News & Views
I remember taking Driver's Education, Career Guidance, and News & Views my sophomore year in high school. (Hey, I went to public school. I will say these were the easiest classes I took, if you don't count Teacher Aide the last semester of my senior year.) I had the same teacher--Mr. Gough--for all three subjects, which were rotated as a wheel program for tenth graders.
The News & Views of that time were the Vietnam War, anti-war demonstrations at Kent State, cigarette advertising banned from television and radio, and the voting age lowered to age 18. Having felt cheated by not discussing baseball in our class back then, I decided to hold my version of News & Views as this weekend's Baseball Beat column.
News: Steve Finley raises his batting average from a dismal .149 at the end of April to .190 in a week by going 7-for-18.
"We've been talking about that all week--we look at Fin, see his average and wonder how a guy could be hitting so low but be so productive," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "From runs to big hits to RBIs to home runs, every other number he has is terrific.
"That probably highlights the fact that batting average is way down the scale of how you evaluate a player. You look at runs scored and runs knocked in. Not only has he been knocking them in, but at key moments."
Views: I'm glad to hear that Scioscia de-emphasizes batting average in his evaluation of players. Although he points to runs scored and RBI as the more important measures, what he really is saying (without doing so) is that Finley's batting average on balls in play is artificially low while his power and plate discipline are basically in line with his career norms--points that I made last week.
Steve Finley: OF, 40, LAA, .149/.227/.322. Although Finley has perhaps the worst rate stats of anyone, I suspect he is the most likely player of them all to end up with numbers closer to his seasonal average. Why? Well, for one, he is in outstanding shape. Two, his HR, ISO, SEC, and BB rates are all in line or better than his career norm. Three, Steve has stolen four bases in five attempts, suggesting he hasn't lost much, if any, speed. Come October, I think Finley's numbers will be just fine.
News: On Tuesday, May 3, Josh Towers throws a three-hit shutout for eight innings against the Baltimore Orioles, the best-hitting team in baseball in 2005.
Views: I have always been intrigued by Towers because he throws strikes. More often than not, good things happen when you don't walk batters. The Toronto starter has walked two and struck out 25 in 35 1/3 innings. He is on pace to give up 11 BB in 187 IP. Since 1900, no pitcher has given up so few walks throwing 150 or more innings.
Since the 6'1", 188-pound right-hander signed as a free agent with the Blue Jays in November 2002, he is 18-11 with a 4.40 ERA in 204 IP as a starter. J.P. Ricciardi has gotten a lot of value out of the pitcher making $358,000 this year.
Towers reminds me of Bob Tewksbury and Jon Lieber. Like Tewksbury and Lieber, Towers almost always gives up more hits than innings--the tradeoff for being around the plate so often and not having much in the way of a strikeout pitch. Interestingly, Tewks and Lieber didn't really come into their own until they turned 29, which Towers will be on his next birthday in February.
News: In a recent chat at Baseball Prospectus, Nate Silver answered a question--Is their (sic) a point at which strikeouts presage a problem translating hitting ability to the majors?--by saying the following:
Here's a secret: strikeouts are a good thing for a young power hitter.
Views: Well, what I'm about to say isn't a secret. In fact, it is a well-documented fact. Strikeouts are not a good thing for a young power hitter.
Silver went on to explain, "Let's reverse things for a moment and think of things this way: if Adam Dunn hits .266 and slugs .569 in a year in which he strikes out 195 times, that means he's absolutely murdering the ball those times that he does make contact. In other words, *if* he's able to improve his ability to hit for contact at all, the upside is real, real high as compared with, say, Sean Burroughs or someone."
I'm not saying Dunn doesn't have more upside *if* he cuts back on his strikeouts than Burroughs. That's a given. In fact, I don't see any value added in that argument at all. I'm also not saying that Dunn, strikeouts or no strikeouts, isn't a better hitter than Burroughs. I don't think you will find many people on the side of the San Diego third baseman in such a debate.
What I'm saying is that strikeouts are NOT a good thing for a young power hitter despite Nate's claim to the contrary. All else being equal, you would always prefer a young power hitter who doesn't strike out over a young power hitter who does strike out. And my statement is coming from someone who doesn't think strikeouts are nearly as bad as the general public believes.
Young power hitters who strike out a lot can be good players. Young power hitters who don't strike out often are almost always great players.
The major league burial grounds are filled with players such as Billy Ashley, Roger Freed, Phil Hiatt, Sam Horn, Dave Hostetler, and Hensley Meulens. I could list many, many more but limited the names to a half-dozen of the higher-profile names that have come along in the past couple of decades. More to the point, there are hundreds of unknowns out there who never even got a sniff of the big leagues because they simply didn't make enough contact to get a chance.
Look no further than active players Joe Borchard, Jack Cust, Bobby Estalella, Bucky Jacobsen, Brandon Larson, Ryan Ludwick, Eric Munson, and Calvin Pickering as further evidence of young power hitters who are having a difficult time making the transition from the minors to the majors. I'm even skeptical as to whether Dallas McPherson and Wily Mo Pena will be as good as advertised. Josh Phelps, a one-time Baseball Prospectus coverboy, has a huge hole in his swing and is unlikely to be anything more than a mediocre DH on a poor team.
All else being equal, the goal is to find power hitters who don't strike out. Active players who meet this criteria include Barry Bonds, Brian Giles, Vladimir Guerrero, Todd Helton, Magglio Ordonez, Albert Pujols, Gary Sheffield, and Frank Thomas (circa 1993-1997). I'm also high on Aramis Ramirez, who hit 36 HR last year while reducing his SO from 99 in 2003 to 62 in 2004.
One of the weaknesses of the sabermetric community is that we don't challenge each other often enough. By allowing such comments to pass without addressing them adds to the conflict between scouts vs. stats or scouting vs. performance analysis. Nate is an excellent analyst, but he is off base on this subject.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]