Will Jordany Valdespin Surprise Us In 2013?

Mike McGinnis

The enigmatic infielder/outfielder has shown some subtle signs that he could exceed expectations this season.

The 2013 Baseball Prospectus PECOTA projections were released earlier this month. As Chris noted, PECOTA actually thinks that the Mets might be a decent squad, slating them for third place in the NL East with an 80-82 record.

However, I always find it more interesting to dig into the particulars of the PECOTA projections, looking for the biggest risers and fallers(?) season over season. For example, after a 2012 campaign where he posted a -1.5 WARP (sticking with Baseball Prospectus acronyms), PECOTA envisions Lucas Duda bouncing back to produce a 1.2 season in 2013. Conversely, coming off the heels of a career season, PECOTA expects David Wright to regress in 2013.

And then there's Jordany Valdespin. PECOTA expects that in about a half-season of reps Valdespin will bat .246, knock eight home runs, steal 17 bases and post an on-base around .280. In short, pretty much the same season he had in 2012. He's projected to post a 0.5 WARP -- again the exact same mark as last season. To further confirm PECOTA's expectations, Valdespin was tagged with a 49% Improve Rate; a player who is expected to perform just the same as he has in the recent past will have an Improve Rate of 50 percent. However, is there cause for Mets fans to expect more than what we saw from the 25-year-old in 2012?

Not to answer my own question or anything but yes, yes there is. You may remember a similar piece I penned back in October on the heels of the 2012 season. In it I posed the question, is Jordany Valdespin an everyday player? The general thrust of the story was that -- despite the fact that the mainstream seemingly ignored it -- the rookie had exhibited promising gains in plate discipline throughout 2012.

Down in Mets camp last Saturday, Manager Terry Collins stated:

"[Valdespin] did some very, very good things last year for us coming off the bench...Obviously what we saw at the end is that we’ve got to get him a little more disciplined at the plate to handle some of the offspeed stuff."

Collins went on to explain that Valdespin made good strides with plate discipline in the Dominican Winter League, especially in the second half of the season.

First, let's evaluate that statement as it pertains to Valdespin's time in winter ball. After posting a 4.9% walk rate for the Mets in 2012, Valdespin clearly focused on the base on balls this winter. For the Tigres del Licey, he posted a stellar 16.6% walk rate in 31 games (108 plate appearances). In fact, he actually walked more than he struck out (18:15) -- an incredible statement given the general sentiment about his over-aggressive nature late last season. Here are those results graphically (click images to embiggen):

Valdespinbbtok_medium

A highly impressive feat -- though Collins' statement about an improvement in the second half of the winter league season doesn't seem entirely accurate. Instead, Valdespin showcased a consistently high walk rate -- and conversely low strikeout rate (13.8%) -- throughout the campaign. Now he did seem to backslide a bit after missing a couple of weeks due to an attitude-related suspension (another issue for another day), though the composite rates remained very strong.

Not to beat a dead horse here, but this isn't an entirely new phenomenon. Let's quickly re-visit the gains that Valdespin quietly showcased during his 2012 campaign:

Valdespinbb__medium

Additionally, to better understand Valdespin's improvement take a look at at his stark Pitches per Plate Appearance splits from 2012:

Valdespinpitchespa_medium

In 74 plate appearances in the first half of the season, Valdespin's 3.46 pitches/plate appearance ranked 358th among National League batters. His 4.06 mark in 132 plate appearances during the second half was not only well above the 3.82 major league average (3.80 NL avg.) but also ranked 114th in the NL. That is not an insignificant improvement. For reference, that was the difference between Mike Trout and Darwin Barney in 2012.

Clearly, there was some instruction going on by Dave Hudgens and the Mets coaching staff -- and clearly some of that instruction was sinking in. The fact that Valdespin has begun to show that he can execute this approach while maintaining his dynamic offensive ability is a very good sign for his overall value proposition.

Valdespin possesses one of the best overall combinations of power, speed, and athleticism in the entire organization and though he's still got plenty of questions left to answer, increased patience would go a long way toward making him a viable building block for this club. While I may be on an island with this one, I fully expect Valdespin to open a lot of eyes in 2013 by eventually forcing himself into the lineup on a nearly regular basis -- regardless of where he's playing defensively -- and perhaps even getting a shot at the currently vacant leadoff spot.


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