Wednesday, June 1, 2011

LVH's: Least Valuable Hitters

Matt Stairs
This should not be a surprise to anyone. Stairs is 3 for 34 on the year, with a .088/.244/.118 triple slash. He's got more walks (7) than total bases (4), and has been worth 0.4 wins below replacement. Stairs Stairs is 43 years old, has little upside and no defensive value. Stairs is swinging at 29% of pitches outside the strike zone, 10% more than his career average, while only swinging at 49% of pitches inside the strike zone, almost 18% lower than his career average.

The argument that there is no viable replacement for Stairs is not valid, either, because the Nats have a 1B in AAA that deserves a shot at ML pitching: Michael Aubrey. Aubrey has limited ML experience, but is a good fielding lefty bat that can spot start and pinch hit against RHP. Aubrey's .283/.336/.487 career triple slash against RHP in the bigs would be a major improvement over Stairs, and his plate discipline is better than ever in AAA (17 BB/15 K in 34 games). If the Nats cut Stairs loose and called up Aubrey, the worst that can happen is no worse than what is happening now, so they should go ahead and do it. And for the record, I am against Chris Marrero being called up because he won't play every day.

Brian Bixler's 2011 numbers are Matt Stairs-ian: 3 for 21 with a .143/.217/.143 triple slash. If he sticks with the big club any longer, it's for 2 reasons: he's already here, and there ain't anybody pushing him. The Nats have some intriguing options, but they're all either too young or not a clear improvement over Bixler.

Replacements for even utility players that can't hit are sometimes difficult to find, and the Nationals' system is not particularly stocked. Matt Antonelli is on a quest to make it back to the Majors after being rushed there in the first place and injured afterwards; he's hitting .286/.375/.429 in 32 AAA plate appearances. The Nats shouldn't rush him back to the Majors too quickly, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was on the big team come September. Tug Hulett is an option that intrigues me perhaps a little too much. He reminds me a little of F.P. Santangelo as a player with his patience and ability to play anywhere. Hulett has been awful in his 2 short ML stints (.194/.270/.254), but has been solid in the minors in his career (career .276/.386/.412 hitter in the minors, .272/.365/.435 at AAA); his upside is higher than Bixler's, whose patience and power are unlikely to develop. Buck Coats has been an average-or-better hitter at all levels in the minors, including a career .294/.352/.407 triple slash in AAA. He's on the Harrisburg DL right now, and doesn't look like a better option than Bixler at this point, but once Zimmerman returns and Hairston returns to the bench, a lefty bench bat like Hulett or Coats could look good. Steve Lombardozzi is probably still another year away from truly being a viable candidate, but his future is bright; he is 12 for 12 in the stolen base category this season and has a career .369 OBP in the minors despite generally playing at a young age at each level. Michael Martinez, a former Nats farmhand taken by the Phillies in December's Rule 5 Draft, could be returned to Washington as soon as this week...if they want him back. Martinez is technically a switch-hitter, but that would imply that he gets hits; he swings at just about everything, takes very few walks and has little power. His ability to play both the infield and the outfield is nice, but Bixler can do the same. Chances are, Bixler has a job until Zimmerman returns.

Honorable Mention
Jerry Hairston, who can't hit a fastball right down the middle on a hit and run.
Pudge Rodriguez, even though we love the gifs.
Rick Ankiel, who hits like Jason Marquis, but in a bad way.
Alex Cora, sadly our best utility option off of the bench.

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