It's time to take a tit-for-stat account of the Orioles by the numbers

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Baseball always has been a game played by the numbers, which explains the recent proliferation of statistical manuals and numerical esoterica. The events on the field are nice and all that, but -- be honest -- you really won't know what you saw until it has been key-punched, cross-referenced and committed to book form.

Granted, who wouldn't enjoy a good hour or two of deep statistical analysis? You don't even have to lie on a couch and admit you hate your mother (unless, of course, you want to). All you have to do is go to the bookstore and buy any one of a number of volumes devoted to the mathematical dissection of the national pastime.

But which one? "The Bill James Baseball Abstract" was the first to gain a wide audience, but he got out of the business after the monster he created began eating the brains of once-casual sports fans.

"The Elias Baseball Analyst" has become the major-league stat leader, with its topical team-by-team analyses and in-depth individual breakdowns, but competition continues to grow. STATS (which stands for Sports Team Analysis and Tracking Systems, another well-known statistical service) has come out with a book this year that examines a variety of contemporary baseball issues from a statistical standpoint without resorting to a player-by-player catalog.

These two volumes form the basis for today's look at some numbers that shape the game and some others that are just plain bent out of shape. Forgive the Baltimore bias, but we'll take a sabermetrical trip around the major leagues in a future column.

Stat: The Orioles got less production out of their cleanup spot last year than any other major-league club. The fourth spot in the order had the lowest combined batting average (.222), the fewest hits (128), the fewest home runs (16), the lowest slugging average (.369), the fewest extra-base hits (50) and the fewest RBI (78) in baseball. Manager Frank Robinson used six different hitters in the cleanup spot, but only Joe Orsulak hit well there, batting .371 in 16 games.

Source: "Elias Baseball Analyst."

Comment: The acquisition of Glenn Davis is going to take a lot of pressure off all the other cleanup hitters, since none of them will have to bat fourth anymore.

Stat: Robinson has said repeatedly this spring that his young hitters need to be more selective at the plate, but the Orioles were the most patient team in the major leagues last year, averaging 3.77 pitches per plate appearance.

Source: "STATS Baseball Scoreboard."

Comment: Now we know why every game at Memorial Stadiu seems to last 3 hours, 50 minutes.

Stat: Only 49 players in major-league history have switched leagues after hitting 20 home runs or more the previous season. Forty (82 percent) of them saw their home run totals drop during their first year in the new league.

Source: "Elias Baseball Analyst."

Comment: Davis should just pack up and go back to th Astrodome, the friendly stadium where he hit four of his 22 home runs last year.

Stat: Former Oriole Pete Harnisch and current Oriole Bob Milacki ranked second and third, respectively, among the five slowest-working pitchers in baseball. The games Harnisch started were clocked at an average of 3:08:27. The Orioles needed slightly less time (3:07:20) to get through Milacki's starts. Mickey Tettleton, traded to the Detroit Tigers, was the slowest-working catcher, averaging 3:04:27 per nine innings.

Source: "STATS Baseball Scoreboard."

Comment: These guys obviously have something against sportswriters on deadline.

Stat: Brady Anderson has batted .231 or lower in each of his first three major-league seasons. Only two other outfielders in major-league history have batted .231 or lower in their first three big-league seasons -- Ed Kennedy (1883-85) and Bob Coluccio (1973-75).

Source: "Elias Baseball Analyst."

Comment: Those other two outfielders washed out of the majo leagues after three seasons. The Orioles have not given up hope that Anderson can be the full-time leadoff hitter this season.

Stat: The two worst cold-weather hitters in the major leagues are the Los Angeles Dodgers' Eddie Murray and the Orioles' Cal Ripken. When the temperature is 50 degrees or below, Murray has a lifetime .111 average and Ripken has a career .152 average.

Source: "STATS Baseball Scoreboard."

Comment: Whoever thought up this stat needs a copy of th Elias Baseball Psychoanalyst.

Stat: Left-hander Jeff Ballard displayed a measurable drop in arm strength during his time in the starting rotation in 1990. His ERA for the first three innings of his starts was 2.29, but it ballooned to 8.16 from the fourth inning on.

Source: "Elias Baseball Analyst."

Comment: Everybody is marveling this spring at Ballard's increased arm strength, but he recently had another bout with elbow soreness. Fortunately for him, he could improve on last year with it in a cast.

Stat: The Orioles pitched out 149 times in 1990, but caught only two runners stealing in those situations for a success rate of of only 1.3 percent. The Oakland Athletics pitched out 158 times and caught 13 runners, an 8.2 percent success rate.

Source: "STATS Baseball Scoreboard."

Comment: Where do they get this stuff?

Stat: Randy Milligan has a career .280 average in late-inning pressure situations (LIPS -- plate appearances in the seventh inning or later with the batter's team tied or trailing by one, two, three or, in some cases, four runs). Milligan's LIPS average with runners on base is .431.

Source: "Elias Baseball Analyst."

Comment: Milligan should have gone to general manager Rolan Hemond a couple of months ago and said, "Read my LIPS: No new first basemen."

Stat: Reliever Gregg Olson used to complain about the way some pitchers piled up cheap saves, but last year ranked third in baseball with 20. (Cheap Save Definition: First batter faced is not the tying run and reliever pitches one inning or less).

Source: "STATS Baseball Scoreboard."

Comment: Olson was 20-for-20, so who's complaining? Both the Chicago White Sox's Bobby Thigpen (29) and the Athletics' Dennis Eckersley had more, but only Eckersley (21) matched Olson's perfect cheap-save percentage.

Stat: Since 1900, only three pitchers have posted winning records with ERAs higher than the 5.96 mark that new Oriole Jeff Robinson ran up on the way to a 10-9 season with the Detroit Tigers last year (minimum 15 decisions). Wes Ferrell was 15-10 with a 6.28 ERA in 1938; Guy Bush was 15-10 with a 6.20 ERA in 1930; and Mike Smithson was 9-6 with a 5.97 ERA in 1988.

Source: "Elias Baseball Analyst."

Comment: The guy was pitching with a broken arm, and he still ended up with a winning record. He must be a hell of a pitcher.

Stat: Reliever Kevin Hickey had a tough year in 1990. He even spent part of it in the minor leagues. But he allowed baseball's fourth-lowest percentage (.171) of inherited runners to score. Based on a minimum of 30 inherited runners.

Source: "STATS Baseball Scoreboard."

Comment: The Hick-man also had a pretty good goals-against average playing beer-league hockey last winter, but it didn't get him into the NHL.

Stat: Orioles outfield/designated hitter hopeful Larry Sheets ha driven in 35 percent of runners from scoring position in late-inning pressure situations, which ranks sixth among active players with at least 20 RBI in those situations. The other five: Murray (39 percent), the St. Louis Cardinals' Pedro Guerrero (39 percent), A's Jose Canseco (39 percent), Toronto Blue Jays' Kelly Gruber (38 percent) and New York Yankees' Don Mattingly (37 percent).

Source: "Elias Baseball Analyst."

Comment: Too bad Frank Robinson doesn't read the "Elia Baseball Analyst."

Stat: Tettleton led all major-league hitters in average pitches pe plate appearance (4.44) last year. He also led the majors in percentage of called balls (.463).

Source: "STATS Baseball Scoreboard."

Comment: So much for the concept of patience at the plate Tettleton struck out 160 times, a major-league record for switch-hitters.

Stat: Designated hitter Sam Horn was not thrown out trying t advance a base on any batted ball last year.

Source: "Elias Baseball Analyst."

Comment: New, slimmer Sammy isn't going to be s conservative on the base paths. In his first serious base-running gambit of the spring, he was thrown out trying to stretch a double into a double in Thursday's exhibition opener.

*

Stat: Right-hander Dave Johnson allowed seven first-innin home runs last year, tying him with the San Francisco Giants' Don Robinson, the Orioles' Jeff Robinson and Yankees' Scott Sanderson for the most among major-league pitchers.

Source: "Elias Baseball Analyst."

Comment: This comment comes from the "Analyst" itself: "W would have made some routine bad joke -- about all four names ending in '-son' -- but we were afraid ESPN's 'SportsCenter' would take it seriously."

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