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October 18, 2006
Endy Chavez, fresh off of the most productive regular season of his career--OK, it didn't take much, I know--has found himself in quite a few playoff games this year, in no small part thanks to injuries to Cliff Floyd. Considering his PECOTA projection for 2006 saw him out of baseball at age 32 in 2010, this is something of an accomplishment for the defensive specialist. Of course, a single season of productivity does not necessarily mean that the production will continue from here on out, even with the help of some fancy t-shirt voodoo.
Chavez was worth 3.7 Wins Above Replacement this season; in his five previous seasons, he was worth a cumulative 4.7 WARP. A great deal of that value is in his defensive play, which has unquestionably been an asset to the Mets during both the regular season and in the playoffs. The Mets outfield is somewhere flyballs go to die on the nights when Carlos Beltran and Endy Chavez patrol two-thirds of it--unless Shawn Green is butchering plays in right field on the same night, of course. Endy's defensive abilities have never really been the issue at hand, though. It's his bat that has often been the topic of very angry conversation, and probably would have been mentioned more if not for the even greater shortcomings of others around the league, immortals such as Neifi Perez or Cristian Guzman.
Endy was originally signed out of Valencia, Venezuela by the Mets back in 1996 at the age of 18. He made an impressive enough debut in Rookie league, .354/.430/.561, with a career high of seven home runs in just 164 at-bats, but really did not do much in the follow-up seasons. He was named the top player on his GCL squad in 1997, but I'm guessing the Florida voters weren't exactly sure how to use their ballot. His walk rate was impressive at 14.1 percent, but he lacked even the slightest semblance of power, and his playing time was fairly limited.
In 1999, Chavez started the season in Single-A Columbia, and he continued to come up short in the power department. While he managed a .341 on-base percentage, walking in almost 12 percent of his plate appearances, but he collected only nine extra-base hits--and no homers--in 253 at-bats, good for a slugging percentage of .292. He did steal 20 bases in this short span of time, but he was nabbed 12 times, producing a poor 63 percent success rate. Upon promotion to High-A, Endy recovered at the plate thanks to a .346 batting average on balls in play, hitting .311/.385/.421 with 13 extra-base hits in 183 at-bats. Please note that's the product of a high BABIP, as it's central to Endy's up and downs throughout his career.
In 2000, Endy repeated High-A St. Lucie, and once again hit for no power. Twenty-two years old in the Florida State League ball with no power and poor baserunning isn't an attractive package, so the Mets left him unprotected for the Rule 5 major league draft. The Royals promptely picked him, but they ended up offering Chavez back to the Mets and then trading Michael Curry for him on the same day, in order to give Chavez more time in the minors, time he very clearly needed.
Chavez began the 2001 season at Wichita, and after hitting .293/.353/.363--with the lowest walk rate of his professional career thus far--the Royals called him up to play for Kansas City. That went about as well as you might expect, as Chavez hit a very poor .208/.238/.234; that's a 472 OPS for those keeping score at home. He was optioned back down to Triple-A Omaha, where the BABIP fairy sprinkled fake improvement dust on his head. Endy hit .337/.333/.394--with a .385 BABIP--in 104 at-bats for Omaha, somehow not walking the entire time, but cobbling together a shiny batting average. The Royals had seen enough of Endy, and placed him on waivers following the season. The Tigers snatched him up in December, but then placed him on waivers and lost him to the Mets in February. The Mets then placed him on waivers for the third time in three months, and he was snagged by the Expos.
However much he'd been bobbled about, Chavez responded by putting together the most productive season of his professional career thus far at Ottawa, and that was followed by a promotion to Montreal:
AB AVG OBP SLG SecA XBH% ISO 2B+3B BB% K% SB% Ottawa 405 .343 .392 .467 .225 27% .124 33 7.3% 8.2% 61.7% Montreal 125 .296 .321 .464 .192 38% .168 13 3.6% 11.6% 37.5%
On the surface, the Ottawa season looks productive, but his Secondary Average was fairly poor. Chalk that up to his awful stolen base success rate, as his work at the plate was useful enough, thanks to a .371 BABIP. He managed a .255 Equivalent Average in Montreal, which wasn't all that far below the positional average for centerfield. This season by no means made the teams that placed him on waivers look foolish, but it was certainly a step in the right direction for Chavez's drifting career.
Baseball Prospectus 2003 had not quite given up on Endy yet, but it wasn't exactly enthralled with him either:
Chavez won the International League batting title in Ottawa last year while handling center field respectably. Called up to the big club, he fared well, grabbing just enough playing time as the starting center fielder to at least hint at future success. Chavez should get first crack at the job on Opening Day, unless the Expos have three great prospects and $100 million lying under a rock in Verdun for a Carlos Beltran trade. We'd like Chavez's long-term outlook a lot better if he'd add 30 walks a season.
The 2003 and 2004 seasons were much less positive, and more reflective of Endy's abilities at the plate:
AB AVG OBP SLG SecA XBH% ISO 2B+3B BB% K% SB% 2003 483 .251 .294 .354 .190 29% .103 30 5.9% 11.2% 72.0% 2004 502 .277 .318 .371 .279 22% .115 26 10.1% 10.1% 71.0%
His walk rate was awful again in 2003, and the power just was not developing. It appears as if he was finally able to steal bases at a decent clip though, with two years in a row over the productive base stealing threshold after a slew of poor minor league performances. Coupled with his defense, he was a useful fourth outfielder and pinch runner, but the Expos were using him as their starting center fielder.
Baseball Prospectus 2005 recognized the problems inherent in this type of player:
This is a dangerous player. His batting average is high enough that he looks like a good enough hitter. He'll steal enough bases that you'll want him for that. His range and speed are good enough that sometimes he'll come in a long way to catch a shallow fly and look like a solid defender. Managers bite on these kinds of players, and suddenly they're at the top of the lineup every day. As a result, guys like Chavez have the potential to wreak havoc on a team far out of proportion to their modest talents. Compared to Jim Bowden, that's small potatoes.
Bowden actually disposed of Chavez almost immediately, sending him to Philadelphia in exchange for Marlon Byrd on May 14. Chavez had initially started the year in Triple-A New Orleans, and after a brief call-up to the Nationals, was sent back down. He stuck with the major league club in Philadelphia though, and hit a poor .215/.243/.299.
This brings us to 2006, and Endy's .306/.348/.431 season line. PECOTA forecasted .269/.317/.350; although an improvement on his 2005 performance, that certainly left a great deal to be desired. His 90th percentile projection predicted a .309/.359/.411 season, with a .272 Equivalent Average. Considering he finished with a .271 EqA, you'd have to think that Endy reached the upper limits of his potential. How'd he do this, though, after three consecutive poor seasons, and an awful minor league track record? The same way he produced randomly productive seasons in the past: with the help of batting average on balls in play.
Year P/PA FB% LINERD% GB% POPUP% HR/F BA/BIP 2004 3.7 28.1% 15.6% 56.3% N/A 4.7% .293 2005 3.9 22.0% 15.6% 59.6% 2.8% 0.0% .245 2006 3.6 18.0% 17.7% 59.6% 4.7% 5.8% .341
His flyball tendencies dropped slightly, and he added a few more grounders per year, but nothing largely significant happened in his batted-ball types over the course of three seasons. The key difference comes in his BABIP, which ballooned almost a hundred points relative to 2005, and roughly sixty against 2004. Using expected BABIP, a general formula for estimating BABIP put together by Dave Studeman, we can see that Endy outperformed expectations by a long shot. Expected BABIP is LINERD% + .12, so we would expect Chavez's BABIP to come out to an even .300, given his line drive rate.
He is well over that for whatever reason--most likely due to the high number of grounders that he hits--but that's something that can be expected to fall back next season. Subtracting the .041 bonus from his BABIP yields a season line of .265/.307/.390 line, much more in line with expectations. It is possible that Chavez has improved at the plate to some degree: his line drive percentage increased, and he hit more homers per flyball than is normal for him as well, but he should still remain as a fourth outfielder, rather than a starter. Unless of course your only other option is Shawn Green, who seems to be reacting to every ball in play as if it were the first he's ever seen, chasing them down with an urgency usually displayed by Bradypus variegates.
Chavez has his uses. He's learned to run the bases much more effectively in recent years--putting up an 80 percent success rate this year--and he has plus defensive ability as a corner outfielder. Endy accumulated 8 FRAA as a part-time player, and had a respectable year at the plate. When properly deployed, Chavez can be much more of a help than a harm. His 2006 season is not a sign of things to come though. That doesn't mean you can't enjoy the incredible display of defense the Beltran/Endy tandem are putting on in the NLCS for us right now. Just temper your enthusiasm for 2007.