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40-players-in-40-days-the-second-basemen | November | 2009 Articles

2009 Archives

40 Players in 40 Days: The Second Basemen

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[caption id="" align="alignright" width="300" caption="by Keith Allison"]by Keith Allison[/caption]

Second base was a revolving door for the Braves in 2009, and that's reflected in the fact that four players played more games at second base than at any other position: Brooks Conrad, Kelly Johnson, Omar Infante, and Martin Prado.

Conrad was a great story with his early hot streak, but his overall 2009 body of work isn't so impressive. His Gwinnett line translates to just .240/.325/.389 at the major-league level, and he's not a good enough defensive middle infielder to make his bat worth carrying. It was hardly a surprise to see him come back to earth--hard--once his hot streak came to an end. He's an easy guy to root for, being a former non-roster invitee and whatnot, but ultimately I don't think he's a guy you even want on a major-league bench for any extended length of time.

Johnson has to be a shoo-in for the Braves' "Most Disappointing Player" in 2009, and his season was incredibly frustrating. Still, I remain very bullish on his future prospects. Close analysis of his numbers shows that pretty much the only thing he lost from his solid 2008 to his awful 2009 was 120 points of BABIP. Now I don't mean to suggest that loss is all luck-induced, as his line drive rate did fall significantly (though his 2007 LD rate was not far off from his 2009 number). Still, his 17.8% rate points to a BABIP in the .290-.300 range, and his BABIP fell all the way to .249. Johnson walked more, struck out less, didn't show any loss of isolated power, and even showed great improvement with the leather (at least according to UZR). Give him 50 points of BABIP, and even assuming all the extra hits are singles, he'd have hit .274/.353/.439, which is solid for a second baseman. I think Frank Wren will greatly regret it if he trades Kelly for pennies on the dollar, or worse, simply non-tenders him. In the grand scheme of things, $3.5 million (Kelly's likely arbitration salary) really isn't that much, even for a bench player. And my money says that even if KJ is retained in a "bench" role, it wouldn't be too long before he finds himself once again playing every day. A lot of people talk about signing someone like Mark DeRosa, but that'll cost twice as much plus a longer-term commitment, and DeRo gives you about the same production. And besides that, Kelly brings the same versatility: he can play second, allowing Martin Prado to move to first or third base, and Johnson could also play either outfield corner. So if you can get good value out of a KJ trade, then it's not a problem to trade a guy that doesn't really have a place to play as of now. But it would be inexcusable to non-tender him, and selling him low could be a huge mistake as well.

Infante is an incredibly underrated asset, and the Braves should be ecstatic to have him under contract through 2011 for less than $6 million total. He makes solid contact (26.7% of his balls in play were line drives in 2009) even if he doesn't have great power, he plays quality defense at second, third and short, and even seems to be getting increasingly comfortable playing in the outfield. He's not a name people know outside of Atlanta, but he's exactly the kind of "glue guy" that playoff teams need. One of baseball's best bench players.

As for Prado, I'll be the first to admit that I wasn't a Prado believer entering the year. I saw a solid utilityman, but not a starter. And if Kelly wins "Most Disappointing," Prado wins "Biggest Surprise of 2009." The newfound power he showed in 2008 turned out to not be a fluke, and he turned himself into a significant offensive asset. I think he's absolutely a starter going into 2010, even though I do still like Kelly Johnson. That said, I am not sure exactly where Prado should start. The sample size is somewhat small, but UZR tells us that Prado is a truly awful second baseman (and even if he's not -15 runs bad, he's still below average). On the other hand, he's a strong first baseman and third baseman. The ideal defensive alignment would move Chipper across the diamond and let Martin play third base, but that's not going to happen. Should Johnson bounce back, Prado could hit enough to hold down first base (where he is actually a plus defender). But no matter the defensive alignment, Prado's flexibility is valuable and he deserves to go into spring training without having to earn a job for a change.

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