This is the column I wrote for Thursday’s Pocono Record. Enjoy …
Ruben Amaro Jr. can’t get out of his own way.
Just when you think the Phillies are ready to turn the corner into the 21st century — they hired Scott Freedman last week to add advanced metrics into player evaluations — they go and hand 36-year-old Marlon Byrd a two-year, $16 million deal with a vesting option that would make it three years for $24 million.
I know what you’re thinking: Miegoc is one of those sabermetrics guys who only cares about WAR, BABIP and ISO. Not true. Not even close. I’m also not going to ignore them or their relevance and importance to baseball.
The Phillies have done a good job of turning a blind eye to analytics since they exploded when the use of Moneyball pushed the Oakland Athletics to success in the early part of this century.
This isn’t a similar situation because the A’s did what they did because their bank account wasn’t bottomless. The Phillies’ isn’t either, but their payroll will probably be around $160 million on opening day and most of it isn’t being spent wisely.
Before the Phillies hired Freedman, who worked for Major League Baseball’s labor department and assisted teams in salary-arbitration cases, they were one of a few teams who didn’t put much weight into advanced metrics. Really, they pretty much thumbed their noses at them and chose to rely on what their scouting department saw in players.
I know what they saw in Byrd, who is coming off by far the best year of his Major League career that happened to start in Philadelphia in 2002.
Once thought to be the Phillies center fielder of the future, Byrd couldn’t even find a Major League contract last year. The Mets gave him a minor-league deal and he rewarded them with 21 home runs, 71 RBIs and slash line (batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage) of .285/.330/518. New York flipped him for two prospects in August to the Pirates, who also got good production (three HRs, 17 RBIs and a line of .318/.357/.486) in 115 plate appearances from Byrd.
On the surface those are great numbers, but they lose their luster when you dig a little deeper.
The home runs and slugging percentage were career highs by a good margin. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was just 1 hundredth of a point behind his 2008 season with the Texas Rangers, but also came in 135 more PAs. His ISO (isolated power; basically hard-hit baseballs) was a career-high .220 after only ever sniffing .200 (.196 with Texas in 2009) once. His WAR (wins above replacement) was 4.1, tied for the highest of his career, but it was only the fourth time he’s been above three.
Maybe Byrd is getting better with age, Miegoc. Hold on, I’m not done.
His strikeout rate (24.9 percent) was the highest of his career by more than four points. Byrd’s walk rate (5.4) was the second lowest of his career (he had a 5.2 in 2011). Then again Amaro doesn’t care about walks, just production. Just ask Delmon Young, who worked out so well in 2013.
Byrd will likely replace Young in right field. A statue would probably play better defense than the former No. 1 overall pick, but Byrd won’t be reminding anyone of Roberto Clemente. A good defender earlier in his career, Byrd really fell off last year. Fangraphs gave him a value of minus 3.7 (zero would be average), just three seasons after he had a 12.2 for the Chicago Cubs.
And then there was Byrd’s suspension in 2012 after testing positive for using a performance enhancing drug, something Byrd will always be associated with going forward.
Perhaps 2013 was a precursor of a great finish to what was once a promising career. Maybe Byrd will reward Amaro and the Phillies like he did the Mets a year ago. A quick look at his stats might make you hopeful, but don’t ignore the numbers behind the numbers.