Position Roundtables: Starting Designated Hitter
Jeff: Starting Designated Hitter: Raul Ibanez and/or Bucky Jacobsen
Dear St. Patrick:
Are you there, St. Patrick? It’s me, Jeff.
Look, I know I don’t take much time to reflect on my Irish heritage, probably because all we know of it is that my great-grandfather fled from some trouble he got into, changed his name, and forbade anyone in the family from ever speaking of The Old Country again. But I come to you two weeks before your namesake holiday to ask a favor.
You’ve got to help Bucky Jacobsen out.
Sure, you’re probably pretty busy with, um, driving the snakes out of heaven. Or something. And it’s true that I’m not even sure Bucky is of Irish descent. He’s a redhead, though, and that should count for something.
Most importantly, this is a guy who could use a bit of good luck.
Who doesn’t root for a career minor leaguer that keeps plugging away? Bucky has been biding his time, just doing what he does best — get on base and hit for power. Such persistence is often its own reward, but not every persistent guy puts up a .291 Equivalent Average in just under 200 plate appearances. Bucky did, and at 29, the prime of his career is now.
Just as his talents peak, though, his fortune runs out. The Mariners sign a marquee free agent that plays his position. Raul Ibanez, one of the most productive Mariners last year, is getting squeezed into the role of primary designated hitter, closing off another place Bucky could shine. At a time when his talent is at its maximum, it seems his opportunity is minimal.
That’s where the luck of the Irish comes in.
Evidently, Royal Brougham’s answer to Paul Bunyan also has a knee that’s still healing from offseason surgery. The differing accounts from The Buckster and from the team regarding the injury are disconcerting, too. It’s reminiscent of Arthur’s encounter with the Black Knight from Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail, with Bucky saying the “it’s only a flesh wound!” line.
[Of course, if anyone on the team compares to the Black Knight in terms of physical well-being, it’s Chris Snelling. But I digress. And I apologize if this cultural reference in any way brings up bad memories of British imperialism.]
So here’s my request: it’s said that finding a four-leafed clover on St. Patrick’s Day brings twice the good fortune it usually does. If you have an extra one around — a really hardy one that can supernaturally pop up in Arizona — could you see that Bucky gets it?
It’s said that luck is where preparation meets opportunity. Bucky’s been preparing for almost a decade in the minors. He just needs for a few things to go his way — a slot to hit from and the physical well-being to do it.
If Bucky is healthy, the team should give him a shot to hit small white balls great distances for relatively little money. Even as part of a pseudo-platoon arrangement, with Ibanez being rotated into the outfield and Bucky giving Richie Sexson the odd day off at first base, Jacobsen could get 400-450 at bats.
If he hits the way he did last season, they won’t be able to keep him out of the lineup. And luck’s got little to do with that.
Jeff Shaw —- Please note the Irish last name
P.S. I hear Felix Hernandez is half Irish on his mother’s side. So if you have two of those magic clovers …
Dave: As Jeff notes, Bucky had an impressive major league debut, posting a .291 EqA in 176 plate appearances. This was after posting numbers that would translate to a .277 MjEqA at Tacoma, meaning he fared
better in his time in Seattle than one would have expected based on his Triple-A numbers.
Interestingly enough, Raul Ibanez posted an identical .291 EqA, but did so in 524 plate apperanaces. And everyone and their mother seems to want to get rid of Ibanez so that we can play Bucky full time.
But, 2004 Ibanez was better than 2004 Jacobsen.
Bucky’s a great story. He’s a perfect example of freely available talent, and why teams don’t need to spend huge amounts of money on 1B/DH types. But he’s not a great major league player. He’s a guy with an above average stick who offers no defensive value whatsoever. There’s definitely room for that kind of player on the roster, but you don’t have to go out of your way to remove other quality players in order to find him a job.
I’m in the minority on this, I know, but I’d rather have Ibanez as the regular DH. The line-up is already very right-handed in a park that plays extremely favorably to lefties. Ibanez is one of the few hitters in the lineup who will contribute their “normal” production in Safeco Field as well as in any other park in baseball. That counts.
Ibanez is historically terrible against lefties and should be platooned. With the roster only containing four real outfielders, Ibanez is essentially going to be the designated reserve whenever Winn, Reed, or Ichiro need a day off, freeing up the DH spot for Bucky on that day. Just by using Bucky at DH against lefties and when Ibanez is in the outfield, you’ve created at least 60-70 starts for
him. That’s 300+ at-bats.
We also have a shortstop who needs to be pinch hit for in nearly every crucial situation late in the game. We have a catcher tandem that could probably be replaced frequently as well. The team needs a good pinch-hitter, and, well, that has Bucky written all over it.
We can give Bucky 400 at-bats without moving someone out of the regular lineup to do so. And you know, depth isn’t a bad thing. I’m all in favor of Bucky being on the team too, but not at the cost of removing other players from the team in order to find him a starting job.
When asked to choose between Ibanez and Bucky for DH, I say “Both, please”.
Derek: I too would like to see Hargrove employ a super-rotation that somehow manages to get Jacobsen a ton of at-bats. I also would like a pony. I’m unlikely to get either.
It’s interesting to consider that DH is even considered a position. The designated hitter is a strange evolving position — you could use it as a daily half-a-rest spot for regulars, or stick Frank Thomas in there every day and rest players the old fashioned way. As anyone who has read my stuff for a while knows, I’m a huge fan of flexibility on the roster, and the Mariners this year present a great opportunity to show off if Hargrove wants to. But there just isn’t playing time. At 600 AB/position, everyone stays healthy, figure
Reed — 450 AB in center
Winn — 400 AB in left, 150 AB in center
Ibanez — 200 AB in left, 400 AB at DH
Bucky gets 200 DH at-bats. Anything more than that has to come from somewhere. Pushing Winn’s playing time to get Ibanez in the field serves no one. It doesn’t matter how you slice it, there isn’t room enough in this lineup for all these guys.
Dave: Why does Ibanez get 600 at-bats? 200 of those will come against lefties, and last years flukiness aside, he shouldn’t be in the lineup with a lefty on the hill. Let’s say Bucky gets 150 of those 200, and now you’re giving him 350 at-bats. That’s not bad.
Derek: It doesn’t really matter. The difference between Raul Ibanez getting all the DH at-bats and Bucky getting them, assuming our guesses about their relative production is right, is pretty small. Over the course of the season, it won’t amount to anywhere near the impact King Felix might have as a mid-season call-up, or whether the team puts Aaron Sele in the rotation.
But that is why it actually matters a great deal. Unless the team is trying to get Ibanez playing time because they think it will make him more easily tradeable, or unless they believe they’re going to get better hitting out of him — and both are possible — the choice to play Ibanez over Jacobsen means the Mariners are running a charity, not a baseball team. They’re going to pay Ibanez whether he plays or not. If there’s a better option that would help the team win ballgames, they should take it. And that’s Bucky.
Dave: In 2004, the AL West was decided by 1 game. In 2003, it was 3 games. In 2002, it was 4 games. In 2000, we finished half a game behind the A’s, only avoiding the tiebreaker because we were already in as the wild card. Only once in the last five years has the division not come down to the wire. The small things matter.
And remember, Raul Ibanez was better than Bucky Jacobsen last year. Playing the better player, the one with a longer track record of success, the one whose hitting style is perfectly suited to the park we play in, and whose leftiness offsets an extremely inbalanced lineup as it is currently constructed, is “running a charity”? Come on.
Why is Bucky a better option, exactly?
Peter: Raul Ibanez was better than Bucky Jacobsen
How exactly ya figure that, Dave? Their rate states are strikingly similar:
Ibanez: .304/.353/.472, EqA .291
Bucky: .275/.335/.500, EqA .291
The striking difference between the two came in the amount of time they each spent in the batter’s box. I’ll buy an argument that says Ibanez was better because he put up that line in more time in the field. I could buy an argument that says Bucky was better because he put up the same line using up fewer outs. Eh.
Furthermore, while they performed the same, Bucky did it at less than a tenth of the cost to the Mariners. I can buy a white T-shirt from Abercrombie for $50 or a whole package of them from Wal-Mart for $5. Which is the better T-shirt?
However, our argument isn’t who was better LAST year, but who will be better THIS year? Trying to figure who best complements the current lineup is another connundrum. The Mariners already have left-handed-singles hitters in Ichiro and Reed. They already have right-handed-mashers in Sexson and Beltre.
Regarding the plate appearance figures, are we accomodating those numbers for injuries? Because considering our dramatis personae, the question is not “if” somebody gets hurt but “when”, “who” and “how long”.
I say that the question of who wins out with the DH lineup spot will be decided by the first victim of the DL gremlins.
Personally, now that Edgar is sitting comfortably at home, I can now cross party lines and say let’s forget the DH altogether. But that’s a whole other can o’ worms.
Dave: How exactly ya figure that, Dave? Their rate states are strikingly similar.
At the major league level, yes. But keep in mind that Bucky’s major league sample was pretty small, and he outperformed what his MjEqA said he would do based upon his time in Tacoma. In other words, even if Ibanez and Seattle Bucky are equal, Ibanez was still better than Tacoma Bucky. Adding Seattle Bucky and Tacoma Bucky together gives us an inferior hitter to Raul Ibanez.
Which is the better T-shirt?
But we’ve already bought these tee shirts. In this case, we’re just standing at the closet deciding which t-shirt to put on. When you’re trying to figure out if you want to wear the Abercrombie or Walmart t-shirt, do you care how much you spent on them last year? I don’t. I just want to know which one is cleaner.
The Mariners already have left-handed-singles hitters in Ichiro and Reed.
Despite Ibanez’s single-fest at the end of the year when he made his run at .500, it’s not really fair to call hiim a left-handed singles hitter. He slugged .472 and had 48 extra base hits, good for 33 percent of his total hits. That’s not cleanup hitter material, but its not Jeremy Reed (17 percent of his major league total hits were extra base knocks) or Ichiro (just 15 percent!). Do you consider Bret Boone a “singles hitter”? Because just 36 percent of his hits were extra base knocks last year.
the question is not “if” somebody gets hurt but “when”, “who” and “how long”.
Exactly. This goes along with my “depth is not a bad thing” comment. We can’t assume that we’re going to get 600 AB from either Ibanez or Bucky. Removing one of the two from the equation means that the backup DH is now… Scott Spiezio?
Peter: In regards to which is cleaner–Ibanez or Bucky–I’d prefer not to be the one to make that inspection.
Derek: I think the other big issue we’re not considering enough is whether Bucky’s healthy. Even if I think he might out-perform Ibanez, if he’s not healthy there’s no way that happens, and the team won’t carry two DH types if one of them is injured anyway. There would be better things to do with that roster spot — heck, maybe they’ll cary 12 pitchers (yeagh). Without knowing Bucky’s healthy, I’m resigned to Ibanez.