Jose Constanza: A Lesson in Unsustainability

Everyone loves a good story. People rally behind the unexpected and surprising superstars that rise to the top of the league. They can’t help but get goose bumps and feel the hairs rise on their necks when they watch a real-life, modern “Rudy” or that defies the odds to make a splash in the professional sports sphere.

Atlanta Braves’ fans have their own “Rudy” story happening before their eyes. 28 year old minor league journeyman, Jose Constanza has become that guy for the Braves. An unheralded prospect that essentially treaded water in the Cleveland Indians’ organization for five years before the Braves signed him to a deal in the offseason.

Constanza, or Georgie as he has become known in the Braves’ clubhouse, is the prototypical speedster. He gets on base at a good rate because he has the speed to beat out almost anything that comes off of his bat. When he puts the ball in play, the defense has to make good plays to get him out, otherwise he will be standing at first base and then the pitcher and catcher have to worry about him.

He brings out the beauty of speed in a lineup.

The Braves are a team that has been starved for this type of player. They have not had a player with more than 13 stolen bases since 2007 when Grego Blanco led the team in steals. They have not had a player have more than 17 steals since Rafael Furcal stole 46 in 2005. Jordan Schafer has 15 stolen bases for the Braves this year. He very well could end up as the team leader, depending upon Michael Bourn and Jose Constanza who both have 3 stolen bases right now.

Needless to say, the Braves are a team that is starving for steals and speed. Schafer’s speed is what gave him the ability to stay in center field despite a .240/.307/.316 line (though injuries also helped him stay in the lineup).

Schafer and Nate McLouth’s injuries opened the door for Jose Constanza. Constanza came to Atlanta never totaling an OBP lower than .334 and never stealing fewer than 19 bases in his 5 year minor league career.

His brief time in Atlanta has given him the ability to showcase his speed and the remarkable affect that speed has on a game. He has hit .413/.438/.543 through his first 12 games.

An episode that occurred on Sunday against the New York Mets is a perfect example of how he can impact a game:

He hit a ball back to the pitcher and beat it out for an infield single, due to the pitcher’s inability to field the ball cleanly and get off a throw to first. He beat the ball to second base to avoid a double play. He advanced to third base on a ball that bounced in front of the batter’s box for a wild pitch; the catcher could not pick it up and throw it quick enough to get him out. He then scored the Braves’ second run on a single by Michael Bourn.

That sequence of events is the perfect example as to why it is important to have players that can change the game due based solely on speed.

However, the reality is, Jose Constanza is on an unsustainable pace. He is floating in the realm of stars and it is unrealistic and unreasonable to expect this to continue. Scouting the Sally is a website that evaluates prospects. When I asked Mike Newman his take on Constanza, here is what he said:

“I don’t think a whole lot of him. Bad defensive outfielder with some contact skills and very few walks. I don’t think Constanza has much, if any staying power at the big league level: definition of small sample size superstar.

A scout put it best when he said AAA guys are in AAA because they can contribute in short spurts, but not the long haul. Seems like Constanza is the poster child for that right now considering he played 199 games at the level before his call up.”

When you think of the best hitters in the game right now, you think of Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp, Matt Holiday, Prince Fielder, Dustin Pedroria, Adrian Gonzalez, Jose Bautista and Albert Pujols (in no particular order). These guys are the best hitters in the game. They are the game changers. The ones who are feared by opposing pitchers because of their ability to change a game in the blink of an eye.

Constanza, as it stands right now, has a wOBA (weighted on base average) of .435 and a wRC+ (which measures the runs per plate appearance; 100 is average) of 179.

If Constanza had enough plate appearances, he would rank 2nd in the majors in these categories behind only Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays. He would be ranked ahead of Matt Holiday by a little bit. He would rank well ahead of Brian McCann who has a .380 wOBA and a 142 wRC+.

No one can believe that Constanza can continue at the pace he is on. There is no way anyone can believe that he will be on this torrid pace forever.

From his minor league career, he has averaged a .344 wOBA and a 109 wRC+. This would put him in the categories of Jeff Francoeur, Miguel Montero, Logan Morrison and Carlos Santana (excluding Francoeur, the other three are decent hitters. They are no where close to the level that Constanza is currently hitting at).

If you look at what Constanza has done this year in AAA for the Gwinnett Braves, he has a .327 wOBA and a wRC+ of 99. This puts him on the level of Kosuke Fukudome, Nick Markakis and Danny Espinosa. All decent hitters, but again, no where to the level of Jose Bautista or Matt Holiday.

For comparison’s sake, Jason Heyward is hitting with a .315 wOBA and a wRC+ of 97. This is in the territory of Elvis Andrus and BJ Upton. This is also in spite of struggling throughout the 2011 season.

Needless to say, Constanza is a great story. I am rooting for him as much as anyone else. However, Constanza is on a pace that is unrealistic and about as lofty as a player could be playing. He adds speed to the lineup, but it is inevitable that when he comes back down to earth, he will falter quickly. If he struggles to get him back down to his career numbers, the struggles that he will go through will be significant.

Let’s just temper our expectations for him. Let’s not elevate him to the level he is currently playing on. When the floor comes out from under him, he is going to fall fast.

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