Talking Baseball

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Posted by Jon on Friday, March 12, 2004

Baker Can’t Walk Away

Dusty Baker, Cubs manager, has made some unreasonable comments during his short tenure in Chicago. Last summer he caused a commotion when he stated his preference for dark-skinned players in extreme heat, saying, "It's easier for most Latin guys and it's easier for most minority people because most of us come from heat. You don't find too many brothers in New Hampshire and Maine and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Right?" With those comments, Dusty started quite a brouhaha.

Now Baker has added to his list of questionable comments. In an effort to cement himself as the next Joe Morgan, Dusty is really making a place for himself in what Michael Lewis refers to as baseball’s Social Club. Yesterday, he reinforced Cubs fans and his organization of his immense disdain for the walk (thanks to David at Baseball Musings for the link). Yes, apparently, his Cubs can do without walks. And he’s not talking about allowing walks to opposing hitters. Baker doesn’t want his hitters to walk to first base.

"Walks help," he said, "but you aren’t going to walk across the plate." He adds, "You’ve got to hit across the plate." Yes, hitting is important, but the results from an infield single vary little from a walk. The player takes first and the runners advance. Maybe before the season starts he’ll tell his players to stretch their singles into doubles. Apparently reaching first base is counter-productive.

I’m making a big deal out of a silly comment, but I find it hard to believe that a major league manager could make these comments in earnest. The creme de la creme, though, comes in this statement: ''Now, have you ever heard the Yankees talk about on-base percentage and walks?''

I don’t think it’s a news flash, but the Yankees have been among the leaders in walks and OBP in many of their recent seasons -- the seasons in which they have regularly competed for a Championship. Baker is blatantly slamming baseball's new logic, and his ignorance about the utility of OBP in scoring runs is astonishing. If he doesn’t want his team to be as successful as the Yankees, then so be it. Baker is positioning himself as a strong candidate to be the president of baseball’s old guard for years to come, brushing off the significance of new baseball knowledge by ignoring it.

I didn’t anticipate knocking Baker so harshly tonight. Forgive me, Dusty. I still think of you as an above-average manager, with the exception of your Grady-like boner in game six of the NLCS. Much like Little left Pedro on the mound only to see his team’s almost certain trip to the World Series be bashed apart by the Yankees, Baker kept Prior on the mound after the Bartman fiasco. Both managers left their pitchers in to die, but Baker really doesn’t take the blame. Different circumstances, but the in-game situations were almost identical.

"He’s back! A Spring Training Homer!"

I fear some of my frustrations with spring baseball have been displaced onto Baker. Spring Training is a glorious time for baseball fans. Just about every team has a shot at making the playoffs, and limitless expectations are stowed upon players, with Spring Training statistics feeding the frenzy. In my opinion, Spring Training stats only go so far. Foremost, they tell us who’s playing in games. But beyond that, it's difficult to discern exactly the utility of spring stats.

Now, at about the midpoint of Spring Training, the novelty of following real games wears down and the meaninglessness of spring stats become apparent. When I visit Rotoworld, I am inundated with news concerning various players, from major league scrubs to minor leaguers who won’t even make their teams come Opening Day. It’s just not important to me how a starting pitcher looked in two and a third innings of work in mid-March. Nor is a hitter going one-for-two with a double and an RBI anything to get excited about. The competition in Spring Training is poor and the sample size is too small to be taken seriously. While players performing well can build confidence and lead into a productive opening month of baseball, spring stats are most useful in trying to determine who will get the chance to win major league roles in 2004.

Worst of all, spring stats can be misleading. After all, Milwaukee is 8-1 in Spring Training.

Luck of the Draw?

An interesting tidbit from David Lipman’s espn.com column yesterday about the National League:

In 1992, the draft expanded to 28 first-round selections. Between that year and 1999, 75 percent of players picked in the first four spots made an impact in the majors. Players picked between Nos. 12 and 15 did not fare as well, with only 34 percent of those reaching the same level. By the end of the first round (picks No. 26 and above), the number slides all the way down to 12 percent.
As Lipman points out, this has an immediate impact on teams acquiring compensatory draft picks after their players leave as free agents. In a decade, I’d like to see how drafts by the statistically-minded organizations differ from the rest.

The Brewers and Devil Rays are both benefiting immensely from repeated high draft picks. Maybe Milwaukee’s hot start this spring is a showing of things to come -- not this season, but beginning in 2005?

That Pesky Walk

I wonder whether Dusty Baker would be happy with a young Johnny Pesky on his team. Pesky’s walk totals and high OBP would undoubtedly irk him to no end. Seventy-sixth on the leader board with a .394 career OBP, Pesky averaged 84 walks per 162 game season. Incidentally, none of Baker’s Cubbies reached either of those marks last season.

Pesky caught my attention after hearing a local talk-show host in Boston calling for his number six to be retired by the Red Sox before Boston loses him. Pesky has lived seven-decades of his life as a Red Sox, playing, coaching, and managing since the 1940s.

1, 4, 8, 9, 27, and soon, 6?

To tell the Sox what you think, write to them at: fanfeedback@redsox.mlb.com. I wouldn't mind seeing his number up there. It will be there eventually, so why not while he's still with the team?

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