Fan speculation on the upcoming Hot Stove season is ramping up. Everyone is putting in their two cents on what they’d like to see the team do. While a lot of talk has thus far been based on who the team could bring in, it’s just as important to think about who could be sent off. Jedd Gyorko is a name that comes up a lot, based on the idea that trading him now would be selling-high. It’s an interesting idea, and I wanted to investigate if Gyorko’s 2016 performance indeed was better than we could expect going forward.
Let’s start by looking at his full-season stats for last year and the year before:
A lot of positives from Jedd this year. More walks, less strikeouts, more power, more value on the base paths and in the field. The only blemish is a batting average on play (BABIP) of .244, 46 points lower than the year before. We’ll get in to that in a moment.
First, I’m interested in the increased walks and power. The two can go hand-in-hand: when a player starts showing more power, he gets pitched more carefully. Indeed, Gyorko’s Zone% (the percentage of pitches he’s seen in the zone), which is calculated by Pitch f/x and available at fangraphs.com, was down in 2016, 46.3% compared to 48.0% in 2015. That may sound small, but it’s the 20th biggest drop among the 149 players who took 400 PA in both seasons.
Let’s get a closer look at his contact quality in the Statcast Era. In prior posts, I’ve used the data recorded by Statcast and hosted at BaseballSavant.com. Specifically, I’ve been interested in the Exit Velocity and Launch Angle of a hitter’s batted balls.
If you haven’t read any of my articles using Statcast data, here’s a post where I analyze Matt Holliday’s balls in play, and here’s one on Kolten Wong’s power numbers. I also contrasted Gyorko and Greg Garcia’s contact quality, as well as the quality of contact allowed by Carlos Martinez. In those articles I introduce the stats used here. Here’s some expected stats for Gyorko based on his Statcast-recorded batted ball quality, alongside how he actually did:
HRPBB stands for Home Run possible batted ball, and includes every batted ball that left the bat between 18 and 42 degrees, inclusive. Those are the angles where the large majority of home runs occur. xHR/HRPBB is calculated by finding how often each home run possible batted ball - based on its own specific combination of angle and velocity - will leave the park. xBABIP and xwOBA on-contact are calculated similarly. xwOBA is calculated based on the player’s non-contact wOBA and expected on-contact wOBA..
Gyorko’s .244 BABIP in 2016 was indeed a very unlucky outcome for him, although Statcast’s averages still only expected a .270, a good 30 points below average. And this system doesn’t even take into account Gyorko’s slow speed. Jedd is just a low BABIP hitter, and likely always will be.
However, he does make up for it with power. The average HR/HRPBB rate in the Statcast Era is 14.8%, and he’s eclipsed that for two years running. He had better results than expected this year in the power department, but the underlying numbers were still strong. Between bad luck on balls in play and good luck on homers, Jedd hit right about where he was expected. Again though, that doesn’t count his slow foot-speed. Factoring that in, he probably over-performed a little bit, but not much.
So you could think of trading Gyorko as selling high, but 2016's results were pretty close to where the data expected him to be. At the least though, it’s not selling low. Gyorko is a low BABIP hitter, and while his peripherals were great in 2016, they were below average in 2015. He may have made an adjustment or two and be getting pitched more carefully, but baseball is a game of adjustments and the league could adjust back in 2017. I would bet on his numbers being somewhere in between 2015 and 2016, but closer to 2016.
Much of the fan base here and elsewhere are keen on making a big upgrade on the infield somewhere. If that happens, the team would almost certainly need to deal an infielder, either as part of the original acquisition or a separate one. Trading Jhonny Peralta or Kolten Wong would likely result in selling low, so Gyorko may be the odd-man out if the team were to trade an infielder. For instance, the Cardinals could shop Gyorko for either a prospect or include him as part of a deal to upgrade the outfield. Then, they could turn around and sign Justin Turner in order to replace Gyorko’s production and then some.
If the Cardinals’ trade Gyorko, what kind of asset would they be parting with? Gyorko is guaranteed $20.5M from the Cardinals over the next three years (the Padres will also pay him $7.5M over that time frame, per their trade agreement). The Cards will then either give him a $1M buyout or pay him a salary of $13M in 2020. Gyorko will enter his age 28 season next year, how should we expect him to decline?
To answer that question, I built an average aging curve for Fangraphs-based WAR per 600 plate appearances. For data, I started in 2006, when PED testing began in MLB. Every time a player had back to back seasons of more than 100 PA, I took the difference in their WAR/600 in the two years, and found the average change at each age. Here is the final result:
This model is similar to what other analysts have found when looking at recent aging curves: on average, players are at their best when they first enter the league.
This aging curve supplies part of what we need to estimate Gyorko’s value. We’ll also use his Fangraphs Depth Chart projection, a price of WAR of $8M, and an assumption that that price will increase 5% yearly. We’ll pro-rate Gyorko’s projected WAR to 600 PA for 2017, and apply the aging curve to 2018 and 2019. Here’s the results:
By the best public projections, plus an average aging curve, Jedd looks to be about $20M more valuable than what the Cardinals will pay him. For context, well-regarded blog The Point Of Pittsburgh has done some excellent work calculating the surplus value of prospects. A position player considered by Baseball America to be in the back of a Top 100 (76-100) is valued at $20.6M.
Of course, I can’t say that this means the Cardinals can definitely exchange Gyorko for a somewhat premium prospect. That will depend on how the few GM’s looking for infield help this winter value Gyorko’s specific set of skills. We're not going to be privy to that information. This does provide a good ballpark estimate of his value though.
I actually enjoyed watching Gyorko hit this year, and I wouldn’t mind at all if the Cardinals didn’t trade him. I like the idea of Gyorko, Aledmys Diaz, Wong, and Matt Carpenter from left to right in the infield. But, this team could use an upgrade somewhere. If the Cardinals find that upgrade on the infield, Jedd is a way more attractive asset to teams than Jhonny Peralta. Jedd Gyorko’s contract is a nice value, but the Cardinals may best realize that value by trading him.