August 8, 2005

"Brain dead Caribbean hitters hacking at slop nightly"

ranted Bay Area sports radio talkshow host Larry Krueger about why the San Francisco Giants are playing poorly this year. He also said 70-year-old manager Felipe Alou had a brain "had turned to Cream of Wheat." For his "racist" and "ageist" comments, he was promptly suspended (although nobody could explain what race "Caribbean" players are). Manager Felipe Alou refused to accept Krueger's apology and continues to demand that he be fired.

Personally, I think the Giants are so much worse this year because Barry Bonds hasn't been coming through in clutch situations. Or in unclutch situations, for that matter, since Bonds hasn't played all year. Last season, at the implausible age of 39, Bonds had the highest single year OPS statistic (on-base percentage plus slugging average) in the history of baseball. In 2005, he's having his knee tinkered with as he tries to lay low out of the glare of the steroid scandal.

But what about Krueger's charge that the Giants are swinging at bad pitches? Is it true? Well, the Giants are 15th out of 16 teams in the National League in number of walks, and 12th in on-base percentage, so the charge has some prima facie merit. Last year, the Giants led the league in walks with 705, but that was mostly because Bonds set the all time record with 232, which was 33 percent of the entire 25-man team's walks.

On the other hand, this year on the Giants, the Hispanics are doing badly at getting walks, but the Anglo (white and black) players are even worse. Among the Giants with 100 plate appearances, the Hispanics are taking walks 8.2% of the time and the Anglos 7.7% of the time. So, Krueger may be off base talking about the Giants in 2005, although he's watching the team every day, and I'm not.

Nonetheless, the easiest way to get people mad at you is by telling the truth, and the unhinged response to Krueger's "gaffe" stems from the fact that Latin players have long benefited from what I called "Baseball's Hidden Ethnic Bias." In my 2003 article, I pointed out that because baseball executives long didn't understand the run-producing value of walks, "the Anglo white-dominated baseball establishment had actually tended for decades to discriminate irrationally against Americans and in favor of more free-swinging Latin hitters, who on average weren't quite as productive as their batting averages indicated."

This bias has been mitigated somewhat by the recent rise of Bill James-inspired general managers who correctly emphasize on-base percentage over batting average, like Billy Beane of the Oakland Athletics and J.P. Ricciardi of the Toronto Blue Jays (who was criticized for dumping highly paid Latin players like the Raul Mondesi and signing cheaper American whites who were better at getting on base). I pointed out:

Although they are slowly improving, Hispanic players are on average less likely to accept walks than whites or African-Americans. "It's not easy for a Latin player to take 100 walks," said Sammy Sosa early in his famous 1998 season.

In 2002, Hispanics had a combined batting average of .264, while everyone else together hit .260. On the other hand, the Hispanic "walk average" was 0.060, while the non-Hispanics' bases on balls ratio was 0.069, a significant 14 percent higher, leaving the non-Latinos with a five point better on-base percentage.

The patience gap has declined somewhat, from 16 percent in 1992 and 19 percent in 1982, probably because Latinos have largely closed the power gap. Twenty years ago, non-Hispanics hit home runs 42 percent more often than Hispanics, but that difference was only 4 percent last year. [More]

Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen weighed in, demanding Krueger be punished more. Guillen is particularly sensitive about aspersions on Caribbean players' plate discipline because he himself was famously bad at laying off pitches out of the strike zone. His career on-base percentage was a terrible .287.

The San Francisco Giants were the first big league team to seriously tap the mother lode of baseball talent, the sugar cane fields of the eastern Dominican Republic, where black immigrants from Jamaica settled a few generations ago. Besides Hall-of-Famer Juan Marichal, the Giants featured the first all brother outfield in history in 1963, with Felipe (now the manager), Matty, and Jesus Alou.

All three Alou brothers exhibited poor plate discipline. In a combined 47 seasons in the big leagues, none of them ever managed to get 50 walks in one season. Still, Felipe was a good hitter, with some power, and Matty put up gaudy enough batting averages to make up for his lack of homers and lack of walks.

But the only reason Jesus Alou could have stuck around for 15 seasons was because general managers back then evaluated players more by their batting averages (Jesus had a solid-looking career average of .280) and "how they looked in a uniform" rather than their on-base percentage (Jose had an awful .305) and slugging average (a lousy .353 for Jose, who was a slower than average outfielder and miserable base stealer), which dysfunctionally favored Latin ballplayers.

At 6'-2" and 195, Jesus looked like a terrific baseball player, but for his career, he was only 87% as good as the average hitter, which makes him, among below-average fielders, one of the worst hitters to hang around for 15 years. Today, Billy Beane of Oakland would have immediately traded Jesus for a pudgy-looking college educated white ballplayer who could refrain from swinging at bad pitches.

(Felipe's son Moises is playing for his father this season at age 38, and he remains a strong hitter. Moises' plate discipline is better than that of the previous generation of Alous, although it's not great for a power hitter. Moises peaked at 84 walks when he hit 38 homers in 2000.)

A reader writes:

It's the "John Rocker" incident of the this decade, but it's getting surprisingly little play outside of Northern California.

Bay Area sportscaster Larry Krueger made the above-referenced comments about Latino baseball players with low batting averages and on-base percentages due to poor judgment about the strike zone.

Felipe Alou, manager of the Giants, and his son Moises have declared an ethnic "no fly" zone over KNBR, the Giants flagship station that employs Krueger - so already the crawling has started, the apologies that aren't being accepted and the usual sort of thing that inevitably follows an incident like this.

And truth to tell, Krueger's comments certainly indicate a lack of discretion on his part. He might have made the same point with less inflammatory language. But he also must have the balls of a burglar to say such things in the Bay Area.

But while liberals had a field day with Rocker, I imagine that the relative obscurity about this story is the ultra-liberal SF Bay Area deciding "This doesn't happen in OUR family" and waiting for the story to go away. Then too, Rocker was a ballplayer and Krueger is himself a member of the media. The news media inevitably protects its own to a greater extent than it protects those whom they cover.

And like Rocker's comments, Krueger's have more than a little grain of truth to them. I don't think that there's much doubt that if one examined the ratio of walks per plate appearances of Latino versus non-Latino ballplayers, you'd see the Latino ballplayers drawing noticeably fewer walks. Observers of the game - in both the Caribbean leagues and the American major leagues - have politely noted this for some time.

It's said that Latino hitters are free swingers because they are anxious to impress major league scouts with their hitting prowess. The expression is, "You can't walk your way off the island".

But I'm not so sure. I imagine that major league scouts are savvy enough to appreciate a smart hitter who displays patience at the plate, draws his share of walks, and fattens his on-base percentage.

I imagine that the reason why Latino ballplayers swing the bat so readily is more due to the flamboyance with which Latino culture displays itself. Manny Sanguillen, a very good-hitting All Star catcher for the Pirates during the 1970's, was once asked why he ALWAYS swung at the first pitch, and he replied happily, "Because it makes me feel good".

Obviously, there have been some great Latino bad-ball hitters (Roberto Clemente possibly being the best example from the past), just as there have been some great non-Latino bad-ball hitters (Yogi Berra).

But mediocre hitters of all backgrounds (there's a reason why .220 is referred to as the "Mendoza line"; that expression was coined after good-hit, no field shortstop, Mario Mendoza) could probably use a little more patience at home plate.

But I don't imagine that any of this is going to be discussed intelligently now that the latest auto de fe has started.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

1 comment:

David Mazzini said...

This is obviously ancient news at this point but reading this article was strange ,just the fact that race was the narrative ,why?I'm not sure because it's really irrelevant as it is with most sane people.How about calling the style of play a regional thing,which is what it is.People love Racism they just can't get enough of it