Brewer Spotlight

Aww, Spangenberg! Reviewing His Injury-Plagued Career

Cory Spangenberg is the 27-year-old Utility Player Recently Signed to The Milwaukee Brewers. While untimely injuries have derailed his trajectory, he has shown potential over stretches in his career. David Stearns signed him to a low-risk contract with a Minor League option. BREW MATHs uses stats, graphs and even maps to analyze what it means for Brewers Fans.


In 2010, Cory Spangenberg was in the position nearly every American Boy dreams of… A Top 10 Pick in The MLB Draft after winning a High School State Championship. He also became a fast millionaire after The Padres paid out his $1.8M signing bonus. From that point, he would progress through San Diego’s Farm System. Then on 09/01/2014 he made his MLB Debut. Consistent with his charmed beginnings, in his second game he hit a walk-off homerun to beat Brad Ziegler and The Diamondbacks. Things didn’t seem like they could get any better.

 

Unfortunately, this streak of fortune would come to an end in 2015…

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Shortly into his first season as a starter, he hurt his knee and missed most of the year. 2016 would be even worse… Only 14 games were played before a quad muscle was torn and the season was history. While 2017 would start slow, he found redemption after The All Star break and hit 8 home runs. He would not carry the momentum into 2018. Cory’s final year with The Padres would end with mixed results. After batting 0.235, the ‘lucky kid’ was released in November.

Enter Mr. Stearns…

The contract that Spangenberg agreed to is $1.2M with a ‘minor league option.’ That means is if Cory cannot make The Major League Squad he will be sent to The Minors and make $250,000 instead. While that is still a great salary, losing a million dollars would have to hurt. Stearns seems to be angling for the potential that once warranted a top 10 pick. And he did so without risking a thing.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at San Diego Padres

That leaves us to consider who Spangenberg is as a player and what he could add to the roster:

PLATE PRODUCTION

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2018 Final Stats (329 PA)OBP: 0.298 / wOBA 0.290 / BABIP: 0.344

The overall trend reflects when the aforementioned injuries afflicted Spangenberg (’15 & ’16). Since then, he has been marginal at the plate. The average MLB weighted on-base average (wOBA) is denoted by the dashed line (0.320). For the majority of his career he has played below it. Before we panic, let’s isolate last year:

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BABIP: Batting Average on Balls In Play / wOBA: weighted on-base AVG / OBP: On-base Percentage

 

Spangenberg did have a nice run in August but not much else worth mentioning. This is consistent with the ‘below average’ trend we have seen at the plate…

RATE STATs

Understanding how disciplined Spangenberg is can tell us a lot. It helps us see if he is improving and helps contextualize his stats. Most importantly, it allows us to see if he is good at deciphering between balls and strikes.

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NOTE: The MLB Average for all of these stats are denoted by the dotted lines.

The trend persists, everything here is average or a tad below. If anything jumps out it is that strike outs are on the rise as contact is falling… Over his career, the lefty has a 29% whiff rate on fastballs, which is terrible. His Whiff%, mapped over a career:

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POWER NUMBERs

It is starting to look more and more like Ol’ Spangy is a liability at the plate. While the power numbers are not awful, there is nothing here to get excited about either:

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2018 Final Stats: SLG: 0.362 / ISO: 0.128 / HR/FB%: 15.2

Power numbers… Below average, as above.

FIELDING

This is where we can start to wrap our heads around signing  Spangenberg. He is a versatile fielder and in The Majors, has played significant time at three positions (3B > 2B > LF). If he doesn’t get sent down, he will likley be employed like Hernan Perez… An experienced utility player off the bench who provides insurance and allows for roster flexibility.

If we dig into Spangenberg’s fielding stats they play like his hitting numbers. Without delving into these complex metrics, suffice it to say that they are below average (again). His overall UZR/150 last year was -19.9. This means for every 150 games he plays, his defense will surrender ~20 more runs than a ‘league average’ defender … not the largest sample size but yikes.

SPEED / ON THE BASES

In 2018, Cory Spangenberg registered a sprint speed time of 28.9 ft/sec. This was 64th out of the 549 players who were tracked. Despite not being a speed demon, he is a proficient baserunner and once stole 27 bases in a single Minor League Season. In 2017, his best offensive season to date (.264 / .322 / .401), he stole 11 bases on 14 attempts.

He will not win you games with his legs but in terms of game speed, is top 15%. Not too shabby.

SUMMARY

CONS

  • Not many – while he has been a marginal Big Leaguer Hitter (at best), he is a baseball guy who knows the game well. If he can figure out his issues with the fastball (i.e. obscenely high whiff rate), he has a chance to be a contributor on a contending team.

PROS

  • ‘No-risk’ contract with minor league option
  • Flexibility – he reliably plays three positions (3B > 2B > LF) where The Brewers have a need
  • Speed – He adds value as a runner off the bench
  • Possible untapped potential (?) – A change of scenery and added incentive (like a million bucks) can make all the difference.
  • Some pop – over short stretches in his career he has shown real power.
    • His lifetime BABIP of 0.341 over 1278 plate appearances suggests he is making solid contact. He just needs to do it consistently.

CONCLUSIONs

BEST CASE:  Acts like another ‘Hernan Perez-level’ utility player (they have overlapping skill sets). He provides spark off the bench and acts as a reliable backup at multiple positions.

WORST CASE:  He plays poorly in Spring (or gets injured) and ends up in The Minors making six figures instead of seven.

The guy is a baller… Milwaukee will be rooting for him.

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