After Michael’s article on potential designated hitters came out yesterday, there was a storm of reaction on Twitter. Okay, there were two Tweets, both inquiring politely about the absence of a certain name:
This article should really mention Tomas— David Evans (@david26209) May 11, 2020
I’d actually been thinking about doing a piece on the same topic, before Michael beat me to... well, putting in the actual effort. I’d have concentrated just on the 2020 season - I, for now, refuse to accept any chance of the atrocity which is the DH extending past emergency use this year - and my three leading candidates would have been Cron, Lamb and the best-paid player on the 2020 Diamondbacks, Yasmany Tomas.
The history of Tomas
He is in the final year of a six-year, $68.5 million contract signed on November 26, 2014, and is one the few survivors from the 2015 D-backs. [Pop quiz: there are seven other such players besides Tomas. Can you name all of them? Answer at the bottom of the article]
It has been close to an unmitigated disaster, right from the get-go with an ill-conceived and completely failed attempt to make him a third-baseman, where he made six errors in only 73 chances. That foreshadowed the defensive woes to come, where any production produced by Tomas was negated by his fielding ineptitude. He did get significant playing time on 2015 and 2016, and didn’t disgrace himself at the plate: an overall OPS+ of exactly 100. 2016 was almost impressive (if you look at the figures from the right angle, in a darkened room, and perhaps squint a bit), Tomas batting .272 with 31 home-runs. That’s a D-backs double only done by Paul Goldschmidt and Ketel Marte since the end of 2011.
But it was a startlingly empty line in terms of overall production, with Tomas solidly below replacement level once you take other aspects of his game into account. He was worth -0.9 bWAR in both 2015 and 2016 - that’s impressive given his BA and HR numbers. Indeed, only two players in baseball history have put up negative bWAR, while batting .272 or better with 31 or more home-runs: Tomas and Dante Bichette for the 1999 Rockies. When Dave Stewart got the boot after that season, and Mike Hazen took over, Tomas’s playing-time all but dried up. In 2015-16, he averaged 129 games a year; over the three seasons since, only 17. And in 2018-19, he had just six plate-appearances in total at the major-league level.
As spring training started, it seemed likely Tomas would remain languishing in Reno, with Hazen clearly regarding him as a sunk cost, until the team finally escaped at the end of the season. But the world is a very different place now, and whatever baseball occurs seems likely to be of the American League variety. So does this potentially mean there may be a spot for Tomas, especially given the increased roster size which will likely accompany the 2020 season?
The case for and against Yasmany
Not having to play the field is clearly a significant help, because whatever value Tomas brings to a team is going to be entirely with his bat. Over his entire MLB career, he has an OPS+ of 97, which is perfectly comparable to that of other DH candidates suggested by Michael, such as Jake Lamb (99) and Kevin Cron (98). He’d be particularly effective as the right-handed half of a platoon DH, with a career triple-slash against left-handed pitching of 293/.343/.537 for an OPS of .879. As a yardstick, American League DH’s last season had an average line of .248/.329 /.457, an OPS of .786, so Tomas would be substantially better if he delivered at those platoon numbers.
The big question is, would he be able to give us that level of production? After all, we are discussing a man whose last major-league hit came almost three years ago, on June 2nd, 2017. His very brief stint last year certainly did nothing to suggest any potential, Tomas going 0-for-6 with three strikeouts. But it might make more sense to look at his numbers for the Reno Aces in 2019, to give us some idea of what we might expect from him. He certainly hit considerably better last year than the previous season, with a 2019 OPS in AAA of .931, compared to .745 in 2018. His 29 home-runs trailed only Cron among all players in the Arizona farm system.
But we have to remember the usual caveat: it’s Reno. When we looked at that environment in 2017, after the humidor, we found the typical drop from there to the majors was 225 points of OPS. In some cases it ended up being more: Cron, for example, had a incredible OPS of over 1.200 for the Aces in 2019, but fell short of .800 in the majors. Even if we apply the regular figure to Tomas’s numbers, his OPS would drop to .706, considerably below the average DH last year. That does conceal another large split: his OPS against left-handed pitching was 1.248, and subtracting the Reno correction to that does give us a number that would still be more than acceptable.
Cron, didn’t have anything like as much of a split, destroying both left- and right-handed pitching almost equally. On that basis, he’d seem the better contender if there was to be a single designated hitter for the 2020 Diamondbacks. However, if the team are looking at using a platoon, likely with Jake Lamb as the left-handed hitting component, then you could certainly argue a case that Tomas is best-equipped to be the man on the other side of the plate. I was quite surprised to be reaching that conclusion, and am more than willing to hear counter-arguments!
Pop quiz answer: Outside of Tomas, here are the players on the 2015 Diamondbacks that are still with the franchise, in one way or another. Nick Ahmed, Silvino Bracho, Archie Btadley, Andrew Chafin, Jake Lamb, David Peralta and Robbie Ray. Bracho, who hasn’t pitched for us since September 2018 due to Tommy John surgery, is probably the one you were least likely to get.