George Springer is a free-agent outfielder who FanGraphs ranked as #2 of the 2021 Top 50 free agents. Should the Blue Jays have Springer on their target list? Should they sign him?
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In the 60-game 2020 season, Jays centerfielders ranked 22nd with their 0.8 fWAR. For the 2019-2020 period, Toronto’s centerfielders produced a 2.2 fWAR (#20) and a 93 wRC+ (#14). On the defence front, the 2019-2020 Jays recorded a negative 12.2 Def, 27th in MLB. Suppose the Jays want to be serious playoff contenders in 2021. In that case, they will need a better performance from their centerfielders, particularly with the glove. Improved play may come internally, but it would be prudent for Blue Jays management to consider players outside their organization. Free-agent George Springer is a player worthy of attention.
Springer debuted with the Astros on April 16, 2014, at the age of 24; he played 78 games that season and became a full-time player in 2015. Throughout the 2015-2020 seasons, there were 59 centerfielders with a minimum of 1,000 plate appearances. Springer produced a 135 wRC+ (fifth-best) and a 24.7 fWAR (third-best). More recently, Springer’s fWAR was fourth-highest among centerfielders in the 2018-2020 period. Springer is a very good outfielder.
The structure of the analysis is as follows:
- A review of various offence, defence, and player-value metrics
- An estimate of what a reasonable contract would be for Springer
- The arguments for and against signing Springer
Offence and value
- Among outfielders with a minimum of 600 plate appearances, Springer ranked sixth in wOBA (0.370) and third in wRC+ (138)
- Grichuk was 24th best in wOBA (0.323) and wRC+(102)
- Springer’s fWAR, and its components (Off, Def, and BsR), are all superior to Grichuk’s
Table 2 contains a sample of Statcast data for Springer and Grichuk for the 2018-2020 period. The items to note are as follows:
- Concerning expected batting metrics (xBA, xwOBA, and xSLG), Springer has generally been a better hitter than Grichuk.
- Springer and Grichuk have similar Barrel% percentile rankings.
- Grichuk is slightly better in Exit Velocity, but his K% is generally in the bottom-quartile, whereas Springer is close to the 60th percentile.
The 2020 season was a bounce-back campaign for Grichuk. His xBA, xSLG, and Barrel% moved into the top-third among centerfielders. However, over the 2018-2020 period, both FanGraphs and Statcast data support the view that Springer has been a better hitter than Grichuk.
Any evaluation of Springer as a centerfield candidate for the Blue Jays should consider his centerfield-right field split. Springer has played more right field (4,164 innings) than centerfield (2,248 innings). During the 2014-2019 period, teammate Jake Marisnick patrolled centerfield for 3,389 innings and posted a 15 DRS/1200. Springer handled the centerfield post for 1,910 innings and recorded a 5 DRS/1200. Marisnick was the better defender.
The Blue Jays have publicly stated that one of their objectives this off-season is to improve their run prevention capability. Accordingly, one question is whether Springer’s centerfield defence is an upgrade over Grichuk’s. The defensive metrics include those of Jackie Bradley Jr., an example of a high-quality centerfield defender.
Included in the defensive metrics are Outs Above Average (“OAA”), and Defensive Runs Saved (“DRS”). The OAA/400 and DRS/1200 metrics reflect the performance of Springer and Grichuk as centerfielders. Outfielder Jump is the percentile ranking among all outfielders; Sprint Speed is the percentile standing among all position players.
For an explanation of OAA/400 and DRS/1200, please refer to Appendix A.
Table 3 is a summary of OAA, Outfielder Jump, and Sprint Speed. The highlights are as follows:
- During the 2017-2020 period, Springer and Grichuk had similar OAA/400 marks; 7 and 10, respectively.
- For the 2019-2020 segment, Springer’s 10 OAA surpassed Grichuk’s 3 OAA.
- Springer has been near or above the median in Outfielder Jump.
- Grichuk’s Outfielder Jump has been in decline since 2017; it is now below the median.
- Concerning Sprint Speed, Springer was in the Top-Twenty percentile in 2019 and 2020; Grichuk was in the Top-Thirty percentile.
- A red flag is Grichuk’s worsening Sprint Speed percentile ranking since 2014, which was 90th and 88th percentile in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
Success and Estimated Success Rates
Table 4 presents OAA in a different form and DRS/1200. Estimated Success Rate (“ESR”) is the likelihood, expressed as a percent, that an outfielder will be able to make a catch on an individual batted ball. The ESR found in the table is the average of all the estimated probabilities. Success Rate is the average of all actual catch percentages. The highlights are as follows:
- Springer’s Success Rate is one percentage point better than Grichuk’s, which is zero.
- In other words, Grichuk has been average when it comes to catching batted balls when he was in centerfield.
- Of the data presented, Bradley has the best DRS/1200 at 9, closely followed by Springer (7) and Grichuk (3)
Overall, for the periods examined, Grichuk has been an average-to-a-tick-above-average centerfielder defensively. Springer has been slightly better with the glove, and Bradley Jr. outperformed both players.
Table 5 presents the calculation of a reasonable contract for Springer. For a detailed explanation of the factors considered in the contract computation, please refer to Appendix B. It is important to note that a reasonable contract value falls within a range of other valid contract values. There is no precise number for a contract estimate; it is not like going to the grocery store to buy broccoli.
FanGraphs fWAR computation includes a positional adjustment, which accounts for the fact that some positions are more challenging to play than others. For example, it is harder to play centerfield than it is right field. Accordingly, a centerfielder’s fWAR includes a positive bump compared to a right fielder. For a more detailed examination of the impact upon fWAR due to position switches, please refer to Appendix C.
Springer as a centerfielder
Based on the method outlined, a five-year, USD 112 million contract is reasonable for Springer. This contract is in-line with the projected deals published by FanGraphs (five years, USD 115 million), Crowdsource (five years, USD 110 million), and MLB Trade Rumors (five-years, USD 125 million).
Springer as a part-time centerfielder
A Springer-position switch from center to right field will impact the estimated value of his future performance. However, it is difficult to determine the impact upon Springer’s fWAR if he were to move to right field at some point during the term of his next contract. For the sake of argument, assume that Springer splits time between center field and right field. As a result, his total fWAR throughout the deal is, for example, 14 instead of 16. Accordingly, a reasonable contract value on a five-year term would be USD 98 million or 12.5% less than the estimated USD 112 million if Springer was strictly a centerfielder.
Case Arguments for and against signing Springer
- Springer is the best centerfielder available in the 2021 free-agent market.
- ZiPS projects him to have a 0.868 OPS and 0.363 wOBA in 2021, higher than Grichuk’s marks of 0.773 and 0.320, respectively.
- Springer was one of the better offensive centerfielders during the 2018-2020 period; he is slightly above-average defensively.
- A Springer-calibre player would likely attract suitors in a typical free-agent market that would push the term and AAV higher than what is estimated to be this off-season.
- That is to say, the 2021 off-season is a buyer’s market, and the Jays would acquire a very good outfielder at a discount.
- If the Blue Jays want to add one of the better MLB centerfielders via free agency this offseason or next, it is either Springer in 2020 or Starling Marte, scheduled to be a free agent after the 2021 season.
- A USD 112 million financial commitment is a significant undertaking in a very uncertain economic environment.
- Springer declined his Qualifying Offer, which means that the Jays would forfeit their second pick in the 2021 June Amateur Draft.
- If Springer were to switch from center field to a corner position, his projected fWAR and the expected value of his future performance is too high.
- He was a member of the Astros when the sign-stealing was in full force.
- Toronto can use their financial resources to address other needs, for example, starting pitching.
- The Blue Jays stated that improving the overall defence of the club was an off-season objective.
- Springer, who is a slightly better centerfield defender than Grichuk, would not make a material impact upon Toronto’s defence.
The Blue Jays should not sign Springer on a deal that resembles the current estimates. He would improve the team, but he would have a minimal positive impact upon the Blue Jays run prevention capabilities. The Blue Jays could reduce the runs against due to internal improvement from returning players, such as Bo Bichette and Danny Jansen. Still, centerfield is an area where there is an opportunity to make a significant improvement. With Springer, the outfield defence would be better. However, it would not compensate for the below-average career defence of left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (-11 OAA/400) and right fielder Teoscar Hernandez (-14 OAA/400).
Another external option would be Bradley Jr. ZiPS projects Bradley Jr. to generate a 2021 fWAR (1.4), similar to Grichuk (1.2). Bradley Jr. would play better defence than either Springer or Grichuk. Also, Bradley Jr.’s estimated contract terms (two-years, USD 18 million) are less expensive than Springer’s.
The last word
Springer is a very good player, and he will help almost any team. However, his defensive skills do not line-up sufficiently with Toronto’s stated objective of improving its runs prevention capabilities. Similar to the J.T. Realmuto candidacy, Springer is a reluctant pass.
EDITOR NOTE: Don’t miss Bob discussing the idea of George Springer to the Blue Jays on the next episode of JFtC Podcast. We’ll also be joined by MLB.com’s Keegan Matheson!
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Bob was a St. Louis Cardinals fan until the Blue Jays arrived on the baseball scene, although he still has a soft spot for the Cards. Similar to straddling the Greenwich Meridian, as depicted in the avatar, Bob applies sabermetrics when applicable, but his heart tells him that Lou Brock belongs in the Hall of Fame.