Archive for the ‘Rays’ Category

You Don’t Mess with the Zobrist

June 22, 2009

“Part of the payoff for Aubrey Huff, [Ben] Zobrist is less the Shortstop of the Future then [sic] the shortstop of right now. Too old to be considered a high-ceiling prospect, he’s still a solid player with great command of the strike zone. He doesn’t have much power to speak of, but if he can catch the ball and get on base, he’ll be plenty serviceable for the time being.”
Baseball Prospectus 2007

“While he’s made it pretty clear that he’s [sic] doesn’t deserve a starting shortstop job, Zobrist is still a fundamentally sound defender with good on-base skills who will likely fill Josh Wilson’s bench spot next year, but do it better.”
Baseball Prospectus 2008

“Zobrist’s miserable 2007 was the reason the Rays acquired Jason Barlett [sic] in the first place, but . . . Zobrist refashioned himself as a future super-sub able to play six positions. . . . Expecting him to deliver a home run every 16.5 at-bats again is a bit of a pipe dream, but he’s one of the more valuable reserve players around, one who can give a team reason not to panic if a starter is forced to the disabled list.”
Baseball Prospectus 2009

A switch-hitter, he stands out the most for his ability to handle the bat, but all his tools except for power are average. The Astros often compared him to former standout utilityman Bill Spiers, and Zobrist projects more in that role than as a regular.”
— Jim Callis, Baseball America, July 12, 2006

Even if you didn’t understand a word Baseball Prospectus was saying about Ben Zobrist, you can pretty much tell what they thought of him by the fact that they put a typo in his writeup every single year. That’s pretty amazing. But anyway.

If you go by traditional qualifying rules (that is, you don’t give Mauer hitless at-bats for the number of plate appearances by which he fails to qualify — if you do that, he’s still leading the world in every category ever imagined), the guy those quotes are talking about came into Sunday leading the American League in OPS and OPS+, sitting 4th in OBP and 1st in SLG. He isn’t homering every 16.5 at-bats; he’s doing it every 12.4. He barely has enough plate appearances to qualify (he’s played in all but 8 of the Rays’ games, but has frequently been used in that “supersub” role, limiting his ABs), but is still in the top ten in counting categories like Runs Created, Adjusted Batting Runs and Adjusted Batting Wins, and his 33 extra-base hits are five short of the league lead. If not for Mauer, Zobrist would be the story of the year among AL hitters. He’s also played six positions (everything but first base, catcher and pitcher) and handled them all pretty well.

But the quotes above were all totally defensible at the time. Zobrist’s overall minor league numbers looked pretty good, but he never hit more than seven home runs in a minor league season, and never slugged .500 in the minors (despite being on the old side of almost every level at which he played) until doing it for the 20 games he spent in AAA in 2008. When BP said he had “made it pretty clear” he didn’t deserve a starting job, they were referring to Zobrist’s 2007 season, which I would bet is one of the worst hitting lines a position player has ever put up in > 100 AB: .155/.184/.206, good for a 4 (yes, four) OPS+. That followed a 48 OPS+ in 2006, so looking at the first 303 plate appearances of his Major League career (.200/.234/.275, 33 OPS+), and noting that he was already 26, you could very understandably conclude that he wasn’t ever going to hit enough to play in the big leagues.

Looking at his 447 PA since then (again, through Saturday), you’d have to conclude that this guy was an MVP candidate: .276/.374/.581, 145 OPS+, 27 HR, 72 RBI, 11/2 SB/CS. In 2006, he’s a AAAA player; in 2007, he might not even be that; in 2008, he’s a very serviceable supersub; in 2009, he’s probably the second-best player in the AL. He was never a notable prospect, and he turned 28 a month ago.

This doesn’t happen, does it? And how does this happen? Is he really one of the best players in the league allasudden, or is he (as ZIPs seems to think) due for a dropoff back to his 2008 level (which is still excellent) or lower (not so much)?

I think he’s come too far along these last two years to be a total fluke. But very few players can keep up the pace he’s on right now beyond a single year, if they can make it last that long (see Bradley, Milton), and I doubt Zobrist is suddenly one of those very few players. But if back to earth for Zobrist is a 120-130 OPS+? That’s still one of the best ten or twelve players in the league. Not a bad haul for half a season of Aubrey Huff three years ago.

What do you think?

Andy Sonnanstine and Other unDesignated Hitters

May 18, 2009

Not a lot of traffic here on the weekends, I’ve noticed. And I get that — why would you waste your time reading junk on the internet if you can’t be pretending to work while you do it? So if you’ve been away for a couple days, check out Saturday’s rant about official scorers and fielding percentage and Sunday’s slightly-less-than-thrilling conclusion to the All-Metrodome Team.

So how about this game, huh? Joe Maddon intends to start regular third baseman Evan Longoria at DH and Ben Zobrist at 3B, but on the lineup card he turns in, both were listed at 3B. Once Zobrist has played in the field, then, the Rays have forfeited their designated hitter, and instead of having the best player on the team (and probably in the AL) batting in their #3 spot, that spot is populated by their pitcher, Andy Sonnanstine. You’d think that would be kind of a disadvantage, wouldn’t you?

Aber nein! Sonnanstine (4-for-10 in his career with two walks coming into the game) was a better hitter than he was a pitcher yesterday, going 1-for-3 with his first career double and second RBI to help get himself a 7-5 “win” despite giving up five earned runs in 5 2/3 innings. Longoria did get into the game as part of a double-switch when Sonnanstine came out, and walked in his only PA. (As an aside, is he allowed to do that? Since he was listed on the initial lineup card, hasn’t he already been “used”? Well, anyway.)

If I’m at a game and keeping score, I’ll often do certain things habitually. If Justin Morneau is getting the start at DH that day, I’ll have written “Morneau – 1B” before I’ve even thought about it. So why shouldn’t it happen to a manager (or whoever transcribed for him) too?

I happened to be present for the last AL game in which a pitcher batted more than once, between the Twins and White Sox in 2007 at the Cell. In that game, Mike Redmond was catching and Joe Mauer was the DH. Redmond was hurt in the bottom of the first, and the Twins weren’t carrying a third catcher, so Mauer had to suit up and catch the rest of the game, requiring Matt Garza (now a teammate of Sonnanstine! Coincidence??) to bat for himself. Garza didn’t help himself out the way Sonnanstine did, but he pitched much better (as Garza is wont to do), and Morneau hit three homers, and the Twins won a very fun 12-0 laugher with one hitter tied behind their backs.

But why stop there? Let’s look at…

AL Pitchers with 2 or More PA in the Designated Hitter Era!!

It’s happened eleven times (a query requiring just one PA comes up with 76 results, but most of them were huge blowouts, and several were actual hitters who came into the game only to pitch in said blowouts, so we’ll stick with the guys who got to stay in the lineup for a while). Assorted facts:

  • With the Rays’ win yesterday, the 11 teams that have done this have a record of 7-4. It’s an odd game.
  • Including Sonnanstine, the group is a combined 3-for-28 (.107) with 8 strikeouts, no walks, and, perhaps most surprisingly, only one sacrifice (by Garza). Sonnanstine’s double was the first extra-base hit by anyone in this group.
  • I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that seven of the eleven happened in the first four years of the DH rule (1973-76), when one assumes that managers were still just coming to grips with the intricacies of this crazy new world in which they were living. The first two instances both involved closers (Lindy McDaniel and Tom Murphy) hitting for themselves to finish out extra-inning games. In both, the managers had used a player at DH that they later moved to shortstop, forfeiting the DH. Again, it took them a while for some managers to really get the hang of this DH thing. (Bob Boone has no such excuse, however; the exact same thing happened in 1995, with the Royals’ Chris Stynes moving from DH to 2B in a game that ultimately went 16 innings.)
  • Here’s my favorite one: October 2, 1974. It’s the last day of the season, and Rangers manager Billy Martin forgoes the DH entirely in order to let future Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins hit for himself. Jenkins — a career .163 hitter — does quite well for himself, going 1-for-2…and his one hit, coming in the sixth, breaks up the no-hitter of the Twins’ Jim Hughes! Jenkins comes around to score, helping himself on the way to a 3-2 comeback win, Jenkins’ 25th of the year. The game is the last one another future Hall of Famer, Harmon Killebrew, would play with the Twins. (Here’s the source for all that info.)
  • George’s brother Ken Brett did it twice, and went a combined 0-for-6. It actually wasn’t a terrible idea, though; with a 94 OPS+ and 10 HR in 373 PA across a career spent largely pre-DH or in the National League, the other Brett was almost certainly a better hitter than many of the DHes the Twins have used in the last few years, a list that has included Jason Tyner, Jeff Cirillo and Luis Rodriguez.
  • It happened only once in the 1980’s, right here. It appears to be the same situation as the one with Garza, Redmond and Mauer; one catcher, Ron Hassey, was DHing when the acting catcher, Ron Karkovice, was injured fielding a bunt, and there were no more Rons catchers on the bench. Pitcher Bill Dawley had to lead off the next inning, contributing the first of his two groundouts.
  • And finally, one that Joe Maddon can feel better about: July 22, 1999. Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove has Alex Ramirez in right field and Manny Ramirez at DH, then changes his mind and flips the two (because ManRam told Hargrove he wanted to play RF, which I think says a lot about both Manny and Hargrove). Only he has a bunch of different lineup cards now, and the umpire is given the wrong one. When Manny takes the field while listed as the DH on the official card, they’ve forfeited the DH, so pitcher Charles Nagy goes 0-for-2 with a strikeout batting 7th. The team loses 4-3 to the Jays; is this the one time where the manager’s mistake really made a difference (negatively, so not counting Fergie)? Alex playing in the field instead of Manny and hitting instead of Nagy certainly could have led to another run or two.

So what have we learned? Well, Mike Hargrove is (and Billy Martin was) kind of ridiculous, but we knew that. Fergie Jenkins was awesome? Knew that, too. I guess the only takeaway point is this: AL teams that forfeit their designated hitters play .636 baseball (11 games across 37 seasons is a meaningful sample, right?). You’re welcome!