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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Better Know a Red #8 - Javier Valentin

In part 8 of our ongoing series, Better Know a Red, we profile the Latin Love Machine himself, 30-year old catcher Javier Valentin. Valentin was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the third round of the 1993 amateur draft out of Fernando Callejo High School, Manati, Puerto Rico. Unlike many of the players featured in this series, success did not come quickly to Javy Valentin. He spent his first two years in the rookie leagues, putting up rather poor numbers in the process. In '95, however, he was promoted to A-ball and responded with a huge year, hitting 0.324/0.401/0.567/0.968 with 19 home runs in 383 AB's. He missed the '96 season (not sure why...), but was promoted to AA in '97, and, despite struggling there, was a late-season call-up to the Minnesota Twins that year.

He won the back up catcher job in '98 and played for two seasons with the Twins (with little success) before being sent back down to the minor leagues. In November, 2002 he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers along with Matt Kinney for Gerry Oakes and Matt Yeatman. Five months later, he was flipped to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Jason Conti. He played the '03 season with the Devil Rays and then left as a free agent. Finally, the Cincinnati Reds signed Javy on January 8th, 2004 as their backup catcher.

After a ho-hum '04 season, Valentin broke out in a huge way last season. Coupled with Jason LaRue, he was part of the best hitting catching tandem in the major leagues last year, combining to hit 28 home runs and 110 RBI's. The Reds are hoping for more of the same offensive production from Valentin this year, although the arrival of David Ross may mean he'll see less time behind the plate and more time as a pinch hitter/spot starter at first base.

Among Reds fans attuned to the Reds blogosphere, Javy is certainly most famous due to the efforts of Red Hot Mama. She even provides this dedication in her title tag: "Endeavoring to make Javier Valentin a household name since 2005." Therefore, you simply must go to her Javy Valentin Human League entry to get the real scoop on this guy...once you've finished reading here, of course.

Historical Stats (please visit the Baseball Statistics Quicksheet for definitions and explanations of the various statistics used on this page):
2003/TBA 142 6.20 0/0% 0.254 0.356 0.609 0.203 0.215 -4.0
2004/CIN 222 2.12 0/0% 0.293 0.381 0.674 0.227 0.231 0.3
2005/CIN 254 1.23 0/0% 0.362 0.520 0.883 0.293 0.293 20.8
2005 was just an amazing year for Valentin. While his strikeout rate stayed constant, his walk rate almost doubled, resulting a far better K/BB ratio. This increased patience at the plate was accompanied by a huge surge in both his batting average and, most impressively, his power. Javy had never slugged over 0.381 in the majors prior to last year, but he erupted with a 0.520 SLG, belting 14 home runs in only 254 plate appearances. His VORP went from almost precisely that of a replacement player to a full 20 runs over replacement. I guarantee you that there wasn't a single team in the major leagues last year that wouldn't have loved to get this sort of production out of their backup catcher...heck, most would be pleased to get that from their starting catcher!

2003-2005 Splits:
vs Left 110 1.67 0.255 0.216 0.471 0.169
vs Right 502 2.10 0.329 0.475 0.804 0.267
Home 307 2.57 0.274 0.375 0.648 0.217
Away 305 1.55 0.357 0.487 0.845 0.283
Here we see the primary reason why Javier Valentin is unlikely to ever be legitimately considered for a full-time starting job. Despite being a switch hitter, Valentin really struggles against left-handed pitching. Although he does have slightly better K/BB ratios against lefties, he traditionally has trouble getting on base against them, much less hitting with authority. He has averaged a woeful 0.471 OPS against them over the past three years (note, however, this is only 110 AB's). Last year, he may have shown some slight improvements in this regard. Despite a batting average of only 0.184 vs. lefties, he managed a 0.354 OBP...though still slugged only 0.342. One has to wonder whether he might be better off dropping the switch hitting and becoming a full time left-handed batter. Regardless of his performance vs. lefthanders, Valentin remains a weapon against right-handed hitters. Even when we average across the last three years, rather than only looking at his outstanding '05 season, Javy has a 0.804 OPS vs. right-handers. I'll gladly take that from a catcher.

Valentin shows fairly dramatic home/away splits. His past two years have been with the Reds, so if we were looking for an influence of GABP we might expect to see it here. Instead of the often-predicted surge at home for a guy with power like Valentin, he has actually been a far superior hitter on the road. Nevertheless, we're only looking at about 300 plate appearances per split here; sample sizes could certainly be a factor.

Pos. Year Level DI's PintoGB (+-runs) Passed Balls/150g Caught Stealing CS% ERAeffect
C 2003 MLB 306 --- 4.4 7 30.4% -0.16
C 2004 MLB 410 --- 3.3 12 30.8% 0.32
C 2005 MLB 508 0.00596 8.0 10 28.6% -0.23

(Since this is the first time I've evaluated a catcher, I will once again encourage you to seek out the Baseball Statistics Quicksheet for descriptions & explanations of these statistics).

Valentin looks to be a fairly average defensive catcher. He generally keeps the opposing team from stealing enough bases to do anything other than break even (the break-even point is 28% - less than that means the other team profits from stealing). Over the last three years, there has been no consistent pattern in terms of team ERA when he is in the game (in '03 and '05, pitchers had a better ERA; in '04, pitchers had a worse ERA), indicating that he calls a decent enough ballgame and doesn't otherwise negatively affect pitcher performance. One place in which Valentin may excel defensively: in terms of runs above average saved on ground balls (PintoGB), he was the second-best in baseball last year behind Dioner Navarro. Both Valentin and Navarro are well above the next highest regular (Ivan Rodriguez @ 0.00322), however, so this could also be a small sample size problem. I'd like to see more info on this before rendering any sort of verdict.

PECOTA75 277 1.73 6/67% 0.341 0.478 0.819 0.273 0.273 14.5
PECOTA 232 1.86 6/75% 0.324 0.441 0.765 0.256 0.257 8.1
PECOTA25 219 2.11 5/71% 0.295 0.377 0.672 0.227 0.227 -0.9
ZiPS 227 1.57 5/71% 0.332 0.456 0.788 0.263 --- ---
Projections do predict a decline for the Latin Love Machine this year, which is unsurprising given how different last year was compared to his four other big-league seasons. Baseball prospectus writes: "mediocre pitchers probably aren't going to challenge him with fastballs again in 2006, which will hurt his power numbers." That's probably true, but I'm not entirely convinced he'll regress as far as these values say. If nothing else, I'd predict that he maintains his 0.350ish OBP due to his newfound patience, but that his slugging declines back down to the numbers predicted here. Nevertheless, all projections (save for the bad-case PECOTA25) do predict a solid season out of Javy for a backup catcher. He should continue to be an excellent reserve for us this year.

Baseball Archive, The
Baseball Cube, The
Baseball Prospectus
Baseball Prospectus '06 Annual
Baseball Reference
Baseball Think Factory
CBS Sportsline
Fan Graphs
Fielding Bible
Hardball Times '06 Annual

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