Defense matters is a common rallying cry among baseball nerds. It is the belief that valuing defense is important beyond simple lip service. That while the readily available defensive metrics leave much to be desired, they help frame the arguments for and against certain players.
As such, players who superficially appear similar are actually evaluated quite differently. Let’s play a little game.
- Player A: .280/.331/.476, 346 home runs, 1215 RBI.
- Player B: .285/.343/.503, 342 home runs. 1227 RBI.
Two players who play the same position and made their Major League débuts in the same seasons (1998). Two players with strikingly similar slash lines, home runs, RBI the whole deal. Comparable players, yes? No.
One of these players is regarded as the best defensive third baseman in the game and has been thought of in this manner for some time. The other guy is biding him time until he can move to first. Player A? Adrian Beltre. Player B? Aramis Ramirez. How does this difference in their defensive reputation’s manifest in their actual production. To the WAR graphs!
Well that is, uh, striking. Adrian Beltre is a Hall of Fame candidate while Aramais Ramirez is merely a very good player over a long period of time. No shame in it, Beltre is just better. And this is after Ramirez put up more than 6 fWAR in 2012.
WAR graphs and stat nerd fart sniffing aside, do the teams of Major League baseball recognize these differences? There is only one way to find out: count the zeros.
- Adrian Beltre, career earnings at completion of current contract: $182,750,000 (via)
- Aramis Ramirez, career earnings at completion of current contract: $137,715,000 (via)
Beltre is one year younger and has one extra year owning on his current contract. He is also a man with and extra $45 million in his bank account. Because he is a better player than Aramis Ramirez (even when we consider those years in Seattle in which his baseball card production dwindled to basically nothing.)
Some might say Beltre is more than $45 million better than Aramis Ramirez and “some” might not be off base in doing so. Quantify the differences however you like, Beltre comes out ahead every single time.
Defense matters. It matters on the field and and it matters in the front office. They know. They all know. The difference between Aramis Ramirez and Adrian Beltre might not be obvious in their batting average and RBI, sometimes you just need to watch the games.