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Baked and Toasted
by alex ciepley
Jim Baker is far and away my favorite writer over at ESPN.com, though he's perhaps less well-known than luminaries Rob Neyer and Pyotr Gammons, Esq., in part because you have to pay to read Baker's stuff every day. I find him well worth the bucks I spend on my ESPN Insider subscription, and encourage those who like to open their day with a dose of humorous, intelligent baseball writing to sign up. And no, I have no ties to ESPN.com or Baker, I just think he's cool.
At any rate, yesterday Baker casually wondered (subscription required) in his column if the Yankees' imposing middle of its lineup (Rodriguez, Giambi, Sheffield) was the best in baseball history. Always the brown-noser, I quickly wrote up an email and dashed it off to Mr. Baker-boy. I even found a way to work in the Cubs to make it relevant to TCR. The letter follows:
So, I was thinking about your question, "Can you suggest a 3-4-5 combo in baseball history that has the potency of Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield?" And I immediately thought, "Well, yes!"
Baseball Prospectus (BP) has a neat little stat called "MLVr", which they define as:
MLVr is a rate-based version of Marginal Lineup Value (MLV), a measure of offensive production created by David Tate and further developed by Keith Woolner. MLV is an estimate of the additional number of runs a given player will contribute to a lineup that otherwise consists of average offensive performers. MLVr is approximately equal to MLV per game. The league average MLVr is zero (0.000).
If you have an MLVr rate of, say, .250, it means you're adding an additional quarter of a run per game to your team's box score more than a regular scrub would. To make it even more basic, just think, "The higher the number, the better!"
BP projects the following 2004 MLVr for the Yankees' thunderous threesome:
2004 YANKEES MLVr Alex Rodriguez: .327 Jason Giambi: .297 Gary Sheffield: .218 -------------------- TOTAL: .842
This is a nice little number, and likely one of the most productive middle of the orders this year. But historically great? Probably not. Check this out:
2001 GIANTS MLVr Barry Bonds .958 Jeff Kent .273 J.T. Snow .050 -------------------- TOTAL: 1.281
There was no real fifth hitter in the 2001 Giants lineup, so I chose Snow, who hit in that spot often enough. Plus, I like names that evoke thoughts of precipitation. As you can see, basically anyone could fill the Giants' number five spot, since Bonds by himself had a higher rate of production than that expected from the Yanks' big three. Hard to fathom, maybe, but there you go.
And if you're willing to eschew the number 5 spot altogether in the '01 Giants, and include Rich Aurilia (.398 MLVr) instead, you get a whopping total of 1.629, or about double what the Yankees can expect.
For poops and snickers -- and since I'm a Cubs fan and like to croon self-centeredly about my team -- I thought I'd take a look at the 2001 Cubs and see if Sammy's monster season had an effect similar to Bonds' on the Cubs' order.
2001 CUBS MLVr Sammy Sosa .661 Fred McGriff .297 Rondell White .264 -------------------- TOTAL: 1.222
Here we go again! The 2001 Cubs' 3-4-5 handily outperformed the projected results from this year's New York team. Both Sosa and Bonds had seasons for the ages in 2001, supplying huge amounts of production to the middle of their teams' lineups. Will the '04 Yankees be an intimidating heart of the order? Sure, but it will take more than just the status quo from their three great sluggers to make them one of history's best: someone will have to step up and deliver a season above and beyond what can be expected.