Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Contemplating Jamey Carroll


That's the single most important number connected to Jamey Carroll, the well-traveled infielder who is reported to have agreed to a two-year contract with the Twins for up to $7 million. The signing is not yet official, but the Twins aren't denying it.

Carroll turns 38 in February, and his age is a huge red flag if the Twins indeed intend to make him their regular shortstop.

Go through baseball history, and you'll find that only the very best shortstops remain at the position into their late 30s -- men like Honus Wagner, Luis Aparicio, Omar Vizquel. Everybody loses a bit of range as they age. If the player isn't the kind who wins Gold Gloves automatically in his 20s, he won't have enough range for shortstop in his late 30s. He changes position (if he has enough bat to be useful at third base or second base) or finds a new occupation.

Jamey Carroll ain't Luis Aparicio. He has never even been a regular shortstop in the majors. And now he's going to be one at age 38? Really?

Carroll got tagged early in his career as a utility infielder, probably because he came up in the Montreal organization at the same time as Orlando Cabrera, and the O-Cab was a good defender and had more power. (Cabrera, incidentally, is both younger than Carroll and apparently finished as a major league shortstop.) Carroll has gotten more playing time as he has aged and found different teams to play for.

Carroll wouldn't be the first man to get the utility label only to emerge later as a regular shortstop. Marco Scutaro comes quickly to mind. But Scutaro got his shot at short at age 33, five years younger than Carroll will be.

Now, Carroll almost certainly represents a step up from Trevor Plouffe or Tsuyoshi Nishioka, but that speaks more to the difficulties the 2011 Twins had in turning outs into outs. It doesn't make him a solution.

Carroll spent most of 2010-111 playing second base for the Dodgers, with some shortstop tossed in, and -- granted the Twins don't buy into the defensive metrics -- the best one can say for him there is that he was fairly average. Baseball Info Systems' plus/minus metric for the year ranks him as the worst second baseman in the majors (-12), and its runs saved stat isn't much better (-9). Both scores are considerably worse than in 2010.

Carroll doesn't make a lot of errors, and he's likely to make the routine plays -- turn outs into outs. He's far less likely to turn hits into outs.

You can win with that kind of shortstop. The Yankees and Tigers, with Derek Jeter and Jhonny Peralta, did so last season. But it helped both the Yankees and Tigers that they had high-octane starting pitchers, who got plenty of strikeouts and limited the number of balls in play. The Twins do not, and will not in 2012, have that kind of staff.

I don't see Carroll as a true fix for the position. Ten years ago, maybe. Today, I think, he's too little too late to solve much of anything with the defense.

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