No More Lefty Outfielders?

A quick note from Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times, who’s finally on Twitter:

Colletti rules out signing Johnny Damon. He says he might sign RH bat to platoon in LF with Gibbons; that would also rule out Podsednik.

Not that I ever really expected either signing to happen, but it’s good to finally see a rumor we don’t like being shot down, rather than played up. Right?

The more we hear about the outfield situation, the more it sounds like the hope is that Tony Gwynn can hit enough to carry his excellent glove in CF, pushing Matt Kemp to RF and Andre Ethier to LF. Failing that, it sounds like Jay Gibbons and Xavier Paul are really going to get a shot to battle it out in LF, though that may cause some roster issues.

As for signing a RH bat, we all know the pickings are slim. I’ve made my feelings about Lastings Milledge clear, but I suppose it’s also worth revisiting Scott Hairston. I was lukewarm on him when his name came up in rumors a few weeks ago, mostly because he was atrocious in 2010. That said, Joe Pawlikowski of FanGraphs (and River Ave. Blues) made the case today that Hairston compares favorably to Matt Diaz, whom everyone wanted to see in LF.

Diaz’s draw is obvious, since his value comes on offense. He owns a career .348 wOBA and mashes lefties to the tune of a career .387 wOBA. In three of the last five seasons he has eclipsed a .350 wOBA. Any team that needs to balance their lineup to better match up against lefties will find plenty of use for Diaz. Any of the 29, or maybe 28, teams that missed out on him can find similar value in Hairston.

That’s not to say that Hairston’s bat matches Diaz’s in any way. He has a career .320 wOBA, though he does redeem himself against lefties with a .355 career wOBA. Those numbers, however, don’t come particularly close to Diaz’s. In addition, Diaz has hit righties a bit better in his career, a .312 wOBA to Hairston’s .300. It’s clear, then, why Diaz drew more interest. But as we know, offense doesn’t count for the entirety of a player’s value.

On defense Hairston has been the better player in terms of both UZR and DRS. Since 2004 Hairston has accumulated 14.3 UZR and 26 DRS, while Diaz has been quite average, accumulating 1.6 and 2. Even if we throw out the defensive numbers and go with the eyeball and scout test, Hairston easily grades out as the better defender. Hairston’s defensive value has led to seasons that, in some ways, have been as good as, if not better, than Diaz’s. See the chart below:

This isn’t to say that Hairston is a better choice than Diaz. Given the choice between the two players I would take Diaz. His bat has historically been better, and while both players have had injury problems, Diaz’s haven’t been quite as bad — Hairston has hit the DL every year since 2006. But I don’t think the difference between these two has been reflected in the free agent market. Diaz got plenty of bites and ended with a two-year contract. Hairston has received little interest, and hasn’t been mentioned on MLBTR since December 18.

Teams seeking a right-handed platoon bat who can also serve as a fourth outfielder can find value in Hairston. He’s not a starter, and he’s not going to put on a hitting display, but he can be a solid contributor off the bench to a contending team. I’m a little confused as to why he’s received no attention, while seemingly every team wanted Matt Diaz.

I’m still not completely sold on Hairston, in large part because he was so bad in 2010 that he’d need a big bounceback just to even be decent. Still, I hate the idea of going into the season without at least one more right-handed outfielder, and at this point in the offseason Hairston may even be had on a minor-league deal. If he can be had cheaply, I wouldn’t be against bringing him in.

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  1. [...] then, I’ve been swayed a bit more towards Scott Hairston, who offers plus defense but suffered through an absolutely terrible [...]