Happy pitchers and catchers day, everybody.
● Jim Reeves of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram relays a brief assessment from Texas Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo -- via general manager Jon Daniels -- in his latest missive on the surprisingly divisive signing of outfielder Andruw Jones, which was precipitated in part by a promising January 26th workout at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington:
"Rudy felt the bat speed was still there and there were some adjustments he could make to potentially help him," Daniels said.
Jones has reportedly shed 20-plus pounds over the off-season, presumably mitigating most of the organization's concerns over his previously lofty playing weight, and the medical staff -- led by team physician Dr. Keith Meister -- that did such a superb job of red-flagging the troublesome elbow of free-agent right-hander Ben Sheets wouldn't have signed off on the Jones signing if the state of his surgically repaired right knee was such that it would jeopardize his 2009 season.
Reeves echoes several of the same reservations I shared in this space earlier this week, principal among those being that a resurgent Jones could conceivably squeeze Nelson Cruz out of the picture in spite of public assurances to the contrary from Jon Daniels. What does strike me as interesting, however, is this explicit mention of Andruw's former Gold Glove exploits:
"We’re getting ahead of ourselves with that conversation, but if you look at it, the two things [Jones] brought to the table that were unique, they were premium center-field defense and right-handed power," Daniels said. "If we get to that point and he shows he’s back to his previous form, then those would be things we’d look to take advantage of, but I want to stress that that’s really putting the cart ahead of the horse."
This open acknowledgement of Jones's tremendous defensive value in center field -- prior to his disastrous 2008 campaign, that is -- dovetails with something ESPN.com's Peter Gammons wrote last Sunday, that being that Texas has placed a renewed emphasis on defense in support of the approaching wave of young pitching, reflected by the decision to cast 20-year-old shortstop Elvis Andrus into the big league fire and make the inevitable call to slide Michael Young to third base a year earlier than most expected.
While the internal movement to slide Josh Hamilton to a corner outfield spot is fundamentally rooted in a desire to protect his body from the rigors of 100-plus games in center field, the fact that Hamilton wasn't a particularly great defensive center fielder in 2008 is likely not lost on upper management. Both Ultimate Zone Rating -- which now includes outfield arm ratings that paint an even more bleak portrait of Hamilton's prowess in center field -- and the plus/minus defensive rating system concur that Hamilton was somewhere in the vicinity of 10 runs below average in center field last season, and while the general consensus appears to be that he can only get better in that regard, the possibility also exists that he won't get better, which would obviously compel the Rangers to displace him from his current stead that much quicker
Run prevention is the name of the game, and while the likelihood of Jones breaking camp as the Opening Day center fielder is still not that great, he could make tremendous strides towards solidifying his place in the club's 2009 plans by flashing merely above-average defensive range and first-step quickness during his spring audition.
● And following up on something I first mentioned in passing back during last month's (ahem) devastating North Texas ice storm, here's a graphic depiction of where Marlon Byrd's base major league salary figures over the last six seasons stand relative to the FanGraphs-calculated win value he has provided in that same span:
Note that the value of one marginal win on the open market -- which is multiplied by the number of wins contributed above replacement level, or Value Wins, to calculate actual Win Value -- has not been static over this six-year period; rather, it has steadily climbed, from $3.7 million per marginal win in 2006 to $4.1 million per marginal win in 2007 to $4.5 million per marginal win in 2008. That incremental growth, coupled with Byrd's unforeseen spike in productivity, helps explain on a numerical level why the uptick in his Win Value from 2006 to 2007 -- and, to a lesser extent, from 2007 to 2008 -- has been so enormous.
This graph also underscores just how good Byrd was with both the bat and glove in 2003 -- and just how bad he performed with both in 2004.
Quick Hits: C.J. Wilson has resumed throwing after undergoing surgery to remove bone spurs from his left elbow last August, and is expected to throw off a mound on Saturday.