Once again, we're endeavouring to launch a new regular feature, which may or may not reappear. We shall see. Media League Three-Pitch Softball will feature those members of the mainstream media who a) we think are pretty cool and b) will answer our emails. We lob in three questions (nice and easy, right over the plate), and our pals grip and rip at them.
First up: Mike Wilner. You know him as the insightful and imperturbable host of the Jays Talk on the Rogers Sportsnet Fan 590 Blue Jays Radio Network, as well as the overseer of the Home Hardware Out-Of-Town Scoreboard during the radiocasts of Jays games. He also hosts a liveblog during every Jays game, and is a newly converted Twitter fiend (@Wilnerness590). And if we'd thought of it, we would have asked him about Strat-O-Matic. But we forgot.
1) Is there one old wives' tale/old saw about how the game of baseball should be played of which you wish fans and callers would let go? Something that continually comes up that the Jays should be doing in order to win, but that you think is bunk?
-There are a few, but the biggest one I wish people would let go is the idea that "active" baseball is winning baseball. That is, a team that bunts, attempts a lot of steals, hits-and-runs all the time is likelier to win a game than a team that doesn't. I believe that the sacrifice bunt is a losing strategy the overwhelming majority of the time. There's an assumption out there, as well, that the player asked to bunt will get a successful bunt down 100% of the time, which isn't even remotely true. Teams run themselves out of innings all the time, and often bunt with a better hitter to move runners along for a poorer hitter on deck.
Sure, sitting back and waiting for a big hit isn't fun to watch (until the big hit comes, then it's awesome), but I think that preserving your outs and being smart about the chances you take on the basepaths are the way to win over the long haul. And by being smart I mean I'm totally good with Travis Snider and Aaron Hill running the bases like their hair is on fire - so long as they're doing it at the right times, with the right batteries, as they have been. Corey Patterson trying to steal third with one out in the 8th down by five with the pitcher on the hill set to implode? Not so much.
2) Is there a go-to metric that you look to first to get a quick sense of a player's performance? Something that you can see at-a-glance when the need arises that you find most meaningful?
Nope. And I know this is going to upset the WAR crowd, but when I want to see how a player is performing, I look at the slash stats: AVG/OBP/SLG. I find that's the best thing that tells me how someone is doing. I'll admit I have a bit of an issue with the whole idea of "replacement level" and the idea of quantifying how many wins someone's contribution is worth. It's good work that's been done to establish these stats (even though different places measure WAR differently), but I like my stuff a little more concrete. For pitchers, I look at their WHIP, I look at their home runs and strikeouts per nine innings.
I know there have been great advancements in trying to get luck and other variables out of the equation, but stuff like FIP and BABIP don't tell me how a player is performing - they tell me how, all else being equal, a player should be performing. But luck is a factor, teammates are a factor, ballparks are a factor. When I'm looking at how a player has performed in a given year, how a player is performing in a given year, I don't want to "neutralize" everything.
3) Given the number of new metrics that have become somewhat standard for baseball fans (WAR, OPS, ISO, what have you), is there a historical Blue Jay who you think would be more appreciated by this new generation of fans that they were at the time or have been since?
It's funny, because the first name that popped into my head is Rance Mulliniks. I wanted to pull up someone far more esoteric, like Tom Lawless or Barry Bonnell, but I don't really think either one of those guys was particularly good, no matter how you slice it (though Bonnell had a WAR of 2.1 in 1983 - who knew?). Now that we're into the whole stolen base efficiency, rather than just raw numbers, I think we'd have appreciated Lawless for the 12 of 13 he put up in just 59 games in 1989, though we did love him at the time.
Anyway, I thought of Mulliniks because the dude was a platoon on-base machine who grew into some power near the end of his career. He was a guy who Blue Jays fans thought of as a "professional hitter" (I think it was the glasses) when we weren't just thinking of him as half of Gance Mulliniorg, but dig this - in his 10 years with the Blue Jays he posted an OBP of .370 with an OPS+ of 118. In 1983, he hit .280/.378/.472 against righties. In 1984, it was .321/.380/.440. In '85, .299/.382/.462. In that great '87 season, he hit .306/.367/.490 against righties, and screw the platoon, .389/.450.667 against lefties (tiny sample size alert - 23 PA). He reached his zenith in 1988, with an OPS of .868 against righties and .870 overall. These numbers aren't overwhelming, I know, but his OPS+ from 1983-88 was 124, and he had a .417 OBP in 1990, mostly coming off the bench. This is not the guy we all thought Rance Mulliniks was back then.
I mean, would you have believed that Mulliniks finished in the top 3 on the Blue Jays in OPS every year from 1983-88 save one? And yes, I'm counting 1984, even though he was fourth - it was only one point behind George Bell, and Rance's OPS+ was higher. Seriously, though - name the top three hitters on the Blue Jays through the mid-80s, does anyone mention Mulliniks? Nerp.
Photos courtesy of Fan590.com and Altamonte Springs Recreation. Nice shorts.