Offseason Outlook: Cody Ross
By Michael Jong
Last week, I took a look at the Marlins’ Jorge Cantu, one of the Marlins’ important arbitration cases this offseason. Today’s offseason outlook piece is going to look back and forward on the season of center fielder and fan favorite Cody Ross. Ross is one of my favorite players on this team, if anything for that ridiculous commercial involving the boom box playing his “Cody, Cody” chant. But the Maniac would never let his subjective opinion of a likable player like Cody get in the way of an objective analysis of Cody’s play. He won’t get any extra points for appearing to be a goofy, fun-loving guy. Luckily for me, Cody brings real value in his play that the team should seriously consider when it comes to making arbitration decisions for the future.
Cody came over to the Marlins in 2006 after spending time with the Los Angeles Dodgers and a (very) brief stint with the Cincinnati Reds. The Marlins purchased his contract for fractions of a dollar (or at least that’s how the story goes) and he became a part time player on the team’s bench. In 2007, Ross had a monster 197 PA’s, posting a .446 unadjusted wOBA, including a 10.5% walk rate and a most ridiculous .318 ISO. It took a little bit more time on the bench the following year before Fredi Gonzalez placed him in a full-time position in 2008, and in that season Ross did not disappoint.
In 2008, Ross put up a modest .345 wOBA that season, worth around 8.6 runs above average according to FanGraphs. The true surprise came from Ross’ glove. Not widely known as a good glove handler, Ross flashed the leather nicely in 2008, totaling 13.7 runs via UZR that year between center and right field. TotalZone generally agreed with this sentiment, tabbing Ross as saving 11.4 runs last year between the two positions. This put Ross into the 3 WAR range for the year, an impressive feat for a guy in his first starting gig. FanGraphs had Ross worth 3.8 WAR, while Rally’s WAR database had him at 3.4 WAR. Either way, Ross provided a lot of value that season for the Marlins.
Coming into this year, I was excited to see if those defensive numbers would stick, or whether his play was just a season-long fluke/unrepeatable defensive “hot streak.” Ross started the year in right field to accommodate the arrival of prospect Cameron Maybin, but when Maybin was quickly sent back down to the minors, Ross settled back into center field. However, Ross’s amazing 2008 performance could not be matched in 2009, as he totaled 5.2 runs below average this season by UZR. However, the fans over at the Fans Scouting Report continue to have him rated well (3.94 out of 5 in the in-season scale), slowly trending him towards a “good outfielder” level. Meanwhile, at the plate, Ross provided another solid outing that eerily mirrored his production from last year, culminating in a .342 wOBA. Overall, FanGraphs had him worth 1.9 WAR this year, just below a league average player.
But Cody’s history is, well, history. What do these past two seasons say about his future performance? I did some projections and am here to tell you exactly what I think.
One of the biggest advantages in projecting Cody is his predictability. The last two seasons, encompassing 1110 PA’s, Ross has accumulated a .343 wOBA, and he’s basically accomplished this value in the same way both seasons. Check out the similarities in the batting lines.
2008: .260/.316/.488, 6.7% BB%, .217 ISOadj, .299 BABIP, .345 wOBA
2009: .270/.321/.469, 5.7% BB%, .197 ISOadj, .306 BABIP, .342 wOBA
A few more walks, a bit more power in rate terms in 2008, but essentially Ross was the same type of player receiving the same type of luck and, as a result, producing the same type of production. Ross will never be a patient hitter, he’ll swing at a lot of pitches (47.6% Swing%, 28.6% OSwing%), but when he hits one he can take a long way. He’s mostly a fly ball hitter, either getting line drive contact or sending in the air usually. After two seasons of this production, there is some sentiment that is what Ross probably is as a hitter. After doing a projection and regression with 220 PA’s of league average wOBA, I got a value of .344 as Ross’s projected wOBA, which is right along what I would expect and what the team probably thinks is Ross’ level of production given his last two seasons. Giving him around 600 PA to work with, given that Fredi seems to think Ross is a poor hitter and deserves to be at the bottom of the lineup, that makes his offensive worth at around seven runs above average before park adjustment. After adjusting, you might expect something like eight runs above average.
The defense is far more difficult to quantify. One primary problem is that we’re still not sure where exactly Ross will stick in the outfield. All accounts at the end of the season penciled Ross, if he was still on the team, in one of the corner outfield spots thanks once again to Cameron Maybin’s occupying of center field. With Maybin’s hot streak at the end of the season, the team would like to think that he is ready to man that position, moving Ross to the corners, where he has shown to be a bit better. I did projections based on the last four seasons on both positions, using my usual weighting of UZR, TotalZone, and the Fans Scouting Report data converted into runs. After regressing those projections (5/4/3/2) with 100 defensive games of average outfield output, I got Ross at +1.8 runs per 150 games in the corners and -0.3 runs in center field. This jives fairly well with my opinions of Ross’ defense, though I think that the center field projection may be a tad high. Nevertheless, for the moment, let’s presume Maybin sticks in center field and Ross plays his full season in right or left field.
Giving him appropriate position adjustments for 150 games and replacement adjustments for 600 PA, you get this calculation for the final tally.
7.0 wRAA + 1.8 defense -6.9 positional (corner OF) + 20 replacement = 21.8 Runs above Average, or approx. 2.2 WAR
We can expect 2.2 WAR out of Cody Ross next year. Ranging from a free agent rate between $4.5M and $4.8M (a modest increase in the rate), you’d have a free agent worth between $9.8M and $10.5M. If you buy the Marlins’ WAR rate of $2.0M per WAR, the Fish would expect to pay Cody $4.4M. Based on Lou’s expectations posted here on the SoFlaMarlins board, Cody should expect a raise up to right around $4M based on his comps in production, age, and year of eligibility. This of course means that Cody fits right into our budget and may even be a cool half a million dollar bonus in surplus to us, even with our depressed rate. And given the fact that the Marlins could use the outfield help both offensively and defensively, I think the Marlins would foolish to send Ross packing if they had to keep one of the Big Three Arb-Eligible Players.
That being said, this was done in a vacuum where no trade offers for Ross’ services were made. If the team is blown away by an offer, they would be hard-pressed to reject a potential deal. Cody will be 29 during the next season, and while that’s still in his prime, it isn’t quite the age the Marlins usually like their arbitration-eligible players. For the Fish to accept, it would have to be a very good deal, because Ross does offer the potential of actually staying within value for the team, and has additional roster flexibility in being able to play center field in case Maybin is hurt or needs more tune-up time. However, if the Marlins get a cheap, major league ready player and a lottery ticket, they should at least consider shipping Ross and his chant off to another city. But I feel that, unless the deal is indeed a mindblower in terms of value to the team, the Marlins best chances of winning include having Ross patrolling some area of the outfield.