Infielder Andy Parrino was designated for assignment to make 40-man roster space after the Athletics sent out just one player on the 40-man (John Jaso) for two from the Rays (Ben Zobrist and Tyler Clippard). Before acquiring Zobrist, the glove-first switch-hitting Parrino had a good chance of making the opening day roster playing behind Eric Sogard at second base and Marcus Semien at shortstop.
Now supplanted by Ben Zobrist, Eric Sogard is the incumbent to play backup infielder behind Zobrist at second and Semien at shortstop. But is Sogard the best choice?
If Semien and Zobrist are penciled in as the everyday middle infielders, that leaves Sogard with a number of questions regarding his role. Sogard has never hit lefties well, with a career wRC+ of 61 (vs. 76 against righties) in 156 plate appearances. But if Andy Parrino is claimed, what is the alternative?
Free Tyler Ladendorf?
Tyler Ladendorf was added to the 40-man roster just before he would have been able to declare free agency after seven minor league seasons. Other teams have already had three chances to claim him in the Rule 5 draft and passed, but his 2014 campaign was the first where he showed major strides that could make him at least a fringe call-up.
Let's consider a world where Zobrist might play in left field against left-handed pitching, and Tyler Ladendorf plays shortstop or second base with the right-handed batting Marcus Semien as his double play partner:
|vs. LHP w/Ladendorf||vs. LHP w/Sogard||vs. RHP|
|C||Josh Phegley||Josh Phegley||Stephen Vogt|
|1B||Mark Canha||Mark Canha||Ike Davis|
|2B||Marcus Semien||Ben Zobrist||Ben Zobrist|
|SS||Tyler Ladendorf||Marcus Semien||Marcus Semien|
|3B||Brett Lawrie||Brett Lawrie||Brett Lawrie|
|LF||Ben Zobrist||Sam Fuld||Sam Fuld|
|CF||Craig Gentry||Craig Gentry||Coco Crisp|
|RF||Josh Reddick||Josh Reddick||Josh Reddick|
|DH||Billy Butler||Billy Butler||Billy Butler|
|Bench||Stephen Vogt||Stephen Vogt||Josh Phegley|
|Bench||Sam Fuld||Eric Sogard||Eric Sogard/Tyler Ladendorf|
|Bench||Coco Crisp||Coco Crisp||Craig Gentry|
|Bench||Ike Davis||Ike Davis||Mark Canha|
As constructed here, Eric Sogard is not the primary starter in any lineup. Our experience with Sogard is that he's a good second baseman, has to fake it at shortstop, and in limited appearances at third base (none since 2013) has been able to scrape through okay. What does Ladendorf have to beat to make this a good move?
Dropping Sogard and adding Ladendorf has the effect, here, of removing Sam Fuld from the lineup against left-handed pitching and adding Ladendorf.
|Sam Fuld vs. LHP|
Sam Fuld's career wRC+ against lefties is 90, which is slightly below average. Fuld's left field defense, meanwhile, pencils out to anywhere between average and great, depending on whether you believe Fuld's 2014 defensive season will continue or whether it was a fluke. For what it's worth, Fuld has 15 career Defensive Runs Saved in left field over 1217⅔ innings (great for that number of innings), and a 19.3 career UZR/150 in left, which corresponds to a Gold Glove caliber fielder if Fuld only had a bat to play in more games.
Tyler Ladendorf, however, was demolishing Triple-A left-handed pitching in 2014 before a 50-game suspension for a drug of abuse violation (a non-PED violation, includes drugs like marijuana). Using Baseball Prospectus' league-adjusted True Average (TAv), where a replacement level player has a .230 TAv, and an everyday player has a .260 TAv, Ladendorf's .386 TAv over 92 plate appearances ranked fourth in Triple-A against left-handed pitching amongst batters with at least 75 plate appearances.
A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens felt Ladendorf made big strides in 2014, in an interview with oaklandclubhouse.com's Melissa Lockard:
"Tyler Ladendorf made huge strides offensively this campaign," A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens said via e-mail. "He was always a contact-oriented player with a short stroke that bodes well for higher levels. This year he catapulted himself forward to someone that is on the cusp. Tyler's plan, approach and execution all improved in 2014."
Lockard cites a dramatic increase in Ladendorf's line-drive rate to 29.3% overall, leading to a .395/.457/.568 slash line against lefties. She writes, "Over the past three seasons, Ladendorf has a .328/.403/.512 line versus southpaws."
Ladendorf also plays good defense with Ben Zobrist-like versatility. A natural shortstop, he has gotten regular playing time at every field position except first base and catcher. A's minor league system blogger Chris Kusiolek didn't mince words on his opinion of Ladendorf's middle infield defense:
Billy Owens told Melissa Lockard:
"He's always been able to play every position on the field soundly," Owens said. "This year he blended his versatility and acrobatic capabilities with a touch more reliability defensively and forced his way on everyone's radar. He's definitely one of our better defenders on the 40-man roster and I look forward to him making that next step in 2015."
The trouble with sending Sogard to the Sounds is the backup plan against right-handed pitching when either Brett Lawrie, Marcus Semien, or Ben Zobrist need a day off or have an injury that does not require a trip to the disabled list:
@jfkooAN back-up MIF. Those guys are going to need days off. Plus Semien may play third from time-to-time in place of Lawrie.— Melissa Lockard (@oakclubhouse) January 15, 2015
Mark Canha (who can also play third base) and Tyler Ladendorf are here to hit against left-handed pitching. Canha did do pretty well against Triple-A righties for New Orleans in 2014 with a .318 TAv coming from a .311/.391/.502 line, but Ladendorf's .261 TAv coming from a .255/.342/.339 for Sacramento is not promising. The versatility drop off against the side teams face most often was most worrisome to Melissa Lockard:
She sees Ladendorf's best chance is if the A's decide to go with a six-man bullpen.
What to do?
With the way the roster is constructed right now (how often have we said that?), I agree with Melissa Lockard that unless Ladendorf is outstanding in spring training, he does not make the roster absent a move to a smaller bullpen or, knock on wood, an injury moves everyone up one spot. Moving Zobrist around the field lets the A's give guys days off against righties when they need them as Sogard slides into second base.
Ladendorf will be a great option to have stashed in Triple-A Nashville, and it will be good to resolve any uncertainty of whether his line drive resurgence was just a fluke or whether he can sustain that performance. In the best case scenario, everyone does great and Ladendorf will be an incredible asset in September against AL West teams loading up on lefties, a Chicago White Sox team that features Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and John Danks, and it will inevitably work out that the A's will have to face Madison Bumgarner down the stretch.