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January 8, 2010

Baseball Therapy

Free-agency Personals

by Russell A. Carleton

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33 y/o four-corner player with proven track record of power hitting seeks team in need of proven veteran left-handed hitter. I enjoy hitting ground balls and the occasional walk, whether by the beach or not. I used to be a swinger in my early days, but I've since changed my ways. Wanna have some fun this summer? Call my agent.

Imagine if free agency worked like one of those online dating sites. You log on, read a four-line intro filled with half-truths and decide whether you want to spend the next six months with this person. You pick one that at least sounds interesting. Then you meet, spend some time together, and you find that he's better than some of the other jokers you've found on the site. You watch a few games together, and he moves in. That's when you find out that the half-truths from the bio are only 90 percent true.

For example, let's take the above personal ad of Mr. Aubrey Huff. Huff enters free agency after spending a few years in Baltimore, and then being shipped off to Detroit for the second half of the 2009 season. He really is 33(we think), but while he carries the reputation of being a four-corners guy, the truth is that he hasn't played in the outfield in a couple of years, didn't play third base in 2009, and for the most part, he didn't play first base much either. Worse still, defensive metrics haven't been too fond of his contributions at any of those positions, even going back a few years; there's a difference between being willing to stand in the vague area of a position on the baseball diamond and being any good at it. So, he's a designated hitter/occasional first baseman type who might be able to fool a team into believing that he can "help out" at third.

Huff's big problem is that he had a big season one year too early. In 2008, Huff ranked 16th in VORP among all major-league players (as a DH!), while posting a spiffy .304/.360/.552 line and 32 home runs. In 2009, his performance fell to .241/.310/.384 and 15 HR. Which one is the real Huff? More to the point, which one will be the 2010 Huff?

Huff's agent will no doubt try to sell a team on those 32 homers in 2008 and get them thinking about how it could happen again. It's not likely. In 2008, Huff, who had been a pretty steady 46 percent ground-ball hitter saw his GB rate drop to 40 percent. The extra air balls, combined with a spike in his rate of HR/FB led to a 30-homer season. In 2009, his ground-ball rate returned to normal and his home-run total came down. It's hard to hit a lot of home runs when you hit almost half your balls into the ground. But an odd thing happens once you've logged a 30-homer season; it's kind of like logging 30 saves. At that point, you are a "proven power hitter," which is much like being a "proven closer." That word "proven" does strange things to people, who seem to mistake it for "guaranteed to repeat."

There's one other curious thing about Huff that is worth noting. When Huff played in Tampa Bay from 2001-06, he would swing at 68 percent of pitches he saw in the strike zone, and about 22 percent of the pitches outside of the zone. When he got to Baltimore in 2007, his pattern shifted notably. He began swinging at fewer pitches in the strike zone (~63 percent) and more pitches out of the strike zone (~26 percent). Sometimes a player will make a conscious effort to swing more or less overall, but in this case, it looks like Huff fell into some bad habits (or was getting some bad advice). His out-of-zone contact rate did jump from 53 percent to 63 percent, but in his 2 years in Baltimore, his batted-ball profile didn't change, and his strikeout rate went up. All that swinging wasn't doing much positive for him.

Aubrey Huff is a textbook case in a player who looks better when you describe him in four lines than when you study him up close. So what sort of team might go for him? He won't cost a draft pick, so that's not a concern. It's hard to figure out. His lack of a true defensive position makes him better suited to an AL team, but his "versatility" might persuade an NL team to give him a shot. His numbers in 2008 garnered him a few MVP votes, while his numbers in 2009 put him below replacement level as a DH. He's the sort of guy that really should start only on a bad team and come off the bench for a good one. But he'll probably demand the sort of money that a team wouldn't justify spending on a bench player with no defensive value and probably would be a little rich for a rebuilding team. Might the Royals take a swing at Huff? After non-tendering Mike Jacobs, they are short a veteran DH/1B type if they get nervous about handing the job to Kila Ka'aihue. Huff could provide them with some pseudo-comfort.

Any way you slice it, though, Aubrey Huff is a bad date waiting to happen. It's not that he'll be completely worthless. He'll probably do some useful stuff, play with the kids, and have a few nights where he's just magic. He's probably not the scary stalker type, but he's the sort of signing that really only ends in heart-break for everyone involved. Just like most of those online personals.

Russell A. Carleton, the writer formerly known as 'Pizza Cutter,' is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

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

Related Content:  Aubrey Huff

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

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BurrRutledge

Russell, I could be wrong, but I believe VORP is truly a hitter's stat. WARP accounts for the defensive contributions. Again, I could be wrong.

I think the Mets would bite on that personal you wrote, however.

Jan 08, 2010 09:38 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Colin Wyers
BP staff

It turns out that the one defensive metric that we can call agree on is that the spread of defensive performance at the DH position is zero - no DH is more valuable defensively than any other. And VORP does account for position.

Now, you're still likely to see differences between the metrics, even for a full-time DH. The two have some methodological differences in how positional baselines are figured, for instance. WARP is powered by Equivalent Runs/Equivalent Average, while VORP is powered by Marginal Lineup Value.

Jan 08, 2010 10:49 AM
 
Patrick Ferrington

VORP is a hitters stat but it is adjusted by position which is why you see SS pop up near the top of the list even though they don't hit as well as several 1B/DH's around them.

Jan 08, 2010 10:54 AM
rating: 2
 
Scott D. Simon

Great read, thanks.

Jan 08, 2010 09:39 AM
rating: 1
 
One Flap Down

Baseball personals. Interesting.

Maybe they could be compiled and called Roger Craigslist.

Jan 08, 2010 10:13 AM
rating: 11
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

Rimshot!

Jan 08, 2010 13:27 PM
 
hyprvypr

I'm inclined to think Russell Branyan would do a nifty Aubrey Huff inpersonation for about half the money.

.250/.320/.500 and decent 1B defence for 2 yrs/9 mill sounds about right.

Jan 08, 2010 10:17 AM
rating: 0
 
BurrRutledge

[can't reply to Colin and Patrick due to IE8 settings, so posting here]

Maybe I'm being daft.

Huff was 16th in VORP, and his value is being compared to the other DHs in the league. But since the positional adjustment is already within the VORP formula/baseline, I don't understand why any added emphasis is required. He's 16th - end of story.

What I inferred from the inclusion of "as a DH!" was that Russell found it necessary to point out that as a DH he didn't get any added bonus for being a good defender whereas the position players did get a boost. So his ranking at #16 is even more outstanding since it didn't include defense.

Anyway, I really liked the article, even if that line confused me a bit.

Jan 08, 2010 11:08 AM
rating: 0
 
elm
(41)

Not to speak for Russel, but a SS ending up 16th on the list will have worse raw number than a 1B of a DH ending up 16th. So, Huff was 16th despite having his raw number downgraded to account for position. That's why I thought there was emphasis.

Jan 08, 2010 12:20 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

You're inferring my intention properly. I was drawing attention to the fact that as a DH, to achieve a high VORP, you have to have a really really good year, better than what you would need as a shortstop.

Jan 08, 2010 13:29 PM
 
TGisriel

As an Orioles fan who watched Huff play in 2007, 2008 and the beginning of 2009, I strongly believe that 2008 was a fluke season.

He was pathetic for the Orioles in 2009, and worse for the Tigers after the trade. I would stay well away from him.

Jan 08, 2010 11:15 AM
rating: 1
 
HoldSteady

Something about Aubrey as the name of a guy in a personals ad just seems strange.

Jan 08, 2010 12:18 PM
rating: 0
 
elm
(41)

I don't know what his OF defense would look like, but could Huff do a credible imitation of what Hinske did for the Yankees last year? I think the Yanks should be in the market for someone like that unless they re-sign Damon or someone else you'll be able to play everyday without worry in LF.

Jan 08, 2010 12:22 PM
rating: 0
 
Schere

I fully agree with the evaluation of Huff. I do think the market has him pretty well figured out, though. So I think this is just plain wrong:

"But he'll probably demand the sort of money that a team wouldn't justify spending on a bench player with no defensive value and probably would be a little rich for a rebuilding team. "

If he wants to play, he'll take an incentivized 1 yr deal. Heck, he might have to take a minor league deal.

Jan 08, 2010 13:31 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

He's the type of player that will probably hang around until mid-Feb, and then when a team gets really nervous and decide that they need a "proven veteran" he'll be sitting right there.

Jan 08, 2010 13:41 PM
 
hessshaun

I think what he is really implying is that if you respond to this personal ad, you will eventually contract Crabs. It won't matter if he brought them along from the Chesapeake, Detroit, or any other stop along his ML career. Do not pass go, he needs a new occupation.

Jan 08, 2010 14:03 PM
rating: -1
 
oira61
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Go ahead and block this comment: Are all of your columns going to be lengthy, snarky put-downs, particularly of Orioles? I can just read Sports Illustrated for that.

Jan 08, 2010 16:04 PM
rating: -7
 
oira61

Come to think of it, Omar Daal, David Segui and Marty Cordova were pretty bad signings, and that Glenn Davis trade was a disaster. You can get a month's worth of columns out of that! Can't wait to read your incisive take!

Jan 08, 2010 16:34 PM
rating: -3
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

Legthy? Probably. Depends how much my daughter lets me write. Snarky? Oh yeah. Oriole-centric? Nah. The Orioles are just one of 30 teams.

To their credit, the Orioles have said they don't want Huff back and had the good sense to flip him to Detroit and get something for him mid-season.

Plus David Segui got a HOF vote, so he can't be all that bad.

Jan 08, 2010 18:05 PM
 
R.A.Wagman

How is this article putting down the Orioles? This article is about a Free Agent, who happens to have been an Oriole in recent seasons.

Jan 09, 2010 07:11 AM
rating: 0
 
Worthing

2 for 2 Russell. 'nother nice article.

Jan 08, 2010 22:41 PM
rating: 0
 
Dan McKay

Great article.

Jan 09, 2010 12:07 PM
rating: 0
 
worldtour

Re the Orioles in this article: It's the implication of bad advice to swing outside the strike zone...combined with that special breed of defensiveness belonging to Baltimore.

Jan 10, 2010 09:59 AM
rating: 1
 
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