Two weeks

What can we learn from two weeks’ worth of data? Well, mainly that two weeks’ worth of data isn’t much and crazy things can happen given a small enough sample. Inspired by an Aaron Gleeman article from 2004, I thought I’d take a quick look at some of the weirdness that has transpired thus far in 2010 (through games of April 18).

Jose Bautista

Guess who leads the American League in walks? Well, it’s Nick Johnson, but when I started this article, it was Bautista. He had 12 of them and has drawn at least one in eight of the 12 games he had played at that point. The downside is that he isn’t hitting a lick, which explains the relatively pedestrian .350 OBP.

Bautista, one of the most interesting Rule 5 draft picks in recent years, is drawing 20.0 walks per 100 PA this year. How does that compare with his historical numbers? Coming into the season, he was at 10.8 in a tick more than 2,000 plate appearances. It is left as an exercise for the reader to decide which more accurately represents his skill level and likely output going forward. Hint: Barry Bonds‘ career BB/100 PA is 20.3.

Still, some day Bautista can tell his grandkids that on the morning of April 17, 2010, he led the AL in walks. You and I can’t make that claim. Not without lying, anyway.

Rajai Davis

imageRickey Henderson, a man not given to exaggeration (I exaggerate, of course), said Davis was capable of stealing 75-80 bases this year. Davis has seven steals so far in 14 games. This, despite a .286 OBP.

How many players in history have stolen 70 or more bases despite a sub-.300 OBP? None, although Vince Coleman came close in 1984, stealing 107 bases despite a .301 OBP. (The high-water mark for stolen bases with a sub-.300 OBP belongs to Omar Moreno, who swiped 60 with a .292 OBP in 1982.)

Davis brought a .336 OBP into the season. That may not sound like much, but it’s enough to put him in a different category than the likes of Coleman (.324) and Moreno (.306). For grins, here is a list of the players who have stolen 70 or more bases with a sub-.310 OBP:

Player        Team Year  OBP  SB
Frank Taveras Pit  1977 .306  70
Omar Moreno   Pit  1980 .306  96
Juan Samuel   Phi  1984 .307  72
Vince Coleman StL  1986 .301 107

Clearly, there’s only thing holding Davis back at this point. He just needs to be managed by Chuck Tanner.

Jeff Francoeur

Dave Allen at Fangraphs has noted that it took Francoeur eight games to match his walk total through June 2 of last year. It won’t last for the man once voted most likely to succeed Juan Encarnacion, but this is fun:

              PA BB
Apr/May 2009 203  5
Apr 2010      55  8

Speaking of fun, here are the highest career HR/BB ratios among active players (minimum 2500 PA):

Player            PA  HR  BB HR/BB
Miguel Olivo    2651  98  99  .990
Alfonso Soriano 5892 291 339  .858
Bengie Molina   4771 140 186  .753
Robinson Cano   3079  91 130  .700
Jose Guillen    5881 200 291  .687
Garret Anderson 9035 285 425  .671
Rod Barajas     2779  94 143  .657
Jeff Francoeur  2983  91 145  .628
Juan Rivera     2512  99 159  .623

Sorry, that was just an excuse to work Olivo into the conversation. Actually, it helps us segue into the next guy.

Jose Guillen

Guillen has spent his career alternating between very bad and very good performance. He is one of the least reliable players around, and you never know what you’ll get from him. Here’s one way of looking at his oeuvre, with arbitrary cutoff points to distort the picture in favor of our premise:

Years       PA   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
1997-2002 2202 .260 .305 .398  80
2003-2005 1765 .295 .349 .513 126
2006-2009 1871 .263 .317 .428  97

This is kind of a bastardization of the man’s career, but you get the idea. Sometimes, as in 2003 (.311/.359/.569, 31 HR), he sets the world on fire; other times, as in 2002 (.238/.287/.367), he barely shows up to the party.

Guillen is off to a nice start thus far, hitting .367/.404/.755 with five homers in 12 games. How long this lasts remains to be seen. He is a very streaky hitter. His current streak could last a few weeks or months (a la April/May 1998, when he hit .337/.364/.522 vs .234/.267/.362 the rest of the year) or an entire season (e.g., 2003).

If I were a betting man, I know which I’d choose, but baseball and its practicioners have the remarkable capacity to surprise. Wouldn’t it be great if Guillen somehow led the Royals to the World Series? And thus ended any aspirations I may have had to become a network TV executive.

Ryan Raburn

I didn’t even know who this guy was until I saw him leading the AL in HBP. Raburn is a utility man for the Detroit Tigers who hits a little and who, this year, gets hit back. The latter has not always been the case:

Years      PA HBP
2004-2009 669   2
2010       21   3

All three plunkings have been administered by the Royals. Apparently Guillen and his teammates have determined that Raburn is not going to stand in the way of a World Championship.

In 2009, Raburn became the most recent big-league hitter to swat 15 or more homers while notching 300 or fewer plate appearances. That has happened 73 times in history. For grins, here are the last 10 occurrences:

Player          Year  PA HR
Troy Glaus      2004 242 18
Tony Clark      2004 283 16
Dustan Mohr     2005 293 17
Carlos Pena     2005 295 18
David Ross      2006 296 21
Russell Branyan	2006 282 18
Marcus Thames   2007 284 18
Tony Clark      2007 245 17
Mike Napoli     2008 274 20
Ryan Raburn     2009 291 16

The Tigers are well represented here. Five of them have accomplished the feat: Willie Horton (1974), John Wockenfuss (1979), Pena (2005), Thames (2007), and Raburn (2009). The Orioles and Reds have also had five such seasons. Only the Yankees (eight) have had more.

Among individuals, another ex-Tiger, Clark, is the all-time leader with three such seasons (although he never did it in Detroit). Branyan and Johnny Blanchard are the only others to have done it twice.

Dusty Rhodes hit 15 or more homers in the fewest plate appearances (186, in 1954). The most home runs hit in a season with 300 plate appearances or fewer is 21, which has happened four times: Blanchard (1961, 275 PA), Art Shamsky (1966, 271 PA), Kevin Maas (1990, 300 PA), and Ross (2006, 296 PA).

If that isn’t esoteric, then I don’t know the meaning of the word.

Carlos Silva

You know the story. After a surprisingly effective (4.19 ERA despite 3.97 K/9) 2007 season with the Twins, Silva inked a four-year, $48 million deal with Seattle. In two years as a Mariner, Silva went 5-18 with a 6.81 ERA—not exactly the desired return on investment.

Then, last December, the M’s swapped problems with the Cubs, receiving in return Milton Bradley. Our own Evan Brunell wasn’t impressed with the trade from Chicago’s standpoint, and who can blame him?

In his Cubs debut, Silva received a no-decision in a loss to the Reds at Cincinnati, allowing just one run over six innings. He followed that up with seven strong at home against the Astros, yielding two unearned runs in a 7-2 victory. He even drove in the game’s first run, doubling home his catcher, Koyie Hill, with a third-inning double to right-center.

Before anyone gets too excited, it’s good to remember a couple of things. First, two starts don’t mean squat. Second, Silva has started off strong before and finished like The Hindenburg.

In April 2008, with the ink still drying from his shiny new contract, he went 3-0 with a 2.79 ERA for the Mariners. He went 1-15 with a 7.84 ERA the rest of the way. The league hit .355/.382/.536 against Silva from May to September.

So, hey… Here’s to April.

Vernon Wells

Speaking of questionable contracts (that question being, “Say wha’?”), Wells has been a pleasant surprise so far. He signed a seven-year, $126 million extension in December 2006, after hitting .303/.357/.542 (129 OPS+) at age 27. (This, incidentally, is why you never go to Costco hungry.)

Wells rewarded the Blue Jays by hitting .265/.317/.426 (96 OPS+) over the next three seasons. (Man, I ate too much; I feel sick.) They paid for Willie Stargell and got Elston Howard… Or Ken Griffey Jr. and Brandon Phillips if you prefer more contemporary names. Or filet mignon and hamburger if you insist on continuing the tired food analogy.

Don’t look now, but Wells is off to a .340/.436/.787 start. Can he sustain that? Well, Bonds was 36 when he first cracked the 1200 OPS mark and Wells is only 31, so… no chance. Zero, zilch, nada. But he could rebound to 2006 levels, which would be nice, although probably not enough to make him worth the considerable chunk of change yet owed him. Still, at this point, anything that helps increase his trade value has to be a good thing.

Jake Westbrook

I’m sensing a theme here… something to do with contracts. Westbrook signed his three-year, $33 million deal with the Indians in April 2007 after a 15-10, 4.17 ERA campaign. Over the next three years he made a total of 30 starts, working 186.2 innings. He didn’t pitch terribly (4.10 ERA), he just didn’t pitch terribly often.

Westbrook isn’t off to a great start, but he’s done some “interesting” things so far in 2010. After missing most of 2008 and all of 2009, we might expect the right-hander to be a tad rusty. And he has been:

Year GS    IP HBP WP
2005 34 210.2   7  3
2006 32 211.1   4  5
2010  3  16.2   4  4

Yep, Westbrook has already hit as many batters as he did in 2006 and uncorked more wild pitches than he did in 2005. My advice, if you happen to be batting against him, is to stay loose and be ready to bust a move.

Josh Willingham

Willingham is in the Chris Shelton/Craig Wilson mold, a guy who seemingly could do some damage if given the chance. Actually, Willingham has gotten the chance and produced.

A former catcher whose primary asset as a backstop was the ability to crush baseballs, Willingham entered 2010 with a solid .264/.362/.478 (119 OPS+) line. This year, however, he’s gotten off to a ridiculous start, hitting .359/.500/.692 (213 OPS+) over his first 12 games.

Matthew Namee once identified Willingham as a “good minor leaguer you’ve never heard of.” Unlike most of those guys (Henri Stanley, Jon Knott, Bucky Jacobsen), Willingham has found a niche and enjoyed a nice little career. He won’t lead the National League in OBP, but he’ll put up good numbers, as usual.

* * *

Well, that was fun. We’ll have to check back in on these guys a little later in the season and see how they’re doing.

References & Resources
Thanks to Aaron Gleeman and Grizzly Bear for the inspiration.

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