Thursday, December 29, 2011

Kind of Bullish on Ryan Sweeney

The trade between the Oakland Athletics and Boston Red Sox yesterday should engender solid research and statistical analysis. You won't find that in this post. Keith Law has already done it and so has Andrew Martin over at This is more of a hunch based on little more than watching baseball's ebb and flow for decades. Ryan Sweeney is going to be a nice piece for the Boston Red Sox.

It's fun to watch the minds of those in the Red Sox front office work. Most people know that the renowned Bill James roams those back offices along with several of his proteges. To see that the Red Sox liked Ryan Sweeney is obvious. All you have to do is look at the Bill James' projections for Sweeney on Sweeney's Fangraphs page. But if this Fan may make the observation: the projection could be pessimistic.

There are a couple of solid statistical facts that back up this hunch. First, in his career, Ryan Sweeney has hit the ball to the opposite field more often than he's pulled the ball (306 to 239 times). As a left-handed batter, that's a nice thing to do in Fenway Park with it's enticing Green Monster. Secondly, when Sweeney does hit the ball to the opposite field, his slash line doing so is: .384/.379/.485. That will play well in Fenway. Lastly, Sweeney has never hit less than 20 percent of his ball in play as line drives. That means he squares the ball up nicely.

Add to the hunch is Sweeney's defense. Back in 2009, Fangraphs gave Sweeney 20.9 runs saved playing the outfield. The last two years have been in slightly negative territory. But if this Fan isn't mistaken, Sweeney hasn't been overly healthy in the last two seasons. Fix that and you should get the solid defending found in 2009 and the years before. Sweeney is still only 26 years old. He should be able to rebound health-wise. Right field is an important position in Fenway. It's has odd angles and there is a lot of room out there. It's a much more important field than left with the big wall out there half way past the infield it seems.

The scouting reports indicate that Sweeney has excellent instincts in the outfield with a strong and accurate arm. All pluses in right field for the Red Sox. But the thing this observer really likes is kind of a pooh-poohed statistic nowadays. Ryan Sweeney has played 444 games in the outfield and has only made four errors total for his career. Four. And three of those were in 2009. So take away those three errors in 2009, and Sweeney has made one error in all the rest of his big league seasons. That's pretty impressive.

Of course, there are a few concerns. First, Sweeney swings from the left side of the plate. The Boston Red Sox are already overloaded with lefty swingers. It would have been nice to pick up a right-handed bat. Secondly, the Red Sox have been high on Ryan Kalish for a long time and had hoped that the young slugger could be the next Red Sox star. He'll probably get his shot in right in Spring Training. If Kalish is legitimate, Sweeney could take away his playing time. But it's a nice insurance policy to have, no? Plus, Sweeney can play all outfield positions so he is a hedge in case (God forbid) Jacoby Ellsbury goes down or Carl Crawford continues to struggle as the Red Sox left fielder.

This deal reminds this Fan of the Carney Lansford deal years ago when the Red Sox picked up Lansford as an extra piece from the Angels in a trade in 1981. Lansford wasn't highly touted before his arrival. He had more power than Sweeney does, but, otherwise, Lansford's numbers were similar to what Sweeney has done with the A's. Once he became the Red Sox third baseman, Lansford had two terrific seasons for the Red Sox. Sweeney--and remember, this is all just a hunch--feels like that same kind of player except he plays the outfield.

Sweeney will hit .280 or higher. His OBP will be .350 or higher. And perhaps he'll slug a little more. This observer simply has a hunch that Sweeney could be a three and a half to four WAR player for the Red Sox. Again, those Red Sox are no dummies. This writer will throw his hat in with that crew any day.


Left Field said...

You're going to base your bullishness on Ryan Sweeney on a hunch and nothing else? Where's the extensive research and analysis?

Left Field said...

Oh said you weren't going to do extensive research and analysis, right there in the first paragraph. Damn, those first paragraph details will get you every time. ;)

William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

Hahaha! Ya brat. And yes, this writer gets it.

Jonathan C. Mitchell said...

I'm actually with you, William. I think Sweeney can be at least a full win on defense and his ability to get on base is key to his value.

He is a career .295/.352/.402 hitter against RHP and will be entering his age 27 season. Maybe his 5 o'clock power will show up at 7 o'clock, maybe it won't, either way he can still be a 2-3 win player.