While we were waiting for Milton Bradley to get his head right and rejoin the team, there had been some discussion as to what the team should do with him when he got back. I think it's fair to say that the consensus is that he needs PAs, and he fits best at DH as the team looks to the future. I agree on both points. Milton Bradley is a talented hitter and throwing him to the wayside is a mistake on such an offensively challenged team, at least as long as we can still classify his attitude as "problematic" as opposed to "a problem." He fits in very nicely as a long-term DH solution because he is still relatively young (compared to Sweeney at least) and is under team control for 2011. But what about our immediate needs at DH? Who's the better fit right now? Who would I start tomorrow at DH now that Milton's back? If I were in charge, I would start Mike Sweeney and here's why:
Sweeney still has an above average bat. I don't think anyone here doubts that he can still hit the living bejeezus out of the ball. His current wOBA is sitting at a cool .395, but that's bound to change given that it is so early. It isn't so early as to not have made any affect on the projection systems, though. Sweeney's updated ZiPS projection calls for a very respectable .354 wOBA at season's end. I know small sample sizes often distort the truth, but the stats support the other information we have. He looks strong at the plate, like late 90s-early 2000s Sweeney (an impatient hacker, but one that hits the ball with authority). He had a monster spring training after showing up "in tremendous shape, lighter than [Wak has] ever seen him" (source). Our own Jeff Sullivan said in his liveblog "He was out ahead of that low 74mph curve and he still blasted it 410 feet. He can't field, and his eye sucks, and he gets hurt all the time, but Mike Sweeney is not a weak hitter." Agreed. Mike Sweeney's plate approach frustrates me as much as Loafie's, but he still hits well enough to be useful to a team looking to claw back into contention.
But Milton Bradley also has a useful, above average bat. So who's is better? Last year, Sweeney posted a wRC+ of 107, nearly identical to Bradley's 108. Sweeney did this while facing lefties 56% of the time. For most RHB, this would be an advantage. But Sweeney has a remarkable career-long reverse platoon split. All of the following are my own calculations based on information available at Baseball-Reference.com, insidethebook.com, and Fangraphs.com. Please help me out by pointing out results that are incorrect. Hat tip to Edgar for Pres for helping me find the necessary info. For his career, Sweeney's wOBA against righties is .378 and his wOBA against lefties is .356. This is an observed split of -6.14% for his career, compared to the league average of +6.1% for right-handed batters. I'm not saying he would necessarily have hit better last year if he saw more righties (though I have made that incorrect assertion in the past), but I am saying we shouldn't discount his production because he was in a platoon. I investigated this some more and found that, per The Book, Sweeney's estimated platoon skill is a +0.992% split. That is negligible and supports the idea that it really doesn't matter whether the pitcher is a righty or lefty. If we are comfortable starting him at DH against lefties, then he should be okay to start against righties as well.
It's definitely true that the last year Sweeney put together a star quality season was '05, which is further in the past (and less impressive) than Milton's '08. But last year? It's totally a toss up as to who was the better hitter. And both were distinctly above replacement level at the DH position. As for this year, Sweeney has hit better. I know it's a very small sample size, so I won't quote numbers at you again. But Bradley's struggles so far, particularly his abnormally high K-rate, have given some weight to the talk in ST that he has developed a hole in his swing by his hands. On the other hand, Sweeney's success so far implies that maybe his ST performance was less fluky than it seemed at the time. We can't make conclusions based on the numbers yet, but the 2010 numbers shouldn't be ignored entirely. I think recent performance suggests that we should be cautious about declaring Bradley an upgrade over Sweeney. It may be true, and I feel like it is likely, but we need to be aware of the possibility that Sweeney may be better than Bradley with the bat at this point.
A very important thing to take into account is that Milton has positional flexibility. This is one of the core arguments as to why Bradley should take Sweeney's roster spot. I see it as a reason to play Milton in the field while we can. The current lack of bench flexibility has hurt the team immensely. I absolutely agree that one of the DH twins has to go. I think that the Mariner's should do everything possible to make it Griffey. If that happens (or if management decides to keep them both), it becomes important for the sake of bench flexibility that Sweeney start at DH most days. Milton is an above average hitter, and he is an above average defensive outfielder for his career, though he's probably just average now. Sweeney can hit, but that's all. I think our best alignment has Sweeney starting at DH and Bradley out in left most days. When Sweeney needs an "old man day", Bradley should DH and Langerhans should start in left. I know that leaves Milton exposed to injuries in the field, but as long as we're playing for 2010, we need to keep Sweeney's bat in the lineup. If/when the time comes that we give up on this season, we should definitely start on our 2011 lineup. And I think that lineup for 2011 has Bradley at DH and Saunders in LF.
Personal note: To those LLers I got into it with last time we discussed Sweeney, I apologize. I did not keep a level head and I did not treat each conversation in the different threads as different conversations. To expect you to follow a train of thought that spans several threads and involves different people each time shows you a lack of respect, and I'm sorry.