Raburn’s Big Score

Ryan Raburn, who will turn 30 early next season, finally made a “big score” this week. Raburn, who has been in the Detroit Tigers’ organization since 2001, was finally eligible for arbitration this season. Instead of going to arbitration, Raburn signed a two-year deal with the Tigers for 3.4 million dollars. Assuming that five million dollars is the cost of a marginal win on the open market and a conservative five-percent increase in that cost per season, along with Raburn being in his first year of arbitration (we assume teams typically pay 40, 60, and 80 percent of his time for those three seasons, so this is a one-year (.4+.6) deal for $3.4 when compared to the open market), the Tigers are paying as if he’s worth slightly more than half a Win Above Replacement (WAR). It is pretty obvious than Raburn is better than that, but how much better?

Raburn’s career line might make the point in itself: he’s had 1079 plate appearances in the majors (less than two typical seasons’ worth), and has been worth a total of 3 WAR. However, we need to be especially careful to observe the distinction between observed performance and (projected) true talent, especially in a case where the player has been bouncing between positions, been up and down between the minors and majors, and is likely beginning the downside of his aging curve. The 2011 CAIRO projection for Raburn (I changed the wOBA calculation to these custom weights for consistency within this post, although the difference isn’t a big deal) is for a.346 wOBA (.272/.338/.468), or 15 runs above average per 700 plate appearances. In the interest multiple sources, my less sophisticated projection system spits outs a .340 wOBA (.267/.333/.456, 11 runs above average per 700 plate appearances) for Raburn’s 2011. The 18 fans who have entered their projections for Raburn are somewhere in the middle: .281/.338/.452 for a .343 wOBA. Overall, Raburn looks like an above-average hitter.

Some will point out that the right-handed hitting Raburn has seen a disproportionate number of left-handed pitchers in the majors. This is true, but Raburn has not been helpless against right-handed pitching, as he has a career .327 wOBA (100 wRC+ — exactly league average) against same-siders. Platoon splits have to be regressed, and my rough calculation given his major league numbers and based on the my relatively pessimistic .340 wOBA projection given above is that Raburn is a .354 wOBA hitter against southpaws and a .329 against righties. A .329 isn’t great, but given the .320 league average of 2010, it is above average.

There are some questions on defense. Part of that is because the Tigers have sometimes had Raburn play positions that he obviously can’t such as second and third base. Given the Tigers’ current roster, it looks like he should primarily be playing left field, where the stats as well as the Fans Scouting have him either slightly above or below average. Overall, then, given the positional adjustment and his projected offense, Raburn looks to be roughly a 2 WAR player over a full season — about average. Even if he only plays part time in 2011 (as he did in 2009 and 2010), the Tigers are getting a very good deal. Hopefully, they’ll resist making him compete with Brennan Boesch, who was, for a couple months las season, the toast of certain Tigers fans who ignore minor league track records and BABIP luck. I wonder where they went after Boesch wOBAed .265, .234, and .231 in July, August, and September respectively? Raburn is probably good enough to start as a stopgap for a Tigers team with designs on contention, and is at least a good and inexpensive fourth outfielder for them.

Obviously, Ryan Raburn is going to make very good money compared to most of the rest of us. One might wonder if the current system, which lets the team keep players like Raburn in the minors for years until they need him such that he is just now able to negotiate a salary (at a distinct disadvantage) after having spent nine years with organization (and isalready past his athletic prime) is really fair. I imagine most fans, who just want their team to win, (somewhat understandably) are not too concerned about that issue, particularly in these rough economic times. However, the Tigers are the party that really scored here.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

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