May 22, 2003
2 out of 3 aint bad
A few days ago I expressed a little concern about the next couple weeks of the Twins' schedule:
"This is where it gets really tough for the Twins. They have taken over first place, but their upcoming stretch of games is downright scary. Their next 15 games breakdown as follows:
3 at Oakland
3 at Seattle
2 vs Oakland
4 vs Seattle
3 at San Francisco
I think that the Twins can run away with the division, just like they did last year, if they can somehow manage to go 6-9 or 7-8 over the next 15 games. That's easier said than done, of course."
Much to my delight (and surprise), the Twins took 2 out of 3 in Oakland. Making things even better is that the two games they won came against Barry Zito and John Halama, two left-handed starters. The Twins had tons of problems with left-handed pitching last season, so it's always good to see them do okay against southpaws, especially Zito.
Twins hitting in 2002:
vs LHP - .252/.318/.413
vs RHP - .282/.339/.449
Prior to yesterday's win over Halama, the Twins were hitting .274/.325/.425 against lefties this season. That might not seem like a big improvement, and it's not, but it is 20 points of batting average and 12 points of slugging, which makes a difference. And they tagged Halama for 5 runs off of 8 hits and 4 walks yesterday - in only 6 innings.
There are a few reasons for the slight overall improvement against lefties: Jacque Jones has been mediocre against them (.288/.309/.404 this year), instead of completely awful (.213/.259/.331 last year). A.J. Pierzynski has been fantastic (.368/.405/.605). And Bobby Kielty has been incredible (.382/.500/.882).
Kielty had 4 plate appearances against a lefty yesterday:
1st inning - WALK
3rd inning - 2-RUN HOMER
4th inning - WALK (with the bases loaded)
6th inning - LINE OUT TO LF
Not a bad day. On base 3 times, with a homer and 3 runs batted in.
Here are Kielty's overall numbers this year, for no other reason than looking at them makes me happy:
AB PA AVG OBP SLG HR 2B BB RBI RUN
121 149 .289 .416 .521 7 7 25 24 23
Bobby started the season by playing in only 6 of Minnesota's first 13 games. Since then, he has played in 29 of their 31 games, including 20 in a row from April 16th to May 8th.
I have constantly talked about Kielty deserving everyday playing time and I have begged and pleaded with Ron Gardenhire to give it to him, so I think I should give Gardenhire some credit at this point, because it looks as though Kielty is now an everyday player for the near future. Good job Gardy, you managed to recognize who one of your best players is! Now, about that Santana guy...
Joe Mays continued his pattern of giving up a lot of runs, although the 4 he gave up yesterday weren't entirely his fault. With 1 out in the bottom of 3rd inning and 2 men on base, Eric Chavez hit a line-drive to centerfield. Torii Hunter started coming in to catch it and then, all of a sudden, started to change direction and go backward. He slipped and the ball went over his head. Both runners scored and Chavez ended up on 3rd base with a "triple."
Torii has been great defensively during this series and he made a game-saving catch when I was at the game last weekend, but even the best of the best have bad days. I think it is hard to remember (for me at least) that a centerfielder (or any position) doesn't have to make home run-robbing catches and diving grabs in order to be a good fielder. Making the routine plays are valuable to, and not making the routine plays can be very costly. I'd still take Torii over an awful lot of guys though, because I think he does a good job making the routine plays and a great job making the difficult/impossible ones.
The Twins did get a little bad news during the win. Matthew LeCroy hurt his knee running to first base on a ground out and the early word is that he has an "inflamed patella tendon." I don't exactly know what that means as far as the severity of the injury, but it doesn't sound particularly fun. The Twins have been racked with injuries recently and already have a hobbled Doug Mientkiewicz on the bench. Plus, LeCroy just came back from a broken nose that kept him out of action for a few games.
With Mientkiewicz hurting and Todd Sears sitting out the last couple of games with a sore back, LeCroy had been playing some first base and he has really started to catch fire offensively. He is hitting .353/.389/.794 in May and has raised his season numbers to .310/.348/.552. With Sears and Mientkiewicz unavailable, Denny Hocking replaced LeCroy at first base yesterday, which is just wrong on so many levels. Hopefully Matthew will be back soon, because he is quickly becoming my 2nd favorite Twin and a very valuable part of the team.
"We'll see how things are going to be. I'm not going to name names, but everyone in here knows the guy who was chirping...pretty much he'll get hit. And it will be very well deserving."
Pierzynski in the A's series:
At Bats: 7
Hit by Pitch: 0
It's very possible that A.J. Pierzynski is a colossal jerk and deserves to be hit with a pitch or two. However, as long as he keeps hitting, I'm fine with him making enemies all over the league (which he seems to be doing). Counting last year's post-season, Pierzynski has played 13 games against the A's since the start of last season. Here is what he's done:
AB AVG OBP SLG
43 .395 .435 .581
Somehow I don't think the A's would be quite so annoyed if A.J. and the Twins weren't doing so well against them.
The A's are coming to the Dome in a few days and I am putting the chances of Pierzynski getting a fastball in back at 60% and rising. I'll be interested to see if Terrence Long has any more predictions...
If you are interested in some more on the Twins and also on the rest of the American League Central, check out my newest article for Baseball Primer:
Bi-Weekly Review: A.L. Central (by Aaron Gleeman)
It's chock full of interesting stats and updates on the 5 AL Central teams, so go check it out.
Meanwhile, over in the AL East...
The Yankees got some bad news yesterday with Bernie Williams possibly needing knee surgery, which would likely keep him out for a while. He's what the ESPN.com story said about it:
NEW YORK -- New York Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams has torn cartilage in his left knee and will likely need surgery that might keep him out of lineup for four-to-six weeks.
"Obviously, it is very disappointing," Williams said. "If there's any positive about this, it's that it's May. There's still the second half of the season to help the club."
I have this weird habit where players I feel are under-appreciated become favorites of mine. It's part of the reason I like Bobby Kielty so much, part of the reason I like Johan Santana so much and, believe it or not, part of the reason I like Barry Bonds so much (yes, I just implied he was under-appreciated).
At the same time, I tend to gradually begin to dislike players I feel are "overrated." I think that everytime I hear someone say how great Derek Jeter is or what a wonderful "RBI man" Juan Gonzalez is, the more I start to dislike them as players. It's weird, because Jeter and Juan Gonzalez are both good players and they personally don't have anything to do with people overrating them. I guess it is just in my blood or something, because I can't help it.
Anyway, I think Bernie Williams is a vastly underrated player and has been his entire career. So, despite my general ambivalence towards the Yankees, I have grown very fond of Bernie Williams as a player.
Why do I think he is underrated?
Check out the following career numbers of five anonymous players:
Player AVG OBP SLG OPS+
Player A .308 .392 .498 133
Player B .293 .373 .522 135
Player C .297 .350 .499 133
Player X .286 .380 .514 136
Player Z .279 .341 .463 122
As you can probably guess, one of those 5 lines belongs to Bernie Williams (prior to this year). Any guesses for owners of the other 4?
If you read the two entries I wrote on McGriff and Palmeiro, you know that I feel each of them will finish with a career that I feel is Hall of Fame worthy. So, what you've got there is 5 lines - 4 belonging to "Hall of Fame" first basemen, and the other belonging to a 4-time Gold Glove winner...in centerfield.
Can you distinguish the first basemen from the centerfielder?
A = Bernie Williams
B = Rafael Palmeiro
C = Orlando Cepeda
X = Fred McGriff
Z = Tony Perez
Now, obviously the stats I just showed don't tell the whole story. For one thing, Bernie Williams has only accumulated about 7,000 plate appearances in his career, while the other 4 guys are all over 8,500 and 3 of them have gone over 10,000.
Still, the fact that a centerfielder can match his hitting stats up against 2 Hall of Fame first basemen and 2 (likely) future Hall of Fame first basemen says, to me at least, that Bernie Williams is a Hall of Fame player - assuming he can come back from this knee problem and play a few more years at his established level.
If you want to compare him to a Hall of Fame centerfielder, how about Kirby Puckett?
Bernie and Kirby were very good defensive centerfielders in their primes, they both have plenty of post-season heroics and they both have around 7,000 plate appearances, spread over a dozen years or so.
Player AVG OBP SLG OPS+
Bernie .308 .392 .498 133
Kirby .318 .360 .477 124
Really, there is no comparison offensively. Kirby hit for a better average, but he hit for a better average than a lot of people. Bernie has gotten on base 10% more often and hit for more power. And, when you adjust their performances for the eras and environments they played in, Bernie's OPS+ is 9 points higher.
Here's another stat for you...
Bernie Williams ranks 7th all-time (or since 1900) in "Runs Created Above Position" for centerfielders:
1 Ty Cobb 1135 13073
2 Mickey Mantle 1009 9909
3 Willie Mays 856 12492
4 Tris Speaker 830 11989
5 Joe DiMaggio 616 7671
6 Ken Griffey Jr. 521 7968
7 Bernie Williams 358 6873
That's a pretty impressive list. 5 Hall of Famers and Ken Griffey Jr.
(Thanks to Lee Sinins' Sabermetric Encyclopedia for the RCAP stats)
Not only is Bernie Williams a great player and not only is he a great player that is underappreciated - he is a great player that is underappreciated and has played his entire career for the New York Yankees. How that happened is beyond me.
Don't forget to check out my new article over at BaseballPrimer.com:
Bi-Weekly Review: A.L. Central (by Aaron Gleeman)
Philadelphia (Millwood) -120 over Montreal (Day)
Chicago (Prior) -160 over Houston (Linebrink)
San Francisco (Moss) -140 over Colorado (Young)
Los Angeles (Perez) -155 over Milwaukee (Rusch)
Toronto (Escobar) +230 over New York (Mussina)
Texas (Valdes) -150 over Baltimore (Hentgen)
Seattle (Moyer) -165 over Minnesota (Radke)
Total to date: + $1,060
W/L record: 94-93 (2-4 yesterday for -285. I am slowly slipping...)
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