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BASEBALL
Peter Gammons
May 22, 1989
REARMAMENT
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May 22, 1989

Baseball

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TAKING THEIR CHANCES
Kevin Elster's record streak of 88 errorless games ended May 9. The Mets' sure-handed shortstop handled an average of 4.1 fielding chances per nine innings during the streak. An impressive feat, but his average was actually lowest among regular shortstops over that span. Here's how Elster stacked up against the players with the most fielding chances in that span:

Errors

Chances Per 9 Innnings

Kevin Elster, Mets, 1

4.1

Cal Ripken, Oriles, 11

5.6

Ozzie Guillen, White Sox, 15

5.6

Dick Schofied, Angels, 7

5.5

Ozzie Smith, Cardinals, 12

5.2

Tony Fernandez, Blue Jays, 7

5.1

SOURCE: STATS, INC.

REARMAMENT

With today's big, symmetrical and carpeted ballparks, and with the Vince Colemans and the Devon Whites burning up the base paths, outfield defense—particularly throwing—is more important than it has ever been. But is outfield defense better than it used to be?

"Players today are much more talented than they were 30 years ago," says Brewers manager Tom Trebelhorn. "The one exception is outfielders' arms. Kids don't throw as much as they used to; they concentrate on hitting and lifting weights. Playing catch is too pedestrian." Many in the game agree that strong arms are few and far between. But some see signs that the outfield rifle may be making a comeback.

Says Oakland third base coach Rene Lachemann, "In the last couple of years we've had more guys with strong arms coming into the big leagues." Kansas City manager John Wathan says, "You may not see the accuracy or the fundamentals—cutoff men get missed more than ever—but the skills are coming back."

SI polled third base coaches in both leagues to get their votes on the best and worst arms in the majors. Among American League outfielders, Cleveland's Cory Snyder was the nearly unanimous first choice, though Kansas City's Bo Jackson, it was agreed, could match Snyder on strength and quickness of release. Behind them came Jose Canseco of Oakland and Jesse Barfield of New York, though some coaches said Barfield has slipped in the last two years. Honorable mention in the poll went to Minnesota's Kirby Puckett, Boston's Ellis Burks, California's White and Detroit's Gary Pettis. Cited as rising throwing stars were California's Dante Bichette and Seattle's Ken Griffey Jr.

Andre Dawson of the Cubs was the winner in the National League, with Pittsburgh's Andy Van Slyke coming in a close second, and his teammate Glenn Wilson finishing third, followed by the Reds' Eric Davis and the Braves' Dale Murphy. Said one coach, " Darryl Strawberry has a great arm, but he gets to the ball in bad position, is slow in his release and is erratic when he releases it. Then you get guys like Coleman and Tony Gwynn, who weren't blessed with great arms yet have built up their arm strength through hard work and have learned to charge balls well, so they're tough to run on."

When the third base coaches were asked to list the outfielders they would try to run on, they named Toronto's Lloyd Moseby, K.C.'s Willie Wilson and California's Chili Davis in the American League. The Mets' Mookie Wilson and Lenny Dykstra, Montreal's Otis Nixon and San Diego's John Kruk were ranked among the most vulnerable outfielders in the NL.

Last year Stats, Inc., a sports statistics service that charted every ball hit in the majors, compared the estimated number of opportunities that base runners had to advance on each outfielder to the number of extra bases actually taken on them. Statistically, by this measure, the best outfielders in the majors at stopping runners were Boston's Mike Greenwell in left, Eric Davis in center and Barfield in right. The worst? Atlanta's Dion James in left, the Dodgers' John Shelby in center and Detroit's Chet Lemon in right.

LOST LEADER
There are several reasons for the Twins' poor start this season, including a lack of depth in starting pitchers and Jeff Reardon's struggle to regain the high-riding zip on his fastball. Another reason, says manager Tom Kelly, is that " Gary Gaetti's changes are something that take getting used to." For five years, Gaetti was the tough, fiery, vocal team leader, but last September he converted to a form of evangelical Christianity that has radically changed his priorities. He now spends more and more time with his religious mission and less and less with baseball and his teammates. "It's a far different team personality now," says one of Gaetti's closest friends on the team. "Before, he was the Twins."

PITCHING LESSON
Boston's Roger Clemens thinks that one reason National League pitchers have more confidence in their fast-balls than their AL counterparts do is that they have to swing a bat. "When I batted against [Dwight] Gooden in the '86 All-Star Game, I realized how tough it is to hit a 90-mph fastball," says Clemens. " National League pitchers may be helped by batting because they realize how tough it is. When you don't bat, you tend to give the hitter too much credit."

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