To: Edwin Rodriguez, RE: Bonifacio, it's a trap!

Finally, the Marlins have Hanley Ramirez and Mike Stanton in the same lineup and on the same evening; last night’s lineup against Atlanta was the first of its kind since Opening Night. Not only does this obviously improve the Marlins’ chances of winning by getting its best players on the field, but it also avoids the train-wreck known as Emilio Bonifacio being placed in the starting lineup.

We all remember 2009 quite well. Bonifacio enticed us, but as we all now know, it was all part of his evil plan; the truth is that Bonifacio is not a baseball player but a sentient virus looking to implant himself in the starting lineup of the Florida Marlins and feed on plate appearances and the team’s very livelihood. But after the disaster of the 2009 season, Marlins fans everywhere thought they were mostly done seeing “Bonerface” and his offensive black hole of a bat. But it turns out that his 200 plate appearances in 2010, serving mostly as a backup and injury replacement late in the season, were just a portent for things to come in 2011.

Manager Edwin Rodriguez has mentioned his liking of Bonifacio before:

“I would like to put him in the lineup on an everyday basis, somewhere, if it comes to that,” Rodriguez said. “His energy, what he brings to the game. … I like the lineup when he’s in the lineup.”

And indeed he has not backed down from that sentiment. While Stanton sat out with a pulled hamstring for the first week or so of the regular season, Bonifacio started in right field in five of the six games without Stanton, and in the only other game without Stanton, Bonifacio was the third baseman (and committed one ugly error in that game). Meanwhile, Scott Cousins sat on the bench in five of those games despite displaying a strong arm and good defense while he was in the outfield.

We all feel like we’ve been here before. Strip Club with Stanton wonders if Bill Hall wasn’t summoned to do Bonifacio’s bidding, while the guys at Marlins Diehards wouldn’t mind if Bonifacio “accidentally” missed the team bus. With Donnie Murphy not exactly lighting the world on fire either, there is a possibility that we may see more of Bonifacio than we would ever want to see. So I figured that I’d go ahead and cover this topic ahead of time and hopefully address Edwin on the proper course of action. What follows is simple; I want to share with you why even Donnie Murphy is a better option than Emilio Bonifacio. It all comes down to each player’s one tool.

One-toolers

Both Bonifacio and Murphy appear to me to be one-tool players in the traditional “five-tool” scouting terminology. It’s fairly obvious Bonifacio’s tool is speed, while Murphy’s appears to be power based on his minor league track record. In all other aspects of the game, the two players seem to be fairly even. Neither is great at making contact (Murphy has a career 17.6 percent strikeout rate in 2618 PA in the minors, while Bonifacio sports a 18.6 percent minor league mark in 3037 PA) or drawing walks (7.9 percent minor league walk rate for Murphy, 7.5 percent for Bonifacio). Neither has drawn rave reviews for their defense, despite Bonifacio’s speed and their common upbringing as shortstops. Bonifacio is completely powerless, while Murphy isn’t the fastest of players (though he did steal 28 bases in 43 attempts in the minors). I doubt either player has an excellent arm, though Bonifacio’s may be a bit better.

The majority of what they will take to the major leagues is their singular tool. Keep in mind that projection systems did not paint the rosiest of pictures for either player; ZiPS, for example, saw Murphy as a true talent .308 wOBA hitter, while Bonifacio was viewed as a true talent .293 wOBA. Both were bad, but Murphy was seen as a bit better and with a little more upside; PECOTA, for example, saw a close to average hitter in Murphy and a downright terrible hitter in Bonifacio. So if both players are at worst even on talent level, a simple comparison of the upside of their tools could show us how good a given player could be in 2011 and beyond.

Power vs. Speed

This is where the “tools” idea really breaks down. While they are depicted as even in the scale, there is simply no doubting the fact that speed is not close to as valuable as power. There simply are not as many opportunities for succeeding on the bases as there are at the plate; Murphy is likely to get enough plate appearances to improve his power, but Bonifacio’s opportunities to run the bases are mostly dependent on his own terrible on base skill.

We pretty much know the extent of baserunning prowess in baseball today; for the past three seasons, the league leader in Equivalent Baserunning Runs has totaled around 12 to 15 runs above average. The list of those players includes Michael Bourn (league leader in 2009 and 2010), Ichiro Suzuki, and Willy Taveras, three top-notch speedsters. If you assume Bonifacio is as good as those guys at running the basepaths, then the best we can hope for out of Boni on the bases is almost 1.5 wins above average. And that assumes that Bonifacio can muster enough opportunities to match players like Bourn (.330 career OBP), Ichiro (.376), or even Taveras (.320)

Meanwhile, the league average in extra-base hits per hit (essentially the percentage of hits that go for extra bases) in 2010 was 32.6 percent. What kind of an increase in extra-base hits would it take to match that 1.5-win difference that Boni’s baserunning could have? The average extra-base hit was worth about 0.5 runs better than a single, meaning that, without adding any extra hits, Murphy could add half of Bonifacio’s total by going from 33 to 43 percent extra base hits (assuming 150 total hits), a mark 25 players of varying degrees of skill did in 2010.

What are the odds that you would put on either event? I’d give Murphy a better chance of going to 40 percent extra base hits than Bonifacio getting to 1.5 wins above average as a baserunner given his terrible on-base capabilities. Tack on the fact that Murphy may be five to ten runs better already at the plate and the gap begins to grow between the two. That’s why going with Boni over Murphy or many other players on our team is futile and ultimately very bad for the ballclub; his only skill is one that is dependent on his other terrible skills and it is the hardest in which to separate yourself from others.

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Tags: Donnie Murphy Edwin Rodriguez Emilio Bonifacio Miami Marlins

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