Free Agent Review: Aramis Ramirez
If you haven’t heard by now, the first free agent signing of the winter was actually a re-signing. Aramis Ramirez stayed with the Chicago Cubs, collecting a cool $73 million over the next 5 years, or about $14.5 million per season.
So why am I posting this on the blog, since it doesn’t have much to do with the Mariners?
Because Aramis Ramirez is not even a better player than Adrian Beltre, and the reactions to this signing are going to point out how even the statistical analysts of the day incorrectly evaluate players. And they make the same mistake nearly every time. Ignoring – or undervaluing, really – defense.
Now I know some of you are rolling your eyes as you read this, thinking I’m an idiot for believing that the guy who posted a .291/.352/.561 line last season and has hit 105 home runs the last three seasons could actually be a worse player than Beltre, whose offensive production hasn’t been anything close to that since the 2004 season ended. So, let me do the math for you guys, just so you know I’m not completely crazy.
Aramis Ramirez, the last three years, has posted EqA’s of .306, .301, and .293. It’s fair to say that a .300 EqA level is his established record of performance, and that’s what he’s being paid for. He’s entering his age 29 season, so the decline in offensive production shouldn’t be severe for a few years, at least. What’s a .300 EqA worth over a full season? About 100 runs, give or take a few. That’s about 40 runs more than a replacement level third baseman would contribute offensively.
However, Aramis Ramirez is a butcher with the glove. He’s a bad defensive player. By bad, I mean terrible. Every defensive metric we can find agrees with this. UZR, the best of the defensive metrics, has had him at -15 runs per 150 games played in the past. It’s unlikely that he’s consistently that bad, but if you average together the consensus of all the metrics, the scouting reports, and what Cubs fans believe about his work with the leather, marking Ramirez down as about 10 runs below average is pretty fair.
So, offense and defense, Aramis Ramirez is worth something like 30 runs a season over a replacement level player. That’s a good player, certainly, and one contributing to a team.
But let’s look at the oft-maligned Beltre, shall we?
He posted a .268/.328/.465 line this season, giving up 130 points of OPS to Ramirez. But he did it in Safeco Field in the American League (even though the difference is overstated, the AL was clearly more talented than the NL this year), so after making context adjustments, Beltre’s offensive performance was worth something like 80 runs over a full season. That’s 20 runs less than Ramirez, but 20 runs more than replacement.
Defensively, Adrian Beltre’s one of the best third baseman in the game. He’s not the best – that’s probably Brandon Inge right now, or maybe a healthy Scott Rolen – but he’s in the discussion of guys in that next tier. Scouts love his defense, fans love his defense, and the stats love his defense. He’s basically the anti-Ramirez with the leather, and his defensive value is something about 10 runs above average over the course of a full season.
Guess what? 40-10 and 20+10 are equal. They were both something like +30 runs for 2006.
However, you’ll never see anyone write that Adrian Beltre and Aramis Ramirez just had similarly valuable seasons, and if Beltre was the one with an opt-out clause, there’s no way people would be talking about him as a premier talent lining up for a monster deal.
For whatever reason, mainstream analysts simply fail to grasp the importance of defense, especially at the extremes. Beltre’s one of the best gloveman at third base around and Ramirez is probably the worst. That fact wipes away the whole of the difference between their 2006 offensive performances.
When you factor in that Adrian Beltre is a year younger, has a pristine health record compared to Ramirez, and that it’s not at all clear that a .267 EqA isn’t a low-end projection for Beltre’s offensive performance the next few years, and you have the reasons that I believe Adrian Beltre is a slightly better bet for the next few years than Aramis Ramirez.
Even if you hate Beltre and love Ramirez, the best you can do is call it a pick-em. It’s close enough that trying to decipher the margins here is basically a waste of time. The question of which one is better isn’t important – the key is that they’re basically equal.
And you’ll never, ever see a mainstream sports writer come to that conclusion. Instead, the Beltre contract will continue to be lampooned, while Ramirez is talked about as an all-star who the Cubs can build around.