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The Lindenberg

Imagine a world with no internet. No DVDs or CDs. Japanese cars are just starting to take a piece of the automobile market. Sylvester Stallone is taken seriously. In this alien sci-fi world, the Giants rolled Chili Davis off the assembly line, and the last above-average outfielder produced by their farm system came to be. Oh, there have been contenders to the throne. Mike Aldretes, Marvin Benards, and Darren Lewii. There have been first-round picks who hoped to ascend to usefulness, like Adam Hyzdu and Arturo McDowell. But no bites.

So it was of great interest to Giants fans when on-again/off-again prospect Todd Linden started humiliating Pacific Coast League pitching this year. The average was there. The power was there. The strikeouts were a little too Adam Dunn, but so were the walks. Any value Michael Tucker had to the Giants could only be measured with an invented statistic, like Hustle per Square Inch (HUPSQUINCH), so it made sense to call Linden up. The rest, as they say, is fans banging their heads against a kitchen table.

Linden is an irritating player to watch right now. His nickname -- Todd "0-1" Linden -- is just the start. He swings at bad pitches, watches the good pitches, and currently has no concept of protecting the plate with two strikes. The batting eye which helped him in Fresno is non-existent in the National League. He has a hole in his swing that you could fit Armando Benitez in, extending from the bottom outside corner of the strike zone to the top inside corner. Other than that, he should be fine.

This isn't, however, a doom `n' gloom session lamenting another failed Giants prospect. I still have hope for Linden; hope that while entirely predicated on his monster AAA season, is grounded in something more than idiotic optimism. Consider the stats of two players, Player A and Player B, when they were 25. One is Linden, and another turned into a Hall of Famer. Try and match them up:

Player A
Age: 25
At-bats: 150
AVG: .213
OBP: .280
SLG: .347
Walks: 9
Strikeouts: 49

Player B
Age: 25
At-bats: 178
AVG: .210
OBP: .291
SLG: .340
Walks: 11
Strikeouts: 54

Give up? Well, Player A is Linden, and Player B is completely made up because NO ONE WHO SUCKS AS BAD AS LINDEN WILL EVER HAVE A GOOD MAJOR LEAGUE CAREER MUCH LESS BE A HALL OF FAMER!!!!!!!1!!!!

Hoo. Deep breaths. I didn't mean that. I really didn't mean that. Let's try again. This time I'll just give you a player we'll call Player X, with his stats in the Pacific Coast League and the majors at a similar age to Linden:

Player X
Age: 24
League: AAA
At-bats: 284
AVG: .320
OBP: .393
SLG: .680
Walks: 32
Strikeouts: 51

League: NL
At-bats: 292
AVG: .202
OBP: .242
SLG: .455
Walks: 14
Strikeouts: 72
Already bald: Yes

Player X is, of course, Matt Williams. There are differences. Williams' power was immediately evident, even as he was hitting .200. Williams was a year younger, which can be significant when talking about prospects. Linden walked more in AAA, and had a moderately higher strikeout rate.

This isn't implying Linden will have a career comparable to Williams. These numbers are from two very different decades, and there are plenty of other ways to poke holes in the comparison. But a cynical Giants fan -- say, the type found on a site like this -- might have been harsh on a developing player like Williams. They might have dismissed him based on the inability to recognize a breaking ball, or the outlandish strikeout numbers.

The development curve for go-for-broke players like Williams, Linden, or even Sammy Sosa can be steep. Some players never break the pine tar ceiling, and then end up stealing Derek Jeter's glove on the road to becoming an icon of hilariously moronic baserunning. Some do break through. Linden is a frustrating player to watch right now, but I'm not ready to shovel dirt on his career just yet.