Keystone Conundrum


Getz is a valuable runner… Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

With most of the big league roster settled – everyday lineup, starting rotation, bullpen – the only positions really up for grabs are those of the fifth starter and second baseman. I’ve banged the pitching drum enough, so let’s take a look at the question mark that is second base.

Right now, it appears playing time is likely to be divided between Chris Getz and Johnny Giavotella. Of course, there is an outside chance Miguel Tejada has something to contribute, although he turns 39 in May and hasn’t had a big league at bat since 2011, when he hit .239 in 91 games for the San Francisco Giants.

So we have a possible three-headed Frankenstein monster on our hands here – Miguel Getzavotella. Or something like that. Most likely though, we’re looking at a two-headed beast with a platoon of Getz (left handed batter) and Giavotella (a righty). While it’s not the greatest use of roster space to carry two players who can only play one position (unless we’re talking about catchers), it might be the best route in 2013.

Getz is the more known quantity here. We know he’s not great at getting on base (.314 career OBP) but can probably hit .265 or so – last year, he hit .275 in 64 games, prior to a thumb injury leading to surgery and a premature end to his season. We also know he can run – in the two seasons he’s played more than 100 games, he’s racked up 25 and 21 steals (2009 and 2011). According to Baseball Reference, his 162 game average has Getz stealing 31 bases with an 81% success rate, making him a valuable runner. He’s not a real dangerous hitter, but stick him at the bottom of the order and he’s not a bad speed guy to have down there as the lineup rolls back to the top.

…but will he hit? Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Getz is also a pretty good fielder. Staying with Baseball Reference, his Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average (yeah, it’s a mouthful, so let’s stick with the abbreviated Rtot) sits at 5 for his career at the position. If you throw out 2008 (he only played seven games) his Rtot from 2009-2012 at second base is 3. His range factor (RF) supports his status as an average fielder. Getz has a RF/9 of 4.81 during his five seasons in the big leagues. Over that same span, the league average is 4.75, putting him just a bit ahead of the curve. He also has a slightly higher fielding percentage than league average (.987 vs. .985). It’s safe to say that Getz is probably, at his worst, an average fielder.

Switching over to the other half of our platoon, we have Giavotella, who has terrorized minor league pitching since 2010. Johnny had an .855 OPS in 2010 at AA, actually got better in AAA with an .871, and improved again in 2012 with an .877 OPS in 89 AAA games. He’s been less impressive in two short stints with the big league club though, with a .611 OPS in 99 total games. He also possesses less speed than Getz; with his career high in steals (26) coming in 2009 in High A ball. He doesn’t have much power, either, but has hit the ball hard in the minors and looks to be a singles and double hitter who will probably cap out around 10-12 homers in most years.

Giavotella is not as slick in the field as Getz. In his 91 big league games, his Rtot is a -15 (yes, that’s a NEGATIVE 15) while his RF/9 (4.13) sits well below the league average of 4.70 for 2011-2012. His fielding percentage is also 13 points below the league average for that same time period. That’s not to say he can’t improve. This is a small sample size, but defense has never been his strong suit. The bat will have to improve to offset his shortcomings in the field.

Now that we know where they’ve been, where are they going? Neither player has a huge sample size to draw from as far as figuring out what to expect. I think Getz is pretty much what he is at this point, while Giavotella has much room for improvement (we don’t know that he will, but it’s possible). Let’s check out some projections.

Switching websites now, the Bill James Projections at Fangraphs predict Getz will play 92 games and have a triple slash

Giavotella – potentially a dangerous hitter. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

(AVG/OBP/SLG) of .267/.327/.337. That’s about what we’d expect, given his track record. The fan projections on Fangraphs are similar, guessing he’ll play 110 games and produce at a .261/.309/.323 rate.

Fangraphs also has the ZiPS projections this year (formerly released at Baseball Think Factory). ZiPS does come with the

following disclaimer: ZiPS projections are computer-based projections of performance. Performances have not been allocated to predict playing time in the majors. So basically, the games played/plate appearances will not necessarily be accurate, but the production rates will be. ZiPS has Getz at 334 plate appearances in 2013 with a slash line of .259/.310/.316. That’s still in line with the other numbers, so we have a pretty solid consensus.

Giavotella’s Bill James numbers have him playing the bulk of games at second, with 128 games played and a .286/.339/.407 slash line. The James predictions show a spike in production for Johnny, probably based more on his minor league track record. The fan projections aren’t as optimistic, calling for 80 games and a .266/.316/.367 production rate. Finally, we return to ZiPS to round out our comparison. ZiPS has 677 plate appearances (remember that disclaimer) and a .266/.316/.368 line, which is right in line with the fan prediction.

After all this…where do we stand? Well…we’ve got two pretty similar hitters on our hands here. One (Getz) with better speed, while the other hits more line drives and potentially finds himself on base more often. One (Getz) can play some defense, while the other has struggled in the field. I’d bore you with more stats and dissect their splits, but that doesn’t differentiate them either. Getz is not particularly productive against right handed pitchers, and Giavotella doesn’t rake against southpaws.

A longshot at age 39. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

My suggestion? Barring one of them earning the job outright in spring, start the year with Getz getting the majority of playing time. He’s a better defender and a better runner. Until Johnny flashes that bat we’re waiting to see, he should play against some lefties and against guys he has hit well in the past. Given that we have moved into “win now” territory, we need the guy who provides more value, and as of now that player is Getz.

That said, I think if one of these guys has the ability to really surprise us, it’ll be Giavotella. Like I said, he’s got a lot of upside, and the Bill James projections agree. Even though the team wants to win, it would be foolish to put potentially good players on the shelf. Developing talent is still a must.

Until one of these guys either wows everyone or falls flat on his face, it looks like a two-man job. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.