The Phillies need to get younger. They need to get more versatile. And they need to get away from free-swingers who strike out a lot.
Byrd is none of those things.
He’s 36 and will be 38 when the contract is up. He’s been very inconsistent throughout his career, with his best season coming this year, in a contract year, at ages 35 and 36, when he batted .291 with 24 home runs, 88 RBIs, a .511 slugging percentage and an .847 OPS. The home runs, slugging percentage and OPS were career highs for Byrd, just a year after he tested positive and was suspended for PEDs. [He took an estrogen blocker that prevents men from getting man titties after a steroid cycle, if we’re being blunt here.] If he tests positive again, it’s a 100-game suspension. To say that those things are a red flag is an understatement. Byrd’s career year at age 36 is the very definition of a red flag. He spent last winter in the Mexican winter leagues trying to impress MLB teams and then all of a sudden had a late-career power surge in a contract year? WHAT?! That’s not normal. Or sustainable.
But even if you take Byrd’s numbers at face value and assume that, magically, him having the best year of his career in his mid-30s after a positive PED test was just happenstance or hard work or good ol’ wily veteranism, that would fail to take into account the fact that he was the beneficiary of a huge amount of luck. His BABIP – average on balls put in play – in 2013 was .353, the highest of his career. I’m no SABR nerd, but if I was, I’d tell you that, almost without fail, a player’s BABIP will eventually regress to between .290 and .310. Byrd’s has always been high – for his career, it’s at .325 – but even for him, .353 is unattainable over the long-term. Plus, he struck out a career-high 144 times last season. He’s obviously swinging harder and more foolishly, and benefitting from some luck on the balls he does put into play. Last season was an eyebrow-raising anomaly, which just happened to come in a last-ditch effort for a final contract. RED FLAG. RED FLAG. RED FLAG.
If the Phillies were actually using their analytics intern, they would’ve know these things. Byrd is a HUGE risk, even at two years and $16 million. There’s no need to sign him this early in the offseason. He’s a fallback option, not option A! This is exactly the sort of thing a full-time analytics guy would’ve told the Phillies: Marlon Byrd doesn’t get on-base, he strikes out a lot, his career year at 36 after testing positive for PEDs is a red flag, his batting average (or, more precisely, his BABIP) is unsustainable, and HE’S 36 YEARS OLD– YOUR TEAM DOESN’T NEED MORE AGING PLAYERS IN ITS LINEUP, WHAT ARE YOU, DUMB?!
What’s worse is that Phillies beat reporters feel that this is Amaro’s answer to the right-handed outfielder woes.
The Phillies made finding a right-handed-hitting outfielder a priority this offseason.
It appears they found one.
The Phillies craved a right-handed bat for their outfield, which was among the least productive units in all of baseball last season. Byrd comes full circle to provide that need; he was a 10th-round draft pick by the Phillies in 1999.
Barring a trade, the Phillies would seem to have their outfield set with Byrd and All-Star Domonic Brown on the corners and Ben Revere in center field. By signing Byrd, the Phillies would appear to be unlikely to pursue the pricier bats on the free agent outfield market, including Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson and Nelson Cruz.
Byrd is likely to play right field for the Phillies and bat in the middle of the order, probably behind Ryan Howard. The Phillies had been looking for a right-handed-hitting outfielder.
What Byrd’s signing means for Darin Ruf is unclear. He could stay with the team as a reserve outfielder/first baseman or become a trade candidate.
I have June 22 as the day Marlon Byrd plays his last game for the Phillies, either due to suspension or injury.
Oh, and now A.J. Pierzynski is their number one catching option?