Thursday, March 3, 2011

In Appreciation of Mediocre Right-Handed Power Bats

It seems a lot of people forget that Juan Rivera was once traded for Javier Vazquez, the good. In 2004, Javy was  a 27-year-old workhorse who had posted three consecutive above-average years with a 1.15 WHIP and outstanding peripherals; he looked more like fellow 27-year-old up-and-comer Roy Halladay than like the Brad Radke/Livan Hernandez innings-eater he would become. Juan Rivera was a 24-year-old OF with power who had just one year before ranked the Yankees #1 prospect by Baseball America. Now, 2004 was a long time ago. Nick Johnson, who accompanied Rivera to Montreal, spent parts of 5 good but injury-riddled seasons in the Exps/Nats organization, and was the last Expo standing. Now he's 32 and sitting out spring training, waiting for a bite on the walking injury he has become.
Rivera never became the type of player one hopes their #1 prospect will become. In parts of ten major league seasons, he's never won a single award or finished on a single offensive leaderboard. Perhaps that's reason enough for no one to be excited about his addition to the roster; aging corner outfielders who can't hit are available in fairly prevalent supply.

Time for the tested and true Player A vs Player B vs Player C career slashline comparison. (Figures are OBP/SLG/OPS.)

A: .325/.427/.752
B: .336/.453/.790
C: .328/.461/789

Strikingly similar, amirite? Now what would you say if I told you those three players were golden-boy Aaron Hill, waiver claimee/resignee Edwin Encarnacion, and salary dump Juan Rivera? Hill's got to be the .790 guy, right?
Wrong - Hill is the one with the worst career offensive profile of the lot, and although he's significantly younger than Rivera, at 28 he's actually a full year older than E5. In fact, Hill's 2010 placed him immediately behind (*shudder*) Tony Batista on this list of historical struggling sluggers. None of which goes to show that he's a worse player than either Rivera or Encarnacion - defence and positional value do matter, after all - but as a hitter, he's very similar to if not worse than either of those guys.
However, as much as people have been frustrated by E5's throwing woes and his seeming inability to lay off the high fastball, Edwin Encarnacion still profiles as a viable offensive player. If he weren't, the Jays would not have re-signed him this season as ostensibly a DH. He's got a career SLG right in line with the Jays' team mark in 2010, and I think it goes without saying that all those home runs do have some value. It strikes me that the Hill/Rivera/Encarnacion triumvirate may very well be Alex Anthopoulos' Scott Hatteberg; in 2002, pre-Moneyball, on-base was the freely available commodity, and now it's isolated power. (Sure, Juan Rivera is making $5 million this year, but the consensus seems to be that he's not worth half as much, and there's always a decent chance we could see a similar situation play out with him as what we saw with Encarnacion. Remember, EE was a salary-dump as well, but once his price went down AA chose to bring him back at a much more manageable cost.)

A lot of people seem to be writing off Rivera too easily. I've seen barely an article about him since the trade, and some of the prospect-fiends on twitter ask if he's going to be cut or thrust aside as soon as a viable candidate (Lawrie? Mastroanni? Thames?) materializes in Vegas. I question that assumption - if there was ever a hitter who profiled better as a 2010 Blue Jay, it'd be hard to find one. We may be forced to sit through a lot of solo home runs in 2011.

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