2010’s All-Underrated College Basketball Team

April 1, 2010

I just realized that in my NCAA Tournament-induced euphoria, I totally forgot to post my All-Underrated team for the 2009-2010 college basketball season. You can find the All-Overrated version here. Unfortunately, because it’s a lot less fun to talk about why a player is good than why a player is bad, the players’ individual blurbs will be much shorter than the first go ’round.

THE TEAM

Austin Freeman, G – Georgetown


It might seem ridiculous to put Georgetown’s starting point guard on a list that aims to single out unheralded players, but it also seems like no one truly grasped what a great season he had. Freeman hit 56.8% of his twos, 44.4% of his threes (on 133 attempts), and shot 85.6% from the line. He also defended without fouling (important given the Hoyas’ lack of depth) and took pretty good care of the ball. Sometimes, you hear about players achieving the incredible 50/40/90 split (FG%/3P%/FT%). This has come up with some frequency regarding Kevin Durant. Well, Austin Freeman basically just did that as a point guard in the Big East.

Elliot Williams, G – Memphis


While Freeman made the team specifically because of his shooting, Williams is on it simply because he does most everything very well. The Duke transfer (can you imagine the Blue Devils with him still on the team?) hit 52.7% of his twos, 36.6% of his threes, and 75.8% of his free throws. That last number carries the most importance, because Williams was sixth in Conference USA (72nd nationally) in free throw rate, and third in the conference (66th nationally) in drawing fouls. He also posted the tenth-best assist rate in CUSA (although his turnovers were a little high), rebounded well for a guard, and played the highest percentage of his team’s minutes. If he can cut down on the turnovers a little and make even a slight improvement from long distance, he should be an All-American candidate.

Jimmy Butler, G – Marquette


I feel more strongly about Butler’s inclusion on this team than any other player. No one seems to have any idea what an incredible year he had in 2010. Playing the 13th-most minutes in the Big East, Butler hit 53.4% of his twos and 50% of his threes (on only 32 attempts). Most importantly, he hit 76.6% of his 244 free throws – a rate than ranked 11th nationally. Additionally, Butler defended without fouling, took wonderful care of the ball, and even hit the offensive glass a little for good measure.

Less objectively, I think there’s a pretty striking similarity between 2009’s Jerel McNeal-Wesley Matthews pairing and 2010’s Lazar Hayward-Jimmy Butler tandem. Last year, I made the case that Marquette’s best player wasn’t the hyped McNeal, but the less heralded Matthews. And, if presence in the NBA is any indicator, I was right. There’s a similar thing going on with Hayward and Butler. Hayward gets all of the press for his scoring and rebounding, but he’s not a particularly efficient shooter (47.9% of twos, 34.9% of threes). At least in 2010, Butler was a much more skilled, efficient, and productive player than Hayward. Whether or not Butler’s numbers are adversely affected by Hayward’s departure is something to keep an eye on in the upcoming season.

Tim Abromaitis, F – Notre Dame


There are numerous theories as to why Notre Dame played so well in Luke Harangody’s absence. One is the standard idea that his unavailability forced the team to come together, rely on one another, play unselfish basketball, and all that good stuff. A more substantiated argument is that the Fighting Irish slowed down the offense to a snail’s pace and improved their defense through a combination of better defensive rebounding, fewer fouls committed, and improved three point defense. And while that appears to be the overarching reason for Notre Dame’s success, a more specific factor was the emergence of Abromaitis, who came out of nowhere to become one of the most efficient offensive players in the country. He hit 56.4% of his twos, 42.9% of his threes, and 87.3% of his free throws. Those are staggering, Austin Freeman-like numbers. While his rebounding could stand to improve some, he helped make up for it by taking exceptional care of the basketball for a big man. It will be fascinating to see if Abromaitis can continue his torrid shooting next season.

Larry Sanders, F – Virginia Commonwealth


You might not remember it, but Sanders was briefly on the national radar. Bolstered by teammate Eric Maynor’s skill and the coverage it attracted, Sanders was touted as one of the best rebounders and shot-blockers in the nation. How quickly we forget. Once Maynor graduated, Sanders was more or less forgotten, even though he is still worthy of such high praise. He ranked 88th nationally in offensive rebounding, 36th in defensive rebounding, and 33rd in shot-blocking. While those are his calling cards, he does also hit more than half his twos, which is nice to have in a big man (I’m looking you, A.J. Ogilvy). Sanders will be a senior next season, and if he can foul a little less and improve on that 64.6% free throw shooting, I see no reason why he can’t crack the first round in the draft.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

John Roberson, G – Texas Tech

Roberson makes up for his hideous 43.8% two point shooting by hitting 41.3% of his threes and 80% of his freebies.

Mickey McConnell, G – Saint Mary’s

I can’t tell you how much I’m kicking myself for not posting this before the NCAA Tournament. I put McConnell on the list March 7th, the day before he destroyed Gonzaga in the WCC title game and roughly two weeks before he helped topple Richmond and Villanova in the tournament. That’ll teach me to procrastinate. In any case, McConnell hit 50.6% of his twos, 51% of his 151 threes, and 84.1% of his free throws. He’s a wonderful scorer.

Alec Burks, F – Colorado

Burks and teammate Cory Higgins are both underrated and are strikingly similar players, but the edge goes to Burks because he’s a freshman and Higgins is a junior. Burks hit 57.5% of his twos, shot 77% from the line, drew lots of fouls, and even hit the offensive boards a little. Based on nothing but his age, statistics, and his NBA size, I’d say there’s a decent chance we’re talking about his draft stock over the coming years.

Jeffery Taylor, F – Vanderbilt

This is probably a bit of a homer pick, but Taylor was just as important to the Commodores’ success as senior point guard Jermaine Beal and junior big man A.J. Ogilvy. Taylor hits 51% of his twos, and 74.6% of his frequently-taken free throws. He also rebounds well for a swingman, particularly on the offensive end.

Brian Zoubek, C – Duke

Zoubek might seem like a bit of a nutty pick. He is, after all, a Blue Devil, which automatically precludes him from being underrated in the eyes of many. He also averages 5.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. But he’s a key cog in Duke’s machine. Aside from his obviously good 63.2% shooting, he leads the nation in offensive rebounding. This is particularly important because Duke is a poor two point shooting team, which places higher value on the ability to recover their own misses. Zoubek plays a huge role in getting the Blue Devils extra possessions.






Advertisements

Where Are They Now?

March 2, 2010

Last March, I put together two teams of college basketball players: one made up solely of players I thought were overrated, and one made up of underrated players. Recently I’ve begun to narrow down my initial list of candidates for the 2010 editions. But because that’s not quite done yet, I thought it would be interesting to run through the members of the 2009 teams and see what they’re up to today.

OVERRATED

A.J. Abrams, G – Texas

My knock against Abrams’ game was that he contributed little to the Longhorns other than shooting, and even that strength was limited to three pointers. He shot well from the line, but didn’t get there enough to make that skill a huge asset. Lastly, he finished his senior year with more turnovers than assists. So, other than shooting, getting to the basket, and creating opportunities for his teammates, Abrams had all the skills you’d want in a guard.

Currently, Abrams appears to be playing for the Greek club AS Trikala 2000. I say “appears” because that looks like him second from the right, but I can’t find him anywhere here (but I found Tyrell Biggs!). His statistics in Greece actually indicate improvement. He’s averaging 17.3 ppg on 54.7% shooting from two and 37.8% from three. His free throw percentage has dropped to 74.4%, but that’s acceptable given his improved shooting on shots worth twice as much. Abrams still, however, is not much of a creator for his teammates, averaging one assist per game (turnover numbers are unavailable).

Greivis Vasquez, G – Maryland

Last year, I criticized Vasquez’s game because it was recognized as great when it was, in fact, merely good. I thought his playmaking skills were a little overrated – Vazquez was just as likely to make a brilliant pass as a boneheaded one – but my main gripe was with his shooting. He hit 45.2% of his twos last year, which is fine, but 32.7% of his threes, which is not great but even worse if that rate comes on 202 attempts. The result was a True Shooting % of 51.2, which ranked 34th in the ACC.

Vasquez has improved tremendously this season. He currently sports the best assist-to-turnover ratio of his career (1.96 : 1) and a significantly higher assist rate than last year. Most importantly, both his shot selection and shot results have gotten much better. Vasquez is now hitting 46.9% of his twos (a slight improvement) and 37.9% of his threes on only 153 attempts (a huge improvement). Factoring in his typically efficient scoring from the free throw line, and he can no longer be called overrated.

E’Twaun Moore, G – Purdue

As I put it last year, Moore “much like Abrams, is an inefficient scorer taking a large percentage of his team’s shots.” Moore’s balanced per-game statistics were a nice shiny object, but distracted the viewer from his 33.7% three-point shooting on 166 attempts.

Like Vasquez, Moore has gotten much better in 2010. Moore is taking a higher percentage of his team’s shots when he’s on the floor (30.2% this year versus 26.3% last year), so it’s a good thing he’s become more efficient. He’s stopped launching so many threes (37.2% on 113 attempts), preferring twos and hitting them at a very good 52% clip. He’s also increased his free throw and assist rates slightly, making him a vastly more efficient player than last season.

Earl Clark, F – Louisville

In hindsight, Clark’s inclusion was unjustified. As usual, the reason for his inclusion was shooting. Clark hit a 49.3% of his twos in 2009, which in itself isn’t so bad, but is a little paltry for a 6’9″ monster like him. Then there was his 32.6% three point shooting on nearly a hundred attempts and his sub-par performance from the line. But really, that was all a little nitpicky. especially considering his blocking and rebounding prowess. This was a bad pick.

Following last season, Clark was drafted 14th overall by the Phoenix Suns. He rarely plays, so it’s probably too early to draw any conclusions about his ability, especially because he’s on a win-now playoff team. For what it’s worth, Clark is shooting 35.4% from the field and 63.6% from the line in the NBA.

Luke Harangody, F – Notre Dame

Last year, I criticized Harangody’s game for the same reason I did Vazquez’s. Both players were discussed reverentially in basketball circles, which in fact their games had notable flaws. Harangody’s stats were inflated both by his team’s fast pace and a shooting rate that ranked 11th in the country. He shot an astounding 615 twos in 2009, but hit only 46.5% of them. His three point shooting was a superficially-good 36.8%, but he only took 38 of them. Harangody’s major redeeming qualities were his ability to draw fouls (68th in the country) and his defensive rebounding (17th). Still, his large volume of wayward shots warranted inclusion on this team.

Harangody’s per-game totals in 2010 are almost exactly the same as 2009’s, but one major factor has changed. Notre Dame is playing at a significantly slower pace this season, down to 226th in the nation. In order for Harangody to maintain such high numbers in games with fewer possessions, it would follow that he’s become a more efficient player. This turns out to be true. Harangody is hitting 52.1% of his twos this season and has improved his free throw percentage very slightly. His three point shooting and fouls drawn have declined somewhat, but he remains a high-percentage free throw shooter. The biggest story here, though, remains his two point shooting. Last year he shot 46.5% on 615 twos, and this year he’s shooting 52.1% on 388 twos – a huge, huge difference. The result is a TS% that has increased to 55.5% and him having absolutely no chance of holding onto his spot on my 2010 team.

UNDERRATED

Jerome Randle, G – California

The best player on the Pac-10’s best team, Randle’s 2009 season was one of the more unheralded great seasons in recent memory. His per-game averages certainly passed the eye test: 18.3 points, 3 rebounds, and 5 assists. But the remarkable thing was his efficiency. Despite being generously listed at 5’10”, Randle hit 53.4% of his twos, 46.3% of his threes, and 86.3% of his free throws. Those are staggering numbers, and good enough for 14th-best TS% in the country last year.

If you finished reading that paragraph thinking “there’s nowhere for him to go but down,” it turns out that you’re right. Randle is still a very good player, but his efficiency has dropped off a little. He’s now hitting exactly 50% of his twos, 41% of his threes, and 92% of his free throws. Furthermore, his assist-to-turnover has declined from a good 1.74 : 1 to a more pedestrian 1.26 : 1. Right now, it’s hard to classify Randle as “underrated.” Unknown, yes. But not underrated.

Darren Collison, G – UCLA

Like Randle, Collison earned his way onto last year’s team on the strength of his shooting. The point guard finished the 2009 season having hit 55.8% of his twos, 39.4% of his threes, and 89.7% of his free throws. He also took good care of the ball (1.91 : 1) and earned some bonus points by finishing fifth in the Pac-10 in Steal %.

Collison was drafted 21st overall by the New Orleans Hornets, where his basketball career has continued with remarkable similarity. He’s hitting 47.2% of his twos, 33.8% of his threes, and 84.9% of his free throws in 23.2 minutes per game. Of course, Collison will play less once Chris Paul returns, but his fifth-ranked PER among rookies (15.75) is quite good in its own right.

Wesley Matthews, G – Marquette

I’m mere moments away from gloating, so please brace yourself. Last year’s Marquette team received a ton of publicity for its triumvirate of explosive guards. The group was led on the court by senior guard Dominic James, a really, really poor shooter who took excellent care of the ball. The typical adjectives given to diminutive senior point guards were assigned to James: fearless, gutsy, smart, etc. Next was Jerel McNeal, who was the flashy one. He had no exceptional skill but many good ones, and his 19.8 points per game earned him the most praise. Then there was Matthews, who was characterized as smart (but not as smart as James) and skilled (but not as skilled as McNeal). Even though Matthews bested McNeal in 2P%, 3P%, ORtg, TS%, OR%, DR%, TO%, FD/40, and FTRate, and James is every significant category but Assist Rate, he remained the least-recognized of Marquette’s senior guards.

Guess which one of the three is playing in the NBA right now. Yes, while James is playing in Turkey and McNeal in Belgium, the undrafted Matthews is playing 22 minutes a game for the 38-21 Utah Jazz. Matthews is hitting 52% of his twos, 35.2% of his threes, and 78.2% of his free throws – numbers that are right in line with his production at Marquette. I’m confident that he’ll never be a star, and probably not a career starter either. But Matthews has all the makings of a quality guard off the bench for the next several years. And I’m proud to call him an alum of the 2009 All-Underrated Team.

DeMarre Carroll, F – Missouri

Carroll made last year’s team on the strength of his excellent two-point shooting (57.9%), his infrequent but useful three-point shooting (36.4%), his ability to draw fouls, and his guard-like proficiency at stealing the ball and not turning it over himself.

Surprisingly, Carroll was drafted 27th overall by the Memphis Grizzlies. He hasn’t performed well in limited duty, shooting 39.2% from the field, making none of his six shots from distance, and continuing to hit free throws at a poor rate (61.7%). I like Carroll as much as anyone, but given the relatively high value of the 27th pick, I think he’ll be a disappointment.

Patrick Patterson, F – Kentucky

Patterson might have been the most underrated player in the nation last year. While his teammate Jodie Meeks was garnering well-deserved accolades, Patterson kept on doing what he’s always done – scoring with great skill. In 2009, he hit 60.5% of his twos and shot 76.8% from the line (where he got frequently). His TS% of 63.7% ranked 39th in the country and first in the SEC.

While his free throw shooting has inexplicably fallen off a cliff, Patterson has become an even better player this season. He’s continued to nail his twos (62.2%) and, shockingly, has revealed a real ability to hit threes (40.8% on 49 attempts). This new skill has offset his decline in FT% to keep his TS% at 62.8%, just slightly worse than last year’s. Lastly, Patterson is 35th in the country and second in the SEC in TORate, which is impressive for a big man that plays so many minutes. Teammates DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall get much of the publicity – and deservedly so – but Patterson is equally important to the team’s success.



2009’s All-Underrated College Basketball Team

March 3, 2009

Yesterday, I posted my picks for five of the most overrated players in college basketball. In each case, the perception of the player did not match the reality, albeit in different ways. One player is thought of as good, when in fact he is decidedly below-average. Another has had his per game averages improve, but his measures of efficiency drop significantly. A third has seduced many with his glaringly obvious talent, but has not matched his ability in production. The final two are believed to be legitimately great players, yet they are not elite because of the inefficiency resulting from having to carry a team. You should check out the post to see exactly what I’m talking about.

This time around, I’m bringing you five players that haven’t received enough attention for their performance this season. You’ll probably find that three of them are household names, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be underrated. Just as the overrated players have found their performances marred by inefficiencies, these underrated players deserve more recognition for their efficient operation. Here they are:

Read the rest of this entry »


Mike Mussina Belongs In The Hall Of Fame

December 1, 2008

The baseball offseason is a sad time for me. Not only is there no baseball being played, but also the normally steady stream of bad baseball analysis slows to a trickle. With fewer articles and broadcasters to criticize, I have to resort to settling good, old-fashioned baseball debates. Fortunately, there is currently one debate about which I feel quite strongly, and which I will settle for you thusly. 

Obviously, the pertinent debate is whether or not former Yankees’ and Orioles’ starting pitcher Mike Mussina belongs in the Hall of Fame. This discussion interests me for both intellectual and emotional reasons. In the case of the former, I look at Mussina’s potential induction as a referendum on the baseball media’s intellectual growth. As most intelligent baseball fans know, Hall of Fame and awards voters far too often use antiquated, ineffective, or tragically flawed statistics in determining their selections. Statistics like wins, batting average, and RBI historically have been used as barometers of a player’s performance, when a lucid and honest look at those measurements reveal overwhelming shortcomings. Wins are hugely dependent on a pitcher’s run support and the bullpen’s effectiveness. Batting average is an incomplete measure of a player’s ability to not make an out, which is the most important thing a baseball player can do. RBI are dependent on runners being in scoring position, a variable over which the batter has zero control. You know all this, because you are reading our blog, and our blog attracts only intelligent and savvy readers. Right? Right. Mussina’s candidacy will lean more on less-traditional statistics than past inductees’. As such, I’m curious to see how far the baseball media and voters have come in their understanding and utilization of more complete and descriptive statistics. It’ll be like this past election, except not nearly as important and without the global implications. 

My emotional interest in this debate is two-fold. Firstly, I am a Yankees fan, so I am rooting hard for him. Secondly, and more antagonistically, I am extraordinarily tired of and perturbed by the prevailing counter-argument against Mussina’s induction. The knock on Mussina used to be his lack of a 20-win season. With that having been fulfilled, the new knock is invariably some permutation of “he just doesn’t look like a Hall of Famer” or “I just don’t see it.” Take a few moments to reel from the depth of that analysis. If Hall of Famers look like gigantic magenta cephalopods with a slight limp in their fifth tentacle, then no, Mike Mussina does not look like a Hall of Famer. If Hall of Famers are baseball players who have, relative to their peers, distinguished themselves as well above-average over a substantial period of time, then yes, Mike Mussina is a Hall of Famer. Read the rest of this entry »


Tim Kurkjian Hates The AL

March 20, 2007

A friend who has a minor philosophical disagreement with our blog sent us this recent piece by Tim Kurkjian. It’s clobberin’ time!

Outfielder Billy Butler is one of the game’s best hitting prospects and, by most accounts, the best hitter in Royals camp.

The first paragraph is not finished and there’s already a major factual error. Butler is good, but Alex Gordon is the number-one position player prospect in all of baseball, and Mark Teahen is pretty money also.

There’s no doubt he’s ready to hit in the big leagues, but by all accounts, he is a bad defensive player. He’s a good kid who tries, cares and wants to improve, but if he were better defensively, he’d play every day for the Royals at age 20.

Fair enough. Even sabermetrics people agree on this, but his projected .279 EqA in Kansas City should more than make up for it. Let me see a better example.

Third baseman Ryan Braun was the story early in Brewers camp: He hit three homers in his first two exhibition games, and in batting practice sessions he regularly tore holes in the sky. Third base was an open competition coming into camp, and if Braun were more adept defensively, he might have been the Brewers’ opening day third baseman. But he has throwing issues, mostly because he rushes his motion. “He’s a good athlete; I’d put him in center field,” one GM said of Braun.

Wow, that’s pretty much the exact same story you just told me: a good player whose hot bat should easily negate his crappy glovework.

It won’t be long before Butler and Braun are marvelous hitters in the major leagues, but these stories of defensive inadequacy are too familiar. The Devil Rays are trying to find a position for B.J. Upton, but it doesn’t appear that it’s going to be shortstop, third base or second base. “I saw him in right field this spring,” a scout said, “and he looks like he belongs [there].”

Okay. That makes sense: put your worst fielder in the least demanding outfield position where he can do the least damage. Why is this even an article?

Toronto outfielder Adam Lind, Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick and Padres third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff came to the big leagues more advanced as hitters than defenders.

All three of these guys are actually adequate fielders (in the range of plus/minus 3 Fielding Runs Above Average). Kurkjian, you impress me less and less with each sentence.

Two of the largest free-agent contracts in this offseason went to Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee, who can really hit, but do questionable work on defense.

Are we just picking on players who came up in the AL now? Soriano actually had a good glove in left field last year, thanks to his speedy range and aggressive outfield assists. Carlos Lee will be playing in front of the Crawford Boxes in the craziest outfield ever (good luck with that). But they can both “really hit.” So, yeah.

The best young power hitter in the game, Ryan Howard, is also nothing special defensively at first base.

Has anyone ever been anything special defensively at first base? It’s first base. It’s like playing catch. Sometimes you have to jump, and sometimes you have to bend down a little, but it’s pretty simple. This is where you put beasts like Ryan Howard (.344 EqA), Albert Pujols (.353), and Lance Berkman (.337).

One of the best young hitting catchers in the majors, Victor Martinez, has trouble throwing.

Really? Is it like crazy Knoblauch-style trouble? Oh, people just stole on him alot. That’s not really “trouble,” it just means he doesn’t have a sick arm like Yadier Molina (who I love despite his exquitely bad .209 EqA). By the way, aspiring sportswriters, now you know: exalt non-hitting catchers with great arms/game-calling ability, berate well-hitting catchers with subpar defense.

Baseball always has had its share of hitters only,

They’re called “designated hitters.”

but this is the most confusing part: the game is an athletic sport — highly underrated in that respect — and today’s players are bigger, stronger and faster than they’ve ever been.

You’re right – that was the most convoluted sentence I’ve ever seen on ESPN.com. Are you trying to say baseball is underrated or less popular compared to other sports? That the atheticism in baseball is underrated compared to the athleticism in other sports? Are you designating it an athletic sport, as opposed to an unathletic sport like stock car racing or golf? Simply put, what?

So, why aren’t more young players better defensively? Why don’t more of them run better? And why don’t more of them throw better?

Oh God. Is this going to turn into a reactionary ode to smallball?

“Where are all the athletes?” Phillies first base coach Davey Lopes asked last year.

Um, there are 25 of them on each club’s roster. Sometimes 40. Based on this quote, I’m officially changing my NL East Division pick to the Mets.

“We’re losing them to other sports,” says Royals GM Dayton Moore.

Hopefully the athletic sports.

“In the draft, impact position players are off the board by the fifth round: we see an athlete, we take him.” One GM said there will be only 20 shortstops — usually great athletes — in this June’s draft. But there will be plenty of hitters.

Isn’t there some saying about how the hardest thing to do in all of sports is hitting a major league fastball? So why is it bad that there are plenty of people who can do that?

“For some guys, their bat is two levels ahead of their defense,” said Brewers GM Doug Melvin. “You look in the yellow pages, you see ads for batting cages and hitting instructors. But you don’t see many for infield instruction.”

Who hasn’t been to batting cages? It’s fun as hell. Endlessly taking groundballs is a good idea for professional athletes, but it’s probably pretty boring for John Q. Citizen. Next time I’m at the minigolf course or batting cages, I’ll pass on the idea for the ball-shagging field. Get a prize for a .962 fielding percentage!

We’re in an era of prodigious slugging, of ESPN highlights, of raising the roof after a 450-foot home run.

Tim Kurkjian just got payed $350 extra for mentioning the parent company within his column. Good work, Tim!

Chicks dig the long ball, and the game has encouraged that for nearly 15 years.

I’ve always wondered where that phrase came from, and now I know. Despite the cute pop-culture reference, this is still misleading. It’s not like home runs were invented in 1992. The soon-to-be runner-up in all-time home runs, Hank Aaron, played half of his career in the relatively stagnant 1960’s, including a 29-homer year in the legendarily low-scoring 1968. And after the strike, did MLB really have any choice but to milk every last drop out of the 1998 home run race?

A generation of hitters have been raised who spend their day pumping tokens in a batting cage (or, more and more often, hitting in the cage in their back yard) rather than developing their entire game. Not as many complete players are being sent to the major leagues.

“Guys get paid to hit, and if you hit, you play,” said Cardinals hitting coach Hal McRae. “Over the years, base running has really suffered. Defense has suffered. Baseball instincts have suffered. I think it’s all the home runs, especially in the American League.

I’m really glad that they interviewed McRae for this article. Not only do I get to link to the best coach tirade ever a second time, but the quote undermines everything that has happened to this point in the article. If players “get paid to hit,” then why shouldn’t they learn to be really good at it?

“Having 30 teams has changed things. Back when I came through [McRae’s first year was 1968], if you couldn’t play defense, you didn’t play. They would send you back to the minor leagues.”

McRae was one of the first pre-eminent designated hitters because he was a also below-average fielder; he’s actually the all-time RBI leader as a DH. And again, there wasn’t much you could do in 1968 besides play defense because the league batting average was .243.

Throwing a baseball is a God-given ability, but a young player’s arm won’t get stronger if he doesn’t throw. “You should see Carlos Gonzalez throw,” said Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin of one of his young outfielders. “He can throw with Ichiro.” You just don’t hear that much anymore. Maybe it’s because teams rarely take infield before games. Without infield, when does an outfielder practice cutting loose and throwing as hard as he can to a base? The Cardinals are one of the few teams that work on it during batting practice, but it’s not the same as taking infield every day as was done in Larry Bowa’s day.

Oh, boy.

“If we didn’t have infield before a game because the tarp was on the field, I’d get nervous,” said Bowa, the current Yankees third base coach who during his playing days led the National League in fielding percentage six times and won two Gold Gloves primarily as the shortstop for the Phillies. “I’d go to an indoor cage and play pepper to get the feel for the ball off the bat.”

Flawed statistics and a meaningless award = Larry Bowa is the most experty expert on fielding ever. He also has a career .233 EqA and a smashing .300 OBA, so maybe he should’ve spent some time on the other end of the cage.

Players just don’t do that anymore. But the accent on offense seems to be changing slightly. Over the last few years, there has been a slow re-emphasis of pitching and defense rather than three-run homers.

Great. So why are you still complaining?

Albert Pujols has something to do with that: The best player in the game has developed into a terrific defensive first baseman, and other great young hitters are starting to take notice.

Albert was noticably great at first base last year, but is he really going to suggest that Pujols is responsible –

Phillies second baseman Chase Utley has gone from a subpar defensive player to average at worst.

Yeah, he’s giving Pujols credit for Utley’s marginal improvement in the field. Imagine the scene at this imaginary Phillies-Cardinals game: Utley hits the ball hard through the infield, but Pujols makes a great stab to rob him of a base hit. Crushed, Utley sulks back to the dugout. But as turns, Pujols makes eye contact, lifting his head in acknowledgment and pumping his fist against his chest. And Utley realizes: “Yes. I know what I must do.”

Reds outfielder Adam Dunn — once athletic enough to be recruited to play quarterback at Texas

— and still athletic enough to hit 40 home runs a year —

said this spring that he was determined to become a better defensive player. And then there is the story of Braves right fielder Jeff Francoeur.

Oh no.

Francoeur is a phenomenal athlete.

That’s why he’s playing professional sports.

He was a great high school football player who could have played at Clemson. He is a fabulous golfer.

Neat.

He was in the major leagues at age 21 as a five-tool player who could do everything, especially throw. Last year, he had a good year, hitting 29 homers with 103 RBI.

He also had a VORP of -1 and an EqA of .249. And the third most outs in the National League.

But he had one stolen base, the same as Greg Maddux.

I think this is more indicative of the power of Greg Maddux than Francoeur’s lack of speed. (Try typing “Francoeur” five times fast.)

Francoeur is 23 years old and weighs 220 pounds.

This has more unnecessary biographical information than a George W. Bush appointment speech.

He can really run, but on a team that led the National League in slugging percentage in 2006, he stopped running. As he prepared for a spring training workout in late February, Francoeur said with regret, “I lost a step last year. I lost some of my athleticism. There’s no reason that I shouldn’t steal 20 to 25 bags.”

I know a reason! (You only got on-base 29% of the time.)

“I need to be more athletic.”

Tim Kurkjian has brainwashed Jeff Francoeur. I’ll spare you the unnecessary paragraph about Francoeur’s work with the NFL combine players; basically, in the space of four sentences, he gets his athleticism back. Woo-hoo.

Maybe this is the start of something. It is encouraging that a great athlete has determined that slugging isn’t enough.

Slugging isn’t enough; you have to get on base also. So it is encouraging, but not in the way Kurkjian thinks.

The game is an athletic one.

You said that already.

There is room to run, to throw and to play defense. Maybe others will follow.

When he says “others,” does he mean “other things” there is room to do in baseball, like getting on-base and hitting for power? Or “other young players” who will be obsessed with sheer arm strength and speed? I really hope it’s the first one. But I know it’s not. Sigh.

The game is great now, and the players are unbelievably talented.

I’m really surprised no one has said the PED-word yet.

But it’s time for some of them to become more complete.

This honestly could have been alot worse. It could have exalted some great fielders who can’t hit in both leagues. But this hang-up over the landscape shifting from fielding to offense seems a century too late.


Rites of Spring Day Three: PHI@CIN

March 5, 2007

Given the unique opportunity of being thisclose to so many superstar athletes, so many promising prospects, I could pretty much write about anything I want.

I could write about how good Wes Helms looked.

I could write about the potential upside and downside of trading Chris Duncan for the reliable Jon Lieber.

I could write about the unique, dilapidated charm of the Reds’ spring training facility and how darn nice all the ushers were.

I could even live up to our byline and write about some idiotic sports story in the news right now.

But no.

I’m going to write about a random fan who ruined today’s game.

One of the Phillies hit a long fly ball down the first base line, and Reds right fielder Norris Hopper ran it down for an impressive out. An old fat guy several rows behind us commended Hopper on his hustle, and I, the snickering sabermetrics subscriber, cleared my throat, ready to make an easy joke about scrapiness or scraptitude or whatever you want to call it.

But before I could, the aforementioned geezer (we’ll call him Aloysius) unfurled a doozy, literally taking the words right out of my mouth:

“You’d never see Adam Dunn do that.”

I was literally about to say the exact same thing in an overly ironic, boisterous tone. You see, it’s funny because Adam Dunn is REALLY GOOD. Let’s look at Dunn’s stats from 2006, a relatively disappointing campaign:

In 160 games and 561 at-bats, Dunn had a .234/.365/.490 line with 24 doubles, 40 home runs, 112 walks, 99 runs and 92 RBI. True, he led the league in strike-outs with 194 but he gets on-base at such a good clip that it doesn’t matter. All in all he was worth a .290 EqA and 4.9 WARP3.

Here are the numbers for Hopper, the gritty scrapster who hustled to make something happen:

In 111 games and 429 at-bats split between AA and AAA, Hopper had a .340/.376/.389 line with 13 doubles, 4 triples, 0 home runs, 26 walks, 54 runs and 10 RBI. He only struck out 28 times, but . . . he had 17 extra base hits. And none of them were home runs. I don’t know his EqA or WARP3. Those stats are only for players good enough to be in the majors.

So a minor-league singles hitter with no power and no patience at the plate is more deserving of praise than the Reds’ best offensive producer.

Aloysius, you are an IDIOT.

And other Reds fans: why was I the only one applauding when Dunn came to bat? I don’t expect every baseball fan to understand complex Prospectus-type stuff, but isn’t it reasonable to think a person with half a brain could understand why Dunn and Pat Burrell are extremely valuable to their respective teams? Lookin’ at you, Mike Schmidt. Jim Edmonds was practically the same hitter (if not a little better), but he’s never had these perceived “hustle” issues in St. Louis, of all places.

So anyway, that’s how an old douche spoiled a otherwise pleasant NL ballgame. Tomorrow we make the switch to the east coast, and then it’s time to get really excited as we follow the Cardinals until Sunday.