Thursday, March 25, 2010

Room for Improvement: Andy Marte

This choice looked a lot more inspired in November when I was planning the series, but ... heck, I'll stick with it. We're coming down the home stretch of players I can legitimately claim have reasonable shots at double-digit VORP improvement, so we're talking about the tail of the curve anyway.

The other wrinkle here, of course, is that Andy Marte would get nearly 4 points of VORP improvement by moving to Australia or playing in Columbus. Andy Marte was really not very good last season, posting a sub-.300 OBP and generating a discouraging -3.9 VORP as a corner utility guy. Andy Marte may not have as much upside as he was once perceived to have, but conversely, Andy Marte is now ALL upside because it is hard to generate less value and still get 130+ PA unless you are Chris Gimenez, which, thankfully, he is not.

Now, the Indians brought in a number of futility infielders to Spring Training, including Mark Grudzielanek, Brian Bixler, and Anderson Hernandez, so it may be that Marte won't even break camp with the big leaguers. On the other hand, none of these men is particularly good at playing third base (Marte's natural position), and playing any of them at first base would be flat-out unfortunate. Marte's chances improve with Russ Windmill on the DL, because Marte would be the primary backup at first.

For now, let's say Marte gets a few shots here and there: he takes some reps at third, he gives Russ a day off against a lefty while LaPorta rests or plays left, he gets a couple shots at DH when Travis is tired, he gets some PAs when someone tweaks a hammy. Baseball Prospectus is projecting him for some 174 PAs, which sounds about right to me: either he'll be hot and get a few more or he'll be lousy and get a lot fewer, but unless LaPorta AND Peralta AND Branyan AND Hafner all have serious problems, there's kind of a hard ceiling on Marte's chances at 250 PA.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Room for Improvement: Justin Masterson

Here's a weird one: in looking to see if I was being too homerrific and overly optimistic about Justin Masterson, a huge young pitcher being converted back from the bullpen to the rotation, I found that Baseball Prospectus thinks I'm selling him short by a significant amount. Frankly, I'm going to stick to my guns here and go with the lower projection, because I have a point at the end of the series, and if there's some slack in it, perhaps Masterson can pick it up for me. You may want to go ahead and use BP's projection: they're more experienced and professional than I am. If I'm going to be wrong, I'd rather be pleasantly surprised.

One of the things lots of analysts will tell you is that teams often undervalue players who could help them more because they focus on what the player can't do instead of trying to leverage what they do well. Adam Dunn is an offensive force, but because he strikes out a lot, some teams would not touch him. You can be slow and be valuable. You can have a subpar fastball and be valuable. I have swallowed the mantra hook, line, and sinker, and believe that there is value in looking past a weakness to get to a strength.

That is, except when it comes to Justin Masterson.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Room for Improvement: Jhonny Peralta

Okay, this is it.

There are few players who have represented more points along the Fan Emotion Continuum than Jhonny Peralta. In his Age 23 season, Jhonny Peralta posted one of the best seasons EVER for a shortstop aged 24 or under, hitting .292/.366/.520 with 24 homers and playing adequate defense as a young shortstop. The next season, he collapsed to a .257/.323/.385 line with 13 homers and looked a lot less like a cornerstone player. Over the next two seasons, his SLG went back up in significant chunks ("He's getting better!"), but last season, collapsed ("He's turned into a newt!") to a career-low (discounting his Age 21 and 22 seasons, as they had fewer than 300 PA each) .375; his AVG of .254 and OBP of .316 were also the worst in his five years as a regular.

Put this all together, and Peralta's VORP of 3.7 last season was, by definition, barely above Replacement Level. That's awful. Now, I don't know if the Replacement Level is calibrated properly, because I have seen some godawful middle infielders come in as "replacements:" Mike Rouse, Tony Graffanino, Jorge Velandia, Josh Barfield ... Great Scott, there have been some batless wonders come through Cleveland in the past five years. I shudder to think what this team would do with a regular shortstop who hit the astounding .119/.200/.134 Rouse put up, only over 600 plate appearances.

It is one thing to give a 24-year-old a chance to prove a bad season was a temporary dip, a fluke, a gork whose importance can be minimized as part of the development process.

For Jhonny Peralta, this is it.