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July 18, 2011

Prospectus Hit and Run

The Replacement-Level Killers, Part II

by Jay Jaffe

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Continuing what we started on Friday, the Replacement-Level Killers is our semi-annual all-star team of ignominy, highlighting the positions at which poor production threatens to sink contenders, plus each team’s options as the July 31 trade deadline approaches. I've loosely defined contenders as teams no more than five games out of a playoff spot, so this turkey shoot now includes the Twins—who have won 3 of four since the All-Star break—as well as the also sub-.500 White Sox and Reds, while excluding the 47-47 Mets. Having gone around the infield and behind the plate the last time around, we turn to the outfield and designated hitter. Note that while I'm using WARP here, the criterion isn't as strict as having a WARP below zero.

Left Field: Delmon Young (.234 TAv, 0.0 WARP), Rene Tosoni (.209 TAv, -0.1 WARP), Twins
The Twins had the majors' worst overall production at catcher and second base through the All-Star break, yet they got a pass in Friday's piece because I didn't consider them contenders. They'll have to face the music here, because Twins left fielders have outhit only those of the Orioles and Mariners. Young, the top overall prospect in 2006, finally broke out last year with a .298/.333/.493 showing, but he has regressed to just .269/.293/.352 this year. Tosoni isn't much more than a future fourth outfielder; his weighted mean PECOTA projection was for a .247 TAv.

Remedy (?): The Twins could use either Denard Span or rookie Ben Revere in left once the former returns from his concussion, though the latter's performance to date (.278/.314/.320 for a .243 TAv) isn't exactly a big improvement on Young. Jason Kubel (.310/.355/.465) is resuming his rehab assignment after missing all of June and July due to a foot sprain; he could help, too. If the Twins wish to go outside the organization, Josh Willingham has a track record for pop and patience which belies his performance thus far in Oakland (.247/.322/.439 including a recent post-DL hot streak). With the large Target Field outfield a consideration, Scott Hairston may be a better option; a much better defender than Willingham, he has been underutilized but effective for the Mets (.258/.333/.517 in 99 plate appearance).
 

Center Field: Alex Rios (.201 TAv, -1.1 WARP), White Sox
You've heard of an injury stack, when the cumulative effect of two players being out of commission makes the problem worse because of a lack of depth. Well, here we have a crap stack, because as bad as left fielder Juan Pierre has been (.275/.334/.322, even with a torrid July, and in consideration for the left field spot here), Rios (.207/.256/.301) has been much, much worse, lost in a manner reminiscent of his horrendous late-2009 performance after Sox GM Kenny Williams plucked him off the waiver wire. The good news is that the Sox only owe him another $43 million through 2014; maybe Ozzie Guillen should be allowed to fire Williams instead of the other way around.

Remedy (?): They could shift Pierre back to center field after calling up Dayan Viciedo to play left; Kevin Goldstein noted last week that the 22-year-old Cuban defector is tearing it up in Triple-A (.320/.370/.526 with 16 homers and much-improved plate discipline). Pierre's defensive lapses in left don't bode well in center field, however, and it's a stretch to think that farmhand Lastings Milledge (whose lifetime line of .269/.328/.395 would be respectable under these circumstances) can handle the middle pasture flanked by Viciedo and Carlos Quentin given his lack of recent experience there. The same might be said for Carlos Beltran, though the Sox could cross their fingers and hope that a half-season in right field has provided enough of a break for his knees that he could handle the job for a few months. Among other pending free agents, Kosuke Fukudome (.270/.373/.363) hasn't played much center field since 2009 and has platoon issues, but he'd be an upgrade. David DeJesus isn't hitting much for Oakland (.226/.315/.343) and hasn't played center field regularly since 2008, but he too could be available, as could teammate Coco Crisp (.261/.308/.382).
 

Right Field: J.D. Drew (.250 TAv, 0.8 WARP), Red Sox
Playing like someone aged well beyond his 35 years—and more or less confined to a platoon role—Drew is hitting just .228/.326/.317 with four homers in 261 plate appearances; were it not for above-average defense (4.7 FRAA), he'd be even closer to replacement level. When you factor in the handiwork of the now-departed Mike Cameron and other lesser lights, Sox right fielders have combined to hit .221/.301/.345, good for the third-lowest OPS of any team at the position. That Drew is in the final year of his five-year, $70 million deal makes nudging him aside a bit easier.

Remedy (?): Josh Reddick, a 24-year-old lefty, is hitting a searing .379/.413/.682 through 75 plate appearances, but that's obviously unsustainable; even with that performance, he owns just a .251/.285/.455 line through 200 career plate appearances, and his .249 TAv weighted mean PECOTA forecast suggests regression is in store. The Sox are aiming beyond a mere playoff berth and have the resources to go outside the organization to shore up the position, so Beltran is the obvious answer; he's hit .287/.381/.512 while playing half his games in pitcher-friendly Citi Field, and his .319 TAv ranks 10th overall in the league. The aforementioned Willingham, who has more experience in left field, would be a more modest improvement. If the Red Sox merely want a platoon partner for Drew, they could get—wait for it—Jeff Francoeur; against lefties, he's hit .310/.348/.607 with seven homers in 92 plate appearances and owns a lifetime line of .299/.344/.491 against southpaws. Yes, really.
 

Designated Hitter: Adam Dunn (.221 TAv, -1.7 WARP), White Sox
Now it may seem as though I'm just picking on the South Siders, but in actuality, Dunn has been the least valuable player in the entire majors this season, hitting .159/.290/.300 overall and only slightly better (.179/.307/.330) while serving as a DH—this from a player who was supposed to be an ideal fit for U.S. Cellular Field. That Paul Konerko, Quentin, and other Sox have combined to hit .341/.441/.604 during their half-days off has allowed the team's overall production at DH to remain middle of the pack.

Remedy (?): Dunn signed a four-year, $56 million deal, so releasing him isn't really an option, but given that his slump is only getting deeper (.119/.220/.248 in 123 plate appearances in June and July), you may as well stick him in a rowboat and hand him a fishing rod with instructions to come back next spring. Beltran and Willingham are the obvious upgrade options, and if the Twins take another turn for the worse, Jim Thome (.221/.346/.442) might make sense on a return engagement if he could stay healthy for five minutes; he can still hit the ball a long, long way. Speaking of 40-year-olds, there's also Jason Giambi, who bashed his 10th home run of the year for the Rockies on Sunday; he's hitting .278/.377/.667 in just 106 plate appearances.
 

Dishonorable Mentions
There isn't always a clear-cut "winner" when choosing the Killers, so what follows is a very quick rundown of what I've deemed to be the second-worst situation of a contender hemorrhaging runs without addressing the problem.

Catcher: John Jaso (.232 TAv, 0.3 WARP) and Kelly Shoppach (.223 TAv, -0.1 WARP), Rays. A problem even before Jaso went to the disabled list with an oblique strain, this one isn't going to be solved by Jose Lobaton.

First Base: Aubrey Huff (.244 TAv, 0.2 WARP), Giants. The defending champions overlooked Huff's erratic track record when re-signing him to a big-money extension, but now he's a pumpkin again, and Brandon Belt is rehabbing a wrist fracture.

Second Base: Orlando Cabrera (.224 TAv, -0.3 WARP), Indians. Neither Luis Valbuena nor Cord Phelps offer as much hope of solving this problem as prospect Jason Kipnis does. He can provide walks, speed, and some power; Kevin covered him in detail on Friday.

Shortstop: Reid Brignac (.182 TAv, -0.3 WARP) and Elliot Johnson (.237, 0.1 WARP) Rays. Tampa Bay's shortstops are hitting just .210/.258/.307, good for an OPS just two points higher than dead-last Cincinnati.

Third Base: Casey McGehee (.212 TAv, -0.9 WARP), Brewers. He's slightly worse than shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt (.211 TAv, 0.0 WARP) and much closer to the bottom of the pile at his position.

Left Field: Juan Pierre (.246 TAv, 0.9 WARP), White Sox. I actually wrote up a full capsule before realizing the Twins had pulled to five games back and their situation was worse. The Sox have worse problems than left field, but with Viciedo, they have the easiest solution here—a no-brainer, really.

Center Field: Nate McLouth (.254 TAv, 0.5 WARP) and Jordan Schafer (.240 TAv, 0.2 WARP), Braves. McLouth was last year's "winner", and his improvement has been only incremental, particularly with the higher offensive bar in left field, and Shafer's subsequent exposure, during Martin Prado's absence.

Right Field: Torii Hunter (.249 TAv, -0.1 WARP), Angels. All things considered, they've gotten worse production here than in left field now that Vernon Wells (.262 TAv, 1.2 WARP) has heated up.

Designated Hitter: Jorge Posada (.262 TAv, -0.1 WARP), Yankees. He's hit a reasonable .287/.355/.434 since the Big Sitdown, but the Yankees rank among the AL's worst in terms of overall DH production, and with Jesus Montero festering at Triple-A, it may be time to see what he's packing, bat-wise.

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

Related Content:  Left Field,  Right Field,  The Who,  WARP,  TAv

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