The Cubs sent Felix Pie down to Triple-A Iowa before opening the second half of the season after the All-Star break. The writing was on the wall: manager Lou Piniella had been favoring Angel Pagan of late in center field. Pie was hitting only .216 with two homers and 18 runs batted in, while Pagan was hitting .267 with three homers and 13 RBI in fewer at-bats. Yet, as Paul Sullivan pointed out today in the Tribune, the Cubs were 32-16 in games Pie appeared in. Some of that was no doubt padded slightly by games where Pie was inserted late as a defensive replacement with the Cubs ahead, but a .667 winning percentage speaks for itself, especially on a team only one game over .500 overall. Pie had six stolen bases to Pagan’s three, and also had shown progress in plate discipline, with 11 walks against 139 at-bats, for an on-base percentage of .272 — not great by any means, but not abysmal. Most important, the Cubs simply looked better with Pie in center field. He has great range and had yet to make an error, and that played a factor in the team’s improved pitching since his arrival. If the Cubs sent him down because they think he was overmatched and needs more seasoning, fine, but if they think the team is better without him, they’re wrong. A sharp-fielding center fielder brings a lot of intangibles to a team, and those intangibes are made tangible when a record of 32-16 turns up in games a center fielder plays. That’s no accident.
Which brings to mind the White Sox and Brian Anderson. Anderson played center field like Jesus’ son last season. Baseball Prospectus estimated he saved the team 12 runs over the average center fielder — almost a run every 10 games he played in, which is considerable. The Sox looked better early in the season, when Anderson was playing more, than they did later, when manager Ozzie Guillen was giving Rob Mackowiak more time in center. There’s no denying Anderson struggled early, but when he bottomed out at .152 on June 10, the Sox were already 38-23 and about to run off nine straight wins. Yet for some reason the Sox and Guillen did nothing but doubt Anderson, even after he started hitting. They urged him to play winter ball, attacked him when he resisted, and pooh-poohed it when he came home from Venezuela early with stomach problems. They never really seemed to want to play him this season with the acquisition of Darin Erstad, and at one point Guillen even played Anderson in left with Erstad in center — inexcusable. True, he was hitting an anemic .118 when sent back to Triple-A Charlotte April 29, but that was in 17 at-bats over 13 games.
I’m not necessarily saying Anderson would have saved the Sox’ season. He’s hit only .255 at Charlotte, with eight homers and 31 RBI, while suffering from a shoulder injury. But it couldn’t have been any worse. The Sox were 12-11 when Anderson was sent down, meaning they’re 28-36 without him on the roster. Also, small sample size or not, I can’t resist pointing out that the Sox’ record with Anderson starting in center this season was 2-1 for a winning percentage of, you guessed it, .667.