Thursday, November 8, 2012

Exchange Rate: The Maicer Izturis Signing

Today, the Toronto Blue Jays signed former Angles infielder Maicer Izturis to a 3-year $9 million contract with a team option for a 4th year worth another $3 million. Plain and simple, the Blue Jays needed help up the middle. With Brett Lawrie and Edwin Encarnacion securing the corners of the infield, the Blue Jays knew where they needed to improve. The question is, does this move help the team heading into 2013?

Maicer Izturis has spent the last 8 seasons in Los Angeles, playing various infield positions for the Angels. Over that time he compiled 13.3 fWAR, or 1.9 fWAR per season. Let's round up and say Izturis was a 2.0 fWAR player. He did so from age 25 to 31, which doesn't leave a huge amount for someone who will be playing a premium defensive position for his new team. The Blue Jays need a second baseman more than a shortstop, so it seems like Izturis will be playing on the right side of the infield more so than the left. Here's how Izturis looks over all three types of WAR calculations.

fWAR
rWAR
WARP
2006
2.1
1.6
2.8
2007
2
1.4
1.1
2008
1.7
1.5
0.9
2009
3.4
3.5
2.4
2010
1.2
1.2
0.6
2011
2.2
1.4
1.9
2012
0.7
0.2
-0.7
AVG
1.9
1.542857143
1.285714286
Median
2
1.4
1.1

Izturis has been fairly consistent throughout his career. He's made about $13.5 million over the course of his career, but he's been worth about $57.3 million, which shows that the Angels have been getting a great deal out of Izturis. While I congratulate the Angels, none of this information implies that the Blue Jays will end up in the same boat. Let's analyze what makes Izturis valuable because some skills tend to decline with age, while others remain more constant.
Offensively, Izturis can be described as a "just enough" type hitter. 

wOBA
wRC+
Tav
2006
0.343
106
0.276
2007
0.332
99
0.264
2008
0.310
86
0.243
2009
0.347
109
0.287
2010
0.307
92
0.257
2011
0.318
102
0.266
2012
0.247
82
0.230

His wOBA had never dipped below .300 until this past season, which shows consistency, but as you can see from his true average, Izturis is about an average hitter, and nothing better. As far as plate discipline goes, Izturis hasn't varied at all throughout his career, proving that last seasons below career-average offensive production may be best explained by Izturis' low BABIP. The league batting average on balls put in play is always right around .300. but Izturis' career BABIP has been higher, at .337. His .320 BABIP in 2012 is a solid 17 percentage points lower than his career average, which most likely comes from his low infield hit percentage. In 2012 Izturis has a 3.4% infield hit percentage in comparison to his career 5.6% mark. Fewer infield hits could point towards his age catching up with him. Speed declines severely as a player ages, and obviously, due to the server offensive decline last season, Izturis' overall production is tied into his above average speed.

The percent of the time that Izturis swings at the pitch thrown, is about half the league average over the last 8 seasons. Combine that with a league average BB%, and it means that in order to make up for Izturis' diminishing ability to get on base when making contact, he will have to increase his ability to walk. If not, we might see a more serious decline in his offensive production.

Defensively, the story is a bit different. Since we can safely assume that Izturis will be playing primarily second base for the Jays, let's look only at his numbers as a second baseman. 

UZR
FRAA
DRS
2006
0.4
2.8
1
2007
0.7
-1.9
-1
2008
0
2.6
1
2009
7.6
-3.1
7
2010
0.7
-0.4
1
2011
-2.7
0.9
-5
2012
4.7
-3.1
2

Since FRAA doesn't differentiate between positions, those numbers are for Izturis' total defense during the given seasons. As you can see, Izturis has been an above average second baseman, providing some significant defensive value in 2009 and 2012. He has the ability to play the position well, and has done so throughout his career. This shows that while his slight decline in speed has affected his offensive production, defensively it hasn't had an effect. Offensively, a small decline in speed led to a significant decrease, but not at all defensively. Thus, Izturis should remain a solid defender, but will need to show some improvement offensively. 

The Blue Jays owe Itzuris $3 million per season, which is equal to less than 1 fWAR per season. So, if Izturis is able to average at least 1 fWAR per season over the next 3 years, we will look back on this as a solid under-the-radar signing. Izturis replaces former Blue Jays second baseman Kelly Johnson, who outperformed Izturis since 2006, but while Johnson has been slightly better, he hasn't been as consistent as Izturis. The Blue Jays are a team looking to take the next step. They need to find a balance between young and veteran players, and Izturis is just a more veteran, consistent option at second base than Kelly Johnson. Stability is sometimes underrated in Baseball, but given a bleak market at second base, the Blue Jays have opted for consistency at a premium defensive position over volatility. 

I would give this signing a B+. The Blue Jays didn't commit too much financially towards Izturis, and also didn't lock themselves into a long-term deal. If izturis can produce at an average of 1 fWAR per season over the next three years, the Blue Jays will have gotten more value out of him than his contract warrants, which is exactly what every team looks for when making a free agent signing. On the other hand, the Blue Jays have some serious issues in their starting rotation, and need to address those problems moving forward in the offseason. If they can improve their rotation, whether it be by trade or signing free agents, this team has the potential to be in the playoff discussion in 2013. 

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