Last offseason, many bloggers sighed when Ryan Langerhans passed through waivers. Despite one horrific season in 2007, Langerhans profiled at about 1.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), and perhaps even league average (2 WAR). Langerhans didn’t “look like” an average corner outfielder. His value lay more in his outstanding glove than his questionable bat. But he was a good fourth outfielder (at worst) who could have been had for next to nothing. The Nationals signed him to a minor league deal, then traded him to the Mariners mid-season for the legendary Mike Morse after the Ms’ outfield depth was compromised by an injury to Langerhans’ conceptual older brother, Endy Chavez. Although Langerhans didn’t play much, he turned out to be what we thought he was — mediocre hitter, great defender (check out Langerhans’ 2009 versus average).
Langerhans was celebrated not because he was a star, but because he was decent and came for nearly free. This is the kind of player about whom we go nuts. Who will be this year’s undervalued outfield hero? While I (and others) called it weeks ago when the 2010 CHONE projections were released, I wanted to see some other projections. The appropriate ZiPS projections came out this week, and I am ready to predict the winner of the 2010 Ryan Langerhans Award For Undervalued Outfielder That Teams Should Be Trying To Acquire On the Cheap: Jeff Fiorentino.
Drafted in the 2004 by the Orioles, Fiorentino has seen scattered playing time in the majors. He went back and forth on waivers between the Reds and As during 2008, and returned to Baltimore via waivers later that year. Given their crowded outfield situation, the Orioles are letting him go as a free agent.
How good is Jeff Fiorentino? CHONE projects him as exactly a league average hitter (.267/.342/.399 line). ZiPS projects him at .266/.329/.391; converted to linear weights, I get about four runs below average per 150 games.
The big question is his defense. If Fiorentino can play a decent center field, he might be a league-average player. His UZR numbers tell us almost nothing, given the extremely small sample. CHONE’s TotalZone projection for 2009 saw him as a +2 center fielder. Still, given that teams have moved him around in the minors, we should be wary before slotting him in as a center fielder. The Fans don’t help us — there was exactly one ballot for Fiorentino in 2009.
Given the limited data, let’s play it safe and postulate that he’s somewhere between an average center fielder and an average corner outfielder, such that his defense + position is between +2.5 and -7.5 runs per season. Combine that with a range of 0 to -4 offense, Fiorentino projects somewhere between 1 and 2 WAR . 2 WAR might seem like a stretch, but 1.5 WAR is reasonable. He isn’t a great hitter, but he can get on base decently. He might not be an everyday center fielder, but he can hack it out there if you need him to, and his glove profiles well in the corners. He’s a good fourth outfielder/platoon player who can be a stopgap starter. Sound familiar? Fiorentino will be only 27 in 2010.
It wouldn’t shock me if Fiorentino ended up getting nothing more than a minor-league deal. More power to the team that makes that deal. Still, older outfielders with less talent will get more than that. I look forward to seeing who is smart. One more problem: if some team is smart and signs Fiorentino over, say, Scott Podsednik, or gives Fiorentino the minimum instead of shelling out millions for Rick Ankiel, is he still eligible for the Langerhans Award?
Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.