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Saturday, August 14, 2004
Two-Faced

I've been holding off on this column for awhile now. Aaron Rowand is admittedly one of my favorite players, and it pains me to criticize his play in any way.

I've been a big fan of Aaron Rowand ever since I watched him first come up in 2001. I loved the reckless abandon that he showed for his body while patrolling centerfield. For three seasons he toiled on the White Sox bench as one of the most underrated fielders in the game, and quietly coming through in the clutch. It was over this period of time that I became truly enthralled with Rowand. He was young; He was raw; He played the game the right way.

This season Aaron Rowand, who was never really accepted by Sox fans in his previous three seasons, has become a fan favorite. He won some more fans over last night with 2HR's against the BoSox off of knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.

His play in the field has been great. He ranks 4th among all centerfielders in baseball in range factor, and is second in zone rating.

But this column isn't about his play in the field, that's not what has made him a fan favorite. No Aaron Rowand has become a fan favorite because of his bat. He has a short, compact, quick swing, but he's hardly a contact hitter. His compact stroke allows him to get around on the fastest fastball, and still sit back long enough to cover a knuckleballer like Wakefield last night. Rowand was a .273 career hitter entering this season. I envisioned him being about a career .285 career hitter, which incidentally is exactly where he sits today, with a little power (about 20 HR in 500 AB's) when he got consistent play. Well Aaron has delivered on that prediction and more.

Since coming off of the DL and a brief stint in Charlotte last June, from complications following a Motocross accident, Aaron has posted unreal numbers. In 405 AB's Rowand has posted a .326AVG/.371OBP/.575SLG(for those of you who are mathematically challenged that's a .946OPS).

 AB   R   H  2B 3B  HR  RBI  BB HBP SO SB CS  AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS

405 78 132 33 1 22 60 25 4 72 13 1 .326 .371 .575 .946

A .946 OPS!!! Only Frank Thomas has a better OPS on the Sox over that stretch. That's right, he had a higher OPS than Konerko, Ordonez, and Lee over that stretch. Extrapolate those numbers to a full year(550 AB's), and you'd expect him to hit about 30HR's on the season.

To put into perspective what a deal Aaron Rowand is this season, he's only making $340K, of players who have at least 300 AB's only Travis Hafner($316K) and Adam Dunn($440K) have a higher OPS and a similar (pre-arbitration) salary, and neither of those two play a demanding defensive position. Aaron ranks 25 in all of baseball in OPS, among those with at least 300 AB's.

Added to the increased average and power is Aaron's sudden ability to steal bases. He had a career 5 SB entering this season. To date, he leads the sox with 13 SB's this season, getting caught on only one occasion. Now that doesn't mean that Aaron has blazing speed and should be stealing more, it just shows how economical and calculating he has been with his speed.

So why is the title of the entry "Two-Faced?"

Well there's one troubling statistic when it comes to Aaron, his ability to hit with runners in scoring position. During his first three seasons with the sox, he became one of my favorite players because of his timely hitting, but that has sadly disappeared this season.

Take a look at a comparison between his first three seasons and this year.
2001-2003

Situation AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB HBP SO AVG OBP SLG OPS
None On 344 8 87 16 2 8 8 18 6 64 .253 .302 .381 .683
Runners On 238 76 72 13 0 9 65 16 7 39 .303 .358 .471 .829
Scoring Position 127 59 41 7 0 3 50 10 6 20 .323 .388 .449 .837
Man on 3rd, <2 o 18 20 7 1 0 1 19 2 0 1 .389 .375 .611 .986
None On/Out 148 4 37 7 1 4 4 6 5 27 .250 .302 .392 .694

2004
Situation AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB HBP SO AVG OBP SLG OPS
None On 194 12 62 20 1 12 12 11 4 38 .320 .368 .619 .987
Runners On 114 48 33 7 0 4 26 9 0 23 .289 .341 .456 .797
Scoring Position 64 41 14 3 0 2 18 5 0 13 .219 .275 .359 .634
Man on 3rd, <2 o 11 16 2 0 0 0 5 0 0 3 .182 .182 .182 .364
None On/Out 77 4 31 14 0 4 4 3 2 16 .403 .439 .740 1.179


I know that it the sample sizes are small, but there are few disturbing trends represented there. Two of the most troubling are Runners in Scoring Position and Man on 3rd with less than 2out. These were once strengths of Aaron Rowand's game, and surprisingly this season they appear to be weaknesses. In past seasons his OPS trended higher as runners got closer to home, this season the opposite is true.

On the positive side, Aaron has thrived this season with nobody on base, where he had previously struggled. That's important because Aaron has played a great deal from the leadoff spot this season. I don't know whether he has thrived because he was put in that position, or was put in that position because he was thriving in that situation; it's a chicken-or-the-egg scenario.

Over the past few seasons the White Sox have become known as a home run hitting team. They live and die by the home run. Too often they've died by it; only 71 of the White Sox 170 HR's have come with men on base. Aaron Rowand appears to have fallen into this trap, only a quarter of his HR's are of the multi-run variety.

I fear that he may have picked up some bad habits in his quest to break into the sox line-up as a regular. He's lost his starting CF position on multiple occasions, and it appears he has begun to mirror, and surpass, the results of other sox sluggers.

Recently, with the acquisition of Robbie Alomar, it appears that the White Sox are going to be moving Aaron Rowand lower in the batting order, even though he was the most successful hitter all season in both the #1 and #2 spots in the order. Rowand looks like he will be counted on to be a run producer the rest of the season, which is troubling when you compare his RISP splits with those of Willie Harris.

NAME          AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  TB RBI  BB SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS

Aaron Rowand 64 41 14 3 0 2 23 18 5 13 .219 .275 .359 .635
Willie Harris 57 42 16 4 1 0 22 18 12 11 .280 .389 .386 .775

Willie actually has a higher OPS than Aaron in this situation. Given Rowand's abilities leading off and with nobody on, coupled with Willie's surprising ability to hit with RISP, I'd be tempted to bat them #1 and #2 in the order respectively.

I'm not the manager though, and I don't make the line-ups. Hopefully Aaron can start to hit with RISP, drive in runs like crazy, and carry this team into the playoffs. I'd love to see him force the hand of management to give him a multi-year deal.