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.
Wilkerson 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.
Take 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.
Even 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