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The Craig Monroe Conundrum

There’s no doubt that Craig Monroe has struggled so far this year.  In 74 plate appearances, he sports a rather unimpressive 25/5 strikeout to walk ratio and those 25 strikeouts lead the team.  So you’d think from looking at the numbers that Craig Monroe is hacking away, right?  Well then, why does he lead the majors in pitches per plate appearances with 4.6 amongst the players with the requisite number of at bats?

In looking at his splits page using Baseball-Reference.com’s play index, we can at least see what Monroe’s doing.  In only three plate appearances has he gone just one pitch, and then he’s had six plate appearances where he had a 1-0 count and three with an 0-1 count so out of his 74 plate appearances, he’s swung away and put the ball in play with one or two pitches only twelve times.  That doesn’t even match the number of times he’s taken the count full (17) and he’s gone to a 2-2 count another 18 times so in 35 of his plate appearances (almost half), he’s lasted at least five pitchers.  I’m not sure what that tells us other then the fact that Monroe’s at least taking a couple of pitches even when he gets behind in the count.  There’s also the fact that Monroe has only had an event while ahead in the count with 20 of his 74 plate appearances so another explanation is that he gets ahead in the count, then either takes some strikes or swings and misses to get the pitch count total up without doing anything other then working the pitcher.

One of the more disturbing numbers is that in 19 plate appearances with a full count, Monroe has struck out on ten of them with only five walks.  And while this is intuitive, you can tell quite a bit from what Monroe does with the first pitch.  When he takes a ball on pitch one, he hits .290 in those 36 plate appearances.  When he goes down 0-1 in the count, he hits .059 in 35 plate appearances. 

Brian, you’re overthinking this one, though I admire the effort. When a player has such an early, demaninding league lead in strikeouts, of course he’s going to see a lot of pitches per plate appearance. He’s swinging and missing a ton, or else fouling the ball off, so there are very few good contact swings in early counts to offset the average. If a player has the reputation of chasing alot of balls out of the zone, he’s going to go into deep counts. He’s getting a lot of unhittable breaking balls out of the zone, low and even in the dirt, and while he can lay off of some of them, he chases way too many. If you are a pitcher, would you rather use 3 pitches and take your chances with his power, or would you rather play the percentages, throw him 5 pitches he can’t hit, and probably strike him out?

He is not Vladimir Guerrero, so he’s not going to chase bad pitches and hit them well. I have never seen a batter with worse pitch recognition than Monroe. He is like a spring-loaded dummy up there, and in order for him to hit a bomb, the pitcher needs to throw a fastball or a hanging slider right into the path of his pre-programmed swing. Last year, when Monroe was supposedly a productive player for us, he had an OBP of .301. His OPS+ of 100 looks passable until you consider that he is our left fielder, and those guys are supposed to put more runs on the board. His career OBP is .307, in almost 2,300 Major League plate appearances. I am not sure why everyone seems to think this guy can play. He is not good, and he has never been good.

Look, I know that you think Mike and I have an irrational love for Thames, but it just isn’t the case. We have a RATIONAL distaste for Monroe.

Thames had an OPS+ of 124 with the Tigers last year, which is the same as the career total of Charlie Gehringer, Roy Campanella, and Richie Sexson. I’m not saying Thames is as good as those guys, but you know, just for perspective. It is clear that at some point right around 2003 or 2004, Thames turned a corner. At Toledo in 2004, in about 275 PA, he drew 33 walks against only 40 strikeouts. In 2005 at Toledo, in just over 300 PA, he drew 41 walks againt just 51 Ks, to go along with 22 homers. As you know, most of this production carried over to the majors for Thames in 2006. The strikeouts spiked, but he drew a decent number of walks, something that can never and will never be said about Monroe. 37 walks in fewer than 400 PA for Thames, to go along with 48 extra-base hits. These are ratios that Monroe has never matched at any point in his illustrious career, in the majors or in the high minors.

Note that this production out of Thames only occurred when he was given regular playing time. Look, we don’t know exactly what Thames would do in a full season, and we can’t be sure that he’d be demonstrably better than Monroe, but doesn’t it seem like a good bet? You can never know how any player is going to play, but isn’t it important to recognize these developments as they may be occurring an d take advantage of them? What are the chances that Thames is worse than Monroe? I’d say very slim. Do you honestly think that Monroe can’t carry a .255/.301/.482 line through a complete season? C’mon!

Of course, you won’t post this to the site because you can’t have “doom and gloom” and “venom”, no matter how much sense it makes. I understand. At least consider using some of this logic in a new post of your own, or edit it down and attribute it to “an anonymous emailer” or something. I don’t care. Get some of this logic out into the open. It just seems like no one is paying attention.

Posted by Dan on April 27th, 2007 at 1:23 pm

See Dan, this is the kind of stuff I like. There’s no “Craig Monroe sucks” but there’s a well, thought out analysis.

And I know we’ve badgering each other and we are on the same page on a few things. I’ve stated several times that I think Monroe should be traded because he has more perceived value and that would open things up for Thames. And this is also in print, because in the Hardball Times Preseason Annual, I had to pick who I thought the most overrated Tiger was and guess who i chose.

I’d just rather have a constructive discussion (like this) then you going off the deep end every time you think Jim Leyland makes a mistake.

Posted by Brian on April 27th, 2007 at 1:47 pm

I can understand both sides in this argument. As a fan, it drives me nuts that Thames seems to get jerked around for what seems like no reason at all. On the one hand, it looks like they are trying to get him at bats, and then at the same time it seems like they’re looking for excuses to get him out of the game. It’s maddening.

As a fellow blogger, I realize you can’t rail on these things all the time because I think it gives your blog a tone that can kind of wear on your reader. I wasn’t always successful – my weak spot last year was Neifi – but last year when I wrote about something that bugged me, I’d try to say my piece about something and let that stand as my thought on the matter. It didn’t seem like good writing to bring it up every time.

Posted by Matt in Toledo on April 27th, 2007 at 3:40 pm

Well, I disagree. You should rail on things so that other people understand there is a problem. When they do, they will tell their friends and, as you know, people will believe something if they hear it often enough. I can give you examples of this if you need them.

Also, Monroe sucks. He doesn’t have any trade value, Brian, because the Tigers are the only team that actually thinks he is any good.

Posted by Dan on April 27th, 2007 at 9:40 pm

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