Can Slider-Stricken McGehee Keep His Job?
After two productive years with the Brewers, Casey McGehee tanked in 2011. The former Chicago Cubs waiver claim batted .291 with a .346 on-base percentage and a .477 slugging percentage in 2009 and 2010, but he slashed just .223/.280/.346 this past year. His adjusted on-base-plus slugging percentage (OPS+) was 31 percent below average. That was dead least among third basemen who qualified for the batting title, and it wasn't even close (Placido Polanco was next, with an 85 OPS+).
While Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke benched McGehee in the playoffs in favor of mid-season trade pickup Jerry Hairston Jr. and prospect Taylor Green is big league ready, GM Doug Melvin thinks that McGehee (arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter) can turn it around.
Part of McGehee's struggles could be a product of bad bounces, as his batting average on balls in play plummeted from .315 in 2009-2010 to .249 in 2011. But his power was down too, as the ZZ Top look-alike's Isolated Power, or slugging percentage minus batting average, fell from .185 in '09-10 to .123 this season. The reason for McGehee's power outage and lower BABIP appears to be one and the same: sliders took a serious bite out of him.
During his first two years with Milwaukee, McGehee hit ground balls about 43 percent of the time against sliders and slugged .414 versus the pitch. In 2011, he hit a grounder 59 percent of the time that he put a slider in play and slugged just .330.
He pummeled pitchers when they threw him inside sliders in 2009 and 2010:
In 2011, however, his hot zone on inside sliders shrank. And he was colder than Milwaukee in mid-January elsewhere in the zone:
Smacking sliders into the grass so often explains how McGehee's overall ground ball rate jumped from 44 percent (right around the league average) to 50 percent in 2011. That's in the same neighborhood as Erick Aybar, Austin Jackson and Michael Bourn.
McGehee has legs, but unlike those guys, he certainly doesn't know how to use them. The 6-foot-1, 220 pounder is a serious plodder, with a career Speed Score of 1.9 (five is average). He got a hit just four percent of the time that he chopped the ball in the infield, one of the twenty worst marks in the majors. And his .220 BABIP on grounders was nearly 20 points below the league average. Simply put, McGehee isn't going to zip down the line and beat out infielders' throws to the bag, not when he runs like he's giving Prince Fielder a piggy-back ride.
MLBTradeRumors projects McGehee's 2012 salary at around $3 million, but I doubt that the Brewers will non-tender him. He very likely won't keep the third base job in Milwaukee, as Green hit a mammoth .336/.413/.583 at Triple-A Nashville and is almost assuredly a better defender than McGehee, who has the sixth-worst Ultimate Zone Rating among qualified third basemen over the past three seasons. But, considering that many teams struggled to get production of the hot corner in 2011 (the cumulative line for third basemen was .252/.316/.390), a power-starved team might swing a trade in hopes that McGehee can solve the slider and stop hitting so many easy-out grounders.