When we wrote about the prospect of the outfield landscape last month, we (I) said it was basically Drew Stubbs‘ position to lose. Stubbs is hitting a respectable .273 so far this spring, but has anyone taken a look at what Chris Heisey is up to lately? .340 with only 11 strikeouts to Stubbs’ 23! The rest of the statistics are on the Reds’ site here
Drew Stubbs is the veteran in this case, but let’s look at this without the age factor in play (which by the way is illegal in any other job so why is it perfectly normal in professional sports?) In order to compare apples and apples here, we’re going to have to put them both in center field and hitting lead-off. It’s the only way that the comparison is remotely valid.
1. Speed – Stubbs is clearly superior in terms of speed even though Heisey was quoted saying that he and his wife spent a considerable amount of time losing the weight Heisey had gained riding the pine. Did you know sunflower seeds were fattening? Who would have thought….
2. Contact – Batting average is not always a good indicator of the ability of a hitter to make contact, so let’s look at strikeouts as well. In both cases, as I stated at the beginning of this, Heisey has a clear advantage.
3. Defense – Heisey had 2 assists and 2 errors in 110 chances for a .982 fielding percentage – not exactly impressive. Stubbs, like Heisey, was not ringing the gold glove bell so to speak either. 392 chances with 7 assists and 5 errors for a .987 fielding percentage. To put that in perspective, Jonny Gomes had a similar number of chances and errors and ended up with a .981 fielding percentage while being considered in some circles as a defensive liability.
4. Clutch – more times than not, the lead-off hitter is called upon to start and inning, get a rally moving along or even push in the runs that are hanging on the bases that were lucky enough to survive the pitching hole. Who did we always see at the plate with the game on the line? Drew Stubbs. And how many times did he deliver in any way other than striking out or grounding out to short? Rarely. Heisey, on the other hand, came through repeatedly in the clutch. Actually, it’s because of that ability that he even earned a roster spot last season. He played, by his own admission, horribly in spring training and worked his way back into the majors by posting solid numbers in Triple-A.
We could go down the line and list every characteristic that’s important for a quality player to possess, but at this point, I don’t believe it would be beneficial for anything other than stirring crap up. I don’t believe that there is a controversy in center field right now, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be one soon if they both continue on the paths that they’re on.
On a side note, Jonny Gomes appears to have shortened his swing this year. The home run against the White Sox was a change-up hit on a line over the left-center field wall (more center than left) and I couldn’t have asked for a better swing on it. Hitting coaches around the world shed a tear during that swing. Short, quick, powerful, balanced and the sound off the bat was clean. It almost sounded like the bat cracked a little, but that ball left the yard in a hurry. So what does all of that mean? Gomes worked his tail off this winter to get where he needs to be so that he is able to be productive in October and possibly into November. In case you aren’t used to reviewing game film, his front “step in the bucket” step is much smaller now, almost to the point of actually stepping on thin ice. His hands were quick even though they’re not quiet above his shoulders, they’re all over the place, but it actually looked like he hit the inside of the baseball and still powered it out of left field. I know I’ve given him a fair amount of grief over his swing and defense, but it looks like Gomes has come prepared this year, hopefully the changes stick and he keeps pounding the ball.