Hector Olivera Signing Isn’t Just For The Future


There’s a non-zero chance that Uribe’s starting days are done Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

So in case you haven’t heard, the Dodgers spent 62.5 million dollars on a player who’s never taken a big league AB! Spinning it that way is bad, but finally, the long wait is over and Hector Olivera ends his free agency with 62.5 million dollars in his pocket (maybe 63.5 million depending on his UCL), a lot of questions about his health, and a lot of questions about his place on the team that appears to have 3-4 above average regulars on the infield.

Explaining his signing takes seconds, look at the third baseman next offseason: David Freese ain’t gonna cut it, Juan Uribe‘s 37 on opening day next offseason, and nope, Evan Longoria isn’t walking through the proverbial door.

It’s pretty evident that the plan is to have him as the starting third baseman sooner rather than later (his elbow, and/or Corey Seager’s size might have something to say about that, but that’s another post for another time), and there’s a non-zero chance that that time comes in 2015.

Juan Uribe is the fan favorite. Even moreso with all the changes to the club this offseason, Uribe is the guy that everybody wants to be around and nobody hates. And why should they? He’s reinvented himself into a starting caliber player, his top level glove mixed with his surprisingly above average bat (120 wRC+ and 116 wRC+ in the last 2 seasons, respectively), and uh, outfit allow him to be an integral part of the team. He’s been a big part of the last two NL West champions and that’s something extraordinary considering how absolutely hated he was back in 2011 and 2012.

The hate, obviously culminated when he was benched after the club acquired Hanley Ramirez in July of 2012, and we never saw any more of that Uribe. He finished that season with a wholly unacceptable .191/.258/.284 line. He was injured, bad, out of shape, and hated.

Clearly he fixed all of those issues, because in 2013, he OPS’d .769, provided ELITE defense from the hot corner and in only 132 games, he was worth 5 fangraphs WAR, 4.2 baseball reference WAR. People thought that line was unsustainable, primarily because a Batting Average On Balls Put In Play (BABIP) that was 34 points above his career average (.322 in 2013 vs .288 career). So all Uribe did was come back and in his 404 PA’s in 2014, he hit .311 with a .777 OPS! This was very likely helped by a .368 BABIP that was easily the highest of his career (minimum 400 PA’s), but regardless he was great when he was on the field.

So the last two seasons of Uribe’s career have been worth 8.2 bWAR and 8.6 fWAR, that’s nearly a star at the hot corner for the past two years. Granted, it’s been accumulated mostly via his glove, but his offensive contributions aren’t to be forgotten. But his offensive contributions come with the caveat that his batting average on balls put in play the past two seasons sits at an absurd .345!!!

Lets make something perfectly clear, what he’s done hasn’t been completely luck the past two seasons, he’s gotten in shape and gotten rid of the lingering health issues that plagued him early in his Dodger career, but his batted ball statistics of 2013 and 2014 just aren’t all that different from his batted ball statistics in 2012. It seems easy to point out that Uribe’s talent level isn’t that of a .345 BABIP hitter, especially when contrasted with his his career BABIP of .288, keep in mind that this is a 57 point differential coming in his age 35 and 36 season, and that is inherently atypical. And thanks to Daniel Brim for pointing this out, but Uribe’s 2014 line exhibited the largest difference between his actual BABIP and expected BABIP among regular players (more than 400 plate appearances).

So there’s a player who has shown a significant BABIP bump in the latter stage of his career, is coming off of a season where he landed on the disabled list twice with lower leg issues, walked 3.7% of the time, and had an isolated power metric of 130 (35 points) below his career average. I’m not suggesting that Uribe completely craters this season. After all, steamer suggests that he hits .253/.295/.385 with plus defense (.295 BABIP to go along with that), and that would make for roughly a 1.8 win player (the other projection systems are more optimistic). That’s not anywhere near what he was the past two seasons, but it’s serviceable.

This is where Olivera comes in during 2015. In case Uribe gets hurt (he will), in case Uribe’s offensive performance takes a nosedive (certainly possible), in case Uribe’s age doesn’t allow him to be a viable starting option next season (also possible), if any of these happen (some will!), Hector will receive playing time, and there is the looming possibility that he will be asked to be a regular this upcoming season.

If everything goes right, Uribe will be good when healthy, and Olivera will get reps when he isn’t, but things rarely go right and by signing Olivera, the Dodgers give themselves immediate flexibility in case Uribe implodes, but also award themselves considerable upside for the upcoming season and the future

Whether his arm allows him to be a third baseman will definitely be something to monitor going forward, but for now some incredible talent evaluators, Farhan Zaidi (of the Yoenis Cespedes fame), among others deemed him to be worth considerable amounts of money. That’s good enough for me.