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, all the time

The slugger vs. ace debate is one I've pondered often. Your post inspired me to take a long, detailed look at it.

Although a pitcher only plays once every 5 days, he has MUCH more control over the outcome of one individual game than a hitter, who only has 4 or 5 chances to contribute on offense, as well as a few plays on the field per game. An ace pitcher, meanwhile, has 30 or so match-ups with hitters with which to make a mark on a single game

Then, you also have to consider the availability/scarcity of sluggers and aces. Doesnt it seem like there are a lot more sluggers out there than ace pitchers? In that case, an ace might be more valuable, because he's harder to come by.

Since there are several people (sabremetricians) who specialize in assigning "value" to player's achievements, I figured that would be a good place. It's safe to assume that Johan Santana is the best pitcher in baseball, and he definitely was for 2006. I figued I would compare Johan to last year's top hitters and see who comes out as more "valuable"

Johan's VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) last year was 79.6, which suggests that he "prevented" 79.6 more runs from scoring than an unheralded AAA call-up would have (think Matt DeSalvo, Chase Wright, or someone of that caliber).

4 hitters had a higher VORP than that last year, namely Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Derek Jeter, and Travis Hafner.

Plus, VORP is an offense-only stat that does not account for stellar defense (which Pujols possesses) or stellar base-running (which Jeter possesses)

For the current season, Jake Peavy leads all pitchers with a VORP of 65.4. Once again, 4 hitters have a higher VORP than the best pitcher. In this case, it is A-Rod, Magglio, Ortiz, and Hanley Ramirez.

so, it's not looking good for pitchers so far.

The Hardball Times (www.thehardballtimes.com) keeps track of a stat called "Win Shares", which they describe as "a very complicated statistic that takes all the contributions a player makes toward his team’s wins and distills them into a single number that represents the number of wins contributed to the team, times three."

In this case, you get 30 hitters with higher Win Shares before you get to the first pitcher, Johan Santana.

Looking even worse for pitchers now...

Another thing to consider is injury risk. Pitchers are far more prone to getting inured and losing effectiveness, whereas sluggers are usually consistently good for an extended period of time. There are exceptions of course (Griffey Jr.), but for the most part, I think there's less injury risk in position players.

So, all in all, I think I'd rather have an elite hitter (A-Rod, Ortiz, Pujols, etc.) than an elite pitcher (Johan, Oswalt, etc.)


Great research. I think the knee-jerk reaction is to value a pitcher over a hitter, probably because pitching dominates in the post season. In Owings' case, I think he'd help the team much more as a middle-of-the-lineup bat than he would at the back end of the rotation (possibly middle of the rotation down the road).

Tom that was awesome info on pitchers vs. batters. It eliminates a lot of the subjectivity and looks at the numbers. And you are very right that a pitcher is more injury prone and more likely to lose effectiveness.

I had always favored pitchers over hitters. The Phillies
almost changed this bias and nearly had me believing that an explosive offense could overcome bad pitching. But we lost Utley, Victorino and Bourne and still managed to win. Then we lose Cole Hamels and lose to stinkers like the Marlins and fall from contention. The value of good pitchers can't be measured in statistics alone. With all the hitter friendly parks, there are more good hitters than there are good pitchers. Good pitchers are harder to find, less likely to be acquired and seem best if developed in your own system. You better have 'em in your system, as trading for them is more likely to be a disappointment.

In value of acquired hitters vs. pitchers, the better value appears to be the hitters. Gagne vs. Texieria or Zito vs. Sheffield.... Texieria and Sheff have been more productive. And it seems less likely you will get value out of a pitcher acquired in free agent signings or trades than a guy you bring up in your own farm system. Wang, Hughes and Chamberlain have been more valuable to the Yankees than Iagwa and Pavano (extreme example). Kenrick and Hamels have been more valuable to the Phillies than Garcia or Eaton. Pitchers acquired in big trades/free agent signings seem more likely to be damaged goods or disappointments.

It all comes down to balance. Good hitting alone can't get you to the playoffs. You still have to have someone on the mound capable of keeping the game within reach. Good pitchers are harder to find than good hitters. A good pitching staff can carry a below average lineup but a good lineup can't carry a pitching staff that sucks. ( San Diego vs. Philadelphia).

Here's a thought... would the Ankiel story had even been made public if he were still a pitcher? While sluggers are villified as 'roid/HGH users, folks seem to look the other way with pitchers, probably because there aren't as many good pitchers as there are good hitters. Suspect 'roid Pitchers seem to get a free pass (Gagne).

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Take the pitcher every time.
Over a five game stretch, the pitcher would pitch once, and face about 30 hitters. Whereas, a hitter would have about 25 plate appearances and get pitched around every time.

I'd rather have Lincecum shutting down Hamilton than have Hamilton getting nothing to hit. Just look at the 2010 world series to see what good pitching can do to good hitting.

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