The more Michael Bourn lingers around the more tempting he seems to get. The free agency dance is nearing an end and one of the most attractive free agents out there is inexplicably still available. Should the Cubs make their move?
In his great “Anarchist Brunch” feature yesterday, Felz brings our attention to an excellent piece by DMick89 at OV Blog. In it, DMick89 does a great job of breaking down Bourn’s projected value over the next 5 years and comparing it with possible compensation packages. The conclusion is that Bourn could offer the Cubs good value over the life of the contract, particularly in the next 2-3 years. While I agree with the analysis and that particular conclusion, I still do not believe that signing Bourn is a good idea — even in the short term.
Let me start off by saying that none of these moves are made in isolation. It’s not simply a matter of adding Bourn’s projected value of 3.2 WAR to the Cubs bottom line.
The reason for this is that it dismisses the value of the players that are already on the roster. If the Cubs sign Bourn, it is likely that two players — and as many as 3 players will lose value in the transaction. Two of those players, likely Nate Schierholtz and Dave Sappelt, will move to the bench. A third player, Brett Jackson, stands to lose value as well. We’ll get back to that in detail later in the piece.
Now you may not think much of any of those players and given their history and/or uncertain futures, I’m not going to argue that. It’s a legitimate concern.
But let’s stop thinking about them as whole players. Let’s not think of them as 150 game/600 PA guys who you can etch into the lineup everyday. That is not who they are at this point and nobody expects any of them to play that role for the Cubs in 2013.
The idea here is to maximize their value by playing to their strengths and limiting their exposure in situations where they are weaker. What we’re talking about here is mixing and matching 4-5 guys and putting them in positions when and where they are most likely to have success.
I’m going to attempt to break this down, piece-by-piece at first. I will use CAIRO, Bill James and ZiPS projections for this piece to try and create a composite. I don’t have complete projection information at this stage but given the similarities between systems, it isn’t going to change the outcome significantly one way or the other. I will also use UZR ratings, WAR, season and career splits in the analysis, so please bear with me until the end here. When it’s done we can step back and look at the whole picture, and hopefully this will all make sense.
Let’s first take a quick look at the free agent in question…
Michael Bourn: CF
Bourn’s numbers will be the most straightforward simply because he’s the only one in this analysis who is a true everyday player. We’ll keep it simple to start here.
Bourn is projected to have a 3.2 WAR per CAIRO (2.5 on offense)
Slash line of .275/343/.378 (CAIRO)
Slash line of .273/.344/.363 and .313 wOBA (Bill James)
On defense, Bourn has a superb career UZR/150 of 10.7 and CAIRO projects an additional 0.7 wins on his defense alone.
Now, let’s look at the current Cubs group. For the sake of this study, we’ll assume Alfonso Soriano is the everyday LF for now and he will not be part of the analysis. We will focus on the other 4 Cubs outfielders. But here is where things get a little more complex. The attempt here will be to maximize each of these players’ strengths and to mix and match them as much as is possible. This is somewhat theoretical because strict 100% platoons don’t really happen, but we’ll consider any bleed over against offhand pitchers, injury fill-ins, or defense at other positions as bench play, so I won’t factor that into the projected overall numbers as starters.
I’m using recent and career splits as a guide here rather than projections because the projection systems are based on everyday numbers. As I’ve said, I do no believe the Cubs intend to utilize them in that traditional way.
Nate Schierholtz – RF vs. RHP; splits lineup position with Scott Hairston
For Schierholtz, we’re going to use his numbers vs. RHP only and we will assume his primary role defensively will be to man RF.
- Career vs. RHP: .266/.319/.413
- .317 wOBA
Not exactly inspiring, but I don’t think this tells the whole story on Schierholtz. The Cubs are big into ballpark factors as well and it’s important to consider that Schierholtz has struggled a great deal at the place where he’s played almost half of his MLB career: AT&T park. Taking those numbers out, we get these career numbers vs. RHP.
- .334 wOBA
Much better and likely something more along the lines of what the Cubs are expecting to see. Then add that he is an underrated athlete who plays good defense with a strong arm. The numbers support the scouting reports and suggest that Schierholtz is an asset defensively…
- Career UZR/150 in RF is 9.2. That easily makes him a plus defender. While he is not Bourn’s equal on defense and plays a less important position, you mitigate the raw amount of defensive value Bourn brings in if you have to move Schierholtz, the Cubs current best defensive OF’er, to the bench.
Scott Hairston: CF vs. LHP; splits lineup position with Nate Schierholtz
Hairston could also play RF but I’m using him at CF for this analysis because he has more of a track record there than Sappelt. Despite plus career UZR/150s, I consider both players to be below average in CF, so it’s a wash there. On the other hand, I consider Sappelt a plus defensively in RF, so we can add value if that’s where we play him on defense. For lineup purposes, however, we will complement Hairston’s splits with those of Schierholtz. Remember, this is going to involve a lot of moving parts, but it’s necessary for the purpose of maximizing as much value as possible.
2012 vs. LHP:
- Slash line: .286/.317/.550
- 386 wOBA
Career vs. LHP:
- Slash line: .276/.325/.500
- wOBA: .353 wOBA
While I’d love to think Hairston can repeat his 2012 performance vs. lefties. We’re going to use his career numbers so as to utilize the larger sample size. They’re also lower and we should expect some regression.
David DeJesus: CF vs. RHP; splits lineup position with Dave Sappelt
It’s tempting to want to call DeJesus an everyday player but his recent lines against LHP suggest otherwise (.149/.289/.149 in 2012). He’s also not really a CF at his stage in his career but I was surprised to see that at least by UZR standards, he was equally effective at both positions last season, though both ratings were below average (-7.4 in CF/-7.2 in RF). Between Hairston and DeJesus in CF, the Cubs will be below average defensively at a premium position. This, in my opinion, is the strongest reason to get Bourn. But as we’ll see, it’s not nearly enough to warrant signing him.
Because DeJesus is a different player at the latter stages of his career, I decided to use his 3 year trend instead of his career numbers. His numbers vs. RHP have been remarkably consistent over that stretch.
2012 vs. RHP
- .358 wOBA
3 year trend vs. RHP
Dave Sappelt: RF vs. LHP, splits lineup position with DeJesus
There is a lot less projection information available on Sappelt and much of what’s out there are projections based on a full season, which would include many PAs vs RHP. I think Sappelt’s mediocre 2012 season at AAA Iowa may skew the numbers down even further. Here are those numbers, such as they are.
- .289 wOBA
- .324 wOBA
Sappelt’s career numbers vs. LHP (very, very small sample size)
- .413 wOBA
Those numbers vs. lefties aren’t sustainable in all likelihood, so we’ll have to set our sights lower. Yet I think they’ll be higher than their 2013 projections as long as he’s used almost exclusively vs. LHP. No matter which numbers we use, they’ll be better than the numbers DeJesus has put up lately vs. LHP. For our analysis, we’ll use the Cairo projections.
Panning back and looking at the big picture
So what I did was take the slash lines of each player and put 70% of the weight on the long side of the platoon (vs. RHP)and 30% of it on the short side of the platoon (vs. LHP). Defensively, I used them in combinations that gave the greatest overall value. I then calculated those waited averages into the Simple WAR Calculator created by Wahoo’s on First. With Michael Bourn, I simply used his Cairo WAR projection.
If the Cubs sign Michael Bourn
- CF: Michael Bourn: 3.2 WAR
- RF: Platoon of David DeJesus and Scott Hairston. Weighed combined slash of .289/.357/.467, with generously average defense: 3.0 WAR
Total: 6.2 WAR
(Note: If we make that RF defense slightly below average, which is probably more accurate, the RF WAR drops to 2.5 and the CF/RF combined WAR drops to 5.7)
If the Cubs do not sign Michael Bourn
- RF: Nate Shierholtz/Scott Hairston: Weighted combined slash line of .280/.329/.460, with Sappelt in RF defensively. I gave this slightly above average defense: 2.3 WAR
- CF: David DeJesus/Dave Sappelt: Weighted combined slash line of .288/.359/.437, with Hairston in CF defensively. I gave this duo below average defense: 3.0 WAR
Total: 5.3 WAR
So, if the Cubs are able to maximize what they currently have on their roster, assuming career and current trends hold reasonably close as far as platoon splits, it’s possible that adding a 3.2 WAR player like Bourn, which looks good in isolation, would actually only result in a 0.9 WAR net gain. Slightly less than 1 win for $13- $15M/yr. And if typical regression occurs with Bourn throughout his contract, we can expect his individual WAR to decrease by about 0.5 WAR per year (perhaps a little less if you buy into Tom Tango’s theory that speed players hold their value slightly longer). So this probably isn’t going to get any better as the years go by. But I digress. This analysis is about 2013.
If that’s still not convincing….I’m not quite done yet.
The Brett Jackson Factor
Whatever you think of Brett Jackson and his future, we’re going to try and keep this objective by using his ZiPS projections. We could really use any projection system for the purposes of this brief analysis, because this point is really about positional value.
- Projected stat line per ZiPS: .230/.317/.403
In CF, that is worth about 2.3 WAR. If you have to move him to LF because of Michael Bourn’s presence in CF, then the decreased positional value there subtracts significantly from his overall value. The WAR calculator puts it at 1.3 when I change his defensive position to LF and keep everything else equal.
- That’s approximately one less win because of the loss in positional value.
Yet another potential unintended consequence of adding Bourn to the current roster.
Oh, and did I mention that the Cubs will lose a draft pick in the 40s range? That’s even more lost value that may or may not be fully made up by attempting to deal Bourn later.
I’ve been vehemently against signing Bourn from day one and I’ve stated various reasons why, though I have never taken it time to break it down into specific numbers and values. There was always the question of the draft pick and getting saddled with a 5 year contract for a player who is in his 30s, but the recent Hairston signing has helped complete the picture for me. It has allowed me to analyze this within the context of a full roster that appears designed to maximize value out of part-time players.
The production boost we can expect from Bourn in 2013 alone isn’t significant enough to warrant a large, multi-year contract from the Cubs. This is even before taking things like monetary value and the long-term implications into consideration. Signing Bourn is just not a good investment whether you are talking about the short, mid, or long-term.
Filed under: Analysis