Friday, February 13, 2015

Rickie Weeks, Mariners?

Rickie Weeks just signed a $2 million deal with the Seattle Mariners who happen to already have a second baseman named Robinson Cano. The deal is a pay cut for Weeks to the tune of 82%. Ouch. It doesn't seem that long ago that Rickie Weeks was an All Star and seemed to be one of the most dynamic players in the game. What the heck happened?
The timing of Week's descent from All Star to mediocre was not great for the Milwaukee Brewers. They based their 2012, three-year, $31 million contract for Weeks based on his five-year run beginning in 2007 of averaging 3.12 WAR a season with good pop, high on-base, stolen base and decent fielding skills. That contract was a bust in just about every way.
Beginning in 2009, Weeks had a three-year run of scoring a 120+ wOBA a season. 2010 was a particularly productive and break out season in which Weeks compiled over 300 total bases and got on base 276 times. Both were career highs as were his home runs, RBIs and runs scored that season. He led the league in getting hit by pitches in 2010 for the second time in his career.
Weeks missed about a third of the following season of 2011 but still scored in the same ranges in the time he did play. Thus, it might have seemed reasonable for the Brewers to extend the deal they made to their second baseman. It just didn't work out that way.
In 2012, the first year of the deal, Weeks played a full season and compiled 677 plate appearances. But his OPS dropped 90 points and his wRC+ dropped 27 points. According to the numbers, his defense also totally crapped out.
In 2010, Weeks was rated the second most valuable second baseman in baseball behind only Cano. In 2012, he was only the 20th best. But it would get worse...much worse.
Weeks started 2013 badly. He had a .615 OPS for April. It was even worse at .506 in May. He had a great June and seemed to be back to himself. But in July, he plummeted to .582. On August 8, mercifully, he was shut down for the rest of the season for a hamstring injury for which he had surgery and did not play again the rest of the season.
For 2013, in 399 plate appearances, he compiled a woeful triple slash line of: .209/.306/.357. Scooter Gennett finished out the season for the Brewers at second base and come on gangbusters (cliche alert) and was named the starting second baseman for the Brewers for 2014. Weeks was now a pretty expensive bench player.
The funny thing is, Rickie Weeks' bat bounced back. He played 57 times at second base and compiled an .861 OPS as a starter there. He also pinch hit 56 times with less success and DHed twice. But otherwise, he was no longer in the Brewers' plans. Add in the fact that his fielding was still abominable.
Since he played in only 104 games in 2013 and only 121 in 2014, he did not reach the totals necessary for his option for 2015 to kick in automatically. His Brewers days were over.
How are the Mariners going to use him? Obviously, they already have a VERY expensive second baseman on board. Weeks has never played a position other than second base in his entire MLB and MiLB career. Can he suddenly play the outfield? Will he be tried at third? First? It seems a rather strange signing.
Then again, if Weeks is back offensively, he is a right-handed batter and the Mariners have needed that in their lineup. Will he be the DH? It is hard to say what the M's are thinking when signing Weeks.
It might be a good thing for Weeks to learn a new position and rebuild his value. His annual salary took a beating and his former team gave up on him. Those two things can be highly motivational. The things we do know are that Weeks might not be done as a hitter but is quite done as a viable second baseman. The Mariners could still make that work and turn this head scratching into something none of us would have thought about.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Jon Jay is quite a bargain

There are times when emotions run smack into reality. And this post is one of those times. I have never been a big fan of Jon Jay of the St Louis Cardinals. I didn't think he was a bad player. He simply felt like an obstacle from others getting to play that I thought were better. In 2012 and 2013, I felt that Jay got in the way of Shane Robinson.  Last year, I felt he got in the way of Peter Bourjos. I was wrong both times and now that he has signed a two-year, team-friendly deal, the Cardinals got quite a bargain.
You have to look at all the numbers before you can appreciate Jay very much. For example, I never would have guessed that Jay had a 112 wOBA for his career. In fact, in his five years with the Cardinals, Jay has never had a year with a wOBA less than a hundred. I never would have guessed that.
Next, I never would have pegged Jon Jay for having a career .359 OBP.  Not only that, but for the last two seasons, Jay has been over .370 in the category. His combined on-base percentage over the last two years is the 25th best in baseball. I never would have guessed that.
Jay is a left-handed batter who is one of the few with very good splits against left-handed pitching. He only came to the plate 94 times against lefties in 2014, but he still had an OPS against them of .859 (much higher than against right-handeed pitchers). And Jay has a .718 OPS in his career against lefties.
Jay is also very consistent and not prone to bad months. His second half totals over the years are better (slightly) than his first half totals. But they are so close together, you barely notice them.  It seems he is going to give you a good quality at bat each time he comes to the plate. His career 16% strikeout rate for his career is very reasonable for this age of strikeout rates through the roof.
If you just look at his ground ball to fly ball ratio, he looks rather Jeterish with many more ground balls than fly balls. It works out to a 2.33 career ratio. But, the ground balls work for him as he has a .278 BABIP on ground balls for his career. The MLB average is closer to .230.
Better yet, he hits a lot of line drives. His line drive percentage in 2013 was 26.7% and an incredible 28.3% in 2014. If you combine the last two seasons, Jon Jay has the fourth highest line drive percentage in baseball, trailing only Freddie FreemanJames Loney and Joe Mauer.
The success on ground balls and the amount of line drives leads to a high BABIP and he has been over .350 in that category for two of the last three seasons. Another factor of that is his willingness to hit to the opposite field. Jay has actually put more balls in play to the opposite field in his career than he has pulling the ball. And when he hits to the opposite field, his batting average is over .400!
The two weaknesses in Jay's offensive game are his lack of power and his fairly low walk rate. Hitting mostly line drives and ground balls, that leaves little way his batted balls can ever go over the fence. And his 6.0% walk rate in 2014 was below his career average of 6.8%, which is not very high. He will swing at pitches out of the strike zone 30% of the time or more.
All that said, Jon Jay is a solid offensive performer and has consistently been so for his entire career. He is not going to hit you the three-run homer, but he will hit for average and get on base better than league average.
I think some of the knock on Jay from people like me and others is that we see him the most in the post season and he has not had much success in the post season. And he misplayed a couple of balls in the outfield in the World Series against the Red Sox. "He takes bad routes to the ball," we are told. That may be, but his defense has been solid.
Jay finished with negative defensive marks in 2013. But the year before and then last year in 2014, the marks have been above average. There is no denying that he has a really weak arm and can't throw very well. But he is not going to kill you in center according to the numbers.
Looking through Jon Jay's numbers have been a surprise and I guess I can shut up now. Jay has averaged 2.24 WAR per season and 2.58 over the last four. In today's market, that makes him roughly a $12.9 million player. That said, his recent contract will pay him $10.98 million (total) for the next two years. The Cardinals have done a nice job here of going to the department store and signing a player for half off. That's quite the deal.

P.S. Several mentioned on Twitter that Jay's deal was not a bargain since Jay was 2nd Year arbitration eligible. Well...I know that. But I still peg his value at $12.9 million and Jay is giving up his right to have a hearing for much more next year, so my point still stands.