Malcolm On Base: Feb. 20, 2018

Welcome to Malcolm On Base, a daily rundown of baseball as I see it. You’ll get (flowery) essays, (mediocre) statistical analysis, (crude) opinion and (oh get on with it) nostalgia.

1. The Red Sox have a type

The Red Sox on Monday agreed to a five-year $110 million contract with outfielder J.D. Martinez. It seemed inevitable that Boston would land Martinez, and so much so that at some point this offseason I forgot that Martinez was actually a free agent and not already on the Sox roster.

Maybe that’s because Martinez feels like a prototypical Sox acquisition – they always seem to (or try to) carry one right-handed-hitting power-hitting type with a plus contact tool, plus discipline and limited outfield defense. I mean, I suppose it’s a typical player for the American League, because the designated hitter allows you to carry a defensive slug with good offensive skills. Plus, left field at Fenway Park is a journey, not a destination. But I don’t know – Martinez just feels like he was born to play for the Sox.

Thus I wanted to go back and find previous Sox acquisitions that fit the Martinez mold: good hitter with patience, plus power, bad outfield defense. Between 2015 and 2017, Martinez hit .296/.363/.580 with a .284 ISO, and a total of 3.7 defensive wins below replacement. So, I’ll go back over time to find if there were players like Martinez in Red Sox lore (righty with good contact and power, bad defense, likely outfielder)

2016-17: Chris Young – Signed as a free agent, Young is an outfielder who was more of a left fielder, but really more of a designated hitter, who between 2013 and ’15 was worth with -2.1 dWAR, and hit .224/.299/.405 a .181 ISO. Yes, that offense seems like Martinez light, but Young was signed as a fourth outfielder because they already had David Ortiz at designated hitter at the time.

2015: Hanley Ramirez – Of course! Between 2012 and ’14 Ramirez hit .285/.356/.486 with and a .200 ISO, and was worth -1.3 dWAR. He was signed to play left field, but then he moved to first base because Jackie Bradley came along and also he was bad at outfield.

2013-14: Johnny Gomes – A free agent signing before the world championship 2013 season, Gomes from 2010-12 hit .249/.340/.434 with a .185 ISO and was worth -4.3 dWAR, mostly in left field, though he did act as DH both for his National League teams and for one-third of the time in Oakland. Gomes was fine at the plate, coming up with some clutch hits in the potseason, and was slightly worse than average in left.

2012: Nobody quite fits. The closest is Cody Ross, who was acquired before 2012 and hit .261/.323/.432/.171, but he was worth 0.8 dWAR, so while he wasn’t great, he was better than average out there.

2010-11: Mike Cameron – He’s the closest, signed before 2010 with a .251/.339/.462/.207 from 2007-09, but he was a decent defender in that time period (1.6 dWAR). He was bad defensively, of course, once he arrived in Boston (-0.9 dWAR).

2008-09: Jason Bay – Bay is the reason I wanted to look into this, because he feels like the most obvious comparison to Martinez. The Sox traded for Bay in 2008 to help with the stretch run, and he was worth it: From 2005-07 he hit .281/.377/.506 with a .225 ISO (his numbers with Pittsburgh to start 2008 were right in line with his three-year averages). He was also a terrible defensive player, even for left field, worth -4.1 dWAR from ’05-07.

Before Bay was Manny Ramirez, who was dealt to Los Angles at the same time the Sox dealt for Bay, basically replacing the same type at a fraction of the production. Throughout his Boston career Ramirez hit .312/.411/.588 with a .276 ISO. He was also worth -11.5 dWAR, almost entirely in left field thanks to David Ortiz clogging up the DH spot.

In essence, the Red Sox are always trying to replace Ramirez, who was absurdly gifted at the plate but couldn’t defend his position. Of course, playing left field in Boston is an exercise in futility unless you’re, say, Andrew Benintendi, who somehow put up a 0.9 UZR in left last season. His emerge has allowed the Sox to put their bad defense/good offense guy at the DH spot. That should work for them, and it’s a perfect match.

2. Meanwhile in Yankee land

So, in case you didn’t know, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge took batting practice together as Yankees for the first time on Monday. It was a big deal.

It’s hard to write anything new about this, because what can you say about two guys who are projected by ZiPS to hit a combined 98 home runs? Well, instead of looking at Stanton and Judge, I wanted to see how the other guys were being projected. The Yanks are currently projected to have these seven guys in the lineup besides the two sluggers: Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Gleyber Torres, Didi Gregorius, Miguel Andujar, Brett Gardner and Aaron Hicks. That group is projected to hit a total of 134 home runs, which is almost close enough to beg the question: Can two guys out-homer the rest of the starting lineup (per Baseball Reference’s team 1-9)?

Well, of course, and it’s happened frequently. You can just pick a random team from the Dead Ball Era and find teams where one guy outhit the lineup. Heck, the 1929 Yankees had two prodigious sluggers (Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig) who combined for 81 dingers. The rest of the team hit just 61.

So let’s get more recent. Hey, how about the Steroid Era! The 1988 Oakland Athletics featured the Bash Brothers at their peak: Jose Canseco slammed 42 home runs while Mark McGwire added 32. Their 74 dingers eclipsed the rest of the usual lineup’s 53. You could add platoon catcher Terry Steinbach and regular contributor Dave Parker to the group and then meet those 74 homers, but you get the point: It took nine guys to match the work of two.

That wouldn’t be the only time McGwire reached this feat. In 1998 with the Cardinals, of course, he and Ray Lankford combined for 101 home runs. The rest of the starting lineup contributed a total of 77. You could add the next three highest totals from the bench and still come up one short. And this total number includes 26 homers from Ron Gant and 25 from Brian Jordan.

The 2001 Giants are an easy team to cherry pick for this, considering Barry Bonds’ 73 homers. He and Rich Aurilia (yikes) combined for 110 home runs (double yikes). The rest of the regular lineup hit just 70 home runs, if we’re including Marvin Benard. The bench hit a bunch of homers, because of course everyone hits homers at AT&T Park.

But what about the whole rest of the team? Could two guys in recent years out-homer everyone else on the club, a la the 1929 Yanks?

Yes. Just return to McGwire and move to 1999. In St. Louis, McGwire and Fernando Tatis teamed up for 99 homers. That eclipsed the entire rest of the offense (95 home runs).

Okay, but what about after the Steroid Era? Is there any instance of two guys out-dingering at least the lineup since, say, 2004?

Doing a cursory search, there was at least one recent team: The 2015 Rockies featured Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez socking 82, while the rest of the lineup slugged just 58. The bench contributed a bunch, pushing the field over 82 to 104. But is there a team since 2004 in which two guys hit more homers than the rest of the team? Maybe I’ll get back to this.

3. Arizona buys the human vacuum cleaner

After losing out on Martinez, the Diamondbacks landed outfielder Jarrod Dyson on Monday, agreeing to a paltry two-year, $7.5 million contract.

Dyson has never been a full-time starter. In 2012 he finally  became a semi-regular player with the Royals, and stayed that way, shuffling in and out of the lineup through 2016, when he was traded to Seattle. Last year with the Mariners he was basically the starter in center field, then suffered a groin injury in August, soon ending his season by September.

Dyson is a very good defensive player, worth a 5.4 UZR in center last year, plus a 4.9 UZR in right field and 3.1 UZR in left, in smaller samples. Over the last three years he’s been at least a 2.0 WAR player, so he’ll be a solid contributor whose defense will be necessary at Chase Field and in the National League West. Chase Field (which will get a humidor in 2018) was third in baseball in park factors for runs (1.202) while also being a good park for doubles (1.351) and home runs (1.222). The humidor will help with the homers, but it would probably make a few of those fly balls possible doubles. That’s where Dyson helps.

Dyson is also a valuable speed asset, stealing at least 26 bases in each of his full major league seasons. He doesn’t walk a ton (7.2% in 2017) and could improve a little with the contact tool, but Arizona now has a great defensive outfield (that includes A.J. Pollock and David Peralta), and Dyson is likely to hit low in the order while playing left field. He’s a great fit for Arizona.

4. Your weekly 1980s Phillies update

Let me preface this with a declarative: I love Out of the Park Baseball. You can hear me and Dan Walsh play it as the 2009 Phillies on our podcast Playing The Rube. Along with that game I’m currently playing another three games on OOTP, including a general manager/manager sim of the post-1983 Phillies, or as I like to call it, the Dead Years.

So I was born in 1984, the first year after the greatest era in Phillies history at the time. From my birth year until 2006 – excepting 1993 – the Phils were either barely watchable or a massive September letdown. Most of the time they were the former, especially between 1984 and 1992. Thus, I’m playing OOTP starting in 1984 in an attempt at reversing the fortunes of the team that took up much of my adolescence. And in this space, once a week, I’ll update you on how things are going.

This first update, then, is a broad overview of what the team looks like and what I’ve done until this point (I’m currently in late June). Just as a note, the actual 1984 Phillies finished 81-81 after winning the National League in 1983. OK, here’s my team’s current 25-man roster, plus who’s on the disabled list:

Infield: Bo Diaz (C), Ozzie Virgil (C), Al Lebouf (1B/3B/OF), Mike Diaz (1B/3B/LF/RF/C), John Wockenfuss (1B/C), Juan Samuel (2B), Mike Schmidt (3B), Luis Aguayo (SS/2B), Kiko Garcia (SS/3B/2B)

Outfield: Joe Lefebvre (LF/RF/CF/3B), Von Hayes (CF/LF/RF), Sixto Lezcano (RF/LF), Tim Corcoran (LF/1B)

Starting Pitching: Steve Carlton (LHP), John Denny (RHP), Charles Hudson (RHP), Jerry Koosman (LHP), Kevin Gross (RHP)

Relief Pitching: Bill Campbell (RHP), Al Holland (LHP), Larry Andersen (RHP), Tug McGraw (LHP), Steve Mura (RHP), Rich Surhoff (RHP), Marty Bystrom (RHP)

Disabled List: Greg Gross (1B/LF/RF/3B), Ivan de Jesus (SS/2B), Garry Maddox (CF/LF), Glenn Wilson (RF/LF), Larry Ray (CF), Warren Cromartie (RF/LF)

We’re currently 36-40, eight games back of first and hanging on in fifth place in the six-team NL East (first place is the Mets with rookie Dwight Gooden and second-year Darrell Strawberry). I didn’t expect the team to compete with the Mets, more or less thinking we’d be somewhere around .500 near the trade deadline. Our owner Bill Giles, however, wants us to reach the playoffs this year and upgrade right field. Beyond that, we should acquire a power hitter by 1985, be a World Series team by 1986 and have a profit of $1.3 million by 1986 (right now we have a deficit of -$535,185 with the third-largest payroll in baseball at $11.9 million).

Considering we’re an aging team with a lot of spare parts (and plenty of position shifting and platooning), it’s not the best idea to buy, but I’m leaning toward being crafty about fulfilling at least half of Giles’ goals. The playoffs feel like a big leap right now (and they were when the season began), but I might be able to upgrade right field.

To do that I’ll have to be crafty at the trade deadline. I have very little money to play with (just $287,531 in money available; for comparison sake, that amount of cash gets you Chris Speier [.280/.256/.312]), so I’ll most definitely have to shave off some payroll first.

I have three players making more than $1 million (Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, John Denny), and because the former two put butts in the seats, I’d rather not ditch them. Denny, however, who is making $1.2M in 1984, then another $5.6M guaranteed through 1988 (with a $1.2M vesting option in 1989), is not very popular locally and can be shipped for prospects. Plus he’d bring my balance back in the black, which is nice.

Here’s my thought on June 28, 1984: Denny (3.15 ERA, 62 K, 25 BB, 2.4 WAR) is my best trade asset, and I’m heavily leaning on dangling him for a couple prospects. He’s good (72 overall, 72 potential) but relies heavily on defense and has just two average pitches. It’s time to sell on Denny, so I plan to do so in a month.

The other $700,000 can be trimmed in a number of ways. Outfielder Sixto Lezcano ($810K) is a 38/38 and an acceptable third outfielder. He’s having a down year (.229/.306/.349, 0.0 WAR) and is the guy Giles wants me to improve upon, so maybe a team can take a flier on him. Forty-one-year-old Jerry Koosman ($710K) is a 56/56 who is completely outperforming his expected production (3.05 ERA, 49 K, 13 BB, 3.0 WAR). Koosman also relies on deception and fielding to get by; so far it’s working, and possibly a contender will go for it.

Either way, selling Denny would mean having enough to trade for even a workable upgrade in right. As for what that upgrade is: It could’ve been Glenn Wilson, but the 25-year-old is out for likely the entire season; plus, at 32/34 he really doesn’t profile as an “upgrade” over the 38/38 Lezcano.

Really I’m looking at next year’s outfield, which includes Wilson, Von Hayes, Joe Lefebvre, Tim Corcoran and Garry Maddox. Of that group, I only believe in Hayes as an everyday starter, and since he’s a 50/50 at all three positions, I’d almost rather move him to a corner, and likely left (he has a -5.9 zone rating in center this year). Wilson is a nice fourth outfielder type, while I can hold onto at least one of Lefebvre or Corcoran (Maddox is 34 and aging quickly). Jeff Stone is an option, too, but more on him later.

So for next year I need, say, a center fielder and right fielder. And Giles wants me to upgrade right field this year. That means I might be looking for a multi-year, cost-controlled right fielder at the deadline, but that also means trading prospects, which is something I lack.

Overall the system isn’t very good (21st out of 26). My top prospect is catcher Darren Daulton (37th), a 60/60 at age 22 in triple-A Portland hitting .231/.328/.368. He’s average defensively (45/45) but has a plus eye (65/65) and plus power (gap 55/55, home run 55/55). Problem is I have two decent catchers in the majors, though I could move Bo Diaz (making $910K), but I’m hesitant on him because he’s an 80 defensively with 70 catcher ability. I also have Mike Diaz, who I just brought up to Philly. He’s a 34/34 at age 24, playing a bunch of positions – first base best. He went .379/.418/.738 in triple-A and pretty much forced his way in, but his position flexibility makes it easy to get him playing time in the majors. Next year I’ll see if it makes sense to run him at one position, but he probably doesn’t represent an upgrade over Lezcano yet.

Also in the system is Stone, who I mentioned earlier. He’s a 23-year-old corner outfielder who’s just average in left field, his best position. He’s a 34/34 with average everything except home run power, which is 30/30. Stone hit .317/.379/.463 in double-A Reading in 1983 but has been injured since spring training; he should be back in a week, likely to start in Portland. I’m not about to rush him to Philly; there’s no need. And even then I need to see him play considerable time in Portland before making any rash judgments on his 1985 status.

There are two good pitchers to watch. Kevin Gross is 23 and a 57/69. He has average stuff and control, though the latter can be plus, along with plus movement. Gross has four pitches: a plus curve, average fastball at 90-92, average changeup and slightly below-average slider. Basically he profiles as a back-end starter with slight No. 3 possibility, but he tore it up in Portland this year (2.97 ERA, 75 K, 16 BB, 2.9 WAR). I just promoted him, and in his first start against the Mets he struck out 10 and walked one in 7.1 five-hit, shutout innings. I’m pretty excited to watch him potentially lock down a rotation spot the rest of the way.

Also in the upper levels is Mike Maddux, a 22-year-old at 21/22 who in Reading put up a 3.97 ERA with 73 strikeouts, 33 walks and a 2.1 WAR (his younger brother Greg is already starting for the Cubs). He carries a fastball in the upper 80s (45/45), a sinker (45/45), slider (40/40) and changeup (35/35). I’m not overly excited about this, as he feels more like a No. 5/long-man, but the numbers have been better than the scouting reports.

One other mention: Portland has Kelly Downs (age 23, 23/43, potentially plus fastball and curve), but he hasn’t put it all together yet (6.11 ERA, 51 K, 26 BB, 0.6 WAR).

That’s about it. Everyone else looks like filler, which worries me, so you can see why I’d want to trade Denny to get better prospects, and you can also see why acquiring a right fielder is going to be tough work. But I think I can figure it out somehow. Even if the right fielder is a slight upgrade over Lezcano, and just enough to keep Giles happy, I have all offseason to get a top outfielder to play either left or center (if I have to I can keep Hayes in center for now, though it’s not optimal). Top outfield free agents in 1984-85 include Jose Cruz, Lonnie Smith (former Phillie) and Andre Dawson. The top defensive center fielder to become a free agent is Rick Manning of Milwaukee, but he’s a 22/29.

Point is this: Let’s find some right field upgrade for the short term, maybe a guy who can switch to center and be better than Hayes. Then in the offseason, let’s try for either Dawson or Smith.

Next week I’ll probably be in early-to-mid July, so I’ll have more thoughts on the upcoming trade deadline.

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