Welcome to the initial edition of a new weekly feature here at numberFire, entitled On the Hot Seat. In this weekly feature, I'll identify and discuss baseball personnel that are on the hot seat and in danger of losing their role and/or job.
While players will be the focus, executives and managers will also be discussed when appropriate.
With each of the five players selected each week, I will do three things. First, I'll explain why they are on this list. Has the player’s performance suffered or is there a top prospect waiting in the wings ready to claim the job? Perhaps both? Maybe the executive has made a few ill-advised trades or the manager has lost control of the locker room?
Second, I'll discuss what, if anything, each player, executive, and/or manager can do to remove their name from this list. Will a hot streak buy each individual a bit more time or is the writing already on the wall?
Finally, I plan to examine what will happen from a team perspective if the individual on the hot seat is indeed demoted or fired. Will the player be benched or demoted? Perhaps the player will just be moved down in the order or to lower leverage situations. Is the demotion permanent or will the player have an opportunity to reclaim his former job? Who will take his job? In the case of a non-player, will the bench coach or assistant GM step up in the short term? How about the long term? Is this the end of the road for the non-player or will he be likely to find another opportunity with another club?
Without further ado, here is the inaugural edition of “On the Hot Seat.”
1. Mike Moustakas
Why is he here? Former top prospect and heralded “future of the position,” Mike Moustakas has failed to live up to the lofty expectations saddled upon him during his prospect days. This season, Moose has not only been a disappointment, but has been an offensive disaster by just about every metric.
The slugger has the second-worst average among qualified players in the league at .147, and his .215 OBP and .321 SLG are not any better. Perhaps you prefer sabermetric stats? Moustakas has a .238 wOBA and a 43 wRC+. Those are not typos, either; the Moose has really struggled with the stick this year.
Defensively, Moustakas has been very good, posting an 8.4 UZR/150, but his sub-replacement level offense could land him on the bench or in Omaha very shortly.
Can he remove himself from this list? Hit. Moustakas was drafted and developed with the idea that he would be a feared slugger, not a sub-replacement level player finding all of his value from his defense. If he can start hitting, the job will be his for a long time. If not, Omaha will have a new third baseman and Royals fans will be counting down the days until 2013 first round pick Hunter Dozier arrives.
What if he is demoted? If Moustakas is removed from the starting role or the active roster, he will likely be replaced by Danny Valencia. Acquired in the offseason from the Orioles in exchange for outfielder David Lough, Valencia’s defense is inferior to that of Moustakas, but he has been hitting significantly better.
Valencia is not the long-term answer in Kansas City, and the organization knows that their best team is with Moustakas manning the hot corner, so long as Moustakas is able to hit. If he is demoted, a hot streak in Triple-A ought to earn him a recall and another chance at the starting job.
2. Raul Ibanez
Why is he here? The ageless Raul Ibanez is here for two reasons. First, age may be catching up to him, as the DH is simply not hitting. Second, the Angels recently promoted a top prospect, first baseman C.J. Cron, who is making good use of the plate appearances formerly going to Ibanez.
The early promotion of Cron was likely not in the original plans of the Angels’ front office, but the early-season performance of Ibanez did nothing but force their hand. The ex-playoff hero has the worst average in the league, offers no defensive value, and has only hit three home runs.
While some may turn to his .164 BABIP and conclude that he has gotten unlucky, his 13.2% LD rate suggests that Ibanez simply is not hitting the ball with any authority, and until he starts hitting the ball hard, we cannot expect his poor numbers to improve.
Can he remove himself from this list? To regain his former role as the primary DH, Ibanez will have to start hitting and hope for Cron to stop hitting. Cron boasts plus-plus raw power but is a free swinger with many holes in his swing. It is conceivable that MLB pitchers will figure him out, so Ibanez could get another shot if he is able to perform in the limited plate appearances he currently receives.
What if he is demoted? One could legitimately argue that this demotion has already happened, but I assert that it could go one step farther and Ibanez could be traded for nothing particularly useful or even released. Assuming the health of Pujols and the continued production of Cron (admittedly two big assumptions), Ibanez will have no role on his team apart from sporadic pinch-hitting appearances.
3. Derek Jeter
Why is he here? Derek Jeter Jeter on the hot seat? You can’t be serious! Thus far, manager Joe Girardi has quieted any rumors that Jeter may be moving down in the order or even out of the starting lineup, but it is still a move that he ought to consider.
To get right to the point, Jeter is simply not providing much value for the Yankees on offense, defense or on the basepaths. The Captain has a solid .267 AVG and .338 OBP, but a rather pedestrian .325 SLG, which lead to a below-average wOBA of .304 and wRC+ of 87. His defensive value is also below average, and age has also limited his contributions on the base paths, meaning that Jeter merely holds his weight at all facets of the game.
The total package is a player worth 0.2 WAR thus far in 2014, a decent figure but one that might be lower than teammate Brendan Ryan's contribution should he earn more significant playing time.
Can he remove himself from this list? While reasons other than being a superior player to his reserve may keep Jeter in the lineup this year, a bit more of an offensive contribution ought to lessen the calls for increased appearances of Brendan Ryan in the Bombers’ everyday lineup. I would be highly surprised if Jeter was indeed benched, but if his already mediocre play takes a turn for the worse, expect more calls for his demotion.
What if he is demoted? Despite his below-average play, Jeter’s place on the active roster is as safe as anyone’s in the league. The Captain may see a bit more time on the bench in favor of Ryan, but even if he fails to produce, he will still likely see a few starts a week because he is Derek Jeter. Jeter has obviously had an illustrious career, but he is no longer that star that he once was.
4. Tommy Hunter
Why he is here? Much was made of the Orioles' closer search in the offseason, as the Birds were linked to almost every available fireman before settling on their top internal candidate, Tommy Hunter. Prior to last night, Hunter had a decent amount of job security, but his unraveling in the ninth inning last night cost the O's the win and may have cost Hunter his job.
Before last night's debacle, Hunter was 11 for 13 in saves, which is not bad for an unproven closer thrown into the role by default. He had no clean innings, but was often able to work in and out of trouble and secure the save the vast majority of the time. Until last night, that is.
Last night, Hunter recorded two outs and surrendered four runs, coming via a three run jack by Miguel Cabrera and a solo shot by Victor Martinez. Home runs have always been the achilles heel of Hunter and last night showed that they are still a great concern. He had only surrendered one home run prior to this debacle, but this poor showing proved that he is still very prone to the long ball, an awful attribute for a closer.
Can he remove himself from this list? Hunter can remove himself from this list with a string of solid appearances, ideally with a clean inning or two mixed in once in a while. He earned the right to the job and when is at his best, he is the right Baltimore reliever for the job.
What if he is demoted? If Hunter is removed from the role, a closer by committee with likely take effect in the Birds' pen. Righty submariner Darren O'Day figures to be a prominent part of such a committee, but lefty Brian Matusz and ground ball specialist Ryan Webb could also finish games.
5. Joel Peralta
Why is he here? After totaling 78 holds over the past two seasons, right-hander Joel Peralta was considered one of the safest and most consistent setup men in the league. He is not overpowering, but Peralta is a stable presence in a role often littered with instability.
This year, however, things have been different for Peralta. Through 15 innings, the veteran reliever has posted a 6.60 ERA, recorded only three holds, and blown two saves. It’s early right? Yes, but warning signs are abundant.
Peralta’s strikeouts and walks are down, but his AVG Against is all the way up to .267 after being under the Mendoza Line (.200) for the last four seasons. Could this be a result of poor fortune? Maybe, but the more realistic answer is that Peralta’s stuff is diminished.
His fastball velocity has diminished, down from 90.1 last year to 88.8 MPH this season. Fittingly, hitters are teeing off of his heater to the tune of a -3.22 wFB/C, a mark near the opposite of last season’s 2.23 mark. Peralta has a quality curveball and a decent splitter, which he is relying on much more heavily this season.
Can he remove himself from this list? Peralta needs to resume throwing a respectable fastball or else he will be out of the eighth inning in short order. He has never been overpowering, but Peralta’s 88.8 MPH heat is being demolished thus far in 2014. It is unlikely that Peralta is going to turn into the next Koji Uehara as a reliever with a below average fastball supported with a religious experience off-speed pitch, as his off-speed offerings are good but not close to Uehara’s splitter.
What if he is demoted? If Peralta is indeed removed from the eighth inning, expect a collection of right-handers to vie for high leverage innings alongside established left-handed setup man Jake McGee and closer Grant Balfour. Arms such as Brandon Gomes, Juan Oviedo, and perhaps even Brad Boxberger could work their way into high leverage situations, although none are likely to be as effective as Peralta at his best.