The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

 

The New Nick Green

The Baseball Prospectus/ESPN Insider soup du jour is a roundtable devoted to dissecting the performances of a few unlikely first-half heroes. ESPN editor Matt Meyers, columnist Buster Olney, BP colleagues Kevin Goldstein and John Perrotto and I discussed whether the work of Red Sox shotstop Nick Green, Mets pitcher Fernando Nieve, and Rays utilityman Ben Zobrist are sustainable. My job was to throw around the big numbers, and I wound up in the middle of the fray in this exchange regarding Green:
Buster Olney: Green may not be a .290 kind of hitter, but guys, I'd say he's not a fluke: he's a decent player who is taking advantage of his surroundings. He is playing as part of a deep lineup, in Fenway Park, and hitting .310 at home. One scout mentioned this week that Fenway has a knack for making average hitters into above-average hitters. He has always been able to hit a high fastball, and he's playing in a park where there's some payoff for that (12 extra-base hits in 87 at-bats).

John Perrotto: Green has always been a guy with some tools, decent pop, and a strong arm, so I don't think it's totally unexpected that he has put together a pretty good stretch for the Red Sox. He was always the kind of guy who was awfully hard on himself, and perhaps now that he is getting older he has learned to relax. Like Buster said, he is in the right ballpark with the right lineup to succeed. He is a one-year wonder? Perhaps. At the very least, he is a viable major league player.

Jay Jaffe: Coming into the year, Green had done nothing to distinguish himself from among dozens of Quadruple-A futility infielder types. He was a 30-year-old who owned a career line of .240/.309/.347 in nearly 800 PA, he'd gotten just seven at-bats in the majors since 2006, and his 2008 minor league numbers at Scranton were horrible, with a .191 EqA. On that basis alone, for him to be where he is right now is a total fluke.

Which isn't to say he hasn't learned a trick or two (the Chipper Jones tap) or gotten some breaks in his favor (a starting job in a great hitters' park? Yes, please!), but I'm not terribly optimistic it can continue. Would you be, if you were Theo Epstein or Terry Francona?

Green's numbers look to be the product of Fenway, where he's hitting .310/.348/.517 in 92 PA, compared to .256/.326/.354 in 92 PA on the road, which is the Nick Green we know and love. His overall line is being driven by a .344 batting average on balls in play, and his batted-ball types say he should be around .290. That 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio doesn't suggest he's got the control of the strike zone for all of this to continue, and that pitchers will figure out how to exploit him.

Matt Meyers: Some dissension, I like it! But even conceding some "realness" to Green's performance, wouldn't it be foolish for the Red Sox to have any faith in him beyond this year? Didn't we just see this last year with Mike Aviles? I am not sure Jed Lowrie is any sort of long-term answer, so the Sox might actually have a hole at short. Is there a world in which Green is more than just a stopgap for them?

Jay Jaffe: In the context of Lowrie's slated return in July, Green's a perfectly suitable stopgap. I just don't think the Sox should let themselves get overly attached to the guy based on a park-driven 92 PA sample that's well out of context of the other ~900 PA for his career.
Green kind of reminds me of Miguel Cairo circa 2004, the year he hit .292/.346/.417 for the Yankees. You knew it couldn't last, but you had to appreciate a guy like that coming out of nowhere to give the team a major boost.

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