Part one of a two part series on the defense of the signing Shane Victorino. We begin on offense:
As a Boston Red Sox fan living in “Braves Country” I have to persistently make an effort to get my daily Sox news throughout the day. The Atlanta Journal Constitution, 790 The Zone, 680 The Fan, and 92.9 The Game certainly do not focus their efforts on bringing the Peach State analysis on the latest happenings in the Boston sports world. Sure, I head to
ESPNBoston or the Globe to read daily articles, but what about on my commutes to and from work when I could invest my time in some news?
About a few months ago to alleviate this dilemma I decided to download an app for a Boston sports radio station called WEEI. Since then I have become a regular; listening to Dennis & Callahan on my way in to work, Mut and Merloni on my lunch break, and finally The Big Show on my way home. Some may call it an obsession, but I call it fandom.
On a lunch break in early December, I decided to tune in to Mut and Merloni to see what their take was on the Red Sox signing Shane Victorino. If I recall correctly, Lou Merloni, former Boston Red Sox utility man, was not on the air that day and his replacement was Kirk Minihane: a common on air guest and columnist for WEEI’s website. Long story short, Minihane went on to argue that Victorino is no more than a platoon outfielder at best. I am not usually one to talk back to inanimate objects like a TV or radio station, but I could not help but declaring to myself out loud, “Minihane, what on earth are you talking about?!” That evening I went on to read ESPN Insider Keith Law’s column on how he too believed Victorino to be no more than a fourth outfielder. Although I tend to respect Law’s (4 ½ years in Blue Jays front office) opinion more than Minihane, I still disagree with both.
Sure Shane Victorino is no Josh Hamilton. Likewise, I would not put him in the same category as an Alex Gordon or Michael Bourn. However, I do believe that Victorino is a unique outfielder that could potentially bring a lot to the table if he is put in the right situation.
Kirk Minihane would have you believe that because Victorino had a dreadful 2012 campaign, he is no better than a platoon right fielder and the signing was a colossal failure: “Victorino is a platoon player. This is not written to be hyperbolic, to get a rise, it is a statistical reality. And you’d think for $13 million a year you would at least get a platoon player who excels against right-handed pitching. That’s not Victorino. In 2012 Victorino had a .229/.296./.333 line against righties.” What Minihane fails to mention is that Victorino was put in an atypical position in Philadelphia last season. Instead of hitting second, sixth, or seventh in a lineup usually chalk full of great hitters, Victorino found himself hitting third or fifth in a depleted lineup that no longer featured Ryan Howard or Chase Utley due to injuries. Not only does this put unwanted pressure on an out of place hitter, but it also prevents him from seeing a heavy amount of fastballs.
When hitting in front of a Howard or an Utley, Victorino would certainly see a greater amount of fastballs versus off speed pitches. Why? Pitchers tend to be aggressive when a guy like Utley or Howard is waiting on deck. They want to take their chances on a ball in play rather than a walk, which could lead to, essentially, an unforced error.
Throughout his career while hitting second Victorino has hit. 287. Nevertheless, in his 99 game season in Philadelphia last year while hitting second (23 games), third (24 games), or fifth (41 games), Victorino saw 8.4 fastballs per game, which was tied for the lowest of his career (2009). His batting average off of those fastballs was an underwhelming .237.
In 2010 and 2011 he saw 8.9 and 8.8 per game while hitting .328 and .275 off the pitch, respectively. After he was traded to Los Angeles, he saw 9.09 fastballs per game (52 games) and hit .295 off the pitch while the majority of the time hitting leadoff. Although Victorino’s batting average was .245 with the Dodgers (while mostly in the leadoff role), he is a subpar career .251 hitter from the leadoff spot compared to the aforementioned .287 clip batting 2nd. While hitting second since 2007, Victorino’s splits are fairly good:
-2010: .242 (only in 22 games)
In 2013, Victorino is projected to hit second in the lineup. That would be behind Jacoby Ellsbury and in front of Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Mike Napoli (maybe), and Will Middlebrooks. Those guys are better than Utley and Howard. Thus, I can make an educated guess that Major League pitchers will be aggressive with fastballs against Victorino to avoid the dreaded base on balls. This will score better results for the .300 career fastball hitter.
Minihane’s second platoon argument was that the switch-hitting Victorino has only hit .267 against right handed pitching in his career. I believe that to be a mute point. If you take out his .229 2012 performance against RHP then his career average against righties is back around .270, which is very respectable. Yes, it is true that Victorino will see right handers far more often than lefties, but what if new Red Sox manager John Farrell decided to drop Victorino to 6th or 7th in the lineup against a LHP and keep him in the two slot against a RHP? He would see a greater volume of pitches per game against the lefties, while decreasing in volume per game against a righty. This would help smoke and mirror some of Victorino’s palpable problems against right handed pitching. Even if Victorino is regularly in the two hole, his 2012 numbers will undoubtedly improve back towards his overall .275/.341 (average/on base percentage) clip.
Finally, I want to compare average162 game batting splits, per Baseball Reference, between Victorino and a recently signed outfielder who now makes more money than the Sox new right fielder:
They look pretty similar do they not? You would have to heavily consider taking Victorino; he has the mystery outfielder beat on every category except doubles, homeruns, walks, and total bases. As a matter of fact, if you did not need the power
Law recently wrote about: “B.J. Upton’s five-year, $75 million deal with Atlanta looks like a winner for both sides. It’s a solid return for a player coming off a disappointing year.” Ironic, is it not? Upton and Victorino are both coming off disappointing years, yet it is only Upton who draws Law’s praise, while earning more money.
What does this all mean? First off, we should hope it means that as long as Victorino is hitting second, sixth, or seventh in the order that he should see more fastballs, which should produce better results. Second, we should not worry about Victorino hitting .229 against left handed pitching since very good Major League hitters will surround him. A plus is that he will be very reliable against potent lefties in the division such as CC Sabathia and David Price. Finally, Victorino has very quietly been a productive offensive player throughout his career. So much so that you could argue he has been better, on average, than B.J. Upton who just signed a $75 million deal. Is this a small victory for the Red Sox? Time will tell, but, for now, optimism is king.
Research done on ESPN Insider and Baseball Reference.