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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

SHORT CHANGED 

Earlier this week, I tried to crack the riddle that is Jon Garland. Let's take a moment to look at what we've lost in Orlando Cabrera, and what we have in-house to replace him.

I was skeptical of the Cabrera signing when it happened (we'll explore the whole 2005 Shortstop Carousel next week -- I initially had a big comparison in this post before realizing it was way off-point, even for me, so I'll put it up as its own thing later), but I grew to like him as a player and as a personality on our team.

Offensively, even last year, he was no great shakes. He had an 89 OPS+ for us over the past three seasons; AL shortstops were at 88 last year and 92 in 2006 and 98 in 2005. He was -25.2 batting runs against league average over the three years, and also probably a bit below average as a shortstop -- though this largely due to his poor 2005. His defensive numbers were always solid, no longer spectacular, and this matched my visual observations. He was excellent on the basepaths (though I recall a few gaffes last season), and Mike Scioscia considered him one of the smartest players he's ever been around; finding residue of this sort of thing is forbiddingly difficult, but it's certainly possible that Cabrera's knowledge helped young infield defenders learn their craft.

All things considered, I'd guess that Cabrera was an average player for us. There were 26 shortstops who played 300+ games over the past three years; Cabrera's OPS+ ranked 17th amongst them. Add in his defense and baserunning, and I think it's probably right around the middle of that group.

The way I see it, there are two in-house options for April of 2008, and it's clear which one is better -- or, at least, which one has been better so far. Regardless, the LA Times implied yesterday that the Angels do not agree with me, with Mike DiGiovanna writing, "As of today, [Cabrera] will be replaced by slick-fielding 23-year-old Erick Aybar." He does add the following: "Utility player Maicer Izturis also can play shortstop, and Scioscia said the Angels are considering moving [Brandon] Wood from third base back to shortstop next spring."

Okay, let's just take Wood out of the equation for sec; he's not ready. The decision comes down to Aybar versus Izturis, and I just have no idea how you can look at those two and decide on Aybar. Looking at their respective major league performances thus far:
Player    PA   AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS+  SB  CS    BR   BR/600
Izturis 1104 273 340 386 90 34 10 -14.2 -7.7
Aybar 251 239 274 295 50 5 4 -18.0 -43.0
Okay, okay, that's not fair to Aybar. He's young, he's been hurt, played irregularly, etc. How about minor league track records?

I'll spare you the numbers, but Aybar has actually out-produced Izturis at each age, which appears to be true even when you account for their ballparks. That doesn't mean Aybar will develop just as Ztu did, of course. But Izturis' age 23 season, at the major league level, was roughly equivalent to what we saw from Aybar last year:
Player    PA   AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS+  SB  CS    BR   BR/600
Izturis 121 206 286 318 53 4 0 - 8.1 -40.2
Aybar 211 237 279 289 50 4 4 -14.6 -41.5
Izturis made his offensive leap in the minors that year, hitting .338 at AAA, but would not make his major league jump until his age 25 year. I suspect Aybar may have a similar leap within him, but I suspect that it may not happen in 2008, and as a result I suspect that the better alternative, offensively, for next season is Ztu. I'd expect him to be around -5 runs against average; Aybar could be as bad as -20.

How about defense? So far in their careers, Ztu has a .820 zone rating and a .770 revised zone rating (in very, very small sample size) while Aybar has a .754 zone rating and a .720 revised zone rating (in an even smaller sample size). That doesn't tell us anything. I'm suspicious of Izturis being able to handle shortstop, but I doubt he'd be terrible. Aybar is quite possibly better, but I don't know if the gap is large enough to overcome the offensive deficiency.

In fact, there's a chance that Izturis could outperform what we got from Cabrera the past three years. We haven't seen him hit every day, and maybe he would get exposed in that situation, but I think he would project to be a roughly league-average shortstop, overall. I don't think Aybar's bat is ready to get him to that level.

Hopefully, DiGiovanna was just speculating, and if we go into spring training without making any further moves, the job will be open for competition and won't just be handed to Aybar. Of course, I doubt there will be no more changes.

Next week, I hope to look at which Miguel would be a better fit, and what cost we draw the line. For now, have a great Thanksgiving.

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