Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Grady & The Alternatives

Though the news about Grady’s suddenly balky back broke late last week, the topic is sure to dominate the discussion throughout Spring Training as the Indians’ OF…um, “situation” figures to be a rather fluid one. Quite suddenly, the idea that the bevy of OF “depth” options would be fighting it out for a 4th OF spot and some sporadic playing time this season has been replaced by the reality that one of those “depth” options is likely to be the Opening Day LF, with that title perhaps not being relinquished for some time.

How long that “winner” of the new LF Derby figures to be counted on as an everyday player is the first question in all of this as, while others can moan and wail and gnash over Grady’s re-signing and the idea that the Indians were counting on him to return to the 162-game warrior that he once was (and they weren’t), the more pressing issue at hand is what to do in his absence. The Indians have been down this road before with the OF options being affected by Grady’s injuries, but this idea that Sizemore hurt his back bending over for a ground ball in the OF portends all sorts of bad news in terms of any hope for health – of any kind – for Grady this year.

If the Indians think that this back injury is just a delay to the start of Sizemore’s season (and they probably figured they’d get about 100 games out of Grady…and that is still possible, with the games missed this early injury simply representing a portion of the time that they figured he’d be unavailable), then keeping this mish-mash of players in camp involved as Plan A or Plan B to man LF for a while is fine. However, if this back injury is the harbinger for what the season holds for Grady – whose knee rehab has to go on a break while the back heals – then the Indians have to look very hard at the players that are in camp and whether they need to act to bring another body to Goodyear.

Certainly, the idea that they needed to bring another body to Goodyear existed all off-season, but if Grady’s back injury is just the start of a season spent largely rehabbing for him, a new urgency may set in for the Tribe. Perhaps it could be argued that the urgency should have been there all off-season to have a “Plan B” in mind for if/when Grady went down, but the thought that Grady’s body is betraying him and is breaking down is hard to ignore. If that is the case, the question becomes whether this group of players currently in Goodyear (Duncan, Cunningham, Spilborghs, Pie, Lewis, etc.) represents a viable level of production so the Indians could be comfortable with beginning the season with any one of them AND have the confidence that a viable level of production is a long-term possibility.

Adam Van Arsdale over at LGT has a nice round-up of some career stats for the players that figure to benefit from the opportunity afforded by Grady’s balky back, but I think that it’s worth including what some of the projections are for these players in 2012. With that in mind, here are the relevant Bill James projections in terms of LF options (with Grady in there for context), via Fangraphs:
Duncan - .800 OPS, .344 wOBA
Sizemore - .783 OPS, .334 wOBA
LaPorta - .768 OPS, .333 wOBA
Spilborghs - .755 OPS, .330 wOBA
Fred Lewis - .740 OPS, .320 wOBA
Donald - .718 OPS, .318 wOBA
Pie - .713 OPS, .312 wOBA
Brantley - .690 OPS, .309 wOBA
Carrera - .660 OPS, .305 wOBA

Cunningham did not (gulp) merit a Bill James projection, though his ZiPS projection pegs him near the bottom of the list with a .697 OPS, .305 wOBA projection. Donald is included in there despite the fact that I don’t think that he’s seen as much more than a super-utility guy…and yes, it terrifies me that the one player on that list who is guaranteed a starting spot (and is being promised the leadoff position in the lineup) is only prevented from being at the bottom of the list by Zeke. Regardless, as Mike Brantley seems to have a pretty wide berth to prove his skeptics wrong, that list of projected output is pretty depressing. Perhaps Shelley Duncan takes this opportunity and runs with it, but I’m still skeptical of the effect of his September of 2011 and how his strong finish (against watered-down competition) affected his year-end numbers. Truthfully, the inclusion of MaTola at the top of the list could be the most damning indictment of this group of players as 24th and 25th man fodder.

Perhaps a pleasant surprise is in store for the Indians – like a fully healthy Nick Weglarz or Aaron Cunningham making the most of an opportunity – the way that Brennan Boesch emerged for the Tigers (from the middle-bottom of their prospect lists) a few years back. Short of that, while the idea might exist to wait for mid-season to see what might shake loose on the Trade front, that presupposes that the Indians have a solid enough start to merit the “let’s add a piece” discussion in July. And if those are your options from Day 1 (as they exist right now) to start in LF, the question comes blazing back…
What can ACTUALLY be expected of Sizemore in terms of a return and, more importantly games played in 2012?

Most people assumed that Sizemore would be available for about 100 games or so this season, but that those games would be spread out over the course of a season, with Grady getting periodic days off as Brantley would slide to CF and one of the “depth” options would log some time in LF. But what if Sizemore’s back injury is just the beginning?

At this point, we all know that the Indians gambled on Sizemore, given his health and his potential (Castro’s piece outlines this, along with other options that the Indians may have had) and, while it may be unpopular to say, it’s still a gamble that I would have taken as well. While many can point to his voluminous recent injury history, remember that Sizemore had 16 XBH in those first 18 games back last year, with those 16 XBH coming in 84 plate appearances. Yes, he unfortunately (or is it “unsurprisingly”) sustained injuries that affected him from that point forward, but if the Indians could get any part of that dynamic player, that was the upside.

If you’re not impressed by that simple statement of XBH or can’t see the upside to a healthy Sizemore (who WAS healthy when he came back last year), here’s the context – Matt LaPorta had 35 XBH in 396 PA last year and Mike Brantley had had the same amount (35 XBH) in FOUR HUNDRED AND NINETY SIX plate appearances.
Again, Sizemore had 16 XBH in his first 84 PA’s…

Is that to say that Sizemore would have had nearly 100 XBH if he would have sniffed 500 PA last year?
Of course not, but let’s remember this quote on Grady from a scout last April via John Perrotto at B-Pro:
“He’s finally healthy for the first time in two years, and he’s back to being the dynamic player he was before he got hurt. He’s given that a club a lift, no question about it, not just with his production, but from a morale standpoint. They are playing with confidence, and I really think part of that stems from knowing he’s batting leadoff and playing center field.”

Sure…you say, but he wasn’t “finally healthy” and his body broke down just after that was written last year, just like it already has this Spring, meaning that the Indians should have gone in another direction with their gambling cash. If that’s the stance – have at it, but I still fail to see the deal that was made this off-season, or the FA that signed (that the Indians weren’t in on) that represented a more compelling gamble than Grady.

Certainly, it could be argued that they should have done more in terms of insurance policies for the eventual Sizemore injury (and I did make that argument), but if no other options offered themselves in the off-season market, you start to see the real conundrum facing the Indians if there is doubt that Sizemore will be healthy for any portion of the season in terms of still looking to acquire a viable alternative that may not be out there. Maybe the Indians REALLY think that Grady is going to come back and they aren’t just putting on a strong public face about it, figuring that they can handle some amalgamation of Duncan/Cunningham/Spilborghs/Lewis until Grady returns to settle the OF issues.

But the back injury and the recent knee injuries allow for a certain amount of skepticism as the Indians may very well be burning up the phone lines to see what it would take to get Josh Reddick out of Oakland (even if he just got there) or are thinking that the Fauxberto money could be used (if he’s not coming back any time soon and the fact the Oviedo/Nunez is still not cleared throws some doubt into the idea put forth by Hoynes this weekend that “according to sources, the Department of Homeland Security is expected to grant him a waiver to join the Indians”, as that sounds optimistic to me) to absorb some salary on a player like Marlon Byrd or even Carlos Lee.

However, all of this is predicated on what can be expected of Grady – both in terms of health and, obviously, performance – as the spectre of an underperforming LF (and CF, if those projections for Brantley come true) looms over Goodyear. Though it feels like we’ve been wondering “what can be expected of Grady” for too long now (as here’s the obit as an Indian that I wrote about him last July), the Indians need to be honest with themselves from a medical standpoint and from the reality of looking at what can reasonably be expected from the alternatives that stand to “benefit” from Sizemore’s absence.

The 2012 Indians have been full of gambles and “ifs” since the beginning of the off-season and, while the Sizemore injury may have a profound effect on how the Indians handle their lineup/roster construction or if they even STILL look to go out and add the piece that didn’t seem to be there/eluded them this off-season, keep this in mind…we haven’t even seen a Spring Training game yet.


MTF said...

There's another possibility to consider, and that is that Grady (good bet that he was over the winter, and one that I would have eagerly made as well) may not be able to play this season. At all.

We wil get an update tomorrow, says Bastian, and I guess at that point we see where next we go.

Clecago Joe said...

Thanks Paul. Finally after an offseason of having to hear that Duncan's 2011 should earn him serious playing time in the 2012 outfield (or 1B, good lord!)someone points out that Duncan's 2011 numbers were skewed by September ABs. At the end of August his OPS sat at .728 but rose 80 points during September. We need to take Shelley for what he is, a .320 OBP, low .700 OBP guy. Great for a 4th outfielder, not so great for a starting corner outfielder. Most likely the best of the lot, however.

Adam said...

Call me crazy but I actually like Zeke Carrera out of all these guys. You could put him in the 9 slot and use him as a "Second Leadoff" hitter. He brings speed and versatality which are qualities that I don't see in any of the other guys the Indians brought into camp. Yes, he is a punch and Judy hitter, but you're not counting on him for power in the 9 spot. You could put him in center and give Brantley a blow and he can fortify Brantley's leadoff spot if Brantley flames out (although I don't beleive he will). He played decent down the stretch last year and got some valuable experience and is still very young (unlike the other options). He is hard to strike out, and on a team that figures to whiff considerably, this would be a nice change of pace.

Heidi Marhofer said...

Unbelievable. Well, not unbelievable, just disappointing.

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