Better Than Who? Surprising NL Player Comparisons

Alex DanversContributor IOctober 9, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 07:  Manny Ramirez #99 of the Los Angeles Dodgers talks with Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals before Game One of the NLDS during the 2009 MLB Playoffs at Dodger Stadium on October 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Sportscasts focus on traditional stats: batting average, home runs, and runs batted in. These stats leave out a lot—things like positional context and defense.  Luckily, internet analysts can get a clearer picture by taking more into account.

Wins above replacement (WAR) is the stat that measures all these factors, side by side.  The final numbers can be a little surprising.  Here are some head-to-head player comparisons that don’t turn out the way you might expect.

Adam LaRoche or Andy LaRoche?

Adam has hit like the second coming of Teixeira since his return to Atlanta, finishing with 25 HR and 83 RBI.  Meanwhile, Andy has been an afterthought all season, with 12 HR and 64 RBI.

But relying on traditional stats doesn’t tell the full story.  Andy is a slick-fielding third baseman, while Adam is a merely adequate first baseman.

The advantage here goes to younger brother Andy.

Andy LaRoche:

WAR: 2.6 Value: $ 11.5 million

Adam LaRoche:

WAR: 2.3 Value: $ 10.5 million

Nate McLouth or Nyjer Morgan?

They started the season playing side by side in the Pittsburgh outfield, but each was traded away in the course of the season.

Heading in to the season, McLouth was coming off a much-heralded 25-25 season, while Nyjer Morgan was fighting for a starting job.  My, how the tables have turned.

McLouth has been disappointing since arriving in Atlanta, while Morgan exploded at the top of the Washington lineup.  The final advantage goes to Morgan.

Nyjer Morgan:

WAR: 4.8 Value: $ 21.8 million

Nate McLouth:

WAR: 3.4 Value: $ 15.5 million

Casey Blake or David Wright?

This should be an easy decision.  And it would be, were we just examining talent.

Wright is a perennial All-Star, a 30-30 threat with a career .309 average at third base.  Casey Blake is a solid but unspectacular third baseman who draws walks.

But in a down season for Wright and a good season for Blake, the advantage goes to the latter.

David Wright:

WAR: 3.3 Value: $ 15.0 million

Casey Blake:

WAR: 4.2 Value: $ 19.2 million

Tony Gwynn Jr. or Manny Ramirez?

Again, according to talent, this should be an easy call.  Manny Ramirez is a first ballot Hall-of-Famer; Tony Gwynn Jr. is a speedy outfielder who will probably spend his career on the bubble—good enough to start, but not good enough to build around.

Both players ended up playing less than a full season—Manny because of a steroid suspension, and Gwynn because he needed to earn his at-bats. But their head-to-head comparison is a lesson in the importance of defense.

Manny has a lead glove in left; Gwynn has a leather ball magnet in center.  Advantage Gwynn.

Tony Gwynn Jr.:

WAR: 2.9 Value: $ 13.2 million

Manny Ramirez:

WAR: 2.6 Value: $ 11.6 million

Miguel Tejada or Brendan Ryan?

Tejada is a former MVP who led the NL in hits this season.  Ryan is a utility player whose hustle and luck won him a starting job.

That it was a very solid offensive season for Tejada only underscores the recurring theme in these comparisons: we underestimate the importance of defense.  Ryan has been more valuable to St. Louis than Tejada was to Houston.

Brendan Ryan:

WAR: 3.2 Value: $ 14.3 million

Miguel Tejada:

WAR: 2.6 Value: $ 11.8 million


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