After almost 10 years as a utility player, Mark DeRosa should finally have a starting job out of spring training in 2007 as the Cubs‘ second baseman. DeRosa signed a three-year, $13 million contract, which isn’t much in the scheme of things–especially considering this market–but is a considerable raise over the $675,000 he made in 2006. Considering the relatively low cost, DeRosa will most likely be worth the deal value wise in terms of dollars, but the more important question is whether or not his production merits a starting spot in the first place.

DeRosa was all-state in both football and baseball at Bergen Catholic High School in Oradell, NJ, and was the starting quarterback for the University of Pennsylvania from 1993 to 1995. He was drafted in the seventh round of the 1996 amateur entry draft by the Atlanta Braves, selection #212 overall, and was sent to Low-A Eugene for his professional debut. His first three years in the minors were fairly mundane:

          AB   AVG/OBP/SLG  SecA  XBH%  ISO  2B+3B  BB%   K%
Eug.(A-) 255 .259/.355/.341 .227  24%  .082   14   13.0%  16.4%
Dur.(A+) 346 .269/.318/.387 .185  24%  .118   14    6.7%  19.7%
Gre.(AA) 461 .267/.351/.384 .234  29%  .117   28   11.5%  10.9%

Besides the nifty walk rate, his debut at age 21 was somewhat unimpressive, and his follow-up campaign was even less productive, although he did pad his power numbers somewhat. His walk rate recovered in Double-A Greenville during the 1998 season, and he even managed to cut his strikeout rate almost in half–a notable achievement, especially while moving up a level. Overall though, he was still sub-star talent at the plate.

DeRosa would spend almost all of his 1999 season playing for Triple-A Richmond, and his results were poor: .272/.317/.335 with walks in only 5.5 percent of all plate appearances, but he did manage to hit .295 after June 1, slightly salvaging what was otherwise a dreadful season. That batting average level would carry over to the next two seasons at Richmond, with DeRosa also managing to increase his power output at the same time:

           AB   AVG/OBP/SLG  SecA  XBH%  ISO  2B+3B  BB%    K%
Ric.(AAA) 370 .292/.359/.392 .227  26%  .100   25    9.0%   8.6%
Ric.(AAA) 186 .296/.351/.425 .242  36%  .129   18    8.1%  10.5%
Atl.(MLB) 164 .287/.350/.390 .183  23%  .103    8    6.5%  10.3%

The batting average remained quite steady, as did the on-base percentage–although his walk rate dipped slightly a bit each year, down to 6.5 percent in the majors–and he managed to actually knock a few extra-base hits around, posting the highest Isolated Power of his career in his last stop at Richmond. DeRosa even managed a walk-off homerun for his first major league dinger, hitting it off of Graeme Lloyd on July 21 to beat the Expos at Turner Field.

Over his minor league career thus far, his Batting Average on Balls in Play remained fairly steady; it was as low as .290 at Greenville, and as high as .327 during 2001 at Richmond, but for the most part it was in the .312 to .317 range. This leads one to believe that his improvement in the minors was real, but that still leaves him the type of hitter he looked like during the second half of 2001 in Atlanta.

Baseball Prospectus 2002 did not feel like DeRosa and the Braves was a match-up that would last:

DeRosa’s window of opportunity for a full-time career with the Braves borders on nonexistent. He has a pair of younger players (Marcus Giles and Rafael Furcal) already ahead of him, and guys such as Wilson Betemit and Kelly Johnson coming up behind him. If Furcal isn’t 100% in camp, DeRosa could get real playing time in April and May, but it’s more likely that he’ll settle into a role as one of the better utility infielders in the game.

Outside of a 55 at-bat stint at Richmond, along with an even shorter stay at High-A Myrtle Beach, DeRosa remained on the Braves major league roster for the 2002 season. At Myrtle Beach and Richmond, DeRosa played second base, and when he came back to the majors made starts at second, short, left, and right field. He also hit well for a utility player, banging out a .297/.339/.429 season for a .264 EqA while fulfilling his comment rather deftly.

Baseball Prospectus 2003 gave us an interesting situational comparison for Mark DeRosa:

After the Braves soured on Marcus Giles, they gave DeRosa a look at second base, and he didn’t do anything to dissuade them from letting him stay there. He seems to be on track to become the Braves’ Placido Polanco-someone who’s overqualified to be a reserve and might be just good enough to hold a regular job.

PECOTA forecasted a .266/.328/.370 line for the 2003 season, and DeRosa managed .263/.316/.383, a .001 point difference in OPS. His BABIP had slipped ever so slightly down to .303 from that .312-.317 range, and would fall even further in 2004, down to .281. PECOTA had forecasted a .256/.321/.370 line for the year, but DeRosa would only put together .239/.293/.320, the worst season of his professional career. Baseball Prospectus 2004 may have had some of the explanation for DeRosa’s odd season prior to its occurrence:

DeRosa’s got some weird trends lurking beneath those dreary statistical lines. His strikeout totals and pitches have increased markedly over the course of the past two seasons, while he’s cut his GB/FB ratio in half. That could be a sign of either burgeoning power or a slowing bat, or maybe a sort of identity crisis: Who really wants to be associated with the Denny Hockings of the world?

Chalk part of the dreadful performance up to poor luck on batted-balls, since his LINERD% was around 20 percent and his BABIP was only .281–his expected BABIP is around .319 in that situation–but that still leaves DeRosa as a .277/.331/.358 hitter or roughly thereabouts; not exactly a stirring performance, even for a utility infielder.

DeRosa would be granted his free agency following his awful 2004, and would sign with Texas to fill the role of utility player there. PECOTA forecasted a .252/.309/.373 line, and his comment was somewhere south of positive:

Most seasons, DeRosa can be a serviceable utility infielder, but, as a regular, he’s stretched like Bob Guiney trying to be a troubadour. He opened the 2004 season as the Braves’ starting third baseman, but a .223/.276/.317 line as a regular prompted the Braves to move Chipper Jones and his prop-comic glovework back to the hot corner. DeRosa’s torn ACL should be fully healed by spring training, but it’s too soon to know whether it’s cost him any mobility. If he’s no longer able to perform spot duty in the middle infield, then he no longer has any business being on a major league roster.

DeRosa was able to resurrect his bat somewhat in Texas by hitting .243/.325/.439, but his BABIP was only .267, whereas his expected BABIP was .306. Whatever was causing DeRosa to underperform his BABIP so significantly two seasons in a row cost him a .282/.364/.478 season, which would have been the best of his career to that point. No worries though, as lady luck realized how many bad vibes were going DeRosa’s way, and reversed the situation during the 2006 season:

2004  3.6   32.2%  19.9%  47.9%   N/A    3.6%  .281   .319
2005  3.9   34.5%  18.6%  46.9%  10.3%  18.3%  .267   .306
2006  3.7   28.8%  22.6%  48.6%  11.6%   9.9%  .348   .346

He managed to stay afloat in 2005, even with the poor BABIP, due to a serious power spike. As you can see, he was well below his estimated BABIP two seasons in a row, but is right in line with it in 2006. Considering that, one would expect DeRosa to be able to repeat his 2006 line of .296/.357/.456, or at least replicate it closely, no? These figures are actually quite misleading: as Christina Kahrl pointed out last week, DeRosa’s burst of production in 2006 was contained almost entirely within the beginnings of the season, rather than the latter portion.

In this Prospectus Notebook piece from July 7 of 2006, DeRosa’s line drive percentage and lofty BABIP were covered. The part to take away from it is this line:

DeRosa’s Line Drive percentage is the highest among players with 250 plate appearances, and it is well above the 20% level of performance he set previously. His Batting Average on Balls in Play is incredibly high as well, second only to Joe Mauer‘s .424 mark, with the same plate appearance caveat. His BABIP is actually in line with his expected BABIP though–.406; LD% + .12 gives you expected BABIP–so it should fall back to the mean as his line drives start to regress.

Regress they did: on July 7, his LINERD% was 28.6 percent, and DeRosa finished at 22.6 percent, which means he was playing well below that level of line drivery during the second half of the season. One other item to note is that his Infield Flies per Flyball increased from 2.2 percent (again, July 7) all the way to 11.6 percent, in line with the previous year’s output. As has been said countless times before, baseball is a game of inches, and it seems as if these inches turned DeRosa into a superhero for almost three months before quietly throwing him back into the realm of mortals for the remainder.

Considering he only slugged .397 from July 1 onward, it’s hard to say that he’ll be an overly useful second basemen for the next three years. Rate has him as an average to slightly above average second basemen defensively, but he’s also 31 and won’t be increasing his range or bat speed anytime soon. He is a career .273/.331/.404 hitter, and may be capable of a bit more pop as evidenced by his short power surge in 2005-2006, but it’s just as plausible he will be slugging under .400 any of the next three years. His Equivalent Averages have been essentially average for a second basemen the past two years, so the hope that he can help the Cubs is somewhat reasonable, especially when you consider they are coming off of a season where Ronny Cedeno, Neifi Perez, Jerry Hairston Jr., and Tony Womack all played anywhere from 11.7 to 36.7 Adjusted Games at the position. The Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez signings show that the Cubs fancy themselves contenders from here on out, and even if that notion ends up misguided, at least it won’t be with Neifi! or Womack manning second.

Marc Normandin is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. You can reach Marc by clicking here or click here to see Marc’s other articles.

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