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November 17, 2011

Transaction Analysis

Suspect Second Basemen and Other Spare Parts

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

National League

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Signed 2B-R Aaron Hill to a two-year deal worth $11 million. [11/15]
Signed C-R Ryan Budde to a minor-league deal. [11/15]

Meet the hardest deal to evaluate of the offseason. When right, Hill is an above-average second baseman flirting with stardom. If only Hill were that simple. Inconsistency is a trait often attributed to players without much statistical support, but it resonates with Hill. Just look at his Wins Above Replacement Player scores over the last few seasons:

Season

WARP

2005

1.9

2006

2.7

2007

4.2

2008

0.3

2009

5.2

2010

0.9

2011

-0.2

The 2011 season was a microcosm of Hill’s larger issues. In 104 games with the Jays, Hill produced -1.4 WARP. Toronto then traded Hill to Arizona, where he played at a five-win pace in 33 games, racking up 1.2 WARP. Which version of Hill, if either, will show up in 2012 and 2013? No one knows. A return to the normalcy Hill achieved early in his career would be a welcome sight for the D-Backs and analysts relying on projections alike.

A catcher with a bat too anemic even for the Angels—Who knew such a creature existed?—Budde appeared in 29 games for Los Angeles of Anaheim from 2007-2010 and received 35 plate appearances. Since then, he has spent time in the Phillies and Blue Jays organizations. The most telling statistic of Budde’s is a .305 on-base percentage in almost 3,000 minor-league plate appearances. Budde works as organizational depth, nothing more.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Signed C-R Matt Treanor to a one-year deal worth $850 thousand with a club option for 2013. [11/15]
Signed 2B-R Mark Ellis to a two-year deal worth $8.75 million with a club option for 2014. [11/14]

The question worth asking about the Ellis signing starts with “Why.” As in: Why pay Ellis more than the Twins paid Jamey Carroll? Formerly a sabermetrics cause célèbre, Ellis moved on from Oakland last season in a trade to Colorado. Upon doing so, Ellis’s bat perked up, and he went 11-for-22 with six extra-base hits over his first five games with the Rockies. In the 263 other plate appearances he received with the Rockies, Ellis hit .253/.298/.340 with 13 extra-base hits. Offensive feebleness is nothing new for Ellis, who owns a .267/.317/.374 line since 2009. Blame some of that ineffectiveness on Oakland, but Chavez Ravine is no offensive dreamland, either.

Ellis turns 35 in June and has a lengthy injury history, having made at least one trip to the disabled list in each season since 2008. He remains a capable glovesman, by most measures, but an atrophy of skills brought on by the injuries is not out of the question. There is an old pitching saying that goes something like, “You can give a batter height or width, but not both.” You can give an older, injury-prone player like Ellis money or years, but not both. The Dodgers did.

More curious than the Ellis deal is the one signed by Treanor. Signing a veteran reserve to keep the seat warm for Tim Federowicz makes sense. Signing a veteran reserve for $1 million guaranteed (Treanor’s club option includes a $150,000 buyout) in mid-November whose value is limited does not. The problem here, besides wasted coin, is an inability to separate perception from reality. The perception of Treanor is that he is a defensive demon with a famous wife. Reality suggests that his defensive results are not that admirable. 

Treanor threw out almost 50 percent of attempted thieves in 2006—an impressive, if unsustainable tally that no doubt tainted his reputation’s well. In his other major-league years, his career-high in caught stealing rate is 28 percent. Meanwhile, Treanor’s career rate is just 26 percent—or about league-average.  If you believe Mike Fast’s study, then Treanor’s framing abilities are overstated, too. That Treanor’s receiving skills finish near former Dodgers backstops Dioner Navarro and Rod Barajas should amuse, if not horrify, the True Blue faithful. With a .206/.304/.291 line since 2009, the Dodgers are paying almost entirely for a myth and a warm body.

Tom Verducci wrote on Tuesday about the Dodgers’ attempt to involve more quantitative analysis in their approach. A prudent touch; too bad some of their signings this offseason seem inspired by a haruspex instead of numbers or scouting reports.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Signed OF/1B-L Mark Kotsay to a one-year deal worth $1.25 million. [11/15]

During the 2009-2010 offseason, the Padres signed Cliff Floyd to a one-year deal worth $750,000. Floyd, then 36, offered no defensive value after spending the previous year restricted to designated hitting. San Diego portrayed Floyd as a solution to their pinch-hitting problems, but the team also valued his clubhouse presence. He would make 17 trips to the plate for the Padres before his season, and subsequently his career, ended.

Kotsay feels like Floyd 2.0. With eroding physical skills, Kotsay does not offer much at the dish or in the field, but he can provide value behind closed clubhouse doors. When Kotsay does play, Bud Black needs to keep him away from lefties. To wit, Ron Roenicke and Ozzie Guillen limited Kotsay’s exposure to lefties these past two seasons by arranging it so that more than 90 percent of his plate appearances came versus righties.

There is nothing ostensibly wrong with using a bench spot on clubhouse glue. The problem is that the Padres’ payroll may fall below $50 million for the third consecutive Opening Day, and giving a player whose only above-average skills are qualitative more than the league-minimum is a questionable allocation of resources. Consider Kotsay’s deal reaffirmation that it pays to be a nice guy in baseball.


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

Related Content:  Aaron Hill

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