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July 16, 2013

Mid-Season Outliers

Corner Infield

by Baseball Prospectus

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Over the All-Star break, we'll be highlighting some of the players who've overperformed or underperformed their projections during the first half by imagining what we might write about them if the Baseball Prospectus annual were updated today.

Eric Chavez
DOB: 12/7/1977
Age: 35
Height/Weight: 6'1" 215 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/R
Arizona Diamondbacks

The only thing more unlikely than a 34-year-old Chavez making it through six months without a DL stint was a 35-year-old Chavez doing so for a second straight year. A healthy season didn't strike twice—Chavez missed most of June with an oblique strain—but his balky back has held up, enabling him to extend his unlikely late-career renaissance. Kirk Gibson has hidden him from southpaw pitchers even more diligently than Joe Girardi did, matching him up with righties in over 90 percent of his plate appearances, but while the lefty has his limitations, bench bats don't come much better. Chavez' early 30s were painful to watch—and just plain painful—but the past two seasons have vindicated his decision to cling to a career. Ben Lindbergh

Chris Davis
DOB: 3/17/1986
Age: 27
Height/Weight: 6'3" 230 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/R
Baltimore Orioles

When Jose Bautista broke out in 2010, we went looking for signs that we could have seen it coming. We found one in September/October of 2009, when Bautista slugged .606 and hit 10 homers. In light of his own Bautista-esque explosion, Davis' September/October of 2012—when he too hit 10 homers, slugging .660—now looks like a telltale month. Unlike Bautista, Davis had a top-prospect pedigree and had already demonstrated massive power in the majors, but he was held back by the same swing that gave him his pop. Instead of trusting his considerable strength to drive balls out of the park, Davis relied on an uppercut that led to less consistent contact. Late last season, he leveled it out, and the new swing plane, coupled with increased selectivity, have helped him go the other way with authority in an age-27 first half for the ages. The odds are heavily against his holding any home-run record at the end of the year—whatever you believe that record to be—but at the very least, no one will be calling him a Quadruple-A hitter. Ben Lindbergh

Ike Davis
DOB: 3/22/1987
Age: 26
Height/Weight: 6'4" 230 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/L
New York Mets

The similarities between the beginnings of Davis' last two seasons are striking. When Davis was sent down to Triple-A Las Vegas this year on June 9th, he was hitting .161/.242/.258 with five homers in 186 at-bats. On June 9th of 2012, Davis was hitting .162/.244/.276 with five homers in 185 at-bats. It's somewhat surprising that the Mets decided to take a different approach to Davis this season than last, considering he did manage to be one of the best power hitters in baseball after that point, slugging 27 homers from June 10th on. The talent is there, but more troubling than his numbers are the reports about his attitude that have surfaced this year. From a supposed blow-up with his Triple-A manager after being passed over for a promotion in late June to a rumored refusal to change his approach at the plate, Davis may be wearing out his welcome in New York. And in the end, that may be a good thing for both parties. Bret Sayre

Josh Donaldson
DOB: 12/8/1985
Age: 27
Height/Weight: 6'0" 220 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Oakland Athletics

For the last three seasons, we've all been on the lookout for the "next Jose Bautista"—meaning a player who carries forward an uncharacteristically strong end-of-season performance into a true breakout season. We may have found him. From August 14 through the end of 2012, Donaldson hit .290/.356/.489 in 194 plate appearances, while finally improving his contact rate at the major-league level. He's one-upped that this season, hitting .316/.384/.525 in 341 plate appearances through the end of June. The biggest difference for Donaldson has been his contact rate, which stood at 28.4 percent for his career before his third tour with the Athletics in 2012, but has been well under 20 percent in his nearly 550 plate appearances since. Combine that with solid defense at the hot corner and the 20-plus home run power that had been expected from him since he was drafted, and it's not difficult to see why he's been one of the 15-20 most valuable players in baseball during the first half. Bret Sayre

Alex Gonzalez
DOB: 2/15/1977
Age: 36
Height/Weight: 6'1" 210 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Free Agent

If you thought Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was too incongruous a concept to digest, your brain must have imploded at the sight of Alex Gonzalez, Opening Day First Baseman. Yet there he was, the veteran shortstop signed to be young Jean Segura's personal Crash Davis, filling in for the injured Corey Hart on Opening Day and manning the hot corner while Aramis Ramirez was hurt. That plan worked about as well as using a putter off the tee, as Gonzalez was his usual out-making self, minus his occasional power, and was never able to deploy his nifty glove in the middle infield where it could be of some value. With a healthy A-Ram and the newly-acquired Juan Francisco in the club's bag, Gonzalez earned his release—along with the rest of his $1.5 million guaranteed contract—but could still resurface as a cheap, veteran insurance policy. Ken Funck

Paul Konerko
DOB: 3/5/1976
Age: 37
Height/Weight: 6'2" 220 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Chicago White Sox

Few things in baseball are as discouraging as watching an aging slugger who can't slug, especially one as likable and well-respected as Konerko. It's certainly possible that Paulie's early season struggles and inability to drive the ball are a residual effect of last year's wrist surgery, or the sore back that eventually shelved him in late June, and that he'll be right as rain with a little rest. More likely, Father Time has finally tracked him down, and Konerko's late-career renaissance is coming to a close. If so, don't be surprised if he graduates effortlessly from a stellar playing career to a stellar coaching career. Ken Funck

Adam Lind
DOB: 7/17/1983
Age: 29
Height/Weight: 6'2" 220 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/L
Toronto Blue Jays

John Gibbons saved Lind's career. Okay, perhaps that's laying it on a little too thick. What Gibbons did is what good managers tend to do, utilizing a player in situations where he can succeed. Lind outed himself in previous seasons as a platoon player masquerading as an everyday fixture. John Farrell never seemed to care much, but Gibbons took note and platooned Lind to the best of his micromanaging abilities. More than 83 percent of his plate appearances have come versus righties, against whom Lind has an OPS well over 200 points higher. The results speak for themselves, as Lind turned into the best-case scenario the Jays envisioned years ago when they signed him to a long-term deal. To think: all it took was using him wisely. R.J. Anderson

Manny Machado
DOB: 7/6/1992
Age: 20
Height/Weight: 6'2" 180 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Baltimore Orioles

Much has been made of the ridiculous number of doubles that Machado has hit during the first half of the season. The 38 doubles he accumulated through the end of June would have been good for 20th in the majors in 2012, and put him on pace for the most ever hit in a season. The production is even more impressive in light of the fact that Machado is 20 years old, was in Double-A at this time last year, and might be the best defensive third baseman in baseball. If Mike Trout hadn't spoiled all subsequent 20-year-old seasons for us last year, we'd be talking about Machado's potential 2013 as one for the ages. We probably should be anyway. Bret Sayre

Mike Moustakas
DOB: 9/11/1988
Age: 24
Height/Weight: 6'0" 210 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/R
Kansas City Royals

Is Moustakas a bust? It's a legitimate question, and one whose answer varies depending on your perspective. The once-promising third baseman entered June with a sub-.600 OPS, and his early-season struggles were part of the impetus for the Royals to install team icon George Brett as their hitting coach. In the time since Brett's appointment, Moustakas has made a number of changes to his stance: elevating his hands; widening his base; and opening up his stance. A well-timed hot streak since is either an indictment of the previous coaches, an endorsement of Brett's hitting intellect, a coincidence, or some combination thereof. Regardless, what those changes show is that Moustakas—whom the home broadcast announcers have accused of lethargy—is willing to make the effort. Maybe for his next act he'll do the baseball world a favor and answer the pertinent question. R.J. Anderson

Related Content:  Outliers,  Corner Infielders

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