StrategyFebruary 14, 2008

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Two Up, Two Down ’08: Left Field

By Debbie Shell

Conventional wisdom says the American League blows the National League away these days. Not so in Left Field, where the rather lonely entrants of Carl Crawford and Manny Ramirez come up short against the likes of Matt Holiday, Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Lee, Adam Dunn, etc. There’s not a lot to like about the AL here. I was ready to recommend Luke Scott, but Jason Jarvis beat me to him in the right field edition of 2 Up 2 Down, where he qualified last year. I’d LIKE to put Josh Fields in here, but he’s really a third baseman. (Don’t forget he played 21 games in the outfield last year when you’re drafting, though.) So you AL-only leaguers are out of luck this year.


Jason Bay – We all know he was bad in 2007, but WHY was he bad? Simple. He stopped waiting for good pitches to hit.


His walk rate was down 42% from the prior year yet he struck out 10% fewer times. He swung at bad pitches. And hit them, but not well. Pitchers noticed and threw him worse pitches – which he also hit. His average plummeted from June on, his power disappeared, he struck out a bit more. Yet his line drive percent was steady for the year. If you believe, as I do, that the knee injury contributed to his lack of patience, his lack of power, then you’ll believe, as I do, that he’ll bounce back after several months of treatment and rest. HE believes it, which is good enough for me.

Wily Mo Pena – WAAAY back in February 2006, Bill Ladson wrote a story on that was largely about the Nats wanting Soriano to change positions. Tucked into the last paragraph, however, was this note: “The Nationals have been after Pena since last season. He is a player who Bowden acquired from the Yankees when he was the general manager of the Reds. Last year, Pena hit .254 with 19 home runs and 54 RBIs for Cincinnati. Bowden has always believed that Pena has the potential of being a similar player to Sammy Sosa.”

Fast forward to 2007. The father and prodigal son are united. Wily Mo, who had gone .218/.291/.385/.676 in limited at bats as a Red Sox role player, gets the chance to play regularly and responds, hitting .293/.352/.504/.856 during the last six weeks of the season.

Wily Mo only SEEMS like he’s 30 – he turned 26 this past January. He’s clearly being given the chance to play every day in an improved (for the Nats) lineup in a new, more hitter friendly park. He’s fully recovered from his midseason 2006 hamate bone surgery.

He’s up there to swing, averaging fewer than 4 pitches per at bat. He still strikes out a lot. He still doesn’t walk enough. He’s not a smooth fielder. (That may lose him at bats late in games.) But he hit a home run every 16.6 at bats as a National. And 42% of the time he was hitting at RFK. He hit 51 homers in 302 games as a Red, averaging a home run every 16.2 at bats.

So if you need power, lots of power, and have protection in the average category, he’s your guy.


Juan Pierre – His value lies in his speed, and his speed remains, so why should you be careful to not overvalue him? Two reasons: his hitting ability is starting to erode, and his manager in 2008 is Joe Torre. Let’s look at his numbers for the past four years:


It’s slight, but the number of extra base hits have started to dive, down more than 25% with the move from Wrigley Field to Dodger Stadium. He still rarely walks, which means he’s relying more and more on those slap singles. But his ground ball percentage is dropping slightly, while his fly balls are rising. So far it’s working for him, but what happens with the entrance of Joe Torre?

Torre, the man who had Johnny Damon and Derek Jeter at the top of his 2007 Yankee lineup. The man who once batted Alfonso Soriano 9th to take advantage of his speed. The man who is brighter than Grady Little, who will be quick to recognize the value of moving Russell Martin to the 2-hole to hit behind Furcal, moving Pierre down to 7th or 8th in the process. With fewer at bats, what happens to the number of steals? And speaking of Martin, which one’s Russell, and which one’s Derek Jeter?


Speed remains a scarcity, but seven guys are projected by Bill James to have more than 40 steals, 8 more to have 30 to 39, and 12 more to have 25-29. Two of that group are left fielders (Crawford and Byrnes), and both of those have far more pop than Pierre. So don’t overvalue the emptiness of Juan Pierre. And, by the way, Martin’s the second line, but the two are reasonably close in stats.

Eric Byrnes – I’m not anti-speed. Really. But if you think Byrnes is going to approach those 50 SBs in 2008, you need to wake up from that dream. He’s a gamer. He helps a team find ways to win. But the team around him is another year older, another year better, and there will be a full year of Justin Upton. And the rest. And Danny Haren. So Byrnes won’t need to run that much. Don’t overdraft for those 20 HRs, 80-ish RBIs and Runs, .270 average… and 29 SBs. And be aware that Bill James calls for even less in production from him.

Debbie Shell bleeds Cardinal red. One of her teams was immortalized by the legendary Glenn Waggoner in an early 90s Rotisserie Baseball book. You can find Debbie on the board posting under the name musialsuspect.
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