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November 21, 2011

Transaction Analysis

Pirate In, Pirate Out

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

MINNESOTA TWINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed C/1B/RF/DH-S Ryan Doumit to a one-year deal worth $3 million. [11/18]

Minnesota has not seen a package like this since the days of Matt LeCroy. LeCroy, of course, spent seven seasons in Minnesota with results (.261/.324/.444) that resemble Doumit’s since 2009 (.263/.327/.426), although the environments they compiled them in differ. Defensive versatility tends to be a mask for something. Whether that something is a weak bat or poor defensive skills depends on the player. With Doumit and LeCroy, it is the latter. Doumit is such a putrid defender behind the plate that asking him to catch splinters on the bench during his off-days might be too much. But enough about the past—Doumit is now entering another phase, a phase where he is a common man of the unskilled defensive positions.

Doumit’s best attribute is his league-average bat, with a career .264 True Average. The rub is that by playing Doumit at non-catcher positions, his bat becomes less valuable. In 2011, the average catcher had a .252 True Average. Compare that to the average first baseman (.284), right fielder (.280), or designated hitter (.279), and a good-hitting backstop can turn into a mediocre first baseman in a hurry. Lefties represent another problem with Doumit’s bat, although he did have a big season against them in 2011.

Wisecracks about Doumit’s flexibility aside, he does fit Minnesota nicely. The Twins will operate without Jim Thome in 2012, and possibly without Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel. Add in Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau’s fragility, and Doumit serves as a multi-position insurance policy. The only problem is that Doumit is no bastion of durability, with six-straight seasons including a trip to the disabled list. As morbid as it may sound, the Twins just have to hope the inevitable injuries to Mauer, Morneau, and Doumit do not overlap, lest they land in a short-handed situation like last season.

TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed C-R Jose Molina to a one-year deal with a club option for 2013. [11/17]

Earlier in the month, the Rays declined Kelly Shoppach's $3 million club option. At the time, I wrote:

Add in that Shoppach’s offensive numbers have slid, and you wonder if there are some Nichols Law traces to be found, too. Should the Rays look for a true defensive stalwart this winter, they could always sign Jose Molina for cheaper—and you know how important that is for a team with… well, you know.

Jose lives up to the surname synonymous with great catcher defense. With a fast mitt-to-hand transfer and accurate marksmanship, Molina has sent 35 percent of attempted stealers trotting back to the dugout since 2009. All the while, has Molina received high marks for his framing abilities, too.  According to Mike Fast’s study, Molina is the best receiver in the game since 2007—impressive for the sheer accomplishment, but also because he fared so well in a counting measure without a starting job. Molina knows this. He is a Molina, after all, and seems to embrace it with his “Joey Catch” Twitter handle, a sure reference to former teammate Jose Bautista’s “Joey Bats” moniker. 

Compliments about Molina’s mitt, arm, and ingenuity aside, his bat is mediocre. A .250/.314/.359 line with a 0.35 walk-to-strikeout ratio since 2009 tells the tale, but there is some room for optimism. Despite having nine seasons with 150-plus plate appearances, Molina has finished with an on-base percentage over .300 just twice, both of those occasions coming over the last two seasons. Molina either read Moneyball upon joining the Jays or benefitted from the comfortable hitting conditions the Rogers Centre offers.

If Molina did read Moneyball, then he may have read The Extra Two Percent as well. If so, he’d know that the Rays like to do zany, unconventional things. One experiment they oversaw in 2011 involved receiving little defense from their backstops and even less offense. A cattle call that included Shoppach, John Jaso, Jose Lobaton, and Robinson Chirinos produced a .194/.274/.333 line, despite Joe Maddon’s willingness to play every platoon advantage in the book.

Thirty-seven next June, Molina might not be able to handle a full workload, so expect the Rays to use him in a platoon with Jaso. The contrast in defensive abilities should amuse, but Jaso is tolerable as long as his singles-and-walks approach is working. Otherwise, it might do Chirinos or the out-of-options Lobaton some good to caddy a Molina.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed SS-R Clint Barmes to a two-year deal worth $10.5 million. [11/19]

After declining Ronny Cedeno’s $3 million option, the Pirates were certain to pursue a shortstop. Ramon Santiago became the hot name for a period, but Barmes will be the one fitted for a complimentary eye patch. 

The obvious contract comparison is to Jason Bartlett. Both are right-handed, defense-first shortstops who signed within the last 12 months, but Bartlett signed before becoming a free agent and has a deal that includes an option year. The guaranteed portion of Bartlett’s pact—two years, $11 million—still stacks up favorably to Barmes’s deal. Here is a comparison of the two through their signing days:

Player

Age

BA/OBP/SLG

FRAA

WARP/600 PA

Bartlett (’08-10)

31

.288/.349/.403

2.9

3.5

Barmes (’09-11)

32

.242/.303/.398

19.6

1.5

Bartlett’s big 2009 season skews his numbers a little, but he remains the better player once you consider other things, like park factors. Barmes has played in Coors Field and Minute Maid Park recently, two parks that hold hands with offensive baseball, yet his offensive numbers suggest anything but. Making matters worse is that Barmes will now play in a ballpark that constricts right-handed power. This is the second Pirates signing of the offseason that seems to fly in the face of their park factors (Rod Barajas being the first).

All is right with the universe, as Pittsburgh’s chase for a franchise shortstop will continue. Barmes should ameliorate the Pirates’ suffering at the position. Without a clear in-house solution—unless you believe in Chase d’Arnaud, Pedro Ciriaco, Brock Holt, or Jordy Mercer more than the organization evidently does—the Pirates elected to give the market rate in years and dollars with hopes that Barmes will become the new Jack Wilson. It could prove to be a silly move, particularly if the Pirates settle below mediocrity for the next two seasons.


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:  Jose Molina,  Ryan Doumit,  Clint Barmes

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