There's an awful lot of talk right now about the playoff push and roster expansion and who to pitch in the play-in game and how to construct a postseason A's team...and that's awesome. It's so cool to be having those conversations this late in the season, and there's starting to be a feeling of inevitability about this team. It's beautiful.
But for most of my adult A's fandom, baseball has been about next year. This time of the season, there are always questions about next year. “Should we sign Duchscherer again next year?” “Is Barton really a 5 WAR player next year?” “Will Pennington regress next year?” “Which castoff veteran will Billy sign next year?” And, of course, there are still some questions about next year, even though this year has seen such unexpected success for the A's. The biggest one in my mind is this: what do we do with the infield next year? I'm going to jibber-jabber about what I think we should do, but I also thought we could just use a place to talk about the question in general, since it seems to keep coming up.
At first base, I'm fine with the Mosster platoon, at least until it shows itself to be ineffective, or a better 1B comes along. But 2B, SS, and 3B are kind of question marks. Donaldson, Inge, Sizemore, Drew, Pennington, Rosales, and Weeks have all done time at those positions this year, and are all at some level still doing time at those positions. (I'm ignoring Hicks and Sogard at this point because they're Hicks and Sogard.) So who gets which positions? Who gets dumped? Who takes a utility role? This was originally going to be a reply to a WaddellCanseco comment in a recent recap thread, and then it spiraled into too many words, so now it's a FanPost. And it's now been updated with stats and a more in-depth discussion of why I read the stats the way I do!
Josh Donaldson: 2012: .700 OPS, .303 wOBA, 92 WRC+. Career UZR: 4.8 at 3B.
He can hit, he can field pretty darn well, and he can throw across the diamond. He's also pretty smart on the basepaths (I checked Fangraphs to confirm what my eyes tell me.) He even doubles, in the pinchiest of pinches, as a third catcher. He's your third baseman, I don't see the competition here.
Brandon Inge: 2012: .675 OPS, .290 wOBA, 83 WRC+. Career UZR/150: 6.7 at 3B.
Old. Can't hit. Good defender. Probably worth three WAR if you could get a full season out of him on defense alone, but a black hole on offense. Also: chemistry. He's a free agent, and I include him here only because of the chemistry thing, because I think there's a case to be made for re-signing him.
Scott Sizemore: 2011 in Oakland: .778 OPS, .343 wOBA, 118 WRC+. Career UZR: -1.4 at 2B, -6.7 at 3B.
When I heard Sizemore was out for the season, I got even sadder than I usually am at the start of an Oakland A's baseball season. One of the few bright spots of last season was the discovery of Scott Sizemore. So assuming he comes back in his pre-injury form, what do we have in Teh Sizemoar? A good hitter who can't field that well.
Stephen Drew: 2011-2012: .665 OPS, .292 wOBA, 77 WRC+. Career UZR/150: -3.9 at SS.
Okay, dude can field a baseball, but now that I'm actually getting a chance to watch the games regularly again (as opposed to just relying on CBS GameTracker and you guys on AN), I really cannot stand to watch this guy throw the baseball. He's the Coco Crisp of the infield. The way everybody talks about Coco's arm, that's how I feel about Drew's arm. And honestly, you can say that it was Coco's arm that cost us the first run last night, but Drew's arm sealed it. Pennington has a chance to throw that guy out; Drew has none. Anyway, my point is that I don't like his defense and neither does UZR. He also hasn't been able to hit the ball since last season.
Cliff Pennington: 2012: .580 OPS, .260 wOBA, 63 WRC+, .257 BABIP. Career: .670 OPS, .301 wOBA, 87 WRC+, .298 BABIP. UZR/150 since 2010: 3.9 at SS. UZR in 2012: .2 in a small sample size at 2B.
Oh, the Cliffster. Wherefore hast thou wOBA gone? A quick look at the numbers tells us where: bad luck, plain and simple. His 2012 BABIP is 41 points lower than his career figure. Which sounds an awful, awful, AWFUL lot like the phrase, "his 2012 wOBA is 41 points lower than his career figure." They sound similar because they share several words and grammatical elements, and also they are both true. His BA is 36 points lower, his OBP is 43 points lower, and his SLG is 47 points lower. His hitting will come back. In the meantime, his defense is pretty good, and he can make a throw to first base without making it look like a Hail Mary pass.
Jemile Weeks: 2012: .614 OPS, .280 wOBA, 76 OPS+, .257 BABIP. 2011: .761 OPS, .332 wOBA, 110 WRC+, .350 BABIP. (It really does boggle the mind how different a hitter he appears to be on paper this season, but note the BABIP.) 2011 UZR: -4.1 at 2B. 2012 UZR: -4.7 at 2B. Career UZR/150: -6.5 at 2B. (On the other hand, he's definitely the same guy in the field.)
Can't hit can't field. Can run. Still can't steal that well though. His 2012 SB% is right around break-even territory in terms of value added, and his career SB% is still below the threshold. We're looking at a glorified Herb Washington at this point, in terms of actual value to the team. It should be noted that his BABIP, like Pennington's, has taken a nosedive. Unlike Pennington, however, Jemile's previous BABIP was pretty much guaranteed to be unsustainable. Penny wasn't coasting on an impossibly lucky BABIP. Jemile was. So while you can blame his dropoff on luck, it sort of misses the point that last year he was lucky, and this year he's probably just luck-neutral.
Adam Rosales: Career in Oakland: .655 OPS, .288 wOBA, 80 WRC+. 2012: .673 OPS, .295 wOBA, 87 WRC+. Career UZR: -1.4 at 1B, 5.8 at 2B, -3.7 at 3B, 1.2 at SS, negligible sample size in the OF.
In 2010, the Year of the Overachieving Oakland Infielder (Barton, Penny, Kouzmanoff, even Ellis sort of), Rosales flashed good leather and even almost hit at a level which could be called "good." Over the course of his career, he looks like an acceptable defender and a not-that-good hitter, although he does have some pop in his bat that the other infielders in this conversation, with the exception of Donaldson and maybe Inge, just don't bring to the table.
Grant Green: AAA offense: .788 OPS, .342 wOBA, 100 WRC+. MLE offense: (MLSplits calculator, data input from 2012 PCL season): .644 OPS, .283 wOBA (probably a bit low because it's calculated from scratch with incomplete MLE data, i.e., no ROEs or IBBs, but the point is that his MLE wOBA looks sub-.290.) No meaningful defensive statistics available, that I know of, for minor leaguers.
Let's actually talk about Grant Green. When I updated the post, I decided to toss in the MLEs, so let's examine them, shall we? Needless to say, they're pretty pedestrian. .644 OPS? .290ish wOBA? That's somewhere between 2012 Jemile Weeks and 2012 Brandon Inge. Not exactly battering down the door to the Oakland infield conversation. Obviously MLEs should not be taken as gospel. They're not predictive, but they do give us a pretty good idea of what Grant Green's 2012 efforts would have been had they been undertaken for the Athletics instead of for the Rivercats. To break them down a little further: 4.5 BB%, 14.5 K%, 84 ISO, .273 BABIP, .644 OPS, .283 wOBA, .31 BB/K ratio. Pedestrian.
By the way, MLEs also think Green would steal 11 bases and get thrown out 10 times. I have to believe Melvin wouldn't allow that, but it's funny to think of it. Anyway, Grant Green might know how to hit, depending on what you believe, but he doesn't, apparently, know how to field. At any position. There aren't stats to bolster that claim, just the complete lack of faith the team has placed in him at any position anywhere at all.
Third base: So as I said earlier, I see Donaldson as the obvious choice for 3B. Right now, he looks like the most bankable offensive producer. Sizemore's 2011 was better than Donaldson's 2012, but Sizemore hasn't made it back from injury yet, and Donaldson's numbers since the All-Star Break show a much-improved hitter. Pennington's career line also rivals Donaldson's 2012 line, but Pennington needs to return to his past form before he can be said to be reliably producing the way Donaldson does. On the defensive side, only Inge looks able to do better than Donaldson at the hot corner, although we have very little data to go on in judging Donaldson. But Inge's hitting isn't workable for a starting slot. Donaldson it is.
Shortstop: I'm a sucker for a strong defensive middle infield, and the more I've watched our remaining candidates for infield positions, the more convinced I've become that we need Cliff Pennington at short. We need a SS that can make that throw on a hard, laser-beam line drive. Stephen Drew has let too many guys get aboard with his weak, arcing throws. UZR doesn't like his defense, and his hitting is questionable. We've all been talking about picking up his option as a total given, but I'm not so sure, now that I really look at the big picture of our infield situation.
Now consider Cliff Pennington. Since he took over the position full-time in 2010, he's posted very respectable UZR figures at shortstop, and I do think his hitting is bound to regress at least somewhat closer to his career line. If he hits like he did in 2010-2011, he's basically Josh Donaldson but a shortstop. Examine: Donaldson's 2012 OPS/wOBA/WRC+ of .700/.303/92 doesn't look all that different from Pennington's 2010-2011 line of .688/.309/93. Even the defensive numbers look the same; Donaldson's posted a 4.8 UZR at 3B this year, while Pennington posted a 4.6 at SS in 2010-2011. If you like Donaldson at 3B, you like a returned-to-form Pennington at SS. And given that horrifying BABIP dropoff that Pennington's had this year (and you know your eyes are telling you he's been unlucky), I think we can be cautiously optimistic that he will return somewhat closer to form. By the way, this might be encouraging to those still in doubt: his OPS/wOBA/WRC+ in August was .689/.298/89, and thus far in September it's .748/.339/117. What could possibly have caused this? What else? In August his BABIP was much closer to his career figure, and so far in September he's gotten super-lucky with a .375 BABIP. Yeah, he'll be back.
More conclusions! Who's left now? We've used up the guy who can hit and field. We've used up the guy who can field but can't hit. What remains consists of the old guy who can field but can't hit, the young guy who can hit but can't field, the ex-phenom who can't do much of anything but run fast (and awesomely lead a charge out of the dugout with his fist raised when we win the game on a Derek Norris caught-stealing), the erstwhile Marco Scutaro super-sub, the solid minor league hitter who doesn't know how to play defense anywhere, and J.D. Drew's younger brother.
Second base: Going purely on demonstrated effectiveness, I want to tap Adam Rosales here. He's the only guy in this motley crew who I believe has the ability to hit and field at acceptable levels if given the starting job. Sizemore remains the hitter with the best track record of the bunch, but he isn't back yet, and he can't play good defense. Of the remaining candidates who have played an appreciable amount of time at 2B, Rosales looks the best with the glove by UZR and by the eyeball test.
But he's also pretty valuable as a super-sub. The guy can play any position but catcher, and honestly, given his approach to the game, I'm pretty sure he'd armor up and get behind the plate if he was asked to. Heck, he's probably working on his curveball in case some dire, empty-bullpen situation arises. Let's leave him there and give this position to...Scott Sizemore. We're not left with any great options here, but 2012 has taught us that if we give ourselves just a little more pop than we've had the last few years, we can contend. Sizemore's the guy who can give us that pop. Hopefully his defense improves—but it's also worth noting that UZR isn't nearly as offended by his 2B defense as it is by his 3B defense. In fact it's close to neutral on the subject.
First utilityman: I just explained why this goes to Adam Rosales.
Second utilityman: Last chance, boys. I'm operating under the assumption here that we have three starting outfielders (Cespedes/Crisp/Reddick), three starting infielders (Donaldson/Pennington/Rosales), Carter and Moss, and two catchers (Norris/Kottaras). That leaves three slots. One goes to super-duper-sub Rosales. The remaining two slots could go to Seth Smith and Jonny Gomes, or we could pick one of those guys and carry a second utility infielder, or we could carry a short bullpen (let's face it, would we really have been much worse off without the future-HoF talents of both Jim Miller and Evan Scribner?) and a long bench. So if there is room for a second utilityman, who is it?
Well it's not Drew. We're not paying a guy $10M to be a utility infielder with limited playing time. I'd rather pay him the $1.5M or whatever it is to leave. And, unfortunately, it's not Inge either. If the choice is between Brandon Inge, over-the-hill infielder/great clubhouse motivator and Jemile Weeks/Grant Green, young potential offensive stars, then it's no choice at all. Offer Inge a nice cushy first-base-coach job if he retires or something. That leaves Jemile Weeks and Grant Green. And I'm giving it to Weeks. I think he can get at least some of his old form back as a hitter. I know I said all that stuff about BABIP before, and I still think that's true. But almost 100 points of BABIP drop? Seems a bit unfair. We've all noticed that his swing is a little off, a little different from what it was last year. He fixes that, his luck regresses, and I think he can get back to what he is: a pretty good hitter and a pretty mediocre defender. And when he does, it'll be an interesting situation, because the infield will be darn crowded.
Meanwhile, If Green wants to play with the big boys, he needs to make a case for his indispensability. He needs to make it impossible for Billy and Bob to leave him in Sacramento. As of right now, he apparently hasn't done that. His hitting looks okay, but there must be something about his defense that bugs Billy. And if Billy uses some form of MLE equation, he might not like what he sees there. By MLSplits, Grant Green would need to have a 2013 line something like this to force himself into the conversation: .333/.410/.533, 20 or so HR, .943 OPS, .395 wOBA. Tall order, but doable. He hits like that, he'll be projecting as about a .275/.325/.425, 10-15 HR, .750 OPS, .325 wOBA type of guy.
Final conclusions! There you have it, your starting infield of Donaldson, Pennington, Sizemore, and Mosster, with Rosales and Weeks backing them up in super-sub roles. Green is in the minors, Inge is out to pasture, and Drew goes off to do whatever it is a man like him does when he's not playing for the A's.
Mileage May Vary: I left Rosales in a super-utility role because his versatility, to me, demanded it, but there's an argument to be made against that. And here's the argument: sure, he can play those positions, but should he? UZR likes him at 2B and, in a relatively small sample, is tolerant of him at SS. He's actually worked the most at 3B, however, and although UZR isn't full-blown enraged about his play there, it would prefer someone else at the hot corner. It feels the same way about his 1B defense, albeit in a pretty small sample, and just plain doesn't know enough about his OF defense to make a meaningful judgment. Given all of that, and given that he hits better than Drew, Inge, and Weeks while fielding better than Drew, Weeks, and Sizemore, there's a good case to be made that he should be the starting 2B. In that scenario, I think you just make Sizemore the first utility guy, and everything else stays the same.
Mileage May Vary, Again: I only included the second utilityman slot for the sake of argument. I'd rather keep both Seth Smith and Jonny Gomes, although I could be convinced to carry a short bullpen.
What do y'all think?