Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Howdy Alberto!

Switch-hitter Alberto Callaspo, who has been in the majors for nine years now, will spend at least some of his tenth season with the Braves. And he's exceedingly average in almost everything he does. It's the Winter of Meh.

Callaspo broke into the bigs with the 2006 Diamondbacks as a utility guy and would play that role until his second year in Kansas City, 2009. Oddly, he hit zero homers in about 435 PA before 2009, where he became an everyday guy for the Royals, mostly at second. He belted eleven dingers that year and posted a 2 fWAR for the year. After his BABIP fell in 2010 during a year that included another trade, this time to the Angels, he rebounded in 2011 with his best season. His slash of .288/.366/.375 is a bit seductive, plus his defense at third is well liked by the defensive metrics. He would start again at third for the 2012 Angels, though his value was completely based on his glove as the bat didn't play up. He was sent packing again in 2013, this time to Oakland, where he has spent the last year-and-a-half. He was bad in 2013, atrocious last year.

Let's delve deeper. One considerable concern with Callaspo is that defense, once his calling card, has gotten worse, though probably because he's bad at playing second base. Sadly, right now, that would appear to be what he has been signed for. While short sample sizes can skew any metric, especially defensive ones, Callaspo's poor defense at second in 2010 and 2013-14 is consistent with his only considerable time at the position in 2009. Conversely, outside of 2013, which is likely the outlier, Callaspo is a great third baseman.

Great, except for the fact that he lacks the offensive profile we expect from corner infielders. Only twice (2009, 2011) has Callaspo posted a wRC+ above 100. That is to say, when adjusted for the position he plays, league he plays in, and the season in which he posted those numbers, he has only been an above-average hitter twice. That makes it difficult to play him every day unless you are hiding him.

Which makes Atlanta's signing of him all the more confusing. What does Callaspo give the Braves that they didn't already have? As a second baseman, he's been historically a bad option and considering his offense is substandard, this is the best the Braves could find in a stopgap until Jose Peraza was ready? Some have suggested Callaspo could platoon at third with Chris Johnson. While this takes advantage of Callaspo's greatest asset, his defense at third, Callaspo has been historically worse against righties than he has against lefties. I'm tempted to throw out the data based on Callaspo, a switch-hitter, facing righties far more frequently as a left-handed hitter, but either way, Callaspo wouldn't be an ideal platoon mate for Johnson, either.

For $3M with another million in incentives, Callaspo isn't a terrible bench option, though it seemed like the Braves already had a wealth of infielders good enough to take up a spot on the bench, but not good enough to be a starter. And that seems to be the issue with this signing. The Braves didn't get better, they got older. They didn't get worse, but they are still older. Not that getting older is the plan because it's becoming clear what the Braves are aiming for. Callaspo does one other thing other than play a golden third base. He makes contact. Like Nick Markakis, Callaspo is a "grinder," and he's "gritty," and he "leaves it out on the field." He won't strikeout 150 times.

Baseball, like most professional sports, is always looking for the new thing. Last year, the Royals were the only team in baseball to strikeout less than 1000 times. The traditionalist would scream "Ha, striking out is bad. The Royals proved it." The guy who goes to Fangraphs would say that they placed seventh in fWAR for a reason. Sure, they hit for shit, but they were one of the best base running  teams and THE best fielding team in baseball according to Fangraphs. Oh, and their pitching was fifth best. But beyond that, it's worth noting that the Royals were a bit of a different team in the playoffs. They struck out more, though that is to be expected against better pitching. They also hit for slightly more power. However, the takeaway was that a bunch of grind-it-out guys used speed and defense to get to the World Series. There is some truth to that, but it's way too simplistic.

Either way, if that theory is where the Braves are headed, guys like Callaspo bridge the gap. He'll put the ball on the ground and make the defense have to make a play. They usually have, and will (he's only reached via error 41 times in his career). As a byproduct of this approach, he'll ground into his fair share of double plays. And in five years, we'll forget he was even a Brave. Such is the nature with the Winter of Meh.


  1. In 5 years one can only hope we'll forget Callaspo was a Brave. If he reaches the traveshamockery levels of Chris Woodward and Craig Wilson, then....well, some may never forget that he wore the uniform, even if it's for just half a season.

  2. Interestingly enough, I did forget about Craig Wilson. I remember being a fan of that signing, too. He was the pre-Doumit.