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When Spring Numbers Matter

March 30th, 2012

From a purely statistical standpoint, Spring Training numbers mean nothing. Good players have bad springs, bad players have good ones, Jeff Mathis hits .391/.429/.522.

A number of people much smarter than me have studied March numbers in depth and determined that there is little to no correlation between a player’s performance in camp and their performance in the regular season.

As much as we may want to think otherwise, managers and players are likely well aware of this as well. Mike Trout could have hit .500 this spring and still started the season in Triple-A, not because the front office is clueless, but because that’s where they’ve determined he’s best suited at the moment.

In spite of this knowledge, spring numbers can also, at times, mean everything.

Bobby Abreu began his spring by putting the wrong foot forward and placing it directly into his mouth. Speaking to Enrique Rojas of ESPN the week prior to reporting to camp, Abreu expressed unhappiness at his potential loss of playing time this season.

Abreu claimed he was an “everyday player” and that he’d rather be traded then sit on the bench.

Sensing a potential problem, Mike Scioscia and Jerry Dipoto met with Abreu in private and quelled the flames quickly and efficiently, expressing to the press that Abreu would likely see 400 at-bats on the season.

Then last week more inflammatory statements emerged in a Lider en Deportes article, with Abreu talking about a lack of confidence in the Angels sticking to their bargain and that he was tired of “proving” his worth to the team.

Abreu’s statements of being an “everyday player” and being underappreciated could have very well been justified if he had backed them up with a solid performance this spring.

However, Bobby has gone just 4-for-46 this spring with four walks and two doubles, good for a woeful .086/.160/.130 slash line.

Once again, on their face, these numbers mean nothing and the front office knows this. Abreu could go on to have a very successful season in spite of them.

But compounded with his stirring of the proverbial pot on more than one occasion this spring, the 38-year-old now finds himself on the verge of being sent to the Cleveland Indians.

Rather than keep quiet and accept a lesser position on a team that is all but confirmed to reach the playoffs, Bobby is now likely to become a member of a team that will need everything to go right just to get a wild card spot.

Beyond the playoffs, the kicker here is that Abreu will not see significantly more playing time as a member of the Indians. Just like with the Angels, Abreu will have to split time in Cleveland with a slew of corner outfielders and a powerful designated hitter coming off injury (Travis Hafner in this case).

I’ve always liked Bobby Abreu. Yes, his 2011 season was disappointing and he doesn’t belong anywhere near the outfield anymore, but he was a great player who gave the Angels two quality seasons in the twilight of his career. So it’s unfortunate that Abreu’s tenure as an Angel is likely to end this way.

It’s not often that we can draw much meaning from Spring Training numbers.  When we can, they’re often coupled with other factors. Here Bobby Abreu’s paltry numbers, combined with his new penchant for public displays of defiance, mean that his Angel career is likely at an end.

The DL, Depth of Field and Bobby Abreu

March 3rd, 2012

Much ink has been spilt concerning Bobby Abreu and the Angels current “logjam” issue at 1B/LF/DH/3B.

Bobby has made his position in the discussion pretty clear—if not with his complaints to the media last week then with the t-shirt he wore to the first day of camp which apparently read: “skilled at every position.”

Despite the small scuffle with Abreu, Jerry Dipoto and his crew have made it known that they don’t see the abundance of low mobility guys as a problem at the moment.  With lingering injury concerns following Morales and Trumbo, the front office has even gone so far as to promise Abreu a chance at 400 plate appearances (including Spring Training?). If everyone is healthy however, it does seem that someone will be the odd man out in terms of playing time.

I don’t really have much to add on whom to trade when but the whole concept of “depth” got me interested in looking into the Angels’ recent DL history, and how moving Abreu would affect the bench.

Team DL statistics are a bit difficult to come by, with MLB.com and ESPN.com providing the only lists I can access¹ that are categorized by team. These lists were not DL-specific but rather “transaction” lists that did not always match up and often had players being activated from the DL without first putting them there.

Thus the final numbers I extracted are not flawless, but they’re a start.

As the above chart illustrates, over the last decade the Angels have had as many as 23 DL stints in a season and as few as 11. They have averaged a little under 16 stints per season and have seen an almost even distribution in DL trips between pitchers and position players².

Jeff Zimmerman’s recent article on DL trends in the last decade indicates that the average of about 16 DL stints per season puts the Angels almost in the middle of the pack injury-wise, though they have had the 10th fewest total days on the DL in that timeframe.

What seems to emerge from the above chart is that the sheer number of DL stints doesn’t necessarily correlate with failure—2004 and 2005 were playoff years, 2006 was not—and one key injury can seriously derail a season if success hinges on that player an adequate replacement isn’t readily available.

I realize this isn’t groundbreaking information (see: the 2010 Angels or 2011 Giants) but it’s still interesting to see it fleshed out.

So what, if anything, does this mean for 2012? And does this say about Bobby Abreu’s bench spot specifically?

According to Baseball Prospectus’ super awesome visual depth charts—which I unfortunately don’t have real access to—the Angels are one of only three AL teams predicted to accrue at least near average production from each offensive position this season.

This even distribution bodes well for coping with the bumps and bruises that will inevitably come in the course of the season, so long as they have the right pieces on the bench to fill those voids.

There are typically five bench spots up for grabs on the 25-man roster, and the Angels have four of them set before their first pitch of Spring Training: Maicer Izturis, Mark Trumbo, Bobby Wilson and Bobby Abreu.

Izturis and Trumbo provide us with middle and corner infield production off the bench that many other teams would love to have on an everyday basis, so the team is pretty set there.

Behind the plate, Bobby Wilson appears to be the favorite as back-up catcher because he’s “out of options”. I’ve never understood this logic, and I think Hank Conger would be a fantastic platoon for Chris Iannetta, but I guess anyone’s better than Jeff Mathis.

If you were to count Bobby Abreu as a designated hitter/fourth outfielder³—which Mike Scioscia appears to be doing at the moment—then that probably leaves the fifth bench spot open for another scrappy middle infielder like Andrew Romine or Alexei Amarista.

So if Abreu were to leave the team in a trade, who would likely replace his roster spot? And would that player provide the same value offensively?

Listed below are the four players who seem to be in the best position to take Bobby’s roster spot, along with their numbers over the last three years.

First off, I’ve omitted Mike Trout here because there’s no way he’s brought up to play a bench role. If anyone gets significantly injured in the outfield though, he’ll definitely be the first one up.

Langerhans and Moore probably have the best shot at replacing Abreu because, well, they’re the only other outfielders. Cantu and Navarro would only have a real chance at it if the fifth bench spot goes to another outfielder rather than to Romine or Amarista.

No matter who Bobby’s spot ended up going to though, it would result in a drop in offensive production, particularly in the on-base department. Not a catastrophic drop by any means, but probably an unnecessary one.

Until Mike Trout takes over and Vernon Wells becomes the fourth outfielder—also known as July 2012—the Angels are probably better off keeping Abreu around on the bench, unhappy as he may be.

If I had to make a wager, I’d put my money on Bobby Abreu being dealt for pitching depth some time before the All-Star break. But while he’s here, he does add some value off the bench that we otherwise wouldn’t get elsewhere.

May as well use him while we can.

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[1] The only holistic list of DL stints seems to be the one created by Corey Dawkins at Baseball Prospectus. Unfortunately, I don’t have a subscription there so my numbers may differ a bit.

[2] Not surprisingly, Maicer Izturis and Kelvim Escobar lead the pack with 8 DL stints each.

[3] Abreu only started 28 games in the outfield last year—and only finished 16 of those—so it’s incredibly hard to imagine him being considered in anything other than a back-up DH role.

 

You can contact Nathan Aderhold on Twitter at @AdrastusPerkins

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