The Many Outcomes Of Greg Bird
As the resident high-man on Greg Bird, I find myself compelled to remind our readers that while there are many outcomes for the oft-injured slugger, the outcomes you should care about are the full-season 50th or 75th percentile outcomes. I won’t bore you with run-rate outcomes based on his prior seasons but instead would like to enlighten you on his batted ball profile, his strong on-base skills, and his penchant for hitting the ball really hard.
Batted Ball Profile
I first wrote about Bird last spring in the Fangraphs Community blog just before high-level minor league batted ball statistics were released. I had hand compiled, via game logs, his ground balls, likely liners, and likely fly balls to prove to myself that his small sample size history for hitting the ball in the air was true in the general case. Though he went on to miss a significant portion of the 2017 season, we can see two truths emerge from my musings last year. The first is that he continued to put greater than 45% of his batted balls into the fly ball bucket. The second is that I was able to accurately forecast his approximate 18% fly ball to home run ratio at the Major League level.
Since that time, I’ve gotten more into diagnosing fly balls and home run outcomes, among other things related to batted ball profiles and how you can think about the error bands around a given set of outcomes. In the aforementioned and linked blog post, I mentioned a set of peers with similar FB% and HR/FB ratios to Bird. While these sluggers have a variety of warts, they share many of the characteristics that Bird does (sans the homer-friendly right field porch at Yankee Stadium). The strikeout rate (not shown) will be one of the variables that drive Bird’s many outcomes. For simple math purposes: (600 plate appearances) x (an 11% walk rate) x (a 25% strikeout rate) = ~400 batted balls in play. At this point last year I was hedging full season projections on Bird solely based on concern that he might not play much versus lefties, yet in his limited career he’s hit them better than righties.
To date, his batted ball distributions have profiled similarly to Kris Bryant and, with the exception of what appears to be small sample size bad luck in balls hit to center field, has also had similar weighted on-base average outcomes. On top of that, comparatively speaking, he’s been putting more of his balls in the air to the pull side, which is a good thing. Bryant has the counting stat advantage of roughly 80 more batted balls in play (~50 air balls), even with a slightly higher walk rate than Bird. Bryant’s math goes something like this: (675 plate appearances) x (a 12% walk rate) x (a 21% strikeout rate) = ~475 batted balls in play. As you can see with both players, their double-digit walk rates buoy their on-base percentage.
What creates HR/FB variation? Intuitively you’d answer (in some order): the park the ball is hit in, where it’s hit in that park, and how hard it’s hit. The first two have some bias, but are generally defined by spray charts or even more simply by the Pull/Center/Oppo percentages you can find on the various statistical websites. The third, commonly referred to as exit velocity (or launch speed), is now measured and published by MLBAM at Baseball Savant.
Exit velocity is important in different ways at different launch angles. However, we can examine home run launch angles for fantasy baseball purposes. While only 9% of all balls hit at 16-24° fall for home runs and 27% of all balls hit at 24-32° are homers, it’s obvious that someone with more elite exit velocity on more of his lifted balls is going to run a higher HR/FB ratio. For example, Miguel Sano runs a ~24% rate overall; 24% at the lower home run zone launch angles and 46% in the upper home run zone (19% in the 32-40° and 2% on “skyballs” at 40°+).
Bird hits 75% of his pull-field fly balls at 97+ mph. These balls have high probabilities for home runs. You can compare his exit velocity on fly balls to all fields and, compared to this peer group, only Miguel Sano keeps pace with the big lefty slugger. This is important to us as fantasy owners because we’re looking for those outlier seasons and those excursions that allow for career years in home runs, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and the counting stats that come along with them.
As one last point of comparison, let’s look at Bird versus his slugging Yankee teammates.
Thus far, it’s just that weak center field and opposite field fly ball sauce keeping Bird from ratcheting up his HR/FB ratio to the 20%+ range. If he can stay healthy for a full season, we can start to figure out if this is part of his profile or if we’re limited by the small sample size outcomes from his young career.
His Many Outcomes
Given what we think we know about Greg Bird, it seems likely that his FB% will rest somewhere on the extreme left side of the columns in the table below. From there, it’s the combination of luck and skill that will determine how much higher he can push his HR/FB ratio in the coming years. Thirty home runs with a triple slash line in the neighborhood of .250/.350/.500 feel like the safe floor on a full season of production. I understand that the many outcomes you may run into over the next few seasons may still include one or more injury-marred campaigns, but I do believe the reward is worth the risk.
|HR/FB||44% FB||45% FB||46% FB||47% FB||48% FB||49% FB||50% FB|
Current Draft Position
This brings me to the closing arguments on why you should own Greg Bird in 2018. My goodness, his cost is low. As a dynasty asset, I’m unwilling to consider a player who is only 25 years old with easy 35 home run upside as a bad investment no matter how you regard his health. He’s currently going in the 150 range of redraft leagues and in a start-up dynasty draft you’re going to get even more of a discount – though I ‘reached’ for him at pick 100 in TDGX2. If you get even a handful of almost-full-seasons out of him and run into a year where he barrels everything, it might be exactly what you need to grab a title or two. The worst-case scenario is everyone making fun of you for rostering Greg Bird’s enormous potential for the next five years.