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Stubbs acquisition could prove to be a good value

Stubbs acquisition could prove to be a good value
January 17, 2013
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As news broke of the three-way deal that would land Shin-Soo Choo in Cincinnati, Didi Gregorious in Arizona, and Trevor Bauer in Cleveland, one thing stood out to me. Most fans agreed that the deal was great, even if they had to ‘take on’ Drew Stubbs to make it happen.

Many wanted no part of Stubbs, and it’s not too hard to blame them as the former Reds center fielder didn’t exactly light the world on fire with a .213/.277/.333 slash line last season. His penchant for striking out in 30% of at-bats and relative futility against right-handed pitching are huge causes for concern.

Still, I never looked at Stubbs as an albatross in the deal.  In fact, I was happy to have him included.

The offseason additions of Mark Reynolds, Trevor Bauer, Nick Swisher, and Brett Myers have stolen all of the headlines, and rightfully so; however, Stubbs has a chance to be valuable in his own right, and at a cost a fraction of the others. The Indians essentially took on Stubbs for the cost of three million dollars, which is the projected amount of money they’ll be paying him this year once his arbitration status is settled.  It reminded me of an NBA trade where a team adds a player into the deal just to make the money equal. Stubbs doesn’t deserve that distinction, he’s much better than that.

I don’t look at Stubbs and see the things he can’t do, which is basically limited to making consistent contact, especially against right-handed pitching. I look at all the things he can do; steal bases, mash left-handed pitching, and play great all-around outfield defense. Stubbs has stolen 100 bases over the last three years, is considered a Gold Glove caliber centerfielder, and has an .821 career OPS against left-handers.

Those are three traits that this team has sorely lacked in years past.

The Indians are not going to be relying on Stubbs to lead the team to the postseason. The general disdain over acquiring him was confusing considering the amount of at-bats over the last few years the Indians have given to inferior players. At worst, for three million dollars, the Indians have added a top notch platoon player who will serve Terry Francona well as a late-game pinch runner or defensive replacement. At best, you are getting a four-tool center fielder that is cost controlled for three more years and has age (28) working in his favor.

The latter may seem optimistic, but the only real tool Stubbs doesn’t possess is the ability to hit for average. His slugging numbers have dropped in recent seasons, and are certainly inflated by playing in Cincinnati, but he does have some pop in his bat. He’s a decent bounce back candidate who, considering other options should play every day. His .213 batting average in 2012 was primarily the result of a BABIP that was 30 points below his career average and should not be considered the norm for him moving forward. For what it's worth, Bill James projects Stubbs to have a .246/.311/.390 slash line in 2013, and his BABIP to rise back to 2010-2011 levels.

Those numbers nearly mirror his career averages.

If Stubbs hits around his career numbers without any drop-off in his defense, he’s going to be very useful to the Indians. He’d be an upgrade offensively from their group of left fielders we played in 2012 and would improve the defense in center field and left field, with Michael Brantley sliding over to his more natural position. Useful is just the base line for a description of Stubbs’ value. His projected offensive numbers combined with his base running prowess and solid defense should account for something around a 2.5 WAR. For comparison sake, due primarily because of his diminishing defense, Choo himself posted only a 2.6 WAR in 2012.

Stubbs and Choo are very different players and it’s hard to quantify those differences, but in receiving Stubbs in return the Indians were able to get a cost controlled guy who has the ability to replace a lot of Choo’s production. That’s before even getting to the fact that Trevor Bauer was included in the deal and the Indians signed Nick Swisher to replace Choo’s production anyway. We look at the trade with Cincinnati and applaud that it helped fill the biggest hole in the organization; talented young MLB ready pitching. If Stubbs' combination of talents out-performs Choo, they would have filled that hole without any hit to the Major League roster.

Imagine that.

Stubbs certainly doesn’t have to outperform Choo. At his salary and at the cost it took to acquire him, Stubbs is a coup unless he completely flames out. He’s basically on a one-year deal as he can be non-tendered at the end of the season, so the team isn’t locked into him long-term. Without Stubbs in the Trevor Bauer deal the Indians would have been filling a hole while opening another. Stubbs fills that hole, allowing management to focus on improving other areas of the club. If he struggles he’ll certainly be moved into a platoon role and likely let go at the end of the season.

In the end, the Stubbs acquisition holds very little risk, but the upside is considerable.

User Comments

January 18, 2013 - 7:56 PM EST
For what it's worth, Bill James is projecting a line that is almost directly in line with Stubbs' 2011, when he hit .243/.321/.364. James is projecting a line of .246/.319/.386 for Stubbs in 2013, which would make him roughly a league-average hitter. If you can limit his exposure to right-handers, that number will probably look better, and when you add in his speed and defensive capabilities it's not hard to imagine Stubbs being worth 2.5 WAR or so.

In regard to his batted ball info...line drive rates can vary some from year to year, as this information is based on a subjective view of the batted ball. A line drive to one person could be considered a fly ball to another. Stubbs' LD rate has jumped around his entire career, so I don't think it makes much sense to use that as a predictor of his future BABIP.

Something that should be noted, however, is that while Stubbs posed the highest K% of his career in 2012, his whiff rate was actually the lowest it's been since 2009, not much higher than league average. So the notion that his contact ability is declining is probably premature. He could very well improve his K rate in 2013 even if he doesn't make any more contact.
January 18, 2013 - 7:45 AM EST
what Dan said.
like to see Fedroff get a shot. not enthused about Zeke. don't see LF as Brantley's natural position. he did a fine job in CF and see no problem with moving him between Cf and LF and platooning Drew. If he can mash lefties and Fedroff is able to mash righties it's a no brainier - said with all fingers crossed
January 17, 2013 - 11:54 PM EST
Stubbs has hardly failed, he's had one truly bad year, sure, 2011 wasn't good, but he still posted decent numbers while playing decent defense. LaPorta isn't even a bench type at this point, while Stubbs at least has value as a 4th OF, in a platoon with a lefty, pinch runner, and right handed power bat.

Should his BABIP bounce back to his career or expected levels (as predicted using an xBABIP calculator) and he should see his avg back in the .240-.250 range, his OBP would be back in the mid .320's, meanwhile he'd be posting ~15-20 HR, and ~30-40 SB.

Stubbs, when he's playing well, is truly a Sizemore-lite. Excellent defense, speed, and solid power, poor contact and a penchant for striking out too much and not walking enough. A guy like that has immense value. I really believe that part of his problem was the hype he faced in Cincinnati that he couldn't live up to. He's a tremendously useful piece to have.
January 17, 2013 - 11:08 PM EST

Great point. The line drive rate is concerning, though he only was at 15.5% in 2010. I would hope that even with a number as high as a 50% GB percentage a player with his speed would have a BABIP over .300. The .213 average should still be an anomaly.
January 17, 2013 - 10:53 PM EST
Completely agree, w/ Matt. I had the opportunity to see Stubbs almost everyday, personally I think a change of scenery and less expectations will lead to a strong bounce back yr from Stubbs.
I'd be willing to say he hits .240+ w/ 15+ hrs and 30+ steals as well.
Stubbs is easily one of the best CF in the game w/ an arm that could easily play in RF. overall, solid add coupled with Bauer, etc. for Choo. Hard not to like the return and potential from all of those pieces.
January 17, 2013 - 10:04 PM EST
Ahh, this is right in my wheelhouse. I have lived within audible fireworks distance of Great American Ballpark for the last 6+ years, and the Reds and Bengals have been my second favorite teams in their respective sports since I was little (behind Indians and Browns, of course). I have seen Stubbs in person many times and I am 100% sold on his skills as an everyday CF. I was also at GABP when Chapman gave up the walk off to Cabrera, and I can assure you that Reds fans expect way too much from their highly touted players. Stubbs will be a great addition to the lineup in 2013.
January 17, 2013 - 9:29 PM EST
With a 14.9% line drive rate last year, Stubbs' BABIP was not bad luck. The line drive rate is an aberration in his career, so hopefully it bounces back, but his BA and BABIP went down because he wasn't making solid contact.
January 17, 2013 - 8:59 PM EST
Iron Mike,

My belief is that Stubbs won't be hitting .220 moving forward. He was a victim of poor luck in 2012 with a BABIP over thirty points below his career average. I think we'll find he's close to the player from 2011, versus the 2010 or 2012 versions. Adding in his defense and base-running into the equation, that player has value and we got him for next to nothing.

I appreciate the feedback everyone! Thank you.
January 17, 2013 - 8:17 PM EST
Within context a flyer like Stubbs is where the Indians have to go to catch lightening in a bottle. His value is down because he FAILED in Cincy. Down state he is Mattie Laporta to the 4th power.

He failed to be the dynamic on-base guy with pop to anchor lead-off. And in every other position in the order where Baker tried him he was a dissappointment.

Yes the price for Power as far as strike outs sucks.

And yes, as has been often pointed out at IPI concerning Stubbs - even the vaunted defense was never consistantly as quality as expected.

Which is why the Indians have a shot to cash in on the rebound - if there is one.

But. Having once been considered one of the best of his class nationally, failure for a player like Stubbs has to be judged outside of just the moneyball quantum math.

Cincy is expected to win now. Stubbs was expected to be a main ingredient of a team that expects to contend for the brass ring. He failed. But can you really say his wipe out was anything like a Laporta? Really?

Laporta didn't face the crucible of expecting to contend and win - not on par with Stubbs in Cincy.

Moreso, STUBBS WAS VALUABLE even when dissappointing.
I mean the step back Cincy took in '11 had plenty of under achieving examples beyond Stubbs.

People said much the same thing several years ago about Alex Gordon in KC. Another Cincy example is Austin Kerns - who - after being written off as a wunderkind gone bust - went on to be just the kind of valuable player Michael is writing about.

What is really exciting about Stubbs is he could be much much better - and we could have him cheap for a couple of years.

For a small market team - esspecially one with very little in the minors at an important position - these are just the kind of moves you have to make.

Kuddo's Michael. Kuddo's to the F/O for landing this kind of possibility for the loss of SS. Choo.
Iron Mike
January 17, 2013 - 7:11 PM EST
Michael, your story doesn't really make a case for Stubbs. He's been trending downward for three years. He'll need to at least match his rookie BA to make his K-BB work as productive player for the Indians. Hitting below .220 won't get it done.
January 17, 2013 - 5:34 PM EST
Hi, Michael. Welcome aboard. I'm not entirely persuaded, but I like the way you've put the case.
January 17, 2013 - 5:19 PM EST
Fedroff plays leftfield vs. righties most of time ...Stubbs plays center vs lefties all the time. Brantley goes back and forth..
January 17, 2013 - 4:01 PM EST
I still see no way Stubbs gets less than 70% of the playing time. There are concerns with the platoon split, and I could see him sitting some against tougher right-handers.....but he is going to get a majority of the time in the outfield. I don't see another outfielder being signed as they have left-handed options like Carrera, McGuiness, and Fedroff they will probably exhaust first.
January 17, 2013 - 3:18 PM EST
Good article. I'd like to see the Tribe add a LH outfielder, even a platoonish player, to the mix before the season. Stubbs can be very valuable to us if he faces primarily left-handed pitching, but at the moment that would leave Carrera with an awful lot of playing time. Not sure I'm comfortable with that.

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