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When Hype is Just Sad

As if you didn't have enough reason to be depressed, I point you to two sad articles from about Nyjer Morgan, and one about Neil Walker. You know you're in the midst of a really bad year when the mothership has to resort to articles like this. Morgan first:

However, Morgan seems to have left Pearce behind him, becoming a top-of-the-order catalyst that has forced management to rethink where the speedy outfielder may fit in the Pirates' long-term plans.

"He's taken advantage of the time he had to go down to [Triple-A] Indianapolis to the time he's had to come back and has done some very good things," manager John Russell said. "He's put himself in position to get some looks."

Morgan won't give some fancy formula for his sudden success -- he's reached base in 19 straight starts, posting a .258 batting average during that span. Yes, hitting coach Don Long has preached a "slower" approach to Morgan since the outfielder was recalled on Aug. 19, but Morgan attributes a mental adjustment to his recent offensive success.


Yes, who needs "fancy formulas," like "power" or or "patience" or "ability to hit Class AAA pitching" or "any ability to hit whatsoever" or "ability to run the bases without looking like an idiot" when can simply say you've been successful, whether you actually have been or not? 

Of course, it's likely that the entirety of the writer's research for this story consisted of walking up to John Russell and saying, "Hey, say something nice about Nyjer Morgan," but there's still the fact that Russell keeps starting him. Why? He never did anything interesting in the minors, he's 28, and here he is starting in the majors nearly every day, and he's still not doing anything good. He has a .667 OPS. And yet these arguments in favor of Morgan often seem to take for granted that Morgan has somehow blown Pearce out of the water. Actually, their hitting has been pretty similar so far. The differences between them are the same as they've always been: Pearce is much younger and and has far more upside. 

I'm actually kind of shocked that the new management team, which has seemed pretty progressive and astute about a lot of things, hasn't told Russell to knock it off and stop playing Morgan. 

By the way, a tip: "top-of-the-order catalyst" should be read as a euphemism for "he's terrible." If you want to learn about a player and you don't know anything about him other than that he's fast, just Google his name along with the word "catalyst." If you run into more than a few people trying to praise him that way, you'll know he's terrible. You won't even have to look at any numbers.

(By the way, one potentially interesting point in the article: Russell thinks that Morgan "wasn't quite prepared" for Spring Training. Other players who've been accused of not being ready to play--Salomon Torres, Josh Sharpless--have been shipped out or faced pretty severe penalties. This is the first time we're hearing about this with regard to Morgan, right? If so, I'm surprised.)

Now, as for the Neil Walker article:

Back in Spring Training, Neil Walker vowed to turn what he viewed to be unfair criticism of his physical conditioning in 2007 into incentive to finish strong in 2008.

To do so, Walker altered his winter workout habits so he could avoid the second-half swoon he endured in '07 during his first full season at Double-A. This week, speaking from PNC Park, where he is spending three days with the big league club, Walker seemed pleased with this year's end result...

That second-half offensive fade was non-existent for Walker this year. Despite finishing the season with a modest .242 batting average, Walker's best month was -- of all months -- August. The converted third baseman hit .275 with 17 RBIs in his final month of the Triple-A season.


Aside from its being the beginning of a beguiling Buddhist koan--"If Neil Walker faded, how would you know?"--this is just pathetic. I wouldn't even bother mentioning it, but Dejan Kovacevic also recently said that Walker finished the season well.

I suppose that, by ignoring inconvenient statistics and setting arbitrary endpoints, you can make the numbers say a lot of things. But here's Walker's OPS by month:

April .640

May .716

June .795

July .587

August .725

September (one game): .500

Statistically, Walker's August was barely his second-best month. Yes, he had a higher batting average than in any other month, but he also tied July for fewest extra base hits in a month, with seven. To put that another way, his two worst months for power were his last two. Insofar as Walker's August looks like a strong finish, it's mostly because it looks reasonable compared to the horrible year he was having before that. The evidence for it, though, just isn't there.

Of course, this isn't the first time has tried this with Walker, so it's not surprising that they'd try again. What's surprising is that it actually appears to be the conventional wisdom this time. The argument for Morgan seems to be picking up steam as well.