Neifi Perez

If you're a connoisseur of the work of Neifi Perez as I am–and as I know many longtime readers of The Cub Reporter are–you'll delight in this piece written by King Kaufman and posted at Salon.com.

The story, an excerpt from "Top of the Order: 25 Writers Pick Their Favorite Baseball Player of All Time," is simply too delicious for me to recap here. I will just share this passage, in which Kaufman, a Giants fan, explains how he became a Neifiphile.

It was in early June 2003, [Neifi's] first and only full season with the club, when I noticed he was a sort of secret weapon. The Giants were a good but not great 26-22 on the days when Perez made it onto the field. But when he stayed in the dugout, they were 13-1...

So I invented the Neifi Index, a measure of the contribution a player makes to his team by not playing. The Giants had a .542 winning percentage when Perez played, .929 when he did not. So his Neifi Index was .387 (.929 minus .542). I concocted the Neifi Award, given to the bench player in each league with the highest Neifi Index, and unique among baseball awards in that you or I, if we could only find our way onto a major-league team, would be a shoo-in to win it.

Postscript: in linking to Neifi's page at Baseball-Reference.com, I just saw that King Kaufman is a paid sponsor of the page, which also carries this tribute from the writer: "In his own way, he was the greatest I ever saw."

Indeed.


On the day of the rule 4 draft, I'll keep this short. It's based on a Sun-Times article by Gordon Wittenmyer about why Kosuke Fukudome is surprising the Cubs management with his solid performance so far in 2009. I guess the surprise is they had virtually written him off when they went out and got another multi-year contract, free-agent,  left handed hitting right fielder (OK, Bradley is a switch hitter) for the second year in a row. The article implies that the reason Fukudome was bad the second half of 2008 was that he was having subconscious mechanical problems with his swing, related to his 2007 elbow arthroscopy for the removal of bone chips.

But perhaps the most important reason and least known publicly was the affect his surgically repaired right arm had on his swing.

Fukudome had elbow surgery late in the 2007 season, and the elbow started bothering him last season right about the time his decline began in May. By the end of the season, his hitting mechanics were a mess.

''I didn't feel the pain physically, but I must have been subconsciously feeling the pain of the elbow,'' said Fukudome, still reluctant to openly admit pain. But when asked if it was a factor last season, he said, ''Probably it was.'' 

Just the other day I was complaining about the state of our bullpen. Now, hardly heartened by events in New York over the weekend, my critical eye is increasingly being tempted to waiver elsewhere. And by elsewhere, I mean the top of our batting order. The Cubs yesterday managed to load the bases with just the one out in the top of the seventh inning when Jason Dubois was predictably plunked. Trailing by four still at that reasonably late stage, putting something on the board then was pretty much essential if the Cubs were to have any chance at all of avoiding the sweep and winning a first ever game in Yankee Stadium. To the plate came Neifi Perez. There was a time earlier in the season when that would have been no bad thing (with only slight reluctance, even I lent my backing to the Vote Neifi! campaign back then!). But it was only when Neifi slapped the second pitch of the at-bat right back to Mussina, who turned the inning-ending double-play, that I thought to take a closer look at Neifi's performance this. And how well the game of baseball as it's played on the field hides even the gravest of sins. For until yesterday when Neifi went 0-for-5 with that big GIDP, with the Neifi-0-meter discontinued I hadn't quite noticed the extent of his slide back to his usual oblivion...
Neifi PerezPABAOBPSLGBABIP
Through April 27th66.393.422.607.404
Since207.251.271.364.257
What slaves baseball players are to the fickle mistress that calls herself BABIP. To start the year, Neifi was seeing the ball so well, his swing was in such perfect sync, his contact was so square and true and/or his luck so lucky that he could put the ball between the foul lines and in front of the fences and on those balls in play hit .404. The only real difference since, bar a little less power, has been those balls in play no longer all going his way. Without the power or patience to weather that drought, Neifi's production has dried up altogether. Periods of hot and cold - they're the story of every player's season (well, except Derrek Lee). It's the balance of those hot and cold streaks that determines a player's overall numbers. And the trouble with Neifi's overall numbers right now, at least until he gets hot again, is that they're simply not good enough. For Neifi, it's been the same for his entire career, a few superficially fruitful years in Coors Field aside. And, that's why, obviously, Neifi signed as a backup shortstop on account of his glove more than anything. The Cubs had no right to expect any more from Neifi than they've received from him to date. Indeed, they were somewhat lucky that he had that hot streak to begin the year in the first place. But the Cubs have the right to demand more both from shortstop and from their lead-off man. It's not acceptable to give the most plate appearances of all your hitters to the man least likely to get anything from them. It's scarcely acceptable that the Cubs give Neifi any plate appearances at all. For that reason, the Cubs should perhaps be seriously considering something extremely radical - giving genuine lead-off hitter Jerry Hairston time at shortstop, defence be damned. Neifi's defence is largely very good, but good enough that we overlook entirely the failures of his bat? Hairston certainly failed to live up his reputation as an above average defensive second baseman earlier this year, but that he had such a reputation in the first place is in itself a positive, and his defence at second shouldn't be written off on the basis of a few clumsy plays in new surroundings. Hairston hadn't played a major league inning at short until a week or so ago, but he grew up a shortstop (and a good one at that if you believe the word of his coaches), and played there regularly in college and occasionally in the minor leagues, so the idea isn't as far-fetched as it may seem. If his defence can cut it, and the experiment will be worth it even if the answer is it can't, Hairston's on-base percentage at the top of the order (and the absence of Neifi not only from the top of the order but the lineup altogether) will really help run-scoring matters. The incentive for Hairston is obvious too - being able to add "can fill in at shortstop" to his resumÈ could add quite a few dollars to his paycheck when free agency rolls around after 2006. At the very least, it's worth a try on the Cubs' part, even if they only want to advertise it as "giving Neifi a much-needed day off here and there". Also batting ahead of Derrek Lee these days is Corey Patterson. That has to change too, and the quicker the better, with Todd Walker, whose knee seems fine to me the way he was running at the weekend, the obvious best "solution" to replace Corey batting second. Maybe more on that, with some idle speculation about Corey's psyche on my part, some other time.
MLB gave their first update on the state of NL All-Star Balloting yesterday. For everyone that had any reservations about the Neifi Write-in campaign, I have a bit of information that should remove any lingering moral scruples... Nomar Garciaparra is the top NL vote-getter at SS. The totals: 1. Garciaparra, N. Cubs 235,899 2. Eckstein, D. Cardinals 212,209 3. Furcal, R. Braves 212,160 4. Reyes, J. Mets 189,929 5. Barmes, C. Rockies 183,338 The three best SS in the NL this year, arguably, have been Barmes, Izturis, and Neifi. Neifi needs you. (So does Derrek Lee, who has less than half the votes of Pujols.)
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