Scouting the Shortstops

added 11/3/2005 by Scott Barzilla

Okay, okay, I skipped a couple of spots. With Craig Biggio signed for another season and both Jeff Bagwell and Lance Berkman under contract, so I figured there was less suspense around those positions than catcher and shortstop. Like with the catchers, I will start with how the Astros shortstops compare with the other teams in the National League.

              Hits  EBH   HR   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
Atlanta        199   58   13  .297  .358  .440  .798	 
Cincinnati     183   68   24  .272  .330  .451  .781 	
St. Louis      199   44    8  .295  .365  .395  .760
Philadelphia   201   63   12  .285  .332  .424  .756 
Milwaukee      151   54   15  .257  .326  .405  .731
San Francisco  173   38    3  .273  .339  .349  .688
San Diego      142   57   17  .235  .296  .390  .686	
NY Mets        194   51    7  .273  .300  .385  .685
Florida	       142   48    7  .252  .319  .364  .683
Chicago	       180   44    9  .274  .307  .369  .676
Pittsburgh     160   43    8  .258  .306  .365  .671	
Colorado       167   46   10  .252  .303  .356  .659
Arizona	       169   42    5  .260  .308  .348  .656
Las Angeles    183   37    6  .264  .310  .338  .648
Houston	       147   43   11  .241  .284  .352  .637
Washington     129   32    4  .227  .275  .308  .583

It took the worst regular in the National League (Cristian Guzman) to keep the Astros out of last at the shortstop position. Unlike with catchers, we can’t blame anyone but the regular (Adam Everett) for this. Unfortunately, finishing fifteenth among sixteen teams at shortstop is worse than it seems. A .684 OPS would have put the Astros right in the middle of the pack.

This is where I have had some serious issues with other fans. Some of have said you don’t need offense out of your shortstop. After all, Everett finished the season as the eighth hitter and “he wasn’t bad for an eighth hitter.” I don’t know how to break this to them, but no one has ever heard a scout say, “I’ve got a beat on a great eighth hitter on this high school team in Florida.” Your eighth hitter is your worst hitter, so comparing him to other eighth hitters is worthless. The Astros don’t have to get Honus Wagner to play the position, but they need someone that can at least break the .300 barrier in OBP.

Scouting Everett

There is no way to really say it any other way, Adam Everett is a horrible hitter. However, people point out that he is legitimate Gold Glove candidate with the glove and he is young, so maybe he could improve with the bat. Well, before we look at everything else, let’s take a look at his offensive numbers since he has come up.

         PA    H   BB   SO   EBH   HR    AVG   OBP  SLG   OPS
2002    103   17   12   19     3    0   .193  .297 .227  .524 
2003    436   99   28   66    29    8   .256  .320 .380  .700
2004    435  105   17   56    25    8   .273  .317 .385  .702
2005    595  136   26  103    40   11   .248  .290 .364  .654

Adam Everett has increased his power numbers over the past three seasons, but his slugging percentage has not increased. This is because he made less contact in order to get those extra base hits. In particular, his walk to strikeout rate has actually gotten worse. Two things are working against Everett as a hitter. First, he will turn 29 next season. Most players reach their prime before they turn 29, but the most important point is that he will be entering his fifth season. Former Astros hitting coach Tom McGraw asserted that hitters become who they are in their fourth season. When you put these two facts together you see that Everett probably won’t get much better. Let’s see how he has done defensively in that time.

          FRAR   FRAA
2002	     4	    0
2003	    18	    2	
2004	    19	    5 	
2005	    27	    6

Is Adam Everett really as good as we think he is defensively? According to these numbers he really isn’t that great defensively. In the grand scheme of things, six runs over a full season is barely above average. In order to put this in perspective we can look at the number of runs he creates above average (or below) in comparison with other shortstops (RCAP) and fielding runs above average (FRAA) to come up with total runs above average (TRAA).

2002    -4    0   -4 
2003    -2    2    0
2004     0    5    5
2005    -9    6   -3

This isn’t bad at all. Everett has been a virtually average shortstop overall for very little money. However, he is now arbitration eligible which means that we could conservatively expect him to make two million dollars this season. If you give him a long-term extension it could average three million a season. Suddenly, Adam Everett doesn’t look like such a bargain. Should the Astros give someone a long-term extension so they can tread water? Let’s take a look at what’s available in the free agent market at the position.

Available Free Agents

There are a number of free agent shortstops available. In no particular order, they include Alex Gonzalez, Rafael Furcal, and Nomar Garciaparra. Like with the catchers, we will look at how they’ve done offensively and defensively the last three seasons. As an aside, we will look at their peripheral hitting statistics and total runs above average as well.

             Hits   BB  EBH   HR   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
Furcal        526  180  157   41  .285  .348  .429  .777
Garciaparra   362   75  132   46  .299  .346  .498  .844
Gonzalez      380   91  148   46  .249  .299  .413  .712

I don’t know about anyone else, but it seems that going with Alex Gonzalez would be like having an Adam Everett with a little more pop. So, this brings us to Furcal and Garciaparra. Both have negatives you don’t see directly here. Furcal has two DUI convictions that make him a questionable clubhouse presence. He also is heavily coveted by the Cubs, so Garciaparra might be more affordable. Garciaparra has better percentage numbers, but he also has spent significant time on the disabled list the last two seasons.

Garciaparra is a better fit if you’re looking for someone that can fit in the middle of your order. Furcal looks better if you need a guy for the top of your order. As far as the Astros are concerned, they’re simply looking for players that can make contact consistently no matter the situation. Let’s see how they do.

               SO    BB   Ratio  GIDP    SEC  SAC   SF        
Furcal        225   180   1.250    21   .296   13   14
Garciaparra   115    75	  1.533	   26   .280    2   15
Gonzalez      313    91   3.440	   36   .228   10   12

It looks like Furcal is the better hitter when we look at the peripheral statistics. Yes, it might appear as if he is a bigger strikeout threat, but we have to remember that Garciaparra has missed most of the last two seasons. In 2003, Nomar played everyday and struck out 61 times, so he was slightly better at making contact (Furcal averaged 75 a season), but Furcal also averaged 60 walks a season where Garciaparra drew only 39 that season. When we add in the fact that Furcal has never had fewer than 22 stolen bases and has averaged 33 over the last three seasons we see another reason to prefer him offensively.

            FRAR  FRAA
Furcal        72    11
Garciaparra   18   -22 
Gonzalez      56    -6

The gap has become that much wider. The only thing left is to compare these shortstops with Everett to see which ones would be considerably better than Everett in terms of total runs above average. We will give each the total they have achieved over their past three seasons.

             RCAP  FRAA TRAA
Everett       -11    13    2
Furcal         77    11   84
Garciaparra    42   -22   20	
Gonzalez       -6    -6  -12

The Final Analysis

We can eliminate Alex Gonzalez immediately from consideration, but the other two create some interesting debates. Nomar is better than Everett and if he is healthy, he is considerably better, but he is getting to the point in his career where you cannot count on 100% health. So, how much are you willing to pay for an additional six runs a season? We’ve already established that Everett will likely command around two million next season, so we can surmise that Garciaparra shouldn’t get much more than four or five million. Even then, you are gambling on him being healthy.

Rafael Furcal is an average of 27 runs a season better. That is considerably better, but the advantages only start there. Furcal will turn 27 next season, so he is actually younger than Adam Everett. He will likely command in the same neighborhood as Edgar Renteria (8-10 million a season). So, the Astros would likely have to settle for only Furcal if they went that direction. Is he good enough to justify the money? When you consider that he could be a part of the puzzle for awhile, has close to Everett’s level of defense and could be used at the top of the order, he would be a great pickup.