The Diamondbacks and GM Kevin Towers were busy during the MLB Winter Meetings this week.
Image: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
While there weren’t any “splash” signings or trades, like some expected, there were several smaller signings that can have a big impact on the D-backs’ outlook this upcoming year.
I was on the record as liking Eric Chavez a couple of weeks ago when I tweeted that I thought the D’Backs should take a long, hard look at him. Chavez hit .281 with 16 home runs and a .328 OBP last year for the New York Yankees in limited time (though, he saw much more time once Alex Rodriguez was injured). By all accounts, he had a great year.
On paper, it looks like a great deal, especially since it’s only a one-year, $3 million signing. It really is a low-risk signing. And at the time of the signing, I loved it. But that’s changed as I dig deeper into the numbers.
Chavez, a left-handed hitter, is supposed to be a platoon partner for right-handed Chris Johnson at third. It seems like a natural fit. However, looking at the pairs’ splits, there is something interesting to note. Chris Johnson actually has a reverse split. That is to say, he hits right-handed pitching better than he hits left-handed pitching.
Here are Chris Johnson’s splits over his career:
vs. RHP – 958 PAs, .283 AVG, .323 OBP, .452 SLG.
vs. LHP – 360 PAs, 255 AVG, .294 OBP, .372 SLG.
That’s unusual for a right-handed batter. So, how does that affect Chavez? Well, being a left-handed batter, Chavez has a traditional split where he hits right hander’s better. Here are his career splits:
vs. RHP – 4,265 PAs, .280 AVG, .358 OBP, .511 SLG.
vs. LHP – 1,628 PAs, .236 AVG, .303 OBP, .386 SLG.
Neither Johnson nor Chavez hits lefties very well at all and SOMEBODY has to face them. So who will Kirk Gibson pick on a daily basis? Chavez has the much better career numbers against right-handed pitching but also has slightly better numbers than Johnson against lefties. When you add in the fact that Chavez has six Gold Gloves at third base throughout his career and it makes you wonder if Chavez was signed to be the full-time third baseman?
Two question marks appear when I look at this signing. First, Chavez is oft-injured and prior to last season hadn’t played in more than 100 games since 2006. There’s no way the D’Backs can rely on him for more than 90 or so games on a full-time basis.
In addition, while Chavez was excellent earlier in his career defensively, he’s not anymore according to the advanced statistics. Last season, he posted a -0.2 defensive WAR according to Baseball Reference.
Ultimately, Chavez might actually be an upgrade from Johnson on a per-game basis, but the two don’t work together as a platoon. That creates an obvious problem for the D’Backs as they now have two very similar players at the same position on a roster with limited flexibility.
In conclusion, while Chavez was a cheap, low-risk signing, that roster spot could have been reserved for someone else that could have helped the D’Backs more. Perhaps Jose Lopez could have provided more of a platoon partner for Johnson for about the same money? Lopez hit lefties pretty well last season: .277/.293/.415 and for his career: .278/.311/.401.