Last Tuesday, In an article titled ‘ Headley Deal Looks Like A Bargain ‘, Paul Casella, writing, on line, for Sports On Earth, on December 15, compared the deal the Red Sox made for third baseman Pablo Sandoval with the deal the Yankees gave to third baseman Chase Headley to keep him in New York.
San Francisco Giants Free Agent Sandoval signed a five year contract with the Sox worth $95. million or $19. million a year. The Yankees agreed to pay Headley $52. million for four years or $13. million per year to stay in New York.
Sandoval was with the Giants for seven seasons before becoming a Free Agent at the end of last season. During that time, he averaged .294 but, in 2014, hit just .279. Headley, on the other hand, has a career batting average of .265 and hit .262 in 58 games with the Yankees last year after being traded from San Diego.
In comparing the two players, Casella pointed out that, from 2012-2014, Headley’s offensive WAR was 13.6 while Sandoval’s offensive WAR was only 8.2, ( Baseball Reference has it at 8.8 ). As far as defensive WAR was concerned, Headley was 2.4 for that period while Sandoval was -0.1.
If you have followed baseball as closely and as long as I have, these new statistics, especially what they call the Advanced Defensive Metrics which gives you the defensive WAR number don’t make too much sense but you can’t watch a baseball game or read a baseball article without some ‘expert’ quoting them. WAR, by the way, stands for Wins Above Replacement.
According to Baseball Reference, which I irreverently refer to as the bible in these matters, offensive WAR is ‘ A single number that presents the number of wins a player added to the team above what a replacement player would add ‘. That same publication defines defensive WAR as ‘ A defensive measure of wins above replacement, but given only the defensive stats of the player and his position adjustment ‘.
If that doesn’t confuse you altogether, there is another statistic which Casella did not refer to, the Rtot which Baseball Reference is ‘ The number of runs above or below average the player was worth based on the number of plays made. This number combines the Rtz, Rdp and Rcatch numbers into a total defensive contribution ‘. By the way, Headley had a 23 Rtot last year compared to Sandoval’s mere 8.
All this advanced Sabermetrics doesn’t do a thing for me. I am from the KISS school of analysis, Keep It Simple Stupid. A lot of major league baseball teams, in fact just about all of them, are making decisions these days based upon these new formulas, and there seems to be a new one every day, that are unproven and theoretical at best.
Ever since Billy Beane, the Oakland Athletics Guru, was idolized in the book Money Ball, teams have been reducing their scouting staffs and relying more and more on computer models to make their personnel decisions. Don’t get me wrong, some of Beane’s original ideas had merit. For example, he and his Sabermetrics people relied on a batter’s on base percentage and factors such as the percentage of time he put a ball in play as opposed to striking out in determining the value of a batter’s performance.
Both teams should benefit from the signings of Sandoval and Headley and it’s hard to tell which will be better especially relying on Sabermetrics for your information. The first figures I look at are batting performance, specifically batting average and on base percentage. Batting average, in case you didn’t know, is basically the percentage of times a batter gets a hit as opposed to making an out. Really a very simple measure of performance.
Headley hit .262 with the Yankees last year in 58 games. Sandoval played 157 games and hit .279 with the Giants. The difference between a .262 hitter and a .279 hitter, based on 500 at bats in a 162 game season is 8.5 hits or one hit every 19 games.
Both are good fielders but Sandoval struck out only 85 times with the Giants in 157 games while Headley struck out 122 times in 135 games between San Diego and New York so Sandoval puts the ball in play more than Headley, yet Headley’s on base percentage was .352 and Sandoval’s .335, pretty close. Headley is two years older than Sandoval but may age better than Sandoval due to the Panda’s tendency to carry extra weight.
I don’t need those mystical formulas to come to two conclusions about the relative value of these two players or any others. Either one should be an asset to their chosen team. On the other hand, either one, or both, could have a bad season and no one can guarantee which it will be, no matter what method of evaluation we use.
Whatever they do, good season or bad, high WAR or low WAR, they will both get their multimillion dollar salary and we will gladly pay exorbitant ticket prices for the privilege of watching them.
My feeling is that the proven method of having experienced, retired players scout the prospects, evaluating their potential, noting their performance in terms of batting average and on base percentage gives you a much better picture of a player’s future performance than a bunch of figures based on nebulous numbers based in theory.
Third basemen are hitters first and fielders incidentally so who cares about their defensive WAR anyway.