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More roundtable, this time looking at some of the season's disappointments:

Jordan: Does anyone have any theories on Eric Hinske? His rookie season was solid offensively -- he led all AL 3B in EQA. His sophomore season was ruined by the hand injury and his tardiness in admitting it, but the 40+ doubles he stroked led many of us to believe a breakout year was lurking. Then this year -- really disappointing. He never looked comfortable or confident at the plate, and he seemed to have lost most of his aggressiveness. His glove has improved, which I credit to Brian Butterfield and to Hinske's hard work, but he's unrecognizable offensively from his debut season. What's gone wrong? And will it get better?

Moffatt: He seems to be swining at far more pitches outside of the strikezone than he was in 2002.

Hereís his P/PA:
2002: 3.91
2003: 4.08
2004: 3.81

From that it doesn't suggest too much. Again, it's just visual, but Hinske seems like he's trying to slap pitches out of the zone a lot more often than he used to.

Pistol: One of the posters, I forget who, pointed out how bad Hinske's OPS was. I just looked it up and among players that qualified for the batting title, Hinske ranked 149th out of 154 in all of baseball in OPS. The players below him are 3 SSs, and 2 light hitting CFs on bad teams (Redman, Podsednik, Eckstein, Cintron, and Counsell).

Hinske had a decent year in 2003, and given the wrist injury and the weight loss you'd think he'd at least be between his 2003 and 2002 performance. The year he had was totally unexpected. Pulling out my BP Pecota cards Hinske didn't even hit his 10th percentile of .241/.320/.412.

What do you do with Hinske? Is there reason to expect him to rebound?

I can't imagine he has any real value in a trade. Do you just roll him out there everyday next year and hope that he rebounds? Do you have to have some contingency plan if he's just as bad next year - say maybe a RH journeyman that can play 1B or 3B? Or do you just outright find a replacement and put him on the bench?

Mike Green: I went into the season as a Hinske skeptic. He ended up the season with more D and less O than I expected, but overall his performance was only slightly worse than I anticipated.

His 2002 performance was somewhat better than one could reasonably have expected from his minor league record. I would not be surprised at all in 2005 if he improves to a mid-point between his current performance level and his 2002 level. Unfortunately, that's about replacement level or just above it.

Thomas: I agree with Mike in that I think Hinske's 2005 will not reach the heights of his 2002 campaign but nor will it hit the rock bottom this year showed. However, even that midpoint might not be able to save his contract from becoming a weight around our necks.

Hinske was one of 7 players (Tony Batista, Bill Hall, Mike Matheny, Brad Ausmus, Scott Spiezio and Desi Relaford the others) to have a negative VORP and more than 400 plate appearances, and he also had the most plate appearances of any of those players.

I think the Jays have little choice but to run Hinske out there next year. He doesn't have any value now in a trade and the Jays have no imminent replacement available. Hopefully Hinske can make some improvement next year and the Jays will have to determine how this new Hinske fits into the plans. If he doesn't, than the Jays will have to eat the bullet on the rest of his contract. Putting him on the bench doesn't really accomplish anything when its not really our goal to be contending next year anyway, we still need to find out what exactly Hinske is.

However, the Jays are foolish if they aren't beginning to consider contingency plans for Hinske for 2006.

Jordan: Is Hinske salvageable? With about $11M still owing to him, and Aaron Hill probably ready for the big leagues late next year, I figure the Jays will give him one more year to turn it around and at least revisit his '02 levels; if that fails, they may either try to trade him for someone else's expensive problem, or simply cut their losses. I'd never have imagined it.

What I still don't really know is why Hinske has regressed; I haven't gotten any sense that he lacks a work ethic. Is he simply incapable of adjusting to the pitchers? Or was he never taught how? If Mike Barnett had in fact lost his job, I think Hinske and Josh Phelps would have been 1-2 on the list of reasons why. Mike has already pointed out the rising GB/FB rate of several key players, and Robert has elsewhere documented Phelps' transition from a powerful flyball slugger to a timid groundball hitter. Sparky's GB rate rose by a third, and Alex Rios seems reluctant to pull the ball. At what point does the organization start asking itself why many of its young players -- and you might as well add Jayson Werth to that list -- become defensive hitters in Toronto uniforms?

Dave Till: Here's a theory (which may be completely unsupported by the facts): Mike Barnett stresses patience at the plate, and trying to work the count in your favour. Eventually, the opposition figures this out, and starts pounding the strike zone more aggressively, which leads to Jays hitters being behind 0-2 a lot. This forces them to be more defensive at the plate, and results in a loss of power.
Compare this to Cito Gaston's approach, which, as I recall, focused more on trying to drive the ball. This leads to a short-term increase in home runs. Eventually, the opposition figures this out too, and starts tempting the Jays' hitters with pitches just outside their hitting zone. This leads to swinging at a lot of bad pitches, and a poor on-base percentage.

The moral, I suppose, is that hitters and pitchers are in a constant war of adjustments.

Coach: As noted, there's no lack of intensity or work ethic from Hinske. My theory is that he's too hard on himself. His evident frustration (and presumed self-recrimination) when he has a poor AB or makes an error is not conducive to being relaxed or confident. Can he change that aspect of his personality? I don't know; first he'd have to recognize and admit that it's the problem, when he probably thinks it's the reason he made the Show in the first place, and even then he might need some help from someone like Harvey Dorfman, not just Butter and Barney.

I know his results from limited starts in the 2-hole haven't been great since his rookie year, but I wish he would stick to that OBP-freak approach no matter where he hits in the order. Swinging for the fences definitely messes him up, yet he's so strong that he'll "accidentally" hit 20 HR just stroking line drives into the gaps. Whether it's mechanical, psychological or a combination thereof, if Eric doesn't bounce back, he'll be looking over his shoulder at Aaron Hill or John Hattig sooner than we think.

Craig B: Hinske is a terrible, notorious front-foot hitter. Because he can't keep his weight back, he's not able to adjust to an offspeed pitch that he's not expecting. As a result, he has to guess where the offspeed stuff is going to come.

So what happens is, Hinske lets too many fastballs go by for strikes becasue he can't hit the offspeed pitch unless he's looking for it. You can't conceivably catch up to the fastball if you're looking offspeed, no matter where it is. So he takes that pitch (somewhat commendably, I guess) instead of trying to swing at it and producing a weak swing.

Hinske takes a ton of called strike threes, because the pitchers know now to throw him offspeed stuff early in the count and fastballs late - the reverse of the normal pitching pattern where you establish the fastball and work the change and curve off of it.

A big part of the benefit for hitters in keeping their weight back, is that you can adjust your weight transfer to the situation you find yourself in. Hinske's style doesn't permit that, and he hasn't changed it.

Moffatt: Speaking of hitters, check out these G/F ratios:

Hinske
2003: 0.89
2004: 1.11

Johnson
2003: 1.41
2004: 2.12

Wells
2003: 0.96
2004: 1.27

Three key pieces of the Jays offense are now hitting the ball on the ground a lot more than they did the year before. They all regressed in 2003. The only Jay that became more of a flyball hitter was Orlando Hudson and he was one of the few Jays that improved at the plate. Correlation does not imply causality, but I truly believe that the decline of some of these players is due to coaching.

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Dave Till: Is it just me, or does the decision to move Batista to the closer spot smack of desperation?

Jonny German: I agree with Dave that Batista as closer seems bizarre on the surface, definitely not the sort of thing you'd expect from the J.P. Blue Jays. I'm still not convinced that Miguel is auditioning for next year's closer role; as has been speculated on the Box already, I believe the idea is to teach Batista to go after hitters, using only his 3 or 4 best pitches. Next year, remind him of the success he had with this approach, and tell him to go do it as a starter.

Batista was an effective starter in 2002. He was a very effective starter in 2003. He was an effective starter for 4 months of 2004. Has he completely lost it in the last 2 months? I doubt it.

Pistol: Well, Batista wasn't especially effective at the beginning of the year (ERA of 6.04 in April), but otherwise I agree. He was brought into to be the #2 starter this year and 6 months later he's not good enough to be in the rotation? I don't buy that.

If he were to be an elite closer I wouldn't mind him in the bullpen, but I don't think there's anything to suggest that he would be. I'll take the 200 innings he'll give as a starter over the 75 innings he'll give in the bullpen.

Jordan: I donít buy it either, and the final games showed me little to change my position that closer is not the right job for him. You can't blame him for bloop hits, but I just don't get the feeling he's taken to the role; he seems neither confident nor comfortable nor in charge of the at-bat. Short relief has not improved his command and it has not particularly helped his catchers get in sync with him (a wild pitch and two near-misses in the ninth today). When a good closer enters the game, the other team should be at an immediate psychological (and talent-related) disadvantage; with Batista, that element's just not there.

Someone suggested a while back that Batista could be used as a swing man, much as he was in Arizona: spot starting, long relief, short relief, depending on what the team needs. Kind of like a bullpen rover. IIRC, the Yankees got a few decent seasons out of Ramiro Mendoza that way. It might be worth considering, if all else fails. But I'd still like to see Batista spend February working with a new pitching coach (it can't hurt), and March as a starter, before deciding that his best role is in the pen.

Robert Dudek: I told Kent that Batista should junk that thing he calls a splitter that nobody is fooled by and work on a straight change. The man is in desperate need of a good off-speed pitch. Then he'll be dealing two types of fastballs, a slider and a change - a diverse enough repertoire for a starter but not overly complex.

Right now he throws everything hard and that's why his location has to be quite good to succeed. With a good change, the hitters won't be able to sit on the hardstuff and Batista's strikeout rate should go way up.

Moffatt: He also needs to figure out to let his catchers call his game for him. I can't recall the last pitcher I've seen who was worse at pitch selection.

Mind you, I'm also biased against Batista from his Expos days, where he'd frequently drive me nuts.

Coach: I think Miguel was unable to contribute as a starter down the stretch because of ongoing physical discomfort that began some time in July, but because he's a team guy and a competitor, he refused to shut it down entirely. The closer experiment allowed him to pitch fewer innings while still being useful. It also took some pressure off Jason Frasor and Vinny Chulk and provided a better look at Ryan Glynn and Gustavo Chacin. If they go into spring training with Batista as closer, I'll be surprised. I'd rather get 200 innings from that arm than 75, and I believe Speier can do a more than adequate job, capably set up by Frasor, League and a lefty to be named later.

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Jordan: Chris Woodward has been waived. Rather than viewing him as a disappointment, as many will, I prefer to think of Woodward as something of an overachiever, a 47th-round draft pick who gave the Jays one solid half-season after the Felipe Lopez trade, more than was ever expected. The problem was that the team committed to Woodward for longer than that; if the Jays had had any options whatsoever, Woodward probably would've been riding the pine much of the last two years (not for nothing did Ricciardi try to keep Mike Bordick from retiring). Woodward reportedly had "concentration issues" last year, and this year ran into health problems; either way, he wasn't a starting shortstop, and I'm glad his day is over. One fewer Blue Jay regular who wouldn't have started on any decent MLB team; now there's only three or four more left to replace.

Mike Green: I don't agree about Woodward. He had performed at his 2002 level in Syracuse at age 23-24 in 99-01. Entering 2003, there was every reason to believe that he could hit .270 with medium range pop and acceptable but not great strike zone judgment. His defence (awkward footwork and below average quickness offset by a strong arm) was acceptable. Whether his problem was "concentration issues" or "not being given a fair shot" or a combination, no one knows.

I wish that the team had committed fully to Woodward in 2003. They had no options for 2004, and his development was important to the team. Instead, Tosca started off 2003 with ambivalence towards both Woodward and Hudson, and did not give them the consistent work together that a young and developing double-play combination needs.

Hudson overcame that, but Woodward did not.

Anyways, Woodward clearly needs a change of scenery now. It would not surprise me at all if he ends up as a fine major leaguer, perhaps in the utility infielder role.

---

Jordan: What about the bullpen? We know all about Adams, Ligtenberg and Speier, who were brought in to be the veteran backbone of the relief corps so that fans wouldn't have to suffer through Scott Cassidy and Mike Smith anymore. Instead, we suffered more: Ligtenberg and Speier were naggingly hurt and largely ineffective (Speier rebounded down the stretch), while Adams was simply ineffective. Aquilino Lopez turned back into a pumpkin, and Jason Frasor and Vinny Chulk opened well but staggered and collapsed down the stretch.

Two questions: one, what is it with the Toronto bullpen, that turns once-effective hurlers into batting-practice pitchers? With Gil Patterson either justly fired or scapegoated, depending on your POV, and John Gibbons evidently better at role assignation than Carlos Tosca, will things get better? And two, what will become of this bullpen next year? Is the closer already on the 25-man roster (Batista, Speier, Frasor, Towers?), is he in the minors (League, Vermilyea, Peterson?) or is he coming to the team via trade or free agency? How should the club construct an effective bullpen without cloning Mariano Rivera?

Dave Till: Can you learn a new pitch at the big league level? If that is the case, I'd keep League in Toronto next year. But the temptation to have him close games would be very strong - especially if someone thinks his job is on the line if they don't win - and his development could then stall, much as Koch's did.

Mike Green: Expecting a better than average bullpen this year was unreasonable in light of the talent. The failure to assign roles contributed to the sub-par performance. For 2005, Brandon League, Justin Speier or Miguel Batista could end up as the closer. Speier seems to be the most likely result, but the bullpen should be better (when have we heard that before?). I am very optimistic about the 2006-07 bullpen courtesy of the likely infusion of some talent from the minors (Shaun Marcum might very well end up as the long-term closer of the bunch).

Moffatt: Possibly the most frustrating thing about the 2004 Blue Jays was the team's early season inability to assign roles to the bullpen players. As a fan I got the sense that if one of these guys even looked at Tosca funny he'd be demoted. How many closers did the Jays have this year? Frasor, Speier, and Batista were all closers at one point and Adams and Ligtenberg were also candidates. The bullpen was supposed to be one of the strengths of this team and it turned into a big weakness. Had the Jays just done the Earl Weaver thing of defining roles for everyone in Spring Training and then left them there (barring injuries of course) this team would have been a lot better off. This is not at all hindsight; this is something I've been arguing since J.P. got here.

Speaking of Earl Weaver: Why carry 8 relievers when you can't even find 5 decent ones? The Jays absolutely positively must stop constructing their roster the same way as the Red Sox and Yankees would. Any military historian will tell you that if an army is outmanned and outgunned they can't use the same strategy as the larger army; they'll lose every time. The Jays need to be far more creative when it comes to their roster usage. If they play the same game as the Yankees and Red Sox, they'll lose every time, as they just don't have the dollars to spend on 7 or 8 good relievers like their division rivals do.

Mike Green: I agree completely with Mike M on the bullpen issue. The 7 or 8 man bullpen makes no sense whatsoever for this team. Five would be ideal; six would be OK if you have an abundance of talent from the farm system that needs a major league role.

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Part V tomorrow will take a look at the outlook of the team for 2005.
Year in Review Roundtable - Part IV | 14 comments | Create New Account
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_R Billie - Wednesday, November 10 2004 @ 11:40 PM EST (#18618) #
I fear that whether or not League can effectively learn a changeup while pitching relief in the majors, that he'll be in the bullpen to start the year. With this team losing Delgado and the $14 million or whatever they have to spend on 6 or 7 spots seeming scant, I think the organization is going to feel tremendous pressure to accelerate League's development as a short reliever. Which I think is unfortunate because you're looking at a 21 year old who has pitched anywhere from pretty good to great as a starter, particularly during the second half in AA.

But then we've seen this before in 2002 with the ill-fated Escobar is a closer experiment just when he seemed to be getting his bearings as a starter in 2001. And now of course I'm sure the Jays would love to have Escobar through '05 and '06 at $6 million per year. What do you think Escobar on that contract would be worth in trade right now? Quite a bit I think. Not that you'd want to trade Escobar if you planned to field a competitive team. Matt Clement is unlikely to be cheaper this season.

The Jays are finding ways to turn their best talents into minimal return. Not that Zach Jackson and Adam Lind aren't good prospects but it's been three years and the major league club is going backwards in talent level and not forward. I mean to be fair some of these things looked to be good ideas at the time but if this team could have actually gotten near market value for Koch, Quantrill/Izturis, Felipe Lopez, Kelvim Escobar, Josh Phelps, and Jayson Werth, they would be so much further ahead. Even the Stewart trade turned into near disaster which was only saved by foisting that disaster onto a trusted trading partner.

This track record at the major league level is simply not good enough. We're getting thinner and thinner in front line major league talent and while we are getting thicker in minor league talent we're talking about players that could take years to have a discernable effect. I was hoping for much, much better when JP took over a team that was stocked with major league and minor league talent in 2001.
_R Billie - Wednesday, November 10 2004 @ 11:57 PM EST (#18619) #
Hmm. I seem to have been overly harsh. I really don't feel THAT negative about the team. But as much as I'm seeing progess that could result in a winner 3 to 5 years from now (which is what I was hoping for in 2002), I'm seeing things that the team actually had going for it whithering on the vine.
_Caino - Wednesday, November 10 2004 @ 11:58 PM EST (#18620) #
Great work guys. Love the Year in Review Roundtables. All the work you gentlemen put in is much appreciated.
_Ron - Thursday, November 11 2004 @ 01:23 AM EST (#18621) #
The roundtable pretty much touched on all the key points.

I would like to add I found it very strange that Hinske actually had a poor year stealing bases in relation to his previous 2 seasons. I still remember seeing a Hinske profile from the Score down in Spring Training where he said he lost 20 pounds in the off-season and was in the best shape of his life. I never expected a big weight loss (if this was a reason)to hurt somebody's ability to steal bases.

Heck I'm still puzzled as to why he had such a poor year. All indications pointed to a bounce back year for Hinske and it actually got worse.
_Moffatt - Thursday, November 11 2004 @ 08:44 AM EST (#18622) #
RE: Hinske's The difference between last year and this year was that this year the Jays were using a lot more runners-in-motion plays. I was guess that the bulk of Hinske's CSs came from botched hit-and-runs and not from straight steal attempts.
_Jonny German - Thursday, November 11 2004 @ 09:30 AM EST (#18623) #
R Billie, if you're really unhappy with getting just a Rookie of the Year season in return for Koch, maybe you should propose that the Jays go sign Koch. At this point, he'll be lucky to get a major league contract. Yup, lotta value thrown away there!

we are getting thicker in minor league talent we're talking about players that could take years to have a discernable effect.

Are we watching the same team? If Dave Bush making the majors 2 years after being drafted and turning in a 20.6 VORP in half a season isn't good enough or fast enough talent development for you, there simply isn't a minor league development program you would approve of.
_the shadow - Thursday, November 11 2004 @ 10:32 AM EST (#18624) #
I still think the Jays have to review their, batting (I w'ont say hitting) coach,I still think this is a big factor in the drop off in their '04 offensive numbers
_Chuck Van Den C - Thursday, November 11 2004 @ 11:54 AM EST (#18625) #
Shadow, Mike Barnett was the Jays' batting coach in 2003, when they hit very well. I think it's too simplistic to over-praise or over-critize a batting coach. It's the players that have to assume most of the responsibility for their performances.
_BCMike - Thursday, November 11 2004 @ 01:01 PM EST (#18626) #
Craig B hit the nail on the head in regards to Hinske. Hinske is completely off balance at the plate and he can't make decent contact unless he gets the pitch he's looking for. Is this correctable? You would think so, but the fact that Hinske made zero progress over the course of the 2004 season leads me to believe that Mike Barnett should be replaced.

You can't really put the blame on a hitting coach based solely on results(as evidenced by the great 2003 offence). However, you can place blame on a hitting coach when certain players regress, in terms of mechanics and approach(not just results), at the plate and fail to demonstrate any progress. Hinske & Phelps being Exihibit A.
_Chuck Van Den C - Thursday, November 11 2004 @ 03:41 PM EST (#18627) #
I don't know enough about Barnett to either defend his role in 2004 or to trumpet his work in 2003. Maybe he's responsible for making Hinske think too much. Maybe Hinske and Phelps, like Alex Gonzalez before them, are simply not coachable. These things are difficult to evaluate from the outside.

It certainly wouldn't be unprecedented for a team's batting coach to be let go on the heels of a poor offensive season. But I would have to imagine that this would have taken place immediately after the season if it were going to happen at all.
_R Billie - Thursday, November 11 2004 @ 05:19 PM EST (#18628) #
At this point, he'll be lucky to get a major league contract. Yup, lotta value thrown away there!

I'm talking more about his perceived value at the time which had to be considerable. We're talking about a guy in his mid-20s, former first round pick who threw hard and had 100 career saves. This is someone for whom you would expect to get a good long term piece or two.

It was a good trade for exactly one year when Hinske surpassed expectations for first year performance by a longshot and won RotY (for whatever that's worth). Frankly, too much was made of the RotY award and it probably went to Hinske's head. But two years later the trade seems to be a wash at best.

The A's got a good season from Koch and turned him into Keith Foulke whom they also got a very good season from. Eventually they got a first round pick for Foulke but both relievers allowed them to make the playoffs. Three years later are the Jays any further ahead with Hinske and Miller?

If Dave Bush making the majors 2 years after being drafted and turning in a 20.6 VORP in half a season isn't good enough or fast enough talent development for you, there simply isn't a minor league development program you would approve of.

Which is great. I wasn't really critiquing the minor league system or the quality of drafting at all. I'm saying for every decent young player that comes up we're losing an even better player off the major league roster. Delgado and Escobar being the two big ones with Stewart for Lilly being an approximate saw off. The existing talent, some of it considerable, is thinning or simply moving sideways.

Eventually if the Jays continue on with their drafting program in another 2 or 3 or 4 years they will have the strong system from top to bottom that they set out to build. But if you give anyone 5 to 7 years and tell them to build up a franchise which already has considerable talent, I don't think that's a great accomplishment, even if you take into account payroll. That's probably the average time you would expect a building franchise to take. The point of having a strong front office is to accelerate that schedule. I'm still waiting for the acceleration to take place rather than the slow crawl of waiting for players to filter up from drafts.
Mike Green - Thursday, November 11 2004 @ 05:38 PM EST (#18629) #
If the point is to criticize the moves made at the major league level as a whole, that's fair. Many roster members have made similar criticisms. In fairness, there is a learning curve operating here, and to expect JP to come in with his background and immediately to be the sharpest trading GM is not realistic.

Incidentally, I don't think the fact that Beane was able to leverage Koch into Foulke should be held against Ricciardi. That trade was widely seen as a steal from the moment it occurred.
_Jabonoso - Thursday, November 11 2004 @ 06:07 PM EST (#18630) #
It has shocked me some of JP major league moves ( trades, contracts recommendations) , as Terence Long and several others already mentioned.
In general, I agree with RBillie.
_Jonny German - Thursday, November 11 2004 @ 10:43 PM EST (#18631) #
But if you give anyone 5 to 7 years and tell them to build up a franchise which already has considerable talent, I don't think that's a great accomplishment, even if you take into account payroll... I'm still waiting for the acceleration to take place rather than the slow crawl of waiting for players to filter up from drafts.

It's mighty hard to accelerate talent-wise when you're decelerating budget-wise. And when you talk about the considerable talent the franchise already had, you have to qualify it in that a good deal of that talent was vastly overrated and/or overpaid.

2001 Blue Jays
Raul Mondesi $11.5M
Joey Hamilton $7.2M
Esteban Loaiza $4.2M
Alex Gonzalez $4.2M
Tony Batista $3.3M
Homer Bush $2.5M
Steve Parris $2.3M

There was some decent talent, both major and minor league, but there was also an awful lot of dead wood and considerable lack of depth.

I'm not about to make any argument about how good of a GM J.P. is or is not. I just think the vast majority of the complaints about the current state of the Blue Jays are misguided in that they are packaged as failings of the people handling player personnel, they overestimate how good things were at the start of this regime, and being blinded by the on-field disaster that was the 2004 Blue Jay season they underestimate the current situation.

If Delgado is gone, it'll be for budgetary reasons. Similarly, Escobar was gone because there was very good reason to believe that Miguel Batista made better sense for this team with this budget. Escobar turned in his best season ever (though still shy of Batista's 2003 and 2001), while Miguel turned in his worst in 4 years. It happens. (Personally, I still expect Miguel to give more Win Shares per dollar over the remainder of his contract than Escobar.)

BTW, Stewart vs. Lilly is most certainly not an approximate saw-off. Lilly had a VORP of 44.6 in 2004, ranking him 23rd among all pitchers. Stewart's VORP, while earning 2-1/2 times as much as Lilly, was 25.3, 135th among hitters.
Year in Review Roundtable - Part IV | 14 comments | Create New Account
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