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The Dodgers Roll The Dice April 2, 2014

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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The Dodgers are quickly overtaking the Giants on my “Favorite Teams Formerly of New York City” list. First of all, they grabbed Brian Wilson, and the audacity of using a World Series closer who saved 48 games in 2010 to set up a converted catcher rubbed me the right way. (Kenley Jansen is easily at the top of my “Favorite Converted Catchers” list.) Plus, watching Don Mattingly grow up and do less stupid stuff has been one of the best parts of Joe Torre‘s retirement.

The Dodgers have a couple of lotto tickets on the bench right now. Wilson, who sat out most of the last two seasons following his oblique injury, is a major risk as a power pitcher, but if he’s healthy again, the combination of a confident Wilson in the eighth and a Jansen whose ERA has dropped in each of the last two seasons could be the surprise bullpen of the year, especially if you consider Adrian Garcia’s argument at Lasorda’s Lair in favor of Paco Rodriguez as a potential set-up man.

But wait! There’s more!

Wilson isn’t the only player to make the squad after sitting out 2013. Chone Figgins was on the Marlins’ minor league squad last year but was released early in the season. The 5’8″ switch hitter came out of his involuntary retirement to sign as a bench option for the Dodgers, putting up a .340 OBP in spring training despite a .200 batting average. Figgins is continuing his trend into the regular season, since he’s appeared twice as a pinch hitter and walked each time (probably due to his minuscule strike zone). Figgins won’t start much this year, but if he can maintain his spring OBP into the regular season he’ll be a true asset for the club.

Spitballing: Position changes June 3, 2011

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First thing’s first: this entry was prompted by Buster Posey and his horrific ankle injury, but it’s not just about him. The first time I started thinking about it seriously was last year, when the Mets’ Carlos Beltran was about to come off the DL and Angel Pagan‘s placement was in doubt. Either Gary, Keith, or Ron tripped my “Stuff Keith Hernandez Says” meter by saying that fans had suggested moving Pagan to second base to fill in for the ailing Luis Castillo, and commented that “You can’t just move a guy to second base.” Very true.

Similarly, it’s very hard to “just move a guy” to catcher, which is why a guy like Buster Posey is so valuable. In the National League, the median OPS+ for players with at least 100 plate appearances and who played more than half their games at catcher was 91. Posey’s OPS+ was 129 – that’s over 40% better. If instead you look at first basemen with at least 100 plate appearances, the median OPS+ is 107. All of a sudden, Posey’s offensive value-added drops to about 20% above average, and that’s before accounting for regression to the mean. Moving him to third base instead mitigates the damage and takes full advantage of his arm, but he’s suddenly a much less special player when he’s on the hot corner instead of behind the plate.

It’s also maddening to hear about efforts to move Derek Jeter to center field. Even though he’s on the downswing, he’s hit well above average every year from 1996 through 2009. Even last year, his 91 OPS+ was acceptable, especially considering his popularity. Granted, he costs his team runs on defense (he’s rarely had a positive defensive Wins Above Replacement), but his offensive contribution more than makes up for it. He’s 6’3″, making him more than big enough to move to first base, and first base doesn’t require him to have the range that center field would. After Jorge Posada hangs it up, splitting  the duties at first base and DH between Jeter and Alex Rodriguez will start to make more sense, and using homegrown prospects to take over at shortstop and third base ensures continuing fan loyalty.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention future Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. Although his 2.000 OPS last year grossly overstated his batting ability (only two plate appearances, compared with a lifetime .229 batting average in the minors), Jansen is a success story in his move from catcher to fireballing reliever. That was an excellent move by the Dodgers system – they took Jansen’s innate ability (his cannon-like arm) and moved him to a position where his contribution would be optimized. Whether or not Jansen turns out to be a future dominant closer, he’s probably gotten more playing time as a reliever than he ever would have as a catcher, and he’s generated more value for the Dodgers.

Basically, player moves are difficult. It’s important to try to optimize a player’s contribution, and that needs to take into account his defensive talents instead of merely trying to find a place for him to play. I can only hope Buster Posey’s recuperation goes smoothly and there’s a value-maximizing slot for him with the Giants.

Pitchers Hit This Year (or, Two Guys Named Buchholz) December 23, 2010

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Okay, I admit it. This post was originally conceived as a way to talk about the supremely weird line put up by Gustavo Chacin, who in his only plate appearance for Houston hit a home run to leave him with the maximum season OPS of 5.0. Unfortunately, Raphy at Baseball Reference beat me to it. Instead, I noticed while I was browsing the NL’s home run log to prepare to run some diagnostics on it that Kenley Jansen had two plate appearances comprising one hit and one walk. (Seriously, is there anything this kid can’t do?)

In Kenley’s case, that’s not entirely surprising, since he was a catcher until this season. His numbers weren’t great, but he was competent. What surprised me was that 75 pitchers since 2000 have finished the season with a perfect batting average. 9 were from this year, including Clay Buchholz and his distant cousing Taylor Buchholz. Evan Meek and Bruce Chen matched Jansen’s two plate appearances without an out. None of the perfect batting average crowd had an extra-base hit except for Chacin.

Since 2000, the most plate appearances by a pitcher to keep the perfect batting average was 4 by Manny Aybar in 2000.

At the other end of the spectrum, this year only three pitchers managed a perfect 1.000 on-base percentage without getting any hits at all. George Sherrill and Matt Reynolds both walked in their only plate appearances; Jack Taschner went them one better by recording a sacrifice hit in a second plate appearance.

Finally, to round things out, this year saw Joe Blanton and Heureusement, ici, c’est le Blog‘s favorite pitcher, Yovani Gallardo, each get hit by two pitches. Gallardo had clearly angered other pitchers by being so much more awesome than they were.