Here are two 2013 stat lines for two MLB players through July 6th (source: www.baseballreference.com)
.300 BA/.353 OBP/ 13 HR/.492 SLG% (337 PA)
.295 BA/.379 OBP/10 HR/.453 SLG% (321 PA)
One of these belongs to Adrian Gonzalez of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the other, to Daniel Nava of the Boston Red Sox. Maybe you follow the Dodgers or Red Sox closely enough to know the difference without looking it up; maybe you don’t. (The number of plate appearances is the best hint.) In any case, they are almost entirely indistinguishable.
Here are the 2013 salaries for Gonzalez and Nava in no particular order. You should have absolutely no trouble telling the difference.
When the Red Sox sent Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett to the Dodgers in the gloomy days of 2012, I understood the logic behind the move: you lose an elite, middle-of-the-order hitter, but you get a $280(+) million salary dump and some pitching prospects in return. At the time, I thought it was a bold and savvy move, especially since the Dodgers sent very solid pitchers in Webster and De La Rosa, and doubly especially because they didn’t even try to strong-arm the Red Sox into taking on some of the $280 million obligation; in hindsight, the move looks absolutely brilliant. I was worried about the Red Sox organization’s ability to replace Gonzalez’s production in the aggregate, but I shouldn’t have been.
It’s incorrect to talk about Nava and Gonzalez as direct substitutes for one another—they don’t even play the same position, usually—but the value! O, the value! The $280 million the Red Sox saved by getting rid of Gonzalez, Beckett, and Crawford paid for guys like Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Koji Uehara, and Ryan Dempster; none of them has been through-the-roof amazing this year, but without them, there’s no way the Red Sox would be leading the AL East (and all of MLB) with 54 wins. You also can’t undersell the importance of David Ortiz, as he’s hitting a cool .321 BA/.409 OBP/17 HR/.615 SLG% at age 37, he’s the heart of the team, and the Red Sox needed the money to resign him over the offseason.
I love the way Daniel Nava plays. In case you didn’t figure out whose stat line was whose, Nava’s was the one with the higher OBP (.379), a stat for which he works his tail off every time he comes to the plate. He doesn’t swing at pitches out of the strike zone very often, he draws a ton of walks, and he helps the Red Sox achieve their 4.06 team Pitches/Plate Appearance figure (league average 3.87, Nava’s individual average 4.20). This kid went undrafted, by the way.
You can draw a lot of conclusions about the World-Series-winning teams from the last few years—they had great pitching, they had timely hitting, etc.—but my favorite tidbit is that pretty much every one of them got significant value from unexpected sources. In 2007, Mike Lowell destroyed the regular season, kept it going during the post season, and ended up winning the World Series MVP. The 2008 Phillies had Jayson Werth; the 2009 Yankees had a resurgent Hideki Matsui (WS MVP); Edgar Renteria in 2010 (WS MVP); David Freese in 2011 (WS MVP); Marco Scutaro in 2012—you see the pattern?
Many of these guys were considered past their primes (Matsui, Lowell, Renteria) or just generally mediocre (Werth, Scutaro, Freese). I’m not saying it was completely out of the question for them to perform well when they did, but if you had tried to trade them before the season started—or in most of their cases, even at the trade deadline—you wouldn’t have been able to scare up much interest, and certainly not for a great return.
Value that you didn’t think you would have—that’s Daniel Nava this year; production that your opponents weren’t expecting—that’s Daniel Nava this year. We’re only half-way through the season right now and I’m certainly not lobbing up any predictions about him winning the World Series MVP on the World Champion Red Sox—both predictions would be gravely premature—but I would like to suggest that it’s pretty sweet to get .295 BA/.379 OBP/10 HR/.453 SLG% out of a guy you’re paying only $505,000. I hope he keeps it up. I’d also like to suggest that it seems Ben Cherington has righted the ship. I hope he keeps it up.
The whole team, in fact—keep it up, boys! As excited as we all deserve to be about the unexpected value of guys like Daniel Nava and about your place atop the standings, don’t forget that the Orioles are right behind you with some seriously unexpected value of their own, courtesy of one Mr. Chris Davis.
Thanks for reading, folks! You can catch my sports and culture ramblings on www.mikeoftheoldrepublic.com !