May 19, 2010

Pirates Preparing To Replace Iwamura

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / May 19, 2010

I was one of many who liked the Pirates' offseason trade of Jesse Chavez for Akinori Iwamura. Nobody expected a spectacular year from the new second baseman, but Iwamura is just 31 and had a solid career line of .281/.354/.393 - above average production for the position.

Now 39 games into the season, Iwamura is in the worst slump of his career. Since May 2 he has one hit. It's still not Memorial Day but he's now hitting .156 in 128 at bats. This is "worst player in baseball" territory.

Fangraphs recently ran a piece suggesting that Iwamura's start was the product of bad luck, considering his low batting average on balls in play. That's easy to say when you don't watch the team, but Iwamura simply hasn't been getting unlucky on his hits. The majority of his outs are on weak grounders, with some weak pop-ups sprinkled in.

Even if his hitting does rebound, there's still the matter of Iwamura's subpar range and difficulties in turning the double play. His defense doesn't look good behind the Pirates' pitch-to-contact staff. He had the reputation of an average or slightly above average defender but I'm not seeing it.

Iwamura is here on a one-year, $4.25 million contract. The Pirates would clearly love for him to put together good enough numbers to be worth trading. Yet it's hard to imagine an MLB team taking on his contract, much less giving up value in return.

Consider that Freddy Sanchez, an excellent defender who was batting .296 at the time he was traded, netted only an AA pitching prospect who doesn't strike anyone out. Iwamura, if he hits .300 from here on out, will not even be hitting .250 by the trade deadline.

While outwardly expressing confidence in their second baseman - including pinch-hitting him against Roy Halladay last night - the Pirates have been quietly preparing to replace him. The switch-hitting Neil Walker, ostensibly training to become a utility man, has recently been starting at second base every day in Indianapolis. Batting second in the lineup, Neil has raked his way to a .329/.402/.584 start. At 24 he looks major league ready now. He has good power, can steal bases, and has a good walk rate. Iwamura has only the last of those three.

We learned in 2009 that Delwyn Young isn't an everyday second baseman. Bobby Crosby, if he does play every day, should be doing it at shortstop. By the All-Star break, Neil Walker will be starting at second base every day in Pittsburgh.


  1. What it looks like after watching and listening to Hanley Ramirez is these guys who decide that they don't like the team they are playing for just go into the "shut down mode". I'll bet if Aki goes to another team that he likes his play will mysteriously pick up. These guaranteed contracts are killers. The players know , no matter what, they will get every penny of that contract and the teams have no recourse,guys like Manny,Hinske,Hanley and Aki can just quit on a team 'till they get what they want.It is just too bad that other teams will see this behavior and still line up to sign these players.Maybe taking these players to court for not fulfilling their contracts might be the way to go.

  2. i dont think Aki is tanking it at all. hes just struggling badly right now and hes out of shape; hes at least 25 lbs heavier than last season. he doesnt have a history of being a malcontent so i'm giving him the benefit of the doubt.

  3. 9:09 Anon, it is refreshing to hear one of our players mentioned in the same sentence as Hanley Ramirez. Killing two teams' problems with one move, I would trade Aki straight up for Hanley right now.

  4. B.S.

    Your attitude is the problem.
    A team gives a freaking player 70 million freaking dollars...he signs that contract. Now he is too freaking good to run after a freaking ball and now you want that player on your team. You love that player untill he gives up on your team in the middle of a season.have you ever seen the truly great players give up on a team or a play? Pujols or Jeter or whoever?

  5. Nice to finally get some conversation going! Anon, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Everyone should play hard. My trade-for-Hanley comment was tongue in cheek anyway.

    Just sayin', people are making a big deal out of one play. I can remember in 2004 a time when Omar Vizquel - veteran of veterans! - didn't run out a double play. Reprehensible of course, but here we're talking about young guys. I should have had a 3.9 college GPA and I had a 3.3. Such is life.