What to Expect: Miguel Tejada
As we’re almost 24 hours away from pitchers and catchers reporting, let’s get moving with the second installment in the “What to Expect” series, featuring our newest Giant, shortstop Miguel Tejada. Over the last decade, the argument can be made that Tejada has been one of the premier hitting shortstops in baseball. He came up to the bigs as an Athletic and, according to Moneyball, infuriated GM Billy Beane on a regular basis with his lack of plate discipline. After Tejada broke out to become a consistent 30-homer threat at a premium position, he became too expensive for the A’s limited pocketbook and signed on with the Orioles.
In four seasons as an Oriole from 2004-’07, Tejada never posted an OBP lower than .349, and slugged under .498 just once (in his final year). He was then traded to the Astros where he put up two seasons of slightly above-average play at shortstop before he signed with Baltimore before the 2009 season, only to be traded to Padres at the deadline. Now, as a 36 year-old shortstop who’s made a career of staying healthy, he lands on the other side of the Bay in San Francisco, replacing World Series heroes Edgar Renteria and Juan Uribe.
The Giants were leery at offering Renteria anything more than a one-year deal worth $1 million, sans a guarantee to play every day. Their attempts to bring back Juan Uribe went for nought as he now joins the Dodgers. Now, Uribe’s departure has become the catalyst for the Giants bringing Tejada into the fold, filling an opening at a position that frankly our beloved organization is painfully shallow at. While many across the Bay felt betrayed when our incumbent decided he looked better in Dodger blue, there may actually not be too much reason to panic at the prospect.
Bill James projects Uribe to hit .253/.307/.434 next season, numbers that are consistent with his career averages. Tejada, at age 36, projects to hit .279/.324/.415, a decidedly better line than his predecessor. While you can fault Tejada for his dwindling power, as long as he’s making fewer outs and playing passable defense the offense is none the worse. 2-3 years ago, he probably would been asked to hit cleanup in a lineup rotten with Jose Castillos and Brian Bococks. Our present-day squad on the other hand offers Tejada the opportunity to be a role player hitting anywhere from 6th to 8th in the lineup.
There are of course reasons to be concerned in terms of the regression that comes with a player entering their late 30’s. Juan Uribe can be counted on for his statistics next year namely because that’s what he does every year. Tejada’s predictability is based solely on how much he’ll be regressing on a yearly basis. Essentially, someone trying to quantify how he’ll fare in 2010 needs to take into account the decline of skills that accompanies aging. Point in case, Tejada has seen a gradual drop in his ability to hit fastballs*, likely a result of failing bat-speed. Things like this come with the territory when you take out a flier on an older free agent.
That isn’t to say that Tejada isn’t completely capable of outperforming Uribe next season. Rather, it’s warning that regression itself can be unpredictable in that you can never be certain of how much (or how little) a player is going to decline. Riding the good-will of a World Series trophy, I feel inclined to err on the side of optimism in this case. While Tejada’s days as a world-beating 30-home run shortstop are well behind him, a line of .280/.320/.415 seems completely reasonable to expect for 2011. Much of my being alright with this production though is dependent on the rest of the lineup doing their part as well.
Having a shortstop hitting low in the lineup with this amount of production is a luxury that many teams don’t have, as the Giants hope to cash in on the final years of Tejada’s career. The front office could have done much worse, and frankly it was really the only logical move to make in the wake of Uribe skipping town for bluer pastures. In terms of Tejada’s 2011 season, adhere the credo of every Giants fan out there: fear for heartbreak, expect nothing, and hope for the best.
*In 2004, Tejada’s ability to hit fastballs was rated at 18.4 runs above average per Fangraphs. He’s seen a decline in every season since, hitting at 17.8 in 2005, 15.5 in 2004, 4.8 in 2007, and finally his career worst -14.1 in 2010.