Monday, June 06, 2005

Bernie's Contribution to the Problem

Not a lot of time to write, but I just wanted to graze over an increasingly prevalent subject: the decline of Bernabe Figueroa Williams. Lacking a better place to start, we begin with his vitals, .247/.322/.361. That’s not terrible – for a defensive middle infielder. But Bernie is a center fielder, and was at once a dominant one, putting up a .333/.415/.493 season as recently as 2002. So what has happened to Bern, anyway?

His age is the most obvious factor, but that can’t be everything. Hell, Griffey Jr., a year younger than Bern but much more injury plagued over his career, is putting up better numbers, posting .266/.338/.467. And this is a guy who came close to not homering in the month of April. And really, Griff has been in his decline since heading to the Reds, putting up 40 dingers in 2000 (his last almost full season) and struggling to even halve that in subsequent years.

So why is Griffey, who has been in a decline for nearly four years now, outperforming Bernie, who has been sliding for the past two and the beginning of this one? We can begin with plate discipline. Now, Bernie has always been a decently disciplined hitter, keeping a consistent 2.1 to 2.3 hits per walks ratio, which afforded him a quality OBP every year. Even this year, his 39 hits to 18 walks translates to a 2.17 hits per walks. You wouldn’t know this by watching the games, though. It just seems that every time Bernie gets up, he swings at the first pitch. And, when your skills are in decline and your bat speed just isn’t what it used to be, that’s going to mean a lot of dinky ground ball outs.

This lack of discipline is evident when examining Bern’s pitches seen per at bat. He’s only seeing 3.54 pitches per at bat, which is by far his worst mark since his first full season as a starter in ’93. Even as recently as last year, Bern was near his career high in the category, watching 3.8 pitches per at bat, while putting up a .262/.360/.435 season. Let me just make the connection in case it isn’t obvious at this point. He sees 3.8 pitches per at bat, he has a .360 OBP, which is great given the context of his .262 batting average. He sees 3.5 pitches per at bat, he has a .322 OBP to go with a .247 average.

I’m no sports psychologist, and I certainly have never met Bernie Williams, but I have to make the quick diagnosis that he’s getting over anxious at the plate this year. This is understandable in a way, since he’s not the regular center fielder for the first time basically in his career and wants to prove to himself and his team that he can still produce. The result is him jumping on pitches he should be taking instead of sitting back and waiting for his pitch.

Opposing pitchers seemed to have figured this out, and are throwing Bern junk to start off, hoping he’ll swing away and dink one to an infielder. And for the most part, it has worked. This strategy is especially effective with a man on first, as his dinks to the infield turn into double plays, hence the moniker my friends and I have bestowed upon him: the Double Play Machine. And trust me, he’d have plenty more, but he seems to get up a lot with no men on base, or man on base with two outs. He still hits the dinkers to the infield, but there is no need for a DP.

The solution to this, in my opinion, is to make Bernie a regular facet in the starting lineup. Plate discipline isn’t typically a skill that wanes with age; actually, most hitters develop a better understanding of the strike zone as they get along in years. Bern still knows the zone, but he extends it in his mind because he wants to get into a groove, get his swing back and prove that he can play every day.

Unfortunately, that fat piece of crap Giambi is playing just well enough to stay in the lineup. And by just well enough, I mean JUST well enough. I still don’t understand how Joe doesn’t bench his .237/.375/.351 ass (yes, his slugging percentage is lower than his OBP). Yeah, it’s probably the contract that’s inflated like his muscles on steroids, but honestly, when a team is playing as dismally as the Yanks are now, how can you keep a guy that terrible in the lineup? For Pete’s sake, the guy strikes out almost once every three at bats (3.275 ratio)! In 131 at bats, he has put the ball in play 67 times. Sixty-seven. Yes, you read that correctly. He has BARELY put the ball in play in half of his at bats. Inexcusable.

Let Bernie split time between center field and DH, get Ruben some ABs as a DH, and let Womack’s worthless ass and his .254/.296/.284 season fill in when Bernie DHs. All this talk about “something has to change” with the Yanks this season, and one look at the stats can tell quite a story. Giambi sits because he’s an aberration on the team. Bernie plays almost every day because he needs that kind of work to get any production out of him. Womack sits more and bats ninth because he can’t get on base with any consistency. Or even platoon him with Cano at second, since Cano is killing righties and struggling against lefties, while Womack fares better against lefties than righties. It may not be the be all, end all solution, but it’s a damn fine start.

Too bad Joe would never consider doing any of the above.