Monday, June 27, 2005

Flip-Floppin' on Bellhorn

Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that a lot of Red Sox fans were ready to give up on 2005 and look towards rebuilding for next season (just checking)? Interestingly, all those voices have fallen conspicuously silent (and now are even calling the AL East for the Sox ... even though it's, um, not even July) since after Sunday's game in Philly, Boston is in first place 2.5 games ahead of the skrugglin' Orioles.

In years past I too probably would've abandoned the bandwagon over the first 60 games, but since the Sox actually won the World Series last year, I've approached this season with a bit more patience. For starters, it's still June -- and when all the gnashing of teeth started over Boston's mediocre start it was barely June. Man, talk about outrageous expectations.

I will readily admit that I have been, from the very moment they signed him, very anti-Kevin Millar. And at points during last season I was praying someone gave Theo and Tito a "Mark Bellhorn sucks to the point that he's single-handedly torpedoing any chances the Sox have to win this season" intervention. I still think Millar's a joke, but I actually grudgingly admire Bellhorn's season to date. We all are quite sure that he'll give Richie Sexson a run for his money on the season strikeout crown, but I found this fact pretty interesting not only because it gives my buddy Des -- the current (and, as far as I can tell, the only) president of the Mark Bellhorn fan club -- hope, but it also again proves that fans usually don't know what the hell they're talking about (especially in my case):

Last season, for example, while most fans were lamenting second baseman Mark Bellhorn's high strikeout total, Eric Van was looking more closely at his numbers.
"Here's a delicious fact," he wrote in June 2004. "Bellhorn has come up 14 times with a runner on third base with less than two outs and hasn't struck out once. He has hit three sacrifice flies, two run-scoring fielder's choices, walked twice, singled twice, doubled, and homered. He's hitting .444 with a .429 OBP and .889 slugging average."
Eric Van is an interesting story. He's a stats geek who loves baseball (among other things) and is currently on a top-secret assignment for the Red Sox, presumably searching for the next diamond in the rough. Anyway, the point is this: maybe Bellhorn isn't as bad as he seems (and yes, I know, it seems pretty bad). But consider this, something I wrote last year during the playoffs:
"I've decided to quit spending so much of my energy worrying about Mark Bellhorn. If you accept the fact that he's good about 12% of the time, you'll be fine. The bottom line with Bellhorn is that you have to wait until the entire series plays out. Last night I was listening to part of the game on the radio and Joe Morgan made the point that hundreds before him have made concerning Bellhorn -- "It's amazing that this guy walked 177 times during the regular season, but also had such a high number of strikeouts. That must mean that not only does he have a good eye in the strike zone, but he also swings at a lot of bad pitches."

Now first off, I have no idea what the last sentence really means, but I do know this. Bellhorn doesn't swing at any more bad pitches than the average player. Bellhorn's problem is that he goes for long stretches when he can't hit the "right down the middle of the plate" strikes. Well, that and he usually takes two called strikes before he starts his at-bat. But hey, he made progress last night. Not only did he hit a 400-ft. double, he also didn't strikeout. Now if only someone would tell him that when he's in the field, he's actually supposed to catch and throw the ball, not just knock it down."
And the thing is, Bellhorn is actually playing a pretty good second base this season. He's not routinely kicking balls around the infield, and he's even making the occasional spectacular play. Not bad for a guy who's in desperate need of a shower, shave and a wig trim. Is he doing any better at the plate than he did in 2004? Nope. In fact, he might actually be worse. But since the Sox are starting to hit (and perhaps more importantly, pitch) on a more consistent basis in the last few weeks, I don't care if Bellhorn gets another hit the rest of the season. Playing good defense is enough for me, and let guys like Papi and Manny worry about driving in runs.

But one thing I would like to suggest is that Bellhorn get a nickname. And after watching him sweat through Sunday's game, where it looked to be about 125 degrees on the field, I've decided that he's either Encino Man or the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer. I'm taking suggestions.

Of course, no sooner than I question Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer's proficiency with the bat than he goes on a tear -- yesterday he had a bomb, a double, and three RBI. Consider that gravy.