June 24, 2003

The Bizarro World All-Stars (Part Two: The National League)

Elaine: He's reliable. He's considerate. He's like your exact opposite.

Jerry: So he's Bizarro Jerry.

Elaine: Bizarro Jerry?

Jerry: Yeah, like Bizarro Superman, Superman's exact opposite, who lives in the backwards Bizarro world. Up is down, down is up, he says hello when he leaves, goodbye when he arrives.

Elaine: Shouldn't he say badbye? Isn't that the opposite of goodbye?

Jerry: No, it's still goodbye.

Elaine: Does he live underwater?

Jerry: No.

Elaine: Is he black?

Jerry: Look, just forget the whole thing.

--- Elaine Benes and Jerry Seinfeld, "The Bizarro Jerry"

Two weeks ago, I made my selections for the American League and National League all-star teams.

Today, I present to you the exact opposite. The worst of the worst. The lousiest of the lousiest. The dumb kids in the dumb class. The guys who couldn't hit water if they fell out of a boat.

The Bizarro World All-Stars!

(Yesterday I did the Detroit Tigers American League and today I'll cover the National League)

The Bizarro World All-Stars (Part One: The American League)


First Base:

Wil Cordero | Montreal Expos

                     AVG      OBP      SLG

Wil Cordero .250 .328 .392
Average NL 1B .277 .361 .453

While Paul Konerko is several massive steps below the rest of the first basemen in the American League, the National League first basemen are actually pretty closely bunched together. Jim Thome isn't hitting quite like Jim Thome yet, Jeff Bagwell is looking like a shell of his old self, Ryan Klesko is doing well, but his numbers are a little "off" and he has already missed a dozen games this year. In fact, of all the National League first basemen (with 150+ at bats), only Todd Helton has a slugging percentage above .525 or an OPS (on-base % + slugging %) above .900, and he plays half his games in Coors Field (and is hitting just .268/.382/.390 on the road).

Even the bottom of the NL first baseman barrel isn't so horrible. While guys like Randall Simon, Tino Martinez and Fred McGriff have been bad, they haven't been nearly as bad as the worst first baseman over in the AL (Konerko). That said, someone has to be the starting first baseman for the Bizarro National League, right? And that honor is going to Wil Cordero of the Montreal Expos.

Cordero is hitting just .250/.328/.392, which is pretty bad, but amazingly bad when you consider he hit .341/.394/.495 in the month of May and he had nearly as many at bats in May as he has had the rest of the season combined. Apparently, even a great month and a lot of at bats can't keep you away from a bad season-total when you hit .208/.321/.333 in April and .170/.262/.321 in June.

As has been the case in past seasons, Wil Cordero is hitting left-handed pitching pretty well. From 2000-2002, a span of 304 at bats, Cordero hit .296/.362/.487 against lefties, and he is hitting .283/.367/.434 against them this year. So, he's a valuable player to have and can fill one-half of a platoon role very nicely, but he stinks against righties. Unfortunately for the Expos, he has gotten a ton of playing time against righties this year and is hitting just .236/.309/.372 against them.

The Expos apparently are trying to acquire Juan Gonzalez from the Rangers, which would presumably push Brad Wilkerson from the outfield to first base and give Wil Cordero a nice seat on the bench. Early indications are that Juan Gone is going to exercise his no-trade clause and stay in Texas though, so Cordero's job appears safe for now. Yay!

Second Base:

Alex Cora | Los Angeles Dodgers

                     AVG      OBP      SLG

Alex Cora .232 .279 .311
Average NL 2B .275 .342 .392

Like in the AL, there are a lot of "good" second base candidates for the Bizarro World All-Star team. You've got Abraham Nunez and Juan Castro and Pokey Reese and Miguel Cairo and, of course, Neifi Perez. Neifi has been, as always, very bad, and so have the other guys I just listed. That said, when looking for the worst second baseman in the National League this season, one must look no further than Alex Cora.

Cora came into the 2002 season as a career .220/.285/.319 hitter in just over 800 at bats - all with the Dodgers. Last season appeared to have been a tremendous breakthough for him though, as he had the first productive offensive season of his career. Cora hit .291/.371/.434 - hitting for a good batting average for the first time and adding in solid plate discipline and decent power, two things he never had before.

Sadly, Cora is back to his old ways this season. He is hitting just .232/.279/.311 and, after walking 26 times in 293 plate appearances last season, has walked just 10 times in 246 plate appearances this year.


Tony Womack | Arizona Diamondbacks

                     AVG      OBP      SLG

Tony Womack .234 .266 .340
Average NL SS .262 .321 .381

At this point, Tony Womack should not only be the starting shortstop on the Bizarro World All-Star Team, he should receive some sort of Lifetime Achievement Award. For the 7th consecutive season, Tony Womack is getting full-time, everyday playing time and for the 7th consecutive season, he is an absolute nothing offensively.

Womack is hitting .233/.264/.337 this year, bringing his career totals down to .272/.318/.362. Like Alex Sanchez, whom I discussed yesterday, Womack could actually be a decent leadoff hitter, if only he had learned at some point along the way that the best thing he could ever do is to actually get on base, so he could use his one good asset: his speed. And, like Sanchez, Womack continues to just hack away at the plate, despite the fact that he cannot hit and can't use his speed while sitting in the dugout.

Womack is a below-average defensive shortstop, he no longer even does that well stealing bases (just 8 steals this whole year) and he has proven to be a completely worthless offensive player for the better part of the last decade. If he's not a Bizarro World All-Star, I don't know who is.

(Dis)honorable mention goes to LA's shortstop and Alex Cora's double-play partner, Cesar Izturis. Izturis is hitting just .253/.291/.300 and, along with Cora, they are solidifying their place as the 2nd-worst middle-infield in baseball. Try as they might though, I just don't think the Santiago/Infante duo in Detroit is going to be caught anytime soon.

Third Base:

Fernando Tatis | Montreal Expos

                     AVG      OBP      SLG

Fernando Tatis .194 .281 .263
Average NL 3B .256 .330 .408

Once upon a time, Fernando Tatis looked like a superstar in the making. At the age of 24, he was St. Louis' starting third baseman and hit .298/.404/.553 in 149 games. He had everything - a strong arm at third base, great power (34 HRs) and tremendous plate discipline for someone so young (82 BBs). The next year, he was injured a lot and his performance slipped quite a bit, although he still hit a very solid .258/.379/.491 in 324 at bats. Then, the Cardinals dealt him to the Expos and he has been completely useless ever since.

Tatis hit .255/.339/.359 and .228/.303/.399 in his first two injury-plagued seasons in Canada and was hitting just .194/.281/.263 this season before - shockingly - he had to go on the disabled list again.

My good buddy Craig Burley of Baseball Primer and the Batter's Box had a great line about Tatis going on the DL:

"[Tatis] had to go on the DL with a serious-sounding "inflammation of the chest wall". Presumably this is a complication of his preexisting condition, the missing heart."

Gotta love that.

A special shoutout and (dis)honorable mention goes to Brandon Larson, who was given the Reds' starting third base job at the beginning of the season, after he had a monster year at Triple-A in 2002. He hit .083/.193/.083 in his brief stint in Cincy and was sent back down to Triple-A, where, of course, he is once against murdering the ball (.330/.376/.574).

Left Field:

Pat Burrell | Philadelphia Phillies

                     AVG      OBP      SLG

Pat Burrell .204 .310 .420
Average NL LF .267 .355 .473

In all honesty, I didn't want to include Pat Burell on this team. After all, he hasn't been that bad offensively. Okay, let me rephrase that: he has been that bad, but he hasn't been Paul Konerko/Jermaine Dye/Fernando Tatis bad.

Burrell is one of the best young hitters in baseball, but he has been an absolute disaster offensively this year. He is hitting .204/.310/.420 and is on pace to drive in just 63 runs. This after last season, when he hit .282/.376/.544 with 37 homers, 39 doubles and 116 RBIs.

I watch a lot of Phillies games on DirecTV because I am a big Jim Thome fan and I think they are generally one of the more interesting teams in baseball. I also have heard about how brutal Philadelphia sports fans can be. But I have been shocked by how often and how loudly Pat Burrell is getting booed at home this season.

Burrell is a former #1 overall draft pick and has produced since the day he got to Philadelphia in 2000. And, as I said, last year he had a monster year. Yet, after all of his good play over the last few seasons, the Philly fans were willing to completely turn on him after about 150 bad at bats. That's amazing to me, although I must admit that I live in a state where people are referred to as "Minnesota Nice."

Beyond his generally bad hitting this season, I think the main reason why Burrell is getting the wrath of Phillies fans right now is that he has been especially horrendous when he has come up with runners on base.

Runners On - .157/.290/.330

Bases Empty - .242/.324/.492

It is one thing to perform badly at the plate when you're up and there is no one on base to drive in. It is another thing completely to be performing badly overall and to be doing even worse when you come up in "pressure" situations. And once the ball gets rolling, it is very hard to stop. Burrell is doing poorly right now, so every at bat he has is scrutinized, particularly so when he comes up with men on base. The fact that he is struggling the most in those situations, when the fans are probably saying, "C'mon Pat, you gotta get a knock here" is why the fans have turned on him so quickly and so severely (or at least that's how my theory goes).

Burrell is a very good hitter and most of his numbers are actually fairly similar to last year:

(Projected 2003 numbers)

Year      AB     HR     2B     BB

2002 586 37 39 89
2003 556 25 41 81

Last year he hit a homer every 15.8 ABs, this year it is down to every 22.2 at bats. His doubles are actually up from once every 15.0 ABs to once every 13.6 ABs. And he's also walking slightly more often.

Burrell has always been a guy that strikes out a lot. In his first 3 years, he struck out 139, 162 and 153 times. So far this year though, he is making even less contact.

Year     PA/SO

2002 4.47
2003 3.62

He's striking out about 23% more often, which is pretty significant. Over the course of 650 plate appearances (about a full-season's worth), that is a difference of 35 strikeouts. That's 35 fewer balls put into play, which means 35 fewer possibilities for a hit. Which brings me to Burrell's second problem this year, which is that he isn't hitting any singles.

Year     AB/1B

2002 6.74
2003 12.35

That is huge. He is hitting singles about half as often as last year, which is why, despite good homers and doubles totals, his batting average is awful.

So what's my official diagnosis for Burrell? Well, I think that his increased strikeout totals are a little alarming for someone that already struck out a ton, but the fact that he is still hitting for very good power more than makes up for that. Burrell's main problem is his .204 batting average and I think that is largely because of his lack of singles, which is something I would attribute a large part of to plain, old, dumb luck.

In short, Pat Burrell is at the point that, no matter how well he does in the second-half, his season-totals aren't going to look all that pretty. That said, I think he is due for a pretty big second-half, assuming the Phillies don't do something stupid like send him to the minor leagues or something. If I were a Phillies fan, I'd cut Pat The Bat a little slack. Once some of those singles start dropping and that batting average starts rising, he'll be back to putting up huge numbers.

Center Field:

Endy Chavez | Montreal Expos

                     AVG      OBP      SLG

Endy Chavez .253 .281 .359
Average NL CF .275 .338 .423

The competition for Bizarro World National League centerfielder basically comes down to just two guys: Endy Chavez and Tsuyoshi Shinjo. They have both been horrible offensively this year, but Shinjo has been significantly worse than Chavez. That said, Chavez is an everyday player and has accumulated about 200 more plate appearances than Shinjo, which is why I give him the starting nod here.

Chavez spent 36 games with Montreal last year and actually had a very productive year. He hit .296/.321/.464 and smacked 14 extra-base hits in just 125 at bats. It was good enough to earn him the starting CF job this season and, wouldn't you know it, he's been awful. Chavez is hitting just .253 and has walked 12 times in 69 games. After hitting 14 extra-base hits in 125 ABs last year, he has just 19 in 281 ABs this season.

Shinjo definitely deserves a (dis)honorable mention here for his putrid .183/.225/.240 performance, but it has come in only 104 at bats and I think he's a hell of a defensive player.

Right Field:

Roger Cedeno | New York Mets

                     AVG      OBP      SLG

Roger Cedeno .256 .326 .354
Average NL RF .277 .358 .453

If Tony Womack deserves some sort of a Lifetime Bizarro Achievement Award, the award he receives should be named after Roger Cedeno. Perhaps the "Roger Cedeno Award for Complete Suckiness." The RCACS, that has a nice ring to it, no?

Once upon a time, like back in 1999, Roger Cedeno had a fairly complete set of skills for a leadoff hitter. He hit for an excellent batting average (.313), had good plate discipline (66 BBs, .396 OBP) and flashed tremendous speed (66 SBs at an 80% clip). Slowly but surely, the skills started vanishing. The plate discipline was the first to go, then the batting average and now, finally, the ability to steal bases. After going 194/245 (79%) on steals prior to this year, Cedeno has gone 7/13 (53%) so far this season and officially had his "green light" to run taken away from him by Mets manager Art Howe last week.

In addition to deteriorating into a completely horrible offensive player, Roger Cedeno has always been a very bad defensive player, despite his excellent speed. He has perhaps the worst defensive instincts of any player in baseball. If you were to tell me that someone got hit in the head with a baseball while trying to catch a fly ball, I would first remember that Jose Canseco is retired and then immediately guess Roger Cedeno.

A very (dis)honorable mention goes out Darren Bragg, who has been perhaps the worst offensive player in baseball this year. Bragg is currently batting .139/.190/.152 in limited playing time (79 ABs) with the Braves, which is good for an astoundingly awful .021 Equivalent Average. Yes, .021.


Michael Barrett | Montreal Expos

                     AVG      OBP      SLG

Michael Barrett .153 .220 .277
Average NL C .259 .328 .406

The crop of horrible seasons by National League catchers is plentiful, but there is really no way I could go with anyone other than Michael Barrett. He is hitting a ridiculously bad .153/.220/.277 and his .497 OPS is the worst of any NL player with more than 125 at bats.

While doing the Bizarro World All-Stars for the American League yesterday, I never imagined any team could ever come close to matching Detroit's 4 all-star representatives. But amazingly, the Montreal Expos have done it. With Barrett, Tatis, Cordero and Chavez, they match the Detroit Tigers with 4 Bizarro World All-Stars! Both teams should be extremely proud of themselves - only if they live in the bizarro world, of course. Otherwise, yuck!


Glendon Rusch | Milwaukee Brewers

                    IP      ERA     W      L

Glendon Rusch 76 8.61 1 11

This is nothing more than a complete guess, but Glendon Rusch had to be in the middle of one of the unluckiest seasons in major league history before the Brewers sent him to the minors last week.

Take a look at the following two players:

Player         SO/9     BB/9     HR/9

Mr. X 6.8 4.0 1.0
Mr. Z 5.5 3.7 1.0

Which would you rather have? Assuming you are a believer in pitchers only being completely responsible for 3 things - strikeouts, walks and homers - then I think it is safe to say that those two pitchers are pretty damn close to equals.

Mr. X has more strikeouts, but has also allowed more walks, and they both have identical home run-allowed rates.

Now, look at the same two pitchers, but with different stats:

Player          ERA      AVG      OBP      SLG

Mr. X 8.61 .369 .426 .536
Mr. Z 2.84 .197 .281 .326

That is quite amazing.

Two pitchers with almost identical strikeout, walk and home run rates. One has a 8.61 ERA and is allowing a .369 opponent batting average, while the other has a 2.84 ERA and is limiting opponents to a .197 batting average.

By now you have probably guessed that "Mr. X" is Glendon Rusch and some of you may have figured out that "Mr. Z" is, in fact, 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito.

Despite nearly identical "Defense Independent Pitching Stats" - strikeouts, walks, homers - Glendon Rusch got lit up to the tune of a 8.61 ERA and was demoted to Triple-A, while Barry Zito has a 2.84 ERA and is a likely candidate to be the AL's starting pitcher in the all-star game.

How exactly does that happen? Well, I would submit that there is a lot of "luck" or "random chance" involved, but that a large part of it is defense.

First of all, Oakland's defense has been among the best in all of baseball this season. They are converting "balls in play" (anything that gets hit into play and doesn't go over the fence) into outs 74.28% of the time, which is the second-best % in baseball.

Meanwhile, the Brewers are converting BIPs into outs 70.22% of the time, which is 13th in the National League and 21st in all of baseball. Now, a 4% difference is significant. That means for every 100 balls in play, the A's allow 4 fewer hits to fall, which is the difference between a .250 batting average and a .290 batting average.

According to my quick-and-dirty calculations, Barry Zito has allowed 313 balls in play this season and Glendon Rusch has allowed 273. If Zito got the same BIP-to-out-conversation rate (74.28%) that Oakland has had this season overall, he would have given up 80 non-homer hits in 108 innings pitched. If Rusch got the same BIP-to-out conversation rate (70.22%) that Milwaukee has had this season overall, he would have given up 81 non-homer hits in 76 innings pitched.

            Proj     Real

Zito 80 64
Rusch 81 115

So, Zito has given up 16 fewer hits than he "should have," given Oakland's overall defense. And Rusch has given up 34 more hits than he "should have," given Milwaukee's overall defense.

That is a staggering difference, particularly for Rusch.

I would attempt to explain Zito's 16 fewer hits by saying that it has been some luck and/or random chance and some of Oakland's outfield defense being better than their overall defense. In other words, Oakland converts BIPs into outs 74.28% of the time overall, but perhaps their outfield defense - which includes good defenders like Chris Singleton, Eric Byrnes and Terrence Long (at least in LF) - converts balls hit into the outfield into outs at a higher percentage. This would affect Zito positively, because he is one of the most fly ball-dominant pitchers in baseball.

So, maybe a 6 or 8 of those 16 hits are due to some good luck or random chance on Zito's part and maybe 6-8 of them are because Chris Singleton and Eric Byrnes can really go get it in the A's outfield.

What really intrigues me is Rusch giving up 34 more hits than "normal." Whereas Milwaukee's defense overall this season has given up a hit on 29.78% of balls in play, they have allowed a hit on an amazing 42.1% of the balls put in play against Rusch. Behind that number is almost certainly some bad defense, but even the worst major league defense doesn't approach allowing a hit on 42% of balls in play. In fact, of the 30 MLB teams, none are allowing a hit on even 33% of balls in play. More than anything, I think Glendon Rusch has been a victim of incredibly awful luck this season.

Rusch's BIP-Hit%:

Year     BIPH%

2000 30.8
2001 34.7
2002 29.7
2003 42.1

As you can see, his BIP-to-out conversation rate last year was perfectly normal, it was pretty high in 2001 and it was perfectly normal back in 2000.

What has happened to him this season is sort of sad, because Rusch has not only been a pretty reliable innings-eater over the last few years, but he is now in the minor leagues after being a "major league pitcher" since 2000, and the Brewers are openly talking about trying to find out "what's wrong with him." To which I say, very little.

The guy was striking out a good number of batters and, although he walked a lot, he also kept the ball in the ballpark at a decent rate. Yet, he's got the 8.61 ERA, he gets to take bus trips from Indianapolis to Durham and he gets the honor of being the NL's starting pitcher in the Bizarro World All-Star Game. Meanwhile, Barry Zito has a beautiful 2.82 ERA, he gets to stay in hotels and take the team charter from city to city, and he might be starting the real all-star game.

I guess life just aint fair sometimes, especially when you're pitching for the Brewers.

Today's picks:

Milwaukee (Sheets) +130 over Chicago (Estes)

Philadelphia (Padilla) +145 over Atlanta (Maddux)

Florida (Redman) -100 over New York (Trachsel)

Chicago (Garland) +110 over Minnesota (Mays)

Kansas City (Snyder) -110 over Cleveland (Anderson)

Total to date: + $1,780

W/L record: 149-141 (3-1 yesterday for +260, although one of the wins was sadly against the Twins...)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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