The U Files Case # 26: Devils in the Outfield

1st Time Since '94 Slg. % Was Below League Average

The Mets once had a respectable offense, but even then their strength was in the infield. Back in the good old days, the core of their offense included Edgardo Alfonzo, John Olerud, Mike Piazza, and Robin Ventura in a career year. Rickey Henderson had his last good year, and Benny Agbayani had his famous streak. The next year, Benny was the only Mets outfielder to put up decent numbers. Derek Bell, acquired in the Hampton trade, was a failure. The Met outfield was an embarrassment in 2001.

One of the additions intended to turn the Met offense from a lumpy blob of fat to a chiseled mass of muscle was that of Jeromy Burnitz to the outfield. The lefty slugger was to provide a powerful presence at the bottom of the batting order. Roger Cedeno was added to turn a quivering mass of muscle to a faster, quivering mass of muscle. To do so and accomplish little more aside from losing draft picks, the Mets overpaid Cedeno.

Both were considered failures for the year they had in 2002. Cedeno actually appeared tentative on the bases until late in the season, and somehow managed to provide even less power than the substandard level his popgun bat had produced for a starting outfielder. Jeromy Burnitz, maligned for his propensity to strike out, seemed to do little else, if you discount the parade of pop-ups he mixed in.

First, I'll examine Jeromy Burnitz. Prior to his disappointing return to the Big Apple, he'd established himself with five years of prodigious home run and walk production. The park he played in was about neutral, sporting batting park factors of 101, 101, 100, 96, and 101 in his five years. (Miller Park, known as a hitters park, put up park factors of 101 and 96 after opening in 2001). A factor of 100 is neutral, factors over 100 favor batters and factors below 100 favor hitters.

Burnitz hit over 30 homers four times and over 100 ribbies three, posting an OPS over .811 and twice surpassing the .900 mark. He posted OPS+ numbers of 140, 117, 141, 107, and 116, where OPS+ is a normalized stat comparing a players OPS to the league average. Burnitz' stats can be found here. OPS+ as posted here is a stat exclusive to baseball-reference.com, which uses it's own formula which is explained here.

Shea Stadium has been more of a pitcher's park than the two ballparks used in Milwaukee over the period 1999-2001. Adjusting Burnitz' OBP and SLG to Shea Stadium produce these numbers: .391/.547 in 1999, .351/.449 in 2000, and .335/.486 in 2001. There are many ways of increasing complexity used by statheads to project performance. The simplest is to take the weighted average over a period of a few years. I took my park-adjusted numbers and used a three-year average, weighing 2001 three times, 2000 twice, and 1999 once. I got this: .350 OBP, .484 SLG.

To be more precise, I could take component park factors (factors for singles, doubles, homers, walks, etc), and computed an adjusted, averaged Jeromy Burnitz stat line. But, the only stats available at baseball-reference.com are overall park factors and I don't have on hand any copies of the STATS, inc Major League handbook. So, I unscientifically made up a stat line for Burnitz that more or less matches his adjusted OBP and SLG numbers. This is what I got:

AB

H

2B

3B

HR

BB

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

531

133

20

2

29

85

.250

.343

.478

.822



531 AB is Burnitz' (non-weighted) average over the three years before 2002. Figure he's 33 in 2002 and this stat line should give a reasonable estimate of what to have expected. Instead, he produced this:

AB

H

2B

3B

HR

BB

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

479

103

15

0

19

58

.215

.311

.365

.677



Burnitz fell short of expectations by about 150 points of OPS. Shocking was his sudden lack of power. 2002 marked the first time since 1994 that Burnitz' SLG fell below the league average, and in that season, he had just 143 AB. His walk rate was down, but represents a three-year trend. In 2000, he drew .144 walks per PA. In 2001, he drew .123. Last year he drew .106. As the stats above show, his adjusted OBP has also fallen. In fact, the .343 projection was above his adjusted OBP of .335 in 2001. His K/BB ratio has increased from 1.22 to 1.875 to 2.327.

His remarkable loss of power would seem like more of a fluke were it not for his decline in batting eye. It may be that he's losing his physical abilities with the bat, and pitchers are taking advantage of it by throwing more strikes.

Cedeno never provided as much with the bat as Burnitz. However, in the three years before last year he provided more than Burnitz did last year. He posted OPS of .804, .781, and .733. In fact those last two years were about the same: His OPS+ numbers were 109, 93, and 94. He was in a high offense environment in 2000 when he posted an OPS of .781. Last year his OPS fell to .664, his OPS+ to 80. Ironically, while he stole fewer bases than in his last two full years, his stolen base percentage was the highest it's been since 1997, when he had 194 AB and stole 9 of 10 bases. He stole successfully 86 percent of the time.

Cedeno has a better chance of rebounding if Burnitz' precipitous decline in batting eye is any indication. He'll still be a below average batter, though. Burnitz may be nothing but a waste of space, but it'll be hard to get rid of him after last season. The Mets seem to be hoping he'll rebound. I suggest you send good vibes Jeromy's way.



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