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2009 OQ REPORT

2009 OFFENSIVE LEADERS BY POSITION

AMERICAN LEAGUE  
     
C Joe Mauer  
1B Mark Teixeira  
2B Ben Zobrist  
SS Jason Bartlett  
3B Alex Rodriguez  
LF Jason Bay  
CF Torii Hunter  
RF J.D. Drew  
DH Jason Kubel  


NATIONAL LEAGUE  
     
C Brian McCann  
1B Albert Pujols  
2B Chase Utley  
SS Hanley Ramirez  
3B Mark Reynolds  
LF Ryan Braun  
CF Andrew McCutchen  
RF Brad Hawpe  

Bold
indicates 2008 leaders.

To qualify for this list, a player must play at least half his team’s games at the defensive position indicated.

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2009 AMERICAN LEAGUE OQ LEADERS

 
Rank
 
Player
Team
OQ
 
 
 
 
 
 
1
 
Mauer
MIN
161
 
 
2
 
Zobrist
TAM
144
 
 
3
 
Youkilis
BOS
141
 
 
4
 
Rodriguez
NY
139
 
 
5
 
Teixeira
NY
137
 
 
6
 
Drew
BOS
136
 
 
7
 
Bay
BOS
136
 
 
8
 
Cabrera
DET
136
 
 
9
 
Lind
TOR
132
 
 
10
 
Morales
LA
130
 
 
 
 
 
 
11
 
Pena
TAM
130
 
 
12
 
Kubel
MIN
129
 
 
13
 
Swisher
NY
128
 
 
14
 
Morneau
MIN
126
 
 
15
 
Longoria
TAM
126
 
 
16
 
Matsui
NY
125
 
 
17
 
Young
TEX
124
 
 
18
 
Choo
CLE
124
 
 
19
 
Bartlett
TAM
122
 
 
20
 
Hunter
LA
122
 
 
 
 
 
 
21
 
Branyan
SEA
122
 
 
22
 
Overbay
TOR
121
 
 
23
 
Martinez
CLE/BOS
121
 
 
24
 
Jeter
NY
121
 
 
25
 
Damon
NY
120
 
 
26
 
Abreu
LA
119
 
 
27
 
Cruz
TEX
119
 
 
28
 
Cuddyer
MIN
118
 
 
29
 
Butler
KC
117
 
 
30
 
Cano
NY
116
 
 
 
 
 
 
31
 
Scott
BAL
115
 
 
32
 
Konerko
CHI
115
 
 
33
 
Pedroia
BOS
112
 
 
34
 
Suzuki
SEA
111
 
 
35
 
Figgins
LA
111
 
 
36
 
Roberts
BAL
110
 
 
37
 
Kinsler
TEX
110
 
 
38
 
Scutaro
TOR
110
 
 
39
 
Cust
OAK
110
 
 
40
 
Ortiz
BOS
109
 
 
 
 
 
 
41
 
Hill
TOR
109
 
 
42
 
Callaspo
KC
109
 
 
43
 
Span
MIN
109
 
 
44
 
Ordonez
DET
109
 
 
45
 
Dye
CHI
108
 
 
46
 
Sizemore
CLE
108
 
 
47
 
Crawford
TAM
108
 
 
48
 
Rivera
LA
107
 
 
49
 
Markakis
BAL
106
 
 
50
 
Granderson
DET
105
 
 
 
 
 
 
51
 
Cabrera
CLE
105
 
 
52
 
Byrd
TEX
104
 
 
53
 
Jones
BAL
103
 
 
54
 
DeJesus
KC
102
 
 
55
 
Ellsbury
BOS
98
 
 
56
 
Gutierrez
SEA
98
 
 
57
 
Aybar
LA
97
 
 
58
 
Kennedy
OAK
97
 
 
59
 
Cabrera
NY
97
 
 
60
 
Podsednik
CHI
97
 
 
 
 
 
 
61
 
Sweeney
OAK
97
 
 
62
 
Lopez
SEA
96
 
 
63
 
Pierzynski
CHI
94
 
 
64
 
Blalock
TEX
94
 
 
65
 
Ramirez
CHI
92
 
 
66
 
Teahen
KC
92
 
 
67
 
Inge
DET
91
 
 
68
 
Suzuki
OAK
90
 
 
69
 
Wells
TOR
90
 
 
70
 
Polanco
DET
89
 
 
 
 
 
 
71
 
Huff
BAL/DET
88
 
 
72
 
Upton
TAM
87
 
 
73
 
Andrus
TEX
87
 
 
74
 
Peralta
CLE
86
 
 
75
 
Cabrera
OAK/MIN
86
 
 
76
 
Rios
TOR/CHI
85
 
 
77
 
Betancourt
SEA/KC
73
 

The 2009 American League base-to-out ratio was .718.

This list includes every player who had at least 3 (at bats + walks) for each game his team played.

OQs of selected nonqualifiers, American League: Jose Bautista TOR 105, Gordon Beckham CHI 109, Adrian Beltre SEA 80, Pat Burrell TAM 90, Chris Davis TEX 92, Jason Giambi OAK 95, Ken Griffey SEA 102, Vladimir Guerrero LA 101, Travis Hafner CLE 113, Josh Hamilton TEX 95, Matt Holliday OAK 114, Mike Jacobs KC 89, Andruw Jones TEX 110, Howie Kendrick LA 98, Mike Lowell BOS 108, Melvin Mora BAL 82, David Murphy TEX 107, Jorge Posada NY 126, Carlos Quentin CHI 99, Ryan Raburn DET 124, Nolan Reimold BAL 115, Scott Rolen TOR 113, Marcus Thames DET 105, Jim Thome CHI 129, Matt Wieters BAL 96, Ty Wigginton BAL 87, Delmon Young MIN 89.

Back to the top

2009 NATIONAL LEAGUE OQ LEADERS

 
Rank
 
Player
Team
OQ
 
 
 
 
 
1
 
Pujols
STL
186
 
 
2
 
Fielder
MIL
164
 
 
3
 
Gonzalez,A
SD
154
 
 
4
 
Votto
CIN
154
 
 
5
 
Lee
CHI
151
 
 
6
 
Dunn
WAS
147
 
 
7
 
Berkman
HOU
144
 
 
8
 
Ramirez
FLA
143
 
 
9
 
Tulowitzki
COL
142
 
 
10
 
Helton
COL
141
 
 
 
 
 
11
 
Sandoval
SF
140
 
 
12
 
Howard
PHI
140
 
 
13
 
Hawpe
COL
138
 
 
14
 
Braun
MIL
137
 
 
15
 
Utley
PHI
134
 
 
16
 
Ibanez
PHI
133
 
 
17
 
Reynolds
ARI
132
 
 
18
 
Upton
ARI
132
 
 
19
 
Werth
PHI
132
 
 
20
 
Zimmerman
WAS
132
 
 
 
 
 
21
 
Johnson
WAS/FLA
127
 
 
22
 
Jones,C
ATL
126
 
 
23
 
Ethier
LA
126
 
 
24
 
Willingham
WAS
126
 
 
25
 
LaRoche,Ad
PIT/ATL
124
 
 
26
 
Wright
NY
123
 
 
27
 
McCutchen
PIT
121
 
 
28
 
Coghlan
FLA
121
 
 
29
 
Blake
LA
121
 
 
30
 
Uggla
FLA
119
 
 
 
 
 
31
 
Fukudome
CHI
119
 
 
32
 
Kemp
LA
119
 
 
33
 
McCann
ATL
118
 
 
34
 
Pence
HOU
116
 
 
35
 
Lee
HOU
115
 
 
36
 
Lopez
STL/MIL
115
 
 
37
 
Cameron
MIL
114
 
 
38
 
Prado
ATL
114
 
 
39
 
Escobar
ATL
113
 
 
40
 
McLouth
PIT/ATL
111
 
 
 
 
 
41
 
Victorino
PHI
111
 
 
42
 
Fowler
COL
111
 
 
43
 
Hudson
LA
107
 
 
44
 
Cantu
FLA
107
 
 
45
 
Ross
FLA
105
 
 
46
 
Loney
LA
105
 
 
47
 
Ludwick
STL
105
 
 
48
 
Phillips
CIN
105
 
 
49
 
Tejada
HOU
103
 
 
50
 
Schumaker
STL
102
 
 
 
 
 
51
 
Drew
ARI
102
 
 
52
 
Castillo
NY
102
 
 
53
 
Molina
STL
100
 
 
54
 
Headley
SD
100
 
 
55
 
Bourn
HOU
99
 
 
56
 
Murphy
NY
99
 
 
57
 
Morgan
PIT/WAS
99
 
 
58
 
Young
ARI
99
 
 
59
 
Soriano
CHI
97
 
 
60
 
LaRoche,An
PIT
97
 
 
 
 
 
61
 
Barmes
COL
96
 
 
62
 
Rollins
PHI
95
 
 
63
 
Furcal
LA
94
 
 
64
 
Rowand
SF
94
 
 
65
 
Rasmus
STL
94
 
 
66
 
Francoeur
ATL/NY
93
 
 
67
 
Molina
SF
93
 
 
68
 
Theriot
CHI
92
 
 
69
 
Kouzmanoff
SD
92
 
 
70
 
Anderson
ATL
91
 
 
 
 
 
71
 
Martin
LA
90
 
 
72
 
Feliz
PHI
88
 
 
73
 
Winn
SF
87
 
 
74
 
Guzman
WAS
85
 
 
75
 
Matsui
HOU
83
 
 
76
 
Eckstein
SD
81
 
 
77
 
Renteria
SF
80
 
 
78
 
Kendall
MIL
78
 
 
79
 
Bonifacio
FLA
74
 

The 2009 National League base-to-out ratio was .688.

This list includes every player who had at least 3 (at bats + walks) for each game his team played.

OQs of selected nonqualifiers, National League: Rick Ankiel STL 86, Carlos Beltran NY 140, Kyle Blanks SD 123, Geoff Blum HOU 88, Milton Bradley CHI 110, Jay Bruce CIN 108, Matt Diaz ATL 123, Elijah Dukes WAS 101, Jake Fox CHI 105, Brian Giles SD 69, Jonny Gomes CIN 126, Corey Hart MIL 102, Jeremy Hermida FLA 102, Matt Holliday STL 161, Garrett Jones PIT 143, Casey McGehee MIL 124, Lastings Milledge WAS/PIT 86, Miguel Montero ARI 117, Brandon Moss PIT 86, Laynce Nix CIN 105, Angel Pagan NY 117, Gerardo Parra ARI 94, Juan Pierre LA 97, Aramis Ramirez CHI 129, Manny Ramirez LA 150, Scott Rolen CIN 108, Gary Sheffield NY 121, Ian Stewart COL 112, Willy Taveras CIN 63, Juan Uribe SF 114, Will Venable SD 103.

Did you notice that the top 7 qualifiers for the 2009 National League OQ championship all play first base? After that you have 2 shortstops, then 3 more first basemen. That’s the most striking concentration of offensive productivity at one defensive position that I can remember. (Not a single outfielder, in either league, had a 140 season. Wonder if that’s a first.)

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MEASURING BATTING SKILL, REVISITED

Throughout most of the twentieth century we would have described the Yankees’ Brett Gardner as “a .270 hitter.” That would have told us something about Gardner’s ability to get a hit, but nothing about his ability to reach base by means other than a hit, or about his ability to hit for power. Now it is common to show, next to a player’s name, a “line” of 3 three-digit percentages (batting average, on-base average, slugging average).

2009 Brett Gardner .270/.345/.379.

Another statistic increasingly in use is OPS, the sum of on-base average and slugging average.

2009 Brett Gardner .724.

Lately I have been seeing a lot of what is called OPS+. This measures a player’s OPS against the league average. It is expressed without a decimal point, so a player with a 100 OPS+ is an average major league hitter. So we could say Brett Gardner had a 95 OPS+ in 2009, or a -5 OPS+. (I’ve seen it expressed both ways.)

By the way, Brett Gardner’s 2009 OQ was 92.

I’m happy that at last the pundits, by embracing OPS+, are beginning to normalize the raw percentages by comparing them to the league averages. That’s an innovation the OQ pioneered in the early 1990s, and it’s crucial to enabling comparisons of players from different eras. Both OPS+ and OQ tell us who outperformed their peers and by how much.

I still prefer the OQ to OPS+ because I regard base-to-out ratio (BTOR) as more comprehensible and meaningful than OPS. But I haven’t beaten the OQ drum loudly enough for the pundits to hear, and I’m not optimistic that the OQ will enter the mainstream of statistical analysis anytime soon.

The internet has accelerated the development of more sophisticated measurements of events that occur in baseball games. New ground is broken every year, especially in the measurement of fielding skill. While I applaud this trend, I can’t foresee a day when the OQ will cease to be a useful evaluative tool. And it’s simple enough for a child to understand, which I think is a good thing.

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STOP MAKING OUTS

J. D. Drew is one of the most maligned players in baseball. Players who perform with an emotionless demeanor are rarely appreciated, but the problem is deeper than that. Fans resent anybody they believe is overpaid, and they dislike Drew because he has a big contract but doesn’t drive in a lot of runs.

Boston has prospered with Drew in the lineup, so how bad can he be? Boston general manager Theo Epstein concurs. “He’s playing really good defense in right field. He deserves an awful lot of credit for that…. Based on his skill set, he’s always going to have underwhelming RBI totals. I couldn’t care less.”

“J.D. scores a ton of runs. And the reason he scores a ton of runs is because he does the single most important thing you can do in baseball as an offensive player, and that’s not make outs. He’s usually among the league leaders in on-base percentage. And he’s a really good base runner. Look at his runs scored on a rate basis throughout his career. It’s outstanding.”

Drew is the kind of player whose talents the OQ illuminates. And those who undervalue his contributions need to remember that Drew has shown the world that he can deliver a clutch grand slam every so often.

Drew is the type of patient hitter who “draws walks.” The value of that skill is still being debated. I would point out that a batter does not need to draw walks. What a batter needs to do is lay off bad pitches. The effective batter does not seek a walk but will settle for a walk if he can’t get a pitch he can drive for distance. “He draws walks” should read, “He is disciplined enough not to swing at bad pitches.” A walk is better than an out!

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CATCHING YESTERDAY AND TODAY

As I endure another round of tortuously slow postseason games, I’m reminded of something Peter Morris told an interviewer earlier this year: “What today’s baseball fans rarely realize is that baseball was originally a sport with fast-paced, non-stop action.

“Catchers snapped the ball back to the pitcher, and if the batter stepped out of the box or even looked like he wasn’t paying attention, the pitcher would try to sneak a pitch past him. While every sport has timeouts, only baseball has unlimited timeouts, and I think some limit should be put on them. There’s no good reason that a batter should be allowed to step out and take as long as he wants after every pitch. Then you could put and enforce similar restrictions on the pitcher, as well as limiting the number of pickoff throws per at bat.”

Makes sense to me. Morris, by the way, may be the nation’s foremost authority on nineteenth century baseball. His latest book is Catcher: How The Man Behind The Plate Became An American Folk Hero (Ivan R. Dee, 2009). In it Morris traces the evolution of the position and its public perception from the game’s earliest days, when the catcher was regarded as the most important man on the field, through the Deadball Era of the early twentieth century. The breadth and depth of Morris’s research, and the liveliness of his writing, demonstrate to readers that they can know the nineteenth century game and ought to take the trouble to learn about it. Even the most knowledgeable fan will be entertained and will find something he didn’t know on practically every page.

As we near the second decade of the twenty-first century, Minnesota’s Joe Mauer is clearly the best of a quintet of stellar young catchers that includes Russell Martin, Brian McCann, Yadier Molina, and Miguel Montero. (Why do all their surnames begin with the letter M? I don’t know, you tell me.)

Mauer has now topped the American League in batting average three times and was 2009’s American League OQ leader. These achievements are unprecedented for a catcher. Mauer is that rarest and most sought-after of players: a good defensive catcher who can hit. It would not surprise me, however, if his catching days were numbered. He caught just 109 games in 2009 and was DHing a lot down the stretch.

Mauer has now caught 5 full seasons. He will be 27 next April, and I have read speculation that the Twins will move him to the outfield in the not-too-distant future, just as the Brewers moved 28-year-old B.J. Surhoff after 6 catching seasons a generation ago. Spared the rigors of catching, Surhoff was a productive major leaguer through age 40.

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RAISING THE CEILING

Catcher Ivan Rodriguez will turn 38 next month. After catching 90 games for the Astros and 25 for the Rangers, he is now the career leader in games caught (2288), games started (2210), complete games (1953), and losses (1067). His 1137 wins rank second behind Carlton Fisk’s 1139. In the season just completed, Rodriguez became just the seventh catcher in baseball history to catch at least 100 games at age 37.

Setting an all-time durability record at baseball’s most strenuous defensive position was a remarkable feat that bears comparison to the consecutive-game record of Cal Ripken, but it was curiously uncelebrated. I can think of a few reasons for that: Rodriguez is Puerto Rican, hasn’t played in major media markets (except for two months with the Yankees in 2008), and has been linked (convincingly in my view) to performance-enhancing drugs.

After Rodriguez broke Fisk’s record on June 17 it was reported that Houston manager Cecil Cooper delayed his congratulations by one day. Apparently Cooper’s tardiness so offended the Astros players that the incident was cited as a major factor in Cooper’s dismissal in September, weeks after the Astros jettisoned Rodriguez. This impressed me as one of the odder stories of 2009.

Rodriguez is now a free agent. Once he was a perennial All-Star, but those days will never return. He is no longer a potent offensive force (82 OQ in Houston, 81 in Texas). His 2009 won-lost record was 55-56 with 4 no-decisions, remarkably similar to his 52-54-6 mark in 2008.

I have a curious suspicion that I will again see this catching star. I-Rod is now a middle-of-the-pack receiver, and I believe he’ll be signed by a middle-of-the-pack ballclub (perhaps Texas) in 2010. He is lean now, not bulked up. He is popular with fans and wise enough not to demand top dollar for his diminished services. He has been a high-profile performer for two decades, and we’re going to be able to enjoy him a bit longer.

Milwaukee’s Jason Kendall, incidentally, will (barring injury) become in 2010 the second catcher to lose 1000 games. Kendall will be 35 on Opening Day.

As a final note on catchers, here’s further proof that contemporary sportswriters believe that baseball time began the day they were born. Joe Posnanski recently opined, “Johnny Bench to me still battles Yogi for that spot as the greatest catcher in baseball history (with apologies to Piazza and Pudge Rodriguez).” Hey, Joe, ever hear of Mickey Cochrane? How about Roy Campanella? I’d take either of those guys over the four you cite, distinguished as they are, with no apologies.

I’ll go further. I’ll take Cochrane and Lefty Grove (teammates on the 1925-33 Philadelphia Athletics) and any major league players you want at the other seven positions, and you take any historical battery (e.g. Pedro Martinez and Jason Varitek) plus the same seven extras. We’ll play a simulated series. My team, with Cochrane and Grove, will beat yours 55% of the time.

(How did that song go? “Connie, Connie, oh Connie Mack, when are you comin back?”)

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MANNY ISN’T MANNY ANY MORE

Manny Ramirez’s season gave us a rare opportunity to quantify the effect of steroid use. Man-Ram was giving the Dodgers a 206 OQ before his suspension, not far off the 222 he registered after they picked him up in 2008. After he returned in July, presumably purged of PEDS, his OQ was 132.

With steroids, Manny is Barry Bonds. Without steroids, Manny is a righthanded Raul Ibanez: very good but not great. Manny’s future begins where Raul Ibanez’s future begins. Both are 37 (they were born 3 days apart). But Manny makes a lot more money than Ibanez, and there is no worse defensive left fielder in baseball. Steroid-free Manny has nothing but diminishing returns to offer any team he’s going to play for in 2010.

Do you find it puzzling that millions of fans forgive Manny (not just for his steroid use, but also his loafing and malingering) while they revile Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, and Bonds? I can think of a couple of explanations.

Summoned to the capitol, Palmeiro scolded our nation’s leaders, McGwire refused to answer their questions, and Clemens bristled with indignation. An appearance by Manny before Congress is literally unimaginable. Bonds is a scowling churl. Manny’s typical facial expression is a goofy half-grin. Because he cultivates an image as a “man-child” which the media reinforce, Manny is granted permission to operate in his own moral universe. Fans chuckle at his antics and shake their heads. In Manny’s idiocy they believe they sense a fundamental simplicity and innocence.

In modern childrearing it is fashionable to subject a misbehaving youngster to a “time out,” after which he is restored to the good graces of his parents. Manny was the first star player who, caught transgressing baseball’s new rules governing PED use, submitted to his punishment without a great deal of excuse-making, rationalizing or complaining. Many fans now seem willing to wipe his slate clean.

The panjandrums of baseball had hoped that by 2009 steroid stories would have ceased to be newsworthy. This was wishful thinking. The same people who are telling you the steroids era is over are the ones who told you it didn’t exist in the first place. Performance-enhancing drugs emit a toxic cloud that still hovers about the game. However, the nation’s reservoir of indignity may be now be draining away.

In a letter the Cincinnati Enquirer published on July 15, fan Larry Vogt wrote: “I think we should bring back steroids. That All-Star home run derby Monday was like watching paint dry. It’s a lot more fun for fans when the ball goes out of the park and into the street. I don’t care if they all do performance-enhancing drugs. I just want to see action. Baseball is getting less and less action. And the pitching isn’t getting better.”

It is evident that Vogt doesn’t define “action” quite the way Peter Morris does. For Vogt action means hitting the ball out of the park, and I don’t believe Vogt is atypical. The home run derby the day before the All-Star Game now receives as much media coverage as the game itself.

Recently Bill James predicted that the use of steroids and their descendants will become ubiquitous in our society, and soon. Subsequently, steroid use by athletes will not be stigmatized as immoral but regarded as a practice with no moral implications. I, too, see the wheel of social change turning in this direction.

Although it makes me uneasy, Jose Canseco, reviled and ridiculed now, will be redeemed. Well before mid-century, he will be lauded as a pioneer.

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BASEBALL IN SOMALIA

“He am what is, Mister Radhames Liz.”

I’ll give credit to the marketing geniuses in the Baltimore Orioles front office for a catchy slogan, but they didn’t exactly hitch their wagon to a star. The Dominican righthander went 6-6 in 17 starts last season, and while .500 may not look like much, it was the best winning percentage of any Orioles pitcher with more than 10 decisions. Liz was a fresh face, 25 years old on Opening Day, but his 6.72 ERA of 2008 was an unfortunate harbinger of things to come. In two April appearances Liz got 4 outs but gave up 10 earned runs. That computes to an ERA of 67.50, too high even for Baltimore. The O’s tossed Liz onto their very large dung heap of failed pitching prospects.

As political scientists speak of “failed states,” we can identify baseball’s failed franchises. Baltimore is one of them, along with Kansas City and Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Washington is there now, and Houston is on its way there and maybe San Diego too. These are the organizations that don’t win and won’t win because they can’t identify and procure talent. They can’t distinguish a prospect from a suspect, whether in the front office or on the field.

Failed franchises exasperate and demoralize their fans. Here’s an example, one single play that summed up the Cincinnati Reds’ 2009 season. It happened on August 16. The Reds, playing a Sunday afternoon game at home, were leading Washington 4-3. The Nationals were batting in the eighth with one out, Adam Dunn on second and Josh Willingham on first.

Ryan Zimmerman smacked a line drive to right. Right fielder Chris Dickerson caught the ball, but it popped out of his glove, allowing Dunn to lumber across the plate with the tying run. This was an unhappy outcome for Reds fans, but one they expected as commonplace in the second division.

Then things got much worse. The ball caromed away from Dickerson in the direction of second baseman Drew Sutton, who picked it up while Willingham was rounding third. Instead of running the ball in toward the infield or throwing it in hard, Sutton lobbed the ball lazily to first baseman Joey Votto. Willingham broke for home and scored easily before Votto’s hurried throw reached the plate. This was the final run of the game. The Reds lost 5-4.

This was one of the most flagrant non-hustle plays I’ve ever witnessed, and it cost the home team the ballgame. And who perpetrated this outrage? Drew Sutton was a 26-year-old rookie utility player who had no legitimate claim to a major league roster spot to begin with. He was the player the Reds got stuck with after they gave 2008 shortstop Jeff Keppinger to the Astros. A fan might expect or even tolerate some loafing by a veteran like Ken Griffey Jr or Gary Sheffield who had paid some major league dues. But anyone would think a rookie like Sutton would be trying extra hard to make a good impression, especially when the hitting (84 OQ) and fielding abilities he’d been showing were marginal at best.

For Reds fans, the very worst thing about this game’s sad denouement was the spectacle of Reds players tripping into the dugout with facial expressions and body language that suggested a blasé indifference. The message they conveyed was, “We are all Drew Sutton.” Management, too, reacted to these events with a collective shrug. In his postgame remarks Reds manager Dusty Baker did concede that Sutton’s lob “wasn’t a very heads-up play.”

A few observers might characterize these stoic displays as “professionalism” and find them praiseworthy. But if there were ever a time and place in professional athletics to let disappointment show, wouldn’t this kind of defeat qualify? Isn’t “heads-up” important? Before the game ended Baker should have banished Sutton to the clubhouse to await GM Walt Jocketty’s postgame presentation of a one-way ticket to Palookaville.

Last winter Jocketty, a retired-on-the-job type, trumpeted the signing of free agent center fielder Willy Taveras, already cast off by 3 organizations at the age of 27. Taveras, he insisted, was a “base stealing threat” who would give the Reds a “legitimate leadoff man.” Taveras gave the team 102 games in which he displayed substandard defensive skills while scoring just 56 runs. It is almost inconceivable that anyone who ever played or watched professional baseball could have thought Taveras was helping the team batting at the top of the order with an OQ of 63. Finally, citing a “strained quadriceps muscle,” the team shut him down in August.

Playing in a ballpark that is noticeably hitter-friendly, the Reds scored just 645 runs because Jocketty/Baker insisted on leading off with Taveras and assigning the second spot to offensive ciphers like Adam Rosales (80 OQ), Paul Janish (75), and Alex Gonzalez (66). If you need any of those guys in your lineup, they’ll hurt you least if you bat them eighth. When you bunch your outs at the top of the order, you limit your run production, which means you don’t win. You may as well have your pitchers lead off.

Cincinnati owner Bob Castellini wonders why the Reds don’t draw, why fans aren’t willing to shell out for expensive tickets, parking, and concessions in the name of “supporting their team.” It’s no mystery, Bob: fans are smarter than you give them credit for.

While Cincinnati lurches along with free-agent sows’ ears like Taveras and Gonzalez, another failed franchise, Pittsburgh, alienates its fans with a different but equally hopeless strategy. Pittsburgh trades away its best players and fan favorites for another team’s prospects, then describes these moves as “rebuilding.” If you can’t develop your own players, why should fans believe you can develop another organization’s players?

Failed franchises invariably blame their small-market status for their shortcomings. There is no doubt that as a general rule robust revenues correlate with robust won-lost records. But poorly run big-market teams perform poorly, while astutely run small-market teams can and do compete.

A wise person once said that demography is not destiny. If you must lose, sell hope. Fans will buy hope if you give them a reason to believe in it. When you trot out symbols of hopelessness like Willy Taveras and Drew Sutton, fans stay home.

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GETTING MAD AT BASEBALL

On the eve of the World Series, fan Corey Kendall wrote on some sage’s blog, “We’ve gotten away from discussing the game of baseball itself & all anyone focuses on these days is whatever is wrong with baseball. Between the schedule, the weather, instant replay, the length of baseball games, whatever else crops up during the postseason, that seems to take over from the actual games now. Does anyone actually care about what’s happening on the field anymore? I feel like I’m the only one who still watches baseball for the pure nature of the sport, while the rest of the universe spends all their (time) complaining about anything & everything in baseball…”

“I’m starting to wonder if there will ever be a positive, good-news story about baseball anymore, because it’s all about ‘what’s wrong with baseball’ now. EVERYTHING is wrong with the game, is it? Is there anything left that we can say is good for baseball now?”

Kendall makes an important point. At this time baseball can boast the most frustrated fans in all American sports. The game has become a lightning rod for negativity. Baseball has an All-Star Game: let’s get mad because my favorite didn’t get selected. Baseball has a Hall of Fame: let’s get mad because my favorite didn’t get elected. Baseball has postseason awards (MVP, Cy Young, etc): let’s get mad because my favorite got slighted. Baseball players, encouraged by management and the media, use performance-enhancing drugs. Let’s get mad…

High Commissioner Bud Selig believes he presides over a golden age of baseball because attendance has never been so high. I believe that fans are going to more games but enjoying them less, seeking satisfaction but not receiving it. Rarely, if ever, do I hear football fans grumbling about the aesthetics of twenty-first century football. People seem to like the present-day game of football just fine, and that’s why football is the most popular spectator sport in America.

In the fall baseball and football are played simultaneously. When you watch a football game on television this weekend, you will see advertisements for beer and new cars and trucks. Tune in to a baseball game, where baseball’s two best teams will contest the world championship, and you will see ads for beer and remedies for medical conditions that afflict the middle-aged and the elderly. Baseball today appeals to a demographic whose attachment to it was formed in an era when games were played at a snappier pace, when batters had normal-sized bodies, when pitchers were allowed to complete games and thus enhance their star power, and umpires were better trained and supervised.

As a commentator on baseball, I can’t seem to stop myself from criticizing today’s game although I realize that by doing so I’m helping to pump up this negativity, just as I am heating up the earth (they tell me) whenever I switch on a light bulb or drive my car.

The pleasures of extolling “the good old days” while denigrating the new are overrated. It’s an activity that soon ceases to be amusing. But try as I may, I can’t convince myself that if fans could somehow choose between the baseball I watched as a kid and the article as it exists today, they’d wouldn’t desert today’s ballparks to beg for entrance to that time machine I keep in my memory.

Scoff if you must, but I’ll come out and confess it. I liked games that were decided in less than two and a half hours because batters didn’t step out of the box after every pitch. I’d rather watch a lean, graceful Hank Aaron hit 35 home runs than some HGH-fueled behemoth hit 50 home runs. I’d rather watch Jim Bunning or Camilo Pascual or Bob Gibson or Don Drysdale or Warren Spahn complete games and pitch 270 innings than see talented pitchers hamstrung by “Joba Rules.” I don’t want to see managers change pitchers five times in one inning. And I especially dislike watching World Series games contested by athletes wearing Elmer Fudd hats and/or balaclavas.

The game I watched when I was a boy was the same game my father watched when he was my age. My grandfather watched Deadball Era baseball as a lad but did not mourn the banning of the spitball and preferred the game as it was played throughout his adulthood. Three generations of men in my family enjoyed baseball and shared a sense of continuity. But it is my sad fate to tell my own children and grandchildren that baseball today is not baseball at its best.

I watch baseball to be entertained, stimulated, and inspired, not annoyed. When the deficiencies of the modern game bug me beyond endurance, I dig out my pre-1970 issues of Baseball Digest (in its own golden age when it was edited by the great Herbert Simons) and spend a joyous hour with the game I fell in love with.

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RUMINATIONS

* You take Albert Pujols. I’ll take Albie Pearson. (Just kidding.)

* It astounded me that Florida went 12 games over .500 with Emilio Bonifacio leading off and playing third base. His “intangibles” must be off the charts.

* Jimmy Rollins became the first player in major league history to record TWO 500-out seasons. Rollins also accomplished the feat in 2007, when he produced 47 more runs and recorded an OQ 25 points higher than he did in 2009. But I’ll take his 2009 season, because the Phillies won the National League pennant with Rollins at shortstop. Winning trumps everything!

* Baltimore and Washington would have squared up in this year’s Negative World Series, which would inevitably have been dubbed “The Beltway Series.” In all seriousness, I wonder when I’m going to be able to see genuine stars like Nick Markakis and Ryan Zimmerman in postseason play. They’re trapped as utterly as Floyd Collins was in the 1925 offseason. Free agency was devised to liberate players like these, and for Markakis and Zimmerman, it can’t happen soon enough. Zimmerman is the best third baseman in baseball and the only reason to watch a Washington Nationals game.

* Could there have been, or could there ever be, a conspiracy to fix the Negative World Series? I’ll have to do some serious thinking about that.

* Nyjer Morgan is the new Juan Pierre.

* Who started teaching outfielders to catch fly balls while sliding on their hindquarters? When you find that guy, fire him.

* Aroldis Chapman is Andorra’s gift to baseball. He is now a national hero in his adopted country. But I’m still waiting for the first Andorra-born player to ascend to the major leagues.

* Despite all the talk about Aroldis, don’t be surprised to hear another name intoned quite often once the Hot Stove League begins: Yu Darvish.

* Cubs outfielder Samuel Babson Fuld has a great baseball name, but they’re never going to nickname him “Mister Clutch.” The 29 hits he got this year batted in a grand total of 2 runs, both in a season-ending 5-2 loss to Arizona. Still, Fuld’s 122 OQ in limited duty leads me to suspect he could help the Cubs at the top of the order, even though he doesn’t steal bases. The Cubs have issues in their outfield. Fuld could be part of the solution.

* Nickname of the year: “The Hyphenator” (Seattle LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith). He also happens to be the best Australian player in the major leagues right now.

* Nomar Garciaparra registered an 85 OQ for the also-ran A’s. When he wasn’t languishing on the disabled list he played a little first base and a little third without noticeable distinction. At age 36, his career is probably over. My question: what the heck happened to the guy who was the toast of baseball just 5 years ago? I have no idea, but I’m certain of three things: there is a story, sportswriters know what it is, and they are determined not to write about it.

* Pat Burrell is the Powers Boothe of baseball.

* The ever-philosophical Jonny Gomes uttered my favorite quote of 2009: “Who are we, as ballplayers, without the fans?”

* When in Andorra, stay at the Abba Xalet Suites.

October 2009

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