Monday, February 23, 2009

Caustiously Optimistic

As the market collapsed on free agents, most available players found themselves settling for much less than they initially demanded.  After months of attempting to secure a contract with a guaranteed base salary of $7 million, the Twins and Joe Crede have agreed to terms on a one-year, $2.5 million (plus incentives worth up to $7 million).  The Twins proved that in today's economy that if you hold out long enough, the cream may sink to the bottom. 
In spite of his impressive home run total in 2008, Crede is far from a complete hitter.  Last month I forewarned that Crede's home run production should drop precipitously as a direct result of vacating The Cell for The Dome.  Because he will no longer have the benefit of the lauching pad in Chicago, it would stand to reason that Crede's 2008 slugging percentage will take a hit from its .460 mark.  Crede gained several home runs as an extreme flyball hitter in an environment in Chicago that escorted flyballs towards Michigan Avenue.  In fact, among those hitters that have at least 300 plate appearances, Crede was the most prevalent flyball creator:




J. Crede



J. Mathis



K. Millar



M. Thames



C. Pena



Crede's low batting average was in direct correlation to his flyball tendencies.  If he continues this elevated trend, it should be expected that his batting average hoovers around .250 or lower considering the MLB average on flyballs was .223.  Here's something interesting though:  Crede wasn't always a flyball hitter. 






















There may be several reasons behind this dramatic shift.  The first being that his back problems caused him to alter his swing, resulting in an upper-cut swing (as you can deduce from the chart above, Crede saw his line drives decrease significantly in 2007 and 2008 when he spent time on the disabled list).  The second would be a conscious effort to change his swing to accommodate for US Cellular home run friendly environment.  Whatever the reason for this change may be, Crede would stand to benefit more if he reverted back to hitting line drives more consistently,  which should be the first thing Twins instructors work on him with in Ft Myers. 
Some optimists highlight Crede's increased walk rate as an indicator that he has an improved batting eye.  His walk rate jumped from 4.9% in 2006, to 5.6% in an injury-shortened 2007 and finally to a career-high 8.7% in 2008.  There is no real quantifiable explanation for the increase: he actually swung at more pitches outside of the zone than in previous two years (29.2% o-swing).   One possible explanation could be that in 2008 Crede -- whose lineup position was typically eighth for the White Sox -- was often followed by the powerless Juan Uribe, inciting opposing teams to pitch carefully around the home run machine that was Joe Crede.  After all as Crede was slugging .460, Uribe provided the Sox with a listless .386.  Then again, it could be a case of a hitter developing a better batting eye as he matures.  Either way, it was these walks that helped him secure his second-highest seasonal on-base percentage (.318) of his career.  If his walk rate from last year was a one-season wonder and his flyballs continue, expect his OBP to dip again closer to his career OBP of .306. 
According to, Crede was paid $5.1 million in 2008 but was valued at $8.1 million, mostly due to his stalwart defense at third base rather than the power numbers that many focus on.  Crede's contract insulates the Twins from most liabilities, so even if Crede is only able to play 97 games and provide 373 plate appearances while producing similar numbers both at the plate and in the field to 2008, the Twins should get a very good value even if Crede season ends at the All Star break.