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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

GARRET ANDERSON = BADASS
I don't know if any of you caught Garret getting interviewed by Phys and Hud on the FSN postgame. I don't have the video in front of me, so here's a paraphrase:

PHYSIOC: When you're in pressure situations, do you think relaxing thoughts so as to blah blah blah?

GARRET ANDERSON, BADASS: It's not pressure; it's fun. I've driven in runs before. It's my job, I'm paid to drive in runs.

As he seems to do everything, Garret said this calmly with just a hint of a smile, as if to say, "I'm playing a game, and I've been at it's highest level for a decade. I drove in the runs that won the World Series. You think I poop my pants over facing Brian Shouse?"

Garret is a smooth guy, and fans often accuse him of a lackadaisical attitude. I've never really bought into that, even when I was highly critical of his play in the late 90's. I guess there have been a couple of times this season when it didn't seem like he was hustling (not counting the time I ripped him and he turned out to have twisted his ankle on the play), but nothing major.

People used to get on him about not diving, but he was probably the best defensive left fielder in the league for a few years there. STATS, Inc. used to publish an annual book called the Scoreboard, and they had all kinds of fancy defensive stats like zone rating to rate fielders. Garret always ranked near the top of left fielders, and the authors would award him their "Gold Glove" for the position (they broke the outfield down instead of giving it to three center fielders).

But Garret has really had one of the strangest careers you'll see. After a knockout 1995 debut, he basically sucked through 2001. Okay, "sucked" is too strong ... but he was basically a league-average hitter the whole time. Check out his player card at Baseball Prospectus. The league-average Equivalent Average is .260, and Garret's from 1996 through 2001 were .252, .259, .260, .259, and .261. And this is from a corner outfielder, who's expected to put up production well above the league average!

Nonetheless, the typical media line on Garret at this time was that he was perennially underrated. This is because his offensive performance was superficially good. He would hit close to .300, have decent power, and rack up RBI.

1996 and 1997 were particularly vexing years. After the fine 1995 perf, Anderson came out with a 285/314/405 line, and hit 12 homers in 607 at-bats after hitting 16 in 374 the year before. 1997 brought us 303/334/409 and 92 RBI, but it also only brought us eight home runs -- all against right-handed pitchers. That's right: Garret Anderson hit more home runs against left-handed pitchers on June 28, 2005 than he did over all of 1997.

But though the .300 average and 90 RBI looked good, Garret never walked, so he was making tons of outs, and he had almost no power. The power started to gradually increase, with his slugging percentage creeping up to .455, .469, then hitting the .519 mark in the year 2000.

2000 was kind of a breakout year for Garret, in that it's the first time he notched over 100 RBI, and marked the one time (so far) that he has exceeded 30 HR. Still, his lowly .308 OBP really dragged down his value.

There are those that say that OBP isn't really all that important for a middle-of-the-lineup hitter. Remember, as Garret said last night in my paraphrase, his job is to drive in runs. Swinging at a pitch outside of the strike zone to get an RBI groundout is considered heroic; taking it and drawing a walk to set up even more runs for the next batter is considered selfish.

My objection to that line of thinking is that it's no one's job, on the whole, to just drive in runs. A large part of any batter's job is to avoid outs and set up RBI situations for others. More than half of Garret's at-bats in 2000 came with no one on base: he hit 259/278/496 with 21 HR in those at-bats. A .278 OBP with no one on base! Who is that helping?

With runners in scoring position, Garret got his game all the way up to 291/306/542. So the power was definitely a terrific thing. But here's something interesting from that year:
Month  AVG  OBP  SLG  HR  RBI  RBI-HR
April 235 250 422 5 19 14
May 246 265 518 8 19 11
June 240 252 558 9 19 10
July 337 377 615 8 19 11
I think that demonstrates how much RBI is dependent on the batters ahead of you in the lineup. By any standard, July was Garret's best month out of the four, but his RBI were the same, and he drove in other people less than he had hitting .235 in April.

But look at what he had hitting in front of him in 2000: Darin Erstad had a .409 OBP. Tim Salmon was at .404. Mo Vaughn: .365. Orlando Palmeiro had a .374 OBP while hitting out of the top three spots in the lineup. There were a ton of RBI opportunities for Garret that season.

Anyway, after a similar campaign in 2001 (.261 EqA, 117 RBI), something funny happened in 2002.

Garret Anderson became exactly the player the media kept saying he was.
Year  AVG  OBP  SLG
2001 289 314 478
2002 306 332 539
2003 315 345 541
Basically, what happened between 2001 and 2002 is that Garret raised his average by 17 points, while also making more of his hits go for extra bases. He hit an outlandish 56 doubles in 2002, 17 more than in 2001.

The fact that Garret was able to sustain this in 2003 is pretty unique. I looked at it after he signed his extension last year, and there just aren't a lot of guys who can pull off a late-career surge like that.

So far this season, Garret has a .272 EqA, somewhere between his nadir and his peak. Whether he can hold up at this age remains to be seen, but the fact is he became a very productive player at a time when a lot of people (or, at least, me) had given up on him. Through it all he's been a classy and likeable guy, and I'm happy to be rooting for him -- even if I was a bit late to the party.

(All of the splits I reference above come from the wondrous Retrosheet.)

Comments:
Great look at GA... thanks for putting in the time!

I gotta say, for a number of years there I was bent that the Angels didn't package him and Todd Greene for McGwire when the A's were shopping him. And I sure wasn't pleased when 98 happened and the Cards were drawing millions. For years I would just yell at the tv or in the stands whenever GA did anything average (which, like you say, was pretty much always the case).

Of course now, you see a confident, cool hitter at the plate that other teams recognize and fear. It's fun to watch him the last few years, but I still wonder what would have happened had the Angels picked up McGwire...
 
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