CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Future Shock: Monday T... (04/27)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Prospectus Today: Ladi... (04/24)
Next Column >>
Prospectus Today: Let'... (04/29)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: ... (04/28)

April 27, 2009

Prospectus Today

Changing Gears

by Joe Sheehan

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.


a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

Baseball is not a meritocracy. The assignments of playing time is often a complex and occasionally inscrutable process that can drive outsiders, even informed ones, quite mad. Simply playing better than the other guy isn't always enough; there are roster and contract considerations, for one, and we know that the industry has an infatuation with experience that all too often becomes self-destructive. Throw in imperfect evaluations of performance, and a tendency to undervalue on-field traits at the expense of off-field ones, and you can see how sussing out why Player A is in the lineup instead of Player B can be almost impossible.

As we near the end of April, though, some fairly simple contrasts are developing, situations that teams won't be able to ignore much longer if they want to put their best foot forward to win, to contend, or just to convince the fan base that those two things might be possible someday.

For instance, Felix Pie has yet to take advantage of the big break he got in being traded to the Orioles. Installed as their platoon left fielder, Pie has started 14 of the 16 games the Orioles have played against righty starters, batting seventh or eighth in those games. He has not hit at all: .167/.259/.229, with 13 strikeouts in 48 at-bats, and one steal in three attempts. I wrote in the offseason about how adding Pie to an outfield that already included Adam Jones and Nick Markakis could be a boon for a pitching staff that lacked talent, and while that still holds true, no amount of defense is going to warrant playing someone who can't post a 500 OPS.

Pie is just 24, and he was jerked around by the Cubs for the past couple of seasons. They called him up before he was ready in April 2007, largely because he had a gaudy batting average at Triple-A, and he hit .224/.240/.388 in three weeks before being demoted. Three weeks later, after Pie tore up Triple-A some more, they tried him again, this time for five weeks: .211/.290/.322, with six steals in seven tries. His walk rate was actually pretty good in that time, but the batting average killed his chance to stay. The Cubs went to Pie again at the start of last season, but dumped him for Jim Edmonds in May after an opening .222/.286/.286 run. I'm not going to say that I know for certain what the optimal break-in path for a prospect is, but I know that ain't it.

The Orioles have been patient with Pie, but that patience is being sorely tested not just by his performance, but that of prospect Nolan Reimold. As Kevin Goldstein noted earlier today, Reimold hit three homers over the weekend and is now batting .417 at Triple-A. He's not the defender Pie is, and he doesn't have a high upside, but this is the third straight season and third straight level at which he's hit. Although the Orioles are scoring 5.5 runs per game but allowing 6.5, and so may not want to trade defense for offense, the gap between Pie's production and Reimold's may force their hand soon. The Orioles tabbed Luis Montanez for a bench role, but it's Reimold who is the better player and prospect.

Left field should be a concern for the Indians as well; like the Orioles, they've seen a credible offense hampered by lousy pitching in the season's first three weeks. Like the Orioles, the Indians have gone with a glove man in left field, Ben Francisco. A product of their system, Francisco has the skill set of a fourth outfielder, providing good defense on the corners, decent speed that doesn't translate to basestealing, and some power. He doesn't have a large platoon split to exploit-795 career OPS against lefties, 752 against righties-though his walk and strikeout data do indicate a greater level of comfort against southpaws. The Indians have failed to surround Grady Sizemore with worthy players for some time now, and need to do better than Francisco, who is about 90 percent of Juan Encarnacion at the latter's peak.

Enter Matt LaPorta. The main prize in the CC Sabathia trade last summer is killing Triple-A in his first visit there, batting .400/.478/.767, with more walks (seven) than strikeouts (five) in 67 plate appearances. He's handling the outfield corners well enough to have undercut the idea that he can't stay out there, so while he'd be a defensive downgrade from Francisco, he wouldn't embarrass himself. Unlike Pie and Reimold, there's no platoon to be had here, but there is an offense/defense fit. Francisco is best used as a defensive replacement and spot starter for Shin-Soo Choo or Travis Hafner against lefties. With LaPorta in the majors, the Indians would have the big righty bat that they're currently missing. A team that's going to have to win a lot of 7-6 games would be one step closer to doing so by promoting LaPorta.

It was two years ago that the Brewers were the focus of this type of argument. Although off to a good start and leading the NL Central, they were getting nothing from third base while prospect Ryan Braun was batting .825/.990/2.640 at Triple-A. (Statistics approximate.) Braun arrived May 25 and won the Rookie of the Year award by ripping 34 homers in just 113 games. His defense at third base was ghastly-enough to push him to left field by Opening Day 2008-but his bat would have played even had he played third with a blindfold and a bullet wound.

Well, the Brewers are back in the same boat this year, though the details are not quite as extreme. Mat Gamel is a proto-Braun in that he has hit at every level, including a .403/.481/.806 start at Nashville this year, and that he plays third base like Keanu Reeves plays Willy Loman. His long-term spot, like Braun, will be somewhere else, but right now the Brewers have young stars on the three other corners and show no signs of trading any of them-they sold off LaPorta last summer in part because of the logjam. However, the Brewers don't have quite the same need for a third baseman, as Bill Hall has reclaimed the job and is batting .281/.328/.456 while playing strong defense.

Or more accurately, they don't think they do. I'm going to choose this moment to run stats that I run about every three months or so. Ladies and gentlemen, Bill Hall's 2009 platoon split: .205/.279/.333 against RHP, .444/.444/.772 against LHP. For the umpteenth season in a row, Bill Hall is not qualified for a regular lineup spot against righties, and is one of the biggest lefty-mashers in the game. And for the umpteenth season in a row, the Brewers are going to hamstring themselves by pretending this isn't the case.

Bill Hall simply can't hit righties (.300 career OBP, .242 last year, .305 in 2007). Mat Gamel is one of the best left-handed hitters in the majors. Do you see... where I am going... with this? The Brewers have had issues with lineup balance for years, and the solution has a 1200 OPS one level down. The upgrade from Hall to Gamel over five months-actually, to a Hall/Gamel platoon-would be 40 to 50 runs, and with some giveback on defense, that's still three to four wins. There's not a team in baseball that shouldn't take that kind of upgrade. The Brewers have deluded themselves about Hall for years. It's time they stop doing so and get their best lineup on the field.

Sometimes, the decisions are difficult. In these three cases, though, it's easy to see that teams can dramatically improve with just one transaction, one move that adds runs to the scoreboard, aligns the talent better-and in all of these cases, a promotion would effectively improve the bench as well-and allows a good young player to play.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

22 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Jeff Evans

Joe, every year I think an AL team or 9 should offer the Brewers pitching for their seemingly annual supply of great bat/lousy glove prospects to help fill their DH roles.
It's maybe too bad Selig volunteered the Brew Crew to move to the NL 'cause they have a lot of good potential DH's every year.

Apr 27, 2009 14:41 PM
rating: 2
 
Richie

PECOTA projects Gamel at 760 OPS overall. With platoon advantage, figure 800 OPS? So you bring in a hideous defender and start his service clock earlier, in return for a gain of about 150 OPS 2 out of every 3 days.

My guess the mathematics work out such that, if Gamel comes up the exact same day as Wieters for the exact same reason, that would perhaps be optimal. Yes the Brewers are in a pennant race. On the other hand, the difference between Gamels/Hall is significantly less than the Wieters/Zaun-or-Moeller difference. Massively less, perhaps.

Apr 27, 2009 14:48 PM
rating: 2
 
brooksmarlin

BP and PECOTA have continually touted and defended Felix Pie. And while he certainly seems "tools-y" and kills the ball in AAA, he has yet to be able to show he can hit Major League pitching. At what point does it stop being "the Cubs jerked him around" (which they did) and "he has yet to take advantage of his chances" to simply "Felix Pie is not a Major League baseball player"? How many chances does this kid need?

Apr 27, 2009 15:46 PM
rating: 2
 
Richie

BP and PECOTA have continually touted and defended Carlos Pena. And while he certainly seems "Sabers-y" and kills the ball in AAA, he has yet to be able to show he can hit Major League pitching. At what point does it stop being "the As/Tigers/Yankees/WhomeverElse jerked him around" (which they all did) and "he has yet to take advantage of his chances" to simply "Carlos Pena is not a Major League baseball player"? How many chances does this kid need?

Apr 27, 2009 15:58 PM
rating: 9
 
dankingdc

He's already that player. He's taking more pitches. He's walking more. He's striking out less. He's hitting more line drives.

You just don't see it in his numbers because he's been so BABIP-unlucky this year. His predicted line based on his batted ball splits is a pretty decent .263/.341/.400.

Apr 27, 2009 16:00 PM
rating: 2
 
Aaron/YYZ

Agreed, the peripheral numbers are clearly there: 11.1 BB%, 24.2 LD%. Those two are both well above the major league average and would normally indicate a hitter that's absolutely stinging the ball. Instead, we find a .206 BABIP that's underperforming by roughly 150 points. Give him time and let a larger sample size more clearly bring to light how well he's playing.

Apr 27, 2009 18:16 PM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

I don't know what the specific answer is, but I do suspect we define "chances" differently. Three weeks of regular play (which is basically the longest extended trial Pie has ever gotten) isn't a "chance." I can't imagine how hard it is to hit major-league pitching; to try and do it with the idea that the result of every PA determines whether you get the next one strikes me as frightening, especially in a game where outputs don't always match inputs.

Not every player who didn't make it got a fair trial. Some players--Willie Greene comes to mind, maybe Roberto Petagine, Hee Seop Choi post-injury--were mishandled by their employers. Right now, Pie's track record looks more like those guys.

Apr 27, 2009 16:24 PM
 
Richard Bergstrom

Corey Patterson comparisons aside, I don't know if Pie is going to turn it around. In 2007, I saw him here in Denver when the Cubs played the Rockies and he was, sorry to say, grabbing his crotch 10-15 times between each pitch. It got to the point where fans started counting out loud for each time he did it. I saw him in 2008 and the problem wasn't as bad, but still there. I don't know if he's doing it this year, and those shots seem conspicuously absent from TV, but I just don't see how someone can hit if they are that distracted.

Apr 27, 2009 17:19 PM
rating: -1
 
Richie

As relevant and informational as this comment is, boy oh boy I sure could have lived without.

Other than I have renewed respect for the TV crew. "those shots seem conspicuously absent from TV". Thankyouthankyouthankyou!

:-)

Apr 27, 2009 20:23 PM
rating: -2
 
Richard Bergstrom

By the look on the guy's face that was sitting next to me, I'm sure he would've preferred watching the game on TV with his family too.

Apr 28, 2009 08:15 AM
rating: -1
 
saucyjack88

"... with a blindfold and a bullet wound." Love it!

Apr 27, 2009 16:52 PM
rating: 0
 
tribe24

Agreed, but the contract factor is clearly coming into play here with the Indians, and probably the Brewers. The Indians may be favoring, rightly or wrongly, 1 extra year of LaPorta (in his prime) over 2 months of LaPorta now, and you couldn't fault them for that decision. The Brewers may be doing the same with Gamel...

Apr 27, 2009 20:04 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

That problem has been solved already. Keeping them down now affects arb eligibility only.

I'd add that manipulating promotions for that extra year really only makes sense for the very best prospects. I can see it with Braun, Gordon, Longoria, Wieters, Price...the guys whose peaks will be just that good and who will be 27 or 28 in that extra year. Guys who are going to be your best players.

We've started applying that logic to every prospect, and it's often not warranted. Having LaPorta's age-30 season, Gamel's age-29, when these guys will be left-end bats with little defense or speed...not as important, not when you can maybe win with them now. For pitchers, I don't think it makes sense at all, given the unpredictability of the breed. Gary made this point better than I.

Apr 27, 2009 22:28 PM
 
TGisriel

Wieters also missed about 4 days with a cranky hamstring, and returned this week. I'm sure the Orioles are also making sure he is fully healthy before calling him up.

Apr 28, 2009 13:28 PM
rating: 0
 
battlekow

"Keeping them down now affects arb eligibility only."

That's not true. Gamel got 28 days of service time last year. He needs to stay down until ~May 15th to delay his free agency.

Apr 29, 2009 09:54 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

You're right, I'm wrong. I thought Gamel was a late, late add to the roster based on him barely playing. He actually was up 9/3/08.

Thanks for that correction. With that said, I'm standing by the notion that Gamel isn't someone who's age-30 season you sweat right now.

Apr 29, 2009 10:27 AM
 
shamah

"Mat Gamel is one of the best left-handed hitters in the majors." I assume you meant to write "minors" there. Otherwise, fantastic article.

Apr 28, 2009 06:19 AM
rating: 0
 
SaberCubbie

"His defense at third base was ghastly—enough to push him to left field by Opening Day 2008—but his bat would have played even had he played third with a blindfold and a bullet wound." Love this quote Joe! Great piece.

Apr 28, 2009 07:04 AM
rating: 0
 
Joe

"he plays third base like Keanu Reeves plays Willy Loman."

That one almost got coffee on the monitor. I need to stop reading these in the morning.

Apr 28, 2009 07:52 AM
rating: 2
 
Vilica

plays third base like Keanu Reeves plays Willy Loman... A+

Apr 28, 2009 10:23 AM
rating: 1
 
eighteen

My favorite is from BP 2009's commentary on Johnny Damon, to the effect that Damon's arm is to throwing what Jason Giambi is to interpretative dance.

That page has coffee stains all over it.

Apr 29, 2009 08:35 AM
rating: 1
 
Drew

Not sure how having Gamel over Hall would gain you 50 runs this season on offense, but it would probably be a slight upgrade. With his defensive limitations I think it might be close to a wash.

Apr 29, 2009 23:29 PM
rating: 0
 
You must be a Premium subscriber to post a comment.
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
<< Previous Article
Premium Article Future Shock: Monday T... (04/27)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Prospectus Today: Ladi... (04/24)
Next Column >>
Prospectus Today: Let'... (04/29)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: ... (04/28)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Fantasy Article TTO Scoresheet Podcast: Talking Keepers and ...
Fantasy Article Player Profile: Neftali Feliz
Fantasy Article Fantasy Players to Avoid: Relief Pitchers
Premium Article Rumor Roundup: Trout Pulling the Trigger
Premium Article Raising Aces: Under the Gun 3.0
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: All the Reliever News ...
Some Projection Left: The Severino Enigma

MORE FROM APRIL 27, 2009
Premium Article Future Shock: Monday Ten Pack
Premium Article The Mariners Matter?
Premium Article Under The Knife: I Can See Clearly Now?
The Week in Quotes: April 20-26

MORE BY JOE SHEEHAN
2009-05-04 - Prospectus Today: Taking Wing
2009-05-01 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Pitching Diagnostics
2009-04-29 - Prospectus Today: Let's Get Real
2009-04-27 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Changing Gears
2009-04-24 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Ladies and Gentlemen, Toni...
2009-04-23 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Schedule Strength
2009-04-20 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: The End of the World
More...

MORE PROSPECTUS TODAY
2009-05-04 - Prospectus Today: Taking Wing
2009-05-01 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Pitching Diagnostics
2009-04-29 - Prospectus Today: Let's Get Real
2009-04-27 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Changing Gears
2009-04-24 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Ladies and Gentlemen, Toni...
2009-04-23 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Schedule Strength
2009-04-20 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: The End of the World
More...

INCOMING ARTICLE LINKS
2009-04-28 - Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Updates from the Easts