There has been a lot of interesting talk of late about Jeff Keppinger and his correct role with the Reds.

But after reading Paul Daughterty‘s column in today’s Enquirer, where he talks about Keppinger’s intangibles (as used by the ole time baseball guys) and how he should getting playing time in front of EE and possibly Dunn, I felt that Keppinger’s great start needed to be put in some context.

Mike Howes had a nice post over on the Reds Listserv List concerning this subject, and, with Mike’s permission and a little editing (also with Mike’s permission), here it is.

There has been much written and discussed of late concerning Jeff Keppinger and his great start with the Reds since being called up from Louisville. But let’s try to put this in perspective.

Here are the only Reds with 100-250 PAs with an OPS+ of 100 or better for one season

158 Jon Nunnally 1997 (231 PA)
144 Jeff Keppinger 2007 (124 PA)
140 Ken Griffey Jr 2003 (201 PA)
128 Chris Stynes 1997 (215 PA)
126 Mike Kelly 1997 (151 PA)
107 Brady Clark 2001 (157 PA)
104 Kelly Stinnett 2001 (211 PA)
101 Ryan Freel 2003 (153 PA)
101 Jeff Hammonds 1998 (103 PA)

This is a stunning list and here is why I think it’s stunning. There are a number of common elements to most of these players.

First, lets weed out two of the above for obvious reasons.

Jr. is a superstar who got hurt and Stinnett was a backup catcher who had a good season as a backup catcher.
Actually, he had a great season as a backup catcher.

The remaining players have some things in common.

They almost all got to the big leagues late, meaning they were hitting their peak offensive years immediately upon getting to the big leagues.

Other than Stynes, the rest had the above seasons between the ages of 25-28 and almost all never became regulars and had short careers.

Jon Nunnally had about 400 PA over 2.5 seasons before becoming a Red. With Cincinnati, he turned 25 and had his career best 200 PA (158 OPS+). He got roughly 250 more PA over the next 3 seasons and was out of baseball by age 29.

Chris Stynes was a bit different. He was younger when he got to the big leagues, at age 24. I think the age is key. He did have a major league career. Not a great one, he was a platoon player for 2000 PA over the next 7 seasons. But that’s because there is a MASSIVE difference between putting up these sorts of numbers at age 24 and at age 27.

Mike Kelly had about 200 PA over 3 seasons before coming to the Reds at age 26. At age 27, he had an outstanding 73 games (126 OPS+). He got about 280 PA over 2 more seasons and was basically out of baseball by age 29, though he did come back and play AAA ball when he was 33 and 34.

Brady Clark was a rookie at age 28 when he had his career 200 PA (107 OPS+) with the Reds. He did have 2 good years with the Brew Crew a couple years later but quickly went down hill thereafter.

Ryan Freel was essentially a rookie in 2003 at age 27. He had his career 200 PA (101 OPS+) and basically replicated that in the following year. But he has been on a very fast decline since, though because he used to get on base and could play multiple positions, he was useful for 2-3 years.

But after his career 200 PA this has been his trajectory:

101 2003
101 2004
92 2005
90 2006
66 2007

Jeffrey Hammonds was a failed prospect who was called up to the majors too soon. He’s also different in that he had 1350 ML ABs before coming to the Reds and then having his career 200 PA (101 OPS+). He had had some other average partial seasons with Baltimore but despite playing parts of 13 seasons he only reached 500 PA in a seasons twice and his last productive year was at age 29.

Nunnally, Keppinger, Kelly, Clark, Freel, are basically all the same player.

If you are LUCKY you get 1 or 2 good years out of them, but they really they are not that rare, their careers will be extremely short and usually below average. They should never play regularly over a true young prospect that has a much higher upside.

21 Responses

  1. Jeff Gentil

    Excellent stuff! I like Keppinger, but he CANNOT play in front of EE and although he’s doing an admirable job at SS, he can’t play there long term either. I have said it all along that people are getting wrapped up in Kepp like they did with Stynes and Nunally. I like how he makes contact and is a high baseball IQ guy, but I’m guessing he’s with his fourth team for a reason. Let this play out over time and you might see why.

  2. al

    if your point is about small sample size, then you should go back to minor league numbers, not just compare a bunch of other small sample size numbers.

    kepp’s hit .320/.373/.419 in the minors, so he’s always been a high average, good obp guy with not much power. power does develop as players get older, so some of what we’re seeing may be real, but his power is likely to fall off some. and he’s not going to hit .380, because few people ever do.

    but i don’t get why people here are so quick to write him off. he clearly has gotten big hits, and all of the managers and coaches he’s played for really like him. is it so bad to have a shortstop with a .370 obp? or a 3b for that matter. ede’s minor league numbers at the plate (.291/.352/.451) hardly put kepp to shame.

    all i’m saying is that i’m not hoping or betting that kepp actually sucks. he may, and this may be a total fluke, but there are some reasons to think that it might not be. does it make you better than jerry narron to stick have kepp on the bench instead of ede? what’s the difference.

    people decided that ede was a prospect and kepp wasn’t, but why? where’s the evidence? it’s not like prospects are sure things anyway, i say play the guy that helps you win.

  3. Daedalus

    Paul Daugherty does not understand baseball. He is a loudmouthed, ignorant person who unfortunately came up with the money to get a journalism degree. Rumor is that most of the Reds organization can’t stand the guy, and I loved it when Wayne told him to his face that he didn’t understand baseball. Daugherty writes what he hears from the mouths of ignorant fans who use small sample sizes to make up their minds about whether a player is “good” or not.

  4. Jeff Gentil

    My main problem is people want him to immediately play over Gonzalez or EE because he’s had a good month. He’s not going to play SS over the long haul. And I am sorry, I cannot give up on EE who will still only be 25 next year with the potential to hit in the clutch and is making progress at third base. And he’s NOT playing in front of Phillips.

    I wouldn’t mind playing Hopper and Kepp in left and using the $13 million you’d save from Dunn and get pitching help. (That’ll start another war over Dunn!)

  5. Bill

    Al, I think it has more to do with age.

    EE was in the majors at 22, Keppinger at 24 for 100 ABs, then less when he was 25 & 26.

    Guys that break into the ML’s with a big splash in limited PT when they’re older historically, at least with the Reds as that’s the only evidence we’re looking, are at best short or part time solutions.

    Young guys with good minor league numbers are a better bet.

  6. DevilsAdvocate

    Bill, you beat me to this argument, but I already wrote this and I’m posting it anyway.

    Most of this kerfuffle is about age, and how that relates to predicting major-league performance.

    Players that make the majors when they are younger, say, age-24, still have years of improvement ahead of them. They also, as a group, tend to sustain their peak longer and continue to perform well even past their peak.

    Players who don’t get significant playing time until their late 20’s tend to already be at their peak, and as a group tend not have any improvement ahead of them. Those older prospects whose debuts by chance coincide with a hot streak or a performance out of character with previous performance – well, they tend to regress to their true level, and it seems all the more rapid because of the hot streak they started with. That goes doubly for those who put up those hot numbers for substantially less than a full season.

    Like always, there are exceptions. Sometimes glovework, GM politics, and/or major-league veterans ahead of you conspire to keep a player in the minors when he merits playing time in the majors. (Votto?) Matt Stairs comes to mind. But I don’t think Keppinger has suffered overly from these considerations.

    Encarnacíon is in a sophomore slump. Keppinger is on fire. He’s certainly playing better than Edwin right now. But history is stacked steeply against Keppinger continuing to outperform the younger, still-improving prospect. That’s what this debate is about: The Future.

  7. Shawn

    Keppinger is going great, and has earned the right to play. But to expect him to do this for 10 more years, or even one more, is folly.

  8. Mike

    Kepp is hot right now and should be playing until he cools. If that is next month fine….if its next year or two years from now fine, but you can’t take a hot bat out of the lineup just cause he didn’t come up with that prospect label. He’s doing everything to deserve a starting spot and we should ride that till he shows he can’t start anymore.

  9. al

    i agree that it’s far to early to give up on ede, i guess i just think that kepp seems to be a more legit major leaguer that people around here want to admit. is he going to cooperstown like some in the media seem to think? no. but baseball isn’t just a formula, and just because someone is 27 when they first have success in the majors doesn’t mean that they can’t be a good big league player imho.

  10. Bill

    Al, no one is saying he can’t contribute. Everyone I’ve talked to thinks he’ll make a great bench player/spot starter and be a good guy to have on the team.

    But can you name 5 guys that have had good ML careers where they were everyday players that broke into the bigs at age 27?

    I can’t.

  11. willy

    i think kep should be in everyday here should be our lineup next year

    hamilton, cf
    keppinger, ss
    phillips, 2b
    dunn, LF
    Griffey, RF
    Cantu, 3B
    votto, 1B
    Ross, C

    bruce and hatteburg could plattoon a bit. same with freel.

    we also need pitching.
    in my oppinion
    here is who should be in our rotation
    1. harang
    (trade for sabathia even prospects)
    2. Sabathia
    3. bailey
    4. livingston
    5. dumatrait

  12. Dan

    I posted this in another Keppinger thread, but it seems like it belongs here too…

    Jeff Keppinger (minors) – .320/.373/.419 (2154 AB)
    Freddy Sanchez (minors) – .318/.381/.440 (1536 AB)
    Mark Loretta (minors) – .289/.350/.381 (1285 AB)

    Jeff Keppinger (majors) – .307/.361/.433 (277 AB)
    Freddy Sanchez (majors) – .311/.350/.429 (1563 AB)
    Mark Loretta (majors) – .298/.362/.399 (5269 AB)

    I know it’s early, but I see a lot of similarities here.

    Also, Keppinger’s glove looks very good so far — his range factor, RF/9, and error rates are ALL better than league average so far at all 5 positions he has played.

    I think Keppinger could be a steal, and a legit major league starter, and we need to give him every chance to do so (and not yank him around if he has a bad week like it seems like they’ve done w/ EE).

  13. Dan

    Loretta first got a full season in the majors at age 25, Sanchez at 27.

    Neither of those guys are ever going to be in the Hall of Fame, but so what… They are very good major league players, and no slouches as regular starters.

    I see good reasons to think Keppinger might be similar.

  14. Dan

    Oh one more thing… in NO WAY do I advocate benching EE to play Keppinger! EE is younger, has far more power, and has the potential to be an All-Star type player. He’s been yanked around far too much.

    If anyone in the infield should be benched for Keppinger, it’s Gonzalez… but he’s the expensive one so he’s entrenched. Which isn’t terrible.

    Think Gonzalez would clear waivers? I wonder if Detroit would want to trade for him. He’s better than Jack Wilson, I’d think. Hmmm…

  15. Matt McWax

    I think one problem with this whole line of analysis is that people are holding it against Keppinger for not coming up and not being a regular. Is it that hard to fathom that he could have hit .300 in the bigs in 2004, 5, and 6 if he had played the full year? He was 24 in 2004 and hit a respectable .284. Notice he hit .310 in September (plus 1 out in October) after growing accustomed. His ops was not great admittedly but a decent start. He had injuries in 2005 I guess but hit great in AAA. He came back up in 2006 for a short spell and went 0-8 to start, but then hit .308 after that. So you ask yourself, how would he do if he had kept on playing. Well, he keeps on playing this year and continues to hit well. I think it’s very likely that he would have hit .300 in extended time. That’s why I think this analysis of starting age is a poor application.

    I think Stynes major league inconsistency mirrored his minor league inconsistency. That’s why I don’t quite see them in the same boat. I was on the Stynes bandwagon when he got hot admittedly.

    What’s important is to determine the effect of switching from a Gonzo type defender/hitter to a Keppinger type defender/hitter on the overall makeup of the team. Offensive, Keppinger at his low-end is probably still a good fit because of his lack of k’s and obp with the power surrounding him. I also don’t think Gonzo’s HR’s should be taken lightly. Another consideration is that Paul Janish is probably not a great insurance in case they trade Gonzo. I’m still pulling for EdE because he actually has played some gold glove caliber 3rd for a good chunk of the season (yeah I said it). He can run and hits with risp.

    I don’t think the solution has presented itself yet but if I’m managing, I have the .380 hitter penciled in until I see a reason not to. Those who don’t think he should start should post up some sort of criteria for how he could possibly earn the right. I’m sure if people had done so over the last month or two, he would have passed each test you set out:

    if he goes x games with y or fewer errors…if he’s still hitting over .350…if his ops is over .900, if his obp is over .400, if he hits with risp, etc…

  16. Chris

    JD at Red Reporter had the best response to Daugherty’s idiocy:

    I’m not going to let idiots like this ruin Jeff Keppinger for me. I’m just not. And I’m going to try not to let them ruin Adam Dunn for me anymore either. That’s easier said than done, but it’s worth a shot.

  17. Dan

    I’m very interested in the fact that range factor (RF), RF per 9 innings (RF/9), and fielding pct. ALL say that Keppinger is a better fielder at SS than Gonzalez is this year.

    Maybe that’s true and maybe it’s not… but I’m already willing to say they’re at least comparable.

    Gonzalez has the power game all over Keppinger, but give me OBP (a.k.a. “not getting out”!) any day.

  18. Doug

    Why is everyone so high on EdE for? If there is one player that I’m REALLY dissapointed in this season, it’s him. He defense has not improved, his power has not developed like I thought it would in his 3rd season. We need power from the 3B position, and EdE is not providing it.

  19. Dan

    EE has had a disappointing season, no doubt, Doug. If the Reds were making a run for the playoffs this year, it would be a tough call about whether you keep running him out there.

    But the Reds are going nowhere this year. The whole point of the rest of the season is to do something that helps you be better in 2008 and beyond.

    EE is a good prospect w/ good (not eye-popping, but good) offensive numbers in the minors. He also hit .276/.359/.473 last year in the majors, which is pretty good.

    Finally, and most importantly, he’s only 24! He’s still probably 3 years away from his peak. He can and should get better, simply due to his age, and it would be incredibly short-sighted for the Reds to give up on him after a disappointing season at age 24.

    Also, FWIW, while the hitting has dipped a lot this year, what everyone ripped on him for last year was his fielding… Check out his fielding pct. improvement from last year to this year.

    2006 – .915
    2007 – .957

    He’s gone from errors on 8.5% of his chances down to 4.3% of his chances — he cut it in half! He does deserve credit for that.

  20. Mike

    As a person who is sick of hearing about “the steroid era,” I would like to respond to why he’s been traded around so much. He obviously isn’t a 30 homerun guy. Has anyone considered the fact that with the eye on juicers actually being open now, 2b/ss guys will start to begin looking more and more like mark lemke, ozzie smith, shaun dunston and mike gallego as opposed to brett boone, troy glaus (yes he came up as a ss) and nomar garciaparra (pre-juice / steroid related mysterious injuries). All I am saying is that a player of Keppinger’s talents would have been more highly valued than you think in previous baseball era’s. Those era’s will come full circle again and hopefully the door will be open for Kep.

  21. Mike on Mike

    Wow this Mike guy must be incredibly well versed in both baseball and juicer knowledge. He dropped Glaus’s name into the steroid hat 3 weeks before ESPN or SI did. Kudos