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I can't say anything about Marlon Anderson that you haven't already heard

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Really, I can't. Here it is, Sunday night, and I've been noodling ideas of how to construct an expedited Advisory Opinion on the Nats' newest addition. It's just not happening right now; maybe I'll give it another shot tomorrow night (though I've got to get Carrasco and Loaiza out of the way soon, I'd think), but there's nothing I can say right now that adds to our collective understanding and that hasn't already been stated at any of the fine fully bonded and insured Nats blogs to the right. [Note: By the Might Banks of the Anacostia, there's a new one! . . . No, that was the name, not an exclamation. Welcome JammingEcono and his BtMBotA blog to our fair neighborhood.]

Plus, I really, really went overboard on the analysis way back when the Nats acquired the other Marlon. I would say that I'd make up slacking on this Marlon when the Nats acquire yet another Marlon, but currently that's an impossibility: WE'VE GOT THE ONLY TWO "MARLONS" IN MAJOR LEAGUE HISTORY!!! Take that, Scoiscia!

Instead, I'll just offer a question for your musing. When a player like Marlon Anderson has a track record of hitting well as a pinch-hitter, does this reflect:

  • a skill? or,
  • various situational advantages concentrated in pinch-hitting at-bats, such as the platoon advantage (i.e., lefty hitter like Anderson versus righty pitchers), frequent opportunities against middle relievers (who are often inferior pitchers), and often with runners on base (when batting averages go up)?
If the answer is the latter, is this another way of saying the former? That is, are "skills" in baseball inherent traits, or are they reflections of advantageous situations? (Yes, these questions are hardly original---and, yes, they are similar to ones I pondered in my AO of Carlos Baerga. It's the offseason---there's not much else to do but consider abstractions, I suppose.)

While I'm at it, here's one more thing to consider. Much is made of Anderson's successful conversion to pinch-hitting. If he's made a name for himself that way, I'm happy for him; certainly, he's parlayed this reputation into a two-year contract that he would not have been offered otherwise. I do wonder, though, if this signing is essentially the product of two excellent pinch-hitting seasons in a row.

Well, that part is beyond dispute; Anderson's racked up 107 of his 146 career at-bats in the pinch in the past two seasons. I suppose the better question to wonder is whether two seasons of pinch-hitting statistics represent a reliable barometer of what he'll do in the pinch in 2006---that is, whether his past performance speaks to his future performance.

Who really knows, of course, and I suppose that is part of the point. As most baseball fans know, the modern Pinch Hit Champ is Lenny Harris. I gather most observant Nats' fans would know this, too, since Harris is the player to whom Jim Bowden referred when he commented upon the Anderson signing. In my opinion, Harris has lucked into a remarkably long career, given his limited talent and the erosion of his defensive versatility nearly a decade ago. (Notably, though, Harris is well-known as an excellent "clubhouse guy" and a diligent "student of the game.") Nevertheless, he's made his name as a pinch-hitter.

While his calling card is his pinch-hitting ability, keep in mind that his success here has been rather variable, as noted in this post at the Cub Reporter blog by David Geiser (written after the 2003 season):

Here are his year-by-year OPSs as a pinch hitter, which illustrate very nicely the sample size problems with evaluating pinch-hitting as a skill on a year-by-year basis.

2003 .311
2002 .770
2001 .628
2000 .609
1999 .871
1998 .755
1997 .479
1996 .955
1995 .593
1994 .587
1993 .451
1992 .488

Some degree of variability would only make sense, given the small samples involved. In fact, expressed in OPS, Anderson's 2004-05 seasons were not even uniformly excellent: 919 in '04, 781 in '05. Naturally, if Anderson's average in the pinch remains above .300, no one will really notice what kind of power he provides in such situations; however, I wonder if his batting average will flunctuate in pinch-hitting situations in '06 as much as the power did in '05 (or, perhaps more accurately, '04).

Well, not that I hope it does. I won't attempt to deceive you; I didn't like the signing---two years, $1.85 million for a PH/reserve right-side IF/corner OF seems like a non-essential expenditure for a team in the Nats' situation---and I expressed that opinion at other places. But Anderson's a Nat now, so he might as well have a 3.500 OPS as a pinch-hitter, you know?