At FanGraphs, David Laurila polled a handful (12, to be specific) of Major Leaguers about with which offensive statistic they would like to lead the league. It’s quite fascinating, particularly that the most popular answer was not batting average, runs, or RBI, but OPS. Had you randomly polled 12 players five years ago, I would imagine nine or ten would have given you batting average or RBI. We’ve come a long way.
Reds first baseman had the best answer, landing on OPS, but saying that it would have been WAR if the question didn’t stipulate an offense-only stat.
“There’s no better thing you can do in baseball than hit home runs, so I’d like to lead in that. That said, I don’t know if there’s a correlation between home runs and general offensive dominance. I don’t know if there is one number that does that.
“I’ve always felt like the top guys in OPS are usually the best hitters in the league. I’m probably biased, because I led the league in it, but I think it’s a big stat. So I guess my answer is OPS, if you’re talking purely offensive stats. If you’re talking overall, I’ll say WAR.”
Votto did indeed lead the league in OPS in 2010, when he won the National League Most Valuable Player award. He has never led in WAR, though he came close in 2010, when his 6.8 FanGraphs WAR was just a hair behind the 7.0 of then-Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols.
Votto has been a bit of a lightning rod in the traditional stats vs. Sabermetrics debate, garnering criticism for not having many RBI (just 61) despite hitting over .300 with a .435 on-base percentage. Teammate Brandon Phillips, comparatively, has 95 RBI but trails Votto in almost all Sabermetric categories.
The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.
Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.
Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”
Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.
The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.