I was sort of under the impression that Alberto Callaspo was having another nice offensive season. He's hitting for a bit more power, so I thought maybe he had even improved upon last year. But, a closer look reveals that Callaspo's on-base percentage has dropped to a pathetic .306. Considering his OBP this year is only .001 higher than his AVG from 2008 and only .006 higher than his 2009 AVG, my earlier assumptions were incorrect. So what's the deal?
Callaspo's season line to date is .276/.306/.452. The AVG and OBP are both career lows, and the SLG is actually a tick below what he put up last year. The OPS of 758 to date is a big dropoff from last year's 813. Or, a .352 to .328 drop in wOBA.
The book on Bert was always that he was a high contact hitter with little power who never struck out. He was never known as some one who walked a ton, but with his high batting average and decent walk rate, he's a good bet to put up a slightly above average on-base percentage. 2010 has seen the batting average decrease and his strikeout percentage is virtually identical to last season (8.9 in 2009, 8.8 in 2010). The problem? His walk rate has been cut almost in half. In 2009, Bert walked in 8.1 and 8.2 percent of plate appearances in 2008 and 2009 respectively, but only 4.7 percent of plate appearances this season. Walking half as often plus losing 25 points of batting average means you're headed for a Jose Guillen OBP. No wonder the organization's finally come around to Callaspo!
The AVG and OBP are likely to increase. Bert's BABIP is currently .274 while it's been .312 and .325 the last two seasons, so he's been somewhat hit unlucky. Bringing up the AVG will bring up the OBP, but just for giggles let's give Bert 24 points of AVG to make him a .300 hitter. That's still a .330 OBP. This is obviously an upgrade, but still below league average, and below Bert's production the last two seasons.
The good news? Despite Bert's big drop in value from a decreased on-base percentage and the penalty for playing an easier position, he's actually on pace for a more valuable overall season. Callaspo is currently headed for a 2.97 win season, besting last year's 2.4 WAR mark. The difference has been in the defense. We're obviously in small sample size territory here as Bert has not yet logged too many innings at 3B, but last year's -11.5 UZR at second base has been replaced with a 1.9 mark at third base - that's an improvement of 1.3 wins, more than enough to overcome the penalty for moving to the easier position. Assuming Bert's just league average, or a 0 UZR, that's still an improvement of over a win if he regresses over the remainder of the season. While the sample is still tiny at 3B, he has logged a positive UZR every year he's been in the league, so calling him average there isn't a stretch.
The key here is really Bert's walk rate. The AVG/OBP is likely to come up as his BABIP [positively] regresses. If the walk rate also comes back up and Bert continues to play average 3B defense, and maintains the power he's displayed the last year and a half, he becomes a pretty valuable player, especially since he's still quite cheap. Should this come to pass, I expect the organization to go back to doing everything they can to bury him. Maybe the decrease in walk rate is his way of saying thanks to DM for finally showing confidence in him?