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Not to say it wasn’t one of the more predictable moves this offseason, but on Friday the Washington Nationals non-tendered the contract of Ben Revere, releasing him unto the wilderness that is free agency. Through service time Revere was not projected to enter the wild until next offseason, but that was before he put up a feeble .217/.260/.300 slash line in 375 plate appearances in 2016. That kind of offensive struggle helped persuade the Nationals to release him as opposed to paying him the $6.3 million MLB Trade Rumors projected him to make through arbitration.
We’ve never seen Revere as a powerhouse at the plate, but he has often been thought of as a prototypical old-school leadoff hitter: a speed guy who hits for a high average. (If you still think like that, please read this SEO masterpiece). You don’t need to know that, out of everyone who made at least 300 plate appearances last season, Revere carried the 2nd-worst wRC+ to know he was bad. His slash line paints the same picture. He was bad.
Despite how inept Revere’s offensive production was last season, there is still a market for him. There’s always a market for speed guys, but before we go into why that might or might not be the case for Revere, let's dive into how he got to this position.
Revere has always been a guy who does not walk or strike out a ton. He makes a lot of contact and puts the ball in play, meaning his value is heavily tied to maintaining an above-average BABIP, as well as an at-least-decent OBP. At the same time, because Revere doesn’t have a great deal of power, he stands to benefit more from ground balls and line drives than fly balls. This is, of course, what we in the biz call a 'slap hitter.' Getting on base allows Revere to take advantage of his best skill, and this was something he was decent at from 2013-15. What changed, you ask? Most of that.
So why would Revere put the ball in the air more last season, you ask? All he needs to do is put the ball on the ground and run, it seems so simple! Well, like most things in life, it is more complicated that it initially seems. If you recall, Revere suffered a torn oblique on Opening Day last season. This injury sidelined him for the month of April and about a week of May, but there was evidence that the injury lingered for much longer than just the month Revere spent on the disabled list. As Mark Zuckerman of MASN Sports reported in late November, Revere never felt entirely healthy:
And consider that he pulled his oblique muscle on opening day, and despite returning from the disabled list a month later admitted at season’s end he never did fully heal.
"I know guys that have done it and they say it’s tough to come back that year from an oblique injury, their swings were just different," Revere said in September. "But it’s a lot easier the next year because they had time in the offseason to let it heal."
A lingering oblique injury is bad for hitting, but it can also sap Revere’s money-maker: his speed. Obliques can be activated through various activities such as twisting or sprinting, and the latter causes a forceful contraction of the muscles that helps generate power.
I know this might come as a shock, but I was not able to watch every game Ben Revere participated in. However, I do have access to a few stats that we could use to see if a lingering oblique injury could have caused Revere’s speed to decline.
For this, let's use five different metrics: UBR, wSB, wGDP, RngR, and rPM. The first three are the components of a players’ BsR, but when displayed individually they help us get a better understanding of how Revere’s value on the bases, stealing bases, and attempting to beat out a double play ball shifted last season. As for the final two, one might intrinsically connect a loss of speed to a decline in an outfielders’ range, so we’ll include both UZR and DRS’ range metrics as to cover all of our bases. These each have individual reasons as to why they might not accurately represent Revere’s speed, but we’re not looking for an absolute answer. Instead, a decline in all five areas where we can see the effects of the speed skill the most would create a more general picture as to whether Revere’s speed also took a hit due to his lingering oblique injury:
As we can see, Revere’s base-stealing and double-play-beating ability declined heavily in 2016, his base running ability got a little worse, and his range generally stayed the same. There’s a chance that the injury leaked into his speed skill, and it looks as if it hampered him more offensively than defensively. My best guess would be that the nagging injury did play a role in Revere’s declining base running numbers, but it’s hard to say conclusively that his actual speed declined.
After the worst season of his career, one in which he was left off the playoff roster, the Nationals decided to cut ties with Revere. Going forward, Revere’s 2016 represents an obvious floor, and one that is well below replacement level. Even though Revere battled an injury all year, at this point it’s tough to imagine him as anything but a 4th outfielder used to bolster a teams’ depth.
Now with an entire offseason to recover from the injury, Revere represents a nice, potentially cheap bounceback candidate. Sure, a Revere rebound still represents sub-league average production, but a return to 2014/2015 levels of production would be decent depth for most outfields. On the other hand, if you are operating from the point of view that Revere’s decline was not tied to his injury, but instead the product of how quickly speed-types can decline, you might want your team to stay far away from Revere.
With a few top outfielders left in free agency, I would assume we’ll be waiting longer for Revere’s market to develop, but it should get better once some of the more appealing outfield options sign. Maybe it’s just youthful optimism, but the fact that it might cost only a couple of million dollars to fund Ben Revere’s bounceback effort makes him an appealing option when looking for depth pieces this offseason.
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Shawn Brody is a contributor for Beyond the Box Score, producer of In Play, Pod(cast), and a pitcher recovering from Tommy John at Howard Payne University. He is a Junior majoring in Business Management with a minor in Computer Information Systems. You can follow him on Twitter @ShawnBrody or email him at Shawnbrody9@gmail.com