Rob Neyer

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Friday, July 19
 
A stroll through the sortables

By Rob Neyer
ESPN.com

There are very few big surprises among the game's best hitters this season. Employing ESPN.com's revamped sortable stats, one is presented with a page listing the top 40 hitters in the majors, as ranked by OPS (which, in case you haven't been paying attention for the last five years, is a mongrel metric derived by adding on-base percentage to slugging percentage).

Anyway, there are only two huge surprises on the list, and they're both second basemen for 2001 World Series teams.

            2002 OPS Rank   2001 OPS
J. Spivey      943    22       777
A. Soriano     938    25       736

Both were good in 2001. Both have been great in 2002. There's a big difference between Spivey and Soriano, though; Spivey is three years older than Soriano (if you believe Soriano's listed birth date, which to this point hasn't been seriously questioned). For that reason, Soriano seems more likely to enjoy the better career, his nonexistent plate discipline notwithstanding.

At the other end of the spectrum -- at the very bottom of the OPS rankings -- we find a player who makes $4.1 million this season. Granted, Neifi Perez (557 OPS) is a fine defensive shortstop, but it's difficult to argue that he deserves what he's getting. The Dodgers' Cesar Izturis, also a shortstop, has almost identical hitting stats, but the difference is that Izturis' salary is roughly five percent of Perez's.

In terms of disconnect between salary and performance, though, nobody -- or at least, nobody who hasn't spent most of the season on the DL -- can beat Greg Vaughn. The Devil Rays are paying Vaughn $8.75 million this season, and his .601 OPS ranks 164th (among major leaguers who have played enough to qualify for the batting title).

Other OPS/salary disasters include Jeff Cirillo (609/$6.4 million), Tony Womack (611/$4.5 million), Barry Larkin (673/$9 million) and Jeromy Burnitz (656/$7.2 million; letting him go might be the smartest move Dean Taylor will ever make).

One more thing about the guys near the bottom of the OPS list ... when discussing the Rockies' disappointing season, it's fair to point the finger at the club's big-money pitchers, Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle. But they've also got two regulars in the lineup, shortstop Juan Uribe (614 OPS) and center fielder Juan Pierre (612) who have done virtually nothing at the plate. Consider the Coors Field effect, diminished this season but still significant, and they might be the two worst everyday hitters in the majors.

Back to the positive, among the big surprises, I could have listed Pat "the Bat" Burrell. Granted, when he was drafted a lot of people thought he would eventually become a superstar in the major leagues. Doubt was aroused after his first two seasons with the Phillies, which were good but not great. This year, though, it looks like a lot of people were right, as Burrell's been great, with a 994 OPS that ranks 13th in the majors.

Looking at the sortable pitching stats, we find more surprises at the top, even though old standbys like Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and Randy Johnson rank Nos. 2, 3 and 4 in the ERA rankings.

No. 1? Derek Lowe (2.45), and I'll happily admit I thought it was crazy to make a starter out of him. After all, Lowe entered the 2002 season with a 5.95 ERA in 22 career starts. He was a fine starter in the minors, though, and the Red Sox saw something I didn't. I'm not convinced he's the best pitcher in the American League -- it looks like he's been exceptionally "hit-lucky" -- but it's now pretty obvious that the rotation is where he belongs.

After Lowe, the next five spots are held by the aforementioned three Hall of Famers, then Bartolo Colon and Pedro Martinez. No surprises there. But the next three spots are held by pitchers with something less than household names ...

  
Roy Halladay  2.78
Joel Pineiro  2.84 
Elmer Dessens 2.91

Halladay actually isn't that surprising. He was excellent in both 1999 and 2001, but a horrendous 2000 season caused people like me to look askance at his future. Looks like 2000 was the exception.

Similarly, as a rookie in 2001, Pineiro posted a brilliant 2.03 ERA with the Mariners. That was only 75 innings, though, so we didn't know if he was for real. He is.

That leaves Dessens as the biggest surprise of the season, ERA-wise. What's his secret? He's allowed approximately one hit per inning, his control has been good but not great, and he's allowed 14 home runs, (again) good but not great. With all due respect, I have to posit that Dessens has simply been lucky. He's 30 years old, and his ERA over the rest of the season will be closer to his 4.40 career ERA than his 2002 mark.





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