Friday, May 07, 2004

The Punter is on retard juice. To quote Mike DiGiovanna's article:

"When Chone [Legs] Figgins led off Sunday's game in Minnesota with a triple, the last thing on Darin Erstad's mind as he stepped to the plate was getting a hit. With the infield back, all Erstad wanted was to tap a grounder that would score the speedy Figgins and give the Angels an early lead."

Of course, Erstad did ground out and score the run. But I've been watching Erstad for many years, and I know that he's quite capable of grounding out even when he's trying for a hit. So why does he go up to bat giving up, not even trying for a hit? A hit is better than an out; it scores the run and sets up another one. And if you fail, you'll probably still score the run. The man was on third base with no outs. You're telling me Erstad can't even ground out by accident, he has to try? Dios mio. (But it is the mentality of a punter/holder, when you think about it.)

DiGiovanna praises Erstad's strategy ("It is this unselfish approach that has helped Erstad accumulate 20 runs batted in — fourth most on the team ..." ... as though ranking fourth out of nine starters is some kind of accomplishment), and then poses a mindbender "[a]sk[ing] if he'd rather hit .220 with 100 RBIs or .320 with 50 RBIs." Erstad "didn't even need a moment to contemplate the answer."

Quoth The Punter: "There's not even a question. Hitting .220 with 100 RBIs is productive. There are benchmarks, certain statistics you want to get to, but what it comes down to is RBIs and scoring runs."

Where to start? Even though this isn't the most detailed hypothetical in the world, let's just assume that when Erstad hits .220 he draws just as many walks and has just as much power as when he hits .320. .320 Erstad has 50 more hits in 500 at-bats than his .220 version; let's go ahead and make them all singles, which in Darin's case is probably not a bad assumption.

In this context, I'd say .320 is vastly more important than .220, regardless of RBI. Okay, so v.220 knocks in 50 more runs than v.320, but v.320 is setting up runs and not making outs. The assumption behind Erstad's answer is that it is more important to drive in runs than set up runs. From a team perspective, you can agree with that. But individuals need to do both, and if you can do both at once, that's better.

The most idiotic thing isn't Erstad's answer, actually; he's giving the "what's best for the team" cliche. The dumbest thing is DiGiovanna's question. In what world is a guy hitting .320 going to drive in half as many runs as a guy hitting .220? The underlying assumption is that this is the same batter coming up to bat in the same situations. In what situation does making an out drive in a run that a hit would not? The only way v.320 drives in less runs is if he comes up with less men on base ... which isn't his fault.

This dovetails with the "productive" outs discussion swirling around the baseball webosphere, from Buster Olney's absurd ESPN article to Larry Mahnken's defenestration thereof to the resultant discussions on Primer. Baseball Men (TM) like the idea of the "unselfish" player who "gives himself up" to advance a runner or score a run. The implication is that players who -- gasp -- try to get hits in these situations are selfish and not thinking of the team -- as though reaching base and setting up RBI opportunities for others is selfish -- or downright unproductive. (I am trying to set a world record for most hyphens in one sentence, by the way.)

This is the kind of logic that makes people say Barry Bonds and Frank Thomas should swing at balls out of the strike zone to knock in runs, when these distinguished hitters know that you're giving your team a better chance by having runners on first and third with no outs than you would with the bases empty and one out with one run in.

Returning to an earlier aside, DiGiovanna praises the Unselfish Punter for being fourth on the team in RBI. Here are the guys that rank ahead: Troy Glaus, Vlad the Dragon, and Jose Guillen. (And if Garret and Salmon weren't injured, Erstad could easily rank a sterling sixth on the team.) Do you think these guys come up in RBI situations and say, "Oh, all I need to do is ground out. I will not try to get a hit."? No; they come up and say, "I'm going to drive the ball; if I fail, I'll still probably get the run in."

Oh, and each of those guys except for Guillen has scored more runs than Erstad. Glaus has score seven more runs and Vlad five more. Guillen has scored two less, but that makes sense once you realize that he's had Slumping Salmon coming up after him, and Erstad bats in front of superstars. Isn't Erstad supposed to be a tablesetter?

Look, we all know that an out that advances a runner or scores a run is better than an out that does neither of these things. But we also know that getting on base is practically always better than a good out. But it's this silly dedication to the productive out that makes our lineup go Eckstein-Erstad-Figgins-Vlad-Glaus-Guillen instead of the more logical Eckstein-Figgins-Vlad-Glaus-Guillen start. Hopefully, the offense will remain strong and this won't really matter.

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