Tuesday, December 07, 2004

2005 Dodgers: More Ledee

When I wrote up Ricky Ledee yesterday, I was so busy considering the value of the contract that I neglected to do an analysis by offensive segment. I don't think I'll get around to a full player profile tonight, so I thought I'd give a more in depth look at what to expect offensively from Ledee.

Ledee has, historically, been a moderately low batting average, moderately high secondary average type. Over the course of his career, he was walked frequently, especially over the past three seasons. Earlier in his career when he played for the Yankess, his home run and doubles power were above average, but when he was traded to Cleveland and shortly thereafter Texas his slugging fell off a cliff. During his stay with Philadelphia from 2002-2004, however, he turned up his home run production substantially and maintained average doubles power. Ledee's tendency to strike out has always played a key role in keeping his batting average down and his overall value with it; he's typically struck out at a rate about 20% above league average. Since strikeouts correlate with increased home runs, I like to use a little measuring stick called Batting Average on Balls Out of Play (BABOP) to see how a player's home runs and strike outs balance out. The average major league hitter had a BABOP of .146 in 2004; Ledee's career BABOP is .114, and his BABOP from 2002-2004 is .152, which pretty much tells Ledee's story as an offensive contributor: he didn't hit enough home runs when he was younger to make up for his strike outs, but since he came aboard with Philadelphia his power has kept him above average offensively.

Ledee's history of converting balls in play into hits has been subpar. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was roughly league average in his early years but has dropped to about 10% below league average at the same time that his home run power has gone up over the last three seasons, which is unsurprising since he's probably hitting more high fly balls. His lack of production with San Francisco had a lot to do with low BABIP; his .182 BABIP with the Giants was far, far below league average (.298) even though his line drive rate, a strong indicator of BABIP, was right at league average. This was in stark contrast with his time with Philadelphia in 2004, where his numbers were inflated by an uncharacteristically high BABIP even though his line drive rate was substantially below league average. Using his batted ball types, we could have expected a BABIP of about .290 while with the Giants and .270 with the Phillies, with the result being that his overall production would look like .252/.366/.480 with the Phillies and .189/.267/.226 with the Giants. Now, obviously that's still a terrible job he did with the Giants, mainly because he swung for the fences without making contact quite a bit, finishing with no home runs and a strike out rate almost twice league average. But I can't think of any circumstances where I'd consider his 60 plate appearances with the Giants after being traded a better sample of Ledee's ability to hit home runs and avoid strike outs than the sum total of the last three years.

So what can be expected from Ledee? At age 31, he certainly could be declining, something any projection should account for. But it's also unlikely that his K, BB, and HR numbers will decline much over what they've been in recent years. At Dodger Stadium he'll probably also lose a few hits due to the park, and maybe a few home runs since Philadelphia's been a better home run environment than Dodger Stadium. His ability to draw walks will probably only see marginal decline, and the same is probably true of his ability to avoid strike outs. Given that and that Ledee has hit .236/.336/.437 over the past three seasons, Ledee should probably good for production at a .225/.325/.400 clip over the next two seasons with the Dodgers, which is pretty much exactly average (production-wise) for a player at Dodger Stadium. And yes, average offense over 300-400 plate appearances probably is worth $2.5 million if it can play centerfield.

Now, of course, Ledee won't be hitting in a vacuum, and a couple things need to be considered. First, DePodesta has been somewhat fetishistic in his public statements regarding Ledee, which leads me to believe that there's a solid chance that DePodesta has had advance scouts cover Ledee and perhaps has discussed Ledee with 2004 hitting coach Tim Wallach (who I presume will remain with the organization in 2005) to strategize potential areas for improvement in Ledee's game. That might be a pipe dream, but I find it unlikely that DePodesta would have considered trading for Ledee and eventually signing him without getting adequate scouting on him.

Second, this signing is a bit disconcerting in that Ledee is roughly the same type of hitter as Brian Myrow and Jason Grabowski-- lots of walks and good power, not many singles. As I alluded to in my discussion of Myrow, I think a well constructed bench should, ideally, have both hitters who are capable of getting on base and hitters whose main skill is slapping line drive singles, since there are high-leverage situations (i.e., runner on second) where a .275/.295/.350 may be more valuable than a .220/.335/.380 type of hitter. Hopefully I'll flesh this out more in the player profile I'm planning to post tomorrow, but while I agree that a player like Ledee is likely to be undervalued by the typical fan or GM (although I don't think the Dodgers paid substantially more than he would have eventually gotten), his signing provides a context for the realization that DePodesta might undervalue players who don't draw many walks.

Comments:
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