Comparables for new Pirates acquisition Jaff Decker

Denis Poroy

I asked Dan Szymborski, of ESPN and ZiPS, for Jaff Decker's top comparables, and here's what he came up with:

Billy McMillon, Kevin Belcher, Andy Abad

McMillon is the only one of the three who had any kind of big-league career. He bounced around from the Marlins to the Phillies to the Tigers before briefly becoming a very minor sabermetric hero for the Moneyball A's from 2001 through 2003. He ended up with 601 career big-league at-bats, hitting .248/.322/.396. Belcher (who sounds like some sort of franchise-mode hybrid of Kevin Mitchell and Tim Belcher, but is actually a completely different guy) and Abad never did much. Abad actually played his last pro U.S. game as a Pirates farmhand in 2007, but you probably don't remember that.

Now, clearly, Decker is young enough that these comparables aren't destiny. They are, however, entirely consistent with the Padres recently designating Decker for assignment. I've been reading a lot on Twitter about Decker's walks and on-base percentage, in particular. Decker does walk a ton -- he drew 55 free passes in Tucson last year, compared to only 350 at bats.

Unfortunately, McMillon and Abad also drew lots and lots of walks as minor-leaguers, and so did lots of players you've never heard of. It's not as if walks are a bad thing, but if they're a minor-leaguer's best offensive aspect, he probably isn't a very good prospect, because it's very difficult to become a good offensive player in the majors without other offensive skills. Big-league pitchers (and even, to a lesser extent, pitchers in the high minors) are too good for that.

That's one reason Decker's OBP has declined as he's climbed the ladder, from .442 in Class A in 2009 to .381 in a great offensive environment for hitters in Triple-A last year. That's also why Evan Chambers fell off the ladder, and why Brian Jeroloman never became a good big-leaguer, even though they both started out posting great walk numbers.

I'm not saying Jaff Decker is going to turn into Brian Jeroloman. Decker is 23, and he's a former first-round pick. He has other things going for him. He does, however, have work to do. Steamer projects he'll hit .224/.317/.361 next season. ZiPS has him at .214/.305/.345. He needs to take a step forward if he's going to have a significant career. Otherwise, he might bounce around for a few years as a bench outfielder, and that will probably be it.

Earlier this afternoon, David Todd compared the Pirates' acquisition of Decker and Miles Mikolas to last year's trade for Clint Robinson and Vin Mazzaro. At the time, Robinson was perceived as the key player, but it was Mazzaro who turned out to be more important. It wouldn't shock me if the same thing happened with Decker and Mikolas.

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