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Thursday, June 17, 2004

OK Gang, Let's See Who This Shortstop Monster REALLY IS... 

(Fred and Daphne pull a hideous Rich Aurilia mask off a man in a Seattle Mariners uniform)

THE GANG (in surprise): Jeff Cirillo!!!!

CIRILLO: And I would have got away with it if it weren't for you meddling kids!

VELMA: Looks like we can close the book on that mystery, gang!

SCOOBY: Reah, Raggy!

It has been observed many times before that similarities exist between Rich Aurilia and Jeff Cirillo. With both players, you get the sense that if they just relaxed and stopped trying too hard they might both be decent hitters at the big league level, just like they were before joining the Mariners. Back in December, I observed that Cirillo had a huge mechanical flaw in his swing; he would consistently cut his follow-through short and ground weakly to the left side. The few times that Cirillo blasted one into the gaps or the seats, he kept his weight back and completed his swings. I'm seeing the same thing in Rich Aurilia. When he hits a ball hard, his weight is back and he throws his hips fully. When he weakly grounds out, it seems like he is already running to first halfway through the swing. Hustle is good, but not at the expense of mechanics.

Looking for statistics to back my observation, I looked at slugging average on balls put in play, the idea being to see which players hit the ball hardest on average. The formula is simple: total bases divided by (at-bats minus strikeouts). The top ten in baseball, among batting title qualifiers, are:

Adam Dunn, .947
Jim Thome, .928
Barry Bonds, .913
Craig Wilson, .854
Manny Ramirez, .825
Frank Thomas, .803
Lance Berkman, .802
Jim Edmonds, .788
Scott Rolen, .787
Jeromy Burnitz, .766

This list is a good sampling of the big-name players you'd expect to be on it, and it passes the Barry Test (any stat that measures hitting success should place Bonds near the top). As a further check, we'd expect the bottom ten to contain many of the notoriously weak hitters in baseball:

Neifi Perez, .342
Orlando Cabrera, .350 (sorry, Jolbert, your bro stinks this year)
Tike Redman, .357
Rich Aurilia, .377
Tony Batista, .378
Brad Ausmus, .379
Morgan Ensberg, .383
Marlon Byrd, .383
David Eckstein, .387
Mark Derosa, .388

As you can see, the bottom ten list is peppered with weaklings like Neifi Perez and David Eckstein. Not at all surpisingly, we find Rich Aurilia as the fourth weakest-hitting player in baseball among regulars.

Now the question is: what kind of conclusions should we draw from this information? One thing we can say is that when Rich Aurilia makes contact, he's putting a lot of balls in play that are either just singles or are weakly hit and easily turned into outs by the defense. Another conclusion we can draw is that Aurilia could be better off focusing on hitting the ball hard, rather than just making contact. When all he does is make contact, he's not adding value to the offense, so he might as well take some strong hacks. He's performing so poorly that the additional strikeouts would be worth the increase in extra-base hits in Aurilia's case.

Aurilia's mechanics and approach at the plate are in need of major overhaul. It might be worth considering a move to Tacoma to work things out. He's been an above-average hitter the last few years, and he might return to that level with a little work.

VERY good stuff here!
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