Friday, February 8, 2013

#307 Lou Piniella - New York Yankess

This Lou Piniella card forms the bread around a Tommy Lasorda (#306) manager sandwich with fellow player turned manager Larry Bowa (#305).  By 1987 all three were managing in the big leagues.  This is Piniella's 17th Topps card and it's a good one.  I'm guessing Lou hit a routine grounder or fly ball by the way he's staring out into the field, but the way the bat is suspended vertically mid-air is what makes the card. 
Piniella looks a little perturbed in the inset picture and his hat is barely sitting on the top of his head.

PlayerLou Piniella was signed by the Indians in 1962 but was drafted away over the winter by the Washington Senators in a minor league draft.  Still in the minors in '64, Piniella was traded to the Orioles and made his major league debut late in the year.  He got into four games but batted just once.  In March of '68 he was traded again to the Indians, his original franchise.  He spent the next three years at AAA improving his production each year.  He was called up but went 0 for 5 in six games.  After the '68 season he was drafted by the Seattle Pilots in the expansion draft but was sent packing to the AL's other expansion team in Kansas City before the season started.
All this time Piniella was a perpetual prospect leading to three separate multi-player "rookie" cards:
Look how thin Piniella looks in '64!  Topps recycled Piniella's head shot from '68 for the '69 card indicating his new team as the Pilots, but he was in KC when the season started.  The expansion Royals plugged Piniella into the outfield and he led off the Royals era with four hits in the opener.  He batted .285 with 11 homers and despite all his travels still had rookie eligibility and won the AL Rookie of the Year award.
Nicknamed "Sweet Lou" for his sweet line drive swing, he hit over .300 two of the next three years.  In 1972 he posted a 138 OPS+ and  led the AL with 33 doubles but also grounded into a league high 25 double plays.  When his average slipped to .250 in 1973 he was traded to the Yankees.
The Yankees used Piniella in the corner outfield spots and he batted .305 in his first year in pinstripes.  The following year he struggled with an inner ear infection and batted just .196 in 199 at bats.  Piniella was used in a semi-regular role the next two years getting time at DH as well as the outfield.  He batted .281 in 351 plate appearances in '76 and batted a career high .330 in 369 plate appearances in '77.  Piniella played a more regular role in '78 and batted .314/.360/.445 with a career high 34 doubles. 
The Yankees of course won three straight divisions and World Series in '77 and '78 with Piniella playing a starting role in the championship years.  The next three years Piniella saw his playing time gradually reduce as he hit for a decent average.  Piniella didn't hit for much power but was what you would hear some analysts call a "professional" hitter.  He was hitting .302 in the middle of 1984 when he retired to became the Yankees hitting coach. 
Flipside: Tiny font alert!  It's hard to see anything besides the wax stain on the back.  Piniella had to wait until '69 to get his first hit despite his cups of coffee in two earlier seasons.  His hit to lead off the bottom of the first in the Royals inaugural game was also the franchise's first hit.
Oddball: When Piniella (the manager) left Seattle for Tampa Bay the Rays sent outfielder Randy Winn to the M's as compensation.  According to Winn is the 9th most comparable player to Piniella.
History:  Piniella had a successful playing career highlighted by two championships with the Yankees.  He won a NL ROY award and was an All-Star just once. He didn't hit for much power reaching double digits in home runs just five times with a career high of 12.  Piniella had a reputation as a clutch hitter but what is clutch and is it repeatable?  Let's look at the numbers to see how they shake out. 
Career line: .291/.333/.409. 
Runners on base:  .297/.344/.409 (2,676 AB)
In scoring position: .303/.366/.427 (1,493 AB)
Bases loaded: .346/.346/.489 (131 AB)
Postseason: .305/.317/.418 (141 AB)
So either he rose to the occasion when the stakes were high or he lacked concentration when no one was on base.  The postseason and bases loaded data isn't a huge sample size but he did he marginally better with guys on so I'm going to say Piniella was a slightly better in crunch time.
Piniella for sure was a pretty good batter but his defense negated a lot of his value leaving him with
9.3 WAR in his 18 year career.
Of course many fans today know Piniella as a manager who won 1,835 games in parts of 23 seasons for the Yankees, Reds, Mariners, Devil Rays, and Cubs. 

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