Today's trade of Jim Thome to the Chicago White Sox lands the Phillies a Windy City fan favorite with some power, some speed, and a good defensive reputation. Aaron Rowand immediately moves to the front of the Phils' hypothetical depth chart, and presumably means we won't see a Kenny Lofton return in 2006.
Rowand is a 28 year-old right-handed hitter, an Oregon native who starred in college for Cal State Fullerton and made his major-league debut in June 2001. He was a part-time player in 2002 and 2003 before breaking out in '04 with 24 home runs, a .310 average and a .905 OPS, as well as 17 steals in 22 attempts. This past year, however, his numbers were off sharply: in nearly 100 more at-bats, Rowand's home run output dipped to 13, and his batting average fell to .270. Not an especially patient hitter, he did draw a career-high 32 walks, but against 116 strikeouts--also a career high.
Though it's very questionable whether Lofton would go for it, Rowand's splits actually suggest that a Rowand/K-Lo platoon might be as good as or better than the Lofton/Jason Michaels pairing that was so effective for the Phillies in 2005.
Against lefties, Rowand put up an impressive .881 OPS from 2002-2004, hitting 15 of his total 43 home runs over that span in just 396 at-bats. Facing right-handers, he compiled a more pedestrian .774 mark. Last year, the split was even more pronounced: .827 against lefties, .703 vs. righties. Interestingly, Rowand was hit by pitches 21 times, 18 of which came against right-handers. Maybe he crowds the plate against them?
Rowand's home/road splits aren't especially revealing: last year, he hit for a lower average but more power (.257, 8 HR) at U.S. Cellular Field, and the opposite everywhere else (.282, 5 HR), in line with his prior production. Given that the Sox' home field, like Citizens Bank Park, seems to inflate power numbers while remaining otherwise offense-neutral, he would figure to replicate these trends.
In 2005, Rowand also continued his career pattern of better hitting late in the season. He hit 8 of his 13 home runs after the all-star break, despite getting 26 fewer at-bats over the second half. Still, May was probably his best month overall last season, as he batted .320 with an .859 OPS.
Rowand has experience hitting virtually everywhere in the lineup. Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen gave him over 100 plate appearances in the #3, #5, #6, and #7 slots last season, as well as a handful of at-bats leading off and in the 2-hole (where he went 10 for 16 with 2 homers). Of those slots in which he saw his name written more often, Rowand performed best batting fifth: .296, 5 home runs, .824 OPS in 196 at-bats. With Jimmy Rollins Pat Burrell, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and presumably Bobby Abreu hanging around, however, it's hard to see him anywhere but hitting second, seventh, or eighth. Given Rowand's low walk rate and the success he's enjoyed swinging at the first pitch (30-84, .357, .955 in 2005), a Rollins/Rowand top two could lead to some very short Phillies first innings.