Defensively, he's nothing to write home about, but he's not exactly a statue, either. When he doesn't make errors, he's solid. When he's having mental lapses in the field, he's just adequate. He does, however, turn a very nice double play, something which I think is a bit overlooked in his game. He's no Lou Whitaker, but if there's a way to turn two, he'll do his best to do whatever it takes to turn it.
He makes quite a bit of money (over seven million this season) and has a player option for next year (about seven million as well), so it's very likely he'll be back. Is this a good thing for the Giants? Let's take a look at some things and perhaps we can see.
1.) Injuries - It's a worry, sure, but one thing that has gone unnoticed in the past few years is that Durham was...durable in all of his years previous to his stint with the Giants -- the only time he was below 150 games was his rookie season, where he played 125. What's been overlooked a bit this year is that he's increasing his games played every year, from 110 in 2003, to 120 in 2004, and he's on pace for about 140. Something to think about, sure, but not anything that should make or break a decision one way or another.
2.) Defense - Something else that's a bit of a worry. Out of 16 major league second baseman, Durham is 12th in fielding percentage (of note, Jeff Kent and Alfonso Soriano are even lower), 14th in range factor (note that Soriano is 13th and Kent is 7th), and he is 11th in zone rating (Soriano is 12th and Kent is 14th).
So worry, yes. But panic? No. First of all, I personally do not totally buy into defensive stats as of yet. They tell a story, but I don't think they can be taken at face value. The reason why I kept track of Soriano and Kent is to show examples of players who are making as much or more than Durham, yet whose defensive statistics aren't all that great, either.
3.) Offense - Not a worry, right? Durham's back in form, right? Well...no. This, too, is a bit of a worry.
Durham's stats this year (.299/.369/.435) look right about where they should be. 804 OPS this year, 790 OPS for his career. But there are a few worries that may or may not have an impact on him for next season:
- Age. He'll be 34 in November, so there's got to be a bit of concern about his age and how that might affect him playing a demanding position like 2nd base. This could be a bit of a factor behind his nagging injuries -- we've all seen the virtual elimination of Durham being a threat to steal a base during his tenure in San Francisco, and much of this is due to the fact that a lot of his nagging injuries are leg/groin based -- much of the time it's a bit inadvisable for Durham to run all out more than necessary.
- One funky stat for Durham this year is the large drop in pitches per plate appearance (p/pa). It's usually around 4.00 -- a good indicator that he's a patient hitter. This year, it's dropped to 3.48, which is more the type of p/pa that hitters like Pedro Feliz have (3.40 p/pa this year for Feliz). Does it mean anything? Doubtful, really, because he still walks at a decent rate, but it's an unusual blip at this stage of his career. I don't know if any correlation has been made between aging players and their p/pa as they get older, but it wouldn't surprise me if that number goes down a bit as players age.
- One thing I really liked about Durham's game the last few years has been his groundball to flyball ratio (g/f ratio), which has averaged about 1.04 the three seasons previous to this one -- indicating that it's likely Durham was hitting a lot of line drives, which is a sign of a good hitter. This year, it's jumped to 1.41 thus far. Worry? Well, maybe. He's been this high before, several times as a matter of fact. It hasn't seemed to have much affect on his production (it's 1.32 for his career), but again, as he's aging it could mean something. Not seeing many pitches and hitting significantly more ground balls than fly balls isn't exactly a recipe for success.
So overall? All the signs are that Durham is fine right now, but there are a lot of little things to think about with him, which for me, adds up to a larger worry.
I'm thinking the best idea for the team's longer term future (as in 2 years +) is probably to trade Durham over the winter while he still looks like a decent 2nd baseman. He doesn't have a no-trade clause, so in effect a team would be trading for only one year of Durham -- something that I think would be fairly attractive to a lot of teams looking for a bit of help to get into or further into contention. This would save the Giants a large chunk of change and should bring back a couple of prospects, although it would create an immediate hole at 2nd that the Giants wouldn't be able to fill in-house. That leaves free agency...and even more questions, because the free agency field looks something like this (courtesy of MLB4U.com) :
Fernando Vina (Expected to retire)
Frank Menechino (Team Option)(arbitration)
Todd Walker (Team + Player options)
Eric Young (Team Option)
Ronnie Belliard (Team Option)
Pokey Reese (Team Option)
Roberto Alomar (Retired)
Ouch. That's painful to even look at.
So the best thing for the team to do short term (as in 2006)? It looks like keeping Durham is really the best option for right now, which is fine by me -- because I'm a Ray Durham fan.