July 1, 2005
Friday EditionBoston Red Sox: The 2004 Red Sox had two outfielders among the top six in VORP--Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon. The only thing preventing their third outfielder from joining them at the top of the leaderboard was injury: Trot Nixon had just 167 PAs during the regular season, and so his VORP total (which is a cumulative stat) was low. His VORPr, though, was .350. Organize the 2004 AL outfield by that measure--the first step toward prorating Nixon's injury-shortened season--and all three Red Sox are in the top ten.
2005 has seen more of the same. Damon is currently at .338/.383/.464 with a VORP of 27.1, good for fourth in the league. Ramirez is sixth in the league with a recently-improved .272/.359/.545 line (VORP of 22.4). Nixon has been the 12th-best outfielder by VORP standards (16.1), tenth-best by VORPr.
After these top three, the organization's outfield depth gets thin in a hurry.
The decision to platoon him with Nixon is a curious one; here are his platoon splits from the last few years:
Year & Opp AB Batting Line ----------------------------------- 2002 vs L 135 .252/.308/.407 2002 vs R 310 .326/.369/.523 ----------------------------------- 2003 vs L 160 .288/.354/.563 2003 vs R 440 .307/.354/.493 ----------------------------------- 2004 vs L 152 .283/.369/.401 2004 vs R 306 .248/.303/.350 ----------------------------------- 2005 vs L 67 .284/.329/.448 2005 vs R 59 .237/.297/.424Assuming a positive number represents a platoon advantage, Payton's four-year differences are as follows:
2002 -.074/-.061/-.116 2003 -.019/.000/.070 2004 .035/.060/.051 2005 .047/.032/.024If you squint hard enough, you can see the shift from reverse-platoonery to full-blown platoondom. You can also see a guy who's probably just getting older. We tend to forget that he was a 27-year-old rookie in NY in 2000, and even then, he turned in a .291/.331/.447 season (a .258 EqA).
Since he split 2002 between New York and Colorado, spent all of 2003 in thin air, and helped christen low-slugging Petco Park last year, there are more extreme environmental changes than you'd normally like to see when trying to evaluate a player's batting line. His current combined line of .262/.314/.437 is right in line with his career performance, minus some batting average. As a professional, he never controlled the strike zone very well, and so much of his value is tied to his batting average.
Payton's job description, though, doesn't call for superiority--it calls for competance, and a .262 EqA is practically the definition of competence. Nixon has been pretty bad against lefties over the past three years, with a line of .220/.293/.348 in very limited duty (227 ABs). Payton only has to be better than that, which he has been.
Payton's reportedly unhappy with his part-time gig in Boston, and would like to be dealt to a team for which he can start. He's not a terribly gifted defender, can't run nearly as well as he used to, and his production this year has straddled the line between league-average and replacement-level. But let's assume mediocre outfielders can make front offices do their bidding, and that the Sox send him to a place where he'll play every day. Where would that leave Boston?
Envisioning life without Payton simply highlights the problem that made him a viable solution to begin with. The Red Sox don't have any outfield prospects who can step into a major-league job. This lack of depth in the high minors is precisely why it made sense to grab a soon-to-be 25-year-old with a career minor league line of .279/.340/.399 (Adam Stern) in the Rule 5 draft. Stern is the only other outfielder on the 40-man roster at the moment; even then, he's only there because of a bout with "mystery finger" that has conveniently kept him off the active roster for the entire season. Come July 12, when his rehab assignment ends and he has to be added to the 25-man, we'll see if the roster tomfoolery amounts to anything. Even if he does make it, he bats left-handed and so is no threat to take Payton's platoon job.
A .262 EqA shouldn't have to cost $3.5 million, but this is what happens when you have above-replacement-level depth everywhere but the outfield. The Sox low minors prospects are intriguing, though they don't help the Sox this season if they want to upgrade on Payton. David Murphy has stumbled at Double-A Portland (.240/.292/.351), but Brandon Moss (.284/.361/.493) and Chris Durbin (.292/.358/.504) have looked promising so far. Mickey Hall in high-A Wilmington hasn't embarrassed himself, either. These are all players worth keeping an eye on, who will make it far less likely the Sox will have to look outside the organization to fill future needs.
San Diego Padres: At the beginning of the season we took a moment to talk about recent products of the Padres' farm system. One of the characters we took a shine to was Xavier Nady, who opened the season as Dave Roberts' substitute in center field (Roberts was hobbled in spring training with a pulled groin muscle). By the time Roberts was finally healthy Nady had put up an oustanding .341/.383/.659 line in 47 plate appearances. The job, however, was still considered Roberts' and his 2005 line of .287/.358/.480 is far from disappointing, especially in Petco Park. That, combined with his speed and generally excellent outfield defense make Roberts one of the better center fielders in baseball.
Given his 2005 line of .267/.337/.520, the Padres have been reasonably desperate to get Nady some plate appearances, but that hasn't always been easy. Roberts' current knee problem gives Nady a spot for the week, but most days he's blocked there and blocked in both left and right field by the positive play of Ryan Klesko (.276/.379/.480) and Brian Giles (.283/.415/.498). Nady has been used as a pinch hitter, a platoon partner to the left-handed-hitting Klesko and Roberts, as a late-inning substitute in blowouts, and someone whose defensive versatility allows him to be spotted as a pinch hitter in any sort of double-switch opportunity.
The one idea the Padres haven't implemented to any extent this year is the plan they floated in the off-season: to let Nady return to his college position of third base, and replace the woefully inadequate Sean Burroughs (currently "hitting" .262/.332/.307). Of the 38 major-league players with 200 PAs whose primary position is 3B, Burroughs is 32nd in VORP, trailed only by Joe Crede, Mark Teahen, Ty Wigginton, David Bell, Mike Lowell, and Aaron Boone. Burroughs has the lowest slugging rate of any third baseman with at least 75 plate appearances, a full .029 behind Mike Lowell, who is hitting a woeful .217/.271/.336. This isn't a one-year anomaly, either; Burroughs' career slugging average is .364 and in his best year (2003) he had just seven home runs and a .402 SLG. To put it another way, Nady has more home runs in this partial season than Burroughs has had in his two best year's combined. As BP's Dave Pease pointed out, Burroughs has one home run this year, while Nady had three in three games during a series with Seattle.
In the 2000, 2002, and 2003 editions of our BP annual we predicted that Burroughs' power would eventually show up, but it hasn't and it doesn't look like it ever will. This year PECOTA tagged Burroughs with a huge Collapse Rate, indicating that there was a significant chance that Burroughs would fail to match even his modest recent performance. PECOTA hedged correctly: while his batting average and on-base percentage are close to what PECOTA forecasted, Burroughs' 2005 slugging average is well below even his 10th percentile prediction.
From various comments that General Manager Kevin Towers made at the recent BP sponsored Pizza Feed in San Diego, it seems clear that Towers realizes how much Burroughs is hurting the team's offense. At their current 2005 levels, the offensive difference between Nady and Burroughs is almost a full 1/3rd of a run per game. If Clay Davenport's defensive numbers are even close to accurate, Nady would have to be twice as bad as Chipper Jones at third for Burroughs' defense to be worth the offensive tradeoff. We haven't seen Nady at the hot corner since college but we find it hard to believe that Nady's defense could be so bad as to not experiment with him at the hot corner when he can't find another way into the lineup.