|Examining Three Free Agent Outfielders|
Written by Bjoern Hartig (Contact & Archive) on January 01, 2009
In the shadows of the ever increasingly bizarre Mark Teixeira and Manny Ramirez sweepstakes, three players are patiently waiting for their chance to cash in on the desperation of those GMs who failed to land one of the really big free agent prizes this off-season. Their names are Bobby Abreu (formerly of the Yankees), Adam Dunn (formerly Arizona Diamondbacks) and Pat Burrell (formerly of the World Champions from Philadelphia).
At first sight, those three players seem remarkably similar: They play corner outfield spots, carry a pretty good stick around and a manager would prefer to have them sit next to him while the rest of the team goes out to catch the ball. The question is, Who of those three offers the most bang for the bucks?
Being a 21st century baseball analyst*, my first look obviously goes to OPS and OPS+**:
Not only does Adam Dunn come out ahead, he is also the youngest of the three at 29 (Abreu is 34, Burrell 32), so this gives him an early edge. But Dunn is also a very extreme player. Along with the Athletics’ Jack Cast, he is the master of the three true outcomes: strikeout, walk and home run. Last season, Dunn struck out 164 times (actually his lowest number in five years), walked 122 times and hit 40 home runs (the fourth time in a row he hit exactly 40). As a result, his on-base-percentage (.386) and slugging percentage (.513) look really good, but his average (.236) does not.
Average, however, is more the strong point of Bobby Abreu, who hit .296 in 2008 and has never hit worse than .283 since 1996. He also has a great eye (as does Burrell) and got on base 37.1% of the time (albeit down from 40.5% for his career). He also has pretty good power to the gaps, hitting at least 43 doubles or triples the last three years, but his home run totals (14, 15, 20) over that span looks rather pedestrian compared to Dunn.
Finally, Burrell is a less extreme version of Dunn. He combines low average with good on-base skills and power (.250/.367/.507 in 2008, .257/.367/.485 for his career).
On the base paths, Burrell and Dunn offer nearly nothing and Burrell even less. The former Phillie has not stolen a base since 2004 when he had a career high two, while Dunn swiped seven bases in seven tries in 2006 and was 9-for-11 in attempts in 2007. Last season, however, Dunn had only two successfully stolen bases while being caught once. Abreu on the other hand has stolen at least 22 bases in every year since 1999 and that is also the number he swiped in 2008. But those 22 stolen bases came in 33 attempts, which translates to an abysmal success rate of only 66.7% (only Ryan Theriot of the Cubs had a worse rate with that many SB), so you have to wonder if Abreu’s apparent speed is really such a big asset. His low success rate may even be a sign that he is starting to break down.
Next, let’s take a quick look at defense: There is no doubt that neither of the three guys will ever be mistaken for a gold glover, even although Abreu actually has one from 2005.* In fact, judging by ultimate zone rating per 150 games, which measures the number of runs above or below average a fielder is per 150 defensive games (more information on UZR can be found here), Abreu was the worst of the three at -25.9, Dunn came in second with -22.6 in the outfield (he actually had an UZR/150 of -71.2 in 23 games in right field and of -13.5 in 119 games in left field) and Burrell was the best least bad of the three with -14.7 (he was the worst in 2007 however). In the end, it does not really matter how you rank the trio, the difference is probably minimal and they would all do better as a DH anyway.
* When I saw him approach the wall on a ball over his head once I thought a) that is how I must have looked in the field and b) how can anyone who ever saw Abreu play vote for him as a gold glover??? By the way, Abreu’s UZR in 2005 was negative (i.e. he was below average), although he still did o.k. back in 2001 and 2002.
Now, before we come to the conclusion, I would like to look at some splits. Abreu and Dunn hit left-handed while Burrell hits right-handed, so are their platoon splits very different?
Maybe not surprisingly, all three are significantly weaker against their “own” hand, so are opposing managers able to exploit that in close games? Let’s take a look at their career clutch stats:
* Intuitively speaking, it would make sense that all-or-nothing players like Dunn and Burrell (or Cust) would do worse in the clutch because of their tendencies to strike out. I would really like to see (or do?) a study on that one day.
So, finally, whom do I want? Before I looked at their numbers, I would have taken Abreu because of his speed so I could hit him second if I wanted to. After looking at the stats however, I would rather not sign him, mainly because of his age and the fact that not only do his hitting stats continue to fall further behind his career norms, now his speed is already starting to elude him as well (apparent in his low success rate on steal attempts). At 34, this is not a good sign. If the choice is down to Dunn and Burrell, I would lean towards Dunn because he is younger and has a little more power. If you are going all or nothing anyway, why not go all the way? In the end, however, Burrell and Dunn are so similar, that it would probably come down to what handedness I am looking for in my lineup. Dunn would probably look better between Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter (not as good as Teixeira would have though), while Burrell would be more suited to hit behind, I don’t know, Josh Hamilton.
What do you think? Do you agree with my choice or whom would you choose and why? Use the comment function below to give us your opinion.