Cesar Izturis and Ineptitude


Cliff Lee should be ashamed of himself.

It’s merely a coincidence that I say that a day after he imploded on a national stage; I’m actually referring to a pitch he threw way back on July 10, an 89-mph fastball on the inner half.

It took me awhile to track down video of the pitch, because it resulted in a Cesar Izturis home run, and the video isn’t on Cesar Izturis‘ MLB.com highlight reel.

Why not? Well, my hypothesis is that whoever puts these videos up saw “Cesar Izturis HR” and figured they were hallucinating, with “off Cliff Lee” seemingly confirming their suspicions.

I live in Virginia, so I see a fair amount of Orioles coverage, but I guess they’re just so obscure that Izturis’ historic ineptitude slipped my mind. I mean, I knew he wasn’t much of a hitter, but .230/.277/.268? Damn.

Thankfully, the Internet at large has picked up my slack in the matter. A quick google search of “Cesar Izturis” autocompletes to:

I’m glad “inexplicable continued blogging” isn’t the fourth thing you get if you search my name on google.

But just how insane is the idea of making Izturis and his flaccid bat a starting major league shortstop? Let’s delve into it.

Okay, the guy has no power. Izturis is a career .323 slugger, with 15 homers in 10 seasons. But at least that’s within the semi-normal realm for shortstops.

He’s impatient, too, walking in just 4.9% of his career plate appearances, and posting a .296 career OBP. That begins to set Izturis apart from his light-hitting peers at the position.

But where Izturis’ complete cluelessness at the plate comes through is in one stat that most slappy shortstops generally do OK in–batting average. He’s a career .256 hitter, which is just awful for someone who whiffs in less than 10% of his ABs. That average is all of 11 points higher than Jack Cust‘s, 14 points higher than Mark Reynolds‘, and just six points higher than Adam Dunn‘s.

Of course, Izturis didn’t even come close to his own pathetic standard at the plate in 2010: He hit .230/.277/.268 to his career .256/.296/.332.

And yet, the guy got into 150 games. 513 times, he strode to the plate.

Now, Izturis is a good defender at shortstop. He always has been, and while 2010 wasn’t his best showing in that department, he still added half a win to the Orioles with his defense alone, per Fangraphs’ WAR.

Izturis’ fielding acumen doesn’t translate to offense at all, though. Only twice in his 10-year career has he stolen 13 bases or more, and despite his ability to put the ball in play, he’s hit .270 or higher exactly once. Clearly, whatever athleticism works for him in the field doesn’t go with him in other aspects.

Perhaps the most damning indictment of all is that Mets pitcher Jon Niese–who struck out in 27 of his 53 2010 at-bats–was a more valuable hitter than Izturis in 2010, with a .250 wOBA to Izturis .248. And it’s not like Niese did anything special in his other 26 AB, either–the guy hit .189 with a .226 slugging.

All that said, I can see ways that Izturis has some value in the majors. No, seriously, I can.

His defensive abilities aren’t easy to find, so he could certainly be a late-game defensive replacement/utility infielder, probably best utilized in the AL, where benches don’t get used as much, so you can immediately pinch-hit for him if his spot comes up. Izturis could also make sense as a backup on a contending team with a we-can’t risk-some-rookie-coming-up-and-hitting-.100 mentality. Sure, more often than not the latter idea is shortsighted, but it is the safe way, at least if you aren’t paying Izturis over the minimum.

The Orioles, of course, are far from a team that has to worry about destroying their playoff chances. The last thing a cellar dweller needs is a present-oriented player who isn’t producing, which nobody embodies more than Izturis right now.

So what should they have done with the shortstop spot in 2010? Anything else, really. Get someone–anyone–who isn’t a known quantity out there, and see what happens. Sure, maybe it’s just an endless string of Luis Hernandezes, but maybe a Mike Aviles type slips in, helping your team out in both the present and future.

21 starts for Izturis in September? Really? He had a negative impact in 13 of them. For all the improvement the Orioles had under Buck Showalter, there was no turning around Izturis, it seemed.

Part of the reason he slumped so badly in 2010, as opposed to being merely bad before then, is that Izturis apparently decided to hit more fly balls. His 35% flyball rate was easily the highest of his career. Here’s a list of batters who put the ball in the air less:

Joey Votto
Ryan Braun
Billy Butler
Cody Ross
Torii Hunter
Brandon Phillips
Hanley Ramirez
Hunter Pence
Jason Heyward
Marlon Byrd
Michael Cuddyer

Apparently, Izturis resolved to out-slug those guys, which resulted in his bountiful .038 Isolated Power. So, that worked out.

Somehow, the best idea the Orioles had to spell Izturis was Julio Lugo, who hit a nearly-as-bad .249/.298/.282, and defended badly enough that he was, unbelievably enough, even worse than Izturis.

At some point, you have to try someone new. Someone who isn’t guaranteed to be terrible, or, at least, someone who will be terrible for the minimum salary. Robert Andino? Scott Moore? Not good options, but at least there’s something of a point to trying them out. Even if Izturis hit .300 this year, would the Orioles have been good? No. Would he be any more likely to contribute to the next Baltimore contender? No. So why pay him at all, let alone pay him to actually detract from the team’s record? At least bench the guy once it’s clear he couldn’t get a golf ball through the infield.

The best idea here, of course, is to trade for a nondescript production-heavy AAA veteran, a la Aviles, and see if the guy can make it work in the bigs. Chase Lambin, anyone? Elliot Johnson? Wes Timmons? Luis Rodriguez? Joe Dillon? Russ Adams? Cody Ransom? If the guy fails, all you’re out is some cash considerations, and if he succeeds, you have your bridge to Manny Machado.

The worst thing to do for a team in the 2010 Orioles’ situation is to stand pat and run a present-oriented guy out there day after day, seeing only negative value accumulate. You want bad team management? Look no further.