News, Notes and Quotes (August 20, 2004)

The Case of the Missing Walk Rate

Erubiel Durazo was the epitome of patience and power while with the Diamondbacks, which is why Billy Beane was so hot for him. Then last year, his first with Beane’s A’s, Durazo was mostly just patience (100 walks) and not much power (a pedestrian .171 Isolated Power). This year, Durazo has regained his power stroke, smacking 18 homers and 25 doubles in his first 377 at-bats, while posting an Isolated Power of .210, a 23% improvement over last season. The only problem? His patience has disappeared.

As a part-time player with the Diamondbacks from 1999-2002, Durazo had 131 non-intentional walks in 901 plate appearances, or a walk in 14.5% of his trips to the plate. With the A’s last season, Durazo had 88 non-intentional walks in 645 plate appearances, or a walk in 13.6% of his trips to the plate. This year with the A’s, he has drawn just 31 non-intentional walks in 422 plate appearances, which works out to a walk in only 7.3% of his trips to the plate. His pitches seen per plate appearance has also dropped by 7%.

Of course, with the improved power and the fact that Durazo’s batting .326 after hitting just .259 last season, he has more than made up for the lack of walks. According to Value Over Replacement Player, Durazo has been the 12th-best offensive player in the American League this season and he ranks as the 27th-best best position player in the league according to Win Shares Above Average, which takes defense into account (Durazo is primarily a designated hitter).

Just for fun, if you combine this year’s batting average and power with last year’s plate discipline, you get the following offense from Durazo: .326/.441/.536. That would be good for fourth in the league in batting average, first in on-base percentage, ninth in slugging percentage and fifth in OPS. Maybe next year.

Whiff City and Bay Dunn Bonds is the Mayor

If not for an early-season shoulder injury that kept him out of action until the middle of May, Pittsburgh leftfielder Jason Bay would be running away with the National League Rookie of the Year award. In 79 games with the Pirates, Bay has hit .299/.369/.579 with 17 homers, 18 doubles and 53 RBIs. Add that to what he did in his brief stint in the majors last year and Bay is a career .296/.383/.566 hitter with 21 homers, 25 doubles and 61 RBIs in just 404 plate appearances.

Amazingly though, those probably aren’t the most noteworthy numbers he has. You see, in addition to being an offensive force, Bay is striking out an incredible amount. He has whiffed in 33.3% of his 348 career at-bats, including 87 times in 261 at-bats this season (33.3%). If he stays healthy for the rest of this year and keeps on his current strikeout pace, Bay will strikeout 135 times in 405 at-bats.

Only five right-handed hitters in major league history have ever struck out more than 135 times in fewer than 410 at-bats …

                         YEAR       SO       AB     
Bo Jackson               1987      158      396   
Jared Sandberg           2002      139      358   
Pat Burrell              2000      139      408   
Larry Hisle              1970      139      405   
Mike Schmidt             1973      136      367

The most accurate thing I can say about that list is probably that it’s an interesting one.

Meanwhile, Adam Dunn laughs at Jason Bay’s strikeout rate. Dunn, whose propensity to strikeout I’ve talked about in the past, has whiffed in 34.3% of his at-bats this year and is currently on pace to break the all-time record for strikeouts in a season. Dunn has 144 strikeouts so far this season, which puts him on pace for 194 on the year. The all-time record belongs to Bobby Bonds, who struck out 189 times in 1970.

Interestingly, Bonds was 24 years old in 1970 and Dunn is 24 years old this year. Also, like Bonds, Dunn is having an extremely impressive overall season.

                      AVG      OBP      SLG      SO      AB      SO%
Bobby Bonds 1970     .302     .375     .504     189     663     28.5
Adam Dunn 2004       .279     .402     .593     144     420     34.3

Bonds struck out at a much lower rate than Dunn is, but he got a ton of at-bats thanks to being the Giants’ leadoff man (he stole 48 bases, scored 134 runs, and led the league in plate appearances), as well as the fact that he didn’t walk nearly as often as Dunn does. It’s also worth remembering that strikeouts, in general, were less frequent in 1970 than they are today. The National League as a whole struck out in 17.2% of their at-bats in 1970, compared to 19.3% this season.

Oh, and here’s a prediction: Like every other hitter who has approached Bonds’ record in the past decade, Dunn will not break the record because he’ll either change his approach at the plate in the final week of the season or he’ll actually sit some games out.

Don’t Worry, the Numbers Won’t Bite

Since I starting writing about baseball, I’ve realized that I have an awful lot of “pet peeves.” Here’s yet another one …

Have you ever noticed that announcers and other TV personalities are constantly making statements about the impacts different ballparks have on hitting and pitching that are nothing more than guesses? For instance, last night I heard the Twins’ announcers, Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven, have the following exchange:

BREMER: The turf is different in the Metrodome this year, but it’s probably still a hitter’s ballpark, don’t you think?

BLYLEVEN: Yeah, I think it’s definitely still a hitter’s ballpark.

Now, it just so happens that the Metrodome is playing as a very slight hitter’s ballpark this year and has had a similar, positive impact on hitting in the past few years. However, there’s no need to “guess” at anything, and that’s what bugs me.

I’ve heard dozens of similar exchanges from various announcing duos and ESPN “personalities” this year and it’s almost as if they believe the actual information is too complex and mysterious to use. Instead of saying “Yeah, I think it’s probably still a hitter’s ballpark,” why not look at some actual evidence — a shocking concept, I know — and find out for yourself?

This has bugged me for a while now, but it has been particularly annoying during the past week, during which time I’ve heard announcers use the same “logic” in deciding that the Oakland Coliseum, Yankee Stadium, Jacobs Field and the Great American Ballpark are all great hitter’s ballparks.

According to some very simple statistics that can be found on ESPN.com in about 30 seconds, those four “hitter’s ballparks” rank 14th, 16th, 21st and 28th among the 30 major league ballparks when it comes to helping offense this season, and they ranked similarly last year. The Oakland Coliseum has played exactly neutral this year (hasn’t helped hitters or pitchers), while Yankee Stadium, Jacobs Field and the Great American Ballpark have all helped pitchers.

Links for the Weekend

- My favorite writer, Bill Simmons, exchanged e-mails with another writer named Chuck Klosterman, a columnist at Esquire and Spin whom I had never heard of before. The back-and-forth was then published on ESPN.com’s Page 2 and the result was one of my favorite “articles” of the year. It’s long, it’s good, it has very little to do with sports, and it’s a five-parter, so you’ll want to set aside some reading time. Once you do that, start here.

I enjoyed the exchange so much that I am seriously considering buying Klosterman’s book, “Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs,” despite the fact that I stumbled across the following review of it while searching for some information on him:

I have found the metaphor for everything vile in my generation, and its name is Chuck Klosterman. I cannot ever recall reading a book as toxic, disingenuous and stupid as Klosterman’s new collection of essays, Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs.

— Mark Ames, New York Press

Ouch.

- Over at Dodger Thoughts, Jon Weisman has a very enjoyable interview with longtime Dodgers announcer Ross Porter. Here’s a little bit from the piece:

Few in Los Angeles had the privilege of seeing how much Lo Duca contributed to the Dodgers the way Porter did. But Porter had little trouble understanding the trade that sent him and several teammates away from their first-place team.

“I always thought in April and May and June and July that they were one pitcher short,” Porter said. “So I was delighted that they got Penny. I was sorry to see Lo Duca go, sorry to see Mota go. But we all know in this business, if you want to get something good, you’ve got to give something good.

“I think after they got Finley and (Hee Seop) Choi and Penny on that Saturday, and they started coming in and started immediately contributing, I didn’t see any letup at all as far as the team was concerned and as far as the morale of the team was concerned: ‘Okay, we liked these guys but we’ve got the new guys now.’”

- Athletics Nation has Part One of a three-part interview with A’s GM Billy Beane. I always enjoy hearing from Beane, who I consider one of the smartest and most interesting people in the world of baseball, and Tyler Bleszinski did a very nice job with the interview.

Asked about letting Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada leave as free agents while signing Eric Chavez to a long-term contract, Beane said:

One of the things that went into the decision was eliminating one of the options. A shortstop and a third baseman at that age are a much better risk to take if you’re going to sign. Miguel’s a marvelous player and we miss him now. He’s such a marvelous personality. But we had Bobby Crosby coming and Bobby Crosby is only 24 years old. People forget that Eric Chavez is only 26 years old. So you look at the age and when he was contracted and take into account that as long as his contract is, he’s only going to be 32 when the contract is up.

In the case of Jason, Jason was 31 the first time he was a free agent. There is something to be said for age and injuries. And what’s difficult is that if you sign a player to a big contract, if they’re not playing and they’re hurt, then that’s money lost. So we had to make sure we were getting the most bang for the buck and Eric seemed to be the guy.

With Giambi on the disabled list after a disappointing season with the Yankees last year, Bobby Crosby hitting .253/.330/.432 in place of Tejada, and the A’s once again in first place, I’d say those decisions are looking pretty good.

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