Tuesday, November 11, 2014

WOW's Offseason Look at: Left Side of the Infield

I'm going to tighten these last two posts up in case things get serous on the player movement front. Don't want to be doing a overviews when the roster is in flux.

Shortstop
Who we got?... Andrelton Simmons (you need someone else? Fine...), Philip Gosselin
Who's getting Arby?... Ramiro Pena
Who might be going?... Emilio Bonifacio
Who might be coming?... Jose Peraza, Elmer Reyes

Listen, it's clear that Simba is one of the most exciting players in the game. You know how difficult it is to post a 71 RC+ and STILL post a 2.3 fWAR? But therein lies why we love and hate Simmons. Hate might be too strong of a word. I guess "endure" is far more deserving. We endure Simmons at the plate because he makes these amazing plays in the field that often take our breath away. His range, his arm, his soft hands, his unusual tendency to back up left field - it's all out-of-this-world and if Ozzie Smith is a Hall of Famer based solely on his defense, Simmons has that shot base don his.

But that bat...yuk. Simmons had a poor 2013 where he was badly miscast as a leadoff hitter, but he was quite better that season than he was in 2014. A slash of .244/.286/.331 won't earn most mortals much playing time. Amazingly, his infield pop-up rate tumbled from 17% to 10.8%, which got him off Fangraphs' leaderboard for the stat. Still, only four people last year did what Simmons did which was have a groundball rate over 50% and still have an infield pop-up rate over 10%. These things shouldn't usually work together. Now, a .261 BABIP, tenth worst among qualified players, certainly didn't help, but that was actually an improvement over the .247 BABIP he had in 2013.

Simply put, his power, which allowed him to smack 17 homers in 2013, left him (and most of the team). Paired with a moderate loss in BB% and simultaneous gain in K% and just about all that could have gone wrong with his season did. He's a special player, but he has to hit a little better and part of that comes down to, I believe, his swing. The only Brave who was gifted with as many fastballs as a percentage of pitches seen was B.J. Upton. Why these two? Because pitchers felt if they are going to make outs, let them. Simmons need to re-work his swing and approach and hopefully Kevin Seitzer can help with that. We know he can put wood on the ball, but simply popping up and grounding out does little to help the team.

Behind him are some backups we've already discussed. Pena and Gosselin are both capable enough at shortstop, though anytime anyone other than Simmons plays the position, the drop-off is notable. Chances are Peraza, when he arrives, will shift over if Simmons ever misses much time.

Depth Chart
1. Simmons
2. Pena
3. Gosselin

Third Base
Who we got?... Chris Johnson, Pena, Gosselin
Who's getting Arby?... Pena
Who might be going?... Nobody (yay!)
Who might be coming?... Kyle Kubitza

Sit back and I will tell the tale of a man named Chris Johnson who never saw a pitch that he didn't think was worthy of his mighty swing. Since joining the Braves, only six players have swung at a higher percentage of pitches they've seen than CJ (55.2%). Only four players have swung at a higher percentage of pitches outside the strikezone than CJ (42%). But despite swinging like a light-hitting middle infielder, CJ doesn't make that kind of contact. Of those that swing at least 50% of the time (28 qualify over the last two years), only Josh Hamilton joins CJ as not making contact on at least 55% of swings on pitches outside the strikezone. 67 players over the last two years made better contact on swings inside the strikezone. That's out of 122 players. CJ's contact rate on all swings is 73.8%. That ranks 106. In his defense, Justin Upton ranks lower and B.J. Upton ranks second-to-last.

All these percentages were hidden as a .394 BABIP allowed him to post a 2.7 fWAR in 2013. A 50 point drop-off this season led to proportional drops in average and OBP. Unfortunately, like in the case of Simmons (and too much of the team), CJ's already average power disappeared. It would be fair to point out that Johnson finished strong, but he failed to even do that. He literally gave me nothing to talk up.

And Unfortunately for us all, former general manager Frank Wren guaranteed Johnson $23.5M over the next three seasons. While his contract doesn't make him completely untradeable, it definitely doesn't help. Back when he signed, I virtually penned a blogpost about how his contract probably wouldn't be too much of a mistake, but it was a needless one to make. But that was under the impression Johnson didn't completely crash. A 0.5 fWAR season is pretty ugly for a guy starting 149 games for you.

The Braves don't have many options in-house. Like with second base, Gosselin and Pena are best suited in a back-up role. Kyle Kubitza gives the Braves some hope. He's a better fielder and athlete than Johnson (he swiped 21 bases last year) and if he hits anywhere close to his minor league baseline (.271/.381/.437), he'll be a decent option that won't concern you as a starter. If he adds more pop, he's an All-Star. Now, I think that average will probably come down, but there is enough power to go with his great on-base skills to think he's a 3 win guy. Short of a trade that moves Johnson, Kubitza is going to be ticketed for a trip to Gwinnett regardless of what he does next spring.

For now, we're stuck with CJ. Ugh.

Depth Chart
1. Johnson
2. Gosselin
3. Pena

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