Did Cubs Make the Right (Field) Choice?
I did the bulk of the research for this article with the idea this would be a preview on whom the Cubs should prefer as their new right fielder. Then the signing became imminent and eventually a reality, so I decided to turn this into an analysis of the newest Cub outfielder, Milton Bradley. You've probably already seen a lot of these numbers in one way or another, but why let the work go to waste?
Let's start with a look at their offensive numbers...in beautiful table form. Their ages are their 2009 baseball ages, in other words using the July 1st cutoff for their birthday. The 3-year WARP averages are a simple average, just taking the last three seasons and dividing by three, rather than weighting it by games played or anything like that. Considering it's a cumulative stat, I actually believe that's kosher. I went with 2009 Bill James projections, but you can find MARCEL or CHONE on their fangraphs pages. Bold indicates the leader in that category.
||2008 OPS||3-Year OPS||2009 Bill James OPS Projection
There's also the 39-year old Ken Griffey Jr. still out there and the right-handed Pat Burrell was out there, but there didn't seem to be the remotest of rumors on either of them with the Cubs.
Bobby Abreu looks promising when you see the best 3-year WARP1 average, but then you see that starting from 2006 it was 7.3, 5.8 and then 5.2 last year and you have what the experts like to call a downward trend. You sell that stock, you don't buy, especially at age 353. Dunn looks to be the safest with the bat going forward, but then you look at his WARP1 scores and you can see how much his defense kills his overall value.
UZR, or Ultimate Zone Rating is now on Fangraphs and was created by Mitchell Lichtman5. RAA is Clay Davenport's system that can be found on Baseball Prospectus, which I hear will come out with a major revision this spring in the new Baseball Prospectus book. Plus/Minus system from ACTA Sports was taken from this BP article, if anyone has the Bill James Handbook, I can fill in the gaps.
||UZR/150||3-Year UZR average||RAA
||3-Year RAA Average
|A. Dunn (LF)||29||-10.1||-16.3||-14||-1||-12||-23|
Bradley has only played 172 games in the outfield over the last three years, but he's the only one that is a positive with the glove. You can see just how poor Abreu's become defensively and rumors swirled that Abreu was scared of the wall at Yankee Stadium, which would only be exasperated with Wrigley's brick facade. I think Swisher's defensive numbers get roughed up by being misplaced as a center fielder and
Adam Dunn needs to accept his life as a DH. It worked just fine for Frank Thomas and David Ortiz (not that Dunn is quite that good a hitter).
Much has been made of Bradley's volatile past, and for good reason, it's part of the package the Cubs are getting for the next 2-3 years. From the ESPN highlights and blurbs we're all exposed to, I'm sure a
lot of fans think Bradley is ready to go berserk on them if you just
look at him the wrong way. But this isn't a guy picking fights with
everyone he crosses paths with, rather a guy with serious anger
And for all the people ready to condemn him for his past, there always seems to be someone there to let us know there's more to Bradley than the "Angry Black Man". And as that ESPN.com article states, "He just thinks it's time people understand the three-dimensional person living behind the one-dimensional image."
Now the Cubs are pretty dumb at times6, but I think it's safe to assume they did their due diligence checking in with past managers, players and other acquaintences of Bradley and know exactly what they're getting themselves into. Don't forget that Dusty made a special trip back in 2005 to visit Bradley and see if the Cubs might be interested, so he's been on the Cubs radar for quite awhile. By all accounts, he gets along just fine with his teammates7 and no one seems to have ever questioned his effort between the lines. It's that effort and talent that has given him a second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and now seventh chance...this time with the Cubs. That is not to condone his past actions, for he has crossed lines that shouldn't have been passed, but it is to forgive and move forward. Yes, when you're talking tens of millions of dollars and your favorite ballclub, it's understandable to be wary, but people do grow up and they can change and well, there are players that have probably done far worse things on the Cubs or in the league that just aren't as public.
"Judge not, that ye be not judged"
As for the ballplayer the Cubs are getting, I think it's obvious that they went out and got the best talent available for the perceived need they had, that of a left-handed hitting right fielder. The talent that culminated in an AL leading .999 OPS last year. And before we write that off as just a passing fad on a career year, take a look at the history of players to lead the league in OPS over the year.
Go ahead and give it a scan...I'll wait a minute.
Pretty impressive list isn't it? There's not a player on there that a team wouldn't want to have in their lineup, not a fluke to be seen. It's not to say he'll ever repeat it, but it is to say that he's a pretty damn good hitter in pretty good historical company.
Of course, he's not quite that good. His projections on his fangraphs page all point to him having an OPS south of .900. There's a few good reasons for that. First, last year's .999 OPS was by far a career high and much of it was aided by a league-leading and completely unstainable .396 BABIP. How unsustainable you ask? Well, if you look at three-year averages the top three are Jeter(.367), Holliday(.365) and Chipper Jones (.361), so at the very least you're talking a 30 point drop in his average stats and it's far more likely to drop even further. Also, when he hit a flyball, 21.2% of the time it went out of the park last year. That's another career high and well above his career mark of 15.4%. It was also good for 8th in the league, mixed in with names like Ryan Howard, Alex Rodriguez, Adam Dunn, Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome and I don't think anyone is going to confuse Bradley for that type of power hitter.
There's also of course the Ballpark effect, often cited as the Coors of the American League. It is quite kind to left-handed hitters over the years, but so has Wrigley Field. The chart below using Baseball Reference Multi-Year Park Factors seems to indicate Bradley will actually get a boost this year.
Of course, park factors aren't all that reliable and it's best to break them up for left-handed and right-handed hitters. I believe the Bill James Handbook does that, of which I do not own a copy, but my understanding is that The Ballpark or whatever they call it these days has always been quite friendly to left-handed hitters, particularly in aiding home runs and might be a reason for that career 21.2% HR/FB rate. But Wrigley isn't too bad itself and the switch of where he plays the majority of his games won't make as much a difference as sheer rebalancing of the luck he enjoyed last season.
So yes, his numbers will most likely drop from 2008, it's actually pretty much a guarantee. But an OPS around the .900 mark would still be good for the best on the Cubs last year - Ramirez led with .898 - and did I mention we're adding this to the best scoring offense in the NL last year?
Moreso than his past anger issues and altercations, his past injuries should be of greatest concern. This is a player with only 500 plus plate appearances twice in his career (2004 and 2008). Leg, knee, back and I believe even a ribcage injury have all sidelined Bradley over his career. Now the Cubs of course checked his medical records and did all the appropriate tests, even so far as stating his injured right knee is stronger than his left knee.8 That doesn't mean it will hold up playing the field on a regular basis or another body part will fail him. But what is interesting is that even if Bradley misses half the season, he'll be worth his contract this year that pays him $7M.
Oh, how you ask?
Well it's a bit of a leap, but the fine folks at Fangraphs have been putting together something called Value Wins and assigning a dollar value to a players performance. Here is what Milton Bradley's page looks like:
||Dollar Value in Millions
The dude is so good that even when hurt he's worth more than most of the major league hitters. Let's add an extra column with a mystery players value.
||Dollar Value in Millions
||Mystery Player Value|
Well that mystery player is the guy that I think a lot of Cubs fans felt was the safe bet, one Bobby Abreu. Once again, we clearly see the decline is skills and when you're 35 - compared to Bradley's 31 years of age - there's little hope it will improve.
So I'll give the Cubs credit on this one, for once they went with a baseball decision instead of a public relations one. They added a potential impact bat to a lineup that was already the best at scoring runs rather than a fading star or one-dimensional slugger. And while there will be a million people coiled to spring an "I told you so" the moment he hits the disabled list or a reporter, I think the Cubs are in the precarious 100-year-drought position of having to take some chances.
1 -.880 OPS from the left side, 1.023 from the right side,
2 - .799 from the left side, .864 from the right side
3 - If you play in the stock market, heed the words of one of the richest men in the world, Warren Buffet. "Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful" 4
4 - Myself, nor TCR are responsible for losing your life savings.
5 - I believe you can find the beginnings of UZR from these BBTF links.
6 - Neifi Perez, Jose Macias, Tony Womack, Freddie Bynum, Glendon Rusch, Jeromy Burnitz, Juan Pierre, Jacque Jones, Wade Miller, César Izturis, Tom Goodwin, Lenny Harris, Shawn Estes, Todd Hundley, Julian Tavarez, Willie Greene, Ismael Valdez, Ty Griffin, Earl Cunningham, etc, etc, etc.
7 - Except that racist Jeff Kent (let's see how Kent's HOF chances fare after that phrase gets a few Google hits).
8 - Reading between the lines, it just means his left knee is in bad shape. The line for over/under on a left knee injury is officialy set at 04/12/09.