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Thursday, March 31, 2005

Byrd v. Lofton: Season Review Preview 

The battle over who will be the Phillies regular centerfielder is heating up. Despite signing Kenny Lofton to take the job, the Phillies have to admit that Marlon Byrd’s play in the preseason (.390 BA) has caused them to reconsider their decision. The question of who should get the nod for the job is one of the major questions confronting the team going into Opening Day on Monday.

Lofton v. Byrd: By the Numbers
Age: 38 / 27
OBP: .346 / .287 (all stats 2004)
SLG: .395 / .321
Runs Created: 36 / 35
Games: 83 / 106

Needless to say, Lofton had the better season in 2004. Though Byrd played more games in 2004 than Lofton he didn’t play the full 162 due to his poor play, getting sent down to Scranton for remedial work. Lofton missed nearly half of the season due to injuries. Who can play more in 2005 is a big question for the team. Interesingly, I note that the Bill James handbook rates both as “low” risks for injury, which is hard to believe on Lofton’s part given his age.

Here’s how Bill James projects their season in 2005:

2005 projections:
Lofton / Byrd
Games: 105 / 102
OBP: .348 / .322
SLG: .390 / .391
HRs: 7 / 5
2B: 17 / 18
Runs Created: 51 / 39

What the stats mean:
GPA (Gross Productive Average): (1.8 * .OBP + .SLG) / 4 = .GPA. Invented by The Hardball Times Aaron Gleeman, GPA measures a players production by weighing his ability to get on base and hit with power. This is my preferred all-around stat.
ISO (Isolated Power): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.
RC (Runs Created): Measures how many runs a player “creates” for his team. The formula used by Bill James is fairly complex: look at p. 397-398 of the 2005 Bill James Handbook.
OBP (On-Base Percentage): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)

As I said above, Byrd had an awful season in 2004. His 2003 campaign went very well (.366 OBP, 72 Runs Created in 135 games), especially in the second half of the year. Byrd is a player with tremendous talent, but he has continually disappointed the team by failing to blossom into the OBP threat they anticipated he would be. Lofton seems to be a fair bet to have an OBP in the .340-range, so Byrd is a risk. His OBP fluxuated by eighty points between 2003 and 2004. Will his ’05 season be a bust like last year or a rousing success. Based on Pat Burrell’s so-so season in 2004 (after his career year in ’02 and bust season in ’03), I think we can expect Byrd to be somewhere in between. (So James prediction of a .322 OBP is probably accurate.)

Defensively I don’t think there is much of a difference between the two. Dave Punto’s PMR (Probablistic Model of Range) projects them even. (Click here for CF PMR.) Here are their “regular” stats:

Byrd:
Fpct: .990
Zone Rating: .846
Range Factor: 2.38
Assists / Errors: 4 / 2

Lofton:
Fpct: .994
Zone Rating: .895
Range Factor: 2.75
Assists / Errors: 3 / 1

Stat Definitions:
Zone Rating: Is a stat which measures a player’s defensive ability by measuring plays they should have made. Admittedly, this is a stat left open to subjective opinions.
Fielding Percentage: (Putouts + Assists) / (Putouts + Assists + Errors). How often the player successfully handled the ball.
Range Factor: (Putouts + Assists) * 9 / IP. Essentially measures how much a player is involved in defensive plays.

Quite a difference when it comes to Zone Rating, so we'll give a slight edge to Lofton defensively.

Conclusion: I think the Phillies would be better off with Lofton in center but in the long-term I don’t think Byrd or Lofton is a viable option for the team. They need a long-term solution for centerfield, a player who can run down flyballs and get on base consistently. The Phillies have had some terrific CF’s over the years (Richie Ashburn and Lenny Dykstra come to mind), and they need a new one to take over in center.

I think the Phillies should give the Lofton / Byrd platoon a shot and make a deal for a CF prospect or disgruntled starter later this season. This dynamic duo is the answer for now, but not later.

Comments:
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