Sunday, March 20, 2011

Who Is Brad Emaus, and Why I Hope He Didn't Unpack His Bags

According to the esteemed Andy McCullough over at the Star-Ledger, it appears to him that Brad Emaus has emerged as the favorite in the Mets' second base competition. McCullough explained, "He fits the “Moneyball” caricature: a better hitter than fielder, a player who draws walks and sees a lot of pitches, a player with deceptive power. One league executive called Emaus a “statistical-analysis kind of player” who fits what “those guys would be looking for.""

I'll admit, when I first heard the Mets had acquired Emaus, I had a similar reaction. All I knew at the time was that Emaus was 24, had put up a good season in Triple-A, and was a welcome addition to our second base competition. The fact that JP Ricciardi had some familiarity with him, and therefore must have endorsed his acquisition, made me optimistic about it.

Adding to Emaus' status as my early favorite for the job was the fact that the Mets had acquired him in the Rule 5 draft this winter - meaning that if he did not remain on the major league roster all season, the Mets would have to offer him back to the Blue Jays. Some of you may remember my take on this issue in the last two offseasons[1] ... I am inclined to keep as much talent in the organization as possible. Keep everybody! We'll sort it out later.

For those reasons, I was pulling for Emaus early. However, drilling a little deeper into Emaus' performance over the last few years draws out a few additional warning signs. So many, in fact, that I believe at this point that the starting job should go to Daniel Murphy or Justin Turner, and to do so SOON, while there is a lot of spring training remaining.

First of all, according to all scouting sources I've seen, Emaus is a capable but unimpressive defender at second base (here, and here because I am lazy right now). Not that he'd need to be a superlative defensive second baseman to impress me, but if the defense is unimpressive, it really makes this next flaw much, much more important.

Offense. This is really what it comes down to with Emaus. Since nobody expects him to light the world on fire defensively, he's going to have to hit to be a better option than Daniel Murphy or Justin Turner at the keystone. Unfortunately, Emaus' impressive minor league statistics are beginning to look more like the product of a favorable minor league environment than anything else.

Emaus played second at Toronto's Triple-A affiliate Las Vegas last season. While there, he posted a line of .298/.395/.495 with a 50-50 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He also hit 10 home runs over 309 at-bats. Impressive numbers on the surface, but when viewed against the league as a whole, as well as his home-road splits, you see there is a high probability that Emaus may have been more than a little lucky.

MetsMinorLeagueBlog has done a great job at explaining why Emaus will probably struggle at the major league level, but here is the crux of it: if you translate his Triple-A performance from last year to a major league one at Citifield, you are looking at a batting line of .229/.311/.369. Let that sink in for a moment.

My favorite projection system, ZiPS, does not like Emaus either. ZiPS sees Emaus hitting .240/.315/.357 if given playing time in the majors this year.

Between that and his tepid spring training performance (.226/.333/.290 in 31 PA) it's beginning to look like Emaus is not going to hit enough to justify keeping him on the roster at the expense of another player simply because he was a Rule 5 acquisition.

With that in mind, it is probably better that the Mets offer Emaus back to Toronto sooner rather than later. Perhaps they simply get more innings in the field for Daniel Murphy and Justin Turner, or perhaps they can work out a trade with Toronto which would allow them to option Emaus to Triple-A. Either way, they did the right thing by cutting Castillo and should make the right move with Emaus soon.

[1] In 2009, I advocated keeping Darren O'Day on the major league roster over Elmer Dessens and Bobby Parnell. O'Day, as you know, has subsequently emerged as one of the best relief pitchers in all of baseball, posting a 1.94 ERA in 2009 and a 2.03 ERA in 2010.

In 2010, I advocated the Mets demote Fonzie favorite Jon Niese so that they could keep Nelson Figueroa on the roster. Nelson, as you know, has a 3.84 ERA over his last 200 major league innings, including a 3.29 ERA in 93 innings last year along with a 1.27 WHIP.

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