Munenori Kawasaki is back! Earlier this afternoon it was reported that the fan favourite had re-upped with the club by signing a minor league deal. But while some rejoiced, others groaned “here we go again.”
On one side, there are those who are taking this signing for it is and having fun with it. This move doesn't materially improve the team's chances at securing a playoff berth, but it provides some much needed depth at shortstop. On the other side, there are those who want to remind everyone that Munenori Kawasaki is not a good player. While there is certainly merit to what this is side is saying, it goes a little too far when his on-the-field value is dismissed entirely.
Shooting Down the “Clubhouse Guy Only” Myth
League average SS (2013): .254/.308/.367 (85 wRC+)
M. Kawasaki (2013): .229/.326/.308 (78 wRC+)
Kawasaki's bat is nothing to write home about, but you can say that about a lot of shortstops in baseball right now. Looking at his line in isolation will make you cringe, but when you look at what the position in general is doing, it looks a lot more acceptable. In fairness, he did show a fairly wide platoon split last season and the overwhelming majority of his plate appearances came against RHP, so it may be appropriate to adjust down. But we are talking about a 54 PA sample and a .194 BABIP. That seems unreasonably low, even if you think he's more of a .230-.250 BABIP hitter vs. LHP than a .300 BABIP hitter. We're splitting hairs now and he'd still be horrible vs. LHP with some positive regression, so I'll just say I think he's a safe bet to be in the 70-75 wRC+ range if he gets close to 300 PA again (let's hope he doesn't though).
Defensively he graded out well enough by both DRS (2) and UZR (0.4) and provided some value on the bases as well (2.1 runs by FanGraphs). Put it all together and you're looking at a player who was worth somewhere between 0.8 (fWAR) and 1.3 (bWAR) wins over 289 PA over last season. Would he maintain that pace over 600 plate appearances? No. Is he a starter? No. Is he a guy whose value lies solely in his clubhouse presence? No.
The reason why Kawasaki is valuable to this team is because, should something happen to Reyes again (knock on wood), he's not going to kill you, whereas the guys who were next in line before this signing just might. He's not nearly the game-changer that Reyes is, but he's not a black hole either. Reyes is the type of player who pushes you towards the dream and changes the fortunes of your franchise. Kawasaki is the type of player that keeps you in it until you get him back.
Even if he's only a glorified insurance policy, he has value beyond his off-the-field antics. He may not deserve the praise he gets sometimes (or even the 500 words I gave him here), but he does deserve more than "clubhouse guy only" status.