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the so must go on

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what to make of so taguchi? his batting averages by month: .370, .151, .333, .242, and -- after his 4-for-5, 3-rbi performance last night -- .460 thus far in august. it adds up to a .303 average and .801 ops for the season, excellent numbers off the bench -- but i still can't decide if i think he's any good or not. i make him as a slightly shorter, slower version of willie mcgee -- same wiry build, same short quick stroke at the plate, same good range and reliable glove and accurate arm afield. same career line, too: here they are per 600 plate appearances:

ab r h 2b 3b hr rbi bb sb/att avg obp slg ops
mcgee 567 75 167 26 7 6 63 33 26/35 .295 .333 .396 .729
taguchi 562 80 167 33 6 14 87 35 18/22 .297 .339 .451 .790

these numbers actually make taguchi look a lot better than mcgee, but i suspect they'd come out roughly equal if you adjusted the figures to reflect a) the changes to busch stadium between the 1980s and 2000s, and b) the difference in run-scoring context between the two eras. another caveat: altho the lines are per 600 plate appearances, taguchi doesn't even have 600 plate appearances -- last night's game brought his career total up to 566, or roughly one season's worth.

any player who, in one season, put up numbers like the ones on so's line above would have to be considered a damn good player. so why don't i feel that way about taguchi? in large part, i think, it's because i haven't gotten over the awful first impression he made, when he came to camp in 2002 and was obviously overmatched. i still think of him as swinging a toothpick up there, even though he has hit 7 dingers this year in 264 at-bats.

to help myself re-imagine this player, i have compared his performance this season to those of a few well-regarded outfielders, chosen somewhat arbitrarily. all the comparison players seem (to me, anyway) to have overlapping skill sets with gooch; in each case i adjusted taguchi's plate appearances upward to equal those of the "control" player. here's so vs carl crawford:

ab r h 2b 3b hr rbi bb sb/att avg obp slg ops
crawford 2005 501 73 144 23 12 12 64 19 34/39 .287 .316 .453 .779
taguchi 2005 494 62 150 32 4 13 73 26 17/19 .303 .339 .462 .801

yikes. i didn't realize crawford was such a hacker; he even makes taguchi look patient. now look at so vs brady clark:

ab r h 2b 3b hr rbi bb sb/att avg obp slg ops
clark 2005 473 76 147 24 0 9 40 34 9/20 .311 .372 .419 .791
taguchi 2005 494 62 150 32 4 13 73 26 17/19 .303 .339 .462 .801

this next one's very entertaining, but so misleading i'll state all the caveats and disclaimers up front: we're looking at a very limited set of plate appearances, the numbers aren't ballpark-adjusted, taguchi's at-bats have been hand-picked to some degree by his manager to maximize his value, the player under comparison is having an off-year . . . . . ok? with those qualifications duly stipulated to, let us now enjoy the comparison between taguchi and his famous former teammate:

ab r h 2b 3b hr rbi bb sb/att avg obp slg ops
ichiro 2005 493 84 152 13 10 11 47 33 27/33 .308 .351 .442 .793
taguchi 2005 502 63 152 32 4 14 74 27 17/19 .303 .339 .462 .801

not bad, eh? here's one last pairing, perhaps the most apt of all: taguchi vs luis gonzalez. toss out gonzalez's flukey (ahem) 57-homer year and the sudden (cough) power increase after 1999. look instead at the player he was up through age 30. that's essentially the player we have in taguchi. and coming off the bench, that's a hell of a player. their lines this season:

ab r h 2b 3b hr rbi bb sb/att avg obp slg ops
gonzalez 2005 440 68 123 28 0 17 65 58 4/5 .280 .369 .462 .821
taguchi 2005 479 60 145 31 2 13 71 25 16/18 .303 .339 .462 .801

anybody convinced yet the we have a crawford, a clark, an ichiro, a gonzalez sitting on our bench? ok, me neither; i still can't get over my subjective impression of taguchi as a toothpick-swinger. but i love it when the guy gives the lie to that perception. keep proving me wrong, so.