Elias book cannon-izes Orsulak arm

Ken Rosenthal

February 28, 1992|By Ken Rosenthal

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The 1992 Elias Baseball Analyst portrays Joe Orsulak's arm as a howitzer responsible for one of the greatest outfield explosions in the history of the game.

We're truly sorry about this.

But Joe, it just ain't so.

Indeed, if Orsulak's arm truly commanded respect, he never would have compiled the 22 outfield assists that made his '91 season such a statistical freak.

Statistics are the lifeblood of baseball, and heaven knows we all love the Analyst. But this is an example of numbers gone haywire.

The outfielders with the best arms never collect many assists. Baserunners simply won't test them, for fear of getting thrown out.

No question, Orsulak improved his throwing dramatically last season, especially his accuracy. But to hear the Analyst tell it, he's Smokin' Joe, firing bullets from left and right.

Take it away, Elias:

* Orsulak led the majors with his 22 assists, seven more than runners-up Jay Buhner, Ken Griffey Jr., Ruben Sierra, Felix Jose and Marquis Grissom.

Over the past 50 years, only three outfielders led the majors by that wide a margin -- Dave Parker (1977), Johnny Callison (1963) and Roberto Clemente (1961).

* The 22 assists not only were the highest total in the majors since 1985, they matched the highest total by an Orioles/St. Louis Browns outfielder since Beau Bell had 22 in 1937.

* Orsulak reached that total in only 132 games. The last player with that many assists in so few games was the Chicago White Sox's Dave Philley in 1948 (22 in 128 games).

* To top it off, Orsulak made only one error all season. If not for that, only three players in history would have had even half as many assists in an errorless season:

Carl Yastrzemski (16 in 1977), Ken Berry (13 in 1972) and Mel Ott (13 in 1937).

"Can I go to the Hall of Fame, too?" Orsulak asked.

Not so fast, Slak Man.

"He's not the classic thrower," Orioles manager John Oates said. "Any scout who sits in the stands and grades outfielders throwing wouldn't give Joe great grades.

"You've heard of teams winning ugly. For me, Joe threw runners out ugly. But the bottom line was, he threw them out.

"I don't care if he kicks the ball home if he gets them out -- as long as he doesn't hurt the ballclub over throwing the cutoff man."

Smokin' Joe has been known to do that on occasion, driving the coaching staff crazy by allowing runners to advance behind his throws.

But Orsulak said, "I don't ever intentionally miss the cutoff man to throw a guy out." And Oates conceded, "I'd rather a player be over-aggressive than under-aggressive."

The fact is, Orsulak deserves some credit, even if fellow outfielder Brady Anderson joked, "He was so close to the runner on some of those assists, he could have tagged the guy."

Seriously, folks . . .

"He charged the ball hard, and put a lot of balls right on the money," said Dwight Evans, who knows a thing or two about throwing (and never recorded more than 15 outfield assists in a year).

"To have that many assists, you've got to have people go on you. He made some throws I thought were just tremendous. He's got a better arm than you think."

Assistant GM Frank Robinson said, "He was unbelievably accurate. It was almost to the point where runners tagged themselves out. The fielders didn't have to do much with the ball."

Orsulak knows he caught some breaks -- balls scooped out of the dirt, relay throws on which he had the first assist. He also knows how misleading these statistics can be.

In '88, Larry Sheets had nine outfield assists to Orsulak's six. Sheets was a brutal outfielder. But runners tried to advance on his numerous misplays, and he would sometimes throw them out.

The true mystery is why opponents kept trying to run on Orsulak, who tied a club record against Cleveland Sept. 12 with three assists in one game, then recorded two more against New York less than a week later.

The Slak Man threw out eight runners in his first 30 games, then only five in his next 76. The Analyst notes he finished with "a spectacular closing kick: nine assists in his last 26 games."

How?

"It's not an advertised stat," said Orsulak, who also had his usual offensive season, batting .278 with five homers, 43 RBIs, and a 21-game hitting streak, third longest in club history.

"If someone comes in with a 10-game hitting streak, everyone knows about it. Just because you throw a few guys out in a row, that doesn't alert anybody not to run. They just go on their reports -- average arm."

That's our Joe.

Mr. Average.

Mr. Accomplished.

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