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August 5, 2011

Prospectus Hit and Run

Vortices of Suck, Part II

by Jay Jaffe

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Because bad baseball so often makes for good copy, we continue the hunt we started on Wednesday, rounding out our "all-star" team of players who have produced tornado-level disasters amid their lineups, often at salaries that represented far more than just a soft breeze running through their team's bank account. These are the Vortices of Suck.

Left Field: Luke Scott (.263 TAv, 0.4 WARP), Felix Pie (.203 TAv, -0.5 WARP) Nolan Reimold (.271 TAv, 0.5 WARP), Orioles
What began as a promising season in Baltimore has become another nightmare. Where the Orioles were 30-31 as late as June 10, they've gone 13-33 since, a pace that equates to 46 wins over the course of a full season. The growing pains of a promising pitching staff have been the primary focus of their troubles, but the offense has been nothing to write home about, ninth in the league in scoring at 4.11 runs per game, and an even sorrier 11th in True Average. Nowhere have the O’s gotten worse production relative to the defensive spectrum than in left field, where the above trio and friends have combined to hit .201/.271/.333. Coming off a career-best season in 2010, Scott has made more headlines this year via his mouth and his guns rather than his hitting. He battled back spasms and a partially torn labrum in his right (throwing) shoulder, going on the disabled list in early July; after returning for one game, he realized that surgery was a necessity, finishing him for the season. Reimold, who's never been able to match his solid 2009 rookie campaign, has done most of his damage—at .221/.310/.416, more to the Orioles' offense than to opponents—in Scott's absence, and Pie has hit just .188/.234/.231 while spotting in left field, and just .220/.255/.280 overall.

Remedy (?): With one more year of arbitration eligibility, Scott figures to be back next season, if not immediately because of the time it takes for such injuries to heal (ask B.J. Upton, or this reporter, another labrum repair vet). That doesn't mean the O's don't have other options. As Jason Parks wrote yesterday, they have a decent left-field prospect in L.J. Hoes at Double-A Bowie, and is there anything Camden Yards couldn't use besides more Hoes? (Sorry.) A third-round 2008 draft pick whose conversion to second base didn't take, Hoes is a contact hitter with good on-base ability but not a big power threat; he's hitting .326/.389/.455 at Bowie after a slow start at High-A Frederick. He might be worth a September look, although pulling him into the poisonous nightmare that is the Orioles' present otherwise makes no sense. In the meantime, the team should see if Reimold can rediscover some of his lost promise; while he's 27, he's not even arbitration-eligible until after next season.

Center Field: Franklin Gutierrez (.187 TAv, -0.2 WARP), Michael Saunders (.182 TAv, -0.3 WARP), Mariners
We can debate whether this duo has actually been worse than Replacement Level Killer Alex Rios (.197, -1.5); the two guys above are a combined 14.5 FRAA better in the field. However, there's no getting around how awful they've been at the plate, combining to hit .197/.238/.249 with two homers while playing center field, which makes Ryan Langerhans' performance in that role (.152/.364/.424 with three homers—out of five hits in all—in 45 plate appearances) look like Mickey Mantle. The hope was that Gutierrez would rebound from the mysterious stomach ailment that wrecked his 2010 and recover the 2009 form that saw him hit .283/.339/.425 while playing outstanding defense. But even after finally being diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (skip the jokes, please) and missing the first seven weeks of the season—a span during which Saunders put the knife in his once-vaunted prospect status—Gutierrez has been completely inept at the plate, with just seven extra-base hits in 225 plate appearances.

Remedy (?): Thanks to the utter ineptitude of Ned Colletti*, the Mariners lucked into Trayvon Robinson at the trading deadline because the Dodgers tried to sidecar onto a deal for Erik Bedard. Helped by the hitter-friendly Albuquerque environment, Robinson hit .293/.375/.563 with 26 homers but just nine doubles before being traded; he doesn't have that much power, and out of concern for his subpar throwing arm, the Dodgers viewed him more as a left fielder. It makes sense for the Mariners to audition him in center while seeing if fellow deadline acquisition Casper Wells can help in left. It's not as though this 48-62 team has much left to lose.

*Thought for the day from the depths of my Dodgers despair: Ten million years from now, when then sun burns out and the Earth is just a frozen ice ball hurtling through space, the differences between Colletti and Buzzie Bavasi won't matter one bit.

Right Field: Ichiro Suzuki (.244 TAv, -0.3 WARP), Mariners
It's bad enough that between free-agent bust Chone Figgins and the ailing Gutierrez, the Mariners already have two Vortices of Suck to call their own. Alas, the team's most popular everyday player deserves his spot here as well, as he's hitting just .268/.310/.316, numbers that are by far his worst since coming over from Japan; in 11 major-league seasons, Ichiro has never posted a batting average below .303, an on-base percentage below .350, or a slugging percentage lower than .386. Unless he can collect 78 hits over the Mariners' final 52 games, his remarkable streak of collecting 200 hits will end at 10 consecutive seasons. What's gone wrong? For starters, the 37-year-old could probably use a day off every now and then; he's started 109 of the Mariners 110 games, 104 of them in the field and five at DH. Is Eric Wedge afraid the team would suddenly forget how to lose in his absence? Or that the fans would instead decide to spend the evening at Starbucks? It doesn't help that Ichiro's walk rate is below his already-low career average of 6.2 percent, or that his isolated power is at a career low; those secondary skills make his long-anticipated BABIP crash (to .292, 65 points lower than his first 10 seasons) much more dire in terms of his value. He's a future Hall of Famer, but at the moment, he looks like one at the tail end of his career.

Remedy (?): Ichiro is signed through 2012. Given that he's a gate attraction and that he was still a productive ballplayer a year ago, it makes more sense to reduce his playing time and see if he can recover his productive ways. Getting the aforementioned Wells (.273/.340/.469 in 142 plate appearances) or Mike Carp (.297/.366/.440 in 101 plate appearances) more time in the outfield, even with the latter's defensive shortcomings, might have the dual effect of providing a jolt on Ichiro's days off and giving him enough rest to rejuvenate his bat.

Designated Hitter: Adam Dunn (.225 TAv, -1.8 WARP), White Sox
Peering into the Vortex to make this choice is a challenge. Collectively, the DHs of the Angels (.230/.343/.301) and Mariners (.224/.329/.326) have been the majors' least productive, but the player who could be classified as the regular at that position has been at least somewhat better. In Anaheim, Bobby Abreu's overall line of .258/.373/.347 comes to a .285 True Average, and as lousy as his .258/.373/.347 line as a DH is, it dwarfs the .179/.277/.274 provided by various irregulars in about 28 percent of the playing time. In Seattle, Jack Cust's .213/.344/.329 line comes out to a .262 TAv—miles better than Dunn, but not good enough to avoid the pink slip, as he was released this week. And so it falls to Dunn, whom I already made the DH on my Killers team; I've never let a player cross over in this manner, but then we've never seen anybody quite this bad. Dunn went into Thursday night's contest hitting .166/.296/.300 and leading the league in bad body language; he looks utterly defeated by the time he steps into the batters box.

The Big Donkey has 382 plate appearances thus far, and would seem to be a lock for 400. The lowest single-season batting average of any player with at least 400 plate appearances since World War II is Dal Maxvil with the 1969 Cardinals, followed by Three True Outcomes patron saint Rob Deer (.179) and Ed Brinkman (.185). Deer wins the honors for the lowest batting average of any batting title qualifier (3.1 plate appearances per game, 502 over a 162-game season), followed by Ivan DeJesus in the 1981 strike season (.194) or if you prefer, Tom Tresh in 1968, the Year of the Pitcher (.195). Furthermore, with -1.8 WARP at the two-thirds point of the season, Dunn has an outside shot at our modern record of futility, -3.0 WARP, set by the Brewers' Ted Simmons—a near-Hall of Fame-caliber catcher in his heyday, from which he was far removed—in 1984, and at the very least, he could wind up in the top—er, bottom 10 at -2.5 WARP.

Remedy (?): If I'm Ozzie Guillen, I'd be willing to try just about anything to get Dunn kick-started knowing that he's still got three years at $14 million per remaining on his deal; the goal is to find some level of comfort by the end of this season. Perhaps try DHing Carlos Quentin, who's no great shakes in the outfield, and playing Dunn in right. Or DH Paul Konerko and play Dunn at first, even with the defensive hit there; it's not like Konerko is the second coming of Keith Hernandez. Put Juan Pierre in a crate and send him to Siberia, call up Dayan Viciedo to DH, and play Dunn in left. Sure, he's terrible in the field, but if it gets his bat going, he'll outhit his mistakes. Besides, anyone who has watched Pierre or Alex Rios play defense lately knows that Dunn would have plenty of company out there when it comes to bad outfielding.  

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

Related Content:  Vortices Of Suck,  The Who,  Bad Season

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