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suitors_of_yunel_-_part_3 | July | 2009 Articles


Suitors of Yunel - Part 3

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This is the final part of the three part series on the potential trade options for Yunel Escobar (see part 1 and part 2).

UPDATE: Chipper's groin is still tweaked and might cause him to miss the entire weekend series.  Whenever he swings for power, it seems it starts to hurt.  Otherwise, he's good.  My question is then why are we not playing him?  Hitting singles and walking from him is at least the equivalent of Casey Kotchman.  In fact, I'm sure it is.

REUPDATE: Javier Vazquez is going to miss his next start.  If it turns out he needs season-ending Tommy Johns, it might just hurt his chances of being traded.  But what do I know?

(2) Matt LaPorta

The 7th overall pick of the 2007 Draft barreled through the minors after his fantastic career at the University of Florida[1].  Before getting called up to the majors in Milwaukee, he was shipped off to the Indians in the trade that netted the Brewers Sabathia.  As many fantasy players know, LaPorta debuted this season with the Indians in early May and did little to impress.  In the nearly month he spent in the big show, his line was .190/.286/.286. Why, then, would we ever think he is worthy of Yunel?  Because of his po-tential.

Yes, most of it is based on scouts' evaluation, but the hitters he's said to be comparable to in the future makes me drool.   Many have said he could project to be Pat Burrell with more power[2] and there is plenty of reason to believe it.  His minor league numbers are redonkulous[3].  Before being traded, he was tearing up Double-A with a batting line of .288/.402/.576.  As for this year, less his major league appearance, LaPorta has been very impressive.  His combined playing time in triple-A before and after his debut has seen him hit 10 homers in 255 plate appearances along with 15 doubles and 24 walks to 37 strikeouts.  The skills are there.  Sometimes being useless over 49 big league plate appearances may lead to scouts pegging you as a Quad-A player.  Since teams are more willing to give fliers to those players with the likes of Jack Cust and Nelson Cruz, it seems those preconceived notions are broken.

The 24-year-old is probably too much of a defensive liability in left field given his gimpy speed[4], but his hitting is good enough to warrant a starting job at first.  I know many might cite our up-and-coming first baseman Freddie Freeman as reason not to execute this trade[5], but LaPorta is way beyond where Freeman is.  Besides, if FF does turn out to be a great hitter, I am sure one of them can move into left to ensure an optimal lineup at the expense of defense.

The bottom line is, with LaPorta, we would be getting at least 2 1/2 years, plus 3 discounted years, of a left field prospect at his peak (usually starts around 26 for hitters), a guy most analysts say has is on pace to become a middle-of-the-order, power hitter.  The loss of Yunel will be apparent; sending away such a good hitter at a historically poor, offensive position is no bueno, but, not to repeat myself, it is a historically poor, offensive position.  Left field and first, the two roles that are most often frequented by feared hitters, are glaring weaknesses for Atlanta.  Matt LaPorta can provide that pop to the lineup and fill the gaps (honestly, no pun intended) in the Braves' offense for years to come.


(1) Shin-Soo Choo

If we could grab anyone of the six players that Buster Olney mentioned in his article, I would pick the "Choo Choo Train" hands down.  If the wide array of great nicknames isn't enough to convince you[6], then let his numbers speak for themselves.

Choo had a very successful 2008, bouncing back from Tommy John surgery in 2007, his sophmore season.  In '08, he hit 14 homers, drove in 66, crossed the plate 68 times, and managed 44 walks to 78 strikeouts.  He did all that in 370 plate appearances, the same total he has for this year.  Speaking of this year, his OPS might not be as lofty as his previous year's outrageous-level (.946), the 26-year-old right fielder has managed to nearly match it with a batting line of .297/.405/.487.  Can you imagine if any of our outfielders could do that?  I don't think I can.

At this point, it is pretty safe to say that Choo, who is only a couple of months older than Yunel, is nearly the complete package, but we can delve even deeper.  Choo has good speed.  It is not good enough for a huge number of steals, but enough to warrant its mention.  A Spd score[7] of 5.2 puts him in the top quartile of major league hitters; he does well at avoiding double plays and knowing when to steal a base (13 for 13 this year). 

He has the potential to hit for a ton of power.  In his past two seasons, he has put up ISO's of .240 and .190, respectively[8].  The first number is top tier (better than guys like Hanley Ramirez and David Wright that year) and his current value is not too shabby.  There is reason to believe he has even more potential in terms of power.  A major indication of his plus power is his current HR/FB% of 18.1%.  12 players (!!) in all of baseball have a better home run to fly ball ratio in at least 350 plate appearances this year.  Justin Morneau is 11th and Mark Teixeira is 13th.  There is no reason to believe he couldn't hit more homers if he started to hit more flyballs.  It may not be as simple as that, but only 31.8% of his batted balls are fly balls, which is significantly lower than the league average (hovers around 38-40%).  Once he starts losing his speed, he might be able to phase in a longer, power stroke.

Neither one of those things are the best part of his game, which has to be his ability to get on base.  The "Choo Choo Train" is getting on base more often than 40% of the time.  His strikeout rate is admittedly high at 26.5%, but his eye is developed enough that he walks at a remarkable 14.3% clip.

The missing piece to this puzzle is his defense.  It is merely below-average.  I guess he's mortal.  While I still don't buy into the new defense fad[9], it is important to note that his UZR/150 is at -7.7 this year.  The problem appears to be in his range, which comes as a surprise to me.  Given speed is not a weakness of his, his poor defense is more likely due to his inability to get good reads on the ball.  Regardless, if there is one thing he could fix, it would be that mediocre defense.

Otherwise, he is a top 5 right fielder who has the potential for more things to come.  Still don't believe me?  Ranking right fielders by their current wOBA, or weighted on base average, Choo is 7th.  Same thing is true for OPS; Choo comes in at the 7th position.  What about wRC, or runs created weight based on wOBA?  1st.  "Whatevah James," you are (probably) yelling at the computer screen.  "What about when you factor in his defense?"  Let's just use RAR like I've been doing throughout the past two articles.  His RAR so far this season: 26.9.  That is 5th best amongst right fielders.  Number one is Ben Zobrist (really?) and number four, just above Choo, is Jayson Werth, which is surely a typo.  Given that almost all of those runs above replacement are coming from Choo's bat[10] and he is doing worse this season when compared to last, I'm pretty confident in claiming he is a top 5 outfielder.

Would I trade Yunel for Choo straight up?  Absolutely.  Accounting for the fact that Yunel is only one year away from arbitration after this year (Choo is two), I would have no hesitation in doing this trade.  I doubt Cleveland would ever do it, but here's to hoping.

That was exhausting.  Excuse my obsessive nature, but I do think there is a moral to all of this.  While Yunel will probably not get traded, it sounds like, if he does, there are some good options, some bad ones, and some ugly trades.  Oh, and I have a man crush on "Coo Coo ca Choo".

[1] He was SEC Player of the Year in 2005 and 2007.

[2] Here is the article circa 2008 where LaPorta is compared to Burrell.  It does not mention how their "bats" compare (zing!).

[3] I love that word.

[4] Then again, see Manny, Ibanez, or Pat "the Bat" for sloths-I mean starters in left field.

[5] No one would say Kotchman is a reason not to pull the trigger on that trade, because, let's face it, he is a league average hitter, much less league average first baseman.

[6] Seriously, it should.  Shin-Soo Choo is the perfect name for nicknames with other instant classics like "Big League Choo" or "Coo Coo Ca Choo".  They never get old.

[7] It is a Bill James' statistic, whose method of calculation is detailed here.  As a side note, in some recent research on the randomness in hitting metrics, Spd was found to be a heavily talent-driven metric, more than any other existing measure of a player's speed.  Its derivation might seem a little ridiculous (where does he come up with these constants!?), but it has validity.

[8] That is just around league-average.

[9] See SAFE.

[10] This is assuming, like I do, defense is over rated, it is very noisy, and it can be more easily taught than hitting.


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