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Dependable Danny or Volatile Valencia?

Who are the Mariners getting in Danny Valencia?

Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Trading for Danny Valencia was a great, low-price move that firmed up first base for the Mariners. The 32-year old is a veteran presence who boasts a career 139 wRC+ against lefties, making him the perfect platoon partner for Dan Vogelbach, right? Not so fast, says Jeff Sullivan, who dropped this bit of knowledge the other day:

But I’m here to say “worry not, ‘Ners Nation;” evidence supports that Valencia’s inconsistency has more to do with how he’s been used than how he’s performed. To wit:

First, notice his production against lefties. He’s only had one season with a wRC+ under 120 against southpaws in his entire major league career — talk about dependability. Then, notice that he’s only had one season with more at bats against lefties than righties. Had Valencia, who’s played for six franchises in seven years, been on a team with the luxury of strictly platooning him, his career wRC+ would be driven by his performance against lefties, rather than against righties, which would yield a lot more year-to-year consistency.

As he’s matured, Valencia has improved against right-handed pitching. In 2012, Valencia posted a career-low 26 wRC+; that was his third year in the majors, and it was a tumultuous one indeed. Coming off two great years with the Twins in which he earned honors as Minnesota’s Most Outstanding Rookie in 2010 and led the Twins in RBI while recording a career-high 608 plate appearances, a slow start to 2012 had him demoted to AAA in early May, where he struggled to produce in the minors. With Trevor Plouffe filling in nicely at third, the Twins didn’t call Valencia back up until the end of August, and he was traded about a week later to the Red Sox and immediately sent to AAA Pawtucket. While he started to produce more while in Pawtucket, his limited action in Boston was highlighted by the couple of weeks when Will Middlebrooks was on the DL.

Valencia posted by far his highest K% and lowest BB% in his career that year — 23.6% and 1.9% respectively. While those numbers marked the valley of his career, they also signified the beginning of his climb. In each year since, his BB% has improved and his K% has regressed back towards his career average of 22.9%. Both improvements have been catalyzed by his progress against righties:

Earlier in the offseason, Jake further analyzed Valencia’s recent success against right-handed pitchers, citing his ability to hit with more authority to all fields. All these improvements suggest that some change in approach has allowed him to enjoy more success against righties.

A couple more batted-ball stats jump out as evidence of his improvement against righties. First, Valencia has been less likely to hit fly balls. With the drop in fly ball percentage, however, there’s been a general increase in home runs per fly ball, yielding greater production per ball hit in the air. We’ll see what the marine layer thinks of that.

So, is Danny Valencia one of the most volatile hitters in baseball? No. He’s a tried and true lefty crusher who’s had one bad year, all while getting better and better at hitting righties. The Mariners couldn’t really have asked for a better bat at the price they paid. His propensity to mash southpaws makes him the perfect platoon partner for Dan Vogelbach, and should Vogelbach struggle to hit in the bigs, Valencia’s improvement against right-handers will allow him to transition into a more full-time role if need be.

So, basically, I disproved Jeff Sullivan after just a week or two on the job. Just kidding. But not.