In a column at Sports Illustrated, Tom Verducci writes about Ryan Zimmerman's new contract. He compares Zimmerman to Reds 3B Edwin Encarnacion, writing the following:
How much real value is there to being considered "the face of the franchise?" If you said $38.4 million, you understand the difference between Edwin Encarnacion of the Reds and Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals. They were born a year apart. Both are third baseman. Both made their big-league debuts in 2005. Both have between three and four years of service time. Both signed multi-year contracts within the past two months. Both have a career OPS within .002 of 800. Want more similarities?
Verducci lists some of each player's offensive stats, and they are quite similar. According to Fangraphs, Zimmerman was worth 24.7 batting runs above average from 2006-2008, while Encarnacion was worth 25.7. He then writes this:
Now check out their new contracts:
Zimmerman: Five years, $45 million.
Encarnacion: Two years, $7.6 million.
Something seemed a little fishy here, as Zimmerman is renowned for his glove, both by advanced stats and scouts, while my perception of Encarnacion's defense is that it sucks. Is there any way these two players could be so similar and paid so differently? I looked at the advanced stats UZR and +/- to compare each player's defense:
Do the math, and that's a 54 run swing according to UZR, and an 84 play swing per +/-. This is significant. Using the standard of 10 runs/win, that's a 5.4 win difference from defense alone (using UZR) or a difference of 6.7 wins (using +/-, calculating runs saved as 80% of plays). Needless to say, their win values according to Fangraphs over the last 3 seasons are not similar. Zimmerman checks in at 11.3 wins, while Encarnacion has 5.3. That's an average of 2 wins per year more for Zimmerman, which means he has been far more valuable than Encarnacion during his brief career.
I appreciate Verducci using stats to back up his assertions (he even drops an OPS+ reference in his column) but defense must be factored in when evaluating a player's overall value. For a better take on the Zimmerman contract, check out this quick piece by Matthew Carruth.