Friday, November 5, 2010

Second Base

The Starter

Billy Beane recently mentioned that options and buyouts would not be addressed until the conclusion of the World Series. Well, it took the A's just two days after the Giants recorded the final out in Arlington before the A's did what most people expected. What was once a question-mark at 2B (if only in theory) was clarified Wednesday morning when the Athletics exercised the $6 million option on 2B Mark Ellis, in addition to the $5.75 million option on Coco Crisp, while opting to buyout Eric Chavez' contract for $3 million rather than picking up the $12.5 million option. It was recently revealed that Ellis qualified as a Type B free agent, missing the top 20% based on the criteria set by Elias - meaning the A's wouldn't have received the compensatory first round pick forfeited by the signing team. Ellis himself was sure to be one of the proponents of the A's picking up his option, seeing as how the $6 million he's guaranteed is a lot heftier than what he'd expect on the open market. In the wake of Wednesday's news, Ellis is certain to man second the majority of the year, though the A's could also use 2011 as an opportunity to ease future 2B candidates (such as Eric Sogard) into a more prominent role with the team, thus allowing Ellis to transition into a veteran/utility position.

(pictured above: Mark Ellis will return to the A's in 2011)

2010 was an odd year for Ellis. A's fans who followed closely are sure to remember his less-than-stellar beginning to the year, which was initially slowed by injury. Ellis then proceeded to go on an absolute tear the last two months of the season, which ultimately allowed him to finish with a respectable line of .291/.358/.381. His .739 OPS left him tied with Freddy Sanchez for 12th out of the 24 2nd basemen with at least 450 plate appearances. Defensively, Fangraphs ranked Ellis second to only Chase Utley in 2010, which is a big reason as to why his 3.2 Wins Above Replacement have him tied with Ian Kinsler for 8th in WAR among MLB 2nd basemen with at least 450 PA.

2010 Ellis in a Nutshell

Final line: .291/.358/.381
OPS among MLB 2B (min 450 PA): .739 - 12th out of 24
UZR among MLB 2B (min 900 Inn): 9.9 - 2nd out of 24
ISO among MLB 2B (min 450 PA): .089 - 20th out of 24
WAR among MLB 2b (min 450 PA): 3.2 - 8th out of 24

Fangraphs showing MLB 2B ratings by WAR w/ Ellis highlighted, click to enlarge

Though respectable, the numbers are a bit deceiving. While the .739 OPS isn't something the feds might call Victor Conte about, Ellis' .321 BABIP is 28 points higher than his career average, and his highest since the .335 he managed in 2005 - meaning it's not sustainable. His ISO in 2010 was also a career low .089, which may lead to fans wondering about his age possibly catching up to him. Other than that, Ellis should still be considered an above-average MLB 2nd baseman, at the very least. His defense has certainly never been questioned, and the only hesitations A's fans have may about him should be based on Ellis' health history, and the positional alternatives for the upcoming season. Though due for regression, the play of Mark Ellis continues to be overlooked by the baseball world, and the A's won't complain - unless they try shopping him.

The Backup/ The Case For Sogard

Most followers of Baseball America,, Project Prospect, and/or Baseball Prospectus, are familiar with A's farmhand Adrian Cardenas. The downside to that is most followers have been familiar with him for a bit too long. Cardenas showed tremendous upside almost immediately after the Phillies took him in the 1st round in the 06' draft. Baseball America named him in their pre-season Top 100 entering both 2008 and 2009, going as far as naming him the top 2B prospect in all of baseball. Acquired by Oakland in the Joe Blanton deal with Philadelphia in 2008, Cardenas continued to impress until the latter half of the 2009 campaign after being promoted to Triple-A Sacramento. The notion that he wasn't ready for advancement proved true once again in 2010, after starting the year in Sacramento, where he posted a .228/.285/.281 line in 31 games with the River Cats. Cardenas' poor performance to start the 2010 campaign forced the A's to dismiss him back to Double-A Midland, where he curiously managed to put a .345/.436/.469 line on his stat sheet, once again earning a trip back to Triple-A. Despite the inconsistency, the A's were pleased to watch him put up a line of .313/.362/.385 upon his return to the PCL. Unfortunately, Cardenas' recent struggles following his promotions at the higher levels of the minors have left him in a less-favorable position with the projection analysts than he was two seasons ago. Questions about Cardenas are largely based on his disproportionate performance, footwork on defense, and lack of familiarity with the 2nd-base position (he was drafted as a shortstop). Nevertheless, he does remain a popular option as a viable utility/ backup option in the near future, in addition to Ellis' potential successor in the less-near future.

Another candidate to succeed Mark Ellis is Eric Sogard. Though not as popular a prospect as Cardenas, Sogard has shown remarkable consistency at every level he's played. The second-rounder of the Padres in 07' posted a .308/.394/.453 line at High-A in 2008, and a .293/.370/.400 line at Double-A in 2009, before being traded to Oakland alongside Kevin Kouzmanoff in the winter. Most recently, Sogard managed a .300/.391/.407 in a full season at Triple-A Sacramento, before being called up to Oakland when rosters expanded in September. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Sogard's game is his discerning eye - he's walked a Daric Barton-esque 1.13 times per strikeout in his minor league career. Sogard is also highly regarded for his glove work; something Mark Ellis enthusiasts could take solace in.

In addition to his reputation as a defensive specialist, Sogard has posted a strikingly familiar line to that of Ellis in their respective minor league careers. Here's a comparison of Ellis along with the lead candidates to succeed him.

Mark Ellis: (380 MiLB Games) .292/.383/.413 .796
Eric Sogard: (441 MiLB Games) .295/.380/.414 .793
Adrian Cardenas: (516 MiLB Games) .300/.366/.411 .778

While it may seem as though I'm simply trying to skew the numbers in favor of Sogard, I think his numbers are more notable if only his full seasons are counted - meaning the 54 games he played after signing with San Diego in 2007 are taken out of the equation. I say this because the disparity between that season and the following years is huge, while the sample size is no less adequate at 387 games. His 2007 numbers could even be considered an outlier; possibly a result of factors such as traveling between the Northwest League, the Midwest League, and the PCL in such a short period of time; or immediately playing after signing; or simply because it was the only season in which he changed his uniform multiple times. Either way, his performance exclusively in his full seasons has been even more impressive.

Eric Sogard since 2008: (387 MiLB Games) .301/.388/.421 .809

As much time as I took to write about Eric Sogard, those very accolades (and/or those of Adrian Cardenas) could be what send them off in a trade during the offseason. While it's unlikely both of them are dealt, their departure wouldn't be at all threatening to the A's retaining a legitimate backup option at 2nd because Adam Rosales is expected to be healthy by the start of spring. Rosy put up solid numbers for a utility guy, posting a .271/.321/.400 while playing excellent defense all over the infield.

(pictured above: Eric Sogard during 2010 spring training
Source: Chris Lockard., 2010)

The 2B Market

In all honesty, there's hardly a 2B market. Scott Moore and Bill Hall are arguably the most intriguing names on the list, and the A's have at least 4 players that could almost undoubtedly put up better numbers than both of them at 2nd. That's probably way too much detail as it is to waste anymore time writing about the 2011 2B free agents. I suppose Juan Uribe is a legitimate name if you count him as a 2B. Plus his 3.2 WAR was equal to that of Ellis, and even higher than San Francisco's main 2B option, Freddy Sanchez. Still, the 2B market isn't quite star-studded enough for the A's to start considering anyone this year.

That's all for now.

Go A's.

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