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Digging through the e-mailbag

Years ago, I answered e-mail every Friday. Now, I answer e-mail when I don't feel like coming up with an entire column of arguably original thoughts.


    Rob,

    Who is the worst first baseman in the Hall of Fame?

    If Fred McGriff and Rafael Palmeiro are borderline or, by your book, out of the Hall of Fame picture, isn't it fair to judge them against the worst 1B/DH's in the Hall already? Isn't that the whole point?

    Unless you start kicking people out of the Hall, it has to get watered down because there is no way for there to be less players in the HOF.

    If you could point out who that guy is and justify why he is better than McGriff and Palmeiro, then I could see your point.

    Thanks,
    Evan

Evan, you're making two giant mistakes in your analysis (not that you're alone). First of all, I haven't argued that McGriff and Palmeiro don't belong in the Hall of Fame. Or if I did, it was in the service of a healthy debate rather than out of some intense conviction on my part.

The second mistake is significantly more dangerous, assuming of course that you care even a smidge about the integrity of the Hall of Fame (such as it is). The worst Hall of Fame first baseman is probably George Kelly, who wasn't really any better than John Kruk. But by your logic, that means we should put John Kruk in the Hall of Fame, not to mention Cecil Fielder and Mo Vaughn and Kent Hrbek and about 50 other guys.

So no, George Kelly doesn't belong in this conversation. The list of players who belong in this conversation includes Jeff Bagwell, Eddie Murray, Willie McCovey, Tony Perez, and Orlando Cepeda.


    Rob,

    You said Chris Singleton can't hit for beans. Are you aware of his batting average, sir? I realize that he probably won't hit that well all season, but it seems like if someone can't hit for beans, that they would never be able to hit over .300 ... even if it is just May.

Singleton's hitting .318 in 110 at-bats. Prior to this season, he batted .276 in 1,865 at-bats. Singleton is 30 years old. Which do you think are more representative of Singleton's ability? His .318 in 110 at-bats, or his .276 in 1,865 at-bats?

Of greater concern is Singleton's singular inability to reach base more than about 30 percent of the time. He does have a .347 OBP this season, but if there's one thing the A's have not been able to do, it's take guys who don't get on base and teach them to get on base.

Which isn't to say Singleton shouldn't be playing. The A's knew what they were getting, and to this point it's hard to argue with the results.

Speaking of which,


    Rob,

    I knew you were onto something when you mentioned that the A's have been relying on defense this year, but when I checked out the "defensive efficiency" report from the Baseball Prospectus website (basically, the percentage of balls in play that become outs), I was blown away: the A's have turned 76.18 percent of batted balls into outs. Next best are Minnesota and St. Louis, at 73.7 percent, with Texas bringing up the rear at 67.64 percent.

    The difference between Oakland and second place is as big as the gap between second and 15th! Holy cats, can this possibly last? I know having T-Long in a corner rather than center makes him a defensive asset rather than a liability. But my goodness, this is an incredible performance.

    Joon

It is a pretty incredible performance. Can it hold? I don't know. I'm sure there's been plenty of work done on the validity and the consistency of defensive efficiency -- again, that's just the percentage of balls in play that get turned into outs -- but I'm afraid I'm not up to speed on this subject. Still, I think the A's defensive performance is both meaningful and not completely a fluke.

Yet, when all is said and done, I think, still they have to score more runs, because their defense probably isn't this good. At this moment, the A's are eighth in the American League with 205 runs, and they're ninth in the American League with a .328 team on-base percentage.


    Rob,

    Hey, how come you haven't mentioned the Mariners? Gil Meche has been a really nice surprise. The starting rotation is solid except for Freddy Garcia (I'm not sure about him). Even you have to admit the bullpen is among the best every year.

    John

What do you mean, "even you"? Shoot, you're talking to a guy who spent his own moderately hard-earned money on Mariners season tickets for three years running. So yeah, I've noticed. You're right about one thing, though: I've been neglecting the M's, and there's no excuse for that. We're in late May and the M's have the best record in the league. We shouldn't be particularly surprised; after all, they did win 93 games last year. But we are surprised, and surprises must be explained, so before long I'll give you the best explanation I can come up with.

And finally, somebody named "Russ" asks, "Not sure who to ask, but, Eric Gagne has eight strikeouts in a row. What's the record?"

I don't know, "Russ." But I do know that on April 22, 1970, Tom Seaver struck out 10 straight hitters in one game. I also know that Gagne's got a chance to break another, related record. According to Lee Sinins' sublimely informational baseball-encyclopedia.com Player Comments Book 2003, Armando Benitez holds the record for strikeouts per nine innings: 14.8 K/9 in 1999. Well, with 40 strikeouts in 23 innings, Gagne's K'd 15.7 per nine innings.

Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information, visit Rob's Web site.