Time to replace Iwamura with Walker

Aki Iwamura
Akinori Iwamura - Matt Bandi/PLC

There were two main reasons for the Pirates’ acquisition of Akinori Iwamura over the offseason. First of all, he was an easily attainable league average second baseman. Additionally, that was something the team desperately needed, because there were no acceptable internal options for second base. Delwyn Young was coming off a season in which he hit .266/.326/.381 as a 27-year-old, and he was awful defensively. Andy LaRoche could have moved to second, but that would have just created a hole at third base. These were the only choices.

Iwamura has been awful with the Pirates. He is currently hitting .169/.267/.246, good for a .243 wOBA. He is providing absolutely zero offense for the team. Now, looking strictly at the statistics, those numbers should improve. Iwamura is walking more than ever, and his strikeout rate is nearly identical to his career mark. His BABIP currently sits at .196, which is about 130 points lower than should be expected. With a normalized BABIP, he could easily be looking at a respectable season wOBA in the .320-.325 range. However, from watching Iwamura, I’m not sure the numbers tell the whole story. Anecdotally, he seems to be hitting a large amount of slow rollers, balls that have very little chance of sneaking through the infield. Then again, who knows what my mind is subjectively recalling.

There are no such positive indicators regarding Iwamura’s defense. He has been absolutely dreadful. Both UZR and Plus/Minus rate him as the worst second baseman of 2010 (very small sample size alert!), and my eyes tell me that the numbers are fairly accurate. His range has been virtually non-existent. There are a multitude of possible reasons for this. Maybe his knee is still bothering him. Maybe his knee is fine, but he is still mentally tentative from the injury. This seems to be Neal Huntington’s theory. Maybe he is still battling the sore ankle that hampered him earlier in the season. Maybe he is out of shape, or maybe he is just getting old. Whatever the reason, realistically, I just don’t see any sudden improvement being made.

While Iwamura has struggled immensely, Neil Walker has experienced a resurgence at Triple-A Indianapolis. After going 4 for 5 with two doubles yesterday, Walker is hitting .338/.399/.602. His walk rate is up, he is hitting for power, and he has even stolen nine bases in as many attempts. Since last August 11 (the day Walker complained that he was not receiving an opportunity because he was a Littlefield player), he has hit .332/.386/.579 at Triple-A.

The Iwamura trade made sense at the time, but things have changed. Even if we factor in expected positive regression, Iwamura is likely to provide slightly below average production for the season. At 31-years-old and on a one-year contract, that’s just not very valuable. If there were no other options, the front office could easily stick with Iwamura for the remainder of the season. He will improve and probably be an adequate, albeit mediocre, stopgap at second base. But the Pirates now have the 24-year-old Walker tearing up Triple-A (finally) and deserving a shot at the major league level. Although it is unfair to categorize the Iwamura trade as a poor personnel decision, it is time to treat his acquisition as a sunk cost and do what makes the most sense for the team moving forward. That means replacing Iwamura with Walker.

Walker played a variety of positions for Indy early in the season, but he has started the past six consecutive games at second base. Frequent Pirates blog commenter MarkInDallas has come up with May 20 as the earliest date that Walker could be recalled without accruing a full season of service time. It seems like Walker may be on his way to Pittsburgh very soon.

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Good piece, Matt. Who is your pick to be removed from the 25 man roster when Walker comes up? Do you think Aki should just be released and go all-in on Walker? Should Clement be optioned to AAA and give Pearce an extended look? Or DFA Delwyn Young?

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