(Don't miss this week's LL Podcast, which is now only a little outdated!)
This is something that's been bothering me for a few weeks, now, so I might as well take a little time to address it. After all, it's only a rare, beautiful day outside in a Portland March. Why not find something to blog about? Computers!
Over the course of the month, a clear divide between Mariner fans has developed. There've been the people in support of Mike Sweeney returning, and the people not in support of Mike Sweeney returning. It's not that simple, of course - it's never that simple - but that captures the bulk of it. Some people have wanted to see Sweeney back on the team, and others have not.
The people who wanted Sweeney to come back have pointed out, almost to a man, what Sweeney did down the stretch in 2009. Mike Sweeney, you'll remember, came off the DL on July 21st and hit .311/.372/.500 the rest of the way over 137 trips to the plate. He was one of the team's best hitters in the second half, and this little fact has been brought up time and time again in stating that Sweeney can still hit a ton when he's healthy. "You can't get rid of Sweeney," many have argued, "because he might be the best hitter on the team when he's not battling injuries."
You may not be surprised to find out that I don't put much stock in this analysis. Let me tell you why!
- That stretch of 137 plate appearances wasn't the only span of time that Sweeney was healthy. He was healthy for most of April, posting a .708 OPS. He was healthy each time he came back from an injury, until the next time he got hurt. Sweeney wasn't battling through blinding back pain the way Branyan was. Sweeney tweaked his back three times - all on swings, I believe - and missed time before coming back feeling better. You could make a pretty convincing argument that Sweeney was "healthy" for nearly all of his at bats, because when he was hurt, he didn't play. And Sweeney wasn't much of an asset overall, considering his total batting line came in a platoon role.
- Those 137 red-hot plate appearances obviously represent a really small sample. 137 plate appearances is what a leadoff hitter might get in a month. I don't think I need to tell you how much regression you need to apply to a sample of 137 plate appearances. Through Juan Pierre's first 137 plate appearances last year, he hit .397. Over the remaining 288, he hit .266. Mike Sweeney isn't some unknown. We know a lot about him. Mike Sweeney hasn't hit that well over an extended period of time since 2005, when he was much much younger. Note that his BABIP during the hot stretch was .333, against a career .301.
- Even if we choose to believe that Sweeney was only truly healthy for that last hot stretch, why does that matter? Sweeney posted a. 745 OPS between 2006-2008, and had a .678 OPS before coming off the DL with the Mariners. People in support of Sweeney ignore all this time because "he was hurt," and not healthy, the way he was in the second half. But in that event, we have a couple months of Sweeney being healthy, and several years of Sweeney being hurt. Several years. Go here. Type in Mike Sweeney's name. You see all that? Mike Sweeney gets hurt. Kind of a lot. What does it matter what he can do when he's healthy if he's practically never healthy? Aging sucks. Aging makes people get hurt. You can't stop aging.
Look, I like Mike Sweeney just fine. I'm not trying to incite some crusade against the guy and everything he stands for. I think it's kind of cute that our DH platoon consists of our franchise icon and somebody else's too. But the people who support having Sweeney on the team need to be realistic about what he brings to the table. In the poll below, I voted for "Make it better" because I don't think that ST data is literally 100% meaningless, but it doesn't make it so much better that I think Sweeney is really good. He's not. He's posted a .750 OPS over his last 1000 trips to the plate, and that's probably about what we should expect from him this season. Maybe a little better as a platoon bat. But nothing spectacular. .311/.372/.500 is not representative of Mike Sweeney's true talent. It's just the batting line he put up over a limited number of games.
Back in 2006, Mike Sweeney came off the DL and hit .275/.367/.497 over a month and a half. The next year he OPS'd .719.