Baseball BeatNovember 10, 2008
Adding Perspective to the Jacobs Deal
By Rich Lederer

News: The Texas Rangers exercised their $6.2 million option on Hank Blalock for the 2009 season.

Rangers pick up first baseman Blalock's $6.2M option for '09

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Texas Rangers on Friday exercised a $6.2 million option on oft-injured infielder Hank Blalock.

Blalock has played just 123 games the last two seasons. The two-time All-Star missed 108 days in 2008 after two long stints on the disabled list.

A career third baseman, he made a midseason switch to first base this year. Blalock finished the season batting .287 with 12 home runs and 38 RBIs in 65 games. In September, he batted .337 with eight home runs and 23 RBIs in 24 games.

"Hank really swung the bat well at the end of the year, and we look forward to him continuing to make an impact for us in 2009," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said, according to "I give him a lot of credit for embracing a position change mid-year, and doing whatever's necessary to help the team."

The 27-year-old Blalock has been with the Rangers for seven seasons, second only to Michael Young among current players. He was an All-Star in 2003 and 2004.

While the headline in the above ESPN article calls Blalock a first baseman, the lefthanded hitter is returning as the club's designated hitter. According to, general manager Jon Daniels and manager Ron Washington made that clear to Blalock when speaking with him on Friday. The following quote was attributed to Washington: "Hank made it known that he still feels he's an everyday player, but he's willing to do whatever he can to help the ballclub. In our situation right now, he'll have to be the DH. That could change depending on what else we do this winter."

No longer able to handle the duties of third base due to a damaged right shoulder, how valuable is Blalock as a DH or even as a first baseman? Are there any comps that could shed light on this question? By golly, there is at least one that I know of, and it's none other than Mike Jacobs, the 1B/DH acquired by the Kansas City Royals ten days ago.

Before we take a look at the stats, be aware that Blalock will cost the Rangers $6.2M next season while Jacobs is likely to earn no more than half of that amount, be it mutually agreed upon or awarded in arbitration during the offseason.

Conveniently, these two players are about as easy to compare as possible. Both hail from San Diego and were born three weeks apart. Both players throw right and bat left. And both are nothing more than first basemen and/or designated hitters.

Career Stats

                 AVG    OBP    SLG    OPS
Blalock         .274   .337   .465   .802
Jacobs          .262   .318   .498   .816

Blalock tops Jacobs in OBP by .019 while the latter beats the former in SLG by .033. Adding OBP and SLG, Jacobs' OPS is higher than Blalock's by .014. OPS works well for a quick and dirty calculation, but, point-for-point, it tends to favor power hitters who don't walk over those who walk with little power. Accordingly, if we adjust OPS by weighting OBP in proportion to its relative importance vs. SLG (or OBP*1.8+SLG), then we learn that the two hitters have been virtually equal in terms of production.

Gross Production Average (or GPA) divides the above formula by 4 to put it on a scale that is more comparable to batting average, making it easier to interpret. In both cases, the career GPA is .268.

These career totals are unadjusted for ballpark factors* and the difference in the pitching superiority of the American League over the National League. The first factor clearly favors Blalock. Hank has played his home games at Arlington while Mike played at Shea Stadium for a partial season in his rookie year and Dolphin Stadium for the past three campaigns. Arlington's park factor has ranged from 98-125 with an average of nearly 114. Shea Stadium and Dolphin Stadium have ranged from 90-107 with a mean of 97. As such, Blalock's home parks have helped him by approximately 17 percentage points more than Jacobs' home fields.

* PF = ((homeRS + homeRA)/(homeG)) / ((roadRS + roadRA)/(roadG))

You can use other methodologies for computing park factors, but the conclusion is one and the same. Blalock has been helped tremendously by his home ballparks and Jacobs has been hurt by his.

At the same time, Blalock's numbers have been harmed by facing tougher pitching than Jacobs. According to an email exchange with Tom Tango, the adjustment for the difference in quality of leagues is about five runs or 0.5 wins per 162 games. "To that end, an OPS+ of 106 in the NL would roughly match 100 in the AL." That's an interesting example because Jacobs has a career OPS+ of 110 and Blalock has a 104, which means they are roughly even when viewed in the proper context of the two leagues.

Let's drill down and examine the splits more closely.

At Home

                 AVG    OBP    SLG    OPS
Blalock         .306   .375   .531   .906
Jacobs          .252   .299   .501   .800

On the Road

                 AVG    OBP    SLG    OPS
Blalock         .244   .299   .402   .701
Jacobs          .271   .337   .495   .832

Using the weighted formula detailed above, Blalock has been 16.1% more productive than Jacobs at home, and Jacobs has been 17.2% more productive than Blalock on the road.

While Blalock deserves credit for adapting to the advantages of his home ballpark more than one would expect, it's plainly obvious that Jacobs has been a much better hitter in more neutral environments.

vs. RHP

                 AVG    OBP    SLG    OPS
Blalock         .292   .356   .502   .858
Jacobs          .269   .329   .521   .850

vs. LHP

                 AVG    OBP    SLG    OPS
Blalock         .231   .285   .371   .656
Jacobs          .235   .275   .414   .689

Blalock and Jacobs have significant platoon splits. Both are relatively effective vs. RHP and ineffective vs. LHP. The difference in handedness is even more pronounced for Blalock than Jacobs.

Cutting to the chase, who would you rather have strictly from the standpoint of hitting prowess? I believe the evidence points to Jacobs being no worse than Blalock.

As for fielding and baserunning, neither Jacobs nor Blalock shine in these areas. Both are below-average first basemen, probably on a similar magnitude. While the sample size is small for Blalock at first base, he was a poor defensive third baseman and there is little reason to suspect he will turn into a plus first baseman. In the meantime, Jacobs' Revised Zone Rating and Rate (fielding runs per 100 games), while poor, are actually better than Blalock's.

According to The Bill James Handbook, Jacobs was a better baserunner than Blalock last year by a wide margin, and the latter was better than the former by a slimmer margin in 2006 and 2007. While they each stole one base without being caught in 2008, Blalock was credited with five bases taken while recording four outs as compared to seven and two, respectively, for Jacobs. Neither was particularly adept at advancing extra bases, as Blalock was 0-for-10 going from first to third on singles and Jacobs was 0-for-6 moving from first to home on doubles.

To sum it up, I wouldn't give either one an edge over the other when it comes to hitting, fielding, or baserunning. Therefore, it seems to me that Jacobs and Blalock are about the same, perhaps about as similar as any two players can be.

If my conclusion is correct, why would there be such an uproar over the Jacobs trade and little or nothing said about the Rangers exercising their option on Blalock? Could Leo Nunez really be worth the difference between their two salaries (which is likely to be at least $3 million)?

In order to like Blalock more than Jacobs, one would have to think their career stats were not indicative of their future performance. In other words, one would have to believe that Blalock is either better or Jacobs worse than what they have shown thus far. Is that possible? Sure. But it doesn't seem too likely from my vantage point.

Given how well Blalock has hit at home, I realize that he may be worth more to Texas than any other team in baseball. That's fine. However, it also reduces or eliminates any idea that the Rangers may try to trade him for pitching during the offseason because the acquiring club would have to give up a player *and* pay him $6.2 million. Signing Blalock on the hope of the Greater Fool Theory would suggest that Texas is the greatest fool of them all.

I have no axe to grind here. I have no reason to favor one over the other. I have never met or spoken to them, nor am I a fan of either player or of their teams. Instead, I am simply doing my best to be objective in analyzing the pros and cons of each so as to make an informed judgment on their merits as players and contract values.

My bottom line? It says here that Jacobs is either a cheaper version of Blalock or Blalock is a more expensive alternative to Jacobs.


The point is this: Mike Jacobs (or Hank Blalock) is not a good fit for what the Royals need. The marginal improvement in power over the in-house options is not worth the OBP sink-hole and not worth giving up a resource in Nunez that could be utilized in acquiring someone who fits better. The power is pointless if no one is on base to be driven in.

I think Jacobs is quite a bit more valuable just because he has been a lot more durable.

Jacobs has played 141, 114, and 136 games over the last 3 years compared to 65, 58, 152 for Blalock.

A couple of things. One I agree with Nick about team needs. The Royals could hinder the development of their younger players and have no real oppurtunit to contend next year. So there is no reason to get a player like Jacobs who is wasting your resources and hurting your eventual quest for contention. The Rangers on the other hand do have some hope of contending next season and need the depth. The Rangers also have more resources and can better afford to spend money in this fashion. The Rangers also did not have to give up an asset to do this deal. You are comparing apples to oranges when comparing the Rangers and Royals needs and reources as if they are in a vacuum. I'm not sure if this was a good deal for the Rangers to make, but Blalock does have more of a track record than Jacobs with better peak seasons showing that he is capable of a .350 OBP in two straight seasons. I would assume that the Rangers believe he is on track to regaining his hitting form especially sense they are taking away the difficulty of fielding 3b. Having had Blalock on their team for 7 seasons I would guess that they would be in the best position to evaluate his true tallent level.

Nick kinda covered this, but I wanna drive this point home. You can't simply analyze these moves in a vacuum of abstract "value." Sure, Nunez, isn't a lot to give up for Jacobs: Middle reliever for (what should be) the left-handed half of a DH platoon (who will instead be playing first base full-time, I'd assume). That's not the issue.

Kansas City needs OBP. Well, they need power, too, but OBP is more important. Dayton Moore himself has said the team desperately needs to improve its OBP. They don't need first basemen (Shealy, Ka'aihue, Gload if both of them fail, and even Teahen and Gordon can play there), let alone a bad first baseman. Jacobs makes a drastic need worse, and blocks players who will likely be as productive as him. So, in opposition to Blalock, who "may be worth more to Texas than any other team in baseball," there are not a whole lot of teams who Jacobs could be LESS valuable to than the Royals.

Sorry, I think you're trying too hard to make this point. The truth is, the Royals sold high on Nunez and got something less useful (if more "valuable") than they likely could have gotten elsewhere.

Blalock posted a wOBA of .385 in 2003 and .379 in 2004. He has had much better peak seasons than Jacobs. Blalock has been plauged by injuries, so if moving him to DH keeps him healthy, he will probably outproduce Jacobs. Blalock also isn't blocking younger options with more potential, but Jacobs is. The two offenses are in very different situations.

Not to pile on, but what does it say about Mike Jacobs when someone tries to defend the acquisition by saying he matches up closely with the dessicated corpse of Hank Blalock?

Also, the Rangers are only committing to one additional season of Blalock at $6M, then he walks away. The Royals are committing to 3 more years of Jacobs, which will surely cost more than $6M.

And if the deal leads to them doing something foolish like selling low on Butler or jerking around with Kila's development over the next couple of years, it compounds the problem.

The difference between these two deals is like the difference between the Brewers paying Gagne 10 million dollars for one year, and the Orioles committing $19 million dollars for three years of Danys Baez.

The Royals are *not* committed to three more years of Jacobs. Assuming he signs a one-year deal this off-season (almost all but guaranteed), the Royals can choose to re-sign or non-tender him after the 2009 season. The fact that he is under their control for the next three seasons is a plus, not a negative.

As to point number two, those are entirely separate decisions. There is plenty of room for Jacobs and Butler in the lineup this season.

With respect to point three, Jacobs is likely to cost about $3M plus Nunez. The downside risk is not comparable to the Gagne or Baez signings.