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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Who You Callin' A Bust? The Dumb Bleacher Report Call To Dump Aybar

I don't normally comment on stuff like this, but the fish/barrel aspect was too great to ignore. The dubiously researched Bleacher Report has a to-do list for Tony Reagins:
The demotions of Jose Arredondo and Howie Kendrick sent a message to the team that they needed to right things in a hurry. However, those demotions should only be the beginning of the transformation of the offense.

Sean Rodriguez should stay and be given the second base job for good. Brandon Wood should be promoted and handed the job at shortstop. Matt Brown should be tabbed for the outfield.

Those three moves alone would necessitate the moving of Erick Aybar, Gary Matthews and Kendrick.

Aybar is an unqualified bust at the major league level, a speedster in the minors who has taken the running game out of his attack.

In five seasons of minor-league ball, the 25-year-old reached double digits in stolen bases every year and had three seasons with at least 10 triples.

Last season, Aybar had five triples and seven stolen bases in 98 games. He has just 14 thefts in 257 major league appearances after ringing up 250 in 543 contests in the minors.

The only thing that's saved Aybar from being sent back down or dealt is his defensive prowess, and in an era where one tool is a waste of a roster space, the glove alone should not be enough for either Mike Scioscia or Tony Reagins.

Note author Bill Martinez provides not one piece of statistical evidence for any of these assertions, save the stolen base totals, and even that one's pretty easy to punch holes in. Aybar is valuable, but the stolen base is not one of the things you ought to be looking at necessarily:
  1. He's had a positive UZR at his position the last two years, 0.9 this year and 6.2 last.
  2. Maybe Martinez hasn't noticed, but the era of offensive-minded shortstops is coming to a close, or at least, is in a lull. Derek Jeter isn't what he used to be, and the league no longer contains Nomar Garciaparra as a power bat at the position, either. In fact, if you rank AL shortstops by VORP, Aybar is actually fourth with a 7.7 VORP. That puts him on pace for a roughly 15-16ish VORP by the end of the year.
  3. The stolen base part of his game has always been rough. His SB/CS ratios were
    Year  Level  SB  CS
    ===================
    2006   AAA   32  18
    2005   AA    49  23
    2004   A+    51  36
    2003   A     32   9
    2002   A-    15  10
    
    So he's always been on the cusp of having the stolen base be an effective part of his game, and in general is under the 70% threshold you need for that to be even breakeven. Cutting down on his steals only makes sense, especially if he's running into outs consistently. (From my observation this is exactly what's happened.)
  4. Did I mention he's only 25, only a year older than either of purported replacements S-Rod or Brandon Wood? There's room to improve his game.
I have a lot of respect for Woody and S-Rod and think they will ultimately be better offensive players that Aybar is now or is likely to be, with the caveat that I don't know much about either one's fielding. And I agree with Martinez' call to let Vlad walk, or hobble, at the end of the year. But again, Martinez misses key stuff, ignoring (or failing to research) the fact that Gary Matthews, Jr.'s no-trade clause means he can't be traded.

Getting back to Aybar, he might not be the best player in the world, but he's a useful young one who can keep himself on the field. That's far from a bust, and if the Angels do decide to do something with him, they ought to be able to get some value.

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Comments:
I'm glad you wrote this. I've found it hard to warm to Aybar, in part because I'd love to see the Wood story play out in the MLB, for better or for worse. But there's no denying that Erick Aybar is on a generally positive trajectory, and given the comps, is a plus shortstop in the AL already.

In addition to the very positive UZR from the past seasons, he had 6.1 fielding win shares last season, which put him at #6 among all qualified and unqualified major league shortstops. Meanwhile, his batting average has steadily increased, while his K-rate has steadily decreased.

We already know that Aybar will never be a walk champ, but he's showing the sort of contact tendencies that a Howard Kendrick could only hope to achieve.
 
I was a bit cranky about the triples and didn't mention that; Martinez did say something about the triples, but that's really a "so what?" issue because those are a consequence of the AAA playing environment (poorer fielding, more opportunities against bad pitching). As for Howard Kendrick, I really still have a lot of faith in him, but maybe not in this organization; the kind of plate discipline it will take to get a good pitch is just not something they feel it's necessary to teach. (I seem to recall hearing something different this spring, though ...)

This is a fairly balanced view of Howie.

By no means is it time to dump Kendrick or sell him at .10 cents on the dollar. He's not as bad as his current .245 AVG says. It is time to suppress dreams of a .330 AVG though.
 
I think that's a fair assessment. I'm not on the 'Dump Kendrick' bandwagon either. Most of his decline has been concentrated in BABIP, which is to say, bad luck. But I am lucid enough to start considering that a Sean Rodriguez or even (gasp) a Chone Figgins might be reasonable alternatives at second for the Angels in the next 2-3 years. Each hitter has a unique profile, and it's not immediately clear who offers the best toolset over the next three seasons.
 
Personally, I wouldn't mind if they let Figgy walk after this year. He's getting better offensively, but the temptation of a set-and-forget third base -- especially when he's losing speed, his principle asset -- is rather high, plus I don't like his recent injury history.
 
And -- ".10 cents on the dollar"? That's a tenth of a penny. Talk about undervalued!
 
I'd be fine keeping Figgins on a three-year contract at a reasonable cost, provided Wood were to be given every opportunity at 3B. I'm not convinced that Figgins' base-thievery is exclusively in his speed, nor am I convinced that he could not compensate with selectivity when his speed falls off somewhat. Dave Roberts could still deliver 30-50 bags a year at age 34 and 35, and Abreu is on a similar pace at the same age.

Figgins has shown remarkable adaptability and persistence. I think few people assumed he would develop as much defensively as he did at 3B, or that he could improve his plate discipline as much as he has. Outside of a short stint on the DL due to hamstring strain, all of his recent injuries have been finger and hand fractures, which are incidental, not the sign of some age-related breakdown.

If Figgins can still deliver 30-50 bags a year and maintain his OBP in the .360-.380 range, as he has for the past three years, I'm don't see how he isn't a plus player at 2B from age 32-34.
 

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