Nate Schierholtz is Worth Going After

According to Buster Olney, the Chicago Cubs are open for business. They’re a rebuilding franchise with no real playoff aspirations and a bunch of interesting veterans who are free agent eligible at the end of the year, so it makes sense for them to make some present-for-future trades. The focus is likely going to be on their pitching, as Matt Garza and Scott Feldman will be two of the more common names you’ll hear talked about over the next month or so. However, there’s another Cub for sale that might be one of the more interesting players on the market: Nate Schierholtz.

Schierholtz has long been a bit of a favorite of mine, as he specializes in the skillset that I think is most often overlooked at the big league level. He’s basically a tweener, a guy with good corner outfield defense who probably can’t handle center field but doesn’t have the kind of power teams have historically associated with RF and LF. He’s been around for a while, and now 29-years-old, he has only hit 33 home runs in nearly 1,600 plate appearances, and he has a career slugging percentage of .426. That kind of moderate power profile generally gets overlooked when teams are looking for corner outfielders, even if the rest of the skillset makes the overall package pretty useful.

The Cubs took advantage of this market inefficiency over the winter, signing Schierholtz to a one year, $2.25 million deal after he was non-tendered by the Phillies. $2 million for a league average hitter who can play solid defense in both outfield corners made Schierholtz a nice bargain, and he’s paid off in a big way. For the first time in his career, Schierholtz is hitting for power, as 29 of his 55 hits have gone for extra bases and he has a .257 ISO. He hasn’t had to trade contact to get that power either, as his K% is just 13.9%, the lowest mark he’s posted since 2008 (and in a year that only included 81 PAs).

200 plate appearances isn’t anywhere near enough to say that this is “real” and that he’s going to keep posting a 136 wRC+, but both ZIPS and Steamer forecast him to remain roughly an average hitter going forward. He’s not any kind of star, but there’s real value in a league average hitter who plays pretty decent defense, and unlike most other players traded in the next month, Schierholtz won’t be a rental.

While he only signed a one year deal with the Cubs, he’s going to fall shy of the six years of service time needed to qualify as a free agent, so any team acquiring Schierholtz from Chicago will control his rights through next year as well. Certainly, his strong performance this year will earn him a raise in arbitration, but his modest career numbers and the fact that he’s been strictly platooned will keep his earnings down, as he won’t have gaudy counting stats and won’t be able to argue that he’s comparable to everyday players. At best, Schierholtz is probably looking at $5 or $6 million in arbitration, and he could very well come in under that.

And, despite the fact that the Cubs have used him solely against RHPs, it’s not entirely clear that Schierholtz couldn’t handle a larger workload. While 80% of his career plate appearances have come against RHPs, his splits actually aren’t that large.

Vs RHP: 1,284 PA, .271/.328/.438, .327 wOBA, 104 wRC+
Vs LHP: 313 PA, .278/.315/.378, .303 wOBA, 86 wRC+

Schierholtz has a platoon split, but it’s not drastically larger than every other left-handed batter, and we’re dealing with just 300 plate appearances against LHPs. He’s generally not used against them because it’s not very hard to find an RHB who can give you a bit more offense against lefties, but Schierholtz isn’t the kind of guy that you absolutely have to pinch-hit for any time a lefty reliever comes in to the game. He’s best used as a part-time player, but he wouldn’t fall apart if given more at-bats against LHPs.

Schierholtz is probably something in the range of +1.5 to +2.5 WAR player over a full season, he’s going to make roughly $1 million over the rest of the season and then ~$5 million or so next year, assuming he keeps hitting well. Any team acquiring him is looking at picking up roughly +3 WAR for $6 million in salary, which is a pretty nice little bargain, even for a guy who is more role player than savior.

And you know, sometimes these role players play like saviors for a little while. Schierholtz isn’t that different from Cody Ross — other than hitting from the other side of the plate — and we all remember what Ross did for the Giants after being claimed on waivers back in 2010. The randomness of small sample postseason baseball means that sometimes bit parts can look like superstars, and Schierholtz could end up making a larger impact than anyone expects.

While Olney mentioned the Royals and Pirates as perfect fits, given their right field problems, Schierholtz makes sense for a bunch of teams, including those not necessarily in the running for a playoff spot in 2013. Finding three good outfielders isn’t easy, and most teams will have an opening on their 2014 roster for a solid average player under team control at a minimal cost. Schierholtz won’t be the sexiest trade deadline acquisition, but he’s the kind of guy that can make more of a difference than his name value would suggest.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

42 Responses to “Nate Schierholtz is Worth Going After”

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  1. Nik says:

    I’m sure glad Ruben Amaro JR went with a proven ‘production’ guy like Delmon Young instead of keeping Nasty Nate for less than $2 million bucks.

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  2. D says:

    I’m sure this have been covered elsewhere, but he seems to be a logical platoon partner with Mayberry in PHI. Did the Phils non-tender him so they could sign Delmon Young? Sounds odd.

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    • Tim says:

      Seemed like they were looking for two lefties and two rightiesin the corners and already had Dom Brown and Lance Nix.

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    • Nik says:

      The problem was that they gave Nix a 2 year contract and instead of cutting him loose they decided to give up a more productive player in Schierholtz. The Delmon Young signing came afterwards.

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  3. This Guy says:

    Part 40 in “Dave Cameron loved the Cubs 2012-2013 offseason”

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      They signed all the guys I like!

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      • Hank says:

        Yeah that Baker signing was genius

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        • rogue_actuary says:

          The process was good. There was upside with Baker. The process was good. It’s important, if difficult, to wrap one’s head around not solely judging a decision based on the outcome.

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        • Hank says:

          It’s also as important when the result is bad not just to default to good process because the front office is highly regarded.

          A lot of times good process means the result may be bad, but clearly I could not have mis-analyzed something so I’ll just chalk it up to “good process/bad result” and claim people are using confirmation bias of the result. Or in this case since the front office was highly regarded it must have been a good move that just didn’t work out.

          A 1 year deal at 5.5mil to a pitcher coming off TJ surgery who wasn’t likely to be ready for opening day was a roll of the dice. You also have to factor in that starters coming off of TJ surgery are not operating at 100% and it may take 3 months, sometimes as much as a year to really get back to pre-surgery in terms of command. So perhaps you can explain the upside of the potential of ~5 months of a pitcher, who will probably be at a suboptimal level for at least half that time if not all of it.

          And how that could be viewed as one of the 10 best offseason moves (according to Dave)? If Sabean or Amaro, Jr makes this move is it viewed through the same prism?

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      • Newcomer says:

        My favorite was the Tango signing.

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    • Chicago Mark says:

      This Guy must be a Sox fan!

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  4. Sandy Alderson says:

    Finding three good outfielders isn’t easy, and most teams will have an opening on their 2014 roster for a solid average player under team control at a minimal cost.

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    • BX says:

      You’ll have three openings!

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      • Eric Young Jr. says:

        Excuse Me?

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        • Jay29 says:

          EY’s name is written into the 2014 outfield in very light pencil, at best. There are a hundred MLB outfielders better than him.

          If I had to guess, I’d say two out of the three 2014 opening day outfielders for the Mets aren’t with the organization (Duda might still be the LF). With the pitching almost ready for playoff contention, they may actually go for it and sign some quality hitters.

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    • vivalajeter says:

      To be fair, Marlon Byrd has been just about as good as Nate.

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  5. DaveP says:

    A dagger through the heart of the phillies fans who have to put up with Delmon Young in the line up.

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  6. Pirates Hurdles says:

    Dave, no concern for his “breakout” largely only coming at Wrigley this year? His road splits this year look like his career numbers which don’t look like an upgrade for anyone.

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  7. mch38 says:

    This is probably a stupid question, but the Pirates are really lacking in a shortstop with Clint Barmes. Do you think Castro will ever be put on the block or is he a no-no franchise player when the trade deadline rolls around?

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    • ElToroStrikesAgain says:

      I’m not Dave but I think the cubs have been upset with his work ethic, attitude & such. They have Baez & Alcantara on their way down on the farm. I’m sure if the pirates came calling with some big time prospects the cubs would be willing to at least listen.

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      • Poppinthekap says:

        That goes against most reports out of Chicago. Word is that he IS a very hard worker, the biggest complaint is that he occasionally loses focus out in the field, but that’s a long way away from having a poor attitude. I’d be absolutely shocked if the Cubs parted with Castro, but I suppose if someone will really overpay, they’d listen on anybody.

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  8. Bob M says:

    Nori Aoki is equally inexpensive, hasn’t started arbitration yet, and is a quality every day player. What could the Brewers get for him, given his age?

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  9. Shankbone says:

    Its nice to see Nate healthy so far. He’s had a start-stop career with injuries and inconsistent play. He may play like a tweener, but he has power. If the Rockies don’t fade, they would benefit from picking him up. He absolutely mashes there. Yeah yeah, Coors field… but absolute bombs at Coors field. Nate’s arm has given Giants fans a lot of thrills in the past few years. Solid player.

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  10. ElToroStrikesAgain says:

    Love Schierholtz as a pirates fan, and although he does have wrigley splits, PNC isn’t exactly hell on left-handed batters, that’s only for righties. I think he’d be a clear upgrade on Snider, not sure where he’d fit in the lineup, 2 perhaps? Being that Alvarez & Jones will both be towards the middle vs RHP.

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  11. Kumar says:

    With Pagan down and out, the Giants should trade for Nate LOL

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  12. isavage30 says:

    He’d be a good pickup for Cleveland to platoon with Drew Stubbs.

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  13. mercy says:

    Hey Yankees’ front office,

    Are you reading this?

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  14. JamesDaBear says:

    Sure other teams should want him, but the Cubs don’t have great options at OF if they trade him, and their young outfielders are in a constant state of fail. While I do want the Cubs to trade him (and Garza, Feldman and Kevin Gregg as well), everybody who writes these blurbs neglects to say what the Cubs should accept in return. If all they can get is a marginal asset for Schierholtz, et al, the Cubs should keep them vs trading them for nothing to a division rival.

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    • Oh, Beepy says:

      Are you really suggesting that every article about a potential trade target contain a caveat statement about how they shouldn’t make a bad trade just to get rid of him?

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      • JamesDaBear says:

        That is not at all what I said… but these articles are pointless if it doesn’t identify at least what a breakeven deal would be for both sides. The title says “Z player is worth going after.” Well, that’s not true if you’re only going after the player if you can get him for nothing. As much as he might be worth going after, he’s worth it for the Cubs to keep too.

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      • Skmd says:

        I think what he’s suggesting is that it’s not worthwhile to suggest trades in a vacuum, every trade requires a countertrade. We could easily say, yeah, the Cubs should trade Carlos marmol, or they should trade for Giancarlo Stanton – but for the thought to be complete you have to suggest what compensation would make the trade both feasible and worthwhile.

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        • Paul Wilson says:

          A list of all the MLB assets approximately equal to Nate Schierholtz would be a fascinating read!

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  15. pbjsandwich says:

    Loved this guy as a Giant. Glad to see him doing so well

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  16. Cuban X Senators says:

    My early scouting report on Nate when he came up was “a 5-tool 4th OF”. So many uses for that guy.

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  17. Gcheezpuff says:

    Package him with Garza and send them to the Rangers for Olt and Perez. Rangers are always interested in Garza and may need an outfielder when Cruz gets his suspension. Cruz is a FA after this year too so the Rangers could use him in th OF next year too.

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    • Skmd says:

      The Olt ship may have sailed – we already have one of those, his name is josh vitters

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    • map says:

      The Rangers already have two left-handed starters in the outfield with Murphy and Martin, so they would probably rather look for a righty should Cruz get suspended. Also, with the health concerns Texas may not be willing to part with two key prospects when they have Lewis and Harrison coming back eventually.

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  18. BillWallace says:

    I was disappointed when the Giants sold low on him, I always thought he was a solid player. And his defense was a perfect fit for AT&Ts large right field.

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  19. Jason says:

    I feel that any discussion about Schierholtz should include park factors. AT&T is brutal on LH power. Nice to see him doing well!

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