Once again, it’s time for us to take the baseball equivalent of a blind taste test. So far this offseason one of these two players has generated a lot of mandatory contract talk out of Yankee fans, while the other player hasn’t. Both will be available as free-agents in the next two seasons. The general consensus is that one of these players is substantially better than the other, but the purpose for the blind comparison is that the numbers paint a different picture. Please see the table below.
Both of these players play similar positions and the ages listed above are the ages they’ll be on opening day this year. The rest of the data are the players’ career averages, except for UZR which is the career total. I’ve thrown in the wOBA from their best seasons as well.
Clearly, Player A, the player generating more contract buzz, is better than Player B, but it’s closer than one might think. Neither player hits for a particularly high average. Player A has a bit more power while Player B gets on base more. For their careers they’ve been comparably good hitters and both are better than average fielders. The largest difference may actually be what they’ve done in their best career seasons. Player A produced at what amounts to a top 10 clip in that season while Player B was more of a borderline All Star. All things considered, however, if you are anxious to give Player A a contract then you’d also have to consider Player B as well, right?
By now I expect that everyone recognizes that both of these guys are current Yankees. Player A is Curtis Granderson. Player B is Nick Swisher. So far this pre-season the assumption has been that at season’s end the Yankees will probably let Swisher walk and they will exercise their options on Granderson and Robinson Cano.
What the data above show is that this isn’t the dominant strategy one might think, particularly when you consider that the Yankees also have Brett Gardner, who can slot in at center field if Granderson is the player who is let go in the near future. Furthermore, it probably is a no-brainer to keep Cano, but not for the reasons often cited. Cano’s career wOBA is .359, not materially different from Swisher’s. While it is true that over the last three season’s Cano’s wOBA has averaged closer to .375, so has Swisher’s. He posted wOBA’s of .375 and .377 his first two seasons as a Yankee before struggling at the beginning of 2011. The real reason the Yankees are smarter to keep Cano for the long term is that he’s a couple years younger than Granderson and Swisher and he plays a position where offense is at a greater premium. It is not because he projects to be that much greater a run producer over the next five years.
When all is said and done, I still predict that Swisher plays 2013 in a new uniform while Cano and Granderson wind up on the Yankees for several more years, but more due to convenience than superior talent. The team has options on Granderson and Cano for 2013. It doesn’t for Swisher. If the Yankees can only afford to keep two of these three guys moving forward then the player who will become more expensive first is the one who needs to go. Most analysis has acknowledged this fact. What most analysis has not focused on is just how good Swisher actually is. He’s just about as good offensively as Granderson and Cano have been and he’s better than Cano defensively. While cost is a sound reason to let him leave, playing on without him will be more difficult than most Yankee fans are acknowledging.
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