Stop me if you’ve heard this already. First base is a thin position right now. Sound familiar? I thought so. For that reason, many of us will be bargain shopping this draft and auction season, and one name that comes up as a down-the-board option is Greg Bird.
Personally, I’ve had two major issues with ranking and projecting Greg Bird. The first is that he didn’t log any meaningful time last year due to injury. The second is in his 46-game, small-sample-size debut for the Yankees in 2015, he hit what I believed to be an exaggerated number of fly balls (51%). Further confounding the issue is that the percentage of those that turned into home runs (20.4%) seemed high compared to his output in the minors.
In my quest for a more perfect valuation of Greg Bird, I decided to grab all the game logs from Trenton and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre from 2015 and create my own larger sample size data set for his batted-ball outcomes. In the table below, I’ve listed his batted-ball outcomes from his minor-league games in 2015.
|HR | HR/FB||11||9.1%|
The following are his batted-ball outcomes for 2015 at all levels including his call-up with the Yankees later that summer.
|HR | HR/FB||22||12.6%|
The fly-ball rate (47.9%) is accompanied by a 16% infield fly ball proportion that was markedly better in his short stint with the Yankees (11%) than in his larger sample in the minors (18%). Through the solely statistical lens, I’d say he squared up a greater percentage of his small sample size fly balls with the Yankees. I did manage to confirm for myself that Bird does come with a very fly-ball-heavy batted-ball profile.
A large part of the reason fantasy league owners are excited about Bird is the park he plays in and the side of the plate he hits from. Yankee Stadium is a bomb-dropping paradise for lefties, and some of the success Bird had in his limited trial should be attributed to the more hitter-friendly parks he played in, versus what he saw in Trenton and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Courtesy of rotogrinders.com we can see Yankee Stadium plays with a 1.53 park factor for home runs in right field.
Though I couldn’t locate hand-specific park factors for Trenton and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, both play at around 0.75 for homers, which are very pitching-friendly. Playing half his games in these two parks certainly could have been the limiting factor for Bird’s somewhat lackluster 9.2% HR/FB mark in the minor leagues in 2015.
While it’s fair to say we don’t know Bird’s true-talent level on HR/FB just from his statistics, I did perform some very simple math and calculate the difference in the two sets of park factors on home runs (~1.5 / ~0.75 = ~2x). It’s plausible that Yankee Stadium could offer a 2x boost on his HR/FB. While Bird might not be at a true-talent level of converting 20% of his flies into homers, he might be in the 18% neighborhood. Armed with this larger set of data, I began looking for comps for Bird’s fly-ball and HR/FB rates. My goal was to pull players from either the 2015 or 2016 seasons that had fly-ball rates over 45% and a home run to fly ball ratio at or above 18%.
This does turn up an interesting list of sluggers with a wide variety of outcomes. If I relax the requirements a little further, you’ll start to get into the Joc Pederson, Lucas Duda, Luis Valbuena and Colby Rasmus group. Obviously this is a mixed bag of player outcomes because we haven’t tackled their BB% or K%, which impact the HR/SLG/TB categories in roto leagues or the bottom line in points leagues.
Pederson, Duda, Rasmus, Carter, Sano, Moss and Napoli all have a much higher K% than Bird has shown in Double-A and Triple-A. In total, across all his MILB at-bats in 2015, Bird struck out only 17.5% of the time. Though you might speculate the pitcher-friendly confines of his home parks would dictate letting him put the ball in play was a more favorable outcome. In his limited stint with the Yankees in 2015, he posted a K% right around that 30% neighborhood, which brings him back to my favorite comp for his current skills — Mike Napoli.
Bird also has other issues to contend with for fantasy baseball value which include: lineup slot, platooning, and, most recently — Chris Carter. For the sake of imagining the range of outcomes for Bird, let’s assume he got full time at-bats in the sixth slot in the Yankees lineup. We know that the sixth spot in the AL lineups averages around 675 plate appearances. If we use an 11% walk rate for Bird, that will leave him with ~600 at-bats to do HR/SLG/TB damage. My guess is Bird isn’t good enough to avoid a platoon, so for the sake of a range of predictions on his output I’m going to use the FanGraphs fans-predicted number of plate appearances (553) to give what I feel is a best-case set of scenarios for Bird’s home-run totals.
|HR/FB||44% FB||45% FB||46% FB||47% FB||48% FB||49% FB||50% FB|
Bird may already be the left-handed version of Chris Carter. I’m even more bullish on Greg Bird than I was before I started the investigation, and easily the high man on his HR output when considering Steamer, Fans, ZIPS and Depth Charts. His batting average will ultimately depend on where he settles in on his K% and his ability to blast liners and grounders through for hits. I think he’ll be an interesting Statcast case to monitor early this year.