Will Middlebrooks: easily attainable right-handed power

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

With all the craze surrounding right-handed power this offseason, why is nobody interested in Will Middlebrooks?

As I noted earlier this offseason in my review of the Adam Eaton - Mark Trumbo trade and as Neil detailed in his article on Nelson Cruz, there has been a serious preoccupation with right-handed power this offseason. Trumbo commanded two good prospects in Adam Eaton and Tyler Skaggs. In addition to the draft pick it will cost to sign Cruz, the aging slugger is looking for 4-5 years at $15 million per year.

Foolish as the search for right-handed power might be, there are cheaper ways to acquire this type of talent than committing $60+ million or trading away top prospects. Will Middlebrooks of the Boston Red Sox has been mentioned in trade rumors since July. With Xander Bogaerts set to start, Stephen Drew looking to re-sign, and top prospect Garin Cecchini raking in Double-A, Middlebrooks might be squeezed out of playing time in Boston.

Despite all this, Middlebrooks' power stroke compares favorably to Trumbo's. In parts of two seasons, the big third baseman has received 660 plate appearances.The below table compares their respective power production.

Player HR% HrCon% HR/FB ISO
Trumbo 5.1 6.8 19.7 .219
Middlebrooks 4.8 6.4 18.9 .208

Trumbo has played half his games in spacious Angel Stadium, while Middlebrooks has enjoyed the benefit of Fenway Park, which is friendly to right-handed power hitters. Still, he's hit 19 of his 32 home runs on the road. His batted ball distance and average home run distance suggest his power numbers might backtrack some, but we're debating about whether he has elite power or just very good power.

Like Trumbo, Middlebrooks' achilles heel is his weak on-base percentage. While Trumbo is more of a free swinger than Middlebrooks, neither has mastered the fine art of drawing a walk, and both strike out frequently.

Player AVG OBP SLG BABIP BB% K% SwStr% O-Zone Swing%
Trumbo .250 .299 .469 .286 6.3 25.1 13.8 39.0
Middlebrooks .254 .294 .462 .295 5.0 25.5 11.0 28.9

Their slash lines look very similar. After adjusting for park factors, Trumbo has a 111 wRC+ compared to Middlebrooks' 100 wRC+ though the Boston third baseman has actually posted better numbers away from Fenway. The plate discipline data suggests that Middlebrooks might be able to cut his strikeout rate, but his 25.6 percent minor league strikeout rate and troubles with breaking and offspeed pitches indicate otherwise.

Trumbo has been slightly better as a hitter, and neither player contributes much in the way of baserunning. Defensively, Trumbo is a first baseman that looks like a liability in left. Based on only 1400 innings, UZR and DRS both grade Middlebrooks as a below-average, but not terrible defender at third. Scouting reports generally have the same opinion. A passable third baseman has more value than a first baseman or poor leftfielder. Overall, Middlebrooks has totaled 2.3 fWAR in 660 plate appearances, which is exactly Trumbo's career average.

So why does Trumbo command two prospects while Middlebrooks seems to be an afterthought? Perhaps there is an issue with recency bias. Middlebrooks posted a 122 wRC+ in 75 games before a wrist injury ended his 2012 season, but 2013 was a struggle, and he was demoted to Pawtucket midway through the year. Compare the 2013 numbers for the two players.

Player PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ BABIP fWAR
Trumbo 678 .234 .294 .453 106 .273 2.5
Middlebrooks 374 .227 .271 .425 83 .263 0.3

Trumbo was a lot better than Middlebrooks in 2013. Both players had low BABIP, but the xBABIP calculator likes Middlebrooks a lot more than Trumbo. Still, if we're going to overemphasize recent performance, compare their second half numbers.

Player PA BB% K% HR% wRC+
Trumbo 280 6.4 30.7 4.6 90
Middlebrooks 158 7.0 24.1 5.1 114

Post call-up, Middlebrooks was pretty good, and Trumbo faded after a solid first half. Now, a sample of 158 plate appearances isn't enough to judge a player on, just as all hope should not have been abandoned after he posted a 60 wRC+ in 216 first half plate appearances. That being said, here's a look at the 2014 Steamer Projections for both players.

Player PA AVG OBP SLG HR wRC+ fWAR
Trumbo 560 .246 .305 .462 27 112 1.9
Middlebrooks 504 .261 .308 .463 22 106 2.3

The Oliver projections are almost identical to what Steamer forecasts. Will Middlebrooks' present value as a player is very similar to Mark Trumbo's. However, Middlebrooks is three years younger, and has five years of team control remaining to Trumbo's three. Right now, the Red Sox would likely part with him for far less than what the Arizona Diamondbacks gave up to get Trumbo.

Both Middlebrooks and Trumbo look like nothing more than average players going forward, but with all the attention focused on right-handed power and the splash of the Trumbo trade, it's surprising that we haven't heard more about Boston's third baseman.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

Chris Moran is a former college baseball player and current law student at Washington University in St. Louis. He's also an assistant baseball coach on the baseball team at Wash U. In addition to Beyond The Box Score, he contributes at Prospect Insider and DRaysBay. He went to his first baseball game at age two. Follow him on Twitter@hangingslurves

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