Is Will Middlebrooks Already Irrelevant?

Will Middlebrooks had a fairly promising future with the Red Sox after being called up in 2012. His 2013 season did not go as planned. A couple of injuries and a demotion caused havoc on his season. Going forward into 2014, his career will be at a cross roads for several reasons.

No Plate Discipline

Career home runs = 32
Career unintentional walks = 30
Career K/BB = 5.1 K/BB (8th worst among hitters with 500 or more PA over the past two seasons)

He displays some nice power with his 32 home runs coming in 660 PA, but the plate discipline is destroying his value.  His all power, all strikeout, no walk approach reminds me of another failed prospect, J.P. Arencibia.

Back Injury

Middlebrooks experienced an early season back injury forcing him on the DL. On average, a player who goes on the DL because of a bad back injury sees a huge drop in production. Before the injury, he had an ISO of .218 and it dropped to .188 after he returned. Back problems can continue to limit a player’s production for years and years (see Mike Sweeney).

Role (and Team)?

In Boston, Xander Boegaerts will be playing either SS or 3B for the Red Sox. If the Red Sox bring Stephen Drew back, Middlebrooks will be regulated to the bench. He really has no value if he isn’t playing everyday.

One possiblity is for him to be traded this off-season. The Miami Marlins have already expressed interest with him. I am sure other teams would like to pick up a cost controlled 3B with potential. It doesn’t mean they will be picking up a good player though.

Makeup

Usually, I like to stay away from make up issues, but Middlebrooks stated he struggled significantly with unexpected challenges in 2013 (link).

“Low point, which one? Man, there’s been a few. I mean, it’s tough,” he said. “Unfortunately it’s part of the game sometimes and like I said, I’ve learned countless things from this year to help me move forward in my career and take care of my body and just be a better player and teammate. I have learned a ton. Low point is obviously is being sent down. No one wants to lose their job.”

Generally, a player will have stress and either see it as a challenge to over come (see Dustin Pedroia playing all season with a wrist injury) or as a threat to back away from (link).

Furthermore, Kaiseler et al (2009) demonstrated that athletes high in ‘mental toughness’ perceived stressful events as a challenge, something that can be influenced, acted upon and capable of overcoming.

He admitted to struggling under the weight of injuries and a demotion. He may not crumble in the future in these cases, but how about others. Going to a new team? Being released? Playing MLB level baseball is hard and seemed to struggle when it got difficult.

……
I would stay away from Will Middlebrooks even if he has a starting role in Boston or elsewhere. He could struggle with plate discipline and/or injuries. Since he did not deal correctly with stress in 2013, I would expect him have problems again when confront with obstacles. He may be able to turn it complete around, I wouldn’t bet on it. I would take a late round or $1 flier on him with the assumption I will drop him quickly if he shows no signs of improvement.

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Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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Mobley15
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Mobley15

He looked much better in the 2nd half of last year after he was called up, BB% was up K% was down, ISO staying constant. Probably a bit of BABIP luck but you aren’t drafting him to hit .300. Also, I’ll call SSS on the quote – here is another one from him. “It was fun,” Middlebrooks said. “I liked the challenge. But at the same time it’s hard. I was new to the whole big league atmosphere. I’d miss a ball and I’d get ‘Youked’ by the fans. I was like, ‘Come on.’ But I liked the pressure. It made me work harder. http://www.bostonglobe.com/sports/2013/03/31/will-middlebrooks-red-sox-headstrong-kid-who-made-fenway-park/8stUWa7l9nQvIPcCtLi4IM/story.html