Dave’s Guys: The Hitters

Pitchers and catchers report this week. Yes, it’s the most anti-climactic day in the history of the world, but the symbolism is real: when these guys start unpacking their bags and taking physicals, baseball is back. And so, our attention begins to shift. We now talk about 2010 as the current season, no longer referring to it as “next year” or “the upcoming year.” It’s now “this year.” And that’s exciting, even if the actual details behind pitchers and catchers reporting is not.

So, to kick off the start of the looking ahead season, I’m going to do two posts today on guys that I feel like I am more optimistic about than the general consensus. For various reasons, I like these guys more than the projection systems or the wisdom of the crowd. These are the three hitters that I think will surprise people with how well they play in 2010.

Carlos Guillen, Detroit

Whenever an older player has a bad season, it is always attributed to age-related decline, no matter how the drop-off comes or how severe it is. If they regress a bit from prior performance, well, that’s normal, they’re getting older. If they decline a lot, they fell off The Cliff. There’s hardly ever any allowance for the fact that it could have just been a bad year, especially if it looks like a player is trending downwards.

This basically sums up the thought process on Guillen, I think. His wOBAs have gone .390-.361-.359-.328 the last four years, and he’s now 34 years old, so the assumption is that Father Time is just catching up to him. Except that, when you look at his core statistics, that isn’t really true. His .177 ISO last year is above his career average. His BB/K was normal, though his strikeouts went up a bit. His HR/FB% and LD% were both right around his career norms. The 30 point drop in wOBA is all BABIP, which went from .321 to .267. Even if he’s slowing down, I see no reason to believe that reflects 100% skill reduction. Guillen’s still a good hitter with both power and patience, and he shouldn’t be written off prematurely.

Cliff Pennington, Oakland

As one of those decent-at-everything-great-at-nothing types, Pennington avoided hype while climbing the minor league ladder despite being a former first round selection. His lack of power is usually one of the first things people will mention, but he’s not David Eckstein or Luis Castillo – he hits the ball hard enough where you can’t just throw him a fastball down the middle. He controls the strike zone well, makes good contact, and is a pretty good baserunner, plus he offers the benefit of being a switch hitter.

If he can show enough glove to stick at shortstop, he’s one of the better young players in the game at the position. Yet, he’s almost never talked about outside of Oakland, at least as far as I can tell. Most teams would love to have a guy at SS with Pennington’s offensive abilities, and if the A’s end up as contenders in the west, don’t be surprised if their shortstop is one of the reasons why.

Melky Cabrera, Atlanta

He’s been around long enough that its easy to forget that he’s just 25 years old. He gets labeled as a tweener, because he’s not a great defensive CF or a great offensive LF, but guys like this are often better than people realize, and there’s still upside left with Cabrera. He’s a really good contact hitter and strong enough to add to his current gap power levels. He doesn’t even have to add all that much power to turn himself into a legitimate 20-20 threat.

He may not look like a classic corner outfielder, but Cabrera can play, and I think Braves fans will be pleasantly surprised with what he offers. His defense is going to be a solid plus in a corner, and he’s not far from being a quintessential #2 hitter. Given his physical skills and age, don’t be surprised if he locks down an outfield spot in Atlanta for the next several years.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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andrew
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andrew
6 years 3 months ago

I’m a yankee fan, and not a Melky hater, and I would be surprised to see him ever develop into a 2 hitter. His career OBP is .330. He’s a solid contributor, but I want my guys at the top of the order to be getting on base so guys like McCann and Chipper can drive them in. Not only is his career OBP .330, but it has shown no signs of improving. His career high in OBP was his rookie season before getting worse the two following years, and finally recovering a bit last season. Although Melky lacks plate discipline, he does not lack talent. He’s a very good guy to have at the bottom of the order, but to say he’s not far from being a #2 hitter is a bit too far from the truth.

bobo
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bobo
6 years 3 months ago

I don’t see Melky ever adding enough power to hit 20HRs playing in Atlanta, that stadium is not the same as the bandbox known as the new Yankee stadium where Melky hit 9 of his 13 dingers last year. Playing everywhere else his ISO dropped to .130 from .153 at his home park. Even with his young age, I think Atlanta will play more like all of his road games last year and Melky will be lucky to hit double digit home runs. He shouldn’t worry about power, more specifically he should not fall into the trap of focusing on getting Home Runs, I think that would cause all kinds of problems for guy like him…

nmh
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nmh
6 years 3 months ago

Truck Day is the new Pitchers Report for Spring Training.

Dave S.
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Dave S.
6 years 3 months ago

I think Melky has the skillset to become a 20/20 type of player, though I’d see him more a 12-15/25-30 kind of guy. His issue has long been maintaining consistency in his approach. When he goes wrong, he swings at absolutely everything. If he can develop more control over his PAs, he could go from being a moderate asset to a plus asset.

Colin
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Colin
6 years 3 months ago

How do you think Pennington’s offense will compare with his 2009 numbers? As an A’s fan, I would be overjoyed if he kept up a .760 OPS in 2010, but I don’t see it happening.

His 2009 ISO (playing half his games in Oakland!) was higher than almost any of his minor league seasons, with exception of a half season of great hitter’s parks while playing for Stockton. The one thing he was consistently good at in the minors was drawing walks, but his walk rate has (understandably) dropped since coming to the majors, and I think he owes his 2009 OBP figure to that .342 BABIP.

So I guess I’m wondering how optimistic you are about him? I could see him steadily improving to be the type of hitter who makes contact, hits line drives and ground balls, and uses his speed to get on base. But I’m expecting 2010 numbers that are significantly worse than the ones he put up last year.

Mike
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Mike
6 years 3 months ago

When looking at Guillen you also have to take injuries into account in several ways.

First, you have to account for the fact that he’s one of those guys that just always ends up getting hurt and missing time, and even when he’s playing, something always seems to be a little off.

Second, you have to take his start to last season in which the WBC hurt his timing, and he was also playing with a really bad shoulder that never healed for most of last season. In his first 90 ABs before going on the DL for several months, Guillen had 0 HR and posted an ISO under .050. In the two months after he came back (August and September), he hit 11 HR and posted ISOs in those months of .256 and .236, and wOBAs of .375 and .355. He also did that despite his should being bad enough that he couldn’t swing right handed until the final week or two of the season.

Now, those last two months could end up being fluky, and I don’t think he’s likely to hit 30 HR if he were able to play 150 games. However, if he can play 120-130 games, I think it’s reasonable to expect a wOBA of .360 or better.

rotofan
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rotofan
6 years 3 months ago

Dave,

On Guillen, how much more optimistic are you than the general consensus? When I look at the projections of fans on this site, they show Guillen playing more games than he has in either of the proceeding two seasons and improving in almost every area, nearly doubling his RBIs and runs, hitting more homers and stealing more bases, upping his batting average by 37 points an having an ISO just above his career norm. The main projection systems call for similar improvements.

Good picks on Pennington and Cabrera.

TCQ
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TCQ
6 years 3 months ago

I posted this over on Klaassen’s article too, but I’m gonna cut-and-paste – not because I’m so in love with this post(well, maybe a little…), but just ’cause I’m a Braves fan and I really am interested in what to expect from Melky this season.

“I think you really have to temper that CHONE projection for Cabrera a lot. It’s predicting a really big progression for him(far higher offensive numbers than he’s ever posted or the ones projected by any other system – yes, counting FANS – listed here on FanGraphs), and you’re taking that at face value. I get that CHONE is the best out there, but I think you do need to dilute what’s obviously a heady (okay, dropping this metaphor…now) projection at least to some degree if you’re going to be realistic in that aspect of the analysis.”

Duke
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Duke
6 years 3 months ago

I’m not seeing how Pennington is “not Eckstein or Castillo” in terms of power. He has a career .358 slg in the minors… Those two are his upside in terms of offense, and it would be nice if he hit as well at them, but it takes a lot of squinting to see him as a good bat even for a SS.

B-Chad
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B-Chad
6 years 3 months ago

Dave, curious if you are at all concerned with the A’s bringing in Adam Rosales? I’ve never read any scouting reports about Rosales, so I only have his minor league stats to look at, and small sample size in the majors. That said, Rosales does have an interesting line in the high minors IMO.

cavebird
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cavebird
6 years 3 months ago

A couple of random thoughts on Melky—and let me get my biases out here first—I have no love or hate for Melky. I am a Braves fan, but not bitter over the Vazquez trade (and there are plenty of Braves fans like that) and I know the trade was salary dump for Vizcaino anyway.

Melky may well have improvement in him. However, I don’t see him stealing 20 bases for the Braves this year or any other year unless the manager after Cox likes to run more. Unless you are an Otis Nixon/Rafael Furcal burner type, the Braves just won’t run you much. Assuming we don’t sign Damon (which I agree with the other article, would just be a waste—Damon is good, but not better than what we already have), he’ll likely platoon with Diaz in left with McLouth in center and Heyward in right. That is probably the best use of Melky, too—McLouth makes too much sense in center and when Heyward is ready, he’ll play every day. And even if Melky breaks out given his age and possible abilities, he still won’t be better than Diaz against lefties—Diaz just absolutely destroys lefties.

I am also not sure about Melky’s long term future in Atlanta. Heyward, presumably, will sooner or later take an outfield spot and keep it for a long, long time. That takes care of right. McLouth still has two years left on his contract and fits better in center. Then there is Schafer and Diaz. Schafer will have at least half a season in AAA this year, but he should be back at the latest by 2011. The outfield is just too crowded for Melky to take over unless he really breaks out, and I don’t know if he’ll get that chance. Melky’s ability to play all three OF spots and his switch-hitting make him such a good fourth OF, he may just get stuck in that spot, especially with the glut of OF’s the Braves will have coming.

Of course, someone could get hurt and bam, Melky could get an opportunity and run with it. Barring that, however, I don’t know if he’ll get the chance to break out.

RollingWave
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RollingWave
6 years 3 months ago

Cabrera’s skill set is generally in line with those guys that unexpectedly break out in their mid 20s. that doesn’t mean he WILL break out, but the chance is better than most guys who have similarly unremarkable but usable careers in their first 4 years.

FWIW, Cabrera also hit 8 of his HR as a RH last year. and Yankee stadium doesn’t do anything for RH home runs (in fact it probably surpress it somewhat), and hittracker listed 8 of his HRs as no doubters (which was second on the Yankees!) looking at his spray chart it appears that only one of his HR last year was a true Yankee stadium special.

but yeah, with all the guys Atlanta has Melky needs to really break out fast to have a serious shot, on the brighter side if there’s anything he’s been very good at so far in his career, it’s a damn hot April.

Synthia Tymeson
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5 years 7 months ago

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Wally
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Wally
5 years 7 months ago

Hmm Guillen’s OPS dropped from .760 to .740, Cabrera’s from .750 to .670, .760 to .680 for Pennington…

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