Welcome Back, Austin Kearns

Between 2005 and 2007 Austin Kearns posted wRC+ of 107, 118, and 107 with the Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals. Then something happened – namely his batting average on balls in play bottoming out – and Kearns’ wRC+ in 2008 and 2009 topped out in the 70s. Such struggles were exacerbated by declining playing time in an overstocked outfield. Kearns’ stock plummeted and the first-time free agent found himself with little in the way of options.

Kearns wound up accepting a minor league deal offer from the Cleveland Indians. The possibility of a spot on the major league roster was evident through and through. Sure enough, Kearns showed up in shape and passed the Indians’ gumshoe inspection. A month and some into the season, and the low-risk maneuver is paying dividends in real life, much like it has in fantasy leagues across the land. Just look at this comparison:

2010 – 112 PA, 32 H, 3 HR, 18 R
2009 – 211 PA, 34 H, 3 HR, 20 R

Kearns’ numerical renaissance extends into the land of sabermetrics too. A .411 wOBA places him amongst one the game’s best hitters to date. Clearly a .439 BABIP is unsustainable given what we know about Kearns, but those plate appearances are in the bank. Kearns’ early success and phoenix-like return from his ashes is reminiscent of the Carl Pavano situation from last season. With Michael Brantley and Trevor Crowe around, it might not be outlandish to expect Kearns’ names to raise in trade rumors as the deadline approaches either.

Back when Kearns signed with Cleveland, Matt Klaassen drew a comparison between his career arc and that of Indians’ general manager Mark Shapiro. Klaassen even went as far as to call the pairing serendipitous. That works. The direct relationship between general manager and player is illustrated nicely on the margins. When a high priced player busts or when a lowly spring training invite, like Mr. Kearns, recaptures shine and illuminates his front office’s aptitude with every stroke.

Shapiro’s reputation has experienced dimming with Travis Hafner’s and Kerry Wood’s contracts, but he’s certainly looking bright with Kearns.

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9 Responses to “Welcome Back, Austin Kearns”

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  1. Daniel says:

    2008 and 09 were injury-filled years for Kearns.

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  2. PL says:

    Ive been clamoring for Billy Beane to send some pitching to the Tribe for Kearns to take over in LF for the A’s and move Cust to DH. Then they’d have a somewhat close to respectable offense. Chavez needs to retire…

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  3. Will says:

    Not so quick RJ. Try this:

    2010 – 112 PA, 32 H, 3 HR, 18 R
    2009 – 87 PA, 18 H, 3 HR, 13 R

    You might also look at it this way:
    2010 – 112 PA, .327 AVG, .402 OBP, .531 SLG, .932 OPS
    2009 – 87 PA, .261, .414 OBP, .522, .936 OPS

    Both stat lines look pretty similar, huh? Yet Kearns finished the 2009 season with a .195/.336/.305/.641 line. Injuries are partly to blame, but the fact is that Kearns’ bat has been 10 runs above average only twice in his career (2002 and 2007). There’s little historical evidence to indicate Kearns can sustain his level of play. What made him a valuable player was his plus defense, which has been hovering around average this year and last. We’ll have to see if it rebounds.

    The key factor, though, that you ignored is that Kearns is striking out 30.6% of the time. As soon as his BABIP drops below his current astronomical rate of .439 to much closer to his career average of .304 (or even his more recent average in the .250s), his numbers are going to plummet. He’s not hitting enough balls into play, which hasn’t been an issue because of his unsustainable BABIP. As soon as it regresses (and it will), it will be an issue, and a major one at that.

    You might be optimistic, but I’m not.

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    • Neil says:

      I agree with Will. He has a terrible K% and his BB% is his career average. He’s chasing more balls outside of the strike zone and not making much better contact. What am I missing other than a spike in ISO?

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      • Neil says:

        Agreed. The spike in ISO might be due to better health, but other than that, he looks a lot like the same player that got shown the door by the 100+ loss Nats.

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    • jonnymo says:

      As a longtime Reds fan, I want Kearns to succeed, but I, too, expect his offensive numbers to drop.

      However, I must defend his defense. His Rtot/yr is 12 (4th among the 14 AL players w/ the highest number of innings in LF) and his Rdrs/yr is 5 (good for 3rd). After Gardner and Crawford, he and Pierre are the 3rd- and 4th-best LF in the AL.

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  4. Franco says:

    This is usually the type of performance that FG writer’s point to small sample size and how the player in reality sucks. Odd. I guess even FG has the occasional statistic outlier.

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  5. Tyler says:

    I hate you Ray King!

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  6. Kenny says:

    I feel like somebody wrote an Austin Kearns resurgance article here like a week ago.

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