The Marlins are planning to send out Matt Dominguez as their primary starter at third base in 2011, but interestingly enough, the Marlins have two interesting players that could be worth taking a look at in Spring Training. Ruben Gotay and Donnie Murphy should be involved in the potential race for the third base position, especially should Dominguez falter. Gotay and Murphy are interesting names because of their minor league performances, but they both have problems that could get in their way towards their goal of making the Opening Day roster and competing for that third base job. Let’s go through some of the good and some of the bad regarding these guys.
The Good: Projections!
I took the average of PECOTA and CAIRO projections to find out what kind of numbers we might expect from either of these players. Here’s what I found for Gotay and Murphy.
I’ll mention once again that here we see two different types of players with drastically different skillsets. Gotay projects as an on-base machine with little else in the way of hitting skills, while Murphy looks like a clone of John Buck playing middle infield and third base. Either way, these players do not look terrible in the least bit, and indeed both project to be better hitters according to these systems than Dominguez does. Of course, this should come as no surprise; both Gotay and Murphy have been career minor leaguers so far in their careers, but they will both be heading into their theoretical peak at age 28, while Dominguez is just getting started at age 21.
Dominguez’s advantage is, of course, with the glove, but do not discount either of these two players. Neither player has looked terrible in terms of their minor league TotalZone (found in each player’s respective Baseball-Reference minor league pages), but neither comes with a good track record on defense. Gotay was never considered a strong defender, but he was never really kept in one position. Murphy recorded good numbers at second base and shortstop, so I figure third base won’t be all that difficult either, but when Murphy was brought up, manager Edwin Rodriguez noted that he was looking for “more offense than defense” from the backup utility position, implying at least that Murphy’s defense was worse than Brian Barden‘s.
The Bad: Uncertainty
As I have mentioned before in this blog, I am concerned about whether Gotay or Murphy can repeat the sort of performance they were putting up in the minors last season in the majors at any capacity. Certainly we would not expect Gotay to walk in 21.3 percent of his plate appearances like he did for the Arizona Diamondbacks Triple-A affiliate in 2009, but how much can we expect the guy to walk? The average .333 projected wOBA comes off a staggeringly high 15.5 percent walk rate for Gotay. Since 2008, only five players have walked at a more frequent rate in the major leagues (Chipper Jones, Jack Cust, Adam Dunn, Lance Berkman, and Albert Pujols), and none of those players profile as the same type of guy Gotay appears to be. While all five players posted at least a .180 ISO over the past three seasons, Gotay projects to be punchless with an ISO of .123. Of the 26 qualifying players since 2008 with an ISO below that mark, the highest walk rate among them was Chone Figgins‘s 12.7 percent mark.
Without going into the Pitch f/x details, I would not doubt that some of that difference in walk rates was batter skill and some of that had to reside in the “risk” a pitcher takes in pitching around the plate to a dangerous power hitter. If Gotay is indeed as popless as this projection appears to show him (and I would not doubt it), then expecting a walk rate as high as the one being projected seems far-fetched, even after adjusting for competition. Gotay’s method for taking walks involves the Luis Castillo / Marco Scutaro technique of not swinging at pitches. He generally made contact when he did swing, but took a lot of strikes before doing so. Attempting this methodology in the majors requires good contact skills; in 2010 Castillo missed on only 5.8 percent of his swings, while Scutaro whiffed on only 5.5 percent. In the minors, Gotay has never gotten a whiff rate of less than 14.4 percent. At that sort of mark, I would imagine pitchers would attempt to throw more strikes at Gotay in order to force him swing and allow him to miss and strikeout before eeking out a walk.
As for Murphy, his problem is a concern I’ve had with all power hitters with high strikeout totals in the minors and little patience. Often times, these players’ skills simply don’t translate well to the majors. In fact, those players generally end up being the definition of Quad-A players, guys who absolutely mash Triple-A pitching but cannot hit major leaguers. Having said that, it seems reasonable that after a few seasons of .290/.340/.530 hitting at the Triple-A level, Murphy should receive an opportunity to swing at major league pitching, even if the likelihood of him being even as useful as John Buck at the plate is small. A .319 wOBA isn’t that far-fetched.
I tried to give both players projections for 550 PA at the major league level; this essentially represents the number of plate appearances I expect Marlins third basemen to get this season batting at the bottom of the order with expectations that they will be rotated more frequently in-season. I cautiously measured both players to be worth -5 runs per season on defense, though I am more confident in Murphy’s abilities in the field. Here’s how they turned out:
Gotay: 550 PA, 1.8 WAR
Murphy: 550 PA, 1.2 WAR
I don’t think either player is more than half a win away from each other, and such a difference would be difficult to ascertain anyway. Nevertheless, if the hitting projections listed above are decent, this is what we might expect. However, I think that Gotay’s plate patience is being overstated, and losing a significant number of those walks would cripple his batting value. Overall, I would consider either player at around 1.2 WAR as a median guess.
If you’ll recall, we had Dominguez at 1.4 WAR in the same number of PA and the assumption of +10 run defense per season. Which one of these three assumptions sound best to me? None of the above really, but if I had to choose one, I would go with the safe route of either Murphy or Gotay and hope either one pans out at the start of the year. The worst that can happen is that the Marlins give Dominguez some time in the minors to delay his service clock and keep him around for an extra year and that the Fish struggle no more offensively than they likely would have if they had played Dominguez. If either Gotay or Murphy show something to start Spring Training, expect them to steal PA early in the season.