much is fairly easy to see, Kenny has been dramatically improving/recovering the last three years. Putting aside the stupidity that was sliding into first base, his ugly shoulder injury in the 1999 playoffs seemed to cause some long term damage from which he’s only now bouncing back. At 36-37 years old conventional wisdom is that he should certainly be losing a step from his prime but his numbers speak otherwise. Not as flashy as he used to be, his AVG and OBP have bounced back to the levels they were at before his injury-decline and actually could be even better next year if he decides to try to walk a little more. It may not be that he has the same speed that he possessed in the mid 1990s but he’s close to being as effective on the bases when he does run.

Lofton's last three years:
...............G.......AVG......OBP.......SLG.......OPS.......SB.......CS.......SB%
2001......133......261.......322.......398.......720........16........8.........66%
2002......139......261.......350.......414.......764........29.......11........73%
2003......140......296.......352.......450.......802........30........9.........77%
Career...1645.....298.......373.......426.......799........538.....142.......79%

.................AB.......AVG.......OPS
vs LHP.......362.......246.......647
vs RHP.....1234.......281.......796

Kenny’s greatest weakness was always his durability and is even more of an injury risk now. Age and cumulative injuries have helped him to develope a nasty habit of consistently missing 3 weeks to a month every year (like Pedro). On the flip side, he’s approaching his career averages in most statistical areas. No longer can he steal 50+ bases but he can steal 30 and get on base at a better rate than the average player. With the depth that the Yankees have if they are able to maximize his at bats against RHP and minimize his at bats against LHP he could have a great season. The real problem with Lofton used to lie in his playoff performance. With an extensive playoff resume having been on a playoff team every year since 1995 with the exception of 2000 Lofton has accumulated 322 playoff at-bats across 77 games in 15 postseason series.

.................G.......AVG......OBP.......SLG.......OPS
Career.....1645.....298.......373.......426........799
Playoffs.....77.......248.......319.......348........667

Those numbers are awful compared to the ones he put up in the regular season. It’s not even just one poor year that had hurt his numbers but it was more like six bad Octobers in a row. In fact he was part of the reason Cleveland floundered every year in the postseason. Having a leadoff man who is batting sub-.200 and rarely walking will do wonders for the other team’s chances of winning. They key is that he WAS terrible but has in fact over the last two years shown a dramatic improvement in the postseason:

..............AB.......AVG.......OBP
2002.......72.......292.........361
2003.......52.......308.........365

These numbers are a dramatic improvement over his past performance. If he manages to perform at this level for the Yankees they’re actually going to have something to show for all the money they’re throwing around.

Just for fun...
Alfonso Soriano is a horrible batter in the playoffs.

...............G.......AVG.......OBP.......SLG.......OPS
Career....501......284........322........502.......824
Playoffs...38.......233........287........336.......623

I bring this up because his playoff numbers closely resemble those of younger postseason Kenny Lofton. Now it isn’t quite fair to condemn Soriano for not being able to hit playoff pitching when playoff pitching is consistently better than typical pitching during the regular season. He’s a young player who just finished his third full season in the majors and shouldn't expected to be a dynamo against the best in the league but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to bash him unmercifully. Watching him flail at sliders and curves in the dirt during the 2003 ALCS was about as much fun as I could possibly have watching a player with such a poor eye for the strike zone. His OPS in the playoffs is .200 points worse than it is during the regular season. There is nothing good to say about him, nothing at all.

~MrLomb


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