Brandon Guyer, Outliers and Finding Value

Brandon Guyer walk-off Royals

Brandon Guyer was one of Chris Antonetti’s brilliant finds at the 2016 Major League Baseball trade deadline. He buttressed a deep roster and allowed Terry Francona to leverage platoon advantages. Antonetti doubled down on Guyer by quietly signing him to a team-friendly extension this past offseason.1

The Indians and other small market teams are notorious for constructing post-arbitration extensions with young, productive pre-arbitration players where each party embraces a certain amount of risk. The team embracing the risk of potential injury or decline, the player accepting that they may outperform their contract and provide surplus value.

The Indians, however, have started pursuing a different contract of late. They have signed late-arbitration players to a contract with small increased guarantees over the final years in exchange for a cheap option year. The deal limits the player’s risk and offers the team the opportunity for substantive surplus value. This is the same approach the Indians used in extending Josh Tomlin. Above average and elite big leaguers looking for mammoth pay days would eschew this method, but it has found a niche on the Tribe’s negotiating table. A league average starting pitcher with arm risk or an outstanding platoon bat with a rare skill underpaid by the marketplace are the exact types of players such a deal targets.

If the Indians can lock up league average performers on the cheap and retain a surplus, then they have created the flexibility needed for extensions to guys like Francisco Lindor or Jose Ramirez. Perhaps the extra room could be used for a small complementary signing like Boone Logan. Imagine Guyer being worth 1.5-2 WAR in his option year, the Indians will have grabbed roughly $10 million in surplus value. These late-arbitration extensions for role players could be an important cost saving mechanism as much as they are additive to the team’s ultimate success.

Of course, this surplus doesn’t exist if Guyer is not productive. His most significant credential is mashing left-handed pitching. Guyer’s career slash line against southpaws is .288/.390/.469 with a wRC+ of 142 (42% above league average!). Ryan Raburn, another notorious southpaw assassin, has a career wRC+ of 120 against LHP. So, Guyer is 20 percent better offensively than Raburn and can actually play defense. Perhaps a rich man’s Ryan Raburn sounds boring, but Raburn was productive despite some significant inconsistency. Guyer has lower variance and a higher ceiling.

Guyer also has this other strange habit of being a dart board for opposing pitchers.

Of course, Guyer would be hit a few more times in 2016 performing his role of human pin cushion. One of the interesting things is that being hit by pitch appears to be a rare “skill.” It is exceedingly uncommon but a few wield it well- like past Tribe batsman Shin Soo-Choo. Being hit by a pitch is undervalued because being plunked doesn’t seem like a skill.

As a bonus: Brandon Guyer is a competent defender. He has played left, center, and right field capably. According to WFNY’s Probable Catch Ratio and Probable Catch Units, Guyer was the Indians second-best outfield defender in 2016. Other defensive metrics show Guyer as being somewhere around average at each outfield position which is useful for a team needing outfield defense.

Guyer is also a bit like Tristan Thompson. Thompson is important to the Cleveland Cavaliers for his ability to switch and defend wings with success as well as being a hyper active offensive rebounder. These traits are accented when used as an essential counter against the Golden State Warriors. Guyer is important because he will be a huge advantage against left-handed starters and as a pinch-hitter in high leverage situations. These traits are accented in October as there will come a handful of key at bats where the Indians will need a player who can hit left-handed pitching well. Perhaps against someone like Aroldis Chapman.

So, why the hell does a contract for an average defender/platoon bat matter? It matters because contenders in the 162-game season require quality depth and maximizing every asset on the roster. Acquiring this depth can be costly and sap resources. Establishing cost controls for role players is important for small market teams.

Brandon Guyer is not an everyday player, but platoons are important to maximize the lineup. In Guyer, the Indians have locked up one of the best late-game chess pieces in baseball, and the Tribe is showing they know how to utilize the arbitration process to prop the contention window open for as long as possible.

  1. $2 million in 2017, $2.75 million in 2018 with a $3 million club option for the 2019 season, with a $250K buyout. []