Sunday, November 13, 2011

What does Jamey Carroll provide for the Twins?

Without much time to get re-acclimated to his new-slash-old position, general manager Terry Ryan addressed a critical need for the team. Yes, it isn’t as a sexy move similar to the one that brought JJ Hardy to the Twins two years ago at this time but the pending signing of Jamey Carroll is a step in the right direction.

Carroll, a soon-to-be 38-year-old utility infielder, is not an appetizing addition at first blush. He has little power, little range and little experience as a full-time player. What he does offer is unparalleled patience at the plate and sure-handedness in the field. It is only after you inspect his track record and his skill set that you should recognize that he is what the Twins need for 2012 and quite possibly the most cost-effective way of filling that need.

Defensively, he has seen a sharp decline in the amount balls he can get to. Carroll stepped into the shortstop role on a more regular basis with the Dodgers the past two seasons when Rafael Furcal was sidelined. His play has been described as solid and able to convert plays within the typical zone but because of his advanced age, he lacks the coverage to make plays on those borderline grounders (something that Hardy excelled at). By’s fielding metrics, among those shortstops with 1000 innings the past two seasons, Carroll registered 46 plays made out of the zone. Only the aged Orlando Cabrera and Edgar Renteria made fewer out-of-zone plays. Of course, compared to the flotsam that was trotted out to short last year (see: Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Trevor Plouffe, et al), Carroll’s ability to convert on the simple plays should be somewhat of a boon to the Twins starting rotation – one that had a groundball-heavy tendency last season (45.3% ground ball rate).

Offensively, Carroll is the epitome of a scrappy hitter, making him what has recently become the expected archetypical Twins addition. Without much power to speak of, he exercises an extremely selective approach at the plate, swinging at just 35.4% of those thrown his direction since 2009 – a lower rate than everyone else besides Bobby Abreu and Brett Gardner. For people who grew tired of Joe Mauer watching far too many first-pitch strikes sail by, Carroll will give you more fits. Last season he swung at just 8% of first pitch offerings, tying him for the lowest amount of times he took the bat off of his shoulder with former Twin, JJ Hardy.

For the most part this technique has served him well. In the on-base percentage department, Carroll has been able to coax a high percentage of walks. His 10.5% walk rate is the sixth highest among second basemen and the highest among shortstops over the past three seasons. Because of this, Carroll has amassed a .364 on-base percentage since 2009, trailing only Ben Zobrist, Dustin Pedroia and Chase Utley in that department. To put that in perspective, among Twins players only Joe Mauer, Jim Thome and Justin Morneau were able to put up a higher on-base percentage that Carroll in that span.

Needless to say, Carroll makes pitchers grind through at-bats - his 4.27 pitches-per-plate appearance last season was the sixth-highest in baseball – yet there are signs that while his patience equals a walk it may also be costing him some run production at the same time.

Over the past three seasons, Carroll has come to the plate with runners on base 513 times and he’s managed to drive in just 64 runners – the lowest amount among those with 500 or more plate appearances with runners on base. Without any power to speak of – his .314 slugging percentage is the lowest in that group as well – he is forced to rely on his superior trait, patience. This has led to instances of him attempting to extend the inning by walking (a good thing, to be sure) but unable to bring home any of those runners on his own (questionable).

So he doesn’t drive runners but that’s not what the Twins are signing him up to do. He’s there to extend innings and wear pitchers out.

As mentioned above, Carroll has very little power to speak of. His isolated power number of .056, a measurement that shows how adept a hitter is at extra base hits, has been the seventh-lowest in baseball since 2009. His approach is that of a slasher, a hitter who goes to the opposite field and up the middle. Last year, almost 80% of his hits came when going that direction as you can see the cluster of his hits falling in center or right field:

The “taking-it-the-other-way” approach is one that the Twins organization has encouraged for years and, although it has occasionally kept players from realizing their full potential in Minnesota, in Carroll’s case he has been born and bred for that. At times he will dive over the plate to drive the ball on the outer-half to right and on others he will inside-out a pitch on his hands. Here are a handful of his swings that exemplify that style:

The biggest question that has been circulating is why would the Twins commit so much of their very finite payroll room in 2012 towards Carroll? The Star Tribune highlighted the details of the forthcoming deal:
 “Carroll's contract is for two years and $6.75 million guaranteed. It includes a $250,000 buyout and an option for 2014 that becomes effective if Carroll gets more than 400 at-bats. If he passes that threshold, he can accept $2 million and play for the Twins in 2014 or turn it down and become a free agent.
While the $3.37 million per year may seem absurd, particularly when you consider he has never made more than $2.5 million a season and is closing in on 40 years old, according to’s player valuation system, Carroll has provided at least twice that amount of value in each season since 2007. Last season, he gave the Dodgers $9.8 million in value. Without question, Carroll - even if his role is just that of a utility safety net - should be able to at least match his contractual value in a limited role.  

In the end, Carroll’s signing is a stabilizing signing. The Twins were hemorrhaging last year in production from the shortstop position and he has been a constant at both second and short for the Dodgers these past two years. He could very well wind up fulfilling the Matt Tolbert role on the team while challenging the middle infield incumbents to improve or move aside this spring. If injuries crop up, he is a sound player to replace someone for an extended period of time rather than inserting someone not prepared for the job.