Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Power Outage

Bob Smizik has a new column on the Pirates' recent poor hitting. His section on Craig Wilson strikes me as strange:

This could be just a bad two-month stretch. That has been known to happen. But it could be the unmasking of Wilson. It could be the reason McClendon was so reluctant to use him on a more regular basis the first three years of his career.

Could it? Here are the reasons Pirates management has provided at various points (or that the press has reported in attempts to explain the Pirates' reasoning) for not playing Wilson:

1. He can't play defense. This one probably isn't true. I don't have many advanced defensive metrics available for Wilson, since he never got enough playing time in any one year. But his range factor has consistently been near or above the league average at both first base and right field, and it was legitimately outstanding in right field in 2003. And if defense was the problem, you'd think it would have behooved the Pirates to let a slugger like Wilson learn one position rather than letting a 'bad' defensive player juggle three or more.

2. Playing time is based on production here. This one is demonstrably false, given many of the jokers playing in front of Wilson.

3. He strikes out too much. So does Jim Thome. Worrying about offensive strikeouts at the major league level is silly. The Pirates should have worried about on-base percentage instead.

4. We don't want to overexpose him. Smizik thinks this may be what's happening now. But I find it strange that a player could get over 800 at bats (over the course of three seasons prior to 2004) and not be overexposed before now. If Wilson's easy to figure out, why did it take pitchers three and a half years to do it, even if Wilson wasn't playing every day?

5. He's inconsistent. This one is absolutely true. Wilson is inconsistent. But it's not advisable to use this as an excuse to play him sparingly, because his offensive numbers usually wind up better than league average for his various positions. He more than makes up for his cold streaks with his hot streaks.

Wilson's had two bad (read: OPS below .700) months this season: June and August (and August isn't even half over yet). In 2002, he was bad in April and July. In 2003, he was bad in May.

Despite his 1 1/3 bad months this year, Wilson still has an .867 OPS - better than the league average for a rightfielder or first baseman, and five points above his career OPS. He's mixed great months with bad months, but this is nothing new, and up to this point there's no reason to fret about any "unmasking." The Pirates have lots of players they should be fretting about - Craig Wilson isn't one of them.

Smizik concludes:

It once was a foregone conclusion they would take Wilson to arbitration, pay him about $3 million for 2005 and see what happens. In light of his recent decline, they might be thinking otherwise.

I don't think Wilson should be handed a long-term contract or anything, but one year at $3 million for 2005 is like an easy choice. But Smizik may be right - the Pirates may be thinking three Randall Simons would be a better use of that cash.

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