It's time to take a tit-for-stat account of the Orioles by the numbers


March 10, 1991|By PETER SCHMUCK

Baseball always has been a game played by the numbers, which explains the recent proliferation of statistical manuals and numerical esoterica. The events on the field are nice and all that, but -- be honest -- you really won't know what you saw until it has been key-punched, cross-referenced and committed to book form.

Granted, who wouldn't enjoy a good hour or two of deep statistical analysis? You don't even have to lie on a couch and admit you hate your mother (unless, of course, you want to). All you have to do is go to the bookstore and buy any one of a number of volumes devoted to the mathematical dissection of the national pastime.

But which one? "The Bill James Baseball Abstract" was the first to gain a wide audience, but he got out of the business after the monster he created began eating the brains of once-casual sports fans.

"The Elias Baseball Analyst" has become the major-league stat leader, with its topical team-by-team analyses and in-depth individual breakdowns, but competition continues to grow. STATS (which stands for Sports Team Analysis and Tracking Systems, another well-known statistical service) has come out with a book this year that examines a variety of contemporary baseball issues from a statistical standpoint without resorting to a player-by-player catalog.

These two volumes form the basis for today's look at some numbers that shape the game and some others that are just plain bent out of shape. Forgive the Baltimore bias, but we'll take a sabermetrical trip around the major leagues in a future column.

Stat: The Orioles got less production out of their cleanup spot last year than any other major-league club. The fourth spot in the order had the lowest combined batting average (.222), the fewest hits (128), the fewest home runs (16), the lowest slugging average (.369), the fewest extra-base hits (50) and the fewest RBI (78) in baseball. Manager Frank Robinson used six different hitters in the cleanup spot, but only Joe Orsulak hit well there, batting .371 in 16 games.

Source: "Elias Baseball Analyst."

Comment: The acquisition of Glenn Davis is going to take a lot of pressure off all the other cleanup hitters, since none of them will have to bat fourth anymore.

Stat: Robinson has said repeatedly this spring that his young hitters need to be more selective at the plate, but the Orioles were the most patient team in the major leagues last year, averaging 3.77 pitches per plate appearance.

Source: "STATS Baseball Scoreboard."

Comment: Now we know why every game at Memorial Stadiu seems to last 3 hours, 50 minutes.

Stat: Only 49 players in major-league history have switched leagues after hitting 20 home runs or more the previous season. Forty (82 percent) of them saw their home run totals drop during their first year in the new league.

Source: "Elias Baseball Analyst."

Comment: Davis should just pack up and go back to th Astrodome, the friendly stadium where he hit four of his 22 home runs last year.

Stat: Former Oriole Pete Harnisch and current Oriole Bob Milacki ranked second and third, respectively, among the five slowest-working pitchers in baseball. The games Harnisch started were clocked at an average of 3:08:27. The Orioles needed slightly less time (3:07:20) to get through Milacki's starts. Mickey Tettleton, traded to the Detroit Tigers, was the slowest-working catcher, averaging 3:04:27 per nine innings.

Source: "STATS Baseball Scoreboard."

Comment: These guys obviously have something against sportswriters on deadline.

Stat: Brady Anderson has batted .231 or lower in each of his first three major-league seasons. Only two other outfielders in major-league history have batted .231 or lower in their first three big-league seasons -- Ed Kennedy (1883-85) and Bob Coluccio (1973-75).

Source: "Elias Baseball Analyst."

Comment: Those other two outfielders washed out of the majo leagues after three seasons. The Orioles have not given up hope that Anderson can be the full-time leadoff hitter this season.

Stat: The two worst cold-weather hitters in the major leagues are the Los Angeles Dodgers' Eddie Murray and the Orioles' Cal Ripken. When the temperature is 50 degrees or below, Murray has a lifetime .111 average and Ripken has a career .152 average.

Source: "STATS Baseball Scoreboard."

Comment: Whoever thought up this stat needs a copy of th Elias Baseball Psychoanalyst.

Stat: Left-hander Jeff Ballard displayed a measurable drop in arm strength during his time in the starting rotation in 1990. His ERA for the first three innings of his starts was 2.29, but it ballooned to 8.16 from the fourth inning on.

Source: "Elias Baseball Analyst."

Comment: Everybody is marveling this spring at Ballard's increased arm strength, but he recently had another bout with elbow soreness. Fortunately for him, he could improve on last year with it in a cast.

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