Episode 5: July 2, 2010
The Texas Rangers averaged over 7 runs per game in June, led by Vladimir Guerrero who is destroying baseballs the way he has for the past 14 years, and still not getting the recognition he deserves. The exciting and colorful bad ball hitter is a sure-fire Hall of Famer and one of the all-time greats, yet he is often placed in the same category as good-but-not-great players like David Wright, Grady Sizemore, and Jason Bay.
Please note: this is not an exact transcription of the episode.
If you're not paying attention to the American League West you probably didn't even notice, because it happened so fast: the Texas Rangers won 21 out of 27 games in June and were tied with the Yankees for the best record in baseball on the night of June 30.
I'm Alex Reisner and you're listening to Game of Chance a show about baseball statistics, history, culture, and the role of luck in baseball.
How are they doing it? How are the Rangers, who were a .500 team at the beginning of June, winning so many games? Well, I'll give you a hint: it's not their pitching. Their pitching has actually been good, but their hitting has been absurdly good. In the month of June they averaged over 7 runs per game. And they did it against some good pitchers too, including:
6 runs against Mark Buehrle,
6 runs against Gavin Floyd,
6 runs against James Shields,
4 runs against Matt Garza (in a loss),
5 runs against Scott Kazmir,
8 runs against Roy Oswalt.
7 runs against Felix Hernandez (who, by the way, pitched his third consecutive complete game last night, shutting out the Yankees).
This is a potent offense. Josh Hamilton, Vladimir Guerrero, Nelson Cruz, and Michael Young are all hitting over .300 with at least 10 home runs (Hamilton and Guerrero each have 18). Second baseman Ian Kinsler's on-base percentage is .391. Shortstop Elvis Andrus has a .380 on-base percentage and 22 stolen bases. This is a team that swings the bat. They don't strike out a lot and they don't walk a lot. They just get a ton of hits.
In the last episode I mentioned that Vladimir Guerrero is one of the all-time greats. I don't know why people are surprised by this, or by that he's having such a great season. I don't know why he accepted a 10 million dollar pay cut. If you look at his numbers, last year is clearly not in line with his usual production...he had an off-year, and I think because he's 36, he's at an age when a lot of hitters start to decline, people thought he might be done. But there aren't many players in history as good as Vladimir Guerrero and if anyone has the ability to stay strong into their late 30s, it's a player of that caliber. You'd think someone as good as Vladdy would get the benefit of the doubt, but for some reason people still don't understand how great he is.
Last year The Sporting News printed a list of the 50 greatest active players. Their top 10 is pretty good, but then it gets weird, and Guerrero is listed at #37, behind players like Grady Sizemore, Jose Reyes, Mark Teixeira, David Wright, and Alfonso Soriano. I mean, those guys are good, but they are not at the same level as Guerrero. Guerrero should not be getting confused with those kinds of players.
I guess it's partly because he played half of his career for that little team in Montreal, but I don't really know how he's been so overlooked:
* 8 all-star selections
* 2004 AL MVP award, perennial candidate
* The only outfielders with more Silver Slugger Awards are Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez
* his career slugging percentage is #14 all-time
* The 12th player to hit 300 home run before turning 30 (Hank Aaron, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Eddie Mathews, Harmon Killebrew, Mel Ott, Frank Robinson, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey, Jr., Juan González, and Andruw Jones).
* Among players who have hit 400 home runs, his batting average is 6th:
| willite01 | 521 | 0.344 |
| ruthba01 | 714 | 0.342 |
| gehrilo01 | 493 | 0.340 |
| musiast01 | 475 | 0.331 |
| foxxji01 | 534 | 0.325 |
| guerrvl01 | 407 | 0.321 |
I know if you're not a big fan of batting average you probably blow that off, but batting average isn't quite as worthless a stat as it's been made out to be. If you like on-base percentage better, well, Vlad has a higher on-base percentage than Ichiro, who is a similar kind of hitter in that he swings a lot, though obviously with less power than Guerrero. If you want to talk about a stat that really matters let's look at runs created per game, where Vladdy is #32 all-time at 8.00, better than Matt Holliday, Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Howard, Ryan Braun, and a bunch of other players who were better than #37 on The Sporting News Top 50.
He's not ranked so low because of his fielding, if you're wondering about that. Until recently he was a really good outfielder with one of the strongest arms in the game. Every year he had one of the top range factors in the league, and among active players only Bobby Abreu has more assists from right field.
It's also not because of his baserunning. He's stolen 179 bases so far, and in 2002 he was one home run short of being the fifth 40-40 club member. That's the kind of all-around ability Guerrero's had for most of his career. He's the complete package.
Guerrero swings a lot. He doesn't get walked as many times as other hitters who are equally as dangerous because he swings at so many pitches. But he doesn't strike very much. He's never struck out 100 times in a season, and he's not usually that close (averges 70/year in his full seasons)...in fact, he strikes out about as often as leadoff hitters like Johnny Damon, Jose Reyes, and Jimmy Rollins. They all strike out around once in every 9 plate appearances, which is very good for this era of baseball.
He doesn't strike out a lot because he can hit anything. This is maybe the most fantastic thing about Guerrero: when he was young he got a lot of criticism for swinging at bad pitches, but after a while people couldn't criticize him anymore because his results were so good. He's what's known as a "bad ball hitter" which means that he gets hits on pitches that are out of the strike zone, and sometimes they're *way* out of the strike zone. If you have MLB.tv and you can pull up the replay you should really check this out: on May 18 of this year he hit a home run on against the Angels on a pitch that was basically in the dirt. It was a breaking ball that was about to bounce. Seriously. *And* it was outside and he somehow pulled it over the wall in left field. It was pretty spectacular. Definitely take a look at that if you can. Then of course there was last August 14 against the Orioles when he hit a pitch that actually did bounce...and he hit a bloop single...you can check that one out on MLB.tv too.
Another thing about Guerrero is that he doesn't wear batting gloves. You have to love that. There aren't many guys who don't wear batting gloves anymore...Jason Kendall, Jorge Posada...I think that's it. I can't think of any others. That's why his helmet is always so dirty, in case you were wondering. That's where he stores his pine tar...for easy access when he picks up a bat.
Anyway, I hope you're convinced that Vladimir Guerrero deserves more credit than he's been getting. He is not the 37th best active player, he's in the top 10. He's not having some kind of freak season. You shouldn't be surprised about what he's doing in Texas. He's absolutely one of the all-time greats. His legs aren't in great shape anymore but as long as he can stay at DH he'll hit 500 home runs before he's done (he's at 425 right now). I'll bet he has three more good years in him and he gets to 500 pretty easily. Maybe when that happens people will start to recognize how great he is. A month ago ESPN had a front-page story about how the Rangers should trade Guerrero now while his value is up. Like it's some kind of fluke. Now that the Rangers have the best record in baseball I don't think anyone's talking about Guerrero being traded. Not that I think the Rangers are going to the World Series, but I do think Guerrero will finish the season strong and I hope people realize that he's still a team leader, even on a powerhouse like the Rangers.
That's all for this episode, but if you have something to say I've got a phone line set up now, waiting for your call. If you've got something good you can be on the next episode. If you just have a rant you can leave a message. Any topic you want. The number is 32323 00 233. In a more conventional rhythm it's 323 230 0233. Again that's 323 230 0233 or 32323 00 233.
I'm Alex Reisner and you've been listening to Game of Chance. To leave comments and for more information check out the web site at gameofchance.alexreisner.com.
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