Sunday, December 27, 2009

Can Casey McGehee Protect Fielder?

It's a question that really bares meaning to the Milwaukee Brewers next season. There is no doubt McGehee played great in 2009, but is that really what we can expect? Can Casey keep up his phenomenal play, or will he regress in 2010?

McGehee took over the five spot after a hot month, while playing nearly everyday at third base. The five spot struggled to produce before McGehee stepped in last season. McGehee never looked back, excelling while protecting Prince Fielder. He went onto post an .859 OPS, while sporting a .360 OBP and .499 slugging percentage. Looking at those numbers, and there is little question about his ability to bat fifth next season, but you can't just stop at those numbers.

McGehee's career numbers would suggest he is not as good of a hitter as he showed last season. In fact, in his six pro seasons prior to last year, McGehee never posted an OPS over .800. Adding to that, McGehee's numbers last season were heavily influenced by a hot month of June. In June, McGehee posted a .368/.429/.671/1.100 line in 76 at bats. Take those 76 at bats out of McGehee's season and his numbers drop significantly.

MeGehee's second half numbers, although still high, are much more along the lines of what fans can expect next season. He posted a .282/.342/.469/.811 line, in 209 post all star break at bats. I would be more than happy with that kind of production next season, but I fear that's rather optimistic.

The early projections that have come out thus far are expecting a pretty big step back for McGehee in 2010. Bill James projects McGehee to post a .272/.328/.429/.757 line next season, while CHONE projects him for .262/.324/.410/.734. Those are not the kind of numbers teams are looking for from their five hitter.

The Brewers might just have a viable option to bat fifth with their other third baseman. Mat Gamel's projections are interesting to say the least. Bill James projects Gamel to post a .277/.354/.464/.818 line. CHONE, on the other hand, is much less impressed with Gamel, seeing a .251/.322/.407/.729 line next year. While CHONE's projection seems very low, it was nice to see such high numbers out of James.

Mat Gamel struggled in 2009, while getting limited playing time in Milwaukee. His struggles last season could be attributed to Ken Macha's lack of knowledge of Gamel's splits. Gamel rarely hit against left handed pitching in the majors, although he clearly has excelled against them throughout the minors. In 105 at bats against righties, Gamel hit .229 with a .341 OBP and .400 slugging percentage. Although his .741 OPS against RHP was disappointing, it wasn't that far off his minor league numbers. Where Gamel excelled against the top minor league pitching was when he faced southpaws. His OPS splits against LHP in his last two pro seasons were 1.061 and .935. Although he only batted 23 times against LHP in Milwaukee, he still posted a .304/.333/.522/.855 line. While 23 at bats really tells nothing, Gamel looked much more comfortable when facing LHP, as opposed to righties.

While I don't expect Gamel to start opening day at third base, it should be looked at as an option. Sure McGehee will play better defense, but I fear the Brewers are valuing 2010 too much. Gamel struggled and McGehee flourished. Career numbers would suggest a rise in Gamel's numbers and a regression with McGehee. With McGehee likely to come back to earth somewhat, it's tough to immediately slot him behind Fielder. If he is unable to keep his numbers up, Fielder will see fewer and fewer pitches to hit.


Jon Ferber said...

Good hitters (Fielder) will hit regardless of who's behind them in the order.

Jonathan Ede said...

True, but will they see pitches is another question. If McGehee struggles, it gives teams the choice to simply not pitch to Fielder.

Zak Z said...

Every analyst I’ve read who has mentioned Casey Mcgehee is convinced he is going to regress next year, but who knows.

You're talking more about “protection” in the lineup, which is (in general terms) a baseball myth that has been disproved a bunch of times by stat geeks. If teams don’t want to pitch to Prince, they won’t (and he’ll just walk more, which is fine). Prince is going to get his, it doesn’t matter who is behind him (to an extent I suppose).

Jonathan Ede said...

I also believe that "protection" in the typical sense is often overvalued. I by no means believe that a good offensive season by one player correlates in any way to more success by another hitter. What this post was saying is that the batter "protecting" Fielder does need to hit for Fielder to actually see pitches. A player like Fielder, who has amazing plate discipline, will succeed even if teams give him bad pitches. He will simply walk a lot. However, teams will not have that luxury if the batter behind Fielder is producing. I understand there is no correlation between Fielder's numbers and the player who bats behind him. Fielder will hit, without question. How many at bats he actually is able to see pitches is another thing.

Jonathan Ede said...

The original point of the article was to debate whether Casey McGehee is the Brewers best option to bat 5th. If Fielder is able to post another .412 OBP next season, or anywhere near it, McGehee is going to have to produce to drive him in. I just think its alarming to have Fielder followed by someone who is likely going to post a near .775 OPS.

Steve said...

Does anybody think Gamel will actually get a chance to start over McGehee? I really hope so, but I don't see it. I know McGehee played well, but Gamel is the better player.