Riding with the Wind, ’14: Gunning for League Average

This likely isn’t the first time you’ve read about Ryan Goins.  It isn’t the first time that I’ve written about him, either.  Given his relative lack of familiarity before his call-up last season, a lot of virtual ink is being spilled about him now.  He was unnoticed in the minors because of his offense, which is, of course, why we’re all interested in him now.

Can a team that dreams about contending carry such a black hole on offense?  Of course it can.  Can their dreams be realized?  Of course they can.  But will they?  That remains to be seen.  Ryan Goins is terrible offensively, there’s no two ways about it.  He has no power, he doesn’t walk, he strikes out too often, and, while that means there’s lots of room for improvement, there’s little chance that’ll happen, right?  Maybe, maybe not.

I’m on record as saying that over the course of his career his “output surged beyond the previous lower level almost across the board”.  He does a workman-like job, gets promoted, struggles briefly, and then improves upon his previous level.  I believe this betrays his mindset: it seems as if he’s out to prove people wrong.  I don’t know what kind of things are said to him, but he ain’t a big guy (5′ 10″, 185lbs.) for a pro ball player and, since bigger/stronger/faster prospects are generally favoured, we can make an educated guess.

He also isn’t a little guy who hits for unexpected power (Joe Morgan; Jimmy Wynn, who had one of the best nicknames ever–the ‘Toy Cannon’; etc.), or steals a lot of bases, or bunts well, or anything.  But there’s something tangible–his defense–and something intangible–his desire to prove himself, maybe?–that makes me think he can play at the ML.  But I could be DEAD WRONG.

We need some context, don’t we?  The following table shows how well the average ML 2B fared offensively in 2013.  We also included the averages from the two leagues.

MLB 7.3 16.6 .257 .316 .376 .305 91
AL 7.6 16.2 .260 .320 .377 .308 91
NL 7.0 16.9 .254 .313 .375 .303 90

*Table info courtesy of www.fangraphs.com.

The average 2B in MLB was a below-average offensive contributor which, given the nature and importance of the position, is acceptable to most teams.  After all, not everyone has or can afford a Robinson Cano on the right side of the infield.

Fair enough but where does that leave us?  Well, since there isn’t a lot of data from Ryan Goins’ major league career, we can look for comparisons and contrasts in the careers of others to give us a little bit of perspective.

Ryan Goins isn’t the only middle infielder in baseball history to struggle offensively.  As a matter of fact, it’s almost cliché that middle infielders don’t contribute much with the bat.  Players such as Cano, Roberto Alomar, Jeff Kent, and Joe Morgan are the exception rather than the rule.  Defense is crucial at shortstop and second base.

Knowing this, we took a look at some of the more well-known middle infielders who struggled to produce positively with the bat.  The following table shows how some of these defensively adept/offensively inept middle infielders fared in their first ML season.  Ryan Goins’ 2013 effort in AAA Buffalo is included for perspective.

Goins, AAA 2013 6.9 20.3 .257 .311 .369 .311 90
Mazeroski, PIT 1956 6.5 8.7 .243 .293 .318 .278 67
Belanger, BAL 1968 7.5 21.5 .208 .272 .248 .243 61
Bowa, PHI 1970 3.6 8.3 .250 .277 .303 .262 56
Smith, SDP 1978 7.0 6.4 .258 .311 .312 .288 84
Vizquel, SEA 1989 6.5 9.3 .220 .273 .261 .249 51

*Table info courtesy of www.fangraphs.com.

Here are some remarks from this info and from the broader statistical picture not included in the table:

  • There’s only one 2B in the bunch—Mazeroski—but Goins fits well into both categories, being a converted shortstop;
  • There’s obviously a big leap from AAA to MLB, one that so many players never make, but this offers some context for Goins’ offensive output;
  • Not surprisingly, Ozzie Smith is the class of the field but even his numbers aren’t very impressive, though he played in Jack Murphy Stadium as a rookie;
  • Larry Bowa and Omar Vizquel contributed very little offensively to their teams (PHI and SEA, respectively);
  • Mark Belanger is the only one who debuted with a good team;
  • The group combined to give only 10 seasons of 100 wRC+ (or greater): Ozzie Smith was responsible for seven of those seasons, and Omar Vizuel was responsible for two of them;
  • Ozzie Smith’s first season of 100 wRC+ came in his 8th season in MLB;
  • Ryan Goins’ AAA season is strikingly similar to the 2013 ML average for 2B;
  • Ryan Goins’ AAA season also fits in very well with the debuts of these other middle infielders who were strong defensively/weak offensively.

Can we expect Ryan Goins to reproduce his AAA season from 2013?  I don’t think so.  He’s working diligently with Kevin Seitzer, but it will probably be a longer process than most people are patient enough to bear.  What we’re likely to see is something along the lines of what Larry Bowa and Omar Vizquel gave to their teams.

There is one major difference that needs to be taken into account, though.  The difference is that the Blue Jays’ offense is much more capable of carrying Ryan Goins in 2014 than PHI was of carrying Bowa in 1970 or SEA was of carrying Vizquel in 1989.  The Phillies won 94 games in 1964 and bottomed out at 59 wins in 1972 (Steve Carlton’s 12.5 bWAR season).  Bowa’s rookie season occurred in the midst of that downward trend.  Vizquel’s 1989 Mariners had never enjoyed a winning season since joining MLB with TOR in 1977.

The real problem is whether the Blue Jays’ sketchy starting rotation can afford a black hole in the offense.  His defense will be a boon to the rotation.  However, it’s possible that Toronto gives up runs by the basketful in 2014, though this is arguably the best rotation supported by the greatest depth since Roy Halladay was the ace.

There are so many significant questions about the rotation—injuries, experience, consistency—that it would be foolhardy to expect them to resemble a championship staff.  This consideration, in concert with a run-rich home park (The Rog) in a division skewed heavily toward offensive production, may sound the death knell for the confidence they’ve placed in Ryan Goins.  After all, Stephen Drew is still out there.

I think his skills play at the ML level but, again, I could be dead wrong about this.  The more pertinent question, I think, is ‘if the Jays stumble out of the gate, will Ryan Goins be an early casualty?’ He’s 26 and may never mature offensively, but he may line up very well with the likes of Mazeroski (20), Belanger (24), Bowa (24), and Vizquel (22) over his career.  We dare not hope for him to be as good defensively as he was in his very brief debut, do we?  That’s Ozzie Smith territory and it’s sacred.  And we dare not hope that he’ll continue to improve offensively as the Wizard did, right?  Right…

Wes Kepstro


5 Responses to “Riding with the Wind, ’14: Gunning for League Average”

  1. 1 Smart Fan March 31, 2014 at 9:18 am

    Let him play. Why not

  2. 3 @ALEastbound March 30, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    p.s. I will still take Rogers Hornsby all-time at 2B! 😉

  3. 4 @ALEastbound March 30, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    This is a great write up. I really enjoyed this and another quality piece Wes. What is your gut feeling for Goins? Guys come out of nowhere seemingly all the time (well, not all the time but ya know) and can the Jays just get lucky once at 2b?

    • 5 Wes Kepstro March 30, 2014 at 4:13 pm

      Actually my gut feeling is that he’ll play, based largely on his tendency to improve at the next level throughout his career. It’s not a strong basis to draw a conclusion but I can’t get away from it. We’ll see how it plays out day-to-day, though.

      There are just far too many examples of playoff teams carrying a strong defender with a weak bat to write him off too quickly.

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