Scouting the Centerfielders Part II

added 12/23/2005 by Scott Barzilla

Last time we looked at Willy Taveras’ defensive numbers. The key in that department will be whether see growth. Of course, the $64,000 question is whether we will see improvement at the plate. There are two schools of thought on Taveras. The first says that he had so many infield hits that he is bound to have a sophomore jinx. We’ve seen this enough times in Houston with speedy centerfielders. The club traded away Kenny Lofton while giving the likes of Gerald Young and Brian L. Hunter numerous opportunities. Will Taveras be another Young or Hunter?

The other school of thought says that Willy T. made the jump from AA, so it is only natural for him to struggle in his first season. The fact that he hit nearly .300 is a feather in his cap. We can ignore the problems with a low on base percentage and slugging percentage because he will only grow better him. Now, that have set the parameters, let’s compare him to other prominent centerfielders of his ilk in their first season.

                 AVG    OBP    SLG    1B    EBH   Ratio
Willy Taveras   .291   .325   .341    152    20    7.60	
Gerald Young    .321   .380   .380     76    12    6.33
Brian L. Hunter .302   .346   .396     76    21    3.62	
Juan Pierre     .327   .378   .415    163    39    4.18
Kenny Lofton    .285   .362   .365    136    28    4.86

There is a lot to be concerned with here. With the exception of Juan Pierre, Taveras enjoyed better hitting conditions than these hitters and yet he had a lower OBP and SLG (which means he has a lower OPS). However, the biggest concern is the ratio of singles to extra base hits. However, we need some more numbers to see if we can see what happened with Young and Hunter. If we find the same thing in Taveras we should be concerned.

          OBIP    SO    BB    RATIO   PA/SO
Taveras   .376   103    25     0.24    6.17   
Young     .438    27    26     0.96   11.22
Hunter    .439    52    21     0.40    6.71
Pierre    .466    29    41     1.41   23.55
Lofton    .442    54    68     1.26   12.06

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. There is no way to get around the fact that Taveras was not an effective offensive player last year. He struck out more often than all of them by a wide margin except for Brian L. Hunter who we all know was a horrific offensive player for most of his career. People can spin Taveras season anyway they want, but it wasn’t a good one. Of course, this is where the original question comes in. Juan Pierre and Kenny Lofton became better players, so maybe Taveras can improve as well.

There are a couple of things in that list I should address. First, the notion that a hitter has to have a lot of walks to be effective is normally true, but in extreme cases is just not feasible. Based on his ratio of singles to extra base hits, it is very unlikely that teams would pitch around him. Some people might look at his lack of walks as a sign of impatience. The bigger problem is the strikeouts.

Before, I move onto to projecting Taveras forward, we need to look back at one last statistic that is very germane to leadoff hitters: total pitches per plate appearance. Leadoff hitters are supposed to get on base, but if he can also see a healthy number of pitches they can help their teammates see what the pitcher has and do his part in wearing down the pitcher.

                  P/PA      Rank
Morgan Ensberg    3.94    36/148
Lance Berkman     3.86    53/148
Jason Lane        3.63    99/148
Adam Everett      3.53   123/148
Willy Taveras     3.52   127/148
Craig Biggio      3.47   134/148

A leadoff hitter’s job is to get on base and generally disrupt the defense. A player can do that by utilizing his speed on the basepaths or to make it more difficult on the pitcher when he is at the plate. Taveras was in the bottom fifth in pitches seen per plate appearance. Notice that none of the Astros’ regulars are in the top fifth in the league. It makes you wonder why so many pitchers were able to shut down the Astros’ offense so efficiently.

The question of whether Taveras can improve is the one that is important to us. In order to do that we should look at Taveras minor league numbers. Minor league numbers are difficult to evaluate directly, but we can look to see if he grew as he went up the system or whether he regressed as he faced tougher competition. This will tell us what we need to know.

       AVG   OBP   SLG   SG   EBH   Ratio   SO   BB   SO/PA
1999  .354  .426  .498   70    28    2.50   32   32    9.53
2000  .263  .343  .332   42     8    5.25   44   23    4.84	
2002  .265  .385  .355   64    19    3.37   68   45    5.26
2003  .282  .381  .350   95    17    5.59   68   52    6.60
2004  .335  .402  .386  121    16    7.56   76   38    5.88

These results usually are mixed, but what we can see two important things going on at the same time. First, Taveras hit fewer and fewer extra base hits per hit from 2002 on. He also struck out fewer times per plate appearance. Based on the current numbers it seems most likely that Taveras will struggle to hit extra base hits, but he should strike out less than normal. The most encouraging sign comes from the OPS totals over the final four seasons in the minors (.675, .740, .731, .788). We can’t help but notice that the first season looks a lot like last year in terms of OPS (675 vs. 666). If he becomes the player next year that he was in his third full minor league season we will definitely be in business. Yet, you can’t help but look at those numbers from last year and realize he has a long way to go.