Back in January, my esteemed colleague Dustin wrote about The Battle For Third Base. Because Dustin is smart and has foresight, he proposed an alternate title: The Battle For Third Base (as of the morning of January 6th, 2015).
He was right, as the Will Middlebrooks lottery ticket of studly power won the starting job. Another battle soon flared up as Yangervis Solarte continues the fight, this time with Jedd Gyorko‘s second base job in his sights. While Gyorko opened the season in a slump, Solarte’s started his hot at a 169 wRC+, matching last year’s 147 March/April mark before “crashing down to earth” (Dustin’s words) and finishing as about an average hitter.
When players perform well outside their expectations in short stints, here are two potential explanations: 1) Those expectations, built using the best methods of measurement over years of available information were wrong, or 2) The short stint isn’t a representation of a player’s true talent.
Dustin’s post has great background on what we know about Yangervis Solarte; he concludes Solarte’s significant advantages over Middlebrooks are his contact ability, plate discipline, slight edge with projections, and ability to switch hit.
Lets take a look at what information we have on Jedd Gyorko. Here’s what Jason Parks had to say the year before Gyorko’s major league debut:
Strengths: Excellent bat-to-ball ability; easy swing; short and without frills; drives the ball to all fields; crushes left-handers; squares velocity plus hit; at least 5 raw power; average arm; more athletic than given credit for.
Weaknesses: Doesn’t look the part; lacks plus defensive skills; pressure on bat, and bat might lack impact potential at the highest level; range at 2B is fringe at best; will need to maintain command of fitness/body.
Baseball Prospectus ranked Gyorko as the 84th best prospect in the game, down from 57 the year before (Hello Wil Myers, ranked 7th). Gyorko’s career slash line in the minors sits at .320 / .386 / .529.
Gyorko’s debut at second in 2013 was promising, slugging .444 and sending 23 balls yard. The .301 OBP could use some improvement, but if you’re getting a 111 wRC+ from a capable second baseman in his rookie year you don’t complain.
Based on a strong rookie campaign, the Padres signed Gyorko to a deal in April of 2014 with options through 2020. Gyorko did not respond in the way we hoped, with an unseemingly awful first half. As Nicholas Minnix pointed out in great detail over at Fangraphs, Gyorko hit .162 / .213 / .270 from the stretch of March to June 3rd, after which he went on the DL with plantar fasciitis.
From July 28th to Sept. 28th, Gyorko slashed .260 / .347 / .398, at which point you start thinking about that injury again. It might explain the poor first half performance, as was suggested at the time, creating an incredibly infuriating situation. We don’t know for sure if he played the first half hurt or not, but it sure looks like it.
Holy hell playing while injured is a terrible idea on so many levels. You undermine your skills, potentially worsen your injuries, and hurt your team in the process.
The situation is comparable to the previous two seasons from Yonder Alonso, who has underperformed expectations to be later explained by a wrist injury. For my money, full time players performing poorly due to playing while injured isn’t an acceptable scenario. For as much credit as Bud Black gets for his clubhouse management, three separate occasions where guys may have played through injuries is a problem that needs to be address. It’s the player’s job to tell management when he’s hurt, but it’s management’s job to create an environment where players are encouraged and feel safe to do so.
Back to Gyorko
We don’t know how much we can rely on Gyorko’s first half of 2014 as a predictor of future performance. It’s not fair to just ignore it and double the second half performance, especially after already ranting about the importance of using as much information as possible. And even if Gyorko was playing while hurt, we have to at least award demerits for something so maddening.
It’s overly simplistic, but I keep going back to both players minor league numbers to keep things easily forgotten in perspective:
|Career, Minor Leagues|
But I also talk a lot about the importance of projections and how they help avoid biases we all have:
|Projections, Updated as of 4/20|
|Yangervie Solarte Zips||.268||.324||.377|
|Jedd Gyorko Zips||.230||.289||.372|
For me this is a tougher call to make than I thought when I started writing. I like Gyoko, we watched him drafted by the Padres, develop through the system, then sign an extension to stay with the team after a great rookie campaign. Plus he’s a middle infielder with power, a #wet worthy commodity if there ever is one.
But despite the minor league track records, both projection systems believe in Solarte’s OBP and don’t trust Gyorko’s power. I’d like to say we can give Gyorko a boost from the tainted injury season the projections may not account for, but I have no idea if that’s fair. That’s part of what makes playing with injuries so damn frustrating.
By a crude measure, both appear somewhere around average to slightly below average defenders at second. Solarte’s career experience there balances against Gyorko’s slightly better UZR numbers in the majors. I don’t pretend to be great at evaluating defense, so feel free to add your own conclusions here, and if you want to be nice write about them in the comments.
In the end, I can’t help but keep the faith in Gyorko’s power potential. Though it’s not off to a great start, 3 weeks of games doesn’t change my opinion that he deserves another year of mostly regular playing time. Solarte doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, as he shouldn’t, though he may not see much time at third with Will Middlebooks, who has the important advantage of being acquired by AJ Preller, off to a hot start. Hopefully Solarte proves a flexible enough defender to see regular-ish PT, and the team thinks he might hang at shortstop since their standards there aren’t what I think of as high. Either way, having extra middle infielders around isn’t something the Padres are used to.
Sometimes I rewrite Taylor Swift lyrics about the Padres. If that sounds awesome, follow me on Twitter.