Keppinger should be starting at second base

Jeff Keppinger isn’t going to hit .391 for the season, and he’s probably not going to hit .291 when all is said and done, either. He’s a career .279 hitter entering this year, but is off to a terrific start at the plate in 2010 after going 2-for-4 with three RBIs as the starting shortstop in Thursday’s win — yes, win — over the St. Louis Cardinals. Kaz Matsui, on the other hand, is hitting .095.

At this point, I’m all for Keppinger getting the bulk of the playing time at second base. He’s proven to be a better hitter in his career than Matsui, who’s a career .271 hitter entering this year. Neither one provides much power, though Matsui did hit nine homers in a career-high 132 games last year. Matsui had a stellar year on defense last year, but Keppinger is no slouch and will make most of the plays Matsui will make.

It’s probably not wise to make a judgment on a player nine games into the season, but Matsui has been a disappointed since he was signed to replace Craig Biggio following the 2007 season. He’s in the last year of a three-year deal, so what do the Astros have to lose by starting Keppinger at second base? Perhaps they could trade Matsui down the road or even release him if he continues to struggle, but the best Astros team right now is with Keppinger at second base.

Keppinger doesn’t strike out nearly as much as Matsui and kills left-handed pitchers. He struck out only 82 times in 1,181 career at-bats coming into this year, and he led the Majors in 2008 by striking out once every 20.9 plate appearances.

Kudos to manager Brad Mills for trying to find ways to keep Keppinger in the lineup as long as he’s swinging at hot bat, whether it’s at shorstop or second base. He can even play some third and first base. The problem is putting Keppinger in the starting lineup on a full-time basis weakens the bench. Keppinger is tremendously valuable coming off the bench because of versatility, which is something Matsui doesn’t possess.

But Keppinger should continue to be in the lineup every day, and he should be starting at second base as long as Matsui has trouble getting on base.

5 Comments

I agree 100% about starting Keppinger and benching Matsui. I also think Chris Johnson should start at 3rd more and keep the bench stronger by having Blum there. I think they should give it a go this way at least untill Lance gets back. The only downfall would seem if Chris was able to hit like in the spring then Wade would not look good if there turned out to be no place for Feliz when Lance is back.

What do you have to lose? You are benching $5.5 million dollars. BUT…the Astros *released* Woody Williams with $6.5 million left on his contract, so it could be worse. If it were my money, I’d give it a little more time to see if he snaps out of this slump…keeping in mind that he is an injury risk. I’m normally the first in line to trash Matsui, I did it ALL of last year. This year is different, with Carlos Slacker taking the top spot. http://stonebutch99.mlblogs.com

I’d definitely continue to give Keppinger a large share of the starts as long as he stays hot at the plate, but I don’t know that I’d make a full switch from Matsui as the starter over to Keppinger. Frankly, while I like Kepp, he has terrible range at second base, and Matsui is by far the better defensive player.I also don’t buy that Keppinger is going to hit noticeably better than Matsui against right-handed pitchers over the course of the season. His platoon split is substantial in favor of LHP.Right now, I’d probably give Keppinger every start against lefties, and maybe somewhere close to half the starts against right-handed pitchers.

Oh, and I never want to see Keppinger start at shortstop again unless Manzella is injured. UZR pegs him at 17.4 runs below average at short (per 150 games), which is, needless to say, awful. He’d have to hit like Hanley to make up for that kind of defensive deficiency, and while he might be hot right now, there’s no chance of him keeping up this kind of pace over the course of the entire season.

Keppinger has more value coming from the bench in my opinion. The ability to play multiple positions when needed is invaluable. Matsui was signed as the primary second baseman. Let him play it, at least more than 9 games, and make a determination down the road if Keppinger should replace him. If Keppinger replaces him, your options for middle infield relief are severely limited short of drawing from AAA. Additionally, better start looking now for what you want in the next few years at second base. I’m not familiar enough with the farm system to hazard a guess (my bad), but I think a replacement (full-time) is in order beginning next year with the conclusion of Matsui’s contract.

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