Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Off-Center

The Sporting News’ Stan McNeal was looking for an easy way to kill 650 words last week, so he mailed in a column about which potential free agent you would want roaming center field for your team: Ichiro Suzuki, Andruw Jones, or Torii Hunter?

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this sort of thing. Like I said, it’s an easy way to fill column inches. And, as an added bonus, you can give some props to one of your favorites. What is wrong is when you have to stretch the bounds of logic to make your point.

McNeal’s fave out of this trio is Hunter. Some of his reasoning is a bit fuzzy, even for a rag like The Sporting News (such as McNeal’s preference for Torii even though Ichiro is halfway to a Hall of Fame career, or his assertion that Hunter’s athletic-but-31-year-old body figure to “make him an elite player for many years”). But this was the bit that made me laugh out loud:

What Hunter lacks in OBP, he makes up for in the clubhouse. Because I don't work for the A's or some other stathead organization, Hunter's leadership is my differentiating factor. This stat matters, too: The Twins have reached the postseason four of the past five years. Hunter's professionalism has had something to do with that.

"He's just got that thing that not very many people have. He's special," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire says.

So what do you prefer? Reaching base or reaching out to teammates? Running up pitch counts or running into walls? Walking or winning? One longtime talent evaluator who likes all three center fielders acknowledges, "You're going to win more championships with Torii."

Championships is a choice I'd take every day.


Long-time readers will know that I scoff at the notion of clubhouse chemistry. Maybe it’s because I don’t work for the punditocracy or some other toolhead organization.

[Just for the record, I feel compelled to point out that the A’s have reached the post season five of the last seven years. So perhaps reaching base and running up pitch counts have some merit, too.]

Snarkiness aside, I was floored that this flimsy bit of logic is really the best McNeal can come up with in support of Hunter. How do we know Hunter is a great clubhouse leader? The Twins have played in four of the last five Octobers. Oh, and his manager and some unnamed scout say he is. What more do you need?

And that’s one of the reasons why these “favorite toy” fluff pieces are ultimately silly. Unless you’re comparing one guy who’s obviously better than the rest (i.e., which center fielder would you rather have – Joe DiMaggio, Bob Dernier, or Chet Lemon?), it all comes down to your preference. And, as they say, there’s no accounting for taste.

But at the end of the day, you can’t just say, “I like Torii Hunter better than Jones or Ichiro, just because he’s a leader and stuff.” You’d have to crank that up to a 48 point font to fill a page.

The other reason these are silly – perhaps I’m just naïve, but I think the correct answer to the Ichiro, Jones, or Hunter question is really option (d): it depends.

As every pundit who’s milked a column out of a post-mortem of the 2007 Chicago Cubs have told you, you just can’t throw twenty-five guys together and expect to make a team out of them. [Although Hunter’s legendary leadership skills would help in that respect…]

My choice would depend on the make up of the rest of the roster. I lean toward Ichiro at about a sixty degree angle, because I like future Hall of Famers who get on base. But if I have a glaring need for a leadoff hitter, my lean becomes more of a topple.

If my lineup is such that my center fielder only has to be the sixth- or seventh-best hitter, then I might go with Hunter. How can anyone have a meaningful discussion of this sort of personnel decision in a vacuum?

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