Oh My God He Killed Kenny

Every so often I see red.

I saw red today. Sadly, it was from a writer I ordinarily enjoy.

Here’s the offense, from Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci:

I’ve said if before but it bears repeating: Any club interested in winning the World Series should steer clear of Kenny Lofton. Baseball’s bad penny brought down his sixth franchise in October, with the Dodgers joining the Indians, Braves, Giants, Cubs and Yankees as victims of the Curse of Kenny. Lofton has been to the postseason 10 times and never won a World Series, usually losing in some of the most gruesome ways imaginable.

Lofton often has contributed to the defeats by playing poorly himself. He is far worse in his 84 postseason games (.244/.314/.344) than in his regular season career (.299/.372/.423). Here are the 10 postseason teams poisoned by Lofton:

1995 Indians: Only team to lose a World Series clincher on a one-hitter.
1996 Indians: Lost two games in the ALDS with leads in the eighth and ninth innings.
1997 Braves: Lost to wild-card Marlins in six NLCS games, including the Eric Gregg game, in which Livan Hernandez capitalized on the umpire’s huge strike zone.
1998 Indians: Blew a 2-1 ALCS lead, losing three straight to the Yankees.
1999 Indians: Blew a 2-0 ALDS lead, losing three straight to Boston.
2001 Indians: Blew a 2-1 ALDS lead to Seattle, losing two straight.
2002 Giants: Blew a 3-2 World Series lead to Anaheim, including a 5-0 lead in the seventh inning of Game 6, losing two straight.
2003 Cubs: Blew a 3-1 NLCS lead to Florida, including a 3-0 lead in the eighth inning of the infamous Game 6 Bartman Game, losing three straight.
2004 Yankees: Blew a 3-0 ALCS lead to Boston, the first team in history to lose four straight games needing only one win to advance.
2006 Dodgers: Swept by Mets in NLDS.
Lofton will be a free agent. Consider yourself warned.

Granted, Kenny Lofton’s post season performance leaves much to be desired. However a 349 AB sample size tells you little about his actual contributions to a winning ballclub. While slagging on his playoff failures I find it hilarious that wrote: “Here are the 10 postseason teams poisoned by Lofton.” [italics mine]

Somehow I find the concept of a guy who has contributed to teams reaching the playoffs ten freakin’ times to be some kind of liability.

For instance, let’s look at a much larger sample size: How about a 2,663 AB sample. Sound like it should yield some relevant data? Well Lofton has had 2,663 career at bats from the beginning of August to the end of the season–generally the time of year that separates the contenders from the pretenders.

Lofton is a career .299/.372/.423 hitter yet from August 1 to the end of season he’s .306/.381/.428. For good measure he’s swiped 222 of 266 bases–an 83.5% success rate (as opposed to a 77.6% success rate the rest of the time). When his clubs have needed him to ramp it up a bit for the stretch drive Lofton stepped up.

How has Lofton contributed specifically to the teams that have reached the post season? He’s right at his career averages: .299/.370/.424. In other words, he hasn’t been carried to ten post seasons, he has played at his normal high level throughout and for good measure pilfered 309 bases at a 78% success rate.

How has he been in big situations?

Runners on              .306 .375 .426  
RISP                    .304 .379 .426 
RISP/2 Out              .281 .369 .387
Bases Loaded            .285 .293 .447  
Runner on, 2 outs       .285 .354 .393  
Runner on 3rd < 2 outs  .411 .414 .607  
Career                  .299. 372 .423

The only thing that lags is with the bases loaded. However that's where he's posted his highest situational slugging. In other words, when the sacks are juiced, he's looking to hit, not walk. His batting average is a bit lower than his career norm but his slugging is higher. That tells us that when Lofton tries to put some extra wood on the ball in this situation he generally succeeds.

Kenny Lofton is a six time All Star/four time Gold Glover centerfielder in the era of Ken Griffey Jr. Among active players he’s first in stolen bases, second in triples, sixth in runs scored, and has five stolen base crowns. Lofton has demonstrated 10 times that he’s a player who can get you to October. Yes, he has struggled in the postseason but then again so did Stan Musial (.256/.347/.395), Ty Cobb (.262/.314/.354), Ted Williams (.200/.333/.200), Willie Mays (.247/.323/.337), Mike Schmidt (.236/.304/.386) etc.

When you consider that Lofton once played in the NCAA Final Four and was once so lightly regarded as a prospect that he was traded for Eddie Taubensee only to become the best leadoff hitter in the post Rickey/Raines era it's easy to see that Lofton has proven his worth time and again.

I have a warning for GM's too: if you have no use for a savvy veteran who hit .301/.360/.403 in one of baseball's toughest hitter's parks and can swipe over 30 bases and be successful 85% of the time while maintaining or improving his level of production in tough situations during a pennant race and has positively contributed to 10 teams post season appearances then by all means--take Tom Verducci's advice to heart and maybe you can get those primo October tee-off times.

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