At popular request, here’s a writeup of Jeff Baker, whom the Braves acquired on August 31, just before the playoff deadline.
It will come as no surprise to you that Jeff Baker isn’t a great baseball player. A 31-year-old former Clemson Tiger turned Detroit Tiger, he doesn’t walk, is a below-average fielder, and can’t hit righties, and for his troubles, Detroit DFA’ed him and then traded him to the Braves for a PTBNL or cash. But none of that matters, because he has been hired exclusively for the purpose of hitting lefties. And that, ladies and gentleman, is a thing that Jeffrey Glen Baker can do.
Baker has never had a full year as a starting player — usually he’s more of an injury fill-in. It’s only been in the last couple of years that he’s been used more strictly as a platoon player, but considering his platoon split, that may be his true calling. He’s got 767 PAs versus righties in his career, with a .661 OPS, versus 692 PA against lefties with an .849 OPS. Basically, he’s worse than 2006-2010 Matt Diaz, but better than 2011-2012 Matt Diaz.
A fourth-round Rockie draftee from 2002, Baker was in Colorado till 2009, then was a Chicago Cub until about a month ago, when the Cubs traded him to the Tigers. That’s where we got him from. Of course, we’ve had a lot of luck obtaining utility infielders from the Tigers (not to mention starting pitchers). At this point in his career, Baker’s a true supersub, having appeared at 1B, 2B, 3B, LF, and RF: he won’t sparkle anywhere but he at least knows how to wear five gloves. This year he’s just been used at 3B, LF, and RF.
So he’ll basically have two roles, as I see it: pinch hitting, and playing left field or third base in a game when Chipper’s out and a lefty’s on the mound. There’s an outside chance you might see him filling in for Uggla against a lefty. That will mostly depend on where Fredi decides he wants to put Prado, but essentially, Baker is platooning with Francisco. He also gives Fredi an additional excuse not to let Hinske take a bat ever again.
There’s just one problem, and it’s unclear how much of it is due to sample size. He hits much worse as a sub than as a starter, and he’s bad at pinch hitting. In his career, roughly 5/6 of his 1459 plate appearances have come as a starter, and he’s got a career .770 OPS when he starts, versus .649 when he comes off the bench. He also has a career .594 OPS in 174 PA as a pinch hitter, and that’s bad; the average major league pinch hitter this year has a .671 OPS. Also, you have to deflate some of those numbers because he played so much of his career in Coors.
So, the upside is, this guy might be able to fill in and bat against a lefty in a key spot, which most of our bench simply can’t do: Lyle Overbay, Juan Francisco, Jose Constanza, and of course Hinske are all left-handed, and I’d rather pinch hit with Medlen than J.C. Boscan. Of course, having Boscan on the roster means that David Ross and Brian McCann may get an extra pinch at bat or two, but Ross will be the starter as long as Brian’s eyes keep bothering him, so that point may be moot.
The downside is, Baker may not be a particularly good fit to a pinch hitting role where he rarely plays the field except for spot starts, and his bat doesn’t add much to our already moribund offense. That wouldn’t leave us any worse than we are now — unless the PTBNL is J.R. Graham or something — but it puts a little more pressure on the regulars not to cough up any more ground in the wild card race.
Anyway, Baker doesn’t add much to the team. But his role is clear.