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February 13, 2012
Prospectus Hit and Run
The Vortices of Suck, Part II
Picking up where I left off on Friday, we continue hunting the fish at the bottom of the major-league barrel in search of the positions where teams got the worst production—worse than the Replacement-Level Killers, but without the burden of toiling for a contending team. As with their catching and infield brethren, the following players helped produce tornado-level disasters amid their lineups, often at salaries that represented far more than just soft breezes running through their teams’ bank accounts. These are the Vortices of Suck.
Left Field: Delmon Young (.235 TAV, −0.5 WARP), Rene Tosoni (.232, −0.6), Twins
Remedy (?): With Denard Span hopefully past the concussion that cost him half the season, the Twins are banking that Revere can better the meager .267/.310/.309 line he managed as a 23-year-old rookie. Sadly, whatever he does is likely to represent subpar production for a left-spectrum position, increasing the burden on the Twins’ other hitters—and this is a team whose catchers and second basemen attained Vortex of Suck status this year. The 24-year-old Benson would be a better choice in left field. Though he hit just .239/.270/.352 in a late-season cup of coffee, the four-star prospect has shown considerable power and plate discipline in the minors; last year, he hit .285/.388/.495 with 16 homers in 472 PA at Double-A New Britain.
Dishonorable Mention: Nolan Reimold (.282, 1.7), Luke Scott (.256, 0.2), Felix Pie (.205, −0.5), Orioles. Baltimore left fielders combined to hit just .215/.285/.333 last year, with Pie (.192/.250/.238 in 141 PA) cratering in a platoon role and both Reimold (.245/.313/.421 in 262 PA) and Scott (.213/.294/.400 in 170 PA) worse than they were at other positions; the latter went down with a labrum injury in July and ended up needing surgery, which didn’t help matters any.
Remedy (?): With his IBS under control, Gutierrez has added 15 pounds of muscle through his off-season workouts, a marked change from the previous winter. “He couldn’t eat or lift weights last year,” said Mariners trainer Rick Griffin. Thus the M’s are hopeful the 29-year-old can recover some of his lost promise. Wells, a 27-year-old who was acquired in the Doug Fister trade, is another possible candidate for time in center; he has recovered from a balance disorder that shut him down in September with vertigo-like symptoms, and owns a career .263/.330/.471 line in 340 major-league plate appearances over the past two seasons—pop the Mariners could surely use.
Dishonorable mention: Alex Rios (.216, −0.7), White Sox. After a strong 2010 (.270 TAv, 3.1 WARP), the $69.835 Million Dollar Man ranked among the majors' biggest disappointments in 2011, hitting .228/.266/.350 during his time as the Sox center fielder. At least he's only owed $38 million over the next three years.
Right Field: Ichiro Suzuki (.242, −0.7), Mariners
Remedy (?): Ichiro is in the final year of his contract, and manager Eric Wedge has suggested not only that he might be moved out of the leadoff spot, but that he also won't automatically be in the lineup every day. As admirable as Ichiro’s work ethic may be, he needs rest so as to be deployed more judiciously.
Dishonorable Mention: Shin-Soo Choo (.272, 1.6), Kosuke Fukudome (.235, 0.1), Indians. It was a bad year for right fielders of Asian origin, okay? After two years of star-caliber play, Choo started slowly, then was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in early May. His slump continued, and more than a month later, he said the DUI incident was affecting his play, as he was concerned about fans’ perception of him. His misery continued; he was hit on the thumb by Jonathan Sanchez on June 24, lost six weeks due to surgery, and was limited to just 13 more games due to a recurrent oblique injury. Fukudome hit just .228/.278/.342 in his place.
Designated Hitter: Jack Cust (.254, 0.0), Wily Mo Pena (.253, 0.0), Mariners
Remedy (?): On January 13, the Mariners traded pitchers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos to the Yankees for top prospect Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi. Though he's risen through the minors as a catcher, most scouts—and the Yankees, apparently—feel as though the 22-year-old isn't a good enough defender to stick behind the plate. Fortunately, nobody questions his bat, which has drawn comparisons to Miguel Cabrera and Frank Thomas, and pushed him to seventh on Kevin Goldstein’s Top 101 Prospects list. Montero hit .328/.406/.590 in a 69 PA September callup after batting .288/.348/.467 during an uneven season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. While the Mariners will probably let him dabble behind the plate, they're almost certain to install him as their regular DH and simply let him mash. Given that the remedy for their three other Vortices consists of hoping that last year’s Sucker will do better, this represents their best chance at improving their lineup.
Dishonorable Mention: Adam Dunn (.218, −2.7), White Sox. Before I proceed with this explanation, please clear the room of all youngsters, because the numbers I'm about to show you are disturbing (never let it be said that I didn’t think of the children).
Signed to a four-year, $56 million contract last winter, Dunn had the season from hell, struggling with his swing during spring training, rushing back from an appendectomy he underwent one week into the season, and failing to adapt to the DH role after years of playing the field, albeit badly. He wound up hitting a miserable .159/.292/.277 with just 11 homers, down from the 40 a year he had averaged for the past seven seasons. While he was the majors' least valuable player, the Sox actually got a respectable .247/.357/.410 line from their DHs, because Paul Konerko mashed at a .348/.454/.541 clip in 163 PA in the role. Furthermore, Dunn actually produced better numbers as a DH (.176/.306/.315 in 346 PA) than as a first baseman (.122/.268/.174 in 138 PA). I wasn't kidding about protecting the young 'uns from that line.