Bay stated - rather accurately, everyone agrees - that you can hem and haw about what will and won't happen with the Pirates lineup this season, but in truth it all begins and ends with the leadoff spot.
Enter Chris Duffy.
Chris is suddenly a very discussed man, now that the Pirates' possession of a genuinely formidable 3-4-5 lineup combination (my aforementioned Fred, Dave, and Jay-Ray). Exactly how much Chris will be on base for these gentlemen to bring home, and therefore how useful he will be, is a topic with a variety of opinions. Here are the avenues, drive down them at your own risk (note: Duffy's defense is widely considered to be above average at worst, so we'll leave that half of the discussion at home):
Avenue A: Duffy = MiLB Averages
This theory has Duffy as a .300 hitter with a roughly .800 OPS, but who doesn't work particularly well as a leadoff hitter, because most of his high OBP is tied up in that high average - he doesn't have the requisite plate discipline (walks, etc) to be a true leadoff. At the same time, I can't help but think: I may be crazy, but is it not true that a .375 OBP is above average, regardless of exactly what the OBP is composed of?
Avenue B: Duffy = MLB Averages
This thought train would place Duffy as a .280 hitter with a roughly .700 OPS, and who again has a lot of OBP points tied up in that average. However, I think this stat line is a bit less reliable, what with Duffy still just shy of a full season worth of AB's at the major league level, as opposed to the 2000+ AB's from the previous example. Even at that, Duffy would probably, in conjunction with his defense, rate as a slightly above average CF at the major league level. This theory is less optimistic, but certainly not enough to rain on Duffy's parade.
Avenue C: Duffy = MLB Highs
Duffy's major league numbers equal a bit more than 3/4 of a season, and those numbers can be split up into almost even thirds. In part one of three, Duffy's initial cup of MLB-sized coffee, Duffy didn't do a ton other than hit, but he did well at that (.341 AVG, ,385 OBP in 39 games). In part three of three, the second half of last season, Duffy wasn't quite that good, although he still put up respectable numbers (.282, .345 plus 23 SB in 53 games). Mush these Duffys together and you get a line that looks something like: .304 AVG, .369 OBP, .389 SLG, .758 OPS. Hmm, that looks a lot like Duffy's minor league averages, but without the extra base hits. Though this presents well as lead-off, since he gets on plenty and doesn't have the extra base power of a lower order hitter.
Avenue D: Duffy = MLB Lows
This is where part two of three comes in. Duffy, by all accounts, wasn't all there for the beginning of the 2006 season, to the tune of .194/.255/.530. This, of course, projects as a player who doesn't deserve a place on a major league roster no matter how good his defense is. However, I think it is safe - considering the small sample size and extreme outlier nature of these numbers compared to the rest of his stats - to qualify these numbers as an anomaly that we probably won't see again over any extended period.
So all in all, what do we have here?It would appear that, for the most part, we have a very good, but not elite, defensive center fielder, who is at least good (if not above average) at getting on base, even though he struggles to get on base in ways other than getting hits.
Most folks would probably say that his lack of walks point to a lack of plate discipline that is highly desirable in a prototypical leadoff hitter. But again, I bring up my point that if youhave a player who can get on base upwards of 35% of the time, why does it matter exactly how he does it? Those who pooh-pooh him as leadoff fail to remember that, due to having established players in the middle of the lineup (sanchez, bay, laroche, paulino), not putting duffy in the leadoff means shoving him to 7th or 8th in the order. That can be seen as nothing other than an equally bad idea, since his 23SB in 53 games after the all-star break showed that Duffy has base-stealing speed and ability that would be wasted in a spot that low.
So what does all this mean for 2007? Here's an interesting comparison.
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI
2121 376 639 105 30 29 209
1844 311 546 93 30 28 160
1844 311 546 93 30 28 160
SB CS BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS
146 44 169 359 .301 .372 .420 .792
118 47 186 239 .296 .372 .425 .797
Well golly gee, them lines sure do look similar, don't they? The red line is Chris Duffy's career minor league line, and the green is the career minor league line of Houston's Chris Burke. Based on the six year sample size, I don't think it very unreasonable to call Duffy and Burke reasonably similar players (Burke being a right-handed Duffy with a little better plate discipline and a bit less speed).
Burke, like Duffy, is opening the season playing center field and hitting leadoff for Houston. Granted, the two don't compare defensively - Duffy is a natural center fielder, Burke is in center field because Wily Taveras got traded and Craig Biggio refuses to die. However they seem reasonably similar on offense.
They may be even more similar, since a bit of that discipline (in the form of K:BB ratio) Burke displayed in the minors went away, and he wound up posting a .276/.347/.765 line in his second significant stint, along with 9 HR and 40 RBI (366 AB's). I feel safe in saying that a line similar to that over a full season is probably a worst case scenario for Duffy.
But there's a bigger issue here, where the heck does Duffy hit? He can't be placed in the 3-4-5-6 area because he doesn't have the power or complete package to fit right...he can't hit 7-8 because placing a player who averaged 40 SB per season in his minor league career in front of the pitcher is an incredible waste...
That only leaves two places. Either A) you hit Duffy first or second (as the Pirates have every intention of doing), or B) you do that this season to build his rep, then trade him to an American League team that can hit Duffy at the bottom of the order without wasting his speed.
Whew. So there you have it. Chris Duffy is in the wrong league. Who knew?