Staturday: Monday Free Agent Edition

Given the big news of the day … no, the team hasn’t signed a big free agent or come through with another blockbuster trade … the big news is that UZR, the gold standard in defensive stats, is now available for all at the fantastic fangraphs.com. I thought, with this new tool, it might be a good opportunity to look at a few acquisition options.

Randy Johnson

The Big Unit, once one of the biggest stars around, is looking to prolong his stellar career and is likely willing to sign a one year deal in order to make it happen. As I’ve discussed previously, I believe a quality pitcher would be a great addition in 2009 and maybe 2010, but not really a great allocation of resources beyond that.

So how does UZR affect a pitcher? Defense, baby, defense …

The 2008 Oakland Athletics were a much, much better defensive team than the 2008 Diamondbacks.  The A’s were 27 runs better than Average (7th overall – the Rays, Red Sox and Phillies were the clear class of the game, the A’s were in the next tier), while the D-Backs were about 29 runs worse than  average (25th overall, though these figures do not account for players that did not finish the year with that organization) – that’s a net improvement of 56 runs – Johnson pitched 13% of the D-Backs’ innings, so he should, theoretically get 13% of that improvement – 7 runs. We should regress that a bit and then a bit more, since, as a strikeout pitcher, the defense has less of an impact on him, so let’s call it 5 runs.

Now some might point to Johnson pitching in the “easier league” – but the truth is, the AL only scored .017 more runs per inning – which, over the 184 innings Johnson pitched, means a difference of 3 runs. Not really much of a difference – less than the difference in defense. Once you account for park factors and before accounting for his age, we should probably expect his ERA to dip somewhat in Oakland, call it a 3.70 or so, which would be at least half a run and likely a full run per 9 over whoever he’s replacing, roughly 2 wins if he can make 30 starts.

The Boppers: Giambi, Dunn, Burrell

Giambi was 2.5 runs (all figures per 150) worse than average at 1b. Surprisingly, UZR does not think he is a poor defender, at a total of -3.8 per 150 since 2002, bouncing all over the place and not showing any real trends. I will call him 5 runs worse than average.

Dunn was an absolute butcher in the outfield in 2008 at 22.6 runs worse than average.  I do not think he is nearly this bad, for his career he is only -11.8 runs, but he does seem to be trending downwards, as he was close to average through 2004. I will call him 15 runs worse than average, but he may be worse – much worse.  Although it is a very small sample size, he has been even worse at first base, 24.9 runs worse than average over the past four seasons (though only in about 1/3 of a season’s worth of innings). For his career, though, he is only -13.3 so let’s call him 15 runs worse than average here as well.

Burrell was 14.7 runs worse than average in LF, which pretty much matched the average of his previous two seasons. He will likely be 15 runs worse than average.

He has not played first base since 2000. I cannot imagine he will be good at all. I would take Dunn as a guide and call him -15 as well.

All in small sample sizes, thus far, Buck looks like a very good corner outfielder, call him +10 with upside as I’m regressing a fair amount. Sweeney does not look to be nearly as good, I would call him +5. There is not enough data on Cunningham to make any conclusions at all, so we should assume that he is average. They’ll probably end up splitting playing time but adding an outfielder would likely cost 20-25 runs on defense.

Both Dunn and Burrell will probably be about +25 with the bat, while Sweeney will probably be about +5 and Buck, who the heck knows?

All told, if these UZR assumptions are accurate, it makes no sense,  what-so-ever to bring in one of these guys to play outfield, as either would effectively be nothing more than a fourth outfielder, adding excellent depth, but nothing to the starting lineup.

First base, however, offers more possibilities. If Giambi is really as not bad as UZR thinks he is, he would almost certainly be an upgrade over Barton (+5 with the glove, +0 with the bat, though with a ton of upside) , as I would project him at +30 with the bat, adding a projected total of 2 wins at a pretty fair price. If UZR is to be believed, this move would make a lot of sense.

Shifting either Burrell or Dunn to first base would net the team a mere five runs and both have a lot of downside with the glove. I do not see any logic to it.

Replacing Bobby Crosby

A top priority, nay, an obsession, of many here is replacing Bobby Crosby.  According Bobby Crosby has been slightly better than average with the glove over his career and dead neutral in 2008. We should call him +2

Rafael Furcal, for his career has been a bit worse than average and poor in a limited sample size in 2008. For convenience, I will call him -3. So the team would take a five run hit on defense by adding Furcal. He would add about 30 runs on offense, though (-15 to +15), so the change would be a significant upgrade.
Orlando Cabrera would likely be a small defensive upgrade (an improvement of 3 runs or so), while likely average or slightly less than average with the bat for a net improvement of +15. That is surprisingly positive.  For likely a fraction of Furcal’s asking price, Cabrera could be a meaningful upgrade.

Although Cesar Izturis had a strong 2008 at short, he is probably about even with Crosby with the glove.  At about -10 with the bat, he would be a very small upgrade, overall. I do not see how this makes sense, unless somehow we can move Crosby’s contract and bring Izturis in at a lower price. Unlikely.

Conclusions
Randy Johnson is a fantastic target. We should bring him back to the East Bay.

Jason Giambi, based on UZR, looks like a surprisingly good target.  Nick Johnson, by the way, would likely be comparable to Barton with the glove. If he could stay healthy, he would be a fantastic addition. Can he? I’m no doctor …

Cabrera looks like a surprisingly good backup plan if Furcal falls through. Either could be a significant upgrade over Crosby.

 

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