Recently we discussed how we felt that Heyward was paid the largest contract in Cubs baseball history due to his elite defense. This would be especially true if he moves over to RF and not so much if he is to play CF for the life of the contract. But what exactly does that mean?
It’s real easy to look at the back of a baseball card to see a guy’s offensive stats. It’s been engrained in all of us since we first started playing baseball. We debated on an even playing field because we all understood that guys with high batting averages, lots of home runs and RBI’s were always the most desirable. It was something that was measurable.
Then a guy like Ozzie Smith came along and through us all for a loop. It’s easy to look back now and justify his value. He owns 13 gold gloves and that must mean he was great on defense, right? Hmmm. But how did we know this after his age 26 season? I mean it was only his 4th full season in the big leagues. His offensive stats to that point were, well, extremely ugly!
The cry from many out there was that Heyward was not worth the money because he only hit 13 HR’s and had a mere 60 RBI’s. Our old prejudices kicked right in. Look at the back of that baseball card! We have grown a little; we all know now that a high OBP is very desirable, but if he doesn’t hit 40HR’s with 125 RBI’s he just can’t be considered elite!
Well, we’re not going to win this debate today. As with most things in life, change takes a long time. Hell, men thought the world was flat for centuries even though there were rumors that others sailed to all corners of the Earth. Baseball is the same. Teams are still fighting whether the new sabermetric community is right or do the old school scouts have the inside track to who is the best at this game we love.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s just assume both have valid points and a shared view is probably most beneficial to a players evaluation. In the case of Ozzie Smith the baseball card didn’t look pleasing but the eye test saw something completely amazing in the Wizzard.
Luckily for us, we have a website that we can quickly look up all kind of stats and even research what all this new language means to us old timers! One thing to also keep in mind is that we want to measure apples against apples to get a more accurate understanding. The amazing things that Ozzie Smith did at SS is not the same as a guy like Johnny Bench who played C or Jason Heyward playing the outfield.
Fielding percentage is something that we are all probably familiar with because for the most part, many writers spoke about this each year before the gold glove would be awarded. But the stat is somewhat limited. A guy that has a small range should have a higher percentage because the effort is much less. Everything outside of his small range he will just let go, while the guy with a wide range may reach the ball but then be given an error on the throw.
A stat like UZR is a bit more useful. Fangraphs says this about UZR:
As many of you already know, UZR is an advanced defensive metric that uses play-by-play data recorded by Baseball Info Solutions (BIS) to estimate each fielder’s defensive contribution in theoretical runs above or below an average fielder at his position in that player’s league and year. Thus, a SS with a UZR of zero is exactly average as compared to a SS in the same year and in the same league. If his UZR is plus, he is above average, and if it is minus, he is below average.
This seem pretty simple for us old farts. Just look for the guys with the highest UZR ratings! Of course there is more to it than that but now we have more than just fielding percentage to evaluate a player. Fangraphs also digs much deeper into the defensive metrics and folks can review those stats for a much more in-depth look at a player.
For argument sake, we will examine the comparison between Jorge Soler and Jason Heyward when they play RF. Again, we want to measure apples against apples. And this comparison may answer why the Cubs paid $184M for Heyward and are rumored to be open to trading Jorge Soler.
Currently we see a starting OF of Schwarber in LF, Heyward in CF and Soler in RF. It looks like this:
Just look at the difference in UZR rating for Jason Heyward when he plays CF vs RF! We start to get a glimpse of why folks talk of Heyward being an elite outfielder. His RF defense was what was sought along with his base running and on base percentage skills. He is a well rounded baseball player.
Many fans will immediately look at a player’s offensive stats to justify their worth. There are 2 ways to win baseball games. You either outslug your opponent to score more runs or you pitch and play defense to prevent your opponent from scoring runs.
Look at those Jason Heyward defensive #’s. The stats scream out exactly what we’ve heard. He is a little better than average when he plays CF but is in the elite stratosphere when playing RF. Jorge Soler’s defensive metric for 2015 were way below average. Does that surprise you?
We’re not here to proclaim Soler has no value. To the contrary, his bat is what folks are clamoring to get and scouts believe with some more work he will be more than acceptable out there in RF. He is also extremely young with a huge ceiling. Let’s now consider what could happen if Soler is dealt for that cost controlled impact starting pitcher.
After moving Heyward to RF, you get to take advantage of that elite defense and can justify the $184M you just signed the guy for this winter. The easy fix would then be to sign or trade for a CF. You really just need a stop gap until Almora can take over in CF with what we believe will be better than average to elite defense in CF.
In our last article we spoke of Mikie Mahtook. He offers you a UZR of 0.2 in CF. That doesn’t really light your fire. But here’s a thought. What if the Cubs long term plans are in fact to use Baez all over the field? In 2016, we see Baez get some time in CF. He also gets his time at 3B, SS and 2B. This makes you team so much stronger for 2016 and beyond.
The Cubs could also platoon the entire OF for 2016. Chris Coghlan has to be a guy you love to have on your team. His defense in LF is extremely high. The Cubs started to sprinkle in time at other positions and even his RF defensive metrics are better than Soler’s. On the surface his offensive #’s don’t get you excited. But anyone that really watched him play saw a guy that hit the ball on the screws many times but ran into some bad luck when the baseball was usually hit right at someone.
Coghlan’s play should improve next year. Maybe those hits start to fall in next season and we see someone with much better #’s than his projections portray for 2016. In any event he gives you another guy that can play all over the field including 1B so that you can give Rizzo the occasional day off.
When Almora comes up he doesn’t have to get a lot of pressure put on him. He can easily get comfortable out there with his glove and Maddon could place him in the 9 hole of the lineup to protect him in the same way they did with Addison Russell in 2015. Anything he gives you on offense is a plus.
But here’s the real advantage. Our last article proposed that you land yourself a guy like Jake Odorizzi who help you solidify the rotation until about 2020! Then you get the lights out power lefty in the bullpen with Jake McGee 2 more years. We could also get nice packages that would included the much rumored Carlos Carrassco or Danny Salazar. We’ve even heard rumors about Kevin Gausman. All of these guys have the ceiling of a #1 pitcher.
We must also realistically believe that signing Jake Arrieta to an extension will be difficult at best. You also know that Jason Hammel’s time with the Cubs is over after next season if not sooner. Will Kyle Hendricks be able to pitch past 5 innings? If not, how can you justify keeping him in the starting rotation? Wouldn’t a long man out of the bullpen be more appropriate?
You can never have too much pitching. In many ways, the Cubs were really lucky last year in the fact that their staff was relatively injury free. But even Arrieta admitted that he just ran out of gas in the playoffs. The Cubs had to push the envelope with his innings last year but it took it’s toll. Having more depth in the rotation allows Maddon the opportunity to skip a start or two to save Arrieta’s arm for the playoffs. Same could be said for the entire staff.
Lastly, the Mets really exposed a Cub weakness. We just struck out way too much. The sabermetrics community has always said that strikeouts aren’t that bad. An out is an out. The Mets had 4 power guys with lots of movement and controlled the strike zone. It gave our guys fits up there. Many times we really just needed to gets guys to put the ball in play. Putting the bat on the ball puts the pressure on the defense.
This is what we believe the Cubs front office is trying to accomplish. They want balance. We have some guys that can hit the ball out of the park. But they need a few more guys sprinkled in there that get on base and put the bat on the ball. This team can’t lead the league in strikeouts and just hope for the long ball to win each game. We came up short with that strategy. Balance is what is needed.
Losing a Jorge Soler and some prospects to land the pitcher we want will hurt! There is no debate there. But similar to how the team got stronger by signing Zobrist and acquiring Warren by trading Castro, the team gets stronger by moving Heyward to RF and acquiring that young impact arm. You just have to step back and see the forest through the trees.