Friday, May 23, 2014

Do We Still Hate Ryan Doumit?

As Braves fans tend to do, the overreaction to Ryan Doumit's slow start were almost immediate. Doumit, who had OPS'd over .800 three times in his career (most recently in 2011, his last season in the NL), struggled to open the season with the Braves. After a strikeout in his only at-bat on May 9th against the Cubs, Doumit was slashing a miserable .171/.194/.366. I read from a few twitter folks about how Frank Wren screwed up by trading young southpaw Sean Gilmartin for Doumit.

It was a surprising move, though low-key, when the Braves picked up Doumit from the Twins last December. The Braves were set at every position Doumit played, or so everyone figured, and Doumit wasn't exactly gifted at any position defensively. He was a bad catcher (-16 DRS over 4000+ innings), a bad first baseman (short sample size, but it's awful), and a fairly weak corner outfielder. Why pay $3.5M for a guy who has typically been a starter and posted a .710 OPS last season?

Doumit, a former 2nd rounder in the 1999 draft, is a switch-hitter and in the National League, having that off the bench is important. While throughout his career, Doumit has hit for much more power against righties, he holds his own rather well against left-hand hitting pitchers, at least comparable to his production vs. righties. And that flexibility? Yeah, he's never going to make anyone think he is a stud at any of his four positions, but flexibility is valuable, especially on a NL bench. The ability, and experience, to catch from someone who isn't your primary backup catcher? That's unusual and a benefit for the Braves.

But his struggles made people overreact. "We could have Sean Gilmartin!"

Really?  We're upset about losing Sean Gilmartin? I get that he was a 1st rounder, but he wasn't exactly lighting up the board. Gilmartin posted a 1.22 WHIP over 157 innings during his first full season, playing for mostly Mississippi in 2012. He also got seven forgetful starts with Gwinnett and was already in AAA a year-and-a-half into his career. But there were warning signs. A 6.4 K/9 rate is hardly impressive, nor is a 0.9 HR/9. His control was very good, though.

An injury-savaged 2013 followed and when he wasn't on the shelf, he was struggling badly. Even if you gave Gilmartin a pass because of injuries, when he returned last August, he had a good outing, an okay outing, a bad outing, and an awful one that finished up the year (7 runs in 5 ING to Charlotte, a team that finished 13 games under .500). Gilmartin, during the 2013 spring training, was supposed to be the only real competition Julio Teheran would face as Teheran looked to cement his position with the staff (b the w, he did just that). By the end of 2013, Frank Wren and his scouts were ready to sell.

They had missed on a first round pick. Hard to know who may have been next on the Braves radar, but the Red Sox selected a fairly top prospect, Henry Owens, with the 36th pick later in the draft. The Braves could have stuck with Gilmartin, but his ceiling was lower than they had even projected when they drafted him. Velocity in the high 80's with a decent change of pace, a missing breaking ball, and good control. The Braves had Chuck James, version 2.0. And credit to the Braves, they are willing to move on from starters that don't cut the mustard.

So, rather than hope Gilmartin progressed into a bottom-of-the-rotation stalwart, Atlanta brought in Doumit, who signed a three-year deal with the Twins before 2012. The soon-to-be 33 year-old had the attributes teams like off the bench and was proven at this level.

But again, Doumit struggled to open the season and defensively, batters seemed to find him as he wandered aimlessly around the outfield. It was easy to get down on him. However, he's now 6 for his last 14 with a pair of pinch hit doubles and a pinch hit homer, to go with a two-run single that was the difference in Thursday night's come-from-behind win. Suddenly, those same detractors have gone silent. Their tweets non-existent.

To Gilmartin's credit, he has gotten off to a pretty decent start with New Britain in the Eastern League, including 46 K's in 47.2 ING. However, he remains very hittable and for a guy with 24 starts at AAA, pitching well at AA is hardly an achievement. He can't seem to crack a AAA pitching staff that includes former Brave cast-off Scott Diamond and, most recently, Mike Pelfrey. Meanwhile, the Braves have a solid bench guy who is hot right now. Not at AA, but in the bigs.

I'm feeling good about the trade myself. Yeah, Frank Wren's not perfect. But for every miss, there are five successful transactions. I believe this one is one of those five.

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