Saturday, December 18, 2010

Keppinger Odd Man Out in Houston?

When Bill Hall was announced yesterday as a signee of the Houston Astros, the story indicated the Astros wanted Hall to be the every day second baseman. Upon reading that news, this observer's first reaction was, "What about Keppinger?" Keppinger had a fine season last year and became one of this writer's favorite box score views. After seeming to come into his own last year, is Keppinger now the odd man out with the signing of Hall? And if so, should he be?

There are three negatives to Keppinger. One, his back acts up occasionally. He missed a few games here and there last year due to soreness. Second, he's only adequate at second base. He's worse anywhere else in the infield and second base is his best position. But no one will mistake him for Roberto Alomar over there. Lastly, he is arbitration eligible. Fangraphs rated his season last year at $9.6 million. After making a million and a half in 2010, Keppinger is in line for a nice raise. But even if he gets one, if he plays like he did last year, he'll be worth it.

To this Fan, Bill Hall isn't an upgrade to Keppinger. Hall signed for about $3.5 million which is right around what he is worth. But his true worth is as a utility player that can play five or six different positions. He is not an upgrade to Keppinger on an every day basis.

First of all, Hall doesn't make contact or get on base nearly as proficiently as Keppinger. Keppinger walked 51 times last year and only struck out 36 times. In today's game, that's a remarkable stat. Hall struck out 104 times in only 382 plate appearances (31%!) and walked only 34 times. Keppinger batted .288 and has a .281 lifetime batting average. Bill Hall hit .247 and has a .250 lifetime batting average. Keppinger had a .351 On Base Percentage with a .339 lifetime mark in that category. Bill Hall has a .316 On Base Percentage in 2010 and has a .310 lifetime mark.

So what does Hall have as a starter that Keppinger doesn't have? Power. Hall has a .447 lifetime slugging percentage and had 18 homers last year. Hall once hit 35 homers in a season for the Brewers. Granted, that season was an outlier for Hall as it was the best season of his life, but the point is, he has a career history of being able to put the ball out of the park. Keppinger will never be mistaken for a home run hitter. He hit six last year and has a lifetime slugging percentage of just .391. Because of his power, Hall has a .753 lifetime OPS compared to Keppinger's .729.

Hall isn't any better a second baseman than Keppinger and this Fan can't get past the fact that Hall was worth $3.8 million last year for the Red Sox while Keppinger was worth $9.6 million for the Astros. Keppinger seems like the type of player that fits the type of team Houston wants to be. They were a team of scrappy overachievers last year, particularly after losing Berkman and Oswalt. Yet they went on to have a fine second half last season.

There is something else about switching Hall in over Keppinger. With Johnson at third, Wallace at first and Lee in the outfield, the Astros already have three guys in the line up with power and the ability to strike out in prodigious amounts. Keppinger broke that up with consistent contact and made the pitcher work for the out. Hall just gives the Astros one more high strikeout guy which will make this line up look a lot like the Diamondbacks of a year ago. That doesn't seem to be the way to go.

There is no secret that the Fan is a big Fan of Jeff Keppinger. He just seems like the kind of player you want on the field every day. Hall had a couple of good seasons in Milwaukee and one great one. But he's been just so-so ever since. If you were going to make Hall your fourth infielder and fourth outfielder and use him in a rotation to give guys a break, that suits the Fan just fine. But if you use him to replace Jeff Keppinger, this Fan feels you are weakening the every day team the Astros put on the field.

No comments: