The Fun Factor
Some ballplayers exude joy -- while others drain it
Posted: Tuesday May 29, 2007 3:48PM; Updated: Tuesday May 29, 2007 4:21PM
Willie Mays is considered by many to be the best player ever, and not just because he did everything so well. It was the way in which he went about things, the joy he radiated while playing so brilliantly, that made his career so memorable. Ken Griffey Jr. was similar when he was with Seattle. Certain types of players are easier to enjoy than others.
With a friendly nod and a wink to Baseball Prospectus, my colleague Emma Span coined the phrase "FORP" earlier this spring: Fun Over Replacement Player. Of course, fun is in the eye of the beholder. There is no objective way to measure it. But I believe Mays and Griffey exuded the one essential ingredient in having a positive FORP -- a tangible sense that they were enjoying themselves on the field.
The rest is a matter of personal preference, so with apologies to great entertainers such as Pedro Martinez, Derek Jeter and Grady Sizemore, here's a grouping of players with a positive FORP, followed by the a list of the least fun players.
Jose Reyes: The Mets shortstop is possibly the most exciting player in the game right now, capable of stretching singles into doubles and compiling 100-steal seasons for years to come. Players with Reyes' raw ability are almost always fun for a period of time but often fail to develop. What makes Reyes special is that he has matured a great deal over the past two years. Reyes walked just 27 times in his first full season, then roughly doubled that amount last year, with 53. He has already drawn 27 walks this year.
Joel Zumaya: Here's a guy who throws 100 mph and looks like he's throws 100 mph, just like Goose Gossage did 30 years ago, a bona fide Tazmanian Devil. Yet in spite of his dominating stuff, Zumaya gets into his fair share of trouble, which lends even more excitement to his outings. (Though he hasn't made an appearance since going on the DL on May 3 with a ruptured tendon on his pitching hand.)
Eric Byrnes: Captain America is always hustling. He sprints from the dugout to his position every day. But it's no phony Charlie Hustle act. Byrnes can actually play, and he's a natural ham as a guest analyst on TV to boot.
Vladimir Guerrero: The rawness. Guerrero is a veteran but his game is still unrefined, even sloppy. He's got a powerful-yet-erratic arm. He has stolen 167 bases in his career, but only at a 67 percent success rate. He's a whirling dervish on the field, all arms and legs. Oh, yeah, and the Conan swing, combined with an indiscriminant Yogi Berra/Roberto Clemente strike zone, still makes his at-bats Must See TV.
Tim Hudson: He's a small guy and a tremendous competitor. Hey, you've got to love seeing the little guys stick it to the big guys, right? When Hudson is not on his game, he still battles, sometime inventing pitches on the mound, like David Cone used to do.
Julio Franco: The man is 48 years old, and he looks like he's in better shape than Jack LaLanne and Rickey Henderson combined. Franco can still hit with power to the opposite field. The only question is if the modern day Minnie Minoso can hang on in the big leagues until he's 50.
Torii Hunter: Got to have a center fielder on the list, right? There are a bunch of candidates, notably Sizemore and Andruw Jones, but I'll take Hunter, who has an infectious smile and a knack for making highlight reel catches.
El Duque: Anybody who throws a variation of the eephus pitch has to have a good FORP. But with El Duque, that's just the beginning. His name is cool, his story is cooler, and his delivery is unique. Remember when he fielded a ground ball that got caught in the webbing of his glove and he threw the entire mitt to first base to record the out? Plus, the bigger the game, the tougher he becomes. His Houdini relief appearance for the White Sox against Boston at Fenway Park in 2005 was priceless. So was the little side-step, grasshopper leap he took over the foul line on his way back to the dugout after getting out of the jam.
Dontrelle Willis: OK, Willis' inimitable pitching motion accounts for a lot of why he's fun to watch. But more than that, he's incredibly animated, whether he's pitching or rooting from the dugout. Plus, he can hit a little bit too.
Omar Vizquel: "If there were a Harlem Globetrotters of baseball, Vizquel would be Marques Haynes," says A's blogger Ken Arneson. "Just watching him throw the ball around the horn is a pleasure; he has such amazing ball control, he'll flip the ball from his glove to his hand as if it were on a string. It's all so fluid and effortless, it's like he makes the ball seem like a natural extension of his body."
Honorable Mention: Felix Hernandez, David Ortiz, Carl Crawford.