Marlins considering going long-term with Infante

In yesterday’s Marlins Daily Report from the Miami Herald, there was apparently sentiment in the front office to extend Marlins second baseman Omar Infante with a multi-year deal. The report gave a small comparison between Infante and the man for whom he was acquired, Dan Uggla. The two have had drastically different seasons and it has been quite a roller coaster for both players, so it would be an interesting exercise to look in hindsight at both players and see how their 2011 seasons turned out compared to their preseason expectations.

Player, 2011 PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA fWAR
Omar Infante 559 .277 .321 .370 .304 1.9
Dan Uggla 604 .233 .307 .456 .329 2.1

The comparison in terms of hitting is no contest; despite a lower batting average and OBP, Uggla has slammed enough homers (this is his fifth season in a row with more than 30 homers) that he was more valuable with the bat. Of course, it should come as no surprise that Infante was more valuable with the glove, and that is likely what is making up the difference between the two players in terms of FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR). Note also that Infante has missed more time with injury than Uggla, meaning he has not been the beneficiary of replacement runs as much as Uggla has.

The questions that may become important for the Marlins if they are planning on moving forward with Infante for the next two or three seasons are whether his offense is indeed at this level or whether it can recover to the level he attained when with the Atlanta Braves and just how good is Infante’s defense at second. Both of these questions will play a major role in determining his future value to the Fish.

Offensive streaking

A popular place to start evaluating the rebirth of Dan Uggla’s 2011 season was when his hit streak began on July 5. Since then, Uggla has hit .319/.395/.633 and looked increasingly like the Uggla of old, outside of the .349 BABIP. Well, since that time Infante has been streaking as well.

Infante PA AVG OBP SLG
Start of Season – Jul 4 358 .252 .295 .308
Jul 5 – Current 206 .319 .362 .476

Of course, anyone can have an extended hot or cold streak, but aside from the increase in power (four homers in 206 PA while he averaged three in that same time period for his career) his numbers are actually pretty similar to those seen in his Atlanta days.

Infante PA AVG OBP SLG
Jul 5 – Current 206 .319 .362 .476
Atlanta, 2008-2010 1083 .309 .353 .411

And that makes even more sense when you take a look at the similarities in terms of peripherals.

Infante K% UIBB% XB/H ISO BABIP
Start of Season – Jul 4 9.0 5.6 0.220 .056 .273
Jul 5 – Current 11.7 5.8 0.492 .157 .348
Atlanta, 2008-2010 12.4 6.2 0.330 .102 .343

The strikeouts regressed a bit, and the power from his most recent run has offset the lack of power earlier in the year, but my point of interest is in that BABIP. The numbers from Atlanta and from the second half are very similar, and I would be willing to bet that next year Infante would be more likely to bat .290/.340/.400 than he is to hit .270/.310/.370 from this year. If that is the case, we may be able to get a hitter that is only a run or two worse than average rather the six runs worse than average that he has been this season.

Gold Glover?

Infante came to the Marlins with a reputation for being a strong glove, but it was difficult to understand where that reputation came from. Prior to his stint with Florida, he was a utility infielder who spent a good deal of time in the outfield as well as at second and third base. Before that, Infante spent seasons with the Detroit Tigers and never made much noise as a quality infielder. Yet this season the Marlins media are dropping words like “Gold Glove” in association with Infante’s defensive play. If we turned to the metrics, they say different things about the quality of his defense at second this season:

UZR DRS TotalZone FRAA
+2 -6 +12 +12

The simpler systems using less granular information agree with the sentiment that Infante has been a Gold Glove defender; Baseball Prospectus has Infante leading all second basemen in FRAA, while TotalZone has him tied for first with Dustin Pedroia. Meanwhile, UZR has him in the middle of the pack at just a tad above average and DRS has him as one of the worst in baseball. Who to believe? Before the season I bought the idea that Infante was an average defender, and none of the scouting reports about him in the past have said otherwise. It could be true that keeping him at one position has helped him improve and become more than just an average defender, but it seems highly unlikely that he would improve so quickly and dramatically. That being said, he has looked better than just average in my viewing of him, so I would be willing to buy him as a true talent +5 run defender in the future, though this is just an estimate based on my limited viewing experience.

What’s a fair price?

What is a fair deal for Infante? Coming into the season, I projected him as a league average player. This season, he has been around league average, with a bit more emphasis on the glove than the bat. Since we regress defense a little more heavily, I would say that 1.7 WAR would be a reasonable estimate without doing the projections math. How much would that be worth in the open market? A season like that would be worth $6.8 million according to last season’s dollar / WAR estimates. An appropriate two-year deal worth $14 million would fit the Marlins’ budget fairly well. It would provide the Marlins a good contributor at a position with uncertainty going into 2012 while not breaking the team’s budget and allowing them to still have room for a major splash in the market like a C.J. Wilson. I would be in support of such a move, and so should other Marlins fans.

Topics: Dan Uggla, Miami Marlins, Omar Infante

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