Friday, January 17, 2014

COMMON VALOR: 1987 TOPPS ALFREDO GRIFFIN





An old card that depicts what a player does best stirs memories.

Alfredo Griffin's 1987 Topps card certainly does that. It also reminds us of a running game about to run its course as the '80s dimmed and a new decade of power loomed. 

Griffin, successful on only 59 percent of his steal attempts during his 18-year career, nonetheless was Evel Knievel on the basepaths, bravely jumping at the chance to force the issue.
  • He once scored from second base on a grounder to second. 
  • Often went from first to third on grounders.
  • Routinely tried advancing on popups.
A base uncovered was seized, a dozing fielder exploited. Advanced metrics allow us to quantify this aggressiveness somewhat. Extra Bases Taken Percentage (XBT%) measures the percentage of time a runner advances more than one base on a single or more than two bases on a double.

Griffin's best XBT% was in '88 with the Dodgers. In 95 games, he took an extra base 82 percent of the time; the league average was 44 percent. His career average was 57 percent. 

Aggressive? You bet.

Imagine the turmoil on the bases he could've created that season had he hit higher than .199 and reached more than 28.5 percent of the time?

His gambles didn't always pay off. With the Dodgers in '91, he was thrown out at second advancing on a walk, sensing Mets pitcher Alejandro Pena and his infielders napping. 

Stupid? Perhaps.

It's a fine line between aggressive and foolish, but I miss risk-takers, loath station-to-station strategy and detest base-runners with zero instinct. Maybe Yasiel Puig (58 XBT%), Andrew McCutchen (63 percent past two seasons) and Mike Trout (61 percent career) will make baseball more daring. After all, Puig and McCutchen have scored from second on groundouts in the past couple of years.

In the meantime, card No. 111 gets my motor running. 

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