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April 27, 2011 at 9:24 AM

Ryan Langerhans and statistical oddities

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Here we are, nearly one month into the season, and Ryan Langerhans continues to sit on one of those rare statistical oddities I figured I’d better bring up now before it vanishes forever.
Langerhans is the only player in MLB with an on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) greater than .800 to also have a sub-.200 batting average. And believe me, that’s not easy to do when you start getting up near 50 plate appearances (Langerhans has 49).
Going into tonight, his OPS is at .807 while his average is at .189.
What’s driving this anomoly are the 11 walks garnered by Langerhans already. That’s pushed his on-base percentage up to .375 and the OPS beyond the .800 range. The reason why it’s so odd is that anyone with an OPS greater than .800 is assumed to be an above average hitter, while anyone hitting below the .200 “Mendoza Line” is considered to be a bad hitter.
And then, you have Langerhans, the ultimate tweener.
This post isn’t meant to define history or inspire you in any way. Nor is it meant to poke fun at Langerhans, who, if you read yesterday’s pre-game blog post, you’d know is working with hitting coach Chris Chambliss to take easier swings and not ruin hittable pitches for himself.
Nope. The only reason I’m writing this is because the Langerhans totals are just plain weird.

Look around the game and only two players — Jonny Gomes and Kevin Youkilis — really come close to matching the Langerhans feat.
Gomes is hitting .211 with an .883 OPS, so that’s pretty impressive in its own right. He’s drawn 18 walks already, with his six home runs no doubt causing some of those free passes from pitchers who’d rather not serve up long ball No. 7.
Youkilis is, of course, the so-called “Greek God of Walks” from Moneyball (the book, not the much-appropriated concept), so his 17 walks are not all that unusual. He’s also hit four home runs and five doubles, accounting for much of his OPS power. He’s got an OPS of .853 while hitting .212.
Ah, but neither player is below .200. We’ve all seen the Dave Kingmans of the world flirt just above Mendoza Line numbers while supplying some power. Kingman once hit .203 with a .779 OPS for the Giants in 1973. But below Mendoza? Heck, there’s a reason that line was created. It’s just plain tough to do what Langerhans is accomplishing here OPS-wise.
Part of the thing making this so odd is that Langerhans is not the hitter than either Gomes or Youkilis (or Kingman) is.
Langerhans is a career bench guy. A guy who has to fight in every plate appearance to justify staying with the team one more day. That’s part of why he’s been over-swinging, if you ask him.
You just don’t envision a guy like Langerhans possibly ending the season’s first month tied for the team lead in home runs. He actually led the team until Justin Smoak went deep last night for No. 3.
As for the walks, Langerhans also isn’t a guy who a pitcher will say to himself “Whoa! This guy is real dangerous, I’d better pitch around him.”
Nope, unlike walk-machine Youkilis, or power threat Gomes, Langerhans has had to earn each and every one of those free passes through hard work.
Now, as for his place in history? Well, Langerhans is on-pace to finish with more than 300 plate appearances this year.
If we look at historical comparisons of guys with at least that many PA, the best OPS from anyone with a sub-.200 batting average is .808 by .187-hitting Mark McGwire back in 2001.
So, yeah, I know. Who’d ever have thought we’d be mentioning McGwire and Langerhans in the same breath?
And it probably won’t last long. But for the next 24 hours or so, just call Langerhans “Little Mac.”
And hold the fries and coke. Unless it’s Phil Coke of the Tigers. But then the batting average would go up and ruin everything. Or, if it’s last week’s version of Coke, the walk rate might explode and chase McGwire.
The possibilities. They’re endless. Which is why baseball is such a fun sport.



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