Remember yesterday when I cherry picked some stats and suggested that, despite superficially similar stat lines, defense makes a huge difference in the way players are regarded and paid. It was a cute exercise but hardly a vigorous study into the numerous factors informing players contract status.
In that example, some in the comments and on twitter astutely pointed out that Aramis Ramirez and Adrian Beltre are not exactly apples to apples comparisons due to the respective times they hit free agency. Beltre is a better player who, in the end, was going to end up better compensated than Aramis Ramirez over the span of their careers (barring something unforseen.)
The same claim can’t quite be made at other positions.
Coco Crisp is the proud owner of one strange career. The things he doesn’t do well (hit for power, throw the baseball with oomph and anger) tend to overwhelm that which he does well (run after fly balls, get on base, steal bases after accomplishing the former).
As such, Coco Crisp moves around a lot. He came up with Cleveland, moved to Boston in a trade before being traded to Kansas City, where he left as a free agent. Signed for a relative pittance by Oakland, Crisp then re-signed for two more years last winter.
Compare his career arc with that of Shane Victorino. Victorino was famously claimed in the Rule 5 draft by the Phillies after bouncing around the minors for a few years. Victorino found a home in Philly, playing a pivotal role in the Phils five consecutive NL East titles.
Is comparing these two players fair? Baseball Reference thinks so, listing Crisp as Victorino’s number 2 comp through age 31, number 7 comparable player overall. They both broke in 2002, with Victorino needing a few more seasons before he became an everyday player.
As far as WAR is concerned, they are very close. Crisp first hit free agency at age 30 and will earn $43,184,299 by the end of his current deal. Victorino signed a three-year extension with the Phillies after his first year of arbitration eligibility, putting his free agency off until age 32. His career earnings by the end of his current deal with the Red Sox? $65,645,000.
Again, these two men possess similar slash lines and similar WAR totals for their careers – thanks in no small part to Victorino’s three years in the wilderness. The most striking difference is power – Victorino shows plenty for a center fielder, particularly in his breakout 2011 season. Crisp has none. Both center fielders. Victorino is the better hitter, Victorino is paid better, even after pushing his free agency back with an early extension.
Shane Victorino is a better player than Coco Crisp. Crisp might be undervalued a little and Victorino was probably overpaid for his future production by the Red Sox but the market did its thing with these two players.
Defense matters..except when it doesn’t. When choosing between two competent defenders as premium positions, can we safely say offense will win out in the end? If not safely, at least recklessly. Homers go an awful long way.