Season Wrapup: Johnson, Rhymes, Sutton, Conrad -- The Replacement Level Replacements

Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Injuries forced the Rays to find replacement players. Unsurprisingly, their production was replacement level.

With the season over, we that thought now would be an appropriate time to do a season wrap up. We started by having every writer rate each Rays player's season using the 20-80 scouting scale. In this scale, 50 is average, 60 is above average, 70 is pretty great, and 80 is the best in the league. The same spread goes for below average grades (20-40). We've combined all of our grades to get a set of DRB ratings. One other note: as we're evaluating major league players, not prospects, we've substituted "on base skill" for "hitting for average." I'm starting off the series with a look at what went wrong.

Pretend for a minute that you’re Andrew Friedman. How do you replace an injured Evan Longoria, arguably the best player in the game today? Well, if you’re lucky and it’s 2008, you just slot in Willy Aybar, and he gives the Rays a league average bat with good defense at the hot corner, prompting a deluge of "on another team, Aybar would be a starter" articles. But perhaps it’s not 2008. Perhaps it’s 2012. What then?

Easy. Ben Zobrist can play at a high level anywhere, Jeff Keppinger is also pretty flexible, and Elliot Johnson, who might be a plus defender at shortstop, must be able to handle second with ease. He won’t light the world on fire with his bat, but with that type of defense, he shouldn’t need to, right? With all of this positional flexibility, you can replace Longoria and still give Matt Joyce the day off against lefties.

Okay, let’s make this more difficult then. Matt Joyce is hurt. B.J. Upton is hurt. Jeff Keppinger is hurt. What now? If your answer was going to be that you still have a 3 WAR outfielder on your bench in the form of Sam Fuld, forget about it. He’s hurt too. Add to that the fact that Sean Rodriguez, who won the everyday shortstop job because of the power in his bat, stops hitting for power, and you have only one choice. Give the fans a concrete lesson on the sometimes abstract idea of "replacement level." They’ll thank you, I’m sure.

So without any further ado, I give you the DRB staff ratings for the replacement level replacements: Elliot Johnson, Will Rhymes, Brooks Conrad, and Drew Sutton.

Baserunning

Fielding

Throwing

Hitting for power

Getting on base

Elliot Johnson

56

45

43

38

41

Will Rhymes

54

52

44

28

39

Brooks Conrad

48

43

46

48

32

Drew Sutton

44

44

46

41

42

Let's go one by one.

Elliot Johnson

EJ entered the season as a true utility player. I think our staff ratings are a little bit unkind to him as far as fielding goes. While all of the other guys on this list can play either second base or third base with varying degrees of success, Johnson really is a shortstop who the Rays feel they can move around the infield as needed. While he's not always graceful, he does have fine range, and while not always accurate, he does have a fine arm. That's where the problems came in for EJ this season though -- accuracy. Johnson, serving as the full time shortstop for much of the year due to S-Rod's ineffectiveness, made 11 errors in 675 innings of play, some of them on what should have been routine throws.

His below average bat, and his somewhat strangely below average defense at shortstop combined to bring Elliot to a grand total of .3 fWAR in about half a season's worth of plate appearances. Maybe he can do better on defense, but I think that this is about what we can expect from EJ on offense going forward. He's a very slightly valuable bench player, but if he's starting a bunch of games, the Rays are in trouble.

Will Rhymes

Rhymes came into the season as the first infielder in line in AAA. He has a decent eye at the plate, and he rarely strikes out, but he hits with close to no power. His impressive speed should make him a good fielder, but it's brought down by his horrible, horrible arm. Here's another instance where I disagree with our staff ratings. There is no way that Rhymes should have a similar rating on his arm than the other three guys here. He is the answer to the question of "What's the difference between an athletic second baseman and a shortstop?" When he played third base, there were no routine throws. Even as a deep second baseman, things got dicey. Dicey like 0.2 fWAR.

The other problem with The Burrito Ambassador, of course, is his splits. Against a right handed batter, he has his uses. I'd even go so far as to call him useful. But the Rays injuries meant that he was forced to face lefties as well. The Rays gave him 23 PAs against lefties, in which he put up a wRC+ of -51. Then they went out and found other (replacement level) options.

Drew Sutton

Sutton was my favorite of the replacement level replacements. He looks like a major league player -- big but still athletic -- with a swing that seems to hint at quick hands. There's a reason that he's been in the system of 7 teams and not broken in with any of them, though. I think our staff ratings plug him just about right. Sutton wasn't particularly horrible at anything the way Rhymes was, but he's steadily just a bit below average in all phases of the game. Not super fast, a steady but unspectacular fielder, a slight bit of power but not enough pop to justify the holes in his swing.

The Rays coaxed some dramatic moments out of Sutton, and then let him go, as Andrew Friedman continued to search for something greater than replacement level with his replacement players. He would not find it.

Brooks Conrad

The first thing that everyone says about Brooks Conrad is that "he swings hard." That's just a backwards way of saying that he strikes out a lot (41% of his 105 PAs last season). Raw Dog gave every at bat his best swing, and mostly he missed, putting up a pretty awful 29 wRC+. What saved him, and got him back up to a -.0.2 fWAR was his fielding. Conrad came in and claimed the 2B/3B spot until better options arrived because he was able to solidify the defense, with above average UZR at both spots.

These four players, although with different components, all gave the Rays the same thing: a lesson on replacement level. When you have to scramble for a player to fill a spot, it usually doesn't matter where you get him from. Your minor league system, and that of other teams are the same, and you can switch players out as often as you want. Only rarely will it make a difference.

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