Monday, April 24, 2006
Trust me---we're going to love Thome this year but you're going to LOVE Rowand now and for years to come. Wait 'til the first time he runs into the wall to make a spectacular catch. The guy has NO FEAR. He's got a nice bat, too.
Scott made that comment two weeks ago with reference to my criticisms of GM Pat Gillick's decision-making. The sole personnel decision that I approved of in my post was Gillick's decision to send Jim Thome to the South Side of Chicago in exchange for Aaron Rowand and two prospects. The deal was daring, aggressive and dramatically improved the team, simultaneously upgrading the centerfield position, clearing space for Ryan Howard (getting the Phillies nine years younger at first base) and restocking the farm system. For all of my criticism of Pat Gillick, this has been his best move as GM.
Scott was right: we may miss Jim Thome, but Aaron Rowand is going to be a fixture in centerfield for the Phillies for a long, long time to come. But is all of the talk about Rowand hype, or is he the real deal?
Certainly when Rowand came over to the Phils, people pointed out the similarities to another Phillie who played centerfield, Lenny Dykstra, AKA Nails, AKA The Dude. Lenny Dykstra was always a fan favorite because he was a hard-nosed, no-nonsense blue collar gamer. He’d run with abandon, slide hard into second and always give (pardon the cliché) 110% on the field. As Robert Gordon and Tom Burgoyne write in More Than Beards, Bellies and Biceps:
Dirt-covered, tobacco-stained, and gritty, [Dykstra] was the prototypical throwback.
(Page 208-209.) How alike to Dykstra is Rowand?
Fielding. As I've said, probably ad nauseum, 2006 is the Year of the Glove for the Phillies. We'll sink or swim based on how the Phillies do fielding-wise. Getting to the ball, minimizing pitching mistakes, throwing out advancing runners. I've think we've gotten a taste of Rowand's abilities in this arena on April 12th, when he made a nice play to help throw out Brian McCann at home plate to enable the Phillies to hold on to a 7-5 victory against the Braves. (Okay, yes, McCann is a slow, plodding catcher should shouldn't have been waived in, but still. It was a nice play!)
There are many metrics to evaluate an outfielder. Here are fielding win shares per 1,000 innings, comparing Rowand to Kenny Lofton and Jason Michaels.
Not really the best metric, but it gives you an idea. Next is Zone Rating, my preferred all-around defensive stat until Plus / Minus came along. The nice thing about ZR is that the data for it is released during the season, whereas we need to wait until the end of the year to find out the Plus / Minus numbers.
Amongst ten regular AL CFs, Rowand ranked second 2005 in Zone Rating:
Reed (Sea): .943
DeJesus (KC): .923
Wells (Tor.): .911
Matos (Balt.): .909
Rowand did much better than the Michaels - Lofton platoon:
Team CF: .884
As I noted in my Fielding posts (and I hesitate to mention them again for fear of boring some of you), but The Fielding Bible's John Dewan is very high on Rowand. Rowand led MLB CFs in Dewan's Plus / Minus system at +30, 2 better than the Blue Jays Jeremy Reed. Rowand also ranked fourth in CF arms, allowing just .496 baserunners to advance (Jim Edmonds was best at .410). Rowand did so well in center that Dewan thinks he should have been the AL Gold Glove in center, as opposed to Vernon Wells.
How is Rowand doing this season? Not so well according to ZR: .743, which ranks him dead-last amongst NL CFs. Yeah, that number stunned me too. At .743, he isn't even remotely close to the Cubs Juan Pierre(.952), or even to the aging Jim Edmonds (.842). I don't know what's going on here, but that is disturbing.
Hitting. Rowand isn't a great bat. He's good, but not great. He had a career high .361 OBP and .544 Slugging percentage in 2004 (.298 GPA), but those numbers seem to have been an anamoly. Last year's .329 OBP / .407 SLG (.249 GPA) were low, but closer to Rowand's probable production over the long-term.
Those are okay numbers, but what I really don't like how low Rowand's bases-on-balls percentage are: .050 walks-per-plate appearance (BB/PA) in 2005, and .056 in 2004. He doesn't draw walks the way he should. So far this season he's gotten 2 walks in 68 At-Bats. Too few, which is why his OBP (.361) is largely a product of his batting average (.324), not patience at the plate.
According to the 2006 Baseball Prospectus, Rowand should hit .260 GPA (.333 OBP, .444 SLG), and .164 ISO, with 16 home runs, 72 RBIs and 30 doubles. The 2006 Bill James Handbook rates Rowand as being good for: 74 Runs Created, 16 HRs, 32 doubles, .334 OBP, .438 SLG (.259 GPA, .160 ISO). Not bad. Probably the same production that the Phillies would have gotten out of Jason Michaels.
Let's get back to that Dykstra comparison: in Dykstra's two full seasons (1990 & 1993) as the Phillies CF he had OBPs over .400: .418 in '90 and .420 in '93. Dysktra's BB/PA in '93 was .167, and .130 in '90.
At the plate, Rowand isn't even remotely close to the player that Dykstra was. Lenny Dykstra was an OBP machine who had a little power to burn (19 home runs in '93). Rowand seems too inconsistent a player to compare to Dykstra at the plate. As for his fielding, we all know what a great fielder Lenny Dykstra was and I am assuming that Rowand's current ZR rating is a fluke. At least, I hope it is. But until then we should probably hold off on the Rowand-as-The-Dude comparisons.
As I mention in my blog, the defense so far in 2006 for the Phils has been truly horrendous all around, contributing greatly to the woes of our groundball pitchers. However, we should be able to expect better things for the rest of the year, as defense is generally consistent from year to year.