What I must first say about Byrd is that he is a 34-year-old outfielder playing for his fifth major league team. He has started 2012 in a 3 for 43 slump at the plate in Chicago. There is a chance that Byrd has reached that point in every player’s career when they have just lost it, and it is never coming back. He may have the proverbial fork in his back. But Sox fans will remember well our own David Ortiz having grossly slow starts for a couple of seasons recently and everybody thinking that he was done, and now we see Papi looking as good as ever at the dish at age 36. It’s not crazy to think that Byrd is done, but it’s also not crazy to think he can still get it back.
Let’s take a look at some of his career stats to see what we may have acquired here. First off, he is durable. Byrd has had between 403-580 at bats every season for the last five years, with a 580 maximum in 2010. During the period from 2007-2011, Byrd played for three seasons in Texas and two in Chicago, including his lone all-star season just two years ago in 2010. In these five years, Byrd averaged 30 doubles, 12 home runs, 63 RBI, .291 BA, and .347 OBP, as well as playing a slightly above average center field. Certainly, most teams would be happy getting that kind of production out of their center fielder. So what gives? Why would a guy only a year and a half removed from his first career all-star game suddenly be so expendable that the Cubs shipped him out of town and offered to pay most of his salary to boot?
Looking at his career stats, there was a definite drop-off in production from his two-year career peak in 2009-2010 to his 2011 production. In 2009, Byrd had his best power numbers of his career, putting up 20 home runs, 89 RBI, and a .479 SLG% with Texas. Random note: he also led the AL in 2009 with 10 sacrifice flies, perhaps showing he has a penchant for delivering with RISP…although he hasn’t had more than 2 in a season since. Byrd was sent to Chicago the next season and followed it up with 12 home runs, 66 RBI, and a .429 SLG%. Then his power production fell off a table last year, coming in with a five-year-low 9 home runs, plummeting to 35 RBI, and dropping his SLG% 34 points to .395.
Byrd’s WAR totals for the last four seasons validates how bad he was in 2011 compared to 2008-2010. Byrd’s WAR (technically stands for Wins Over Replacement-level, but I prefer to think of it as Wins Over Repko, which is additionally appropriate in this situation) went from a career-high 3.6 in 2008, to 3.5 in 2009, to 2.5 in 2010, all the way down to 1.7 in 2011. So last year, Byrd gave his team the value of less than two wins more than a replacement-level player (or Jason Repko) would have.
He was hurt for some of 2011 and appeared in only 119 games, which was his fewest since 2007. Injuries may account for some of his drop in power production, but maybe the Cubs became convinced that Byrd was over-the-hill and therefore expendable.
It’s an old story in baseball: a veteran becomes stuck on a crappy team headed nowhere, then gets traded to a team with a lot talent with playoff aspirations (The Red Sox still fit that description right? RIGHT?!?), and suddenly the veteran finds his old fire and becomes productive again. There’s no reason to believe this couldn’t be Byrd with the Red Sox. Reading this story today:
Gives me hope that Byrd needed a change of scenery. He certainly sounds happy to get a chance to go to a team that expects to win a lot of games this year (RIGHT?!?!). This article even offers hope that a big reason for Byrd starting the season 3 for 43 was he was tired of being on a losing Cubs team, and knew that management was just itching to trade him for the first partner to come along. He says all the right things in the article. My favorite quote is, “I’m going to make sure I do everything I can. Bring my energy, play hard, play my defense, hopefully get some big hits and just get this team back on the right track.’’
Byrd brings a proven track record of success in the major leagues to the Red Sox. It’s reasonable to hope that he can hit .280 with a .330 OBP, and pop 6-8 home runs with 30-40 RBI until Jacoby comes back. Based on how little it took to acquire him, I believe he might end up being a sneaky good pickup when all is said and done.