Eight years ago, some Brewers fans were upset that Lyle Overbay was being unseated by Prince Fielder as the starting 1st baseman. Today, many fans are upset that Juan Francisco is being unseated by Lyle Overbay as the 2nd 1st baseman.
On Saturday, Milwaukee beat reporters told us that Francisco’s locker had been cleaned out. It became apparent that the team was going to designate him for assignment, and they would be keeping Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay instead. The following day, Roenicke explained the decision, saying that the team preferred the skillset that Reynolds/Overbay brings to the team.
The level of anger from some fans seems to be out of proportion, but they are certainly justified to have a distaste for the roster decision. To describe Overbay’s offensive production over the last 3 years as, ‘dismal,’ is to describe Overbay’s age as, ‘young’. Overbay simply cannot hit left-handed pitching anymore. Over the last two seasons, his SLG was 0.285 vs LHP. He doesn’t run well, and his age suggests that this is only going to get worse. Coaches laud his defense, but the advanced metrics don’t back it up.
That said, he’s not a complete disaster against right-handed pitching. In fact, his recent numbers against RHP are actually pretty similar to Francisco’s (and Francisco’s numbers vs. LHP are similarly bad). While the metrics may not love Overbay’s defense, the coaches clearly do, and Francisco is most likely not going to be better in just his second year at 1st. So, if these two players are this similar, what reason do fans have to be upset?
There are two answers to that question, but they are related. First, take a look at their spring numbers. Francisco was hitting .346/.500/.731 this spring, while Overbay struggled at .179/.319/.231. This comes with the obvious small sample size caveat, as well as the fact that spring numbers are nearly meaningless for hitters. With fringe players, Spring numbers do not correlate very well to regular season production. Just look at Brad Nelson, Eric Almonte, or Yuniesky Betancourt.
The second answer to the question, however, is why the spring numbers could be at least somewhat telling.
At 37, Overbay is an old player with a diminishing skill set. He has done very little this spring, if nothing, to show that his skill set is not in a rapid decline. Meanwhile, Francisco is 26 with only 771 MLB plate appearances. He’s not young, but there is still plenty of improvement to be expected.
Francisco is still improving, while Overbay is in decline. That is precisely the problem that fans should have with this move. If you have two very similar players, trending in opposite directions, take the guy trending the right way.
There are, however, a few ways that this move could work out well for the team.
1) Overbay proves to be a valuable defensive replacement and left handed bat off the bench. Overbay has a better approach at the plate than Francisco, will take more pitches, and hopefully drive in some runs.
2) The Brewers could very well make a trade for another 1st baseman, perhaps Ike Davis or Mike Carp. This would push Overbay off the roster, and render this decision irrelevant. Bringing in a 1B via trade has been my prediction all offseason long, and remains so. I’ve felt that this competition at 1B has been little more than posturing by Doug Melvin, trying to look not nearly so desperate for a capable first baseman. I might be wrong, but I could see Melvin dragging negotiations into the regular season, waiting for other GMs to blink first.
3) Francisco could still end up in the Brewers system. If he can’t find a 25-man roster spot elsewhere, or if he does and is subsequently released by his new team, the Brewers would still offer one of the quickest paths to the majors. I mean, he’d only be blocked by Lyle Overbay.