Orioles haven't caught break from Tettleton trade


May 07, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

It's only May (remember when it was "only April"?), and it's not like Dan Quayle is president or anything, so it's still probably a little early to panic. But, tell me, what do you think of the Mickey Tettleton for Jeff Robinson trade?

I mean, right now.

Do you think it was a good idea to unload the Mick to make way for Ernie Whitt et al?

Do you think Jeff Robinson is headed for the bullpen?

L Do you think Frank Robinson is headed for a deep depression?

It's only May and statistics are not yet what you'd call meaningful, but, as of now, Tettleton is off to a Tettleton-type year, which, for good or ill, is a lot more than any of the Orioles' catchers can say.

To examine the offensive, uh, production of the three Orioles catchers, one should first avail oneself of a magnifying glass. Squinting is allowed. So is sighing. Here it is: Going into last night's game, the Orioles' three catchers had a combined .198 batting average and a .244 on-base percentage, with no homers, pTC 3 RBI and two runs scored. Without Whitt, the batting average slips to .172.

Even on the Orioles, who have seven, OK, let's still call them hitters with averages under .200, this is considered to be a slump.

It might have been nice to have Tettleton to slip somewhere into that lineup. He's hitting only .231 for Detroit, but he has 13 walks to put his on-base percentage at .354. He also has three doubles and three homers and 10 RBI and has scored 13 runs. In other words, his run production (I love this stat: runs plus RBI minus homers) is 20, which would put him second on the Orioles. The three Orioles catchers have a combined run production of 5.

Now there are other considerations, including Tettleton's goofy stance. It's understandable, from a purely aesthetic point of view, that you wouldn't want that stance at the new, aesthetically enhanced ballpark. And then there is the matter of Tettleton's much discussed tendency to strike out. He hasn't lost a thing this year, already striking out 19 times. Guess what? The Orioles' catchers stand at 24.

This may change. I don't think Chris Hoiles is going to bat .167 this year. He may become a good hitter or even a great hitter who becomes the regular catcher for the next 10 years. I wish, though, that if the Orioles had planned to unload Tettleton that they had given Hoiles a better shot in the big leagues last year.

But to suggest that the Orioles couldn't have used Tettleton as a catcher/DH/pinch-hitter/cereal eater/three-run-home-run hitter, at least as insurance against Hoiles never hitting, is, well, a point of view that has not yet played out. Instead, the Orioles, who like to think of themselves as contenders, determined that the untried Hoiles, the defensive backup Bob Melvin and the aged Ernie Whitt were all they needed.

The Orioles gave several reasons for unloading Tettleton. One is that he doesn't handle pitchers well (the Tigers' team ERA is about a run lower than the Orioles' so far) and that he doesn't throw out runners (6 of 17 this year is not horrible).

And they traded him to get Robinson. A prediction: Bob Milacki soon replaces Robinson, who is 1-3 with a 6.75 ERA and who lasted one-third of an inning in his last start, in the four-man rotation. And that when it goes back to a five-man, Dave Johnson gets the call.

The real reason they traded Tettleton was because they didn't want to pay him. Frank Robinson, who can usually be trusted, and everyone else on the Orioles say that isn't true, but you'll never convince me of it.

Where does that leave the Orioles, besides with the second-lowest payroll in baseball? In about sixth place, last anyone looked.

And so far, it leaves them with an off-season that hasn't yet been quite as productive as they'd hoped. The exception is, of course, Dwight Evans, who has proven he can still play the outfield and still hit. The downside is that he remains one swing away from re-injuring his back.

We know about injuries. The big injury to Glenn Davis has changed the outlook on that trade. Although it isn't the Orioles' fault that Davis was hurt, it's only fair to note that Pete Harnisch is leading the National League in ERA and that Curt Schilling is proving to be a reliable stopper. The trade was always a bad one if the Orioles failed to sign Davis. Now, with Davis' season reduced by the injury, the trade would look even worse if the Orioles don't persuade Davis, if he's healthy, to stay beyond this season.

They need Davis' home-run bat to bring a dimension to the Orioles' lineup they've missed since Eddie Murray left. Tettleton wasn't that cleanup hitter they needed, but that doesn't mean he didn't have value. Though the Mick is far from perfect, he does enough things right that the Orioles are poorer, at least on the field, without him.

A statistical comparison

A look at how the Baltimore Orioles' Ernie Whitt, Bob Melvin and Chris Hoiles and the Detroit Tigers' Mickey Tettleton are doing through Sunday's games:

... ... .... ... ... AVG..OBA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS E

Ernie Whitt ... .... 294 .368 17 1 5. 0. 0. 0.. 0. 2. 4. 0. 0 0

Bob Melvin ... .. ...179 .207 28 0 5. 1. 0. 0.. 2. 1.12. 0. 0 0

Chris Hoiles.... ....167..225 36 1 6. 1. 0. 0.. 1. 2. 8. 0. 1 0

Mickey Tettleton ....231 .354 65 13.15 3 0..3..10. 13 19.0. 1 1

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