Don’t tell anyone, but apparently Emilio Bonifacio has been halfway decent this season. FanGraphs has him at 1.0 WAR this year, most of that value coming from his defensive play (+6 runs so far this year). But don’t knock his hitting, because it has been surprisingly close to acceptable. While I would probably cringe at a .284/.324/.373 slash line, that .320 wOBA in this year’s run environment yields a wRC+ (sort of like OPS+, a measure of wOBA compared to the league average) of 99. That is not a whole lot worse than Chris Coghlan’s .268/.335/.383 slash line and .322 wOBA (remember, wOBA also includes Bonifacio’s 6-for-6 stealing performance).
We’ve all been tricked by a strong run from Bonifacio before, so his performance merits a closer look. Should we be impressed by Bonifacio’s apparently strong 2010 campaign, or was this another mirage like in the beginning of 2009? Furthermore, how well does he have to play offensively and defensively in order for him to remain an effective player?
Let’s take a look at Bonifacio’s four factors from 2009 and 2010.
Again, much of the difference between the observed .320 wOBA and the .309 ffwOBA is probably due to the added runs Bonifacio brought in via his base stealing. The main point to be seen here is that his 2009 and 2010 seasons have only one major difference: BABIP. His walk and strikeout rates are almost identical, even with his 2010 season having about 400 fewer PA. The power difference was pretty miniscule as well, and was unlikely to improve from this bottom-barrel level any time soon. No, if there is value to be had in Bonifacio’s play, it will be in BABIP.
Even with a .349 BABIP, however, he still only reached a .310 wOBA level without baserunning. In fact, with his current 2010 numbers (using career 2B/HR and 3B/HR rates), reaching a .360 BABIP only pulled him up to a .317 wOBA according to the four factors analysis. Let’s leave him at .309, which would be worth about 10 runs worse than average over the course of 600 PA.
Making up for bad hitting
This sort of value means that Bonifacio would need to salvage his value via his baserunning. Before this year, I talked about how Bonifacio could improve on his game, and one of the ways to do that would be to be more careful and/or successful on his base stealing attempts. It seems like he listened, as he has gone 6-for-6 so far this year on steals (though he has also been picked off twice). He has been successful at taking extra bases as well; Baseball Prospectus’ Equivalent Baserunning Runs (EqBRR) stat has him at a total of +4 runs against average for all baserunning events, including steals/pickoffs. If given a full season’s worth of playing time and some improved base stealing, he could turn into a player worth +7-10 runs in a year on the basepaths alone. With that kind of prodigious speed and performance, he could almost cancel out his atrocious hitting.
If Bonifacio runs well enough to cancel out his horrendous bat, his added value would come from defense. Earlier this year, I mentioned that he may be a better choice in the outfield than he would be in the infield, as his speed would allow him to cover excellent ground. It seems like he has taken well to the outfield this year, as UZR has him worth +5 runs out there in just 158 innings of work. Of course, given the extremely small sample, I wouldn’t put too much faith in that number, but it would not surprise me if, getting a chance to play a full season, Bonifacio could put up +5 or so runs defensively in center field. Such a performance would be worth +7 or so runs overall, which would put Bonifacio above average given good baserunning and a .349 BABIP.
Of course, that would all be nice, but I don’t know how likely such a scenario is. The .349 BABIP seems particularly difficult, especially given the unlikely batted ball distribution from this year. That 2010 BABIP is being fueled by an absurd 30% LD%; for comparison, the highest LD% among players with at least 400 PA over the last three seasons is 25.8%, and the highest among players with at least 1000 PA is David Wright’s 24.4%, two equally unlikely results. However, as a reserve who can play a decent outfield and man the infield in a pinch, I guess there are worse options than the speedy Bonifacio.