Farhan Zaidi and batting average

By Jason Wojciechowski on February 4, 2011 at 5:00 PM

Over at The Drumbeat, Vlae Kershner points out a quote from Farhan Zaidi, the A's Director of Baseball Operations, regarding Chris Carter: "We just think that he could use a little more seasoning after hitting .258 in Triple-A ... ." (The quote is actually from Melissa Lockard's interview with Zaidi, not Kershner's, but I don't have a subscription to Lockard's site, so I can't read the full thing.) Kershner says that Zaidi actually refers to the .258 average not just this once, not twice, but three times in the interview.

We know that the A's know better than this. We know that Zaidi himself knows better than this. After all, his official biography says, "His primary responsibilities include providing statistical analysis for evaluating and targeting players ... ." He has degrees in economics from MIT and Berkeley. The man knows what he's doing. So why's he citing batting average?

One explanation is that in Carter's case, that batting average actually does matter: we've learned that poor contact rates in the minors are a problem as a player moves up the chain, that players who can't reliably put the bat on the ball, even if they walk and hit for power in the minors, may not live up to their potential at the highest level.

But if that's the case, then why not just say that they'd like to see if Carter can make better contact? After all, he could cut his strikeout rate to something manageable and still hit .258 due to luck on balls in play. Putting the word out in public that a .258 batting average is the factor you're looking at has the potential to confuse the player (or all players, really, since surely Carter isn't the only minor leaguer following the pronouncements of the front office staff who will determine their fates), especially given the other signals you're sending them (e.g. forcing players to maintain a certain walk rate if they want to be considered for organization awards).

Maybe I'm making a mountain out of a molehill. Maybe Zaidi just needed some excuse because there's no earthly reason to believe that Carter isn't exactly what he's going to be right now, but there's also absolutely no room on the team with Matsui, Willingham, DeJesus, and Barton ahead of him. Batting average, in this reading, is the only available peg for Zaidi to hang his (likely substantially sized) hat on.

Even in that case, though, I'd rather Zaidi just tell the truth: "We think that right now, Willingham, DeJesus, Matsui, and Barton are good bets to be better overall players than Chris Carter. We love Carter, but we have a real opportunity in the West, we got some very good players for pretty cheap, and we wanted to make that run. We hope he'll stay ready in AAA, because if any of those guys gets hurt, he'll be the first guy we want to call up."