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It was about a year ago that the Giants, down one Omar Vizquel after the veteran shortstop suffered a knee injury in spring training, opened the season with Brian Bocock in his stead. He was coming off of a .243/.312/.344 season in 2007, which would be problematic enough, but that line came in the Sally and California Leagues. It was an indictment of the Giants that the best replacement shortstop they could scare up internally was a guy who, defensive skills notwithstanding, was overmatched by High-A ball.

Predictably, Bocock was awful, batting.143 with one extra-base hit in 93 plate appearances. He did draw a dozen walks, which appears to have been the result of a plate approach best described as “take until I can’t take any longer.” The walks were paired with 29 strikeouts-nearly 40 percent of his at-bats. Sent to Fresno in early May, he hit .163/.254/.187 in 35 games. In retrospect, Bocock may have been the least-qualified major league player of the decade.

The Orioles also opened 2008 without a major league shortstop, instead running Luis Hernandez out as the regular to start the season. Hernandez had hit a stone-fluke .290 in a late-season cup of coffee in ’07, with one walk and three extra-base hits in 71 plate appearances. I can say this was a fluke because in nine separate stops over six minor league seasons, Hernandez had never batted higher than .273, and had cracked .270 just twice. At the time the Orioles anointed him, it wasn’t clear that he was qualified to play at Triple-A. His career batting average at the level was .217 in 108 plate appearances, without a single walk or stolen base, and just five extra-base hits.

Hernandez played better than Bocock did, starting 26 of the Orioles’ first 35 games and batting .243/.304/.257 in that time. He lost his job to Freddy Bynum at that point, and was demoted two weeks later, never to return. Like Bocock, he failed at Triple-A last season, with a .185/.216/.220 line. We can talk about defense all we want, but teams simply aren’t going to play players who are as limp with the bat and as unqualified to face major league pitching as Bocock and Hernandez are.

I’m not sure I can scare up any examples that are quite so ugly this year, but there are a number of teams that are heading into Opening Day with some unimpressive solutions, ones that could very well end up being sub-replacement before the year is out. For all of the focus on, say, Cody Ransom, the Yankees‘ patch for the absence of Alex Rodriguez is actually an acceptable workaround for an injury case. Ransom has a career major league line of .251/.348/.432 in 214 PA, and the worst thing you can say about him is that he’s a former shortstop without much experience at the hot corner. He would never have the job if not for the injury, but he’s not likely to fall below replacement level while he does have it.

No, a team with a real problem at third base is one of Ransom’s former employers, the Astros. Having allowed Ty Wigginton to leave as a free agent, and lacking any kind of prospects at most any position, the Astros will run Geoff Blum out there every day. A platoon with Aaron Boone was the original plan, but Boone will miss the season after being diagnosed with a heart ailment. Blum had an interesting peak after making the majors as a 26-year-old in 1999, with doubles power, walks, and some dexterity in the infield. Since 2003, however, Blum has deteriorated into an inadequate option even off of the bench: he’s been under a .300 OBP in five of six seasons, batting .247/.300/.371 in that stretch, covering more than 2,000 plate appearances. The idea that he can be a regular third baseman is ridiculous. The Astros would be better off moving Miguel Tejada over and starting Tommy Manzella‘s glove at shortstop. That alignment would be a significant defensive upgrade, something a team with the Astros’ low-strikeout rotation could use. (Come to think of it, we could include that rotation, which includes Mike Hampton, Brian Moehler, and Russ Ortiz, as a segment unto itself within this piece.)

Staying in Texas, the Rangers have moved Michael Young to third base to make room for shortstop prospect Elvis Andrus, a decision that may have come a year too soon. He’s a strong prospect with excellent tools, a player whose upside is that of an All-Star. However, some strong batting averages in good hitters’ environments since he was traded to the Rangers (.300 at Bakersfield, .295 in Frisco) have given the impression that he’s ready to make the leap to the majors, and that’s just not the case. He’s 20 years old and still learning how to hit. He strikes out far too often (91 in 482 AB last year) for a player who neither walks much (38) nor hits for power (25 extra-base hits and a .072 ISO). The combination of a lack of power and issues with contact do not bode well for Andrus, who is also a raw shortstop prone to errors. Upside is one thing, but putting an unready player on the field will cost the Rangers wins and possibly slow Andrus’ development. There’s very little reason to believe he’s capable of playing in the majors right now.

Here are some other particularly notable weak spots as we get set to begin the season:

  • The White Sox don’t have a leadoff hitter to speak of, which is how they’re going to end up with a center-field/leadoff platoon of Brian Anderson and either DeWayne Wise or Jerry Owens. Anderson is a strong defensive player, but he has a career OBP of .276 and has never posted a .300 OBP in the majors. PECOTA says he can get to .303 this year, with Wise projected at .296, and Owens at .271. When you’re wondering why we have the Sox projected for such a lousy season, look here first.

  • Luis Rodriguez is a career utility infielder who hasn’t batted more than 225 times in four major league campaigns. Thanks to a BA spike late last year and a willingness to work for scale, he’ll open the year as the Padres‘ starting shortstop. Unlike Bocock or Hernandez a year ago, Rodriguez isn’t a great glove man, and whatever offense he gave the Padres a year ago is likely to go away when his .307 BABIP reverts to the .266 career mark he carried into last year. Rule 5 pick Everth Cabrera is a pinch-runner, not a baseball player. The Padres’ shortstop slot could well end up as the worst position in baseball this year.

  • When the Pirates acquired Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen from the Red Sox in the Jason Bay three-way trade, I resisted the branding of the two players as “prospects.” Moss had established himself as a player without the power or OBP of a regular outfielder in the majors, a fourth outfielder who couldn’t really play center or run well enough to be a great bench option. In other words, a tweener. Regular playing time for the Pirates after the trade did not agree with him; he hit .222/.288/.424 with 45 strikeouts in 158 at-bats. A thumb problem has allowed veteran detritus Craig Monroe and Eric Hinske to play their way into the mix. No matter who emerges, this spot is going to be a hole until and unless the Pirates let Andrew McCutchen get his career started.

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lmajersik
3/30
It would be interesting to test the whole idea of replacement level by trying to fill these various holes with the best available players that can be signed for somethng near league minimum or be had in a trade for a C grade prospect. BP often slags GMs for running out sub-replacement level players, but I usually don't see a list of viable alternatives so I've never been convinced that a replacement level player can simply be conjured up by any team at any position.
eighteen
3/30
"When you're wondering why we have the Sox projected for such a lousy season, look here [leadoff spot] first." Isn't this a bit strong? Hasn't it been shown lineup order doesn't have a significant impact? I don't necesesarily disagree with the ChiSox assessment; but was it really based primarily on the lack of a leadoff hitter?
aaronbailey52
3/30
Lineup order does have an effect, albeit a smaller one than might be imagined. Basically you want Rickey Henderson batting leadoff and Albert Pujols batting second. The effect is to generate a few more at bats for your studs over the course of the season, putting a few more runners on, and consequently scoring and winning more often.
aaronbailey52
3/30
I was just a bit off. Here is an interesting read on the subject of lineup importance. I'm sure BP has done the same work, but Google found this one first: http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2009/3/17/795946/optimizing-your-lineup-by
flalaw
3/30
Guess it's down to Wise/Anderson, as Owens was released by the White Sox today.
ClubberLang
3/30
I'm glad they made the right decision. His injury last year allowed them to win their division -- it pushed Swisher to center and put Carlos Quentin in the lineup. Owens is a below average center fielder defensively, a speed guy who can't get on base and isn't even that good of a base stealer, and isn't young anymore either. They have guys with large platoon splits in Wise and Anderson, and their splits suggest they could get a passable OPS of about 750 from the combo with somewhat above average fielding prowess. The problem is less the platoon and more that they're sticking it in the leadoff spot -- their OBP will probably fall in the .310 range based on their past history platoon splits. The strength of the platoon is the .450 SLG that it would provide. Getz should be batting leadoff, he's more likely to put up at least a .330 or .340 OBP. We know what Anderson and Wise are by their MLB track record. Getz has at least put up some decent OBP in the minors and is a good contact guy. Still think they should get on the horn to the Yankees about Melky Cabrera -- there has to be some sort of exchange of spare parts these two teams can do. Cabrera might not be great, but he'd be better than what the Sox have, and the Yankees won't need him given Austin Jackson's presence. Seems the Yankees could find a use for a guy like Lillibridge in a superutility role -- the Sox were even playing him in center some this spring.
aaronbailey52
3/30
I'd like to see MLB change the rules for the DH so that it would be possible to DH for anyone you pleased. Got a great fielding/ salami bat shortstop and a slugging pitcher with a mean sinkerball? Let the pitcher hit and keep Bocock away from the plate.
flalaw
3/30
And although he's bounced around quite a bit, I'd hardly call Eric Hinske "veteran detritus"; he had an OPS+ of 107 last year in nearly 400 AB and 114 in nearly 300 AB in 2006. Despite sharing a platoon, Hinske doesn't deserve to be lumped in with Craig Monroe in the "veteran detritus" category.
leez34
3/30
I was going to say the same thing. Nothing wrong with a 4C backup like Hinske on your team at a reasonable price, especially if you're the Pirates. Glad to see more of your writing here, though, Joe. You are why I pay for BP. More, please.
Wilson
3/30
"the least qualified major league player of the decade" was good enough with the glove to put up a positive WARP.
wilykat
3/30
really? looks negative to me unless I'm misreading it... http://www.baseballprospectus.com/pecota/bococbr01.php
jivas21
3/30
His PECOTA card does not agree with his DT card.... http://www.baseballprospectus.com/dt/bococbr01.php Joe's point still stands, however - given all of the evidence that is available (you don't think he was going to keep fielding at a Rate of 120, do you?) and the unique circumstances surrounding his use, Bocock probably was the least qualified major leaguer of the decade.
Drungo
3/30
Earl isn't happy that "platoon" is now synonymous with "veteran detritus." That dig should be reserved for your team's second LOOGY.
wonkothesane1
3/30
Ah, the second loogy. Not quite as satisfying as that first loogy that took care of most of what you needed, but it's something you thought you needed to do and just ended up feeling painful about it because there wasn't enough stuff for the loogy to take care of so you're left with this scratchy pain in your throat. Wait, was I supposed to be talking about left handed relievers? Well, the description seems to work for both.
Arrian
3/30
There's also the Yankees CF situation. Brett Gardner has been dubbed the opening-day CFer. The alternative, for now, is Melky Cabrera. Those guys might not be historically bad, but now we're talking about starters (as opposed to the injury-backup/stopgap Cody Ransom) on a $200MM team.
kcshankd
3/30
I have a bad feeling the 2009 Royals second-sacker will be part of next year's article. I have May 18th as the day Hillman shrugs and starts writing 'Bloomquist' everyday.
irablum
3/30
As bad as PECOTA feels about Michael Young and Elvis Andrus, there is some good news here. Is it possible that Young's offense may improve when he moves to an easier defensive position? And certainly Young projects to be better defensively than the alternatives (Davis, an injured Blalock, or Travis Metcalf). He certainly projects to hit better than Metcalf. Inserting Elvis Andrus into the lineup might make two positions weaker, but that's only if Andrus can't outhit Travis Metcalf. Andrus: .248/.301/.334 Metcalf: .200/.259/.327 PECOTA (as shown above) believes Elvis can. Its already probable that switching Andrus for Metcalf will improve both positions defensively. The hope is that by improving the defense, it might help the pitching staff, and I think that EVERYONE agrees that the Rangers needs.
edewall
3/30
"The Padres' shortstop slot could well end up as the worst position in baseball this year." This sounds like a Hacking MASS-style contest waiting to happen.
Meatpacker
3/30
What about the Cardinals second base situation? If Skip Schumaker can't handle the transition to second base (and he hasn't played the position since at least 2001), the Cardinals would seem to have an utter black hole at second with Joe Thurston, Brendan Ryan (who probably hits lefties well enough to be that half of a platoon), Brian Barden, etc. the leading candidates for duty at that position. Yikes!
tercet
3/30
No hating on the Jays John McDonald?? He has a career batting avg of .236 over 10 years/1500ab, and is pretty much a defensive replacement.
ifyffe
3/30
McDonald's fielding makes him a replacement player, not a sub-replacement player.
rawagman
3/31
Which is the role McDonald will fill for the Jays this year - defensive replacement at SS - backing up Marco Scutaro. And as ifyffe mentioned, he gives his employers tremendous value with his glove.
fsumatthunter
3/30
Emilio Bonifacio is currently first on the 3B depth chart in Florida. There is no way that bat plays there.
psugator01
3/31
The Marlins actually consider Bonifacio their 2B of the future. They like him so much they traded for him. He may even start the season as their starting 3B.
jefferickson
4/01
Alfredo Simon and Adam Eaton FTW.