Sabermetrics make baseball even more interesting

December, 16, 2008
Non-sabermetricians tend to think of the sabermetric community as a monolith. Which certainly makes it easier to throw out generalizations about moms' basements and never watching real games or talking to real players. But sabermetrics is a science of sorts, and just like every other science, if you bother to check you'll find all sorts of disagreements (most of them friendly, I'm glad to report).

Today's example … Here's J.C. "Sabernomics" Bradbury on the Phillies' new left fielder:

    The Philadelphia Phillies unceremoniously dumped Pat Burrell last week by not offering him arbitration and replacing his roster spot with Raul Ibanez. Ibanez has reportedly agreed to a three-year $31.5 million contract ($10.5 million/year) with the Phillies. The differences between Ibanez and Burrell are subtle: Ibanez will be 37 next year and is left-handed, while Burrell is 32 and right-handed. They are alike in that they are both poor-fielding outfielders with good bats, both with OPS+ consistently in the 120s during the past few seasons.

    With Ibanez, the Phillies will get output similar to what Burrell gave the team. Given his age, injury may be a bit more likely for Ibanez, but I project their values to be close over the next three years. I project Ibanez to be worth $46.5 million ($14.5 million/year) and Burrell to be worth $48 million ($16 million/year) over this time span. I'm unsure of what Burrell was willing to work for, but Ibanez appears to have offered the Phillies a good deal. Burrell may be worth the $14 million he earned last season with the team, but I suspect he was a going to be more selective than Ibanez, who's used to making about half the current annual salary of his new contract.

Got that? According to Bradbury -- a smart guy who has written a well-received book on the subject -- Ibanez will be worth more than $10 million per season.

But of course there are other smart guys, too. Tangotiger is a smart guy who has also written a well-received (at least by me) book, and he has Ibanez's value at around $10 million. Oh, but not per season. For all three seasons.

It will always be like this. One of the fears, I think, of smart guys like Dan Shaughnessy is that when every team is run by smart guys like Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman, the game will be stripped of character and diversity. But that can never happen, any more than paleontology or physics will ever be so thoroughly defined that there's no longer room for differences and disagreements.

Baseball's just as interesting as it's ever been. More interesting, probably. It's just become interesting in different ways. And you can either get on board or you can fall off, screaming all the way to the ground.


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