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:
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:
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.