Monday, January 21, 2008
Taking it as a given that Ray Durham is going to start the season as the Giants' regular second baseman (veteran-ness and salary-ness should be enough), I'd like to explore whether or not there is any chance of a rebound year from Ray-Ray. It's silly to expect a return to his 2006 levels of greatness, but I also just can't believe his 2007 train wreck is now his established level of performance. He's just simply been too good for too long.
First of all, I'm on the record as being in full favor of the Durham re-signing when it happened, and I still staunchly defend it. I thought then, and still believe, that it was a smart little gambit to make, a two-year deal worth a not-unreasonable amount of cash spent on a player who had been one of the best second baseman in the NL for the entirety of his Giants contract. Again, there was no reason to think Durham would repeat the glory of 2006, but there was every reason to think he'd still maintain the kind of .280/.360/.440 baseline that he'd established with the Giants from 2003-05. That, in my opinion, is definitely worth $14 million over two years.
It just didn't work out. Nobody, even with Durham's age and all of his nagging injuries, could have predicted that he'd fall off a cliff as abruptly as he did. His .218/.295/.343 season was like a C4-loaded bullet train crashing full throttle into the Giants championship run of my dreams. Of all the questionable moves Brian Sabean has made in the past few years, the Durham signing is one that I absolutely won't give him flak for. It was a sound decision, based on Durham's previous productive four years, and any nay-saying is essentially "hindsight-is-20/20" BS.
So with that all said, can Durham pull himself out of the muck and back to respectability? Well, I went to Baseball Reference and checked out a list of the most comparable players to Durham, and, well, it doesn't look good. Durham's most similar player is Jay Bell, the former Arizona middle infielder who in 1999 fluked his way to 38 desert-addled home runs, and otherwise was a pretty good hitter for most of his career. Durham will be 36 this year, and Bell, at that age, was done, offering up a .163/.250/.306 line in a miserable, injury-plagued season. Two years later he'd be gone for good.
Durham's top ten most similar players through the age of 35 is an impressive list, and includes Hall of Famers Joe Morgan and Ryne Sandberg, and borderline HOF candidates like Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Barry Larkin, and Craig Biggio. Unfortunately, of all the guys on that list, only Morgan and Whitaker did anything after turning 36, and Whitaker mostly because he was in a strict platoon. Biggio was okay after he turned 36, but a lot of his power numbers are a Crawford Box-induced mirage.
So, looking at similar players, it seems as though the writing is on the wall. Even if Durham doesn't stink like he did last season, even a moderate improvement would still be a drain on the lineup. I guess the situation the Giants are looking at now is to just hope and pray that Durham rebounds to a modicum of his former self, then try to pawn him off at the deadline. Or, at the very least, keep him and have adequate production at second base.
On the plus side, Durham's walk rate held steady, and his strikeout rate didn't skyrocket (though it did climb a bit), so maybe there was some bad luck involved. Still, the prospects of a bounceback don't look good, and to make matters even more horrifying, as Grant at McCovey Chronicles points out, it may not be a choice between Durham and Frandsen, but between Durham and Pedro Feliz, because if Frandsen beats Durham for the second base job and Durham is jettisoned...Heeeeere's Happy! Yeah, now you see the gravity of the situation. So, please, Ray, have a rebound year for all of us.
--On Martin Luther King Day, a lovely little tribute, courtesy of U2...
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