In God we trust. Everybody else needs data. - Rick Peterson

Tuesday, June 01, 2004


Many Rivas To Cross

I grew up a short distance from the old Met Stadium in Bloomington, MN, so the Twinkies are my #2 team. I try to keep up with them, mostly via Jon Bonnes (the TwinsGeek), Seth Stohs (of Seth Speaks), and Aaron Gleeman.

Both TwinsGeek and Gleeman are rejoicing that the Twins are giving Michael Cuddyer an extended look as second base. As Bonnes and Gleeman have mentioned at every possible opportunity, Rivas has pretty much sucked his entire career to date, but Gardenhire has played him everyday, and has used him extensively at the top of his lineup (about one-half of his PA's have come in either the #1 or #2 positions).

So how bad has Rivas been? First, let's look Rivas's offensive efforts. The table below shows his offensive output for his career:

Luis Rivas Batting Stats – 2000-2004

To put this in context, here are the league average offensive numbers for 2001-2003 for second basemen in the AL, and, for humor, the 2004 Mariners (through the first 50 games):

League Average Offense by AL Second Baseman: 2001-2003 and 2004 Mariners (through the first 50 games)
AL Average Second Baseman – 2001-2003.265.324.394.718
2004 Mariners (first 50 games).261.325.380.706

So we can see that Rivas has consistently been a crappy hitter, even as a second baseman. He hits about like the 2004 Mariners - mediocre average, no power, and little discipline.

But, you ask, doesn't Rivas make up for this with his great glove work and athleticism around second base? To get some grasp of Rivas's defensive prowess (or lack thereof) let's consider his UZR information. UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) determines an individual player's defensive efficiency from the number of plays made by a player and the number of balls hit in that player's portion of the field. UZR then compares that player's defensive efficiency with league average defensive efficiency. The player's defensive efficiency is then converted to runs saved per 162 games, as compared with the league average player at that position. A negative value for runs saved means the player is costing his team runs due to bad defense, as compared with a league average defensive second baseman. As with all data (including scouting reports), UZR has limitations, but UZR is probably the best objective measure of defensive capability. For a more complete explanation of UZR, see these references: What does UZR tell us? Rivas's year by year UZR rankings are below:

YearUZR Runs (per 162 games)

The following site, UZR, 2000-2003, has a weighted average of these UZR data by fielding position, with a minimum requirement of 120 games played at the position. The data are weighted as follows:
    2003: 1.0
    2002: 0.8
    2001: 0.6
    2002: 0.5
With this weighted average, Rivas's UZR score is a stunning -25 runs per 162 games, making him by far the worst defensive second baseman in the rankings. The next worst is Robby Alomar, at -14 runs per 162 games. So Rivas costs a team almost twice as many runs as the second worst defensive second baseman. Rivas has the same relative defensive craptitude as Mo Vaughan, Manny Ramirez, Derek Jeter, Ramon Santiago, and Travis Fryman.

But, you say, he is still only 24 years old, so his peak years are still ahead of him. Allowing for normal progress, shouldn't he project as a solid contributor? Using that approach we would expect to see continuing year-over-year improvement while the player in his early and mid-20's. As the offensive and defensive tables above show, however, Rivas has flatlined since he came into the big leagues. Because Rivas has not matched the normal pattern of progress for prospects since entering the majors, it's risky to assume he will suddenly switch to that pattern. Even so, if he did suddenly begin to follow that path at this point in his career, he probably wouldn't project as any better than average offensively, while still being a major defensive liability.

Rivas's only real asset is his ability to steal bases; in his career he has stolen 63 bases with a 74% success rate, which is probably why the Twins have given him so much time at the top of the order.

This is Rivas's fifth year in the big leagues. (2004 is either his fourth or fifth season of service time, depending on whether his 2000 activity counts as a year of eligibility. I don't know immediately what his status is.) He is on a $1.5 million one-year contract this season, and will probably get a substantial raise over that in arbitration. The Twins, at the least, are hedging against continuing to rely on Rivas. More likely, though, Terry Ryan is considering Cuddyer as a longer term, cheaper solution at second base.

Why am I spending so much time reviewing Rivas? It's because I have a bad feeling about this. Bavasi has gone on record as saying that the he wants the Mariners to get "younger and more athletic". Bavasi loves players who have tools, and disregards performance data that show a player can't do anything with those tools. Speed and stolen bases fit right into the "little ball", "playing the game right" philosophies of the Mariners brain trust. Bavasi does poorly at evaluating defensive values and contributions, as indicated by the mess he made of the Mariners defense and his belief in the defensive worth of similar toolsy players (such as Ramon Santiago). The Mariners Front Office also has a track record of obtaining similar young players whose teams are ready to dump them after losing patience (see Davis, Ben).

Rivas seems to align almost perfectly with Bavasi's preferences and the team's weaknesses in evaluating players. If Bavasi is going to stop signing veteran players and get younger and more athletic on the 25-man roster, Rivas appears to be the type of player Bavasi would want.

Trade speculation involving the Twins and the Mariners has started. There are certainly good fits between the teams, with the Twins glut of good hitting outfielders/corner infielders matching with the Mariners pitching depth. But what if Terry Ryan asks for Bret Boone, and dangles Rivas as part of a package? Might the Mariners be interested in picking up Rivas in a package?

As I said, I've got a bad feeling about this. Instead of riffing Jimmy Cliff in the title, perhaps I should have used some CCR "Bad Moon Rising".

Added Note:

My comments about Rivas are, of course, pure speculation. But with the Mariners emphasis on tools over performance when evaluating young players, Rivas appears to be exactly the type of player connoted by “younger and more athletic”. Astute GMs will use this as an opportunity to relieve themselves of toolsy players who they’ve concluded aren’t ever going to pull it all together.

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