That dirtiest, unholiest of symbols, the Worst Possible Outcome* a hitter can achieve, the crowning embarrassment of sports, wherein a professional baseball person just stands there johnson in hand as the third pitch sails by and his mother covers her eyes in the stands.
One man besting another. Mighty Casey's stunning comeuppance. No one wants to strike out. It's the worst, dummy! Or is it?
Yes it is, according to Bill Conlin of the Philadelphia Daily News, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning** article A striking contrast between Pat B & Joe D
Striking, get it? I got it. I'm smart. I understand words.
Prepare yourself. We're about to slog through some C-minus conceptual comedy. Did I say "some"? I meant a whole damn shitload.
First, I want to thank Pat Burrell's left wrist for setting up this interview with the left hemisphere of his brain.
I warned you.
Hi, and thanks for giving me some time on this important NFL Sunday. Should I call you Pat? Half-Pat? Half-Brain?
Amazingly, it never really becomes clear why this device is necessary. He could have just called this piece "A Fake Interview In Which I Malign Pat Burrell" and been done with it. Would've been a lot more honest.PB: Any of those would be better than what some fans attach to "Brain." Pat will be fine. He used me to hit in the cage for an hour this morning, now he's moved over to his right hemisphere for the games.
Slog slog slog, slog slog slog. Remember, we're still "talking" to Pat Burrell's left brain hemisphere, even though Bill mentioned Pat's left wrist and when Pat's left brain hemisphere says "he used me to hit in the cage" you might think that you're now talking to the wrist instead, but -- you know what? Never mind.
First, I want you to take a deep breath, close your eyes and try to clear everything out of your left hemi. Ever hear of Joe DiMaggio?
PB: The guy who sold those Mr. Coffee machines, right? I remember those ads when I was a kid. And wasn't he married to that fat actress, Marilyn somebody?
Marilyn Monroe. He was the most famous baseball player in America.
YOU DAMN KIDS GET OFF MY LAWN! Again, remember: fake Pat Burrell brain half interview. He's getting fake mad at fake Pat Burrell answers he made up himself.She was the No. 1 Hollywood sex goddess back when models and actresses wearing shag sweaters weren't mistaken for pipe cleaners.
Take that, Pat Burrell's left brain hemisphere
!She never had to walk into a plastic surgeon's office and say, "Fill 'em up."
And that, you convolutedly contrived proxy for the youth I so desperately wish I could somehow regain once again! Please, please, somebody out there make me young again!Joe was also a great hitter who had that 56-game hitting streak in 1941.
I, Bill Conlin, will pay any man one million dollars to transport me back to that magical year, when hitters were hitters and racists were violent, unchecked racists.PB: Oh, that guy. Remember, I'm half-brained right now. But I do remember a tune my folks used to play that had a line, "Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?... "
Pat, DiMaggio wound up hitting .357 in '41. He only hit 30 homers because he missed 15 games with injuries and the leftfield power alley in Yankee Stadium was 415 feet. Guess how many times he struck out in 541 at-bats?
Finally. Baseball talk. Whew. But wait. I'm about to get angry again.PB: High-average power hitter? Probably put the ball in play. Maybe 100 to 125?
How about 13! That's thirteen strikeouts.
This is, of course, amazing. That is a very, very low number of strikeouts. And a very talented hitter such as Joe DiMaggio was effective at the plate with his low strikeout and low walk totals because he had a high average. But should we assume this is the norm because hey, Joe DiMaggio did it that way?
No, we should not. Rarely striking out is no indication of hitter value. It's just not. In fact, it might be a negative indicator these days.
That year that DiMaggio struck out thirteen times, he was only second in the bigs in at bats per strikeout. The man in first was Doc Cramer
, who rode that low strikeout rate all the way to a .338 slugging percentage and an OPS+ of 77. The third and fourth place finishers, Rip Radcliff and Lou Finney, also had below-league-average OPS+s. (Cecil Travis, fifth in the majors, had a great year.) The point is, not striking out is no universal salve for hitting woes.
I know you're all dying to get back to the fake interview, so here.
What a coincidence. In 2005, when you had one of your better seasons, your numbers were similar to Joe D's 1941 in some areas. You had 562 ABs, just 21 more. You hit 32 homers, two more - of course you were playing home games in a ballpark with an alley 70 feet closer than Joe's yard. But you struck out 160 times. That's 147 times more than DiMaggio struck out in just 21 more at-bats.
Yes, Pat Burrell is a high strikeout player. Joe DiMaggio, along with being an all-time great, was a low strikeout player. In 2005, Pat Burrell was 28 years old and posted an OBP of .389. In 1942, Joe DiMaggio was 27 years old (he didn't have an age 28 season) and posted an OBP of .376. Stop trying to make fake Pat Burrell feel bad. He's not Joe DiMaggio. We get it.
Even worse, though, you're fetishizing low strikeout rates. Let's look deeper and see what's going on in the modern game. Here's a list of nine hitters:
Here's another list of nine hitters:
Now, let's do a little experiment, Bill Conlin. These two teams are going to play an offense-only game of baseball. You and I are going to pick sides and bet on who's going to win. On the line will be the freedom of Mrs. Conlin, who will be sold into white slavery if you lose (you are white, aren't you? Great). You pick first.
Excellent. So unless you reallly really hate Mrs. Conlin, you picked the second group of guys. Surprise! The first list is the top nine guys in at bats per strikeout, and the second list is the top nine in total strikeouts.
That was a vague, back of the envelope way of suggesting what more rigorous studies
have tended to show: strikeouts aren't that much worse (if at all) than regular outs, and in fact, strikeout rate correlates positively with things like isolated power and slugging percentage.
And sigh, now back to Pat Burrell's half brain.PB: Yeah, but he never had to face closers. And setup men. And guys throwing close to 100 mph.
And you never had to face big-league pitching at a time when there were just 16 teams and major league baseball dwarfed every other sport in importance. Bob Feller won 25 for Cleveland that year. He was clocked at 100 mph when he was 18. And the fastball was his second-best pitch. He threw a curve in the mid-80s that used to hiss like a snake when it broke 12-to-6 and letters-to-knees. He would have turned you into the mother of all right-bracket parentheses.
He was clocked at 140 mph when he was 22. He threw a spitball made entirely from real unicorn spit. People don't talk about this, but a pitch he threw killed Princess Diana. He had a super-curvy-special pitch that broke 3-to-9-to-1-to-3.65 before lodging itself in your colon and curing your colon cancer. Bob Feller was the first openly gay astronaut.PB: So what's your point? Is this about me "protecting" Ryan Howard?
This news just in. Chase Utley has agreed to a 7-year, $85 million contract. And it sounds as if they actually think he'll earn it. Insulating Howard is part of it. But a bigger part is you getting a grip on your own baseball career. The word is you refuse to alter a flawed approach to hitting. You're stronger than DiMaggio was and he was a powerful, athletic man for his time, one of the first genuine "five-tool" players. Some scouts projected you as a .320 average, 40-homer guy for a decade. Not quite... Of course, they were basing that on the swing you had at the University of Miami before you fell totally in love with your ability to hit batting-practice pitches 500 feet.
Fun fact: Ryan Howard struck out 181 times last year. Chase Utley struck out 132 times. These gentlemen are both extraordinarily good baseball players.
Fun fact two: from 1918 to 1928, Babe Ruth led the league in strikeouts five times. The other six years, he finished second.
PB: That's a little harsh. How come Jim Thome was able to hit 47 homers in 2003 with me having my worst year? Some days it looked like Larry Bowa picked our batting order out of a hat. Abreu, Thome, Lieby, Utley, me;
Thome, Lieby, Abreu, me, Utley. I mean, on and on, different almost every day.
It's called clutching at straws. Let's close the book on Joe D's strikeouts vs. yours: Joe retired after 13 years with 361 homers - and 369 strikeouts. That's an average of 28 homers and 28 strikeouts a year. After seven seasons, you're averaging 27 homers and 147 strikeouts - that's 1,017 Ks.
Yes, let's close the book. It's a very, very uninformative book -- maybe worse than Dianetics
Funny you should mention Jim Thome. Good hitter. Great hitter. Sixth all time in career strikeouts. And he's still playing. 1,909 K's. Almost twice as many as Pat Burrell.
Hell, let's just look at the whole dang career strikeout leader list
. Out of the top fifteen guys, seven are hall of famers (and most of the others are pretty good, too).
So let's close that book. It's misleading and dumb.
PB: Chicks dig the longball...
When DiMaggio was a teenager tearing up the Pacific Coast League, they told him after signing him off the family tuna boat that if he struck out a lot he was gone. So he spread out into that ultrawide stance and cut his stride to a matter of inches. Guess who else in the 21st century game has taken the same approach?
Juan Pierre?PB: Albert Pujols? He spreads out and just sort of does like a half pivot on his front foot. And...
And then he hits it as far as you do. He's in perfect balance. His hands are always inside the ball. Bottom line, he's had the greatest first 6 years in offensive baseball history, going back to the deadball era. He's averaging 41.7 homers and 65.6 strikeouts with a career .332 average. And he just turned 27.
Juan Pierre strikes out less, so based on the information you're giving us I believe he's more like Joe DiMaggio.
Out of the top ten players in baseball in OPS, Albert Pujols is the only one with fewer than 99 strikeouts. He had 50. Seems like Bill Conlin is cherry-picking here. Actually, of course he is. Out of the top fifty players in OPS, Albert Pujols had the second-lowest strikeout total. Pujols is the outlier here. He's an uber-talented exception, not the rule.PB: So you think I should spread out so I strike out less and can protect Ryan Howard?
Pass this on to the rest of your brain, as well: Forget about protecting Ryan Howard and start worrying about protecting your own baseball reputation. Start by taking a long look in the mirror and asking, "Am I the hitter I wanted to be 7 years ago?" You won't like the answer.
This whole overthought, overwrought article can be summed up by the sentence "I, Bill Conlin, think Pat Burrell ought to spread his legs more when he hits because Joe DiMaggio was told something on a tuna boat once."
*Not true, of course (a double play causes two
**Prize awarded by Peoria, Illinois' Eric Pulitzer every three hours to the work that sets back baseball analysis the farthest
Labels: bill conlin, joe dimaggio, pat burrell, strikeouts