Posted by: Larry Smith Jr. | July 20, 2006

Why Bobby Abreu is Better Than Alfonso Soriano

EDIT: 

I wrote this piece prior to the existance of this blog. In order to maintain continuity of my writing and to get as much of it into one place as possible, I added this post at a later date and time stamped it to the date and approximate time that I originally wrote it. This is the reason why it appears before the “introduction” blog entry. It is because this piece actually predates the blog. What follows below is the original entry as written whenever I wrote it.

America is an interesting nation. It is a nation that builds much of its identity from the composition of its citizenry. The various “races” and ethnic backgrounds of the American people are part of what makes America what it is, and is one of the defining features of the nation. Unfortunately, despite the commonly accepted myth of the “melting pot”, America tends to be more like the palette of an oil painter, where the various colors are carefully and deliberately placed in their proper place off to themselves, only to mix after an extended period of time close to when the painting is finished. Fortunately, this separation is not dedicated to all endeavors. One of the events that most binds Americans of different backgrounds (and in fact, people of different backgrounds the World over) is that of Sports. Sports bind people of various ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds – Often leading to raucous and dedicated debates and conversations that would lead an onlooker ignorant to the sports world to believe that these people were very alike indeed.

In the city of Detroit and the surrounding metropolitan region, the “flavor of the day” in terms of great sports debates circles around the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers, who for most are the newest hippest thing, have catapulted themselves to an incredible 64-31 start to the season, which places them five and a half games ahead of any other Major League team. This start, coupled with renewed fan enthusiasm that has remained dead for far too long in far too many (so called) fans, has led to the latest not-so-greatest fan obsession: Trade Talk. Most of the trade talk is silly at best and ridiculous at worst, but a rejuvenated and hungry fan base has made this issue the number one obsession of the month of July.

In this month of July, the two biggest names that have been bandied about in relation to the Detroit Tigers on the rumor mill, are Philadelphia Phillies Outfielder Bob Kelly Abreu, and Washington Senators (some of us refuse to acknowledge silly team names) Outfielder Alfonso Guilleard Soriano. There has been much debate amongst fans as to which player the Tigers should acquire, and fans have collectively shown froth at the mouth when the idea of either is brought up in seriousness.

It should be duly noted that a trade for either player would not be particularly smart, unless very minor players are involved. The Detroit Tigers are a team that is still lacking in organizational depth and top shelf level players. If we are to assume that recent first round selection Andrew Miller signs, the organization has exactly three top shelf minor league players: Miller, Mud Hens starting pitcher Humberto Sanchez, and Whitecaps Outfielder Cameron Maybin. They are in possession of other players who could be useful major leaguers. Seawolves pitcher Jair Jurrgens (age 20) projects as a middle of the rotation starter, and at his age there’s still an opportunity for him to pull a Joel Zumaya and add a few miles to his fastball. Mud Hens Outfielder David Espinosa is a former first round pick of the Cincinnati Reds, acquired by the Tigers for Brian Moehler four years ago. He never panned out to his full potential, but he is a 24 year old switch-hitter who has an OPS over .850 at AAA. He is a terrible fielder and has been switched around often in his career, the largest impediment to his ascent to the majors. The Mud Hens have a pair of former first round starters in Colby Lewis (Rangers) and Chad Durbin (Royals) who have put arm troubles behind them and appear capable of a career resurrection similar to that of another current Tiger and former first round pick with a history of arm troubles (Jason Grilli, Marlins). There are other players in the lower minors worth keeping an eye on. As a whole, there is talent there, but when it comes to top shelf talent, there are truly only three guys in the organization – One of whom is unsigned, and the other that is playing Low-A ball (albeit playing very well). Therefore, any trade that the Tigers make, should include only their mid or lower tier prospects. They simply do not have the organization depth to replace a high end prospect, and they have been too bad too long for fans to see selling their soul for one non-guaranteed season as a viable option. It is great that the team is doing well, but nobody wants them to do well for only one year. The goal is to be great every year, and teams simply do not get that way by wrecking the balance of their organization at the first taste of success.

When we accept the fact that making anything but a particularly lopsided (a la Carlos Guillen for Ramon Santiago and Juan Gonzalez) trade would not be smart, we can properly assess the merits of Bobby Abreu and Alfonso Soriano. To the average fan, this would appear to be a tough choice. To the hardened observer, the only thing that makes it tough is that Soriano is having the best year of his career – The first year in his career where his performance was even in Abreu’s stratosphere. In fact, as shocking as this may sound to studious observers, Soriano is having a better season in 2006 than Abreu. Imagine that!

Yet, 95 games does not a season make, and given the Tigers needs and the career accomplishments of the two players, a simple comparison will easily turn forth the revelation that Abreu is the obvious best choice for the Tigers pursuit – If they were to participate in such an unnecessary pursuit. Abreu is a tremendous player who is certain to end his career firmly entrenched at the head of the class when they announce the inductees to the Hall of Very Good. Depending on the year that he elects to retire, he may be the most Hall of Fame caliber player to gain HoVG enshrinement, lacking the counting numbers (2500 hits, 300/300 club, etc.) or tenure necessary for enshrinement to the HoF. He receives little recognition due to the fact that he has spent the majority of his career buried on a mediocre team in a city most known for its ravenous fans. He’s played in three career playoff games, for an unremarkable Astros team in 1997 that was swept in short order by the Atlanta Braves.

By comparison, Soriano is an above average player who has gained fame and the popular reputation of being “great” (instead of his true status of “above average”) via three avenues. First, he made his fame as a Yankees player. The average fan associates anything related to the Yankees with “great”, even when it is not true. He has played in 38 post-season games with the pinstriped uniform draping his shoulders. 38 times for fans to hear Joe Buck and Tim McCarver gush over how great he is. Never mind the fact that he’s a career .233 hitter in 146 post-season at-bats, with an OBP of .287 and a slugging percentage of (most atrocious of all) .336. The average fan need not see this. They just know he was a Yankee, that they’ve seen him 38 times in October, and that Tim McCarver says great things about him. Second, Soriano was the centerpiece return in a trade for the greatest player of his era. To the average fan, when one is the key player received in a trade for Alex Rodriguez, he must be at least really good. Major League General Managers never make mistakes…………do they? Finally, Soriano has good glamour statistics. Those stats that most fans fall in love with, that either do not matter, or are less important than the ones that do matter – Which Soriano is either poor in or above average in. They see that he’s been in the “30-30” club three times, but miss the fact that he has a terrible career OBP of .324, and a very good but hardly legendary career slugging percentage of .508. For an accurate comparison as to how good .500 is (and it is very good), the league average over his career is .431. Ted Williams ended at .634. Ken Griffey Jr.? .561. Bobby Abreu? .508.

 

 

  Abreu – BA/OBP/Slg. 

Soriano – BA/OBP/Slg. 

Abreu – SB, SB Pct. 

Soriano – SB, SB Pct. 

2002 

308/413/521 300/332/547 31/.721 41/.759
2003 

300/409/468 290/338/525 22/.710 35/.814
2004 

301/428/544 280/324/484 40/.889 18/.783
2005 

286/405/474 268/309/512 31/.775 30/.938
2006 

288/438/455 280/353/573 20/.833 23/.767
Career 

302/413/508 280/324/508 261/.761 192/.793
 

Without using complicated statistics such as VORP and Win Shares, keeping it basic with more recognizable statistics allows us to put their contributions in order with less noise. There are some noise in the numbers, but less than what exists from counting stats. It should be duly noted that both players are very durable. Since 2002, Abreu has played in all 162 games once (last season) and has played in no less than 157 games every season. The last time he played in less than 151 games was 1997. Soriano has played in 156-158 games in four of the last five years, and he played 145 games in 2004 with Texas. Therefore, both players score points for their durability, but more importantly, there are no issues with comparative sample sizes since each player has played in roughly the same amount of games over the last five years, although Abreu has roughly 500 more games played in his career.

The above listed statistics in the chart are essentially measurements of offensive contributions. There is the batting average, a measure of how often a player gets a hit in an at-bat where he does not walk. This statistic measures a very specific skill and is valuable in evaluating that skill, but has low to moderate value when assessing a player’s overall contribution, particularly at the major league level (In the minors BA is more important as is can show that a player is poor at making contact and may have a mechanical flaw that will make his overall performance decline at a higher level. At the major league level a player can still be relatively successful in spite of a low BA if he contributes well in other ways, a la Adam Dunn).

Following the batting average is the on-base percentage. The on-base percentage measures the percentage of times that a player reaches base per plate appearance. OBP is probably the most important single metric (though no metric is without flaw or wholly telling without context) with regard to offensive contribution. If a player does not get on base, he cannot score. There are only two instances in baseball whereupon a player can score without reaching base, and both are very infrequent. There is the error, and there is the dropped third pitch strikeout. If players do not get on base, they cannot become RBI’s for later players. The name of the game is to score, and the first and most important step to scoring is reaching base. On-Base percentage is a measurement of a player’s ability to reach base, thus putting his team in the best position to score.

Past the batting average is the slugging percentage. If the batting average measures a player’s ability to get a hit (when he is not getting a walk), and the on-base percentage measures a player’s ability to reach base, the slugging percentage measures how successful a player is on the occasions when he does get a hit. Even a player with a low BA can be valuable with a high enough slugging percentage and a moderate to good OBP, because it shows that they still reach base fairly often (thus giving their team the opportunity to score) and that when they do make contact, they are very successful. Slugging percentage is an above-moderate to highly important statistic in terms of performance judgment.

Finally, there are the stolen bases, in juxtaposition with stolen base percentage. In general, the stolen base is a poor use of an offense. The most valuable thing an offense possesses is the out. Without outs, an offense could theoretically never end. Stolen bases often are throwing away outs. Therefore, the ability to steal a base is better measured by the percentage of bases stolen than by the raw number. It is generally accepted that stealing bases at a rate lower than 75% is a gratuitous waste of outs. Rickey Henderson, the best base stealer of all time in terms of raw numbers, was also one of the best of all time in terms of percentage. He had a career percentage of .808, or a 80.8% success rate, which indicates that sending him at the least, was a good idea. For the purpose of the chart, both the raw number and percentages were included.

Armed with a proper understanding of the meaning behind the numbers, we can begin to attack the question of which player is better between Abreu and Soriano. One of the things that jumps out of the chart is the fact that Soriano is posting a God-Like .573 slugging percentage this season, which indicates that he is pounding everything in sight. Another thing that jumps out is that Abreu is posting an equally God-Like OBP of .438. Looking in the narrow scope of this season, it is difficult to argue that Abreu is having a better season, though the disparity is not great in the least. Abreu is slightly better at getting hits. He’s dramatically more successful at reaching base. However, Soriano is overwhelmingly more successful when his bat connects. Abreu has been the more effective base-stealer. It would seem that within the scope of this season, one could flip a coin and either player would be equally effective.

However, it is short-sighted to focus solely on offensive numbers without context within the scope of a single season. While a brief defensive analysis will be examined later, looking over recent previous seasons and the careers are also in order, as they are the best predictors of future success. Abreu is 32 and Soriano is 30, so they are similar in age and although Abreu is closer to his theoretical decline age, both are at essentially the same point in their respective careers. This is important to note, because it means that both have similar odds to improve, maintain, or decline in respect to their career means.

Upon inspection of the last five seasons, one will find some consistencies in the trends. To note, Abreu has consistently hit better and been dramatically more successful at reaching base than Soriano. In four of five seasons, Soriano has been better once making contact. Soriano has been the better base stealer, though Abreu has been over the 75% threshold in each of the last three seasons. Upon inspection of the career numbers, one finds that Abreu has been considerably better at getting hits, drastically better at reaching base (and thus drastically better at putting his team in a position to score runs, and thereby win games), and equally successful when making contact.

To compare their contributions and what they mean, the league average batting average over their careers (before ’06) is .269. Soriano clears the mark, but Abreu easily clears it. In Soriano’s career, the league average OBP (before ’06) is .336, and Soriano is 12 points short of the mark. In Abreu’s career the average (before ’06) is .342, and he is head and shoulders above his peers. Both easily clear the mark in slugging, where the league average is .431 in Soriano’s career and .433 in Abreu’s. Unfortunately the stolen base percentage average statistics are unavailable.

In the scope of their careers and recent seasons, it has been shown that Abreu’s contribution is mightily greater compared to his league to Soriano’s. Only in this season has Soriano been able to contribute in a manner that is equal to Abreu, but considering that Abreu reaches base 43.8% of the time that he comes to the plate, it appears that he is making an exceptional contribution to his offense as well.

Due to Soriano’s recent position change, there is very little in the way of scouting reports readily available to the public with regard to his outfield play. If we are to compare the two players based on what is available, it would appear that Abreu is a clear leader in this category as well. Soriano has been categorized as someone who makes lazy errors that seem to come when he gets tired. Abreu, on the other hand, has been categorized as a player that has worked hard to go from a player who was indifferent at best to a more alert outfielder more able to get to the tough balls with a strong throwing arm.

A quick search for detailed defensive metrics will not turn up much, as precise defensive metrics are still a growing area of baseball research. However, in one search regarding this season, neither Abreu nor Soriano showed up on the lists of best and worst National League defenders – Though Abreu did show up on the list of most valuable overall (offense plus defense) players in the National League (ranked 5th out of 20.…behind Albert Pujols, Carlos Beltran, Miguel Cabrera, and Lance Berkman, in that order) on which Soriano is absent.

Finally, with it being well established that Abreu has been a more valuable offensive and defensive player over his career, and an slightly lesser at worst player in this season, one must look at this in the context of team need. Again, a chart is in order:

 

  Abreu Soriano Comerica Park
2002 .821 (28) .957 (16) .865 (23)
2003 .900 (20) .933 (18) .892 (23)
2004 1.024 (12) 1.217 (2) .923 (20)
2005 1.161 (2) 1.076 (6) .959 (22)
2006 .989 (16) 1.092 (8) .972 (17)
 

Listed in the above chart, are the “park factor” for the home park in which each player has played, along with the park factor for Comerica Park. Essentially, park factor is the effect that the home ballpark has on offense. The “base” number is 1.000, which indicates a neutral park. The smaller number indicates that it is more of a pitchers park, and the larger number indicates a hitters park. The number in parentheses is the rank (with 1 representing the greatest hitters park and 30+ representing the greatest pitchers park) compared to other major league clubs. In ‘02 & ‘03 Abreu played at Veteran’s Stadium while Soriano played at Yankee Stadium. Since ‘04, Abreu has played at Citizen’s Bank Park, while Soriano played ‘04 and ‘05 at Ameriquest Field and has played ‘06 at RFK Stadium. What becomes readily obvious in the above chart is the fact that save for 2005, Abreu has been putting up better offensive numbers than Soriano under harsher circumstances. It also is apparent that either player is likely to suffer reduced production at Comerica Park, which is a middle-lower park in terms of being favorable to hitters. It has graded as a pitchers park every year in the last five years (though becoming increasingly neutral) and has consistently been in the lower half of league rankings.

When you consider that Abreu has put up better numbers in harsher circumstances, and that both players are likely to suffer a reduction in production upon placement in Comerica Park, it then becomes paramount to note that Abreu hits left-handed in a park that is far more forgiving to left-handed hitters – Meaning that the inevitable offensive drop that would come from insertion into the park will likely be lessened than if Soriano were placed in a similar situation.

In conclusion, we have determined that Abreu has been a consistently better hitter than Soriano. He has been dramatically better at getting on base, which is the most important factor in giving your team the opportunity to score runs and by association, win games. He has achieved equal success when he makes contact. He is slightly worse at stealing bases. He is a better defender. He has made these superior offensive contributions playing in stadiums where it is more difficult for hitters to achieve success. And if either player were to move to Comerica Park, they generally would be moving to a more difficult park in which to achieve success. Abreu has proven that he can succeed in such a circumstance before, and even in the event that one is not impressed with that above proven fact, a simply glance at the park’s dimensions shows that they clearly favor the left-handed Abreu over the right-handed Soriano. To boot, Soriano would be a rental player whose contract is up after the season and may not ever figure in to the future Tigers organization, while Abreu still could contribute over the next two seasons while the Tigers continue to stock their minor league system. All available signs and metrics insist that Abreu is a far superior player to Alfonso Soriano, and therefore, if the Tigers do in fact make the hasty and unnecessary decision to make a big splash in the trade market, the choice should be obvious. You go with the dramatically better player, Bobby Abreu.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: