We're all disappointed by the production so far of many of the Cubs offensive players, most notably Marlon Byrd and Geovany Soto. Byrd has a wOBA of .091 on the season, and Geo has a .232 wOBA which looks much better by comparison (still not great). The slow starts for both players have led to much complaining on the hypertweetoblogosphere whenever one or both players end up in the lineup. Have these slow starts really crippled their trade value?
It's important to keep in mind that these two players have on 37 and 31 plate appearances respectively. Going into the season, they were projected by ZiPS to hit .323 and .334. Have thirty-odd plate appearances made that much of a difference? We also have years of data for both players to draw on, and based on that info ZiPS's updated projections for both players have dropped by 12 points (for Byrd) and 6 points (for Soto). That certainly hurts, but they're just a hot streak away from pushing that dial back up (cue rebuttal about Gambler's Fallacy). Well, we can't really count on that, but I don't think anyone thinks these slumps will last forever.
One thing that could explain it is simple bad luck. Byrd had a .077 BABIP, and Soto's stands at .143. Looking at line drive rates, both of them are making credible contact with reasonable (18.2% for Soto vs 20.3 % career) to very good (24% for Byrd vs 20% career) results. In fact, in the small sample size we've seen so far Geo's batted ball percentages are almost spot on what they were last year. Byrd has been hitting a ton of grounders. but even ground balls aren't going to give you a sub-.100 babip. Bothe players are striking out more than usual, but a casual look at the numbers just suggests that both guys ain't hitting it where they ain't. Given those BABIP numbers and other batted ball rates I think there's reason to be optimistic beyond the ZiPS updated projections.
It's tougher to evaluate where they are from a scouting perspective, since we don't have an army of scouts or a framework in which we can quantify any scouting data. Byrd especially has been described as "looking lost" at the plate, but that's what happens when a player is slumping. Unless we have data that he is injured (unlikely) or has changed his approach after being hit in the face last year (a little more likely), all we know is that he's hitting poorly right now, but that doesn't mean he'll be hitting poorly tomorrow, or next week, or next month.
As far as trade value goes, the downgrade in his numbers does hurt his value. But there's not that much to begin with anyway. Byrd is being paid $6.5m this year. His preseason ZiPS projection called for 531 PAs at .323 wOBA. Assuming he's average defensively (which is about fair) he was projected to be worth ~1.2 WAR, prorated to 1 WAR over the rest of the season. With the updated projection he's projectied to be worth 0.6 WAR for the rest of the season. Given his contract the Cubs were going to have to send money along to get anything worth a damn for Byrd anyway, his doesn't change that fact.
If any potential Byrd trade partner is making a decision on acquiring him based on the last two weeks, I'd be surprised. And if they are, I hope the Cubs tleverage that and alk to them about moving any other players that have been on a hot streak over the last two weeks.
After posting this I wondered if there were other, league-related reasons why Byrd's and Soto's projections would drop so much. I asked ZiPS creator and quasi-papal figure Dan Szymborski about this
@STAnteater The league being lower than projected (between 2010 and 2011) has a part in it, but 2-37 is a horrible run.
— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) April 18, 2012
It appears that the ~7000 PA or so across the National League are hewing more towards last year's offensively starved numbers, which is lowering the baseline for everyone. There are still half a zillion caveats (it's april, the BABIP/LD% numbers above) etc., not to mention Colin Wyers's claim that the updated ZiPS forecasts weight recent data too heavily (at least last year).
Caveat the second is that I have no idea what the run environment is/was in both of the WAR projections for Byrd that I posted above. The only calculator I had handy was a 2011 preseason one, which hada much higher expectation for offense than this preseason, as well as whatever ZiPS is intuiting right now.