Manzella or Sanchez. Who should start at short?

Tommy has returned, and Astro fans could not be any happier. Well I guess if the Astros could find a way to move Carlos Lee they would, but I digress. The real reason is the trading of Pedro Feliz, opening up a spot for Manzella to return to the team. Which means the front office didn’t have to send down Sanchez, the most likely candidate, once Manzella was activated. The question is "who starts at short?"

With Sanchez playing well Brad Mills stated a couple weeks ago that Manzella would not lose his starting job upon his return. Now I’m reading, on twitter, that according to Mills Sanchez will get a majority of the time at shortstop. Wade, in an astros.com article, has said they will split time. With Manzella regulated to getting starts depending on pitching matchups, or splitting time, the question now becomes "is this a wise move?"

Sanchez is a perfect example of what you would call a replacement level player his wins above replacement (WAR) sits at 0.1 Manzella on the other hand is below replacement level with a -.9 WAR. If you look at their batting average on balls in play (BABiP) you can see that Manzella has had the least luck with a .291, while Sanchez has been the beneficiary of a .350 BABiP. Meaning Sanchezs numbers are due to come down a bit, while Manzella numbers are due to improve.

Let’s take a look though at their minor league numbers to see what we can expect from each player offensively.

Both players look very similar offensive wise in the minors, they’re separated by less than 25 points in on base percentage (OBP), and slugging percentage (SLG). Manzella only leads Sanchez in on base plus slugging percentage by 9 points. Their stolen base percentage is exactly the same at 66%. We are essentially splitting hairs on who is potentially the better offensive player.

Defensively their fielding percentage in the majors are similar as well. Sanchez has a .971 fielding percentage with 4 errors. Manzella has a .970 fielding percentage with 8 errors. Breaking that down Manzella had an error about every 61.2 innings, Sanchez ever 79.2 innings. Manzella has a slight advantage in the advanced defensive statistics, but both sit in the negative in regards to Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR).

There is one difference between Tommy and Angel, Out of Zone (OOZ). Out of Zone is the total number of outs made by a fielder hit outside his zone. Sanchez has made 7 OOZ plays in 37 games while Manzella has made 22 OOZ plays in 59 games. Account for the difference in games played, Manzella has made over double the OOZ plays Sanchez has. There is a catch though, Sanchez appears to be slightly better than Manzella at making outs on balls hit into his zone. Which is confirmed by the fact that Manzella has made more errors than Sanchez has, even if you account for the difference in games played.

Offensively both look to provide around a .250 average, .300 OBP and a .350 SLG offensively. Defensively Manzella provides more range than Sanchez, but Sanchez is the more sure handed of the two. Keep in mind though we’re dealing with a small sample size, so the defensive statistics can be taken with an extra grain of salt.

So which one to choose?

They are only five months apart in age, heck they even have the same physical stats. Both stand six feet two inches tall and both are within five pounds of each others weight. And they essentially are both going to be around a replacement level player.

In the grand scheme of things I don’t think it matters, but I would give Manzella the start at short because of his range. He can cut down on the errors, but Sanchez can’t suddenly gain a few steps of range. I also like Sanchez coming off the bench more, because he has more versatility than Manzella. Sanchez spent a majority of his time at short, 737 games,  in the minors, but also played 67 games at second base and 15 at third base.

Manzella has only played shortstop in the minors. Keeping Manzella on the bench as a utility player who can only play short seems like a wasted roster spot. Mills has discuss the possibility of Manzella playing a little second base, but he hasn't played the position since 2003 as a junior in college.

Offensively Sanchez seems to do well in RBI opportunities, which is a plus for a guy coming off the bench. Putting Manzella on the bench isn't going to help the Astros determine if he can hit at the major league level.

Manzella has had a history of taking about 200 plate appearance at a level before he begins to kick it up a notch with his offense. He currently sits at 209 plate appearances this season. If his rehab stint is any indication, he may be ready to produce a little more offensively in the big leagues. In 41 at bats during his rehab assignment he posted an OPS of .907.

Sanchez is due to regress. Manzella, on the other hand, looks ready to bring his big boy stick to the plate. What do you think?

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