Not So Quick, My Friends
In the first trade since the end of the World Series, the Kansas City Royals acquired first baseman Mike Jacobs from the Florida Marlins in exchange for relief pitcher Leo Nunez. This transaction has been panned throughout most of the baseball blogosphere. Dave Cameron, Keith Law, and Rob Neyer – highly respected analysts all – strongly believe that Florida got the better of Kansas City in this deal.
I'm not so sure about that. While I don't think KC general manager Dayton Moore ripped off FLA president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest by any means, I believe that the Royals got at least equal value in this relatively simple one-for-one trade.
The strengths and weaknesses of Jacobs and Nunez are fairly well known and understood. Jacobs, who turned 28 last Thursday, is considered a one-dimensional player. He hits for power but not for average. He rarely walks and is slow afoot and a poor defensive first baseman. The 24-year-old Nunez possesses a power arm whose fastball touches the mid-90s but lacks the quality secondary pitches that would enable him to pitch in high-leverage situations.
I can't help but wonder if Jacobs is truly as pedestrian as his rate stats (.247/.299/.514 in 2008 and .262/.318/.498 over the course of his career) would suggest on the surface. Let's drill down and take a (much) closer look at the left-handed hitter's numbers. Thanks to Baseball Musings Day-By-Day Database, we can analyze splits like never before.
As shown, Jacobs struggled against lefties but fared well against righties. His OPS of .677 vs. LHP is below average, especially for a first baseman. However, his OPS of .857 is above average and slightly superior to the overall line put up by first basemen in the National League last year (.277/.359/.479).
Jacobs slugged nearly five times as many extra-base hits vs. righthanders as lefthanders in a little over three times as many plate appearances. He also walked more and struck out less often against RHP than LHP. Granted, his bases on balls were padded by the ten intentional walks he received, but I wouldn't discard this fact unless one were willing to do the same for all other players, including his peers at first base.
Now, let's examine his home and road splits . . .
Jacobs didn't hit too well at Dolphin Stadium last season. Florida's park factor was a 97, meaning it suppressed runs by three percent. Moreover, it reduced home runs by a whopping 22 percent for LHB, more than any other stadium outside of Petco Park. That said, Jacobs was downright putrid when facing southpaws at home.
Jacobs hit much, much better on the road than at home. Mike's overall results were solid and his production vs. righthanders was outstanding. He had more than six times as many XBH vs. RHP as LHP in approximately three times as many plate appearances. Furthermore, his BB/SO ratio was reasonable. Importantly, the .924 OPS would have been good enough to put him in a tie for seventh in the NL if viewed against the field's overall stats. Although such a comparison favors Jacobs, it is meant to shed light on just how well he tattooed righties when he wasn't hamstrung by Dolphin Stadium.
Based on the above analysis, it seems to me that Jacobs could be a very effective slugger if employed properly. However, so as not to give those who might think his splits last summer were an aberration, let's cross check 2008 against his career totals.
The bottom line is that Jacobs' career splits are essentially in-line with his 2008 production.
All else being equal, players usually perform better at home than away. In 2008, National Leaguers hit .265/.338/.421 at home and .256/.325/.405 on the road. The difference in production was about 4% as measured by AVG, OBP, SLG, and OPS.
Adjusting Jacobs' career road rate stats by 4% would produce a line of .281/.350/.515 at a neutral home ballpark. Averaging his actual road and theoretical home stats would suggest an overall mark of .276/.343/.505. All of a sudden, Jacobs' numbers look like a fairly typical first baseman.
I recognize that Kauffman Stadium is unlikely to be anymore accommodating as Dolphin Stadium has been to him, especially as it relates to slugging home runs (as the Royals home field played to an 82 ballpark factor for HR by LHB in 2008 and an 88 for the past three years) . But it's possible that Jacobs' right-field pull power might work to his benefit at his new home stadium. The distance between home plate and the right-field line is 15 feet shorter at Kauffman (330') than Dolphin Stadium (345').
You can see for yourself if the change in ballparks may have made a difference the past three seasons.
Courtesy of Hit Tracker, we can view scatter plots of Jacobs' homers during the 2006-08 seasons, both at home and on the road. Nonetheless, it's the doubles that Mike hit toward the foul line at home that could very well be four baggers at Kauffman.
Jacobs' 32 HR and .514 SLG would have led the Royals in both categories by a wide margin. In fact, he had the 10th-best HR/AB mark (6.7 percent) in the majors. Among first basemen, only Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols had better ratios.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder adds a new dimension to a Kansas City lineup that has been void of lefthanded power the past couple years. The Royals ranked dead last in runs, home runs, total bases, and OPS vs. RHP in 2007 and 2008. By comparison, the Royals placed second in runs vs. LHP in 2008. The numbers are a bit skewed by the fact that KC had the fewest plate appearances in the AL vs. RHP and the most vs. LHP in 2008. Go figure, right? But the OPS ranking vs. RHP corroborates the counting stats in this case.
As Moore told MLB.com, "I think we had one of the best records in baseball against left-handed pitching [36-24] and one of the worst against right-handed pitching [39-63] last year."
While the skeptics believe Jacobs only adds to the logjam at first base (given the presence of Ross Gload, Billy Butler, Ryan Shealy, and even Kila Ka'aihue), the truth of the matter is these existing options aren't all that inspiring. Gload (.273/.317/.348) is 33 and his lack of power is glaring. The 23-year-old Butler (.340/.398/.585 career vs. LHP) would make an excellent platoon partner with Jacobs. Shealy (.271/.335/.429) is 29 and not getting any younger or better. Ka'aihue will turn 25 next March and has only played 12 games in the big leagues. Big and unathletic, the lefthanded-hitting first sacker profiles as a Hee Seop Choi clone.
Jacobs can also be slotted into the DH role, which is where he is best suited. Either way, the Royals don't have to marry him. Arbitration eligible, he stands to make about $2.5-$3 million in 2009. If Mike performs well, Moore can offer him a two-year extension at roughly $5-6M per. He can seek free agency after the 2011 season at about the time last June's No. 3 overall draft pick Eric Hosmer, a lefthanded-hitting first baseman, is set to arrive in Kansas City. If Jacobs flops, he can be non-tendered next fall. Should the newest Royal fall somewhere in between, it is my guess that he could be flipped for a mid-20s reliever on the order of Leo Nunez.
Put it all together and I just don't see where there is all that much risk in this trade from the standpoint of Moore and the Royals.