Lay off of Ensberg

added 10/24/2006 by Scott Barzilla

Ask most Astros fans to make a list of players responsible for the club coming up short and Morgan Ensberg will undoubtedly make the short list. Of course, Brad Lidge usually figures on top of the list, but the Astro third baseman usually comes in a close second. It makes a lot of sense when you consider the fact that Ensberg followed a .283/36/101 season with a .235/23/58 season. Certainly, the combination of Jason Lane and Ensberg falling off the planet seems like a likely place to start.

However, those that routinely dog Ensberg either convienently forgot his shortcomings coming into 2006, or forget the assets he maintained throughout the season. Simply put, they are only looking at some of the numbers. Doing so removes the value that Ensberg brings to the table. In order to demonstrate this fact, I will eliminate the normal batting average, home runs, and RBIs most fans look at and look at some other numbers.

       OBP    SLG    BB   SO   Ratio   HR/PA
2003  .377   .530    48   60   .800    .056 
2004  .330   .411    36   46   .783    .022
2005  .388   .557    85  119   .714    .058
2006  .396   .463   101   96  1.052    .046

One of the problems with evaluating Ensberg in 2006 is that Garner lost faith in him during the season. He had nearly 150 fewer plate appearances in 2006 than he did in 2005. If he hit home runs at the same rate he would have hit an additional six home runs during that time. Suddenly 29 home runs and another 20 RBIs doesn't look quite as bad. Ensberg reminds me a lot of Darrell Evans as a player. Evans came out looking great defensively according to most metrics even though he had the appearance of being slow and plodding. Ensberg rates well defensively. Evans sometimes hit for low average even though he ALWAYS drew walks. Ensberg has done the same.

It only makes sense to replace Ensberg if you have something better. First, we will take a look at where Ensberg rates among third basemen in terms of wins above replacement player. Since this is the second column in a series I should make sure everyone knows what I am talking about. Baseball Prospectus takes everything a player does (hitting, fielding, base running) and combines it into one metric. Wins above replacement player is exactly what it sounds like. In this case, we take their third calculation because it factors out all affects (schedule, home ballpark, league difficulty) to calculate the number of games a player is better than a replacement level (AAA) player.

                    Games    WARP3   WARP3/140
Alex Rodriguez       154      7.4       6.7
Troy Glaus           153      7.4       6.8
Brandon Inge         157      7.8       7.0
Adrian Beltre        156      7.8       7.0
Morgan Ensberg       125      6.2       6.9
Garrett Atkins       157      7.8       7.0

Obviously, Alex Rodriguez had a down season, but the per 140 game column shows Ensberg would have been more valuable if he had played a full complement of games. In particular, Troy Glaus is an interesting addition to this group. More than anything, this should show the company that Ensberg was in last season during his "down year". Obviously, if you were to replace him you would want an improvement, so here is a list of the guys considerably better than Ensberg.

Mike Lowell            7.7
Joe Crede              7.8
Mark Teahen            8.5
Eric Chavez            7.6
David Wright           9.3
Miguel Cabrera        10.4
Chipper Jones          7.9
Scott Rolen            8.7
Freddy Sanchez         8.1
Jeff Kent              8.9

Let's take the roll. Jeff Kent? Been there, done that. We could only dream of Scott Rolen or David Wright. Mark Teahen is a pleasant surprise, but he is young and cheap. I doubt Mike Lowell or Joe Crede are going anywhere. Eric Chavez is probably sticking around in Oakland as well. This leaves Miguel Cabrera and Chipper Jones. There has been some talk of Cabrera being dangled, but with Florida closer to contention than anticipated it would seem counterproductive for them to deal their only player. As for Jones, he is on the downside of a very good career. Simply put, there are no appealing options.

Most of you are probably thinking, "Ah, aren't you forgetting about Mike Lamb and Aubrey Huff?" Actually, I'm glad you brought them up. Lamb would have produced 4.2 wins above replacement players in 140 games while Huff produced a nearly identical 4.1 wins in the same clip. So, for all of his warts (striking out too often and being an inefficient run producer), Ensberg is still far superior to those guys.

Fans expecting Ensberg to become Mike Schmidt will be disappointed. Of course, every third baseman in history has fallen short of that mark. If you expect Ensberg to be a run producer you probably will be disappointed. If the club would take advantage of his excellent ability to get on base (say the second spot in the order) then fans and management will end up being a lot happier. Ensberg was a middle of the road third basemen in 2006, but should crack the top ten with a healthy 2007. You can't do a whole lot better than that.