More Small Moves: Adam Lind Acquired, Jabari Blash Taken in Rule 5 Draft
Seriously can’t keep up with Jerry Dipoto this month, so I took a couple of days off of kvetching about minor M’s roster moves. Back at it, then. The biggest move of the past few days is the acquisition of 1B Adam Lind in a trade with Milwaukee. The M’s add a righty-killing bat at the very reasonable cost of three A-ball and below pitchers. Yesterday, the M’s lost OF Jabari Blash in the Rule 5 draft, with the A’s taking the slugging righty and then shipping him to San Diego. Here’s a not-so-brief run-down on these moves:
1: Adam Lind is a career .274/.332/.466 hitter in over 4,000 plate appearances for Toronto and Milwaukee. Sure, he’s a 1B/DH, but that’s not bad – it adds up to a 112 wRC+, solidly above average. Why was he acquired for a package of pitchers *headlined* by a a small righty who’s tossed 6 games above rookie league ball and then had Tommy John surgery? Chances are, if you know anything at all about Lind, you know he’s got some of the widest, most persistent platoon splits of any player in baseball. In a great post about the Lind and Scribner pick-ups at Fangraphs, Jeff Sullivan finds that Lind’s platoon splits are the largest in the game since 2002, easily eclipsing Seth Smith’s, Shin-Soo Choo’s, and Garrett Jones’.
You’ve got to keep that in mind, but the M’s seem aware, as Scott Servais has talked about the need for a platoon partner. RHB Jesus Montero would seem the likely candidate for the job, but the M’s could make another minor deal for a righty-hitting 1B, or they could move Nelson Cruz to 1B if a righty-hitting OF becomes available. I don’t mind platoons; I think getting the platoon advantage is a small, easy way of putting your team in the best position to succeed. There are obvious downsides, from squeezing the roster to a potential lack of flexibility and effectiveness in critical late-game situations. That said, I think platoons can help overall production and allow for an effective bench with hitters beyond the standard backup C and random UTIL/pinch runner.
However, with this move in particular, there’s another factor to keep in mind. Even at 32 (Lind will turn 33 in July), Lind destroys righties, but how much he plays – how many plate appearances he gets – is often a function of how many left-handed pitchers he faces. When he came up, the Blue Jays played Lind every day, and he typically saw around 72-75% right-handed pitchers, give or take. As the magnitude of his platoon issue became apparent, the Blue Jays got more intentional about how to deploy him, and that percentage rose above 80%, approaching 90% in 2014. That and recurring back problems limited him in many seasons with the Jays: he got just 318 PAs in 2014 and 353 in 2012. Last year, with the Brewers, Lind played a full season and *still* managed to face righties in 80.4% of his PAs. The question is: will that sort of usage be possible in Seattle?
Here is an admittedly rough look at platoon splits by league/division. In the table, you’ll see the total number of PAs vs. LHP by division for 2014 and 2015. To do this properly, you’d probably use a percentage of total PAs or something, but I haven’t done that – this is just adding up the raw PAs by year and team (and then rolling it up to the division level):
|PA vs. LHP, 2014||PA vs. LHP, 2015|
In 2014, no team faced a left-handed pitcher more than the Seattle Mariners. In 2015, the Rangers led baseball, and the M’s were 5th, one spot below the Astros. In 2015, the Brewers ranked 21st in PAs vs. lefties, with the Cubs and Pirates down at 25-26. In 2014, the Brewers ranked 26th with Pirates last in baseball. This is something I’ve found fascinating since reading this article back before the 2014 season: the NL Central just doesn’t really have many lefties, and may not focus as much as others on bullpen match-ups. They’re not alone, as the NL East shows similar tendencies. The other thing that jumps off the page is just how many more PAs vs. lefties you see in the AL. Apparently, one way for pitchers to deal with the DH is to specialize, but the effect (the AL West faced lefties 30% more than the NL central last year, and 23% the year before!) is so big, it can’t be all about interminable LOOGY/ROOGY appearances.
Look at the likely starters in the AL West next year. The Angels may have 3 lefty starters (CJ Wilson, Hector Santiago, Andrew Heaney), and the Rangers could have 3 as well (Derek Holland, Cole Hamels, Martin Perez). The A’s have 2 in Sean Nolin and Rich Hill, and while Houston has only 1, he’s pretty good and faces a lot of hitters (Dallas Keuchel). Whoever Lind’s caddy is will get plenty of action, and that means Lind won’t see as much action in 2016 even if he’s 100% healthy all year. This is a factor, but let’s be clear: Lind’s price was very low – both in terms of salary and the talent needed to acquire him. Lind’s platoon splits make him affordable, and even if the M’s may not be able to squeeze as much value out of him as the Brewers did, there’s still a valuable skill-set in there.
For their part, the Brewers are doing the same sort of thing. In Daniel Missaki, Carlos Herrera and Freddy Peralta, the Brewers picked up three righties with very good K:BB ratios whose physical size make them unlikely candidates for top prospect lists. Missaki, whom the M’s signed out of Brazil, tossed 7 IP of a combined no-hitter for Clinton (maybe the only good thing that happened to that team in 2015), but then tore his UCL soon thereafter. Missaki has a career K:BB ratio of 111:26, and was even better in his abbreviated 2015 (34:5), but is listed at 6′, 170, and if you could discount questions about his durability based solely on his size, his TJ surgery will be harder to explain away. Freddy Peralta repeated the Arizona league this year, putting up a 67:8 K:BB ratio, but he’s actually smaller than Missaki, listed at 5’11” 175. Herrera was in the Dominican League where he posted a 73:15 K:BB ratio, and is listed as 6’2″ (a comparative giant!) and 150lbs. These are three lottery tickets, and they all have the same statistical/physical profile.
2: Jabari Blash was one of the most entertaining members of the workmanlike 2015 Tacoma Rainiers. The giant 6’5″, 220lb LF/RF knocked 32 HRs between AA and AAA, hitting one of the longer HRs I saw in 2015, and slugging .640 for Tacoma in 228 PAs. PCL or no, that’s going to attract attention. If we think we know what Jerry Dipoto likes in relief pitchers, and if we think we know what the Brewers see as undervalued assets in the low-minors, we also know what the new M’s front office sees as big red flags. Jabari Blash has contact problems, and there may not be a more damning statistic than that, at least as far as the M’s GM is concerned. Blash’s K rate last year was 25.8%, and 27.6% in AAA. That was actually an improvement on his 30%+ mark in almost 200 PAs for Tacoma in 2014, when his season was cut short for a PED suspension.
It’s somewhat telling that Blash couldn’t quite crack the big league roster despite having the RH-power that Jack Zduriencik craved, and despite a very good minor league walk rate. By some statistical models, Blash was an intriguing, if old-for-his-level prospect. Tweaking the assumptions slightly produces a much less auspicious set of comparisons. Ex-Fangraphs scouting guy/current Atlanta Braves scouting guy Kiley McDaniel wasn’t high on Blash heading into 2015, but it’s worth noting that he showed some real improvements throughout the year, hence the insane slash line in Tacoma. That said, I have my doubts, given how high his hands were before his swing and how far his (really long) arms had to move to get the bat into the zone. Like, say, Carlos Peguero, Blash has good batspeed, but it takes a long time for the bat to get to that top speed. As I said last September, this is the kind of guy some team will stash on their bench, using him sparingly as a bench bat and really working with him on his hitting. I was kind of interested to see what Edgar Martinez would do with him, but he’s
Mark Kotsay’s uh, Alan Zinter’s project in San Diego for now. Defensively, he has a plus arm, but wasn’t a great route-runner.
Okay, no discussion of Blash is complete without mention of his glorious name. Jabari Blash and Jabari Henry are the only two Jabaris I can find in pro baseball history, which makes the fact that they were in the same organization – *and in the same OF for part of 2015* – all the more remarkable. It’s easy to forget that, coming into 2015, it was Jabari HENRY that everyone was interested in. Henry hit 30 bombs in the Cal League in 2014, while Blash whiffed 30% and then got suspended in AAA. Henry hit .170/.284/.347 for Jackson, so to say that Blash is the Jabari of choice these days is quite an understatement. That said, it’s nice to have a spare Jabari with Blash off to San Diego. Henry is much smaller than Blash, but both are RHB OFs with some power and a lot of patience at the plate.
As nice as it is to have two Jabaris on one team, the M’s weren’t the first club to consider the possibility that Jabaris were a potential market inefficiency. In 2009, the Texas Rangers drafted Blash in the 9th round (#274) and then drafted Henry in the 39th round out of HS (#1174 overall). Neither player signed, leaving Blash on the board for the M’s to draft in 2010, and allowing Henry to play 3 years of college ball before drafting him in 2012. Take THAT, Rangers. Interestingly (maybe? not really?), the Rangers not only failed to sign a single Jabari, but they couldn’t ink their first-rounder, Texas HS hurler Matt Purke. Purke went to TCU before blowing out his arm and slipping to the 3rd round in 2011.