Though he's not hanging around the ballpark the way he used to, the mind of the ol' ball scribe is tough to reprogram. Writing about baseball on a daily basis for a number of years is not unlike being trapped on a deserted island after the plane went down. If surviving the crash and swimming through shark-invested waters to safety isn't harrowing enough, one then has to live closely with the other scribes, TV boobs, ballplayers, and coaches. You know, the dregs of society.
Though two seasons removed from steady baseball writing, Kevin's mind is still sharp. Better yet, because he is outside of the daily bubble, he has a more well rounded perspective. With that in mind, somehow the topic of Placido Polanco and his intangibles arose and Kevin proceeded to make my brain hurt.
If I were specify one player as a favorite on the Phillies, it would be Placido Polanco. It really isn't for any other reason than Polanco plays baseball by utilizing one of Charlie Manuel's great creedos to the hilt…
If Polanco were a basketball player he would have been like Dennis Johnson. He would have guarded the opposition’s best player, run the point as steady as a clock, and if needed, he could drop 30. You know… all those clichés that go with one of those workhorse ballplayers that media types love to shower with all those images. That's idea of Dennis Johnson we have all these years removed from the end of the career, but the truth was he rarely scored 30 and let any other guard, he got posted up by Magic Johnson. It's the same thing with Polanco, too.
Hell, at this point it’s as if Polanco shows up to the ballpark every day with a hard hat and one of those lunch pails Jethro had in The Beverly Hillbillies.
“Peskiosity” or “scrappitude,” as Kevin called it.
“There is no metric to measure what Polanco does for a team,” I told Kevin. Actually, that might not be an exact quote, but it sounds like something I said before I launched into something about moving runners or whatever else it is guys like me put out there.
“Really?” Kevin probably said. “You’re going the hit-behind-the-runners route? How about the taking-pitches bit, too?”
Kevin is smart so his response was probably witty and pithy. Kind of like the time he punched me for ordering him a 4 a.m. wakeup call even though we were all up hanging out in his hotel room until about 3 a.m. after Game 1 of the ’08 World Series as a sort of baseball scribe version of the Algonquin Roundtable. I didn’t have to shout, “Ow! What was that for!?” when he delivered the hard right to my brachial plexus. I knew what it was for and couldn’t have come up with a better retort if I surveyed everyone in the ballpark. At least Kevin hit me... all John Gonzalez did was write about how he wanted to punch me.
What a pansy!
But during Monday's outing at the opener, the punch was delivered right between the eyes and it came in the guise of statistics. As if that wasn’t enough, Kevin retreated to the press box to compose a well-thought out argument in 20 seconds and e-mailed me. It was kind of like he was showing me just how smart he was.
Or how dumb I am.
So you think Polanco is scrappy and does all those little things that go unnoticed? Guess what? He’s not exactly the most patient hitter at the plate. For instance, Polanco is hitting .484 through the first week of games and has an on-base percentage of .500, but do you know how many of those times on base have come via a walk?
In fact, Polanco walks less than Jimmy Rollins. Measured through 162 games, Polanco averages 35 walks for his career. In 2003 he set his career-high in walks when he got 42 of them. Better yet, throughout his career, the league average for on-base percentage is .340.
Polanco’s career on-base percentage? Try .349.
Of course Polanco strikes out approximately as much as he walks, which is where his brilliance lies. That’s where he shows what happens when a hitter does the most basic thing he can do by simply putting the ball in play.
But when Polanco gets up there, don’t blink—he’s not going to be long. Polanco is one of those see-ball, hit-ball dudes averaging 3.53 pitches per plate appearance when the league average is 3.75. For his career that figure is an impatient 3.37, as Kevin pointed out.
His e-mail read:
This why, when people say, “Stats -- pfft. I watch the games,” It means they are bleeping up. If you watch Polanco every day, because he's little and he's cute, you think he's a scrappy little bugger and the synapses in your brain fire away and tell you that scrappy little buggers foul off pitches and work the count. So you assume that Placido Polanco really knows how to work pitchers ... and right there, you bleeped it up.
What did I tell you about Kevin? He’s smart, right? Moreover, there’s probably an entire jag about stats and baseball and that tired, old argument about crusty baseball men not knowing a thing that short pop up here. But you know what… I’m not going to do it.
OK, here it goes:
I don’t consider myself a stats guy because once we move past basic math, my head starts to hurt and a tiny bit of drool starts to form on the corners of my mouth. I appreciate the innovation and the smart way of looking at the game the numbers presents. However, I’m trotting out the crusty cliché about knowing what my eyes tell me. I can see Polanco hit the ball behind the runner and get on base. I can also look at the box score and see no numbers beneath the strikeout column, which means when he got up there it was all action. The action is the best part.
But I don’t know how to prove that it’s good. I just know it is and maybe that’s why I like it so much.
Or something like that.