What Can a Batting Title Do For You?

If I was the guy drawing on the whiteboard for UPS, I draw a picture of the National League in 1984 to 1986 and draw a picture of the NL as it has stood the last couple of years. Then I’d focus in on the Pirates second sackers and ask “What can a batting title do for you?”
Why? Two reasons:
1. Freddy Sanchez just inked a long term deal
2. I’m obsessed with Johnny Ray
Let’s look at some 2007 OPS+ numbers from the NL for second baseman, courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com:

Player OPS+ Age
Chase Utley 145 28
Jeff Kent 121 39
Kelly Johnson 117 25
Rickie Weeks 108 24
Dan Uggla 108 27
Orlando Hudson 106 29
Brandon Phillips 105 26
Freddy Sanchez 103 29
Mark DeRosa 102 32
Ronnie Belliard 100 32
Luis Castillo 96 31
Kaz Matsui 87 31
Craig Biggio 71 41
Marcus Giles 68 29
Ray Durham 65 35
Kennedy/Miles 50/76 31/30

What do you make of that? I see six teams and only six teams in the NL who would trade their second baseman even up for Sanchez, based on age and 2007 performance. Those teams are: St. Louis, Houston, Colorado, San Diego, San Fran and Washington. In other words, Freddy Sanchez is more impressive because he is a Pirate, where there are fewer outstanding players. Among NL second baseman, he doesn’t stand out to any great extent.
Let’s have a look at 1986:

Player OPS+ Age
Steve Sax 137 26
Wally Backman 113 26
Bill Doran 108 28
Johnny Ray 108 29
Flannery/Roberts 103/67 28/22
Juan Samuel 102 25
Ryne Sandberg 98 26
Robby Thompson 97 24
Tom Herr 87 30
Ron Oester 85 32
Glenn Hubbard 76 28
Vance Law 72 29

I see Johnny Ray at about the same place in the pecking order as Freddy Sanchez. He had a better year than Sandberg, but obviously the Cubs wouldn’t give up Ryno for Ray. Herr had a monster year in 1985 and regressed badly in 1986. I see Ray as being clearly better than the following players – Backman (inconsistent), Hubbard, Oester, Law and Flannery. I see him as about the same as Sax, Doran, Herr and Thompson. Juan Samuel had a different set of skills, namely speed, than Ray did.
What if Ray had led the league in hitting in 1984 instead of finishing fifth? Or what if he had won in 1986? Would he have been perceived as being as valuable as Sanchez is now? He probably was as good as Sanchez, but nobody seemed to recognize it. You can’t blame it on the talent that surrounded them as the Pirates finished last three straight years starting in 1984 and, well, the Pirates of today are no better. Neither player was being overshadowed on a team with multiple HOFers, like Ken Griffey Sr. was. What’s the difference? Simply, the batting title. If Ray had won a hitting title, would he have been traded to the Angels for next to nothing in order to make way for the weak hitting/good glove Chico Lind? I don’t believe for a second that Ray was the fielder that Lind was. But, I think if you plug Ray in at second in the early ’90s and the Pirates still win three division titles.
Bottom line, if Sanchez had hit .330 instead of .344 in 2006, this deal would be for a few million less.

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Posted in Freddy Sanchez, Johnny Ray, Jose Lind, Vance Law, Wally Backman. Comments Off on What Can a Batting Title Do For You?
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