Fourth Outfielder Candidates: Brad Wilkerson

Brad Wilkerson will turn 32 next season, and is attempting to rebound from one of his worst statistical seasons of his career. Wilkerson was designated for assignment by the Seattle Mariners on April 30th and signed by Toronto on May 9th after they lost Frank Thomas. A career 2.47 hitter, his numbers have not been the same since leaving the National League, where, from 2002-2005, he averaged 20 homeruns playing for the Montreal Expos and Washington Nationals. Considering his offensive ability, versatility in the outfield and first base, plus a little personal bias, I think Brad Wilkerson could be a great sign as a fourth outfielder for the Boston Red Sox in 2009.

Note: This is part two of a three part series on the Red Sox fourth outfielder role for 2009. Click here for more information and links to the other candidates for the position from Fire Brand‘s writers and community.

For those of you who have followed my work in the past year plus here at Fire Brand, it’s no secret I am typically as objective as MSNBC during a political election. In the interest of full disclosure, and to prevent any cries of subjectivism in the comments section, let’s clear something up right now. Yes, it’s true: I have an unhealthy, unashamed man crush on Brad Wilkerson.

As I mentioned in my Top 50 Free Agents article, I have a rooting interest in any current player who played on the Expos/Nationals’ AA team on City Island. This includes you, Milton Bradley, Brandon Phillips, Vladimir Guerrero, Ryan Zimmerman, and even you Jamey Carroll! It’s the reason I am rooting for the Sox to give Michael Barrett or Brian Schneider a try behind the plate in 2009 instead of a watching a Brett Favre-in-2008-type year from aging Jason Varitek.  I digress.

The reason I bring this up is to preface the fact that I am going to try something different here. In order to remain fair and balanced, I will try to defend Brad Wilkerson’s candidacy using those always honest numbers we call statistics. Bill James and Rob Neyer rely on them constantly, and since they get paid more than the wooden nickels I get flicked my way once in awhile, it’s worth a try.

Brad Wilkerson will turn 32 next season, and is attempting to rebound from one of his worst statistical seasons of his career. Wilkerson was designated for assignment by the Seattle Mariners on April 30th and signed by Toronto on May 9th after they lost Frank Thomas. A career 2.47 hitter, his numbers have not been the same since leaving the National League, where, from 2002-2005, he averaged 20 homeruns playing for the Montreal Expos and Washington Nationals.

Brad-Career Stats.pngWilkerson has played all three outfield positions (447 games in LF, 232 in CF, and 121 in RF), as well as 233 games at first base. His defensive numbers in the outfield are comparable to JD Drew and Jason Bay, averaging a Range Factor of 1.8 per game; Bay and Drew averaged a tick above at 1.9 per game. For comparison’s sake, in his last two full seasons with the Red Sox, Manny averaged a Range Factor of 1.5 and 1.6 per game.

At the plate, Wilkerson can best be described as an Adam Dunn Lite. He walks a lot, strikes out a lot, and hits for power; not 40 home-run power of course, but power nonetheless. Wilkerson has a career walk percentage of 13.4%, higher than Jacoby Ellsbury or Jason Bay, which is representative of his good eye and ability to get on base.

Although he has shown 30 homerun power in the past, Wilkerson has developed into a line-drive hitter over the course of his career. His line drive percentage of 20.7% is higher than any of the Red Sox current starting outfielders; Drew, Bay, and Ellsbury have career numbers of 17.4%, 18.4%, and 20.1% respectively. This typically translates well on the ball field, and is one of the reasons why Wilkerson has been in the top ten of the league in doubles and triples in different seasons.

The elephant in the room is why a hard hitting outfielder in his early 30s with good plate discipline is showing such decline in the past three seasons. Could it be the switch from the NL to the AL? Or could it simply be a streak of bad luck? Although some of the sabermetric numbers in baseball make my head hurt, I’ve found great value in Batting Average of Balls in Play, or BABIP. This statistic is a good indicator of luck, as it shows the average of the player on all balls hit into play, not including home runs.

bay-wilks babip.pngTake a look at the chart above comparing Jason Bay to Brad Wilkerson over their careers. I know you can read too much into numbers, but if you would apply Bay’s BABIP the past three seasons to Wilkerson over the past three seasons, his average jumps from .225 to .248. Suddenly Wilkerson is a .250 hitter who just two years ago hit 20 HRs. Doesn’t sound like a bad option for a fourth outfielder now, does it?

Finally, let’s take a look at the potential financial commitment to bring in Wilkerson for 2009. Last season he made $3 million, but after being designated for assignment and struggling with Toronto, his stock is at an all-time low. Wilkerson will find a job somewhere, but may be willing to sign for a discount to play with a winner and regain his confidence; would he be worth $1-2 million with incentives pushing the deal toward $3-4 million?

A few members of the community have been clamoring for the return of Gabe Kapler, and although it would be a great story, I can’t agree it would be a good move. Kapler had a terrific season for Milwaukee in 2008 before getting injured, but it was close to a career year for him as well. Take a look at the two charts below comparing Kapler directly to Bay in two of the more important categories, walk percentage and isolated power. In addition, their defensive metrics are almost identical over the course of their respective careers.

kapler-wilks bb percentage.png
kapler-wilks iso power.pngEven if you don’t agree that Wilkerson would be more valuable than Kapler, you have to realize they are, at the minimum, extremely comparable as potential additions to the team. Considering his offensive ability, versatility in the outfield and first base, plus a little personal bias, I think Brad Wilkerson could be a great sign as a fourth outfielder for the Boston Red Sox in 2009.

Categories: Adam Dunn Boston Red Sox Brad Wilkerson Brandon Phillips Brian Schneider Frank Thomas Free Agency Gabe Kapler J.D. Drew Jacoby Ellsbury Jamey Carroll Jason Bay Jason Varitek Michael Barrett Milton Bradley Milwaukee Brewers Ryan Zimmerman Seattle Mariners Texas Rangers Toronto Blue Jays Vladimir Guerrero Washington Nationals

10 Responses to “Fourth Outfielder Candidates: Brad Wilkerson” Subscribe

  1. Ryne Crabb December 30, 2008 at 2:37 PM #

    FYI, Editor’s Note: I realize that yesterday Barrett signed with the Blue Jays … I had that part written before the report came out.
    Another number to chew on, Wilkerson hits .357 career against the Yankees, including .429 in Yankee Stadium! (small sample size, but work with me here …)

  2. Orange Julius December 30, 2008 at 3:30 PM #

    Ryne, isn’t Wilkerson the guy that pulls his sleeve up in every AB to show off a bad tattoo?

  3. Jeromy December 30, 2008 at 3:30 PM #

    Wilkerson’s trend from 2001 to 2004 is as impressive as his 2005 to 2008 trend is scary. His plate discipline fits the Sox model (pitches/AB would be a useful stat for this analysis), but I think his defense is too weak to make him a serious candidate. The Sox will find someone who is a plus defender and has some stick, and that person is not Brad Wilkerson.

  4. 080808 December 30, 2008 at 3:38 PM #

    Funny you mentioned him as a LD-hitter. Maybe better to call him NL-LD-hitter? After moving to AL, his LD rates have been 15.2 (06), 16.5 (07), 15.6% (08), which explains his BABIP trends mainly.

  5. jvwalt December 30, 2008 at 4:07 PM #

    Although Wilkerson has manned all three OF positions in his career, he hasn’t played any meaningful time in center field in three years. He’s always been more of a corner outfielder/1B type, and that’s more true now than ever. I think we need a guy who can actually play center. (I don’t put Kapler in that category either, by the way.)
    Wilkerson is young enough that he could potentially rebound, perhaps becoming a Jack Cust type (low BA, high OBA, good power) who can actually field the ball. He’d be a useful sign for many teams, but I’d rather have a better defender as the Sox’ fourth OF.
    One slight consideration: he bats left-handed. With two of our primary outfielders and our DH all left-handed, a righty bat would be a better fit.

  6. Ryne Crabb December 30, 2008 at 4:11 PM #

    jvwalt – you made that comment in an earlier post, and thanks for bringing it up again. That was something I wanted to mention but forgot. It is a negative that Wilks is left-handed!!
    080808 – touche
    Orange Julius – isn’t that what makes him so dreamy? (kidding)

  7. JaredK December 30, 2008 at 4:36 PM #

    I think a name to consider for the 4th of spot at some point is Jeff Corsaletti. He didn’t hit much in Pawtucket but he has great obp skills and has developed a little more pop. He did put up a .312/.417/.946 line in 300 double-a at bats before some late struggles in pawtucket. Of course he is going to be 26 before the start of the season and should be comfortable with the notion of being a 4th outfielder. Corsaletti has played all 3 of positions and is pretty good, although without ideal/great range in center. He actually reminds me quite a bit of Kotsay. I imagine no one is comfortable with him going into the season as the 4th outfielder but I think he’ll be a good bench player at some point in 2009 or as the 4th outfielder in 2010 (with Bubba Bell as competition…another 26 year old, gritty guy who has decent tools across the board but is likely a 4th outfielder at best).

  8. trey December 31, 2008 at 2:31 AM #

    i have 2 questions as i have been in vacation mode. whats the latest on rocco? is he still rumored to be in play? and then also we have jeff bailey. im kind of a sucker for him and i know he is a dh/1b type but has he played outfield at all in the minors?

  9. JaredK December 31, 2008 at 8:47 AM #

    Rocco is still in play, other teams like the Reds are interested in him as well. I imagine Bailey will be on the bench as a back-up 1b/corner outfield…he has played rf in Pawtucket, not particularly good range but he does actually have a decent arm. I like Bailey as well and have sort of penciled him in on the bench as a back-up to Youk and by extension Lowell (with Youk covering 3b).

  10. Marc December 31, 2008 at 2:00 PM #

    Wishful thinking. Wilk is not coming back, not playing for the Sox and will be lucky to sign a deal for $300,000 in the Minors. He’s overweight,injured,wornout,distracted, and will be bounced everywhichway in 2009 if at all. Game over.