by Tom Baird
This is the first of many posts on player value and the fun surprises that fans may find when they pay attention to advanced stats. It's easy to get one's mind blown. For example, in 2009, Nyjer Morgan was likely more valuable than Ryan Howard and Hunter Pence, or at least similar in value, since defensive stats are difficult to quantify. This was a year in which those two other players were very good. Howard hit 45 homers while batting .279. As you remember, Nyjer Morgan was not often considered their equal. However, he was at times a fine defensive outfielder and made better contact with the bat in 2009. Howard struck out 657 times and Pence wore his socks too high, so their value suffered. Pence might also have had underwhelming defense and walk rate.
I know what you are thinking. This is mind blowing stuff. Your life just changed. And now, we are going to bring you this kind of exciting information ALL THE TIME??!
Probably. This will PROBABLY be the first of many posts on the subject. If you have spent any time at all following this blog, you know that I have promised several times that I will continue to post on a certain subject, but then have proceeded to fail miserably. Because life moves fast and I'm unorganized, plus my toddler breaks things, I have not always lived up to my promises. But this time... this time, I promise to deliver.
In this series of posts, I plan on expounding on player value, focusing on surprising similarities in value among position players that may be significant. This, after all, was the entire premise of that book about Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill changing baseball. They sought to find market deficiencies that would allow teams with less money to find value in unorthodox ways. At the time, on-base percentage was undervalued. That is no longer the case. The so-called sabermetrics movement was never about OBP or defense or exit velocity. It was always about having all the information available in order to find value where other teams do not. We have seen teams value defense, prospects, controllable youth, older players with a history of success (we call these Sabean's Sweethearts), or even former top prospects, among many many others.
This series will focus on players with similar WAR, using both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference metrics. We will discuss the ways in which the players differ, and the perceived value of such players (to fans and possibly GMs alike, although it's pretty difficult to gauge how teams value players until they acquire them through trade or signing).
What's the point? Well, if your team cannot sign or trade for a bat like Jay Bruce during the offseason, why not trade much less for, say, Jarrod Dyson. The answer to this question likely depends on team need (platoons, defense), personnel (does your outfield defense already suck super bad?), or park factors (are you in Seattle where homers don't exist?). With that said, a team that wants Bruce might not want Dyson, because they might be looking for that power bat. Value is not close to simple. Wrapping up value in a number like WAR does not mean that Dyson is better than Bruce. It means that Dyson holds great value for his defense, and it would be worthwhile for a GM and fans to consider that. Players like Kevin Kiermaier have derived a surprising amount of their value from their defense, and some teams (Rays, Cubs, Athletics, Dodgers) are more willing to pay for that value.
PLAYERS THAT HAVE SIMILAR VALUE, per fWAR:
Jay Bruce and Jarrod Dyson:
Dyson: .246/.328/.370, 7.8% Walk Rate, 15% Strikeout Rate, above average defense, worth 2.1WAR
Bruce: .267/.333/.534, 9% Walk Rate, 22% Strikeout Rate, below average defense, worth 1.9 WAR
Bruce is obviously deriving his 2017 value from power and an increased BABIP (batting average on balls in play). His walk rate is slightly up from last year, as is his ISO, or Isolated Power metric. He is currently tied for ninth in the league with 24 HRs, along with Bryce Harper, and is 18th in the league with a .267 ISO, just above Paul Goldschmidt. These are very good numbers. He is slugging the ball well. He is getting similar contact to last year in regard to exit velocity, but his average launch angle appears dramatically different. His launch angle has increased from around 14 degrees to 19. He is lofting the ball more. Obviously, this has resulted in more homeruns.
Ever since his third season in the league, Jay Bruce has always graded as a well below average defensive outfielder. In fact, FanGraphs places him 15th worst of the Major League Outfielders over the past four seasons, based on their value metric. When he was young, he had one great defensive season and another good one. And then his glove was thrown into a dumpster and set on fire. I'm guessing. He has struggled immensely with defense over the past few years.
As for Dyson, we are actually seeing more of the same from a player that has made a habit of producing stellar defense, average offense, and stellar base running each year for the past five seasons. He has been a 2.5 to 3.0 WAR player almost every year, since the 2012 season ended. His production actually tops that of Bruce over the five year span, by a lot. His power numbers seemed to have ticked up a notch over the past two years (topping out at FIVE HOMERS so far this year), but he continues to essentially be the same player. Dyson does not walk much, but actually walks more than other players with his speed and lack of power. He is not only a fast player, but a skilled baserunner. His base running scores have been positive each year for the past five years, and he has stolen bases with an 85% success rate. In fact, Dyson has scored positively for defense and base running each of the past five years, and has only once scored negatively offensively (in 2014, when he graded only slightly below average). He has actually been a remarkably consistent all around player, like Angel Pagan or a lesser version of Shane Victorino.
Spanning an entire continent, lifelong fans Chris Kubak and Tom Baird take you on a magical, sabermetrically enhanced journey through Major League Baseball.