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The Brett Wallace Debate

If you’ve read the comments the past couple weeks you’ll notice that a bit of a debate broke out regarding Brett Wallace’s playing time. With Wallace struggling, Brad Mills has pinch-hit for or started someone else for Wallace on several occasions. I don’t plan to rehash the entire debate, nor pick one side or the other, but I will go over both points of view briefly.

On one side, there are those who believe Wallace should be given every opportunity to play. He’s an exciting young player and he still needs time to develop. Sitting on the bench and being pinch hit for in no way helps his development. The team is not going to accomplish anything this season, so giving Wallace as much playing time as possible will help his development.

The other side believes that if Wallace isn’t producing he should be sitting. It was thrown around on other blogs, a few weeks ago, that maybe Wallace should be sent back to the minors. Carlos Lee has filled in admirably at first in a couple starts both offensively and defensively. Keeping Wallace on the bench means he won’t lose confidence in key high pressure situations.

I was strongly on the side that believed he should be given every opportunity to start, and in fact wrote a post about it. As you probably noticed that post never saw day light. Something didn’t feel right about the and, instead of going with my heart on the I decided to go with my head and do a little research.

Brad Mills as you know served as the Boston Red Sox bench coach from 2004-2009. There was another young player who struggled during Mills tenure with the Red Sox. Terry Francona stuck with this player even when the player probably deserved to be shipped back to the minors. That player eventually rewarded Francona especially in 2008 when said player won the AL MVP. I’m sure by now you’ve figured out who I am talking about, second baseman Dustin Pedroia. In his first thirty one games he batted to the tune of a .191/.258/.303 slash line. That’s an on base plus slugging percentage adjusted for park factors (OPS+) of 42. The average player has an OPS+ of 100, so 42 is well below average.

The first 27 games of 2007 Pedroia continued to struggle and had a .180 batting average. The remainder of that season he batted .336/.391/.471 slash line. Finishing 2007 with an OPS+ of 112, while also winning the Rookie of the Year award. With that in mind, I decided to see how Terry Francona handled Dustin Pedroia, and to find out if there’s some method to Mills madness.

Pedroia came up in 2006 and played in thirty one games for the Red Sox. Boston would finish with an 89-76 record in 2006, good for third place in the AL East. It’s pretty safe to assumed that the Red Sox were a long shot to make the playoffs when Pedroia was called up. Which may explain why he was allowed to play through some of his struggles in a town like Boston, who consistently contend for a World Series appearance. He sat for 7 of the 38 games he was on the team. In the 31 games he did participate he completed 20 of those. The other 11 he only played a part time role, and in 2 of those 11 games in which the game was close he was pinch hit for.  

In comparison Brett Wallace has completed 19 of 32 games he’s been with the Astros. He’s been sat for 3 games and has been pinch hit for in 4 close games. For those of you keeping score at home that means he’s played part time in 10 games. He currently has a slash line of .207/.309/.244 for an OPS+ of 52. He’s struggled at the level Pedroia did in 2006, and how the managers have handled each individual player is telling.

Wallace has completed and played part time in almost exactly as many games as Pedroia in lesser games. Meaning Wallace is on pace to complete more games than Pedroia did. Wallace has played slightly better than Pedrioa did in 2006, which explains why he’ll of completed more games. Being pinch hit for in close games though is a bit interesting. Wallace to this point has already been pinch hit for 4 times while Pedroia was only pinch hit for twice.

I’d make the argument though that the 2006 Red Sox with a better offensive team may explain this. In 2006 the Red Sox scored 820 runs, the Astros so far this season have scored 500 and I don’t think they’ll make up that 300+ difference in the final month of the season. The lack of offense on the Astros part means theirs more pressure to pinch hit for a hitter hovering around the Mendoza Line.

I think it’s fair to say that Francona has had an influence on how Mills handles his young players.Both players were given plenty of opportunities to start. When they struggled they sat, or in some games played part time roles. This is good news for both sides of the argument. If you’re frustrated with Wallace’s play, you will seen him sat here or there with Lee making a start. In high leverage situations he’ll be pinch hit for an in attempt to win the game. While those frustrated with Mill’s handling of Wallace can be assured that he will be given every opportunity to succeed in this season and all of next season.

In 2007 Pedroia struggled mightily to begin the season. Up to May 12th He was pinch hit for 8 times in close games. After May 12th when Pedroia started producing he was never pinch hit for again in 2007, and completed 114 games. In 2008 he was not pinch hit for once in the entire season, and completed 147 games. Mills appears to be following the same blueprint for dealing with struggling young players. After looking at Pedroia case it doesn’t seem like a bad way of handling young players. Those of us high on Wallace can be rest assured that he will be given opportunities to succeed both the rest of this year, and next year.

I think there is a middle ground to be had on the debate. Winning is good, it’s good for the morale, it’s good for building confidence, and it’s good for the fans. The first half of the season tested even the most patient of us. We have been rewarded in the second half with both improved play and a new direction. The organization took the first steps in that new direction, and there’s a lot of excitement to be had in the youth of this team. Which is why being patient with both the young players and coaching staff is so important. They’re the future and while I’ve been upset with the way Mills has handled the young players, the fact of the matter is he’s using a proven method. Wallace has been and will be given every opportunity to succeed. It’s up to him to produce and prove to everyone that he can be that everyday player.