The Rundown: Value of Elite Defense, Scouting Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo’s At Bat Ad

Top Of The First

Sorry for the delay between posts, but I have been getting acclimated to my new job. It’s kind of a cool job, in case you were wondering. I get to dress for work similarly to many of the pictures you see of Jed and Theo online and I am helping to write my company’s version of “The Cubs Way.”

It doesn’t get much better than that for me. As I learn to manage my schedule a little bit more I will be getting back into regular Cubs Insider posts.

How Valuable Is Elite Defense?

I saw a video of Jason Heyward’s amazing catch this past weekend and it occurred to me I never really addressed the Hayward signing. Evan usually takes care of breaking news so I am generally of the mind that overkill and redundancy is a bad thing when you are reading up on baseball. And let’s face it, there was no shortage of Heyward stories.

But I want to get back to the Heyward signing because I was originally against the move. I’ve said many times I am an analytics guy, but I tend to look more at offensive categories for position players. While Heyward is a good hitter, he is not elite. In fact, he is not much better at the plate than Jimmy Rollins in his prime years.

So I decided to dig into his defensive metrics a little bit to try to determine Heyward’s actual value.

Last season, Heyward saved 24 more runs than the average right fielder, the third time in his six-year career that he’s led the majors at his position. If you lead the league in anything, and consistently for that matter, you have an elite skill. Incredibly, in his entire career, Heyward has never finished lower than fourth in defensive runs saved (DRS) at his position.

Defensive runs saved is a relatively new metric, though, judging by this offseason, it’s one that is becoming more and more valued by MLB front offices. In the confusing and often misunderstood world of advanced fielding metrics, DRS means little to the average fan and absolutely nothing to anybody that scoffs at the notion that analytics strengthens the ability to project wins.

According to Baseball Info Solutions, the brains behind DRS, a 0 score is average (negative numbers are allowed). A score of plus-5 is “above average,” plus-10 is “great” and plus-15 is “Gold Glove caliber.” Still, DRS is a very ambiguous metric that relies on data from error-prone human beings. To some, it merely places a defining number on the eye test.

The actual calculation for DRS is incredibly involved and very dry reading, but is available for your perusal via The Fielding Bible.

So is Heyward worth $17.5M going into the 2016 season? Will he be worth the $24M the Cubs owe him for the 2017 and 2018 season?

If we use a modest conversion of ten runs per predicted win, Heyward’s defense alone is worth 2.4 wins. On average, MLB teams in 2015 paid $5.3M per win, which means Heyward’s glove is worth $12.72M dollars.

Heyward was a 6.0 WAR player in 2015, so his offensive value is 3.6 Wins Against Replacement. That is worth an additional $19M and change. Heyward is 26 years old and has yet to reach his prime baseball years (usually the age 27 through 30 seasons). All things being equal, he is worth roughly six wins and $32 million dollars heading into 2016. I’d say the Cubs got a bargain.

Scouting The Cubs – Kris Bryant

I am surprised that the most impressive part about Kris Bryant in 2015 is often disregarded by analysts and scouts. The Cubs 3B either maintained or improved his skills/peripherals in the second half of the season, something that is usually an issue for rookie ballplayers, Joc Pederson of the Dodgers being an excellent example.

Bryant is not without his flaws, however, and his sophomore season represents a critical juncture in his young career. Simply put, Bryant needs to improve his 64% contact rate. Even more alarming is that his .233 xBA (expected batting average) for 2015 reveals it could have been worse and could have negatively impacted the young slugger’s power output.

But Bryant has superstar potential, and his upside is likely to include numerous All-Star appearances and MVP consideration. He is an annual threat to hit 40 home runs and that potential could be reality as soon as this season. Most projections put Bryant at about 25/100/.261/.356/.817 but I see something more. Look for an OPS near or above .900 because I think his SLG has been underestimated by most valuation services. That should be good for 35 bombs and 115 RBI, especially considering the improvements to the Cubs lineup.

5 – 6 – 4 – 3

The Central Division’s version of the 1927 Yankees finally lost a Cactus League game. Brew Crew Ball has all the details of Milwaukee’s 8-2 loss to the San Diego Padres yesterday afternoon.

Redbird Rants illustrates five reasons the St. Louis Cardinals could win the 2016 World Series. After the loss of Peralta, I now have the Cardinals as a 79-win team.

Red Reporter looks to J.J. Hoover as a bullpen anchor. I’ve liked Hoover for a long time and he certainly deserves his shot. Could be a fantasy sleeper.

Pirates Breakdown thinks 2016 could be a bounce-back year for SP Jeff Locke. That would certainly help a weak back end of the Bucs rotation.

Fact, Fiction, Truth or Rumor

Anthony Rizzo’s commercial for MLB’s At Bat app is a must see.

This shot of a fan saving a boy from being hit by an errant bat at a Braves Spring Training game is an early nominee for Baseball Photo of the Year.

Commissioner Rob Manfred says a decision on a possible suspension for Yasiel Puig following baseball’s investigation fort the player’s role in a domestic battery case will be coming soon.

Freddie Freeman used an exploding baseball to reveal that his wife is expecting a baby boy.

The Cubs hashtag phrase of 2016 is apparently #TryNotToSuck and merch proceeds will go to Joe Maddon’s Respect 90 foundation. The slogan was coined by Maddon when he gave that advice jokingly to Javier Baez after Baez had been called up from the minors. I interviewed astronaut Alan Shepard for my high school paper, and he once gave himself similar advice before the Freedom 7 launch.

The Wall Street Journal has a great video that indicates that baseball’s young stars are horribly underpaid. But what about those signing bonuses?

Bottom Of The Ninth

In my last column I referenced Mel Allen and This Week In Baseball, a series I enjoyed while growing up. Cubs Insider reader and Twitter follower @Hecky1019 (The Original Hecky™) posted a follow-up link to the TWIB 20th anniversary show that is a must watch, not only for the baseball content, but for the incredible 1990’s baseball commercials.

How about that!

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