What's sadly lacking in the world of baseball awards is one that you or I might win if they'd just let us suit up. I mean, even if they let us play, we're not winning the home run title, right?
I have endeavored to solve that problem by inventing an award that we, the great whiffing, grounder-booting, sedentary lifestyle-leading masses, wouldn't just have a chance of winning if we were allowed to play. We'd be a lock.
It's the Neifi Award. Allow me to explain.
What if your favorite baseball team had a secret weapon, some card the manager could play that would damn near guarantee a victory? Not long ago I discovered quite by accident a team that had just such a thing. That team was the Giants, and the secret weapon was a utility infielder named Neifi Perez, one of the more anemic hitters in baseball, a man who managed to put up minuscule offensive numbers while playing his home games in Coors Field, a hitter's paradise, and who, on the rare occasions when he gets on base, is very good at getting caught stealing. (Good fielder, though.)
I discovered a few weeks ago that when Perez didn't play, the Giants were 13-1. That was the secret weapon: Sit Neifi. When Perez played, the first-place Giants were a humdrum 26-22. Sit him down and they became world beaters. The Giants are paying Perez more than $2 million a year to make outs at his prodigious rate, so it's nice to know he's good for something.
My discovery led me to create the Neifi Index, which is the difference for each player between his team's winning percentage when he plays and when he does not. For example, the Giants' winning percentage when I discovered this phenomenon was .542 with Perez playing and .929 without him, so Neifi's Neifi Index was .387. Since then, by the way, the Neifi mojo has slipped a little. The Giants are now 17-4 (through Tuesday's games) with Perez sitting, and his Neifi Index has dropped to .283, eighth in the National League. It's embarrassing enough that Perez doesn't lead the league in his namesake index, he doesn't even lead his own team! Pedro Feliz does, at .308.
Anyway, the Neifi Index leader in each league at the end of the year will win the Neifi Award. If they'd only let you play, you'd win it.
It stands to reason that most backups are going to have a positive Neifi Index. The fact that a reserve is playing means the best team isn't on the field. But most reserves' Neifi Index is below .100, and a few have a negative number, meaning their team is better with them playing. Kevin Young of the Pirates is the outlier here, by a lot. As bad as the Pirates are (31-43), they're actually a winning team (29-21) when Young plays. When he doesn't, they're an incredible 2-22. His Neifi Index is -.497! I couldn't find anyone else who even broke -.200. Barry Bonds' Neifi Index, by contrast, is -.176. Why doesn't Young play every day? It could be because he's hitting .205 with seven RBIs. But Neifi doesn't lie: He's a winner.
Now, before we get to the leaders, let me say I know what you're thinking. You're thinking: bogus award! It's not an accurate measure of anything! You're confusing cause and effect! A pinch-hitting specialist, for example, is going to have a high Neifi Index because he's going to be used mostly when his team is already losing. Of course they'll lose most of those games. And there are other factors affecting whether the Pirates win or lose with Kevin Young playing or not.
Maybe so, and in fact the National League Neifi leader is something of a pinch-hitting specialist. But those complicating factors are also present in determining who the saves or RBI champion is. Everything in baseball is mixed up with something else. There are few if any pure stats. The Neifi Index is an interesting way to look at the effectiveness of bench players, though it doesn't work for regulars because the number of games they don't play is too small to mean anything, the Bonds number above included.
And besides, it allows for a year-end award named after Neifi Perez, and -- I just can't emphasize this enough -- it's one that you could win, if you only had the chance.
Those eligible for the Neifi Award are reserves who play at least half but not more than three-quarters of their team's games. Regulars whose playing time is reduced by stays on the disabled list don't count. A player must be on the roster at the end of the year to qualify.
What follows is the National League leaders through Tuesday's games. Note how the woeful Padres actually become a winning team when Dave Hansen or Keith Lockhart doesn't play, and the miserable Brewers play better than .600 ball when Keith Ginter sits. A losing manager looking for a quick improvement ignores the Neifi Index at his peril. Each player's name is followed by his team's record with him, and without him, then the player's Neifi Index.
1. Lenny Harris, Chi.: 23-31 .426 / 18-3 .857 (.431)
2. Greg Norton, Col.: 23-32 .418 / 18-6 .750 (.332)
3. Keith Ginter, Mil.: 15-36 .294 / 15-9 .625 (.331)
4. Carlos Baerga, Ariz.: 24-31 .436 / 16-5 .762 (.326)
4. Matt Franco, Atl.: 31-23 .574 / 18-2 .900 (.326)
6. Pedro Feliz, S.F.: 19-22 .463 / 27-8 .771 (.308)
7. Keith Lockhart, S.D.: 11-40 .216 / 14-14 .500 (.284)
8. Neifi Perez, S.F.: 29-26 .527 / 17-4 .810 (.283)
9. Dave Hansen, S.D.: 14-44 .241 / 11-10 .523 (.282)
10. Robert Fick, Atl.: 32-22 .593 / 17-3 .850 (.257)
I'll present the American League leaders soon, and update as the year goes on. Let me know if you think the Index needs tweaking, and I'll get all defensive and hostile, then probably take your suggestion.
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