You’ve heard of the Mendoza Line. Named after Mario Mendoza, a shortstop for the Pirates, Mariners and Rangers in the 1970s and early 1980s. He was a career .215 hitter. To this day, when a hitter has a batting average hovering around .200, it is known as the “Mendoza Line.” In his era, that wasn’t good, but shortstop did not become an offensive position until the mid-1990s. So today, I have to ask one question for Twins Daily readers to consider. What is the “Limbo Line” as it relates to offense from a shortstop? How Low Can They (the offensive numbers) Go?
No one is going to dispute the importance of the shortstop position defensively. The shortstop is the leader of the infield. It is important for a good defensive shortstop to have great range, going left or right. It is important for a good defensive shortstop to have a strong, accurate arm, particularly to make the long throw from the 5.5 hole. He must make the routine plays. The Twins shortstop, Pedro Florimon, is among baseball’s best on defense.
However, although defense is immensely important for a shortstop, offense is also part of the game. It is the part that Pedro Florimon has not been able to do well. In his minor league career, he hit .249/.321/.354 (.675) over seven seasons. In AA, his OPS was .678. At the AAA level, he posted an OPS of .652.
So when Florimon hit .221/.281/.330 (.611) in his first full season last year with the Twins, it is what should have been expected. The fact that he added nine home runs and 15 stolen bases was respectable, though certainly not as good as his 70 OPS+ would indicate.
Florimon is obviously off to a bad start in the first two weeks of 2014. Through 35 plate appearances in 11 games, he enters Tuesday’s game hitting just .067/.176/.067 (.243) with just two hits. Of course, being extremely worked up about his .067 batting average is akin to getting really excited about the possibility of a hitter with a .450 batting average at this point in the season becoming the first player since Ted Williams over 70 years ago to hit .400. The sample is just too small.
How much of that is due to missing about a month of spring training after his emergency appendectomy? There is no way to know that. Over the final two weeks of spring training, Florimon was playing daily, and as the season started, he was at 100%
What is realistic to expect is that 2014 should be a little bit better than 2013. Nothing dramatic. Maybe an OPS above .630. What is the batting average, on base percentage of OPS line that you would find acceptable as it relates to Pedro Florimon at the shortstop position?
As a reminder, Pedro Florimon’s defense is among the best in baseball. Any look at the 2013 defensive metrics will back that up. Looking at Baseball-Reference, Florimon’s defensive WAR was 2.2. That was second among all shortstops to the Braves’ Andrelton Simmons and his remarkable 5.4. Florimon’s 5.29 Range Factor per Nine led MLB, ahead of Simmons who came in at 4.92.
One of the most important things about Florimon has been his ability to not take his struggles at the plate into the field. If you don’t want to buy the defensive metrics, Florimon certainly passed the eye test. He has the range in both directions and comes in on the slow rollers well. He has a very strong arm.
Finally, when you consider the pitchers on the Twins staff, middle infield defense becomes pretty valuable. Phil Hughes has struck out a batter per inning through his first two starts. However, none of the five starters classifies as a strikeout pitcher. They will all likely give up a hit per inning. The ball will be put in play and defense does matter.
I have been a proponent of Pedro Florimon through the offseason because of the defense. For me, the “Limbo Line” with Florimon is probably an OPS about where he was in 2013. Maybe a .610-.620 OPS. I’d love to see a .250 batting average or a .300 on-base percentage. I don’t think either of those is realistic.
Danny Santana is at AAA. He’s hitting about .250 this young season. He is not ready, but he could be a possibility by September or more likely mid-2015. Last week, the Twins acquired Eduardo Nunez from the Yankees. Although he is more of a utility player, he could work his way from #2 utility man to starting shortstop at some point this season. His defense at shortstop is statistically horrific, but he could post a .700 OPS. Jorge Polanco is getting a chance to play shortstop consistently at the start of the 2014 season. He has six errors in 10 games. He is hitting very well. He has a long ways to go.
So, for you, what is the value of great defense? I’m curious what your thoughts are for where the Limbo Line should be for the Twins shortstop. In your opinion, how low can Pedro Florimon’s batting average, on-base percentage or OPS go?