By The Numbers: A's Second Baseman In 2011

It will be decision time for the Oakland A's this off-season in regards to their second base position. Mark Ellis has been the team's everyday second baseman since 2002 (save for one season lost to injury). The team holds on option on Ellis for 2011, but should they pick it up? Nathaniel Stoltz examines that question and looks at who could take Ellis' place if the A's let him go.

Mark Ellis' contract expires after 2010, although he has a $6 million club option for 2011. According to Fangraphs' player value metrics, he's only been worth $2 million thus far this season, so the A's exercising that option looks to be far from a slam dunk right now.

Equally important to the decision of whether or not to retain Ellis is who else the A's could use to play second. In this article, I'll take a look at Ellis' likely outlook for 2011, as well as that of six other options in the A's system.

Ellis only has a 710 or higher OPS in one year from 2006-2010. He's a good bet to post a 700 or so mark in that category every year, and he's at 702 this year. However, he's 33 years old, has been through many injuries, and lacks plus speed at this point in his career, making him mainly a singles hitter who lacks the speed to beat many balls out.

Through 2008, he was a phenomenal defender, but he declined badly in 2009, from a +20.6 UZR/150 to just +2.1. That has slipped to -5.3 this year, as Ellis now rates as an average-to-below-average second baseman—again, probably due to his slowing down because of his advancing age and many injuries. Second base certainly takes its toll on players, and Ellis is no exception. A 700 OPS with average-ish defense at second isn't completely without value, but it's hardly ideal as a starter, and it's hardly ideal for a hefty salary.

Steven Tolleson has made some noise in Sacramento, posting a .337/.425/.528 batting line. Like a young Ellis, he's more of a grittily effective player than any sort of top-notch athlete, but you can't deny that sort of production. According to Minor League Splits, Tolleson's statline translates to .285/.356/.435 in the majors, which is miles ahead of where Ellis is this season. He's crushed lefthanders with a 1198 OPS that translates to 996 in the majors, but his line against righties translates to just .259/.339/.361, very Ellis-esque. Tolleson, like Ellis, currently rates as about an average defender at second base.

The A's could also elect to move current utilityman Adam Rosales to second full-time. Rosales has a .279/.328/.415 line this year and offers solid defense at the position. However, he's redundant to Tolleson, as he has an 887 OPS against lefties and just 675 mark against righties. The 27-year-old may be in his first full year of playing time, but he's already in his prime age-wise and isn't likely to get much better. He also had two very poor partial seasons with Cincinnati in 2008-09, so he may regress somewhat.

Ultimately, Rosales would make for a passable second base starter, but he's better off spotting Cliff Pennington against tough lefties and getting utility work all around the diamond. Tying an average player like him to one position detracts from his value, which is that he can be deployed to several positions to help maintain okay-not-great production there.

The question remains: do the A's have anyone who can hit righties and play second? Thankfully, the other four options all hit either lefty or switch, so automatically, there are platoon possibilities.

We'll start with Eric Sogard, acquired with Kevin Kouzmanoff in the Scott Hairston/Aaron Cunningham deal in the offseason. Sogard arrived with a reputation as a hard worker with a discerning eye at the plate and an ability to hit for average, and he's lived up to his billing.

At 24, he's younger than Ellis, Tolleson or Rosales by a few years, so he's got more room to refine his full potential. It doesn't seem like he needs to refine it much to be viable in the majors, though, as he's hit .303/.383/.378 with a sparkling 35/42 K/BB ratio for Sacramento this season.

His major league translations aren't kind, putting Sogard at just .260/.323/.311 overall and .278/.322/.343 against righties. Still, he has room to improve, and that .322 OBP against righties looks like an odd projection for Sogard given the .278 average. I think that he can post at least a .350 OBP if he can manage the .278 average that Minor League Splits suggests. Sogard is also a plus second baseman and offers a little bit of base-stealing ability.

Speaking of base-stealing ability, Corey Wimberly has plenty of it. Wimberly has 34 steals this year and is one of the fastest men in the minors. The switch-hitting 26-year-old is hitting .274/.354/.333 overall, including .283/.363/.350 against righties.

His major league translation is just .233/.297/.274 overall and .237/.302/.279 against righties. I think Wimberly could beat that, but his lack of power means that pitchers will challenge him in the majors, leading to fewer walks. Like Sogard, he'll have to prove he can hit for average in the majors. Wimberly is probably best-suited to be a pinch-runner extraordinaire while playing just about everywhere on the field. He and Rosales could be two very nifty utility backups, but Sogard and Tolleson are better choices for everyday work at second.

I'd be remiss if I didn't examine Jemile Weeks, the former first-round pick who hit .304/.368/.490 in Double-A before getting hurt. Currently rehabbing, he should get some more work in at Midland late this year.

Weeks, 23, is a switch-hitter, as well. His major league translation line--.238/.289/.352—paints him as unready for the majors, which is true, but that applies to most anyone in Double-A. He doesn't have platoon issues and is a decent defender at second, so he has the ability to eventually seize the everyday job from whoever emerges from the five players I've mentioned. That won't happen in early 2011, though, nor should it.

Finally, there's another Double-A player, Adrian Cardenas, who continues to see spot work at second in addition to playing third base. Cardenas, 22, is the youngest of the seven players I've examined today, although it seems like he's been struggling with Triple-A forever. His ineptitude at that level (.228/.285/.281 this year) knocked the former Phillies prospect down to Midland, where he's crushed the ball at a .370/.457/.533 clip.

His Midland line (.407/.506/.522) against righties actually translates to .311/.388/.392 in the majors, which suggests he could actually outplay Sogard as a platoon second baseman next year. But there's a lot wrong with that. First of all, Cardenas is a worse defender at second than Sogard, which is why he was moved to third in the first place. Second, his issues in Triple-A are a huge red flag: he has to solve that level before he can be thought of as a major leaguer in a non-emergency situation. Finally, it's counterproductive to rush a top prospect to the majors and always sit him against lefties.

It looks like Oakland's best course of action for 2011 is to buy-out Ellis for $500,000 and install a Sogard/Tolleson platoon, with Wimberly and Rosales around if that fails and Weeks and Cardenas in Triple-A.

To read more from Nathaniel, visit his blog at The Bleacher Report and chickenfriars.com.


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