Such is the case with the play of new Cardinals' second baseman Mark Grudzielanek. The focus of this report is not a detailed analysis based on one or more of the various impressive sabermetric offensive and defensive analysis tools, such as win shares, that are designed to rate, rank and predict performance.
There are already been volumes printed comparing the hitting and fielding numbers of the Cardinals' new keystone combination against both their predecessors and their peers in the game. I am not heading back there now.
That is an off-season, hot stove topic; the type that can finally be left behind now that players have reported to spring camp. Finally, it is again time to discuss the real thing – baseball being played on the field, not on paper, or on your computer monitor, if you prefer.
Today, I am returning to the old school – those who watched the players play. In recent days, I have read glowing reports from three different fans with the exact same straight-line message – Mark Grudzielanek will be a pleasant surprise for the Cardinals in 2005.
In fact, two of the three are avid Cubs fans, with no motivation whatsoever to stretch what they believe to be the truth – what they have seen with their own eyes.
Leading off is none other than The Birdhouse's resident Cubs fan living in St. Louis, Pete Khazen, who has this to say about "Grudzi". "At the plate, Grudzi is patient and will work a count deep, especially when an anxious leadoff hitter ahead of him grounded out on the first pitch. He'll lay down that bunt when the tying runner is on first. And he'll get the ball down, in play, and where there's no chance for a play at second. He'll slap the ball to the right side to move a runner from second to third. If he's struggling a bit and not playing well, he won't be too proud to temporarily give up his spot to the hot hitter."
Khazen on Grudz' defense: "In the field, he's got a dependable glove and can turn a double play with the best of them. His range has maybe shortened up a tad over the years, but he's guaranteed every year to have more Web Gems than bloopers."
Putting it all together, Khazen seems to be running for president of the "Grudzi Fan Club". "His value cannot be strictly measured in offensive or defensive statistics. His leadership, experience, and professionalism are the intangibles that will continue to make him a desirable addition to any organization so long as he maintains his health."
Wow! All that for between $1 million and $1.5 million this season!
Next up is a first-time poster on our message board, "TheHawk8", another Cubs fan, who included the following unsolicited message in another thread that had not even mentioned second base.
Offers The Hawk, "You guys have a heck of a 2nd baseman in Grudzy. He is going to kill the Cubs. That was a great signing for the Cardinals."
"Every time he comes to bat in a game changing situation for you guys I will cringe, because he came through so many times for us. He doesn't have the speed of Womack, but he may be better defensively and he will hit anywhere from .300 to .320 if healthy."
Though apparently not coming from Andre Dawson himself, this is typical of the glowing reports about Grudzielanek I've seen repeatedly.
One final reference to bring this lovefest to a close is reader Brian Grady, who labels himself as "a die-hard Cardinals fan living in Chicago". Spending every day behind enemy lines is worth bonus points as far as I am concerned.
Grady wasted no time getting straight to the point. "You will be surprised and very impressed with Grudz as a defensive second baseman. He is very strong armed on the turn and in going to his right. His range is decent if his Achilles is healed 100%. He is much better than Tony Womack."
We get bonus scouting coverage from Grady regarding Grudz with the bat. "He will also be an excellent two-hole hitter when Walker takes a break. He makes contact and hits to the right side very well."
In summary: "Cardinal fans are going to really like him. Grudz could turn out to be one of the best bargains in baseball if healthy", says Grady.
What more can I add? A writer loves nothing more than when his subjects do all the work for him. Thanks, Pete, Hawk and Brian!
But, before I go, I do feel the need to draw attention to one common concern; something that could turn that straight line into a dotted one.
The only caveat, the only reservation, one which was evident in all three glowing reports above, is the issue of Grudzielanek's health. That's for good reason. Due to the aforementioned Achilles injury, he played just a half season – 81 games – in 2004.
His 2003 sounds like a trainer's report for an entire team! Grudz missed time due to an ankle sprain, back spasms, a broken hand and a sore groin – all in one season! Shoulder surgery followed that 2003 campaign and he encountered a hamstring ailment late last year. Somehow, Grudz still managed to average 101 games played over those past two seasons.
At age 34 (turning 35 midway through the season), Grudz' best years are probably behind him. But, we said that and worse about Tony Womack last year at this time, didn't we? Maybe lightning can strike twice in the same place for the Cardinals at second base.
So, let's get ready to enjoy Mark Grudzielanek with the glove and bat this spring. Now, some of us will not be surprised when he impresses. Our own scouts have already told us to expect it.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org