Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Has Scott Sizemore Really Been Freed?

Both I and my Central in Focus colleague have made arguments at various points this spring for why we felt that Scott Sizemore was an inherently better option at second base than the man who won the job out of spring training, Will Rhymes. Our rationals are different in their own nuanced ways, but ultimately boil down to one relatively simple, inalienable fact: Sizemore's skill set simply projects far better over the long-term.

While he was held back to open 2010, likely at least partly due to the broken ankle he suffered in the off season, he heated up through the summer, punishing AAA pitching to the tune of a .850 OPS, eventually earning a September call up. During that final stint Sizemore played in twelve games, hit .308, and launched a pair of home runs en route to a .934 OPS.

A small sample size tease.

While Rhymes deservingly won the job out of spring training, his struggles to open the season - he's posted an OPS of just .553 - in combination with Sizemore once again battering the lesser competition of AAA pitching has brought about the change.

Given his average speed, and propensity for the fly ball, combined with a MiLB strikeout rate approaching 22%, we shouldn't expect Sizemore to be able to maintain a particularly high batting average (something in the .250-.270 range on an annual basis seems appropriate). But he's posted consistently strong walk rates throughout his MiLB career and has plus power for a middle infielder that should translate into 15 or so homeruns per season.

If that skill set can translate into a .260/.350/.440 (.790 OPS) hitter - and there is no reason based on his Minor League track record to assume that it shouldn't - he'd be one of the better hitting second baseman not just in the American League, but all of baseball.

For all the above average offense, Sizemore does have his limitations, particularly on the defensive side of the ball where he's likely to be a consistent -5 UZR/150 type of defender at second base. But when taken as a whole, he still projects to be an above average player. In fact, I project him out as a stunningly similar comp. for current Diamondbacks second baseman, Kelly Johnson.

What remains to be seen is whether or not Tigers Manager Jim Leyland will allow Sizemore the at-bats necessary to work through any growing pains he might endure on that path. Last year the team cut bait on Sizemore after his first 97 at-bats, then shipped him back down to AAA. This year they've demoted Rhymes after just 68.

These sort of reactionary demotions are one of my few legitimate complaints about Leyland. While that sort of quick hook may appease upset fans, it does little to benefit the critical long-term maturation of a players skills at the Major League level - in fact it can significantly hinder them.

If the team is simply bringing up Sizemore in yet another attempt to ride the hot hand (his OPS at Toledo this year is 1.100), I find that to be somewhat disheartening. He's a player worth believing in regardless of what kind of start he gets off to. That was as true in March as it is today. And if he struggles at some point in the future, be it now or two months down the road, it would be nice to see the organization let him work through those. The only way a player develops in this league is to be allowed the opportunity to fail. A lot. You can't solve Major League pitching from the bench or AAA.

Here's to hoping that Sizemore's promotion is less a reaction, and more of a belief.


  1. My gut, after listening to Leyland's remarks last night, says that Leyland wasn't behind this move and that Rhymes is still "his guy." That doesn't bode well for Sizemore. I think this move is reactionary and I worry that if Sizemore doesn't get off to a fast start, his latest "shot" won't last long.

  2. My gut tells me this is reactionary. Although I would say it should have been Sizemore's job to start, I was almost disappointed that Rhymes did not get an adequate sample in the majors just based on principle. He received less than the inadequate amount of time Sizemore received. The reactionary nature of the decision does indicate to me that the decisions makers probably had serious doubts about the decision very early on, possibly even at the moment of the decision.