Know-hitters: Oddball stats from '05
Park home run figures among last year's statistical surprises
By Jim Banks /

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Coors Field in Colorado experienced a 23.1 percent drop in home runs from 2004 to '05. (Jack Dempsey/AP)
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The World Baseball Classic is over, and all eyes now return to Spring Training and the upcoming 2006 regular season. To help you regain your focus, here is a collection of interesting tidbits, facts and figures, courtesy of our reporting staff.

Hopefully, you'll find something interesting about your favorite team or player, learn something you didn't already know or find an item that changes the way you think. On to the fun ... and we'll have more soon.

Blast off? The Astros' record last year in games started by Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte and Brandon Backe -- the three pitchers who will anchor this year's staff, minus Roger Clemens -- was 56-36, for a winning percentage of .609. The team's record in games started by Wandy Rodriguez, Ezequiel Astacio and Brandon Duckworth was 19-19 (.500). In games started by the Rocket, the Astros were 15-17 (.469). Although, in fairness to Clemens, the Astros were shut out in nine of his losses.

Blast off, Part II: Which ballpark was home to the most home runs in 2005? If you guessed the Rockies' Coors Field, you'd be wrong. It was Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, with 246 long balls. If you go to a Reds game this season, take your glove. There have been only nine homerless games in the three-year history of the ballpark.

Blast off, Part III: However, a system called Park Factor, designed to rate ballparks based on home runs hit and homers allowed at home and on the road rates the White Sox U.S. Cellular Field as the most homer-friendly ballpark in the Majors. Great American Ball Park ranked 13th. So, Reds fans, maybe it's the pitching and not just the park.

Getting grounded: The home run totals have dropped precipitously at Coors Field, and it's not just because the Rockies no longer sport the boppers they used to. In 2005, the Rockies hit 86 homers and the visitors hit only 84. The total of 170 was lowest in park history -- easily behind the previous low of 212 in 1998 -- and it represented a 23.1 percent drop from 2004. It was the highest percentage drop in a season in park history. But don't go calling Coors a pitchers' park just yet. The place still led baseball in hits with 1,661.

Already grounded: At the bottom of the Park Factor rankings were RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City and PETCO Park in San Diego -- no surprises there. But also among those at the bottom was Jacobs Field in Cleveland, at No. 28, despite the fact that the Indians finished fourth in all of baseball in homers hit with 207. PETCO Park figures to increase its home-run production by perhaps a dozen in '06, with the deepest part of the park, in right-center, shaved from 411 to 402 feet.

All or nothing: The Cubs lived and died by the long ball in 2005, going 15-35 in games in which they did not homer, 28-30 when they hit one, 23-13 when they hit two, and 13-5 when they hit three or more. It was nothing new for the Cubs, who in three years under manager Dusty Baker have gone 57-104 (.354) in games in which they have not homered.

All or nothing, Part II: The Rangers hit 260 home runs last year, second most in Major League history. But they set another Major League record with nine sacrifice hits, the fewest in one season in Major League history. They also had just two bunt hits, fewest in the Majors. How dependent are the Rangers on the home run? During Buck Showalter's three years as manager, they have 726 home runs, most in the American League. They are second, though, with 3,663 strikeouts, and their 56 sacrifice hits are the third fewest in the AL in that span. Their 26 bunts for hits and 348 infield hits are the second fewest in the AL over the past three years.

This is how you do it: Home runs are great, but it's good to mix in a little speed, too -- it worked for the defending World Series champions. The White Sox joined the Yankees (2000-current) as the only teams in Major League history to hit 200 home runs in six straight seasons. But the White Sox also led the American League with 53 sacrifice hits and 37 bunt hits, while finishing second with 156 infield hits and fourth in steals with 137.

Behind the times: The Twins haven't had a player hit 30 home runs in a season since 1987. Just four teams in baseball have had a longer streak than that since the live-ball era began in 1920, and none of those streaks has occurred since 1970. The three sluggers whom the Twins signed in the offseason -- Tony Batista, Rondell White and Ruben Sierra -- have only three 30-plus homer seasons combined -- all from Batista.

Best team defense Indians Phillies
Worst team defense Yankees Marlins
Best infield defense Angels Phillies
Worst infield defense Royals Marlins
Best outfield defense White Sox Braves
Worst outfield defense Yankees Reds
Best first baseman Mark Teixeira, TEX Ryan Howard, PHI
Worst first baseman Richie Sexson, SEA Carlos Delgado, FLA (now NYM)
Best second baseman Belliard, CLE/Hudson, TOR Craig Counsell, ARI
Worst second baseman Robinson Cano, NYY Craig Biggio, HOU
Best shortstop Juan Uribe, CWS Adam Everett, HOU
Worst shorstop Michael Young, TEX Khalil Greene, SD
Best third baseman Eric Chavez, OAK David Bell, PHI
Worst third baseman Mark Teahen, KC David Wright, NYM
Best left fielder Coco Crisp, CLE (now BOS) Matt Holliday, COL
Worst left fielder Manny Ramirez, BOS Miguel Cabrera, FLA
Best center fielder Aaron Rowand, CWS (now PHI) Willy Taveras, HOU
Worst center fielder Bernie Williams, NYY Preston Wilson, COL/WAS (now HOU)
Best right fielder Trot Nixon, BOS Geoff Jenkins, MIL
Worst right fielder Gary Sheffield, NYY Matt Lawton, PIT (now SEA)

Getting defensive: It has always been difficult to find an accurate gauge of defensive prowess, with different statistical engines delivering different results on who was good and bad. But John Dewan's "The Fielding Bible" -- which looks at defensive ability in a wide variety of ways to determine who makes plays and why -- can be considered a breakthrough in this area. Take a look at some of the best and worst from 2005, as rated in his book (chart at right):

Let the arguments begin ... and there's more where that came from, like who is the best shortstop at turning two? (Cleveland's Jhonny Peralta) Which right fielder has the best (meaning most effective) outfield arm over the past three seasons? (Richard Hidalgo) Who is the best third baseman at fielding bunts? (San Francisco's Pedro Feliz)

Mister, can I get a ride? As Carlos Lee goes, the Brewers go. The team was 49-17 in 2005 when Lee drove in at least one run and 20-9 when he homered. Lee, who is entering a contract year, has matched or bettered his home run total in each of his seven Major League seasons. The young Brewers, who aspire to be contenders this season, will need Lee's upward trend to continue to take the pressue off youngsters Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy and Billy Hall -- all of whom figure to get significant at-bats.

Luck no lady in Cleveland: The Indians had the best bullpen in the Majors (2.80 ERA) last year, so it only stands to reason that would translate into success in one-run games. Think again. The Tribe went 22-36 in one-run games, and the club's 36 losses set a franchise record, were the most in the Majors and were the most by an AL team since 1968. The rival White Sox, who also had an outstanding bullpen, went a Major League-best 35-19 in one-run games and finished six games ahead of the Tribe.

I don't feel a draft, do you? The Dodgers figure to start the season without a player they drafted in the first round on their 25-man roster and with possibly only one player they drafted in any round -- outfielder Jason Repko -- on the 25-man roster.

Gimme more like that guy: Dodgers second baseman Jeff Kent had 105 RBIs in 2005, 42 more than the next closest Dodger, Olmedo Saenz. He figures to get help from a healthy J.D. Drew and newly acquired Rafael Furcal and Nomar Garciaparra this season.

As young as his team: Joe Girardi was named Marlins manager just two seasons after retiring as a player prior to the 2004 season. That's the shortest stint for a former player to make his big-league managerial debut since 1987, when both John Wathan (Kansas City) and Larry Bowa (San Diego) made the quick rise after retiring following the 1985 season.

Fantastic Four: The White Sox were 81-49 in games started by one of the four main members of the rotation. The team posted 20 wins in games started by each of the four: Mark Buehrle (20-13), Jon Garland (20-12), Freddy Garcia (20-13) and Jose Contreras (21-11).

Still streakin': Phillies shorstop Jimmy Rollins enters the season with a 36-game hitting streak, the ninth longest in Major League history. It's also the longest in history by any full-time shortstop.

It all adds up: Philadelphia finished second in the National League with 807 runs scored last year, and that can be attributed to a number of factors: they ranked first in walks and on-base percentage, third in hits, fourth in batting average, slugging percentage and total bases and they grounded into the second-fewest double plays.

Left-wingers: With Oliver Perez, Zach Duke and Paul Maholm already established in the starting rotation and Sean Burnett and Tom Gorzelanny waiting in the wings, the Pirates could have an all left-handed rotation at some point this season. Never in team history have five left-handed pitchers made 10 or more starts in the same season.

Almost there: The 2003 Mariners (Jamie Moyer, Gil Meche, Joel Piniero) and the 1986 Angels (Don Sutton, Mike Witt, Kirk McCaskill) are the only Major League teams to have a 15-game winner be 40 or older and a 15-game winner be 25 or younger. Both 41-year-old Kenny Rogers and 23-year-old Jeremy Bonderman won 14 games last year.

Maybe they should have been starting: Tampa Bay reserves led all of baseball with a .309 batting average as pinch-hitters.