NL Preview with Skip “Wheels” Slater

Skip “Wheels” Slater spent 17 years in the major leagues, and holds the record for getting picked off first base in more different uniforms than any other player (23). He made headlines in 1983 when the Atlanta Braves offered his services to any other team at any professional level in return for a bag of balls and a bottle of Neat’s foot oil; they found no takers. After his involuntary retirement, Slater spent several years as a baseball analyst for ESPN. He was fired from his post in 2003, when, during a “Baseball Tonight” segment, he called John Kruk “dumber than a shit-stained pair of drawers, with three times the stench”. Since then, he’s lent his unique perspective on the game to everyone from USA Today to the Shop-Rite Pennysaver. Scratchbomb is pleased to present his National League preview.

Slater’s 1975 Topps card, now a rare collectible because every kid who found it in a pack of 1975 Topps threw it out.

Most baseball “experts” like the superstars. The big home run hitters. The fireballing pitchers. They tell you that these are the guys who win games.

These experts are bald-faced liars. There, I said it. These men (and the occasional woman) are liars, and whenever I meet one of these guys, I never hesitate to give them a knuckle sandwich right in their lying mouths. Some people might call that “hot-headedness” or “criminal assault”. But I always remember what my pappy said: “You catch someone in a lie, punch ’em right in the face. Then go run and hide in a ditch somewheres.”

No, the guys who really win you ball games are the scrappy little players. The guys who drag bunt in the 9th when their team’s down by 6 runs. The guys who sprint to first after they’ve been plunked in the hip. The guys who are frequently used as coasters for the other players’ Gatorade cups. These players might be tiny and weak and injury prone and possibly asthmatic and sometimes they’re albino. But they leave it all out on the field, every time they run out of the dugout on their tiny, scrawny legs.

I know this because I was one of those guys. During my career, I was never the fastest guy on the field. Or the biggest. Or the tallest. And I almost never hit a home run. Or even a double. And I didn’t hit for average and I didn’t draw too many walks either. And a lot of times, pitchers would throw straight at my helmet ’cause they thought it was funny to watch my puny little body twitch around in the dirt.

But I was willing to do anything to help my team. Go up to the plate and take a pitch off my ribcage? You got it, skip! Play right field when Boog Powell was too hungover to stand up straight? No problem, coach! Lay down in field and act as second base during an equipment shortage? Just go ahead and paint me white!

I hear a lot of these stat-head types talk a lot of crap about this kind of player, saying they’re a sentimental waste of a roster spot. Thing is, these are the same eggheads who made up a crazy new stat called VORP: Value Over Replacement Player. It’s supposed to measure the worth of a player versus that of an average player at that position.

Two can play at that game, fellas. If you’re gonna measure a monster home run hitter or a strike out king against an average player, then you can do the same with my kind of player, the scrappy little go-getters who make the most of the tiny drops of talent God has given them. My premise is, when a squirt like Joe McEwing bats .250, it’s as impressive as when a regular player hits .300.

Of course, I needed some hard evidence, and I ain’t too good with math. So I went over to Cal Tech with my old buddy Joe Morgan. We kicked down the door of the statistics department and gave ’em all wedgies and locked ’em in the lab until they came up with a fancy new stat that would prove what I’ve known my whole life: a tiny, scrappy player is
actually worth more than what his seemingly measly statistics say he’s worth.

The basic formula we came up with is this:

[(height in inches + average number of annual trips to the DL) *
(dirt accumulated on uniform in cubic centimeters + bunt attempts)] /
[years spent in minors + positions played at least twice at the major league level]

This gives us a player’s Graduated Resident Intensity Tally, or GRIT. The average major leaguer has a GRIT of 0. Superstars like Albert Pujols or Roy Oswalt have negative GRITs, because their enormous natural talent precludes any need to employ GRIT-heavy metrics. And of course, players like Darin Erstad have huge GRIT levels, because it takes 100 percent of their total effort to equal about 65 percent effort from the average player.

Running this metric on all the players in the National League, I’ve determined that the following teams are the ones to watch this year:

NL East: Philadelphia Phillies
Yeah, they got the reigning MVP, and Chase Utley’s good if you like a young second baseman who can hit to all fields. But the real difference maker on this team will be third baseman Wes Helms. He’s a gritty, gutty, blue-collar player, not like all those other fancy white-collar third basemen in this division. Then there’s pocket-sized outfielder Shane Victorino, who can zip around the bases on those rare occasions when he reaches safely. And of course, they have Aaron Rowand, a fantastic player who could have led the league in GRIT if he hadn’t broken his face against an outfield fence so early in the season. A never-give-up and never-think-things-through attitude–that’s what wins you championships!

NL Central: Milwaukee Brewers
Jeff Suppan is my kinda pitcher. You watch him throw and you wonder to yourself, How in the hell can this junk get people out? And yeah, sometimes he gets lit up like a Christmas tree, but GRIT says he’s good for at least 7 Wins When His Team Scores 8 Runs Or More. Craig Counsell looks like he’s taken a few liners off his face, and I like players who make me look like a matinee idol in comparison. I also like guys who are sons of ex-major leaguers, and the Brewers have two of them (Prince Fielder and Tony Gwynn Jr.). That’s a lot of gritty genes right there!

NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers
Now that the evil Paul DePodesta and his merciless spreadsheets have been banished, it’s good times in La-La Land! Juan Pierre is the scrappiest player on the Left Coast, and the fact that statheads despise his lack of OBP (whatever that is) only makes me love him more. The Dodgers also still imploy Olmedo Saenz, at great expense to their precious roster spots and daily meal allowances. And if I was Grady Little, I’d start gritty Mike Lieberthal over that young whippersnapper Russell Martin. Sure, Martin’s got more upside, but only Lieberthal can look so world-weary when he takes off his catcher’s mask to watch a double split the outfielders.

Wild Card: Cincinnati Reds
Here’s all you need to know: Ryan Freel talks to his imaginary friend while playing the outfield. That’s my kinda crazy. If that doesn’t convince you that this team is going places, take a look at that bullpen. Mike Stanton. David Weathers. Rheal Cormier. The list of grizzled, angry vets goes on and on! When I see a reliever go to the mound, I don’t wanna see some young hot shot like Jonathan Papelbon. I wanna see some guy who looks like his wife is on his ass to redo the kitchen, and his kids are begging him for money to buy some damn stupid thing, and the mound is his fortress of solitude against a world that’s
betrayed his youthful dreams. A team like this has gotta make the postseason, ’cause none of them wanna go home a month earlier than they have to.