Welcome back Kaz! And other notes from around Coors

FASTER THAN A SPEEDING UPTON

Kazuo Matsui has signed a AAA contract with the Rockies. My immediate reaction was "yaaay" but with a sub-reaction of "big whoop".

I'm writing this on Monday night, so the upcoming numbers won't need revision before publishing, and I'm watching my twitter feed as Troy Renck feeds us some updates about Kaz:

@TroyRenck: It looks like Kaz Matsui deal is official based on what colleagues in Japan are telling me

We all have fun memories of 2007 where Willy Taveras and Kaz Matsui distracted pitchers to no end at the top of the lineup, stealing bases, running fast, and playing excellent defense. Well, at least Kaz did.

In the ensuing offseason, Matsui signed a 3-year, $16.5M contract with the Houston Astros, and we bid him a fond farewell.

Since then, Kaz has faced a strange series of injuries that have seriously hampered his play.


Now, this is a pretty short pre-jump, but rest assured that there is a LOT left to come. Click past the jump where we'll look at poor Kaz' collapse, some analysis thereof, and we'll also have a discussion about WHY we're even thinking about Kaz: Clint Barmes.

Quick note: Slash lines are as follows - AVG/OBP/SLG; OPS/wOBA - just so you know.

In 2007, Kaz posted a 99 wRC+ (.288/.342/.405; .746 OPS/.341 wOBA, 32SB), which is basically league average, and he was an absolute wizard at 2B, worth 11.5 runs above average per UZR, 21 runs if you subscribe to TotalZone, and a .870 RZR. Average bat, amazing 2B defense? Awesome. Just what the Rockies want up the middle.

@TroyRenck: Kaz has said he's happy to be back

2008 was where it all went downhill, and in very strange fashion. His .293/.354/.427; .781/.349 line was good for a 115 wRC+, but his fielding went straight to crap. His range fell off, his error rate increased, and he ended up being a defensive detriment, worth -4.7 runs(UZR), -7 runs(TZ), and mustered a whimpering .799 RZR. He also only snagged 20 bases, but in his defense, he only played in 96 games (422 PA).

2009 got even worse, showing a .250/.302/.357; .659/.297 line, sinking his wRC+ to 80. Only snagged 19 bags. Those defensive woes from the prior season didn't get worse, but his range still showed the same lack that it had in 2008, but he managed to neutralize his range woes with his error rate, making him worth just a shade above average at 0.1 UZR, 1 run above via TZ, and a .816 RZR.

What's funny about that 2009 line is how everything balanced out. He was a league-average defender, and was 80% of an average bat.

Anybody caught it yet?

Yeah, those specifications pretty much put him at replacement level, basically a AAA player. WAR saw it a bit differently, having him at 0.7 Wins Above Replacement, but most of that was just positional adjustment. 2009 was not a good year for Kaz.

But wait, it gets worse!

In 27G (78PA), Kaz batted a merciless .141/.197/.155; .352/.167, stealing 1 base, getting caught stealing once, all adding up to a whipping -3 wRC+. No, I'm not making that up. He looks slightly better fielding, still showing the completely drained range, but again, the improved error rate, but if he fielded a full 150 games, he'd be worth about -3.2 runs as a defender per UZR, exactly average per TZ, and RZR has him at worse than ever, with .769.

He lost all of his playing time to Jeff Keppinger and and Tommy Manzella. Keppinger is posting a .325 wOBA, and Manzella .224. That's some pretty weak competition to lose a job to.

Ok, we get it, he's kind of terrible. Quit ragging on the guy. Well, I know that the people I'm writing this for won't read it anyhow, because they'll be busy telling Facebook how Kaz is going to bring life back to our lineup with veteran presence and some other ageless wisdom, but I want to make this abundantly clear: Kaz Matsui is singing his swan song here in Colorado, probably about 90 minutes south of Denver. There's no room for him on the roster, there's no reason to put him on the roster, and Lord help us if we get to the point where we're seriously looking at Kaz as a MLB player.

Now the immediate reaction to THAT is probably going to be "well what if he rocks AAA and and and" and I'm gonna go ahead and put my money on it not happening. Seriously, I'll put a quarter on the table that Kaz posts miserable AAA numbers as well.

@TroyRenck: Kaz is already making plans to get to Colorado to join the Triple-A team. He will get regular at-bats to see if he can get back on track

How miserable, you ask?

Well I'm glad you asked that.

If we were to ask Dan Szymborski from Baseball Think Factory about minor league numbers, he'd probably think I was asking about Cole Garner and what kind of major league numbers we should expect from him (given playing time, etc), and after park effects, he'd say "well, I'd anticipate a AAA player getting a reduction of roughly 18-20% of his production from AAA to the majors". I'd say "Thanks, Dan! Wanna go grab a beer?" and he'd say "Nah, I'm busy being a much better baseball writer than you, sorry!" and I'd say "shucks" and he'd say "Nah I'm kidding. Not about the baseball writer part, that's totally real. But I'm down for the beer" and I'd think "....well ok I do like beer on occasion. I sure hope he likes hot wings..." and then I'd text my buddy and say "DUDE I'M TOTALLY GETTING A BEER WITH DAN SZYMBORSKI" and he'd text back and be like "who?" and I'd text back and say "nm I'll tell you later" and then Dan Szymborski would be like "dude, the bartender is trying to take our order" and I'd feel all sheepish.

So if what Dan tells me is correct, I should probably just put down the keyboard and go back to mucking up the Rockpile with a variety of annoying .gif's. But seeing how he's not here, we'll just take the numbers he gave us and run with them.

Back to Kaz.

This is the funny part of this that also makes me sad.

If we take Kaz's little-league .167 wOBA and translate it to AAA, using that 20% factor, we'll go ahead and boost that wOBA by 20%, putting his AAA-neutral-equivalent wOBA at .209. That's still abominable.

But wait, there's more!

Right now, for a limited time only, Security Service Field is inflating wOBA by a rate of 110%! So if we tie that inflation rate into Kaz' AAA equivalent wOBA, we end up at a nice round .230 wOBA. In AAA Colorado Springs.

Yes, that's right, Kaz' level of performance would earn him an end-of-the-bench spot in AAA. That's just how far he's fallen. Is Tulsa hiring right now?

Now, just to wrap up the Kaz portion of this article, there's going to be about a zillion caveats to put into play here. 78PA sort of suggests that he was mired in an early-season slump (and by slump I mean he went down the slide backwards and he totally wasn't ready for it and he bonked his head at the bottom of the slide and was crying until his dad came to see what was wrong level of performance), and potentially he could hit his way out of it if he was somehow left in the lineup because the only other middle infielder was Omar Quintanilla or Jayson Nix or Andres Blanco or somebody of that magnificent caliber. Historically, Kaz has struggled in the mid-70s wRC+ range, and during the second half, has boosted his numbers up to the slightly-above-average level.

So who knows. Maybe he can iron his swing out a bit in the Springs and provide some sort of late-season boost to the bench or something.

While you're reading the rest of this article, open up this YouTube link and listen in the background. Safe for Work and all that.

Final thought on Kaz: You might ask why I'm writing this big long bash article on him if he's really an inconsequential, sentimental signing. Well, the answer to that is that I like the guy. He enjoyed Colorado, but he chased money, which I don't really fault him for, because at the time we were still worried about Holliday and such, and we weren't gonna pay him $17M. But the fact that he was a relatively-highly-touted Japanese import who fell flat on his face in New York, the fact that we got him and cash for Eli Marrero, and the fact that he raked in 2006 for us (seriously, 132 wRC+), and that he was part of the World Series run. I have a soft enough spot for him that I'll put 1400 words down about him.

Go Kaz, I hope that you'll find that magic again.

I guess I did mention other notes from around Coors, and I can't believe I wrote 1400 words about Kaz Matsui's minor league signing. But here's some more.

I rate this signing about as monumental as picking up Jay Payton this spring. The main difference is that we have 3 outfielders posting above-average (or at least really close to average) wRC+, and we have two 2B who are batting pretty terribly (as a 2B, Mora is actually above average, but looking at positional splits is kind of stupid when evaluating batting production - I mean, it kind of works for this particular article, but seriously, saying "well Mora bats better as a 2B" is really stretching to glean some good out of a 75 wRC+ overall), therefore we might as well kick the tires on another guy who's had success at 2B in the past.

So what's the deal with Barmes? Yes, I know "lol he sux" or whatever trite answer we can spit onto the internet in 2 seconds, but seriously, what seems to be going on with him?

Well, there's like a million different things to look at, and I'm going to try and grab a snapshot of as many of them as possible.

Barmes is batting .220/.272/.362; .634/.276, good for a 59 wRC+. There is one positive to take from that: it's better than 2006.

His batting average is dismal. But he's walking about the same amount as normal (read: not too much), 5.1%, which is right on pace with last season. His SLG is dismal, as he's way below 2008, way below 2009, and really it's just terrible. His ISO is at .142 though, which tells us that at least he's not COMPLETELY a singles hitter. You know, when he hits it. He's batting SLIGHTLY better at home, but it's still awful. Fun fact: Home ISO = .109; Road ISO = .160 - chew on that for a second there. His ISO is historically 50 points higher at home than on the road, and his road ISO is about 30 points higher than his career road ISO number. Weird.

So we've established that he's having a power outage of sorts. What's next?

Well, obviously, BABIP. His .240 BABIP is pretty low, but it's not completely catastrophic and blatant when stacked against his .282 career mark. So he's kind of getting unlucky.

BUT WAIT BABIP ISN'T JUST LUCK

Yeesh, give me a second, would you?

When looking at a batter's BABIP, you need to look at LD% as well so we're not just saying "ITS ALL LUCK". His LD% is sitting at 18.1%, which is low from last year and even lower from 2008, and low compared to his 20.6% career. Ok, so he's not squaring up on the ball too well. Well duh, he's popping EVERYTHING UP!

Actually that's completely not true. Like completely wrong in fact. He has a 48.6 FB% and a 13.7 IFFB%, which are both in line/below last season (49%, 17.1%) but both slightly above his career marks (47.5%, 13.0%). Basically last year was Clint Popoutmes, but this year there's a distinct chance that it's just what we're remembering.

Ok, so he must be punching out every other AB, right? Come on, we have to prove that Barmes sucks.

Well, his 15.7 K% is below his career 17.3% and it's below his 2009 mark of 22.0%.

Alright, so he's not popping everything up and striking out all the time. Whatever, he's still reaching for those sliders and grounding out weakly to 2B, right?

That's half right. His 33.3% GB is above his career 31.9% and his 30.8% in 2009.

Ha, the slider! Awesome!

Here's where I'll get a little controversial. We've mentioned this before, but Fangraphs has Pitch Type Values. They've assigned run values to what players have done with the varieties of pitches they face. I'm not 100% on board with assigning solid quantities to each pitch, but then again, I'm not 100% sure of their methodologies either. As I say with most statistical metrics that I don't completely grasp, they're at least good to show trends and stuff like that.

The point is that Barmes hasn't seemed to be struggling versus the breaking stuff that much this season. Mindblowing, I know.

Check this out.

So far in 2010, Barmes has been just the slightest of ticks below average versus the slider, he's been positive on the curveball and the changeup, he's been demolished by fastballs of all kinds: straightballs, cutters, sinkers. All bad. Worse than normal.

Think about this for a second. When defending Barmes (if you ever have), you've probably said something to the effect of "yeah you'll eat him up on the breaking stuff, but if you try and groove a fastball by him, he will eat that nonsense up and put it in the seats". If you checked out his career versus fastballs, he's never been Good with a capital G, or even really good with a small g. He's been like....gud...or jood... or something like that. Basically, he eats mistakes for breakfast. Problem is, pitchers seem to be making fewer and fewer mistakes against him. This is probably directly tied to his low ISO and low BABIP, as Barmes has been able to take those fastballs historically and do SOMETHING with them, even if it isn't that spectacular...I mean, come on, those 23 dingers had to come from SOMEWHERE, he doesn't just will them over the fence.

In his defense, he seems to have responded to scouting well (this part is ENTIRELY conjecture) and been able to do SOMETHING with the breaking stuff that pitchers are trying to hurt him with. Maybe he's looking for breakers a bit too much and not destroying inside fastballs like he should.

There's some nasty icing on this cake too. Let's go back to that whole defending Barmes thing. What's the other thing you say when somebody rants that we should trade him for Halladay or whatever? "Well, even if he's sucking at the plate, he's still fantastic in the field!"

Uh

He's making us all look bad there, too. His range has dropped pretty drastically. He's already committed enough errors to surpass his 2009 production (Barmes' fielding strength has always been Range and the Double Play, he makes a few too many hiccups as far as errors go - not like OMG BALL IN STANDS, but he's below average in that respect), and he's projecting to be Brad Hawpe bad at fielding his position. Now, this is all based on UZR. TotalZone says he's been poor as well, but not THAT bad, somewhere in the "just a little below average" realms of bad. Tie that to a weak bat right now and he's REALLY not doing himself any favors - to the point that we just picked up KAZ MATSUI to possibly provide depth down the line.

So after all that analysis and number stuff, let's put it together.

The bad: AVG, BABIP, ISO, LD%, FB production, fielding.

There's two things I'm thinking here:

1.     The low ISO aside, this looks like it could be a BABIP problem. No, he's not hitting as many liners, and yes, more balls are being hit on the ground, but I think he could rebound to at least a .250/.300/.425 line, but that's only if he can

2.     Improve his fastball production. Think it's just a coincidence that he's struggling to hit the fastball and his LD% is down and his GB% is up? His LD% isn't so reduced from his past production that we should just consider him a lost cause, but he seriously needs to do SOMETHING to drive those somewhere. If he can start doing that, it'll at least improve his LD% and hopefully by extension his ISO, because he should be putting many more balls in the gap, especially at home. Just based on his Home/Road splits, I think he can turn it around. Not epically, but he can be something slightly better than a black hole.

So that was an awful lot of writing about our troubles at the 2B position. I'm not a fan of what I'm seeing out there. I don't think that we're going to find salvation at that position anytime soon, I'm afraid to say. Even with a decent Barmes rebound, it's still going to be like an 80 wRC+ TOPS. Say Barmes DOESN'T rebound, either, it's not as if we have a young 2B masher waiting to come up. Nelson needs to prove he can do something in the upper minors and stay healthy, Herrera is a glove-only player, and Kaz Matsui is...well...Kaz Matsui.

Maybe I'm just trying to look at the bright side, but when Kelly Freaking Johnson is posting a .403 wOBA (145 wRC+), it's hard to just grin and bear it. Don't you tell me that Tulo makes up for it because Stephen Drew is mashing as well right now. I asked my Blue Jays fan friend if we could have Aaron Hill but he said no. I doubt the Marlins are going to move Uggla unless something catastrophic happens in the next 2 months. Maybe Christian Guzman? I don't know.

Here's hoping for the best.

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