White Sox Sign Jeff Keppinger, Human Ball Return

Since 2010, ten different players have played third base for the Chicago White Sox. One of them has posted a positive WAR, and he’s currently a free agent, looking for a multi-year contract. The position has been something of a trouble spot, and on Wednesday the White Sox addressed said trouble spot by agreeing to terms with Jeff Keppinger. Word is it’s a three-year contract worth something in the neighborhood of $12 million, give or take your average annual salary.

Keppinger had been hotly pursued, despite a broken leg. There was talk that the Yankees were very interested, as third base has become a problem spot for them, too, but the White Sox were able to offer Keppinger a ~guaranteed starting job, which might have played a role in his decision. The Yankees have an opening now, but they might not have an opening upon Alex Rodriguez‘s return from injury. In Chicago, Keppinger presumably won’t be pushed.

Just yesterday, Marco Scutaro re-signed with the Giants for three years and $20 million. Not long ago, Maicer Izturis signed with the Blue Jays for three years and $10 million. Keppinger’s in between, and here is a small table of interest:

Player Age Years Money ’10-’12 WAR/600
Scutaro 37 3 20 2.5
Keppinger 32 3 12 2.2
Izturis 32 3 10 2.3

Scutaro’s the most proven everyday player, and he’s coming off a hell of a late-season stock rise, but when it comes to Scutaro and Keppinger, there are an awful lot of parallels. Though Scutaro’s superior defensively, they’re similarly versatile, and at the plate, they swing sometimes, and make contact all of the times. As tough as it is to get Marco Scutaro to swing and miss, with Keppinger, it’s just as difficult.

Since 2002 — the FanGraphs Era — 596 players have batted at least 1,000 times. Jeff Keppinger’s strikeout rate ranks third-lowest, while his contact rate ranks second-highest. You can think of him as Marco Scutaro without the defense, or as Juan Pierre without the defense and the wheels. Keppinger occupies an extreme in one regard, and there are no clear signs that’s about to change.

Keppinger was quite good in 2012, relatively speaking, and he’s highly unlikely to be that good again. While UZR doesn’t hate him that much, DRS hates him a little more, so you can quibble with his WAR values. What’s abundantly clear is that Jeff Keppinger is no sort of building block or major team contributor. He’s limited in the field, he doesn’t run very well, and he doesn’t hit for power. He just singles until he gets tired of singling. Still, as with Izturis, at this sort of contract it’s hard to justify pessimism or negativity. The White Sox are paying Keppinger to be worth less than a win a season, for three seasons. He’s got more walks than strikeouts for his career and he doesn’t swing and miss. If something better comes along, Keppinger can be moved out of the way. And so on and so forth.

Right now, the third-base market sucks. The White Sox got themselves a half-decent third baseman who is extremely, unusually good at one thing. It’s fine. The White Sox signing Jeff Keppinger is fine. He’ll be fine, probably, and now it’s on to the next transaction, for all of us.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

12 Responses to “White Sox Sign Jeff Keppinger, Human Ball Return”

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  1. Dasein says:

    Considering the contracts being thrown around this offseason, and considering how this organization has tried to fill the 3B hole in previous years (Mark Teahen, Wilson Betemit), I am perfectly fine with Keppinger for $4 MM a year. It helps that he can also play 2B.

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  2. Joe O says:

    Jon Heyman ?@JonHeymanCBS
    #yankees bid higher $12M on 3 yrs for keppinger. Either slick negotiating by new chisox gm rick hahn or chicago preference

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    • Flharfh says:

      Well like the article said, the Sox can offer him a full time starting job, whereas in NY he would be bumped to a bench spot when / if ARod is healthy enough to play 3B again.

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  3. MikeS says:

    Jeff Keppinger is no sort of building block or major team contributor. He’s limited in the field, he doesn’t run very well, and he doesn’t hit for power.

    So, other than Youkilis, a massive upgrade over everybody to play the position for the White Sox since Joe Crede?

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  4. Brent Morel says:

    Clown contract, bro.

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  5. Jim Lahey says:

    Hey… the White Sox have a contact hitter now! Maybe he can share that philosophy with the rest of the team.

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  6. Ricky says:

    Just remember, Lahey, what goes around is all around.

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  7. Mario Mendoza says:

    Best thing to happen to the Yankees this offseason.

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  8. You are missing two key points regarding Keppinger.

    Given how much people here like to carp on FIP and such, Keppinger had a huge outlier of a season in 2012 with his .332 BABIP (Career .294), and that is what drove his value in 2012, resulting in 14.7 runs when he had been -12.0 runs for his career up to then. If you look just at his batting runs from 2009-2011, that works out to -2.0 runs per 600 PA during that period. Thus his BABIP outlier gave him roughly 17 runs of extra production that you are including in the comparison above.

    That is roughly 1.7 wins added in 2012. Taking that out and recalculating, I get 1.5 WAR per 600 PA during the 2010-2012 period. That doesn’t look as good as Scutaro’s 2.5 WAR now, when comparing salaries. If you go by AAV per average WAR production, Scutaro was paid $2.7M per prior WAR/160, while Keppinger was paid $2.7M per prior WAR/160, essentially identical.

    However, given that Scutaro is expected to play a full season, whereas Keppinger is at best used around 60-70% of the time, that is where Scutaro separates form Keppinger.

    As much as people want to point out Scutaro’s stellar ending with the Giants, his overall seasonal line fits right in with his prior seasons, neither very high nor low. Had he stayed with one team and did that, most people would not have paid much attention to that hot half, other than he got hot in the second half. He just was suffering from a lot of bad luck early in the season with the Rockies and got hot with the Giants.

    No Giants fan expect him to hit over .360 in any season he plays for us. We would be happy with what he produced in recent seasons, he has been pretty steady in that way. And when you control your bat as well as he does, they tend to be relatively steady in the long haul.

    The other point that is being missed is that Kepp has been horrible defensively at any position he has played significant time with, other than 3B, where he has been above average. However, most teams have played him more in the middle infield, 2B and SS, where he has been horrible defensively, -1 WAR or worse there on a seasonal basis. And Scutaro is basically average defensively at the positions he has played regularly at, for the most part.

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  9. Jeff says:

    Dude, this is the internet. 3 paragraphs and I’m done. Unless you’re Nate Silver of course…

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