In defense of Emilio Bonifacio

No, not me. I mean, sure, he’s on my Scoresheet team because I’m the worst fantasy baseball player in the history of history, but I can’t really defend the guy. Jorge Costales takes a stab at it, however. His Brian Roberts comparison is interesting:

Even my late night cursory look at other 2B revealed that Brian Roberts had a similar poor start to his career — perhaps not coincidentally when Roberts was 23 & 24 years old — check out their stats at the beginning of their careers:

Bonifacio: 500 AB / .244 AVG / .296 OBP / .310 SLG
Roberts: 401 AB / .244 AVG / .294 OBP / .327 SLG

Also, keep in mind the following facts about Emilio Bonifacio:

  • He is 24 years-old.
  • He is really fast.
  • This is his 3rd organization in 3 years. In practical terms, he’s worked for 3 different bosses, 3 different management teams, while living in 3 different cities / homes.
  • Bonifacio is learning a new position at the MLB level, 3B.
  • The Marlins baseball operations — widely regarded for their ability to compete with minimal payrolls — believe enough in Bonifacio to have traded for him and then stuck with him through major struggles.
  • He’s hitting just 4 points less than Jeremy Hermida.
  • He is really, really fast.
  • Keeping in mind that I like Jorge’s work and writing quite a lot, and keeping in mind that this is really Rob Neyer’s territory not mine, I’ll offer at least a partial retort:

  • I find the Brian Roberts comp interesting, but not totally convincing, mostly because Roberts had an excellent college career and a track record of steady improvement in the minors that Bonifacio lacks. While Roberts’ slow start was somewhat troubling, there was always the bedrock assumption that he could hack it if given the chance. We don’t have that with Bonifacio. With him, what we’re seeing is all he’s ever done, and there’s no reason for Roberts-like optimism.
  • The Bonifacio-Marlins are more competitive in their division than were the Roberts-Orioles, which means that on-the-job training is less defensible in Bonifacio’s case.
  • The fact that two organizations passed on Bonifacio as they did suggests that either (a) the attributes which Jorge describes are illusory in the minds of many; or (b) there’s some other quality about Bonifacio, be it brains or character or any number of other things that have given his previous teams reason for pause.
  • Bonifacio’s status as an apprentice third baseman harms, not helps, his case. Roberts has always been a second baseman, and actually played some shortstop early on. Bonifacio needs to hit better than a second baseman/shortstop to stick at third, and that’s before acknowledging that the Marlins like to play him in the outfield too.
  • I don’t get the Jeremy Hermida comp. Hermida walks much more than Bonifacio does and has more pop. Perhaps more important is the fact that he too is a below-average Major League hitter, so pointing to him as a comp isn’t exactly helpful to Bonifacio’s case.
  • He may be fast, but like they say, you can’t steal first.
  • My suspicion is that someone who knows more than me can dig into the Roberts comp a little better, but as it stands now, I won’t be convinced that Bonifacio can be a contributing Major Leaguer until I actually see him contribute for more than a few days here and there.

    All that said, don’t dismiss Jorge’s post, as he does have some comments about the tone of sabermetric debate worth considering.

    (thanks to Pete Toms for the link)

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    Comments

    1. Eric/OR said...

      Minor league comparisons are going to be a bit biased in Roberts’ favor, of course, as he came to professional baseball after several years of college ball.  All the same, his career minor league BB% was 15% with an OBP of .377 and fewer strikeouts than walks.  Bonifacio walked half as often in the minors (BB% = 7.4%) as Roberts and had more than twice as many strikeouts as walks.  Bottom line: Roberts just profiled as a more professional hitter and less of an athletic project.

    2. Noel (Montreal) said...

      As a fantasy baseball owner of Bonifacio I’ve been looking for positive signs that he can be a player.  My benchmark (and choice) at the start of the year was that he needed to replace Kaz Matsui – no problem.  But I’ve also been looking for positive comparisons (bias?) for the future.  Rob Neyer has written about Bonifacio a few times, mostly deriding the Marlins for continuing to run him out there while they are in the division race.  I really like Rob’s writing and I think he’s right about a lot of things.  While his point is mostly about the Marlins player personnel management, inevitably he’s writing about the short comings of Bonifacio as a player.  Sometimes it feels like piling on.  Some of Craig’s point by point rebuttals of Costales’ article do too.  However, there are some rebuttals to Craig’s rebuttals that I think are useful to point out, whether Costales is right or not:

      •  Bonifacio does of course have a track record we can look at in Arizona’s farm system.  It looks a lot like what he’s done in the majors – lots of singles, lots of strikeouts, lots of steals.  The main difference is that he’s putting 4% fewer balls in play because he’s striking out a little more.  He has maintained a high BABIP, which I suspect is a condition shared by fast guys.  So, is this an irreconcilable condition or will he adjust in time, put a few more bugs on the rug and beat out a few more grounders?

      •  I think that it’s important to remember that Bonifacio didn’t ask to be a third baseman and obviously when asked in the spring he couldn’t say no. It’s really not about him. He was put there because Dan Uggla is still playing second for Florida.  For all the talk about how bad Bonifacio has been, the Marlins could have put Dallas McPherson at third.  They still could put Chris Coughlan or Gaby Sanchez at third.  Or they could put Jorge Cantu back at third and Sanchez at first.  But they haven’t (so far).  It’s possible this isn’t simply a case of vindictive stupidity on the part of the Marlins.  I don’t think anyone assumes that Bonifacio’s long term position is third, do they?  Isn’t it more likely that he’s playing out the string until Uggla gets too expensive to keep?  (January 2010, I’d wager.) At which point, hopefully he and Coughlan will have a battle for the ages for the job.

      •  The two trades could indicate that his previous teams were all to ready to be rid of him as Craig suggesta, but to be traded, especially in the type of trade he’s been involved in the other team has to want you a little (or take you, at least).  The trades that have moved him weren’t insignificant at the time; Arizona traded him near the deadline last year for Jon Rauch when Rauch was closing and pitching well for the Nationals.  Washington traded him to get Scott Olsen and Josh Willingham. It was clearly a salary (and possibly an attitude) dump by Florida, but trades of that nature the Marlins have made have been well regarded in the past.  On some level, other teams want this guy (even if his old teams are happy to see the back of his jersey, which has never actually been suggested publicly).

      Let’s be clear, nobody is putting Emilio Bonifacio on the all-star team.  In fact, if he hadn’t had that first series that set up Tuffy-esque expectations I suspect that far fewer of these conversations would be happening.  He’s like the reverse Brandon Wood: speed instead of power and everyone thinks he’s getting too much of a chance in the majors.  If the point is that it’s incredible the Marlins aren’t finding a better third baseman if they hope to contend (if) then fine, but saying Bonifacio is useless is far less interesting than thinking about how he might be useful.

      In my search for comparisons I came up with Michael Bourn circa 2008.  Similar minor league track record, same bad MLB stats, same good wheels, had just been traded.  If Bonifacio was able to make the same strides as Bourn and become Bourn v.2009 in 2010 while playing second, that might look a bit better, no?

      (I can’t believe I just wrote that much about Emilio Bonifacio.  It’s been building.)

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