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November 20, 2013

Transaction Analysis

Giant LOOGY

by Sam Miller

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IN THIS ISSUE

National League

NEW YORK METS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed 1B-L Brandon Allen to a minor-league contract [11/19]

There are blockquotes for the lazy writer, blockquotes for the reformed plagiarist writer, blockquotes for the short-of-time writer. And then there are the Quad-A blockquotes. A Quad-A player is, after all, a very special type of player, living under a cursed compulsion to repeat the same season, and same offseason, over and over. His minor-league numbers are always good (indeed, often improve with age) and his major-league journeys are always short and disappointing. The only thing that changes is the uniform, like a page-a-day calendar, and thus the blockquote serves to chronicle his monotony:

The chic comparison to make in cases like these is to Carlos Peña. A former A’s first baseman himself, Peña has mastered the art of surviving as a three-true-outcomes hitter. The difference is this: as often as Peña strikes out (and he has finished top-five in his league in five seasons), Allen strikes out even more often. Allen has fanned in almost 36 percent of his major-league plate appearances, compared to Pena’s 26 percent.

Yet, even with all that stated you should still expect another team to grab hold of him, due to the upside involved. The biggest obstacle is that Allen lacks options, so a team that wants to work with him on shortening his swing or fine-tuning his pitch recognition will have to do it over the course of a major-league season. That isn’t easy for the team or the player, but an organization in need of power off the bench or an upside play at first base could be excused for giving Allen a go.

The Mets are an interesting match for a Quad-A first baseman. While Allen is a minor leaguer who occasionally gets promoted, Ike Davis is a major leaguer who occasionally gets demoted. Allen is unlikely to slug his way back to the majors—even coming off a four-year-low strikeout rate—but he's understudying the first baseman most likely to slump his way to the minors.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed INF-L Reid Brignac to a minor-league contract [11/19]

Brignac is a reminder that baseball is unpredictable but never, ever unprecedented.

  • Reid Brignac, High-A California League, age 20: .326/.382/.557
  • Jeff Mathis, High-A California League, age 20: .323/.384/.500

Meanwhile,

  • Reid Brignac, big leagues: .221/.262/.311
  • Jeff Mathis, big leagues: .195/.255/.310

The Phillies already have Freddy Galvis for the role he'd fill, but with Kevin Frandsen eligible for arbitration and Maikel Franco likely a year away, Brignac provides a bit of depth in case third baseman Cody Asche's second trip through the league goes sour. He's not fast, he doesn't hit righties enough to offer a platoon or pinch-hitter's value, and his defense got sloppy when Colorado Springs used him as a true utility man.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Traded LHP Kris Johnson to Minnesota Twins in exchange for RHP Duke Welker [11/19]

Seller's remorse, perhaps? Months after trading Duke Welker to the Twins for Justin Morneau, the Pirates got him back—this time sending 28-year-old minor-league vet Kris Johnson to Minnesota.

Johnson is more the Twins' style, and I don't need to finish this sentence for you to know with about 97 percent certainty what his minor-league stats look like. He's a lanky lefty coming off two sterling ERA seasons, both driven more by BABIP and strand rates (and a solid, if not special, groundball rate) than any great leap forward. "I've been pitching to contact and letting my defense do all the work," Johnson said, seductively.

Welker never appeared in a game after the trade. He's a 6-foot-7 righty with a 97-mph fastball and, yet, almost no swing-and-miss in his arsenal. When in doubt with suspects, bet on height.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Agreed on base years and salary with LHP Javier Lopez [11/19]

In 2013, Javier Lopez had the lowest ERA of his career. He had the best strikeout rate of his career, by far, and the lowest walk rate, by far. But for one homerless 2011 season, he would have had the lowest home run rate of his career. His FIP was nearly a run lower than his previous career-best, which was set the year before.

But a LOOGY is often only as good as the rest of his bullpen. As Lopez ages, his approval ratings in the City rival those of SFBatKid. A fair portion of credit goes to Brian Sabean, not just for finding and keeping Lopez, but for supplying a steady supply of co-stars who keep the pressure off Lopez.

In 2010 and 2011, 53 percent of the batters Lopez faced were right-handed. But since then, Sabean's knack for finding bargain bullpens—not just 28th-rounder Sergio Romo in the ninth inning, but waiver claim Santiago Casilla and minor-league free agent Jean Machi—has kept Lopez on the bench against righties. And the Giants' many commitments to Jeremy Affeldt as a strong second lefty option have lessened the pressure to make Lopez tread right-handed bridges to the next lefty in the lineup. Over the past two seasons, then, he has faced just 38 percent righties.

Which is notable, because Lopez hasn't technically improved. Against lefties:

2010/11: .162/.248/.215
2012/13: .173/.224/.263

And against righties:

2010/11: .292/.377/.388
2012/13: .353/.427/.461

This isn't to suggest anything unwelcome about Lopez. He's one of the best lefty specialists of our lifetime, trailing only Aroldis Chapman and Eric O'Flaherty in lefty-on-lefty violence over the past four seasons. His ambush drop-down pitch is one of the deadliest pitches in baseball, and his ability to suppress lefty power—one lefty home run in the past three seasons—is particularly impressive considering the disproportionate number of middle-of-the-order hitters assigned to him. No, it's more to suggest something quite flattering to the Giants, who increasingly put him in a position to succeed. They're as prone to year-to-year reliever fluctuation as any club, but they have shown quite the skill for building and using a bullpen. Lopez, for another year, is more of the same.

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

Related Content:  Javier Lopez

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