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Marlon Byrd Inks with Cubs

According to ESPNChicago’s Bruce Levine, free agent OF Marlon Byrd signed a three-year, $15 contract with the Chicago Cubs. Byrd figures to patrol center field on the North Side, pushing Kosuke Fukudome back to right field.

Byrd’s career was on life support when he latched on with the Texas Rangers back in 2007. The stocky right-handed batter once was a hot-shot prospect with the Philadelphia Phillies, and he posted a 116 wRC+ while playing good D as Philly’s everyday center fielder in 2003.

It was all downhill from there, however, as Byrd’s offense plummeted. He posted a grisly 58 wRC+ in 2004, a 92 wRC+ between the Phillies and Nationals in 2005 and a 79 wRC+ with Washington in 2006.

After tearing up AAA Oklahoma to begin the ’07 season, Byrd was called up by the Rangers and played all three outfield positions. He managed a 110 wRC+ in 454 plate appearances, though his batting average on balls in play was a whopping .370. Byrd swung from his heels, chasing 32 percent of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone (25% MLB average) and 71.5% of in-zone pitches (66% MLB average). He walked in just 6.5% of his plate appearances.

Given that hacking and his good fortune on balls put in play, Byrd looked like a good bet to regress in 2008. Instead, he turned in a career year at the plate. Byrd was still aggressive (29.8 O-Swing%, 71.2 Z-Swing%). But opposing pitchers placed only 49.6% of their offerings within the strike zone against him, compared to 54.6% in 2007 (the MLB average is about 50 percent). As a result, his walk rate climbed to 10.2%. In 462 PA, Byrd posted a 125 wRC+.

In 2009, Byrd had a 28.5 O-Swing%, but his walk rate fell considerably (5.5 BB%). He was positively giddy against in-zone pitches. Byrd hacked at 74.1% of pitches thrown over the plate, one of the 15 highest rates among batters (his In-Zone% was a little higher than in ’08, at 50.6). His park and league-adjusted offense was still eight percent above average, though, as he popped a career-high 20 home runs. Byrd’s ISO was .196, well above his career .143 mark.

Over his past three seasons, Byrd has a combined .295/.352/.468 triple-slash, with a 114 wRC+. The 32 year-old has experienced a nice second act, after seemingly falling off the map toward the middle part of the decade.

Byrd showed a big home/away split from 2007-2009 (.309/.375/.522 at home, .281/.328/.414 away). While some might point to those splits and declare that Byrd is a .280/.330/.410 player, simply taking his away numbers and discarding the home figures isn’t a particularly useful way to go about making a projection. That’s the statistical equivalent of throwing out the baby with the bath water.

As Byrd’s wRC+ figures show, he’s been 10-15% better than the average batter over that time period. Factoring in Marlon’s age, one might expect him to be slightly above average with the lumber in 2010.

CHONE projects Byrd to bat .271/.333/.431 in 2010, while ZiPS spits out a .283/.339/.450 line. The difference in home ballparks shouldn’t be a jarring one. According to The Bill James Handbook, Wrigley Field has increased run scoring by 13 percent and home runs by 10 percent compared to a neutral ball park from 2007-2009, while Arlington has boosted runs by seven percent and homers by 13 percent. Arlington is more hospitable to righty power, though (110 HR park factor for RHB from 2007-2009, compared to 103 for Wrigley).

Overall, CHONE forecasts Byrd to be worth +2 runs with the bat, while playing a slightly below-average center field (-3 runs). If he reaches those marks, he would be worth around 2 WAR in 2010. That sort of sums up Byrd’s overall game: average. He’s an OK option in NL-only formats, but you should aim higher in mixed leagues.