Thursday, July 20, 2006

What is great about the Shea Hillenbrand faux-disaster is that Hillenbrand is precisely the kind of player who probably doesn't understand his true value, and happens to be playing for the kind of team who actually does understand his value.

Hillenbrand generally sports a relatively empty .300ish batting average, drawing few walks and hitting only for average power. By most accounts and metrics, his defense at third base was (is?) fairly crummy, and those numbers aren't very valuable as a first baseman. However, Hillenbrand is a great player to have on a roster (assuming he were paid commensurate to his value), since he can serve as an excellent platoon partner for a lefty first baseman, a pinch hitter against southpaws, and occasionally a pinch hitter against RHP in situations where singles have a relatively high leverage and walks (or home runs) are not at a premium. Beyond that, he's a serviceable backup at the corners.

That's a nice piece to have around, but in an optimal situation will only be used for about 250 PA a season. A player like Hillenbrand who is very well suited in that role could reasonably be worth $2m-$3m, but just isn't worth the nearly $6m he's pulling down. And that appears to have created a problem beyond the monetary for the Blue Jays, who are not only overpaying him but have apparently been overplaying him. Hillenbrand has gotten plenty of starts as DH against RHP when Eric Hinske was a much better bet.

But the delicious part of the story is that Hillenbrand probably doesn't at all comprehend why both I and likely Ricciardi et al find him to be a more marginal asset; after all, he is a .300 hitter and 'proven run producer.' In the Toronto Sun story linked above, a Blue Jay is quoted as saying "He was a cancer in this clubhouse ... Shea's day went the way the lineup card went. If he was in the lineup, everything was fine. If he wasn't he'd sulk." So Shea has ostensibly run himself off of the club by not understanding that he's a role player, and has reason to feel that way within the general framework of conventional baseball wisdom.

Whether clubhouse 'chemistry' makes a difference in team performance, I couldn't really say, though I would be surprised to find that 'chemistry' has any major effects outside of perhaps some obvious cases where players quit en masse because of a disastrous season. However, that doesn't mean that clubhouse chemistry doesn't matter; firstly, people still have to live with each other on a baseball team, and not every decision a GM makes has to be on the basis of wins, losses, or profits. Secondly, while likely having a very marginal effect, one would imagine that happy clubhouses increase the perceived value of a franchise when a player decides to sign there or waive a no-trade clause, etc.

In this case, just cutting Hillenbrand would cost the Jays a win or two. It would basically redistribute the 80 PA or so he would have against LHP back to Hinske and Overbay and Catalanotto, none of whom should really be batting against southpaws (though in any given game, one would be called upon to do so even if Hillenbrand were starting, provided one of the catchers isn't slotted in at DH). Off the top of my head, that's a downgrade from a +15 hitter over 600 PA against LHP to a -15 hitter, or a difference of one run every 20 PA. Beyond that, it would also cost a few runs by essentially creating some PA for Jason Phillips and also by having Eric Hinske play the field, who is probably worse with the glove than Hillenbrand. All in all, just ditching him is no big deal.

However, Hillenbrand is eminently dealable, and teams like the Padres, Giants, Angels, and Reds would all have obvious uses for him. Provided that the Jays don't need to pick up any of Hillenbrand's salary, they really don't need more than a fringe prospect for this to be worthwhile. Given that they'll actually likely come out with something more valuable than the extra win or so Hillenbrand could contribute while saving the $2m still owed him this year, this blow-up may inadvertently be a major coup for the Jays.

(I have no idea what Eddy Martinez-Esteve's current injury situation is, but wouldn't Hillenbrand for him be a tremendously satisfying move on some level?)

Of course, on the other hand, it may have been reasonable to expect the Jays to trade Hillenbrand anyway, since he was the kind of acquisition it made sense to keep around as injury insurance for the season but who was a prime candidate to be flipped when a bigger need came along (as was apparently the case when the Jays tried to deal him for Adam Kennedy). Then again, given the 'win now' PR approach the Jays are ensconced in, this may have created the opportunity to snag a good prospect that the Jays' front office couldn't have gotten away with otherwise.

1 Comments:

At 6:40 AM, Blogger katrinakaipp said...

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Die Geschichte hinter Paneuromix ist die Suche nach dem ultimativen Nootropic, NZT.1 ist das erste Nebenprodukt.
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