Last week I had some fun putting the career statistics of Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson side by side on screen, without identifying who the players were. Since this is still the pre-season and meaty topics are running short, I figure I’ll replicate this formula, at least once more. Below you’ll see the statistics of two players who play the same position, and have similar all around games. The ages listed are how old one each was after being an everyday big leaguer for three full years.
The last time I did this my aim was to show how a narrative was forming around two players based on the trajectories they had taken to achieving roughly the same career value. The Yankees and their fans are already assuming that Nick Swisher will walk at the end of this year while Curtis Granderson will get a big contract when the time comes. The data show that both players have generated about the same value over their careers. The reason Granderson is currently valued more highly in contract considerations is because he is younger, but also because he had such a large 2011. Taken in total he hasn’t been all that much better than Swisher, so it is risky to assume the Yankees can replace Swisher easily.
This time my aim is to demonstrate the risks inherent in allowing the kinds of player narratives that are emerging with Swisher and Granderson to reach their conclusions without intervention. In the table above Player A and Player B both play the same position, very well. They both do a lot of their damage with their legs, stealing bases to extend hits. Offensively their total production is similar, but one player has a lot more power while the other has substantially better on base skills. In total, however, over their first three full seasons in the majors they’ve given their respective teams comparable production.
There are two critical differences between them, however. The first is obvious. Player A is several years older than Player B. The second is a bit dishonest, on my part. Player B has more major league service than Player A. Player B is actually 30 years old right now. To make a fair comparison between their production I had to calculate Player B’s career totals only through the age when he had as much professional experience as Player A has now. That skews the data toward Player A. He’s currently in his prime, while Player B was entering his prime at the time that he’d compiled the above statistics.
There is one final, key difference, but it’s not something that is relevant to their statistics or how they were compiled. At the time Player B was the age Player A is now he was being viewed as a shoo-in for a nine figure pay-day, one that he would eventually receive. Player A, on the other hand, despite being on what is more or less a similar albeit older career trajectory has to fight for every opportunity he gets and isn’t being viewed as some one with a big payout in his future.
Player A is Brett Gardner, right now. Player B is Carl Crawford, after he’d played about as many seasons as Gardner has to this point, excluding incomplete seasons when either player was bouncing between AAA and the majors. Shockingly similar in production, aren’t they?
Do not think this means I believe Brett Gardner deserves a $100 million contract. By now it should be clear to regular visitors to this site that I believe only a small handful of players deserve that kind of money. Instead, my aim is to show how ridiculous Carl Crawford’s contract was. I acknowledge that the time period for Crawford that I’ve selected omits his best seasons, when he averaged a wRC+ of about 120. However, armed even with that information, what would have been fair value? $60 million? $80 million? $100 million? My gut tells me $80 million over six years would have been a better estimate, and even then generous for a player who is only going to slow down in the years ahead. If Brett Gardner can continue to perform well over the next three years, does anyone think he’d get offered a dime more than $20 million, and only that if he’s lucky?
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