Monday, January 24, 2005

Nat of the day, Jan. 24

Terrmel Sledge: Going to build that power?

Name: Terrmel Sledge (no middle name?)
Position: Left field
Age: 28 in March
Height/weight: 6-0, 185
Bats/throws: Left/left
Relevant 2004 statistics: 398 at-bats; .269/.336/.462 batting line; hit .286 after 1-for-34 start; tied Jose Guillen for MLB lead in
most projectiles thrown; made final out ever at Big O.
Garden variety scouting report: "Untapped potential"; learning patience at the plate; tendency to try to pull the ball; decent speed, but doesn't steal; average arm; sometimes positions himself poorly and doesn't always hustle

The Inquirer wants to know:

1. Will he be our left fielder for the next ten years?

Of course not. Sledge will be 28 by Opening Day; he'll enter his decline phase well before that decade's out---if free agency hasn't already taken him away.

2. Right. Well, will he be our left fielder for the next five years?

Quite possibly, although it wouldn't surprise me to see him settle down as a two-thirds time fourth outfielder-type.

Sledge is one of those rare upper echelon (Grades B or A) prospects who doesn't really inspire much passion, either with tools-watchers or with statheads. He's got plenty for both (or all) sides of the issue, combining a decent average/speed combo with a decent walk rate during his minor league career. Put the two together, and you've got some consistently fine minor league on-base percentages.

In fact, I'll be sure to repeat this later---because it's just so ridiculous it deserves a second mention---but the Mariners traded Sledge away immediately after he put up a .458 OBP in 2000 . . . and they got Chris Widger in return! (And Sledge was only one of TWO guys to be traded for Widger!)

Anyway, Sledge has also consistently been a little old for his level, as he is now, in fact; he's on the verge of 28 and is just entering his second big league season---not just full season, that's counting any time he's been on an active MLB roster. In addition, prior to 2003, Sledge's power was slow to develop, leading to
this assessment by scouting savant and apparent cat-lover, John Sickels:

Failed steroid test last year hurt his reputation this spring, but he still hit .356 and won a job. Home run spike in Triple-A had as much to do with thin Pacific Coast League air as anything else. Our Bet: Don't expect big home run numbers, but should hit for average and knock doubles.

Ben Johnson Aspirin aside, it should be noted that apparently Edmonton is one of the
least offensively-exuberant Pacific Coast League parks.

Sledge, apparently (hopefully) clean by now, helped legitimize that power spike by hitting for decent power (.462 SLG; 16 HR, 20 2B, 6 3B in about 400 ABs). And now Sickels is
changing his tune a bit:

He hit .269 with a .336 OBP and .462 SLG in 133 games for the Expos last year. I think he can do better than that; indeed, he is on my list of players to watch very closely in '05. Sledge hit .286/.357/.515 on the road last year, but only .250/.314/.406 at home. Getting out of the Olympic Stadium dungeon should do him a lot of good. We don't know exactly how RFK Stadium will play, of course, but a major improvement in Sledge's numbers is certainly possible.

As Miss Birdie from The Rainmaker would say, "How nice."[Note: I'm not sure about the "dungeon" comment. Olympic Stadium played as a slight hitters' park last year but is traditionally pretty neutral.]

Ultimately, I think Sledge is better than a .270-hitter; I expect him to establish himself somewhere in the .285-range. It's the power that interests me. If you add the inevitable (I think) bump in batting average to, say, a 10-20 point spike in isolated power, and you get a pretty nifty corner outfielder---for a very nifty price, which is nice since Bowden is attracted to overpriced mediocrities like CBS execs are attracted to ugly stand-up comics.

But if the power doesn't come---if last year's nearly 200 points of isolated power was a fluke---then you've got a glorified Derrick May.

3. Why in the world would a team trade away Sledge for Chris Widger?

Beats me.

Terrmel could be a steam train, if he'd just lay down his tracks. If he kicks the habit of not hitting lefties and sheds his skin as a platoon player, he could be useful. Unfortunately, and this can be my testimony, he freely admits he can't catch baseballs.

Gabriel quotations aside, my biggest problem with Sledge is that I have a sneaking suspicion that Frank Robinson's adoration of Sledge is going to lead to the benching or trading of Nick Johnson. I'm just not impressed with the guy, and we should have kept Juan Rivera.
Despite what he says, the record shows that he does catch baseball. Alot of them. Both Diamond-Mind and ZIPS projections, which use play-by-play analysis, rate him as a very good left fielder. He's not an elite defender out there, but he's well above average.
That's good to know. Thanks, Chris.

Just to clarify, these aren't my scouting reports of the players. I've never seen Sledge, for instance, in person. I'm just posting the sort of agreed-upon comments by whatever scouting reports I can find on the web. For Sledge, it was a little more difficult, so I mainly went with the one.
Just checked PECOTA, and it projects Sledge as +1 in LF. They also think Wilkerson's going to regress significantly. Then again, they thought he was going to hit 21 homers last year, so screw 'em.
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