Athwart the Numbers: Keppinger, Francisco, Decker

Remember when I did that thing last week where I cherrypicked from Bill James for my own personal profit? Well, I’m about to do that again, stat. But before I do, a quick note on the title of the present document.

I don’t think I’m too far off base when I say that there comes a time in every man’s life when he begins to write for a nationally recognized, widely lauded baseball analysis website. Oh sure, it comes a little earlier for some of us — and here I’m thinking in particular of the 7-year-old Chinese prodigy Bang Qiu Nao, who’s done some excellent Pitchf/x stuff for the Chinese Professional Baseball League. For others of us, it comes later, maybe — or never at all, as was the case with my great uncle Vittorio who tended the land in Puglia, lived the country life, and wrote only about basketball.

One thing I’ve noticed in my own fledgling career as a baseball analyst is how you see a lot of guys who go inside the numbers, who look between the numbers, who claim to go beyond the numbers, or who just get all up on the numbers. However, despite some really extensive and boring research, I have as yet to find anyone willing to go athwart the numbers.

What does it mean to go athwart the numbers? I don’t know exactly. But I’m gonna try and do it: for my children, and my children’s children, and my children’s children’s children.

And while I’ll undoubtedly take all the credit for embracing this most overlooked of prepositions, I’ll be wrong to do so. I’ve stolen the idea wholesale from my friend Ross. Despite the fact that he’s recently given up on life — i.e. started law school* — when he was alive, Ross not only used athwart routinely, but he also wrote the most interesting possible article about stadium financing ever. If and when he’s allowed to actually practice law, someone should hire him real hard.

*I won’t say where exactly, but I will tell you: it’s where fun goes to die.

Anyway, like I say, Ross has left us here in Portland. We’re going to miss him. So, if you don’t mind, I’d like to pour out the first sip of this forty in his honor…

Thank you.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming: three more from our Numbers-as-Narrative experiment.

Jeff Keppinger, Everyman, Houston
I don’t know what Keppinger’s like in real life. Maybe he cusses at strangers and kicks dogs. Maybe he stuffs ballot boxes and deals arms. But my guess is he doesn’t. My guess is, if his numbers are any indication, he’s the most considerate, responsible fellow anyone has ever met. Why do I say that? Regard (Field% and Lg Field% are at primary position only):

Season	Team	PA	K%	Lg K%	Prim Pos (Inn)	Field%	Lg Field%
2004	Mets	123	6.0%	19.0%	2B (257.2)	.987	.984
2007	Reds	276	5.0%	19.2%	SS (390.2)	.989	.972
2008	Reds	502	5.2%	19.7%	SS (880.2)	.980	.974
2009	Astros	320	11.3%	20.2%	3B (464.2)	.959	.958

These are Good Guy numbers. Keppinger has routinely struck out at a quarter or third the league rate. He’s careful. He’s capable of playing basically any position on the diamond. He’s accommodating. And when he plays those positions, maybe he doesn’t exhibit all the range in the world (his UZR/150 numbers aren’t great), but he’s sure-handed when he gets to the ball. He’s reliable.

Here’s what I think about Keppinger: I just put him down as my emergency contact number on a form I just filled out. QED.

Juan Francisco, Corner Guy, Cincinnati
Francisco’s proof that, while you can’t necessarily walk off the island, you can try to jack dongers from it all the way to the major league city of your choosing.

In how many stat categories can we name the tune that is Juan Francisco? Let’s try three (not including PAs).

Season	Team		PA	BB%	K%	ISO
2006	Reds (R)	190	3.2 %	19.2 %	0.126
2007	Reds (A)	562	4.1 %	30.1 %	0.195
2008	Reds (A+)	541	3.6 %	23.8 %	0.219
2009	Reds (AA)	464	4.4 %	20.8 %	0.22
2009	Reds (AAA)	99	4.2 %	26.1 %	0.239

You could maybe even pare that down to two cats if you wanted just to use his BB/K ratios, but with them seperate like this you can really feel the hackage. Unfortunately for Francisco, these aren’t really the peripherals of a major leaguer. His BB-rates put him in Yuni Betancourt territory. His K-rates aren’t the worst, but approaching untenable (especially given the low walk rate). The guy with the most similar ratio (at the MLB level, that is)? Aaron Rowand. And even Rowand walks a little over 5% (5.5%, to be exact).

The good news for Francisco is that he’s only 22 and has only got stronger by the year. As I mention (eventually) over at Hardball Times today, he’s fun to watch when he makes contact. Ball go far, indeed!

Jaff Decker, Little Guy, San Diego
Is it too soon to declare Jaff Decker a lock for major league stardom? Probably. Is it too soon to declare him a Sabermetric Hero? No way.

Say hello to these things:

2008	Rookie	216	55	36	0.352	0.523	0.541	0.509
2009	Low A	455	85	92	0.299	0.442	0.514	0.434

The 19-year-old Decker has more patience than certain Shakya Buddhists I’ve met. I swear, I don’t know if it’s a rumor, but I heard he’s got all of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace Is Every Step tattooed on his body. Regardless of whether that’s true, it’s obvious that Decker has an incredibly discerning batting eye.

Baseball Prospectus has Decker slashing .275/.421/.489 at his peak, with an EqA of .315 — the top projection in all the Midwest League. There are other, higher projected EqAs in the minors, but they mostly belong to physical specimens like Cody Johnson (6-foot-4, 230 lbs) and Mike Stanton (6-foot-5, 205 lbs). Decker’s listed in BA’s Propsect Handbook at 5-foot-10, 190 lbs with little projectability left in his frame. Regardless, he seems to have the chops to be a top flight hitter.

In other words: he’s a Natural.

Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

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Matt B.
12 years ago

Good stuff…