Friday, October 22, 2010

Luke Scott...Still the Invisible Slugger

Yet again, I am compelled to defend Luke Scott as a premier slugger in the American League. That's right, I said it. Premier. Slugger.

Seeing these two items over the past week show that the perception of Scott does not match the reality, especially the Scott we saw in 2010. The first is from a comment I saw on a post at Baltimore Sports Report. The other is the closing line in a Baltimore Sun article by Jeff Zrebiec.

I do believe that Markakis gets even better if you put a true #4 bat in this lineup. - MGW

The offense also lacked a legitimate middle-of-the-order hitter, a commodity that MacPhail has made a priority again this offseason. - Jeff Zrebiec

Now, I am not picking on the commenter or Zrebiec, just using them as examples of the (still) widespread perception that the O's did not have a "legitimate" clean up hitter or even a true "middle-of-the-order" caliber bat. They did and they do. Perhaps you've heard of him. His name is Luke Scott.

What is a clean up hitter? Beyond the obvious position in the batting order, what is his job? Steve Treder of The Hardball Times explains it far more eloquently than I can:

The role has been called "cleanup" since forever for a reason: See the runners soiling the pristine white bases out there? This guy's job is to clean them bases up, get them runners home.

Obviously it's great if a cleanup hitter hits for a high average and/or draws a lot of walks, but if he's doing either or both of those things without hitting for power, he isn't properly performing the cleanup function. Setting the table is a means to an end, not an end in itself; the purpose of getting on base is to come around and score. The cleanup hitter is there to convert baserunners into runs, to finish what the others have started. And that means hitting for power, and plenty of it.

Power. That's what a cleanup hitter is supposed to deliver. Why? Because the farther the batter can hit the ball, the longer it will take for the outfielders to get it back into the infield, giving the baserunners the most time to circle those bases and score. The guy who hits it the farthest, the most often, should be you cleanup hitter. Simple concept, right?

I have advocated Scott as the cleanup hitter in past seasons because he had very good power and there were scant options otherwise. This year, that was not the case. Scott was a legitimate cleanup hitter and hit for great power in 2010. And power is measured in slugging percentage (SLG) and Isolated Power (ISO)

AL Leaders in SLG for 2010

Hamilton       .633
Cabrera        .622
Bautista       .617
Konerko        .584
Beltre         .553
Scott          .535
Cano           .534
Ortiz          .529
Wells          .515
Swisher        .511

In addition to those names, Scott out-slugged Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Evan Longoria.

In terms of Isolated Power (ISO):

AL Leaders in ISO for 2010

Bautista       .357
Cabrera        .294
Hamilton       .274
Konerko        .272
Ortiz          .259
Scott          .251
Wells          .242
Quentin        .236
Rodriguez      .236
Beltre         .233

Scott also posted an ISO higher than Teixeira, Longoria, Robinson Cano and Carlos Pena.

So, 6th in the league in both stats that evaluate power, finishing ahead of many hitters that would universally be considered middle-of-the-order bats. The Orioles did not lack a legitimate middle-of-the-order bat in 2010...they had one of the best in the league.

But the word still hasn't managed to get I guess I'm going to have to keep beating this dead horse until it does.


The Oriole Way said...

Fair point that Luke Scott had a great 2010, but no reasonable projection would have him repeating that performance in 2011.

Since becoming a full-time player in 2007 with the Astros:
2007: .255/.351/.504 (in Houston)
2008: .257/.336/.472
2009: .258/.340/.488
2010: .284/.368/.535

And his league ranks in SLG/ISO:
2007: 21/7t (if he had qualified)
2008: 26/16
2009: 29/19

Obviously, those are solid lines you're happy to have from a hitter. And it's certainly fair to point out that the Orioles DID have a big bopper in the middle of the lineup (and still stunk it up on offense), but that doesn't mean they shouldn't try and find another one. Especially since Luke will be 33 next season.

Heath said...

Not at all. I have advocated picking up Adam Dunn, potentially at the expense of Luke Scott. But I don't think it's crazy to think that Scott can slug .500 or ISO in the top 10-15 in the league. Valuable in a classic cleanup hitter.

The comments that prompted this post were analysis of the 2010 season. "Markakis would be better with a true #4 hitter." "Offense lacked a true middle-of-the-lineup hitter." Wrong, wrong, wrong. This post concerns analysis of the Scott's 2010, not projection for future performance.

The bottom line is that the O's had a real #4 hitter this season and still stunk producing runs. There are far bigger issues with the offense than needing a power hitter. (And it pains me to say so, I'd love to see more power in the lineup.)