Is Marlon Byrd A Regression Candidate?

Marlon Byrd was one of the most surprising players to break out in 2013. The New York Mets took a flier on him, signing him to a one-year, $700,000 deal. It was on the heels of Byrd’s awful 2012 campaign, when he posted an aggregate adjusted OPS of 33 — with a .210/.243/.245 line — with the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox. At the age of 35, Byrd rewarded the Mets with a 138 adjusted OPS in 464 trips to the plate. The Mets were so enamored with him they willingly passed up the opportunity to trade him to a contender by the July 31 deadline. Reluctantly, they traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates through waivers on August 27, just a few days before the waiver deadline and his 36th birthday. In 115 plate appearances with the Pirates, Byrd again posted a 138 adjusted OPS, then hit .364 with a pace-setting home run in the second inning of the Wild Card game against the Reds.

At some point in 2013, the clock was to strike midnight, turning Byrd back into a pumpkin, but it never happened. Aside from a cold April, Byrd posted an OPS of .805 or better in each month between May and the end of the season.

The Phillies signed Byrd to a two-year, $16 million deal earlier today. GM Ruben Amaro clearly thinks — or is steadfastly praying — that Byrd’s Cinderella story continues through 2015. But there are plenty of reasons to take a pessimistic view on the Byrd deal, even if it’s a shorter-term deal for a meaningless amount of money that doesn’t cost a draft pick for a team that will almost inevitably hover below or around .500 in 2014.

BABIP

Byrd posted a .353 BABIP last season. He has always been a hitter who relies on a higher-than-is-typical BABIP as he carries a .325 career average. An increasing majority of Byrd’s batted balls have been of the line drive and ground ball variety. I ran a query on Baseball Reference’s Play Index for hitters since 2000 to post a .350 or better BABIP. One of these things is not like the other:

Player OPS+ BAbip Year Age Tm
Chipper Jones 176 .383 2008 36 ATL
Manny Ramirez 166 .370 2008 36 TOT
Jorge Posada 153 .386 2007 35 NYY
Larry Walker 151 .353 2002 35 COL
Marlon Byrd 138 .353 2013 35 TOT
Torii Hunter 129 .389 2012 36 LAA
Ichiro Suzuki 129 .384 2009 35 SEA
Derek Jeter 125 .368 2009 35 NYY
Andres Galarraga 123 .355 2000 39 ATL
Ichiro Suzuki 113 .353 2010 36 SEA
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/12/2013.

Each player in the list above saw his BABIP decline by at least 30 points the following year, though many managed to stay above .300. In asking if Byrd can be like Larry Walker and post a .321 BABIP the next season, we have to ask ourselves what allowed Walker to do exactly that. Walker always hit for a high average (career .313); Byrd has not (career .280). Walker drew a ton of walks (11.4%), meaning that he was mostly swinging at very hittable pitches; Byrd has not (6.4%). Walker always hit for power (.252 ISO), relying more on his ability to make hard contact than anything else; Byrd has not (.145 ISO), relying more on luck and the inability of opposing defenses to turn his batted balls into outs.

You can even do this exercise with Ichiro. Byrd and Ichiro have similar walk rates and Byrd has superior power, but Ichiro was able to post a high BABIP up until 2011 due to his speed and unorthodox approach to hitting that gave him a running start out of the batter’s box, allowing him to beat out a lot of infield ground balls.

Power

Byrd posted a .220 ISO in 2013, ranking 19th in the Majors, just behind Domonic Brown. It was the first time he crossed the .200 threshold in his career and it marked a 185-point increase over his 2012 output. In fact, he was only at .119 in 2011 and .136 in 2010 as well. The power was certainly unexpected, especially considering that his two home ballparks — Citi Field and PNC Park — were two of the most pitcher-friendly in the league. It showed in his splits. At home last year, Byrd posted a .727 OPS with a .168 ISO; on the road, Byrd posted a .962 OPS with a .269 ISO.

Over the last three seasons, players to post a .220 or better ISO at the age of 35 or older include David Ortiz and Alfonso Soriano in the past season, Carlos Beltran, A.J. Pierzynski, and Soriano in 2012, and Lance Berkman, Ortiz, and Soriano in 2011. Ortiz is an easy explanation, as is Beltran and both are on a level far above byrd. Soriano has always shown that kind of power. Berkman broke down. Pierzynski is interesting, especially since the Phillies have also expressed interest in him minutes after signing Byrd. The catcher’s ISO dropped from .223 in 2012 to .153 last season. Pierzynski was remarkably consistent in terms of power, ranging from .118 to .163 from 2001-2011, but then had a power surge in 2012. It was a mirage.

Strike Zone Judgment

Byrd is marginally better than Delmon Young at drawing walks. Among 64 qualified hitters, Byrd’s walk rate was the ninth-lowest in the National League in 2013, per FanGraphs. A low walk rate by itself is not necessarily a bad thing — as mentioned, Ichiro did not draw many walks because he consistently put the ball in play and got hits at a high rate. Byrd, however, had the highest strikeout rate of anyone with a walk rate of 7.5 percent or lower. His ratio of walks to strikeouts was the second-worst in the NL behind only Starling Marte.

If we are expecting Byrd’s BABIP to decline by at least 30 points and his power to return to pre-2013 levels (around .120-.150 in terms of ISO), Byrd’s inability to draw walks and/or consistently put the ball in play will become a larger issue.

Overall

Byrd doesn’t add anything on the bases. Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs both graded him out as an average runner, more or less. Since 2011, he has stolen five bases in 14 attempts (36%).

As for defense, UZR has rated him from slightly below average to above-average but mostly very slightly above average. Baseball Reference thought he was a well above-average defender with the Mets and Pirates.

We shouldn’t expect Byrd to be nearly as good as he showed last season in any facet. At his absolute best in 2013, he was worth 5 Wins Above Replacement, per BR; 4 WAR per FanGraphs. However, the contract has an average annual value of $8 million, which pays Byrd like a slightly below average player (about 1.5 WAR). Byrd has mostly ranged from 2-3.5 in recent years, so the contract either slightly underpays him or is more or less fair value, depending on exactly how pessimistic you are about Byrd’s production over the next two years.

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19 comments

  1. Pencilfish

    November 12, 2013 02:23 PM

    A more interesting issue is whether he truly represents an upgrade over Ruf, even with Ruf’s small sample size in MLB. While Byrd may not represent an upgrade on the bases, you seem to be indicating he’s an upgrade in the field to some extent. Since RAJ is in love with Stanton, it may be that Byrd is a just a placeholder until he can convince the Marlins to trade him.

  2. Bubba0101

    November 12, 2013 02:45 PM

    Our right fielders (Young, Mayberry, and Ruf) produced -2.4 WAR. If Byrd can give us 1.5 WAR, thats a gain of 4 WAR. Do that in three other spots and thats basically the difference between us and the second wild card. Easier said than done but its not out of the realm of possibility for the Phils in 2014

  3. Dante

    November 12, 2013 03:30 PM

    Bill, what are your thoughts on Byrd vs Chris Young?

  4. The Howling Fantods

    November 12, 2013 03:30 PM

    My knee-jerk reaction was to hate this trade as Laynce Nix 2, but I’ve come around to being more ‘meh’ on it, largely for reasons similar to those in the final paragraph of this article. If Byrd plays anywhere near league average, the Phillies will be net winners on this deal.

    If, however, this is the biggest deal of the off-season for the team, then everything changes, of course. Byrd certainly isn’t the difference between this team and the playoffs, even if he plays to the level of last year.

  5. The Howling Fantods

    November 12, 2013 03:30 PM

    Sorry, not trade but signing, of course.

  6. KH

    November 12, 2013 03:44 PM

    Byrd’s highest bWAR before last season was 3.4 and a quick glance shows him to be about a 2 WAR player on average. In a vacuum its not a horrible signing but if the Phillies think they can sign a couple of players like Marlon Byrd and make the play-offs next year they are delusional as far as I am concerned. This is not a move of a team going for it.

  7. Joecatz

    November 12, 2013 03:57 PM

    Why do you expect a 30 point babip regression bill?

    His babip by season since 2007-2011

    363
    330
    308
    335
    316

    He played 48 games in 2012 with a .257 babip.

    His fWAR in all the 325 plus seasons is 2.4-4.1
    FWAR in the 308 and 316 seasons are 1.2 and 1.8

    It would take a lot of things to go wrong for him to regress.

  8. Francisco (FC)

    November 12, 2013 04:02 PM

    Is Marlon Byrd A Regression Candidate?

    Is the molecular weight of cobalt 58.9?

  9. Lucas

    November 12, 2013 04:05 PM

    Chris Young vs Marlon Byrd? LMAO are you high? Young sucks ass. Mayberry is a better player you silly head.

  10. Schufan

    November 12, 2013 05:41 PM

    As others have pointed out, the best part of this move is that we’re unlikely to be the dumb guys who give Nelson Cruz a big contract.

    I’d still like to see them sign Chris Young and then at least shop Dom Brown for pitching. Platooning Revere and Young and having someone solid to step up for the inevitable Brown injury would be a big improvement.

    But Young occasionally walks, no Ruben has no interest. He’ll lock down A.J. Pierzynski instead so he can have another off-season where he acquires two of the least patient hitters available. And then we’ll see if the Phils can go an entire calendar month without a walk. It’ll be fun.

  11. Chris S.

    November 12, 2013 06:18 PM

    The way I look at this deal is that we will probably break even for the contract for Byrd himself, but to get an increase of 4 Wins from RF for 8 Million per year is the Phillies going in the right direction (Byrd being worth 1.5 WAR and we got -2.4 from RF as stated above). Really this isn’t a move that will make the Phillies playoff bound, but the Byrd signing is no where near the Delmon Young signing. At least Byrd brings some value to the table. Maybe I am thinking about this backwards, but I don’t hate this move.

  12. JM

    November 13, 2013 08:50 AM

    Bill,
    How many of these types of signings would RAJ have to make to get the Phillies 12 statistical games better? Can you tell us what the Phillies WAR was by position last year? Realistically, if Howard comes back for a 3 WAR season, Byrd has a 2 WAR season, Revere has a 2 War season, aren’t they already about 9 games better than last year? from that perspective, does a decent year from Chooch (I hope it’s chooch for 2 more years anyway), Asche/Franco, and JRoll put the Phillies into that playoffs sleeper category? Does a trade for Price (I know it’s not likely) or adding Ubaldo or both put the Phils over the top and into contender status? Other than Price, I don’t see any of that as unreasonable…

  13. JM

    November 13, 2013 11:29 AM

    Why couldn’t you count the pluses (and regression)? Isn’t that why we have WAR, to determine what the player can add to the team vs another player? To estimate how many more wins said player would add to your team? why can’t you estimate that for a roster?

  14. JM

    November 13, 2013 11:34 AM

    I am not being critical, I am legitimately asking BTW…….and welcome back, I hope you enjoyed your time away….

  15. Francisco (FC)

    November 13, 2013 12:16 PM

    While WAR is a measure of value I think it’s a mistake to just add up WAR values and say: The Team will win X amount of games with X = Sum of all players WAR. I don’t think that’s how WAR works.

  16. Bubba0101

    November 13, 2013 12:56 PM

    Its definitely not how WAR works but its a starting point to try to gauge what could happen if Player X took over in right field or occupied our 4th starter or got as many at bats as our bench players.

  17. JM

    November 13, 2013 02:20 PM

    so Bubba or Francisco,
    Say a team won 50 games the previous season. They then replaced 8 starters, who all performed at 1 WAR each, with 8 new players, who all performed at 2 WAR each. I shouldn’t expect that team to be 8 wins better the next season? If it gives a reasonable value for 1 player, why not 8?

  18. jauer

    November 14, 2013 09:10 AM

    The molecular weight of cobalt is not 58.9, Egon – it’s the atomic weight.

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