Wednesday, November 09, 2005

From T.O. to C.P.

Okay, FINALLY, no more relevant issues. I’m actually so sick and tired of the whole T.O. thing that I can’t believe I actually dedicated a significant portion of space to him today. But everybody gets one. You know who else gets one today? Corey Patterson.

He’s one of the center fielders rumored to be on the trade block, though the Cubs aren’t quite to the stage of whoring him out yet. The reason is simple: who wants an undisciplined hitter who strikes out an inordinate amount of times? Patterson’s bat was so Antarctica this year that he was sent down for a stint at Triple-A Iowa. But let’s get a few facts straight about C.P. (I’m in full-on monogram style today) before we toss his name aside as a possibility for pinstripes.

Let’s examine pure numbers at first before we get to the intangibles, since the latter will put the former in better perspective. So just take a gander at C.P.’s OBP and Slugging Percentage since his rookie year in 2000 (when he was 20).

            ’00       ’01       ’02       ’03       ’04       ’05      
OBP: .239, .266,   .284,   .329,   .320,   .254
SLG: .333,   .336,   .392,   .511,     .452,   .348

Notice the consistent rise and the abrupt fall off. A quick notion might be that Patterson’s 2003 injury may have been his undoing. But, it was a torn ACL, not something that usually affects one’s hitting. That’s more defense, which I’ll get to in a minute.

Since Patterson strikes out more than his share, it’s easy to write him off with the Billy Beane given nickname, “Mr. Swings At Everything.” But check out Patterson’s numbers (and the trend) when it comes to plate appearances per strikeout:

              ’00       ’01       ’02       ’03       ’04       ’05      
PA/K: 3.36,   4.39,   4.42,   4.51,   4.09,   4.08

Once again, peaking in 2003 and dropping off severely in ’04 and ’05. Does a torn ACL make a player strike out more? I’m no doctor, but from what I’ve learned in the NFL, a torn ACL affects one’s ability to accelerate, reach top speed and to make abrupt “cuts” (or jukes, whatever you want to call it). Nothing about the ability to swing a bat (though there is a good amount of power taken from the legs). It’s also becoming more common for players to fully recover from torn leg ligaments. For an example, look at Jamal Lewis, who came back full force from a torn ACL. True, he’s having a crappy year this year, but that’s more attributable to his time in prison than his ACL, which has been healed for years.

So can we really write off C.P. as a star once rising, but whose dreams were broken by an unfortunate injury? I don’t think we can at this point, and that’s mainly due to Dusty Baker, who took over managerial duties for the Cubbies in 2003, the very year of C.P.’s peak.

Dusty Baker has been quoted saying that walks “clog the base paths,” though that quote has been misused quite often. Here is the exact quote in question (though the context can still be in some question, since I don’t have the rest of the interview/press conference it came from):

"I think walks are overrated unless you can run," Baker said. "If you get a walk and put the pitcher in a stretch, that helps. But the guy who walks and can't run, most of the time they're clogging up the bases for somebody who can run."

For C.P., running was never an issue until the ACL incident. So here’s he is, a rising star who is about to enter his breakout season. His new manager ostensibly doesn’t prefer walks, but probably doesn’t care in C.P.’s case because he has wheels (he could also swipe a bag with the best of them). And then, running to first on a warm July night, his ACL goes.

C.P. enters spring training ’04 ready to go and duplicate his ’03 performance and prove he’s still breaking out. One problem: how does he gauge how much his repaired leg can handle? Traditional thinking says that he at least needs to take it easy, so his speed threat is diminished. And since Dusty Baker doesn’t like guys who walk and can’t run, it’s only natural to see Corey swinging more and walking less. From there, frustration mounts, the strikeouts pile up, and a bit over a year later, C.P. is swinging away in Triple-A.

The ACL incident also brings his defense into question, especially since he plays center. I would like to take this time to note that I place very little heed to the commonly used defensive statistic “Range Factor,” since it doesn’t account for the player’s arm at all. Sure, it factors in outfield assists, but Vlad Guerrero doesn’t get a rating boost because no one goes from first to third on a ball hit to right.

But, if we are to pay these stats any mind, C.P.’s range factor per nine innings actually increased in 2004 and 2005, though he is still considered well below league average. You know who else are considered below average defensively (in the AL)? Grady Sizemore, Vernon Wells, and Aaron Rowand. The top AL guys: David DeJesus (deserving) and Johnny Damon. Because I’d much rather have Damon and his lollipop arm in center than Aaron Rowand.

Since we don’t get the Cubs over here in Jersey, I can’t really comment on C.P.’s defensive abilities because I never really get to see him. I can, however, comment on Rowand since I’ve seen him perform great feats in center, and Wells, since the Yanks play the Jays enough in a season to get a gauge on his range. I’ve heard that C.P. is a good defender, though, and that’s all I have to go on.

What am I saying with all of this? Basically, that C.P. needs a change of scenery. The Yankees are a team driven by patience, and maybe being surrounded by these guys is the confidence booster that he needs to get out there, be a bit more patient at the plate, and play to his full potential.

The only obstacle I see is price. What do the Yankees have that the Cubbies would covet? Or are they holding a makeshift fire sale for C.P., and he can be had at the Chacon-esque price of a few shaky relievers? Hell, I would even mull the possibility of sending Proctor over for him. But if the price gets to the range of Melky, Hughes, or Duncan, I don’t think the risk will outweigh the cost.

And Dusty, we’ll gladly let C.P. clog the base paths in the Bronx.