Tuesday, August 16, 2005

There are possibly no eight word designed to create more collective joy in the Halosphere than REDEPLOYMENT TO OUTFIELD IS A POSSIBILITY FOR ERSTAD (except for maybe SEAN HAS WRITTEN A SEQUEL TO HIS PLAY), and The LA Times brings us these words today (the Erstad words, not the Sean words).

On the surface this sounds like a wonderful thing. Erstad, when we last saw him center, was an All World defender. His glove was a huge part of the success of the 2002 team, and his glove was certainly missed when he went down with injury in 2003, and the sorry line of petrified center fielders we've run out there since have only served to underline The Punter's defensive value.

The question, of course, is whether or not Darin's body can take the abuse of him diving all over the damn place and running headfirst into walls and the like. And even if he keeps from being injured, would that mean he's still healthy? Because one of the theories about Darin's abandon-lacking defensive style is that it impairs him at the bat.

And you know what? There may be some truth to that. In 2002, when he played defense like Bugs Bunny, Darin had a .247 Equivalent Average (.260 is average). In 2003, more of the same, he was at a sick .233 before getting hurt.

But since moving to first base last season, Erstad has racked up a .259 EqA. Okay, that's unspectacular, but at least it's decent, and his excellent glove at first makes up for the fact that he's a below-standard hitter for the position, and I believe that overall, he's a pretty average contributor.

Of course, one might reasonably argue that Erstad would be an even greater contributor, and certainly a big improvement for this team, playing a more important defensive position with great aplomb, even if he loses a little offense. But here's the question: how sure are we that he can still play great outfield defense?

Darin hasn't been out there since 2003. He's two years older now, and might be losing some speed (he doesn't steal bases quite as often as he used to, which is normal for an aging mortal). So he might be (1) a worse hitter, (2) more injury prone, and (3) not all that great out there, anyway.

Of course, he wouldn't have to be that great to be a defensive improvement on what we have out there now. Steve Finley has looked slow to my eyes, and his zone rating backs me up. His ZR is .844; the average center fielder seems to be around .890. The Old Man has 209 put-outs in center ... we can guesstimate that 209 put-outs with an .844 ZR means he had 248 (247.6, actually) opportunities. Had those been converted at a rate of .890, that would be 220 put-outs.

So, if we can trust ZR, Finley's about 11 put-outs short. What does this mean? That's probably worth about 9 runs or so he's lost, which ain't good. Of course, maybe you don't trust ZR completely (I think it's a reasonable guide, but not The Truth), or maybe you think he's better at preventing doubles than singles or something like that, so maybe he's a little bit better than -9 runs so far. Maybe it's -5. But there's no way he's above average.

And though The Legs looks good out there relative to Finley, he's still isn't all that great. He basically gave up a double last night by virtue of just getting a terrible read on a ball; his .863 ZR at the position isn't that much better than Finley's.

So if Erstad returned to center and has fallen all the way down to average, he's still an improvement over what we've seen out there so far.

If such a move were to happen, and we actually had a full retinue of healthy players, the lineup would apparently look something like:

1. Figgins, LF
2. Cabrera, SS
3. Erstad, CF
4. Vlad, IBB
5. Garret, DH
6. Bengie, C
7. Kotchman, 1B
8. McPherson, 3B
9. Kennedy, team-leading .390 OBP*

Another big question is whether or not Kotch is really ready to play first base every day. But, again, he wouldn't have to be great to be an improvement on Finley, who has a lower OPS than Bartolo Colon.

So, if Darin's body can handle it, I'll join my Halospherians in rapture over this move.

*Okay, so Adam Kennedy's not a qualifier, so if you gave him enough outs, his .390 OBP would drop below Vlad's .389. Sue me.

Do you think Figgins would be an above-average defender in center if given the opportunity to work out there consistently? He did go from a downright awful third baseman to a nearly spectacular in not much time, and it seems to me that he has all the tools.
You make a good point; I think Figgins is better in CF this year than last, and definitely seems to improve at every position he gets a lot of time at. (He was clearly a bit rusty playing 2B late last season, but working on it in spring training made him pretty solid in April, though certainly not at the AK level.)

The thing with Chone in center is his instincts are subpar, and he makes up for it with athleticism. Can he improve his instincts with experience? I wouldn't put it past him.
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