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Baseball by the Numbers: One-hit wonders

Michael Salfino
Yahoo Sports

You can find more from Michael Salfino at Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia

Chris Davis(notes) turned from Rookie of the Year candidate to bush leaguer – the epitome of a one-dimensional hitter. But he's not alone among players who do one thing really well and not much else.

Davis struck out a staggering 114 times in 77 games (against just 17 walks) to earn his demotion to Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he since has gone .326/.416/.546 in 141 at bats. The whiff rate is still problematic though (32 Ks). Davis's offensive game appears very limited given how contact challenged he is, but he's not completely one dimensional as his defense grades out well at first base.

What do the Rangers do with Davis next year? Probably trade him, as Justin Smoak is going to be ready by mid-2010 at the latest and Smoak is a much better rounded offensive force. Of course, you can ship out Hank Blalock(notes) and move Smoak to DH, though that seems like a dumb way to treat a prospect in his early 20s. If they're smart, they'll parlay a Triple A rebound by Davis to generate interest from a team that has a huge hole at the position. The Mets come quickly to mind. Mets fans, after all, did love for a while the most one-dimensional hitter of all-time – Dave "Kong" Kingman.

Here are the other players this year who do one thing well and not much else.

Christian Guzman is hitting about .309 but his on-base percentage is just slightly higher – .329. His isolated slugging (slugging minus average) is about .100, too, which is Punch and Judy. The sabermetric people want to say that guys who hit for a high average while sporting such a low walk total are mostly lucky. But contact rate is more important. Guzman's has declined precipitously (59 Ks in 411 at bats this year; 57 in 579 in '08). But Guzman has hit about .320 just about any way you look at his last 1,164 at bats.

It makes no sense given his stature as a former five-tool pick and his power outburst last October, but you can't find a more one-dimensional offensive player who is active right now that B.J. Upton(notes). Take away the 35 steals and he's less than a fantasy zero (.236/.313/.355). But Upton at least has multi-dimensional tools. Contrast him to the one-tool Willy Taveras(notes): .240/.276/.286 while somehow getting 391 at bats (25 steals).

One-trick pony pitchers include Minnesota's Nick Blackburn(notes), who has great control when it comes to putting the ball exactly where hitters want it. Yes, the 34 walks in 149 innings are nice, but 179 hits along with 17 homers are too much.

The numbers say Boston's Brad Penny(notes) is one-dimensional with that 10th-fastest fastball (93.9 mph on average) and lagging results. But he's just 0.8 of one run above average with all that mustard. Meanwhile, Dodger Randy Wolf(notes), who averages a pedestrian 88.9 on the gun, is a league-leading 22.4 runs above average despite dealing mild cheese.

The epitome of the one-dimensional pitcher, though, is Penny's teammate Tim Wakefield(notes), who floats that knuckler up there on 85.8 percent of pitches. The pitch is 4.3 runs above average and sets up the 72.7 mph fastball, which is 2.4 runs better than average despite him throwing it only 9.4 percent of the time. In other words, it's more effective than Penny's leather popper.

Now let's make some related recommendations.

Buy

Joel Pineiro(notes), P, Cardinals: He's a righty salad tosser, but he's allowed just five homers all year. When you don't walk guys (16 in 155 innings) and don't yield homers, it's almost impossible to get rocked. And the Cardinals, of course, are very win-friendly for innings-eater types.

Ubaldo Jimenez(notes), P, Rockies: He's had the hardest fastball the past two years, but has refined his control. His BB/9 has dropped from 4.67 to 3.58. The ERA gains have been about as expected, about a half-run better per game.

Hold

Mark Reynolds(notes), 3B, Diamondbacks: He's on pace to strike out about 220 times. But he's 21-for-28 stealing bases to go with the 38 jacks and the walk rate has increased, too.

Carl Crawford(notes), OF, Rays: He has 11 homers since May 29, that's two more than Hanley Ramirez(notes) during the same stretch. And he's added 24 steals since June, too, while holding his average to .319. He's fully five category now.

Sell

Russell Branyan(notes), 1B, Mariners: He's the poor man's Reynolds (no speed). He's nearly as hacktastic (130 Ks in 105 games) and his average has dipped from .323 on June 2 (when we screamed "SELL" here) to the current .256.

Francisco Liriano(notes), P, Twins: He's the new Daniel Cabrera(notes), except he always costs more than Cabrera ever did. He can still strike out hitters when he can get in favorable counts. But the fastball is gone post Tommy John surgery – 21.2 runs below average thus far in '09.

Michael Salfino's work has appeared in USA Today's Sports Weekly, RotoWire, dozens of newspapers nationwide and most recently throughout Comcast SportsNet, including SNY.tv, for which he also analyzes the Mets and Yankees. He's been writing "Baseball by the Numbers" weekly since 2005.

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