Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Starting 9

Hello! This is Jerry Crasnick, and I'm making a guest post here on Fire Jay Mariotti to present my weekly Starting 9!

Doubles. Home runs. Hits. Everything-but-sacrifices-walks-and-beanballs. What do all of these things have in common? You need to have an at-bat to accumulate ANY of them! It's a little-known fact that Jimmy Rollins set the MLB record for at-bats last season with 716, and propelled by his ability to get up to that plate and log at-bats at a tremendous pace, he won an MVP award. Also, when you go to MLB.com and go to the "Sortable Player Stats" page, how are all the players sorted by default? That's right. At-bats. No question they're important.

This week's edition of "Starting 9" takes a position-by-position look at the players who are the current frontrunners to take the at-bat crown by storm. In addition, we're going to assign a rating to each player on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being, "Hey, this guy's totally overachieving at-bat-wise, he has no prayer of keeping this up" nand 10 being, "Don't look now, Rollins, your record's in severe jeopardy!"

1. Ivan Rodriguez, Tigers C
(89 ABs, 1 triple)

Okay, so there were actually 3 guys who were worthy of the catcher's slot on this list. Brian McCann of Atlanta and Kurt Suzuki of Oakland both had the same number of at-bats. So why choose Rodriguez? Well, Rodriguez has logged his impressive 89 ABs in the fewest plate appearances of the three, needing only 98 (ouch, Brian McCann's 99). Rodriguez is simply one of the most effective players in the game at logging an at-bat when he gets up to that dish. However, his decline in effectiveness is concerning. He's already drawn 5 walks this year (he drew 9 all of last season), and he's even gotten hit by a pitch twice.

At-Bat Rating: 4 I-Rod has impressed the world by getting more than 500 ABs in each of his last 5 seasons. But he's a catcher, and while he's durable, he won't be able to log enough at-bats to be among the league leaders at season's end. Plus, he's batted near the top of the order plenty due to Curtis Granderson's early injury. That won't keep now that Granderson is back.

2. Derrek Lee, Cubs 1B
(103 ABs, 1 intentional walk)

You've gotta feel uneasy about this one. Lee seems to have it all. He bats 3rd in a lineup that scores a lot of runs. He has all the job security in the world. He draws an above-average, but not insane amount of those at-bat killing walks. So why worry? Well, as we know, Lee is fairly injury prone. You can't rack up at-bats from a stretcher. Plus, the steady Mark Teixeira is right on his heels, needing only one more at-bat to pull even with Lee. And Teixeira gets like 4 or 5 of those every game! Best of luck, Derrek.

At-Bat Rating: 2. If he's leading first basemen in at-bats when this season is done, I'll eat my hat. Luckily my hat is made out of candy.

3. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox 2B
(111 ABs, 44 Total Bases)

Another one of those plate-appearance tiebreakers. Mark Ellis also has 111, but he's got one fewer plate appearance. Plus, there's something else that Pedroia has going for him. He's a leadoff hitter in a potent lineup. He's going to get a lot of At-Bat opportunities. Mark Ellis is only batting 2nd, and Oakland's lineup is more in a state of flux than that of the Red Sox. The fans love him, and he has all the job security in the world.

"Pedroia keeps himself in the best shape possible to avail himself to at-bat opportunities in every game," said one MLB scout. "You don't find that kind of determination in just anybody."

At-Bat Rating: 8.5. Good health + good lineup + best lineup spot for at-bats = Pedroia's got something special working for him in this category.

4. Cristian Guzman, Nationals SS
(110 ABs, 38 Groundouts)

Cristian Guzman being talked about for leading an offensive category? You betcha. Guzman has logged 4 more at-bats than the next closest shortstop in two less games. There's no question that this has been what has enabled Guzman to be 4th in the majors among shortstops in the "hits" category. What's the secret? Well for starters, he's a 2-hole hitter. Also, his at-bat efficiency is startlingly good. Guzman has logged 110 at-bats in 116 plate appearances. That's nearly a 95% clip, and it's his absolute refusal to draw a walk that helps him. Take a free pass? No sir! This guy's going to earn his way on!

At-Bat Rating: 6.5. Guzman, despite his awesome at-bat propelled start, has historically not been very good at baseball, and job security is all I'm worrying about here. He could tank. But MLB pitchers are just not afraid of him, and will rarely walk him with Zimmerman and Johnson right behind him.

5. Kevin Kouzmanoff, Padres 3B
(113 ABs, .327 SLG)

Ladies and gentlemen, your current 2008 at-bat champion of the world! Kouz leads fellow 3rd basemen Garrett Atkins by one at-bat, despite drawing one more walk (3) than Atkins (2). Kouzmanoff has not had less than 4 at-bats in a game since April 7th, and that stretch includes a stunning 9-at-bat performance in the seemingly endless game against Colorado on April 17th.

"His ability," commented teammate Jake Peavy, "to stay in the lineup that day was remarkable. He never got pinch ran for, never got double-switched. It was almost as if he was willing [Bud Black] to keep running him out there. And what did he do? Led the team in hits."

At-Bat Rating: 1.5. There's no way that Kouz can continue to avoid the base-on-balls. He's always been good at that, but never THIS good. Also, if he continues to perform this poorly, Chase Headley may threaten his starting job. And let's not forget, 22 inning games are a fluke.

6. Carl Crawford, Rays LF
(110 AB, 1 Caught Stealing)

Crawford leads all outfielders in at-bats despite trailing his closest competitors for that title in games played. He's a very exciting player who hasn't had less than 584 at-bats in the past 5 years. Crawford is also younger than you might think (26) and doesn't seem to have the off-field problems of other Rays (a bar fight, Al Reyes? Really?) and former Rays. Being the face of the franchise won't hurt his playing time. Oh and lets not forget the best part: 2 walks this year. Crawford has only been to the plate 113 times. That's the highest efficiency on this list.

At-Bat Rating: 8. Crawford has had a history of walkophobia, and as a fan-favorite who finds himself in the 3-hole, there's reason to believe he'll shatter his personal single-season games played record of 156. Keep your eyes on this one, America.

7. Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners CF
(109 ABs, 434 pitches seen)

Absolutely no suprise here. Suzuki has only missed 3 games over the last 4 seasons. His single-season at-bat record is 704, which only falls 12 shy of Rollins's monstrous seven-one-six. He has never logged less than 647 in a season. He'd be in the At-Bat Hall of Fame had he not joined the majors at the relatively old age of 27. Suzuki is a Mariners icon, and can pretty much be cemented in that leadoff hole for every game of the season. If the Mariners' offense can keep the line moving (I'm looking at YOU, Sexson), this guy has the best chance in baseball to record 717 at-bats.

At-Bat Rating: 10. There is absolutely nothing not to like here.

8. Jeff Francoeur, Braves RF
(102 ABs, 0.0 SB%)

Okay, right field must be some sort of at-bat void. Francoeur is 7th in the league among outfielders, and first among the starboard variety. Little known fact about Francoeur: he appeared in every Braves game in 2006 and 2007. However, the fact that his spot is further down in the batting order than most of the others on this list has crippled him. Despite a superbly low amount of walks, Frenchy's brief career high in at-bats is 651. He's as good a bet as any to land over 630 at-bats this season, but his odds at coming anywhere near the league lead are almost nil.

At-Bat Rating: 5. He's consistently good at racking up the at-bats, but until they start putting him higher in the batting order, this guy's got no shot at the crown.

9. Micah Owings, Diamondbacks P
(18 AB .865 OPS)

Man, can this guy flat out HIT! If there's one thing Owings has shown, it's that his bat might belong in the lineup more than once every five games. He's the best hitting pitcher of this generation, and for that reason, it's clear that he's the frontrunner for the at-bat crown amongst pitchers. There's simply little reason to pinch hit for him. However, as you may have guessed, his ability to keep getting at-bats is reliant on his ability to get hitters out on the mound. Not getting pinch-hit for is one thing, avoiding getting the hook on the other side of the ball is quite another.

At-Bat Rating: 1. So long as he's a pitcher and only a pitcher, he'll be among the best hurlers at raking up at-bats, but when's the last time a pitcher has been even close to the league lead?


David Ortiz, Red Sox DH
(96 AB, 6 doubles)

Even I can learn something new and uninteresting. Apparently, DHs aren't high at-bat guys. Ortiz has struggled with his offense overall thus far, but those at-bats are sure to come rolling in, as Boston refuses to lose faith in him. Boston needing to play games at National League parks further prevent him from coming close to the record.

At-Bat Rating: 1.5. Far, far too many walks, there David.

Well that's all from me, FireJay! Thanks for letting me stop on by!

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com. He swears he has said something interesting in his life. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. He is the 2-time winner of the Paul DePodesta Trophy, given to the person working at ESPN who looks up a lot of stats, but doesn't have much else to say. He was featured on the cover of "Useless Weekly Column" magazine. Jerry can be reached via e-mail

I can't remember for the life of me why I thought that was worth my time.


Bengoodfella said...

I actually really appreciated this post and laughed at it a lot. I do love a good satire column.

If it was not a satire and I completely missed the point, then I was just kidding above. The sad part is I actually believe this is a column that he would put up. It seems logical that a person with more at bats would have a better chance to have better numbers, but I guess logic is not always reality.

pnoles said...

Haha good, glad to hear it had some purpose :p.