The Marlins’ outfield answer


Ding ding ding! We’ve got a winner. Here’s the answer, courtesy of Maniac reader Anton:

"Thought about this too much for the past half hour.Has to be Endy Chavez. And superficially, he seems to be the man, unless of course, Cameron’s article over at FanGraphs is read by enterprising GMs."

That’s right folks, the answer to my question of the perfect Marlins outfield pickup was Endy Chavez. Who is Endy Chavez? Let’s dive in and find out.

Chavez is a 31-year old outfielder most famously known for making that catch in the 2006 NLCS for the New York Mets. In the offseason leading into the 2009 season, Chavez was dealt to the Seattle Mariners as part of the trade that brought J.J. Putz to New York and somehow stole Franklin Gutierrez over to the Mariners as well. Combined with the always stellar Ichiro Suzuki over in right field, this formed “The Greatest Defensive Outfield Ever,” at least statistically. However, this outfield didn’t last very long, as Chavez was hurt after just 54 games and missed the rest of the season.

Chavez is exactly the type of hitter managers love to mistakenly put at the top of the lineup. He’s a decent hitter for average (career batting average .270), but the problem is he has enough speed to appear to be the prototypical leadoff man (87 career stolen bases and a 74% career rate, both solid). Unfortunately, no player with a career OBP of .312 should ever approach the top two spots of any lineup, but managers can never really figure out such things (see Bonifacio, Emilio) and end up costing their team runs by playing slap hitters with speed who do not have Ichiro in the back of their jerseys. Chavez is the perfect hitter to eat up top-of-the-lineup spots and chew up runs thanks to the manager.

For us however, this is not the primary concern. Provided the team can find one more guy to be at the top of the lineup, Fredi Gonzalez should have the smarts to leave Chavez at the bottom, where he won’t hurt the team as much. The Marlins can then reap the benefits of placing Chavez in a corner outfield and let him do the thing he does best: play top-notch, Gold Glove defense. If you check out Chavez’s FanGraphs page, you’ll see some amazing numbers for his UZR/150.

Endy Chavez, UZR/150 in outfield (Defensive Games in outfield)

2006: 22.1 (91)
2007: 21.2 (44)
2008: 27.2 (81)
2009: 17.2 (66)

Chavez can play all three outfield positions without much problem, though he hasn’t played center field normally since 2004. What we have here, however, is your classic case of a center fielder who was moved to an easier outfield position and, as a result, is much better defensively compared to his lesser peers; the difference between his career UZR/150 in center field and in the corners is about the one-win difference between the two positional adjustments. Running a projection using a 5/4/3/2 of his defense in the corners, incorporating UZR, TotalZone, and Fans Scouting Report data wherever available, I found Chavez projected to provide 21 runs above average in 150 defensive games. After regressing that by 100 defensive games, it went down to about 15 runs above average, which is still pretty impressive.

One of the best parts about this acquisition is that we do not have to keep Chavez in full-time. With righty Brett Carroll on the team, we have two halves of a lefty-righty platoon in the works. I projected Chavez’s last four seasons of platoon activity against only right handers, but found that he was more or less even against righties and lefties. My regressed value yielded a .308 wOBA. I already projected Carroll with a .297 wOBA, but according to The Book, the platoon advantage is worth something like 15 points of wOBA. I took Carroll’s wOBA only against lefties as .310. Giving the platoon 585 PA for the season, I calculated the two WAR’s resulting from their offensive and defensive performances. Chavez was worth 1.2 WAR for 436 PA, while Carroll was worth a bit less than 0.4 WAR in the remaining 149 PA.

This gave the platoon a grand total of 1.5 WAR in 585 PA. This is essentially the value of a fringe starter, but still worth around $6.75M on the open market. Now here’s the kicker: since Chavez’s value is heavily tied to defense and teams are likely to figure out that his bat is poor (even if they’re also ironically willing to bat him leadoff or second), it’s likely that Chavez will come EXTREMELY cheap to the Marlins. The last contract Chavez signed was a two-year, $3.85M deal with the Mets. Even if he got a decent raise up to $3M yearly, the Marlins could still get $2.3M in surplus value whehn taking into account Carroll’s league minimum salary, and that is a lot considering Chavez would be a free agent addition. Add to that the fact that he missed much of this year and it’s likely the Fish would not have to pay that much or at least give him an incentive-based contract that could yield a total around $3M. Either way, it would likely work out nicely for the Marlins.

(By the way, even if we went with the Marlins WAR rate, the break-even point for a Chavez acquisition would be $2.4M, and as a I mentioned, I suspect the Fish wouldn’t even have to spend that much.)

I took extra precaution by using multiple metrics and regression to value Chavez’s defense, and the totals have come out to be pretty darn good nonetheless. If Chavez even remotely approaches the level of defensive play in his career (22.5 UZR/150 in left field, 19.6 UZR/150 in right field), the team would gain even more value, on the order of another three to four projected runs. And at the value for which he’d be available, the Marlins simply could not lose. Endy Chavez, folks. I want HIM in a Marlins uniform next year.

(Which of course means I’m sure that it’s a pipe dream.)