Thursday, June 25, 2009

Richard Griffin Is Clogging Up Your Toilet

Somebody get a plunger!

This is a short one from Richard Griffin's mailbag last week:

Q: Hi Richard,

In your opinion, what were the five worst contracts ever given out by the Jays? I'm thinking Wells' contract may end up being number one. Not only can't he hit when it matters, he is virtually untradeable unless we can buzz him into a Red Sox vs. Yanks commodity.

Martin Haurilak, Toronto

A: The Jays have given away some dandy contracts over the years. In my mind, here is the Top 7 in terms of squandered cash – relative to the time. I won’t put Wells on that list yet because the jury might still be considered out, given that he has time to regroup....

I've skipped Nos. 1-6--not really anything problematic there. But...

...7. Frank Thomas (’07-’08). 29 HR, 106 RBI. Two years, $18.1 million. The Big Hurt was as one-dimensional as you can get by the time he got to the Jays. Ricciardi signed him a year too late. He clogged the bases and the lineup and was released after he could no longer play every day.

(emphasis mine)

Depending on whom you believe, the phrase "clogging up the basepaths" was either coined by current Reds manager Dusty Baker or ESPN analyst John Kruk (along with former ESPN analyst Harold Reynolds). What does it mean? Basically, it is a derisive term that some baseball people use when they complain that big, lumbering sluggers take too many walks instead of driving in runs. When analysts use the term, they are typically criticizing players who are slow, but despite being slow they do a good job of getting on base in the first place.

Case in point: the example above. Griffin says that the Toronto Blue Jays' 7th-worst signing during their 32-year existence was Frank Thomas back in 2007-08, because Thomas "clogged the bases."

For the Blue Jays in 2007, 39 year-old Frank Thomas had a .377 OBP and slugged .480 in 155 games (.857 OPS). His OPS+ was 125, meaning that The Big Hurt was 25% better than the league average in 2007. This for a 39-year old! Thomas led the team in OPS (discounting Matt Stairs, who had a .917 OPS with only 405 plate appearances).

Thomas was not as good in 2008. He got off to a slow start with Toronto (.167/.306/.333 in 72 AB). The Blue Jays released him after 16 games, at least partly because Toronto didn't want to pay Thomas a $10 million bonus after he reached a certain number of plate appearances.

The point is, Frank Thomas was the Blue Jays' leading hitter in 2007. And the idea that Thomas was a "one dimensional player" who "clogged the bases" is idiotic. Thomas was a power hitter who got on base--which is exactly what he was his entire career. True, he probably didn't go first-to-third on a single too many times during the 2007 season, but that deficiency pales in importance to the idea of getting on base in the first place!

Perhaps Griffin would rather that Thomas had been more like Vernon Wells, who had a mighty .245/.304/.402 (OPS+ of 85) line in 2007. Wells did steal 10 bases, so presumably he did not clog the bases--when he was able to actually get on base.

Don't get me wrong--speed is great, and quite valuable. If I were putting together a baseball team, I'd want every player I had to be fast. But I'd rather that every player be good at getting on base--i.e., not making outs--and if I had to sacrifice speed for that, so be it. And I'm thinking my team would be pretty good.

Certainly better than any team Richard Griffin could put together.

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