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Book Nook

I don't know how it is for the others (although I can sort of guess today), but reader mail is a pretty rare occurrence here at teh Fed. Generally speaking, it isn't so much "reader mail" as "fellow blogger mail." (All the better to cultivate the hivemind.) Thus, when I click on the old inbox, I tend to see a lot of:

  • "Don't you hate sac bunts and unnecessary intentional walks?"
  • "Don't you love puppies?"
  • "Don't you think Devin Ivany is a dreamboat?"
  • "Don't you hate pants?"
I'll let you sort out who sends these. Yes, it's a pathetic life we live over here at Federal Baseball. Thanks go to "Virginia Clipper," my most loyal reader, for keeping me company.

Occasionally---really occasionally, like once a year---I do receive actual reader mail. Meaning no offense to the esteemed authors of such communiques, the emails tend to be vaguely creepy. I recall, shortly after writing this post on a gentleman named Patrick O'Brien (presumably the cloak-and-daggerish "Dr. X" from Will Carroll's The Juice), I received a sort of black helicopter-esque email on the subject. I considered closing my blinds, and I didn't sit at a diner booth with my back to the window for at least a fortnight. Before that episode, somebody asked me to "rate the beatwriters"---who's good, who's bad, etc. Let us just say it is best I did not go there. They all do a good job.

Anyway, the seasons changed, Mercury went into retrograde, whatever---for some reason, I received reader mail last week. I'm not familiar with the sender, so I don't think I'll be betraying any confidences here. Just the same, I'll paraphrase and edit for grammar, parallel structure, readability, and, uh, language:

Why do you hate Nook Logan so much? You say he can't hit. You say he can't field. [Actually, I've never said that or even hinted it.] You must be one of those nerds who worships on-base percentage. Don't you ever watch the games? Don't you like baseball? Logan is fast. He's a real centerfielder. It's types like you who have marginalized players like him.

And so forth.

Reading this email, my mind raced as the questions flowed: (1) Who's Nook Logan again? (2) Do I really hate Nook Logan? (3) Why did Needham go to the trouble of creating a new email account just to play a dumb prank on me? But then I figured Needham was above simple tricks now that he's gone all big-time on us. So somebody out there really does think I hate Nook Logan.

Anyway, to address the email, I really don't hate Nook Logan. He seems an agreeable fellow, and assuming I'll be able to watch him play on MASN, I'll quite like watching him play. Yes, that's right. I'd enjoy watching him play.

Here's something to understand about the way I approach being a baseball fan: I love the speed game. I love watching the speedy guys run. I love watching them beat out bunt singles. I love watching them dance around on the bases, disrupting the defense. I love watching them swipe second---and then swipe third moments later. I love watching them take the extra base. I love watching them fly. I love watching them track down fly balls. I love watching them close the gaps---that feeling of surprise and awe as they take the most breathtaking angle you can possibly imagine to flag down a double that never had the opportunity to mature. I love watching them scale the fence and order that home run-to-be to remain unrequited.

In fact, that last image is the only reason why I even tolerate fences, the very confines of a baseball park. They in essence limit fast players like Nook Logan, and as a fan, I do not desire to see them limited. I've said this before---and only largely in jest, not fully---that my idea of a ballpark is this:

Put the fence 1,000 feet away. Half a mile. Ten miles. All the way to China. Heck, put the Great Wall to use if you want outfield fences.

Wouldn't the game be more interesting if there were no outer limit to a ballpark? Wouldn't the players be more interesting? Wouldn't the strategy be more interesting? The outfield fence places a limit on so many things:

  • the need for the batter and baserunners to run as fast as they can in all situations;
  • the ability of fleet outfielders to run absolutely as fast as they can absolutely as far as they can, in all directions, challenging the most potent of sluggers to hustle and not admire; and
  • the ability to position your fielders in a manner that could neutralize the most powerful of hitters.
I hyperbolize a bit, but imagine the scenario: Big Papi or a similarly slow slugger is at the plate with the bases empty. He can crush the ball against the pitcher on the mound; you're the manager, and you absolutely know this. How far away from the plate would your outfielders stand? Normally, given a ballpark's outfield confines, not anywhere near as far as Ortiz could hit it; his power doesn't stop at the outfield fence, of course. Now imagine the fences aren't there. How far away would you put your outfielders? A bit farther away, right? And, without a fence cutting off those no-doubt homers, how much more space would be in play? Quite a bit, right?

But what if Big Papi could then just pop a short fly in front of the outfielders? Well, that's just the decision you have to make. I'll tell you this, though: If Big Papi's held to too many short singles in such a scenario, when a faster guy with nearly as much power could leg out a double, well, Big Papi would have to learn to get faster pretty darn quick, or he might be out of a job in favor of a faster guy. And before long, baseball is a game of fast guys again.

* * * *

Okay, that's all pretty far-fetched. But, back in reality, I'm not saying this because I've been caught dogging Nook Logan; I'm saying this because it's true: I love watching a fast-paced game. I love watching a game full of speed. As much as I love the ball-and-strike interplay, I love seeing the ball put in play. Walks are compelling late in a tight game; in the top of the second, a ten-pitch walk is rather tedious.

Case-in-point: On a particularly unfortunate Sunday afternoon in late April 1999, the Oakland Athletics personally tortured me during a victory against the Baltimore Orioles. It wasn't because the A's beat the O's [I know: Boo! Hiss!]; rather, it was because it took four hours to beat the O's, 11-10, in a nine inning game. The A's walked fourteen---count 'em, fourteen---times on the path to victory. Walk after walk after walk---I assure you, there wasn't any silver linin' hangin' in the sky. These same Oakland A's who were a few months away from establishing themselves in the mainstream as stathead validation, made that Sunday afternoon so miserable that---and I swear this is true---they could've made Santa Claus himself vomit with rage.

And it wasn't just the A's drawing all those walks. The teams combined for nineteen hits---three homers and sixteen singles. No doubles. No triples. No steals. No stolen base attempts. (Rich Amaral was picked off.) It wasn't a baseball game; it was a traffic jam.

The emailer believes I'm an advocate of statheady, take-n-rake baseball, but that's only partially true. I'll get to that part in a second, but as a matter of aesthetics, as a matter of what gets my blood pumping as a baseball fan, it ain't walks and it ain't balls launched in orbit---it's guys making contact and running all over creation.

* * * *

Why, then, am I so dismissive of Logan?

Simply put, given the way the game is played in reality---not the way I'd love to see it played in my warped mind---he's of dubious value outside of constricted bench roles. A neat little September jaunt is great, but does it really change my assessment from when Logan was acquired?

[N]othing in his his professional record offers evidence that he can hit. Logan has one decent 133-at-bat sample with Detroit toward the end of 2004; that is all, and I mean all, that keeps him on anyone's radar. Logan doesn't hit for average, he doesn't take many walks, and his occasional triples would look more impressive if they weren't natural and expected consequences of being so fast. (Logan was voted the fastest player in the Eastern League in 2003.) He doesn't have any power otherwise, and it seems pitchers can knock the bat out of his hands rather routinely.

Oh, and for all the Nats fans out there who bemoan strikeouts, just check this out: In his minor league career, Logan has fanned more than 100 times in a season three times---and, in a fourth, he had 95 in less than a full campaign.

Logan can run, so he can swipe bases and run down some balls in center. That's what he can do. Let's keep that in perspective.

No, it doesn't really change things. Offensively, a baseball player can accomplish either or both of two things: get on base and advance baserunners (including himself). Nothing in Logan's professional record indicates he satisfies either objective. It would be great if he could (and the preseason talk is predictably optimistic), but we're looking at a guy who, to this point (and he's now twenty-seven), has demonstrated he can swipe bases and little else. As previously stated, I love watching a swift baserunner swipe a bag, but in the real world there's more to it than that. In today's game, you need guys who can get on base; if you settle for guys who can't, you're being left behind. Similarly, you need guys who can advance baserunners and bop the ball beyond those annoying fences every so often, and if you settle for too many guys who can't satisfy such needs, you'll end up like the hysterical 1999 Minnesota Twins, whose top power source (Ron Coomer: the man, the myth, the legend) had an inexplicable sixteen homers. Those Twins slugged fifty points lower than the American League average, which doesn't seem so bad until you realize they were the ones dragging down the AL slugging average.

Anyway, looking like a centerfielder sometimes isn't enough, and it remains to be seen if Logan provides anything more than the appearance of a centerfielder. Don't get me wrong---it would still be fun to watch him play. If you watch enough baseball, the mundane things such as making lots of outs bleed into each other, and the truly spectacular and invigorating plays earn our imagination. Boy, look at him go! But there's a distinct difference at times between what is entertaining and what is effective. Is Nook Logan an effective baseball player? Unless he's really improved, I'm skeptical, to say the least.

I haven't really mentioned Logan's defense, except to deny saying he wasn't a good defender (which, again, I never did). Well, what about it? He's fast, and he's likely the best defensive centerfielder on the roster. If it's a bad pitching staff---especially if it's a bad flyball staff in a large ballpark---the need for a very good defensive centerfielder is enhanced. However, a one-dimensional player isn't any less a one-dimensional player just because his one dimension is good defense. The Nationals shouldn't pick their centerfielder solely on the basis of finding a guy who looks like a centerfielder. They should pick the best guy for the job.

Is that Logan? I'd say not, although I acknowledge there is a defense-first argument to be made. Is it Ryan Church? Is it Alex Escobar? Is it a combination of Church and Escobar? I'd say the answer shouldn't be nearly as conclusory as it has been reported. The fact that I do love watching blazing fast centerfielders does nothing to change that.