Purgatory Online

Thursday, January 09, 2003

Rob Neyer continues his inexplicable jihad against Darin Erstad's new contract. Neyer gives a token acknowledgement to Erstad's defense, then talks smack about his hitting - which is at least a small step up from his original attack, in which defense was completely ignored. In the first article, Neyer flat-out says Erstad "isn't a good player." In the latest incarnation, he puts him at about the 100th-best player in the majors. Taken together, those two statements mean that at least seven-eighths of major league baseball players aren't good.

Neyer's made up his mind about Erstad, and so he's deliberately blowing off answering the arguments made by Bill Shaikin in the Los Angeles Times, even after quoting them, to focus on the one point at which they actually agree - Erstad's offensive numbers are so-so. The problem is that his contract isn't solely based on offense - it's also based on the fact that he's the best defensive center fielder in baseball.

I'm not kidding. Look up the numbers yourself if you want to. In 2002, Erstad led the majors in putouts, range factor, and zone rating, finished second in assists and third in double plays, and made one error in 1227.2 innings. They don't put you in center field if you can't play defense, but Erstad is clearly the cream of the crop when it comes to playing his position.

Neyer also ignores Erstad's speed. Erstad stole 23 bases in 2002, which led the Angels and tied for ninth in the AL. And, more fundamentally, overlooks the fact that on-base percentage and slugging percentage, while important, were less important on the 2002 Angels than usual, thanks to their "small ball" philosophy. Neyer actually sneered at such tactics all year long while lavishing praise on the A's and their "wait for the three-run homer" approach. Scioscia preached the gospel of get 'em on, get 'em over, and get 'em in, which relies a lot more on situational hitting and sacrifices than Neyer is comfortable with. It turned out to work, though, and I have the videotape to prove it. Now, three guesses as to who hit second for the Angels this year, and thus was responsible for the "get 'em over" part. Three more guesses who on the team had the highest ratio of grounders to fly balls, the key to moving a runner from first to second.

Among these other things, Erstad is also a fan favorite and a team leader - if anyone is in the mysterious "core" Stoneman mentioned a while ago, Ersty is. Considering that this team did win 99 games in the regular season and their first World Series ever, maybe keeping him around isn't such a bad idea.

One final thought: yesterday, in on online chat, Neyer opined on the subject of whether or not Gary Carter was really worthy of the Hall of Fame. "OF COURSE he is," said Neyer. Carter's career OPS was .774. Erstad's is .779.