Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Derrek Lee vs. Paul Konerko: WAR Graphs

On the eve of our new year, Derrek Lee signed a one year $7.25 million deal with the Orioles. I'm still not sure exactly why he wasn't a good fit to return to the Cubs, who instead spent millions more on a weaker defensive first baseman and lesser all around hitter in Carlos Pena.

This fixation with a power lefty bat simply will not go away. I pray that Carlos Pena is the answer to the decade-long ailment the Cubs suffer from. It seemed to begin with Matt Stairs. Stairs lasted a year, his lefty stick replaced with a Coors-bloated Jeremy Burnitz, who morphed into Jacque "Strap" Jones, who was replaced with what all Cubs fans assumed was a blessed gift from the East in Kosuke Fukudome. Then there was the Milton Bradley soap opera that I have exorcised from my memory. The most recent casualty of the Lefty Power Bat Blues is Derrek Lee, who they have cast aside in favor of the almighty left-handed thumper.

I actually do like the Pena signing, but I would rather have Double Play Derrek manning first.

Long intro into my actual point, which was this comparison between former and current Chicago first basemen. I've just started playing with these WAR graphs that you can create over at FanGraphs and I thought this would be a pretty interesting comparison given that both players were free agents this year, and both will be 35 in 2011. WAR is Wins Above Replacement and estimates how many wins a player would be worth to his team over a replacement player, such as a Triple-A call-up, using a combination of offensive and defensive metrics.

This first graph shows each player's best season on the left, down to his worst on the right. Lee's incredible 2005 (1.080 OPS, .446 wOBA) gives him the highest plot on the graph, but as you can see their plots are incredibly intertwined, Derrek looking to have the slight advantage most likely due to superior defense.

What's interesting about these graphs is that by the contracts each player just signed, one would not think that Derrek Lee was the better player. The plots are eerily similar, but there is clearly a slight nod toward Lee. Derrek though had to settle for a one year deal despite being a year removed from .306/.393/.579 season, while Konerko cashes in on a three year deal at $4-5 million more per season. And all because of the last two plots on the last graph. The fact that Derrek had his mid-30's career year in 2009 and Konerko had his in 2010 means that Paul Konerko is a much richer man, despite being a slightly worse player.

(create graphs pitting up to four players against each other here)

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