News, Notes and Quotes (May 3, 2004)

When Slow Starters Start Fast

I was spending some time over the weekend on one of my favorite hobbies, perusing the many stats over at ESPN.com. Seriously, I go over there to check on one thing and can get lost for hours.

The thing that interested me in this trip into Stats Land was Jim Thome‘s “splits.” Thome hit .364/.456/.714 this April, with seven homers, six doubles, 13 RBIs and 17 runs in 20 games. At first glance, this wouldn’t seem noteworthy, as Thome has long been one of baseball’s best hitters.

However, take a look at how he has done in Aprils past:

YEAR       AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
2000      .253     .310     .544     .854
2001      .182     .333     .364     .697
2002      .210     .363     .531     .894
2003      .227     .347     .423     .770

Combined, from 2000-2003, Thome hit just .220/.344/.467 in April. Now, those are obviously far from horrible numbers and many first basemen would be very happy with them. However, you have to remember that Thome’s overall numbers from 2000-2003 were .282/.410/.598.

How did he manage to post a 1.008 OPS from 2000-2003, despite such bad first months? Well, he was consistently awesome after April. Check out his month-by-month OPS totals from 2000-2003:

MONTH            OPS
May            1.029
June           1.062
July           1.117
August         1.075
September       .971

Thome’s highest single April OPS during that time was .894 and his combined April OPS for the four seasons was .811. That means, going by OPS, his offense in each of the next five months was at least 20% better than his offense in April.

Setting aside September, in which he’s simply been very good and not incredible, Thome’s offense in May through August has been 27%, 31%, 38% and 33% better than his April hitting.

So what does this all mean, exactly? Well, if a guy usually stinks (by his standards) in April and he still ends up hitting .282/.410/.598, what happens when that guy has a monster April?

I’ll just say this…here are Jim Thome’s career-highs:

 AVG      OBP      SLG       OPS     2B     HR     RBI     RUN
.314     .450     .677     1.127     34     52     131     122

Incidentally, thanks to Vinay Kumar’s post over the weekend at THT Live, we know that Philadelphia‘s new ballpark has increased run-scoring by about 24% so far this season. All the small sample-size disclaimers apply, obviously, but it’s still interesting.

Thome at home so far this year? .405/.436/.892. Thome at home last season? .251/.354/.608.

If it weren’t for that Bonds guy in San Francisco, I might find myself making a bold prediction about Thome right now…

“But suddenly, a new contender has emerged”

Last week, I wrote about Julio “Old Man” Franco and his quest to be the best 45-year-old hitter in baseball history. Franco‘s only real competition for that title is Cap Anson, who hit .285/.379/.361 as a 45-year-old in 1897. That is, Anson was his only real competition, until this weekend.

Unwilling to let his fellow old fart have a free ride as the only 45-year-old hitter in the majors this season, Rickey Henderson is back with the Newark Bears and looking for one last shot in the big leagues.

Here’s a little on the story from the Associated Press:

NEWARK, N.J. — Rickey Henderson is back in baseball.

The 45-year-old outfielder re-signed Sunday with the Newark Bears of the independent Atlantic League, where he played last season before returning to the majors.

Henderson is expected to join the Bears on Wednesday and be ready for their season opener Thursday at home against the Long Island Ducks.

Although he hit .339/.493/.591 with Newark last year, at this point Rickey isn’t much of a hitter. He’s basically just a “walker” and a “runner.” Still, I’d gladly give him a bench spot over any number of guys currently holding down jobs. I mean, if Lenny Harris is still cashing a paycheck and getting a few at-bats every week, why not Rickey Henderson?

As I talked about last month (Taking A Walk, April 9, 2004), Rickey Henderson was second in all of baseball in non-intentional walks per plate appearance from 2001-2003, trailing only the Walking Man himself, Barry Bonds.

Rickey walked in just about 17% of his 771 plate appearances over that span, hitting .224/.362/.346 with 36 stolen bases at an 80% clip. That’s not great offense, but it’s just about “league-average” for all hitters, which isn’t the worst thing to have on your bench, especially since Rickey can do some running once he gets on base and can still play a passable left or right field.

I am a big fan of Rickey Henderson’s and I happen to think he’s one of the most interesting players and personalities in baseball history, not to mention one of the best players in baseball history. I would love nothing more than to see him latch on with another team for 100 or so plate appearances this year.

He’ll be dragging his career numbers down a little bit, he might not look like the same great player everyone remembers from the 80s and 90s, and he’ll be pushing back his Hall of Fame induction by another year. On the other hand, I still think he can get the job done off someone’s bench and I know I wouldn’t mind seeing Rickey a few more times.

Just for fun, here’s a look at what the two old men have done since turning 40…

                 RICKEY HENDERSON                         JULIO FRANCO
AGE        AVG    OBP    SLG   RC   OPS+          AVG    OBP    SLG   RC   OPS+
40        .315   .423   .466   86   130          .000   .000   .000    0     0
41        .233   .368   .305   46    80
42        .227   .366   .351   48    95          .300   .376   .444   14   111
43        .223   .369   .352   22    96          .284   .357   .382   46    95
44        .208   .321   .306    6    70          .294   .372   .452   33   117
45                                               .313   .450   .438    6

Geezers of the world, unite!

You can’t spell unwatchable without ESPN

I used to watch Baseball Tonight nearly every night. It was one of my favorite shows and perhaps one of the reasons for why I am such a huge baseball nut. And now? Not so much.

The show is almost literally unwatchable. I no longer watch it regularly and when I do buzz by it while channel surfing, I become disgusted with what I’m watching within 30 seconds. It’s unbelievable how far the quality of the show has fallen.

Yesterday, for instance, I buzzed by Baseball Tonight at about 6:15, before Sunday Night Baseball, and caught Chris Berman, John Kruk and Harold Reynolds in the middle of a discussion about on-base percentage.

John Kruk said, with a straight face, “I played with Frank Thomas and he used to take hittable pitches all the time. Sure he’d end up walking, but he could have been driving runs in.”

I’ll leave that statement up there pretty much without comment, except to say that John Kruk “played with” Frank Thomas for exactly one season, 1995. Thomas hit .308/.454/.606 and was in the top five in the AL in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, home runs, RBIs, walks and OPS+.

A few moments after Kruk said that, Chris Berman chimed in with the following: “All this stuff about on-base percentage…just give me batting average and runs scored.”

To which Harold Reynolds replied, “I agree…and what’s this OPS?!”

Berman, Kruk and Reynolds had a good laugh at that one.

And to think, these are the people being paid to provide the public with interesting, informative baseball analysis. I’m not saying I need Bill James, Rob Neyer and Joe Sheehan hosting shows on ESPN, but can we perhaps include some relevant information that has come into the world of baseball in the last 20 years?

I guess not. Talking about on-base percentage and — GASP! — OPS might cut down on the amount of nicknames Chris Berman can breathlessly work into the game highlights or the amount of cliches Kruk and Reynolds can say when giving their “insight” into the sport. And lord knows it would take time away from monologues by Reynolds and Kruk that start with the words, “When I was playing…” and “I don’t know what’s going on in today’s game…”

Well, actually that last one is pretty accurate (and was actually uttered by Reynolds last night).

I think it would be very fun and interesting to watch multiple episodes of Baseball Tonight each week and record and report on the many things the commentators say on the show. I say it “would be” because, to be honest, I don’t have the tolerance or energy to sit through more than about 90 consecutive seconds of a show that was once a must-watch program.

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