The off-season keeps on chooglin’, and while there is still time for the Jays to do something about their situation at second base — the position that Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs cites as one of the three worst among all potentially contending teams in the Majors (while giving Alex Anthopoulos credit enough to know that Ryan Goins is “not the kind of guy who’s supposed to be the favorite, not at this point”) — there genuinely remains the potential that they’re more comfortable with the status quo than any reasonable person ought to be able to believe.
We know for certain, at least, that the club is determined to act like they’re OK with going into the season with Goins — and his disgusting .214/.243/.310 line against mostly minor league left-handed pitching in 2013 — at the helm, and an example of the supposed confidence came up during Mike Wilner’s chat with the club’s new hitting coach, Kevin Seitzer, this week.
Some of the chat can be heard on the Fan 590′s On Demand Audio page, and it’s an interesting one. When he really gets going, Seitzer sounds as much like a sports psychologist as he does a hitting coach– though maybe that’s an accurate representation of half of his job description anyway — not to mention sincere as hell.
“I don’t care where the ball goes, I want production,” he says, with the intonation of a preacher reaching a quiet ebb.
But while all the stuff about Alex Gordon and Billy Butler is nice — coloured as it is by the language of batting average and RBIs (which is somewhat disheartening, though hopefully more an outdated necessity within clubhouse culture more than it is a reflection of the organization’s failure to recognize progress) — what really piqued my interest was a tweet from Wilner about comment that isn’t in the audio clip you’ll hear via the above link.
“Seitzer compared [Goins] to Alcides Escobar,” he wrote. “They thought he wouldn’t hit, Seitzer disagreed. He hit .293 in ’12.”
Seitzer would know. As John Lott explains in the National Post, he hosted Goins at his house in Kansas City last weekend, getting some pre-season work in.
“I felt like he needed to kind of simplify some things with his stance and his setup, keeping his legs underneath him a little bit more and letting his hands work in a little better position, staying inside the ball,” Seitzer said. “He had a little tendency to get out and around on pitches that were in. We just did some drill work and I showed him a couple little techniques that he could do with his hands that got him pretty excited.”
“It’s just a little technique move that you can do in order to give yourself a chance,” he addds. “And what it does is allow you to foul pitches off in tough counts instead of being out, and that’s usually with two strikes.”
The object, we’re told, is to have hitters think middle-first — though he says he’s not interested in messing with anybody who has success, and figures he’ll be working with younger hitters more than older ones — and for them to hunt for pitches best suited to hit.
Anecdotally, there might even be signs that it’s not just fanciful horseshit from a glorified cheerleader.
Alarm bells certainly go off when you see crowing about Escobar’s 2012 season, given that it’s a screaming BABIP outlier. His four full big league seasons by BABIP have gone .264, .285, .344, and .264, and after an impressive-for-a-defensive-wizard wRC+ of 98 in 2012, Escobar slumped back to 49 last year. Alex Gordon, another of Seitzer’s important protégés, saw huge upticks in BABIP in 2011 and 2012 as well. That dipped, along with Gordon’s numbers on the whole, in 2013, further cementing Seitzer’s myth in some eyes.
But all of that may not be down to pure luck. Escobar’s line drive rate went up in 2012, as did Gordon’s, both of their fly ball rates were well down that season as well — with Gordon also hitting more ground balls, though Escobar’s rate remained steady — and they both were noticeably less inclined to walk in 2013 than the two years previous. Could that, and the increased BABIP, be indicative of them being more selective, finding pitches to make better contact with, and putting balls in play that are more likely to fall for hits?
There’s some divergence in the plate discipline numbers that makes carving out this sort of a narrative using that stuff a little bit messy, but… I don’t know. At least it’s all positive. Even Tony Rasmus is on board, responding to Lott’s piece on Twitter with positive words about Seitzer (since deleted, for some reason), after some trepidation earlier in the week, as he explained that, when you start trying to implement these sorts of changes, “you have to be ready for the player to get worse before he gets better.”
When it comes to Goins, of course, that’s a scary thought, even if there is progress to be expected at the end.
I continue to go back and forth on just how unpalatable the notion of going into the season with Goins as more than the guy who is really just there to push a more established incumbent. The Jays do like him, of course. In fact, at the time of last year’s trade with the Marlins, Andrew Pentis of MiLB Prospective suggested that he was part of the reason that the front office thought Adeiny Hechavarria was expendable, and in a piece from MiLB.com he quoted Sal Fasano, following the 2012 season, as saying that “he didn’t get a lot of notoriety — Ryan Goins might not be as big a name as the Manny Machados — but he was as good as anybody at shortstop.” And sometimes even I see it, too.
Writing back in October, in my Playoff Post (Mortem) on him, I got downright close to endorsing him.
He’s shown in the minors that he can take a walk better than the 1.7% rate he did so in his call-up, so the current on-base is low, but still, I don’t think that line is necessarily so far off what you could expect out of his bat based on how the year in Buffalo went,. And for a fan base that has, rightly, very nearly completed griping J.P. Arencibia out of town, to be pining for a player like that– or even willing accept him as a fall-back– just seems kind of beyond ridiculous to me.
Maybe I’m wrong, though. At the very least, defence isn’t prone to slumps the way bats are, so– especially given the turf and the disasters we witnessed this year at second base– I can understand the impulse to want to go defence first here.
And his numbers in 2012 in New Hampshire maybe offer a glimmer of hope. Playing at age 24, which was average for the Eastern League, he put up an above-league-average slash line, ending up at .289/.342/.403. If he could do that in the big leagues, giddy up! And while New Hampshire is known to have a favourable home park for left-handed hitters, Goins actually fared better on the road in 2012 than at home, and had a more even platoon split than this year as well. While he was even better against right-handed pitching in 2012, against lefties his line was a passable .265/.326/.381, but in Buffalo this year he was a puke-tacular .214/.243/.310 in the split.
Did he just need more time to adjust to the shitballers of the International League? That would be easier to buy if his numbers didn’t go down as the year progressed. But I could buy it… if he could get back to those New Hampshire levels during another stint in Buffalo.
Throwing him into the big leagues, though, at a key position in a season where the club has to do well? You’d sure need a whole lot more belief in him than I have to do such a thing. Yet… with the way offence is going, league wide, it’s maybe not even be that completely fucking crazy! People like myself have noted Kelly Johnson’s name on the list of potential free agents available this winter, but when you look at it, Johnson’s floor, offensively, is what we saw him do in 2012 with the Jays– the .299 wOBA he posted was the lowest of his career. Goins bested that in Buffalo (.311), and he crushed it as a not-too-old prospect at New Hampshire (.336), and would add a whole hell of a lot more value on defence. Obviously those aren’t the Majors, but it’s not inconceivable that he could be good enough.
But he could also be a second baseman who hits like career-bench-player Johnny Mac, getting regular at-bats on a team that has designs on actually winning. Not good.
It’s worth noting that the man Seitzer compared Goins to, Alcides Escobar, managed to be worth 1.1 WAR this season (by FanGraphs — at 0.3 WAR, Baseball Reference wasn’t so kind), despite the abysmal season at the plate. That’s while playing shortstop, though.
And in a recent comment on Goins, I wasn’t particularly kind either…
Look at the projections. The most optimistic on his FanGraphs page (Steamer) has him providing the same amount of value as Emilio Bonifacio did last year (0.6 WAR), and less value than 17 of the 21 second basemen who managed 450 plate appearances or more. The less optimistic one (Oliver) would rank him behind 20 of them.
Looking at this year’s projections on their own, by WAR Steamer spits out 57 more valuable 2Bs, Oliver projects 65.
In terms of defensive value provided, though, Steamer projects just six more valuable 2Bs (all of whom they have accumulating 100-200 more PAs), while Oliver projects zero more valuable defensive second basemen. And still it has him as the 65th most valuable overall.
Projections aren’t the be-all end-all, obviously, and yes, the defence was refreshing as hell last year, but again, in the tiny sample we saw he provided elite-elite, best-in-baseball kind of defence– the eye test and the numbers both say that. But what reason is there to think that’s close to sustainable?
I’ll tell you: there isn’t any. His defence has always been lauded, but tonnes of people have seen him over the years, and nobody has been saying, “holy shit, you’ve got one of the best defenders in baseball on your hands.” He could be improving as he moves up– wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened– and nobody’s saying it’s not good defence, but the farther away his true talent is from super-elite, the more his bat needs to compensate. So really, that’s what you’re banking on– the bat. Yikes.
I mean, fine, you believe in the defence, but you can’t just ignore the bat and figure that a bad hitter is a bad hitter and that’s OK, as though all bad hitters are created equal. He projects to be SO bad at the plate that it undoes just about whatever value he provides with the glove– and given how valuable that glove projects to be, that’s pretty disgustingly bad. Especially if you figure he’s getting too much credit on defence because of a tiny sample in which he had more opportunity to bump up his value than it can be expected he’ll get over the course of a full season– in other words, it’s not that he wouldn’t still make the outstanding plays that he’s shown himself capable of, he just won’t likely make as many in every 200-odd inning segment of the season, simply because opportunity isn’t distributed evenly.
He could be better than all that, sure. I’m not saying that it can’t possibly work or that he can’t outhit the expectations — shit, I’d love it to work, the defence is really important — but to be banking on it and talking ourselves into it at this point is somewhat insane.
Maybe we don’t think WAR has it weighted right, and that the value of defence far outstrips the mitigating properties of a horrible bat– or, as some would suggest, maybe the idea should be more fluid, and the context of the rest of the lineup needs to be accounted for, rather than simply looking at an individual’s value as absolute regardless of what’s around him. I could agree that’s probably a bit too narrow, sure, and that given the context — the vast defensive gulf between Goins and the current other options on the club and the fact that the lineup is otherwise decent enough to sustain a virtually-automatic out every nine trips to the plate — he genuinely does look a little more palatable than in a straight-up isolated-for-individual-value sense. But it’s still an uphill battle to get to the point where you can be convincing that he’s a great choice, especially since it’s still so possible to rather easily find someone who can provide more overall value, and still especially fucking scary to think of what happens when injury hits and you’re looking at adding a Kevin Pillar, an Anthony Gose, a Maicer Izturis, a Brent Morel as a regular to a lineup that already has a bat like Goins’s entrenched in it.
And, again: the more optimistic projection has him as being as valuable as Emilio Bonifacio was in 2013. I know Emilio turned it around in Kansas City, but seriously, think about that.
Seitzer saying the right things is nice and all, and reminding myself of his success in New Hampshire does help make it all feel not quite so ridiculous… but not by much. Replacement level is replacement level. I don’t care much for how you get there, I just know that if that’s where you’re at, there simply must be a better option.