Friday, August 29, 2008

Stairs' Way to Heaven

The Phillies have reportedly acquired Matt Stairs from the Toronto Blue Jays, hoping to add another left-handed bat and give the offense a spark. Stairs is basically there to be the new Geoff Jenkins and this move suggests that we may have seen the last of Jenkins in 2008.

Like Jenkins, Stairs has had a down year. He is currently batting .250 with 11 HRs and 44 RBIs in 105 games. Not bad for a 40 year-old, but more was expected after his 2007 campaign, when he hit .289 with 21 homers. He is getting on base at a similar rate this year, with a .342 OBP (.368 OBP in 2007) but his slugging percentage has taken a huge hit. After slugging .549 last year, he's down to .394 this season. In fact, if the season ended today, he would have posted the worst slugging percentage of his career. Is age catching up to Stairs? Maybe. More likely, last season was a fluke.

But that's not to say there isn't a silver lining. For whatever reason, Stairs has put up ridiculous numbers at Citizen's Bank Park. In eight career games at CBP, he has hit 6 home runs and has posted a .444 batting average. Three of those home runs came in 2004, when he was with the Royals and the other three came last year with Toronto. Interestingly, three of these home runs came off Geoff Geary (two on June 18th, 2004 and one on May 20, 2007). It's a shame Geary doesn't play for the Mets.

Is this another fluke (after all, Stairs has only played eight games in CBP) or is the Phillies home field truly Heaven for the aging slugger? It's hard to judge. Stairs has fared quite well in the best home run hitter's parks, which could imply that he is a good fly ball hitter and therefore can take advantage of homer havens like CBP, Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, and Coors Field in Colorado. Of course it could also mean that he hits well in these parks for the same reasons everyone else does.

It's also worth considering (no pun intended) who Stairs will be replacing. In all likelihood he will be platooning with Jayson Werth. This could prove problematic in the field, as Stairs is not exactly known for his range. With Pat Burrell in left field and Stairs in right, Shane Victorino will have to cover a ton of ground in center. Then again, Stairs is probably comparable to Jenkins in the outfield and the Phillies survived that well enough.

The greater impact will be at the plate, where using Stairs against right-handers instead of Werth should prove advantageous. Werth's career OPS against right-handed pitching is only .762, while Stairs' OPS is .860. Of course, it should be noted that Stairs' 2008 OPS vs RHP is only .744. However, if nothing else, the extra rest should keep Werth healthy and whichever of the two outfielders is not starting will be a valuable pinch hitter.

Stairs' greatest asset, as far as the Phillies are concerned may be his approach to hitting. The Phillies' hitters, on the whole, tend to be very patient at the plate. Werth is a prime example of the Phillies' somewhat passive approach to hitting, as he swings at fewer first pitches than anyone in the majors. Stairs is the opposite. He has swung at first pitches more than any pitch except for 2-2 counts and full counts. That aggressive mentality could serve very well on the Phillies, who have often struggled with runners in scoring position. Stairs will likely hit sixth, behind Victorino, or possibly behind Burrell, if Charlie Manuel reverts to the old lineup. Either way, with the heart of the order in front of him, Stairs should get plenty of chances with runners on base and therefore should see his share of first-pitch fastballs.

Considering that the Phillies won't give up much for Stairs, this is a productive move. Mark Kotsay would have been more valuable, as he is a great fielder, but Stairs should provide the offense with a little more punch and improve the bench. Worst case scenario? See Jenkins, Geoff.

No comments: