- FanGraphs Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs -

Vlad and Road Splits

With his spot in Anaheim now filled by Hideki Matsui, it was time for Vladimir Guerrero to find a new home. His new home is one he’s quite familiar with, as he signed a one-year, five million dollar contract with the Texas Rangers. Guerrero figures to be the designated hitter for the Rangers, as Nelson Cruz, Josh Hamilton, and Julio Borbon should start the season as the outfielders.

Vlad should be a good fit for Texas, and he should be much better than Hank Blalock and Andruw Jones in that role. Despite a dip in production in his first season as a DH – to be expected – Vlad still put up a 110 wRC+, making him roughly a one-win player at that position. His power did drop last year, as his ISO fell from .218 to .164. We should expect some regression there, however, as much of that drop can be attributed to an 11.5% HR/FB ratio, by far the lowest recorded since 2002, when our batted ball data begins.

Guerrero can probably be expected to put up a 1.5 win season at DH, making his contract fair from a value standpoint. With the Rangers competing for the AL West crown, making a move at fair market value to pick up roughly an extra win makes a lot of sense for GM Jon Daniels.

One of the talking points surrounding this move has been how much Vlad loves to hit in Texas. It’s true – over 50 games and 221 PAs, Guerrero has a .394/.471/.705 line. That’s a 146 tOPS+, meaning that Vlad has performed 46% better than his average production at The Ballpark in Arlington. I don’t have to go into great detail about why 221 plate appearances aren’t enough to base a significant argument upon. We see this all the time here. In this case, however, making an assumption based on splits can be even more dangerous.

Not only are we limited to 50 games worth of data for this split, but it is also 50 games spread out over multiple seasons. Here’s how many plate appearances Vlad has seen in Arlington in his career, with his OPS in parenthesis.

Pre-2004: 0
2004: 46 (1.522)
2005: 38 (1.428)
2006: 40 (.929)
2007: 33 (.809)
2008: 36 (1.072)
2009: 28 (1.140)

That leaves us only 137 usable plate appearances as far as reliable data goes – what Guerrero did in 2004 and 2005 tells us next to nothing about the true talent of 2010 Vladimir Guerrero. With that, we’re already down to about 62% of our original amount of plate appearances, leading to an increasingly low amount of reliability with our split. Yes, Vlad has been above average in each of our four usable years (although not nearly as good as in 2004 and 2005).

How much do these road splits actually tell us? It’s possible that Guerrero is about a point or two of wOBA better in Arlington, true talent wise. Especially after considering park factors – Arlington allows far more extra base hits than most fields – it’s likely that it’s just statistical noise.

Vlad should be better in his second year as a DH and playing in Texas’s hitter friendly park should boost his numbers, but it’s important to remember that the Vlad that will be playing in Texas is not the slugger that raked in Montreal and won an MVP with Anaheim. This is 35-year-old Vlad with 40-year-old knees, and the data from the last few years in Anaheim far outweighs the fact that he’s killed the Rangers at home over the last six.