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The problem with signing Chris Taylor

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Chris Taylor is a hot commodity this offseason due to his versatility and offensive production. He’s also someone I’d steer clear of.

Championship Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Atlanta Braves - Game Six Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Los Angeles Dodgers infielder/outfielder/jack of all trades Chris Taylor is the new hotness right now.

At a time when versatility is highly prized, Taylor is hitting the market as the most versatile player on the market. He played every position except first base, pitcher and catcher in 2021. Over the past several seasons with the Dodgers, he’s provided Los Angeles the flexibility to mix and match with their starting lineups, moving Taylor around to wherever he might be needed. As teams are looking to emulate that approach, they are looking for Chris Taylor-esque players, and, well, whaddya know, Chris Taylor himself is on the free agent market, and they don’t get more Chris Taylor-esque than the original model.

Taylor also provides a solid bat along with his defensive versatility. Over the past four seasons, he has slashed .258/.340/.450, good for a 111 OPS+. He’s not going to carry your offense, but a 111 OPS+ from a guy who you can play all over the field is a very good thing.

And so, while the Dodgers have made the qualifying offer to Taylor, he’s someone who is reportedly generating a lot of interest from teams around the league, and is apparently going to be able to reject qualifying offer and land a big multi-year deal. He’s someone that has been discussed as a great target for the Rangers, who have money to spend and who have a bunch of question marks in their lineup, meaning that Taylor could end up being plugged in at a number of different positions, depending on what other moves are available and who steps up internally.

But I’ve got serious concerns about how Taylor will perform going forward. I don’t want the Rangers to sign him, considering what he is likely to command. And I think that there’s a good chance that, in retrospect, Taylor will end up being one of the worst deals, from the signing team’s standpoint, of this offseason.

A few of the caveats are obvious to everyone. Yes, he’s a versatile defender, but he’s not a good defender, particularly at the premium defensive positions. He’s entering his age 31 season, and defense tends to slip quickly when a player reaches his early 30s. Taylor is fast — he’s in the 91st percentile in sprint speed — but he doesn’t steal much, and speed is, again, some that has a higher slippage rate as a player hits their 30s. He strikes out a ton — he led the N.L. in Ks in 2018, and was in the bottom 10% in K rate in 2021 — although he was one of the best in the league in chase rate in 2021.

All those are knowns. But the biggest concern for me is Chris Taylor’s bat — and in particular, how well he’s going to hit going forward if he signs with the Rangers, or some other new team.

Why do I say that? Well, let’s hop on over to Statcast and take look at Taylor’s data, relative to the league, over the past four years.

From 2018-21, MLB as a whole had a .312 wOBA and a .312 xwOBA.

From 2018-21, Taylor had a wOBA of .338. If we compare him to all hitters that had at least 1000 plate appearances during that time, we see he is 99th out of 246 hitters.

That’s good! His wOBA in that period is 26 points above the league as a whole, and in the top half of the players good enough to have logged 1000 PAs over the last four years.

If we perform the sort of xwOBA, however, things aren’t as sanguine for Taylor. He has an xwOBA of .321 over that period — still better than the league as a whole, but 17 points lower than his actual wOBA. He’s at 143 out of 246 hitters now — slightly below average, and with the same xwOBAs as Colin Moran, Yan Gomes, and David Bote. Oh, and one point better than our old friend Nomar Mazara.

Out of the 246 hitters with 1000 PAs, Taylor is 42nd in the largest positive spread between wOBA and xwOBA. That is a concern going forward. That being said, Taylor fits the sort of profile of a player who often outperforms xwOBA — he’s fast, he’s righthanded (which means he’s harder to shift), and he sprays the ball, with a .344 BABIP for his career.

But what if we look at his home/road splits? wOBA isn’t neutralized for park effects, of course, but Dodger Stadium is considered a neutral park overall, so that shouldn’t impact things, right?

Its interesting, though...when we do run the numbers for wOBA at home since 2018 (minimum 500 PAs), Taylor shoots up the list. His wOBA at home is .370 — 37th out of 240 players. The guys surrounding him are Turners Justin and Trea, Brandon Nimmo, D.J. LeMahieu, Josh Donaldson, Bo Bichette...guys of a certain offensive pedigree. His xwOBA is a fair amount lower, however, at .345, and 76th overall. Its the 28th largest positive spread between wOBA and xwOBA among those 240 players.

Given those results, then, its not surprising what we see when we run the numbers for Taylor on the road. His road wOBA since 2018 is just .309 — a hair below average compared to MLB as a whole, and 176th out of 253 players (again, minimum 500 PAs). Taylor is in the bottom third of that group in road wOBA over that span.

Taylor’s road xwOBA over that span is even worse — .299, putting him in the same range as Kevin Pillar and Josh Reddick and Scott Kingery (oh, and Nomar Mazara again!). He’s #198 out of 253 players in road xwOBA from 2018-21. He’s still exceeding his xwOBA, but to a degree that is less extreme.

So what gives here? Dodgers Stadium is a neutral ballpark, so there’s no reason for Taylor to have such dramatic home/road splits. This must be random fluctuations — just pure chance — or else Taylor just really likes sleeping in his own bed at night and eating home cooking, right?

Maybe. Or maybe it actually is the home park.

You see, while Dodgers Stadium is, overall, a neutral park, the fact that a park plays as a neutral park overall doesn’t mean that there aren’t some biases based on types of outcomes or types of hitters.

For lefthanded hitters, Statcast gives Dodger Stadium an overall park factor of 99 — a hair favoring pitchers, and 17th overall among all 30 parks. For righthanded hitters, Statcast gives Dodger Stadium an overall park factor of 100, which is 12th among all 30 parks.

A very slight edge for righties, overall, but nothing significant.

But the beauty of the Statcast park factor data is that it breaks out and provides park factors for individual elements of offensive performance. You can see the individual components that contribute to the overall park factor for a park.

Dodger Stadium, for example, has a park factor of 101 for wOBA on contact — slightly better than average, and 11th overall. It is 99 for lefthanded hitters, however — 16th overall — while being 103 for righthanded hitters — 5th overall.

Again, interesting, but not necessarily a huge deal. Certainly not enough to explain Chris Taylor slashing .239/.317/.394 on the road the last four years, while slashing .279/.361/.512 at home.

We noted earlier that Taylor has a very good career BABIP — at home over this span, it has been .354, while on the road it has been .332. That helps explains some of the difference, but that spread still isn’t huge, and doesn’t in and of itself suggest a particular advantage at Chavez Ravine.

Taylor’s OBP is higher on the road, but that spread is consistent with the difference between his average at home and on the road, so it isn’t a drawing walks issue.

Taylor’s slugging percentage, however...there’s where we see a big gap. A .394 slugging percentage on the road versus a .512 slugging percentage at home is a 116 point spread, and I would wager it is among the biggest differences among any of the players with at least 500 PAs in that time period.

Taylor’s home xSLG was only .451, interestingly — and that 61 point spread was the 23rd highest out of the qualified batters. Again, Taylor is fast, which will help his slugging percentage since he can turn singles into doubles, but his road SLG/xSLG spread wasn’t nearly that big. He had a .394 road SLG, compared to a .371 road xSLG, which was 82nd among those with at least 500 PAs.

If we go back and look at park factors for righthanded hitters, Dodger Stadium has a park factor of 89 for doubles, 64 for triples...and 133 for home runs. Dodger Stadium is, per Statcast, using a three year rolling average from 2019-21, the most favorable park in MLB for a righthanded hitter to hit home runs.

Chris Taylor would certainly stand to benefit from that. It may well go a long way towards explaining the big gap between his home and road slugging numbers. Taylor had 36 home runs at home from 2018-21, tied for 78th out of 241*. His wRC+ at home was 138 in that time frame — 27th out of 241 batters.

* (I used Fangraphs for this sort, and they gave him 241 rather than 240 players with 500+ home PAs from 2018-21. No idea why the discrepancy).

On the road? Taylor had 21 home runs — tied for 168th out of 254 batters. And his road wRC+ of 91 was 181st out of 254 batters.

Now, to be clear, I am not taking the position that you just take a player’s road numbers and assume that that is what the player will do if he goes to another team. But I do think that there are players who may find their game to be particularly well or poorly suited to the home park they’ve played in the past several years. And I think that may be the case with Taylor.

And if that is correct, and Taylor is, in fact, a True Talent 91 wRC+ player over the past few seasons, or if his future performance is going to be in line with his road x-stats, then whoever signs Taylor is likely to be in for a very big disappointment.

Oh, and here’s one last kicker to all this, for those of you who made it this far, just to throw in one more wrinkle, one more layer of uncertainty, especially for those of you who are now convinced Chris Taylor is a Chavez Ravine mirage.

I ran these numbers from 2018-21. Taylor’s first big year with the Dodgers was in 2017, though. Here are his home/road splits from 2017:

Home: .237/.298/.414, 7 home runs

Away: .336/.405/.574, 14 home runs

Home wOBA/xwOBA: .305/.308

Road wOBA/xwOBA: .413/.365

Chris Taylor was 175th out of 216 hitters in home wOBA in 2017, and 9th out of 220 batters in road wOBA. He was also, coincidentally enough, 9th in spread between wOBA and xwOBA on the road in 2017 — he way outperformed his expected numbers on the road — but even his xwOBA was 35th out of 220 that year.

So what do we make of all this?

I do think there’s a significant likelihood that Taylor disproportionately benefits from his home park, in a way that makes his park-adjusted numbers overstate how well he will do in another park going forward.

But assuming that is the case...what the hell happened in 2017?