King Kaufman's Sports Daily

The Cleveland Indians are fourth in a weak division, but they rule the Neifi Index.

By Salon Staff
Published July 3, 2003 7:00PM (EDT)

The Indians are having a rough year as they try to rebuild, but one thing Cleveland fans can be proud of is that the home team is dominating the Neifi Index.

In the first-ever compilation of American League Neifi Index leaders, the top two spots are held by Indians. Infielder John McDonald has an N.I. of .270, meaning the Indians' winning percentage is 270 points higher when he doesn't play than when he does. (All figures are through Tuesday's games.) His teammate Shane Spencer trails him at .260. Tony Graffanino of the White Sox is a distant third.

Even better news for the Clevelands: McDonald went on the disabled list Monday, so if they continue to play .576 ball without him, they might even be able to reach the fringes of the weak Central Division race. The day McDonald was deactivated, Cleveland swept a double-header from Kansas City.


Meanwhile, the National League race has been upended by the Pirates' release of Kevin Young despite the fact that the Bucs almost never win when Young doesn't play.

The Neifi Index, invented by me and named after its inspiration, utility infielder Neifi Perez, compares, for each player, his team's winning percentage with and without him. A high Neifi Index means your team is better when you don't play. A negative Neifi Index means you make your team better by playing. The year-end leader gets the prestigious Neifi Award, which is open only to reserves who play at least half but not more than three-quarters of their team's games.

Got all that? This is the important thing to remember: If they let you play, you'd win the Neifi Award every year.

I've made a careful study of the Neifi Index and what I'll call the Anti-Neifi leaders, and I've come to the conclusion that I can't figure out what the heck it all means. Both groups include guys who pinch-hit a fair amount and guys who don't, guys having decent offensive years and lousy ones, and guys playing for good, bad and mediocre teams.

In other words: It's the perfect baseball statistic!

Here, for the first time anywhere, are the American League Neifi leaders through July 1. Following each player's name is the team's winning percentage with him, then without him, and the Neifi Index in parentheses:

1. John McDonald, Cle.: .306/.576 (.270)
2. Shane Spencer, Cle.: .327/.593 (.266)
3. Tony Graffanino, Chi.: .395/.600 (.205)
4. David Segui, Bal.: .377/.571 (.194)
5. Armando Rios, Chi.: 405/.585 (.180)

Now, I know there's no real whiz-bang team represented there, but the next two guys are Todd Zeile of the Yankees and Mark McLemore of the Mariners.

Here are the National League leaders:

1. Lenny Harris, Chi.: .390/.826 (.436)
2. Greg Norton, Col.: .400/.760 (.360)
3. Keith Ginter, Mil.: .304/.640 (.336)
4. Matt Franco, Atl.: .542/.864 (.322)
5. Carlos Baerga, Ari.: .467/.773 (.306)

Harris continues to dominate this category the way Barry Bonds dominates on-base percentage. The Cubs are nearly unbeatable -- they're 19-4 -- when Harris doesn't play. That makes some sense when you consider that Harris is hitting .171 and slugging .219. But no one else in the top five is having a particularly bad offensive year, and Franco and Baerga are actually playing pretty well, in an off-the-bench kind of way. And notice the range of teams represented in the top five, from the terrific Braves to the awful Brewers, with stops in Chicago, Denver and Phoenix.

Notice that National League Neifi Indexes are much higher than in the American League. All of the top five, and in fact the top seven, in the N.L. have a higher Neifi than McDonald, the A.L. leader. I'm guessing that pinch-hitting has something to do with that -- none of the top five A.L. Neifis have pinch-hit as many as 10 times, and all of the N.L. top five have pinch-hit at least 19 times. But the numbers don't show a direct relationship between pinch-hitting appearances and high Neifi Index.

The Anti-Neifis, the guys whose teams win more often when they play, also toil for a wide range of teams in the American League:

1. Craig Monroe, Det.: .293/.056 (-.237)
2. Mike Bordick, Tor.: ,.630/.447 (-.183)
3. Terry Schumpert, T.B.: .386/.235 (-.151)
4. Willie Bloomquist, Sea.: .707/.585 (-.122)
5. Jeff DaVanon, Ana.: .527/.440 (-.087)

But in the N.L. they all play for pretty good clubs, now that Young, whose Neifi Index was a mind-bending (-.497) last week, has been let go by fifth-place Pittsburgh:

1. Adam Everett, Hou.: .582/.407 (-.175)
2. Eduardo Perez, St.L.,: .566/.448 (-.118)
3. Andres Galarraga, S.F.: .647/.548 (-.099)
4. Alex Cintron, Ari.: .595/.500 (-.095)
5. Darren Bragg, Atl.: .655/.577 (-.078)

As you can see, at the other end of the spectrum, it's the American League that now has the gaudier numbers. The most amazing thing here is that for some reason the Tigers are 1-17 when outfielder Craig Monroe doesn't bring his .279 on-base percentage and .375 slugging to the party, and they still manage to play sub-.300 ball when he does.

Giving us new ways to appreciate just how bad the Detroit Tigers are: It's yet another advantage of the Neifi Index.

E-mail me for more complete numbers, or if you have any idea what any of this really tells us.

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