By far, the most common question showing up in my mailbox this week–during
those periods when I’ve actually had access to my e-mail, thank you,
Time Warner–concerns Red Sox third baseman Shea Hillenbrand.
Hillenbrand, who did not make the cut for
Baseball Prospectus 2001,
did make the Sox roster thanks to a .423 batting average in 52 spring at-bats.

The problem is that Hillenbrand’s primary skill is hitting for average. He
did not draw a single walk in Florida, continuing a trend that has seen him
walk fewer than 100 times in 2,032 minor-league at-bats. Drafted as a
catcher, a knee injury suffered in 1999 moved him out from behind the
plate, and he’s now a first baseman/third baseman.

Keith Law, our resident Red Sox expert, offered this evaluation of

"He's a hacker, and ex-catcher who blew out his knee and will
probably never catch again. He plays a passable third base at best,
probably destined to be a first baseman with a Rico Brogna bat. The
Trenton guys were high on him, but I don't think he's really in Boston's
long-term plans."

Here’s Clay Davenport’s Wilton projection for Hillenbrand:

 AB    H   D  T  HR  BB  SO   R  RBI  SB CS  OUT  AVG  OBP  SLG  EqA EqR
469  132  23  1  13  16  42  58   56   5  3  340 .281 .305 .418 .239  47

A .239 EqA from a corner infielder isn’t going to push the Sox towards a
title. The three-year, $14.9-million contract just handed to Jason
–and there’s a column in that move alone–makes it pretty clear
that they don’t intend to move Hillenbrand back behind the plate.

What does that leave? It leaves the Sox giving a job to a player based
solely on 52 spring training at-bats. More specifically, they gave him the
job because six or seven balls dropped in for singles, giving him an
impressive batting average in a small sample. That’s the kind of
overreaction to short-term performance we often criticize, not admire, and
I want to thank the many readers who mentioned it.

Now, I praised Jimy Williams for his willingness to assign roles to players
based on what he felt was best for the team, and not just based on who had
a big contract. I’ll stand by that, because in general it’s the right thing
to do, and in the specific case of platooning Dante Bichette with
Scott Hatteberg, it probably helps the Sox. It would help more if
they’d get Morgan Burkhart on the roster.

But as I said at the end of Tuesday’s column,
the Sox are probably best off
with Jose Offerman playing second base full-time. Whether than means
reducing the roles of Hillenbrand or Chris Stynes–himself an
inadequate third baseman–I’m not sure, but it’s fairly clear that Shea
Hillenbrand isn’t a solution to the Red Sox problems.

Next week, we’ll have a look at all the players who made Opening Day
rosters who, like Hillenbrand, were absent from BP2K1.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Contact him by

clicking here

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