Informational Interview: Conor Gillaspie
By James Fegan
Just call him—I don’t even want to share what awful nickname I thought of. // Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
I predictably took too long doing exit interviews to the point that I’m running up against the beginning of Spring Training. We will still be reviewing 2013, but with even more of an eye toward the future than before.
Conor Gillaspie – Serviceable platoon third basemen and auburn-haired ship captain on a river of dreams.
Age by 2014 Opening Day: 26
Contract: One year of service time exhausted.
Relevant stats: MLB: 134 games, 452 plate appearances, .245/.305/.390, 85 wRC+, 8.2 BB%, 17.5 K%, .145 ISO, 16 errors, four in one game. On defense he could take a few steps, then fall down, and since he’s 6’1,” it works decently well. He’s an average defender when precise. He had some stretches where his precision faltered.
Interpretation: If your franchise has had its hot corner manned by the dregs of humanity for the last few years, Gillaspie holding his own against righties was a revelation.
Emblematic split: .261/.324/.414 against right-handed pitching for a 97 wRC+. He was basically league-average!
Pre-season expectations: We had the general idea right, but details about Gillaspie’s platoon splits in MLB and Keppinger being a starter were a bit off.
"“He’s far from a fiend like Keppinger, but Gillaspie can make contact if he can do nothing else on a diamond, sporting just a 13.1% career strikeout rate in the minors. He’s no impact player, but contact and plate discipline makes it a bit harder for him to fall on his face.Just a bit. Like, he’ll be able to put his hands out first.The lack of a platoon split in his consistent minor league mediocrity limits his use as a bench partner, but if he could actually punish right-handed pitching, he wouldn’t be getting dumped in spring training to forestall a DFA.”"
Quote of the year: A quote that could be applied to the whole season, that takes the “think of what a great story this awful experience will be!” adage and runs with it.
"“I’m sure I’ll laugh about it 10 years from now. But obviously it was pretty bad tonight.”"
Conor’s story: Early concerns that the White Sox had wasted their time with such a low profile trade were pushed aside when Gillaspie clocked six of his 11 Spring Training hits for extra bases. The unusual power spurt from the level-swinging Gillaspie bled over into the first month, where he made his official White Sox debut by filling the role of team offensive MVP in April. He hit .311/.368/.492 in the opening month while most of the team slid down a well, and staked out early claims on playing time while Jeff Keppinger did everything possible to disabuse himself of a starting job.
Gillaspie regressed hard through June, which was both masked by the struggles of the club and was partially an element of management finding out and adjusting to how utterly hopeless he is against left-handed pitching. For the season, he reached base 13 times in 66 plate appearances against lefties, while striking out 15 times. (OBP should be higher than K%, just for reference).
The horror of the alternatives played a big part in Gillaspie grabbing over 400 plate appearances. When he OPS’d .539 in the worst slump of his season from the start of May to mid-June, Keppinger barely out-hit him. His range of a few steps and diving hardly scarred the eyes after end-of-career Kevin Youkilis stalked the grounds in 2012, and Alexei Ramirez‘s yips and Dayan Viciedo‘s grazing surrounded him.
Chris Sale-style. // Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
Gillaspie does not strike out too much, and is capable of taking walks that are handed to him. That gives him a reasonable floor of performance, with inabilities to consistently hit the ball with authority or run…particularly fast at any time at all, tramping down his ability to hit for big average or slugging. He only hit .240 in the second half of the season, but enjoyed the cramped confines of U.S. Cellular enough to slug .400. He was stuck with a not particularly fortunate .270 BABIP, but maintained a respectable on-base rate of .324 throughout.
If Gillaspie had any signature quality, it was a nondescript steadiness. Save for the month of May, the concept of him being utterly unplayable never gained much steam. His OPS never dipped below .660 (this is some sort of accomplishment) all season and his defense was relatively steady until his brain broke from the misery of the year and he committed three errors in one night (could have been four) on Sep. 10 and spent the rest of the season anxiously completing his throws to first. It was an ill-fitting, but necessary conclusion to his year. Everyone has to wind up embarrassed.
I’ve made no secret of my fondness of Gillaspie, but “steady,” “reliable,” and “not awful,” become less blessed qualities when an actual prospect gets thrown in the positional mix. Conor Gillaspie would be a helpful member of an average or better third base platoon, but it’s always more efficient to get that kind of production out of one person. And
New acquisition Matt Davidson offers that opportunity, and his promotion will either immediately place Gillaspie’s roster status in peril or hang over him all year. Left-handed, and capable of filling in on defense at first base for a team stacked with clod-footed mashers, Gillaspie is not a bad bench player in theory, but Keppinger is signed for two more years at $8.5 million and he is not. His tenuous status with the organization is undeserved and unfortunate, but the White Sox are moving on from needing to clutch onto players like him, even if their service was valiant.
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