Zach wrote earlier today that he believed Jeff Keppinger was the best option out there for the White Sox at third base. He got his wish, as the team inked former Tampa Bay Rays infielder to a three-year deal for around $12 million dollars total.
There was an initial wave of disapproval about the move amongst Sox fans via twitter, Facebook, and at least for me, amongst my circle of Sox-fan friends. However, while there are some reservations about this move, this really is not that bad of a signing.
First off, let’s look at the numbers everybody can relate to. Jeff Keppinger is a career .288 hitter and is coming off of a career year in 2012 where he had a slash line of .325/.367/.806 (that’s batting average, on-base percentage, and OPS for those that aren’t too familiar with the baseball lingo). While those are indeed career numbers and expecting those numbers to be repeated probably is not realistic, his career batting average and on-base percentage of .337 show that he’s not going to all of a sudden have a Mark Teahen-type season where he suddenly forgets how to play baseball. Well, at least we hope.
While those numbers are good to hear, the best number to hear about Keppinger is strikeouts. The Sox were just 18th in baseball last year with 1,203 strikeouts, which I find very hard to believe considering the amount of times guys like Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, Gordon Beckham and even Kevin Youkilis in September fanned last season. Since 2010, Keppinger has been the second toughest hitter in baseball to strikeout, as his 6.5 K-rate (the percentage of times you strikeout amongst your plate appearances) trails only Juan Pierre.
While he’s not a power hitter, he’s not a Juan Pierre type either, as he hit nine home runs last season. In addition, Jayson Stark of ESPN tweeted out an interesting stat regarding Keppinger: he is only one of three players to have more extra-base hits and walks than strikeouts since 2007. The other two guys? Dustin Pedroia and Albert Pujols. Now let’s not expect Pedroia or Pujols-like numbers from him either, but all of these numbers point to the conclusion that this guy can certainly hold his own.
Based on his description, he also fits the mold of a two-hitter, which is where you want a low-strikeout bat-control hitter. It would also be good to slide a right-handed bat like Keppinger between left-handed bats De Aza and Dunn (although I think Alex Rios should be opening 2013 in the three-hole, but that’s an entirely different subject).
However, as I mentioned earlier, I do have my reservations about Keppinger. The first thing is the fact that he’s never really had a full-time job handed to him in the American League. He can play every infield position, a huge asset to have, especially off of your bench. That’s where he’s been mostly his entire career.
He did start 132 games for the Astros in 2010 and played well, but we all know the AL is a different animal. Last season, he started just 85 games, so it remains to be seen whether or not he can hold up for a full season in the AL while settling in at one position, something that utility guys sometimes don’t have a whole lot of success at doing (see Mark DeRosa after leaving the Cubs). Also, the man really is not that fast. Since he’s not a power threat and the team is losing probably Kevin Youkilis and AJ Pierzynski, that vacates a lot of home runs.
It’s just my opinion that if the team is going to lose a lot of power, I’d like to see some speed replace that. If he hits .280 and gets on base at a .340 clip though, I’ll forget about that pretty quickly.
Really, Keppinger is probably just a pretty nice stop-gap option until something better from within or in the free agent or trade markets come along. So, why three years? Because his versatility and contact ability make him a viable asset off of your bench. Once that option comes along, whether it be Carlos Sanchez or somebody else, Keppinger can slide back to the bench and be one of the best utility men in the game like he was in Tampa Bay.
So as Hawk would say, “sit back, relax, and strap it down,” and let’s see how this plays out before it’s deemed a horrible signing for Rick Hahn. Just by looking at the numbers, it could work out better than you think.