May 26, 2009

Joe Crede, Our Savior

Before the Twins signed Joe Crede, there was an abundance of support for a platoon of Brendan Harris and Brian Buscher throughout the Twins blogosphere. Both platoon partners had strong 2008 campaigns while platooning for a chunk of the season. Although we'll never know what either could have done with regular at-bats and can only examine what they've done in just 177 combined plate appearances, it is still more than what Crede himself has had up to this point, which makes this at least somewhat interesting.

There's no doubt that Crede was signed primarily for his defense. His glove has drawn great reviews over the years, and yet it may be better now than ever. His 33.4 UZR/150 is best in the league out of any position. Nyjer Morgan of the Pittsburgh Pirates is second with a 33.2 UZR/150. Out of third basemen, Adrian Beltre is second with an 11.6 run difference from Crede. Add that with his just one error (tied for fewest in the American League) it makes people in Minnesota smile to see a capable third baseman play on the tough turf in the Metrodome. All said, Crede could be the most valuable defensive third baseman in all of baseball up to this point. That alone has made his $2.5 million that he signed shortly after Spring Training began seem like robbery.

His offense hasn't been terrible either. While nobody ever expected him to have a high average or get on base at a high clip, his power production or the other reason the Twins signed him are on pace for career highs. His 2009 projections (based on what he's done up to this point) are .240/.304/.488 with 31 doubles, 36 home runs, 93 RBI and a 49/89 K/BB ratio.

A .240 average and .304 on-base percentages are obviously pretty horrid, but they're really not too far off of his career average of .256 and career on-base percentage of .306. Still his overall 110 OPS+ is 17 points higher than his career average. His projected 36 home runs would be a career high. But to be fair, so would his projection of 155 games.

The reason for debating this is the lack of production both offensively and defensively from Buscher and to a point, Harris as well. Buscher's .666 OPS is .19 points higher than Harris' .647 OPS. While having a combined 32 more plate appearances than Crede, they have four less hits than Crede while chipping in five less extra-base hits than the 'All-Star'.

Harris hit .350/.372/.475 in April while he's floundered in May hitting .194/.242/.274. What's alarming is that he has hit (significantly) worse in May while receiving more playing time. He now sits at .255/.294/.353 on the season with two home runs. Thankfully, he's making up for it by playing acceptable defense from the left-side of the infield, his defense from the right side is another story that we won't dive into at this time. He has a 16.3 UZR/150 at third base this season, which if he qualified would put him at fifth best in the majors. Disclaimer: In no way am I saying that UZR/150 is the only indicatoro for evaluating defensive value, but I do think it is one of the strongest.

Buscher overall has been even worse. While his bat has a slightly better OPS, his .200 batting average and -12.6 UZR/150 are significantly worse. If you wanted to say Buscher's butchering third base, you wouldn't be far off. What's the hardest to explain has been Buscher's inability to hit right-handed pitchers this season. In the platoon, Harris would have obviously handled left-handed pitching while Buscher would have handled right-handed pitching. Harris would at least be (relatively) holding up his end of the deal as he's hitting a (better) .300/.333/.350 against right-handers opposed to .226/.269/.355 against the other. Buscher on the other hand, is not hitting right-handed pitching even at a respectable level. While he's hit a triple and a home run against a right-hander, his .170/308/.264 hitting line is completely unacceptable and really can warrant the question, is he worth keeping on the roster? If the Twins won't throw play him against southpaw's (6 at-bats this season against lefties opposed to 53 at-bats against righties), and if he's completely incapable of hitting right-handed pitching (at the time), does he warrant a demotion to Triple-A? I personally believe so, but that's a whole different story.

In retrospect, here are some numbers from a few other names (while I've left off a few) that were at one point mentioned as a possible acquisition for third base in the off-season.

Adrian Beltre - .215/.246/.322, 10 doubles, 3 home runs, 19 RBI, 7 errors, 21.8 UZR/150
Garrett Atkins - .190/.275/.296, 6 doubles, 3 home runs, 14 RBI, 4 errors, -14.6 URZ/150
Ty Wigginton - .215/.254/.326, 6 doubles, 3 home runs, 15 RBI, 1 error, -18.8 UZR/150

Although some still believe it might be a pipe dream to believe that Crede will play 155 games, he still is proving to be better than anything else the Twins would have potentially put at the hot corner up to this point. While paying him just $2.5 million and adding the fact that the Twins didn't have to trade a prospect (or three) to acquire him, it makes it all the better.