Monday, February 18, 2013

To Stubbs or Not to Stubbs

The Cleveland Indians made news last week by signing Michael Bourn to a deal worth at least $48 million over 4 years. The new-look Tribe now boasts one of the best defensive outfields in the game, featuring Michael Brantley in left, Bourn in center, and Drew Stubbs in right.

It's a big year for Drew Stubbs
There are times when it appears Drew Stubbs can do it all on the baseball diamond. He can handle center field, is very fast, can steal bases (40 sb's in 2011) and hit for power (22 HR's in 2009). His flaw has been an inability to avoid making outs. Last season, his on base percentage dipped to an inexcusable .277.

Young players like Drew Stubbs, who can hit a homer, steal a base, and make acrobatic catchers in center field, capture the imagination of fans and talent evaluators. Those players will keep getting chances to play through struggles. Drew Stubbs is getting to the age when ballplayers with sub-.300 On Base Percentages start losing chances. It has happened to hundreds of future star outfielders who's careers fade into fourth outfielder roles. Ballplayer's midlife crises occur when their contracts stop being guaranteed and invites to spring training feel more like job interviews. Stubbs, entering his Age 28 season, is at the crossroads. His Baseball-Reference similar players range from Daryl Boston to the legendary Astro, Jose Cruz. Will Drew Stubbs make adjustments in order to step it up this year? One optimistic comparison to Drew Stubbs' situation is Devon White.

Devo became a Blue Jays fan favorite right away

Drew Stubbs Career (2009-2012; Age 24-27)
.241/.312/.386, 59 HR, 110 SB, 27 CS, 175 BB, 588 K

Devon White (1987-1990; Age 24-27)
.248/.294/.390, 58 HR, 114 SB, 41 CS, 137 BB, 464 K

Will Drew Stubbs go this far?
The Angels traded Devon White to Toronto in December 1990. Blue Jays hitting coach, Gene Tenace, must have somehow helped hit become a more patient hitter. Devo's on base percentage improved to .342 his first season in Toronto, and was .330 for the remainder of his career. He'd also contribute another 149 homers and 223 steals the rest of his career. When the alternative is to finish your playing career like Corey Patterson, Drew Stubbs would be psyched to end his career with over 200 HR's and 225 SB's.

Last week, baseball pundits from Buster Olney to Jon Heyman expect Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti to trade Michael Brantley or Drew Stubbs for pitching help. In between Peter King-esque non sequitur tweets about surprising weather and strange strangers, Heyman can occasionally make an effort to provide a service:

Before we check the landscape for potential trade partners, let's look at Terry Francona's lineup choices.

The excellent resource, MLBdepthcharts has the Indians using a Lefty/Righty platoon in Left Field and Third Base, with Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall sitting against southpaws, in favor of Ryan Raburn and Mike Aviles. I think Brantley is more of an everyday player than that, but who knows?

Would it make sense for Francona to bench Drew Stubbs versus tough right handed pitchers? The most logical steps, as their roster projections look now, would be to move Nick Swisher from First Base to Right Field, Mark Reynolds from DH to First, and Jason Giambi to Designated Hitter.

Mark Reynolds is a DH.
If Francona sits Stubbs for Giambi against a right hander, we know the team's defense and base running will be worse. Reports have Swisher's defense above league average at first base, but not so in the outfield. Mark Reynold's defense looks bad on Baseball Reference, and really bad on Fangraphs. How much would the offense improve? Could it be enough to justify the defense?

We all know Giambi is a better hitter against RHP than Stubbs. The numbers just show us how glaring the difference may be. We aren't looking at career numbers because an Out of this World Jason Giambi in the BALCO days has nothing to do with the part-time playing Giambi of 2013. Still, with Giambi's limited play over the past four seasons, 2009-2012, he and Drew Stubbs have the following stats versus right handed pitchers:

Drew Stubbs v RHP (2009-2012)
.301 OBP, .355 SLG, 8.5% BB%, 29.8% K%, .293 wOBA

Jason Giambi v RHP (2009-2012)
.359 OBP, .385 SLG, 17% BB%, 23.2% K%, .332 wOBA

Drew Stubbs and Jason Giambi are just getting acquainted.

The Indians need Drew Stubbs to play better. The improved team defense from having him in RF and MArk Reynolds at DH is probably greater than having Giambi in the lineup. Even if Francona were tempted to squeeze every last bit of value from Giambi's bat wouldn't be able to keep him healthy DH'ing 4 or 5 games per week. Giambi is a pinch-hitter. Herein lies one reason the Tribe is in no hurry to deal.

Beyond that, finding a trade partner is challenging. No more than two teams appear to need an outfielder enough to even consider trading talented pitchers for Brantley or Stubbs. After checking the rosters of all 29 other teams, the New York Mets and Texas Rangers are the only maybes. Both teams were players in the Michael Bourn sweepstakes, and runner-ups to free agent derbies often make the best trading partners.

New York needs an Outfielder about as bad as any Major League Team has needed an outfielder since baseball's expansion of 1998. That season, the inaugural Arizona Diamondbacks featured an outfield lead by 35-year old Devon White, and completed with a rotation of David Dellucci, Karim Garcia, and Brent Brede.

The New York Mets currently look like they will be featuring two platoons in the outfield, and could potentially be better suited with three. MLBdepthcharts has Kirk Nieuwenhuis in center field and Mike Baxter in right field against right-handed starters. When facing a left-hander, the platoon would have Collin Cowgill in center and Andrew Brown in right. The team's best outfielder is Lucas Duda, and he looks to start every day in left field, in spite of his struggles against southpaws.

Throughout Duda's Major League career, his On Base Percentage versus lefties (.296) is 56 points lower than versus righties (.352). In the Minor Leagues, it's even more pronounced. In 2010 Duda compiled the following Minor League splits:

Lucas Duda (2010 AA)
Double-A TOTAL: 192 PA, .411 OBP
Double-A vs LHP: .286 OBP
Double-A vs RHP: .447 OBP

Lucas Duda (2010 AAA)
Triple-A TOTAL: 293 PA, .396 OBP
Triple-A vs LHP: .337 OBP
Triple-A vs RHP: .423 OBP

Lucas Duda is an excellent hitter against right-handed pitching, and we know Drew Stubbs struggles versus righties. Let's take a look at their Major League Splits side by side, and see how they're also affected by the starter/reliever role split.

Lucas Duda MLB Career Splits
vs RHP as LHB663.351.454
vs LHP as LHB235.299.358
vs LH Starter207.330.370
vs RH Starter691.340.445
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 2/15/2013.

Drew Stubbs MLB Career Splits
vs RHP as RHB1491.301.355
vs LHP as RHB513.344.476
vs LH Starter622.335.452
vs RH Starter1382.301.356
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 2/15/2013.

Lucas Duda is looking a little like Andy Dwyer these days.

Replacing Lucas Duda's .657 OPS against LHP's with Drew Stubbs's .820 OPS sounds like a slam dunk, but a closer look reveals that what Lucas Duda really needs is a good pinch-hitter against tough lefty relievers.

Sandy Alderson is not going to trade valuable pitching for a marginal upgrade that is likely to turn out worthless.

The Rangers are on a more favorable part of the win curve to justify an investment into winning more games in 2013. Their expensive, short-term acquisition of Lance Berkman is a perfect example. We can see the Rangers knocking on the door to a World Series championship. Their biggest question mark in the lineup is Leonys Martín in center field. Does it equate the risk of throwing away a good pitching arm, for the chance that Drew Stubbs will be better than Leonys Martín? In this case, it make come out a bit to scouting versus spreadsheets. The numbers suggest that the Rangers should give Leonys Martín a chance. Bill James and Oliver projections have Martín getting on base more frequently and hitting home runs at a faster pace. Scouts, on the other hand may see Drew Stubbs as a player who is bigger, stronger, and faster than Leonys Martín. Stubbs is 6'4" 205 lbs, and Martín is 6'2" 190. When the bigger player is also faster, it's difficult to temper that impression.

Leonys Martín needs to impress R-Wash and Jon Daniels in 2013.

The Rangers are smart, and we know they love pitching. I think the earliest Drew Stubbs or Michael Brantley get traded would be after trading season heats up in July. Then again, I thought Michael Bourn was going to sign a 1-year pillow contract with the Rangers.

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