On Monday, we checked in on Gaby Sanchez and the Marlins' situation at first base in 2011. While that area was an area of stability between 2010 and 2011, second base was an area of significant change on all fronts. Gone were the days of home run blasting and range-lacking defensive play that highlighted the tenure of Dan Uggla. While few could say that they did not enjoy Uggla's tenure (he was my favorite player on the team for a while), even fewer could argue that the Marlins should have agreed to the contract he eventually signed with the Atlanta Braves.
In the team's failure to sign Uggla to an extension, they acquired another player from the Braves to replace him in Omar Infante. Infante could be seen as the total antithesis of Uggla; his skillset was a completely different beast from his predecessor. However, different does not always mean better, and Infante's game last season certainly had its share of ups and downs that need to be discussed.
|2011 - Omar Infante||148||579||.276||.315||.382||.305||88||2.6||3.4|
*Denotes Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement
** Denotes Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement. Note that in both WAR metrics, a WAR of 2.0 is approximately an average major-league baseball player in a 600-650 PA season.
Looking at that line, one might suspect that there is not a whole lot of good to discuss with regards to Infante. After all, his production at the plate was 12 percent worse than the league average. However, it is important to point out that a good deal of that problem came in the first half of the season, when Infante was mired in an awful slump. In the second half, his bat certainly woke up.
|Before All-Star Break||.259||.304||.314|
|After All-Star Break||.314||.348||.493|
|After All-Star Break, 2011||.314||.348||.493|
|Atlanta Braves, 2008-2010||.309||.353||.411|
The power was up, and that' is certain to regress, but when we look some of the other peripherals, they look very similar.
|After All-Star Break, 2011||11.8||5.1||0.569||.179||.338|
|Atlanta Braves, 2008-2010||12.4||6.5||0.330||.102||.343|
The numbers to focus on are his non-power numbers. His strikeouts remained low all season, so his contact ability has been mostly retained. The difference in his walk rates are significant, but both are around his career numbers. The one striking similarity is in batting average on balls in play; outside from his first half in 2011, during which he hit .274 on balls in play, Infante has successfully reached on 34 percent of his balls in play. While that is an unusually high number, it has occurred over a time span of three seasons and over 1000 PA, meaning there is some significance to it. Sure, we are not likely to see him hit at that level next season. However, this suggests that Infante's second half is more closely associated to his current true talent than his first half, and that his overall season line should trend slightly higher for next year.
Of course, Infante's strength was never his bat, and the Marlins emphasized this when they acquired him; the team wanted his glove at second base a lot more. Infante had not had a full season at one position since 2004, so it must have been a welcoming sight to see him get the nod at second base for the entire season. He responded well by all accounts, earning himself Gold Glove consideration and significant praise from various defensive statistics and the fans voting on the Fans Scouting Report. According to the stats, Infante saved between eight and 16 runs this season with his glove, which would more than make up for his sub-standard batting line. This made up a good deal of his value in terms of both fWAR and rWAR, making him an above average player in spite of his bat.
As some have pointed out prior to the start of this series, just because Infante's hitting in the second half was on fire, it does not mean that his first-half struggles should be ignored and that his overall line can be glossed over. This is especially true when that overall line is so similar to that of his career mark.
The stunning similarity is hard to shake. Despite the stark contrast from his Atlanta Braves days, there remains the possibility that this is quite literally who Infante is. He never played full time with the Braves, which meant that he had ample rest during the season and was not depended upon to play everyday as he was for the Marlins this year. Despite his second-half surge, maybe the explanation of the return to his normal days lies in the rigors of a full season. Perhaps he never had the time to fully regress while in a Braves uniform, but was given enough time to "be himself" with the Fish.
But we already showed that Infante can be a competent ballplayer even with his 2010 batting profile. Why should Marlins fans be concerned that that is who he is as a hitter? Perhaps because his defense is not necessarily a guarantee. Prior to this season, Infante was just an average second baseman according to the defensive statistics. In addition, he had never played a full year, so we did not have any idea what to expect from him. If he is a wizard with the glove at second base, then yes, his career batting line will be enough for the Marlins. However, if it turns out that this was an outlier season defensively, the team will receive significantly less production.
Of course, financially this will hardly make a difference. Unless Infante flops, he will always be worth the value of his contract, as his two-year extension pays him a paltry $4 million a season. That may be worth less than one WAR in the free agent market, meaning the Marlins are basically paying him like a bench player expected to start. Even with average defense and his 2011 batting line, Infante could match that production. The Marlins have quite a deal on their hands.
The second baseman of the future was supposed to be Osvaldo Martinez, but after his poor showing in Triple-A, the Marlins saw fit to deal him in the trade that netted them Ozzie Guillen -- yes, that's right, prospects for a manager. Nevertheless, the team is currently without much of a backup other than utility player Emilio Bonifacio. The team witnessed this lack of depth first-hand last season, as even with Martinez the club could not replicate Infante's performance when he was out with a hand injury.
Fish Stripes readers, what say you regarding Infante's 2011 season? Did you approve? Let us know in the comments.