As usual, James' guide is tops

March 31, 1994|By Phil Jackman

Bill James, the man who can do more with numbers than a guy working the showroom of an auto dealership, has his annual Player Ratings book out and, once again, it lives up to its reputation as an information and entertainment gem.

For instance, where else are you going to get, by way of explaining Barry Bonds' talent, the following: "You probably don't want to hear this, but Ted Williams was never the player that this guy is. Bonds steals more bases every year than Williams did in his career. Bonds is a vastly better outfielder. Williams never hit 46 homers in a season, and never had to play in someplace like Candlestick Park. Williams never took three MVP awards in four years, or three MVP awards period. Williams never had 88 extra-base hits."

(No, but Williams did bat .344 lifetime, compile the second-best slugging percentage of all time and average 126 RBIs per year for his first 10 seasons wrapped around star-studded appearances in two wars.)

Or this one concerning Tony Phillips: "I've been a baseball fan for a long time, and this guy is the best utility player I've ever seen, by a mile . . . the man is unbelievable."

At the same time, James isn't into praising everyone who draws breath in the major leagues, far from it.

Glenn Davis, he capsules, came to the big leagues with "tremendous power, but it has disappeared [14 home runs in 511 at-bats over the past two years], and he doesn't have any peripheral skills to build on. Power was his game. If he doesn't convince somebody that it has come back, his career is over."

Former Baltimore fan favorite Billy Ripken receives the cursory "he's a good fielder at second base, but that's the only thing he has going for him." Bill's hitting .189 last season in Texas, .154 with runners in scoring position, is the corroborating evidence provided.

As usual, James assesses every ballplayer individually before ranking him with his peers by position. Cal Ripken, fifth among shortstops behind Jay Bell, Jeff Blauser, Barry Larkin and Ozzie Smith, draws these words:

"I know nobody asked me, but if anybody does, I am completely opposed to putting personal goals ahead of the good of the team. He still has the best arm among American League shortstops, and there aren't a lot of shortstops who can drive in 90 runs, but then, there aren't a lot of shortstops who ground into 20 double plays a year, either. Ripken will establish a career record for GIDP."

Ouch!

Want to know about the new kids joining the Russell Street Nine, Rafael Palmeiro, Chris Sabo, Lee Smith and Sid Fernandez?

* Palmeiro: "One of the three best first basemen in the league with Frank Thomas and [John] Olerud. Led the American League in runs scored, was fourth in total bases, fifth in homers, third in doubles, second in stolen base percentage (88 percent) . . . sixth player in history to have 40 doubles, 30 homers and 20 stolen bases in a season [Chuck Klein, Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Howard Johnson and Joe Carter are the others]."

* Sabo: "He's 32, so has probably had his best season [1991], but there's no reason to expect sudden collapse. He has lost his speed after a series of ankle and foot problems."

* Smith: "The key facts here are a lot like Dennis Eckersley's. Both men are getting old for power pitchers, both have high ERAs but still are piling up saves, both still have great strikeout rates and strikeout/walk ratios, and both gave up too many home runs. In the case of Smith, you also have to worry about the weight and his knees, but I'm not ready to declare his career over. I think he may have 100 saves left."

* Fernandez: "A one-of-a-kind pitcher, an archetype, usually at the top or bottom of any list. He's an awfully good pitcher and is only 31 years old, but has trouble controlling his weight and has had serious knee injuries in 1991 and 1993. Leaving the Mets and Shea Stadium, his strikeouts will decrease and his ERA will increase, but his won-lost record may improve. His durability will remain questionable."

As usual, Bill James assigns a monetary value to players, Bonds drawing $100 as the best in the game down through $50-$70 for All Stars, $40-$50 for very good players, $30-$40 for quality regulars, $20-$30 for run-of-the-mill regulars and $10 for role players.

Here are some of the values tacked on the Orioles: Chris Hoiles $69 and tabbed as the best catcher in the game; Palmeiro, $67; Mark McLemore, $27; Ripken, $45; Sabo, $35; Brady Anderson, $45; Mike Devereaux, $33; Jeffrey Hammonds, $27; Mike Mussina, $57; Ben McDonald, $45; Arthur Rhodes, $30; Fernandez, $28; Jamie Moyer, $35; Alan Mills, $27; Smith, $46.

Peter Angelos wishes James' scale of values was operational.

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