December 16, 2005

Tony F'ing Batista

Any optimism I had in regard to the Twins' offseason was ruined yesterday when the team signed Tony Batista to a one-year contract. I have been critical of many Twins trades and signings in the past, but I can't possibly stress just how awful I think signing Batista is. I almost wish I had never disagreed with anything the franchise has ever done before, just so I could save up all of my disapproval for this singular decision.

The move is horrendous on a number of levels, not the least of which is that Batista is simply not a good player. He hits home runs, which is almost certainly why the Twins signed him, but he does nothing else to help a team win games. He strikes out a lot, hits into tons of double plays, has one of the worst approaches you'll ever see a professional hitter bring to the plate, and is not a good defensive player.

In the coming months you're bound to hear a lot about how Batista hit 32 homers in 2004 and is a "proven RBI man" or "much-needed power threat," but all that does is show that the person doing the talking has absolutely no clue about how a lineup scores runs. And sadly, the fact that Terry Ryan chose to sign Batista and presumably hand him an everyday job in 2006 is a major sign that he doesn't have a great grasp on how to build an effective offense either.

Batista will hit 30 homers if given everyday playing time, but he will make so many outs that it won't even matter. While hitting 32 homers in 2004, he posted a ghastly .272 on-base percentage and used up an extraordinary 494 outs in 650 plate appearances. There is a reason he had to find work in Japan in 2005 despite coming off a 32-homer, 110-RBI year, which is that most general managers recognize that no amount of power makes up for a .272 OBP.

There is a fairly well-known stat called Runs Created Per Game that attempts to quantify exactly how many runs a hitter produced for every 27 outs he used up. For instance, in hitting .335/.418/.662 with 46 homers in 2005, Derrek Lee led MLB with 10.02 RC/G. Said another way, a lineup full of nine Derrek Lees would have scored around 10 runs per game. Joe Mauer led the Twins in RC/G this season with 5.94.

The stat also works remarkably well on a team level. In fact, in evaluating the Twins' offense in 2005 it was perfect. As a team, the Twins combined for 4.24 RC/G. Now guess how many actual runs per game the team scored. That's right, 4.24. What does this have to do with Batista? Well, he spent this year playing in Japan (posting a horrible .294 OBP), but during his last two MLB seasons Batista ranked among the worst hitters in all of baseball when it came to RC/G:

2003                 RC/G          2004                 RC/G
Cesar Izturis 2.94 Alex Gonzalez 3.43
Jose Hernandez 3.12 Alex Cintron 3.63
Deivi Cruz 3.17 Eric Hinske 3.83
TONY BATISTA 3.22 Cristian Guzman 3.86
Jack Wilson 3.50 TONY BATISTA 3.88

(Source: Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, which adjusts for ballparks.)

The goal offensively is not to hit homers, but rather to produce runs, and from 2003-2004 Batista was significantly worse at that than the Twins were collectively this year. That's probably hard to fathom if you watched the Twins struggle to score runs this season, but the fact is that the Twins got on base 32.3% of the time in 2005 while Batista got on base just 27.1% of the time from 2003-2004. That's a massive difference, and it's what makes the number of home runs Batista hits nearly meaningless.

You'll also notice above that Batista is the only hitter to crack the top five (or, more accurately, the bottom five) in both seasons, and all but three of the worst RC/G belong to shortstops. Not Batista -- he's a third baseman who the Twins might play at designated hitter. Oh, and remember how poorly Cristian Guzman hit during his final season in Minnesota? Well, he was only about 0.02 runs per game worse than Batista that year (and he was far better than Batista in 2003).

I actually find myself struggling for words to describe just how pathetic this move is, as if every criticism I've ever leveled against the organization in the past was simply me crying wolf. The fact that Batista will hurt the team in 2006 is almost an afterthought, because the much more damning aspect of signing him is that it exposes the organization as completely unable to recognize what leads to scoring runs.

Make no mistake about it, this move is an unqualified disaster. Regardless of what happens between now and Opening Day, this offseason will have been a complete and utter failure if Batista -- perhaps the single worst everyday hitter in baseball during his last two MLB seasons despite all of his home runs and a 32-year-old who got on base at a 29.3% clip in Japan -- receives significant playing time in 2006.

Someone please wake me from this nightmare.

Today at The Hardball Times:
- World Baseball Classic Update (by Craig Burley)
- Wally Pipp: Put Me Back In Coach ... Pretty Please? (by John Brattain)
- Daily Graphing: Orlando Hernandez (by David Appelman)

Pick of the Day (154-130, +$2,285):
Golden State -4 (-110) over Toronto

Saturday's Pick:
Kansas City +3 (-110) over New York

Sunday's Pick:
Seattle -7 (-110) over Tennessee

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