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The Unconventional Wisdom of Starting Izturis

Maicer Izturis may be the worst player in the MLB in 2013, but he ought to be the Jays starter at second base.

Attaboy Maicer
Attaboy Maicer

Since his arrival in Toronto on a 3 year $10 million dollar deal (actually a 3 year $9 million dollar deal featuring a $3 million dollar option with a $1 million dollar buyout but who's counting) Maicer Izturis has done little to ingratiate himself to Blue Jays fans. Although 50 games and 179 plate appearances don't necessarily constitute the most representative sample, Izturis has been just awful since donning a Blue Jays jersey. He has a slash line of .208/.249/.292 which is good for a wRC+ of 45, or to put it another way, he has provided less than half the offensive output of your average big leaguer. In fact, according to Fangraphs version of WAR Maicer Izturis has been the worst player (pitchers included) in the major leagues with a WAR of -1.5. To put that into perspective, in theory, Izturis has detracted more value from the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays than either Adam Lind or Edwin Encarnacion have provided. That is quite the scary thought. Despite the legendary monument to ineptitude that has been Izturis's season so far, it is my belief that the Blue Jays should give the worst player of 2013 a chance to be their everyday second baseman. The reasons for this ludicrous proclamation are threefold: his bizarre defensive numbers that are bound to rebound, his virtually impossibly unlucky BABIP and the much more sustainable failures of his rival for the starts at second base, Emilio Bonifacio. Let's start with the defense:

Part One: The Defense of Maicer Izturis

One of the reasons for the ugly -1.5 WAR is that Izturis has -8.5 UZR rating. In his nine previous years in the big league Izturis has only had a negative UZR three times and his worst single year total was a-2.5 way back in 2006. One's first instinct is to throw this number out the window because it is too early in the season to really gauge defensive stats, especially for a part time player. Defensive stats are notoriously fickle and require huge samples to stabilize and as a result we shouldn't put much stock in what's happened so far. There is some truth to that, but given that defense is a skill that falls off with age, and that Izturis's UZR has been dropping since 2009, I don't think it is to be completely dismissed. At the same time, given that Izturis had a career UZR of 15.2 coming the season I don't think it's fair to assume that he's suddenly become a disastrously poor fielder overnight.

What we do notice is that Izturis has be playing far too much of his weakest positions. The chart below shows his career UZR/150 at each of 2B, 3B and SS and how often he has played there this year.




Career UZ/150 Rating




Innings at that Position in 2013




Izturis has gotten less than half of his innings at his best position and far too many at shortstop where he has never been good and has only gotten worse recently. Some of his deployment is based on necessity but he is definitely at his best when you put him at 2B. When you watch Izturis in the field it seems like he really doesn't have much of an arm, which has especially hurt his 3B and SS play this year. Perhaps this is something he's losing with age. If the Jays put installed Izturis at 2B I think it's likely they could see him produce approximately league average defense at the position, something that can't be said for Emilio Bonifacio who has a career -4.3 UZR/150 at the position. Moving on to the second issue of the day we see...

Part Two: The BABIP of Maicer Izturis

Perhaps the most profound reason for Maicer Izturis's no good very bad season has been his almost freakishly low batting average on balls in play. BABIP is a statistic that hitters can control far more than pitchers can, but even still it is something you look for to remain somewhere in the vicinity of .300. Maicer Izturis's BABIP is nowhere in the vicinity of .300, it currently sits at .212. For batters with at least 150 PA that is the fifth lowest mark in the league. Keep in mind that the lowest recorded BABIP is .192, Aaron Hill's 2010 season where he was the king of the lazy fly ball. Below is a chart of the batted ball profiles for the five worst BABIP hitters in the big leagues in 2013:



Line Drive %

Groundball %

Fly Ball %

Infield Fly%

Infield Hit%

Mike Moustakas







Adam Dunn







Chris Young







Danny Espinosa







Maicer Izturis







When you look at this table it's pretty easy to diagnose the BABIP problems of most of the hitters. Line drives are the most consistent means of getting hits and Moustakas just isn't hitting enough of them (league average is about a 20% line drive rate), he is also hitting an enormous amount of infield fly balls which are almost mortal locks to be recorded as outs. To make matters even worse he hasn't gotten a single infield hit.

Adam Dunn's BABIP is depressed by his glacial footspeed and the fact he puts so many balls in the air. If those fly balls don't leave the yard, which to be fair they often do as we are seeing in this series, they usually find their way into outfielders' gloves.

Chris Young's cripplingly high infield fly rate is behind his low BABIP and Danny Espinosa is getting very little luck on infield hits for a guy who can run a bit and is hitting far too few line drives.

Where things get interesting is when we come upon Maicer Izturis. Izturis is hitting line drives at an above average rate, keeping the ball out of the air (very advisable for a batter with his limited power), and getting about as many infield hits as usual. Astoundingly, until Monday night, Izturis was also in the Joey Votto club of batters who had yet to pop up this year. Combining his average speed with this batted ball profile you should have a hitter with an above-average BABIP not one who has one of the worst totals in the league. He's getting the right kind of contact, the hits just aren't coming. The chart below shows a comparison between Izturis's batting average on different types of batted balls for his career and his averages this year:

Time Period

Batting Average on Line Drives

Batting Average on Groundballs

Batting Average on Fly Balls

2013 season




Career stats




Although I'm sure Izturis has hit the occasional soft liner it seems as though he has had very poor luck in getting them to fall and his incredibly low .155 average on groundballs also has to be unsustainable. It's not even as if he is getting too slow to beat out grounders as his infield hit% is actually a tick above his career average. The groundballs just are not making it out of the infield. As far as I can tell this is a case of good old fashioned bad luck. Izturis is putting the ball in plan a ton (he only has a 7.8% strikeout rate) and in a way where he would expect to get hits and it just isn't happening for him yet. Perhaps he forgot to sacrifice a goat at the altar of the baseball gods. Who knows? This brings me to the last section of my advocacy for Maicer Izturis, a direct comparison with his rival for playing time at 2B, Emilio Bonifacio...

Part Three: Emilio Bonifacio is Terrible at Baseball (compared to other major league players)

Ultimately, I'm not trying to make the case that Maicer Izturis is a great baseball player, or even an average starter, I'm trying to make the case that he should start at second regularly because I think he's a better option than Emilio Bonifacio. Emilio Bonifacio in 2013 has morphed into one of the most unforgivable types of baseball players in existence: The hacker with no power. In my eyes, the only things he has on Izturis are youth, which only matters if you are good, and speed, which he has barely used this year on the way to a measly 7 stolen bases. Here is how the two line up so far in 2013:









Emilio Bonifacio








Maicer Izturis








These lines are horrendous. Blue Jays fans knew that second base had the potential to be an offensive black hole but no one could have predicted this. Both lines will improve because neither of these players are this impossibly bad, but Izturis seems far more likely to improve more. Not only is he in for a large BABIP spike, his plate discipline is so much better. Who seems more likely to rebound, a player who strikes out more than seven times as much as he walks or someone who has just over one and a half walks per strikeout? Despite the far better defensive track record of Izturis, perhaps we'll call the defense a wash due to his rough start. At that point we are left with Izturis's potential to provide a serviceable bottom of the order bat against Bonifacio's ability to steal a base once in a while. I'll take the bat over the legs every time.

I may be splitting hairs here as both players are below average starting options, but I think that John Gibbons would be best served by installing Izturis at 2B for the rest of the season. That may not be doable in the short term where Izturis could have to spend some time at 3B to spell DeRosa but I think this team is better, if only slightly, with Bonifacio glued to the bench where he can be a useful pinch runner at least. I am a big fan of John Gibbons but I also think that the main job of a manager is to deploy his players in the most effective manner possible and when he plays Bonifacio at 2B instead of Izturis he is going with the worst of two evils. All I want is for Gibbons to give the worst player of 2013 a chance. Is that too much to ask?

Note: These statistics are not updated to include last night's game where Izturis was 2-5 and managed his second pop out of the year. Sorry, I need my beauty sleep.