Photo courtesy of Associated Press
For the better part of two seasons the Reds’ faithful have been arguing over Chris Heisey‘s birthright of left field. I, too have participated in such conversations. We have talked about he and Jonny Gomes, Fred Lewis, Todd Frazier, Dave Sappelt, Yonder Alonso, and let me think, yeah I think that covers it.
While we have argued the pros and cons of Heisey’s future as the Reds left fielder, we have watched the center fielder ring up the third-highest one season strikeout number of all times.
Drew Stubbs is the starting point for many fan conversations himself. The 6′ 4″ gazelle with his blinding speed and seemingly unlimited range in the outfield, is offensively a Dave Kingman wannabe. He has already surpassed him in terms of strikeouts, but hasn’t risen to the expected level of power yet.
Back to the Heisey-Stubbs comparison, let us start at the dish. Their career batting averages are both pitiful and are within three points of each other, Heisey ahead in that race with a .254 average.
Stubbs leads in OBP at .325 to .316, again, both very close.
Stubbs has only been used as a center fielder while Heisey has played all three outfield positions. There is method to my madness for bringing this up.
Stubbs can’t blame his positioning on his dismal average and strikeout rate. Heisey has some room to use as leverage here. In both corner positions, he is batting below the Mendoza line and only has six home runs in left field and three in right field.
While playing center field however he blossoms into a good, not decent, good offensive machine. In center field he has a career line of .333/.396/.626/1.022 with 11 HR and 23 RBI in only 39 games. You may say that is a small sampling, but I say that is going at nearly a 45 HR rate for a season.
Why am I saying all of this? Perhaps Heisey is cut out to be a center fielder and not a corner man. Let’s face it, when he plays in the middle, you are not giving up a considerable amount defensively.
As you may or may not know, I am not 100 percent sold on sabermetrics. However, a cursory look in that direction for the 2011 season shows us that in center field Heisey had a UZR of -1.5 while surprisingly Stubbs was worse at -2.5. Obviously in that particular metric, both are underwater in terms of what normalcy should be.
If you glance at their range, Heisey wins in the RngR category as well in center field. And again, both are sub par.
If defense is the only thing keeping Heisey from starting in center field, I would like to direct you to 1951 when Ralph Kiner led the National League in homers yet the Pirates lost 112 games. When Kiner asked for more money, Branch Rickey told him, “We finished last with you, we can finish last without you.”
So, what good does it do to trot the fastest man in the National League out every day when his strikeout rate is obscene and his power performance is lacking?
What is my suggestion? One of two avenues, either move Heisey to center field and start Stubbs in left or bench him and start Ryan Ludwick in left instead.
Stubbs’ speed is diminished, if not negated by his anemic OBP and failure as a bunter. Most speedsters can lay down a pretty good bunt. Stubbs looks like a American League middle reliever trying to bunt, or a deer caught in someone’s headlights.
There you have it, the left field quandary can now end, insofar as Heisey is concerned.