We’re going to start this piece with a multiple choice question:
- Which statement best describes Maicer Izturis?
- (a) he hit the Jays’ first home run in 2013;
- (b) he once played for the Montreal Expos;
- (c) he sports a wRC+ of 64;
- (d) he is the worst all-round 2B in MLB;
- (e) all of the above.
If you answered (e), you’re right! [cue victory music from ‘The Price is Right’] According to one measure (fWAR), Maicer Izturis is presently the worst 2B in Major League Baseball. What makes this worse is that, over at Fangraphs.com Dave Cameron just did a piece about the Dodgers lesser-known contributors to their amazing run and I noticed that Aaron Hill is the highest-ranked 2B over the last 30 days. It’s sad isn’t it? It’s not Schindler’s List sad, exaggeration rarely gets you where you want to go, but it’s definitely MLB-appropriate sad.
I didn’t think that signing Jeff Keppinger was a good move by the Chicago White Sox. He was a journeyman-turned-utility player coming off a career year. They were going to get what they paid for, I thought. Sure enough, Keppinger’s 47 wRC+ is the lowest among ML 2B. Maicer Izturis, on the other hand, had a good rep and wasn’t coming off his best year. I believed the Jays overpaid a little but protected themselves with a team option. He’s a little older than I would have liked, but he’s no greybeard. And anything would be better than the Kelly Johnson: Strikeout Machine and Below-Average Defender movie we suffered through, wouldn’t it? Well, no. I even wrote a piece saying that re-signing Johnson made sense. Maicer’s a utility player: he was acquired to strengthen the bench, not play full time. Or so I thought.
Maicer has played full time and he’s been awful. There are no adjectives in common use in the English language that can describe adequately how terrible he’s been. Even ‘awful’ and ‘terrible’ are too mild.
Coming into this season the Jays needed a 2B. Kelly Johnson was underwhelming and the Jays were understandably willing to let him go. But the jays didn’t need a warm body at 2B, they needed someone who would excel in at least one aspect of the game: defense, offense, base running. Maicer has given away runs in all 3 aspects. Like the car accident in the other lane, let’s take a look.
When he gets on base (.288 OBP), he’s a station-to-station guy and only Howie Kendrick (LAA) and Jeff Keppinger (CWS) are worse base runners among MLB 2B than Maicer Izturis. He doesn’t steal bases and he’s passive, not taking the extra base when he could. Perhaps it’s a little more revealing than we’d like to admit but here it is: Maicer Izturis (-2.2 BsR) is the Dan Uggla (-2.2 BsR) of American League base running. There, I said it, but all of a sudden I don’t feel well.
Okay, what about his defense? Due to injuries to Brett Lawrie and Jose Reyes he’s spent time at 3B and SS, which is exactly what to expect from a utility guy. However, he’s been a full time player and has spent most of his time patrolling 2B, starting 43 G and playing 55 G total there. Baseball-reference tells me that he’s made 5 errors at 2B and 10 errors overall. This isn’t Tommy Thevenow (1930 Phillies) territory, but it isn’t very good.
It also doesn’t tell us the whole story, either. How do we quantify the balls he gets to but makes no play, the balls he doesn’t get to at all, and the plays he doesn’t make that an average ML 2B would make? That’s where his fielding proficiency, or Fld, over at Fangraphs.com gives us an idea what he’s like.
Rickie Weeks of the Brewers has a poor reputation as a 2B. He has a little pop in his bat, but generally he’s a low-quality player. He’s had some seasons when he’s played (slightly) above average in the field, but generally he’s (well) below average on defense. His career worst Fld mark came in 2012 when he was a -16.7 2B, but he’s had other years of -13.1, -10.1, and he was -9.1 this season before he went down for the rest of the season with a hamstring injury. The Brewers can be thankful for small mercies; the Jays have no such reason for gratitude. Maicer Izturis is a -17.3 defender, far and away the worst figure among 2B in baseball. Kelly Johnson was a -6.9 defender last season (2012).
Part of the difficulty from a fans’ perspective is that there’s no way we could see this coming. He’s never been a great fielder, like Adrian Beltre or Ozzie Smith, but 4 seasons ago he was a 6.9 Fld utility player, and has spent the bulk of his career as a plus defender. His worst seasons have been right around average. Not this season, though, when Mr. Murphy’s been laying down his Law all season.
Offensively, he’s difficult to gauge because he’s such a little guy. He’s listed as 5’8” and 170 lbs, but I think he was measured while standing on a concrete floor in his cleats and holding a bat with a couple of donuts on it. And some baseballs in his pockets. But Jose Altuve is a little guy too, so being little is no excuse. Maicer’s wRC+ is 64 and his wOBA is .269; Altuve is 87 and .298. Maicer has 5 HR to Altuve’s 4, but Altuve squeaks out ahead in overall power (.080 ISO to .079 for Izturis). Altuve is a slightly positive player (1.0 fWAR) on the worst team in MLB since the ’03 Tigers. Izturis is a negative player (-2.2 fWAR) on perhaps the most disappointing team in Toronto Blue Jays’ history.
It’s hard to capture how much the Jays have underperformed this season. Recently Alex Anthopoulos admitted that defense wasn’t made as high a priority as it should have been when he made the deals in the off-season. His perspective has changed now. That’s not all that needs to change. Players like Maicer Izturis must never be allowed to play full time again. Every facet of the game—defense, offense, and pitching—suffers too much when he plays too often.
There are no metrics to show how much poor play affects the pitching staff (confidence, frustration, pitch selection and location, etc.), so I’ve developed my own way to make sense of it. I watched Dave Stieb pitch for the Jays for a lot of years and was always impressed by two things: his talent and his competitive fire. Sometimes he went overboard and let a teammate see and hear his displeasure (occasionally bordering on outrage) when a play that should have been made wasn’t made. If, by some handful of beans or other magic potion, Dave Stieb could be teleported from his prime years to the 2013 Jays, his competitive fire would have been a raging inferno. No amount of cajoling or commanding could have prevented Dave Stieb from venting his spleen at the horrific defense that has been played by the Toronto Blue Jays this season. And Maicer Izturis would have been on the receiving end of Dave Stieb’s displeasure far too often for his own comfort.