Eye-opening numbers

Under-the-radar numbers that defy logic, like Ryan Klesko's lack of power or Armando Benitez's near perfection.

Originally Published: June 1, 2004
By Buster Olney | ESPN The Magazine

You punch the remote control from channel to channel, check the box scores, and as June begins, you see halogen numbers:

Vidro
Vidro

Jose Vidro: 9 runs scored.

The All-Star second baseman has 175 at-bats, all but six of them coming in the No. 2 or No. 3 slot in the batting order. Theoretically, he should be in position to score a couple of runs per week accidentally.

But Vidro has four home runs -- which means that for his 27 singles, 9 doubles, and 20 walks, he has crossed the plate just five times. No wonder Expos manager Frank Robinson feels compelled to try the pitcher in the No. 8 spot in the order.

Contrast Vidro's accumulation of runs with Boston's Mark Bellhorn, who has almost as many runs (38) as hits (45) -- because of his 42 walks, and because he's surrounded by much better hitters.

Johnny Estrada: .514 average with runners in scoring position.

And this is not accumulated over a handful of at-bats. Estrada has 37 at-bats with runners in scoring position and 19 hits -- and as Braves announcer Don Sutton noted the other day, most of them have been bullets driven through the infield.

Ryan Klesko

Ryan Klesko: 1 home run.

That number won't change anytime soon because Klesko just went on the disabled list, but he already has 115 at-bats this season and only that one homer, hit against Arizona's Matt Mantei on April 18. Going into this season, Klesko had 245 career bombs, with eight seasons of 21 or more homers.

Klesko, 32, complained early in the season about the dimensions of the Padres' new park, but he's not driving the ball on the road, either. Because he is defensively challenged in the wide-open alleys of Petco, it will interesting to see how much he plays after the All-Star break if he doesn't start hitting and if the Padres continue to be in the middle of the NL West race.

Victor Zambrano: 49 walks in 68.2 innings for Tampa Bay, and a 5-4 record.

He is averaging 6.4 walks per nine innings, pitching for the lowest scoring team in the American League -- and yet he has a winning record, with three of his victories coming against the Yankees, who've batted .177 vs. Zambrano.

His wildness -- 10 hit batsmen already, with two wild pitches -- is his biggest problem and one of his best assets. His control problems make him utterly unpredictable to hitters, who cannot assume where or when Zambrano might throw the ball next.

Pitching against the Yankees on Sunday, Zambrano reached a two-strike count against Alex Rodriguez and twice tried to nick the outside corner with breaking balls -- and A-Rod fought off those pitches, beginning to hone in. Then Zambrano whizzed a fastball over the inside corner, a perfect pitch after so much imperfection, and Rodriguez was frozen.

Cleveland bullpen: Five saves, 12 blown saves.

Their rate of failure is almost inconceivable. Fourteen losses for the relievers, most in the AL, and they've surrendered 131 runs, more than the Red Sox and White Sox bullpens combined. Sixteen different pitchers have worked in relief for the Indians this season, and of those, 11 have generated earned-run averages of 6.32 or higher. One of the five who hasn't is Tim Laker, a catcher moved into emergency duty for an inning.

Geoff Blum and Rey Sanchez, 4 RBI in 193 at-bats.

Give 'em 600 at-bats and they're on a pace to accumulate 12 or 13 RBI. No wonder super-prospect B.J. Upton is currently residing in the frontal lobes of Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella, who wants the shortstop summoned from Triple-A as soon as possible.

San Francisco bullpen: Sprinting in a marathon.

Three members of the Giants' bullpen are on pace to make close to 100 appearances this season. Jim Brower has made 30 outings in 50 games, Felix Rodriguez and Matt Herges 29 appearances apiece. San Francisco is on a 10-game winning streak while playing in a division in which 86-88 victories might be enough for a title, but it will be interesting to see how the relievers hold up working at this pace.

Benitez
Benitez

Armando Benitez: Perfection.

It's not surprising that Benitez is much more effective working someplace other than in New York, where the fans' patience for the city's Un-Rivera had long since expired, and where he was sabotaged by the whispers of more media-savvy teammates. But Benitez's level of dominance cannot be overstated. He has not allowed an earned run in almost two months, since Montreal nicked him for a run on Opening Day.

In the first 15 pitches of his outings, Benitez's opponents are batting .106 with 21 strikeouts. Opponents are hitting .130 with runners in scoring position, .083 at the outset of innings. He's made 10 appearances the day after pitching and hasn't allowed any runs.

All of that said, Benitez will have to confront his many October ghosts if the Marlins make the playoffs.

Desi Relaford: 3 RBI.

He had a good season in 2003, switching from position to position, taking advantage of his chances, driving in 59 runs. This year, he has contributed to the collective collapse of the Royals.

Scott Podsednik: 22 stolen bases in 23 attempts.

There are baserunners who almost never get thrown out trying to steal -- like Barry Bonds, who has been cut down on only five of his 37 attempts over the last four seasons. But it's very rare when a high volume base-stealer like Podsednik, who currently leads the NL, is nearly perfect in his attempts.

Barry Bonds: 68 walks, 14 homers, 10 strikeouts.

Impossible. Just impossible.

Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," will be released later this summer, and can be pre-ordered through HarperCollins.com.

Buster Olney | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine