Throw It Like a Ballplayer

providing baseball commentary and ponderings since April 2010

Demote Tyler Colvin

Posted by dannmckeegan on May 16, 2010

With the team’s early struggles leading to a sub-.500 record, the specter of a losing season in spite of the team’s unwieldy payroll looms.  The reassignment of Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen and the slow starts of both Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee have soured many fans on the team as a whole, especially the tenured veterans who were part of the 2007 and 2008 playoff rosters.

That’s why it is time that the Cubs send Tyler Colvin down to Iowa.

Second Verse, Same as the First

In large part the fans’ reactions to the start of this season resemble those of the last.  When Derrek Lee struggled out of the gate in 2009, many fans and writers were loud in their desire to see Micah Hoffpauir play every day.  This was an overreaction.  By year’s end, Lee had put together one of the best years of his career, while Hoffpauir proved to be an adequate reserve, but nothing more.

This year, the object of fans’ affection is rookie outfielder Tyler Colvin.  He has displayed decent power, a patience that has been better than expected, and good defensive skills.  He has played in 30 of the 37 Cubs games so far.  However, he has only started 10 of the 30 games in which he has appeared.  Of his 60 plate appearances, 44 have come in those 10 starts.  He has pinch-hit 6 times, pinch-run 3 times, and entered as a defensive replacement on 11 occasions.

The X Factor

Compare Colvin to Xavier Nady, who has appeared in only 25 games but has 59 plate appearances.  He has made 12 starts (11 in the outfield), completing only 6, and 12 pinch hit appearances.

For our baseline, we see that starters Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd, and Kosuke Fukudome have been in 34, 36 and 36 games respectively, making 32, 34 and 24 starts.  Xavier Nady, not Tyler Colvin, has been the Cubs’ fourth outfielder.  Nady, a proven hitter, amassed a .305/.357/.510 line with 25 HR and a .374 wOBA (weighted on-base average, a saber-stat combining on-base and slugging) in 2008, his last full season.  Like Carlos Silva, his 2009 was negated by injury.

An Embarrassment of Riches

Colvin’s inclusion was predicated on the assumption that Alfonso Soriano and Marlon Byrd would not be all that good.  Soriano would rebound a bit, but still be a shell of his former self.  Byrd would hopefully provide respectable numbers in the middle of the order.  Colvin, meanwhile, could pick up a start in LF and in CF each week.  These best-laid plans have been blown up by early starter production.

Certainly both Byrd and Soriano are going to cool down.  Despite having drawn only 3 walks all year, Byrd has an OBP around .370, a BABIP of .360, and is otherwise massively over-performing in almost every production stat without changing much of his event stats (swings, type of contact%, etc.).  Soriano is an entirely different case.  His event stats are entirely out of whack: he’s not hitting ground balls, he’s swinging less, he’s making more contact, and he’s killing both sliders and curveballs when he does swing at them.  He subsequently is finding great success.  There is a question of how much of this is attributable to a new approach, and how much belongs simply to the trademark hot streak he’s recently gone through.

What a GM Wants; What a Player Needs

In any case, the Cubs would be foolish not to ride their outfield’s success while they can.  But this leaves them in a dilemma with Colvin.  He certainly looks talented enough to be a regular in the future, but he is not likely to benefit from pinch hit duty and sporadic starts.  Tyler Colvin needs regular starts and regular plate appearances.  He cannot get those with the Chicago Cubs.  The Cubs, meanwhile, need a fifth outfielder who can make the most of sporadic playing time, defensive assignments, and pinch-running duties.  They shouldn’t waste Tyler Colvin in this role.

The best solution to the first problem is to send Tyler Colvin to Iowa until such time as he can play every day, or at least three to four times per week, with the big club.  This, of course, opens up a spot on the roster.  Rather than playing around with the 40-man roster, the Cubs should recall Sam Fuld to be the team’s fifth outfielder and 25th man.

Colvin can play every day at Iowa, while Fuld is the perfect fifth outfielder.  With a .276 avg., .a 790 OPS without benefit of a homer, and only 4 strikeouts against 13 walks in 71 plate appearances, he is a left-handed bat and a patient hitter who can provide a spot start at the top of the lineup.

It’s time to reward Tyler Colvin’s strong start with a demotion to Iowa.  It’s the only logical thing today for the time being.  The pieces holding him out of the lineup – Fukudome and Nady – can’t be traded right now for good value.  Give him the reps he needs without screwing up what little good the 15-22 Cubs have going for them.  It’s the right long-term move.  And if the Cubs are going to need a youth movement in the near future, then thinking long-term is the way to go.

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