Way back when (in the latter stages of the Clinton administration...), we used to debate the ultimate career arcs of Guerrero and Andruw Jones, with various folk making the case for one vs. the other. Today that debate begins to come to it end, what with Guerrero's race run and Andruw playing out the string as a platoon player with the Yankees.
Of course, the debate may never end, because we have the twin towers of WAR (Wins Above Replacement), which purport to rank player performance. The offensive side is pretty cut and dried; it's been around for years and is essentially unchanged from its inception. The defensive side has been hyped mercilessly in the past decade, part of the major makeover of sabermetric stats that purportedly raise the bar in terms of our understanding. Andruw Jones, before he ate his way out of being the cross between Willie Mays and Garry Maddox, had several simply unbelievable seasons--so sayeth WAR, that is. (We are still firmly convinced that the center field stats have always had their value inflated in the models, and that if one corrected for that, the overall defensive value would be more accurately redistributed...Jones would still rank near the top for the seasons he had, but the value placed on those outlying putout totals would be proportionately lowered, and would decrease his overall WAR totals.)
Vlad was clearly the better hitter, and by a wide margin (nearly 20 wins). The two players' OPS+ values (140 for Vlad, 111 for Andruw) provide another form of confirmation. (Oddly enough, one stat where Vlad is in the lead when we compare their stats is quite surprising for those who remember the players in the late 90s: Vlad wound up with 181 stolen bases, while Andruw, whose speed as a young player caused many to melt, currently has 152.)
Going into 2009, no one would have expected that Andruw would actually remain in the majors longer than Vlad. So what happened? As we said, Jones recouped his swing against lefties, while over the course of 2009-11, Vlad lost his.
Our three-year running charts give us a snapshot of how this occurred. Andruw was a beast against lefties when he came up, but it's clear that he's been on something akin to a rollercoaster against lefthanded pitchers since the late nineties--and, in fact, the deep dip that he took against southpaws in 2001-2003 is quite probably the thing that cost him a shot at being a superstar and going on to the Hall of Fame. His hitting against righties stabilized fairly early and remained reasonably consistent for the better part of eight years, but it took an extremely sharp dip beginning in 2008 (and only just re-emerged last season).
It would be interesting to both graph and tabularize this data for many hitters, for we might learn some tidbits about the nature of decline in aging hitters...for example, do certain splits operate as leading indicators or predictors of impending collapse?
|Vlad's OPS data in selected years for five major offensive splits.|
The injuries to Vlad's knees have made him into a DH, and that cut down his options in terms of signing with a team for 2012. Of course, we are filled with impish self-interest here, but we'd like to see Vlad get a shot with Toronto--it'd be a return to Canada, and it turns out that Vlad has hit .359 there over the years (with a 1.011 OPS). The place he doesn't want to go, however, is Minnesota--he's hit only .221 in the Metrodome, and while his batting average is higher in the Twins' new home (Target Field), he showed no power whatsoever there and his OPS is actually lower there than in the old Dome.
All in all, a sad day, as we all rediscover the old adage that getting old...sucks. Thanks for the memories, big guy.