Mailbag: Gwynn and the Dodgers

Today’s letter comes from Brian C., who writes:

Just read that the Dodgers signed Tony Gwynn Jr. to a contract and it made me barf a bit in my mouth. Your reaction?

Well, that could be a medical condition. You might want to see a doctor.

Oh, the signing… my bad. Of course, why would you be asking me about the barf in your mouth? It’s obvious now; I feel so foolish.

As it happens, I do have some thoughts on Gwynn…

  • You may recall that I hated the trade that sent Jody Gerut to Milwaukee for that son-of-a-hitter:

    My fear is that Kevin Towers either has lost his touch or is acting on orders he’d rather not follow. It’s almost as though the ghost of Johnnie Cochrane is working through him: “If you cannot win, you must acquire a Gwynn.”

    As often was the case when I questioned a Towers trade (see Mark Phillips or Dave Roberts), he was right and I was wrong. Turns out Gerut’s brilliant 2008 campaign was a fluke and Gwynn’s presence did appease a certain segment of the fan base that longed for a connection to better days. I have no head for marketing and completely underestimated the impact that Gwynn would have on those fans. Bringing him here was a savvy business move. And although it is true that such fans will mourn the loss of that connection, it is also true that a statue of Gwynn’s father remains. We are free to enjoy the statue whenever we like. It is beautiful and it doesn’t ground out to second base four times a night.

  • The trouble with Gwynn the Younger is that, except in rare circumstances (say, against a future Hall-of-Fame closer with a postseason berth on the line), he cannot hit big-league pitching. His track record in the minors suggests as much, so such offensive futility should come as no surprise to anyone not blinded by the name on the back of his jersey. It sucks, and it’s a cruel bit of irony that Gwynn can’t hit… but at least he’ll have more of a career than Bobby Bonds Jr. or Pete Rose Jr. ever did. Genes only get a guy so far in life.
  • Speaking of genes, the one thing I will say on Gwynn’s behalf — and I cannot stress this enough — is that he has worked hard to improve his game. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. When I saw him at SDSU, the notion that he might ever achieve any measure of big-league success seemed laughable. But while with the Padres, Gwynn turned himself into a legitimate fourth or fifth outfielder. He learned how to use his speed on the bases, he got better reads in the outfield, and he no longer struggles to reach the infield on the fly with his throws (Mark Simon reminds me that Gwynn made a great throw against the Phillies in 2010, which I distinctly remember because it shocked the bejeezus out of me). Given the right role, Gwynn has a place in the big leagues.
  • The right role is not starting center fielder for the Padres. With the acquisition of Cameron Maybin (and now Reymond Fuentes), as well as the presence of Donavan Tate (to say nothing of Luis Durango, Cedric Hunter, and Blake Tekotte), the team finds itself with multiple short- and long-term options at the position. These guys might not pan out (most probably won’t), but all — with the possible exceptions of Durango and Hunter — have higher upside than Gwynn. Maybin already is Gwynn’s equal as a big-league hitter, and Maybin’s youth and minor-league track record suggest that he is capable of better than what he has shown thus far.
  • Gwynn wasn’t a great fit for a reserve role on the Padres either. Maybin, a reportedly good glove man, reduced the team’s need for the one skill that Gwynn provided. With defense less of a priority, the Padres can employ better offensive players, such as Mike Baxter, Aaron Cunningham, and Chris Denorfia, as backup outfielders.
  • There is talk that the Dodgers could start Gwynn in left field. I hope they do. This would minimize his defensive utility while allowing him to make a boatload of outs and suffocate their lineup. Might I suggest batting him first or second?

Bottom line: I enjoyed watching Gwynn play more than I thought I would. He showed that he belongs in the big leagues in some capacity, which I did not expect. It’s great for him and San Diego that he got to play here. But with his inability to do anything on offense other than foul off pitches and draw the occasional walk, and with more promising long-term options available, Gwynn had become unnecessary. I’m happy that he gets to continue his career, and it doesn’t bother me in the least that he’ll do it with the Dodgers because I don’t think he’ll help them much — especially if they stick him in left field most nights.

Thanks, Brian, for the question. I do love questions…

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13 Responses »

  1. “There is talk that the Dodgers could start Gwynn in left field. I hope they do. This would minimize his defensive utility while allowing him to make a boatload of outs and suffocate their lineup. Might I suggest batting him first or second?”

    I predict a lump of coal in your stocking for this remark, Mr. Young, but I love it anyway!

  2. Maybin is not “Gwynn’s equal as a big-league hitter.” He is CLEARLY his superior, by any conceivable measure.

  3. @The_Slasher14: Eh, they’re pretty close. Career big-league totals to date:

    Gwynn: .244/.323/.314, 75 OPS+
    Maybin: .246/.313/.380, 82 OPS+

    Maybin has shown more power so far, but neither is setting the world on fire. Anyway, I’m hoping that Maybin will turn into Mike Cameron and make the argument academic.

  4. I don’t imagine Maybin will turn into Cameron, for the latter is a pretty good CF for his career. I can see Maybin having an upside of being Victorino.

    Because I like Hensley and any color chart is just cool:

    If Junior manages to get starting gig as LF for the Dodgers, I say good for him and good for the Padres. I’d be surprised if he gets anything close to 400 ABs next year playing for that crowd.
    Good luck, Tony Jr.

  5. @The_Slasher: there are certainly measures out there that peg Gwynn as Maybin’s offensive equal the past two years, and they are some of the best advanced stats around.

    Maybin’s wRC+
    2009: 87
    2010: 85

    Gwynn’s wRC+
    2009: 96
    2010: 78

    Gwynn’s 2010 numbers look abysmal on the surface but he was actually very unlucky with his batting average on balls in play. Using a statistic that regresses batted ball types to produce more of a ‘true-talent’ level gives us this:

    Maybin’s wOBAr:
    2009: .286
    2010: .284

    Gwynn’s wOBAr:
    2009: .330
    2010: .330

    Gwynn kills Maybin in that statistic, putting up a ~league average number while Maybin’s wOBAr numbers from the past two years are nowhere close and a little disconcerting.

    Saying Maybin “…is CLEARLY his superior, by any conceivable measure” is a gross overstatement.

    @Didi: I agree with Victorino being a good comp.

  6. @Didi, @Andrew: I think Maybin might have more power than Victorino, but yeah… if that’s what Maybin becomes, I’ll be plenty happy.

  7. Maybin’s Age:
    2009: 22
    2010: 23

    Gwynn’s Age:
    2009: 26
    2010: 27

    Gwynn at 23:
    .260/.275/.312 50 OPS+

  8. At this point it’s anyone’s guess with Maybin, but I don’t think Cameron as an upside comp is out of the question. Projecting him to develop into a higher level player than Cameron is probably too optimistic though. The fan in me will be disappointed in a Victorino level of play, but the reality of that level of performance would not make me unhappy. :-)

  9. @Steve C: What is the point of bringing up their age in this instance? Of course Maybin is much younger and has a huge edge there but their ages don’t affect how they performed, just how they might in the future. I think we can all agree Maybin’s ceiling is higher than Gwynn’s at this point.

  10. @Pat: I think back to what Mark Kotsay did here, which was not unlike what Victorino is doing now. That doesn’t represent Maybin’s upside, but it strikes me as a fairly reasonable expectation. Granted, there are questions about Maybin that need to be answered; then again, if he didn’t have flaws as a player, the Padres wouldn’t have gotten him for peanuts.

    @Steve C, @Andrew: It is correct that age has no bearing on past performance, but age is part of the larger discussion. The salient point is that regardless of who is the better hitter now (when you’re talking about the difference between, say, Luis Rodriguez and Geoff Blum, who cares?), given Maybin’s youth and minor-league track record, he does have a much higher ceiling… which I think is what you both were saying.

  11. @Andrew: Age does play a role in the discussion; we don’t really care how they performed in 2009 or 2010, it’s in the past. All we really care about now is how they perform in 2011. My point was that there is a much greater chance that a 23-year-old will improve from one season to another more so than a 27-year-old and therefore it’s far more likely that Maybin will improve upon his 2010 numbers where Gwynn will more likely stay the same.

  12. @Steve C: Yep, all are agreed on that point.

  13. 2011 ZiPS OPS+ projection:

    Gwynn: 85
    Maybin: 92

    Would I rather have Maybin than Gwynn for the next several years? Absolutely. But I continue to contend that Gwynn is close offensively right now. I never disagreed, or said otherwise, that Maybin’s age is a huge advantage. What I think is that the huge edge Maybin’s age gives him is diminished when we are only looking at 2011. I’m also trying to show that Gwynn’s 2010 offensive numbers look a lot worse than he actually performed. Does anyone think a projection system would have those two guys that close?