Have you ever been in the same room as a heated debate and just wanted to slink into your chair? Or sneak out the door? Or just laugh uncontrollably at the madness that is ensuing?
That happened to me at Fenway Park on Friday during the Winter Classic.
The debate wasn't about hockey, though. It was about which Red Sox outfielder is better: Mike Cameron or Jacoby Ellsbury?Let me set the scene for you: I was sitting alongside a handful of other reporters, all of us cracking away at our laptops during the first period of the Winter Classic. There is a mix of ages, from youthful reporters to the (very) seasoned veterans. Then -- and I'm not sure how it was exactly phrased or why it came up -- but one younger online reporter sitting right next to me declared how Cameron is a better player than Ellsbury.
"Wait. What did you say?"
It came from a few seats down from one of those aforementioned seasoned reporters.
"Did you hear what he just said?" the reporter boomed down the table to another old-school reporter. "Jacoby Ellsbury is one of the best young outfielders in the game. What has Mike Cameron done? He's a .250 hitter!"
The reporter next to me started to pull out stats like "UZR/150" and "WAR" to prove Cameron is better. As soon as he did, I leaned in and said: "Good luck. You're fighting a losing battle."
These stats were going to hit hard with these reporters. They weren't even going to give them the light of day.
"You can have any stat that says anything," the reporter said. "I've seen it with my own eyes. Ellsbury is great and better than Cameron."
This whole awkward debate brings up two points: 1) who really is better, Cameron or Ellsbury? and 2) new-school versus old-school. No. 2 is a topic for another day, though, and we'll focus on No. 1.
We'll break this down into the two most obvious areas: batting and fielding.
We all know there are a ton of stats to look at when it comes to judging a player both offensively and defensively. With that said, I want to use one offensive stat that I like and I think is a pretty good judge of character: wOBA. Visit this link for a good breakdown of wOBA.
Here's how Cameron and Ellsbury break down the last two seasons according to wOBA:
Ellsbury .333 .354
Cameron .353 .346
Ellsbury boosted his wOBA by a strong .021 points while Cameron's dropped seven points. This makes sense for the most part, considering Ellsbury is 26 years old and Cameron is 36. It's natural; at least, you hope for the young player to improve while, unrealistically, the older player somehow stays just as good.
These numbers don't really speak too highly of either Cameron or Ellsbury though. The .340-.360 range is considered above average. By no means are they poor hitters, but these numbers don't necessarily say they're too great either. By comparison, Kevin Youkilis' wOBA was .413 in 2010 -- best on the Red Sox and fifth best in all of baseball.
(This is only one stat. We can find 10 stats that support Cameron and 10 that support Ellsbury, but keeping it to one that encompasses a few different things at least gives us a solid idea.)
Now let's talk about fielding -- something that may not even be debatable.
Using UZR/150, here's how Cameron and Ellsbury stack up the last two seasons (I am using just two years because Ellsbury only has two full years under his belt):
Ellsbury 6.9 -18.3
Cameron 15.6 10.3
Let's make it clear that there's no perfect fielding statistic, but UZR/150 isn't too shabby -- for now. You can find a definition of UZR/150 here.
There are a lot of question marks when it comes to UZR/150, Ellsbury and Cameron. One is the uncertainty of judging Fenway Park using UZR. It's more of an issue playing in left field in front of the Green Monster, but I can't imagine it wouldn't factor into center field.
With that said, why the drop in the UZR from '08 to '09 for Ellsbury? Typically a player's reads get better over time, not worse. Perhaps there was an injury Ellsbury dealt with that would slow him down in the outfield. That doesn't make much sense though considering he stole 70 bases. So maybe the 70 stolen bases slowed him in the outfield? There are a few different possible scenarios here.
Cameron may also be declining, as his numbers suggest. Also, how will Cameron transition from Miller Park to either left field or center field in Fenway Park? More question marks.
I think it's safe to say that Cameron, no matter what the answers are to the question marks, is the better defender than the still inexperienced defender in Ellsbury.
Now let's look at a stat that encompasses everything: WAR. For more in WAR, click this link.
Here's how both players break down according to WAR:
Ellsbury 3.3 1.9
Cameron 4.1 4.3
Despite the age gap, it's not really close when you combine both the offensive and defensive aspects of the game.
My verdict: considering the whole package, I'll take Cameron over Ellsbury, but it's really close. I didn't even mention Ellsbury's baserunning ability. He is, arguably, the best basestealer in baseball. And while his power and ability to get on base hasn't developed as much as the Sox had hoped, he's not a bad offensive player. Cameron wins over in my mind because of his defense, power and ability to get on base. This really won't be a competition for long though, as I think Cameron will start losing a step or two and Ellsbury still has a lot of room to grow.
What do you think, OTM readers?