Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Kalish looks more ready than Reddick

Mike Cameron, as a Red Sox fanbase prone to panic already is aware, will sit out the team's doubleheader on Wednesday against Boston College and Northeastern. Cameron tweaked his groin on Sunday and is going to take things easy for a few days.

That's the adventure that comes with counting on a 37-year-old center fielder. Good health isn't exactly a guarantee.

(This is why the Red Sox were reluctant to commit $15 million a year for four or five years to Jason Bay, who will turn 36 years old in his final season with the Mets should his $17 million option vest. That's another discussion for another time.)

This tweak might be minor, but another injury might not be so minor. There just aren't many outfielders at Cameron's age who can play every day. Only five outfielders last season played more than 140 games at the age of 35 or older:
* Cameron, age 36
* Bobby Abreu, age 35
* Johnny Damon, age 35
* Jermaine Dye, age 35
* Ichiro Suzuki, age 35
* Randy Winn, age 35

Dye is still looking for a job. Damon had to wait until after Valentine's Day to land a job of his own. Winn will be a part-time outfielder with the Yankees. Older outfielders, especially in an era without the fountains of youth the previous era enjoyed, aren't particularly reliable.

Should Cameron go down, the Red Sox have a capable backup in Jeremy Hermida, a corner outfielder who would push Jacoby Ellsbury back to center field. But the Red Sox all of a sudden would be very thin in the outfield, and it might become necessary to call upon almost-ready-for-prime-time prospects Ryan Kalish and/or Josh Reddick, who both will start the season at Triple-A Pawtucket.

How might they fare?

There are ways to project their performance. One such measure is called "Major League Equivalents," a device invented by Bill James in the mid-1980s that can approximate, to a certain degree, what a player might do in the major leagues.

Here's that approximation for Kalish and Reddick:

(MLEs calculated by MinorLeagueSplits.com.)

Ryan Kalish
Single-A (127 plate appearances): .306/.435/.514
Double-A (419 plate appearances): .263/.336/.772
MLE: .216/.270/.337

Josh Reddick
Double-A (274 plate appearances): .273/.349/.522
Triple-A (77 plate appearances): .127/.190/.183
MLE: .111/.165/.167

Keep in mind that the MLEs don't factor in year-to-year improvement. In other words, while Reddick might have been expected to OPS under .400 if he'd played last season in the major leagues, he wouldn't be expected to do so if he plays this season in the major leagues. Consider the final MLE of Dustin Pedroia before he made the leap to the major leagues:

2006 in Triple-A: .294/.385/.454
2006 MLE: .243/.317/.355
2007 in majors: .317/.380/.442

Pedroia came far closer to his actual Triple-A numbers from the previous season than to his major-league equivalent -- in large part because he'd had almost 493 extra plate appearances at Triple-A Pawtucket and almost 100 more in the major leagues to hone his swing.

But the above numbers still do tell you something. What's most interesting is that Kalish -- who hasn't yet played a game at Triple-A -- had better major-league equivalent numbers than Reddick. His advanced plate discipline has quite a bit to do with that. Reddick walked just 35 times in almost 350 plate appearances while Kalish walked 67 times in under 550 plate appearances.

Reddick got a handful of at-bats at Pawtucket last season as well as in the major leagues. He's on the 40-man roster, too. Kalish hasn't yet climbed that rung of the ladder. Should one or both be needed, though, the above MLE numbers indicate that Kalish might be closer to ready than Reddick is.

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