Adding Perspective to the Jacobs Deal
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
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 mlb.com, 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.
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.
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.
AVG OBP SLG OPS Blalock .292 .356 .502 .858 Jacobs .269 .329 .521 .850
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.