Let’s Talk About Alex Liddi
Yesterday, the Mariners made semi-history when they promoted Alex Liddi to the Majors. While there have been other Italian born Major Leaguers, Liddi is the first in a long time to actually have been raised in Italy, as the Mariners signed him as a 17-year-old after scouting him internationally. Because of his power and the organization’s overall lack of that particular skill, he’s gotten a decent amount of attention as a prospect, and I’m sure many of you are hoping to see him play quite a bit in September.
Personally, I hope we don’t see too terribly much of Liddi this month, because I’d argue that regardless of what happens this month, he needs to spend 2012 back in Tacoma. I know it’s tempting to look at the 30 home runs he hit for the Rainiers and hope that he could provide some thump from the third base position for next year and the future, but when you look at the context of the PCL this year, Liddi didn’t actually have that great of a season.
For the season, he hit .259/.332/.488, good for an .821 OPS. The average hitter in the PCL this year hit .286/.359/.448, good for an .807 OPS. Always a good hitters league, this year the PCL was the best offensive environment to be found anywhere in the sport. Four teams averaged in excess of six runs per game, and only two averaged less than five. It was just a great year to be a hitter in the Pacific Coast League.
When you adjust for context, Liddi’s overall offensive performance simply isn’t all that impressive. He showed no real improvement in his ability to make contact, and a 27% strikeout rate in Triple-A is a legitimate concern. While he’s more selective than a guy like Carlos Peguero, often times an inability to make contact with minor league stuff indicates a more serious issue that can be exploited at the Major League level.
While Liddi made significant strides with the glove this year, he’s still a guy whose value will be tied to well he hits in the big leagues. Right now, there’s not much of a reason to think he’s ready to hit big league pitching.
If he gets regular playing time in September, there are basically two potential outcomes – he performs well and generates unrealistic expectations about his potential ability to contribute to the 2012 roster, or he struggles mightily and loses some of the sheen from what is (at least on the surface) a pretty successful 2011 campaign. Either outcome is probably not in the organization’s best interests.
Liddi is young enough to still have time to improve on his weaknesses and potentially develop into a useful big league player, but he’s just not there yet. Giving him regular playing time down the stretch will likely either generate unfair expectations or harm his confidence, and I’d rather avoid both of those outcomes.
Let him play once a week, use him in blowouts, and give him a taste of the Major Leagues. But, the best use of playing time at third base is still to continue to evaluate Kyle Seager on a daily basis, and I’d rather not see Liddi take any PT away from a guy who could legitimately fill a role on the 2012 team.