Shane Victorino: What to expect?

Hunter Golden comes back for the second day in a row, pondering all things Shane Victorino

So after taking a more intensive look at Jonny Gomes yesterday, it’s time to take a look at Shan Victorino and what he might bring to the Red Sox in 2013. While Victorino’s contract was either brilliant or awful depending on who you talk to, there’s no denying that he’ll bring some interesting skills to the roster that could help this team not only this year but into the future as well. Today, we’ll take a look at Victorino, how he got here and ponder what the future might hold. Will he be a player who’s a slam-dunk steep decline waiting to happen, or Will he be the versatile, dynamic presence he was in Philadelphia for all those years?

Let’s not waste time and jump right in!

Victorino seemed to be having a typical Victorino-like season last year, posting a .261/.324/.401 slash line in 431 PA’s which although there was a slight dip – especially in SLG – wasn’t all that far out of the realm of what he usually does. In fact the downturn in SLG could likely be explained away by an unlucky .278 BABIP that certainly didn’t do him any favors. Still, he was the elite base runner he’s always been and was pretty valuable in the field.

Then he got traded to the Dodgers.

Upon arriving in LA, Victorino seemed to fall victim to a variety of uncharacteristic issues, some of which he acknowledged publicly. Perhaps the most obvious was his approach at the plate, which seemed to have an adverse effect on his overall production. Victorino admitted to pressing; swinging out of the strike zone far more than he had in the past and in the process, experienced a jarring 3% spike in his SwStr%. While he made great contact on pitches within the strike zone, it was his inability to lay off borderline pitches– particularly sliders and four seam fastballs, that sent his numbers tumbling in the wrong direction. The results showed through as all Victorino could muster during his time in Chavez Ravine was a .245/.316/.351 line that included only two home runs.

The drop off had severe implications with regards to the kind of contract Victorino could get this past offseason. Heading into last season many thought he’d be a prime candidate to reel in a five-year deal. Fast-forward to the end of 2012 and many were surprised that he managed to get the three-year offer he did from the Red Sox.

So who is the real Shane Victorino and what can the Red Sox realistically expect this season? Is he a bounce back candidate or primed for regression?

I’d say a little of both.

At this point in his career, Victorino is on the wrong side of the aging curve and has a skill set that tends to not age as well as others. Players who depend on speed and gap power usually see a decline in value once their legs begin to betray them, so it’s likely that father time should catch up to a player like Victorino faster than say – a player who relies more on power at the plate.

It’s also true that his linear weights are beginning to paint a picture of a batter who might be teeter tottering on a big dip in offensive production. Much like Kevin Youkilis the past few seasons, we’ve seen a steady decline in Victorino’s ability to catch up to fastballs. The good news is that unlike Youk’s situation where those struggles were reflected throughout his batted ball distribution, Victorino – even though he’s not handling the fastball the way he needs to – is still putting them in play and getting hits when he does manage to catch up to them.

But outside of forecasting against aging curves and some issues with how he’s handling certain pitches, It seems like the willingness to point to his performance in Los Angeles as a sign of pending decline is putting the cart before the horse.

The big dip in power last year seemed to be directly attributed to his pressing at the plate in LA and an unfavorable park. His BB%, K% and contact rates all seem to be in in line with his career performance. There was even evidence that during his time in Philadelphia, it appeared his overall approach at the plate might actually be improving.

What real regression may exist will likely be mitigated by Fenway Park. While Philadelphia is as much a hitter’s haven as Dodger Stadium isn’t, neither was as good a potential fit as Fenway should be. While Victorino might have more issues hitting HR’s, he should see either a spike in his 2B/3B power or at least find himself being able to maintain his career averages.

The park effect here shouldn’t be taken lightly, as the power alleys in Fenway will make a significant difference. The number of triples and doubles in Citizen’s Bank Park last year totaled 199. Dodger Stadium was significantly less friendly at 178. Fenway was home to 261 doubles and triples. Simply put, this should be the kind of park that a player like Victorino will thrive in.

While there is enough of a case either way with regards to his potential regression at the plate, what can’t be disputed is that Victorino is still one of the game’s elite base runners. Since 2010, Victorino placed 8th in all of MLB in BsR, He’s an incredibly intelligent base runner, having only been caught stealing more than 10 times in a season once in his career. It’s safe to say that with new manager John Farrell’s emphasis on putting pressure on pitchers and running more on the base pads, that Victorino’s skill set should fit nicely with his manager’s vision for the offense.

There’s also a nice defensive aspect to this that should help the Red Sox a great deal. As GM Ben Cherington has said several times, the best Red Sox teams are those that have CF quality defenders in RF. Given the makeup of this particular outfield – specifically one that will have Jonny Gomes in it – his presence becomes that much more important. Ellsbury and Victorino should be able to cover gaps far more effectively then they were covered last year. Most importantly, Ellsbury will likely be able to cheat to the left just a bit in order to take some of the heat off of Gomes having to do… well… anything defensively.

Then there are obviously the residual benefits of his presence, which include leverage on Ellsbury’s contract negotiations, positional flexibility and a newfound luxury of not having to needlessly rush prospects into spots they’re not ready for (or might never be ready for). Apparently, he’s also a pretty swell dude in the clubhouse for whatever it’s worth.

So is Victorino a bounce back candidate or a player in decline? The answer is a little bit of both, but fans should be optimistic – at least in so far as next year is concerned. There are signs that cracks are emerging, but it’s still important not to over exaggerrate his poor performance in LA last year as many of his peripherals seemed to point to his tenure in Dodger blue was more of an outlier than the norm. With a friendly park, contract issues behind him and a team whose game plan he’ll fit into easily – I’d be more likely to buy stock in Victorino than sell it.

Categories: Ben Cherington Jacoby Ellsbury John Farrell Jonny Gomes Kevin Youkilis Shane Victorino

A world-class baseball nerd, baseball fan, and baseball man, Hunter Golden agreed to terms with Fire Brand of the American League in September of 2012 in exchange for an oversized baby bottle, football helmet filled with cottage cheese and naked pictures of Bea Arthur. In January of 2013, he was named Editor. He likes run-on sentences, enjoys over-using hyphens, and smelling books. When it comes to serious stuff, Hunter is a professional writer (no, really), father of two, Husband of one and whose natural habitat is Western Massachusetts and agreeable parts of Connecticut. Follow him at @hunterGbaseball on Twitter or shoot him an email at [email protected]

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