Tuesday, April 18, 2006

JUST HONK IT, DUSTY

I'm not sure if this is just an L.A. thing--I don't remember this being the case when I lived in/drove in/worked in Chicago-- but it seems that whenever fellow Angelinos drive through any sort of tunnel, they honk their car horns just for fun. Everything from beep-beep to the classic shave-and-a-hair-cut . . . two-bits honk. And I think I've even heard a scat or two from the artsy crowd--you know the type driving hybrids and other vehicles resembling toasters. It seems my 3 year-old son has picked up on this and now demands that we join in. I confess that I encourage it because he enjoys it, even though the Mrs. is (rightly) worried about honking enduced road-rage. So whenever we approach a tunnel or bridge, he starts commanding, "Just HONK it, daddy." "Just honk it." I'd like to co-opt his demand--not because Walker is a fellow honky--but because we need his offense in the line-up everyday.
Now, I should have said this over the weekend when I thought of it, but didn't have the time. And I'd like to thank Walker for bolstering my case--well, actually his case--with last night's performance, solid defense and great production. So let me just throw this out there and be as clear as possible: Todd Walker should start everyday.

No righty/lefty platoons. No let's get Hairston/Neifi some abs. No let's get some defense in there with a ground ball pitcher. Just play Walker. His offense more than makes up for any perceived defensive liability.

I'm not trying to cherry-pick stats and make a case, but I believe the following supports the Just Honk It argument for Walker . And I'm mostly thinking of Walker in comparison to Hairston, because--hopefully--Neifi will be used more to play SS or 3b . . . hopefully . . .

- Walker has proven himself to be a valuable offensive player for years. His VORP in '04 and '05 was 19.8 and 25.9 while Hairston's was 9.3 and 0.5. For comparison's sake, Neifi's VORP in those years was 8.6 and 6.6 for Chicago, but he had a -14.4 VORP for the Giants in '04 and -4.8 in '03.

- Walker gets on base more because he has a consistantly higher average than Hairston, even though they walk at about the same rate. And they both strike out at a relatively low rate as well, 12% of the time (From '01-'05: Walker had 309 K/2519 AB with 223 BB while Hairston had 228 K/1843 AB with 161 BB). Neifi strikes out at a lower rate than both (10%) but walks less than half as much (from '01-05: 232 K/2416 AB with 102 BB).

- Hairston has never proven he can thrive with more than 300 abs ('01: 532 ab/.233 avg; '02: 426 ab/.268 avg; '05: 380 ab/.261 avg). And he is 29, not a still-developoing 24 year old.

- Hairston appears to be more of a .260's hitter with a .320-.330 obp than the .303/.378 numbers he put up in his best year so far ('04: 287 ab), right before he came to Chicago.

-Walker's Career SLG: .443; Hairston's career SLG: .371.
- Walker can play everyday and be more than adequate at second defensively.

-The differential at 2b between Walker and Hairston is not what it is made out to be (although Hairston and Neifi are better defensively, with more range). Here is the comparison of Fielding Pct./Zone Rating from '01-'05:

Walker .984/.822 .989/.820 .975/.788 .981/.824 .985/.802
Hairston .976/.839 .982/.844 .980/.822 .983/.882 .973/.843

If the choices at 2b are Walker or Hairston, I'd start Hairston on the low end of once or twice a week. This would give him roughly 30-35 starts and about 140 PA plus pinch-hitting, late inning defensive substitutions, pinch-running and the always entertaining Dusty double switches. More importantly, by limiting Hairston's appearances and playing Walker, this would give the Cubs a very solid number two hitter ahead of Lee and Ramirez.

The good news is that Dusty isn't that far off from doing this in regard to Hairston. Hairston has 18 PA in the 12 games played this year. That translates to 243 PA for the season. A little higher than I'd like, but still keeping Walker in for the vast majority of the time. Hairston has also started 3 of 12 games, which would project to be about 40 for the year.

The problem is that Hairston isn't the only player in the mix with Walker. Neifi has one start at 2b and two at 3b. My concern is that Ramirez had a sprained butt during some of this time so Neifi might get a higher percentage of his time at 2b, unless he is the designated SS/3b replacement, which is preferable. And I have no clue how Bynum will be used, but I suspect he's the latest reincarnation of Augie Ojeda. Which means too many at-bats will be wasted on him. But hey, at least Walker hasn't been traded yet . . .