Sunday, January 25, 2009

Crede Considerations.

There are a few points that we should consider when discussing the potential acquisition of Joe Crede.  On the surface, Crede has the makings of a bargain value free agent that the market ignored due to health issues and low on-base percentages.  The Twins are actively in pursuit of Crede, monitoring his workouts in Arizona and negotiating with Scott Boras on the terms of a contract.  Outside of his back and the length of his deal, there are a few other things the front office should review. 
His upper-cut swing has become more prevalent in the past several seasons (53.7% FB% in 2008) at the expense of line drives and grounders. In an environment like Chicago, this plays well.  Flyballs, as we will see, have the tendency to seek over the wall.  Grounders on the grass infield tend to be outs where as in the Metrodome they sneak through the infield and often run gaps.  US Cellular is 330 down the left field line and 375 to the power alley in left-center.  The Metrodome requests an addition 13 feet to clear the fence down the left field foul line (343) and another 10 to reach the power alley (385).  These dimensions at the Dome punish right handed flyball hitters seeking solace of the prevailing winds and rewards a line drive, gap hitter.  Crede still has a solid power swing - most likely will be trading those home runs in Chicago for doubles (or perhaps flyouts) in Minneapolis. 
From March 31st until July 21st in 2008, Crede hit 17 home runs in 312 at bats -- a home run every 18.3 at-bats.  This certainly screams power and by comparison, Justin Morneau, the Twins leading home run slugger, socked 11 in 292 at bats during that same stretch.  Morneau's was a pace of a home run every 26.5 at bats.
Before declaring Crede as the better power-hitter, consider the context.  Morneau played his home games at the Metrodome which favors left-handed batters but in general suppresses runs.  In 81 Dome games, Morneau hit 12 home runs in 301 at bats - pacing for a home run every 25.0 at bats.  Away from the Dome, Morneau played in 82 games and hit 11 home runs in 322 at bats - a slower pace of 29.2 at bats between home runs.  This is a slight difference but balanced for the most part.  Conversely, Crede's power performance was inflated by playing home games at US Cellular.  In 47 games at his home field, Crede hit 11 home runs in 162 at bats - a superhuman pace of a home run every 14.7 at bats.  In 50 games outside of US Cellular, Crede hit just six home runs in 173 at bats - a more earthly home run every 28.8 at bats.  The same is true over the entire duration of his career.  While playing at US Cellular, Crede has hit a home run every 19.3 at bats; away he hits them every 25.5 at bats.  Subtract his former ballpark from the equation and one would expect his home run total to deflate.  
In 2008, 131 home runs were hit at the Dome in 5,283 at bats resulting in an extreme muted home run pace of one every 40.3 at bats.  US Celluler, on the other hand, witnessed 206 home runs in 5,363 at bats resulting in a home run every 26.3 at bats.  Since the Major League average was a home run hit every 34.7 at bats, this means that the Dome suppressed home run totals by 16.1% and US Cellular increased home runs by 31.9%.  The difference between exchanging US Cellular for the Dome would, on average, decrease the home run rate by 34.7%.  Therefore, Crede's home run pace at the Cell of 14.7 HR/AB would drop to 19.8 HR/AB had he spent his season in Minnesota.
Admittedly, this transfer to the Dome with the applied formula above would have cost Crede a measly pair of home runs since his pace was so incredible.  The forgone conclusion here is that Crede is very unlikely to repeat the pace of 14.7 home runs per at bat in 2009 regardless of where he plays.  Assuming that his impressive 14.7 HR/AB regresses to his norm of 19.3 HR/AB in 2009, we can expect that his home run rate will increase to roughly 26.0 HR/AB while playing for the Twins.  On a wag, let us say that Crede gets the exact amount of at bats in 2009 has he did in 2008 due to various ailments and platoon situations.  Instead of the 11 home runs he had in Chicago, six or seven is a more reasonable expectation to hit at the Dome.
This is a roundabout, convoluted way of saying Crede's home run totals will drop in 2009 so the expectation of Crede in a Twins uniform should adjust accordingly.  

Supplanting the platoon of Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris with Joe Crede does not necessarily spell an increase in offense, either.  From June 14th on, after they were anointed the starting third basemen, the Twins duo hit a very respectable .294/.346/.436 (.782 OPS) in 95 games.  Crede, playing in just 97 games, hit .248/.314/.460 (.774 OPS).  With the combination of Buscher/Harris, the Twins would average 5.177 runs per game (according to the Baseball Musings Lineup Analyzer).  Substituting Crede and his 2008 numbers within the Analyzer and we find that the Twins would average only 5.126 runs per game - a 0.051 loss in runs generated per game.  This is far from an upgrade.  The upgrade would come in the form of defense provided. 

Signing Crede should be based upon his defense first and foremost.  When it comes to fielding his position, Joe Crede has been one of the bar none best defenders in the game.  Since 2006, Crede has converted 55 extra outs above what was expected among third basemen.  Last year he made 13 additional outs in 834 innings, fourth best among third basemen.  No platoon combination could replicate the potential glovework that a healthy Crede could supply.  The problem, as Phil Rogers notes in the Chicago Tribune, is how Crede's back will respond to playing on the artificial turf.