Earlier this evening, Jon Heyman said that Travis Ishikawa has a shot to beat out Andrew Lambo for the first base job against right-handed pitchers.
Travis ishikawa is having nice spring and has good chance to beat out andrew lambo to share 1B with gaby sanchez. #pirates
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) March 24, 2014
This seems largely speculating based on his Spring Training numbers. Ishikawa currently has a .333/.467/.708 line in 24 at-bats this Spring. The most important number there is that we’re only talking about 24 at-bats. A lot of those at-bats have come against Triple-A guys later in the game, after all of the starters left the game. Meanwhile, Lambo is 4-for-42. Those aren’t good numbers, but to put them in perspective, they basically represent one to two horrible weeks during the regular season.
Ken Rosenthal seems to think that the Pirates are still looking at Lambo and Ishikawa, and won’t go for someone like the recently available Juan Francisco.
Source: #Pirates will not pursue Francisco once he clears release waivers. Still looking at Lambo and Ishikawa as LHH complement to Sanchez.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) March 24, 2014
The problem with starting Ishikawa based on his Spring Training numbers is that you’re putting a lot of stock into 24 at-bats, and ignoring 684 at-bats in the process. That’s what Ishikawa has in his career against right-handed pitching at the major league level. In that time, he has a .737 OPS. Putting that in perspective, Garrett Jones had a .730 OPS last year against right-handers. Throughout his career, Ishikawa has basically been the 2013 version of Jones, only with better defense.
Meanwhile, Lambo doesn’t really have any career stats to counter his horrible performance this Spring. What he does have is a 2013 season where he combined for a .922 OPS and 32 homers in 444 at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A during the 2013 season. That doesn’t guarantee any major league success, but it does mean Lambo should get a shot.
Going with prospects can be unsettling. They provide no guarantees, and unless you’re talking about the very top prospects like Gregory Polanco, they provide no reason for strong optimism. But as I’ve said all off-season, the Pirates always need to give guys like Lambo a shot. He could very well end up a bust, but they need to take that risk because the alternative is that his 2013 breakout was for real, and they’ve solved their first base position for a few years.
I could go through all of the past Spring Training numbers and point out players who had a horrible Spring and ended up turning things around. I’m not going to do that, because I’m not going to say that Lambo will turn this around. What I will point out is that 42 Spring Training at-bats isn’t a real shot.
I don’t think Ishikawa should win the job. I also don’t see him winning the job, since the Pirates don’t usually base these opinions on Spring Training results. Ishikawa isn’t a horrible option to have as a Plan C behind Lambo and Chris McGuiness. But you know what you’re getting with Ishikawa, and the upside isn’t that big. Lambo has much more risk, but also much more reward. The Pirates might not win if Lambo becomes a bust. But they’re also not going to win by playing it safe and going for the small upside that Ishikawa provides. Rather than playing it safe, they need to take a risk and hope to get a big reward out of Lambo.
Links and Notes
**The 2014 Prospect Guide is in stock on the products page of the site. The book features profiles, scouting reports, and grades on every player in the minor league system, including our top 50 prospects. The Prospect Guide has been mentioned as a resource several times on the Pirates’ broadcast, and has been purchased as a source of reference by opposing MLB front office members, opposing scouts, and media members. If it’s a good resource for them, it’s a good resource for you. You can order your Prospect Guide on the products page of the site.