Thursday, 8 November 2012

And We Have a 2B!

MLBTR reports that the Jays have signed Maicer Izturis (formerly of the Angels) to a 3 year deal worth $10M, with a club option for a 4th year. The reaction in comments I've seen so far seems to be pretty positive about this signing. Just over $3M per year is only a bit more than what the Jays were gonna have to pay Aviles anyways, and Izturis is a pretty similar value to Aviles (Aviles has more power but Izturis has a better BB%).

Let's take a minute to predict what kind of production we can expect from Izturis going forward. Was last year's ugly .256/.320/.315 line the new Izturis, or can he return to his 2009 for where he hit .300/.359/.434 (or at least his 2011 where he hit a passable .276/.334/.388)?

Izturis has had a solid BB% around 8.0 and a very good K% around 11.0 for his whole career. This means he's a hitter with a solid approach, the ability to take a walk and is a great contact hitter. He's been remarkably consistent about that every season, including 2012. His BABIP has hovered around .300 for his entire career, and so his .289 mark in 2012 can't really be an explanation for his struggles either. What did drastically change was his ISO, which fell to .059, exactly half his career rate. However, the stat people claim that ISOs are only really reliable numbers after 500 or so at bats, and at just over 300 at bats in 2012, Izturis's is still considered a small sample size.

Plus, while his LD% stayed within range of his career numbers at 22.9%, his FB% dropped about 8% down to 29.7%, and his GB% spiked to almost 50%. So Izturis started hitting a lot more balls on the ground instead of in the air in 2012. Normally this helps a player's BABIP, especially when they have good speed, but that wasn't the case for Izturis in 2012. All it did for him was take away his power numbers. But these kinds of things have a way of normalizing over larger sample sizes, and I wouldn't be surprised if Izturis's batted ball profile is back to normal next year. We shouldn't write off his power completely.

But let's look a bit deeper into his peripherals. While he was able to keep his walk and strikeout rates in line with his career numbers, he seems to have lost something in his approach. Maicer's 4.3% SwStr and 56% F-strike rates are right in line with his career numbers. So he wasn't falling behind in the count, and he wasn't swinging and missing any more than he normally does. His total contact rate of 89.5% was still excellent and right in line with his career numbers. However, while his zone contact rate was a solid 95%, his out of zone contact rate climbed up a few percentage points to 81% (his career average is 77%). So Izturis made more contact on pitches that were outside the zone in 2012. Similarly, while he swung at 41% of pitches in 2012, which was in line with his career, he actually only swung at 55% of pitches in the strike zone (down from a career average of 58%), and swung at 29% of pitches outside the zone, up from his career mark of 24%.

In a nutshell, for those of you less familiar with the meaning of these numbers, it seems that Izturis has started chasing more pitches out of the strike zone, and looking at more pitches that are in the strike zone. And although he is still making contact with these pitches, making contact with pitches outside the zone is usually not a good idea. It leads to weak contact, which causes lower BABIPs and worse power numbers. This is actually a trend that started in 2011, and there it actually showed up more clearly too as he posted career worst BB% and K% in 2011.

It's impossible to say, really, what caused this change in approach. It could be anything, including the simple explanation of declining plate discipline, declining skills and declining bat speed. If this is the case, I don't think we're ever going to see the .350 OBP guy that Izturis once was, and with serious questions about his power too, this really is not a guy that you want as your starting 2B.

So while I mentioned most of the reaction is positive so far out there about this signing, I'm still a bit torn.
On the one hand, even in his worst season (this past one), Izturis was still worth 0.7 fWAR as a part-time utility guy. According to the generalized $5-6M per 1 WAR equation, that value Izturis provides is worth about $3-4M per year. To make any FA signing where you actually get a bit better value in WAR than what you're paying is pretty rare, and it seems AA has accomplished that here.

But on the other hand, if Izturis is destined to be a bench player utility guy, I'm worried AA is wasting valuable money on someone who isn't expected to be a starter. It has seemed more and more likely over the last few weeks that AA is really having to pinch every penny, and that if he wants to spend on pitching, he's going to have to save money everywhere else he can. And in that scenario, $3M+ seems like a lot to spend on a bench guy. Combining that with the $7M (5 + $2M buyout) they owe Lind, the $3M they're paying Rajai Davis and the $1.5M they're paying Mathis, the Jays could have themselves a $15M bench in 2013. That's a lot of money to spend on a bench for a team that desperately needs to allocate funds towards starting pitching, or all-star caliber position players. AA has had a tendency to overpay for bench players over the last few years (Francisco, Mathis, Rajai, etc), and each deal in a vacuum seems like it won't make a dent in the payroll, but when you add them all up they really start to. If the Jays are strapped for cash and the extra $3M per year could really make a difference between affording a starting pitcher or not, then I can't help but think they might be better off letting McCoy be the utility guy and saving the money.

This signing would make more sense, however, if the intention is for Izturis to be the starting 2B in 2013. But as I explained above, I'm not sure I really want this guy starting, and if I really thought I couldn't get anyone better for that price (personally I'd rather take another shot at Kelly Johnson), then I wouldn't have wanted to lock myself in for 3 years of an overpaid declining bench player. Unless, of course, there is more money to go around than what we've been led to believe...

-Martin

1 comment:

Bruce Watson said...

Good analysis, but I think you missed something in his stats. Over the past 4 years, the #1 difference between his good years and his bad years (2 of each)was the number of at-bats. He didn't get a lot in any year, but he was decent when he did get a decent amount of playing time. So Jays fans should be aware of two things: Maicer is obviously a slow starter and needs semi-regular at-bats to be productive. However, if he does win the starting job at 2B, he might suck less than Kelly Johnson by mid-May.

And if you're optimistically superstitious, you might say that since he's had good years every other year for the past 5 seasons, he's due for a good one in 2013.