Saturday, June 22, 2013

Defining Middlebrooks

What is Will Middlebrooks: a major league player or a prospect?  More importantly, why isn't anyone asking this question?

It is assumed that Middlebrooks is the first option, a big leaguer.  Discussion about Middlebrooks and his "recent" struggles are done under the terms that, somehow, Middlebrooks is a semi-veteran player who just needs to stay in lineup until, as I heard on NESN before one game, "his swing comes around".  This discussion is framed around the assumption that Middlebrooks is on the level of veterans like Pedroia or Big Papi, who have produced after periods of struggling at the plate.  

But, if Middlebrooks is actually a prospect, would that change the whole tenor of the discussion around his struggles at the plate?  Perhaps the framing of this discussion should be adjusted. 

To the statsmobile, Batman! 

Here are a couple monthly stat lines for Middlebrooks:

Month #1: .194 BA, .286 OBP, 6 H, 0 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 8 K
Month #2: .194 BA, .223 OBP, 19 H, 4 2B, 6 HR, 12 RBI, 32 K

So, what months did I pull these stats from?  These are reflective of Middlebrooks' "recent" struggles, so both of these months have to be from 2013, right? 

Wrong -- Month #1 is Middlebrooks' stat line from August 2012, before he broke his wrist.  Looking at that stat line, nobody can say that Middlebrooks wasn't struggling then; and he's still struggling now.  Therefore, his struggles are hardly a recent occurrence.  Middlebrooks isn't mired in a slump that he can swing his way out of, something else is going on.  

Month #2, by the way, are Middlebrooks' numbers in April 2013.  If you want to bring his latest numbers into the mix, you'll find that he's batting .138 with a .194 OBP this month.  Since returning from the disabled list, Middlebrooks has managed to drop his batting average from .199 down to .192. 

If a prospect is called up to fill in for an injured player and he catches on fire for a couple months before teams adjust their scouting reports and learn how to pitch against him, is he now a major league player or still a prospect that needs development?  To me, this is a rhetorical question.  Middlebrooks does not have the major league experience under his belt to make the assumption that he'll get out of this slump like any other veteran; he just continues to sink.  
In some small market organizations, letting a prospect struggle at the major league level is part of the development process.  The Royals called up Alex Gordon and let him suck for a couple of seasons before he finally started producing.  The Red Sox, though, spend big money and they have never been apt to give a prospect development time in the starting lineup.  Those players are sent to Portland or Pawtucket and told to keep improving as a player and wait their turn. 

Why is Middlebrooks treated differently?  Why is he this golden boy born as a big leaguer? Why hasn't reality seeped into the conversation about his struggles-cum-development?  And to continue treating Middlebrooks like this when the other option to play third base is hitting over .400 with a 23 game streak of getting on base, and he only has one fielding error at third compared to Middlebrooks' 8 errors?  Honestly, I just don't get it. 

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