April 11, 2007
After a disappointing 2006 season, Brewers manager Ned Yost placed Geoff Jenkins into a platoon with newly acquired teammate and fellow corner outfielder, Kevin Mench, making him one-half of a Menchkins outfielder. Despite some initial protesting about wanting to start, the two players tore up spring training, and have continued to beat up opposing pitching the first two weeks of the regular season. As a bit of a tribute to a platoon that certainly should-and most likely will-continue, let's take a look at both Geoff Jenkins and Kevin Mench for this week and next, starting with the long-time Brewer.
Geoff Jenkins was originally drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 24th round of the 1992 amateur draft, but he chose to attend USC rather than sign. Jenkins was honored with various awards during his time as a college ballplayer, winning a few Pac-10 Conference All-Southern and All-American team honors, as well as a Pac-10 Southern Player of the Year award. The Brewers made him the ninth overall pick in the 1995 amateur entry draft, and he would sign on shortly afterward, beginning his professional career with Helena in the Pioneer League. Jenkins would finish up the year at Double-A El Paso, which was quite the jump for someone playing their first half-a-year out of amateur ball:
Year Team AB AVG/OBP /SLG XBH% ISO 2B+3B BB% K% 1995 Helena(Rk) 28 .321/.375/.393 11% .072 1 9.4% 34.4% 1995 Stockton(A+) 47 .255/.373/.489 42% .234 2 17.5% 21.1% 1995 El Paso(2A) 79 .278/.341/.418 32% .140 6 9.2% 26.4%
The words "Geoff Jenkins" and "strikeouts" became associated with one another fairly quickly in his career; fortunately for Jenkins, his walk rates were impressive. The at-bat sample for all three levels is well short of meaningful, but it has to be positive to see a hitter with 75 professional at-bats under his belt not turn into a pumpkin in his first intro to Double-A. Jenkins would start out his 1996 campaign with a return to High-A Stockton, but he earned a call-up to Double-A once again, with much improved results:
Year Team AB AVG/OBP /SLG XBH% ISO 2B+3B BB% K% 1996 Stockton(A+) 138 .348/.433/.529 31% .181 12 12.7% 20.3% 1996 El Paso(2A) 77 .286/.391/.494 45% .208 9 13.5% 23.6%
Extreme BABIP and small samples seem to go hand in hand, and Jenkins' 1996 is no exception. His high batting average is the product of a .437 BABIP in just 138 at-bats; Jenkins has almost always maintained a well above-average BABIP rate, but .437 is somewhere north of ridiculous. His walk rates were excellent, and he showed a bit more pop in his bat than he had during his debut season. There were some issues though, mainly that of where it was that Jenkins would play. His primary position in Double-A was DH, and his other playing time was spent in the outfield. He also had shoulder surgery in 1996, which limited his playing time a bit. Baseball Prospectus 1997 was intrigued by Jenkins:
Jenkins is a very strange player. It's not often that a player can't find a defensive position at this point in his career. His stroke looks very sharp to me; he waits back exceptionally well, then explodes into the ball nice and smooth. Then again, I've always been a fan of Doug Jennings' swing, too. Not a fast man; can barely outrun continental drift or Robin Ventura.
For a guy who is criticized for his speed, Jenkins has quite a few triples to his credit to go along with his home run and doubles power. It was this power that caused the Brewers to promote him to Triple-A for the 1997 season, but thanks to his high BABIP figures from both stops the year before, he probably was not entirely ready for the promotion:
Year Team AB AVG/OBP /SLG XBH% ISO 2B+3B BB% K% 1997 Tucson(3A) 345 .236/.308/.409 45% .173 27 8.7% 22.9%
His BABIP was just .288, which was not that far below league average, but is well below his subsequent career BABIP in the majors of .330. His walk rates were a bit lower than they were previously, but his strikeout rates didn't escalate, and his power was still there, although he hit just .236. Baseball Prospectus 1997 mentioned that Jenkins, "has quick hands, and can get caught up trying to pull everything," not the best traits to have as a young hitter, although not always detrimental either. Jenkins would repeat Triple-A in 1998, although this time it was for Louisville after Milwaukee switched affiliates:
Year Team AB AVG/OBP /SLG XBH% ISO 2B+3B BB% K% 1998 Louisville (3A) 215 .330/.381/.512 30% .182 14 5.9% 16.5% 1998 Milwaukee(MLB) 262 .229/.288/.385 37% .156 13 7.1% 23.3%
You may think that cutting down on his strikeouts was a positive thing, but the reasoning behind it is solely that he was getting a little too hacktastic at the plate. You can blame some of the loss of production on his lowly .266 BABIP; given that he was swinging at everything, chances are good that he was making weak contact with a high percentage of pitches, adversely affecting his numbers quite a bit.
Jenkins' walk rates increased only slightly for the 1999 season, but whatever he did to work on his discipline at the plate helped him greatly-his batting line jumped to .313/.371/.564, and his BABIP to .351. That may seem high, but Jenkins' career line-drive rate is around 23 percent, meaning his BABIP should be in the .340-.360 area consistently, which it is. This was the start of Geoff Jenkins, Productive Corner Outfielder, but there were plenty of bumps in the road for him to deal with, namely broken bones, bum shoulders, and plenty of other injuries:
Year AB AVG/OBP /SLG XBH% ISO 2B+3B BB% K% 1999 447 .313/.371/.564 48% .251 46 7.3% 19.5% 2000 512 .303/.360/.588 48% .285 40 6.1% 26.4% 2001 397 .264/.334/.474 40% .209 22 8.3% 30.2%
In 2000, Jenkins broke his finger in May, which makes you wonder what he would have done had he not been hindered at all. He clearly struggled in 2001 while dealing with hand, shoulder, and thumb injuries before succumbing to a DL stint, and only hit .252/.302/.486 upon his return in late August. Despite the injuries there was a lot to like about Jenkins' production. Yes, his OBP was only in a neat place because his batting average was high, but he was a line-drive power hitter, making him useful as long as he sat back on pitches and drove them. The problem is, the ability to stay healthy is a skill as well, and no matter how many line drives Jenkins crushed for doubles or homers, his inability to stay anywhere close to 100 percent for an extended period of time was not a positive.
2002 was no different for him, as he struggled for most of the season before dislocating his ankle in a particularly ugly scene I still cannot really get out of my head. His pitches seen per plate appearance also fell to 3.5 during 2002, nowhere near where it needs to be for Jenkins to be successful. Luckily for him, his 2003 season was something of a return to form, even if he was not able to crack 500 at-bats:
Not only did his power and batting average come back, but he managed to jack his walk rate up over 10 percent while reaching 4.2 P/PA. Again, by taking more pitches, you often see better pitches to hit, and that is just what a guy like Jenkins needed to succeed. Unfortunately, 2004 did not work out as well for him-although he managed to play in 157 games, it was one of his poorer seasons in the majors:
Jenkins dropped down to 3.7 P/PA in 2004, and that impatience had a cascade effect in his numbers. His power was still there, but his batting average dropped over 30 points. Considering his low walk rates, he needs to have better discipline and pitch selection in order to succeed, or he is, at best, an average corner outfielder. Baseball Prospectus 2005 describes this very well:
The notoriously injury-prone outfielder set a career high with 157 games played, but in this case, quantity did not equal quality. His 2003 resurgence brought hope that he was returning to his previous levels of success, but 2004 was a disappointment. He still possesses the serious power that got him to the majors, but as a player who struggles to make contact and doesn't walk, he reaches first base about as often as Bill Gates did in high school. Thanks to the generous contract extension he received last March, Jenkins is now a very expensive average player who will consistently be mentioned in trade rumors for the next 18 months. To accommodate Carlos Lee, he'll move to right field.
Jenkins' best line-drive years are the ones where he is more patient, and that's not a coincidence. His 2005 season is solid evidence of this trend:
A 27.5 percent line drive rate is usually not sustainable, and was high enough to finish near the top of the 2005 leaderboard, but it helped vault Jenkins back into the land of productivity. Baseball Prospectus 2006 was not overly impressed, though, given Jenkins' age and other performances:
While settling into the elder statesman role quite nicely, like Paul Molitor before him, Jenkins has dispensed with his former reputation for fragility. Melvin spent the offseason fending off rumors that he was shopping Jenkins or Lee, but both are nearing that part of their careers where they'll get a lot less valuable in a hurry, and the Brewers have worthwhile alternatives in Cruz and Hart. But where Lee's in his walk year, Jenkins has at least $15 million coming to him in this season and next, and another $8.5 million if they pick up his option for 2008. That, and his uncanny resemblance to Brett Favre-we're in Wisconsin, Toto, it matters-should keep him in place for the rest of the contract.
Jenkins looked to still have value heading into his age-31 season, but the wheels came off against left-handers, ruining his usefulness as a full-time player. Despite a .337 BABIP and a line-drive rate over 22 percent, Jenkins only managed a .271/.357/.434 line, well below average for a corner outfielder. He hit right-handers fairly well, finishing at .306/.381/.490, but southpaws schooled him to the tune of .133/.265/.214 in 98 at-bats. Yes, the sample size is small, but those numbers are beyond awful, and it destroyed any chance of Jenkins having a decent season. That alone is reason enough for Jenkins to be put into a platoon with Kevin Mench, who has his own trouble against right-handers.
Jenkins has been all over the place with his batted-ball data, but his successful seasons almost always look the same:
Year P/PA FB% LINEDR% GB% IF/F% HR/F% BABIP eBABIP Diff. 2002 3.5 34.2% 19.6% 46.2% 3.2% 15.9% .283 .316 +0.33 2003 4.2 33.0% 25.4% 41.6% 4.9% 23.0% .342 .374 +0.32 2004 3.7 37.4% 19.5% 43.1% 5.7% 15.3% .311 .315 +0.04 2005 3.8 34.1% 27.4% 38.5% 4.3% 18.1% .352 .394 +0.42 2006 4.0 33.7% 22.3% 44.0% 9.9% 14.1% .337 .343 +0.06
Thanks to Jenkins' high line-drive rates, the difference between his BABIP and expected BABIP (eBABIP) is still fairly large, despite his generally high BABIP figures. You can chalk some of this up to his high groundball rates, as he is certainly not a speedster capable of legging out a lot of infield hits on grounders. He never popped up much until 2006, where his rates took off a bit. What is made clear by this table is that in the years where Jenkins had a lower P/PA, his line-drive rates were usually lower; 2005 doesn't fit into this category as much, but that's because he cut down on his grounders and flyballs significantly, and those balls in play need to be classified as something.
In order to be successful, he will need to cut down on those popups a bit, and try to keep his groundball rate down. By limiting his plate appearances by using him almost entirely against right-handed pitchers, the Brewers need Jenkins to be more productive in the playing time he does get; there certainly should not be as many weak popups or grounders against the right-handers he has beat up throughout his career, and if the opposition throws in a southpaw to face him late in the game, that's why Kevin Mench is on their 25-man roster.
Defensively, Jenkins is better off in left field than he is in right. The Brewers have better defensive options available to them for the other corner spot, and left field is no longer occupied by Carlos Lee. Jenkins may be criticized for not moving fast enough, but at least he's always been relatively athletic, and he isn't continually putting on extra weight the way a certain former Brewer has been accused of. According to David Pinto's Probabilistic Model of Range, Jenkins was basically average on flyballs in right, but line drives gave him a bit more trouble. Overall, he really is not all that bad defensively-certainly better than his reputation-but a move to left should help more than it will hurt.
Jenkins still has his uses, and if he is kept in a platoon all season in order to avoid facing left-handers, will be of great use to the Brewers. PECOTA is not all that enthralled with him, forecasting just .268/.345/.452 for him, but he should certainly hit better than that playing against RHP. He's hit .297/.366/.511 against them during the 2004-2006 seasons, while Mench has slapped lefties around at a .307/.379/.590 clip over the same time frame, so Menchkins should end up producing one of the better seasons for both players out there at left field. Combine that with the late-game platoon options against relief pitching-in a division with Tony La Russa, that's almost more than necessary-and you have yourself a handy justification for the use of the two roster spots.