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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Rod Barajas 

Several weeks ago, very quietly, the Phillies signed catcher Rod Barajas, the Texas Rangers former backstop, to replace Mike Lieberthal, who left the Phillies to join the L.A. Dodgers with off-season along with Randy Wolf. The Phillies functioned quite well in 2006 with Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste splitting the catching duties after the team dealt Sal Fasano and Lieberthal spent time on the D.L., however, Pat Gillick signed Barajas and clearly views Ruiz as the team’s backup in ’07. Coste, I am beginning to worry, might not even be a Phillie in 2007. But is Rod Barajas really the Phillies best option?

To say that Barajas signing isn’t Pat Gillick finest hour is an understatement, in my estimation. Let’s review Barajas production at the plate:

2004: .276 / .237 / .204
2005: .306 / .254 / .212
2006: .298 / .237 / .154

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
Gross Productive Average (GPA): (1.8 * .OBP + .SLG) / 4 = .GPA. Invented by The Hardball Times Aaron Gleeman, GPA measures a players production by weighing his ability to get on base and hit with power. This is my preferred all-around stat.
Isolated Power (ISO): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.
On-Base Percentage (OBP): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)
Runs Created (RC): A stat originally created by Bill James to measure a player’s total contribution to his team’s lineup. Here is the formula: [(H + BB + HBP - CS - GIDP) times ((S * 1.125) + (D * 1.69) + (T * 3.02) + (HR * 3.73) + (.29 * (BB + HBP – IBB)) + (.492 * (SB + SF + SH)) – (.04 * K))] divided by (AB + BB + HBP + SH+ SF). If you use ESPN’s version be advised that it is pitifully is out-of-date, however. James adjusted RC after the 2004 season ended.

While I am impressed by the raw power Barajas shows at the plate, those On-Base-Percentage numbers are just horrifically low. Barajas seems to be a slugger, which might not be a bad fit for the Phillies lineup, but Barajas is a slugger in the “free-swinging” variant, which is out of place on a team that milked plate appearances better than most (3.82 pitches per plate appearance, one of the best in the N.L.). Barajas took 3.61 pitches per plate appearance.

I’d also note that the team has major problems with production from the bottom of its lineup and will enter the 2007 season with Aaron Rowand, Wes Helms, Barajas and a Pitcher hitting #6 thru #9. I am not optimistic about the Phillies chances of scoring many runs once Pat Burrell takes his cut. Perhaps Barajas power might help even out the issues here – sure he won’t get on base much, but his occasional 385-foot blasts could score two or three runs anytime Aaron Rowand decides to draw a walk – but the fact remains that the Phillies are going to have a lop-sided lineup, with the murderers row #1 - #5 (Rollins, Victorino, Utley, Howard and Burrell), and the remedial group in the bottom half. I hope this lack of balance doesn’t cause problems for the Phils.

On the plus side, Barajas power at the plate is what separates him from Fasano, who was an absolute disaster offensively with the Phillies. Fasano’s GPA with the Phillies was .224 and his ISO was .143. When he joined the Yankees for twenty-eight games at the end of the season, he did substantially worse, with an unthinkably bad .171 GPA and a .143 ISO. Barajas will be a much more potent offense force than Fasano.

Runs Created / Home Runs / Doubles
2004: 43 / 15 / 26
2005: 56 / 21 / 24
2006: 36 / 11 / 20

The issue, to me, is whether or not Barajas will be a more potent offensive threat than Carlos Ruiz, a player whom many in the Phillies blogging community are high on. Here is what the new Bill James Handbook says on the question

2007 Proj. Stats:

Barajas / Ruiz
GPA: .234 / .276
ISO: .171 / .182
OBP: .288 / .352

Ruiz looks like the clear-cut winner here. Having him hit lower in the Phillies lineup could solve those balance issues quite nicely.

The issue then becomes defense. As you know, most of catching is defensive, it is helping the pitcher get through the game, keeping runners from stealing second and third, and being a roadblock at home plate. Here are the differences between Barajas and Ruiz defensively … Teams tried to steal 0.66 bases a game against Ruiz, and Ruiz caught them 15% of the time. Teams tried to steal against Rod Barajas 0.58 times a game and he caught 28%. Advantage: Barajas?

No. Barajas played with the Texas Rangers in the American League in 2006. First off, teams are less likely to steal in the American League than in the National League. Specifically, there were 0.77 attempted steals a game in the A.L. and 0.82 in the N.L. So I’d say that the numbers are about even, which means that nobody tried to run more on one pitcher than another. Plus, the Phillies played against a lot of teams that like to run, like the Florida Marlins (168 attempted steals in 2006), the New York Mets (181 attempted steals), and the Washington Nationals (185 attempted steals). Sure, Barajas played against the Angels, a devoted team of little ballers, but he also played against the flat-footed Oakland A’s.

Defensively, I think the two players are about even, so I wonder about Pat Gillick’s wisdom in bringing Barajas aboard and supplanting the Coste / Ruiz platoon at catcher. Are the Phillies really improving themselves, or is Gillick and the rest of the Phillies brass just unable to trust Coste and Ruiz with the job? We’ll see how the season shakes out, but I am not much of a fan of Mr. Barajas at the moment.

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They are a better team with Rod, yes. Why? He provides some major league depth even though it causes a catching controversy. I'd rather have 3 catchers than 2 in case of injury. Next if Ruiz is good enough then he will step up as the starter during spring or early season, this is what I expect to happen.

The bottom of the lineup is not all that bad in my opinion. Helms is a contact hitter and different then the others on the team, he may just have a very productive year hitting 6th or 7th. Catcher will likely be 8th, with Rowand mixing with Helms at 6th or 7th in the order. I feel the bottom of the order will be better than the league average here, all 3 could be a 6th hitter in many lineups.
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