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.