King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Where have you gone, Lenny Harris? The Neifi Index returns with a new cast of reserves who make their teams worse.

By Salon Staff

Published August 21, 2003 7:00PM (EDT)

There has been great upheaval in the world of the Neifi Index.

You'll remember that the Neifi Index, invented by me and named after its inspiration, utility infielder Neifi Perez, rates reserve players by comparing their team's winning percentage when they play and when they do not. 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. Only reserves who appear in at least half of their team's games are eligible. The upper limit is three-quarters of the team's games, but even those with the right number of games who are first-stringers don't count.

The Neifi Index is wildly imperfect, but not totally so, and there is this: It is the only statistic in baseball that you, yes you, would lead the league in if they let you play.

The National League leader last time we checked in, Lenny Harris of the Cubs, is gone, released and now toiling in the minors for the Marlins. The top two American League Neifis from last time, John McDonald and Shane Spencer of the Indians, are history too. McDonald has dropped out of the standings by becoming Cleveland's starting second baseman, and Spencer, who trailed McDonald, has been traded to the Rangers, so he won't get to play in half of his current team's games.

The new leader in the National League is Dave Hansen of San Diego at .422. (All figures are through the games of Tuesday night.) The Padres are 24-67 (.264 winning percentage) when Hansen plays, 24-11 (.686, a difference of 422 points) when he doesn't. Hansen, like Harris, is more or less a pinch-hitting specialist. He's been a pinch-hitter 60 times. Now, we've gone over how pinch-hitters tend to come into games late in losing efforts, so a specialist is going to make a lot of appearances in games that his team loses, and is therefore likely to have a high Neifi Index. When the Padres are winning, Hansen stays on the bench.

But make no mistake: Hansen is pulling his weight, Neifiwise. He's hitting .159 as a pinch-hitter, and all seven of his pinch hits (in 44 at-bats) have been singles, for a solid .159 slugging average. His on-base percentage is .275, a number worthy of Neifi himself, and he's driven in all of three runs.

Perez, by the way, is ineligible in his own index for the moment because injuries to Giants infielders have forced him into too many games. San Francisco is a solid 52-44 (.542) when Perez plays, a dominant 22-6 (.786) when he doesn't. That would be a .244 Neifi Index were he eligible, just below the top five, as you'll see.

The American League leader is Ben Davis, the Mariners' backup catcher. I'm sure there are reasons why backup catchers would tend to rate very high or very low in the Neifi Index, and I can't for the life of me get myself to sit down and think about what they might be. The Mariners are 31-33 (.484) when Davis plays, 45-16 (.738) when he sits, for a Neifi Index of .253. It looks like it should be .254, but that's because of rounding. Dan Wilson, the M's No. 1 catcher, has only played in eight more games than Davis has, but the Mariners are 46-26 in his 72 games. Davis is a little better hitter, but the Mariners are way better when Wilson's behind the plate.

Here are the top five in the Neifi Index for the two leagues, as compiled by Michael Davidson, a heroic reader with time on his hands and the ability to write computer scripts, whatever that means. He volunteered to run the numbers, and any errors in them have been introduced since he gave them to me:

N.L. Neifi Index leaders
1. Dave Hansen, S.D.: .422
2. Greg Norton, Col.: .359
3. Mike Kinkade, L.A.: .308
4. Matt Franco, Atl.: .308
5. Pedro Feliz, S.F.: .273

Randall Simon, of sausage-whacking fame, was released this month by the Pirates and picked up by the Cubs to be the new Lenny Harris. His Neifi Index would have put him third in the league if he'd stayed in Pittsburgh. He picked up right where he'd left off in Chicago, though. He's been with the Cubs for two games. He played in both. They lost.

A.L. Neifi Index leaders
1. Ben Davis, Sea.: .253
2. Matthew LeCroy, Min.: .228
3. Tom Wilson, Tor.: .178
4. Mark McLemore, Sea.: .126
5. Shawn Wooten, Ana.: .057

This late in the season it's actually getting hard to find people who fit the criteria. There are a lot of guys with higher Neifi Indices then Wooten, for example, but they're all first-stringers or players who've been traded, so they haven't played as many as half of their current team's games. Perhaps we should expand the criteria. Nah.

The Negative Neifis are those reserves whose teams have a higher winning percentage when they play than when they don't. Last time we checked Kevin Young of the Pirates was dominating this stat, despite being a two-week hot streak away from hitting his weight. He was the anti-Neifi. The Pirates were OK when he played, and pretty much never won a game when he didn't.

And of course the Pirates released him. He signed with the Twins and went to the minors, where he played briefly before taking a leave for family reasons. The Twins eventually gave him his release when he said he wasn't ready to return. How the mighty have fallen.

The Pirates aren't the only team that has foolishly ignored the Neifi Index. The two top N.L. Negative Neifis, Lyle Overbay of Arizona and Tsuyoshi Shinjo of the Mets, are in the minor leagues. The N.L. leader is Eduardo Perez of the Cardinals, who are 50-37 when he plays, 15-23 when he doesn't.

N.L. Negative Neifi leaders
1. Eduardo Perez, St.L.: -.180
2. Keith Osik, Mil.: -.140
3. Raúl González, N.Y.: -.107
4. Rod Barajas, Ari.: -.088
5. Darren Bragg, Atl: -.075

The A.L. Negative Neifi is Aaron Rowand of the White Sox, who really ought to think about using him more. They're 21-38 without him, but 44-23 when he plays. Could Aaron Rowand hitting .276 with five homers, be the key to the Sox emerging from the sluggish A.L. Central race? And more importantly: What does it mean that the fourth- and fifth-place Negative Neifis in the American League are both named Damian?

A.L. Negative Neifi leaders
1. Aaron Rowand, Chi.: -.301
2. Eric Owens, Ana.: -.230
3. Chris Woodward, Tor.: -.172
4. Damian Jackson, Bos.: -.157
5. Damian Rolls, T.B.: -.153

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