Saturday, August 8, 2009

Willy Taveras - How Low Can He Go?

On 12/27/08 the Reds made one of many recent head-scratching decisions by giving Willy Taveras a 2 yr 6.25 million dollar contract. Keep in mind that just 2 weeks earlier Taveras had been non-tendered by the Rockies and wasn't exactly flooded with contract offers. Through the first month and a half things looked suprisingly good, Taveras was providing good defense, stolen bases and this hitting line (as of 5/13):


To say that poor Willy fell apart starting the next day would be kind. His slashline from 5/14 through last night:


Keep in mind this isn't some small sample the streak, highlighted by a 1-46 with 0 walks stretch, covers 244 plate appearances.

Thanks largely to Taveras the Reds leadoff hitters to date have 'produced' the following line - .232/.273/.297 for a comical .570 OPS. Out of morbid curiosity I decided to go back and look for a team that produced a worse line than that out of the lead-off spot. Here are the recent 'top 10' including the '09 Reds with primary lead off hitter(s). I was too lazy to make the calculations for OPS+ so I simply added the league average OPS as a decent comparison.

Team/Yr OPS Lg. Avg. Hitters
Cubs 1981 .527 .683 Ivan DeJesus/Bobby Bonds
Toronto 1981 .537 .693 Alfredo Griffin
San Diego 1981 .551 .683 Ozzie Smith
White Sox 1976 .556 .681 Chet Lemon/Pat Kelly/Jerry Hairston
Cincinnati 2009 .570 .740 Willy Taveras/Chris Dickerson
Boston 1992 .573 .713 Wade Boggs/Billy Hatcher/Jody Reed
Seattle 1994 .575 .779 Rich Amaral/Felix Fermin/Brian Turang
St. Louis 1986 .576 .702 Vince Coleman
Oakland 1978 .578 .711 Mike Edwards/Miguel Dilone/Joe Wallis
L.A. 1989 .578 .678 Alfredo Griffin/Willie Randolph

Some suprising names huh? A couple of Hall of Famers and a few other players that had solid careers. Quite an accomplishement for Alfredo Griffin to have 2 of the 10 worst lead-off seasons in the past 34 years. Anyway, I think 1981 should be ignored, it was a very odd season with the August re-start after a roughly 2 month strike, it obviously doesn't compare well to any other season listed here. When using league OPS as a comparison that one team that under-performed the '09 Reds out of the lead-off spot was the 1994 Seattle Mariners who managed to have a below average offense despite a monster season by Juinor Griffey and very fine seasons from Buhner and both Edgar and Tino Martinez.

Interesting exercise, but is there anything the Reds could do differently over the last couple of months of the season? Being the Reds the options aren't great, but there are a couple of alternatives superior to writing Taveras in as the lead-off hitter every day. 1) Put Chris Dickerson there once he comes off the D.L. or 2) Call-up Drew Stubbs from Louisville.

Dickerson is not a great player by any stretch, his scorching hot 6 weeks last year can be ignored, but he has some value. He's walked in roughly 13% of his plate appearances; he has some pop in his bat, has some speed, and the very small sample suggests he can handle CF. His .259/.355/.359 line this year is considerably better than what Taveras offers.

Stubbs is a former #1 pick of the Reds out of the University of Texas and has been somewhat of a disappointment. He strikes out an awful lot, and most of his power has left as he's cut down on his swing in an attempt to reduce K's. He does have pluses however - he's considered an outstanding defensive CF'er; is a terrific base stealer (44-51 SB's this year); and will draw walks. At age 24 calling him up now would hardly qualify as a rush. Stubbs major league equivalency this year isn't impressive - .238/.308/.315. The point is that 2009 is lost to the Reds, they may as well call up Stubbs and see if he can be part of the future.

The Reds of course will do neither. Taveras makes 4M next year, and the concept of sunk costs is foreign to them. Plus Dusty loves his veterans. Jay Bruce and Dickerson are both out with injuries, yet Dusty made it clear he wanted no part of Stubbs or Chris Heisey (another modest OF prospect in AAA). Far better to roll with Laynce Nix/Taveras/Johnny Gomes - strikes me as the core of a pennant contender....

Friday, August 7, 2009

Smoltz Returning To Where It All Started?

This afternoon the Red Sox did the inevitable and DFA'ed John Smoltz, not exactly stunning news for a 42 year old starting pitcher with a 8.33 ERA. It isn't difficult to breakdown why Smoltz struggled so terribly, two stats that jump out:

1) Lefties are hammering him to the tune of .444/.485/.767

2) From pitch 31 on Smoltz's slash line is equally gruesome - .388/.402/.741

Let's flip things around and look at a couple of other numbers though (small sample size acknowledged):

In 85 plate appearances right-handed hitters haven't done much - .232/.259/.390

Pitches 1-15 you ask? .265/.395/.294

Could Smoltz help someone as a one inning RH specialist? It sure seems like he might be able to. The Sox of course are well aware of these numbers and have asked him to go to the minor leagues to prepare to pitch out of the 'pen. There are some salary issues to work through (reportedly Boston would like a restructuring of his contract) that both he and the union may object to so the situation is unsettled at the moment. The other question is where exactly would he fit in Boston's pen? Certainly behind Papelbon, Bard, Okajima, and Ramirez. Likely behind Delcarmen and Saito as well. Doesn't seem like a huge need there.

What about another AL team pursuing the playoffs; where he started his professional career; close to where he is originally from? What about the Tigers? Detroit could use a RH set-up man to replace Joel Zumaya. The current set-up crew offers Bobby Seay & Fu-Te Ni from the left side and Brandon Lyon & Ryan Perry from the right. They haven't done a bad job, but it isn't hard to imagine Jim Leyland wanting to add a piece.

Who knows what Smoltz is thinking - does he want last night's pounding to be the final time he walks off a mound; does he feel obligated to try pitching in relief for Boston; would finishing his career in Detroit mean anything special to him?

Getting 20-25 innings out of John Smoltz isn't going to be the catalyst to propel the Tigers to the World Series, but it might help win the division. The need is there from Detriot's perspective, I'm guessing it happens.