Brewers fans spent an awful lot of the 2013 season listening to management defend a weak-hitting infielder. They praised his defensive versatility and the flexibility it gave them. They also claimed he was "swinging the bat better lately" despite his sub-.275 OBP and minimal power.
They were talking about Yuniesky Betancourt, of course, but those things would actually have been true if they'd been about Jeff Bianchi.
Let's get this out of the way, because I'm sure you're thinking it: Yes, Bianchi was a weak hitter in 2013. He hit just .237/.272/.292 across 100 games, and this wasn't a hot-and-cold season: He never posted an OPS above .608 (May) in any month. He was relatively clutch, though. B-Ref says an average MLB hitter will come to the plate with 150 runners on base and drive in 26 runs over 252 plate appearances. Despite his overall struggles at the plate, Bianchi drove in 25 of the 142 runners on base in front of him. His OPS climbed from .564 to .635 with runners in scoring position. That's a pretty small sample size, of course.
Despite being poor offensively, though, Bianchi deserves a lot of credit for his defensive work. FanGraphs credits him as being 12.9 runs below average at the plate and on the bases in 2013, but gives him 12.7 runs back for his fielding and positional adjustment. That puts him slightly below an average big leaguer overall, and FanGraphs values his contribution to the 2013 Brewers at 0.8 wins above replacement.
Bianchi was a shortstop all through the minors and played mostly at short during his cup of coffee with the Brewers in 2012, but bounced around much more this season. He played 42 games in place of Aramis Ramirez at third base, but also made a significant number of starts at shortstop and second base, in addition to some brief time in the outfield:
FanGraphs estimates that he was slightly below average at second base but saved almost ten runs during his time at third base and 2.3 more at shortstop. There's a sample size issue, of course, but Bianchi brought a lot of value in limited time with his glove this season.
On a Brewer team with established every day players at third base (Ramirez), shortstop (Segura) and second base (Weeks or Gennett), Bianchi could have some relatively significant value as an occasional starter and defensive replacement. He may never hit consistently in the majors, but if leveraged correctly he can still be an asset.
I've already mentioned that Bianchi developed a bit of a reputation this season for coming through in the clutch. Despite posting poor numbers overall he supplied the game-winning hit in extra innings against the Cardinals on May 18, in the sixth inning against the Nationals on August 4 and in the seventh inning against the Cubs on September 8.
Arguably his biggest hit of the season, though, salvaged what could have been an 0-for-5 day in game two of a doubleheader on July 30. The Brewers came into the ninth inning trailing 2-1 but loaded the bases on Juan Francisco's single, Jean Segura's single and Logan Schafer's walk, setting the stage for this play:
Even after spending the full season on the roster in 2013, Bianchi has less than two years of MLB service time. He won't be arbitration eligible for the first time until 2016, and projects to become a free agent before the 2019 season.
Previous MVBrewers posts can be seen at the links below: