The Goins Delusion: Why the Blue Jays should acquire a second baseman to start over Ryan Goins

Credit for this picture goes to Minor Leaguer who is a photoshop warlock and a swell fellow - Minor Leaguer

The idea that Ryan Goins can start at second base for the Blue Jays is a romantic notion. Like most romantic notions it's also hogwash.

Coming off an absolutely nightmarish season it appeared that the Blue Jays headed into the offseason with three main problem areas on the roster: catcher, second base and the starting rotation. According to FanGraphs, those three position groups combined for 3.7 WAR on the year, which is abysmal. When you remove R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle from the equation, you are looking at -0.8 WAR from your catchers, second basemen and #3, 4, and 5 starting pitchers (not that the Toronto rotation was healthy enough to have a true 3, 4 and 5). Needless to say, some upgrades are in order.

When it comes to upgrading the roster this offseason most of the discussion has surrounded catchers and starters. This is understandable as J.P. Arencibia is one of the most reviled men in the city and the majority of the rumors surrounding the Blue Jays this offseason have involved starters like Jeff Samardzija. However, there is another reason that Jays fans have spent less time pining for second baseman (although at Bluebird Banter there has been some serious, and I would say justified, pining for Omar Infante): a man by the name of Ryan Goins.

Ryan Goins was called up to the big club in late August and won the hearts of Jays fans in short order with his dazzling defense. He started his career on an eight-game hitting streak, and although his success with the bat would fizzle down the stretch the enthusiasm Jays fans had for him would not. FanGraphs WAR had Goins as worth 0.4 WAR in just over a month, which would have made him an above-average starter if he played all year. For that reason it appears that some consider him a reasonable choice to start this season as the Blue Jays second baseman. The problem is that Goins should not be Plan A at second base; he probably shouldn't be Plan B either. Those who are pro-Goins have been seduced by aesthetically-pleasing defensive wizardry and good old-fashioned optimism. Today my purpose is to burst the bubble of Goins optimists and once and for all put an end to the Goins delusion. The first, and the easiest, way to break down Ryan Goins is to take a look at his hitting ability.

The Bat of Ryan Goins

If Ryan Goins is going to make a living playing baseball in the major leagues he is going to do so on the strength of his glove. However, just because you are good defensively that doesn't give you a blank cheque to be utterly offensively incompetent. In his first taste of major league action Ryan Goins was just that. This is what he managed in 2013:

PA

BB%

K%

ISO

BABIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

wRC+

121

1.7%

23.1%

.092

.315

.252

.264

.345

62

That's pretty painful stuff. The strikeout and walk numbers are particularly troubling, although the sample is very small. That being said, he really didn't come up looking like a guy who understood the strike zone. The following Brooks Baseball picture shows his swing rate by zone segment in his MLB cameo:

As I said before, the sample size is small. It would be unfair to assume he can't hit major league pitching based on 121 plate appearances alone. In order to get a better idea of what Goins brings to the table as a hitter a look at his minor league numbers is required. The following chart shows his minor league stats at every level that he logged more than 100 PA. You may think I'm trying to hide some of brilliant small performances by adding that restriction but I just want to make the chart more readable, in fact Goins hit below .200 at every stop where he had less than 100 plate appearances. If anything I'm being generous in my omissions. Here's what the minor league career of Ryan Goins looks like:

Year

Age

Level

PA

BB%

K%

ISO

BABIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

wRC+

2009

21

A-

110

7.3%

20.9%

.069

.385

.297

.349

.366

114

2010

22

A

338

10.4%

17.8%

.108

.370

.305

.377

.414

122

2010

22

A+

182

6.0%

18.3%

.054

.252

.205

.251

.259

47

2011

23

A+

398

8.0%

16.8%

.122

.343

.286

.343

.408

109

2012

24

AA

618

7.6%

12.6%

.114

.323

.289

.342

.409

105

2013

25

AAA

418

6.9%

20.3%

.111

.316

.257

.311

.369

90

Those numbers aren't absolutely dreadful but they don't jump off the page. It is very important to be cognizant of the fact that Ryan Goins was old for his level every step of the way. He was 22 when he was playing in Lansing, a league where legitimate prospects are 19 or 20. In his early years he relied on inflated BABIP numbers to get by, and the only legitimately encouraging seasons since was 2012 where he was able to really cut down on his strikeouts and wasn't so reliant on BABIP. Even so, he was 24 at that point and hadn't even reached triple-A yet.

These numbers do suggest that he probably isn't going have a historically awful BB/K ratio like the one he showed in his stint with the Jays, but there isn't a lot here. Goins has no power, his walk and strikeout rates have tended to be about average and he needs balls to fall in for his production to be palatable. He is an athletic guy who might be able to sustain higher BABIP numbers, but he hardly has elite speed. In his entire minor league career he only had 30 stolen bases. Stolen bases aren't the best gauge of speed, (see Rasmus, Colby) but if Goins was a total burner that would probably show up somewhere.

Overall, Ryan Goins looks like a well-below-average offensive player. Going into a season where he will be 26 it is unfair to assume that he's on the brink of some kind of breakout at the plate. I've mentioned this before on Twitter, but I think it is worth noting that Ryan Goins is older than Clayton Kershaw, he isn't some bright young phenom with room to grow. Steamer projects the following numbers for Goins in 2014:

PA

BB%

K%

ISO

BABIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

wRC+

398

5.4%

18.9%

.094

.289

.241

.284

.335

67

Unfortunately, that looks about right.

The most difficult aspect of dispelling the notion that Ryan Goins is an option at second base for the Blue Jays is trying to criticize his defense. That doesn't mean I won't do my darndest to try.

The Glove of Ryan Goins

I should probably clarify what I mean by "criticize" here. Like most Blue Jays fans, I believe that Ryan Goins is an excellent defender. My argument is that his defense will not be enough to make up for his offensive shortcomings not that it isn't fantastic in and of itself.

Defensive stats are a bit tricky, but in the case of Ryan Goins, UZR loved the man as much as the eyeball test did. In 261.1 innings at second base Goins turned 27 double plays and committed a single error on the way to a 33.1 UZR/150 rating. That suggests that over the course of a year Goins would save 33 runs above average, giving him 3.3 WAR on defense even before adjusting for a demanding position. That would definitely make him a worthwhile starter, even if his offense brought that number down somewhat. The problem is that number is not even remotely attainable. Since the UZR era began in 2012, this is what the top UZR seasons by a second baseman look like:

Player

Team

Season

UZR

Chase Utley

PHI

2008

18.3

Dustin Pedroia

BOS

2011

18.1

Brandon Phillips

CIN

2007

17.0

Ian Kinsler

TEX

2011

16.0

Orlando Hudson

TOR

2004

15.9

Chase Utley

PHI

2005

15.5

Darwin Barney

CHC

2012

15.0

Mark Ellis

OAK

2008

14.8

Aaron Hill

TOR

2006

14.8

Pokey Reese

PIT

2002

14.5

Goins is good, but he isn't going to blow away the best numbers of the last 12 seasons. Hypothetically, if Ryan Goins is the best defender of this era at second base he would be something like 20 runs above average defensively in 2014. Given his expected production with the bat, even that wouldn't be enough for him to be an average starter. UZR isn't the be all and end all of measuring defense, but it gives us a sense of the maximum impact a great defender can have.

This article isn't meant to be a scathing indictment of Ryan Goins. He could have some value in the major leagues as a bench player given that the kind of defensive ability he possesses. The fact he's a left-handed bat doesn't hurt either. That being said, Goins just doesn't look like starter material. Steamer sees Goins as a 0.1 WAR player next year, and although that projection may be on the conservative side it is more reasonable than seeing him as a starter. There is no reason to believe that Goins can hit major league pitching well enough to be a viable option at second base, even with his prowess in the field. Therefore there is no reason why the Blue Jays shouldn't be aggressively pursuing a starter at second base either through free agency or a trade. There haven't been many rumors to that effect just yet. Perhaps that's because Alex Anthopoulos is pulling his "Ninja GM" routine again and the acquisition of Omar Infante or Howie Kendrick is imminent. If trotting out Ryan Goins at second base on Opening Day is the alternative then Blue Jays fans better hope so.

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