Posted by Steve
Beautiful. Spring Training is underway, which means Brewer stories every day. Today’s JS piece is a hot issue for me: The “battle” for the third base job. I used quotes because everyone knows Casey McGehee is going to get the job. I don’t necessarily like that, but after giving it to him last season, taking it away based on Spring Training would make no sense.
My problem with McGehee over Gamel is based on track record. The Brewers’ stance apparently is, ‘McGehee had a good year in the Majors last year; Gamel hasn’t ever done that.’ I’m not saying for certain that McGehee didn’t enjoy a breakout season and won’t repeat, but last year he had 355 at bats. 355 at bats is hardly anything. It’s above “throwaway sample size,” but not by that much. A much larger sample size is everything McGehee did in his career prior to last season. His OPS last season was .859, a very good number for a third baseman. His career minor league OPS, though, which spans over 2500 at bats, is .741. Even giving him the benefit of the doubt and throwing out his lower level performances, his AA OPS is .769 and AAA OPS is .745. That covers nearly 1900 at bats.
At this point, the evidence points to McGehee being much closer to a .750 OPS type than an .850 OPS type. If the Brewers are counting on an .850-type year from McGehee, they’re in trouble. Not only was 2009 far above anything he’s ever done at ANY level of professional baseball, but his BABIP was .330, well above league average. That suggests he was lucky last season and his numbers are likely to drop.
I’m far from the only one with this theory. Bill James projects a .757 OPS for McGehee in 2010. CHONE projects a .738 mark (gross).
On the other side is Mat Gamel. While McGehee had been considered a journeyman before last season, Gamel has been a top prospect. Gamel’s career minor league numbers, stretching over 1900 at bats, is .862. There’s just so much more information supporting Gamel as the superior hitter. The projections back this up also. James has Gamel at an .818 OPS this year; CHONE has him at .753.
What I alluded to at the beginning of the post: It’s clear the Brewers prefer McGehee right now. I’ve laid out why I think that’s the wrong choice, but whatever. What would make even less sense than basing a decision on 355 at bats is basing it on Spring Training production, which is practically meaningless. That means it would be an even dumber move to give Gamel the job out of Spring Training, because even though it would be the right move, it would be made for a wrong reason. Or something.
So, conceding the fact that McGehee will have the job, here’s what I want to see. Mat Gamel playing every day in AAA so he’s ready to be called up if McGehee falters, and if McGehee gets off to a hot start, I wouldn’t mind trading him. My absolute biggest complaint about last season (I guess it’s a close race with their abuse of Yo) was the way Gamel was left to rot on the bench and eat up service time for no reason.
You may have noticed that I haven’t discussed defense yet, and that’s by design. I don’t really think we have an idea yet of who the better defender is. McGehee was unimpressive defensively last season, but it’s unclear how much of that was due to his bad knee. Gamel’s scouting reports have long said that he struggles defensively, but I was actually pleasantly surprised by what I saw from him in Milwaukee. The jury is still out on defense, which is why I haven’t really weighed it in my comparison.
What I’m expecting is for McGehee to struggle a bit, and after a couple of months of Gamel doing his thing in AAA, Gamel getting the job and hopefully never giving it back. McGehee would still probably make a nice utility player who could fill in at third, first, left, right, and maybe second in a pinch.