Bricks from the Warehouse

August 10
Conine: Eating Crow?

We've taken heat from some of our readers for our preseason anti-Jeff Conine statements. They go something along the lines of:

      I admire your guts in keeping the April columns re: Miller and Conine. If you read them now you will see how wrong you were. You should retract them or eliminate them.      
      A couple players who you regarded as poor decisions (Conine and Amaral) have done very well despite your dismal forecast. I have always respected your insights but am dissapointed that you have not significantly recognized these two players for their accomplishments.      

Well, no, we won't apologize. Superficially, Jeff Conine has been impressive, hitting close to .300 with some pop in his bat. But only superficially. Sure, he's hitting close to .300 (.288, as this piece is written), but that's not impressive. The average hitter in the American League is hitting .277. Conine, who's been platooned much of the year at 1b/DH, should be hitting much better. But it's not the batting average that's the problem.

It's everything else. Or rather, the lack thereof. Conine's slugging just .456, and his on-base percentage is a pathetic .329. How do those compare to the rest of the league? The average hitter has a .442 SLG, while the average 1bman slugs .469. The average hitter has a .349 OBP, and the average first baseman has a .361. To sum up:

Conine vs. the rest of the league
All DH.284387611102211869314974.368.486
All 1B.278418631162411867215381.361.469

In other words, the problem isn't that Jeff Conine never gets any hits -- he's not Jeff Reboulet. The lesser problem is that he's underpowered, and the greater problem is that he never walks. (And please don't send us replies telling us "his job isn't to walk." We agree. But his job is to avoid making outs, by whatever means possible, and Conine's failing at it. He makes more outs than the average hitter; he makes lots more outs than the average first baseman or designated hitter.)

What prompted this revisitation of the Conine issue? A journeyman AAA roster filler, Todd Dunn, was just released by Rochester after hitting just 173/248/286. Dunn had been acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers organization on June 1 in a trade for Lyle Mouton. Mouton was unhappy in the Orioles organization, and rather than dealing with the reasons behind that unhappiness, the Orioles did what they usually do in such situations -- shipped him away, in this case for one of Frank Wren's former pet players, Todd Dunn.

Mouton, you may recall, is a right-handed bat off the bench, one of the many players the Orioles could have used this year. But instead, they went for the Big Name, trading away a pitching prospect for Jeff Conine. (Mouton was unhappy because the Conine acquisition foreclosed his shot at the RH bench job, a shot Mouton earned after hitting 321/388/569 at Rochester and then 308/372/513 for the Orioles in his callup last year.)

So what? You don't think he could have outhit Conine right now? Well, he's hitting 375/428/750 for Louisville in about 230 PAs, which adds up to 310/365/585 for the year.

Now, you want to know how Chris Fussell is pitching right now? He's pitching extremely well for Omaha:


Why do I bring up Fussell? Because he's the "pitching prospect" I mentioned above. Mouton could have filled the righthander-off-the-bench role, thus obviating the need to trade for Conine, and allowing the Os to keep Fussell. Is Conine better than Mouton? Perhaps. I doubt it, but it's possible. (Note that Mouton's not a youngster, so it's not as if he's inexperienced or as if his development will be stunted by sitting on the bench.) But whether he is or not, is he significantly better than Mouton? Is the difference enough to warrant getting rid of Chris Fussell? Is it worth giving up Chris Fussell, given that the Orioles weren't going to contend this year?

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Last Updated: August 10, 1999