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July 19, 2011

Transaction Analysis Blog

Keppinger To The Giants

by R.J. Anderson

IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Optioned C-S Hank Conger to Triple-A Salt Lake. [7/19]
Recalled RHP Tyler Chatwood from Triple-A Salt Lake. [7/19]

As poorly as Conger played, and his .214/.297/.357 line tells the story, you have to wonder how Jeff Mathis avoided this fate. Mathis, who has six more plate appearances than Conger, is hitting .194/.243/.281 this season and .198/.262/.307 for his major league career. Bobby Wilson will now serve as the backup catcher and is a fellow who has hit .227/.290/.383 in 158 big league plate appearances. Conger has the highest perceived upside among the trio, so you can understand the developmental aspect of the demotion, but catcher is going to be an offensive negative for the Angels as long as Mathis and Wilson are the options.

TAMPA BAY RAYS
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Tampa Bay Rays
Optioned LHP Alex Torres to Triple-A Durham. [7/18]
Recalled RHP Dane De La Rosa from Triple-A Durham. [7/19]

Torres was up just long enough to say hello before he had to say goodbye. A messy major league debut on Monday night saw Torres walk three batters in an inning of work, laboring for more than 40 pitches, and walking in the go-ahead run. He still managed to show off some of his impressive stuff, and this shouldn’t change his long-term prospects of becoming a worthwhile major leaguer, but for now, it’s clear he may need more time in the minors.

The Rays bullpen has endured a lot of wear and tear in recent days, so the move for reinforcement is no surprise, although De La Rosa’s name might be an unfamiliar one. De La Rosa has a nice story, as he bounced around various minor and independent league teams before latching on with the Rays last season. The 6-foot-7 De La Rosa features a lively fastball and a slider that the organization requested he started throwing. It’s unclear what his role will be, but expect low-leverage situations when possible.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Arizona Diamondbacks
Recalled RHP Barry Enright from Triple-A Reno. [7/19]
Released RHP Aaron Heilman. [7/19]

If you only look at strikeout, walk, and strikeout-to-walk ratios, then Heilman is in the mist of one of his better seasons. Sometimes those values can lie, and Heilman’s 2011 is a good example. Released after 35 1/3 innings pitched, Heilman has allowed eight home runs (he allowed nine in each of the last two seasons, with those totals coming in roughly 72 innings apiece) and his batting average on balls in play is well above career norms.

In most cases like this, you can hand wave some of the badness away and credit it to small sample sizes, however Heilman’s fastball is going slower this season, per PITCHf/x data, and losing the estimate 2.8 miles per hour has different effects on different pitchers. It’ll be interesting to see how many teams inquire on his services, and whether anyone is willing to toss him straight into the major league bullpen.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Houston Astros
Traded 2B-R Jeff Keppinger to the Giants for RHP Henry Sosa and RHP Jason Stoffel. [7/19]
Purchased the contract of 2B Jose Altuve from Double-A Corpus Christi. [7/19]

In the first of possibly multiple selling trades, Houston nets a pair of relief prospects. Sosa is the typical flamethrower without a secondary pitch or much of an idea where the pitch is going. Stoffel is more refined, and figures to turn into a set-up man down the road. It’s not an amazing return on Keppinger, who has an additional season of team control remaining, but the Astros do have an eye towards the future here, as Altuve gets the call as the new second baseman.

Altuve is only 21 and stands 5-foot-5. You have to wonder if he would be better served spending more time in the minors, but he isn’t exactly a surefire prospect, and the Astros must feel his skill set can translate immediately. Kevin Goldstein ranked Altuve as the team’s 11th best prospect, offering these words about his strengths and weaknesses:

The Good: As mixed as scouts are on Altuve, they are almost universally agreed when discussing how much they enjoy watching him play. He's a pure contact hitter with tremendous plate coverage and power that borders on shocking considering his size. He's an above-average runner and a fundamentally sound defender who makes the play on every ball he gets to.

The Bad: Scouts find it difficult to wrap their heads around Altuve, who is thought to be even shorter than his listed height, and leaving him without comparison in modern baseball. He could use a more patient approach at the plate, and he is an inefficient basestealer.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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San Francisco Giants
Acquired 2B-R Jeff Keppinger from the Astros for RHP Henry Sosa and RHP Jason Stoffel. [7/19]
Recalled 1B-L Brandon Belt from Triple-A Fresno. [7/19]
Optioned C-L Hector Sanchez to Triple-A Fresno. [7/19]

The Giants have been using Mike Fontenot at second base over the last several days and the perception will be that Keppinger is an upgrade. It’s not as drastic as you may expect, as similar lines since 2008 have PECOTA projecting the pair with identical OPS. Keppinger offers better defense, a right-handed bat, and less volatility in his offensive game. He is also under team control through next season, so the Giants conceivably just acquired their second baseman for 2012 too.

Word from San Fran is that Aubrey Huff is dealing with a back injury, hence why Belt is up. Belt has been on a few minds around these parts over the last two weeks, as Jay Jaffe wrote about Huff’s struggles and Kevin Goldstein stated Belt, “might be the second half's biggest addition to a contending team.” High praise, sure, but it’s hard not to feel some optimism after looking at Belt’s .324/.462/.549 offering in 184 Triple-A plate appearances. The dude can hit.

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

Related Content:  Jeff Keppinger,  Jose Altuve,  Flamethrower

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Premium Article Future Shock: Monday-M... (07/18)
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