Over the weekend, the Nats signed former NL stolen base champ and occasional member of my fantasy baseball teams Willy Taveras to a minor league deal. Some people are going to get very excited about the fact that they signed someone who stole 68 bases in 2008. Some people will moan and gripe about the fact that they got someone who has zero power and can’t get on base at all. They’re both wrong.

Taveras is a fine signing, but not because he may lead the league in steals. Let’s look at his career numbers. He has 194 SBs and 42 CS, for a SB percentage of 82%. This is more than adequate, it’s not just that he steals, he steals effectively. His problem comes when you look at his hitting splits. He has hit .276/.321/.328 over his career, and over the last 2 years has hit .246/.293/.291. Clearly, to those people who look at batting average, that is bad. To people who look at on base and slugging as well, it is downright awful. He simply can’t get on base. It is an indictment of Dusty Baker that he hit in the leadoff spot 368 times last year for the Reds. As they say, he can’t steal first base, and he’ll never steal second if he can’t get to first. He isn’t a full time player, and with his power and ability to walk (both almost nonexistent) he has to hit about .310 to be effective whatsover.

However, he does have some positives. His .240 average last year was partly the result of a terrible BABIP. It was his worst of his career, and 2008 was the second worst. If he manages any bit of luck, he’d probably be closer to his career averages than his terrible 2008-2009 stats. Meanwhile, he is a good defensive outfielder. His career UZR/150, almost exclusively at CF, is 8.4. And he DOES steal, and does it well, as noted. His 68 steals are all the more impressive considering how rarely he actually reached first. He also is a very good baserunner. In Buster Olney’s blog this morning, there was some Taveras info on his baserunning abilities. Below are the numbers he laid out:

There were some other notes, but the message was basically that he’s fast, and he’s a good baserunner for a fast guy. So, he has positives, he isn’t a complete waste. Those positives don’t outweigh the negatives enough to give Taveras a full time job, but as a bench player, he can be very effective.  A late inning defensive replacement, a baserunning replacement for some of the more lumbering guys who knows how to get on – he can do that.

He is, in effect, Nyjer Morgan light. Very very Tavery light, but Nyjer Morgan light nonetheless. As long as he doesn’t block a youngster, and is a plan C slash 5th outfielder, I’m fine. If Taveras is there to go in late or if there are injuries, he’s not a bad signing.

By Charlie