Astros Rumors: Down by the Overbay?

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

The latest off-season rumor suggests that the Astros have interest in 1B free-agent Lyle Overbay. CRPerry13 discusses why this rumor is no more than empty wind.

The holidays are over, and the guilt has set in.  Not guilt in my own Christmas-cookie-consuming gluttony or unbridled avarice, thinly-veiled as religious piety*, but rather because I lately have not upheld my end of the bargain with SB Nation to pen prose for The Crawfish Boxes.  They have continued to pay me every penny stipulated in my contract**, and I have responded with nary an ASCII character in return.  So here, my first post of 2014.

Sadly, the subject is Lyle Overbay.  Sorry...I will endeavor to improve from here.  (Note:  Stat glossary at the end of this article.)

* * *

Sunday, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe published a rambling essay in which he, despite the headline, kind-of-sort-of defended the Hall of Fame voting process and its voters.  While sure to make his contemporaries in that elite cadre of newspapermen nod appreciatively, his arguments miss the point of all the outrage and/or frustration from everybody else who cares about the sport of baseball.  In that sense, the thrust of the article proves ineffectual; a medieval king can issue a proclamation stating that having wealth is no crime, but the serfs still dig through filth all day and dream of autonomous collectives.   The proclamation serves no purpose except to make the wealthy feel self-justified.

More relevant to those of us who find the defense of the increasingly indefensible to be old news, Cafardo devotes the bottom half of his article to various baseball rumors.  In one point, Cafardo suggests:

The Astros need a splash, maybe even with [Japanese Free Agent starter] Masahiro Tanaka. They were legitimate contenders for Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu, but lost out to the White Sox.

Yes, please.  But without any source attached, the suggestion remains merely a random thought by the author that all TCB's readers would agree with.

Cafardo then goes on to offer another Astros-related tidbit, one that caught my eye when Mark Polishuk at MLB Trade Rumors summarized the article.

Lyle Overbay, 1B, free agent — He remains on the Astros’ short list of low-cost first basemen. The Astros would love to have a veteran who could push Brett Wallace. Overbay had a good 2013 season with the Yankees and in many ways saved their lineup after Mark Teixeira was lost early in the season.

Behind-the-scenes on the TCB author's listserv, reactions were mixed but mainly dismissive.  Some found favor with the idea of this signing, as it would mean the end of Redhawks First-Baseman's tenure with the club.  Others feel skepticism towards the rumor and over Overbay's ability to improve upon Wallace's performance anyway.

Compare the players in question during the past three seasons:

Wallace:  .245/.324/.404 in 918 plate appearances, wRC+ around 98, WAR = -0.7

Overbay:  .240/.314/.380 in 1056 plate appearances, wRC+ around 87, WAR = -0.9

Considering also that Overbay is 10 years older than Wallace, this does not look like a situation where Wallace should feel particularly pushed.  Wallace had a higher batting average, higher on-base percentage, and more power.

Two other factors cloud the crystal ball that predicts Overbay to the Astros.  Those factors' names are Jesus Guzman and Chris Carter.  Carter, who rightfully should stay in the designated hitter role, is nonetheless such an improvement over Overbay with a bat that it should overcome whatever (if any!) defensive differences, and so he should be considered ahead of Overbay on the depth chart at first base.  Guzman's fielding record during recent past is the best of the bunch, and he should be considered at the apex of the rankings.  Why else would the Astros have traded for him?  Certainly not so that he could lose plate appearances to Lyle Overbay.

As discussed earlier, Guzman + Wallace actually presents an interesting situation that could lead to the 2014 Astros boasting one of the more productive First Base lineup spots in the American League.

Brett Wallace (vs. RHP):  .249/.324/.413, 102 wRC+

Jesus Guzman (vs. LHP):  .286/.358/.460, 130 wRC+

Put together, their career stats would result in a pretend 1B who hit .261/.346/.427 overall.  To play fair, Overbay also hit well against RHP last season, with .258/.316/.430 -- obviously, better than Wallace.  However, in 2013 Overbay played for the New York Yankees.  The new Yankee Stadium features a right field that boosts the power numbers of Left-Handed hitters.  This is reflected by Overbay's Home/Away splits:  He hit .286/.352/.446 at home last season but just .197/.240/.343 on the road.

During his upcoming age-37 season, Overbay will probably perform between those rates -- at or below his 3-year levels, listed above.  The Steamer and Oliver projection systems agree.  Steamer projects .233/.306/.379 for an 88 wRC+ and -0.1 WAR, and Oliver projects .232/.290/.365 for a pitiful 79 wRC+ and -0.8 WAR.   Both systems project Brett Wallace to play noticeably better, and Steamer thinks Wallace will be more than a Win above replacement.  Defensively, both are equally bad at playing first base.

So what's the point of the Overbay talk?  The whole thing smells fishy, as if Overbay's agent cast a line about "the Astros' interest, because it would push Wallace" to a reporter, and the reporter bit on it, whereupon it got stuck in his gills.  And thus, a rumor of Overbay-to-Astros was born, artificially inflating the client's value in the eyes of other clubs.  Or so the agent hopes.

Perhaps the Astros offer Overbay a minor-league contract, hoping he can provide some friendly Spring Training competition and veteran know-how that will rub off on the youngsters.  But why would Overbay sign a non-guaranteed contract with the worst team in baseball?  And would a Spring Training presence really be reason enough for the Astros to spend any of their few dimes on him?  He represents no upgrade, he has no trade value, and there is no point.

* * *

* Actually, this isn't true at all.  I spent lots of time doing the church thing...this just sounded like a nice turn-of-phrase.
** I don't get paid, and I don't have a contract.

Stat Glossary:

WAR:  Wins Above Replacement - a measure of a player's value in terms of wins added (or lost) compared to a league-average player.

wRC+:  Weighted Runs Created.  A measure of a player's offensive contribution, compared to a league average of 100.

Slash Stats:  .000/.000/.000 =  Batting Average / On-Base % / Slugging %

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