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Replacing Omar Infante with Christian Colon

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Is it time to get younger at second base?

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

I'll admit it. April of 2014 I was feeling pretty okay with the Omar Infante signing. He wasn't a super expensive player (the Royals inked him at a four year, $30 million deal), he wasn't super old (32 isn't young of course), and he just came off a 3-win season (being a top 10 second baseman - better than Howie Kendrick, Ian Kinsler, and Neil Walker). While 3-wins might have been an outlier of a season (his career best at age 31), it wasn't unreasonable to expect a ~2 win, average season from him. ZiPS had him as 1.7 win player in the preseason projections and Steamer a 2.2 WAR.

Infante was looking good in March/April of 2014 too. He had a 110 wRC+ where he was walking almost as much as he was striking out. The results weren't really BABIP driven either as it was only at .286. I remember saying "man it's nice to have an actual second baseman!" Even getting hit in the head by a Heath Bell pitch wasn't stopping him as he continued to hit for the rest of April.

Then as it does every year of the Gregorian calendar, April turned to May and Infante went from the Cinderella of Royals second baseman to a pumpkin or poor person or slave or whatever Cinderella was before.

For Infante, a lower back tightness turned into a lower back disc injury and he went on the 15-day disabled list on May 7th, not to return to a game until May 26th. From that return on, Infante was miserably bad. He would put together a paltry 67 wRC+. That's basically the 2007 Tony Pena equivalent of a hitter over 440 plate appearances. Generally you never want to give that many plate appearances to a hitter that bad (33% below league average), but the lineage of Royals second baseman isn't as pretty or magical as Cinderella.

Infante isn't injured anymore, as much as we have heard or can tell, but that "Tony Pena Infante" (TPI) is still in a Royals uniform. Take for instance this sort of fun:

Omar Infante over his first 30 games of 2015: 51 wRC+

Chris Getz over his first 30 games of 2013: 57 wRC+

Again...the Royals second baseman lineage ain't no Cinderella.

One perhaps surprise this year has been the timid emergence of Christian Colon. Colon hasn't been on a star level pace or anything, but he's put up a positive return (though barely) in his short time this year. Last year Colon was worth 0.7 wins over just 21/49 games/PA. Expand that 0.7 to a 162 game season and Colon would have been worth about 5.5 wins. That's obviously ridiculous, but Colon was pretty good for the time he was called upon.

This year Colon hasn't been on quite that fiery pace, but he's accrued 0.2 wins over 65 plate appearances. That's on pace (which isn't necessarily assumed) of being worth 2 wins over 600 PA. Omar Infante on the other hand is on pace for -0.5 fWAR.

Now, that's just theoretical and assumes that both players continue their current pace of play with no change on either side. Thankfully we have the projection systems too, which do a much better job than humans of projecting baseball players.

Player Proj Proj PA Prorated to 600 PA
Colon 0.6 277 0.70
Infante 0.8 387 0.44

Using Fangraphs Depth Charts, and prorating to what would get both of them to 600 PA, Colon would be slightly better than Infante, but it's not like either is going to set the baseball world on fire (why would they even want to do that anyways?)

They were close as well to start the season also.

ZiPS

Name G PA HR AVG OBP SLG wOBA WAR
Christian Colon 120 509 7 0.263 0.31 0.35 0.295 1.3
Omar Infante 135 558 7 0.269 0.302 0.369 0.295 1.4

Steamer

Name PA HR AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
Omar Infante 600 8 0.274 0.311 0.376 0.304 92 1.7
Christian Colon 600 9 0.253 0.298 0.348 0.289 82 0.9

Steamer was more bullish on Colon, but ZiPS saw them being equal.

Neither one is a sure fire option going forward, and year to date Colon has been better than Infante despite about twice as less (is the grammar rule fewer or less here?) playing time.

From 2014-2015

Name G PA BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Off Def WAR
Christian Colon 40 114 7.00% 10.50% 0.096 0.337 0.298 0.348 0.394 110 1.9 2.6 0.9
Omar Infante 164 685 5.10% 12.40% 0.088 0.274 0.248 0.285 0.336 72 -20.4 2 0.4

There's no question Colon has been better than Infante since 2014, and in fact he's been twice as good as Infante in a quarter of the playing time.

Getting rid of Infante, whether using him in a bench capacity or designating him for assignment (he's not really tradeable with that contract) would represent a sunk cost. Do we expect Infante though to be worth $7.8 million in 2016, $8 million in 2017, and $10 million in 2018 (an option with a $2 million buyout)? Maybe, but it seems like a low chance for that right now. The bar isn't too high as $7.8 million and $8 million is likely less than a full win in 2016/2017.

Infante has been on the decline for the past two years, being basically replacement level or so, even when he's seemingly fully healthy this year. Meanwhile Colon has been decent in his limited playing time and there's at least some theoretical upside given his age (26 years old) but not a high ceiling.