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The Plan B Myth: On Mark DeRosa

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The Plan B Myth:  On Mark DeRosa
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It's been noted in traditional media sources, online, blogs, and reader comments on this and other sites that if Matt Holliday is not signed by the St. Louis Cardinals, they will move to their best Plan B: re-signing Mark DeRosa. 

DeRosa is a name that has been bandied around quite a bit in connection with several teams. I have to admit I'm a little stunned by just how interested teams are reported to be in him and at the amount they've been potentially interested in spending on a player who has been mostly a non-impact one for most of his career.

Here's Baseball Prospectus on DeRosa back in 2002: "DeRosa's window of opportunity for a full-time career with the Braves borders on nonexistent." A year later, BP commented this way on DeRosa: "someone who's overqualified to be a reserve and might be just good enough to hold a regular job." 

Coming out of 2004, PECOTA (Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm) said of DeRosa, coming off an injured ACL:  "If he's no longer able to perform spot duty in the middle infield, then he no longer has any business being on a major league roster."

No one ever thought too much of DeRosa. A few years later, something strange happened though, when, as a Cub in 2008, he posted career highs in OBP and SLG. He drew a walk once every 8.6 plate appearances, his best mark in his pro career. DeRosa had career highs in HR and RBI, and stolen bases with six.  

Suddenly, DeRosa's image and stock, were on the rise. But people neglected to keep in mind a lot of what made his 2008 look so good.  

First, he was in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in MLB, Wrigley Field. 

In 132 of his 149 games that season, he hit either sixth, seventh, eighth, or ninth in the order. There was little pressure on him hitting behind Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, a pre-collapse Alfonso Soriano, Jim Edmonds, and Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto.  

It would be easy then to look at DeRosa's somewhat injury-plagued 2009 as an outlier, but the real blip in the radar is his 2008 described above.  

DeRosa became a semi-regular in the majors in 2001. In the nine seasons since then, he has had only four seasons with 350 or more PAs, all from 2006-2009.

Let's look at DeRosa's averages over the past four years, and compare them to his time with the Cubs in 2008 and the Cardinals in part of 2009. While the 2009 sample size is small, I'm comfortable comparing his 262 PA as a Cardinal to his 593 PA as a Cub, just a season removed and in the same division.

Time Span/OBP/SLG/WARP1/PA Per BB/PA Per SO

2006-2009/.347/.421/2.6/11.4/5.4

2008 CHC/.376/.481/4.4/8.6/5.6

2009 STL/.291/.405/0.5/14.6/4.5

The first big things I notice in this numbers are DeRosa's plate appearances per walk and strikeout, and his OBP. In the comfortable position of sitting, most often, in the sixth and seventh position on a Cubs team that led the NL in run production (i.e. under very little pressure), DeRosa was a much more patient hitter, as he could afford to be.

His 8.6 PA per walk is overwhelmingly the best walk rate of his career, and his .376 OBP reflects that. It is his best career OBP. His K rate was right around his average.

The real jump is in SLG: DeRosa's .481 SLG in 2008 is 60 points higher than he has averaged in his other full seasons in the majors.  

So what about 2009 in St. Louis?  That .405 SLG, which is low but has been attributed to his bad wrist, isn't that low.  It's only 16 points off of his average in his four full seasons as a regular. His career SLG is .405, so his .405 SLG last year is exactly equal to his career average. While it's not a power outage, it's what we should expect from DeRosa. 

And while we're on the topic of his wrist being attributed to a decline in power last year, how exactly did it effect his plate discipline?  Year-over-year, he now goes six PAs per walk, but takes one fewer PA between strikeouts. There is no amount of soreness in DeRosa's wrist that should have him walking 70+ percent less frequently. 

A quick look at Fan Graphs tells us that last year DeRosa swung at more pitches out of the strike zone (from 20.9 percent to 23.5 percent) and fewer pitches in the zone (from 66.5 percent to 65.2 percent) over the past year.

DeRosa wasn't in the cozy position of hitting late in the order on the best offense in the league. He was in the pressurized position of being in an often anemic offense that, outside the later addition of Matt Holliday, was Albert (Pujols) and the Seven Dwarfs.  

All-tolled, DeRosa was good for a cumulative WARP1 of 1.5 last year with Cleveland and St. Louis, about a third of his 4.4 WARP1 in 2008 for the Cubs. That's a decline of a very significant amount, but again should not be viewed as, "Boy, Mark DeRosa got a lot worse in 2009."  It should be viewed as, "Mark DeRosa regressed to what we should reasonably expect from Mark DeRosa."

His combined WARP1 of 1.5 is not as far off from his four-year average of 2.6 as his WARP1 of 4.4 was in 2008, and his career average WARP1 is 1.5, exactly what his WARP1 was last year with two teams. Mark DeRosa played to his career averages last year. No more, no less. 

The 85-point dip in OBP from season-to-season and 76-point drop in SLG are not things we should make excuses for, but rather understand as a regression to the norm.

I can understand extending more value in DeRosa in really only two situations. The first would be a team in need of a veteran "clubhouse guy."  

That would be any young team in the midst of rebuilding that lacks good veteran leadership—Baltimore, Kansas City, a few others. Or maybe the Cubs, whose clubhouse has lacked that element since DeRosa left it. 

The second type of team who could use a DeRosa is one that needs both  defensive depth and any right-handed bat. Neither of the above fit the Cardinals.

The only spot for DeRosa defensively, as a Plan B for not re-signing Holliday, would be to plug DeRosa in a corner outfield spot. His offensive production does not make him a suitable candidate as either a LF or RF, especially at the price being rumored as necessary for his services. 

San Francisco has been said to have offered DeRosa two years and $12 million. Given that he can only offer them 1.5 wins above a minor-league callup in a division that will be very hotly contested, that seems like negligence on the part of Giants GM Brian Sabean. The 1.5 wins DeRosa can bring will not make a difference in the NL West any time in the next two years.

If I were Cradinals GM John Mozeliak, I'd be perfectly happy with abandoning my Plan B and let the Giants have him as their Plan A. And I'd move on to better Plan Bs before they are snatched up.

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