Friday, March 29, 2013

Projecting The Offense: Shortstop

Clint Barmes will enter the season in his final year of the two year, $10.5M contract that he signed in November 2011. With no obvious internal replacement and a weak free agent market at shortstop next winter, he could very easily play his way into a contract extension. However, in order to do so, Barmes will have to provide more of an offensive contribution that he managed in 2012. 

2012: 493 PA, 16 doubles, 1 triple, 8 home runs, .229/.272/.321, .260 wOBA, 0 stolen bases 

2013 Projections
Bill James: 441 PA, 21 doubles, 1 triple, 9 home runs, .233/.286/.353, .273 wOBA, 2 stolen bases 
ZiPS: 475 PA, 26 doubles, 1 triple, 9 home runs, .237/.291/.353, .280 wOBA, 3 stolen bases 
Oliver: 502 PA, 20 doubles, 1 triple, 10 home runs, .234/.297/.349, .283 wOBA, 3 stolen bases 

Summary: All three projection systems forecast improvement at the plate for Barmes in 2013, although that’s not really a bold prediction. Still, with a sub-.300 OBP likely this season from Barmes, he’ll have little overall offensive value. 

Clint Barmes joined the club as a defense-first shortstop. He was signed to provide a big improvement over Ronny Cedeno, after the club declined his $3M option; however that did not prove to be the case in Barmes’ debut season. While he shone defensively (10.6 UZR), as expected, he was a downgrade offensively (Cedeno’s wOBA in 2011 was .276). FanGraphs and Baseball Reference disagree over which player was more valuable (Cedeno in 2011 or Barmes in 2012); FanGraphs version of WAR indicated a slight downgrade (Cedeno 1.1 fWAR, Barmes 1.0 fWAR), while Baseball Reference shows a decent upgrade (Cedeno 0.82 rWAR, Barmes 1.29 rWAR). Either way, Barmes’ bat prevented him from providing the type of value that the Pirates require; limiting him to right around market value (and the Bucs need more than market value per WAR). 

While many did predict an offensive decline from the .244/.312/.386 he hit with the Houston Astros in 2011, due to him being a pull hitter moving to a ballpark with such an expansive left field, I doubt that many would have predicted how bad Barmes' was at the plate in 2012. Out of 265 players with at least 300 plate appearances in 2012, only three had a lower wOBA (Brendan Ryan, Dee Gordon and Josh Thole). Furthermore, only ten players had a lower walk rate than Barmes’ 4.1 BB% and he was in the bottom 25 in isolated power (.092 ISO). He’s destined to be the club’s number eight hitter in the line-up this season; however the numbers are not all negative from an offensive standpoint. 

Barmes' splits in 2012 do offer some offensive hope - at least on a part time basis. He hit .274/.373/.368 (.331 wOBA) against left-handed pitchers last season (110 PA), walking on 11.8% of trips to the plate. In comparison, Barmes hit .217/.243/.308 (.240 wOBA) when facing right-handed pitching (383 PA), taking the free pass on just 1.8% of trips to the plate. Over the course of his career he has a fairly big platoon split (a .339 wOBA against lefties and a .285 wOBA against righties), which would have likely pushed him to a platoon if it was not for his defensive prowess at shortstop. 

The acquisition of John McDonald is a curious one in that respect; adding a backup shortstop with a worse bat than Barmes seems like a flawed approach. A switch or left-handed hitting shortstop would have been an ideal addition over the winter (such as Maicer Izturis), even if the club elected against a full time platoon; although after the market thinned out then the club could have elected to give Jordy Mercer the opportunity to audition for the full time role at short next season. At some point in the season, the club may look to find an offensive improve at the position at least on a part time basis, so Mercer, Chase d’Arnaud or Ivan De Jesus Jr could force their way to Pittsburgh (or the club could look externally for an upgrade). 

The depth of the Pirates line-up is going to depend on the opposition’s starting pitcher and it is largely up to Clint Barmes to prevent the bottom of the order becoming the black hole it was in 2012. It’s hard not to expect some regression towards the mean against righties from Barmes this season – it would be almost impossible for him to walk less and he could receive more luck with balls in play (.266 BABIP against right-handers in 2012). That said, Barmes is a below average hitter who was acquired for his defense – so his offensive contribution is going to be limited.