Trend Spotting: The value of Stubbs and a dilemma at third
As an Indians fan watching the team get off to a tremendous start, I find myself spending the majority of my time trying to pick holes in the roster that could eventually be our downfall or equalizing force. Attempting to find players who are so far outplaying their capability that regression both as a player and as a team is inevitable. This is not to say I am not thoroughly enjoying every moment of Tribe baseball but merely that I am hesitant to heap unfair expectations on this exciting and altogether exuberant team.
During this process of attempting to find holes in the Indians roster and specifically the starting nine, there was one thing in particular that I could not get past. Drew Stubbs is hitting ninth.
The Indians have a 15 homer, 30 steal guy hitting ninth in the lineup, offering plus defense in right field. Shelley Duncan, Jose Lopez, and even the legendary Travis Buck hit in the top six in the order at points the last two seasons. Wow. Perhaps this idea has been reiterated too many times but the overhaul of this roster has been dynamic and Stubbs has been quietly putting his 2012 struggles behind him.
Stubbs is the ultimate case of a player who had extraordinary pressure placed on him because of where he was drafted and his immediate success at the big league level. The pressure, however, was far more detrimental than that of having to perform but more importantly to become a type of player that he simply is not.
This was for a few reasons, but most importantly because Cincinnati has spent the last five seasons prior to the Choo deal in desperate need of a leadoff hitter who can consistently set the table. Digressing Stubbs, he is just not that guy as he struggles to make contact on occasion and his walk rate is mediocre at best.
However, for the Indians, Stubbs has been a rock in the nine hole, a 28 year old who is contributing in multiple facets and has been relatively underappreciated as an offseason acquisition. Through Friday night’s action, Stubbs has hit three home runs, has five steals and a .261/.310/.396 line. These numbers are not overwhelming by any stretch but for his role on this roster they are just what the Indians need.
The question becomes what can we expect out of Stubbs over the remainder of the season and perhaps for the two years following with the Tribe?
(Note: The data used was entered prior to Friday night’s game)
The profile on this guy just screams that the Reds gave up too early on a talented player whose best tools are those that are frequently undervalued.
A couple of things on Stubbs BABIP which appears to be somewhat of an outlier and due for some regression towards the mean: first, excluding last season’s uncharacteristic performance his current pace would be less than .030 higher than his career average. Therefore expecting regression just because of its elevation and a small sample size is bold. It is also clear that last season was a poor season for Stubbs that included bouts of inconsistency, cyclical failures, a bit of bad luck and poor plate discipline.
Whether the poor plate discipline was caused by the mounting pressure placed on him by the Cincinnati media and perhaps even Dusty, only Drew could tell you, but I think last year will be the outlier on his career resume.
Returning to BABIP, the line drive % is interesting as it is closer to his career norm which speaks to a thing or two. First, it reiterates that last year was an outlier while also establishing that he had some legitimate problems with his approach last season. Second, he is comfortable in the nine spot and his swing is returning to where it needs to be. ( Line drive % usually stabilizes around 200 plus at-bats so there may be some movement but it is likely that there will not be a major shift.)
The second statistic that jumps off the page at this point in the season is his HR/FB rate which is at around half that of his career average. Granted some change will occur from Stubbs' transition from the hitter haven Great American Ballpark to the more neutral Progressive Field but that is not the reason for the huge shift so far.
Right now we can only think that the enormous gap is based on sample size and that in eventuality it will trend towards his career average, thus increasing his value and production in the nine hole.
Returning to the idea that Stubbs' best tools are usually undervalued, his value goes beyond 15 home run power with an average on-base percentage as a bottom of the order guy. Stubbs' defense is incredible and has been underrated because of the type of player Michael Bourn is. Stubbs is an elite defender in centerfield and so far metrics have shown that his transition to the less demanding position in right has gone smoothly.
Third base: Chisenhall demoted and defensive concerns
Over the past year and a half or perhaps just the last month Lonnie Chisenhall has become the most polarizing player among Indians fans since Matt LaPorta or Andy Marte. This is particularly scary because he seems to quickly be moving towards the society of failed potential, or underwhelming prospect.
In past columns I have said that just based on his peripherals like BABIP Lonnie was due for some improvement, which I still believe. However, his continually disappointing walk rate at the big league level and lefty-lefty splits were reason enough to send him down and it is time to quickly address how his demotion affects the big-league club.
On the surface it looks like it is not much of a concern with both Mike Aviles and Mark Reynolds playing well they should be able to cover the move. However, I was concerned when Francona said that Reynolds would absorb a large chunk of the starts.
This is because while competent at first, Reynolds is an absolutely horrendous defender at third base. UZR had him with three consecutive negatively rated seasons which was a large reason why his WAR value has always been lower than one would think based on only perusing offensive numbers.
Reynolds loses a sizable chunk of value when he is pressed into duty at third base and while Chisenhall was mediocre, Reynolds is poor enough at the hot corner that it could have a tangible effect.
Hopefully, Aviles can grab hold of playing time at third base and either keep it locked down until Chisenhall returns anew or makes us forget about the entire dilemma.
There absolutely are holes on this team as with any team, just ask Jim Leyland about his Tigers bullpen. But what has been impressive is their ability to cover up their deficiencies and even some absences. The fact that Drew Stubbs effectively covered for Bourn’s DL stint or that Aviles - a competent major league starter - is helping take over at third base for the catatonic Chisenhall shows the depth of talent on this team.
Interact with Michael by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @MichaelHattery
...a couple of things to ponder...
Am I the only one that feels like there's some attitude under Stubbs persona...and not always good? There's a bit of Ubaldo to him...and you can almost feel him I don't know...pouting? Is it just me? I do feel like it can go both ways...
His defense is just phenomenal. I can see him on a really...really good team...being a fourth outfielder. I think folks overplay that though, because we are talking about a guy that's ninth in the order. It's not like we're talking the cream of the crop here. The Tigers have Omar Infante hitting .345 in the ninth position, but that is the exception, not the rule.
The batting average for the top 40 is .242, and while that's not the best indicator of the ninth slot, it does let you know that offensively, he's in the ballpark with most players in the same slot. When you incorporate the defense, it puts him above many.
Now, should the Indians choose to platoon Stubbs, I'd be onboard...but am totally fine if they choose to allow Stubbs the opportunity to play every day...even if it's a psyche thing.
Of course, there are only 12 players with more than 50 at bats in the ninth slot...so the Indians COULD be playing behind the eight ball. The reality is that the Indians are hitting .224 overall from the ninth spot, which is 11th in the league, and have a .624 OPS, which is tenth...from that ninth spot...in MLB. OF course, they are also 11th and tenth in the AL, as the nine spot is mostly pitchers in the NL...
Agree Drew Stubbs is a great defensive player who offfers speed and power at the bottom of the lineup. He needs to learn to become a better bunter though and hopefully take a few more walks.
Aviles just scored from 2B on a swinging bunt down the first base line hit by Drew Stubbs. Mike Aviles is a nice solid player. Basically, the Indians can have Aviles-Giambi-Raburn handle the open spot in the lineup as well as get guys rest at DH. Seems like a good soultion while Chiz tries to turn things around down in AAA. Heck, even Yan Gomes could spend time at 3B if needed and then there is always Chord Phelps. Can he play 3B at the MLB level?
Choo developed on a small market non-contending club into an outstanding everyday right fielder. In fact Choo (and his notorious agent) owes Manny a huge debt. It took an act of desperation to even put Choo @ leadoff - one of the most pathetic offences in baseball - combined with Choo's own struggles at the time.
Contrast that with what Stubbs lived through; comming on board a dynamic team ready built to contend for a championship - with an old school high profile mgr who never has hesitated to demand immediate results as opposed to a guy like Acta brought on to hand-hold developing talent in the bigs.
It's part of why I loved the swap. Choo is the toast of the game today as the undesputed best lead-off playing - and - has a huge pot of gold waiting for him in the up coming contract year.
Stubbs is an intregral moving part of an exciting (a la Baltimore last year) rebirth here - as arguably the best 9 hole to swing right now.
I don't think you get 34k for a non-Yankee/Tigers game as we did the other day without Stubbs being on board. He's been right in the thick of several great come back wins.
Right now he is an outstanding 4th guy - but he is showing why there is real potential yet left - that he could be an outstanding every day guy - and we got him for average Indian prices - a throw in for a buck-six-eighty.
He is playing a very good right field and has the ability to substitute in centerfield when Bourne needs a day off or his hurt.
The lack of pressure on this player might help him gain the confidence that might have been missing when he was playing in Cincinnati. There is always the chance that he could be one of those players that just needed to move to another team.
I remember when a certain second baseman went from Cleveland to Cincinnati, Brandon Phillips, it was amazing how he turned into an all-star or almost all-star. He has been hitting clean-up on a pretty good team for a number of years.