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Friday, July 20, 2007

Bunting and Izturis

My column this week extends last week's discussion of bunting for a hit by examining the strategy behind it using run expectancy. I didn't cover all the nuances I'm sure but wanted to make the article a basic introduction to using the break even formula and how that can apply to a strategy. I also answer a few reader questions along the way.

By the way, hate to say I told you so but in my August 10th column of last year I noted:

In picking up Izturis and his $3.2 million contract for this year, $4.25 million for next year [note: the Cubs sent $1.4m to the Pirates in the deal] and club but out for $300,000 in 2008 (that they'll likely be exercising), the Cubs have elevated the mistake they've been making with reserves to not one but two starting positions.

The core problem is that in Izturis they now have a player who, at his best in 2004, recorded a WARP1 of 3.5. This was when his batting line exceeded his career marks by +.28/+.36/+.43 and he won a Gold Glove. His more typical seasons in 2003 and 2005 were at 2.6 and 2.0, respectively, with his offensive performances actually below the level of a replacement player. In 2005 he ranked 30th of 31 shortstops with 300 or more plate appearances in VORP at -4.2 (Cristian Guzman was 31st with a whopping -14.9)--a trend he has continued thus far in 2006.

Much of the recent hype surrounding Izturis has been built on the strength of a great April and May of 2005 when he hit .342 and earned an All-Star selection. In other words, the likely outcome of the deal is to extend the search for the next Ricky Gutierrez a year and half while enduring Neifi-like production at shortstop to go with above average defense (The Fielding Bible had Izturis at +10, +19, and +4 in 2003-2005 ranking him 7th, 2nd, and 15th respectively and 6th overall during the time period). Of course that's perhaps even optimistic since Hendry and company may also have repeated their Garciaparra move ("fool me once, shame on me…") by obtaining a player fresh off an injury (degenerative arthritis in his right elbow that required Tommy John last September).

And of course what it also did was relegate Ronny Cedeno first to second base and then to the minor leagues where he is now hitting .369 and showing some power (.562). I'm not convinced Ryan Theriot is the real deal and would like to see Cedeno get another shot this year.

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