Sunday, May 16, 2010

Tejada and his return to Baltimore

Miguel Tejada's least favorable attribute at the plate has to be his unwillingness to work the count. Out of all qualified batters, Tejada is fifth from the bottom in total pitches seen so far this season with 409. And sorting by pitches seen per plate appearance, Tejada (2.93) ranks last behind names such as Pedro Feliz (2.99), A.J. Pierzynski (3.03), and Yuniesky Betancourt (3.04). Because of his impatient nature at the plate, Tejada doesn't walk much (career 6.3 BB%), but then again, he doesn't strike out as much either (career 12.9 K% and 7.6% in 2009 and 7.0% so far in 2010).

Patience or no patience, Andy MacPhail and the Orioles made the decision to bring Tejada back to Baltimore in January. Tejada, of course, had been traded by the Orioles a few years back (December of 2007) to the Houston Astros in exchange for Luke Scott, Matt Albers, Dennis Sarfate, Troy Patton, and Michael Costanzo. Regardless of who "won" the trade -- probably the O's -- it worked out for both sides. Scott and Albers are both still in Baltimore, while Patton could be a bullpen option as the season rolls along. Tejada also turned things around at the plate last season, hitting .313/.340/.455 with 14 home runs and 46 doubles. Unfortunately for Tejada and the Astros, his defense at shortstop (particularly his range) was pretty bad -- -11.2 UZR -- which obviously brought his value down. Still, according to FanGraphs, he was worth 2.8 wins above replacement and $12.7 million of value.

With the departure of Melvin Mora creating an opening at third, MacPhail decided to sign Tejada, who was already familiar with the O's and seemed genuinely happy not only to return to Baltimore, but also to prepare for a season playing third base. (Oddly enough, MacPhail also signed corner infielder Garrett Atkins, which hasn't worked out too well.) Tejada signed a one-year, $6 million deal.

So far, Tejada has more than held his own at third, especially considering that it's his first season at the hot corner. Tejada has a 0.7 UZR and has been able to showcase his powerful arm when throwing the ball across the diamond. He won't ever be confused with Brooks Robinson at third base, but his UZR number ranks seventh in the AL, and so far he is ranked higher than unquestionably great fielders such as Adrian Beltre (0.4) and Evan Longoria (0.1). Of course, it's only May, and there's a lot of season left to play, but Tejada seems to be doing just fine.

At this stage in his career, Tejada is not a middle-of-the-order type of hitter, but the O's roster isn't exactly littered with great sluggers or on-base machines at the moment, which has resulted in Tejada usually batting cleanup. His offensive numbers (.279/.324/.426) have dipped compared to last season, but as long as he continues to play decent defense, he has value. Right now, he has been worth 0.6 wins above replacement and $2.5 million.

Tejada isn't having a great season, but if the alternative is seeing Atkins man third for an extended period of time, I'd pick Tejada every time. And if he plays at this level for the entire season, MacPhail may view him as an option to return next season or even until Josh Bell (currently batting .243/.276/.426 at Norfolk) or someone else is ready to be a long-term answer at third.

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