Monday, April 03, 2006

Of Course It Matters

by Doug Silversten

To get ready for the baseball season, I began reading Scott Gray's The Mind of Bill James
a few days ago. One of the things I love about James' writing is that he often is able to point out things that should be obvious to people but somehow don't get across. In an early one of his now extinct Baseball Abstracts he takes on the Rey Ordonez types. The traditional reasoning, of course, is that it doesn't matter if they don't hit since they make up for it in the field. Here is what James has to say on the matter:

I can’t stand it when people say that if he does the job with the glove it doesn’t matter what he hits. Of course it matters what he hits.... Whenever you hear that when you have one thing, this doesn’t matter or that doesn’t matter, and you’ll hear it fifty times this year, you’re listening to baseball games go flying out the window.

As a Met fan who lived through the Rey Ordonez years, I can relate to the above. And you know what, it is happening again in MetWorld.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the Mets batting order – and where future Hall of Famer David Wright should bat – that everyone has been missing the part of the order which will most critically affect the Mets chances of scoring runs this season: the leadoff spot.

Throughout this season, I’m willing to wager that many pundits will excuse Reyes’ low OBP with statements such as:

“He makes it up on the basespaths.”

“He has one of the best arms at short in the game…and saves tons of runs in the field.”

“His speed distracts the pitcher.”

All in all, you’ll hear countless excuses for why Reyes’ inability to reach base more than 30% of the time is not that critical to the team’s success. They will claim that as long as he steals his 70 bases and performs in the field, it doesn’t matter what he hits.

Of course it matters.

This team is built to win now. Reyes may certainly learn some plate discipline over time, but have him learn it from the 7th or 8th slot. Look, we are not the Royals trying to see what some of our young guys do. We need to put our best lineup out there everyday. And while I believe, like most Met fans, that the health and effectiveness of our starters is key, we don’t have that powerful of an offense to have a leadoff hitter that is the league’s worst. Yes, the worst.

Reyes led the NL in ABs last year...and was 61st in OBP. 61st! And while those 17 triples sure were exciting, they only helped contribute to a weak .386 SLG...good for 55th in the league. Geez, Vinny Castilla reached base more often than Reyes.

Put simply, the Mets cannot afford having a leadoff hitter that gets almost 750 plate appearances reaching base only 30% of the time.

Yes, call me crazy. Tell me Reyes is the future and we need to wait till he develops. You can tell me that, and I am going to tell you are wrong. I hope Reyes develops quickly. I hope he learns how to take a pitch. I hope he gets his OBP to respectable levels. I hope.

However, while I keep hoping, Reyes should not be our leadoff hitter.

Doug Silversten's column appears alternate Mondays


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"I've had a pretty good success facing Stan (Musial) by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third base."
- Carl Erskine