The Mockingbird

Grizzly or Teddy?

with 8 comments

First, I’d like to throw a little cold water on the Taoism that Jeff Blair is a big grouch.

During the State of the Franchise whinefest, I wanted to talk to Blair but had been told he was cruel and gruff to non-reporters. I sheepishly introduced myself and lied about the fact that I was from Winnipeg, his home state, and he talked pleasantly for 15 minutes. I’ve admired him from afar since. I would vote him into the hall of fame even if he wasn’t deserving.

blairsy.jpg

Seriously, he was friendly as hell and his eyes lit up like a little child telling baseball stories. Some people just can’t help it- they take a bad-ass picture and look best in full glower.

Anyway, man-crush established, I’d like to take issue with his dismissal of Reed Johnson’s defensive advantage in left-field:

Guys: Johnson’s a fan favourite, but Stewart can be much more of an offensive factor. He’s a better hitter. Period. Defence is over-valued in left field, compared to offence at least. If you’re asking your left-fielder to throw out guys on the bases, your team is in trouble.

Stewart just isn’t the same player that you can say “Period.” about any more. His power hasn’t been there for three years now. OPS’ of .711, .715, .739 are well below average and not much better than Reed’s .711 against righties. It takes a little off the shine of calling him a “proven” insurance option in left field when what he’s been proving since 2005 is even healthy, he’s a significantly below-average outfielder.

At the very least they’re close enough that their defense could easily tip the scales. The only reason that there isn’t much value put on defense in left field is that it’s usually somewhere you hide a slugger with a lousy arm because of the short throw to third- there’s nothing that makes extra plays or throws coming from left field any less important to the team.

So how much better a fielder is Johnson? Other than his gimpy 2007 of +2 (which is totally out of character for his career), Johnson has averaged 14 plays above average since 2005 (according to the Fielding Bible). Over roughly the same playing time, Stewart is a total of +3. That means 11 more plays made in left field over an average 400-at bat season over that time. Even if this stuff seems like hocus pocus, one more play every 15 games sounds reasonable, no?

A hit saved has about the same value as a hit earned, and 11 hits in left field over 400 at bats would equal another 26 points of average! (to say nothing of slugging percentage). All of a sudden Reed’s possible return to hitting .270 doesn’t look so bad.

Then there’s the arm. Johnson’s is the best left field arm in the majors, while Stewart’s is one of the worst (in 2007 only Matt Diaz and Luis Gonzalez were ranked lower). In addition to an extra baserunner “kill” a year, over the last three years runners took the extra base (in situations it was possible to go first-third, second-home, etc) .297 of the time against Johnson and .411 against Stewart. Over a normal 120 chances, that’s another 14 extra bases per season.

Without getting into linear weights and all that, that’s significant. Imagine Reed had another 14 sucessful stolen bases and one less caught stealing (18-1), except more because a fair number of those extra bases involve going home.

Of course, I clipped the second part of his Blair’s reply, where he nails it:

Hustle? Meh, sounds like one of those bad sportswriter cliches that get dredged up around the NHL playoffs. Like grit. Screw grit and hustle: I’d rather have talented players. Plus, I don’t think the Blue Jays trust Johnson to be healthy.

If Johnson isn’t healthy, all this goes out the window. If Stairs isn’t healthy (he sprained his ankle the other day), Stewart’s value goes up as a full-time left fielder. But even if the powers that be have already made this a foregone conclusion, objectively the left field situation is still really a close call, and defense makes it even closer. (They certainly aren’t making things any easier by hitting .100 and .144 respectively so far in spring training).

It’s funny, I’ve always been on the other side of the Johnson debate because his shortcomings are glossed over due to his “hustle”, but now nobody seems to have noticed that Shanny is no prize any more because of another one of baseball’s red herrings- the “pure” .300 hitter, and the underrated effect of defense.

Written by halejon

March 7, 2008 at 8:09 pm

8 Responses

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  1. Exactly. As I have said before, Johnson may be the question – but Stewart is not the answer. What get’s so frustrating to me is the people – and Blair is one of them – who casually cite Stewarts CAREER splits as a selling point when he is clearly not the player he was five years ago. It’s like me lobbying for brining back Shawn Green because we could use a 30-30 player in the lineup!

    WillRain

    March 7, 2008 at 8:54 pm

  2. I hear Lou Brock is available! :)

    That’s one of my pet peeves, too. Go to all the trouble of looking up splits and overlook the fact that some of them are a decade old.

    Front offices are notoriously poor at projecting the decline of players as well…Geez, it’s not rocket science. A monkey could do it.

    halejon

    March 7, 2008 at 9:46 pm

  3. I agree. Stewart is probably still a better hitter than Reed over the course of a full season, playing against lefties and righties, but the Jays don’t intend on using Reed or Shannon that way so it’s not really a useful comparison. I like having Stewart around as depth and to motivate Reed – if there’s an injury to say, Stairs, during the Spring and the Jays don’t want to go with Lind, I’d rather have Stewart out there everyday than Reed. But if not, I think I’d take my chances with Reed’s splits against lefties and his superior defense, as well as his ability to play the other OF positions if need be.

    As for Blair, he often comments that his favorite band of all time is the Clash, so I don’t have a bad word to say about him.

    hugo

    March 8, 2008 at 12:58 pm

  4. I’m really having some difficulty wrapping my head around the logic of constructing a platoon where one half, Stairs, mashes righties and the other hasn’t hit lefties well since 2003. And is a weak defender. And can’t steal because of bad hammies. What is it he does do again?

    Griffin, man battle your station! More evidence JP doesn’t have a plan! Or did have a plan, whichever one is wrong!

    If Blair said that this is all about the Benjamins, then yes, I could see why JP is pushing for Stewart, though I certainly wouldn’t agree with it.

    johnny was

    March 8, 2008 at 3:57 pm

  5. Neither of them are with the team next year anyways.

    joenethery

    March 23, 2008 at 11:34 pm

  6. And?

    halejon

    March 24, 2008 at 8:44 pm

  7. It’s just another stopgap move, like the SS revolving door, and doesn’t mean a whole lot in the scheme of things this year. I think I’m in the Blair camp in that I’m shocked it made it this far.

    (I also need a new avatar for myself, I have just realized.)
    (I also have nothing new or unique to contribute to blogging about the Jays, so I thought a one liner would be a good entry into the fray.)

    joenethery

    March 25, 2008 at 8:49 am

  8. Yah, I hear you…probably a good thing really that it’s a stopgap with the OF set and with prospects coming as it is- that two year deal for Shanny would have been a head-scratcher. And hopefully Stairs gets 350-400 AB so this is all moot except for $$$.

    halejon

    March 28, 2008 at 8:12 pm


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