What Is Greg Bird's Ceiling?

Greg Bird is the story of Spring Training. He's hit .447/.527/1.085 with a 17.5% strikeout rate and 14% walk rate. Bird wants the season to start yesterday. The dude is clearly locked in, and definitely healthy.

How good could Greg Bird be? The default comparison so far has been John Olerud. Both batters are lanky White guys who play first base and like to take walks. Olerud hit an impressive .295/.398/.465, 57 fWAR for his career, so that would be a pretty successful outcome for Bird. But is the comparison apt? Let's take a look.

John Olerud's calling card was plate discipline. He walked in 14% of his plate appearances during his career against just an 11% strikeout rate. He was more of a doubles hitter than a power hitter. Olerud hit just 24 home runs at his peak, usually sitting in the mid-teens. 

Bird is first and foremost a patient hitter, but doesn't have the pure contact skills of Olerud. His strikeout rate generally sat in the low-20s in the minors, although he improved to the high-teens in 2015. He compensates with a little bit more power. He slugged .483 in very tough minor league ballparks for a left-handed power hitter, in an age with generally less power than the high-flying 90s of Olerud's career. He also takes slightly more walks than Olerud ever did.

I don't think Olerud is a terrible comparison, but Bird's profile is a bit different. PECOTA's 90% projection is .282/.372/.528 - more of a three true outcomes guy than Olerud ever was. That said, the projection systems don't handle Bird's missing 2016 season well, so we should take the projected batting lines with a grain of salt. 

A quick tour through the best first basemen in the major leagues finds a lot of players with Greg Bird's profile. Paul Goldschmidt, Freddie Freeman, Brandon Belt, Matt Carpenter and Carlos Santana all have very similar profiles (low-20s K%, low-10s BB%, 25-30 HR power). He looks a lot more like those guys than he does the next tier of Jose Abreu, Mike Napoli, Travis, Shaw, Chris Davis and Eric Hosmer. 

So, pretty good? Those players were all in the 4-6 win range last season. That seems reasonable for Bird's best seasons, if not his average season. Freeman, for example, was a 6-win player in 2017 by hitting .302/.400/.569. In 2015, Freeman was a 3.4-win player when he hit .276/.370/.471. I'm betting Bird has a similar range.

Is it just me, or does it seem that we're all underrating Greg Bird? Slugging one thousand in the Spring doesn't hurt, but Bird's 2015 season should be prescient enough. Brian Cashman once referred to Bird as his #1 prospect (above Sanchez). I think it's time we start treating him like a player with that kind of pedigree.