On the occasion of Max Muncy's demotion

By Jason Wojciechowski on June 30, 2015 at 7:55 PM

EDIT: I have learned that my queries in this article aren't really any good. I don't want to get into it, but the short is that they result in a (skewed, though in a way I don't recall) sample rather than anything comprehensive. I still like the Shea Hillenbrand comp, but basically just throw anything I even imply is "analysis" in the garbage.

Sonny Gray got sick and spent last night in the hospital, so he couldn't pitch today as he was scheduled to. The hypothetical man in the A's bullpen is Drew Pomeranz, but he pitched last night, so he was in no position to make a start. Nobody else in the 'pen is a starter, even on a part-time basis. Thus, the A's had to call for help from the minors in the form of Chris Bassitt.

Thus on top of thus, the A's needed to make a 25-man move. One thing they could have done, as suggested by friend-of-the-blog @ThanksBilly on Twitter, was send down Kendall Graveman. He started last night, so they could ship him out, have him miss one turn in the rotation, and bring him back after the requisite ten days in the minors. That's not a bad idea. I like that idea. Graveman's been pitching well, so you'd have to sell him on it, make sure he knows this is an emergency situation and he's on an arm-protection plan anyway (presumably) so the pitches he doesn't throw now, he can throw in September, when the A's have clawed themselves back into the periphery of the Wild Card chase.

But the A's didn't want to do that. Which leaves sending down a position player, because no manager in 2015 can have a short bullpen for a day. Heaven forfend! With Sam Fuld out of options and everybody else on the team at least a part-time starter, that left Max Muncy, who doesn't really have a role at this point anyway. As others have pointed out, he's not going to start vs. RHP over Brett Lawrie because what's the point of having Brett Lawrie if you're going to platoon him? You want his defense in any event. And he's not going to start over Ike Davis or Stephen Vogt at first because he isn't as good as them. And he's not going to platoon with Billy Butler at DH because ... well, that one I don't have a great reason for. Because Butler is making eight figures, I guess, and it'd be kind of embarrassing, even if it's already a little embarrassing for everyone involved that he's got a .259 True Average, a figure that'd be fine out of a second baseman but is very much the opposite of fine for a DH. But that's not going to happen, the platoon-Butler plan, so here we are with Muncy, no playing time, no role. Down he goes!

After Bassitt makes his start, Muncy can't come right back up, and the A's are short on infielders, with four for three spots, and most days all four are in the starting lineup, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Andy Parrino rejoin the 40-man roster at the expense of Arnold Leon or Jake Smolinski or Angel Castro come Wednesday. And if that happens, when does Muncy come back? Maybe after a Ben Zobrist trade, unless the A's get a major leaguer back in that deal? It's entirely possible that Muncy is in Nashville until roster expansion, which means it's entirely possible that the books are more or less closed on his rookie season. (He's not over the 130 at-bat playing time mark for rookies, but he has been on the big-league roster for more than 45 days, so by service time, 2015 spells the end of his rookie status.)

If this season is all she wrote for Muncy, it's not a great season: 88 plate appearances, a 77 OPS+, a 27 percent strikeout rate. We know rookies have ups and downs, but we also know that sometimes we're seeing the truth. The question, then: how often does a player have a poor rookie season, even in very limited time, yet go on to become a productive player? The Baseball Reference Play Index is here to help. I found 64 players who started their career with a sub-80 OPS+ in at least 80 plate appearances, yet went on to have a career of at least 2,000 PA and at least 5 bWAR. Twelve of those players are still active:

Player Positions bWAR
Adrian Beltre 3B 79
Torii Hunter CF/RF 50
Adrian Gonzalez 1B 41
Aramis Ramirez 3B 32
Brandon Phillips 2B 27
Carlos Gomez CF 23
Michael Bourn CF 23
Nelson Cruz COF/DH 19
Miguel Montero C 14
Brian Dozier 2B 13
Alex Avila C 12
Adam Lind 1B 10

The thing to notice about this list is that it has a lot of players who you can forgive being bad hitters. Hunter, Gomez, and Bourn are or were center fielders of some defensive repute; Beltre and Ramirez play the hot corner adroitly; Phillips and Dozier are middle infielders; and Montero and Avila don the tools of idiocy. This leaves Adrian Gonzalez, Nelson Cruz, and Adam Lind as models for Muncy, and even Gonzalez is a much better defender than Muncy is reputed to be (and was in any event a no. 1 overall pick in the draft -- those guys get chances on chances).

Of the other 52 players on the list, here are those with Muncy-like defensive value:

Player Seasons PA bWAR
Paul Konerko 18 9505 28
Aubrey Huff 13 6786 20
Vic Power 12 6459 15
Ollie Brown 13 4012 11
Kevin Young 12 4352 6
Fernando Tatis 14 3468 6
Deron Johnson 17 6619 6
Shea Hillenbrand 7 3816 6
Harry Simpson 9 3138 5

Don't forget: These are the success stories. There are four figures worth of players who had a shitty enough rookie season to qualify for the initial list, and out of all those, the 64 from which the above two lists are culled were the only ones who had a successful career by the arbitrary definition I chose.

But Shea Hillenbrand! Two All-Star Games, nearly $20 million in career earnings, 229th in career hit-by-pitches ... that's a career to aspire to even if, okay, maybe he didn't have the best reputation as a teammate. Still.