Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Crystal Ball '09: Aubrey Huff

Last year at this time, I was bashing Aubrey Huff for being a slugger who was modestly successful in his prime but well into his decline phase and probably wouldn't hit better than league average in 2008.

Of course, he went out and had a career year, was the best bat on the team and was named Oriole MVP. Shows what I know.

Now, there are two possible causes for Huff's results last year:

1) He simply had a career year and his decline will continue in earnest in 2009
2) He received a cosmic kick in the butt, refocused himself and will enjoy a late career renaissance.

After Aubrey's so-so 2007 and the whole controversy he created with his comments on the Bubba the Love Sponge Show, it is indeed possible that Huff saw the end of his career staring him in the face. Let's face it, if the Orioles are willing to kick you to the curb, are there really that many teams that are looking for your services? Hell, if you signed with the O's to begin with, there probably weren't many teams looking for you in first place. Maybe this spurred Huff into a more diligent offseason and more focus on the diamond instead of the nightlife he loves so well.

As much as I'd like to believe it, I don't. I imagine Huff's performance will slip back to something just above his 2007 output and he will be a much more ordinary player.

But the real question, now that Felix Pie has pushed Luke Scott to a role that wil primarily be as a DH, is how well Huff will hold down a job in the field for the first time in 3 years.

It's nice to have a slick-fielder manning first base but the truth is that a first baseman's defense hurts you far less than any other position in the field. If you're going to have a bad defender on your team, a bad firstbaseman hurts you the least. When touting Adam Dunn over Mark Teixeira , there were arguments that not only was Dunn not Teix's equal at the plate but he wasn't his equal with the glove. (BTW, the difference in batting wasn't the point. Teix is a better hitter, just not "double the money" better than Dunn. But I digress...) But the glove matters little at first.

From, the difference in UZR/150 from the best centerfielder (Carlos Gomez) and the worst (Nate McClouth) was 32.1 runs. the difference between the best shortstop (Orlando Cabrera) and the worst (Yuniesky Betancourt) was 28.1 runs. The difference between the top fielding firstbaseman (Teixeira) and the worst (Prince Fielder) was 17.6 runs.

And I don't think he will be among the worst fielders in 2009. Over the course of the last few seasons, Huff has logged nearly 1800 innings at first posting a -2.6 UZR/150. That's just below average if you go by 2008 standards. I figure that Huff can approach average with his glove if he's handed the full-time job and allowed to play there exclusively all year. I think Huff will be further motivated to be perceived as a firstbaseman vs. a DH as he heads for free agency in 2010.

I'll be posting a full WAR spreadsheet at some point but I have Huff penciled in for a WAR of 1.7 in 2009. Look for a capable, if not great, glove, and something close to his Marcel projection of .280/.342/.475.

Photo by Phil Romans and used under the Creative Commons License 2.0

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